I decided to start playing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (BLPS), as one of the literal 124 games in my Epic library that I did not pay for. No, really, I just counted one-hundred and twenty-four. Minus one, as I did end up purchasing Outward way back in the day:
Anyway. Borderlands: Pre-Sequel!
…yeah, it sucks. I give myself about a 40% chance of uninstalling it the next time I play.
There are a lot of people who don’t, but I for one actually do appreciate the Borderlands writing style. The humor doesn’t always land, but there simply aren’t many people out there writing, well, out there. Most games have utterly boring dialog and take their generic plots very seriously. So when you have a game series that does the exact opposite, amusing things can happen.
That’s not the problem though. The problem is the gameplay.
Back in the day (Jesus Christ, 2013?!), I talked about getting burned out on Borderlands 2. At the time, I was talking about the absurdity that occurs when you get to the level cap and end up facing enemies with tens of millions of HP. Some of that is impacting me even at the beginning of BLPS, as I start wondering whether I am going to just plow through the story missions or play this “for real.” See, nothing you do matters in a Normal playthrough. And on the next playthrough, you have to plow through the story again until the level-cap, doing zero side-quests, lest the unique side-quest rewards roll stats at your non-level-cap level. Which would make them instantly useless.
The other part though, is just how the gameplay design doesn’t fit the design of the game. For example, for such a kinetic gunplay experience, Borderlands has these awkward moments of intense inventory management. Bosses and enemies can explode in a fountain of epic loot… and you have to meticulously look at each one to analyze its stats, see if you have enough inventory space to pick it up, and so on. BLPS takes this to a whole new level considering the game takes place on a low-gravity moon. Which means you can be in an intense firefight and killing enemies with jetpacks, only to watch in horror as potentially good loot goes flying off in all sorts of directions.
Speaking of low-gravity, BLPS adds the element of gliding and slamming as attacking maneuvers. Which is fine. But it really highlights the fact that there isn’t much that the game is asking you to do that is actually supported in the game. This isn’t a cover-based shooter, for example, but the game does expect you to take cover/crouch to avoid damage while waiting for your shields to recharge. Arial acrobatics and butt-stomps are nice and all, but good luck surviving long enough to do any damage as you are literally floating out in open vacuum. Most of the encounters I face are either trivial or overwhelmingly difficult, depending on the availability of cover and whether enemies are randomly equipped with shocking guns (which melts shields).
The above issues are not unique to BLPS, of course. In 2021 though, the standards to what nonsense I am willing to endure have been raised.
Finally, I just have to say there are extremely early parts of BLPS that is just frustratingly bad. Like when you just start playing the game and are facing multiple rooms full of hostiles before you get your very first shield. Was that a thing in BL2? I don’t remember. But there’s also an area after unlocking the first vehicle where you are expected to make a jump while boosting… and I fell into the pit like six times in a row. I was boosting, I was hitting the obvious ramp, and down in the pit I went. Almost uninstalled that night. The deaths were irrelevant – the percentage of wealth penalty is trivial at that level – but it indicated to me that either the game was going to be that janky, or that I no longer understood what the game was asking me to do.
So far, the answer seems to be “both.”
Right as my interest in My Time at Portia was ending – sadly, before the end of the game proper – I started hearing about a major update to No Man’s Sky. Called Origins, this particular update seemed mainly focused on reseeding the universe with new planets with more extreme terrain/plant/animal possibilities. Having missed the past couple of other major updates, I decided to go ahead and jump back in with a fresh character.
Some 40-odd hours later, I have hit that same existential wall the last time around.
Almost all of the particulars of the game have been improved. Base-building restrictions have been lifted across the board. The once-ubiquitous Sentinels are now just policing fun on certain planets. The UI has been improved… to an extent. The various avenues to raise cash have been widened. The Nexus has been made into a multiplayer hub of sorts, and its vendors allow you to bypass quest-restricted tech if you wish.
And yet… it’s still missing something. And it might be something dumb like “challenge.”
Some games are not meant to be challenging. No one is going to play My Time at Portia while looking for a Dark Souls experience. In this regard, No Man’s Sky is very obviously tilted towards a chill, Explorer player-type. Sentinels are robots that used to patrol every planet and turn aggressive when you started mining resources in front of them. As mentioned, they no longer exist in every world. For the vast majority of your gameplay, the weather is going to be your biggest foe – one defeated by pressing two buttons every few minutes, consuming resources you can buy in bulk at nearly every space station.
