Postcards from Procedurally Generated Worlds

Syp from Bio Break is asking this about procedural generation:

“If it’s a bunch of cobbled together randomness, then why do I want to explore it? None of it is connected to a special narrative, so it exists without purpose, without meaning.”

I would like to counter with a few things.

Firstly, I wonder if we’ve lost the true meaning of exploration after being taught by Wildstar and GW2 that it’s about getting to points on a map and then having an achievement ding.

Or even after being taught by WoW and Skyrim (and Wildstar and GW2) that it’s about going to someplace and having a handcrafted scripted scene or story play out for you.

That seems to me like going for a tour or a guided experience, rather than exploration per se.

(That’s not to say that it’s bad.

The linearity of The Wolf Among Us and the elegant way its aesthetics told a story with a beginning, middle and end made for a wonderfully -immersive- experience…

…but it’s a bit of a stretch to say that one was -exploring- the game, unless one really sat down to map out every last possible branch of story, or even dabbled with exploration by rewinding a chapter or two to see how the story or characters might change.)

Here’s Google’s definition of exploration:

exploration

The highlights are mine, because I think they rather succintly answer Syp’s question.

You can want to explore something because it’s unfamiliar, because it’s new, because it’s novel. Because you’re checking it out to see if you can find any purpose or meaning in a locale previously unknown to you.

(Many games, when they are new and all their systems and geography unknown, draw explorers like magnets. And once everything is laid out in guides and on third party websites, when all the novelty is lost and everything predictable, that’s where explorers start to get really bored.)

The search for resources or information or knowledge that other people don’t know about is a big deal to explorers. It’s one of the things Bartle checks you out for, before labeling you an explorer.

Many sandbox games dangle resources as the bait for the WHY someone would go out and explore what could be merely a bunch of rocks and sand. Eve Online, A Tale in the Desert, Minecraft, Terraria, Don’t Starve, a ton of other games in the survival crafting genres, need I really go on?

And sometimes you just explore because it’s -there-, because you want to be thorough and make sure you’ve seen its every nook and cranny, because the mountain was there to be climbed, and because the maze or puzzle was there to be figured out and solved.

Not every game has to be played for story and narrative.

Not every player expects a game designer to serve each person the same scripted experience.

Part of the fun in a procedurally generated game is that you yourself may not encounter the exact same thing twice. That your next playthrough can be different. That it can be unpredictable, forcing you to react in a different way.

Others have chimed in with additional points, such as:

  • Purpose and meaning being in the eye of the beholder and that it can be up to each player to create that purpose, meaning and narrative for themselves in a procedurally generated game,
  • that player interactions often form the meat and potatoes of story and narrative in such a game and the very fact that they are unique one-off events that will never quite happen again in the same way can be super-appealing for some people,
  • and that designers can actually use procedural generation in a sensible way and layer set pieces or handcrafted content over other layers that were procedurally generated so that the results look a lot better than what Daggerfall produced in 1996.

But rather than quote the entire Wikipedia article on procedural generation which highlights games like Dwarf Fortress and Left 4 Dead and plenty of other games that use it in interesting ways, I’ll just leave these here:

Minecraft - Wanderlust Reloaded modpack - seed: Bio Break

Minecraft – Wanderlust Reloaded modpack w Biomes of Plenty – seed: Bio Break

Minecraft - Wanderlust Reloaded modpack - seed: Procedural Generation

Minecraft – Wanderlust Reloaded modpack w Biomes of Plenty – seed: Procedural Generation

Minecraft - Wanderlust Reloaded modpack - seed: Bio Break

Minecraft – Running Red 2 modpack – seed: Bio Break

6-2

Minecraft – Test Pack Please Ignore modpack – seed: Bio Break

Your Loss, Syp

Minecraft – Wanderlust Reloaded modpack w Biomes of Plenty – seed: Your Loss, Syp

Minecraft - Wanderlust Reloaded modpack - seed: Bio Break

Minecraft – Wanderlust Reloaded modpack w Biomes of Plenty – seed: Why I Explore

I barely moved from the spawn location to snap these shots.

I rolled these up simply for the purposes of this post.

