Sandbox games and I don’t usually see eye to eye. Thus far I’ve only gotten one to work on a wavelength that I can be interested in, which is why I feel bad about having picked up Conan Exiles. Twice.
See, I’m not averse to evaluating games as they come. If there’s a game that looks cool, or has excite people I trust, then I’ll consider it even if it’s in a genre that I usually steer clear of (notable exception: Blizzard games, because people are irrationally excited about Blizzard games all the damn time). When Conan Exiles hit early access (EA) I had absolutely no intention of getting roped into this survivalbox game. I had tried ARK, H1Z1, Rust, Planet Explorers, et al., and of the long list of games the only one I liked was Eden Star because it was the most forgiving of all of them, IMO.
But as you may know, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to git with other people when I feel that the gittin’ is good, and this seemed like a great opportunity. I had two groups of folks who were starting up paid servers, so I bought the game and jumped in with the rest of them to make my way in Hyboria, a place I admit I know very little about.
I died. A lot. I got lost. A lot. I collected a bunch of stuff and lost it all…a lot. It didn’t take long before I was asking myself what the hell I was thinking. How the hell was this considered fun? My staple requirements for enjoying a game are that I have a fighting chance and that I see myself progress, neither of which was happening here. While I was within Steam’s refund window, I resigned myself to the fact that survivalbox games aren’t for me, and requested a refund.
Being me, however, means never having to stick to my guns. It was only a few days of keeping up with the activity on the servers by listening to folks in Discord that I started to think that I didn’t give the game a fair shake. So I bought it again. This time, though, I put my head down and charged through it. I took it slow, keeping my wits about me and making sure I wasn’t in a situation where I was overwhelmed. I spent a lot of time gathering food and water. I spent a whole lot of time harvesting rocks and wood and fiber from shrubs and trees. I build a small rectangular house where I could throw down my spawn-point bedding, and I was pretty impressed with myself…until I looked over the yard and saw the palaces and fortresses that other people were making.
I don’t have the stomach for the kind of work that I need to do in Conan Exiles. My time consisted of collecting rocks and sticks and grass. Eventually, I would be able to make a wall or a ceiling tile. Of course, I always had to stop harvesting to spend materials on repairing tools. And of course I always had to interrupt my harvesting or repairing to gather food and water. I ended up spending far too much time doing repetitive work and that kind of bothered me.
All work and no play. If I wanted to spend my evenings performing tasks for very little payout, I’d stay at the office. Zing! But seriously.
Ultragrind. Survivalbox games are all about starting with nothing and making something. In order to do that, they mete out bigger and better things so you feel like you’re “growing” as a character in skill and reward. But in order to realize that, you need to break a lot of rocks, feel a lot of trees, and thatch a lot of roofs. A massive portion of these games is just you spending the time harvesting resources to build, and then to maintain, if not your tools and structures, then yourself.
Kill or be killed. Supposedly, Conan Exiles has a narrative in there, but most survialbox games don’t. They rely strictly on interpersonal conflict, and rely on it in some of the most agonizingly antagonistic ways possible. Your body doesn’t vanish when you log out, meaning people can kill and loot you when you can do nothing about it. People can trash your structures (see points one and two above for the ramifications of that). PvP is really the foundation of survivalbox games the same way it is for pretty much every flippin’ mobile kingdom builder game is — hurry up and build your defenses before other tribes find you, because people are dicks, and dicks are the kind of people we’re courtin’.
Lack of purpose. If you’re not into PvP, tough shit. Hope you brought a stack of magazines to keep you busy in between the days worth of harvesting you’ll be doing.
Missing the potential.
It’s that last point that makes me sad. Survivalbox games are great in theory. Remember TV shows like Earth 2, Terra Nova or even Battlestar Galactica? Those were shows about people in environments where they had to survive, and they didn’t do it by quarrying rocks to build mediocre huts. They worked together to make something in the face of having nothing, and while we can do that in survivalbox games, the only mechanically supported reason why we would is for protection against other players.
Instead, I’d love to see a game in this genre whose mechanics throw people across the map without a GLOBAL channel. Players have to work together in tribes because each player can only learn so many tradeskills, and all tradeskills are needed to make a building, and then a village. Specialists are always in demand, so it’s important to not reject someone who happens along with a skillset that your group doesn’t have. And even then, take in refugees with redundant skills because not everyone can be online 24/7.
