Author Archives: Azuriel

ChatGPT

Came across a Reddit post entitled “Professor catches student cheating with ChatGPT: ‘I feel abject terror’”. Among the comments was one saying “There is a person who needs to recalibrate their sense of terror.” The response to that was this:

Although I am bearish on the future of the internet in general with AI, the concerns above just sort of made me laugh.

When it comes to doctors and lawyers, what matters are results. Even if we assume ChatGPT somehow made someone pass the bar or get a medical license – and they further had no practical exam components/residency for some reason – the ultimate proof is the real world application. Does the lawyer win their cases? Do the patients have good health outcomes? It would certainly suck to be the first few clients that prove the professionals had no skills, but that can usually be avoided by sticking to those with a positive record to begin with.

And let’s not pretend that fresh graduates who did everything legit are always going to be good at their jobs. It’s like the old joke: what do you call the person who passed medical school with a C-? “Doctor.”

The other funny thing here is the implicit assumption that a given surgeon knowing which drug to administer is better than an AI chatbot. Sure, it’s a natural assumption to make. But surgeons, doctors, and everyone in-between are constantly lobbied (read: bribed) by drug companies to use their new products instead. How many thousands of professionals started over-prescribing OxyContin after attending “all expenses paid” Purdue-funded conferences? Do you know which conferences your doctor has attended recently? Do they even attend conferences? Maybe they already use AI, eh?

Having said that, I’m not super-optimistic about ChatGPT in general. A lot of these machine-learning algorithms get their base data from publicly-available sources. Once a few of the nonsense AI get loosed in a Dead Internet scenario, there is going to be a rather sudden Ouroboros situation where ChatGPT consumes anti-ChatGPT nonsense in an infinite loop. Maybe the programmers can whitelist a few select, trustworthy sources, but that limits the scope of what ChatGPT would be able to communicate. And even in the best case scenario, doesn’t that mean tight, private control over the only unsullied datasets?

Which, if you are catering to just a few, federated groups of people anyway, maybe that is all you need.

Goal Wars 2, pt 2023

Yep, still playing Guild Wars 2. About 3 months ago, my goals were:

  • Play through Icebrood Saga content
  • Play through End of Dragons content
  • Try some of the new Elite specs
  • Work towards completing “Return of” achievements for free Legendary
  • Work towards unlocking Skyscale mount
  • Work towards unlocking some Legendary gear

As you can see, I have knocked damn near everything off my list.

ArenaNet introducing the “Return of” achievements with a “free” Legendary amulet carrot at the end (plus Legendary weapon precusor in the middle) has to be one of the most genius marketing moves I have seen an MMO developer take. With the stroke of… uh, some achievement code, they instantly made damn near their entire catalog of Living World content relevant again. The immediate impact was to give the general population something to do before the release of the End of Dragons expansion. But for someone like me, it also generated a means of incremental, meaningful progress that weren’t daily quests.

Plus, it kinda forced me to shell out $10 buying the Living World episodes I missed over the years.

The question is “what now?” I have completed End of Dragons content – and the original story conclusion, 10 years late – so there isn’t really anything left in the plot department. Ostensibly, my goals included unlocking some additional Legendary gear. The options I have been looking at include:

  • Weapon (Axe)
  • Backpiece (PvP)
  • Accessory (Vision)
  • Accessory (Aurora)

Of those, the Backpiece has been an interesting consideration. There are three different pathways to a Legendary Backpiece: PvE (Fractals), PvP, and WvW. Right from the get-go, WvW is out – it would take an absurd amount of time just sitting in WvW to accomplish anything. Conversely, PvP is achievable from just about anyone, as none of the requirements involve being particularly successful, e.g. top ranks. The roadblock I have with PvP at the moment though is that you need to complete 50 matches before you unlock the ability to queue into Ranked matches, which the achievements revolve around. It shouldn’t necessary be a “roadblock” for someone who enjoys the experience, but… well, let’s just say I am still figuring that out.

