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Delightfully broken

  • calunio
  • 02/24/2015 04:30 AM
Spoilers warning
Long read warning

I don't even know where to begin.

Let's try chronological.

I will start by saying: I hate games that are typical. I hate "get the 5 crystals". I hate RTP. I hate the default battle system. I hate good x evil. If I see a game that remotely smells like one of these games, I just don't play it. And if for some reason I start to play it, it is extremely unlikely that I will go far (especially because such games are usually very long). I have a taste for the unusual, and that is the light in which this review should be read. If you want a more objective and standard view on this game, you should read nhubi's excellent review.

McBacon Jam #1 was an event that caught my attention from the beginning. The theme is very clever, and since I participated in the team formation dynamics (which were a lot of fun), I was interested in seeing what games would come out of it. The Strawberry Review Jam motivated me even further to play some of the games. Our Desolate Planet was something of a random pick. Not completely random, though: I chose to play it first because I think the people who made it are cool guys, even though I don’t know much of their previous work.

My very first contact with the game got me intrigued. After a brief presentation of the game’s post-apocalyptic plot, you see a few bugs (the alien species) minding their own business, when a spheric robot and a couple of very arrogant and selfish-looking humans arrive and threaten the bugs. At this point, I thought I (the player) was one of the bugs, and the humans were my enemies, because that’s what felt like good x evil. To my surprise, I was controlling the humans and the robot, and I killed the bugs. I may have not understood the story quite well, but that moment I felt like I was the bad guy in the story, and the plot progression further strengthened this impression, though it is never clearly stated in the game.

I will admit: I don’t think I really got the game’s plot. The basic premise is presented in the very beginning, but I might have forgotten some details. I know it’s a post-apocalyptic world, and it’s in the verge of complete destruction, which I have to prevent. I’m also looking for supplies to support my human colony, and I’m killing the alien bugs just because, though they don’t seem evil in any way.

After the initial scene, the game progresses fairly standard. It’s a typical RPG with dungeons, item drops, level up, and some fetch-quest-instruction-dialogs in-between. And in many ways, it is full of flaws and bugs, mostly due to rushing since the game was made in a short time-limit. Many map passability problems, chests that don’t open, and other minor things that are not really game-breaking (except one I’ll mention below).

Also after this initial dialog, you’re left in a town with one teleport device that leads to every other area in the game, though it’s not really clear (then again, I might have missed it) what you’re supposed to do there. So I basically decided to explore aimlessly until I found something meaningful. The battle difficulty was ok, so it didn’t made me want to ragequit, but the game started to get me bored fast. I would have given up if not for the fact that I signed up for the Review Jam, and the fact that I like the dudes who made the game.

So I went further. And I started noticing the game is much, much weirder than I expected. I started to love the game more and more until I actually beat it, and it was delightful. My final reaction was OMFG I love it, though it is tricky to explain why, and I definitely don't expect every player to share my impression.

Though it may not seem at first glance, this game is super, super strange. I’m talking Zephyr Skies kind of strange, except better, because it is unintentionally strange. I’m not saying it’s just bad design, a beginner's game you should laugh at. It is a competent game in many ways, and some of its strangeness was clearly intentional, like the bizarre dialogs of some NPCs (let me correct: the bizarre dialogs of all NPCs and PCs), but some of it wasn’t intentional. I started to enjoy the game once I reached a point where I didn’t care whether the odd parts were intentional or not. I just started to face it not as a typical RPG that went wrong (and I believe that’s the core opinion of nhubi’s review), but as a very amusing game, whether the developers wanted it to be or not.

Let me tell you why it’s so amusing.

The whole thing just seems very incoherent. Some graphics are excellent, like the main character’s facesets. Some just don’t fit, like using samurai charsets for the bugs. Tilesets mix RM2k3 RTP, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Shining Force, I don’t know what else... but the end result is actually quite nice, though maps themselves don’t make much sense. Houses and rooms are full of objects that fit the overall setting, but have no clear purpose (like hammers on the floor and test-tubes with fetus-like-forms). And like I said, there are tons and tons of passability problems.

Monster drop many items all the time, but I only used items like... 2 or 3 times. Two to resurrect my characters, and one to cure poison. I have no idea what the other 30 items do. Another weird thing: when I optimized my character’s equipment, they would lose HP, even though they were already wearing the optimized equipment.

There were many chests that wouldn’t open. I checked the editor and noticed it was because the event was set to “below hero”, but it was placed on top of a same-level-as-hero tile, so they were inaccessible.

There were also other subtle weird things that caught my attention. For example, there’s a table in a map called “Abandoned” with a shining spot on it. If you touch it, it says “You found an item!”. But I had no idea what item was that. That’s the kind of thing that made me wonder “Is that a joke? Is that a mistake? A slip?” But I didn’t care, it amused me.

