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

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.

Doom

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.

BEP Blogpost Redux: Naomi

Bio

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

Stats

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: Some Mini Reviews of Fromsoftware’s PS1 work

So when I hang out with my friends, I usually waste time in between chatter playing old games. Often odd or old things I wouldn’t normally bother which but might be of some interest to me from a more… academic perspective. And this usually ends up with me finding new games to love too.

So when I loaded King’s Field up, I expected to be put off by it’s horrible combat and ugly aesthetics immediately. Instead I found myself immediately compelled. I find myself now, having worked all the way up to King’s Field: The Ancient City on the PS2, with a translated copy of Shadow Tower: Abyss waiting to be played after it. So here are my thoughts on these crazy games that I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. RPGs aren’t really my thing anymore but the first person movement gave me just enough tactile feedback to get really into these games.

As usual with these kinds of reviews I do, I’m not going to summarize stuff like the basic plot or how the game works. You can use wikipedia or youtube for that. I’m mostly just gonna focus on the stuff I have thoughts about.

King’s field 2

I’m going to be using the Japanese numbering for this (basically KF2 is KF1 in US and thus 3 is 2 and so on and so forth), even though I didn’t bother to play King’s Field 1. A cursory reading about King’s Field 1 made it clear to me that King’s Field 2 was the best of the PS1 offerings and that it pretty much did everything the original did better.

King’s Field 2 is an ass ugly game. The biggest visual improvement from KF1 seems to be the use of different floor textures…. most of the time. Still, the game was immediately compelling. You start out shipwrecked on the island of Melanat and despite the game the crude graphics. The sharp outlines of everything tried their damnedest to convey the sense of A PLACE. Right from the start you have watery pits to fall in, a huge boss kraken thing you won’t fight for another boss or two, a waterfall and cave filled with skeletons, a lighthouse powered by fire magic, some creepy looking fisherman NPC, a pirate cove filled with traps and treasures and a more forgiving cave.

The combat is terrible but somehow works. You circle around things to avoid the attack and hit them with your slow moving first person sword swing. Positioning and enemy management matters a lot in this. The attacks FEEL awful but the amount of interaction makes it tolerable. Magic also helps a tad. MP starts out as an incredibly rare, precious resource to the backbone of your offense.

The enemies in this game look unbelievably stupid and crude, but somehow in a way that captures the awkward weird joy of later Souls games. By the end of King’s Field 2, I found my self in love with those stupid looking Watermelon Head Eater Things. It’s infectious. The whole game is infectious. While technically a dungeon crawler, I feel the need to reject the label. Far from the more abstract dungeons of most games like this, Melanat. It has personality. It’s internals wind together and intersect. The more you play the game the more you feel that you understand it. In game maps were useful for exploring new areas, while old areas were almost immediately committed to memory. In many ways, it’s stage design was mimicked by the original Dark Souls, constantly surprising you with how areas intersect and being navigable by memorable rooms. Given the rough nature of the graphics, memorable could be anything from “Cool castle entrance” to “There is a hole”. But it all works.

“It works” Describes a lot of the game and it’s aesthetic. Crude NPCs lend a creepy atmosphere to the game, their textureless heads turning slowly to speak with you. It’s unnerving but the mood of the game is unnerving. The music is… strangely offputting, but in a good way. Like Demon’s Souls, the game’s ugliness becomes part of its charm. This is a game that should be tedious and boring yet it dragged me through it’s entirety with excitement. While not a game I would recommend without warning, it became a game I unabashedly love. Beautifully thought out world design is my jam and this game has tons of it.

The game has some fascinating mechanics, many you see show up in later games. Crystal Flasks might as well be estus. You find them or construct them out of crystals and fill them up with wells. You eventually find wells that heal MP instead and eventually find both (which seems to be something that shows up in DS3 from what I’ve heard?). The warping mechanic is great. Instead of having fixed warp points, you can leave a ‘key’  at a save to use a corresponding ‘gate’ item to teleport to. You find up to 3 sets of these by the end of the game. The flexibility to set your own warp points allowed for just the right amount of backtracking to make me love and understand the world. You could balance convenience against repetition and by the time you have all 3 sets and understand the island, it becomes a non issue. The perfect flow. There are weird things in the game, like an NPC who magically pops up in random places from time to time who identifies your items. You can’t know when she’ll appear. Maybe not the best choice, but an interesting one. Many doors are textured like walls. They have frames to tell you they’re there but it makes it easy to miss stuff. This is something that fortunately goes away in King’s  Field 3. Oh yeah there is also a minecart ride that kills you 90% of the time and rewards you with basically nothing if you survive. Which is… odd.

