More DLC as Something-Something

Borderlands with all the DLC now costs as much as the DLC, which is 50% more than the base game. (And it is all 75% off on Steam this weekend, so if you meant to try Borderlands at some point, $7.50 is a good price point.) (The Borderlands trailer is still pretty awesome.)

See also ongoing discussion of joyfully spending money on F2P.

: Zubon

Engi Census

Playing the Steam free game of the weekend, I have come to wonder: how many games have an Engineer that builds a turret; how many games have an Engineer that does not build a turret; and how many games have a non-Engineer that builds a turret. (I think I will avoid counting Warhammer Online’s Magus and units/classes that “summon” rather than “build.” I’m unclear whether the Raven builds, summons, or do we count “deploy”?) Was there some first game that set the standard that Engineer = build a sentry gun? It feels like engineers and self-directed turrets have become a standard game item, but perhaps exploring some examples will reverse this. I keep finding near-hits, where perhaps they consciously avoided calling the turret-builder an Engineer in recent games. I wonder if non-builder Engineers are also intentional aversions? Inventory below the break, please contribute in the comments.

Edit: let’s see what happens if we add in enemies that do the same, some of which may mirror heroes. Continue reading Engi Census

Nothing and Everything as Endgame Content

I see more games trying to avoid having their earlier content become completely irrelevant while improving their endgame. You do this by having a version of the old content that scales to the new level cap; games without levels have this mostly baked right in anyway. Feel free to comment with your favorite game; World of Warcraft and The Lord of the Rings Online™ are the ones I know best for having another version of older dungeons available at the level cap. Borderlands had its own version: after you beat the game the second time, everything levels to the cap, from the final zone to the first skags.

City of Heroes took a different approach, and it seems to have worked against them from many players’ perspectives. Everything scales, and you can always drop back profitably, so every instance remains relevant as you level. Everything is endgame content and leveling content. Perhaps because of that, City of Heroes has never built much that is endgame content in name. A favorable interpretation is that very little is held back and hidden behind a grind; a less favorable interpretation is that there is little new to do at the cap, which quickly becomes “there is nothing to do at the cap.” Those who took the latter interpretation generally unsubscribed. The illusion of scarcity is an important marketing principle.

: Zubon

Unintuitive Controls

The recent addition of Steam achievements to Borderlands encouraged me to fire it up and see how many popped up at once (~20). I thought I might blow up a few people while I was there, and I was reminded of how poor the interface is.

Maybe it works better on a console. The very first time I used one of the in-game menus, it felt like a console game ported to a PC incompletely. Menus required some odd, perverse combination of mouse and keyboard, screens that should have accepted either and instead asked for one but only responded to the other. At no point did I memorize which buttons brought up the different menus, instead finding one or two and then clicking between menus once the window was open.

Coming back after a break, I have no idea which button is for melee. “Had?” No, I did not guess it, though I was insufficiently motivated for much trial and error. I normally check that via the screen to edit keyboard controls. Oh, I can’t do that? At least G for grenade is intuitive enough. I can look it up, and I presume that it was in the tutorial, but once I am in-game there is nothing to suggest it. Or maybe there is something, but finding that is unintuitive, which is the same problem one level up.

I am reading The Design of Everyday Things, and I taken by the view that user error is usually design error. If your design does not lead users to the right action, that is an interface problem not PEBKAC. Some things are radically complex, but punching imaginary people in the face should not take planning or research.

: Zubon

Onion Headline Syndrome

I like The Onion, but I rarely find myself reading much of it because the full text rarely improves on the headlines. You might need to read the first paragraph to see where they are taking the joke, but stringing it out for 1000 words does not add much to the first 5 seconds. (I might take this as an object lesson, but look at me go, still typing.)

Syp finds the same problem with Star Trek Online, I said the same thing about LotRO skirmishes, and many of us have said the same about Borderlands and Torchlight: it is great at first, but there is not all that much improvement or variation over time. (I do credit the two single-player games for having interesting boss fights mixed into the repetition, where MMOs tend to rely on even more repetition, even in tank-and-spank bosses.) I appreciate being able to get 95% of the benefit in 5% of the time. Portal did that brilliantly and then ended.

: Zubon

Non-MMO inspiration banished to the first comment.

Breaking From the Collective Tempo

Borderlands has two speeds of play, much like its ancestor Diablo II:  paced and rushed.  When I play alone, I am going at my own speed.  It might be a slow safe sniper battle or a quick chest run in one of the Havens, but if a pseudo-scientist looked at some waves or something, I feel that there would be an alignment.  A pacing tempo, if you will.  When I play with others, even close friends, not only does the tempo markedly increase but the speed of play is not always in alignment with the me.  Frenetic is a good word for this in its most emotional definition.

I don’t like that feeling.  I love playing with other people online, but I don’t feel at one with my gaming experience when that feeling happens. Continue reading Breaking From the Collective Tempo

Cheat

I increasingly view my Achiever tendencies as a mental disease, a bit of neurological programming from our ancestral environment being over-stimulated by modern tools that provide all the signals without the underlying substance. Parts of our brains react to the bigger numbers and flashing lights in our Skinner boxes, but running on digital treadmills will not get us anywhere.

Today, I encourage you to separate the reward from the activity, the pellet from the lever. If it really is the journey rather than the destination, you should still want to go on the journey without a prize at the end. Would you keep re-running that dungeon if there was no more loot to gain? Would you farm if you had unlimited gold? For some things, you would. Good. Do those, freed of any worries about winning a roll on a 2% drop.

There is an easy way to test this: cheat. Grant yourself the reward at the end. This will not work in an MMO, but if the game saves to your hard drive, you can edit the save file. Are you really farming for experience or gold in some flash game? Are you running Diablo II or Borderlands bosses to try for better equipment? Backup your game, download a save game editor, and just give yourself the gun you want. There, now that you are no longer pulling the arm on a virtual slot machine, do you actually want to fight that boss multiple times per night?

Because let me tell you, we may call them Achievements, but they just measure time spent, and if you do not enjoy what you are doing along the way, you could be spending your time elsewhere. If your game gates the fun content behind that kind of repetition, throw the game away and find something that will not make you crawl through barbed wire. If you find that it is the getting rather than the having, I hate to tell you this, but desire is the root of all suffering. There will always be more useless crap to want, and apparently it is useless crap to you if you no longer want it once you have it. If you are really willing to work long hours for a digital gold star, I need some wallpaper replaced in the guest room. I’ll e-mail you the imaginary star, gold piece, or sniper rifle.

: Zubon

Borderlands Review

Previously: Ravious’s comments

An FPS with Diablo-style quests and loot set in the weird west. You go to the planet Pandora in search of the mythical Vault. You spend most of your time gunning down bandits. Everything has a bit of attitude.

A playthrough is on the order of 20 hours. You can shave off some time by skipping side quests and being less cautious than I was, but there are limits. First, if your recklessness gets you killed, you lose time. Second, there are levels, and skill will only get you so far if half the map can one-shot you. If you want to keep playing that character after opening the Vault, you can start more playthroughs, starting over with higher level enemies.

I am not a great connoisseur of FPSes, but it gives you fun ways to shoot things. It is neither realistic nor cartoonish, just a bit wacky. You can play 4-player coop, but there is no shooting at your friends beyond dueling. It is fun, although I do not know how lasting the fun will be after you have shot 100 of everything.

Continue reading Borderlands Review