I Played Some Games in 2018

… And as usual, most of them aren’t from 2018.

Anyways, Brave Earth still isn’t out but instead of me being depressed about that, lets talk about games I played this year in no particular order!

Hollow Knight

I played this so early in the year I almost forgot about it. I remember looking at a map of this game and going “Eh. This doesn’t seem like the type of Metroidvania I like”. When I finally played it, my friend hour or so of playing “confirmed” this to me but I kept going. “This game is too much the original Metroid it’s too easy to get lost and lose all direction”.

… But that was the idea. And as getting lost led me to new and exciting places and as the game continued to feel really nonlinear the quality of the world design became more and more apparent. Things I thought were flaws were intentional and intentional things I thought weren’t to my taste I ended up falling in love with. It’s one of the few games that people compare to Dark Souls where I’m like… yes. Yes this is exactly it. A beautiful and lonely world with great NPCs and fun gameplay that might occasionally cross the line into ‘actually unfair’ but in ways that are forgivable. Absolutely loved this game and I wish it was fresher in my memory.


I was waiting for this game for years and years and years and years. Where I expected a fun puzzly metroidvania I really instead got more of a Cave Story-esque journey with punchy gameplay. The world is connected only enough to make it feel like one big cohesive space. Earlier screenshots of the game contained a mini map in the HUD that was removed because, well… the game just isn’t actually about that. Areas are “stages” that are just in or slightly off the path you want to go. It’s a big map not because you’re supposed to explore it but because it makes the world feel realer. And within this world is an amazing story with amazing characters, looking cutesy and light while being a depressing, cynical story about peoples inabilities to change, to heartbreaking consequences. All told by someone who can execute art, writing and doing his own music perfectly.

Sometimes you want your soul touching indie games to play like a Treasure game in between cutscenes and this game fits that bill.

Wonderboy in Monster World

As a side note to Iconoclasts, I played this as Konjak listed it as one of his influences of the game. Wonderboy is a strange game. I don’t think there is a single excellent thing the Wonderboy games do. Yet somehow they are oddly compelling. They feel like an action RPG demake back when the action RPG genre was in full swing. Simple grind and update mechanics, formulaic progression through cute, tropey environments, adorable art style… and yet it works. It’s like some kind of comfort food. You can feel it’s world structure in Iconoclasts too. Wonderboy gives you little reason to backtrack but the fact you walk everywhere makes the world feel whole.

EVO: The Theory of Evolution

If I were to pick a game of this year I would want to scream to the heavens about the most, it would be this. While not the best game — it is a very very flawed, old game — it was the most shocking and enjoyable find for me. This lovingly fan-translated PC-98 game is the turn based RPG prequel to the SNES’s EVO: Search for Eden. You can scroll down one post and read my whole review of this game but most importantly I was just SHOCKED at the sheer amount of quirkiness and charm this strange, surreal game had. It has that intangible ‘special’ factor that makes it important despite it’s flaws. So yeah go read that post and then download the game god dammit.

EVO: Search for Eden

Another side note game, I replayed The Search for Eden after The Theory of Evolution. What was once an amazingly quirky game felt simple and watered down compared to its PC-98 parent. The gameplay manages to feel slower than the turn based RPG it was based on and while more visually appealing, The Theory of Evolutions quadrant evolution system was more interesting and had more diverse choices. The only bad thing about The Theory of Evolution is it made me like Search for Eden a lot less. The Theory of Evolution has all of its strengths and more tolerable flaws.


I almost forgot about this because it hit so fast. As just a demo its hard to read into things too much, What is flaw, and what is intentional? The core chunk of the demo plays its story beats as an uncanny valley clone of Undertale in a way that we all know has to be intentional. It’s weirdly uncomfortable, offputting and curious. While the bits we’ve gotten to play have their great moments already (who doesn’t love Susie) the demo, by necessity is nothing but promises, building up to something that seems challenging to deliver upon. Looking back in the future I feel like this first release will either be completely vindicated or seen as warning sign for all the problems we’ll see in the finished game. Considering Toby said he built Undertale purposefully to make this game, I’m leaning toward the former.

Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999

This year I found some good NGPC games! Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999 is probably one of my favorite game names I’ve ever seen. The game itself is interesting. A zelda-with-guns pokemon crossover thing where you capture enemy souls, eggs and seeds and combine them to make new guns to level up and evolve. The game is sadly a little scant and repetitive and doesn’t have the longevity the designers wished it did, but it’s still an exceptionally charming game that is still fun to play.

It feels like the type of game where in a better world there would be a Dark Arms 2 which would be a classic and there would be forum posts asking “Hey is Dark Arms 1 worth playing?” “Its worth checking out but feels really dated and shallow by comparison” and then Dark Arms 3 would come out and everyone would hate it because it changed a bunch of stuff and removed a bunch of features from Dark Arms 2 and — well… yeah that sadly didn’t happen. The publisher never went inn this direction ever again and mostly made fighting games afterward. This would be a good game for some indie dev to shamelessly lift from to make something new and more refined.


The second good NGPC game I played this year is a weird Turn Based Strategy/Mech Customization game that is anime as hell. It also hits that “Final Fantasy Tactics” tone. It’s much goofier and does less of a a good job of it, but it gets some of that Gundamy ‘War is Hell’ stuff going on and executes it well in a few areas. This is another game that seems like it was a sequel away from being really great. The weapon variety does a lot but also leaves a lot on the table (there is no splash weapons). The combat, which involves selecting up to 8 moves in advance and predicting movements doesn’t have the enemy AI to make it as rewarding as it could be. But the game scales up well, limiting access to the “command chips” and amount of actions you can make until you are ready to zip around the map and blast things to hell. I still haven’t finished it but it is more a testament to the game. I’m still grinding end game content because the basic grind in this game is actually fun. Sadly it lacks the diversity to truly shine but it’s SO CLOSE.

Kerbal Space Program

Kerbal Space Program was both a joy and a frustration. I now look at the janky car wreck that is modded minecraft and go “wow, this shit is rock solid”. Like Minecraft, KSP suffers from the problem that well… there actually isn’t a whole lot -to do-. You can do cool stuff just to do them, but like with modded minecraft, having an incentive to build is fun! But oh my god the physics of this game make things so rough. Any mod that does anything interesting is a disaster. Vehicles on loading the game abhor the ground. Space stations decide ‘yes now it is time to shake apart (modded or unmodded)’ and the whole thing is just frustrating for the wrong reasons. I wanna be frustrated by my landers tipping over on the moon because I designed them bad and I suck at landing, not because the physics engine decides it wants to do whatever it wants.

I put a lot of time into KSP this year and enjoyed a lot of it, but eventually I realized I was spending more time trying to ‘fix’ quirks of the game then actually play it. Losing should be fun but it just isn’t in this. Though that said I did enjoy building and flying planes in it quite a bit!

IL2 Strumovik: Great Battles series

So after KSP I did a short stint in SimplePlanes which made me go ‘lemme get my IR headtracker gear set up again’. When Simple Planes didn’t support it I was like ‘hm, maybe I should install IL2: 1946’ and a few days later I kept just eye-ing IL2: Battle of Stalingrad, the first game in the newer IL2 Great Battles series. Now I got a new joystick and throttle and rudder pedals (after building a set out of an old joystick and wood which worked pretty well) and I’m flying around with no hud and learning real flight principles. This is hardly my first deep dive into hardcore flight sims (I did own 1946 and had a headtracker already)

While simulations aren’t very gamey, air combat has a lot of gamifying factors. The nature of ‘energy advantage’ and balancing things like radiator drag vs coolant concerns and other mechanisms are very gamey. A lot of fighting game-esque management of information happens in air combat. When I made my post about “Cleaning up your mental stack” someone came in like “Hey do you know about the OODA Loop??” which is fighter pilot terminology for what is basically the same thing. Flying a plane in combat has almost the same APM process as playing Starcraft, deciding between macro and micro decisions and always having infinite ways to optimize is you have the spare knowledge and attention. While not being inherently gamey, it appeals to the gamey side of my brain.

I won’t go into too much other detail. it’s a WW2 airplane sim focused on the eastern front and which is noted for unflinching realism and attention to detail. It doesn’t really have a lot of competitors. But whats important is that flying is hard and as such is -rewarding-.


Factorio: Jumped to this a bit once I got off the Minecraft train. Factorio gets the process side of Minecraft even better than modded minecraft by like a lot and it’s a lot of fun. My only problem with it compared to Modded Minecraft is it’s really narrow. Like Modded Minecraft gives you the space for BIG COOL PROJECTS but factorio really doesn’t. Part of the “problem” (for me, it’s not a design flaw) is that when you grow in Factorio the design is… very integrated. Everything is already connected. Modded minecraft often develops as a bunch of separate systems and ends with more and more interconnectivity and automation. Modded Minecraft your adding functionality and in factorio your adding efficiency. High end late game in some play styles seems to get more into ‘interconnected microservices’ territory but I’ve yet to pull that off.

Dicey Dungeons: What a fun little game! A spiked shield where even dice do damage and odd dice shield me? Big swords benefiting for big dice and daggers benefiting from lots of little dice? A cute little dice based roguelike that gets a lot of gamefeel out of spending dice. One of the games that softened me on my dislike of turnbased games lately.

Super Metroid x LTTP Randomizer: What a perfect combination of madness, finding flippers in Super Metroid and the morphball on Death Mountain. A very confusing, brain bendy randomizer that fits right into my core skills.

