Hashtag Dungeon, Preview of DOOOOM!

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Today I spent about 3.5 – 4 hours in one game, so this post is coming a little on the late side.  I promise this was worth it.  Sean Oxspring sent me a copy of this game to preview some time ago and I left it in my downloads.  I can honestly say I will never uninstall this game for the shallow hope I will be able to bring my murderous dungeon of death to others.  This game is a ton of fun and, although it is simple, the open and social nature of this game is what makes it so much more intriguing.  It is the first game that I’ve seen that uses social media as a preexisting  user workshop where dungeons can be made and propagated on twitter.

Starting from the basics, this game has two characters: blue and green… but for the sake of them sounding cooler than just a pair of primary colors, we’ll call them Verdi and Azure.  Through rampant speculation, it looks like Verdi is female and Azure is male as Verdi is slimmer/smaller, but it could just be a wiry little guy.  Either way, to me Verdi is female, Azure is male.  Both characters have the same magic-missile attack, so if they are both guys, the only style differentiation comes from the colors.  After speaking with the game’s creators, I am told that this game will later features varied classes such as knights and rangers!

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At the very least I assume Verdi is female cause it looks like her hair is longer

Of course, you don’t select a character until you’ve chosen a dungeon to run.  What it seems is that you will take a minute compiling various tweets under the #hashtagdungeon with a specified dungeon hashtag.  Mine was #deathtothesheeple and you can run it if you dare, though I haven’t gotten all the way through it myself.  It is pretty tough, sure, but I also get this message as the game crashes.  It is an early game, so it has a few bugs.  This happens to me almost every time I encountered numerous zombies in one room.

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############################################################################################

FATAL ERROR in

action number 1

of Step Eventobj_KnightsGrave

for object obj_Zombie:

Push :: Execution Error – Variable Get -1.xoff(100380, -2147483648)

at gml_Object_obj_Zombie_Collision_205

############################################################################################

 

This is horrifying on its own, considering you don’t have any saves.  Granted, a standard dungeon only takes about twenty minutes to run.  But then again, this is what my dungeon’s floorplan looks like:

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So it is a little bit taxing on a computer, I guess…

Each darkened square is a room, by the way.  If you don’t have the gams to run one of these dungeons without the promise of a saved game, you might want to consider something easier.  This pixelated, retro runner is like Contra and the difficulty is up to the lunacy of those crating the dungeon.  I can tell you right now that there are a decent number of loot and treasure rooms, but getting to them can be a challenge.  Keep in mind, though, this is a good 3 (ish) hours of on-off work.  @hashtagdungeon can attest to that.  They recieved a good 90% of the tweets!

In each room you will find an assorted collection of monsters and enemies, traps and sometimes (if the dungeon creator cares enough) some loot and health!  Once you are in a room, every entrance is blocked until you kill everything in the room.  Keeps adventurers honest.  Personally, I feel that creating dungeons is a big part of playing this game.  After all, if no one makes dungeons, what will players run?

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Shittiest library ever. 1/10 would scream at checkout.

The above is one of the rooms I created in my dungeon.  I feel I started most times at the scenes, which are what the dungeon room looks like.  This one is the library.  I threw in an Oculus (the beholder in the center) and a couple demon dogs.  This screen is where the most additions will be visible.  Even if you don’t create dungeons regularly, you’ll end up coming here just to get a good hold on things that are in the game since last update.  Once you have a scene set in place, you can pick from the traps or enemies.  You can see that I set in four spike pits that will pop up and down as you avoid the enemies.  The traps and enemies will fill that green bar.  The further the room is from the center, the more enemies and traps you can fill the room with, you sadist.

Magic and objects in the special category will fill that bar as well.  Magic contains various spells that will make enemies more powerful.  They’ll shoot out little electric charges, run faster or take more damage.  Those are actually the only spells right now, but the guys over at Hashtag Dungeon are working on a number of add-ins, including a halloween update!  Special objects tend to consist of loot, monster generators and things that contain loot.  This is good, since you’ll die without buffs, and pretty quickly.

The last element is the clutter.  You can see four little pots in the room above.  Those pots are destructible, and they can give you loot and power-ups alike.  As you place them, the blue bar will fill up.  It takes a good bit of clutter to fill up a room entirely, but this is likely to keep people from doing something really irritating and filling up an entire room and making the only way through open by stepping on exploding traps numerous times.  That would be a real dick move… which I totally tried to do.

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I ran for cover a LOT in my own dungeon.

The way this game spreads the dungeon rooms to players is pretty ingenious, though.  As you make each room, you hit TWEET to save the room and simultaneously send out the data to recreate that room in other versions of the game.  I am impressed since I have never heard of anyone else sending out data for mass consumption in 140 characters or less.  These guys deserve applause.

