Justice Playthrough #32: Sundown

Presentation matters.

Page 28, Game 25: Sundown by L A Wilga

This is another one where I have to engage the ol’ snark muffler; someone clearly put a crapload of work into this, and the only reason it’s in front of me now is that they effectively donated it to a charitable fundraiser.

But man, there are definitely some issues here.

This is a tabletop RPG, set in an original science fantasy world. When I first cracked-open the PDF, I was all “Whoa, 260 pages? I think I stumbled into another professional-grade product here.” But the layout of the book quickly convinced me otherwise.

The rules don’t sell the game. The contents of the book look drab and unimaginative; it’s just a single column of Header/Textblock over and over again, broken up by the occasional illustration. There isn’t even any effort made to include section information in the page headers or footers, which makes it tough to tell precisely where in the book you are.

What’s more, the rulebook is incomplete; the “Dossier” (character sheet) and “Questionnaire” (something about defining the setting?) aren’t included, and are only available as separate downloads off of the website.

I feel like for games like this where I’m looking at them but don’t think I’ll actually get the chance to play, the big question is, “Do these rules entice me into wanting to play the game they represent?” And for Sundown, the answer is “No.” It just looks drab and frustrating; I’m not confident I’ll be able to easily find whatever it is I want to know, whether it’s the steps in character creation or information about the setting or rules for actual gameplay.

I recognize my non-play “readthroughs” are for the tabletop material are inherently unfair; it’s entirely possible that if I sat at a table from somebody who was really passionate about the setting and the ruleset, the ensuing experience would be dope as fuck. Surely the game designers have that passion. Unfortunately, none of that passion made it into the rulebook.

Entice me, Sundown. Why should I spend my finite time playing you instead of some other game? It’s not a rhetorical question.

Maybe the next game will be more alluring?

Page 41, Game 2: Clouds of Fire: Blazing Skies by AaronMakesGames

“Complete Chaos in this Shoot-em up meets Rouge-like with Physics!”

So, it’s either gonna be awesome or a howling clusterfuck. Let’s see which!

Justice Playthrough #31: Agents of the O.D.D.

Back to the realm of tabletop RPGs we go!

Page 9, Game 11: Agents of the O.D.D. by Jason Tocci

Players represent agents of a shadowy government(?) agency protecting the world against the supernatural. The game is meant to play fast, with a high player mortality rate. Fully half the rulebook is devoted to a d100 chart containing all the archetypes available for play — or you can just make up some new mook, why not, whatever. Roll some dice to determine your stats, and you’re back in the game!

For a small RPG, this seems pretty firmly middle-of-the-road in terms of the amount of thought that went into it. It’s not the most fully fleshed-out game I’ve encountered in this trawl, but at the same time, it’s not just a tossed-off one day project, either. Even has an example adventure at the end to take some of the weight off the GM’s shoulders for that first run-through.

It’s not dazzling me, but this is totally, like, a Real Game and shit. I’d play it. Why not? The potential for Fun definitely exists here.

But does it exist for the next game?

Which is:

Page 28, Game 25: Sundown by L A Wilga

“Cyberpunk goes Wild West in this transhumanist science fantasy frontier.”

Cyberpunk cowboys, eh? So, Westworld?

Actually, Westworld with a coherent story and a GM/Director who wasn’t intent on constantly pulling surprises out of their ass would be a really cool setting.

Justice Playthrough #30: as long as we’re together: magical girls sweet & pure

Okay, let’s keep my expectations reasonable. It’s a visual novel, not a game-game. Let’s not get grumpy if there aren’t a lot of decisions to be made.

Page 53, Game 4: as long as we’re together: magical girls sweet & pure by cloverfirefly

Right, mostly just clicking to advance the dialog. No problem.

Illustrations are cute, getting the job done here. Hey, looks like we’re in-media-res here! The one magical girl is getting attacked by her best friend magical girl; must be some sorta evil mind-control thing. Good choice, author, start with some interesting shit.

Okay, we’ve got some dialog, some sorta floating magic pet guy, oh, hey, a choice! How did we meet? I have to choose a card without knowing what they mean. Cool, I’m feeling it.

Right, so that’s how we met, that’s what happened when we hung out at the amusement park, that’s the time you helped me find my cat….

Dope, the main characters are all introduced. This is a solid start to the story, I’m into it. Let’s see what kind of cool magical girl adventures we’re about to go–

Game over.

