Delayed vs Rushed

Remember when I said I was pining for an update to 7 Days to Die? It’s finally happening.

Hopefully.

It has been over eight months since 7 Days to Die has been updated to Alpha 15. Reaction to the Alpha 16 update announcement has been… mixed, but mainly due to that very length. (And streamers getting first dibs for no reason.) The game is still in Early Access, still in Alpha, still missing every single Roadmap and timeline the developers have offered. That said, there is fairly routine forum interaction from at least one employee, there have been multiple Alpha 16 videos, and so on. Development for this zombie apocalypse game hasn’t, ahem, died.

My thoughts on this are somewhat conflicted. Shigeru Miyamoto of Mario (et tal) fame once said:

A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.

Within the context of traditional videogames, he is 100% correct. If you released a cartridge game and it was rushed, then it was forever rushed. There were no patches back in those days, bizarre Sega shenanigans notwithstanding.

Sonic3

The current gaming climate is completely different. Games will frequently be released broken, as in totally nonfunctional (see: Fallout New Vegas), and even the better ones often have hefty Day 1 patches measured in gigabytes. Even for single-player games, the norm these day are several content patches over the “life” of the title, and not just DLC either. Just look at Mass Effect (both trilogy and Andromeda) and FF15.

Early Access muddies the water even more. When is a game actually “released” anymore? When it goes Gold? When it starts charging money?

Regardless, I think the fundamental concern these days is Mission Creep and the anxiety surrounding whether the developers actually get around to… well, perhaps not finishing the game, but at least not abandoning it midway. Some Early Access games are more playable than others, but sometimes the developers decide to go off on a design tangent that leads to a forever incomplete game. For example, in 7 Day to Die, the developers spent a considerable amount of time on Alpha 16 incorporating the ability to “paint” blocks. It’s texture paint, so perhaps that will make future Points of Interest creation/modding easier. And there’s electricity/auto-turrets now too. Meanwhile, the zombie AI is still pretty dumb, zombies can’t dig downwards so bunker-bases just win you the game, and so on.

The ideal is always going to be Polished and On-Time. If one must choose between Delayed and Rushed however, I find myself leaning towards Rushed more and more these days. Rushed means bugs, usually, or imbalance in mechanics. But at least it is something, something real and tangible and able to take the edge off that burning desire for novelty. Delayed means “possibly never” and is often just as imbalanced and in need of additional updates anyway.

Impressions: Black Desert Online

How ’bout that character generator, eh?

Rawr

I remember the hubbub from back before the US release, where the character generator was a sort of standalone piece of software. It is still quite impressive, all this time later, even if most of the options end up turning your character into nightmare fuel more often than not. Still, for those that care about proper placement of their character’s dimples, I am sure that this sort of refinement is welcome.

What the character generator did not prepare me for is the rest of the game looking… washed out?

Ironically, it looks fine in screenshots.

To be clear, the game does not look bad. There is just a weird sort of dissonance between having an avatar constructed in incredibly minute detail… traversing a landscape with shrubbery that has a lesser polygon count than their eyebrows. The two simply feel out of place right away. As I was running around, all I could think about is whether or not Guild Wars 2 looked better.

Combat has been one-shot city thus far, and I think I’m technically level 17 at this point. It is certainly an interesting Action combat system, as it plays more like, well, Action RPGs. Hold Left-Click to perform a series of attacks, Right-Click starts another, LMB + RMB is something else, W + F is another attack, etc, etc etc. Technically there is also a hotbar you can utilize, but the in-game prompts warn you that it costs more resources (MP) to perform when not manually keying in the combo. Given that nothing has survived more than two hits of “hold down LMB,” I have not yet seen whether that’s relevant.

In fairness, the class I chose was Dark Knight. Which was selected based on the little video that play of the various classes and my research into what was Flavor of the Month. So maybe the class is just OP. Wizard/Witch were #1 and #2 in the FOTM ranking, but the experience of FFXIV’s abysmal Arcanist experience has soured ranged classes in new (to me) MMOs. Despite that, it was actually the Ranger that piqued my interest the most originally. Perhaps I’ll check that out later.

Say what?

One factor that is going to limit my playtime right away is the garbage localization and questing. Quests are quests, but Black Desert has discovered a way to make them even less interesting. For most NPCs, you have to click on a Quest tab in a menu to bring up their quest, then they have two poorly-translated lines per screen to convey the information, and while they are “talking” they spout off their idle dialog that has nothing to do with the words on the screen. I suppose I shouldn’t expect much more from a game with an “auto-run to quest objective” feature built-in, but it’s a bit disappointing nonetheless.

