Justice Playthrough #141: Roll+Heart

This isn’t for me and parts of it are a bit raw, but this is not terrible. If you’re a fan of romance-based visual novels, it might be worth a look.

And I definitely appreciate the take; it’s one I’ve never seen before. The game simulates both a role-playing game and the people playing it. As the game’s page puts it, it’s “the ultimate fantasy – a group who can consistently play tabletop every week!”

Page 15, Game 26: Roll+Heart by Owl Sanctuary Studios

So, you’re a player joining a new RPG group, one that uses a d20 but is NOT D&D. (I assume that’s for implementation purposes; D&D’s copyright holders are actually pretty generous in their licensing terms for using D&D mechanics in third-party products, just as long as you avoid certain things. Actually implementing a D&D game via code, however, seems like it’d be a real bitch.) Out of the game, cultivate relationships with your fellow players! In the game, go fuck up goblins and stuff!

The fantasy character is the one on the right

The game has two halves, neither of which I found super compelling after about an hour or so of gameplay. Though I am realizing that an interactive novel REALLY has to kick ass for me to enjoy it; it’s just not my genre. I feel capable of flagging the excellent stuff and calling-out the dreck, but Roll+Heart hits that middle ground where it’s not good enough to pull me in but could be quite appealing to someone who digs games like it.

The visual novel stuff lines up five other people who are all potential love interests, which honestly feels slightly yucky to me. The game seems to be trying to mitigate it by only offering player avatars that are at least somewhat femme-presenting, though I don’t recall the game ever using any gender-specific language in reference to me.

Hey, we both dropped our dice together

And, yeah, I suppose it’s less yucky if it’s a female or non-binary individual treating the game session as a hookup opportunity. But I myself very firmly and comfortably identify as a guy, and in real life, I emphatically don’t want to be THAT guy. You know, That Guy who treats RPG groups as an opportunity to potentially bang any fellow players he finds attractive? That Guy makes it uncomfortable and shitty for everyone. So even if the game is offering me an “out” — I’m not That Guy, instead I’m That Person Of Unspecified Gender Identity — the basic premise still winds up feeling a bit off-putting to me.

The game-within-the-game is fine, I suppose. You move, you do a thing. The tutorial claims the game shows you all the spaces you’ll be able to move to, but that’s not actually true. Then when you do the thing, you’re not really allowed to choose who you’re doing the thing to, and just have to trust the AI will select the correct ally to heal or the correct foe to smite.

… and in this one, I’m the one with the arrow at the bottom, ready to shoot some fools

The plot was kinda cute; I didn’t get far into it, but we recovered a locket for an old dwarf showing him and his late wife, young and in love. D’aw. Bonus points for staying on-theme, game.

However, I do note: the fantasy game-within-the-game is absolutely linked to the get-laid game-within-the-game; you can make progress in the latter by making sure you side with and support the correct characters in the former. Once again, you are That Guy Person Of Unspecified Gender Identity. “Hey, you’re just going along with their plan because you’re trying to get into their pants!” Yup.

In a sense, it’s weird that the game is eliciting this response. Last night, I stayed up late doing a little retro gaming, and even though I tend towards the White Hat choices, I still wind up doing some pretty horrifically violent shit. I guess the difference is that I’ve never once been tempted to use a ginormous axe to obliterate motherfuckers who my visions have identified as “bandits,” nor do I have the opportunity to turn into a giant wolf, tear apart people with my bare claws, and eat them. (Look, I don’t have access to my healing potions or spells in wolf form; it’s the only way I can heal.) But make women feel uncomfortable because they’re sharing a gaming table with me? That, I CAN do. I would much prefer not to — not even accidentally.

The more I type up this review, the less great I feel about this game. Not enough to tip me into fuck-this-game territory, but still, I’m pretty sure any game that asks me to pretend I’m using a TTRPG as an opportunity to mack on my fellow players is just gonna feel squicky to me no matter how well it’s done.

Still. If you’re a fan of the genre and don’t share my aversions, it might be worth your time.

Will the next game ask me to do stuff I find uncomfortable?

Page 23, Game 27: Pet the Pup at the Party by Will Herring

“you are at a house party. you do not know anybody. the clock is ticking… can you find the pup at the party??”

