Xenoblade Chronicles X (First Impressions)

It seems a little silly to say “First Impressions” when I’m 50 hours and 10 chapters in, but this is Xenoblade so all my work thus far means I am finally allowed to start the story.

You may remember, or you may bother to scroll back far enough through my blog entries to notice, that I really really really fucking loved Xenoblade for the Wii.  One of my top games of all time, primarily because the story blew my mind.  I loved the characters, I loved the world, and the gameplay was merely okay but it was still cool.  The ending.  So good.  So naturally Xenoblade Chronicles X was a day 1 purchase.  I bought a Wii U almost solely for this game (also Mario but that’s a given).

Xenoblade X is… disappointing so far.  It’s still got a lot of potential and I’m eager to actually get this story rolling because they have me intrigued, but god damn can we get on with this already?  I’ve been playing for 50 hours and I’ve only really advanced the story once.  The rest has been what is essentially a tutorial.  That said, there are SO MANY FUCKING MECHANICS in this game that you NEED 50 hours of tutorial to get acquainted with all of them.  Is that a good thing?  … depends.  If you’re super into customization and tinkering with optimizations then you’ll like the systems at play here.  My husband finally gave in and abandoned Fallout 4 to start playing after watching me upgrading a million billion different things to optimize my team.  He loves that sort of shit.  If you’re just in it for the story, then I hope you’re patient.  I’m patient but this is really starting to test my limits.

The game feels like it is trying VERY VERY HARD to be a single player MMO.  If you enjoy MMO style gameplay and exploration, that might even be a good thing, but if you don’t enjoy MMO style dragging out of story and objectives… weelllll…

It’s even got online components.  Sort of.  You join a division and then certain tasks contribute toward your division getting points, and then everyone in that division gets goodies.  Not exciting goodies, but goodies.  And you feel kind of like you’re part of something, I guess.  You can also hire other player’s characters to join your party and come help you with stuff, and next time they log in they’ll have goodies waiting for them from that, too.  There’s also chat and achievement announcements and stuff but the very instant it popped up on my screen I fled to the settings panel and shut all of that shit down because fuck that.  Who the hell thought that was a good idea.

The problem is, almost nothing happens for 50 hours.  The game starts, the story is literally nothing but “Earth was destroyed and we’re on Mira now.  Go learn about Mira.”  You run around and explore shit (and the world is FANTASTIC to explore, with big epic creatures wandering around and cool formations and stuff), you learn about the factions within what remains of humanity, you find some cool stuff on the planet… annnnd nothing really groundbreaking happens. There’s a little blip of coolness in Chapter 5 that ups the ante a bit, but you need to get to Chapter 8 before shit starts happening, which is somewhere around 30 hours in.  I burned myself out on side quests in the first Xenoblade so in this one I skipped them all and rushed to unlock the story quests, wanting to dig into the story before I exhausted myself this time.  Turns out if you’re not level ~35 by Chapter 9 you get your ass handed to you repeatedly for an hour before you go hire a max level player to clear it for you (*ahem*.  Not that I speak from experience or anything.)  Now I’m kind of stuck.  I’ve almost unlocked the next chapter, but… maybe I should level a bit more first?  But… ugh.

See, the problem is, and this is fucking stupid: Once you take an affinity or story mission, you cannot take another one.  You’re stuck on that quest until it’s done.  And you cannot drop it.  I learned this the hard way early on when I took an affinity mission that led to a continent I had not explored yet (and therefore did not have a travel point to).  At a certain point in the game you get flying which would make travel there simple, but I was pretty far from that, so I looked up how to get there the old fashioned way.  Turned out the answer was to spend 40 minutes swimming across the ocean, and then run past a whole bunch of level 50 monsters until I got to my level 20 quest zone.  It was pretty awful.  But hey at least the game has auto-run?  :/

There are many questionable design decisions like that in this game.  Things that unlock before you’re ready for them are somewhat forgivable, but locking you into them is kind of shitty.  Even more shitty is the lack of options for sound and music volume.  If you read any review on the internet they’ll have mentioned this already, but, the music volume is really loud, and the music often contains spoken lyrics that are sung at the same volume as the characters who are speaking in a cutscene.  Fuck off.  NO music volume slider?  Really?  And then some of the music tracks are simply unbearable.  I will tolerate pretty much every kind of music except rap, and there are (at least) two rap-like tracks in the game.  One is the track that plays the entire time you’re in the main city which is a significant chunk of the game.  The other is the ground-combat track.  Which is a significant chunk of the game.  And they wouldn’t even be bad tracks if it weren’t for the inclusion of lyrics for god knows what reason.  WHY would you include lyrics.  You can listen to instrumental music for hours on end and barely notice anything but atmosphere, but if I hear that fucker singing “ON A WHOOOOLLE DIF-RENT PLAN-ET” during combat one more fucking time… at least the city track is just an irritating series of grunts and moans that you can largely ignore, even though you may be doing it with your face in your palm.  “YEAH YEAH.  HONH HONH.” I’ve turned the volume on my TV down to almost nothing, which really sucks because the REST of the music is absolutely phenomenal.  Although, there is also a different track when your Skell takes flight, which overrides whatever music is playing in your current zone (so needless to say, once I unlocked flying I started flying everywhere in town – but I probably would have done that anyway because flying), BUT, when you land on the ground it goes back to the zone track.  So if you do a lot of hopping around it’s actually really fucking annoying.

In summary: the sound designers for Monolith need to be fired for their monumentally bad decision making.

But ALSO.  I HATE the party management in this game.  HATE it.  You can have 4 peoples in your party at a time.  Certain quests require you to have certain people with you.  Certain quests require certain people to be with you and like you.  You can boot people out of your party at any time, that’s not an issue.  The issue is getting the fuckers back into your party.  As soon as they leave your party they fuck off to their preferred locations in town and you can go there to ask them to join you again.  The little tablet screen gives you a checkmark to let you know where they hang out, BUT there are plenty of other things putting checkmarks around which mean you have to click on the checks to see which are for characters.  AND, completing segments in town can trump the checkmarks and you’ll no longer know which symbols hide character locations.  AND.  Even when you can see the checkmark, the character location changes based on time of day.  AND if you’ve unlocked certain events, they’ll fuck off to somewhere new and wait for you there.  Will you know that until you hunt around for them and waste 15 minutes of your life?  Probably not.  I know it’s great to have characters out there using the world and things changing based on time of day is cool and MY IMMERSION and whatnot, but would it really be so awful to give me a selection screen to add them back in from wherever the fuck I want?  Make it from the barracks console only or something, I don’t care.  Or at least a menu where you’re like “I want this person” and it goes “Okay, they are currently located at…”  This system is irritating as fuck and it makes me skip affinity quests that require me to shuffle my party.  That is not good design.

And speaking of the party system… I have almost no justification to even use the rest of the characters so far because they are all gigantic assholes who have invited themselves to my party without my permission – in fact sometimes expressly against my wishes as laid out by my dialogue choices.  FYI dialogue writers: Illusion of choice in dialogue only really works if it’s ACTUALLY an illusion, and not a thin smokescreen.  Now, the thing I loved about the original Xenoblade was the character development, so I know these characters will all have deep and interesting backstories and they’re all being set up as superficial assholes to make those discoveries even more rewarding… BUT… you’re laying it on too thick, guys.  Seriously.  If one more fuckface walks up to me and is all “hey you, you seem like a pushover and I agreed to do this thing but I don’t wanna do it because I’m a dickhead so now you’re going to do it for me” and then I respond with “no, fuck you” (or the closest Nintendo equivalent which is not nearly as satisfying) and then they go “ha ha you’re funny let’s go get my shit” and then I just get the quest with no further complaint… fuck off.  Or worse, the character who literally betrays you as an introduction and then *bing* they’re in your party whether you like it or not.  What the fuck.  At least have a little more of a transition there…

But secretly I am worried that the characters will not actually have deep and interesting backstories at all.  Because the writing in this game does not seem very solid at all so far, and I am not nearly as confident as I was in the writing of the first game.  Very worrisome.

But anyway, I’ve bitched enough.  How about GOOD design!  I really love how the Wii tablet is used for the game.  The touchscreen on it isn’t quite sensitive enough, but it gets the job done and in a cool way.  Bonus marks for being able to play the game like a handheld if someone steals your TV away from you (but that’s just a cool Wii U feature in general).

I already mentioned I LOVE the world.  The creatures wandering around are epic and it’s great to explore.  I like that the monsters aren’t sequestered in handy level-appropriate chunks and you can wander through a kaleidoscope of creatures and difficulties to get where you’re going. It would be less cool if A) you couldn’t port anywhere you’ve been instantly and B) getting randomly stomped by a level 90 actually had any consequences, but since you can and it doesn’t, the world is awesome.

I also actually like the combat this time around.  In the first game the textures were muddy and strategy was difficult because you couldn’t really tell what’s going on.  In this one it’s much easier to see what’s going on (with the exception of the camera being ass.  The camera is slow and floaty and made of ass.  But I said I would stop bitching…), AND they added the incredibly handy feature of a little readout telling you where you actually are located around the creature.  So when you’re trying to get off a side or back combo, you don’t have to look at the alien blob on your screen and go “is THAT its back?  No wait this looks like a tail so… no, maybe not…”.  It’s so simple it really makes you wonder why the fuck the original didn’t have one.  Also combat combos are really interesting with a ton of variety, not just with your character but with everyone else.  The combos are complex, but not difficult to understand, so it’s not hard to set everyone up with complementary skills and make sure you focus on the right sorts of power-ups.  At least… so far.

I’m really hanging in there because it feels like the story is about to take off soon, but… it’s getting to be a bit of a slog.  And even worse, I know I’m only half-way to the level cap.  So there might be some exp grinding in my future before I can even tackle the story quests.  I dislike that… but I’m trusting it will be worth it.  I also like that it doesn’t hand-hold, even though it makes things seem super obtuse.  It may have 30 hours of tutorial, but at least you need them.  It also kinda has that “old school EQ” charm of “This took a lot of effort therefore it was worth my time to do it”.  Effort Justification, bitches.  Please stop designing gameplay around Psychology biases :(

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ArcheAge, OR “Endless /facepalms in Trion’s General Direction”

Let’s start at the beginning.  Once upon a time, I purchased a retail copy of “Rift”.  That’s right, I purchased a physical game, that came in a box, on a disc, not just a box containing a slip of paper with a key on it.  Times sure were different then.

