Secrets of ‘High School Story’ #hssgame

hssgame

A few weeks ago, I was at a homeschool education conference for my work, and I got chatting with a twelve-year-old about our favorite games. (This was a theme of the conference weekend, and I got quite a few game recommendations from the under-18 crowd) She was very excited to find out that I also play High School Story, and gave me all the details of unlocking the secret missions. I didn’t even know there were any secret missions!

But I had my own High School Story secret. See, I didn’t expect to be showing my high-school themed appointment-style game to anyone, so I sort of named all my HSS students after Star Trek characters, and put them in Star Trek situations. As one does.

Student gov’t Seven reveals her #Borg past in #HighSchoolStory #hssgame #Voyager #7of9 #ios #screenshot

A photo posted by Meg (@simpsonsparadox) on

This won’t end well, Tuvok. #hssgame #Voyager #latergram A photo posted by Meg (@simpsonsparadox) on

Think that’s called shipping. #HighSchoolStory #hssgame #startrek #trek #fanfic #otp

A photo posted by Meg (@simpsonsparadox) on

It lines up pretty well, in case you were thinking of trying it.

 

Continuity

continuity screenshot“Easy to learn, hard to master” is usually considered the gold standard for a casual game. The more time new players must spend, learning how systems and items work, the less casual and accessible the game is. (I love a good World of Warcraft or Icewind Dale, too, playing a game for years and still discovering new abilities for new character classes, and still finding tweaks to my customized hotkeys.) But accessible doesn’t have to mean match-three.

Continuity simply uses arrow keys to solve puzzles, in two modes. The first mode is a slider puzzle, with gentle meditative background music. In this mode, the puzzle is to build a path for your little hero to get the red key and get into the red door.

Hit spacebar to enter the second mode, a platform adventure exploring the path you just made. Again, players will use arrow keys to navigate, trying to get the key and then reach the door.The faster, more energetic music matches the jumping and running challenge.

continuity 3

There’s a surprising amount of variation in the 30+ levels. Later levels add extra keys, and speed-pausing puzzles, but the real growing challenge, and the real fun, comes from the interplay of the two gameplay modes. Players are building a platform game through a slider puzzle, then playtesting it, switching back to change the layout, playing again, switching back and forth to reach a goal.

Working in games, it’s hard not to play a game and think that it’s just like a popular other title with 1 vector of innovation, the common “like X but with Y” formula. In this case, I played each new level and legitimately wondered how the developers came up with it. So fun. It actually was really easy to learn the game rules, and then quite challenging to defeat the later levels.

Anyway, I discovered the PC version of this game over on Kongregate, but there’s also a mobile version of Continuity 2 for iOs and for Android.

Shades of ‘Grey’ and Rainbow Colors

greyGrey, from Kevin Does Artis a little platformer in a grey world. I’m not great at platformers, well, actually, that’s an understatement, but I tried to overlook my general dislike of platformers when I checked out this game for our students.

The game opens in a sad grey world, which is one of my favorite settings. You’re a little blocky dude, and your little blocky friend with long hair is sad. The game description says that you’re a guy and this friend is your girlfriend, but there’s no dialogue or in-game description to clarify this, so I just imagined her as a sad friend. I liked this interpretation. Save the world from certain doom is a pretty common game story, so go cheer up your buddy made a pretty engaging game hook.

The protag waves at her a couple times, but she doesn’t react. Actually, she doesn’t react to anything, and I’m so bad at platformers that when my friend wouldn’t respond to my actions, I thought I didn’t understand the controls. Then a compass of colored directions appears, which is actually telling you how to solve the puzzle. Of course, I went jumping and running off towards a color, because the world is grey.

I expected to have a lot of trouble with this platform game, but it was more using platforms and jumping as a method to explore, rather than an exercise in timing and tapping buttons. In each direction, there’s a small colorful item, like a blue necklace or a green shamrock, and of course, I picked it up. I’m an adventure gamer, I pick up everything that’s not locked down. Sometimes I get a bobby pin and pick the lock and then I pick up the item. Moving on.