Oh, and you can save anywhere, but there are also savepoints.

There are some key battles in the game that happen in very random locations with no clear indication that they are coming. You know they are key battles because the monster graphics are cooler, and you get important items from them. But they always seem to come out of nowhere, and they were not much harder than the others.

Sound was ok, very standard, included many RTP default sounds. Music was pretty nice overall, but I just can’t not mention the extremely unfitting yet amusing use of Dancing Queen in one of the final scenes.

Speaking of battles, this game is very unbalanced. It was fairly balanced in the beginning, until I learned the Poison skill. The good (and broken) about poison skills (in almost every game) is that their damage is proportional to the enemy’s HP, so they're a match to any enemy, no matter how strong. Not knowing where to go, once I finished the first area I went straight to the last one and... what do you know? I could kill the monsters, and some battles made my character jump 7 or 8 levels. My TP counter on the skill tree didn’t even display a number, it said “A LOT!”. I immediately got VERY strong, and once I returned to the previous areas, I could kill anyone easily. After that point, every battle in the game was very easy. I’m not really a fan of battles, so it didn’t bother me. But it was strange.

I was very lost early in the game. Being so strong, I killed the boss guardian of the last gate not even knowing he was a boss. Well, there was a “this dude is strong, are you sure you want to fight now?” warning, but it was an easy battle nonetheless. But then I couldn’t pass the gate because I was supposed to have the key pieces, but I didn’t even know what was that about yet... only after that I returned to the previous areas and found out I needed a key to enter some gate, etc. So the story went all backwards to me.

Overall, it felt like experiencing life through a mentally-broken persons POV. It was all very strange and incoherent, but the incoherence built into something cohesive (if that makes any sense).
All that, and I didn’t even mention what’s actually the strangest, weirdest, "bizarrest", most delightful part of the game: the dialog.

I’m sure the dialog was supposed to be comedic, witty, and sometimes even deep. It is, sometimes. But it’s more bizarre than any other aspect of the game. The characters are actually very well written and consistent, but they are just too strange, sick, schizo-psycho people. I mean, really. There is one particular dialog that caught my attention which I have to reproduce below. Spoilers ahead.

Right after some dungeon, you save a guy named Dante. He’s badly injured, and he says he’s dying. You decide to take him to the city where the old lady could heal him, as she heals your party whenever you ask her.

Dante: I've been waiting for you. I want to tell you something.
Kent (the player): It will be fine. We can heal. God, you're a Biomage yourself, you can heal yourself!
Dante: No. It's my time. I'm dying.
Kent: You don't have to do this.
Dante: But it's my choice. Take my armour. You're gonna need it.
Kent: Okay.

Now, ask me why Dante wanted to die. My answer is: no friggin clue. But if Kent’s “Okay” reaction is not strange enough, take this: you don’t really get an armour once the dialog is over. Just... <3

I’m not even gonna discuss the two siblings implicit incestuous interest, which you can read about in nhubi’s review... In my opinion it was actually believable and well written. But creepy no less.

What I will discuss is the ending sequence. Oh, the ending sequence... omg. It’s so nonsense, yet it matches the game so well. I’m sorry JosephSeraph, CashmereCat and Cap_H, I don't think you guys are happy with how I’m describing your game. If it’s any consolation, the bizarreness of this last dialog made me ecstatic, but I’m pretty sure it did so for different reasons then you guys expected.

Yes, I’m spoiling the ending. Don’t read ahead if you don’t want to.

In order to activate the machine to prevent the world from ending, you need to use your party’s robot, SER. Despite being a robot, he’s completely sentient and almost capable of emotions. Due to that, he doesn’t want to be used that way. “Will it hurt?”, he asks. The siblings reply by saying something like “it might hurt, but you’ll be saving the world, so just do it”. He doesn’t want to do it. He doesn’t want to feel pain, even though it could mean sacrificing the world. To that point, the dialog felt very coherent, deep and even touching. I did sympathize with SER. But then he says something like “why don’t you try being in the front line yourselves?”. At this point I thought I would be fighting SER as an enemy, controlling the two siblings. It would be a pretty awesome final battle. What actually happened is that I fought two random robots, controlling my regular party: the two siblings and SER. I defeated this final boss easily (like I did all the other battles), and I practically didn’t take any damage. Still, SER was dead after the battle, for some reason I can’t understand. Not only that: the sister was also dying. I mean, I don’t know, I guess the creators of the game just wanted to kill 2/3 of your party just so the ending could be more emotional? The final dialog between brother and sister is very much like the one I showed above. “I’m dying.” “You don’t have to die.” “Yes I do.” “Okay.”

Honestly... I loved it.