Overall this is a great game and its devs are hard at work trying to make it a reality.  It is a lot of fun creating a dungeon, but then playing it and having others play it?  It is a lot of great fun.  Of course, it won’t exist without your help.  Go check out the game’s website for more info about the game and to sign up for the mailing list.  Vote for the game on Steam Greenlight, please!  This game implements amazing ingenuity and it shows what really lies at the hart of videogames as a whole: the desire to reach out and play with others.  That sounded a little dirty.  LoL!  Either way, vote this game up!  It’s a great example of the experiments of ingenuity that indie gaming allows.  It is great fun now in its natal stages, despite a few bugs, and it will be a monumental achievement once it has gotten a little traction and is able to really take hold of an audience.

 

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Hydrophobia: Prophecy, Drowning in Inadequacy

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This game suffers from being viciously misnamed.  Hydrophilia would be closer to the mark, considering how much attention went into this game’s water physics.  It is just a shame that a game with so much potential fell flat on its socially-progressive pretenses and turned out to be just another bowl of meh pudding.  Seriously, it wasn’t astronomically bad, but it failed so badly at everything else it tried to do that its nothing worth mentioning in the history of gaming.  Then again with how advanced the water physics were in this game, you might liken it to a socially conscientious, non-bigoted Birth of a Nation: it might be a shit, but it is a shit that made powerful contributions to its discipline.  On the bright side, at least there was no one in black face.

So it isn’t so bad that it necessitates drawing a comparison to the most violently racist film in American history, and that is part of the problem.  Aside from the water physics there is nothing else truly worth mentioning.  First, let’s start positive, since there is so little to say here.  This entire game takes place on The Queen of the World, which makes legal doctrines difficult to read in this since there are so many titles and such.  Thing is, the Queen is a massive city-ship built to be humanity’s solution to over population: not enough space on land?  Fuck it, let’s live in the ocean.  Now that is really silly, but the thing is, the rest of the world likely isn’t happy about the wealthy elites retreating to the ocean to avoid looking at the dirty plebs everywhere.  So the ship gets taken over by this terrorist group called the Malthusians, named after Thomas Robert Malthus.  Apparently the guy was a demographic scholar back in the day.  I don’t think he would have gotten behind killing everyone on the ship, though.  Just sayin’

What a cheerful group of boys and girls...

What a cheerful and artistic group of boys and girls…

Coming back to the point, though, the terrorists decide to start blowing holes in the floating city.  Not usually a great idea, but hey, they’re villains in a videogame.  With breaches in the hull, water comes flooding in, and it cascades.  Seriously, though.  It looks awesome when the crashing waves of doom flood in through the doors or walls of an area you were having a pitched gun fight in, sometimes even to your benefit.  And that is about it.  Th water really looks like it is flooding into the ship.  Great.  The rest of the game? Well..

Again, not horrific, but not the magical amazing piece of “epicness” that all the hype back in the day implied!  First, there are these screenshots and such of your character with some magnificent power.  And it is pretty cool when you can lift things with pillars of water and throw explosive barrels.  But that is all you can do.  Oh, and you don’t play the WHOLE GAME with this power!  FUCK NO!  That would be too awesome, too much fun!  You get these powers in about the last 30 minutes of gameplay and then you have to face the only boss in the game with them.  That is like receiving training with your M16 in the military and being told it’s all you’ll need.  Then you get there and they hand you a fucking rocket launcher and a short faq sheet so you can reverse the blitzkreig!

Then there is your gun.  The malthusians typically have shot guns and machineguns while you are stuck with some state-of-the-art pistol that shoots 6 different types of ammo and the above-pictured MAV hacking device.  I want to use a goddamn shotgun!  A machinegun would be nice, but all you get in that department is some kind of automatic round that somehow makes your gun shoot faster.  That’s not how this works, it will still have the accuracy of a fucking pistol!

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I guess the plot holes got to her.

Then there is the story of the game as it develops throughout the game, which is to say it doesn’t.  You get the roughest outline of the idea of a story and then things start happening without any real explanation.  The terrorists are briefly explained in passing, and their goals are only really understood at the end of the game, and even then they’re still a little vague.  There is some kind of backstory regarding Mila Krass, the main villainess, the nanobots she wants to use to kill everyone in the world, and the ship.  But again, there is no real explanation to the player as to why they are here, why she wants them except some video-screens that you could miss if you are in the wrong room at the time.  Most of the plot is delivered through a series of documents and notes that you will most-likely run, or swim, right by.  I shouldn’t have to find the story of the game, you need to GIVE it to me.  The main plot of the game shouldn’t be like a football game at Thanksgiving where a few interested people get into it while the rest of us just ask for the score afterward!