‘Kay.

On deck: Page 9, Game 11: Agents of the O.D.D. by Jason Tocci

“Paranormal investigators of the paranormal”

Really hoping that phrasing is a deliberate choice, and that the next game is not by Perd Hapley.

Justice Playthrough #29: Dujanah

Page 2, Game 29: Dujanah by jackspinoza

Multicolored rainbow static. Images of an old-style VIC-20/C64 interface admonishing me to load the tape. Messages saying the tape is loading.

The rainbow static returns. A video of a man with a UK accent (Scottish?) appears and tells me this is a randomized video, and that I am in for a treat, as he is about to tell me what the game is about: catharsis.

Interior, a house, rendered in an isometric claymation-esque style. A family of three. The father is shadowy. The mother and daughter wear what might be burkas. I am the mother. When I speak to the daughter, she asks winsome questions about death, accompanied by a laugh track. I ask the daughter if she’s fed her hamster lately. I check on the hamster.

The hamster is dead.

I am now the father, leading the daughter outside to find a good spot to bury the hamster. When we get far enough away from our house, we find what looks like a good space. Shadowy figures surveil the father and daughter from what appears to be a satellite feed. Crosshairs appear on the father. The shadowy figures discuss what is to be done.

Interior, another house. I am a young woman. I step outside to explore. There is a battlemech parked outside my house. I cannot start it, because I do not have the keys. I begin exploring the tiny village where I live. Eventually, I step out of the village and into the world map.

The village no longer exists. I am on a dirt bike, tearing ass across the desert. I bounce off of trees and mountains. I encounter a thrashing dragon thing and give it a squeeze, obtaining many rewards. I encounter a larger town. I explore. The inhabitants say strange things. I find a house, with a child playing. I approach his toys. I shrink and join them.

I am now a man, as indicated by my tiny claymation penis. I am exploring a land of cream and strawberries; the strawberries are coming along nicely, I think. I enter a brier patch, and hear a story about a lonely ordinary many and a witch. I delve deeper into the land of strawberries and cream. I see many strange creatures. I see them again. And again. I am going in circles. I have no idea where the game wants me to go next. I search, in vain, finding nothing.

The game has become what it absolutely, positively, cannot afford to be:

Boring.

So I quit.

I ponder how to describe the experience of playing this game. I am impressed by the dream-like anti-logic, of the recurring sense that once I leave a place I have left it forever. I am wondering if this is meant as Serious Art, or if this is just one massive piss-take. It seems to have had a lot of effort put into it for a piss-take, but some people have time on their hands.

I decide to transcribe what I recall from the game as I played it, and allow the rest to recede into my subconscious. In years to come, I may stumble back on this article, read it, and remember, saying to myself “Fuck me, I thought I dreamed that.”

And then I rolled-up my next game.

Page 53, Game 4: as long as we’re together: magical girls sweet & pure by cloverfirefly

“magical girls visual novel”

Sounds lovely.

Justice Playthrough #28: These Lands

Bah.

Page 39, Game 3: These Lands by JestyJam

VR-only. You can’t do shit with a mouse. Hell, you can’t even quit the game; had to close it down from the task bar.

Looks like a totes professional video game, though. If I ever get a VR rig, I’ll give it a play, why not. But in the meanwhile, I’ll just take the dev’s implicit word for it that without the VR setup, it’s not enough fun to be worth bothering with.

Oh, well. Moving on to:

Page 2, Game 29: Dujanah by jackspinoza

“The cost of seeking impossible goals”

You mean student loans? Nah, probably not.

Justice Playthrough #27: Dragon And Warrior

It’s a game where you’re making a game as you play the game!

So, kinda fuckin’ meta. Also, looks really fun.

Page 57, Game 22: Dragon And Warrior by OrionCanning

You and your buddies (preferably a total of four of you, but there are rules to tweak that) are going to create a JRPG. You know, like a Final Fantasy or a Zelda or something. One of you is the big hero Warrior, and you get to be the protagonist. (For now.) One of you is the Villain, and you’ll be in charge of all the monsters and the Big Bad and other various and sundry obstacles. One of you is the Ally, and will control all those NPCs out to help the Warrior. And one of you is the Treasure, and gets to define the environment.

Draw maps! Define quests! Defeat challenges! Level-up! Get treasure! And switch roles!

