Justice Playthrough #132: FLAMBERGE

Your plan will not survive contact with the enemy. Flaberge is in many respects very raw and clearly a work in progress, but its central conceit of watching your choreographed battle plans go straight to hell over and over again makes it fun and damned compelling just the same.

Page 10, Game 20: FLAMBERGE by msb /// hydezeke

Long ago, the land was savaged by war. So, your ancestors said Fuck This and violently ripped your homeland out of the ground and turned it into a floating island in the sky. For centuries you’ve lived in peace. But something has found you.

You take the role of a young soldier, last survivor of a squad devastated by mysterious invaders from below. You’ll explore the land and, in proper adventure game fashion, assemble your team of heroes as you attempt to put right what has gone so terribly wrong.

Flamberge brings an old-school brother-can-you-spare-a-pixel graphic style that I find immensely appealing. Check out this map of the overworld:

Follow the flag to adventure!

It also sounds fantastic, with a standout piano soundtrack. (My wife actually commented that the music for my game was suddenly “bangin'” and wondered why it had gotten so awesome. I’d earlier been playing Gloomhaven, a game from a much larger publisher.) The sound effects have a nice “crunch” quality to them in general, and just feel satisfying.

But the real selling point here is the combat system. It’s turned-based, but with one hell of a twist. You have to plan out what you’re doing ahead of time. You tell your people where you want them to go and when you want them to attack, and they’re off!

Unless you caught them by surprise, the enemy will promptly turn this into a huge clusterfuck by not being where you want them to be when you want them to be there, the bastards.

All right, I’mma come up on him from behind, you get right up in his grill, you shoot him, and assuming he remains perfectly stationary….

It’s not uncommon to botch a charge and end up hauling-ass WAY farther than you intended, possibly stumbling into visual range of another group of foes that you would preferred to have dealt with later. Whoopsy-doodle.

Combat mechanics are simple. Your attack does X damage; subtract your target’s armor (assuming they were where you wanted them to be) and subtract the result from their hit points. Easy-peasy.

You can even reduce the power of your attacks to account for uncertainty — which is often the smartest move. In exchange for a smaller attack strength, you can designate an area to go looking for foes instead of a straight line. It adds a very nifty gambling element to the proceedings, particularly when dealing with crunchybois with high armor values.

But as I mentioned, the game is still under development, and it shows. The developer says that it’s half done; they have three chapters in the can, and have three more to go to complete the story. I’m really hoping they’ll come back and polish some of the core gameplay elements, however.

There’s no “undo” mechanism for plotting your moves, at least none I could find. This results in a very unforgiving interface, where a single errant mouse twitch could spell disaster by taking one of your peeps too close to the enemy. There’s a timeline displayed, but I couldn’t figure out how to manipulate it; if I want something to happen later in the turn such as the healer holding off on his heal-bomb until everybody has congregated, I have no idea how to make that happen without the guy running in circles.

There’s also a weird thing where if you don’t collect loot while the fight is in progress, the game won’t let you collect it after you’re done, even if you wipe the field of opposition. Also, there’s one guy in the enemy camp who’s clearly recruitable, but I have no idea how; I was hoping getting closer to him would trigger some sort of dialog, but nope. I didn’t recruit him so much as … murder him. Maybe I have to ignore him completely? That seems counter-intuitive.

But what I most desperately want is a slow-motion replay option. When you hit the “Execute” button, things happen VERY quickly. My plans often went wrong, but I was often very unclear as to WHY. Did the target move before my archer could get the shot off? How close was the miss? Why did that guy get flattened? Didn’t I have his “defense” option selected? The game makes it harder than I want to learn from my mistakes — even though I’m clearly showering myself with learning opportunities.

The story is all right. I suspect English isn’t the dev’s first language, as the exposition and dialog can both come off a tad stilted. It also suffers from the problem of not telling me enough while telling it to me too slowly; the story stuff can really drag, and yet at the beginning of the game, I honestly didn’t know I was up in the floaty-island defending it from invaders from below.

That having been said, the story takes a turn for the weird in the third chapter, and I am fucking THERE for it.

You KNOW the party’s gotten real when they bust out the dancing diamond

You meet the people of the town you just saved. They are sheep. Literal sheep. So is their king. Nobody thinks this is in any way odd.

This is like ten times as much personalty as the game had displayed up until this point, and I would have loved a lot more of this loopy creativity.

