Dome Keeper

Dome Keeper is a small and solid game, but didn’t offer enough variety in runs to keep me hooked.

Author’s Note: Not big on reading writeups? Why not just watch me play the game here?

Dome Keeper is a score-attack mashup of Motherload and Space Invaders. I think it’s a good game. I don’t really recommend it, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment. I know that sounds weird, calling a game good, and then not recommending it, but I promise it will make sense in a bit.

Anyway, back to Dome Keeper. You have a Dome, which functions as your little base, and venture out from it into the earth to mine minerals. And this dome as needs to be Kept. Specifically it needs to be kept from being shattered into a million pieces by various spooky shadow monsters that show up in waves on timed intervals. This is the games core tension: mine resources, drag them back to your dome, and try not to get caught at the bottom of the mineshaft right as you as the next wave comes in to smash it.

Defending the dome is done with it’s weapon systems. There are two dome weapon base sets, the Laser Dome, and the Sword Dome. The Laser dome plays somewhat like a turret defense game, you have a big laser, you can rotate it alongside the outside of your dome, and you press another button to fire. The laser moves slower when fired, so it’s faster to move it into position, and then fire the beam. It has various upgrades, including moving the laser head faster, having the laser deal more damage, etc. Honestly, outside of a double laser upgrade, there’s not too much here that’s very exciting.

The Sword Dome is unlocked later. Instead of having a projectile weapon, it has a large sword that can be swung back and forth across the dome. It can also be launched like a harpoon to skewer long ranged projectile using enemies, or even to just tap melee enemies a bit before they reach the dome.

Personally, I very much think the game was designed with the sword dome in mind instead of the laser dome. My reason for believing this is that certain enemy behaviors and patterns interact in a much more interesting way with the dome then with the laser. As an example, one of the earlier enemies is a small bat like creature that does the following: It flies on the screen cloaked and unable to be hit, flies to an area on either the left or right of the screen, uncloaks, shoots a few projectiles, then recloaks and flies to the other side. Rinse repeat.

With the Sword Dome, there’s an element of skill to this. It takes the same amount of time to uncloak every time, and it can be one shot after just one damage upgrade, so there’s a sort of elegance to predicting where it’s going to be, pre-launching the sword, and steering it into the bat right as it uncloaks.

Another good example can be seen in the later game enemy, the launcher. It’s a large blobby snake that swarms out of the ground, waits for a moment, and then launches a large shadow projectile through the air. With the laser, there’s no real option other then to just blast it down, but hitting it with the sword before it launches the projectile will stagger it and force it back down into the ground.

However, both of these have the same problem, that sort of feeds into the back of the game: Despite having multiple options for upgrades and changes, there’s no real reason to experiment on any given run. Enemies just show up randomly over time, so instead of building for a certain encounter or fight, it felt better to just do the same build each game, and play through. The end result? The fights kind of just feel all the same. Ramping intensity and difficulty, sure, but not changing how things feel mechanically between runs, unless you choose to take a risk and force it.

That’s only half the game though. The other entire half is mining and digging for resources from under the dome. If you’ve ever played Motherlode, this will feel somewhat familiar. If you haven’t it works like this. The keeper is controlled with cardinal directions and will automatically mine walls/blocks if they’re pushed into them. Different dirt has different strengths, but as you get deeper, the strength just increases overall. This means that it can be easier to mine deeper into weak dirt, then to try to dig out stone at your current level, but generally you’ll need to get upgrades to go much further.

The goal of all of this digging is to get resources, of which there are three. Sulphur, Water, and Iron. Sulphur is used to repair your domes health, and buy a single set of special resistance upgrades, and is the rarest. Water is used in small amounts for most non-primary upgrades, IE, anything that isn’t your shield, weapon, or keeper suit. Iron is used for pretty much everything else.

One thing I haven’t talked about yet is the win condition of Dome Keeper. There are two modes, the primary mode, Relic Hunt, and the secondary Prestige. Relic Hunt is just a standard “Dig deep, find a special relic, and bring it to the surface to win”. Prestige is the primary mode, and effectively a score attack mode.

I’m personally of the opinion that Relic Hunt is effectively an extended tutorial/relaxed mode, and Prestige is intended to be the primary game. Which is a bit unfortunate, because I’m personally not interested in prestige very much. High scores are not particularly motivating to me as a factor, unless the entire game is designed around that as a core component, ala Hazelnut Hex.

