Indierpgs reviews Dubloon

•July 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I saw this a couple days ago and figured I’d link to it.

http://indierpgs.com/2010/07/game-review-dubloon/

I do have quibbles to make with the writer, one Craig Stern, in regards to the feel of the game. While Stern eventually comes to the conclusion that Dubloon is a solid, if not outstandingly magnificent  game, he spends a good 1/3 of the review taking issue with the fact that Dubloon doesn’t 100% tread the waters that a pirate RPG supposedly should i.e. not enough searching for buried treasure, too much fighting random hedgehogs instead of being a pirate, too little walking the plank. Two things: 1. The main plot is all contrived around acquiring a massive golden treasure chest so I believe treasure is taken care of. 2. I am under the opinion that Dubloon is more about feeling like a pirate than being a pirate. Pirates, in game, are portrayed as folk lore heroes on the level of Robin hood. They are not the scurvy filled, murdering wretches found elsewhere. Therefore typical pirate actions don’t fit within the game world. I don’t think Dubloon should be punished for adhering to its atmosphere as a fun loving, verging on family friendly game.

(Just as a note, I don’t disapprove of the linked review at all. In fact, I think it’s better than my own, as of course, it was written by someone with experience, comprehensively, and not at 2 in the morning. I just dislike the idea of posting something without having something to contribute.)

love letter

•July 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Love Letter is a simple platforming game that asks you to collect 50 hearts, all from a large heart shaped level. Here’s the interesting bit 1. In order to be successful you need to collect all 5o hearts in one life. 2. The first person to beat the game can rewrite the introduction letter, dedicating it to whoever they so please.

Game is here: http://jonathanwhiting.com/coding/loveletter/

The first notable trait of Love Letter is it’s bare-bones but beautiful atmosphere. Everything plinks and plunks agreeably. The game is very pixelated, with a color palette of white, black and a just-right pink. All walkable surfaces are pink-colored, and the player turns that same fetching color of pink for several moments after picking up a heart (This is in fact part of the game’s mechanics, but it incorporates well with the aesthetic). Meanwhile an old-timey record croons in the background, scratches and all, completing the whole picture. (EDIT: Here’s the song. Now imagine listening to this while navigating screens full of hearts for several hours. \”I\’m Gonna Get Me a Man That\’s All\” as in Love letter)

The level design is also particularly good. The entire point, according to the developer Jonathan Whiting, was to make this “a game about commitment”. Only someone who really put themself into the game would be able to claim the reward at the end. The game is filled with over twenty screens of smooth platforming. There’s only one mechanic added to the purity of jumping from platform to platform avoiding mines. As I mentioned above, after collecting a heart, your character turns pink, and gains the ability to jump, once, almost twice his normal jumping height. This ability is introduced in a very Super Mario-esque way and then slowly given to the character in more and more complicated forms. The one of the first hearts you see is alsmost impossible to miss and is located next to a stretch of mines, you normally couldn’t cross. As you try to cross the gap, you soar far above what you expected to be possible, crossing the gap, making the heart-jump known to you.

The heart-jump’s potential is then used in almost every possible variation of level to generate puzzles to get hearts. One particular puzzle requires you to traverse multiple levels without jumping once just to get heart.

The final innovation to form is the ability of the first person to beat it to “dedicate” the game, in effect. Now hold your horses, champ. The game’s already been beaten, around 24 hours since first being released. But there are some severe implications that this model of enticing a player has. There were some concerns on the games thread at TIGSource (http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=13487.0) that the game would get dedicated to profanity in some form. It is important to understand that the developer was taking a serious risk in releasing the game like this. However, I do believe he generated enough difficulty in the game that whoever beat it the first time deserved to dedicate it to whoever or whatever they wanted. (EDIT: Thought about this for a while, and decided that  it’s possible that whatever is posted would conform to the environment of the game. It would create a new environment and give a new meaning to the game, but it would said new meaning in a manner congruent with the aesthetics and mechanics of the game. Both would be redefined, and definitely not be horrible.) I honestly would love to see more games experiment with win-conditions like this. Perhaps making it less about who beats it first (Because most people haven’t had the chance to hear about the game yet, so now that it’s beaten there’s hardly any reason for them to even try it.) to dedicating individual copies of games (I would love the idea of renting or buying a used game and being told who it was dedicated to). Or releasing a ton of small games online that could be dedicated. It’s a new and wonderful idea.

