Basic Games in Scheme

The first project I write in any new language is usually a guess-the-number game, a die roller, or an RPN calculator, then I start collecting those and other toys and utilities into a single "main menu" program, and use that to drive me to develop my libraries, play with different algorithms. Occasionally it's useful, mostly it's just a pile of stuff.

The Scheme version has a couple useful things. I was mostly thinking about old BASIC games, so it's "BasicSS" (SS being the Chez Scheme file extension, not anything more nautical or sinister).

I wrote a fairly malevolent wordsearch generator in the process of testing some file parsing, so here's one for 20 programming languages. I can tell you that B, C, C#, and D are not in my list. I'm doubtful that anyone can find all of them, or even half.

Hangman depends on /usr/share/dict/words, 235,886 lines on my system, which is very unfair:

 
 #     |
 #    ---
 # \ (o o) /
 #  \ --- /
 #   \ X /
 #    \X/
 #     X
 #     X
 #    / \
 #   /   \
 #
Word: TE---EN--
Guesses: E, T, A, O, I, N, B, R, S
YOU LOSE! You have been hung.
The word was TEMULENCY.

Seabattle ("you sunk my…") sucks, it just picks targets at random; teaching it some AI would help.

Hurkle, like all the early-'70s "find a monster on a grid" games, is awful, but the map display makes it a little easier to track your shots. "The Hurkle is a Happy Beast" by Theodore Sturgeon is one of his 10% good stories, but it provides only a little context.

Some of this I can release source for, some I probably shouldn't, so it's just a binary for now.

Elder Scrolls is Offline on the Apple Silicon Mac

You'd think that with unlimited Microsoft money, ZOS could hire one Mac developer and buy a couple Macs mini M1 to build & test on.

Or as posted, they could just carry on as they have been: They haven't had any Mac developers in years, certainly never test on Mac, and never fix Mac bugs except by accident.

Just a couple:

  • When you log in after a new patch, 50/50 odds you'll spin uncontrollably until you open Mac Security preferences and toggle control off and back on. For a couple years now!
  • They made a new character select background, which crashed the Mac if you dawdled there for 1-2 minutes, and didn't fix that for months.

Which is why I quit buying crowns, just ESO+ subscription. Now I guess I can cut that out, too.

So, after 6 years, well over $1000+ customer, I'll be in ESO only as a freebie until the next set of ARM Macs are out (I need slightly more than the M1 provides).

Not everyone is so short-sighted and incompetent:

While I'm often annoyed by/actively loathe Activision/Blizzard the company (as noted late last year), at least they support their customers and aren't too cheap to pay for a Mac developer or two. Guess I'm back to World of Warcraft.

Videogames and Storytelling Mix like Water and Sodium

At best you get tears & corrosive salt water, at worst you get a sodium explosion.

My philosophy of games:

  1. Games are about environment and gameplay only.
  2. Graphics don't matter much, as long as they communicate.
  3. Character and story are what you bring to it, they should not be part of the game.

So, I just dropped a lot of words there with fuzzy definitions:

  • Games: I mean all of tabletop boardgames, role-playing games, and most often videogames of all genres. There's less difference between the Warlock of Firetop Mountain gamebook and Myst than there is between that gamebook and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. And if you tear out the system from Warlock, you get Advanced Fighting Fantasy or Troika!, which is a very nice little RPG for wandering a weird, almost hallucinatory fantasy world with no book, no defined character, no story.

  • Environment: The world you explore. Some of this uses traditional writing skills for designing non-player characters and describing the tone and events, but also architecture, painting, 3D modelling for designing environments, music for writing soundtracks, foley for making environmental sounds.

    I recently enough mentioned this in Videogame Exploration, and I want to especially repeat my suggestion of Bernband, which is goofy, low-rez, standee sprites… and one of the most immersive environments I've ever played in.

  • Gameplay: The continuous loop of doing something, getting feedback on what happened, maybe scores or your position or just your understanding of the environment changes, and then repeat forever. That loop might take milliseconds in action games, to minutes or hours in hard adventures. There's a… fixation? a high… you get from that loop when it works right. "Just one more turn" says the Civilization junkie at 4AM before blowing off work. "Just one more mineshaft" says the Minecraft player. "Just one more quest" says the ESO player.

  • Graphics: This is almost irrelevant, really, despite the huge amount of effort and money spent on it. It doesn't matter if it's text adventures like Colossal Cave Adventure or Infocom's games, character-grids like Rogue and many descendants, 2D or 3D tiled graphical environments like Ultima IV, Super Mario Bros, or Castlevania, painted images along with text like Sierra's King's Quest or the LucasArts SCUMM games, up to 3D FPS graphics like Doom or Elder Scrolls Online. Good gameplay with any graphics is immersive, bad gameplay with perfect graphics is not.

