Game Review: Endica VII: The Dream King

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Playthrough Video:

Way back when, I had been introduced to a rather interesting Mega Man fan game by the name of Mega Man: Perfect Harmony. It was unlike anything I’d seen before, as it featured upgradeable abilities, several characters for play and several fusion elements that would seem out of place in other games. But it worked for me, and I still regard it as a personal favorite. I befriended the creator Nick Ridgway, who wasn’t very far from me and lived in Texas. He was interested in mystical and magickal type ordeals, having been rather knowledgeable in astrology. Like myself, he was also working class, had had several bad experiences within the workplace and had severely injured himself. He soon realized that no matter how much the Mega Man game was well-received, (except by Mega Man purists, as it definitely did not adhere to the traditional formula) it was time to work on something else. We’d talked about it for a while, as I would throw ideas back at him and he would tell me what he thought.

I originally had an idea about a Mega Man style game that would have four element based characters (young adults in the style of Mega Man) who would have to defeat six demons in order to get a different set of powers for each (rather than one power, the user could decide which of three boss abilities they wanted) in order to stop King Solomon from destroying the world. The final battle would of course have taken place inside of his castle, in which the player would have to battle the very powers of God, utilized by the ring he wore. The idea behind the game was that each character would have their own innate element (fire, water, air, wind) and some environments would be more receptive to the element of said player (fire wouldn’t work as well underwater, exc.) essentially retooling the Mega Man formula into something more interesting and strategically based.

Though what he had finally decided upon was something called The Dream King. It essentially mixed this Mega Man friendly style with something that looked like a cross between Final Fantasy and Lord Of The Rings. It took place in a land called Endica, which was set to have six prior games (made for mobile) and three much larger games. It was a bit ambitious, but he was very ambitious in those days, even talking about a short Contra like app he was going to make for 99 cents. We’ll not talk about some of the more private aspects of his life, as I’m not here to air dirty laundry as much as I am to talk about what were mainly bad decisions. In any case, the developer launched a Kickstarter campaign for something to the tune of $15,000. I thought it was a little much, especially for just starting out and having no real notoriety other than the Mega Man community. But we still pitched in, as the campaign ended with $1,800.00 of which he never saw as it ended just as quickly as it began. This sparked him to create yet another crowdfunding attempt on Indiegogo, in which he walked away with a mere $140.00. One of the largest backers on the campaign was the famous Deviant Artist Seizui, of whom has had a character featured in both Valdis Story and the hugely respected Shovel Knight. As of this review, he is still playing the game. We wish him the best of luck.

Times assuredly got tough as a game slated to come out in “December 2014” according to that Kickstarter demo, didn’t actually arrive until January 13th of 2016, almost two years after the promised date. But the main issue behind this was due to the fact that the developer was wearing himself thin. He of course, was the king of announcements on the project, and if you’ll look into Google you will find several older articles stating that the game was due to come out in October of 2015. The final build hadn’t even been completed by then. Around this time, we were still throwing around ideas and it looked to be a rather intriguing game from what I played of the demo. The music was of course, very good, and the environments had a sort of amateurish flair, something that felt sort of grassroots in terms of game development. There were signs that the game still needed work, and some of the characters were far too overpowered, so my friends and I gave some well-needed input, which actually got factored into the final version of the game. Nick left Facebook, having had enough of it, moving right into Twitter where he began to publish updates and promote the game. The problem is, he just kept throwing out release dates. People would rile with anticipation, only to realize that it hadn’t come out as promised. Then after the game’s build had finally completed, he admitted to having a treasure trove of problems within Game Maker Studio. After calling it “junk” and talking about how it caused “so many errors” within the game’s code, he finally released a version of the game to the public, which he claimed “might still contain some crash bugs.” This is due to the fact that when Studio encounters a bug, it crashes the game and a window pops up, alerting the developer of the bug so that they may fix it. His intention was to ignore some of these crash bugs, as apparently previous versions of the software had allowed.

