Take a book, choose 50 words from it at random, turn those words into a poem.
It’s like refrigerator magnets!
Obviously, this game isn’t doing a lot to impress me. But it IS so simple that NOT playing it and just snarking feels petulant. And lazy.
All right, game. I’m playing you.
Let’s crack open some BrandoSando. The Way of Kings, on my Kindle! Let’s drop 5d6 a whole bunch of times in accordance with the rules.
My words are:
headway, Almighty, they, Dalinar, alone, the, had, would, achieve, Vamah, doing, look, gave, Almighty, Dalinar, would, the, had, spoken, had, the, the, have, or, many, (halfway there!) had, were, taken, won, by, renowned, have, so, they, so, Dalinar, the, a, spoken, did, one, said, friend, the, is, I, at, you, that, had
Whuf. All right, I have harvested my fifty words, and that was some tedious shit. I was going by the Rules As Written, which involve using a 5d6 roll to determine a chapter, then using two more rolls to determine a page and a word within that chapter, repeat the last two steps until you have 50 words. This is at odds with the SAMPLE game, which wants you to mix up the chapter every ten words. So, we’ve got a big ‘ol editing fail right there.
This game may be a trifle, but these rules very obviously do not represent the best version of that trifle. Why did they want me to keep track of which page I was on? Why not make that page roll once and then, say, keep rolling 2d6 and advancing that many words in the text?
Why are there no rules to deal with hitting a fuckton of uninteresting filler words, like I did in my playthrough? Why not specify that if you’ve already used a word, keep going until you hit a word you haven’t used?
Bah. Whatever. I have my building blocks. Let’s make a poem out of them.
The Almighty Dalinar! The Almighty Vamah! They alone gave the headway Taken by so many!
Dalinar, renowned, spoken they would achieve So that you had won, friend.
Look! Doing the did, one said! I would have had the had, or the Dalinar! A have is had Spoken at, were had.
I’ll let you decide the merits of that poem for yourself. But that was significantly more amusing than I thought it would be. Stick THAT shit in a chapter heading, Brandon.
So, the gameplay is substantially more tedious than it needs to be and does a poor job of making sure you get an interesting set of words to work with. But once those words are in hand, it actually is kinda fun.
I cannot recommend this game, because the ruleset is simultaneously too simple and does not represent the best version of itself. But as a thing to do on your own time, why not. Can YOU figure out a better way to yoink 50 random words out of a book? I bet you can. There are worse ways to kill half an hour.
Does this next game lend itself to on-the-fly redesign by its players?
Page 26, Game 12: The Valley of Super Flowers by AMAXANG GAMES
“The Valley of Super Flowers is a 2D Platform Action game in which the valley is captured by an Evil Satanis ruler.”
So, flowers and SATAN? That sounds like an amazing tonal clusterfuck. I’m very curious to give it a look now.
There’s a lot about this game that I find frustrating, not the least of which is the underlying genre — Brutal Precision Platformer — is not one I find particularly compelling. So when I say that the gameplay makes up for all of it, that means the gameplay is fuckin’ FANTASTIC.
An Entity has summoned thee. Something has defiled its temple. Thou art tasked with finding the source of the corruption.
You will find this corruption via running around solving platforming puzzles. This is generally a matter of just finding the exit for a given level. However, before long, you’re going to start dealing with keys. Stand in a certain place, and the states of various blocks will toggle between “existing” and “not”. Stand in other places, and the door will open itself.
Naturally, since you can only be in one place, you can pretend to be somewhere by dropping what the game refers to as a “clone” behind.
Those little chattering skull bastards will trigger whatever key they’re on for as long as they continue to exist.
Also, in one of the game’s many delightful graphical touches, the more clones you drop (up to the max of three) the wonkier the resolution on your screen gets. Suddenly, the game feels like you’re playing it on a shitty old TV. I don’t know why this makes me so happy, but it makes me incredibly happy.