    Easy way to test that: The most popular videogames of all time are: Mario (2D tiles), Zelda (2D & very simple 3D), Minecraft (blocky 3D with the worst programmer-art textures), Animal Crossing (very simple 3D imitating 2D). Graphics-intensive games pop up and vanish, because they're uninteresting.

  • Character: Who you are. In the better kinds of games, this is left blank for you to fill in. If the game engine doesn't accomodate dialogue even as well as Ultima I did, you're a mute wanderer who breaks into peoples' homes, smashes their crockery looking for coins & drugs/potions, maybe hits X to hear if they have any rumors or leads, then leaves. In action games, very little dialogue is necessary, your weapons speak for you.

    If you can freely define your Character, that interferes with Story. Until recently, at least you could rename your character, but with full voice acting for many games, they either obnoxiously refer to you as "Vestige", "Adept", "Friend", etc., or don't refer to you at all… or don't let you rename your character.

  • Story: This ties in closely with Character: What do you do? If you can wander as you please, make your own fun, whether that's good or harmful to the environment or NPCs, then you have no story, only gameplay. If you can only ride along like an amusement park railroad ride, get a story told to you and then pew-pew-pew to shoot targets, move on to the next stop, you have no gameplay, only story.

    The Disneyland ride model is a big influence, but AAA "games" with story are mostly frustrated Hollywood wastrels in the wrong medium. The obvious recent example is Death Stranding, which has hours of awful cutscenes with Hollywood people who have nothing to do with the game: A mediocre walking simulator/platformer; without the cutscenes, it might even be fun, if tedious.

An unfortunate result of focusing on Story has been forcing the player to make bad dialogue/action choices to advance, stay on the railroad unable to get out and wander away. Heavy Rain's no-choice "Press X to Cry Jason" rather than man up and go look for your lost child.

The now-defunct Telltale Games' Minecraft Story Mode had a painfully fixed main character and plot, and a doomed character, but let you choose social consequences with allies… which were then forgotten in the next chapter.

Early Final Fantasy games had a totally blank slate. FF3 is right on the cusp; it gives you a sandbox to explore, eventually hit a switch to open the next, bigger sandbox, repeat a couple more times, finally a long multi-part endgame and post-game sidequests. The characters have a secret backstory, but you can rename them, give them any job you want, play them however you want. I did one playthrough with boring Warrior, Thief, White Mage, Black Mage, another using Monk/Black Belt, Red Mage/Dragoon, Scholar/Geomancer, Evoker/Summoner. Utterly different gameplay even if I ended up clearing the same dungeons. My bizarro party got to level 99 to fight the giants.

By FF4, the characters and story are locked in place, you can enjoy it or not, and certainly the art's great and I quote "you spoony bard!" all the time, but you have no choices. Not that I'm blaming that all on JRPGs — there's Japanese games with freedom of choice, and Western games fixed on one character, Gabriel Knight is one of the earliest of this archetype.

Gamebooks like Tunnels & Trolls solos, Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, etc. are odd hybrids since they have story, but almost never have a defined character (a few do, like Creature of Chaos). The more linear the gamebook is, the better the story is, but the less interesting it is to play; there's several I've done that had one win and many deaths, and so cannot be replayed. The more meaningful choices they offer, the more incoherent the gamebook becomes, just a bunch of random scenes because you can't build up any meaning like linear fiction does.

My objection to Dungeons & Dragons adventures from Dragonlance (1984) on, is that it went from a game of freeform dungeon crawls, hex crawls, or "West Marches", wandering the Referee's world, maybe loosely using a Greyhawk map or Outdoor Survival, often made up in the days between games or improvised on the spot; to railroaded "adventure paths" with fixed character roles (either named and unkillable like DL or just "must have fighter, thief, cleric, magic-user, bard, or you will fail"). 5E has become entirely that, their healing/action economy even requires a specific pacing along the railroad, and their world maps are just one-path flowcharts you move along like Candyland.

So in conclusion (almost), just say no to story in your games. Look for that infinite high of gameplay.

  • The Devil's Advocate: There are some attempts to make character or story "gameable", rather than just a railroad, most notably Chris Crawford's Erasmatazz, which he then replaced with Storytron, now Wumpus (no relation to the real Hunt the Wumpus game). These have computer-controlled drama, you talk/choose interactions with different "emotional weights", and the NPCs react appropriately. These suck as games. They can be a little interesting as a puzzle to talk to the NPCs, find out what's going on, maybe push one of them into a "win" state. Nobody'd spend long on one.

