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The widely anticipated Thần Trùng released on September 14th to much fanfare and for good reason. DUT Studio, comprised of only three people, has made waves by releasing one of the very first Vietnamese horror games in English. And for fans of the genre, it’s a refreshing change of environment even if its premise feels familiar.

Thần Trùng has you playing as a young man who wants to rent a room in a house that is reputedly haunted. But as we approach the house, complete strangers warn you not to go. You even have surreal, hellish visions at the house’s gate, which should be an ample warning that renting here might be a bad idea.

But when it comes to horror game protagonists, logic flies right out the window. You march right in, and the nightmare begins.

Thần Trùng (The Death) Game Review. Alleyway drenched in red light and papered with talismans.
Not ominous at all.

The scares begin immediately. A woman stands in a scarlet-lit doorway, her shadow twitching along the floor. Get too close and she’ll slam it in the face before you can get a good look at her. But don’t be disappointed. By the end of the first chapter, you’ll probably be desensitized to the amount of jump scares that Thần Trùng has to offer. There are so many that at certain moments, it almost becomes tedious. But if you decide to push through, the jump scares drop off significantly by mid-game, and there’s a significant shift towards unraveling the house’s mystery.

| If you like this you might like: The Bathhouse Game Review

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You’ll spend a significant amount of time stuck in this house, looking for items like dolls and human teeth. But the best parts of this game is its environment, which had so much care put into its finer details. The jump scares broke my immersion half a dozen times, but the beautifully rendered rooms brought me right back in. There are even some moments where the game is beautiful, in a nightmarish sort of way. It’s such a wonderful change of pace from the generic, poorly decorated houses that dominate this subgenre of horror games.

There are also ample notes scattered around the house that you’ll find as you search for items. These notes are the cornerstone for unraveling the house’s mystery and the game’s plot. These notes aren’t just scattered journal entries. They’re receipts, legal documents, family trees, etc. which is so much more immersive and speaks to the level of detail and love the developers put into this game. It felt like the family who once lived in this house were real people, and that’s fantastic storytelling.

Thần Trùng (The Death) Game Review. A classroom filled with shadowy figures with singular glowing eyes.
All eyes on you.

That being said, the translations aren’t perfect. But it’s an indie developer and a small team, and everything is understandable. There are moments where things are a little confusing and some of the dialogue feels stilted. But that’s a very minor part of the game.

You’ll likely finish the game in 2 to 4 hours, which isn’t bad for a price tag of $5.99. And while the pacing with regards to scares could use some serious work, the game gets better as it goes, culminating in some truly beautiful visuals and a story that you can engross yourself in. DUT Studio has talent and potential in spades. I’ve no doubt that if they keep going they’ll command the same cult following that Chilla’s Art has.

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Quest Master @ PAX: A Dungeon-Builder First Look

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Next in my journey of all the cool games I saw at PAX, Quest Master! Quest Master is a love letter to retro dungeon crawlers and level designers. Taking inspiration from both Mario Maker and the Legend of Zelda franchise, Quest Master promises the ability to play and design dungeons with a variety of enemies, traps, and puzzles. 

Check out the Quest Master game announcement here:

I was given a private 30-minute demo, where I got to try out some of the core features in a pre-beta version of Quest Master. This demo was led by one of the developers, Julian Creutz who shared some insight into the game design and user experience. My interview with Julian about Quest Master can be found here.

Quest Master has two main modes, playing dungeons and building them. I got to try out both, though I had a more comprehensive experience playing dungeons. While playing dungeons, the game mechanics were intuitive and simple. However, I was continuously surprised by the complexities offered by the puzzle and logic systems. For example, you can collect a boomerang which is incredibly easy to use. To solve one of the puzzles, I had to throw the boomerang through a torch (which I thought was just decorative) to catch the boomerang on fire and enable it to activate a gem. While the individual mechanics were basic, they combined into a sophisticated puzzle-solving experience.

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Immediately, I was eager to look under the hood and see how the dungeon building mode enables the puzzle solving as previously described. Once again, I was impressed with the sophistication of a system with such simple mechanics. The controls for building weren’t intuitive for me, though I also don’t use a controller for much of my gaming (like I was during the demo). Additionally, I could see how it would be really easy to get accustomed to as you build.

As it was a short demo, I wasn’t able to try any of the multiplayer features (i.e. co-op, online map sharing) so I can’t speak to the success of their implementation. As this is supposed to be a large part of the game, I’m wary of wholeheartedly suggesting Quest Master for those interested in the multiplayer experience. However, I was impressed with Quest Master’s modern take on retro dungeon crawlers like the Legend of Zelda games. The graphics and controls feel like much needed quality of life updates for a system taking inspiration from older classics. 

I recommend wishlisting Quest Master if you are a fan of old Legend of Zelda games or are looking for a fresh take on the dungeon builder genre. If Quest Master interests you, don’t forget to check out my conversation with Julian too!

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


Check out my other PAX posts here!

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Interview with Game Dev Julian Creutz: Quest Master @ PAX

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As mentioned in previous posts, I had the opportunity to demo a pre-early access version of the game Quest Master alongside the Lead Developer, Julian Creutz. Quest Master is a Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Maker inspired dungeon crawling and building video game. While the other post covers the game itself, this one covers the inspiration and vision for the game as told by Julian.


How did you become involved in video game development?

I’ve been a huge gamer, and especially a Zelda fan, ever since I was a little child when my dad put a GameBoy Advance with “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” into my hands. Sometime during elementary school I started dabbling with game development using visual tools like Scratch and GameMaker. I quickly got into making Zelda fan games and had dreamt of the day when I would make my own Zelda game one day. Over the years I’ve honed my game development and programming skills, resulting in where I am today.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the development process?

