Author Archives: Azuriel

The Wishlist, part Welp

I was expecting the Epic Sale to be weeks away still, but apparently it started today. Also, apparently inflation (or lawsuit fees?) come for us all:

Instead of getting a flat $10 off any game at $14.99 and above, you get 25% extra off.

This is technically a better deal when the baseline game you are buying is more than $40. Everything else is a worse deal. For example, Rogue Lords is on sale for $16.24. With the historical coupon scheme, it would be $6.24, but this new scheme means it is $12.18. The one extra nuance though is apparently the new scheme will allow you to get the 25% discount as long as your entire cart is above $14.99 rather than individual items. Risk of Rain 2 is discounted to $12.49, for example, which normally would not receive any extra discount. In the same cart as Rogue Lords, you save… $3.12.

Hey, I’ve done dumber shit for, well, not less but not much more than that.

In any case, it’s extremely disappointing that basically every game on my wishlist is $2.49 more expensive than it was six months ago during the Winter version of this sale. Two-fiddy many not seem like a lot, and perhaps it isn’t in the grand scheme of things, but in my head I turn those numbers into other games I could have bought.

Anyway, this is how my wishlist breaks down in this sale:

  • [$37.26] Final Fantasy 7: Remake Intergrade
  • [$22.49] Cyberpunk 2077
  • [$22.49] Red Dead Redemption 2
  • [$18.74] Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete
  • [$15.74] Satisfactory
  • [$9.37] Risk of Rain 2
  • [$37.49*] God of War
  • [$40.49*] Dying Light 2
  • [$18.74*] Wildermyth
  • [not listed] Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  • [not listed] Elden Ring
  • [not listed] NeiR: Replicant

The prices with an asterisk are games not on sale aside from the bonus 25% (Dying Light 2 is 10% off, I guess). I’m actually rather surprised about the bottom three games simply not existing on Epic. I’m not aware of any exclusivity agreements with Steam, and part of Epic’s whole deal was supposed to be a better dev cut of the action, so… what? How is something like Elden Ring not on here?

After some sticker shock at the “buy all the things” total, I pared it down to the four horsemen:

So, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Cyberpunk 2077, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Horizon: Zero Dawn.

I had things like Risk of Rain 2 and Satisfactory in there and some other off-wishlist games like Days Gone and Far Cry 6, but I had to face reality a bit. Given those main four games (and nevermind my existing library), when would I have the time to be playing anything else? I suppose it’s possible that Epic’s next sale is an even worse deal than this one, but that is a risk I am just going to take. This way, I can see where things stand by the end of quad-AAA production experiences, not feel guilty for occasionally tooling around in random indie games, and see what ends up popping up in Game Pass.

And that’s it. See you in six months.

The Wishlist

With a monitor and the PC acquired, it is time for Phase 2: reasons to have upgraded my PC at all.

  • Final Fantasy 7: Remake Intergrade
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • Red Dead Redemption 2
  • God of War
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  • Elden Ring
  • Dying Light 2
  • Satisfactory
  • NeiR: Replicant
  • Wildermyth
  • Risk of Rain 2

The ones near the bottom did not need an RTX 3080, of course. Arguably, none of these do. But I have it now, so… Capitalism, Ho!

The plan here is to wait for the next Epic Store sale where they offer 50% off + $10 coupon, which could push many of these into the $15-$20 territory. Indeed, Cyberpunk and RDR2 were both $20 this past Winter, so I’m expecting the same thing this Summer. The big question mark will be FF7R with its MSRP of $70. I doubt it hits 50% off, but maybe something like 25%? With the coupon that would bring it “down” to $42ish which… ehh, maybe. There’s a part of me that wants to wait even more out of principle. At the same time, I have already waited so long for something I’ve wanted so much that it becomes a bit ridiculous. I could just, you know, not buy NeiR Replicant or whatever and use that cash.

Or just have bought a RTX 3070 prebuilt and all the games Nope, nah, I make GREAT decisions.

In other news, I’m looking forward to max settings on games where that matters.

Interlude

When it comes to music, I have a System.

Stage 1 is Acquisition. My ability to discover new music is very limited, as I did not have much of a commute even pre-pandemic for radio, and I typically listen to NPR besides. Therefore, I pretty much only hear snippets of songs from random Youtube clips, memes, or Indie-Rock playlists. Once I do hear something I like, I immediately try to locate the entire discography of the group “just in case” there are other songs I may enjoy. The amount of times this has worked out for me is small in the aggregate, but when it has worked out, I ended up finding some of my favorite songs of all time, so it’s worth it.

