Big Sky: Infinity

A game by Boss Baddie and VooFoo Studios for PS3 and Vita, originally released in 2012.
Big Sky: Infinity starts off small and works its way toward… infinity. The game is an updated and enhanced version of the procedurally generated PC shmup Really Big Sky, offering 4P co-op in the PS3 version and some touchscreen play on Vita to manually detonate claymores. While the Vita does not feature 4P simultaneous action, it does offer asynchronous multiplayer via a “Horse” mode where players take turns attempting to not spell out a given word. One purchase gets both games, and cloud saving allows you to continue your progress between the handheld and the big screen.

The game begins with a quick tutorial to get you used to the mechanics. In this opening level, a love-him-or-hate-him cockney British narrator guides you through your basic movement and attack options. The narrator joins you through the campaign as well, spouting off various witticisms, if you so choose; elsewise, you can use the Options menu to toggle him into oblivion.

In the tutorial area, also known as Practice Mode, there is no penalty for death, and the player is free to experiment with the dual-stick shooting controls to blast a variety of enemies. The player can also enter a drill mode, which turns off firing but allows the ship to penetrate solid objects, such as asteroids and even full-size planets. Periodically, a planet will scroll into the playfield which cannot be avoided. Activate your drill and you’ll begin tunneling through the planet – while your enemies humorously explode against the surface – and you can even grab some powerups along the way that increase your laser speed and spread, your ship speed, or your point multiplier. Passing through a gas giant challenges you to fly through gates to increase you multiplier and collect some extra starbits (more on this in a bit).

A special spin attack can also be activated by holding down the DRILL button, which lets you destroy enemies by flying close to them. This is particularly useful against slow-moving foes, and those with shields that are impervious to bullets unless you move within their radius. The special attack is limited to 4 uses per round.

Once you enter the main game, called Classic Mode, you will be immediately and frequently punished for your failures, as even a single death will boot you out of the game. Start again, and you will enjoy a few additional seconds of shooting before you explode once more. And, since events and enemy placement are randomly generated, you can’t simply commit the level to memory and inch your way forward. This is where the shop system comes into play.

At the start of the game, your ship is weak, and you must purchase powerups in order to strengthen it and make progress. Defeated enemies drop starbits that can be collected by flying through them, and these act as currency. After each death, you will have an opportunity to spend starbits on a variety of upgrades in the shop. Upgrades start out cheap, and get progressively more expensive as they become more powerful. You won’t be maxing out any of those gauges until you get much better at the game… although some very expensive ultra-powerful (and limited use) weapons await those who do.

Available upgrades include supplemental projectiles that fire out at in different directions, increased weapon power, greater ability to collect starbits, faster movement, and some very important defensive abilities. You are free to spend your money how you like, customizing your ship toward sheer firepower, focusing on dodging and defense, or spreading out upgrades evenly. Or, you can cheat and use real world earth monies to buy starbits from the PSN store.

The dual stick controls allow your ship to move and aim independently, with very powerful lasers being emitted at first, which then dwindle down to less powerful smaller projectiles if you continue firing, thus discouraging continuous shooting. Collecting starbits also powers up your main weapon, and collecting enough of them will eventually discharge a huge solid laser blast that destroys almost anything in its path.

Since the game is different each time you play, it is important to understand how each of the enemies operates and how various events unfold. For instance, some enemies are stationary, while others toss projectiles, and others lay mines. Some shielded enemies must be shot up-close, while others have small openings that spin around, forcing you to circle-strafe your way to victory.

Throughout the game, you will enter various special events, such as the Spike Cascade that turns all destroyed enemies into spiked balls that move slowly outward. Sometimes your ship will suddenly burst forward at high speed, sending you hurtling toward waves and waves of enemies, requiring that you plow an opening through them, utilize your spin attack, or have some good defensive upgrades equipped. Another odd event puts you up against spinning dinosaur heads that slowly emit laser blasts from their mouths while an eerie siren sounds.

A number of events change the onscreen effects, which can be problematic as you are dropped into areas that throw tons of colors at you, or turn everything black and white. This can make it difficult to discern enemy locations, the movement of projectiles, and even the location of your own ship. Often, surviving one of these events can feel like more luck than skill, which is particularly troublesome given the game’s focus on scoring and moving up on the leaderboards.