I brought it home, installed it, and played it for a few months before I decided it was sort of the same old same old and if I was going to play the same old I may as well pay for and play the thing I was already established in rather than working my way up from the bottom again.  Many moons later, after everyone else came to that same conclusion, Rift went Free to Play and I logged back in again.  I proceeded to log many many hours in Rift, but I barely gained any levels.  Nope, I spent the entirety of my time running in circles collecting artifacts (those little shiny things that spawn on the ground) in order to complete all the achievement collections for no god damn reason whatsoever.  I just wanted to, okay?  MUST COLLECT SHINIES.  Because the game was free I guess I felt secure in the knowledge that I was at least not wasting much money to waste all of my time collecting artifacts (although I did eventually buy a couple more upgrades for my account…).

Because I had previously paid a lot of money for the full retail price of the game and subscribed for a while, my account had a decent amount of loyalty points and the Auction House unlocked, and I worked the AH to sell my duplicate artifacts.  I almost never actually spent gold on them (that would defeat the point of finding them, dammit), and as a result my character was carrying around literal mountains of cash.  We had formed a guild before we quit (before the F2P move) and I was the only one left… but I levelled it solely on artifact collecting quests (meant to be completed through team efforts with an entire guild) and bought all the upgrades (meant to be purchased through team efforts with an entire guild) with my massive pockets full of gold.  It was great.

I eventually got to the point where I’d have to actually do quests and level to be able to safely collect artifacts in the remaining zones, so I got distracted and wandered off, but the Rift icon stayed pinned to my Windows taskbar in case I ever felt bored enough to run around looking for sparkly things on the ground.

Just recently, Trion got the rights to bring “ArcheAge” over to North America.  I was actually really interested in this game because there is nothing in the world more exciting to me than a Harvest Moon MMO, and ArcheAge revolves largely around farming and trade. The game was F2P besides so it wouldn’t even be a big investment to get started!  My mouse would drift ever so close to the “Download and Install” button, and then I would read something about how griefing is pretty much encouraged and some asshat can come along and ruin everything you’ve worked for on a whim.  I’d stop being interested.  Then, some time later, I’d load up the page and my mouse would start drifting again.  Then I’d read something about how the everything is handled client side (in the year 2014 you created an MMO where everything is client side.  What.) and hackers are (surprise!) a huge issue, because it is remarkably easy to hack client side code.  I’d close the page again.

Then one day I was like “Oh what the fuck.  It’s free.” and installed it.

Red flag #1 is that it installs a rootkit called HackShield.  Supposedly this is to catch hackers and botters (which are plaguing the game as we speak, so how’s that working out for you?) but disturbingly it does not actually mention that it is installing this system at all (there’s no chance to bail during the install process).  I had no technical issues with it, but it’s a shitty practice.  (note: the system was chosen by the Korean developers and Trion didn’t have anything to do with it, other than not protesting it I guess…)

But anyway.  It immediately accepted my Rift credentials so I didn’t even have to make an account, and as soon as it was installed I was off and running around.

I played for a couple of hours over roughly two days and got to level 15, at which point I discovered it was next to impossible to continue without spending money.  You could continue but your life would be miserable.  And also the AH was locked and that’s like the entire reason I play these games, so I decided “eh, what the hell” and dropped $15 on a one month subscription, which would permanently unlock the AH for my account even after the other subscriber perks expired.  I figured 15 bucks was like 3 shitty Steam games that I wouldn’t bother to play anyway, and then I’d get a feel for how the game really was when it started getting more competitive and “griefy” at higher levels.

I spent the next 40 minutes finding some free land to place my new farm (you can’t place a farm unless you subscribe, although subscribing does not guarantee you will find land to place it on…), planting a couple crops in it (You can plant crops literally anywhere, but they mature in real-time (from hours to days) and aren’t safe from stealing unless they’re in your own farm.  Which you can’t have unless you subscribe.), then scoured the newly unlocked AH for good deals and ideas, getting an idea of what crops I should start shooting for in the future.

Before the first hour of my subscription had expired, I was banned.

I sort of stared at the message on the screen and then said incredulously “Apparently I’m banned now?”
“After you just subscribed?” my husband said.

I did some quick research and discovered false-positive auto-bans were happening to lots of players, some of them before they even made it to the tutorial NPCs in the starting area.  “Well too fucking bad this didn’t happen 40 minutes ago, before I gave it my fucking credit card information…” I lamented.

What’s worse… I discovered that it wasn’t just ArcheAge I was banned from.  It was every single game in Trion’s catalogue including my longstanding Rift account, Defiance, Trove, and any new game they may add to their library in the future.  I’d just like to emphasize that this was a first offense (if, in fact, there had been an offense… which there hadn’t.) for an account with many years of history with them and a fair amount of payment history, and the response was to completely block me from their entire library.  What the fuck, Trion.  Even more insulting: any account that had been caught red-handed in the recent high-profile cash-store exploits in ArcheAge only received a 24 hour suspension.

The email it sends you is wholly unhelpful.  No reason is given, it just says “This email is to inform you that your Trion account has been banned for a violation.”  It goes on to link to their support site if you want to “discuss the reason for the termination or request a reinstatement”.

When you’re banned, you cannot access their support site (including the live chat) because you need to log in, so the link in the email takes you to their FAQ.  You need to search within the FAQ to find out that you need to email a specific appeals email if you can’t access the site (they couldn’t bother to mention that in the email, eh?).  I sent an appeal to the email and received a canned message saying they were experiencing a “heavier than normal amount of traffic” (no shit) and that responses would be delayed, and then given a link to back to log into the site if I needed to view or change my ticket, which of course isn’t fucking possible if you’re banned (/facepalm).

I was sort of working on the assumption that there had been a problem with my credit card, since it happened so close to my subscription activation.  But it would still be ludicrous to outright library-ban someone for a payment bounce… and sure enough the charge came through, so the card had worked just fine.  I had mentioned in my ticket that I did not want to pay for a month of Patron that I had only received 40 minutes of, and two days later I received a notice from Trion saying my purchase had been refunded, so that’s nice, at least.  There was no response to my ticket about the ban, though.  The vast majority of stories of accidental bans ended with their accounts being restored, so I had faith that they would get around to righting things… it was just going to take a very long time due to the massive clusterfuck that was going on over there.

My trust was misplaced.  The next day I received a response which said “We could not find an account associated with this email.” and my ticket was unceremoniously closed.  I sent the email from the same email that was my account login, and they had to have been able to find my account to issue the refund, so… clearly my account exists AND they found it at least once for this very same ticket.  I attempted to log in again and found the same “The account you are trying to access has been banned” message, so it still existed (and was still banned).  I responded to the ticket to re-open it and gave them my email and personal details again, but they responded less than an hour later with the exact same message about not being able to locate an account, and shut it down again.  I suspect they didn’t even look, they just copy/pasted the original response.  I figured my mistake was probably asking for a refund and an un-ban in the same ticket request… so I opened a second ticket with a new incident number just to see if I’d get someone to legitimately look at it this time.

In the meantime I had been doing some reading and I discovered that apparently Trion had been issuing legit bans for afk idling in game.  I would like to wax poetic for a moment on how absolutely ludicrous that is.  Here is why:

One of the major reasons you want to subscribe (other than getting access to land ownership) is because the entire game revolves around labor points.  Labor works kind of like energy.  You need to spend labor points to do anything.  Anything.  Planting, harvesting, crafting, almost everything but combat will cost labor points.  As an unsubbed newbie, it costs 15 labor points to harvest something, and you gain 5 labor points every 5 minutes.  That’s one harvest every 15 minutes.  Labor points do not regenerate while offline.  So if you plant a bunch of crops (which costs labor) then log off, it’s quite likely you won’t have enough labor left to actually harvest those crops when you log back on.  Thus: afk idling.  Patrons get around this by getting double labor point production AND the ability to generate labor points while offline, which makes the game actually playable with some semblance of a life.  (Worthy to note, again:  I’m pretty sure the labor system was designed by the Korean company, not Trion.)

Here is why this is a stupid system:  MMOs are more profitable when no one is online.  Every single player that is online is using bandwidth, taking up server space, and cutting into your profits.  The ideal MMO (from a corporate standpoint) will have a player that pays a subscription who never actually logs in to the damn game, ever.  The labor point system is actively encouraging your least profitable group (the F2P players) to stay online the longest.

This is so incredibly ironic coming from a game that’s all about economic efficiency.  The mind boggles.  Even patrons are rewarded for staying online, because they get 10/per for online and only 5/per for offline (as opposed to 5/per 0/per for F2P players).  May I suggest a system where F2P players get 5/per labour offline, and patrons get 10/per?  Then people are still incentivized to become patrons (especially since they get like, 1.5x more labor cap besides) but they’re not needlessly wasting your resources to deal with your shittily designed system.

But who cares about labor generation when no one can play the fucking game, right?  It’s been two weeks since my last ticket and there has been no response.  I’ve been keeping my eye on the false-ban discussions and discovered that the whole “This email is not associated with an account” response is overwhelmingly common all of a sudden, and you know what?  Fuck this.  I’ve uninstalled all Trion games (including Rift…) and when they do unban my account (which I honestly do believe they will do.  Eventually.  With no guarantee it won’t just get randomly banned again…) my only action will be to log in and make sure there are no scraps of credit card information available tied to my account because I do not trust a company this incompetent with it.

What the fuck, Trion.  What the fuck.  I used to like you :/

I will leave you with this email that my friend sent to me:
byerift
———
Update: After a month of waiting for a new reply and updating my Trion support ticket, still without reply, I have joined a large number of other users and filed a complaint with the BBB. I listed my desired resolution as either reinstatement of my account and an apology, or an explanation of what rule I suposedly broke and why a first offence deserves a library ban from all titles. I don’t even want the damn account back at this point but I am not just going to walk away from this bullshit either. They angried up my blood :P

Update 2:  On the exact same day that the BBB let me know they had forwarded my complaint, Trion unbanned my account and gave me 2 months and 5 days of free time (funny how that works!).  The apology was the typical canned response of: “We have reviewed your account and verified that you were banned incorrectly. We apologize for this error and we will use this information to improve our reports system so legitimate players such as yourself are not banned incorrectly going forward. We are working our hardest to get rid of as many of the illegitimate players as we are able to, but unfortunately this means that certain times our reports can be too restrictive and catch legitimate players.”