It feels like there should be more to explore; the overland map is often just an exercise in going from point to point. There’s a shopping mechanism, but it feels weirdly half-baked. I would have liked my protagonist’s personality to have had a trait beyond “dutiful.”

It’s one of those games where it’s easy to lose yourself picking at what it’s getting wrong, which is a mistake. It DOES have a ton of room for refinement, but that shouldn’t distract you from the core truth:

It’s fun as hell.

I’m going to set this game aside. At some point in a year or two when I’m poking through these entries, I’ll stumble across this one and be all “Oh, yeah, Flamberge! That was actually kind of awesome. I wonder what it looks like now.” And then I’ll download the latest version and see what the developer has managed to improve.

This game can only get better — and it’s already pretty damn good.

This is absolutely worth a look.

Will this next game allow me to use a sheep as a motherfuckin’ tank?

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

“All the issues so far”

As balls-out weird as the zines have been in this trawl, there’s absolutely no way to know for sure, is there.

Justice Playthrough #131: Midboss

Everything about this game’s concept and setup make me want to love the hell out of it. But ultimately, it’s … fine.

Page 1, Game 22: MidBoss by Eniko

You are an imp, the lowliest denizen of the dungeon, and you have gotten sick of your co-workers’ bullshit. Luckily for you, adventurers are attacking the keep! Time for you to book it and get the fuck out of there, presumably to a better job.

Unfortunately, your employment contract is kind of a bastard, so they’re not letting you go easily; you’re going to have to fight your way out. Luckily, you’re good at possessing the corpses of your fallen foes. Add their skills to your repertoire, and escape!

Just so we’re clear, I’m murdering the shit outta BOTH of you guys

Midboss is an isometric roguelike, where every level after the first is procedurally generated. The game’s big selling point is that you can possess your foes if you defeat them, which will at the very least heal you up and give you a bunch of new stats and abilities to work with.

Also, you’ll find loot. So much loot. So very much loot. Such loot.

I’m that angry rat in the middle, and I’m about to go on a lootenanny

There’s a lot to like here. All the standard roguelike elements are present, but (obviously) presented with very accessible graphics. There’s a lot to explore, and the fights do a good job of presenting you with a sense of escalating danger.

But there’s a lot of it just didn’t work for me. The loot system immediately jumps out as an example. Midboss goes in HARD on intermittent reinforcement; loot is plentiful, but the vast majority of it quickly becomes vendor trash. Once you get a decent set of gear going, you rarely pick up anything worth using. As a result, loot quickly stops becoming rewarding and instead becomes a nuisance, a chore to be managed. The game even knows it, and allows you to deconstruct useless items into telescoping scrap piles so you don’t have to continually go back multiple floors to the last place you saw the merchant hiding out.

And a lot of the gear’s bonuses tend to be very incremental; yeah, a +10 bonus to your sorcery definitely gives your combat spells some kick, but for the most part, you’re talking about doing an extra point of damage here, taking one fewer points of damage there. I found that I almost never went “Ooh, cool, this is totally gonna open up new gameplay options for me!” when I found some shiny piece of loot, even if I wound up using it. (Unless I was playing like a dumbass and overlooked all the items that would have expanded the game for me, which is possible.)

A similar problem exists with the monsters you can upgrade into. Even when you switch forms, you can carry around traits of previous skinsuits you’ve mastered (by which I mean “Killed a bunch of stuff in”), so in theory, you should be hopping around like mad to deepen your bag of tricks, right?

Well, not really. You’ll want to jump into the rat first; it’s always your first option and it’s better than your starting form, so you may as well. Once you get the whole “Rat” thing down, you’ll want to nab a vampire bat, because they can drain hit points from other creatures. Healing is tough to come by in this game, so being able to harvest other creatures for health is just HUGE. Of course, if you’re going that direction, you’ll want to pimp your magic stats, just to make sure you deal maximum damage and receive maximum healing.

And from there, it’s kind of … eh? I bounced around from zombies to skeletons to flaming swords to acid-spitting bats, and none of it was all that exciting or interesting. Just lots of variations on “You do a few points of damage to that other guy.” Certainly nothing as useful as the vampire bat’s drain ability; my playstyle evolved to lean on bloodsucking and fuck around with a few other things as the game went on. (If you get really good at your native form, you can chuck inventory at opponents for damage, which is hilarious to me because it feels like the game is admitting that shit is useless as anything but ammo.)

I gave this game so many opportunities to impress me, because honestly, I want to love it. This thing LOOKS awesome. But the gameplay feels very samey to me. Maybe that gets better the deeper you get into the game — I keep getting my ass handed to me once the ghosts start showing up, so I’m clearly not an expert — but even so, that’s a lot of time commitment to ask of a player before the game starts getting good.

