Treading with Purpose

I continue to “play” Fallout 76 (F76). It’s really more akin to treading, but it suffices.

Caps are the universal currency in F76, and there is a daily vendor cap for… Caps. Basically, since nearly everything that isn’t nailed down can be sold, Bethesda decided there should be some limiter involved so someone doesn’t grind or glitch their way to the hard, player cap of 25,000c. It used to be each faction vendor had a 200c limit, but that was changed to be a universal 1400c, resetting daily.

Actually having 1400c worth of shit to sell isn’t impossible, but it requires some grinding slash borderline exploitative practices. One of the easier methods is finding the plans for the Marine Tactical Helmet and then crafting a bunch of those. I just so happened to locate the plans the first time I looked for them, and now can create a helmet for 1 glass, 1 plastic, and 3 rubber, then sell it to a vendor for 28c apiece. Getting 150 Rubber each day is not technically a struggle, but it has been. One of the best sources of Rubber is a school building that spawns a bunch of Kickballs in the gym. Alternatively, there is also a river shop that has a bunch of life preservers that can also be scrapped for Rubber and Plastic.

Unfortunately, as these are the best places for collecting vast amounts of these resources, and the Marine Tactical Helmet is the most straight-forward way of getting Caps, they are often swept clean before I ever show up. One can “server hop” by exiting to the main menu, but that’s also what everyone else does when they find those places empty too.

There is technically an easier helmet to craft and sell – the Civil War Hat – but the plans for those are a random spawn on a corpse that is itself a random spawn.

The end result is that I spent a not-insignificant amount of time in loading screens as I play F76. Checking the school gym, fast traveling to the Overseer’s Camp (near one confirmed random spawn location for the Civil War Hat), fast traveling to the river shop, then server hopping. To break the monotony, I’ll also hit up player bases along the way and check out their wares. Then repeat.

“But… why?”

Part of it is fear of missing out, specifically regarding the 1400c from vendors. With an angry baby at home, I do not always have the opportunity to play F76 or any game each day. So when I do find 30 minutes or less, I definitely want to drain those vendors before doing anything else. Considering that players can and are selling 3-star Legendary items in their Camps, gaining these Caps is basically the equivalent of farming Legendaries without actually having to do so directly. There is a question about why I care about better gear when I’m not actually “playing the game,” but that conundrum exists in any MMO anyway. “Defeat the boss for gear that makes it easier to defeat the boss.”

The other part is that playing F76 this way is still better than playing any other game at the moment. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is right out if I can barely finish one fight and one dialog box before having to put the game down. Oxygen Not Included could be an option, but there is a big content update that was scheduled for this month, but got moved to July. The latest Humble Bundle includes Streets of Rogue and Graveyard Keeper and a few other games that I was interested in, but I just sat and looked at the purchase button before closing the window. When could I even play these games? Can all them be paused/saved at any time?

Fallout 76 is perhaps worst out of those options given there is no pausing or saving at all. But in terms of “value” for time spent, it definitely is at the top of my list, still. Plus, you know, I still like the game. So I will keep treading, and do some swimming when I can.

“Bad Conduct”

I was recently given a temp ban (1 hour) for “bad conduct” in Clash Royale 2v2. Said behavior was closing the app in the middle of a battle. This was actually fairly surprising, on multiple levels.

BadManners

Oh, now I see…

For one, I had never even heard that this feature existed. After some Googling, it appears that they added this feature back in April 2018. I’m not sure how much it scales up, or when it triggers, or when it might reset… but it’s there. Supposedly it happens when you quit two battles in quick succession, but that doesn’t seem to always be the case. I have certainly quit plenty of times mid-battle before this, but perhaps it only trigger specifically off closing the app.

For two, this explains why I have seen a lot more people not drop games. Instead, they will sit there at max mana and do nothing, or activate the opponent’s King Tower – which I actually see as polite, if you’re giving up – or perhaps be extra fancy with Tornado to end the game faster.

For three, it has been surprising how filled with (self-)righteous fury I am over this.

The 2v2 format in Clash Royale is not competitive. By which I mean there are no penalties for losing. The format exists for fun purposes, and Crown/Chest purposes. You always want a chest to be unlocking when you aren’t actively playing the game, and to get chests you either need to play 1v1 on ladder, risking your trophy count, or you can play 2v2. I can also maybe see the 2v2 format being conducive for deck-testing purposes. No penalties for losing, so you can save your trophies until you’re sure your off-meta deck has a chance.

So we have three reasons: fun, rewards, testing.

