Category Archives: Commentary
Okay, I am contractually obligated to divulge that I sit on a THRONE OF LIES.
To be fair (to myself), I already mentioned how I was was getting bored with Don’t Starve’s Adventure Mode, in part, due to not being able to change characters. When I created a new Save with a new character in an attempt to start Adventure Mode with them, I was stymied by the requirement of trudging across the map trying to locate Maxwell’s Door. So what changed?
As befits my new (?) seating arrangement: cheating. Specifically, I enabled console commands. And with my new god-like powers, I… just teleported to Maxwell’s Door. Problem solved.
Now, it should be noted that I still feel a bit wary. Cheating is, well, cheating. I don’t actually care what other people think about the act per se, but I wonder if this will diminish the accomplishment of actually beating Adventure Mode. Technically, I haven’t actually cheated in Adventure Mode – just getting there. And considering I was at the end of my enjoyment with the game proper, any entertainment gleaned at this point is entertainment that would not have existed otherwise.
On the plus side, the character I chose, WX-78, is a robot that starts with lower stats in exchange for the ability to eat Gears to both replenish Health/Hunger/Sanity and increase their maximum stats. And he also takes damage when it rains. So, of course, my very first world is A Cold Reception, aka Waterworld, aka the world where it rains (frogs) for approximately 14 hours every day.
Nice try, Maxwell, but I’m still coming for you like a hungry ghost.
I think I’m done with Don’t Starve. For real this time.
Thrush’s comment from yesterday sort of gave shape to the amorphous feeling in my mind:
I hate doing things twice. If I go for a walk I go in a loop because I don’t want to see the same scenery twice (weird I know). [...] I just can’t get into the roguelike genre for this reason. Once I’ve done 2 hours of work, I don’t want to start from scratch again.
That’s what I was getting at yesterday, even though I couldn’t nail the words down. While my displeasure at what amounts to recycled content is not quite as “extreme” – I have/had plenty of alts in WoW – each subsequent Don’t Starve Adventure Mode attempt generated more bile than the last. It is not about the dying; each death was a novel experience I learned from and won’t happen again. It is not even about the lost progress, really. No, what really pushed me over the edge was the rote, mechanical early game.
Wake up, grab Diving Rod, and then spend the next hour of game time picking shit up off the ground, desperately trying to find a piece of gold ore to build a Science Machine to unlock basic items like the Spear, backpack, and Crock Pot. Subsequent worlds in Adventure Mode are almost always different though, because you retain knowledge of past schematics and are able to bring in four items (and stacks thereof) from before. You might not be able to bring a backpack with you, but you’ll be able to whip one right up after gathering some grass and sticks.
If it’s your first world… well, better start praying for gold.
So, basically, I’m fine with permadeath and roguelikes if they don’t ask you to do the same shit in the same sequence with no possible variation every goddamn time. Or if they do, at least minimize the time spent in what amounts to an unskippable tutorial.
I did start a new Survival Mode map with a different character in the hopes that a new set of pros/cons would liven things up a bit. Then I realized that even a custom map with abundant food and no enemies would require hours (!) of otherwise meaningless exploration trying to find Maxwell’s Door before I could even start again. While I appreciate the commitment to the game’s harsh internal logic, I no longer have time for this shit. By which I mean I’m bored.
Time to play something else.
Do you know the worst part about a roguelike? You can’t even rage-quit! “Oh, I just died? Well… fine! I’ll just delete my saves and… oh.”
The roguelike genre is one I had avoided for years, rebuffed by the mere word “permadeath.” Is that supposed to be an appealing characteristic? It’s like, I don’t need to know anything more about scrotum piercing to understand, at a fundamental level, that it’s just not for me. And so I happily carried on in my non-permadeath gaming, leaving behind the empty husks of my peers who had just lost their 60+ hour Diablo 2 Hardcore characters.
The problem I am having though, is with all these roguelikes that choose to, well, bend the (unwritten) rules. For me, it started with Dungeons of Dredmor. After dying a few times getting a feel for the game, I went full optimize-the-fun-out-of-the-game mode. Explored every floor, room by room, while collecting and refining every resource. It was pretty clear that I had vaulted over the difficulty curve and would be coasting my way to the very end. That’s the point of permadeath though, right? To encourage conservative play?