Of course it seems that this was done to provide something to slow the player down as they progress through the game, which plays like a Die Hard movie with a thinner plot and less interesting enemies.  You run through the game so fast because the majority of it consists of you swimming out of the rapidly flooding decks.  You don’t actually fight enemies until a third of the way through the game, which is like serving food twenty minutes into an hour-long lunch period.  It’s just not fun, and I will likely have left to get a hoagie (massive sandwich) at the local Wawa (a convenience store).

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Mila looks more bored than threatening as she slaughters innocents by the truckload.

On the topic of things this game does only half-assed, there is a sort of rudimentary parkour engine in the game, but it’s boring.  Seriously, I am not sure how you can make parkour boring, but this deeply dreadlocked woman is the slowest parkour performer ever.  She makes Altair look like a fucking artists.  It’s like they wanted some elements of Mirror’s Edge in there, but didn’t have time to do it with all the work in the water engine.  Where you do use parkour, it’s slow and encumbering rather than fun and interesting.

But wait, there’s more!  The characters are unbelievably dull and fall into silly stereotypes.  First, this is a game with a female lead and a female villain, which should really be something!  I mean, it gives you a chance to see a battle waged solely between the females.  But then again, you have this snarky, annoying douche-nozzle named “Scoot” talking in your ear like he thinks he’s goddamn Otacon.  He also seems to get off on telling the main character (Kate) what to do all the time, then taking credit for it.  At one point that asshole is like “It’s so draining watching all this action, Kate.”  I imagined him saying this as he sits back in his little spinny office chair on A-deck.  The best part is that later in the game, malthusians storm his area, so he keeps his voice down.  At one point toward the end, Scoot leaves his console as the terrorists might have checked the broom closet that command usually keeps him in.  And then?  Well… he just kinda disappears.  His fantastic exit from the game after guiding you this whole time?  He just walks away from the fucking desk!  And you never figure out what the hell happens to him!

And this isn’t the only character that had a chance at a being interested, but got a bad wrap job.  Chief Bingham… Birmingham…  Mr. B is the chief of security on the Queen, and after you free him from a slow, terrible death he just walks off into a flooded room to “find a gun.”  Not before he has a chance to grumble out some insults of character implying that if you had done your job right, this might’ve been prevented.  That would be like the head of the FBI or NSA blaming their lower-level enforcers for 9/11.  Then you don’t see him again until a later scene in the elevator where Kate looks amazed and Mr. B is killed off camera.  And that’s fucking it!  In the original version there was the implication that Scoot was killed and you meet up with Chief B.  Kate wants to look for Scoot, but they find the room flooded and no Scoot.

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Piece from the end cutscene. Mila Krass dies. Spoiler alert.

Really, this is a game that might’ve been better titled “Water Physics Engine 3D.”  It is more a game about its mechanics than anything else.  There is a lot in here that games like Bioshock could have used in a sequel to make a neat “final death of Rapture” or something, but Hydrophobia: Prophecy just ends up being bland and flat as a stale cracker.  There could have been an interesting conflict between a badass female protagonist and a super-evil female villain.  Not really there.  Could have had a deep plot with connected characters and a plot that felt real and fun.  Scrap it.  In the end, what you have is a reason to market a water physics engine, and in most games the water physics barely even matter.  This is a game to avoid, with only a few redeeming qualities.  This shit ball is 4.99$ on Steam and I would recommend waiting until it goes on sale.  Seriously, it’s that non-fulfilling.

Rhubber Man, Pulsating Arms of Fury!

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Punching its way out of Macedonia, Rhubberman is a game about beating things to death with fists of fury!  It has a flair that feels like it should be in an arcade and from what I’ve seen in the promo video on alt ctrl jam, the native controls invented by the developers would make this an arcade game of demanding coordination.  The best part is that the game in itself is not complex.  Don’t let the enemy aliens stop you from sitting and ruminating on your favorite thinkin’ spot!

Shoopy Games was kind enough to let me demo the game in late August, before there was sound.  A month has gone by and it shows in the game itself with sound effects, music and new enemies!  The player takes the role of a ‘Rhubber,’ one of the denizens of the planet Rh’ubba.  These guys look like mutated biker smurfs with four arms and an insatiable desire for fisticuffs.  Their race is one that miners and they never really wanted to do much more than that.  These fuckers make food out of the radioactive minerals of their world, which is how they ended up looking like Goro’s psychotic cousin.  The developer’s put a lot of time into this game’s lore, too, and you can read more about it on their blog!

In their video, the devs show that they made a pretty awesome apparatus to control the game.  Of course, not everyone is awesome enough to be on the early-adopter’s side of the Macedonian Quad-troller (as I am coining the dev’s hardware), so playing this on the PC is a little simpler.  There are 5 buttons: ‘Q’  ‘Z’  ‘,’  ‘p’ and the spacebar.  Hitting Q and P allows you to extend your upper arms while hitting Z and , allow you to extend your lower arms.  Extending your arms is your only real defense against foes, and there are two types.  Fuck you, I’ll tell you about the goddamn spacebar in a minute!