Stage 2 is Sifting. I have a dynamic playlist called Unrated that will display every song in my library that does not have a 1-5 Star rating. Once a rating is decided, it drops from the playlist and I continue down the list until my queue is empty. Roughly speaking, ratings mean:

  • 1 Star – To be deleted
  • 2 Star – Song is “useful” for some other purpose (e.g. memes, D&D, comedy clips)
  • 3 Star – Baseline level of good, would enjoy this randomly being played
  • 4 Star – Very good song, catchy, meaningful
  • 5 Star – Devasting emotional payload

To give an idea about distribution, I have 3270 songs in the 3-Star category (80%), 721 in 4-Star (18%), and just 100 in 5-Star (2%).

Stage 3 is Assignment. Once everything has a Star rating, it goes into my Group Work dynamic playlist. It is here that I assign it a “Grouping” category. I base these off of colors that correspond to mood:

  • Clear – no particular mood
  • Blue – melancholy, pathos
  • Green – mellow, unobtrusive
  • Red – songs that make you drive faster on the freeway
  • Yellow – Up-tempo, driving beats
  • Rose – relationship songs

Once this last piece of metadata is complete, songs that have survived the gauntlet are automatically sorted into dynamic playlists. If I want to chill and do some work? Open the Green playlist and hit Random. Roadtrip? Load up Red and press Play. Want to just feel sad for a while? Blue. This has worked out much better for me than traditional playlists, as sometimes I forgot to add new songs to old playlists. Plus, some songs fit into multiple moods, which I can handle by giving them multiple Grouping labels (“Green, Blue”).

To be honest, I have no idea if this is convoluted or not. My default assumption is… Yes. But I haven’t really heard how other people tackle this sort of thing. Surely everyone has playlists of some kind, yeah? Do people just use Spotify these days? What is your System? Partially because I’m curious, and partially so I can determine what improvements (if any) can be assimilated into my own.

Addendum: Program-wise, I am using MusicBee as the player on PC, and Rocket Player on my phone. I used to use iTunes on PC and synced things easily with Rocket Player, but at some point that method failed and I could never figure out why. So these days I just bulk copy/replace files on the phone periodically.

Acquisition-wise, TPB used to be good enough, but these days I just rip from Youtube.

Misadventures

You didn’t think buying a premade PC would be easy did you?

Confirming that it boots up.

Well, it was pretty easy, actually. What has not been easy is the business of migrating my life.

The thought process was that the prebuilt came with a 1TB NVMe SSD and then I would just move my two existing SSDs from my current machine over into the new one. Since they are already labeled as “Data” and “Games,” with corresponding contents, it would make for what I imagined to be an easy move. The first thing that tripped me up was the fact that my C:\ drive (a third SSD) had games installed on it too. So, I spent most of the afternoon copying over ~90 GB worth of files to the Data drive with the intention of moving them back to the C:\ drive of the new computer.

Once I cracked open the case of the new PC though, I became very confused.

In short, there really didn’t seem to be any obvious bay drives or cages or whatever the fuck you call “place where you stick SSDs.” I mean, there were places where I could kinda sorta maybe see an SSD fitting, but not how it was supposed to fit. The internet was fairly useless in this regard, as was/is Cyberpower tech support who, as of the time of this writing, has still not responding to the ticket I submitted. All I wanted to know was A) where are SSDs supposed to go, B) what the shit these plastic things are supposed to be (presumably related to affixing SSDs), and C) is it true that there is only one SATA port on this motherboard?

That last apparent fact really threw my plans into disarray, as I wouldn’t be able to bring over two SSDs like I planned. The subsequent surprise that the Data drive was, in fact, an old-school HDD this whole time barely registered.

Feels like a “3 Seashells” situation.

So, Lesson 1: it’s actually very important to pay attention to what the motherboard of your PC looks like, even if that seems like the least exciting piece of the machine.

Lesson 2: Likewise, pay attention to your case. Every damn one seems to have a window on the side these days, which means everything else is getting stuffed out of sight or miniaturized out of existence.

