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The Waiting Space

I have been playing a number of games since completing Dark Souls, but none of them are the games I really want to play. Because those games aren’t done yet. And it’s driving me mad.

Coral Island

This is a farming/life-sim game set in a more tropical area. It is currently in Early Access and available via Game Pass. According to the Roadmap it looks like there are updates planned all the way out until Winter of 2023 and then some additional big updates prior to the 1.0 release. One of those updates? The traditional marriage and/or kids additions. I don’t require life-sims to have these features, but if it’s already planned to be available, I also don’t want to miss out and/or have to replay for that content.

My Time at Sandrock

Quasi-sequel to My Time at Portia, which I played for 108 hours and enjoyed quite a bit. A lot of content already out there, but according to the Roadmap, it will be late March/early April before they add the marriage system in. Then late May/early June before they add three additional NPCs into the romance pool. I don’t know any of these NPCs or if I would care about them at all, but… what if I did?

Valheim

The Mistlands biome has finally came out, but apparently there are more on the way. I have waited almost exactly two years already, so I may as well continue to wait until this one gets done.

Sun Haven

Farming/Life-sim game that is a more fantasy-based Stardew Valley. And it even got a v1.0 release! After checking the patch notes though, I noticed the “Coming Soon!” section which includes, among other things:

  • – More Pets
  • – More Race Specific Dialogue
  • – Having children with your spouse
  • – Farm Buildings (Sheds / Greenhouses)
  • – Proximity Animations
  • – Minor DLCs
  • – Main Story Epilogue

Sigh.

The Planet Crafter | Craftopia | Len’s Island | Sons of the Forest | Traveler’s Rest

All Early Access and none of them discounted. Pass for now.

[Edit] Just kidding, Steam Spring Sale is going on.

Green Hell

Technically on sale and… technically released? Doesn’t have the Early Access tag any more, but most info points to this being in a more Beta state. Green Hell is one that has been on my radar for a while from a survival standpoint. What I have heard is that it is a bit more grindy insofar as you have to take care of your macronutrients rather than just regular Hunger, and you are much more likely to die of random snake or spider bites than other games. Those sort of things are whatever. The biggest damnation though has been talk about how base-building is not really encouraged based on the narrative of the game, which requires you to venture out all across the map. That sort of thing really hampers things, if true.

V Rising | Kynseed

Released but no sale, so… no sale.

[Edit] Just kidding, Steam Spring Sale is going on.

Voidtrain | One Lonely Outpost | Palworld | I Am Future | Under A Rock | Lightyear Frontier | Rooted

None of these are available, even in Early Access. :(

All of this is mostly pointless belly-aching because of course I have a million and a half other games bought and paid for to play. But I want to play these games at the moment. #1stWorldProblems.

[Dark Souls] Day 2

For the first time since becoming a father, and probably a bit before that, I played a game until 5AM. It was… ill-advised. For reasons unrelated to the game.

Suffice it to say, I’m having a good time in Dark Souls.

After spending mumble-mumble hours farming in the Undead Burg zone around the Bonfire, I started pushing some more progress. Dead bodies that have loot have a sort of white glow around them, and the fact that you retain items upon death naturally leads one to the occasional questionable strategic decision. Do I engage this clearly-powerful sub-boss dude, or try and run past him and loot the goods?

My first attempt to fight him actually went very well, until I died – got a lot of successful parries and ripostes, which deal massive damage. The next half-dozen were inexplicably worse. So I farmed some more levels, came back, and then… got curious how far he would chase me around. The answer is pretty damn far. Which meant I could circle back around an area, drop down to the dead body with loot he was guarding, snag it, and then re-engage in peace. As with many things, once the anxiety surrounding the reward was gone, I was able to casually poke him to death rather than committing to try and parry him.

In the next area, I went down a spiral staircase, encountered another sub-boss looking guy, and was one-shot through a shield at full health. Noted, game.

In the next area, I went down up a spiral staircase and encountered the second main boss. It took two or three attempts to down it, but that was mainly because I don’t have a real good grasp on dodge-rolling yet. Does it give i-frames? Sometimes it looks like it does, and other times it clearly does not. Eventually I brute-forced learned the combat mechanics and down the boss went.