Just so this review doesn’t sound like complete sarcasm (which is not), some objective tips on how to improve the game:

- The skill tree is a very nice touch, but it’s confusing and hard to get used to. Maybe using more clear visual indicators when you switch between activating nodes and analyzing them (shift button) would help.
- NPCs in the main town should be more informative regarding where you’re supposed to go and why. You might consider even blocking the teleport to the final areas until you get what you’re supposed to get in the first areas.
- There was no teleport-back device in the Power Plant. I had to edit the game and add one myself. Please fix that.

Overall, I'm glad I played this game. It is unlike anything I've ever played in many ways. And like I said, it's not a "it's so bad it's good" kind of game. It's a solid game full of good ideas and well implemented design. Apart from the important problem I mentioned above, if I were you guys (the creators) I wouldn't change anything. Leave as it is. Polishing would be a lot of work, and it wouldn't change the essence of the game, wouldn't change its enjoyability... and if you change it too much, you might actually end up with a worse game. Congrats for finishing such a long and complex game in so little time, and thank you for this experience.


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Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
Hey calunio,

Thanks for the review. I know you said that you're afraid we might be disappointed, but honestly this review makes me feel all good inside. Thank you for taking the time out to write a lengthy and in-depth review for what was probably an equally frustrating and intriguing experience for you. We as a team know that this game was full of flaws, passability glitches and otherwise, but it was also a great learning experience. It's a bipolar anxiety-ridden beast, a lot of us were feeling kind of down and depressed while making it, and we kind of got angry at each other during the process. But we still remained friends and the result is... this crazy mess of a game, which we've grown quite fond of, even though it's riddled with bugs and inconsistencies. I think you actually quite nailed it on the head, because we had mixed feelings about it too, but it's like a child that we love even though it disobeys us.

As for the dialog, that's courtesy of Cap_H, a.k.a Capage, a.k.a the Cap. English isn't his first language, but I was in charge of cutscenes, so I was "proofreading" it on the way. I think Cap has a marvellous knack for characters, and creating a wacky universe with them. But sometimes I'd take liberties with the writing, much to Cap's discontent. The game was initially intended to have survival mechanics and more side quests, but all 3 of us misunderstood each other and thought we were creating different games. That's probably why the tone is so inconsistent and crazy, because it was like we were all making 3 games at the same time xP

Joseph handled the battles, but those only came into place the final week of game development. The truth was that we didn't have much of a progression for Joseph to dictate the battles around, which caused a lot of frustration for him when we kept changing our minds. That's probably why it's unbalanced, it's no indication of Joseph's fabulous abilities ;)

By the way, "Dancing Queen" was my addition, as well as the incredibly asinine gag about the prime numbers. That was part of me taking liberties on a script I should never have set foot in. A lot of the passability glitches were my fault too, since I was supposed to make it so every single crate could be jumped on. But I didn't get enough time to implement that in. Maybe I'll do that soon, but returning to this project file gives me negative feelings all over again, and I immediately close the editor. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to return to this project to do any significant changes, even if I wanted to. That doesn't mean I don't love Our Desolate Planet, though, but I get the feeling it's filed a restraining order against me because I can't get within 100 yards.

We were thinking about doing a spin-off that ignores the canon of this game, but keeps our beloved characters Kent, Tyris and Ser. They're just too enigmatic to lose. But to do so would mean re-introducing all the craziness and the flat-out absurdity that comes along with it. It might be something worth re-visiting, but each of us just needs to take a long break, inhale using deep breaths and return after we've offloaded our insecurities and have readied ourselves for another crazy, fantastic journey.

Thanks again for the review, it was an absolute pleasure to read.
Nice Review, doc.

I read it delightfully.
I've already made some initial changes in days following the end of the event. I repaired some of the pass abilities and restricted teleporter. Also, I made some of the side-quests work as they were inaccessible due to some broken transfers. Some other changes too.
I haven't been in touch with the rest of the team lately so I don't have a clue what's going on. I suspect Joseph of adding Luna Engine.

I may add some more thoughts later.
This review is my saving grace. I've not yet expressed this but I myself am extremely delighted by the in depth look you gave this game, happy that you bothered to overlook the initial flimsiness to look at it from a more intimate perspective. A lot was intentionally unintentional, ie. we didn't intentionally make (all) of the weirdness but we did notice some and let it through. A lot of the games' points are kind of half baked between our opinions, as well.

I remember wanting the ending to be extremely pessimistic, as I like all games I participate to be. It was going to be brutal. That kind of ending that leaves you with a bad taste and "whyyyyyyy, it was all for nothing" but at the same time the others felt this could've been not satisfying. We set for mid-grounds, though this may have not been the best approach.

These vision conflicts created some of the weirdness you see. It's like a collective dream of 3 different people. We want to give this universe a chance again. And we want to work our rhyme and reason together again. We want to fit, to learn to better merge our ideas and work together but honestly... I'm a bit afraid we might lose some of the magic. Nonetheless, we have to learn a new formula :>

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