Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pester (Xbox Live)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
20 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Flump Studios
Published by Flump Studios in 2013

One evening prior to another well-deserved vacation the Ms. and I were both trying to recover ourselves from a long, strenuous day. We openened a bottle of fine wine, she went to the kitchen and I thought it was time to try out another XBLIG shooter as we sipped our glasses back and forth. The chosen one was Pester, a name that's also an inside joke that's constantly being made between us. The joke kinda resembles its original meaning in English, but not quite. As for the game, let's say I couldn't beat it on that evening. And it wasn't the wine's fault.

Pester is visually marked by a retro design that comes out as just another cheap attempt at providing a little shooting fun on a platform flooded with similar titles. Graphically following on the footsteps of Flump Studios' previous Super Killer Hornet but leaving the weird math element aside, Pester is instead a straightforward wave-based game with a single combo of background + music, even though you can tweak them at will before the credit starts. That's a nice way to present some variation in a shooter whose core isn't diverse by any means. The inclusion of extra game modes isn't as effective as the ability to choose other music tracks, since most of them aren't as much fun as the main game.

From the starting screen, the Arcade branch leads you to the regular game modes. Classic is where you're supposed to go for a normal credit that starts with 3 lives, but all game modes can be tweaked with the available extra options (more on that later). The gameplay on Classic is relatively simple: shoot with A or RT, bomb with B, activate hyper mode with X once you've collected enough coins to fill up the hyper bar and reduce the ship's speed with LT. This last input aimed at speed control feels really awkward, but unfortunately it's not possible to remap the buttons. Items might appear randomly every time you complete a wave: P increases firepower, S is the speed-up, B is the extra bomb and 1.000 is just a small score bonus. It takes only two Ps to max out your weapon, three Ss to max out speed and it's possible to carry a maximum of three bombs at any given time. Whenever you die firepower is downgraded by one level, but there's no loss on speed or bomb stock.

First boss, wave 5

Bosses will materialize every five waves or so, and after each boss the enemy and bullet count increases considerably. Soon you realize several things. The first one is that Pester is a bullet hell shmup. There's also the weird way hit detection is implemented: your bullets will pierce through everything even though enemies take their own time to die. The feeling of bullet "contact" onto the enemy is non-existent, and damage is only denoted on more powerful foes by quick flashes. This slippery aspect of the gameplay reeks of laziness and definitely takes some getting used to. The absence of a proper art design doesn't bother me as much, but I got awful reactions from a bunch of friends who saw me playing the game. You can't argue with that when all you see are ugly little drones, planes, saucers, meteors and a ridiculous tomato-like boss. Enemy bullets have a lot more flair, seeing that they come in lots of flashy, pulsating flavors.

Speaking of ugly, don't try to look at your ship when it's moving. I don't know what the developer tried to do there, but the fuzzy sprites can induce headaches.

Despite the game's graphic's bare bones nature, I still found myself glued to Pester after a couple of hours - and I say this as a compliment. I wanted to see what was next in the mayhem of bullets, no matter how random the game could get. It can be unnerving to go on and on without a single power-up, and the lack of extends leads to restartitis if you die in early waves. I'm not so fond of speed-ups because later on they screw the necessary micro-dodging, so I avoided them completely. Visibility might be impaired by explosions or even the "wave completed" message, and the screen-clearing explosion upon death is deceiving. There's no breathing window of any kind for the ship itself, and in later stages many credits can be lost in a snap if you don't focus hard enough.

If you're still able to accept the game as it is, Pester offers a pseudo-competent rush in its hyper mechanics and in the intense dodging required after the 10th wave. One would assume that using hypers should boost scoring somehow, but that's not what happens. In the end it becomes an aid for survival more than anything. Crowd control is very important because it's easy to die by colliding against an enemy that quickly drifts towards your hitbox, or from a bullet fired almost off-screen by one of those bigger ships that cross the screen vertically. Speaking of which, the hitbox is shown in the center of any of the three available ships, which behave the same way regardless of their sprites.