In the new zone, I eventually found the Blacksmith. This is actually the first vendor I found in the game. I am aware there is supposed to be another vendor in Undead Burg, which would have been real fucking convenient because 100% of my gear has came from rare (trash) drops from regular mobs. My character is a Thief with no Dexterity weapons aside from the starter one. I still don’t actually know where the other vendor is, but I’ll look later. Took down a sub-boss with the ole leisurely poke-in-stab, looted a reward that makes my health potions stronger, and apparently (hopefully) unlocked the ability to quickly traverse from this 3rd zone back to the beginning one. Or maybe that elevator was one-way?

Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me either way.

[Dark Souls] Day 1

Killing the first boss on the first attempt was not that surprising. Technically, this was not my first rodeo.

Pictured: dying to trash mobs instead

Steam says I had two hours on Dark Souls (Prepare to Die Edition) with a Last Played of 2018. At that time, I was a tourist, sticking around just long enough to get the experience of being instantly killed on the ledge, or later after dodge-rolling off a cliff. That sort of experience was just not what I was looking for at the time. I then proceeded to play Dead Cells, Hollow Knight, Sundered, Hades, Salt & Sanctuary, and probably a dozen similar games over the next five years. So “coming back” to Dark Souls, everything clicked right away. Hell, it was surprising to learn that you had 5 Health potions to start – everyone else is so damn stingy.

Anyway, my character is Thief because getting a free Master Key sounded useful. I also chose the Witch’s Charm or whatever because that wasn’t a consumable and otherwise sounded like it could be useful somewhere.

A big part of the Dark Souls experience is exploration. However, when the very first body I looted contained 3 “Humanity,” I sighed and looked up some beginner tips. Do those disappear on death? (No). Is there a reason to use them now? (Technically no). Am I going to screw things up if I use them right away? (Technically no, but ill-advised). There are some things I am willing to learn via experience, such as boss attacks or where traps are. But obfuscated gameplay mechanics or Blind Choices are things I take a dim view on. Which… might be a problem with Dark Souls. Presumably.

Speaking of experience, I walked down some steps and got utterly mauled by the skeletons down there. They didn’t have levels over their heads, but when a single attack brings me to half-health and my attack deals 2% of their HP, I can take the hint. Was I frustrated? Nope. Fallout: New Vegas predates Dark Souls, and walking anywhere but south out of Goodsprings brings death and pain.

Plus, you know, a decade of Soulslike games.

Another learning opportunity was: Poison attacks hurt. For an absurdly long amount of time. Didn’t think much of the Poison meter when I was eating some Giant Rat attacks, but once it got full and started draining health, I started paying attention. Through literally three health potions. Noted, game.

Made it to the second Bonfire after clearing out some Hollow mobs in a new area. Resting/saving your game respawns all enemies, which is intended to create some Press-Your-Luck tension. Which it would… once I’m done farming this infinite pile of respawning Souls steps away from a Save Point. I’m going to assume that gaining five levels this way isn’t going to bite me in the ass later. While farming, I end up getting two “liquid” Humanity (as opposed to the “solid” items), which is a resource that goes away when you die. So, I spent one Humanity to turn into a Human, and then another to Kindle the Bonfire, which grants me more health potion uses for this area. Again, I’m assuming this won’t set me back permanently somehow.

And that was Day 1.

Time will tell how long I stick around farming in the immediate Bonfire area. “Until you get bored” is not a particularly healthy target, but it also feels silly to not make a few more circuits when you can gain levels within 5-10 minutes. Then again, the farm option would still be there if I just plow forward until hitting a brick wall. Hmm.

Let’s be real: I’m going to farm the shit out of this area, aren’t I?

Impressions: Grounded, pt 2

While the first Impressions post for Grounded was a week ago, the reality is that I have been mainlining the game daily for the past three weeks. That first post was written based on my first dozen hours or so, but I ended up playing so much that I never got around to actually posting it. So here are my impressions about the game after some 50+ hours.

Grounded is good. Sometimes annoying. Definitely still Soulslike.

