Thursday, July 2, 2020

Trackmania First Impressions

The newest in the Trackmania series launched today. My first impressions?

It's a mild disaster.

I'll talk about the particulars in a bit. But I want to broach something broader.

For months, every time I launch a new title I feel like I'm being served a lukewarm meal with the chef's hair generously sprinkled throughout. And the waiter is surly. And where was the bread that I ordered?

If you read this blog it's probably easy to assume that I just hate video games. Or at least that I'm an overly negative person in all aspects of my life, but I really don't think that's true. I'm certainly not accentuating the negative for clicks. I'm just tired of every game being a compromise of developer effort and business model.

So I'm sorry for the rampant negativity. There's enough to be negative of in the world right now and you probably don't need anymore. But, I'm pretty disappointed at how badly the latest releases have panned out, and I feel the need to explain myself.

To start with, Trackmania is a racing game franchise. It separates itself with an addictive, arcadey racing style that concentrates on repeating individual levels until you get the lowest track time possible. You do not physically race against other players, you only see their "ghost"; either in real time on a live server or a recorded version of their best lap time. Imagine a game like Super Meat Boy, where you attempt a difficult stage, die, respawn immediately, and continue trying again and again until you get it right. That's Trackmania, except as a racer instead of a platformer.


The franchise has been coming out since 2003. I've been playing it about that long. I love both the feel of racing in a video game and the drive to improve incrementally improve myself on a difficult, but doable challenge. Needless to say, Trackmania is right in my wheelhouse.

So I'm quite disappointed when I pay my $10 "subscription-but-not-a-subscription" fee and find the whole thing extremely lacking.

Trackmania's "Not-Subscription" Tiers
Somehow, it's a subscription game. Except Ubisoft has been very, very particular in not calling it a subscription game. To quote directly from their representative:
Actually it's not a subscription model but an access to the game for a limited time. You pay for having access to the game for one period and that's it. When the time is over, you have to buy the game again for the time that you want to access it again.
This isn't a joke. This is something a grown adult wrote on the Internet for other people to see. You know an explanation is good when it starts with the word "Actually".

So we're not off to a good start. When you're already bullshitting every human on earth before your game is released, it doesn't exactly bode well for the critical thinking that went into the making of the game either.

At this point, I probably should have just noped out. But all I really wanted was a "level pack". Like back in the day, where you bought a game, and then occasionally the developers or a third party would throw a bunch of new levels or tracks onto a disk (or disc), charge you a nominal fee, and you got a bunch of extra content. That's all I wanted.

I didn't even get that.

The game launches with about 50 tracks, plus drip feeds us one more a day and maybe an extra 20 or so every month. That is not a lot of content. They're obviously counting on the community to make the rest of it, but considering there's more player-made content in the Trackmania franchise currently than any human could possibly play right now, it's not that appealing of a prospect. I wanted to see what professionals could do.

Even the content moderation for this game is top-notch!

But even the tools for players to make their own tracks is underwhelming. What did developer Nadeo spend their time on? Ice physics apparently. A handful of gimmicky "power-ups" or "power-downs" and ice physics.
 Nobody, in the whole history of video gaming, as ever wanted to play an ice level. Ice levels exist for one reason only: for unimaginative developers to add another bullet point to their list of "features". That's it. This is a theme I talk about again and again on this blog: "features" in video games that exist purely for the benefit of the developer that no player wants.

I'm very tired. Nearly all the time.

This is the least-featured game in Trackmania history. They've removed terra-forming in the editor. There is no developer content, and what little there is available is being dripped-fed as part of the subscription model. Customizing your car, which doesn't even currently work right now, is hidden behind yet another pay-wall: $30 a year to be precise. The UI is an amateurish mess. They've removed the first-person camera angle for "simplicity's sake", as if human-beings don't live their entire lives from a first-person perspective and would somehow be confused by it.

At least with the Command & Conquer Remaster there was visible effort from the developers. The graphics, sound, cinematics, and netplay were all upgraded. None of these things matter of course, because the gameplay is too archaic and buggy to enjoy. But it's certainly not inconceivable that someone with enough nostalgia or self-hatred could actually finish that game, and be appreciative of the work that did go into it.