Dahna: Megami Tanjō: This game owns hard. Like it’s not the best game in the world — it’s a little janky at times — but it’s also just awesome. Your some cool blonde warrior woman whose helped by mythical monsters to fight a sorceress. The game starts with you just riding on a giant ogre and stomping on shit before you just run around wheeling around this giant big ol’ sword like a badass, blood everywhere. It has such an awesome early 80s anime vibe. One of the things I like about it that I respect a lot in games is the game is constantly different. Things happen because the designers wanted to do them. Things are reused in ways that make sense in story. Bosses you injured earlier on reappear with those injuries still in place. It’s not just platformer beat’em up formula, which makes it feel oddly special.

Final Fantasy IV: Pushing my newfound tolerance for turn based games again, I went back to a classic. I don’t know why, I just had a growing urge to. Also it’s relatively short. It was interesting to play this and think about how much of the world interaction stuff and cutscenes and all that were cutting edge at the time. It’s the JRPG stuff we all took for granted at the time. I also played the japanese version (translated, obviously) so I got to experience slightly more complicated mechanics which made the game feel a lot less primitive than the US “Easy Type” would have led me to believe.

Robotrek: This was a mixed bag! Robotrek was a game I loved as a kid. Building robots is fun! Sadly the game is super shallow despite its attempts not to be. But… it’s also a strange, quirky game with a surreal sense of humor. It was tedious until I found the tricks to cheesing it. Parts of it that seemed good in my memory were worse and parts I didn’t care about as a kid held up better. It’s a weird, gaming game (I mean.. it’s a Quintet game so no surprise) that probably could have been great with a little bit more thought and time on the mechanics side of things.

E.V.O – The Theory of Evolution

Image result for evo search for eden

E.V.O: Search for Eden (Known in Japan as 46 Okunen Monogatari: Harukanaru Eden e) was a strange game. A lot of us have very fond memories of it, but it’s also kinda… bad. Just… shallow and really grindy. But by god was there some weird, quirky goodness to it. The game was charming in a way that made it easy (or… easier) to overcome its faults. I’d jokingly call it “One of my favorite games that isn’t actually any good”. But all the elements of Search for Eden came together to be greater than the sum of its parts. The Evolution (even though there wasn’t really any REAL decisions), the weird quirky writing, the strange alternative history aliens and bird men or whatever… the weird way it’d be sincerely sad or dark. It was one of those things where just… as an experience, it was really compelling. Even if grinding for EVO points was kinda boring…

For the last few years I’d been vaguely aware of  46 Okunen Monogatari: THE Shinka Ron, a PC98 game that was the predecessor to E.V.O: Search For Eden. But it was in Japanese and was a turned based RPG (which I have a hard time stomaching now) and was on a tricky to emulate platform. But as time went on, more and more weird screenshots would come out from it and I’d wonder “What is the deal with this game???”

Fortunately the fine folks at https://46okumen.com/ made a beautiful translation.  Localized as E.V.O: The Theory of Evolution, the game is an expert translation that contains all the joy and weirdness of the SNES game. In fact, it’s… even more Search for Eden than Search for Eden. This is a strange game, taking the alternative history and weird tangents of Search for Eden to another level. it seems improbable to say, but I feel like we got the much more… normal game of the two.

The RPG nature works to this game’s favor. The writing and weird scenarios was a strength of Search for Eden. The RPG combat is… basic. Basic to both be a flaw and s strength. It’s pretty brain dead but, with text speed set to 0, grinding and fighting become… brisk.  There aren’t really any boss fights either. There are no random encounters either. Enemies wander the world map and often disappear from areas after awhile. There isn’t a lot of friction to exploration and backtracking.  All experience gained can be spent immediately on either Attack, Endurance, Vitality or wisdom.

The incredible part of the design  is… it’s hard to do this wrong? In almost every game there seems to be ‘the suckers strategy’. “Oh never put points into wisdom!” or whatever. But everything is good, it’s just a matter of priority. Would the foes coming up be better with more strength or more health? Even wisdom which might be the least useful influences the power of your healing abilities which can be incredibly good. So while the game pushes you to be an all arounder, it allows you to influence yourself by which way you move on the evolution chart. When a stat is raised to its limit, you evolve and the limit goes up. So maybe you want to level up all your attributes, but you always max out attack, pushing you toward more damaging evolutions. Or more defensive or whatever. And they all seem viable. There are certainly better evolutions but the game is never so demanding that it matters. Instead it’s fine to mess around.  Infact if you evolve off the chart (see the evolution chart picture) you can get odd “bad” endings.

The story is surreal. The translated manual includes timelines talking about Interplanetary wars with the Devil, the death of “The Fifth Planet”, Martian coups by Anti Devil Factions… all this while The Earth is still developing oxygen. Oh, also The Devil is hot and does the anime noble lady laugh. Seriously. The second sun, Nemesis, messes with evolution, Lunarians found and sink Atlantas. You can skip mammals and evolve into POWERFUL LIZARD MEN until becoming a gnome. It’s a weird, brisk experience that only gets tedious when you aren’t sure what the game wants from you… which almost always involves ‘talking to an NPC’. “But I wanna push this boulder” yeah okay you gotta talk to the NPC that will give you the idea.

It’s a wild game that goes farther and deeper than anything in Search for Eden, overlapping with sci-fi and fantasy elements as if they were just… normal. It’s funny when it needs to be funny, sad when it needs to be sad, creative in ways you won’t expect and… oddly affecting, emotionally, even when you barely have spent time with the characters in the game. Is it a shallow gameplay experience? Yes. But I hate jRPGs and I loved the hell out of this game so if you’re tempted… try it. I feel like you’ll know pretty quicky if it’s a game you’d like. For me though, this is the exactly the type of charming, obscure game I live to find, even if it’s a genre I don’t really care for. Just be sure to set Text Speed to 0.


List of… games I… feel… ways about in 2017?

This was a weird year in gaming for me. I played all of one game released in 2017. The bulk of the year was covered by weird hacks and modded minecraft, as well as the usual slurry of bad games. I don’t want to frame this as ‘best of list’ because while I like… most of these games, it’s honestly more ‘games I remember playing that I have some thoughts about. Anyways

ss_a3ddf22cda3bd722df77dbdd58dbec393906b654-1920x1080Stardew Valley

What a lovely game. Due to a lot of Zachtronics stuff and modded Minecraft I got a little bit of a taste for a slower experiences again. The farming was alright, but the characters were super lovely. The game had very simple but effective writing that had me change my choice for Farmer Naomi’s wife multiple times. Even the characters on the bottom of my list were great. The only issue I had was… and honestly I didn’t notice it much because I wasn’t going for that content… that the guys were lame. Shane had a great arc that got me to befriend him, but the rest? eh. Also that super simple fishing game was so fun.

Biggest issue with the game was the lack of an end game. I feel like randomized goals in the style of the carepackages would have been lovely. But on well, you can’t play every game forever.

Momodora: Reverie Under The Moonlight

I played this on my flight to Japan since I was going to meat Rdein and the game was on my list for awhile. The level design of it had this lovely Demon’s Souls meets Knytt Story feel to it. The map they made for the game was lovely and the world felt tangible and sensible. It had a very Japanese-esque style without being generic anime. It had lovely but simple combat. Just one of those games that’s just… simply solid and good? Just a game with a lot of soul.

Getting Over it with Bennett Foddy

Foddy is a cool guy I’ve gotten to hang with a few times. Just… smart and funny and of course he makes real assholish games. But I found Getting Over It to be the least frustrating. It, more so than QWOP or GIRP became zen like to me. I just let go of any stress immediately. Progress didn’t mean anything until the job was done. I didn’t get mad or frustrated once. It was all zen. And Foddy talking philosophically about the nature of art and hard games was wonderful and a lot of it really resonated with me. A pleasant experience for a masochist.

Also this is the only game I played this year that game out in 2017. Yikes!

Metroid Rogue Dawnrogue_dawn_set03_kraid_zps56b8888a

What a flawed but lovely game. This is a game I wish I could get a physical copy of (it’s just a little too expensive). This romhack has a lot of rough edges but truly creates an alien planet. It also looks unlike any NES game. It’s gorgeous and just feels…. uncannily out of place, graphics from another time… Because, well, they are. I played this at the beginning of the year so a lot of details are lost on me but it was rad!

Super Metroid Rotated 90 Degrees

It’s what it says on the tin. Some parts of the game are tweaked to make it reasonable but for the most part it’s for crazy bomb jumping and walljumping nuts like me. It’s great to have something familiar yet different, where you can use your knowledge to help you, but it doesn’t ever quite help enough. Which also plays into…

A Link to the Past Randomizer

I played a Super Metroid Randomizer and some DS Vania randomizers bu the ATTP randomizer takes the cake. These are addictive.  In Super Metroid, finding a stash of items meant either, depending on difficulty settings, finding a stack of nothing or find a ton of great stuff, ATTP has enough diversity in its chest drops to make every chest feel like the pull of a slot machine. Every little trick gets you a little bit further and nets you a few more pull of the slots.

I even did entrance randomizer once because I hate myself. It was… something to be making diagrams in photoshop to figure out what goes where.

