Celestial Mechanica

A game by Paul Veer and Roger Hicks for PC, originally released in 2011.
Celestial Mechanica takes place in a distant future where mankind’s endless warring and poor stewardship of the earth actually caused the planet to destabilize and break apart. Fortunately for humanity, a race of technologically advanced beings swept in at the last second and restored the planet. The celestial beings set up shop in a floating fortress called Mechanica and continued to watch over the earth to prevent its previous fate from recurring. 100 years have passed since that time, and no one has seen a Mechanian since they saved the earth. But of course, all of that is about to change.

At the start of the game, your character, a female Mechanian, is cast out of the floating fortress and falls to earth. Upon landing in a forest, she is greeted by a friendly Mechanian who has apparently been exiled to the planet’s surface as well. He suggests that they work together to find a way back into Mechanica and take down their angry and unjust king.

In order to reach Mechanica, you’re going to need a few powerups. At the start of the game, you can only move to the left and right, and your movement speed is extremely fast for a platforming character. Your speed is along the lines of a fully-maxed Sonic the Hedgehog run, except that you are not impacted by inertia. As such, you reach full speed instantly, and you can stop and turn on a dime.

Right away, you are introduced to your first powerup, which gives you the ability to jump. Your jump is also higher than average for a platformer, allowing you to reach about 3x your standing height. Combined with your fast running speed, you navigate the environment very quickly… sometimes a bit too quickly.

The environments are constructed of blocks and flat surfaces, and enemies are sparse in the early going, so you can run at full speed unimpeded in many areas with little danger. However, your high speed also means that you’ll need above average reaction skills to avoid the obstacles that do present themselves, such as spikes and water, which kill you instantly. You also need to be mindful of screen transitions which can put dangerous obstacles or enemies very close to your entry point.

While these design choices may offer a bit of frustration, the penalty for death is generally quite low, since you will immediately respawn at the start of the most recent screen transition, and these transitions are frequent.

Once you receive the ability to jump, it’s time to head back the way you came and explore the Forest Shrine for your next powerup. And thus the Metroidvania formula is established. Each new powerup you gain will allow you to access a new path in a previously explored area. The explorative nature is restricted a bit by the fact that there is generally only one new path available with each powerup gained, but the powerups do impact minute-to-minute gameplay as well, and are not simply used as keys for level progression.

The next powerup you gain is the ability to double jump, which extends your standard 3x jump to about 5x and allows you to exit the shrine and head back into the forest once again, jumping over a high wall to gain access to the Water Shrine.

As you explore each of the shrines, you’ll eventually gain a full repertoire of platforming moves, including the ability to push blocks, wall slide and wall jump, and even extend your horizontal distance with a hover maneuver that slows your descent. An advanced hover technique involves jumping, allowing yourself to hover as you move laterally, and then initiating a double jump and hovering again. This allows you to reach the maximum horizontal distance, and is a required move in some later areas of the game.

What’s interesting is that you never gain the ability to fire a weapon. In fact, for the first half of the game, you have no recourse but to run away from enemies, jump over them, and dodge their projectiles. Instead, your new abilities allow you to use your enemies’ weapons against them.

The first offensive powerup you receive allows you to grab an enemy projectile out of the air and hold it. There are two types of projectiles: energy balls and missiles. Both types can be tossed back at the enemy to destroy it, but each has a secondary use as well. Energy balls can be used to charge up power sources in the environment to open doors, and missiles can be used to destroy spiked enemies that block your path. So, rather than just using the projectiles to destroy your enemies, you’re often tasked with carrying the projectiles to another area, while avoiding death, which will cause you to lose your carried projectile.

There’s also a hidden powerup which changes how projectiles behave when thrown (not always to your advantage), but you’re likely to miss this powerup on your first time through the game. And toward the end of the game, you’ll gain the ability to deflect projectiles, which helps you to survive long gauntlets of constantly-firing turrets by sending their projectiles back to destroy them.

Your character can only survive two successive hits. When hit the first time, she will start flashing. If hit again during this time, she will be killed. After a few seconds, she will stop flashing, so if you wait a moment, you will again be able to sustain two successive hits before being killed. As mentioned, this is rarely much of a setback as you will respawn back at the most recent screen transition. However, if you were carrying a projectile at the time, you may need to backtrack a bit to pick up another one, but again this is rarely very time consuming.

The game does require a great deal of precision jumping, which can be a bit complex given the speed at which your character moves. And, once you gain the abilities to double jump, wall slide, and wall jump, the game really ups the ante on what it expects of your platforming prowess.