Unlocking the Backpiece via Fractals would perhaps be the most preferred method, but I have not been super successful in finding groups for that. Indeed, I only just recently went into my first Strike Mission, which are sort of mini-raids with just a single boss. It probably does not help that I only play late in the evenings. While the general consensus is to just start your own groups and see what happens, I am not necessarily that committed to the endeavor.

As for the accessories… sigh. To unlock Aurora, you first need to complete a collection achievement for four different items across Season 3 Living World episodes. Just one of those involves finding forty (40!) tokens across a map, some of which are hidden in the infamous Chalice of Tears jumping puzzle. Just look at this Wiki page. That’s just ONE piece. Of four. Then you have to charge the final product up at 21 other locations around the world. Then combine that charged up product with three other collections of materials, which are themselves collections of other materials. The whole thing is rather ridiculous when laid out all at once.

Of course, continuing to play GW2 at all might be considered rather ridiculous.

We’ll see what happens. I am making some headway in other games, and I can see further progress on the horizon if/when I free up extra time by putting GW2 on the backburner/on ice. The tricky part will be actually doing that. It’s seductively easy to log in, collect some easy rewards on each of the characters, and then log off. But before then, oh hey, this meta event is going on, let me just get those rewards. And now I just have an hour left to play “real” games. It’s a rough life, I know.

Impression: Potion Craft

Potion Craft is one of the most brilliant gameplay experiences I have had in years.

The premise of the game is that you are a new alchemist moving into an inexplicably abandoned former alchemist house. As the title indicates, your job is to wake up, craft potions for townspeople, get paid, buy ingredients, experiment a bit, go to bed, repeat. Unlike a lot of other titles in this sort of storefront genre, there is no looming debt payment or other time constraint whatsoever. It’s just you, the ingredients, and a bit of alchemy.

It’s that very alchemical gameplay though that is so fundamentally brilliant and elegant and intuitive.

To craft a potion, you must move a potion icon around a map and land on a specific, potion-shaped effect. To move around the map requires you to place an ingredient into the caldron and stir. At the beginning, you start off with a limited amount of basic herbs and mushrooms. Hovering over each one reveals the properties of that ingredient, showing you where it will move the potion icon. What you will notice is that there is a sort of baseline distance you move, and then a further distance denoted by a dotted line. If that extra distance is desired, you must place the ingredient into a mortar and then pestle it as desired. Put the resulting mash into the caldron, stir, and repeat until you reach your destination.

Everything about this is so deliciously analog. When using the mortar & pestle, you do not have to grind things up fully – you can choose to stop at almost any pixel distance. Additionally, the quality tier of the potion is dependent on how close you end up overlaying the potion icons. Just touching? Tier 1. More than half? Tier 2. If you want Tier 3 though, you start slowing way down, grinding herbs just so, stirring the caldron ever-so-slightly, and diluting the mixture with water (which moves the icon back towards the center of the map) drop by drop. Until, until… ahh. Perfection.

What continues to amaze me is how… correct all of this feels. The alchemical map starts off nearly blank, and you explore its boundaries by experimenting with what herbs you have available. Finding a new potion effect on the map is exciting because you don’t know what it is until you brew it. Thankfully, Potion Craft does allow you to save custom recipes (limited by magic paper you purchase) so you don’t have to manually recreate every single potion every time. But as you help out your herb/mushroom suppliers, you get greater access to new ingredients that have different pathways. This then allows you to create the same potions with different (and usually) fewer total ingredients, improving the efficiency of your business.

Seriously though, I am deeply, deeply impressed with this gameplay. Indeed, I have spent the last three days trying to figure out if there is a term for what the designers have accomplished here, by so tightly marrying the concept of alchemy with this gameplay that embodies it. The closest I have gotten is “the opposite of Ludonarrative dissonance.” If you have better words for this, let me know.

Having said all this, I do want make an important distinction here: the gameplay is brilliant… but not necessarily engaging long-term.

