Category Archives: Commentary

Are Gamers the Biggest Karens?

Browsing Reddit when I came across this post:

The comments are full of masturbatory glee and gamer “trolling,” as if none of those posters play games themselves and/or have had complaints about them. Taken on face value though, the comic is probably correct. With an asterisk. Because the thing about the term Karen is one near and dear to my heart: entitlement.

Karen is used as a pejorative because regular people do not ask to speak with a manager over a perceived slight. It’s an over-the-top escalation that presumes the individual is someone whom the manager needs to hear from. But… if you ordered a medium-rare steak and the server brings out one that’s well-done, nobody bats an eye when you have them send it back or ask for a refund. That is a reasonable escalation – if the manager comes out of their own volition to apologize, then that’s fine.

Here’s the thing though with games: anyone you can talk to is basically “the manager.”

And the other thing? The managers, e.g. the developers, want you to talk to them. Developers have fostered this transactional relationship industry-wide and monetized it. “Games as a Service” is the new “RPG-elements”: everybody has it. Which makes sense, as games are uniquely positioned to be interactive and adaptable. Books, music, and movies are created and finished. For all the millions of voices crying out to George R.R. Martin to change something about Game of Thrones – or to just finish his goddamn books for Christ’s sake – no one presumes that it is possible to actually accomplish anything. Meanwhile, an errant forum post can get a developer to shift the entire competitive metagame. Or more likely, a forum post that rouses enough rabble.

Keeping silent and voting with just your wallet is pointless – you need to vote with other peoples’ wallets if you hope to get a word past the whales. And that typically means getting vocal, getting specific, and I guess appearing entitled to have opinions of the transactional relationship taking place. Do the developers have to listen? No. They don’t have to have a forum, do any communication or outreach, and just build games. Presumably they looked at the numbers and (begrudgingly?) realized that the playerbase could be leveraged to push more product. And now they have the tiger by the tail.

Are some gamers over the top? Yes, of course. That went without saying… until I just did. But I am always leery of the predilection in these circlejerks to land on the thought-terminating cliche of entitlement. At its most pernicious root, using entitlement as a pejorative fosters an authoritarian environment in which you are made to feel lucky that you got any service at all, much less the wrong service, even if you paid for it. Meekness is not a virtue.

…okay, maybe it is.

However! Developers are not gods, they are just people building a collaborative, commercial product/service to sell to you. It’s okay to send back tacos when you ordered meatloaf. It’s okay to leave a bad review when your steak is cooked wrong. It’s okay to express passion in a hobby that you spend literal years of your life playing. Maybe don’t send death threats; send cupcakes instead. Advocate for yourself and your desires, especially if no one is making games you like anymore. No one has to listen, of course, or agree that its a good idea or implement what are clearly brilliant changes that will improve the franchise for decades to come. That’s going to be a on the devs and their conscience.

How some of them sleep at night, I’ll never know.

Puerile

The slow-motion train wreck that is Blizzard right now has entered into a new, greasy-diesel fire phase.

Since the lawsuit and frat-boy/Bill Cosby culture was exposed, it appears that WoW has gone under the politically correct microscope. Which… seems a bit overkill – you could see its puerile humor from space with your naked fully-clothed eye. Paintings of scantily-clad women are being replaced with fruit, NPCs like Master Baiter are getting renamed, along with some Achievements:

In the upcoming Patch 9.1.5, we’ll see:

  • ‘My Sack is Gigantique’ renamed to ‘My Storage is Gigantique.’
  • ‘Bros. Before Ho Ho Hos’ renamed to ‘Holiday Bromance.’

Next on the chopping/editing block were emotes which “seem[ed] to have harmless intentions at a glance, but when used while targeting another player, their intentions can turn unexpectedly suggestive or intrusive,” per a developer’s note. /Pounce no longer says “Azuriel pounces on top of you” but rather “Azuriel pounces towards you.” Because of the implication.