I thought my sad friend would cheer up when I brought her gifts but she didn’t react. This time, I didn’t think I was doing it wrong, because the world reacted. When I gave her the shamrock, all the grass and trees in the world turned green. With the blue necklace, the gray waters turned blue.

grey greenThe protag can only hold one item at once, so there’s no speedy playthrough by grabbing everything in one circular path, but that meant that I kept exploring a slowly-changing world. Each new color made the world more vibrant and alive, even ones like purple or orange that I expected to be accent colors. It made my landmarks (see previous re: not good at platformers) harder to identify, and made the same old path seem new.

After bringing the last gift, and fulling coloring the world, the sad girl finally reacted. I was… not prepared for this. With the last color, the girl stands up, the protag fades away, and the girl goes on with her life. The animation is open to interpretation, but… I think he’s dead.

Until this point, I’d seen Grey as a minimalist indie platformer about adding colors to a gameworld. The gifts, which seemed like easy-to-draw representations of each color, suddenly seemed terribly sad. A teddy bear, a piece of candy. Actually, didn’t I see a gravestone when I was picking that flower? I realized the sad-girlfriend character was more of a grieving child, retrieving her memories and coming out of a depression, and it was not at all what I expected from a simple platformer.

 

Career Lessons From The Sims: Lifetime Wish

meg writingSo I recently noticed that following the Writer skill track for The Sims 3 draws an interesting distinction between mastery of the skill, creating brilliant work, selling profitable work, and the activity of writing. Thinking about these distinctions has led to way more existential questions than you might expect from relaxing with my imaginary game people. Does my Sim want to write something brilliant? Create a masterpiece? Earn good money writing? Make money on this piece, or overall?  Or just feel like writing something for fun?

In Sims 3, each Sims has an individual Lifetime Wish, chosen at the beginning of the game, which answers which type of writing they should pursue. They might want to rule the free world, or learn every recipe ever, or be a chess grandmaster, or whatever, and they’ll be working towards this their whole life, unless you’re the kind of player who puts your Sims in the pool and deletes the ladder.

sims writer goals

Anyway, three of these Lifetime Wishes are about writing, and they’re all more detailed than just “be a writer.” The Professional Author Lifetime Wish means making a living as a writer, so this Sim should be focused on completing a wide number of short, saleable works. For the Illustrious Author goal, which means reaching the top of the skill track in writing and artistry, Sims should train, and practice, and read about writing, and study art, and not really bother writing anything to sell until it’s a masterpiece. And there’s another writing-related goal, which is to reach the top of Journalism career track. This is actually a Star News Anchor and turns out being more about building Charisma skills and workplace relationships than writing and creativity (and it doesn’t involve any puns about a rapidly rising anchor, really a missed opportunity).

Mixing these goals up, especially by thinking that as long as your Sim is writing, they’re on their way to their goals, can lead to major life dissatisfaction.

(You can do them all if you turn off aging.)

Oddly Accurate Fairy Sim

Sims 3 Goals

My Sims’s goals are to talk about her  job, work on her novel, become a better writer (because writing skill is distinct from actually completing assignments, isn’t it?) and be worth $20,000.

In case you’re wondering if I’m going to outgrown making myself as a Sim now that I’m in my thirties, I’d like to point out that this time I’m a Fairy sim. I just got Sims 3: Supernatural, and I didn’t even finish reading what Fairies can do,  I chose it the instant I saw that Fairies spend several Sim-lifetimes as Young Adults, before they have to become Adults.

The First Hero: Saving the World on a Grecian Urn

The First Hero, from BeGamer, is a short point-and-click adventure about a young champion on a Greek urn, I mean, a young champion in mythical Greece.

athene

You’re not, as far as I could tell, any particular mythological hero, just a young champion who uses his wits to win the shield of Athene and the helmet and spear of Hephaestus, even though I’m pretty sure Haephestus makes helmets for the GODS and not for random human champions. Nevermind, Zeus probably slept with his mom.

