Diehard Dungeon

Update: Diehard Dungeon now costs 240 Microsoft Points. 

After Diehard Dungeon, it’s safe to say the Uprising is back on track.  Comparing it to Sententia is like comparing flying in a private luxury jet to having your head stuffed up the ass of a burrow and trotted across country with your legs dangling the whole time.  And here’s the funny part: unlike the Sententia, the argument of “it’s just not for everyone” is actually valid here.  Roguelikes are not for everyone.  And I’m generally among those that they’re not for.  So it might surprise you to hear that I actually kind of enjoyed Diehard Dungeon.  Then again, the only other Roguelike I tackled this year was Spelunky.  Double D wasn’t nearly as sadistic.  If both were school bullies, Diehard would be content to wedgie you and move on.  Spelunky would trap you in a locker with live tarantulas while stealing your date to the Prom.

Which is not to say that Diehard Dungeon is all sunshine and lollipops.  It’s got a mean-streak that might be the result of some design flaws.  The idea is “Roguelike-meets-Zelda.”  Only instead of an obnoxious fairy following you around, you have a mute treasure chest.  Sure, why not?  Levels are randomly generated, but all adhere to the same principle: fight enemies, find key, go to next room.  Occasionally you’ll pick up items or spin a slot machine for upgrades, but really, Diehard Dungeon is all hacking, all slashing.  The mechanics of this were done well enough that somehow the part of my brain that knew I was playing a Roguelike shut off.  As a result, I was practically euphoric during my first play-through.  I had built up twelve hearts, was having good luck with the slot machines, had absolutely slayed all three “upgrade” minigames that play out like a really shitty version of Pac-Man (these have GOT to go), and had the smuggest of smiles plastered on my face.

And then something that looked like an armed Cabbage Patch Kid knocked me into a corner and drained my entire stockpile of life in about four seconds.  I had gone from not taking any damage to being dead before I could even process what was going on.  There’s no temporary “immunity” when you take damage, so if you get pinned into a corner, you’re fucked amigo.

Games give you immunity for a reason: because the other way isn’t fun.  Imagine if Mario didn’t blink after taking damage in the original Super Mario Bros.  If you went from being big Mario, getting shrunk, and then dying because of the lack of blinking, that game does not become the all-time classic that it did.  Hell, you might as well not have a life system and make all hits instant-death.  But since you numbskulls can’t seem to grasp that, I’ve arranged a deal with Microsoft.  From now on, all XNA starter kits will come with ankle monitors that must be worn to use the program.  If you even think about allowing enemies to gang-bang you in the corner without having any means of defending yourself, you get a 50-volt shock.

Of course, word is this is already getting patched out, along with a few of my other complaints.  The game frequently skips.  This formed a “fuck me over” tag team with the aforementioned killer Cabbage Patch Kids.  Well, it’s being fixed.  Keys slow you down too much when you have them.  That’s getting fixed.  Bonuses don’t stack.  That’s getting fixed too.  Grumble.  You guys are kinda ruining my schtick here.  Oooh, I have one that I don’t think is getting fixed: you can’t slash diagonally.  What the fuck is up with that?  Do we live in a world where diagonal doesn’t exist?  Bullshit.  I saw something that looked like a triangle.  You can’t have triangles without having diagonal.  But I’m being nitpicky.  Even in its present, non-patched state, Diehard Dungeon is pretty fun.  It’s not only one of the best hack-and-slashers on XBLIG, it’s also one of the best twin-stick shooters too.



Yea, as it turns out, the developers tacked on a seemingly half-assed (at least compared to the main game) TwickS minigame as an afterthought and it could very well be the most fun TwickS on the entire marketplace.  Go figure.  It even has online leaderboards, which is more than qrth-phyl had to offer.  I’m not complaining or anything, but it’s kind of weird.  It would be like if Lord of the Rings had 1996 Chicago Bulls highlights play over the credits.

I’m guessing they never got over the whole Garbage Pail Kids thing.

Diehard Dungeon could very well be in a Beta state right now.  Other planned changes include improving the graphics (which I had no complaints about, besides not being able to tell blood apart from hearts), fixing some of the cheap trap placement issues that happen when shit is random, improving the odds of getting the rare “gold keys”, and  a whole slew of other things I never even thought to complain about.  Mind you, Diehard Dungeon is already pretty damn good and well worth your money, but that’s not enough for the developers of it.  They want it to be better.  As opposed to deflecting critiques back with “It’s not for everyone, and I wouldn’t change anything.”  It’s actually encouraging to see a developer so much on the ball that the ball can claim its personal space is being violated.

Diehard Dungeon was developed by Tricktale

IGC_Approved80 Microsoft Points refuse to not capitalize the “T” in “Tricktale” even if they won’t do it in the making of this review. 

Diehard Dungeon is also available for PC on Desura for $4.99.  This version is unverified by Indie Gamer Chick.  The XBLIG version is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Check out what the rest of the dorks are saying about Diehard Dungeon: TheXBLIG.com, Indie Theory, and more to come!

