Star-Fired Beef


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Steam Challenge – Noitu Love 2 Devolution

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 45 minutes

The name kind of gives away the fact that Noitu Love 2 Devolution is a throwback to SNES-era Japanese-inspired side-scrollers. All in all it seems pretty well done for the genre. It just didn’t appeal to me. The controls were a little too awkward for a keyboard/mouse setup, so yet again, this is something I’d probably revisit on console or with a controller. However, the main gripe I have is with the fact that there is no audio or video options menu. The sound, especially, I really wanted to adjust in-game and not have to resort to the speaker volume. Very disappointing.


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Steam Challenge – Knytt Underground

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 7.5 hours

Knytt Underground is a great little puzzle-exploration platformer that, sadly, suffers from being too big. At least for me.

There are three chapters to the game. The first two act as a kind of tutorial that introduce you to some of the characters and the setting, and let you become comfortable with the mechanics. They are fun, and reasonably substantial – it took me about an hour, hour and a half to finish them.

Then you get to the meat of the game, Chapter 3. This is where it got ugly for me. I love the game itself, but there is just too much travel and not enough encouragement to continue. The main objective for the chapter is to ring six bells that are scattered throughout the world. The world is divided up into “rooms” that you need to traverse. Here’s the thing, though: it is a maze. And it is huge. 1728 rooms, to be precise. Granted, some of them are secret rooms, but you can definitely enter every one of them once you find the trick. That is a lot of backtracking.

I’m about 6 hours in, and I have not managed to get to a single bell. The map is not even a third complete. The keyboard controls are not conducive to long sessions – this is clearly better on console. And I am too demoralised to keep going. There is supposed to be a quick travel system available, called the disorder, but it has obscure rules that I need to be taught by certain creatures scattered about the world. So far I have found one of those creatures. I don’t know how many more I need to find to make things useful.

As I said, I love the game itself. The visuals are beautiful, the controls are fairly good, the rooms and puzzles are extremely well-designed. The characters and inhabitants of the world are good. I just ran out of steam. It feels like admitting defeat, but as with iBomber Defence and Jack Lumber, I think I’ve experienced most of what the game has to offer – completing it just feels like a formality. One that I am not keen on pursuing, when I have hundreds more games waiting patiently for my attention.

I would definitely try this again in the future on console, or if I got a controller for the PC. But for now, Knytt Underground is crossed off my list as Played.


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Raiding Is Too Greedy

I wrote a while back about one of the negative consequences of raiding as the primary endgame activity in MMOs. The reasons I gave were social in nature, and not really aimed at the structure of raiding itself, more the attitude of players in general.

This past week there was a series of articles on Massively about the structure of raiding and how it should become a less monolithic part of MMO endgames.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

I happen to agree with them entirely. The articles argue, for various reasons, that raiding is too greedy in terms of developer resources. It alienates far too much of the playerbase for frivolous reasons, it promotes social drama (in different ways than I talked about in my post), it actively takes away resources from developing fun and interesting and accessible new features (e.g. faction systems, pet or mount events, new combat systems, new crafting professions, etc) or expanding current ones (e.g. racial Garrison structures, new holiday events, more clothing or pet or mount or collectibles options, new crafting recipes).

I’m a little torn. I don’t mind raids existing, because there is definitely an exclusive rush you get from completing huge battles with a large group of friends. But they should be rare at best. They should be an option that people can participate in, but not something that offers objectively better gear than all other activities. There are many ways that small group and solo play can be just as difficult, just as rewarding to complete, and just as long-lasting as raids are. It’s time that more MMOs realise that and start offering more variety in their ‘endgame’ activities.

Guild Wars 2 and EVE have not been hurt by a lack of raids, The Secret World only has one currently, and will add its second sometime next year I believe, and MMOs in development – such as Star Citizen, EverQuest Next, Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained, still months or years away from release, and Elite: Dangerous and The Crew, which are due for release in December – are either avoiding raids altogether or making it a small part of the game. I hope that current raid-driven MMOs see the sense in making the switch to that deprioritisation of raiding.


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Steam Challenge – Jack Lumber

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 73 minutes

Another mobile game port, it turns out, Jack Lumber is very much the kind of game that I can see myself playing if I ever get a mobile device capable of games, but on PC it’s too shallow and same-y for my liking.

It uses the mouse click-and-drag control rather than touchscreen, which feels okay in short bursts but sometimes gets a little clunky. The main problem is not being able to reliably set your starting point with the mouse. You only have a second or so to decide where to start your chopping path, and if the cursor is on the wrong side of the screen then you are in danger of accidentally failing a chop because of bad placement. At least with a touchscreen you can just jab your finger/stylus down onto the screen wherever seems best with way less danger of screwing up.

I like the aesthetic of the game, but it can be exceedingly frustrating when the actual gameplay is so shallow and repetitive. One for the mobile, definitely.