That last one is, I think, what pushes this game out of “Okay, I could see this working” and into “Okay, I might actually want to try this.” When you do cool shit through the game (as defined by the other players), you get tokens. Get enough tokens, and you can cash them in to switch roles and become the Warrior yourself.

My operating theory with these kind of free-form games is that whether or not it’s a good experience will always be determined by the other players at the table to one degree or another; no storytelling game can compensate for participants who just don’t give a fuck and would rather be watching some sportsball. However, I feel like the good games lay down a framework in which “fun” is the most likely outcome when you have a set of suitably engaged players, and….

Yeah. Hell yeah. Dragon And Warrior does the work. The ruleset feels a little raw in places, but if you and your buddies dig this style of video game, this gives you the materials to create something unique, memorable, and fun. If a DIY tabletop JRPG sounds like it might be your jam, this is absolutely worth a closer look.

What’s next?

Page 39, Game 3: These Lands by JestyJam

“Where will the Island take you?”

Good question. Let’s hop onto the island and find out!

Justice Playthrough #26: find(Humanity)

Of all the formats I thought this game might be presented in, I was not expecting a single “readme.txt” file. So I gotta give it props for that, at the very least.

Page 45, Game 10: find(Humanity) by Arty

You are an angel — except angels are more like “robots.” Humanity has vanished. You and the other players are here to figure out what the hell happened to them and report it back to heaven.

This is a storytelling-style RPG. The ruleset feels less like a “game” to me and more like an idea for a game. Your characters have strict programs that they follow, except you the player are defining those programs on the fly as the game progresses. Deviating from your programming is a big deal, and represents your free will starting to peek through … except given that the gameplay consists of you defining what the programming is as you go, what does that mean, exactly?

I feel like a game that’s about rebelling against a strict structure needs a pretty firm structure in the first place — and like a lot of storytelling-style games, these rules aren’t really that interested in providing it. I think you’re figuring out what you’re rebelling against as you go.

You define the chains that bind you.

Whoa. Maybe this is deeper than I’m giving it credit for.

This feels like most of the light storytelling RPGs I’ve found on this trawl; there’s nothing here that grabs me, but I have no doubt it could be fun with the right people. Just a matter of figuring out who those people are, I suppose.

Speaking of lack of free will, what game am I destined to poke at next?

Page 57, Game 22: Dragon And Warrior by OrionCanning

“A tabletop RPG where you make your own oldschool JRPG world”

Given how much I keep bitching about how little these micro-games do to help you define your world, this one may actually be hitting me at exactly the right time.

Justice Playthrough #25: Tales From the Road

Furry time!

Page 53, Game 3: Tales from the Road by iforgotmybrain

This is a browser-based game, where you just read and click. It’s not so much a “game” as “interactive fiction.” Except it isn’t particularly “interactive,” and the “fiction” isn’t terribly compelling.

This is a furry story, so you’re a critter-person (I chose “fox”) rooming with a deer and a German shepherd. You graduated college not long ago, but you’re not sure what the hell you want to do with you life. So, road trip!

Eventually. Theoretically. This game is still apparently in progress, and the author hasn’t gotten as far as the road trip yet.

I’ll refrain from being mean; the author clearly means well, and there’s nothing really upsettingly bad about this project. It’s just that meaningful decision points are few and far between; you can wander around your house, but mostly that’s just clicking until you eventually make the choice that will allow the story to continue. And the story itself….

The author is making the very common newbie mistake of assuming that because THEY find these characters fascinating, you will, too. So the entirety of the game was just establishing the supporting cast. But nothing is actually happening, dammit. There’s just no narrative to invest in. It just feels like a lot of directionless faffing about.

There’s also a soundtrack you can turn on. You don’t have to, but it’s there.

I’m veering towards being mean, aren’t I.

It’s far, far from the worst thing I’ve ever read, but I can’t say as I’d really recommend it, either. Still, I do hope the author can make it into the finished product they have in their head.

What’s next?

Page 45, Game 10: find(Humanity) by Arty

“Explore the notion of free will as an automaton without it.”

No idea what to expect from this one, or even what the medium might be. Let’s find out.

Justice Playthrough #24: MIDNIGHT ULTRA

I’m mildly nauseous, and I sincerely don’t know whether to blame this game or not.

Page 8, Game 17: MIDNIGHT ULTRA by Forward Instinct

And yet, I’m not pissed-off at this game.