… Which is really just a way of saying “Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette.  Sucks but what ya gonna do”, when the correct answer is “don’t shit all over your customers when you fuck up”.  I’m not upset about being banned accidentally by an algorithm.  Shit happens.  I’m upset that they banned a legit account from their entire library (if it had just been ArcheAge I wouldn’t be NEARLY as shocked by this whole situation, but my god the horrifying decision making that is on display here…), with no warning and no explanation (I didn’t even get the vague “significantly over the latency limit” explanation that some people have gotten… so I didn’t even get banned for lagging), for what would have been a first offence had there been one, and then when I jumped through their hoops to ask for my shit back they dropped the ball and were like “welp you don’t exist, can’t help” and it took five weeks and a BBB complaint before they actually got off their asses and looked into it properly. I didn’t even lose (much) land or anything because I hadn’t played the game long enough, but many of the stories involve accounts that paid for the multi hundreds of dollar limited edition headstart type shit who proceeded to lose all their land and accumulated goods due to the way the game is designed.  I can’t even…

I do appreciate that I didn’t have to fight for my refund though, and I thank their billing department for not being entirely incompetent.  I say that now, before I have checked to make sure there were no further charges on my card…

I will not be reinstalling ArcheAge.  I had briefly entertained the notion of trying the game again once I was unbanned, since I had assumed the compensation would be free time and hey that means I could unlock the AH without having to pay anything!  But that was back when I thought this would take at most a week to resolve.  Five weeks is just ridiculous.  Sorry Trion, you dropped this ball way too hard for me to trust you again.

—-

Just peeked at my BBB complaint status:

01/20/2015 Forward Consumer Rebuttal to Business
02/04/2015 No Response from Business re: Consumer Rebuttal

/golfclap

How Not to Include Controller Support

Note:  The following events took place under the influence of beer, which may somewhat explain the difficulties I had, but in no way excuses them.

We started playing a diablo-like last night (which is kind of ironic given how much Diablo we’ve been playing, but it’s about to drop another big patch that will re-consume our lives so we decided to take a break until that happens).  I was mystified by the non-responsive splash screen until I saw the little “Press A to continue” at the bottom.  Ahhh it wants me to use the controller I have plugged in, that’s why my mouse is not responding!  … weird, for a diablo-like, but okay.

I carry on my merry way squinting at button prompts because none of them seem very intuitive and it’s pretty annoying.  A to attack, ok that makes sense.  Trigger buttons to move left and right in menus?!?  Wait which button is this new special attack I just picked up?  Oops shit just used my potions.  Well, I’ll get the hang of this eventually.

Then we finally get somewhere in the story and an item drops!  I… don’t know how to pick it up.  So I ask.

“uh, just click on it?”

“Oh.  I thought I had to use the controller!”

“I’m using the mouse… it’s literally exactly the same as Diablo.”

TO THE OPTIONS SCREEN.  Aha here it is under controls.  “Disable controller”

“The game must be restarted for this to take effect”

Mother.  Fucker.  Fuck it I’ll just figure out this controller.

We level up!  Time to spend a skill point!  Press this button to spend skill point, press that button to unspend skill point (it’s located above the other button, so it’s not intuitive in an “increment one” sort of way…) .  The skills are laid out in this annoying grid that didn’t make any logical sense… some of the skills are dependent on having points in other skills but the layout is just all over the place so I have to move through each box to make it pop up and tell me what it needs.  I end up accidentally spending points in the wrong skills trying to look at them to see what I need, but fortunately I can unspend.

Oh shit the companion levelled up too how do I get there?  Uhhhhh oh it looks like I can trigger-button my way through a couple different menus here.  Oh there are perks to buy?  And reputation points??  Where are those?!?  Damn there’s a lot of shit to spend, I didn’t see any of this before so I have a few points racked up.

A bit later I’m STILL doing fucking like, 1-3 damage despite levelling a bunch, and finally a new weapon drops for me!  Thank god, this was getting embarassing.  Okay pick up the weapon with trigger button, and now… hmm how do I make sure this is equipped?

“How do I get to the inventory?”

“Well… for me I press “I”… so, I dunno how the controller does it…”

fuck.  Scroll through the screens again.  Oh this looks kind of like an inventory?  Maybe?  I’m looking at only one item… is there a way to select a different item type?  Jesus what the hell who designed this shit.  Oh I have to use THIS control stick to select a different item type, kind of like a flyout wheel, except it has no cursor so it just selects whichever one is in the direction you press and you can’t just like scroll around the wheel, so it’s not intuitive or anything.  No, I don’t want that one, the one next to it.  No, not that one either.  God dammit select this one, it’s on a diagonal and I’m fucking pushing diagonal you fuck.

“Seriously I can’t figure out how to equip these guns.  Maybe I should just reboot the stupid game and get the mouse and keyboard back.”

“You’re kind of having a lot of trouble with it, so, yeah.”

*close game*

FUCK I forgot to go back into options and turn off the controller, which means it will default to controller again, which means I have to start the game, go into options, turn it off, turn off the game… fuck it I’ll just unplug the controller instead.

*unplug controller.  Start game.*

Well.  Now it is apparent why you need to restart the game to use the mouse.  The UI is ENTIRELY different (and exactly like Diablo…).  Oh look, when I press “I” it goes straight to the inventory screen, displays ALL of my items at once, and makes it intuitive which ones I am actually wearing.  Not to mention how much space I have left.  Oh look!  I can click directly on the skill type I want to spend points in!  OH LOOK, THE SKILLS SCREEN IS LAID OUT IN A WAY THAT MAKES FUCKING SENSE, NOW.

My god.

Having a controller option is reallyreally good, because choice is good.  But this.  Do. Not. Do. This.  Any of it.

Watch Dogs (First Impressions)

This is a verrrryyyyy early first impression.  I played the tutorial crap and did the first mission, then drove around and collected some check-in points.  But first impressions are the most important, right?!?

We got Watch Dogs for “free” with a new video card, which is convenient because I really really dislike Ubisoft and their disdain for PC gamers, so it meant I could try it at release instead of stubbornly refusing to give Ubisoft any money until it was dirt cheap on Steam.  (The greatest tragedy of the gaming world is that Ubisoft has the Anno franchise… alas).

I somehow managed to avoid the uPlay fiasco because I downloaded it (something I was apparently lucky to be able to do), immediately turned off cloud saving, then went into offline mode.  I did that because I hate uPlay and it fucks everything up far too often for me to trust it.  Well guess what!  It fucked everything up for everyone who stayed online.  I was able to go offline and play relatively unhindered, but it sucks for anyone who actually wanted to try the multiplayer invasion PvP stuff.  Of course, every time I boot it up, it whines at me about how I should really go online because I’m really missing out!  Ugh, uPlay.

But anyway.  Bitching about uPlay is low hanging fruit.  Instead, I will bitch about the game.

One positive thing I will say about Watch Dogs is that the enforced tutorial was NOT onerous.  It did have the little popup tooltips telling you what buttons to press to make shit do shit, but it didn’t get totally in your face and force you to stop, or prevent you from playing with your abilities until it had painstakingly explained the controls to you (despite the controls being exactly the fucking same as every other game, because if they weren’t exactly the fucking same as every other game, you would be doing it wrong.)  Of course, it’s able to get away with it by not giving you any abilities to start!  But that is an acceptable compromise.  I did dislike how it sort of dictated where my first skill point should go, though.

The opening mission was decently interesting, and it really didn’t explain much to you at all.  Some people might even find it confusing, but I enjoyed it.  I’m getting sick of having every game handhold you through the opening minutes.  However I do feel like it needed a bit more exposition, if only to help the player bond with the main character a bit more.  You’re sort of dumped into this guy, you have no idea who he is except you may have an idea that he’s a hacker if you’ve heard anything about the game before, and you’re sort of scrambling around trying to figure out why he’s doing what he’s doing.  Why you are doing what you are doing.  We’re hacking a stadium to escape because… uh… we’re stealing money?  We hate these guys?  I’ve already forgotten why he was even in there and I was just playing it last night.  It’s the same sort of problem books run into when they give you no reason to root for the protagonist.  Why do we care?  He knows why he’s doing what he’s doing but we’re sort of tagging along in a clueless haze, trusting that we will also care about his success once we know the whole story.  The problem lies in keeping the reader/player interested long enough to become invested in the story… but I guess when you’ve got a 60 dollar initial investment into it you might be more motivated to plow on.

Once you’re out of there it dumps you into the world and you are free to dick around, or move on with the story.  I dicked around a bit, realized I had no idea what I was doing (I’m stopping crimes?  So wait, am I a badass hacker thief or some sort of Spiderman do-gooder who also occasionally steals cars and robs ATMs?), then moved on to the story hoping it would all become clearer.

It sort of became clearer… but it also became a lot whinier.  We’re clearly meant to empathize with this guy, but it’s so heavy handed that I think I made an “ngh” noise out loud.  The line: “*dramatic pause* But now I’m afraid of the silence.” was so… you’re just trying way too fucking hard here, jesus.  Instead of empathizing I actually started to actively dislike him.

My biggest complaint (so far) is with the controls.  I enjoyed the opening mission because it was very Splinter Cell-ish – hiding around corners, using gadgets to distract or incapacitate guards so you could advance without anyone detecting you – and my only complaint was that everything was done with the same gadget, which just had different contexts.  I was sort of hoping that would improve as the game went on, but instead I just unlocked more contexts for my gadget.  There are craftable doodads which might alleviate the problem, but I disliked how they’re all stuck on a god damn flyout wheel and feel very awkward to swap between.  I hate flyout wheels.  I have lots and lots and lots of keys on my keyboard.  I want to use them to make switching items quick and efficient.  I want to select which button does which skill so that I can place my most used items exactly where I want to access them.  Fuck your flyout wheel.

But mostly I hate the camera.  First, an aside – I dislike how everything is enforced third person nowadays.  At least give me the option of first person if I want it.  I prefer not having a third of my screen be taken up by my avatar.  The character movement is really awkward and clumsy.  I’m not sure if I can articulate it better than that… it just feels like it’s imprecise.  I turn the character around and he kind of wobbles and flails and then I have to fine tune the direction I want him to go in.  I think it’s related to the mouselook camera not picking up diagonals properly with the WASD movement, because it’s designed for a control stick instead of mouselook and they didn’t bother to optimize it for mouselook.  Instead of turning gracefully, he does an about-face when you try to turn with a key, probably because it’s directly translating your keypress into a flat-out controller stick movement instead of having proper keyboard control.

The camera as a whole just feels floaty and awful.  The reason I hate controlling cameras with controllers is because it feels floaty and imprecise, where a mouse can move a camera with speed and precision.  I have a high DPI mouse and just a tiny amount of movement can swing a camera around for a quick scan of an area, but also instantly stop on a target in the middle if I spot something interesting.  I like having that level of control.  But even with the settings at maximum, the camera in this game feels like I’m using a controller, i.e. floaty and awful.  It’s not so bad that I won’t get used to it, but it’s annoying knowing that it’s deliberately awful because it’s designed for a controller, and they didn’t bother to optimize their mouse option.  I HAVE a controller for my PC and I did try it that way, but the camera is just as awful, which makes sense because the whole reason I dislike it is because I hate controlling cameras with controllers.  My husband tried the Mouse/Keyboard route then opted for the controller, but is disliking it as well.  His comment was “My favourite open world games are ones with great movement, and this game has the worst controls.”