Regardless of the answer to that question, the fact remains that I was on hour 22 of my roguelike save. To me, that is starting to border on obscene. I feel like the roguelike structure works perfectly for games that can conceivably be won within a few hours or a single (marathon) session. Anything longer is simply suspect – what useful purpose does permadeath serve then? I have 52 hours /played on FTL and 27 hours on Binding of Isaac, both of which can be finished within 2-3 hours. Permadeath in this scenario, and procedurally-generated encounters generally, thus increase the play-time of an otherwise short game. But if you are already spending 20+ hours on a single life only to die in some asinine way… well, what’s the point of trying again?
If you can’t tell, I’m writing this post because I’m pissed at dying in Don’t Starve. I made it all the way to the final world in Adventure Mode, which I could not even start until I found the doorway on Day 30+ in Survival Mode. You have no idea how close to the end I was. I had collected all four Things and was on my way to the Wooden Thing to assemble them. The last world is exceedingly harsh though, and my sanity was leaking out at a precipitous rate (it didn’t help that I was traversing a swamp). I stopped to pick a Blue Mushroom in the hopes of regaining just enough sanity to push me over the finish line.
Alas, a tentacle I couldn’t even see spawned and spanked me twice. Dead. I resurrected at my Meat Effigy in total darkness, and was one-shot a few seconds later. Dead again. Spawned back at the Adventure Door portal, and would have to go through everything all over again.
…except I don’t think I am. I have 35 hours into Don’t Starve, and was relishing the thought of being “done” with the game once Adventure Mode was beaten. “Done” in the sense of achieving sufficient mental satisfaction to allow me to move on to another game. Now? I just feel so goddamn empty. Dying to the last boss in Binding of Isaac feels terrible, but you are only really out an hour or so. Same with FTL. With Don’t Starve, I just saw 7-10 hours of my life evaporate into the ether. While that is technically how all leisurely pursuits end, I don’t usually end a gaming session feeling, well, like an empty husk.
It’s not really Don’t Starve’s fault – if the game were easier, even a tiny bit, it wouldn’t be the same game on a fundamental level. I like that a harsh game like this exists, as it pushes you into uncomfortable scenarios in which inaction is punished. I just don’t know if I want to be playing “long-form” roguelikes like this anymore. Permadeath is fine in the proper contexts, and said context is always in short games, IMO. Putting roguelike qualities into a game that simultaneously demands X amount of investment just strikes me as cruel and unusual. Some people like that sort of thing, sure. But I doubt that the end reward for our valiant efforts will be sweet enough to cover the acrid, bitter bile that is seeing so many hours go up in smoke.
Fake Edit: I tried again anyway. Died a few times, tried some more. Got the insanely difficult “forever winter” stage as my first level, but persisted anyway. Somehow made it even farther. Got to the 4th stage, and was feeling pretty good about myself. Run into a field of killer bees looking for a Thing, and died. Now at 48 hours /played. FML.
I am finding myself with conflicting opinions on optional difficulty.
On the one hand, options are good. The distribution of peoples’ skill levels is a gradient, and not usually well-served by binary distinctions. We can easily imagine someone not being challenged at Normal difficulty, but perhaps overwhelmed when the switch is flipped to Hard – doubling monster HP and the like is overkill when all the person needed was +50%.
On the other hand… I might have become a bit corrupted by years of extrinsic MMO rewards.
You see, I just finished playing A Valley Without Wind, which I found to be fairly easy overall. The game actually features one of the most generously granular difficulty options I have ever seen though: it features 5+ different difficulty settings in three independent categories. At any time, you can boost the platforming difficulty up a few notches while lowering the actual fighting bits, or raising the “city-building” aspect to maximum while all but removing everything else.
Despite feeling like the game was a bit easy, I did not change the difficulty at all. “Why would I? It’s not like I get any better items or anything.” Oh. Oh my.
To be fair (to myself), this attitude changes depending on the game. I played on the highest difficulty in Magic 2013, for example, and couldn’t imagine playing on anything lower. X-COM was completed on Normal Ironman, as I imagined that at least Ironman was the “intended” difficulty. And actually, that is my usual metric: what did the designers intend to be the “real” difficulty? “Whatever is appropriate to you” is not a real answer to the question, as most times the difficulty is “Base +/- 100%.” I want to know what the Base is, and judge from there.