And I don’t know about you, but there’s at least one seed I’ll be revisiting again that just -cries- out for a story of a survivor shipwrecked onto a mostly desert island with some jungle in the distance.

What does the rest of the continent hold, pray tell?

Minecraft: Wanderlust Reloaded

I wish I had the words (and time to nail down those words) to describe why I’ve been spending most of the past week in Minecraft – sandboxing and crafting around on one screen, while the other screen plays a DVD or a Youtube video of a tabletop adventure laden with story.

I think part of it is that I tend to go on breaks from GW2 at predictable intervals – probably a model customer in that regard, as content drops slow,  I cut back my time in the game as well, ready to go nuts once more new stuff hits.

Right now, all that’s new and seasonal is the Lunar New Year stuff. (It’s probably planned catchup time for all the new $10 customers, slower players, etc. to get to 80 and do some of the things we’ve been doing for two years already before the expansion hits.)

I’m done with the dailies in under an hour or less. The rest of my time could be spent replaying old content, or elsewhere.

Elsewhere is currently more attractive, so I go with the flow.

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The house has had an expansion of floors.

The color scheme sucks at the moment, but I was mostly using up the diorite, andesite and granite that turns up in Minecraft 1.7, and experimenting with chiseled blocks for different texture patterns.

Maybe another time I’ll build something prettier, but for now, it’s functional.

Just got started with beehives. In a way, it’s a little easier than Agrarian Skies in the sense that you can pull out different bees from hives scattered across the landscape. And it’s harder in the sense that the available recipes for seed oil are different, and more limited.

I was hoping to use up vast quantities of Pam’s harvestcraft seeds and apparently that doesn’t work here.

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So instead, a wheat field powered by a sprinkler (in turn powered by an aqueous accumulator) was called for, to produce metric tons of ordinary Minecraft seeds.

What was really strange was that the sprinkler attracted an insane number of Pneumaticcraft plastic plants – they were growing all over the entire area before I got enough wheat seeds to replace them, and they -still- surround the outskirts of the field.

I’d gathered from the mod description that the creator didn’t like the normal seed propagation method of Pneumaticcraft (which I haven’t experienced yet, and seems to be a minigame in itself) and altered it so that wheat seed + a dye would create Pneumaticcraft seeds, but this whole sprinkler behavior thing was rather new and unexpected.

Decent enough bonus though. I presume I might be able to set up another sprinkler elsewhere and grow an entire field of plastic plants if I wanted to, later.

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My modest starter field, that has pumpkins, carrots, potatoes, strawberries, and an experimental grape or two.

Each could be expanded further into its own field, really, but I just wanted to have things to eat and not starve, at the time.

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This beautiful raspberry bush, all grown up, is pretty much all I need these days.

Couple that with a juicer, and I could subsist on raspberry juice, though I’ve also branched out to mushroom stew.

All good though, since I need the other crops to make bio-fuel, to power my generators.

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Made a Tinker’s Construct smelter, for old time’s sake, though most of my alloys and ore processing are being shunted off to Ender IO’s machines, a mod that is new to me and has pretty compact machines that fit in one floor of the house – one can keep industry going through the night.

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Buildcraft pipes are also new to me. It’s a lot more hair-pulling to deal with so many different colors of piping. I kinda miss the itemducts in Agrarian Skies, simple, one speed, didn’t spit out your items if you connected the pipes in some unstated ‘wrong’ order.

Ender IO’s conduits are really elegant though. Apparently you can put more than one conduit in the same space, so that you can have a line carrying power, one carrying fluid and one carrying items all in the same block, and then cover the whole thing with a facade that makes it look like a block… which sounds extremely awesome.

Sadly, the item conduits in Ender IO require ender pearls and I haven’t figured out how to get a continuous source of those yet. Maybe I have to eventually go catch an Enderman with a Safari Net and make a spawner for that.

2015-02-25_05.37.43

After one too many deaths in which I couldn’t figure out where I died, I gave in and tried to figure out where my minimap went.

Cos I could have sworn the first time I played WLR, there was a minimap… but then when I had to manually copy some files to get WLR working again because the launcher version was acting up, my minimap disappeared.

Eventually, I figured out that a bunch of mods had been disabled, one of which was the minimap, and bravely renabled it.

