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Weekend Download №90

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Weekend Download

JohnBIt's the weekend!!! That means you have a little extra time on your hands. That means I get to take away some of that time with a handful of free games. That means you get to have fun on your weekend. Don't forget to mow the lawn, though.

spaceexploration.jpgSpace Exploration: Serpens Sector (Mac/Win/Linux, 10MB, free) - A simple game with a simple goal: explore the galaxy! The Serpens Sector has just been opened for human exploration, and as captain of a scout ship, it's your job to check out each system. Fly to various planets and stars, meet the locals (if there are any), explore ancient ruins, search for artefacts and more. Bring your findings back to Fleet HQ and they will hopefully reward you with more fuel so you can continue exploring. It's a bit of an arcade game combined with some strategy/RPG elements, but short missions play out in just about ten minutes, which is perfect for any casual gamer. This is an early development preview. (Thanks, Tacroy!)

bitfortress.gifBitfortress (Windows, 4MB, free) - A short, work in progress build for a challenging vertically-scrolling shooter. There's only one level to play, and once you beat the last boss the stage loops around and you start from the beginning. The game has a surprising amount of personality for such a simple presentation. Also fun to know: Bitfortress was made in eight hours!

tombed.gifTombed (Windows, 2.8MB, free) - Created for the two-day Ludum Dare 14 competition, Tombed is a simple arcade game by Auntie Pixelantie, creator of Calamity Annie and many others. The spiky ceiling is coming down, and it would be in your interest to stay away from it. Tap the [shift] key to dig through non-solid blocks, eliminating entire groups of them with each shovel thrust. When spikes meet blocks (even solid gray ones), they disappear, so sometimes the only way forward is to wait for the ceiling and take advantage of a gap you couldn't create yourself.


Can't mow the lawn, it's raining here. That and I work today.. and tomorrow. Though they're only supper shifts. Gonna have to wait until after tonight's shift to download Tombed since I'm on the mac current. Going to give Space Exploration a go before I have to go myself!

Gobsmacked June 27, 2009 6:45 PM

Oooh, you can tell the developers are fans of Star Control II (the refer to FTL radio as "hyperwave").

I bet the complete version is going to be very interesting.

As for the current offering, I found it a little bit too easy to run out of fuel, making for lots of short missions instead of building up artefacts and information in a long one. But, that doesn't sting too badly because there's enough variety to make each short mission pretty significantly different from the last, with just enough continuity to give you an edge by saying "aha, I've seen that before, and I know what to do"... but not all the time.

Also, it would be nice if you knew what to do to improve your crew's skills (I presume there will be some way to do so in the completed game).

Finally, doctors need fixing. It seems like you only ever get 1 Doctor (I've started seven separate games, and never got 2 at once). I always send him/her on away missions in case someone gets hurt.

The only person who ever gets hurt is the Doctor, and so they always die, because there's "no doctor" to help them. Seems cheap if that's happening for a reason (and not just that I'm fantastically unlucky enough for that to happen 4 separate times?), but we may never know.

CapnHulk June 27, 2009 7:57 PM

Space Exploration is pretty neat but as Gobsmacked said, it's really, really easy to run out of fuel.

I remember a game very similar to it that came out fairly recently that I enjoyed much more. However, for the life of me, I cannot remember the name of it. It was either shareware or freeware but it was also a top-down 4x sort of game and I remember you had a certain amount of time before an alien species tried to wipe out humanity.

It's not Star Control II, or GalCiv or anything like that. It's driving me nuts!


Space Exploration is pretty sweet. It's not even complete yet, so it should be excellent when it's fleshed out fully. The only problem is I never have enough fuel to get even vaguely close to exploring all the planets on medium difficulty... or medium size... or just medium.

Gobsmacked: Interesting, my doctor's never been hurt. Sounds like some amazingly bad luck. (As a sidenote, sending a whole lot of people on away missions seems to reduce the chance of bad things happening.)

Gobsmacked June 27, 2009 9:12 PM

See, now, I went and jinxed myself by leaving a positive comment on a game. Out of character for me, I know.

No sooner do I praise the thing than it turns on me. Now I can't get any odds in combat better than "Very Bad" no matter what I do.

I stay still; I make the other ship use up his movement; I take shots when close and in clear space. My odds are always "Very Bad" or "Impossible", and at the same time, the pirates & drones haven't missed ONE SINGLE SHOT. Which basically means that you either flee or die, since you can't actually fight, you just fly around and get shot.

What the heck did I do, trip a hidden difficulty slider? Did I mention that now the maximum survival time on an away mission is 3 repetitions before someone dies (the Doctor, of course, that hasn't changed), even when I send up to 6 people at a time?

