Category Archives: Commentary

Another Bad Good Idea

It sometimes astonishes me how certain game design decisions make it off an office whiteboard and into real, live games played by people. Like, do the designers realize how bad the idea is at the time, but think it’s the least bad idea of their available options? Or do they simply not think it through?

Exhibit A:

In a video posted to the official Fallout Twitter account, Jeff Gardiner, project lead for Fallout 76, was asked: “How do sneak perks and detection work in Fallout 76?”

Gardiner responded:

“As soon as you crouch, which engages our stealth mode, the dot [AKA your character marker] will very quickly fade away, so other players won’t be able to find you.”

There is still some confusion about this mechanism on Reddit, considering that there are two “dots” to which this can refer: the pip on the compass ribbon, or your character’s dot on the map (which is currently set to display everyone’s position all the time). Regardless, I have seen some celebration going on from people who believe the above is “the answer” to what they were worried about occurring in Fallout 76, e.g. being hunted down by griefers.

Let me explain what will happen in practice: you will be hunted down by griefers while hindering your own gameplay the entire time.

If Fallout 76 launches with the ability to see everyone on the paper map (as it is currently), the people doing the player-hunting will have perfect information regarding your location and direction of travel. “But you’ll be able to see them too, and then know to hide.” Nope. The only time you’ll know they’re coming is if you are running around with the map out, obscuring your view of the game world and otherwise not engaging with it. Not to mention that knowing your target is in a certain area is more than enough to go on for hunting purposes, so the griefer can check that you’re exploring some ruins, and then sneak that direction to intercept.

Suppose you do happen to notice their dot moving towards you… what then? You crouch, they crouch, and the both of you perform a crabwalking game of cat and mouse. Sounds fun. Maybe you just hide in a bathroom, map out, and wait to either surprise them or hope that they go away. Meanwhile, mobs are going to be respawning and attacking you because, you know, you were in the middle of PvE before xXxDethClawz69xXx came to pay you a visit.

Suppose Bethesda removes the map markers for players upon release, and thus this dot is really the compass ribbon. For one thing, that’s a lot better, as it would prevent people from starting to hunt you from across the map. However, we are once again in a situation where you are encouraged – under the threat of player killing – to be Sneaking around 24/7. Except it won’t work as much for you because, again, you are trying to engage in normal PvE and your hypothetical opponent is not. Remember, VATS is real-time, so taking out a sprinting Feral Ghoul while crouched is not going to be easy without an alpha-strike; there are going to be moments when you are map visible.

That there are mechanisms in place to prevent one particular player from killing you over and over is nice, but irrelevant. I prefer to not be killed, even if it “only” costs me a bit of time. Thus, the optimal method of gameplay will be to Sneak all the time, crawling around the floor at 50% speed. That is kinda how I play most Fallout games anyway, but only when I’m actively trying to get Sneak Attack Criticals. I’m not looking forward to doing that as a matter of course, every minute of every play session, while checking the map every 5 seconds.

Like I mentioned before, I get it. There are some emergent stories lost when you become immune to the pointless aggression of other people. There will be the thrill of scavenging in a warehouse while crouched, and see an oblivious stranger appear down the hallway. Or perhaps the triumph of a griefer getting killed, as was shown in the Fallout 76 video. Hell, if there are Bottlecap Mines and other traps, maybe you look forward to seeing people try and fail to take you out.

But there are definitely gameplay costs involved, and I’m not sure how much consideration was given beyond “wouldn’t it be cool if Sneak worked on players?” Presumably people appear on the map because otherwise it would be difficult to find others in such a large game space, right? Well, the game space might be large, but the density likely isn’t, so key resources are likely to draw players to specific locations out of convenience. Then you have the fact that a dangerous (PvE) world is going to involve the firing of a lot of bullets, which other players could hear.

Ultimately, we’ll see how it shakes out in the Beta. And perhaps that is what Bethesda is looking forward to as well. But I remain surprised how often incredibly flawed ideas persist almost all the way until release. Then again, working at my IRL job, I can sometimes see how it happens too.

Advertisements

Kojima Stranding

Know anything about Death Stranding? New Kojima game? It’s has some of the most trippyexistential horror-inducing trailers I’ve ever seen.

