Wot I Think: Driftmoon

By John Walker on March 15th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

“The game John is meant to review,” said the email attached to Driftmoon review code. Well, I’m not one to argue, so in I went. An RPG from a two-person team – Instant Kingdom – made over seven years, is an intriguing prospect. Having been intrigued enough to finish it, here’s wot I think:

A short RPG is, I’ve realised, a far too rare thing. And indeed a relative term. With the average game in that very non-average genre clocking in around 30 hours (and indeed a few reaching up to 200 hours) the personal investment is enormous. And that’s often a fantastic thing, but what about something similar that clocks in at around 15 hours? Well, have a Driftmoon.

Described as being an “adventure-roleplaying game”, it certainly falls more into the latter genre, what with roleplaying already being imbued with the best aspects of adventuring anyway. You play as a young man (sadly there’s no way to play a woman), who is mysteriously shoved down a well by his mother. On finally escaping, he discovers that everyone in his village, his family included, has been turned to stone. Except for his father, who is missing.

This begins a journey to find your father, uncover the mysteries of a missing gem with which he had been experimenting, and stop the actions of the evil wizard King Ixal. Which naturally involves befriending wily skellingtons, vain panthers, and an infectiously enthusiastic fireflie, Fizz.

Driftmoon is unquestionably crude in appearance. A top-down RPG, rendered in clunky polygons, with reams of text dialogue and clumsy combat. But none of that matters one bit, as it happens. The presentation is perfect for the nature of the game, the text is invariably well written and worth reading, and the clumsiness of the combat genuinely becomes one of its charms. And it’s combat you can mostly opt out of if you choose, either by talking your way out of some fights, or indeed just switching the game to “Adventure” mode and having that aspect skipped over.

There are other settings, letting you crank it up to a combat-focused challenge, or settle somewhere between them. I picked what felt like an ideal combination of the two aspects, letting me enjoy adding fighting skills to my repertoire, both for melee and bow. It’s always mucky, but with an option to pause and glug potions, and means to pre-load a set of attacks, there’s enough going on with it to ascend it beyond just a distraction between the chats and puzzles.

And there’s another lovely aspect – proper puzzles. Yes, at one point this does include a giant floor-based sliding tile puzzle, and yes, the International Adventure Convention Of 1992 does explicitly state that this should mean the game should be burned in a fire, but they keep this momentary blip short, simple, and somewhat excused by its being rendered using the game’s dragging physics. (Throughout you can slide barrels, chests, petrified human statues, etc, around the scenery, to reveal hidden bonuses beneath, or solve object-based puzzles.) It’s a proper pleasure to be faced by the occasional brain teasers in a genre that too often shies away from them.

But best of all in this charmingly home-made-feeling RPG are the companions and other characters. Fizz the firefly’s unwavering chirpiness may bug some of the other characters in the game, but it made me grin every time. Queen Velvet The Third, an arrogant panther, is a pleasure to tease. There’s a polylinguistic crab called Blotch, a sly fencing walking set of bones called Quan Sixfingers, ghosts, mysterious librarians, and a bunch of other surprisingly rounded people to meet or have come along with you.

This is the work of just two people, taking them seven years to put together. And while it’s never not on the clunky side, it’s so overwhelmingly charming, and so packed with fun silliness, that it’s impossible to care.

It goes too far on occasions – a tiresome sequence recreates the entirety of Holy Grail’s black knight sketch, and there are completely needless allusions to Monkey Island and the like, all of which are hackneyed and distracting. And I admit that there were a few conversations I skim read, as they were perhaps a little too far on the side of lengthy superfluity. But these were blips.

I’m really impressed with Driftmoon. Not just because it’s such an impressive indie project, but because it was a memorable RPG in its own right. A fun, light-hearted game, with a more serious story running beneath it. And once it’s over, there’s still more to do. The game comes with its own modding kit, letting you create further adventures to share with others, all immediately accessible via the game’s launch screen. Some are extremely silly, like converting all the game’s spiders into cardboard boxes (one for our arachnophobe friends there, eh Richard Cobbett?) or adding tails to all the characters. But there are also “total conversion” mods too, new stories to play. One click to install them, a second to play them. Absolutely perfectly implemented.

