Blog Archives

Arked

Maybe there was some fanfare somewhere, but it came as a complete shock to me that Ark came out of Early Access this past week. As in, it’s fully released. It even has a Big Boy Pants price going on:

Ark_Price.JPG

Glad I picked it up for $12 a year and a half ago.

Deleted my prior saved game and started fresh on a “Single Player” server. The results were… rough.

The early-game in Ark is essentially broken as shit. I spawned in the “Easy 3” section of the default Island, which puts me on a beach. The first few minutes is the traditional Minecraft experience of punching trees to create tools. As you gain levels, you can spend Engram Points to purchase schematics according to your level, which kinda allows you to differentiate yourself between a builder or scavenger or whatever. Which is fine, but particularly sucks in single-player considering that I’m level 10 but still can’t build a Thatch house (since I went for weapons).

The real problem though is the absurd difficulty spikes. The beach where I spawned has a cliff face blocking access to the interior of the Island, and the water is filled with massive sharks. No matter which direction you travel down the beach, there are extremely aggressive raptors essentially trapping you in a corridor of death. You can respawn after being eaten, but whatever items you were carrying will have been dropped, and the dinosaur responsible will still be by your corpse.

Ark_SpawnCamp

Carno corpse camp.

Oh, and your items despawn after 15 minutes.

In other words, in the early game, consider your former items to be permanently lost. Which wouldn’t be too bad if not for the fact that getting back to some baseline of combat readiness requires you to punch trees, craft a Pick, mine some stone, create a Hatchet, gather some wood, then make some Spears. Oh, and hold E down when near about two dozen bushes so you can craft some clothes. All so you can maybe engage some raptors that you cannot outrun and will likely kill you. So you can do the whole thing over again. And by the way, you can actually spawn into the game right next to a raptor or T-Rex and start getting eaten before you even have full control of your character.

If you make it past this early game though, you can craft a house and a bed that will let you respawn at a stationary location. And perhaps build some storage containers filled with surplus equipment, so that you aren’t starting from zero every time.

Ark_HellNo

Carno, Alpha Raptor, Therizinosaurus? No thanks, I’m good.

This terrible beginning experience will not deter my Sisyphean struggle however. Part of the reason I stopped playing Ark 1.5 years ago was the terrible optimization that caused my PC to run it at 24 FPS max. With some settings tweaks, the game runs basically around 50 FPS at all times now. I’m hesitant to say everything is fixed on this front though, because I have a GTX 1060 now instead of a 970, so your frames might vary.

In any case, what I’m curious about is how the single player portion will play out. Supposedly there is an actual storyline involved, rather than this being a pure sandbox experience. [Fake Edit: Nope, no story] I routinely boot up 7D2D despite there not being any particular narrative, but the fundamental fact is… I like these sort of survival games. Ark scratches that “collect hundreds of Wood to build things” itch, in spite of being unbalanced as hell thus far. So, I will persevere. And should the boulder roll back down, I shall smile as I walk back down to push it up again.

At least, unless I spy a more interesting boulder somewhere else.

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Survival Survival: Subnautica

Short version: survival… underwater.

subnautica-2017-01-17-19-38-26-69

Auspicious beginnings.

You know, it’s easy sometimes to get jaded with videogames. Go around the block a few times and it will feel like you have seen it all. Same mechanics, different textures. Then, something manages to catch you by surprise. Subnautica is precisely that something.

The premise of Subnautica is that you are a survivor of a spaceship crash on what appears to be a complete waterworld. Your lifeboat contains a Replicator, a Medical Replicator, a locker, and a damaged short-range communicator. Good luck.

I played version 42313 (Dec-16), and already the game looks goddamn amazing. More importantly, the game feels amazing. This is important because you will be swimming underwater 99.99% of the time. Initially, you are slow and clumsy, and have to stick to the safety of the shallows to find scrap metal to turn into Titanium. Over time, you can craft some swim gear, extra oxygen tanks, and eventually vehicles to travel with greater style.

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It really does feel great swimming.

