Yeah, I said it.
Undertale is a cult favorite and Kickstarter darling from 2015 featuring meme-ready characters, NES graphics, and unique game mechanics. Your character has fallen down a hole into the underworld and now must contend with anxious monsters who need your soul to escape their otherwise eternal confinement. Will you leave a traditional trail of bodies and tears on your way to the exit, or will you embrace the spirit of determination and the power of friendship to spare all that you meet?
The very ending(s) depend on it!
It’s possible that I played Undertale too late. The retro graphics did nothing for me, nor did the retro graphics + modern game twists, as I played LISA back in 2015 already. While I did not know exact plot details, I also knew Undertale had a True Pacifist route that led to the best ending – knowledge which prejudges one’s own behavior in the game. Finally, I had already played games that also shifted in narrative tone and 4th-wall breaking, like Nier: Automata. If Undertale was my first experience with any of these things, maybe I would have been more impressed.
My major issue with Undertale though is that it is… not fun. When fighting enemies, they attack you via 5-6 seconds of Bullet Hell in which you move a red heart around a predefined box. It’s an extremely novel concept, and the things Undertale is able to convey through this mechanism is commendable. But at no point is it fun to do. Doing a True Pacifist run means you must talk to enemies instead of attacking them, which consumes several “turns” which results in you doing multiple Bullet Hell levels for each randomly-encountered enemy. True Pacifist also means you never level up or get more HP, so the game just gets progressively harder. Finally, if you get dangerously low on HP, you have to spend your turn using a healing item instead of talking, which delays the end of the fight and can mean you catch more damage than you healed and otherwise wasted your time.
Did I mention that you need to purchase healing items, using money that you receive from successfully navigating monster neuroses, thus potentially trapping yourself into a losing battle of attrition? Indeed, the only way I was able to complete the game at all was from looking up the solution to a puzzle that gave me an item that sometimes gave me free healing items. Supposedly there is also some armor you can buy to trivialize fights if you die enough times too.
In any case, the Venn Diagram of people who enjoy the plot of Undertale and those who like Bullet Hell games are likely two circles on opposite ends of the Earth.
There were some genuinely funny moments in the game, don’t get me wrong. But all I could really think about while playing was that Undertale did not respect my time. Which seems strange considering the game is like 9 hours long. Or perhaps that is expected when you know that every random encounter represents a possible permanent loss of player power (e.g. healing items or money to purchase more) instead of, you know, your character growing stronger over time. Technically you do find better equipment along the way, but that is really a bare minimum to keep parity with ever-stronger foes when you are stuck with 20 HP and losing a quarter of it each time you touch something.
Ultimately, I am glad I finished Undertale’s True Pacifist route. I understand that there are a myriad of alternative endings, including one which requires you murdering everyone you meet, but I don’t see the point. I sure as shit ain’t spending another 5+ hours on the endeavor when I already disliked combat.
Will do, Flowey. Will do. In fact, it’s already done.
Remember BorderHaloLands, more commonly known as Destiny? You might recall I have mentioned it before. Well, yesterday was the first day of a press junket and the overarching narrative is… not good, with Kotaku and Destructoid basically calling it boring. They also called it rather amazingly detailed and lush and beautiful. And barren. And lifeless. And populated with level 2 mobs with health bars that you shoot to power your rechargable super-skills. Yeeeeaaahh.
There is a mega-thread on Reddit if you want more sources and commentary.
What’s kinda funny to me are the understated dangers of game design, at least when you let the hype train roll along just a tad too long and it misses it’s station. In just about every article I’ve read on Destiny, unfavorable comparisons are being drawn between Destiny and Titanfall. And why not? Both are next-gen sci-fi shooters trying to establish new IPs. The problem is that, like it or not, Titanfall pretty much ate Destiny’s lunch before he even got to the cashier. Just look at these developer quotes in the Polygon article:
“The way we like to think about it, is not everybody is going to want to play Destiny, but everybody is going to be able to play Destiny if they want to,” Parsons added. “We’ve made significant improvements to the way players are going to play. People are surprised at how quickly they master the controls and get up to speed and having a great time.”
