Little Lands

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I’ve previously wrote about something for Ludum Dare 38, which was Bureaucratic Deity Simulator 2018. The theme of this jam was “A Small World,” which a lot of people seem to have interpreted to mean basing a game around building up a small world. Today, I revisited this jam, this time with Little Lands.

Little Lands is by Robin Field, delivering a small city-building strategy game to the plate. The game centers around floating tiles of land, which slowly pulls in more tiles of land into its orbit as time passes, with the ultimate goal of getting out of there.

First things first, you have to place down a town hall and a shipyard. To sail off into the void, you have to invest 300 of each of the game’s three resources into the shipyard: food, wood and rock. Of course, you’re going to have to also use those resources to place down buildings to produce said resources. You’d also be stuck building homes to increase the number of workers available to produce these resources, which means that you’d have to produce more food. After a certain amount of time, your food resources get deducted based on your current population; if you don’t have enough food, the percentage of happiness will go down based on the poor people that didn’t get any. Reaching 0% happiness is a game over, but as long as you stay on top of the food game and appease your citizens with walls, you’re good.

Not all is peaceful in Little Lands, as sky pirate ships start flying in to terrorize you for no real reason. Ships will arrive at one of the four sides of the map and start blasting away at a nearby tile, eventually destroying it. If a ship starts blasting your shipyard, you’ll begin losing the resources you put into it, which obviously isn’t good. While the situations never happened to me, I imagine that them blowing up homes would bring down your population and that the destruction of the town hall would spell game over. To counter this, you can build towers your citizens can shoot from to ward them off.

However, the pirate ships weren’t too much of an issue for me. Placing towers at all sides  makes for a decent defense, even without the barracks upgrade. Sure, the pirates could destroy pieces of land before you take them out, but as long as you aren’t building things toward the edge, it’s a non-issue.

But hey, without the pirates to worry about, you could focus on some city building. Granted, there isn’t really variety in the homes that you could build, but the dev does encourage having as many citizens as possible for when you finish your ship (on the game’s itch.io discussion board), so you can consider that a challenge where the enemies are not. You can also customize the speed of resources, pirate attacks, etc as a form of difficulty modifier.

 

 

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Something that I’m definitely not conflicted on is Little Lands‘ presentation. The graphics for the game makes me think of a nice cute little board game, with all these different pieces fitting on the squares. The music, by Billy Hobson, is pretty good. The main theme is relaxing, while having this adventurous feel that feels appropriate for the occasional bouts of combat. After a whole session of listening to that and building up your ship, you’re treated to a chippy victory theme that makes flying off feel more accomplishing.

While I wanted to see more from the strategy side, Little Lands is still nice to play as a city-builder. For what’s there, the whole experience is wrapped in a nice package, especially for something made in such a short timespan.  By the look of things, the devs are planning on making a commercial version of the game with more complex things. If it’s along the lines of the planned possible features on the game’s page and then some, it’d be a release I’d look forward to.

SCANLINE

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The CGA Jam happened a little bit ago, demanding participants to make a game with a limited palette. Most of the games ended up using this light blue, pink, black and white palette, which is my shit. Coming in first place for the jam was SCANLINE by rxi, which is what I ended up looking at.

SCANLINE is a score attack platformer where you’re chased by a wave of pink scanlines, devouring the world around you as you run to the exit portal. Why? Who cares? Who needs context for a purely arcade experience?

You carry a nifty gun to deal with enemies and propel yourself to higher ground. Shooting is controlled by a recharging bar, so you’d have to be wary when facing down a bunch of enemies and when you need to blast yourself to higher ground. I like this mechanic because it sort of keeps you from just cheesing the game by spamming fire over and over.

The levels are procedurally generated, with each advancing level seeming to introduce new setpieces to go through. You start out with three lives and die with one hit; though, you can get an extra life for every 10000 points you get, either through killing enemies, breaking jars and getting the gems inside, or simply clearing the level. I say that the game is generally fair, but then there are the bat enemies. Dealing with one bat is easy enough, but they’re a nuisance when multiple bats spawn, especially when you aren’t on a good elevation to properly deal with them. Such is procedural generation.