Life is so much better now.

Especially with the full map, which makes exploration feel a lot more rewarding now that I can figure out where the biomes are in relation to each other, and where home is, and also place waypoints to mark things of interest.

There’s magical forest to the south of me, which is great for Thaumcraft when I get into that mod. I’d stumbled on a giant redwood tree in one pre-minimap expedition, but haven’t found it again post mini-map.

There’s a massive island/continent of Taint to the southwest… I really hope it doesn’t spread. Or if it does, not too quickly.

Eventually, I’m thinking I want to push it back with Silverwood trees, but haven’t got into doing that yet.

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Most of my time has been spent trying to locate lava.

I have been so -so- spoiled with Agrarian Skies and Ex Nihilo/Ex Acquilo. Some crucibles and cobblestone take care of that problem in Ag Skies.

In Wanderlust Reloaded, it’s been going down tons and tons of hand-carved mineshafts (or stairs, in this case) hoping to find lava sources – and I’ll probably have to mount an expedition into the Nether later on to either pull more lava or find some Blazes so that I can make a Lava Fabricator machine one day.

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The stairs led to a ravine, which I milked of any small lava sources.

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Then into the world’s worst collection of mineshafts that criss crossed each other and had a hundred cave spiders and zombies and skeletons around every corner.

Several dozen twists and turns later, completely losing track of how to get back again…

2015-02-25_05.42.26

…jackpot. Big enough lava pool, with obsidian, and some bonus sulfur ore.

But how was I going to find my way back?

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Didn’t bother. I decided to go straight up instead.

Made a little 3-deep landing pool, then cut a 2×2 mineshaft all the way UP.

2015-02-25_05.42.40

Also managed to cut straight into a mossy cobblestone spider spawning room in the process, one of whom knocked me off the column I was pillaring up, and died mid-construction.

Had to come back and finish the build, armed with a lot more ladders this time.

2015-02-25_05.43.21

Why, yes, I kinda want to be able to see and remember this entrance down to my lava pool.

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Turns out it’s quite near to my wheat farm.

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The new doors from various new trees are pretty cool. This one looks like a dungeon entrance, almost.

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Leads to my (usually unlit) oreberry bush growing room.

Some day, I want to make a redstone circuit thing with lamps, so that one button press turns on the lights and turns them off again, instead of having to manually place and remove torches.

All in good time.

State of the Games

It’s Lunar New Year season, both online and offline.

Spring cleaning’s exhausting. There are a million and one undone errands. There are traditional customs and ritual celebrations that have to be prepared for and performed in the days ahead.

Adding on to the list of things on everyone’s mind over here: A very old relative just got discharged from the hospital after a big low blood sugar scare that had them comatose and kidney function that wasn’t terribly good to begin with going the wrong way. Surprisingly, after a couple days of IV drip and replacement of pretty much all necessary nutrients, kidney function returned, so the body can be an amazing beast, after all. Except now they have a bedsore to contend with, after the unavoidable hospital visit.

(Yeah, well, the whole family is already expecting this individual’s lifespan to be in the weeks or months. So it won’t come as a shock or tragedy. Said individual also has dementia and has been in decline for a couple years now. It’s just been making them comfortable and giving them as much quality of life possible, before their passing, for a very long time now.)

On a personal front, yours truly has also been on the tail end of one of those ubiquitous “winter” colds/flus/unidentifiable and highly annoying (but thankfully not fatal) respiratory illnesses that spread like wildfire through crowded offices and various forms of public transport.

After heroically attempting to brave it out with one’s own immune system and plenty of ginger tea and chicken soup, the darn infection proceeded to coat most of my lungs with thick phlegm of interesting colors and then spread to my eyes, presumably via the very clogged sinuses.

That would be the time I wussed out and headed promptly to a doctor’s for a whole bunch of antibiotics in eyedrop and tablet form, and mucus thinners, which fortunately, worked as prescribed.

It has, however, worked to create a bit -more- gaming time than normal, as being too ill and tired to leave the house or indeed, move from a seated or sleeping position, yields a whole bunch of sitting in front of the computer.

Which was good, because my previously nicely balanced trifecta of gaming – GW2, Minecraft and extra Steam game, sort of expanded suddenly this past week or so.

