Category Archives: Indie

Winter is… oh crap

The night after the prior post, I made it to my first Don’t Starve winter.

The snow birds should have been a sign I was getting close, but they were a warning left unheeded as I wasted several days gathering the materials to build a bee box (for harvesting honey, of course). Bees don’t come out in winter though, and my crops were thinning out. Moves needed made.

Having found and “killed” a lureplant, I decided that I needed to set it up in a more tactically advantageous way. A lureplant is essentially a fleshy bulb plant surrounded by a field of eyeball plants with teeth. Par for the course in a game where Nightmare Fuel is a literal item needed to craft magic items. The surrounding eyeball plants can’t grow on rocky terrain though, so you can build a safe walkway to the bulb and harvest the meat and other materials that the eyeballs “eat.” The problem is that this world randomly has an incredible lack of rocks.

But, dammit, winter is coming.

Bad news all around.

Artist’s rendition.

I made the ~1.5 day trek out to the one location I knew had rocks, while nervously glancing at the freezing ice starting to cover my screen. Torches do nothing to assuage my growing frostbite, so I periodically set fire to bushes and trees near the road. Once I get to the rocks, I realize that I can’t actually dig up the terrain here – the difference must be rock vs rocky. What does “rocky” look like? Oh, shit, that’s a Tallbird that is attacking my walking treasure chest! Oh… but it has left its nest undefended with its beautiful, succulent egg…

Pro tip #1: a Tallbird will one-shot you without armor.

Pro tip #2: resurrecting at a touchstone, practically naked in the dead of winter, with all your items in a pile around a Tallbird nest, is not actually all that useful. Especially when a pack of Hounds just happens to spawn not 20 seconds later.

Pro tip #3: Life is full of emptiness and disappointment and despair.

Day 1? Let's start a forest fire and jump in a wormhole.

This random forest will feel my pain.

I started another two games after that, abandoning the first when my initial 10 minute search for gold was fruitless. The second game though… hey, I might be getting somewhere. Bees? Fuck bees. I got two smoking racks, a bird cage to transform monster meat into eggs, and have 8+ traps on top of the rabbit holes in a nearby field. I’ll look to survive this first winter, erm, first before upgrading my base with bees. Maybe dig up a few more berry bushes and plant them closer, although the fish in nearby ponds are more than enough to keep me sustained.

And that’s when I found it. Maxwell’s Door. Adventure Mode, aka Challenge Mode, aka a purpose greater than mere survival.

I have a very special set of skills...

I have a very special set of skills…

I’m coming for you, Max. You thought you could leave me to die in your hellish wilderness realm? I got news for you, boy: it’s you who are trapped in here with me.

Not for long though. Not. For. Long.


It is kinda true what they say about donating to Kickstarter and the like: you can’t stop at just one.

I’m stopping at two.

Meet Darkwood, a top-down survival-horror roguelike with crafting elements. It is also open-world and procedurally-generated, but I’m kinda tired of typing out that phrase. Could we maybe come up with an acronym or something? “Pro-gen” or maybe start using Minecraft as an adjective. Anyway, Darkwood is actually over on Indiegogo instead of Kickstarter, and as of two days ago it passed its $40,000 goal, by virtue of my $10 gamble no doubt.

Take a look at the video:

What caught my eye – aside from the fact you never really get a good look at the monster(s) you are fighting, or how you can’t see the light shining behind you – is when the dude laid down a bear trap, put meat on it, soaked it in gasoline, and then set a gas trail on fire to burn the trapped monster. That… is pretty clever. Plus, I’m a big fan of looting. Not the sort of mechanical action of inherent to every game ever, but the whole ransacking of an abandoned house in search of random post-apocalypse survival tools. I always find that sort of thing both compelling and mentally soothing at the same time.

Please announce Fallout 4 at E3. Please announce Fallout 4 at E3. Please announce Fallout 4 at E3.

Anyway, it’s $10 to secure your infinitely reproducible digital copy on Indiegogo. The projected release date is “mid-2014,” which is admittedly a bummer. Even if you’d rather wait for my inevitable review, do go ahead and pop open your Steam client and vote for the game on Green Light. The more of these indie games that get onto Steam, the more likely you can pick them up for 75% off later. Win-win.

[Metanarrative] Population: 1

What does Atom Zombie Smasher, Far Cry 2, and Xenogears have in common?

I don’t actually know what to call it. But maybe I can describe it.

Just recently I completed Atom Zombie Smasher, a pseudo-puzzle indie game with some rockin’ Hawaiian surf guitar music. You basically try and save as many civilians as possible before the zombies eat them, with only a handful of various mercenary units. The game looks like this:

Evacuation complete.

