Steam Backlog: Stormworm+

By Shamus
on Jul 10, 2017
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Maybe it’s stretching the definition of “backlog” to include a game I bought two weeks ago, but I have the game and it needs to be played so that’s what we’re doing. Stormworm+ had the magic combo of neon colors and electronic music and low price thanks to the Summer Sale, so buying it was pretty much inevitable. Who knows? Maybe if the Steam storefront wasn’t a vortex of dysfunction and confusion I might have found other games that fit that same description.

This is, at heart, yet another riff on the classic Snake formula. This idea goes all the way back to 1976, which is practically the dawn of videogames. Like Oregon Trail, it’s one of those games that everyone has heard of but most people haven’t playedOr haven’t played in 30 years.. It was probably the central inspiration behind the Tron Cycles concept. In the game, you’re a snake that must constantly move around the board to gobble up food. The more you eat, the longer you get. Eventually the big challenge is just staying out of your own way, since running into your tail leads to a game over. (For some reason.)

In the 1980s it was a popular game for aspiring young BASIC programmers to clone, since you didn’t need sprites or per-pixel graphics access. You could do the whole game by using different text characters to depict the worm’s head, body segments, food, and the walls of the play area. I don’t know if I ever personally made a Snake clone, but I know I played a lot of them.


There are walls everywhere, and the walls are me.

There are walls everywhere, and the walls are me.

Stormworm+ adds an interesting twist to the game by having you play on the surface of a 3D solid like a sphere or rounded cube. This means that the world doesn’t have a bounding wall, so the only obstacle is yourself. You can also hop. Your tail will follow the hop, which means you’re leaving behind an archway you’ll be able to pass through in the future. This makes the game a little easy at first, since you can hop over your own tail if you find yourself in a bad spot. It takes a few minutes before you’re long enough to really cause problems. There are a few alternate game modes, including an action mode where there are spikes scattered around. This is good if you’re in a hurry to get to the part of the game where you have to work to avoid dying.

I have two gripes with Stormworm+, which I think are going to be fairly common among the games I’ll be looking at.

The first problem is that – like a lot of indie games built with Unity – the game defaults to using monitor #1. Not your main monitor mind you, just the one that’s #1 according to Windows. This is really annoying if – like me – your central monitor is actually #2. I don’t know how Windows decides on the numbering, but it’s not something you can change. You could swap monitor cables to fix this, but that only works if both monitors use the same type of plug. In any case, the user shouldn’t need to fuss around with monitor cables to get a videogame to appear on the correct monitor. You can fix this by switching to windowed mode and dragging the game over the the proper monitor, but it would be nice if the game just Did The Right Thing. I’ve seen this mistake on a lot of Unity games, to the point where I wonder if it’s due to some shortcoming in the default settings or documentation that leads so many indies to make the same mistake.

You can play on the surface of different solids. No torus, sadly. Although I guess a torus would create camera placement challenges.

You can play on the surface of different solids. No torus, sadly. Although I guess a torus would create camera placement challenges.

The other problem is more serious, and that’s screen flash. The screen pulses brightly when you nibble some food, and it pulses hard when you die. I play in a dark room, which means my eyes are pretty well dilated. So having constant surges of brightness is really uncomfortable. It’s like a game where one particular sound effect is brutally louder than the others. Except, in the case of unbalanced audio you can at least you can turn in the volume down. I can’t stop my eyes from adjusting to the default brightness. This wouldn’t be a big deal if this was rare, but during normal gameplay the screen is going to pulse every one to three seconds, and after just five minutes I have to quit the game because my eyes hurt.

Screen flash means people with seizure disorder can’t play the game. The same applies to people that suffer from certain kinds of headaches. But even if you don’t fall into those groups, it can still be really uncomfortable in certain conditions. This is a pretty big usability issue, and I wish more games would let you disable screen flash.

So that’s Stormworm+. Fun game. Interesting twist on a classic formula. Great presentation. Energetic soundtrack. But I had to give up on it because it was just too uncomfortable to play.

EDIT: It turns out you can turn off screen flash. It’s labeled “Color Pulse” in the options menu. (It’s actually a slider.) Yay!

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Footnotes:

[1] Or haven’t played in 30 years.


201636 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. 4th Dimension says:

    Like Oregon Trail, it’s one of those games that everyone has heard of but most people haven’t played

    Huh, that surprises me since Snake came with like every Nokia cell phone I ever had.

  2. Ilseroth says:

    I’m a Unity dev, if they keep the launcher it *should* have an option to select display on it and it saves that information so you should only ever have to pick it once. That said, from unity there’s no way to check (that is built into Unity from what I can tell anyways) which monitor is the main one; which is pretty lame.

  3. Dreadjaws says:

    I’m from opposite tastes, I guess. Games with neon colors tend to turn me off. And the brightness issue is precisely the problem. I find them uncomfortable to watch even if there are no lightning flashes. And I tend to play in well-lit rooms rather than darkness.

    There are a few exceptions here and there, like Audiosurf, which has never given me any problems (though I guess that game is not just neon colors, so perhaps the visual variety helps), but for the most part I avoid them.

    • Droid says:

      Maybe it’s the stark contrast that just isn’t your thing? I tend to dislike those types of games as well, but not to the point that I would not play them (Antichamber is a glorious game, if a bit short). It’s just that I prefer softer edges / less contrast (even though strong contour lines seem fine to me). I would rather have the artistic style of The Talos Principle instead of Antichamber, for example.