OMFG DODGE SOCIAL INTERACTION BY PETTING THE PUPPER YES YES YES WHO’S A GOOD BOY THIS DOGGO RIGHT HERE!!!

Justice Playthrough #140: Mnemonic™

Let’s be a flower and fuck things up!

Page 26, Game 12: The Valley of Super Flowers by AMAXANG GAMES

… wait, Norton recommends I NOT run this game. Norton doesn’t have enough data.

Man, what a shitty situation for indie devs to be in. Until enough people run the game without incident, Norton will regard it as suspicious. But until Norton stops regarding it as suspicious, I’m not gonna run it.

Sorry, mate. But I can at least take this one off the “Covered” list and the the randomizer come back around to it.

In it’s place, we’re gonna do….

Page 47, Game 7: Mnemonic™ by Pablo Lavín

“Shrink long texts to create shorter documents that are easier to memorize!”

Ah, it’s a summary tool! Dope. I tend to use more words than I ought to. Perhaps this will help me to trim my own excessive verbosity.

Let’s see what it has to say about a famous speech:

Four score&seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, new nation, conceived Liberty,&dedicated → proposition men created equal. Now we engaged great civil war, testing whether nation,/any nation so conceived&so dedicated, can long endure. We met on great battle-field war. We’ve come → dedicate portion field, final resting place for those who here gave their lives that nation might live. It’s altogether fitting&proper we should do this. But, larger sense, we cann’t dedicate — we cann’t consecrate — we cann’t hallow — this ground. Brave men, living&dead, who struggled here,’ve consecrated it, far above our poor power → add/detract. World’ll little note, nor long remember what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. It’s for us living, rather, → be dedicated here → unfinished work which they who fought here’ve thus far so nobly advanced. It’s rather for us → be here dedicated → great task remaining before us — from these honored dead we take increased devotion → cause for which they gave last full measure devotion — we here highly resolve these dead shall not’ve died vain — this nation, under God, shall’ve new birth freedom –&government people, people, for people, shalln’t perish from earth.

It DID reduce that text from 1475 characters to 1247, so that’s nice. But I’m not confident that represents an improvement.

But, let’s be fair; the original is a famously efficient piece of speechcraft by a legendary leader at the top of his game. Let’s see how it handles the random blatherings of some fool with a blog:

Wait, Norton recommends I NOT run this game. Norton doesn’t’ve enough data. Man, what shitty situation for indie devs → be in. Until enough people run game without incident, Norton’ll regard suspicious. But until Norton stops regarding suspicious, I’mn’t gonna run it. Sorry, mate. But I can at least take this one off “Covered” list&the randomizer come back around → it.

410 characters down to 372. That’s … not terribly impressive.

As a great man once said, people, people, for people, shalln’t perish from earth. But I’m kinda thinking perhaps this utility should.

With this next entry meet me on great battle-field war?

Page 15, Game 26: Roll+Heart by Owl Sanctuary Studios

“Slay Monsters and Conquer Romance in Roll+Heart from Owl Sanctuary Studios”

Aw yeah! Love is battle-field! I’mma conquer the FUCK outta some romance!

Justice Playthrough #139: Book Reprocessing Machine #5

There’s not a lot of game in this game.

Page 41, Game 27: Book Reprocessing Machine #5 by Tenbear

Take a book, choose 50 words from it at random, turn those words into a poem.

It’s like refrigerator magnets!

Obviously, this game isn’t doing a lot to impress me. But it IS so simple that NOT playing it and just snarking feels petulant. And lazy.

All right, game. I’m playing you.

Let’s crack open some BrandoSando. The Way of Kings, on my Kindle! Let’s drop 5d6 a whole bunch of times in accordance with the rules.

My words are:

headway, Almighty, they, Dalinar, alone,
the, had, would, achieve, Vamah,
doing, look, gave, Almighty, Dalinar,
would, the, had, spoken, had,
the, the, have, or, many,
(halfway there!)
had, were, taken, won, by,
renowned, have, so, they, so,
Dalinar, the, a, spoken, did,
one, said, friend, the, is,
I, at, you, that, had

Whuf. All right, I have harvested my fifty words, and that was some tedious shit. I was going by the Rules As Written, which involve using a 5d6 roll to determine a chapter, then using two more rolls to determine a page and a word within that chapter, repeat the last two steps until you have 50 words. This is at odds with the SAMPLE game, which wants you to mix up the chapter every ten words. So, we’ve got a big ‘ol editing fail right there.