Something's very flaky with the difficulty / randomness of this game, and I've sent the guy feedback saying so.

I see references on his site's forum that talk about a "balancing sub-system". Well, buddy, IT AIN'T WORKING!

Still, I see hideously huge potential for this game if a few little features are added, and the randomness controlled just a little in favor of the player (or at least in favor of not ending the game in 5 minutes).

V2Blast June 28, 2009 5:16 AM

Space Exploration is a lot of fun... for a short while. Then, you either run out of fuel and can't do anything to get more, half your crew is dead or kidnapped, or your ship's been blown up. Many short missions (and they tend to be the same set, if you start over) with different results for the same choices. Oh, and if you're lucky enough to get a doctor: don't worry, they'll be the first to get hurt (sometimes even second!). These small things just make the game annoying and repetitive to play after the initial few times.

V2Blast June 28, 2009 5:17 AM

Oh, and I'm not sure it's possible to make it a halfway across the map; you tend to get low on fuel (or low enough to keep you from returning to base) by then.

V2Blast June 28, 2009 5:20 AM

Also, odds in battle range from "Impossible" to "Very Bad" to "Bad" to (occasionally) "Even"; sometimes even "Good". Then there was that one time when I was ridiculously outmatched in terms of firepower against some ship... THEN I had "Perfect" odds of hitting the enemy.


Tombed is a very enjoyable little burst of a game.

Well done.


apologies that should read "very enjoyable little burst of a game"

ViciousChicken June 28, 2009 12:05 PM

I just had an extraordinarily lucky game of Space Exploration.

My first star was the gold tunnels, and I managed to get 4 buckets without any injuries. Immediately afterward I found the trading ship, and bought a missile launcher and a faster drive. Then I found the biologist guy, the assassin-bot, and then the monkeys. Sent the bot after the monkeys against the biologist's objections, got 5 barrels. Then that missile launcher started coming in handy. Defended the mining colony from the Orcanian ship that was demanding tribute, then pirates, then robot drones, then more pirates. Then, I ran into a Gloptian cruiser, and gave them some monkeys, rewarding me with an additional drive (apparently the effects stack). The next star had TWO Gloptian cruisers; gave them both monkeys, got two more drives. My speed was about 17.0/4.0 at this point. I was able to zip around so quickly, I finished exploring with fuel to spare, with everyone happy, and no injuries or deaths.

Combat tips:

They have crazy high evade, but they go down in one hit and don't do much damage. The easiest way to win is with missiles; just get close enough so they don't get a chance to shoot them down. If you're stuck with lasers, you shouldn't try to charge at them; they'll just use evasive maneuvers, and you won't be able to hit much even at close range. Your best bet is to move far enough away that they'll be forced to approach; then move up to them and fire while they're not evading, then withdraw and repeat.


These are beatable with just the basic laser, at least if you have a decent gunner and a pilot. Just try to use at least a couple move on evasion every turn. When you get up close, you should be able to hit them at least as much as they hit you.

Orcanian ship (forget what it's called exactly):

This is a tough one, on account of the enemy's missiles. I tried to keep a medium distance, so I had space to move away from incoming missiles to hopefully get 2-3 close-range shots to shoot the missile down. With practice, I was able to maneuver so that the missiles would end up one space away; at that range I had even odds of hitting it. Other than that, I just kept sending my own missiles at the enemy ship, firing lasers whenever I wasn't busy shooting down their missiles.


The Cruiser is the biggest and toughest, but also easiest to hit. You should have very good or perfect odds at any distance. Also note they only fire once every two turns - but they pack quite a punch, so you want them to miss as much as possible. So use their recharge turn to increase your distance, and then spend all your move on evasive maneuvers on their firing turn. Just keep wearing them down. You'll probably still need an extra weapon to win; I've never done it yet, so I don't know what the rewards are.



I'm the developer of Space Exploration, who has just noticed the sudden influx of people from jayisgames.com.

Hence, some quick comments:

Fuel: There definitely isn't enough fuel in this version of the game to explore all the stars. The next version will ease up on this, and there will eventually be different difficulty levels to choose from.

Combat: ViciousChicken did a good writeup of strategies for individual ships, but I thought I'd also mention the combat tips page on the SE:SS site.

Balancing system (I see references on his site's forum that talk about a "balancing sub-system".): The balancing system isn't present in this version. It's a planned feature for future releases.

Anyway, I'm reading this thread with great interest and will count it alongside with the post-game web form feedback for my plans for the next release.

