Author Archives: Azuriel

Blizzard’s Reckoning

You have probably already seen 37 other blog posts or articles about Blizzard being sued by the State of California over sex discrimination. Technically, it’s Activision Blizzard being sued, but apparently the rot and “frat-boy culture” is squarely in the Blizzard corner. Then the company slammed its dick in the car door with a disastrously-bad PR “rebuttal” that included this:

The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past. We have been extremely cooperative with the DFEH throughout their investigation, including providing them with extensive data and ample documentation, but they refused to inform us what issues they perceived. They were required by law to adequately investigate and to have good faith discussions with us to better understand and to resolve any claims or concerns before going to litigation, but they failed to do so. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court. We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family. While we find this behavior to be disgraceful and unprofessional, it is unfortunately an example of how they have conducted themselves throughout the course of their investigation. It is this type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.

Lawyers going to lawyer, but that doesn’t quite fit the Blizzard image that they were trying to maintain. Indeed, now over 2000 current (for the moment) Blizzard employees agree that perhaps vigorously denying discrimination/harassment is taking place feels a bit tone-deaf in the context of being sued for… ignoring/disregarding claims of discrimination/harassment taking place. “All voices matter.” “I was groped during a manager-sanctioned drunken cube-crawl.” “La-la-la-la-la.”

Out of the various takes I’ve read, there are two that resonated with me. First, was a deeper dive into the complaint itself over on Nosy Gamer. As they point out, there is a lot of press about the harassment that led to a woman’s suicide, but the bulk of the complaints were more focused on sex discrimination in pay, promotion, and management. The harassment is abhorrent and vile, but the meat and potatoes of the lawsuit seems to be the more mundane misogyny that seeps in and saturates many companies. This is still not what we want to be seeing from beloved studios, especially ones who occasionally appear to care about the cultural zeitgeists in which they inhabit.

The other take that resonated was from Shintar over at Priest with a Cause. In particular, the linked video gave voice to the dilemma one encounters upon hearing how shit one’s favorite company actually is under the surface. Do you take the principled stand and boycott the company and its products? If you don’t boycott, are you tacitly supporting the abuse? If you do boycott, is it a moral imperative to convince other holdouts to also unsub? If you aren’t boycotting, should you point out (Achtually…) all the other evil companies that those people are supporting?

In short, No. Do whatever. Follow your heart. Leave everyone else alone.

That is considerably less satisfying, of course. And it raises uncomfortable questions. But that’s also life. I continue to recycle even if they probably just dump it into the same garbage pile as normal, or shipped it China or wherever back when it was profitable to do so. But I also just throw away batteries, because if it’s that big a deal, you better make it fucking easy to know where I was supposed to drop that bag of batteries off at. Seriously, some places were going to charge me to give them dead batteries. Fuck that, I’ll put it in their dumpster. (I didn’t)

So, there it is. There is a Hearthstone expansion coming out next week and I’m excited to see the cards. But I’m not in favor of sexual discrimination. But… I’m still going to play the expansion and not feel particularly guilty about it. Maybe a little guilty. Then I remember I’m in favor of a strong, regulatory government – such as the one that brought this lawsuit in the first place – and get on playing this childish RNG fiesta of a card game with a mostly clean conscience.

You do you.

No Thanks, I’m Good

One of the events coming back in Guild Wars 2 is the Twisted Marionette encounter from early in the Living World days. You know, when the devs thought it would be super clever to spend tremendous resources on unique events and then literally delete them from the game after X weeks. That sort of nonsense has been a bad idea forever, so my interest was piqued when I heard ArenaNet is bringing back some of the Season 1 content.

Then I came across a helpful guide to the encounter on Reddit:

New drinking game: take a shot every time it mentions an ability will one-shot you. And prepare to be downed yourself.

