Tobold's Blog
Friday, July 01, 2022
Forcing politicians to do their job

As you know, I live in Belgium. Belgium is a very complicated nation, as it is basically separated in half: There is a northern half, Flanders, where people speak Dutch, and a southern half, Wallonia, where people speak French (not to mention Brussels and the east cantons). The two halves are culturally very different, have different core values, and frequently don't get along very well. With each half having left and right parties, plus some others, agreeing on anything is difficult. Belgium currently holds the world record for the longest time to form a government after an election, at a whopping 541 days. And with all that, Belgium still manages to have a system that is less broken than the one of the United States of America, which is currently unraveling.

The political system in the USA is not only strongly divided, it is also designed at the federal level to make it possible for the minority to block the majority from doing very much. So in the second half of the 20th century a lot of very fundamental political decisions were left undecided at the level of the people who were supposed to make the laws. Every other country, including Belgium, managed to make a political decision on difficult questions like abortion or climate policy. The USA didn't. Instead they construed a twisted chain of thoughts in which these difficult questions were designated as "unenumerated constitutional rights", which is to say that these rights aren't in the constitution, but could somehow be argued to be similar to rights that are in the constitution. And so the decision about these difficult political questions were left to the Supreme Court.

That was not a good idea. Supreme Court justices are unelected officials for life, and thus probably the last people you'd want to make political decisions. And this year the Supreme Court actually came to that very same conclusion: These are political questions best left to lawmakers, not judges. While the *outcome* of striking down Roe vs. Wade and decisions about the EPA are reported as a win for the Republicans (who had stacked the Supreme Court with conservative judges), the reality is that the judges simply said that these are political questions that shouldn't be decided by them and they handed the job back to Congress.

While this temporarily creates a huge mess, because now politicians will be forced to make political decisions on difficult issues (like in every other democratic country), it also creates a huge opportunity for the Democrats. The Supreme Court didn't say abortions were illegal, it just said that the constitution didn't cover the question. A law that replaces Roe vs. Wade at the federal level will be needed at some point in the future (like every other democratic country has). And while the issue is very divisive, it appears clear that a large majority of Americans is very much for the right of a woman to have an abortion with some sensible restrictions. If Democrats campaign for such a law, and Republicans against it, that could very much swing the majority towards the left. It is a much more winnable political fight than an ill-defined "woke vs. anti-woke" cultural war.

Thursday, June 30, 2022
Quite well reviewed pain in the ass

This post is a second opinion on Battle Brothers, after one of my commenters said that he had it on his Steam wishlist because it was "quite well reviewed", but my post made it sound like a "pain in the ass". And I took both of these phrases for my title, because somewhere the problem is that Battle Brothers is both.

Why is Battle Brothers "quite well reviewed"? I believe it has something to do with the state of modern gaming. Some of the triple-A titles we get these days are highly polished and smooth. There are games that supposedly are about adventure, but these games are designed to never inconvenience the player, but rather to offer him a highly scripted smooth ride that will be identical to the highly scripted smooth ride that everybody else playing the game will experience. I have Assassin's Creed Valhalla installed on my computer for a year now, but only played it for 2 hours, because it didn't feel all that interesting. So there is a counter-movement to these smooth games, with Elden Ring probably being the prime example. Battle Brothers, like Elden Ring, throws unbalanced crap at you and asks you to deal with it. That can be very frustrating and annoying, but it is also challenging and interesting. And so I am already 34 hours into Battle Brothers, and ended up buying the DLCs.

Having said that, it took like 10 hours or so before I actually started to have fun in Battle Brothers. This game is rough on new players. There isn't even an in-game tutorial to explain basic controls to you, just a button that leads you to tutorial videos on YouTube. And with the first tag on Steam being "Tactical RPG", I went into the game with wrong expectations about it being a game with a story, like Final Fantasy Tactics or Triangle Strategy. In fact, Battle Brothers has even less story than Elden Ring. Instead it has a procedurally generated world with villages and cities connected by roads, trade caravans moving between them, and bandits and monsters threatening this civilization. The story that Battle Brothers tells is one of a group of mercenaries, controlled by you, that interacts with this world. And while there are small scripted random events, the overall story isn't scripted at all. You could help those villages, or you could rob their caravans. There isn't even an end to Battle Brothers, although later patches added the option to "retire" and get an ending that is based on how much renown you collected and how many "late game crises" you solved. Typically you can self-identify as having "won" by retiring after the first crisis, but it is purely up to you.

