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’.

Thanksgiving Gaming & Such

Had a chance to play some more flash games over the long weekend. Took a break from Tower Defense for bit and did some RPGs, Shooters and RPG Shooters.

The biggies were, Wings of and Starwish.
Two of the three highlights of the weekend were from the same developer taking place in the same universe, though I accidentally played them out of order. and Wings of are a tactical RPG and shooter with RPG-esque elements respectively.

The art in the games are phenomenal, despite being slightly minimalist and streamlined. It’s anime-esque, but with a lot of surreal and chunky, for lack of a better term, elements that help establish the dreamland feel. The “chunky” art element comes into play a bit more with Wings, often-times giving is a paper-doll theatre aesthetic.

The characters are rather flat (haha! paper dolls, right?) but manage to be incredibly charming, especially Sisily who takes the bizarre dreamland she’s ended up in in perpetual pollyannaish stride. Sadly, I got stuck in the first game around 2/3s of the way through.

The first game is a fairly linear tactical rpg. All of the encounters are story-encounters, so there’s no grinding to it, but therein lies the problem. I got to a particularly tough fight where you have to fight against shadow versions of the party who are invulnerable against physical attacks. There are some neat ways around this, but one unlucky rounds, your characters will drop like flies, especially Sisily and Emi, who can be kinda glass cannons against certain damage types. Even if you can take out all of the minions, bosses, who can often one-hit-kill Sisily or Emi can send you into a TPK-death-spiral awfully quick, since lacks healing items & revives.  I’ll just have to be both really smart and really lucky if I’m going to win that fight.

Normally I hate square-based tactics games, because the square is terrible for when it comes to units blocking each other in and screwing up movement and attack ranges, but I’ll forgive for this because it still manages to be a fun experience, even if it is a bit of a puzzle. Sadly, the developer who made the RPG and the Shooter disappeared before completing the true sequel to the RPG. The numerous consumable and equipable items in the shooter would’ve found quite the welcome spot in a tactical RPG featuring the same lovable cast.

Starwish is a bit of a different animal than Wings of, even though it is a shooter with RPG elements. Wings of put the shooting aspect first and foremost, integrating in the rpg and item elements into the gameplay fairly well while letting the story be told more through the evocative art rather than dialogue, which was sparse and (admittedly, since I hadn’t played the RPG first) a bit confusing. Starwish places its story front and center, with a servicable shooter game tacked on to advance the narrative in a way that the player has ‘earned it’.

There’s a lot more depth to Starwish’s cast in terms of their backstories, though they’re still ultimately a troupe of tropers. The tough-but-really-a-sensitive-guy pilot hero. His Childhood-friend doctor lady. The alcoholic panda bear man who raised them as pirates when their parents died. The wise old captain lady. The quirky and possibly deformed sadistic science girl (who I think might also be a Skullgirl). The lecherous bartender with more depth and feeling than he likes to let on. The shy-but-hard-working mechanic girl. The cool quiet strong silent robot ace pilot who’s better than the main character and will maybe even be revealed to be a woman and possible love interest before the game is over. Still, it works in a way that’s enjoyable even though you could swear you’ve seen it all before.

A wide variety of weapons and subweapons help the fairly simple shmup play keep from getting too stale. The game relies more on upping the HP and damage-dealing of the small and unchanging handful of foes you fight, but I have found that there is a giant spike in difficulty come the 3rd sector.

Probably the best part of Starwish is the soundtrack of cool, low-key sci-fi electronica, the type that my band might have started making two albums down the road once we’d worked all of the Throbbing Gristle and early Cabaret Voltaire out of our systems had we kept on going.

I’d hope that a sequel would feature a bit more robust shooter experience to go along with the charming story elements, though I don’t know that one is in the works or ever will be. One thing i find is that a lot of the games on Kongregate that are even a few years old, their creators have, if not vanished, stopped putting out new creations.  There are donation-based unlockables, for example, in the games, but the creator has not been active on his own forum since 2011; another mod has helped a few folks who donated after he disappeared and got them fixed up, but I don’t think I’ll be taking any chances personally, though if he were to reappear with 2 in tow, I’d find a way to try to support him.  Not sure about the creator of Starwish.  I’ll look into him/her when I have some more time.

On a final note, I finally finished Valley of the Horses. Much like Clan of the Cave Bear, I saw the ending coming a mile away. Only Clan of the Cave Bear ended with the epic mystic doom of the Neanderthal tribe and Valley of the Horses ended with a blow job. I’ve given up on Earth’s Children and, since my girlfriend accidentally hid my biography of Tallyrand behind the framed puzzle of an alchemist at work (my house is clearly a Blueholme dungeon!), I started Peace on Earth by Stanislaw Lem, one of those authors I kept hearing about and meant to get around to reading. And wow. I’ll dribble out some inarticulate descriptions of that at a later time, but so far, color me impressed.