Then strike out and explore. These games need reasons to venture out that aren’t strictly about finding better resources programmed to spawn further from the starting points. Resources can come in many guises, like recipes, retainers, or even ruins that can be repaired and used. Fight the flora and fauna in dungeons, or go on a rescue mission to retrieve a tribe member who went missing.
And eventually, tribe will meet tribe. But maybe eradication doesn’t need to be the default diplomacy. Trade routes should be considered. Maybe tribes have been focusing on different aspects, like minerals versus crops. Maybe there’s an exchange of knowledge. Maybe there’s a need to reach a critical mass of players to undertake a common project.
These are the kind of actions that build worlds. What we have now are neolithic Hunger Games scenario-builders, except you don’t get a nice house in a shitty district for surviving…just more rock splitting and tree collecting over and over and over. Once again, I regret my second-time-is-not-always-the-charm purchase of Conan Exiles, but I suppose it being the impetus for this post serves as a warning to my future self not to fall in with the hype for a genre that I have never been able to find purchase in.
A few weeks ago, we created That Gaming Forum community on a new social network called Imzy. I thought I’d written about this earlier, but I checked and…I guess not.
Imzy is a “nicer” social network. It’s got more stringent rules in place than “those other guys who shall remain Reddit nameless” in order to ensure that people who want to have intelligent conversations don’t have to dodge shitballs from shitballs who just want to make people angry or push agendas. Like other sites, you can subscribe to different communities, so if you find a community you like, jump in. If you find a community that infuriates you, just move along. It really is that simple.
We had a Twitterburst conversation that left a group of us feeling that, once again, Twitter is not the place to go for group discussion. A bunch of us tried working through Pages on Facebook (to keep our gaming stuff and personal stuff divided), but that ended up being too much work, maintaining a double-life that way. Sadly, Google Plus ended up being a bust; Google doesn’t seem to know what to do with it, doesn’t promote it much, and keeps rearranging the furniture in an attempt to capture some fung shui that will make people think better of it. We’ve got a few Discord servers, but not everyone likes Discord, and although there’s a bunch of “by gamers, for gamers” networks out there like Player.me and Anook, they didn’t even register (although I prefer Anook out of the two examples, I can’t access it from work, which is why it didn’t register when thinking about a new home for our discussions).
So we ended up on Imzy because I’d heard about it a while back, signed up for it, and then promptly forgot about it until I remembered about it when we decided that our current schemes weren’t working out.
How is this working for us? Pretty well, I guess. We started out with a few members — people involved in the initial Twitterburst — and I thought that was great. People were actually willing to give this a shot, which made me happy. Imzy is a good platform, but is under active development and feedback is welcome, so it’s not the most robust or logical platform in its current state, though it is most certainly usable. In a short amount of time, we gained a lot of members — we got notified at 100, and 500 members. As of the writing of this post, our community That Gaming Forum is at 757 members?!
That’s a nice number! But how many people are using our community on Imzy?
According to the cool dashboard that leaders have access to, we’re getting an average of about 60 “activities” each day…which I assume is a measurement of how many people are looking at our group, whether it’s directly or alongside other groups that they belong to.
Imzy doesn’t have an in-depth metrics view yet, but scrolling back through our posts, it seems that we’re getting a respectable few posts each day. Weekends may tend to be slower as people go about other business, as we see in general blogging circles. Of those posts, there are about five people who make up the overwhelming bulk of participants of new material (I’m not surprised by who they are since they seem to be the ones who have been willing to adopt these new crazy schemes we come up with). We get a few additional people who comment, but not too many over and above those core five folks.
Obviously for a community of 757 people, having about 10 or fewer people actively participating is kind of sad…On paper. But I don’t feel any kind of sadness about it. We’re getting a rough average of 60 views per day, with a few posts per day made by a handful of people…fact: there are more people apparently viewing this community on a regular basis than there are viewing this very blog on a regular basis!