But Trackmania is a literal step back in every sense. Every feature, every graphical detail, even the business model, are worse than Trackmania products that already exist. The only purpose of this game is to generate revenue for developer Nadeo and the publisher Ubisoft. The only possible benefit for the player base itself is that user content will be made here instead in one of the other games. But that's not a feature, it's a haranguing.

For $10 a year, or god forbid even more, Ubisoft wants a cut. It's unclear what they are providing in exchange for that $10 a year. In defensible just how little Nadeo has done here. It's been four years since the last Trackmania game. What could they have possibly been working on in the mean time?

Oh and did I mention that the game currently has a bug. A teensey-winsey little bug.

It doesn't save progress.

It doesn't save your track times. It doesn't save your medals. It doesn't save your progress or unlocks.

In a racing game that is fundamentally about high scores, Nadeo released a game that doesn't keep track of your high scores.

The developer swears that it's just a synchronization bug. Your progress is being saved somewhere in the ephemeral cloud and will be brought back at the right time.

Let me correct that. A developer, on an unverified Twitter account, that I had to sort through an unofficial Trackmania Discord server to find, says that's the case. He says it will be fixed in the morning. He has corrected himself and no says it will be corrected in the afternoon. It is now currently 7:00PM for the developer on the second day of this game's launch. There is no official word from Nadeo or Ubisoft on why the most basic feature this game could possibly have is not currently present. There isn't even an acknowledgement of it. No review of the game currently acknowledges it. Downloading the game puts a large disclaimer on your screen saying that you can't refund the game.

Video gaming in 2020.

Note: Literally 3 minutes after I posted this blog, Nadeo pushed an update that seems to fix some of the synchronization issues I complained about here. Except, of course, it didn't fix it at all. The game continues to be unplayably broken.

Monday, June 29, 2020

(Very Imprecisely) Command & Conquer

I am desperately someone who needs to get their eight hours of sleep in.

I can do a sleepless night every once in a while. Maybe two days in a row with only six hours. But anything more and I'm a zombie, simply bouncing from one stimuli to another until I eventually crash on the closest horizontal surface.

Sleep has eluded me this week. No particular reason. Sometimes it's an overly vivid dream that wakes me up and keeps me from falling back asleep. Other mornings, it's the sun, the great enemy, that overcomes our shade's defenses and launches it's dazzling assault into my eyeballs. Occasionally, it's our corgi, who finds the exact geometric shape necessary to take up as much of the mattress as possible.

So my ability to game has been compromised as my ability to form a coherent thought has gradually slipped away day by day. It doesn't help that most of my gaming has been of the hard as nails variety. Namely, the recent Command & Conquer remaster.

The game opens with a cinematic showing the computer inside the game itself, which is used as a conceit for the UI, as getting a graphical and audio upgrade. Apparently, the GDI and Nod Forces in game were using a Sound Blaster Pro in their computers: good choice.

The level of graphical spit shine is everywhere. In the UI, in the gameplay, and in the upscaled cinematics. C&C was an excessively ugly game, understandably so as it was pushing the infancy of the RTS genre and the use of live action FMV in just 1995. 

 I had played bits and pieces of the original back when it was newish. The original PC version was available at our local library, hidden amongst the edutainment and productivity software. I also recall having rented it for the PS1 at the local Blockbuster and hating having to control an RTS with a controller. Somethings never change. I had played more of the game in the mid to late 2000s. I own the complete collection of C&C games from a physical box I bought back in college and whose product keys curiously worked in the Origin gaming platform.

The game had become largely incompatible with modern versions of Windows, and the poor AI pathfinding and just straight up buggy micro control eventually made the game unplayable to me. So I was understandably excited with the release of the Remaster which came paired with a measly $20 price tag and some glowing reviews.

The problem, of course, is that while the graphics have been gussied up, the developers didn't bother actually fixing any of the gameplay.

The AI's hare-brained pathfinding remains as is. Moving units from one place to another is a roll of the dice on how and if they will actually get there. Attacking is also incredibly imprecise. Focus-fire is a thing, and usually works, but general orders to attack or defend an area functionally don't work. As often as your units attempt to kill something, they will just as often not do anything at all, or actually kill themselves. Friendly fire is a thing in this series, and your grenadiers don't particularly differentiate between enemy forces and your own. If your own units and are somewhat near an enemy the grenadier wants to attack, a virtually certainty consider the poor pathfinding, then all of it's getting blown up.

