Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Zero Time Dilemma Was Ruined For Me …

January 17, 2018

… although you could say that it was my own fault.

Since this is a newer game, I’ll continue below the fold.

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Gaming again …

January 16, 2018

So, due to shifting schedules, I’m going to be taking more vacation in February. I am, in fact, going to take it right when the Olympics are on, because at least there’ll be something on TV to watch or listen to during the day (last year, I took off during the Scotties). And since it’s the Olympics, it’s the perfect time for me to play some games because I don’t like all winter sports equally and so having those sports on in the background while playing is quite appealing (I tended to want to watch the Scotties more closely than I’ll generally want to watch the Olympics). And to top it all off, I don’t seem to be having all that much success at starting my personal projects, and so think that until after that point it might be best for me to, at least, put things off until I can get back into a normal routine.

All of this means that it looks like I have a significant amount of time to play some games, that I should really take advantage of. But then the question arises: what should I try to play?

There are, as always, some restrictions. Or, I suppose, one big one: it has to be a console game, because I will want to watch some of the Olympics and trying to do that while playing PC games is generally difficult (I’ve tried, and in general I have absolutely no clue what’s happening and even if the game ends. That happens far less for console games because I’m generally in the same room as the TV for those). Since the Olympics are in South Korea which means that they’ll be getting into re-runs in the afternoon, in theory I could play PC games then, but right now my plan is to fill afternoons with various things (which could include PC games) so I’m leaving that all open for now. But in the mornings I’m planning on having dedicated gaming time, and console or Vita games fit there and PC games don’t.

Now, since I have a significant amount of time available, this looks like a good time to play a game that I wouldn’t normally have the time to play, at least not for the next year or so. And the top game on that list is a third play of Persona 5, because at 80 hours it would take me about five months to finish given my normal schedule, but I’d be able to finish it between now and the end of February if it fit into this slot. But then there are other games that I might like to replay, like Persona 3 and Persona 4, which I haven’t played in a longer time. There’s also Suikoden III that I was reminded of recently and might like to replay. And all of these are games that I might not have the time to play if I don’t do it now.

But, then again, maybe I should try to finish some games as well. I have some games left over from my Christmas binge, some of which I haven’t tried yet. And I never have finished the Fatal Frame games, and so this might be a good opportunity to play all three games that I own. Or I could play Persona and Persona 2. Or try to finish Nocturne. Or play other games that I started and ended up dropping like Dungeon Travelers 2 or Trails of Cold Steel (I own both games). Or try to get through the Agarest War games. Or finally play Saint’s Row (I definitely have “The Third”, I think, and might have the fourth game). Or the Overlord games. Or any number of other games that I started, kinda liked, and never finished. I’d have the time to start them over and maybe finish them this time.

But do I want to focus on finishing a game rather than playing or replaying a game that I want to play? I don’t think I want to turn this opportunity into something that feels like work, but the games that I want to finish are fun, too … or, at least, were fun at some points. And in fact the main reason that I never came back to Dungeon Travelers was because I forgot how far I had gotten and so where the secret rooms were. Starting over would fix that.

I’m still pondering which way to go, but I need to decide soon, because to finish a game like Persona 5 I need to start in my regular gaming time this week, which starts on Thursday and will definitely be active on the weekend.

Final Thoughts on The Nonary Games: Virtue’s Last Reward

January 10, 2018

So, I finished all of the endings — but not all of the Game Overs — for “Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward”. This game had a worse reception, from what I’ve read, than 999 did, and I can see why. Since this relaunch is relatively recent, I’ll continue below the fold, as I’ll likely talk a bit about the characters and various endings:

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First Thoughts on “Dark Rose Valkyrie”

January 3, 2018

So, I recently went on a game buying spree, and one of the games I purchased was Dark Rose Valkyrie. This game is, well, the typical sort of game I’d like, where it mixes a dating-type simulator with a tactical RPG and adds in a traitor mechanism. So obviously this would be a game that I’d be very interested in. However, after playing it for the first time it turns out that the game has a number of annoyances that make me less interested in playing it.

The first annoyance is that I can’t figure out how to save in the base itself. This means that if I want to save to make sure that my choices are captured before heading out for a mission, or just to quit for the night, I have to find one of the more dangerous save points, either in a dungeon or out in the field, and save there. Remember the lack of easy-to-find save points was one of the main reasons I quit playing Nocturne, and if I can’t get to an obvious ending point in a game when I want to stop for the night that really, really does discourage me from playing the game. So that’s a pretty big strike against it right there.

