Now I Know Why Everyone Spends So Many Hours in Valheim

69 hours later, day 156 or thereabouts:

Moder is down, the blast furnace, windmill and spinning wheel is up, what’s left is dealing with the plains, sniping and kiting the Fuling villages, maybe Yagluth. Possibly a lot of repeating iron and silver runs.

Runs. *sighs*

I have a feeling that a good half of those hours were spent on travel time.

That’s my main pet peeve with Valheim, besides the resource and boss hp grind that feels balanced for multiplayer over singleplayer: the ridiculous amount of time one spends traveling anywhere – either running in start and stop bursts, or sailing, which is fun for the first couple minutes, and then shortly turns into zoning out while blasting Youtube tunes (bonus points if it’s Viking-related music.)

At first, one has no portals, so besides naked smiting boars and deer, one has to run everywhere in a sea of unchanging green. Meadows, Forest, Meadows, Forest, Forest, Meadows. Back and forth. Getting stuck on various bits of scenery along the way. Barely any resource variation, maybe some mushrooms or berries if you get really really lucky.

Don’t even get me started on this useless piece of wood.

I had thought to sail around the continent on my way back home, when it became patently clear I would travel faster running. Especially with a bit of Eikthyr boost.

You can see how far I got exactly in the southwest space – the raft was built at Camp West Shore, and the southmost landmark should tell you all you need to know.

Then you get portals, and before you can get portals, you need to spend time running TO burial chambers (replace with Surtling Spouts once you hit the swamps), running FROM burial chambers, running TO get fine wood, running BACK to base to build one, then finally, running TO the spot you want to set up the portal, in the hopes of finally eliminating the former repeat loops.

The Meadows and Black Forests were especially bad because there was little reason to invest in significant infrastructure. Once you clear out a burial chamber, why would you want to travel back to that locale? Why spend time clear a road through it? Running is more efficient, but boy, is there a lot of running, just to and from different places.

Death recovery runs were the worst.

My first Swamp seeking attempt nearly broke me.

See the tiny amount of Swamp on the left hand side of the map? I backed off a respectable amount of distance to set up an outpost with bed – because I’m not an idiot and wasn’t going to run into the Swamp without some nearby insurance.

Alas, night fell, Greydwarves were everywhere, they pulled two Draugr in the midst of me trying to set up the outpost and long story short, I died. Flat Meadow Camp was the previous camp spawn.

There were a LOT of naked runs and deaths by various sources – greydwarves, the pulled draugr, a boar I didn’t see, while I struggled with the Take All UI.

I ended up leapfrogging a series of THREE outposts along the coastline just to get the initial foray into the Swamp outpost built. (Shortly after, I discovered that Swamp biome was a thin strip of nothing. The real Swamp was on the continent directly opposite. Sheesh.)

Eventually I figured out that whole “night” thing, and learned to build two points of insurance – one at continent landing, one nearer to final destination, and yes PORTALS, to make the whole process less onerous. But at the former point, Surtling Cores still had to be saved for the first smelter and kiln, alas.

Ah yes, the Swamps.

Surprisingly, I liked the swamps. I might have scored a lucky seed (Yggdrasil – naturally), but the one I ended up settling on had 5 crypts. Travel through them was more engaging, because there’s at least varied danger. With 5 crypts and all that slowdown from wading through water, there is more motivation and reason for me to invest time building a short straight bridge to at least the center of the five crypts, in order to make the run back and forth a little less annoying.

But yes, there were still a LOT of runs back and forth.

Sea travel on a Karve or Longship is about the most enjoyable type of travel there is, but it gets tedious after the first couple of minutes and realizing via the map that there’s still three quarters of the journey to go.

You know the sail speed is too slow when you’ve cycled through a bunch of Stupendium songs on repeat loop and still haven’t gotten to your destination. (It’s also ridiculously ironic when you run through three plays of The Data Stream, a Cyberpunk 2077 song, just to make the Viking commute more interesting.)

Would it have killed Valheim to amp up the travel speed by about double?

(Yes, I bring portal mats to set up a portal on landing. I don’t think I could maintain sanity otherwise. Once one-way is enough. And a return trip for ore, if really reaaally necessary. There are a ridiculous number of Karves littered around the place on my map, as I would much rather build a new Karve than sail one back and go again. Alas, it still means running somewhere for Fine Wood.)

I stayed in Troll Hide armor for ages and only switched to Wolf and Padded when it became obvious the armor I was losing out on was about double the number, and I -still- find it slow going.

Maybe mods will eventually smooth this out.

I never found traveling in Minecraft that boring, even though the speed is slow, probably because there are so many varied biomes and resources and potentially useful stuff to collect and hoard (once you mod it with something like Biomes of Plenty and Pam’s Harvestcraft).

The issue with Early Access Valheim for now is that useful resources are few and far between. You run huge distances to collect thistle and berries. You run for eons to find un-regenable Birch and Oak for fine wood. Burial Chambers and Crypts and Silver Veins are sparse and spread out.

This is all very well for a logistics game of either shipping a collated amount of resources or processing the stuff at the source, but then the logistics game should be a little exciting and have some obstacles – like in the swamps with water and enemies. Not just running slowly through heaps of pretty but effectively barren space.

Either fix the slow or fix the barren. I think I could cope with one or the other, but both together is not okay.

So, is there anything I like about Valheim?

Besides the admittedly masterful use of lighting and color to create a wonderful aesthetic, I think they’ve hit upon something interesting with the building system.

It’s slightly less finicky than ARK, approximating more of that easy-to-stack-and-build structure of blocky Minecraft and its ilk. The anchoring to the ground and gravity stuff helps to encourage building in logical, structured patterns, while still allowing room for some loose ridiculousness here and there.

Well, how else was I supposed to get Gunk off this tree?!

The screenshots of other peoples’ builds are, as usual, far surpassing anything I could ever dream of building. This is not a new thing. Been that way since Minecraft.

