Submorse

Forgotten indie game of the week (05/04/2021)

Just last week, 220 new games were released on Steam. And even though there were some highly anticipated games such as the full release of ‘Totally Accurate Battle Simulator’ and ‘Evil genius 2’, there are also a lot of games who are simply forgotten amongst the huge amounts of games released.

So each week I like to dig through the games that didn’t get a huge welcome from the community, and find those hidden gems that are special in their own way.

I found it very hard to only pick one game this week, because there were actually a few games that had some really unique aspects and didn’t seem to be noticed by many people. Eventually I went for ‘Submorse’, since it looked like it has some very uncommon gameplay mechanics and seemed very polished.

Submorse is a small challenging game where you can learn morse code, and compete against strangers for the fastest time on the leaderboards. Personally I didn’t know any morse code, and I never really had the intention of learning it. But since the game is completely free, I didn’t mind to at least give it a shot to see what the game was like.

About the game:

Submorse is created by Team Monumental, but I couldn’t really find out any information about them. Strangely enough there aren’t any credits to be found in the game, and they didn’t seem to have a website or social media platform with more information.

All I could get from their youtube channel is that they originally started out as a modding group for Minecraft, and continued onwards to game jams and eventually trying to create their own games. As far as I’m aware this is actually their first release, after running into some problems with their previous attempts.

The game was released on the 31st of March, and as I mentioned above is completely free-to-play.

Steam link: https://store.steampowered.com/app/912380/Submorse/

Gameplay:

Normally I would start off by talking a bit about the story, but since this is a game about learning morse, I can’t say I’m surprised that there isn’t really a story here. So let’s jump straight into the important part here, the gameplay.

The player starts off in a small room that is aboard a submarine, and can run around to interact with some small objects around him. Such as screens, a radio and strangely enough a basketball?

Now this might not seem special at first glance, but when you look a little bit closer at what they did, it’s actually pretty unique. In most games you start off in a 2d menu and you select an option to go to the actual game.

Here they actually reversed that. You start off in a 3d scene that acts as the main menu, and from there you start the game which is played entirely on a 2d screen.

Though you might be wondering why this matters at all? Well I have one word for you… Immersion.

Just the fact that you were standing in a submarine and had to change the background music by interacting with a physical radio, gave the game so much more depth then it would ever have been if the game was played with just 2D menus.

It also helped to clear out your head a bit by just shooting some hoops in between morse code sessions, and made the game feel more as a whole.

So was this all intentionally? Probably not, I think. In one of the videos on youtube the developer explains that the reason the game is free, was mainly because it was originally a more ambitious project that was cut down in scope due to some unspecified problems. My guess is that this is mostly leftover bits and pieces of what was supposed to be more content to the game. Maybe even changing the goal and gameplay of the game entirely.

But anyway, I’m going a bit off topic here. Instead of what could have been, let’s talk a bit more about the actual gameplay that made it in the game.

The game gives you three different categories in which you can learn and practise morse code.
- Tutorial
- Practice
- Time trial

As you might expect, if you don’t know morse code, I recommend you start with the tutorial. Which is also where I spend most of my time in the game.

The tutorial is split into 4 different subsections to help you memorise morse code better by splitting all letters into smaller groups that fit together. For example the first group is E, T, M, I, N, A, D, U.

Before learning morse code this might seem like a very random group of letters, but once you start, you will notice that these are generally pretty easy to remember letters that have similar codes.
For example E is just a dot (.), and T is a simple dash (-), M is two dashes ( — ), and I is two dots (..) and so on.

The tutorial helps the player memorise by first showing the correct annotation and then letting the player repeat it without showing the code. You input the morse code by just simply clicking or holding your mouse button down in the right sequence. If you succeed, you move on to the next letter with every so often repeating the letters you already learned before. If you make a mistake on a letter, the morse code is shown again and you will have to successfully repeat it a few times before continuing.

Once you successfully loop through the entire group of letters, you complete that section of the tutorial and you can move onto a new group of letters and so on.

What I like about this method and how the game teaches you, is that it’s all very quick. The game only gives you a few seconds to remember and enter the morse code. And it gives you no pauses or re-do’s if you made a mistake, as is the case if you were actually sending morse code over a line.