There are a set of tasks that reward XP that sort of guide you through the general game, which is fine. But after about 8 hours, I have seen pretty much everything I imagine I will be seeing in Potion Craft. It is sometimes fun to realize you can use different herbs in novel ways to improve the efficiency of a recipe, but at the end of the day you are still selling a potion to a random customer for X amount of gold – once you have enough of a income stream, it doesn’t matter too much. And all that XP? It grants you Talent points which you spend to… improve the uncover distance of the alchemy map, increase bonus XP nodes on said map, and increase profit percentages. It’s a very shallow, closed loop.

There does appear to be an ultimate goal to create the Philosopher’s Stone, but it all seems kinda arbitrary. “Craft this precursor with these five potions, craft stage two precursor with these ten potions with an eclectic mixture of effects, etc.” This was all much less interesting than exploring the original map, trying to figure out how in the world you would make it past that obstacle, or figuring out that a potion which previously took 5 herbs to make can be done in two. The process novelty is very finite, in other words.

Be that as it may, I do commend the designers of Potion Craft and encourage anyone subscribed to Game Pass to give it a shot. It is a very unique, grokkable experience which is very rare these days.

End of Year: 2022 Edition

Just like 2021, except we all just gave up.

Workwise, I ended the year still at the same company but promoted to a more senior role. There have been a number of bonuses and raises offered company-wide, as management starts understanding that, yeah, this new labor market is here to stay. There are apparently some more raises in store for my specific department, but we’ll have to see how that pans out. Despite spending literally $15,000 in daycare this year, my family is doing perfectly OK. Which means I made it, I guess. My options trading and crypto are most definitely not making it, but I’m in a position where I can realize some losses and at least not pay taxes on the gains this year, while still having some upside exposure. It has to rally again someday, right guys? Guys?

Family is doing great. My kiddo is potty training like a champ.

Enough real life. Let’s talk games. First is the Steam lineup:

  • Meteorfall: Kromit’s Tale
  • Black Book
  • FAR: Lone Sails
  • My Friend Pedro
  • Per Aspera
  • Borderlands 3
  • Before We Leave
  • Raft
  • Necromunda: Hired Gun
  • Legend of Keepers
  • Despotism 3K
  • SOMA
  • Core Keeper
  • Satisfactory
  • Sigil of the Magi
  • Gordian Quest
  • Rimworld
  • DOOM (2017)
  • Cardpcalypse
  • Slay the Spire
  • Noita

Although many of the games don’t necessarily have a defined “win state” (and many are Early Access besides), realistically I only finished Meteorfall, FAR, Per Aspera, and Borderlands 3. It was especially egregious with games like SOMA, wherein I played to the first area where the first monster appears, Alt-Tabbed to see what happens if they get you, realized that there is an EZ-mode with no real consequences, and then never actually booted the game back up again. At the same time, I have been trying to embrace the whole “Spark Joy” Kondo-ism a bit more than in years past. Play games when they are fun, stop when they aren’t. Just a shame that games stop being fun before they’re over.

For the Epic Game Store:

  • Horizon: Zero Dawn
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • Everything
  • Final Fantasy 7 Remake

I… think that’s literally it. And again, I only really finished FF7R from that list. Going forward, I think I’m going to have to start making a concerted effort to completely ignore side quests and such for the more open-world games. Or maybe not. Sometimes the sidequests end up being much more interesting than the main quest for a lot of those kind of games.

By the way, the Epic Store interface is still embarrassingly shitty in 2022. When I go to my library and choose “Sort by Recently Played,” I would expect the games to be sorted by, you know, how recently they were played. But they’re not. You can’t even have the games sort themselves by most played. Ugh.

