Recap, Dame Celeste, and James Desborough

Lots of games over the weekend were played. Shadow over Alfheim was brutal and there was nearly a TPK that was averted largely because of my generousity to roleplaying. I played several games at someone’s tabletop games birthday bash, and I also continued by journey through Kongregate. As much as I wanted to get through Hardmode of Starwish to unlock the ultimate ending (seriously, getting through the first two acts without dying to unlock the final conversation with Ginny is ridicuhard, and I wasn’t going to start over and try again a 3rd time), the call of other games lured me away. I’ll be talking about the first one I played today.

Dame Celeste is an 8-bit-style stealth game that is something of an homage to Anita Sarkeesian’s “The Last Princess”. There are several differences between Dame Celest and Sarkeesian’s proposed stealth game, but if the obvious similarities weren’t enough to clue you in at first, the game eventually smacks you in the face with it (a non-hostile Hammerhead Shark named Lady Sharkeesian complains about misogyn and the fact that the cat-guards are of indeterminite gender is lampshaded in a conversation where a cat-guard complains to a mouse-chef that the big-bad is goign to start forcing female cat-guards to wear bows so you can tell them apart; “damsel” is even in the protagonist’s name).

In Dame Celeste, the evil walrus king has taken all the water in the desert kingdom for himself and Dame Celeste, who has been thrown in the dungeon for refusing to marry him, has to escape the palace and recover water droplets to bring water to the people.

The gameplay is entirely stealth-based, with a ‘costume’ component. One of the first and most obvious shoutouts to The Last Princess is Dame Celeste’s default purple outfit which bears a striking resemblence to the Princess’s. She also has a fancy dress in her inventory, but if it has a use, that use is somewhere past where I was able to get. Patrols have sight-ranges which can be reduced by wearing the appropriate clothing: cat-guards/guard-outfit, mice-chefs/chef-outfit, shark-court-ladies/ball-gown, etc.
Getting into an enemy’s sight range results in the enemy making a bee-line for you. If you run gob-smack into them, you’re found out immediately and are sent back to your cell (actually the last check-point you reached). If you can get a little distance but are still caught, several phrases will appear moving accross the screen, forming a multiple choice response to make to whomever caught you on the fly. Get it right, they let you go; get it wrong, you get sent back to the last checkpoint. There are several things that you can hide in, such as suits of armor, cauldrons, or even bushes that you can take with you for a ways, to evade detection. Getting through some spots requires planning, timing, and sometimes a bit of luck.

One thing about Dame Celeste worth noting is that it is hard. Incredibly hard. Not quite as bad as the NES port of Metal Gear, but still rough. The main thing that keeps it from being Nintendo hard is that there is no limit on how many times you can get caught. I eventually got stuck on the 3rd level in a spot where you have to go from bush to bush across a giant ballroom filled with Hammerhead sharkladies (that describes lots of places in the level, but this one was extra hard). After getting caught a dozen times in this same spot, I eventually gave up. Despite the cute graphics, this game would take some truly grim determination to get to the end of.

I’ve pointed out already that Anita’s game idea wouldn’t hold up to her own criticism, and TL;DR saves me the reiteration.

Seriously, though, my favorite part of her idea is that the princess, who was overthrown by a ruling council that wanted to do away with the monarchy, overthrows the ruling council so she can do away with the monarchy. Quite the little Napoleon there, huh?

If I wanted to, I could use FemFreq style feminist criticism to shit all over Dame Celeste (“Dame Celeste’s inability to protect herself when confronted with foes is inherent to the expectations that we force upon Celeste as a woman as a non-combatant hero, because self-protective force is only seen positive in the realm of the male protagonist”), but I won’t, because Dame Celeste is a pretty awesome game and worth checking out.

It does make me re-examine City at the Top of the World a bit. One of the reasons I wrote it with a female protagonist was that I felt that with a male protagonist, there would be more of an expectation for Aeryn to ‘fight’ his way to freedom. In the same way, if Dame Celeste were Dude Celeste, would people find the gameplay disappointing because Dude Celeste could not clobber the Cat-guards? Is it because Dame Celeste is a female character that we can resign ourselves to going peacefully when we’re caught?

Anyway, you can find and play Dame Celeste for free on Kongregate and visit their development page here.

Coming up soon, I’ll do my Shadow Over Alfheim recap and talk about Defender’s Quest, a tower defense game that just may be the model I’m looking for in regards to a tabletop adaptation.

As a final note for this morning, I’d like to say that what is happening to James Desborough, aka Grimachu, and Postmortem studios is messed up. RPG pundit has weighed in, as has Jeffro. I myself have already sent an email to DriveThru. Note that it’s not just Evil Hat who has put pressure, though they are the first developer I’ve heard mentioned by name. Lots of people have been dogpiling this, or at least bragging about having dogpiled this on twitter. Game developers should be scared shitless about this. For every Jennifer Dawe whose game benefits from an outpouring of love when slanderous boycott attempts backfire and fail, there will probably be at least one James Desborough who will be isolated and ground down by the haters. I’ve said before that we’ve been living in an unprecedented time of unprecedented access to the tools and avenues of publication, where anyone can be a game designer and anyone can get their game published, but these halcyon days may be on their way out if things continue the way they have been and ‘concerned individuals’ can get developers excluded from the market because of ‘feels’.