Barony (Review)

Source: Own cashmoneys
Price: £4.24
Where To Get It: Steam, Developer’s Site

I knew, when I heard the gloating words of Lord Herx, that I was going to die. It was the second dungeon level, and he was sending a minotaur? I didn’t have much time, so I…

…Crap, it’s coming… It’s HUGE! It’s somehow phasing through the roof of the dungeon, it’s that bi-

-Last Words of Mika, Mercantile Adventurer into Lord Herx’s Dungeon.

Rocks Fall, But Strangely, Nobody Died.

This boulder trap… Didn’t really stand a chance

There are times when you celebrate someone for trying, for experimenting. Barony, by Turning Wheel LLC, is not one of those times. I’d just like to quote the Steam summary of this game for a moment:

Barony is a 3D, first-person roguelike that brings back the cryptic and intricate designs of classic roguelikes such as Nethack and melds them with RPGs like Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Daggerfall. Challenge is the calling card of this hard-boiled dungeon-crawler.

This is what we in the industry like to call “an overly ambitious description.” Also one that is wrong. What Barony actually is is a real-time first person roguelike using Minecraft style graphics that owes a little to Nethack, but hasn’t really learned what a good Roguelike is about. For example, for all that Roguelikes are about challenge, they are not, for the most part, about dicking you over. That segment I wrote at the top? Is a thing that is entirely likely to happen. The minotaur is big. He has oodles of hitpoints. And, if he is the “insane event” of the second level (Because hey, the game promises “insane events one could expect to find in games like Nethack”), there is very little you can do to stop it. There’s a chance you’ll find the imaginatively titled ZAP Brigade (Lightning staff wielding nutters who love to hunt Minotaurs), or the stairs out of the level, but, just as likely, you’ll note the event is coming, try and find the exit for a minute or two, then get squished in one or two attacks by a Minotaur that, if you’re “indoors”, will clip through the ceiling.

This didn't kill me. His two buddies, however...

Combat involves smacking things and hoping they don’t die first, or being a Wizard who has mana and winning. Shields are nigh useless.

…Or you could just hit enter, and type “/killmonsters”, hitting enter again at the right moment. Won’t get you any XP, but it’s clearly documented in the README (The only documentation for this game that I could find, apart from a new and largely incomplete Wikia), so why not use it, eh? These two things alone will give you some idea of the implementation of the grand vision described in the game’s Steam summary. Think I’m being unfair? Then pay the £5 for the game, open up the game’s directory, then go to the “books” subfolder, and read “The Lusty Goblin”, which I can only imagine to be a pastiche of the “Lusty Argonian Maid.” It’s easy to do, as, presumably to allow easy modding for the IP based multiplayer shenanigans, the 31 books of the game are all in .TXT format.

Character generation, similarly, is disappointing. Ten classes, two genders, and five skins that are all white human beings (presumably it’s to do with hair colour), and the classes are not amazingly balanced. The Merchant, for example, starts with weak weaponry and bad HP, but, and this is an important but, can quickly and efficiently identify nearly every item dropped on the first and second floors. The only one I’ve found trouble with? Glass Gems (Which are worthless.) By contrast, the warrior starts strong, but will quickly find himself in a world of death and pain if he encounters, say, a poisonous spider (Spawns on the second level.) The Wizard can cast Force Bolt to his heart’s content, murdering quite a few enemies quickly and efficiently, but Light will drain his mana more rapidly than you’d like.

Get Lantern, Kill Monsters

60% of this was gotten on the first level. 90% of it was identified without the use of scrolls. Merchants are great, in some respects…

In short, the game’s description is constantly reminding me of better games, and sometimes, the game itself is reminding me of better games. The graphics are voxel based, so, if you’re like me, you immediately think “I could be playing Minecraft right about now. Or maybe even Vox. Yeah, Vox sounds like a plan.” When you find that Lusty Goblin Maid book, you think “I could be playing Morrowind.” There’s enough replayability in this game for £5, but that same £5 could, by contrast, get me a better game. One which documents itself, tutorialises well, and doesn’t have a random event on the second floor that will most likely kill you, or rolling boulder traps, that, more often than not, you don’t even realise you’d triggered until it’s rolled past behind you.