Aftermath

•July 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment

5 Word Synopsis:

Depressing Mario Post-Apocalyptic Platformer

Where to get:

http://gamejolt.com/freeware/games/platformer/aftermath/2168/

The Things That I Say:

This game is fairly difficult, and in terms of game play is no where near as Zen as the original Super Mario Bros. What we’re here for today is the atmosphere. In previous Mario games, the art direction has taken a light-hearted approach, using cartoony effects to make the game appealing. Super Mario 64, Galaxy and the like are all filled with adowable little animals as well as the cheerful over-accented voice of their hero.

Aftermath takes this bright history and turns it upside down in an instant. The Mushroom Kingdom, rather than undergoing their biweekly princess loss, has been bombed into virtual (*ahem*) oblivion. There are no enemies, only a hostile landscape that Mario tries to navigate, in order to escape from the crater he has woken up in. Dark music, played out mostly in deep tones, reinforces the murky pixel coloring.

Instead of the typical 5x lives and umpteenth continues that most Mario games have, Aftermath has only checkpoints. You die a lot, falling onto blood-covered spikes and into roaring flames. After swiftly dropping off the screen, you almost instantaneously reappear at the last checkpoint. Life is cheap in the aftermath.

Make It Good

•July 10, 2010 • 3 Comments

The call comes through. Of all the dicks; you get the call, sitting in the front seat of your car, hands shaking on the steering wheel. An urgent call; but all you were thinking of was the bottle in the liquor store and so that’s where you went first.

Now you’re pulled up outside the house. The rear mirror’s showing two steely eyes. You adjust your hat, stiffen up your collar and grab your badge off the dash. Here goes. You’ve one last chance to…

*  *  *  *  *

5 Word Synopsis:

Noire Murder Mystery Interactive-Fiction

What it is:

A quick start for those unfamiliar with the genre of Interactive-Fiction (IF). It’s those text based games. Yes, those. The ones that invariably make you tear you teeth out from frustration and lack of pretty pictures. For those who aren’t willing to deal without such luxuries (which is perfectly reasonable, believe me) there are only a few IF games that you should play. The interface of most IF games require text prompts to advance the plot, identifying commands through a text parser. The fiddly-bit is that unless appropriate events are programmed for a command, nothing will happen. This results in a situation similar to brute force hacking, you know what you want to do but the game. Won’t. Listen. And. You. Have. To. Try. Every. Synonym. Of. The. Word. You. Want. Add to this the fact that most IF games have only one way of winning, and you get a very confusing mess, with some notable exceptions.

So:

You’re a screw-up. An alcoholic. It’s been forever since you’ve actually solved a case, and this time your badge is on the line. You have until the end of the day to solve the murder, or you’re out on your ass.

This is a very difficult game. (For the sake of transparency, I haven’t beat this game. It’s way to hard for me.) If you want to play the game it can be found at: http://parchment.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/parchment.html?story=http://www.archimedes.plus.com/makegood.z8

Warning: The next bit contains spoilers (of a sort).

Why it’s Fantastic:

The first time I played “Make It Good” I lost within 30 seconds. I adhered to the IF rule of “pick up everything you can, because that random scenery item is the only way to open the door with the random scenery item-shaped lock.” So I picked up the whisky and knocked on the front door of Number 15, Broken Top Boulevard. A dashing lady named Angela opened the door, saw that I was hung over, and holding a whiskey bottle. She didn’t even give me the chance to show my badge, and it was over. Of course. No one wants a raging drunk all up in their crime scene. It makes sense. “Make It Good” has an in-game logic that actually makes sense. There is no rocket-jumping or “Fetch X things by killing Y thingies”.