In the current Steam Summer Sale you can buy the base game Battle Brothers for €14. Or the bundle with all DLC for €42. Strangely enough, I would recommend the latter. Because there is no main story, this isn't a game where a DLC just adds another side quest and area. The DLCs of Battle Brothers add new game mechanics, new monsters, new weapons, new backgrounds (starting conditions) and make it a far more interesting game right from the get-go.

And I would also very much recommend the Battle Brothers Nexus Mods to change the game. Sometimes it is better to mod a game, rather than to either become frustrated, or end up save scumming a lot. For a game which is very much about recruiting and training mercenaries to build a good team, Battle Brothers has some infuriating design decisions around that recruitment. The money you pay for recruiting somebody only to a small part reflects how good that mercenary is, but to a much larger part depends on what gear he is wearing, because you basically "buy" his gear when you recruit him. In Battle Brothers even a very friendly city only pays you a fifth of the official value for gear, and frequently charges you more than that value if you buy it. So buying gear is rather expensive, and bundling that with recruitment is terrible. Especially since you only get a very rough idea how good a recruit is before you hire him from his background. So it is perfectly possible that you spend a large deal of money to hire a new recruit, only to find that he is totally unsuitable, and you just bought a bunch of expensive gear you didn't need. I added two mods to Battle Brothers to change that, one that allows me to hire mercenaries naked, without any gear to pay for, and the other to see in advance the stats of a recruit. That makes the game a lot smoother than saving the game, hiring a recruit, finding he isn't good, and reloading the save game. There are also some nice quality-of-life mods, like auto-pause on you seeing an enemy.

Fun in a game often resides in a small band on the challenge scale, where the game is challenging enough to be interesting, but not so challenging as to become frustrating. The core repeating gameplay of Battle Brothers, the tactical battles on a hex map, is very good. With the DLCs adding more variety and the difficulty settings and mods enabling me to find the fun spot on the challenge scale, Battle Brothers actually becomes an enjoyable experience. It does however take some work to get to that point.

Note that if you don't care much for procedurally generated worlds, but would like a similar gameplay experience to Battle Brothers with a group of mercenaries in a low-fantasy world doing challenging tactical battles, I would very much recommend Wartales.

Monday, June 27, 2022
Battle Brothers

If you were trying to find out what kind of a game Battle Brothers is, various sources on the internet would tell you that this is a turn-based tactical RPG. You have a group of mercenaries which take on various contracts to hunt bandits, greenskins, or undead. There is tactical turn-based combat on a hex map. Between the loot from battles and the money from contracts you hire new mercenaries, gear them up, and level them up. But once you play this for a while, you'll notice that this doesn't feel like playing a fantasy RPG. It feels like playing Football Manager.

The principal culprit here is the difficulty curve. Difficulty in Battle Brothers goes up with game time, the higher the number of days displayed on top of the screen, the harder the game is getting. Which means that if you are wasting your time exploring or traveling to far places, you risk falling behind the curve. I lost one of my early games because I took on an ambition to find and clear an outpost, and wasted weeks trying to find one that wasn't impossibly strong. Walking through the wilderness exploring drains your money and food supplies, it turns out the world is largely empty, and you end up weaker than before while the enemies got stronger over time. If you are trying to play Battle Brothers casually and explore the world around you instead of maximizing your revenue per day, that isn't going to end well.

If you want to play Battle Brothers well, you best find a cluster of villages and towns close together and do the rounds there, taking on all contracts, except those that would force you to travel far from there. In combat you need to apply some tricks, like using puncturing daggers and attacks with a flail to the head, to not destroy the body armor of your enemies, so you can loot it. And then the main part of the game becomes managing your team, like in a Football Manager game. While you start with 3 decent mercenaries, most of the people you can hire early on don't have late game potential. So you need to make money fast, to buy better recruits, and weed out the useless peasants in your team. Certain stats of each mercenary are marked with stars, and those are the stats that grow faster when leveling. So you need mercs with good starting values and stars in the most important stats for their role. And you need to get those early enough that you still have time to level them up before the "late game crisis" arrives.

