JournoDevSwap: It's a hard life

JournoDevSwap: It's a hard life

By Andrew Smith

October 6th 2012 at 11:40AM

How Lewie Procter and his team are bringing a touch of philosophy to the arena shooter

[For their first challenge of the second day our developers-cum-journalists were tasked with previewing one of the jam's under-construction games – You can find all the JournoDevSwap articles here.]

"I'm not sexist, but..." Is probably a bad way to start my second piece of official games journalism... but I can't imagine a game about, balls, shooting, shooting balls, and bouncing balls that shoot being made by anything other than a team of boys.

The team in question, Lew and Karn's Digital Entertainment Software, are using Unity to bring some new ideas to the shooter genre with their debut game 'Just Like Life'. Taking what at first glance looks like cross of Arkanoid and Peggle as a base, everything in the game is imbued with a playful physicality which immediately changes everything - from the way you expect to play, all the way down to the usual sense of comfort you feel sitting down in front of a shooter. This is not your father's shooter.

The player controls their avatar with the mouse, which autoshoots up the screen in a torrent of bullets, the aim being to destroy hordes of spawning enemies in a vain fight against your inevitable death: "Just like life" as Lewie Procter, the game's Creative Director puts it.

Also just like life - if you're inclined to believe in such a thing as Karma - the things you do come back at you in ways you wouldn't expect. Your bullets reflect off of the uneven arena walls, and if you collide with them then - of course - you take damage. The enemies also react to your shots, with every hit propelling them across the screen with a jolt, and the same crunching consequences even affect your bullets too, creating a veritable maelstrom of bouncing, reflecting, deathly ramifications... all of them driven by player choice.

It's a refreshing twist on the arena shooter (a genre which few game designers have been brave enough to take beyond the admittedly wonderful neon heights of the Geometry Wars series in recent times), but there are a few niggles that prevent Just Like Life, in its current form, from reaching its full potential. The mouse controls are one-to-one, and while they give the player an incredibly fine amount of control over their actions, this precision also lends a sort of hyperactive jitteriness to the proceedings, which made me feel ever so slightly uncomfortable - unconfident even - in my short time with the game.

That said, Just Like Life shows a lot of promise and if Lewie and his team can make good on it then we could be looking at a new wave of arena shooters in the near future. Ones that mimic something altogether more thoughtful than Geometry Wars and its ilk.

As I leave to 'courier' this article across to my editor, I can hear the strains of the game's background music wafting across the development floor of their office. It doesn't fill me with confidence...

Just Like Life is due out on PC 'when it's done'.

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