Aesthetically, the game is real pleasing. The palette dictated for the jam is used effectively and I like the simple details. The tufts of grass, the bits of ground with pink dithering and their accompanying palm trees, the occasional butterflies, it’s all real neat. There’s only one song for the game, but it’s pretty good. The sound effects accompanying your running and gunning fits nicely and helps the experience.

Overall, I think SCANLINE is a good game worth checking out. It’s pay-what-you-want, so you can totally play it for free – though it’d be nice to throw the dev some money!

THOTH

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Thoth is a twin-stick shooter by Jeppe Carlsen, who was a designer for Playdead, so there’s a nice work history behind this game. Thoth sort of takes a minimalist approach to the base twin-stick experience, with a simple presentation and lack of scoring, but it allows room for some interesting ideas.

There isn’t any story in Thoth, nor a themed aesthetic beyond simple colored geometry. The game and its achievements are named after Egyptian deities, but there doesn’t seem to be a reason for it. It’s just kinda there. Just 64 main levels divided into sets of 4, no narrative whatsoever.

Thoth doesn’t need any of that, though, as its main strengths lie in its mechanics. One of the main mechanics of Thoth is that when an enemy is dead, it isn’t truly dead. You shoot the color out of a shape in normal twin-stick style to defeat it, but the shape remains behind as a moving void. The “undead” shapes will continue chasing you until all of the shapes embrace the void via bullet.

Then, more rules are introduced throughout the level sets. There’s a simple line of dots representing a gate that kills you if you collide with it, simple enough. Then, the gate’s later reintroduced, but the gate can now be opened and closed, alternating every time you defeat an enemy; consequently, you’ll now how to think about the best time to shoot out an enemy so you have space to avoid its defeated companions. Thoth sort of feels like a puzzle game in a sense where you have to figure out the new rules, with the game’s difficulty coming not from overwhelming enemies or bullet hell patterns, but trying to work around new mechanics.

There’s a local co-op mode, though I can’t properly play that. While you get double the firepower, if one player is defeated, they also turn into a voided chaser that’s pretty unrelenting. However, even if you don’t have a pal to play it with, the game’s achievements actually encourage you to play it anyway – in which case, you’re forever stuck with an extra chaser.

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The art of the game is pretty simple, with everything pretty much being flat colored shapes. I think this minimalist approach works well. There’s no clutter on the screen and the palette that enemies get stuck with usually contrast with the background, so it’s hard to miss the action. The electronic ambient music is nice and fitting with the aesthetics, though I wouldn’t say that it’s memorable.

I think my only real problem with the game is the checkpoint system. When you die, you’re sent back to the beginning of the four-level set, no matter where you died. Having to go through the same levels over after dying just felt kinda tedious and wasn’t very fun toward the latter half of the main game.

Thoth is pretty interesting for a twin-stick shooter game. While it lacks a score system that encourages replays, I think it’s still worth playing for its nice take on the genre. Outside of sales the game is $8, though it does seem to go on sale frequently enough.

Actually it’s Steam Sale time, so it’s currently $1.99. Money saving!

void ghosts{}

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void ghosts{} is a score-attack shooter game by “like, a hundred bears.” Unfortunately, it can only be played on PC – sorry Mac and Linux people, but I appreciate that you checked in.

You play as a colored animal thing running around a black-and-white maze, blasting away at enemies. There are only a few enemy types in the game, but the game makes up for it by escalating the number of enemies as you blaze through the levels. The levels are randomly-generated, with you progressing after clearing the level of enemies. A handy pointer arrow rotates around your character to show where the nearest enemy is, which will help if you’re scrambling around to look for the last enemy.

