Crayon Chronicles: A Roguelike for your Inner Second Grader

Crayon Chronicles
Crayon Chronicles

I should have called this “A Child’s First Roguelike”. Or, “How to get through school with only an Owl on a Stick”. Whatever. Outer Grid Games’ “Crayon Chronicles” is a short, sweet RPG that combines a whimsical art style with easy gameplay and a few chuckles to make the best roguelike I’ve played all year.

Roguelikes are games based off the old mainframe RPG Rogue. Games of this sort share some tropes; randomly generated levels, turn-based gameplay, a single life and a near-unobtainable goal. These games can be won, but the point is usually to survive longer than you did the last time. Winning is almost beside the point.

Outer Grid Games successfully funded Crayon Chronicles on Kickstarter last month. I loved the art style, and I loved even more that the game was essentially done already and would be released soon. So many Kickstarter games are so far in the future that it’s easy to forget they exist.

Bad report card :(
Bad report card :(

In Crayon Chronicles, you play a middle school students whose friends have been kidnapped by some unknown villain. Even though nobody else seems that upset by this turn of events, you decide it’s your mission to go find your friends, rescue them, and then see what’s on TV or something.

You’ll choose from an arsenal of weapons you’ll find along the way — a saw, a warhammer, a ruler, a slingshot, an owl on a stick, a dustpan — and protect yourself with awesome armor — like a wool sweater, a paper-bag helmet, a beanie…. You’ll gain incredible abilities (like game face, or puffy face) to befazzle your foes, and treats and bricks and cherry bombs for emergencies.

You’ll only be able to carry and use one melee weapon and one ranged weapon at a time, though. Same for armor, you can only keep what you can wear. The four slots of inventory are used for consumables, like moldy bricks to throw, or treats to eat for health.

Ranged weapons are recharged via melee attacks. You’ll find ranged weapons that recharge quickly but don’t do much damage, or ranged weapons (like the hand cannon in the first screenshot) that do awesome damage, but recharge very slowly. Hint: don’t use those. When you’re facing a room full of range-using monsters, you’ll want to respond in kind. Plus, the range-monsters cheat. You can only toss things in the eight cardinal directions; they can toss things at you from any direction if you’re in range.

You gain health from eating treats, opening doors and killing monsters. Determining when to open doors and in which order to kill monsters is one of the hidden strategic bits in the game. Bad resource management leads to situations like the one that killed me in a graveyard, where range-using monsters pelted me from a distance, and I had no more doors to open, nor treats to eat, and the nearest monster was too far away.

In a genre known for its complexity, Crayon Chronicles is a simple, fun game that will be a go-to game for quick fun around here for quite awhile. It supports both keyboard and gamepads, and will soon be coming to the Xbox Live Arcade.

Code Hero (alpha)

Code Hero Alpha
Code Hero Alpha

Last year, or maybe the year before by now, I helped fund an innovative game on Kickstarter, Primer’s Code Hero. This game would teach you to create your own games using the cross-platform Unity game platform, UnityScript and JavaScript. UnityScript, JavaScript and Flash’s ActionScript are all closely related scripting languages, so knowing these things would be a Really Good Idea.

Instead of a more traditional approach, Code Hero is the world’s first FPC (First Person Coder) game. You don’t write a game. You create a game around you. With your Code Gun.

This might be the first shooter with a gun that doesn’t destroy. Unless, of course, you set it to GameObject.Destroy(). Then, I guess it’s like any other game.

Code Hero's humor: Doctor Evil by way of GladOS.
Code Hero’s humor: Doctor Evil by way of GladOS.

Code Hero is set in a Lawnmower Man-like virtual reality, guided by the ghost of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer. (Computing would remain a woman’s occupation until the advent of electronic computers, but luminaries such as Grace Hopper would help it climb new heights even after).

You’re soon given your Code Gun, a portal to a simple text editor and console that can run code in the current scene by pressing a trigger. It can also “shoot” special code signs to suck the code into the gun, where it can be stored, modified, and shot out again.

Once in the gun, the code can be extended with additional UnityScript to do what you like. Scripts and physics can be attached to objects in a scene editor mode. You can build a world around you — just you and your code gun.