From there, you’re free to jump all around the level and try not to die. The level will make this very, very difficult.
Make it all the way through to the end, and you’ll face the level’s boss monster! Figuring out how to defeat it is part of the game. As is dealing with the psychological horror of seeing the thing.
Clear out enough levels and you win!
As much as I enjoyed it, this is not one I played through to the end.
Let’s get this out of the way: I didn’t play it through to the end because there’s something wonky in the save mechanism. There were levels I’m QUITE certain I cleared that the game wanted me to play again — I think. Beating the levels the first time was fun. But as challenging as they are, beating them AGAIN is a chore.
Assuming you can figure out where in the connecting temple you need to go to get to them. Simply finding where you’re supposed to go next was often an unwelcome challenge. The whole “Wait, did I do this one already?” feeling wasn’t helped by the fact that my high score on every level was always pegged at 0.
My big problem with this game is that it makes it too difficult to get to the fun parts.
But by the unholy spirits of the underworld, the fun parts are FUN.
The platforming in this game is brutal and merciless, but even though that’s not my jam, I still had a great time playing it. It’s smooth, it’s fast, it’s POLISHED. This is a game where you’re going to fail a lot, so the game lets you fail FAST. All right, looks like to do this, I’m going to need to plant a clone on the red key, which is behind a whole bunch of bullshit that will kill me. I’m gonna need to hit the jump like THIS, dodge the bullet like THIS, jump over the– shit, fucked up the timing. All right, jump like THIS, dodge the bullet like THIS, WAIT, jump over the buzzsaw blades, step lively, all right, I’m there! Now what?
The game feels FAIR. It’s hard as hell, but it genuinely feels like you have the tools you need to solve the problems at hand.
What’s more, it looks fantastic. I honestly don’t know what to call this art style — Giger-occult? It’s drippy and creepy and cruel and hellish. A better reviewer than I could no doubt pin down exactly what it’s called and where it’s coming from; I’m a basic bitch in more ways than just my taste in games. The game feels dark in a way that’s unique and genuinely unsettling. I fuckin’ love it.
When Tamashii gets the hell out of its own way, it’s a fantastic game. I’m glad I played it, frustrating bits and all. Definitely recommended.
What occult madness awaits me in the next title?
Page 41, Game 27: Book Reprocessing Machine #5 by Tenbear
Blasting Agent is a Olde Timey side-scrolling pixel shooter that visually is trying to evoke the feel of NES games like Contra.
This is its first huge mistake; the gameplay is absolutely nothing like Contra. You are not a bad-ass storming through an alien-infested jungle laying down adrenaline-fueled devastation. You are an (admittedly) tough but nimble soldier tentatively scurrying forward with a cheap, shitty “gun” rendered largely ineffective by its terrible range and negligible stopping power. Every time you encounter even a starting-level mook, you’re going to need to very cautiously snipe at them (did I mention your gun’s range sucks?) and then dash away, jumping-over their return fire. (I’m pretty sure the mooks’ guns are better than yours. I’m not joking. Pretty sure I’ve never seen that in a Contra wannabe before.) You’ll need to land four or five hits before you drop them, so taking down a single foe is a huge chore. Often, your best bet is to simply run past them.
Of course, if you’re forced to confront them and another soldier follows you into the fray, you’re fucked. Taking them on two at a time is suicidal.
So, yeah, this is not the dash-and-blaster it seems to be presenting itself as. It’s more in the “precision platformer” vein. Which is fine, I suppose. Not really my jam, but that’s fine. If you’re all about that cautious, one-step-at-a-time gameplay, this one might appeal to you.
Assuming you can play it. You might not. I started it up like five times, and got to play a decent ways into it once before it crashed halfway through the third stage of the first level. By that point, I felt like I had a pretty good feel for the game, so I fired it back up to harvest some screenshots. On the third try, I made it past the intro screen, and then the game promptly crashed when I tried to screenshot it.
