Justice Playthrough #157: Saviors of Hogtown

Right. I’m playing this.

Page 14, Game 1: Saviors of Hogtown by Dissonance

It’s trite to sit here and muse “Gosh, tabletop RPGs sure have evolved a lot in my lifetime.” I mean, it’s not wrong, but it doesn’t even come close to the whole truth.

Dungeons and Dragons was published in 1974, two years after I was born. This pastime literally did not exist when I was born. By the time I was old enough to play it, to find people to play it with me, the evolution was well underway. There was already a sense of a guaranteed minimum competence developing, a floor beneath which even the shittiest of dice rolls could not sink a character. A safety net was clearly starting to take shape. To define your character’s all-important attributes, don’t just roll 3d6 in order; roll 4d6, and take the best three dice. Yeah, you can swap ’em around, why not. Naw, don’t bother rolling for hit points at first level, just go ahead and take the maximum on the die for that. And did you drop down to zero HP? Yeah, treating that as a death sentence IS pretty harsh, isn’t it. Know what? You’re just unconscious. You’re outta this fight, but as long as one of your buddies survives, you’ll most likely fight another day.

Thirty-some years later, D&D is very much a game of wish fulfillment, of the fantasy of power. Unless you deliberately work to sabotage yourself to Make A Point (and quite likely annoy the shit out of the rest of the table), you are guaranteed to be a bad-ass, it’s just a matter of determining the details of your bad-assery.

That’s not a bad thing. The real world is random, cruel, all to often deeply disempowering. So long as it’s in moderation, it’s nice to be able to retreat to a world that, while dangerous and potentially deadly, is on some fundamental level fair. A world where the Call To Adventure is guaranteed, where you’ll hopefully succeed but even if you don’t you cannot claim you didn’t have a fair chance.

But progress usually has a price tag. Something was lost — and it was already well on its way out long before I was even capable of appreciating it.

There’s an arbitrary harshness to True Old School D&D that makes victory, even small victories, something special. Good characters, strong characters, were a cause for celebration, because excellence was rare and never guaranteed. You were probably just gonna be, you know, average. Quite possible worse. At most, you went in with a loose idea of character concepts you’d like to try out; the dice would tell you what doors were actually there for you to open. When the dice broke your way, it was something special, because you knew the could have just as easily fucked you and saddled you with a character who honestly wasn’t that good at much of anything. Again.

The modern way is better.

But the Old Way has its charms.

Best game I ever ran in high school was a module called Treasure Hunt. It was a throwback, before I was even old enough to understand just what the hell a “throwback” was, let alone conceive of D&D having changed enough for such a thing to be possible. All the characters were Level 0. Even by the standards of the era, they were incompetent. They’d been captured as slaves, but their galley wrecked aground during a storm. Now, they had to escape an island where orcs and goblins warred with each other, equipped with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

It was frightening. It was epic. I still remember a cataclysmic fight in a ruined temple where a single undead monster nearly killed the entire party (ghouls suck). The last man standing, played by my friend Forrest, finally clubbed the thing down what a chunk of splintered wood he’d salvaged off the ship. And as his buddies slowly came out from under the paralysis that had almost killed the lot of them, he sank to his knees and pledged himself to the service of the goddess whose temple they were now within. For surely, it was by Her divine grace that they had survived. His life was now Hers.

It was the most resounding journey to Level 1 Cleric I’ve ever seen at a table. What was that character’s Wisdom score? Dude, who the fuck cares?! No backstory I’ve ever contrived could possibly compete with an escaped slave on his knees in the wreckage of a one-time place of worship swearing devotion to the goddess he thought had saved him and his new friends from certain death.

And no, I was not a proxy for that goddess. It was a one-shot, so I was absolutely going to kill any or all of those fuckers if the dice said to. It was earned. Top to bottom, that moment was earned.

When they commandeered a sea-worthy boat and made their escape together, it was as glorious a victory as the slaying of a rampaging dragon, as mighty as thwarting any terrible lich-king seeking to unleash his army of the dead upon the world.

We have lost the glory of small victories. We have lost the games where there’s absolutely positively nothing special or remarkable about us, and we rise to the occasion and become big damn heroes anyway. We have lost the sense that we have emerged triumphant not because we were fated to, not because the gods had granted us power, but because we fucking well stepped up and earned it.

Welcome to Hogtown.

Also, you might be pigs.

Saviors of Hogtown is a Level 0 adventure for Dungeon World. (If you’re not familiar with the ruleset, it’s a blend of old-school Dungeons & Dragons with modern indie golden child Apocalypse World. AW is an excellent ruleset; it’s a darling for a reason.) In it, the PCs will take the role of hapless fantasyland shmucks who are way over their heads. You’ll roll 3d6 in order for your stats and percentile dice for an occupation. Whoever among you, by consensus, got fucked hardest by the dice gets the coveted “Least Likely to Survive” token, and away you go.