(Causing blogging to fall behind, but I’m trying to fix that with this whopper of an update post.)

gw2-lny

Guild Wars 2 – Time here has cut back down to mostly dailies. Dailies, and more dailies.

Lunar New Year dailies involve a whole bunch of firecracker clicking and desultory Dragon Ball attendance (just to get the bare minimum of participation. The “wins” one is just insane and places stress on the wrong thing, imo. Especially when half the participants are ready to self-adjust and autobalance via quitting a losing match, and the other half has no interest in winning, are just here for participation, couldn’t care less to try, etc…

And don’t get me started on the AFKers, who have presumably developed the solution of “winning” through probability over a long period of time. Though how they eventually score a win is beyond me, since the opposing team tends to use them as free score punching bags, and the rest of their teammates quit, rather than fight an uphill battle – catching up is hard/impossible in Dragon Ball – or reward the AFKer with an improbable win.)

The red packet lottery itself isn’t too bad. For about less than a gold daily, I get a bunch of luck to up my magic find, some spare food and fireworks and stuff. I got the ram backpack on the second day, which was pretty lucky, I suppose, and that took off quite a bit of stress. Prices aren’t too bad on the TP either, I don’t think. The drop rates have been less insane for this particular red packet thing.

When I have time to kill, I pop over to the Silverwastes to score some additional magic find boosts before opening the 16 daily red packets. The difference between 300 and 500 magic find is probably mostly in my head, but hey, who knows, right? And Silverwastes drops champion bags and other loot, so the time ain’t wasted.

evolve-goliathfreed

Evolve – Yep, still at it for an hour or two a day, give or take.

My multiplayer experience has been more than a little shaky, lately.

I think part of it is my geographic region, which probably dumps me into an Asian matchmaking server or something. So one is likely to play with players from all over this region, many of which might not even speak English, and are probably half my age.

Ok, straight up, not being a bigot or anything, I can tell you, there are cultural differences between NA, EU and the Asian regions. You can feel this in FPS games, MMOs, MOBAs, the works.

I’ve always really liked playing in the NA region. NA folks, in general, are fairly open-minded and cooperative and more tolerant. Casual communities form pretty quick. My best Team Fortress Classic days were spent playing in some West Coast servers, when I was residing in the States. Organizations like TTS to gather, figure out and subsequently teach a bunch of randoms how to fight Tequatl and Wurm are NA-originated constructs.

EU folks, again speaking in super-general terms, I find, are also pretty decent. In fact, sometimes MORE than decent. They’re good. They’re pretty damn pro and serious about their games. If you like playing with /good/ players, the EU is worth seeking out, but they also tend to take on a certain slightly more closed-doors elitist mindset, possibly partially due to language differences. The French are over here, Germans over there (and maybe the Swiss and Swedes, or whoever) the UK represents over yonder, and Eastern Europe and/or Russia are somewhere else, and you get these little cliques. That get a little hard to break into.

And then there’s their ping, which is usually great within their own region, shakier communicating with the US (sorta like the difference between Asia and Australia, ~200ms) and absolutely total crap when you try and hook Asia and Europe up (~350-400ms.)

This keeps my interacting with EU folks pretty limited in general, but I remember pretty good times playing high difficulty Alien Swarm with a bunch of random Ukrainians, and really good times in a WvW guild zerg led by a semi-open to PUGs who listen and don’t die EU commander when I was staying up like an insomniac.

Conversely, one tends to want to cry when stuck only interacting with an Asian playerbase.

Games are just not taken as seriously or accepted culturally over here. They’re for kids.

While the number of adults that play games (and openly admit to playing games) is growing over here, it’s just not growing as fast as in the West. It’s ironic that the selling point used to promote the digital media and video games industry over here is that they are multi-million dollar industries. Say the word, “games?” Instinctual laughter. Say “$$$” and oooh, people listen. Welcome to materialistic Asia.

Oh, and the adults that do play games? They have to do it in between their work, whose regular hours can stretch to 9-12 hours daily. Weekend warriors? You bet. Ever notice how the quality of GW2 Silverwastes or other such maps suddenly goes to absolute shit on the weekends?