Sylvan Talesylvan-tale-04

A weird Game Gear Secret of Mana/Zelda clone thing? Certainly the only Game Gear game I have ever beat. Never released in America and oddly charming and good. If this was a GBC game released by Nintendo, it’d be one of those games people say is overrated. It hasn’t aged excellently but in its time it was surely wonderful. The game has a neat, curious world with a strange cosmology that, while nothing shocking, is just… nicely thoughtful. It has simple but memorable plot moments. It just plays -nicely-. Not excellently, but definitely nicely. Also you change forms and shit and its kinda annoying but it’s one of those weird gems that Sega fanboys would likely clutch close to their heart if it got a US release. But sadly, despite being a SEGA game, it did not.

I replayed Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Despair thinking Circle was the “okay one” and Boy was I wrong!

I didn’t remember either of these games being great. In fact, I remembered Harmony of Despair being downright awful and ugly and Circle of the Moon being… odd but playable…

Oh my god Circle of the Moon sucks. I know there was some article claiming it was secretly The Best Portable Castlevania, but it is just… awful. Bland in looks, bland in level design, tedious to transverse. The DSS system is garbage, saved only by the fact that you can use a glitch to use any card combination. Finding them in the wild? Fuck that. You move weird. You jump weird. You’re like a slug who can somehow jump 100 feet in the air. There are no items to pick up besides Health and MP ups so there is no real discovery — just tedious cleanup work to maximize your stats. The only things that don’t suck about this game: The monster choices are odd and there are a lot of them. A lot of classic enemies are replaced by oddbalsl like… archer wolves? Sure, okay, that’s better than just another skeleton. And some of the bosses are okay? Sometimes? Maybe? Even if Dracula sucks horridly.

Harmony of Despair by contrast was much better than I remember. And by much better it was “Okay”. I won’t be itching to replay it any time soon and it was a number of steps below Aria of Sorrow but it was.. fine? A little bloated and with a few advancement triggers that defy reasonable design but… it’s fine and… looked much better than I remember? Likely because GBA emulators are better about colors/backlight compensation so the game looked much less overblown than I remember. Hell at its best, it looks better than Aria, though Aria is just more consistent. Also it has a weirdass soundtrack. At first I hated it, but over time it oddly grew on me. The sample choices are weird but I guess kinda match the “Dissonance”? But the important is the soundtrack leverages these grainy, awful sounds in awesome ways. It reminds me of the horrible Demon’s Souls trumpets. They’re so bad. But so good. God I love them. Anyways here have my favorite HoD track.


Devil’s Crashdevil_crash_04

There is something captivating about this stupid pinball game. Naxat has a skill for making games just… feel nice. And they never got to stretch that muscle much but this pinball game from the guys who made Rekka is awesome. It just feels cool, has a lot of energy, lots of little subboards to find. It’s impossible to really explain. Just try it. I don’t know if, as a kid, I’d be down with paying full price for a single board pinball game but hey it somehow works.

Also known as Dragon’s Fury in the US, where it is on the Genesis rather than the PC Engine. Both versions are good. I feel like I slightly prefer the PCE version, but the Genesis version looks and arguably sounds better (which goes against my usual Anti-FM Synth bias). Also the main song is awesome.

Golden Axe Warrior

I can’t believe there is a Golden Axe game that is a flat up clone of Zelda 1. Like almost nothing tried to clone Zelda 1. It’s like a weird look into an alternative history. It’s not particularly -good- but it’s educational. Never beat it because my save corrupted but w/e.

This Fucking Thing

My uncle got me this weird crappy handheld thing for Christmas loaded with old NES games that is various minor tweaks of Super Mario Bros, Adventure Island and Contra, a few other random old shitty games and a TON of AWFUL chinese games made in the 2000s. They’re awful and awesome. I just load it up sometimes and pick a random game and groan at how bad it is… but a good groan. An oddly… exciting groan.

Modded Minecraft

I played a ton of modded minecraft this year. Too much, really. But the engineering you can do in modded minecraft is just wonderful. It’s weird because no other modded game I can think of regularly assembles mods under ‘mod packs’ (without it being a huge community drama thing). So you get these weird custom play experiences made up of multiple peoples work. The integration a lot of time doesn’t make sense but all things considered it works really well. Modded minecraft, with all its pipes and machines isn’t even the same game. It feels like a sandbox Zachtronics game or something.

https://www.youtube.com/user/kayinnasaki/videos I’ve been uploading base tours and stuff so if you wanna get an idea of what I like doing, that’d work. But yeah, it’s oddly infection. Sometimes I worry it’s slowed down BEP but then when I cut myself off I just refresh reddit for 4 hours, which honestly is a huge downgrade. JUST GOTTA WORK ON MOTIVATION, SEE YA ALL NEXT YEAR.

That Video of that Journalist Failing at Cuphead

Watch the first minute and a half of this. Have a laugh! It’s okay to laugh! It’s pretty painful to watch. You’re getting a glimpse into how it feels to be a game designer watching playtesters.

So we all on the same page? Alright. So there has been a lot of discussion about this video online and I’ve been spouting off thoughts on twitter and I feel like I have enough to put them all down in one place. First, the boring one for me.

Don’t Games Journalists need to be Good at Games?

No. Absolutely not. “But if someone was bad at understanding movies or only watched kids movies, would you want them to review stuff?” Not the same thing. It’d be like saying only people who played in the NFL could comment on and critique NFL play. Which some people say, but most people agree is stupid. Knowledge and expertise do not necessarily imply skill. Also the consumer of game reviews are not necessarily great videogame players. For the average gamer, the opinion of an expert is just as far from their perspective as a poor player. Even with levels of play THIS poor, it’s important to remember that Platformer skill is a niche skill these days and nothing I’ve heard indicated that the player wrote a review or anything based off this. A journalist was just bad at a game. If you made me say, play a moba or a console FPS, I’d look like a jackass too, probably. Maybe not as much of one, but still. Maybe you don’t want someone who’s bad at a genre to review a genre (unless that’s the point of the review) but that isn’t the discussion people are having.

Not only is it okay, it’s BENEFICIAL. If every reviewer was good at games, whole areas of concern and accessibility would go completely unaddressed. More voices give more variety and more insight. You can argue about how those voices are used or w/e but they should absolutely exist. It’d be like saying ‘only great players should test games’ which is obviously absurd.

On Testing, and on the Game Design Perspective

So while everyone on twitter was burying this guy for being awful, pretty much every game designer I knew who was talking about it was like “okay but how do we make the TUTORIAL better???”. A lot of non-devs were like “WTH???” because to them it was like “Look this guy is CLEARLY bad and clueless it’s not the game’s fault.”

First things first. Even a complete knucklehead can teach you about your game. Bad players can teach you TONS of stuff. You might be like “Well why fix something to help people through who won’t be good at the game anyways?” because yeah, perhaps this guy wouldn’t be able to get far. But improving things like how the tutorial works improves things in little nice ways for everyone.

So what’s wrong with this tutorial?

It’s mixing elements really quickly. You have a dash you haven’t been asked to use yet and you have to jump, dash, and do so off a rock that isn’t a part of this  section but is an obstacle for the last. Also you gotta do this pretty strictly at the peak of your jump. Some people made fun of him dashing into the pillar over and over again but in tons of games that’s actually WHAT YOU DO. Dash into things to break them!

Now most experienced players can figure this out, but if you can make things nice and clean… if it doesn’t take that much more effort, why -wouldn’t- you do it? Some people protested like “Well, it’s not fair to make devs compromise their creative vision for bad players!” Lets ignore the fact that, like I said, most devs were already all about how to make this better, who’s CREATIVE VISION involves a really quick tutorial segment? “JUMPING OFF THE ROCK IS FOUNDATIONAL TO THE MESSAGE OF THE GAME!” I’ll just tell you right now, I don’t know the Cuphead guys and I don’t know if it’ll be different in the final version, but I can tell you it’s not an important part of their vision. But what if it was?

Working on BEP I used to have real old school castlevania jumps. No air control at all. But then I had some friends test it who aren’t that great a platformers. One of them I saw struggling to jump up on things. They’d neutral jump and then try and press forward to get on platforms. And they’d do this over and over again. Pressing forward and jump at the same time from a stand still didn’t come naturally to some players. Walking to and jumping over a pit, sure no problem, but it screwed up their vertical platforming.

Obviously I didn’t want to compromise my vision for my own game but sometimes you gotta ask yourself “What IS your vision?” Was my vision “No jump control?” No. but I definitely wanted a jump that had weight and commitment behind it. I didn’t want the player to be nimble in the air. I wanted a slow, deliberate game. So I built up a jump to fit my needs. I gave the player a strong neutral jump — one where they could change to a forward or a backward jump arc at any time. Which was fun for dealing with projectiles. Then then for the normal jumps, I gave the ability to slow down or speed up a little. Jumps felt like braking while driving a heavy truck. The jump had character, but also fit my goals and ALSO fixed a lot of problems players had. So did I compromise my vision? No, I got a clearer understanding of my vision and executed it. Those changes also allowed for more challenging gameplay in later parts of the game so changing things for accessibility strengthened my vision and benefitted hardcore players in the end.

Ludologists need to Shut the Fuck Up about Narrative

Another day another ludologist trying to convince people that “Hey, actually, if you think about it, stories in games are actually bad???”. The exact article isn’t important because I feel like this exact same article has been posted by a dozen different people at a dozen different times. It’s all the same arguments every time and frankly, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Ludologists should do what they do best — discuss rules and how rules interact and what creates interesting interactions — because all of us who make games have our ludologist hat. If people can say interesting thing about rules that helps and informs are work, that’s GREAT. Generally they don’t because most people who label themselves ludologists seem to mostly argue very pedantic things or try and sort things into boxes, but it’d be a complete lie to suggest that somehow people concerned about the rules of play never said anything wise or enlightening about the rules of play and the less time spent in these horrible pointless sinkholes the better.