The game mentions that you can, if you want, roll-up two or three characters apiece to play concurrently and see which among them survive. That’s … fine, I suppose.

You’re probably gonna die. Embrace it. Run towards the danger.

Aside from causing me to wax nostalgic about the Lethal Old Days, the module is extremely well-written and charmingly illustrated. (That’s no small thing; the artwork I’ve seen in most of these small-press TTRPGs has been … not good.)

I want to play this game. If it weren’t for the ongoing plague apocalypse, I would right now be organizing a session of this game. Once it’s safe to get a bunch of people in my house — at least 4-6, because for real, motherfuckers are gonna die here — this is absolutely hitting my table.

Enthusiastically recommended. I know I just spent way more words talking about what this game reminded me of than what it actually is itself, but it’s reminding me of some great lost shit here.

Is this next game going to make me see if I can find an old 80’s game module somewhere cheap online?

Page 57, Game 14: Space Mining Clicker by Cold Coffee Studio

“Welcome Director, manage your mining facility and survive to the geopolitical storm opposing the galactic factions.”

Hmm. Don’t think I ever played a game where I was trying to run a business in the midst of an impending war. I’m intrigued.

Justice Playthrough #156: Daily Chthonicle

Less of a “game,” more of an “elaborate idea for a game.” This is not good, but this one feels like somebody’s baby.

Page 13, Game 12: Daily Chthonicle by charon@ss

You’re running a newspaper, the eponymous Daily Chthonicle, investigating all the goings on in City! The terrible, horrible City. Apparently, horrid Lovecraftian shit is just another Tuesday around here. Monsters, occult murders, mysterious walls of fire, locked doors….


The Big Map will present all the stories you may investigate. Click the story, then click the reporter you want to assign to it! Which reporter? I … don’t think it matters? Some of them have some personal gear, I guess. And some of them apparently know some magic or something. I don’t know. Just pick somebody.

Reporters hard at work! Who are those people in the middle? Or on the bottom right? I’m … honestly not sure.

Your reporters hit the field, and they’ll eventually hit decision points. Obstacles! Leads! What do they do?

For obstacles, I found that it was best to just hit auto-equip and hope for the best. In addition to dangers like walls and locked doors, you can encounter gangsters! Or giant tentacle monsters! Or — the most dangerous and impenetrable — a mentally ill informant!

Also, there are like ghosts and shit, which seems like they’d be a big deal to a pack of reporters, but nah. This place is basically hell on earth.

The dog is ALWAYS useful. ALWAYS bring the dog, yo.

Your reporters can get injured, or get unsettled by what they see, or … sometimes, much worse.

I’m pretty sure workman’s comp in this town actually covers zombification, so you’re fine, bro

As your reporters progress, they put together the stories, which I’m pretty sure are procedurally generated. If they make enough progress, the stories come together, and you’ll publish them.

Dude came back from the BALKANS?! PRINT THAT SHIT!!!

The problem with Daily Chthonicle is that there’s a lot of COMPLEXITY here — imposing amounts of it actually — but very goddamned little GAME, at least not that I saw. I was just getting spammed with information left and right, and it wasn’t engaging me at all. Was I expected to take notes on the (what I suspect were) procedurally generated names and situations and try to find some common threads? My people were investigating, like, five different stories at a time, and they very quickly blurred together.

Except for the one with the zombie mastodon. I don’t recall what context that enormous decomposing fucker appeared in or why, I just know that at one point, there was a zombie fucking mastodon. I just know it was an obstacle preventing my reporters from making progress in the story, even though I feel like “HOLY FUCKING SHIT THERE’S A GIANT ZOMBIE MASTODON YOU GUYS!!!” is a pretty solid headliner all by itself.

Not that I seemed to have much choice. Was I supposed to be picking WHICH stories I ran? I just kinda clicked where the game seemed to want me to click, which caused stories to run and money to appear. Yay?

Eventually, all the stories were investigated to completion and the tutorial was over.

Feel like those spiders warranted more than two lines

Yeah, this feeling of being overwhelmed and spammed with information came from the tutorial.

There was a laboratory (like any good newspaper has) and my people could learn magic. What did any of that stuff do? How was I supposed to apply it to the game? I have no idea, and the tutorial never clued me in.

I feel like this is all very interesting and compelling to somebody, I’m just absolutely certain that person isn’t me. I admire the ambition behind this game, at least, but the presentation is a mess. There’s just SO MUCH going on here, yet none of it ever engaged me. This is a Lovecraft-inspired game, yet not once did I feel any kind of dread, or even a sense of tension.