The game plays nice and the shooting’s alright; at the very least, I can definitely say that any deaths I had were completely my fault and not of the game’s. The game will also have mercy and enemies will sometimes drop health, as well as alternate weapons with limited ammo. The shotgun weapons feel satisfying to use, especially as the arenas get more crowded with enemies as the game goes on. There was some lag on my end when I used them, but I’m not sure if it was a problem with the game or my computer – there isn’t really any other gameplay footage out there, so I can’t really validate that.

I also dig the game’s simple aesthetics. No clutter to distract from the action, no other colors to get lost in. I feel that the enemies stand out enough from the background, though I understand if people would prefer if the enemies also had different one-bit color schemes to help stand out better. Also, even though the music wasn’t made by the dev (proper credits on the itch.io page), it’s still pretty nice and didn’t really wear me down.

My biggest concern with void ghosts{} is that it doesn’t seem to keep track of your scores, which is something that feels like a must for a score-attack game. Then again, the game was made in a short time frame (according to the description) and for what’s there, the game’s pretty solid.

Here’s a short video of the game if you want to see it in motion. Of course, you should check the game out yourself!

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Step up to me… show me your score…

This is Fine

We all know those KC Green comics, right? We all know that one with the cute dog in a hat saying “this is fine” to a disastrous fire, right? That comic’s been used as a response meme to a bunch of stuff that happened in the past few years and KC Green gave it a depressing revisit after the 2016 election. Shortly after said election, some fellow named Nick Kaman also decided to say “this is fine” and made a short game based on it.

In Kaman’s short game, you play as this legendary dog as the fires rage on in his home. What does the dog do? Will he continue to sit in apathy and let the flames consume him like in the original comic? Or will he put out the fire and sit in despair after letting this disaster go on for too long?

In this case, the dog does neither. A fire extinguisher that shoots hearts and good vibes drops from the sky as a soft peaceful melody plays. You try to put out the fires, but one ember remains – the dog doesn’t let that get him down, however. It’s manageable. This is fine. Suddenly, there’s somebody at the door. A bunch of animal friends have arrived to hang out with the dog. The cat’s brought along marshmallows to turn that fire into something good while the frog’s brought their own coping tool of a smoking pipe. The bird friend seems to be on fire, but the dog can rain down some love on them to put them out.

The dog is fine. His friends are fine. The camera pans out to show that the outside world isn’t exactly ideal, but people make the best of it, kids playing around in the snow as other fires rage in the distance.

In the end, everything’s fine if you have friends to rely on, no matter how bad it gets.

Tonight Dies the Moon

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It is 2000 A.D. A war rages between the people of Earth and the Moon, a conflict that seems to have raged on forever. The title image for the game presents a fight between people of the different planets, the B-movie like tagline helping you gear up for what seems to be a retro action game.

However, while the conflict is important to the setting, it’s not the main focus. It’s not some action-y game as the image may lead you to believe. Instead, it’s a Twine game that explores life on both planets.

Tonight Dies the Moon is a Twine game made by Tom McHenry, made for Antholojam, which was organized by Zoe Quinn and Alex Lifschitz. The jam was basically a game version of those anthologies that have a bunch of short stories based around a unifying theme or genre. In this case, Tonight Dies the Moon was part of a good ol’ sci-fi anthology.

Starting up the game, you’re given the option to play as a human on Earth or a moon person (referred to as egal with “ger” pronouns). There’s actually a substantial difference between the two, not just in perspective and story but gameplay-wise.

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On Earth, you play as a character by the BirthName of Lee Cathcart (though you can change it – which is actually a plot element) during their last day on Earth, planning to move to the Moon.

The Earth scenario plays as a linear Twine with branching paths to give exposition on certain topics. There’s an old adventure game score counter onscreen as well as a continuing option to change Lee’s ChangeName, though the former seems to be cosmetic. There are scenes in both paths that calls for more interaction than the standard Twine by asking you to type stuff, which makes it feel more engaging.