Incidentally, both are lessons I should have already learned from a prior misadventure a few years ago with buying a washer & dryer. Our old top-loading washer stopped working, and the issue was fried electronics that would have cost $200 to replace just in parts. Considering the dryer took 2-3 cycles to dry towels anyway, we opted for a new washer & dryer combo. We did our research, we compared prices, we shopped around, we got a good deal. The thing that we didn’t account for? Which ways the goddamn doors open. They are both front-loading machines and the doors open towards each other. Huge pain in the ass moving clothes around. Can’t really swap positions because of the drain pipes and the dryer vent, and the washer door is not reversible so… yeah. The little stuff matters.

In any case, I reexamined my available options for the PC. The motherboard technically has three NVMe slots, but one of them is behind the huge, honking RTX 3080. So, maximum, I could have one SATA SSD and one additional NVMe SSD. Decision? Throwing my hands (and cash) in the air and purchasing a 2TB NVMe SSD for about $200. Getting a 1TB version would have saved some money and put me on par with my current setup, but… well, my current setup is one without a lot of AAA games installed. And what this experience has taught me thus far is that I don’t really have a deep desire to be spending my precious free time fiddling around with computer components.

Seriously, how could I have not known I still had a HDD installed after all these years? That was where Guild Wars 2 was installed! I never questioned the loading times, but now it all makes sense.

As for the digital migration, that is still ongoing. Several years ago, I bought an external hard drive “docking station” thing in an effort to try and save my wife’s data when her laptop died. Basically, you can chuck any hard drive in the plastic cage, SSD or HDD, and then connect it to another computer via a USB 3.0 cable. It worked. So, that’s the play: install the NVMe SSD into the new computer, unplug the old computer, plug in the new computer, and then (temporarily) remove all the hard drives from the old one and transfer their contents via the docking station.

And because I like doing things the hard way, I am first making a fresh backup of my Data drive to an external SSD that I have around the house for exactly this purpose. Well, that, and because I am vaguely concerned about this 11+ year old surprise HDD dying mid-migration.

So that’s where I’m at. Hopefully the next update will be about how everything went perfectly, and that I was finally able to see a game, any game, at max settings and that it was all worth it.

Battlestation: PC Acquired

About 10 years ago, I bought my current PC. In that time, I pretty much only added a few extra SSDs and upgraded the graphics card from 560ti to 970 to 1060 (via warranty). I have had the same i5-2500K processor, the same 8GB of RAM, and the same motherboard the entire time.

Well, I just put in an order for a new prebuilt when a good deal presented itself:

  • Intel i7-11700KF
  • 32GB RAM
  • RTX 3080 (10GB)

After tax, the total came to $1842. That’s more than the $1260 I spent on my rig back in 2011… although inflation means it really cost ~$1600 in today’s dollars.

The decision was tough. In fact, I have been mulling over the thought of canceling the order and getting a similarly beefy machine with a 3060ti instead for ~$400 cheaper. The idea would be to save that money and put it towards a replacement GPU in the Fall when the 4000 series cards come out and presumably obsolete the 3080.

But you know what? I kinda want to be done.

Assuming it arrives in working order, this PC will meet all the needs of every game that I had been putting off for the last few years. Cyberpunk 2077, Red Dead Redemption 2, Horizon Zero Dawn, FFVIIR. All of which I am planning on purchasing during the next Epic Summer Sale where they should be 50% off + $10 coupon. Having a 3060ti would make them playable at 1440p but otherwise put me in that awkward scenario in which I either play them with the hardware I have at the time, or sitting on them until I get the 4000-series card. Not that that is even guaranteed to be widely available! If I’m waiting until the Fall, I may as well wait for the Winter Sale instead… and so on and so forth.

If you think that’s exhausting to read, imagine being me.

So, yeah. It’s done. And that is certainly worth X dollars all by itself.

LFD? What LFD?

Not to belabor the topic of WoW Classic and LFD, but Rohan brings up an amazingly relevant point:

The real irony here is that Retail sees far less use of the Dungeon Finder than Classic would. Mythic and Mythic Keystone dungeons don’t use the Dungeon Finder and automatic group creation, they use the Premade Group Finder. So really, the only people using the Dungeon Finder are people levelling, people doing dungeons to finish quests, or people gearing up a little at the very start of an expansion. Otherwise everyone is doing dungeons the old-fashioned way, even having to travel to the instance entrance in the world.

