REVIEW: Thunder Moon

Appearances are one thing, first impressions can be telling, though it’d be a mistake to think of Thunder Moon (80 MSP) as ‘just another Minecraft’ on the indie channel. It pushes substance over style (three modes, first / third-person views, excellent soundtrack, robots and aliens, spaceships, modifiable weaponry… all with personal style to spare) and takes a unique approach to an over-served market, more than enough to justify its space on the crafting shelf alongside others.

While Thunder Moon recreates the blocky environs we’ve all come to know and love and buy in myriad forms, the android protagonist, enemies, and all of the objects / vehicles you’ll come across in-game are artfully modeled and textured. This makes for a good mix of contrasting styles, and injects some realism into the ‘marooned on an alien planet, now survive’ motif that XenoMiner did previously. Though where XenoMiner lacked a more involving plot and storyline, Thunder Moon improves and expands upon its adventure, offering dialogue and a story told in chapters, with constant objective markers and missions being handed out.

Crafting and gathering supplies for crafting naturally will take up a majority of your time, and the game tries to streamline the process, letting you know exactly how much of each component you have, and how much you’ll need, with color-coded backgrounds to sort works-in-progress from future projects, or just to separate by type. It’s efficient, and for the most part, easy to follow. Mining will be familiar to anyone that’s ever wielded a pickaxe (though it’s all ray guns here), and it helps that the game is frequently gorgeous when underground; launching a flare through the foggy depths, seeing various mineral treasures flash in the brief light… it’s a thing of beauty.

Thunder Moon has some problems, though, both visually and under the hood. All of the pretty views and effects come at a cost— some serious environmental popup and loading whenever you get too far ahead of the spawning terrain. I noticed it mostly when airborne (you’ll have a hoverbike at your disposal, and later, your spaceship), though it happened even when traversing the surface and caves on foot. Throw in one crashed game (luckily at the beginning, so I didn’t lose much progress) and two corrupted save files (always save and quit, never exit or go to the dashboard mid-game, regardless if you made progress or not), and you’ve got some legitimate performance concerns.

Thunder Moon - Screen

Ditto for the combat, which is initially fun and challenging, but quickly becomes a burden in Story mode. The mining and exploration aspects suffer, because you’re under near-constant attack. Even in the pits of the dankest cave, after you’ve dropped hundreds of feet and survived an otherwise deadly fall thanks to your jetpack, the spider and flyer Draxan variants (the enemy menace) still manage to find and hound you within seconds. It’s ridiculous, really, and negates the thrill of happening onto a deep-moon mineral excavation, simply because you know you won’t be able to mine in peace. Auto-turrets and the ability to slow down attacks (‘bullet time’) help, though not enough to offset. I want to mine in relative peace, you see. Please, let me mine in peace.

Thunder Moon is a game with a lot of promise, impressive in its scope, but it also demands a good share of patience …and forgiveness. There’s plenty to like about it, and plenty to see, but you’ll have to be willing to accept its current faults. If you can, you will find another interesting alternative to Minecraft that pays homage to what came before, yet paves its own way. If you’re feeling short on sympathy, though, you’re better off waiting for an update to see if things improve.

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17 thoughts on “REVIEW: Thunder Moon”

  1. Hi, I’m the author of Thunder Moon.

    First, thanks for the review. I think it’s right on the mark and I’m glad to see both the good and the bad. Your criticisms are actually right in line with my own, and I expect the coming updates will smooth out the rough edges. That’s the goal, definitely, and something I will be working very hard to accomplish. After nearly two years of building this, I still enjoy working on this game and I really want it to be something players feel is worth their time.

    I’ve already finished work on the first update which hopefully fixes the crash you encountered, although it would have been helpful to get a screenshot of your crash report screen to be sure. The goal of the first update is to fix a few bugs that turned up only after it hit the marketplace and a few other small, safe changes to the game.

    Many people have asked me to tone down the spawn rate of the Drax, which I will be doing. I had always intended to have them spawn in pulses to give players a breather to mine & build, but it just didn’t make it into the first release which in retrospect was perhaps something I should have held back the game to do. The Drax will generally arrive in waves. It’s not spoiling the story much to tell you that the Drax have infested the nearby asteroid belt (this is explained in the very first scene of the game) and the spawn rates will be tied to the time of day where the belt is nearest Thunder Moon – night.

    Another problem I didn’t anticipate was people exiting the game without saving. As you saw, the game detects this and marks a game as corrupt; mainly to let people know it wasn’t just randomly lost but that a problem occurred. The game is almost always reading or writing data, and dumping the game in the middle of this is pretty much the same as shutting down a PC in the middle of saving a big document. I thought I was being thorough by making sure a power failure wouldn’t create a problem for people with partially saved games, but as I’ve now come to learn the system needs to handle this better. I will be looking into this much more carefully after the first update.

    The streaming problem where you can outpace the terrain generation is another area that I’ll be spending more time improving. It needs to perform better.

    After things settle down a bit more with the first two updates, I’ll be looking more closely at coop multiplayer. Almost everyone seems to ask about it, and I am really looking forward to getting it in there. The game has always been designed to support multiplayer, and some of the bits are already in place. Incidentally, that’s why the chat bug showed up, the networking system is still enabled but it isn’t being used beyond the lobby logic at this point. It is no surprise that nobody noticed this was enabled because the XBLIG review process has so few people running the game at the same time. The first update will be disabling this but I do plan to return this functionality in a more deliberate manner in the future with proper UI to control it. I am thinking perhaps this will be the first step towards adding the full coop mode.