For Game Pass:

  • Dreamscaper
  • Amazing Cultivation Simulator
  • Offworld Trading Company
  • Citizen Sleeper
  • Deathloop
  • Grounded
  • Sable
  • Metal: Hellsinger
  • Superliminal
  • Unsighted
  • Vampire Survivors
  • Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion
  • Hardspace: Shipbreaker
  • Loot River
  • Nobody Saves the World
  • Tunic
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • We Happy Few
  • Outriders

Once again, Game Pass is the de facto best place to try out games you wouldn’t otherwise play unless they were wedged in a random bundle. Of the list, Grounded was the clear winner here with a whopping 68 hours played… and I haven’t even beaten it yet. We’ll see if I ever pop back in.

For completeness’s sake, I also continued to play Hearthstone and Guild Wars 2 throughout 2022.

Looking at 2023, my goal is to actually sit down and play Red Dead Redemption 2, Disco Elysium, Death Stranding (played 7 hours and fell off), Chained Echos, Wildermyth, and… SOMA. Maybe Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or Origins. And finish off Cyberpunk 2077 and Horizon: Zero Dawn. According to HowLongToBeat, that lineup is 256 hours all by itself (main stories only). Which is like 5 hours a week, so not unreasonable even if I pretend to be a responsible father figure. We’ll see.

I really enjoyed Void’s “Games of the Year” schtick over at A Green Mushroom, where there was a running tally of games played and how they sorted themselves over the year. I’ve always struggled with “justifying” creating a blog post about some of the random shit I try to play (e.g. Nobody Saves the World, Metal: Hellsinger, etc), even though personally I enjoy reading every single article by anyone still posting on my blogroll. So, heads up, there may be some experimentation with that format in 2023. Or maybe I just continue doing my own thing, which apparently continues to work.

Well, “work,” for given definitions of work.

…which I’m defining as being awesome. See you in 2023.

Rimworlder, part 2

Instead of doing minor edits and publishing the last post, I continued playing Rimworld for about 25 hours over a week. Yeah, all other games in progress (aside from GW2 dailies) have been blown away. However, in that time, I have come to a number of conclusions. Or maybe just a primary one from which all others follow.

The Rimworld DLCs make no sense.

Royalty was the first DLC to be released. The big addition was the sort of Fallen Empire faction that you interact with almost immediately in every playthrough. If you ally with the Empire, you can select one or more pawns to start accruing Honor via quests and such, which is used to ascend royal ranks, which in turn unlocks the ability to have Psycasts. Higher ranked pawns will need increasingly spurious luxuries befitting their titles, requiring the creation of a throne room, better quality clothes, and so on.

If you don’t ally with the Empire, you basically don’t get to play with Psycasts. There are a few opportunities to waylay Imperial caravans and steal the items that grant Psycast levels, but they are few and far between from what I have heard. That said, each map also has an Anima Tree somewhere that allows Tribal-based (and only Tribal-based) pawns to meditate/worship at its trunk to eventually unlock all Psycasts and assorted goodies, no Empire needed.

In practice, the entire Royalty DLC feels at odds with its premise. Roleplaying as a royal colony and eventually using the Empire as a win condition (joining the Imperial flotilla) is perfectly fine. Tying Psycasts to royal titles is not. The earliest Psycast that has any particular use (Vertigo Pulse) requires the Knight rank. The next one is Praetor, which unlocks Skip (tactical teleport) and Wallraise (cover on demand). These are very useful abilities, but each individual pawn would need their own separate throne room and gain the appropriate amount of individual Honor to gain them. It also gets a bit goofy having a Count, whom “might have a personal fleet of capital ships,” be slumming around with the rest of the fighters to take out a Mechanoid Cluster.

Tribalists being able to short-circuit the entire Psycast system by spending time at an Anima Tree kinda drives everything home. I haven’t done so myself, but there is plenty of chatter about how you can get your entire Tribal colony to be level 6 Psycasters very easily, which would otherwise require a half-dozen throne rooms and other goofiness the “normal” way. There are probably mods out there to fix things, but why not have rituals or research or whatever to allow non-Tribals access to Anima Tree benefits? Royal ranks would still have a purpose – Permits are enough of a thing IMO to justify the title system – plus perhaps you could make it easier for royals to find/buy/hand out the Psycast-level items.