It’ll be nice if mods eventually get some of those player-built structures into our own worlds, similar to how modded Minecraft has player-built structures.

It’ll cut down on the boring sameness of running everywhere with nothing interesting in between.

Kill It With Fire: It’s The Only Way To Be Sure

For anyone who has picked up this July’s Humble Choice bundle, the virtual spider-destroying game Kill It With Fire has proven to be quite a delightful little palate cleanser in between longer, more serious games.

It’s taken me around 5 hours to complete the game from start to finish, all achievements included, so anyone less completionist can probably get by with less play time.

True arachnophobes may or may not want to apply – the simulated spiders are not photorealistic and quite polygonal with pixelated green blood, so may or may not be tolerable to different individuals – but for anyone else that may have dreamed of taking a flamethrower to some creepy crawly critters, Kill It With Fire is a humorous catharsis.

Your goal: Kill spiders.

Since it’s all virtual, collateral damage is perfectly acceptable.

This is shortly pushed to delightful absurdity, but hey, when you’ve got a radioactive spider in a waste basket, firing an RPG into it is a perfectly justifiable reaction.

Or laying out cheese puffs as bait, which the spiders are somehow attracted to, so that you can pick them off with your six shooter.

Yes, the bathroom had undergone a preliminary cleansing with hairspray and a lighter, but there were a few more. There are always more of ’em.

Why yes, that is some C4 in the laundry room and my shotgun pointed right at it. See that black spot on the washing machine? That has to die.

There are around ten-ish short mission maps that build up towards some hints at how the whole situation came to be, a bunch of challenge objectives and a bundle of unlocks that serve as direction and goals. But really, it’s just an excuse to smack spiders satisfyingly.

Fun as a quick change of pace in between longer games.

Steam Summer Sale 2021 Haul

It’s tricky buying games when you’re mostly a patient gamer and have long term committed to a big ol’ Humble Bundle.

Every time you’re tempted, you think, “If I’m not playing this immediately, it is a fact of life that the game will get cheaper over time, improve in quality as bugs gets fixed and DLC gets incorporated into a Special Deluxe Supreme Platinum Complete Gold Enhanced Ultimate Landmark Remastered Definitive Edition of the game.”

So you wait.

After some time, you’re tempted again, and now you think, “Time has passed. Maybe now? But wait! What if it shows up in a bundle? You’ll regret it if you buy it now, forget to play it and then it bundles before you get around to playing it.”

So you wait some more.

Sure enough, most of them bundle. A few stubborn ones teeth gnashingly don’t. Until they do. Or you cave in and get them. And then they do.

It’s especially tricky when you get relentlessly itchy to pick up some bargains because you’ve been feeling deprived for an entire year of mostly being shut in and you’re having SO MUCH FUN flipping through the massive Steam catalog of look-everything’s-discounted-now that it’s pretty much a game in itself.

So you make lists –

Games that sound interesting and would like to keep an eye on but aren’t worth wishlisting yet

Games you’ll be checking in future sales because the discount isn’t there yet and there’s always Black Friday, Halloween and Winter sales

Games you actually own and should really get around to trying or want to revisit again

Games you’re waffling back and forth between PC or console or mobile versions and haven’t quite decided which is cheaper or more enjoyable with keyboard or controller controls or needs to be portable

Games that sound cool but are very much in Early Access and thus may mutate into something more or less cool over time or turn into vaporware

and you strategize and you strategize some more.

Eventually, my mind rationalized that there were certain types of games that were far more unlikely to bundle than not.

  • Really old, super cheap games of under a couple bucks that people would kick up a fuss about for being included because they don’t total up to substantial savings made
  • Really popular games which are still selling well enough standalone where people would -really- kick up a fuss for already owning the dang things already
  • Really niche interest games where most people would go “wtf is this?” if they turned up in a bundle, with the caveat that the most popular and strongest showings might bundle in order to appeal to those who like the niche or to expose a potential new audience to the genre
  • Lone DLC for a specific game, as long as it’s not a super-popular headliner type or part of some Deluxe edition or another

And the above was what wound up making their way into my shopping cart this sales season.

All in all, an excellent haul for roughly the equivalent of a new launch collector’s edition – $111.60 SGD or $82.90 USD.

I have a distinct fondness for two niche game genres – interactive fiction and traditional roguelikes – and those practically never bundle.

Choice of Games is a developer and publisher known for a very specific type of interactive fiction. Their ChoiceScript games keep track of numerical changes in variables and basically allows a player to develop a player character with strong and weak stats, or personality traits on a varying percentage scale. Customized text can then be shown to the player based on these.

Ultimately, it allows for a very specific type of immersion – as mentioned by yours truly in the comments over at Wilhelm’s blog – a tabletop roleplaying style of immersion where you create and design a character in your mind with a distinct personality and then play through an adventure pretending to be said character.

In lieu of a live human GM, the author of the game via programmed computer code takes over that role, providing you with the story, the premise and adventure as well as offering multiple choices at each juncture that will further define and test your character.

It’s a little more railroaded than free-wheeling tabletop RP, of course, but it’s a fun cross between an ebook and a quick adventure, and hey, it’s found on many formats and portable!

Quality of the writing differs from game to game. There are some very strong showings, and some that are not so good. Free demos are always available – on Steam, on their website and on their mobile apps, so it’s a good way to evaluate if one can vibe with the author’s writing style, or if it will make you hurl (figuratively or literally, or your phone or tablet.)

I recently figured out that making an account on their website and asking their customer support to add games bought via various avenues to said account means that you can restore purchases on their mobile stores. This is great because I mostly play via my iPad, but the iOS games rarely ever go on sale. Steam, on the other hand, has sales out the wazoo. So I get to collect and play more games, instead of sighing wistfully and staring and not buying. Win-win.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Night Road is the costliest of the lot, between the brand name royalties and the DLC, at $12.30 SGD or $9.14 USD.