So, I’m browsing Reddit and I come across a GIF from the latest one, and decide to read the post before actually watching the new E3 video. And the comments… dear god, the comments…

What?

Can someone plz tell us what’s happening?

Japanese people are weird and tell weird stories
Source: I have played some videogames before

Wait, the babys head went downwards like a somersault, but then the butt shows up in traditional “mooning” orientation, how did he do that?

Watch it in slowmo, as his head disappears you can see him start to rotate.

Dude. I’m not watching this in slowmo. I don’t even want to see it at regular speed.

They’ve released plenty of trailers by now and gameplay, and I still have no idea what the fuck this game is about or what is it you’re really doing in the game.

Probably survival game with a bit of rpg elements. You are like a courier who delivers some stuff in that big box. Then you are recruited by that woman to probably get know know what is that stuff in the box. The game theme is about the damaged enviroments where the ‘timefall’ rain has some toxicated substance that causes living organism to age rapidly fast (notice the grass/flower when norman reedus walks under the rain) For now we know there are invisible creatures in the rain and if they eat/kill you, there is some lore-related mechanics that governs respawn system (create a crater area as in the trailer says). Some also speculates that the fetus that he carries is actually a clone of himself, and can turn into his adult self rapidly fast incase he/the player dies.

Ohh, so he carries a clone of himself so that when he gets accelerated there’s another one of him to take his place? That makes sense now.

I mean, I guess.

The phrasing I have heard is that Kojima’s goal is “to do for horror games, what Metal Gear Solid did for stealth games.” Based on his stated goals with the Metal Gear series and the E3 trailer for this game (which I did end up watching), that may be “run away from the monsters instead of shooting them.” That said, it’s 2018, and there have been many, many of those sort of games for years. Hell, I remember playing Clock Tower and running away from a dude with giant scissors back in 1996.

Or maybe the game is a big meta-commentary on the wastefulness and drudgery we generate from ordering everything on Amazon Prime. I once used the Prime Now feature to have someone deliver milk to my front door within 2 hours because I didn’t feel like putting on pants. Maybe we’re the invisible time monsters that leave craters everywhere! /thinking

Regardless, I’m all for these weird-ass games that push the envelope. Bring it on, Kojima!

 

Fall(ing)out

First up, everything that Jason Schreier from Kotaku reported was true: Fallout 76 is an online survival RPG. Second, my Concern Meter has been dialed to 11 since the E3 presentation.

As I said before, I am all onboard with a Fallout survival game. Exploring the wasteland and looting all the things consists of about 80% of my gameplay in this series, and I am currently on an extreme survival game kick the likes of which I have not experienced since my high school JRPG days. All of that sounds fantastic to me.

What was considerably less fantastic was this bit:

Bethesda Game Studios, the award-winning creators of Skyrim and Fallout 4, welcome you to Fallout 76, the online prequel where every surviving human is a real person. Work together – or not – to survive. Under the threat of nuclear annihilation, you’ll experience the largest, most dynamic world ever created in the legendary Fallout universe.

That is direct from Bethesda marketing material, and you can hear Todd Howard say it several times during the E3 presentation. Oh, and here is Todd with the final nails to finish that RPG coffin:

“You cannot [play offline]. Even if you are playing by yourself doing quests, you will see other players.”

There are no NPCs. […] There are still robots and terminals and holotapes.”

“We want a little drama there [with PvP/griefers] without it ruining your game.”

Sometimes I wonder whether any of these people have ever played a videogame before.

So there it is. Apparently there will be private servers at some point in the future, complete with modding capabilities. Considering that would likely compete with their own (presumed) microtransactions, I won’t be holding my breath. I haven’t actually heard anything about microtransactions, for the record, so maybe they will surprise us by keeping things honest. Howard did admit that the modding scene is always where their games end up in the long term.

In the Reddit thread where I found the interview clip above, there was this amusing exchange:

So what do you do then?

Do quests and build stuff with friends.