For the Ideology DLC… there isn’t much to say, actually. It opens up some directed roleplaying and/or absurd min-maxing opportunities. In my current playthrough, it doesn’t really add much to the gameplay aside from some annoyances. For example, at least two of the main factions on the planet are Supremacists, which means they are effectively permanently hostile (on top of the always-hostile pirates, raiders, etc). Beyond that, my colony can… uh… perform one dance party a year. Two of my pawns can give a few speeches, but even if you max out the chance of success, there’s still a minimum chance of failure. There are also a series of quests to find a relic, but near as I can tell, that ultimately gives a mood buff equivalent to eating at a table during the once-per-year dance party.

For the Biotech DLC, we come around again to absurdity.

Using Biotech to create custom starting scenarios is perfectly fine. Cannibal mole men? Beautiful furkin? Straight-up vampires? Go for it. However, there’s a big chunk of the mid-game revolving around Genebanks and such that allow you to acquire genes (purchased or extracted) and augment your pawns. But… why? The system is extremely random and requires a colony with excess resources to the point that you may as well just be installing bionic limbs and such. Moreover, if you are creating a custom xenotype at the outset, things would be much faster just having your existing pawns have children of said xenotype versus some convoluted system of extracting genes from your pawns and mashing them together into a former prisoner you converted. There may be some point to the system once you start looking at the more OP Archite genes, but that requires purchasing Archite capsules, then the Archite genes, and then implanting them. All to do what? Make one pawn superhuman in a way fully bionic organs in Cataphract Armor does not?

On the other hand, children are amazing in Biotech. It allows your colony to grow in an organic way, it ups the stakes during raids, and I appreciate watching them become more useful additions to the family. The stories that get generated in this way are also novel. For example, I took in a small refugee family of a father, mother, and small child. Things were going well… until I got the notification that a Fennec fox was hunting the child, who for some reason was trying to haul boulders from across the map. Unable to reach the fox in time, the child was downed and then eaten. This caused the mother to fly into a murderous rage… in the middle of a classroom where she was teaching my colony’s first child. She beat him to death with a club, which I had not removed from her inventory.

And that’s how I learned to always restrict the zones where children can roam. And disarm refugees.

After I reloaded an earlier save game, of course. Iron man, I am not.

Rimworlder

As feared, I succumbed to Rimworld yet again.

The experience of playing Rimworld 1.4 with all the paid DLC has been interesting. And yet, simultaneously, an outrageous slog. Principally, my problem with Rimworld is the opening act. The “game” doesn’t really start until you have a working refrigerator and a relatively stable colony of 5-6 people. Before that point, you do not have the resources or manpower to engage much with the Research tree, rituals, caravans to other settlements, or any of the fun war crime shenanigans that just sort of happen on the way down the slippery slope.

To back up a bit, let me talk about my first scenario this time around: Rich Explorer. Instead of crash landing with three pawns, you land with just one but with a pile of money and a tech tree unlocked enough to built turrets right away. For some reason, this particular scenario has been speaking to me for months now – possibly because it speaks to the sort of survival games I enjoy. What I discovered was… pain, and not just because I run the Randy storyteller with the 2nd highest difficulty. Basically you have to have Construction 5 skill on your pawn in order to craft turrets, so I was defending solo for the first year. Not that it would matter much, because turrets require power, which was difficult to set up when you are also trying to sow crops to survive the winter. And that’s another deviation from my historical Rimworld attempts, e.g. not selecting a temperate zone that has year-round crops.

I persisted with that playthrough all the way to the next summer, until the moment that the four pawn colony I had scraped together all managed to get food poisoning at the same time. I wasn’t under attack or anything, I was just frustrated beyond reason that all four of my pawns were vomiting constantly, weak with fatigue, and I was zoomed in, watching pixels to see if they managed to actually finish eating the meal or would get interrupted and then collapse on the floor from starvation or not. It’s very possible that the colony would be fine, but I didn’t want to waste my time even on the highest game speed to see if they would.

