Category Archives: Miscellany

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What a crazy 1.5 months. Huge work initiative is coming to a close, I passed a certification exam a few days ago, and things are approaching what might be considered whatever normal amounts to be.

So, let’s shill some more for Game Pass:

  • Subnautica: Below Zero
  • Superliminal
  • Sable
  • Tainted Grail: Conquest
  • Medieval Dynasty

I mentioned it before, but basically my gaming life consisted of Hearthstone, Fallout 76, and Slay the Spire for the last few weeks. Not because they were the best games I had at my disposal, but because they were accessible, low-effort time-wasters that kept me (relatively) sane. I cannot guarantee that much will change at first, though seeing the above games available for free* is giving me a nudge in that direction.

Although I have heard mixed reviews on Subnautica: Below Zero, I never dug deeper into why things are mixed. Not necessarily for the sake of spoilers, but because games end up changing so often post-release that what people complained about originally may no longer exist by the time I get around to playing. All I know is that you apparently spend a bit more time outside the water, there is some kind of vehicle that handles like shit, and the devs turned the game into a sequel instead of DLC to the original because money and they got tired developing water games. Considering I spent 61 hours enjoying the first game, my bar is relatively more forgiving for even a v1.5 game that costs me nothing.

Superliminal looked cool and sometimes that is all it takes to get on my radar.

I heard an interview with the band Japanese Breakfast on NPR, talking about how they wrote the soundtrack for Sable. At one point they mentioned how their favorite childhood memory was playing Secret of Mana with their father, and NPR then overlaid the opening theme in the interview… and that was it. I was back in the 3rd grade coming home from school to my Super Nintendo playing A Link to the Past, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy 6, and Super Metroid for the 30th time because I got precisely two videogames a year and those were it. Funny how advertisers spend tens of millions of dollars keeping my eyeballs on the screen for more than two seconds, and a goddamn MIDI from 25+ years ago rockets past it all.

Before work stuff consumed my life, I was on a real roguelike card game kick. One of the options I was an inch from buying was Tainted Grail: Conquest. Instead, I bought Deck of Ashes and (ahem) burned out a bit on card games. Aside from OG Slay the Spire. Seeing Tainted Grail on the Game Pass certainly makes me retroactively applaud my decision to take a break.

Finally, Medieval Dynasty is one of those survival-esque games that was on my radar, then wiggled inside my radar after SynCaine’s review, then shorted out my radar once I realized that the price jumped upon full release. Which… I get it, you want to reward the early adopters. At the same time, if you are going to game theory me into buying an unfinished product at a lower price and hoping things work out, you should expect some hesitancy on the back end if I miss the “deal.” It’s not about the $5-$10, it’s the principle. Or not, because I can play for free on Game Pass.

Things are weird for everyone else too, right? Like we went from the worst possible timeline with F2P and loot boxes everywhere, to Game Pass and Epic Store weekly giveaways and people seemingly giving a shit about Consumer Surplus in general. This is exactly what competition is supposed to do, but I nevertheless keep listening for when the music stops.

Twitter-Style

Part of me wonders if I should get into Twitter.

As you may have noticed, my posting frequency has been anything but. Traditionally, this is a result of either being too busy to play games or too busy to write about them, but not in this case. My current struggle is the fact that I flit in-between too many games for posts to make sense. I could belt out a half-dozen Impressions posts in a row, but at a certain point that all just seems so silly. I do not intend this to be solely an Impressions blog.

On the other hand, not much of a blog without posts either, eh?

I will have to work it out. Twitter is probably not the answer, as I have no particular desire to keep up with everyone else’s tweets. Just have to get over the compunction to make everything a 1000-word treatise on some armchair game developer nonsense. Sometimes a game is just a game.

That’ll Teach Me

There I was, minding my own business, writing end-of-year recap posts. SynCaine points me towards a game called Monster Train, which is sorta like Slay the Spire. It’s on sale for $18… and why not? Let’s splurge by buying a game on Steam, like the good old days.