The game’s available via GamersGate (£11.95), Indievania ($14.99/£9.90), GOG ($14.99) or Desura (£10.99), and you can give it a deserved vote in the awful Greenlight. Or you can buy it directly from developers Instant Kingdom, for €15 (£12.93).

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81 Comments »

  1. Felixader says:

    I saw this on GOG and a lot of recommendations for it.
    Still wasn’t to sure so this here helped.
    I think i will get it.

    • Anne says:

      And you know Felixader, you can always try the demo first, and see whether Driftmoon might be your cup of tea. ;)

      Oh, almost forgot the introductions: Hi everyone! I’m Anne, one of the two developers. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. :)

      • Ragnar says:

        A demo, you say? How pleasantly “old-school” of you. Sold!

      • Felixader says:

        There is a demo for this. Where do i find it? Perhabs i am missing something but i can’t seem to find it on GOG?

        • Anne says:

          You can download the demo from our website: http://www.instantkingdom.com
          Have fun playing! :)

          • Ignorant Texan says:

            Downloaded the demo, going to install. I like how 15% will be donated to the Red Cross. Is that from all sales, or just from sales on y’alls’ site?

          • Anne says:

            Yes, we donate 15% of all our direct sales to the Red Cross, and so far we’ve sold more games directly, than through any of the distributors. Through the distributors (and after taxes), our own cut is so much slimmer that we unfortunately can’t do the same for those.

            Since Driftmoon’s meant to be a “feel good” game in any case, it feels nice to also do some concrete good through it. ;)

          • Intrinsic says:

            I’m glad you mentioned that if i buy direct from you you’d get a bigger cut of the money, i know if you’d gone with Steam you’re not allowed to mention that. I always like to put as much money in the hands of the people who actually made it. Will try the demo :)

          • Anne says:

            Intrinsic: We’re not at Steam yet, so I’m free to say this on behalf of the developers at Steam: I’m almost 100% sure that the developers themselves will get a much bigger share if you buy from them directly. But still, distributors are definitely a good thing for any game, and there’s nothing wrong with buying through them either. The choice is yours, and whatever you decide, we’re happy about all our players. :)

          • Professor Snake says:

            @Anne: It’s on the Steam Greenlight agreement. The developers receive 25% of the game’s steam sales (as opposed to 70% on Desura, which is one of the many reasons of why i think Desura is a much superior platform to steam). Unsure about GMG or GOG, but i can confirm that purchasing directly from the developers is always the best option since they more or less earn 100% of the money minus minor transactional fees (if any). Especially since any developer can freely generate and distribute Desura or Steam keys to their direct buyers.

      • Wut The Melon says:

        I’ll try the demo and already voted on Greenlight. I’d like to buy the game directly, but unfortunately I don’t have a creditcard so I’ll have to figure something out – I don’t think you’d support iDeal.

        Great to hear that there are still games made like this, two people and 7 years. Impressive!

      • Jason-Milardo says:

        my co-worker’s mother-in-law makes $63 every hour on the internet. She has been out of a job for 8 months but last month her pay was $12679 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more here… http://www.miniurl.com/sa/earn-cash

  2. JFS says:

    I loved the game. It could have been a little longer, but it was one of the few games I got really hooked on and hurried to finish, so that might bias my judgement.

    It’s got its raw edges, of course, but it’s just so lovingly done and interesting that I was easily able to overlook them. This holds even more true when you consider it was made by two people.

    It was definitely more than worth the 9 Euro I paid for it. To me, it evoked a sort of “Silver” vibe, even though combat is different here and not that prominent. They’re not mechanically similar, but I feel their atmosphere compares well.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks JFS, awesome to hear you enjoyed Driftmoon! :)

    • Vorphalack says:

      Silver was so good. That’s all the recommendation I need for this one, think i’ll get it next month.

  3. Blackseraph says:

    It was great.

    I have bought two games this year, this and Tomb Raider. Driftmoon was in my opinion much more fun.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks Blackseraph! Our goal number one has been to make Driftmoon a game that’ll leave its players smiling, so we’re happy to hear it’s given you a fun time. :)

      • Blackseraph says:

        I actually have a question for you.

        Does ring of megalomania actually do something? You know does your conversations change and such if you wear it? Would be awesome.

