All posts by DannyboyO1

Hope, Dark Souls, and “Seriously, it’s not that bad.”

Yes, I am saying that the grim and often grueling adventure series… isn’t not hard, and that it’s a terrifically positive game. No, I’m not claiming to be “that good”.

For the unaware, there is a series of video games, the “Souls series” that is lauded as being the epitome of difficult, punishing, hardcore gameplay. Each entry follows a single undead protagonist through beautifully sprawling ruins and varieties of opponents and giant foes, acquiring magical weapons and armor and spells, meeting interesting characters to help and hinder their journey… and ultimately, possibly saving the world… by some definition, for a moment more.

To me, it’s got a lot in common with Zelda games. You know Ganondorf is going to rise again in the next Zelda game. But nobody claims those games are grim. They’re about courage triumphing over evil power. And hookshot acrobatics. And treating each boss as a puzzle until you figure out how to actually damage it without getting stomped into dust.

Failure in Zelda means… you have to walk back from the start of the dungeon… but you’ve already opened the doors, and solved the puzzles. Then you start the fight over again and try not to lose again.

Dark Souls, you’d lose your rupees in a wee sack in the boss room. So you’d run back and usually manage to retrieve it. Once in a while, you might get killed first, and you’ve lost them all, and have to collect more at some point.

But in Zelda, if you lost all of your rupees… that was not a big deal, was it? You spend most of the game either saving up for one or two big upgrades… or running around with a purse so full you can’t fit anything more into it… because there wasn’t anything to spend it on.

Dark Souls games… you can buy better stats, improved weapons, spells, equipment… and that way, losing the currency does have a sting to it. But… you don’t lose things… only currency is at risk.

And like Zelda, if what you’re doing when fighting a boss isn’t working… you should probably try something else. Try out that magic wand you got a while back, load it up with something dangerous, and give that a fling. Or maybe keep the foul beast at spear’s length… or get a big shield… or dance so close to the devil, he thinks you’re his own bad knee, and fears to step on you.

Many games have those bad moments though. Those frustrating times when you can’t quite tell when to move where to not die… or something you didn’t expect trips you up and you’ve got to try again for the 47th go around… now, in Zelda, or Mario… you have extremely limited options. You don’t get to head off to another castle to save up and buy double fire flowers. You can’t make the fireballs a little bigger. You can’t change into lighter boots and jump away farther. I can do that in Dark Souls. I can make the things I’m doing more effective even while I develop the skill to use them better. Or to try something else that doesn’t involve trying to circumcise a dragon from between his toes.

Every time I fail in Dark Souls (when I’m not falling off a cliff or something) I get back to what I dropped and I’m in the same place… with a few more souls saved up. Or I get a sharp lesson to go a bit slower, prepare a bit more carefully. But I can get through. Eventually, I am going to win. I can wear down the mountain.

Now, whenever I get killed in any Mario game? I could be back at the start of the level, with nothing. If I came in with a powerup, that’s gone now. I’m in worse shape, and facing the same obstacle. That’s brutal. Anybody remember getting thrown off the mountain in Mario 64? Having to not only climb back up, but having that boss at full health again? And knowing, no matter what, it wasn’t ever going to get easier?

Dark Souls isn’t half that bad. At least when it puts a dragon in turtle shell armor, it doesn’t ask you to do it barehanded.

Numenera Campaign: Adventure One

Numenera is a roleplaying game… if the term is unfamiliar, you can google for it. Numenera is a setting far in the future, as a sort of logical extreme of “technology sufficiently advanced”. The world is full of insane gizmos that are still (somewhat) operational… and nobody really knows how any of it works. The social structures resemble the medieval simply because travel is dangerous… limiting infrastructure. So you have isolated communities for the most part, working separately to survive.

And having communities built around such odd things as a series of pipes jutting from a cliff face, some of which are heated, and some contain, or have been modified to contain potable water. No one knows where the pipes actually go, but “warm in winter” and “has indoor plumbing” actually make it an incredibly posh and overpriced place to live. Other areas have to make do with “not overrun by monsters” or “orchard grows screwdrivers”.

Our team of intrepid adventurers includes one Tough Glaive who Masters Weapons; a Mystical Nano who Fuses Flesh and Steel; and a Clever Jack who Controls Gravity. Ordinarily, I’d be able to point out who is the squishy… but after the dust settled and everyone had figured out the powers to best suit their characters… the “mage” has medium armor. The “fighter” has heavy armor and defense… and the Jack… took defensive skill, armorless fighting, and got a shield. I think they’re going to be fine on defense.

The system has each character pick another party member to share a bit of backstory with. Everyone took largely default options. The Nano, with his cyborg… let his wife’s character know a control word to reboot his brain. We let him come up with a nice d20 list of crazy things that could leave him doing. She, in turn, is quite familiar with the Jack, whom she’d tried to train in the finer points of “hitting things with an axe”… but had been catapulted skywards by a rare misfire of her gravity powers.

The adventure “Seedship” happened to start with three interesting hooks. I had three players. I grinned, and assigned everybody their tasks, having them all meet up at the debris-clogged crack into the heart of the complex a wee town was built upon. Why? Because it’s warm. The town has heat in winter, and a kind of hot springs. Which an earthquake had started some… gross fluids bubbling up into the town and the springs. Eww. One member was tasked with fixing the leaks. Another was asked to find a local woman who’d almost certainly gone in trying to, well, save her town. The third was asked by a member of the local doomsayers guild to gather some samples for his actual research work. The doomsaying was really just to keep people out of the facility until they’d gotten their expedition ready to go and, well, take whatever wasn’t nailed down. Bit like the party.

I’d aimed for everyone starting off with the phrase “Oh… it’s you” with varying inflections. Beats starting everyone off in a tavern.

The system for Numenera is simple. You roll a d20. GM 1-10s the difficulty. Skill can reduce difficulty by one or two bumps. “Assets” can reduce it another one or two. Effort can be spent from the stat pools to drop it further. But starting out, you can only spend 1 level of effort, which doesn’t feel like much benefit. But by the end of the second session, the dice and the group were beginning to see how it would come into play more frequently.

The initial task of strong-arming the crack in the wall was a good object lesson in how the stat pools… aren’t stats. The mighty fighter did not make her roll, but the Nano did. In D&D, you’d have very poor odds of a mage bending iron bars. In Numenera… difficulty 4 is difficulty 4… if there’s no skill that applies, it really doesn’t matter if you pummel for a living or blast things with your mind. Although, if you were applying effort to the task, the “weaker” character will tire out quite a lot faster.