By looping through the already remembered letters everytime you make a mistake, the game saves the player a lot of frustration and prevents him from feeling stuck on a single letter.

In total it took me about 50 minutes to complete the entire tutorial and memorise the entire alphabet including numbers, though at this point it was still with the occasional mistakes and awkward pauses in between some of the codes.

Proudly with my newfound knowledge, I continued on with the practice mode. This mode is very similar to the tutorial mode, with the exception that you can enter whatever text you want to practise. For me I mostly just threw the entire alphabet in there, and set the order to random to help me practise all of the letters as a whole.

After a couple of successful rounds I was getting a better hang of the speed and accuracy needed to convey morse code. So the next challenge was the time trial mode.

The time trial mode consists of two smaller sections; do the alphabet as fast as possible and do the same for a sentence. With each having their own leaderboards where you can compete against strangers on the internet for the fastest times.

Graphics:

There isn’t really that much to say about the graphics, as is mostly the case with a menu based game like this. But I wanted to at least mention the amount of care and detail that the developers put into the interface.

The menus themselves aren’t the most amazing things I have ever seen, but they are very clean and serve their purpose. The animated background noise together with the chromatic aberration and the fish eye effect do add a lot of atmosphere to the game and keep the menu from looking too static.

What I found most amazing is the small animations in the menus that contributed heavily in making everything feel alive. It’s a bit hard to convey the animations in text and screenshots, but when you make a mistake there is a slight screen shake and the square around the letter blinks red. Similarly if you successfully enter the right morse code, the square blinks green and rotates around to show the next letter. This might seem like some small details, but they help greatly in focussing your attention on things that matter without being too distracting.

Conclusion:

If you want to learn morse code, or really just want to challenge yourself and pick up some cool knowledge along the way, then this game is definitely for you. Even people who might not be interested in morse code, will have a good time playing this game. I know I definitely did.

The only thing I personally felt that was missing from this game was more content, like for example a mode where you could hear morse code and had to translate it back into text, or just more challenges in which you had to put your skills to the test. Though it certainly didn’t take away from the fun experience I had with the game.

I know for sure that I will be coming back to this game every now and then, to polish my knowledge of morse code and keep it fresh in my memory.

My opinion as a fellow game developer:

The main reason why this game didn’t get as much attention as it deserved, in my personal opinion, is very similar to that of ‘Siimi’ which I wrote about in my previous article. And that’s the lack of marketing.

In this case the developer already had an existing twitter and youtube channel, each with a couple of hundred subscribers. Which is already a great start, but except for the final announcement in the form of a trailer. No marketing was seemingly done.

Showing some early teasers and creating some hype leading up to the announcement/release of the game, would have already made more people aware of the existence of the game. I’m fully aware that this isn’t an easy game to create hype for. The lack of visuals makes it hard to show the awesomeness of the gameplay, especially because the game targets quite a niche audience.

Though I’m 100% convinced that this game has the appeal to become wider known, since while I was writing this article a friend saw me play the game, and started playing the game himself out of interest. If that isn’t undeniable proof, then I don’t know what is.

I also kind of understand that someone wouldn’t be as motivated to promote a free game, because in the end what is there really to gain? But to be honest, there is actually a lot to be gained other than a direct source of revenue. Think about fans who might follow the development of the next game, feedback to improve the game and possibly turn it into a bigger project, or maybe even some other studios who will reach out to you for future endeavors. The sky is literally the limit here.

So what can you do as a gamer?:

Since Submorse is a free game, playing the game won’t help the developers financially. But there are more ways to help the developer of games that you like other than paying for them. This can be done by just playing the game or simply talking about it. Show the developer that you like the game, and hope to see more in the future.

This of course doesn’t only apply to Submorse, but every game you have enjoyed and want to support and encourage the developers of. The harsh reality is that there are thousands of cool forgotten indie games out there, waiting to be discovered by the right people. So don’t be afraid to show off your own forgotten indie games that you liked to play.

~Vincent

Video game artist by day, Indie game developer by night.

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