The second annoyance is that they aren’t very good at indicating where you need to go for your quest. Maybe there’s some setting that I’m supposed to change, but it isn’t obvious on the map where I’m supposed to go most of the time. I spent a long time running through a dungeon because I thought that the “bridge” I was supposed to patrol was in there, and only later figured out that it was elsewhere in the city. And still got lost on my way to it. And the entire quest was just showing up there, which since that was the required quest seemed anti-climactic.

The third annoyance is that events in your room seem to, at least much of the time, trigger a progression in the story, despite the game not making that clear. I missed all of the interactions in one part because I went to my room first and the commanding officer demanded that I rush down to the command room. This was incredibly annoying, and just highlights how bad this game is at telling you what’s going on.

So, not a good start. However, the characters are generally interesting, and the combat system is an interesting way to implement a turn-based-with-delay system. Essentially, there’s a gauge that each combatant appears on, and they move at various speeds up it until they hit the decision point, where you can decide what action you want them to take. Each action takes some time to trigger, so you can select level 1, 2, or 3 actions. Then they keep progressing until they hit that level, and the action activates, and then they start climbing up the gauge again. This allows for some interesting decisions because you might, say, want to trigger an action first to get in on combo action or to kill an enemy before they can attack, even if the longer option might have other benefits. And if you aren’t really thinking about that, you aren’t rushed to decide what your best option is either, which is nice.

Since I have so very many games on the go right now, it’s hard to see when I might get back to that game, especially since it’s starting off so “Meh”. But I do think I’d like to give it another shot at some point in the future, if for no other reason than to see what the interview mechanic is like, where you try to determine who is the traitor.

What I Finished, What I Played in 2017

January 1, 2018

So, what did I finish this year? Pretty much Persona 5. With The Nonary Games, making it in at the last minute. Oh, and Zero Time Dilemma. I guess it counts

Looking back over my posts, it pretty much looks like that’s it, and a lot of those were at the last minute. Did I play more games this year?

Well, not really. I started Trails of Cold Steel, and then Akiba’s Beat and Dark Rose Valkyrie right at the end of the year, and had an on-again/off-again relationship with The Old Republic. I also started two different runs of Dragon Age: Origins. I poked around with a couple of other games at times — Huniepop, for example — but can’t really recall actually playing more games than that for any length of time. Oh, sure, I started a game of, say, Star Wars Rebellion, but rarely played it for more than a night.

My video game playing time has greatly shrunk over the past year, and so it was great to get some time to actually play games while I was off. I’m not sure how things are going to go over the next year, but it’s not likely I’ll play many more new games since I have so many old ones — especially GOG games — to play.

The Nonary Games: Final Thoughts on 999

December 27, 2017

So, I managed to get all of the endings in “Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors”, which effectively completes the game. Since this re-release is recent and I’ll be talking about the story — and what it might mean for the sequel — I’ll start talking about it below the fold:

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First Thoughts on The Nonary Games

December 20, 2017

So, while browsing about a week or so ago, I came across “The Nonary Games”, a combination of the first two Zero Escape games. I talked about the philosophical point raised by the second one last week. Here, I want to talk about the game itself and not so much about the deeper issues.

The game combines what is essentially a visual novel with a gameplay system where, essentially, you are doing a series of Escape Rooms, which puts it firmly in the video game genre of Escape the Room. Supposedly, the physical escape rooms were inspired by the video games, but I came to the genre the other way around, which is why when I saw this game I wanted to give it a try as a more accessible version of the physical escape room. At any rate, in both games you wake up trapped in a room by a mysterious, gas-masked character, and you have to both puzzle your way out of the room and puzzle out what is the motive behind your abduction. There are a number of endings — most of the bad — and for the first game, at least, if you get the right endings and make the right choices you might, eventually, get to the true ending where at least most of the secrets are revealed.

I tend to play all games on Easy, and this game is no exception. The first game is much better on Easy, as you seem to get hints pretty much when you need them, while the second game often gives you hints way too early. It also forces you to select it on each room, which is annoying. In both cases, on Easy there is still some challenge to the puzzles while making sure that you don’t get completely stuck on a puzzle for too long. This fits in better with the physical escape rooms that I’ve done, since there you can talk to everyone and everyone can get ideas, so it seems more co-operative. Still, even on Easy, there are times when it is all about you, and times where your companions don’t chime it at all. However, the better rooms in the first one do seem like a collaboration, especially one where one person gets locked in another room and you have to ask her to look for or do things as you try to get her out.