Quests from who? Doing what? With no NPC’s who’s going to give a quest, or at least one that’s meaningful. How am I supposed to give a fuck about the quests if theres no reason in behind them

It’s a fair question, especially if someone has never played a survival game before. The answer: it doesn’t matter. ARK has no NPCs or quests and I racked up 136 hours playing by myself on a local server. For reference, my /played time on Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4 are 128 and 96 hours, respectfully. Granted, the quality of those gameplay hours differs significantly – I can recall specific quests and epic moments from the Fallout games in a way I couldn’t describe cutting down the thousandth tree for wood in ARK – but the point is that entertainment can occur without there being a reason for it.

Plus, you know… Minecraft. That is a thing that people do.

Based just what we know today and random musings, here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Basically Fallout ARK minus the taming
    • Ghouls/robots/etc = dinosaurs
    • No human NPCs
  • Overseer quest is extended tutorial to get you to visit all six maps
    • Each zone unlocks specific progression crafting stations/items
    • Overseer is a robot/AI and possibly the Navi to your Link
  • All quests are passive, e.g. go here, find this, activate X, defend Y
    • No direct quest giver NPC, no factions
    • World boss spawns, and public group quests are frequent
    • Radiant-esque quests via Note Board or similar
    • Might find magazines/notes that lead to mini-dungeons
  • The six zones are not contiguous; fast travel at the edges/specific locations
  • Looting/scavenging is a big deal for building supplies, main motivator for exploring
  • CAMP system will reduce base griefing a little bit
    • Pack up your base before logging off; crops (etc) probably won’t grow though
    • Unable to spam buildings across the map to block locations
    • A ton of people setting up hostile turret bases near newbie areas though
  • XP and levels and Perks and Skills, like normal Fallout
  • “Jobs” in the trailer correspond to group-based roles (scout, tank, etc)
  • Always “dozens” of players per map, per server
  • Expect a lot of activity near best resource spawn locations
  • Nukes aren’t necessarily for griefing – they create endgame locations
    • Getting codes to unlock nukes is its own mini-progression
    • Extra hard enemies/bosses spawn in nuked area
    • Some kind of endgame resource spawns only there
    • Radiation requires loot/crafting grind just to survive brief trips inside
  • No private servers at launch
    • “Progression follows you” means getting OP on private, then griefing public
    • Or farming Power Armor quickly, then handing it to your friends
    • Alternatively, allow private servers but character cannot migrate

Most of that is idle speculation, but we can come back to it once more details have been released.

[Edit: Updated Youtube link, since first interview was taken down]

Steam, Unleashed

As many people are writing about, Steam recently revised their policy on policing the content of games sold on their platform. The new policy? Anything goes… unless it’s illegal or “trolling.”

So we ended up going back to one of the principles in the forefront of our minds when we started Steam, and more recently as we worked on Steam Direct to open up the Store to many more developers: Valve shouldn’t be the ones deciding this. If you’re a player, we shouldn’t be choosing for you what content you can or can’t buy. If you’re a developer, we shouldn’t be choosing what content you’re allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make. Our role should be to provide systems and tools to support your efforts to make these choices for yourself, and to help you do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable.

I agree with pretty much everyone that this change will not go well for Valve.

What I don’t think is appreciated as much though, is the quandary Valve was/is in. Although there has been movements to erode it, most of the internet is still protected by Safe Harbor rules, meaning that you cannot be held responsible for content that other people post. This has led to a weird dichotomy in which Valve gets blamed for letting school shooting games slip through the cracks – and how this must reflect on Valve’s values as a company – whereas no one holds any such standards on Google, through which you can readily find the most vilest of content imaginable. “Steam is offering it for sale though!” Okay… how about Amazon and eBay and Craigslist and any ISP that allows whatever store/forum to be hosted on their bandwidth?

Do we even want these tech entities to be the arbiters of morality on our behalf?

When I saw this announcement, my first thought was “Yikes,” followed by “This is probably less bad than simply saying ‘We now allow (cartoon) porn.'” Because that is really what’s going on here, IMO. Remember the game Hatred? That was pulled from Steam for violence/controversy back in 2014… and personally reinstated the next day by Gabe Newell, who said:

Hi Jaroslaw. Yesterday I heard that we were taking Hatred down from Greenlight. Since I wasn’t up to speed, I asked around internally to find out why we had done that. It turns out that it wasn’t a good decision, and we’ll be putting Hatred back up. My apologies to you and your team. Steam is about creating tools for content creators and customers. Good luck with your game.