From a personal perspective, that’s good stuff! But this isn’t about me, of course; it’s about getting people together who like to talk about similar stuff — video games and general geekery — without being hobbled by character restrictions, worrying about mixing business (family stuff) with pleasure (gaming and such), or about having our platform pulled out from under us…again. Naturally, we’d like to see this community grow. While the numbers are certainly mind-blowing, what we really look forward to is people willing to post new content, start new discussions, and to draw new members in by (respectfully) talking about things of community interest. We started this community so we could talk in ways that blog comments or existing social media structures never really and fully allowed us to do, and we’d love to see more folks giving our community a shot.
A while back, I published a post entitled (unfortunately) “Ghost in the WTF”, which was a quick overview of leaked photos of the major cast from the upcoming Ghost in the Shell live action movie. I was not entirely kind and in many ways, it’s a regretful post that I might consider sweeping under the rug if it weren’t for the fact that I’m sure someone read it and might call me out on its conspicuous absence in light of this post.
I’m never one to proactively shit on entertainment; it’s entertainment. It’s supposed to be consumed for enjoyment, but the Internet’s crass feedback loops often times run on self-satisfaction of being thought of as a “critical thinker”, which is why we have shot by shot breakdowns of advertising materials and why people mistake “complaints” and cynicism for “critical analysis”. I prefer to enjoy my entertainment in the spirit in which it was offered, and not enter into negotiations with such things as if I’m owed everything in the catalog of my wildest dreams. Naturally, that’s going to be really difficult when we start talking about something like Ghost in the Shell, which is without a doubt my Star Wars, my Firefly, and my favorite fiction possibly of all time. When the cast pictures were leaked — stills, and not very good ones — I had no context except the catalog of the series with which I was familiar and found the materials lacking. Lacking what? Lacking the exactitude of established art; drawn art, sure, but the drawn art wasGitS, right? I jumped the gun and assumed what I saw was everything I would see, and made some knee-jerk decisions.
As of this writing, I have watched the above trailer three times. I will watch it several more times, because while I might prefer not to throw entertainment under the bus, I won’t sit still when I see something that excites me. This trailer has moved me well beyond excitement, and here’s why:
Like I said, the stills of the cast, in poor lighting, on grainy film scanned or photographed and published online, didn’t “do it” for me because there was nothing that lent itself to reality. There was no motion or conversation. They were just people standing awkwardly for some kind of photoshoot in the real world, dressed up as characters.
The trailer gives us context. We see Scarlett Johansson move and fight as speak in character. We see Pilou Asbæk as Batou with his cybernetics (and briefly without). We get an out-of-context glimpse of Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki. These are now the characters inhabiting the world of Ghost in the Shell, which is really the only way we can fully judge the final result.
Above all else, the tone of the trailer is what nailed it for me. It’s also the most difficult thing to describe. If you’re not familiar with GitS, then talk about the “feel” of the trailer isn’t going to mean anything to you; it’ll just be a bunch of weird scenes of some Blade Runner like ripoff, Johansson in an almost-naked bodysuit, and people shooting other people behind a slow-mo revision of a Depeche Mode song from the 80’s.
The GitS movie (the original) is about a future in which cybernetics have become commonplace and almost necessary in order to keep up with society. It’s about a government police force applied to special situations like terrorism and kidnapping. It was about a high-tech future that was just a little beyond our current and relatively low-tech present, such that the two can exist side by side without someone bringing up the dichotomy in a “gee whiz” fashion every ten minutes. There was a lot of shooting, a lot of explosions, and a lot of action.
But it wasn’t an action movie. It was a philosophical movie. It seems trite in text, but it dealt with the concepts of humanity in a world dependent on technology, especially when the dependence revolves around the idea of consciousness — the “ghost” — inhabiting a technological construct — the “shell” — and without the traditionally human biology, is a consciousness actually a living thing. The anime movie favored the philosophy when it came to the presentation, the cinematography, and the soundtrack. It plays more like an arthouse film than a traditionally Western action movie with all of its explosions, soaring orchestra, and witty one-liners. The movie is designed to haunt viewers visually, audibly, and mentally.
