Blade Ranten – A Game That Failed to Save

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I first remember hearing about this game maybe a year before it’s release on the Australian Gamer podcast. At the time it sounded promising and I always like to support aussie devs out of some kind of misplaced sense of patriotism so I remember buying it in the Black Friday sales back in 2010. There is unfortunately a reason it has taken 6 years for me to play through the whole game. It isn’t very good.

It’s a platformer based on a what was apparently a webcomic at the time but is now only available for purchase. I have no idea what the source material was like but it has not born adaption to the game very well. It feels like either a lot of expository material was cut or the developers seriously misjudged how much we are expected to follow and care about events on this planet. These problems are evident from the very beginning where we get barely an outline from the opening cutscene. Kit Ballard is there for a job, but our ship is destroyed and our breaker key taken from us. At no point is it established what this breaker key does and why we need it back. Heck, after finishing the initial release I still have no idea what that key is for and why it was so critical for us to retrieve it.

The controls aren’t quite responsive enough for the kind of platforming we are asked to do, the enemies are capable of disrupting and stunning us resulting in crowds being a pain to handle and the levels are filled with collectables that seem completely pointless until the store is introduced at the end of the second level. Even then there isn’t any time spent emphasising using the store to upgrade your character, there isn’t even an opportunity to use the store between levels.

To top this off, the developers, Krome Studios, were in a bit of trouble at the time and Blade Kitten didn’t really help, not long after they went through some significant downsizing and never actually finished the story. The game was intended to be episodic and the initial release ends 2 acts through a 3 act story. What actually put this game back on my radar is that Krome Studios released a DLC last year to finish up the Blade Kitten story. I haven’t bought it yet, but if people would like me to I can and see what they have learned from making mobile games for the past five years.

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Indie Wonderland: Frost

I discovered early last year that, for reasons I’m not 100% on, I really enjoy deckbuilding games. Dominion, Ascension, you might know the genre. And long-running site fans may remember the Star Realms diaries, a series of videos that saw me and Ranneko face off in White Wizard Games‘ first and most successful deckbuilding outing. I still play Star Realms on the regular, in fact — come challenge me if you have no-one better to fight!

So you can imagine that when I ran across Le Studio des TénèbresFrost on a routine Steam dive, my interest was piqued immediately. A deck-building game with (seemingly) the same ‘central row’ mechanic that Star Realms and Ascension use? Except it’s single-player-focused, and themed around desperate survival in a desolate arctic hellscape? Yeah, I’m pretty much down with that. Let’s see how long I can stave off freezing to death!

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, not really a factor. Mechanical, medium high.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Frost. It turns out that ‘freezing to death’ is only one of my many many problems.

Torment Thursdays 2-2 – What Happened To The Lab?

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This is why it is interesting to play a semi-public beta; we get to see the content evolve over time. Last time the changes I encountered were kind of disappointing, today’s changes are pretty pleasing. They drastically shortened the time spent in the mental space, the area I think of as the initial character creation set up. As much as I loved the flavour of the initial tidal attunement, especially when you include the big long choose your own adventure section it did simply take too long. I hope that they can reuse some of that content a little later on after the player has more of a chance to get to grips with Numenera’s setting and mechanics.

It also simplifies our very first introduction to combat. The previous version had an odd fight we couldn’t win through direct combat, it makes for interesting variation but a poor introduction. This new scene is much faster and simpler and it still shows off the very basic combat system before the more complicated crisis we will encounter later.

It is interesting seeing this content sandwiched between the two parts that are almost entirely unchanged from the Alpha Systems Tests, I guess those parts have already had enough iteration for InXile to be confident with them. I still find it annoying that we pick up a numenera that is meant to drown out laughter that cannot be used when interacting with a smug laughing machine or the strange giggling numenera outside. It only really need a minor change in description, have it clear that it only impacts the holder and not the speaker for example. Its odd to have nothing acknowledge the stranger impacts of the items that you may be carrying.

On an unrelated note I have upgraded my computer! This hopefully will allow me to improve the quality of the videos I am making, certainly on a raw technological level that is already happening given this video is available in stunning 1440p at 60fps, you’ve never seen text so good.

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Indie Shortieland: Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire

Through the arcane social magic rituals of ‘I know a guy who knows a guy‘, I was contacted by one Pehesse, freelance illustrator and aspiring game creator. They asked me if I’d be interested in taking a look at their first opus: Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire, a game that purports to combine visual novel ‘life manager’ mechanics with a 2D side-view beat-em-up.