This game, in short, is sadly not recommended for anybody, at least until some hefty reworking is done. Being able to starve on the second level is not good roguelike design. A “get through the level and/or find this thing before another thing kills you” on the second level is not good design. And I honestly can’t think how this would “improve” with Multiplayer.

Fuck This Game.

This is the Minotaur. Very often, he’ll spawn on the second level. The ZAP Brigade did way more than I did.

The Mad Welshman sighed as another boulder trap rolled merrily along behind him. The town of Hamlet remained unsaved, and Baron Herx’s Devil’s Dungeon remained closed.

Card Dungeon (Review)

Source: Own Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get ItSteam

Card Dungeons, like many roguelikes, can be short and painful… Long and glorious… Or long and painful, and, in a sense, this is exactly its problem. It’s an interesting game, in its way, but it definitely isn’t for everybody.

Well, that's one way to throw the horns... I got nothin'

A typical Card Dungeon Intro.

There are two core gimmicks of the game, one visual, one in core gameplay, and both have their flaws. On the visual end of things, you may be noticing why it’s called Card Dungeons. That’s right, every character and door is a card stock figure, and everything else is a tile. You know, just like old RPGs used to do! In any case, again, like these old RPGs, you take a turn, the monsters take a turn, and opening doors reveals rooms, monsters, and, of course, loot. However, while this may appear like a run of the mill roguelike with a different visual style, there is a core difference, the other meaning behind Card Dungeons.

Every time you start the game, you start with a bonus (A card) and a downside (A card). At the beginning, these options are simple: A random heal that drains mana when it happens, and not being able to buy more than one upgrade when you find a shopkeeper, regardless of your gold. Your attacks are also cards, and you only get three of them. But do you know what happens to cards when they get used, slapped down on the table, and generally subject to the abuse of play? That’s right, folks, they degrade, until they’re eventually useless! And the same thing happens to your equipment (Cards) and your attacks (Cards!) So again, you have a downside… On the one hand, you can switch out abilities at will. On the other, you have to switch out abilities, and at the worst possible time, you could run out of uses on an ability (Say, in the middle of a boss-fight), and have to survive long enough to pick up what you hope is a new ability!

This is when it's good.

Hrm… Decisions, Decisions… Let him melt, hit him some more, or set him on fire?

It’s very gimmicky, and, despite it being an interesting idea, that gimmick is also its greatest flaw. It took me almost the entire first run to realise that everything that isn’t a trap and can be used may contain treasure. It took me almost the second to realise that no, looting everything in the hope of a snazzy new ability isn’t the best way to play, and almost a third to realise that matters a whole lot less once combat begins. See, this game is presenting itself as a roguelike, but, while it fills many of the criteria of a roguelike, it only inconsistently provides an enjoyable experience. For example, I mentioned running away. I found a few “hit things and run away” style moves, along with the equivalent of teleport other (again, random in both strength and effect), but of course, there is no guarantee you’ll have one at the right time… And some cards, honestly, I ignored for being obviously toss. Stun, for example, doesn’t stop movement, only attacks, so something that only stuns isn’t actually that much use to me, because I can still be cornered. Bleeding, on its own, is a painfully slow 1 damage. And conversion, for the most part, is of dubious use.

Blooming rays. Hah. Hehe. Hahahaha.

The glare of blooming rays can also obscure tiles you may want to click.

It doesn’t help that there are certain enemy groupings, later on, where it’s extremely difficult to do anything but waste time. Multiple Eyeball type creatures, for example, can heal each other and stun you… Which makes a certain boss tedious, and later still, there are enemies that can stun, curse (Drains health and mana), and heal each other… And they can come in large groups. What can you do about it? Not a lot if your cards run out.

This sounds somewhat like bitching that I’ve run out of ammo for my favourite guns, left with “only the pistol”, but in Card Dungeons, it’s somewhat worse than that. In the final screenshot I’m going to post, I’ve shown an excellent example of being hosed. This is about halfway through the game’s several dungeons, and I have a somewhat ineffective area attack ability, a powerful, but erratically effective “GO AWAY” card, and a broken (And thus unusable) melee attack. I was trying to reach a chest as I died. I had been stunlocked, cursed… I couldn’t close the door, and going to another door… Would just as likely have killed me as badly, as the room I had just left contained three of the same kind of creature that killed me here. Just like any dungeon crawl, monsters won’t politely wait in their rooms… But unlike a normal dungeon crawl, you can’t open a door, peek inside, say “NOPE!”, and slam the door shut with the fondest hope that next time, your DM won’t be sniggering so loudly when you say you want to open something.