I’m not that fond of the convoluted ways you need to trigger certain events and give certain dialogue options to get different endings. I’d rather it just be path-based instead, and if a dialogue choice drives a difference in the path it happens right where the paths split. The first game, at least, lets you examine the “Flow” of the game (the flowchart of the various rooms and endings) and skip to the right area, thus relieving you of the necessity of clearing rooms you’ve already solved again, which helps.

I liked these two games so much that I went out and bought the third one from Amazon, and I hope to soon get the True Ending in the first and an ending that isn’t “To Be Continued” in the second. They give a good facsimile of the escape room experience while allowing for a stronger story — and one that plays out longer — behind it.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma in Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

December 15, 2017

So, I recently picked up the Vita version of “The Nonary Games”, which includes two games: Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward. I’ll talk about the games themselves a bit next week, probably. But today I want to talk about part of Virtue’s Last Reward. Since the game isn’t that old, I’ll put discussion of it below the fold because it will contain spoilers.

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First Thoughts on Akiba’s Beat …

December 13, 2017

So, almost two years ago, I played a game called Akiba’s Trip, a little action/adventure/visual novel/RPG type game that I really liked, mostly because the combat was there but got out of the way pretty quickly, and the underlying story, while ridiculous, allowed you a lot of freedom to tolerate, embrace, or even further the madness through your character responses. I enjoyed it quite a bit for the small and relatively shallow game it was.

So when, recently, I was browsing and noticed Akiba’s Beat, I immediately picked it up. It’s not really a sequel to Akiba’s trip, but parodies JRPGs like Akiba’s Trip parodies … I think visual novels? Anyway, it builds in a dungeon/combat system similar to Conception II’s, with real-time instead of turn-based combat, packed around a ridiculous and yet formulaic JRPG story. So it has all the elements to really work in parodying JRPGs like Akiba’s Trip did for … whatever it was doing.

However, it pretty much falls flat.

The key to Akiba’s Trip was that it allowed you to set how you as player or you as character — or both — saw the world. Were you as goofy as everyone else? Just running with it? Or rolling your eyes at how nuts everything was? The game actually let you express that to some extent through your dialogue choices. Thus, your character wasn’t really defined, and was one that you could define as the game went along. And this was important for a parody game, because it allowed you to participate in the manner you preferred rather than being just an observer. Allowing you to participate meant that the story and game itself didn’t have to carry all of the humour or parody, by allowing the player to guide it in the direction that made sense and worked for them.

Akiba’s Beat, on the other hand, goes with a very set protagonist. About seven hours in, you have little dialogue or action choices worth mentioning. Thus, most of the time is spent watching the characters interact with each other without your input. Which means that that dialogue has to carry the humour and the parody. If it falls flat or gets repetitive — and it gets repetitive — you end up just wanting to skip what really looks like an interactive cutscene, with maybe a few times when you get to say something that doesn’t matter that much. By removing even pointless player interaction they end up putting a far greater burden on the existing story and characters, and they simply cannot lift that burden.

Don’t get me wrong; the existing characters aren’t bad, but as you might expect from a parody they’re pretty standard tropey characters. Which is fine. And the story itself is interestingly goofy. But it simply can’t carry what is supposedly about a 40+ hour game. For a game that long, you really need the player to buy into it, and by removing the personalization of the game they make it that much harder for the game to do that.

Another issue that contributes to this is that the combat is much more prominent, important, and takes up much more time than it did in Akiba’s Trip. The main story for each chapter is in the various dungeons, each of which are a few floors long and can contain various puzzles. The dungeons and combat aren’t bad, but they’re unspectacular, especially on “Easy” (which is how I always play games like this). Given that they are unspectacular and take up a large portion of the game, they turn into things that you have to do to get to the fun part, which is the story. And when the fun part drags, you wonder why you spent so much time in the okay part to get to another okay part.

I’ll probably pick this game up again and finish it, but for now it’s not on my top list of games to dedicate time to playing, and I have other games that I’d rather do that with than this one.