Poking carefully, the group found the steel spiders hiding in the crumbling fabric squares dangling from the ceiling. The mighty Glaive spoke, “Oh god, why did it have to be SPIDERS? You know I hate them, oh god.” Which is a great sign I described their entrance well. I can’t take credit for more than delivery, the text was in the adventure. I pointed out that the other adventure I had considered had something much worse. “What could POSSIBLY be worse?”

“Glue-secreting giant centipedes. Oooh, I have a picture! See, it’s wrapped around this tree.”

“Yaaay, spiders!”

Low level characters against low level monsters. This proved to be… a surprisingly drawn-out fight. The steel spiders had enough armor to only take a point or two from any given hit. They also didn’t have a very good chance to hit most of the players, and couldn’t hit hard enough to get through the Glaive’s armor. The fight did still do some damage, because everybody managed to roll at least one “1”… allowing me to show them very painfully why you don’t want to brush up against steel spider webbing. It’s razor sharp, and does more damage than the spiders themselves. Although, when the Jack did it, I had her crossbow jam, just to be different.

Some of the problem was purely bad dice rolls. Without any skill or effort, the roll to hit or dodge these was a 9 or better. But a 60% chance of success… is still a 40% chance to fail. The rolls in the 17-20 range do get an extra point or four of damage, which sped things up a bit, when it happened. The most cinematic result was kicking one of the spiders into its own webbing. Reviewing the optional combat rules later, I found there was a little “gang-up” bonus if everyone’s attacking the same target. That +1 to hit would have helped.

The party got smart about the next encounter, with a mnemosyne. Basically a jellyfish with the constitution, size, and jaws of a crocodile… which feeds off of neural energy… from the severed heads it collects. It like to sit under water, where it’s mostly invisible, except that it’s got a half-dozen severed, babbling heads on stalks sticking out. Safe to say that it’s not actually all that good at being stealthy. The pool of water was down a staircase where each step was 3’… and water flowing down to make the footing just slick enough to notice. So, everybody with a ranged weapon took pot shots while the Glaive braced atop the stairs. Since it couldn’t really take cover… and might not understand the concept, I had it slowly climb up the seven steps. So they worked it down past half health when it started tearing into their meatshield. The fight was incredibly intense… because I’d not really stressed enough how the damage system worked. The fighter almost ran out of points in her Might pool. Characters have Might, Speed, and Intellect… but losing one pool just leaves you a bit shaken. Effort costs one more point and those critical success rolls only gain +1 damage. For how she was fighting, this would not have impacted her fighting ability. In 4th ed terms, she was afraid of becoming bloodied. Running out of 2 pools would have her unable to fight. 3 is lethal.

We ended the first session with the party taking… basically all of their day’s recovery rolls to get back up to full.

This gave me a great chance to review the system and the adventure… now that I knew how the party was playing, and what to expect. I wasn’t happy. The adventure had some flaws. The woman to rescue… in addition to being one of the dead heads on the mnemosyne’s tendrils… wasn’t actually named. She had clearly assembled a nice device to seal the cracks in the final room, and had a few journal scraps pointing out its existence… she died trying to save her town, and still managed to give the party what they needed… but it’s her widower who gets a name. Although, this did make it kind of awesome that his name is what the head babbles, rather nicely cluing the party in on her fate.

That’s not half as bad as the remaining combats. My guys were struggling to deal with a lv 5… the most obvious door lead to a robot that was also lv 5, with enough armor to ignore most of the party’s weapons, and two shields, making hitting it a lv 7 task. So the party would have to spend effort to drop that to lv 6, to be able to hit it on an 18, 19, or 20. There was a button/weak spot that would cause it to drop its shields, but that would not have made it a fair fight. And in the final room, a lv 6 “Travonis Ul” which I’d describe as “What a shoggoth draws when it’s writing tentacle porn.” It hits hard, and it can hit everybody at once… and with a crazy pile of hit points. Either this adventure was intended for higher-tier characters… or better equipped ones, at least.

So I made… one change. I upgraded the journal left by “Betty” as we named her. Now, the party knew which door had the killer robot. That’s really all I had to do. The doomsayer expedition was heard going through the main room as the party finished looting the non-functional control panels of a side room… and the party followed cautiously.

For some reason, the thing this group rolls insanely well on, is any kind of perception roll. The first session, they made the improbable discovery of a hatch that would bypass the first puzzle (which they’d figured out, but didn’t want to waste hours of hard labor at)… and this time, spotting the (rather easier) control to shut off the video-game-y flame jet making the main corridor a bit tricky. The party avoided the robot room, and took… the deathtrap of shinies. But the Jack made her save against possession, which would have terribly nerfed her reward. The party then saved her employer, which also helped. As I’d hoped, going into the last room, the party opened the back door to the robot guardian, and stunned the tentacle horror… used one of their cyphers to manipulate the button on the robot, and left both monsters to duke it out while they got the battered boss out, and tracked down the molecular bonding artifact.

At this point, when they found the very angry tentacle horror standing triumphant over the robot… they didn’t hold back. Someone threw webbing to keep the beast in place, and those with ranged weapons held back. Since the two monsters had been pretty even on damage output after considering armor, I just subtracted the hit points of the robot from those of the beast. That left it weak enough for the party to be quite assured of victory.

So… naturally, that’s when I finally pull out a GM Intrusion. The system allows and encourages the GM to spice things up now and then, with interesting complications. The victim gains an XP to keep, and one to bestow on a colleague, and suffers. Or can pay one XP to not have the problem. I didn’t apply a lot of imagination, as the one from the book was nasty enough. Swallowed/engulfed by the great mouth on the big tentacle. Since I was doing this to the most heavily armored party member, the 10 points of damage was mitigated down to 7. In this system, you start with about 34 points between the three pools. Seven points stings. She did manage to escape on her first attempt, which was surprising. I was expecting the party to finish the beast well before her demise, but need to cut her out of it.

In defiance of all the hentai jokes at the table, it was actually the woman that penetrated the tentacle. Go ahead, get it out of your system.

Enough XP was gained for everyone to buy a little advancement. And enough cyphers were recovered for the players to choose what to keep. The initial rolls at creation had resulted in some… pretty lackluster items. A “permanent handle” is quite tricky to picture circumstances where it’s vital. Water-repellant plates are even harder to place.  The seven gained through a really nice salvage roll gave the party a lot more power… and options. The difference was mostly in the extra cypher splat pdf I’d gotten. The main book had much better gear, at least, the way the dice were rolling.

