Ephemera

The goblin you killed will respawn in 30 seconds. The dragon you killed for those boots takes two days to respawn, and you killed it 32 times to get the boots; if you go back, it is still there, still giving out boots (rarely).

You beat the game and immediately start it over. It is a song that never ends, and you sang a verse once.

You log out of the game and never log back in. Maybe you said goodbye. Maybe some players remember you for a while. Maybe someone notices in the guild log that you have not logged in for 574 days and wonders whether to /gkick you. Maybe you will be back. The guild roster is gradually becoming a graveyard. Have we forgotten the players who left, or is it the ones left behind who are forgotten?

There are memories in your head and entries in a database somewhere. You were a great hero (+500 XP). You destroyed the enemy nexus (+2 ELO). You saved the kingdom (quest available again in 19:59:59… 19:59:58…).

Your parents tell you to be careful what you post online, because the internet is forever. Maybe some of your data is archived forever, but much of it is as lasting as a fallen leaf. It grew. It changed colors. It feel beautifully and perhaps unseen. In the spring it was dust, new mulch for new growth.

: Zubon

Slay the Spire: Endless Mode

Custom mode now has one of the long-demanded options: endless mode. I think you’ll find that any deck capable of beating three bosses is capable of going quite a bit further, especially when you can pick modifiers to fuel that even further. You really should turn on blights, however, or else it really does become “endless” mode.

Blights are harsh negatives that replace boss relics. Without them, you can keep increasing your strength faster than the game itself ramps up. That gets boring. Blights make things a little spicier.

In endless mode, the importance of everything shifts: only scaling matters. Anything that is good but works by addition rather than multiplication is crap. The Defect’s Buffer card is normally pretty weak: prevent one attack. In endless mode, when enemies might do hundreds of points of damage, you might Echo-Amplify-Buffer+ to stop six attacks, which will give you enough time to win. But if you’re playing like I do, you go for the turn one win every time so damage doesn’t matter; Mind Blast or Perfected Strike with absurd numbers of cards is fun. And then you eventually hit numbers that are too big or just a really bad roll of the dice.

It can have that Civilization feel: one… more… floor…

: Zubon

Slay the Spire: Custom Mode

Congrats to Mega Crit Games and Slay the Spire: now with 3 characters, 3 modes, and 1 million copies sold. On sale for the Steam summer sale!

The 3rd mode is Custom, and it seems to subsume the daily challenge. I mean, you can still do the daily challenge, but custom mode gives you all those daily options, and more, and lets you pick from them. If you are not playing for the leaderboard, custom mode does everything you want and more.

Custom mode is what it sounds like: you can pick custom modifiers. That includes all the daily challenges, plus some that StS had recently added as special seeds, plus more to come. You can still set a seed. You can pick what character and ascension level you want. The original mode is still The Real Game, but this lets you play the game however you want.

So that’s pretty cool, even if it lets you completely upend the balance of the game (in several directions). There are a few kinks to work out, as you can select mutually exclusive modifiers. And achievements are also turned off, if that matters to you.

: Zubon

Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization

A surprise find during the current Steam sale was Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization (not to be confused with Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, otherwise known as “the original version”). Through the Ages is rated #3 on Board Game Geek, and having never played, this looked attractive.

In short, Through the Ages is a streamlined version of Civilization as a card game. It is a better Civilization than most editions of Civilization. I could just stop there: if you like Civilization and are willing to trade the territorial control element for having a satisfying game in a quarter (or less) of the time, buy this.

I have not timed my solo games closely, but this does not seem far from the tabletop game’s estimate of about 1 hour per player. This seems to play more quickly than the physical car game because the computer takes care of all the bookkeeping. This is exactly what you want from a computerized version of a board game, and it goes further to have a revised ruleset intended for online play. That’s nice.

Through the Ages plays out in cards and tokens. You get so many actions per round; you can improve that with technology or changing governments. You can use those actions to increase your population; to build or upgrade your farms and mines (production); to build urban buildings that provide science, happiness, and culture; to build a military; to build wonders (like in Civ); to change leaders; and to draw cards that help you do all those things. You build a tableau through the ages, as your cards give you different types of buildings from different ages. Later age versions are better but more expensive.