It's worth looking at Chris's development woes. Sequentiality and list of encounters in Le Morte d'Arthur he gave up on gameplay, it's a railroad click-thru of Mallory's book, with a single fame/piety score to get win/lose.

His Gamers or Storytellers seems to be an admission of defeat. Yet he still has bigoted, ignorant ideas like:

This also plays into the old “evolution versus revolution” dilemma. I have long held that games will never evolve into anything with artistic merit, because the gaming audience does not expect artistic content from games. You can’t sell Beef Wellington to people who want candy. You can’t sell poetry to people who read comic books. You can’t sell art-house movies to people who watch cartoons. And you can’t sell artistic content to gamers who want action and instant gratification. Games as a a medium are ill-disposed to evolve in a storytelling direction.

This is why he fails. Games can have artistic content, just not inbred Hollywood-imitating content. There is plenty of poetry in comic books, obviously Sandman but many an issue of Detective Comics (the smarter Batman series) has moved me deeply. Many art-house movies are cartoons, or vice versa, or were when theatres were a thing, I'd start with Don Hertzfeldt's Rejected and Ralph Bakshi's Wizards. You can't sell poison apples to gamers, not more than once anyway.

I had a look at his soi-disant "Wumpus", and got this, his "non-technical" user interface. It's incredible to me that this is the guy who made Eastern Front and Balance of Power, which were techy but not a giant wall of UI clickies, badly sized in a window. Yes, it's Java, but you can make attractive and usable Java UI, it just requires effort.

I figured out eventually that you can hit Editor/Run Rehearsal (?) to play in something like a dialog box UI, was able to play through a very dull conversation, and then it gets stuck with Jeff explaining widgets to Sam in an infinite loop. Excellent. Obviously story-gaming is a solved problem. 🙄

Haunted Halloween

I've added a new seasonal game to my Mystic Dungeon: Haunted Halloween.

A text-mode twin-stick shooter (well, except it's an emulated Atari 800 "text mode", and the sticks are WASD and IJKL, I haven't written joystick support yet).

Five different levels:

  • Pumpkin Patch: Collect pumpkins for ammo.
  • Dark Forest: Find the path through.
  • Graveyard: Easy, just dodge gravestones and monsters.
  • Corn Maze: Unless you're Ted Forth you won't have a problem with this maze.
  • Haunted House: Just run thru the spooky house full of ghosts, and other monsters crawling in from the woods, get candy, get out!

Three difficulty levels:

  • Treat is turn-based, but there's so few monsters & candies you won't get a high score.
  • Trick is real-time, but you can generally outrun monsters.
  • Nightmare has twice as many monsters & candies, so it's the best way to get a high score… or die quickly, completely overwhelmed.

You can also play it like a stealth game, H hides you from non-adjacent monsters, so you can just run in, hide, wait for them to move off.

You collect candies for score (and banishing monsters earns candy), but every time you move to the next level you eat 10 candy to recover a hit and get some free pumpkins. So it's usually better to stay and clear all monsters, pick up all candies, then move on. But if you have a bunch of witches and ghosts, might be worth running away early.

The interesting thing from development is how little code is required for this kind of game. Halloween is under 1000 LOC, and that includes some long text blobs! Portal Worlds was 3000 LOC, Dungeon's over 3200 LOC and not even close to "done".

I'm still working on Public Caves, moving from BASIC to web-tech requires a lot more infrastructure!

What I'm Playing: Genshin Impact

Kind of a mashup of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Sword Art Online, Avatar: The Last Airbender (not the papyrus-font one), Guild Wars, etc. Not especially original, but well-implemented, very very pretty, and there's a lot of writing, all of it competent. I don't generally think 3D games make sense on the iPhone; AnotherEden was perfect because it worked in the limitations of the medium, but the 3D looks good; it does burn battery and heat the phone up considerably.

Account setup has two options, by email or username, but the email verification code never arrived, so I just did username; I'm "Kamimark" as usual, so if you're in and want a friend…

Starts with a gigantic 4GB download. This took a while.

The cutscene is bizarre, but then you choose your character's gender, you get no choice in appearance or abilities (you are a wind swordsman).

OK, once in the world, you get a fat cherub sidekick (who vanishes and rarely bugs you, but does provide some useful information…)


They soon give you a second character, Amber the stripper fire archer/knight. "Wish" is the gachapon system, you get enough tokens and a reduced cost on your first 10-pull. I got 8 weapons, only two of which were useful to me, and 2 characters, Noelle (light) and Razor (dark), who I haven't really used yet.