The stories my people investigated always felt like wire frameworks to me, like the vague outlines with nothing to fill them in. The guy did a thing in a place, that’s probably bad, and hey there’s a ghost or a wall or something and your reporter will have to find their way around it. What will they use to do it? Eh, just do auto-equip, that’ll be for the best.

Make sure you bring the dog, though. Seriously, that dog helps with everything.

If you find the idea behind the game irresistible, I suppose there’s no harm in giving it a look; it didn’t actively offend me. But I just can’t recommend it.

With this next game provide me with a Swiss Army Dog who is helpful in all situations?

Page 14, Game 1: Saviors of Hogtown by Dissonance

“A Dungeon World adventure supplement for 3-6 players.”

Hogtown, Dogtown, whatever farm animal of war Lana, shut up!

Justice Playthrough #155: Guidebook to the Viridian Maw (Forking Paths #1)

This is cool as hell. If you’re running a tabletop fantasy RPG and would like to toss your players into a dangerous alien wilderness that’s still playing fair with them, this is a hell of a good resource.

Page 49, Game 20: Guidebook to the Viridian Maw (Forking Paths #1) by Orbis Tertius Press

Welcome to the impact crater, motherfuckers.

The Veridian Maw is a biome-within-a-biome. It’s not a rain forest, but it’s damp. Real damp. Damp enough to support rather a lot of fungus — some really scary fungus that can kill you. Or help you out! Or help you but within some really dangerous constraints. It all depends on whether you know what the fuck you’re doing.

That’s the true value of this setting: there’s a hell of stuff to know about this environment. If your players either crush or fail a “Know What The Fuck That Plant Is” roll, you have legit rewards to give or withhold. If your players take the time to research what they’re getting into, it can save their lives. If they do the locals such a huge solid that an NPC volunteers to keep them out of trouble, good god DAMN is that a big deal.

For instance, there’s Knitmoss, a kind of moss that has natural healing properties. Get injured in the Maw, and it’s the sort of thing that can save your life. Of course, use it too aggressively, and the knitmoss can lightly colonize your system and occasionally cause you to sprout moss as your injuries heal. Which isn’t necessarily the WORST thing, even if it does sound kinda itchy.

Of course, you want to be careful you don’t mistake it for KNOTmoss, which will wreck your shit in a hurry. Where knitmoss is symbiotic, knotmoss is a full-bore parasite and will kill you, painfully, tying your body in an excruciating knot as it spreads through your system. They’re a bitch to tell apart. Luckily, locals know to drop a fresh earthworm into a patch of potentially life-saving moss. Earthworms don’t mind knitmoss, but will frantically try to get the fuck away from knotmoss. Usually.

There are moss creatures and dream snakes and various plants that will get you high as balls if they don’t kill you. There’s a ton going on.

And beneath it all is, of course, a history. There are ruins, if you want to explore them. But be warned, if the locals avoid it, that’s for a reason.

Something MADE that impact crater, after all. Something is responsible for this region being as weird and dangerous as it is.

This zine creates an interesting, dangerous wilderness where you don’t have to abstract the dangers. Instead of telling your players “All right, thanks to your research, you can take Advantage on this nature check,” you can, like, give them ACTIONABLE KNOWLEDGE shit. The ruins here aren’t just generic vaguely Mesoamerican fallen civilizations, there are actual mysteries to explore an uncover.

The material is system agnostic, so converting it all into stats is very much your problem. (The author, Nathan Harrison, makes enough references to Dungeon World that I seriously wonder if that wasn’t how he first ran this material. If so, I kinda wish he’d included those game details; Apocalypse World stats tend to be pretty unobtrusive and narratively friendly.)

Towards the end, the author talks a bit about the philosophy behind the setting. “If you spot an open door to make the life of a character stranger, instead of making it end, go for stranger every time.” What a lovely way to run a game. I bet this guy’s players have some really weird anecdotes to share.

Pretty much my only beef with this product is the art. It is … not good. Also, the map of the region depicts a river passing over a waterfall into the crater, where it flows to what appears to be a cave in the center and just kinda … fucks off. The mystery of “Why is this place not a lake?” is unexplored, and honestly merits a sentence or two.

This is the second of three issues of Forking Paths I’ve encountered in this trawl, and the previous labyrinth-centric issue Lost in Dark Halls was similarly excellent. Looks like the three issues in the bundle are the only ones that have been published so far. This is quality work, and worth keeping an eye out for.

It sure beats the shit out of “You get ambushed by goblins, but they all like worship moss or something” for giving your game a sense of place.

What terrifying ways to die await me in this next game?

