I had the realization that I am playing GemCraft: Chasing Shadows the wrong way. I have been carefully ratcheting up difficulty and consistently playing at the most challenging difficulty I can reliably overcome. This has kept me above the xp curve, usually playing at 400%xp to keep getting further ahead. With the levels from that xp, I have been consistently pushing levels to the 150 wave range, which makes for the very long games I have mentioned.

This is silly. I do not have all the resources yet, so there will be more reward for sprinting to get all the skills and going back to get mad xp if I need it. I got a huge effectiveness boost when I got the critical hit gem skill, and I have mentioned in the comments that I needed the chain hit gem kill to round out my effectiveness.

Last night I ran through a series of levels as quickly as I could and found my way to the one where I could unlock the chain hit gem skill. I then went back to re-try an early level and see how it raised my effectiveness. My score on that level went from about 200,000 to about 950,000,000. One level, on my first time trying out a real mana trap farm, did not just give me more xp than all the hours carefully working through levels — it nearly tripled my level. I set another one of those up and went to bed, and it went on to farm into nine digits, bringing my level above 1000.

It’s kind of like that scene in a book or movie where the protagonist finds out the real scale of the conflict and looks back with wonder on the struggle that seemed so important five minutes ago. It is Ender talking to children still back a level or Neo looking around the Matrix where he used to live. It is as if Gandalf said, “Now that you mention it, Frodo, the eagles would totally have flown us in at the beginning if we’d asked.”

I suddenly got a lot of sympathy for the impatient players who want to be accelerated to the end game. Why kill monsters for coppers when you could do the same actions for gold? I remember joining WoW at the end of the WotLK era and making that jump from the vanilla lategame to the first Burning Crusade map. “So you guys farmed that for a couple of years, and I’m getting stronger gear from green boars?”

: Zubon

10 vs 2

Last night I turned up the difficulty on a tower defense map and went for a higher difficulty achievement as well. It took a few tries, and I learned new things about how the game randomly changes some variables and can make the map much harder or easier. After more than 50 waves and 2000 enemies, I got it down to the last two and was carefully working down their hit points. Then Windows 10 forced an update and reboot. The Microsoft messages seem to imply that I should be happy about this.

: Zubon

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

I finished Shadow of Mordor and have been enjoying the DRC as a dessert. The Arkham-style combat with better stealth (I should probably play Assassin’s Creed if it is like this) is just great. There is not a lot of variety in saying it, but I remarked many times, “The gameplay is so good.” It ranges nicely from stalking lone orcs to pit-fighting against dozens, with side dishes of giant monsters, packs of scavengers, and “try using this move!” side missions.

The central story is good. At a couple of points, when you see the obvious stand-ins for characters in The Lord of the Rings, I am torn between being annoyed at the Theoden expy and liking the idea of demonstrating that this is something Saruman does, not a one-time trick with Theoden. The side missions are also good, although the missions to free captive slaves are more or less the same. I briefly resented having weapon-based missions that tried to make me use one particular trick, but it made me get better at the game and I found myself much more effective when I used everything instead of just my favorite tricks.

The difficulty is low, although that is part of how I approached the game. Starting out binging on open world content is a lot like level grinding, so I was stronger than expected for most of the game. The structure of the game also fit quite nicely with how I wanted to play it, rewarding stealth and mobility more than “kick in the door.” Branding came at the perfect time for me, because I was tired of killing enemies only to have them keep respawning; making them permanently yours effectively gave me a progress bar as I took over most of the map. After a very easy Lord of the Hunt DLC, I am finding the Bright Lord DLC somewhat more challenging, as [spoiler] is not as tricked out as Talion.

This has been one of the best games I have played this year, if not the best. Strongly recommended. And oh look, the holiday Steam sales are on their way. Go for the Game of the Year pack.

: Zubon

Sharing, Spoiling, and Scavenger Hunts

Discovery-based fun became harder to design with the internet. Many designers are still working with concepts that made sense in their youth but not in an online world.

