Second Winds

I often find myself trying a game, getting really into it for a day or a week, setting it aside for some reason or another, and then never getting the taste to pick it back up. I binged on Mini Metro but barely played it after the first week. (Still worth it, for the time and the money.) I have a dozen games on my desktop started but incomplete. I think I could binge the rest of the way through them if I started, but I have not had the intersection of mood and time to binge on them. And then I hesitate to start another with a dozen waiting there.

Years ago, this was summer vacation and I could burn through those games. Now I am thinking about cleaning out my house, and procrastinating from both cleaning and gaming.

: Zubon

Second Chances

Do you often give games a second chance after a bad first experience? So many games, so little time. You chanced an hour or two, do you want to chance more? After all, it takes a while to get the swing of a game or learn the rules.

That is an odd experience for games. Rules mastery is usually a requirement for having a meaningful opinion. There are few movies anyone would say you should try watching a few times to see if it grows on you. There are TV shows people will recommend watching until they grow the beard. Even then, it can be hard to suggest someone sit through about 10 hours of weak Buffy the Vampire Slayer until “School Hard.”

There are plenty of games I am not offering a second chance, like the DC deckbuilding game. Deus has kind of meh, but maybe it will grow on me.

Video games often run 40 hours. If the first two hours are weak, do you even press on to four?

Kill Ten Rats started as an MMO blog. Those run 1000+ hours. Can you really say you even tried World of Warcraft after two hours? But I remember mostly liking the first two hours I played way back when. And my wife tried it, saw it as similar to Guild Wars (which she did not care for), and for her purposes I cannot say she was wrong.

What game did you give a second chance? Did it work out well?

: Zubon

Mini Metro

Mini Metro is a minimalist subway simulator. You design the public transportation system for a city that is growing and expanding. You keep going until commuter demand exceeds your ability to keep up.

The gameplay is so absorbing that my first play session was a 7-hour binge. This is a sim game stripped down to its cleanest essentials. The visuals are similarly clean. It looks like a subway map. The mechanics go mostly unexplained but are straightforward. Shapes go to shapes. Link the shapes. If you are familiar with public transportation at all, you will get the idea. A really elegant mechanic is that the screen is slowly but continuously zooming out, expanding the amount of city you are covering. The controls are simple but occasionally clunky if you are trying to do something precise in a hurry, like drag a train to another track with an impending crisis.

Variation in the game comes from having more than a dozen cities and then some randomness within each map. You start at a random point in the map, and I am not clear on whether the zooming out is straight up or pans as it goes. Cities grow randomly, so the placement and pattern of shapes is unknown as you start. Every in-game week, you get another locomotive and your choice of two randomly selected bonuses (train carriage, another line, tunnels, interchange).

Your ability to shift train lines, tunnels, and bridges around quickly is something real life transportation planners would envy. I think they would find the randomness realistic. Not only does growth defy urban planners’ dreams of molding it, you get both districts that perfectly mix functions and entire chunks of the map that are defiantly single-purpose, which is sometimes convenient and other times a nightmare to plan around. Sometimes your plans will be foiled because the upgrade you want is randomly not available. That feels really realistic, where the need for a new line is obvious but politically forbidden for no reason that anyone can explain adequately. Make do with a bigger interchange, skippy.

Fun, compelling, elegant.

: Zubon

The Emperor’s Challenge

Renowned Explorers: International Society recently came out with an expansion: The Emperor’s Challenge. This as an Asian-themed expansion, with four new crew members and a new map. The titular challenge is a new game mode, which changes the goal of the game from “gain the most renown” to “complete a series of random challenges before the timer runs out on each.”

As far as I have played it, the new content seems enjoyable. The new crew members have the sorts of abilities I like, with a mix of abilities so they probably have something you like. If you like the base game, “more of the same” is a good thing. I am apparently still somewhat burned out from having worked on 100%ing the game. (Tip: do not try to get 100% of the treasures in REIS unless you are already very close. You can invest quite a lot of time for a chance of having a treasure appear on a map, and then you have a chance to get that treasure. Many treasures * % to appear * % to acquire equals a lot of time, especially when many of them are mutually exclusive.)

The new game mode is not my cup of tea. It changes a strategic game into a more purely tactical one, and it is frustrating that you can be given challenges that are impossible to complete. Granted, that is part of the game, and you just work on the other challenges until your rival clears the ones that are impossible for your team/map/combat (nothing is ever impossible for the NPCs). It’s like a scavenger hunt mode, but not all the things to find are on the map, and the usual fog of war hides the map, and you still have the normal limits of needing to manage supplies and keep improving your team in the usual ways.

If you enjoyed REIS but thought it could use more randomness, this is your perfect DLC. If you do not like increased randomness in your gaming, this is not for you.

: Zubon

Ellipsis

Ellipsis is a minimalist avoid-em-up, where you much touch four blue circles and escape without touching any non-blue things. If you touch any non-blue things, you die. The real goal is to touch five blue circles per level, carefully enough to collect all the smaller blue circles in them, and escape before the timer has gone down a single green circle. That is how you 100% a level, and you must score perfectly on every level to 100% the game.

