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13 Feb 2010

I've been working on an indie game called Cortex for a couple months now. It didn't really start with a concrete concept; I've just been exploring in various directions and slowly finding a focus for the experience. To be perfectly honest, it started from a little technical experiment based on stringing together lattice-like structures similar to the stuff you build in World of Goo, and things evolved from there.

I've hit a bit of a wall these last few weeks, though, and I'm tired of bashing my head against it fruitlessly. And so! I unleash a horribly broken game upon you.

This isn't a final release by any means, I'm just looking for a bit of informal playtesting. Maybe some input from perspectives other than my own can help shake loose this roadblock.

Download Links

Cortex is available for both Windows and Mac:

Known Issues

There are a few known bugs:

  • Performance can get a bit shaky as the network becomes complex. I'm still trying to track down the exact cause (there may be more than one), but if you encounter performance problems, I'd be very interested to hear how severe they are, whether you're seeing a persistently bad framerate or just occasional spikes, and what kind of processor and video card you're running.
  • The AI has a few exploitable behaviors, and its overall strategy could be better.


Because Cortex is still very much a work-in-progress, I haven't implemented any kind of in-game tutorial, hints, or control reference. So in lieu of that, here's a simple gameplay introduction.

When you first start the game, you'll see some game options:

  • *AI Players: *Set the number of opponents to play against. Cortex is a free-for-all game; there are no teams.
  • Difficulty: Sets the global difficulty of all AI opponents. This is kind of fuzzy at the moment, but 100% will probably piss you off.

Click Start Game, and you'll see something like this:

(click to enlarge)

*Quick note: *You can move the camera by holding down the right mouse button and dragging the mouse. The mouse wheel zooms in and out. You can also use the keyboard: WASD to move the camera, Q and E to zoom in and out.

When you hold the mouse cursor over a synapse, you'll see a highlighted path indicating the shortest path a charge can take to reach that point. Charges always deploy from the nearest neuron (that you own). If you don't see a highlighted path, then you either don't have a connection to this synapse from any neuron, or you don't have any charges available, which means you need to wait until one of your currently-deployed charges reaches its destination first.

Left-click on a synapse or neuron to deploy a charge to that location.

When a charge reaches a friendly synapse, it grows additional synapses. You'll need to grow your network in this way to create paths along which to attack your opponents. When a charge touches an enemy synapse, it captures that synapse, converting it to your color. And if two charges belonging to different players collide, both charges are immediately destroyed.

Before long, you'll end up in a situation like this:

(click to enlarge)

Once your network has fused with your opponent's, you'll have a path by which to attack his neurons. (You'll have to capture any opposing synapses in the way, of course.) Simply hit the opposing neuron with a charge to capture it.

(click to enlarge)

As you capture neurons, you gain two advantages:

  • You can have more charges simultaneously active, which allows you to attack more aggressively
  • You have more points from which charges can deploy, potentially shortening the distance to a given target

(click to enlarge)

When a player has no neurons left, he is eliminated. This includes you, so defend your neurons vigiliantly!

(click to enlarge)

...and that's pretty much it!


I mentioned at the top of this post that I've hit a bit of a design roadblock. I'm not going to describe it here, because I don't want to lead your experience. I'd love to hear any feedback you have, positive or negative. In fact, I'm particularly keen on the negative.

Just leave your comments on this post; I'll do my best to respond here, and of course incorporate this feedback into my next steps on this project.


Posted In:

cortex game-design video-games