Justice Playthrough #170: Dr. Trolley’s Problem

So, it’s exactly what it says on the tin. Don’t know why I expected it to be anything else. I kinda did anyway, but I don’t know why.

Page 56, Game 16: Dr. Trolley’s Problem by WeroCreative

Ah, the good old Trolley Problem, everybody’s favorite Kobayashi Maru scenario (except, of course, for the Kobayashi Maru). A trolley is about to crush some fools, and the only thing you can do about it is decide which set of fools shall become splattery sacrifices to the Whatifficus, the cruel god of freshman philosophy hypotheticals. Who lives? Who dies? And who are you to decide?

Fellow fans of The Good Place doubtless remember the episode where Michael literalized the thought exercise as a way of torturing Chidi, to glorious effect. A dry abstraction became a grisly reality, to our heroes’ horror and our delight. It was a marvelous bit of dark comedy, and thinking about it got my hopes up for what places a game with this title might take it.

Would there be a misanthrope mode, where I could go for high score? Perhaps some clever puzzles, where some sneaky third option would allow me to kill either nobody or everybody as my heart desires? Or perhaps a Trolley Problem Editor, where I could take my Trolley Problem Toolkit and create my own variations on all of the above?

Instead … nah. It’s just the trolley problem. The straight-up trolley problem. Here’s a situation, here’s your choices, choose who lives and who dies. That’s it. Over and over and over and over again.

Ah, yes, the classic Jock v. Nerd conundrum, and described by Kant

The game just goes through scenario after scenario, with minor variations. Do you switch the train off the track that will kill five people so that it only kills one instead? What if the five people are trolley workers who should probably know better that to fuck around on the track and the one is a hapless civilian? What if the five are normal plebes and the one is a great person somehow?

I’m gonna need to see just what’s so great about that guy, cuz he kinda looks like a tool to me

I wanted there to be … more, somehow. More options, more engagement, more wit, more … something. The funniest variation was what the game introduced as the NWA Problem:

I believe “Fuck The Police” is a Socrates quote

Of course, as you can see from the above screenshot, the actual level completely chickens out of its own gag. To really sell it, you need cops on one track and the members of NWA on the other, not just some random punk rock dude. I mean, look at that guy. I doubt he listens to hip-hop at all.

The one moment where the game truly grabbed me could have been an accident — though it’s been updated since The Disease Apocalypse kicked into gear, so who knows, maybe it was deliberately topical.

AND NOT WEARING A MASK

Look, I don’t like wearing masks either, but we fucking well NEED them, particularly if you know good and goddamn well that you are, in fact, sick. So if you’re infected and contagious and unmasked, I honestly feel like a face full of trolley is exactly what you have coming.

I wanna go to a theater again sometime, dammit. Or a restaurant. Or maybe a sex club. Whatever. They’re all equally reckless right now.

Anyway. This game is all about taking something very familiar and keeping it that way, playing the scenario as straight as humanly possible. I sincerely thought it was some sort of psych grad student’s data collection tool, but nah, the game’s page says the creator is just a trolley enthusiast.

Fine for what it is, I suppose, but it lacks the creative spark I was hoping for. I really wanted it to be something more like Death and Taxes, which took this exact question of who lives and who dies and constructed a very compelling story around it. Surely there’s more to play around with here. Recommended only if the trolley problem is your absolute favorite way of torturing mortals.

Will the next game bring back fond memories of indecisive professors being covered in gore?

Page 53, Game 19: Draw Nine by Damon L. Wakes

“A journey not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you use them.”

Unless the “you” using the cards happens to be an extremely pissed-off Gambit, I’m guessing not.

Justice Playthrough #169: who will you save? who will you serve?

It’s time for everybody’s favorite review style, where Pete half-jokingly proclaims himself a basic bitch and then tries to find enough remotely insightful things to say about a game that’s largely going over his head so that the reader does not realize how deep his basic bitchness goes.

I will, however, say that if you’re a Sumerian mythology nerd and you play this game with a fellow Gilgameshead and there is anything resembling sexual attraction between the two of you, this game will get you EXTREMELY laid. So it’s got that going for it.

Page 57, Game 12: who will you save? who will you serve? by linda c

So there’s this dude Enkidu, real crazy fucker, more tightly aligned with the animals than humankind. He’s doing all this PETA shit but with worse personal hygiene — springing animals from traps set by hunters, wrecking livestock pens, leading predators to the local day-care, just being a huge pain in everybody’s ass.