At some point while playing it, I suddenly realized that this is the first zombie apocalypse game I have played that evokes the full horror of the scenario. The traditional vantage point is being the survivor hero struggling against insurmountable odds on your desperate run towards the helicopter.

In Atom Zombie Smasher you are the helicopter.

Specifically, you control where the helicopter lands, along with the deployment of snipers and artillery strikes and so on. Your life is not at stake here. All you have is your dispassionate duty to save 60 civilians out of the 125 in this section of the city. Other sections have higher populations, but the requirement is always a fairly low percentage of the total.


And that is when the horror comes in. When you see that lone purple dot making its way towards the desperate, waiting crowd of yellow dots. All it takes is one zombie; I’ve seen it happen. The panicked movements as the civilians catch on. They’re packed in so tight, so tight. The helicopter was just here – most of them are exhausted, having ran after hearing the fog horn from three blocks away. A single sniper shot would save their day. Their day, not the day – the 874th Rising Lightning sniper squad are the only thing keeping 5th and Main intersection clear of zombies, and the eventual airlift of the 50 civilians on the other side of town.

I make the call.

As the helicopter flies overhead and beyond the sight of the crowd, I like to imagine that all their faces stay turned skyward, despite the feeding frenzy beginning at their periphery. That the last thing most of them feel is not being eaten alive, but the fading sun on their face, followed by the merciful and cleansing fire of an artillery blast. I cannot save everyone, but I can save them from that fate. And… and… they are easier targets to hit than zombies.

I never even knew their names.

May God have mercy on my soul.

Review: Sanctum + DLC

Game: Sanctum + DLC
Recommended price: $10 (as in $10 for game + DLC)
Metacritic Score: 70
Completion Time: 12-20 hours
Buy If You Like: A little FPS in your Tower Defense

Sanctum is a Tower Defense game combined with FPS elements that starts blurring the definition of an “indie” title. The gameplay mechanics are tight, the background environments are amazing, and there is an overall degree of polish not necessarily seen in $10 games. About the only thing missing is something in the way of a narrative, which would arguably be out of place in a Tower Defense game anyway.

Not the most efficient maze by any means, but I was a noob.

That is not to say that Sanctum gets everything right. The base game goes for $9.99 on Steam, but includes includes only 6 maps. While you may spend 1-2 hours per map depending on whether you beat the 25-30 waves of aliens on your first try or not, the maps themselves correspond closer to archetypes than maps per se. For example, there is one completely open map, one map with aliens spawning on opposite sides, one ultra-huge map, one map with a maze pre-built, and so on. If you particularly enjoyed ultra-huge maps, well, you get just the one. Theorhetically Coffee Stain Studios can simply add more, but given the fact that four maps have been added as $2 DLC, it may soon start getting too expensive for the entertainment generated.

The one thing Sanctum has going for it is that each map supports a lot of customization options in terms of building mazes and placing towers. Indeed, the building of the maze to begin with feels like its own distinct game (which it arguably is). So if your favorite map is Arc, as long as you don’t build the same maze with the same towers while equipped with the same guns, it will be subtly different. Combine that with up to 4-player co-op and 4 different Survival Modes and 4 different difficulties, and the limited map options feel less oppressive.

That being said, keep in mind that Sanctum is a Tower Defense game at heart with FPS thrown in as well. Each wave is stronger than the last not through numbers or strategy, but simply an increase in alien HP. While upgrading your weapons and towers with resources generated via completed waves generally keeps pace (at least on Normal), the “difficulty” of the game really comes down to shooting the same thing more times. And since there is no randomness in alien behavior, the waves or types (you can see what’s coming 5 waves down the line), playing for long periods of time can quickly burn you out. Which probably could be summed up with “it’s Tower Defense, stupid.”

There is something very satisfying about getting your hands dirty.

Sanctum DLC Review:

Killing Floor ($0.99) – Floor tile that acts as a rechargeable land mine. The one big plus of this tile is that it consistently will damage Hoverers (i.e. the floaty aliens immune to damage from the front). That being said, I have found these fairly weak in comparison to standard Slow Fields or Amp Fields which come with the base game.

Penetrator ($0.99) – Tower block that shoots a beam that damages all enemies in a line. Sounds amazing at first, but its slow rate of fire and tracking issues means it will shoot diagonally most of the time and otherwise completely waste its multi-damage capability. Not recommended.

