Tricky Towers

Tricky Towers is the bastard child of Tetris and a physics system. It’s also a ton of fun and great in multiplayer.

If I had to summarize Tricky Towers in one image, this is what I would use.

Artist’s conceptualization of Tricky Towers. Stolen from XKCD, by the eternally funny Randall Munroe.

Anyway, that would pretty much do it. Article over. You get the idea. Except that Tricky Towers has multiple modes, and is multiplayer, and… hmm.

Y’know, maybe you could read the rest of the writeup.

Anyway. Tricky Towers. Tricky Towers is kind of like Tetris in that it’s a game that consists of stacking tetronimos on top of each other. It’s unlike Tetris in that instead of lines disappearing when you fill them, they just sort of sit there. This is because your goal is different. Unlike Tetris, in which you try to clear the maximum number of lines possible, in Tricky Towers, you are trying to build a tower. (Okay, in most game modes, you’re trying to build a tower. More on the other game modes in a bit.)

Also unlike Tetris, where pieces are always aligned on a grid, you can move your pieces in half block increments. Oh, and there’s a physics system! And these two additions combine to turn everything into utter chaos.

Because there’s no easy way to remove placed blocks, you just sort of have to live with the consequences (much like how I’ll have to live with the consequences of how shit this writeup is!). Did a L block fall over? It’s now time to play some sort of warped sideways Tetris. Did a critical part of your structure just end up with a bit too much weight? Time to watch as your dreams crumble, and joy turns to ash. And also as your opponents build right past you!

Oh, yeah, opponents, and game modes.

Tricky Towers has variety of game modes, including single player, score attacks, and multiplayer. The first two are fine, but I don’t care about them much as I almost always only ever play multiplayer with friends.

Yeah, I’m sure you really did get a score that can only be expressed with scientific notation you cheating fuck.

Within multiplayer, there are multiple modes for games and types. Usually I play the Cup setting, which works kind of like Mario Kart scoring. You play a set of challenges, and get points based on whether you finished first, second, etc.

Within those, there are 3 different modes, somewhat analogous to tracks. These are Race, Survival and Puzzle.

Race is the most straightforward: be the first person to build a tower that reaches the finish line, and have it stay stable for 3 seconds. There’s some very clever design here as well, as the finish line actually moves toward the players. This makes it so even if you’re absolutely terrible, or the ratio of modern art to engineering embodied by your tower tends towards Jackson Pollock, the game will still end.

Survival is somewhat similar, except your goal is to just last the longest. In this game mode, whenever a block drops off the side of your tower, you lose a life. Lose all your lives, and you’re knocked out. It’s also possible to win by placing all 66 of your blocks before your opponents, but in the 12 hours I’ve played, that has literally never happened once.

Puzzle is the most unusual. Each player is given a starting block, and the same lineup of pieces, and the goal is to place as many of those pieces as possible, without going over a line. The catch is that if you drop a piece, the base of your tower is moved up, and when you place a piece that crosses the aforementioned line, it’s removed, and the number you placed beforehand is your final score.

Overall, these three modes in multiplayer are why I enjoy Tricky Towers. And the multiplayer is non-negotiable. I play a lot of games, but Tricky Towers is one of the few that everyone in my group will actually want to play on game nights.

Tricky Towers is $15.00 on Steam, but you can probably wait for it to go on sale, and get a few copies to play with friends for a bit cheaper.


Boston FIG 2022 Writeup – Part 1

They say to strike while the iron is hot, and it’s been like a day since Boston FIG wrapped up. So if it actually was iron, it probably wouldn’t be very hot anymore, and now I’ve lost the thread entirely.

If you haven’t heard of Boston FIG, it means Boston Festival of Indie Games, and it’s a smaller game convention that takes place in Boston. I find it to be a really good place to find games that I might not otherwise hear about.

That’s what this writeup is gonna be: a list of all the stuff I saw and played at Boston FIG, some notes on which things I liked, and where to find out more info about those games.