Code Gun editing screen
Code Gun editing screen

Code Hero is still in alpha, so I’m not going to get into any bugs. You expect those. The developers have recently completed a “FizzBoss” challenge, an implementation of the famous “FizzBuzz” basic programming test.

FizzBuzz asks programmers to write a program that prints out the numbers 1 through 100, each on a line of their own. However, if the number is divisible by three, it should instead print “Fizz”. If the number if divisible by five, it should instead print “Buzz”. But, if the number is divisible by both three AND five, it should instead print “FizzBuzz”. Mention of this problem online is usually followed by programmers posting their solutions. And those solutions being wrong. Merriment ensues.

So, as a test of what you have learned thus far, destroying a boss by implementing the FizzBuzz solution in UnityScript is first rate. But, before I met the boss, I took the advice of signs in the boss’ anteroom and went to brush up on my construction techniques. I sucked up the code to build some stairs and accidentally shot the code right next to me.

I was trapped, in the stairs. The stairs code was made of stretched, untagged, cubes. I wrote a routine to return the tags of any object I shot — they were all tagged “Cube”. I modified the script to destroy everything tagged “Cube”, but I made a mistake and ended up in an infinite loop and had to shut down the game from the task manager.

That’s the danger of getting inside your code. Infinite loops can ruin your day, and bad code can fall right on top of you.

Code can cause explosions!
Code can cause explosions!

I left feeling that I would have had a much better learning experience given a regular IDE and a test scene in which to experiment. I don’t know what sort of IDE Unity developers normally use, but we use MyEclipse (for web development) at work and that gives a lot of help. For instance, there’s an “Undo” key right there :-) And you can stop your programs, any time you like!

Primer wants you to learn the basics of UnityScript programming in Code Hero before moving into the Unity development environment for real. I’m not really seeing why you wouldn’t just want to _start_ in the official UnityScript environment. The Code Gun is really just a visual copy and paste (with modify). You can do that outside your game just as easy. Easier.

However, a Portal-like game where the solutions were based on implementing algorithms instead of creating portals — that could be fun. Some of the Code Hero challenges were exactly this — for instance, building a bridge over a pool of acidic laser sharks. Lose UnityScript with all its braces and object-oriented syntax, come up with a simpler, more visual language like Scratch or Blockly, and turn players into coders, if not UnityScript experts.

D&D4e: Temporarily Alive

Exploring a crypt with
Exploring a crypt with

When there’s undead behind you, undead ahead of you, undead below you and for all I know, undead above, you just have to wonder if maybe this “living” thing is just a mistake. A mistake the gods are trying to fix.

This is why Valda puts her faith and trust in good, solid stone. Stone that protects. Stone that builds. Stone which, when dropped from a good height, makes pretty short work of undead.

But there’s no good stone in the forest. Just trees and undead. Undead swarming from beneath the mountains, swept along by a force emanating from Shadowfell. A sudden clearing; living survivors hurled together for one last stand. Not far away is a stone chapel.

The solid sanctity of well-fitted stone calls Valda like a siren. The others — a goliath, a tiefling and a gnome — see the chapel as well. They move together toward the sanctuary.

The door is locked and barred. The four refugees yell and shout and pound the door; the goliath takes up his hammer when the door opens a crack. There’s a human looking warily through the barely opened door. The goliath pushes the door open, and the four pile in.

With the door locked and barred once more, the refugees catch their breath and introduce themselves to the humans barricaded inside this small chapel. Valda, stoneborn shaman. She calls the spirits of the stone to aid her; they coalesce into the form of a shimmering basilisk. The goliath, Kaveith, is a warden from a northern land. The gnome, Pakts, a warlock; and the tiefling, Baracas, a wizard.

The humans are all that are left of a nearby village. Undead claimed most of them; the survivors took what supplies they had and barricaded themselves in the chapel. The simple benches were broken apart to cover the windows and bar the door.

The humans are not doing well. Their leader, Nathaniel, has an injured leg and cannot move swiftly. Teenaged Jass wants nothing to do with the four strangers; the other humans want the refugees gone, but it does look as if they know how to fight; if they are fleeing the undead, if they would take the human remnant with them, surely the gods would reward them?