King Gilgamesh would like him to kindly knock it the fuck off, but would rather not kill him; he’s a think-outside-the-box kinda warlord, and besides, big-dick energy recognize big-dick energy. So, he’s gonna try to solve the problem in the most bro way possible: throw some pussy at it. Enter Shamhat, the sacred prostitute. She’s had some weird gigs before, but fucking civilization into a crazy beast-dude is a first.

No worries. She’s up for it. She’s that good.

So, one of you will be Shamhat, the representative of civilization, and the other will be Enkidu, who is all things wild and untamed. And you’re gonna bang.

… or not. This is self-insert Gilgamesh fanfic, and how closely you stick to canon is your business. The game walks you through various stages: you each define your basic traits, describe what you see when you first meet on opposite sides of the river, etc, etc. There’s a lightweight playing card mechanic to help guide some of what you talk about and what happens; nothing too deep, but I do appreciate when storytelling games add a bit of game to their game so that the players have to respond to something and can’t just script everything.

So, what happens? What do you want? What draws you to each other? What do you act on? That’s on you two to figure out.

This is another one of those games that isn’t quite for me, but could be something really special for two players who find the groove it’s laying down. If you think you’re one of them and know somebody who would likewise be into it, it might very well be worth your while.

I will point out, however, that the canonical ending has Shamhat and Enkidu fucking each other stupid for a solid week. If you go there, don’t half-ass it with a quickie; you’ll make Baby Gilgamesh cry.

Will this next game enhance my appreciation for the horniness of our ancestors?

Page 56, Game 16: Dr. Trolley’s Problem by WeroCreative

“Test your morals in the trolley problem”

Less horny, more splattery. As a Good Place fan, I’m seriously into it.

Justice Playthrough #168: INDECT

Nope.

Page 54, Game 9: INDECT by WorstConcept Games

Ostensibly cyberpunk-themed platformer that is way, way too early in its development cycle to be played by anybody who isn’t either related to or friends with the dev.

The rare level selection screen where you can die

Gameplay is sloppy, controls are janky, the game punishes you for exploring and the content is virtually non-existent. It’s much too raw to be released into the wild just yet. Playable in-browser if you’re curious, but there’s really no reason to be. Not yet.

Next.

Page 57, Game 12: who will you save? who will you serve? by linda c

“Recreating the myth of Shamhat and Enkidu, players must reconcile politics, consent, and intimacy.”

Hmm. Not sold on wanting my intimacy to include politics. But do tell me more.

Justice Playthrough #167: Heart and Lightning

There are some interesting ideas here, but for real, was this actually playtested?

I do not think this was playtested.

Page 27, Game 25: Heart and Lightning by Swords and Flowers (Note: Dead link. I guess the author took this down?)

I mean, I’m sure it was played; I’m sure the author sat down at a table with his friends and played this, and everybody had a lovely time. But did the author hand-off this ruleset to somebody who played it blind with no prior exposure to the game? I’m thinking “No.”

Anyway. You and your fellow players are all Daughters of Lightning, children of a deity of the tempest, like Thor, or the Stormfather! (The author indicates that the mythos here is heavily based on Leigong, God of Thunder from Chinese folklore, which is pretty cool. A lot of the in-text references are to Thor, but I assume that’s because the big Norse bastard is having his day in the sun right now. Let’s face it, Ragnarok was fukkin’ AWESOME.)

So, you’re basically goddesses. Also, you’re teenagers. Rebellious teenagers, who just got chucked out of your home. Why? Who knows. Maybe you were playing your god-music too loud, maybe you were getting a little too familiar with those hotties pounding mead in Valhalla, maybe you formed a nahel bond with a brave mortal sadboy. That’s on you to figure out.

Regardless, you’re out in the world now, looking to have some fun aid raise some hell.

With ya so far, game.

There’s a bit of a disconnect between the stated theme and the game’s mechanics, though. The fluff text claims you’ve been stripped of your powers, but the mechanics of the game make it clear you’re pretty fukkin’ badass. You’re basically unkillable. Not, like, Deadpool unkillable, but still, death is really just an inconvenience. I’m totally on board with it, but it does muddy what tone I feel like the game is trying to establish. Are you a homeless, lost soul trying to make your way in a confusing world? Or are you an unstoppable god here to party amongst mortals who can barely contain your awesomeness? I’m seeing both, so I guess it very much depends on where you and the rest of your table land.