Which, again, fine. Whatever. It’s a chill, exploring game.
But things get a little crazy once you start flying around in space. At some point, your ship will be scanned by hostile pirates, who will disable your ability to escape and start trying to blow you up. While you can again survive just about anything by recharging your shields with elements purchased by the thousands, you can also equip your ship with missiles, laser beams, a space shotgun, and all manners of similar things. Regardless, this is decidedly a less chill, exploring experience.
After a while, the dissonance in the game between space combat and terrestrial combat became too great for me. See, your Multi-Tool can also receive a number of upgrades to add a shotgun, laser cannon, a grenade launcher, and so on. But when would you ever use it? Attacking Sentinels is periodically required to progress the storyline, and bigger and meaner ones do end up showing up. But under all other normal circumstances, there is no challenge whatsoever once you are on a planet.
Where are the pirates or mercenaries on the ground? Where are all the hostile wildlife? You will see the same half-dozen varieties of hostile plants on every planet across the entire universe. But nothing in the way of meaningful challenge. About the closest you get is “the Swarm,” which puts up a decent fight when you try stealing their eggs. Facing them on every planet would be silly, but that kind of thing might justify having anything more than the same unupgraded rifle you build from a quest 50 hours prior.
Again, No Man’s Sky doesn’t have to head that direction.
The problem for me though is the existential crisis that hits mid-game, in which you question what it’s all for. In my fresh save, my character has 45 million Units and a B-class ship with about 28 slots. The normal drive would be to search for an A-class or S-class ship to buy, and then upgrading those further while simultaneously upgrading my own suit and Multi-Tool. There are several mechanics in the game now that allow you to pursue those goals in measured (read: grind) fashion.
But… why? I mean, sure, “why do anything in a videogame?” In No Man’s Sky though, progression is basically bag space. Can you equip weapon mods that increase damage or clip size? Yes. Do they have 5 rarities and slightly randomized number ranges? Also yes. Does any of it matter at all? Absolutely not. You can go 50+ hours without shooting a damn thing, even accidentally. Oh, unless you’re flying through space, in which case we’re actually playing X-Wing sometimes.
I think the devs might eventually get there. Last time I played, all the alien NPCs stood or sat in the same spot, never moving. Now they move around and make the space stations feel, well, actually populated. Slap some helmets on them and give them guns and maybe shoot me planetside on occasion and we’re in business. Or ramp up the aggressiveness of hostile fauna on some of the planets. Think ARK. At least on some planets, anyway.
I’m not looking for challenge challenge, at least not in No Man’s Sky. Actually, I would love a 3D Terraria/Starbound experience if I’m being real. That might not have been what everyone signed up for in this game though. Perhaps add another game mode? But it should be Game Design 101 that if you add a Chekhov Shotgun, you should craft encounters in which a shotgun is necessary.
The r/ClashRoyale subreddit was going through a revolt over the “Clan Wars 2” update, and the Community Manager was, uh, not managing well. In one of the early threads that highlighted the fact that small clans are stuck facing the same large clans for five weeks in a row, Drew said:
to play devils advocate here (i know the sub won’t like this opinion) but shouldn’t the solution here lie with the clan themselves?
if you have an inactive clan maybe the clan needs a shake up and more active members?
just asking some hard questions that i would like some opinions on!
Do you even need context to understand how monumentally stupid this was to say?
Context makes it worse. The old Clan War design made it so that the people who did Collection Battles were the ones that needed to do attacks on War Day. The system was opt-in and every clan you were competing with had the same number of attacks. The new design just gives everyone in the clan four attacks per day and matches you against clans of varying population. This leads to situations where you can be in a 20-person clan with the highest-skilled players in the world who win every battle, and still lose every race for five weeks in a row to a 41-person clan filled with people who AFK lose every battle (losses still award some progress).
So while Drew tried to back-peddle with the “just playing Devil’s Advocate!” card, it’s hard to read the Clan Wars change as anything other than what it appears to be: a concerted effort to destroy small clans in favor of zerg clans. Drew all but confirming that with his “question” did not help anything.
