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

Online Censorship

[Update: Steam said, “nevermind.”]

There are numerous reports of Steam contacting publishers of games with sexual content about de-listing their games. Folks in my social media feeds are describing it as “the war on anime tiddies,” which seems fair, given that most of the targets seem to be visual novels and other, apparently mild hentai content of the sort that had been approved for Steam before. (I have not wanted to throw off my future search results by checking, but I was under the impression that Steam games might have some titillation but not exactly hardcore porn.) HuniePop has shot up in popularity under the heading of “get it while you can,” along with a Humble sale.

Meanwhile, games where you slaughter by the hundred are being advertised, including this weekend’s free play of Shadow of War, with its fatality system that gives you a variety of ways to have lovingly rendered, slow motion, close up kills. Boobs and dating sims: risky. Mass murder: fun for all ages. I live in the United States.

It is hard not to see this in relation to FOSTA, a law theoretically about fighting human trafficking that has the main effect of making it more dangerous to engage in sex work or anything close to it. FOSTA reduced the Section 230 safe harbor for websites, which kept the sites from being responsible for things commenters/posters might say, for example escorts using dating classifieds to advertise their services. You may remember news stories earlier this year about cracking down on Backpage, but the effect has been much larger, because you don’t want to be the site where sex work advertisements go under thin euphemisms, which tends to mean blocking out anything kinda like sex work. This strays well off topic for Kill Ten Rats, so I will not pursue it just now, but any form of censorship leads to chilling effects and broad collateral damage. Once you are on a moral crusade, you can’t stop just because you eliminated your original target.

Steam is a private publisher and of course is entitled to decide what sort of content they want to make available. If they have decided that games showing female nipples are beyond the pale, while games where you literally play terrorists trying to overthrow society are fine, those are lines they are allowed to draw. Those lines even make sense when you are selling to a predominantly American audience, given that elements of the American right and left are united in sex negativity (from different but aligning moral purity notions). But it seems unnecessary, inconsistent with past precedent, and incoherent as a moral line to draw.

: Zubon

Game Length

Knowing how long a game lasts dramatically affects your strategy and investment. I was thinking about this in the context of the first time you play a board game with win conditions rather than a fixed number of turns, but it applies broadly across games, and now that I think of it even more broadly across how much of yourself you are willing to invest in anything based on how much future you think it has. But back to the game context.

Some games have a fixed duration, in terms of time or turns. You can watch the clock count down in a football game. In many Eurogames, the winner is whoever has the top score after X rounds; you will have exactly X rounds every game.

Some games have win conditions. Reaching those sooner can be a powerful strategy. Your first time(s) playing, you do not know how long a game typically lasts, so you play at a non-apparent disadvantage because you do not know when to pivot from building up to cashing in.

My example of the weekend was my first game of Dinosaur Island, which is fun. One player at our table had played before, and he had a runaway victory, cashing in on objectives while the rest of us were building up for the endgame. We played the “medium” length game, and it lasted four rounds. Even the winner was surprised about that. It seems safe to say we would have played differently had we realized that investments had so little time to pay off.

I have generally favored games with win conditions over fixed numbers of turns, because the number always seemed too arbitrarily game-like. The game lasts three seasons because the game lasts three seasons. But it does have the advantage of putting everyone on even footing and letting you know in advance when the endgame is coming.

: Zubon

Smaller and Bigger

I tried the Hearthstone Monster Hunt and completed it with one of the four classes. I may someday bother to complete it, but it is not exactly good or recommended.

Compared to Dungeon Run, there seem to be more occasions for smaller choices in your cards, rather than a few huge, random swings. The Tracker’s hero ability is to pick one of three spells already played. The Cannoneer makes minion placement matter more than usual. The Time-Tinker lets you choose when to reset randomization. There are more effects recycling and Discovering cards, more smaller cards, fewer instant win/lose conditions in your deck.

Compared to Dungeon Run, the boss decks have even more huge, random swings, making all that irrelevant. You will faceroll some, you will get stomped by others, and occasionally all those smaller choices will make the difference. But mostly, it’s Hearthstone, it’s random. Some games would have run from a reputation like that, but Hearthstone runs with it.

: Zubon

Hearthstone Monster Hunt

Hearthstone has a new roguelike mode, “Monster Hunt.” It is basically the same thing as Dungeon Run, with fewer hero options and I haven’t seen yet whether the opponents are more or less unfortunate than Dungeon Run. “A compelling trainwreck of randomness” still feels about right, although less compelling at this point because I have seen the same thing done so much better elsewhere.

Whoever is putting this together is working hard to do interesting things with cards, powers, etc. “Balance” may not be their strong point, but “interesting” is fair. Sadly, they are building it on a base of Hearthstone, so RNG is going to be the dominant factor no matter what they do. Randomly drew a hard counter, bad shuffle, or card buckets that don’t work together? Start over, roll the dice again.

: Zubon

Theming

Lately I have been playing Disney Magic Kingdoms on mobile. Frankly, as games go, it is not much of a game. It is the standard thing to know from social media games: click to start an action, come back in a few hours to click again. Nothing special, frequent cash shop opportunities to buy things so you have more and different things to click on and wait.

The backstory of the game is that Maleficent has cursed the kingdom (Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom, or maybe your country’s equivalent theme park). You work with Mickey Mouse and the Disney characters to reclaim the kingdom, clear the curse, and run a fun theme park for kids. The mechanics are unexceptional, but that is a good theme to run with.