The surprising part of this game, to me, was how… new everything felt, mechanics-wise. In Minecraft, Ark, Rust, 7 Days to Die, and countless other games, the beginning is always the same: look around, punch trees, collect rocks, build a fortress of doom. I spent the first 15 minutes of Subnautica in that same mindset, and filled my inventory with anything I could grab by left-clicking. Which ended up being a whole lot of relatively useless Acid Mushrooms that, while they can be made into batteries later, did nothing in the survival department right now.

That was when I realized that I needed to let go of what I knew before. Subnautica is its own game.

There is no better example of this than the Subnautica take on weapons. Basically, you have a survival knife. That you have to craft first. As far as I am aware, that is it. Stalkers and Sand Sharks and other carnivores have little issue taking a bite out of your scuba suit, so there is absolutely a sense of danger in the game, above and beyond the mundane (yet omnipresent) risk of drowning. Poking one with the knife will get them to retreat for a while, but this is a game where discretion is pretty much the only part of valor. Which, again, is completely refreshing.

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Yeah, don’t poke this guy.

 

I’m not entirely sure how much of the “game” game is implemented yet, but I am impressed by what I see thus far. I just hit what I imagine to be the mid-game: constructing underwater bases. This allows me to craft where the resources are, instead of having to swim back to my lifeboat each time. The crafting isn’t terribly complex, but yet still feels involved considering your limited inventory, which is limited further by extra oxygen tanks (which take up 4 cells). At the moment, I am trying to nail down additional debris fields so I can scan technology to build better vehicles/base structures.

Overall, Subnautica feels like… a breath of fresh air.

Yeah, I went there. And you should too.

Survival Survival: The Forest

Short version: Survival Horror, with more of an emphasis on Survival.

forest_1

Really nailed down the forest bit.

Right from the start, I just have to say that the Forest is one of the most visually impressive games I have played, and it’s still in Alpha. Specifically, I played Alpha version 0.52

The game starts with you on an airplane with your son. The plane crashes on an island, you see a dude in red paint and loincloth take your son away, and… action. Loot some airplane food for sustenance, grab the emergency hand axe from the body of a flight attendant, and you are in the middle of the forest. Good luck.

While The Forest initially plays out like your standard Survival game, it diverges in interesting ways. For example, most Survival games limit the amount of items you can pick up either by weight, or fitting into grid, or something like that. In this game, you are limited by type. For example, you can only carry 8 sticks… but can also carry 8 rocks, 20+ arrows, a half dozen medicinal herbs, four melee weapons, a few bombs, a bunch of animal skins, and so on.

forest_rainbow

Sometimes you gotta stop and smell the storage containers.

The other interesting bit comes in the form of logs. Logs are the basic building component for pretty much any structure, but they are much too large to carry around in your inventory. So… you carry them on your shoulders, one at a time. You can craft a “Log Sled” pretty easily, which allows you to store and easily move up to 8 logs, but the physicality of it all adds an unexpectedly potent bit of immersion.

Also, dude must be ripped and/or a lumberjack.

The main hostile force in the game are the cannibals. While I have not spent a whole lot of time testing things, the cannibals are absolutely not the sort of mindless enemy that traditional Survival games utilize. Sometimes they rush at you and attack. Sometimes they rush forward and stop when you don’t make some move to retaliate or run away. Sometimes they just get on their knees and worship you a bit.

As time goes on – and as you destroy the forest around you building tree houses – the cannibals get more hostile. And that’s when you start building traps, walls, and stocking up on armor made of lizard skin and leaves. Or perhaps you chop the cannibal corpses into pieces, and construct a burning effigy to establish your dominance.

It was around hour 10 when I descended into a cannibal cave, confident I had enough supplies and arrows to face what was down there. That’s when I saw it, while I was dangling off the end of 50 feet of rope:

forest_nope1

Nope, nope, nope.

That’s enough Forest for me, for now. I’ll… yeah, I’ll wait for Beta. Or release.

Or the heat death of the universe.

Edit:

Since that last screenshot is too dark, here is what the creature looks like via an in-game photograph:

theforest_legs

…yeah…

Can’t quite tell if it is supposed to be two women fused together, or three. Probably three.

7 More Days to Die

I technically wrote my last 7 Days to Die (7DTD) post last week. As of today’s post, I have more than 30 hours in the game.