These are theoretically Asshole Card Wizards. Every One.

When Card Dungeon goes bad, it rather frustratingly doesn’t fuck around.

In the end, Card Dungeons is an interesting experiment. But other games do the whole “card dungeon” gimmick better, such as the more expensive Hand of Fate (The game colloquially known as “Asshole Card Wizard”), or Boss Monster (Cheaper, currently Early Access), and while it’s got replay value in the sense of multiple tries needed to “beat” the game, or 100% complete it, and it’s got time value in the sense that a single “good” run took me an hour and a half to get roughly halfway through… I don’t personally feel it’s got that much enjoyment value. Still, if you like the idea of an “oldschool” dungeon crawler with heavy randomisation in abilities (Monster types stay the same in each dungeon, and dungeons themselves are always similar in style), you could at least try it.

News In Games – 01/06/2015

Oh wow. We’re seeing a lot of the elephants in the room dragged into the light this past week and a half. In terms of shitty corporate practices, MOTDMedia makes a specific mention of Arkham Knight, a game fast getting a rep for the latest in a line of games to chop content into EXCLUSIVE DLCs for what may not even be actual short term gain. Briefly acknowledged is that AAA companies do not care about you, the consumer, so long as that cashmoney comes in over the first few months (See also Arkham Origins, whose development team were requested to prioritise DLC over patches.). Also acknowledging this fact is MerseyRemakes, who point out that yes, lots of companies just sit on licenses they’re never going to use, and may not, in fact, be the owners of. Nobody knows, or at least, nobody’s sure. And videogame history suffers, because while individual folks at a company may care, the organisation, being, y’know, a capitalist and therefore bottom-line obsessed system? Cares not a jot. Even if, paradoxically, it’s not actually losing anything because it’s not selling the thing they’re complaining is taking away money from their company.

In better news, the DOJ is being asked to start cracking down on online harassment cases, as that particular elephant in the room has finally been noticed in the American halls of power. Sadly, I’m not too confident this example will be followed in the UK, but a start is a start, and I hope that grows. Of course, shitty attitude leading to angry or dumb comments leading to assholishness and harassment is still an ongoing situation, even affecting things like playtesting and Early Access reviews. Want examples of the latter? Go look at an Early Access (IE – in Alpha or Beta), and go see how many negative reviews mention the words “Not finished” or “Not polished” or some variation of. And in the positive reviews end, low content shitposts like “Avoiding Wolves Simulator 2014” and “Wolf food simulator 2015 11/10” (The Long Dark.)

…And people say reviewers like me aren’t necessary anymore with such incisive and insightful… Er… Sarcastic jokes. This isn’t to say the games industry doesn’t do some good, but if it wants to do better, and if we want to do better, we’re gonna have to deal with the elephants in the room. For there are quite a few of them.

Releases and Trailers and Things

So, one of the biggies (for me, at least) was the sudden announcement of X-COM 2 by Firaxis, in which… We lost? No really, the official statement has it all, and while I won’t repeat the whole thing, I’ll sum up the salient points and link to the trailer:

  • Killing the Ethereal who was controlling the aliens didn’t end the invasion.
  • Within 20 years of the first game, humanity are now second class citizens in an alien “Utopia” (Read: Shiny looking Authoritarian Dystopia)
  • XCOM aren’t backed by the nations of the world anymore. In fact, they had to make their home base mobile, and are now the resistance.
  • There are Snakemen. They look fucking awesome.
  • There are swords, which would normally be cool. Sadly, they look like Katanas, because it’s the go-to for swords in video games. Le sigh.
  • The game should come out November. I will be reviewing the shit out of it when it does.

And now for the trailer. The turnaround reminds me somewhat of UFO Aftershock (Another spiritual successor to the original XCOM), but in a good way. Looking forward to it.

I would mention Magicka 2’s release more, but a review is incoming on that (Hopefully this weekend), so I’ll only say: If you liked Magicka 1, odds are you’ll like Magicka 2, because, on the surface at least, not much appears to have changed.

