Rust / 7 Days to Die

Once upon a time there was a game called Minecraft.  It was a game where you could mine, and then craft things out of the things that you mined.  So the name was appropriate, you see.  And I thought to myself “This is all I have ever wanted from a game.  Why did it take so fucking long for someone to make it?”  And then about 8000 other games tried to copy it and all of them fucked it up somehow, so I honestly am not sure why such a simple formula seems so hard to pull off.  Let me collect resources and use those resources to modify the world I am in, and ideally give me a purpose for doing so, and I will start throwing money at you.

Today I am going to compare and contrast two games we’ve tried recently: Rust, and 7 Days to Die.  Both are Early Access with similar themes of “scavenge to survive”, and both borrow somewhat from the Minecraft formula with resource collection and base building and cowering from zombies that want to wreck your shit. (Sort of.  I’ll explain soon.)
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Dungeon Village

Dungeon Village is an android game by “Kairosoft” that I avoided for the longest time because it costs about 5 bucks.  “Five bucks for a PHONE GAME???  Fuck no”, I said.  Then one day I got bored and downloaded the “lite” version, and gameplay ended like maybe 20 minutes later, and I bought it immediately.  It has been stealing my soul ever since.  *shake fist*

You place buildings, then increase the quality and appeal of those buildings, which attracts people to your town.  Those people then buy stuff from your stores and go out and beat the shit out of cute little blob style monsters, then come back and buy more stuff from your stores, and then you upgrade the stores and give them gifts so they can beat the shit out of stronger cute little monsters, and occasionally you pay them money to go into a scary dungeon and bring back fancy things to sell in your stores (right back to them…).  The more they visit your stores the more your stores level up, and the people themselves level up, and there’s even a jobs system.  Later you start mixing ingredients into a cauldron in order to create new items.

It’s such a simple god damn formula.  Envision all of those things as a progress bar.  There are lots of little progress bars to watch, and it’s fucking awesome.  Why aren’t more of you creating progress-bar-watching games for me, dammit >:(.  I played it for my entire lunch break yesterday and my phone limped home with about 14% battery life left (oops…).  I’m currently at a point where I need more income, so I just spend all of my money on building enhancing items every cycle, and one day I will be raking in the dough, man.  Apparently the most efficient way of making high income is to delete all your buildings and then place certain ones in places where the dudes have to step on them and therefore spend money, but fuck that, I have lots of little shops and they will be the best fucking shops ever.

Also the heroes have pre-set awesome* names like “Lance Alot” and “Seffy Roth”
(* only awesome for about 20 seconds)

There are a few flaws, of course… like how your adventurers don’t really buy equipment upgrades at your shops, buy they do re-buy what they already have.  So the best strategy is to give them gifts of super expensive equipment, and then they’ll go buy it over and over again.  … yeah, I don’t know either.  At its heart it’s pretty shallow too.  It didn’t take me very long to get to four stars, and the only reason I’m not 5 stars right now is because I refuse to cheat at raising my income.  But I also peeked at a wiki and there are a fuckton of jobs and things to unlock, which apparently carry over into new towns you make once you’ve unlocked them once, so it’s not like it doesn’t have any content for 5 bucks.

I would write more but “Gilly Gamesh” just maxed out his Archer class and I need to pick a new job for him to work on.  This game is good at wasting your life.  You should probably check it out.

Towns

[UPDATE] Apparently the devs have announced they are officially abandoning the game.  It’s too bad, but in its current state it is not finished and not worth paying money for, and in fact I would discourage you from spending money on something that is officially abandoned, lest we perpetuate the bullshit that is abandoning Early Access games.   You can still read what I used to think of it past the break, though :/[/UPDATE]

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The Legacy of Nakuthcatten

After my entry on Gnomoria, I realized that, even though I was enjoying the game, there was literally nothing it did that Dwarf Fortress didn’t do (and usually better).  My gnomes met a horrible fate that was likely precipitated by expanding the value of my fortress (attracting ne’er-do-wells) before figuring out how the military system really works, so I decided to start up a proper Dwarf Fortress and compare the two.

