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Robo Instructus Codes its Way Into the Minds of Players

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Robo Instructus

Robo Instructus is an upcoming puzzle game that focuses on programming to solve challenges. The power of the game is that it gives a simplified view of programming, making a better introduction than simply being thrown into the fray. Syntax is a major part of the process both in-game and out, and Robo Instructus has a system in place that helps point out mistakes in a much more informed way than normal programming interfaces do. Thanks to simplified programming that maintains the fundamentals, the game offers a worthwhile introduction to make players think of ways to optimise code in a fun environment.

The game takes place in a station on a barren, icy world where the engineers of before have died, leaving the player to program a robot to fix what is broken. To do so, the player must move the little machine from one spot to another while interacting with the terrain. Each level is built using triangles that the robot moves through with a predisposition to pick the right side when moving forward. Additionally, each level contains multiple puzzles that one set of code has to solve, which is a great way of challenging the player to optimise their program into working through issues that become more complex. To help with the increasing difficulty, the game starts each level with a small bit of code to give an example of a new mechanic or to kickstart the solution. Furthermore, at any time, players have access to a list of all of the unlocked functions and in-game emails that share more details about the world and code. Those resources become incredibly helpful when trying to come up with solutions to challenging puzzles.

Successfully solving one section of a level feels rewarding, but to then optimise the code to accomplish much more is satisfying. Every function in the game has a corresponding time count that states how long execution takes. At the end of a level, the total time the code takes to complete is tallied up and ranked on a chart. The chart is a great visual cue to show how close—or far—someone is from the sweet spot of the runtime to complete the puzzles.

Some people struggle with programming (ahem), so the progressive difficulty will impact their effectiveness at problem-solving. With the lack of a hint system, players may have trouble figuring out how to put parts of the algorithm together from the information shared about the available functions. This difficulty may be addressed before the game’s release, as not every level is currently present in the game.

A feature that may be nice to have is the ability to save different drafts of code. Players may write a program that solves, say, two of the four sections of any given mission, but then have to rewrite sections to get it to work across all. The problem is that rewriting the code may result in more mistakes, so allowing players to save what they have working as a draft (to then experiment with later) could be a great way to enable them to be more creative without the fear of taking two steps back for one step forward. This addition might also ease players’ anxiety about changing something and then forgetting what the original working code was.

The game is a cold-looking title featuring a robot walking around to elevator music while a blizzard blows. The aesthetics and music are an odd mix, but the package works well, music aside. The music is similar to what one might hear in a hotel elevator: some people may prefer to turn the music down or jam out to their own hype programming playlist instead.

Robo Instructus is a great way to cross the bridge into learning code; while some negatives are present, the game’s ability to simplify programming cannot be overlooked. Sometimes the biggest reason someone struggles to learn code is because they monotonously stare at a screen covered in colourful words with a massive list of syntax errors, all because of a forgotten semicolon. This situation is boring and not very pleasing to the eye, especially when someone does not know much about programming. Robo Instructus gives players an intuitive method to start learning how to write code in a low risk, low-stress scenario. Quality of life changes can be made to ease the difficulty, but the best aspect is already present: the fundamental programming language and error reporting. Anyone interested in computer science should definitely try Robo Instructus to get their foot in the door.

A graduate of Game Development with a specialization in animation. A true love for all things creative especially Game Design and Story.

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Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is a Baffling Combination of Journey and Dark Souls

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Mixing genres is a fairly common practice in video games. For some titles, the combination works well, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer‘s rhythmic dungeon crawling or Double Cross‘s use of light detective work between 2D platforming sections. Others do not fare so well, such as the out-of-place stealth sections in the Zelda-like Beyond Good and Evil, or the infamous jack-of-all-trades, master of none that Spore turned out to be. Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, unfortunately, falls into the latter category. Trying to combine the floaty exploration of Journey with the brutal combat of Dark Souls, the resulting mixture is a frustrating mess that will not please fans of either game. The first title by French independent developer Redlock Studio, this Early Access game requires a lot of work before it reaches the compelling gameplay experience it is aiming for.