That said, before I start the rest of this glorified listicle, I want to make two quick notes:
1. I only played board games at Boston FIG, and of those, I played or listened to pitches for almost 75% of the pool of the games. I didn’t get a chance to see the digital side at all, and there’s a whole quarter of the board games at the show I didn’t see at all. So if your game/a game isn’t on this, I apologize. I just may not have gotten to it.
2. I think of myself as a someone who enjoys lighter board games, but even more importantly, I prize demos far more than pitches. For a digital convention this can be difficult, as not everyone has the time or effort to make something that can be played digitally. And some games (thinking of you, Crash Factor) would probably be near impossible to make a cheap digital version of. Thus, the longer paragraphs are pretty much exclusively for things I could actually play at the show.

Retrograde by Resonym

Retrograde is a roll and write, a genre that I think could be better named. I assumed “roll and write” meant some sort of word game, like Scrabble. As such I had kind of avoided it until someone explained, “No, it means a game where you mark stuff to score.” So Retrograde doesn’t involve writing any words. Instead, you roll dice in real time to try to get sets, then draft one of a series of cards from a shared pool to determine which of the invading droids on your sheet you can actually blast. The primary tension comes from trying to get a perfect roll vs. getting the draft card you want before someone else snags it.

You can find more about Retrograde here, and I believe it comes out next month or so.

Dyna-Boom By Entro Games/Chris Backe

Dyna-Boom is a set collection and movement game by Entro Games, which is actually just one guy named Chris Backe. I’m not throwing shade here, that’s his description from the site. Anyway, Dyna-Boom. You move around a playing field of randomized tiles, flipping them after you pass over them, and collecting them when you pass over flipped up tiles. There’s a bit more to it than that, but I very much enjoyed playing Dyna-Boom, and I want to play more.

Chris mentioned to me that he’s currently looking for a publisher for the game, so I guess maybe check out his site if you’re a publisher?

If, like me, you’re also not a publisher, don’t worry. You can play the Tabletop Simulator version of the game, and you can download the set of rules from the Entro Games site under the games page.

Speculation

Speculation is a number guessing game. Everyone gets a hidden number, and then takes turns drafting face up cards that give away various pieces of information about that hidden number. Nick Federico, the designer, mentioned to me that he thought of it as like trying to count cards in Poker. I’m inclined to agree with him that it’s a lot like Poker, because just like Poker:
1. I am very bad at it.
2. It made my head hurt.
Speculation was not my favorite, but if you want to try it, it has a Tabletop Simulator implementation you can grab here.

Lab Meltdown by Zerua Games

Lab Meltdown is a co-operative… hmm. Writing “Co-operative Board Game” seems like kind of a cop-out. But I’m not sure what genre to place it in based on what I played.

Players are a group of astronauts on a space station, working to stabilize various chemicals compounds and keep the station from turning into a ball of gas and flames high in the sky. It has some very neat movement mechanics, with the same cards being used to both run your astronaut around, and also stabilize chemicals.

It did feel like it might end up suffering from quarterbacking, where one player ends up directing everyone else on where to go, and what to do. But it also isn’t out/published yet, so it’s also possible that might change.

While Lab Meltdown isn’t released, Zerua Games does have a bunch of other games out, and you can see those on their website here. (Tack was also at the show, and supposed to be very good, but I didn’t get around to playing it!)

Rapid Fire Round – Some Other Stuff

All the games listed below are either one of two things: I didn’t make it to their booth, or they just had a pitch deck and not a demo.

The Worthy – Grand strategy/area of control game. Lots of minifigs.
WarBonds – Grand strategy fantasy wargame. Apparently fully deterministic. Not really my thing.
Persuasion – Supposed to be good. Didn’t get to play. No idea how it plays.
Critical Care – Won a bunch of awards. Didn’t play it. Also supposed to be good.
The Genetic Code – Genetics themed builder/trick taker. Didn’t have a demo.
Plague House – Non-worker misplacement game. More stuff by author here.
Crash Factor – Manual dexterity/placementgame with a board designed to allow structured placement and strategies without having great dexterity.

