Mutual Assurance Society: Fail-Deadly

By Adam Smith on February 3rd, 2012 at 4:11 pm.

Fail once, fail again, fail deadly

More free gaming to set you up for the weekend. Even if you enjoyed the Pacman stylings of the earlier duo, that’s not to say you won’t also enjoy the Advance Wars meets Defcon horrors of Fail-Deadly. It is, at its core, one of the most horrible games I’ve ever played. It’s also remarkably entertaining. Two forces are at war and you are a terrible person at the head of a terrible organisation who wants nothing more than a stalemate between them. Your goal isn’t to bring about a state of everlasting war though; you really are a nasty piece of work and what you want is a conflict so evenly matched and soul-sapping that the participants turn to the last resort. Nuclear destruction. Free to download.

Fail-Deadly has grown out of a Ludum Dare entry that was the first pick in the competition back in August 2010. Based on the theme enemies as weapons, its creator Josh Sutphin picked up the idea of using two armies against each other, two cultures even, and ran with it. Then he took it into the middle of no man’s land, planted it among the ruined, charred corpses of the combatants set against each other, clambered atop the hollowed hulk of a tank, its innards fused together into a mass of the organic and inorganic. There, he fell to his knees and let out an almighty roar of triumph.

Probably. He may actually have put in the hours to rework the visuals and tweak the design in order to make the game more satisfying. Either way, the final result is brilliantly compelling.

This is how it starts. This is how it always starts.

Every game starts with two missile silos, one at either side of the screen. You want them to unleash their sickening payload, there’s no question about that, but you can’t simply break in and punch in a launch code because you are a cursor hovering above the soon-to-be killing grounds below.

In the bottom left of the screen, a little box fills with a building or powerup. The buildings either produce units or act as defensive turrets while the powerups boost speed of production, weapon damage or armour value for an entire army. To decide who receives the building or unit, you place them on the left or right sides of the screen. Place it on the right, it belongs to that army, place it on the left and it belongs to their sworn enemy. Units roll off the production line and trundle to the opposite side of the screen in a bid to destroy the opponent’s silo.

'orrid oranges

But, remember, you want stalemate. So the next building should sit on the other side. That way, a huge battle will break out in the middle of the screen, corpses littering that central wasteland and leaving the silos untouched. But then unbalance occurs. Tanks begin to pop infantry soldiers far too easily and the carnage tips toward the right hand side of the screen, so you drop the next research powerup, the most dangerous of all which boosts production speed, deep to the right. Suddenly there are twenty soldiers charging the left-hand silo.

Let’s say two helipads arrive next. They have to go to the left to stave off the flood of soldiers. Stalemate resumes, napalm falls, smells like victory – or the victorious lack thereof. But no. You can’t stop placing the factories and powerups that arrive because that also leads to ‘game over’ so suddenly you find yourself powering up the army to the right so much that it is a numerically inferior but technologically superior blitzkrieging horrornaut.

Goddamn greens

The scales eventually tip too far and as soon as buildings are constructed, they are destroyed by the oncoming hordes. One army is suppressed, their weapons of mass destruction dismantled. The silence of peace is deafening in your malicious ears. Yes, even your ears are malicious, you despicable death-dealer.

I haven’t even talked about the sweet relief that washes over me when an airstrike drops into the box, allowing me to cull both armies as they fight over those inches of land, their purpose and ideological conviction vanishing in a puff of smoke.

It’s like having weights thrown at your face as you attempt to catch them and place them on a pair of scales, which are balanced over two buttons linked to the electricity supply that provides juice for the chair that you’re inexplicably strapped into. It’s also, as others have mentioned, a little like Tetris. A little.

Beautiful equilibrium

I’ve ‘won’ a couple of times. It’s a despicable feeling. I’m going to try again right now. So should you.

Spotted at Edge.

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46 Comments »

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  1. JackShandy says:

    Orwell well well! Looks absolutely amazing.

  2. Brumisator says:

    Oh yeah! Now that’s the stuff!
    Too bad there is only one “level” to play, but it’s a great concept!