Aphrodite gives you the most beautiful woman in the world, which works about as well it usually does in Greek myth. Battle ensues.

Aphrodite, no! Not the most beautiful woman in the world!  Can't you reward me with cash?

Please, Aphrodite, can’t you just reward me with cash?

This is a littler browser game so a thousand ships are not required. Each scene is a simple point-and-click puzzlesolving adventure. It’s simplified enough that everything you need is on one screen (well, almost everything… keep your eyes open in the maze), and you can usually solve the puzzle with a little investigative clicking. If you do get lost in the labyrinth or killed by the hydra, you’ll get another chance to replay the scene.

the first hero

Hades kidnaps the young hero’s girlfriend, because that’s what happens when you have the most beautiful woman in the world,  and the player must descend to the underworld to get her back. I was planning to make a joke about Hades kidnapping the young hero’s girlfriend in revenge for stealing the helmet Heaphestus was about to give to Hades, so when my hero got to the underworld, and Hades actually said, yeah, bring me my helmet and we’ll talk, I laughed out loud.  You’re not actually trading in the helmet for your girl though, Hades is sending you on mission to find his invisible helmet. I’m sure that won’t be too hard to find…

The art is, of course, what attracted me to this game. Each scene is the distinctive terracotta and black of Greek pottery, with columns and meanders to set the scene, and the occasional white accents. I thought it might be a good educational game for the kids, but a certain goddess of love seems to have a bit of an aversion to wearing clothes.

The First Hero doesn’t take too long to complete, but every scene in this short browser adventure riffs on classical art and mythology.

At IndieCade, Part 2

Ikeyboard frame ran into Nate, and then he ran into one of his friends, and introduced me.

“Oh, is your last name Stivison?” Nate’s friend asked.

“Yeah, it is.”

“You reviewed my game!”

I’m always so terribly nervous when that happens, and I was extra nervous, because I has no memory of this game when he said the title (No reflection on the quality of the game, more a reflection of my own awkwardness), but he pulled it up on his phone, and fortunately,  I’d written good things about it.

IndieCade is a good reminder that people actually read what I write.

With Those We Love Alive

with those we love aliveThis is a screenshot, of sorts, from Porpentine’s With Those We Love Alive.  I discovered this game through friends on social media sharing photos of their own symbols. I immediately wanted to play it, but put it off until I had real time to devote to it. I’ve got mixed feelings about how my gaming is more in short bursts nowadays (I miss long stretches of Civilization, and how I resent fitting that thirtysomething female player demographic, with my playtime hemmed in by all my adult responsibilities! Still, those adult responsibilities are for work I love, so…) but I would absolutely recommend waiting until you have enough uninterrupted time to play. This isn’t a gameworld for alt-tabbing in and out.

WTWLA begins by letting players know that no choices are wrong, and by offering some choices that seem mainly cosmetic. Pick a birth month, for example, from a list of twelve strange worldbuilding names. Good sci fi presents a world that’s both familiar and foreign, like the vague geography of the Hunger Games’ Panem, or the way Arthur Clark describes future tech, and WTWLA does this from the beginning.

A gross and creepy empress rules a world of dead people and dream stealers. The player is tasked with crafting things for the empress, a role I liked because, well, if you’ve read this blog for a while, I like to make things and when I’m not thrilled with my life and my surroundings, I make more thin, in my visitsgs. (Hey, did you see my story about liiving in the south plus magic, or my story about living the south plus aliens?) I also think being a craftsman is a great hook for a game protag, while being between two worlds usually makes an intriguing novel protagonist.

In the game, I could make small choices, but no large ones. When tasked with crafting something for the Empress, I could choose the least-gross of the material options. I could walk to the lake or to the gardens, and confirm that the descriptions hadn’t changed, except for the occasional dead person appearing. But I couldn’t leave my home in the palace or talk with any friends.