I think it would be difficult for even the more ardent Classic purist to be upset over a Premade Group Finder compromise. It allows you to advertise a PUG to your local server community without needing to spam Trade chat. What would the counter-argument possibly be? Yeah, it didn’t exist during Wrath, but LFD did so… are you an originalist or no?

To be honest, I completely forgot about the Premade Group Finder because A) I’m not playing WoW and B) I had less than zero interest in Mythic dungeons when I was playing. I would still prefer an LFD system overall for less serious content though, especially for those on smaller servers. Sometimes you just want to press a button and get group content. If it’s good enough for PvP, why not PvE?

Borrowed Power, Borrowed Time

The Blizzard devs have been on a bit of a interview circuit since the reveal of the next WoW expansion. Some of the tidbits have been interesting, like this particular summary (emphasis mine):

  • Borrowed Power
    • The team reflected on the borrowed power systems of the past few expansions and admit that giving players power and then taking it away at the end didn’t feel good.
    • As they thought of a way to move forward without borrowed power systems, they realized that the only talent system used to fill those gaps by giving you something new every expansion that would not be taken away at the end.
    • The goal of the new talent system is to grow on it in further expansions with more layers and rows.
    • They want the new talent system to be sustainable for at least a few expansions and what to do at that point is an issue to solve then.

In other words, Blizzard recognized the failings of the “borrowed power” system – after three expansions! – and decided to bring back talent trees as a replacement. All while acknowledging the reasons why talent trees failed in the first place… and simply saying the equivalent of “we’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it.”

You know, I’m actually going to transcript that part from Ion Hazzikostas for posterity:

And I think we’ve built this system… you know, I mean, could we sustain that for 20 years? Probably not. But we don’t realistically… we think of, you know, there’s a – there a horizon of sorts where you want to make sure this will work for two or three expansions and then beyond that it’s sort of a future us problem. Where so much will have changed between now and then we can’t… it’s not really responsible for us to like, you know, make plant firm stakes in the ground. And if we’re compromising the excitement of our designs because of we’re not sure how they’re going to scale eight years from now… we’re doing a disservice to players today and eight years from now won’t matter if we’re not making an amazing game for players today.

I don’t technically disagree. When you have a MMORPG with character progression and abilities that accumulate over time… at some point it becomes very unwieldy to maintain every system introduced. Not impossible, just unwieldy. It reminds me of when CCGs like Hearthstone or Magic: the Gathering start segmenting older card sets away from “Standard” and into “Legacy” sets. Want to play with the most broken cards from every set ever released? Sure, go have fun over there in that box. Everyone else can have fun with a smaller set of more (potentially) balanced cards over here.

Having said that… is it really an insurmountable design problem?

My first instinct was to look at Guild Wars 2, which recently released its third expansion. The game is a bit of an outlier from the get-go considering that there is no gear progression at the level cap – if you have Ascended/Legendary Berserker gear from 10+ years ago, it is still Best-in-Slot today (assuming your class/spec wasn’t nerfed). That horizontal progression philosophy bleeds over into character skills and talent-equivalents too: whatever spec you are playing, you are limited to 5 combat skills based on your weapon(s) and 5 utility skills picked from a list. You pick three talent trees, but those trees don’t “expand” or get additional nodes. The only power accumulation in GW2 is in the Mastery system… which is largely borrowed-power-esque, now that I think about it.

So GW2 is doing well in the ability/feature creep department. For now. Because that’s the rub: ArenaNet is on expansion #3. WoW is on expansion #9. Are we prepared for six more Elite Specs per class? Outside of it being a balance nightmare – which is hardly ever ArenaNet’s apparent concern – I could easily see more Elite Specs being slapped onto the UI and nothing else of note changing. So the problem is “solved” by never granting meaningfully new abilities to older specs.

And… that’s basically the extent of my knowledge of non-WoW MMOs. Surely EverQuest 1 & 2 have encountered this same issue, for example. What did they do? I think FF14 is accumulating character abilities but not yet hitting the limit of reasonableness. EVE is EVE. What else is out there that has been around long enough to run into this? Runescape?

Regardless, it’s an interesting conundrum whereby the choices appear to be A) not grant new abilities with each expansion, B) have Borrowed Power systems, or C) periodically “reset” and prune character abilities before reintroducing them.

Classically Classic

I kind of glossed over it amongst all the other WoW news, but let’s talk about Dungeon Finder, aka LFD.

