GW2: Marking Time

This is my third attempt to form something readable since the last time I posted.

In the middle of last week, when Isle of Janthir was in their first T1 matchup ever, I wrote a little rant about how boring certain key tasks in WvW were, but why it was necessary to do them anyway – like supply running and defending (or at least leaving a scout in a tower or keep.)

Pretty much all I was staring at the whole week.

Seeing as I could count the number of people doing abovementioned jobs in the map on one hand,  me being one of them with only NPC guards to keep the dolyak and me company, I had a sudden attack of enlightened self-interest and decided not to report on the weaknesses of my server in an ongoing matchup – I was already getting steamrolled by an organized guild or two as it was, though now and then, a helpful militia member or two would wander by to assist in staving off the solo yak gankers.

I also rather enjoyed the delicious irony of my last post being one about if players had sufficient long term patience.

A week later, distance has made me largely indifferent. Halloween has been a good excuse to cut back on WvW time this week and go back to my PvE roots for a while. Probably a whole lot of IoJ folks are doing the same, if our current abysmal score versus Sea of Sorrows is anything to go by. I’m just going to wait it out and see if the organization improves the following week.

I was already burning out by voluntarily doing all the not-fun things last week (including putting a personal fortune into the supply camps to keep them upgraded, despite regular flipping and the lack of any structured, organized defence) and frustrated at the lack of visible support from the majority – who were far more keen to rush headlong into offensive charges, and usually wipe with insufficient siege, feeding the defending side points.

I only took time out to screen cap this extravagant insanity.

Long story short, there was a plan to build 10 golems to attack some place. Map crashed. All 10 golems lost. In a fit of high spirits (but not terribly wise tactical sense), someone contributed 20 golem blueprints and nearly everyone enthusiastically rushed to build them. (Using bay keep’s entire supply, mind you, which made me wince a little since I’d been the one shoving nearly every scrap of the 1300 supply in there, one dolyak at a time, and I’d have to begin all over again. But what the heck, it is sort of one of the reasons why we run supply, to provide a stockpile for offensive pushes, though it was no doubt serious overkill and most of the golems wiped after a keep and a tower or two.)

This week, it is officially Halloween break week for me. I’ve even essentially switched my guild channels off for a couple days by swapping into a personal guild. It’s been rather relaxing to roam around in normal-for-me MMO solo mode and immerse into the maps and the world.

I’d write about Halloween, but who hasn’t done the same things already? I’m enjoying sampling them all, the two PvP game modes, the clock tower, the Halloween events (when they aren’t broken, which ain’t saying much) and the Mad King specific maps. I’m relieved that the dungeon is both soloable and groupable, which is the perfect balance to strike, imo. It takes around 20-30 minutes for a level 80 to solo it, and 10-15 minutes in a group – which can accomodate lower levels. Fair enough.

I’d write about my thief alt, who has made it to level 42, exploring parts of the world I purposefully left blank on my Charr, so that my alts have new stuff to see. But I’m still trying to get to grips with him, the immense mobility and need for evasion and active mitigation in order to stay alive is quite different from the tanky self-healing blocking and reflecting guardian. Perhaps another post later.

I think what I’ll do is just leave you with some screenshots from the best bug ever in GW2. After doing the Mad King dungeon, you can zoom your camera back quite a bit more than usual.

I really wanted all the statues with the black citadel in the background, but alas, couldn’t manage it.
Glorious view of all the tanks, chuggers and so on in the Iron Legion’s vehicle park.

I’d do more running around the world taking screenies, except I tend to crash out of memory after loading a zone without mininum settings alas. And on crashing and relogging, it gets set back to its normal view, which is like having horse blinders on.

Divinity’s Reach is on the to-do list, fer sure.

GW2: Do Players Have the Patience for Long Term Strategy?

This week, I had another one of those small revelations. Natural Selection 2 is launching on October 31, in case you didn’t know, and it suddenly hit me that there are some significant similarities between it and GW2’s WvW format. (But there are also some big differences.)

What is Natural Selection 2? Well, it’s an FPS mixed with an RTS basically. It’s the long awaited sequel to a now-very-old Half Life mod which I used to play very heavily. It’s human Marines with guns and armor versus bitey, clawy, flappy, spitty, goring aliens known as the Kharaa.

I’m not going to talk about NS2 any further, though I’ve bought it long ago to support it. I’ve had too much fun with the free NS1 to regret it.

