Broken Connections is a little game by prolific roguelike creator Slashie, Santaigo Zapata (Facebook), that puts you in the shoes of Rogue co-creator Glenn Wichman (also on Facebook) in 1980. His then-roommate Michael Toy (yep, also on Facebook) worked on Rogue over a dialup connection to the mainframe at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The game poses a (probably fictional) situation that the connection is lost, and you are tasked with traveling to campus and finding out what is wrong with the connection and reestablishing it before the system reboots and a weekend’s work is lost.
There’s no enemies or anything like that. It’s a turn-limited quest that only requires that you find your way to the machine in time and plug in a cable, but along the way you encounter a number of people who have minor problems, or recognize you and want to tell you about something, or are just about on their day. Glenn is a very nice person, but it’s up to you if you want to engage with them or continue along on the task you’re there to do. If you feel up to it, you can go back after plugging the cable in, when there isn’t a pressing time limit.
The stakes are pretty minor. If you don’t make it, a weekend’s work is lost. I’m sure Michael Toy can recreate his work, but it’d still be very nice to be able to save it. There is no big win condition, or reward for being nice to people, other the just being a good person. In that way it’s like real life.
It’s a silly NetHack-themed game about exploring a dungeon, presented through a bunch of characters sitting around passing a blunt between them. It’s not really that hard, but there is a bit of strategy to it.
You and your pet sit around a campfire with other characters from that dungeon level and talk about things. Your character and your pet can say things like, they want to be less or more aggressive on the next level, or they want to invoke Elbereth, or they want to use an item; other characters may say things like telling you where fewer or more fights will be, or where treasure is. Or they may have nothing of importance to say.
Every time a character says something, they must pass the blunt, which when it’s depleted signals it’s time to go to the next level. (C’mon, you know all the characters in this dungeon have to be potheads.) All of the fighting and stuff happens in simulation between conversations. Your character or their pet may be wounded (observe their hit points when their conversation turn comes up), or even die at this phase. It’s possible for your pet to die but your character go on to win. It’s also possible for your character die and your pet go on to win the game, which is not something that can occur in NetHack.
It’s a very simple game, and as stated, not really that difficult. But it’s fun, and might give a chuckle to NetHack fanatics. It’s free and completely playable in browser!
A quick note today, the 7-Day RogueLike challenges begins tomorrow! Try to make a roguelike game in seven days! This will be its nineteenth year, and its sixth on itch.io! Slashie, Darren Gray and Jeff Lait are running it again this year!
Consider joining it to make a game, or consider playing this year’s entries, or those of previous years! Last year there were 65 official entries. Regularly, a number of really interesting games are entered, but all manner of entries are accepted and are playable each year, from nearly professional to barely hacked together, and ranging from full classic style roguelikes to only slightly inspired by the general idea of procedural generation.
You’d think there’d be more unique types of puzzle games than there are. For every genuinely new idea there’s a dozen Tetris-likes. Even genuinely unique puzzle games often have another game as a basis, like how Baba Is You starts from a foundation of Sokoban before launching off to the depths of Ridiculous Space at Ludicrous Speed.
I can’t claim to have comprehensive knowledge of all kinds of pre-existing puzzles, but Squirrelativity seems unique enough to be really interesting..
Made for Ludlum Dare 52, it’s a free game with only 15 levels, but they’ll have you mystified long before you reach the end.
One team of squirrels has a tree growing up from the bottom of the board, the other has a tree growing down from the top. How it grows, though, depends on how you draw their branches. The bottom tree’s branches can only go up, and the upper tree’s branches can only go down. Each set of squirrels can only broach their own branches.
In the middle of each board there are a number of green seeds. A color of fruit will grow out of the seed, depending on which tree touches it. However, each squirrel’s tree makes the fruit that the squirrels of the other tree likes. It also drops down according to that tree’s gravity. That is: the blue squirrels’ tree grows up, and produces red fruit that drop down, and the red squirrels’ tree grows down, and produces blue fruit that drops up. Got it?
