Shadow of the Seal is a unique indie studio that no one knows about.
Four years ago, on the expanse of YouTube, I came across a yearsplay of some simple-looking game where a character with an overhead view was beating small crowds of enemies in an almost static location. Even with such a sparse, at first glance, gameplay the game was different - all the objects in it were made of clay. Then I was immediately hooked by this style, recalling a favorite to me Neverhood. Googling the name of the game I came across the website of the developers - Shadow of the Seal indie studio. There I found three more of their games, which I happily played for a couple of days and forgot. Forgotten for four years.
And so recently, nostalgic images came flooding back to me. I went to their website to download those games again and look at the new ones. I even thought about dropping them a couple of hundred as a token of token support. However I saw on the site that the service period of the donation card expired in the seventeenth year and the list of games hadn't been replenished. There were sad dates in the news:
The studio died the year I became acquainted with it - I decided. I was offended that talented guys from Russia with cool ideas and straight hands were not able to succeed. It became even more offensive when I could find almost no mentions of the games and the studio itself on the Internet. I was interested in their history. From the information that I dug out I was able to gather a rough picture of what happened, but I wanted to be sure of some of my conjectures and find out some details. Then I found a developer in VK whose name was in the credits more often than others. He told me the story of his studio, which I want to share with you.
The founder of Shadow of the Seal studio is Roman Pautin:
First of all, I found a very convenient and intuitive, and most importantly - free (with a free license, including the sale of finished projects) - engine, Scirra Construct Classic. Visual programming environment for 2D games, which can be mastered in a few days without learning any special languages.
Of course, the tool is simple, but even with some creative talent, you can make a sweet object with it. It seemed to me then that I have enough abilities, and I decided to give it a try. But drawing pixel sprites seemed to me too... time-consuming and tedious. And then I remembered "Neverhood", "Platypus", "Operation Plasticine" and other rare games with eye-pleasing plasticine graphics, and thought: "Why not? Although this method actually turned out to be many times more labor-intensive, in the end, it turned out that I hit the mark!
I decided to make a simple project. It was more for self-testing than anything else. I made models out of plasticine, assembled a "machine" from various junk and an old web-camera for frame-by-frame animation from sixteen sides for isometric view (Diablo was my inspiration there), and off we went... A friend dropped in on me, looked at what I was doing and said: "wow, cool!" and joined me. After him, the other one came by.
Their help was invaluable, as just one animated action (a punch, for example) is ~12 frames multiplied by 16 sides. Processing them (cut off the background, center, align colors) - a long and painstaking task, not to mention the fact that they carefully animate frame by frame, moving the plasticine model a little bit and photographing it... The three of us have managed for a month, and posted on warez site with small games - after all, we worked for the idea. Thus was born the first project - "Tranquility of the Desert.
As Roman has already said, this game was a sample pen of a newborn studio, so it was a small, buggy game with a strange atmosphere. With what is going on in the game we are acquainted by the short intro, where the protagonist, pictured on the cover, is telling his simple story: He was happily living in the city until the change of power, from which he fled to the wasteland and settled in a cave. But even there he is not allowed to live in peace - there are noises coming from the street. At this point, the introduction ends and we are given the control. Here we also hear the strange music, that perfectly complements the unusual atmosphere of plasticine games. And it is not only the music that is strange here. Once out of the cave, we find near it a group of aggressive axes with legs.
That's someone I didn't expect to see here. The developers often compete in the originality of the enemies, but no one, as far as I know, has not attached the legs to the weapon, sending the hero to hit.
Controls, like everything else here, are uncomplicated - you only need the mouse. Axes are easy to kill, but they also hurt. Three or four of them kill almost instantly. Locations are only four, three of which are corridors with different decorations on the way to the boss, where we actively destroy the population of armed legs. The last location houses the boss himself. He is no less original than the ordinary enemies. As described by the hero himself, "A big blue pile of shit". To this we can only add that it also speaks.
It speaks incomprehensibly, and out of it go bad legs, so with a few simple manipulations, we climb the well-placed ledge and crush the creature.
All of this is completed in about five minutes. As we know from the developers' website, the action of the game takes place in the universe of the RPG they conceived, where perhaps all these circumstances would have become clearer. The desire to replay the game does not arise, which it does not pretend, in general. The game was created to test the studio's capabilities, and it fulfilled its role.
That little demo got the public so excited that we immediately set about the next project which was to be a full-fledged game. It involved playing a mage with upgradable and manually adjustable (!!!) spells. And after half a year of hard work of three people, when the game was halfway done, the engine said: "No, guys, I can't handle that kind of work," and refused to start the project.
