Mobile Review: Slice & Dice
Slice & Dice is a F2Try dice-based roguelike. You can play the first 12 “levels” for free, but it costs $7 to unlock the rest of the game.
On the face of it (har har), the game appears relatively simple. By default, you control a party of five traditional archetypes – Rogue, Warrior, Defender, Healer, Mage – who face an assortment of enemies. Each round, enemies will roll their dice and indicate who they will be attacking, assuming they survive.
Then your team will roll one die per class. Each six-sided die has different abilities on it as determined by that die’s class and any modifications due to items. If you like a specific die roll, you can “save” it by tapping and then reroll any remaining dice up to two times. After all dice are locked in, you then can use the dice to attack enemies, shield your team, generate mana for Spells, or a number of other unique effects. Any surviving enemies will then attack back. Then everyone gets to do it again.
After each successful battle, surviving heroes are healed to full, any defeated heroes return to life at half-health, and there are alternating rewards of class promotion or random item selection. For class promotion, two heroes are randomly selected to get promoted to one randomly selected option, and you decide which one does. For example, you might be able to choose between your Rogue and Cleric getting promoted to a Tier 2 version of those classes, but not choose for the Warrior to be upgraded instead, or choose between the 5-6 Rogue options. Similarly, with item selection you can choose between two options or go for a mystery roll if neither one works well for your setup.
If that sounds like a lot of randomness, well… it is a dice-based game.
After I understood the general shtick of the game and saw what sort of boss battles were available, I started losing interest. The game seems a bit simple, right? Plus, winning didn’t really seem to offer much progression. But that was when I discovered the Achievements and other unlocks. Basically, the game has 40+ achievements that all unlock something when, uh, achieved. Most of the time these unlocks are additional items that get added to the pool for future runs, but other times there are additional difficulties and new game modes. For example, with Custom Party you can choose to bring 5 Mages or some other mix of heroes, and Shortcut lets you skip the first 8 levels (although you get random items and promotions). The unlocks themselves are not always worth it per se, but they provide something to work towards and potentially discover some fun along the way.
Notwithstanding the progression element, the game feels very satisfying to play in the moment. I often feel the pull of “just one more turn” given how many micro and macro decisions you end up needing to make. Is 2 damage good enough, or do you gamble on a 16.67% chance of getting a blank in order to hit something better? Should you focus-fire the big monster, or take out the small fry first? Do you blow all your mana on trying to save one hero this turn, or let them die to push more damage?
Overall, I am extremely pleased with my $7 purchase and probably have logged 30-40 hours thus far. One of the achievements to unlock Speed Run leaderboards is to win Standard mode in under 45 minutes, to give an idea of average successful run length. I also highly appreciate the fact that the game is short interval-friendly, e.g. there is no real-time component and you can minimize the app without messing anything up. It is no Slay the Spire, but it’s a game that has come closest to scratching the itch.
Slay the Spire, Android Edition
The Android version of Slay the Spire is out. It’s $9.99 on the Google Play store, although you have to scroll down to find it.
And I recommend waiting a while before buying it.
It is indeed Slay the Spire on your phone. If you are not familiar with the game itself, well, you’re in for a treat. I’m sure there were other deck-building roguelikes out there before, but this one is so good that it has basically consumed the entire genre – anything new is basically “Slay the Spire but with X.” Being able to finally play this on my phone without streaming it or other nonsense is something I had been looking forward to for a while. In fact, I had been holding my Google Play credits from surveys for more than a year just to purchase it as soon as it popped up.
The issue is that it is a bad port.
It’s not just the bugs, of which there were many game-crippling ones (stuck on Merchant screen, continuous de-syncing, etc.). The Android port is just poorly designed from a UX perspective. Text is tiny and borderline unreadable, even with the “Big Text” option selected. Cards are shoved far at the bottom of the screen, which means half the time you try playing one, you end up minimizing the app – this behavior can be disabled via Android options, but I haven’t had any issues with Hearthstone like this. Perhaps the most frustrating though are the inconsistencies with selecting things. On the Reward screen, you have to double-tap to collect Gold, but a single-tap will select 2nd option (Potion or Relic), and your card reward requires you to click confirm. That’s three separate behaviors on one screen. Who designed this shit?