There seems to be a decent about of lore, but I couldn’t say much about it. The last boss, Guyra, a one eyed black dragon, is clearly the inspiration for Kalameet. Seath is treated like a holy figure in this.  Granted, it’s not the same Seath, but it’s interesting to see these ideas revisited and adapted.

In the end, it’s hard to even say why King’s Field 2 is great. So much of it is crude as hell and really shows it’s age. But there is just a lot of brilliance in the game too. I’m left with a fondness for Melanat that mirrors my love of Lordran. By the end it kinda… feels like home?

King’s Field 3

King’s Field 3 is like the Dark Souls 2 of King’s Field. It improves the game in so many ways and is far FAR more ambitious. You start out with a giant field, filled with buildings and NPCs. The Headeaters are now venus fly traps. That made me sad! Fortunately the old ugly ones return later on. Anyways the game is now sprawling and its level design more literal and sensible. The game looks infinitely better. Screenshots might not truly capture it but the environments look so much more involved and the enemies look… Still ugly but much much less so. It’s also important to remember for this and KF2 — these are seamless games with no load times. So some ugliness is to still be expected.

The game gives you an automapper somewhat early on. While not necessary for KF2, this is much more necessary for the sprawling maze like levels of KF3. KF3 gets even closer to the dreaded “Dungeon Crawler” level design and dungeons play more like Legend of Zelda-esque areas than actual parts of the world. You go in, you clear the area, you leave. Compared to the interconnected nature of KF2, this was a huge let down to me. Verdite lacked the sense of “place” that Melanat had, despite having much better visuals. The music too is a lot more… on the nose. Not bad, but lacking the same personality.

Combat feels better. You know more clearly if you hit something and enemies at least TRY to counteract you spinning around them. You get magic faster too, which gives you much better options faster. Warping is greatly simplified, with 4 items to find for 4 preset gates before allowing you to warp everywhere by the end. Warping everywhere by the end is good but it was sad to see the system from KF2 leave, even if it would have been terrible in a map this big.

The game has a ton of lore and I couldn’t even begin to explore it. You get an mirror item that tells you about every area, every enemy and every NPC. All lines of dialog are saved for viewing in the menu. So you could comb through this game for tons of info if you wanted.

The game has some cool, crude visuals and works FMV cutscenes in it, sometime on top of gameplay (where you’re few will suddenly have compression artifacts because it switched to a video). You could tell with this game they were trying to go all out.

In the end the game is way way more playable than  KF2 and has many clever ideas, but it just missed the same spark. It felt more… typical. Much like Dark Souls 2, it spreads itself out and tries to be grand but that grandness makes it ultimately more ordinary.

But hey at the end you get to fight Giant Gundam Seath and that’s pretty cool?

Shadow Tower

 OH BOY SHADOW TOWER. This might be the most interesting game of the three. KF2 might still be my favorite Shadow tower is a fucking slog of a game, especially early on. It’s also d
eeply miserable without maps. And there are no in game maps. But with them, the game and it’s horrendous draw distance becomes playable. Because the game is dark. Darker than it even needs to be. But god damn does it look better. There is a color scheme to things. and the textures play nice and the enemies look great. And there are so many of them. This game has 160 monsters and they almost all have absolutely crazy designs. This is the true start of the Demon’s Souls aesthetic. Dark, grimy and depressing with awkward looking monsters that are so goofy they roll around to scary. Demons that hop on their tongues, weird wiggly glow in the dark tree plants, muscular monsters with heads that are like blooming meat flowers. They’re great.