More frustrating is that most of the arguments made AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN are just plain bad. Some aren’t bad, though. Find one of these articles and someone will explain to you why games are less good at telling narrative than other mediums. They’ll tell you that your choices come at the direct cost of being able to tell a crisp, perfect narrative. They’re not wrong — or at least, as wrong. So logically, why are we making stories in games? I’ve even seen someone say that designing games by thinking like this is science driven game design. “If logically we can say that games make less good narratives than other mediums, CLEARLY they’re bad.”

Well, this all comes to a single important fact that I feel like overshadows all other. Acknowledging this fact might actually be the post “Scientific” thing you can do on this topic. I really do think it’s this simple.

People like Narratives in games. They really really like them.

Like that’s it, end of story, folks! You have your hypothesis  and you can test it. There are plenty of ludocentric games out there.  We can look at how people respond to these things… and at the very least I’m pretty sure it’s clear that there is no great revelations going on. No one realizing “Oh man ahah this story stuff was so dumb I shoulda just watched Game of Thrones sorry Dragon Age”. You see two different kinds of games being played in two different ways.  You see stuff like streams that make it really weird. Like the first gut impulse might be “Ah hah! Consuming game stories as a linear fashion! People just want games to be movies!” but what’s worse than a games narrative? A game narrative presented as a linear narrative unchanged or edited. People get invested in these technically-suboptimal stories and then we go out of there way to watch someone else enjoy them so they can vicariously enjoy them again. People deeply connect and care about these stories. So this shouldn’t be “Why are you making narrative games when those are less good than ludo games?” the question should be “Wait, this doesn’t make any sense. We should be figuring out the unique things that games do that make these technically flawed narratives resonate so hard (This should be obvious to anyone who’s done story driven RP and got deeply invested in a plot that elsewhere would be a half star movie, but lets pretend this is a great unanswered quest).

A common eyerolling sentiment is that people were somehow tricked. AMBIGUOUS EGOCENTRIC GAME DEVS WITH CINEMA ENVY are forcing their shit on people. Or maybe it’s just CULTURE and we all just gotta realize this is bad so we can move on to planting farms on a hex map. Or maybe the PLAYERS ARE DECEIVING THEMSELVES which… is the stupidest argument (thankfully most people don’t go that far but I’ve seen it).

The thing is, humans make stories. They make stories with everything they can. They make stories with spoken words, written words, sung words, how about JUST notes? How about a single or multiple paintings? How about telling a story through a Rube Goldberg machine? We sit down and tell stories with our own choices and dice or just standing around pretending to be vampires with a GM that’s nothing but a glorified referee. Stories in videogames are something to be expected and is “Business as usual” for humanity.

Perhaps the stupidest of these ideas that come a lot is “Well why not a movie or a show?” as if that is such an easy choice. Let me choose this other thing I have little experience in that is notoriously hard to break into and can be far more expensive and DO THAT. OR about writing? or a comic? Or things that take a super intense level of skill in one particular ability you might not have and which has a work load that is hard to distribute? Sometimes you have the luxury of choosing your medium, but for most artists, there is one medium and that’s it. And for many of us, we just want stories in game format. I connect with stories in games differently than I can connect with the stories of movies. Undertale was a more important media experience to me than The Shawshank Redemption or really any other movie I can think of… and I’m not going to say that Undertale is near the level of execution and perfection as the best movies ever made… but that interactive element and the weight it could inflict on me gave it such a leg up over the competition that a game maker game programmed by a musician resonated so deeply with me. So if you ask gamers to list their favorite stories, there are going to be games in there that, when compared to their adjacent peers, make NO SENSE if you’re looking at story telling as just the quality of the narrative.

You can’t ignore this and claim that games without story are better. Because first, that doesn’t even make sense (You might as well argue that football is better than DnD and waste all our times in a more novel way) but also flies in the face of the fact that this format is deeply successful with a lot of people.

Favorite Games I Played in 2016

Year end wrap-up time, so lemme make a post like everyone else where I talk about my favorite games I played this year. As with every time I do this, I am ignoring multiplayer games and also ignoring release dates. I’m not a ‘zeitgeist’ gamer and I don’t put much importance on staying fresh with what just came out. I’m sure there are a lot of great games that came out this year that I will eventually play but I like bouncing around so for me, most of my favorite games in the years are games I discovered or just gotten around to. I also tend to play multiple entries in a series in a row, so to keep the list from being all King’s Field and Shadow Tower games I am going to block certain games up as one pick. Also no order outside that this a “Top 10”.

Devil Daggers

A game with just an absurd content to fun ratio to me. After 50 hours forcing myself to play Gungeon, playing Devil Daggers again was like reaching the surface after suffocating under water. The rush, the speed, THE AESTHETIC. Devil Daggers does not waste my time and hits all my buttons for iteration and improvement. The only problem with it is it is hard to play while doing other stuff. Back during spelunky I would pause the game constantly to do other things but Devil Daggers, like playing TGM tetris, is hard to go back to midway. The game needs your undivided attention. It also does get repetitious so its best as a ‘game between’ games but every time I load up Devil Daggers its like “Why don’t I play this more?”

Front Mission: Gunhazard

A lovely SNES gem that I would have adored as a child. Not as mechanically clever or with as good levels as Metal Warriors, Gunhazard still has an amazing feel to it, despite its repetitious nature and overstaying its welcome a bit. It feels a bit like a better EVO: Search for Eden. Even though I’d say Gunhazard is a good game while EVO isn’t (even if I still love it), it does have some of that samey grindiness. But the world and aesthetic and story and growth is awesome. Also its set piece moments are delightful. Really adored finding this game. Its high points were high even if its low points were low… but never so low as to push me away.

Infinifactory (As well as Shenzhen IO and TIS-100)

Usually I tell people I don’t like puzzle games that much. Especially hard puzzle games. A cute puzzle platformer can be fun and not overstay its welcome but stuff like the Witness where I’m trying to reverse solve an obtuse puzzle? I really could care less. But Zachtronics doesn’t make those kinds of puzzle games. His games remind me of The Incredible Machine, or bridge builders or, in a sense, Carnage Hearts. Puzzles where there is no ‘trick’ and no ‘the solution’. Puzzles which are about creativity and expression. I actually adore those kinds of Puzzle Games and in fact, that’s part of what I like about making games. So when I played Shenzhen IO I went back to play a bunch of Zachtronics offerings (no Spacechem yet, but I’ll get to it). Shenzhen and TIS-100 like like series of those rewarding “Ah-ha!” moments of fixing my games but without the same stress or stakes. Infinifactory appealed deeply to my love of spacial interactions. I wish I could do this in something like minecraft and have the things I make actually matter. I loved going back in all these games to just do better and beat my friends.

Infinifactory also had the most developed story and progression through the games I played. Its surprisingly interesting and fleshed out and the themes the games areas have match perfectly with whats going on in the story. Perfectly put together and wonderful to play.

Klonoa 2 (and also Klonoa)

What a wonderful pair of games! Klonoa 1 was delightful if a bit ages but Klonoa 2 was just… better in every possible level? The way the mechanics ramp up up, the way the level design was perfect, the art style, just… everything. There isn’t even much to even say. Klonoa isn’t one of those games that does something novelly or has something that makes it stand out. Klonoa and Klonoa 2 are just amazingly solid platformers and perhaps the only “Mascot Platformers” besides Mario that don’t suck. Why must I live in the Dark Timeline where people think Sonic games were ever good, but few people have played Klonoa?


Inside is on a lot of peoples lists! This is just a wonderful, solid, well put together game that shows a ton of craft while also being a much better execution of the gameplay found in Limbo. Inside builds up its world, it builds up its mechanics, it ramps up its puzzles in ALL the right ways. Appreciation of Inside is like the appreciation of pure craft in a game. It’s not the most interesting, its not the most that filled me with the most wonder or made me feel the most accomplished or anything, but it’s just GREAT.  Also as a fan of atmospheric story telling, especially in a platformer, this game shines. Also has one of the best surprises I ever had in a game — so maybe thats its best trait. Still, wonderful title.

Ori and The Blind Forest: Definitive Edition

A wonderful openworld platformer. I’d call it, more like Guacamelee, more of a ‘platforming Zelda’ than a Metroidvania, but I liked it a whole WHOLE lot more. Delightfully fast moving with awesome mobility options, great art and music and great setpieces. Amazing quality for what is technically an Indie game. My friend Matt tried to get me to play this FOREVER and it took forever but eventually it happened. Only complaint is I think in some of the setpiece moments were a little too Trial and Error-y for how the game felt like it should be? In fact, the game in general felt like it was a bit harder than necessary. Which was fine for me, only a few segments irked me, but I feel like my sister might get stuck on a number of parts even if she’d like every other part of this game.


