An Interview with Jongwoo Kim, Creative Director of Lucifer Within Us

“The players should feel like Holmes, not Watson”

Late last year, on the 15th of December to be precise, we reviewed a very good (but short) mystery game called Lucifer Within Us. When I wrote that review, I also reached out to Kitfox Games, the studio behind the game, because I wanted to ask them some questions about it.

If you haven’t played Lucifer Within Us or heard of it, it’s a mystery solving game with a very unique timeline mechanic. You interview suspects, they give testimony, and you try to tease out the lies and omissions they give you. If you want to learn more about the game, we did a writeup on it! You can read that writeup here.

To my complete and utter shock, Kitfox responded to me! They helped me get in contact with Jongwoo Kim. Jongwoo Kim was the Creative Director on Lucifer Within Us and has also worked as a designer and gameplay programmer on several of their other projects, including Shrouded Isle. He was one of initial founders of Kitfox Games, but was no longer at Kitfox as of the time of this interview. He was kind enough sit down and answer some of my questions about what went into Lucifer Within Us, changes the game went through, and even some of the technical systems underlying the game’s unique timeline mechanic.

Challenges and Cuts – Part 1 of 4

Fritz Wallace: Can you tell me a bit about how the project started?

Jongwoo Kim: So Lucifer Within Us was the first time I had the Creative Director title. This was a point in studio development where we decided we should have two teams going at the same time. So Tanya, one of the other founders, continued to lead her project which became Boyfriend Dungeon. At the same time, I was leading Chronosight, which would eventually become Lucifer Within Us.

Fritz Wallace: It’s an interesting name.

Jongwoo Kim: And you can see why, right? The game’s fundamental mechanic is based around the timeline. At that point in time, the project had a much more Cyberpunk theme. What we determined though was that there are a lot of games that already had that aesthetic.

(Ed Note: Lucifer Within Us was being developed before the release of Cyberpunk 2077. Of course after it came out… well, you can read our “review” of Cyberpunk 2077 here. Kitfox was by no means the only developer who made choices to avoid competition with what at the time was still expected to be an absolute juggernaut.)

Jongwoo Kim: And so around the first year of the development of Lucifer Within Us, we discussed that internally, and came to the conclusion the project could have a much more unique direction. So we went back to the drawing board for the premise, while keeping the existing mechanics. And that’s when the final direction for Lucifer Within Us came forth.

The fundamental idea is digital exorcism. It feels inherently contradictory—

Fritz Wallace: It’s a really cool premise, and it’s something I’d never seen done before.

Jongwoo Kim: I’m super happy you liked it! I think it’s a very cool and unusual juxtaposition, and it brings up a lot of interesting questions. What happens in an futuristic theocracy? What happens when technology advances to the point that you can digitize aspects of a person? And how does that play out and interact with a lot of the questions and issues that tend to come up around spirituality?

The idea of being an inquisitor who exorcises demons became just such a pull once we arrived at that premise, and the team rallied and shifted to make that happen. But as cool as it was as a theme, it did lead to a lot of challenges.

A screen from the first case, showing off the timeline mechanic.

We were a small team. If I remember correctly, even today Kitfox is only 9 or so people. And to absolutely clear, I’m no longer part of Kitfox.

We had a small team, and this was our first 3D project. We underestimated some of difficulties around 3D game production. That, coupled with the theme change made things hard. For a cyberpunk theme, we could have bought assets from Unity Store, or maybe had some contracted work done. After all, a shipping container is a shipping container. There would have been more assets and options for re-use.

But the unique setting made this difficult. What does a futuristic theocracy look like anyway? It was virtually impossible to use any pre-existing assets, and that put a strain in our production pipeline. It made it difficult to have lot of content without overworking the team or going over budget, and there were challenges on that front.

I feel a bit regretful about it. It is a cool setting and I wish we did more to flesh out the experience the and the world.

Fritz Wallace: Were there any big changes in the scope of the game, as a result of those challenges?

Jongwoo Kim: I think everyone on the Dev team would tell you that if it was possible to have more content in the game, more cases, or more buildup to the finale, we would have done it. Whatever the situation, there was interest in having more at release. But as noted above, various factors didn’t line up.