The core resolution mechanic has heavy Apocalypse World vibes, but it’s not listed among the game’s influences, so I guess it’s at least a generation removed from that. Basically, you roll 2d6 and add some stuff, and see if you got a fail, a partial success, or a total success.

All well and good. Except I lied; you only roll 2d6 if you’re a punk. There are plenty of ways to coax one or more additional d6’s into that roll, the easiest of which is simply having a friend help you.

This is why I’m deeply skeptical that this game has seen a single round of playtesting.

The 2d6 mechanic works very well, but only when it’s tight. In Apocalypse World, you’re adding a +3 at your most bad-ass. You need 7 for a partial success, 10 for an unambiguous one; failure is always a possibility, and a big success is never guaranteed. It adds a lot of tension to every die roll, particularly when circumstances force you out of your optimized roll.

I have not actually played this game. But just reading the rules, I would expect adding more d6’s to blow that balance completely to hell.

Hitting 7+ on 2d6+1 is likely, but hardly a guarantee. Hitting it on 4d6+1 is piss-easy. Failure is still technically possible, but would be shocking.

So, you’re playing teenagers, but all but the most hair-brained of actions are virtually guaranteed at least some degree of success, with “Totally Crushed It” actually your most likely outcome most of the time. I feel like the author and I had very different experiences with being a teenager.

The only way I can make sense of these rules is to say that no matter how many dice you roll, you still only take the two best. It still feels overpowered, but that at least seems more manageable to me. Unfortunately, I see no indication that’s how the rules are written. Best I can figure, when the author says to add additional dice to the roll, that’s what the author means.

It makes me feel like the right way to approach this ruleset is not as a completed product, but as something in an intermediate stage where you’re going to have to hammer-out the details of the rules as you go. Honestly, I don’t like that. It leaves a funky taste in my mouth.

Maybe the author agrees, and that’s why he took it down.

If playing a rebellious teenage goddess sounds fun, I’m sure you can find copies of the rules if you Google around a bit. Just be warned, running a game of Heart and Lightning means you’re basically consenting to co-design it. Or accepting that your players will be able to do whatever they goddamn well want at all times with only a minimal amount of rules manipulation.

Will this next game have mechanics for my daddy issues?

Page 54, Game 9: INDECT by WorstConcept Games

“‘For the Insecurity of Citizens’ | a WIP dystopian cyberpunk platformer”

Ah, more Big Brother issues. I’m down.

Justice Playthrough #166: mMcFabs’s Texture to SkyBox Converter

A simple tool for solving a problem I don’t have. But maybe you do.

Page 56, Game 23: mMcFabs’s Texture to SkyBox Converter by mMcFab

At least I know what a “skybox” is. It’s the distant background in a 3D video game, the far-away stuff that you will never be expected to (and cannot) interact with. Apparently, turning a texture into a skybox is A Thing, and this particular dev uploaded a tool they whipped-up for handling it.

Be warned, it’s a very simple tool. To toy with it, I selected one of the screenshots I’d harvested for the previous game:

This is about to become your world

The tool has two modes: import a PNG, export a PNG. So, I imported the PNG, which showed me a camera rotating around a world that had been transformed into a low-fi puzzle platformer:

Imagine this, but spinnier

There’s no way to take control of the camera, or look up or down. Just twirl around. Ironically, the skybox creator doesn’t let you look at the sky.

The export feature created this:

Cubified!

Is this … good? Bad? Fuck if I know. The tool advertises itself as being for converting textures into a box, so me feeding it a screenshot may have been kinda dickish.

But like I said, I’m not the target audience for this tool. I’ve never boxed a sky in my life. It’s clearly a bare-bones tool, but who knows, maybe it’s one you’ll find useful.

Will this next one help me create stuff one might want to put under a sky?

Page 27, Game 25: Heart and Lightning by Swords and Flowers

“Teen Gods Sword & Sworcery RPG about rebellion, and the troubles they get into.”

No, sounds more like some gods looking down from that sky. “Teen Gods” — is that gods as teenagers, or is that like a pantheon full of The Goddess of Dubious Vampire Fiction and stuff? Let’s find out!

Justice Playthrough #165: stop

I swear, sometimes you can just FEEL the good game trying to claw its way out from inside an iffy one.

Page 51, Game 13: stop by daichifob

(Note: This is an in-browser game, so if you wanna give it a try, all you have to do is click the link.)