This game may be a trifle, but these rules very obviously do not represent the best version of that trifle. Why did they want me to keep track of which page I was on? Why not make that page roll once and then, say, keep rolling 2d6 and advancing that many words in the text?

Why are there no rules to deal with hitting a fuckton of uninteresting filler words, like I did in my playthrough? Why not specify that if you’ve already used a word, keep going until you hit a word you haven’t used?

Bah. Whatever. I have my building blocks. Let’s make a poem out of them.

The Almighty Dalinar! The Almighty Vamah!
They alone gave the headway
Taken by so many!

Dalinar, renowned, spoken they would achieve
So that you had won, friend.

Look! Doing the did, one said!
I would have had the had, or the Dalinar!
A have is had
Spoken at, were had.

I’ll let you decide the merits of that poem for yourself. But that was significantly more amusing than I thought it would be. Stick THAT shit in a chapter heading, Brandon.

So, the gameplay is substantially more tedious than it needs to be and does a poor job of making sure you get an interesting set of words to work with. But once those words are in hand, it actually is kinda fun.

I cannot recommend this game, because the ruleset is simultaneously too simple and does not represent the best version of itself. But as a thing to do on your own time, why not. Can YOU figure out a better way to yoink 50 random words out of a book? I bet you can. There are worse ways to kill half an hour.

Does this next game lend itself to on-the-fly redesign by its players?

Page 26, Game 12: The Valley of Super Flowers by AMAXANG GAMES

“The Valley of Super Flowers is a 2D Platform Action game in which the valley is captured by an Evil Satanis ruler.”

So, flowers and SATAN? That sounds like an amazing tonal clusterfuck. I’m very curious to give it a look now.

Justice Playthrough #138: TAMASHII

There’s a lot about this game that I find frustrating, not the least of which is the underlying genre — Brutal Precision Platformer — is not one I find particularly compelling. So when I say that the gameplay makes up for all of it, that means the gameplay is fuckin’ FANTASTIC.

Page 3, Game 16: TAMASHII by vikintor

An Entity has summoned thee. Something has defiled its temple. Thou art tasked with finding the source of the corruption.

Get to it, kid

You will find this corruption via running around solving platforming puzzles. This is generally a matter of just finding the exit for a given level. However, before long, you’re going to start dealing with keys. Stand in a certain place, and the states of various blocks will toggle between “existing” and “not”. Stand in other places, and the door will open itself.

Naturally, since you can only be in one place, you can pretend to be somewhere by dropping what the game refers to as a “clone” behind.

Not seeing the resemblance

Those little chattering skull bastards will trigger whatever key they’re on for as long as they continue to exist.

Also, in one of the game’s many delightful graphical touches, the more clones you drop (up to the max of three) the wonkier the resolution on your screen gets. Suddenly, the game feels like you’re playing it on a shitty old TV. I don’t know why this makes me so happy, but it makes me incredibly happy.

From there, you’re free to jump all around the level and try not to die. The level will make this very, very difficult.

Those blades aren’t for show, and they do not tickle

Make it all the way through to the end, and you’ll face the level’s boss monster! Figuring out how to defeat it is part of the game. As is dealing with the psychological horror of seeing the thing.

WTF

Clear out enough levels and you win!

I think.

As much as I enjoyed it, this is not one I played through to the end.

Let’s get this out of the way: I didn’t play it through to the end because there’s something wonky in the save mechanism. There were levels I’m QUITE certain I cleared that the game wanted me to play again — I think. Beating the levels the first time was fun. But as challenging as they are, beating them AGAIN is a chore.

Assuming you can figure out where in the connecting temple you need to go to get to them. Simply finding where you’re supposed to go next was often an unwelcome challenge. The whole “Wait, did I do this one already?” feeling wasn’t helped by the fact that my high score on every level was always pegged at 0.

