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.”

Justice Playthrough #149: Cook, Server, Delicious! 2!!

For a game simulating a deeply stressful job via fast-click button mashing, the core gameplay is remarkably compelling. Just wish the surrounding context could give it a bit more purpose.

Page 9, Game 26: Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! by chubigans

You’re running a restaurant. The entire restaurant. Taking orders, cooking the the food, refilling the soda machine, taking out the trash, cleaning the shitter, that’s ALL you, baby. Nobody else.

You wanted to run a restaurant, fucker. Well, this is it! THIS IS YOUR DREAM! NOW WORK FUCKING HARDER!!!

You have a to-do list. Most of it involves cooking up food for the people wandering in. For instance, say a patron wants a delicious Cheesey Dog here at Max Weiners. The fundamental loop in this game is “Follow the recipe.” For the hot dog, you’re gonna need to first toss a dog on the grill. It’s gonna take a minute to cook, during which you can do other things — like queue-up some delicious pretzels, or clean the aforementioned shitter.

Yes, between or even in the middle of food orders. Your final step is “Sanitize.” Does that make you feel better? It does not make me feel better to the extent it should.

If “Cook a thing” is the first step, you have a narrow window of optimal time during which you want to yoink it off the grill. Too soon, and you serve your customer an undercooked hot dog, which will displease them. Wait too long — or just overlook that the damn dog is ready — and it’ll burst into flames. Your customers are VERY good at spotting which items on the grill were meant for them, and will storm out accordingly.

Get that sumbitch off the grill in something resembling a reasonable time, though, and you’ll have to finish the prep, by holding down the correct trigger and mashing the correct buttons.

Once you have the hot dog, the recipe for making hot dogs is honestly pretty simple

Each item has a recipe of varying degrees of complexity, with color-coded steps to help you figure out just where the hell in the menu you’re going to find them. Get everything on there in the right order, and serve! Or completely bitch it up, and serve anyway. One of these is better than the other.

If you notice you’ve done something wrong … look, you’re a proud and busy human. You’re not gonna go back or do anything over. They’ll take what you serve them and like it.

Or … maybe not. This game has a playful sense of humor that sneaks through in a lot of places, but the graphics tend towards the dour.

At Max Wieners, we serve basic sustenance and misery

My customers look beaten DOWN. Like, I’m serving a truly broken clientele. Am I charging them money? I hope not. I don’t think these people have a dollar between them. Look, bro, have some nachos. On the house. Naw, man, you look like you need a break. We’re all in this together, right?

Anyway. Some food is simple, some is a pain in the ass. Salads require no advance prep, but have FOUR goddamn pages of ingredients you need to search through. Whereas nachos … when somebody orders a fully loaded nacho plate, you hold the trigger, mash all four buttons, and BOOM! DONE! SERVED! Let the next miserable bastard in line get their food.

Gameplay is stressful and repetitive — much like running a damn restaurant. Doing well is a matter of getting used to what you need to do to complete a task quickly and move on to the next — again, like running a damn restaurant.

Unlike running a restaurant, it’s … actually kinda fun. The gameplay is pure repetition and grind, but it’s CHALLENGING. It ENGAGED me. When I got the hang of being Wiener Guy, it felt GOOD to be slamming out orders and getting shit done. I AM THE KING OF ALL WIENERS!

Of course, if you fuck up a lot, you … erm … some numbers aren’t happy with you?

For as much good-game-stress as I was being subjected to, the game doesn’t seem to have that much consequence for sucking. It was handing out some badges, and I was thinking maybe I need to collect those badges to unlock stuff, but … I don’t think I do? I think I just need to do the same stuff again and more options will become available? Maybe?

When you’re outside the grind of slinging food at the grill, the game starts to come apart a bit.

First, the game gives you a lot of pre-built restaurants to unlock. Like, a LOT.

33 levels of minimum wage adventure!

I enjoyed the game. I did not enjoy the game so much that attempting to unlock all 33 restaurants sounds like fun. The game’s page boasts 60+ hours of gameplay, and … holy shit. That’s starting to sound less like a game simulating a job and more like an actual job.

You unlock a shitload of things after every day, though. If you click on the game logo, you get to open your OWN restaurant! Where you can put those unlocked things to use! I’m not sure! I actually have no goddamn idea!

Bringing the joy of an awkward meal in your parents’ basement!

I sincerely do not know where I’m supposed to define my restaurant. I didn’t have an opportunity to name it, I sure as hell didn’t get the chance to do anything with the decor. Perhaps I need to grind a bit more to earn the right to actually use the stuff I unlocked?

I DID get to choose my menu … except for all the available slots, there was only once choice. So I didn’t get to choose shit.

Here at Basement Pete’s, we make all our food with WTF?!?! and madness

My menu consisted of:

  • Pretzels (classic and German)
  • Salisbury steak
  • Breakfast cereal (five flavors, with optional fruit toppings)
  • Prime rib
  • Mac & cheese

Are these the dishes I’ve unlocked? Is this the standard starter menu? WHY is this the standard starter menu? Who would serve these foods together? Who is coming into my restaurant? What’s going on? What is a food?

To the game’s credit, core gameplay is a chaotic clusterfuck in a fun way, even though it would benefit from a larger sense of stakes. Unfortunately, the connective tissue responsible for putting that gameplay into a larger context is severely underbaked underdeveloped. There’s no larger goal, I’m just going to my restaurant and doing stuff for the sake of doing stuff.

Which makes it an even more accurate simulator than I realized.

Do I recommend it? Tentatively. It’s not bad, but it’s not as good as it should be either. At the very least, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll find yourself done with the game AGES before it runs out of “new” content to toss at you, so hey, at least it won’t leave you wanting more.

