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Clever Flow

Despite not being initially impressed with Oxygen Not Included (ONI), I continued playing. And now I’m very impressed with the rather clever gameplay flow that Klei has touched upon.

ONI_Base2

My most successful base thus far.

Like I mentioned before, every game of ONI starts with three Duplicants appearing in the middle of an asteroid. While you have enough supplies for a few days, there is always a bit of a frenzy of activity hollowing out some living space for your Duplicants. Amusingly, toilets end up being actually a higher priority than even water. By the end of the second day or so, I’ve got a water pump set up, some toilets, a bunch of resource compactors (e.g. storage), some beds, a Microbe Musher, and perhaps a manual electricity generator hooked up to an Algae Deoxydizer.

This is where the subtle genius of the game design kicks in.

Ostensibly, your base seems self-sufficient. The Algae Deoxydizer is converting algae into oxygen, the Microbe Musher is turning dirt and water into Mush Bars (e.g. calories). And you presumably have a nice supply of water handy. For now, everything seems fine. Emphasis on the “for now.”

The whole time your Duplicants have been running around, they have been exhaling CO2. This pools in the lower reaches of your base, turning certain sections into unbreathable rooms. Even if you dig out a trench beneath your base for the express purpose of giving CO2 somewhere to go, it never actually goes away – it will eventually become dense enough to spill into upper rooms. So, you’re going to need to research technology to try and filter that CO2. Something like the Carbon Skimmer sounds great… but using that requires turning drinkable water into polluted water. Where is that polluted water going to live? Hmm, perhaps you need to research methods by which you can filter polluted water back into drinkable water…

And round and round we go.

While this seems like Game Design 101, I do appreciate the flow ONI has set up here. At times, things can seem incredibly frustrating insofar as a fundamental flaw in your base design reveals itself far too late for you to realistically do anything about it. But most of the time, I just get a bit more excited to start back over with a fresh world and learn from my mistakes.

ONI_IceZone

Found a valuable Ice biome… through a Chlorine-saturated hot zone.

And somehow, these sort of things feel like my mistakes, rather than the game being cruel. “CO2 is heavier than Oxygen, so of course I shouldn’t have built my beds on the bottom floor.” “Oh, damn, I accepted one too many Duplicants, and now my food generation isn’t enough.” “Shit, I have been relying on six different machines that consume algae, and now I’m running out!”

Oxygen Not Included is still in Alpha, so there are a lot of things that can change. While I’m having more fun with it than I was originally, in the back of my mind, I also sort of recognize that the game is “solved.” As in, there are optimal base configurations that maximize output and minimize waste. While the same could sorta be said for other survival games, the issue is that ONI is all about managing a finite amount of resources. With something like Don’t Starve, I could always just strike off and head into the wilderness and take a chance.

I dunno. The asteroid itself is randomly seeded with biomes each time, so I can see encountering special circumstances that might change a strategy. For example, most people head towards Electrolizers and Hydrogen Generators, because they combo really well in powering your base and providing Oxygen (at the expense of water). I was heading that way too, before I discovered a Natural Gas Geyser – geysers being the only source of renewable resources – within sight of my starting point. All of a sudden, I was rushing to figure out how to exploit burning natural gas. “OK, it dumps out polluted water and a bunch of CO2. The CO2 scrubber deletes CO2 and also produces polluted water, so I should pipe that through a Water Sieve to reclaim the pure water, then send that into an Electrolyzer… but what about the Hydrogen?”

Like I said, there is a lot about Oxygen Not Included that can be compelling.

For now though, I’m going to stop generating new worlds and wait for some more releases to flesh out the rest of the game. The recent “Rancher” update overhauled a lot of the alien critter mechanics, invalidating certain strategies and presumably enabling a few others. I’m hoping that after a few more of those kind of patches, we’ll start to see something resembling a story-mode, and/or a way to make the march to endgame a bit more varied. The Rancher updates does this a little, but I feel we still end up with Hydrogen Generators and abusing Wheezewort (cooling plants) mechanics.

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Wildstar: The First 4 Days

I am likely playing Wildstar all wrong.

Basically, none of my characters are above level 8. I started off playing a Medic, which has been pretty fun. Once I hit a certain point in leveling though, I started asking questions in the /Advice channel – pretty brilliant of Carbine to include that by default, by the way – and realized that I should probably come to some sort of decision on a Main. Would it be Medic? What about all the other classes I hadn’t tried out?

Low-Grav buff stacks with Scientist Low-Grav buff. SCIENCE.