It is one of the better Vampire: The Masquerade games, as opposed to the two visual novels which have shown up in Humble Bundles which I’m still working my way through. It’s more faithful to the lore (5th edition, apparently) and actually treats the vampire Clans in distinctive fashion – the animalistic Gangrel can have a pet companion, the picky noble Ventrue can only drink certain types of blood (e.g. only older men, etc.)

It’s not the best Choice of Games out there, but I’d say it’s above average in writing quality and offers a good length – roughly six mini-adventures before the grand finale.

Fallen Hero: Rebirth is interesting. It’s a Hosted Game, meaning a self-published not established nor given an advance by Choice of Games, so Hosted Games are more of a mixed bag on quality. Some are more middling, but there have been some supremely stellar ones that are evident as labors of love, exceeding your regular contracted Choice of Games author. (A Study in Steampunk – Choice by Gaslight being one of them – great for anyone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes blended with steampunk.)

Fallen Hero: Rebirth is not quite on that level, and ends on a bit of a “to be continued…” note, but is also, I suppose, better than average. What it does well is that it allows you to roleplay a telepathic super-villain who was an ex-hero. It’s a unique angle in a sea of other Choice of Game games that mostly channel you along the superhero path. The story is darker with a touch of bitterness, for those of us who like that sort of thing, and focuses on your relationship with your ex-superhero team. Love interests, old flames, rivals, and so on.

The other unique schtick is telepathy being your superpower, you basically can jump into bodies and minds to influence them – including cultivating a second identity. This is maybe the first Choice of Games I’ve played where you juggle two points of view – one from your ‘real’ body, one from a ‘mask’ body that you’ve taken over and use as a front.

Wayhaven Chronicles: Book One & Book Two are the high water mark recommendations of what I’ve tried so far this sale. Caveat: You have to enjoy urban fantasy, young adult-style romance.

Ostensibly, you play a detective in a small sleepy little town before a murder wrecks your peaceful life and throws you headlong into a spookier supernatural world that you’ve never known about. (Only the theme of about a billion other TV shows and books out there.)

The joy of the Wayhaven Chronicles are the NPC characters of Unit Bravo, a distinctly characterized, wild bunch of vampires that are more or less, forced into working with you that you can develop friendships with and romance. There’s the pragmatic leader type, the friendly people person ideal romantic guy/gal, the wisecracking jokester whom you’ll be hard pressed to ever shut up, and the strong and silent grumpy one. Their interactions with each other and your character are a riot.

I decided to play my character close to Lauren Blackwell in the Blackwell series, a little bit sarcastic and stoic, like every good noir detective and it’s been a blast of a story to play through.

I am pretty sure Jolly Good should come close to the high water mark, just haven’t tried it yet.

It’s basically a sequel to Tally Ho, a rollicking adventure in the style of P. G. Wodehouse where you play a gentleman’s gentleman or lady’s lady (or the other two potential permutations) and try to make everything run smoothly (or not) for your employer through his or her weekend at formidable Aunt Primose’s country manor – fielding everything from their love lives to art thieves and boat races and an exotic animal show.

I’m not even a fan of the genre and setting in general, so it’s a great nod to the author’s strength of writing that I’ve become a fan of the game series.

Zombie Exodus and the Evertree saga are weaker, less compelling writers, comparatively speaking, so I hesitated on completing the whole collection. I mostly picked them up to have a gander at the more ‘game’ like aspects they attempt to simulate. Safe Haven lets you build a safe house in the zombie apocalypse, apparently, so there are clock-like aspects where you may have to select strategic choices to keep your haven safe, and the Evertree saga uses a basic fantasy race/class system (though apparently not explored to its fullest potential.)

I will wax lyrical about Open Sorcery another time. I’ve done it once before, but I feel like I haven’t explained its beauty sufficiently. It’s so easy to dismiss text based games these days, especially bright text on dark black background games that bring to mind the ancient days of DOS, but there is utter poetry in play with this game.

The author, Abigail Corfman, has a knack for succint, lyrical writing. It’s diametrically opposed to my usual wall of text word vomit style. It brings poetry and magic to a compelling world that mixes tech and elemental spirits.

Picking up the sequel, Open Sorcery: Sea++ (haha, pun) was a no-brainer.

We will leave the discussion of traditional roguelikes for another time. Preferably after I’ve played through enough of them to compare and contrast.

Terroir was an odd little game, on heavy discount, apparently made by the same local developers in my country that are creating Chinatown Detective Agency. Support local, I guess. It seems to be a basic winemaking tycoon game. I’m still working out the nuances of how to get a good crop of grapes without utterly ruining them. Hung back on playing it past two hours for fear it might bundle. Guess we’re safe for July now.

Learn Japanese to Survive! Kanji Combat was another heavily discounted “game” that I picked up for collection completeness’ sake. It’s an RPGmaker game, so there is a certain expected structure to it. Basically wander around like a JRPG and do JRPG fights, except you need to match a limited palette of foreign language words and characters in order to win fights. It’s probably not actually going to significantly teach anyone Japanese, but it’s an amusing pasttime to memorize a few words or pronunciations and play through a few fights.

Picked up some DLC for $9.49 USD for games I knew I liked.

The eSports expansion for PC Building Simulator was something I’d had on watch list, and 50% off sounded good. I was having the time of my life with the game last August. The only issue is that it’s a giant disk space hog, and I have much disk space woes, so it’ll take a bit of game shuffling before I can play it.

Finally the trophy lodge DLC for theHunter came down to a price point which I felt comfortable biting, and all my stored trophies could go on display.

Tried first time virtual bow hunting with the bow in the high-tech pack in the Yukon Valley DLC.

