Indie Impressions: Blockships

It’s a bit of a cesspit over on Steam Greenlight right now, to say the least, with asset flips, low quality mobile ports and just an over-cramped market with no real sense of space. However, on my travels at NERG 2016, I was invited by Dr. Davient (who goes by “Dave”) to play a playable demo of his new game, Blockships (not to be confused with the iOS game Block Ships or the still under development Blockship Wars), which has been Greenlight and has an unoffical release date of August/September 2016. I also spent a lot of time there playing Blockships to get my impressions down, solidified and if there were any concerns that could come up later down the line.

Blockships is a great name, it tells me exactly what it is.

It’s a couch based multiplayer game of old, complete with shouting at each other which brought the nostalgia of playing Mario Kart 64 and Goldeneye with friends in my youth. He has absolutely nailed that aspect. I could see this being a good competitive game in the future because it’s accessible, but hard to master.

It is also looking like it will have features like an online multiplayer mode, a potential single player, custom game types, modifiers, modding and different block types involving different types of weapons, bombs and power ups. Which is a lot of content, especially for the planned price of ten dollars (or just under £8 for British readers), which is slightly cheaper than Duck Game, which, as good as it was, got some criticism for being too high a price. (£10 is too high an asking price for a new game? Wow, back in my day, you were lucky if you found a new game which didn’t cost over £30, you young ‘uns don’t know how lucky you are…oh God, I’m sounding like an old man at 23, send help! -ed.)

It has the tagline of being “the illegitimate child of Tetris and Space Invaders” (which is much more fitting than it might sound on paper), however, there’s influences from Battleblock Theater, Starwhal, Super Smash Bros. and other various couch multiplayer games of old (which are a strange point of reference, I’ll admit) to Raiden and R-Type, which Dave tells me were the muse for Blockships.

So I get set up to play and Dave explains that “there’s three blocks, the red one is a weapon, the blue one makes you go faster and the green blocks make you bigger, but after four blocks you need a green one”. But I will be honest, the visuals are clear enough that you can jump in and you will get what’s going on as you play. Similar to Quake and Unreal Tournament where you will pick up a weapon and it’s clear enough what those weapons were designed to do just by looking at them.

The controls are fairly standard for this sort of game, with a move, fire and a disconnect button. However, it would have been nice to rotate your ship with the bumper buttons and select which block to disconnect for advanced play. Which is being debated right now, as it’s all about the balancing and the balancing is primarily solid: however, ramming your opponents is far too powerful, which in the full game is going to have a counter and a successful ramming attempt is going to get a slight nerf in terms of damage output.

It’s fairly unique in the sense that It has a bit of Minecraft elements to it, where players will be given a set amount of blocks to build a ship during a short pre-game lobby and it’s up to you how to build your ship to take out your opponents. The premise is simple enough, but I can name a few games where the premise has been simple, but because of niggling bugs, dodgy controls and poor audio/visual feedback, it just hasn’t been fun to play at all. Bubsy, Glover, Mace: The Dark Age and the Thief reboot spring to mind here, but this doesn’t happen as Dave also tells me that he’s spent a lot of time getting the basic mechanics right. Here, the controls are tight and, while the early playtests apparently weren’t so positive on that front, they feel good, responsive and the visual feedback for what’s happening to your ship is clear and easy to follow. That said, as someone with slight colour blindness, the yellow and the green were clashing and I couldn’t really tell which ones were which at times, but I was told that he was hoping to add the ability to reskin with colours and other images.

However, as Dave tells me, it’s about timing and whether if he can afford to fit it all in. Dave is in all senses of the word enthusiastic, passionate and full on. He’s the kind of guy who you could picture having somebody roll to propose to a dragon if he was a Dungeons & Dragons DM, he’s inventive, creative and, most importantly, can admit when he can’t do something, as he was happy to tell me that he outsourced the artwork and the music, as they are his weak points and it definitely feels like a better game for it. The music (from what I could hear over a busy hall) was great, it’s an electronica score which wouldn’t be out of place in a Japanese shoot ‘em up and the art direction is bright, colourful and fits the tone nicely. It’s also clear enough to see what’s going on without colour clashes, which is a huge plus!

What really hit me about Blockship wasn’t necessarily in the game itself, but in the audience. I was seeing different generations of gamers going up and giving the game a shot, ranging from those of us who grew up with games like Contra, Day Of The Tentacle and Star Wars: X-Wing to young kids who have probably never heard of any of those games, let alone any of the games that have influenced Blockships’ design, and they all, for lack of a better term, “got it”, which is a great feat in and of itself!

It’s too early to say for sure whether Blockships is going to be the next indie darling or anything like that, but what I can definitely say is that I’m really looking forward to it coming out on its tentative August/September release date and seeing how it works out on launch. Hopefully, this will be the next Greenlight success story in a time when it seems like Greenlight is disgorging low quality games as a pace that puts EA to shame.

For more information on Blockships, visit the game’s website: http://playblockships.com/