What follows is the telling of the fortress of Nakuthcatten, legendary Dwarf Fortress in the world of Udon Tamun. Read more of this post

Gnomoria

I am going to begin this entry by talking about Dwarf Fortress.  There is a reason for that – the entry is not mis-titled!  It’s a sort of two-fer, I guess.

Dwarf Fortress is popular enough now that you may have heard of it, but even then it is likely that you didn’t really play it.  It is a 10MB ASCII game.  That probably also doesn’t mean very much, unless you know a bit about ASCII games and roguelikes and you realize that most of the biggest ones are about 500kb.  10MBs is a really fucking huge ASCII game.  It is a game where you build a Dwarf Fortress (amazingly appropriate, isn’t it) and everything is lovingly coded, from pedantic details about geology to the physics of water which allow people to build monstrous aqueducts powered by steam engines, if they so desire.  The world takes a long chunk of time to generate, writing in backstories for all the civilizations that live there, and calculating where all the volcanoes and aquifers might be located. Every dwarf has a personality, forms relationships (friends, lovers, bitter enemies…), forms preferences for certain kinds of foods or shiny materials, decides whether to worship a god…  every body part is an individual unit which can be injured, healed, lopped off… and if your fortress is decimated by monster sieges, you can build a new one elsewhere in the world and send adventurers into the ruins to collect the artifacts you created in your time there.  It might be an ASCII game but it is making so many calculations that it will blow the mind of a lesser CPU.  It’s quite remarkable.  And it’s free!

But in today’s world of fancy graphics, most people don’t have the patience to deal with ASCII art, and control schemes where you press ambiguous keys which access more text which you may or may not understand the relevance of.  The Dwarf Fortress control scheme is particularly obtuse, and it is the biggest barrier to entry.  There was a beginners walkthrough that started with directions like “press x three times to move the menu to the right side of the screen so that you have a better look at what’s going on”, and even once you get to that point you have to figure out which characters represent grass and which ones represent werewolves that are going to fuck your shit up if you don’t deal with it.  Is that speckly square an open space, or lava?  Which key designates a storage space and which one examines an object?  Which key cancels a command?  Once you spend a few hours with it (particularly if you already like ASCII roguelikes) it all becomes muscle memory, but for a beginner, the assault of seemingly random coloured text characters is too much.  Some attempts at tilesets have been made, some quite successfully, but they’re working with someone else’s game and sometimes the hassles and bugs of interfacing different bits of code that change every patch are just too daunting.

Along comes Gnomoria.  Gnomoria is basically Dwarf Fortress, but designed with graphics!  I will be extremely impressed when someone manages to duplicate the scale of the original Dwarf Fortress in a graphical format (neglecting graphics is one of the reasons the code can be so intricate… imagine what would happen to your poor computer if it had to think about 3D pixels at the same time as all that other shit) but Gnomoria makes a good start at it.  A lot of the complexity is gone – It does not literally generate an entire world and history of that world, the gnomes lack a lot of the personality quirks that the dwarves accumulate over time, and a myriad of other details are probably simplified as well, but the basics are intact.  You dig into the ground, design your fortress, create workshops and work chains, create goods to trade, and try to keep your gnomes healthy and happy through the occasional goblin siege.  All with an interface that allows you to choose between clicking buttons at the bottom of the screen, or right clicking and choosing from a menu (which consists of several sub-menus and kind of jumps away from your mouse sometimes, making you start over.  But the option is there!)

I’ve only played a few hours so far so I can’t comment much more on the advanced gameplay.  My game got to the point where I was excavating a lower level to collect some ore to get my metalworks up and running, when some goblins showed up to ruin my day.  A goblin fighter took down three gnomes and was given a special name due to his notoriety.  He then went on to slay my three yaks which were grazing in their pasture.  RIP yaks :(.  The remaining gnomes managed to overwhelm one of the goblins, which dropped some armor and a weapon.  I hunted through my survivors and found the one with the best combat scores, and told her to form a military squad.  From there, I was able to outfit her with the goblin’s discarded goods, and send her after the notorious goblin.  She was victorious and the fortress was safe!  She suffered some minor wounds, so I created a hospital area stocked with straw beds, and she quickly ran in there and lay down to recover.