I never thought there would be a time when there was a lack of good, dumb FPSs but here we are and here is Doom. Doom was exactly everything it needed to be, fun and actiony with ridiculous weapons and hordes of enemies. The aesthetic managed to be dark or hellish without being grimdark or lightless. One sad bit for me, though not THAT sad is the game has more of a… Serious Sam model than a classic Doom model.  In most cases, enemy positioning doesn’t matter because they’re all so mobile, so much fewer areas have interesting usage of enemy placement or just ‘hallway enemies’, which is apparently for a number of technical reasons. But that’s fine, because they still managed to make a great game and the times they did work out smaller encounters or interesting enemy placements, it felt great.

One minor complaint, even though it’s not terrible in this game… I’m sick of weapon upgrades and trees and stuff? Doom gives you enough stuff to max everything out but still, I hate making blind choices for skills and weapons when I’d rather just be given cool toys to play with when the designer thinks I should have them. Again, wasn’t a huge distraction since Doom was generous about it, but it just also felt completely unnecessary.

Shadow of the Colossus (And Ico)

Finally got around to playing these on the PS3 and both were just wonderful. They had their rough  points but I was engrossed in both. Ico in particular had some puzzles and timing things which were like… man… who let this happen? Who thought the water wheel was okay? Probably rushes with development or something. Ueda’s game just make you feel so.. intimate with everything in the world that despite all the rough edges, they’re delightful.

Shadow of the Colossus was my favorite of the two. The port had some rough edges — mostly making the overworld look like ass and ‘european’ shaky difficulty — but even when the game frustrated me or felt a little like a chore, I was still hungry to always go back to it. If a colossus wasn’t fun, perhaps the next one would be (and usually was). The weight of your actions in the game, both gamefeel wise and thematically just made it all have an impression on me. The fact you had to hit the button twice to stab something just screamed ARE YOU SURE? Even when the controls frustrated me I felt like they were how they were for a reason. Agro felt like my buddy, not a vehicle, and that feeling was more important than my ability to drive him around like a racecar.

I look forward to finishing BEP, getting a PS4 and catching up on a lot of modern games. One of those is definitely The Last Guardian.

Shadow Tower Abyss (and all of From’s older King’s Field-esque games)

I can’t believe I liked all these games as much as I did. You can read those earlier in my blog. But the game that surprised me the most was Shadow Tower. Shadow Tower had some weird magic to it and while it had its problems (desperately needed an Auto Map) it captivated me. Shadow Tower Abyss just went totally wild though. Running around with an AK-47 while wearing a roman legionary helmet and samurai armor withe a boardsword on your pack was just wild. The aesthetic of the game is strange and alien. The gamefeel for first person melee was INCREDIBLE. King’s Field 4 finally made FPS melee tolerable, Abyss made it WONDERFUL. The only problem with Abyss for me is it ends very weakly. The game felt a bit unfinished at the end. Also the translation is terrible… though on the other hand, maybe the terrible translation adds to the alien feel of the game?

Anyways these games surprised me in so many ways and Abyss surprised me the most.

 Nuclear Throne

If I had to say something was my Game of the Year, well… it has to be Nuclear Throne. Just by sheer playtime it has to be.  Nuclear Throne is a game that knows what its about. It’s a game that knows what an interesting character mechanic is and how interesting mechanics can chain together. It understands how to make content that new players will approach cautiously and experienced players can play through like a bat out of hell. After my Gungeon rants, it kills me that it was inspired by Nuclear Throne because Nuclear Throne GETS player engagement and it gets scaling difficulty and it gets game feel and it gets respecting the players time. It gets that there is more to enemy design than rings of bullet hell projectiles. It gets that the layout of an arena can lead to real strategic choices.

Nuclear Throne is like an F1 Racer where you can play so fast and so hard and so aggressively that you can blow yourself to bits if you don’t know how to control yourself. The only bad thing about Nuclear Throne is I DESPERATELY WANT TO GIVE YOU MORE MONEY FOR AN EXPANSION PACK WHY — WHY WON’T YOU DO THIS TO ME I LOVE THIS GAME SO MUCH

Games I Played in 2016 that I have like… a thought about?

Downwell: I wish this game had more to it because it was great until I beat hard with every style and then it was boring. :(

Super Mario Galaxy: This game was way less good than people lead me to believe though I guess it was alright.

Enter the Gungeon: I now know its not the worst games that make me the maddest but the games that brush so close with greatness

Battle Garegga: I don’t know why I’m still trying to learn this game

Battle Arena Toshinden on the Gameboy: This game is stupidly fun for no reason and has a great ringout mechanic

Pokemon Go: I haven’t played this in a month and I feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Actually maybe what makes me the maddest is successful games with REAAAAALLY talentless game designers?

Mario Run: Like… this was pretty good? More levels pls?

Besiege: I hooked my joystick and a mod to it and then I made an airplane with proper control surfaces and tried to beat every stage with it despite the awkwardness in trying to do so and mostly just ended up crashing over and over again. 10/10

Owlia: An actual NES game to play on my actual NES! Was a real sweet, cute game with just a few dumb puzzles that made me mad.

Pico-8: This is my new ‘happy wheels’ and I really should make something on it.

Big Sky Troopers: This game is also like EVO in that its complete horse shit only I still liked it in fact it’s more EVO than EVO because its EVEN MORE HORSEHIT but something was charming about it and I finished it because I’m dumb?

Glittermitten Grove: I like fairies okay

Enter the Gungeon

I really really really wanted to play as much of Gungeon as possible before writing this. I wanted to at least clear one Past… or maybe even hell. But 50 hours in is far too long to spend on a game I don’t like, so here we go.

The internet view of Gungeon is a strange thing. As a huge Nuclear Throne fan, Gungeon would get recommended to me regularly. It’s hard to find someone saying a bad word about Gungeon. But when I started complaining on twitter about all the things I hated about it, people tweeted me in droves to agree. That took me by surprise! Only one follower stood up for the game and in very polite, understanding terms. You see tons of people play almost nothing but Spelunky or Isaac but… Gungeon doesn’t seem to get that kind of attention from casters and “single game hobbyists” (people who play various games to death forever). Some people like the game, of course, but so many seem to be… silently disappointed with it.

I think this is because Enter the Gungeon is a game that makes you want to like it. Its charming, its beautiful, a lot of design thought clearly went into it, there are little details everywhere. Who wants to trash a game with so much love obviously put into it? I imagine most people silently stop playing it. “I’ll get back to this eventually”, remembering its good bits fondly without quite realizing that the repetitive grind that is the game got old really quick.

Despite all its charm and its whacky guns, Gungeon is a game that has most of its fun seemingly carefully designed out of it. Not because I think the devs don’t like fun, but because I think they had another concern. They were afraid of their game being too easy.

Being afraid of being too easy should not be confused with “wanting to be difficult”. In fact, the most difficult parts of the game — the end half — are by far the best parts of the game. By a lot! But its fear of being two easy damages the player’s ability to access this fun and taxes them deeply in time to get there.

Gungeon is SO SLOW.  I was going to say the game was “too long” but that wasn’t quite accurate. Still, Getting to the 5th chamber is a 40-50 minute affair. Getting through the first chamber is easily a 10 minute affair. While not a fair comparison (different game, different standards and different levels of skill), its interesting for me to think that in the time it takes for me to beat the first chamber, I can be fighting Little Hunter in Nuclear Throne. Is that bad? Certain games have certain paces and that’ s fine. But what am I doing in that first 10 minutes of gungeon? Just… circle strafing enemies. For ever. Nothing is that scary, but everything has a ton of health (we’ll get to that). Its like washing a floor. Its not hard, but it takes time and it can be so monotonous . And its like this for the first three chambers.  The second problem is, you can’t auto pilot it because resources are generally so tight that losing health will punish you later in the long run. The game is less generous than any version of Isaac. You also get health up for being bosses without getting hit. These are so essential that a slipup often can mean restarting if the game wasn’t generous to you elsewhere. Which is rarely is.

Usually to bust up monotony, you have awesome items and maybe classes to spice everything up. The characters in Gungeon are…. spartan. To hear the game was inspired by NT blows my mind because none of the classes or items are as interesting as anything in NT (maybe the two unlockables are, but come on). You have a Marine that…. is more accurate and has more armor… The “Convict” who has some crappy napalm and does more damage when she gets hurt (which is always a boring ability), The Hunter, who has a crossbow and a dog who finds items and… The pilot, who can pick locks and have a second active item. The Pilot is the only of the 3 who feels meaningfully different while the Hunter in my estimation is  the best of the other 3. In practice, they all mostly play the same. They even all start with similarish-but-not quite pistols. Just deeply and disappointingly similar. They all circle strafe shooting enemies the same, they all roll the same and besides some details here and there, provided with similar weapons, they approach rooms mostly the same.

And the guns themselves? Mostly the same. Few things are wild or exciting. A gun that shoots a spread of fish isn’t meaningly different from a shotgun outside of DPS. Its fun, but in a superficial way. Most of the weapons with funny gimmicks don’t seem that good. The game seems afraid of making any gun too good. Nothing like in Isaac where things go your way and you absolutely melt a boss.  Maybe a 2-3 minute bossfight will become a 1-2 minute bossfight.

The items are equally bad. Very few of them are at all interesting, most of them taking on things like “slightly more accurate” “More damage but more spread” and most of the good ones rely on ridiculous synergies to pay off. Some cool items, like the Gears of War style Active Reload should probably have been on the Marine or some other class. There is some cool stuff, but the game is so stingy you barely see it.