Movement is open-world, with a virtual joystick and dragging on the main screen; I find I often hit the attack buttons, which do not fold away when you're in a peaceful area just looking around, so I freak out and attack the air or through harmless NPCs sometimes, but they're unharmed by it.

You can climb almost any surface, with a rapidly-shrinking stamina bar, and soon after reaching the city you get glider wings so you can coast down from any tower. I'm just having fun now exploring rooftops. For instance, the Knights of Favonius guildhall? The roof has several goodies and a teleporter!

The wilderness map is huge, and even the town is fairly large. Spend some time there, because once you start the main quest, everyone hides and you can't shop or chat for a while.

There's a fairly extensive cooking, weapon crafting, and alchemy system, based on finding all the little sparkly nodes in the wild, and then playing a minigame to practice the recipe. Food hasn't actually been that useful to me yet, I don't get hurt much, but later I expect to be constantly hitting inventory and stuffing my face, like Skyrim.

Combat as the main character's pretty good, but it doesn't have an actual gap-closer, so you have to dash forward to the enemy, try to line up, then mash attack and spells; there's a cheap elemental attack, and a big AOE ultimate/limit break. I've been smashing up goblin camps and taking their chests. I'll usually open with Amber sniping all their explosive barrels and killing a few, then when they get close I switch back to Kamimark and murder everyone. Since you can only have one character up at a time, the others aren't follower NPCs, it's really pointless to level more than one or two except for specific elemental tasks.

The first dungeon is small but has a few nice tricks, requires switching between your main character and Amber.

I've since just been running around the first part of the world. By reaching the statue of the gods pins, you reveal a new map section.

There's a ton (40+) of lore books in the knights guild hall library, and I've read a couple of them and there's obviously been a lot of work put into these; so lore and backstory matters here.

Of course this is a "first hit is free" gachapon game, because that's what works on the shitty app stores. That said, the daily reward tier looks OK, like a $5/month sub, so I may do that if I'm still playing by next weekend:

This really is more of a desktop MMO, but the UI is very mobile-focused like the Sword Art Online games. I wish they'd bothered to make a Mac client, even as just a raw iOS port. I've never bothered to replace my PS3 with a PS4, and I'm waiting for PS5 price to drop and/or killer game I need, so I can't play on console, which might also be better.

MysticDungeon.club Random Thursday Update

Redesigned the front as a software gallery, got Portal Worlds working with my common input system, adapted Amazing (the dumb maze game).

I might get Heist adapted this weekend. Cityscape needs either a custom character set, or I add sprite graphics to the retro screen, which is a better plan. I have a bunch more JS games and demos, most can be adapted pretty quick. Porting the Mystic Dungeon RPG from Python is harder, but on the list.

Still thinking about the forum idea, I haven't seen a lot of interest yet, but a place for smack-talking would be nice.

It's really quite nice just having an easy way to focus on the game design or UI mechanics, and not have to make infrastructure from scratch every time.

Everything should be usable without an account, but you can't post scores unless you do!

MysticDungeon.club

I've finally got my web games/tech demo site MysticDungeon fully running SSL, a proper Node & database server, and all the existing games ported to my common "Learn2JS" framework. High scores and hit counters work for all of them; I haven't set up a really stable migration tool yet but that's on the TODO list before anything more serious gets stored there.

If you run into any bugs, let me know here or on fediverse.

Upcoming will be getting a couple features in PortalWorlds finished, then the rest of the Umbral Adventure world, and some more tools in Grimoire, which will be a tabletop RPG journal/toolkit, more for Referees to use as a virtual screen/notebook than as a coop gaming tool, but you could screen-share it if you needed to. Proper user accounts instead of an unverified screen name will be part of that.

I'm still thinking about if I should replace the old BBS with a forum, or what. Rebuilding the Mystic Dungeon game is on the list, that's part of what the Umbral Atari-like screen is for; nice ATASCII line-drawing characters instead of the few ANSI chars it supported.

What I'm Playing: Atari Flashback X Deluxe

Modern videogames suck. Let's go back to the '70s & '80s forever!

Ordered this for my birthday last month, I got screwed (but not charged) by a phony 'zon seller, then reordered. When it got here I discovered it doesn't have an HDMI cable in the box(!!! Some choice language was used that day, I assure you), and I only have micro-HDMI spares, so I had to order one (didn't feel like disassembling my existing systems). So weeks later, I can now set it up!

The "console" is hand-sized (joysticks on the box cover are to scale!), but looks just like the classic VCS, classic fake woodgrain on black plastic, very nice chunky silver switches that feel great when you flick them to set difficulty or choose game mode, smooth plastic where the cartridge slot would be; I think they missed an opportunity to put an SD card slot there. The previous Atari Flashbacks had a less authentic looking case, and goofy yellow plastic buttons.

