Freedom from Hunger

I am currently playing through a rougelike called “Wasted,” and the experience has been interesting. It is an Adult Swim Game that I believe came in a Humble Monthly Bundle or something, as I don’t remember purchasing it. The premise is very non-serious – think Borderlands rougelike with permadeath – but that’s not particularly relevant. What’s relevant is the addition of the SOB Purifiers.

The general gameplay in Wasted pretty common in terms of opening doors, killing enemies, avoiding traps, grabbing loot. After about two minutes on each floor though, an extremely deadly (albeit predictable) enemy spawns at the entrance and slowly makes it way towards you. The first few times I encountered these SOBs, I very nearly quit playing the game entirely. Why do they need to exist? How much bullshit is it that their miniguns basically stunlock you? The SOBs seem to have sucked all the fun out of exploring the levels.

After a while, I realized something. Namely, that I wasn’t experiencing Fallout-esque burnout.

As the developer has gone through great lengths to point out in the Steam forums (even getting a bit saucy in the process), the Purifiers exist as a gameplay element to shepherd the player around and drive them forward. You aren’t supposed to be exploring, you should be making some strategic gambles on your way to the exit. If I had all the time in the world, I would be fully healed before opening any door, spending 99% of the gameplay crouch-sneaking, and micromanaging an incredibly-limited inventory with the attention of Warren Buffet. In other words, I’d be playing it just like I play every other post-apocalypse game. Or most games, period, if I’m honest.

Other roguelikes have addressed the “problem” of over-exploring characters with Hunger mechanics and the like, but the Purifier feels really interesting to me now. Mechanics like Hunger don’t actually impact my behavior in those games; if anything, it just makes me more committed to looting all the things in the vain hope that there is some half-rotten morsel in that broken filing cabinet. Hunger also evokes that most-hated of all gameplay mechanics: the Breath meter in underwater levels. It feels oppressive, cheap.

After I got over the first few bullshit deaths to Purifiers that nullified hours of progression, I started to realize how… well, elegant is not the term, but perhaps “fair” they are. The Purifiers always spawn in the same location (the entrance to the floor you started on), after roughly the same amount of time, and always move towards your location decently slowly. If you happen to be in a circular sort of area, you can lure them to your location and then double-back behind them. Yeah, getting caught in a long hallway or dead-end sucks, but the Purifier’s arrival is announced both when they spawn and as they get closer to your location (the music changes).

In a real sense, Purifiers give you a sense of agency that Hunger does not. If I hit a fork early in a level, I might skip the locked door (which the exit is never behind) so as to give myself more time to explore a later fork. Or maybe I’ll lay some traps near the entrance to the level so that the Purifier spawns in a mine field that will hopefully cripple a leg and give me additional time. And, hey, even if I just barely escape through the exit at the last possible second, I know that I still get a full X minutes to explore the next floor without having to worry about them. That is a far cry different than Hunger or whatever, which often represents a cumulative loss of time.

For the record, I am taking this mechanic way more seriously than the game does. Indeed, the premise of the game is drinking Booze and getting radioactive hangovers that will help/hurt your next Booze run. But the problem that Wasted solves with Purifiers is a problem that exists in every roguelike (and arguably any survival game), and it’s the best solution I’ve seen in quite some time. I’m not sure it would be especially applicable in future games ala Fallout 5, but I hope the eventual solution is more akin to this than something else.

I don’t think I can stand the freedom to collect 10,000 tin cans anymore.

Smart Move, Nintendo

Have you seen this adorable thing?

NES_Mini.jpg

Of course you have.

Whoever walked into that Nintendo exec meeting with that in their pocket better have gotten a raise.

I’m not going to go over the details of what games it includes and all that – once again, there are a million different blog posts about it – but I did want to briefly comment on my reaction to it. Namely, it’s brilliant. And what is especially brilliant about it is the fact that it costs $60.

See, you can get a Raspberry Pi 3 for $30-$35 and potentially create your own emulator that plays all the games. But between the Pi 3 itself, some kind of enclosure for it, the microSD card, the controller, and all the steps necessary for piracy… well, let’s just say there is a point at which it’s better to just go legit. And, shit, how much would people pay for a tiny nonfunctional NES on their shelf in the first place? The fact that it plays actual games is probably a bonus.