You see, I do have to admit that I am disappointed that I can’t seem to run it very well. Like 1-3 FPS on a self-created map, then crash. I can’t even join a server without stalling and hanging. Part of it may be that the beta has not yet been graphics optimized, or maybe it’s just poor coding, or most likely, it is the first reason colliding with my ailing ancient computer – I’ve mentioned I crash out of GW2 WvW habitually if I’m not on the rock bottom graphics settings, right? Other people get like 80 FPS in WvW while FRAPSing, the lucky bastards. Still got to wait until my budget stabilizes some, alas.

Instead I’ll talk about Natural Selection 1. The first game had a Marine commander calling the shots, placing structures for his fellow players to build, supporting them with medpacks and ammo dumps and basically giving them a set strategy to focus on and move toward taking out all alien hives on the map. Sound a bit familiar? That sort of coincides with WvW commanders in the sense of pointing out the long term strategy and giving direction. And yes, if the commander was bad, it made for a fairly short game, though folks would give some leeway to commanders still trying to learn the ropes.

Aliens had no commander in NS1, but they will have one in NS2, so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops. The alien hivemind in the first game was pretty much a sum total of the general intelligence of all the players in the field. Hopefully, some people would contribute their resources to building necessary structures and new hives (by turning into a builder alien, called the gorge) and at the same time, you needed some people who were very good at killing Marines to keep them occupied, reap resource, and eventually change into a hit-and-run assassin alien known as the Fade. Generally, if the aliens lasted long enough to have two good Fades, that meant the backline was doing well enough to have 2 or 3 hives and the aliens would be on their way to victory.

If insufficient players worked together well, or ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, the aliens would be massacred in short order. Sound like certain PUG zergs in WvW, perhaps?

NS1 had some interesting evolutions through its lifetime. In the patch version that I first joined in, it held at a fantastic balance point that could see 2h+ long games. This was a massive human versus aliens war that would rage on and on, with humans ending up bottlenecked at their last base, guarded by so many turrets the aliens couldn’t get in to seal the deal. Humans could have fun playing “Last Stand” for a long time, mowing down lots of aliens, holding out, while desperately guarding and waiting for their one last lone resource collector to earn enough to buy one or two jetpacks, for the most skilled of the team to sneak out of the vents and try and blow up the alien hives as quickly as they could with upgraded shotguns (aka a ninja.) It was tremendously exciting to watch your guys on the map and win as the underdog like this.

However, I’m not sure how fun it was from the alien perspective. On one hand, they are undoubtedly winning the strategic game. If they stayed on guard to end the ninjas, and kept pushing and pushing relentlessly, eventually, through sheer attrition, they might take down enough turrets and bleed the other side dry of resource long enough to break through and end the game by mauling the base and the commander’s chair (aka the victory objective.)

WvW arguments for giving underdogs a chance and hope for victory sound a lot like the above scenario, actually. I’m not sure if this would be a good or bad thing. Certainly it would get more people in fighting if they had more hope, there would be longer protracted raging battles (which some people really like, and I’m one of them, to a point) but if the battle rages on for too long, people also hit a certain satiation point and get bored. Then the next round of complaints would be, “Oh, it’s a perpetual draw. We can never really win. Why bother?”

Eventually, NS1 decided to move away from the huge tableau of unending perfectly stalemated battles. (I do kind of miss them, to be honest.) Instead, they took a larger page from RTSes and made resource point control more important and the higher tier upgrades slightly more game-changing. What this meant was that if one side played better than the other, and capped more resources, they would steadily accrue a larger and larger tech advantage. Past a certain point in the mid-game, eg. one or two Fades for the aliens or zero Fades for the aliens, it was possible to predict with nigh 98% accuracy which side was going to win.  The losing team could only hope to hold out as long as possible, if they were honorable, or they would quit or jump sides.

Does that also sound familiar from a WvW perspective?

Yes, it’s morale draining and heart breaking to be on the losing team, but quite a number of strategy games seem to have this period where the winning side is obvious, but they still have a “finish the cleanup” phase and the loser just has to sit there and take the lumps and wince as everything of theirs is demolished.

Perhaps the biggest difference between games is how long this cleanup phase lasts, and the next match begins.