Before heading to the Moon, Lee does some mundane Earth things. They drop by their parents’ place one last time before heading to work, just chatting it up with parents while trying not to get anxious in light of their future plans. Their volunteer job is treated as if it was a 9-5 office job in spite of what it actually entails. While plenty of exposition revolves around the Earth and Moon conflict, there’s also exposition on some mundane things, such as male nurse sitcoms.

While the full circumstances of Earth life is unclear, it’s very much American-centric and boy is it a condemnation of America. Income inequality is an issue, with Lee’s father thinking that Lee’s generation is just looking for handouts. Lee themself has to room with four roommates, with money being a concern. This Americanized Earth has its own version of drone strikes against the Moon, but it’s so commonplace that volunteers do all the work, with paperwork required afterward as if it was just a mere business transaction.

If it weren’t for the whole war thing, the Earth route of Tonight Dies the Moon feels like a slice-of-life in the sci-fi genre, one that’s a bit close to our reality. It isn’t what I expected going in, but it’s pretty nice and an entertaining read.

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On the Moon – or, Selene, as its people call it – life is much different. Communities of egals are gathered in domed structures, with various commissions overlooking aspects of life. As for you, you’re mostly going to be dealing with the Agricultural Commission, who you cooperate with for the sake of the community.

Instead of being a narrative-driven Twine, the Moon-route is more of a simulation game with occasional scenes happening. You’re in charge of a 100-acre land, with 90 acres dedicated to growing crops mandated by the Agricultural Commission to fight back against shortages while the remaining 10 are for your own personal profit. The Commission making money off of 90% of your labor isn’t a bad thing, however. In contrast to the capitalist Earth (labeled as “Before” by the egals), Selene embraces more socialist ideals. Education on the moon is said to be completely free, the player character never struggles outside of when they can’t afford personal crops and hey, people from Before are moving in for a reason.

Nothing’s stopping you from advancing in society, either. You can make some profit off of your own crops, with the grand goal of buying a ticket to Before as an apparent end goal. You can purchase more acres to use as well as improve the quality of your land. The latter is important, because quality affects how many of your crops can actually be harvested and keeping on top of that is a big deal. I didn’t pay attention to this the first time and I got stuck in a cycle where I was unable to raise enough money to ever improve land because the quality was bad enough that I could never sell anything. Also as a result of this, I could never grow crops in other areas, which led to multiple shortages that led to the game just telling me that there’s no way I can get any further without seeing things get worse.

Is getting to Before possible? I certainly tried to work my way up. I was around the 3000 range when it happened. The game had an abrupt game over as a strike from Before destroyed my domed home, killing me and all the other egals just trying to lead ordinary lives. Such is war. I’m not sure if this event is destined to happen and that I needed to buy my ticket before that time (assuming that it’s possible) or if it was random chance that decided the event that killed me.

Tonight Dies the Moon is an interesting Twine game and a nice take on a sci-fi concept. If I had any complaints, it’d have to be the fact that the game is restrained to a certain resolution; all that free space around the game just kinda bugs me.

HOME – An OFF Fangame

It’s finally June, that time of year when most students are out of classes. For this June, the cult fanbase of Yume Nikki, unburdened by school, can participate in the Dream Diary Jam. Yume Nikki‘s got a lot of fangames to its name and this month is meant to encourage people to make some more. There are plenty of neat games like .flow and The Looking Glass, which are all games I think would be interesting to talk about.

So for today’s ramblings, I’m going to talk about a fangame for a completely different cult RPG Maker game, OFF. Going forward, there’s going to be a few spoilers for OFF, so maybe check that out before heading on.

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OFF is a surreal RPG made by Mortis Ghost, which gained a cult status in the RPG Maker community and is one of the more widely known RPG Maker games known to actually be Good. Like Yume Nikki, OFF also has a bunch of spin-off fangames. One of the most well-known ones is HOME, whose development was led by Felix and originally released in 2014, with a few updates in the following years. Continue reading “HOME – An OFF Fangame”