We’ll see this holiday season whether or not the internet hype over the device translates into actual dollars. I hope it does… because I’m hoping for a SNES version later. Can you imagine? Super Metroid, FF6, Chrono Trigger, A Link to the Past, Secret of Mana, Mario Kart, and so on.

Then it will be on like Donkey Kong (Country).

Review: HuniePop

Game: HuniePop
Recommended price: $5/bundle
Metacritic Score: 80*
Completion Time: 14 hours
Buy If You Like: Match-3, Dating Sims, Being embarrassed

HuniePop1

Brass tacks.

Let’s get this out of the way: HuniePop is essentially a dating sim in which you attempt to sleep with as many anime girls as possible. The default Steam version is “censored” (uncensored patches are available) but this is still a game that you are going to likely need to play in Offline mode with the door closed. And you’re still probably going to feel a bit embarrassed.

That said? I found the actual game elements to be incredibly engaging. The main game component are the Dates you go on, which play out in a Match-3 game in the same vein as Bejeweled, Candy Crush, Puzzle & Dragons, etc. The differences are the sort of progression mechanics involved.

Each girl has their preferred Affection token and least preferred (e.g. Red vs Green, etc) which affects the score multiplier for when you match said tokens. Then you have Romance tokens which don’t grant scores when matched, but instead boost the overall score multiplier. Then there are Sentiment tokens which, again, don’t affect the overall score but give you resources to then utilize up to six different Date items, which are sort of power-ups you choose ahead of time. Then there are Joy tokens, which grant additional turns when matched. Finally, there are Broken Heart tokens, which reduce your current score by a percentage, making them an escalating threat as you near your goal.

HuniePop2.jpg

I played for the articles. I mean, Match-3. I played for the Match-3.

Oh, and you only have a limited number of moves to reach your goal. And matching 4-5 in a single move sometimes grants special Power multiplier tokens of that color. And you can upgrade Traits which generally improve the score multiplier of certain colors, or increase the limit of Passion levels, or increase the odds of Power tokens appearing.

Did I mention each successive Date has a higher score requirement to reach?

Successful Dates grants Munie, which you can spend on gifts, food, and drinks as you try to woo a girl. Successfully giving the girl the answers she wants to hear gives you Hunie, which is the upgrade currency. Giving the correct gifts to a girl also grants you a Date item, of which there are a wide variety that can change your general strategy. For example, some items increase the odds of a specific Affection token appearing, which is nice to swap in when Dating a girl who prefers that specific token. Other items transform all Broken Heart tokens into something good, or give you +3 Sentiment for every 4-5 of-a-kind match for the rest of the Date, and so on.

HuniePop3.jpg

Pretty much.

Outside of the game mechanics, I have to say that the writing and voice acting is pretty hilarious. Stereotypes abound, with the Indian yoga instructor, the tsundere, the girl next door, and what have you, but the dialog itself remains amusing throughout. If some of the responses seemed rote by the end, it was only because I realized I had played this game for 15+ hours and unlocked all the special characters. Without failing a single Date, mind you.

As to whether this game is worth it appearing in your Steam library… that still comes down to your own comfort level. The Match-3 and general progression component is actually very good, and absolutely could (and arguably probably should) stand on its own. The dating sim bits? Not so much. This is definitely a kind of “read Playboy for the articles” situation, just less socially acceptable.

But you know what? I both played it and wrote a review about it. So, you’ll probably be fine.

Pokémon: Go Away

I dislike talking about the same thing as everyone else, but… it’s impossible to ignore.

The best thing I can say about Pokémon Go is that it is a case study in accidental viral marketing. Or would it be grassroots social media marketing? I only know my beach vacation went from zero to “pull into that parking lot, honey” within hours on Thursday.

Both Google search trends and Nintendo’s stock prices bear that suddenness out:

PokeInterest

And that’s just the generic “Pokemon” term.

By the way, $1000 on Nintendo last Wednesday is $1571 as of Monday night.