The game world continues to be a huge star of the show. Survival games sometimes have to make huge contortions to accommodate varied biomes – lava must coexist with snow and deep oceans and deserts all in the same map – but the way Grounded interweaves its own biomes is a masterclass in design. The backyard is a believable backyard. And yet going from the Grasslands to the canopy of the Hedge is a big transition. Or to the pond. Or in the sandbox, with it’s deadly Sizzle effect when you traverse the dunes without shade. These are different places, with different resources, and different challenges to overcome. And it all feels… coherent. Believable. Or at least, as believable as teenagers crafting crossbows out of grass vines and crow feathers can be.

Some aspects of the game have begun to provide friction. As you become stronger and explore further afield (ayard?), you… well, have further to go each time. Ziplines become a means of faster-ish travel, but they require a LOT of setup – constructing a vertical tower in the yard, carrying supplies to build destination anchors, and slaughtering dozens and dozens of spiders to turn their webs into silk to craft the zipline itself. Meanwhile, the only way to repair your Antlion Armor is to kill Antlions in the Sandbox, the best healing component must be farmed in the Pond, and you feel in your weary bones how much more time will get wasted with each unblocked attack you take while exploring the Upper Yard for the first time. It gets pretty exhausting, especially when you have to leave an area, inventory laden with loot, and know how much busywork is ahead of you before you can go back again.

Perhaps the better recourse would be to build multiple bases instead of one major hub. Problem with that is some of the more advanced crafting stations can’t really be moved easily. Plus, it’s arguable as to how much time you would really be saving building several bases.

In any case, I am decidedly approaching the endgame. Having achieved upgraded Tier 3 Armor and Weapons, I can say that most fights with bugs are less Soulslike than they were in the beginning. As in, I don’t have to Perfect Block every single attack in order to not die. The tradeoff, as explained earlier, is that you end up needing to farm up considerably more healing potions and items to repair your gear. Some of the bugs I am facing do indeed still pose an incredible threat even with all my gear, so don’t believe you can necessarily gear your way past everything. Plus, there are required boss fights in this game, including different Phases and novel attacks.

And this is kinda what gets me about Grounded. The setting, premise, and story do not match the gameplay. Teenagers from the 90s shrunken down and running around their backyard for flimsy story reasons leads you to believe this is a game that might appeal to younger players. On Normal difficulty, it most decidedly is not a game for younger players. Or older players that may be reflex-impaired. Every time I think I’m hot shit crushing bugs left and right, I take two unblocked hits and I’m sprinting away chugging healing potions. And this is in a game where I can hit Save after every encounter!

I have my frustrations with Grounded, but I’m still here mainlining this game for like 3+ hours every night. There isn’t anything special about the story, and yet I find myself eagerly traversing the yard to clear out the labs to get the next morsel of plot. Or, if I’m more honest, to unlock the next piece of gear and craft the latest weapons from the bones exoskeletons of my enemies. And all this feels fine to me, as there is a definitive conclusion on the other side. No “keep playing until you get bitter and jaded” purgatory here as with ARK or other survival games.

So, yeah. Grounded. Not the worst way to spend 50+ hours.

Gaming Age: Survival

When you look at the general gaming zeitgeist, it’s clear that it goes through distinct ages.

  • RPG-elements
  • MMO
  • Battle Royale
  • F2P
  • Open world
  • Survival

We are currently in an age of survival. Not literally (OK, also literally), but of survival games. Which is good news to me as it is clearly one of my favorite genres, but even I have been surprised at the recent volume and game companies involved. Let’s take a look of what’s coming up according to PC Gamer.

Retreat to Enen (Aug 2022) is about becoming one with nature rather than chopping down all the trees. Forever Skies (Early Access late 2022) is survival and exploration in a blimp base above the ruins of Earth. I Am Future (2022) is another sort of “skyscrapers above the mist” setting but is supposedly more jolly in perhaps a My Time at Portia sort of way. Above Snakes (2023) is isometric survival with Native Americans in which you place down your own tiles to explore. Derelicts (TBA) is a 1-man developed survival game that looks like Satisfactory with actual survival elements. Sons of the Forest (Oct 2022) is a sequel to The Forest, ’nuff said. Nightingale (Early Access late 2022) is described as “Victorian gaslamp fantasy” and certainly looks cool, although it strikes me as less survival and more adventure/story progression.

That article was focusing on new survivals games that weren’t “chop wood, mine ore, repeat” though.