Conversely, the number of uncensored hentai games on Steam can be counted with, ahem, one hand.

You can make all the “Artistic!” arguments you want, but the bottom line is that Valve had to constantly argue that Geralt having sex on a stuffed unicorn (etc) in Witcher 3 was fine, but anime boobs was going too far. Worse than literal Hitler, in fact, or outrageous violence and gore. Visual Novel studios had to censor their products, and then offer instructions on the Steam forums on how to uncensor it via patches. Until Valve cracked down on that… which then led to developers giving instructions on their own webpages and dedicated fans then relaying that info via Steam forums.

To be clear, this policy shift will unleash all sorts of actual disgusting, offensive garbage on the platform, a few clicks away from anyone. Steam will still have a long way to go to get as bad as this site, but they are certainly heading down that road.

But at some point, I have to ask… why shouldn’t Steam be a simple (DRM) platform? The argument that Steam used to be a curation of the best games is a canard from yesteryear. In 2013, there were 565 new games released on Steam. The following years, that number increased to 1772 in 2014, 2964 in 2015, 4207 in 2016 (40% of all games on the platform), and 7672 in 2017. Any sort of active curation has not been occurring for at least four years, and certainly stopped by 2016.

Amusingly, we seem to be on the pendulum backswing when it comes to videogame punditry. Back in the day, you had to rely on gaming magazines like Nintendo Power and Game Players (ah, my youth) to find out any useful information about the gaming world. Then gaming went mainstream, and for a while there you were able to consume the information available on your own. Now there are so many games and information vying for your limited attention that it’s better to just find a few websites or bloggers with similar tastes and just follow them. That’s your curation now.

Anyway, like I said before, I fully anticipate Valve being raked over the coals for this move (which they have arguably been doing for 4+ years now). It’s already happening, actually, but it will get much worse for them once (more) outright racist and sexually violent games are released and then broadcast on cable news channels. I don’t want those games to exist either… but someone apparently felt that way about uncensored Visual Novels for many years, and I didn’t think that was particularly reasonable. Those two things are not equivalent… and that’s kinda the point.

Is it that we are supposed to trust Valve’s corporate values to arbitrate the correct morality, or is it more that Valve’s (nebulous) policy provided us a lever by which we could enforce our own? With Valve throwing up their hands, we have (for now) lost that leverage, and must rely instead on the much more difficult, and potentially futile, endeavor to change hearts and minds directly.

Bleach is a much better disinfectant than sunlight, but at some point we should address the issue of why shit is getting so dirty in the first place.

The Internet is Forever… Wrong

For the time being, I continue to play and enjoy Stellaris. After spending some 40+ hours in my first sort of easy-mode tutorial, I decided to start a new Ironman game on medium difficulty with a custom-made race in a Large galaxy.

One thing I have learned since starting this journey though, is that Paradox actually updates the game a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I came in at the tail-end of a big overhaul of the game mechanics via 2.0. Some of the changes have been controversial, but since I never saw the original way the game was played, I don’t have any strong feelings about them.

Well, other than the fact that it’s near impossible to actually divine any currently-correct information about Stellaris on the internet.

Which Traditions are the best to take first? Are there any must-have Ascension perks? What’s the general idea with custom ships? How fast is too fast when it comes to expanding your empire? These are all questions that were solved and optimized at some point in the past, but have quickly turned into historical canards. For example, about half of the old forum posts I’ve combed through have referenced Food like it was a big deal. And it was… until Food was made an empire-wide resource, allowing you to dedicate entire worlds to mining or energy with ease while farming elsewhere.

Like most games these days, there is a Stellaris Wiki out there, but it suffers from the same issue as all game Wikis – 99% of it is simple, in-game information with zero analysis. Yeah, Option X gives me 5% more Y. But is extra Y even useful considering you can get Z instead? Sometimes it is flat out wrong. For example, there are some “Prophet’s Retreat” utopia-esque planets out there that are guarded by otherwise end-game Fallen Empires, who get really mad if you try to colonize the planet. But could I build a Habitat (e.g. colony space station) orbiting the Prophet’s Retreat without angering the Fallen Empire? According to the wiki:

[Habitats] cannot be built on habitable planets, asteroids, moons or planets with an anomaly.