Pre-internet, in many games the discovery of hidden things played well as a social game of shared information. Take the Cult of the Vault challenges in the Borderlands games or any similar “find these things hidden in out of the way places” setup. It takes a special kind of obsessive player to catch ’em all because the symbols could be any size, on any surface, half-obstructed, down a dead end you have no reason to visit, etc. It makes a lot more sense to think of this as something you do with your group of friends, and you trade locations or hints on where to find them. On an internet forum, you might do that, pooling information to see who has found what where. That is a great social process. The output of that process is a complete spoiler list, which then eliminates the social game of shared information. That is an undesirable but natural outcome of releasing that sort of game into the internet, where we have become very good at coordinating this sort of information-gathering.

If you are fortunate, you can find a site with tiers of spoilers. Click A for vague hints of where to look, B for narrow ranges and more explicit hints, and C for screenshots or videos. If you are really fortunate, you are playing when many others are playing and can just ask for the right level of spoiler, “am I on the right path here?” And if your gaming friends are local rather than online, you can get back to that social process, perhaps mutated because at least one person in the group will have looked at the full spoiler list.

And so it goes for any hidden but compilable information. If you are on the forefront, with the early adopters and first researchers, you can still participate in that social information game. You can be one of those people compiling information that will eventually be part of a spoiler list, because it is exciting to share where you saw X or how you figured out the formula for Y. But that window is narrow, because if it is happening publicly it can only happen once unless you are part of another group that is going through the same process while explicitly avoiding others’ spoilers.

This may not be a horrible thing. If content locusts are descending on a game and moving on, and you are playing games years after the fact, having the spoilers available to consult is better than nothing after having missed the social game. You need other players to have the social game, and most video games do not sustain populations that way (or the population center moves on to another part of the game so much that it might as well be another game). It is a bit of shame that is happens in days or hours.

If I may reminisce, I remember the early days where complete information was not available. We approached Asheron’s Call’s spell research as if we could create a new spell using the spell components the way you might mix something in a chemistry set, only later realizing that there were fixed spells with fixed formulas (and finding the formula pattern was the shared information project). In the early days of Magic the Gathering, there were rumors of cards because no one know exactly what was in the sets. I usually like my games to have known, fixed parameters, but there is beauty in the unknown.

: Zubon

Kill Ten Orcs

I have been playing Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (I know), and I am finding the gameplay rather satisfying. It uses the same base mechanics as the Batman: Arkham * series, which is good. It is, however, more than a little bloodier. Batman does not kill anyone; Talion puts his sword through every skull he can. That dude’s gotta have some serious upper body strength, the way he’s moving steel in and out of bone.

I need to start paying more attention to the missions. I have been enjoying the open world aspects of it a lot: wander around, sneak up on uruks, gather herbs, maybe find a little boss mission. Most satisfying boss missions? When the captain is vulnerable to ranged attacks. Get in the right position, one fully charged headshot, assassination complete, gg.

: Zubon

[GW2] Four Map’s Metas, pt. 1

The Heart of Thorns expansion brought with it four new open world PvE maps. Each map has a “meta”, a map-wide goal, much like the core Dry Top and Silverwastes. Overall, there is good and bad. I hope that ArenaNet takes the time to smooth out the rougher issues, and I hope they learn from what works.

To just jump in, the overall issue I have is the player knowledge requirement of when a map starts. I have to remember that the Auric Basin boss occurs on the odd hour. I think Verdant Brink resets half an hour earlier with night then occurring an hour and twenty minutes later. No idea about Tangled Depths, which is not fun, and Dragon’s Stand does its own thing.

It was easy enough to learn one map, Dry Top, which reset on the hour, every hour. Silverwastes, like the new Dragon’s Stand, was map dependent; although, the latter is timed. Now there are a bunch of new maps with varied start times, and I feel that there needs to be something in-game, such as the map UI, that tells players the timed status of the map. Then armed with that knowledge, and knowledge of how long I can play, I can make pretty good decisions on what I want to do. Anyway, off to each map… Continue reading [GW2] Four Map’s Metas, pt. 1

Humble Monthly

The Humble Bundle folks are trying something new, a monthly subscription service. So you pre-pay for games without knowing which games. That sounds bad.

