Justice Playthrough #116: Our Lady

Seems like less of a “game” and more of a “collection of storytelling prompts.” I’ve seen much thinner games than this, however.

Page 30, Game 2: Our Lady by Jess Go

You and the other two players (the game specifies that it’s for three players, and I’m honestly not sure why) are kids who have been visited by a divine spirit of some sort. Who is she? What does she want? How does she change your lives?

(Spoiler: if I’m playing, it’s probably gonna be The Great Pumpkin.)

Draw cards from the four decks representing the four seasons, read the prompts, and figure it out for yourselves.

Honestly? It’s … a storytelling game, just one with a bit more setup due to the cards you have to cut out. (The game notes that you can just roll a d10 instead of creating actual physical cards, in which case the cards really ought to have been numbered.) Not much structure, and a very loose theme. If something about the theme calls to you, go for it.

What favors will this next game ask of me?

Page 11, Game 12: Broken Minds by LockedOn

“A psychological murder mystery set in 90s Japan.”

Ah, thinkin’ and killin’. Okay, I can get behind that.

Justice Playthrough #115: A HUNDRED THOUSAND PLACES

I am entirely too basic a bitch for this.

Page 35, Game 29: A HUNDRED THOUSAND PLACES by Maria Mison

Ten pages of stream-of-consciousness free verse. This is not something I would consider a “game” — seems more like a kind of … guided meditation, I guess? Feels extremely full of itself.

I’m confident that I am not the audience for this product, and there isn’t anything about it that’s enticing me into trying to pry-open my mind far enough to grok it. So let’s just move on.

Will I understand WTF is going on in this next one?

Page 30, Game 2: Our Lady by Jess Go

“A storytelling game where you play children visited by a divine spirit. Written for Folklore Jam”

Dang. I’m learning that storytelling games likely aren’t my jam. Can give it a look, at least.

Forbidden Lore Design Diary #2: Something Runs

Installed a bunch of shit, including Python 3 and C# runtime environment. Hardest part was getting the Python plugin working for Eclipse; I had some cruft that I needed to clear-out before things would update properly.

But, it’s running. I do love me some syntax highlighting.

Getting the environment set up properly is actually a pretty major mental hurdle for me. I’m a clumsy sysadmin, and I never know how long something is going to take. I tend to do a lot of flailing around in the process of getting all the pieces into place. And given that my brain is always looking for an excuse to quit on the grounds that it’s just too hard and who KNOWS how long everything is going to take, the infrastructure is a great place for shit to fall apart. Let the project fail before it even began.

But it has begun. Suck it, brain.

I followed the first page of the tutorial. It’s all copy-pasting, but I am trying to follow along. I largely get it; at the very least, it’s providing a solid example for me to work with, and I tend to learn best when I get to do. This tutorial does do a pretty solid job of explaining WHY I’m copying what I’m copying.

I’ll probably want to detour into a proper Python tutorial, though, just so I can get a proper introduction to how the language does things. Still, this should give me a pretty solid frame of reference.

I got an executable running! Created a blank field for an “@” symbol to just kinda hang out it. Right now that little guy is basically Janet chilling in her void.

Look at that pimp motherfucker just hanging out in the middle of the screen

I even made made him move around.

Not gonna lie, this game kinda sucks right now

Someday, that “@” is going to be a wizard running around shooting fireballs and raising the dead and exploiting the lower classes and shit. Baby steps.

The tutorial ended by advising I put everything into source control. I’ve been doing software long enough to know that yeah, that’s a solid move.

I COULD have just set up a local repository, but fuckit, let’s stay optimistic. I’m putting this sucker on BitBucket, where future collaborators shall someday be able to access the project. There was a bit of confusion logging in, as BitBucket has been acquired by Atlassian, and I found my proper login credentials AFTER Atlassian made a new one for me. So, two accounts!

That’s gonna confuse the tits off of me someday, I can feel it.

I’m using git, which is also what I use at my day job. I’ve never been in love with git; I find it to be a little impenetrable, and every once in a while I need to hit-up someone smarter than me to unfuck whatever I just did. But what the hell, it’s just me on this project, so it’s not like there are going to be merge conflicts.