While the adventure called for the party to gain an xp if they figured out they were running around in a crashed spaceship… other than the room with the good loot having a viewscreen showing dirt with some tunnels in… I don’t think there was anything in the adventure that would clue anybody in. At all.

Overall, a lot of fun was had, and we’ve all gotten over the fairly mild learning curve of the system. I think I’ll be starting everyone on the Devil’s Spine campaign next… partly because it’s fun, but also partly because it feels like a good tour of a few key points of the world. I can see what the group wants more details on, and give them, well… what they want. Our Nano of Borg wants to know what it would take to make him deal a point of damage whenever he gets hit… it’s completely doable, and makes sense. Just have to figure out what would be appropriate to build something like that. It’ll probably become the next adventure hook I dangle.

Mars: War Logs – Review

It’s pretty good. Something of a Bioware clone. Efficiently delivers the standard action-rpg experience. Some voice acting is bad. Overall, though, I felt good about the presentation, and always felt as though any reasonable action I could take in a given situation was decently covered. Steam clocks my playthrough at 20 hours, although some of that was spent paused and pondering a couple branches. I will replay half of the game, changing faction, so it’s likely about 20 hours, for a $20 rpg with okay depth and reactivity. If you just wanted the quick & dirty opinion piece, you can stop here. The rest of this is going to be in-depth about what impressed me, and this is your only spoiler warning.

The mechanics of the skill system… are kind of awesome. The three skill trees actually synergize. The technomancy ability to charge your weapon with electricity can be specc’d out to up critical hit chance, and so can your basic combat talents, and further in the renegade section, for anyone facing away from you. The only skills not available to you after the prison escape are the capstones of each tree. Everything else is available instantly… but at the lowest power. Every level, you get 2 points to spend. And every point has weight. There are a few pre-reqs that are a little… underwhelming. I didn’t really want to upgrade, for example, MP recovery rate before upgrading the power of the damaging attacks. I never did put any points into throwing sand in anyone’s face… but it was still a pretty nice, quick maneuver that worked just fine on anybody without glasses or stormtrooper helms. The system also avoided the question of item power. You never got more effective health potions (they can call them infusions, I don’t care, it’s a recovery consumable), but the renegade tree let you make them more potent. Or upgrade your “homemade grenade”… which was faster at knocking a squad of soldiers on their butts than anything else at my disposal, and gave a precious second to buff up. Because these consumables never went bad, and weren’t crazy-hard to build, I actually did use them. Which tends to not happen in this kind of game unless the combat is particularly dire. Generally, if I was having trouble in a fight, I wasn’t using half my abilities. And the game has that perfect option: You hit one button, and it almost pauses the action, letting you target, give orders, and activate any of your abilities. You can have a few hotkeyed, but it was generally better to use the menu, just to plan another second or two, and be quite sure you have the right target.

 

Separate from the skill system is a feat listing. You get 1 feat point per level… and almost nothing is that cheap. Unlocking the crafting options was the most helpful. Every chapter or so, you’d get to access another tier of moddable weapon, and be able to fit it with slightly better mods… with quite a list of options to arrange as you like. You could make your weapons gain extra damage when buffed, or more crit damage, or a bit more defense. Your armor gave some tradeoffs with damage mitigations, regeneration, and I… went with the Techwarrior mods for the electrical resistance. Sure, most foes do physical damage, but who wants to have no defense against the guys who fling lightning? The system gives the player a lot more than you… could need. Early on, you will scrounge. Later on, you can recycle components you’ll never use into stuff you might like, and have enough health boosts, grenades, and ammo to gun down an army. Other notable feats allow for more xp from combat and more loot. Your reputation as a good guy or an ass also grants you a couple free ones. Bad guys get a slight boost to wound chance and critical hits. Good guys get 50% off at the shops. So, you can buy whatever you like at the shop… if you needed anything. And didn’t want to wait to find the free stuff. Great guys get +50% companion health and damage. You only really get 1 npc follower at a time, with very brief exceptions. And this is the difference between your friend being able to keep 1 of the 4-5 enemies off you… and being able to hold out against half of them until you’re free to help clean up.

 

Now… I like these systems. The feat system is perhaps the least impressive aspect. You’ll get most by the end of the game, so you’re mostly picking the order, and none of them (except the crafting) are actually necessary. The thing I like about this is that it’s got no direct connection to your combat abilities. The +10% boosts to combat xp seem like a lot, but I don’t think the difference is going to total even one level over the course of the entire game. The looting bonus seems great, but in the middle of the game, not only do you have a ton of resources, but you can farm enemies. I think, outside the crafting (again, seriously, I quite liked that one) only the option to recycle primitive components was worthwhile, and then only because a lot of what I made used up my leather… without touching a ton of cloth I had no earthly use for.

 

Outside of combat, you have the usual adventure gamer system of quests and side quests. There were a lot of potential problems with the conversation system, as you select one of usually three very short phrases, and having your character expand on the concept. Frequently, this sort of thing leads to massive frustration as your character says something very different from your expectation. M:WL avoids this by putting a lot of effort into making the hero sound intelligent. Most other characters are not so snappy. There is a fair bit of reactivity to your choices, although a lot is… rather on rails. Only a few of the things you did in the prison matter outside of it. But then, it’s a prison break plot. After that, the game opens up dramatically in scope, in side-quests… and then, after you choose a faction and depart the city… you are back on rails. The game advertises a high degree of reactivity, with everything you say mattering… I’d qualify that some, as most of the payoff is in how a few dialogs play out.

 

You can never fully forget that this game is more of an indie title than AAA. The romance sub-plot was… thoroughly perfunctory. “Oh, I’m less horrifically maladjusted as a person now. Wanna… date?” “Eh, sure.” The final assault, running with the general to have a “chat” with the leader of the guild/nation… the general doesn’t have a nicer weapon than the usual salvage clubs? Some of the enemies have tasers, or guns more dangerous than the PC’s nailgun. (Which is solid enough with a few skill points.) I don’t care if he’s not a good fighter, the man should have something to swing that might not be an embarrassment in an armory.