There's two Atari-style joysticks with it, they have the usual one trigger button, and Home, Start, Select, Rewind buttons on the front base. I'm not in love with the joystick feel, it's much looser than a new Atari joystick which was a real struggle to move more than a few millimeters, these are closer in feel to 3rd party sticks, not as mushy and unresistant as Apple or CoCo joysticks. The device uses a standard Atari 9-pin joystick port, so I'm thinking about either getting old Atari sticks, or if I can find one in good condition the Spectravideo QuickShot which was my weapon of choice in the Atari 8-bit days.

The main screen has menus Favorites, Recently Played, Alphabetical, Atari, Paddle, Settings, About; everything's in Alphabetical, the Atari one is just 1st-party so you miss all the best games. Paddle games are extremely hard to control. Settings are limited to setting a "bezel" design, or wiping your saves. I do wish you could un-favorite games so they don't appear in a normal list, because I have no use for Atari's awful sports games.

So I hit up Yar's Revenge, obviously, and play that first. The first screen has an ugly and inadequate text summary of the manual, it doesn't have scans of the manuals or the comics, so you're going to need to find those; the game variations are not explained beyond 1 or 2 player versions. So on difficulty B (easy in this case; some games used A for easy), game 0 which the actual manual says "the simplest version, a good choice for young children to play. It features a slow Destroyer Missile", I got destroyed the first time, even shot myself with the Zorlon Cannon once, which is maybe the dumbest death I've ever had in a videogame. Second run I killed the first Qotile but got demolished fighting the scrolling shield; in theory it's easier because you can nibble the top or bottom and flee across the top/bottom border to avoid the missile, but timing the gap with the cannon is too much for my distracted old brain. I think some practice will get me back up to speed where I can actually get a decent score.

The Code Mystics iPhone ports of these games do include the manuals, but not all the peripheral material either, and playing on the phone is difficult; I have an "8-bitty" bluetooth joystick that talks to the phone, but BT has perceptible lag, and it's not a big chunky joystick, and then how do you prop up a teeny little phone so you can play a game? No, it's impossible except for the simplest games.

Of course the Swordquest games are unusable without the manuals and comics. I desperately need to find an archive with, say, PDFs of all 2600 game manuals, comics, Atari Force comics, etc. Some of that is in gamesdatabase.org, but not organized for one-click download.

Went thru a bunch more games, and generally they look and play great; as fast as the originals without noticeable lag, tho I haven't done high-speed video recording to verify it's not dropping frames…

Most games have an inset screen with the above-mentioned bezel around it, tho some of Taito's and Activision's games are full-screen. There's no setting for this, and I'm displeased but it's on a 46" or something screen, as opposed to the 17" or smaller CRT of my yout'. There is a fake-scanline setting, which I don't understand the point of. CRTs looked fuzzy so you couldn't really see the scanline, and the pixels were soft and curved into each other, and had color artifacting. On a big LCD, a fake scanline isn't going to make the pixels look softer or change their harsh colors. It's just a completely different appearance. I do have a CRT TV, but only a DVI-to-RGB adapter, I'd have to find an HDMI-to-RGB to drive this.

The paddle games are unplayable with the joysticks; they work, but you can't move fast enough. I killed a bunch of clowns trying to do Circus Atari, and scored no points. I need to order some classic paddles.

Many of my favorite games are in this, but there are some obvious missing ones: Battlezone, Berzerk, Casino, Defender, The Empire Strikes Back, Pac-Man, Pitfall II, Raiders of the Lost Ark. The licensed ones are probably hard to get back; nobody misses E.T.

Several keypad-based games are missing; I'd happily pay for an optional keypad that enabled these: Basic Programming, Brain Games, Star Raiders.

But it does have the Sears Stellar Track which is BASIC Super Star Trek that runs on a dinky little 2600! I have no idea how that was technically possible in 128 bytes of RAM.