My big problem with this game is that it makes it too difficult to get to the fun parts.

But by the unholy spirits of the underworld, the fun parts are FUN.

The platforming in this game is brutal and merciless, but even though that’s not my jam, I still had a great time playing it. It’s smooth, it’s fast, it’s POLISHED. This is a game where you’re going to fail a lot, so the game lets you fail FAST. All right, looks like to do this, I’m going to need to plant a clone on the red key, which is behind a whole bunch of bullshit that will kill me. I’m gonna need to hit the jump like THIS, dodge the bullet like THIS, jump over the– shit, fucked up the timing. All right, jump like THIS, dodge the bullet like THIS, WAIT, jump over the buzzsaw blades, step lively, all right, I’m there! Now what?

The game feels FAIR. It’s hard as hell, but it genuinely feels like you have the tools you need to solve the problems at hand.

What’s more, it looks fantastic. I honestly don’t know what to call this art style — Giger-occult? It’s drippy and creepy and cruel and hellish. A better reviewer than I could no doubt pin down exactly what it’s called and where it’s coming from; I’m a basic bitch in more ways than just my taste in games. The game feels dark in a way that’s unique and genuinely unsettling. I fuckin’ love it.

When Tamashii gets the hell out of its own way, it’s a fantastic game. I’m glad I played it, frustrating bits and all. Definitely recommended.

What occult madness awaits me in the next title?

Page 41, Game 27: Book Reprocessing Machine #5 by Tenbear

“A game about turning old books into new poems”

Ah, poetry. SERIOUS madness.

Justice Playthrough #137: Rulent Tower VR

Yup, VR. Damn.

Page 47, Game 16: Rulent Tower VR by Setsune

I DOES look kinda cool. I definitely appreciate creating a virtual reality where you’re basically inside a Game Boy. If I ever get a VR rig, maybe I’ll come back to it.

What strange new use of old technology awaits me next?

Page 3, Game 16: TAMASHII by vikintor

“Weird Luciferian Puzzle Platformer”

Puzzles AND Lucifer? Dope, I’m in.

Justice Playthrough #136: Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition

Not a great game, even when it’s working.

It’s usually not working.

Page 13, Game 19: Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition by Axol Studio

Blasting Agent is a Olde Timey side-scrolling pixel shooter that visually is trying to evoke the feel of NES games like Contra.

This is its first huge mistake; the gameplay is absolutely nothing like Contra. You are not a bad-ass storming through an alien-infested jungle laying down adrenaline-fueled devastation. You are an (admittedly) tough but nimble soldier tentatively scurrying forward with a cheap, shitty “gun” rendered largely ineffective by its terrible range and negligible stopping power. Every time you encounter even a starting-level mook, you’re going to need to very cautiously snipe at them (did I mention your gun’s range sucks?) and then dash away, jumping-over their return fire. (I’m pretty sure the mooks’ guns are better than yours. I’m not joking. Pretty sure I’ve never seen that in a Contra wannabe before.) You’ll need to land four or five hits before you drop them, so taking down a single foe is a huge chore. Often, your best bet is to simply run past them.

Of course, if you’re forced to confront them and another soldier follows you into the fray, you’re fucked. Taking them on two at a time is suicidal.

So, yeah, this is not the dash-and-blaster it seems to be presenting itself as. It’s more in the “precision platformer” vein. Which is fine, I suppose. Not really my jam, but that’s fine. If you’re all about that cautious, one-step-at-a-time gameplay, this one might appeal to you.

Assuming you can play it. You might not. I started it up like five times, and got to play a decent ways into it once before it crashed halfway through the third stage of the first level. By that point, I felt like I had a pretty good feel for the game, so I fired it back up to harvest some screenshots. On the third try, I made it past the intro screen, and then the game promptly crashed when I tried to screenshot it.

But not before I noticed that it had done nothing to save my progress from the earlier run.

So in my experience, the game was too unstable to play and not fun enough for me to actually want to play it. It looks and sounds like a classic NES game, so props for presentation, but the actual game is just too fiddly for me to enjoy. If it sounds like your jam, by all means roll the dice; maybe your computer won’t hate it as much as mine did.

How much punishment will the mooks in this next game take before collapsing?