It was good fun. Yukon Valley is supposedly one of the easier, more populated parks in theHunter, and it did seem easier to spot a lot of animals. Bow hunting meant I had to creep up a lot closer than I would normally get with a rifle, so there was a lot more tense suspense crawling from tree to tree, through tall grass, hoping to approach to <30m before taking the shot. Not for when I’m in an impatient mood, but in the right open frame of mind, it was fun.

The bulk of the cost came from the big name popular games at $19.75 USD.

Yes, Valheim is in there. *sighs* I played it. I suppose I’ll touch on it in more detail in a future post. Honestly, my first impressions are that it looks pretty, but relies on heavy, heavy grind and tedium to extend its gameplay. It’s compelling in that you feel like there’s always another chore that needs to be done to progress further, so you log in and go do it and end up down a time consuming rabbit hole.

I still fail to see what it does that is so different from other survival game gameplay. (Perhaps multiplayer, I’ll grant it that. Perhaps a straightforward simplicity in presenting game options as unlocked progression without -too- much need to refer to a wiki. It needs another post. Later.)

Confession time: I’ve never played Chrono Trigger. I don’t know why. Just somehow missed the period of its launch. Looking at the dates, it seems it was on consoles at a period where my family just never owned any consoles nor placed any stress on them. So… fixing that lack seems to be a good project to take on in between now and winter sale.

Good haul this season. Between this, Humble Bundle and already existing games that I was reminded I own while browsing the Steam store, I should not lack for entertainment options.

(Not that one was really lacking this pre-haul, but y’know, new shinies! Always better than the old shinies!)

The Floor is Lava, But My World is Shaken

I thought I understood Hot Lava.

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I decided to complete my Best of Klei bundle on a whim.

Apparently the idea for the game originated from a single dev at Klei, working on the game in his spare time, before Klei bought the rights and let him have the resources to develop his game.

As such, it’s a 3D game with graphics that are a little rough around the edges – not quite the usual polished cartoony look that most Klei games have – whose only saving grace seemed to be a hefty dose of nostalgia.

After all, haven’t all of us played some version of “the floor is lava” in our childhoods?

And my, this game fully grabs hold of the good ol’ ’80s nostalgia for all it is worth.

I might be the last person to discover that Klei has a fantastic Youtube channel with mindblowing lavishly animated shorts featuring their various games’ characters. Immediate sub. Time to catch up on what I’ve missed soon.

You know what? The game’s $2.50 USD after factoring in the bundle discount. The game can be boringly average and mediocre. I just want to tip Klei for feeding my ’80s action cartoon nostalgia – complete with ’80s toy commercial. (Who the hell does an entire toy mockup for a marketing video?!)

So I bought the bundle.

As for the game, well, the Steam page seemed to illustrate pretty much what I was in for.

It’s a 3D platformer. A jumping puzzle game. Multiple levels. Beat your score and maybe that of your friends. Take it as casual or competitive as you want. Score some achievements. That kinda thing.

I mean, I have no strong feelings either way about this.

I generally don’t play platformers as a preference. Neither do I throw histrionic fits at most of GW2’s jumping puzzles (the non-marathon relatively forgiving ones, anyway)

I can appreciate the feeling of flow that comes from repeating a sequence of artfully strategized jumps just right – I’ve done the Mad King’s Clock Tower and Wintersday jumping puzzles now and then for the odd event daily – but I’m not the sort to sit there and FARM the thing to death repeatedly, nor will I try to shave every last damn second off the clock (if there’s no achievement I feel like getting, anyway) on the pedestal of continual improvement.

For a couple of bucks, I figured I’d just install Hot Lava, play it super casually up to the point I no longer felt like continuing, and that would be that. Just hop around like a kid on a playground for a while and call it a day.

On startup, it was quite as expected. You can pick the character you want to play – an amusing lineup of toys/characters in the G. A. T. (Global Action Team) cartoon.

Once upon a time, the characters had distinct abilities, but a later patch decoupled this, so now there are more cosmetic options for player self-expression.

Me being me, I love the monster / robot dudes.

They even come with bonus nostalgia if you read the action files.

As you jump and hop through the levels, you earn xp for your character, which unlocks a whole host of cosmetic options and add-ons, that can be used for the other toys as well.

It’s a simple and pleasant reward mechanic, used by plenty of other FPSes and battle royales before this.

There are other unlocks as well. The game seems to self-awarely poke gentle fun at this, with the shower of gold stars background animation for this menu.

The comics are hilarious. Or at least the one I unlocked is.

It parodies some of that ’80s cartoon moralizing… with a little twist at the end, because it’s an ice cream truck, not an evil pedophile.

As for the game itself… Maps and levels… yes, there are plenty.

There’s a Steam workshop link to presumably player-created ones as well.

Each map opens to a lobby where the map sans lava is available for casual hopping around, with no timers or stress, and comic pages to collect. Just a practice area, where the odd stranger might unexpectedly drop in.

The first time it happened was a bit of a surprise. I’d thought I was in my own private lobby. Apparently not.

Beyond the odd emote wave spam, we mostly mutually left each other be and did our own things, so I haven’t found the need to look for an “Offline” switch. There’s apparently one somewhere.

I suppose this is where people with actual friends that actually deign to play the exact same game at the exact same time might actually visit each other’s lobbies and *gasp* enter the same map together.

The bonus of the public lobby for random strangers is that you can see the race scores for the players in your lobby, so it’s a subtle form of asynchronous competition, if you choose to look for it.

The first two people I saw in game were reassuringly ego-boosting, also new (you can roughly estimate their experience by the number next to their names – ie. how many stars they’ve earned per map level), and having somewhat worser times than I.

Since I was playing singleplayer, I was dutifully completing all the course challenges for the sake of having some goals to aim toward.

The first time goal is pretty generous – as long as you aren’t meandering around, it’s quite easy to make it under the time. The second time goal generally pushes the player a little harder and encourages finding more efficient jumps and shortcuts to make it under the time.