LEGO, in conjunction with Traveller’s Tales (Fine purveyor of addictive smashing LEGO brick type games) have released their own procedural block breaking and building thing (You know, sort of like Minecraft) on Early Access… Today! So, er… Honestly, I’m kind of ambivalent about this one, the LEGO games have palled on me in recent years. But I thought I should mention it.

Sadly, there’s not much else I’d recommend at first glance for cashmoney, although for zero cashmoney, I would recommend you take a look at the entries of the Public Domain Jam 2 (Especially Lair of the Morlocks ) and, on Pay What You Want on Itch.IO, Hot Date, a game about dating the most adorably dorky of God’s creatures, the humble Pug.

Going Back: Brainpipe – The Plunge To Unhumanity

The Eyes. They watch your every mouse click.

The title splash is deceptively simple. Like the game.

Brainpipe is, at first glance, a simple game. It’s a game about falling down a tube, trying to last as long as possible, while collecting glyphs for extra score, and not being hurt by various things. But that’s quite a reductive way of looking at it. Let’s look at it some different ways.

Brainpipe appears to have an ending. I’ve never seen it, but it would appear to have a finite number of levels, with a finite number of glyphs. Providing you’ve done extremely well, there are 9 glyphs in each level. Missing one makes you lose out on the rest for that level. There’s something there. But again, that’s still too reductive. Whether it has a win state, or is an endless falling game, or a fail state (Yes, it has that, for sure, as well as regenerating health) isn’t important here, that’s not the selling point. Nor is the fact that, on Steam, it’s all of £1.59. No, there’s more to it than that, something quite clever.

I actually achieved confusion somewhere after clicking Go.

I missed Dissonance and, embarassingly, Awareness along the way.

It makes references to the oblivion of the self (You are falling down the brainpipe to self-oblivion.) The guide for whether you hit or miss an obstacle looks like a wireframe of an eyeball. Your eyeball… If you focus where the eyeball is, you genuinely do better. Get distracted, and you hit things. Hit things, and the eyeball dilates (Like it does when you’re shocked, or in pain.) If it dilates all the way, you lose. But again, this is too reductive. This is mechanics, and Brainpipe is clever, in that the mechanics blend into the experience it wants to present. I have no doubt somebody is reading this and saying “What, it’s an arcade tunnel falling game, what the fuck kind of deep insight are you looking for here?”

You’re probably not getting it because it’s something that has to be experienced, to be seen, and, just as importantly, heard. You see, your own mind struggles against the concept of self oblivion. It wants stimulus… And in Brainpipe, stimulus is precisely your enemy. The game assaults you, with sound, with pretty lights, with smoke and shifting walls and morphing numbers… When your eye should be on the prize… The subsumation of the self into a single goal… The eye must catch those glyphs, eat them up, as the brain tries ever harder to stop you focussing, the game tries ever harder to trip you up, and you get the urge to move, quickly now, out of the way of an obstacle. You can slow down for a bit, if you want… But if you do, you earn less… You have to rush to oblivion.

The Walls aren't that bad. On their *own*

No sudden moveme- SHIT, WALLS NOW? AAAA [PAIN]

Oh, you don’t fool me, Brainpipe. Or rather, at first you don’t. You start off distracting me only a little. And then you ramp it up. Opera. Showtunes. A man crying “pew pew pew”. A lady muttering, and the only word you can catch is “death”. You’re ominous, then bright, then silly, then dark, then… Fuck, I’ve hit an obstacle. Fuck, I’ve hit ano-fuck fuck fuck TINKLE…

…High score. But those glyphs… Those glyphs still taunt me. I’m almost certain there’s something there, but I’m sure as hell not begging. I’m not asking. And that’s…

…That’s self destructive. There’s the moment of revelation, right there. This is a game that makes you want to destroy your avatar, makes you want to take risks… For a secret that may not even exist, an enlightenment of no-thought, only subtle movements of your eye and mouse, getting twitchier the further you get in, more frightened of failure, of your own forthcoming oblivion.

It’s secretly a really fucking clever game.

You probably can.

…It’s also a game I’m alright at. Can *you* reach further to oblivion?

Brainpipe is available on Steam . There is only one achievement, and it is not a Steam achievement. It is an achievement of the self. Nobody I know has attained it.