Finishing Games

Recently, Roger from over at Contains Moderate Peril wrote an interesting article about completing games. I’ve always found this a really intriguing subject because, lots of people don’t seem to complete games all too often, which is a bit of an unusual position for an entertainment medium but I’m entirely guilty of it myself. Of the maybe 300 games I own across all digital platforms, I’d be surprised if I had completed 30. So, a completion rate of approximately less than 10%. I know I’m not alone in this, and I think the reasons are diverse.

In some cases, games simply can’t be finished in any real sense. I sink a lot of time into the Football Manger games, but due to the nature of the games ability to generate new players, managers and staff, those games only end when I decide I’m done with that team, or that career. Other games offer degrees of completion. Perhaps you can complete the story alone and ignore all side activities, perhaps you can replay on multiple characters or with divergent stories, or maybe just good old collectibles. This leaves some interpretation when it comes to defining completion, but I tend to think of it as seeing at least the bulk of the content available.

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Speaking personally, sometimes I stop playing a game simply because I’ve had my fun with it, or I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. But other times, it’s more that I sort of forget to play them. They just, drop off the radar I guess. My usual pattern is buying the game, installing, and playing for a couple of hours. By then, it’ll have either worked its way into my schedule, or it ends up lingering on my hard drive for a bit before I uninstall it a few weeks later. And you know what’s strange about that? I feel sort of guilty about it. Sometimes, the weight of all those uncompleted games makes me feel anxious. The vast majority of course, I intend to play at some point, but still, it’s strange.

I wonder if all of this is something to do with the general increase in the availability and affordability of games, especially on the PC. This couldn’t be more different from when I was a child in the early 90s when games were expensive presents. As such, it was highly likely you would play them to completion due to lack of options. Now, I can pick up 4 good games £20 on any given weekend. And of course, all those Steam sales play a part. Sure, they’ve lost the wow factor they once held, but you can still pick up high quality titles at bargain prices almost every day of the week. And what is more, I can have it right now, this instant. No going to the shop, no ordering it on Amazon and waiting a couple of days. With some smaller games, I can be playing it in 5-10 minutes. I think this all adds to the compulsion to buy more games, and in turn to forget about some others, and it’s probably my biggest reason for failing to see a game through to the end.

I really would like to complete more games, especially as many that drop off my radar are perfectly good games that I genuinely want to play. I’ve often considered making some sort of plan to tackle them all in a certain order, and allow for some flexibility. I once tried this with my RPG collection, but one day realised that in just a handful of titles I’d set aside around 1000 hours of content. This is part of the reason I’ve taken up Skyrim again in fact. I’m sure I’ll get there in the end, but if not, at least I’ll be entertained throughout my retirement.

Divinity: Original Sin – Initial Impressions

One of the downsides of Blaugust was that it afforded me far less time than I’d like to actually play many videogames. By the time I get in from work, sit down and have some food, then write an article, it’s not too far off time for bed. As such I really haven’t played a great deal, especially in the last fortnight. Now that I can afford to post a bit less often than everyday, it feels liberating having so much more free time. In the last couple of days all of that free time has been taken up by one game, Divinity: Original Sin.

Divinity: Original Sin is part of the line of games descending from the abysmally named Divine Divinity, which was very much a Diablo style ARPG with a bit more of a narrative focus (I think anyway, I played it a bit 12 years ago). Divinity: Original Sin utilises the same isometric view as many of those titles, but in the opening 5 hours or so that I have played has so far demonstrated far more depth and character than many of its competitors.

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The game has a party system like many RPGs, but unusually you control two main characters. The customisation options for these characters are hugely extensive in terms of classes and skills. I lost an hour just considering my options, before choosing two pre-made classes because I’m a big wuss and I’m scared I’ll gimp myself be being an idiot or not understanding the systems correctly. Your characters are ‘Source Hunters’, it isn’t entirely clear what that means but I think it’s basically magic hunters. Think Templars in Dragon Age: Origins. Your purpose is to investigate a murder which has taken place in the town of Cyseal.

I’m far from deep enough into what is clearly a very dense game to comment on it overall, but thus far I’ve had a lot of challenge, intrigue and laughs out of the game and right now I’m still largely pottering about the town, with only the odd (punishing) foray along the orc infested coastline. There are so many NPCs to talk to, and they have so much to say too. And that isn’t a bad thing here. The writing is of a very high standard and I’ve appreciated many silly jokes already. One of my characters has the ‘pet pal’ trait, which allows them to converse with animals, which can lead to additional quests and flavour text. I adore how different animals have different manners of speaking which reflect their character somewhat. Cats are, unsurprisingly, somewhat cool and aloof, whilst the dog I met repeatedly referred to how awesome his master was in every sentence. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of reading to do in this game.