I can’t say that I LIKED it, mind. This is a super-old-school FPS, with a kind of tripped-out acid Western feel. You’re on the road doing … something. Whatever it is, you’re gonna be murdering dudes. I accidentally skipped the part where the game let me know what was going on; I was trying to tell it to just go ahead to the next page of exposition, which it interpreted as “OKAY FINE WE’LL JUST SKIP THE WHOLE THING I GUESS GEEZ.” I respect that it’s going for a retro-cool vibe here. The problem is that it’s stylized to the point of incoherence. The default color palate is pink, black, and white, and basically NOTHING else. I had a hell of a time visually parsing what was on my screen at any given moment; I sincerely think I may have gotten a bit of motion sickness from the effort. (Or maybe dinner isn’t agreeing with me, who knows.)

Regardless. It’s hard to enjoy platformer puzzles when you can only kinda tell what is and is not the floor. Moving helps, a bit, but I was just as likely to find any given ledge by falling off of it.

There’s a palate-swap screen accessible from the main menu — but NOT the in-game menu. If you’d like to experiment and try to find something more visually intelligible, you’ll need to keep restarting the level to do it.

Actual gameplay is nothing special. It’s going for a bad-ass Doom feel, but Doom was WAY more exciting than this. The game is stingy with ammo, and it’s hard to tell on any given shot whether you missed or just didn’t do enough damage to drop the target. Melee is just weak, and equally hard to tell whether you’re doing anything or flailing wildly.

You have your choice of guns — at the beginning of the level. Once the level begins, you have one gun and one melee weapon, and that’s it.

I appreciate that the dev was attempting something stylistically interesting, but the end result just isn’t fun.

Let’s try something else:

Page 53, Game 3: Tales from the Road by iforgotmybrain

“A SFW furry interactive fiction game”

Hey, furries! And safe-for-work, so I assume no fuckin’. Not that I’m judging, but hey, sexytimes games are a tough sell if you don’t share the author’s tastes. Why not. I’ll give it a try.

… tomorrow, I think. For right now, I need to go lie down for a bit.

Justice Playthrough #23: Master Spy

This is not my game. But this is dope as hell.

Page 5, Game 29: Master Spy by TURBOGUN

The stub description promised a “brutal precision platformer,” and by God that’s what it delivered. You’re a spy doing spy shit. You can jump around, activate your invisibility cloak, or even both! Unfortunately, you can’t quite jump as high or move as fast when your cloak is on. And that’s a problem, because you only have FRACTIONS of a second to make your jumps and grab the woozle that will allow you to move on to the next level.

The basic rhythm of this game is “Okay, I’mma jump there, decloak, run THERE, grab the woozle, jump up before that dog can get me and kick the cloak back on. Gonna want to wait for that guard to turn his back, that should maximize my time. And go N– no, wait, give it a second, and … NOW JUMP DECLOAK RUN JUMP SHIT MOTHERFUCKER DAMMIT DIDN’T GET MY CLOAK BACK ON GOT CAUGHT SHIT SHIT SHIT okay, let’s try this again….”

It’s brutal. It’s fiddly. It’s absolutely unforgiving. And if that’s your idea of a good time, you’re gonna have an absolute BLAST with this one.

My one complaint with this game is a complaint I’ve been making a lot lately: no fucking training level. That was forgivable for, say, Micro Mages; there wasn’t enough room on the cartridge it was simulating, and besides, the publisher went ahead and created an era-appropriate instruction manual available with the download.

But modern gamers expect modern games to teach them how to play; at this point, unless you’re going for a very specific kind of simulated experience, there’s just no excuse for anything else. Star Escape had no excuse, PALACE OF WOE had no excuse, and Spy Master has no excuse. I THINK I eventually managed to figure out what all the controls were and what tools were at my disposal, but because the game doesn’t bother with either a manual or a tutorial, I’m not at all confident. Is there a “sprint” function I could be using? I don’t think so, but it’d make dodging that one fucking dog a hell of a lot easier….

Even so. If tight-as-fuck platformer timing is your jam, this game was made for you. Go get some.

All right, what’s next?

Page 8, Game 17: MIDNIGHT ULTRA by Forward Instinct

“Blast your way through a neon-dripped, pixelated nightmare in this high-speed, high-thrills FPS set in the Southwest.”

Oh, yeah. That sounds like a hoot.