Area Low-Grav buff stacks with Scientist Low-Grav buff, by the way.

Let me state for the record that stopping your progress in newbie zones to reroll five other classes through the same sort of newbie zones is both very logical and a very dumb way to play. But since I did, I may as well go over how I felt about things.

Medic seems pretty powerful. Unlike most classes, they start with their resource system at full power, which lets you front-load a lot of damage into mobs. Also unlike a lot of classes, their “finisher” has no cooldown, so if you 1-2 shot the mob you attack, you can almost instantly transition into the next mob in the same fashion (the resource bar regenerates quickly outside of combat). Also, Science.

In comparison, playing a Warrior felt terrible. The filler attack was weak, and their multi-tap finisher has an 8-second cooldown. So while most classes press 1-1-2-2 to kill mobs at this level, the Warrior enforces an 8-second cooldown between mobs. None of the abilities that come later seemed all that exciting, which is a problem considering that you’re stuck using the early abilities for most (if not all) of your gameplay to cap.

Brutal character deletion.

Brutal character deletion.

I’m pretty sure the Engineer is broke, or at least was in the area that I was leveling. In principal, having bots out is cool. Not getting any feeling that the bots are contributing damage is less cool. Pets in MMOs generally fall into either Overpowered or Useless categories depending on their AI and pathing, and my impression is that Engineer pets are the latter. Considering that the Bruiser Bot and Missile Bot count as Abilities, having two of your early abilities feel useless is not encouraging.

Esper was somewhat of a surprise to me, in that I anticipated it being unfun when the opposite is true. In a game of constant mobility, what sense does it make to have your #1 filler attack require standing still? Then look at the level 4 ability, which is instant-cast but does nothing until 4.4 seconds later. Nevertheless, it feels kinda fun to be able to set up a lot of damage on mobs that lands all at once. I’ll likely have less fun in PvP and in situations where I can’t wind-up attacks though.

This Esper didn't come out bad at all.

This Esper didn’t come out bad at all.

The Stalker is toned down from the closed beta, but in principal and effect still feels a tad overpowered. Stealth has no cooldown outside of combat, your #2 attack is basically Ambush, Energy regens quickly outside of combat, so you can start every encounter with a huge burst of damage like the Medic. Plus, Stealth is always fun for bypassing mobs/players. If you go the Stalker route though, be sure to check out each race’s Stealth animation. The female Mordesh animation, for example, is grandma power-walking; meanwhile, the female Aurin is Naruto/ninja running.

Finally, the Spellslinger shot up in fun-levels once I figured out “the trick.” Basically, your “cooldown” ability is Spell Surge, which gives your abilities extra power for as long as you have Focus (or whatever). However, Spell Surge is actually a buff that lasts until you completely empty your Focus bar, and Focus regens (somewhat slowly) outside of combat. So, under normal circumstances, fighting mobs goes: 2, wait 5 seconds to charge, fire, 1-1-1-1. With Spell Surge up though, your 2 ability charges in 1.4 seconds and one-shots mobs if it crits. Even when it doesn’t, most encounters end with 2, wait 1.4 seconds, 1-maybe 1 again. Mobs die so fast that it starts getting annoying waiting for 2 to come off cooldown (10 seconds) before one-shotting the next, but I just unlocked another cooldown button that essentially one-shots mobs too, allowing me to alternate.

...okay, Spell Slinger with Surge up may be even cooler.

…okay, Mordesh Spellslinger with Surge up may be even cooler.

Now, obviously, these impressions of the classes could not be representative of their final forms, so to speak. If someone was describing the level 8 paladin experience in WoW as indicative of endgame, I would… hmm, bad example. Level 8 Elemental shaman… err. You get what I mean. Some classes don’t “click” until a key ability is unlocked, and other classes that start out as overpowered can fall out of favor once mob Time-To-Kill increases past a certain threshold. Medic, for example, will likely get annoying if two front-loaded #2 abilities aren’t enough to burst something down. Or maybe it won’t, because Science.

I would be interested in hearing the experience other people had with the Warrior. Was there a level or ability where it became fun? Maybe I was missing something like with the Spellslinger.

______________

I want to take a minute to talk about the Paths. Thus far, I have a hard time justifying anything other than Scientist. I mean, the Settler buff stations are really good – 50% run speed outside of combat is tough to beat – but I’m not sure how you compete with the endgame utility to summon group members or summon portals to capitals. Explorer abilities are almost a joke, and Soldier will entirely depend on what exactly a “Weapon Locker” does and/or what “Bail Out!” even means.