Which is where I ran into an issue.  You see, the yaks were providing my fortress with yak milk.  My brewery was still a work in progress, so I hadn’t managed to secure a second source of drink.  I tried to rush a build job on a well, but the stored yak milk was quickly depleted…  My injured military hero was thirsty, but since she was hanging out in the hospital, she wouldn’t go to the well to fetch a drink.  In Dwarf Fortress they will carry water to injured dwarves in the infirmary, but I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work in Gnomoria.  I even tried suspending the hospital section hoping she would give up on recovery, but she wouldn’t leave the bed.

I rushed the build job on the brewery by going through all the other workshops and moving its pending bits to the top of the queue.  They managed to build it and I started brewing some wine, but by this point everyone was getting cranky about the lack of drinks (apparently well water just isn’t good enough, bah).  The instant wine was brewed, some greedy gnome would yoink it, so my counter basically went from 0…………………….. 1, 0. …………………1, 0. The saviour of the fortress died of thirst in the hospital, despite having perfectly working legs.  /facepalm.

So, I dunno.  I probably could have planned a bit better there and I almost certainly did something wrong with the hospital section, but I also feel like there are some rough patches that are still being ironed out, which makes sense since it’s still in perpetual development.  Which, ironically, probably makes it even more like Dwarf Fortress!  But if you’ve ever heard about Dwarf Fortress and were intimidated by the interface, Gnomoria is a good way to get your feet wet.

Follow up post with more comparisons

Don’t Starve

I have not once starved in Don’t Starve.  I have died in countless of other ways, but not ONCE did I starve!  Therefore I have mastered this game.

Then again, I haven’t actually made it to winter yet.  So…

Don’t Starve is a title that is so new that it’s not even out of beta yet!  It’s exactly the kind of game I like to mess around with, so I bought it awhile back.  The amount of updates to it since then have been incredible, and I feel like it’s time to start talking about it.  If you buy it right now you get the beta version (release date is apparently April 23rd!), with all the potential bugs that come along with that, along with the caveat that your save file might be rendered obsolete by major updates.  Buying early gets you a discount AND a second copy to gift to someone though (or at least you do on Steam…), so if it sounds interesting to you it might be the right time to jump on the bandwagon.  There’s plenty of game right now, with more coming.

Don’t Starve is probably best described as a survival simulator/roguelike.  You are a dude who gets dropped in the woods and you must survive by gathering resources, securing food sources (don’t starve!), and defending yourself through the night.  You fashion axes from twigs and flint, chop down trees, collect berries, weave grass into rope, smash rocks to search for gold, build science machines to research new inventions… if you played Minecraft for the “oh god monsters are coming at night what can I combine to make myself more likely to survive” aspect more than the “I can build ANYTHING I FUCKING WANT!” aspect, you will love this game.  I played the shit out of an old game called “Stranded II” which was almost literally this game but with less to do (and 3D, although the polygon count made that a dubious decision) so I knew instantly that I would enjoy it.  There are plenty of things to work up to and build, and you find yourself thinking “I absolutely do not need to build that thing and I should spend the day collecting wood so I don’t die tonight… but I can totally build that if I go smash the shit out of those spiders.  How hard can they be, right?”

It currently doesn’t have much in the way of plot (the objective is literally “survive as many days as you can”), but a story mode seems to be in the works which will shed light on why you’re chucked into the woods in the first place, with potential for revenge and/or escape.  There is also a bit of a “carrot” hook in that you gain experience based on how well you do, which unlocks different characters with different attributes that can change things up on subsequent playthroughs.

