The last level is quite tricky, eh! Glad you enjoyed it all the way through the end.
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While the team created Keen, Caio –– our founder and main game designer –– started a new sidekick project and made Necrosphere all by himself. Check it out here: https://catnigiri.itch.io/necrosphere
Necrosphere is a (really hard) bite-sized metroidvania game you control with ONLY TWO BUTTONS!
The Necrosphere is where you go when you die, regardless of being good or bad. You don't see other people around there, and you don't have anything to do except to wait eternally. Soon as the player (Agent Terry Cooper) hits the Necrosphere, he learns about the portals that can take him back to the world of the living (also called Normalsphere), and his quest to escape the afterlife is set.
I completely forgot to post the announcement here. We have released the Demo for Keen a while a go, check it out here: https://catnigiri.itch.io/keen
Keen is a turn-based puzzle game with tactical combat and delightful adventures!
Guide Kim, a grumpy little girl raised by her grandmother on a journey to stop an evil corporation from destroying her village. Fluid gameplay allow players to choose their own pace, whether fast as a hack'n'slash or methodic as chess. Keen is a game for the tactics player, for the puzzle fan, and for anyone that loves a solid, old-school adventure.
We are running an Indiegogo Campaign to get even more content into the game with your support. If you're feeling generous, please check it out!
Help us with the campaign to finish Keen and reserve a perk of your preference!
Shaping Keen: Part 3 – A Bit on the Story
Like with the gameplay, Keen's general concept took a while to be settled (and we're still never too sure about it). As I said a couple posts ago, the dashing moves and slashing attacks of our character got us flirting with the idea of making it about a ninja. That was further endorsed by Nando's admiration (more like fanaticism) for feudal Japan. I'm not saying the game actually takes place in real Japan (or in the past), as the world of Keen is all made up; we just wanted to have a well-established aesthetic to our hero that could convey the values of respect, dedication, hard work, honor, and all that Hollywood ever implied to medieval Japan. It is a trope, I know, but we're using it mildly, like George Lucas did with the samurai in Star Wars.
Another thing we quickly decided was that our hero would be a girl named Kim (now THAT's an intended pun!). There's not much to say about why she's a girl — we just felt like it — but a lot to say about how to make a female character that wouldn't perpetuate gender stereotypes, which is a subject for a whole post on gender representation in Keen.
Finally, the setting. Keen is a clash of the Eden-like village where our heroine has always lived, with the corrupting power of a highly industrialized, techno-megalopolis, represented by the evil Chikara Corporation. All enemies are either robots produced by Chikara, or people brainwashed by it. Everything practical comes from the City, whereas all things mystical are from the village. This rather satirical take on globalization was probably infused in my head after watching a bit of Koyaanisqatsi/Powaqqatsi/Naqoyqatsi/Baraka with Frango. Again, Keen setting should become a post of its own.
Speaking of Frango, now that's a nice guy to have around your projects. Frango is Keen's Art guy, but he surely does a lot more than that. He also was responsible from taking Keen from this:
Shaping Keen: Part 2 – From Mobile Casual to Consoles
Super Metroid is my all time favorite. That perfect blend of ominous sci-fi ambience with the dreaded sense of being the sole benevolent creature on the whole planet hooked me instantly. I played it for the first time when I was 24, so there is no way I'm mistaking nostalgia for quality. It's still fresh, still engrossing and still relevant, even 21 years after being released. Brilliant people like Axiom Verge's Thomas Happ, or VVVVVV's Terry Cavanagh make me I feel like I shouldn't retire before working on a Metroid-like title of my own too! Well, my Metroid game is not going to be Keen, though its vision of progression and level design was — and is constantly being — strongly shaped by Nintendo's genre-defining platformer.
"We're benevolent too, you ungrateful bastard"
Keen was now being thought as a candy-crushing collection of mini-levels comprising one room each. Similar to the mobile "saga" trend, our levels would be variations of a few main game modes, such as "kill everybody," "collect all objects," "survive N waves," and "time attack". All that made sense for a casual, mobile free-to-play, but soon that started to feel too shallow to hook players in the long run. It needed a bit of exploration and surprise. We went on to implement a Binding-of-Isaac-esque dungeon crawler level structure, forcing the player to navigate between several rooms within a level. This way it was possible to add Zelda-like soft locks (like keys and switches), ensuring a good amount of backtracking to an otherwise pretty straightforward puzzle game.
Keen rooms now had doors!
The idea for this crawling mechanic was to make the player pick one of the four directions (represented by open doors) from a menu after the room puzzle was beaten. That was also a very dumb idea, as it ignored the fact that reaching for the doors could work as a mini-puzzle on its own. A couple lines of code later and the player was now able to walk to any door he could reach, which opened a great number of possibilities for intricate dungeon design. Soon the game started to resemble another awesome title I'm very fond of: 1987's Metal Gear, for the MSX (pictured).
Metal Gear, MSX – A top-down Metroid game, so I have to love it.
Keen still kept a core distinction from Zelda/Metal Gear/Metroid by having several self-contained levels instead of a single, massive level. The level progression in Keen is like if every stage in Mario was a huge Zelda dungeon, or an abridged version of Metal Gear's Outer Heaven.