        I never dared to actually try it.

        Ja kiva että tälläisiä pelejä tehdään Suomessa!

        • Anne says:

          It does do something interesting to you, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you. Go ahead and try, I promise it won’t kill you! ;)

          Ja: Kiitos! :)

      • Sheng-ji says:

        I’m about an hour in, bought it – must have been a week ago (yes, toddler as well) – and it is wonderful!

  4. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Downloading demo on Desura now :)

  5. Triplanetary says:

    a tiresome sequence recreates the entirety of Holy Grail’s black knight sketch

    What is it about British comedy that makes people think that reenacting it verbatim constitutes an acceptable level of effort put into a joke? Maybe it’s not just British humor, actually, since Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s On First?” sketch gets this treatment a lot, too. Actually reenacting those kinds of sketches is fun for the participants, just not so much for the audience, which I guess answers my own question.

    • Ville Mönkkönen says:

      It’s there to explain the non-too obvious lack of horses in Driftmoon. :)

    • Baines says:

      To be fair, in the case of “Who’s on First?”, I doubt most people have actually heard the Abbot and Costello version. They probably hear it through people copying it.

  6. TillEulenspiegel says:

    what with roleplaying already being imbued with the best aspects of adventuring anyway.

    Arguably yes, if you look at the entire history of roleplaying. But how many recent RPGs have had interesting, significant items that weren’t just for helping you to kill things or part of a fetch quest? I’m not talking about absurd item combination puzzles, but just being able to use a thing in a somewhat clever way, about how (nearly) everything you pick up is significant in some respect and never just vendor trash.

    I think I could write an entire essay about how items and inventory screens contribute to the feel of a game. Everything from collecting ingredients for the dispel potion recipes in Quest for Glory, to the backpack interface of Ultima VII and Ultima Online. This stuff matters in how we relate to a game world.

    Anyway, this looks like a respectable indie effort, if not enormously compelling.

    • Triplanetary says:

      I think I could write an entire essay about how items and inventory screens contribute to the feel of a game

      Do it! I’d probably enjoy it.

    • Anne says:

      Items and inventory descriptions are definitely an important part of the atmosphere in an RPG (at least an adventure-heavy RPG)! I don’t know how you’ll like the choices we’ve made in Driftmoon, but you might notice that our item descriptions are usually not the most conventional ones. ;)

  7. Jorum says:

    As someone with two young kids I actually like the idea of a shortish RPG.
    Nowdays I tend to see “100 hours of gameplay” as a terrible warning.

    • JFS says:

      I believe the devs also have young children, so that might explain a thing or two ;)

      • Anne says:

        JFS: You’re definitely onto something there! :) We’ve aimed at making Driftmoon a game that’s packed with fun content, and no empty fillers in between. One of the biggest reasons for this is the fact that – since we’re the parents of two toddlers ourselves – that’s exactly what we ourselves would wish from a game.

      • Ragnar says:

        Which devs? The ones that made Driftmoon, and thus recognize that our gaming time is short? Or the ones that (are forced to) make 50+ hour epics instead of going home to their kids?

    • bill says:

      Yes! Times 1000.

      I spent about all of last year trying to play baldur’s gate one, and I still haven’t finished it. aparently i have killed over 1000 kobolds, but i wish i could have skipped that part and acutally been able to finish the game in a reasonable frame of time. (focusing on the interesting parts, not repetitively killing kobolds).

      Of course, Baldur’s Gate is free to be a long epic, but I wish there were a few shorter alternatives too. A few 15 hour RPGs would be lovely.

      @Anne: What engine did you use to make it?

      • Anne says:

        Hi Bill!

        The engine is our own work (as are the editor + mod-sharing system). They’re the biggest reason it’s taken all this time to make Driftmoon. I can’t take any credit for the engine and the editor myself though, because all the coding is done by my husband Ville.

        Hope you enjoy Driftmoon! I’m quite certain you don’t at least have to suffer from the same problems as with those kobolds in Baldur’s Gate. :) But I have to warn you, you could get to the end in 15 hours (on a speed run, even less), but if you take it slowly, like we’ve meant it – it might take you twice as long.