First Move Advantage …

December 6, 2017

So, as I promised elsewhere, this is another post taking on a post by Extra Credits. This time in a video from three years ago they’re talking about “First Move Advantage”, they are talking about “First Move Advantage”, which is when in a turn-based game — or in a turn-based element of a game — the person moving first gets a turn up on their opponent and so has an advantage over their opponent. They treat this like it is inherent, but I submit that there is no such thing as an inherent advantage to the first player and that if you are noticing this in your metrics the problem is likely with how your game is structured.

As usual, I can’t copy-and-paste quote directly from the video, so let me summarize their argument. This video follows on from a previous video — that I haven’t watched — about randomness in E-sports, which spawns this new discussion, even though it isn’t focused on E-sports (I’ll talk more about E-sports later). They start by giving examples of games that have had or are at least believed to have significant first move advantage, and talk about ways they went about trying to compensate for that. It is interesting to note that these compensations are, in general, not a matter of tweaking rules but are instead about giving direct and generally external to the game advantages to the second player, like giving more cards to a Magic player or more points to the Go player who goes last. They then talk about ways to detect and compensate for this if you’re designing a game, hitting topics like having metrics in the game to determine if it is happening and how significant it is to being aware that it might get worse over time as players get better at the game and exploit it more. At the end of the day, their main point is to ensure that designers are aware of and compensate for first move advantage in turn-based games and in games that have turn-based elements.

The problem is that moving first isn’t always an advantage, even in the “developed resource” games that they talk about, and is only a significant advantage if the game design is built to give an advantage to what the first mover gains from moving first at the expense of what the second player gains from moving second.

The first thing we need to do to see this more clearly is generalize away from a simple two-player turn-based game and thus from the simplistic “First move vs last move” mechanic to “Early move vs late move”. This allows us to look at other turn-based, multiplayer games like Civilization, Disciples 2, Master of Orion and a host of others, including tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. What we can see, then, is that if you move first you get initiative — you even roll for that in D & D — and if you move later you have to be reactive. But that also means that you get to react to what your opponent is doing. You can see what units they are creating, who they are attacking, what their formation is and adjust accordingly. So the advantage to going earlier in the turn is that you get to enact your strategy before your opponent does, but the advantage to going later in the turn is that your opponents’ strategy is revealed to you before yours is to them. In some games, that initial strategy can be revealed as early as the first turn.

We can see how this works with a D & Dish example. Imagine that there is one character who, due to their level or class or whatever, has an overwhelming ability that will mostly win the battle for them, but activating it reduces their initiative so they have to go last. The first player can — and obviously will — try to pull out all the stops in trying to kill it before it can be activated. If they succeed, then they probably steamroll the rest of the team and win the fight. But if they fail, they pretty much lose the battle. Knowing this and seeing the first player positioning for this move and/or even starting the attacks, the second player can do things to add to the survivability of that character, like using other characters to heal it or to intercept attacks so that it can survive and win the battle for them. If the first player doesn’t, in fact, make this sort of focused move, the second player can then take other actions to bolster their advantage and doesn’t have to focus on protecting that character as much (which isn’t all that great if the ability is hugely, hugely overwhelming, but in closer battles it can be critical). The first player will get to do some damage first, but as long as that damage isn’t inherently overwhelming the second player gets to react to that strategy. Heck, they might even be able to plan for that character being wiped out and position themselves with an overwhelming advantage considering that, if the game is sufficiently balanced, using that character as a decoy.

An example of this is shown in this Order of the Stick comic. The monster gets to attack first, but whomever it attacks the other cleric simply heals that damage. They don’t need to try to heal any specific character until they know who has actually lost hit points. Sure, if this pattern continues eventually the monster will win because they will run out of heal spells, but that assumes that that’s all they do. If they attack at all, then it comes down to whether or not they can kill the monster because it does enough damage to run them out of heal spells.

And this leads us to another way the later turn advantage plays out, with the later player never having to waste resources — or additional resources — trying to do something that won’t have benefit them because of what the other player has or hasn’t done. Take the healing case. If you have to specify that you will cast a healing spell but have to wait for your casting time, it is possible that when your turn comes up no one has been damaged yet, and so the spell is useless at this point in the turn, even if it would have been useful later. Meanwhile, the character with the later turn is pretty much guaranteed to be able to heal someone that turn, even if it isn’t the optimal person to heal, so they can be more comfortable casting the spell without risking wasting it. The same thing can apply to Wonders in a game like Civilization. If they find out that another player is building a Wonder and will finish it first, the player reacting to this can stop putting resources into building it and can shift the ones already allocated to build something else useful, even a different Wonder. Now, this isn’t as pure an example of early vs late turn advantage because in Civilization this depends a lot on how productive the various cities are, which doesn’t depend quite as much on who goes first (it depends more on what is around you and where you plant your cities) but there is a bit of that here. All other things being equal — which they aren’t — the early players will build Wonders first but later players will get to react to being beaten to the punch.

