A retro weird detective game in the style of the 8-bit Ultima games.
What Is It?
Anteform is a weird detective RPG in the style of the older Ultima games as played on the Commodore 8-bit computers (although its plot will probably feel a bit more like the Worlds of Ultima series). Just like the original Ultima games, it includes a world view, enterable towns, and 3D dungeon displays. It also features graphics, sound effects, and music that should help one recollect those classics. More importantly, it is a fully playable (although not yet winnable) game with its own backstory, plot, setting, and characters.
It was written using the Minima Engine for PICO-8, and can be played online on the Anteform at Lexaloffle page and available for download for Linux, macOS, MS-Windows, and Raspberry Pi through the Anteform Itch.io page.
Screenshot of the valley view in Anteform. There's a sign to the north, a coyote coming down from the northwest, a helicopter pad to the southeast, and plains to the south and hills all around.
Screenshot of the cave view in one of Anteform's mines. The player is trying to retreat from a rat of unusual size (shown directly ahead), but has bumped into a wall. Uh-oh!
Screenshot of the settlement view in one of Anteform's villages. A fountain, merchant, bartender, customer, and cop are all present.
What Is It About?
Figuring this out is part of the game. You're a detective who's been called to Anteform Valley to try and locate the missing Steve Johanson. His girlfriend Sally Franklin and a few of the other townies pooled their resources to hire you, and they convinced the supply helicopter to drop you off. "Supply helicopter" you ask? Yes, Anteform Valley is a good distance in the mountains and largely cut off from the world. You won't have any backup, and you'll quickly discover that this isn't a simple missing persons case.
It's up to you to figure out not just what happened to Steve, but what's going on in the valley overall. It's up to you to stop it.
It's recommended that you try to get to the main village first. There you'll find both Sally and the mayor. You start off without any weapons or armor, and this is a very precarious situation to be in. You'll want to rectify it as quickly as possible. If you've not done so yet, you should peruse the manual and get some tips about surviving in Anteform Valley as well as basic information about game controls. If you are too impatient to skim through the manual, the basic game controls are accessible from within the pause menu of the game itself. Pressing the p key (or the enter key on some platforms) should bring up this menu.
Relationship to Minima
This was written using the Minima Engine and was deliberately made to use similar controls whenever possible. If you are comfortable with one game you'll be comfortable with the other, too. They aren't set in the same place, though, and while Minima is a large-scale fantasy game with towns and castles set across a world, Anteform is a weird detective game of more intimate scale with squares and buildings set across a valley. Anteform has no magic, but definitely has sci-fi / horror elements that you'll discover on your own as you progress through the story. It has no spells, but has some special actions that provide similar (albeit weaker) effects. It has a bit less fighting than Minima, but more talking, breaking & entering, and searching.
Anteform will run everywhere that PICO-8 runs. By design it does not require the latest & greatest version of PICO-8, so it'll even run on PocketC.H.I.P.
The constraints of building something within the PICO-8 environment make a project like this fairly tough. This game pretty much maxes out PICO-8 capacity; there's not a lot of space left and I'd likely have to trim out some already-present features to shoehorn in anything else. All the PICO-8 graphic space (both for sprites and maps) are fully used. All the sound effects slots are used. The final version here is a careful balance between maxing out the token count and the compressed size. The raw size is already too large to fit without minimization, too, and even with that many manual tweaks are required making the code quite ugly in places.
Normally PICO-8 applications are written in a special dialect of Lua and are immediately interpreted within the PICO-8 environment without any special build steps. Anteform is a little larger and more complicated than most PICO-8 applications, and it is too large to run directly without a special minimization step. The picotool utility does most of what's needed, but at the moment unless this special branch of picotool is run with the luamin2 argument, it'll break Anteform.
Anteform is mostly data-driven using the "Minima Engine". It uses a JSON data structure to define the people, creatures, and objects, and another JSON data structure to define all the maps and dungeons. Command sequencing uses coroutines in order to avoid overly-complicated state machines.
This version makes use of a stripped-down version of Tyler Neylon's json.lua routine to parse JSON data. The additional Lua utility script convert.lua is used to make it easier to lay out a dungeon map and turn it into something the game can use.