Rewriting everything from scratch didn't help because I lacked much experience to properly optimize the game at that time. The assistants got very upset and left the team. But I did not give up. Since this plan didn't work, I took up something simpler - the project "XUHYA". And... it turned out all right. A sort of hardcore simplified plasticine analogue of Crimsonland'a players also liked it.
of Huha's creation is described in a small comic in the credits.
It was created by Roman in his spare time working on a failed game. He made a controllable square and a bunch of enemy squares, a cannon that killed them. Over time, he came up with new cannons, and what came out he began to like more and more. When the mage game he was working on didn't work, he decided to design it in claymation and share it with the world. That's how Hooha was born.
"A hardcore simplified plasticine counterpart to Crimsonland" is the best description for Huha. More specifically, it's the survival mode analogue of said game. Despite the fact that the gameplay and visuals in Hooha are less than in Inspiration, you can sit in it even for a longer time. I'll explain the reason why below.
There is a plot here, albeit a metaphorical one. Huha is attacked by problems, presented as brown monsters, and we help solve them. The solutions are, of course, guns. The goal of the game is to reach 1000 points by killing these critters. When it is reached, a kind of halo appears above your head, which, expanding, clears the whole field of enemies and their remains. Speaking of pleasant trifle: after you kill a monster you are left with a purple (mauve? blue?) spot, which does not disappear, so over time the whole battlefield will be flooded with the "blood" of the enemies.
On each attempt there is only one weapon to choose, and it is impossible to change it. And there is a lot to choose from. We have 8 different guns at our disposal, the use of each makes us apply a different tactic. Among them are the familiar flamethrower, shotgun, submachine gun and turret, and some exotic guns, there are no names and I do not describe their actions, it's better just to try it yourself.
To be honest, I only learned how to use three guns effectively, and I couldn't reach a thousand of them. And therein lies the main draw of this game, which caused me to get stuck in it for a couple of days. The tutorial gave me a handful of enemies that are quickly dispersed, and the visual style made the game feel casual.
I started the game wondering what else I'd play once I'd shot all the creeps here. At first a couple of monsters slowly crawled out from behind the screen, which regardless of size die from a single hit, which further relaxed me. But here they came more, some are no longer weaving, but naturally running, but I still easily shoot them. However, one little bugger escaped my gaze and caught up with me. And then it turned out that Huhya also dies from a single blow. I, properly armed with attention and reaction, went to win. And ready for the increasing number of enemies, I was apt to kill one by one. But I wasn't ready for the hell that followed. At some point the number of staying creatures began to exceed the number of being killed, and soon the entire screen was swarming with the brown mass that was already closing around me. Eventually, some creature got Hooha. I had 450 points on the meter. I hadn't even reached half of the required number.
Everything flipped in my head. The game greets you kindly, showing you with its appearance how simple it is, and then kicks you in the face, throwing you to the floor, and starts kicking you in the legs. That's exactly how I felt - trampled. But I decided to take up the challenge and still beat her. Took me two days. As I said, I still can't finish the game, but during the game I experienced the whole range of emotions, from joy of a broken record to complete despair.
I was left alone, but still decided not to stop there and started making a second part.
Lots of good ideas, VERY long hours of framing and programming, a little over a year of work... petered out into another failure. I followed the little things so closely that I lost the ability to evaluate the big picture. The game came out unbalanced, too boring and uninteresting. But at least the survival mode (and only after unlocking all kinds of weapons) turned out to be good. However, it did not pull the game out. Understanding the need for testers, who will evaluate the project with fresh eyes and advise me what would be better to fix and rework, came at a high cost.
"Huhya. Serious Problems" is an improved first part. The overhead view has changed to isometric, the goal of the game has also changed. We now appear in the hub after going through the tutorial, with a hammer in hand. We have eight walkthroughs, any of which you can go to.
Behind each passage there is a unique location with its own enemies (all this company is depicted on the cover of the game), a boss at the end and a reward in the form of weapons. Also in all locations are familiar monsters from the first part.
Weapons are pumped up in the process of killing enemies, dealing more damage and changing the effect of the shot visually depending on the gun. The hammer has an interesting feature - after each killed monster, there is a charge in it, that can be released in the form of killing balls flying in different directions, their number depends on the number of kills in a row.
After we pass all the levels, a new aisle opens, where we are attacked by hordes of monsters and even bosses from all passed levels. Here is the level where the game becomes as it should be - the increased dynamics and variety of enemies in one place surprised me so much that I passed the entire location in one breath. And at the end there's a final boss that stands out strongly from the previous ones with its multiple stages and slightly higher difficulty.