In the later incarnation of Natural Selection, cleanup was methodical, but it was also fairly quick and over shortly. The marines would move in, upgraded shotguns blowing up barely evolved skulks (with no resource left) in one hit, and smash the hive to smithereens. The aliens would rampage in with all their number, maybe a celebratory massive Onos or two, and wipe everything and everyone out of existence. Match over. GG. Back to lobby. New map.

A reset happens quickly, and the losers forget their low morale by looking forward to the next game where they might have a chance. (However, if a team or guild was obviously stacking into one side, causing a skill imbalance, people would jump ship and leave the server very quickly.)

WvW at the moment lacks this quick game, match, reset. I think the keyword here is “persistence.” They’re going for what makes them an MMO, rather than a lobby game. (They’ve got structured PvP for the lobby lovers.)

I have a feeling that a lot of the people protesting on the forums haven’t quite grasped just how long term ArenaNet may be aiming for here. They may not be looking for their Alterac Valley fix, but there seems to be this hope for 3 or 4 day matches.

On one hand, it’ll certainly make stuff more exciting in the short term. It’ll give those who primarily WvW and don’t PvE or do structured PvP a reason to keep logging on, instead of being bored for a couple days if there’s a blow out victory. But how many people have the earning power to spend so much gold on siege and upgrades that last so short a time? Even I’m not sure how long the hardcore can keep up that kind of pace before getting bored and burning out. Certainly, the employed cannot. The weekend battle is perfect for them.

To me, and I’m speaking directly from first hand experience here, as the Isle of Janthir is experiencing one of those blow out victories for the moment (who knows, maybe the other servers might organize a push later in the week,) yes, it is kind of  boring to have a quiet battleground after so long an exciting battle, but maybe we kinda need these quiet breaks, the slow moments, the changes in pace.

If the borderlands jumping puzzles weren’t broken, we could be reaping a little more rewards of that hard won fight. There’s still the jumping puzzle in the Eternal Battlegrounds, and the Champion mobs that are like mini-raid bosses on an open world map.

And if the server and guilds were smart and organized enough, perhaps this would be a good time to teach fellow servermates where to place siege, or indeed, how to fire siege, or practice trebuchet shots and get ranges for such-and-such a place.

Certainly for myself, I’m exploring the Red Overlook Keep of the Eternal Battlegrounds from the inside for one of the first times ever, and marveling at how defensive its structure looks – like a real castle, tbh. I don’t envy someone trying to break in here.

Problem is, a lot of people don’t seem to have that kind of long term patience. You see ’em roaming around, looking for a fight, looking for excitement, the next victory, the next kill, deathmatchdeatchmatch, and the next thing you know, there are 20-30 people hovering around some poor demoralized bugger’s spawn, hoping to find a red name target.

My last story about Natural Selection 1 is a sad one. A while after the patch incarnation I talked about, they introduced a new mode for NS called “Combat” mode. This essentially took out much of the strategy and commander-ing from the equation, and made it a team deatchmatch. The better you killed the opposing team, the more resource you would get, the more upgrades and so on you could make for yourself.

The idea perhaps was to ostensibly help people become familiar with the more upgraded lifeforms and tech that they might not see in Strategy mode games except for short bursts of time, so that their play could improve. Instead, it turned out that many players, given the choice, would much rather go for the short term deathmatch kills all night and aim to become the pros of ganking and leaderboard champion, rather than work as a team, fight for resource, and follow a coordinated strategy to eventual victory. Combat mode took over the majority of NS servers, leaving Strategic mode fans mostly high and dry.

That was the death knell of NS for me, and I moved on shortly after – while combat mode was fun in short term spurts, it just didn’t give me the satisfaction of a real team victory. I enjoyed the buildup, the cooperation, and how people gelled together and supported each other. (I also missed the protracted wars.)

(Also, one always had the sneaky suspicion that some players on the top scoreboards were abusing hacks, and without team-based objectives and the attrition aspect of resources/upgraded tech, there was no way to best these guys – whereas in Strategy mode, no matter how well you aim, if you’re just one person, ramboing it alone, you’ll get mowed down eventually by the combination of all those factors that push one team towards victory.)

I don’t know what the fate of GW2’s WvW is going to be.

At the moment, I am just adapting to how it is.

If I get too depressed at being endlessly slaughtered, and can’t find it in me to do guerilla warfare, I’ll bow to the force of morale and stay out for the week. I’m human, after all. I’ll confess to taking a break last week to do some PvEing on an alt – had a mild infection that set me on antibiotics, no willpower to try and face two very alert teams without a stealth class, and it was refreshing to just quit worrying about the score or all things WvW for a while. This will allow the victors their map, their rewards, their quiet time to use or misuse as they will, and if others on my side want to practice their guerilla tactics or stay out also, all power to them.