At the easiest difficulty, I find Battle Brothers is still fun enough. At the higher difficulties I find the game gets annoying, because even if you plan everything perfectly, the randomness tends to mess up those plans. Yes, you can find lists which backgrounds tend to have the best stats and try to hire those. But you aren't assured that they will have stars in the right places, and there is random variation of the stats themselves. At higher difficulty you will need to rely on cheesy tricks, like trying to take out human enemies with specific weapons that don't damage armor too much, so you have a higher chance of getting that armor as loot. And in the end Battle Brothers is too much of a management game, and not enough of an adventure for me.

Friday, June 24, 2022
Selecting a CRPG

There are now over 50,000 games on Steam, and a lot more on other platforms. I don't know what percentage of these games are computer role-playing games, but it isn't exactly a rare category, so there are a lot of those. The "top sellers" and "top rated" tabs under the RPG tab on Steam each show over 1,500 games. And given that any CRPG takes a good number of hours, it is obviously impossible to play them all. So how do you decide whether a CRPG is right for you?

I just uninstalled Weird West, and was thinking about why that game wasn't right for me. My simplified model of CRPGs is that there is a repeating core activity, usually combat, embedded in a system like quests and/or story which drives you from one combat to the next. And quite often how enjoyable the repeating core activity is determines whether you are having fun or not. There are some cases where combat is okay-ish and gets old after a while, in which case you might be playing on a bit for the story. But if you don't like the combat system at all, no story in the world can keep you playing.

In Weird West the twin stick shooter combat wasn't to my liking at all. Not only was I not very good at it, even on easier difficulty. But even when I won a combat, I wasn't enjoying myself. I'm generally not a big fan of action combat in CRPGs, but some systems are still okay, e.g. Diablo-style clicking on enemy to attack, or the reasonable paced regular combat in World of Warcraft (outside raids). But twin stick shooting was both too hectic for me, and offered not enough options for decision-making.

Beyond combat, there are certain key elements in a CRPG which tend to be frequent enough to be bothersome if not done right. A prime example for that is the loot system. Fun CRPGs tend to have interesting loot, and a user-friendly inventory management system. Weird West has neither: The overwhelming percentage of loot found is junk or weapons for scrapping, and the limit to 48 inventory slots (notwithstanding the option to store some items in the bank or your saddlebags) is quite frequently annoying, because half of those are already full at the start of a dungeon with your weapons, ammo, and other gear you need, like shovels and pickaxes.

CRPGs by their very nature are games in which you repeat the same activities over and over. Thus these activities must be at least minimally enjoyable, otherwise they get on your nerves pretty quick and make you quit the game.

Thursday, June 23, 2022
PrUn Log - Stardate 2022-06-23

My Verdant base is now using up all the area I can have without spending a second permit. I ended up with 10 pioneer habitations, giving room for up to 1,000 pioneers, with jobs for 940. I have 8 water rigs, feeding 5 farmsteads, and 7 food producers. As minor side businesses I have 1 oxygen collector, 1 incinerator, and 1 prefab plant MK1. Only that prefab plant isn't actually using anything I produce on Verdant, so I might move that one to another base one day. My current net profit is 26k per day, with drinking water prices having crashed to 50, while basic rations are down, but not by as much as water.

Technically I started my second base. That is to say I built a core module on planet XG-326a. I don't have any habitations or production buildings yet, but the foundation for the base is there. As you can see from the lack of name, this planet doesn't have many people on it. It has very high atmospheric pressure, so every building needs additional materials (hardened structural elements at 10k each) to build. But on the positive side, XG-326 is rich in minerals: Limestone, silicon ore, and titanium ore. I don't have a complete plan what industry I will build up on that second base, but ore extractors, possibly smelters, basic material plants, and prefab plants are definitively in the cards. It will just take some time to get this going.

On my "alternative start" account, I am testing out the option to radically change your career. I demolished all the smelter and prefab plants, leaving just the ore extractors as a side-business. And I built up a whopping 4 refineries. I have to say, that worked quite well: When you demolish a production building that isn't all that old, you get most of the prefabs and building materials back, and can use them directly for something else. If the mix of prefabs isn't what you need, it is easy enough to sell the extras and buy what you need. So the lesson here is to not be afraid to change course.