So working under those limitations, we decided it was better to make a polished version of what we knew we could deliver, than taking the risk to add content we didn’t have time to polish. So as an example, sanctums were supposed to be more expansive in terms of what you can do.

Sanctums are the the internal mind and psyche of the NPCs in the game.

In an earlier stage in development, they would have been actual areas you could explore. That would be cool!

But given our limitations for 3D art production, implementing this was causing great strain. Each person would presumably have something different, right? And this is an abstract space. What does the internal mindscape of each of these characters look like? It added a lot of strain while not actually being critical to the mystery solving portion of the game. While you could argue it was essential to the premise of the game, it still ended up being cut.

Fritz Wallace: It sounds like it was a challenging project, and that versions of sanctums didn’t fit with the resources you had. Is that a part of why the released version of the game is somewhat short?

Jongwoo Kim: I think it would have been nice in the “Ideal” version of the game, if the sanctums hinted at the underlying psyche of the character. In retrospect though, we didn’t have the resources to commit to that mechanic.

I think if certain things had been different, such as if the team had gelled before, or if we had greater success at launch, it would have made sense for the studio to continue supporting the game. For example, new cases. I think that post-game content would likely have been the only way in which more content would actually end up in the game. But that’s not something that actually happened.

Of course, Sanctums weren’t the only cuts. This is a bit of a downer topic, for me at least, but it does have to do with what actually led to Lucifer Within Us.

This concludes part 1 of the interview. Part 2 will go up tomorrow. Jongwoo Kim discusses the idea at the heart of Lucifer Within Us, and how that influenced the rest of the game’s systems.


Perfect Heist 2

I like Perfect Heist 2. It’s a fantastic asymmetric deception game about robbing, or preventing the robbing of banks. So does that mean the game is as perfect as its name implies? No. It has a lot of problems. But it’s fun, and that’s really all that matters.

Writing the intro paragraph for this article is an exercise in deciding what watch list I want to get placed on. Do I make the joke about how the game is unrealistic because you get punished for killing civilians as a cop? Do I talk about how I love games that let me lie my way to victory? Do I talk about how my favorite thing in games like Project Winter is convincing someone to work with me, only to bludgeon them to death in an enclosed space once they’re out of earshot of the rest of the group and no one can hear their cries for help?

Do I just make all of them?

Oh right, I’m supposed to be writing about a game.

Perfect Heist 2 is a multiplayer deception game about robbing banks. Players join either the robbers or police, with the robbers trying to get as much money out of the bank as possible, while the police try to stop them. If the robbers successfully extract a certain amount of money and make a successful escape, the robber team wins. If time runs out, or all the robbers are killed, the cops win.

You’ll note that I didn’t say, “If the robbers kill all the cops, the robbers win.” It’s technically true, but is incredibly rare. This is because Perfect Heist 2 isn’t a game about running and gunning; it’s a game about being sneaky.

In addition to the human players in a game, there are also dozens of AI-controlled civilians. They generally just meander about, and don’t do very much, but they provide the cover for the robbers to infiltrate the bank. However, there are some things the AI won’t do. They won’t ever sprint, they won’t ever pick up money, and they open doors.

Perhaps most importantly though, they’ll never go into areas they aren’t supposed to be in. There are two general types of AI units: bank employees and civilians. Both types have different clothing patterns, and wearing the wrong outfit for the area you’re in is a great way to get shot in the head.

As a general rule of thumb, cops have more damage mitigation, and better guns, which means that if you, as a robber, get into a fair fight with a cop, you’re likely going to lose.

Secondly, unlike robbers, when a cop dies, they just respawn. There’s a shared a pool of lives for the cop team, and a recently respawned cop now knows where you are and what you look like. Cops can’t just go trigger happy though, because if a cop kills a civilian AI even by mistake, the cop instantly dies and can’t respawn.

Team balance also influences the general sneakiness of the game. The police can never have more players than the robbers, and usually have 2-3 fewer members. As a result, the teams consist of a larger number of players with no individual respawns and generally weaker stats (robbers) against a smaller number of players, with superior firepower and respawns, but a heavy penalty for misusing them (cops).

So let’s talk about how you actually steal money. Maps in Perfect Heist consist of the bank, the area surrounding the bank, and a few generic buildings around the bank that can’t be entered. The bank is the interesting part though, as it contains vaults, where a majority of the gold and cash needed to win is kept, along with jewelry, and secret documents, all of which can also be picked up for cash.