Disney characters as your hero characters? That’s good. Run your own Disneyland? That’s good. Earn Disney characters and rides as rewards? That’s good. And the scoring mechanism? Fulfill children’s wishes to raise happiness and bring more kids to your theme park. Maybe I have had too many games themed around killing, but “make children happy” as a goal is a really nice change of pace, and “have Jessie from Toy Story play with children” uses the same mechanics as “send your knights to slay the goblins.”

I know that I am more or less opting in to advertising for Disney parks as the point of the game, and I will probably pay for the privilege for event content at some point. I am okay with that. I am having fun managing my burgeoning theme park and running on the treadmills to unlock characters. I also like Disney World and am still interested in working there, if anyone has a contact for me in project management or technical development.

The current event is Lilo & Stitch. I started playing after it had started, so I don’t think there’s any chance of me getting Stitch without throwing money at the problem, but I’m happy with a few “bonus” characters I am getting easily. It does not sound like the previous event content repeats? Which is unfortunate, because that looks like about two years’ worth of events with characters boxed neatly away. While it looks like not much is done with event content after the event is over, it might be nice to fill out one’s stable of Disney characters, you know? But then, I suspect these games are supported by a mix of “I must have everything” dedicated players along with steady churn. One already has all the event content, the other will not spend enough money to make it worthwhile to bring it back.

: Zubon

[TT] The 7th Continent First Impressions

The 7th Continent is “a solo or cooperative ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ exploration board game,” in which you play a cursed explorer returning to the eponymous continent. It is a game of exploration and survival. It is expensive and comes in a big box with 1000 cards. If you want to know more, you could look at the original Kickstarter campaign. I backed the expansion Kickstarter campaign after hearing good reviews of the original.

This is the first time I have ever sleeved a game. That seemed like a good idea for a game that is expensive and not found in stores. In retrospect, that was probably overkill; sleeving the commonly used cards (a few hundred) makes more sense, although this provides protection against beverages and casual damage. As I mentioned, this is not as easy to replace as a set of Dominion cards. Even more than just seeing the stacks of cards, you get a sense of how many cards 962 really is when you sleeve every one of them.

My first impression while playing was “why is this not a computer game?” The mechanics are something that computers do well. The “choose your own adventure” approach is something known well in computer games, a solved problem. Making it a game rather than a “choose your own adventure” book adds gameplay mechanics, but replicating that with cards is unnecessarily complicated. It is really neat, but it seems like an expensive luxury. It is an $80 board game that could be a $20 computer game. The way that the cards work is neat, but doing this with cards seems like a lot of effort just to do it with cards. And I love me some cards, but I also like offloading mechanics on computers.

The mechanics really are not that complicated. But your first playthrough has that effect where you check the rules more or less every turn, which slows things to a crawl. Every terrain card has multiple things going on, and some of those “things” also have several things going on, so it takes an hour for a new player to explore the first island even though it is very small. You feel like you have gone through a lot, and you also feel like you have played through four cards in an hour.

My other big impression is that the game has limited replayability because of the exploration factor. Like going through a deterministic computer game or a real “choose your own adventure” book, once you have gone through it, you have gone through it. Card 10 will still be card 10 if you play again. There will be differences based on other cards that randomize and which skills and items you have available, so your path will differ, but once you have seen something you have seen it. If you have a good memory, you are following the path from before, using physical cards for the equivalent of “click everything once to see what happens,” minus skipping purely negative things from your previous run(s). Most things I have encountered so far could be variably good, but a few are just unambiguously bad, and the only variation is how badly you are hurt for checking all the options on a card. Something feels wrong about going through a game and just knowing “that’s a trap, avoid it entirely,” although the game is almost certainly balanced around a bit of that expectation.

That presents a different question of longevity and replayability. When it takes multiple hours to play the game (5-12 for a first playthrough? I haven’t logged that many hours yet), and there is a permadeath mechanic, some of the longevity comes from failing and starting those hours over. I am not saying that the game should be a cakewalk with a guaranteed victory your first time through, but there may be grumbling about “thanks for playing for six hours, everyone dies, want to play again?” And if that is how you get 20 hours of play from the first curse, because it took you a few tries, that’s … suboptimal, especially if the early game is known and the first hour is just going through the motions and seeing what items you have this time. Plus spoilers you have in your head or on the team.

So far, not a great return on investment in terms of gameplay. It has been okay but clunky doing all of this with cards, combined with an aura of doom because you don’t expect to win your first time out. The journey had better be worth it considering the time and cost involved. The game and word of mouth suggest that I should keep going, see how the first playthrough goes as I get closer to the end and get quicker with the rules, and write up some second impressions. Not yet impressed.

The game has a save state “just like in a video game” that lets you pause between play sessions, because few people play for 5-12 hours at a time. I paused at a point where that looks exploitable, so I can keep refreshing a fishing card to refill my action deck. The game mechanics seem to encourage this, while the spirit of the game seems to push against it. I perhaps should not be happy that I was attacked by a bear while fishing, but it was really helpful because bears have a lot of meat.

: Zubon

Correcting Errors

I have previously mentioned tabletop games’ publishers and their eagerness to help their customers and fellow gamers, even at cost to themselves. Today’s example comes from Serious Poulp, publishers of Kickstarter smash The 7th Continent. Production inconsistencies led to some cards having a different shade on their back (effectively marking the curse cards in the deck) and some being cut up to 1mm differently in size. Neither is a huge difference, but gamers notice these things, as you might if you spent more than $200 on a card game. Their response:

After a lot of consideration and discussion we have taken the decision, in coordination with Panda, to reprint ALL the cards for the “second edition” core box as well as for the upgrade packs provided to Veteran backers.

So yeah, here’s another copy of that $80 game you bought, because the first one had some cosmetic flaws.

: Zubon

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