I analyzed the blue crystals at the left to get a jump buff to reach the hidden stash.

I eventually analyzed the blue crystals at the left to get a jump buff to reach the hidden stash. Scientist FTW.

Of course, you can pick a Path depending on the type of side-quests you enjoy too. If you don’t particularly care though, I have found Scientist to be the best: not only do you get easy tasks, you unlock special areas that no other Path has access to, e.g. bypass doors, unlock jumping buffs to reach secret stashes, etc. Sure, Explorer gets exclusive jumping puzzles, but those are less obvious than the locked Scientist doors in the course of normal gameplay.

________

I was asked by another ex-WoW friend if Wildstar was worth purchasing. Not at full MSRP… but $48 at GMG? Probably. I am having enough fun at these low levels that I’m certain I’ll play and hit the cap even if my other friends abandon the game tomorrow. Will I enjoy the hardcore dungeons and hardcore raids? Unlikely. The concept of Challenges in busy zones is a huge design oversight that doesn’t exactly engender faith in social aspect of the game; you need to make friends to do endgame stuff, but the rest of the game causes you to hate other people. I do not anticipate 40m raiding to survive the year.

Which is worse: empty TP roll vendoring for 75s, or me being too afraid to vendor it?

Which is worse: empty TP roll vendoring for 75s, or thinking it’s worth WAY more than that as decor?

Overall though? Not bad. I’ll be interested in seeing if I can pay for my next month via CREDD.

OTOH: GW2, Part 1

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
–T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

The experiment start at 7:48pm on Saturday. I zone into Sparkfly Fen, a level 55-65 area for the first time. During the loading screen, I let out a heavy sigh. Okay, here we go.

Starting strong.

I may have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating again: Guild Wars 2 looks amazing.

I can see the sort of watercolor schtick being an artistic preference, but more than the looks, the game does make you feel like you are moving in 3D space. I could (and did) climb that little rock wall thing on the left, for example. Skyrim still has GW2 beat, but they both share that sense of space and scope that encourages a “let me go over there… because I can!” feeling.

So far, so impressed.

After talking with a scout, I head over to the NW. A Heart icon and unfilled meter appears – the game face comes back on. I start clicking on the shiny things, filling up the meter 20% of the way before catching myself. Part of the experiment is to read ALL the things, because the head writer is not an accountant like I alleged. I talk to Jezza, and he/she wants me to help clean up undead by clicking on things, killing Risen, or picking up a flamethrower and using it on the bushes. I pan the camera around to case the area, then say “Yeah… flamethrower.”

Halfway through the meter, I hear a WHOOSH and glance over:

I cannot pretend this wasn’t a cool moment.

Clearly, someone at ArenaNet reads the blog and is following me around after complaining about the lack of Events. I drop my flamethrower and move to the cannons on the beach. We apparently have 15 minutes to kill the ship before… things happen. As I shoot a cannonball every 5-6 seconds, I see some other players running around near me. It is hard to see what they are doing, although I know the ship is launching things at the beach. None of them ever hit me, so I just keep firing.

After about the first two full minutes of said firing, it gets a bit tiring. Eventually, the ship goes down.

Boom

I briefly wonder when I started getting 1.33s for Events, as I go looking for my flamethrower. Oh… the Heart completed too. I talk to Jezza, browse the wares, and look around. Okay, there is a Skill Point just North of here. There is a crumbling stone building at the Skill Point location, and it appears to have several different levels. I walk in, start killing some things, and realize that I might have to commit some serious time to this place because it isn’t immediately clear A) where the Skill Point is, and B) how I would get back out. But… science!

I hop down to the bottom floor, and see some other players engaged with the Skill Point “guardian.” I land one blow before it dies, getting the Skill Point. I do talk with the NPC afterwards, as it appears to be a ghost. Interesting. It is apparently a “good” ghost that is also fighting the Risen in the area. Ghosts fighting undead is an interesting premise, and one I hope gets expanded on at some point. Indeed, I remember going through the Charr beginning zones thinking “if ghosts are this absurd of a weapon, why aren’t they used more offensively?” Anyway, getting out of the fort ends up being pretty easy.

I grab a Waypoint or two, and then pause for a photo op:

I didn’t choose the Asura life, the Asura life chose me.

I get to a… frog-people village at the tail-end of a king-of-the-hill-ish Event and get credit for basically 40 seconds of standing there. While so doing, I kept an eye on the unfolding drama in Map Chat regarding a Champion Shark spawn:

A legitimate chuckle was had.