That card acquisition is a drafting mechanic that is the means of indirect competition. You can spend actions to get cards. Cards become cheaper over time, just a few turns. You can spend more actions to get it now and make sure you get it before someone else does, but then you have spent your actions to do so. Maybe you are a republic that gets many actions, so that’s fine, or maybe you are toughing it out with a monarchy this game. Maybe you invested in military actions, which is another card set used for direct competition.

Through the Ages has the core Civ gameplay elements. There is a technology tree, and here you can skip around it rather than being tied into a predefined chain. There is a military race. There is bidding for colonies. The economy always feels very tight, because you always want to do more but you can only do so much given your population, actions, resources, cards, etc. You can invest to get more, but then your actions for that turn were mostly investing, while other people are cashing in on their lesser investments.

Through the Ages has a satisfying beginning, middle, and end, and you can play a solo game in a reasonable amount of time. I am led to believe that multiplayer takes much longer, as humans deliberate about decisions, but it should be quicker than either the physical version or actual Civ. And as I said, it is a better Civ than most versions of Civ.

: Zubon

Me-tooism Two

More than a decade ago, I posted about how online discourse structures favored argumentation over agreement. Replying with “me too” was frowned upon, and bare re-blogging of others’ posts would have been seen as pointless, tedious, or crass. News aggregators existed, but that was not what blogs and forums generally did.

That was web 1.0. Web 2.0 has been the past decade.

Technology has strongly supported a swing in the other direction. Sharing others’ content, maybe with an added sentence, is the norm in social media. It’s what you do on Tumblr, Twitter, or Pinterest. “Me too” and “+1” have been replaced with “like and share.” (The social media werewolf: lycanshare.) We still have virulent disagreement. I don’t know if the volume there has gotten louder to break through the happy bubble.

That is the other aspect of enabling healthy me-tooism. I don’t really have thoughts on social media bubbles here. I can’t imagine they are any worse than offline bubbles. People have always selected their environments and information sources. I don’t know how much research would support that it got worse, versus people online are more or more broadly informed. Even the most insular bubble will have people hate-blogging differing ideas.

Harnessing me-tooism has been great for the internet. Upvoting is a great improvement over most previous moderation systems! Upvoting also has its problems with brigading and sockpuppetry, but I again cannot say those are any worse than what came before. All tools can be abused, but not all tools can be used productively. The floor is perhaps as low as it was before, but the ceiling is higher. That’s progress, and you can always walk away from cesspools.

The rise of social media has in part come at the detriment of blogs. Some people just adapted their blogs over to social media or intermix the two productively. Obviously, I am fond of longer form writing than Twitter allows. I see people post 28-part screeds on Twitter, and I immediately assume they cannot be people of good judgment if they thought Twitter was the right place to post a 1000-word essay.

So yeah, technology and society have made significant inroads on this problem since I wrote that back in 2007. Good job, technology and society! +1 and <3

: Zubon

Genre Conventions

Asmiroth asks:

Thoughts on pre-existing scaffolding? In that a particular genre should replicate a previous model’s scaffolding, and when it doesn’t there’s a false sense of difficulty?

My thoughts here could (sadly) probably be reduced to “don’t do it badly.” That is, there are several good reasons to mess with existing conventions and several bad ones, and the badness of the bad ones often overwhelms the good. Creating a good variation on a genre is very good, adds new life, and can spawn new imitators and sub-genres. Done badly, yeah, it is more “awkward” than “difficult.”

I am immediately reminded of driving a car from the motor pool at work. Which vehicle you get is random, and each company has its own take on where the buttons and levers go for cruise control, windshield wipers, etc., and then there are variations that happen over time in the same make and model.

Good reasons include “this convention is stupid,” “there is a better way to do this convention,” and something idiosyncratic to the game that requires adaptation of a mechanic. Bad reasons include trying to pretend your game is not a clone of X by renaming the abilities, randomizing the interface, and changing the hotkeys. They are still health and mana bars, maybe hit points and energy, no matter what you have chosen to call them this game. Bonus points for games that use the standard terms for something else, say LotRO calling guilds “kinships” and then having “crafting guilds.” Consolations to games that thought they had a better way to do things but really just made it worse, or to those that made marginal improvements but got hate because it wasn’t exactly like Blizzard.