 

Still, I’m incredibly impressed by what is present. Because, while it has clearly achieved the minimum necessary in several categories… it doesn’t fall farther. Yes, the companions could have some more dialog, and discourse, or react to one another in ways that would allow you to bring more than one along at a time. But that would be quite a bit more expensive. It scales geometrically with the number you bring, and the budget for this title capped at one. So we get to hang out with our choice of not-quite-trustworthy oddball, and hear them interject when it’s not entirely inappropriate. The zones are broken up by doors and ledges that not only allow for subtle terrain loading (more helpful on the consoles than my PC) but also teleport your companion to you, and are skippable cutscenes. It’s easy to get your companion pretty lost otherwise, because they stop moving when you sneak… so as to avoid screwing up your chances at ambushing most of an area. AI’s functional, although, if you bring the technomancer, and she’s getting ready to fire the shockwave… DODGE. The game makes her take longer on that for your benefit. They can’t make the AI smarter on the cheap. It can’t stop an attack queued if you finish a foe before it gets back to its feet… but they can give you warning for the one attack that’s friendly fire. Keeping your buddy AI from getting stuck if you stealth over half a map and then stand up. But it can move them to you when you go through a door. Cheap solutions to thorny programming problems.

These clever dodges combined with a system that very cleverly expands the scope of your abilities without the linear scaling issue of the usual RPG… a combat system that is fluid, modifiable, and tactical… with a reason to bother, as you are outnumbered and can be staggered… a plot that’s fairly sharp, and not quite as predictable as I’d imagined… and you have a game that’s about half as deep as the average Bioware game, with a lower price tag. A good buy, with the only caveat being some rather lame voice acting in some of the tertiary cast. And a terribly shrill potential love interest. Still better than ye olde Resident Evil.

What is it for? Good god, y’all?

I found myself offended by something I am reading. It’s a seemingly minor thing, just a question. “What is [the world] for?”

“What is it for?” That’s 4 words, 15 characters, and might be the most efficient way I’ve been pissed off by anything in my life. It sounds so bloody innocent, to be pondering the theological implications of a world to live in. And yet, it perfectly encapsulates a very simple flaw.

I’m going to tell you, but it is going to require an example first. You have a hammer, in a world with no nails. You can look at it, and wonder what it is for… this part could be used to pry bark off a tree, perhaps. It doesn’t have great weight for throwing, but fits in your hand fairly well. And then you strike it against a rock and get sparks, and cook your food with the fire you start with that. Handy thing. Nice and shiny, if the light catches it right.

But you’re already seeing that hammer being used for the “wrong” purpose. And thinking this example is silly. But this is a world with no nails. That hammer is a rock. Iron ore. Picked up from where a glacier left it.

Does that change in context change the purpose of the tool? No. Purpose is synonymous with motive. It is a rock. To assign it purpose is to anthropomorphize the inanimate… or to assign it your purposes, your motives in placing or crafting it… and expect the world, and other minds in it to think as you do.

The rock doesn’t care if it’s a hammer, a firestarter, melted for ore, or thrown at a baby. It’s a rock, and to assign it motive is as absurd as arguing with the elements. And when it comes to a debate with thunder, it is a Thor point.

To personify the driving forces in a complex world is to build gods and spirits. Superstition… worthless superstition.

The question that must be asked in its stead, when you have a hammer, in a world without nails… is “What can I DO with this?” From this question, imagination and context matter. You can build a house, sharpen a spear, hunt for dinner… and if the rock is big enough, you can stand on it and see farther. If it’s the size of a planet, you take some smaller rocks and build a place to live on it.

This works for worlds, tools, and even lives. If you ask what your life is for, you may find that you are a hammer in a world without nails… doomed to rust. But if you ask what you can do with your life… you might become the whack-a-mole champion, and with practice… be a magnet, generating electricity.

That’s the choice. Plead with Thor, or create the lightning. Ask better questions.

Alan Wake: Review

You know… “horror” is a very hard thing to produce. Sure, you can give people tension. You can give frustration without even half trying. Humor’s well studied, if a bit hit-or-miss. But horror has one major problem when you try to put it in a videogame… specifically, you can’t die.  The absolute worst thing that will happen to your character if you badly err is that you will have to make another attempt at the section. No amount of ambiance, nor shock, nor exposition shall ever change this aspect of gaming.

Now, for a more complete review, I did play, not just the basic game, but the “Nightmare” difficulty level. This is coloring my perspective, as I wasn’t going to sit through every cutscene, read through every bit of exposition… I just bulled through in the version where the monsters had about twice the health.

Now, when I first played this game through, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Okay, it’s ripping off the primary gameplay mechanic of “Obscure” with monsters that have shadow-based armor and light strips it. And even the insane “boosting” of flashlight beams. As combat mechanics go, it’s not exactly overused. Although there is certainly some room for refinement. In this case, the enemies do not lose health from being shot until light strips off their smoky armor. To remove it, shine a light. Make it bright. When it’s on target, a bit of faux lens flare shrinks until the armor goes out with a bright flash. Also, there’s a high-pitched hiss as it’s burned off. Bit like nails on chalkboard. This rather replaces any ambient music you would normally have to indicate combat.

Adorably, the enemies do not like having light shone upon them, and will back away, strafe… and eventually put an arm up to shield their eyes and advance on you anyway. This is actually a fairly useful way to stun them briefly without wasting precious ammo. Just remember to turn down the high beams when they put their arm up so they’ll drop it and you can blind ’em again. 😀

There’s a nice, brief variety of tools. Flares for extra light that forces foes back as it dents their armor. Revolver, shotgun, pump shotgun, hunting rifle… because making the horror vulnerable still means you have to kill it! And then we get the useful weapons. Flashbangs that you throw badly that are like IFF-capable grenades. And a flare gun that works a lot like a missile launcher, and leaves a flare effect at the point of impact. And the odd explodable tank that can be shot for a nice firework effect… a few searchlights that are a bit like machine gun emplacements… and tons of generators that turn on one light to save your ass.

The most fascinating aspect of the game’s limited weapon system is that they take it all away from you frequently. Since you can’t be sure (on the first playthrough) how long you get to hold those nice weapons… use ’em or lose ’em. This forced me to play a lot less conservatively than my usual. And made the game a lot easier. I usually try to get by as much as I can with pistols, melee… whatever won’t run out of ammo soon. This is, of course, stupid, and gets you killed when you’re facing more than one foe.

The plot rather rips off In the Mouth of Madness. Fun little flick… about a writing project gone inadvertently eldritch, surreal, and omnipotent. You find pages of the manuscript that controls and foretells the game events as you play, and so do other characters. This is at least a new form of the old audio log exposition method. It rewards the observant player with information on scenes not visited, or yet to occur.