I love the purple beard!

I love the purple beard!

As you stand atop your pillar of tobacco-chewing rumination, these big red and green fuckers fly out of the corners of the screen to munch on you.  To defeat them, you have to time your barrage of blows and pay attention!  The red guys don’t really do much, other than suck.  They’ll fly at you, sometimes three at a time, and be assholes.  The green guys are real bastards, though.  These guys may slow things down a little, but they can deploy shields, getting them in closer for the kill.  That’s ok, though.  Just makes the fist that much more terrible.

Once you have hit enough enemies to fill the meter at the top of the screen, you can hit the spacebar.  This causes your guy to make a crazy face and shoot all four arms out at the same time, getting more kills and taking out more enemies than you should be able to.

This game is one more about timing than speed, and trying to deploy punches too fast will keep you from hitting the next enemy in time until you eventually get eaten.  It’s a good time and worth a few plays!  My understanding is that the developers are working to get this little arcade game up on itch.io soon, but time will tell!  For now, people can check it out on Alt Ctrl Jam!  Vote it up and see if you can save Rh’ubba or just become the next purple meal on a stick!

Influent, Game of Language Learning

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Something that I focus on heavily here is the artistic quality of games, but there is so much more promise and potential to videogames than just art and entertainment.  This Kickstarter-funded piece of educational software displays that games are tools for learning as much as devices of entertainment.  It’s not a perfect language-learning game, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction and a hell of a lot cheaper than Rosetta Stone.

Influent is a game that would, by normal gaming standards, be considered an educational tool because it is.  When you buy the game, you get to decide which language you want to give yourself a primer for.  To begin with, Influent does not teach you alphabets.  I already have some pre-existing knowledge of Korean and because I participated in the Army’s rigorous linguistics program, I know exactly how your brain learns languages because I had korean jammed into my skull so hard that two years after my last tests, I still slip into korean from time to time.  My biggest problem is that I don’t really have direct access to vocabulary lists, so this definitely helps in that way.

Why do I own three shirts but I've got twelve sticks of deodorant?

Why do I own five shirts but I’ve got twelve sticks of deodorant?

The way that you ‘learn’ in this game is by clicking different items with your mouse.  It then appears down below in the written format and someone says it to you.  The korean speaker has a hard time differentiating between the hard and soft sounds, but, whatever, I know enough to sort that out myself.  Once you have a word you want to remember, you hit the spacebar and it goes to a language list.  I tried sorting my vocab into neat lists like “clothing,” “food” and “things a baby might stick in its nose,” but things are sorted out in this game in a way that makes sense for life, not tailored to making little lists.  This is a plus because if you learn vocabulary in a certain context, you might have a hard time remembering it outside that context.  Right-cliking things in the world interacts with them, like opening doors and such.

Sometimes you will need to break apart a collection of items.  Luckily, the game has sorted this challenge out pretty well.  In order to select something that is a part of a whole, you hit ctrl to identify this, like the pillow on the bed or the leaves on a tree.  There is also shift to crouch so you can see things placed under the bed or in a cabinet under the sink.

Once you have your sloppy jumble of words that you’ve heard, it’s time to start trying to sort this stuff out.  There are two modes of mastery: time attack and fly by.  Time Attack is a mode that will time you on how fast you locate the words in the environment.  It says the words and you have to run around like a lunatic looking for them in the apartment.  This is a useful tool, too, because it lets you choose from a list of ten vocabulary words, which you will remember discovering them, even vaguely, in that order, so your brain lays those pathways pretty deeply.  Another feature of Time Attack lets you choose a randomly assembled list that the game concocts for you to identify.

The black vocabulary box OF DOOOOOM!!!!

The black vocabulary box OF DOOOOOM!!!!

Now, it’s good that you want to sort through these lists, but as you find the items, the words appear saying what it is, and someone says it.  It is easy for you to get brain-lazy and depend on that, though, and eventually you are going to have to start stripping the training wheels away.  This can be done easily, and the game encourages you to do it through the use of achievements.  When you do time attacks you’ll want to start getting rid of the visual aide because that will teach your brain to start identifying what those things are just by hearing them.  This is good because, most of the time, you will be hearing language and not reading it.  It prepares your brain for hearing it.  Take away the voice and leave the visual aide in order to learn the words based on sight recognition.  This will be important for learning to read the language.  I am not sure if you can disable both the audio and video for Time Attack to try in some kind of Hellen Keller mode, but the game doesn’t come with a module that signs vigorously into your hand.