Now, it is also possible this is a specific game issue, e.g. I just don’t care all that much about AVWW. I had no problem with turning on Hardcore mode in my second playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas, for example, and actually felt like it made the game more interesting/fun when you couldn’t carry around 1000+ rounds of every ammunition type. Conversely, I did not see how mobs having more HP in AVWW was going to improve the gaming experience at all – left-clicking a few more times while you continue kiting isn’t really more fun.
In any event, this scenario has given me a somewhat greater appreciation for the “forced” difficulty games out there… at least the ones that fall within my natural ability, of course. While I still believe it is better overall to tune a game to cover a wide range of personal abilities, I hate having to arbitrarily decide what is an appropriate challenge to me. I don’t want easy games, but I don’t necessarily want a more tedious experience either (i.e. everything takes longer to kill + you’re more likely to die). Just give me a challenging game and let me figure out how to beat it on my own, without tempting me to cheese it with metagaming.
I take no credit for either the title nor the picture:
If you had not already felt the Earth’s sudden wobble from the magnitude of Microsoft’s about-face, allow me the pleasure of informing you: the Xbox One no longer has its ridiculous DRM. Namely:
- No internet connection is required to play games.
- No 24-hour online check-in.
- You can buy/sell/gift/rent/lend game discs just like on the 360.
- You can purchase digital versions of games on Day 1 and play offline (once downloaded).
One of the “casualties” of this Lance Armstrong-level backpedaling is that you can’t have that whole “10-person family sharing” plan or the ability to “take your games anywhere by logging in.” Often lost amongst the Apologist tears though was the simple fact that logging on from a friend’s Xbox One basically meant you would have had to wait for a 10+ GB download before playing anyway. And what were the odds that more than one member of the family could play the same game at the same time? In other words, you are not any worse off than the present system of just taking the disc with you.
Plus, you know, used games.
On a semi-related bit of interesting news, apparently Valve snuck some interesting code into the Steam software: shared libraries, e.g. lending digital games. Obviously nothing is formally implemented yet, but the premise seems to be that once you lend a game to a friend, they can play it until you log on to play it yourself (which then bumps them off). Which is… pretty remarkably clever if you think about it. Valve could just as easily went the other way, where you couldn’t play until your friend “gave it back,” which would probably discourage people from using the feature at all. Assuming there is no transaction fee or anything, I would feel comfortable giving one or two of my Steam buddies access to everything.
Regardless of which way the shared library plays out – if it plays out at all – today was a huge win for consumers everywhere. I am not quite ready to declare victory yet, but the future sure is looking considerably brighter than it was, oh, two weeks ago, eh?
So, I have been and will continue to be on vacation at the beach with family until the end of the week. The internet service down here is absolutely abysmal – we’re talking 5 Mbps shared across 40 rooms – which is why I have not been on top of the comments and general news. I suppose that might sound bad, caring about frivolous internet things while at the beach. But honestly, if I knew it was going to be vacation back to 1994, I might have passed. Also, the ocean seems saltier this year and there was a fly in my soup.
That said, how ’bout that PS4 news?
- No new restrictions on used game sales.
- No internet connection required.
- $399 vs Xbox One’s $499
It wasn’t all good news – a Playstation Plus membership is required for all multiplayer, just like Xbox Live today – but it was a fantastic PR coup for Sony to have been quiet all this time before launching into these consumer-friendly revelations.
A couple Apologists skeptics from around the web have tried to paint Sony with the Xbox One brush over the used games quote though:
“The DRM decision is going to have to be in the hands of the third parties. That’s not something that we’re going to dictate or mandate or control or implement.”
“Aha!” the Apologists cried. “Same thing as Xbox!”