I gambled with 10,000 minerals and several in-game years and it turns out you absolutely can build a habitat in orbit around the Prophet’s Retreat world without angering the Fallen Empire protecting it. So that wiki entry is either flat wrong, or incredibly misleading (perhaps the author meant anomalies would block all attempts?).

I am also beginning to understand that a lot of the Stellaris community is perfectly fine with inefficient/bad options for purely role-playing purposes. Which is fine, whatever, you do you. It’s one thing to pick an option because you want that to embody your virtual empire, and something else entirely when you pick an option that sounds good but is really just a newbie trap.

Stellaris is by no means the only game that suffers such (unintentional) misinformation. But the whole situation does give me pause. The internet is forever… but that also means it will accumulate more and more shit over time, in a perfectly entropic metaphor kind of way. Search Engine Optimization can force the cream of useful information to float to the top of Google results, but that is reliant on an engaged audience still producing currently-useful information. Over time, there will be less and less engagement, and the actual answers will be lost in a soup of nonproductive energy.

…well then, as a fan of Sisyphus, let’s get this rock rollin’: as of the date of this post, in Stellaris 2.0, you can create a habitat around a Fallen Empire-protected, habitable planet with no issues.

Battlefield V

All my… what?

I am facepalming over here a little bit, but not necessarily for the reasons you might expect.

First, that trailer is just bad. Not in the “they got a British female amputee in my authentic WW2 sim!!1!” way, but in the very standard “this is an incoherent mishmash of themes” way. There’s a part halfway through when you see a squad of soldiers running away, and I was trying to figure out if they were on my (the viewer’s) team or not. And what the hell was with that “fire twice, then immediately reload” crap? Some people have complained about the Michael Bay-ness of the whole thing, but Battlefield has always had that element. If you don’t believe me, here is 21 minutes worth of Battlefield trailers.

Second, though… ugh, WW2? Why? What’s the point?

To be clear, I have zero issues with DICE introducing female soldiers, amputee soldiers, or any combination thereof. I have no issues with Braveheart-esque dudes in kilts, or people running around with katanas. BFV won’t be selling map packs anymore, so having a wide variety of wacky cosmetics is the trade-off we can expect. I don’t even have any issues with this laundry list of GamerGate-style criticisms. It’s completely fine, for example, that the developers wanted a more “authentic” experience with BF1 and have since changed their mind with BFV.

The one criticism in that thread that rings true, though?

Why didnt they just said right away its WW2 Dieselpunk Alt History something. Alot of people wanna have this anyway but claiming it just as an WW2 game was a fail.

I want that dieselpunk game now. And it makes me question why that wasn’t the direction they wanted to take BFV. I don’t feel that Battlefield should be beholden to “historical authenticity” at the expense of gameplay, but… why WW2 then? Why these specific fronts, with these specific armies, and aiming to tell the “untold stories” of WW2? Like seriously, I’m pretty sure the History Channel has told every damn WW2 story possible, else they would not have had to resort to broadcasting Ancient Aliens and Pawn Stars.

What also annoys me is how this trailer and the controversy it generates obscures all the cool shit they are implementing into the game. I have never been more excited to play a Medic/Support in a Battlefield game than I am right now. Towing around gun emplacements is whatever, digging foxholes in specified locations is kinda cool, and the hyper-focus on squad tactics fantastic. I can also see how all of it could be annoying nonsense, especially when the Medic starts dragging your body around and teabags you because you happened to have picked a female soldier.

Not looking forward to that.

In any case, my one hope for Battlefield V, regardless of anything else, is that it returns to the cool stories of BF2/3/4. The series is at it’s best when it generates videos like this one, with a dude ejecting out of a burning plane, sniping the enemy pilot, and then scrambling aboard the now-pilotless plane and continuing on. Battlefield 1 was a very pretty game, but it was also oppressive as shit in a very authentic WWI kind of way. I’m not looking for more of the that.

Fallout: Survive

The big news is that Bethesda teased the next Fallout entry: Fallout 76.