But jumping into a game that assumes you know the conventions is kind of horrible if you don’t know the conventions! Also for games that don’t mention that they are varying the conventions! Civ VI, what are you even trying to do there?

For those that have played a P&P game, swapping DMs is a heck of a learning curve.

The advice I have kept from a long-past Dragon Magazine article is to ask what sort of movie/book/etc. your DM & players are envisioning when they play. In a D&D game inspired by Conan, running through the wall of fire will singe the barbarian, who then hacks through the necromancer; pushing in either direction towards high magic or brutal realism makes a wall of fire an obvious death trap. In a modern game inspired by James Bond, walking into the enemy’s lair with a small caliber hand gun and a sense of panache is a winning plan; under a different vision, guards will shoot him dead in less than a minute.

What is “obvious” differs between people.

If I have learned to to X in a given situation, and it takes a fair amount of time for me to un-learn X and apply the correct (if re-taught) Y action instead. It’s not necessarily harder, it’s just different.

And this summarizes the previous two. In some games, the best offense is a good defense. Once you learn to stack block reliably, you can whittle down the enemies safely. In other games, the best defense is a good offense. Dead enemies deal no damage. A rare few games evenly support a variety of playstyles, but most favor a small set of options, most of which probably seemed obvious to the designer. Is this a game where you need to explore under every rock to become strong enough for the final fight, or will exploration sap your resources so you need to explore as little as possible (but enough to get X)?

Variation is good! Often what we want is exactly the same game that we just liked, but a new and different version that doesn’t change anything important, but it should still feel both new and the same. “More of the same” sequels can also be good! Change for change’s sake is usually bad.

There are more ways to do things wrong than to do them right. Any random change is probably a change for the worse. A change with good reason can be an improvement. Alas, so many of us think we have good reasons!

: Zubon

Tang Garden

Our friends at ThunderGryph games have successfully launched another Kickstarter project, Tang Garden. It has the unusually nonviolent theme of building a garden.

I have not studied up on the game because (longtime readers will remember) I backed their first game at the “send me a copy of everything you ever make” level. So I have an obvious ulterior motive in wanting to see them to well. And they are, in fact, doing well, looking like they could reach 1000% funded in their first day. Stretch goals are falling about as fast as they can post them.

One thing I like about their Kickstarter projects is that they make it easy to see if you would like the game. Rules are posted in PDF form, as is the norm. But then they also have electronic versions on Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator. Nothing helps decide whether you would like a game like playing the game.

They have had the usual project management and shipping schedule problems that most Kickstarter games have had. They are getting better with practice, I think, or at least getting more realistic estimates.

: Zubon

“A good library has something to offend everyone.”

Alternate title: “Boobs and shotguns for everyone!”

In a reversal from recent moves that were since walked back, Steam has announced that they plan to let just about anything sell on Steam. Valve long since gave up on curating, instead welcoming increasing masses of shovelware. This seems like the next logical step: no curation at all.

Our friend Wilhelm is not pleased. Myself, I figure we already walked off that ledge. This is acknowledging it, not changing it. One absolutely could go with Steam’s origin vision of highly curated content. I do not know if there is a market for it right now, but you could do that. Steam tries for the best of both worlds by both offering everything and having explicit curators. Pick your own experience.

I will probably be unhappy if I open Steam and it looks like the red light district, or the bad actually drives out the good, not just makes an attempt at drowning it. But I am more offended by low quality games than by purportedly offensive content, so the shovelware already hit me where Murder Simulator 5000 or Naked Anime Boobies S will not. And we are online right now, so you have access to all the murder and boobies you want.

I will count myself as having underestimated the problem if we start getting frequent pop-up advertisements for Midweek Madness featuring porn or Holocause Simulator. I will count the problem as vastly overblown if Valve goes on to release better filtering and moderation tools, like the ability to suppress large swaths of crap content.

: Zubon

Pinging

We have not had any game-inspired relationship advice in a long time. Although in this case, the relevant sense of “ping” is “pinging the server” not “pinging the minimap,” so it is more on the “online” side than strictly the “game” side. So here we go, using modern technology to improve your love life.