Honestly, I don’t remember much about the 2nd attempt. I just abandoned it for similar reasons.

The third and current attempt is somewhat of a “cheese” run. Using the Biotech DLC, I decided to create my own xenotype that includes the Iron Stomach trait that makes them immune to Food Poisoning. I also used the Ideology DLC to create a belief that organ harvesting is OK, seeing corpses don’t provide a negative debuff, and research speed is increased. My pawns are genetically addicted to Psychite though and the area I settled in only has two growing seasons. Plus, any recruits beyond those initial three won’t have the xenotypes or Ideology bonuses without extra work.

That said… it’s still a slog. I’m currently surviving (thus far) the winter and barely have had time to research any new techs, let alone anything that utilizes the rest of the DLC material. Which is not necessarily the “point” of the game, but come on. All the fun stuff (to me) occurs when you have a somewhat stable base and can start meaningfully interacting with the rest of the game world. I’m still very far from being able to do anything with gene editing, Psycasts, or anything other than try and survive the winter without multiple psychological breaks.

Welcome to the rim, I guess.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

I was stuck in a gaming funk for a while. An embarrassment of riches at my fingertips and I couldn’t muster the energy to choose anything. On a whim, I remembered that I had specifically bought four games to go along with my new PC. With two of them down, why not see if a third could break me out of the funk?

Horizon: Zero Dawn certainly did.

It was a fun experience going into this game effectively blind. Like, I knew the general premise of the game, as will anyone who has ever seen any screenshots: you are a tribesman hunting robot dinosaurs. Basically.

What I was not particularly expecting was the general level of fidelity to the premise. You really are walking around with a bow, arrows, and a spear. After dying a few times on Normal difficulty (!!) in frustrating ways, I took a mental step back. Although things certainly look like a sort of Action Adventure game, this was not Grounded wherein you Perfect Block the attacks of a house-sized spider. You are hunting machines made of metal – you cannot hope to parry with a spear. Of course, you do have a dodge roll with infinite i-frames, but nevermind.

Instead, I started approaching the game as the hunter I was supposed to be. And the game got worlds better. Unlocking the ability to set down elemental tripwires and such certainly helped, but even before that I started approaching from cliffs, and using other terrain to my advantage when possible. Did I still occasionally get one-shotted and lose 20 minutes of progress due to the annoying checkpoint system? Yeah. But I also realized that I was one-shot because I got cocky and wanted to finish off one robot instead of retreating once I aggroed the second. It all sort of reminded me of PvP games and the adage that if you died with cooldowns available, it was your own fault.

Also amazing? The visuals. Yeah, I have a beefy PC so I’m playing a max settings and everything, but the visual direction itself is spectacular. Running around in the machine bases in particular has been a treat. Some of the larger robots are extremely intimidating, even after you are experienced enough (and have the proper tools) to take them out with ease. Plus, as before, even “routine” encounters with robots you have killed dozens of times can quickly turn against you if you aren’t careful. Any time I see a few Snapjaws (robot crocodiles) swimming around, I say “Nope” and go a different way.

Near as I can tell, I’m about halfway through the game. And unfortunately, I fell into the Open World trap of exploring the Open World instead of plowing through with the main story. I say “unfortunately” because at this point I have unlocked all the Skills I was looking forward to, and unlocked all the best weapons. The game is still fun for now, but I’m worried about whether or not I’ll stick around long enough for the ending. I had 80ish hours in Cyberpunk and never actually beat that game, for example. So we’ll have to see what happens with Horizon: Zero Dawn.

Battlefield 2042

Battlefield may just not be for me anymore.