This is a puzzle platformer of the “brutal precision” variety, where you are a square who would like to hop your little geometric ass through a lethal obstacle field and over to the circle. What’s the circle? Drugs, maybe. Or maybe it’s the latest Brandon Sanderson novel. There’s an excellent chance he wrote one since you started reading this, you know.

I MUST see what Shallan has gotten up to this time….

There are plenty of things trying to kill you here, but luckily, you have to power to stop time! Sometimes this helps, sometimes it doesn’t. For instance, in the level below, you can hop on a button that will cause three blocks to drop from the ceiling. Freeze them in place, then hop over to that other platform. Unfreeze time, push the button on your balcony, freeze the blocks when they’re higher in the air, and jump across them to your precious reward.

Is Maya coming back to life? I must know!

Also, don’t touch the little spiky boys at the bottom, as you’ll totally fuckin’ die.

This is one of those games where you die a LOT. Like I said, brutal precision platformer; it’s kind of a staple of the genre that you’re perpetually one split-second oopsie away from pixelsplatter.

I came into this trawl thinking that this just Isn’t My Genre, but I’ve found that skillfully executed examples (like Tamashii) can appeal to me just the same. Stop, however, was more a source of frustration than enjoyment. What’s the difference?

For one, the difficulty “curve” to this one is more like a buzzsaw blade. Some levels are easy, others are brutal, and it flips back and forth like crazy between the two. Take this little bastard:

KALADIN WHENEVER WILL YOU LEARN TO FORGIVE YOURSELF?

This is level 27 (out of 30). Pushing that button will drop a block, which will block the killer laser beam as it shoots left to right. (You, the stuff you can interact with, and everything that can kill you are all read. I appreciate minimalism, but that might be leaning in a bit much.) You want to freeze time, and get your square butt down below to the trampolines and the button. The trampolines, unfortunately, do not execute when time is stopped. So, you push the button to deploy a Companion Cube (really — nice touch, game), and toss it over on the left trampoline. Then, you must time your jump on the right trampoline such that you pass the laser just as your companion cube blocks it, and get to your precious Stormlight Archive sequel.

Why is this level ass? Oh, let me count the ways.

  • That jump is EXACTING, and is at the absolute limit of your vertical jumping abilities. You have to absofuckinglutely NAIL the timing on that trampoline, or you come up just short. Even without the laser there to kill you, this would take a few tries to execute — and with that laser present, you have no way to practice.
  • Putting the button between the two trampolines was an absolute dick move by the dev. See, only one companion cube can exist at a time, and pushing the button again will explode any you’ve already created. New cubes drop over onto that right trampoline; you have to catch the cube, then get it over to the left trampoline WITHOUT touching the button. This isn’t a challenge, this is a nuisance.
  • You have to be PERFECTLY synchronized with the bouncing companion cube. Otherwise, you get zapped.

This is an awful level. It puts me in a position where I can SEE the solution, but I can’t EXECUTE the solution. Why lard it up with needless difficulty like this? Why not give me a little margin for error on that vertical jump? Nailing the timing on laser-block is hard enough as it is. Why stick the cube-shattering button between the two trampolines? Avoiding it isn’t fun, it’s just annoying.

That’s where the game lets me down; it’s often hard for no good reason, it’s too frequently demanding past the point of being “challenging” and just becomes “fussy.” To my way of thinking, the game would flow better and be vastly more satisfying if it weren’t so eager to kill you for the slightest transgression.

But having said that, I DID make it all the way to level 27 out of 30 before it finally lost me. There’s a lot to like here. It’s a bit TOO minimalist for my liking, I feel like the dev should have set aside a designated Shit That Will Kill You color, but I do like the chill visual aesthetic. Riding bullets was honestly pretty cool. When I settled into a groove, when I felt like I was trying to use the tools at my disposal and not struggling to nail microsecond timing, I did indeed feel like a very clever boy when I made my way through to the end of the game.

The page indicates this came out of a game jam, and I can see that. It feels raw. It feels like it wants some more refinement. With another coat or two of polish, this could be something really special.

As it is, it’s fine. Maybe more than fine if you dig puzzle platformers more than I do. But for something that got cranked out in a jam, it’s honestly pretty cool. It winds up being one of those games I appreciate more than I actually enjoy, and I respect that.

Will this next game present me with murderwalls that cause me to explode on contact?