Speaking of which, the latest news is that several in-game joke/flirt lines are getting the axe. A full spreadsheet can be found here, but some highlights:

  • [Blood Elf female Flirt] Is that a mana wyrm in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
  • [Blood Elf female Flirt] Normally, I only ride on epic mounts… But, let’s talk.
  • [Draenei Female Flirt] I want you to *lick and splat* my *gurgling noises* *slurping noises*
  • [Pandaren Female Flirt] Oh, I’ve never done THAT before.. Uh… You’re not doing it right…
  • [Pandaren Female Flirt] Let me show you my kung fu grip.
  • [Blood Elf Male Joke] Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?
  • [Pandaren Male Flirt] Hey, hot stuff. Want to try breeding in captivity?
  • [Pandaren Male Flirt] Nice pants. What’s the drop rate?
  • [Goblin Female Joke] I’m a modern goblin woman. Independent? I still let men do nice things to me. But I stopped giving them any credit.
  • [Goblin Female Flirt] So then, he asked me to go up on him!
  • [Goblin Male Flirt] I like my women the way I like my fuses: Short, fast and ready to blow.
  • [Goblin Male Flirt] I got what you need. *sound of zipper*
  • [Orc Male Flirt] That armor looks good on you. It would look even better on my floor.
  • [Tauren Female Flirt] I’ve got big, soulful eyes, long eyelashes and a wet tongue. What more could a guy want?
  • [Tauren Male Joke] Homogenized? No way, I like the ladies.
  • [Night Elf Female Joke] Oh, look, I’m dancing again! (Darkly) I hope all your friends are enjoying the show…
  • [Highmountain Tauren Female Flirt] You don’t need to be from the Skyhorn tribe to join the mile high club.
  • [Dark Iron Dwarf Male Flirt] Interested in joining the mile deep club?
  • [Lightforged Female Flirt] Let’s go back to my ship and twist our nethers.
  • [Lightforged Female Flirt] I admire a soldier who can… remain… at attention.

I planned to stop after just a few, but then I pulled a Blizzard and kept on going.

It’s actually kind of amazing, right? I haven’t played Amazon’s New World, but I cannot imagine it having flirt/joke lines like the above. Or, really, any other commercial MMOs. Not even TERA, if you can believe that. Which I guess may be why so many people are up in arms over the potential removal of said emotes. If you want sexualized prepubescent catgirls, there are plenty of options, but if you want T for Teen jokes, WoW may have been the last call.

Amusingly, the Reddit thread I linked a moment ago has several people smugly pointing out that while WoW is getting censored, FF14 has:

FFXIV literally has a quest about 2 catgirls fighting over who gives better handjobs to a guy named Captain Longhaft.

It’s crazy that even just a thought that can lead to another thought that can eventually lead to a though about sex is too much for a Blizzard dev. Just imagine if they ever saw this quest, they’d pop a blood vessel.

They posted that, unironically, as though that quest was something to be proud of.

Go ahead and watch that video, by the way, because it’s actually worse than it sounds. The captain in question rescued the two catgirls from child prostitution, when they were still too young to join his crew, then accepted them once they got older. I was half-expecting there to be a final gotcha! wink about the innuendo being just that, but… nope.

When they returned to me years later as women grown – strong and beautiful – I swore that I would have them! In my regiment, that is… That they know how to properly sheathe my blade is an extra benefit – albeit a most welcome one. And with that, I must return to my post.

I routinely read manga, so I am used to the cognitive dissonance that comes with Japanese media having compelling narratives and then an 8-year old girl in a micro-bikini masquerading as an ancient dragon/vampire in the same story. Which adds absolutely nothing of value to the narrative, by the way. It’s beyond a trope – it’s a badge of shame that’s beyond my ability to even rationally consider “cultural differences.” And this is how you know how gross it is: who is it for? Seriously. Who? Who gets mad enough to not buy something without softcore loli porn in it?

It would not surprise me then that the Venn diagram between those people and others quitting WoW over joke/flirt removal is just a circle.