Things were dicey there for a bit. As mentioned, I had a wooden house on stilts on top of a gas station. While I survived the 7th day zombie horde with ease – whose zombies automatically see you through walls – there was a night where some zombies made it to the roof and were mucking about, seemingly ineffectively.

7daystodie-Pillar.jpg

Cue foreshadowing.

When I tried to repair a bit of the damage they dealt, I noticed that 3-4 of my roof blocks kept falling down. As I was walking around on the remaining roof tiles trying to figure out why… the entire wooden structure collapsed. Which destroyed my forge and two wooden chests, instantly destroying all of the items inside. Apparently one of the stilts had been destroyed, destabilizing the structure.

It is the nature of these sort of games that such a setback is enough to justify starting a new map.

Although I wanted to give up right then, I decided to pack up what little I could salvage and then strike out into the world. If I was going to give up, I may as well poke around and get some additional experience with the game world, eh? After walking around for a while, I suddenly saw it:

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Home, sweet home.

Yep, a football stadium. Score.

Over the next in-game week or so, I holed up in a makeshift structure on the roof of the press box, making traps and speeding along the crafting path. I might have just stayed there permanently, but I had no source of Potassium Nitrate, which is a key component of Gunpowder. While I understand that this is good game design, e.g. not having all resources in the same biome, it was nevertheless extremely annoying. So, I packed up some supplies, and struck out into the world again.

In the course of my journey, I came across a burnt forest biome. While scavenging a destroyed house, I noticed a well. With a hatch. Hmm. Opened the hatch and descended down, only to see a bunch of wooden stake traps in front of a bunker door. I spent the waning hours of Day 21, e.g. horde day, tearing down that metal bunker door with increasing trepidation. I had no backup plan; it was either this or death.

When the door finally fell, I walked in and… yeah: Loot for days.

I created a makeshift barricade down near the bunker entrance, but it did not appear to be especially necessary. The zombie AI had little issue attacking me on top of the gas station or even the stadium, but they have significant issues with underground bases, apparently. Indeed, none of them even really got to the well itself. I have read on the forums that there will eventually be digging zombies or something, but it’s hard to imagine them being able to get through ~10 blocks of dirt and then the concrete bunker itself.

Ironically, this was another logical end point. All my resources were back at the stadium, but I had effectively found a zombie-proof base. It reminded me of the endgame of Civilization matches, where winning is a foregone conclusion and you are left with just the drudgery of going through the actual motions.

Nevertheless, I’m still playing. I ended up leaving the bunker and trekking to a snow biome to finally get some Nitrate. By the time I got back to the stadium, I sat through Day 28’s horde with relative ease. At the point I stopped, I had a mini-bike (7DTD’s only vehicle) all but completed, and was considering the logistics of moving all of stuff to the bunker, including fertilized dirt since the burnt forest biome is kinda depressing. But… nah.

Am I done with the game for now? Probably. Maybe. Who knows? Unlike many other #ForeverAlpha games, 7DTD’s forums have active developer commentary and updates scheduled. The next build, for example, is supposed to include electricity, wires, automated traps, and some base-destroying behemoth zombies for all your endgame needs.

The game is fun and compelling in a visceral way for me, but I’m definitely heading towards the tail-end of novelty and optimization. If I play some more, I’m abandoning the default seed (of which I downloaded a map; cheesy, I know) and heading to randomly generated worlds. I’m just worried that this game will go the same way as Minecraft: a fantastic sandbox that I play in Alpha/beta and then never go back to, even after they add all the good stuff by release.

Ringing Endorsement

Does anyone else remember playing Dungeon Defenders? You know, that 4-player co-op pseudo-tower defense game from a while back? I knew that the sequel was in Early Access, so I decided to check on it’s progress since it reappeared on my Steam window.

“Still in Early Access, eh? Let me check the reviews…” Top one:

DD_Review

Oh, Steam. Never change.

Although the review goes on to point out that things have since changed – the endgame grind has become easier than before, best weapons were nerfed, etc – the juxtaposition between the 1,095 hours played and the Not Recommended score is just… I don’t know. Funny? Sad? Nostalgic from an MMO perspective?