Also in the game there is a survival mode, where all the monsters of the game come at us from different directions and we need to hold out as long as possible.
We can only use the open weapon, and to pump it each time you have to again. I'm not a fan of these modes, so I did not even linger there, but the game is much livelier than the first Hooha.
Roman is right: the balance of the game has a problem, you can find a gun with explosive ammunition and clear them all the other locations, especially if you pumped to the maximum. Yes, the levels drawn out, Huha walks slowly, and in the middle of the location is getting boring, but I do not agree that the game is absolutely boring. Despite the plodding, you want to go into each location to see what it looks like and what critters inhabit it. You want to get to the end of each level just to look at the boss. As for me, these very levels can not even reduce - to make Huhya faster, the number of enemies to add, removing their lives and tighten the balance.
Alone in the field - the warrior I
decided to abandon isometric view - too much effort goes into creating and processing frames.
It's too much for one person. But I was still full of clever ideas for the next projects, so I moved on. The next game on the turn was "One in the field - a warrior. A title that suits my current situation. And it has already "shot" for real!
The last game of the studio so far and the crowning glory of Roman's creations. The game that hooked me and for which I went to the developer's site again after four years. And which, by the way, has recently appeared in Steam for free download. In this game once again appears a clear, albeit simple plot. Thousands of enemies are besieging the king's castle and are about to launch an assault. An enemy infiltrator sneaks into the castle at night and slaughters all defenders. The desperate king has gone to the tavern to find a brave hero to help save the castle.
I can't help but insert here a fragment of Roman's story where he describes his game. I'm afraid I can't do better than that:
Full binding of the hero's attacks to mouse movements - oh, how pleasant it is to swing a chain mortarshtern, or, having got accustomed to cutting and stabbing with a sword, literally feeling the virtual weapon in your hands! Four different heroes to choose from with different melee and ranged weapons for each; simple, but tastefully designed story inserts in the backstory when choosing a hero and completing the game by each of them; curious boosts during respawn; changing weather; revealing the character and style remarks of the characters; and, finally, music, created still tastefully, but no longer on the old distressed guitar from the closet.
Now to elaborate. We are given warriors from different points in the world and time as heroes. In the tavern sitting: a medieval knight, a barbarian berserker, a Russian hero and a Greek peltast.
Their weapons, as exemplified by Hooha, force you to think up new tactics of battle for each character. Weapons here are not exotic. They are from our world and familiar to all. Such a gameplay difference between weapons is achieved through a unique combat system. And I did not call it unique just for the sake of speculation - I did not find anything similar on purpose and could not find it. Roman has transferred the sight control from 2D shooters to the game, where you have to fight with cold steel weapons. When you press the LKM the weapon follows the movements of the cursor - simple, but it feels awesome. Especially coupled with weapon physics - arcade, but enough to make you feel it. Roman has described it in color.
I'll give you examples of how the feel of each weapon is different. A knight walks with a one-handed sword, which can be swung quickly, striking one enemy after another, but for armored enemies it may take several blows. On the other hand the knight is armed with a morgenstern (dagger), the swing of which causes enemies to fly away like skittles when they meet the ball, but it can take a while to kill them. By the way, the damage here depends on how hard you swing, so it's not very effective to mindlessly sway the mouse from side to side.
The sensations from the weapons of different heroes are not particularly different. The principle is the same for all of them, only some peculiarities are different. For example, still the same knight in the arsenal has a triple crossbow, which, as the name suggests, shoots three bolts at once. The bogatyr, on the other hand, has a dart that kills all enemies on its way, flying off the screen. There is a difference, but you are unlikely to use these two weapons differently. Either way, in the heat of battle, you're taking out the pesky archers, killing a couple more enemies at the same time.
The entire game consists of destroying waves of enemies. Between the waves there is a screen where our character says some replica, and we can choose one of the actions:
Two left items don't need an explanation, but the rest pair is connected with another important elements of the game.
"Take a breath" restores the stamina scale, which is spent when using a special ability - unique to each hero. Examples: berserker, as he should, can go into a rage, which increases his speed, his attacks become stronger, and the damage he receives is halved. As for the peltast, his reaction speed increases, which slows down the timing of his attacks.
Red Man - berserker in rage
"Raise Prayers" increases the chance to drop bonuses from the opponents.
There's quite a few bonuses here, and they're good for combat. Among them there are Archers, that kill the enemies with one shot, roots crawling out of the ground and entangling their legs, so that they cannot walk around, but can attack, lightning, striking several enemies at once, sword swirling around the character and other goodies. The choice of character also makes a difference here. Each character has an advantage when using certain bonuses.
