Backstage Tales – My Current Games

I didn’t mean to, but I think I used all of my powers of literation on Thursday’s blog; my writing powers were spent. I generally avoid two things: politics and philosophy. If I use my brainythinks too much on weightyhuge fingertypes, my uplander braincase gets clogged up with thick gooeythoughts. Then I no can write good next time.

So, instead of hefty theoretical musings about game design, how about I share with you what I’ve been playing recently?

Firstly, which should be obvious by my goblinspeak (which is incredibly fun to write, by the way):

Final Fantasy XIV

Here is my character Jerik Noa:

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I feel so strong, even though I’m not!

If you saw my earlier blog and thought to yourself: “Weren’t you playing a Mi’qote a minute ago?” Well, you’d be right. I decided to use my Fantasia to turn into an Xaela Au Ra, and I officially look like a blue-eyed Daedra out of the Elder Scrolls. I’m suddenly two heads taller than everyone else, and my chocobo’s size doubled, taking fewer and much longer strides. When I change classes to weaver or goldsmith, I become the world’s most terrifying butler. It’s awesome. I’m in no way a maximized level 50 bard, either, as my jewelry needs to be updated, and my crafting classes have a lot of leveling to go to create that kind of gear.

I finally got my bard up to level 50 and got the full Birdliege set of PvP armor, and… It certainly doesn’t help my win percentage. My long-distance-ness is never long-distance enough. But I’m having fun regardless! I’m actually impressed at how active PvP matches and instances are in FF XIV; they’re all but dead in The Old Republic. And with expert deliveries to the Grand Companies, you never have to worry about getting “junk” equipment from lower-level instances. Sure, they may be of lesser value, but the developers of FF XIV seemed really determined to make everything useful at least in some way to higher level characters.

Also, this is hilarious:

Such a fun game, and a really positive community. As time goes on, I’m continually impressed by the quality of players, both in skill and desire to help new players. While you’ll always get the occasional negative guy who quits the group when the instance isn’t run to his liking, I’ve found that more often than not, players of FF XIV are very accommodating and cool when compared to other MMOs. We’ll see if that holds true with late-game content.

Minecraft

This is me:

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Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.

…and getting nothing in return. A whole lotta iron, and no diamonds. That, and the mob farm that I just built got hit by a creeper and broke a lot of the redstone machinery, so I get to sit down and rewatch the tutorial I followed just to see that everything is put back together again.

Minecraft is one of the only games I know that requires you to make three or four backups of essential gear and equipment if you’re going to want to keep playing. I finally managed to create the perfect pickaxe with Fortune III, and swam underwater to go searching for diamonds in a ravine close by. All was going well (I HAD 40 DIAMONDS AT ONE POINT) until I got too close to an underwater cave that wasn’t filled with water (because screw Minecraft’s water physics). Whereupon a creeper proceeds to blow me up, despite being fully-armored and fully-healed, and my diamonds are gently floated into lava where they burn up and disappear.

Yes, the server I’m on is on Hard difficulty. Not my regular cup of tea. But you’d think a bit of challenge would be fun once you’ve gotten yourself established.

No. It’s just pain. So, instead of exploring and adventuring, I’m planning on going back into my mines and trudging through miles of stone so I might find those precious diamonds and possibly have a chance at survival the next time a creeper decides to hug me.

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This is not cute. This is the plush equivalent of a guillotine.

No Man’s Sky

I’m not spending nearly as much time with No Man’s Sky as I originally wanted to. It’s not that the game isn’t fun, it’s just that I’ve forgotten how grindy the game was and still is. Sure, the game is a gorgeous screenshot simulator (with some screenshots I’ve seen looking like they’ve been digitally created for a paperback sci-fi novel), but I’m finding actually going through the main story missions a bit repetitive and mind-numbing. Exploration is entertaining to a point, but if I have to endure sitting in a cave waiting for a radioactive storm to pass over me again, I might go a bit crazy.

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NYEHHH!!

I’ve tried to get into Creative mode, but it just physically hurts me to have everything available for base building. If I don’t build it legitimately in survival or normal mode, have I built it at all?

Ha! I should ask Minecraft the same question.


So that’s what I’ve been getting into lately. I’m still very excited for further news and gameplay of Fallout 76 at QuakeCon in three days, so that should be fun to see. Still, having plunged a bit deeper into the multiplayer swimming pool, I’m more hesitant than ever to see how multiplayer will change Fallout as a whole.

Whether we’ll see anything about it by this Thursday, I’m not sure. But I will want to discuss it in a future blog, so stay tuned!