This is why not:

Yep, I paid $18 on Steam for a game that arrived on the Xbox Game Pass like three days later. Hell, it could have actually already been there before I bought it. Forgot I had to do homework before making game purchases. I mean, I don’t have to, but it gets a bit silly the lengths I go to save $5, let alone $18.

In any case, I played Monster Train for three hours before finding it on the Game Pass. Submitted a refund request through Steam and it was rejected. Did some research on whether you can appeal your initial rejection. The consensus is that, despite appearances, each request that falls outside the automatic approval conditions (< 2 hours played within 14 days) is looked at by a human. New request, new human. Obviously that only goes so far, of course.

My second refund request was approved. I think the winning argument was changing the Reason from “Game wasn’t fun” to “Game was not what I expected.” As in, I was not expecting the game to be free elsewhere. I didn’t write that part in the box though. Monster Train is billed as similar to Slay the Spire, but it’s not really. I’ll have more to say on it later on, assuming I play more of it via Game Pass.

I’m just glad to have my $18 back in a Steam wallet that hasn’t been used in a year or two.

Fell Seal Complete, plus tips

Just beat Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark after almost 60 hours.

Quality of the gameplay remained high throughout the campaign. I could probably have shaved ~20 hours or so off the time to complete, but I enjoyed getting most of my team to a point where they had OP combos and synergies. The plot itself is nowhere near Final Fantasy Tactics, but the dialog is surprisingly humorous and there are some slight twists. The main thing that could be improved was the lack of different battle music, but luckily what exists is not annoying.

There is some “post-game” areas and New Game+ options – and some DLC just dropped – but I do not anticipate coming back. I got my fill of the systems and progression; anything else would be going through the motions, like grinding out the rest of a Civilization match.

Gameplay Tips

I would not consider the following to be “spoilers,” but if you want to know nothing else about the game systems, you should probably skip this part. This is merely the text I wish I was able to see as I started playing the game.

Units gain AP after battle in two ways. Everyone who participates in the battle get a large chunk (110ish for random encounters, twice that for Story) of AP for their primary class. There is a second, smaller “Vicarious” AP gain (~40) that is doled out to each battle participant based on the primary classes of the other participants. So, for example, if you have a Knight, two Wizards, a Mender, a Mercenary, and a Scoundrel in a battle, then the Knight will get some AP towards its own Wizard, Mender, Mercenary, and Scoundrel classes, and so on with the other 5 people.

The above is useful to know because some of the best-in-slot Passive abilities comes from Classes that are only unlocked after some esoteric prerequisite classes. For example, if you want to unlock the Assassin, the chain goes:

  • Assassin
    • Gunner 4
      • Mercenary 4
      • Knight 4
      • Ranger 4
        • Scoundrel 4

That doesn’t actually seem that bad for a martial class, aside from the ranged portions. But something like the Warmage or Fellblade will require some Mender and Wizard levels, which can be awkward for some of the story characters. Luckily enough, all you really need is for there to be A Wizard or Mender in the party for 10-15 battles, and you’ll have enough AP to level the class to the minimum to unlock the higher classes. Characters get that Vicarious AP even if they have not yet unlocked the the class in question; it will be waiting for them once they do.

It’s not immediately obvious, but Kyrie is the main character of the game – she will be required for the vast majority of story missions. The other story characters can be unavailable for 1-4 missions.

Debuffs are very important throughout the whole game (including the final boss). Some boss-esque characters have 999+ HP that is much easier to chew through when you give them Bleed/Poison (% HP loss), for example. There are very deadly characters that are NOT immune to Sleep or Berserk, which means you can essentially delete their turns while you mop up the flunkies.

At the beginning of each battle, before deploying units, you can actually go into the unit screen and re-equip or change up abilities or whatever else based on what it looks like you’re facing. Is there water on the map and enemies who can move your units around? Equip some Flippers on your guys that can’t swim. Poison water around? Equip the rings that give immunity to Poison. And so on.