Page 13, Game 12: Daily Chthonicle by charon@ss

“Supernatural Detective Game”

All of them. I’m guessing this is gonna give me all the ways to die.

Very nice.

Justice Playthrough #154: WaveCrash!!

“Ugh, this game is pretty frustrating. There’s too much going on, I feel like the only real strategy is to just whip out attacks as fast as I can see ’em, it’s to chaotic for the asymmetrical elements to really land … but I’mma play just one more game here.”

Page 27, Game 15: WaveCrash!! by Flyover Games

It’s a puzzle fighter! Choose your puzzle warrior!

Dude With Fire For A Face, I choose YOU!

Then, do puzzle battle!

Just get your ass whupped while I harvest this screenshot, bro

Jump around the board! Swap tiles, if you’re feeling it! If you’re standing on a cluster of three or more tiles, you may press the “attack” button to launch them in a wave at your foe! Skinny waves move faster! Broad waves move slower, but are probably better strategically! If your wave hits their wave, blocks in the waves cancel! Launch your counter-wave at exactly the right moment, and you DESTROY their wave! If your wave hits THEM, you’re one step closer to victory! And if the wave makes it all the way to the back without hitting anybody, you create roadblock-tiles that will impede movement and need to take a little time to go away! Also, you have a “hype” meter that steadily fills; when it gets all the way to the top, activate your Hype Mode so you and your waves can go really really fast! Also, you have a special attack where if you launch X tiles of Y color, something different happens! Everyone has their own special attack! Everyone has their own special ability!

Or, you could just say fuck it, head for/create attack blocks as fast as you can, launch ’em, and just hope for the best.

“Just launch ’em and hope for the best” seemed to be the most successful strategy by far against the computer.

The devs here are clearly trying to create a game with some strategic depth to it, but I feel like they’ve added so many moving parts that they’ve achieved exactly the opposite. There’s just SO MUCH going on here, and it all moves so quickly, that trying to keep track of it is kinda pointless. Just launch attacks. Launch, launch, launch. Where is your opponent? Who cares, just launch something dammit. Is that an attack coming at you? GTFO of the way. (You can try to launch a counter-attack, but the delay between pushing the attack button and the attack actually going off is severe enough for that tactic to be more frustrating than useful.) What’s your special ability? Well, hope you remembered it from the character selection screen because there’s no indication how to set up your unique attack in the actual battle mode, but again, who cares, just launch shit. I had several fights end because, in the process of clearing out enough room for me to set up my personal killer move, I launched SO many cruddy little attacks that they actually took out my foe.

And yet, it honestly is kinda fun. I really DID play the game way more than I thought I would. The art is bright and cheerful, and aside from the weird timing issues that make counter-attacks much too tricky, I DID get swept-up in the kinetic excitement of finding/creating attacks and launching the fuckers. It feels good when you realize you’re one quick transposition away from launching a huge attack, it feels good when a big attack falls into your lap. This feels like the kind of obscure puzzle-fighter my buddy Dan would have dug up on his MAME emulator, causing the lot of us to take turns unleashing technicolor mayhem on one another on his big-ass TV.

The game is meant for multi-player, but the AI is decent enough to be worth playing. Kinda wish there was a little more game here to connect the fights, maybe some sort of Mortal Kombat tournament structure, but what the hell, the individual fights are clearly the core element. Can’t blame the devs for focusing so heavily on that.

I come away from WaveCrash!! feeling like the game doesn’t quite achieve everything it’s trying to do; I feel like all the moving parts add more chaos than they do depth. But credit where it’s due, I had fun. It’s an exciting little game.

I don’t know that it’s compelling enough solo for me to give it a full recommendation — though it certainly wasn’t bad. But if you like playing oddball puzzle-fight games on your PC with your friends, this one might be a damned fine addition to your game night. If you dig the genre, it’s probably worth a closer look.

What spritely combatants will this next game allow me to choose?

Page 49, Game 20: Guidebook to the Viridian Maw (Forking Paths #1) by Orbis Tertius Press

“a system-neutral wilderness setting for any exploration-based tabletop RPG”

Ah, I may choose forest monsters with which to torment my PCs. Splendid.

Justice Playthrough #153: Code 7 – Episodes 2 & 3 Available Now

Needs something more. And by “more,” I mean “less.”

Page 5, Game 8: Code 7 – Episodes 2 & 3 Available Now by Goodwolf Studio

You wake up in a darkened room. You restart the system. You are able to contact someone — Sam, a stranger who claims to know you. She says that the two of you are here on this planet to investigate why the colony suddenly went dark. Sam is up, and mobile. Meanwhile, you will help her as best you can, for you are … The Guy In The Chair!

With standard-issue amnesia!

