Game Pile: Sproggiwood

Well this is a bit lovely, innit?

Sproggiwood is a turn based roguelike* explorer game, where you play characters from a tiny little forest civilisation of adorable Clogheads, delving into little demense of Finnish mythical creatures. You follow on the behest of – well, at first it’s a condescending sheep, but the story unfolds a little weirdly from there. Really, a little weird is a good little thematic mantra to use for the endlessly smiling, effortlessly charming Sproggiwood.

Now I should feel bad that I don’t really know any of these myths, despite having Finnish relatives, but I’m not fooling anyone if I tell you that my Finnish culture is much more about the baked things that you can stick in your mouth when smeared with butter.

Inexpert

I’m not really a big Rogue-Thingy person player – not anything against the genre, just that I sort of gorged on Procedural Generation a few years ago and I’ve only recently started to try them out again. An additional complexity here is that the thing that tipped me off to play Sproggiwood was a sort of accumulation of friendship data; Sproggiwood is not my game, but some very dear friends of mine all connect to it in some way, either through the followup complexity-a-thon Caves of Qud or through directly experiencing it, or, stunningly, the periodic conversations I’ve had with Brian Bucklew about game design and general good ideas about making things that are nice and cool and enjoyable for people to play.

I’m not an expert in the type of game, but what I am is definitely, heavily invested in my friends, and when so many of them point at Sproggiwood, it seemed like I’d at least want to know what it was like. It could be a bridge between me and my friends, a connecting point of love and culture. Heck – the game itself was bought to me as a gift.

And what a perfect game for that!

I don’t think that I’ve actually seen anything in Sproggiwood that’swhat you’d call innovative? At the same time, though, there’s nothing about it that makes me go well that’s a bit stupid. What’s more the mechanisms of the game are often iterative on a very small number of actual designs, yet every iteration introduces new and complicated ways to engage with the scenario – that sort of lovely mechanistic emergence. These enemies are dealt with with that, and this gear leads to that and if I get all these parts together I can do this, and so on and so forth.

It’s almost like a greatest hits album of Roguelikes, wrapped up in a wonderful package of a smooth, edgeless aesthetic of smiling, enduringly cheerful clogheads. There is almost nothing that Sproggiwood does that’s reall novel or interesting to me as the person facing it, but the play experience is fluid, and frictionless and so beautiful, and that

That is the really interesting thing.

Donald Norman writes, in The Design of Everyday Things, that a designed object, as a thing you interact with, has – amongst many other traits, I’m not gunna write the book out for you – both discoverability and feedback. The first, discoverability, is the idea that any given designed entity should suggest to you things you can do with it, things you can discover as you use it; a good example of this is the shape of a handle the size of your hand, implying you control the object with the whole of your hand. The other, feedback is the idea that when you do things, things should respond so you can know that what you did has some impact, some reaction.

Sproggiwood stands out to me as an element of design, not in its mechanical design, or its code (because I don’t have a clue about its code), but about the interface. Now I’m not saying Sproggiwood will teach a stranger how to play a roguelike, but when I sat down to play it the first time, resting my hands on the keyboard, I had played my way through several levels without ever realising what buttons I’d been pushing. What’s more, though, the interface thrums with responsive elements; when you mouse over things, they react. When you don’t use the mouse and instead tap away on the keyboard, the interface never acted countinintuitively.

It’s sort of hard to explain how this feels? It took me quite a bit of time to even notice that I was doing this: The game is just so effortless to play, even when I’m finding myself scratching my head looking at the problems in the dungeons.

Sproggiwood also lets you build something! It’s just an unlock tree – which things can you play in the game’s dungeons, what bonuses you get with the gold you’ve earned, but instead of showing you unlocked things on a page, it gives you a little griddy city to durdle around in and look at! And it’s all super cute!

This combination of responsiveness, turn-based play, relaxed play experience and all has me wondering about its value as a tablet game. I’m interested to give it a shot, and may update here about it, but it seems the developers have correctly noticed, and they’ve already put it out there.

Verdict

You can get Sproggiwood on Steam and the Humble store for the PC and if you want it for tablets or mobiles, it’s on the Android Store and the Apple store.

Verdict

Get it if:

  • You like Roguelikes and you want a nice one
  • You like cuteness and charming aesthetics
  • You want to examine an interface that manages to keep out of the player’s way

Avoid it if:

  • You’re after something with a lot of teeth
  • You play roguelikes to revel in the very bloody-edge difficulty

* Don’t @ me

 

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