The most useful classes I found were Knight, Fellblade, and Assassin, surprisingly in that order.

The Knight’s Defensive Hit is probably the most damaging attack you will have for the early game, especially if you stack armor. Knight also has Taunt, which inflicts Berserk 100% of the time from two squares away, which can turn an enemy mage into an ineffectual melee attacker or make an enemy bruiser kill his own team. Life Font (gain HP when moving) is something I slotted into all of my characters, which pretty much removes the need for a dedicated healer.

Fellblade was pretty much my “default” class for all my characters due to versatility and debuffs. Sleep Slice to delete enemy turns, Poison Slice for high HP targets, Evade Magic as a counter-ability to ignore magic-users entirely, and Black Blade as a backup attack that deals magical damage and inflicts Blind. Plus, the Malice passive makes sure your debuffs have a good chance to stick.

Assassin is pretty much a splash class. What you’re really going for is Dual Wield, which enables some crazy damage. The ranged Blind and Sleep abilities are nice, but usually only have a coin-flip chance to succeed. Sabotage can be incredibly powerful in certain situations though. Specifically, if there is water in range and an enemy unit who cannot swim – Assassin hops in water, use Sabotage to switch places with enemy, instant death for them.

The sort of ultimate damage combo is a character with Dual Wield passive and Warmage class. Use Infused Edge, and your character will get two attacks plus an elemental bonus attack (or other spell). Personally, I was fine with Dual Wield + Attack Expert (Scoundrel’s passive +Attack based on level) and two weapons that had debuffs on hit. Indeed, I strolled into the final battle with story characters having primacy classes of Scoundrel and Knight.

Don’t forget the lowly Rock. It has a 100% chance to hit and always deals the full damage (50 when maxed out). This is useful for monsters that have crazy defense values like those jellyfish spellcasters, or even enemies with 30% evasion.

The crafting system is… annoying. Always go to Component View to see what your other crafting options are before using a resource you don’t think you can easily farm back. SAVE YOUR QUALITY THREAD. It’s a mid-tier Component used in an endgame armor (light helmet) and is supremely difficult to get any more once you’re in said endgame.

Too Busy for Words

It’s interesting to think about how much life can change. Four years ago, I would have been living up this coronavirus shelter-in-place self-isolation. MMOs for days! Even two years ago would have been good, just chillin’ with my then-fiancee.

Pandemics are a bit different with a baby, though.

This coming week, the daycares are shutting down in my area. My wife has been working from home for the last few weeks, and I will be joining her shortly. Technically I am “essential personnel” but we worked out a rotating skeleton crew schedule at my job. I took the first shift to support the rollout of nearly a hundred mobility solutions for other essential personnel to work from home. By the end of the week, I’ll be working from home as well for the next 3-4 weeks before my on-site shift comes back around. And so on, until… whenever. Through the entirety of April, at least.

Good luck and stay safe, everyone.

In/Out of Commission

Kiddo got sick at daycare. Which got us sick. And then kiddo stayed sick enough that we’ve had to keep him from daycare six days and counting. So, that’s been my week.

P.S. Norovirus is no joke. 

P.P.S. Seriously, hand sanitizer doesn’t kill it.

Plate Spinning

You’d be forgiven for wondering whether my resolution to “continue to be a passably responsible gaming dad” meant not posting anything in 2020. Luckily, that is only partially the case.

I don’t actually know how other people do it. My wife and I both work, which means that gaming time is typically limited to when she and the baby go to sleep. But said gaming time is really “do everything else time,” so in practice, it’s like 30 minutes. What can you meaningfully play in that amount of time?

The kicker is work changes. I used to have some downtime in which I could write posts. Now that I’m in an interim position, that’s out the window. It’s been out the window for a while, but not all the plates had stopped spinning. Now that they are slowing down, well… I should probably learn how to spin them, yeah?

I’m kidding – I’m amazing at everything I do. It’s the choosing to do things that needs some work. So I’m going to do that.