Of course I said yes. That sounds like a match made in heaven! C’mon, tell me that my month of Sakura terror wouldn’t have been vastly improved if the games paused every now on and again to let me wail on some fools.

Now, here’s the thing. I was given access to an internal test version of Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire (from here on out: Honey Rose) for review and entertainment purposes. This game isn’t particularly open to the general public yet; think less Early Access and more Steam Greenlight campaign. While I’m glad I’m getting to play it already, though, this does mean I can’t really run a full in-depth review on it. It’s just not finished yet. How ‘not finished’? This ‘not finished’:

No… no options? Is that sort of thing even *allowed*?

With a game this early in development, I’ve never quite sure what I can say depth-wise that isn’t just a result from its unfinished status. No options? Dodgy balance? Screen flickering in certain scenes? Settings seemingly change every time I load up? Hitting the Z button immediately dumps me back to the main menu without so much as an ‘are you sure’? Probably all development artifacts. As a result, I feel I’d have to walk on eggshells when doing a full review: is this real, is that real, or am I commenting on the mirage of a future improvement right now?

What I can do is tell you a little bit about what Honey Rose aims to be. A summary of a development summary, if you will. It won’t tell you very much about the game’s polish or quality… but maybe it’ll tell you what you need to know. Whether or not you want to be following this game’s development. Or not, if it’s not your thing. Either way is a victory for Team Get People Involved With The Games That They’d Like.

After the break: Honey Rose. Does this game follow through on its punchy initial premise?

Torment Thursdays 2-1 – Character Creation Take Two

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Torment Thursday is making its return. I stopped doing them primarily because the game ran pretty terribly on my system and the beta was also pretty unstable on it. It wore down my patience especially since it currently lacks a decent autosave system and I really didn’t like having to replay the same content over and over again.  Once I made my mind up, inXile Entertainment promptly decided to update the beta, revise the UI, tighten up some of the engine and mess around with the mechanics and story. So it is time to jump back in and replay all that content all over again.

The first couple of scenes are pretty much the same as it was even way back in the first Alpha Systems Test, we have the emphasis on a combination of text and a little voice and sound work, with elaborate scenes describing what your character is doing and remembering without having much if anything reflected in the visuals. It is obviously pretty limited and I still think it would be significantly improved by adding even a few static pieces of art, but I love the flavour of the memories, it is a soft introduction to the strangeness that is the world of Numenera and they have to work to draw you into the bizarre science fantasy blend.

The most significant change they have made in this version is the introduction of hitpoints, something I have to admit I am a little disappointed by. In the tabletop game of Numenera only NPCs have hitpoints, players just have their three stat pools, might, speed and intelligence. These pools are used when spending effort in checks and also when you take damage, if a pool runs dry you take penalties and if all three run out you die. This means that using your combat powers always comes at the price of making you more vulnerable. It also means that you cannot completely ignore a stat pool, even if none of your powers directly uses it as you may always be attacked. This is baked into the system at a fairly low level, for example most attacks hit might, so might is used by fewer skills and abilities. By adding hitpoints and removing this feature, might becomes less valuable unless they do further tweaking.

Colin McComb has stated on the inXile forums that this change was made with the approval of Monte Cook Games and they do have a about half a year to iterate on and balance this change, but I can’t help but feel that they are sacrificing some of the uniqueness of the system to make it easier to quickly understand for newcomers and to make overall combat balance easier. It is a trade off that it easy to understand but also a little sad.

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Indie Wonderland: Freaking Meatbags

I can think of no better way to celebrate the end of our current Steam Sale than by playing a game I didn’t even know I had. Anyone want to place bets on the most likely way that Wild Factor‘s Freaking Meatbags made its way into my possession? I’m figuring either Steam sale, next-to-nothing bundle, or a Steam sale on a next-to-nothing bundle.

I’ve had this game sitting on my desktop for the better part of 2016. I have no idea what it’s like. Is this week the week I finally find out?

Title of this column seems to suggest that, yes. Yes it it.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium.)

(Game source: ???. I mean I probably bought it myself, so let’s go with that.)

After the break: Freaking Meatbags. What are the odds of these game containing friendly, helpful meatbags? Another bet for the adventurous, right here.

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Notice Of Service Resumption / Indie Tinyland: Dragon Sweeper

Heya, readers! After three weeks of being utterly adrift in the United States of America, I am finally and once again back in the Netherlands. Which is to say, back at my PC, which has all my fancy games on it. Expect regular Indie Wonderland service to resume from next week onward. I’d say I have some good ones lined up for you, but that would be lying; I don’t even know what I’m going to play right now, as I’m writing this. I still don’t know! Life is a mystery sometimes.