In a nice change of pace, it’s not all compete-rush-timed stuff. There are exploration goals also. There is a hidden comic that almost requires a player to slow down and look through every part of the map carefully to find the item, unless you get lucky and stumble into it. The golden pin is a chiming gold star that is a little out of the way and demands a bit more jumping effort to get to it.

Each challenge can be completely separately, so there is variety for each repetition. One might just go through the first attempt at the map more casually, following the green checkpoints and looking for comfortable jumps, just to get familiar with the place and complete the course.

After that, one might decide to speed things up a bit and see just how fast one can reach the end.

When tired, there is always slowing down a run and diverting to go hunt for secrets or play around and so on. And “no deaths” can be done super slowly and carefully.

It’s not compulsory to complete all the challenges either. Completing the course unlocks the next one and so on.

There’s a decent variety of environments.

I thought I had the game pegged.

I figured that speedrunners and skillful vets who loved this sort of thing were using the ability that lets them bunny hop and build ridiculous amounts of speed to fly through the course. Or mastering other abilities and getting the best use out of them and so on.

Meanwhile, I was happy just casually romping from checkpoint to checkpoint and getting my little gold stars, then going to the next map. That’s casual game gameplay, y’know.

Getting a decent amount of value and enjoyment out of my $2.50 USD.

The movement is smooth and fun; there’s some parkour-like swings and slides and wall stick-and-slides to add to the rhythm and flow; it’s not frustratingly hard; just hop and bounce and double jump from flat surface to surface and eat all the green checkpoint dots like Pacman until the last blue checkpoint goal.

Personal score: Well, objectively a 7, but maybe I’ll bump it up to 8 cos of the ’80s nostalgia factor.

And then…

On the playground map, between one random hop and another, I run into… not a ball, not a toy, not one of dozens of inanimate objects I’ve been running into and kicking into lava, but a moving, living, squirmy dog.

What the hell?

You can fling him around too, in a rather egregious example of virtual dog abuse complete with roly poly physics, as he yips, rolls around and resumes glaring at you.

Some Googling revealed that he is part of a secret Buddy mode, where you can score some achievements, and he provides an alternate form of play with more difficulty, as he weighs you down and you need to get to all the checkpoints with him in hand.

So not only do you have to find him in each hub (or use a third-party wiki), but then you get to figure out the best strategies for making doable jumps without accidentally flinging him into lava, I suppose.

Whoa, how deep does this rabbit hole go?

Not sure I can be bothered, but hey, it’s nice that it’s there.

Anyway, I’m a casual player, so let me just finish up my casual runs and casual gold stars before I think about that, eh?

Last night, I started up the game. Just another casual round of play.

I’d had enough of the School themes for the beginner maps. I’d experimented briefly with the cartoon evil villain lair maps – complete with hilarious gigantic traps like spikes and swinging pendulums – and while they were fun, I just wanted a different intermediate change of pace.

So I tried the Wholesale map. A Costco-style wholesale type of warehouse with shopping trolleys and towers of cans and so on.

I could feel there was a deepening of complexity in that the optimal jump platforms were not so clear cut. There were walls to cling and slide on – a misjudgement of jump strategy would send you flailing into lava. There were alternate possible paths to try and find the best route from checkpoint to checkpoint.

It was interesting. Engaging. I was busy experimenting and plotting a good route for future attempts at more speed.

I was not expecting an earth-shaking revelation. At all.

Somehow, it happened.

In between one desperate double jump and another, while trying to reach checkpoint 6 and mostly failing and rattling my toy body against unyielding racks of wholesale goods before sliding into lava death to retry at the previous checkpoint…

… I bounced against one rack, then a crate, and jumped twice… got up higher than usual and prepared to descend to checkpoint 6… and banged accidentally into a dim inactive green checkpoint.

Or so I thought.

DING, went the checkpoint. Checkpoint 12 of 13, said the top right of the screen.

What? What the- Can’t be…

Did it glitch? Let me just go to checkpoint 13 and then to the end and see…

Sure enough, successful completion. Goodness knows how many minutes shaved off the run.


Let me try again. I ran into an inactive checkpoint and it registered? Is this for real?

So I tried it again. And it obligingly dinged again.

Then I went to Google.

No, it is not a bug or a glitch. It’s not cheating. It’s working as intended.


I feel like it’s on the same scale as -that- revelation in The Witness.

Speaking in generalities to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t reached that point yet, it’s basically Before and After. Before, you had assumed some structures and rules about the world and were obediently completing goals for an expected end reward. After, well… suddenly the world opens up and the previous boundaries no longer apply.

It’s the nine dots puzzle with four lines. You can’t do it if your brain had imposed an imaginary box at the boundaries of the dots. When you realize you are allowed to break that boundary… whoa.

I don’t have to follow the checkpoints in Hot Lava.

I can just get to the end.

If I can figure out a way to get there.

That rabbit hole just went all the way to Alaska.

Now I understand how some players were scoring ~10 second timings on some levels.

Like this random stranger whose lobby I fell into, when I rushed back to a previously explored map to attempt beelining straight to the end.

Previously, following all the checkpoints was 1:30 mins or thereabouts. My super casual attempt at finding a direct path to the end got me to 30 sec.

Presumably the obsessive take it even further and go at a ridiculous velocity to slingshot themselves to the end.

That’s wild.

There are so many ways of playing this game.

One map, so many possibilities. Mind blown. It’s literally game as toy.

I admit it, I was not expecting much at all from this game by its looks. You know what they say about books and covers. Mea culpa.

It’s a Klei game. It can’t be that crappy, y’know?

Possibly the first time I’ve adjusted my personal score rating mid-game to a solid comfortable 8, maybe even an 8.5 for the whole nostalgia schtick.

It’s good. Surprisingly so. A shame more people haven’t seem to have heard of it.

(Or maybe they have, way back in 2019 and 2020, and I’m the one who is two years out of touch.

