Author Archives: Zubon

Quit Curves

The corner of a difficulty curve often becomes a quitting point, partly because it is a change in the game, partly in the way an extreme one feels like a betrayal of the relationship the game had been establishing, and sometimes because it indicates the developers are not very good. While Portal perhaps goes too far in making the first half+ of the game a gradual tutorial, it does have that transition into “and here are some harder puzzles, and now you’re on your own.” Do you have a favorite example of a game that says, “here are some tutorials, and now we’re jumping straight to the highest difficulty”? The Witcher 2 is notable for making that jump before completing the tutorial. Either the developers did not recognize that they turned the dial from 2 to 8 or they thought that was a good progression, and neither implies, “these people probably made good design decisions in other areas.”

: Zubon

Quick Reviews: PC Ports

Another weekend of “meh” from Humble Bundles.

Deadlight is a side-scrolling zombie survival platformer. Run away from the zombies, sometimes shoot or chop them, climb walls, and jump from ladder to ledge to avoid the electrified ground. The atmosphere is nice, and I found any plot incoherence appropriate given that people make bad decisions in crises. I played the first third of the game but stopped there due to dodgy controls. I presume it works better on a controller; someone must have tested the PC port but been ignored when they explained that it is a horrible idea to have a move that requires left-shift, left-control, and A or D. Also having different keys for opening visually indistinguishable types of doors, unnecessarily many moves because parkour, and some generally bugginess or finickiness in navigating obstacles. Not bad if you can get past some dodgy controls, but a basic requirement of a platformer is not to have dodgy controls.

Smallworld 2 I stopped before even starting the game. I may try again due to recalling some acclaim for the board game, but from the first screen the interface is horrid. I can see how it might work better on a tablet, but it misses things you would want on a PC like labels, flipping through the main menu without loading times, and a coherent display of information. Something about “Watch the Tutorial” rather than “Play the Tutorial” immediately put me on my guard, probably because of having seen the next note before it.

AdVenture Capitalist (not from the Humble Bundle) had a recent major update. The developers took a while between updates because they realized there could be money in this thing and made a mobile version, then replaced the PC version with a port of the mobile version. This reduced functionality, again with lousy menus, and any visual improvements were offset by new visual problems. They quickly walked back some of the visual problems, yielding an interface that is slightly prettier and significantly less functional than it was before the update. I have said that a rule of thumb for shipping the update is, “Does it make some things better and no things worse?” They took the opposite path.

On the non-PC port front, I played through The Blackwell Legacy, which was a sufficiently enjoyable point-and-click adventure game, and I say that as someone who has long since stopped liking point-and-click adventure games. The developer commentary is harder on himself than I was as a player in terms of exposition dumps and absurd adventure game puzzles. I only had one real guide dang it moment, in that to get the best ending you must stop and look at your notebook during the climax of the game. Borderlands players will remember that as “wow, the game is really starting to click here, I better stop and look at my inventory.” Setting, characters, and story are pretty good, enough that I will try a sequel.

: Zubon

Don’t Explain the Joke

There comes that moment in the game where you have crossed some threshold or achieved something notable, and you want to tell someone about it. And you realize that your non-gamer friends, family, and/or significant other would not understand what you are talking about; that it would take so long to explain to them that you would probably lose the emotional high from trying to explain its significance; and that they would still probably comprehend at the level of “he did a good game thing.” And then, in some games, where you would still need to explain a bit to your gamer friends, and then they would probably ask, “why are you playing that?”

But just so I can say it: I did a good game thing. Thank you.

: Zubon

Quick Reviews: Quest of Dungeons and Scribblenauts Unmasked

I tried two new games on Sunday.

Quest of Dungeons is a turn-based rogue-like dungeon crawl. If you like that kind of thing, you will probably like this kind of thing. I did not see anything to distinguish it from others except for its adjustable difficulty. Based on the global Steam achievements, most players had the same thought as me and said, “take the archer class.” The game might be a bit more strategic without the ability to kill most enemies without taking any damage. I did not feel motivated to play through at higher difficulty, although I could be convinced if the different difficulties mean something other than “everything has x% more hit points” or “health potions no longer drop, good luck lol.” But then, I’m not a fan of the genre, so feel free to weigh in with your expertise. It is in the current Humble Bundle, if you’re interested.