Although the trailer isn’t a full-length movie, the trailer gave me the same impressions. A scene doesn’t have to make sense at the time. It doesn’t need to beat us over the head with symbolism. Symbolism can be made clear in context, but directors often overdo it on the context because a lot of audiences can’t be assumed to “get” subtlety. GitS has always presented the plot almost entirely from the point of view of the character’s reality without dropping hints here and there about what X means or how Y is relevant to the plot. These characters inhabit a world unlike our own, and they don’t have time to wink and nod and explain how it’s different. They’ll leave that to you to suss out as you go, and if you don’t get it all the first time, watch it again. And again. And again. When you finally put the pieces together, the only thing you can do is sit back and think, “damn”.
The trailer did leave a few questions, though. For example, the sum of the scenes in the movie suggest that this is not a re-telling of the original animated movie. There’re several scenes in the trailer which are obviously from the animated movie — the Major’s swan-dive from the building, her brutal thermoplastic camouflaged uppercut to the thug in the slums, her and Batou on a boat — but there are also scenes which appear to be very similar to scenes from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (GitS: SAC) and the GitS: SACSecond Gig series, such as the tea-room of dignitaries and robotic geisha assassins.
The one thing that the trailer implies, but which neither the movie nor the series ever really focused on, was the actual origin story of Major Kusinagi. I think this is one of the IP’s strengths, and I’d be saddened a little if the movie turned out to be mostly an origin story for a single character, mainly because we’re neck-deep in origin stories (thanks, Marvel!), and GitS has always been about more cerebral topics than one person’s inner monologue about where they came from. Plus, the Major’s origins have always been one of the best ongoing mysteries of the franchise. I wouldn’t want to see it answered in 90 minutes when several dozen hours over the course of almost 20 years haven’t bothered to bring that story to the fore. If they were to wipe away that mystery, then any subsequent films (assuming there are any being considered) would be poorer for it.
After posting, I did a little walkabout and collected some additional information from around the web (actually from the fact that GitS is trending on Facebook) and have a few other things I want to add to this post.
First, there’s this:
This is a press recorded screengrab of a video presentation made during a concert featuring the title music from the original anime. The video itself is a live-action/CGI rendition of the intro to the anime. If you compare this to the official trailer, you see the same shot where the synthetic shell flies apart from the Major’s newly formed cybernetic body, leading us to believe that this sequence will actually be in the movie.
Yahoo was kind enough to enumerate “What is Ghost in the Shell? 47 things we learned from set“. I won’t rehash all 47, except to say that the article confirms that this is not a remake of the anime movie, but combines scenes from the movie and the Stand Alone Complex series…specifically 2nd Gig. The main antagonist of the new movie is ID’d as Kuze, who was the antagonist from that season of the series. 2nd Gig focused on a refugee crisis and the terrorist organization the Individual Eleven, so it looks like the movie might be following that storyline very closely.
In addition, 2nd Gigwas the series that came closest to providing the Major with a backstory in the episode Kusingai’s Labyrinth.
I had originally planned to stream from 8am until 8pm on November 5th, but switched it up at nearly the last minute to end at 6pm. The reason was because I had decided to feature a raffle, where a minimum of a $5 donation would put a person in the running for a $20 Steam Gift Card. I wanted to be regular with this, so every two hours seemed fine by me, meaning that with $100 to give away, every two hours would see me ending the stream at 6PM. Maths!
I started out with Guild Wars 2, because why not? I hadn’t played in quite a while, it’s a beautiful game, and I had Stuff to Do. I ended up getting all the way through the latest Living Story (well, the new story introduced by Heart of Thorns) up until I had to fight Mordremoth the Flower Dragon. I managed to plow through the epic battle but was irrevocably killed about 90% of the way through. In its infinite wisdom, the system sent me back to the start of the fight, which I didn’t have the stomach to restart. I’d been at GW2 for almost the full two hours before the first raffle and needed to move on to something else.
Originally I’d planned on sticking with Master of Orion, but I also had plans to jump into The Division with friends, so my MOO time didn’t last too long. With the help of others, I was finally able to complete my HQ in The Division. We did some of the daily Underground missions, and then it was off to something else.
I decided to mix things up by firing up the old Xbox Streaming Service and drove around in Forza Horizon 3 for a while. I like this game for some reason. I didn’t really take to FH2, Drive Club or The Crew, but I like FH3 for some reason. I bought a car. I won and lost some races. I expanded my festival. But then it was off to something else else.