I have not spent much time with the remaining game systems, including Node management and leaving the game running overnight/during work so you can AFK gain millions of silver for reasons. From what I understand, this absurd economy is mainly based around the principle that you’ll be throwing tens of millions of silver away in the gamble that is upgrading endgame gear. As in, to upgrade a 20 million silver sword to the next level, you have smash it together with another 20 million silver sword. Success means you get an upgraded 100 million silver sword. Failure means you get a silver sword one enchantment level less; not only have you lost the 20 million silver item, but you’ll have to buy more swords to smash together just to get back to where you were originally. Accessory enchanting works the same way, except that on a failure you lose both items.

Under that sort of insane rubric, being able to make millions while AFK fishing is OK.

…wait, no it isn’t. It’s still fucking nonsense, but whatever.

Result

I ended up refunding my purchase of Dig or Die last night, after about 1.5 hours. The game wasn’t bad, but it didn’t feel like it knew what kind of game it wanted to be – the days were much too short to explore long enough to get anywhere, which emphasized the nightly horde combat too much.

The $8 I got back was then funneled into a $18 “Traveler” package for Black Desert.

Why? To say I did, mostly. Well, I decided on the Traveler package instead of the $6 base game package because the Traveler one came with a pet and a horse. Pets seem to be the universal “must-buy to play this game” feature and those run $11 by themselves. The horse is there in case the game flops for me, and I want to run ride around getting screenshots.

Crafting Survival

It is not very common for me to succumb to a desire to play a particular genre over everything else, but I got hit by a “crafting survival” bug pretty hard on Memorial Day. I’m deep in Mass Effect: Andromeda, I’ve got FFXIV on my plate, and yet I wanted to collect things by punching them repeatedly something fierce.

The somewhat surprising problem is that I’ve already played most of them.

My go-to game in the the Crafting-Survival genre is 7 Days to Die. I could – and did – play that game all damn day, and it’s hard to really indicate why. I have more or less mastered the flow of the game, so technically I should be “done” with it. The extra issue is that the Alpha 16 patch should be out (Blizzard) Soon™ and it contains some pretty big feature sets, including auto-turrets and electricity and more traps and such. I’m worried that spending more time playing in Alpha 15 will result in me getting bored with the base game and thus miss out on all the new stuff.

Once 7 Days is off the table, I’m back to a weird state. Minecraft? That’s the quintessential hook for the genre, but I’ve long been done with the game. Terraria has had some updates since I last played, but no thanks. Starbound is done. I’m passing on Ark until they actually spend time optimizing their goddamn code. The Forest might be satisfying, but I’m not sure I want Survival-Crafting-Horror at the moment.

What else? The Long Dark was intriguing, but a bit too much on the “never be safe” side of survival. I have high praise for Subnautica and will definitely play again… once it gets out of Early Access. The vast majority of these games languish in Early Access for their entire duration, actually, which is only usually a problem when you get hooked on them. Don’t Starve was a fantastic game that graduated Early Access and even has two expansions. That said, I have spent considerable time playing it already and don’t have much of a drive to go back.

Okay… what’s left? I have zero interest in PvP-centric survival, which crosses off a lot of the more famous examples, like Rust or H1Z1. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds actually popped up under “Crafting” for some reason, but no thank you. Craft the World? Played. Empyrion: Galactic Survival was actually on sale a while ago, but I’m not paying $20 for it now. Same with Rimworld.

What I ended up purchasing was Dig or Die, sadly at full price (8 whole dollars). It is still in Early Access (of course), but the description basically paints it more as a Tower Defense Terraria: build a base with turrets and defenses to survive the night. Except with more fluid physics, e.g. water and lava. We’ll see how it goes.

Black Desert?

So, Black Desert is currently on sale on Steam for $6.

BlackDesert

Considering it is a B2P game, I was considering just picking it up now and then playing later at my leisure. Something was making me hesitate though, even at this low price-point.

Then it came back: Gevlon had a series of money-making posts regarding Black Desert, and I remembered what bothered me. Specifically, the fact that wealth generation in the game entirely revolved around keeping the game running on your computer overnight/while you were at work.