  3. rawtheory says:

    I want MORE games like this. THIS is how the world works if you do the research and pay attention. There are no good guys and bad guys. There’s always a puppet master when it comes to War.

    • The Tupper says:

      Attention all Black Ops: Rawtheory knows too much. A red file has been opened.

  4. Belsameth says:

    Fun concept! I wouldn’t mind paying for a slightly more fleshed out version :)

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    Gap Gen says:

    This basically describes all of foreign policy.

  6. Tom OBedlam says:

    Nice concept, though its a shame its a bit easy.

    Total teenage satire magnet this

    • Brumisator says:

      To get a high score, you can keep playing for as long as you dare, and not press the nuke button immediately.

    • BioSnark says:

      Went for 22:44 mins until it got too laggy with under 1 frame per sec so I nuked it. Final score was 777430. The game gets really stable and unchallenged later on.

      Music, style and concept are all very nice. Concept reminded me of that jihadi bombing game from some time ago where new jihadies spawn when you inevitably killed civilians.

  7. lordcooper says:

    Absolutely loved it :)

  8. bladedsmoke says:

    Genuinely fun little game, this!

  9. caddyB says:

    So very good.

  10. Maldomel says:

    Love it. Specially when I get far enough into a game so a single upgrade or building changes everything.

  11. Joshua Northey says:

    40780 and a win on my second try. Now I have to get back to work! Great little game, could use some scenarios or whatever.

    • spell says:

      138600 on the third try, lost the first one cause I got to greedy and on the second one I launched the nukes way to early.

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    Faldrath says:

    Very enjoyable, which is kinda disturbing. I lost my first attempt with 5 seconds to go, and caught myself thinking “how dare they do that to me… oh wait.”

  13. Baines says:

    Like others say, it needs more. Save the high score perhaps.

    More levels would be good, but the question is how to implement them. It doesn’t really need an easier start, and requiring more “Threat” doesn’t work.

    Adding more base types might work, if the new units make it harder to keep forces balanced. (Like rockets/artillery that fires slowly but strongly.)

    You could do some levels with sub-sets of bases, like only tanks and choppers, no infantry can appear. Not having the pillbox available would make things a little more difficult, considering it is a purely defensive structure.

    You could try adding some terrain features to the map, just minor stuff that would slightly alter paths.

    You can’t just start with imbalanced sides though. If anything, that might make the game easier, as the player would know to toss the first few upgrades on the weaker side.

  14. invicticide says:

    Hi all! Man, I never expected my little hobby project would end up on RPS… and with everyone apparently enjoying it, no less! I may or may not be slightly giddy right now. :)

    This is an ongoing project for me, so there are definitely improvements and additions in its future: leaderboards for sure, and I’m experimenting with some variations on units, level layouts, and game modes that are starting to look promising. If you’re interested you can follow my progress at third-helix.com, and I’m always open to suggestions and feedback (even when it’s negative).

    Thanks for all the kind words!

    -Josh

    • syndrome says:

      Many kudos to you!
      Awesome concept, neatly executed.
      You deserve to be on RPS.

      Fail-Deadly is adorned with a funny descriptor in my little kong-friendly game list:
      “single-click third-party RTS”

      That’s kinda fresh. And deep.

  15. Tiax says:

    389’390 on my fourth attempt, I like this game !

    And yeah, artillery as a fourth unit would be sweet.

  16. Sassenach says:

    I was thinking about something like this as a means to balance multiplayer RTS. Back when I didn’t play multiplayer RTS I thought it was horrible how easily one side could get steamrollered, and if you added in a third party with limited power it would add another dimension without compromising too much of the original game. Problems would include avoiding rendering the actions of either of the basic players irrelevant and ensuring that the moderator player is encouraged to attempt balance.

    While it was a bit silly to think of it in terms of a balancing mechanic I still think something like this superimposed over a traditional RTS might be interesting. An example scenario is having two (or more) factions warring and having one (or more) moderator players as arms suppliers trying to keep the war going while making a profit from weapons sales. The essential conflict here is that sales would increase the volatility of the conflict making it harder to control whereas conservative play whereby distribution is kept to a minimum causes stagnation.