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Steam Challenge – iBomber Defence

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 8.5 hours

In retrospect, looking at the title should have tipped me off that this was an iOS port. It became pretty damn clear once I started playing, though! Very simple graphics, grand total of 2 ground and one air tower, and pretty much useless support towers. Oh, and the “drag and drop” placement of towers really made it hit home that this game was originally developed for touchscreens. Now that I think of it, I did buy a Humble Bundle that was a bunch of mobile games…hmmm.

It’s not a bad game, as tower defence goes it is fairly solid. But I got just under halfway through the campaign before I got bored with it. There is no variety besides maps, and those are fairly easy to solve once you realise that upgraded towers > more towers. After a certain level, which is much sooner than you would hope, quite frankly, it becomes clear that the appropriate answer to all problems is more cannons. Yawn.

I ended up quitting maybe 3 or 4 maps past the point where I felt I’d seen all the game had to offer. I had all the relevant upgrades, I had seen all the unit types, and I had dealt with every combination of fast and slow, light and heavy enemies. This might be a decent game on mobile devices, but PC has better tower defence experiences. Defence Grid, this isn’t.


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Steam Challenge – Hector: Badge of Carnage

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 8.5 hours

Well, well, well, wot ‘ave we ‘ere.

A point and click puzzle game, is what. I was expecting a good game, since Hector has the Telltale brand attached. It didn’t quite succeed for me, though. It’s an episodic game, in three parts, and the overall plot is fairly decent. Standard criminal case type of thing. The failures were in other areas.

The tone is very crude, gross and lowbrow in a very British way. There is a lot of black humour, but much of it relies on very exaggerated stereotyping. Or bodily fluids. Seriously, there are a LOT of bodily fluids involved with this game. Poop jokes are just the beginning. At first it’s entertaining, and the various British slang and curse words are a welcome change from an American-English dominated industry. But that is pretty much all there is to the humour. It’s all crude, disgusting and over the top. It wears you down over the course of the three episodes, especially the overly-wordy invectives that Hector loves to dish out pretty much every dialogue option you pick. You’re spending a lot of time in brothels, porn shops, butchers, septic tanks, and toilets, and it ends up just being too much.

The puzzle designs were very scattershot in quality. The inventory puzzles were pretty good, reasonably straightforward and intuitive. But the two other main puzzle types, environmental and dialogue, are all over the place. Some are clear and easy to figure out, but others – especially the dialogue ones – can be stupidly obtuse. Luckily, there is an excellent hint system in the game. I actually think it is the most well-executed part of the overall experience. There are three levels to it: first, Hector himself often comments on what he needs to do or have in order to continue. Then you can go and talk to his partner, Lambert, who will give you general hints about the larger goals. Finally the hint section itself gives you clues to specific puzzles, in gradually more spoiler-y fashion.

There were some glitches with the sound, which was rare but annoying. That leads me to the other major letdown: the voice acting. There were times when it felt like the same guy was doing all the voices, even old lady ones (Monty Python style), and each and every character in the game has an outrageously overblown accent. Again, it’s entertaining at first, because some British humour relies on the accent to deliver the punch, but it gets old after a while. Much sooner than I expected, to be honest.

I ended up not being able to finish the third episode. I just ran out of fucks to give. It wasn’t funny anymore, and the constant insult-ridden dialogue was becoming a chore to wade through. I’d recommend picking up the first episode if you can, to see if you like it. Even if you do, though, I definitely recommend a long break between episodes unless you love toilet humour. Also, as a PSA to my North American readers, be warned that there is an overwhelming amount of British slang and references in this game, so if you dislike not knowing wtf the characters are talking about, and can’t be arsed looking it up, then it’s probably best to avoid Hector.


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Mindsets

Sorry, essay rant incoming. Hold onto your seats. Also, sorry that posts have been rather negative lately.

This post started out as another “Yes I quit ArcheAge too” rant, but not only did it quickly break out of that enclosure, it was then further influenced by J3w3l’s and Aywren’s writings on AA (and PvP worlds in general) as well. I could have talked about how I quit because of the crappy Glyph launcher; the fact that 70% of the time, every time I exited the client my computer froze, forcing me to manually reboot; the fact that any PvP was effectively out of my league because of my latency and even PvE was difficult at times; that I had no reasonable chance to get a farm or farmhouse plot of land because of hacks and/or real estate speculators forcing prices through the roof; or even that I was disgusted by the weird Labour Point (LP) gating that, combined with a F2P model,  promoted behaviour that in all honesty gaming should not promote. But no, I want to talk about some other, wider, subtler, structural issues instead.  Continue reading


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Steam Challenge – Gemini Rue

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 8.7 hours

Gemini Rue is a dystopian sci-fi point-and-click adventure title that hearkens back to the 90’s golden age of 16-bit adventure games. The plot is not quite as epic as the marketing suggests, but nevertheless it is a (mostly) well-written, gritty drama that will keep you interested until the end.

