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I have been trying some of the Battle Kitchen – Strike Challenge – Extreme Difficulty challenges in Cook, Serve, Delicious! As you might expect, they can be somewhat difficult, and the only answer is to git gud. They are, however, a spectacularly awful place to learn things because of the lack of feedback. If you make a mistake, you fail and are kicked out. I cannot normally go several minutes without making a typo, so doing so under time pressure with unfamiliar keys where “onion” might be O for one recipe and N for another … is somewhat difficult. And if when you fail a round, you do not know if your brain had the wrong letter for an ingredient, you clicked the wrong key, maybe something else you did not notice? There is something to be said for kill cams.

Then again, the Olympics are not where you go to learn new sports. There are recipes I have never made in the game, and it seems that I should master them before approaching this mode. But I do not have everything fully upgraded in story mode, so the challenges are the best place for me to see all the ingredients in all the recipes. I should probably just ignore the time pressure and practice a bit there, or look up ingredients and recipes online if I want to learn them in advance.

Hardcore cooking sim!

: Zubon

Balanced Forces

I love and fear asymmetric PvP. It is so hard to balance well and so good when it is done right.

There is something satisfying about being the big monster fighting several of your friends, or being that group of friends taking down a big monster we know to have a capable pilot. About pitting goblins against elves against dragons. About ninja and samurai, pirates and ninja, merchants and pirates. Symmetry is elegant and much easier to balance, but teams with different advantages and disadvantages add so much more color.

But it is so easy to get wrong, and if you mess it up, it may not be fixable. Or maybe the balance really is perfect, but not in your local gaming group, where one person is especially good with one strategy and makes all the other factions look like trash. It is hard to tell whether the im/balance is in your game or your gamers, and imbalanced gamers can lead to runaway differences in-game.

I see the latest thing on Kickstarter or Steam, and my interest is piqued, but it will take many hours of (hopefully someone else’s) play to see whether the game has the chops to make it work. A bit of randomness in the game can hide imbalances for a long time, and really for as many times as I am likely to play a game, “close enough” is probably good enough.

: Zubon

Hexcells

Played recently and recommended: Hexcells. That link is to the “complete pack” with all three games in the series. The third, Hexcells Infinite, includes generating levels from random seeds, so not technically infinite but more procedurally generated levels than you could play in a lifetime.

Hexcells is a puzzle game, a cousin to Minesweeper played on hexes. As usual, each hex says how many neighboring hexes have “bombs.” Hexcells then goes on to have more board layouts and different ways those numbers appear: -2- means the two bombs are not next to each other, {2} means they are. A number on a bomb means how many bombs are within two hexes, not just next to it. Some spots have ? instead of a number, so you do not get new information. Some columns have numbers on them, or not. As the “infinite” implies, there are lots of ways you can play with that. Notably, there are no “guess” points; given the information available, you should always be able to deduce at least one more hex until you finish the puzzle.

Level design is mostly good, sometimes uneven. Difficulty can jump around, although the level of difficulty is likely related to what you consider intuitive, which may track with the developers or go in an entirely other direction. The last game has some of the best deductive moments in the series, along with several levels that are just clunky. The levels usually get longer as the game goes on; the original game is pretty quick, while you start to regularly see maps with more than 100 bombs in the second game.

Enjoyable, and enjoyable at length with procedurally generated levels.

: Zubon

Civilization: Beyond Earth

Civilization: Beyond Earth is a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri, and its core is a sci fi-themed re-skinning of Civilization V. I mostly enjoyed Civ V, so this is mostly a good thing to me, but I know that opinion is controversial. I also know it is not exactly a new release, but I only recently got around to playing much of it.

The first thing I noticed after playing is that the game is long. This is also not exactly news, but after focusing on bite-sized gaming for months, a “quick game” that takes 5 hours is a different sort of commitment. Beyond Earth adds to this by having steps towards victory and showing only the next step, so your first time through each victory path is a lot like waiting in a long line, reaching the doorway at the end, and then discovering that the next room is also a winding line to another doorway. For the past decade, I have played Civilization games almost exclusively on the shortest game setting; I recall frequently using the “epic” game setting in my youth, but I cannot recall any way that stretching the game to 15 hours made it better. Finer increments on how long things take? It feels like most of my Civilization time is spent waiting for other players’ turns to process. I can also see how a more military strategy becomes appealing when eliminating those rivals cuts your waiting time.

Okay, so how does Beyond Earth differ from Civ V, and is that good? The big differences are the tech tree, virtues, and affinity. Oh, and there are no Great Leaders. Continue reading Civilization: Beyond Earth

Tinker Steampunk Metal Meeples

Our dear friend Tesh is Kickstarting again, this time with metal gentleman meeples. They have top hats and vests. As I type this, the project is past 600% and will soon be adding metal lady meeples, although that will add a bit of time because the molds for them do not exist yet.

If you are curious about any of the previous tinker steampunk projects, most of them are available as add-ons.

: Zubon

RMT Currencies

Sites and games establish their own currencies to help distance you from your intuitions and inhibitions about money.

A small purpose is to get you to make fewer, larger purchases. You might flinch from putting down $0.99 every time you want to get a pack of imaginary cards. Buying five of them is five separate pain points. Getting you to buy 250 gems for $5 is one pain point, and then it is a lot less painful to buy 5 packs of cards for 49 gems each.

Once your players have converted their real world currency into your game currency, they are committed. It is not hitting their wallet anymore, and it is not as though they can spend those gems on anything outside your game. Why not pick up that shiny mount or xp booster? And might as well round out that shopping cart with something to use up the last few gems, no point in wasting them.