  1. 3D Tic-Tac-Toe
  2. Adventure
  3. Adventure II
  4. Air-Sea Battle
  5. Amidar
  6. Aquaventure
  7. Asteroids
  8. Asteroids Deluxe
  9. Atari Climber
  10. Basketball
  11. Beamrider
  12. Blackjack
  13. Bowling
  14. Breakout
  15. Burger Time
  16. Burnin Rubber
  17. Canyon Bomber
  18. Centipede
  19. Championship Soccer
  20. Chopper Command
  21. Circus Atari
  22. Combat
  23. Combat Two
  24. Cosmic Commuter
  25. Crackpots
  26. Crystal Castles
  27. Decathlon
  28. Demons to Diamonds
  29. Desert Falcon
  30. Dodge Em
  31. Double Dunk
  32. Dragster
  33. Enduro
  34. Fatal Run
  35. Fishing Derby
  36. Flag Capture
  37. Football
  38. Frogger
  39. Front Line
  40. Frostbite
  41. Golf
  42. Gravitar
  43. Gyruss
  44. H.E.R.O.
  45. Hangman
  46. Haunted House
  47. Home Run
  48. Human Cannonball
  49. Indy 500
  50. Jungle Hunt
  51. Kaboom
  52. Keystone Kapers
  53. Lock n Chase
  54. Maze Craze
  55. Megamania
  56. Millipede
  57. Miniature Golf
  58. Missile Command
  59. MotoRodeo
  60. Night Driver
  61. Off-the-Wall
  62. Oink
  63. Outlaw
  64. Pitfall
  65. Polaris
  66. Pong (Video Olympics)
  67. Pooyan
  68. Pressure Cooker
  69. Radar Lock
  70. Realsports Baseball
  71. Realsports Basketball
  72. Realsports Soccer
  73. Realsports Volleyball
  74. Return to Haunted House
  75. River Raid
  76. Saboteur
  77. Save Mary
  78. Seaquest
  79. Secret Quest
  80. Sky Diver
  81. Slot Racers
  82. Solaris
  83. Space Invaders
  84. Space Raid
  85. Space War
  86. Sprintmaster
  87. Stampede
  88. Star Ship
  89. Starmaster
  90. Steeplechase
  91. Stellar Track
  92. Street Racer
  93. Submarine Commander
  94. Super Baseball
  95. Super Breakout
  96. Super Cobra
  97. Super Football
  98. Surround
  99. Swordquest: Earthworld
  100. Swordquest: Fireworld
  101. Swordquest: Waterworld
  102. Tempest
  103. Tutankham
  104. Video Checkers
  105. Video Chess
  106. Video Pinball
  107. Warlords
  108. Wizard
  109. Yars Return
  110. Yars Revenge

Deluxe bonus games:

  1. Backgammon
  2. Chase It
  3. Escape It
  4. Frog Pond
  5. Fun with Numbers
  6. Marine Wars
  7. Miss It
  8. Shield Shifter
  9. Slot Machine
  10. Strategy X

What I'm Playing: Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe (Saga RS)

Yet another gachapon game based on a classic GameBoy and later Square Enix franchise (SaGa Frontier, etc). To a large extent, this is as basic, standard, zero innovation of a gacha phone game as I've ever seen.

The characters are very pretty, there's some great character art, and then it goes into 16-bit sprite art for the game. Nice retro tone. Repetitive music's getting a little annoying, but it has sliders for BGM, SFX, and voice, unlike so many other games.

Gameplay has a 5-character party, with various formations possible, and turn-based combat, with increasingly powerful skills, multi-character combos, and passives; it's not a real "FIGHT CAST ITEM DODGE FLEE" menu, so all your tactical choices really are in party setup. Right now my main party only has a few melee fighters and one caster, and I just summoned an S rank healer, just need a better AOE caster. I keep trying to use Sif as a main DPS, her stats & damage are amazing… and she dies in every hard fight despite having high HP, I don't know why. I've tried moving her position, giving her best armor, nothing works.

There's a weird distinction in this between characters and "styles" who are the specific instances by rank (A, S, SS, like Lake Woebegone everyone's children are above average, there's no N or lower ranks, no trash chars but A's aren't really useful). You don't gain experience instantly, you have to return to town, hit Dojo, and level up. And increasing level cap/rank is possible, but it costs a lot of gold and "character parts".

There's a shop with random gear and character parts, and will be a forge but I haven't unlocked it yet.

This could be any gacha game—if I really cared, I'd play more Another Eden, Last Cloudia, or get back into DanMachi now there's been new episodes—but it's competently done, I'm having fun grinding these chars up for the moment, and advancing a quest where some Robin-like waif is looking for his sister in "Graves", giant dungeon towers that appear across the land every 300 years.

I don't know if Squenix is going to make any money out of me, there's so far been no paywall where I needed more gems, so it's just a free game.

What I'm Playing: Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics

What I'm Playing: Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics

I loved the version on the DS, so I got this the moment it was released on Switch.