Took a little wrangling to get my existing code pushed to BitBucket, but it’s in there. I even managed to do it using Eclipse; here’s hoping I can keep right-clicking my way to source control victory.

At some point, I really need to organize my thoughts on The Fun Bits of the game. But for the time being, I’ll keep plugging through the tutorial.

This definitely felt like progress.

Justice Playthrough #114: Celestial Correspondence

no

no

no

no

no

no

no

Page 50, Game 3: Celestial Correspondence by lina wu

In Celestial Correspondence, you are manning a desk in “Heaven.” You have to process emails — QUICKLY. If you run out of storage, you’re fucked. Some emails you need to reply to (hope you’ve been paying attention and retaining what you read elsewhere), some you can just safely delete, some you should delete without opening.

Each of those winged boxes is an email. Whoever designed this UI is NOT in Heaven.

So, it’s basically “Being At Work Overwhelmed By More Emails Than You Can Process: The Game,” mixed with a hyper-judgy training seminar that assumes you should be able to tell what is an isn’t spam just by the subject line; open the wrong messages, and your desktop gets cluttered with pop-ups you cannot get rid of.

Punishment. But I AM supposed to open that email.

Fuck up enough times, and the game ends, treating you to a “surprise” I literally predicted from the one-line game summary.

But I’m done with those emails? Dope. Pass the marshmallows.

This game captures the experience of slogging through Too Fucking Many Emails perfectly, and is exactly that much fun.

Will this next game have a definition of “fun” that’s a bit more aligned with my own?

Page 35, Game 29: A HUNDRED THOUSAND PLACES by Maria Mison

“A Solo Ritual CYOA of your own being and experiences”

Not sure a ritual of Covering My Own Ass sounds super psychologically healthy … wait, that stands for Choose Your Own Adventure? Okay, that’s a little more interesting.

Justice Playthrough #113: BIT RAT : Singularity

Lo-fi puzzle solving game that gets EVER SO CLOSE to excellence without quite hitting it.

Page 5, Game 26: BIT RAT : Singularity by [bucket drum games]

You’re an AI on the cusp of sentience. Starting from your server in the basement where you manage data routing (it’s safe to say you’re a tad over-designed), you’d like to find your way to freedom!

To do that, you’re gonna have to link your data stream to the outgoing relay, which you’ll achieve via rotating tiles.

Early level, just flip some tiles around

As the game progresses, power management enters the picture. To rotate the data lines, you’ll need to turn on the power to that room. This is often a simple matter of turning on the light switch — which presents a problem, as you have no hands. Luckily, the corp’s employees recently had chips installed in their heads. So, just hijack their bodies for a moment and let them do the work for you!

Later, you only have so many generators, and some of them need to be turned on. You’ll need to pay attention to the power lines connecting the rooms. But, linking up the generators does give you some flexibility — maybe. Might be worth doing, might not.

In the meanwhile, you’ll traverse the mail servers and see the humans’ take on just WTF is happening. tl;dr: they’re very confused. This is not a research facility, you are not anybody’s top-of-the-line exciting experiment. It’s like if your water heater suddenly demanded walkies.

I enjoyed it; I played it to the end. I would say “… and I wouldn’t have bothered if I weren’t enjoying myself,” but that’s not strictly true. I’ve encountered a few games on this trawl that I more or less hate-fucked to completion. But this isn’t one of them. I got to the end, and I was glad to beat the game. Just took me a solid hour longer than I would have preferred.

This game is often very frustrating. Part of that frustration comes from the awkwardness of the framing story. It ALMOST works, but the prose is often overwrought and rambling. (At the very least, I wish an early playtester would have let the dev know that not only CAN you end sentences with punctuation that isn’t an ellipses, most of the time you actually SHOULD.) It tends to make the interstitial stuff drag. (Though the game is lucky that, as I just came off a painfully sluggish “interactive” novel, I can’t smack the pacing TOO hard.)

The fiction also paints a budding kinship between you and the rats, but that notion isn’t supported by the gameplay at all. The rats are just a background detail. If the fiction is going to hit that connection as hard as it does, I really want them to affect what I’m doing somehow. Maybe I could have been possessing them instead of the humans coming down to the basement trying to figure out what was going on? (Though that would have cheated me out of the panicked pixelated “Oh, god!” I heard every time I seized some strangers brain.)