The game begins with the protagonist waking up in Limbo, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. A tiny creature named Yaak takes pity on the player, suggesting that maybe the king Hypnos can help. The problem, however, is that Hypnos is the titular Forgotten King—a godlike figure, who mysteriously disappeared after creating the world. In his absence, demons have taken over the realms. On a journey to reclaim their identity, the protagonist just might be able to save the world along the way to finding the forgotten king.

The frustration begins as soon as the player gains control of the protagonist. Movement in  Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is floaty and imprecise. This annoyance might be minor in a platformer, but the inclusion of the punishing combat of a Souls-like makes it beyond frustrating. Enemy encounters are dangerous in this style of game, with the need to dodge, parry, and circle around combatants to avoid death. However, the controls simply do not have the precision needed for the task. When the game requires frame-perfect timing to parry an enemy’s attack but features a character that moves like molasses, more often than not the player will take a hit. Apart from the initial listless humanoids of Limbo, enemies are much faster and stronger than the protagonist, quickly taking down an unprepared player. The balance is so uneven that the first boss, a hulking creature with an enormous greatsword, feels like a fairer fight than the rooms full of small enemies since his attacks are slower and more clearly telegraphed. Often, the better choice is just to run past the enemies all together.

Should the player manage to defeat some enemies, they will gain essence, which is used in levelling up. Levelling up can only be done in Limbo, often requiring a fair bit of backtracking. Players can improve their vitality, stamina, strength, or mystic, but no explanation is given on what those statistics actually do. Putting one point into strength will result in the character doing one point of extra damage, but since even the smallest enemies have hundreds of health points, a lot of level ups would be required before the player would see any real benefit. 

The platforming aspect of the game fares little better. The player is given no indication of where they have to go or what they have to do, just the general imperative of finding the king. The Frontier D’Imbolt, the first real level in the game, has plains spread out in all directions, encouraging exploration. However, the map is also full of instant death; lava, spiky plants, ledges to be avoided, and, of course, aggressive enemies, making exploration much less inviting. The floaty controls cause problems here, too, with over-shooting a target platform a constant issue. This annoyance could be resolved somewhat with giving the character a shadow to see where they will land. The viewpoint will also randomly change from 3D to 2D, with no real change in gameplay. The change seems to be purely for aesthetics, which does not seem reason enough for including annoying running-towards-the-camera gameplay.

Aesthetics, in general, is a strong point for Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, with interesting character design and a muted colour palette. The enemies have a cool ghostly appearance, all transparent with hard planes. The blockiness of the world has an appealing look but sometimes presents gameplay issues, with a lack of clarity on which blocks can be stood upon and which cannot. Music is a highlight throughout the experience, soft and atmospheric throughout the levels but clashing into something harsh and unfamiliar for the boss fights.

As an Early Access title, bugs are to be expected at this stage of development, and Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has plenty to offer. Despite being set to English, Yaak would occasionally slip into French, along with tooltips and the occasional item description. The English translation in general needs some more work, with quite a few typos and some weird wording, like ‘Strenght’ in the character status screen and ‘Slained’ when defeating the boss Hob. Enemies have buggy AI, sometimes freezing in place if the player wanders slightly too far away. Some instant death obstacles seem misplaced, with death spikes jutting out of a random wall. Most devastating was the game failing to acknowledge that the boss was defeated, with the gate he was guarding refusing to open. Perhaps defeating him again would make the gate work, but few players would be inclined to do so after a tough battle. 

Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has the potential to become an interesting game but is simply not fun to play in its current state. The incompatibility of Journey and Dark Souls is the core of the game’s problem: it needs to lean more heavily on one concept or the other—make the levels more peaceful playgrounds for exploration, or tighten up the combat experience to reach that satisfying balance of hard but fair. Trying to have both leaves the game in this strange middle ground where no one is satisfied.

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