Quick Review: PixelJunk Eden

Enjoyable but cannot decide whether it wants to be stressful or relaxing.

This is not a new game, but I acquired it in a recent Humble Bundle and have played a bit. It is a simple game with few commands. You fling a little “grimp” around plants, opening more plants by defeating enemies to send out pollen, working your way towards a prize in the sky.

The main draw of the game is the soothing atmosphere. The music is light techno/trance. The graphics are abstract and colorful. You are swinging around plants, exploring and enjoying your little musical garden. It is soothing and pleasant.

The game changes when the timer starts to matter. I did not see anything that mentioned the timer in the lower-left corner, but that is what the little bars are. They count down. There are plenty of chances to refill it, but it is difficult to relax with a time limit, making it at best pointless and generally contrary to what I found best about the game. Levels also start adding enemies to attack you and make you start your climb through the plants over.

Entertaining but undercuts its own merits. I could also evaluate its merits as a challenge game rather than a relaxation game, but I do not see why I would.

: Zubon

Feedback Time

Before the age of digital cameras, it was said that the average American family went through two rolls of film per year (summer vacation, Christmas). You probably have some good photos from your youth, but those were what was worth saving after removing two with the lens cap on, three with a thumb over the lens, four out of focus, five where someone blinked… Whatever rosy view of the past may exist, people were at least as bad of photographers back then, and almost certainly worse. If 90% of everything is crud, taking 50 quick pictures per week will give you far more good pictures than 100 careful pictures per year. You can delete the crud. Also, you get better with practice, and you get a lot more practice with a smartphone camera than when you only take pictures at special occasions.

Part of the reason high volume practice is helpful is that you get feedback. If you took pictures over the course of weeks or months, then waited for film to be developed, you had a big gap between when you took the pictures and when you saw how it came out. Digital cameras are even faster than Polaroids: you can see in a second whether or not you took a good picture (and try again with a slight variation in technique). Until you see the results of your actions, you do not know whether to do things differently.

In Ingress, players are encouraged to submit potential portals. See something that should be a portal but isn’t? Take a picture and send it in. The game has an achievement track for it. The developers, however, are in no great hurry to review those submissions, or at least they do not have the staff to do so; wait time is 4-6 months (and that may be optimistic). The average player will have quit by the time his/her portal submissions are reviewed.

Most portal submissions are rejected. A lot of people can submit the same portal in six months. Indeed, that could be part of their filtering: don’t bother to review it until a half-dozen people have submitted it. But also, you as the player have a very long gap between the time you hit “submit” and when you get feedback. Lots of things are submitted that will never be accepted as portals, but you might submit 100 before you start getting that feedback. Many things do get accepted that clearly violate the portal guidelines, so either those “slipped through” or there are informal guidelines that you learn by feeling them out. So submit all the things; it costs you a minute, and it is a shot in the dark anyway. That cannot be good for data quality.

: Zubon

Gorgon Kickstarter

Our dear friends from Elder Game are giving Kickstarter another chance to get in on their MMO Gorgon, which is in the works and not that far from completion. Development takes time, and time is money, so they need a surprisingly small amount of money to bring the project to fruition.

Over at Elder Game, you can read a lot of the development discussion. I’d like to note four features, all of which are mentioned in the Kickstarter proposal:

  • All those Kickstarter projects where they pitch before they start programming? There is a playable alpha of Gorgon today.
  • Adjustable difficulty levels. Yes, in an MMO. You can choose the risks you are willing to take with customizable death penalties, or you can play your own challenges that the game will recognize like pacifism and vegetarianism.
  • The planned business model is $5/month subscription fee. That is almost free, but because it is not free, I expect a lot of horrible behavior to be suppressed. You’re aware of some of the perversities of “free,” from both players and developers.
  • Death xp. There is a “Dying” skill that rewards you for finding new ways to die. Gorgon generally has some interesting ideas about death penalties.

The $125 level is tempting just to ensure that Ethic the Ratslayer appears in the game.

Gorgon has a mix of new ideas and old school approaches that deserve more exploration, and exploring mechanics costs a heck of a lot less than having full voice acting for your game.

: Zubon

If just two hundred people go for the /smite ability, they’re in business.

[GW2] Some Game

Guild Wars 2 is two. Two years. I don’t even need to really look at my /age, and honestly I don’t really care. ArenaNet has made a pretty good thing. Not the perfect thing, but Guild Wars 2 is starting to get pretty comfortable. We’re at the point in this relationship where things are a nice burn instead of all hot and firecracker’y, intense and sometimes caustic.  Continue reading

10 Years?

I was bored today and decided to see when I first posted here. Turns out it was in May of 2004. Has this site really been going for over 10 years? Yikes.