In the pipeline is an open-world Terminator survival game. Ubisoft is making Skull & Bones, which is Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag + survival. Wild West Dynasty is the next game from the publisher of Medieval Dynasty. Jagex is working on an open-world survival game based on RuneScape. ARK 2 is coming, featuring in-game Vin Diesel. My Time at Sandrock is a thing.

What kind of inspired the post though, was Square Enix announcing Harvestella, a “life sim farming game.” I know that farming sims aren’t technically survival games, but it’s kind of a wolf vs dog situation.

[Edit] I cannot believe I forgot the other example: Blizzard’s unnamed survival game.

The thing that I am discovering about myself through all this is that my tastes and predilections have not shifted much. That in of itself is not an epiphany, of course. But 11 years ago I wrote a post about Bean Counting and how I recognized that as the sort of root of fun I dig at in every game I play. For a long time, MMOs satisfied that desire. And regular RPGs like the Witcher, and several F2P games, and Open World games, and so on.

With Survival (and farming) games, I feel I have come to perhaps the purest Form of Bean Counting.

Of course, Novelty is also important… otherwise I would be playing Minecraft and calling it a day. And so I feel it rather fortuitous that I happen to be living through this age, and its embarrassment of survival riches. If you don’t like punching trees or watering plants, well, I’m sorry. I’ll just have to horde crafting supplies enough for the both of us.

A Slower Drip: My Time at Portia

My typical gaming M.O. is to choose a different genre of game after focusing on one in particular. So after Forager, I should have picked something that was not another crafting/farming/grinding game. Following that ancient edict just left me with not wanting to play anything at all though. So, realizing that I am an Adult© with the means and opportunity to do Whatever the Hell I Want™ I decided to head right into My Time at Portia.

It’s good to be back.

My Time at Portia is a Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley game set in a bizarrely upbeat post-post-apocalypse future. There are ruins and collapsed buildings in the skybox, there are tales of the Age of Corruption, and even a period of darkness in which the skies were blackened for over 300 years. And yet the hero who cleared the skies is a man named Peach, the monsters you fight are things like Panbats (bats with panda faces) and sea urchins that float around with the help of balloons, and similar nonsense. It is all very cartoony and whimsical and doesn’t take itself especially seriously.

One element I do like that shakes the formula up a bit is how your character is a Builder and not a farmer. You can have farm plots and a stable and grow things if you want, but the primary mechanism of advancement is, well, building things. You can take one Commission a day from a posting board (“I need 3 Rubber Belts”), townspeople will occasionally ask you to build an irrigation system for them, some elevator needs repaired so investigations into water supply issues can be resolved, and so on. A lot more crafting than farming, in other words. This solves the sometimes awkward problem of having unlockable crafting tiers of items that you only ever make one of and never use the crafting table again.

While it has been an enjoyable game thus far, I do think I am over-optimizing the game a tiny bit. I am not even past the second season yet and have already unlocked and am using the highest-tier tools and Workbench. There are still longer-term items to purchase (expanded housing plot, etc) and upgrade, but I am primarily “done” in terms of exciting progression, e.g. needing a specific tool to gather a particular resource. We’ll see how the rest of the game pans out.

Having said all that, I am certainly doing what I enjoy. It is not ARK or 7 Days to Die or more freeform crafting-survival, but My Time at Portia scratches similar itches for the time being. It also feels more relaxing than even Stardew Valley, as you can tweak settings like Day Length to give yourself more time to explore/talk to townsfolk. If this is what you’re looking for, well, you found it.

Graveyard Keeper

In my still-limited free time, I have been playing Graveyard Keeper.

Even before I purchased the game – or got it through a bundle, I forget – Graveyard Keeper had been unfavorably compared to Stardew Valley. Specifically, how the game devolves into an inordinate grind. Having played the game now for about 25 hours, I have to agree. But it is not the grind that is the problem, but the overall disjointed experience.

As you might imagine from the name, the primary task is the maintenance of the graveyard and nearby chapel. Bodies will be delivered periodically, and interring them can not only improve the overall quality of the graveyard, but gives you a Burial Certificate which you can trade for coins. As things progress, you get the ability to perform autopsies to improve the “quality” of the bodies before burial – primarily by removing “sinful” organs – such that higher quality headstones and such can unlock the full potential of a buried corpse.