Making fuel on Montem is interesting for a different reason: The Moria space isn't rich in the resources needed to make fuel, so fuel is comparatively expensive. But so is buying the raw materials to make that fuel. However, because I *have* a lot of fuel "at cost" available to me, I can easily afford to fly to other commodity exchanges, and buy cheaper raw materials there. The main complication with that is the different currencies. So instead of bringing money, I fly goods to those other commodity exchanges, sell them there, and buy raw materials for fuel production. Remember those limestone ore extractors I still have running on Montem? I can basically fly that limestone to Benten and exchange it for galerite, which is at half the price that I pay in Moria.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Starting Weird West three times

One of the advantages of the Xbox Game Pass for PC is that it makes it easier to try out games that I am not totally sure I will like. In this case Weird West, which combines aspects I do like (Wild West, RPG) with aspects I don't (action combat, zombies). I'm not sure yet how I will like the game overall in the end, but it sure was one of the weirder starts to a RPG that I had.

As the game is on my PC, I started out playing with mouse and keyboard. You start out on your farm, where the story is introduced, and you learn some basics of the game, like camera control and how to shoot. Then you set out to visit the first city, on the way to which the first real combat happens. In the city the game becomes more free form, and you have some decisions to make, like whether you want to steal stuff or stay honest. I was about this far in when it became more and more clear that playing the game with mouse and keyboard wasn't ideal. Combat in Weird West can best be described as being akin to twin stick shooters. You are supposed to move and shoot at the same time, using one thumbstick to move away from the enemies, and the other to aim at them and shoot them. That doesn't work great with WASD keyboard movement.

I didn't want to switch controls in the middle of the game, because I thought it would be better to play through the small tutorial with the new controls. So I started the game from scratch and played again until somewhere in the first city, this time with a gamepad, which worked better. And then I had some other stuff to do, and made a pause.

A few hours later, I wanted to continue playing, and on starting the game I was greeted by a large patch download, to version 1.0.3. While that downloaded, I read the patch notes. And came upon a paragraph saying basically "this patch fixes a bug, but if you continue playing an old save the bug isn't totally fixed". As I still wasn't very far in, I ended up starting the game from zero again, a third time.

At least all these do-overs weren't completely wasted. Playing through the same scenes several times gave me a better idea of what in the game is scripted, and what is random. For example, you don't find the same loot in your farm in every playthrough. But the more relevant items, e.g. the ones you need to upgrade your character seem to be in fixed locations, so you don't need to worry whether you might miss one because you didn't search every single barrel.

With the twin stick shooting being my biggest worry about this game, I was very happy that patch 1.0.3 introduces options that make this part of the game easier if you want. And I did like the mix between having well-defined goals and having a lot of freedom in how to approach things. So I think I will play Weird West for a while.

Sunday, June 19, 2022
Saltmarsh - Session 2

While preparing session 3 for later today I noticed that I completely forgot to blog the events of session 2. In session 1 the group was introduced as junior pirates, who fled the pirate realm Hold of the Sea Princes after finding out that the other pirates wanted to sacrifice them to a Krakolich to appease him. The group arrived at the small fishing town of Saltmarsh, and from there went to explore a "haunted house".

Session 2 starts back in Saltmarsh, where the group has spent the night at The Wicker Goat (La chèvre d'osier) inn, after returning from a first expedition into the haunted house. At breakfast they are visited by a delegation from the town council, led by a young man, Counsellor Anders Solmor, followed by his butler Skerrin Wavechaser and captain of the guard Eliander Fireborn. An Insight check reveals that Anders is clearly the one leading this delegation, with Eliander visibly much more reluctant to trust the group.

Anders tells the group that he is aware that they are adventurers who have been to the haunted house and came back wounded. He wants the group to go back in the name of the town council (and specifically himself), and clear the house of any ghosts or other menaces scaring the citizens of Saltmarsh. He can provide the group with an old building plan of the "Alchemist's House", suggesting that there are three floors of identical size: Upper floor, ground floor, and cellar. As previous visits by the town guard have found only a small cellar, he is willing to lend the group a Wand of Secrets, and promises them that wand and 100 gold pieces as reward for clearing out the house including all of the cellar. As part of the deal, on their presumably successful return, the group should also publicly praise Anders for the initiative to clear the haunted house (not mentioning that they went there on their own the first time). Realizing that this is quite a good deal, the group agrees.