      • Yosharian says:

        BG1 has these huge bits where you kill nothing but endless kobolds and other boring creatures just to explore these huge areas. It’s quite annoying, and that’s coming from a die-hard BG fan. Don’t be put off, finish the game =p

  8. elfbarf says:

    “sadly there’s no way to play a woman”

    stop

  9. notevenbotherered says:

    I have a question for Anne, the developer. How did you manage to keep going for so long to get the game done? 7 years is a long time! And did you make it all from the ground up or use a pre-made engine or game making software of some kind? That’s 2 questions. Very well done, and very inspiring to other would be deveopers!

    • Anne says:

      Hi notevenbotherered!

      My husband Ville’s the coder in our team, and he’s built the whole Driftmoon engine (and the editor & mod-sharing system) from scratch. That’s one of the biggest reasons for the breathtaking length of our dev-time. And for the most part of those seven years, we’ve also both had pay jobs, so we’ve only been able to work on Driftmoon in our free time. (And when I haven’t had a pay job, I’ve been running after of our two toddlers – trust me, there’s quite a bit of work in that alone.:P)

      The road to this point has been quite long and eventful: We’ve even changed the whole plot in Driftmoon three (or was it four?) times until we discovered the current one, which we were both happy with. So in reply to your first question, it hasn’t always been easy, but when one of us has felt a bit downhearted, the other’s often had more strength – and we’ve also received wonderful support from our players along the way!

      My best tip to any starting developer would be to actually make a game, not an engine! Start with a good engine, and you might actually finish your dream game in less than seven years. ;) There’s plenty of engines and editors available – one even comes free of charge with Driftmoon.

  10. DeWorD says:

    I just registered just for write this thing.

    The game was awesome. I didn’t find any bugs and i enjoyed the whole game.

    The ONLY minus (small one) for me was the ending. It ended too soon :D

    Waiting for superb mods :D

    ps: terveisiä suomesta! :D

  11. Totally heterosexual says:

    Pitäis kai tää ostaa kun on kerran taas hyvä indie tuote suomesta.

    Oh whoops im in rps. Well fuck in not typing that again, use google translate or something.

    • Anne says:

      Good thing I don’t need to use google (mis)translate, or I might have a hard time understanding your point. :P

  12. Kaira- says:

    Whelp, that makes it. Gotta buy it now.

    Ja terveisiä pohjosemmasta Suomesta! :P

    • Anne says:

      Hey – I just checked your blog, and noticed you’re a fellow (Northern) Finnish game developer, cool! :)

  13. aliksy says:

    I like the sound of a shorter-but-denser (content-wise) rpg. I get really frustrated with filler in games these days.

    And it’s combat you can mostly opt out of if you choose, either by talking your way out of some fights, or indeed just switching the game to “Adventure” mode and having that aspect skipped over.

    Both of those options sound fantastic. And I bet we won’t get a repeat of that bioware fiasco over it, too.

  14. Yosharian says:

    hmmmmmmm i have so many games to play but this is tempting

  15. YeOldeSnake says:

    The game is indeed quite amazing. I first came across it in the Groupees BAGB bundle (http://groupees.com/bagb), at which time it was relatively obscure. Hopefully now it will gain the attention it deserves. It is too well-made and fun to go by unnoticed.

  16. Frosty says:

    Does anyone know which shop will give the most money back to the developers? I use GOG and Desura but I heard somewhere Desura won’t give you any money as a dev until you make $500 in sales. I guess buying direct from the dev would be best?

    • YeOldeSnake says:

      I can confirm that Desura does that indeed. Purchasing directly from the developers is always the best option.

      • Frosty says:

        Thanks!

      • motoki says:

        I know a lot of gamers, myself included, want Desura keys or to get an indie game on Desura. Since Steam has become popular we’ve become accustomed to a client to organize and update all of our games and now with the Indie bundles getting Desura keys has become quite popular too. I think Desura fills that gap for those who really want a client with games that for whatever reason are not on Steam at the moment.

        I’m not sure that the direct sales there are great for most developers. I think the vast majority of people who have games on Desura got them from bundles. Desura is pretty hands off with their promoting and marketing unlike Steam. They don’t have sales or promotions at any specific time and I don’t think their site necessarily highlights new or featured games as well as Steam’s front page does. They pretty much leave it up to the developer to market their game there and I think most don’t bother or just don’t find it worth it. I even read one account of a developer who had forgotten he even put his game up there when someone inquired about it.