There is no other exit from the chapel. Aside from a well-locked steel door in the back of the chapel, behind a tapestry. A search of scattered vestments reveals a set of keys, one of which opens the door. If there is a path to safety, the villagers are promised, we will return for you. Meanwhile, lock this door securely behind us.

A poorly carved tunnel leads into the ground. The goliath has to crouch in order to make his way. Valda instructs her basilisk, Dern, to stay close to the giant. Pakts and Barakas follow.

There are undead, but nothing too deadly. These are undead who will not be scheming a way into the chapel any longer. After sending a half dozen undead back to their graves, the party pauses for a brief rest in the well-constructed foyer to a mausoleum.

Still Alive!
Still Alive!

We start on our new adventure! There were supposed to be six of us, but only four were able to make it. We did our best. The DM, Chris, threw some softball encounters at us as we figured out the rules and tried to do things the right way. Always something more to learn, with D&D.

The star of the night was the Roll20 tabletop software we use. The ability to tie our skills and spells to macros speeds combat quite a lot, and lets us players add a little bit of flavor text so that it’s not just a dry announcement of an ability. The top picture shows Barakas sending in some death; you can check out my spell macros listed below the play window.

Roll20 keeps us relying upon our player handbooks, and that’s a good thing. It feels like we’re really playing D&D now, not just playing the tabletop software.

Still loving the automatic docking of Roll20 in to the Google+ Hangout.

Next week: a mausoleum! THAT doesn’t sound dangerous! And, what’s happening with the villagers we left behind?

Ballpoint Universe

Ballpoint Boss
Ballpoint Boss

Back when this was called College-Ruled Universe, it was one of the first games I helped fund through Kickstarter. It was a pleasant little R-Type-style shooter, written in Flash by an art student, Leo “Zigzag” Dasso, who had built an entire world, in Flash, out of the casual doodles he drew during classes. He had a friend compose an atmospheric soundtrack and put it on Kickstarter.

I thought it was an amazing game, not so much for the mechanics, but for the pure expression of art. The funding goal was low, so I put in a few bucks, and the project was successfully funded.

Dasso was then looking for a programmer to help convert the game to Flash 3. He then went on extended vacation, came back to put the game on Unity. I honestly had forgotten about the game when he next said he’d put it on Steam Greenlight.

Just a few days ago, I got a link to the actual game. I’ve been playing it since.

The Doodle Village
The Doodle Village

The game is split roughly into three parts; a village portion, where your avatar, a doodle named Doodle, runs, jumps and explores in a 2D platformer. Though it’s 2D, you can move your character, via bridges, to deeper or nearer planes. Exploration nets you new missions, ship parts, and “golden sketches” that are required to enter the more advanced levels of the game. In the Doodle Village, you’ll meet fanciful doodles like a TV Cowboy, a Boot Soldier, and so on. These will be judging your progress in the shooter levels. Run through a turnstile to save the game.

Once you’ve accepted a mission, your doodle jumps into the sky and is swept away into the ship construction portion of the game.

Building your ship
Building your ship

The doodle who gives the mission often has some clue as to what sort of weapons you’ll need on your ship. Exploration and completing earlier missions gets you options to use in this stage. Choose a wing style (for speed and maneuverability), a nose style (for the “overload” weapon), and upper and lower weapons, which include not only guns, but shields and swords as well.

Continuing from here brings you to the shooter bit. Floating ruins spin lazily in the far background, while enemies announce themselves in the near background before suddenly swooping in from the front, sides, and back… Sometimes the ruins themselves are your enemy, turning and gnashing together as you try not to be crushed.

Sometimes you get everything all at once.

Kinda reminded me of Radiant Silvergun. My son and I used to spend hours mastering the game, co-op, on our Sega Saturn. RS was a very different game (and much, much harder), but the whimsical weapons and bosses of Ballpoint Universe brings back a lot of memories of Saturday afternoons killing things and wondering what the plot to the game was (the game being entirely in Japanese, we weren’t quite sure. The anime portions looked cool, though.)

If you like gorgeous, whimsical shooters, can’t go wrong with Ballpoint Universe. It’s available for a look on Steam Greenlight.