Do you know the kind of game that could be so much more but just doesn’t work for some reason? Flinthook is one of those games. It got a pretty substantial period of hype when it came out. That hype died out very quickly though. The reason for that is that it’s just not very good.
I got suckered in by the great presentation of Flinthook. The art and sound is legitimately great. And it looks like a lot of fun. So watching people play it on Youtube I felt compelled to try it out myself. And I had fun with it for a short while. It is considered part of the course for rogue-lites to have a bit of a rough start so it’s natural for players to be forgiving to a new game. Unfortunately though, Flinthook never really got any better.
On a side note I’d like to point out that it sucks to see Let’s players trying to be “nice” when it is blatantly obvious they don’t enjoy their experience. I know we all like small indie studios. As a hobbyist developer I can very much relate to the hard work put into a game. But at the end of the day the next game can only be better if we are willing to criticise.
While I’m sincerely disappointed with Flinthook, that isn’t the reason for this post. I also bought it as a piece to study. Seeing how I’m developing a game in a similar genre (because the world sure needs more rogue-lites right now) I wanted to see what I could learn from it. I don’t think Flinthook is particularly well designed. Unless I’m missing some genius underlying design that just didn’t shine through it seems that Flinthook gets even some of the most basic things wrong. It is rare to see a game with great presentation to be let down by its gamedesign. I find that interesting.
This is the big obvious one. Flinthook can be controlled with mouse and keyboard or a controller. As of the latest patch an additional controller configuration is available. All those control schemes have their own issues though.
Keyboard and Mouse
K&M has an inherit problem with analogue movement, so platforming becomes a bit of a challenge. Additionally the mouse pointer to shoot is locked to a circle around the character instead of allowing for free aiming across the screen. Still this is probably the best control scheme available. If I were to change it, I would unlock the mouse cursor and drastically reduce, if not outright remove, the auto-aim. There isn’t much that can be done about awkward platforming on a keyboard and it’s unfortunate to fail at a section that you know you would be able to do easily on a controller, but it is something people can get used to.
The default controller setup on the other hand is a complete failure. Movement and shooting is bound to the same analogue stick, combining what was strictly separated in the K&M controls. It is possible to aim without moving by holding down a button, but that just doesn’t make up for the lack of control. It feels incredibly restricted.
That being said it is commendable that the developers listened to feedback and added an alternative control scheme. Shooting is now done with the right stick making it feel much better. Jumping has been moved to the right bumper though. On the surface that makes a lot of sense, since using the face buttons would require the player to get their fingers of the sticks. But the hook is mapped to the right trigger making jumping and hooking awkward. I think it’s generally a bad idea to have very similar actions next to each other on the controller. To fix this I would map the jump to when the left analog stick is pressed up.
I get that I’m no really explaining my issues properly and some people will be perfectly fine with the controls. I know however that I don’t even think about the controls in the vast majority of games that I play. Not being satisfied with any of the control schemes in Flinthook seems to indicate a deeper issue.
This is admittedly speculation on my part, but I don’t think the controls have been considered early in development. I believe Flinthooks moveset was designed in a vacuum. The question was “What can the player do?” and not “What can the player do and how can they do it?”. This attitude also shows itself in the level design. Everything might be possible by utilising the entire moveset, but the controls make some combinations of actions so hard to do that the result are the frustrating mess of what I would call the “fuck you rooms”. If you played Flinthook you probably have an idea of what I mean.
Ideally the controls would have been configured from the start. The only time this isn’t possible is when porting a game to another system. Even then the very least should be rebindable controls. I donÄt get why rebindable controls aren’t done for controllers in particular. It is very simple to do. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
What should have been different
These issues are also why I don’t think Flinthook can really be fixed now. Even the changes I proposed wouldn’t make the game feel great. To do that a redesign of the moveset would be necessary. Obviously this would have to come with a huge redesign of the rooms and therefore isn’t meant as practical advice.
One thing to change would be to drop the slowdown mechanic completely. It is quite superficial to begin with and dropping it would give everything else more room to shine, as well as remove pressure from the controls to fit every move in. Another, and in my opinion better, way would be to drop the jumping instead. Hooking is perfectly fine mechanic for moving around and it could easily carry the entire game. I don’t see a clear reason while jumping needed to be in the game as well. This also wouldn’t really make the game much easier, but it would provide some much needed focus.
Anyway this post turned out longer then anticipated. There are still many other things I want to talk about in Flinthook so I guess expect a second part very soon.
Please feel free to give feedback either by posting a comment or by mail at firstname.lastname@example.org