The second trip to the haunted house is concentrated on the cellar. At first the dangers there seem mostly fake: Spells producing scary sounds and frightening people entering the cellar, a "death knight" built out of pots and pans (which turns out to be some sort of primitive alarm system). But some secret doors later the group has identified and beaten the real dangers: A group of smugglers using the caves under the house as a smuggling base, and, independently from that, a skeletal alchemist with some skeleton minions. Besides some treasure the group also finds the lantern which the smugglers use to signal their ship that the coast is clear. They could make use of that in the next session ...


Saturday, June 18, 2022
PrUn Alternative Start - Changing your mind

I am running a second account in Prosperous Universe, with permission from the devs, which I regularly restart and try out different starting packages to write about on this blog. Prosperous Universe has a generous restart mechanic with the COLIQ command, which allows you to completely start over from scratch. The only limitation is that after every restart the delay before you can restart again goes up. But you can do the first restart directly, and the second restart 3 days later, so hopefully by the third time you figured out what you want to do and how to do it. This enables you to make choices you aren't sure of on your first start, and wipe the slate clean if those choices didn't work out. A lot of players COLIQ'd at least once. But there might be scenarios in which that isn't your best option when you change your mind.

So as an example, I am taking my current setup on that blog account. I started out as a Metallurgist with an extractor and a smelter, and expanded that into making prefabs. And then I tried out something completely different and started making fuels in a refinery. So what if I now decide that I really like making fuels, and find the whole extracting, smelting, and making prefabs business boring? I could COLIQ, but a complete reset would also wipe out any profits I made up to now; the big advantage of a COLIQ is the ability to change planet, but there aren't really any great fuel planets in the Moria space.

Thus, I am now running an experiment: I demolished my extractors, smelters, and prefab plants. On demolishing a building, you get some of the building materials back. If that building is only a few weeks old, you get most, but not all materials back. In this case I had enough materials to build a third refinery immediately. And then I still have a lot of excess prefabs, just that the mix is wrong and I will have to sell some of one type and buy of another to build a fourth refinery.

I did, of course, have some losses from demolishing my existing buildings. And I now have to do some inventory management, sell the stuff I needed for the old buildings, and buy more materials for the refineries instead. But in a few days I will have a fully operational base with 4 refineries, which is a lot faster than what I could have achieved if I had done a COLIQ and restarted as fuel engineer.

The main limitations to the demolishing method is that you can't change planet that way. If I had wanted to switch to, let's say, Victualler, the planet I am on, Montem, is rather unsuitable, and a COLIQ would have been the better option. But a lot of careers in Prosperous Universe are about transforming materials, not extracting them, and thus are somewhat independent of the planet you are doing them on. COLIQ is certainly the better option if you messed up your first attempt and didn't make much money, but if you did make good profit and just changed your mind, the demolish method sure is a viable alternative in some cases.


Friday, June 17, 2022
How responsible are children?

I am a centrist. As this post of mine is based on common sense, it will most likely trigger both left wing and right wing cultural warriors. You have been warned!

The Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984 sets the age at which you can buy or publicly consume alcohol in the USA to 21 years. This is based on a broader legal principle, which is that children are less responsible than adults, and thus a) should not be allowed to do certain things and b) are punished less harshly if they do something wrong. Now every single legislation pertaining to age is somewhat arbitrary. The drinking age in the USA changed over the course of history. It is different in other countries. The minimum age of the US president is 35, which seems like a completely random number. But while any individual number could be endlessly discussed, most people do agree that some sort of age restriction makes sense; both for the protection of children themselves, and for the protection of others from irresponsible acts by children.

Now if you were to design a legal system from scratch, how would you design age restrictions? Probably you would list everything you wanted an age restriction on, and then sort them by relative impact or risk level. For example the minimum age to drive an electric scooter is lower than the minimum age to drive a car, because the average outcome of a scooter accident is less harmful than the average outcome of a car accident.

Unfortunately, not every legislation is based on common sense. The culture wars resulted in each side pushing their agenda to a point where they reject any restrictions on whatever they define as "freedom", even age restrictions. Thus the story of the Uvalde shooter, who went out on his 18th birthday to legally buy some automatic rifles. Or the discussions on lowering age limits for sex change medications and procedures, including "puberty blockers", which due to the low age at which puberty begins always target young children below the minimum age of consent.