There are also ATMs, which can be hacked once to drop money. While the vaults need to be either blown open with charges, or unlocked with various specific classes, the other valuables can usually just be grabbed, albeit with some risks. For example, jewelry is usually in glass cases, and the sound of breaking glass is great way to broadcast where you are to every cop in a 3 mile radius.

TLDR: there are valuables littered all round the bank, and different classes have advantages for going after various types.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about classes. There are a lot of classes, both for the cops and robbers. Each class has starting weapons, a passive, and an activated ability.

In terms of actual playability, classes vary pretty heavily. Some are straightforward, like the Demo who can carry explosives without them being visible, or the Tech who can open all vaults after hacking three computers, and has a drone that can carry money bags. Some offer alternative playstyles, like the Crypto-Enthusiast, who can hack computers to install crypto miners, and generate passive cash, or the Fed Chairman who can quite literally print money.

Others are situational, like the Sniper. And some are just bad, like the Pickpocket, or Safecracker. It’s a pretty even split between those four groups. There’s enough variety to keep things fun, but some classes just don’t really function.

The same is pretty much true for the cops. Classes like Riot Control and Spy offer straightforward and always-useful mechanics. IT is situational: useful against classes that want to hack computers or ATMs, but doesn’t do much otherwise. Fed Chairman (no, not a typo, both cops and robbers can use this class) can increase the amount of money robbers need to steal in order to win and offers an alternate playstyle. And then there’s the Digital Forensics officer who…. can see how long ago a computer was hacked. It’s pretty pointless.

I do think the classes are part of the reason why I enjoy Perfect Heist 2, though. The different playstyles and options available mean that you’re not locked into a single strategy, and you can switch between rounds if it feels like something isn’t working. It adds a lot of replayability, and there’s also some interesting synergies (though these synergies tend to be more in favor of the robbers than the cops).

With all that covered, let’s talk about what I don’t like about the game. First, the game options menu is practically non-existent. Resizing your screen is advanced technology, so I hope you like playing in permanent fullscreen forever. Second, game balance. As a general rule, the game feels balanced. HOWEVER, the way team selection works means that you can get locked into having two teams of the same players go against each other over and over, with one team just crushing the other. Finally, the guns. The guns kind of suck. They feel slow and laggy. Aiming down sight is buggy and doesn’t always actually aim down sight, and shooting without aiming down the sight results in firing bullets somewhere within an 180 degree radius of where you were pointed.

These aren’t deal breakers. Honestly, if I could change anything about the game, it would be to fix some of the bugs, clarify wording for mechanics for a few abilities, and fix the options menu. If they did all of that, the game would be fantastic, as opposed to the ‘pretty good’ it currently is.

If this sounds fun, and the issues don’t sound like deal breakers, you can grab Perfect Heist 2 for $10 on Steam.

Super Auto Pets

Super Auto Pets is pretty neat. Overall I like it, and I recommend it. It’s available on mobile and PC, but unlike most mobile games doesn’t have the sort of monetization that makes you feel like you’ve given your phone an STI by downloading it, and just offers expansion packs instead.

No really, this is the extent of all microtransactions in the game.

So now that I’ve said that I like it, what type of game is it? There’s a whole discussion you could have about its genre, but most people would call it an Auto-Battler. Because I’m a contrarian, I’d call it an Auto-Chess. Regardless of your preferred genre name, the goal is to construct a team out of units, each with their own stats and synergies, and last long enough to beat out each opposing team you play against.

Most other Auto-Something games I’ve played have had a fairly high learning curve. This is because they tended to be mods, or based off mods for games like Dota.

Enter Super Auto Pets.

Super Auto Pets keeps the general structure of the Auto-Chess genre, but replaces the complicated units with much more understandable versions. You still spend gold to buy units, you still combine units to power them up, and you can still re-roll the buy row, but instead of dozens of potential stats, Super Auto Pets units have just attack, health, and an ability.

So let’s talk about the flow of a game of Super Auto Pets, and then the two different game modes that are available.

At the start of a game, you’ll be given 10 gold, and a market of three pets from which you can buy. Each pet in the market costs three gold, and you can spend one gold to reroll the available pets. There are also food items, which give a variety of buffs. They can range from temporary stats for the next round, permanent stats, or an equipable item.