That’s all for this section of the writeup. I think there were enough games to do 2-3 more of these, so expect more as the week/day rolls on!



Neon White

Neon White is a FPS Puzzle Platformer with fantastic guns and incredible movement. I’d mention the story, but I want you to want to play it.

Neon White by Angel Matrix is a puzzle platformer FPS with some lite visual novel elements, and it’s brilliant. And while it might sound like a sort of game salad of multiple genres, that’s purely because I’m bad at describing things. The key point here is that I like it.

I think the easiest way to explain Neon White is to describe what a level looks like. So let’s start with that. You maneuver using traditional FPS controls around a stylized environment, and you have two goals to complete the level: kill all the demons, and reach the end. However, these aren’t Doom-style demons. These are more like… potted plants. They’re all immobile, and while they shoot projectiles, they’re not hard to dodge. They act as obstacles more than enemies, and each enemy type drops a different gun.

Oh, we haven’t talked about guns yet, have we? Guns reset between levels, and are represented as cards. You can carry two types of guns at once, and 3 copies of a particular gun/card (I’ll explain in a moment). Guns are dual purpose. You can shoot with them, and you can also throw away a copy to use a special movement ability. The shotgun lets you do a dash. The pistol has a double jump. The rocket launcher is also a grappling hook, making it one of the greatest weapons in any game. And if that sounds like I’m ripping off Zero Punctuation… well. Not deliberately. It’s just a fantastic weapon that’s incredibly fun to use.

Dear god I love this rocket launcher so much.

These are the core ingredients of Neon White, but the one thing I haven’t mentioned is that everything is timed. Not in a “countdown” sort of way, but a speedrun timer ticking up. In order to unlock more levels, you need to clear a set of levels from the current pool with a gold rank or higher.

While this might sound intimidating, the timing for getting gold medals is very generous. The same is true of the crystal rank medal, and it isn’t until you go for the secret red clear times (which don’t even show up until you beat them) that things get really challenging.

And while we’re talking about gold medals and clear times, we may as well talk about Neon White’s story. The short version is that you’re an assassin in the afterlife called in to hunt down demons for a chance at redemption. And while the story gets interesting in the last 25% of the game, much of what precedes that moment feels a bit cringey. Not bad, but I heard someone describe it as an independent webcomic from the early 2000’s, and I’d say that sounds about right.

This would be a great place to include a picture of story content. I’m not going to do that because I want you to buy this game.

Outside of the story, pretty much everything in Neon White is perfect. I saw almost no bugs in my playtime, and even the boss levels worked well. The game does a fantastic job with its progression and introducing new weapons and concepts as it goes. That said, it’s not a massive any means. A lot of the value comes from replaying levels multiple times for better clear times, and hunting for shortcuts and skips within those levels.

There is one more thing I want to talk about before I wrap this up, and that’s writing this article. This is version 7 or so of my Neon White writeup. Not “draft 7.” I have written and thrown away 6 earlier versions of this, because Neon White isn’t a super easy game to describe in a compelling manner.

So if you’re not convinced, I suggest watching either Zero Punctuation’s video on the game, or maybe Dunkey’s? I think they both do a better job of selling the game in certain aspects, and it deserves better than my somewhat poor writeup. But I legitimately can’t describe this game well. I’ve tried, failed, and now I’m going to write about other games, without this draft glaring at me judgingly while I write about something else for the eighth week in a row.

If you were convinced by this writeup, then, uh. Wow. You can get Neon White on Steam or Switch. It’s $25, and it’s a good use of that money.

Almost a year later, where does Kickstarter’s blockchain initiative stand?