Know what it reminded me of? Guild Leveling in WoW. Remember that? If not, here’s a post from six years ago when Blizzard finally removed the “feature” that was the death knell of my own tight-knit guild. Like this Clash Royale update, it essentially penalized smaller guilds and rewarded large ones, as if that is something that ever needs additional encouragement. “Everyone can earn rewards… eventually! Just choose between getting them immediately, or hanging with your friends while knowing everyone is paying an objective, tangible price for being together.”
Don’t worry though, Drew has the easy solution: get a
better bigger clan!
To be entirely fair, Drew released a new Reddit post titled “Quick Update from the Dev Team” on the subject as I was typing this out. It’s not a roadmap, but he does highlight just about every complaint from the community that Supercell received in the past week, e.g. since the update, along with some potential fixes. The relevant section:
SMALL CLANS NOT BEING CONSIDERED IN MATCHMAKING
WHY IS IT BAD? (COMMUNITY FEEDBACK)
- Small Clans can’t finish the race
- Small Clans getting outmatched by bigger Clans
- Small Clans matched against maxed Clans
- Small Clans not getting rewards so can’t level
- Not fair/equal footingvDamages close knit small Clans/family & friend Clans/IRL Clans
WHAT CAN WE DO?
- Introduce “small Clan Wars”?
- Have smaller rewards but also smaller Fame thresholds
- Matchmake based on Clan Size
- Introduce new Clan creation stats (10/25/50 member clans with different rewards and leaderboards) and make separate system & leaderboard for them (like boom beach task forces)
- Give extra War Deck resets for players (like extra attacks in Clan Wars 1)
Hmm… yep, that’s a pretty accurate assessment of how terrible the update has been.
None of this is particularly relevant to me anymore, as I left my clan and uninstalled Clash Royale already. Do I miss it? Eh… not really. As with most things in life, holes get filled in with random crap if you let it. I find myself on Reddit more, or lowering the bar even further for random trashy manga via Tachiyomi. It’s not as though I got any extra time in the day after I left WoW either.
Nevertheless, I do find it infinitely amusing (and annoying) about how Time is a Flat Circle when it comes to developers making the same sort of mistakes, over and over, forever. When the forums are in revolt, don’t play Devil’s Advocate. Maybe never play Devil’s Advocate at all. Don’t go out of your way to reward big zerg guilds, as they almost always have an advantage already. And when you inevitably lurch away from an immensely dumb design decision, take a look around the table and see if there wasn’t anyone who was warning you about how dumb the idea was at the time.
If there wasn’t someone there at the table, well, maybe you need to add a few more chairs, eh?
Is there anything more boring than Fire/Ice/Lightning/Earth damage?
I had been playing Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark, and it’s a pretty boilerplate Final Fantasy Tactics clone. Which is fine! But what I am getting immensely tired of is how all these RPGs just copy/paste generic Elemental damage into their games. It’s a tad egregious in Fell Seal because the Wizard class actually unlocks different elements as you move down the class tree, as if Thunder 1 did anything different than the Fire 1 you unlocked earlier. It’s literally the same damage. No frills, no multiplier, no nothing. Sure, you will be sad when you face lava zombies or whatever, but there is nothing else special about any of it.
Contrast that with Divinity: Original Sin 2. Fire spells can… light things on fire. Ignite oil slicks, explode poison clouds, inflict targets with a damage over time effect. Ice spells can slow/freeze enemies, create slippery ice on the ground, and so on. You will still have a bad day when your Pyro-centric character encounters lava zombies, but at least that’s a thematic choice that has consequences beyond the different colored numbers. It’s tough fighting indoors with a Pyro, for example.
The other frustrating aspect in copy/paste elements games is that there is a hidden “best choice.” In Fell Seal, all the different elemental weapons I have access to are the same price in the shop. But, on average, how many fire-themed enemies am I going to face versus something else? It’s not even as though I have a particular idea of what’s coming up. “Next stop is big desert theme area… let’s not pick Fire weapons.” That would be lame, but at least it’s something. Nope, just all blind choices.
It’s awful, it’s lazy, and it’s a “choice” that developers keep putting into games that actively reduces the meaningful options a player has. Go bold with your elements or go home.
The topic of purposeful obtuseness in game design is tricky. Limitations can actually spark creativity, whereas definitive answers typically cannot. But sometimes I think game designers try to be more “clever” than they should.