Tommy98

Pictured: not fun

I left the game I did because my random partner played a level 10 Wizard directly into a level 13 Tesla. Like not accidentally played, but deliberately played, as if the Wizard would destroy it and live. The max level is 13. I am level 13 with a trophy count of 5023. At this trophy count, pretty much everyone has max-level cards; anything less is generally a liability given card interactions. For example, a level 13 Fireball will one-shot a level 12 Wizard (or Musketeer). For this reason, I actually did not run a level 12 Musketeer for months until I leveled her up the rest of the way.

My partner brought a level 10 Wizard to battle. I almost can’t even blame him, because when I looked at his profile afterwards, it turns out he’s level 10. I was paired with a level 10 against two level 12 opponents with an average of 5139 trophies each. In this scenario, which has repeated for the game before this one and the one after, it was bad conduct of me to concede the fight.

I am not sure what sort of matching algorithm Supercell has going on behind the scenes. It could be that this is a method of enforced win-rate balancing working against me, pushing me down closer to 50-50. It could be that the enemy team is currently in the “losing bracket” and I just happen to be their free win. Or perhaps my historical bad behavior has placed me in some kind of circle of purgatory until I atone for my sins.

Oktay_Complete

What the literal shit, Supercell?

All that I know, what I feel in my very bones, is that the true bad behavior is “matching” me with a teammate with a fucking level 10 whatever in their deck. It isn’t fun, we have a zero chance to win, and they aren’t testing anything. It’s difficult to even suggest that, had I played seriously and poured my heart and soul into that battle, that the opponents would have even had fun. They had level 12-13 troops! If fun was to be had, they would have the same experience with neither of us playing anything at all.

But, whatever. If Supercell wishes to discourage rage quits by requiring the app to still be running, I shall set my phone down for a few minutes, still running. If Supercell wishes to be a bit more clever and require spending elixir during the entire battle, I will acquiesce with some mindless troop drops too. But if Supercell continues matching me with literally useless teammates? I shall craft a deck with my own, lowest-level cards and spread this misery as far wide and deep as it can go. Because if I cannot have real, legitimate fun, all that’s left is mischief and cruelty and trolling.

No Man’s 76

The development redemption arc of No Man’s Sky is perhaps one of the best gaming, dwarfed only by Final Fantasy 14. Insane hype followed by a PR disaster as the game cratered, was meme’d, and then… practically born again. I would not say that No Man’s Sky has become some wildly successful game – it apparently sells well with each update – but the fact that it was not abandoned altogether is an immense testament to the will of devs wanting to make things right. And it is undeniable that the game is better than it has ever been before. The Beyond Update slated for this summer, for example, is set to introduce VR support and 16-person multiplayer. Yes, multiplayer that was advertised to exist years ago. But still! It’s getting closer to that original vision and potential.

Reading some of the latest updates regarding Fallout 76 is giving me similar redemption vibes.

For example, you may have read about how there is a PvP mode now. What you might not know is that they have eliminated the “slap” damage from the non-PvP mode, essentially giving people the PvE mode they always wanted. Granted, you can still get shot defending/attacking a Workshop or if you don’t have Pacifist mode turned on, but it’s immense progress.

Also immense progress? Player vending machines. Set one up in your camp, power it, and it’ll highlight your camp on the map for everyone to see and visit. Not only will this give you a means to sell your useful items and Legendary gear, but also give you a reason to make your camp look cool. That’s classic Show & Tell! I have a perfectly functional mountaintop base currently, but now I have an immense desire to relocate to a more convenient location and rework my entire camp.

Oh, and did you read about the Purveyor? Basically you can now scrap your unused Legendary gear for Scrip, which you use to purchase random Legendary items. At first, I was not particularly excited about such RNG layering, but then I started thinking about the current state of affairs. In the old system, you… tried to farm Legendary mobs for random drops, then get pissed every time a 3-star wood armor dropped. Now you can farm those same mobs and Legendaries and eventually earn a second chance to roll the dice.

Or, you know, sell the useful-but-not-for-your-build Legendary items in your vending machine for Caps instead of Scrip. Then use Caps to purchase your dream drop from someone who rolled differently. Or go farm Caps yourself and buy other peoples’ crap Legendaries and scrap them for Scrip to fuel your own rolls.

Are there still issues? Of course. Some are clearly bugs, such as not being able to inspect 3-star Legendary items in vending machines without the owner nearby. Others might just be terrible design decisions, such as being unable to text-chat other players on PC. And were is a “Sorry” emote?