There is no great variety of enemies here: warriors with two-handed swords, shield-bearers, archers, crossbowmen and armored wild boars. All the warriors with cold steel arms are killed almost equally, and in the heat of battle you do not feel the difference. It's the same with arrows: archers shoot quickly but don't hurt as much, and crossbowmen do more damage, but take longer to reload. There seems to be a difference, but they are equally annoying and in large numbers merge into one firing mob. On the other hand, vepri (looking more like big bugs) bring good variety to the battle. They ram you with great speed, pushing often to your disadvantage and preventing you from maneuvering under the onslaught of the enemy mobs. Considering their survivability, a couple of the Veps can be a serious problem if you don't react in time.
Now briefly about the extra perks. Here, just like in Hooha 2, there is a survival mode, in which you have enemies coming at you from all sides, and you just need to hold out as long as possible.
Brought in the achievers, but unfortunately, only in-game - there are no stymic ones. There is an encyclopedia where you can read in detail about all the characters, enemies, power-ups and stuff. That's where I liked the scroll animation: it's really like we're unwinding it.
When looking at these games in order, you can immediately see the systematic growth in their quality. Gaining experience and learning from his mistakes, Roman has found a balance between complexity, action and variety. New combat system and a heap of content along with plastinated graphics make the game a worthy project for Russian indie industry, though not a masterpiece.
The testers liked it all so much that I took a brave step - decided to make my way to Steam. I got through, albeit at a significant cost - I had to register as an entrepreneur, because Steam requires officiality. "Wow, I'm so cool now!" - I thought at the time. Life giggled, rubbing my hands together in anticipation of more tricks on my head...
The game was selling.
Even from countries I'd never heard of. The advertisers themselves emailed me, saying "Give us the keys, we'll advertise you / shoot a review on YouTube. The money was pretty good. Yes, it was not so much, to hire full-paid workers for the team (volunteers too quickly disappeared), but enough to live on. More and more reviews kept praising my project... But then it all started to fade away. Everything but the entrepreneurial taxes.
So, I decided to go for the super global project I've always dreamed of - a sort of hybrid of a huge adventure world, like Morrowind and Skyrim, but with Crimsonland and Diablo gameplay mechanics. It combined my personal observations on favorite games of Action-RPG genre, promising ideas from past successful and unsuccessful projects, and a great many innovations, which I have never seen before, but so desired! The game is about the very same world in which the poem from the very first test project lived. A truly vast open world, meticulously designed, with well-written storylines, locations, characters, interesting locations, main characters, major and minor quests, game mechanics...
A year has passed.
Profits from the only game that sold, and at the same time was not that big and not advertised at all, began to decline rapidly. The second year passed. The third, fourth ... And I kept grinding on the project, although the finances were far from being in deficit. In the end, I had to end my business, so that I wouldn't have to pay taxes for nothing, just for the fact that somewhere out there in some government paperwork there were two letters "IP" next to me.
Things are bad now. I am still doing (and intend to finish, no matter what) this big project. Alas, I have to keep getting distracted by part-time jobs just to get by. I'm still going to finish this project. Even if I can't make money from it for bread - I don't care, I'll distribute it for free then. Just as long as it's there, as long as it doesn't disappear... I'll finish it. Sooner or later. I will!
blog I hoped to draw at least some attention to the undeservedly overlooked and, without exaggeration, unique studio "The Shadow of the Seal".
Plasticine games are few, although many people love them, and they are made by studios with sponsors and good budgets. And here is an indie studio that consisted first of three, and then of one person! In spite of the difficulties, Roman has made such time-consuming and original games and isn't going to stop there. And I don't understand why his small but distinctive games haven't gained the popularity they deserve. Yes, they're not masterpieces that will turn the industry upside down. Yes, they won't keep you busy for a dozen hours. But these are just stepping stones to future, larger and more content-diverse games.
You often hear nowadays that the Russian gamedev is dead, or in a coma. Everyone is upset that we have almost no decent games. But here is a living proof that we have people with straight hands and a lot of cool ideas in their heads, but they lack our attention and support. It happens that in our country it is very difficult to do something that does not bring money, but requires a lot of effort and investment. And we all can help Roman and other talented indie developers we can be proud of. It's enough to play their games, tell your friends about them and support them with money if possible.
I hope we will see Roman's new project sooner rather than later. And I think he deserves to be known at least on the pages of Stopgame. Play good, not expensive games.
Team website: ten-tiulenya.ru/
"One in the field - warrior" in Steam: store.steampowered.com/app/453510/One_Man_Is_Not_No_Man/
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