Heaven Will Be Mine (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (Soundtrack £7.19)
Where To Get It: Steam

Heaven Will Be Mine is one of those visual novels that packs a lot into its relatively tiny frame. Like the mechs it pilots, existential warriors in both space… And phase space, its core is super dense. And if this seems like pretty, poetic words, to lull you into buying into it… Well, they are and they aren’t.

You know you’re in for a wild ride when ship specs have you reaching for your fan.

See, it’s hard to describe good, sensual writing without a little bit of poetry getting into the informational. And notice that I said sensual, not sexual. More than one way to peel a banana, friend. So let’s get the purely informational out of the way, get to the fun stuff.

As noted, Heaven Will Be Mine is a visual novel. You make choices, and those choices lead toward an ending. How? Well, that depends on both your choices, and which (if any) of the three factions you favour. Which of the pilots you choose affects the story, sure… But which ending you choose doesn’t necessarily depend on the pilot. After all, this is a game where the war is mostly a battle of ideas, and sometimes… The best way to win is to lose. Read chats, get into the heads of three flawed and interesting pilots, each with support staff, and mails, and world, and context…

…It seems complex, but it really isn’t, and the game makes it clear that it wants you to experience it, whether you pick the events that are “wins” or “losses.” Will it end in war, or something else? Well, that’s up to you, and I wouldn’t dream of giving you hints. Visually, the game is clear, with an interface that draws you in, fitting well, and musically… Musically, it shines, every track fitting the mood.

Not pictured: A long bass thrum, seemingly never ending, which screams “Threat” to the nether portions of the brain.

Now, the meat of the review. You see, despite being lewd as heck, to the point where I spent most of my first run alternating between gnawing on my thumb and my lip, blushing beet red, this not only doesn’t come at the expense of its universe, it also doesn’t come with the expense of being Not Safe For Work. The writing is flirtatious, concentrating more on feelings, engaging the senses to bring you into its mood. While I’m mostly writing this from the perspective of Saturn, each character has their own mood, and it does a good job of getting that mood across. Saturn is out for fun, to do the unexpected, and to have fun. Luna-Terra is, as their commander notes, strong yet fragile, wounded and whole, conflicts working perfectly… And Pluto… Pluto feels all encompassing, awe inspiring and paradoxically merciful in her deadly gravity well. Aevee Bee, as writer, has done an excellent job of making the posthuman both alien… And attractive, and the rest of the game follows this lead very well.

Of course, all of this has been very emotionally described, but, in a very real sense, that’s the point… It’s not a game I could review well by saying “This is good” , or “This is lewd”, or “This doesn’t feel right” , because a lot of it is about feeling, and Heaven Will Be Mine succeeds on this front very well.

While, of the three, I had the most enjoyable time with Saturn, I found Luna-Terra the most interesting.

The Mad Welshman smiles a little, and his e-cig lights up, as he shakes ever so slightly. The future, it seems, is filled with possibilities…

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A Brief Chat With Matt Phillips About Tanglewood (Interview)

As long time readers may know, I’m a big fan of learning from the older elements of game development history. So it was a little bit of a pleasure to have a brief chat with one of the creators of Tanglewood, Matt Phillips of Big Evil Corp, to get a glimpse of the kind of things you have to deal with when using a development kit from 1993, on a well known 16-bit system, to make a game in 2018.
TMW: As someone who grew up with older systems, it’s quite nice to see folks still making things for those older systems, what inspired you to go down that route?
 
The kid in me wouldn’t let it go – it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a 9 year old, proud Mega Drive owner. I also had access to a Commodore 64, so I was no stranger to the delights (and frustrations) of programming from an early age, and the dream never faded all the way through to adulthood.
 
TMW: There’s a lot that folks don’t really know about making games for older systems, so I’d like to start by indulging folks’ curiosity on creating a game for an older platform. Knowing that you were going to make Genesis cartridges, what sort of obstacles did you face, in the coding and hardware end?
 
The biggest problem we faced was that none of this old equipment works reliably any more. The devkit is from 1993, and parts fail on a regular basis. It’s quite frustrating when you’ve spent a few hours debugging a problem in the game, only to find out your code wasn’t at fault – it was another problem with the machine! When it works, it works BRILLIANTLY, though. I’ve yet to find a modern alternative that does such a good job.
 
Learning the language was a tough one, since resources for this kind of thing are few and far between these days. Further into development I started finding other 68000 programmers to talk to, and we struggled together to figure out some of the more intricate parts of the Mega Drive, and banded together to figure out optimisation issues.
 
TMW: Similarly, when building a game for an older system, there are limitations. What sort of things did you want to put in, but found wouldn’t really work?
 
The Mega Drive’s Achilles heel is its limited palette – it has 4 palettes of 16 colours, but three of those are reserved for transparency, so only 61 colours can be displayed on screen at any one time. Even worse, there are deeper rules about how those colours can be assigned to pixels, so we had to write a lot of tools to help arrange everything. Thankfully we found the right artists for the job, and they did most of the heavy lifting when it came to arranging colour usage.
 