If you hate the entire idea of Fallout 76 or what it represents, then okay, no updates will likely improve the game for you. But it is undeniable that the game has improved, in subtle yet significant ways. That player vending machine thing practically carves out an entirely new endgame by itself, nevermind the Diablo-esque Legendary gambling endgame now. And nevermind the continued release of dungeons and new events and so on.

There will be people who say that Bethesda deserves no praise for making (baby) steps to correct an initially poorly-developed product. I agree, for the most part. Yet I must say that the game is in a wildly better state than it has ever been, and I am looking forward to how much better it can become.

Disposable Progression

As I am playing a lot of mobile games lately, my nose is being rubbed in perhaps the most annoying design “feature” I have encountered in years: disposable progression.

The game in question is Gems of War, but it’s not specific to this title. Basically, you create a four-member team of monsters and use their abilities to fight your foes. There are hundreds of different monsters available, across a number of rarities, with all sorts of possibly interesting combinations. Each monster can be upgraded with a certain currency, special traits unlocked with a separate currency, and a third currency (extra copies) can upgrade the rarity of the card itself.

The problem is that you aren’t likely to use the first four monsters you pick up. So any currency you use to level them up and otherwise bridge the gap between completing missions and unboxing better monsters is effectively wasted. Maybe it can be considered “the cost of doing business,” but it nevertheless creates perverse incentives when I play. “Do I really need to level this guy up?” The answer is generally no, or at least never feels like a solid yes, so I don’t. And thus not only do I make the game more boring and harder for myself, I also rob myself of whatever pleasure can be derived from improving one’s characters.

I mean, it’s possible things were designed this way with the goal of actually getting players to waste currency in a bid to pad out game time. After all, if you sufficiently hoard currency, it’s technically possible to max out a new monster the minute you unbox it. That is not a particularly good outcome for anyone. And perhaps there isn’t really a way around things anyway – this may be a systemic issue the moment you design a game to have dozens and dozens of party members.

Regardless, it still feels bad. I have used the same monster team for the past two weeks, so I possibly should just bite the bullet and spend all my currency leveling them up. But the moment some cool legendary monster or whatever pops out of a box, I’m going to be quite miffed. And miffed to me is not opening the wallet to spend real currency buying fake currency, but uninstalling the game.

Time-Broke

Know what’s downright quaint? This Time-Poor post from back in March.

LastPlayed1

Two or three weeks sans gaming isn’t too bad in the scheme of things. Or wouldn’t be, if there was some kind of known endpoint. I’m a planner, a schemer, an optimizer. Meanwhile, my baby is an agent of chaos. Sometimes he’ll go three hours between feedings, and other times I’m feeding him every 30 minutes for an hour and a half. And since you can’t really do much else, the TV is on in the background, and when he finally calms down, you might be interested in the rest of the show.

This whole experience thus far has given me some first-person views of the gaming edifice though.

On Sunday, I actually had a solid 1-2 hour chunk of time to do non-baby, non-household chore things at like 11pm. The whole world felt like my oyster! Unfortunately, I hate oysters, and I found myself browsing Reddit – which I do on my phone anyway – and then playing a few games of Slay the Spire. The thought of diving back into Divinity: Original Sin 2 was, well, unthinkable. What would I do? Walk around, get in one combat, then turn the game off?

It got me thinking about uninterrupted time, and how often some games require it. The traditional expectation of it being required is when a game functions on Waypoint Saving. But if you have a narrative experience that you care about at all, then uninterrupted time is required. But even if a game doesn’t have a narrative, you might still need uninterrupted time in order to progress in the “what was I doing?” fashion. Or perhaps even the mundane “what buttons do what again?” sense.

Games with grinding are also right out. It used to be “ain’t nobody got time for that” was because life is full of so many other, better games you could be playing instead. Nowadays, for me, it’s literal.

Having said all that, I find time for mobile games. Clash Royale is still an hourly diversion. I bought You Must Build A Boat and also downloaded Gems of War, both of which can be played in small chunks. I was looking at Terraria, but was scared away by a review stating the last update was in August 2016. Instead, I (re)bought Stardew Valley. While I haven’t tried it out yet, I’m hopeful that it can also scratch the progression itch in a more nutritive way that gacha games cannot.

We’ll see how it goes.

Sleep Mode

I miss sleep.

That baby I alluded to is home, having arrived quite a bit early. I took two weeks off while he was still in the NICU, trying to get everything set up ahead of time. There should have been enough time for all the things, but there wasn’t. Now he’s here and my wife and I are trying to figure out the process by which each of us can get enough 1.5 hour increments of sleep to function as human beings.