In truth, I do understand some of their points. The devs can go through a decade of crusty socks in WoW’s closet all they want – and they probably should! – but the endeavor rings a bit hollow when the present plot revolves around genocide and other ultra-violence. That’s a decidedly American trope: sex bad, violence good.

Buuuuuuuuuuuut… it’s not really sex that’s getting censored, is it? Maybe more like the frat-boy jokes that were funny 15 years ago, back when I was an actual frat boy playing WoW for the first time. Maybe nothing of actual value is being lost here, and WoW will continue being shit because of shit narrative and shit gameplay decisions, not “political correctness run amok.” It seems like a lot because there is actually a lot that has accumulated over the years, and if Blizzard wants to change their company culture, they will have to do it one dick joke at a time.

In the meantime, there will be counter-culture backlash. Because of course there will.

Fallout Worlds

Bethesda recently removed the Nuclear Winter battle royale mode from Fallout 76, and replaced it with Fallout Worlds. This new feature is intended to satisfy the promise of modding within Fallout 76.

Essentially, it allows you to spin up your own Private World (a feature that already exists) but then tweak a large number of “developer” settings. For example, you can remove building restrictions, remove crafting restrictions (i.e. infinite materials), give yourself infinite ammo, crank up/down NPC damage and a number of other settings. Access to this feature does require a “Fallout 1st” subscription, same as normal Private Worlds, although there is a free “community” version that is intended to… something. Advertise the feature? Give bored people something else to do?

There is a catch though: while you can clone your character over to Worlds, they cannot come back.

A large number of people in the Fallout 76 community consider Worlds a waste of developer time. Originally, I did too. What’s the point? Why spend developer time on a feature that has no progression? All of the time you spend in Worlds doing whatever is isolated to Worlds alone, even if the only thing you tweak is goofy things like exaggerated ragdoll effects or more frequent rad storms. I suppose it might also be nice for those people who want to test out certain Legendary builds without needing to track down/grind out specific weapons.

The counter-argument that got me though was this: who says you have to come back?

Almost three years ago, I made the argument that Fallout 76 was a survival game. And, well, I sure as hell ain’t playing ARK on default settings. There isn’t anything approaching the ridiculousness of dino babysitting for literal real-world hours in Fallout 76, but there is an argument to be made that some elements of the experience diminish fun rather than facilitate. Things like grinding out multiple Daily Ops just for the free ammo to feed your minigun so you can use it in Public Events. Infinite ammo would cut out a significant possible gameplay loop, but again, some loops are better than others.

There is also the fact that a solo world is what many people have been asking for all along. Private Worlds already exist as a feature under the subscription, and has the bonus of allowing you to preserve your unified character progress in Adventure Mode. But what is that really? You also level up in custom Worlds, possibly at a faster rate. The two things you miss are the sort of Season rewards – most of which can be boiled down to resource gifts – and… other people. You can invite others to your own Custom Worlds, and they can even rejoin that specific Custom World without you having to be online, but there is otherwise no random people drifting in.

And that’s the real downside, not the forked progression. Other people have certainly been distracting during story progression, but Show & Tell is a strong motivator for emergent gameplay. I can’t tell you how many times I have strolled into a random person’s CAMP just looking to browse their vendor wares and then end up shamed how great their camp looks compared to my Oscar the Grouch roleplay (or at least that’s what I keep telling myself). I have built elaborate nonsense in ARK and Valheim and similar games before with full knowledge that none would witness its greatness. It’s easier in those games though, because other people never existed to me. Here, it’s different.

Having said all that, I have no particular desire to fork over subscription money to access Fallout Worlds. I now understand the appeal though, even if it’s not directly appealing to me. I happen to enjoy rummaging through literal post-apocalypse garbage and slowly accumulating all the things.

If you don’t, well, Bethesda has you covered now.