Time to zap the fuck outta that vocab!!

Time to zap the fuck outta that vocab!!

Fly by is a mode where you learn vocabulary by piloting a little toy spaceship and zapping the item in question with the lasers.  Hitting control in this mode still works just fine, and it even slows down the speed of flight so you can adequately identify what you are trying to select.  Hitting shift will just make you fly faster.  Be careful, though, because you can crash the ship, which is mildly frustrating as you wait for respawn.

Overall this is a game that clearly has some thought put into it, but there are many limitations.  First off, there are a buttload of nouns, but there are only 5 adjectives and 5 verbs to learn in any language; in case you were unaware, most of language is fucking verbs and things placed to make the nouns interact with each other.  On top of that, this is not a language-learning game, so much a language supporting game.  It is great for studying up on your vocabulary and such, but it does nothing whatsoever to show you how to arrange those into a sentence and then use it to communicate… you know, the purpose of language in the first place.  No language is spoken by a bunch of people standing in a room identifying objects, although that reminds me of an episode of Star Trek for some reason.  On top of that, the game will show you the language as it is written, which is fine for most European languages as they all use approximately the same alphabet.  But if you want to learn something with a totally different alphabet, this game offers no assistance.  It just shows you how it should sound and what it looks like.  If you want to learn how to write that down, it’s on you.  And one thing that ANY student of asian languages can tell you, the stroke order is just as important as learning what to write.

You are correct, sir!

You are correct, sir!

If you need a great study aide, this game could be a great tool to include in your language-learning kit, especially if you’ve grown up playing games that teach you how to do math or something like that quickly.  I know I did.  Math Blaster was hard as fuck!  The thing is, this game has you trapped in your apartment and it is kind of depressing because you can almost tell what happened to this guy.  There is a report left on the printer, right?  Your door is locked and there is a newspaper and a ton of adverts for food places.  This is a guy who recently gave up on humanity and has decided to sit in his room all day learning languages from the disembodied voices in his head and the hallucinations in front of him.  When you pilot the jet in fly-by, your character disappears entirely, meaning that he is totally losing association with reality and even himself!  Then he runs around the house identifying various things in the house.  Fuck the cat, that thing never moves, it must have died long ago, sad and hungry because the owner lost his mind.

Or maybe it’s just a language -learning game that focuses on a small list of vocabulary to get you started with a new language.  Still, it would be nice to have various DLC’s that I could download for free according to new areas that pertain to real life.  I wouldn’t be able to ask about a library or a restaurant or anything.  It’s like a linguistic curriculum with only 10 different lessons.  But if you want to walk away from this game with a bit more of a vocabulary, it’s definitely helpful.  Check it out on Steam for only 9.99$ per language!

The Secret Cove, Former Deckhand Gone Indiana Jones!

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I was looking over this game and deciding whether or not to back it on Kickstarter and decided I would let me wife, the more casual gamer, decide whether we would back it.  She likes to play games like this on her ipad, and I figured, since it is her area I would let her do the honors.  She watched the teaser video and her face started to glow so brightly I needed to don my shades.  She practically ripped the mouse out of my hand so we could back it!

The Secret Cove starts as all respectable adventures from the UK start: a night of drunken reverie in a pub.  On this particular night you listen to some fishermen tell the tale of a lost smugglers’ treasure, so you decide to go all Indiana fucking Jones and look for it.  You wake up on a beach (I’d wager your butt hurts from a forgotten debacle with the fishermen) and your character starts to analyze his life and wonder where he went wrong.  After all,  to end up an out of work deckhand he must’ve missed a good pointer somewhere.  At least your house is nice.

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The boarded up window is a conversation piece…

Well, fuck it’s a lot better than the house I don’t have.  Either way, your character sets out to uncover the lost smugglers’ treasure.  Throughout this sleepy little fishing village you’ll find connections to witchcraft, smugglers, intrigue and mystery.  The world in this will be non-linear. Have you ever played an adventure game?  Often they more or less leave breadcrumbs along a specific path that leads your through the plotline of the game.  You don’t really take part in a developing story as much as you are a sightseer on a virtual tour group of yourself.  The Secret Cove will be a large and open world composed of about 100 scenes you can interact with.  As you progress, more and more of the world becomes accessible.

Fuck!  I knew these ancient binoculars were a scam!

Fuck! I knew these ancient binoculars were a scam!