Offline progression doesn’t particularly bother me in the least. Nor, of course, needing to actively grind. But being AFK while your computer runs all day? Some people in the comments to those posts were talking about how doing X is better than Y if you couldn’t remote desktop to your PC while at work in order to restart production. What the literal shit kind of game is this?

The sale is on till Wednesday, so perhaps I’ll pick it up regardless just to say I gave it the ole college try. But if you have played Black Desert and can explain some of its redeeming features, I’m all ears.

Impressions: ME:A, Supplemental

A few (dozen) more hours in, and things are humming along.

OK, so the game can look REAL good.

In these early stages of the game, three abilities do not feel like nearly enough. I came across a website that suggested that Barricade – a Tech power that constructs cover on demand – was the bee’s knees. After a boss-ish encounter that saw me kiting an armored beast around for 5 minutes, I’d suggest it’s more akin to bee’s ass. Energy Drain and Pull were rather ineffectual with Barricade as the wildcard, and it’s too early in the game for my weapons to have much of an impact on anything.

Indeed, I have talked about uneven difficulty in games before, and Andromeda seems poised to follow the same patterns. In Divinity: Original Sin, the difficulty was uneven in the early game because enemy CC was powerful while you lacked options towards ending encounters quickly, e.g. by blowing up the team with OP spells. In Andromeda, you can specialize yourself into a corner by not selecting all of the abilities, or perhaps not bringing the right kind of weapons. Andromeda allows you to actually change the three abilities you have in the middle of combat, but that won’t help you if you never spared the Skill points to buy them.

Better bring the right weapons/skills to this fight.

That said, I don’t actually like Andromeda’s swapping Skill system.

While the game goes out of its way to make the process mostly smooth – you can swap Favorite loadouts with a couple clicks – I find the entire process too… metagame-y. Ryder’s ability to switch abilities on the fly is given an in-universe explanation, but that doesn’t prevent the flow of combat from being broken whenever you pause the game to become an entirely different “class.” It’s like… why? I would agree that this is better than being able to paint yourself into an unwinnable corner by choosing the “wrong” abilities, but only barely. Why not allow us to equip more abilities at once?

Ah, right… consoles.

In any event, I will continue chugging right along. I am warming up to the characters a bit more, and going out of my way to complete most of the side-quests in typical Mass Effect style. It is hard to tell how far along in the game I am, but I’m guessing it might be closer to halfway than anything.

Steamy

I am not a frequent reader of Polygon, but their recent (hit) piece on Steam is interesting. There is a lot going on in the article, but these are the two thesis paragraphs:

This, then, is Good Guy Valve — a corporation which employs precision-engineered psychological tools to trick people into giving them money in exchange for goods they don’t legally own and may never actually use while profiting from a whole lot of unpaid labor and speculative work … but isn’t “evil.”

This is the Good Guy everyone seems too afraid to call out, the toxic friend who is so popular that upsetting him will just make things worse for you, so you convince yourself he’s really not that bad and that everyone else is over-reacting. Once the Good Guy illusion has disappeared, we’re left with the uncomfortable truth: Valve is nothing more than one of the new breed of digital rentiers, an unapologetic platform monopolist growing rich on its 30 percent cut of every purchase — and all the while abrogating every shred of corporate or moral responsibility under the Uber-esque pretense of simply being a “platform that connects gamers to creators.”

Basically, Valve conned us 13 years ago into believing they were the Good Guys, to the point that we unapologetically ascribe sins to Origin and UPlay that Valve themselves invented, and still perform where not prevented by EU law. Shkreli would give his left nut for the amount of free advertising that blasts over the internet for every Steam sale. All of this, all of this free money coming in, all this outrage over other corporations screwing over customers and employees alike… and we still eat it up for Valve.

I will admit that this article gave me pause.

It is a weird situation to find myself in, especially given that I am Pro-Consumer. Have you heard about Consumer Surplus? I invented that term. I will talk all day about how obscene it is for Blizzard to charge $25 for a character transfer, but spend zero time talking about how Valve takes a 75% cut of community-created DotA item/model sales.

That said, I’m not entirely sure there is a contradiction there, much less a cause for proletarian revolt.