I slid off Guild Wars 2 towards the beginning of Season 1, so I have no attachment to this “fan-favorite” event. And, granted, I led raids in WoW for many years which had the same sort of one-shot, “wipe the raid because one person didn’t dance correctly” mechanics. Perhaps that was the idea of the time, to craft an encounter similar to those of its peers, even though I don’t think anyone ever actually thought it would be a good idea in GW2. Sure, put on some zerg protection for X number of bosses to shake things up. But this sort of thing? Yikes.

So, anyway, Twisted Marionette is back for whomever still enjoys that sort of thing.

It was interesting feeling my physical revulsion bubble up just from reading that guide though; a sort of literal gut check of where I am in 2021 regarding group content. I do still log in very occasionally to GW2, sometimes seeking out the world events and killing dragons. The zerg is much maligned as mindless, and I suppose it is, but that has always felt more core to the GW2 experience than anything else. A big pile of people and particle effects, working separately together, without competition or ego, achieving great things. I never felt bad seeing another player beside me, or was concerned about their DPS performance or general competency. The more the merrier!

I have been out of the raiding game so long that it’s difficult to imagine ever enjoying the opposite experience. Highly regimented, strictly choreographed, tightly tuned… school group projects. Wherein your personal aptitude is diluted in a pool of randos who very much care less about the final grade than you do. Sometimes it’s even worse when you know everyone else, because now you have worry about letting them down, or worry about pretending you aren’t annoyed when they let you down.

Is there a sense of pride and accomplishment when you finally defeat the difficult encounter as a group? Sure. Although it’s more relief than anything, as I get to avoid the awkward, weekly debriefing in which I try to delicately tell our best DPS that her healing boyfriend needs to step up or he’s getting benched. And even though we succeeded, there are those who wanted both gone due to drama.

I used to do this sort of thing for fun? Christ almighty. No thanks, I’m good.

[Fake Edit:] For the complete opposite take, look no further than Bhagpuss.

The next two lanes also killed theirs but after that it was fail time for everyone, and we wiped. Second time around we did even worse and then I had to go to bed. It was a great introduction all the same.

He’s not being facetious. Dude is clearly an (inter)national treasure and we should all aspire to be this excited to still fail through no fault of our own, instead of considering that being literally the worst possible outcome.

Review: Fate Hunters

Fate Hunters is a deckbuilding roguelike in the same… well, not vein, but same circulatory system as Slay the Spire.

In truth, the game plays more like Dominion meets Darkest Dungeon – there is no energy, so you can play all of the cards in your hand every turn, but unplayable treasure cards can gum up your deck if you get too greedy. Monster attacks are straight-forward: they do the thing as what their card says, from left to right, every turn. After each boss fight, you are given the opportunity to leave with all your treasure cards or continue the climb, with each successive boss adding a multiplier to your treasure. If you die, that’s it, you get nothing.

And that’s the entire review. The end.

…I’m being kinda serious.

Some very evocative art

What I can say is that the game is very addictive in the just-one-more-fight way and feels amazing even though it seems low-budget. The card art is very Darkest Dungeon and consistent throughout the game. There is a fairly decent amount of cards available, including a half-dozen classes which have their own specific cards. There are also meaningful choices as you level and when you defeat bosses. For example, do you want to pick one of three random Fates (passive abilities) out of 20+? Or choose one of three Legendary weapons? Or choose one of three Heroic spells?

There is a fairly high variance in card effect quality which can lead to some swingy runs, but overall you are not likely to be shut out of possibly winning. And besides, as long as you get make it past at least one boss, you can just exit the dungeon with whatever spoils you happened to collect and try again.

As for the downsides? Well, the game is done and will no longer get any updates. Which is a real shame because there are a number of tweaks that could have been made to buff the weaker cards/abilities into usefulness. The nature of the game also lends itself to very specific strategies too – you pretty much have to always build a discard-themed deck given how treasures work. There is also zero story or lore of any kind, if that is important to you. The default price of $15 is extremely ridiculous.