Violator ($0.99) – Tower block that creates a floating sniper rifle with a monsterous range that can hit ground or air targets with a single, powerful shot every few seconds. Personally, this is about as close as you can get to Pay To Win in a non-competitive game. The Violator can be a liability if you get both a bunch of fast ground AND air aliens since it may waste its shots on the little ones, but otherwise… god damn. This is typically my go-to Tower once the early Towers are out of the way.

Map: Aftermath ($1.99) – I am not a huge fan on this map for three reasons. The first is that the sloped middle section makes it much more difficult to traverse the tops of blocks. Second, there are frequently small gaps between blocks that can lead you to falling inbetween them in a heated moment. And finally, the overall layout prevents much Tower overlap, even with Violators. That aside, it has three decently-sized rectangle areas for maze placement and good Line of Sight to enemy spawn locations.

Map: Aftershock ($1.99) – Much like with Aftermath, this map features three main areas, has some angled terrain, and the possibility of falling inbetween some blocks. However, the map itself is more compact (good Violator/Morter coverage) and the maze itself is practically pre-built for you. That can either be good or bad depending on your tastes.

Map: Cavern ($1.99) – This is a heavily multi-tierred, practically pre-built non-air gauntlet. Cavern also introduces the concept of teleports for the first time, along with a sort of jump pad that will quickly send you flying up to higher levels. On Normal difficulty, I found this pretty ridiculously easy.

Map: Slums ($1.99) – Once again, a heavily-tiered map that essentially consists of two squares and two small rectangles to build mazes in. One of the complicating factors is that there are multiple teleports on each level, which can make planning even a simply maze feel like three-dimensional Chess. Since ground units emerge from a single location though, I found this map overall ridiculously easy on Normal difficulty – most foes died before they could make it off the first “island.” Combined with a default of only 13 waves, this felt like the shortest map in the game.

DLC Summation:

I received the three weapons for free as part of a bundle, and picked up the four maps on a Steam sale for $5. Given that I got everything for essentially $10, I am satisfied. Picking these up at non-sale prices… I would probably skip everything but the Violator. The four maps are fine, but since Aftershock, Cavern, and Slums come essentially pre-built, I don’t see much in the way of replay value.

Review: The Binding of Isaac

Game: The Binding of Isaac
Recommended price: $5 (full price)
Metacritic Score: 84 (!)
Completion Time: Technically ~1 hour, or 20+ hours
Buy If You Like: Twisted, roguelike Flash games

The Binding of Isaac (hereafter Isaac) is a game that, strictly speaking, I should not enjoy. Indeed, I did not enjoy it at all the first few times I played it. But I did keep playing it, and once I sort of stumbled my way out of fifteen years of safe game design, Isaac rekindled a bit of that stubborn old-school gamer flame that propelled my younger self face-first into Battletoads hour after bloody hour.

This is what the first few hours will feel like.

Isaac plays like Smash TV from the olden days, with WASD controlling movement and the arrow keys controlling which direction you eject the streaming tears from your naked body at the merciless demons haunting your childhood nightmares. Map layouts and room contents are randomly determined each time you start the game, with the only consistency being the number of total levels, and there being Item and Boss rooms on every level (until the last few, which have no Item rooms).

As I mentioned, the game did not seem terribly fun the first few times. There is no quick-save, there are no checkpoints, and I got the feeling that I was lucky to even have a pause button. Death is permanent, none of the items you receive are really explained before you use them, many items can actively harm you in some way, some room setups are completely unfair, and it is both entirely possible and very likely that you will get screwed right from the very start with things only getting progressively worse.

Sometime around my fourth attempt, it suddenly all clicked: this is like Solitare. A game you play because you aren’t sure you want something heavier, a game that you don’t have an expectation to beat every time, and yet something you still find fun hours and hours later.

Isaac gives you plenty of opportunities to make bad decisions.

And I have indeed been having fun hours and hours later; 20+ hours to be exact. Although you never carry over items you accumilate, beating the game or getting specific achievements will unlock new items that are then added to the random roster, some of which will radically change the tenor of a particular run. I have a few more specific achievements to grab by beating the full game with different characters (basically different starting load-outs) before getting to the truly ridiculous “take no damage for X levels” kind, so it will be interesting to see if the game is still fun once those dry up.

But you know what? Getting more than 20 hours of game time in a roguelike, a genre that I was hitherto convinced I would despise on principal, is an absolute goddamn steal at $5.

Indie Game Alert

I cannot imagine anyone reading this wouldn’t already know, but in case you haven’t checked:

  • Bastion is the mid-week Steam madness sale. $7.49 (down from $15)
  • New Humble Bundle is up, now with The Binding of Isaac as a bonus.

As previously mentioned, Bastion is top-quality material.