I believe that something else was The Secret World. I’d been preparing for this one because I had the infamous “The Black House” mission on deck. For some reason, the spoken audio wasn’t working, so I wasn’t able to get all the preamble that would have fleshed out the story. Sadly, the mission wasn’t as horrifying as I’d remembered, with the thought of the terror being more terrifying than the actual terror. I then went off into the forest to tackle the infamous League of Monster Slayers mission but got overwhelmed by the Ak’ab that inhabit those woods.
I gave away four of the five Steam Cards that I had because, well, I only got four people who donated (four people who would put a Steam Card to use, really). My participation rate was really, really low. I’m thankful for those who tuned in, and those who donated; I raised $395 this year, and might continue to ping family members for the remainder of 2016 to help reach my goal of $500.
I had hoped that the raffle would be enticing enough to get people to at least peek in and see what’s going on, but I apparently misjudged my personal reach among gamers. I guess I don’t have the kind of support other folks do for this kind of thing, but it’s of no consequence in this case. $395 is nothing to sneeze at, and I’m thankful for those who participated this year.
Usually, not playing a game falls into a pretty logical bucket, such as “I don’t own it and can’t afford to buy it right now” or “it’s on a platform I don’t own” or “I was savaged by wolves and am in a full body cast”. Very rarely does the excuse “my own dumb self is getting in the way” come up, but it’s not totally off the table as a reason.
Sometimes I stare off into space (usually when I should be doing something more constructive) and think of the cool games I’d really like to play, but don’t, and why not. Here’s a few!
This one comes up a lot because I love Battletech a lot. I played the original tabletop game, the games PC, the games on consoles, and then there was nothing until MWO (the ill-fated web-based Battletech adaptation notwithstanding), so you’d think I’d be all over whatever I could get until the official Battletech tactical game drops sometime…next year?
Nah, mainly because of that pesky Other People thing. MWO is like EVE Online in the sense that the mechanics favor those who really dig into the guts of building out your death-machine. That tends to lead to “good” and “bad” builds, or at least “very specific and powerful builds” and “did you really just take something off the shelf?” builds. People really like to rely on what works are aren’t super-tolerant of experimental or “learning curve” game play, and I’m just not good enough to qualify for people’s nice list in games like these.
Civ is well respected, but I’ve never really gotten into them. My initial turns are usually spent passing as I wait for things to get built and explorers to explore. Of course, being a strategy game, I have a deep interest in games like Civ that are positioned for mass-market appeal while still retaining the hardcore investment. Problem is, I don’t have the time to invest these days, so several consecutive turns of doing little but hitting the spacebar makes me question my sanity.
When Skyforge launched, it clicked with me for some reason. It was an action RPG, which I don’t usually go for, but I liked it so much I decided to get their premium pass…and thus began my descent into hell.
I somehow ended up with two accounts, and my progress was on the account which didn’t purchase the premium pass. I tried to get their customer service to switch it, but there were long drawn out bouts of silence followed by vague questions and vaguer responses. After about a month — during which time my premium benefits were rolling — things were finally ironed out, but I had little interest in spending money with My.com.
Still, I went back to play just a few months ago, and had as much fun as I’d ever had. Skyforge is a game I’d really like to play, but I’m not sure if their CS problems were launch-time woes or systemic and ongoing. Meanwhile, I just reinstalled. I ended up with eight 14-day premium passes and one 3 day pass, so I can take advantage of the loot boost when I think I’ll actually have time to devote to it.
Black Desert Online
Man, I was gung-ho for this one, if you remember. I spent the time researching the mechanics, and writing up what I’d hoped would be well received guides (despite the fact that others with more resources and better discipline were writing better guides, faster). I got — and still get — many hits on those posts, but as time wore on, the allure of BDO kind of faded when I felt I’d milked what I could from the resources I had, and needed to strike out to get more in order to expand.
That’s the name of the game, but not how I’d gotten into the swing of playing. I really loved BDO’s complexity and first-world non-combat gameplay, but when I had to go back to normal questing, I lost interest.