I’d normally just claim #patientgamer as an excuse, but y’know, there’s an even better global excuse for end 2019 to all of 2020, so I’m a just gonna point the finger at that instead.)

Beginnings, Continuings and Microgoal Endings

A week earlier, this would have been a different blog post. It would have been called “Beginnings and Continuings” and likely wound up an unstructured mess of semi-lamentations about issues commonly faced by video game players and me having run headlong into all of them lately.

First world problems like impulsively buying a bunch of video games on Steam sale and struggling to even start playing all of them. Or accumulating a lineup of games in the process of being played, and having the sneaking, uneasy, growing, doom-laden suspicion that one is never going to actually -finish- any of them but trail off somewhere between the beginning tutorial and the mid-game some place.

But I just couldn’t get started on the blog post. It just bothered me. Too much hanging in limbo like the rest of real life at present. Y’see, stories, articles and yes, even blog posts are supposed to have beginnings, middles and ends.

Video games have beginnings, middles and ends… by design… except that I very well know I don’t have enough free time to see all of them to those ends. Let alone write about them afterwards. And I’m OK with that, theoretically:

On a personal level, I’ve come to terms with taste testing a whole slew of video games. I buy a thousand cheaply, at prices I don’t ever regret if I never get around to playing them. Every so often, I go through a couple hundred and get a sense of them, enough to put a personal score label on them and revisit the ones that become my favorites (score: 9-10), and maybe pop in on the good or great in their own way ones (score: 7-8) now and then. The meh to decent but not really my cup of tea ones rest easy on the virtual Steam shelf (score: 3-6) having been taste tested and contributed to the developing sense of what I like and what I don’t.

Barely any of them get completed, except the ones I really love and/or the short ones, minus those that are essentially forever games, and that’s totally fine. That’s how I roll, and enjoy my video game hobby time.

Except it becomes really impossible to write about, because a shopping list of random games and incoherent, subjective sentences about brief glimpses at a video game do not a blog post make. Not something I can pull off, anyway.

Such a post would probably boil down to banalities like “Fun. Not fun. Liked the aesthetic look of this game. The colors of that game make me want to barf, so I hate it and won’t even give it a chance. Played this till Chapter 2, then stopped – no real reason, really, just haven’t gotten back to it again.”

What changed the course of this blog post was a re-read of “Refuse to Choose!” by Barbara Sher, just to refresh my mind on what people like me, generalist Scanners with a gazillion interests struggling to keep many balls up in the air, could do to deal with this scattered unfocus.

(The re-read is still in progress. Mostly for pep talk reasons. It’s something I’m struggling with lately, being caught in the middle of doing many things, all of them dragging on and me feeling in limbo and unproductive and yet caught by analysis paralysis and the paradox of choice. Too many options, all of them take too long to complete.)

It wasn’t anything really specific from the book per se, but more of an inspired revelation combining bits and pieces from it. One part about getting clear on what you really want out of your interests – the best, most exciting parts that give you good feelings. Another part on being able to declare yourself done with any project at any time with a Scanner’s Finish, aka wrapping up the project in brown paper and putting it on a display shelf, with a note on where you were when you stopped and what the next step would be if attempted again.

It all combined into a way to stop the feeling of endless continuings – the limbo of being “mid-game” in multiple games and never finishing – that I’d somehow gotten stuck into, after indulging my novelty-seeking with all the beginnings I was craving.

That is, I needed to get really clear on what I wanted out of the games that I’d started and was currently in the middle of. And then create my own micro-sized goals to give me what I really wanted. After which, I’d be able to happily declare an end to the game if I wanted, without feeling obliged to keep playing until the actual end.

S’not a new concept by any means. I sort of touched on this lightly way back in 2019. I guess the part about specifically defining the goal of the microexperience to address one’s specific desires is the add-on concept in 2021.

On to the games:

These were the impulse buys of the week. No real reason beyond seeing 60-75% off discounts and having vague urges to taste test them and add ’em to the collection.

Mind you, I was already hip deep in other games.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! was chugging along with nary an issue.

I’d progressed to the 7th route, all the way to Houston, Texas, and had only completed 191/387 levels.

Still a long way to go. Still fun in bite-sized pieces.

Not-so-microgoal: Get gold medals in every level.

I had suddenly got bitten by the nostalgia bug and started in on a Nintendo Switch version of Final Fantasy 7.

(The remake is out of the question at the moment. The PS4 has been effectively kidnapped by another family member and it’s in an awkward locale to play comfortably. Let’s not even talk about the PS5. It’s at the same stock and price levels as a fancy RTX graphics card, aka beyond my current willing-to-expend effort and wallet levels.)

Honestly, there’s something pure about the polygons of the original.

The cartoon aspect, the exaggerated body language animations, scrolling text and no voice acting… they all encourage the player to project on and imbue the characters with their own voices, deepening the relationship.

The music in every scene, meanwhile, is the emotional anchor that tells the player how they should feel.

I have no illusions about whether I’ll ever finish this game. I never did as a kid; I got derailed around the you-know-what spoiler area and got frustrated about loss of progress and ended up discovering how to “preview” cutscene videos – including the ending – on the CDs instead. (Ah, those days of CD swapping.)

Microgoal: See if I can play beyond the point where I stopped in my childhood and see a little more “new” content. Currently around Rufus’ Shinra parade.

As if my Nintendo Switch game goals aren’t already big enough, having Hades on the same console risks derailment of the FF7 goal at least 50% of the time, because goshdarnit, I really like action combat.

One more roguelike run is always a thing.

You’d think defeating the big bad 10 times to end the main story is a great ending, but no… the character dialogues are always compelling, there are always new side quests popping up and new reasons to go for one more Underworld run.

Microgoal: Earn 5 diamonds to progress on the Achilles side quest. Earn about 1500+ more Darkness to unlock some other side quest that needs 3600+ darkness currency. (Whenever one has the urge to play, otherwise we’re good.)

These were the assorted game samplings of the past weeks.