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 – Planetary Annihilation: TITANS

First of all, I’ll say something that I’m probably going to say about a lot of the games I want to perform a 10-Hour Review on for Chains and Tales: I have a lot more than ten hours of game time with Planetary Annihilation. This is due to the fact that the original game (just Planetary Annihilation) came out before Planetary Annihilation: TITANS, and I played just under 40 hours of that. So, you could say I spent 10 hours playing with the big Titan toys. I’ll always be forthcoming about how much time I actually spend with a game, as I feel that reflects how much enjoyment and replayability a game has.

######

PAT

Release Date: August 2015

System: PC, Mac OS X, Linux (Steam)

The term ‘spiritual successor’ is usually a positive term in the video game industry. It usually invokes the idea that a game has taken the theme or mechanics that one game had and built upon them to create a more refined experience. One example that gets thrown around a lot on the internet is that Bioshock is the ‘spiritual successor’ to the game System Shock: both are first-person-shooter dystopian survival and exploration games with deep atmosphere and one heck of a plot-twisty end-of-act-two. Another is that Undertale is a ‘spiritual successor’ of Earthbound in graphics, gameplay, and the wide range and contrast of emotions the characters and story produce.

So, when I say that Planetary Annihilation is the spiritual successor to a game entitled Supreme Commander, I really mean it. Like, really really. I mean it so much that I think Planetary Annihilation might have ‘spiritually succeeded’ more than a few game mechanics directly from Supreme Commander. Fortunately for Uber Entertainment, there’s a reason they didn’t get sued or anything. It probably has something to do with the fact that Jon Mavor, the lead designer and programmer for Planetary Annihilation, was also the lead programmer for Supreme Commander.

On August 15, 2012, Uber Entertainment kickstarted Planetary Annihilation with a goal of reaching $900,000. They well-surpassed that amount, reaching $2,228,000 via Kickstarter and an additional $101,000 through Paypal. Having earned the title of the 11th Kickstarter project to reach over a million dollars, was the investment worth it?

The Steam review boards are ‘mixed’. Actually, they’re currently at ‘mostly negative’.

For the base game, I mean.

For Planetary Annihilation: TITANS, the reviews are glowing and positive.

Because I had the base game, I was given TITANS for free when it was released, I believe. Or maybe it was the other way around. It isn’t DLC or an expansion, I guess; it’s technically a whole new game in my library. Why the base game is still available when the more advanced and updated TITANS is around is beyond me. There doesn’t seem to be any difference besides the missing Titans and an appropriately lower price tag.

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“YOU’VE NOT ENOUGH MINERALS.”

What makes Planetary Annihilation: TITANS into a ‘spiritual successor’? Just about everything, plus planet-hopping! But we’ll get to that.

Planetary Annihilation is a ‘massive scale’ real-time strategy game where you play as one of the titular commanders. These commanders are gigantic mechs that can build basic buildings and feature anti-air and anti-ground weaponry for fending off basic-to-mid game threats. Your goal is to destroy enemy commanders until you’re the last one standing (or your team is; there are also team battles as well, if you don’t like fighting alone). If your commander is destroyed, it’s game over. Oh, and all commanders explode in a nuclear blast when they die, so that’s fun. When failing, fail hard, I always say.

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Legate Junius go boom.

Unless you have a pretty beefy machine, playing with more than eight computer players on a map can really start to lag, so I can’t imagine doing it with human players. But it’s incredibly fun to struggle for territory on a tiny planet against two to three other opponents… At least until you can get into orbit and rain down lasers from the sky.

There exist many different types of units, organized by the way they travel: vehicles ride on wheels or treads (strong but more expensive than bots), bots walk (cheaper but weaker than vehicles), naval units float on water, aircraft fly (but are very vulnerable to anti-air), and orbital units orbit in their own sphere above the planetary battlefield.  They all have their own strengths, weaknesses, and counters, although I’m a huge fan of aircraft if you can give them the muscle they need to puncture through enemy flak cannons and missile launchers. Every type of vehicle has their own builder unit, too, so it’s not like Starcraft where you have to rely only on ground-based builders for all the hard work. It’s another reason I love air constructors in particular: they can go and build almost anywhere. But they’re excruciatingly fragile. There’s no bigger bummer than twenty or more aerial constructors all being shot down by two or three tiny enemy fighters in mere seconds. Basic constructors can build advanced factories, which can produce advanced builders that can build even more advanced structures and units.

You know where Planetary Annihilation borrows from Supreme Commander the heaviest? The economy system. Just like each other, there are only two resources to worry about: metal and energy. Metal is mined from specific points on the map, and energy is created through generators that can be placed anywhere. You can technically spend more than you are making in Planetary Annihilation. This will, however, decrease the speed of your unit building and structure construction accordingly, and possibly do you less than no good. You will be tearing across planets trying to reach for and defend every single metal extraction point possible. Why?

Because bigger guns.

Meet the Titans.

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Good morning, sunshine! Zeus says hello!