I’m also a bit salty when I straight-up lost a run right before the final boss because the wrong card was played. You cannot read the text on a card without lifting it up a bit with your finger, but lift it up too far and it will automatically be played (if it’s not specifically a targeted card). There is a “long press to Confirm” option in the Settings, but inexplicably that’s just for the End Turn button and nothing else. Incidentally, this lost run was the same one in which I accidentally skipped a Relic – the Select button became Skip after highlighting the Relic once – and then accidentally picked a bad choice in one of the “?” rooms because I was hovering my finger over the option so I could see what the Curse did.
Of course, by “accidentally” I really mean “because of dumbass UX designers.”
So, yeah, the thing I had been looking forward to for literal years was immensely disappointing. The lesson here is to
don’t look forward to things don’t purchase things Day 1.
I’m in the market for a new smartphone. Sorta.
I originally bought a Google Nexus 4 about two years ago because it represented a convenient (and relatively inexpensive) consolidation of devices – I was carrying around both an iPod Touch and basically a flip phone, and wanted to have a camera again. Win-win-win, right?
And it was. Until Android update 5.0.
I don’t know what the hell happened in 5.0, but ever since then, my Nexus will randomly shut off. As in, total shutdown without warning, regardless having a full charge and/or having no apps running. In the past eight months or so, this has caused me to be late to work four times, as the alarms on my phone would not go off. Around the internet, the issue seems to be called “Black Screen (of Death)” and is otherwise a known issue. Unfortunately, none of the “solutions” I have found have worked.
Even more frustrating however, is how my Nexus will sometimes go weeks and weeks working fine, but then start acting up again for no reason. If the phone did this constantly, that’d be one thing. But it precisely because it works fine 98% of the time that it achieves maximum anguish.
Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.
I don’t want drop a ton of money on a brand new smartphone when I have one that works… most of the time. But if I get a similarly cheap replacement, how will I know the same thing won’t just happen again? And besides, this almost feels like one of those “expensive is cheaper in the long run” situations; a used, clunker car costs less upfront, but more over time.
In any case, I’m open to suggestions, and not just with specific models, but review sites too. My criteria is that it has to fit in my pocket (no phablets), have GSM capability, and ideally have at least the same specs as a Nexus 4 of two years ago while being sub-$300. Having a MicroSD would be gravy.
Not Sure About Fallout Shelter
[Blaugust Day 20]
Months after it lost almost all topical relevance, Fallout Shelter was finally released on Android systems. After quickly downloading it and playing it for the last two days or so, I’m not entirely sure whether it’s actually good or not.
In the broad genre that is time management games – in which I place all apps that feature activity timers – Fallout Shelter attempts to ride the line between time management and “normal” games. It features the construction of resource rooms and trying to maintain certain levels of supplies, but the timers themselves are generally incredibly short. A Gold Mine in Clash of Clans might take 12+ hours to fill to capacity, for example, but a fully-staffed room in Fallout Shelter might be ready to be clicked in four minutes or less. String enough of these events along – including tapping Dwellers to level them up, rearranging room makeups, planning ahead, etc – and you can legitimately play for 30 minutes or more at a time.
It is also entirely possible that you enter a depressing death spiral from which there hardly seems to be any escape.
My first Vault was a disaster. I did not think I was expanding too quickly, but my glee at having a one-man repopulation strategy (mainly because it amused me) backfired when six, resource-consuming kids suddenly materialized. As it turns out, bitches be thirsty. The lack of water led to widespread radiation poisoning, reducing all Dweller HP down to 50% and zeroing out their happiness.
At that point, I did not have enough Caps to build more Water Treatment rooms, and Caps themselves are a resource that is only gained from A) Wasteland exploring, B) selling items, C) Rushing rooms, or D) spontaneously when collecting other resources. Between the radiation and everything else, I did not have anyone to spare to send into the Wasteland, which subsequently meant I did not have any items to sell. Collecting resources provided no bonus Caps for the last dozen times I collected them. That left Rushing room, which carries a ~30% (and increasing) chance of failure.
Well, let me tell you something: 30% apparently means 99% in the Fallout world because I Rushed six different rooms and failed five times in a row. Each failure is an automatic Incident, which could be a fire or Radroach or even Mole Rat infestation. All of which lowers the HP of anyone in those rooms, by the way. At the end of things, so many of my Dwellers were inches from death that I considered it almost a mercy to wipe that saved game from existence.