Fury Unleashed was not-half bad; a comics-like aesthetic, 2D shooter/platformer roguelike where you played a Rambo-like action hero and shot and bounced your way across comic book-like levels. Personal score: 7 – quite enjoyable, would play again.

Size Matters was an odd, somewhat janky and clunky experience that felt like one of those 3D games cobbled together in Unity. The concept is cute – your avatar is slowly shrinking, and you need to find chemicals, locate recipes, then mix them together using various machines for the cure. Part logic puzzle, part struggle-with-janky-controls-being-part-of-the-game, and part-impromptu-platformer-when-shrunk-and-desperate.

The pacing felt off – the lower difficulties which I tried didn’t feel like the rate of shrinking was urgent enough; and I didn’t dare go for higher difficulties because struggling to platform with clunky controls would be a supremely frustrating experience. Maybe better as a streamer game. Personal score: 5.5 – Meh. It’s OK. Cute enough to try once. I wouldn’t throw a fit if someone made me play it again, but I can easily find more fun things to do.

Yet another attempt at Tyranny. Owned for forever, just can’t quite get anywhere with it. The Baldur’s Gate start and stop combat style of games seem to have been left behind in my past and haven’t quite managed to read up enough about how to not die in combat. The urge to not play is stronger than any pull or push factors to study up on how to enjoy the game enough. I’ve gotten to some Archon’s camp, is about it. Far more interested in the world and the lore – I’d rather read an RPG book on the setting. Score: 8 – I’m sure it’s good, willing to revisit, just not right now.

Had a good couple days with Epic Battle Fantasy 4. It’s a guilty pleasure nostalgia sort of game, I first found the series on one of those Kongregate or Armor Games Flash sites possibly a decade ago and just found it compelling enough to keep playing. A touch of whacky Flash game humor, a hefty helping of JRPG turn-based combat with skills and spells out the wazoo… level up, explore new map screen, fight monsters, level up, rinse, repeat, what’s not to love? Score: 8.5-9 – objectively, it’s probably the lower score, subjectively I love me a purified dose of JRPG monster grind. Would play again.

Started up Cyberpunk 2077 to see if the hotfixes have improved the game any. Was thinking of actually finishing the game and closing the chapter on it, in order to free up valuable hard disk space. Hard to say if there were improvements really. There was some kind of crash error triggered on first starting, but repeat pressing of the “Play” button got it to start as per normal.

I also crashed out as per normal when I tried to stay too long in Quickhack scan mode, but then I read a forum post that it might be a conflict with the TAB key and Steam’s overlay, so I changed the control key and made it a toggle instead of a press-and-hold, and then I didn’t crash.

The city is still lovely. Too lovely for me to ignore and just drive to the next main quest chapter. So I wound up randomly snipering a bunch of gangsters because that was the nearest do-this-thing waypoint on the map while trying to remember how to play. Then my inventory overloaded looting their corpses and I had to hobble to the nearest booth to offload stuff, while still trying to cling on and hoard all the shiny purple weapons weighing me down.

I discovered that I still wanted to clear every last waypoint and refuse to do the main quest just yet; at the same time, the map felt too big to deal with every last waypoint, so I wussed right back out of the game entirely. Guess I have to deal with 60 GB sitting on the hard drive until I can clear up enough concentrated focus to play one primary game over some time. Microgoal: Not now, but maybe clear a map region when you’re in a Cyberpunky mood.

Apparently, the mood of impulse buy week was spaceships.

Bought Battlefleet Gothic Armada 2 for 75% off when I haven’t even installed and played the first game. Just wanted to see spaceships firing off long range laser shots at each other, and some WH40K skins don’t hurt the aesthetic any. Played the tutorial campaign and got a few missions into the first campaign. It’s turning out to be one of those strategy games that may be a bit too smart for me – or at least require me to apply a bit more smarts learning the UI and appropriate strategies than I generally have the patience for.

It is slightly glitchy, or at least I ran into one mission where I failed to move my spaceships near enough to trigger a story progression step, and it wound up making the enemy spaceship unkillable – which was supremely puzzling why I had managed to outnumber and surround it, strip it off its shields, board and kill nearly everyone on board, and bombard the hull to the point of having a sliver of health remaining, and have my tanking spaceship still be steadily getting nickel-and-dimed to a risky point of might-get-destroyed. I finally got curious enough to move my spaceships elsewhere, trigger the required dialogue, and then the enemy ship almost imploded as my ships got back into range. Score: 7.5-8 – I kind of like it, but it’s not a perfectly polished game and it has a learning curve.

The stuck-in-limbo thing is, I don’t know if I have the patience to go very much further. Certainly there are too many campaigns than I’d want to play right now.

Finally decided that what I really wanted out of the game was to see spaceships shooting lasers at each other, so I created a microgoal of set up a custom game with lots of ships and just let the AI go at it. Discovered with some disappointment that only 1 vs 1 was possible, 2 vs 2 required a human player on my team, but just went for it. Leaving autopilot on my ships pretty much meant that they got absolutely destroyed, but hey, I did see lots of spaceships and lots of lasers. And that seems to have gotten most of it out of my system.

New microgoal: Watch a Youtube video or two on actual BFGA2 combat strategies (it basically seems like tallships in space) and decide if it’ll interest you enough to play further, or if we can close the chapter on this game for now.

Bought a discounted Klei bundle out of a sense of collector’s completion.

I was lacking Don’t Starve’s Hamlet DLC and while I wasn’t exactly craving to play Don’t Starve immediately, somehow picking it up for cheap in a bundle with other possibly-interesting stuff down the line seemed about right.

The microgoal was just check Hamlet out in a casual no-wiki-research exploratory run, fully expecting to die fast.