But, honestly? It’s on sale for $3.74 right now and I have put in 18 hours already. If you are someone who enjoys deckbuilding roguelikes, it’s a no-brainer. Just be wary of using it as “filler” or a palate cleanser in-between other games, because every time I try and do that, it’s suddenly 2AM and I never get to the other game. Which is a pretty glowing review, now that I think about it.

Wiki Void

Have you ever played a game without a robust Wiki available when you needed it?

If so, have you ever thought about doing something about it?

It is an interesting dilemma all around. As a developer, you cannot really be in the business of creating or maintaining your own Wiki. That would be kind of a full-time job, even if anonymous internet users weren’t able to change the information at any time. On the player side though, you often don’t have the necessary details to write accurate information. Sure, the text on the screen is there. But you are often not privy to the mechanics behind the scenes, and may not even be able to test anything depending on how everything is constructed.

For one reason or another, I have been playing a lot of games lately that have very limited Wikis. Some of that is because they are mods for games still in Alpha, e.g. Darkness Falls within 7 Days to Die, which incidentally is not the sort of thing you could really imagine happening like 10 years ago. A mod of a game in Alpha? Taking the time to write all of that sort of double-ephemeral data seems extra pointless. Then again, I certainly would have enjoyed having access to the information at the time, as I ended up spending 60+ hours with the mod.

Then you have the obscure games like Fate Hunter. Good fun. Zero information. Well, there is precisely one guide out there in the Steam community – and it’s a good one! – but that’s it. Is it worth trying to fill in a Wiki about it? Eh… probably not. Ring of Pain is another sort of low-information indie game that I did end up adding things to the Wiki because I was tired of going back to and forth with a text file of things I needed to remember (“what’s a Shrine of Neglect again?”).

So, it depends, I guess. Or maybe it’s simple: I will add to/improve an existing product, but not start from scratch. Which is probably reasonable considering that every minute I’m doing that is another minute I’m not playing the game I’m writing about. Which is a price I already pay for blogging.

Fighting the Game Mechanics

I just completed Orwell, a sort of Papers, Please-style game that demonstrates the dangers of mass surveillance. As an Investigator, your job is to comb through a few suspects’ Facebook pages, text threads, and anything else you can get your hands on (including medical records) to glean info and connect dots to stop further terrorist attacks.

The game is actually pretty slick in an AR sense, and reminded me of that one old (2012 is old, right?) Youtube video, Welcome to Life. There is no fourth wall – you the player agree to terms and conditions and your participation as an outside observer is intended.

Overall, the game was decent entertainment across the six hours I spent playing. The frustrating part though was how often I ended up having to fight against the game mechanics.

One of the central conceits of the game is that you have to upload information to the Orwell system as “Datachunks.” Sometimes this is straight-forward factual information, like phone numbers or email addresses. Other times you have to exercise judgment and restraint based on context. If someone says they live in “Wonderland, on the other side of the rainbow” or whatever, uploading that will actually make that their address in the system. That example is benign, but as this is a game with multiple endings, you can actually screw things up depending on what you submit and what you don’t.

Yeah, maybe don’t imply that they engage in torture.

The problem I faced rather early on though is that Orwell is a videogame. And as a videogame, progression is based on “flags” which must be tripped before you can continue. There were at least four instances in which I could not progress until I uploaded a specific Datachunk that was not otherwise immediately obvious as being necessary. Once I did so, there would be a totally unrelated phone call or whatever I could listen in on to get more information and continue onwards. But as I mentioned, the game makes it clear that you shouldn’t just upload ALL of the Datachunks lest you pollute the profiles and/or possibly implicate an innocent person.

There is no option to just end the day, or move forward with the information you already have. I suppose it would be more frustrating to basically soft-lock you out of finishing the game at all if you end up missing a crucial bit of information. Nevertheless, Orwell felt like it existed between a visual novel and a Hidden Object game, the latter being a hypothetical one in which you could “lose” by clicking on the wrong thing.

