Tag Archives: Ludum Dare 31

Where They Once Were ended with me cold, dying alone

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Where They Once Were is another teeny tiny yet impressive result of Ludum Dare 31, which brought us cheerier titles like Kram Keep and A Place in Space. Actually, no–both of those contained their fair share of murder and mayhem, though here it is downright brooding. Anyways, that thirty-first game jam’s theme, in case you forgot, was “Entire Game on One Screen,” and I’d say Where They Once Were absolutely nailed it, seeing as everything happens on a single screen, in and around a snowed-in log cabin.

Basically, Where They Once Were is a survival game. Like your first few nights in Minecraft or all of The Forest from the moment the plane crashes. I’m just not sure if one can, ultimately, survive the many snowy nights, but a better player than I might be able to make it. There’s three endings, of which I got two: eaten by a wolf, and cold, alone, with no more supplies. Not sure if the third ending is a victory or just another way to buy the farm; I couldn’t figure out what to do differently. Maybe it has something to do with that snowman outside the cabin.

For controls, you can use the arrow keys to move left or right, up grabs items or drops whatever you are currently holding, and the space bar interacts. Sometimes it’ll interact with whatever you are facing, sometimes it’ll go to what is in your hand, and the other times it’ll use what’s in your hand on what you are facing. That might sound confusing, but it’s really not. For example, to stay warm at night, you need a roaring fire. To do that, you go over to the log pile, carry a bunch of logs back to the fireplace, and press the space bar to drop them in. Then you grab a book of matches, go back to the fireplace, and light them on fire. Rinse and repeat each night to keep on keeping on, while other elements development.

Where They Once Were‘s puzzles aren’t too tricky to figure out, as everything, more or less, follows a logical path. Yes, part where you use a shotgun to shoot a ladder down, I’m raising an eyebrow at you. Need that can of food opened as soon as possible? Whack it with your shovel. Once you are fed, warm, and free from outside danger, you can use the bed to sleep safely through another balmy night. However, the odds are stacked against you from the start, with a limited amount of supplies in the cabin, meaning you’ll have to work hard to make everything last. There’s not much in the sound department, but the absence of sound effects adds to the mood, though I don’t believe that to be an intentional decision, rather a cut due to time.

The game’s page describes the story as about “a woman finding a weird abandoned cottage while escaping pursuers.” A couple things. I never got the sense that the main character was a woman, though with pixel art it can be difficult to tell. Shame on me for assuming this. Also, there was no mention of being chased by off-screen villains, so I took this more as this person lives out here by themselves in the day-to-day, but must now survive the harsher weather for a few nights on a sliver of supplies. You don’t get much in terms of words-on-screen narration, though I did find a diary with some obtuse writing in it. Regardless, surviving is the goal, and the reasons behind it are up for interpretation.

Either way, it’s a neat survival game that may help you years from now if you find yourself trapped in a snowstorm with only a creepy log cabin for safety. You can download the original jam version of Where They Once Were in the link from the previous paragraph, which is the one I played, or there’s a post-jam version here that adds sound effects and additional endings. Both will suffice in terms of atmosphere and experience. Let me know if anything happens with that snowman. Really now–I know it’s vital for living.

Case #31 will have you going in circles

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There’s something undeniably amazing about Case #31, but it’s actually unfortunately a sub-par gaming experience, severely hampered by things like pace and grammar and competent controls. However, the hint of goodness–possibly even greatness–is there, but you have to travel around in a circle for a good while to even begin to see it. There’s a fluidity to this wee game that is striking, like a mix of Bastion‘s levels zooming up from nowhere and Puppeteer‘s puppet show aesthetic, with background and foreground elements plopping down and getting pulled away as if all on strings. It certainly plays within the jam’s theme of “a game on a single screen,” wherein the screen is, more or less, stationary, but the dressings change to alter its look.

First, the nitty gritty. Case #31 was developed for Ludum Dare 31 in 46 hours using Unity3D through a team of six people. It revolves around–see what I did there?–a murder mystery in a dark, seedy town, though it ultimately feels like an unexplained excuse to shoot some cops. Basically, you, as a detective, end up upon a dead body and ultimately become a leading suspect, resulting in no other choice but to shoot down cops and make a break for freedom. Possibly answers, too, but I never saw Case #31 to completion despite several restarts. I’m writing most of this post a few days after actually playing Case #31 so it doesn’t bode well for the narrative when I can’t really remember any vital details.