An interesting feature is that the puzzles will remain as relevant to the real world as possible.  I remember playing a game where I had to tie a rope to a sword to create a sort of grappling hook style device so I could climb up out of a subway.  It wasn’t exactly intuitive.  Granted, that was a comedic adventure, other adventures I have played impeded progress just by making puzzles backward and non-intuitive.  When that happens it makes the player feel cheated and a little stupid.  These devs have decided to go with puzzles that are difficult and still make fucking sense to the character.  Like welding metal together or fashioning a crowbar in a town with no Home Depot (hardware store).  The game makes sense and it is all relevant to the work of a British deckhand.  Well… former deckhand turned rogue archaeologist.  Another thing to consider is that some of the puzzles will be inventory-centric item combining puzzles similar to those found in Zork.  These are fun and you end up with a lot of items one you, but it is fun knowing that you had the answer in your backpack the whole time!

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Perfect! My robot penis is complete!

This dev duo known as Cheeky Sprite Studios is working hard to make this game, and they’ve even enlisted Richard Douglas, professional composer, to work with them.  That soundtrack is available as a backing incentive, too.  Their long list of incentives includes things like getting into their credits, having your name etched on a cave wall, the game (duh), artbook, soundtrack and much more.  Want a little taste of what the game will feel like?  Check out The Secret Cove’s website!  Part of these types of games is getting associated with another lovely locale, and this is no different.  The secret cove will feature locations and scenes from well-known Cornish towns and landmarks like St. Ives Wharf, Padstow Harbour, Minack Theatre, St. Michael’s Mount, Eden Project, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Tintagel Castle and many more.

They have some pretty neat stretch goals involved, including getting this game on Steam Greenlight and having artifacts that will give you something on their website, so come join us on an adventure!  It’ll be a lot of fun, and I promise you can bring a bag of wheat thins to snack on.

Spice Road, Culturally Confused Economic RTS

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If you’re like me, few things give you greater happiness in life than looking down on an anthill and watching them run around collecting food, attacking other bugs and working the land.  Occasionally it’s fun to spit on them or zap them with a magnifying glass, but even that is just to see how their society absorbs the blow.  Spice road is a game that allows you all the fun of watching an anthill, except that the anthill is full of people and they are establishing a regional trade-network.

To further enhance the insect-oriented analogy, the game regularly quotes economic magnates such as Donald Trump, Lee Iacocca and others.  This gives you the feeling of being a money machine without having the crappy toupee.  If you have a toupee, you have my sympathy.  When you start the game, you are looking down on a region that is clouded by fog and filled with possibility.  Your initial task will always be to establish a town, which will be your primary base of operations.  City-building is a major part of this game, and it is a lot of the fun.  As you build your towns bigger and bigger, you will have more people come to live in your town.  Pretty basic shit, really.

Aw, fuck no.  I am not going into the mysterious clouds of fog!  There could be naked cannibals in there!

Aw, fuck no. I am not going into the mysterious clouds of fog! There could be naked cannibals in there!

Some of the first things that you will build at any settlement will be houses, for the plebs, and scout camps, for innocent exploitation.  On the region screen, you will see your scouts appear as little blue bullet-shaped things.  While your scouts meander the terrain, they will discover resources, which appear as white diamonds.  As you uncover these resources, you will be able to establish more and more resource buildings.  Now, having fucking resources is great, food gets you more people and makes them happy, alcohol lets you get drunk at the saloon etc.  You will be able to manufacture goods from ores you mine and have a full, booming industry.  The thing is, you are in this game to make some serious fucking money.

This is where trade routes come in and make things more interesting, simultaneously making your settlements much fucking weirder.  To start trading, you have to build “trade route” buildings (The names of buildings in this game are pretty abysmal but it is still fucking fun).  Setting up the trade routes will allow you to trade with foreign trade routes (they appear as white arrows on the edge of the region map), other towns you may have set up or other factions.  Sure, you can set up a town and make that your only area of operation in a region, but that makes things a little lame.  If you limit yourself to one town, that limits how much money you can make.  Not to mention, if you can get closer to the foreign trade routes, you’ll have a significant advantage over competitors.  And on top of that, controlling a majority of resources in a region will (fucking obviously) give you an undeniable trade advantage over competitors.  So getting a couple towns, maybe even just a small trade camp or two alongside your towns, will put you above the competition.

Yes! Make me money!

Yes! Make me money!

Now, not everyone is capable of building a massive trade empire and making money appear out of nowhere.  There are some men who just want to watch the world burn, which is where bandits come from.  These guys are fucking annoying, and they will attack your trade caravans.  First, you have to find them, which can be quite a fucking chore; but if you have little angry-colored arrows going after your trade caravans, all you have to do is build a few extra scout huts and they will locate them.  All finding them will facilitate is a solution.  You can pay them off, but as you make more money, these parasites will want more, so paying off a bunch of bandits all the time is not a long-term solution.

Eventually you want to cut their throats and leave their corpses in the sand for the vultures to feed.  You can build a number of public-order buildings like armories and watchhouses to keep your citizens in line; but to deal with external threats, you’ll need to construct a few barracks.  These babies create expeditionary forces that you can use to guard caravans and murder bandits.  Once you have a few of them built, you can go to the region map and select the bandits’ camps to begin negotiating with extreme prejudice.  This is also the final solution that you’ll end up employing with competing trade-nations, because no one likes to share profit!