  • Change diaper (2 min)
  • Warm milk (3 min)
  • Feed baby (15-20 min)
  • Burp baby (5 min)
  • Pump (30 min)
  • Wash pump parts (5 min)

The above has to occur every 3 hours, round the clock. And doesn’t include, you know, general touching of that baby or any of the ancillary chores such as washing clothes, self-grooming, eating, etc. We have kinda figured out that I can do everything but pump (it’s not super effective), and so we work in tandem to theoretically do everything in one ~40 min block of time (some things are sequential) rather than 1.5 hours. Still, come 2 AM, one of us is on baby watch and the other is trying to sleep, and then it’s back to solo attempting to do all the things across 1.5 hours, which isn’t really all that possible with a crying baby. And next week, I’m back to work because ‘Murica.

We’re kinda muddling through things currently, but I have reasonable confidence we’ll figure it out eventually. Perhaps by the time he graduates college.

Then it will be back to gaming!

Mobile Games Worth Buying

…are there any?

I have around $15 in Google Play money from taking surveys and such, and I was recently notified that some of those dollars will be expiring soon. Looking at the Play store though, I am a bit of at a loss of what might actually be worth buying. What I want to avoid, if possible, is throwing money into the hole of gacha games and/or Clash Royale.

The current top contender right now is the mobile version of Stardew Valley. I have spent a few dozen hours in that game on PC, but stopped a few months ago, as it was not particularly conducive to my play style at the time. Namely, the fact that the game only saves at the end of each day, thus requiring you to play a whole day each time. After researching a bit, it does seem like there are backup saving mechanisms for the mobile version, e.g. if you get a phone call or the screen locks, but I’m still a bit concerned. Clash Royale needing basically 4-7 uninterrupted minutes can already get dicey unless I’m specifically playing during lunch (shhh), whereas Hearthstone might consume longer amounts of time but the turn timers allow short breaks inbetween.

Anyway, are there any paid mobile games that you have been enjoying? Genre isn’t particularly a limiting factor. I have enjoyed Plants vs Zombies, Where’s My Water?, 10000000, and other such games in the past. Not sure that I want anything like FF6 or games that I could basically play on an emulator. Again, the goal is to not throw money at games like Puzzle & Dragons or Clash Royale.

Sometimes it IS that Simple

I had been having an issue in No Man’s Sky where I did not know how to retrieve my prior base. The internet said there should be a quest in my log to fix the issue, but didn’t see it. The internet also said you can find a “base computer” in the wild by going through a very tedious process of scanning planets, moving your ship, scanning again, etc. I eventually abandoned that latter endeavor after a few hours, and wrote the whole thing off as a loss… then found the quest in my log. Base restored.

Of course, the base was mostly broken nonsense, but I at least retrieve my materials. Now begins the long journey in finding a new planet to set down roots on. Or continue using my Freighter, that the devs just gave away for free to everyone at this stage of the story, as a mobile base. Glad I didn’t grind the 50+ million credits that they cost before I left.

I had been having an issue in Fallout 76 where right-click was not letting me look down the scope of the gun. The internet said the issue was with a mod, specifically Better Inventory. I had already deleted that mod and the custom .INI file though. I also uninstalled the whole game and reinstalled, without a fix. Given the 55 GB install size, that was a serious time investment.

After a while, I stumbled upon a Reddit thread mentioning that as part of some update or another, your custom .INI file was copied over to a My Documents subfolder in addition to it existing in the normal game folder. Lo and behold, there it was, complete with a call towards a mod archive that no longer existed. How that specifically and only affected the right-click function of guns, I have no idea, but deleting it resolved the issue.

Both these issues were show-stoppers for me, and would have led to me abandoning the games forever if I had not been so damn stubborn. It remains to be seen whether either game will ultimately be worth my time playing in a “fixed” state, but it’s interesting nonetheless how precarious one’s gaming experiences can be even with “simple” issues. At every stage of troubleshooting, I was reminded of the other dozen or so Good Enough games that work out of the box.

How Not to Return

Coming back to a game can be incredibly daunting. Coming back after it has gone through several updates can be more concerning still.

Then there’s No Man’s Sky.

NMS_Restart

I didn’t want to play that character anymore anyway.

The No Man’s Sky meta-narrative is inspiring in its own way. In the beginning, the game was hyped beyond belief (and reality), the designers actively lied about features, and it was the go-to example of a failed game. Over the years though, the same designers have… stuck to it. Update after update has improved the gameplay experience, and now it is very close to completely resembling the product that was promised in the first place. While some may decry giving the company any praise for fixing what ought not have been broken in the first place, their dedication towards making things right is completely unexpected in the current gaming environment.