Instead of deletion, I went ahead and took advantage of Shelter’s 3 save slots and just started a new Vault. Two of them, in fact. The second is probably the most advanced, but the third ended up netting me multiple Legendary (or at least super powerful) items and some extremely high-stat Dwellers from the half-dozen free cash shop “lunchboxes” every new Vault gets. A friend of mine told me he somehow got a level 30 Dweller complete with Power Armor and an AK-47 right from the start too. All of which makes me think the optimal strategy is creating multiple Vaults from the beginning and deleting the ones that don’t give you good loot.
Incidentally, when I finally got back around to poking my head into the original disaster-Vault, everyone was still irradiated but back at 50% HP. I collected my resources and either hit the lottery or perhaps there is a timer-based failsafe on Caps collection. Plus, the six useless kids grew up to be rather useful Water Treatment slaves. The Vault turned around in a hurry, which leads me to believe that Shelter is leaning more towards the more traditional “play for 5 minutes every 5 hours” style.
Which would be nice… if not for the fact that Dwellers sent to explore the Wasteland continue exploring until they drop dead. You can revive them in the field for a (costly) fee, but the setup means they’ll die unless you log in every X hours. Or at least schedule yourself a log-in and send them a Recall signal. Which brings us closer to the “play in real-time spectrum.” Which is not useful for exploring, since the items you encounter are based on how many real-world minutes/hours your Dwellers are out in the wild.
The end result here is a bizarro game that is both fun and feels bad. Was my water death-spiral the result of poor decision-making on my part (probably), or an engineered trap to entice me to purchase lunchboxes (which always contains X Caps)? It’s nice that I can sometimes play for a longer period of time, but I also feel like I’m better off avoiding negative events by not playing for as long as possible. Except now I need to log in every X hours to retrieve my explorers.
Sigh. The things I do for love (of Fallout).
Dungeon Keeper App: A Study in Bad Game Design
Your first thought might be: “Obviously!”
No, not obviously. When the Dungeon Keeper (DK) app first came out, the entirety of the criticism revolved around EA and the bastardization of a beloved (?) franchise into a time-n-money sink exploitative F2P game. Here is the thing few people might know: DK is perhaps the best entry into this sub-genre. This might sound a little be like being called “the best STD,” but the game itself is surprisingly good.
At least, it was good.
What made DK good (and still does) is the fostering of creativity and depth through constraint. As you might already know, DK is a downtime management game – you spend more time not doing things than actually doing them. The basic principal is to construct a dungeon filled with traps to safeguard your own stockpile of resources while raiding the dungeons of others. Everything takes time to complete: summoning minions, constructing traps, upgrading traps, excavating rock tiles to make room for traps, and so on. On release, the excavation was particularly lampooned in that the map was filled with tiles that took 4 hours and 24 hours apiece to dig out. Or, you know, you could spend Gems (an RMT currency) to dig them instantly.
Here’s the thing though: being time-locked forced you to construct novel dungeon designs with whatever you had available. Since everyone starts on the same map, we could imagine there being X variations of the perfect defensive layout had all the squares been filled with soft dirt (takes 3 seconds to dig). Instead, we have X * Y variations because different people are at different levels of excavation; some concentrate on digging out all the 4-hour tiles instead of the 24-hour ones, some are the opposite, and still others concentrate all their time on upgrading traps instead of excavation. Creativity through constraint. Yes, technically this also enables the designers to wheedle in-app purchases out of you. But! It’s a compelling gameplay mechanic nonetheless.
Before I move on, I also want to mention that the other end of the creativity came from watching the replays of your own dungeon getting sacked. Given how attacking players can use magic to bomb open your walls or remotely disable your traps, sometimes it feels like there is nothing you can do to stop attacks. But what you can do is make your dungeon punishing. Magic regenerates very slowly, such that a player looking for enough resources to purchase an upgrade are unlikely to blow their entire load just to sack your one dungeon when they could split it up inbetween juicier, less-defended targets. It is a particularly novel delight watching a replay of someone throwing 2+ hours of congealed time at your defenses and see them go home with nothing. It’s part of the reason why I have played DK for so long.
The problem(s) with DK really came with their Update #2 several weeks ago. There are other fundamental problems, but I’ll get to that in a bit. In short, Update #2 destroyed the in-game economy.