Page 56, Game 23: mMcFabs’s Texture to SkyBox Converter by mMcFab

“Convert flat horizontal tiling textures to convincing skyboxes with relative ease!”

Sounds like if I want entire landscapes filled with murder, this tool will help me get there.

Justice Playthrough #164: The Colors of Magic

I think I’m just not a storytelling-RPG kinda guy.

Page 59, Game 1: The Colors of Magic by Jon Lemich

As always, the disclaimer, because on the off chance the person reading this is not my wife, there’s almost no way they’re reading these entries in chronological order: I don’t actually play most of the tabletop entries in this list because I have neither the time nor the ambition. I could claim “Covid!”, but that’d be a big damn lie. For tabletop role-playing games like this, I read the ruleset until I start getting bored, skim until the end, and then write-up a review based on how much I’d be interested in playing it.

Is it fair? Probably not. But it seems more fair than just skipping them entirely.

Does Colors of Magic make me interested in playing it? Not really. Even though everything about it stacks the deck in its own favor. It’s aiming to capture the feel of high-end non-kiddy fantasy cartoons, to which I can only say, hells yes! Steven Universe! Last Airbender! The Dragon Prince! I’m all over that shit!

And the primary mechanic involves eating candy! Like, providing actual physical candy at the table and eating it! I have the dietary preferences of a twelve-year-old child! I have candy on my desk right now! I’m going to eat some candy!

Oh, bananas. Truly you are the best Runts.

You play with precisely four players — I don’t know why the game is so adamant about this, but it sure the fuck is. (It’s not the primary reason I’m not feeling it, but the author seems to have a VERY specific vision of how this game should be played, and the rules have a tendency to come off surprisingly heavy-handed and arbitrary.) Under the guidance of the “gamerunner,” exactly three people shall create protagonists, in the form of wizards who all know each other and are more or less friends. You define your beliefs, your spells, and the important people in your life with a character creation process that’s very loosey-goosey about HOW you define this stuff but oddly very specific about just WHAT you’re defining. Once everybody has their characters, off you go!

There are no dice or game stats or anything. The GM takes a moment to think up a general plotline (possibly using a literal Mad Libs worksheet provided by the game which uses all the information you just defined, which I actually kind of love), and away you go.

When the game starts, the GM will lay out some multi-colored candy. There need to be pieces of five colors; the six Big Boys, minus blue. In other words, Skittles. (Or, if you’re going for color-blind accessibility, Runts.) When conflict arises, as it inevitably shall, you resolve it by eating a Skittle. The color of the Skittle determines how successful you are; purple means it was a catastrophic failure clusterfuck, green means it was a total success, everything else is somewhere in between.

Note that you do not choose your Skittle out of a bag — you just choose the color. (I mean, technically, you don’t even have to eat it, to which I say fuck you you sucrose-shaming bastard.) The game is quite adamant about this: every time a conflict arises, you choose whether or not you succeed or fail, and to what degree.

Obviously, this requires you to be in a completely different headspace than, say, D&D or Apocalypse World. The goal is very explicitly not to succeed; success is as easy as pounding green-apple Skittles until you’re sick of them. (Hell, the game actually advises you to just fake it if you run out of a given color; there’s not supposed to be a resource management aspect of any kind present.) The goal here is to tell an interesting story.

Which I’m on board with, as far as it goes. But what has me giving this particular game the side-eye is how you and your friends have COMPLETE control over how the story unfolds. There are even non-candy mechanisms for undoing things if the story winds up going in a direction somebody doesn’t care for.

At that point, is it even still a game?

The games that hook me, the games that really pull me along, are the games that make me want to see what happens next. In this game, that’s going to be whatever we all AGREE happens next. That doesn’t feel like a game to me, that’s just a group storytelling exercise, one where everybody involved has veto power.

Everything about this game feels safe. Meticulously safe. Exhaustively, emphatically safe. I appreciate that modern RPG designers are trying to make their games more inclusive by empowering players to nerf or avoid topics they find personally upsetting, but Colors of Magic takes it a step further and cultivates an environment where you only subject yourself to even the mildest of upsets by explicit consent.

And I’m not interested in that. I don’t want absolute control over my environment. I want to be pushed. I want to subject myself to the unexpected. I want a game that’s capable of disappointing me, of taking my careful plans and pissing all over them.

I want to be able to fail.