    Thanks again for the review. I hope people can look past the shortcomings and see that I’m determined to make this a quality game. I’ll be following this post, but if anyone wants to follow the development of Thunder Moon more closely check out the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thundermoongame or my twitter, @ericcosky. Thanks!

    1. That has gotta be one of the classiest, most interesting responses I’ve read. Need more Indie Devs to be this way.

    2. Agreed with Daniel; absolute class. Thank you very much for taking the time to respond, and for laying out your intentions with the coming update(s).

      I actually did take a picture of the crash screen. Had the good intention of sending it, and didn’t. It’s sitting on my phone, so I will send it along later tonight, once I’ve got a bit more time to do so.

      The ‘exiting before saving’ bit is an ingrained practice for me, unfortunately. I do it all the time in games, to test out dangerous waters or try out things I have no intention of committing to, thus, I won’t save my game. Trying it here, it backfired obviously. Perhaps I shouldn’t use that ‘cheat’ tactic in the future, for all games, lest it come back to haunt me. 🙂

      I don’t like to criticize anyone’s work, really (yes, I realize this goes against the practice of being a reviewer), especially when two years of a life are spent on its construction, though, yes, the loading / generating terrain issue would be tremendously welcomed, should a solution be found.

      The enemy spawn rate, too, needs to be tweaked. I like the idea of them coming in waves; it retains the challenge of combat and being overwhelmed, while allowing some calm in-between for you to continue mining or building. Not sure what others think, but I also wasn’t a fan of the weapons ‘wearing out’. You can always craft another, I know, but I’ve never liked the idea of penalizing the player for doing what the game forces you to do. That could be more personal preference than critique, though. 🙂

      Again, really appreciate you taking the time to address the concerns raised here and elsewhere. Thunder Moon has all the big pieces in place, so I’m sure others are enjoying it despite my reservations. Looking forward to seeing it grow in the next few updates.

    3. The crash screen would be very helpful just in case it’s not one I’ve fixed, thanks. I’ve had a handful of users send me pics, but I’m guessing I’d be lucky to have 1% of the people who just had the game fail on them show any interest in helping me out at that moment!

      As for being critical, it is frankly refreshing. There is no way friends & family could ever be as blunt as I need them to be when poking at the game, and I’ve always known that the fresh eyes of new players would point out important things that were easily overlooked or dismissed as not being a big deal.

      As for weapons wearing out, that’s kind of a tough call there. As I am sure you know, it’s not an uncommon thing for many games. In this case it seemed like another useful way to extend the strategies of play. For instance, last night I did a full runthrough of the game again and during the final mission my jetpack wore out. I had to change my strategy to make it work, and I thought that was an interesting thing to have happened. Having items that take wear also allows me as a designer to create powerful, but short lived items like the Drax Jet Pack. Sort of puts everything on a spectrum between single-use and perma-use, instead of being forced into one or the other and this adds another level of depth to the item system. So, I guess I do like this way 🙂 That being said, It would be cool to have some kind of repair mechanism in there..

    4. Sent the crash screen photo along. It’s tough when it happens, though I’m all for documenting it if it’s going to help me / others out in the future.

      You’re right on the weapon wear, I think. I’ve just got bad memories from the Silent Hill games, which love to have your weapons break down when you need them most. 😦 It -is- a crafting game, so the entire idea makes perfect sense. Others appreciate the challenge / change-up of strategy, I’m sure.

    5. I took a look at the crash data and confirmed it’s one that has been fixed with the update. As for documenting this sort of thing, I’m all for it. I’d rather hear about problems and have a chance to fix them instead of not hearing about it and having the game suffer for it.

  2. I’ve bought Thunder Moon, and I think that this is a good review. It is fun from the outset, has great production values. “Please, let me mine in peace.” I can’t argue with this – perhaps a solar flare to drive away the aliens at certain times would add to the pacing, generating ‘peaks and troughs’ in the enemy activity?

    1. It’s a good game, certainly worth the 80 MSP, that’s got some issues. Most of these will be worked out over time, much like XenoMiner did (I had similar loading / framerate issues with that game at launch).

      Great production values, absolutely. The solar flare idea would be a good one, or adjusting their spawn times, or just toning down their ability to ‘follow’ you literally everywhere, on foot or in the air. Solid framework in place, just needs some fine-tuning.

    2. I have two extra days I didn’t expect to have before I can update, so I’m going to spend time tuning spawn rates and pursuit rules.

  3. I’ve bought Thunder Moon, and I think that this is a good review. It is fun from the outset, has great production values. “Please, let me mine in peace.” I can’t argue with this – perhaps a solar flare to drive away the aliens at certain times would add to the pacing, generating ‘peaks and troughs’?

    1. Very interesting. And fun, when everything is working as it should.

      No co-op, currently. There’s some work already built into the code for online co-op, but it’s taken a back seat for at least the first two ‘planned updates’, which presumably will address the most pertinent user feedback and any bugs that are spotted. You can communicate via headset with other users that are currently playing the game, which is potentially cool, if you can get people to actually listen and / or turn down their music (why are people constantly playing videogames with their music blaring through the headset?).

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