As I alluded to, the game is not 3D.  It’s a sort of isometric view with a somewhat charming “Burton-esque” cartoony style.  The stylistic choices really shine when you accidentally eat a bad mushroom and start hallucinating hideous shadow beasts all around you.  I started the game to get a screenshot of the graphics to illustrate this entry, but a couple of hours later I was eaten by a tree monster that was angry about my wanton murdering of its brethren.  As I went back to the menu screen I said “Oh shit, screenshot.”  I may update this later with a proper screenshot, but the game will have to stop being so damn interesting first…

Harvest Moon: A New Beginning

Once upon a time, Harvest Moon came out for the SNES.  And I played the shit out of it.  In Harvest Moon, you were given a dilapidated plot of land and told “go forth and become profitable”, so you laboured to raise lucrative crops and upgrade your buildings to maximize your efficiency.  Players cried out that they disliked that the game force-ended after two years and they could not continue nurturing their successful farm, and so Harvest Moon 64 was created.

And I played the everloving shit out of Harvest Moon 64.  Same idea – you have a farm, you have to make the farm not suck… but now the town is full of people with far more fleshed out plot points, and the game doesn’t just end.  The festivals are interesting! You can marry people!  And your wife helps you on the farm!  And you have choices!  And social circles!  And you unlock more of people’s plots and find out their deep backstories if you get them to trust you! Holy shit!

Sadly, every Harvest Moon game past that has expanded more and more on that concept until the actual farm was a tiny distraction, and the bulk of the game was spent running around giving gifts to people and trying to ensure your spouse doesn’t divorce you in a fit of rage.  I’ve played almost every one of them and I got more and more disinterested with every successive one.  I don’t give a shit about this dating simulator… I want to grow some motherfucking turnips and upgrade my barn, bitches.

And maybe someone heard my profanity filled ranting… because along comes “A New Beginning“.

The first month of New Beginning is literally that.  You grow turnips and there is not a god damn other thing you can do.  Except collect bugs.  And cook turnips.  You don’t even start with a fucking axe or storage shed for wood!  On one hand, I’m a Harvest Moon veteran and the prolonged tutorial really annoyed me (I know how to walk from place to place and use a mini map.  I want to explore the town on my own terms, thanks… ugh).  On the other hand, the town literally consists of three people, so having the game start rolling gently downhill with turnip seeds and a social circle of three people is a breath of fresh air compared to the “Here’s your farm!  Soooooo… you can just use these automated things to water your crops so that you don’t have to worry about all that while you head into town and meet the 500 people you’re going to have to please this month!”

I like starting from nothing.  I like having the game build gradually.  My best memories of Harvest Moon 64 are of finally reaching milestones to upgrade the most advanced buildings and excitedly seeing how my farm had changed.  I can’t even describe how excited I am to unlock more blueprints, and I feel like that’s something that was really missing from some of the more recent sequels.  This feels like a throwback in all the right ways, while still maintaining some of the more interesting advancements (like: being able to choose a female protagonist!  Crop quality!), and holding a really visible progression track in that you literally build the town up from a couple of houses in an empty field to something more similar to recent Harvest Moon towns.

It really does move too slowly, though.  Even someone who is completely new to the series might find it slow.  The entire first month serves as a tutorial, and one of the events that happens is someone buys your first cow for you!  So I carry along, pampering my cow and making it like me, and I already had the milk up to 2 star quality when the game comes along and gives me a helpful tip saying “You can MILK your cow! And sell the milk!  And then you can buy MORE cows with that money!”  How fucking stupid does the game think I am?  He gave me the milking machine when he gave me the cow!  Okay, maybe they need to cover bases in case a 5 year old is playing or something, but how hard is it to add a little trigger into the code saying “Has_cow_been_milked: YES” and then skip the god damn tutorial about milking.

It really hurts replay value, too.  I’m annoyed with the tutorial month as a veteran of the series, when some of the tutorials at least highlight some of the changes in this version.  I can’t even imagine having to sit through this as a veteran of this exact game, knowing all the mechanics in detail already.  It really would have been smart to provide some way to opt out.  If people fuck up their farm because they skipped a tutorial, that’s what the internet is for!  Not to mention all of this shit is stored neatly on a bookshelf in your house, so you can refer to it at any time.  WHY do I have to sit through your banal explanations?  Fuck you.