You start by picking from a set of little human pieces, which you can recolor their skin & hair, but not their appalling clothes. I almost went with Dad there, but in the end Cool Bro looks better. Looking at the random other players later, I see a lot of them chose that or Suit Guy. As I've noted before, Nintendo has Mii avatars, and then doesn't use them in games even where it'd make sense. You see a little face photo of your Mii in some games, but it should use your Mii in the world! Nintendo is so frustrating and anti-social.

Then you go to a globe UI, with figures representing "guides" that give you a menu of a few games. Or you can just pick any game from a preposterously long line menu, or you can hit X (up button) to switch to a grid which is more reasonable. UX is very confused, always a couple extra button presses or spinning the cursor around a too-large area to get to anywhere you want. You unlock more guides by playing games, earning trophies.

Your piece has up to 5 "recommendations", but you can't set them from in the game, you have to go all the way back out to the globe, find your piece, and add them from a list. And these don't help you jump back to a game fast, you have to find it in the grid every time.

Like almost all Nintendo software now, there's no settings for audio, and the "music" is driving me insane, but I need the sound to play some of these, so I'm constantly muting and unmuting. At least in the old days, Nintendo's music had complete scores, but they've apparently fired all their musicians, this is just beep-doo-beep-de-beep, over and over until I stab someone.

Each game starts with couple figures playing the game with often amusing commentary—the kids narrating Connect Four as a samurai duel is fantastic—often enough tutorial for anyone, but it immediately comes up to a menu with "How to Play" and Play, and hitting + in game usually gets a help menu. They're trying to teach you games you may be unfamiliar with. However, showing the tutorial EVERY time you start a game until you hit X (up) is insipid.

There are medals for winning against the AI and playing at least 2-4 times depending on the game, so there's a little grind possible if you're into that.

Nintendo History guide gives you: Hanafuda, Gomoku, President, Shogi, and Riichi Mahjong, which Nintendo made for a century before going into the videogames business.

Many of the games have local and Internet multiplayer, which I haven't yet tried. I expect the usual Nintendo® Quality™ networking, which is to say everything will drop out constantly. I'd rather play against AIs.

Current playlist of 11 good, 16 bad, 25 unplayed doesn't seem all that positive, but the good games are usually very good, and you can just ignore the stupid ones. The constant terrible music is the only strong negative.

I'll keep updating this post as I play more of them.

★★★★☆

bold is good, italic is bad, plain is I haven't bothered to play it yet.

  1. Mancala: aka Awari. Anyone who's typed in games from Basic Computer Games is intimately familiar with Awari. It's a weird little game, but fast and fun, and there's just enough strategy against a smart player (not the AI) to make it hard to win.
  2. Dots and Boxes: "Boxing" is also very familiar from school. The first player (default to you) is at a severe disadvantage, but it's possible to only give up a few boxes to the second player, and then clean up the rest.
  3. Yacht Dice: aka Yahtzee, Poker Dice. Nice enough, but I found the controls a little finnicky, it should not use the "do stuff" button for both pick and reroll. Slaughtered the AI, as one would expect.
  4. Four in a Row: aka Connect Four. Pretty dull, aside from the tutorial.
  5. Hit and Blow: aka Mastermind, Bagels, etc. with an unfortunate translation name. But I dislike the color-matching version, I'm a numbers person.
  6. Nine Men's Morris: I don't understand this game. You start playing while setting up, and it just screws anyone who loses one piece. Also obviously should have been #9.
  7. Hex: Again, should've been #6. It's a road-building game, dumb low-challenge game.
  8. Checkers
  9. Hare and Hounds
  10. Gomoku
  11. Dominoes
  12. Chinese Checkers: aka Pegboard. Not Chinese, sort of checkers except nothing is captured.
  13. Ludo: aka Parcheesi, Sorry!, Trouble, etc. I switch to the 3 dice to come out rule, rather than automatic/on 6, otherwise it's Parcheesi (not quite Indian Pachesi), a good being-dicks-to-each-other race game.
  14. Backgammon: An ancient dice game, a good fun game. I dislike the joycon controls, cursor-moving by spike around the track instead of selecting individual pieces left/right.
  15. Renegade: aka Othello, Reversi, etc., pretty standard. I lost really badly the first round, and then eked out a win, I've always been bad at this game, or anything that requires me to do deep analysis of simple positions (go, checkers, etc.), I'm a broad strategy for complex positions (wargames) thinker.
  16. Chess: There's a sort of lesson program, but the starter AI is incredibly suicidal, so it's not even interesting. Probably it gets harder, but I'm not that interested yet. I dislike the set design, it's very hard to tell the pawns apart from bishops, queen from king, and there's no alternate set option. Still, it's Chess.
  17. Shogi
  18. Mini Shogi
  19. Hanafuda: Very pretty cards, but I've never learned the sets, and visual association like this is harder for me. AI let me win 3/3 on this, which is crazy since I was just clearing chaff, I never saw more than 2 cards of a good set. However, after winning the guide "gave me a gift" of Mario-themed Hanafuda cards, so that might be easier for me. I think this might be worth practicing at.
  20. Riichi Mahjong
  21. Last Card: aka Uno, Crazy Eights. The card branding is almost but not quite infringing on Uno, so it hits that uncanny valley effect, and I kinda hate looking at it. AI didn't stand a chance, I don't know what they were even doing, picking cards at random? There isn't much strategy to Uno, but no strategy means you lose.
  22. Blackjack: Gives a limited number of rounds, and chips but you can go into debt. Does not have Split, which is kind of amateurish, and it doesn't have the dealer check their down card on A or 10 up, so you might play a round and find out they have Blackjack. It's bizarre beyond belief that they didn't make Blackjack be game #21, but #22. But I can always play a few hands of Blackjack.
  23. Texas Hold 'em: aka Poker.
  24. President: aka Asshole, Daifugo, etc. Kind of an annoying party game, giant hand of cards to manage at start. I hate the rich-get-richer mechanic, which is why it's sometimes called Capitalism, but it's more like Monarchy.
  25. Sevens
  26. Speed
  27. Matching
  28. War:

    War, huh!
    What is it good for? Absolutely nothin'
    Say it again, war, huh!
    What is it good for? Absolutely nothin', come on!
    —Bruce Springsteen, "War"

    I timed this, and it takes 5 seconds and one button-press for each card, and it always resets the cursor to the rightmost card, so it takes a minimum of 2.5 minutes. Was this included as a prank?

  29. Takoyaki: Ten octopus. Almost as random as War, but you get a choice when Joker is drawn, and it's much faster. Winning this nonsense unlocked a Mario-themed card deck!

  30. Pig's Tail: aka Buta no shippo. Instead of a little action game of throwing drawn cards into a pile but avoiding matches, it's a completely random War-like, with a slow "penalty cards" deck.
  31. Golf: Cute little putting game, only has 3 clubs: Driver, Iron, Putter. It's not quite a wacky golf or mini-golf, but it's not any kind of realistic golf simulator.
  32. Billiards
  33. Bowling: Has touch controls or joy-cons, but I have a Switch Lite, so I just went with touch. A little rocky start, but then I can get a strike most throws. IRL, my aim is a little too erratic, but I've played hundreds of hours of Ramp Champ and other touch-stroke games on iPhone, so this isn't hard for me.
  34. Darts
  35. Carrom: Like marbles or pogs, but without the freedom of motion, and a strange "queen" you have to take another coin after or you put it back. I don't know that I like this game, it takes too long and the controls are stupid (stick to move up/down only, L/R to aim?!), but it's competent and kind of interesting.
  36. Toy Tennis
  37. Toy Soccer
  38. Toy Curling
  39. Toy Boxing: Lightly based on Rock'em Sock'em Robots, but without the pop-up heads or movement forward/back, just button-mashing. Controls are A/B to wobble your guy's arms out to hit or up to block, which is implausibly hard to switch between, they should've used L & R shoulder buttons. Normal AI is easy, Hard AI is brutal, I assume the others are unwinnable?
  40. Toy Baseball: Accurately simulates a cheap mechanical baseball game from the '60s, with maybe the worst pitching stick control I've ever seen. Once I got the hang of it, I recovered from 0 runs to 3, while the machine that doesn't fumble with sticks got 6. Not likely to play more. There's no Toy Football, as that's not "worldwide".
  41. Air Hockey
  42. Slot Cars
  43. Fishing
  44. Battle Tanks
  45. Team Tanks
  46. Shooting Gallery
  47. 6-Ball Puzzle: A weird collapsing ball Tetris variant, not as interesting as Bejewelled or Tetris.
  48. Sliding Puzzle
  49. Mahjong Solitaire: 20 layouts each for Beginner, Standard, Advanced difficulty. Has a nice color-assist, which is good if you can't easily make out the stack depth. I can see this being a big time-killer for me.
  50. Klondike Solitaire
  51. Spider Solitaire
  52. Bonus: Piano: The piano has a single octave, the help says the buttons or shaking joycons does something, but it does nothing on the Switch Lite at least. Turning the device upside down gets you a synth with 4 octaves selectable by button, but the keys don't rotate into normal position, so it's pretty unusable. I would prefer a real "toy piano" simulator, but then you may as well buy a teaching piano toy or a proper cheap synth, they're $30 or less on the 'zon.