      • Echo Tango says:

        I, weirdly, am somebody who likes the neon / high-contrast for games and my command-line / prompt, but who hates high-contrast for working on code. Both activities involve me staring at a monitor for extended periods of time. I guess the difference is that in games I like things easy to differentiate visually for fast reflexes, and when working on code I need subtler color changes to alleviate eye-strain?

  4. Poster Boy says:

    One flash every 3 seconds isn’t really gonna trigger a seizure. It takes rhythmic flashes multiple times per second in order to trigger people with photosensitive epilepsy, 5Hz is pretty much the minimum while 8-15Hz is the most common range.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      While it may not trigger a seizure,it can still trigger a migraine.

      • Tizzy says:

        In general, awareness of what may cause problems to users is good, and the mark of a dev that wants to be taken seriously.

        It adds a tremendous amount of work, but there are resources out there if you want to find out about, e.g., color blindness or flash sensitivity.

        The important take away here is that flashes are problematic beyond epilepsy sufferers. Awareness is key.

  5. Syal says:

    A snake is blocking your snake’s path. You may:

    1. Attempt to ford the snake.
    2. Caulk the snake and jump it across
    3. Hire a snake ferry
    4. Wait to see if you move.

    • Dev Null says:

      Yeah, the text adventure version of Snake never really did it for me…

      • Matt Downie says:

        You are heading north, carried forwards with an unstoppable momentum. You see a green scaly tail blocking your path.

        > JUMP OVER TAIL

        You can’t. You don’t have any legs.

        > INVENTORY

        You are carrying:
        Sharp teeth.

        > EXAMINE SELF

        You are a snake.

        >SOUTH

        You can’t go south.

        > WEST

        The tail continues to block your path. You are almost upon it.

        > BITE TAIL

        You feel a sharp pain, and quickly die from your own poison.

        Game Over

        Score: 0

  6. Aanok says:

    Is there any specific reason you keep the room dark when you’re at the computer? It’s very straining on the eyes and I personally find it quite uncomfortable unless I turn the monitor backlight way down.

    • Echo Tango says:

      My monitor controls are fiddly and don’t have real buttons or knobs, just flat touch-based buttons on the monitor which are impossible to differentiate by feel. So I leave my monitor at standard brightness at all times, and use a soft purple light[1] in my room instead of true lights-off darkness, to reduce the strain on my eyes.

      [1] Huzzah for smart-lights![2]

      [2] Boo for society not having a better name for these things!

  7. Fade2Gray says:

    Ouch! It sounds like that game could lay me up with a bad migraine if I played in the dark. Honestly, that’s why I try to avoid gaming in dark rooms. I try to keep the room dimmed to about the same level as my monitor (TVs usually don’t seem to be as much of an issue. Might have something to do with the distance and how much of my vision is filled with the screen.). Even too much light (especially sunlight) can create an opposite contrast issue that can be nearly as bad for my eyes as too dark a room. Migraines are good times…

  8. Amarsir says:

    I know for certain I’ve reordered my monitors. Might have been nVidia’s panel?

  9. Radiosity says:

    Can’t change the monitors? Um, you can actually. Right click desktop, screen resolution, then just drag the monitor icons into the positions you want them.

    • Rick C says:

      You can move the monitors around to change the geometry of the desktop, but you can’t renumber them. The default layout for a two-monitor setup is (1) to the left and (2) to the right. If you drag (2) to the left of (1), now (2) may be the main display, but it’s still (2), which means the game will now open on the right-hand monitor.

    • Richard says:

      That doesn’t change their numbering.

      In that dialog, click “Identify”.

      The numbers that appear* are the monitor numbers.
      A lot of Unity applications only appear on #1, a lot of others will only ever appear on the “Primary”.

      The Primary can be changed quite easily – but affects where the Taskbar appears by default (when set to Primary-only instead of all-screens).

      Changing the numbering requires Registry shenanigans, and may get reset if you ever start up with a missing monitor.

      * They can also be letters, if you perform some shenanigans.

  10. AReasonWhy says:

    I hate it when games do bright white flashing. Flashbangs, flash as some sort of signifier like in this game, white flashes for scene transitions or cinematic shit. Every, single time I see it it hurts and annoys the livid shit out of me. If you want to yank me out of a game and ruin muh immersion do overbearing white flashing. Flashbangs only have to blind my avatar in the game, not me as well in the process.

  11. Traagen says:

    Grammar check:

    Except, in the case of unbalanced audio you can at least you can turn in the volume down.

  12. Misamoto says:

    Yeah, the claim about 30 years is really strange :) Snake clones are everywhere, especially on old-school mobile phones.

  13. Malimar says:

    I used to play Snake on my TI-86 calculator all the time.

  14. Andrzej Sugier says:

    Shamus, can’t you just drag the screen icon in the appropriate windows menu to make your center screen #1? I don’t know if it’s the functionality you had in mind, but you can definately mix and match you phisical and virtual displays in windows.

  15. default_ex says:

    Honestly would be surprised if you haven’t coded a crappy snake game at some point. Most programmers I know, myself included the first games tend to be: Pong, Snake, Chess, Blackjack, Final time I try to make an RPG and ultimately don’t finish because it’s nightmarishly over complicated.

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