People were understandably confused by the naming convention. “What happened to Fallouts 5-75?” The mirth turned to trepidation when Jason Schreier from Kotaku tweeted:

Well, as of this afternoon, Jason tightened the thumbscrews further with this article:

When Bethesda announced Fallout 76 with a teaser trailer this morning, promising more information at E3, it was easy to assume that the new game would be a traditional single-player role-playing game. But Fallout 76 is in fact an online survival RPG that’s heavily inspired by games like DayZ and Rust, according to three people familiar with the project.

Jaw… dropped.

This could be a total disaster. An unmitigated, unrelenting disaster.

…or this could be the best thing of all time. Either/or.

No, but seriously, it’s difficult to assess the firestorm going on in my head right now. Am I disappointed that we’re not seeing a straight-up Fallout 5 right now? Sure. But take a moment and remember back to Fallout 4 and Fallout 3 (and New Vegas for that matter) and ask yourself: how important was the main story, really? Conversely, what were the best parts of this series for you?

For me, it was precisely the post-apocalyptic exploration bits that I love; the mini-vignettes in the form of skeletons or computer logs; the hoarding of thousands of pounds of tin cans and bottle caps; looking at my map, seeing the quest marker, and decidedly going in the opposite direction. While there were never many traditional survival elements to the Fallouts – baring the New Vegas option, which did not change much mechanically – the game setting just had a certain… je ne sais quoi which led me to ransacking every ramshackle shack in the wasteland, in spite of it being totally unnecessarily. Fallout 4’s base-building components were… well, also unnecessary, but at least gave those thousands of pieces of debris a purpose.

So, in short, my body is ready for this.

In fact, I have never been more ready. The only reason why I don’t own Metal Gear: Survive or Conan: Exiles is because they haven’t been bundled/deeply discounted yet. I only uninstalled ARK because it takes up 100+ GB on my limited SSD. I only stopped playing 7 Days to Die because I didn’t want to burn all of my interest until at least patch A17 is released (which is apparently in July). I don’t really advertise it, but my own personal dream game elevator pitch is “Fallout 3 meets Silent Hill – post-apoc psychological survival FPS.”

Now, it’s entirely possible that the devs won’t be able to thread all the needles:

Originally prototyped as a multiplayer version of Fallout 4 with the goal of envisioning what an online Fallout game might look like, Fallout 76 has evolved quite a bit over the past few years, those sources said. It will have quests and a story, like any other game from Bethesda Game Studios, a developer known for meaty RPGs like Skyrim. It will also feature base-building—just like 2015’s Fallout 4—and other survival-based and multiplayer mechanics, according to those sources. One source cautioned that the gameplay is rapidly changing, like it does in many online “service” games, but that’s the core outline.

How exactly does one have both survival multiplayer and quests? Is this going to be a stripped-down The Elder Scrolls Online? Jason mentioned in the comments that “Yeah I’ve also heard people who know the game make comparisons to Ark, fwiw,” so I could imagine it being… well, ARK with quests. But are they going to all be radiant quests ala Skyrim? Can people kill the quest-givers? Can you create your own private (single-player) servers? Will there be modding available?

Details will emerge in the next few weeks, for sure. In the meantime, I’m loving it. Even if Fallout 76 is a total disaster, it has solidified in me the understanding of something I wasn’t quite able to express. Namely, that I want a Fallout ARK. The RPG elements and VATS and such are traditional features that help define the narrative a bit, but I don’t view them as essential anymore. And maybe they never were. I just love that setting, and that gameplay loop of exploring the wasteland.

War never changes, but perhaps our appreciation of it can.

Economy of Design

It’s amusing what can change in three years.

I am currently playing through The Banner Saga 2, which in pretty much all respects is The Banner Saga 1. Still running from the Dredge, still having people die off in blind choices, still have the same combat system. Except, this time, I actually really appreciate the latter.

BannerSaga2_Armor

No secret systems, which is bold

For those that don’t know, the combat system has two components: Strength and Armor. Strength acts as both your attack power and your HP. The formula for damage is simply Your Strength – Their Armor = Their Strength Loss. When attacking, you are given the option of either attacking their Strength or their Armor, with the latter being a set amount of damage based on a separate Armor-Break stat, instead of Strength.