And this ability to react can have advantages. The early turn player has to wait longer for their opponent’s strategy to become clear, so they have to guess at what is a good move more often. Take this example: there are two resources that an early player can or wants to acquire. The best one also happens to be close to another player who moves later, and who could get it before them if they went after it. The further one isn’t as good, but they could get it before anyone else if they started for it immediately, but might not if they don’t. None of the players can know what resource another player is trying for until they make that first move. For the early turn player, they have to guess at what their opponents are going to do. Do they see that resource? Are they occupied with something else that will prevent them from interfering? If they decide to play it safe, they get a resource but not the one they really wanted. If they don’t, then they might get neither.

Meanwhile, the later turn player merely has to watch and wait to see what the early turn player actually does. If they move towards that resource, the later turn player can immediately move out towards it and deny it to them. If they move for the other resource, they can either take that resource anyway or else take the opportunity to do other things secure in the knowledge that no one will be able to take that resource without them being able to react in time. The early player is in a tough situation here, because being able to react to their moves first can leave them in a terrible situation.

So we can see that we can have early turn and later turn advantage. You’ll tend to have early turn advantage when being able to enact your strategy first will give you more advantage than being able to react to your strategies first does, while later turn advantage occurs when the opposite is true.

But just as if your game is imbalanced as players improve they will find ways to exploit it, if your game is actually balanced as players improve they will find ways to mitigate an early perceived advantage. A game might start with early or later turn players having the advantage, but as the players develop this might balance out. An example of this is with an RTS, Starcraft, and “Zerg Rushing”. Basically, the Zerg faction was built to produce a lot of cheap units really quickly, and so a main strategy was to crank out a tonne of these and send them to the nearest enemy base, wiping it out. I’m not a Starcraft expert, but I understand that players here learned that this was a possibility and learned ways to counter that, making that early advantage less of one. So an advantage to either early or later turns in a game might get eliminated as players learn those strategies and develop effective counters.

Of course, it’s always possible that a game really does have an early or later turn advantage. Rather than simply giving benefits, it’s probably a good idea to look at your rules to see what is causing the problem. If there is a significant and consistent early turn advantage, the issue is that initiative matters more than being able to react, which usually means that either the opponents don’t have effective counters to strategies or can’t figure out what strategies the early turn players have before it is too late to counter them. For later turn advantage, it usually means that the strategies are too obvious and the counters too easy to implement. All of these can be tweaked to reduce or even eliminate the advantage.

But after all of this it might indeed still be the case that the advantage cannot be eliminated without changing the game so radically that it isn’t the same game anymore and might not even be fun anymore if you did so. What do you do if you want some kind of formal competitive structure, like ranked PvP or E-sports? Well, for actual competitions, instead of giving random point or card advantages or other external to the game corrections, you can do what other competitive sports have done. Both tennis and darts have huge advantages to one player. In tennis, the player with serve wins most of the time, while in darts the player who has the throw — ie throws darts first — has a huge advantage (and that is indeed because they get to enact their “strategy” first by usually getting the first chance to throw for a “finish” and win the game). Yet both have strong competitive leagues. How do they resolve the problem? They alternate serve/throw, and force a player to win “by two”, meaning that if a player wants to win a match they have to break serve or break throw, meaning that they have to beat their opponent at least once when their opponent has the advantage to win the match. If the advantage is huge and the players equally balanced, this can take a while, but even with the massive advantage for those sports this rarely happens. And any game with luck elements will want to have the players play a series rather than simply one match, so this isn’t hard to fit into most competitive structures, and avoids the rather odd looking “balance” options given in the video.

In summary, there is no inherent early turn or first move advantage. Early turn players get initiative and to enact their strategies first, while later turn players get to react to those strategies first. A game can advantage either of these, and if you find that a game advantages one or the other understanding the advantages of going first or going last can help you balance it. And if you have a game that can’t be balanced but that you want to have in competitions anyway, forcing a player to win “against the throw” is a way to keep it balanced and exciting without introducing artificial, outside-the-rules balancing mechanisms.