- Ethic

[RR] D&D 5th Edition Player’s Handbook

Bits of 5th have been online for a while, and it officially launched at Gen Con. I have my PHB (and nothing else yet) and was thinking of gradually walking through the book, a review in parts. Let’s start with some general notes.

First, while I understand some of the business reasons for not dropping $200 worth of books on people at the same time, the staggered release still feels odd. If nothing else, Wizards of the Coast is training players to play without the official books, although I presume someone in their business office has run the numbers on that.

As has been noted widely, 5th is a throwback after the new direction 4th Edition took. It looks a lot more like 2nd Edition, so one hopes it contains enough new and interesting to justify using it instead of just going back to 2nd Edition. I have a lot of 2nd Edition books. Continue reading

PvP & D&D

Today’s post from Tobold is about Dungeonmasters in Dungeons and Dragons, but the essential argument is the same as the one for PvP MMOs like EVE Online and for multiplayer content over single-player content. CRPGs and single-player games are consistent and sometimes mediocre. Multi-player content can be really horrible, but it can also be really great. If you are playing for the best times, which may or may not correlate with the best average times, you play with other people.

: Zubon

[TT] Dumb Fun: Poop

As the evening wore on at Gen Con, friends brought out a “dumb fun” game. It was a silly superhero game with lots of spirit and a chance to play as Heavy Metal Elephant. It also took more than a half hour to set up the board and explain most of the rules. That is well past my “dumb fun” threshold, and I have begun using a rule of thumb that a game with a book of rules (instead of a page) is a gamer game.

Another evening, someone brought out Poop. Poop qualifies as “dumb fun,” a game with a silly theme and rules that fit on a card. It plays like a simplified Uno. I doubt it will ever be one of The Great Games that You Must Play, but its owner was satisfied to have paid $5 for it. He got to play with Poop a few times, and the Poop box had several rule variants to explore in the future. He went back the next day to find expansion Poop.

It was not my favorite theme for a game, but the lads got to engage in puerile sound effects and had fun. I demand less of a game that I can learn in less than a minute and play in less than five.

: Zubon

Back next week to talk about simple and deep.

Scale

One thing I may not have expressed well about Gen Con is the size of the event. There were 56,614 people there. That is people, not triple-counting people who attend several days, and it probably does not include the people who showed up but were not officially attending the conference. Origins felt like a large event at 12,902 attendees; quadruple that. I heard folks spreading the rumor that the event was going to spread into the stadium next door next year, as it has already filled a convention center and spread into nearby hotels, which is a nice idea, but Gen Con would nearly be a sell-out crowd for the stadium and that would be just to pack people in seats watching something. As you might imagine, gaming takes up a bit more space than watching a game.

As Adam Smith explains, The division of labour is limited by the extent of the market, which is to say, you get more niches when you have more people. Games at Gen Con have editions listed for each, in case you insist on D&D 3.0 not 3.5 or refuse to play the revised version of Betrayal at House on the Hill. The vendors can similarly serve narrow markets, such as the booth that did green screen photo shoots for cosplayers to give them exciting, customizable backdrops. A popular game might have an entire floor, and the anime area was larger than some anime conventions.

It’s kind of a big deal. If it repeats this year’s growth, attendance will break 60,000 next year and 70,000 the next. There must be some limit to how big the event can get, but they do not seem to have found it yet.

: Zubon

[RR] Shameless Conjecture

One of the big consumers of my writer’s juice has been a project I’ve been working on the for the past few months that is finally moving towards the light. I’ve been creating a line of tabletop RPG supplements mainly aimed at solo players or GM’s that need a bit more guidance.

The first release is UNE – The Universal NPC Emulator – which aims to create, color, and guide the use of NPC’s, non-player characters, in RPG’s. I released it back in 2007 on a whim, but now I’m trying to do things a tad more professionally. UNE has been cleaned up, and is now  heavily supported on the other thing that has been sapping my time.

ConjectureGames.com - this puppy has tons of examples, tutorials, and even previews for upcoming products. For example, it shows how to use UNE to create an adventure or create a villain with weaknesses.

Anyway, all the Conjecture Games products will be pay-what-you-want, and I am perfectly happy with the payment of $0.00. I just hope that they are useful to somebody in this niche hobby. BOLD is the next product, and is hopefully slated for September. It is the Book of Legend and Deeds and aims to create player histories, define downtime events, and even create a dramatic skeleton-frame for adventures.

–Ravious