The most recent example I have experienced is in playing Factorio. There are Conveyor Belts, which move items along them. Each Conveyor Belt tile actually has two tracks: Left and Right. There are robotic arms which can transfer items from wherever and place them on the Conveyor Belt. These same robotic arms can pull items off the Conveyor Belt from either track. However, the robotic arm will only set items onto the Conveyor Belt on the far side.
My question: why? No, seriously, why the fuck can’t we choose which side to set things on?
There are convoluted “solutions” out there for methods on how to move all items from, say, the Left track to the Right track. There are also solutions on how to construct paths such that a multi-track line is then later split off. None of these solutions involve, you know, telling robotic arms to place items on specific tracks. Maybe there is some huge programming reason why each robotic arm cannot be told to place on one track versus another. But you could certainly add a “near-side robotic arm” machine to the game and call it a day.
Or perhaps the devs are being obtuse on purpose.
Oxygen Not Included is not immune to shenanigans. There is a Tepidizer in the game that you can use to heat up water. There is an limit to how hot it can get the water though, presumably because it would be too easy to create Steam systems otherwise. So the solution is to create an Aquatuner – a machine that cools down liquid and heats up itself – and then have the extremely hot Aquatuner boil water into Steam, which then will cool down the Aquatuner in the process. It’s “clever” and involves more steps/physics than simply heating up water via Tepidizer but it’s arbitrary as hell.
Drawing that line would be difficult indeed. But I do think there is a noticeable line somewhere. People have done some ludicrous, literal programming in Minecraft using the Redstone switches and such. That programming would be a lot easier with blocks that automatically did X or whatever. The difference, I think, is that the Redstone system is “simple.” It has the basest of building blocks. In Oxygen Not Included you already have the Tepidizer. In Factorio you already have robotic arms that place items on the far side of Conveyor Belts but are capable of grabbing items from both sides. No one can say Notch or whomever didn’t add something to the Redstone system to limit it on purpose.
Incidentally, other examples of purposeful obtuseness is when a game will feature crosshairs for everything other than weapons in which it would be OP. For example, the bow in Kingdom Come: Deliverance. An arrow to the face pretty much kills anyone but the balancing mechanism is apparently taking away the crosshair so you have to learn the trajectory by muscle memory. Or download a mod. Or dangle a piece of string down your computer monitor. Balanced!
So maybe the line is artificial limitations. I’m willing to accept no bow crosshairs if there were no crosshairs for anything else in the game. Similarly, I’d accept no easy Steam generators if the Tepidizer (or Aquatuner) didn’t exist. And finally, I’d accept lack of granularity with robotic arms and Conveyor Belts in Factorio if robotic arms could only retrieve items from the far side of the belt.
But they don’t, so I don’t.
It has actually been a while since I first started playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance (KC:D), but in that time I have put in around 50 hours. I am not certain that I will put in any more time to complete the game, but figured I would go ahead and dedicate some virtual real estate to my experience.
In short, KC:D is for a very specific type of player. And I’m not it.
There are a lot of things to like about the game. Visually stunning. Novel setting and premise, insofar as it’s a no-magic, no-hero medieval adventure. Immersive without needing quotes – first-person perspective in which you can see your feet, helmets getting in the way, walking (or riding) through the muck and rain. Arbitrarily hardcore, even at the expense of fun… which some people enjoy.
Again, I’m not one of them. Or maybe I can be, but not entirely this particular flavor.
The best example is with the combat. You have probably encountered dozens of variations of “you start out as an illiterate blacksmith’s son with no combat experience, OF COURSE combat is hard at first!” I mean, yes and no. Yes in that you start off as a level 1 character with literally no skills or points to put them in until you get XP. No in that the combat system is still trash at max level, as you typically just perform the same moves you have been doing the whole time, except this time you have enough skill points for shit to matter. That’s about as realistic as World of Warcraft or literally any RPG ever made. Except here you are still stuck stabbing faces (lest you be unbeatably countered) while waiting for your opponents to attack (so you can unbeatably counter them).
Oh, and occasionally you will be surrounded by peasants and murdered because lock-on targeting jank. Which is “realistic,” I guess. About as realistic as clipping through a bush or under some stairs and attacking back with impunity.
