The Flame in the Flood (LTTP series)

So yesterday I was messing around with The Flame in the Flood. It’s a survival rogue-like kind of game. Y’know, you start with nothing, gotta scavenge for materials to make tools, scavange for food, water, that kind of thing. If you die it’s game over. I of course neglected to take screen shots but here’s the launch trailer. Oh yeah, the soundtrack is pretty good, too.

Anyway the two main hooks here:

Hook 1: The world is mostly flooded. You (and your trusty dog companion) are on a raft being swept downstream. At the start you don’t have a lot of control but you do need to avoid collisions with rocks and stuff because your raft takes damage. If it gets destroyed you drown, game over. As you are swept along there will be little islands you can dock at…if you can fight the current to get to them. These are where you’ll scavange/craft/sleep, but each is pretty small and stuff doesn’t respawn. Once you clear out an island you get back on your raft, never to return.

There are different kinds of islands and each is marked by an icon so while the world is randomly generated, after a while you learn what tends to spawn on each kind of island which helps you choose where to go (it is often the case where you can see several but not be able to get to them all since you’re always being swept downstream). The twist to the hook is that the farther you go on the river, the more deadly the islands become. First there is nothing to harm you (other than lack of food/water, or the cold), then there’ll be wild boars that are easily avoided, then wolfs that will track and kill you. And that’s as far as I have gotten.

Hook #2. At the very start of the game you see this dog find a body and a backpack and he drags it (the backpack, not the body) to where you are camped. The dog (Aesop, his name is) will accompany you and he has his own backpack/inventory. Well surprise! When you die and the game starts over… it is the same dog! And whatever you left in his backpack in your previous life is in there, which helps you get a head start.

So some ‘runs’ you’ll just gather good stuff, put it in Aesop’s backpack and then suicide yourself to get a better start on your next run. And that’s about it. It’s not for everyone, but I’m liking it a lot in short sessions. It’s hard and I get frustrated after a few runs and need to take a break, but that’s the nature of rogue-likes.

I’m playing it on Game Pass/Xbox but it is also available on Steam and PS4. It’s an indy so pretty cheap…probably $15 or so when not on sale.

Sproggiwood First Look

2014-10-24_00003Last night I got to put a few hours into Sproggiwood, a new rogue-like from Freehold Games. You know the drill with me; this is my ‘gut reaction’ post rather than in in-depth review.

I’ve been playing a lot of ArcheAge and some Dragon Age 2 lately; games that are relatively complex. Sproggiwood was a breath of fresh air because it’s an ‘easy’ game to play. I don’t mean it isn’t challenging, I just mean you won’t have to spend much time figuring out the controls or reading tips online. You can play it completely with a mouse if you want to, or you can just use the keyboard (I’m guessing it would be an excellent laptop game and I’ll be surprised if they don’t port it to tablets at some point).

The core gameplay of Sproggiwood is fairly typical rogue-like stuff. You head into a grid-based dungeon and explore it 1 step at a time. Everything is turn based. Enemies move at the same time you do. All movement is orthogonal making it easy to play with WSAD keys. There are a lot of different items to collect and figuring out how they work, and how they work together, is part of the fun.

Your gear consists of three slots: armor, weapon and accessory. Additionally you can carry 1 consumable item. If you find a different consumable you can use it right away, replace the consumable you’re carrying (the old one goes poof), or convert it into gold.

You have two stats: health and stamina. Stamina is used to power skills and it replenishes as you fight. Unlike many rogue-likes, in Sproggiwood health doesn’t replenish with time, nor is there a concept of food.

At least in the early stages of the game dungeons are pretty short. You jump in, fight your way down, leveling up as you go. Each time you level you get a skill point to use in one of 4 skills (each class has a different set of skills). You get to the bottom of the dungeon, fight a boss and then a doorway pops open and you head back to town.

So let’s talk about town. When you first start you play a Farmer. After you clear the first dungeon you get to add a building to your town; the building you choose determines the next class that’ll be unlocked. In my three or so hours of playing I’ve unlocked Warrior, Archer and Thief; there are 6 classes altogether (Wizard and Vampire are the two I haven’t gotten to yet). You can arrange the buildings in your town and build roads and things but as far as I can tell that’s all just decoration.

While in town you can also shop for three classes of products:

First are the three types of town upgrades. Upgrading aspects of your town will help you gain experience faster, start with more health, and get reduced prices in the shops.

Second is gear. You can buy gear for your adventurers so when they head into the dungeon they don’t start with the basic free gear.

Third is consumables that allow your adventurer to start a dungeon with a health potion or a teleport scroll or any of a number of other consumables.

Now here’s the catch: for gear and consumables you can only choose from items you’ve already discovered via opening chests in the dungeon.