It ends up making the graphical upgrades somewhat pointless. Most people are going to play this package for an hour or two and bounce off it. EA is going to see a huge number of Steam Refunds here, the crust shows itself early and often. There's very little control here, as a commander you're mostly reduced to flailing your arms to command the dumbest soldiers on alternate earth. It's a bit like playing the first Street Fighter game, the genre as we understand it is too primitive here to enjoy. It's just not a fun time. Online play is going to dry up immediately, whose going to play this once the novelty wears off?

There is mod support. Perhaps the player base will fix what the developers neglected to.

It's perfectly understandable that the development team kept a hands-off approach. The graphical and netplay updates were probably more than enough for a small team to handle. And EA never marketed this as an overhaul, just a graphics upgrade.

But it would have been nice for the first big RTS game to have gotten a proper re-release. Lord knows the RTS genre could have used it. But considering how underwhelming the reception for both the good Starcraft re-release and the not-so good Warcraft III re-release got, it's not surprising that EA didn't commit a lot here.

Maybe now that I've gotten a decent nights sleep I'll throw myself back into C&C's grinder of a campaign. Or I maybe I use my newfound energy on something a bit less archaic.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Guess Who's Knack? Knack Again.

In a nice change of pace, my real life world seems to be doing quite well while it's my digital world that's feeling a bit sluggish.

I knocked out two difficult and physically painful goals this week. First, I finished hiking the local trail. 21 miles from one town to the other with no breaks. I finished it in about 6 hours and 45 minutes. That's a pace of about 3 miles per hour. Both the pace and the length would be respectable by experienced hikers, although my load was probably a bit less and I only did it for one day.

Nonetheless, I preserved through the sore feet, bad equipment, and the chafing. Oh the chafing. Also the ticks. Minnesota has a lot of them, I pulled probably 10+ in all off my shoes, socks, and legs. And that's with enough bug spray to make even an World War 1 commander nervous.

But that was not quite as painful as my other major accomplishment this week: beating Knack. Knack was a PS4 launch title and served as the butt of many jokes this console generation. I wanted to see if the jokes were embellishment and found a used copy for cheap from the local game store (pre-pandemic).

The jokes were not embellished.

Imagine if you were playing Street Fighter, but the collision hit boxes were off. Not by a lot, but by enough that even a casual player would wonder why punching the other dude in the head didn't result in anything happening. Imagine if the animation 'homed' in on the other player. Again, not by a lot. But enough that you execute your super-duper-hyper combo and still hit your opponent even though they clearly jumped over it.

Now imagine if the controls were just suggestions. You execute the 'Dragon Punch', except sometimes it just comes out as a normal punch. Or maybe it careens your character off-screen. Maybe it just doesn't do anything.

Even if all this stuff is only a little bit off, nobody would play that fighting game. It either has to work perfectly or it doesn't work at all. It's not like a racing game where you can flub some of the collision detection, or the cars can be a bit floaty. Everything would still be fun.

Knack wasn't that far off of being a good game. But if you want to make a hard-as-nails action platformer with one hit kills you really need to nail everything. There really isn't any graceful way for the game design to 'decay' here.

Combine that with the game's interminable length, lack of variety in both attacks and enemies, sterile graphics and music, frustratingly bad story, and graphical slowdown and you've got a game that deserves every joke made about it.

Knack does have a sequel. The trail I walked does have an additional 29 miles to it. But my body is not currently ready for more of either.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

It's Certainly Been a Week

I have admittedly not played a lot of video games recently. Some stuff here and there:
  • Minecraft Dungeons: It's baby Diablo. Except Diablo eventually gets a bit boring, but Minecraft Dungeons gets boring immediately.
  • StepMania: In 'normal' Dance Dance Revolution games, the difficulty scale goes from 1-10. With fan mods that scale goes much, much higher. But as a mortal man with a dance pad that likes to slip around my carpet as I play, a scale of 1-10 seems just fine to me. I've gotten to the point where I can beat a song on a difficulty of 6 on the first try, but I tend to fail at 7. It's time to pick a song and learn it, as finishing a 7 is my new goal.
  • Knack: Yes, the PS4 launch title that everyone uses as a punching bag. It's actually kind of a Dark Souls-light, at least on Hard difficulty. The animations are maybe not as tight as they should be, which leads to some frustrating deaths when I get hit by an enemy attack that doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. But dying only pushes you back a couple of minutes to an automatic checkpoint. I'm only on the 4th world of 12 but I really don't hate this game. Maybe it isn't what people wanted as a launch title but on it's own it seems perfectly fine to me.
But the weather and the news cycle has changed, one for the better and one for the worse, and video games are just not a priority for me at the moment.