Not really. In fact, not at all. The key point here is that Sony’s strategy is unchanged from the current generation. Remember Online Passes? Those were 3rd party attempts at mitigating secondary game sales, all of which happened in this generation. If EA suddenly changes their mind vis-a-vis reintroducing Online Passes, Sony isn’t going to stop them, but at least it isn’t turned on by default as it is in the Xbox One scenario. As Destructoid put it:
The major difference between PS4 and Xbox One, of course, is that Sony hasn’t made it easier for corporations to control the behavior of their customers, because the PS4 doesn’t tie your copies to your accounts, or initiate checks to scrub traded game data off your system. Basically, Microsoft designed the Xbox One to make it as easy as flipping a switch to eradicate any possibility of sharing your games, while Sony is maintaining its policy of this current generation.
Or you can go with the Game Front article for even further clarification:
“The Online Pass program for PlayStation first-party games will not continue on PlayStation 4. Similar to PS3, we will not dictate the online used game strategy (the ability to play used games online) of its publishing partners. As announced last night, PS4 will not have any gating restrictions for used disc-based games. When a gamer buys a PS4 disc they have right to use that copy of the game, so they can trade-in the game at retail, sell it to another person, lend it to a friend, or keep it forever.”
This is good news for gamers, indeed. In a nutshell, you can buy a used single-player game for the PS4 and play it all you want. If you want to go online with it, you may have to deal with some sort of publisher-determined DRM, be it an Online Pass or whatever.
Not that I’m going to buy one anytime soon – I just bought a PS3 last Christmas. But it’s nice to know that whenever I do hop aboard the next console generation, I will have the opportunity to catch up on all the games I’ve missed by hitting up Amazon or some local place and not be paying full MSRP out the ass for 2+ year old games.
I started playing Torchlight 2 a few weeks ago, and I am having some issues. Now, I did not like the original game all that much, but picking up the sequel for $5 during one of those crazy Steam sales seemed safe enough. And so far, I am not experiencing the same acute symptoms of frustration as in the first game. Except… now I kinda am.
My biggest gripe with the original game was that the loot system was broken. Specifically, there was no real sense of gear progression in a hack-n-slash Diablo-clone genre that is based entirely on gear progression – I used the same “legendary” level 3 necklace all the way into the endgame, never finding an upgrade. While I have not ran into this problem as much in Torchlight 2, the contours of the issue remain in place. For example, I ran into this gearing decision the other day:
Maybe “higher level = better” is too simplistic a progression design, but… is it really?
The more pressing concern in Torchlight 2 though, is how a lot of things that should be rewarding are really not. Each main area map has a Locked Golden Chest which contains, as you might imagine, a lot of loot. The key to this chest can drop randomly from any mob on that particular map, or from a specific fairy mob 100% of the time.
Compelling design, right? It would be, if these chests dropped something more than vendor trash.
Random loot is random, but after spending more time than strictly necessary opening these chests up and walking away with nothing of any value, I am finding myself souring on game in general. Indeed, even the extra-large treasure chests at the end of boss encounters reveals greys and greens more often than not. Why should I be fighting bosses when smashing pottery is clearly the more profitable activity?
In Torchlight 2′s case though, there is a “solution”: mods. In fact, the #1 highest-rated mod in the Steam Workshop is one that tweaks Golden Chests (and boss chests) to always drop a Unique item. That’s not as broken as it sounds – items are still random, scaled to your level, and sometimes class-specifc – and does a lot to fix what I otherwise consider a problem. There are mods for all sorts of things, in fact, including Skill tweaks, doubling the amount of gold drops, Respec potions (base game only allows reshuffling of last 3 Skills), improving game textures, increasing view distance, and even additional whole classes. Indeed, one of the big selling points of Torchlight 2 was its modability in comparison to Diablo 3.
Thing is, I don’t like using mods on my initial play-through of a game. Hell, I usually don’t even like loading in DLC that affects the core game, even when I’m playing the Game of the Year version that bundles it all together.
My situation is a bit unique (and self-inflicted) insofar as I fancy myself a game reviewer. But even before this website, I preferred going in vanilla and raw. Not all my friends had the extra spending money for the expansions and whatnot, so telling them Diablo 2 was better with Lords of Chaos installed really just means “the base game is deficient.” Well, perhaps not deficient in D2′s case, but you understand my meaning.