What’s going to happen next in this game? Whatever me and the (EXACTLY) three other players at the table say happens next.

Unless the other three players are just dynamite storytellers, I find it hard to imagine I’m going to get terribly invested.

The game is shooting for mid-teens cartoons, but it’s so emphatic about bubble-wrapping its players that it reads as way, way younger than that to me. This seems more appropriate for full-on kiddie fare, where the important thing is to keep the little fuckers placated and not screaming at Mom for a half hour at a time. Keep things shiny, but don’t do anything that might upset them.

For the cartoons its emulating, the game needs the capacity to be unpredictable, to surprise, to upset. Reveal to me that my sainted mother was actually the villain all along. Wreck my carefully planned eclipse assault, defeat my allies and scatter them to the winds. Get me invested in the story, and then when it blows the fuck up, force me to roll with it.

If I want absolute control, I’ll just write. If I’m playing a game, I want something else.

If somebody I trust were to tell me “Dude, you are SO wrong, this game is fucking AWESOME!”, then sure, I’d be willing to give it a try. If nothing else, I’ll get some Skittles out of the deal. But this just doesn’t look appealing to me at all.

Will this next game tease me with a title that’s one letter off of a Terry Pratchett novel and then give me absolutely nothing resembling Discworld?

Page 51, Game 13: stop by daichifob

“stop time to solve puzzles”

Honestly, “Stop” could totally be a Pratchett novel, but it isn’t. And I’ve found some puzzle games here that I’ve really enjoyed. Could be a keeper.

Justice Playthrough IOU: Learn Japanese To Survive: Kanji Combat OST

I said I’d come back to it.

Page 51, Game 1: Learn Japanese To Survive: Kanji Combat OST by Slaleky

Definitely sounds like a JRPG soundtrack to me. I don’t play a ton of JRPGs, so I can’t say much more than that. Is it a GOOD example of such things? A notably derivative example? Is it just Final Fantasy 32: The Chocobo Riots but with the serial numbers defaced? No idea.

I will say that this is almost certainly just the game’s music resources dumped into playable form. These tracks are all meant to be on loops, presumably playing indefinitely as you get up to whatever educational shenanigans the game has in store for you next. As far as I can tell, there’s no effort whatsoever to try and smooth-out the beginnings and endings so they sound more like actual discrete songs. The beginnings all sound all right, but the songs don’t “end” so much as “stop.” Seriously, every time a track ends, it sounds like somebody fast-forwarded to the next one halfway through.

Aside from that, it seems like a perfectly cromulent video game soundtrack. Though I have to imagine that if you’re going for a Final Fantasy-esque groove, you’d probably just toss on an actual Final Fantasy soundtrack. Those exist, too.

Onward.

Justice Playthrough #163: Space Mayhem

A good zoomie shootie explodie pew pew space game that wants to be great. Doesn’t quite make it. But is still pretty damn good.

Page 20, Game 30: Space Mayhem by Chronic Vagrant

You have a spaceship. Your spaceship has a pew pew shootie laser. You know what to do.

GO SHOOT SOME ROCKS MOTHERFUCKA

Of course, you don’t just zoom around smashing rocks for long. Other ships start showing up. At first, they’re no big deal, just a bunch of pokey little dudes that will try to ram you. But there are more. Then more. Then more.

All right you off-brand Sinistar bitches, lets do this

To help aid your battle, power-ups will regularly drift by for you to go pick up. These are divided into two categories: lasers, and things that wish they were as awesome as lasers. Seriously, having a laser is like strapping a light sabre to the nose of your ship. It’s fucking awesome.

I spin my ship and you DIE

This game is fun. It’s easy to get hung up on little things it does poorly or on opportunities it missed, because there are honestly a lot of those — and because I’m me, I’m about to go into those in more detail. But this is also one of those games where getting screenshots past the first few seconds was difficult because I didn’t want to stop what I was doing and compromise the run to get the damn screenshot. This definitely goes into the “Glad I Found It” bucket.

But it could have definitely been more.

The game defines a very tight battlespace; you have the dimensions of your screen and not a pixel further. Slam into the edge of the screen, loose health as though you’d been shot. This was a bad decision; this game is all about getting into an adrenalized murderous flow, about capturing the Thrill. Having to pull back from a killshot because you don’t want to run afoul of the borders impairs that flow. Why not make the screen wrap, like Asteroids? If you must have barriers, why not make them bouncy, like Omega Race?