If I feel like jumping into WvW, then I will. Possibly that’s what caused the massive onslaught of Janthir on the weekend, lots of people all spoiling for a new match after a loss, plus the regulars that play consistently.

When it’s too quiet when we’re winning, then I’ll do my jumping puzzles, PvE champion mobs, fool around with siege on innocent bunnies, and then zone out to PvE again, leaving the map in the hands of the fairer-weather players who come out to gank only when their server is dominating (but are fairly disorganized and can be run around) and the consistent players who will be in WvW rain or shine.

I think I’m basically lucky in that I don’t mind most of the activities in Guild Wars 2. (The only thing I’m scared of and won’t venture into alone is paid PvP tournaments, because I’m sure I cannot match that level of build/team cooperation by my lonesome, who knows how the metagame has evolved by now?

As such, this gives me a wide range of choices for stuff to do at any one time. And I know I’ll be playing this game on a long term basis (just like in GW1, I might take a couple months’ break at a time, but I can always pop in again when I feel like it, hooray, no sub) so I can afford a good amount of patience.

I only wonder if other players feel the same way. Or if they’ll be off chasing after the next shiny.

A Guide For Every Season

This post was sparked by a thread that popped up over at the Guild Wars 2 Guru forums.

(I know, I know, it is a cesspool compared to the official forums, which aren’t much of an improvement either, but drama at a distance is sometimes entertaining and one gets the occasional news/valuable tidbit that one has not heard about.)

Some guy asked for a leveling guide from 1-80 for Guild Wars 2.

Of all the-

I don’t even-

Hello? This is an MMO with a completely FLAT leveling curve! It’s meant to take an average of 1.5h per level.

It is clearly marked on the map which zones are appropriate to which level range.

Which is infinitely more sensible than a list going Plains of Ashford 1-15, Diessa Plateau 15-25, etc. because you don’t even see or know the name of the zone on the map until you venture into it.

The game downlevels you in any zone you’re too high leveled for, so that there is some difficulty/challenge remaining. You can practically go anywhere if you don’t like the proposed paths.

Hell, if you don’t want go anywhere and have other characters to be your materials supplier and gold daddy, you can CRAFT your way from 1-80. (Refer to ubiquitous crafting guides online, I suppose.)

Guides That Are Really Walkthroughs

Of all the ‘guides’ that pop up for various games, I honestly fail to understand leveling guides the most. What kind of person requires someone else to hold his hand, set his goals for him and tell him exactly where to go on each step of his journey to max level? Is it that hard to figure it out for yourself?

This is a rant against those who don’t want to think for themselves, who eschew discovery and learning, slavishly following other people’s instructions on how to do something.

There is an amazing number of them, just going by the number of hits I get on my page that is a simple map and directions and answers the questions “How do I get to Blue Mountain in The Secret World?” I fail to see how someone moving around the map doing quests can miss the Blue Mountain exit, but evidently, people do.

Little wonder why people put up all kinds of crap guides on websites, lace them with tons of ads to generate revenue, and let the Googling masses loose upon them.

Guides That Are Really Cheats

The countering defense to this is that for some people, they say that they are looking for guides that will show them the optimal path. They’re on a search for efficiency, the speedrun way.

A little questioning in the thread I brought up reveals that the original poster really wants, not just a leveling guide, but a FAST leveling guide, a power-leveling method. He wants to get his alt to 80 as uber duper quick as possible. He wants to find those weak spots of a game, such as a continually respawning dynamic event that will yield an abnormally higher rate of xp than the average, or perhaps mobs that return lots of experience to farm, and so on.

To me, it sounds like he’s looking for someone to share (ok, too kind a word, to give) knowledge of a near-exploit or a loophole for rushing to max level as fast as possible.

Putting aside the ‘why rush headlong into boredom and burnout quicker’ retort for now, we run into the ‘how stupid do you think those in the know are, that they will share this with you in a public setting, so that the developers can close it in the next patch?’

Little tip: Follow the bots. The gold farmers know where to be. It’s more than a game to them, it’s their livelihood. They -know-. And because of the way xp sharing works in this game, you can make use of their leet multiboxing hax skillz to kill stuff at a vastly accelerated pace.