Once you get out into the world you realize it’s not Splinter Cell, it’s Assassin’s Creed with GTA cars.  They’ve even got “parkour” challenges, which is another fad I’m hoping will stop polluting games soon.  It makes sense in AssCreed.  It doesn’t even make sense for a hacker vigilante to be a ninja wall runner.  Of course, I tried climbing some walls and he huffed it up the side of a box like he was a 40 year old man with arthritis, so maybe it does make sense.

The camera continued to betray me out in the open world, and I actually came across something I really dislike about contextualized commands.  I was doing a mission where I was chasing someone down, and I tried to use my gadget to gadget his ass.  Just as I went to hit the button, the cursor popped over to a camera nearby instead of the target I was trying to aim at.  I didn’t notice in time and hacked the camera instead, which made my dude slam to a halt and changed my view to look through the camera as the perpetrator ran the fuck away from me.  Sigh.  Having buttons change their function in the middle of delicate maneuvers really does make it feel like an AssCreed game.

And there is camera bobbing while running.  >:(
No headaches yet though, so I will refrain from ranting.  For now.

I’ll play some more this weekend, possibly while drunk, and see if it starts to suck me in.  I’m not sure how optimistic I am though, given that my husband isn’t too impressed either.  His short and sweet review is:  “Feels like a game designed by a committee.”

—-

[edit] Okay I played a bit more and the gameplay is improving as I adjust to the still shitty controls (mouse sensitivity cranked up helped movement a lot but the flyout wheel is still intolerable and I’m going to neglect my craftable items because of it…), but the characters and writing hasn’t picked up yet.  I’m hearing it starts out slow and gets better so fingers crossed.  I really hate this guy, though.  ugh.  So far the only character I like is his asshole psychopath friend.

It feels like they tried to pull all the most popular gameplay parts of GTA and  Assassins Creed (open world, cars, exploding shit, theft, parkour, a plethora of collectables and unlockables to find in your spare time), and slapped the dramatic overtones of The Last of Us on top, presuming that would somehow make it even more successful.  It’s kind of like dumping the wrong condiments into a recipe and assuming that it’s a good condiment that worked in someone else’s recipe so it will make the dish better by default.  It’s really not working.

[Edit again] The entire point of a stealth game is that you have the option of solving scenarios with clever stealth mechanics instead of just running in with guns blazing (although ideally you could just do that too).  So why is it that I am constantly pushed into a mandatory gunfight scenario in this game.  I just did a mission where I successfully snuck past every guard and got the objective without detection, only to have my buddy go “Hey look there’s lots of Fixers coming sucks to be you!” and suddenly I’m shooting 30 guys and a helicopter, despite being completely undetected up to that point.  It was so scripted that it even reset the gun I was holding once I walked past the checkpoint.  This makes me irrationally angry and I don’t even want to bother with this shit.

Racing (but mostly ranting) (Subtitles and Tutorials rant)

This ostensibly began as a review of Dirt 3, but really I’ve played ~5 minutes or so and can’t really comment on the gameplay all that much.  This review will probably end up being something else altogether…

I recently went on a quest to find a decent PC racing game.  I love Gran Turismo and Forza and the like, but in order to play those I have to move to the couch, adjust the input on the TV to the appropriate console, find the controller, make sure the god damn disc is in the drive… I wanted to have something on my PC so I could be like “Hmm I want to race cars today” and click an exe and *poof*.

I picked up Test Drive Unlimited 2 in the winter sale on Steam and spent several mindboggling hours with it, marvelling at bad design decisions in controls and terrible voice acting during story cutscenes.  The story was added in to make it sorta-kinda like a Grand Theft Auto world, I presume, and the open world was kind of interesting to me, but the story was largely unnecessary and kind of dumb.  It didn’t add anything – the story is “you are a racer trying to make a name for yourself and become a champion”.  Well no shit, what else are you going to be doing in a racing game?  I suppose there could have been curveballs later that make it pay off, but I gave up early for a couple of reasons.  1) The controls and UI were awful.  I could have gotten used to them but simply navigating menus was painful and that’s kind of a bad sign in a game that also expects you to have dedicated buttons for fucking turn signals and stuff.  2) There were no god damn subtitles.  I am not deaf, but I quite often have the sound low or off while other things happen in the room.  I also read a hell of a lot faster than you talk.  A racing game (particularly one with a terrible story) is a perfect place to buzz through the subtitles and advance the cutscenes to get back to actually racing cars like I wanted to do when I installed this damn thing.
If you’ve played Dirt 3 you probably know where I’m going next with this review…
Last but not least, 3) The game requires you to create a separate account to log into their servers (something that deserves its own rant entry in the age of Steam), even if you only intend to play single player.  Once you’ve done this, it sits there and connects to the server making absolutely sure there have been no updates.  Connecting to the server takes an abominable amount of time.  The last time I decided to give the game a whirl, it sat on connecting for about a minute, and then I shut it down and uninstalled the game instead of waiting for it to connect.  Sorry guys, this is the age of instant gratification, and you failed.  I could have gone to the couch and played Gran Turismo in that amount of time!

Then I picked up Dirt 3 in the Humble Weekly Sale.  It was a timely sale, coming immediately after I dumped TDU2 into the trash bin.  It was very promising – it’s not quite Gran Turismo but I like rally racing too, and the graphics are very shiny (which was another thing TDU2 didn’t really have going for it…).  It also starts up immediately instead of fucking around with servers for two minutes.  All thumbs up so far!
(Actually it required me to install GFWL despite GFWL being dead, so that was kind of a thumbs down… but they’re still in the process of excising that particular tumor so I let it go.)

I started out in Dirt 3 like I typically do – my headphones were plugged in but sitting on the desk beside me while I listened to something my husband was doing.  The game kept hanging on me and I couldn’t figure it out.  It was clearly still running but all the button mashing in the world wouldn’t work.  Finally the icons would highlight again and I could advance.  What the hell is going on here?  It cannot possibly be loading anything for that long.

Then I saw it.  A speaker icon in the bottom left corner.  Oh no.

I picked up my headphones and confirmed.  Yup, some douche is talking to me the whole time the game is “frozen”.  There are absolutely no subtitle options anywhere in the settings.  There are absolutely no ways to skip the dialogue.  What’s WORSE: the dialogue is basically “In this event you want to race your car around the track.  The goal is to come in first.  You come in first by racing your car around the track.  In order to race your car around the track, push the button that corresponds to the gas pedal!  Coming in first means you win the race.  You want to win the race – winning is the whole goal of the race.”

I want to strangle the entire design team responsible for this nightmare.  This unskippable, non-subtitled, redundant nightmare.

I have two rants here:
For one, they’re completely leaving deaf people in the cold.  You’d think you’d be safe playing a fucking racing game and not having to worry about missing dialogue even if the dickheads responsible for design neglect to include subtitles for you, but now you’re stuck staring at a completely fucking useless speaker icon for several minutes, while some douche explains that the point of this racing game is to race cars.  It’s infuriating to me and I have the option of actually listening to the fucker.  I can’t imagine how annoying it is if you’re literally just staring at the screen waiting for a chance to continue.

For two, I know how to play a god damn racing game, you ass.  I don’t begrudge the inclusion of some instructions, it just makes me angry that they are mandatory.  A friend of mine linked a blog entry that talked about design decisions in modern video games.  I remember the old days of wading into a new game, getting over my head, then referring to the manual to figure out how to play.  Manuals were exciting!  I still have my old NES manuals and they’re considered collectors items, and people know how to play those games!  Nowadays manuals are extinct (if you’re lucky you’ll get a slip of paper pointing out some of the controls).  Instead, gamers are treated like children who must have their hands held through mandatory tutorials, because god forbid they miss the tutorial and become confused.
And in Dirt 3, not only are there mandatory tutorials, but you can’t skip through the instructions.  Because god forbid you accidentally hit a button and miss the instructions that the goal of the race is to come in first.

It really is happening more and more.  Think of a game you’ve played recently that didn’t have a shoe-horned tutorial in it.

Some games pull it off smoothly – Anno 2070’s campaign is literally all tutorial, progressing slowly from scenario to scenario until you’ve unlocked and used every feature in the game.  It makes sense from an in-game point of view, and introduces all the features to new players without any risk of overwhelming them.  It was mildly annoying to me because I played an unhealthy amount of Anno 1404, but you have the option of going straight to an open game if you want.  Of course, the achievements are to complete the tutorial err campaign to unlock more scenarios so you probably have to go do it at some point, and the longer you delay the more familiar you will be with any new game features and the more annoying it is to have them “taught” to you.

Some games literally will not let you play until you complete it.  Hearthstone annoyed the shit out of me by having an extremely limiting tutorial that was mandatory before you even got to look at the menu screens for regular game play. What’s worse, there were multiple scenarios that took about an hour to get through.  An hour before I could even enter the main game.  It was so linear that I literally could not play a card that it did not tell me to play.  The game only gave you the cards it wanted you to play, so you could just watch a video and have the same damn experience… but in one sequence they must have messed up because I actually had two cards I could have played.  I tried playing the other one, just to see if I could.  It lightly slapped my hand and said “nuh uh, you need to play THIS one.”  I tried just ending my turn rather than following directions (The Stanley Parable was made for people like me), and it incredulously exclaimed “But you still have a card you can play!  This one!  This one right here (not that one NO you can’t play THAT one didn’t you listen??)”  NOT playing the card was a completely valid strategy in that situation I will have you know.  But it wasn’t in the script, so I couldn’t proceed until I followed directions.  It was much like being in some sort of fascist regime and it made for a bitter and resentful start to my Hearthstone experience.
(Incidentally, Hearthstone ALSO had no subtitles, and I was all geared up to write a rant about that… but they patched them in the very day after I got into Beta.  Bullet dodged, Blizzard.  Bullet dodged.)

Look, I know there are stupid people out there who will smash the screen and then cry because nothing worked the way they expected to, but I’m getting very tired of having my intelligence insulted.  Bring back optional tutorials.  Bring back manuals with pretty artwork.  Bring back the ability to skip shit I don’t want to sit through.  If the gamers cannot understand how your game works, then one of two things has happened:  They did not read the instructions, or you created a game that’s hard to understand.  Neither of those things should be solved by enforced hand-holding that alienates the people who actually do understand how your game works.