I jumped onto Twitter under an assumed account (which I will not reveal here, as I still use it and have since become an avid tweeter) and began to follow him there. At this point, I was pretty much under the assumption that the game would never release, and was admittedly a bit of a bug about it. Users will know what I’m talking about. But it was also obvious to them that I knew a thing or two about gaming and design (I’d made a few rather crappy games in my past) and some decided to follow me (and still are at the present moment.) In any case, I kept replying to his updates as I was generally curious as to namely, what in the hell was taking so long and what I could do to help. Surely I helped come up with some of the ideas for this thing, can’t I at least try to fix things as well? I’ve only been playing these kinds of retro style video games for thirty years now, and I’ve found various bugs in several. When you’re a kid, you think it’s kind of fun to break the game and abuse cheats. In doing those things, I learned a little bit about how games are made. In designing them, I learned even more. So why would he not want the help of a guy who found a bunch of bugs in the demo, and was one of the only people in the world to actually post footage of the demo for all to see, further promoting the game to others? I really haven’t the faintest idea. I’ll note that a friend of mine believed so heavily that the game would not release, that we would even bet lunch on it. I actually had to cover the bill at one restaurant.

But there’s more to this story. For some odd and awfully arrogant reason, Nick wanted to approach all of this by himself. While he could tell a worthwhile story and was a pretty good spriter, he simply refused outside help when it came to developing the game. A brilliant musician by the name of Kevin Phetsomphou was hired for the soundtrack, which is nearly godlike in composition. Even the composer for Secret Of Mana was hired for two tracks relating to the top backer’s main character, Reize (of whom I mentioned was also in Valdis Story and Shovel Knight). Considering that there were fourteen playable characters and that the game was a maze-like metroidvania title, doing all of this by himself was a little bit more than he could handle. I originally complained that there were an awful lot of goblin sprites in the demo, even though there were a few mollusks and bats in the caves, though for the most part, THE GAME WAS LITERALLY LOADED WITH GOBLINS. Here called “Gobulin” they were at the mercy of Venedarin, the man who would not see Tellus Thomas become king.

It’s true that the game had a brilliant premise, was well-written and delivered a fine narrative. In that instance, I was impressed. The very beginning scene with Thomas on the raft was a brilliant way to open the piece. It left an impression from the beginning. The only bad part, was that after the introduction, we’re left to what seems like a Contra style gameplay mode of just shooting goblins and dodging blasts. Neither I or my friends (who are both highly knowledgeable in the field of game design, one is a graduate in the field while the other is currently working on a title to be released at a later time) could figure out why the inclusion of so many of these goblins, especially when if you really look, you’ll see a barely walking older goblin with a beard. He doesn’t really do anything and I don’t recall him ever attacking. He’s just slaughtered mercilessly like all the others. (Too bad, old man.) In any case, the player is expected to pretty much kill goblins ninety-five percent of the time. When you’re not fighting bosses or playing platform type levels, you’re killing goblins. Little green goblins. Though it’s quite easy to see that most of these goblins only contain one or two sprites and as one person on the Steam discussion forums put it “they look unengaging.” In other words, they didn’t really look worthy enough to fight with just one single sprite that never moves or does much of anything. A small pellet or sets of pellets escape from them though at times, making for the only real challenge posed. Then we have the trolls, which are horribly stretched out and animated to move like gelatin. You heard me – gelatin. Jello. They do look a bit menacing, perhaps a bit unfinished in the design, but they basically just jump up and down, as do most things in the game aside from the masses of goblins.

The game makes you fight a troll from the very beginning, which some might take as a sort of sign as to what is to be faced upon the player (Am I being trolled this whole time?) and it’s a horribly resized sprite, lacking in much animation and like the rest, moving as does Jello. But there are reasons why this boss and several other enemies as bosses are ill-animated or have rather boring attack patterns. The man simply refused help. He thought that he would have to pay people extra money to do these things, claiming he was poor. But that isn’t exactly the case. I know for certain that there are spriters out there who would love to have their work featured in a game. If the game gets very popular and you have to pay them a little bit afterwords, that’s fine. You’ll have the money to do so, as you’ve made a game that people enjoy playing. The same could be said from the environments, which are a bit out of place. Sometimes they can look pretty good (like the sky area) but the inside of the caves are a smoky gray, which you’ll be spending most of the time wandering around in. Another problem with the game was the inclusion of “no map” which he knew people were going to be complaining about. So outside help to design more varied sprites, more detailed and lush environments as well as a functioning map, would all have been suggested. But if he didn’t want to have a map keeping it traditional to the first Metroid game, then there should have at least been door markers. I even went out of my way after the fact, to design bases for him to decorate and employ in the game. It’s the first sprite sheet I had ever made and I felt that they served a useful point. I even asked Seizui if he thought they would be useful, to which he said he thought they would.