But as a small nugget of ‘thanks for your time and patience’, let me tell you just the smallest bit about Jesse Freeman‘s Dragon Sweeper.

Just a bit.

Dragon Sweeper is what happens when Minesweeper is also an RPG. Yes, I know that doesn’t make any sense. And yet.

You play Dragon Sweeper by clicking semi-randomly in a field of covered squares, slowly revealing parts of the field as you do. And then using the revealed information to fine-tune your searching. Your goal is to locate and neutralize several particular squares in as little time and as little clicks as possible. So far, so familiar, right? Sure, the ‘grid’ is actually an (irregular) island, and instead of numbers, you uncover open fields and forests and mountains, all conveniently surrounding and pointing to ‘monster lairs’.

There are two more monster lairs in this image. Can *you* guess where they’re placed?

But Dragon Sweeper diverges from Minesweeper in that you actually want to click on the monster lairs. Because that takes your character into the lair. Where you then fight the associated monster.

Using a simple, but not necessarily ‘easy’ rhythm game.

Oh yeah, you have a character. A Knight, Cleric, Thief, or Wizzard (sic). Each with their own special attack. And then there are levels, and hit points, and skill points, and gold, and towns where you can spend that gold…

There’s slightly more to it than meets the eye.

Dragon Sweeper is name-your-own-price to download, which means you can technically get it for free. Don’t do that, though. But for a few bucks, it’s a neat little twist on an established formula. Might get you through a boring hour or two. More if you share your computer with others, in which case there’s the scoring element to take into consideration. Less if you’re, like, really good at Minesweeper. And even if that’s the case, this game still has dragons in it — don’t count it out just yet.

Jarenth has eaten almost nothing but greasy American food for three weeks straight. Empathize on Twitter or hang out with him on Steam. And if you dig Indie Wonderland and Ninja Blues in general, why not consider supporting our Patreon campaign?

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Discord Server & Stream Schedule (Indefinite Until Further Notice)

You can’t accuse us of being behind the times, because now we have our very own Discord server! If you look at the sidebar on your right you’ll now see a Discord widget that lets you see online members and connect with a button click.

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So what’s Discord, you ask? Well now I see it’s YOU who’s behind the times! But anyway, Discord is essentially a text-and-voice-chat service where you can participate in multiple channels, make your own channel, and/or integrate your channel with your sponsored Twitch or Youtube channel. It’s very intuitive, it has customizable notifications, you don’t have to mess with IP addresses or port forwarding to voice chat, and all-in-all it feels like the next step forward for PC gaming chat.

Also, I now have it set up to notify all server members (unless you opt out) whenever I’m streaming on my Twitch channel that you all follow! You follow it, right?

stream HA HA GET IT?

Speaking of streaming, now that I’m switching from a weird janky ten-hour-days, four-day-weeks work schedule to a more standard Monday-to-Friday affair, I’m assigning myself a regular Twitch stream schedule that I’ll be using indefinitely until I post again to change it. The plan is that I’ll be streaming Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8:00 to 10:00 PM Central time, and whenever I’m available and up to it on Saturday and/or Sunday. This will start on June 20th (this upcoming Monday) and I’m going to gauge how much I can handle streaming 3 days a week. I’d love to upgrade to 5 days a week, but, baby steps.

So mark your calendars, and hop on the Discord server to be notified and to engage. And to anyone who stopped by for my streams the past two weeks, thanks! And sorry I didn’t stream on Tuesday or Wednesday. Internet problems.

Jarenth, It’s Monday, Where’s My Indie Wonderland

Whoops. I totally forgot to post this earlier, didn’t I?

On account of a close friend’s wedding, I’ve spent the last three days in scenic Spokane, Washington. I’m still there, in fact! Scenic mountain far-sights are great for an agoraphobia sufferer, let me tell you.

I haven’t had a chance to play anything major this week, for two reasons: a) most of my time has gone towards this wedding, and b) the only laptop I have with me right now is a low-powered work laptop. It can technically run several games, but… let’s just say I’m not sure I feel comfortable reviewing anything new when I can’t reliably tell if it’s working well.

Consider this week, and the next three weeks, an overdue Official Indie Wonderland Break. I might be able to throw something together, and I’ll be a part of Justin’s streaming schedule as much as I can hack — I did actually remember to pack a headset and a mic. Otherwise, regular service should hopefully resume in July.

Thanks for understanding! Have a selfie.

No, not Justin, sadly.

Featuring *secret mystery guest*.