Soaking up those last gems at the edges is the minor gain, a few bonus nickels and dimes. Because you got as close to zero as you could, and now there is a new shiny mount that you do not have enough to get. Maybe you should make another purchase? Or make all the purchase amounts add up badly so zeroing out is not reasonably possible. The $25 gem pack comes with 250 bonus gems, taking you to 2750, but most (good) things are in units of 495. Maybe you should buy another $25 and round that up?

The main purpose is to put psychological distance between you and your spending. It is not just that five small $1 flinches are worse for sales than a $5 flinch, but that a $5 flinch is worse than a 250 gem flinch. You have decades of experience with money but very little with gems. Setting your emotions aside, you need to do arithmetic to figure out how gems relate to dollars, the horror. And “100 gems” looks closer to $1.00 than $2.00, doesn’t it?

You can see sites and games combine these. I have played Spellstone on Kongregate, where the main currency is gold and the RMT currency is gems, but Kongregate has its own currency of Kreds, which you buy with a credit card instead of physical bills. Your hours at the workplace are way over there, behind your paycheck behind your credit card behind the kreds purchase behind the gems purchase behind the gold conversion. And didn’t they give you some gems and a few kreds? This might be a free pack of imaginary cards! I saw Spellstone on mobile, where there are some actual dollar amounts, and I got sticker shock in a way that the prices in kreds never caused.

: Zubon

The $1000 Omelet

You may have heard about the Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata a few years ago. That was its primary purpose — to be heard about. It was a successful little publicity bit that let a restaurant stake its claim on being the high end of the high end, where the richest of the rich dine. The richest of the rich pay more than you do.

Restaurants and games both tend to include a ridiculously high-priced items because it makes everything else look reasonable by comparison. Very few people will ever buy a $1000 omelet, but it makes a nice conversation piece while dining on $30 omelets. The cash shop for almost every game includes a $100 package, and occasionally higher. This is partly bait for whales, who might actually buy it. It is mostly an anchor point to make the $25 package “middle of the road” amidst $5, $10, $25, $50, and $100. The developer will nudge you towards $25 by making that the point where “and 20 FREE silver floogles BONUS!” starts. And hey, somewhat reasonable player, if you think you might end up buying the $25 package a few times over the next few months, why not just get the $100 package now and get the 200 FREE golden floogles BONUS? Developers want their customers dreaming big.

You can also nudge people upwards a bit by including horrible deals. That mid-range package looks much more reasonable when you place it next to something intentionally unreasonable. Say you offer three packages: Basic, with 3 features for $20; Champion, with 5 features for $40; and Legendary, with 10 features for $60. If you are going to spring for the $40 package, you might as well spring for the $60, right? Magazine subscriptions do this with “digital plus paper” packages that cost slightly more than the paper.

You can combine these. Disney World has $5000 trips, which are pretty nice but mostly serve to show you all the things you might pick when building your own package. And aren’t you smart, to get 75% of that premium package for less than half the cost? And when you are dining at the Beauty and the Beast castle, do you really want to let your kid order the $14 bowl of cereal? Sure, the $24 eggs are pricey, but they look much saner next to that cereal, and it makes dining on the meal plan an even better deal. Aren’t you smarter than those people buying $30 eggs while talking about the $1000 omelet?

: Zubon

Pokémon Go in Three Sentences

Some people seem to be mostly using it as an excuse to socialize outside with people, others are the classic uber-dedicated kind of nerd who needs to collect all of a thing regardless of how unreasonable the effort involved is. I’ve played a bit of it and I agree that it’s fundamentally boring because there’s nothing different about the mechanics of catching a ratata in one place and a meowth a block away. On the whole it seems like a force for good in the world.
drethelin

Cook, Serve, Delicious!

My thanks to Jeromai who recommended Cook, Serve, Delicious! I have spent only an hour in this game, but it was one of the most intense hours of gameplay I have had. 75% off during the Steam summer sale.

I tend to be suspicious of cooking sim games because I have hated the entire Papa’s (Pizzeria, Burgeria, Pancakeria…) series every time I have tried one. So far, CSD! knocks out the annoying things like precise placement of mustard in favor of intense time management. Intense! With just four prep slots and four dishes, I am facing off against an array of demands with lots of time pressure, along with the chores that add more time demands. The game days are bite-sized increments of gameplay, and you need to be on for those days. If you want to get a perfect score for the day and the bonus, at least; I imagine you can play more relaxedly and have a pretty solid restaurant.

Filleting fish is surprisingly satisfying.

I am looking at the screenshots on Steam and thinking that the later days must get a bit more dicey with many options. My recipes right now are basic with limited variation. Do you want sugar on your sopapillas or not? There is exactly one way to prep fish or chicken. One of the screenshots shows 13 different toppings for nachos. Which: realistic, fair, but that is a lot to customize per order, as opposed to the six possible toppings on starter salads.

I do not know how long the thrill of cooking will last, nor whether it will still be fun at the higher levels, but even an hour of intense, quality, enjoyable play makes this worthwhile at 75% off.

: Zubon

The Room

This is not about that movie.

The Room seems to be the best thing I picked up on the Steam summer sale, and you can still get it for $1.24. It is a not-terribly-long puzzle game (, starting with a puzzle box and unfolding from there. Most of the puzzles are enjoyable, although sometimes a little too far into “A leads to B leads to C, push the button” or “what are they thinking?” but where things fall on that continuum will probably be idiosyncratic based on what you find intuitive. When in doubt, try looking through the lens.

Even when it is not at its best as a game, in that you are basically pushing buttons to watch a fancy mechanical box whirl, it is a cool fancy mechanical box. It also leads to some enjoyably phantasmagorical imagery as the story of the game develops.

As a bonus, the sequel launches on Steam July 5, so if you like this one, there will be another one this week (and 2 and 3 are already available on mobile).

: Zubon