The game has no music. Silence. It’s off putting. The visuals are often bleak. You start on ‘top’ of the shadow tower, a tower that has sunken into the ground. The areas of the game have ominous names. “Human World: The Forgotten Region” or “Death World: The Lingering Curse Layer” or “Beast World: THE SCREECHING AREA” (these are area names you do not want to see). The visuals area bleak. This clean, brind cylinder extending up and down seemingly into infinity. You see stairs and can make your way to a number of doors into areas around the tower that have sunken underground. But you keep coming back to the tower, lower and lower. The map design is at its weakest here overall, but the constant return to the Shadow Tower gives the game the hold it needs to give a sense of progression.

The survival aspect horrors of the game are strong. Weapons degrade, and fast. The items to repair them are rare. Smithys are also rare. The currency they use to repair? Your health. Health Potions? Also a finite resource. Fortunately you can trade broken or obsolete items for them. And thankfully they always grant full health. There is a very clear economic circle here and it is a tense one early in the game. Nothing is renewable until much later in the game so you constantly feel like you’re falling to pieces. There is another currency, cunes. Also a rare item — there are, as I understand, 99 in the whole game? And the shop is the same shop everywhere, so the items you see at the start are the items you see at the end. I saved up for a helmet that restored MP over time early on and it was game changing. “Infinite magic!” I thought, until I realized casting spells degraded my rings. Oh well, can’t have everything.

The NPC interactions feel very Demon’s Soulsy. A demon in a doll body asks you to kill a man who trapped her. a knight being crushed by a boulder begs you to sacrifice a sword to save his life (and remember, SWORDS ARE IMPORTANT AND LIMITED). Some gnome things curses you over and over and begs for his life like a coward when you corner him. Also there is a fat mole who is totally your bro.

As you go from the more human world to elemental planes the game starts feeling real surreal. There is just tons of atmosphere. It just suffers from the fact that the game is so initially impenetrable and the map design that doesn’t work with the super dark game. Getting around without a map is an almost impossible chore. I’m not sure even KF2’s map would have worked under these lighting conditions. The automapper from KF3 would have been a massive improvement, where you could know where you were going while not quite spoiling areas immediately by checking maps.

Funny thing is when you beat an area, it lightens up. So they could have gotten away with it. I assume the darkness was to mask enemies spawning in (which they do, unlike in the KF games). This looks weird in illuminated areas, but not so weird as to be a bad tradeoff. The enemy spawning is interesting though. There are a finite amount of enemies in the game. As you kill enemies in a room, replacement spawn elsewhere, often in the same room, but sometimes not. You’ll return to an area you thought you cleared out, sometimes to find a horrific surprise. Often this can lead to cool items being dropped though, so you have an incentive to clear things out. Killing enemies also I think… basically IV trains you, like pokemon? There is no leveling in the game. Beating stuff up and killing certain enemies raises your stats. It’s interesting and kinda works?

The game is linear in nature but it does some clever things to disguise it. There are sometimes multiple ways to get down the tower and sometimes you can even jump down to a set of stairs you can only barely see.  You often still end up covering the same areas or coming back later, but it makes the tower feel more like a space you’re trying to conquer than a completely abstract area.

The game also has NG+ (I think? Or maybe you’re just back at the top of the tower to clear it out?) and a rather… Soulsy ending. A flawed gem that was only a few changes away from being truly great. and the game with the  strongest aesthetic ties to the Souls series. It makes me more excited for Shadow Tower Abyss than King’s Field 4 and I hear KF4 is AWESOME.

While I can only recommend KF2 with some reservations, I can only recommend Shadow Tower with a LOT of reservations. But it’s interesting and if you want to play a game as a curiosity and see some of the evolution of the Souls series, Shadow Tower is AWESOME.

“Video Games shouldn’t be Work”

I hate that saying. Hate hate hate hate. Right up there with the very similar “Video Games should be FUN”. Not because I think games should be work or should be unfun. But because it makes some big assumption about leisure time.

There are people in this world, who work full time jobs, go home, go into their work room and build furniture -for fun-. They are being carpenters. Often amazing, meticulous carpenters doing something that is someone else’s full time job. This is their leisure time.