        Desura has a lot of potential but I think it could definitely be improved. That said, I personally still prefer to have all my non-Steam games on Desura. In many cases users can buy a game direct from a developer and ask if that Developer will then get them a copy of it for Desura. I’ve been able to do that several times. For example, Ville gifted me a Desura copy of Driftmoon when I wrote and asked with proof of my direct purchase. Never hurts to ask and that way you can give the developers more money and still get the game on a client.

        • Anne says:

          Yes, we’d happily gift a Desura key to any direct buyer who wants one. :) Only thing you need to do is ask!

    • Premium User Badge

      slerbal says:

      Yikes – get it direct from the developers!

  17. Premium User Badge

    slerbal says:

    I played it straight through to completion and enjoyed (almost*) every minute of it. I agree entirely with John’s Wot I Think – he summed it up nicely. It was a delightful game and did not outstay its welcome. Highly recommended and the demo was a great taster (and unlocks into the full game with a key so you don’t lose your save game).

    * I have to admit I pretty much skipped the Black Knight bit – that was a bit over laboured! But really that is the most minor of quibble in an most excellent game.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks slerbal, I’m happy to hear you’ve enjoyed the adventure! :)

  18. Premium User Badge

    caff says:

    I love this game, probably my favourite indie game since Limbo.

    I wasn’t sure about it at first, having tried the demo – but there was something about it that kept me playing. I started to pay attention to the dialogue, the jokes, the characters, the puzzles, the hand-crafted and varied environment. It all started to click.

    I found it more of a Monkey Island-type adventure – strong characters, fun puzzles, constant progression, British humour (I loved the Monty Python quotes – hey it was clichéd, but it’s still fun!).

    Basically it’s the gaming equivalent of sitting next to a warm cosy fire and sipping a nice cup of tea.

    • Premium User Badge

      slerbal says:

      “Basically it’s the gaming equivalent of sitting next to a warm cosy fire and sipping a nice cup of tea”

      Box quote!

    • Anne says:

      Thanks Caff! Monkey Island is one of the games Driftmoon’s been referred to, but Ultima VII comes up almost every day, and I think the divided second place might go to Divine Divinity, Dink Smallwood, and Baldur’s Gate.

      Gotta love your metaphor. ;)

  19. Jae Armstrong says:

    A short RPG is, I’ve realised, a far too rare thing

    I, too, wish Live A Live had captured the imagination of the industry. :(

  20. Zankmam says:

    There is no mention of Notrium in the article or in the comments.

    Bah, you call yourself gamers…

    • Anne says:

      Notrium is surely worth mentioning, thanks Zankmam! It’s Ville’s last game before Driftmoon – quite different from Driftmoon, but an (insanely) difficult successful freeware survival game.

      For anyone interested, Notrium, as well as all of Ville’s older games are available at our website, completely free of charge. ;) (www.instantkingdom.com)

  21. mgardner says:

    Definitely worth the asking price. If the developers ever decided to package up some new story as a paid expansion (even using the same engine) I would buy it right away.

    The attention paid to detail is quite amazing. There are hidden Easter eggs all over the place. There is even a book you can find containing the complete text of the New Testament.

  22. Mephz says:

    Had some fun playing the demo, nice humor and all that. Gameplay itself and the dialogue options (which were almost nonexistant) turned me away from buying it. I kinda felt forced to take certain options in dialogues just to progress the story, which is ok once in a while, but not everytime imo.

    Nice attempt though, better than much of the garbage the industry spits out these days, but like anything in life, this ain’t for everyone.

    • motoki says:

      I think this game harkens back to a time before the choice and consequence RPG. I enjoy the C&C games too but I don’t think every RPG needs to be from the Bioware branch of the RPG family tree. Some games are interactive stories meant to be a specific story experience and I think that’s fine. Often times those C&C games just shuttle you through mostly the same experiences anyway and just give an illusion of choice or the main differences basically amount to a binary choice of one side or the other.

      From a development standpoint I can see why they wouldn’t want to go with a bunch of branching dialog choices too. As it is this game with only two people working on it took 7 years so I can only imagine branching dialog choices would have increased that time.