Another vaunted feature is the whole “the world goes on without you” bit. Example: if someone asks you to meet them tomorrow at sunrise at the crossroads, they will simply go on without you if you don’t show. REALISM. Except… that doesn’t always happen. Some quests will wait for you for months, including Crossroads Boy before you talk to him. Which is handy when you unexpectedly get locked up in jail for in-game weeks after attacking sleeping bandits who were scripted to ambush you, but apparently count as innocent villagers when you pre-murder them.
Which, philosophically, well… huh. Morally though, I think I’d feel worse if the voice of god had not automatically whispered my witness-less deeds to every guard in the kingdom.
But, real talk, are you the type of player who is fine permanently failing quests you did not realize were timed? I’m not. Which means I had to do a lot of Googling on every upcoming quest to figure out when I was “allowed” to go explore the game and when I was locked on rails lest I run out the invisible clock. One of the biggest failings of the Witcher 3’s story (IMO) was a false sense of urgency with the primary quest, which made the overall impetus for action a joke. But Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s seemingly random adherence to the clock feels worse in practice.
Most RPGs do the false sense of urgency thing. But most RPGs don’t try to present themselves as some kind of immersive sim either. I don’t hold a Final Fantasy to the same sort of standard, even if the fate of the world is supposedly at stake.
At the end of all that, I still put in 50+ hours, so that’s saying something. I did not encounter TOO many bugs beyond some combat jank. I did lose probably around 4 total hours of progress to the asinine saving system, which involves you needing to manually drink some liqueur. There are mods to fix that (and other issues) but I could not be bothered to manually install them. Instead, I simply stole everything not bolted down from everyone I could to pay for my Quick Save addiction, which was still not good enough to prevent me from losing progress in dumb ways (e.g. peasant dog-piles).
If you’re looking for Skyrim 2.0, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is not it. But it’s also not the worst thing in the world. Just go into it knowing a lot of systems are obtuse on purpose, and not always because it’s good game design.
Nevertheless, sometimes the novelty of brazzeness counts for more than you think.
As I wrap up Children of Morta, I can reflect that it has consistently demonstrated excellent game design. That is the case even when I don’t necessary enjoy the gameplay of some of the characters. For example, Kevin is a rogue-ish character that uses daggers with ever-increasing attack speed and has a lot of dodging ability. Those two elements are at odds with each other, especially when you encounter enemies who don’t get “stunlocked” by his attacks. That said, some people might like the challenge of that back-and-forth playstyle, and there are some levels in which that fast attack will stunlock every relevant enemy.
The one area in which the game stumbles a bit though? The final boss fight.
I’m not going to go into the details of the fight, just the setup. Which is… spawn in, get three random items, fight boss. None of the boss fights leading up to this point have been so straight-forward. Which is nice on the one hand, because it avoids the frustration of going through three floors of monsters only to die and have to re-clear. On the other hand, it obsoletes nearly a half-dozen or so upgrade paths that you may have spent money on AND prevents you from potentially getting some nice single-run buffs.
This could technically be good roundabout design, insofar as it encourages you to farm gold and XP in other dungeons so you can purchase those last few upgrades to damage (etc) you might have skimped out on. If you are great with reflexes and pattern recognition, go beat the final boss; everyone else can make the fight progressively easier by farming.
Given how many other games completely change all the rules for the final boss fight, I’m inclined to give Children of Morta a pass on this one. I have died a few times already without making much progress through the phases, so I am a tad salty about the change-up. And given how close to the end I am, the thought of farming isn’t exactly appealing. But this final bit is the capstone of a very enjoyable game otherwise, so yeah, I will play along.
[Fake Edit]: I ended up beating the game last night.
After completing the “meaty” Outer Worlds, I decided I wanted to play something lighter via the Xbox Game Pass. The first thing that caught my eye was Children of Morta. And somehow, I have been playing it in longer sessions than I ever did with Outer Worlds.
Fundamentally, Children of Morta (CoM) is an indie Diablo-esque roguelite. Well, that might be over-selling it a bit much. Perhaps an isometric Rogue Legacy? You basically run around procedurally-generated levels and kill monsters, leveling up and collecting gold you use to purchase upgrades for the entire Bergson family. There are no permanent equipment drops or anything, just random relics and runes and other temporary, just-this-run type of augmentations.