You have five slots for pets, and you can rearrange them however you wish for free. You won’t have a full five pets until after the first round or so, but after a little bit, your screen will look something like this.

When you finish, and hit the end round button, you’ll go to combat. And this is where the “Auto” part comes into play. Going from right to left, your pets will fight against another player’s team of pets. Making simultaneous attacks, combat is pretty simple. Each pet loses health equal to the attacker’s attack stat, and when they run out of health, they faint, and the next rightmost pet moves up to take their place. Whoever runs out of pets first loses, and if you both run out at the same time, the game ends in a draw.

Losing a single round won’t lose you the game. Instead, after each loss you lose a number of lives that increases as rounds pass. This is one of the interesting differences between Super Auto Pets and other Auto-Chess games I’ve seen. Most other entries instead have you lose a scaling number of lives or HP based on how many opposing units remain when you get knocked out.

I am very used to seeing this screen at this point.

The amount of lives you lose isn’t the only thing that changes as rounds pass. The pool of available units and food for purchase changes as well. Higher tier units tend to have stronger stat lines, and in many cases, stronger abilities.

So why wouldn’t you just always purchase them instead? There’s two reasons. First off is that while their base stat lines might be higher, they may not fit well into your overall strategy. The second is that base stats doesn’t always translate into actual stats.

Like with other Auto-Battlers, Super Auto-Pets allows you to level up your units by fusing additional copies into them. This increases their base stats, but vitally also often buffs their abilities.

Abilities are one of the biggest parts of the game I haven’t really talked about yet. Almost all pets have an ability, and they do a lot of different things, for different triggers. Some like the grasshopper create extra units in combat when the pet unit faints. Others might give a stat buff to another unit, such as the ant. Others function outside of battle, like the giraffe, which buffs other units permanently at the end of each round. As a side note, another interesting thing is that many of these abilities work in both battles, and the buy menu.

As an example: The horse’s “Friend Summoned” ability triggers both when you buy units between rounds, and when units are brought into play during a battle.

There are a few more things I want to talk about with Super Auto Pets before I wrap this up. The first is how the game avoids becoming stale. When you first install the game, it may take a little while to learn the default pool of pets and food, but past a certain point there becomes a fairly clear path to victory, and winning becomes more of a matter of “Can I complete my engines/strategies before my opponents complete theirs?” To deal with this, the game has the aforementioned expansion packs, and also a weekly pack that changes out the units and food items available, effectively creating a new meta to be solved each week.

The closest parallel is probably how something like Dominion works. You have a larger pool of total cards, but in a given game, only a subset of that pool is in play. As a result, the skill shifts from memorizing meta strategies to being able to read a pool and spot synergies.

The second is the game modes. Super Auto Pets has a standard Auto-Something mode, where you play against live players with 60 second buy rounds, but it also has a mode called Arena. In Arena, there’s no timer, and no hard pool of players. Instead of being the last player standing, your goal is to get 10 wins. You have as much time as you want to think and buy. When you choose to end a round, you’ll be matched against another player’s team from same level and round as you’re currently in, and play against them.

Arena mode is probably the biggest thing that sets Super Auto Pets apart from other Auto-Somethings, because it lets you play the game at your own pace, while skipping having to wait for matchmaking.

I don’t have anything else to say about the game. Truth be told, I like Super Auto Pets, but I don’t “like” like Super Auto Pets. I think it’s an accessible and friendly entry to the genre. The only in-app purchases are expansion packs, and they total about $15.

If this sounds interesting, you can grab it for free off the relevant app store for your phone, or for PC on Steam. Or just play it through a browser over on itch.io.

Elden Ring

The first thing George RR Martin finished writing in the last 10 years.

Elden Ring came out on February 25th. As I write this, it’s currently June 19th. I purchased the game upon its release. Since then, it’s been 119 days. For a large portion of time, this article has been sitting in my drafts post, with just the following text.

“I have not beaten Elden Ring.”

As of today though, I can finally update that text. Instead, it can now read:

“I have beaten Elden Ring.”

So now what?