Scribblenauts Unmasked is the latest Scribblenauts game, this time crossing over with DC Comics. I like Scribblenauts games, despite the difficulty’s seeming tuned to the vocabulary of a small child. This has a bit more of a story arc than Scribblenauts Unlimited, with the bonus of more “random events” you can have appear on maps for some variety. Of course, you can still solve almost all problems either very directly (apply the adjective “clean” to the dirty thing) or with your favorite few words (“flying,” “bazooka,” and “fire-breathing” do wonders for me). Either the developers recognized those or pick up how often I use them, which was pretty cool when a flying, fireproof, fire-breathing enemy appeared for a boss fight. The game encourages variety by cutting points for re-using words on a map and with challenges like “no weapons” or “no flying,” so the same answer could be worth half or double points.

I can’t go quite so far as to recommend Scribblenauts Unmasked because it does not seem to bring much to the table. If you want a bit more Scribblenauts, absolutely, get it. This is a retread of things you know, plus some comic book stuff. It’s a lot of comic book stuff, so you have more than a page of Robins from the various editions of Batman. Comic book folks would like it mostly for the range of things included like C-list DC villains (Kite Man!) and more than 100 Green Lanterns, although New 52 is the order of the day, which might be less thrilling.

A couple of “meh” games. They’re not bad, I just do not see a lot to recommend them when there are better games. But if you’ve already played the better games of those types, go for it.

: Zubon

[RR] D&D 5th: Races

5th edition starts with many races, re-vamps the idea of subraces, takes another pass at balancing races while maintaining classic flavor, builds its new mechanics into the races, and nudges the player towards certain norms.

The pool of “standard” PC races has fluctuated over the D&D editions, and 5th edition starts with almost all of them. Dragonborn made it back. Half-orcs are still in. More setting-specific races like warforged and half-giants are not in, but you surely have a dozen homebrew versions online to tide you over until they become official again.

The only big surprise for me was that tieflings made it in but aasimar/devas did not. Continue reading

Hubs, Hearts, Story

Guild Wars 2 has some improvements on standard MMO mechanics that are so obviously better that I have found it unpalatable to go back to older MMOs or to play new games that clone them. One of these is the use of hearts and events to level, rather than quest hubs. For the kind of content quest hubs most often deliver (kill things, click things, collect things), hearts just seem obviously better than clicking an NPC; hearing a story about too many wolves, needing wolf pelts, or wanting you to click on six specific wolf den rocks to investigate; kill/click/collect, then going back to click on the NPC. The flow of play is better, and if you don’t feel like collecting things, you can just kill and/or click. Using events to make impromptu groups and to replace “take this message to Bob in the next town” quests is just better.

Also, in GW2, you can almost always rez the NPC in an escort quest. See Rurik or Sara Oakheart.

GW2 also demonstrated that hearts and events are horrible ways of telling stories, so bad that they spent part of the first year trying to retrofit a classic quest system into mail system or the personal story model. They seem to have settled on the personal story model, an interesting choice given how few players would cite the personal story as one of the better parts of the game.

: Zubon

Tips for Introverts

Many of our readers are introverts. In broader conversations about our lives as gamers, a question often comes up: “How do I even talk to people?”

Personally, I have found that the answer differs if you are a PC or a console gamer, and I don’t think we can really attribute that to the kind of person who plays on different platforms, if there is such a thing (and many play both). If you are a PC gamer, the answer is usually to walk right up to someone and press E. Right-click can also work. For console gamers, that will usually be the A button.

You’re welcome.

: Zubon

When You Buy Counterfeit Fashion, You Are Paying to Spam Our Site

After the spam deluge, Ethic applied a stronger spam filter that automatically sent more things to “spam” rather than “pending.” The effect is similar except that the site no longer e-mails me 50 times per day to ask if the comment by “Buy Cheap Louis Vitton” is legit. A blogger buddy asked me to check the spam filter, and yep, there were some false positives, so we fished some folks out.

Of the 500 spam comments I reviewed, 3 were internal links from our site, 4 were legitimate comments, 1 was from a gold-selling site, and all the rest were fashion sites trying to get more links for search engine optimization. These are the people who make your favorite websites’ operators work harder. Remember never to buy from some fly by night site selling knock-off sunglasses, shoes, or whatnot, or you’re just as bad as people who buy gold and fund the guys who hack players’ accounts.

This public service message has been brought to you by the numbers 5 and 0 and the letter S.

: Zubon

[TT] Hyperborea

At Gen Con, we learned to play Hyperborea from one of the developers, which is one of the glories of Gen Con. As I type this, it is soon to be published in the US but not quite there; it may be available by the Tuesday this appears. It is recommended but costly ($90) and very strongly a gamer game.

The game is one of territorial control and resource acquisition with a bag-building mechanic in place of the increasingly common deck-building mechanic. That is, each player has a bag of colored cubes, and you power your abilities by drawing and spending them. A large part of your strategy is what cubes you add to your bag.
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