Once you get past the insufferable tutorial month, you can actually do things, and not only that, but it might even be innovative for a Harvest Moon game.  Near the end of the month, an architect moves into town and you can purchase blueprints from her, which allow you to build items.  A lot of these items are cosmetic – benches and flowerpots and other sorts of decorative items that do nothing but make your farm and town look pretty.  Some of the items even work as coordinating “combos” which give your area a bonus, which means people will like it more, or the items you produce nearby will have more quality, or whatever.  That’s great for the Animal Crossing/Farmville crowd, but what about the rest of us?

In addition to the fluff stuff, you can build things to upgrade your farm.  The storage shed and chicken coop are some of the first things you unlock, so if you were getting pissed about carrying around branches and rocks, never fear.  As a side note: Here is a big tip for you – DO NOT SELL OR BREAK DOWN YOUR BRANCHES AND ROCKS.  The unbroken versions of them are also required for many buildings.  Collect them all and hold on to them until you absolutely need the broken down version.  Lumber is easy to get by chopping down trees; branches must be found by other means.  I erroneously assumed trees would break down into branches and merrily chopped all my branches into lumber.  Fortunately I figured it out quickly and held on to the rest of the branches I found during the month, but I might still have to scrounge a bit to get enough.  Similarly you may want to hold on to any “mine” type items because it takes a bit to unlock that.  Actually, just hold on to fucking everything unless you absolutely need to make some cash or whatever.  Extra hint: you won’t actually need cash until you unlock blueprints anyway.

Here’s the big thing though – you can also get blueprints to upgrade the town.  This is new and exciting… no longer are you focusing solely on your farm while a bustling town sits nearby and wonders why you are neglecting your socializing.  You need to actually build the town to get people to move in.  Socializing with people leads to unlocking more blueprints which leads to more people to socialize with and more items to craft and sell on your farm.

The game is lighter on ‘story’ than some of the predecessors, which honestly is fine by me.  The storylines of the games were never great, and I was interested in building my farm.  That’s what the story of this game is – build the farm and make the town successful.  It’s a bit open-ended in that way, which I think is a good move for Harvest Moon.  Don’t try to shoehorn story into the game when people clearly only care about building farms, raising quality crops, and chatting up townsfolk.  The customization works nicely to this end and I think it makes a stronger game overall to focus on the building and quality aspects.

There is also a pseudo “level” systems, wherein the more you do of an activity the better quality your products are.  Some examples are cooking and fishing… the things I make now have extra quality stars and the fish I catch are getting bigger and higher quality.  Although I got mega super bug catching titles because there was nothing else to fucking do during the first month, to the degree where I even got a letter saying the next town over knew me as a butterfly whisperer, and as far as I can tell it did fuck-all; the same bugs still spawn and they still sell for the same amount because bugs don’t actually have quality associated with them.  So I don’t really know what the point of that was…
I also kind of suspect I’m getting screwed, because I can whip up a batch of 20 turnip soups after my crops mature, but it wasn’t until a few days later I got the level up for cooking 10 items, so I think it counted the batch of 20 as one cook.  I haven’t bothered to experiment with cooking 20 turnip soups one by one though… it’s just not worth it.

So if you like Harvest Moon and have been disappointed with recent titles, or if you like building shit, or if you like decorating a farm with fences and benches and petting chickens once a day, or you like the feeling of progression of unlocking new things to build or craft, or you like talking to people and trying to fucking date one of them (if you’re a girl protagonist, most of the guys in the game seem to be douches – fair warning)… you might like this game!  It’s great because it’s a throwback to everything that made Harvest Moon great in the first place, but without trying to “fix” a winning formula.  If only it gave you a bit more freedom to experiment at the start it would be perfect.

Now if you will excuse me… I have to go milk my cow.