There are three separate tacts I feel I could take with reviewing Elden Ring. I’m going to try to stuff them all into this article, but I’m going to start with the most straightforward one. Having finished the game do I recommend it? Do I like Elden Ring? Is it fun? To which my answers are “It depends, yes (but not as much as Bloodborne), and sometimes.” Let’s expand those answers a bit, but first, let’s talk about what Elden Ring is mechanically.

Mechanics

Much like its predecessors, Elden Ring is an over the shoulder action game. You could also just call it a Soulslike, the genre From Software effectively invented. It shares many other traits with other From Software games. These range from how bosses are handled, to a large portion of older games’ equipment systems, to the most infamous: the fact that when you die, you drop all your unspent currency/experience, and get one chance to run back and pick it up. And if you fail, you kiss all your experience goodbye.

There are a massive number of differences as well, though. Unlike previous games, Elden Ring is open world, and when I say open world, I really mean it. There were three separate occasions in my playthrough where I thought I’d seen the entire world, only to then walk directly into a brand new zone. And because it’s so big, you get a horse (best value; Torrent legit looks more like a yak) to traverse the world. There’s also a brand new crafting system, which I never touched, and the ability to summon spirits, which I used a lot.

To my mind, the biggest ramification of how open the world is, is that there isn’t strictly speaking a single path to the end of the game. There are some required bosses, but the early game is open enough that it only requires you to beat two out of a fairly large set of bosses. Anyway, now that we’ve covered the game’s general mechanics at least slightly, let’s go back to those three questions I answered above.

Answer Ye These Questions Three

First off, do I recommend Elden Ring? Here’s why my recommendation is an “It depends.” Elden Ring is a Soulslike, and it’s a From Software game. This means the game is hard, not by being unfair, but by just being very punishing for mistakes. I talked about this sort of design in my Bloodborne writeup, if you want to read about this design philosophy in more detail.

Elden Ring could almost be taken as a synthesis of the games From Software has made. So if you enjoy those games, it’s an easy recommendation. At the same time, it’s a very unique experience. I’d argue that if you’ve never played a Soulslike, Elden Ring is currently the pinnacle of the genre, making it a good entry point.

With that said, if you’ve played them before, and didn’t like them, or simply don’t like action oriented combat games, Elden Ring is likely a bad fit. The ability to beat Elden Ring isn’t something reserved for only the most elite gamers, but it is a game that demands far more patience and tolerance then any other AAA title I can think of. There’s a reason the “Easy Mode” mod has 40,000 downloads.

Next, question two: do I like Elden Ring? Yes, I generally like Elden Ring, but, I still don’t like it as much as Bloodborne. The reasons for this can be grouped into a few big reasons: (A) weapons, (B) combat, and (C) “I just don’t like open world games.”

A. Weapons. I simply like Bloodborne’s weapons more, specifically their trick modes. The ability to spend resources on a single weapon, but to swap between modes based on the enemy you’ve encountered was something I enjoyed quite a lot. Elden Ring has a much greater number of weapons available, but none ever actually really clicked with me the way Bloodborne’s Threaded Cane did. In addition, although I found a lot more weapons, I simply didn’t have the stats for many of them, and thus ignored them.

B. Combat. In Bloodborne, when you get hit by an attack, if you can strike an enemy back fast enough, you can recover a portion of your health. This lends the game a very aggressive tone, encouraging offensive play. In Elden Ring, you do not. This simple difference sets an incredibly different tone, and frankly, I like fighting more than I like waiting. This brings us to the other thing I liked better about Bloodborne combat: parries.

In Bloodborne, your secondary weapon is almost always a gun. Guns are not really ranged weapons. Instead they’re used to perform parries/counters, and you almost always have access to them. Elden Ring doesn’t have guns, and while it does have parries, Parry is a single special attack option available only on shields, and using a shield means giving up two handed weapons, and also many other combat options. Look, I just liked my shotgun okay?

C. I just don’t like open world games. This one is pretty self explanatory. I just don’t. Elden Ring is an open world game, and it uses a lot of the common open world tropes, including various repeating objectives and structures, having to collect maps for new areas, and in the latter half of the game, a fair amount of re-used bosses. Also a crafting system.

I do not enjoy getting lost. I do not enjoy crafting shit. And I really don’t enjoy trying to find a specific reagent. Yes, I could use a wiki, but I didn’t for reasons we’ll cover later. I mentioned this in my earlier Elden Ring writeup, but it also made it feel much harder to figure out if I was just bad at a fight, or if my character’s stats weren’t high enough. Is skill too low, or is number too low?