The random placement of score multipliers also greatly impacts your overall performance, as you can spend one session struggling toward 100,000 points, only to enter the next round and quickly find yourself with a 100x multiplier and a score climbing quickly toward 1 million. All in-level powerups slowly increase as you sit on them, with many of the point multipliers guarded by spinning geometry, which you must pilot into and out of, although you are free to camp on the powerup while it scrolls from one side of the screen to the other, slowly growing your multiplier total. It is possible to encounter multiple powerups in succession.

Boss encounters are random as well, although there are only 4 boss types, so figuring out their strategies often makes these fights easier than surviving some of the special events… though the bosses do get tougher as you make it further into the round. Bosses cycle through their various attacks, with their more powerful attacks telegraphed sufficiently to be avoided by most action game veterans.

Once you’ve grown accustomed to the game’s mechanics and challenges, scoring points and building up starbits becomes easier, as does unlocking the game’s numerous alternate modes. The Boss Rush Mode is fairly self-explanatory and opens up once you beat all of the bosses once. Arcade Mode opens once you cross a certain score threshold, and requires that players upgrade within levels by picking up more traditional floating powerups. Pacifism Mode eschews the game’s spacey visuals for flowers and such, and tasks players with avoiding all enemy contact. Naked Mode puts you into the fray without any of your purchased powerups. A number of other modes greatly increase the challenge by giving you a choice of a limited number of powerups at the beginning of the level and nothing else: Countdown Mode throws a bunch of baddies at you under a 2-minute time limit; Nightmare Mode goes from hard to harder; and Hell Mode wants to kill you badly.

The game does deliver on its promise to never give the player the same experience twice, although this does make for a steep initial learning curve. However, the upgrade system lets the player slowly build his arsenal and begin making progress within the main mode, while unlocking a variety of supplemental modes along the way. Each mode has its own leaderboard, although the random nature of the levels may thwart dedicated score runs. Those who stick with the game and take advantage of the shop system will eventually see and do all there is to experience in the main mode, while the additional modes offer increased challenges to more advanced players.

Big Sky: Infinity was developed by Boss Baddie, a UK-based developer founded in 2007 by James Whitehead, in collaboration with VooFoo Studios. The game is a follow-up/upgrade to Boss Baddie’s previous PC release, Really Big Sky, which also featured procedurally generated levels and cooperative play, as well as a number of bosses and scenarios that appear in Big Sky: Infinity.

Big Sky: Infinity was published by Ripstone, which also published Knytt Underground on PSN.

The New Satan Sam
James Whitehead has created a number of games, including a several freeware titles. The most notable of these freeware titles is a challenging platformer called The New Satan Sam, which was released in 2006. The game features some rather zany jumping action as the player dashes, jumps, and double jumps through more than 100 levels across 10 varied worlds, and goes up against over a dozen bosses. Satan Sam has a number of weapons at his disposal, including a sword, rockets, a hamster ball, and a rather overpowered laser, many of which have versatile attacks that change based on how they are used, even allowing for some creative environmental navigation.

Lunnye Devitsy
In 2009, James released an atmospheric exploration-based platformer called Lunnye Devitsy, featuring an alien who is trying to make his way back to his home on the moon. The game has no enemies and no deaths and instead focuses on solving environmental puzzles. There are six ways back home, and the player must find them all in order to complete the game.

Wake, released in 2010, is an exploration-based platformer that places the player on the bottom of a sinking cruise ship and tasks him with making his way to the surface and finding a way out. The player must avoid fires that have broken out on the ship, and perform platforming moves as the vessel sways back and forth. Most importantly, he must avoid drowning as the water level rises. The player must flip switches to open doors, collect keys, light torches and flares to see in the dark, and outrun the occasional machine gun turret.

Lunnye Devitsy and Wake were bundled together for purchase in Boss Baddie’s The Lunar Pack.

James also worked for a number of years on a yet unfinished Metroidvania title called Tormishire. The game features a large open world packed with beautiful sprites and large detailed bosses. Players may explore a number of platforming environments, fight enemies with a melee-based combat system, and even bring along a friend for 2P co-op.