The developers actually responded to Karthu’s review, assuring him that the changes are a work in progress as they shift some of the systems around in an attempt to provide more depth. Which highlights the Sisyphean absurdity of the situation even more as this dude played an Early Access game for over 45 days straight. Or to put in another perspective, that’s roughly 2.5 hours a day, every day, since it’s Early Access release on Steam (December 2015).

I dunno, man. That sorta sounds like a ringing endorsement to me. Even if it no longer takes 50+ hours of grinding the same map to get the best weapon. Especially if it no longer takes 50+ hours of grinding the same map to get the best weapon. I guess we’ll see.

Unfinished

I was browsing my game library yesterday, desperately looking for something that could grab my interest, and it occurred to me just how much of it is filled with unfinished games. Not “unfinished” in the sense of my not completing them – there are plenty of those too – but rather them being literally unfinished by the developers:

  • Ark
  • The Long Dark
  • Deadwood
  • Dirty Bomb
  • Starbound
  • The Forest
  • Delver

Those are just the ones that came to mind. Some of those are in a more finished state than others, of course. What especially irks me about this scenario though is how badly I want to be playing most/all of these titles… but know I shouldn’t.

For example, I did break down the other day and start playing Starbound. I had an itch for collecting and counting proverbial beans, and it seemed especially suited to that task. The game even looks mostly finished. But it’s not. Or at least the game is paced bizarrely enough that I hope that it is unfinished, because I was about done in 20 hours whereas Terraria held my attention for 50. Even when I decided to settle in with the more freeform nesting gameplay, I realized that most of the blocks/tilesets I wanted to use were random drops rather than craftable items.

Is that intended? I don’t know. I don’t know if even the designers know.

And now, even if the devs end up finishing Starbound, I will have already consumed the lion’s share of the game’s novelty – that ever-finite motivational resource. No more character wipes? Then I’m already at endgame. Character wipes? I already know where to go, what to look for, how to overcome the obstacles, and basically speed my way through normal progression. Assuming I can be bothered to do so a second time.

“Play something else.” I tried, man, I tried. When you get the urge to play something in particular, trying to play anything else just feels worse. It’s like taking a big swig of what you thought was water, but it ended up being Sprite. They both might quench your thirst in the abstract, but in that particular moment you will be choking and sputtering.

Non-Customization

I don’t know if you’ve been following the new ground the developers of Rust have been breaking, but it’s both interesting and hilarious. The short version is that instead of customizing your character, all of your character’s physical attributes are randomly assigned and permanently tied to your Steam ID. This includes race, penis size, and now gender.

As you might imagine, some corners of the internet are melting down.

There are multiple layers of this design which are fascinating to me. The first is the sheer amount of free PR this generates. I mean, when was the last time you actually heard news about Rust that wasn’t about the size, color, and/or existence of the male sexual organ? Last thing I remember reading was from what feels like years ago, when Rust removed zombies… and people were crafting C4 to break into peoples’ shacks? It’s still a crafting survival game, right? I wouldn’t know.

Philosophically, the intended inability to choose your avatar’s features is also interesting. The money quote from the devs is this one:

To clear up some confusion, when we it does go live you won’t get a choice of whether you’re female or male. We’re not “taking the choice away” from you. You never had a choice. A man’s voice coming out of a woman’s body is no more weird than an 8 year-old boy’s voice coming out of a man’s body.

Some of the criticism is coming from people who don’t want to feel restricted in their character creation, or people who want their avatar to look like them (for RP purposes or otherwise). But in a sense… is this any different from, say, Witcher 3 or any other game with fixed player assets? As the dev mentioned, you never actually had a choice at character creation, so nothing is being taken away. Is it about historical gametype precedent? Or about the fact that the devs could have added customization options but have clearly decided not to?

In any case, I like the cut of this dev team’s jib. They are doing bold things that could go horribly wrong, which is the heart of soul of R&D. Plus, listen to this bit:

“We wanted to lock people to an identity so they could be possibly recognized for their misdeeds, just from their avatar,” he explained. “The idea being that eventually we’d take away player names, and emergent stuff could happen like mistaking someone for a friend, impersonations, etc.”

That sort of “reputation” is asinine in a multi-server scenario IMO, but good for them for going for it. And removing character names altogether? That’s a pretty brilliant social experiment.