    So essentially the same as this except with individually controlled factions and an emphasis on controlling tempo rather then managing balance. I think it would be an interesting exploration of just how much could be achieved by different varieties of indirect interaction. Information management would be another aspect to consider, or modifying the terrain. Ultimately a free for all restructured to encourage action rather then waiting for the other two to kill each other and winning.

    • Baines says:

      At a guess, once you had human players controlling the separate factions, they would work on gaming the system, figuring out how to trick the moderators into giving them additional aid, and then launching an onverwhelming attack before the mods could rebalance the game.

      Look at Modern Warfare 3, where people are intentionally slowing their network connections so that the game’s lag compensation system will give them an advantage in matches.

  17. Strife212 says:

    This is good fun!

    I’m at 500,000 now, but I’m also at the point where my Core i7, 6GB DDR3 PC is running the game at 5fps. Not sure how much further I can go before it crashes!

    Edit: 600,000, but it’s getting reaaaaly slow ;_;

    • Brun says:

      Freaky. Your system specs are nearly identical to mine.

    • Strife212 says:

      You clearly have wise component choice.

    • Tiax says:

      I reached > a million points with an i5 (in fullscreen, 1600×1200) without any slow-down, so I guess there might be something at play on your computer.

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    beekay says:

    150,000 first try… because the window wasn’t large enough to display the Launch Button at the top of the screen. Oops.

    It was getting pretty hectic there.

  19. deedubya says:

    High scores anyone? I hit 1,222,810 before it was too slow to play anymore/got bored.

  20. Tei says:

    HOW IS THIS A RPG AT ALL? THERE OBNLY ONE BUTTON!

    Also, my score on the first game was 18430. My plan to place tanks+infantry in one side, copters+pitbox in the other seems to have worked well.

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    corinoco says:

    Great little game; this would be superb on an iPad

    Hint, hint

  22. cptgone says:

    brilliant game concept.
    this may be the new Tower Defense.

    i’d love to play on larger maps, with chokepoints, cities, resources like oil fields…

  23. Qwibbles says:

    It was very nice seeing how placing one building or giving one side a bonus can shift the tides of war. I remember the orange team was getting hammered by the green team, so I gave them an extra tank factory. The green team was still holding strong so I gave the orange team a defence bonus. The war looked pretty even, I got up to the stage in which I pressed the launch button and with about 20 seconds left on the clock the orange team really started to reap the rewards I gave them earlier.

    As the clock ticked down to nuclear launch the green team was struggling to hold back the orange onslaught. With 2 seconds left until launch the orange team was able to destroy greens silo and essentially end the war.

    I really hope we can get more maps and new features. Like maybe a 3 pronged war, or hell have different countries and you have to manage the alliances by securing ties or forcing once faction to betray another.

  24. LionsPhil says:

    A wall of squishy meat pouring out against the merciless steel of tanks made for quite an amusing stalemate.

    Although you should have seen my face when I hit “launch” at the last moment only for it to turn into a thirty second countdown.

    • invicticide says:

      And suddenly I’m tempted to add webcam support. :P

    • El_Emmental says:

      oh, the same happened to me, I was almost controlling the situation, then for some reasons my green tanks ran into copters and the situation suddenly became clearly in favour of the orange, so I clicked on “FIRE ZE MIZZILES”, to realize I had to hold off for a full 30 seconds time (” ?! what the =O ?! “).

      I added all the buildings and upgrade I could to the green side, but it was too late : they went through each buildings, blowing them to pieces… lost with 5 seconds remaining :P

  25. Torgen says:

    Why does the game attempt to connect to 204.232.137.207 when starting? Leaderboard?

    • invicticide says:

      @Torgen I’m not creating any network connections. If you’re running the web player version then it could potentially be the Unity web player checking the plugin version (I don’t actually know if this occurs or not, it’s just a guess).

      FWIW a quick Google search on that IP address returns a whole wide range of seemingly-unrelated things. The one constant seems to be that that IP falls within a range owned by Rackspace Hosting… which is not altogether useful.