I am taking no stance here on the availability of guns or sex change procedures to responsible adults, that is a different discussion. But what we are saying here is that somebody who can't be trusted with a bottle of beer is responsible enough to handle weapons designed for mass killings or to make irreversible life-changing medical decisions. Both sides are sacrificing their children on the altar of culture wars, with a huge potential for self-harm and harm to others. Shouldn't there be a more consistent system of how much responsibility a child can have?

Tuesday, June 14, 2022
PrUn Log - Stardate 2022-06-14

At a rapid pace I am approaching the point in time where my first base on Verdant uses up all of the 500 area I have. I already use 434 of that area, and with the 21k of net profit I make per day, I can fill up the rest rather quickly. Now in theory I have the choice between spending a base permit to add another 250 area on Verdant, or spending a base permit to add a second base with 500 area. Now if you remember my last post, I was talking about the incredible growth rate of my economy, 26 million % annualized. This growth rate takes a hit whenever I arrive at a cap that prevents me from further expanding my bases. At some point I will need to acquire more base permits, and that requires upgrading my HQ, which is basically a money sink. Expanding my base by 250 is the "quick fix", but I will more quickly hit the area cap again, and then base permits are the ultimate obstacle to further growth. So, building a new base is probably the better option. I will just need to decide where and what.

When I first looked at the profitability of my Verdant base with all 500 area used, I thought I would end up with a base that made over 30k net profit per day. Today that looks a bit too optimistic, 25k is more like it. The main reason for this is that my main product is drinking water, and the price of drinking water dropped from over 80 NCC to under 60 NCC. Thus the interest of making a range of products instead of concentrating on just one. Besides drinking water I am selling basic rations, carbon, oxygen, raw water, and occasionally prefabs, when I don't need them for my own buildings.

That brings me to my side project, the second account on which I am testing different starting packages and options in which way to grow a base. That second base on Montem is currently my test case for a base that is producing in different production lines that don't have synergy. I have 2 extractors, 1 smelter (need another one), 2 refineries, and 2 prefab plants. The extractors, smelter, and prefab plant are in one part of the tech tree of the game, while the refinery is in a completely different part of that tech tree. And the refinery needs settlers, which need different consumables. The result is that on my Verdant base I only need 5 goods which I import regularly; on the Montem base I need to import 16 different goods regularly. That is interesting, but it turns out that it isn't actually more profitable, and the logistics are a lot more complicated. For a beginner, a start that concentrates on just one part of the economy, and is partially self-sufficient (like my Victualler start on Verdant) is a lot easier.


Monday, June 13, 2022

This post has it's origin in thoughts I had on video games (Roguebook, Diablo Immortal) and on a board game (Return to Dark Tower), so it touches different aspects and genres of gaming. It started with me watching a video from the BoardGameGeek channel, their GameNight series, in which usually 4 players play through a recent board game, explain the rules, and give their thoughts after playing it at the end. This video was about Return to Dark Tower. The game really appealed to me, and I ended up ordering it. But the game session had a somewhat unsatisfying end, because after doing well for the whole game, the players lost at the end in a very unsatisfying manner: They had summoned the final boss, but that boss spawned rather far away from them, and did something at the end of each turn that resulted in the players losing before even getting to him.

Return to Dark Tower is a game with some random elements, controlled by an app and an electro-mechanical device, the Dark Tower. It is not a very difficult game in the sense that the rules aren't overly difficult to understand and turns aren't overly difficult to execute. But the "difficulty" in terms of whether you win or lose at the end seems to be all over the place, with some games being easy pushover wins, and some games being losses you can't do much about. I had a similar experience when I was playing the game I reviewed in my last post, Roguebook, where the randomness of the cards also made me win some games and lose some games, with the outcome not being strictly determined by skill.

The big question is: Does that matter? Do I play to win? Or do I play because I enjoy the time playing that leads up to the final result, win or loss? For me, it is mostly the latter. That is why I ordered Return to Dark Tower, because it looked really fun to play, even if you'd suffer the occasional weak ending. And especially for a board game that I would like to play on my own board game night with friends, it is important that the game is fun during play. That is why we are currently still playing Clank! Legacy, which is fun during playing, and it is not so important who wins at the end.