Wrath of the Lich King Classic is coming. What is being intentionally left out is the Dungeon Finder, a feature that debuted at the tail-end of the expansion. According to Brian Birmingham, this was done for reasons:

“We know that the Classic audience is more interested in long-term social engagement, that feeling that comes from reaching out to people, talking to them about how you’re going to group, trying to coordinate, who’s going to do what role walking to the dungeon together, trying to figure out how you’re going to get to the dungeon, who’s going to summon, maybe run into a PVP fight on the way,” Birmingham says. “And then you finally get in there and you have friends that stick together with you.”

Did anyone read that paragraph and actually go “Yeah, that’s exactly what was missing in my life”?

I do not necessarily want to get into the semantic fight of what is Classic and what is not – Blizzard has tinkered with the formula of what is “classic” from the very beginning, and it’s a fool’s errand besides. But I do feel like this decision and the reasoning behind it is firmly in the “tail wagging the dog” territory. Which is funny, considering the lengths the retail WoW devs go to to specifically ignore player feedback on their many disastrous designs. Perhaps the Classic devs are more acutely aware of the temporary nature of their work if that playerbase evaporates.

That said, Dungeon Finder is indeed a conundrum. As Wilhelm succinctly puts it:

I have been down the “where does classic end?” path before, but I think you could make a very strong argument that Dungeon Finder is the dividing line between “classic” and “modern” World of Warcraft.  Yes, Cataclysm changed the world, making Azeroth a different place, but Dungeon Finder changed how we played.

I will agree that Dungeon Finder is the bright red line between when classical WoW turned into retail.

Or to put it a different way: Dungeon Finder represented the democratization of WoW.

I did not start playing in vanilla, but I experienced the full depths of despair that was pugging in TBC and early Wrath. What is missing from the Brian Birmingham quote above is the 40+ minutes you spent in Trade Chat forming a group, the next 15 getting everyone through the door (“I was waiting for a summon” “Oops, I left my reagents back in the bank”), and finally having the entire run ended abruptly when someone left or got fed up. Back in 2008 burning two hours to maybe finish one heroic dungeon was okay. It certainly wasn’t going to continue being fine for long either way though.

Maybe that wasn’t your experience. Maybe you were privileged enough to have joined the game with IRL friends, or got a guild invite at the right time and place to meet people willing to routinely run dungeons with you. In which case… the Dungeon Finder should not have negatively impacted you at all. The only people it would have “hit” would have been GearScore tryhards lording over Trade Chat, or perhaps extroverts looking to hook up with randos. Thing is, both of those types would be just at home in a guild anyway. So again, no loss.

Dungeon Finder opened up the game to solo players. WoW has always had a reputation as being solo-friendly compared to its peers, but within the game itself there was a rather abrupt progression stopping point at the level cap. You could grind reputation dailies for blue gear and… that’s it. It’s fine to say that MMOs are better with friends, and to encourage the fostering of friendships within the game, but this was all stick. It also made for some questionable design considerations when 80% of the design effort went into content that only 20% of the playerbase ever saw.

Did Dungeon Finder affect WoW culture? Sure… in a roundabout way. You cannot exactly type “GOGOGO” in a hand-picked TBC pug nor can operate in radio silence the entire time. And it is certainly true success rates of Dungeon Finder groups is dependent on the difficulty of the content in question, thereby putting downward pressure on (default) dungeon difficulty. See: the Cataclysm LFD Disaster. But as the esteemed Rob Pardo said back when Dungeon Finder was released:

The other piece is that the WoW playerbase is becoming more casual over time. People who were hardcore into MMOs, they joined us first, but the people we’re acquiring over the years are casual. They heard about the game from a friend of a friend, and maybe it’s their first MMO – maybe it’s their first game. The game has to evolve to match the current player.

This was from the lead designer of vanilla and TBC, not some random intern or junior B Team dev. And this was from when Dungeon Finder was first released, so it wasn’t that it caused the playerbase to become more casual over time. Rob Pardo actually went on to say: “To be completely honest, [the Looking For Group tool] is a feature I wanted in the game when we launched the game.” Dungeon Finder was not an accident, it was not a concession to some casual boogieman. It was intentional! Which makes its removal from Wrath Classic such a contortion. What is trying to be preserved technically never existed. This is a do-over attempt with a self-selected group of purists. Which is cute – I hope Blizzard eventually releases dungeon completion rates.