Prior to Update #2, you unlocked bomb-proof walls as you upgraded various rooms and the Dungeon Heart. The number of such walls you could place were extremely limited, so you really had to think about the best location to place them. Did you want to protect a particular room? Force minions down a particular corridor? Or did you want to prevent people from digging a tunnel from the South part of the map? What the Mythic devs decided was to up-end the entire mechanic: instead of bomb-proof, they made walls upgradable. Instead of 20 bomb-proof walls at the end, you could have 100 not-bomb-proof walls that could sustain various amounts of magic damage depending on level.
For example, my current Bomb Wall spell deals 500 damage in a 3×3 square. A level 1 wall has 300 HP, and each level beyond that increases wall HP by +150. It costs 10k Stone to place a level 1 wall, 30k to upgrade to 2, 60k to 3, 120k for 4, and so on. As you might imagine, this whole “wall update” introduced a Stone sink on a massive scale. The game already had sinks of sorts – my current rooms now cost 2 million Stone apiece to upgrade – but I can imagine there may have been a need at the higher end. Or, perhaps more cynically, the devs wanted the DK Premium “subscription” (+40% resource gains from raiding) to be more appealing.
The Stone sink though has set off a cascade of fail throughout the game. The amount of resources that can be stolen from your dungeon is 30% of your stockpile (up to a maximum determined by your Dungeon heart level) + 10% of your unclaimed resources from quarries/mines around the map. Although there was always an incentive to “hide” your Stone in upgrading traps and such, there simply weren’t all that many locations; you can only have X number of Fire Traps and doors and such. Update #2 introduced 100 more to the pile, e.g. walls, and made it a high priority to upgrade them, e.g. to help prevent more Stone from being stolen via Bomb Wall spells. But since all the high-level players are now Stone deficient, the only people who have Stone laying around are… low-level players.
So the current “metagame” in DK is sandbagging, which means intentionally lowering your Trophy score (i.e. ELO) to get matched against noobs who either don’t know what they’re doing or have already abandoned the game and are simply letting their resources rot. Since they are low-level, it’s easier to steal their resources with your high-level minions given how their traps/layouts aren’t difficult. Since it’s not difficult to invade, you can send in less advanced troops that have quicker build times (e.g. 40-second Trolls instead of 20-minute Ghosts). Since you have quicker build times, you can raid more often and likely not need to use magic at all. Since you’re raiding more often, you are in-game for longer, which prevents your rapidly accumulating Stone reserves from being vulnerable to theft. And because of all of this, you are more likely to hit whatever Stone target you were going for and then spend said Stone, putting you back down to near-zero and safe to log off.
The Mythic devs have responded on the forums that Update #3 will fix all of this and punish the sandbaggers, but the preview we have gotten is woefully naive. Their “solution” is the introduction of PvP tiers of sorts based on ELO. The higher the tier, the more bonus Stone you receive for a win. At my hypothetical tier, I could see an additional… 35k Stone. For fighting someone tooth and nail as advanced as myself. Who isn’t likely to have 35k Stone laying around to begin with. Compare that to someone at a lower ELO would could easily have 200k sitting around just waiting to be stolen.
Needless to say, this is bad game design. It is not bad simply because I dislike it; it is bad because it will not accomplish what it set out to do, or worse, have the opposite outcome.
I am not especially surprised at this non-solution, as the devs have yet to address a similarly counter-intuitive decision vis-a-vis intentionally not opening mines/quarries. There are 8 mines along the outside of the map, and unlocking them means getting free resources each time you click them; at the highest levels, you can get 200k+ Stone every 32 hours or whatever. However, enemy Keepers use these same mines as spawn points. Thus, the more mines you open, the more vulnerable your dungeon. The less mines you open, the less vulnerable your dungeon (just stuff all your warehouses in the corner), the easier it is to keep resources you steal from others, and the better off you are in general. Also? You can’t close mines you have opened. Basically, if you’re like me and open all the mines, you’re just screwed, permanently.
There is a similarly counter-intuitive punishment mechanic in upgrading your Dungeon Heart. You gain access to more traps and rooms by upgrading the Heart, but each level increases the maximum amount of resources that can be stolen from you. Thus, the only sane strategy is to make the Heart the last possible thing to upgrade. If you upgrade early, whoops, permanently screwed with hardmode.
My solutions to these issues? Well, first, I’d levy a 20k (or 20%) penalty to resource gains for each mine you do not unlock, down to some minimum – if your raid would have resulted in 100k Stone, you actually only get 60k if you have three mines unopened. Considering how the only players worth attacking are those with 100k+ Stone up for grabs, this would hopefully encourage people to open their mines, making more targets available. On a related note, the second change is one’s ELO score should be commensurate with the amount of Stone that can be stolen, not Dungeon Heart rank. Thus, the sandbaggers can get “easy” Stone, but significantly less such that they might have been better going after equally-skilled players.