Next, question 3, the most important question: Is Elden Ring fun? I had fun with Elden Ring. I was also frustrated, annoyed, bewildered, and pissed off. Those two sets of emotions aren’t necessarily exclusive. Elden Ring, and Soulslikes in general, are satisfying because of how obnoxious they can be, and how good it feels to finally dunk an enemy that’s been wiping the floor with you for several hours.

(We’re about to get into spoiler territory, so if for some reason you want to avoid spoilers, now would be the time to leave.)

With that said though, I would say I had less “Fun” in the second half of the game, and closer to the end. The environments are far more sparse, and bosses are heavily reused. In addition, the final section of the game is effectively a boss rush, where you have to face FIVE bosses with no other zones or content between them. Of these five bosses, I’d argue the first and third bosses you encounter are more impressive and interesting than four and five, which gives the game a weird tone.

Also, while I don’t want to be too direct, the “Final” boss of Elden Ring is one of the worst fights I’ve ever seen in a From Software game. This is for several reasons and I’ll cover them quickly. First off, the final boss is large, which would normally be fine, except they’re so big that getting close enough to attack them requires that you’re also so close that you can’t see the tells for their attacks. Second, they only have one lock-on point, directly in their chest. This makes it hard to stay focused on them, and hard to see their tells, which come from the head and arms. Finally, despite being an absolute chonky lad, they spend most of the fight just running around the arena, and getting close enough to them to hit them is the primary challenge. It’s incredibly annoying.

There are quite a few awesome bosses in the game, but the final boss is not one of them.

So now that we’ve answered the big important questions, let’s move on to the other thing I wanted to talk about, and perhaps the biggest issue coloring my experience with Elden Ring.

I’m pretty sure I played the game wrong.

I Played Elden Ring Wrong

That sounds pretty weird, doesn’t it? After all, arguing that someone is “playing it wrong” is usually used to perpetuate elitism. It smacks of explaining why someone you don’t like, usually because of gender, skin color, or both, isn’t a “Real Gamer.” So using it to describe yourself is weird.

So why do I think I played it wrong? Funnily enough, it actually has nothing to do with in-game behavior or mechanics.

My playthrough of Elden Ring was completed with as few spoilers as I could feasibly make it, and completely solo. I never once looked at a guide, wiki, or any form of information or tutorial. I also played in offline mode and never used an online summon. The extent of my exposure to information from outside the game was one or two offhanded comments from my friends (“Mimic tear is good”) and a few small memes that I encountered accidentally.

I did this for my pride. From Software games are hard, and I wanted to be able to say to know that “I beat Elden Ring without having to look anything up, by myself.” That’s literally the entire reason.

And in retrospect, it was a pretty stupid decision.

Everything about how Elden Ring works feels like it’s designed to be “experienced” as a game in some form of multiplayer. Not in-game multiplayer, but exchange of information multiplayer. You find something cool about how various mechanics work, and share it with your friend. They tell you how a certain symbol on the map always indicates it’s an area where you get resources to upgrade your weapons. It’s a virtuous cycle of phased discovery within a group.

The game is built of a million small riddles and puzzles, but once you solve them, you can share them with someone else. This is true of many From Software games, but Elden Ring being open world takes this to a whole new level. There’s just so much stuff, and a massive amount of it is easy to miss.

I kind of regret doing everything completely on my own, and I think I would have had more fun if I played more earlier, and chatted with friends about stuff, rather than the grinding slog I took to do it all myself.

There’s probably a lesson there, but let’s pretend this was a one-off thing, and wrap this article up. There are a few other issues I have with the game, including the crashes and boss re-use, but I already wrote about those a few weeks ago, and I’m not sure it’s worth re-hashing.

In Conclusion

Elden Ring is an advancement of the Soulslike genre, and synthesizes many of the mechanics and environments from previous From Software games. Even so, there are several weak portions of the game. While it deserves the acclaim and praise it gets, I wouldn’t call it perfect by any means. If this article has inspired you, and you’ve now decided you want to become Elden Lord, it’s available for the current gen consoles, and also PC.

