Archive For "Game Hacking"

Risk Legacy: In Defense of a Disposable Board Game

Risk Legacy is a $50 board game that you’ll probably only play 15 times.

If I had tried to sell you on that concept twenty years ago, you probably would have laughed in my face. Board games have long been vaunted for their replay value and durability. If you grew up in the burbs, it’s likely you knew someone with a venerable iteration of Clue(do) or a mostly complete Monopoly set from 1952. Passed down like heirlooms, these games are often secreted away in closets until a rainy day rolls around, when they are counted on for hours of entertainment (and probably a couple of shouting matches and fist-fights too).

However, this reliability comes with a cost: predictability.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and you’re playing Monopoly. You’re about half an hour into a match with your siblings, and you’ve somehow managed to secure both Atlantic and Ventnor Avenue. Your brother has Marvin Gardens.

And the only way you’re going to get it is prying it out of his cold, dead hands.

You know the rules of the game too well. Allowing a player to get a complete set of properties is a death knell for everyone else at the table. So you wait, and you wait, and you wait… until someone manages to go bankrupt. Or maybe, they just get desperate enough to make a deal. Then the rest of the dominoes fall and you embark upon a merry-go-round of crushing debt.

The original version of Risk, released way back 1959, often falls into a similar rut. The rules are about as simple as you can get: occupy land, attack your enemies, and try to take over the world. With such obvious objectives, you end up in the same obstructionist patterns as Monopoly – except with global politics rather that capitalist feuds. “We can’t let Matt take New Guinea and get the continent bonus!” “Brooke almost has all of North America, stop her!” “Watch out, Geoff has Irkutsk!”

Well, maybe not Irkutsk. Nobody likes Irkutsk.

To make matters worse, death is permanent and games can go on for (literally) days. Although reaching the end of a campaign can be satisfying, it is rarely worth the hours of outrage that often accompany the play sessions.

Risk Legacy manages to fix most of these problems by making itself disposable. Like a rocketship that discards portions of its hull to hasten its ascent, Risk Legacy hurls new content at its players to propel the game forward. You can never truly settle into a rut because you never fully get a grasp on the mechanics. As soon as you think you have everything figured out, BOOM, a figurative (or literal) bomb goes off and you have to scramble to pick up the pieces.

I don’t want to get too spoilery, but Risk Legacy succeeds because it manages to keep the experience novel through 15 accelerated game sessions. Full global domination is not required – players can complete missions, take over bases, or a do a little bit of both to win a game. The multiple win conditions are complicated by missiles, factions, and mission/event cards: some of which are one-time-only affairs and are thrown away once they are completed. This may seem odd – even sacrilegious – to some, but there is something strangely tantalizing about vandalizing board game pieces.

The marquee mechanic of the game, however, is the fact that the board does not fully reset after every match. Cities can be built to increase the value of countries. Scars can be placed to provide boons or weaknesses to specific territories. And cataclysmic events can be unlocked by meeting certain gameplay conditions. The unlockable content is really what makes the game shine: it is entertaining, surprisingly in-depth, and forces you to reconsider your entire strategy for the game.

There are some downsides to this approach, however. The game’s “race to the most wins” mechanic means that by the twelfth or thirteenth match, some people are likely just along for the ride. Additionally, the constant introduction of new rules makes game challenging for younger players (or even less seasoned gamers). In a way, Risk Legacy is a toybox for meta-gamers. You have to think fast and find the best way to exploit a parade of new rules and mechanics.

But is $50 too much for a board game with an expiry date?

I could make a very compelling argument for the dollars-per-hour entertainment value of the game. I could also draw parallels to linear video games, Dungeons and Dragons modules, and even Escape Room experiences: all of which lose a portion of their charm after the first playthrough.

However, what Risk Legacy really feels like is a giant puzzle that you solve with your friends. Although mortal enemies in-game, you end up banding together to decipher emergent mechanics and unlock new content. When the board is finally complete – and a victor declared – you don’t really feel like you’ve won or lost. Instead, you are greeted with a moment of clarity: like you’ve put the final piece in a giant jigsaw puzzle.

It’s no wonder that so many people have chosen to frame the finished product.

Maybe $50 is a bit much for something that may just end up being wall art. But I don’t think I’ve ever played a game of Monopoly or Clue that I wanted to frame.

Heck, half the time those game boards ended up on the floor anyways.

Unearthed Demo: One Month Retrospective


Last month, I made the decision to release a demo of Unearthed. Although Unearthed may seem like a innocuous little game project, it did pose some moral and legal concerns. Should I worry about receiving a cease and desist from Nintendo? Is it okay to post an IPS patch or ROM online? Would it be better to release nothing until the entire project is complete?