But not before I noticed that it had done nothing to save my progress from the earlier run.
So in my experience, the game was too unstable to play and not fun enough for me to actually want to play it. It looks and sounds like a classic NES game, so props for presentation, but the actual game is just too fiddly for me to enjoy. If it sounds like your jam, by all means roll the dice; maybe your computer won’t hate it as much as mine did.
How much punishment will the mooks in this next game take before collapsing?
Page 47, Game 16: Rulent Tower VR by Setsune
“Witness Beautiful Game Boy Graphics in VIRTUALEST of REALITIES!”
Eh, fuck. VR. I do not have a VR rig. Looks like whatever mooks are in Rulent Tower have nothing to fear from me.
You are given a 3D rendered thing, like, say, a phone!
Click it — see what happens! Or, use your mouse to turn it around, see it from a different angle. From certain sides, it doesn’t really look like a phone at all. Like, for instance, look at the bottom dead-on, it’s just a rectangle.
That rectangle could be anything. And if you twist it around, it’s not a phone any more! It’s a pot!
What will the pot do with you click on it? What other things will it become when you twist it around? Find out! That’s the game!
When the game puts you in a just-fuck-around-and-see-what’s-next headspace, it’s interesting. It’s kinda fun, in its low key way. You can get some really cool stuff to show up.
But then you discover the menu, and the “chill” part of the game kinda goes to hell.
Look at how those things can turn into other things! Why, the pot alone could turn into four other things. What other things could it be?
Twist it around and find out!
No, not like that.
Not like that, either.
Maybe you could turn it the other way?
Come on, are you really even trying? Don’t you WANT to find the other things it could be?!
And what are those icons on the interstitial screen? Click them and find out.
Oh, here’s a picture showing all the things you’ve found.
And here’s a summary of the puzzles you haven’t solved yet. Did you not realize you were solving puzzles? You did not? WTF is wrong with you, did you not realize this is a game?
And here’s a chest. It kinda looks like the beginning of the game. What happens when you click on it? You go back to the beginning of the game, of course!
Would you like to go back to where you were? Like when you found this fucking thing?
That thing was cool. Wanna go back to it and play with it?
Well, you’re gonna need to remember every step it took you to get there.
Feel stupid because you clicked on that chest thing and got kicked all the way back to the beginning? Well, you should. But don’t worry, you’ll have the same issue if you ever do something dumb like close the game.
This game isn’t awful, but there’s a staggering difference between the chill, playful, exploratory way it presents itself and the actual experience of playing the thing. The actual gameplay is merciless. Actual gameplay gives on the vaguest hints of what you’re trying to do or how to proceed. The playful, exploratory menu puts you in a corner where you are ONE FUCKING WRONG CLICK away from undoing all your progress and getting kicked ALL the way back to the beginning.
I don’t hate it, but I can’t say I love it, either. When it’s working, it operates under a kind of dream logic that I found quite appealing. Of course the thing just became another completely different thing because of how you looked at it. Of course there’s a cat in there. Why wouldn’t there be?
But I found that once I started investing myself in moving forward, it stopped being fun and just started being frustrating. In particular, the inability to return to a previous cool thing I found struck me as inexplicable. Why does the game want me to memorize every step I took? That’s not playful and zen. That’s not playful and zen at all.
If it looks appealing, I suppose I can recommend it. But this is not a must-have.
What things will be turning into other things for this next one?
Page 13, Game 19: Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition by Axol Studio
“The definitive version of the classic, pixel jump-and-shoot Adventure for PC.”
Ah, I expect pixels will be turning into explosions. I like jumping, I like shooting, I like adventures. Let’s do this thing!
Today, I hit an item on my to-do list: is my auto-save only saving after every player turn, or after every mouse action?
Turns out, the answer was “after every mouse action.” So that’s not, you know, great; I’m new to this whole game development thing, but I’m pretty sure saving your game forty times because the user dragged the mouse across the screen is considered sub-optimal design. So I worked to put that autosave command elsewhere.