The weather has been clear, sunny, and not too warm. My energies are feeling a bit pent up from having to stay inside because of the Minnesota winter followed by an Earth plague. There's a trail just outside of my town that goes on for about 50 miles. I have a long-term goal to walk this trail one day. With proper conditioning, and some good equipment, this can theoretically be done in two days. But these legs of mine have sat for about 6 months so it's time to get them off the couch and into the game.

The first outing ended up only being two miles. I decided to take Herbert the EverDog on my journey. She's a trooper, but unfortunately, her tiny Corgi legs aren't really built for distance. We just about made it to the first mile marker when she needed her first break.

We just about made it back to the trailhead when Mrs. Everwake rescued us with the EverCar. She took a big nap after that. The dog that is.

The second day I did about 7 miles. I could have done more but I didn't think to pass a lunch and it turns out hiking eats up a lot of calories. I did manage to go at about 2.75 miles per hour, which is a perfectly good pace, assuming I can actually keep that up for an entire day. I'm eager to get back on the trail. There's a small town about 20 miles into the trail that I would like to make it to next.

I could post more pictures but oddly enough they all pretty much look the same.

But that project has to wait at the moment because one of my basement walls is curving in a way that I find most unsettling.

We've lived in our new house for less than a year and during the winter the basement wall has begun bulging a fair amount. It wouldn't be super noticeable if I didn't have a tall bookcase up against the wall. It's not super uncommon for foundations to move around where we live, my wife, who happens to be an academic in these sorts of things, says the soil is just like that.

It's also causing problems around the house, some of the main floors are uneven, the driveway now slopes down towards the house (channeling water the wrong way) and the garage floor has giant cracks in it.

So the first of three contractors comes today to give us an estimate on the damage. Hopefully, it's only a couple thousand dollars which is a hit we can afford to take. But foundation problems are the most expensive of any house repair problems so it's not unheard of for the final price tag to be in the tens of thousands.

The joys of homeownership.

Hopefully this is just me overreacting and the problem really isn't a problem. Me and the wife have rented for most of our ten years together so it's tough to get a baseline for this stuff. And Google searching the problem leads to a bunch of SEO-optimized crap that doesn't actually help at all, so we are at the whims of the advice of contractors who are here to make a buck off of us. Not a situation I'm loving.

I've written and rewritten a couple of paragraphs on the protests surrounding police brutality in my country about a dozen times. If you're not interested in anymore discussion on this, now would be the time to close the tab. As someone who worked in the public-sphere, particularly in one of the major cities that's seeing protests right now, I can only say that this is the inevitable happenings of what has been wrought.

From my own perspective, police misbehavior is systematic because large swaths of our country view it as an essential feature. I think this Twitter thread from one Minneapolis' councilmen is a quick view into why this is such a difficult problem to solve.

My own, summarized view, is:
  • Civilian control over the police is not great in our cities. Police forces in many cities act autonomously and are very successful, and motivated, to reject any control over their power.
  • They do this through a variety of methods: strong police unions, withholding policing from neighborhoods and council districts that displease them, and aligning their budgets and training through the federal government or even private resources instead of local or state sources.
  • This is all very much by design and coordinated on a nationwide scale. Republicans have long failed to win mayor and council seats in large cities. Instead, conservative groups have made a concerted effort to win favor of policing groups, local judges, prosecuting offices, and influential bureaucrats through any means that isn't actual voting. The justice system in most areas have been effectively captured by a will that doesn't overlap with the cities it represents.
So this situation is going to get worse before it ever gets better because one side is essentially trying to remove a well-entrenched, well-funded, and well-motivated enemy. The other side will defend themselves with a religious zeal because they view "law and order" and "patriotism"  as their exclusive domains, and any criticism of that is a direct attack on them as people. With the demographic shifts in the USA, the Republican Party is forced to resort to more and more desperate power grabs to maintain influence as their ability to win elections becomes diminished. Both sides are scared, and both sides are flailing. And that means it's only going to get messier.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

My Complaints about Blogger, the Shire, Cereal, and My Inability to Phase Through a Graphics Card

For now, I want to return the blog back to a journal style site. I know I'm whiplashing the blog around but I'm stuck at home and bored. And when I'm bored I tinker with things that are working perfectly fine.