So, the gameplay loop starts relatively tight. You chop trees and mine stones/ore to build headstones and such to improve the graveyard. Improving the graveyard eventually allows you lead sermons that generate Faith resources, which allow you to research further technology.

Things fall apart in the mid to late game. The ultimate goal of the game is to collect six items from certain NPCs in town and spend 12g on a last item. 12g is 1200 silver and you get 1.5 silver for each buried/burned body. Thus, you need alternative means of making money. Which is fine, because the quests necessary to get the special items are long and involved and require you to do all sorts of tech-tree development, building dozens of workstations, and basically creating a little empire. However… you can’t specialize. The bartender will purchase the wine you make, for example, but each bottle sold will reduce the price of the next bottle, and prices only recover slowly over time. Which means you need to do all the things all the time, when there will never be enough of it to matter.

To me, that is not even the worst part. The worst part is that your time horizon is ever only seven in-game days. In Stardew Valley, you had seasons and yearly events to plan towards. Sometimes that was a massive pain and source of min-maxing, given that you could spend a lot of time on crops only to have them all die a day before harvesting because the calendar changed. But it also gave you a focus. Hell, you could focus on just a few things, e.g. fishing vs animals vs growing crops, depending on your mood. Graveyard Keeper requires a generalized approach of running around all day every day, never really getting a sense that you’re making progress on any particular thing.

I even have some zombies now to assist in automating resource collection, and I still never have time to do all the things I need to do to feel satisfied on my progress. At one point, I just abandoned the whole corpse part of the game for several in-game weeks because I couldn’t be bothered. I was trying to unlock the second-tier Alchemy Bench so that I could actually start using the Embalming techniques I had unlocked 10 hours beforehand, but the convoluted tech tree and components meant I couldn’t do much of anything. Even when there are interesting choices to make, such as removing more organs than necessary to turn them into alchemical ingredients at the cost of corpse quality, all it becomes is just another chore to do on the path to something else.

It is difficult to discern why I still like playing this game. Well, perhaps not too difficult: it’s a game that encourages planning and thinking even when not actively playing. Same with Fallout 76, really, in that even at work I am strategizing on what I plan to do in-game when I get home. But this chronic tension and sense of never making particular headway is also exhausting, and the last thing I need more of in my life.

Impression: Stardew Valley

While I still have a modicum of free time, let’s talk about Stardew Valley.

It’s awesome. /impression

My current setup.

Describing why it’s awesome is much more difficult. So I’m just going to try talking about its various interlocking systems.

Despite the game looking and sounding like a peaceful farming simulator, there is a rather large amount of tension to the gameplay. You start the day off at 6 AM with (usually) a full energy meter. Each time you till a farm tile, water a plant, chop a tree, etc, you use up a little bit of that energy. Starting out, the only real way to regain energy is to eat either foraged food or perhaps some of your crops. This, of course, will prevent you from selling said items though.

Meanwhile, the clock is always ticking in 10 minute increments. You can walk around and explore the town, but the game doesn’t care if you run out of daylight with a full energy meter or an empty one. People in town have schedules as well, so if you want to seduce/befriend them, you have to plan around their day. Forgot to pick up seeds and it’s 5:10 PM? Tough luck, the store is closed. If you’re not in bed by 2 AM, you collapse and are dragged home by someone, losing money and some of tomorrow’s energy along the way.

On top of that, you have longer-term considerations. Some crops will produce in 4 days of growing. Others take 12 days. Some you have to replant after harvesting, and others will continue producing. Each season in the game is 28 days long, and most crops only grow in one season. Ergo, it’s entirely possible for your 12-day crop to wither on the vine one day before harvest if the season changes.

Oh, and by the way, some of the super-important unlocks require items that can only be found/farmed/fished within certain seasons. If you miss a Spring item after the season changes, well… better luck next year.

Going all-in on seeds.

All of that might sound intimidating. And complicated. And difficult to optimize. And it is all those things.

But it’s also weirdly liberating. Because it is not as though the game just ends if you miss some kind of deadline. Life keeps going. You can try and complete the most efficient path… or you can just keep doing what you are doing. Want a big farm? Focus on that. Want to raise livestock instead? Go do that. Fish all day erry’day? Probably viable. You may or may not get enough cash to upgrade your house before the first winter, but who cares? Only you.