Perhaps the devs did come to regret the Dungeon Finder inclusion and/or unintentional consequences over time. Certainly they felt that way about flying as the years went on. But warts and all, the Dungeon Finder saved WoW for me and presumably millions of others. What was “lost” was never really desired by me in the first place, e.g. ingratiating oneself to strangers to complete a 20-minute dungeon for badge loot. If you want a static group and a sense of accomplishment, join a guild and raid something. Opposition to Dungeon Finder is even less rational these days as the devs have included scaling Mythic difficulty to dungeons for several expansions. Hard group content never went away.

The only thing that did disappear is the dependency on social networking skills… for low-tier group content. If your guild/friend group fell apart because everyone could now get their dungeon needs met with anonymous strangers, chances are that the “bonds” were not quite as strong as you perceived. Sorry, champ: if they really wanted to play with you, they would be playing with you.

Ultimately, I suppose we will just have to see how this all plays out. Maybe the Classic community will love spamming LFG and/or Trade chat to fill the Pit of Saron group for the 50th time. My guess is that Blizzard will end up putting in Dungeon Finder by the time ICC is released, or else they are really going to need to tinker with the badge and loot economy.

World of Guildcraft Wars, Too

World of Warcraft’s next expansion was revealed today, and its theme is… Guild Wars 2.

Sorry. It’s called Dragonflight, deals with helping dragons reclaim their legacy, will “provide a more in-depth open world experience going forward,” and features new dragonriding skill that lets you “defy gravity while using your momentum and skills.” Here is a video of it in motion:

I get that the entire history of WoW is copying other peoples’ homework and all, but something about this is… a bit too on the nose.

Anyway. There were some other items that popped out at me.

Cross-Faction Coming Soon. Technically old news (first revealed in January), it was nevertheless interesting to hear cross-faction grouping being brought up again. While Blizzard is still being ultra-conservative with it – not being able to join guilds is probably going to make organized raiding problematic – cross-faction play of some kind is one of those things that never really made sense not to have in WoW during its heyday. I have had real, non-theoretical conversations with coworkers in the past wherein we (briefly) got excited to learn the other played WoW, only to face the double disappointment of being A) on the wrong server, or B) the wrong faction, or C) both.

If only we knew why it took so long…

…oh, right.

Talent Trees Return. Overrated. It’s mildly interesting that they have a class tree and a spec tree separately, but that is just lampshading the “lack” of a borrowed power system in the expansion.

WotLK Classic. Expected, but nevertheless still hit me in the feels. Everyone has a WoW entry point they feel nostalgic for, and for me it is WotLK… despite my actually starting to play in Burning Crusade. Epic scope, epic music, ground-breaking raiding (in 10m flavors!), and some great guild members relationships. Devs mentioned intentionally leaving out the Dungeon Finder for “social fabric” reasons which, okay, whatever. It will be interesting to see what happens to said fabric when everyone is trying to farm badges for gear.

UI Improvements. This sort of thing might seem minor at first, but not being able to get my screen looking like it did the last time I played WoW ends up being a rather large, subconscious barrier to reentry. Addon Managers can remove some of the tedium, but having a lot of the same functionality within the base UI is more ideal.

Cosmic Plot Intermission. Coming out of the narrative disaster that is Shadowlands, it’s refreshing to see Blizzard basically hitting the pause button. Nothing in the trailer hinted at some kind of Big Bad Guy to face, or that the fate of the world was once again at stake. It’s always possible that that comes later, but the tone is being set early on. Reminds me a bit of Mists of Pandaria minus the faction war.

Everything Else. K.

This is the part of the post where I talk about how I’m intrigued by what Blizzard is doing and will probably resub to see the new content. Probably not this time around.

A pause in the power escalation is necessary, but… I don’t like dragons. Not quite on the level of hate Syp has for elves, but dragons are a solid third place above “It was all a dream” and Time Travel in terms of ire. What possibly interesting story could ever be made concerning dragons? I don’t just mean in Dragonflight, I mean in any fiction. Yes, I watched The Hobbit, played Skyrim and Dragon Age, etc etc. In all cases, dragons could be replaced with an infinitely more interesting colossal beast with no impact to the storytelling. Dragons are flying, hoarding tropes. Vampires? A lot of directions you could take a story. Dragons? Replace it with an eldritch horror of some kind and get a much more engaging tale.