Obviously, I decided to go forward with the release… and the response was quite lovely. While I doubt more than a couple of hundred people actually played the game, it was nice to see so much support for the project on social media. The release also allowed me to do my first large scale beta-testing, which revealed some glaring balance issues and glitches within the game.

I also have decided to make some changes to the structure of the game, based on audience feedback. Here are some core concepts that I will be working towards in future iterations of the game:

  • Less dialogue. I’m going to be making an effort to keep things a bit more concise and directed. I think the extra ROM space made me a little text-greedy.
  • Less NPCs. I ended up removing a fair number of NPCs from the demo, and it worked rather well. Worlds that are full of two-dimensional characters are less intriguing to me than ones with fewer, more memorable ones.
  • More intrigue. Teasing out some of the mysteries in the game will be a priority going forward. Chase’s location and ISAAC’s origin will take center-stage, but there are definitely a few other plot threads that deserve their place in the spotlight.

It may be a while before I release another formal Unearthed update, but I will be working on the project a bit over the summer. If you have any feedback on the game, feel free to get in touch.

Unearthed (EarthBound Hack) Demo Release



Unearthed Demo (vCS108) (requires a SNES Emulator)

After many years of development, I’m happy to announce the release of a public demo of Unearthed. Covering the first few areas of the game, it features between 1-2 hours of gameplay. Many thanks go out to all the folks in the PK Hack community for helping out with the project, and to my brother for writing most of the game’s dialogue.

Note: thanks to Starmen.net forum users Midna and Ballz for troubleshooting the demo. The current download shouldn’t have any glitched hotspots.

What is Unearthed?

Succinctly put, Unearthed is a new role-playing adventure constructed within the framework of the EarthBound ROM. While sharing many of the core mechanics of its predecessor, the game features an original narrative, a new game world, and a bevy of additional gameplay features.

Unearthed is centered around a fairly simple plot: through a series of unlikely events, Mitchell (our protagonist) is thrust into an underground world in search of his younger brother Chase. There, he encounters strange creatures and exotic locations, and gets caught up in the trials and tribulations of this newly discovered realm.

Important Notes

  • Save states will not work properly with Unearthed. This is a side-effect of some of the hacking tools used in its development. The game will auto-save at a couple key points, and a reusable save point will be introduced when things get trickier.
  • Hold the “Y” button to run.
  • Be sure to experiment with abilities. Both “Bust Up!” and “Nullify” are very useful, and ISAAC is a “blue mage” of sorts.

FAQs

Only 1-2 hours of gameplay? Haven’t you been working on this for like 100 years?
Unearthed was made in an very deliberate fashion. Instead of developing the game linearly, with a focus on playable demos, I slowly constructed it layer-by-layer. Although you can only play the first few areas of Unearthed, most of the game’s “infrastructure” (maps, enemies, items, music, sprites, game mechanics, etc.) is complete.

DOES THAT MEAN IT’S ALMOST DONE?!
Nope. Games take a long time to make, and this is still primarily a hobby project for me. I’m currently setting up NPCs and event flags (i.e. the playable game), fixing bugs, and coaxing my brother into writing dialogue. I wouldn’t expect a final release anytime soon.

When can we expect another demo?
Maybe never. This one was relatively straight-forward to create, as it covers the most linear portion of the game. Unearthed becomes (slightly) more open-ended as it progresses, making it tougher to create a self-contained demo.

Aren’t you worried about receiving a Cease & Desist from Nintendo?
Yes and no. On one hand, there have been several high-profile incidents where fangames have been shut down by Nintendo over the last couple years. On the other hand, I’ve been hosting a full ROM of my previous game hack, HyperBound, on my website for almost a decade now. Nintendo’s copyright enforcement seems rather arbitrary.

Regardless, I thought it was worth the risk to release a public demo. I’ve always been a proponent of open game development, and I am excited at the opportunity to have people play the game, even in its limited form.

I noticed a grammatical mistake, a typo, a tile error, or another type of bug.
Great! Either email it to me or comment below. Unless it is about the trees. The trees haunt my dreams.

I have strong feelings about the plot, difficulty, or aesthetic of the game.
I’m not currently taking feedback on any of those things. The plot and aesthetic are essentially locked in at this point, and the difficulty is so tentative that it isn’t really worth tweaking.

Conclusion

I don’t really have an agenda with this demo. I just wanted to share my progress publicly, and give people the chance to play my silly little game hack. Let me know if you end up streaming, reviewing, or writing an irate blog post about Unearthed. I’d love to hear what the EarthBound community thinks of the game.