Good game design is supposed to be good out of the box. If developers are stumbling around for the first several months from release, that stumbling needs to remain part of the overall narrative. I failed to mention in my Fallout: New Vegas review that the game was literally unplayable for the first two weeks without downloading a crack that fixed the DirectX issues; it’s an important detail to know for when the next Fallout game is released, lest it too require Day 0 patching from players to fix what the devs rushed to production.
I suppose some of this harkens back to that debate over whether MMOs (etc) are toys vs games. There is no wrong way to play with a toy, no real rules to govern your interaction with them. In this sense, mods are sort of like adding salt to your meal – some chefs might see that as an insult, but perhaps your individual taste skews more salty than the others sharing the meal. Ergo, developers letting mods fix any subjective “problem” only makes sense. Keep the vanilla pure, and let players add the chocolate and sprinkles as they wish.
Personally though, I am much more interested in the game portion of things, or more specifically: experiences. Show me the genius of your rulesets, the compelling nature of your narratives, the excellence of your craft. Anyone can imagine a stick into a lightsaber, just as anyone can turn a crappy game good with tweaks. I am interested in what you can do, Mr(s) Game Man Person, not mod developer XYZ. I want to be excited that you are releasing another game, not that the modding community has another opportunity to fix a deficient product. And besides, only one of those two parties is getting paid. Hint: it’s not the person/people improving the game.
It may not be entirely rational, but there it is. Odds are that I will keep trucking along in vanilla Torchlight 2 so that I can give an accurate report on its (so far) many failings. It is worth noting that while you can import your vanilla save into the “game + mods” version of the game, you cannot thereafter go back – neither your character nor your gear will appear under the default game any more. While that probably has little meaning beyond the people interested in Steam achievements, it sort of highlights how even the developers believe a segregation between the two ought to exist.
In which case, I shall play their game and complain about it, rather than fix things myself.
The Xbox One reveal reminded me, forcibly, that Microsoft is the company behind the console. I mean, obviously, right? But between Windows 7 and Bill Gates building better condoms, I temporarily forgot about Games for Windows Live, Windows 8, and all the markedly cynical shit the Redmond company pulls as it endeavors to further erode all consumer surplus and out-EA EA.
Remember the always-online brouhaha? Well, the new Xbox doesn’t require an always-online internet connection. Except when you play a game for the first time. Or if the game company feels like pulling a Maxis and “off-loading computations to the cloud.” And just kidding, your Xbox needs an internet connection to phone home once every 24 hours or it presumably bricks itself until you do.
So how often does it check your connection? “Depends on the experience,” Harrison said.
“For single-player games that don’t require connectivity to Xbox Live, you should be able to play those without interruption should your Internet connection go down. Blu-ray movies and other downloaded entertainment should be accessible when your Internet connection may be interrupted. But the device is fundamentally designed to be expanded and extended by the Internet as many devices are today.”
Oh, how nice of them that your Blu-ray movies “should” be accessible when your internet connection is interrupted.
In return for all of these restrictions, you get to opportunity to… pay full MSRP for all your games! There are no used games for Xbox One, there are simply game disks which will prompt you to pay a “fee” of the full price of the game to play it. Remember when we thought EA eliminating the Online Pass was a gesture of contrition and good will? Surprise! It was cynical bullshit because Microsoft is handling the Online Passes now and adding them to 100% of all future Xbox games.
A lot of the Xbox Apologists have pointed at Steam in making their arguments that things are not so bad. In fact, there is talk that you may be able to sell your used games game licenses to other people on the Xbox Marketplace, in a sort of virtual GameStop setup. Okay… details? If it is true, and assuming you can set your own price, and assuming there isn’t exorbitant fees, then great! We just had to give up renting games, letting your friend borrow your games, and in the case of Steam comparisons, getting 50% discounts on brand new games released just three months ago.
I am not an Xbox customer; I neither bought any of the prior consoles nor plan to purchase this new one. But this sort of shit will affect every one of us. We already see DLC for our PC games delayed because of “Xbox exclusives.” Ports of future Microsoft games could be pulled from Steam just like EA pulled theirs, ostensively so we can have the privilege of paying more money for no conceivable consumer gain. What we see today is what we can expect more of tomorrow – not just from companies like Microsoft, but from everyone who thinks they can get away with it.
And that sucks.