The dungeons may technically be random, but I couldn’t help feeling “I’ve done this already” with each new one I’ve visited. In a good roguelike, each run should feel like it’s giving you the opportunity to explore some cool new facet of the game you haven’t discovered yet. This just feels repetitive.

The game gives you the ability to take whatever form you can find, but it doesn’t give you a REASON to actually do it. If I play this game again, I know it’s going to be a lot like the other times I’ve played it, though maybe a few numbers might be higher or lower. I want more.

Do I recommend it? Tentatively. If you really dig roguelikes, then what the hell, it’s far from the worst one you’ve ever played. It certainly has personality to spare. But if you’re not alread a fan of the genre, I don’t think this is the game that’s going to win you over. I just can’t help but feel like the game should offer a much more interesting experience than it actually does.

Is this next game going to let me murder the crap out of my evil co-workers?

Page 10, Game 20: FLAMBERGE by msb /// hydezeke

“FLAMBERGE is a turn-based tactics RPG featuring free movement and simultaneous turns.”

Depending on its attitude towards friendly fire incidents, this just might be an emphatic “Yes.”

Forbidden Lore Design Diary #9: Off the Trail, But With Map In Hand

Latest development session involved getting into the saving & loading tutorial — from the outdated Version 1 of the tutorial. Version 2 still isn’t out.

But that’s okay. I’ve been looking forward to seeing if I can start writing my own code in this thing.

Step 1: Refactoring! The tutorial recommends setting up a “constants” file, for all the key things defining the game and what it looks like. (IE, how large is the map? What are the potential room sizes? Where is the message log located on the screen? Etc.) For this, I did copy-paste the tutorial’s file as my starting point, then set about adapting it to what my code actually looked like.

This proved a bit challenging, as the constants it defined were a bit all over the place. This drove me to do some refactoring, to make the code closer to my version of “tidy.” For instance, why was the code responsible for sending data to the message log defining the log’s x/y coordinates every time it was called? There’s a MessageLog object, after all; why not just tell that thing where it lives when you create it, and then not worry about it?

Eventually, I got the code to a point where the “main” file was the only one that cared about the “constants” file, and acted as the traffic cop responsible for sending that data to the parts of the game that needed it. Seems to work pretty well.

Also wound up having to do some debugging to figure out why my “fireball radius” feature (which I’m inordinately proud of) stopped working. Turned out I’d done something foolish to the order in which things got rendered. It was frustrating, but at the same time, I felt very confident when I managed to track-down and correct that problem.

It turns out that saving the game state to a file is piss easy, even easier than the tutorial suggested. The tutorial was telling me to save all these objects individually, but I quickly realized that the only thing I actually needed to save was the “Engine” object. Had a little trouble installing the Python package used to serialize the object, but the problem turned out to be that Python 3 comes with that package pre-installed. Love it when the solution turns out to be “You never actually had that problem in the first place, dumb-ass.”

So, for proof of concept, I had the game save itself after every action. (On the to-do list: confirm that the game is saving itself ONLY after the player acts, and isn’t saving itself every time the mouse twitches. That would be inefficient.) Then, when the game powers-up, it first checks to see if the save file exists; if it does, it loads it instead of creating a new dungeon.

It works! (After I figured out that the data serializer and the file manager have a difference of opinion on whether one should actually specify a “.dat” extension for the savefile.) It works SO well that, if you get killed, the next game will cheerfully reload the dungeon that has become your tomb, with you still laying there surrounded by the monsters that killed you. So, erm, maybe death should delete the save file.

It has the same problem if you win, though; clear the dungeon of monsters, and your next playthrough will load you into the corpse-filled site of your underground rampage, with nothing to do but wander and contemplate the ultimate futility of violence. So I probably do need to define some formal “You won!” condition just so I don’t have to manually delete the save files.

From there, the tutorial would like me to create a “Main” game screen, from which to ask the user if they would like to start a new game or continue an old one, and … goddamn, that’s actually going to take some effort. Looks like the old version of the tutorial actually made you write some dedicated UI code for stuff like that. The new tutorial lacks that feature. So, I think that’s my next task: centralize all the pop-up menu code into some convenient centralized package that I can use to communicate with the player.

Turns out that saving a game is dirt simple, but asking the player if they’d like to save the game is quite challenging. Roguelikes are fuckin’ weird.