Towns were also utilized, but they all seem to have come from the same RPG Maker tileset and look a bit drab. It almost seems as if they were an afterthought to the game. You had to buy some of the better abilities, which were quite high, even though I felt that having some of the much stronger abilities at the beginning stages of the game could make some parts too easy. There are no up or down moving sprites for the characters in town either. As well as a button to press in order to move dialogue. It moves on it’s own and is rather slow. The developer claims that the game was meant for all ages, hence why the text moves at a slower pace. We do find things in the caves or placed on hills, but there’s no build-up or even an “item get” sound to accompany these pickups. A box appears and you’re done.

The game offers a series of dreams, which one can have if they sleep at the inn. These offer minigames, some of which can be very tough, but there is no real reward and some very cheap bosses who don’t make good use of the dream mechanic. Who wants to get into a boss fight when the dream ends and you can never finish the boss? You also don’t get anything for completing the dreams. No money, no items, nothing. You don’t even get back the $100 that it costs just to sleep at the inn in order to play these minigames, all of which are quite challenging. Additionally, there’s a mysterious yellow door that as of yet; no one knows how to open. No one. I have a feeling that perhaps the secret hidden behind that door is the developer’s very soul, completely barricaded behind these thick walls and corridors, refusing outstretched hands while overconfident in his lack of ability to accomplish such a herculean task.

Folks, the bottom line is that I actually helped out on this one a bit and provided what I thought were some useful ideas, yet got nothing in return but silence. The developer was not interested in polishing the game as did the devs in Valdis Story, he was simply content to release it just as it was. I predicted that exactly what I thought would happen with the game, did happen with the game after release – that I would be bug testing just as I’d asked and had gotten refused ten times over. But look what I’m doing now. I found bug after bug after bug, my friends found dozens of bugs and people on steam were finding them. We volunteered to test the game for FREE, for absolutely NO money. We just wanted a good game. We wanted a bug-free game. What? Was he afraid that we were going to find much of the unfinished stuff and complain about it? Well, we did… and we did. But the thing about that is, then we could have actually helped. Not after the fact, when the entire world has played the game and most realize that it’s not in any way worth $15. The game was indeed advertised as a “multiplayer metroidvania” which also had “world’s first” even though a Steam user corrected that to say it was UnEpic which held that title. This also caused confusion among the ranks, as multiplayer to most meant “online multiplayer.” Well, that was quickly fixed to “local co-op only” to which many just simply jumped ship right there. There were logical complaints, like “my friends have wives and kids and we all can’t get together and play a game in the same house” sort of deal, which is QUITE FUCKING COMMON in today’s society. But, he said that it would take a long time to get everything rolling, to which my friend… the one he so hated, actually said “it would only take about ten minutes.” Are you reading that? Yes, you too, could have had netplay in just a few minutes, which would have resulted in much larger sales.

But all of this simply comes under the umbrella of inexperience. Nick was very good at making Mega Man fan games. Some might not think so, but he was doing something new and different. I respected it, praised it highly on my channel. There were actually several more Perfect Harmonies in the works, as well as a huge battle game (which became the versus mode in The Dream King) and all of the games were going to be “bigger and better” with a different element utilized. Perfect Harmony I was air, so perhaps II would have been water, III fire, exc. This is what inspired me to the above Mega Man style game idea. But I was fully supportive of this Metroidvania style game, after having played and enjoyed the demo. However, he scrapped the berserker ability that Dash had, also giving him a blaster shot, which he absolutely did not need. I liked having the ability to play as a sword only character and was heavily upset when he destroyed that concept in two seconds of code.

I still don’t know why Nick refused help from outside parties for this game. Having called himself a mystic guru, perhaps he needs a good grounding in the realm of reality. People are put here to help one another in their endeavors. Every man carries a load, whether it be the literal moving of furniture or to a new residence, or the creation of a product. It’s wonderful to call yourself a “self-made man” but it’s very rare that such a thing occurs, and frankly one needs the nerves of a steely titan to be able to achieve such a feat. Many of us added input to make the game better, but little of it was actually heeded. What we were left with is a game that had us wandering around in dark caves for hours, because we’re not aware of which doors we’ve opened once they’ve disappeared. That does not make for a very fun experience and is simply, a waste of our time. The Dream King proves that anyone can make a game, and more importantly, what happens when someone makes a game and tries to tackle every single aspect of development by themselves. It’s exactly what we should not do in game development, and ideas should be run by others and considered if they will help the final product to be better received.