The bit that truly surprised me about this game; was its writing. The characters get good lines, the voice actors deliver well, and the overall intent is for you to enjoy meeting these folks. Your colorful sidekick isn’t a worthless idiot, though he is used to comedic effect. He’s not a bumbling fool, but a good-hearted friend to your character. The brief stretches of the game where you have companions, they’re armed, carry flashlights, and kick ass.

Although, the game premise of having the plot written by a sleep-deprived, madness-touched author in one week does excuse some of the comically lampshaded bits, like the sheriff brushing off your inquiry as to why she has a key to the bookstore (you have to go through, the roads are blocked!). Though it does suffer from a few instances where the characters absolutely must go the long way around because there’s a 3′ fence in the way.

There are a couple bits that disappoint. First, after beating the game in either normal or hard mode, you unlock Nightmare. Which gives the wee perk of letting you collect the rest of the manuscript. A few pages in each level just aren’t there in the lesser difficulties. After collecting them… I can’t see why they bothered. Half were song lyrics and poems already in the game… only a couple really added anything. It was a bit like deleted scenes on a DVD. Some of them, you can see exactly why the darned things were deleted.

Next disappointment, is in the DLC. One’s out. Another’s due. And the thing that’s going to be put in the one that’s not out yet? The ending.

No, seriously. An ending. The game we have so far is, like a lot out of hollywood, cut off at the climax. No “happily ever after”. Well, it’s actually horror genre. Make that no “Oh no. Please for the love of God no!” ever after.

The first DLC adds a chapter. Couple cute gameplay elements with shining a light on floating words to create things… like a minefield of “bad words”. The problem is that the plot never really goes anywhere or resolves anything. It’s a fantastic production of… filler.

Curiously, we have a story about a horror story with the ending not yet written… and the ending to it hasn’t yet been written. : So… incomplete review, for now. I’ll just have to leave you hanging in-

Amnesia: The Dark Descent review

Yes, this is another of those cliched tropes where the main character starts out with a bad case of “WTF just happened to me?” At least this time around it’s not the product of a blow to the head. It’s self-inflicted, via… well, magic potion, basically.

But for a good reason.

No, seriously. There was a good reason for your character to drink a vial of “fuggedabowdit” and leave a note saying “If I can still read English after that, I need me to kill the guy that owns this creepy-ass castle. He’s in the Inner Sanctum. Best of luck. Trust me, I’m you.”

Now, being the clever fellow that I am, I stared at that for a while and realized my character’s prior self was a bit of an idiot. No map whatsoever to navigate through this crumbling castle. No confidence on his part that there’d even be much of a mind left to follow instructions…

And it hit me. Whether or not my mission is a success or not is immaterial to my past self. He wasn’t trying to win. He was trying to commit suicide by killing who he had become!

And on that, you embark on a horror game, a quest of discovery and redemption… taunted by semi-hallucinatory revelations and memories… and an encroaching unreality as the world itself grows grotesque crimson tumors that hurt to touch.

This isn’t your typical survival horror game as brought to you by… Capcom. How Resident Evil ever became the brand name for the genre escapes me. This game has atmosphere. It has style. The voice acting is good. The writing is good. (Not great, but good.) RE games give you “horror” by giving you barely enough ammo for an action game. I call BS. This game gives you NO ammo. No weapons. You aren’t a fighter. You aren’t capable of going up against even one shambling horror from beyond. You are just barely up to hiding in a dark closet and praying the bad thing leaves on its own.

The key question to me, with this type of story, is whether or not the payoff lives up to the buildup. And it has actually a very good buildup. Unfortunately, what’s difficult to detect is that the actual payoff/climax is in the final scrap of diary that explains why you took the amnesia tonic. The three endings available to you in the final confrontation are simply a choice and three sets of consequences… and this being a horror game, it’s fair that even the best ending is not necessarily good.

Unfortunately, this sort of game is not for everyone. The… I hesitate to say “combat” with reference to the frantic scramble that follows an encounter with a monster; from the perspective of the monster, it is combat, so we’ll go with that. When you see a monster, your vision blurs due to insanity effects (the mind does not wish to see!) and your only hope is to shut a door between yourself and it, then hide for a bit.

So the most action the game has to offer, really, is you staring at the wall of your hiding space, hoping you don’t give your position away, and hoping the foe leaves before you go insane or it kills you.

Needless to say, while this is quite effective at producing tension, after you figure out good hiding spaces in the level, it’s boring as fuck.

Of course, when you find out your hiding space is inadequate… then you get shaken out of your boredom quite effectively. The atmosphere, noncombat mechanics, and sheer deadliness of everything that isn’t you combine well to induce adrenaline in those moments. And since this trick only works when you’re not used to it, the paucity of foes keeps it pretty fresh.

The puzzles are generally along the lines of finding things in one area and using them to reassemble something in another area so that you can reach the next area. With a few twists here and there. The game has a physics engine, but seems to leave it for immersion instead of puzzles. It was refreshing to see a barrier in the form of a raised bridge… and to simply throw a rock at the chain holding it to release it.

Those puzzles that are tricky to solve typically have nice “hints” in the various papers lying about. Either they refer to the plot or puzzle solutions. So if it’s not disturbing, it must be useful!

That covers the important bits. The game’s big “I’m different!” draw is the use of the mouse as a sort of physics gesture tool. You want to open a drawer? Click on it and drag it out. Same for doors, levers… everything, really. Need to break loose a pipe? Bend it back and forth a bit. Need to crowbar open a stiff door? Set the crowbar and PULL.

The not-so different, your character is afraid of the dark. Understandable for a number of reasons. You have 4 options. Stay in well-lit areas. Pull out your lamp with limited oil. Use a tinderbox (a WHOLE tinderbox) to light one unlit item in the area. Or run through and accept the “temporary” loss of sanity. Insanity mostly just makes the screen shift a bit, and late in the game, you get effects like bugs crawling in the monitor.

Is it worth getting? Well… that depends on your character. If you need violence in your videogames, avoid. If you like horror and being made uncomfortable through good storytelling, come on down!

Risen! PC Game Review

I’d like to take a moment to tell you about Gothic. Crazy German RPG from a few years back, with an amazing take on action-adventure-rpgs. It wasn’t trying to be an RPG. It seriously had the bare minimum. You had hp, mp, strength, dex… 4 weapon skills, and a handfull of one-off abilities you could buy up like lockpicking, or harvesting trophies from critters. The weapons did get better, but the wielder is what was deadly.