I don’t have a solution to this problem; the Orwell devs don’t either. It’s a shame that an otherwise delightful experience could encounter so much friction in execution based on game mechanics.

Magic Legends: Dumpstered

About three months ago, I played Magic: Legends, and walked away with this impression:

At the same time, it feels like a colossal disaster in progress. Pushing buttons isn’t fun, the loot isn’t fun, and the monetization strategy isn’t fun. How much can realistically change in Open beta? If the answer isn’t “the whole damn thing” then Cryptic is in trouble.

Well, Cryptic eventually came to the same conclusion and is shutting down the game in October. Which is the correct move, although highly embarrassing. How many times has a game gotten all the way to Open Beta and then just shut down?

Our vision for Magic: Legends missed the mark, but we are proud of what we achieved. Thanks to Wizards of the Coast, we got to bring the expansive Magic: The Gathering Multiverse to a wide audience and explore new angles within the established ARPG genre. We learned several valuable lessons along the way, and we will use them to improve Cryptic’s future development efforts.

Sure, I guess it’s good in the scientific sense to “explore new angles” and determine what doesn’t work. But next time? You know… just ask. I’m available at a very reasonable rate. I played that shit for 10 minutes and almost noped myself out of there right then. You can’t have an ARPG where what buttons 1-4 do is randomly switched from moment to moment. I want to see the dev who deliberately designed it that way and went “Yep, I want to play like this for the next 200 hours.”

Non-Service Games

aka regular-ass games.

It is interesting how my perception of games has shifted in the many years we have been living under a “Games as Service” model. Cosmetics, DLC, loot boxes, and all the other myriad monetization strategies nefariously cooked up by black hat economists are just the way things are now. The one little light left in Pandora’s box is that of updates. The suits want to keep engagement high to keep the cash spigot on, so they task the devs with fiddling with all the knobs. Sometimes that ends up making things worse, sometimes maliciously so (e.g. adding time-sinks). But sometimes it works out, and on the player side, hey, at least it seems like someone cares about what’s happening.

Cue my surprise and disappointment and surprise at my disappointment at learning a recent game purchase is… done. Finished. Complete.

Fate Hunters is neat little deckbuilding roguelike I bought for $3.74. The visuals are like Darkest Dungeon, the gameplay is kinda like Slay the Spire, but honestly it plays more like Dominion. There is zero plot, and you only accumulate gold to purchase permanent unlocks if you make it past a boss and retire your deck. Oh, and gold is represented by Treasure cards in your deck, so the more you hoard, the more you dilute your deck. There is no energy, so you basically get to play as many cards as you can (Treasure cards notwithstanding). It is the most arcade-like roguelike I have ever played, but it’s engaging just the same.

It is also “abandoned.”

We finished the game and did almost everything we planned. But there will be no new patches and sequels.

(source)

“The devs are done with the game? Can they even do that?!” Fate Hunters actually plays pretty well – I did not encounter anything remotely close to a significant bug. There are some eyebrow-raising balance issues and some card tweaks that would make everything smoother IMO. The thought that nothing will happen with the game anymore though? It feels like I was duped. As though any game I purchase must have full dev support for at least the length of time I play it, lest it be abandonware. If you aren’t Terraria or No Man’s Sky, who even are you?

Well, you’re a regular-ass game from any time 20+ years ago.

[Fake Edit:] I was digging around and found out that the devs are making a new game that looks exactly the same gameplay-wise… but worse, graphically. It’s in Early Access and is called Dreamgate. On their FAQ thread, they mention:

Do you have experience in developing and releasing a game in Steam?

Our team has been developing games for over 7 years and our last game was Fate Hunter. But unfortunately, we could not continue to develop this game, because the rights to it did not belong to our team.

Based on our past experience, we decided to release our own game, the rights to which belong to us fully and which we could develop as we see fit.