Surprisingly survived a little longer than expected. No real progress though. Had difficulty finding gold to unlock a science machine. Just wandered through the world looking at all the new items and monsters. Watched a pig guard set fire to a clump of tall grasses and suiciding himself while murdering some other monsters in the process. Found the Hamlet city, talked to some shopkeepers who wanted things I didn’t have.

Finally bored, I walked straight into some new ruins with lots of darkness and no real light besides a torch or two, knowing full well I was going to die. Got a few rooms in, found some interesting door/trap button puzzles, was plentifully poisoned by scorpions, and opted to die via a darkness grue than the venom death coming five seconds later.

Mostly confirmed that Don’t Starve is still very much a wiki game. One can get by with a few completely blind runs for fun, but after that, dutifully looking up the wiki and finding out more about each new item encountered will get one a lot longer way in. I’m sure Hamlet’ll be fun to play some time down the line, just not in the mood for it right now.

Yet to explore:

Choices That Matter: And The Sun Went Out – I did a playthrough of it on mobile once. It was very discounted, under two bucks, so might do a repeat run through at some point to see how the story changes.

Hot Lava – part of the Klei bundle, an actual Klei game I didn’t own. The trailer honestly sold the game to me more than the actual game. Literally 80’s cartoon nostalgia.

The game itself looks to be bit of random platforming parkour stuff. Since I’m not playing GW2 lately, I guess I can always give jumping puzzles in another game a go at some point.

Microgoal: Get around to trying them out once.

Starbound. It’s only been sitting in my wishlist for… oh… three years? More?

Stubbornly refused to turn up in a bundle. Haven’t found it on 75% off ever. Finally hit a historical low of 60% off, and I surrendered.

Apparently the mods for this game are pretty good, so I assuaged myself with that excuse while giving the vanilla game a go.

It’s interesting. It’s not quite Terraria in space. There are parts where the scenery is already all pre-built and there are quests and arcade style combat missions and a bit more story than Terraria ever had.

I like that the view is a little more zoomed in than Terraria, so that I don’t have to keep squinting at my character on a large monitor.

Then there are parts that are totally Terraria in space.

There’s maybe more randomization and variety, given that you can fly to different planets with different biomes and difficulty. But you know, procedurally generated stuff might get same-y after some time.

I think it seems a bit more sandbox-y. You could probably divert to making a bunch of buildings and structures and “art” on various planets if you wanted to. You could just follow the given quests and missions for the main story. There’s less of that concentrated linear progression aspect of Terraria.

Combat feels a little bit more clunky than Terraria. Less continuous firing and more measured strikes. Not as fun, in my book.

I’m mostly afraid that my focus will undoubtedly fritter away on games that feel too big and chock full of possibilities. Starbound probably fits in that category. Score: 9 – I like it, would play again, just not sure when.

Microgoal: Go back and pick up all the items that scattered across the landscape where I died to some hostile mobs. Then maybe test run a few side quests like the mech and a penguin fight. Decide after that if I need to tech up and where to build a nice base for doing so. Soon(TM). Might put it off for later, seem to have taste tested it sufficiently for now.

So many games… Are we even done yet?!

Apparently not.

Apparently, all it takes is for someone to mention Monster Hunter (Aywren, in this case), and I start having some recurring thoughts about the franchise. The poke-poke-poke polka has sunk its hooks in me bad.

Not bad enough to buy Iceborne at full price though, so I do still have some grasp on sanity remaining.

Not sure how far that discipline is going to last once the next Steam summer sale rolls around. Maybe if it’s 50% off, I’ll bite, maybe. 60% off, yes, probably.

It’s a big game though. There are 14 weapons. Base Monster Hunter World could last forever at my rate of consumption.

The recurring thought that turned itself into a microgoal was: Learn charge blade. Or at least, enough to smack a few easy monsters around with it at a slightly-beyond-beginner to intermediate level.

So I popped back into MHW and made a basic bone charge blade and upgraded it to the max level I could afford, and then set my sights on a second odogaron charge blade as the next aspirational goal.

Turns out what this means is lots of odogaron hunts, because I lack a bunch of its parts. It is maybe not the best monster for learning charge blade that I could be using. Its quick attacks really wreck and punish my beginner attempts to use the slower axe portion of the weapon, and I have not have had much dodge practice in MHW after so much lancing. I keep wanting to block with my shield, and accidentally transitioning into axe as a result.

Still, the attempt is fun. I’m working on just getting familiar with the phial charging process and the related moves. Charging up the shield is still awkward. It took about 30mins of video study and training room practice to figure out how the eff to charge the sword. So definitely still awkward on that front. But well, that is part of the MHW process.

In the meantime, there is running around and smacking the big red dog on the paw with (occasionally glowy) sword and (occasionally glowy) shield.

You’d think this would be pretty easy, but there is this highly annoying flying B-52 bomber that keeps coming in and hoping to chow down on the dog, and between evading them and letting both angry things duke it out with each other, the fights are still 30-50min long. (I suppose me losing focus and trying to kill the bomber doesn’t help either. I did get it once. That was satisfying.)

I took a break once and just went with lance after odo. That was fun. Totally confirmed that I still have the pokey rhythm down. So in love with the pointy stick. Still.

Microgoals: Get enough odo parts to build Odium. Start looking into more appropriate armor than the Lance focused armor I’ve been using. Hunt monsters appropriately and keep getting familiar with charge blade. Maybe divert to dual blades again at some point.

Looks like the current game poisons of choice are Cook Serve Delicious 3, Final Fantasy 7 and Monster Hunter World.

Starbound and Hades whenever one is in the mood.

A bit of out-of-game research on Battlefleet Gothic, and taste test the as yet unplayed new games Hot Lava and Sun Went Out at some point soon.

Sounds manageable.

Until the next game distraction that suddenly crosses my path.

(X:COM threatens to be that game every now and then, but eh, I have no hard disk space for it, so I’m safe until Cyberpunk gets uninstalled.)

See you again on June 24th when the Steam Summer sale rolls around and wrecks all best laid plans?