The aforementioned request for a detour was from someone who had no interest whatsoever in videogames, and by all indications still has no interest today. But I am absolutely certain that when she is out and about in town this week, she will be taking the “scenic” route through the red zones in order to get some more PokéBalls.

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Choose wisely.

The other thing I’ll say about Pokémon Go is that its fascinating witnessing a perfect storm in motion. This isn’t the first Augmented Reality game to come out – Niantic were the ones to release Ingress, whose bones make up the entirety of Pokémon Go. No, this is what it must have felt like back in 2004, when WoW came onto the scene and blew up. Popularity basically beyond all reason.

And that is essentially where I am: watching this “game” be popular beyond all reason. It is impossible to “play” in every context in which I would play any game, it drains battery like nothing else, it gets full access to your Google account, and it’d waste my time even if I had never downloaded it in the first place (i.e. by the detour requests). I get that it’s nice fun for the whole family, blah blah, people actually moving around outside, etc.

Know what I see? A whole lot of more oblivious people walking around staring at their phones.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to clear my plate.

Psyduck.jpg

 

Subtraction Through Addition

One of the new features in Clash Royale are “Tournaments.” Indeed, Supercell believes Tournaments are so important as to rearrange the entire app UI around to feature them prominently. Which is wierd, consider Tournaments are about the most poorly designed thing I’ve seen in any game.

Just imagine this x100.

Even the premise is dumb. At the lowest level, someone offers to pay 500 gems to “host” a 50-man “local” tournament, 49 people join for free, and in this pool everyone plays as many games as possible within the allotted time. The winner of the tournament – which would ideally be the person who started it – will always get less cards than they would have otherwise by spending the gems in the shop. Perhaps the joy of creating all this free content for people should suffice, but I don’t anticipate this lasting long. Especially given the fact Supercell introduced a one-time achievement refunding the cost of the lowest-level tournament. Once that dries up… then what?

Part of the design of the tournaments was to reduce the ping issues by concentrating players in closer geographic regions. Which is okay, I guess. But how is that really a solution at all? The tournaments can last for X amount of time (hours or days), but you are of course limited to just the pool of players in the tournament. I haven’t had an issue finding games once in a tournament, but I don’t see how it is effective for, you know, everyone else.

And don’t even get me started on actually getting into these tournaments. There is a “search” interface that essentially brings up around 10 tournaments, and invariably they all show 50/50. Sprinkled throughout are 49/50 that get your hopes up for a second, before a series of rapid Join presses revealed that they are full. Hell, I saw a 1/200 tournament appear and apparently fill in the time it took my thumb to move half an inch. What moron designer thought this was a good design? Were these not play tested at all? Was there a particular reason why they did not include a “join next available tournament with X criteria” function?

Like I mentioned, I did indeed manage to get into one of the tournaments by some stroke of luck. And it was… okay. I do appreciate the idea that it uses a different ranking system than the outside game, so you are free to experiment more. Plus, since tournament rules are in effect, all the cards are more balanced – no more cheese like someone dropping a level 11 Royal Giant on your lane and calling it a day.

That said, the tournament absolutely encourages you to spam games. Your ranking is determined by trophies, and since you can take them from anybody, that means someone trying to sit on 1st place will soon find themselves slipping down if they don’t keep up. Which, I suppose is better than the alternative, unless you happen to be the highly ranked. For me, I got inside the top 10 after about four games and just sat on my rank with the knowledge that I either had to claw my way to 3rd+, or be fine with 8-10 free cards depending on how many people occilated. Iroically, as I stared at the screen deciding my next move, I actually gained a rank from someone else above me losing a game.

In any case, I find the tournament feature to be an overall net negative for a game in which my interest is already waning. My range in the regular ladder seems to fluctuate between 2800-3000, which means every win is an absolute struggle. Or would be, if I didn’t face people with the previously mentioned level 11 Royal Giants. Which, I guess, is the ladder system working as intended. But it is work, and sometimes ends up taking 30 minutes to get enough chests to last the entire day, even on vacation.

“So stop playing.”

Yeah, it might end up coming to that. Especially since Supercell seems inclined to make no changes to that godddamn Ice Wizard or the Royal Giant.