So, there it is. Of course, they also mentioned in another post that they are a 2-man team and “this is not our main project” so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Caveat emptor and all that.

[Real Edit:] WTF. How many done games am I going to be buying?! Just found out about Griftlands:

At this time we don’t have any plans for more Griftlands content or DLC. That being said, who knows? I don’t like to ever say we absolutely won’t do more for a game because that often turns out to be not totally true, but at least for now we don’t have any plans.

(source)

Maybe devs don’t actually like deckbuilding games? Don’t Starve and Oxygen Not Included are both Klei games that have/are getting paid DLC and ongoing support and tweaks. Scandalous!

Impression: Griftlands

Griftlands is Klei’s entry into the roguelike deckbuilder genre. And in typical Klei fashion, it overcomplicates everything.

Dialog is actually pretty good across the board.

In some circumstances, overcomplication can be good news. It represents depth and complex systems and a high skill ceiling. Oxygen Not Included is a gem of a colony sim, and Don’t Starve is one of those genre classics that seems simple at first, but quickly demonstrates how deep the rabbit hole goes.

So what’s the issue with Griftlands? The complication is just time-consuming.

One of the central hooks is that Griftlands is a roguelike deckbuilding RPG. The three characters you can pick from each have an elaborate backstory and encounter numerous choices throughout the game. And speaking of backstory, the game’s lore is extremely elaborate and interesting. It takes place on a remote, swamp-like planet populated by the descendants of a spacefaring civilization that… stopped sparefaring. Most of the citizens worship Hesh, an inscrutable Cthulhu-esque monster in the deep ocean. So you have mechs, bioweapons, ancient tech, and post-apoc Thunderdome elements in this gumbo soup of a setting. It’s pretty cool.

Less cool is how all these RPG/Visual Novel elements interact with, you know, a roguelike deckbuilder. Like how my first playthrough with the first character ended when I died to the final boss after 7 hours, 15 minutes. While you can make different choices the next time around, in reality they are more of an A/B route sort of thing. Do you side with the authorities or the rebels? Do you double-cross the one dude or not? The final boss is always the final boss. My second playthrough was a success after five hours. And that was with me skipping some of the dialog I had already heard before.

Just a breezy 5 hour, 20 minute playthrough.

Even ignoring the story aspects, the deckbuilding side itself is complicated.

You start off with two decks, completely independent of one another: Battle and Negotiation. Whenever you come across an encounter, you often have the choice of determining whether to use one or the other. Generally speaking, Negotiation avoids “battle” encounters entirely, but sometimes they are used to weaken a particularly stubborn foe before fisticuffs. Negotiation is an entirely different battle system with different mechanics and even different “HP”. Additionally, you can “lose” in a Negotiation without losing the game, although that typically results in you no longer being able to do any more Negotiations for the rest of the in-game day.

On top of this, all cards have XP meters that increase as you play them. Once filled, the card gets one of two upgrades to choose from. The generic cards have a dozen or so potential options, but the main ones you get from shops or win from battle will just have the two options. This XP element will typically encourage you to stall battles out so you can level-up your cards, but this can only be done for X number of rounds before your character becomes exhausted. Nevertheless, the XP mechanic complicates things quite a bit considering the final encounter for each character is always a Battle, so choosing Negotiate all the time will lead to inevitable failure.

Turns out this combo is pretty strong.

On the Battle side of things, everything is more straight-forward. Ish. You face off versus one or more enemies like in Slay the Spire. You might get some help though in the form of a pet, hired goons, NPC helpers, or NPCs summoned from cards in your deck. Each of the three main characters have their own special mechanics. For example, one gets Charges that can be expended to boost cards, another takes self-damage that turns into end-of-turn self-healing, and so on. You can add cards to your deck after successful encounters or buy them from shops. Grafts are permanent items you, well, graft into your skull that act as passive abilities. And so on and so forth.

