Slay the Spire: The Final Act

The actual ending of Slay the Spire is now available, an unlockable 4th act. It is not much of a 4th act, but it gives you a final boss fight for the game. I don’t think it adds much except for a sense of finality. Except that you can immediately start another run, so final isn’t final.

Slay the Spire has clearly been my game of the year, providing me with more playtime than most MMOs I have tried. It’s great, worth buying even without a sale. It feels a little anticlimactic that adding the final boss seems less significant than some of the regular weekly updates. The baseline for the game sets the bar pretty high.

: 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

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

Resistance to Evidence

Reading Slay the Spire discussions on Steam has given me insight on resistance to updating based on evidence. I am used to this in political discussions, where people often double down when presented with counter-evidence, but seeing it in the microcosm is remarkable.

At any given time, there are usually threads on the front page arguing that (1) some element of the game is too difficult and/or impossible and (2) that the game as a whole is too difficult and/or impossible. Continue reading Resistance to Evidence

Easy Access

Last week, I had a crash while playing Slay the Spire, the sort where you need to hard boot. I called it a night. Playing the next day, my save file was gone. Wow, ugly crash. Google led me to forums led me to where save files are kept. Okay, the backup save was gone too, and I probably just overwrote the cloud save with a newly created save file when I started the game. And it looked like I only lost the save file for the Ironclad, which would normally gate access to everything else but the other save files were there once I did whatever for re-unlocks on the Ironclad.

This led to the discovery that the save files are plain text. Well, that makes recovery really easy when I can just copy the text from one file to another. My statistics are broken, but then they were broken when I lost the first file. That is also a handy thing if you want to see later Ascensions or something; just edit yourself to Ascension 15 and now they are all unlocked. I have yet to exit mid-run and see if that opens interesting opportunities, but the leaderboards suggest that people have already found plenty of ways to cheat.

: Zubon

Transparency

One thing I like about Slay the Spire is that it explains the consequences of your actions. Maybe folks consider hidden information to be Explorer content, but in a fairly difficult game with permadeath, consistent but limited information comes to “fail and die until you try every option and memorize it” or “read the wiki.”

For example, when you start a run (assuming you made it to the first boss), you get a choice of bonuses, some with tradeoffs. Many roguelikes would have you pick one of four doors with vague descriptions like, “the red door smells of blood and gold.” Slay the Spire just says explicitly, “start with half health and 250 gold.” Similarly, events in Slay the Spire tell you what your choices mean. For example, when an event offers you a choice between a banana, donut, or box, you are told the implications. There is no obvious reason why a banana would heal and a donut would add permanent hit points, so it would be just a blind pick without the info, until you memorized the outcomes of the event. Or read the wiki.

Perhaps what I am getting at is that many games punish you for not reading the wiki, and it seems like bad design to drive players to the wiki rather than putting the relevant information in the game. Yes, you could count that as a spoiler or learning the game, but given that the penalty for failure is starting over from the very beginning, hidden information is closer to Fake Longevity than Explorer content. And I’m saying that as an Explorer; don’t do that for me, I hate it.

: Zubon

A Tired Developer

I enjoyed Pixoji this weekend. It is a puzzle game like Pixelo with a bit of Minesweeper, which makes sense coming from the maker of Mine of Sight, which I also enjoyed.

An aspect of being a puzzle developer I had not considered is how tiresome it must be to deal with players, especially when achievements on a free-to-play site encourage everyone to try the game. Click through to Pixoji and expand the instructions. This is a very tired person.

No guesses are needed, every level has only 1 solution (feel free to prove me wrong with an actual screenshot).

I’ve had to simplify a few levels so that certain players will stop complaining about ‘guessing’.

It’s not a matter of opinion. The levels are solvable.

Again. If I’m wrong, it would be very easy to prove me wrong with a screenshot. A comment is not a screenshot.

If you fill/grey the whole level it will highlight ONE unsatisfied hint (or else you win). Please try this before declaring that it didn’t accept your solution.

And then there are several more variations on “please stop complaining, the game is not broken, you’re just not good at it.”

I have been reading the Slay the Spire discussions on Steam, and that is more or less a recurring theme. “This game is pure random crap!” “Really, I have an 80% win ratio on Ascension 15.” “Getting past the second boss is impossible!” I have begun to sympathize with “git gud,” because I started doing much better once I got gud.

: Zubon

Slay the Spire Ascension

Ascension in Slay the Spire is more or less the opposite of ascension in Kingdom of Loathing. In KoL, ascension is New Game+, where you start over with more power and options. In Slay the Spire, ascension is a progressive hard mode, where you start over with less power and increased difficulty.

Ascension has the merits in game design. It adds an optional hard mode, which is great for players who have mastered the base game and are looking for increased difficulty. It is progressive, with 15 increments of difficulty that are cumulative. You need not play at the highest difficulty level you have unlocked, although that is the only way to unlock the next one. Ascension progress is not lost on failure; you can try that level again.

The downside is that not all the difficulty increases add more fun. Players tend to like dishing out bigger numbers, but they rarely seem excited about being hit with them. Six of the fifteen ascension levels are increasing numbers (damage, health) on the enemies (regular, elite, boss), plus shifting the odds of negative outcomes on events. Three of the difficulty changes are lowering your health (start damaged, heal less after bosses, lower max health). Three are reducing your resources (less gold, fewer upgrades, weaker potions). The other two are adding a curse (dead card) to your deck and increasing the number of elites.

This last seems the most interesting. Increasing elites is usually a good thing. Better players with stronger decks seek out elites, because beating one gives you a relic, which then gives you more chances for synergy and higher power. If your deck cannot beat elites consistently, it is going to have real trouble beating the boss. I am not yet to the highest levels of ascension, but I am led to believe the pendulum swings the other way later, when the increased damage from number-boosted everything means you cannot afford to fight as many elites as in the base game.

That also becomes a point where increasing numbers cross a threshold and do something more interesting than just increased numbers. You want more elites because you want more relics, so power yields more power. Once you cannot spare the hit points for the elites, that synergy goes in the other direction, less power yields even less power. That is an interesting and elegant outcome from a straightforward shift, although it seems like a lot of tweaking of numbers to get there.

I am gradually making my way through ascension mode on the two available characters because it is the progress and “something new” available right now, other than the daily challenge. As I am getting into “we take away your resource” levels, I am not really having more fun. Sometimes making decisions under increased restraints is fun because of the intellectual puzzle involved, but sometimes that just restricts the range of options to the few strongest, which narrows the game rather than adding anything new.

The daily challenge mode provides a window into how ascension could be handled differently over time. By mixing in some negative modifiers from that mode, ascension runs could be different instead of just having different numbers.

: Zubon