Like most action-adventure games, you’ll be expected to do a bit of puzzle solving in order to progress. Puzzles built around your new abilities are generally fairly easy to solve, but some of the environmental puzzles can be somewhat obtuse. For instance, the Water Shrine is equipped with several buttons, which are used for opening doors and raising the water level, while other buttons reverse the effects. In order to solve the puzzle, you will need to open a door, lower the water level, push floating blocks into position, and raise it again.

However, the effects of the buttons are not immediately clear and their configuration is not entirely intuitive, which means that your experimentation may lead you to inadvertently reset the puzzle. This may lead to backtracking as you attempt to solve the puzzle through sheer trial and error rather than an understanding of how the puzzle operates and how the buttons affect the environment.

The game is largely story-driven and each milestone is met with a bit of additional interaction with the NPC Mechanian from the start of the game. The plot has a couple of interesting reveals that tell you a more about what’s going on in Mechanica, eventually culminating in a final confrontation. You can speak with a couple of optional NPC’s along the way as well – one hidden and one not – but they’re representations of the developers who point you in the direction of purchasing the game’s soundtrack by Roger Hicks and seeing more art from Paul Veer.

Roger Hicks, also known as RekcahDam, is responsible for the game’s programming and music. He has created several games, including an auto-running shooter called rComplex, puzzle-platformers Project I/O and Stream, and top-down shmups Radial Gun and Wings of Apocalypse X. He also created a web-based 8bit-style music sequencer called PulseBoy. Artist Paul Veer has worked on a number of gaming projects, including Vlambeer’s popular Super Crate Box and Serious Sam: The Random Encounter. He also worked on 2D DSiWare games Flipper and Flipper 2: Flush the Goldfish.

rComplex is an auto-running game where the player attempts escape the confines of a massive complex while fleeing from a rampaging creature with huge tentacles. The game is presented in largely in red and black silhouettes, and a narrator voices the thoughts of the escaping character as he runs through the complex, jumping over and sliding under obstacles, while occasionally letting of a shot at the creature behind him. The game was originally created as an IGF 2010 entry, with development starting just 8 days before the contest deadline. It has since been released as a freeware downloadable for PC. The game features 3D graphics presented from a side-view perspective.

Project I/O
Project I/O was another game created as an IGF entry, with development once again beginning about a week before the contest deadline, this time for IGF 2011. This game also features a silhouetted character attempting to make an escape from a mysterious facility, but this time around the player is allowed to move freely through the environment. A very Portal-esque AI guides the player through a number of challenging areas where he must use his platforming skills to not only move about but also to guide enemy projectiles toward specific goals to trigger moving platforms and open doors. This game was also released as a freeware downloadable for PC, and features 3D graphics presented from a side-view perspective.

Stream is a sidescrolling action game with a time travel mechanic, which is used to solve puzzles throughout multiple single-screen environments. The player can perform a specific action while another version of him moves about the environment. For instance, one version of the player can stand on a button while the other version runs through the door that it holds open, or one version of the player can distract an enemy while the other runs safely past. Stream is presented in grayscale with flat 2D comic book-style graphics. This game was released as a freeware downloadable for PC.

Radial Gun
Radial Gun is somewhat reminiscent of Gyruss where the player pilots a spacecraft around an outer ring and fires into the center. Rather that firing at other ships, you’re firing at an eyeball surrounded by colored blocks. You can shoot the blocks, which will send lines outward to hit your ship. Once a block is destroyed, the eyeball can shoot lasers directly at you, and it will track your movement around the screen until you can get behind another colored block. Destroy all of the colored blocks to proceed to the next level, and each level features a different configuration of blocks. The background cycles through red, blue, and green, and destroying a block of the same color will cause a ball of that color to chase your ship, destroying it if it makes contact. The game was released as a freeware PC downloadable and saw commercial release as an Xbox Live Indie Games title.

Wings of Apocalypse X
Wings of Apocalypse is a top-down vertically scrolling shmup created with 3D graphics. The player pilots a ship that is tasked with destroying enemy ships, aircraft, and insect-like mechanical creations of many shapes and sizes. While the player’s path is technically locked, there’s a great deal of Sylpheed-esque camera movement going on, showing of the 3D backgrounds, and some objects appear on your plane and must be dodged. Waves of enemies and huge boss battles are the order of the day. There are three playable characters, each with their own type of craft and projectile firing patterns. Each ship also represents a different color, and each has a shield that can deflect enemy shots of the same color. Because there are different concentrations of each bullet color, certain characters are easier to use than others. Wings of Apocalypse was released as a freeware PC download, while Wings of Apocalypse X was released using WildPockets, a 3D browser-based game engine.