The power-ups could benefit from some balancing and differentiation. The laser is, indeed, awesome, and I got a little battle boner every time I saw one floating across my screen. There’s also a flamethrower which works more or less the same way — you spray a short-range field of concentrated destruction, for which you’ll want to spin your ship and clip as many things as you can manage. Except, while the laser just blows shit up, the flamethrower only bestows a single hit, and if that’s not enough, catches the ship on fire so that it may take a bit of damage over time. It looks baller, but in terms of gameplay, the flamethrower is just the laser, but shittier.

Why does my gun overheat if I shoot it too many times in a row? This is another design choice that goes against the go-out-there-and-fuck-shit-up vibe of the game. If any game should be rewarding me for getting in there and blazing away, it’s this one. There are a couple of power-ups that are basically “My regular gun but it doesn’t overheat,” and those are the least exciting to get, because … it’s just my regular gun, but without the overheating. Meh.

Why does everything — everything — damage me in precise 25-point chunks? If my health is 100, I can take four hits. Wouldn’t it make more sense for my health to be “4” instead?

Why isn’t there more differentiation among the ships? Some enemies will drop coins, which give you cash you can use to unlock other available ships. I unlocked two ships, and honestly, they were pretty much the same game experience as the starter ship. One of them went faster, but that’s honestly a mixed blessing in this game, particularly as I have to spend a lot of my time not splattering myself on the borders. I would have liked a different main weapon, maybe. Or something that gets more mileage out of my power-ups. Or … just something that made me feel like the game was DIFFERENT now that I had this shiny new toy to play with.

Like I said, it’s easy to get lost in the “Minor error” weeds. None of these missteps wreck the game, but cumulatively, they do keep it from being as exciting as it could be.

The best comp I’ve encountered in this trawl is Cycle 28, which I loved. That game had a sense of escalation, stakes, and freestyle pixelship badassery that I feel like Space Mayhem is gunning for but doesn’t quite achieve. It feels restricted. I want Space Mayhem to be let off its chain and run ripshit rampage through the neighborhood.

But even so. It’s fun. It looks great, it sounds good, it’s just plain fun to play. If you’re a fan of arcade-style spaceship shoot-em-ups, I can definitely recommend playing it. I’m really glad this one crossed my path.

Is this next game going to have me rushing towards clusters of enemies so I can blow-up my awesome “Roundhouse” bomb right in their stupid enemy faces?

Page 59, Game 1: The Colors of Magic by Jon Lemich

“The Colors of Magic is a light, collaborative, story-focused, fantasy tabletop RPG about a group of wizard friends.”

Sounds like it will have a minimum of face-blasting. Which is totally fine.

Oh, and hey, it’s the last one! Not, you know, the last one I’m gonna do. (I don’t think? I’m not slamming out as many of these as I used to.) Just the very last game in the bundle. Nifty. Let’s see if it’s as good as the first one was.

Justice Playthrough #162: falling is not the same thing as dying

Maaaan, capitalism really does ruin everything, doesn’t it.

Page 40, Game 10: falling is not the same thing as dying by Sisi

This is less of a game, more of a bit of minimally interactive fiction. There’s not much to it, but what’s here feels heartfelt. It’s an autobiographical piece about a Chinese-American lesbian girl ruminating on her identity and high school and how much high school sucks, all while not playing tennis.

As that, it’s quite good. It’s wildly unsuited for the anime soundtrack I have playing in the background — looks like the answer to THAT question was actually a big ol’ “NOPE!” — but it’s nevertheless a moving little look into someone else’s reality.

Given how slight yet deeply personal it is, I initially assumed this would be one of those games you can play right from the page I linked to.

The author is currently asking $5.00 for it.

Which is just so … weird, and actually mildly off-putting to me. Part of me thinks that’s pretty shitty of me; can you really put a price on personal expression? But the thing is, you absolutely goddamn well can put a price on personal expression. We do it all the time. And I know $5 doesn’t buy as much fiction as it used to, but it can definitely get me more than a few hundred words.

If the author were making this freely available, I’d absolutely recommend it as being worth a few minutes of your time.

But if I’d actually paid $5, I’d be feeling pretty punked.

Make of that what you will.

Will this next game make me indulge in the offensive practice of putting a price tag on art?

Page 20, Game 30: Space Mayhem by Chronic Vagrant

Yeah, now THAT sounds like the kinda of thing a basic bitch like me can really get behind.