The investigation starts like any other. Taking my time, trudging through the house, giving cursory looks into everyones’ underthings, interrogating witnesses about their favorite color, typical detective stuff. In most games that would be enough to uncover a vast conspiracy that points its bloody finger at the victim. Instead, my alcohol addled brain comes up with only threads suggesting something bigger. I know that the maid’s boyfriend supposedly suffered a sprain, but the medicine he’s been taking is fake. The windows that lead to the murder scene only opens from the inside, and they were apparently open at the time of the murder. The widow who found the body closed the windows, mussing up any potential for fingerprints. It’s possible to scale a trellis of roses to reach the crime scene through the window. There’s mud at the bottom, but no footprints. The victim was killed by a knife, but the only knife in the house has no blood or fingerprints on it. Ultimately, all of this leads nowhere. There’s no motive, no weapon, no eye-witnesses, nothing. So what  to do? I needed to find the murderer. If I can just solve this case… But there’s not enough evidence. Pieces are missing. There *should* be blood here, fingerprints there. If only –

Clunk.

I just need to pin this on someone. Someone’s fingerprints on the knife, incriminating footprints, the works. I sit down in the kitchen and begin untying my shoes. I take them of and drop them with an audible thunk. I gaze at the frilly shoes that sit on the bed.  *Sigh* I can do it. I can make it good.

It is that moment that makes this game wonderful. In most other games, there would be some incriminating evidence here and there, left out for someone to come snooping. That doesn’t work here. In other games, it wouldn’t even cross your mind that, as a police detective, you can mess it all up. You can botch the fingerprints, and swap murder weapons. Make It Good gives you the opportunity to experience freedom. Hell, if you want you can simply go crazy and try to escape. You can drink yourself into losing the case. Whatever you want. It certainly gets too complicated to solve the case within the allotted time, but that initial moment, when you realize that you can change everything, is solid gold.

Yes, I did just use screenshots for a text-based game.

Curfew

•June 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I know I usually post long ranty things about videogames but maybe I’ll change that to include some really short references to games I’m currently playing/awaiting.

Because Goddamnit, hardly anyone (sane) looks at as many free games as I do.

So Curfew. Made by the same creators of Bow Street Runners, a really good point-and-click adventure game about old-school crime immersed London (and this from someone who hates the guts of most point-and-click games). Also Rock-Paper-Shotgun is fantastic and their editor Kieron wrote this. It looks amazing.

http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/tag/the-curfew/

Additional Games:

http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/C/city-of-vice/game/bow-street-runner/game.html

Every Day the Same Dream

•June 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Made several months ago by Molleindustria, Every Day the Same Dream is a fairly typical as a “short existential game about alienation and refusal of labor. Or, if you prefer, a playable music video”. Every Day the Same Dream is a fine game, although it does have a rather narrow meaning. Where it excels is in the skillful presentation, which allows the player to reach their own conclusion through experiencing the game.

Go play it now:

http://www.molleindustria.org/everydaythesamedream/everydaythesamedream.html

Interesting, right? But again the only thing you can really get out of it (that I can see) is the futility of work, how much life sucks etc. etc. etc. (Not that those are small things, it’s just that I prize games that allow multiple interpretations.) I have only two things to say about Every Day the Same Dream.

Firstly, no matter how simple the game is, the implementation presents core values of existentialism in a five or ten minute play through. The only reason I’m so jaded about the topic matter is that I’ve taken a semester course in existentialism. Without even mentioning things so dry as Sartre and convoluted as Kierkegaard, Molleindustria does everything they did -in five minutes-. Of course that’s up to debate, but the point is that this game succinctly shows what words can’t.

Recently a small independent movie was made based on Every Day. It’s right below:

What I find interesting is that the movie actually does a worse job promoting the concept behind Every Day, than the game did itself. The movie is fine, and it employs fairly high production values, the acting (what there is of it) is good, etc. But the feeling of futility that I got when I played Every Day wasn’t the same as the feeling I got of watching someone go through a futile life. In the original game, I was the one who was forced to live out the dream, every day. I found myself on several days, in game, simply going through the motions that the game required of me, just because I didn’t know what I had to do next.