Page 47, Game 16: Rulent Tower VR by Setsune

“Witness Beautiful Game Boy Graphics in VIRTUALEST of REALITIES!”

Eh, fuck. VR. I do not have a VR rig. Looks like whatever mooks are in Rulent Tower have nothing to fear from me.

Justice Playthrough #135: Vignettes

I can’t tell if this is a chill, playful “anti-game” that wants me to relax or if it’s a hard-core puzzler that wants me pulling my hair out and secretly fucking hates me.

Page 3, Game 14: Vignettes by Skeleton Business

You are given a 3D rendered thing, like, say, a phone!

I think this keypad may have been designed by Charlie Day

Click it — see what happens! Or, use your mouse to turn it around, see it from a different angle. From certain sides, it doesn’t really look like a phone at all. Like, for instance, look at the bottom dead-on, it’s just a rectangle.

That rectangle could be anything. And if you twist it around, it’s not a phone any more! It’s a pot!

WHAAAAAAAT

What will the pot do with you click on it? What other things will it become when you twist it around? Find out! That’s the game!

When the game puts you in a just-fuck-around-and-see-what’s-next headspace, it’s interesting. It’s kinda fun, in its low key way. You can get some really cool stuff to show up.

Time to toot my tooter!

But then you discover the menu, and the “chill” part of the game kinda goes to hell.

Where zen goes to die

Look at how those things can turn into other things! Why, the pot alone could turn into four other things. What other things could it be?

Twist it around and find out!

No, not like that.

Not like that, either.

Maybe you could turn it the other way?

Come on, are you really even trying? Don’t you WANT to find the other things it could be?!

And what are those icons on the interstitial screen? Click them and find out.

Oh, here’s a picture showing all the things you’ve found.

And here’s a summary of the puzzles you haven’t solved yet. Did you not realize you were solving puzzles? You did not? WTF is wrong with you, did you not realize this is a game?

And here’s a chest. It kinda looks like the beginning of the game. What happens when you click on it? You go back to the beginning of the game, of course!

Would you like to go back to where you were? Like when you found this fucking thing?

It’s made of angry whimsy

That thing was cool. Wanna go back to it and play with it?

Well, you’re gonna need to remember every step it took you to get there.

Every.

Single.

One.

Feel stupid because you clicked on that chest thing and got kicked all the way back to the beginning? Well, you should. But don’t worry, you’ll have the same issue if you ever do something dumb like close the game.

This game isn’t awful, but there’s a staggering difference between the chill, playful, exploratory way it presents itself and the actual experience of playing the thing. The actual gameplay is merciless. Actual gameplay gives on the vaguest hints of what you’re trying to do or how to proceed. The playful, exploratory menu puts you in a corner where you are ONE FUCKING WRONG CLICK away from undoing all your progress and getting kicked ALL the way back to the beginning.

I don’t hate it, but I can’t say I love it, either. When it’s working, it operates under a kind of dream logic that I found quite appealing. Of course the thing just became another completely different thing because of how you looked at it. Of course there’s a cat in there. Why wouldn’t there be?

But I found that once I started investing myself in moving forward, it stopped being fun and just started being frustrating. In particular, the inability to return to a previous cool thing I found struck me as inexplicable. Why does the game want me to memorize every step I took? That’s not playful and zen. That’s not playful and zen at all.

If it looks appealing, I suppose I can recommend it. But this is not a must-have.

What things will be turning into other things for this next one?

Page 13, Game 19: Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition by Axol Studio

“The definitive version of the classic, pixel jump-and-shoot Adventure for PC.”

Ah, I expect pixels will be turning into explosions. I like jumping, I like shooting, I like adventures. Let’s do this thing!

Forbidden Lore Design Diary #10: The Hard Thing That Turned Out To Be Easy Turns Out To Have Been Hard All Along

Today, I hit an item on my to-do list: is my auto-save only saving after every player turn, or after every mouse action?

Turns out, the answer was “after every mouse action.” So that’s not, you know, great; I’m new to this whole game development thing, but I’m pretty sure saving your game forty times because the user dragged the mouse across the screen is considered sub-optimal design. So I worked to put that autosave command elsewhere.