(My eternal gratitude to Spider Man: Homecoming for introducing “The Guy In The Chair” into the vernacular. It was so overdue.)

With your help, Sam will investigate. Turns out, there was an AI! So, you know THAT project turned into a combination of dogshit and hellfire. You interact with the world with a combination of typing commands and pre-selected text messages you can send to Sam. But is something not as it seems…?

I mean, fucking duh.

Go to the Room and look at the Thing already!

If you’ve been reading these reviews — which must mean you’re my wife, hi Jasmine! — this may sound familiar to ANOTHER Guy In The Chair game I came across in this trawl, NOISE1, which I loved. How does this game compare?

In a lot of ways, it’s NOISE1 with a budget. All dialog from other people is fully voice-acted. There are animations and shit, with the game doing interesting flickering stuff that may or may not be giving you hints. The graphics are consistently professional quality; from top to bottom, the game looks and sounds great.

NOISE1 kicks the shit out of it. That doofy little silent ASCII-art game is more fun in every way.

I WANT to like Code 7. It’s very ambitious, and is trying so very, very hard. Unfortunately, the pacing is just atrocious. This game moves VERY slowly. The game’s equivalent of cutscenes have a tendency to drag on and on, too often interspersed with “gameplay” where you’re not really making decisions, you’re just completing a rote set of tasks. Every once in a while there’s a problem to solve, and that’s when the game starts to come alive — but then the moment will pass, and you’re back to cutscenes.

The game lives and dies by the story it’s telling — and for me, it very much died by it. That rascally AI is indeed up to no good, and it felt very sci-fi-noir-by-numbers. It’s just tossing some fairly standard tropes at you. It’s not awful, I don’t demand the plot to every game be Hugo-worthy innovative fiction, but if so much of the game is just an inconsequential wrapper for the story, I’m afraid I have to insist the story be better than this.

Contrary to the way the game presents itself, it appears to have Parts 0, 1, 2, and 3 all in this one package. After I got done with Part 0, I came back in and discovered I was able to move on to Part 1. Okay, Sam and I are headed back to Earth, and that silly singularity has launched a virus — the titular Code 7 — towards it. We gotta stop it! But due to Reasons, I find myself on Mars, in the middle of someone ELSE’S story. A completely unrelated story.

Look, nice reporter lady, I have a fucking killer virus to stop! I don’t have time for your corporate dystopian shenanigans!

Except I better fucking well MAKE some time for it. This side quest is mandatory.


So, whatever narrative momentum the prologue generated gets completely shafted by a brand new collection of cobbled-together tropes for you to stumble through. Slowly.

I wanted to play through the next chapter, at least. I was morbidly curious to find out just how predictable the game was. As I traversed one computer node after another, I was studiously deploying my anti-virus software as I went, fully expecting that by the time I got to the end of the chapter, the game would reveal that my anti-virus software … WAS the virus! I’d been spreading it all along! WHAT A TWIST!

WAS that the twist? I truly have no idea. After several hours of gameplay, I was about (I think?) halfway through the chapter, and I just got too bored with the whole thing to keep going. Maybe the game wasn’t lying to me, in which case the LACK of twist would have come as a pleasant surprise. Maybe I called it exactly. Maybe it was some other whattatwist. I just stopped caring after a while.

As you traverse the nodes, some computers you have to log into. For some, you have to gather enough personal information about the user to use your brute-force password cracker. Others, for no reason I was able to suss-out, force you to play a hacking mini-game:


The minigame is clumsy and awkward, and I still don’t fully understand what the tools at my disposal were allowing me to do. I have to trace a route without being caught by the things, then set up a packet interceptor, but watch out if they get it they’ll destroy the interceptor, except I can set up a kind of hacking module that will trap them, but that ALSO seems to trap the packet I’m intercepting and force me to restart for reasons I wasn’t really clear on….

Compare this to NOISE1, which did a marvelous job of laying out both what I could do and why I might want to do it. It had a story to tell — and it told it, giving me interesting puzzles to solve every step of the way. I never felt like I was doing anything rote, I never felt like I was wasting my time. I felt ENGAGED in a way that Code 7 never got anywhere near.

If The Guy In The Chair sounds like a fun game but you tried NOISE1 and found that the lo-fi ASCII feel made you break out in hives, I suppose I could recommend giving this game a look. I glanced at some other reviews, and it looks like people who aren’t me actually found it quite enjoyable. But I’m not gonna lie, I don’t see it. There’s not nearly enough game to this game, which winds up putting weight on a storyline that can’t come anywhere near supporting it. I say skip it.

So, where is this next game gonna put my brain?

Page 27, Game 15: WaveCrash!! by Flyover Games

“Head-to-head puzzle brawling action where you match blocks to smash faces!”