I crafted a telescope immediately, and then wondered endlessly if reading expat blogs while I was stuck in this terrible area was helping or hurting me. Oh, man, did I say reading expat blogs? I totally meant looking through my pretend telescope in this game! How did that slip out?

When I slept, I’d often wake up to a note or a summons from the Empress, so after exploring the permitted areas several times (Any self-respecting point-and-click adventurer investigates carefully), I found myself sleeping a lot in order to progress the game. What a terribly depressing mechanic, sleeping and sleeping in hope of something good happening next.

Sometimes we talk about whether interactive fiction games are fiction or gameplay. I like this conversation better than the one about whether games can be art, because it’s about whether we enjoy IF as reading or as gameplay. But when we  talk about message games, about whether Twine games are game experiences if they’re novels you click instead of turning pages, and, geez, when we talk about meaningful game mechanics in general, we should mention this game mechanic in which players sleep days and days way with the hope of something good happening.

Every so often, I’d be told it was time to reapply hormones, but I didn’t want to. Partly because there were some odd things going on with gender and femininity in this game, and partly because I’m an exploratory players, and I wanted to know what would happen if I didn’t. But, since I wasn’t able to sleep without reapplying hormones, and I wasn’t able to advance the plot without sleeping, I just wandered around a lot hoping something would happen and I wouldn’t have to. Spoiler: I had to.

Finally, I met an old friend, and got to make large choices (that were still small choices, in a way). I wasn’t entirely clear on whether this person was a friend or a lover, but I don’t think it much matters. With Those We Love Alive blends careful and unusual language choices with carefully creative IF gameplay, and built to a satisfying storyline conclusion.

Oh, right. The screenshot. At points throughout the game, players are asked to draw a symbol of what their character is experiencing. You’ll be asked to draw symbols of burial or rebirth, loss or connection. There’s no wrong answer, no gameplay mechanic punishes you for poor art skills. I used glitter eyeliner for mine, and painted each symbol carefully on the side of my forearm.  I’ve written a lot about about how we as players tend to empathize most with avatars who look like us or avatars we’ve customized and personalized to be more like the way we see ourselves,  and actually drawing on my skin to connect with character experiences was an extreme example of both.

Then, of course, it felt weird washing it off immediately, so I found myself scrubbing a green glitter burial rune off my arm before work the next morning.

The Screaming Narwhal

Telltale Games’s Tales of Monkey Island, not to be confused with the LucasArts updated re-release of the original stories, is an entirely separate adventure in the ongoing saga of Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate. The first episode, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal: Chapter 1, brings Guybrush, Elaine Marley, and LeChuck (and at least one other familiar character!) back for new stories, revamped from their grainy 2d incarnations, but following the spirit of the originals.

Goofy dialogue, creative uses for found items and pirate-y silliness are the hallmarks of the Monkey Island games, and the Screaming Narwhal has them all. Guybrush uses his razor-sharp wits to deal with the wacky denizens of Flotsam Island, whether that’s a clever ruse about selling fine leather jackets, an amazing use of misdirection (Look! It’s Louis XIV!) or coming up with a believable excuse on the spot. The dialogue is not a memory test of in-game facts, but a chance for zany interactions.

The freedom of the old Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge options was in stark contrast to the thousand ways to accidentally off the protagonist in the punishing other adventure games I played around the same time. (Crossing the road as Laura Bow and immediately getting killed by a passing car still sticks in my memory as the finest example of pointless player death.) Guybrush can stick a bomb in his pocket or attempt all sorts of athletic feats without any ill effects.

The Monkey Island games make you wonder What would happen if I…? and then encourage you to try it out, a gameplay style I really love. When you try to pair two objects that don’t belong,  use something in the wrong way, or say something ridiculous, Guybrush makes a joke instead of a beep, an error message, or a score punishment. Creativity is rewarded by offering zany responses to zany questions and zany actions. The object was not to beat the level, the boss, or the game, but just to see what would happen next. That’s exactly what I love in games.