By contrast, Qoetl was not particularly interesting to talk to. Fix signs, kill Risen, or squirt guards with a water gun. As I get started on these tasks, I hear a giant WHOOSH.

Long time, no see.

In case you did not want to check the timestamps yourself, it has been exactly 20 minutes. Dynamic, indeed. As I squirt a frog with a water gun, I muse on how it could have been possible for me to have missed the boat at the fort. Then again, as I eventually came to realize, you can hear the boat surfacing from anywhere in the entire zone.

All frogs hydrated, I head South. There are two Event notifications, but they are on an island with Hearts two levels higher than my current level. I get to another frog village, this time headed by Potatlan. I am linking all these characters so you can read their “quest text” yourself.

Having no interest in killing Risen, I get perfumed in the stench of death to attract the flies away from Risen corpses (both redundant and contradictory!) and bring them back to the frog so he can eat them. Okay… what is he going to do 4 hours from now when he’s hungry again? I guess it is a silly question, either because I may solve the undead problem entirely later on, or he could just eat the flies by cutting out the undead juice perfume middleman. I mean, it was not like I was preventing the flies from eating the corpses – I was merely bringing them to the frog so he wouldn’t have to move.

What a dick. I vow to let him die next time an Event rolls around.

Finishing up, the next Heart I see is to the South, but I see an Event notification to the North, near a Heart I already completed. Backtrack or press on? It has been about an hour, so I decide the Events can wait.

I barely get time to talk to Cuadinti before another survive-the-waves Event starts in the same area. I start to notice Risen frog-people are spawning, and they just sit back dealing 10% of your HP in attacks and stacking poison on you. Since you do not regenerate HP after combat until all debuffs fall off, this poses a particularly strong danger; at one point, I had a poison debuff that would have lasted 35 second. I spec’d my Elementalist as mostly Arcane/Water, so I could cleanse it pretty quickly when I pay attention, but it perhaps might have been an issue for some classes.

I cannot quest any farther South, as I am below level and have no interest in fighting Risen even in those rare times when I manage to get placed 1-2 levels above them. I move West and start working my way back up North. I run into the Champion Shark along the way:

Fair and balanced.

I have 7425 HP in this area, and as the combat log shows, the shark dealt 9,174 damage in, for all intents and purposes, a single attack (probably a “charge,” but I saw no warning for it). This was the first situation in which I experienced the underwater downed mechanic in a setting where I could actually get to the surface quickly.

As it turns out… it is fairly ludicrous. Just getting to the surface auto-heals you for an amount that is akin to 2-3 people rezzing you, making things fairly trivial. I could probably still auto-die after getting downed multiple times, but there were several other people around to act as additional targets so it was fine. The shark eventually died, and I got a grey vendor-trash fin, plus whatever the Event normally gives.

Talked with Ayomichi, who wants me to pop bloated fish corpses and kill infected wildlife to stop spread of corruption, just like all the other frog-people so far this map. I begin to wonder if that Vigil outpost at the beginning is all of civilization I am going to see.

I am immediately distracted by a waterfall/jumping puzzle.

*unconsciously leans forward in chair*

After solving the puzzle and harvesting a cauliflower “farm,” I check the AH prices. Hmm, vendor+1c for the vegetable. Makes sense.

I complete the Heart offered by Admiral Clarinda Demard, who is apparently a pirate that looks like a Seraph and willing to turn me into a Chocobo to peck open treasure chests. I swim into the water as the bird, to see what happens. You can do it, but you lose all your abilities, including the ability to untransform. I get out of the water, untransform, and get back in. After the first Risen mob I pull, I remember why I never A) fight Risen if I can help it, B) fight underwater. Elementalist underwater combat is awful, aside from the 10 seconds or so when you can turn into the Vortex with your Elite Skill and deal ~1500 damage per second.

Final Heart of the night is offered by Leemoola. I complete it as fast as humanly possible. Whoa, Aquabreathers! I upgrade my level 40 aquabreather with a level 60 version.

Believe it or not, I am actually missing Events and Enemy Types for the daily. Apparently the daily achievement resets between 8pm-9pm EST, because that isn’t prime time or anything. I open the map and see no orange circles, and am too tired to desire playing for much longer. I Waypoint myself over to the beginning Charr area, and roll the dice for Chili Peppers on the herb nodes (selling for 1 silver apiece!) and get my last few Events/Enemy Types filled.

Log off at 10:12pm.