The goal is to not have your soldiers turned into bones.  That is bad...

The goal is to not have your soldiers turned into bones. That is bad…

Meeting some of the goals set out for you in the campaign is difficult, but once you get the hang of it, the game is a lot of fucking fun.  You can build a vast empire that encompasses and entire region and vie for control of trade routes, like a true imperialist dog!  You’ll also be able to unlock new buildings and upgrade your existing buildings.  For those more keyed up by micromanagement, you can go into each caravan, see its trade statistics and monitor the number of camels in a caravan to optimize the amount of money you are making vs. how much you are spending to get your camels out there.  Chaining trade across a region also becomes useful as having a smaller town is good just to get your main town into contact with a closer trade target and so you can trade across undiscovered areas.  There is a lot to do in this game, and it is a lot of fun for anyone looking for a great economically-driven RTS.  Combat is an option, but not the main thing.

Looking at the title of this article, you might be wondering what the fuck this game has to do with cultures.  Take a closer look at your town once you get it decently-sized.  Looks neat, huh?  Nations are mostly named after european powers like Burgundy and Moldovia.. You know, all the really important trade powers of their time.  The buildings that you use for trade routes look like these middle-eastern spires from downtown Baghdad and then there are these old-timey, wild west saloon that you build for your peoples’ recreation.  The town hall looks like a plantation from 1880’s Confederate America whereas the religious shrines are either little Ottoman-domed structures or Christian chapels.  Each settlement looks as culturally tangled as a set from Firefly so that you think one half might initiate a Jihad on the other half at any moment.  I was confused and a little terrified, but it just looks like a lot of ideas came together to make this game happen.  This is the only thing is suffers from is a serious thematic disparity.  If everything were added together and you told me this took place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and made things look like that, it might be less confusing.  But as it stands, it seems to be pulled between some kind of Age of Exploration and Age of Imperialism discussion with wild west tossed in there somehow.

Dammit!  Where is the level tree for nukes?!

Dammit! Where is the tech tree for nukes?!

Overall, if you are the type of person that likes to win an RTS through economic dominance and politics, this is a game for you.  There are a lot of features that add to the combat aspect, but combat is not directly controlled.  There is equal development to the city-building, economic and political aspects and it constantly allows you to find ways to make money.  The art is a bit on the minimalistic side, but enjoyable.  Music feels a little generic, but the overall design of the game itself feels and looks clean.  One feature of this game is that it eases you into the greater game fantastically.  It is complex and easy to fuck up, and the game itself gives you a number of goals and levels to screw up before you get to the game itself.  Steam will sell you this game for only 19.99$ and I will tell you, it is worth it.  Check this title out, it was a lot more fun than I expected it to be and is worth a few plays!

Legend of Grimrock, Tearing Out RPGs by the Root

LoG_logo

Before all the cutesy, fluffy shit that inhabits most RPGs these days, before Final Fantasy and JRPGs had infested every corner of the genre, there were dungeon RPGs.  And they weren’t the Diablo-style one-button RPGs that breed tactical laziness; that’s right tactical fucking laziness.  Diable RPGs are allow for a wider range of motion and strategy, so you can hem enemies in with firewalls and nuke them with fire or something.  Tactics requires the careful execution of a concerted attack effort.  A small group of doomed warriors in a massive dungeon have a solid understanding of tactics.  They know if they break ranks and get isolated, they are doomed.

The first and last of these types of games I ever played was Eye of the Beholder, a game we played on SNES.  In the game, you play a group adventurers exploring the sewers of a place called “Waterdeep” to cleanse some ancient evil.  We did not understand the alignment system although we often chose whatever we wanted and joked about it like kids.  When we were in the game, we never got the gist of how to play.  We would throw our gear at enemies since it was the only way we knew to deal damage.  Eventually it got to where we were disrobing and throwing our clothes, desperately trying to kill the foes.  That never ended well… But we were idiotic 8 and 9 year-olds.

Grimrock makes a lot more sense to me.  Controls are easy and you barely need a tutorial.  Just click around, left click picks up an item and releasing it mid-screen will throw that item. Right-click to attack or to throw a weapon.  Everything is a pretty straight-forward RPG style and this makes combat more exciting, too.

Wait! I left the garage door open!

Wait! I left the garage door open!

When you start the game, your characters are assumed to have performed some transgression against King and country.  The vague nature of the opening titles leave you to think you could have raped the Princess all the way down to eating the last piece of strawberry cheesecake.  Doesn’t matter.  You’re fucked and they push you down a hole.  Best part is, at the top of the mountain Grimrock your crimes are all forgiven and you are free.  But the only way down is to descend into the bowels of Grimrock.  Oh, by the way, no one has ever fucking survived.  That’s ok, I don’t usually come for the accommodations anyway.