“It might not feel new compared to some of the other things that have come out recently, like Titanfall,” said design lead Lars Bakken, who added that there are changes, like free-floating double-jumps that can last for a long time. “But we’ve been prototyping for a long time and we’ve created experiences that you’ve never been able to experience before in the previous games that we’ve made, especially because it’s inherent to your character.”
I mean, I laughed at the design lead sheepishly trying to draw a parallel between the now-genre-defining wall-running parkour of Titanfall and his own game’s “long-lasting double jumps.” And then I felt sad for them. Because how were they supposed to know? As I mention in the comments yesterday, I was all gung-ho for Hex to the tune of an $85 Kickstarter pledge right up until Hearthstone came out of nowhere – 3 short months later – and pretty much flipped the proverbial design table. Now I feel like anyone coming out with a digital TCG that requires you to spam-click “Pass Priority” a dozen times a turn is basically Dead On Arrival. Hex has moved on to beta recently, but I’m not even sure I have the alpha client still installed. Why bother?
In any case, the word on the street is still that there won’t be any PC version of Destiny. The reason?
Parsons also said creating and releasing a PC version of Bungie’s shared world shooter would not be as easy as many believe, because all versions of the game connect to the same persistent video game world, which itself extends to multiple platforms.
“It is not nearly as simple as you think,” he said. “It is one central world no matter what the platform, and so that requires lots of intensive thought.
Err… okay. It sorta sounds like they’re implying that people on a Xbone can play with people on a PS4, but I’m relatively certain that that’s not actually going to happen. Just like the chances of me considering a purchase of this game. But good luck, Bungie, all the same. You’re going to need it in this new environment, especially considering you’ve already got the next 10 years of this IP all planned out. If Destiny 2 doesn’t have wall-running, you’re going to be in for a bad time.
As a general rule, I do not do solicitations of any kind (*cough* except for free games/MMOs *cough*), but I’ll make exceptions when something amuses me. The Princess of Panchala is the first in a series of YA-ish novels getting Kickstarted by Tom Wright. Part of the premise involves parallel universes, blurring of lines between sci/fi and fantasy, along with a MMORPG setting thrown in there. Based on the sample chapter on the Kickstarter page, I also anticipate there being an “is this girl just schizophrenic?” undertone.
What amused me though, was the paragraph down in the Risks section of the Kickstarter:
The risks for this project are minimal, since the novel is already written and I have a great team working with me. The worst case scenario is that I get hit by a bus, in which case the project would still continue to completion, but the likelihood of completing the remaining books in the series would be significantly reduced.
Ah, understated humor.
In any case, there’s around 20 days left to the Kickstarter if this sounds like your cup of tea.
Kickstarter, Cash Shops, and Ultimate Capitalism
The perfect capitalist scenario is full price discrimination. That is to say, the ability to charge each individual customer the maximum amount they are willing to pay (consumer surplus = $0). Under normal situations, this is exceedingly difficult in non-monopolistic markets. If my maximum for a game is $85 and yours is $250, the monopolist would have to have some way of preventing me – or, say, Gamestop – from (re)selling the game to you at a discount.
Enter F2P and cash shops.
Every customer pays the same entrance fee (be it literal F2P or some cover charge or $X+ for the “collector’s edition”), but now you have the ability to engage in some voluntary price discrimination. Want some costumes? $10. How about a shiny mount or horse armor? $25. Server transfers? Hats? Keys to unlock chests? Speed the game up? Unlock a dungeon? Cha-ching!
When Guild Wars 2 comes out, there will be some people out there that bought it for $60. Others will have bought it for $80. Still others will spend $150. And many more will spend $5, $10, $100 more over time via the cash shop. Nearly perfect voluntary price discrimination. Same game, same amount of development (those developers would have been creating said content regardless), different prices for different customers.