Starforge (Alpha)

This is probably a little unfair because I played, oh… about 10 minutes of this game.  Maybe there is a really good game buried under the shit I was exposed to in those 10 minutes, but it was enough that I made a pretty disgusted face and then uninstalled it.  I very deeply regret spending 10 dollars on this, and that was 50% off.  What’s worse, my husband bought it too because we played multiplayer.  That is 20 dollars wasted on this.  I feel bad for supporting it, but maybe they will turn it into not-shit game sometime soon.  I can’t get rid of the god damn thing now so maybe in a year or two it will be worth installing again.  I can hope.

First, a derail: I want to rant about this early access bullshit Steam keeps doing.  There are SO MANY games popping up on steam and you’re like “ooh this looks unique!” and then you click and find out it’s actually an unfinished alpha game that they want you to buy into so that it funds their development.  This is all Minecraft’s fault (and I admit to buying Minecraft as an alpha, but it was actually worth it back before everyone was fucking doing it), and it’s led to things like Kickstarter… but when you buy unfinished shit on Steam you get unfinished shit with no real promises attached.  I don’t so much mind the option – I bought Minecraft, and I even bought Towns on Steam, and both were interesting ideas that ended up developing in interesting directions that I would like to encourage, so I don’t regret funding them – but I hate that there are so many of them showing up on Steam and that they’re not sequestered to their own little section.  Sometimes it’s really tough to tell just how unfinished these things are when you buy into them and you have to rely on other people’s reviews before deciding to drop the cash.  I wish that more of these would give you a demo or something.

The game markets itself as a sandbox experience where you “gather resources, build bases, craft anything you want, and survive on an alien planet”.  That is exactly the kind of game I love, and exactly the kind of game I want to encourage more developers to make.  Not enough to drop 20 dollars on it (ahahahaha 20 dollars for an ALPHA BUILD what the fuck), but 10 dollars… if it encourages more resource/crafting/survival games, sure I can invest in that!

The problem is, that is not what this game is at all.  I suppose going by the words it matches that description, but I feel misled by this marketing, and that makes me bitter.

You collect resources – by grabbing boxes that drop on the ground and dragging them back to your base.  This is not Minecraft style resource gathering, this is shit dropping from the sky and you hoping to find the right box of stuff lying around.  I can’t even describe to you how disappointed I was by this.  If it had decent resource gathering I probably would have still been enchanted by running around looking for new stuff to exploit, but exploring was marred by giant oil drums appearing out of fucking nowhere and the realization that the landscape around me was really only there to provide a surface.

You build bases – with an incredibly shitty interface that was frustrating to use. The terraforming seems promising but, eeenh.  I spent the vast majority of my opening minutes hitting google trying to find a guide to the controls (because the game sure as fuck isn’t helpful).  Once I figured out how to open the building menus, the mouse control drove me nuts.  It’s a 3D world, and the mouse behaves like you would expect it to in an incredibly amateur engine from several years ago.  It floats all over, you have to wrestle it onto the square you want, and your camera is constantly getting in your way.
Bonus bitch: Head bobbing that cannot be disabled in game.  See The Bobbing Rant.  If I wasn’t going to uninstall you BEFORE, well…

You craft anything you want! – provided it’s in the incredibly limited list of things you can build, and you’ve dragged the proper resources into a pile next to your forge.  This is not like Minecraft style crafting, this is literally just select it from a list and it either goes *boop* ok you have that now, or *boop* you need to drag more resources over to here to make that.  It’s a little unfair since it’s an alpha and they’re going to add a bunch of shit (god, they better), but once I figured out how to open the build list… boy that was disappointing.  Not only that but there were no tooltips so I was building things in an attempt to figure out what the fuck that icon represented.  It took several clicks just to see what was necessary to build a thing so I could go find out what I needed to drag back.  This is like some sort of study in how not to design a friendly UI.

You survive on an alien planet – and here is what made me uninstall the game.  This is where the game showed its true colours.  I was expecting Minecraft, right?  You run around and collect shit, build a little base, expand your empire and build cool things, and defend yourself from alien fauna that probably wants to eat you.  I first played single player “creative” mode and it can probably be hammered into some facsimile of that, but the whole “surviving” aspect was pretty thin.  Creative mode seemed to be more about building things (one description said “test base layouts” for the other modes, which is telling) , except building things wasn’t very fun in its current state so it was more about running around looking at landscape and being disappointed by the ugly resource crates lying all over it.

When my husband and I tried multiplayer we tried the more survival-ish mode.  And it turned out to be just a crappy version of Sanctum.  Sanctum, if you’re not aware, is an amazing game that is like a first person co-op tower defense game where you have a core that you must protect from the waves and you build walls and towers to aid you in the destruction of the things that want to destroy it, so you coordinate your resources and weapon types to be an efficient team.  Starforge gives you a tank full of aliens (why do I have a tank full of aliens and why should I protect it?  It doesn’t explain) and a forge, and dumps you into a world where streams of monsters continually run toward you and try to destroy it.  You have to run back and forth dragging resource boxes to your forge and build defenses while these things come at you.  It’s like playing Sanctum with no pauses between waves, mandatory tedious resource collection, and shitty-ass controls.  It was not good.

I already regrettably wasted money on this so I will check in from time to time to see if they’ve turned into a GOOD open world collect-resources-build-shit survival sandbox, but I really cannot recommend it in its current state, and I kinda feel like Steam shouldn’t even be promoting it right now.  The content and UI are NOT worth the price it is asking, even at 50% off.  It’s not that the ideas behind the game are bad (and the implementations of them have time to mature), and I admire small teams of people who try to make ambitious projects into reality, but asking 20 bucks for this just seems greedy and I don’t think it should be encouraged.

Organ Trail

Who doesn’t know about Oregon Trail, right?  If you don’t know what it is, you need to either spend some time in society, or get off my lawn.  Or possibly both.  Why, yes, I DID play it on shiny new Apple computers in elementary school!  Why, yes, I AM extremely old.  The best part of Oregon Trail was learning that “dysentery” means “pooping yourself to death” and then laughing when the character you named after your best friend died of it.  I mean, I guess it had some sort of historical knowledge value too, or something, and we were supposed to realize and respect just how hard life was for those pioneers… but mostly it was great seeing what horrible way your friends would die THIS time.

And now we have “Organ Trail”.  It’s a pretty clever … parody?  I guess it’s a parody… of Oregon trail, where instead of trying to migrate to the wild west, you’re trying to survive the zombie hordes.  All the basic gameplay elements remain roughly the same.  Instead of a covered wagon, you have a station wagon.  Instead of wagon wheels and axles you have tires and batteries.  Instead of oxen you have fuel.  Food works pretty similarly, but instead of shooting 7 oxen and then being mad that you can only carry like 3 squirrels of it back with you, you collect cans off the ground while running away from zombies.  And then a hobo randomly steals it all from you in a popup event where you can neither react nor do anything about it other than nod and carry on.

I was pretty excited for this game.  It’s cheap, it’s available for your phone so you can watch your friends break their legs while on the go, and if nothing else it should be entertaining because how do you fuck up Oregon Trail With Zombies, right?

I will tell you how you can fuck up Oregon Trail With Zombies.  You make it impossible to shoot zombies.  I got the game from the humble android bundle so I was able to activate it on my phone AND on steam to try both versions.  I uninstalled it from my phone within a couple minutes because I couldn’t even get past the intro trying to use the touchscreen controls to shoot.  How hard can this be?!?  Tap zombie shoot zombie!  But no, instead it’s tap screen, drag finger, watch your guy spin in exactly the wrong direction, wiggle your finger around to try to make him pivot, watch him spin uselessly until oh! oh!  he’s pointing the right way now!  FIRE!  YES I KILLED ONE.  Meanwhile, 20 more walked in off the edges of the screen and I’m totally and completely fucked.  Also I gathered no food while doing this.  And took severe penalties for failing.  Alright, fuck this, it HAS to be better with a mouse.  At least then I can drag the mouse cursor with more accuracy, right?  … It was a little better but it was pretty much the same story.  I ended up selling all my ammo to buy car parts and just avoided doing any jobs or events where I had to shoot zombies.  I avoided shooting zombies in the zombie apocalypse.  Sigh.  Surprise, I hit an event that wasn’t optional and ended up dying.  I suppose it would be possible to get used to it and get better at the shooting, but I have other games to play that aren’t ruined by stupid and frustrating control schemes.

It’s really too bad because it could be a fun little time waster, but until the shooting controls are changed or some kind of “I’m an idiot let me click on them to shoot them without aiming” difficulty mode is added, it’s just not worth playing.  I can’t even really give the game high marks for being unique because it is literally Oregon Trail.  With zombies.

Tomb Raider (The “Bobbing” Rant…)

I was very interested in the new Tomb Raider game when it came out, but I figured I have enough shit to do so I would wait for a sale.  Now it’s on sale at Green Man Gaming for 13 bucks.  Sold.  It probably means it will be 5 bucks in the Steam summer sale, but fuck it, 13 is a good price point.

I haven’t gotten very far yet, just through the tutorial section (at which point I can already say that the game should really be subtitled “Lara Croft has a very bad day.”), but I have a couple of things I want to say.

First: Holy shit this game is running incredibly well on my 5 year old computer that I am about to replace because the motherboard is starting to die.  Also it looks fantastic.  I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the game in that it’s just a series of quicktime events carrying you from cutscene to cutscene, but you know what, if it looks like this, I’m fine with that.  Lara is incredibly expressive, and the action events pull you in and make you jump.  And then you die horribly in brutal fashion, but it’s okay because it only sets you back to the beginning of the sequence.  So that you can die again.  It’s pretty awesome!  I’ve heard many complaints about that, too, but I’m mostly worried that it will become frustrating later on.  It’s not yet, though… but I would hope the tutorial sections wouldn’t be…

Second: The real reason I am writing this entry despite having spent about 30 minutes in game is because I need to take a break because the game has camera bob, and it’s not possible to disable it.

There are few things which make me as angry as mandatory camera bobbing.

The thing is, a large number of people (myself included, obviously) have issues with motion sickness when what your eye sees (lots of bobbing) does not match up with what the inner ear is detecting (not lots of bobbing).  Usually this is an issue in first person games where the camera attempts to emulate walking by bobbing up and down… except it never made any sense to me to do that because our brains compensate for the bobbing motion and we don’t really see everything bobbing up and fucking down while we walk, so why would you artificially emulate it?  Lots of people do not have motion sickness issues and do seem to like bobbing, though, to the degree that if you search for the easiest way to disable bobbing, you’ll inevitably find pages upon pages of people replying with “lol it doesn’t bother me just get over it lol” (except usually with worse spelling and grammar).  My issue isn’t so much that the bobbing is included – by all means include it if people like it and they feel it enhances their experience – my issue is that it is not offered as a mother fucking option that can be fucking TURNED OFF.  