In June 2015, Nando and I took a small demo level of Keen to a game developers convention in São Paulo. This time, virtually everybody loved the game (or convincingly lied about it). We even had devkits being offered to us by major console manufacturers! After half a year blindly tweaking the game, seeing all that people playing obsessively through the demo dungeon was very reassuring; we really didn't see that one coming. Once again, we got back home ready to give our best to overcome yet another challenge: Keen had zero art direction.
Keen – 2048 meets Metal Gear
Shaping Keen: Part 1 – Origins
Although Keen has grown a lot in 16 months, not a single picture of our baby was posted here. Like young, inexperienced parents feeling guilty for not posting their toddler's first steps on YouTube because they were too busy watching BoJack and Seinfeld reruns (not autobiographical, although very likely to be, if I ever have kids), it is imperative to post a nice retrospective of our most ambitious project to date. Keen won't be around for the next one year, at least, but we're inviting you to watch Keen grow with us. From time to time, you'll be able to give it a go, and we'd love it if you could kindly share your thoughts on how it's shaping up.
From quarters on a paper board to an exploration-driven puzzle/adventure: Shaping Keen
Origins (4.5 bya – September 2014)
My friend Olivia was kind enough to play a confusing computer game without a computer.
Once upon a time Keen was nothing. Didn't even have a name. Like every other citizen of the world, I've spent the first half of 2014 playing the hit Italian masterpiece "2048". Not going to digress over the whole Threes/1024/2048 who-came-first debate (or talk about the origins of any non-Keen game under the "origins" section of my Keen-related post, for that matter), as they are all brilliant. The way the same gameplay would become increasingly harder by itself, without any external arbitrariness like timers and whatnot, was pure elegance. But what really got me about "2048" was the simplicity of its controls. So comfy, so accessible, so… portable. I mean, if something can be played on a keyboard and on an iPhone with the same ease, putting those idiotic on-screen virtual pads to rest, that thing must be mercilessly copied instantly. I've been obsessing about decent directional controls on mobile for 5 years, and 2048 solution was probably the best one for turn-based games I've seen. "X-COM" Also made me very keen (nothing to say about pun intentions) to work on a tactics game of any sort, so I quickly started to conceive the core mechanics for a slide-moving, 2-players board game about 3 beans that wanted to shoot down 3 quarters that also wanted to shoot down those 3 beans, on a pen-and-paper grid. I figured that if my fellow tester Olivia (pictured) and I could play such a complex tactics game making all the pesky turn and pathfinding calculations in our heads, and still have a marginally good time, the idea could be promising. Luckily, we had some moderate fun that afternoon, so Cat Nigiri started prototyping proto-Keen in Unity 3D. It was a 3-on-3 tactics game with moving/attacking sub-turns that controlled like a slide puzzler on a 7×13 tiles board.
Gabriel, rubbing a dolphin's jaw on his left cheek
I feel awful about that, but I don't have any screenshots of our first digital draft of Keen, creatively named "tactics." This journey to computerland would not be possible without the help of a guy named Gabriel (pictured), who helped us prototype my crazy beans/quarters idea. Back then, the player had to kill 3 sliding Hyrule Guards utilizing his 3 sliding Links in an arena made of tilesets downloaded from RPG Maker communities (thank you, uncredited artist). The 3 Links would move 5 times, all at the same time, then select their attacks from a collapsing menu, and wait for the three Guards to do the same. Basic gameplay was like this, but trading cheerful kittens for confusing menus and intricate gameplay. "Tactics" was deemed fun enough, so we took it to Europe to show it off to fellow developers in Cologne, Germany.
Cologne sort of liked it, but the prototype faced a fair share of criticism for being too complex, specially for its mobile intentions, so the first thing we did as we got home was rethink the whole gameplay. I went on a simplifying spree. Three Links were two too much; Five moves per turn? What about one! and finally: what if the movement and the attack controls shared the very same sliding mechanic? Come to think of it, sliding Link around was the only undisputed, flawless feature we had in our prototype; why not make the whole game flawless?
Thank you again, anonymous pixel artist
In a matter of a couple days we had a new build of the game. And omg, was that different! Link was slashing fluidly through the enemies, moving freely like a ninja. It felt like every turn was Link's turn. It started to strike us that maybe that was not a turn-based game anymore. It had turns, but it was starting to feel more actiony. This time I'm not only going to show a screenshot of it, I'm also providing a link for you to play the prototype we had 14 months ago.
You cannot slash through enemies like a ninja and NOT be a ninja, so, much to Nando's — Cat Nigiri's co-founder and go-getter — delight, the game went with an oriental setting. To be fair, me and Nando actually thought of a few other excuses for the hero's movement to be like that, but neither "he/she is on roller skates" nor "it's a world made of ice" grew that much on us. Also, nobody thought of making it about
bears destroying art either.
"Tactics" was now called "Keen," and was all about cutting bad guys with sharp blades. The game was far from ready, as we only had an endless puzzle game with placeholder art, but we now had a name, a setting, and a core gameplay to start working with. We just had to figure out how to turn that into a solid video game experience.
Check out Keen's modifications and tell us your impressions! Demo version can be downloaded here.
Keen is on Indiegogo! We need your support. Badly!