At least a blog is a lot less expensive to replace if I can't manage to get it back together again.

Blogger Forcing the New Design, and Why I Want My Own Website

The march of progress continues on unstoppable. For a Google product, that means tinkering and overhauling it while stripping away features and eschewing your current audience in favor of one that probably doesn't exist.

Blogger is no exception to this.

The now inevitable Blogger Redesign is just a "mobile-friendly" version of the site. I think it looks ugly and it makes the dashboard less dense with information. I shouldn't have to scroll through this much to find information I need on a large monitor.

Blogger will allow use of the "old" site for now, but Google kills off actual viable products all the time, there's no chance that a now niche product is going to keep two different versions of the same site.

But I've had problems with Blogger for while longer than this recent development. Recently I found they removed the ability to create pages independent of the blog with their own custom URLs. I don't really use social media and I'm tepid about using flaky cloud services to share things like photos. Recently, I tried sharing a page of my dog's birthday party with my family and it turned out to be way more difficult than it needed to be. The URL to that page is still a mess. I want to do more things like that. Also, things like margins and resizing photos are just a little bit funky. Thus the change.

I haven't been posting this week because I've been working on a new design for this site. I'll probably end up using WordPress for the actual blogging software and something like Digital Ocean for the hosting, but I want the actual HTML and CSS to be by my own hand. I want to create pages outside of this specific blog, but are still tied to this same domain.  This was always the plan way, way back in the day when I started this blog. I obviously have some free time on my hands nowadays, so better late than never.

Blogger is making it difficult to share this dog's smile. Unacceptable.
To borrow a phrase from a once great game developer: The redesign will be out soonTM.

Chex Quest HD

Back in the days of my youth, access to cheap or free games was limited. Every release that made it's way into my grubby hands was a nectar from the Gods. So desperate were these times that one was often forced to terrible acts to obtain gaming goodness.

One of those acts, I am ashamed to say, required the purchase of some god-awful cereal.

Seriously, who eats Chex? Just tear up an Amazon box and pour milk on it. Same thing. Probably the same nutritional profile too.

Anyhow, for those not in the know, Chex Quest was a 1996 promotional game included in boxes of Chex. It was a first person shooter based on the Doom engine. Unlike Doom, it was a family-friendly affair. One does not shoot aliens, they teleport them back to their home dimension.

It was relatively short, but it only cost the price of a box of cereal back in the 1990s. Which was probably like a quarter. I don't remember, I was 8 at the time and wasn't doing a ton of grocery shopping.

Skip to today and the recently released Chex Quest HD. It includes all five original levels, plus some local multiplayer action, and additional characters to play as if you purchase bags of Chex Mix with the corresponding codes. Or just copy the codes from the Internet because I'm not making a convenience store run in the middle of a pandemic for character codes in a multiplayer mode that no one will play in a week. In fact, here are the bloody things:

Fred Chexter - D2af3W
Wheatney Chexworth - D3bg4E
Dr. O'Ryen - D4cj6R
Shane 'The Dread' McBread - D7Gy2u
NACL96 - D5eK9T
P.R.E.T.Z.L. - D6ft1S

Put the code into the prompt on the menu screen.

Does it hold up? The gameplay actually does. For a free, kid-friendly game this would actually be kinda perfect for an hour or two of play.

What lets it down is the terrible performance of the game. Moment to moment gameplay is somewhat choppy and everything feels like its in slow motion. I have this problem even on the lowest graphical settings on the lowest resolution. For the record, I have a RTX 2080 paired with a i7-8700K. I can run Battlefield V at 4K resolution with 60fps. Chex Quest is not optimized well and it makes gameplay distracting. It runs on Unreal Engine 4, we know the engine can do much better than this.

So hopefully they update it with some improvements. It won't matter to me. It takes about 1.5 hours to finish the game and there's no real reason to go back. No Steam Achievements. Apparently each character gets a different ending scene. But I'm going to be honest with you. I don't go deep catalog into Chex Mix Universe.