That was probably unnecessarily harsh, but I’m getting really fucking sick of digging around in ini files to find the little line that says “head_bob = 1” and changing it to a 0, when you could put that fucking option in the settings screen so people like me wouldn’t be irrationally fucking angry at your shitty UI designers that should all be fired for not putting the fucking option there, assholes.

I did say “irrationally”, right?  Ok, good.

We include subtitles for the deaf (well… usually…), and colourblind modes for the colourblind (well… hopefully…), so why can we not include “no fucking headbobbing” modes for the bobbing impaired?  This is an important issue that must be addressed, guys!  Those of us who are going to vomit on our keyboards are being neglected by the game development community :(

I was actually surprised when I felt the familiar headache creeping in after 15 minutes of Tomb Raider, because it’s actually a third person game where you see Lara in front of you as you move around.  Usually if there’s an obvious thing in front of the eye (like Lara Croft’s huge boobs… actually they’re surprisingly mild in this game, come to think of it) the bobbing doesn’t trigger the “oh god our readings aren’t lining up ABORT ABORT ABANDON SHIP” reaction from the equilibrium system.  The camera shakes a lot, but it doesn’t really bother me so much in the cutscenes.  It’s a lot like watching a movie shot with shaky-cam (and motion sickness aside… why the fuck would you choose to emulate THAT of all things???) so if those kinds of movies bother you, the game might too.  The actiony scenes actually helped my headache ease off a bit because it’s more like the shaking is expected.  What brought it on in full was when Lara was staggering on a lovely grassy path in an otherwise calm scene, and the camera is swaying back and forth and jittering like the cameraman was dying of hypothermia on the deck of a sinking ship.  I can see Lara swaying, why does the camera need to be swaying?  I am not seeing this through Lara’s swaying eyes.  I do not need the camera to explain to me that she is swaying right now.  Why can’t I turn this fucking swaying off?  Fuck you.

Unfortunately, I also can’t seem to find any sort of camera sway options in the ini files.  It doesn’t look like there’s an easy fix for it.  The camera effects in the cinematic sections make sense, and I probably wouldn’t even want to turn those off… but just moving from place to place… uggghhh.  But I guess if they’re all part of the same programming it would be pretty hard to put in a way to disable one and not the other.  Still, I would like an option to disable it wholesale and deal with the decreased experience that not having a cinematic camera leaves me with.  Right now it’s a choice between having a decreased experience of having a splitting headache and nausea vs a decreased experience of having to take a break (and write an irrationally angry blog entry) every hour or so.

But the headache is easing off now so I think I will go see what hilarious end Lara will meet next.

Update:  I mentioned to my husband that I had bought Tomb Raider and he said “How big are her boobs?”
So I said “Pretty average, really.”
“I hate it already. Worst game ever.”

Neverwinter – Second Impressions

I feel like I have to comment on the absolutely masterfully managed* (*this is sarcasm) situation that Neverwinter has become.  You’ll find more and better details on probably every other site on the internet, but I feel like I should comment on it anyway.

I commented before that Neverwinter released as “open beta”.  They also promised they would not be doing any more wipes.  So really it just means “This is a full game launch and it’s going to be buggy as shit, so we want the Beta label as an excuse.  Also a year or whatever from now when everyone is sick of it and people aren’t playing anymore, we can “release” the “full” game and attract a new wave of suckers!”

It’s a great strategy, unless you actually need a beta period.  Beta exists solely to test and find bugs that will bring your game to a crashing halt, so that you can fix them and present a fully running game at the time you release it.  Open beta lets you test it with a huge wave of players, which is useful both in server capacity tests and also because the more players there are, the more likely they are to look under the carpets and find the bugs your disgruntled coders may have swept away and hoped no one would see.  Opening as a “beta” and then promising not to wipe anything just means that if you find an absolutely game crushing bug, you can’t actually fix it because you can’t wipe the damage away.

Guess what’s happened!  You’ll never guess!

A game crushing bug was found.  Well, several of them… like the ability for certain classes to one-shot anything in the game, or people to drop and re-take quests repeatedly to just collect the reward chests over and over and over again… but one bug in particular.
If you’re not familiar with it – Neverwinter has a free to play model where you can pay real cash for Zen, or you can earn Astral Diamonds in game and then buy Zen with those.  The auction house deals solely in diamonds, you can’t use any other currency on it.  Someone discovered that if you bid a negative amount on the AH, it paid you that amount.

Of all the things you’d think they would test in closed beta (or alpha…), anything that might possibly come in contact with their revenue model would be something you would expect to be near the top of the list.  Buuuuttt… nope.

What’s worse, apparently this bug has been known about for awhile.  I’m just going off internet posts, mind you, so god knows how accurate any of them are… but supposedly it was reported in closed beta and never addressed.  Then it was exploited for awhile awhile after release, until someone or someones finally got banned for it, at which point they spilled the beans and word got out.  The AH ground to a halt, items and Zen flew all over the place like party streamers, and the game was finally taken offline for an extended period.

Well, now what.  The game has just been brought to its knees, the diamond market is fucked, the zen market is pretty fucked (directly threatening the profitability of the game…), tons of ill-gotten gains are floating around out there… and you’ve promised no rollbacks.

They did some rollbacks.  Responses have ranged from extreme outrage to flat out cognitive dissonance of the “I paid real money for a lot of items on the Zen market the day before, and I seem to have lost them all and not been refunded, but it’s a beta so it’s totally expected and it’s okay because I can just buy them again!” style.  My personal response is more of a bemused incredulity.  Could this have been handled any worse?  I’m glad they did a rollback because jesus… but supposedly they’ve only really rolled back the period of time that the exploit explosion happened.  The exploiting that occurred earlier than that was not so widespread, and it was salted well enough into the playerbase that they can no longer track “dirty” transactions and separate them from innocent ones.  The problem is that it happened at all and to this extent before something was done.  Especially if it’s true that it was reported during early Beta…

As a token of apology, every character created before the disaster got some items in the mail, including some cosmetic thingys like a cape commemorating the incident, to some exp boosters and teleport scrolls which are kind of handy.  That was cool of them, but I’m utterly terrified of actually spending money on their market if this is how well things are being handled back stage…

I wasn’t personally affected by any of it because I hadn’t logged in for awhile.  I think I’ve gained my last five levels through crafting on the Gateway.  The gameplay itself just isn’t really grabbing me the way I had hoped.  Going through quests and dungeons is kind of fun with a group of friends, but then again few things aren’t when you have buddies to shoot the shit with on voice chat while fucking around in a game. We’ll probably go back and finish the levelling content, but… ehhh.

I bitched about it before but the game seems to be poorly designed for co-op.  Quests that are steeped in interesting lore are tedious in a group because of the way dialogue works in a group. I’m a speed reader so I can blow through quests solo and enjoy the writing as well, but in a group it’s like you have to choose between missing all the text or coordinating with everyone to discuss the story over voice chat (decidedly not the path of least resistance… and the writing usually isn’t interesting enough to bother :/).  A simple log that shows text you’ve missed would help a lot even if it meant people stood around uselessly reading it after everyone else is done and ready to go, but it’s so clunky right now.  All it takes is one hotshot who’s in a hurry and the quest dialogue is meaningless because they’ve clicked through it all.  Since the quests themselves are all variations of “go here, kill/get that”, the dialogue is really what’s needed to set things apart.  There’s rarely any branching quest decisions to make, and if the foundry is any indication, it’s because it’s not supported in the game design.  Quests are very linearly laid out in the foundry, which makes it hard to do anything unique.  It shows when the developers who created the tools can’t even do anything really interesting with them.

I really dislike the quest marker.  It can be turned off, but that means absolutely nothing when you’re grouped with random people because they haven’t turned it off.  Dungeons are completely wasted in Neverwinter… you can spend tons of time making an amazing location with hidden goodies, but it means nothing because every group will follow the sparkly line from start to finish and ignore everything else.  And since they’re conditioned to do that throughout the game, you can’t just disable it either or that’s immediately the least favourite dungeon and no one will do it.  We can hope that won’t be the case, but it likely would be.

DDO did it much better in that regard.  Your individual actions in a dungeon are tallied against a score sheet, and you got your reward at the end.  Exploring mattered.  Disarming traps mattered.  Killing huge groups of mobs only mattered in that you needed to not die because you needed to get to the end.  I really feel that it’s a better design for a group dungeon – give them objectives and have them to work together to succeed.  Not “This monster has so many hitpoints that you need a group of 5 to reduce them to zero”, but stuff like “the path is branching and we need two people to push a lever at this end and two people to push a lever at that end, otherwise the door won’t open”.  DDO was full of clever stuff like that.  Neverwinter is full of a sparkly line that everyone follows like they’re tethered to it.

Neverwinter is definitely a more casual game, though.  Assuming there aren’t more hilarious disasters (there probably will be…), it’s definitely a fun game to pop into and dick around with for awhile, especially if Foundry content gets enough upgrades to let players be creative.  It just feels so shallow right now, though.  It’s all such mindless combat so far.  I’m finding it unsatisfying.

—-

EXPLOITS UPDATE:

Apparently people discovered that almost anything in the game was susceptible to memory editing, meaning it’s all handled client side.  It looks like they’re scrambling to move it server side now, but… wow.  To their credit, Zen was handled server side, so someone over there has a brain, but how do you create an MMO that handles important game stats client side in today’s day and age?  They learned that was a bad idea twenty years ago before memory editing programs became common…

Neverwinter – First Impressions
Neverwinter – PvP

Neverwinter Online – First Impressions

FINE Denise – I’m playing it and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT.

We’ve been playing around with Neverwinter Online for two days now, I think, so things are still in that sort of “honeymoon phase” before you discover the horrible truths of bad design underneath.  I can lay out what I’ve seen so far, though! Read more of this post

Found Footage (Comparison)

I keep tripping over these things for some reason so I thought it might be fun to do a bit of a compare/contrast on some of the “found footage” style movies we’ve watched recently.