Meaningful Choices

In the comments to my last post, I got some pushback from stating Covenants in WoW “were choices in the same way stacking Crit vs Versatility is a choice: namely, choosing to be objectively correct or gimp your character in X or Y (or all) content.” Indeed, I believe that the proposed 9.1.5 patch changes that remove the Covenant-switching restrictions is something that should have existed from the beginning. Which, since some people forgot, it kinda did since you could freely change Covenants without friction outside of going back to one you previously “betrayed.” In that one scenario, you were limited to a once-a-week quest.

But let me go a bit further: I do not believe that “meaningful choices” can or ought to exist in MMOs.

What someone means by “meaningful choice” is critically important, of course. There is no one answer. For example, is a mutually exclusive choice always meaningful? Does a choice have to be permanent to be meaningful? Does a choice have to have lasting consequences (which is different than just being permanent) to be meaningful? Does a choice have to feel difficult to make to be meaningful?

I bring up these different dimensions of “meaning” because I sometimes feel that people fetishize Permanence in terms of choices. That if you can change something later, it must mean that the original choice itself didn’t matter. To them I say: Every Moment is a One-Time Event. Specs in WoW have been imminently changeable at the drop of a hat for many years. If you choose to not tank for a raid, that choice lasts only for as long as you want it to. But here’s the thing: the choice you made to not tank yesterday is permanent. You can’t go back in time and make a different choice for the Tuesday raid time. So… was the original decision a meaningful choice? If you were good at tanking, it certain was for everyone there.

Let’s bring this back specifically to WoW Covenants in Shadowlands. For those not playing along at home this expansion, there are four Covenants (i.e. factions) the player could choose to ally with at max level. During the leveling process, you got to do quests for each one and also play around with the unique Covenant abilities that each one offers – some are general abilities, and others are class-specific. Eventually, you have to choose a specific Covenant to champion and otherwise experience the rest of the expansion with.

Is picking a Covenant a meaningful choice?

As I wrote before, I would say No. Was it mutually exclusive? Yes, you can’t have more than one Covenant at a time. Were there consequences? Yes. Sort of. Covenants were swappable even before 9.1.5 but let’s not pretend there isn’t a significant time cost to essentially starting over with rebuilding a Sanctum, grinding Anima, and all the sort of nonsense daily quests one has to do. Plus, you lost access to any Transmog from the original Covenant. Was it permanent? Obviously not, but that would not have been the secret sauce if it was – instead of meaning, such a decision would have brought in frustration and betrayal.

Why? The Covenant abilities themselves are an extremely mixed bag. Sometimes they don’t matter, and other times they matter a whole hell of a lot. For example, if you are a PvP Priest, you want to be Venthyr for the Mindgames ability. Mindgames is one of the most unique CCs ever introduced to WoW, and I guarantee you that it will be brought forward into the next expansion as a Talent or even baseline ability. If you don’t PvP on your Priest character, then sure, your Covenant choice is more wide open. But if you ever thought you would, not picking Venthyr would be playing with a handicap.

On the PvE side, Night Fae is an attractive choice for Death Knights given it increases their mobility, which is otherwise the classical weakness of the class. However, Night Fae is extremely terrible for both Unholy DPS and Blood tanking. So your “choice” is between the optimal DPS/Tanking or improved quality of life. Explain to me again why it’s a good thing that we have to pick between the two.

Notice how none of the above considerations touch on the Covenants themselves: their theme, their plot, their aesthetics, their characters, or anything that actually makes them meaningful from a narrative standpoint. There are certainly players out there for whom Covenant theme is the number one consideration. Helistar said in the comments yesterday: “When I started Shadowlands it was obvious that my druid would be Night Fae, optimal choice or not.” That’s totally fine! Although… I have to ask the follow-up question: if it was so obvious from the start you were picking Night Fae, was the choice really meaningful to begin with?

If it seems as though I’m playing both side of the argument… I kinda am.

The real crux of my argument is this: the designers should not be going out of their way to “enforce” meaningful choices. In Diablo 2, you could not respec your character; in Diablo 3, you could swap your abilities around at almost any time. Was picking talents in Diablo 2 more meaningful? No! All it did was make me feel bad every time I leveled up, knowing I was always going to be 2-3 levels late to the actual good talents due to the dumb, blind decisions I made hours ago. That doesn’t feel meaningful.