The screenshot I took demonstrates how the fruit falls. Neither tree can grow branches through a space containing a branch from the other tree, and each level can only end if you both get all the seeds, and each team of squirrels get the same number of fruit as the other. The delicate balance of squirrel power must not be overturned!
Pac-Man is rightly heralded as a classic, not just the best-selling arcade game of all time at over 100,000 units (even more when you consider every Ms. Pac-Man arcade machine has the elements of a Pac-Man machine inside it), but it’s solidly well-designed. All of its elements come together to produce a solid test of skill and strategy.
It’s not perfect though. The game possesses two major flaws that, in retrospect, made it a little less interesting to play now. The ghosts behave deterministically when they’re not vulnerable, meaning that patterns work against them and turning the game into a test of memorization and execution. And, every level’s maze is the same, which gets kind of monotonous. Tellingly, while Pac-Man was extremely popular for its time, its GCC-made follow-up Ms. Pac-Man had a much longer life in arcades, and it addressed both of these issues with the first game: ghost movement at the beginning of boards is randomized, and it had four mazes, instead of the original’s one.
Random Pac is a fan game, available on itch.io and made by Luca Carminati, that also solves the issues, and a bit more simply: it randomizes the maze for each level. This one change makes the game immune to memorization, and makes each level a kind of situational puzzle, as the player must use the maze layout as best they can to avoid being caught.
It’s not the only change made, but the others are, for the most part, in line with that one. Since the game is much less likely to extend endlessly, extra lives are awarded multiple times, first at 10K then every 50K points, instead of the once, by default, of the original. There are bonus levels in place of the intermissions that can be worth a considerable number of points.
The fruit bonus items that showed up twice during each level of the original game may now appear up to four times per level, which can be worth the majority of the player’s score if they can get up to the 5,000-point Key boards. Getting all four Keys is 20,000 points, which is two-fifths the way to an extra life by itself.
The game increases in difficulty a bit more slowly than classic Pac-Man. I’ve been to the 7th Key level; in the original, on the the 5th Key board, and from the 7th Key on, ghosts no longer become vulnerable when eating an Energizer (a.k.a., a power pill). Vulnerable times kept decreasing in my 7th Key game, but hadn’t cut out completely yet.
Another difference, and I’ll be going into some deep Pac-Man internals here. In classic Pac-Man, ghosts have three states, Scatter, Chase and Vulnerable. If Pac-Man doesn’t eat an Energizer, ghosts periodically enter Scatter state for a few seconds, then change back to Chase. You can tell when ghosts change between these states because they all reverse direction.
In most boards there are two Scatter periods, and the timers, both for entering Chase and Scatter, freeze while an Energizer is active on any ghost. In Random Pac, the timers don’t freeze; Chase and Scatter periods continue even when the ghosts are vulnerable. This makes Energizer timing very useful for decreasing the amount of danger you face: a short way into a Chase period, eat an Energizer and disrupt their pursuit! By the time they catch back up to you after it wears off they may be time for them to Scatter!
Ghost AI seems to be mostly the same, although unlike classic Pac-Man, each ghost doesn’t seem to have a set “home” location. They don’t intend to chase Pac-Man during Scatter, but instead fixate elsewhere on the board. The Orange Ghost’s Chase AI also makes use of its home location, making its behavior much less predictable, although it’s still easily the least threatening ghost.
Blogfriend Phil Nelson pointed me to this absurd little homebrew Gameboy game. You don’t have to play it on a Gameboy though, its itch.io page has an embedded emulator. It’s got fun music, and its text is digitized typewriter writing.
It’s a simple choose-your-own-adventure kind of thing, made in a week, with a good number of suitably silly branches. You’ll die often, so you’ll restart a lot if you want to see everything that can happen. If you remember what you did it doesn’t take long to get back where you were (so long as you don’t scream at the beginning). While it’s a silly trifle, a certain word at the beginning filling the screen probably makes it unsuitable for kids.
You made it past the snarky cat picture! You must really be into this. You might find more of interest at the submissions page of the Bad Game Jam.
