Her Story

Her Story is one of the recent not-a-games, in this case “A Video Game About a Woman Talking to the Police.” And that is it: it is a series of interview videos, chopped into short clips, and you find those clips by searching the database for words she says in the clips. To seed your story, the game gives you a starter search of “murder.”

In a way, the game part of this will be familiar. You have done this as a mini-game in a bunch of games, the conversation or interrogation game where you ask the subject questions to get material to ask further questions. On that level, it works really well. You amass some keywords, search the database for them, and find the story in your own, non-linear path. (Avoiding spoilers: but the ending remains ambiguous, so you get to decide what you think the story really is.) It retrospectively creates that experience of conducting the interview yourself, with the oddity of getting bits of several interviews at once.

The story is pretty good. I don’t know whether or not it benefits from the format. If you just sat down and watched the videos from start to finish, would they be worth watching? It’s not bad, but neither is it “must see.” There is some appeal from the broken chronological order, that you know some of what is to come when you see the earliest clips, and some earlier clips explain what it is you heard from later.

The interface is imperfect. It mostly works, but there are some oddities in how the search works, such as treating no (no quotes) and “no” (with quotes) differently, which becomes relevant if you are trying to find all the clips. If you are going for 100% and cannot find everything, that is one of the tricks: you are missing some 3-second clips with only one word in them. That herring is very red. Do you want another trick that can remove the entire game from the game? “BLANK” is not a NULL string in the tags box, and the game sorts clips by chronological order; if you want to watch the clips in order and make sure you’ve seen them all, you can start over and keep searching for “BLANK” while removing that tag after watching each video. But if you are going to do that, you might as well just search for a posted video of the game’s content, because that circumvents the game.

Spoilers are fair game in the comments, if you want to talk about the game’s story.

: Zubon

Player Count

Are there any games that work well outside the recommended number of players? I am thinking of board games, but really any; did LOL Twisted Treeline ever become a thing? The particular thing that comes to mind is games with “variant rules” for more or fewer players, where the game is usually made for 3-4 players with a 2-player (or solitaire) variant and a 5-6 player expansion. That seems really common in board games, but I cannot think of many (any?) where I have seen it done well.

  • Dominion breaks down with 5+ players, particularly if there are attacks. There is not much fun to be had in a game with at least one Torturer per round. Without attacks, you can have a very short game with that many people emptying stacks unimpeded.
  • Starfarers of Catan gets extremely crowded in the early game, leading to a snowball effect where a bad first turn puts you several turns behind everyone else as you need to navigate/colonize around them. I have never tried Settlers of Catan with the 5-6 player expansion, out of a holy respect for the mathematical purity of the base game.
  • 7 Wonders does a great job scaling up or down for 3-7 players, and that is built into the cards to begin with. Well done. The two-player variant is messy and clunky. I am told that 7 Wonders Duel is excellent, intentionally re-designed for two players.
  • I am not sure if Smash Up is bad as a two-player game so much as very different, and the balance shifts massively. Any card that costs you something to hurt an opponent becomes vastly stronger if you have only one opponent, such as most Kittens cards, while factions like Ninjas and Pirates that jump into others’ fights are much weaker in a heads-up game.
  • I should just stop the two-player games, because they play differently and usually pretty badly. Recent examples I have tried include Coup and Havok and Hijinks.

Some games work for two players without rules variations, and they can mostly work. This works better for Eurogames with minimal interaction, such as Dominion. I have played Kingdom Builder mostly with two players, and it becomes a much more strategic game as you limit the number of players.

In my day-to-day life, scaling down is the usual issue, playing with my wife at home. When I go to a game day, scaling up becomes the issue as we try to get more people at the table rather than boxing 3 or 4 people away for a couple of hours. But that often leads to a suboptimal time for several hours.

Thoughts from KTR readers, games that do this well or badly and why?

: Zubon

Restaurant Almost Done

This week, I will probably reach the end of Cook, Serve, Delicious! It is incredibly engrossing and establishes flow wonderfully. I have now done just about everything you can do in the game, with a few more achievements to go to round it out. I 100%ed the main game and have moved on to Extreme Difficulty new game+.

“This mode is almost impossible. It will likely destroy you.” It really is as difficult as they advertise, what with the big boost in buzz (number of customers) and 0 patience. Getting the “table snacks” upgrade that gives them any patience was a huge boost in Extreme Difficulty. I wondered how one could sanely get the “serve 15,000 customers” achievement when you need fewer than 10,000 to complete the main game. I am, however, really good by now, so I have a buzz well north of 100% and am just about keeping up, which nets you more than 200 customers per day. Around the time I complete the two remaining Extreme Difficulty achievements, I should have that one too. The hard part will be getting a perfect day once I can have six items on my menu. I can almost keep up with 4, and those are probably the 4 easiest. I think I need to intentionally tank one day to get a big buzz penalty, then I should be able to ace it in a time or two.

Oddly, I am well past 10,000 customers and have yet to see a robbery. The security upgrade must really work. To get that last achievement, I will either need to keep pushing in Extreme Mode (ouch) or start a new game, not buying the security upgrade and hoping someone tries to rob me. “Too few robberies” is not a problem I expected to have. Hey, robbers, my restaurant in the main game has about $100,000 lying around because I kept playing long after having bought everything. Take my money, please.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! is scheduled for next year and available for your Steam wishlist. I hope it lives up to the original; I fear that it will get unnecessary complexity that detracts from its elegance.

: Zubon

Greenland

I have been playing Plague Inc.: Evolved, which is pretty good, if a bit formulaic across the diseases in a way that makes differences seem like inconsistencies rather than variety.

Greenland, though. Man, Greenland. Greenland is the Madagascar of this game.

: Zubon

I can recommend the PC version. I do not recommend the mobile version, which is a bit heavily ad-ware, although maybe that goes away if you give them a dollar? There were too many screens asking me for money to skip things.

The Stanley Parable

I played The Stanley Parable, but “played” feels somehow both wrong and perfect. It is closer to an interactive story than a game as such, but unusually for that genre it has a branching story tree — a “choose your own adventure” walking simulator. It is also a deconstruction of games in ways that I will avoid spoiling, but the comments section is fair game for all spoilers.

I will note that even the achievements are deconstructions. Three of the achievements are meta-commentary on achievements, one of which is literally “unachievable.” One achievement is to leave the game running for all of a Tuesday, another to log off and not come back for five years. 7% of players have that one on a game that has been out for less than five years, and 4% have the literally unachievable achievement, so I am wondering if cheating on those is meta-meta-achievement commentary. But for some reason only 1% of players have “leave the game on for an entire Tuesday,” despite that being something you can do AFK.

: Zubon

Feedback

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