Spending $150/year on games I don’t know and probably won’t play seems like a bad investment. In the early days of Humble Bundle, I bought quite a few out of a mix of supporting the charity of the week and the indie developer of the week. Years later, my Steam catalog is bloated, and I have liked a small percentage of the games. Over time, the Humble offerings have expanded in various directions, and they more or less feel like a perpetual Steam yard sale on indie games through a different store front.

If I had more trust in their curating, this would probably be a great deal. If you buy almost every Humble Bundle, this is for you. If you maybe see a few games you like every few Bundles, bad. And I’m not especially sold on LootCrate-style deals where you pay someone to go buy things for you, but then I have rather niche tastes for my major interests.

: Zubon

Soliciting Entitlement

I am totally on board for scolding people for an exaggerated sense of entitlement, but many gaming companies are literally asking for it. MMOs have long solicited player participation in development, from requesting suggestions to testing implementation. In a Web 2.0 world, more developers started inviting players to participate. “Make your voice heard!” Games being Kickstarted frequently offer beta board access as a reward so that you the customer can help guide the development of the game.

I have seen good, implemented solutions come from the suggestions board, and I have seen games that really do have player-influenced or even -driven development. I have also seen a lot of companies decide that is good PR, set up a suggestions board, and maybe harvest a few ideas but mostly just do what they were going to do anyway and maybe point to a thread and say, “because you demanded it!” It is so much marketing BS, just as we recognize that people are not really “testing” the game in that open beta. Some suggestions may have merit, and maybe you have a new idea, but the designers are not waiting with bated breath for the next epiphany from the armchair designers.

I have trouble saying that the players have an unfair expectation that they should be listened to when the company says they are listening. Using the two senses of “expectation” from that link: as a realistic assessment of what the company is likely to do, one should not place high odds on the company being guided by your suggestions; as a normative assessment that people should follow through on their promises, one is completely fair in thinking that a company that says it is listening should listen. If you say you are listening to create customer buy-in, then do not particularly listen, you totally deserve it when those customers react badly to the realization.

If a company never claimed to be listening, you can maybe argue that it would be better if they did, but you do not get to claim a sense of personal betrayal.

: Zubon

Bleak Blaughust Game Dump

It’s a weird thing: the mind. Throughout summer, the household was in a nice routine. At the end of July it was like a flip switched. School was only two weeks away, but suddenly both the kids and Mrs. Ravious wanted school to start. Stress piled on, and instead of viewing Blaugust as a fun challenge it became an obstacle. I knew that I might get the first five under my belt, and then I would spectacularly fail. So I followed Homer’s advice and took most of August off. Refresh the juices. Continue reading Bleak Blaughust Game Dump

MMO Questions

A while back, I put together the following set of questions for MMO developers. But when was the last MMO release that might have interested you enough to ask them? Still, for reference, things I want to know if you want me to play your new MMO:

  • What standard MMO elements are you using that will appeal to current MMO players?
  • What changes are you making to the standard MMO formula that will draw players from their current games?
  • What unique features will your game offer that are not available anywhere else?
  • How can I customize my character, at creation and over time?
  • What is your intended increment of gameplay? What can I do if I can log in for:
    • 15 minutes?
    • 2 hours?
    • 10 hours?
  • I have gained ten levels. How does my play experience differ other than going from “10 damage per attack against 50hp goblins” to “100 damage per attack against 500hp goblins”?
  • I have been playing for six months and my friend wants to start playing. How soon can we play together without my creating an alt? How do your systems support this?
  • I have been playing for six months. What goals am I pursuing? What am I doing that I could not do at the end of my first month?
  • What will happen:
    • in my first hour that will make me want to buy the game?
    • in my first month that will make me want to subscribe?
    • in my first year that will make me want to stay that long?/li>

: Zubon