Yeah, the RNG in this game is terrible. Both in how auster it is, but how it applies to everything.  The game has color coded chests that tell you the quality of the loot inside, two per floor. Each takes a key. But why anyone would spend a key on a brown chest is beyond me. You can see any color chest on any floor but your odds for better loot improve as you get deeper in the game — as it should be… but you can easily get almost to the end getting nothing but crap chests. Unlike Isaac, the guns don’t stack — you’re only as strong as your strongest gun… and any early gun is ridiculous inaccurate considering the limited ammo and health of the enemies. Due to how samey the guns are, instead of each round being EXCITING AND DIFFERENT most of the time it is ‘different DPS and RoF’ the game unless you pick up an exception. “How about this gun! When you reload it does a Melee attack!” “AWESOME I LOVE MELEE” “but it has no range and doesn’t do a lot damage.” “Fuck you Gungeon. Fuck you.”

Other things are stingy too, leading to a fucked up economy. In Isaac, you have keys, health and bombs with tons of options to turn each in to the other. in Gungeon you have keys, health and guns… But almost nothing allows you to spend health as a resource, and your ability to capitalize on a stash of guns is random. You can sell them to the shop creep but the shop creep, FOR NO GOOD REASON only sometimes randomly appears in shops. You could feed guns to a mulcher to combine them into a fresh new gun with ammo but they’re uncommon too. There are rare shrines to convert guns to ammo or health but they’re rare and the shop…. usually is only good for buying keys, health and ammo (one and awhile it’ll have something good, but the chance of you having enough money at the same time is rare). At this point I question why the game even has keys. Keys are only interesting when you have to make hard or clever decisions, while most of the key decisions in Gungeon are pretty obvious. I guess you have the Lock NPC that can make them a little interesting sometimes? I guess?

So yeah, everything has way too much health. A basic enemy takes 3-4 shots to kill with your basic gun and the larger Shotgun Shell guys many times more than that. These are things that bumble around and shoot slowly. So you just kite around blasting them forever… That… isn’t very fun.  And you do room after room of this and as the game goes on, basic enemies get MORE health. If you don’t get better guns, the amount of tedium becomes outrageous. To quote my good friend Kicks. “That game just needed to double the damage on all the guns and cut the ammo by half”. I might actually enjoy that version of Gungeon!

Even the basic first level bosses are bullet hell nightmares with no real strategies to build up to face them. This might sound like a strange complaint but I’ve never “lamed out” Gungeon. The game seems really tightly designed to be almost… anti strategy. SHOOT AND DODGE AND SHOOT AND DODGE NO WAY TO LAME OUT THIS BOSS OR KILL IT REALLY FAST WE SPENT A LOT OF TIME MAKING IT AND YOU’RE GOING TO PLAY IT EVERY SINGLE TIME and if you get hit, sorry no health up get wrecked nerd. In theory I like that you can get rewarded for not getting hit by the boss but it has all sorts of repercussions, but lets focus on two. If I get hit by one of the first 2 bosses I feel like I should restart. After 10-20 minutes of playing. .. and secondly, they make me not want to use Blanks, the shmup style bullet clearing bombs the game gives you. Hey if I get hit during the stage, w/e, I’ll save the blanks for the boss because I can get GAINS. And then the game gives you items for buffing your blanks against enemies you’re probably never going to use them on until you’re like gdlk or something. Sweet.

The best way I can describe the early half of the game is some uncomfortable spot between boredom and engagement. Steaks are too high to be totally bored but nothing is engaging enough to move over to ‘fun’.

The enemy and boss design is stuffy. You fight them on their terms. THIS IS THE CONTENT WE DESIGNED YOU WILL NOT CHEAT IT unless you’re using the gimmicks we included, which mostly suck and don’t do a lot of damage (Okay, the rocks in the mine are at least okay for damage). The game is just player hostile. There is an enemy that buffs other enemies and gives them like five times more health or something unreasonable. And if you kill the spell casty dude after doing damage, none of that carries over to the enemy you shot. No fun moment where you kill the caster and the enemy it was buffing died. The cost for the shortcuts are ABSURD and often rely completely on luck. “Yeah get 120 shells and 2 keys :D” Yeah great I’ll get back to you when RNG likes me. Or building the bullet that kills time. I was down to just needing the primer and 20 minutes in I see I’m one shell short of buying it from the shop. GUESS I JUST NEED TO RESET THANKS GAME. These are all on their own minor points but they speak to the mentality of the game. “We don’t want to be too easy. This game is supposed to be hardcore.”

But tedious and RNG are not ‘hardcore’. Its difficulty but the most boring kind. This is why when you get to Chambers 4 and 5, the game sings! Interesting enemy interactions, big rooms with lots of features, tons of bullets everywhere, but a totally dodgeable amount. The game might be anti strategy or anti-ridiculous fun, but it can at least sing as some twin stick bullet hell. It can be stupid still and some of the enemies are unfun and unfair but EVERY game has shit like that and the thing that makes it suck in Gungeon is it too 40 minutes to get there and that 40 minutes is shallow, seeming hard only because the devs are either afraid of easing up or because they’re afraid of making areas they worked on for a long time appear for a short period of time. Maybe playing it with shortcuts would make it better but everyone says that’s a bad idea and unlocking the shortcuts is too much effort to be worthwhile anyways. Part of me is left wondering why the game is even a Roguelike. None of what is good about it stems from its procedural generation — in fact, they’re mostly its worst traits.

Gungeon is the most frustrating type of game for me. Its a game that isn’t good for a good reason. It has everything it needs to be AMAZING, but its some weird anti-gestalt, less than the sum of its parts. Part of me is tempted to try and mod it but I don’t know how well that would go…. and it would feel cheap. And I doubt the game could change much from how it is now. If the first half of the game was changed, the people who enjoy the game already would probably riot or something. So we get stuck with this — a roguelike a lot of people will speak fondly of, but one surprisingly few people love.

Pokemon Go is a fun game that does virtually everything wrong

So I’m still playing Pokemon Go. And I’m still enjoying it. Mostly what I enjoy is bike riding with a purpose and weird emergent social situations with just enough slot-machine randomness thrown in, but I’m still playing.

Still as I sit there thinking, I am just constantly taken back by the fact that this is a game that does virtually everything wrong in terms of nuts and bolts game design. TECHNICALLY the game is massively impressive, but it feels like a game designed by engineers and not game designers. The core concept of ‘pokemon but like… in the real world’ is GREAT. So great that it gets around a lot of their bad design. And some things are neat. Seeing a lure, going there and meeting people is cool. Some issues (no trading) are because the game is kinda half baked. it’s admittedly a Minimally Viable Product. But some things are just bad.

How Pokemon Spawn is Rubbish

“So like, pokemon spawn points are dictated by cellphone usage in areas and–” … like… why? “Because Ingress did it that way.”

I imagine a lot of problems are “because thats how Ingress did it”. But you have a spawn system that shuts out a huge amount of potential players. I can’t say its ‘for no reason’. There is osme inherent optimization that goes on here, but you can’t even give a logged on player a certain amount of spawns or something? Any decision here is likely a challenging one, but the one that makes a huge group of potential players have the game be virtually unplayable is clearly the bad one.

There is also no real reasonable way  to tell when you’re in another biome or make any real deduction about when you’re likely to get anywhere with different spawns or anything.  Even if something pops up on the radar, you have no way to really know. Water is about the only type of area easy to find. You could also do things like making sure every area has some non-trash pokemon and hide them based on level. So early game is a lotta Ratatta and Pidgy garbage but once you level up you get to see more of the local flavor.

Also how they level up with you is ALSO rubbish but we’ll get to that.

Tracking Pokemon is Rubbish

This is actually something that could be a non-problem is the way biomes worked was a bit more understandable and varied. But when something rare pops up on the radar, what do you do? You can be a crazy person and try a bunch of weird tracking methods or if you’re most casual people, you’ll just flail and fail with no direction or idea what you should do. When you’re only way to find certain pokemon is sheer luck, seeing them and failing to find them is frustrating, especially when you didn’t do anything obvious wrong.

Capturing Pokemon is Rubbish

Throwing pokeballs is great! I love it! But the actual catching mechanics are rubbish. First, the randomness is so high that nothing you do seems to affect anything. Even though Niantic said “Hey, small circles are good” people would say “Oh yeah small circle is like holding B in pokemon its a placebo thing” because there was no way to feel that you did anything good. You do the same thing, regardless of whether its a weedle or a Dragonite. Maybe you use different balls, but you have one strategy. Once you get ultra balls and get good at throwing, the only thing that separates you capturing a weedle and a powerful pokemon is luck. Luck is a part of pokemon but when luck is so high that no one feels their actions have consequences well… thats bad?

I can’t even beat up wild pokemon what kind of world is this

“Training” Pokemon is Rubbish

I find the fact this game gives you a Starter to be insulting. It’s cargo cult game design. The game is basicaly like “yo here are 4 candies.” … Yeah. Thanks. A little bit better now with the buddy system but the fact is still clear — you should NEVER, EVER, EVER DO ANYTHING WITH YOUR STARTER. Besides maybe use it as a buddy. And wait to find a better Bulbasaur or whatever.