Installing New M.2 Drive
An M.2 drive is just a fancy hard drive. It combines the speed of a standard solid state drive with the ease of installing a stick of RAM. Find the M.2 slot on your motherboard, unscrew the screw sitting nearby, slide the drive in, and then screw the whole thing. In and out, should be a 2 minute process.

That's the theory of course. And a theory I mistakenly believed in when I bought this thing.

The reality is that the screw needed for the drive was sandwiched in, almost perfectly, in between the fan for my CPU cooler and my graphics card. In order to get to this screw, I had to unscrew and unseat my graphics card, and then disassemble part of the fan. It's not that big of a deal, but it is certainly more than I bargained for.

The culprit here is my motherboard: the MSI Z390-A Pro. It's a large motherboard with room to have put this M.2 drive anywhere it pleased. Sandwiching everything together like they did was asking for trouble, and trouble I received.

My next computer is going to be the size of a small car. Not because I'll need the space to fit all my components, but so that I'll have the space needed to upgrade and maintain my computer without needing to take up a second hobby as a contortionist.

Lord of the Rings Online 
The Shire killed me. I was excited for it. After doing the relatively uninspired Dwarf and Elf starting zones, I though I had saved the best for last. I like Hobbits. I like the Shire. I liked seeing the Shire. But all those running around quests? Delivering pies and mail on foot? LOTRO's version of the Shire is crap. Looks nice, plays like a shopping cart with uranium blocks for wheels.

Ironically, the day I write this I read two different posts in my RSS feed showing love for LOTRO's Shire: Syp and Eliot Lefebvre at MassivelyOP. But both writers of these posts openly credit nostalgia. I do not posses such a thing. The only character I played back in 2007 was a Human leveling in Bree-land.

I did finish the Shire. Every quest in the zone on my Hobbit Burglar. I have every starting experience finished now, at least of the four races that launched with the game. With that done, it was time to return to my Human Champion in the Forsaken Inn. But when I got there I had to read through and accept about 15-20 quests. That's too much reading even for a Tolkien game. My sub ran out the same day so I'm going to let LOTRO cool by the fire for a hot minute. Play some other stuff, and then jump back into it later. Or maybe not, I finished up the base game for Everquest II and haven't been in a huge hurry to get back to that one either. But my moods are cyclical. Anything can happen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

I Weigh in on Coin Weight in Pantheon

A current trend in MMO blogging got fired up by Belghast stating something obvious about 'coin weight' in Pantheon. That something obvious is that it's bad and trying to replicate a bit of nostalgia that some people wished they had but actually don't.

Syp and Telwyn both weighed in as well.

'Coin weight', for the record, is an extension of inventory weight. Inventory weight is when your character can only carry a certain amount of 'stuff' before you get penalized with either slow or stopped walking speed, removal of fast travel features, or a combination of both.'Coin weight' means that the very currency you carry around contributes to that overall weight as well.

Nobody heard the announcement that coin weight was going to be a feature in Pantheon and jumped out of their seat fist pumping. Some are hopeful that it's a sign the developers take player immersion seriously.

I see people typing that it will add 'realism' to the game. A more articulate argument is that it adds a 'grounding effect' to the game that helps immerse you into the fantasy by still adhering to some realities of our world. 'Realism' doesn't make sense as an argument. Dealing with cumbersome monetary systems has been a problem for as long monetary systems have existed. We didn't invent banks because we just really enjoy terrible customer service. Human beings do what we can to not have to carry a bunch of shit around with us all the time. That's like 20% of human history. If your game includes coin weight, but no other system for trying to avoid it, then you are not being 'realistic'.

Some are arguing that coin weight has intrinsic value because it forces players to make decisions on what to carry with them. Decisions are of course what make video games fun, so more decisions equals more fun. And perhaps sometimes it is fun. Deciding what I'm going to bring with me on a small hike is fun in small doses. Researching and putting together a pack for a long camping trip is certainly fun for some people.

But does anyone get excited packing their bags for a work trip? Is it more likely we create lists and buy packing cubes to make the process as quick and painless as possible? The first time we have to making a decision on what to bring on a play session through Pantheon that mechanic might feel pretty good, for some people. 100 days into the game? Probably not. When it inevitably ends up eating an entire play session forcing you to run back and forth doing inventory management? When you log in after a short break and are forced to deal with your inventory for the first hour? When you have to stop your dungeon run for a minute because you can't remember which crafting mat was marginally more useful than the other one?