The mutual exclusivity of tasks somehow doesn’t feel constricting. You can’t dig deeper into the mines and also plant new fields and forage for forest plants and also talk to everyone in town in the same day. But that doesn’t feel like an arbitrary restriction so much as a natural consequence. It makes intuitive sense that these things take time to accomplish. And it’s not as though swinging your ax makes time advance faster or anything – it takes precisely as long as it takes to get something done. This also makes you appreciate the tool upgrades a bit more, if they reduce the amount of swings it takes to finish a task.

I recently unlocked the Sprinkler item to craft. As you might expect, it automatically waters crops around itself. That said, the beginner version only waters four tiles in a cross shape around itself. “That’s dumb,” I thought. More advanced versions are available later that water all adjacent tiles, and eventually multiple rings of tiles. But once Summer hit, I went all-in on crops with the idea of earning enough coin by mid-season to finally upgrade my house. And now I’m spending 2+ in-game hours just watering plants each morning. So while the sprinklers are incredibly inefficient, I started thinking to myself that 4 less tiles to water * 10 is actually lot less time/energy used each morning.

That’s just one example of an interesting decision the game presented me without it coming across as an obvious Yes/No binary. The game is just full of them too, thus far. Instead of worrying about watering crops, I could have a different set of concerns if I had decided to build a chicken coop instead. I’m assuming it’d have something to do with feeding all those animals.

So, yeah. Stardew Valley is fantastic. It’s scratching all kinds of itches I didn’t even know I had. Short-term planning, long-term planning, optimization, experimentation, agency… all wrapped up in a pixel bow and all created by one dude. Can’t wait to see what else this designer has up his sleeve, and hopefully the sleeves of a few extra helpers, because I don’t want to have to wait another 4+ years for his next title.

Why? Just why?

Why did I think it was a good idea to start playing Stardew Valley for the first time this weekend? The Fallout 76 Beta is coming out like tomorrow, and I decided it was a good idea to boot up a game that has already consumed 10 hours of my time in two days? Good lord.

As a side note, it’s amusing experiencing the same synapses firing off when I farm and plant crops as I do when playing survival games. It’s starting to make me wonder whether I like survival games, or if I have been using survival games to scratch the itch for farming simulators.

Either way, it’s trouble. I gotta do stuff this week.

So… Now What?

The problem with goals is that you complete them.

When I originally wrote Monday’s post about farming transmog pieces in WoW, I had not yet acquired the Tunic of Unwavering Devotion. Since I had technically been farming since Legion (via LFR), I was buckling in for the long haul. After a presumed failed run over the weekend, I was going to get back to leveling my Monk character to the cap and then seeing if she can also solo Nighthold.

Alas, like a strange monkey paw curse, I got exactly what I was looking for.

WoWScrnShot_340i

Oh, and have I mentioned that my Demon Hunter is sitting at ilevel 340 now? It took a dozen dungeons to go from 310 to 320, but about three days of casual, mostly solo content to go from 320 to 340. So there really isn’t much of a point in doing much of anything on the Demon Hunter now. I will do the occasional WQ if it offers reputation, but only in the off-chance that I continue playing WoW once flying is (re)(re)(re)released.

Leveling alts to the cap seems like a fine goal on the face of things, but… eh. They will not be used for raiding or dungeon running or farming transmog, so what’s left? PvP? I usually reserve my Warlock for PvP endeavors, but the forums are pretty clear about the apparent sad state of Warlocks this expansion. I could try going the healer route for giggles, as I do have a Priest at 111.

The real problem I have is that I somehow lack the motivation to do much of anything, anywhere. Post-game Depression is a thing I talked about a few years ago, and it may well triggered when I got that last piece of transmog gear. Or maybe WoW has been on its way out with me for several weeks.

I dunno. I have a million other games I could be playing, but no motivation to load any of them. The 7 Days to Die Alpha17 patch keeps getting pushed into Star Citizen territory, and Fallout 76’s beta isn’t until the end of this month. In the meantime, I am just logging into WoW and puttering around on the AH, or closing the client and watching people play Hearthstone on Twitch.

Guess my next goal should be to get more goals.