The Screaming Narwhal contains the old Monkey Island mechanic of an old pirate map for Guybrush to decipher. I don’t want to give away too much, but this isn’t the usual hidden object standard, there isn’t any squinting at the screen to find map pieces. If you’d like to make the puzzles easier or harder, the hint frequency is on a slider in your options menu, so you can adjust how helpful Guybrush is to you.

When I think about it, the only thing that could possibly be improved is the inventory. Oh, no, not the actual inventory, the U-tube and manatee monocle and breathmints leave no room for improvement. But the way to access the inventory is to mouse over the right hand edge of the screen. This is also the way to walk off the right hand edge of the screen or look at things on the far right of the screen. It is not a game-breaking mechanical failure, but a minor annoyance that came back every time I mean to look at something on the right and opened my inventory.

Originally written for Thumb Gods. 

Quing’s Quest VII

quing's quest vii

I checked out Quing’s Quest VII the other day, originally for work, but I quickly realized it was too full of mature themes and games industry snark to be good for the kids. The entire game is a parody, in which my genderqueer sidekick, Guybrush, and I were flying our spaceship, the Social Justice Warrior, away from our home planet, Videogames. Then the evil Gamer Police caught my ship, and arrested us for a list of crimes, including snogging the wrong people, wearing the wrong clothes, taking too many selfies and resisting arrest. It’s a Twine game, too, which just adds to the entire joke, because experimental Twine projects seem to bring out the fastest switch from “Make your own games then!” to “That doesn’t count as a game!”

Hilarity ensues, with glitter, dancing and delightful flavortext. Quing’s Quest VII takes just a few minutes to play and is a ridiculously good moodbooster.

The game is full of glaringly obvious references to GamerGate disasters, particularly your friend Frankie who is too exhausted from working crunch hours to really help you, and besides, if you submit quietly to the misogynerds, plead guilty and promise never to act up again, you could probably go home and get another industry job. But Quing’s Quest VII is also full of fun references to classic games, and I couldn’t help giggling when I was offered a choice between using the Konami code, escaping from Monkey Island or doing the hokey-pokey to evade my captors. All the injokes are a nice reminder of all the silliness and good times in gaming, and the dancing and ridiculous choices made it a really cheerful playthrough.

Even though at the end of the game, I hovered over the Save Videogames button but didn’t want to feel sad after my glitter-awesome adventure, and ultimately choose the Get The Hell Away From Games conclusion. There’s a lot of galaxy for adventure-seeking space pirates!

But First…

The entire post on barriers to diverse recruitment (over on Go Make Me A Sandwich) is quite good. It’s a thoughtful look at the overt and subtle ways that tech and gaming companies fail to encourage diverse hires, and also what a completely crock it is to throw up our collective hands, and say, well, we haven’t hired any women for this project, must be because no women wanted to work here.

I’ve written about the expectation of free labour, particularly proving one’s worth as an unpaid intern for a publication in hopes of landing a job afterwards, and how that influences the hiring pool by eliminating everyone without the personal resources required to intern. This post really points out how hiring practices designed to weed out inexperienced and frivolous applicants can also affect diverse hires.

(And, yeah, we all have other responsibilities, but if a task that is substantially easier for one subset is part of the application process, we can’t then be surprised when the majority of the applicants are part of that subset.)

Ability to do free labor

If you require applicants to complete a particular writing prompt, or to read a particular game or other written work, or to perform any other activity that represents a non-trivial time investment, you are restricting your pool of applicants to people who can afford to perform free labor in pursuit of a POTENTIAL position that – quite honestly – pays like shit and most likely won’t be paid at all promptly, if at all. (Pay-on-publication is still a quite common model for paying freelancers, which is something I intend to write about later, as it is complete and utter bullshit.)

And – again – the wage gap and 2nd shift labor are going to be factors that skew your applicant pool (again) toward white, male, and cisgender.

via Barriers to diverse recruitment [LONG] | Go Make Me a Sandwich.