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Something I’m already in love with is the freedom and options given to the player which allows them to roleplay their characters. For example, during character creation you can select the AI of your two characters. This defines the, for want of a better term, alignment of the characters. Or, you can do as I did, and choose no AI, allowing you to choose your characters dialogue responses yourself. Let me give you an example of how this works in practice. Whilst standing in the town market I noticed a man stealing some fish, which prompted me to question the man. This led to a discussion between my two characters about whether the man should be arrested, or whether punishing a starving man who simply wanted to eat was the morally proper thing to do. So, as I picked no AI, I got to choose the answers of both of my characters. At the end of the discussion they both disagreed, and the conflict is then resolved by a game of rock paper scissors. This may sound a little gimmicky, but in practice I feel it gives me a lot of room to define the characters myself, which I really appreciate.

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Combat is a turn based affair, and can be very challenging. The elemental system in the game promises much experimentation. For example, I have a mage who can make rain appear in an area, and as such everybody in that area becomes wet. Being wet decreases resistance to cold attacks, but increases resistance to fire attacks. So if I then use a chill spell on a wet enemy, instead of just slowing his movement speed it will freeze him outright for a period of time. Shooting fire at water creates steam which reduces chance to hit, shooting electric at the steam creates static which then has its own set of effects. These are only a handful of examples I have discovered so far, but there’s a lot to play with.

Much of the environment is also interactive and sometimes destructible in a manner which feels pretty refreshing for this sort of game. Some items can be picked up and moved around by clicking and dragging them to solve puzzles, uncover items or clear paths, whilst doors and chests may be destroyed at the expense of weapon durability. This is one of the systems I haven’t had too much time to play around with yet though, so I’ve yet to see how meaningful this will all be.

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I’ve often wanted to get really in to many of the great CRPGs of the 90s and early 00s that I missed out on. Planescape: Torment, Baldurs Gate, Neverwinter Nights and so on. I own them all in some for or another. However, whenever I sit down to play them I always find them a bit slow to get going, or sometimes to have punishingly hard combat that makes progress very slow. I’d like to sit down with them one day and make a good go of it, particularly with Baldur’s Gate 2 which many still consider to be the best RPG of all time. Perhaps what I really needed was a game like Divinity: Original Sin, which captures the essence of many of those old school RPGs, but brings with it a sense of modernity; a reimagining of many of the features in those games which makes them immediately more palatable and expands upon them. And, much like Neverwinter Nights, Divinity appears to aspire to recreate that pen and paper style experience with friends too, offering co-op mode and Steam Workshop functionality for player made adventures.

There’s a lot of game here, and I’m glad I picked it up. I’ve been eyeing it up for months, and if any of this sounds interesting to you I’d advise you to check out a few reviews, which have been glowing. I think this one is going to take a while to get through, so expect me to report back again when I’m a bit further along on my adventure.

Amazon To Buy Twitch

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The other day, I wrote about some of the controversial changes implemented by Twitch TV. The streaming site had recently brought in new policies that effectively wiped large swathes of pre-recorded video content, and was using fairly draconian anti-copyright infringement technology which mutes half hour of audio in a video if the technology recognises music being played. This is a pretty blunt tool to use, and problems were compounded by reports that content that should not have been flagged as copyright infringing was being flagged as such.

Now we have what appears to have been the reason for all of this. Amazon has made public that it is tentatively in the process of buying Twitch TV. This seems like something of an odd move, and I personally have been wondering why Amazon are interested in Twitch. It certainly doesn’t seem like the most wildly profitable website on the internet, even with some pretty annoying adverts. It’s true that they have some subscribers, and people who pay for premium level accounts (which is all the more worth it now that premium accounts have their videos saved for much longer than normal accounts), but I can’t imagine that amounts to a whole lot of money. However, a comment on an article about this news over at Rock Paper Shotgun summed up Amazon’s potential motivations very nicely:

“Well, let me show you the ingredients to Amazon’s master plan:
1) a video service, that competes with Netflix – Amazon Instant
2) The Amazon Kindle gaming/video streaming device device
3) A proprietary ecosystem – the Amazon appstore/video store, etc
4) Amazon game studios, which they now have now they’ve bought Double Helix
5) The world’s largest user video streaming service – Twitch, or whatever Amazon rebrands it as.

