Backstage Tales – Multiplayer and Me

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Guess which one I am.

So our group on the Meraki Minecraft server were all geared up on Friday evening and ready to take on the mighty dragon in The End. I had spent more than a few hours trying to find the diamonds and the levels to prepare my gear with enchantments and protections to help me make a difference in the fight. I had even created a bunch of level two healing potions for our entire group. When the time came, we all donned our carved pumpkin heads to avoid pestering the endermen, prepared our weapons and supplies, and jumped into the End portal.

We ended up suspended on a platform a good thirty or forty blocks away from the dragon’s island, hanging over eternity and watching the dragon swoop, unsure if he’d spotted us yet. Not the best situation. As quickly as we could, we bent down low and built a bridge to the island, fortunately connecting to a cliff where we could hide or regroup if the battle went poorly. I followed my friends into the cliff side as they dug upwards, readied my bow, and charged forwards, ready to fight…!

The dragon sneezed at us just as my friends broke through the wall. I promptly fell off the bridge from the force of the blast, hitting a lower cliff on the way down. It broke my fall a little too well.

Yes, I died, not thirty seconds into the fight, and without even seeing the dragon. And I would have lost all my gear if not for the fact that the cliff caught some of it, and one of my friends had been kind enough to break away from the dragon fight to help me reclaim what was left. Of course, none of my awesome enchanted armor had survived the fall, or my awesome enchanted bow, so I was all arrows and pickaxe against the toughest creature in Minecraft. Yes, I died a few more times trying to help. My sister ended up beating the dragon, seemingly single-handedly (at the very least, she didn’t die once).

*sigh*

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“One of us… One of us…”

Then yesterday, a much less exciting but equally self-deprecating thing happened. I had spent a few more hours trying to reestablish my equipment and levels. Finding myself on a footing almost equal to my pre-dragon-fight condition, I decided that it was time to actually build something on my little plot of land. I gathered up all the materials, even making many colors of stained glass to see if I could make something with that (it was new to me, so you can see how long it’s been since I’ve sat down and enjoyed Minecraft), put some of my materials in a chest near the build site… and my dad calls me to go help him do something. So I put the game on pause and leave my computer.

Yes, pause. On a multiplayer server.

So, naturally, I come back to see the words ‘Game Over’ pasted on my screen and a very smug-looking and now sunlight-immune zombie peering down at my death camera wearing a shiny new diamond helmet. He had no doubt spawned during the nighttime, attacked defenseless little old me, and had nothing better to do than sit there for me to return so he could gloat. In punishment, I punched him to death. It took me about ten minutes.

*sigh*

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Jerk.

Turning to something outside of Minecraft, earlier last month, I tried my hand at playing Darwin Project, a third-person arena-style survival shooter where it’s survival of the fittest in a wintery wasteland of frozen death. Me, my brother-in-law, and a few friends were taking turns sniping each other with arrows and axing each other senseless.

Well, since absolutely everything is new to me, from the map layout to the arena decorations, I have no idea what I’m doing. Very first round, I spawn on an island-ish checkpoint surrounded by lava.

I walk straight off the cliff into the lava and die.

Okay, shake it off, shake it off…

Next round, my brother-in-law and I discover each other in the same area of the map and attack each other. Now, when two player in Darwin Project attack each other at the same time, their ax attacks clang against each other, negating damage to either player and sending them flying. This happens to us, I just so happen to have my back against a cliff.

I go flying into lava and die.

Okay, twice isn’t a pattern.

The next round, my brother-in-law and I are teammates. I see these strange mechanical mushroom things springing out of the ground in groups every so often. They look smackable, so I smack one with my ax and I go flying; of course, they’re supposed to be trampoline pads you can use to get speed and direction.

I go flying into lava and die.

That’s three times. Now it’s a pattern.

*sigh*

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Oh, cozy. Warm. WARMER. TOO HOT. BURNING MY FLESSSSHH.

Sure, when I play games like Fallout 4 and Fat Man myself into oblivion by accident, I can laugh and continue from my last save. I can mess around in The Sims or Cities: Skylines without fear of judgementI can dedicate myself to ridiculous min-maxing in Final Fantasy Tactics, Path of Exile, or Diablo 3. When I make a mistake in a game like Civilization or Endless Space, it can cost me a lot of time and in-game resources, but it doesn’t ever affect anyone but me.