I don’t mind payment-on-publication, personally. Receiving my check with my contributor’s copy is no problem for me, and it beats pay-after-angry-letters-to-the-publisher or payment in exposure, but the gap between completing the work and receiving payment can be another hurdle.

Anyway, the whole post’s really good, and includes some practical suggestions for more diverse hiring practices.

Deep Sea at SXSW’s Screenburn

Deep Sea, Robin Arnott’s terrifying sound-based undersea adventure pushes boundaries between game and interactive experience. Sure, there’s combat, a battle between the player and some sort of killer leviathan, but the focus is much more on an experience than a high score.

Deep Sea caught my eye in a sea of stunning indie titles at SxSW’s indiePub pavilion because of all the apparatus. Players wear a modified gas mask, covering the entire head and blocking out all light, and a set of headphones, blocking all the noise from the show floor and playing Arnott’s creepy undersea audio.

Players use a joystick to move and to shoot at the undersea mobs, but enemies can only be tracked by listening intently to the ominous sounds of approaching monsters. Inside the dark sensory deprivation of their hood, a player hears only a crackling help request — which explains the basic commands without breaking the fourth wall — and the vibrations of encroaching but undefined enemies, and the playback of their own breathing.

The sound of shooting and even the player’s breathing will draw the monsters, a mechanic that reminded me of Taiyoung Ryu’s Maum, although I found it much easier to control my breath in Deep Sea than my brainwaves in Maum.

Unexplained horror is much more terrifying than blood and guts, and Deep Sea is no exception. Game players who’d shot their way gleefully though Left 4 Dead or Gears of War, talked about feeling shaken by Deep Sea. The narration offers gameplay hints, suggesting players aim one way or another to target, but never reveals what kind of horrific monsters are being targeted. The vagueness of the storyline, plus the sensory deprivation, really creates an experience.

Relying on equipment like this mask is a risky choice for a game developer, as anyone who’s played a clunky VR game or worn awkward 3d glasses can attest. But Deep Sea uses the logistics of the required equipment to set the tone. The use of the game system itself to establish the situation and setting couldn’t help but bring Brenda Brathewaite’s project, The Mechanic Is The Message to my mind.  After putting on the gasmask, which seems intentionally awkward but was made more challenging by my ponytail and earrings, I reached blindly for the joystick, missed, and needed my hand guided to it. The mechanics are used to amazing effect here; the game opens with the player disoriented and helpless.

I quickly forgot about the mask I was wearing, perhaps because it was meant to inhibit my senses rather than enhance them as other gaming headsets would. I found myself focusing so intensely on the sounds of enemy movement that I was even standing at the Deep Sea booth, leaning towards the source. There’s no replay value, no desire to kill a record number of leviathans or stay alive longer next time, but at the same time, it’s impossible to play it without being moved, or take off that hood without immediately telling friends they just have to try it, too.

I don’t expect Deep Sea to take off as a popular game, or to see mass-production of Arnott’s homemade gasmask hoods, but this is the type of wild, immersive experience that makes me love indie games.

Originally written for Indie Game Magazine, 2011

 

Actual Concerns In Games Journalism

(Spoiler: None of these involve a secret cabal of games journalists, plotting to destroy videogames in order to take over the world. Also, none of these concerns make me want to join up with a certain internet hate mob.)

1) The system of unpaid internships writing for gaming publications gives a massive advantage to prospective writers who have family money or other resources to support themselves while they work without pay for a year, and it puts writers who need to earn money from their work at a major disadvantage. This isn’t unique to gaming publications, but it doesn’t encourage a variety of voices, perspectives, or life experiences in games journalism.

2) Publications paying writers in revenue share, a bonus based on hits, or other similar methods that basically reward writers for writing clickbaity headlines and inflammatory posts.

3) Outlets that charge developers for “premium” or “expedited” reviews, and then just happen to give the paying developers 5-star reviews, and run these sponsored reviews next to legit reviews. It’s rough for developers, for writers who want to be journos and get these assignments, and the end result is annoying for readers/consumers.

