A quick google search is the only requirement to reinforce the idea that video game franchises such as Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Uncharted, Portal and more are generally considered the ‘gems’ of video games and are continually praised. But what about if you were to open your eyes past the mainstream appraisal and instead begin to look more upon perhaps Indie games which could have significantly better quality of gameplay and enjoyment, but just isn’t covered in the media.

I’m not suggesting that all Indie games are ignored in the video game industry; in the past Indie games wouldn’t have even been considered as part of a boasting session in conferences such as E3, however now Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony all take pride in their support for Indie games.There’s even the cases now where games begin as an Indie development team, but become so popular that it eventually overcomes its Indie status such as Minecraft. So this weeks talking point is a simple one: which underrated game do you consider as one of your personal favourites? It doesn’t even have to be a Indie game, it could be a game made from a popular development team but just wasn’t that highly appraised by the media.

One of my personal favourites is a creative 3D adventure game named ‘Atmosphir’. for PC. The game is funded upon user generated levels which are then uploaded into a play browser for others to play and enjoy. The idea isn’t something necessarily new and different from what other games can offer, but ironically enough it was the ‘Atmosphir’ of the community for the game that made my playtime there extremely more enjoyable!

The game originally started as a private beta in 2008 from the development team ‘Minor Studious’ who were funded by Minor Ventures ( who is known for funding and supporting early projects and building their reputation). The private beta started of with the main character ‘Cameron’ who was the only choice for the player to control in the user generated levels. With a simple control scheme of just running around and the ability to pick up (in what I believe was) a coconut and throw it around. The play mode was simple due to the control scheme but then dependent on the level, the gameplay could be extremely hard and puzzling which could stress you out for days!

Cameron
Cameron jumping around in one of the earlier difficult stages in the game.

The Design mode:

So obviously, with the game being reliant of user generated levels, one of the main features that made this game special was the design mode. Players were given a simple 100×100 grid to click selected blocks and place the items around the map. Many were stationary items such as floor blocks or scenery props, whilst others were more animated items such as enemies, moving spikes and moving platforms. With the simple point and click scheme to design levels, it allowed practically anyone to have the capability to share their talent and imagination, but only the skilled to actually create impressive and note-worthy levels.  Atmosphir was updated constantly adding new themed items, blocks, packs of enemies and more; The more features added, the more we could use our imagination to create incredible levels. The best thing about the game was that it was free! Unlike many other companies who charge for practically any possible thing they can, Minor Studios kept the scamming of people for money to the minimum (which remains part of why the community was so great). They did accept donations, and eventually in later updates the character Cameron was scrapped for customisable characters in which some  clothing items and weapons were charged for, but these weren’t fundamental items to enjoy the game.

After a particular major update, the design mode offered anti-gravity items (similar to what is seen in Mario Kart 8 now) and more detailed customisation with items, landscape, item rotation/scaling and more! In the end, placing blocks and designing levels felt like putting lego pieces together, but so much detail could be implemented into it that each level could feel like an entirely different game.

You could create anything you want!
You could create anything you want!

The ‘Play’ mode:

After you’ve finished your creation all a player had to do was to click the upload button and share it across the Atmosphir servers to others. Using the forums and such you could publicise your levels to others and this allowed user to again express their creative side by seeing how they market their levels – photoshop, youtube, prose, fan art and more were created and used to let people be aware and play the level. This allowed users to develop additional skills, which was especially amazing for any of the children who would play the game as they develop their IT skills at an early stage of life.

You didn’t even have to create levels to play the game. If you’re not a creative person you could just jump straight to play mode and try out peoples levels. Some people would create homages or recreations of past video games or their favourite landscapes, some would do block art, some would tell interactive stories and more. The choices in design were endless so some levels were simple linear get to the flags, whilst others could be exploration, platforming, racing or anything else that the designer could attempt to make! Therefore playing different levels always had different experiences. Some people would collaborate levels so that there’s one mega ‘playground’ for the player to explore in. With the later release of multiplayer it allowed even more fun as there was either competitive levels where you’d play standard death matches / get to the flags or there were also co-operative levels where players would work together. The different outcome in levels were really unique and presented the true power of imagination.

You can create... ANYTHING!
You can create… ANYTHING!

The community:

Beautiful, a nicely developed custom design and upload game; you may have played it before by other Indie games or even big named games such as LittleBigPlanet, but what makes it so different? It’s the charm! The charm in the game is unbelievable, you can kill enemies using just a lollypop in one second and the next you’re shooting out crabs in outer space with a bomb blaster! What makes it even better is the community. Due to the game having not fully expanded to the general public, the amount of players were plentiful, but wasn’t too much for us to not know each other. The community felt like a family, you’d upload a few levels, post on the forums, contribute to any competitions and people know your user name and get to know you! You would get support all the time, and it was one of the very few communities where there wasn’t regular trolling or offence, but rather the entire feel to the community was tranquil. We’d all have a genuine interest in video games and we’d express our love through the game and through discussions of other games too!

The CEO of Atmosphir Dave Werner would even post regular Vlogs named ‘Jumpstarts’ to make personal announcements, which provided a similar feel to how Nintendo Directs feel now. Also both the CEO and developers would keep regular contact to the players in the game adding a sense of authenticity to the community.

So what happened?

In November 2011, the official website went offline. Shortly before hand, there was (what some would consider) a downfall after the CEO left for personal reasons alongside with later disappearances from other major developers. There was a downgrade in quality in both community service and also in the regular updates and excitement which caused less interest in the game. Many of the popular users began to leave which overall lead to the loss of Atmosphir after as what the Wiki describes ‘A lack of funding’.

That’s not to say the game wasn’t good and wasn’t worthwhile to play (because it was), but instead just shows how the lack of organisation in a team can lead to a downfall. Other community members have saved the game files and has even rebooted their own server to host levels on here: http://onemoreblock.com/forum/threads/download-atmosphir.274/

What about you?

So I’ve described the story of what I consider as a ‘gem’ of an underrated game. How about you? Is there any thing which you consider to be unknown yet worth sharing about?

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