But get me into a multiplayer game, even one in which I have a lot of experience and play time, and something is going to go wrong. Murphy’s Law might as well be a fiery blood-stained mantle that descends from the high celestial heavens and onto my weak and feeble shoulders whenever I join others for a digital jaunt. And I’m not talking about the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with playing multiplayer. Oh no. That’s an entirely separate issue. An entirely plumb-shaped separate issue from hell. I’ll talk about that another time.

I’m talking about the struggle of even appearing competent in multiplayer situations. I’ve been taught by society at large that multiplayer is the best way to play. When you know your teammates or are related to them, I agree. But when you don’t know who you’re playing with, feelings are ambiguous at best and antagonistic at worst.

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It’s not about having fun. It’s about crushing your enemies. Seeing them driven before you. And hearing the lamentations of their women.

In certain MMORPGs like Final Fantasy XIV, the main story missions ask you to queue up for a four-man trials or instances. If you happen to be a tank class character on your first foray into these dungeons, be prepared to get yelled at by impatient teammates (despite the fact that there’s always a tank shortage in the game roster, hmm, I wonder why). If you’re not a tank, you better play to your role and know how each sideboss and main boss functions. If you screw up, prepared to get berated. Heck, even if you do know the dungeon and can get through it with few problems, prepare to get lectured at by a player who insist they know better regardless. And guess what? There’s no continuing the story if you can’t get past these dungeons. (It’s why I played The Old Republic for so long and am only now getting back into Final Fantasy XIV – through the entirety of the main story, dungeons are multiplayer optional and are even now able to be enjoyed single player.)

Know why I quit playing Team Fortress 2 after reaching almost 300 hours with it? Same reason I stopped playing League of Legends: because of my inability to deal with toxic people. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not crazy-skilled at first-person shooters or hero arena games. But needless to say, the second, third, fourth, and fifth etc. to admit it would be anyone I played with.

Winning is the point of most multiplayer games, at least in the short term. If you don’t know anyone in the game, in the guild, or on Discord, it feels like you’d better have the skills to pay your hypothetical bills, or else you’re like to become a pariah (or in the very least feel like one). For a few weeks after my first Darwin Project experience, I felt like you could pretty reliably label me as ‘Falling-Into-Lava-Man’, and I wouldn’t have held it against them if they never invited me to play again.

 

And now, in front of the same group of people (some I know well and some I don’t), I fall immediately to my death in Minecraft at the moment I could have been most heroic, and the story of Falling-to-Death-Man continues.

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All that preparation and balance for a quick drop and a short stop.

Do you know how much it hurts me to hear talk of AAA single-player games “dying off”? (Believe me, I want to rant and rave at the writer of this Forbes article, EA, and the entire line of thinking, but I won’t.) Do you know why I connected so deeply with No Man’s Sky when it was first released? It was an entire universe all to myself. There was no emphasis on multiplayer. In fact, their whole design philosophy was on the experience of loneliness amid the stars. The head of Hello Games, Sean Murray, said that the chances of meeting another human being in the game were slim to none, the universe was so huge (this was proven incorrect, of course). Sure, other people could name things in it. But I wouldn’t be stumbling onto Xxx_ManBooty69 or his PvP attitude anytime soon.

But yes, it appears that No Man’s Sky caved to public pressure for multiplayer. Or maybe it was always meant to be this way, but the game wasn’t given the development time to see it through until NEXT. I’ll hesitantly agree that the game is better with the multiplayer component than without it (since its inclusion was never PvP, and NEXT wouldn’t have been half as successful without its inclusion). Yes, I know the option to turn off network play is there. But really: in this day and age, when mankind has never been more connected through the medium of technology, when screenshots of the fantastic sights of the procedurally-generated cosmos fill the subreddits and Twitter, did we really need multiplayer to enjoy No Man’s Sky together?