Pester's first trailer
(courtesy of developer and YouTube user FlumpStudiosUK)

Other modes in the Arcade branch include Survival (1 life, starts with max power), Asteroid Belt (1 life, dodge-only, unlocked by getting 60K on Survival), Boss Mode (3 lives, power-ups after each boss, no hyper, unlocked by getting 20K on Asteroid Belt) and Boss Survival (1 life, max power, no hyper). Once you've chosen a game mode it's possible to apply three types of modifiers: Expert Mode (×1,5 bullets/enemies),  Duo (×1,5 + right analog stick active for dual-ship play) and Reverse (×1,5 + reversed controls!). And then you must choose background graphics, music tune, a variation on graphics (including an overlay that slightly mimics the arcade screen) and ship type (Classic, Grace or Hornet). Of all eight tracks my favorites are Hard Noise and Breaking Thru, they're awesome. Some tracks and background options are initially unavailable, and to unlock them you need to win the achievements set by the game (see the Awards section at the start screen).

The other gameplay alternative that can be chosen from the starting screen is Tempus. On the surface it's just like Arcade, but coins get replaced by clocks. Lives are then replaced by a timer, and in order to survive you need to collect clocks (1 clock = 1 more second). Even though the idea seems interesting, Tempus isn't well balanced at all. Boss Survival mode, for instance, is unplayable because you start with 20 seconds and the first boss takes forever to materialize (14s). Both Arcade and Tempus have their own high score tables, but unfortunately they don't keep track of games played with modifiers turned on. That's a pity, I'd love to have a separate table for the Duo modifier, it's a really fun mode. Controller vibration can be turned off in the main options, and switching Particle Physics on and off toggles the in-game explosion sprites.

Pester gets considerably taxing by the time you reach its last levels. I'd say it's almost unfair in the way it overlaps popcorn and bosses. Ever heard of "being in the zone"? Well, you probably need it here if you want to loop Pester's 20 waves. Those who think XBLIG shmups are easy should definitely check it out, never mind the poor production values and the silly oversights of the extra game modes.

Below is my highest score in Arcade Classic mode, playing with the Classic ship with no modifiers. I won all the awards and unlocked all extra modes/backgrounds/songs.


  1. Thanks!
    É sempre bom estar de volta! :)

  2. Look master, the game is in Steam Greelights system:

    Via Paul Marrable in shmups group from Facebook.

  3. Hahahaha. Like a crackhead you just couldn't stay away huh?

    Nice to have you back!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hey man,

    The dev here.
    I love your write up! I think it's one of the best I've read for Pester.

    I made this game a couple of years ago now and reading this actually made me put it into greenlight.

    Anyway, I'm working on big update to sort out most of the problems you've mentioned. I was making this in my spare time and didn't really have enough time to get it polished to level it needed to be at.
    Now though I should be able to turn it into something a little more presentable.

    Anyway I was wondering if I could send you a build of the update when it's ready So I can get some decent feedback. I know it'll never be perfect but it would be nice to get it to a respectable level.

    Thanks again man!


    1. Hi there Paul.

      So you're still working to improve Pester? I reckon for the Steam version maybe, or will you be patching the XBLIG one as well? You see, I always wait at least a few months after every XBLIG game comes out so that I can play them will all patches already in place. :)

      Of course you can send me the update, I'd love to give it another go + feedback. It's only been a few weeks since I registered on Steam, but I'll also be watching your Steam greenlight closely.

      Thank you for still believing in shmups and making them!

  6. Its been a while since I've worked on Pester, but I recently released a new game which made it to Steam. This has freed me up a bit to go back to Pester and give it a good tidy.
    I like going back to older projects and using my news skills to get them up to scratch.
    Already sorted out the stupid time problem on the boss mode and have made the graphics a little bit more presentable.

    Also sorted out the hit detection, the penetrating shot was actually done on purpose, it allowed me to have more enemies on the screen at the same time and more explosions. However after going back to it I see how ridiculous it looks!

    Also added Tate support.

    I will update the Xblig version as well, I still love xblig! Released a game only a month ago on there, SKH-Resurrection (Let me know if you want a code).

    I've got a couple more things to tidy up but I'll email you a build when it's a little nicer.

    I hugely doubt it'll get greenlit, but thanks for the support man!

    This blog is awesome by the way!!!

    1. Sweet!
      I'm glad you're enjoying the blog.

      I already downloaded SKH-Resurrection - after you told me it had a definite number of stages at the shmups forum. :)
      I'll probably be choosing it as my next XBLIG target.

  7. Ah, you should have le me know and I would have sent you a promo code.

    Bit scared now!!!
    I think you might find it too easier, it's a lot more easy going than Pester.
    Hope you like it.
    PS. Try the classic OST, I think you might like it more :)

  8. maybe the game has terrible graffic,
    just for fun to play that game