      At any rate, if you’re looking for an old school RPG experience with choice and consequence I’d suggest giving Inquisitor a try, if you haven’t already.

  23. gravity_spoon says:

    Played the demo and still havent bough it. But that is more because I dont get much time rather than anything that is wrong with the game. This game is fabulous and refreshing :) Kudos to the dev team.

  24. easter says:

    Love those character portraits. Very charming game. Awesome husband & wife dev team :)

  25. MellowKrogoth says:

    “sadly there’s no way to play a woman” – pointless and annoying ideological bit in the middle of an otherwise fine article.

    At least be coherent, and also complain about not being able to play a guy called Lars Crotch when playing Tomb Raider.

    Personally I’d rather have the author pick a hero of whatever gender they want and stick to his story.

    • motoki says:

      I would totally buy a game with a character named Lars Crotch. ;-)

      In all seriousness though, I totally get your point. The whole complaint about no female character when no one complains about no male character is a bit tiresome. Some games are stories about a male character and some games are stories about a female character. While their could definitely be more stories about female characters I don’t think developers should feel pressured to shoehorn in a female character option if it doesn’t fit for their particular story.

  26. JohnH says:

    I bought Driftmoon at release, and for a short RPG it was packed with fun. Well worth the money imho!
    I’m not sure how John managed to get 15 hours out of it though, my final savegame have 8 hours playtime and that’s right at the end.

    • Anne says:

      You’re a real record-breaker, JohnH! That’s the fastest I’ve heard of! :) (Our in-game clock doesn’t count any loads – but it gives you some estimate of the playing time anyway.)

      Actually, I know of several players who’ve taken about 30 hours to get through the game, but they must have been exploring through pretty much everything, and noticing all the little details we’ve hidden away for the observant to find. (There is a lot in Driftmoon that you’ll only discover if you take some time to do it.)

      But I think somewhere between 12-20 hours is closer to the average playing time for most new players. And all playing styles are naturally allowed. :)

  27. Mbaya says:

    Sounds like a charming and enjoyable game made by a couple of passionate, friendly and talented dev’s – I’ll be sure to add this to my wishlist.

    Rather interested in Anne’s comments regarding the development cycle and reiteration of the game, seems like a lot of work for such a small team, I’d really enjoy reading a full interview discussing the ups and downs, the motivation to keep slugging away and what (if anything) they plan on doing next.

    Thanks for the WIT John and your participation in the comments Anne, I’d have overlooked the game without them.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks Mbaya! We’re planning on writing a blog post on our website at some point about the long and winding road of developing Driftmoon. You might be interested in reading it when it airs. ;) http://www.instantkingdom.com

      And if someone has some questions to us, they can also always send us email or feedback directly through the game, by pressing the letter F while playing. Just be sure to include your email, or we won’t be able to reply you.

  28. frightlever says:

    I started to play the demo one night and didn’t go back to it the next day. I liked the privateer crab but there weren’t enough cats in it for me to take it seriously. It’s like they thought they could float the entire story on crustaceans and completely ignore domestic mammals. There were wolves but… yeah, I know, right?

    3/10

    Not enough cats.

    I HATE cats.

  29. Premium User Badge

    strangeloup says:

    I really liked this from the demo, I’ve just not got around to picking it up yet. The whole thing felt a bit like a really good mod for the original Neverwinter Nights — and I mean that absolutely in a positive sense. It manages to have a charmingly old-school feel to it while at the same time having accessible and fluid gameplay.

    Will certainly be picking this one up in the near future. I was concerned that it might be a bit too lightweight and/or over too soon, but it seems it’s a decently sized adventure with some depth to it.

  30. pertusaria says:

    I love this game (been playing the beta for ages), and it’s great to see it released at long last and being enjoyed.

    • Anne says:

      Pertusaria: You forgot to mention that you’ve also been a big help in developing Driftmoon yourself, with all the useful feedback you’ve sent us along the way, and also in the final beta testing phase. Thanks again! :)

  31. boschefreddy says:

    before I looked at the receipt of $6587, I have faith that…my… sister could realey making money in their spare time on-line.. there dads buddy started doing this less than eighteen months and a short time ago took care of the loans on their place and bought a brand new audi. we looked here, http://www.fly38.com