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating that every single game cater to a single-player preference. But as a gamer who is coming to the realization that my passion for gaming is far outweighing my talent, to see a traditionally single-player game like the upcoming Fallout 76 reveal itself to be multiplayer makes me more than a little nervous (and I’m not the only one). I can’t even claim to be the crotchety old man who prefers single-player games, as video games have been since their very inception been multiplayer experiences. I’m just a gamer that prefers to escape the pressure of the world through the medium of games instead of more closely connecting with it.

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You’ll take my T-51 helmet when you pry it from my cold, dead… Oh, fine. Just take it.

Of course, I undermine my entire point by saying that my experiences on the Meraki server have been very fun thus far, and the adventures of Falling-to-Death-Man will continue for a good long while. I will probably continue to collide with my friend’s ships in No Man’s Sky multiplayer, too.

*sigh*

And don’t even get me started on battle royales like Fortnite or PUBG. I hear a hellish choir rise from deep within the earth: “Git gud, scrub,” they chant. You might as well ask me to go stand out in a field with antler-shaped earmuffs and a fluffy tail during November.

My 10-Hour Tale – Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!

Just a heads up to any readers: Chains and Tales is now on Patreon!

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If you like the content you’ve seen and you have any interest at all in seeing Chains and Tales continue to grow, please check it out and consider signing up. Not knowing how this is going to work in the slightest, I’ve put a few tentative perks for donations. Ha, I don’t even really have an audience yet and may be jumping the gun. But I’m gearing up for success and want the blog to support itself with good writing and honest reviews! No matter what my Patreon looks like a week, a month, or a year from now, that won’t ever change.

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Release Date: July 2015

System: PC (Steam, GOG.com)

I adore games that try to put a twist the tried-and-true and slightly tired ‘hero adventuring’ formula. One of my favorite Wiiware games were two games from Square-Enix: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord. In these games, you weren’t the hero venturing forth to unknown lands and delving dark and dangerous dungeons. You were either the one in charge of the kingdom sending the heroes forth, or the evil darklord trying to stop these heroes from plundering all your hard-earned treasure. Dungeon Keeper and its ‘spiritual successors’ (there it is again) the Dungeons series did the same thing.

But what if, instead of being the heroes or the overlord or the king, you were a humble merchant just trying to get by in a world full of danger? A fun game called Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (which I may review at a later time) set you in the shoes of a young item shop lady trying to make ends meet.

So, what’s the one profession every hero needs at their back? A blacksmith, of course! Every hero needs a Hephaestus or a Griswold!

And what if that blacksmith… were a potato?

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Yes, that is a giant golden potato statue in the middle of my smithy. And Kingdom Hearts carpeting. It’s all for the bonuses!

Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! is a simulation/management game where you assume the role of Patata, a young blacksmith who inherits his grandfather’s (or grandtater’s) old blacksmith shop, partnering with the mysterious and possibly threatening Agent 46 (who looks nothing like a potato version of Agent 47 from Hitman, why would you ask that). Cliché, yes. But the story doesn’t take itself too seriously at all. In fact, with spud puns fly left and right, the game’s entertaining sense of humor was what kept me invested for all ten hours.

You start the game with little more than a shack, a few workbenches, and a few fellow apprentice smiths to help. Your objective is to develop your craft and sell the weapons you create to heroes that inhabit the potato-themed world, working your way up to more advanced facilities and hiring additional workers to assist you.

Your actual goal in Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! is to purchase the smithy from Agent 46, who insists that he used to be your grandfather’s business partner… But there’s something fishy (or starchy) about this guy…

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Sure, Mr. Bald Potato. Sure.

You might notice something funny about your smiths right from the word ‘go’: their designs and names are all based on potato-flavored puns of pop culture references. My two favorites had to be Winnie Stonebell (aka Winry Rockbell from Full Metal Alchemist) and Laura Craft (aka Laura Croft from Tomb Raider). Develop your smithy enough, and you might invite some legendary smiths to work for you!

Your smiths will develop their skills as they work on weapons or train at different locations on the world map. Your smiths can also level up in a few other areas, such as improving their ability to explore the world for materials or learning the art of bartering for improved weapon selling prices. But be careful not to work your smiths too hard for too long without a vacation, because they’ll get penalized on their job performance.