- David Stark


Hey, I really enjoyed Space Exploration and I even managed to finish a star system once and destroy a cruiser :) However, I was wondering if the artifacts would have more interesting effects in later versions? I didn't really understand their importance as the fleet command didn't even seem to want them and most were useless? Perhaps I'm wrong and i should try more combinations?


I see no difference whatsoever between the 2 and 3 day versions of Tombed. Besides that, I like. It's the perfect amount length, quirkiness, and originality. Very casual experience.

Gobsmacked June 29, 2009 9:55 AM

Mr. Stark,

Okay, well that makes more sense, then.

I would make the balancing system your top priority, if I were you.

The game is quite interesting at first glance... but after playing for more than 10 minutes, it quickly becomes an unplayble frustration-fest. ViciousChicken's experience is so far from mine I'd expect to have to play literally THOUSANDS of times in order to get that lucky.

Note that over half his (admittedly, well-presented) combat advice basically boils down to "be lucky enough to find the missile launcher (or the trade ship -- which I've never seen in 20 or 30 games) and enough gold to pay them, first thing, without losing half your crew". Not a great overall strategy.

90 percent of games I played involved finding nothing but Gloptian ships (and no monkeys, of course), empty systems, or passengers before being blown up by drones (99% impossible to survive with just the basic laser, of course), or just plain running out of fuel before finding anything useful. Balancing the randomness would be a major boon.

I also noticed that, by my count, you lose a crew member (regardless of group size) when digging in cities or the gold tunnels about every 4th repetition (give or take), pretty consistently, but I never, ever found my first item before the 12th or 15th repetition at the city -- and everything worthwhile costs 10s of units of gold, which you can't afford the crew in order to mine. Never mind how the doctor dies first so often that it just HAS to be intentional. It's the kind of thing that makes you say "this is pointless" and go play something else. I'm just guessing that this isn't something you want if you are trying to sell add-ons, yes?



I agree that the game needs more fuel and more gold, at least at non-hard difficulty levels.

I can assure you though that the game does not single out your doctor. It randomly selects one member of the away party to injure.

Some (spoilery about probabilities and strategies) tips on getting the most out of the gold tunnels and the ruins:

Gold tunnels: Send in people with engineering and spacewalking skills. The chances of an accident increase with each time you send them out to get gold, so even with a good engineer and spacewalker, limit yourself to 3-4 runs to have a good chance of no-one dying.

Ruins: Send as many people as possible, especially a doctor and any archeologists you have. (The more people you have, the less likely it is that it's the doctor who ends up getting hurt.) After about 7-8 runs, the likelihood of finding anything useful becomes rather slim and you are better off stopping - as the likelihood of someone getting hurt stays constant.

How to (pretty much) consistently defeat the drone trio with only your trusty laser turret:

The drones are very hard to hit, but only take a single hit to take down. They will use their spare moves for evasive manoeuvres, so it's important to make them move around.

The strategy to use is this:

First turn: take a shot at the nearest drone. If you're lucky, you'll hit it. Then, fly away as far as possible.

Drones' turn: they will fly after you, using up moves.

Second turn: Fly back towards them. You should be able to get right next to a drone, and have a "Good" probability of hitting it. Shoot at it.

From then on, alternate between flying away on one turn, causing them to follow you, and flying back on the next, ending up right next to one of them with a good chance to hit. (Since they're right next to you and only have minimal evasive manoeuvres.)

You can almost certainly take out the drones one by one in this manner before they blow up your ship.

If you end up not being able to kill all of them in one go, you can flee and then return to the drones later. The game will remember how many you have already shot down.

Hope this is helpful.

- David Stark

Gobsmacked June 29, 2009 5:31 PM

Thanks, David, I will take your words to heart if and when you release a more balanced demo version of this game; I'm afraid I'm too frustrated with the present version to continue playing if I want to avoid smashing my laptop.

That said, while I have no choice but to take your word for it when you say that the Doctors are not targeted, you can see that I'm not the only one noticing how often it happens, whether you send 2 people or 6. It IS happening, whether you intended it or not, so it might be nice if there was anything the player could do about it (like, say, it being possible to end up with a "rookie" like you can for the other skills, instead of him/her being the only one every mission).


Just a thought on finding the trade ship...you should see it occasionally flying from nearby systems (especially if you have the larger sensor range, but even with the normal one). Pay attention to where it seems to be headed and you can go meet up with them.

I actually find the game quite addicting, not frustrating. I enjoy that it's a real challenge to explore all the solar systems (I almost managed it once, but I was one star short thanks to a kidnapping disaster that took place towards the end that ate up my remaining fuel).

I can't wait till there's more stuff to do and more customization options for my crew. Being able to level them up based on experience would be awesome.


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