Indie Games Uprising III Interview: Sententia

It’s back!  Last year, the ten games of extreme varying quality (somewhere between sublime and subfeces) took part in what was the most promoted event in Xbox Live Indie Game history.  This year, nine new games are ready to show off what the platform is capable of.  It’s called the Indie Games Uprising III.  The man running it, 19-year-old Michael Hicks, has a game of his own in it: artsy platformer Sententia.  I talked with him about his game, the event, and what exactly “art house” gaming means.

Kairi: When I hear the term “art house style game”, I typically throw-up a little bit in my mouth.  What do you think the medical term for that is?

Michael Hicks: Ha! Well, I guess you could say I used that to rebel against “the man” or status quo. It’s kind of a vague term looking back at it now, but this game is extremely personal to me and marked a big change on my outlook towards game design. I wanted to be sure that when going into the game people would know that I attempted to make something more than a game about jumping over blocks and attacking enemies; there’s a ton of reasoning behind all of the design decisions… almost an unhealthy amount! I guess I was just worried people wouldn’t get me, so I decided to go all hippie hipster and call it an art game!

Kairi: When I watched the video for Sententia, it looked to me like a cross between a punisher and Scribblenauts.  What is the actual inspiration for the game?

Michael: You’re the first one to call it a punisher! The game is very challenging and ramps up fast – I don’t think that’s something people typically take away from the trailer. The gameplay wasn’t really inspired by a particular game, but you could say that it was inspired by the themes and messages I wanted to convey. The games that made me open my eyes were “Aether” by Edmund McMillen, “Gravitation” by Jason Rohrer, and “Braid” by Jon Blow. These games are very powerful, but they tell stories through basic gameplay interactions and themes, I wanted to try and experiment with what they pioneered. As I started to get more technical with the platform designs I did reference “Super Meat Boy” quite a bit, as the game is very challenging, but never felt frustrating (at least to me!).

Kairi: Your previous games have been space shooters, and now you’re doing a self-described “art” game.  You’ve started taking drugs, haven’t you?

Michael: No, never! It’s insane how many times I get asked this by people… it’s so weird that when people start to make more expressive things others instantly think they’ve turned to smoking weed or something!

Kairi: I’m actually kind of surprised by the lack of quote-unquote “experimental” games on XBLIG.  Why do you think developers don’t try to get weird when they create their games?

Michael: It’s really easy to just stick with what has already been proven to be successful, it takes some practice to really work the “originality muscle”, and I’m still trying to exercise it myself. It also takes some guts to make something super personal/deep/experimental and release it to a wide audience; I’m very terrified to release my own game, I think the closer it gets to the release date the more I am going to lose my mind.

Kairi: When you made your previous games, was there any off-the-wall weird shit that you thought to include but chickened out of?

Michael: I don’t think I’ve ever censored myself like that, but before “Sententia” I was going to make a game based around this joke rap project that my friend and I do on occasion. We started recording music for it back in High School as a way of making fun of pop culture. In this game you were going to drive around with a police officer collecting donuts while this song of ours played on the radio. Then I remembered that I’m in a position where the games I make can actually affect people’s lives and I wasn’t interested in committing career suicide.

Kairi: You pussy!

Michael: Hey, I thought it was the right thing to do!

Kairi: Okay, so now that you’ve finally manned up and are doing something off the beaten path, are you finding it difficult to implement your vision using the XNA framework?

Michael: Definitely not, I hope I never have to work with anything else. I really don’t care for C++ or any of the hardcore techie languages, even though I can use them. I love to program, and I’m glad I can do it… but I don’t like spending time doing all of the crap that those languages require when I could be doing more game specific type stuff.

Kairi: You’re the man in charge, more or less, of the third Uprising.  Are you fucking insane?

Michael: A lot of people think I am, that’s for sure! It’s really an honor to be involved like this, but it’s a huge responsibility; I want to make sure this is a promotion that people won’t forget.

Kairi: Some people, who shall remain nameless (ME!) thought the last Uprising was incredibly disappointing.  This year looks much more promising right from the start.  What do you say to those (ME!) that are skeptical about the quality of the games this time around?

Michael: Reception of indie games at this level is kind of a weird thing, you get such mixed reactions. Personally though, I am really excited for the line up this year… a lot of the games are very interesting. I’ve played most of the titles thoroughly, and I would definitely rank a good number of them in my “Favorite XBLIGs Ever” list.

Kairi: I noticed all the Uprising games are single player titles.  Is the irony that we’re doing an event where the community rises up together yet plays games alone lost on you?

Michael: Wow, that never dawned on me before! We tried to get a variety of games, but mainly we wanted to scout out some titles that we thought were great games.

Kairi: In closing, how do you feel the games of this Uprising stack up against the games of the previous two events?

Michael: The selection this year is totally different from last time I think. I would classify those games as more extroverted and these games as more introverted… maybe that makes no sense. Either way, we’ll just have to see what people say when all of this kicks off!

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