I’m not invested in the outcome of Rust, but damned if I don’t feel a tiny bit compelled to see what kind of character gets rolled for me. Not going to lie: if I end up getting stuck as generic white dude #476, I’ll be pretty disappointed.

H1Z1 Pre-Alpha Early Release

So after a rather extraordinarily long amount of time, it appears as though the F2P SOE PlanetZombieSide MMO might actually be released on 1/15/15. On Steam Early Access. For the low, low price of $20, or an indeterminate amount of money if you want to alpha-test the super-secret special modes.

I am poking fun at the EA payment model – ahem, Early Access – but honestly I am not nearly as miffed as Keen. I too remember the days when game companies would ration out alpha/beta access for free… and I remember that same access commanding tremendous cash values on eBay. $100+ beta Gmail invites, anyone? So it makes perfect sense to me that a game company would see that situation and decide to cut out the middleman. They get prepaid game development, and you get a Kickstarter you can actually sorta play.

What I am infinitely more concerned about is the state of H1Z1 generally. The topics have not really changed since the last time I talked about it (“4-6 weeks away” back in April 2014…), but these days I am almost cringing at the PlanetSide 2 engine usage. Don’t get me wrong, Ps2 can certainly look really awesome. It also ends up looking extremely angular with a poor sense of physicality, collision, and ephemeral bodies. All of that is perfectly acceptable in a sci-fi FPS (especially one with 100s of people in close-quarters), but have you seen these H1Z1 streams? The outdoors look okay with the trees and hills and such, but indoors? It’s… too modular.

Perhaps these are the sorts of things that get papered over with better textures in beta or whatever, but the Ps2 vibe is weirding me out. That and the fact that it’s difficult to go back to manikin-on-a-pole style character interaction after the more grab-y Dead Island/State of Decay/etc style. I suppose the current system is more conducive to MMO design, but it’s tough to go back.

Alpha Impression: Sir, You Are Being Hunted

I have been spoiled by other games’ betas. That is clear to me now.

This part is okay.

This part is okay.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a game I mentioned being excited about back in May, then promptly forgot about. Recently, it was up on Steam Early Access at a discounted rate, and I decided to take the plunge. A few hours of gameplay later, and I feel thoroughly soaked.

The problem I have with the game is that it is basically a sandbox without any sand. When you start playing, you are introduced to the core gameplay – find pieces of the Device, plug them into Standing Stone – given some binoculars and food, and sent on your way. As a veteran of Don’t Starve, this opening felt perfectly fine. What became readily apparent however, is that the game utterly lacks interactivity in its present state. Alpha is alpha is alpha, yes. But when I rummage through three entire villages and am armed with 3 alarm clocks, one bear trap, and two empty bottles against robots with shotgun sniper rifles, things feel lame.

Now, of course, the name of the game is to be, well, hunted. But the present AI behavior reminds me of the delicate, high-wire act that all stealth games must perform. If you have enemies patrol in a set pattern, it turns stealth gameplay into a sort puzzle game with logical, measured moves. It might feel less “realistic” to have the guard always look to the left for three seconds when he walks to the balcony, but as a game mechanic it is grokkable and feels “right.” Alternatively, you could have enemies who basically follow no pattern whatsoever, looking randomly in any direction at any time. More realistic? Sure. More frustrating? Absolutely.

Right now, Sir basically has the worst of all possible stealth worlds. The world is procedurally-generated and I’m not really certain one of the procedures is to place the Device pieces near cover. I basically spent the last 40 minutes trying, futilely, to grab a Device piece in the middle of a field where two robots were “patrolling.” And by “patrolling,” I mean they walked in random, jerking movements in a 3-meter radius around said Device. Tenchu, Dishonored, and Deus Ex this ain’t; the only possible solution is dropping an alarm clock, crab-walking as far away from it as possible, and grabbing the Device and running.

Of course, the robots run as fast as you do, are armed with shotgun sniper rifles as mentioned previously, and the only way to lose them is to be crouched in foliage. Which they immediately begin to search, because that’s the name of the game. But considering how you can’t really sneak through the foliage at any appreciable speed, they will find you immediately and GG.

98% of your gameplay time is this.

98% of your gameplay time is this.

Alpha is alpha is alpha. But right now, Sir You Are Being Hunted is basically a crouching simulator and not much else.