Somehow though, he keeps making interesting new things! Most recently there’s Babataire, a variant of Spider Solitaire that uses Baba characters for cards (it’s fun!), Babataire Ex, a variant of the variant that also uses Baba Is You’s rule-modification mechanic (and that, honestly, I can’t make much sense of), and Cavern Sweeper.
Cavern Sweeper is really good! It’s a generalization of Minesweeper where the mines not only have different values, casting varying amounts of danger into the adjacent squares, but where, on harder difficulties, different kinds of mines can even have differently-shaped danger zones.
In the easiest version, all monsters have a diamond-shaped peril region around them with a value from one to three. The number in a space is the sum of all the danger spread into them. Harder versions also add slimes, which have the traditional square-shaped Minesweeper danger zone, ghosts with plus-shaped areas, and optionally serpents with X-shaped zonas de peligro.
To make up for the added uncertainty, you’re granted two additional helps. First, as you mark spaces (you must select the proper kind of monster in the space for it to count), the numbers are subtracted from the nearby regions, decreasing the chaos around it, and any impossible situations are marked for you. And you’re allowed two extra misses before you’re actually in danger of losing the game.
Cavern Sweeper is a fine addition to the genre of Minesweeper variants, and I rather think I prefer it to the original.
This is something that a few of you may have seen before, but if there’s anything we’ve learned from bumbling around the internet for… geez, it’s been nearly 30 years now, it’s that most things could always stand to have a few more eyes looking at it. So it is with Cab Ride.
Cab Ride is a free itch.io project that uses the Pico 8 engine. It gives you a first-person view from the engine car of a train as it travels between procedurally generated stations, and plays jaunty chiptune music. It’s a game only in the barest sense. It does rate you on how well you stop at each station. There’s no penalty for doing badly, and no conclusion. From the title screen you can activate Very Chilled Mode, which disables what little scoring it has.
The down arrow key (a little unintuitively) increases the throttle and increases acceleration, while the up arrow decreases. To play normally, you want to stop when you’re close the platform (when the number in the upper-left is as close to 0 as you can get it), then open the doors with Z. If you’re playing with a controller, that button may be different. Press X (when playing on keyboard) honk the horn, which is not required for anything. You can hold the left arrow key to announce the last station, which is the only in-game way to conclude a session, or right arrow to active “Express Mode,” which basically runs itself (but won’t stop to pick up or drop off anyone).
Tutankham Returns (itch.io link, $0) is a port/expansion of the classic Konami/Stern arcade game Tutankham. While Tutankham had only three levels, this has seven, but otherwise is much the same kind of thing. Compare the above to the original. It matches the original’s sound, graphics, and presentation exactly! The games have especially good sound design.
“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter
Found on Nintendo Everything and reported by Brian, the Wii shop channel is back online after an absence of months. It had been down for “maintenance.” Mind you, it’s still impossible to buy software that hadn’t been purchased before 2019. It’s still just a way to reacquire things you had already bought. Sigh.
At NintendoLife, Alana Hauges reviews Square Enix’s remake of the classic Japan-only JRPG anthology Live-A-Live, which I’m given to understand is pronounced like “Lighve Alive,” with long-I sounds. It’s been given the Octopath Traveler treatment, with pixel art akin to the original game placed in a 3D environment. It’s structured like a collection of short stories, all greatly different from the others. I have experience with the original game, and it contains several extremely interesting sections, including a space mystery, a Wild West puzzle segment, and a hugely complex and interesting ninja infiltration scenario where the player has to make many choices that each affect the outcome. While in the end all of the stories are linked together, on their own each is a small complete game in its own right. It’s long been a shame that the game as been unknown outside of Japan, and I’m excited to see it getting a chance elsewhere.
CBR’s Zachary Pilon rhetorically asks, why are roguelikes so popular? WHY INDEED IT IS AN MYSTERY. (Note: rodneylives spent like four years writing about them back at GameSetWatch.)