All tied into Amazon’s storefront and app recommendation engine. All together it leads to a massive, consumer based store, using a whole lot of data to sell you shit. It’s a massive monopoly on video entertainment, in a way. Play Amazon games, watch Amazon videos, watch OTHER people playing games, listen to commentary. All tied in.”

-Crimsoneer

This all seems fairly plausible to me. Even just using Twitch to try and more closely rival Netflix is a possibility. Of course, whether anyone would actually use Twitch in this way is another matter. Once again though, this is a clear example of just what big business sites like Twitch have become, and there is some overlap with livestreaming and let’s plays in general. As I mentioned in that previous article, all this still feels very much in a state of flux right now.

The sale for Twitch hasn’t even been completed yet, but it will be interesting to see what kind of service it is going to become under Amazon. But, I’m certain it won’t be quite the wild west frontier that it was just a few months ago.

Tomb Raider

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So the other day I wrote a post about Xbox One’s exclusivity for the upcoming Tomb Raider game, which incidentally it turns out is not going to be a long term exclusivity deal, which is fairly typical I guess. But, writing that article got me thinking about the last Tomb Raider game which rebooted the series, and although I’d poked around in a little before, I’d never fully explored despite enjoying the experience.

I downloaded the title on Steam again yesterday, and have been having a lot of fun with it. It’s certainly a very directed experience, with the first hour or two of the game in particular, you’re railroaded along a single track whilst Lara is subjected to all manner of ordeals. It’s very cinematic though, and it just about carries it off without feeling too constrictive. It’s when areas of the map open up a little more, allowing for the possibility to explore them and uncover secrets, that the game comes into its own though. The story is engaging enough, at least for the parts I’ve seen, and I think the portrayal of Lara Croft is a strong one, and one that’s very relatable.

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Having said that, this really is a very Unchartered type of game, where the cinematic scope of the game will often overrule the gameplay part of it. To the point where even things like running or walking are dictated by the moment in the story, or where you think you’re doing something incredibly cool, only to realise the game has transitioned into a cutscene. It’s entertaining and cinematic enough, but can definitely feel a bit on rails at points.

Personally though, I love the small maps you get to explore at your leisure at certain points in the game. The ability to fast travel between them using campfires adds to the ease of chasing collectibles and loot in areas  you’ve completed the story elements in. There are some RPG elements in the game too, with skill unlocks and weapon upgrades available, but at this point it remains to be seen whether they’re very much the kind of upgrades where you’ll have all of them in the end anyway, and you’re just picking the order in which you get them, or they actually represent some sort of meaningful choice.

All things considered, I’m really enjoying the game at the moment, and may even stick it out until the end. Provided that the story holds up at least, all that prescribed story telling can get pretty tedious if you’re hating every second of it.

Evochron Mercenary and Space Sims

Over the last couple of years, space sims have gone from being ‘dead’ and a relic from the 90s, to one of the most popular genres of games currently in development. Star Citizen and Elite are the big ones obviously, but there are a plethora of other titles such as No Man’s Sky, and Starpoint Gemini 2. Many of these titles aren’t out yet, but there have been a few standout space sims made in the last five years or so. Games like the X series and, one I’ve been playing a little this weekend, Evochron Mercenary.

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I’ve always liked space sims ever since playing games like X-Wing and Wing Commander: Prophecy way back when I was about ten or eleven. These days though, I always seem to find myself falling between the stools of what the genre is offering. It seems that space sims have become either a very simplified casual sort of experience, much like Freelancer offered, or they’ve become incredibly complicated and slow paced titles, with vast systems to learn and realistic flight models with complex controls. I guess what I’m looking for is somewhat in the middle. I like there to be a bit of depth to the game, but not so much that it’s boring in the beginning, which is what’s always been my problem with the X series. I know I played Eve, but in truth the spaceships thing was almost incidental to me, what held my interest was the emergent player gameplay experience, not the setting.

Evochron Mercenary looks like a decent option for me so far. Navigation takes some getting used to, as it involves a lot of punching in co-ordinates, but if you approach it in the right frame of mind is actually pretty immersive. I’ve only scratched the surface of the game so far, and have only tried a little bit of mining and selling goods, as well as taking a passenger to a destination for a fee, but it feels like it could be an interesting game for me. Flight is complicated, but not insurmountably so, which suits my sensibilities.