Oh, I forgot to mention about relationships. During Battles, enemy character have X amount of HP, and then a slightly higher threshold for Panic. For example, someone may have 80 HP but Panic once they get to 20 HP. Cause all the enemies to Panic and the encounter ends with you having the choice as accept their surrender or execute them. Executing characters grants you a special card, but will also likely cause one of their friends to hate you. This hate manifests as a Social Bane, which is just a persistent debuff that exists as long as they hate you. Some are whatever, but others increase the costs of all vendors, or cause you to lose money every time you sleep, and other nastiness. You can try and kill the person who hates you to erase the Social Bane, but unless you properly provoke them into a duel, you just continue the cycle of hatred.

On the flip side, Social Boons also exist. Most of the time they come from doing quests for people, but sometimes you can just straight-up throw enough money at someone to get them to like you. Just like in real life!

Are you feeling the overcomplicated-ness of this game yet?

Overall the game is fun, but honestly it is in spite of all of these systems. A particularly long Slay the Spire run takes me maybe 2-3 hours max. Doubling that for Griftlands does not double my fun. Indeed, the longer things go on, the more disappointed I become if I don’t succeed. The saving grace of most roguelikes is winning or losing quick enough that you can jump back on the horse without questioning your life choices. With Griftlands, you have plenty of opportunity to ask questions.

As a final note, there is a Brawl mode which eliminates all the plot and just lets you play battles in sequence. I just completed my first one before writing this… after 3 hours and 20 minutes. That is one long-ass roguelike experience.

Of Course, Of Course

Hades is coming to Xbox Game Pass on August 13th.

Of course, I bought it for $10 last week. About 5 hours in too, so that’s well past any refund window.

The double-whammy here is that thus far, unlike practically everyone everywhere, I am not actually having all that much fun. I’m in the third zone and all the enemies there are annoying to fight – every room is just me spamming dodge and left-clicking. It’s cool that there’s a lot of unique dialog and all, but that’s not particularly motivating in the face of dodge spamming my way back to the third zone and dying to some nonsense from annoying enemies. And it’s entirely possible that things just get worse!

So, yeah. If you haven’t played Hades yet, continue not playing it until mid-August and take it for a spin.

Summer Epic Sale

Are we still mad at Epic? Probably not, right? Back in the day, my ire was from Epic throwing Fortnite cash around to buy exclusivity contracts, which bypasses normally consumer-friendly competition. For the most part, that all seems to have died down. Instead, we have the equivalent of Steam sales with a bonus $10 off coupon for games $14.99 and up. Which makes for some rather exceptional deals.

Oh, and apparently they added the Wishlist feature at some point.

Here is what I am currently looking at (post-coupon):

  • Hades – $9.99
  • Death Stranding – $13.99
  • Griftlands – $5.99
  • Cardpocalypse – $4.99
  • Disco Elysium: Final Cut – $19.99
  • Borderlands 3 – $9.79

This is the second time some of those games have appeared on my list, but I know for sure that Hades is getting bought, at a minimum. Griftlands keeps being described as Slay the Spire 2.0/knock-off, which is a bonus in my book, and what sets it over the edge is that it’s made by Klei (Don’t Starve, Oxygen Not Included). I keep thinking that some of these will wind up on the Game Pass eventually, especially in the more-likely-than-not scenario in which I purchase the game but don’t play it right away. It’s hard to tell though, what big names will make it and which ones will not.

[Fake Edit:] I ended up buying Hades, Griftlands, and Death Stranding. Borderlands 3 is just as likely to be given away for free by Epic at some point, and I put in 18 hours into the Pre-Sequel before dropping it from boredom. Heard great things about Disco Elysium, but everything I’ve read puts it so out there gameplay-wise that I doubt it’s a game that would develop enough of an itch to play it right now. For example, if I’m in the mood for a new roguelike, Hades is basically it, as I’ve played most of the others.

Anyway, back to playing.