Imagine if Blizzard designed Covenants such that Covenant abilities were interchangeable (and probably Soulbinds), but the Covenants themselves were not. Priests could have Mindgames but fight with the Kyrians. That sort of thing. Would that detract from the meaningfulness of the Covenant decision? Or would it… enhance it? I would unequivocally say the latter. Because WoW is an MMO where you could be spending 40 hours a week playing your character and not spend a second progressing whatever story exists. So for me, gameplay decisions and projected viability and optimization are my top priorities. And those things are largely math problems with clear, non-ambiguous answers.

In a hypothetical Shadowlands where Covenants had no particular gameplay impacts, suddenly that decision becomes meaningful. The choice more reflects who I choose to identify with, who I am as a person, who best reflects my values, and that’s a hell of a lot more meaningful than 2% DPS. It would certainly be closer to what I feel were the meaningful choices in, say, the Mass Effect series:

What the exchange highlighted to me though, was how squishy the venerable Sid Meier quote actually is.¹ To me, the choice between curing the Krogan genophage or deciding not to was interesting. In fact, I spent ten minutes or so agonizing over it when the dialog wheel was presented. Was it fair of us to cripple an entire species because we feared their hardiness and breeding speed? At first, I was worried about that hypothetical. Once the Reapers were gone, who is to say that the Krogans don’t simply out-breed and out-muscle the rest of us out of the universe? Then I thought: wait a minute, is this not the same sort of argument used against inter-racial marriages in the past, and even concerns about Islam today?

The genophage choice is definitely one that I felt was meaningful. It can say a lot about you as a person. Maybe the fact that Covenants primarily boil down to a numbers game to me still says something about my values, but I don’t think you can read much more into it other than sometimes 2% DPS actually matters. Rather, I would say that the meaningfulness of a choice in an MMO is directly disproportional to its gameplay effect. If you care about the numbers, then it really isn’t a choice; if you don’t care about the numbers, what are they doing there in the first place? Just remove the numbers.

Finally, for those still stubbornly sticking to their guns regarding “permanent choices are meaningful choices,” I say to you one word: alts. Nothing is permanent if you can have alts. So really it’s just a question of how many hours of hazing you want to require someone to go through to experience the other choice. Or just to potentially be viable in another subset of content.

Happens Every Time

I have tried to have three vacations this year – honestly, just staycations with the kiddo still going to daycare – and yet we are 3 for fucking 3 on him getting sick/having a fever exactly on the week that I am off. Not the week beforehand, not the week after. The exact week I had taken off. Supposedly this is “good” because, hey, I don’t have to use sick time! But, you know… I could use sick time AND not have to entertain a sick two-year old for 12-14 hours when I had plans to do stuff.

If you’re wondering, yes, I accrue a lot of vacation and sick leave each year. Join a union, folks.

Anyway. What have I been up to lately?

Fallout 76

This has been my default, “I don’t know what I want to do… let me load this game until I figure it out” game for a long time now. The fact that I still play is actually beyond all objective reason. But… it’s a survival-esque game not in Early Access (even if it sometimes feels that way) and the moment-to-moment gameplay is spot-on. There is also a Season reward track that awards some special items and store currency for completing some daily/weekly quests. That said, my character can only really progress further with precise, legendary item god-rolls all to tackle content that in no way needs said god-rolls to run.

I suppose I did play WoW for a decade despite hitting similar progression walls. And yet I do not have the same confidence that Fallout 76 will continue having new content developed that necessitates new gear. Or new challenging content at all, really.

Hearthstone

While I have watched more matches than participated in them, I do still complete the accumulated dailies every 3 days or so. As someone who has played since the beta, I do have to say that this meta is perhaps the strangest it has ever been. Not just the Quest combo decks that finish on Turn 5, or how any game going past Turn 7 is surprising. There just isn’t a whole lot of AoE anymore. Swipe from Druid or Fan of Knives from Rogue have been gone (from Standard) since March, I think, so it has been a while. Still, I raise an eyebrow any time I see players committing a half-dozen 1/1 creatures to the board and/or going wide as a strategy for success. At least, until I remember how much AoE is lacking and that they can usually get away with it.