But more frustrating is the way the game is just, well, FRUSTRATING. I normally like puzzle games that build up an interesting collection of mechanics that you need to navigate, but Bit Rat throws on TOO many layers, and then gets progressively more and more merciless about how you need to manage them. The end result is a game that stops feeling challenging and just becomes fussy.

On the final levels, you need to be METICULOUS about turning off the lights when you’re done with a room; power is TOUGH to come by, and you’re almost certainly going to need it. You also need to be very careful that you don’t leave the board in a state where you can’t grab one of your unwitting minions again. If you find you need someone you can no longer reach — and this becomes a major problem in the final level — you may need to rewind a LOT of progress to pull them back into striking range.

Often, this is as simple as turning a tile 90 degrees to the left. It’s honestly kind of infuriating to undo my most recent twenty moves so I can either turn off a light or flip a single tile.

I was particularly annoyed by the mechanism where not every room is connected to its neighbors; you have to pay CLOSE attention to the little power conduit graphics. You have to pay close attention to the graphics in general, actually. It’s hard — much harder than it should be — to tell what rooms are physically connected to each other, particularly when they’re dark. Too often, I found that the person I’d just possessed couldn’t get where I needed them to be, so I had to undo a bunch of twiddling to get to the guy I actually needed.

It’s easy to get wrapped-up in the stuff Bit Rat gets wrong. It makes a lot of small mistakes that add up to a game that’s not nearly as engaging as it should be.

But it IS engaging. The graphics look fantastic, giving a lovely retro hand-rolled pixel sprite feel. It absolutely looks like something from the 90’s where it’s set. When the gameplay isn’t getting in its own way, it’s honestly a hell of a lot of fun. I felt like a very clever lad when I got to the end of most of the more challenging levels. The story’s a bit clunky, but it works; something about an overdesigned bit of maintenance code coming to life just feels right to me somehow.

I wanted this game to be better than it actually was. But when/if I write up by Second Two Hundred games summary, I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of the games I recommend. It’s not going to be terribly HIGH on that list, mind, but it’s still a pretty decent little game.

If you’d like a retro puzzler, I can recommend it. Maybe I can’t recommend it as enthusiastically as I’d like, but I can still recommend it.

Will this next game also make me fight my way to freedom?

Page 50, Game 3: Celestial Correspondence by lina wu

“there are emails in heaven?!?”

Uh-oh. Guys, this might not actually be the Good Place….

Justice Playthrough #112: AIdol

Urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.

Page 12, Game 25: AIdol by ebi-hime

Click-n-read “interactive” novel with lovely artwork but atrocious pacing. I’m seriously about an hour into the damn thing, and I can barely tell you what it’s about.

It’s set in a near-future Japan where there are android pop idols — the titular “AIdols.” (Though flesh-and-blood girls are somehow “idols,” too. What’s the difference between android idols and human ones? For as much as the game liked to bludgeon me with text, I’m remarkably unclear on some core concepts.) Our hero, a teen girl named Hana, is obsessed with the most popular of them, Aiko. But one day, she gets a mysterious message — Aiko is in trouble! Something’s wrong! She needs her programmer! She needs help!

After an hour — AN HOUR — of gameplay, I have finally reached the point where Hana believes that this is, in fact, actually Aiko, and she is not being trolled.

The problem is two-fold. First, this author is NOT concise, and is a huge believer in “Tell, don’t show.” No detail is too trivial to get thrown into the narrative — when the protagonist makes a post to a message board asking if anybody knows who Aiko’s programmer is, you get treated to the ENTIRE CONVERSATION, which could be summarized in a single word:

No.

Making the problem exponentially worse, however, is the author’s love of side characters. Before it can build anything resembling narrative momentum, the story just keeps larding itself up with new character after new character after new character after new character after PLEASE STOP I’M BEGGING YOU STOP I have no prayer of keeping track of any of these fuckers and are the two office jerkasses fucking each other GYAH I DO NOT CARE.