Regarding Diablo Immortal, after having looked into some more detailed reviews from different sides of the love it - hate it divide, it looks as if it is a game that is very good fun to play until about level 30. Somewhere in the mid-30s it becomes less fun because of grind, with the promise of you spending money making it less grindy. But if you play to win in the PvP part, your success will be much influenced by how much you have spent compared to how much your opponent did spend. Thus the people calculating that it takes between $40k and $100k (often just cited as "$100k") to get a maximum equipped character. For somebody who plays to win, that number is relevant. For somebody who plays to have a fun experience, that number is not relevant.

In other words, in the discussion that has been ongoing over years about Pay2Win games, we have talked too much about the problems of "Pay", when probably the main problem is the "2Win" part. Whether you Pay2Win or Play2Win, if your enjoyment comes solely from the final moment of the game, it will make the process of getting there less pleasant. Which is why people usually have less problems with a Pay2Play model, even if like me they spent hundreds on a World of Warcraft subscription running for years. I don't even regret the thousands I spent in the decade or so that I played Magic the Gathering, because I didn't spend them to win, I spent them to play with all those cards.

The game industry appears currently to be focused very much on the people who want to win, because these people tend to be extremely passionate, and you can manipulate that passion into making them spend far more than the $60 of a pay-to-own game. However, that passion also easily generates a lot of hate, so that Diablo Immortal is currently both one of the most financially successful and one of the most hated games around. In the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, there are charm spells that persuade somebody to do what they want, but after the spell wears off, that person realizes he has been manipulated and is more likely to react negatively towards you. Many current games work exactly like that: People spend a bundle of money on them, regret that later, and will be wary before touching the next game from that company. It used to be that a game being announced by Blizzard would automatically be looked forward to positively. But now Blizzard announced Overwatch 2, and some people already complain about it.

It seems to me that the previous model, where a company like Blizzard simply made a game that was enjoyable to play, and built up goodwill over many years with the player base, is the more sustainable one. Concentrating on making the players happy that enjoy playing seems to result in better games, and better long-term profitability for the game company.

Saturday, June 11, 2022
Roguebook short review

I have been playing Roguebook for about 15 hours recently. Roguebook is a "deckbuilding roguelite" game, comparable to Slay the Spire. But it adds an interesting twist to the genre by having you explore the pages of a book using inks and brushes. Basically you play through three hex maps, but you need to "paint in" most of the map using ink/brush rewards you get from battles. Both the exploration part and the combat part are good fun.

What I like less in this game, and that is true for the whole genre, not just Roguebook, is the "rogue" part of the game loop. If you would draw a curve of your power over time, you get a sort of a sawtooth curve: Your power goes up during a run, until you either fail or complete the run, and then your power drops to only slightly above where you started the game at. You are expected to fail your first X runs, until the small permanent power boost you earn for each run is enough to make you succeed. Even worse, once you succeed, you can only play by adding additional challenges to the game, making it less likely you succeed again next time. On top of all that, there is much randomness in every aspect of the game, and the best strategy doesn't help when you need defensive cards but just happened to draw only a hand of offensive ones.

As a deckbuilder, Roguebook is on the easy side of the scale. It isn't terribly clever, and doesn't have any deck-thinning mechanics. You basically just collect cards, mostly drafting one of 3 possible random cards, and add them to your deck until it is terribly bloated. The more you explore the map, the bigger your deck becomes. Some cards get bonuses based on the size of your deck, and that can become pretty unbalanced. It is very hard to go for some sort of concise strategy in deckbuilding.

As an experience of discovery, Roguebook is pretty fun for the first ten or so hours. There are 4 different characters (5 with DLC), and you will bring 2 of them on each run, which makes for some interesting combinations. Each characters has a lot of cards to discover over time, and there are also gems to boost cards with and treasures to give other sorts of bonuses to your hero or the whole party. However, there are only the same 3 maps to go through, even if each time the things to find on each map are distributed randomly that gets old pretty fast.

What pushed the game beyond 10 hours for me was discovering that the save game file is in .json format, or human readable text. Which means you can open it with a simple text editor and change your save game. Frustrated by your heroes having too little health? Add some more! You can modify any one of the currencies (gold, brushes), and even modify the cards and treasures you have to whatever you want. Playing the game in this alternate easily modded way added another 5 hours of fun for me. But in the end I don't really like the "run after run" overall structure, and will uninstall the game now.


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