About a year ago, give or take two months, Kickstarter announced that they would be engaging in some sort of blockchain-based initiative. Reaction was varied, and by varied, I mean people who liked distributed excel sheet blockchain technology saw this as further proof of the the future ascension of that tech.

If you were someone who actually ran Kickstarter campaigns, you may have seen it as a sign that you should look into BackerKit or Gamefound.

When this whole thing was announced, Bitcoin was around $50,000, and Ethereum was about $4300. Anyway, it’s been a little bit. Some things have happened. Bitcoin is now around $19,500,and Ethereum sits at $1300 and it seems like as good a time as any to check in on that whole Kickstarter Blockchain thing.

Before we get any further into this though, there’s one large thing I want to address. In a massive amount of the coverage, there’s an announcement that Kickstarter would be moving onto some form of blockchain technology within the year.

This claim was actually going to be the base of this rant. I’d poke fun at blockchain, and then mock companies who think they can perform a full technical transformation on a project that hasn’t entered the planning phase with a “new” technology in less then a year, and just generally act all smug. Y’know, given that they’d have just under 3 months from today to meet their own deadline.

Unfortunately, I cannot find evidence that Kickstarter ever actually made this claim. The primary source of their 1-year timeline is this Bloomberg article. To make matters more annoying, I can’t find evidence that they didn’t make this claim. The Bloomberg article in question has a published time of 1:45 EST, the Kickstarter article doesn’t have a published timeframe, and the first Wayback Machine capture in the Archives is from 4:41 PM EST.

I’d personally say, “Kickstarter appears to have never said this.” There is a period of time between 9:00 AM EST and that first Wayback Machine capture where Kickstarter could have updated the article. That said, they eventually edited out one sentence about publishing a white paper, and that took them a long time to change. I think it’s unlikely that they published a timeline, and then edited it out within hours.

One brief addendum before I drop this track entirely. I reached out to both the author of the Bloomberg article, and Kickstarter directly to ask for clarity on this point. The Bloomberg writer didn’t respond, and Kickstarter stated the end of 2022 date was referencing a timeline for setting up a organization to investigate the solution.

Regardless, it’s hard to see this whole blockchain thing as a win of any sort for Kickstarter. At the time of the announcement, it drew a fair amount of criticism and scorn from many users of the their platform. Both creators and backers criticized the direction, and many users considered moving to Kickstarers’ competitors. As of right now, crypto has lost a massive amount of value, and continues to be a solution in search of a problem, unless the problem is “How do you make make money off ransomware?”

Kickstarter itself has also been fairly quiet about all of this. There was a recent interview on Dicebreaker with the new Kickstarter CEO.

I’m gonna be honest. I read the interview. I appreciate Chase Carter’s (the interviewer’s) directness with some of the questions. But that doesn’t help the answers.

Everette Taylor doesn’t really take a stand for or against Kickstarter’s blockchain initiative. Instead, he repeatedly states that Kickstarter won’t become a Web3 company. He says that Kickstarter is still focused on their core value add, but also doesn’t say they won’t continue investigating. He frankly doesn’t say much of anything.

Ed Note: This isn’t intended as an insult. If anything it’s a compliment. I understand why he’s not going to say anything, and I admire that he’s able to to do it so effectively. Publicly giving your honest opinion on all the bad decisions of the company that just hired you probably is not a great strategy for long term employment. All that said, I’m enthusiast media. I can both admire the skill and call it somewhat BS that he’s not committing to any actual policy.

The spiciest statement Taylor makes is this: “I believe that a lot of people’s issues with Kickstarter’s exploration of the blockchain are doing so with misinformation.”

It’s a great statement because it looks like it says a lot, but promises and says nothing. Are you pro-blockchain? “Our customers only dislike blockchain because they’re misinformed.” Are you anti-blockchain? “People only dislike it because they don’t understand that we’re just exploring the space, not committing to it.”

You can choose to read it however you want, and even if you take a neutral stance, it’s still hollow. Is the misinformation about blockchain ,or Kickstarter’s exploration of the process, or something else entirely? Who knows!