Third, mine/quarry resource gains should double, minimum. Fourth, flip the numbers: 30% of unclaimed Stone is vulnerable and only 10% of one’s stockpile, not vice versa. This encourages more periodic log-ins during the day and makes people feel safer in saving up their Stone rather than immediately sinking it into walls. There is nothing more demoralizing than logging on and seeing someone having stolen 100k Stone, knowing that you would have been better off upgrading a door or whatever.
This may seem like a lot of words to devote to an evil, bastardized mobile app, but… I think you’d be surprised. I have long since deleted Castle Clash and feel like another game in this sub-genre would have to get a lot of things right to surpass Dungeon Keeper in terms of fun and strategery. Is it annoying waiting all the time? Sure. Then again, a 4-hour excavation only takes 2 hours if you slap your imps, and thus each time I boot the game up during my breaks at work there is something new to do. I spent two hours (!!) “playing” last night (in 6-minute increments) trying to scrape up 500k Stone to hit 2 million without risking getting bled dry overnight. The app definitely has an expiration date at some point – the thought of trying to get 6 million Stone for an 8-day upgrade is just obscene – but the same could be said about a lot of games.
So, yeah. Dungeon Keeper. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
So I may or may not be writing this from a Nexus 4 (hint: I am). While these sort of updates aren’t going to be common, it’s worth mentioning because I barely know what I’m doing. In fact, this is my first smart phone. Prior to this I just had my “dumb” phone and iPod Touch.
So, basically, if you have any advice or recommendations for apps to get or things to do, let me know in the comments. So far, I just have SwiftKey and Reddit and obviously this somewhat annoying WordPress app.
P.S. I find it amusing that the swipe text feature refuses to recognise “iPod”.
Payment Model Perspective
Posted by Azuriel
I was browsing Kotaku the other day, and came across an article/review of a mobile game called Wayward Souls. Truthfully, I only read it because the byline mentioned Secret of Mana, which is relevant to my interests; it is, incidentally, probably my second-most played game of all time right behind A Link to the Past. Did you realize that SoM came out in the US 20 years ago this past October? Two decades.
Anyway, Wayward Souls is whatever – doesn’t seem to capture much of SoM’s magic beyond the pixel and music style based on the video alone. What was interesting to me though, was when they mentioned in the video that they’re going with the MineCraftian business model, e.g. selling it for $5 at first, and increasing the cost as time goes by. To me, this raises a number of interesting questions. First… is there a term for this payment model? I use MineCraft as perhaps the most well-known example, but surely it was tried beforehand.
Second, does it feel bad to anyone else?
I mean, I understand the logic behind it. Traditionally, game companies are going to want to charge full MSRP at release to capture the dollars of whom we now term “whales,” e.g. the people who would have paid $100 for the game, if they had charged that much. As time goes by, the price comes down via sales and whatnot to capture the players who would have bought it for less than MSRP. The MineCraft model seems like it should never work, but actually makes a lot of sense when you realize that the traditional model relies on a well-informed and excited playerbase for your game – in an ocean of crappy mobile games, you’re not going to have the whales spending money out of the game. This alternative model lets you build buzz somewhat organically, and then try and capture the big spenders as you ride the wave home. Plus, it sort of short-circuits the “wait until the Humble Bundle sale” strategy insofar as it will supposedly be more expensive the longer you wait (which ironically sorta is how Humble Bundles work).
Like I mentioned though, the MineCraft model doesn’t particularly work for me. It grates, like a piano out of tune. But I can’t fully articulate why though, especially when you consider nearly all games do this via cheaper preorders. Damn near everything is 20% off on GreenManGaming before it comes out. Sometimes a game will drop in price within the first three months (and sometimes faster these days, if they miss the forecasts), but it’s usually quite some time before it drops below the preorder price. So… what’s the difference, really? I can’t even claim that it’s because of psychological manipulation, because that’s pretty much behind all sales strategy. It just feels… bad, somehow. And causes me to mentally dig my heels in and wait for the Humble Bundle because screw you for defying the natural order of things. Or something.
Posted in Commentary
Tags: Android, iOS, Mobile, Payment Model, Roguelike, Secret of Mana, Wayward Souls