2014-10-24_00001Every time you enter a dungeon you’re reset to level 1 (and the dungeon is randomized). Obviously as the game progresses (and there’s a light-hearted storyline to drive you forward) the dungeons get tougher. So here’s your main game-loop. You go into an easy dungeon and fight a boss and discover cool weapons, armor and consumables in the process (discovering them makes them available in the store). You can use these while in the dungeon but they vanish when you teleport out. You also collect a bunch of gold that you then spend back in town on higher quality starter gear to make your adventurer tough enough to take on the next dungeon even though s/he has to start at level 1 again. When you buy gear from the store it’s persistent. Buy a nice sword once and you can choose it every time you enter a dungeon (though all gear is class specific). Even consumables are persistent. If you buy a healing potion once, every time you enter a dungeon you can choose to start with a healing potion.

Now let’s talk about death. Here’s where Sproggiwood is a lot gentler than most rogue-likes. When you die in a dungeon you have to restart it and you’re back to being level 1, but you keep any gold you’ve acquired. There’s one catch: the bulk of your gold (at least at low levels) comes from a 1000 gold bonus you get for clearing a dungeon for the first time with any given class. Still, dying and having a few hundred gold pieces to show for your trouble is better than dying and having nothing to show!

So those are the basics but let’s get to the subjective stuff: Is Sproggiwood any fun?

Yes, assuming your brain is wired in a way that lets you enjoy colorful, turn-based rogue-likes, Sproggiwood is a lot of fun. What I like about it is that it’s accessible. You always read about how awesome rogue-likes are because you die horribly over and over and over but each time you learn some tiny little bit of knowledge that makes you better. That may be true but honestly I don’t often have that much patience. Sproggiwood isn’t as punishing (yet anyway) as most rogue-likes but it still teaches you how to play in ways that are not immediately obvious at first (plus even if you die you get some gold out of the attempt which takes away that ‘wasted time’ feeling of coming out empty handed).

As an example, there are a lot of slimes early on. They come in different colors and when you kill them they leave a blotch on the ground. You’ll quickly learn that green slimes (first encountered in dungeon #2) leave a blotch of poison that causes a few hit points worth of damage if you move over it. So the first ‘tier of knowledge’ is realizing you should lure green slimes out of corridors before you kill them so you’ll be able to walk around their poison blotch. The next tier of knowledge is realizing that other monsters are also poisoned when they walk over a green slime death blotch, and in walking over it they eliminate it. So then you start trying to maneuver the enemies so that you can kill a green slime and the giant behind it will step in that puddle of poison trying to get to you, taking some damage and cleaning up the blotch at the same time. Stuff like that.

Another example. Scattered around the dungeons are pots that you can break to earn coins. Fair enough, I need gold. But then I found armor that gives you 5 health every time you break a pot. That seemed OK but maybe not as good as the +25 HP armor I was wearing since there aren’t THAT many pots laying around. But THEN I found a scroll that turns all monsters in the area into pots! OK now we have an effective combo! Wear that +5 HP/pot armor and carry a ‘turn monsters into pots’ scroll and you have a really effective way of both clearing out monsters and regaining health (and some gold too).

I don’t want to spoil any more of this kind of thing, but for me that’s where the real joy of Sproggiwood comes from. Finding an item or a skill that seems kind of strange and then realizing that combining it with something else makes it pretty potent. Or learning how monsters behave and turning that behavior against them.

I’m enjoying Sproggiwood a lot; more than I expected to in fact. My only disappointment is that the town screen looks like it’s going to have some kind of function, but really it’s just for looks. You keep adding buildings to it, and citizens move in (and say random things) but it’s all just for ambiance, at least in the first few hours. If that changes I’ll update this post.

Sproggiwood is available on Steam or the Humble Store for $14.99.

Disclosure: This post is based on a copy of Sproggiwood provided by Freehold Games.

Follow up: Sword of the Stars: The Pit – Stats and Skills

the_pit_skillsI just wanted to follow up on something I got completely wrong on my last post about Sword of the Stars: The Pit.

I griped about not knowing what statistic impacts which skills. I was looking for some kind of textual pop-up menu or something to explain this to me, but developer Kerberos Productions reached out to me on Twitter to point out I wasn’t seeing what was right in front of my face. Stats and skills each have an icon that indicates how they’re connected. I’ve highlighted the column of icons in this screenshot.

Turns out I was way off! Next time I dive into The Pit I’ll be better prepared!

Thanks to Kerberos for the help.

Once again, you can get The Pit for $8.99 at GamersGate or download the demo from the game’s website.

First Look: Sword of the Stars: The Pit

When a game contains “Sword of the Stars” in the title, the first thing you think of is space, right? Ships and planets and mining and tech upgrades…SotS is an established space-based 4X IP.