In Prestige Mode, you get points based on spending resources to increase a score multiplier, and a score total, and you get points after each survived wave. So it’s beneficial to spend resources early on increasing the score, at the risk of not spending those resources on upgrades. It is a interesting tension, but it’s not one that I’m very compelled by.

There are a few systems I’ve not covered here, like the semi-random relics and the upgrades they offer, but I think I’ve covered enough of Dome Keepers system to explain my problem with it.

Dome Keeper is a good game, but any single run can often feel indistinguishable from another run. There’s only a single unique relic that modifies combat, with every other relic modifying resource acquisition. The end result is a game that felt the same each time I played it. It was interesting, but it wasn’t fascinating, or ever really felt like it scratched the itch of something like Inscryption or Spelunky. It never really forced me into a situation where I had to really rely on an understand of game mechanics, or systems to pilot my way out. Instead, it was just more about “Oh, I should have just done X instead of Y”. There was no adapting, just learning, and some small improvements.

This is why I don’t really feel like recommending it. It’s good! It’s well made, it’s polished, and it has some clever mechanics. But I don’t get that vibe of it being a unique or super rich experience that stuck with me.

Anyway, if you think my opinion is stupid, or you really like games like Motherlode, you can find Dome Keeper on Steam for $20.

Author Note 2: I played most of my 20 hours of Dome Keeper before the update that added a second playable character, with a different mining style. It’s a neat update, but I didn’t really like playing the Accessor. It’s also entirely possible that Dome Keeper becomes a much richer games with updates, but that’s not what was available when I bought the game on release day.

Knockout City

Knockout City is an interesting dodgeball brawler that feels hobbled by it’s secondary systems and menus.

The core gameplay of Knockout City is pretty good. I’m not an expert, or even anywhere past the bronze silver rank, but at least for me it feels straightforward and easy to enjoy. Unfortunately the same can’t be said about the non-gameplay elements.

Knockout City is an action-brawler, themed around dodgeball. The game itself is free, but it contains microtransactions. I’ll talk more about those later. The short version is they’re all cosmetic. There are no gameplay advantages you can buy. Anyway, back to the actual game.

There are multiple game modes, including 1v1 and 3v3. I’m going to focus on the 3v3 mode for this writeup, since it’s the gamemode played in ranked.

A game of Knockout City consists of two teams playing to best of 3 rounds. Each round is first to 10 points. You get a point whenever an opposing player is knocked out. This can be from them falling off a ledge, being hit by an obstacle, or running out of health from being smacked with dodgeballs.

Dodgeballs are the heart of Knockout City. It is, after all, a dodgeball game. They’re scattered around the arena. You can run over them to pick them up, and tossing them requires you to charge. They’re not really physics projectiles. Instead, they lock onto the target you’re focused at, and will head toward that target. There are three throw patterns, a straight shot, a lob, and shot that can be curved around walls. These throws are executed by tapping the input keys as part of a double jump.

On the flip side, if you’re having a dodgeball thrown at you, all you need to do is hit right click right before it impacts you while facing the ball to catch it. You can then throw it back immediately if you want.

While it might seem like this would lead to an infinite Zelda boss fight situation of launching projectiles back and fourth forever, let me introduce the intensity mechanic. Intensity is built on a ball by readying a throw, and also when balls are caught. Higher intensity balls travel faster. The ball will move quicker and quicker with each toss and catch, preventing you from getting stuck n a loop.

There are a bunch of other clever mechanics as well. You and your teammate can’t find a dodgeball? You can roll up and get passed the ball by your teammate. The inputs for choosing throw type also function as a double jump. KO City keeps things fresh by randomly selecting a special dodgeball each map. These range from balls like the moonball, which lets you jump extra high while carrying it, to the pinball style multi-ball, which lets you carry three balls at once. You can also fake throw, pass to teammates with a single button, and just generally the movement feels very good.

I think that gives a decent overview of the game’s general vibe, but really the best way to understand Knockout City is to play it.

While we’re here, let’s talk about monetization. There’s a lot of stuff for sale in Knockout City, but none of it impacts actual gameplay so I don’t care. Yes, there’s a battle-pass. Yes, there are multiple forms of currency. Yes, there’s daily quests, and normal quests, and I guess there’s a difference?