Having said that, there are a lot of design decisions that enhance and smooth the gameplay loops.
For one thing, death is not permanent. This is not Rogue Legacy where you end up having totally new family members taking over. While you do lose the progress you made in the dungeon itself, the dungeon is only 3 stages long (with a boss fight). The gold you collect is permanent and accumulates, which means that even several brief failures might allow you to purchase an upgrade or two to HP, Damage, or any of the other characteristics.
That less-harsh roguelite theme continues in other areas as well. For example, you can collect a separate, temporary currency during runs that allow you to purchase various (single-run) Relics and such from a merchant, if he happens to spawn. Or you can use this same currency to open chests that contain mostly gold. I can easily imagine “clever” designers making the player choose between using gold for permanent, generic upgrades versus spending gold in-dungeon for temporary buffs to potentially get an edge against an upcoming boss. Luckily, that is not case here.
Another welcome design is how the story sort of moves forward regardless of success or failure. During any particular run, there can be a bonus room with a snippet of lore or a short quest that otherwise results in a cutscene back outside the dungeon. While there are limits to how far the story will go before a particular boss dies, it was incredibly welcome to know that a particularly embarrassing run would not result in a total walk of shame.
I have not completed the game yet, but I have unlocked all the playable characters and am working on the second area of three known ones. Each of the characters plays very different than the others, but a few are more unbalanced than others. Oh, but did I mention that as you level up specific characters they automatically unlock bonuses that apply to the whole family? This design element ensures that you spend time changing up your play style instead of sticking with just one person all the way to the end. Well, that and the fact that Fatigue can build up the longer you play just one character. But the former design element softens the blow of the latter.
Overall, I am very much enjoying the experience.
Let’s play a game. Taking this Perk, would you expect to be able to craft a Wooden Bow?
If you answered No… you’re wrong! You can actually craft a Wooden Bow after taking that Perk. Trouble is, a Wooden Bow requires:
That’s right, Bow/Crossbow parts. Can you craft those parts? Nope! You can only find them from looting, purchasing from vendors, and/or dismantling already-constructed bows/crossbows.
My first reaction to this was shock. I have been playing 7D2D for a number of years now, and this was perhaps one of the most unintuitive things ever added to the game. In prior Alphas, you could not just construct guns or compound bows from nothing, which made some sense. But as updates have progressed, the amount of things you can otherwise craft, and their complexity, has increased.
This all might have just been whatever. But when I started searching forums to see if I was missing something, I came across this series of Roland (one of the Fun Pimps) posts pushing back on someone complaining about Bow parts:
Even beginners should know that crafting involves both the knowledge and also a recipe. What craftable item in the game can be made with knowledge only and no recipe? None. There is nothing disingenuous about it. You gain the knowledge and then gather the mats to craft. You cannot craft wood or stone or feathers– you go out and find them. You also cannot craft bow parts– you go out and find them. There is nothing different about this than any other part of the game.
Later on, he says:
[…]Sounds like the frustration comes from not getting an immediate payoff for spending the point. You wanted to spend the point and then make your better bow and you couldn’t because you were missing some recipe items. So what? That should give you purpose. It is like an emergent quest for you and you alone.
Guess what? When you perk into the Workbench you aren’t going to immediately be able to make everything on the list. You’re going to have to go out and gather mats.
This line of reasoning is incredibly asinine. Instead of actually offering up the real reason Bow parts are a thing now, e.g. for balance/time-gate reasons, Roland here is getting all sanctimonious over shit that doesn’t even make sense in the rest of the game. Here is a non-exhaustive list of shit you can craft in this game from basic materials:
- 4×4 Truck
- Radiation Removal mod
- Laser sight mod
- Lead Car Batteries
Do those require a found schematic or Perk? Yes. Do they require “Gyrocopter Parts” found via RNG? No. The fact that I can make a functioning laser from Scrap Plastic and other debris I can wrench out of a car on Day 1 – nevermind what science-fiction a “Radiation Remover” is attached to a spear – but can’t actually craft a baseball bat without a Perk AND baseball bat parts is ridiculous.
Thought I was joking, did you? “Baseball Bat parts.” Meanwhile…
For context, Irradiated Zombies are a class of special zombie you can encounter that otherwise rapidly heals itself. This can make them all but immune to traps, as they out-heal the damage. Adding this mod to a weapon though, disables their healing for like 60 seconds. Just some steel, glue, springs, and “mechanical parts.” Meanwhile, you are physically incapable of crafting a baseball bat without special parts found in the world.
