Mutant Aliens!: We gotta get out of this place

If you’re wondering why I’m letting this stream of games continue unabated, it’s mostly because it’s the holiday season, and I don’t think anyone will be offended if I punctuate the last few weeks of the year with a lot of text-based games.

If you’re wondering why I am including more roguelikes in this parade, it’s mostly because for every one I post, there are about three or four that I discard as nothing particularly innovative.

Maybe that’s inflammatory, but from where I sit, the roguelike reached its evolutionary peak a long time ago, in the Angband/ADOM duumvirate. From there, the strain was purified in the almighty Crawl, reached a fever pitch with Cataclysm, and even made the seemingly impossible leaps to MMORPG with TomeNET and online deathmatch play with yuxtapa.

This, to me, says the only real innovations worth “reporting” (and by that I only mean “including in this list”), are either (a) noteworthy changes or refinements to the rather moldy interface, like TROG, or (b), thematic changes that represent a new and previously unnoticed variation that is worth exploring, like PRIME.

In any case, if I mention one here, it’s because I think it has some facet that might pique your interest. It may only be a new scenario or the addition of an improvement to the screen layout, but my hope is that it is somehow new.

All that said, I’ll show Mutant Aliens!, mostly because it’s thematic sidestep from the zombie genre or the strict sci-fi theme, and presents a situation vaguely like cryptrover, where survival and escape are the goals.

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Your ship has mistakenly landed on an unexplored planet, and your mission is to locate the hidden radio transmitter that has confused your navigation system and caused your predicament. Destroy it and return to your ship to (hopefully) escape the planet and complete the game.

Of course, little alien beasties may make that difficult.๐Ÿ˜‰

Mutant Aliens! picks up a few roguelike tropes, using the atpersand to represent you, changing its color to indicate general health, adopting HJKLYUBN as movement keys and time-honored conventions like HP for hit points.

It also adopts a few of the improvements I mentioned when I talked through TROG, including a revised status display (to include monster types and speeds), a portion of the screen dedicated to logs and narrative, onboard help, and line-of-sight mechanics indicated with bolded characters.

Mutant Aliens! goes a step further though, and completely omits inventory screens๐Ÿ˜ฏ preferring to standardize all your equipment and list it as part of the status panel on the right. It also has difficulty levels, for beginning players and experts. It even goes so far as to offer one-line game hints — much like tooltips or the status bar tips you might see in some file managers — so you don’t miss out on a small feature.

If you’re wondering how all this fits into 80×24, try it and see. It’s no small feat, but Mutant Aliens! manages to make it all work in spite of those dimensions.

Supposedly Mutant Aliens! is not a long game — I see some sites that suggest it can be won in as little as 10 minutes, but I don’t know how they managed that. Most of my under-10-minute games came to a close with me being eaten by a wangdoodle.

It does have a few rough edges. Occasionally there are leftover text artifacts, particularly in the “tooltip” area, where one message might not perfectly erase its predecessor. And the “logging” stream at the top does not split lines by message, but instead concatenates them into a rather cluttered display. The help screens will obscure your map until you close them and return to the action. The inventory and status panel can be a little confusing, until you’re used to it. Little things like that.

Mutant Aliens! built in Arch in just a few seconds from the git repo, and I had no issues with dependencies or compiler errors. I should expect the same in other distros.

I can see that there hasn’t been much update to Mutant Aliens! in the past couple of years, but you might just take that as a sign that it arrived at its intended point. Which would be somehow ironic, since the game is about arriving at an unintended point. …๐Ÿ™„๐Ÿ™‚