I wasn’t there at the very beginning of the franchise, but I caught Battlefield 2 at just the perfect moment in college such that I abandoned console gaming and spent all my limited monies purchasing a gaming PC to play it at higher fidelity. Battlefield 2 consumed me. And even after all these years, there are experiences with that game that are not replicable – grabbing the Commander reins during a losing battle and RTS’ing my teammates to uncertain victory is a top 10 gaming memory. Shit, just having a Commander role at all was something else. Sneaking deep behind enemy lines and getting an unrequested radar sweep was a gentle reminder that someone out there recognized what you were doing and wanted you to succeed.

I understand why the Commander role was removed in Battlefield 3 though. The difference between a team with a Commander and one with an empty seat was enormous. Nothing in the game proper prepared you for that critical role either, so the only practice you got was typically when your team was losing and the previous Commander abandoned ship. And even if you were an expert? Better hope someone else didn’t grab the slot or that other players went along with your vote kick.

In any case, Battlefield 3 was fantastic, Battlefield 4 was good with some annoying bits with unlocks/Battlelog, Battlefield 1 was a bit too oppressive, and Battlefield 5 was hot garbage. Between the series trendline and the poor news articles, I didn’t have high hopes for Battlefield 2042. And yet I am still disappointed.

But… why?

I played Battlefield 2042 for about 7 hours via EA Play, which I get for “free” from Game Pass. One of the first options you are presented with is whether you want to allow Cross Play, e.g. get matched up with console players. I chose No, as console players typically get a generous Aim Assist to “level the field” with mouse & keyboard players. Then I had to quickly reverse that decision because it was literally impossible to find a match. Actually, it was still difficult to find a match considering you don’t really “look” for matches, you just get auto-sorted into one (or an empty lobby). I think there was maybe one game mode that allowed you to manually look for a lobby? But those were primarily custom XP farms, like the one where everyone just gave each other ammo, and you get kicked for shooting at each other.

When I actually got to play the game, it was… basically Battlefield. Sorta. There was a lot of criticism about the pivot to Specialists at release, and I agree conceptually. What do they bring to the table that simply having a “specialist tool slot” would not? It’s also kinda weird having these named, unique-looking Specialists when fights are supposed to be 32v32+. It is precisely due to the larger battles that I felt like the Specialists weren’t all that special. Can one of the Sniper guys fly a drone around? Who cares? The enemy is back-capping Point A 1000m away with two tanks. Meanwhile you have a thumb up your ass pressing Q. I guess technically the Sniper can equip whatever other gear they want, even tossing a bunch of C5 packets on the drone like the San Francisco PD. It’s clever, but again, the scope is a bit too small for how games play out.

After a few sessions, it occurred to me that nothing really felt like it mattered. Yes, in the broad view, nothing matters. The nihilism felt particularly acute in Battlefield 2042 though. It’s already one thing that you cannot select specific servers to play on, and always get thrown into a mostly-empty map any time you accidentally press Escape too many times. But you’re also getting thrown together with console players, with whom you fundamentally experience the game differently. Then there is the BattlePass deal, whereby you are no longer really working towards gun unlocks in a satisfying way. Maybe it ends up being all the same in the end, but it feels worse when you “unlock” several items that you cannot actually touch because you haven’t spent however many dollars buying the BattlePass.

All I know is that I did not feel particularly satisfied playing Battlefield 2042, even when I won. I could psychoanalyze it further – as if there is anything left to say on the topic – but if a game is not sparking joy, what is the point? Play something else. So I am.

Citizen Sleeper

I appreciate a game that hits from an unexpected angle, and that’s why I appreciate Citizen Sleeper.

In Citizen Sleeper, you play as a “Sleeper”: an emulated mind in a biomechanical body, desperately fleeing the corporation that owns your total being. You awake in a shipping container, near broken, starving, and alone. Well… not quite alone. The scrapper who found you is hesitant, but allows you to work with him for some meager pay and sleep in the shipping container. From there, you attempt to build what little life you can from whatever you can cobble together.