Which gets to the problem that Stardust leveling is one of the worst, least player friendly systems in existence. Powering up a pokemon is something you should absolutely not do  until you’re at least in your 20s. You’re going to find stuff thats going to invalidate your old pokemon so fast. If you use your Stardust sooner you get to feel like a fool. If you evolve a 3 stage pokemon too soon, you feel like a fool. In normal pokemon games, you aren’t a fool for leveling up crappy pokemon — that’s all you got! This isn’t a resource your wasting.  Having a pokemon in Go is about being totally lucky. Once you’re totally lucky, you spend your resources and you have what you want. This not only is unsatisfying and undercuts one of the larger appeals of pokemon (training and bonding) but also cuts the life of the game down. People complain about there being no end game in Go and thats because there isn’t really much of a sensible need to build up a team, nor mechanics for prolonging the development of a pokemon. “Well, catching is like battling and you can just apply XP retroactively” sounds like its the same but maybe even better, but its basically totally worse.

Battling is Rubbish

Like throwing balls, capturing gyms are fun, but the actual act of battling is not. First, battling is massively unaccessible. There is no way for lower players to compete. They’re tyrannized by powerful players, shutting people off from trying a whole different part of an already thin game. And battles aren’t interesting. You have a huge attacker advantage and can brute force so much stuff. Attack and dodge attack and dodge. Nothing has any utility. There is no reason to try and do clever type counter things or have certain pokemon on hand. You widdle down gyms one pokemon at a time, using the ones best for the job. It quickly becomes work.

Gyms are Rubbish

Terrible rewards, terrible mechanics. Getting in takes tons of effort and  how the game works encourages a mercenary approach of just throwing in strong pokemon and hoping no one even tries. There is no rewards for a successful defense, nothing for weaker players to do.  If I had to decide one thing to be changed it’d probably be the gyms (or the spawning). Just change it to have NPC battles, to have different leagues for lower level players and other stuff like that. Someone should be about to put a 200cp ratatta in there and I should not be able to step on it  with something 10 times stronger.

 Niantic is too busy fighting cheaters rather than designing their systems to be resistant to cheating… and.. uh… that’s Rubbish

If people could fight people closer to their own level, botters taking over gyms would be less of a problem. Why you would have such an aggressive pvp system in a game with high casual appeal is beyond me. Super players are just as disruptive as botters. By dealing with this on a system level and reducing the harm caused by strong players, you reduce the negative effects cheaters have on other players. So much so that you can’t even have a rooted phone or some chinese phones. If I was still on android I would have been furious. Even if I could still jump through hoops to make it work, that is still unacceptable.

Just tons of random Rubbish

Why are their no dailies or anything like that? Some people may be glad it doesn’t have them, but that’s the type of thing that gets people coming back. Why doesn’t the game do more while its off? Why do you need the watch? Why don’t have the push notification YO THERE A SQUIRTLE. Even if you have to do it as a step-tracker sorta random personal spawn thing, give players a reason to go back. ALSO why is the distance tracker so bad? I GIVE YOU MY GPS COORDINATES EVERY 10 SECONDS WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING.

Really in the end, the list of things Niantic has done well in a game design sense is… a very very short list.

BEP Blogpost Redux: Naomi


Name: Naomi Isabella Victoria vos Cruz
Age: 17
Race/Nationality: Aistorian Human
Height: 5’9
Occupation: Knight Cadet of the Holy Order of Saint Alistair


Offense: Strong
Defense: Average
Range: Average
Speed: Average
Mobility: Low

Now that Brave Earth: Prologue is getting closer to release I figured it’d be time to repost some old posts, only to update them to better represent the current state of the game and world.

Naomi vos Cruz is a young Aistorian noble woman, born the second and youngest child of the Duke of Leone. While outwardly a friendly, kind person, Naomi is both competitive and zealous, quick to give into impulsiveness and anger.

Tomboyish by nature and born a gifted athlete, Naomi soon followed in the footprints of her mother and joined the Sacred Order of Saint Alistair. While formerly a respected military force noted for it’s gifted women knights, time and attrition has left The Order a shadow of its former self, its remnants serving a more ceremonial role. While The Order’s few surviving veterans still dream of rebuilding it to its former glory, with most of the younger recruits being nobles sent there for safe yet prestigious military service, restoring The Order seems almost impossible.

Still, The Order was not without its serious recruits and pressure from them, as well as from their commander (and Naomi’s Aunt), Sabrina Brandt has lead to some concessions from The Church. Due to her family connection and natural skill, Naomi has been chosen as the first to go on a simple mission as one small test in evaluating The Order’s combat readiness. While the mission, the solo retrieval of an outpost report, is not much, it is an important first step.

Of course, once Naomi sees the Outpost burning in the distance, things quickly escalate.

Naomi’s weapons of choice is her mother’s bastard sword, a heirloom of the Brandt family, and a large kite shield. She is armored and durable, but is a bit lacking in mobility. Naomi moves at a steady, patient pace and has no directional control when in the air. She must move and attack cautiously.

Fortunately she has rather strong offensive abilities. Her basic attack is a relatively far reach slash with good damage and speed, but lacks any vertical coverage. While she can dish out high damage against a stationary foe, her basic attack leaves a lot to be desired. To compensate, Naomi has a special attack button which can be used to access 4 different attacks. By pressing the (C) button and a direction (Up, down, Left/Right or no direction). Naomi can unleash a variety of special moves, assuming she has enough energy.

Naomi can have a maximum of 20 units of energy, which she can gain by either killing enemies, or picking up energy gems. She may also find “Ex Orbs”. These orbs, which Naomi may only carry one of at a time, will power up one of her special moves, giving it new properties and allowing her to perform a special air attack. The nature of the orb can be determined by treating the individual symbol as an arrow (figure to the right), making sure you know which move is powered up.

Her attacks, in detail, can be found below.

Radiant Wave: Forward + (C)

Naomi’s Forward+C attack is a low powered, long range projectile While it does half the damage of her normal attack, it is relatively cheap and has a lot of range.

With the appropriate EX Orb, Naomi’s projectiles get cheaper, can be shot faster and can be charged up for large damage. She also possesses an air fireball that goes down at roughly a 45 degree angle. The attack’s recoil can be used to get Naomi to higher ledges.

Dust Striker: Down + (C)

Naomi’s Down+C attack is a ground slide. It is relatively slow, but has a large hitbox that stays out for the entire duration of the move, making it easy to time attacks with. It can also be used to slide under small gaps or under some projectiles.

With the appropriate EX Orb, Naomi’s Slide goes much farther, much faster and much lower. Her hittable area is greatly reduced and she can slide under many enemy attacks and through multiple enemies at once. Her air attack is a dive kick that does as much damage as her basic attack. When she hits an enemy, depending on the direction held she can either jump off and change direction. If she dives into the ground, her dive kick becomes a slide without costing additional energy.

Arc Divider: Up + (C)

Naomi’s Down+C Is an ‘uppercut’ style attack that hits a huge area above her. It’s slightly slow to come out, but hits an area that she could not normally attack otherwise.

With the appropriate EX Orb, Naomi’s Uppercut comes out near instantly. It also throws out a spinning projectile that flies in a parabolic arc as a secondary effect of the attack. In the air, Naomi somersaults rapidly with her sword out, dealing damage to anything that comes close to her, as well as giving her a slight boost in jump height.

Shield: Neutral + (C)

If Naomi presses the C button and no direction, she puts her shield up. Pulling the shield up costs energy, but it can be held out indefinitely. Absorbing projectiles with the shield causes fatigue though, with each shot slightly draining the energy gauge.

With the appropriate Ex Orb, Naomi’s shield becomes a parry. Instead of being able to hold her shield, Naomi must specifically time her parry. The benefit is that she can parry almost any damage source and is rewarded by recouping some energy as well as a long period of invulnerability. The parry might seem weak to the beginning player, but should be extremely powerful in the hands of an experienced player.

Overall, Naomi is Brave Earth: Prologue’s most balanced character. While she lacks the extreme strength the two other main characters have, she also lacks their extreme weakness and a very robust and flexible movelist.

King’s Field and Shadow Tower on the PS2: Some More Mini Reviews

King’s Field: The Ancient City

This probably the most fondly enjoyed and remembered of the old King’s Field games… and in a lot of ways it is probably the best one, but there was something lost in transition from the ps1 to ps2. The PS1 King’s Field had a strong, weird aesthetic. Even if that aesthetic was driven by their sheer ugliness and weirdness, they had them. Shadow Tower had a great aesthetic, period.  KF:TAC has no aesthetic. It’s amazing to compare the visual look of this game to Demon’s Souls to see what a little bit of ‘aesthetic’ can make. The game, if not for the consistency of the look, would be almost ‘asset store’ levels of generic. I would say monster design was never From’s strength in the early days, but Shadow Tower as loaded to the brim with the type of unique and interesting enemies that’d you’d see in later From games. Instead KFTAC are is loaded with ‘elemental xenomorphs’, probably a low point in their design for these types of games. Something about that and starting in an area filled with lava seemed like a ‘lets try and be cool for once’  thing that totally fell flat for me. Some enemies are kinda cool, some areas look all right, but nothing in the game ‘wows’. Only one point in the game was I ever like ‘THIS LOOKS SCARY I DON’T WANT TO GO THIS WAY’. The game was a consistent, flat tone most of the way through and make it abundantly clear to me how important those ‘wow’ moments are.

So why do people like this game? Well, the consistent, flat tone is pretty good! The game looks generic, but the details are there. Care for the world is there. The map for the world is -great-. This is definitely a game where I did not need a map to get around most of the time and when I did, the maps provided were… awfully flavourful and cool. You had what you needed to get around as you needed and basic navigation is simple. The “Central Tower” made for a great way to unify the map and the ways you slowly make your way down the tower made it feel less… contrived than Shadow Tower? Like all good Fromsoftware worlds, it felt like a place, not a level of a video game. Then you have all your interesting details. Zombie like enemies that release dark bugs as you kill them that scurry around the floor to hide… Heavily implied cannibalism… all sorts of warnings for traps with corpses and stuff. The type of stuff you’d expect out of a Fromsoftware game.