Look, I understand the actual reason for these changes from a game design standpoint. The devs are worried about the game being “solved” before Day 14 as veterans craft all the endgame goodies from the debris around their starting location. Why leave your spider-hole when everything you want is within reach?
The tension of the 7th day Blood Moon comes not just from the zombies themselves, but whether you can find enough materials within the six days to outlast the night. Forcing people to go out and loot buildings lets you treat each house like a mini-dungeon (which they are these days) plus adding the time element to things. Do you spend the morning of the 7th day reinforcing everything, or do you roll the dice and loot one more place?
The issue is when the devs won’t just say that. Is it because that would be too “gamey”? Or do they not actually know themselves? There will be complaints whether the devs are straight-forward or not, but at least telling the truth will save them from embarrassing themselves on the forums and insulting their fans besides.
Tension in gaming is an interesting experience.
Tension feels uncomfortable. Relieving tension feels satisfying. Ergo, the introduction of tension-producing elements in your game can naturally propel players through the gameplay loops necessary to remove the tension while also rewarding them for their efforts. This pathway is different than one that relies on the player seeking rewards; the designer is instead threatening the player’s status quo.
While elegant, tension comes with risk. If a player is unable to relieve the tension, e.g. fails the test, that failure state can be a permanent stopping point. Players can become discouraged. Even when successful, players can also burn out from being under stress all the time, feeling as though the satisfaction states are either too infrequent or too brief. Even players who thrive and seek out tension scenarios may burn out in the other direction, mastering the game systems enough such that even the tension that still exists isn’t enough to ring their bells.
I have been thinking about this lately as I continue to be engrossed with Oxygen Not Included (ONI). While it may not immediately look like it, or even feel like it, ONI is decidedly a survival game.
In the beginning, the tension is apparent. You start with three Dupes and they have nothing but a little bit of space and some air (starter oxygen is included after all). If bathrooms are not created within the first day, all three Dupes will pee all over the floor by the morning of the 2nd day. After that, you have a bit of a reprieve… but it’s kind of a trap too. The calories provided by the starter food will only ever dwindle, and I hope you didn’t build their beds where all the CO2 lingers.
Although I have over 90 hours in the game now, I nevertheless still fell into the mid-game trap regarding (mostly) non-renewable resources. I started a game on the Oceania map, which had an absolute abundance of Algae and Coal. Algae in particular is a finite* resource on the default Terra map and its scarcity often forces you into Electrolyzers early on, which forces you into taming Steam vents, etc etc. Conversely, having 21 tons of the stuff on my map allowed me to keep the early-game Oxygen-creating machines running longer. I was even good on Coal too, as I had a Hatch ranch going which was producing Coal at a good clip.
If those details sound ominous, they should. While my Coal reserves were fine for everyday use, I had been building a Metal Refinery to make refined metal for future projects. Simultaneously, I was setting up a Hatch ranch to breed regular Hatches into Stone Hatches into Smooth Hatches, the last of which eat metal and poop refined metal exclusively. Normal Hatches and Stone Hatch eat basically anything and poop Coal, so I didn’t think twice about crafting two Incubators to speed the process along. As it turns out, adding nearly 2000 kJ stress on my power grid will burn through Coal pretty quick, as will replacing normal Hatches with ones that don’t poop Coal.
ONI has a particular tendency to punish complacency, going from Comfortable to Colony Collapse within a matter of a few Cycles. If you are not creating enough Oxygen for your Dupes, the game will give you a notification with the exact discrepancy. If your Oxygen-creating infrastructure is entirely dependent on Algae and you’re about to run out though, you get no warning. Well, you will eventually get the “not creating enough Oxygen” notification, but by then you will have to be scrambling to Electrolyzers regardless of whether your infrastructure currently supports it.
In some respects, ONI feels like the ideal tension-based game. The tension of keeping all the survival balls in the air exists, driving you ever onward. But you can also engineer stable systems such that you solve (some) problems permanently. Or “permanently” until the rounding errors in your design round up to whole errors. It can be frustrating though, coming from other tension-based games where the tension is more immediately apparent.