Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The peanut butter must flow! - Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages

So, crowdfunding. With the rise of sites like Kickstarter, and indiegogo, using crowdfunding to fun a game has been fairly popular with indie developers over the past couple of years. This has come with some problems, naturally. I won't name names, but I'm sure at least some of my readers can think of one or two projects that completely failed to deliver, been abandoned, or otherwise had something terrible happen to them. But while bad things do happen, there's also a number of games that could only really exist because of it.

One of those games would be Ring Runner, a very ambitious game, mixing top down shooting and space combat with a lot of customization options, that was in development for several years by a very small team, only two or three people from what I've read, based on a novel they wrote. It's the kind of game that would have a difficult time seeing the light of day without Kickstarter. Fortunately, they managed to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, making a bit over $27,000 and managing to release the game in July of 2013. So what are we looking at.

Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages takes place in a far future, where earth has been blown up, and an empire called the Consortium of the Inner rings rules the galaxy. Also hanging around the galaxy are sages, strange being who can warp reality. The game's story starts with you waking up in a medbay, with no memories and part of your brain scooped out to make room for an AI that's been lodged into your head, which as the game notes might explain the amnesia. It also turns out your a sage and a lot of the universe kind of has it out for you because of that. The story itself is surprisingly long and detailed and actually did a good job of keeping my interest the whole time I played. Though there is a lot of world-building and terminology to absorb and keeping track of it all can be a bit confusing.
Welcome to the galaxy, it's a bit weird out there.
The game's story also has something of an oddball sense of humor. While it doesn't shy away from pop-culture references, the game is fortunately not solely reliant on it and the story takes some very odd turns, such as a part of the story that sees  you working in a company obsessed with DVORAK keyboards, or one that sees you bullying what I can only describe as space hillbillies, living in a space trailer park, by killing their pets. Said pets being robotic weapons turrets. over all, While the main story is fairly serious, there's a lot of silly moment and I honestly chuckled at a few point.

At it's core, Ring Runner is a top down, 360 degree space shooter. You fly a ship in various levels from a top down view blowing up other ships and trying not to get blown up yourself. It's a simple game at it's core and the basic mechanics work just fine. I should note that your ship has some inertia to it, it'll keep floating in the last direction you moved in, even if you're not actively thrusting, and doing things like turning or reversing can take some effort as your engines need to overcome that inertia, if you've played the old Atari game Asteroids or anything like it? It's a lot like that. Flying can take some getting used to as you get a feel for how all of this works. The game does help you by giving your ship breaks though, allowing you to slow and eventually stop your ship fairly easily. It's useful for if you get knocked around by terrain or another ship and need to reorient yourself.
The game has a lot of ships, and you can customize the load-outs for each one.
While the core gameplay is very simple, there's a lot of complexity in ship customization. to start, there's a good number of ship hulls to choose from in this game, broken down into various classes. These include things like casters, who use a lot of powerful charged weapons, rogues, who have access to cloaking devices and can deploy decoys to confuse enemies, and grapplers, who favor close range weapons and can even grab and throw enemies and objects in the level. There's even hybred hulls that can mix the abilities of the various classes. from there you can load the hull with various weapons and abilities and there are a lot of them to choose from. Better still, it's not just the usual lasers and homing missiles, some of the things you can use are pretty unique. you can summon turrets to help you fight, make giant energy rings that slow down enemies caught inside them. There's even an ability in the game that involves firing a missile without actually launching it and riding it for a speed boost that ends in an explosion that damages nearby enemies. There's a lot fun stuff to use this game.

Customizing the ship is also pretty simple, Every hull has various nodes, each one has some slots that you can put things in, There's a lot of node types, with some mostly used by specific classes. but the game does a good job of keeping things manageable as clicking on a node shows only what you can readily install to it. Each hull also has a list of bullet-points listing it's main features, so you can get a good idea of what kind of ship it is all all of the equipment comes with a description of what it does. Unfortunately there's no way to readily test a ship outside of actually flying it in a mission.