Damn, multiplayer. Hope the AI doesn’t suck. Still, I DO like puzzles and face-smashing, so it may hold some promise.

Justice Playthrough #152: you used to be someone


Page 30, Game 11: you used to be someone by Squinky

Norton just flat-up NOPED this motherfucker into a smoldering crater.

This is the first time I’ve seen Norton do this:

Run, Luke, run!

I’ve seen it tell me it’s not so sure about a file and that I’m running it at my own risk, but this is the first time I’ve seen it flat-out REFUSE to let me even try.

So, this fucker’s digital herpes. Let’s try something else.

Page 5, Game 8: Code 7 – Episodes 2 & 3 Available Now by Goodwolf Studio

“What would you do if you found yourself trapped on an eerie space station with nothing but a computer?”

Probably play a bunch of video games while waiting for death, if I’m being honest. So this one might hit a little close to home.

Justice Playthrough #151: Toto Temple Deluxe

Sometimes, a game clearly emerged from the developer’s imagination theme-first; they had an idea, and the game you’re playing is the best way they came up with to explore it. Other times, the gameplay clearly came first, and the theme was thrown on after the fact to give the fun stuff you’re doing some sense of structure.

In Toto Temple Deluxe, you’re one of several little anthropomorphic tombstone guys running around a Mesoamerican temple thing slamming into stuff head-first trying to collect coins and — most importantly — getting the precious, precious goat onto your head. But be careful! EVERYBODY wants to wear the goat, and will head-slam into you to steal him! Whoever is first to three thousand points — tallied partially via coins but mostly by time spent with a goat on your head — wins!


Page 21, Game 28: Toto Temple Deluxe by Juicy Beast

I’m assuming you want to see screenshots of this madness, and I’d like to show them. Unfortunately, for some arcane technical reason, the game did NOT let me take screenshots while I was playing it. Did manage to nab this guy, though.

The all-important goat is over on the left. Also, the UI operates by having you slam head-first into shit, which is a first.

The game presents itself as multi-player (same screen, of course), but unlike most games I’ve played in that category, this isn’t an excuse to punt on the AI. The CPU players were actually satisfying opponents, occasional AI glitches notwithstanding. They challenged me without totally kicking my ass.

The gameplay itself is pretty decent. You scamper around the temple, you jump, you double-jump, you launch yourself at whatever motherfucker currently has the goat and hopefully slam into them and steal that can-eating bastard for yourself. There are occasional power-ups, and they do wacky shit.

Presentation is polished as hell. It looks and sounds fantastic, cartoonish and silly and smooth.

The game play feels kinda like Smash Bros. Brawl, save that instead of beating the shit out of each other, you’re competing to wear an awesome hat that hopefully won’t poop on your head.

The environment adds some spice with power-ups and levels with moving parts, which definitely adds to the experience.

It wasn’t super compelling, but it definitely didn’t suck. And even though they threw-in a totally cromulent AI, I gather that the correct way to play this game is with buddies. Possibly while drinking. And laughing. Because you’re competing to KEEP A FUCKING GOAT ON YOUR HEAD.

This isn’t one I think I’m going to circle back to. But if I saw it for sale cheap on Switch, I’d buy it. I absolutely wanna share this one with friends on a big-ass TV screen.

Damn, we’re on a roll here. Last one was an unpublished novel that wasn’t a total piece of shit, now we’re on to a “multiplayer” game with decent AI. What’s next? An interactive novel I enjoy? What genre I mistrust shall be rehabilitated next?

Page 30, Game 11: you used to be someone by Squinky

“A solitary walk at night.”

Ah, trying to sneak a thoughtful artistic game through my basic bitchness, eh? Why not, it could happen.

Forbidden Lore Design Diary #13: Stop Hey What’s That Sound

I’m actually diverging from the tutorial a bit to try and fill one of the big holes in the game. There’s next to no feedback, aside from the text scrolling by at the bottom of the screen. If you don’t know what’s happening, it’s honestly pretty opaque.

So I managed to get sound effects in place! Or, rather, A sound effect; if somebody gets punched, there’s a “Thwack!” noise that plays. The important thing is that I set up a framework into which I can insert more sound effects. Coming soon: earth-shattering kabooms, death screams, and perhaps a muffled “Thud!” if you go into the wall face-first.

This was remarkably difficult, and the underlying code is still a work in progress. Apparently, pure Python sound code is tough to come by. Unless I’m understanding something — and it’s entirely possible I am — I’m going to need to install something called “ffmpeg” on my machine. (Which might make things difficult when the day comes that I have to package-up Forbidden Lore and share it with a world starved for clumsy amateurish roguelikes, lol.) Until then, I can’t control the volume, and the game basically pauses while the sound effect plays. So, gotta keep them fuckers short and punchy.