You’re probably aware of this, but “found footage” refers to a movie which is shot as though it was discovered on someone’s hand-held camera and then adapted for a wider audience.  It’s largely reviled as “shaky cam” because, as anyone who watches youtube videos knows, the average person with a hand-held camera absolutely sucks at keeping things in frame.  It’s a double edged sword because if you make it too shaky, people get nauseous or can’t tell what’s going on and it’s stupid.  If you make it too steady it’s pretty obvious it’s actually a movie camera mounted on special equipment, handled by professionals, which ruins the whole atmosphere of “oh shit they found this footage and the people in it are missing and no one knows what will happen!” which is kind of the point of it.  It’s usually resigned to cheap horror movies because of the premise and the ability to use the shakiness to obscure the scariest bits to good effect (assuming they use it to good effect, and not just “annoying as shit” effect, that is).

I was going to start with the worst movie first, but then I realized I couldn’t decide which one was the worst.  Conundrum.  Read more of this post

The Book of Unwritten Tales

I grew up on “adventure games”, and they briefly disappeared from the market so I find myself oddly drawn to them when I come across them.  Telltale sparked a new interest in the genre, and suddenly my Steam account is filled with the damn things.  The problem is, you have to be in a certain mindset to really enjoy an adventure game.  It’s almost like reading an interactive book, except it moves at a much slower pace, and it has bizarrely illogical puzzles scattered about that you have to complete before you can turn the page.  If you’re not in the right mindset, you lose patience quickly and drop the game partway through, and then when you come back later you can’t remember what’s going on, but you remember enough that you don’t want to replay the first part again.  It’s a tough situation!  But Steam keeps putting them on sale for 2 bucks and I have to buy them even when I’m not in the mood.

The latest sale to sucker me in was for The Book of Unwritten Tales.  It’s nice to find a well regarded title that isn’t Telltale, and I happened to be in the mood for some storytelling, so I fired it up right away.

The first thing I do in every game is go to the options and adjust all the settings.  I also ensured that subtitles were on.  The game immediately launched into a movie to start the story off and… there were no subtitles!  It wasn’t a big deal for me because I’m not actually deaf, but I feel bad for anyone who legitimately can’t hear the voiceover as the character sat there and did nothing but write in his book for several minutes.  He was explaining the story, but without subtitles it would make for a pretty god damn boring intro.

The other thing that surprised me was how low res the movies seemed.  The game obviously isn’t bleeding edge graphics, but the graphics are clear and bright.  In comparison, the actual in game movies were spilling compression artifacts everywhere and made it feel like playing a game from the 90s (which works for the adventure game nostalgia angle, I guess).  I’m relatively certain there are no more settings I can flip to improve them, which is too bad.

I liked the animation style they were going for in game – it feels fluid and cartoony, as long as you don’t nitpick their movements too much. Some of the animations are a bit repetitive and it’s obvious they just copied frames to save time. Don’t look too closely at how ridiculous some of the facial animations can be, either.  Probably my biggest complaint is that the animations can leave the characters feeling “wooden”. The faces animate in a fairly robotic way that doesn’t really bring across emotion like a hand-drawn cartoon can (and in a pixel graphic, your mind fills in the blanks, which is why they’re so damn effective).  It can push into the “uncanny valley” sometimes, watching a character break into a delighted smile that really only makes their mouth open a bit too wide, and leaves their eyes dead and staring… oh god, the nightmares…
But hey for the sale price I paid, I’m paying for the writing and the graphics are just a bonus.  It does make me wonder which costs more, though – the 3D renders they have here, or hand drawn cartoony graphics like in the later Kings Quest games.  Hrmm.  I feel like this game would really benefit from hand drawn cartoon graphics that could express themselves.

I enjoyed the humour of the writing, although some of the jokes felt a bit forced.  One of the conversations gives you three different options, and all of them go for the same, obvious joke.  Granted, I didn’t actually go through reloading to try each of them to see if they actually did all lead to the same outcome, but it felt like they would.  Which leads me to another comment: the game also has one of my pet peeves in that the options it gives you to pick from often don’t actually resemble what the character ends up saying.  That is not what I thought I was trying to convey when I picked that dialog choice and it annoys me that I am being misrepresented here!  Damn you, game!

Another problem – the game is one of those “Oh you want to inspect that?  Okay, the character will waddle their slow ass over there to look at it for you” games, which results in a lot of wasted time that does not need to be wasted.  I’ve given up on games before because of this, but they do somewhat acknowledge it by giving you the ability to double click and transition immediately, rather than waiting for the character to waddle across the screen.  Unfortunately it doesn’t help much when inspecting things.  A lot of the old pixel games solve this problem by having the character interact with things no matter where they’re standing, unless a specific scripted animation required them to move to it.  In Unwritten Tales, every bit of flavour decoration requires the character to stand next to it.  Especially annoying is later on when you need to swap between characters.  Each and every swap requires them to waddle over and tag each other, and all it accomplishes is an artificial lengthening of the hours played.  So easily solved… and (I would think) so easy to pick up on in testing.  It’s really too bad they didn’t polish that a bit more.

The story starts out interestingly enough and it grabs you with a decent hook right off the start which makes you want to keep going to see what happens next.  So many stories make the mistake of starting out banal and “normal” and get you to go do normal and boring things before the excitement starts, which is just a barrier to becoming immersed and involved.  Unwritten Tales has you do the banal everyday things (washing pots and chasing a rat… seriously) AFTER the hook scene!  So it gets a thumbs up there, I guess.

When people talk about adventure games, they almost always talk about “adventure game logic”.  Unwritten Tales arguably has some adventure game logic, but as far as these games go it’s very, very good.  Most “adventure game logic” is along the lines of “I have this box with an unusually shaped hole in it, and I have this peg with the same unusual shape carved into the end of it.  How do I open this box?!??! Hmm I’m totally stumped!  The player wants to put the peg into the hole in the box?  What?  No, that’s stupid. Why would I want to try that??  I see no reason to try that.  Hey let’s ask this guy over here if he knows how to open this box!  Hmm he says there must be a key with the same shape as this hole on the box… we should try putting this peg into the box!”
None of the puzzles in Unwritten Tales are stupid, and they all make sense (well… so far, anyway).  They’re just very linear.  I keep getting stuck because the only way to open up the option to do something is to talk to someone I’ve already talked to, with no indication that they should have something new to say all of a sudden.  I dislike that sort of repetitive “checking” in adventure games because it means puzzle solving ends up boiling down to clicking on everything 20 times until something new happens.  In fact, Unwritten Tales offers a time-saving feature where holding a key will highlight everything you can interact with, and once you’re out of potential interactions, they stop highlighting anymore.  So the solution to every puzzle is to click on everything until it stops lighting up.  There’s not a whole lot of “puzzling” involved. There are also some dumb things that MUST happen in order, even if it may not necessarily make sense that they MUST happen in that order.  The very first puzzle in the game revolves around trying to cut a bit of rope.  I did the stuff and got the necessary thing to cut it, so I selected the thing and pointed at the rope, and my character goes “Wait, I better tell him that I’m going to cut it now.”  Yet another conversation must take place before the actual cutting.  Sigh.  Fortunately subtitles work for these bits, so I can read them quickly and not wait for the voice acting to finish before I can go cut the god damn rope already.  At least the game sort of lets you feel like it understands that you’ve figured out the puzzle, instead of acting dumb until all the bits have been walked through.

And then the cutscene after that involved a pretty obvious zoom-in on elf cleavage.  Ugh.  One of the bonuses of story driven games like adventure games is that USUALLY it offers the opportunity to create full-featured female characters.  Nope, it’s an elf, so we better have her wear a leather bikini and zoom in when we can.  It’s too bad because I like her character, but having the defining feature be “female elf” is unfortunate.

All in all, it’s a decent addition to the adventure game genre, and I’m glad to see more developers getting in on producing more modern tales.  TL;DR – The game wins a lot of points for decent writing and not-infurating “puzzles”, but it loses points for the clunky animations and a couple of bad design decisions that end up wasting time.

[edit] And after playing further, I want to add that the game REALLY comes into its own as it goes on.  I enjoyed it almost as much as the classic LucasArts/Sierra stuff, which is saying a lot.  The time wasting stays true throughout, though.  Why do the characters have to slowly plod back to a specific spot when you switch?  Even if they must stand in a spot, why can’t they do that WHILE you control the next one?  It’s just clunky design…

Wizardry Online

This review might be a bit premature, but I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse, so maybe now is a good time.

Wizardry Online!  Where did this come from??  I had heard absolutely nothing about this game until it actually came out.  I used to play the shit out of the old Wizardry series, along with Might and Magic.  Of course, the last Wizardry game I remember clearly was Wizardry 8, and since then it has apparently become an anime series full of elves with big boobs.  Unfortunate.

My husband and I spent a lot of time in Dungeons and Dragons Online, going back several times and usually subscribing for several months each time.  In fact, if it weren’t free to play, we probably wouldn’t get sucked back in so easily. The model works, as long as you’re not a greedy shithead with your pricing schemes and restriction of free accounts!
Wizardry is also free to play, and it seemed to have the kind of gameplay we like.  Co-op dungeon diving (that can be done with 2 people, but allows for more), hacking and slashing monsters in sewers, solving “puzzles” to advance through the dungeon, traps, treasure… the promise of multiclassing and other forms of advanced character building… hell we played the shit out of a game called Dungeon Lords which was about as polished as a fresh lump of clay, and we enjoyed that immensely because we were muddling through together, so Wizardry intrigued us.

Read 3500 words worth of bitching!

Uncharted Waters Online

I have a dream.  A dream of a trading-based MMO that doesn’t suck.  I mean, it’s hard enough to get a crafting system that is both meaningful and doesn’t suck, much less a decent economy that allows for players to build their own trade empires. I need a Harvest Moon MMO.  You hear me, Nintendo?  I want to grow crops and sell them at the market and upgrade my fucking barn with the profit I make from undercutting everyone else’s turnips.  And no, not Farmville.

When I went on a hunt for a trading based MMO, the majority of hits on Google were people suggesting playing the Auction House in World of Warcraft.  /facepalm.  The rest of the suggestions that sounded decent were in games that required combat, so really it wasn’t a trading based MMO, it was a combat based MMO with some decent trading (like Pirates of the Burning Sea, with an interesting looking crafting and trade system that is completely overshadowed by the conflict involved in transporting your goods, since the game focuses on sea combat and uses the trading as a means to force you into combat situations.  Ugh).  And then of course there is EVE, but I would also like to be able to jump in and have a hope in hell of getting anywhere without years of investment first, not to mention the sheer griefing potential that I would like to avoid…
So yeah.  Basically, my ideal game does not exist.