At The Verge, Andrew Webster states that the Playdate’s launch was a unique opportunity for small dev. People who bought the device have access to a number of games released periodically in a “season,” but software can also be loaded onto the system separately, and itch.io has an active community of these developers.
itch.io is becoming quite famous for its bundles, where you can contribute money for a great cause and pick up a large number of great indie games at the same time. Past bundles have raised millions of dollars in support of Black Lives Matter, to help Palestinians, to aid LGBQTIA causes, and to help alleviate the plight of the Ukrainian people. If you’re hard up for cash you can donate the minimum, but if you have the means then please consider donating more than that?
A current bundle is especially important, the Bundle for Abortion Funds, to provide funds to women to travel to abortions-friendly states in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s disastrous decision concerning a woman’s right to choose All proceeds are going to The National Network of Abortion Funds‘ Collective Power Fund. As of this writing the bundle still has about seven days left to go, but please don’t put it off for too long!
Of particular note, when you purchase a bundle on itch.io like this, by default the games will not be immediately put into your “library.” Being in your library can result in getting extra email and making it difficult to keep your bought games organized. When you load the page of a game that you’ve bought in a bundle, if it’s not in your library yet, there should be a notice at the top of the page to include it.
I have sometimes noticed, however, the notice not appearing, and generally I prefer to have it all in my big big list. If you’d rather just go ahead and dump them all into your main itch library, for instance to make it easier to use the itch.io app to automatically maintain and run your games, there is a Greasemonkey script you can install to do that. You’ll need Greasemonkey on Firefox, or Tampermonkey on Chrome, to run it. You can also use the website Bundle Browser to explore it, and see which games it has that you might already own.
By now many of you are no doubt familiar with Alvi Tekari’s Baba Is You (itch.io, Steam, Switch, Android, iOS). The premise is simple. In a Sokoban-style world composed of discrete blocks aligned with a grid, you try to get a figure (usually the sheep Baba) to a goal (usually a flag). But nearly everything about this game world is malleable, according to special word blocks in each level. If a set of three blocks is arranged in a horizontal (reading left to right) or vertical (reading top to bottom) line, then that statement becomes true throughout the level. In fact, every level comes with certain statements already in effect: it is only because somewhere it says BABA IS YOU that you can control Baba, and if something else IS YOU, then you can move it too. And you can make new rules by moving the words to make new sentences.
Baba Is You became an indie darling from its game jam release in 2017, and in 2019 it absolutely exploded, being featured on several game stores including Nintendo’s eShop picks page. Its rules are simple, yet their implications becoming diabolically complex later on. Not to give away some absolutely amazing secrets, but there are very few games that get as hilariously weird as Baba Is You-or as difficult. Baba Is You is a challenge that will keep you going for weeks, but eventually pays it all off with one of the best end game sequences anywhere. If you haven’t played it yet, you really should. I did a Q&A with Alvi Tekari for Game Developer about the creation of Baba Is You, and I think it’s one of the best interviews we’ve done.
This is all to make sure we’re on the same page when I mention the sublimely ridiculous Baba Is You XTREME, a free parody of Baba Is You made by Baba Is You‘s own creator!
Baba Is You XTREME seems just like the original at first, right until you press the first key and discover: the game now has a completely spurious physics engine! Baba no longer snaps a step at a time centered in the cells of a Sokoban grid, but now moves around freely, with acceleration and friction. The same is true with all the other objects on the screen that are IS PUSH. Objects that ARE STOP are locked in place, though.
The addition of physics makes the execution of any move into a challenge to itself. The rule system is still in place, some old words have much weirder implications, and there are even some new words to explore. There’s only 11 levels (it is a free game, after all), but around level seven you’ll be scratching your head. But one implication of the physics is that words that are in a corner aren’t completely impossible to shift like they were in a grid setting, so with some dedicated pushing it’s possible to break some troublesome sentences here that would be impossible in Baba Is You‘s Cartesian cosmos.
It’s completely free, so if you’re a fan of BIY it’s worth checking out. And if you haven’t tried Baba Is You yet, it is worth a look too!