These mean machines are bigger than mountains (especially when built on particularly small planets) and can wreck shop like crazy. My particular favorite is the Zeus, essentially a gigantic floating fortress with a giant ball of electrical energy in between its arms that can decimate entire bases on its own. Get three of these and you can say goodbye to any enemy commanders who are dumb enough to share the same planet. The star-like Helios can teleport entire armies from orbit and deal with any orbital defenses on the way. The gorilla-like Atlas jumps once, and entire armies (and hemispheres) fall down. The Ragnarok is a giant drill that burrows down into the core of a planet and drops a very potent explosive that evaporates the planet (not recommended for home worlds). They’re awesome. They’re expensive. They’re awesomely expensive, and, for some reason, oddly fragile against prepared players. Even Titans must be utilized strategically.

I’ll repeat this again: why Planetary Annihilation had to be re-released as Planetary Annihilation: TITANS instead of including these units in an update or $10 DLC package is still strange to me. So if you’re planning on picking it up, make sure it’s TITANS. Maybe it was a Kickstarter tier thing.

Even with the Titans, Planetary Annihilation ‘spiritually succeeded’ Supreme Commander. But did it succeed? I remember playing Supreme Commander: Forged Alliances and having a ball with the Aeon Illuminate’s experimental units, especially its flying CZAR fortress. Every faction in that game had four, making for very unique gameplay. But no matter what faction you play in Planetary Annihilation, you’re stuck with the same Titans as everyone else.

But then there’s the aspect that sets this game apart from its predecessor: it’s set in SPACE. There’s no flat map here. Scroll your mouse wheel, and you can go from ground level to a view of your solar system. If you’re playing on a map with multiple planets, all it takes is your orbital builders to construct a teleporter on another planet, and you can zip your units there to continue the fight.

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If you can’t tell, the tiny ‘1’ and ‘2’ are landing zone locations on a single planet. That’s a lot of zoom.

On particularly small moons, you can even build Halleys (named after the astronomer and the comet). These are giant rocket engines that can alter the trajectory of the moon to crash into another planet, wiping out all life (and opposition) on both orbiting bodies.

But my favorite way to ruin someone’s day?

If you can play a game with a metal planet somewhere in the system (think the Death Star, only ancient and covered in ‘metal deposits’), all you need to do is construct five ‘Catalyst’ buildings around the planet’s northern hemisphere to activate it as a planet sized superweapon. Think ‘Starkiller Base’ from Star Wars: Episode Seven (although admittedly without the actually star-killing). The speed with which the ‘Annihilazer’ recharges is insane. I’d love to see other human players all struggling for control over the thing while simultaneously trying to stop other threats like the Titans or nuclear weapons from destroying them.

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Does this make us the baddies? Surely not. Mega-laser pew pew!

Oh yeah, there are nuclear weapons, too. And anti-nuclear weapon defenses. Kinda lost them among all the talk of Titans and super lasers.

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Nuclear weapons are RAD! And very expensive if you plan on launching more than a few at the same time.

Planetary Annihilation: TITANS is a giant game of chess set in space, and it’s the kind of RTS that’s still really fun to play single player. Yes, as I stated in my XCOM 2 review, I am a wuss, and yes, I like to play where I have 5 times more resources than my enemies just to crush them with an Annihilazer. But – and dare I admit this – I even like playing this game when the computer has more than a fighting chance. And I didn’t even mention the Galactic Warfare game mode that plays like Risk across a map of the galaxy with army upgrades and unlockables you can find to use in future campaigns. While yes, there is Galactic Warefare, the one way it fails to succeed Supreme Commander is a lack of any story mode or campaign. This game was made for multiplayer. In fact, Galactic Warfare was a stretch goal for Kickstarter, and while fun, it’s not much of a replacement for a Starcraft story mode experience.

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Battle and upgrade from star system to star system. Fun to play, but simplistic.

Despite this, one factor of a game’s success I’ve noticed is its ability to maintain its price point through a long period of time. Planetary Annihilation: TITANS came out in 2015, and it still goes for $39.99 on Steam. That should tell you a lot. I’d say pick it up immediately, but the Steam Summer Sale isn’t too far away, and I bet it’ll be there.

So, is Planetary Annihilation: TITANS a successful ‘spiritual successor’? The more I use the term in this article, the less I like it. My judgement is clouded because I see both strengths and weaknesses in Planetary Annihilation: TITANS and Supreme Commander. And succession almost sounds like the previous game has perished, never to be played again. And that’s just not true. In fact, TITANS makes me want to pick up Supreme Commander again.

Either way, despite tight hard drive space, I’ve reinstalled TITANS at least a dozen times since I’ve owned it just to play a round. If you love RTS games, pick up Planetary Annihilation: TITANS.

It’s just fun.

Review: 9/10