There's also a shop you can get new equipment from, using money you earn in the campaign called Plex. The shop starts out fairly well stocked, and more stuff unlocks as you complete campaign missions. There's also research, which is rather weird. Instead of picking something specific you pick a category to research, and there's no cost it it except time, usually an hour or two. You don't need to run the game for research time to pass either, in fact you can start research, come back to the game a few hours later and find it's been completed multiple times while you were gone, unlocking several things in the process, though playing the game helps the time go faster, reducing it depending on how much Plex you earned in a mission. You can even do paid research, which doesn't unlock anything, but gives a good amount of Plex when it finishes. It's worth noting you can buy things that haven't been researched yet, it simply costs more, so there's no need to use research if you find the system too weird.

It's also worth noting that you can buy items that are unlocked for free by playing the campaign, and the game warns you when you're about to do that. It's actually a nice touch, as you don't have to worry about accidentally buying stuff you can unlock, but still have the option to just buy it if you'd rather not do things that hard way.
you can purchase new gear in the shop, or check on how your research is doing.
Graphically, the game is fairly nice looking. obviously, as a 2D game set in space, there's not actually a lot to the levels themselves, mostly it's simple asteroids or debris when you're not in open space, though the game also includes some unusual stuff. The space trailer park I mentioned earlier is exactly that, a trailer park floating in space. There's also cities, race tracks used for a few missions, etc. They look decent enough when they crop up, as do the ships themselves, though the games somewhat zoomed out view makes them kind of small.

What you'll be seeing a lot of however are the backgrounds, and they're honestly quite impressive, not just a simple star field, you'll see nebula, distant planets some of them even have stars fairly close, enough to cast a glow over the current level, though that does make things look a little foggy in my experience. Meanwhile, weapon effects are about as varied as the weapons themselves, from massive missile barrages to glowing energy balls, weapons and abilities all look very unique from each other, which is impressive consider there's about 400 of them.

The game also has a nice soundtrack. Very spacey and synth heavy. it fits the game nicely, with a mix of fast, energetic tracks for combat and slower, more thoughtful ones for cutscenes and slower moments in game. it has a decent amount of music to boot, which is good as this is a roughly 20 hour game. Sound meanwhile, is also well done, much like with the graphics, there's a good number of sounds to go with all the weapons and abilities you have access to, making large battles nice and chaotic, and while there's no voice acting, the sound that accompanies thet being displayed is unique for several characters, to help them further stand out. Overall this game looks and sounds very nice.
The game's backgrounds can be very pretty.

The game unfortunatly does have a few flaws, the first is that the game can bee fairly slow. You actually have to go through quite a few missions before you finally get to start choosing what ships to use and making load-outs for them. It's longer still before the game opens up and lets you pick what missions to tackle yet. though I'll note that while the game is somewhat non-linear around the middle part of the story, it's not a sandbox. though at 20 hours long, you'll at least have a lot of time to enjoy it when the game finally opens up.

the biggest problem are the menus. The game's menus are nested, with parts opening and closing on screen as you access them, the problem is navigating them is  clunky, the game often locks your mouse to them and collapsing a menu with the mouse can be surprisingly difficult at times. worse still, the menus are fairly spread out, with some options and bits of information requiring you to dig down though several stages of sub-menu to look at them, this actually makes designing a ship load-out very slow when you have to keep looking up what the various parts you have do.

In the end, what we're looking at is a game with a nice, long campaign, and a good amount of replayability in the from of extra challenges on almost every mission, and the inclusion of some extra modes that can be played in online multiplayer if you have some friends to play with. More importantly, this is a very unique game, the result of years of development by developers who  clearly loved what they were doing. There's honestly not much like it out there and it's worth a look almost on that alone, even if the game can be a little rough around the edges.

Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages developed and published by Triple.B.Titles. It is available on Steam, GoG and Desura. It's homepage, which includes a demo and direct purchasing option is available here. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp.

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