If you are the stereotypical gamer, you are an introverted male. You may not be verbally expressive of affection, or perhaps not understand why she needs to be reassured that she is pretty or you still love her, when you told her last week. If you are not the stereotype, adjust accordingly, but the principle applies if you are less verbally demonstrative than your partner seems to want.

This is where pinging the server comes in. It is perfectly normal for systems to ping each other occasionally (or frequently) to make sure a connection is still live or available. It says, “I am still here. We are still connected. I am still paying attention to you.” I usually belabor metaphors, but we will let that one stand as it is.

Modern technology even has easy ways for you to do this. You just need to establish an appropriate “ping.” A “<3” text can do it. Facebook Messenger lets you replace its default thumbs-up with a different one-click emoji. You can replace it with a heart. You may feel silly saying, “I love you,” twelve times a day, but you can easily click/tap an emoji button when you think of your partner.

Your relationship may differ, but I can click that button twice an hour without getting a “stop bothering me” response. “I was thinking of you and I still love you” is usually a well-received message, and you can express it with a click. If your relationship differs and your partner does not want digital hearts or flowers or whatever, they will probably say something.

: Zubon

The Defect

Slay the Spire has released its third class. The Defect is a lot of fun, even if I am not very good with it yet.

The name applies in both its meanings. The Defect is a defective robot who has defected to the heroes’ side.

Slay the Spire has three kinds of cards, and each of the classes is built around one. The Ironclad is the attack-based warrior archetype. The Silent is the skill-based rogue archetype. The Defect is the power-based mage archetype. Powers are cards that you play once to gain a combat-long upgrade. I love that kind of ability, so I love powers, so I love the Defect.

The Defect builds on that by having an attack and a skill that both have a similar building effect. Claw is a 0-energy attack that does only 3 damage but also increases the damage of every Claw in your deck by 2 for the rest of the fight. If you have many Claws and/or a quick-cycling deck, you have a lot of damage, as you would with a Rampage Ironclad. The Defect also has several cards that help you get more cards, including an attack that puts every 0-cost card from you discard pile into your hand, so a good combo does a lot of damage very cheaply. There is a similar block skill that can only be used once per fight, but its value increases by 2 every time you use it. I once got it as my very first card pick, and that thing was a wall by the end of the run. And then there are cards that get cheaper as the fight goes on, so they start as expensive and strong then end as free and strong.

But the best part of the Defect is powers that build on powers. There are powers that trigger effects when you play powers. There are powers that give you powers every round. There is a power that doubles the first card(s) you play each round, so you can double those free powers, or double the power that gives you powers so you can get more doublers to double your powers… Boss fights are fun once you get your engine going. Time Eater is usually considered the hardest boss, with the fewest players having defeated him, but he is weakest against power-heavy decks that do a lot with few cards. The Defect smashes him with a song in his RAM.

The Defect also brings a unique mechanic that does not necessarily play well with the mechanics designed for the other classes. The Defect gets orbs, starting with three slots and potentially growing with abilities. Each orb slot can have one of four elements that will passively generate damage, block, energy, or building damage over time. Each orb can be evoked to cause a greater version of that effect. This creates a mini-game of cycling orbs, activating them at the right time, and using your engine to cycle through activations for massive damage and/or block. When I say that these do not play well, I mean that orb activations are not considered cards, attacks, or defenses as such, so they are unaffected by strength, dexterity, or abilities that trigger based on anything else. That is sometimes to your advantage as the player, and sometimes you miss out on advantages because your abilities circumvent them. There are drawbacks to being the defector.

Also, I do not think The Defect really comes into its own until you complete its unlocks. The class-specific relics are in the unlocks, so you do not get relics that synergize with orb effects until you have a few Defect runs. This is unfortunate. Slay the Spire has so little advancement, and what it has does not really create a sense of forward progress so much as a ramp you need to run and jump off. It’s not even that long of a ramp, just an annoyance, and you do not really want your game design to be described as “an annoyance.”

I am having fun with the new guy. I have started skipping more daily runs, because some of the existing abilities just do not look like as much fun with The Defect due to its lack of synergy with cards designed for the other two classes.

: Zubon