Basically, most of Asia plays like that, all the time. (With maybe some exceptions for still-schooling students who can afford to devote a ton of time to one game, like LOL or something.)

And you can’t blame them because duh, they just aren’t getting the hours in to practice and then play any better. That’s just life. That’s HOW IT IS.

Culture here doesn’t really use mics. Can’t blame ‘em, I don’t either. It’s rough to disturb one’s family doing that, and oh, there’s that whole ‘game-playing’ stigma that talking to a monitor is not going to alleviate.

So… no to little communication. Add on the possibility of not understanding typed communication if the opposite number doesn’t speak your language (or have an Asian keyboard that can type or even see Korean/Chinese/Japanese characters.) Add on a competitive afraid-to-lose competitive culture.

And you get a delicious recipe for tears and rage in any kind of team-based cooperative game that requires a little more organization or strategic thought beyond point-the-gun-that-way-and-shoot individual rambo deathmatch.

It’s really just my luck that I like games like that. Team Fortress. Natural Selection. Left 4 Dead… and now, Evolve.

Maybe my experience has been a little skewed because I haven’t been playing at peak hours for Asia either, but in the past few days, each attempted multiplayer game has either yielded an incompetent team of Hunters (where our medic ran off and got himself killed in all kinds of creative ways beyond our reach, despite our vain attempts to call him back to us) or less than a full team.

Whereupon I guiltily proliferate the problem and drop out as well, because if it’s just me, another random person I probably can’t count on and a monster player, I may as well play a solo game with bots and actually -enjoy- myself, rather than just feed the monster player’s ego.

Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been playing Evolve super-heavily, which keeps my level at the very odd middle point of being in the teens, making it much harder to matchmake. (I presume the supremely hardcore and good quality players are already level 20+ and probably 30-40 by now.)

In which case, I just need to continue on my slow road to progress, playing little bot games until I get out of the baby levels and into more of the big leagues.

The bot games, anyway, are pretty enjoyable. One can actually hotswap between the various Hunters, so I can, say, possess a Trapper and trap the Monster in the mobile arena, then swap over to Support to back up the bots, and switch over to something else if I wanted more fine control, etc.

It’s also a good avenue to work on some of the weirder requirements to progress and unlock other Hunters, since an actual game with players would mean actually using all one’s weapons to full advantage, while a bot game means you can just camp say, a harpoon gun and work on racking up as much harpooning of the monster as possible, dps be damned.

I’d really love to get some friendly games in with people I know, but I suppose that’s for later, when Evolve actually drops to an affordable price for more people. (Aussies were apparently screwed over by the starting price, for example. Which -may- explain why the quality of the Asian server has been so shitty. Oceania tends to be my little haven of occasionally cooperative sanity in this region.)

forced

FORCED – Instead, my avenue for cooperating with known people has been this quaint little indie action-puzzler.

You know, for folks who miss the well-divided roles, the try-try-again aspect and necessity for communication of strategy and cooperation while implementing a plan of action, aka MMO raiding, they would do well to give FORCED a try and play it at a hardcore level.

Being that I’m mic-less and most of my friends are at a distinctly more casual level, we’ve just been dipping our toes into the waters and being just content with finishing each stage, rather than trying to beat any challenges or finish in record times.

It’s a fun game all the same. You can play solo, but you miss the added complications and give-and-take of playing with an additional 1-3 players.

So far, I’ve tried solo, 2-player and 3-player mode (the last courtesy of a game with Eri and another friend.)

There are four roles: a hammer smash damage melee type, a claw-wielding quick attack dps Wolverine-sort of melee user, a lighting bow ranged attacker with control and stealth options, and an ice shield control & tanky melee sort.

The goal of the game is to fight and puzzle one’s way through little arena rooms filled with both puzzles to complete and waves of enemies that get in your way of doing so.

You get a little ball-wisp-spirit mentor thing that each player can call around with Spacebar, and this wisp is crucial for solving various puzzles like breaking up or activating shrines, blowing up statues, interacting and pulling little crates around to fit on little pressure plates, rescuing you from enemy crowd control that pins you in place and damages you till you die, etc.

As -all- players can control this wisp, a certain amount of communication or situational awareness is crucial for making sure it goes where it needs to, in a good amount of time.