I also added a simple text effects mechanism. Right now, when you punch a dude, not only do you get the “Thwack!”, you ALSO see a big red hashmark briefly appear over whoever got punched! This was surprisingly tricky too, but in this case, it was tricky because I didn’t fully understand the nuances of the code I copied. Basically, I had to really dig in there and figure out EXACTLY which lines were responsible for getting the game to update visually. (For the record, they key line is ‘context.present(console)‘.)

So, for any given audio and/or visual cue I want, I need to extend the “Effect” class which handles the sound and the dirt-simple animation, and then stick an instance of that class into an FX queue in the engine. Then way up in the “main” loop, after all the proper events and actions have been dealt with, it checks the engine’s FX queue and, if it sees anything, pulls it off the queue and plays it. Easy-peasy.

I’ve also been getting in my head a bit about how far I want to go down the ASCII rabbit hole, but I’m currently leaning towards “Pretty far, actually.” Most of the things that I’m concerned about are kinda non-problems as long as I’m the only person playing this game. The graphics suck, but so what? It’s going to be hard as hell to present the information on the spells that will someday be the heart of the game, but who cares? As long as I’m the only one playing this game, I’m the only one who NEEDS to understand what’s happening. “How do I make this game accessible to people who aren’t me?” is tomorrow Pete’s problem. Or next year Pete’s problem. Right now, this is all about learning to write a game. And I am indeed learning.

Justice Playthrough #150: Books & Bone

“Oooh, it’s a NOVEL novel. Not an interactive novel or anything, just a plain ol’ long book.”


Page 30, Game 24: Books & Bone by Victoria Corva

Not gonna lie, once I realized what this was, I was more apprehensive about it than any other entry I’ve explored in this bundle. Once upon a time, I aspired to be a fiction writer. To improve my own work, I involved myself in critique groups with other unpublished authors, and….

Look, writing a novel is actually pretty easy. To write a novel, all you have to do is keep spraying words out of your fingertips until you have 100,000 of them or so, then slap on a title and some cover art, and boom! Done! On to the NEXT installment of your fantasy epic!

But writing a GOOD novel is very, very hard. It’s an unbelievably tricky balancing act of giving your reader enough information to entice without overloading them. It’s keeping the story moving swiftly while still giving everything enough room to breathe. It’s defining your characters enough to make them interesting without getting heavy-handed and attempting to dictate what your reader MUST think of them. It’s providing enough plot to give it structure without so much that it becomes a straitjacket. It’s spotting opportunities to add genuine depth and consistent details without getting lost up your own asshole.

This is why Brandon Sanderson is a legit amazing author. Anybody can write multiple novels per year. But none of Brandon’s ever outright suck.

And just because you wrote ONE decent novel doesn’t mean the next one’s going to be worth a shit. Sometimes, when you’re reading an unpublished work, you have to look a friend in the eye — a friend you regard as talented, a friend whose work you’re generally excited to read — and find a polite way to tell them that their pacing is a shitshow. Or that their worldbuilding is a nonsensical clusterfuck of random tropes. Or that their protagonist is a bowl of room-temperature oatmeal that, by some tedious miracle, has gained the ability to speak.

Editors are important. Editors are all that prevent the entire culture from deciding that novels are an inherently worthless artform and nobody should read them ever. Some gates just need keepers, god dammit.

So, no, I was NOT filled with joy when I learned the random number generator had landed me on an unpublished novel.

Well, self-published. Same thing but with a bit more ambition. Only thing that self-publishing tells you about a novel’s quality is that the author is confident in their ability. This has no relationship whatsoever to their actual skill.

I’m saying all this to provide context so that, when I say that I was actually pleasantly surprised by this novel, you know where the bar is actually set.

This novel is not horrendous, and is easily in the upper quartile of all un/self-published novels I’ve ever read.

Does that make it, you know, “good?”

Let’s not lose our minds here.

Books & Bone (oh, yeah, I’m actually supposed to be talking about a specific novel here, not wallowing in an extended artistic PTSD flashback) is a young adult fantasy novel following Ree, a young woman living in Tombtown, a secret city of necromancers. It’s high fantasy, of course — the D&D roots come shining through in a number of places, most notably in the tension between necromantic practitioners of The Craft and the divine spellcasters who can FUCK up the undead more or less at will.

Ree is one of the few people — the only person? — who has lived her entire life in Tombtown, and who wasn’t driven there seeking refuge from the prejudices of the Upworlders.