The input handler seemed like a sensible spot; after I told the engine to handle the enemy turns, I also told it to save. Easy-peasy. However, this introduced me to the concept of “circular dependencies,” which Python finds quite objectionable. Basically, I had to dig into a lot of the weird stuff the tutorial put at the top of many files (like “from __future__ import annotations” and “if TYPE_CHECKING” and other such things) and understand why I needed them. Good news! I now understand why I needed them! Yay learning!

However, I stumbled across a very weird error when I chucked a fireball:

AttributeError: Can't pickle local object 'FireballDamageConsumable.get_action.<locals>.<lambda>'

Baaaah. The code I was using to save the file had beef with the nuances of how some of my stuff works — nuances I barely understood myself. So that looked no damn fun to debug.

But more troubling, I discovered that if I quit the game right after seeing that error, the auto-save file got corrupted and could not be reloaded. Having a game that corrupts its own auto-saves whenever something goes wrong sounds infuriating, so I had to get THAT shit sorted out, too.

Luckily, I had an easy way of generating those corrupted data files on hand.

I posted a question to Stack Overflow, but as one might reasonably expect on a Sunday afternoon, there were no Python nerds willing to lend me a hand. Ah, well.

I researched how to move files around in Python, then whipped-up some code that would move the old auto-save file to a backup and then restore the backup if something went wrong during the save. This code did not work. I spent about an hour tearing you my hair trying to figure out why. I had all these theories; was the filehandle still open? Was I running afoul of an asynchronous race condition? I investigated all that shit only to discover….

A typo. The backup code was looking for the wrong fuckmothering filename.

Once that moment of Software Development was behind me, I started digging into the reasons why the save was fucking-up. Still not sure I know the details why, but the solution turned out to be a package called “dill.” Yes, the code that serializes — “pickles” — the object for me works better when you enhance it with “dill.” Once I figured out how to do that, I was golden.

There’s an old truism in software: for every sufficiently advanced problem, there exists a solution that is simple, elegant, and wrong.

And that’s how my simple, elegant three-line save method turned into something closer to thirty lines, not including blankspace and comments.

I was planning on figuring out some menu stuff today. That’ll have to come next.

Justice Playthrough #134: Nuvoloso

Can’t play it. My PC privilege has been thwarted!

Page 56, Game 2: Nuvoloso by Claudio Vertemara

It’s an Android-only game, the first I’ve encountered in the trawl. That means I’ve encountered as many Android games as I have Commodore-64 and Sinclair VX Spectrum entries. So as I did there, I figured I’d see if an emulator could help me out.

I downloaded and installed NoxPlayer 6.6.12. In theory, installing Nuvoloso on it was a simple drag and drop. An hour later, the app is still installing.

If it’s this slow, I suspect that even if the install completes, the simulated game experience might be significantly less than what the developer intended.

Ah, well.

So all I can really say about this game is that it has something to do with clouds, and is definitely a thing that exists.

What fun shapes will I wind up seeing in this next one?

Page 3, Game 14: Vignettes by Skeleton Business

“Toyish surprise-o-rama”

Ooh. Toyish shapes. And I do like surprise-o-ramas. This bodes well.

Justice Playthrough #133: Analog Zine Issue 1-9

Not for me, thanks.

Page 55, Game 17: Analog Zine Issue 1-9 by Analog Fanzine

This is a zine about gaming. The first article in the first issue is about the author loves trash-talking in gaming culture. The second is about how much bullshit the author has had to put up with from the online gaming community because she’s a woman.

I have no idea if this juxtaposition is supposed to be ironic, or if the editor simply didn’t notice.

I skimmed through the first and final issues, and nothing really grabbed me. The articles tend towards the rambly and unfocused, mixed in with occasional listicles and thinly-veiled personal promotions. Still, even if I personally find the quality suspect, there’s an earnestness to the whole endeavor that I respect. So I’ll just say that it’s not for me and move on.

Will this next entity clearly denote its fictional bits as fiction?

Page 56, Game 2: Nuvoloso by Claudio Vertemara

“A Casual Arcade game where you look at a sky full of clouds.”

Obviously not. Everybody knows clouds aren’t real, and are all actually government surveillance drones.