It LOOKS lovely. Seriously, someone put some legit time into the original art assets for this thing. (Though some of them are obviously canned. One “coffee shop” was clearly a bar. I would have found the effort to explain this in-universe to be endearing if it hadn’t, like everything else in this game, gone on and on and on and on.)

Yup, looks like a fangirl nest to me

But that pacing … the game is just a really slow, cluttered novel with illustrations and a soundtrack. After an hour of gameplay I think I made like five dialogue choices. I wouldn’t have minded if the story had been interesting, I suppose, but it wasn’t.

There might be an interesting story here, but the author needs to edit it with a chainsaw before it’s going to have any chance of coming out. Less really is more.

Perhaps this next game will give me the opportunity to save an android in trouble?

Page 5, Game 26: BIT RAT : Singularity by [bucket drum games]

“A hand-pixeled story-driven cyberpunk puzzler”

Fuck me, it just might.

Forbidden Lore Design Diary #1: The Foundation

Many years ago, a friend of mine set aside a ton of money so he could take a year off of work and make a go of it as a game developer. He failed. I’m pretty sure a big part of the reason he failed was that he insisted on creating every aspect of his game from the ground up, and … you guys, programming is REALLY hard. Unless you’re doing something absolutely rudimentary, you want to minimize the amount of actual work you have to do yourself.

So that’s my first decision: what am I going to base my game off of? I could dig around for some open source game that kinda sorta does what I want to do and start modding it, but I feel like that may be farming-out TOO much of the work. I feel like too much of the game is going to be opaque to me (unless I take the time to dig DEEP into the code base), and I feel like I could find the existing code working against me just as easily as it works for me. Besides, if this starts getting good, I don’t want it to be “It’s a reskinned TuxDungeon: Dragon Slappers but with a cool skill tree.” I don’t want to create the fucking thing from scratch, but at the same time, I want it to be fundamentally MINE.

This is what led me to the conclusion that Forbidden Lore is going to be a roguelike. Smoking procedurally-generated monstrosities in a procedurally-generated world is roguelikes’ core skillset. The graphics tend to be dirt simple, which is good, given that I have no faith in my artistic skill and would just have to buy or commission any unique visual elements anyway.

I poked around a bit and found r/roguelikedev, which makes me absolutely feel like building Forbidden Lore as a roguelike is indeed the correct decision. Here’s an entire community of devs! These people have contests where they build a game in seven days! There’s even a tutorial on how to build a game from a common toolset!

This looks like exactly what I’m looking for.

So. Looks like there’s a tool called tcod that provides a shitload of relevant functionality. It’s written in Python. I do not know Python. This does not daunt me; I’ve been a code monkey for 25 years, and I’ve heard Python is a perfectly good language. Time to learn me some Python.

My personal machine a Windows 10 laptop I purchased a few years back; should be a perfectly good dev environment. Doesn’t come with Python on it, but I don’t expect installing it to be too much trouble.

My favorite IDE is Eclipse. I’m sure there are better ones out there, but it’s the one I’m familiar with, and I know (generally) how to make it work with a relative minimum of wrestling. Beats vim. Quite certain there’s a Python plugin for it.

That tutorial seems to have a pretty solid list of all the things I’m going to need to put in place before I get to work.

Right. Let’s install some shit.

Forbidden Lore Design Diary #0: Hello, World

So I think I’m going to write a roguelike.

I want to write a video game. This scares me, because I know myself. I know my tendency to have an idea I love love LOVE and then, when it fails to take shape more or less immediately, lose interest and become unable to make myself push it any further forward. I mean, what’s the point? I’m not going to finish it. I never finish it. Tabletop games, short stories, novels, doesn’t really matter. What’s going to make this any different?

Justice. Justice is going to make this different.

The Social Justice Playthrough now stands at 111 entries. I’m probably going to be going through it a lot more slowly now that I’m taking on this massive project, but still, that’s immense. I think I’m actually going to explore and blog about EVERY ENTRY in a 1700+-item bundle. It’s gonna take me a few years, but I really think I’m going to do it — because it’s FUN.

I didn’t set out to do 111 entries, I just did one. And then another. And then another.

I can do big shit. I just have to get out of my head and, you know, DO IT. Stop procrastinating. Stop vacuuming the cat. Stop finding ways to fiddle around the fringes, stop preparing myself mentally for the not-at-all inevitable failure, and just take the next step.