All weapons strengths are based on four different attributes: power, speed, accuracy, and magic. Each weapon can be ‘boosted’ by one of your smiths or a ‘freelance’ smith for a big one-time increase to stats. Each weapon can also be enchanted with a stat-boosting item that will give the weapon a catchy suffix. You can even name your weapons!

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Lots of weapons to choose from!

With weapon-crafting experience, your fellow smiths will level up in their respective job classes, unlocking improved class types and enabling them to further improve the attributes of the weapons they work on. Also, you’ll start the game with only a few weapon types, but as you unlock the world area by area by obtaining fame and travel passes, you’ll be able to search more locations for the relics you’ll need to reveal more.

With increased fame comes opportunities to craft weapons for very special spuds. You may very well recognize them! Be warned, however, you’ll only have one chance to craft these one-of-a-kind weapons, so your smiths will have to be prepared. Succeed in famous weapon crafting, and you’ll get a big reward and a bunch of fame. Every so often, you’ll also be given the chance to win big prizes at contests that judge your weapons based on their attributes. At the beginning of the game, there’s no way to win. By the late game, you’ll be winning every award without even trying.

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No contest.

So, with having to juggle your increasing number of smiths on various journeys and vacations, crafting and selling weapons, balancing all of the different weapon types and their growth potentials, is it easy to get lost in Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!

Yes. In all the wrong ways.

If you can’t tell from the screenshots of the main game area, even though your blacksmith continually gets bigger as the story goes on, your blacksmith becomes more and more crowded with every upgrade. I’m also not a huge fan of the entire UI in general. I know it’s a management game, and information is supposed to be everywhere. But there’s just too much. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the day, time, or weather in the upper right corner as that information is rarely important enough to look at. The ‘chat’ box on the bottom right is sometimes clever but useless unless you really need to review what happened two seconds ago. All the numbers you see in the menus about weapon stats and smith stats are all just numbers, too: the higher the better, that’s all.

In fact, there’s a single example that wraps up my entire problem with this game: the ‘Feed Me’ button in the upper left. It’s a cute puppy thing. I don’t want the puppy thing to be sad. So, I click on that button so the graphic changes to show a full food bowl and a happy puppy thing. That’s it. That’s the purpose of that button. And frankly, if that button does, say, give all my smiths a bonus to productivity because the puppy potato is happy, the game doesn’t say so.

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This button right here. I can’t stand the emotional manipulation! Just let me play the dang game, puppy potato!

There is so much gosh-darn clicking in this game, it makes the late-game unbearable. Almost nothing in this game is done automatically. When characters do anything, literally anything, whether it’s taking a vacation or exploring or selling weapons or whatever, they don’t just come back to their workstations when they finish. First you have to click on the smith to get a report saying that they finished. Then you have to manually point and click a workstation to send them to. How much harder would it have been to assign them to their last workstation, or a random one if that one got filled?

Confession time: my ten hours playing this game was not concurrent. I’ve had to come back to it a couple of times because I lose the desire to play it. I’m certain I’m at the late stage of the game, but every time I reach a fame objective, do you know what the next objective is? Gain more fame. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if there’s an ending, or is it just a never-ending race for more fame. I really wanted to finish it for the review to say a hilarious cathartic ending was waiting at the end of the grind, but I just couldn’t do it.

All this isn’t to say I didn’t have fun with this game. On the contrary, the humor and the overall game system at the very least kept me wanting to come back and play it. If you want to kill an hour or even a half hour, it’s a great game. But I find it very challenging to sit down and play for longer stretches of time. In doing research for the game, I discovered that even the creators of the game’s wiki gave up before they were finished. It’s kind of a testament to the game’s lack of depth. But then, what did I expect from a game about a potato blacksmith?

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The humor keeps it afloat. The game mechanics weigh it down.

I think this must be what the item and potion shop owners must feel like when a battered-up adventurer strolls into town looking to buy and sell. There’s nothing like a peaceful life, but man is it a bit boring and monotonous.

If you enjoy management games, don’t mind a clickfest, and can pick up on a lot of anime and video game pop culture references in the form of potatoes, pick up Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! this game during the Summer or Winter Steam Sale. Or, better yet, get it on a GOG.com sale without all the nasty copyright protection. You might not finish it, but you’ll get a kick out of it.

Review: 7.5/10