Vita Not (Yet)

So, I was all set to get the Vita – in time for the vacation I am currently on – but I get a message from the seller telling me that they have not yet sent the item because the Vita is not turning on. Which, on the one hand, I appreciate; getting a broken item and then possibly having to fight them for a refund would consume a rather annoying amount of time. However, the verdict on whether or not they could repair the Vita did not come until yesterday, so I have missed all the auctions I could have been bidding on instead. Heavy sigh.

PayPal refund secured, I am once again faced with the delimma.

Money is quite fungible, so I could certainly move it around and perhaps pick up some Steam games. Or perhaps put it towards the purchase of a new phone, which has been an issue for quite some time. Or I could continue on my present path and get the Vita (plus all those other things too, if I’m honest).

I dunno. I’m currently typing this on a tablet at the beach. I’ll worry about this later.

 

FFXIII

I’m about 8.5 hours into FFXIII. Does it get any better? Like at all?

I’ve mentioned before that my formal Final Fantasy days stopped with FFX-2. I had picked up FFXII, but given that I was playing the 2006 game on a 32″ TV nearly a decade later, I had firmly crossed the unfortunate obsolescence line. Playing FFXIII on PC however, is a different story.

It’s a very pretty game. It is also horribly, terribly boring.

I mean, so far, right? But I don’t think I’m going to make it. By all rights, I should have stopped playing four hours ago in tandem with my New Years resolution to stop playing unfun games. But this is the first actively unfun Final Fantasy that I’ve played. I keep thinking there is something I’m missing. Is there more than autoattacking and changing “paradigms” and getting punished for doing so in the post-battle score?

I dunno. Maybe I left the genre behind sometime in the last 10 years. Maybe the genre left me behind. Maybe there was some significant brain drain going on at Square Enix HQ. Maybe MMOs ruined normal (j)RPGs for me.

I just don’t know. If you’ve played it, let me know if it gets better. I’m at the beginning of Chapter 5 if that makes a difference. If things pick up, I’m willing to muscle through. If things do not… well, I can use the 59 GB space for other things.

Vita’d

I just bought a Playstation Vita and I don’t know why.

…okay, maybe I know why:

PSVitaDeal

A bargain at twi… pretty much that price. Or less.

The amount of both hem and especially haw I was engaging in was truly ridiculous. As you all know, I dislike decisions generally, much less ones with deadlines. In this case, it was the $15 that eBay was giving everyone for making a purchase over $75, as long as it done by 8pm EST on Friday. On top of that, I am heading on vacation the week of the 4th, so it’s entirely possible that the Vita doesn’t make it to me before I leave.

Want to know what pushed me over that final edge? It was this:

PSVita16gb

Still criminally overpriced.

Even on eBay, the 16gb Vita memory cards are still $25 used, and $35 new. My auction includes two of them, and along with the 8gb one (a $20 “value”) brings the Vita price itself down to ~$75. Or $55 if you buy memory cards from Amazon. So… pretty close to what I spent on the PSP.

Of course, the continued existence of my PSP triggered some intense buyer’s remorse. Simply put, I don’t play much else than my PC games these days. Or since college, really. It took games like The Last of Us and Journey to convince me to get on the PS3 bandwagon, and I have yet to finish anything else on the system. Red Dead Redemption? Years worth of PS+ freebies? Nope. Similarly, not much progress has been made on the PSP front since buying it just about two years ago. Booted up Legend of Dragoon and some SNES classics for fun, and that was about it.

The really embarrassing thing about this purchase is that I don’t even know what games I have for it. Sony’s website is about one of the most egregiously useless pieces of website garbage I have seen in quite some time. This isn’t like Steam or GoG or even Origin where you can see a nice listing of all your games. Nope, it’s just pages and pages of unsortable nonsense. I have apparently accumulated 269 individual titles (free DLC counts as a title) from over three years of PS+, and the only way for me to actually tell which are Vita-playable will be to Ctrl-F and create a spreadsheet.

So, in essence, I had to have bought the Vita to figure out what games I own. Pelosi would be proud.