So, yeah. Good luck, have fun.

Review: Per Aspera

Per Aspera is one of those games you can become obsessed with far beyond its actual quality.

Uh oh.

In short, the game is about terraforming Mars – a surprisingly crowded field these days. You are an experimental AI in charge of turning the red planet green, and must plan out a series of resource mines, factories, and resolve supply chain issues on your way. While you go through this process, you (the AI) will reflect on some of the philosophical ideas surrounding artificial consciousness, your role in terraforming Mars, and some political intrigue as major players swap out.

One of the reasons I don’t actually like the game is because it’s poorly paced. When you first start your journey, you have a single hub building providing minimal electricity, one worker rover, and some basic building materials. Your primary goal is to create a 2nd worker while acknowledging the existential threat of not having a Maintenance Facility, which is a building that’s required to keep everything else from decaying in the Martian atmosphere. One carrot, one stick. Okay. So what’s the path?

  • Worker Factory = Parts + Electronics + Glass + Aluminum (and Steel to construct)
    • Parts Factory = Steel + Aluminum
    • Electronics Factory = Silicon + Aluminum
    • Steel Factory = Iron + Carbon
    • Glass Kiln = Silicon
    • Aluminum Mine = Steel
    • Silicon Mine = Steel + Aluminum
    • Iron Mine = Aluminum + Silicon
    • Carbon Mine = Aluminum + Iron
  • Maintenance Facility = Polymer + Electronics (and Aluminum and Steel to construct)
    • Polymer Factory = Chemicals + Carbon
    • Chemical Plant = Aluminum + Steel
  • Solar Farm = Aluminum + Electronics + Glass

Basically, every fucking thing.

So you’ll start by building an Aluminum and Silicon Mine, then a Glass Kiln. This will get you far enough to place a Solar Farm or two, as your original landing hub won’t have enough juice to power many more mines/factories. Then you can get started on Iron and Carbon Mines to fuel a Steel Factory. And so on.

This entire time though, you have one single worker rover, which means it carries a single resource at a time to a location. Does something take six total resources to craft a particular building? That’s six trips. The game offers a speed boost up to 16x, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

Didn’t realize he pioneered driving electric vehicles down tunnels.

To say that the game is a slow burn is an understatement.

Having said that, I did start feeling the coals after a while. As soon as you get that second worker, things accelerate significantly. The 3rd/4th/Nth workers pop out as soon as you build the corresponding Worker Hubs, and you can get busy planning your expansion across the Martian surface. Your growth is kept in check by building limits, which is tied to Tech trees, which is tied to Research Points, which is tied to hosting human colonist and keeping them alive with Ice and Food. A lot of things to keep you busy planning and expanding.

Of course, it all grinds to a halt again in the mid-game when you slowly realize that “choices” aren’t really choices. Goal: increase temperature at Martian polar ice caps to release frozen CO2. Looking at the tech tree, you see things like “Construct Satellite Mirrors” and “Aerobrake Comets” and “Import Greenhouse Gases from Earth,” along with some lesser stuff like Greenhouse Gas Factory. What isn’t immediately obvious is that the comet is a one-time deal, and the Mirror project only heats things up by about 20% of the total. You’re back to doing all of the things, this time limited by how many Spaceports you build rather than Worker rovers.

I did this.

And spoiler alert: there’s a third grind at the endgame, notwithstanding however long it takes to get a breathable atmosphere. The last two hours of my “playtime” consisted of me having the game run at 16x while I dicked around on my phone.

Ultimately though, I did stick around to the bitter end. Why? It’s hard to say. The existential musings were a bit basic compared with other titles, but they seasoned the stew. And this was a very, very long-burning stew. But perhaps in a cognitive dissonance sort of way, I began to really enjoy myself once I saw Mars starting to change. Once water appears, the game just feels different. You start needing to place Water Treatment Plants near the water, but take care that they won’t get flooded should you continue to pump up the water table. Some unique buildings require you to use craters rather than just placing willy-nilly, and that changes up how you approach base design and/or expansion.

I haven’t played many other sims like this, so I cannot really speak for whether Per Aspera is more worth your time than Surviving Mars or whatever else is out there. Hell, I’m conflicted as to whether it was worth my time to play Per Aspera at all. But I did play it for just shy of 30 hours in less than two weeks, so that’s worth something.