When I hear about people grinding in MMOs or in pokemon or whatever, I’ll be honest. That sounds like work to me. But for other people, it’s their chance to shut off and just relax. When I tell people getting into Fighting Games that they need to go into training mode, they complain that they don’t want a second job. They’re not wrong to feel like that, but for a lot of us, that IS fun. That’s super fun. It’s almost like the skill building version of grinding. Low stress repetition.  Some people want hobbies, some people want their media to be consumable. Some get off on being in that ‘flow’ state and enjoy intense, skill building activities, some want relaxation. And some of these might sound more virtuous than others, but that’s a silly way to look at it too. Different people might need different things in their life. Someone working a rote, boring 9-5 might desperately want challenge and excitement in their life and a brain surgeon might just want to relax playing Candy Crush. They have enough stress in their life.

When you say “games shouldn’t be work” or “games should be fun”, what you’re actually doing is chastising people for how they choose to enjoy themselves. “Oh I don’t get it, so it’s wrong”. And it’s fine to joke about that with friends (“Oh yeah Kayin hates fun”), but often people say this stuff very seriously! I’ve been seeing this a ton with people arguing about difficulty in Dark Souls and whether an easy  mode is appropriate. I don’t have an opinion on that, but it often feels like both sides don’t understand each other. The people who don’t play because of the difficulty assume other players want all the fun locked away behind arbitrary barriers and the people who are into Dark Souls assume, because of their preferences, that the challenge is essential to the fun and without it, everything else crumbles.  Regardless of the truth (probably somewhere in between — something will be lost without the challenge but less than a lot of DS players assume), the clear gap in understanding is rather staggering and sadly a disservice to the different ways people choose to spend their free time.

Brave Earth: Prologue – Difficulties

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything let me talk about what I’ve been working on lately. Difficulties!

Brave Earth contains 4 different difficulty setting: Beginner, Easy, Standard and Advanced. The difficulties don’t simply change things like the amount of damage you deal or take, but also things like the amount of pushback you receive from being hit, enemy placement and even on Beginner, geometry. So the stated goals of each difficulty go like this.

Standard: To be a complete, fun but challenging experience for the average player with fun but fair enemy placements and a thought out difficulty curve. Intended to be the first difficulty, even for players familiar with the genre.

Easy: To provide a gentler game experience for gamers who are perhaps a bit lacking on platformer experience. Some hairy situations have changed or removed enemies. The goal is to make the game easier without insulting the player and to provide a gentler difficulty curve, with most changes being earlier in the game. Player takes slightly less damage and knockback.

Beginner: To give hope to those with very little experience in general. The goal is to still provide highpoints and difficult situations for the player, just on a much simpler scale. Damage is drastically reduced and the player receives no knockback from enemies. Filler blocks are used to fill in many difficult platforming segments.

Advanced: In advanced, the goal is to add elements to standard to make a more challenging and fresh experience. Difficulty curve is thrown out the window in favor of interesting enemy encounters. Player also receives additional damage and pushback.

Anyways I’ve set up some examples.

normalplatThis is an easy segment from stage one for the player to get introduced to some jumping. There are pits, but the game assumes most people playing this will have some level of platforming experience and don’t need super introductory platforming early on (Their is also a tutorial stage for that).

easyplatBut on Beginner, these holes get filled in to help new players through it. Not every hole is filled in Beginner, but the exposed pits are chosen much more carefully.

I also have an example of enemy placements for one segment…

standard

This is from the middle of Stage 1 and is a difficult segment for new players. The Zweihander soldiers are real jerks and the bandit enemies come from both directions. The player can trick the second zweihander soldier (a doppelsoldner, for the record) into the pit to spare themselves a difficult encounter.

easy

Easy has a small but significant change. The first Doppelsoldner is replaced with an archer, who still provides a challenge in this situation but is less overwhelming. With that and reduced damage, this section is slightly more managable.

beginner

Beginner has a significant reduction of enemies, removing bandits who ambush from the above and rear. The bottom encounter is completely changed — a mad bomber over flat terrain. Challenging, but with the player’s reduced damage, not a real threat, hopefully providing some fun. The hole has also been filled up.

advanced

Advanced is… tricky. Two archers have been added. Archers below you can fire up to hit you, so now the player has to dodge the lower archer while dealing with bandits above and both Dopplesoldners have firecover now. This segment is completely handleable by an experienced player and not so different from encounters found later in the game. In advanced though, it can happen in level 1 because that’s what advanced is for.