Caveat: The above tip segues immediately into the ‘how much do you value your account’ argument, because ArenaNet is pretty fond of the banhammer for stuff they deem as exploiting and 72h suspensions for mere infractions, and they don’t even have to worry about losing your sub fee.

TL;DR: Follow my tongue-in-cheek suggestion at your own risk.

Guides That Are Really Guides (And Those That Are Not)

Ok, we cannot expect everyone to be number-crunchers or systems explorers, so there is some validity to the argument that writing guides that explain numbers and stats, esoteric knowledge, and shares and teaches strategies and general philosophies are kosher on the quest for the holy grail of min-maxing.

I don’t actually have an issue with guides per se. Especially if they are written with an intent to teach, or share, or discuss strategies or builds or what-have-you.

I tend to have a small issue with guides written like they are the be-all and end-all of all possible knowledge and treat-me-like-holy-writ-or-else, but I suppose if authors need that egomaniacal boost in order to get them to write in the first place, we can give them a little leeway for that.

But I do have big issues with people who do take them verbatim and everybody else is WRONG and we must all DO IT THIS WAY or else the sky will fall down and the earth will be swallowed in a pit of hellfire.

And there are an amazing number of people who don’t want to think and just want to follow someone else’s checklist or directions or list of ingredients or goals. Why in the world is that the case?

I don’t understand leveling guides, I think I’ve said that before. I find it terrifying to think that someone needs to be led around by the nose in this fashion. How are they going to manage more complex parts of the game? Find more walkthroughs? Pay someone to play for them?

I’ve taken a look at the odd crafting guide before, mostly from WoW, and some from GW2. A lot are just shitty terse checklists. From X to Y, do this. From Y to Z, do that. The only valuable thing in them is possibly that someone has counted up the number of materials you’ll need beforehand so that you can gather them first or buy them wholesale from an auction house, and one has to block a whole lot of ads to get that one sentence.

Probably the most comprehensive guide I’ve seen on the subject is an LOTRO guide for the Scholar, which besides an FAQ, includes suggested crafting node locations, though there is a hell of a lot of ingredient lists that are probably better off on a wiki somewhere.

I could point to the ATITD wiki for what proper crafting guides should look like, but practically no other game has that kind of complexity. Maybe Puzzle Pirates.

See, the really cool thing about this sort of guide is that even after reading it, it is not an instant “I win” button, you still have to put in time and practice to increase one’s performance, armed with better knowledge.

If, after reading a guide, you could program a bot or get your cat or parrot to do it and still attain 100% success, something is dreadfully wrong somewhere. I’m not sure if one should blame the game’s design, or blame the majority for wanting mindless button-pushing achievement.

A Guide By Any Other Name

I guess part of the problem is that every player’s definition of what is a useful guide differs.

I assume that people write and make the guides that they themselves would prefer. Which doesn’t bode well for the theory of crowd intelligence or humanity as a whole, given the number of cheats and straight up walkthroughs out there.

Either that, or they take the lazy way out and write down the least amount of words necessary, which boils down to a terse laundry list of “go here” “do that.”

Maybe the lazy man’s guide explanation is why there are so many unedited video ‘guides’ which are just playthroughs of a particular sequence. Extracting benefit is left as an exercise for the viewer to manage for themselves, which can be either slavishly aping what has been done, or pulling out the general principles to understand, utilize and possibly apply elsewhere.

Perhaps ‘a magician never reveals his secrets’ may be a reason why some people just write out the bare bones of what to do in order to gain the desired end result. They know that that’s what most people just care about, and in that way, they keep the superior edge of true knowledge.

But it really bugs me that so many people just care about the ends, and couldn’t care less about the means. This is why we have gold-sellers, why we have folks asking ‘where is the loot’ and looking for the next developer created shiny carrot to lead them on to the next, following guides written or filmed by other people.

Taken to an extreme, one may as well sell one’s copy of the game and just watch other people play the game from start to end for you on Youtube. Gaming as spectator sport.

Why? People, why? How special does it make you feel, if none of it is really what you accomplished on your own?

It’s borrowed fame. It’s pretense.

I can understand not wanting to reinvent the wheel from time to time, or even ‘skipping content’ to get to the good bits (though I personally think you’re skipping faster to burnout) now and then, but it’s so easy to run right down the slippery slope of not-wanting-to-do-anything-at-all-without-a-guide-showing-you-how.