And maybe shorter posts? We’ll see.

Niiiiiiice

Is there a better feeling than pondering buying a game, deciding it’s not quite at the right sale price for you, then finding out it’s a front-runner for next month’s Humble Bundle?

HB_Timing

I submit that there is not!

As always, I’m starved for survival/crafting games not already consumed, and My Time at Portia was something that had hitherto not been on the radar. Then it was… but at $30. Seeing as how I missed all the historic low prices of $12-$15 some time in the interminable past, I resigned myself to wait things out further. Then, Humble Bundle. I care nothing for Soul Calibur or (probably) the Yakuza game, but I will snap up a $12 copy of the game I was looking for and possibly 6-7 games I wasn’t.

You know, aside from the exploitative microtransactions and design-destroying loot boxes, I’m enjoying this age of novel payment methods. Between monthly bundles, Epic’s bribes, Twitch’s giveaways, and Microsoft’s increasingly desperate attempts to sell you months of Gamer Pass for $1, I think we’re more saturated with games now than we were during peak F2P. At least, I know I am.

The trick will be to actually play them, rather than looking at the library with glazed eyes and then booting up the same game I had been playing for the last two weeks.

Path of Self-Exile

Browsing through my new-and-improved Steam library, I notice Path of Exile sitting there. Looking for something different, I download it and boot it up after like… damn, six years ago? My characters are still there, so I load up my Witch and…

POE_Grid

Ain’t nobody got time for this.

…shut the game down.

I ended up going to some websites to look at what constitutes some good Witch builds. What I found were builds labeled “3.8| Stress Free PoE – COLD-HEARTED CURSER |Clear the Atlas w/ YOUR Items @ YOUR Pace (SSF & Co-op).” Sounds good. Let me just look at the video of its gameplay…

Oh. Just literally pressing one button and running around.

There were other builds, of course, but most of them were, shall we say, thematically similar. Plus, knowing that the above build is possible, what motivation would you have to do something else?

As it turns out, very high. Just in a different game.

[F76] Sidenote

File this under “It’s all starting to make sense” (from Wikipedia):

BattleCry Studios was founded on October 3, 2012, as subsidiary of ZeniMax Media, headed by Rich Vogel as its president.[1] Initially, BattleCry Studios was seeking employees with experience in microtransactions and free-to-play games.[2]

On May 28, 2014, BattleCry Studios announced their first game, BattleCry.[3] On September 10, 2015, it was reported that BattleCry Studios had laid off a “substantial portion” of their staff.[4] On October 7, 2015, the development on BattleCry was halted for the studio to work on different projects.[5] One of the studio’s first projects following the hold of BattleCry was the modification and restructuring of Bethesda’s Creation Engine (in conjunction with sister company id Software, utilizing netcode from Quake) to support multiplayer functionality in anticipation of then upcoming Fallout 76.[6]

When you follow the [2] link, you get an Engadget article from 2012 that states:

Bethesda may be known for its one-of-a-kind offline RPGs, but its new Battlecry Studios division is looking to ride the online free-to-play gravy train.

Eurogamer has sussed out a few details based on the firm’s job postings, which include a “monetization designer” and a platform lead position that requires experience with “design and implementation of microtransaction systems and services.”

The advertisements also suggest some sort of console release, as Bethesda notes that “console experience — preferably next generation (PS3, Xbox 360)” is preferred.

Battlecry is headed by former Star Wars: The Old Republic executive producer Rich Vogel.

While the hotbar-selling SWTOR is kind of a hilarious gotcha moment, Rich Vogel also did Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies back in the day. So… he either sold out or allowed his vision to become corrupted by publishers, although those are basically the same in the end.

Maybe we can argue about how much each Bethesda Studio contributed to the overall Fallout 76 package, but my money is that the corrosive, microtransaction design came from the studio headed by the guy who introduced the world to selling hotbars in an MMO. And, of course, Todd Howard… who is either an empty suit or willing participant in this nonsense.