Regardless, here’s the state of Kickstarter nine months later: There’s been no active forward progress that’s been publicly reported. In both interviews, and requests for comment, Kickstarter hasn’t disavowed itself of involvement with blockchain technology, but they also haven’t committed to any outwardly visible extent. If the whole thing was an attempt to drum up interest and attention, I’d say it pretty visibly backfired. If it was an expression of legitimate interest in the crypto/blockchain sphere, any fruits are extremely slow growing.

Hazelnut Hex Review

Hazelnut Hex is a fantastic shoot-em-up that knows exactly what it’s doing and executes on it perfectly.

Hazelnut Hex is brilliant. The game is a to-the-point shoot em up that knows exactly what it’s doing and executes on it perfectly. Some folks might call the game minimalist; I’m calling it precise.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of Hazelnut Hex, it’s a shoot-em-up/shmup for the Switch. In terms of tone, it feels like a pastel colored version of Touhou. Also like Tohou, the music goes far harder than it has any need to. This is track 4 from the game, Bite After Dark. Do me a favor and listen to that while you read the rest of the review.

But what I want to talk about is the gameplay, because to me this is where the brilliance of the game lies. I wouldn’t ever describe myself as a shmup person. I haven’t even played Touhou.

The core rules of Hazelnut Hex are simple. Shoot the enemies, and don’t get hit with projectiles. Do that, get to the boss, and beat the boss to win. After all, it is a shoot em up. But Hazelnut Hex isn’t random. Instead, each level follows a predictable pattern. And while you can restart if you die, you lose your score. I think this is a nice balance. Even if you’re terrible, you can still play the entire game.

Every subsystem in the game feels perfectly designed. Let’s start with lives. You start with 3 lives (or 5 if you turn the value up because you’re bad like me) and getting hit costs you a life. Get 500,000 points and get another life. This is one of the very few times a game has actually made me care about points. Sure, you can get points for just blasting enemies, but you can get more by waiting for your shots to charge and hitting chains of enemies with more powerful blasts.

In addition to getting more points, charged shots also destroy enemy bullets, and build your special meter. You can use specials to shoot a massive blast that gives you invulnerability frames and clears bullets off the screen. But at the same time, it also gives points based on the number of bullets on the screen. It can function as a panic button if you find yourself trapped, but it’s also a scoring tool.

All of sudden, instead of just blasting non-stop to clear the incoming waves, I found myself actually looking at enemy patterns, and trying to spot moments when they lined up for clean charge shots, so that I had extra lives going into tougher spots. I’d describe it as the difference between button mashing and trying to actually understand what’s going on in a fighting game.

And pretty much every subsystem feels like this. There’s a set of end of level scoring bonuses that include one for having your squirrel Sam with you when you clear the level. It’s 20,000 points which is a fairly large amount. Why is it so high? Because you can only pickup Sam before the boss fight. This isn’t just a bonus for keeping Sam alive, its a bonus for clearing the boss fight without getting hit! Other score bonuses are only applied when you clear a level. This makes it so you can get large payouts, but the level keeps you from getting them too early, and getting easy bonus lives.

Hazelnut Hex can be played through without understanding any of these systems. That’s how I beat it the first time, after all. But if you want to master it, the game also provides the ability to do so. You can start any level with any combination of weapon, weapon power, and health. Want to practice a boss fight without playing the first half of the level? Go right ahead.

Other people might criticize the game for not being very long, since you can play through the whole thing by just continuing after death. I don’t think that’s actually a problem. Hazelnut Hex doesn’t include any bloat. It’s not trying to be anything else other than an expertly crafted shmup. And playing it gave me, terrible as I am, a bit more of an appreciation for the brilliance of the genre.

Hazelnut Hex is $8 for Nintendo Switch. You can buy it here.

Ed Note: Images in the article are taken from the Nintendo Store page.