[Pirate Jam 2017] Ascend Prototype

edited in Projects
Last week Danny Day and I were at Pirate Jam in Thailand. You can see the thread about it here: http://makegamessa.com/discussion/4674/ (There's a series of videos documenting the jam if you are interested).

Of course, I made a prototype during the jam. It's a game tentatively called "Ascend". It's a reverse roguelike, where you start at the end and unlearn abilities while climbing out of a dungeon.




You can try it out here:

Windows: http://www.callofthevoid.com/Builds/Ascend_MacOSX_March_27_2017.zip

OSX: http://www.callofthevoid.com/Builds/Ascend_MacOsX_Prototype_12_Days.zip

The theme for the jam was "Impermanence". I interpreted this as the experience of losing your strength and knowledge after having fought hard to gain them. RPG's are nearly always about regularly increasing your avatar's power, this is then about regularly relinquishing the power of your avatar.

Trying to design an RPG where you downgrade feels like a very interesting design space. At the same time it cuts against the grain of what we expect, and I think that this current prototype isn't nearly intuitive enough to compensate for this.

I'm also not sure if this can be a compelling experience, I think that players might not want to start this kind of game again (like they're meant to with roguelike designs), as a new opportunity to lose your power isn't as compelling as a new opportunity to gain power. Although obviously the prototype is very simple, so this is difficult to test (as roguelikes get more compelling with more diversity, and there aren't that many difficult choices, or ways to really customize your skillset, in this prototype).

I'd be interested to hear anyone's thoughts on the weaknesses of this concept, and/or avenues that might overcome this problems.


  • Such an interesting idea! First thought about it is that it *is* indeed interesting for the game to get harder by your loss of abilities rather than environments getting harder. I do think that players naturally want to gain rather than lose power/items/whatever, as we all know the aversion of loss is a stronger driver than the possibility of gain, even if the chances/outcomes are quantitatively equal.

    It also looks pretty Diablo 3-like in terms of juice, so well done on that :D

    Downloads....... and stares at exe file on my mac :( Any chance of an OSX build?
    Haven't tried it yet, was wondering if you choose which powers you lose as your regress? Therein might lie the challenge as some abilities are less/more effective against enemies - the temptation might be to hold on to your nuclear ability, only to find that it doesn't defeat roaches.

    EDIT: OK, so it pays to play before commenting. Just a thought, maybe change the ability keys to 1234 and movement as arrow? Found that a little confusing to begin with.
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
  • edited
    What an awesome prototype. It's a difficult theme. I got to level 10 in Ascend before dying. I liked that both my hands were on the keyboard, not a mouse in sight... Refreshing. Sound and effects are fantastic. A mechanic that might be an interesting thing could perhaps be "Nostalgia". Remembering what we have lost. It might bring back a previous skill the player had when they are not being touched by an enemy for x seconds? Except it comes back for a single use in a pure, undiluted, extra powerful fashion? Overall I had fun playing this prototype and that is the most important thing. The fact you made it in such a stunningly distracting location such as Thailand while bopping around in a yacht just boggles the mind. My fav entry of Pirate Jam 2017 by a long shot.

    [Edit: spelling]
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
  • Finished the game, and yeah... The game basically forces your hand, making you give up things that don't have short term benefit, but ultimately makes your long term goal meaningless.

    The loss of power is really tricky though unless it's used to drive the narrative (which is does very well here). Maybe the powered down moves could have some other utility that gives you different options. For instance, summoned bats can show you secret passages to avoid combat, or the stone ground wave can freeze traps giving passage to areas the other versions of the spell can't. Powering up your bees (flies?) could have the enemies flee from you, opening up an escape. Summoning on your poop summons a Kaka Demon?
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
  • A family friend got Alzheimer's, and slowly forgot the people around her, where she lived, basic motor functions, etc. I wasn't close, but the stories I heard were pretty horrifying. I don't know if that's the kind of anxiety you've considered capturing, but I feel like being able to choose what you forget kind of diminishes the point of losing these abilities. While it looks as if all of your abilities weaken regardless of which one you choose (I assume your character's also just levelling down, so stats-wise things just get worse anyway), being able to choose what you forget seems to push you toward just picking one ability and discarding everything but that. It might help if what you lost was effectively a gamble, a sort of Wheel of Misfortune. If you're losing your memory, you might cling to the things that are most important to you, but there's no guarantee that disease won't consume even those too, or in what order.

    I liked how there were other options too, like precious memories of loved ones, a happy childhood, etc. I didn't quite finish, dying at level 2, but I could never bring myself to choose those options. They might be mechanically irrelevant in terms of clearing a cave and getting out alive, but thematically they were wonderful as a difficult decision between survival and humanity/identity.
    Thanked by 2EvanGreenwood dammit
  • @EvanGreenwood I have watched the whole pirate Jam series and really found that your game was the most interesting for me. I just played the game about 3-4 times (dying at level 3) and I really enjoyed it! Even my brother sat and watched me play and asked if he could have a go at it. He told me that the he really liked the story of the game (the sections as your character climb the stairs). I also love the what happens when you forget how to read XD. The art of the Game made it interesting as well, as @Elyardine said, I also couldn't bring myself to forget memories of childhood/self awareness and such which is makes you think about the game's decisions a bit more. From my side Well done with this Game Jam Game, I really enjoyed playing it :D
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
  • Thanks everyone for the feedback! I haven't had a chance to make any changes, but I think I've got a few ideas of where I should proceed when I have the chance.

    I put up an itch.io page now (as part of the jam), but there's no new information there: https://callofthevoid.itch.io/ascend
  • edited
    Added some features to the game.
    - Way more spiders
    - Bad Manners
    - Ghosts
    - Nests full of spiders
    - Invisible Ghosts

    Also, the way the level progression works has changed. Before there was a constantly decreasing mana pool pushing players towards losing their most powerful spells. Now the spell cooldowns are controlled by skills that the player can forget (so the kind of choice this creates is choosing between casting a powerful spell every 4 seconds or losing the powerful spell but all the cooldowns remain 2 seconds long).

    There's also fewer choices, so that makes the randomness have a greater effect on each playthrough. (Though there still aren't enough differentiating factors from game to game).



    You can download the build directly here: Ascend_Windows_March_26_2017.zip
    Thanked by 1AngryMoose
  • *ahem*osxbuild*ahem* :P
  • image

    You can download the WINDOWS build directly here: Ascend_Windows_March_27_2017.zip

    You can download the MACOSX build directly here: Ascend_MacOSX_March_27_2017.zip
    Thanked by 1Tuism
  • edited
    I dig it. First play I only got to the next level, but it's interesting how I was engaged and interested all the way. I shall give it more plays in time:) How far is the theme of impermanence reflected in the game? I saw it in the narrative and in the player character. Does it occur in the enemies over time as well?
    Do they become stronger and or more intelligent? Perhaps some enemies could gain what the player loses.

    Very cool, thanx:D
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
  • Hi I gave it a try, love the style reminds me of Beserk back from Atari 1980! I think there is something there, almost like a puzzle, i just personally don't enjoy the getting weaker gameplay element. It is fun as a quick experiment, i just dont know how you would extend it into something more though, but an interesting design space nevertheless!
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