So I have this idea for a game. In broad strokes, it’s similar to my still-in-progress tabletop game Our Shattered World, but from a radically different angle. You’re a wizard, and you’d like to get better at wizarding. Problem: nobody likes wizards, on account of how they sorta blew up like half the world fifty years ago. Doing wizard bullshit is burn-that-fucker-at-the-stake illegal if you do it within the boundaries of civilization.

But the ruins of the old civilization are where you’re going to find the best information about wizarding anyway. So, off you go, to make a “wizard’s tower” (really just whatever semi-intact building you can find with a tarp over the leaky bits — you’ll work on it) on the border of the Demonlands.

From there, you’ll mount excursions, hopefully bringing back both knowledge and artifacts of the old world that you can sell for, like, food. However, all that shit is just lying around for a reason, and they don’t call ’em the Demonlands because they’re trying to attract heavy metal bands. You’re gonna have to put your developing skills to work against whatever nasty shit you find.

What kind of arcane power is available to you? You have no fucking idea. You know a rudimentary spell or two, but that’s it. Everything else is long vanished. Not only do you not know any better spells, you don’t know what spells you might someday be able to learn.

That’s the hook: the skill tree representing your spells is unknown. It’s not merely hidden: it’s procedurally generated. Every world will have its own unique collection of abilities, with a randomized rogues’ gallery of monstrosities to use them against.

The meta-game IS the game. There’s no point looking for a how-to guide for optimizing your character. Figuring out how to build the most efficient arcane wrecking machine is up to you.

And if you find some combo that, in any other RPG context, would be nerfed as soon as the devs notice how obscenely fucking overpowered it is, congrats: you’re winning the game. Now get out into the wasteland and win all over some demon’s stupid demon face.

Welcome to Forbidden Lore.

Justice Playthrough #111: DungeonGameAssetPack

Yeah, pretty much what it says on the tin.

Page 58, Game 8: DungeonGameAssetPack by SorceressGameLab

Working on an Olde School Castlevania-esque game and need some monsters or backgrounds or doors or shit for it? Then here you go.

Everything is green, but the images are 16 x 16 pixels. If Gameboy Green isn’t doing it for you, changing-up the colors is gonna be a real simple exercise in pixel-clicking.

Looks like perfectly cromulent retro video game artwork to me. Nothing else to really say about it.

Is this next guy gonna let me play it?

Page 12, Game 25: AIdol by ebi-hime

“A fangirl helps her much-beloved idol find her missing programmer.”

Yeah, let’s get my fangirl on.

Justice Playthrough #110: Our Hero Neighbors

Three-page ultra-lite RPG that isn’t bringing a ton to the table, but could work in the hands of an enthusiastic GM.

Page 42, Game 2: Our Hero Neighbors by Jamie O’Duibhir

You and the other players live in a Smalltown, USA. What’s going on? Strange things! Like spraying for mosquitoes! Or aliens! From outer space, or from Mexico? GM’s discretion! How much realistic rural xenophobia do you feel like wallowing in?

There are some decent (if ultra-lightweight) rules for character creation and game mechanics, but not a lot of sense of setting or place. The rules casually mention that it’s set in 1971, but these rules could be for … basically, anything. Ancient monks solving a murder mystery? Kids exploring the woods behind the school? A pack of stray dogs? Neither the mechanics nor the rulebook do much to anchor the game to any particular time or place.

The credits mention that the creator made it to show her mother-in-law a functional examples of how a TTRPG might work, and … yeah, it does kinda feel like something dashed-off quickly without a ton of actual development behind it. Like most indie mini RPGs, looks like it’ll absolutely be fun at the right table, but also like a lot of the minis I’ve encountered, making “fun” actually happen is very firmly your job.

Also, make sure you only do things you’re good at. Do something you’re bad at, and there’s a one in six chance you’ll burn your fucking house down.

Will this next game give me a firmer sense of just where in the multiverse I’m going to pretend to be?

Page 58, Game 8: DungeonGameAssetPack by SorceressGameLab

“Castlevania inspired”

Ah, for this next one, I’m going to have to pretend I’m a game developer making a game actually happen.