Frankly, while Knockout City does have an interesting sort of holographic projection 1920’s art design, I don’t like the art. There’s character customization. I ended up making my character look like this. I think it accurately conveys how much I care about the game’s aesthetics.

None of this relates to my primary issues with Knockout City though. My primary issue with Knockout City is… the menus and the clutter. That probably sounds stupid, but let me explain.

Knockout City just feels like it has a massive amount of downtime. Lots of your time is spent not playing Knockout City. After launching the game after an update, the game has to boot, update again (no, I don’t know why), close, and be relaunched. I decided to time how long it would take me to get into a game, and it takes just under a minute for the game to start up, click through the in-game announcements, and finally get into the hub.

Except you can’t play from the hub, instead you need to open the menu back up, select the “Play” option, pick your match type, and actually queue. After queuing, the match actually starting can take about 30 seconds. You want to quit the game? The menu option sort of shows up greyed out, but you can still click it.

There’s a lot of dead space, and dead time that splits up all the actual action, and makes it feel like a bit of a chore to keep playing. Even the matches have a one minute timer before they even start looking for another match, and this can’t be skipped. I’d understand if this was a COD style game with loadouts or a continual lobby, but neither of those exist here.

Overall I like Knockout City, but the game doesn’t do itself any favors with any of the small features. I feel like it’s best enjoyed as a game where you get a stack of friends, and all just goof off. That way you have folks to talk to or chat with during the downtime.

Knockout City is free on Steam, and also probably Epic, but I’m not going to check.

I played 50 games of Historic Brawl to try to figure out if Go-Shintai is being played too much. Here’s what I found.

In addition to writing on this blog, I stream a lot of Magic: The Gathering: Arena over on YouTube. It’s all part of the grand quest to acquire some level of fame or notoriety (I’m not picky. As long as it doesn’t get fired from my real job I’ll take either one) so that I can get a press badge.

Specifically, I play a format called Historic Brawl. Historic Brawl is effectively just Commander/EDH, but using all cards available in MTGA. About two weeks ago, Historic Anthology Six was added to Arena, and one card in that set was Go-Shintai of Life’s Origin. It is being used as a commander a lot. Perhaps too much?

So in order to answer this question, I played 50 games of Historic Brawl this weekend, across several different commanders. I’ll link the full dataset as a CSV at the end of the article. First off, I want to look at my own commanders very quickly.

There are two things to note here. First off is that I’m not playing any commanders that are traditionally considered S-Tier/top tier by the community. Second is that a majority of my commanders are from the Baldur’s Gate: Alchemy set.

Here are the commanders my opponents used.

Ed Note: A bunch of other commanders were played, but the graph doesn’t show them. Please see the full data for more info, also good lord those graph colors are awful, I’m so sorry.

Go-Shintai certainly feels like an outlier, with more than twice as many games as any other single commander. However, that’s not proof by any means. This is a small sample of only 50 games. I also haven’t done statistics in close to 8 years, so I’ve completely forgotten how to do a student’s T-Test, or even know if that’s the right type of analysis to do here.

The other interesting thing I noticed is that while I had a large number of games against Go-Shintai on Friday and Saturday, after one point on Saturday I stopped seeing the deck. I haven’t seen the deck a single time today. So it’s also possible that the matchmaker was updated in the middle of collecting this data set.

(The different matchups on different days is one of the things this data doesn’t show, because while I intended to include timestamps for the start of each game, I didn’t actually record them. So instead there’s an unhelpfully blank column in the spreadsheet.)

Overall, there isn’t a satisfying answer. It’s not clear to me that Go-Shintai’s frequency is actually statistically significant here (because I can’t do stats), but certainly stands out as being played quite a lot. If anyone is able to do actual stats, here’s a link to the data in a csv, and I’d love to know what you find.

A Brief Statement

Gametrodon condemns the behavior of the abusers at Activision-Blizzard, and the management that enabled them.

The next several months will likely determine if the company has any chance for reform, or will just act to save public face without making any actual commitment to demolishing a culture of sexism and abuse.

California Department of Fair Employment & Housing Complaint

NPR Coverage of the Complaint

An Open Letter from Blizzard Employees to Management

Jason Schreier’s Twitter – Writer for Bloomberg, and coverage of the unfolding events.

We encourage our readers to review the links above for more information and context.

The most valuable voices to listen to at this time are those who have had to endure this discrimination and abuse.