Now, this system can snowball very quickly. Imagine two characters with 8 Armor and 12 Strength. The first person to attack will bring the other down to 8 Strength, which means they will only be able to deal 1 Strength damage in return. Then the first attacker will deal another 3 Strength damage, making any further Strength attacks from the defender take a -10% deflect penalty for each point of Armor above their Strength. Now, the defender could possibly choose to attack the first guy’s Armor instead, but that will only help in future turns… which he won’t live to see.

In any case, the battles are not 1v1 affairs. Turns take place in a round-robin manner: one of your characters take their action, then the AI takes one character’s actions, then your next character gets to move, and so on. Killing an enemy does not remove the AI’s turn – it simply moves the remaining AI units up in initiative. This can lead to incredibly dangerous scenarios if you end up leaving a powerful enemy alive, who gets to act every other turn while you’re stuck moving out-of-range units around. Thus, the superior strategy is actually to maim enemies rather than killing them (e.g. leave them with 1-2 Strength) so that the AI is stuck with weak attacks while you concentrate on maiming more combatants until you can mop the rest up.

Like I said before, this combat system often leads to snowball situations in which one of your characters getting pummeled early makes the latter half of the battle incredibly dicey. Still… the economy in design is brilliant, IMO. You can equip your characters with a special relic that might improve stats a bit, but the whole Strength & Armor deal is incredibly straight-forward. The game will helpfully tell you exactly how much damage an attack will cause, but you can eyeball the field and work it out yourself since there are really only two components. MMORPGs have to have a pile of random-ass stats in order to have room for item level-creep, but most other games do not. Hell, this combat system is so simple that I could imagine them making a board game out of it.

Oh, and another thing? The only currency in the game is Renown. Leveling up characters, purchasing food for your journey, and buying special relics all consume this one common currency. I found this incredibly frustrating in the first game, but I have come to appreciate its elegance this time around. It reminds me of deck-building games wherein the cost of adding a new card to your deck is… adding a new card to your deck. Renown is a little less intuitive than Strength – why would merchants care how famous I was? – but the tension inherent in consuming that resource adds meaningful choice to an otherwise straight-forward decision. Plus, it’s a balancing mechanism preventing you from creating uber-leveled characters.

Like I said before, The Banner Saga 2 is precisely like the original game. If you didn’t have fun playing the first time around, then things are unlikely to have changed. Unless you are like me, apparently, because I’m having a lot of fun now.

That said, fuck Blind Choices. I have zero interest in choosing one of three options, only to find out that my choice results in the loss of 150 Clansmen and dozens of fighters because… arbitrary reasons. I look up the results before I make my “choices,” and feel zero guilt for doing so. I’m not sure if these exist as a sort of roguelike mechanism to encourage multiple playthroughs, but that’s not how I like playing my tactical RPGs.

Fixing Problems*

After about 75 hours of RimWorld, I decided to download mods to “fix” the base game.

As mentioned a few times around here, RimWorld is still currently in an Early Access state. Version 1.0 is on the horizon, but we do not yet have a complete feature list or an itemized accounting of what is going to change. This was frustrating me quite a bit in my current playthrough, due to an outcome I cannot help but question whether it was intended.

The basic gist is this: a group of mechanical enemies attacked my base, and Wolle got shot and was bleeding out. I rescued him and patched him back up… but he would not leave the medical bed. Prognosis: shattered spine. Vanilla RimWorld actually has bionic arms, bionic legs, and bionic eyes as core features. You can’t craft them, but you can buy them from traders occasionally, and clearly have the medical technology to install them. Additionally, there are nanite serums in-game that can automatically boost your skills, which by the description function specifically by moving from the orbit of the eye, into the skull, and then transmuting into the necessary brain tissue.

RimWorld_Pre-Wolle

The Days-Are-Numbered version

Plus, there is something called Luciferium, which are medical nanites that can fix permanent scarring – including in the brain – for the low, low cost of permanent addiction. If you miss a dose every 5-6 days, and you will go on a berserk rage until death. A “devil’s bargain” indeed.

Trouble is, nothing cures a shattered spine in the core game. Was this an oversight? If Luciferium can cure stab scars in the brain, surely it could repair a spine too? Well, it doesn’t. So that led me to question whether it was intentional. There is nothing that cures shattered ribs either, for example – they just permanently reduce the amount of torso damage a colonist can take before collapsing/dying.