I’ll have to wait and see how I get on with it once I begin to get a little deeper into its systems, sometimes these games have a tendency towards repetitive content which would certainly put m eoff. With all the new space sims on the way though, I’ll hopefully be able to find one that ticks all the boxes for me.

Shroud of The Avatar

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Richard Garriot’s Shroud of the Avatar is having another pre alpha access weekend, and since I’m a backer I decided to take another look. So far I’ve only logged into this game a couple of times. It’s very unstable at the moment, and is very much in development. One of the reasons I backed the game in the first place was that development on it seems very reasonable. The development team set out their goals at the beginning of the month, and usually get pretty far with them by the end of the month, and the release of a new playable build. This combined with the old school look and ambitions of the game, is what drew me into backing.

However I’ve not had much fun with the game so far. As I mentioned, the game is understandably very rough. NPCs disappear, chat boxes disappear and sometimes the UI stops working. Crashes aren’t uncommon either. Combat feels really stilted, but that’s something implemented very recently, and the skills system behind it has only just been introduced. One thing I love is the option to  have the old Ultima style inventory with literal bags that open, and you drag around small pictures representing items. OK, I actually only love this in theory, as it looks immersive but is practically unusable. Thankfully there is the option for more traditional list style inventories.

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You can’t help but notice the sheer quantity of player housing and decorations all over towns. In fact that’s pretty much all I’ve figured out how to find in the game, except for a few caves and bandits. Currently the game doesn’t do a very good job of telling you where to go. I’m all for that “stranger in a strange land” feel, but I’ve never even found one hint of where to go to get started.

Obviously the game is very early on in its development, but truth be there isn’t a lot to see right now. The genesis of some of their ideas about sandbox gameplay are there, and that’s encouraging at least. I was looking for something which captured the spirit of old school RPGs and MMOs, but it is just too early to tell if this games is going to be that. It’s very obvious that it’s their intention to recreate an Ultima type experience though. In truth, I think I should just come back in six months or a year and see where the game is at then. There’s enough about it that interests me that I feel content with my purchase, and I’m willing to wait a while to see the end product.

Mass Defect

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Over the last few years I’ve built up a pretty big Steam collection. I’m an absolute sucker for buying games, and I will almost always buy one or two a month, at least. I’m not really sure why that happens, as I often barely play the games, and sometimes I even find myself actively trawling for stuff to buy. So, like many people I imagine, this has led to me having hundreds of games, but only a couple of dozen which I’ve played to any great degree.

Within my Steam library are a selection of titles that I really wish I could fully get immersed in because I like various aspects of them, but for whatever reason they never quite click with me to the point that they hold my attention, yet I find myself wishing they would. Without doubt the worst example of this is Mass Effect.

I really love the universe that Bioware have created, and the depth and detail on display here really draw me in. Of course the story is very engaging, what with this being Bioware at their best, but I’ve always found that pesky gameplay to be somewhat lacking. The combat mechanics feel bland and unimaginative, and control of team members always feels floaty and unreliable.

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I appreciate the ability to fly around the galaxy in my ship, but landing on planets is usually disappointing. With little to do except drive around searching for collectables, or killing a few enemies, this becomes a pretty bland experience. I know I could ignore most of this content, but as an RPG player I’m crippled by my aching desire to feel that I’ve seen at least most of what there is to see. It’s borderline masochistic but I just can’t bare to feel like I skipped the side missions and raced through the game. I’m not a completionist by any means, but I like to feel I’ve at least seen all the meaningful side stories.

I’m now at that awkward point with Mass Effect where I’ve played the first 5-10 hours of the game about 3 times. However, I know that if I return to the game now I’ll feel like I’m robbed of the complexity of the story by trying to piece it all together, and will inevitably start a new character and go through the exact same experience all over again. I’m locked in a prison of my own design.

On paper, Mass Effect ticks a lot of boxes for me. Yet, in practice, about 60% of the game bores me to tears, whilst I adore the remaining 40%.Perhaps one day I’ll just blitz the whole game. Spend a whole weekend pouring over every detail, and then finally get to try out Mass Effect 2, which I also own. People frequently say that is a smoother experience, and perhaps I’ll get on a little better with it.