Another issue is the slow CPU – although it certainly wasn’t at the time, the 68000 was a luxury compared to other consoles. There were a few things I had to cull in order for the game to run smoothly, the one that hurt the most was buoyancy on physics objects. Originally, Fuzzls could float on water, and would have been hilarious, but I had to rip it all out because it was only a gimmick and was very heavy on CPU usage.
 
TMW: Now, one of the hot button issues of the day is the games industry’s preservation (or lack thereof) … What would you, once the game’s reached the end of its sales life, like to do to preserve it for the future?
 
This is something I’ve thought a lot about, and I’d like to be the anti-corporation in all of this and release the game’s source on github on its 1 year anniversary – complete with raw assets. I can’t see sales coming in strong after a year, people would benefit more from studying – and maybe laughing at – the source code.
 
TMW: Well, thank you for talking to us, Matt, and, in conclusion, what sort of advice would you give to aspiring game devs of the future? 
 
Make games. Make a lot of games. Just keep making games. Small games, stupid games, experimental games, ambitious games, games on new platforms, games on obscure platforms, just keep doing it and you’ll end up with such a wide range of skills you’ll be able to walk into any studio. Don’t stick to one genre, engine, tool, or discipline, try it all out.
Tanglewood released on the 14th of August, and you can see my thoughts here.

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Tanglewood (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s an interesting world we live in, right now. A time where the oldest computer systems are starting to die, and parts to fix them have become short in supply, due to the simple fact that nobody really makes the chips any more. So when I heard about Tanglewood, a game which was developed for the Genesis (or Mega Drive, if you prefer) using the devkit, and, indeed, was also produced in cartridge form, I had to take a look.

I would, on the face of things, be perpetually angry if this was my purpose in life too.

And you know what? It isn’t bad. Emulated on its PC/Steam release, it works fairly well within its limitations, to create a somewhat minimalist puzzle platformer about a fox… Living in a supernaturally cursed forest. And this fox’s only friends are rocks… and fluffy balls called Fuzzl, who grant Nymn, the lost little fox, special abilities if rolled back to their nests.

So let’s get the bad out of the way first, because, thankfully, it’s somewhat brief. Movement has a fair amount of inertia, and not all the platforms have that extra bit of jumping room most platformer players are used to, so it’s better to jump slightly earlier than you think you’re meant to. Also, if you’re pushing something, and an enemy is coming for you, it’s quicker to let go of the controls, then jump, than let go of the push button while still moving, and trying to jump. Finally, the early Djakk (Big, quicker than you beasties with big teeth) chases can be a pain in the ass to nail due to water screwing with your jump timing. End of things I don’t like.

RUNRUNRUNRUNRUN!

Otherwise, it’s tough, but fair. Eight chapters, split into relatively short segments, and each introduces its concepts quite well. Chapter two, Act three, for example, has lightning as its primary antagonistic element, and this is shown very early on with a Hogg directly showing the consequences of being out in the open (IE – Nothing above you.) Clear, quick, direct. No lives system, so while there are stakes, you’re not pressured into perfection first time, and checkpoints are, for the most part, very sensible, being at the start and end of each “puzzle.” With three buttons, each with a clear function, and a nice in-game manual available in the ESC menu, it’s also fairly accessible, and I didn’t have any trouble distinguishing between visual elements. So… That’s fairly nice!

Aesthetically, the game is somewhat minimalist, but in a pleasant way. Each chapter has a day, an evening, and a night theme to it, with some ambient noise every now and again, and small musical stings for each area. Otherwise, it’s fairly quiet, and for this, it works, because often, you’ll hear enemies and Fuzzls before you see them, and, considering death is mostly by contact, this is a good setup. It also fits the mood well, as the feel of threat is increased by the silence… Well, for anyone who’s been to a forest and understands why that’s a bad sign, anyway.

As such, the good outweighs the flaws in Tanglewood, and I feel pretty comfortable recommending it for folks who like platform puzzlers. For those interested, there’s also a brief interview with Matt Phillips, head of Big Evil Corp, on the site as well.

On the one hand, pushing drastically slows you down, be it a big or small object. On the other, most of the time, it’s pretty low pressure.

The Mad Welshman is somehow surprised he was caught off guard by the death-squirrels. He already knew they were… ogoshsocuteARGHMYFACE.

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Posthuman: Sanctuary (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: Second Update (2/8/18)

The post mutation landscape is one hell of a place, alright. A wide open world, filled with all sorts of folk. Death is pretty much certain, and if it isn’t from violence, it’s from losing all hope in a world where old Homo Sap has been replaced by Homo Instert-Here-As-Many-Times-As-Necessary.

The contour lines are a nice touch, visually speaking, and I like the clarity.

Welcome to Posthuman: Sanctuary, a not-quite adaptation of the survival board game of the same name. Although, at the present stage, the major shift from the board game, a story mode, is not available. Still, there’s survival mode, and, right now? That’s a fairly replayable doozy, with a few quibbles.