Look, most of us grew up in the pre-Steam days. Do you remember what buying PC games was like? It was chaos. Sometimes you needed to keep the CD in the tray to play the game, sometimes you didn’t. Sometimes the publishers installed a rootkit on your machine, sometimes they didn’t. The first time I ever “pirated” a game was with Command & Conquer 3 because the disc I bought from the store wouldn’t play; there was either a scratch on the CD or some bug or something, but it instantly crashed on boot. Downloading a Day 1 crack on a game you just bought for $50 and couldn’t even return is pretty emblematic for that time period.

In short, Steam saved the PC gaming industry. It provided a framework in which the industry could grow, while simultaneously providing immense value to gamers. Steam sales actually were revolutionary at the time – the only times you ever got a discount elsewhere was when the game was in a bargain bin. Steam sales are disappointing these days, for sure, in a world of GreenManGaming, Amazon discounts, and all the other storefronts. Whom deliver Steam keys 99% of the time. Which is what most gamers want, considering the platform itself is immensely stable in comparison to oh, say, RockStar’s Social Club.

There are legitimate complaints regarding Steam. The Support sucks, so I have heard. It took them entirely too long to introduce Refunds, and I understand that that only came under threat of court orders. I’m also sure that the author’s claims regarding reimbursement percentages for selling character models is probably true.

But overall, I think the article is mostly attacking a straw man. There will be Valve fanboys, just as there are Apple fanboys. The difference is that Apple is a walled garden of overpriced, proprietary bullshit. Steam appears to be a near-monopoly… but based on what, exactly? Origin (or GOG, etc) might indeed be the better gaming platform these days… if it weren’t for the fact that they have an absurdly low (in comparison) library of available titles. Does Steam have exclusivity agreements that nobody knows about? If not, who is really responsible for its market share? No one is stopping anyone from opening a competing service that only takes 25% of the cut or whatever.

The bottom line is that nobody is being tricked here. Uber intentionally treating their entire workforce as contractors to avoid paying for health benefits or time off is not at all the same as “tricking” people into buying videogames over the internet. The damning “culture of cliques” at Valve is laughable; welcome to everywhere. Hell, if you want to see an abused workforce, take a gander over at Amazon warehouse for a moment.

“Good Guy Valve” is a marketing fiction, sure… but built on the back of a decade of actual value.

Impressions: Mass Effect: Andromeda

Bad facial animations are bad.

Rest of the game? Pretty good.

It is difficult to know whether I would have noticed the details on my own had it not been for the hilarious (and sad) examples spread across the internet. I would like to imagine that I’d notice, but maybe not. The toothpaste is out of that tube though, and straight into the fish-lips of every member of humanity that survived the journey to Andromeda. Maybe cryogenics causes one’s skin to slog off the bone.

Were the “older” (e.g. actual, real) Mass Effects just as bad? (No.) I dunno. All I know is that five years ago I said:

About 5 hours into Mass Effect, all I can say is holy shit.

One of the most groundbreaking things occurred in the city after the first “dungeon.” In talking with a receptionist to the Consort, she winked at me.

… and then a few months later:

My favorite aspect of the original Mass Effect was the integration of non-verbal dialog into the narrative, and the general narrative itself. In ME2, that is kicked up a notch^². Characters smile, nod, gesture, facepalm, wink, and otherwise emote in subtle, natural ways. Indeed, these little actions end up becoming part of the dialog, creating nuance and meaning that words themselves could not convey.

Perhaps the novelty has worn off. Perhaps the Witcher series has ruined facial expressions for other games for me. Or perhaps the animations in ME: Andromeda are really that bad. At the moment, I am leaning towards the latter. Ryder pretty much looks drunk all the time.

Time to hit the bottle again.

I have only played about an hour or two thus far, but the rest of the game seems okay. The gunplay does not seem as tight, but it could be the learning curve of the Frostbite engine. Or perhaps my low-level guns. I like how you can swap out abilities and such, but don’t like how apparently I’m limited to three abilities at a time. I suppose in the paradigm of quick recharging Biotic skills, it would be too much to be just slinging more mass effect fields than bullets.

Still, I always question whether these sort of decisions are made based on solid design principles, or whether it was to dumb down the game for consoles.

FF14 Dungeons, Take Two

This past week I ended up running the dreaded early dungeon gauntlet in FF14 again – you know, the three early dungeon Square Enix requires everyone to do in order to move the Main Story Quest forward. Things more or less went as well as last time.