TL;DR: Use Guides in Moderation

Ranting aside, at the end of the day, I guess I have to come to one of those Zen conclusions you tend to find on my blog.

Guides, like guns, are tools. It’s how you use them that really matters.

The objective and the intent behind using the guide is a big deal, and can lead to healthy or unhealthy consequences.

A little bit of self-discipline goes a long way to using them properly, and the lack of it leads to lazy dependency and misuse.

When in doubt, anything taken to an extreme is nuts.

Go play, and have fun.

PC: Cook, Serve, Delicious!

Who’s up for round 2 of cheesy casual games celebration?

I have a weakness for cooking games. Call it a fascination with food porn (I love watching the Food Network and browsing random food blogs like Food52, Serious Eats or Chowhound) married with the love of a good meal and the conviction that one should know how to cook good food or be hopelessly stranded at the whims of someone else’s kitchen controlling fancy. I’m always deeply amused by how accurately (or not) various games simulate the cooking process.

(Don’t get me started on GW2’s cooking craft profession. It’s evident someone who knows how to cook had a hand in designing which things went in each recipe, and the food/ingredient nesting has blown my mind and my alt’s inventory. I’ve yet to cross 75 in cooking still. I don’t dare to, until my other alts have eaten away some of the products.)

Toss in a good mix of frenetic arcade fun and multitasking juggling, and cooking games are perfect for bite-sized portions of gaming. (Pun very much intended.)

Cheesy as they are, I’ve played games like Cooking Mama on the Nintendo DS, amused by the use of the stylus and blowing feature to simulate various kitchen activities, as well as Burger Island, a more repetitive arcade game of arranging ingredients as quickly as possible. I’ve played stuff like Restaurant Empire and Diner Dash, which are more games to do with restaurant seating and arrangement of customers than cooking. And countless cooking-based Flash games whose names are now lost to bad memory but have themes like sushi, pizza and so on.

Typically, most cooking games let you click on various ingredients to arrange them according to a recipe or a picture, potentially processing them through some simulated cooking technique involving keypresses or mouse clicks, before serving to a customer. Repeat as fast as possible to make money. Spanners are thrown in the works when different foods require different prep times, various customers have different patience levels and so on.

Well, Cook, Serve, Delicious! from Vertigo Gaming is a cooking game on steroids.

It’s based on two free games from the same developers, Ore no Ryomi 1 & 2, but appears to have a lot better visuals and polish. (Call me picky, but I don’t enjoy my games with stomach-churning ugly images out of the EGA era. Give me stuff that looks decently pretty, or give me plain text and ASCII, not pixelated non-art.)

I especially appreciate the control scheme, which primarily makes use of the keyboard. (There is a mouse control option but honestly, and MMO players should know this, keyboard shortcuts > mouse clicking in general.)

This enables Cook, Serve, Delicious to venture into a deeper complexity than most cooking games dare to go, and have it start emulating typing games, or even, the complex keypress patterns / muscle memory of Starcraft build orders. The developers call this ‘hardcore.’

Me, I’m not sure I’ll go that far, but I’d compare it quite favorably to something on the same level as Plants vs Zombies.

Both  games look cute and casual and have relatively pleasing cartoony art. They’re easy enough to get into and play. But there’s also enough here to keep adults occupied for a decent amount of gameplay time.

For example, here’s one of the simplest foods, a corn dog. The keypress pattern is 1-5 for the customer, then K and/or M for ketchup or mustard, depending on the order below (speed reading is important here). Then Enter to serve.

Not too difficult. Customers stop being interested in it by the time you hit 2 star restaurant level, so you’ll have to graduate from it eventually to something more complicated…

How about the salad? In this case, V, C, O, B and M, before Enter. Customers order an extremely varied amount of toppings for this dish – just greens and carrots, ranch and cheese, thousand island and the works, etc. One is kept on one’s toes.

I’m tickled by lasagna, which simulates building the layers very well. The simplest lasagna involves typing P S C R three times, hearing each layer thud down with a meaty slap with each keypress, before hitting Enter to cook (a wait time) before serving. More tricky lasagna like the above involves incorporating meat into two layers, so it is P S M C R, P S M C R, and finally P S C R for the last layer.

Different foods are prepared in different ways. Steak and chicken involve keeping in mind the number of keypresses you just made as it doesn’t show you how many times you’ve added the seasoning.  Soup is an extreme pain, with two pages of ingredients – with keys not exactly tying too well to the ingredient name – and chopping involved.