TutorialSo the first thing I have to tell you about Sword of the Stars: The Pit is to forget all about that. The Pit is actually a sci-fi based roguelike. It is set in the SotS universe, but don’t worry if you’ve never played those games (disclaimer: I haven’t… crazy right?); that’s all just for flavor. The story, if you must know, is that a plague is turning the entire population of a planet into ghouls and the only hope for a cure lies at the bottom of a fabled pit in the Feldspar Mountains where the Suul’ka (I guess if you’re a SotS player you know who the Suul’ka are) once had a base.

So off you go, you brave Scout or Marine or Engineer you, to delve deep in an attempt to find the cure.

This is an old school rogue game. Turn-based combat, random effects on consumables, permadeath (actually I haven’t died yet but I’m assuming it has permadeath) and a constant tension between your two primary resources: health and food. Health slowly regenerates over time, but as it does, hunger grows, and food is scare in the pit.

If you don’t like Roguelikes, stop here. There’s nothing about The Pit that is going to change your mind. If you do like them, read on.

Character StatsThe Pit has a ton of stuff in it. You’re constantly scrounging resources and finding machines that you can use to craft those resources into something usable, in theory. Your first problem (besides all the beasties and bots that want to end you) is that many of these machines are damaged. Luckily you have a chance to repair them. I’ve been playing a Scout and she’s not great at repairing these things and more often than not they go from “Damaged” to “Ruined” when she tries. I suspect the Engineer is better at this, and I fear the Marine is probably damned near hopeless.

Which brings me immediately to my biggest gripe with The Pit. Your stats are never explained. You can guess that Strength influences melee attacks. Brains probably helps with all the crafting skills, which leaves Finesse to control how accurate you are. But I’m just guessing and I’d like to know for sure. Update: I got this bit completely wrong. See this post for details but the short version is that stats and skills all have icons to indicate how they are inter-connected.

Same with Skills. Does the Melee skill only influence bare-fisted punching, or does it also enhance the Knife and Blade skills. Speaking of which, what’s the different between “Knife” and “Blade” anyway? I was ‘born’ with a Knife..maybe there are swords in the game only I haven’t found one yet?

Not a deal breaker but it’d be nice to know this stuff.

I like a good Roguelike and so far I’m liking The Pit an awful lot. I’ve only gotten down to level 7 (of 30) and my Scout is level 6, and I’m playing on Normal level (2nd of 4 in increasing order of difficulty). The first couple of levels were a little easy but I still had my moments.

Trap!There’s nothing quite like the heartache of having your weapons and armor damaged badly, finding a broken repair station and, in attempting to bring it online, ruining it completely. After that happened I took to using my fists on a lot of the easier enemies since I’ve only got this one knife and if it breaks I’m screwed. I do have a couple of pistols of course, and so far ammo isn’t a huge concern, but as a roguelike player, your instinct is to hoard things.

Like grenades. I was hoarding every frag grenade I found. Then I stepped on a trap that destroyed my entire supply of frag grenades? Fiendish! What kind of evil mind came up with that? Stranger still, some traps have beneficial effects, like speed boosts or even heals.

For the more ‘serious’ roguelike players, there might actually be too much stuff going on. You have to collect or discover recipes to craft with (I’m guessing those are the same from game to game) and in addition to the potions with random effects that most roguelikes have (here called serums) there are bio mods for both weapons and armor that likewise have random effects. In my game so far I’ve consumed a purple serum that knocked my Brain stat down two points permanently, a black armor bio mod that bumped up the armor rating of a piece of gear by 10%, and a black weapon bio mode that improved the weapon’s durability by 20%.

A few aspects do set The Pit apart from the other roguelikes I’ve played. First, when you level (at least on Normal difficulty) your health returns to 100%. That makes things a lot easier. Every time you level you also get points to use to increase your main attributes (Strength, Precision, Brains) and your many skills.

Second, the game incorporates a field of view mechanic. Monsters can sneak up on you if they approach from your blind spot (which is fairly small). The tried old roguelike mechanic of running away gets more tense when you can’t see if the monster is still chasing you, and if it’s gaining on you!

If I’ve piqued your interest, there’s a six level demo that you can try out, or if you want to jump right in, the game is only $8.99 on GamersGate. That’s an introductory price that’s good for a week. After that it’ll be $9.99.

Oh, and there’s a tutorial that’ll teach you how to play. It features an annoyingly abrasive ‘drill sargent’ and mostly you won’t need it to learn how to play, but it does give you a glimpse of what you can expect as you venture deeper into The Pit. The first couple levels are pretty basic.

A few tips:

C brings up the stat page
Escape aborts rest mode

Hey, I tried making a video… this is the first time I’ve every tried to narrate a game I’m playing and I had both technical and performance problems (turns out I don’t multi-task well) but dammit, I made it, I’m gonna post it!

A little while later…