For the most part, the game is essentially a visual novel with some “diceplay” bolted on. Each morning, you roll up to five dice depending on the condition of your body, and then choose what actions to spend those die on. The numbers on the dice you spend correspond to RNG outcomes associated with the actions – a 6 is always a 100% positive outcome, whereas lower numbers can be as poor as 50% neutral/50% negative. In this way, you have some measure of control over actions, even though things are random. However, since your condition dictates how many dice you have in the first place, this is definitely a “rich get richer” slash failure cascade mechanic. Especially considering how you must earn money to purchase food (starving results in condition damage), earn money to purchase the drugs that repairs condition damage (you decay each day), and negative results can sometimes lead directly to condition damage.

If that sounds stressful… that is kind of the point. Probably.

Once you manage to get a toehold somewhere though, the ramshackle space station begins to open up. You can start spending dice on things other than immediate needs. Start socializing at the neighborhood bar. Chat up the noodle vendor. Start helping the mercenary stuck in the docks. Maybe utilize your quasi-AI mind to dive into the abandoned corners of station. Each encounter adds a splash of color to the otherwise bleak setting, both emphasizing how alone everyone is and yet how much a helping hand can change one’s trajectory.

The unexpected hit I got from Citizen Sleeper was the understated poignancy of the many offramp endings. There are quite a few different endings you can focus towards, but the nature of the game sometimes passively (dice rolls) and actively (wait periods) prevents you from just mainlining them. Which leads you to perhaps explore some of the other stories and meet other kindred spirits. And so there I ended up at the precipice of one such ending, a simple Yes away from escaping my fate on the station… and realizing that in so doing I would be abandoning everyone I met. That particular ending was not Good or Bad – you are not a Chosen One, you have no preexisting connection or responsibility to anyone, and the station and its inhabitants would have just grinded on without you.

But I was there. I was making a difference for people I could touch. And so I chose to continue doing so.

Now, granted, I also was interested in getting all the various storylines fully maxed out before choosing a preferred ending. Yeah, I optimize even visual novels. HOWEVER! I did actually get a pang of melancholy there, despite the fact that I had copied the save file to a separate location so that I could choose other endings without having the play the game all over again. I never did though. I completed all the storylines and chose to stay behind, until it was time to go with the family I made over the course of the game.

Overall, I recommend giving Citizen Sleeper a try on GamePass.

Patch Waiting Game

Waiting for game patches is a dangerous… game.

For a minute there, I was hot and heavy for Grounded. Then the 1.0.2 patch hit, featuring some nice Quality of Life updates, but also a substantial nerf to an item I was actively using (Toxicology Badge). Barely more than a week later, they rolled out 1.0.4 which rebalanced a lot of the weapons in the game more generally, retooling some of the Mutations. Around this time, I started seeing reports that there was still a bug with the final battle, and not the Arthropod kind. So, even if I wanted to plow forward with the game with my inventory wildly fluctuating, I wouldn’t be able to see the end screen.

So… I waited. Then started playing something else. And here I am, nearly a month later, not having touched the game at all. At a certain point, I start having to get a gut check for how likely it is that I would ever actually come back and finish things.

Obsidian is now teasing Patch 1.1, set to hit the testing servers on November 28th. Certainly no sense in getting back into the game just to miss out on being able to travel up ziplines, right? Right.

I am waiting around for RimWorld too. A few months ago now I actually bought both the Royalty and Ideology expansions on sale. Haven’t played a game with them yet though, as I had other games I wanted to get to first, lest RimWorld consume all the oxygen in the room. Then the Biotech DLC was released, which sounded right up my alley. But of course you have to wait for all your mods to be updated to support Biotech first, though. Then Tynan mentioned that they are working on a patch that will feature cross-DLC integration for the first time. Can’t start a new game without that, right? Right.

Patches, man.

It feels good knowing developers are (usually) improving the game. On the other hand, that means you have to choose between continuing to play a good-enough version, or waiting for the better one.