A lot of bloggers have been covering Kickstarter here lately. Two of the “previewed” games caught my eye: The Dead Linger, and Faster Than Light (FTL). The latter game is a roguelike space exploration game that has successfully received 2,005% of its funding goal. After watching the video and reading about it, I am somewhat sad I missed the chance to “buy-in” with $10.
The Dead Linger is an opportunity to buy-in at $25 for a game that sounds like a cross between Left 4 Dead and Minecraft (25,000 km procedurally generated worlds, 16-person multiplayer, PvP modes if you want, etc). Then I looked at the $100 option, which included the game and goodies, plus your name or handle as part of a street sign or graffiti. “How cool would it be to see people posting their screenshots and then seeing ‘Azuriel was here’ in the background?'” I thought.
That’s when I remembered how cool $100 is, especially when compared to a game not even in playable alpha yet.
The interesting thing to me about Kickstarter in a cash shop world are the implications. In effect, it proves that there are people out there just looking for the opportunity to give their money away. If I was fanatically in love with Bioware and Mass Effect 3, how could I show my appreciation for what they do? Buy the Collector’s Edition? Buy the novels? In each case, what is taking place is a sale, a transaction, a transfer of goods for compensation. My “contribution” is not distinguishable as an act of charity or praise; Bioware simply gets the feedback that I deemed the product a good value for the money.
Kickstarter is different. Sure, a lot of people treat it as a extra-early preorder. But you can also contribute anonymously. If I sent Bioware a check for $1000 in a the mail, would they cash it? I have no idea. What Kickstarter has done is package up charity and enthusiasm into a “product” that can be sold.
Rationally, it is no different than sending a check in the mail, but it feels different. There is a meter that fills up, there are (limited!) time-sensitive bonuses, there is the satisfaction of needs going on (the game wouldn’t exist without this funding), there is a sensation of fellowship with other Kickstarters. In short, it is brilliant marketing. Utterly and completely brilliant.
As a skeptical consumer, however, I worry. The gamification of charity aside, I am concerned about how the industry marketeers must already be foaming at the mouth. How long is it until it is not just Day 1 DLC we see, but “Pay $100 for your name in graffiti on Station Omega?” It already appears as though pre-order “bonuses” (if you pay for it, it is not a bonus) in the form of DLC is here to stay. When is Kickstarter’s methodology entirely co-opted, and eventually devalued?
Oh, wait. Resident Evil 6’s Premium Edition, which includes a real-life replica of Leon’s leather jacket, costs over $1,000. The future is now.
Indie Devs Are Kind of Assholes
Posted by Azuriel
Let’s play a game called “In what context would this ever be a good idea for developers to write on internet forums?” First up, Lead Engine developer for a recently Kickstarted 16-bit action-RPG Elysian Shadows:
The correct answer is: none. I don’t even care that the actual context was a bitter
vetdev expressing frustration that his/her own game went nowhere and even went on so far as to say “[…] your entire Kickstarter is everything I hate about “indie retro 16-bit RPGs […].” That basically anonymous poster the dev was responding to? Nobody gives two shits about them thirty seconds after closing the tab. But the dev? I’m walking away from the comment exchange thinking to myself “hey, that Falco Girgis dude is an asshole – I sort of hope his game crashes and fails.”
Maybe that sentiment says more about me than anything else.
Regardless, what the dev gave up here was an opportunity to sell another copy of the game, perhaps demonstrate the competency of the team, and, you know, not be another asshole on the internet. We’re full up, dude, we don’t need any more.
But congrats on the game, or whatever. Maybe I’ll check it out in an Humble Bundle in which I allocate zero dollars to your team.
Posted in Commentary
Tags: Asshole, Elysian Shadows, In What Context, Indie, Kickstarter