Our super-casual goes at it occasionally lacked this communication, which leads to amusing Magicka-like moments where the other players are more lethal to you than the computer enemies. Still, the unpredictability is part of the fun, I’d say.

I’ve mostly been camping the ice shield tank on my two cooperative goes at FORCED, but I do think the roles feel good and useful, without becoming codependent on each other.

The ice shield user has quite a lot of knockdowns, if not high damage, and tends to draw aggro when the character hits anything. This puts me in very comfortable territory as I race over and body block (there is collision detection in this game –  sometimes much to my dismay when I realize I can’t fit into the same space as two other people and die to an insta-kill laser) and push away enemies from my friends.

And it has a temporarily-turn-into-ice-and-be-immune-to-anything skill, which feels absolutely like a GW2 guardian block, insta-negating something painful. All kinds of tanky tricks like kiting and dragging around enemies to optimally place them appear to be very doable in FORCED.

The fire hammer is more GW2 warrior-like, more offensively focused. I could tell there was a distinct lack of damage in my two player game, as opposed to my three player game where Eri came along and was all hammer-barbarian on the various mobs.

It has a little charge-up mechanic where slow and steady swings deal hefty amounts of damage, and a number of AoE damage skills.

I pretty much think of the green claw weapon-wielder as Wolverine. It’s very mobile, very quick-attacking, and can pump an AoE heal if the said skill is chosen. It’s very possible to melee kite in a circle with this character, dancing around the enemy doing a seemingly insignificant amount of damage just looking at one float-up number alone but hitting so many times it becomes the death of a thousand and one papercuts in short order.

It can also contribute to a team role by very rapidly putting on ‘marks’ on all enemies that allow for finisher skills to do greater amounts of damage.

I’m least versed with yellow-bow wielder, not having much of a ranged preference. It does seem to suit a friend that -does- enjoy being ranged, and seems to have a charge-up sniper sort of mechanic. Knockbacks and other such controls appear to be also a thing, and the bow user can also invis the entire team for stealth moments when desired.

I especially enjoy the action combat for being fair like GW2. Mobs have certain patterns of attack that can be avoided if you know how and/or are good at hand-eye coordination.

A bull-like Taurus will charge, so once you see it start its animation, move off sideways because it’ll go until it slams headlong into a wall and stuns itself. (Which rather brings to mind a certain fight in the Crucible of Eternity dungeon in GW2 almost immediately.)

A brawler has a heavy broadsword swing attack, so attack it, back off a little before it swings, and then attack again.

Cleavers, on the other hand, have a really nasty axe swing, and moving in to attack first WILL get you hit by this attack. So let -them- attack first, get their axe buried and stuck in the ground, before moving in to hit them, etc.

A spit-using imp has acid spit to be dodged, and a certain exploding knockback imp is pretty much a melee user’s nemesis unless I get my ice-immunity skill up in time… except there was once when my friend on the yellow bow managed to get them all first and quickly, and then I realized… Ooooh, look, team roles! The archer can actually deflect the pain of this enemy. (And presumably if I took a ranged skill, I might be able to deal with it too.)

Looking forward to getting a few more games of this, whenever people are free.

blackguards

Blackguards - I’m not sure what prompted me to install this and try it out. It was just another one of those games turning up in my ever-expanding Steam games list after buying one too many Humble Bundle deals and the like.

The blurb on the store page read, “What happens when the only hope of a threatened world lies not with heroes in shining armor, but in the hands of a band of misfits and criminals?”

And I went, hrm, I don’t know, maybe it’ll be fun to play a fantasy game where my characters are scum and villains, let’s see how this plays…

Turns out, not too bad.

One of the big hurdles, I feel, is that your expectations have to be set right with regards to Blackguards. It’s not a full-fledged heavy customisation RPG in the vein of Fallout and its ilk. It feels like a game that very easily can and will find its way onto a tablet or mobile near you.

That is, it feels a bit like an app game. Most of the in-between combat consists of a world map and a bunch of fast-travel points to click on to progress from stage to stage, or region to region. Sort of similar to Puzzle Quest, in that sense.