It honestly upsets me that the developer and a man I’ve known for years, will not take the time to fix these issues. Perhaps I’m being a bit too hard on him, as he has slaved himself over this game, and has spent several sleepless nights working on the project while his wife worked her fingers to the bone. He also has a young son, so he has to babysit the child as well. Though Russians leaked the steam version of the game, he sent me a version of the executable as a DRM-Free non-Steam release pleading me not to leak it as “our son needs food.” That really does tear just a little at my heart, because I really don’t know how poor the man could be. I know very little about him other than what we’ve talked online and what I’ve seen in images. It’s very likely that he thought he would make enough money to lift his family out of poverty with this project, and he very well might have if he’d just humbled himself to ask for help. The Dream King as it stands, is a good idea. But it’s not finished and it could have been a long time ago. Why, he could have had spriters, designers, extra programmers to build AI and squash bugs, even including that netplay option to the game, which would have made it a classic. It may have even developed a major fan-base. It may have even set up Endica as a brand. There were some truly intriguing ideas here, told with a great story. I’m literally pulling my hair out here as I stare at the wall dumbfounded and just scream silently, “WHY???” It literally makes no sense. I suppose he thought that my friends and I knew nothing about game design, programming, AI… and that no one else online knew much about it either. He wanted complete and tyrannical control of the project, which certainly caused it’s demise, only to thank us for many years of support today; further assuring that he was done with game development, as The Dream King sails off into the seas of abandonware. Forgotten, abandoned. A dream smashed and trampled upon. But It didn’t have to be this way.

Thomas may have made it to The Enchanted Castle and became the King Of Dreams. But his creator seems to have found nothing but a nightmare. A nightmare that he himself created. But have I finished it? No. I have not actually finished the game, after coming to a point where a save section needed to be added and a town bug needed to be fixed that wound up in me losing a great deal of progress. Additionally, I was not looking forward to running back into the caves and not knowing where I was going. I pushed for door markers, which hopefully will be added (but I don’t see them being so now, as I’ve been blocked from his Twitter) and don’t really feel I should suffer myself to play through it until such an easy object is placed. I even took the liberty to draw how those things would work and am extravagantly angry at the absence and downright silence faced when I’ve worked so hard to make them a reality, especially when people have been complaining about them. But that is another problem I’ve had. He would always make excuses as to why something could not be added. Of the grammar used in the game, it’s mostly rather well done. But there are maybe about two sentences I’ve seen that could be fixed. His response to that was that it was supposed to resemble a nineties game with spelling errors in translation. If two sentences make that point count, then more power to you. Seems to me like a fast fix.

At the risk of further and further bitching, I will add one last tidbit. This link will take you to a review written by a good personal friend and highly skilled programmer. He has yet to show the world his skills, and yes – he did volunteer to work on the AI for The Dream King or perhaps The Enchanted Castle. The man has spent hours writing code, usually from sunrise to set, and knows what he’s talking about. We did put some input into it, but for the most part, it’s his work and you can read it here:

http://steamcommunity.com/id/DrakDragon/recommended/343150/

Keep in mind, this critique is a CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM. I was there while it was written, and it was intended to help the developer to understand what the main issues were and how they might be fixed to add further enjoyment. It was not meant to troll or belittle the man in any way. It was written in a very polite manner that told the developer, while it was a very broken and unfinished piece of software; that he absolutely should not give up there. The Dream King was ABSOLUTELY NOT a final draft. It was not ready for human consumption. I feel that many will see that in the months and years to come, as it sits on Steam untouched. Even the discussions will end. Pretty soon, everyone will have moved on completely to something else. It won’t only serve as one man’s dream, which once again; did not come to fulfillment due to his own arrogance. I can’t stress how much I wanted to like the game, and the fact that I was still playing it despite the bugs, as I enjoyed the gameplay. As you watch this video, you will see just a little bit of the game and what I felt it had to offer. It is pretty enjoyable, but it clearly still needs an awful lot of work, which sadly… it may never receive.

“Dreams are awfully large things. It usually takes a lot of people to shoulder them.”

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