4) One of the great things about the internet is that anyone and everyone can be a games writer! Seriously, Blogspot and WordPress are free, and take almost no time to set up. The barrier to entry has never been lower. (Which is one of the reasons that it’s ridiculous to say that closing comments on a blog or YouTube is censorship. You can write your own blog!) But, when the publisher, editor, ad sales, accounting, reviewer are all the same person, it’s easier for conflicts of interest to slip in. (I keep hearing about all these corporate shills, but in my experience, this is usually about trying to get a few extra AdSense pennies, not massive kickbacks.)
Editors receiving ad money from a games publisher (or soliciting an ad buy from that publisher) might be less inclined to run an unfavorable review of one of that publisher’s products. Reviewers who received their first review copies, or know they’ll need to work with that PR rep again, might be less inclined to write and publish critical reviews. And for one of a billion tiny examples of something other that pure artistry influencing which games are reviewed, Big Fish Games and Amazon offer affiliate programs that let bloggers earn commissions on products they’re reviewed positively, which can be a disincentive to review indie games, where there’s no affiliate profit to be made.
There are plenty of other examples of awkward areas for those whose love of games and game writing drives them to become the writer, editor, and publisher of their own outlet.

Finally, none of these concerns make me want to throw up my hands and condemn games journalism, these are more my thoughts on potential issues to bear in mind than OMG GAMES JOURNALISM CORRUPTION!!! ETHICS!!1!one!!! SMOKING GUN!!!! Still, the recent internet shrieking is probably what’s encouraged me to articulate and share some actual concerns in game writing.

Sometimes Nostalgia’s Not Enough For a Successful Game

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New piece up on Hardcore Games.

After the first dungeon, where my biggest challenge was finding my way, the second dungeon became almost impossibly difficult. (The party wipes were not helped by a small bug that caused the game to hang or lag on the Load Game screen, or by a larger one that crashed the game when I returned to town with one unconscious party member. Ugh.) Since E does an all-out attack, the only time I really messed around with the awkward combat menus was when I wanted one of my spellcasters to use a particular spell. Pretty soon, I felt like I was just armoring up, hitting E, and hoping for the best.

Overall, the creative monsters, dungeon crawl theme, and general art styles reminded me of a Dungeons and Dragons handbook, but as I played, it turned out to be one of the D&D editions that required pages of errata and half a dozen house rules to be any fun.

via Elminage Gothic Review on Hardcore Games

Shadow Kings

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Shadows Kings Icon

Shadow Kings is a new free-to-play strategy builder from GoodGames, now available to play on CrazyGames. Shadow Kings is also available for Android and iOS mobile devices.

The game is set in a fantasy kingdom where humans, elves and dwarves are under attack from the orcs, goblins and trolls. Players of Shadow Kings begin by building and fortifying a city, with typical builder improvements like barracks and defences to keep out mean old orcs.

As the player’s city grows, they’ll be able to acquire more resources, to build more improvements, and gain even more resources. Then players can build an army from their city, and help the good guys (humans, elves and dwarves) against the fantasy baddies (orcs, goblins and trolls). Shadow Kings also has community events and PvP battles.

Shadows Kings Bombert

Dwarven Tutorial NPC, Bombert

Free-to-play resource management builders are so common online and on the App Store, that a new builder game really needs something to set it apart and make it memorable in such a crowded space. In Shadow Kings, that’s the art quality. All the characters — even the evil orcs, goblins and trolls — are really cute versions of fantasy staples. Even the menu icons are chubby cartoony images.

All the menus and selections are quite clear, too.  (I didn’t realize quite how essential this is until recently. I just finished a review of another game, for Hardcore Droid, where the illogical, poorly-localized menus and options made the game completely unenjoyable.)

Shadow Kings is currently available on CrazyGames, along with plenty of other Flash games like puzzle game 2048, and evil twin 2584, vampire makeouts in Twilight Kissing, and cute buttonmashing adventure Mighty Knight.

 

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crazygamesThis post is shared with you in partnership with CrazyGames.