But then one of the suggestions I stumbled across was Uncharted Waters Online.  I had never heard of it, so I took a peek.  Apparently it was a moderately successful MMO overseas, and it was just recently bumped over to North America.  So the graphics are dated (originally designed for consoles, I think, so designed for weak hardware too) and some of the translations are a bit wonky.  All in all it didn’t get a whole lot of attention but it was staying afloat, somehow.  It was also free!

I decided to check it out.

Could it be? Have I found the MMO of my dreams?

Dungeons

Have you played Dungeon Keeper?  If you haven’t you should probably go straight to gog.com and remedy that.  But if you have, you are almost undoubtedly one of the millions of people waiting for a decent remake that doesn’t crash constantly on modern systems.

As an aside, I don’t know what it is about classic remakes… why do they always have to fuck with the winning formula of a great game when they remake it?  The only thing wrong with the original X-Com (aside from the buggy difficulty level which ended up becoming canon…) was that it was 8000 years old and summarily the interface was ass.  How many years did it take us to get a decent X-Com remake where they didn’t fuck with the formula and make it shitty?  Too many.  But anyway, Dungeons was announced and it has a pretty clear Dungeon Keeper influence, so everyone got excited.  And then it came out and it got really shitty reviews, so I didn’t buy it.

Then came a Steam sale where both the original Dungeons and its sequel/expansion Dark Lord were on sale for cheap, and I said to myself “Well it probably got bad reviews because it’s not Dungeon Keeper, but it looks interesting so it might still be good despite that!” and bought it.

Two things:

1. It is not Dungeon Keeper.

2. There is a reason beyond that for getting bad reviews :(

It’s still fairly unique but the flaws are pretty glaring, and it’s just bad design all around.

Even though they are substantially different the influence from DK is pretty obvious, and in an attempt to point out why the game is flawed I’m going to have to keep comparing the two.

The games are similar in that you are a dark lord who is running a dungeon, primarily through sending imps to dig out rooms and construct various doodads that do various stuff.  In DK, you do this as an omnipotent being who points and clicks and lets his/her dudes do all the dirty work.  In Dungeons, your lord is a physical being within the dungeon.

The inclusion of an actual player character as the lord is mistake number one.  In DK, you rely on your minions to carry out your wishes.  In Dungeons, you end up doing most of that shit yourself.  And even worse, you have to walk your happy ass over there to do it.  What is the point of being the overlord of a dungeon if you have to work??!?!

But it’s worse than that, actually.  In DK, the goal of the game was actually similar to tower defense.  You build rooms, adventurers come to loot and plunder and destroy, and you protect your dungeon heart by building and unlocking and levelling various minions in an arms race.  You build your dungeon in a certain way and certain creatures want to live in it and defend it for you.  The more adventurers you defend against, the more powerful your dungeon got, and the more powerful your dungeon got, the more interested the not-shitty adventurers became in trying to destroy it.  Eventually it is revealed just how bad your micromanagement skills are, and the adventurers destroy the dungeon heart.  Okay fine, so I sucked at Dungeon Keeper but I still had fun playing it.

In Dungeons, you ALMOST have the same goal.  You tell imps to dig out rooms and then place whatsits within those rooms, and you have a dungeon heart which you must defend.  The difference is that instead of trying to attract new kinds of monsters to come and live there, you are trying to attract new kinds of adventurers to come and explore.  Some adventurers want to loot gold, so you place gold piles.  Some want to find musty old books, so you build a library.  Some want to disarm traps and feel badass.  Some want to fight stuff, so you place monsters.  Some want to fight stuff, but they’ve got a fancy new sword and they want to get really big critical hits, so you need monsters who are squishy.  Some want to try their new armor, so you need monsters that hit really hard.  The ultimate goal is to satisfy the adventurers, and then just as they are pleased with themselves and turn to leave, you bash them over the head, haul them to a cage and suck out their soul so you can use the soul power to buy more doodads for your dungeon.

This is far worse than DK for a number of reasons.

One: It’s counter-intuitive.  You can’t place super powerful monsters near the adventurer spawns because A – they might not be the kind of monster that will satisfy the adventurer, and B – if the monster kills them before they’re ready to leave, you get nothing.  The adventurer has to be totally satisfied before they can be harvested.

Two: Because you can’t rely on your monsters to do it for you with a fine enough level of control, pretty much each and every harvest has to be done manually by your dungeon lord avatar.  You have to run your ass all the way over there and beat up the adventurer before they get back out.  Oh and while you’re running over there, you’ll probably run past eight other adventurers who all go “Look!  A dungeon lord!” and drop everything they’re doing to come attack you, which means they were likely not completely satisfied and full of soul energy, which means if you attack them back you are wasting a bunch of time and energy.  So you can run away and hope they lose interest and go back to becoming happy and full of harvestable energy, or you can kill them like the evil dungeon lord you are and just completely waste them.  It’s not good.  It’s not well designed, and it just feels cludgy and badly thought out.

And even if you DO get everything clicking smoothly, that’s about it.  You running from place to place harvesting adventurers is pretty much the whole game.  At least in DK you could look forward to your minions levelling up or try to build more desirable rooms.  The gameplay in Dungeons just feels shallow and repetitive.

And while it is sort of original, all of its good parts are borrowed from DK, and all of the originality is what makes it bad.  So I’m afraid I can’t even really recommend it for the novelty factor.  Unfortunate.

Anna

Anna is a “survival horror” game where you attempt to discover what is going on in a creepy abandoned sawmill.  The basic background of the story – and believe me, if you didn’t look for it you might miss it because it’s in a PDF in the game folder – is that you are a professor who is troubled by nightmares and fainting spells.  After passing out and being put on medical leave, the discovery of some old pictures leads you to this sawmill, where you attempt to figure out what is going on.

I bought this game for 3 dollars while drunk on New Year’s.  The extremely short review is: It is worth 3 dollars, but I’m not sure it’s worth 10.  I enjoyed it but it only took me 2 hours to get all three endings.  It will take you longer if you don’t cheat your ass off through the “puzzles”, but the sense of reward you get from that really isn’t going to be worth it.  Trust me.

Here’s the bad news:  The game essentially emulates old nostalgic point and click adventure games, complete with fuzzy “adventure game logic”.  Not only that, but it suffers very much from pixel hunt syndrome… in 3D.  I attempted to play it “legit” for the first couple of sections, only looking at a walkthrough when I was stumped, but it quickly devolved to the point where there would be no way to figure things out without painstakingly going through your inventory and clicking everything onto everything else.  Now, I have done that for games before!  But the inventory system is clunky and slow and I just didn’t have the patience for it.  I played an old game called Scratches which had some pretty bad adventure game logic, with the worst of it probably being when I had to use the phone X number of times and check a certain location X number of times between calls before the plot would advance.  I didn’t come across anything quite that obtuse in Anna but it was pretty close.  There were two turning points – one was when I had to use the ritual knife to start an event.  First you have to do something to “activate” the knife for rituals, and then you click it on the thing.  Except I did that and it didn’t work so I wandered around for a bit trying to figure out what to do with this damn knife, until I looked it up and it turned out I had clicked two pixels to the right of where I actually needed to click.  The second turning point was during the leaves puzzle, which seemed super obvious until you had to place a leaf on the picture indicating death, and they pretty much all look like they’re displaying death.  Trial and error revealed that the one that properly displayed death didn’t really look anything like death at all.  The walkthrough explained why it was supposed to depict death, as opposed to, say, the one with corpses and gravestones, and it made a bit of sense, but it annoyed me.  At that point I stopped wasting my time trying to figure things out on my own, and I feel better for it, because some of the later ones… yeah.

Adding to the annoyance of the puzzles and interface, is the completely superfluous items.  You start with a cell phone and a diary, neither of which can be used.  The cell phone, as far as I know, never becomes a factor in anything aside from making you scroll around it to get to the other shit in your inventory.  The jotter is just there for ~~immersion~~ as far as I can tell, because it corresponds to the PDF file in the game directory.  Except nothing really points you to that… I discovered it later while trying to figure out what the jotter was actually doing in the game.  It could have been implemented much better.  Then, there are a numerous points in the game where you can pick stuff up out of a pile.  You can pick ALL of them up, if you want to.  But you only need one.  Ever.  And then you have the rest of them in your inventory going “ha ha you used the crappy interaction dialogs and picked us up for no reason, loser”.  I think extraneous items get cleared when you move to a new area, but still.  I picked up some rocks outside (the description said “useful for scaring small animals” so I totally decided I should defend myself against the rabid squirrels I was undoubtedly going to encounter) but there was literally no use for them.  You can’t even pick them back up from your inventory to try to use them on things, it simply says you can’t do that.  Yet they sit there in the inventory.  I suppose it’s some sort of red herring to make you feel like there is more depth than there is… but really it just makes the player resent the poor planning.

Once you get past all of that, the game is entertaining.  I put “survival horror” in quotes because you quickly realize there isn’t much survival involved.  It’s not like Amnesia where there are things that are going to fuck you up and you are completely defenseless against them, so you spend the whole game cowering in a cupboard while slowly going insane.  There is no danger in Anna, but somehow the atmosphere of the game still gets to you.  I even had a genuine scare at one point, where I solved a puzzle and smugly turned around and went “AGHCK”. (And if you have played the game, it is probably NOT the one you are thinking of.  For that one, I obliviously stared at the opposite wall/other objects for the whole event and then turned around while it was fading away, then said “Hunh.  Well, that probably would have been really creepy.”) I felt silly afterward, but it shows that the game was effective in what it was attempting to do.  There are some super creepy moments too, like the mask on the chair.  It was such a simple effect but I really enjoyed it.  Each of the “supernatural events” were fun to stumble across and really added to the atmosphere.  I kind of want to go back and just try to trigger the events to experience them.

The story… well, I would play the game for the atmosphere rather than the story.  Let’s leave it at that.  There are three endings, each with a bit of a different perspective of the events.  Essentially the endings correspond to how deeply the protagonist goes down the rabbit hole.  You can bail out of the game fairly early if you do things “right”, and the ending is essentially just “Hey I’m not dead!  Well this place is creepy, I’m out of here” and you really learn nothing about the story.  But you also didn’t die so is it a “good” ending or not!?  In contrast, the most extensive ending includes a whole extra area of the game (complete with shitty illogical puzzles…) with a lot more dialogue and story reveals, as the professor gets his memory back.  I searched for some discussion about the endings, but it looks like the game simply wasn’t that popular.  There’s not a whole lot to discuss, I suppose, but they are ambiguous enough that something interesting might have come of them.

I don’t feel like I wasted 3 dollars OR 2 hours, which is more than I can say of some games I have bought, so if you can look past the flaws I feel that Anna has enough interesting elements to make it worth a look.  Wait for a sale, though…