The focus wasn’t so much on the RPG elements. It was on the world. You were set loose on a valley without any reason to care about anyone in it. Your quests often had multiple outcomes based on who you were willing (or eager) to screw over.

There was so much to do that you could play for days without even needing to mess with the main plot. Before you ever had to embark on saving anyone, you got to know the world.

The sequel, Gothic II, was a masterpiece. Sidequests were deep, varied, and kept cropping up throughout the game. Which makes sense, since you really can’t drive off robed mystery men from a man’s home until after they’ve invaded. It even had a good reason for playing the same character back at level 1 again… it took a few weeks to rescue you from the first game, and you were half-mad and half-starved from being trapped in rubble.

The 3rd game in the series… first change in the engine… and it sucked. The combat was tied to the animations, and they couldn’t change the animations by the time they figured out they’d built a set of rules where a wolf could juggle a seasoned fighter to death. Players feared barks, and would be relieved by a mere combat with dragons. They fight fair, flamethrower notwithstanding.

A few too many corners were cut. The game had clearly shipped on time, but at a brutal cost. Still, the quests kept their depth. And if you were willing to put up with a horrible combat system, the game did yield a truly impressive level of control over the fate of the world. Be a champion of light? Dark? Or go with the bright idea the necromancer has and kick all the gods out of the world, and forget this whole “every thousand years” war BS.

This brings me to Risen. Clearly by the same guys that brought us the first Gothic game. Since the combat isn’t broken by bad animation, it’s a much better game than their next most recent offering. But it does have a few problems. I can’t complain about the combat system, although it’s gotten a bit more depth. There are now 3 melee weapons skills to go with the 2 ranged ones, and raising skill gives you more maneuvers and lets you use a shield with even two-handed weapons.

The quest log has a button you can hit to see map locations for any given quest (if given). Always a nice touch.

The problem I had with the game wasn’t the combat, or the magic systems… or the (limited) crafting.

The problem I had was with the sidequests. But it’s a difficult thing to address. You have to understand that this is a game that gives you an open world at the outset. The only limitation to where you can go is what’s going to kill you. A bit of training and a lot of prudence (and cunning use of sheer cowardice) can allow you to go virtually anywhere from the beginning. So it’s quite simple to end up doing some parts of some quests quite out of order.

And that means that, while it doesn’t really break a plot to have you gather up vital macguffins ahead of time… the game does give you the quest update whether or not you’d started it. It’s not a terribly subtle way of saying “This seems important!” Also, it’s not possible to cover absolutely every permutation… so you get some very odd responses if you do things in a particular order.

One very beautiful quest line involves a pirate’s daughter. She’s looking for her father…’s treasure. So’s another pirate. At one point, you split up, and of course, she’s captured. You get to play Russian roulette with trapped chests (and a set of clues to tell which ones not to pick) and bring out the reward (including a main plot macguffin) to exchange for the girl’s location. All anybody really wants is the map to the other treasure hauls around the various islands. I don’t dig the ransom thing, so as soon as I had the key to the girl’s cell and her location… I slew five pirates and took the map back.

Problem was… when I rescued her, my side of the conversation said “I gave him the map.” She was a bit put out by this. Then I got the option to say “I got the map.” It was more than a little clunky, and it felt as though that method of resolving the quest should have been accounted for in the dialog.

Still, for the most part, as long as you aren’t expecting as much in the way of conversation options as previous games covered, it’s an awesome romp in a not-quite-standard RPG realm. There are some curious design choices… like, even if you are a mage, the endgame fight is basically Zelda. You use a shield to reflect glowies back at the boss, run up and hit him. Repeat. Try not to fall into the volcano. Your entire game’s combat practice is irrelevant, because someone wanted the end-game boss to be “different”, I guess.

A graphical glitch also marred my enjoyment. The sky would tend to flicker through day and night quite spastically. A quick internet search revealed a need to upgrade my graphics drivers. No problem. It worked nicely… for a while. A few days later, there are problems when moving into certain areas, causing the rapid flicker… and whatever time of day it stopped on when I left, all the NPCs would do whatever was appropriate then. If it stopped on night, they went to bed. If it stopped on day, they’d go to work. That’s… more than mere graphics at fault. Worse, the game eventually froze on midnight and refused to budge from there. I had to wake people up to complete quests… despite the risk of retaliation from trespassing.

Some who have played this game confessed disappointment to me… because the sheer volume of sidequests at the outset set an expectation… that there would be more as the main plot progressed. This was proven wrong, obviously. Only a few important threads tied into the main plot and were developed in the later chapters. I believe it has something to do with the design philosophy. The quests are things to do, and they’re scattered around the island. You are the only one determining how fast you plow through them. You alone determine if there are any left before you advance the main plot. It is like hunting down all the hidden packages in GTA before doing the second mission. Nobody forced you to do it in that order.

And that’s something most players don’t get out of an RPG… choice. It’s not even implemented particularly satisfyingly here, in all cases. It’s usually between two sides, and eventually just becomes a linear progression towards an inevitable destiny. Which… actually… is the theme.

Still, good to see these crazy guys are still working, still pounding out… well, it’s basically refurbished Gothic 1. But that was still better than 3, so… yay!

(Note, the above review contains spoilers. If you wanted to avoid them, you should have looked at the end of the review first, since that’s all you’d care about.)

I’m Wrong, and You Can Be Too!

Everyone is wrong. Wrong is the default state of the universe. It’s the default of any idea, it’s the starting place of every rationalization, and it’s every step along the journey towards either greater or lesser wrong.

I know, it seems an exaggeration. It’s not.

Do you remember physics and chemistry? My textbooks had a few pages about the various models for atomic structure that have been proposed throughout the ages. In order from quite wrong to less wrong. And the implication is that our current understanding is wrong too, and we haven’t figured out how yet.

Every science, every art, every discipline… perfection is not attained. We strive not to be perfect, but to be less wrong than we start. It’s a process, and every one of us demands improvement from ourselves in some aspects of our lives. Lest we succumb to depression.

You don’t think it applies to you? How about sex? You like sex? Gets better with practice, doesn’t it? Anyone who hasn’t repressed (or not experienced) their first sexual experience knows for damned certain that virgins are not good lovers.

Or maybe you’re a bit of a puritan? Finding sex offensive, you spend your evenings in Bible study… trying to improve or maintain your spiritual purity… or just to deepen and improve your understanding. Because you are imperfect, and therefore wrong in some way.