So, perhaps the designers were wanting to force the player to confront a scenario in which they have a permanently disabled colonist. Do you maintain them as dead weight, perhaps even taking them with you somehow if/when you escape the planet? Do you simply euthanize them and turn them into a hat? I can see how the emergent moral dilemmas come about. On the other hand, it’s hard to draw a line at spines and ribs when nanite magic is already out of the bottle.

Despite this, it wasn’t until I wasted an in-game month unsuccessfully trying to find uranium to start building a ship that I broke down and modded the game. I added a mod that augments the ground-penetrating radar to actually tell me the resources that are located underneath. And then I added Expanded Prosthetics and Organ Engineering (EPOE).

With EPOP installed, I did the relevant research and built the required workstation and finally crafted a fresh new bionic spine for Wolle. After a successful surgery, I took a look at his Health page… and realized that he wasn’t just fixed, he was better. Specifically, something like 20% better. So now I’m in a scenario in which I could craft 11 more bionic spines and implant them into my colonists to maximize the amount and quality of their work. Then I could get to work on about a dozen other bionic implants too.

RimWorld_Wolle

Now his spine is broken in a different direction.

Like I said before, bionic eyes, arms, and legs are already in the base game. In fact, I have some spares hanging around for emergencies, but bionics are better than standard-issue meat in every way already. While you cannot craft your own, you can generally pick up extras without too much trouble. So it’s not quite too far a bridge, right? Right?

Sigh.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I do think shattered spines are a hole in the vanilla game’s original design, hopefully to be filled in a more balanced way upon release. But then again, sometimes it is precisely the gaps in satisfaction that moves us out of our comfort zone.

Fungible

My gaming purchasing decisions go through two processing stages:

  1. Is the game discounted from MSRP?
  2. Do I anticipate more fun spending X on this game, than X on Y game(s)?

That second step really stops the vast majority of my purchases, especially since the advent of Humble sales and similar bundles. Ironically though, I often don’t end up purchasing those cheaper, great (indie) games because they get caught in the same filter, creating a sort of recursive loop that prevents all purchases.

You will note that my backlog of games shamefully has no impact on my purchasing decision.

Last night was the final day that I could preorder 70 packs of Hearthstone’s latest expansion, Witchwood. I sat looking at the purchase screen for a long, long time. I would not say that Hearthstone is necessarily a must-play game for me, but it is something I have been playing off-and-on for… how long? Jesus Christ, five years?! Wow. How is that even possible?

What was I talking about again?

The preorder for Witchwood was $49.99. For a game I have been playing for 5 (!!!) years, that doesn’t seem like a lot. But you know what else is $49.99, listed in the same Battle.net launcher? WoW’s next expansion, Battle for Azeroth. I’m not super excited for the next expansion, but I do have $70 in BlizzBucks on my account (from selling my Legion stockpile of gold) and a New Year’s resolution to fund my Blizzard gaming using it. Between the two, WoW is absolutely going to give me more bang for my BlizzBucks.

There is also the more salient point that $50 can get you a LOT of gaming these days. An absurd amount, honestly. The current Strategy Bundle at HB will net you Endless Legends and Endless Space 2 for $12. There is a complete edition for Civ 5 which is like $15. There is something to be said about fun depth probably being better than simply time spent (e.g. just because you spend 500 hours playing Civ, doesn’t mean it’s your favorite game ever), the fact remains that you can get a lot of value for your dollar these days and games are largely fungible.

Of course, what ends up happening far too often with me is that I get in the mood to play a particular type of game, and everything that isn’t that specific game becomes less fun to play. Which means I am generally better off buying games on sale, even when I have a ridiculous backlog, in the off-chance that my hankering is satisfied with something I already bought.

Or, sometimes, I just end up playing the same damn game over and over for a long-ass time, until my mood shifts again. Have I mentioned I have 70 hours in RimWorld now? The only thing that could bring me out of this Survival kick is an update to 7 Days to Die or me deleting enough games to make room for Ark again (100+ GB, ugh).

Or until the winds change again, I suppose.