All the characters are voice-acted, which is really good for an indie developer. The talent is of a fairly high standard, but there is one character who is very, very badly done. I can’t decide whether it is the writing, or the voice actor himself that is the problem.

The puzzles are intuitive and just challenging enough to require some effort, without being silly Monkey Island-style “combine these incredibly unlikely things at this specific point” affairs. There are several points in the game which involve combat, but you are put through a tutorial which explains how this works, and it is quite simple. I can’t say it adds much to the game though, I feel like it could have worked just as well without those scenes. Fortunately it is a rare occurrence.

You do end up playing as more than one character during the game, which is integral to the way the story unfolds, and in general it works quite well. Overall, this is definitely a worthwhile pickup at full price if you are into adventure games, and a bargain if you get it cheaper.


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Outside Looking In

This is the first time since I started playing WoW, in Burning Crusade days, that I have not been there at the launch of an expansion. It feels weird and somewhat isolating to watch practically everyone I know either gushing about their Warlords experience in blogs, or seeing them in game (via Battle.net). Each one of them tugs at my resolve to stay away from WoW, but the people that I know well, have played with and are closest to, are spread out between various servers and guilds now. I don’t feel like I’d belong anywhere in particular.

Yet WoW is the only MMO that I have any connections in. I know of people who play the other MMOs I have played, but they are either on EU servers, or in timezones that are incompatible with mine for group play. Or they just aren’t around much, being casual players. My best friend in Melbourne is the only Australian I know who even has TSW, for example, and he has gone back to WoW with his partner with the Warlords release. I don’t mind playing TSW as a single-player game, but it would be nice to get to do the group content – I missed the SuperJack boss as well as the Cat God instance during Samhain because my server was dead and there was nobody to team up with.

I went through these self-pitying moments a little during the TESO and Wildstar releases earlier this year, seeing everyone so hyped about those games, but it was reasonably easy to deal with. But I have that history with WoW and many people in it, which makes this bout of melancholy and jealousy much stronger. I know it’s my own fault, because I am incapable of forging out on my own, but it still sucks to feel like you’re standing on the wrong side of the window.


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Spoilt by Story?

I’ve been playing a fair bit of The Secret World lately, because Samhain always is the best of the MMO holidays. Every time I come back to TSW I get all tingly in anticipation at the prospect of digging deeper into the lore of the game. I know it has been said before, by many people, but there really is no MMO out there that can compete with the way TSW handles story. Even SWTOR has to take a back seat here, I think.

It’s not just the story or lore itself that brings TSW head and shoulders above the competition, though. It is the atmosphere which it both feeds off and creates. It just all comes together to deliver an experience that really is second to none in the genre. I think that the defining aspect of it is the investigation missions. Not only do they engage your brain in a way that no other MMO can, they force you to learn about things that inform the background lore of the game. Whether it be decrypting morse code that a ghost is sending you via a van’s headlights, learning old (pagan?) names for herbs to use in a summoning ritual, translating all manner of ancient languages, or using classical art references to find hidden keys, it is all deeply immersive.

The quality of writing – both textual and verbal – is incredible, given what we normally put up with. Even though it is good, I still think a fair bit of the SWTOR dialogue is slightly-to-overly melodramatic, at least for the Imperial Agent storyline I played. I think the LOTRO flavour writing is very good, particularly in the Shire – I really like how they captured the Hobbit lifestyle. But the quest dialogue, and the flow of the story, it seemed too compartmentalised, too disconnected from the rest of the world. It felt too much like the WoW level of writing quality, too…gimmicky?

Anyway, the point is that I think I’ve been spoilt by the quality of writing in TSW, and now it is really difficult to get excited about any MMO that doesn’t live up to that standard. I’ve come to realise that in an MMO, what I am craving is the experience of being a part of a larger story, where I am discovering my place in it just as much as I am shaping it. I think this is the reason why I haven’t been able to really immerse myself in GW2. The dialogue was absolutely shocking, the personal story was just boring as hell, and other than that there is, as far as I could tell, no overall story that I felt a part of. ArcheAge was pretty bad, too, in terms of writing quality. Plus, the main story ended abruptly and with no sense of having changed anything.

With the vast majority of MMOs these days having virtually identical gameplay experiences – with minor variations in combat and minigame offerings – the defining factor for me, I’ve realised, is the world-building. The lore. The background. The atmosphere. The writing. If the game won’t meet my standards for these, then I’ll either have to turn to sandboxes like EVE, where I write my own story or participate in ones created by others, or literally write my own stories. I need to get back to my WoW fanfic, since it is the closest I’m going to get to that game for the foreseeable future. There is a certain satisfaction to be gained from using your own perspective to flesh out parts of the story that you see major problems with, or felt were entirely neglected.

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