The controls are fairly limited. You can move left and right with the arrow keys, sliding along the screen as if being carried by a merry-go-round. You can also jump with up or duck with down, as well as shoot your shooty thing. That’s kind of it. Your goal is to push forward to the right without taking too many hits. Unfortunately, there are no checkpoints. Or perhaps they are spaced far, far apart and I never hit one. Either way, once you die, you start over from the very beginning, which means button-mashing your way past the grammatically poor dialogue to test your skills again at shooting men of the law while not taking any hits yourself. It’s disappointing and off-putting, which is why I closed my browser after buying the farm three or four times.

In the end, there isn’t much here in Case #31, but a single strong concept. That said, it came in fifth place for the overall jam. With better controls, varied gameplay, enhanced AI, and copy-edited text with a more engaging story, this could be something really cool. I’d love to see a game with this style on the Nintendo 3DS, as the moving, cardboard cutout background elements would look stellar with the 3D slider turned up a bit. Until then, I’ll just go round and round and round, and you can do so yourself by giving it a go.

Kram Keep is a tiny yet towering take on Metroidvania

kram keep overall impressions gd

In a different life, one where maybe I didn’t try to have a career or binge-watch TV shows via Netflix or sleep or, heavens no, make a name for myself through art and writing, I’d be covering every Ludum Dare that happened, deeply examining all the themed creations, whether they got voted highly or not. Alas, that is not me. Instead, I kind of stumble across a Ludum Dare jam game months or even years after it was born. Well, with the topic du jour, I’m not terribly late, seeing that Ludum Dare 31 went down back in early December 2014, its jam theme being “Entire Game on One Screen.”

Kram Keep certainly meets that requirement. It’s the age-old classic tale of a blue-haired vampire hunter, a massively large castle full of traps and projectile-shooting enemies, and an evil master at its top, awaiting your blood. It’s a Metroidvania-style game, stuck on a single screen, meaning you can press the Shift key at any time to zoom out the map all the way and see everywhere you’ll eventually be going; I liked this, as it proved useful in guiding me to the next area, as well as keeping me informed about what was to come and the locations of vital power-ups. If anything, this seems sides more with the vania part than Metroid, but it is hard to say. As you go, you can collect hearts to increase your life bar, but you really want those special abilities–wall jump, double jump, and spread projectiles–if you are going to make any significant progress. Little crosses act as both checkpoints and health refills.

There were perhaps two or three tricky spots in Kram Keep that involved precise wall jump timing, and using the letter X and the arrow directions on the keyboard complicated things. As always, I prefer my platformers with a controller in hand, but sometimes you aren’t allotted such a benefit. In truth, where I needed a controller the most, was against the final boss. He has a pattern, so it eventually comes down to memorization and quick reflexes, but I still managed to put him six feet under with only a sliver of health left. Once you kill him, spoilers, much like with the end of Super Metroid, you have a limited amount of time to escape the castle, which means reversing the way you came in, though some routes are now closed off; I failed it the first time, but by hitting continue on the main menu, you can give it another go, and from what I can tell, it only changes a small part of the credits. Overall, the experience is tough, but fun, something I’d definitely recommend platforming fans to check out.

Since I love statistics and games that spit them out at the end of your run, here are my final, less-than-impressive tallies for Kram Keep:

  • Time played: 0:42:51
  • Deaths: 52
  • Enemies killed: 160
  • Crystal Hearts: 5/8
  • Difficulty: Normal

Ludum Dare 32 is coming up in the middle of April, though there’s no listed theme just yet. Until then, I think I’ll snoop around a bit more in Ludum Dare 31‘s entries, as I’m almost positive there are a bunch more innovative takes on the “single screen only” theme. Hopefully I can find a few other titles to highlight like Kram Keep, that do a lot with very little.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #24 – Kram Keep

2015 gd games completed kram keep

Bloodsucking menace
Waits at the top of this keep
Collect powers, kill

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.