The problem is that so much has changed between the various patches that my 50+ hour character may as well have been erased.

The main culprit appears to have been NMS’s “Next” patch. There was a major overhaul in the crafting system, or upgrade system, or both, or something. Basically, all of my upgrades and enhancements were turned into “Obsolete Technology” that I had to scrap for upgrade currency. Which would have been slightly okay on its own, but now I have no idea how anything works anymore. Which resources are important have changed, all of the planets in the galaxy have changed, and my previously-existing base appears to be lost entirely/”archived” somewhere. While there have been a few prompts to check the Codex here and there, otherwise there is nothing resembling a tutorial on solving the “Dude, Where’s My Base” situation.

Slightly perturbed, I decided to spend my limited free-time patching up Fallout 76 instead. There have been several feature patches there too, resolving some long-term Quality of Life issues and introducing some new quest content as well. Everything was looking good… until I realized I could not aim-down-sights anymore. Right-click and nothing happened. With a melee weapon equipped my right-click would Block attacks like normal, but no scopes apparently.

Kind of a bummer when you are a Rifle build.

Near as I can tell, this problem might be related to mods. Deleting the mod file and removing the Custom.ini did not fix anything, nor did reboots or verifying file integrity. So, I’m typing this up while waiting for another 55 GB install to complete. [Edit: this didn’t fix the issue either]

Both experiences are giving me time (literally) to reflect on the situation though. Blizzard spends an inordinate amount of time trying to make the transition from lapsed to paying subscriber as easy as possible, to the extent of not changing systems that desperately need fixing. It’s hard to see value in that approach when you are actively playing the game, as all that occurs is basically stagnation for the sake of people who aren’t even customers. But if I weren’t so starved for survival-esque experiences, my first five minutes back into No Man’s Sky would have ended with an uninstall.

I’m not even sure there’s a middle path anymore. Games require you to learn their arbitrary, sometimes non-intuitive systems in order to succeed. It is hard enough trying to remember which buttons do what after a year or two, and then you add the possibility of previously accumulated experience no longer being useful (or actively bad)? You might be worse off than a brand new player at that point. In fact, I am worse off, because my patience for relearning tasks is immensely low – if I am to spend time learning something, it may as well be a new thing.

Dog Catches Car

It’s a real shame that Borderlands 3 isn’t coming out until next year…

Borderlands3_Steam

So many game delays this year, amirite?

Memes aside, I won’t rehash why (Epic) exclusives are bad. Instead, I wanted to talk about Rohan’s closing paragraph about the subject:

Ultimately, I think Epic’s exclusives strategy was entirely predictable. It’s also possibly the only strategy with a chance of breaking Steam’s hold on the market. I expect that while Epic may pay lip service to complaints about exclusives, they’re going to ignore the community clamour, and follow this strategy until they get established.

It’s already been admitted/established that Epic is doing this because they have an inferior product with no hope of creating better value for customers. But what struck me with the above paragraph was what happens if it succeeds. Like, they get X number of people to buy Borderlands 3 (etc) in the Epic store. So… now what?

I guess the hope is that each time you log into Borderlands 3 or whatever, you see whatever handful of other games Epic is selling. Okay. But we’ve kinda already established that the people buying from the Epic store are those who don’t really care about storefronts – they are just following specific games. And at the moment, Epic isn’t actually competing on price either. Metro Exodus is $50 instead of $60, but it’s not a “deal” because you can’t buy it anywhere else.

The endgame, such as it is, appears aimed squarely at game publishers just eventually not ever listing their games on Steam anymore. Which wouldn’t make much sense until the userbase of the Epic store is much higher, which these exclusives are attempting to achieve. But, again, there’s nothing really keeping customers coming back. Steam has a social ecosystem between reviews, forums, modding (i.e. Steam Workshop), chat, streaming, and so on. That and Steam sales. Epic so far has… exclusives… bought with Fortnite money.

I suppose the real best-case scenario here is that Epic bribes enough developers that Valve eventually responds by lowering their percentage ratio for everyone across the board. Epic could still buy timed exclusives, but it’s possible the bigger fish no longer bite as the Steam install-base remains in the tens of millions. In which case… fantastic? It’s not as though Valve actually makes games anymore, so them losing revenue doesn’t actually impact anything.

But in the meantime, fuck Epic and this ridiculous storefront war waged at the expense of consumers.