There’s a decent selection of food (to be prepared and cooked in various ways) that can be bought and upgraded, and a little strategy section involving ‘restaurant management’ before each arcade game day. One can pick various foods to be used in the active menu for the day. This affects the amount of “Buzz” your restaurant has, and the number of customers visiting per day.

Quite a complex selection of factors affect buzz, from the weather, the time of day and the foods you’ve picked that suit the various times. Liquor creates negative buzz (as you’re ostensibly in an office tower. It’s amusing to see how many pop in for a 10am pint of beer) but is profitable and quick to prepare.

Food can be healthy and create a positive health-food buzz, or conversely be full of fat and create negative fatty food buzz. Ironically, the deep fry foods are among the quickest and easiest items to prepare.

On some days, you may want quick and easy items to prepare, in order to deal with sanitation inspectors who pop in for spot checks and make sure you deal with chores like washing dishes, taking out the trash and yes, flushing/cleaning toilets (for customers evidently too lazy to do it themselves.) Or to make it easy on yourself when you want to win bets from some guy who offers you challenges via email.

If there’s one criticism I have about this game, it’s that progression seems a little slow. Moving up to a one star restaurant involves completing 20 days, among other challenges. I was done with all of the rest by day 13 or 14, and had to plod patiently through seven more days.

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of this game though. Around half of the more complicated food has yet to be unlocked, three quarters are still not upgraded. There seem to be a few more extra events later on, such as catering events and possibly some manner of iron chef tournament.

It’s currently selling for $8.95 on the developers’ website, and is also available on Desura and Gamersgate. It’s sitting in Steam Greenlight at the moment, and is one of the few games I’ve bothered to log in and upvote.

If you ask me, it’s a mite overpriced for 9 bucks – thanks to Steam spoiling me, I’m a firm believer in casual games being priced at $2-$5 – but I was able to convince myself to pick it up as part of Vertigo Gaming’s $15 bundle for six games – including CSD and Oil Blue.

I’m quite happy to pay roughly $3.50 for those two games, and $2 for the other games in that bundle to try them out. At that price, it’s a steal.

Try it yourself, there’s a downloadable demo which sold me on its merits.

IF: A Ghost Story and a Magical Family

Courtesy of Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Free Indie Games column recommendations, come two me-recommended… um, what’s the word… pasttimes.

I can’t in all honesty quite precisely call them games, or interactive fiction, for that matter.

They are, and they aren’t.

They’re not games in the sense of what we commonly understand are games, a self-contained executable with its own rules and boundaries and win states that you can arrive at due to the interactivity of a player’s intervention and control, but then again, they are. With very limited interactivity, that is.

They don’t follow the common convention of interactive fiction, which is typically Inform-based and involves a bunch of rooms to wander around in, picking up objects and trying to cobble them together to solve puzzles until you reach the end of a certain branch in the narrative.

One is mostly hypertext links, and the other is a more fancy version of playing with hypertext. Both follow a mostly linear story, with your small choices altering the flavor of events, and I doubt you’ll have much patience to play them through more than once or twice or so.

But what they are, undeniably, is good evocative writing.

Both showcase a world that is unlike our own. For that, if nothing else, I would recommend that you play them.

Stygia – I get echoes of the Wraith: The Oblivion universe out of this one, as well as Grim Fandango.

A short day in the undead life of a working stiff (pun very much intended) – you do your job (haunting a real living family), you gets your pay, you go home (except you may encounter… something more.)

First Draft of the Revolution – Set in Emily Short’s Lavori D’ Aracne universe, where the noble class has a strange sort of magic, you write… and revise… letters from a variety of different people interacting with each other.

The intrigue about this one is in the moment, how individual characters are made unique by the style in which they compose their correspondence. The player gets more out of what is left unsaid, what is quickly rewritten or erased, rather than what remains on the page for consumption by the other characters.

P.S. The 2012 Interactive Fiction competition is now ongoing. Quite a number of games this year are available for online play, which really makes things convenient. I may talk more of them after the month is out, as I don’t want to alter anyone’s scoring or first impressions.

So far, I’ve tried seven, five of which are pretty much crap, one passable and one with decent potential. About par for the course when sifting through these entries, the real joy comes when you find that one or two diamonds in the rough that make the wading through horseshit worth it.