So hopefully with these difficulty options I’ll be able to both give a level of accessibility while at the same time providing a good, challenging harder mode for those looking for a challenge.

Tetris TGM1 Grand Master rank!

Finally achieved something I’ve been working on for awhile. I’ve been playing TGM clones on and off for a bunch of years now (from heboris, to texmaster2000 to nullpomino). Deciding between switching to TGM2 or trying to better my time.

Real Domain Name!

So I just got a real domain name finally… kayin.moe (yes, really and yes, that kind of moe). So please try and tolerate any weird website wackiness while I try to set up stuff (or beg my sysadmin to do it ps ur da bes colin) and if something seems super wacky just let me know.

‘Cleaning up the Comments’ on Youtube and Google+

Well, Google+ and Youtube are force integrated and it’s pretty much a user interface nightmare. But hey, it’s fresh and new and even though I totally hate everything about the change, I have to be real and acknowledge it’s not going to stay this bad. So usually I’d just grumble a bit on twitter about this until the site eventually became usable again, but there is an idea I hear echoed by people that I really don’t think is true…

“If people had to post with their real name, people would be a lot nicer” is a sentiment I hear often. I hear it most often from people in the tech sector with reputations, but still, I hear it often enough. Yet by all accounts, the comments aren’t better, at least in that way. Bad comments are getting shuffled down, but that has nothing to do with exposed identities.

Why would we expect this to happen? It’s as if the social media managers of the tech sector think that if someone misbehaves, they can look them up, find their name, call whatever tech startup they work for and get them fired. This is an idea that seems to be forwarded from career white dudes with reputations.

You can argue it doesn’t work because it’s easy to make false Google+ accounts (Though most hilarious, I’ve heard people suggest that this would be a deterrent as one would have to switch frequently between their troll and ‘real’ account, as if the real account would ever really exist). While that is likely part of it, at the core, the whole idea is flaws, because.

  • Most people don’t have a reputation
  • Most of the time, they don’t care anyways (hi facebook trolls)
  • What are you really going to do now that you know their name?

People always bring up the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, but what does anonymity in this case even mean? It implies pure anonymity but in practice, it does not require it. It’s the same way people will be dicks while driving cars. You can follow them and confront them for shit they do — they’re even less anonymous than they are online, risk wise, yet people can still be huge dicks because the risk is still relatively negligible. For a person working shitty part time work, or for a teenager in highschool or whatever, what are you going to do to them? What does it matter if you know their name? Can you even find the name of the construction company they work off the books at? Maybe you’ll tag a few middle class office workers, but is it worth it? How many people are going to bother? Each troll is indistinguishable from the last and unless they said something really nasty or vile or racist, can you really even get them in trouble for the things they say?

Of course this isn’t even addressing the morality of forced ‘real identity’ shit and how it effects people in very inequal and unjust ways and is just as likely to hurt someone innocent (if not more so) than it is to punish people for being bad. But that’s a different soap box.

Thoughts on the Steambox

Honestly, I have not been a fan of Valve for quite some time, so I might be a bit bias here, but I am truly mystified by a lot of the Steambox stuff. I can’t say it won’t succeed — because people are crazy and love Valve unconditionally — but this doesn’t look like a gaming future I want. Though Valve is also the company that says the future of gaming is vast economies of user generated content. That’ll probably make em’ (and creators) a bunch of money, but look, I played Second Life. Thats a future of mediocrity, sustained only through microtransactions and I see no reason as a consumer to be excited for it. But I digress.