The input handler seemed like a sensible spot; after I told the engine to handle the enemy turns, I also told it to save. Easy-peasy. However, this introduced me to the concept of “circular dependencies,” which Python finds quite objectionable. Basically, I had to dig into a lot of the weird stuff the tutorial put at the top of many files (like “from __future__ import annotations” and “if TYPE_CHECKING” and other such things) and understand why I needed them. Good news! I now understand why I needed them! Yay learning!
However, I stumbled across a very weird error when I chucked a fireball:
AttributeError: Can't pickle local object 'FireballDamageConsumable.get_action.<locals>.<lambda>'
Baaaah. The code I was using to save the file had beef with the nuances of how some of my stuff works — nuances I barely understood myself. So that looked no damn fun to debug.
But more troubling, I discovered that if I quit the game right after seeing that error, the auto-save file got corrupted and could not be reloaded. Having a game that corrupts its own auto-saves whenever something goes wrong sounds infuriating, so I had to get THAT shit sorted out, too.
Luckily, I had an easy way of generating those corrupted data files on hand.
I posted a question to Stack Overflow, but as one might reasonably expect on a Sunday afternoon, there were no Python nerds willing to lend me a hand. Ah, well.
I researched how to move files around in Python, then whipped-up some code that would move the old auto-save file to a backup and then restore the backup if something went wrong during the save. This code did not work. I spent about an hour tearing you my hair trying to figure out why. I had all these theories; was the filehandle still open? Was I running afoul of an asynchronous race condition? I investigated all that shit only to discover….
A typo. The backup code was looking for the wrong fuckmothering filename.
Once that moment of Software Development was behind me, I started digging into the reasons why the save was fucking-up. Still not sure I know the details why, but the solution turned out to be a package called “dill.” Yes, the code that serializes — “pickles” — the object for me works better when you enhance it with “dill.” Once I figured out how to do that, I was golden.
There’s an old truism in software: for every sufficiently advanced problem, there exists a solution that is simple, elegant, and wrong.
And that’s how my simple, elegant three-line save method turned into something closer to thirty lines, not including blankspace and comments.
I was planning on figuring out some menu stuff today. That’ll have to come next.
It’s an Android-only game, the first I’ve encountered in the trawl. That means I’ve encountered as many Android games as I have Commodore-64 and Sinclair VX Spectrum entries. So as I did there, I figured I’d see if an emulator could help me out.
I downloaded and installed NoxPlayer 6.6.12. In theory, installing Nuvoloso on it was a simple drag and drop. An hour later, the app is still installing.
If it’s this slow, I suspect that even if the install completes, the simulated game experience might be significantly less than what the developer intended.
So all I can really say about this game is that it has something to do with clouds, and is definitely a thing that exists.
What fun shapes will I wind up seeing in this next one?
Page 3, Game 14: Vignettes by Skeleton Business
Ooh. Toyish shapes. And I do like surprise-o-ramas. This bodes well.
This is a zine about gaming. The first article in the first issue is about the author loves trash-talking in gaming culture. The second is about how much bullshit the author has had to put up with from the online gaming community because she’s a woman.
I have no idea if this juxtaposition is supposed to be ironic, or if the editor simply didn’t notice.
I skimmed through the first and final issues, and nothing really grabbed me. The articles tend towards the rambly and unfocused, mixed in with occasional listicles and thinly-veiled personal promotions. Still, even if I personally find the quality suspect, there’s an earnestness to the whole endeavor that I respect. So I’ll just say that it’s not for me and move on.
Will this next entity clearly denote its fictional bits as fiction?
Page 56, Game 2: Nuvoloso by Claudio Vertemara
“A Casual Arcade game where you look at a sky full of clouds.”
Obviously not. Everybody knows clouds aren’t real, and are all actually government surveillance drones.
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.”