It’s easy to spot wrongness in others, isn’t it? Laws passed that clearly didn’t have the best of brains behind them, or have wording so poor that every armchair lawyer is thinking how bad the loopholes are. That grumpy sourpuss in line ahead of you that’s getting fed up with everything not being 100% perfect in their life and letting the whole world know… that they’re wrong in their expectations.

But the only way that we improve as human beings is to say that there’s something wrong about ourselves… and then fix it.

I am fed up with my life. It’s not living up to my expectations. The problem is, what I want is a way to get from here to… self-supporting, and having a family. I don’t have that. I lack the education, the job market sucks, and I have a shitty work ethic when it comes to begging for a job I really don’t want. I don’t even have half a clue what I want to do with my life from here.

I’m wrong!

Nothing in my life suggests I’m actually going to be any good with starting my own family. That’s an expectation that I had for life when I was 6. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I barely stay in touch with the loving family I have now. We’re generally aloof people and even wanting a family, I’d have to learn how to be a real part of one.

I’m wrong about hating just about every sort of retail job… that’s bullcrap. I liked work that involved a lot of moving around. Was great for my metabolism in high school. Once my weight shifts to where it’s less strain, I’ll like that again. It’s not even the physical pain of menial labor that bothers me. It’s putting up with corporate bullshit… but… most low-end jobs have pretty obvious common-sense rules. Sure, some of it’s BS layout from corporate, or obviously bad legal compromises… but there’s stories there, and you can respect them. At the end of the day, your job is to move things to where they must go so people can find them, and money can be made. I’d probably hate management there, but that’s not what I’d be applying for.

And, for what I want? I do know. I want to help people. I want to see justice. I want to get paid… and I’d like to be creative and occasionally even underhanded when someone deserves it.

I’m not quick. I keep a level head under pressure… I think I’m describing police work. Bit of a surprise, I was expecting counseling. Something to look into either way. I just have to keep in mind that, with any expectations… I’m wrong about reality.

But we all start being wrong. So it’s all right.

Zombie pay-for-play?

I am going to link to a flash game that breaks my heart: Zombie Assault 2 – Insane Asylum.

This is zombie survival with guns and upgradable barriers. I”d rather like to know how the zombies manage to carry cash, and what agency it is that sells you barrier upgrades that you have to fix your own self. But anyway, it”s a rather bog-standard mix of frenetic shooting, base defense, and upgrading your offense and defense to survive upgrading waves of undead. It”s a good formula. The mix this time around is needing cash to add on to the map, to find… well, it”s not the weapons themselves, like I”d expect. It”s an outline of the weapon that lets you buy them from the shop. Like pieces of a picture-menu for a mute customer.

At first glance, it”s a horrid trade-off. You buy, essentially, an increasing number of ways for zombies to enter. Some do not even allow barricades. Fortunately, the undead are stupid and stick with their assigned doors, even walking past an already-smashed barrier to beat upon one that had caught their fancy. The number of undead in each wave is static. These two details mean that you have spread out the zombie problem, so your barriers should last a bit longer. The kitchen and adjacent… porch-y area give vital obstacles to run around, exposing flaws in zombie pathfinding I haven”t needed to exploit since Lode Runner. (look it up, whipper-snappers!)

The undead themselves are a fun mix of speeds, toughness, and special effects. Clowns which are nearly unkillable… save for their own detonations a few seconds after they run near you and root themselves in place. Big beefy meat-cleaver wielders that have a few mutant tapeworms to share with you on their death. And even some demon-y guy who likes to chuck eldritch fire at you. The best bit is that you have some warning. The game”s sound effects include screeches and chilling clown laughs to let you know what a given wave is about to throw at you. But not from which direction… so that you might decide if you are using a good weapon for the upcoming problem.

All that is to the good, believe it or not. Each element listed enhances the experience. Even the pathing issues, as the difficulty is high enough to where exploiting the AI isn”t any guarantee of victory… just a slight edge.

Difficulty, as in all of this class of game, comes from a simple source… you need to buy things, and you don”t know what will help you survive until it”s too late to spend the money elsewhere. As you are spending the exact same cash on expanding your living space that you do on weapons… it becomes even more of a challenge. It is simpler if you know which areas contain which… uh, weapon potentials? Menu items? So you simply do not get to know what”s even available on the first playthru, until you have unlocked the entire map.

You do start off with the ability to buy better barricades tho. Which are repaired to full health instantly, by walking up to one and tapping a key. However… upgrading this to the point where the barriers will damage the zombies that bash them costs as much as the mid-range weapons… and represents the game”s obvious tipping point. If you get the barricades to full, and the map unlocked, you can hold off quite a lot. A sentry gun or two would also make it possible to survive to the endgame.

This is also the point the game appears calibrated to leave slightly out of reach. I”m not saying it”s impossible… there”s bound to be some cryptic range of upgrading and ultimate zombiefighting that allows a human player to survive. But the difficulty of the game… even with health restored between waves, the bulk of players are going to be stymied just short of being able to balance themselves against the ever-steepening difficulty.

Which is where the game promptly decides to break my heart.

You can register yourself with the game”s handlers to unlock a persistant profile, so your XP and character perks don”t go away (the shop and inventory is reset every time tho. Sorry!). And you are given a couple “premium” items for free. Few extra grenades, a rifle that”s quite a bit better than the starter pistol… and this brings you to the bloody shop. Don”t get me wrong. I am not opposed to paying money for a game. Good games are awesome, and worth supporting. This game is playable for free… but you pay to unlock certain… perks. For real cash, you can lower the difficulty of the game. There”s weapons ranging from autoshotguns to proton オンライン カジノ packs. Permanent boosts to damage, armor, health regen, and bonus income from zombie kills. You can buy the whole set of upgrades for $10 or $15 if you”re getting them individually. Clever pricing scheme, since $5 is the minimum, and would give you the most critical upgrades. But for twice the price, you can have it all. Nice marketing.

Now, if they had made this a bit like shareware, so that I were unlocking, say, an end-game boss… I could dig it. The thing that sends me into a bit of disgust is not that they are charging for the games… they are charging for things that lower the difficulty. This disgusts me. Thoroughly.