Anyway, one day Ree was just gothing around the upper tombs when she met something she was truly unprepared for — a BOY! It’s infatuation at first sight, because apparently “Hasn’t spent his entire life marinating in ambient necromancy” makes this dude fuckin’ HAWT. Also, unlike pretty much everyone else in Ree’s peer group, this boy doesn’t treat her with a never-ending stream of contempt and assholery, so I can see the appeal.

The boy, one Chandrian (hey, a reference!) Smythe, follows her deeper into the tombs than he should, where he … saves her life. But then she saves HIS life. And then needs to save it some more, some more, and some more.

I’m about a third of the way through the novel. If there’s a plot here other than “Ree keeps the boy she’s crushing on from yet another horrible death,” I have yet to find it.

Nevertheless. I am a third of the way through the novel. That says something about its not-awfulness.

There are problems here. There are a lot of problems. The worldbuilding and the narrative keep picking fights with each other, and the reader loses. Despite the fact that this is the only world she’s ever known, Ree seems remarkably ill-equipped to handle it; she finds herself in mortal peril TWICE in the first four chapters alone, and both times has to be bailed out by someone else.

If anything, Ree feels like more of an outsider than Smythe. It’s YA, so the whole nobody-gets-me vibe is just part of the package, but the story does a poor job of establishing WHY she feels perpetually on the outside looking in. WHY is she so resistant to learning The Craft? It would clearly make things easier for her, both socially and for navigating the many, many hazards of her world. Yeah, there’s some Old Magic she’s interested in digging up, but why can’t she learn The Craft AND the shit she actually cares about? Expertise in diverse disciplines is a GOOD thing, yo.

The only thing I can figure is that it’s pure game logic. Choosing your first player-character level is honestly a pretty big deal, and I get the impression that she’s holding out for the splatbook (it’s here SOMEWHERE, gods dammit) that will let her put hers in something other than “Necromancer.”

I’m entirely too unclear on which branch of magic actually interests Ree. The author is playing that card WAAAAAAAY to close to the chest, and is withholding information to try and artificially create mystery. Boo. If you’re gonna put me in Ree’s head, I kinda need to know what’s important to her, author. I assume it will be part of a Big Reveal later.

The prose is serviceable. Fun and playful in places, but repetitive in others. The novel would hugely benefit from an editor, or at the very least more thorough beta readers. (Not it.) Ree isn’t the most compelling protagonist I’ve ever read, but she isn’t insufferable, and if you think that’s damning with faint praise you have no idea what true suffering is. The supporting cast has a tendency to be too one-note to be interesting, unfortunately. Her infatuation with Smythe rings true when you see how uniformly shitty people are to her otherwise, but I’d still like the guy to have traits beyond “clueless posh blabbermouth.”

The plot and pacing are not great. There’s no top-level conflict to provide any narrative momentum, beyond Ree having a crush (though, hey, YA, so maybe that’s enough). Maybe that changes, but I’m a third of the way in; I want something more than hopping from one related side-quest to another. (Get to the healer! No, wait, the healer needs a woozle! No, wait, the woozle isn’t HERE, it’s waydafuck over THERE!)

There are a lot of fun little details, though, like Larry the Zombie, who’s the Tombtown version of a harmless and vaguely friendly stray dog. Tombtown in general has a certain Halloween Town vibe that I found fun and appealing; Jack Skellington would totally vacation here.

This is not a good novel. But when I squint, I can absolutely see the better novel trying to claw its way out. It’s not a tedious exercise in transparent wish fulfillment. (Again, if you think that’s damning with faint praise, I envy you oh you dear sweet summer child.) It’s not consistently compelling, but it’s interesting, playful, and heartfelt in enough stretches that it kept me interested much, much longer than I expected.

Honestly? I might just keep reading it. It’s decidedly not awful.

Some novels need to be shared with the world, and any gatekeepers standing in their way do the the world a disservice. They are rare, and Books & Bone isn’t one of them. Most novels are wretched wastes of precious time, and the gatekeepers preventing them from being unleashed upon an unsuspecting world are heroes who shall never be adequately thanked — but Books & Bone isn’t one of them, either.

The word I’m looking for is “promising.”

With a good editor or someone else willing to nurture her talent, Victoria Corva could become a legitimately good fantasy author. Maybe she’ll find that kind of mentor someday. Maybe she’ll figure it out on her own.

Regardless. I hope she keeps writing. I hope she does become the most skilled version of herself. I hope I someday get to read the best version of Books & Bone. I’m confident it’s a really good book.

Right. Is this next game going to trigger less of me wallowing in my own past?

Page 21, Game 28: Toto Temple Deluxe by Juicy Beast

“A frenzied multiplayer party game about colorful characters battling for an egg-laying goat!”


Right. No egg-laying goats in my pasts. So that’s a “Yes.”