Combat is much better too. Enemies almost always flinch from attacks in KFTAC and your hitbox on your swings is huge. Larger weapons seem to have more range. Generally in this game, if you feel like you’re going to hit something, usually you do and then you get a good bit of feedback that you did. The old ‘circle and attack from behind’ strategy is not as braindead as it once was and not for any one reason. Enemies are designed with behaviors that let them move around quickly, or attack around them. So sometimes you’re trying to find an in so you can do the old ‘circle and stab’ strategy, other times you’re moving in and out and actively dodging attacks (something that works far more reliably in this game than previous games) and other times you’re scrambling around. Probably part of the reason you’re walk speed and turn speed are a little weak compared to other games. Combat in KFTAC seemed the first step in Fromsoftware figuring out a combat system with actual game feel and it helps the game A LOT.

The game has some annoying bits. It has the KFTAC teleportation system, but now you can only teleport on certain spots and they’re often decoupled from save points or even warp ports and it’s like…. I GUESS this could be interesting but usually it’s just annoying? You have a blacksmith that repairs equipment for free but with a REAL TIME wait like come on wtf, game. Also upgrades! Lets wait 2 minutes and use a rare rock to raise an attack stat by -1-. This game might have the most irritating ‘start’ of a King’s Field game, and no i don’t mean MINOR-SPOILERS which no, I did not MINOR-SPOILERS. The mine cave and the poison and the limited healing that early in the game. It’s not hard, it’s just… not fun. Also I never got to play around with sword magic because it all required you to get to ‘level 3 experience’ with a weapon which… doesn’t seem like something that’d happen in regular gameplay? Seems like a bummer to me.

So would I recommend this game? It ranks somewhat over King’s Field 3 for me, but it’s probably one of the most accessible, tolerable King’s Field games. It’s a King’s Field game I could recommend to people who aren’t crazypeople. It’s a game that pulls back from the excess and high fantasy of King’s Field 3 and creates something more intimate like King’s Field 2, just without the same charm. And, let me be real, as much as I love King’s Field 2, KFTAC is going to be a more enjoyable game to far more people.

Shadow Tower: Abyss

The fact this game was never released in the US despite the localization almost being complete has to be one of the biggest crimes ever committed by SCOA. Man, the American side of Sony was such a pack of assholes during the PS2 era. When I started doing these playthroughs, the Shadow Tower games were the games I was least excited about. Now they’re my favorites. THIS GAME IS AWESOME and bless whoever made this horridly translated fan patch with weapons like “high swords” and “low swords”. It’s so awkward at times it kinda rolls around into being cool and adding something to the game.

I feel like there is a very visible story told by From’s first person RPGs about their development. KF2 tried to give KF1 a more tangible world. KF3, after the success of KF2 aimed for grandeur and lost some of it’s intangible ‘special’ quality. Shadow Tower was practically a ‘study’ game to do the opposite of King’s Field 3 — do a lot with a little. King’s Field: The Ancient City executed on all of these lessons but became aesthetically lost in this new PS2 era… Shadow Tower: Abyss is the game that both is From discovering how to execute an aesthetic on higher fidelity systems as well as being the game where they finally refine their combat past ‘acceptable’ to actively fun.

While maintaining the same survival-horror systems of the original, visually, Shadow Tower: Abyss is far different beast. Trading the bleak aesthetic of a proto-Demon’s Souls for a weird, alien… almost naturalistic/tribal feel? The game has weird but awesome sound design — a weird blend of naturalistic and technological sounds put together in offputting ways. A lot of enemies can be really easy to id due to very distinctive and weird sounds. The worst thing I can say about the aesthetic of Abyss is that it feels distinctly ‘early 2000s’. It’s the only one of the From first person RPGs that has a style that feels like that. But it is still awesome, and weird and constantly had me going “What the fuck is THIS place?!”. The monsters were strange and worrying — maybe not as strange as some of Shadow Tower’s weirdest, but Abyss is pretty weird. Another fun thing is the sheer anachronism of the game. The game takes place long after the original Shadow Tower, as you and a bunch of researchers go down it to explore and find the spear that grants wishes turned the last protagonist into a king. Somehow you all end up at the bottom and unlike the first game, have to work your way back up to escape. And you have GUNS. Guns with very limited ammo. By the midpoint of the game I am finding myself walking around in ancient magical armor with a gasmask on my head and when I see an enemy in the distance, I trade my double handed axe for a sniper rifle. It’s bizarre to open a treasure chest and see a revolver laying there as an object of reverence to whoever found it and put it there. You feel like Lord Humungus from Mad Max. An ancient demon wants to fight you, so you decide now is the time to spend some of your precious shotgun ammo, killing him in a way that, to him, would seem no different from being blasted by a magician. All the old Fromsoft games have this sense of nebulous time, but this one embraces it. You find an ancient tribal warrior who was killing bugs for probably thousands of years along with other researchers or my fav demon lady from the first game.

Combat is great. It is extremely rare for an attack to not make an enemy flinch and when they don’t it’s a big deal. When you hit things hard, they don’t flinch, they REEL. Limbs fly off. Chopping and shooting off limbs becomes part of the strategy. “Hey if I chop off this guy’s weapon arm, his attacks are easier to deal with”. It also just feels GREAT. In the middle of a battle with an ancient knight, things were going against me and my equipment was breaking so I pulled out my shotgun and shot him, blowing off both his arms in a Monty Python-esque fashion. I blew up another giant demon with a PANZERFAUST. The intense resource management makes these moments fun and satisfying in a way that never gets old. Also unlike KFTAC you move and turn FAST and can use the analog, moving around like a traditional console FPS. Enemies are more deadily to compensate, leading the most varied and fun combat I’ve experienced in this group of games.

It’s hard for me to even think of things to say… It’s… Shadow Tower by weird and great? It’s hard to even think of how to sell this weird gem. This is the type of game where if it sounds VAGUELY interesting I’d say ‘just play it’.

But I guess I can at least talk about its problems and disappointments. Healing and repairing is a bit more of a pain early on. Topping off equipment is wasteful — everything has a base repair cost no matter how damaged it is (unless it’s broke, then it’s even more). You have encumbrance in the game for your whole inventory. You can store items at shop crystals to elevate this but I felt it did nothing but make the game less enjoyable. I never felt like I was making interesting decisions on what weapons to take with me and on the rare chance I wanted to use an odd weapon for a specific situation, it seems like it would have been better if I had it in my inventory rather than have it unused in a box somewhere. The shops/healing places are more boring — just glowing crystals connected to menus, lacking the weird personality of their Shadow Tower predecessors. No weird naga-witch selling you swords. There are also way more cunes which is… fine, I guess? But it felt weird to max out my cunes at one point. I guess it was necessary with the need to buy ammo, but there was a charm to a currency where there was only 100 in the whole world back in Shadow Tower. The game gets a little monotonous with it’s gimmick levels. By the late game I was praying for an area where I just kicked the shit out of a lot of tough stuff but it never quite came. In fact, the end part of the game is the biggest letdown. It reminds me of playing through Demon’s Souls and finishing my playthrough on Stormking before killing True Allant. It just felt like there was no release. Just ‘hey the game is over’. At least in DeS you can save the last Boletaria stage as ‘the end’ but Abyss has nothing like that. The ending felt disappointed both gameplay wise and thematically. If I were to guess, there probably was going to be more to the boss and maybe more to the last area. The last thing you fight is basically an armored copy of Rurufon and her AI and it’s… not much.

I also didn’t feel like I had a sense of the tower in Abyss as I did in Shadow Tower. The maps themselves are WAY better but Shadow Tower felt interconnected. Abyss has a hubworld that you travel up and down by way of elevator which is…. really lame? The hub area looks cool, it never changes in a way that made me feel like I was making any progress. It didn’t change in Shadow Tower either but at least in that, I was literally moving down it. Abyss is a game in dire need of a good final act, something all the King’s Field games and Shadow Tower managed to do better. Not GREAT, but much better. But none of these flaws really deeply effect the joy of the game while you’re in the middle of an area, playing it. But keep in mind, when it’s time to end the game, the game wraps up fast.

A good point is that New Game+, which Shadow Tower also had, seems to be improved. Unlike Shadow Tower which was more “go back to the top so you can finish killing and finding everything”,  starts the game over, sans some of the stuff you already found, but giving you more potions and ammo and new weapons. I don’t know if it ever gets harder like a Souls NG+, but I guess I’ll see, as I’m curious if the game is different in other ways the second time through (and I feel like such a beast by the end of the game that a second pass through the game doesn’t seem very time consuming). Either way I highly recommend checking out this game. The translation works fine if you can run burnt or HDLoader games on your PS2 and it emulates pretty well (Some texture flickers with hardware acceleration but I found it to usually be tolerable). I know there will never be a Shadow Tower 3 by name, but I aware the soulslike (even if they claim they’re done) that captures a similarly weird, alien look.

In closing, my tierlist, worst the best:

KF3 -> KFTAC -> Shadow Tower =/-> KF2 -> Shadow Tower Abyss