Slay the Spire (mobile)

I have officially surpassed my progression on PC with that of mobile, in the Ascension department. And I keep coming back, as the game is pretty perfect to play in 10-second chunks as you watch a 2-year old. I have played a LOT of deck-building roguelikes over the past few months, and none of them really come close. I sometimes wonder if that is because of the first-mover effect, or if the game is really that good. Every day I lean more to the latter.

Also, all those other deck-builder roguelikes aren’t on mobile.

…And That’s Basically It

I have a huge amount of games that I “should” be playing that I just… don’t. Ones that have been perfectly fun to play, for the few times that I have done so. The problem is: what do you do when you don’t have a consistent play schedule? For example, I was having fun with Solasta, Control, and trying to see if Death Stranding would ever be fun at some point. But once you lose gaming continuity, a lot of things fall apart. It gets harder and harder to to boot that game back up – you forget the controls, the strategy you were going with a character build, you literally lose the plot.

If I only have an hour to play games, I’d rather play ones that I know can generate fun in that hour.

Oh well. This crazy work project will be going on for several more weeks, and there is no guarantee that anything slows down after that (since we pushed back all normal projects to make room for this one). This could be the new normal. Not exactly what I envisioned or hoped for, but it is what it is.

This is My Life Now

Big project going on at work has sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Right before the project started, my son brought home some unexpectedly powerful daycare flu. It wasn’t COVID (we tested), but still knocked him out of daycare for nine days, and I’m still getting over it myself going on 14 days. I wasn’t out out for those whole two weeks, but masks + a runny nose does not mix well. Plus, it doesn’t look great to people when you step outside the room to take your mask off to blow your nose, even if you hand sanitize after. I don’t even blame them – I’d be leery too.

One amusing side-effect of this whole situation is what’s happening with my free time. I’ve been going to bed earlier due to wanting to beat the illness sooner, and also due to the project requiring a physical presence way early in the morning. So while I do still have 1-2 hours to game each night, I haven’t had the drive to do much other than veg out.

It started with watching some Twitch streams of Hearthstone. The new expansion is out, Blizzard fucked everything up by introducing multiple uninteractive OTK (one-turn kill) decks, but I still like to keep a pulse on things, so the streams were entertaining. Then I started watching Youtube videos of the Hearthstone streams, because A) I could see different decks more easily, and B) I can jack up the speed to 2x and thus watch twice as many. Finally, I started going to HSReplay where you can watch, well, simulated replays of Hearthstone games directly. There is a fast-scrolling feed on the main page which tells you the matchup, so you can isolate Paladin vs Warlock or whatever you want.

No joke, yesterday I watched random Hearthstone replays for two hours and then went to bed.

That has to be the nadir, right? I’m not playing the game, I’m not watching other people playing the game in an interactive setting, I’m not watching an edited video of the game playing… I’m literally just watching JPEGs of the game happening on the screen. And I found it entertaining and insightful! If I were just watching TV or something, at least there would be a plot or overarching story or something. I could say “I finished X series.” Still haven’t gotten around to watching the newest season of Handmaid’s Tale, for example. Then again, I’ve been watching that on CNN for the last four years already.

I feel like I should feel worse, but I kinda don’t. Between the two-year old and this work project clown show, I have learned to… let things go. Not in a “woosa” sort of way, but in that Fallout-esque “It’s been 200 years since nuclear Armageddon and I still can’t be bothered to sweep the inside of the house I’ve been living in for a decade.” Might be harder without a broom, I suppose. And we still have unopened, unsorted boxes from when we moved into this house three years ago so I probably I shouldn’t throw too many stones. Or I should start with the ones still laying on the floor.

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.

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.”