The story seems to be of average quality, the voicework so-so but conveys the plot and characters well enough that you’re not -totally- cringing at something that didn’t fit, but tends toward being somewhat corny in places. It’s interesting enough, in an “I want to know more, so I will keep playing” fashion.

Your character begins in front of a dead body, apparently framed for their murder, and thrown into prison. You bust out of prison with two unlikely allies, a dwarf and a southerner mage (somewhat reminiscent of the Forgotten Realms, which ain’t a bad thing in my book) with the goal to find out more about what’s going on and what the heck happened to you. Standard fantasy trope, really, but functional.

The fights themselves are… not horrible. They could, I suppose, be a little more interesting.

But in the early game, it’s mostly been alternating between normal attack and Power Blow attack (with lower chance to hit), with only one mage sporting a few more varied spells like a fire bolt, a fireball, a barrier and some buff and debuff spells – most of which you won’t be able to cast too much of, or run out of mana very quickly.

The environments are pretty enough, with occasional possibilities for interacting with objects mid-battle, with traps and mechanisms to figure out the purpose of.

I can’t help but wonder if there are other things I’m missing, so to speak. There seems to be some kind of cover system in play, where your chances of evading ranged attacks are better when you’re behind cover. There appears to be some kind of swarm combat bonus at work, but none of it is made terribly clear. Sometimes you’ll have 75% chance to hit someone, sometimes 45% and is it because of facing? Or maybe the armor the individual is wearing? Who knows.

But for a change of pace and a few turn-based encounters here and there, it’s decent enough… and I’d sure like to know what’s going on with the story, and so, I play on.

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Minecraft – I’ve been alternating between the Agrarian Skies and Wanderlust Reloaded modpacks rather frequently.

Ag Skies is my comfortable, established, so-called ‘mid-game’ factory/automation mod exploration goto, but occasionally it feels too safe and a little slow and boring to progress further.

Somedays, you just want to explore a big world and actually have procedurally generated land that you didn’t place block by block yourself.

After dabbling with a ton of the other modpacks that have HQM (some of whom seem fairly intriguing), most of them end up too hard or too confusing for poor ol’ me at this stage of mod ignorance. Spatial IO? Ender IO? Buildcraft? Computercraft? Wtf are those?

A number simply presume a baseline level that’s set a little too high for me to fully grasp. When I struggle with the first few HQM goals, that’s usually a good sign that it’s way beyond me for the moment.

Yet others are simply too hardcore lethal. The vanilla mobs hold no more terrors for these established Minecraft players, and so they turn up mob difficulty to 11… (or 13.) Mobs that ride spiders…that fly…and are on fire… that shoot explosive poisonous arrows… Uhhh, yeah. I’m not -that- well-versed with all the mods and stuff that I can tech up in the space of one day before night falls and be ready for mortal combat with buffed out zombies and creepers and skeletons sporting way too many hearts.

Wanderlust Reloaded is the only other modpack that I’ve managed to find -with- a nice HQM system to provide little goals to follow and learn new mods, while not being out to murderize you every minute.

It contains a couple of different mods from Ag Skies, like Botania, which is nice since I can learn a few different mods, but also has some similarities like Minefactory Reloaded, Thermal Expansion and Forestry, so that it doesn’t feel too alien and I can fall back on what I know previously.

(I do miss Ex Nihilo and Ex Aquilo though. I just love being able to produce everything from nearly nothing.)

The world it rolls up feels pretty great, more complex but still recognizably Minecraft. Just with more cool things –  plants, ores, and all, inside it.

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Rollplay: Swan Song – Not precisely a game that I’m playing, but one that I’ve been finding really fun to listen to.

This has been my background accompaniment to playing around in Minecraft (since Minecraft’s audio/music sucks anyway after hearing it once or twice), having forgotten about it for several months and needing to binge to catch up with the storyline.

Man, it’s still good. And highly recommended.

Eavesdropping on a group of ruffians and ne’er-do-wells try to raise a burgeoning AI to not be a complete monster amidst a background of people perpetually dying after coming into contact with them and getting into serious trouble aboard the junker spaceship Swan Song, exploring a vast variety of planets created by the ingenious mind of Adam Koebel and the Stars Without Number tabletop RPG system, is great entertainment.