On day one, inventory management in Pantheon is going to range from neat to awful. On day 100 it's going to range from whatever to awful. At some point in the game's life, it's going to range from awful to awful and then the game developers are going to get rid of it. (Everquest says 'hi'.)

Coin weight doesn't exist because it's a killer feature for the players. It exists for the benefits of the developers.

Like all art, video games oscillate between creators who make something to please an audience and creators who make something to please themselves. Most work, particularly if it employs more than one creator and would like to make a bit of money, sits somewhere in between these two ideals.

A good arts scene would hopefully be robust enough to support creator-focused games and audience-focused games. And the video games industry is robust enough. But that's often cold comfort when you're staring at a gameplay 'feature' in the present that pretty clearly exists to make someone money, or to make their life easier, and that someone isn't you.

Coin weight exists to fulfill the whims of the creators. I'm not saying it's evil or stupid or greedy or misguided. It just is. And at some point it will not. The original creators will lose their enthusiasm or move on to other projects and will be replaced with someone else. And that someone else will likely not care for coin weight, because the number of people who think that it's a good idea is already low.

Pantheon will not escape the fact that other games have experimented with this feature and eventually discarded it. It will not escape the fact that most players will not want this versus those that do. Coin weight is not an effective game mechanic for creating interesting decisions, it's needlessly complicated compared to other inventory systems in a hobby where players overwhelmingly want their UI to be clear and simple, it's not effective for increasing immersion for very long among even the most hardcore players, and it's certainly not 'realistic'. It will eventually be removed or rendered a non-factor.

But it did create a bit of pre-launch buzz. Which was most likely it's true purpose.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Animal Crossing: The Hero We Need, But Not Right Now

Turns out Animal Crossing wasn't as much fun as I had hoped it would be. I do rather suspect it has less to do with the game itself and more to do with my current mood.

I played a tremendous amount of Animal Crossing: New Leaf (the 3DS predecessor to the current game). And while many things in my life has changed, the world of Animal Crossing has not. And that's probably some of the problem. I've a large amount of the Animal Crossing gameplay loop within the past several years. And it really is the same. The items, the villagers, the mechanics are just ported forward to the Switch version. Nintendo really is concentrating on shipping a minimally viable product at launch and the filling the actual extra features with free or paid DLC nowadays.

The new stuff at launch is worthy of a shoulder shrug. Slightly more viable multiplayer? Terraforming? Endlessly repeatable quests for a different but similar currency? I'm sure this a boon to first time or super dedicated players. But my GameCube copy of the original still works and things just haven't moved enough for me.

But there are other things happening here as well. If you haven't noticed we are in a bit of a pandemic. I've now been stuck in my house and immediate surroundings for about two months now and even this introvert is starting to spinning his wheels. Animal Crossing is mostly about nurturing and organizing your ... house and immediate surroundings. I've had quite enough of that already. Thanks.

It makes sense why I've fallen for Lord of the Rings Online so hard, a game that I bounced off of completely when it first came out in 2007. Back in 2007 I could actually leave my house and do interesting things. In fact I was in college on my own for the first time. That's exactly what I was doing with my free time.

To riff of the famous Clerks 2 skit about Lord of the Rings (NSFW), it's mostly a story about people walking. My ass would love to leave the shire right now.

And the shire I kinda what I have. I live in a small town, in a rural area where the closest major city is several hours away and currently closed because it resides in a different country than me.  There is evil rumored throughout the land but none of it has really hit us, and many in my town don't think it's a threat at all.

My house is a cozy little hobbit hole with a fireplace and plenty of supplies. I rather want to order a sign, 'No Admittance Except on Party Business', to keep my version of the Sackville-Bagginses out.

But I'm not a hobbit, I am, at last check, a man. And as such I require more adventure and whimsy than a hobbit. Cozy and familiar have been not only my last two months, but several months preceding thanks to the Minnesota winter.

I log in to Animal Crossing and do my chores. And then I log off and do my real chores. Having to decide my outfit for the day is laborious enough to do just once. Picking weeds and general lawn care is something I don't need a duplicate of either.

Wrong game at the wrong time. But maybe in 13 years I'll be in the mood for Animal Crossing as well.