First, the controller. The only positive thing I can think about it is that Tommy Refenes saying it’s okay. Tommy is one of the few people picky enough for his opinions to matter to me, but I really need to hear more thoughts from people I can trust before I can totally be on board. Honestly the trackpad part seems clever and I can see it working well in a variety of ways, but the button situation still seems dubious. People keep saying you can map the right pad to be buttons and use magical haptics to make it work, but that still sounds less to idea. You have a controller that can play FPSs (Valve’s genre of choice) possibly better than a modern gamepad, but still in a player pool of people playing on Mouse and Keyboard. You can play mouse driven games like strategy games, but the faster the game is or the more keyboard commands it needs, the less likely it is to work. Maybe the screen-buttons thing will totally fix that? Tommy can play Super Meatboy on it but it still seems less than idea for platformers. Any 3rd person consoley game fails due to the lack of buttons (this case, not because of tactile reasons, but literally just from not having all the buttons necessary to do so). Dark Souls? Nope, not enough inputs. Hell, going back to FPSs, I was watching a cousin play Battlefield on the 360 and it too basically used every input possible down to the d-pad. You can offload that stuff to the screen or the side 4 buttons but that doesn’t make it ergonomic or enjoyable (not that using a shitty d-pad for stuff is great either, to be fair).

Atop that, with all the fancy haptic stuff and the touchscreen, the thing looks like it’s going to be hella expensive. You could maybe force this sort of interesting design choice with a real console. Bundled and with games designed for it, consoles can get away with a lot… but even if a non-bundled product is super successful (The Kinect, which made oodles of bills) designers are still loathe to design content for it. This is the whole reason the One is forcing you to have a Kinect — only by doing that will designers consider working with it seriously. But that isn’t the case at all for the steam controller. In fact it’s many times worse. It will be a weird, likely expensive controller in a market loaded with cheap controllers that are still pretty good and the 360 controller which (despite my personal taste) is a defacto standard. Even if a lot of things are as good as we can hope, this still seems like a niche product for people who wanna play 4Xs on their TV.

Then there is the OS. I got mixed feelings here. Valve is pushing for linux and there is a part of me that goes ‘that’s good’ (I like linux, even if i’m not a regular desktop user) but it seems like a push that’s not ‘necessary’. Windows 8 wasn’t nearly as closed as we feared and seems to be backing up a bit in 8.1. We also know old versions of windows can last an eternity out in the wild. 33% of windows computers run XP and while a lot of this is probably corporate, I’m sure we know many people who still run XP. That’s 12 years old. Then again, any push Valve takes for Linux will probably take a long time (not necessarily 12 years but.. years) so…. I dunno. It’s not like they have a choice though — if they’re going to do an OS it basically HAS to be linux or they’re only making their problems worse. That said, I’m still not sure where the appeal is going to be outside of curious enthusiasts, at least for now. Streaming from desktop is kinda neat, depending on how good it runs. I wonder if such a feature will remain SteamOS exclusive? It doesn’t seem like it’d need to be and Valve, to their credit, does tend to be the type of company that would try and deploy a feature everywhere. That said, it’s linux, so there isn’t much to say here outside of I find it a little scary as a developer, but I probably won’t have to worry about it for awhile.

The Steambox stuff doesn’t sound all that impressive. It’s commodity parts in a fancy case running their OS. Especially when people are going to be more likely to be streaming games from their PC than run native linux games (lol) the specs seem like overkill. The machine its self offers nothing special so unless they sell it at a loss to try and get SteamOS adoption up, it looks basically no different from anything else. You could probably just plug a laptop in through HDMI and get the same play experience. This also gets to the whole ‘play in your living room’ thing. I’m bias here again — I have no fondness for ‘the living room’. I haven’t gamed ‘in the living room on the couch on a saturday morning’ (thanks Phil Fish) since probably the NES. I got a TV in my room in time for the SNES and that was it. Still, we have a solution for gaming in the living room. We have consoles for that. They’re almost certainly cheaper than the steambox will be, and the games on them are designed for their controllers and are also designed to be viewed at a distance. The language of interfaces is different for ‘TV at a distance’ than monitor (I mean, why else would we need something like Big Picture?). So you would, in theory, pay more money to buy a library of games that don’t even necessarily support the controller your system came with to play games that are visually not designed to play that way. I know there are people who wish they could do that anyways, but in general, that does not seem like a particularly impressive value proposition when the other living room gaming options are more stronger experiences.

So I’m not really impressed or looking forward to anything they’re doing right now (besides SteamOS a little maybe? It’s good to have a big developer invested in linux) but hey, Valve is magic so everyone might buy whatever they sell regardless. :(