The overall idea is that you’re trying to get to three specific waypoints on the map, eventually reaching the fabled Sanctuary. However, to get there, not only do you have to unlock those waypoints by visiting certain tile types (Forests, Mountains, Rural Areas, and Cities) in a specific order before you get to them, you have to deal with hunger, morale, the loyalty of any fellow survivors you meet along the way, mutants… And the possibility you’ll mutate yourself (At which point you’ll no longer be welcome in this strictly human sanctuary.) Not having had the foresight to scan the surroundings yourself (and with Google Maps long gone), you don’t actually know much of what’s beyond your safezone, beyond the existence of the waypoints, and certain survivors.

Add in weather, the fact you take one action a day (out of Scouting, Moving, Foraging, and Camping), and it costs food per day, combat, and events, and… Well, good luck!

A fine example: Karl Marx murdered me just a turn or two after this picture. Turns out the Kommune are badasses.

Aesthetically, the game is currently fairly good visually, with a clear, comic like style, and musically alright, with tracks that aren’t intrusive, but fit their mood quite well. The UI’s pretty clear, although it must be said that it would be nice, certainly, to know how many survival points I have to my next character unlock.

It would also be a good time to point out that hitting the options at the start, minimalist as they currently are, would be a good idea due to the simple virtue of noticing that there are R Rated events, and turning them off if you don’t like that idea. They may well be on the level of “I slept with this person, and it felt good” , but I can understand that’s not for everyone, and the game has enough to deal with as it is. Funnily enough, post apocalyptic settings are not nice places to be, so I’ve dealt with lynch mobs, cannibals, mutant haters and human haters alike, and a bundle of other not nice folks.

Apart from that, and my other niggle that once you select an event, you can’t seem to unselect it (which has been rather trying when I misclicked) , the game, honestly, feels alright at the present stage. Combat is easy to understand, the board portion is easy to understand, and I haven’t felt dicked over any more than I would expect in a board game, in a post apocalyptic setting, where life is kinda rough. It’s nice to see a clear UI, and explanations of events easily accessible, the events are interesting, the world seems interesting, and I look forward to seeing more.

On the one hand, shades of grey, fairly nice. On the other, it’s basically Mutants/Humans right now, which… Well, that’s an approach that has its issues.

The Mad Welshman would probably be a bad survivor. An okay tyrant, sure… But a bad survivor.

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Wayward Souls (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.29
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: 8/8 Update.

Wayward Souls is, at the present time, a game with no in between. Not completely, as health is a bar, special abilities are ammo or inventory based, and, even with death, money is accrued which can be put into character abilities. No, I’m mainly talking, at the present time, about one of the core features of Wayward Souls: The enemies.

Swarmed by boars. Cause for concern? Well… Not really.

Enemies, in Wayward Souls, are either light speedbumps, or lethal terrors… And there’s no real in-between to the two. Bats? Well, they’ll hurt you if you’re inattentive, sure. But that’s usually because you’re worrying more about the five fellers throwing rocks and pickaxes, or the big crushy robots that only die when they charge into a wall twice. But pickaxe wielders are never really a problem on their own, despite their aiming. Rock fellers lose most of their threat once they switch to melee mode… Even within enemy types, there are states where the challenge swiftly moves from “Will most likely get hurt if I tangle with this (and I have to, because I’m locked in with it)” to “Will only catch me unawares if I’m literally asleep.”

The problem being that this feeling of the seemingly arbitrary bleeds over into other areas. Why are some areas of the mine, the first dungeon’s major locale, almost unreadably dark, while others are brightly lit enough that everything is clear? Unknown. Why do I feel absolutely nothing about spending a ramping amount on what may end up 16% crit chance (1,2,4,8,16), and may end up a measly, overexpensive 5% (1,2,3,4,5)? Well, the clue there is that both numbers aren’t exactly big, and spending money on an individual character is an investment you maybe want to feel something about (In the majority of cases, I don’t.) Why was switching healing at the end of the level with, er… Finding a healing fountain you can use once per level considered a change, rather than a restatement of “You only get one heal per level of the dungeon?” I don’t know. All I know is how I feel about them, and I don’t particularly feel great.

Sometimes, there will be ghosts. Who have somewhat interesting things to say.

Thing is, Wayward Souls has some good ideas hidden in the murk of this oddly arbitrary feeling balance. Splitting up dungeons is good. Having different stories for the different characters (some of whom are unlocked via progress), giving different perspectives… That’s good. Being able to pick your playstyle, to a certain extent, with characters… That’s good. And some of the enemy designs are, to be fair, very nice, the music is nice, and the sound works well… Heck, it even has the nice touch that your grave messages can be seen by friends (or people with the friend code), and you can leave gifts with those grave messages. That’s a genuinely nice touch…

…But, at the present time, the core of the game, the fighting of enemies, feels not so much like a gradation, slowly moving upwards, but a chaotic jumble of the easy and the rough, slapped together. I have more trouble with levels than I do the bosses, and even that isn’t a hard and fast rule, and that… That just feels wrong.

Maybe Wayward Souls will improve. But right now, the enemies feel oddly inconsistent, the early levels feel muddy, and the interesting ideas the game is presenting just aren’t saving it.

On the one hand, an amusing message from a bud is its own reward. On the other, the protection buff definitely didn’t hurt either.

The Mad Welshman reminds developers: Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and always consider interesting ideas when you see them.

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