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Developing Quest Master is essentially like making two games at once – the making and the playing part. Both of these game elements have to be equally as polished to form a cohesive one.

The most difficult thing by far about the game’s development has been to make the maker mode experience intuitive for first-time users and people who know nothing about Zelda-like games, but at the same time powerful and complex enough to allow creating anything you could dream of.

One good example is the gameplay feature to link certain parts to others, like linking a pressure plate to opening a door. We’ve been through countless iterations affecting both the visual, gameplay and user experience aspects of it – I hope that the one we are using right now is the final one!

Quest Master takes a lot of inspiration from classic dungeon-crawlers like the Legend of Zelda franchise. What about these games was so enchanting to you and how does Quest Master try to capture that enchantment?

As described earlier, I’m like the biggest Zelda fan, which I’m sure shows. My gripe with many Zelda-likes on the market is that none perfectly capture the feel of the classic entries… there’s always something missing.

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I confidently believe that Quest Master differs from that greatly. We are trying to make Quest Master feel like an in-house 2D Zelda like Nintendo used to make, just from an indie team like ours. Many people crave the classic 2D entries, just like I do.

What emotions do you hope the player will experience while playing Quest Master? What design choices were made to assist in that desired atmosphere?

A big aspect of Quest Master is its local multiplayer. The game is deliberately designed to work flawlessly with that, and makers can create specialized puzzles in the game that require all players to work together for example. The result is both rewarding, funny, and sometimes infuriating altogether, for example when one of your buddies throws you into a hole.

As a community dungeon maker, what features are you most excited to see implemented in player-made dungeon crawls?

I’ve already been hugely amazed by the creations of the existing Quest Master demo. With all the new features the game will launch into Early Access with, I bet this will be tenfold. I myself always enjoy the brain busting puzzles people come up with. Other things I also like a lot are the unintended mechanics the players find, which dynamically emerge from the many, many gameplay systems working together.

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What’s it been like working with Apogee, an indie publisher who goes back to the early 1990’s and has a long legacy of terrific game releases?

I’ve only had very few interactions with game publishers in the past, and Quest Master is my first large scale commercial game project. There’s preconceived notions floating around everywhere on the internet about how evil game publishers are and how much better you would be off self-publishing your game. Contrary to that, working with Apogee has been nothing short of supportive and family-like. They are very invested in the project, and they have many Zelda fans on the team also helps a lot. They are supercharging the potential of Quest Master and without them the game would not be where it is today.

Is there anything else you would like to plug or that you think is important for people to know about Quest Master or other upcoming projects?

Early Access is just the beginning! Quest Master will be hugely expanded upon during its Early Access phase, with many more themes, dungeon parts and entire new gameplay features coming in short intervals and a rapid update schedule. There are always new things around the corner. For example, things like the singleplayer story campaign and the overworld maker will be most likely not be part of the initial Early Access release, but we will make sure to build anticipation by introducing bits and pieces into the world of Quest Master to build up to that.

I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am!

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LONESTAR @ PAX: Spaceships and Bounty Hunting

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This past week I had the opportunity to go to my very first PAX East convention! For those who are unfamiliar, PAX East is a large gaming convention in Boston. This year marked its 20th anniversary, which meant an extra layer of celebration and festivities! Courtesy of a HauntedMTL Media Badge, I got to play tons of new games and meet even more interesting people. One of the games I was able to demo was LONESTAR by developer Math Tide. 

LONESTAR is a roguelike spaceship building game reminiscent of FTL and Dicey Dungeons. It was released for early access on Steam in January and has gotten largely positive feedback. In the game, you play as a bounty hunter traveling through various sectors to defeat your bounties. Along the way you can visit a shop, take a breather, or experience other various events. 

I was able to play the early access build for thirty minutes on the showroom floor, and I was pretty instantly hooked. I love roguelike deckbuilders, with Slay the Spire (especially the Downfall fan expansion) being a strong favorite. LONESTAR nails what I love from the genre, with an aesthetic smoothly integrated in its form and function and novel gameplay mechanics.

A screenshot from the LONESTAR Steam Page of game play.

LONESTAR’s ‘deckbuilding’ element takes the form of ship systems. You can collect, buy, and upgrade them as you progress through a run. However, your ship only has so much space on board. As a player, you have to prioritize weapons and utility systems while also ensuring you diversify your damage output/defense across all three sections of your ship. At the beginning of each round, you are randomly given number values that can be input into your ship systems to achieve varied effects. The enemy responds in kind, meaning whoever can get the highest damage output is who overwhelms the other in the round.

I loved the possibilities for synergy and strategy as your pilot explored more dangerous sectors. It was incredibly rewarding to turn a couple of crap numbers into a super powerful attack. I also enjoyed the various options for “vacation” time in between battles, which kept everything feeling fresh. Of note, I only played for thirty minutes. While they were a rewarding thirty minutes, the game was not incredibly difficult. I cannot speak on the general replayability, though I would have been happy to continue playing for at least another hour. My only critique from the whole experience was that some of the vocabulary was unclear. However, that could have been due to starting mid-run during my demo. 

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If you enjoy deckbuilders and are interested in a spaceship game a bit easier than FTL, I think LONESTAR is a great choice. It is still in early access, however, I feel confident that the game is plenty of fun already. It is also only $10, so definitely worth taking a chance on. I’ll continue to watch the development of LONESTAR with great excitement! 4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)

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