Any MMO, Really
MMOs will always be near and dear to my heart, and most games listed here are “_MO” anyway. Many people look at MMOs as having very narrow gameplay requirements — you need to min/max, internalize the mechanics, gear up, raid, and most of all, play with other people. Fact is, I’ve always loved MMOs for their always-on, persistent nature, that things keep on keeping on while you’re sleeping. The world doesn’t always change, but you know there’s activity going on. The need for carrots for retention also keep the game expanding for years, well beyond what we can expect from any single player game. There’s always the possibility of making a home in an MMO…if you’ve got the support network.
That’s been my critical failure in the MMO realm, and why my love of the genre is also a hate-relationship. My gaming friends and I are all pretty much alike in that we’re creatures of experience who value a lot of broad opportunities over a specific and narrow ecosystem. We are ships that pass in the night, playing different games at different times, or even if we’re playing the same game at the same time, contrived barriers keep us apart — servers, factions, time-zones, previous commitments, and so on. Playing with people has never been my forte, and I seem to have fallen in with a specific crowd for whom commitment to game and group is on the same level as mine. I’m not the type to butt into someone’s established group, and few groups seem as welcoming to new folks as their recruitment pamphlets would lead us to believe.
No matter what the game, though, I’ll keep trying to find the time, the push, or the reason to maybe give it one more shot. Things change, people change — including me and what I’m able to deal with.
I think it’s safe to say that no one in these circles — the people this post advertisement will reach — is immune to cycles of interest and ennui regarding the games we play, or at a lower level, the kinds of games we play.
I’m sliding back into my phase of “I don’t know what I want to play”. I am obligated to get back into The Secret World, because it’s got just the right amount of creep for the Halloween season, despite the fact that I play alone and have never actually completed the Halloween event (I’m not holding my breath that I’ll fare any differently this season). I am actually making measurable progress now, which is one of my cornerstones to remaining interested in game.
I’ve also taken up the yoke in Elite Dangerous again. I’m still obsessed with Star Citizen, but there’s only so much to do with it right now: try out ships, fly around, and do repair missions and the one investigation mission for cash that’ll get wiped out eventually. And my system doesn’t run it all that well. Elite is still the imperfect beast it’s always been, with its limited engagement and single-minded route towards more money and bigger ships, but at least it’s working, and there are improvements on the horizon (get it!?). Except when I get blown up by NPCs, like what happened last night.
What I’m not doing is World of Warcraft. I cancelled my sub this morning after a discussion with a like-minded friend. My feelings about the situation were contained in the post previous to this one, and the situation still stands: too much themepark is showing through Blizzard’s sandbox attempt, and it’s just muddying the waters for me. I cannot take it to task for being shoddy. Even with my limited WoW experience, it’s their best expansion to date, but it seems to also be WoW‘s late foray into puberty: growing and changing, but really and painfully awkward.
Meanwhile, I bought the Destiny expansion, and instantly regretted it. I was originally not high enough in level to use it, but was also overlooked when my usual strike team decided to plow through it without inviting me. They completed it, and one member opted to not play it again from that point which left me high and dry, as half the fun of that game (2/3 the fun, really) was playing it with other people. I had put it on the shelf for months, and the only reason I’d taken it down was in anticipation of playing with others again.
I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m caught somewhere between wanting a really in-depth, thinking person’s game, and not having anywhere near enough time to devote to such a thing. I’ve still got Stellaris installed, and it’s a nightly contender but never gets the nod because I need several hours to feel like my sessions are worthwhile. TSW is fairly highbrow in this regard with its investigation missions, but I’ve been through them before at this stage and have therefor fallen back on looking up the answers. Elite fulfills the agency aspect of my need to forge my own way in the galaxy, but offers little else. Now what?
I have no idea. My friends will pretty much only play The Division, and only then on Monday night, or randomly through the week, so it’s pretty much the only game I have to play if I want to play with other people. I’ve taken to streaming with the newly repurposed Forge, but don’t have a groove there, or else I’m not streaming anything anyone wants to watch. All in all, my gaming time seems to be increasingly…pointless? Unsatisfying at best, I suppose. I don’t know if it’s restlessness, disappointment, or loneliness that’s causing the heavy sigh.