Having said all that, there are a few factors that make this less of an insane impulse buy. The first is that my PSP has a weirdly distorted screen thing going on, which dampened my enthusiasm after the initial vacation impetus for its purchase faded away. The second is that my living arrangements will be altering a bit in the coming months, which may or may not impact my PC usage. Finally, it was such a pain in the ass to actually play games on the PSP, and so I’m hoping that’s less of an issue this time around with the Vita.

In any case, I suppose we will see how this… plays out.

Yep, Still Playing It

Overwatch continues to consume all the gaming oxygen in my room. Just the other day, I found myself with 15 minutes to spare while cooking dinner, and I was like “hey, that’s at least one round, maybe two.” And so I did.

One of the things that I have enjoyed about the game that doesn’t seem to get much coverage are the little touches. For example, maybe you noticed that when Reaper “reloads” his shotguns, he tosses them to the ground. Maybe you even noticed Junkrat’s detonator existing in the world as a physical object too, after he tosses it post-explosion.

But have you noticed that Junkrat’s “Hello” emote changes when he is holding the detonator?

Then there are the subtle voice quips during pre-match setup. Everyone has probably heard all the various interactions between the characters: Reaper and McCree, Lucio and Reinhardt, and so on. But have you ever noticed what characters say on maps like Gibraltar? The map is designed such that attackers are pushing the payload – which is a satellite – to a launch pad, to essentially recreate the Overwatch group. Defenders are, of course, trying to stop that from a gameplay perspective. And they stay in character doing so.

Just the other night on defense, I heard Soldier 76 say “Restarting Overwatch… what’s the point?” Mercy says something like “Overwatch was shut down for a reason.” These are characters that, from a lore standpoint, actually want Overwatch to be rebuilt. But… they’re defending. And so the dissonance is both recognized and resolved.

It is an incredible attention to detail that doesn’t “matter,” but is welcome just the same.

On Trolling

Two years ago, I talked about countering toxicity via intentional game design. The example was Hearthstone, which continues to be relatively accessible and innocuous. Blizzard accomplished this by limiting non-friend player interaction to a handful of emotes. Granted, a whole new implicit language of BM (bad manners) has developed in the meantime, but there is both a timer attached to the emotes and, crucially, the ability to disable them from your opponent.

I bring this up for two reasons.

The first is that Supercell finally came out and addressed the rampant trolling emote spam that takes place in Clash Royale. And by rampant, I mean I get surprised when I do not see gloating emotes during a game. Supercell’s response? Trolling helps their bottom line:

The same principle – evoking strong emotions – is at the heart of why we’re not planning to implement a mute option. Emotes are loved by some and hated by others – even within the Clash Royale team! We believe these strong emotions are integral to the core of the game.

Clash Royale is not a single player game and shouldn’t feel like one. Emotes are an important reminder that you’re facing another human being – maybe they’re a nice guy, maybe they’re not – but there’s a person at the other end of the Arena and not a robot. You can communicate with them and they can respond, regardless of language or cultural barriers.

Given advancements in AI, it’s possible we’re already playing against robots.

Now, Supercell didn’t come out and say that this helps their bottom line, but… it does. Get spammed with emotes, get tilted, lose, then you buy a bunch of gems to unlock more shit. Or win against impossible odds, feel good, buy some gems. It’s all the same. Which is fine, whatever. But I still fail to see how adding the option, buried in the menus somewhere, to mute emotes automatically isn’t possible or would affect one goddamn thing other than the trolls.

The second reason I brought up Hearthstone is because, as I’ve mentioned before, Overwatch makes me salty. And what makes it worse is the direct communication feature between teams. Again, what possible good exists in letting Team A talk to Team B? Because what I mostly see is stuff like this:

Overwatch_Trolling

Absolutely useful features.

Honestly, this is downright mild in comparison to the “die in a fire” and worse from the earlier days of gaming. Or probably current days of gaming if you’re a woman and have a microphone.

But the more time passes, the less value I see in having much in the way of communication at all in these sort of games. In MMOs? Yes, of course, there is a need to build social bonds and such. Nobody is building anything with emotes in Clash Royale other than ulcers and kidney stones. Nor with chatting in Overwatch, really. So… why have them in these games? Habit alone?

Unless, of course, your business model is based on exploitative psychology.