The movie tried to show the variation from day to day, whether the protagonist turned off his alarm clock, or turned of the TV, but that aspect is never really clear. In game, the realization that No I didn’t have to turn of the TV, No I didn’t have to turn off the alarm clock or talk to my wife was a whole experience within the game itself, which I found to be very satisfying and which the film never really touched. To “beat” Every Day requires an almost zen rethinking of the game world, in a similar manner to Mondo Medical (another day). Every day you step out into your elevator where an old lady tells you “5 more steps  and you will be a new person”.  One of the first alternative options that was apparent to me was the “Exit” at the end of the day. I took this on the first day, unwittingly committing suicide. Black Out. Well that’s it, I thought. Instead: The same old lady, waiting, with the words “4 more steps and you will be a new person” on her lips. The next four steps all involved re-evaluating some basic premise that the initial repetitive days set up. When I first met the homeless man and I broke out of the endless wake up-go to work cycle, I felt free. Note that in this whole discussion it was I who thought and experienced these feelings.

In the movie, I watched someone else feel these things. Certainly movie has its strengths but in this case Every Day the Same Dream was much more powerful as a game. It is this ability to make people experience things themselves that makes games a worthwhile medium.

Additional Article: The link goes to a Gamasutra article that talks about the concept of the fourth wall and how it applies to games. http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/4086/a_circular_wall_reformulating_the_.php?page=1

Dubloon

•June 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

As this is my first attempt, please excuse what follows…

5 Word Synopsis:

Pirate-Style Indie RPG/Puzzler

Where to Get the Game:

http://banov.blogspot.com/2010/06/dubloon-complete.html

The Developer:

Banov, with music by Prophecy

The Narrative:

Dubloon follows a pretty standard RPG MacGuffin style script. You want a Golden Treasure Chest and you are repeatedly impeded by the meddling Navy from exercising your Sea-God given right as a pirate to smear your finger prints all over the contents of said chest.

The Point:

To luxuriate in pirate goodness. It is here the game begins to shine. Rather than the archetypal MP (blah), there is now Alcohol, luck is now SWAG, and the game abounds with pirate-y type music.

So much SWAG!Traveling from island to island requires you to ply digital waters with cannonfire and canvas. Restorative items take the form of the appropriate piratannical items. By golly, there’s even a status ailment called scurvy! And you cure it with limes! All this combined with beautiful pixel graphics make the game exude a tangible charm.

My Point:

Three really.

  1. The pacing in this game is fantastic. Scores of other RPG makers could learn something from Dubloon. Not once was I forced to stop to grind against generic cave spiders so that I could defeat the next bastard standing in my way. At times the game could be considered too easy, as I had no trouble defeating ordinary enemies in almost every area, but that was no problem. In fact, the swift pace of level progression and the low difficulty of normal enemies made the game even more enjoyable when I reached bosses, at which point a real challenge was posed. Banov (the developer), unlike developers who seek a profit, did not have to “pad” his game with added hours. Dubloon is the exact length it needs to be.
  2. The one real problem I had with Dubloon was the interface. Dubloon is meant to be controlled with either a computer mouse, or with a keyboard, and ideally you would choose whichever one was more comfortable for you and get on with it. Sadly, this is not the case. Dialogue; item use and environment interaction is governed solely by the mouse. No problem, then, just use the mouse for movement, right? Unfortunately, the way that Dubloon’s User Interface is set up, in order to traverse from one area to another, you must click at the exact edge of the screen. However, often times clicking is not registered by the game and I was forced to return to the keyboard to leave the area.

    Again, not a large problem for this game, but it happened often enough to become a real issue.

  3. The integration of puzzles and RPG elements within Dubloon is both wonderful and disorienting. All of the boss battles have minigames worked into the battle, often used as a way to dodge an attack. In this way the gamer is forced to keep on their toes. In Dubloon, you actually need to pay attention to what happens on screen, as your characters wait for their turn. Imagine! At later stages of the game, however, these minigames begin to pile up at times when you literally have no time to respond. Rather than pause and wait for you to select your targets and actions in battle, the game continues, whether you have used up a character’s turn or not. As a result, I often would still be in the middle of selecting three or four characters’ actions and would be immediately be hit by an attack I hadn’t even noticed. The incorporation of these two elements certainly has potential, but the issue of complexity needs to be ironed out.

The (Brief) Conclusion:

Dubloon shines through its mechanics and production value, making it a solid game. (I haven’t done it justice.)