But you’re gonna have to beat me for it.

Golf With Your Friends

Golf with your Friends is a fun multiplayer title, but a wonky physics engine and over reliance on gimmicks saps the enjoyment in many places.

Golf With Your Friends is a minigolf game developed by Blacklight Interactive, and published by Team 17. You might know Team 17 for things like Worms or The Escapists. Or maybe for that moment earlier this year when they tried to make NFTs. PCGamer has a fairly good writeup on that whole fiasco here.

Back to Golf With Your Friends. It’s a minigolf game that supports up to 12 player multiplayer. There are a dozen or so courses of 18 holes to play through in the base game, and an entire Steam workshop of other courses of varying quality.

As a minigolf game, it’s… pretty good! Decent. Passable. B-. The big issue I have with it is that the physics engine is incredibly wonky. There’ll be portions of the game where everything seems reasonable and consistent. Then it’ll break completely with no rhyme or reason.

Here’s an example. One course has a set of moving platforms that move up and down. For one set of friends, they were able to hit their ball onto these platforms. The ball would stop moving and they’d be able to hit off the platform. For me, every time I hit a ball onto it, the ball bounced, never stopped moving, then clipped through the bottom of the platform and went out of bounds. Originally I thought this was the result of lag, or some client side weirdness. Then it happened multiple times in the level editor in single-player.

And the more I played of the game, the more of these weird moments cropped up. Ramps that behaved inconsistently. Vacuum pipes that didn’t vacuum up the ball. Finishing an entire round without some sort of bug or weirdness is a rarity on par with the Ark of the Covenant.

I found Golf With Your Friends best as a multiplayer game. Multiplayer serves a duel purpose of making golf bearable and as an excuse for the bugs. There are people out there who can find joy in mechanical repetition and mastery of a task, and we call those people athletes and speedrunners. I find joy in waiting for my friends to line up for a perfect shot, then knocking their ball into the water by smashing into it with my own. Also crowing about absolutely nailing a hole in one that was complete luck.

Your friend group might not interact like a group of self-cannibalizing jackals, though. In that case, you can turn collisions off. Golf With Your Friends has a variety of game options, including hole type, ball type, collisions, max stroke and time limits, jumping, collisions, and powerups. While this variety of settings is good for custom levels, and tweaking gameplay to suit your friend group, not all of the options feel like they were actually tested.

For example, you can play with a cube, instead of a ball. For a large number of courses, it is straight up impossible to actually get this piece of trash into the hole. And even the more subtle tweaks, such as making things extra bouncy, can have unintended consequences. On one course, having a ball that was larger meant that a launcher gimmick would fail every time. This would have been less annoying if it wasn’t the only way to the hole.

Now let’s talk about gimmicks. Most courses in the game have some form of trick or gimmick. Some of these are fine, like the small number of moving objects in the forest course. Some are obnoxious, or confusing, like the magic platforms in the ancient course. And some are pointlessly stupid, such as the non-stop explosions in the worms course. They’re not enough to make it unplayable, but they do make it pointlessly difficult. And these obstacles also tend to be buggy.

There’s one more thing I want to talk about before I wrap this article up, and that’s the game’s built-in level editor. It allows you to make and publish your own courses to the Steam Workshop.

It is also one of the most garbage pieces of software I’ve ever had the misfortune of using. Hotkeys are an absolute nightmare, Y is up and Z is sideways. The resize tools work differently for each object. You can’t group move objects. You can’t group copy objects. The level editor has a “Play Mode” which can be used to test courses, but remember all those game mode options I mentioned above? You can’t actually turn any of them on while testing, so you’re stuck playing vanilla golf.

Despite all of those issues, I actually did make a course I called “Pain Mountain,” and if you’re curious, you can play it here. It’s not the only Pain Mountain on the Steam Workshop though, so a rebrand may be necessary. The Pain Mountain tourism board is looking into it.

And that’s Golf With Your Friends. A reasonable minigolf game, but with a large number of bugs and weird behaviors, a usable but aggravating level editor, and multiplayer that’s fun, but not consistent. It’s not very polished, but it is fun. It’s also several years old, and is no longer the only multiplayer minigolf game out there. If you want to play, you can buy it on Steam here, but I’d suggest waiting for a sale so you can pick up a few copies to play with your friends.