Will the next game leave me feeling more like a bad-ass and less like an exhausted teenager who smells like French fries?

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

“A Librarians-and-Necromancy Fantasy Novel”

A trip to the Dark & Horrible Magic section of the library. Let’s call that a HELL yeah.

Forbidden Lore Design Diary #12: Leveling Up To Levels

Back to copy-paste mode with Part 11 of the tutorial, which turns the dungeon into a proper dungeon.

Except … kinda not really. I already implemented the code representing the stairs, and I think I like my implementation better. At least, I think I do. Typing at this, I’m not so sure; perhaps implementing the stairs as terrain instead of a specific kind of object might make more logical sense and have some baked-in features I had to figure out for myself. (Namely, once you find the stairs, the stairs should always be visible on your map.) Hmm. May need to come back for some refactoring.

And I actually already had a bunch of this code in place from a prior round of copying code out of the final version of the git repository. Just didn’t have ALL of it, so I wound up commenting most of it out to keep from breaking my own game.

Whatever. Now, you can go to the NEXT level of the dungeon! So now, instead of “winning,” you can do the proper roguelike thing of just plunging deeper and deeper into this hell-spawned hole in the ground until you finally die. So that’s good.

Also, you can level yourself up after you murder enough things! The game I actually want to make will not do this; Forbidden Lore is going to be all about finding, you know, forbidden lore. Want to get better at wizard shit? Find some ancient texts of wizard shit. Blowing up orcs isn’t going to give you any particular insights into the nature of applied thaumaturgy. But, that’s for later-Pete to deal with, as is taking advantage of the space I intentionally set aside for an XP bar. For the time being, murdering shit is indeed your path to power.

The game is already broken — as the developer gladly points out. At second level, you can make yourself completely invulnerable to the game’s orcs, so that’s a bit of a balance thing. Still. Give the tutorial credit, I have the tools I need to address it. Figuring out HOW to address balance issues is my problem — as it should be.

Also, I now have a “Character Status” window I can pull-up! I’m still a little put-off by the bespoke nature of all the UI elements; I feel like there really ought to be some sort of centralized method I can feed all the relevant variables into. Again, that’s a problem for Future Pete to deal with.

As is the question of how much deeper I wish to delve into the ASCII-game rabbit hole. IS this actually going to be the foundational level of Forbidden Lore, making the very generous assumption that something resembling my version of that game will ever come to exist? Mayyyyyybe. On the plus side, I can see a path to implement a lot of my core ideas using this framework. But I also know that implementing this with, say, Unity would make the final product VASTLY more accessible.

More importantly, the version of Forbidden Lore in my head is going to be all about finding the weak spots in game’s mechanics and exploiting the living shit out of them. To make that work, I’m going to have to make those mechanics as transparent as humanly possible. The game coming out of this tutorial does NOT offer a lot of mechanisms for communicating to the player just WTF is happening and why. I suppose I can address that, if I’m clever enough, but I’ll be swimming against the current.

Still. I have a totally playable game in front of me. It’s not a GOOD game, but it’s totally a game that, as I’m testing features, I still sometimes catch myself having fun with. I think I’ll go as far down this path as feels interesting. If that gives me a game that’s completely opaque to anybody who isn’t me, well, what the hell, the Unity engine will still be right there waiting for me to figure it out.

Still have some tutorial in front of me, though. Onward to the next chapter.

Justice Playthrough #148: A Light Long Gone

That was … very … earnest.

Page 58, Game 1: A Light Long Gone by muddasheep

This is an emo/electronica album by Muddasheep, who’s apparently doing this for quite some time. The conceit here is that it’s an “interactive” album. What’s that mean?

The music is less encouraging that the title implies

For starters, it means you get this very snazzy player. It’s pretty, but it lacks some pretty basic functionality. While I was listening to this, my wife asked me to pause it so she could get an audio recording of the annoying idiot in our neighborhood who keeps revving his motorcycle. I couldn’t. There’s are no play-control buttons here.

The big selling point is that you can mute individual instrument tracks. I’m not sure why I want to, though. I mean, this guy’s a musician, I’m just some shmuck killing time with a blog. Is he not confident this is the best version of any given song? If the song sounds better without, say, the piano, isn’t that kind of an argument for not including the piano in the first place?

It’d be more interesting if he deliberately over-orchestrated the shit out of everything. I’d love to play with a version that was intentionally overdone to hell with full instrument participation on each and every track, and then it becomes my responsibility to trim the song down to the elements that I think serve it best. This sumbitch was clearly written for piano and drums, but let’s see how it sounds when it’s just xylophone, trumpet, and harmonica. Fuck it, let’s get wacky, let’s get some thrash-metal guitar, melodica, and Otamatone tracks in there while we’re at it. Bring the fuckin’ house, bro.

Tellingly, the one track that you’re NOT able to mute is the lead vocals. The lyrics feel so achingly earnest that my wife and I half convinced ourselves this was the work of a teenager, and were surprised to learn that the artist is older than she is. We did peg that he’s not a native English speaker, though; the lyrics tend to feel very simple. But what the hell, his English is better than our German.

The music, while often quite pretty, has a tendency to be monotonous. There’s not much energy here, not much to distinguish one song from the next.

It’s not horrible, and last I checked he’s only asking a dollar for it, so if you’re curious you can definitely check it out for yourself. Unfortunately, the concept is much more interesting than the actual music, and that’s a shame.

Will this next one feel less depressed teenager-ish?

Page 9, Game 26: Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! by chubigans

“The highest selling and most intense restaurant sim ever made is back!”

I’m guessing that my business is going to be founded on the labor of depressed teenagers, so yeah. Bring it on.