Down in the dungeons, you have to navigate labyrinthine corridors filled with unspeakable monsters, like giant snails, gargoyles, mushroom herders, little magic-casting mushroom guys, undead soldiers etc.  Each creature adds its own challenges to combat, and one should consider combat a feat akin to dancing.  If you just take two warriors and attempt to plow through, axes and swords swinging, you will end up a dusty pile of bones.  Many enemies are able to out-number you, out-damage you or can take a hell of a lot more punishment than you can.  Did I mention you are all prisoners?  Yea, this means they pushed your ass down in the pits with aught but your chapped asses to defend yourselves.  As you progress you’ll find the sparse weaponry left behind by other bands of hapless adventurers, so you’re not exactly a keen-eyed fighting force armed for rigorous combat.  The most common early ranged weapon is a rock while the most common melee weapon early on is a fucking torch.

When enemies come at you, the best thing to do is to lure them off one at a time where possible.  As they round corners you can stab them before back-pedaling toward an open area.  As you back pedal, you can throw rocks at them and ready up a spell.  Spells are a devastating way to deal damage, but you can’t unlock spells with the spellbook until you find the appropriate scroll, which can be frustrating.  Once you get them, though, they are profoundly useful.  Be careful, too.  If someone in your party dies, you’re all fucked.  Sure, you can keep going, but you’ll be needing the full group throughout the game.

Spartans!! Fuck this place.. tonight I'm eating at Denny's...

Spartans!! Fuck this place.. tonight I’m eating at Denny’s…

Character customization is excellent, and you can choose between human, minotaur, lizardfolk and insectoid.  I usually pick two humans, a minotaur and a lizardfolk.  I like having two rogues, as this allows me to have a ranged rogue and a dps rogue.  You know, for extra damage for the rogue since rogues prefer it from behind.  Then there is my mage, human female full of glorious spellcasting magery, and likely the smartest of the entire group.  Finally, I like to take a tank, too.  That is my minotaur.  He has a trait called headhunter where he gets extra damage for collecting skulls.  Finally a use for those useless collectible items!  I also use the minotaur for a pack animal, since they also get major strength bonuses.

The ambiance is terrific, and you get the sense of an ever-present evil throughout the game.  All the time some dark whispers can be heard in your ear, muttering in a chthonic  language some horrid curse, luring you deeper into the dungeon.  The music in the title screen also brought a tear to my eye the first time I heard it and filled me with the glee of a glorious adventure.  Throughout the game there is little more than ominous noises.  Sometimes you can heard the groan or squeal of some distant creature lurking about, waiting for its next meal to come trundling down the corridors.  There is also the fantastic element of eating whatever food you find lying all over the ground, like some kind of mad baker was damned to imprisonment here and he found some magical means to leave bread everywhere.

Hm.. I guess the Keebler elves didn't make it too far either...

Hm.. I guess the Keebler elves didn’t make it too far either…

One of the things this game does really really well are secrets.  Notice how the walls are all constructed of a similarly-colored, moss-grown mortarless masonry?  Well, every once in a while you will see a chink in the stone or a brick out of place.  Click that shit!  Somewhere nearby a door will open and permit you access to a secret room and you’ll get some badass loot, much needed food or a magic scroll!  It takes me back to the old days of Wolfenstein 3D and Thief: The Dark Project where you had to just run along the walls at a certain angle to open secret doors or cut down every wall-hanging you could to unlock secret doors.  I find the best way to search for secrets is to stand in the corner of a room and look from afar.  Secret switches are pretty obvious if you know what you are looking  for, but they can often be just as easily over-looked, so stay sharp!

Probably the only thing that bothered me about this game was the straight-forward manner of the enemies.  This game could be very well served by some wall-lurking enemies that you don’t see until you are right up on them.  Granted, the current combat system would make that a tad difficult, but putting in enemies that climbed out of grates as you walked by or changed from statues into flesh and blood foes when you walk past them would make this spooky game into a fantasy-horror adventure.  Don’t mind my little intrigues, though.  This game is worth every cent you can throw at its creators.  It is a load of fun in a genre that I have not seen since I was disrobing for battle.  On Steam this game is an overly-reasonable 14.99$, but wait there’s more!  This game has a community of dungeon-dwellers who create new content and new levels and games with the map editor of Grimrock!  It’s fucking fantastic.  And THEN you have Legends of Grimrock 2 to look forward to!  Just in time for Halloween!  You can pre-order it now!  Screw trick-or-treaters!  Crawl the dungeons and unlock the treasures within!