Some of you don”t need this explained to you, so I”ll try to be brief. Games used to come with a range of difficulty. There would be an easy mode so that you could experience the bulk of the game, but you wouldn”t be trying very hard. There might be a hellfire and brimstone mode where it would take weeks of training to survive the game… maybe in order to get a different ending. The ending wouldn”t really be all that great, but the elation of finally getting there… to no longer be banging your head against a bit wall in a silicon prison… that would give a giddy rush and instant bragging rights. And anyone sane would have long since found that one guy who could beat it, and watch them do it, so they wouldn”t actually have to.

But you didn”t pay money to make the game easier.

MMOs spend countless hours trying to destroy the practice of “Gold Farming”, wherein real money is exchanged for in-game currency, to allow for purchases that the player hasn”t earned. Ostensibly, you are outsourcing the grinding of the game. Frankly, the games are a bit grind-tastic, and like to keep you from having “fun” as much as possible… but the efforts to stop this industry are due to very real issues of in-game inflation (which puts prices so high that new players cannot buy any upgrades with their hard-earned cash) and of the farming activities crowding out “legitimate” gamers from vital resources.

These are beside the point, but I cannot truly express the outrage I feel without giving them as perspective.

The actual practice of requiring a player to spend money on lowering the difficulty level, and increasing fun… goes against good game design. It”s also a hideous business practice. You end up with a paying customer base of gamers who may be obsessive, but certainly do not have the skill it takes to conquer your game without your little perks… so every single customer is going to be ultimately dissatisfied with the experience, because they will know they couldn”t have beaten the game on their own. They are paying to cheat themselves of the very illusion of victory these games use as a reward for playing.

From a business perspective, you are giving yourself customers who will be disillusioned by the very game they bought into… which can”t do future sales much good. From a game designer”s perspective, I look at this and feel that there was a lot of playtesting put into making the difficulty exactly right… so the game will be addicting but impossible without paying, for most customers. The gaming purist in me scoffs at spending money to gain an edge in a game. The smart shopper who once bought a gameshark figures the price point is WAY off for cheats (But not bad for buying a full game of this type). The casual gamer in me… is intrigued, but not going to spend money when I have a book I could be reading.

I”m not sure what the target market is for this experiment, but as a mutation of the old shareware model, I can”t help but think it”s headed down the old Darwinian path.

Training the Player

Hi. I play MMOs. At the moment, I”m going to take a bit of both our time to convey a concept about these colossal, yet awesome, timesinks. You have to learn how to play the game in order to excel at the game.

Right, points for the obvious, I know. Now, the usual method of training someone for doing well involves rewarding them for doing things right, and punishing them for doing things wrong. Right? Well… sort of. In order to actually learn, you would need to know what you did right, and what you had done wrong. If this were a sports game, you would see instant replay, and at the professional level, someone making more money than the average schoolteacher would patiently explain how someone on the team did something right in the heat of the moment, with imperfect information, and that the other guys weren”t ready for such a startling display of competence. MMOs lack this. Your random group of bored strangers may have simply succeeded on the 3rd try because one of the casters accidentally dispelled the enemy”s debuff… because he hit the wrong key at the right time. You did nothing different, so you don”t learn. Everybody thinks the other players game improved.

Now, it is possible to learn to play better… by listening to the advice of others. Sometimes this advice is actually good. Sometimes it is ranked slightly below frenching an electrical socket. I recall fondly my first serious group attempt in World of Warcraft, as a newbie warlock. I was repeatedly told 4 pieces of advice. I ignored half. One was to whip out the big ugly smoke pet I use as a tank when solo. I”m being told this by the tank. We have a tank and a healer. I can use my little imp to give everyone more stamina/hp, and set foes on fire. I ignore the advice.

I am told that I should not Fear an enemy in an instance. This makes sense. They run screaming for help, we get 5 guys in exchange for the 1 I sent packing. Bad news for the party. Good call. Instead, I use a power that prevents a foe from running. Curse of Recklessness. I”m told I should be using the mutually exclusive DPS power. I ignore this, because it”s a bad call. The foes aren”t living long enough to have a second tic of damage. And if they run, they tend to live just long enough to bring back grief.

The best advice I recieved was to “SS the healer”. SS turns out to mean “soulstone”. A bungee cord for the tunnel with the white light at the end. Brilliant! However, as a newb, it wasn”t “till a breather halfway down the dungeon when I was able to type out “WTF is SS?” and actually get a coherent answer. Acronyms are not your friends when you try to train another person. They are used between people who already know what they are doing. When I used the power in the most tactically advantageous method, to let the healer survive a total wipe, so she could restore all of our bleeding corpses to life… it saved us all a long walk. And I got to disappoint said healer, who hadn”t known it was only usable once every 30 min.

Now, in all of WoW, the game itself never actually tried to train me on the most effective uses of my powers. It just sat there being Darwin. If I got it right enough, I survived. If I didn”t, I got to hike back to my corpse.

These days… I play LOTRO. One thing I really love in this system are the deeds. If you”re only familiar with WoW, think of them like Talents… that don”t suck, there”s far fewer of them, and you have to earn each one before you can spec it. Earning them is the critical aspect. As a game designer, you can never truly anticipate what stratagems the player base is going to roll out to break your carefully crafted balance. This is a reason that it isn”t altogether simple to train a player in using his class effectively. Sure, in the prior example, the tactical significance of letting the player who can resurrect  the party rez himself is a bit obvious. But not using the damaging curse, or the biggest looking pet… is a bit less obvious.

LOTRO”s deed system encourages experimentation. Because it rewards experimentation directly. You don”t know which of your abilities will advance a deed until actually using it, once you”ve reached a high enough level for that particular deed. So, to unlock all of them, you must practice your abilities to see what must be done. Granted, they are all simply “use ability x a few hundred or thousand times over a few days.” There is still a mighty opportunity to learn from such rote practice. The Minstrel has one that is simply based on using healing abilities. A thousand times. No deeper meaning here, other than training the player to spam healing. The Lore-Master, however, has one for an ability that simply drains power from a foe into his own reserves. While it”s never a horrible thing to have a mid-battle recharge, running out of power is extremely rare in the early game. However, against foes with low reserves, it also functions to drain them to zero. Which denies them further use of their most powerful attacks. If I didn”t have gamer OCD towards such traits, I”d never have understood how useful this could be. I”d have saved it for long boss fights when I needed the boost. This system improved my competence in the game.

I”m quite curious what the next iteration of gaming is going to roll out to subtly train the player. Because this sort of stealth education is powerful, and molds a playerbase nicely… when it works. Now, if only we could use it to weed out side-conversations in movie theatres.