The first dungeon run went comically bad. As soon as we zoned in, the healer just ran through half the dungeon and aggroed all of the mobs. This, of course, resulted in a wipe. The healer never rezzed themselves though, which is pretty indicative that his/her behavior was intentional trolling. Unfortunately, you cannot Vote Kick someone within X minutes of zoning into the dungeon, so we all had to wait.

Then it turned out that the healer and the other DPS voted to kick the tank, which happened to be frequent In An Age commenter, MaximGtB (who offered to help me through these early dungeons). It took me a while to figure out what even happened though, because FF14 does not allow you to Whisper or receive a Whisper while in a dungeon. And I did not know if there was an easy way to teleport out of a dungeon you were in.

So, yeah, comically bad.

After that, MaximGtB shepherded me through the three dungeons without major incident. In two of the dungeons, we had a Thaumaturge or Black Mage or whatever that insisted on using a knockback in their spell rotation, much to my Pugilist’s (and the tank’s) annoyance. It was also kind of annoying fighting 3-4 mobs at a time with zero AoE abilities. I suppose that might be a feature rather than a bug at this stage, as it would be easy for new players to spam that sort of thing and get aggro.

My overall impression about FF14’s dungeons have not really changed. There is zero reason for these early dungeons to be mandatory and/or exist. They are apropo of nothing. I don’t remember if Wailing Caverns had any lead-in, but other early WoW dungeons like Deadmines were the culmination of zone-wide storylines. That the devs required these three irrelevant dungeons for the MSQ simply boggles my mind. Mandatory is one thing, zero story is another.

In any event, further progress on my character will have to wait, as Square Enix is “moving data centers” and that apparently requires two full days of downtime. Which is almost enough time to be tempted to pop another WoW Token.

…think I’ll start Mass Effect: Andromeda instead.

Sidequestless

My early-level experience in FF14 has not been as painful as it felt previously. There are all manner of reasons why this might be the case – psychological, emotional, a more fun class, etc – but I suspect that a large part of it has to do with the increase in Main Story Quest (MSQ) XP. Which is weird, because I’m pretty sure that was already active the first time I played.

The difference is that I’m actually taking advantage of it.

I’m sure this will change down the road, but essentially I am skipping everything but the MSQ quests and still hitting the necessary milestones to continue adventuring. It feels a bit off to stroll into a new town filled with exclamation marks and roll out with just one quest on the log, but it also feels… liberating? “Oh, you want me to kill 6 whatevers on the ass end of the Earth? No thanks.” At my level (which has jumped up to 15 now), those sidequests reward around 1100 XP whereas the MSQ will dump 6500 XP on your head for walking 10 feet and talking with another NPC. Plus, the story feels a lot more coherent without all the narrative breaks.

The downside is… well, not experiencing any sidequests. Which I am both happy and sad about.

Sidequests are an interesting game design mechanic. Pretty much every RPG has them, and they are almost entirely used as pacing. Filler, in other words. Of course, if you actually find the combat/exploration/etc in the RPG engaging, then sidequests are actual, legit content. Plus, if the designers go the extra mile, sidequests might become more interesting than the actual storyline. A good example of that would be the Mass Effect or Witcher series, wherein the supporting characters and their interaction with the main character is most of the appeal.

In MMOs, sidequests are almost always chores to be completed. “Kill 10 whatevers.” “Talk to these NPCs.” “Go here and click on the shiny thing.” Some are more memorable than others, some engage in world-building, others sew the seeds of interaction with new story characters. But the vast majority are pointless busywork. And that’s the rub, right? Skipping the busywork means skipping the few gems out there.

Of the FF14 sidequests I did before focusing exclusively on the MSQ, 99% of them were filler. At the same time, I would have been sad to miss the ole “cold as a dead whore’s crotch” exchange:

The above is why I typically complete all the sidequests in MMOs: for those brief slices of amusement, in the middle of so much bland white bread.

Alas, I no longer have eight hours of uninterrupted gaming time a day, so decisions have to be made. And that decision is to largely skip sidequests. I have long heard that SW:TOR has made a similar move regarding deprecating sidequests to streamline their “fourth pillar,” and I wonder if there has been a similar loss in incidental storytelling. It is not even as though they can keep the “good ones,” because sometimes it’s the weird throwaway sidequests that end up being the best.

I’m not sure there is a real solution here. I suppose FF14 deserves some credit for at least having the possibility of people clearing these sidequests later, via leveling up other classes (which changes your level back to 1). Although with all the XP bonuses and such you get now, I’m not sure if that’s enough.