There are no words. The gameplay explains itself. The map is very pretty. The difficulty curve is erratic, as levels that are easy to 100% sit next to ones that are difficult even to finish. You do not need to play all the levels, although there are bottlenecks on the map. Ellipsis is good for “bite-sized” gaming, as each level goes very quickly (unless it is one you need to play 20 times to get the timing to 100% it).

Ellipsis is a game that rewards manual dexterity, timing, patience, and persistence. Ladies, get yourself a man who can 100% Ellipsis.

The game also teaches the important life lesson that you might as well kill yourself if you make the slightest mistake. Or at least the quest for the 100% achievement does.

: Zubon

Ichi

Ichi is an example of a game damaged by its achievements. Ichi is a simple puzzle game, a bouncing ball with bumpers and switches and such. It comes with 60 levels and proudly advertises that it has over 100,000 player-made levels.

To encourage you to make levels as a player, there are achievements for publishing 10 levels and for having 100 people play your levels. To encourage you to play others’ levels, there is an achievement for completing 100 levels, which you cannot do with the game’s built-in levels. There is a combined achievement to gain 1000 points; you can get 3 points on the built-in levels, but the other 820 come from 1 point per player-made level you play and 1 per player who plays your levels.

As a gamer, you can already work out what these incentives produce.

The player-made levels are filled with insta-complete “puzzles.” You start the puzzle, the ball flies into its target a few seconds later, and you do not even need to click. There is a mutually beneficial arrangement for achievement hunters, whereby you want lots of quick points and levels, while the level-designers want lots of quick points and plays. The original goal, generating lots of player-made levels and letting the cream rise to the top, would demand stronger tools than the game has to help that cream rise.

But there are some cute and interesting puzzles, and I got my 49 cents’ worth.

: Zubon

Countless Generations Unfulfilled

This weekend, I was in the mood to play a worker placement game. The question dawned on me with rising horror: how many generations now lie buried and insensate, gone to their biers with a nameless ache because worker placement games had yet to be invented?

Have you ever gone to the kitchen, in the mood for something, but nothing looks quite right? You are hungering for a dish that does not yet exist. The plant that would placate your eager taste buds has yet to evolve. And there you stand, wondering if a little more mayo would do the trick.

When you are bored on a Sunday afternoon in the long, dark teatime of the soul, those hours are stolen by your need to do something that does not yet exist, for a career in a field requiring another century of technological advance.

And there lies your bier, wondering whether you took the time to play a worker placement game.

: Zubon

Retention

The University of Essex is trying to trying to increase student retention. That is where Richard Bartle works, and he notes:

The thing is, all the ways that the document listed to increase retention among new students were straight out of the MMO newbie-retention handbook. A place where people can hang out between teaching events and make friends? Check. Organised groups led by experienced students that you can join? Check. A communication channel for students just like you? Check. A method of finding other people who are interested in the same things you are? Check. Fun tasks for people with different skills working together ? Check. Easy challenges with small rewards to get you into the swing of things? Check.

Remember your gaming insights at work. Games are designed to be more enriching and enjoyable than real life, so why can’t we take the lessons of games to make real life more fun? I currently work in educational assessment, and we are looking ahead to games as teaching and testing tools.

: Zubon

10%, 50%, 90%

How many games do you have nearly completed, but just never got around to finishing because you got bored?

I have a bunch of games dropped in the first 10%, either “crap” or “not my thing.” I have another stack somewhere around 50%, a mix of neat ideas with poor execution, promising starts that went nowhere, and generally games that just stopped being worth the time.

And then there are the 90% games. The ones that needed to have 40 hours of play, so they padded in 10-20. The ones with an unreasonable last level that did not seem worth suffering through. The ones where you really did like the puzzles but they were so similar that after 90, you could not muster the energy to finish the last 10.

After bingeing heavily, I am starting to get burned out on Renowned Explorers at exactly 90% of the way through the achievements. Since each set of 5 expeditions is its own game, you’ve beat the game once you do that once, and you’ve seen all the possible expeditions after you’ve done that a half-dozen times (although probably not all the encounters). So a bit of that is burnout, a bit is having used the captains and crews that interested me the most.

Looking at my other installed Steam games:

  • I still have Borderlands 2 going. I think I still have a DLC campaign there I never played, and a bunch of 90% achievements. You kind of enter a Borderland sequel burned out from killing that same bandit in the previous game.
  • The Talos Principle has many interesting puzzles, some BS puzzles, and so many variations on the same theme that I wonder when I will finish map C. Again, in my usual pattern, I binged heavily, but now I can maybe do one of the puzzles and be all set for a couple of weeks. And there are mutually exclusive game/achievement paths, so how about doing all of them again for slightly different story text that you could just as easily YouTube?

I have a category in my Steam library called “shelved” for those 50% and 90% games that I may get back to someday. Steam Cloud is freeing, in that I feel free to uninstall the game and walk away. If I ever get back to the game, great, but having those kilobytes saved on a distant server is all I need to feel free to do the digital equivalent of house cleaning.

: Zubon

I also have a category for those 10% games called “crap,” so that I do not accidentally reinstall them someday.