Thermal Management Challenge aka Why I Haven’t Been Blogging Lately

Regular readers (all ten of them? am I being optimistic?) might have noticed a sudden textual silence from this tiny corner of the interwebs.

The family and I are *crosses fingers* still doing fine, still sheltering from the pandemic, still getting needles in arms as soon as we can get them, and hope to stay that way, god(s) and fate and whatever-you-believe-in willing.

No, the main trouble has been the lack of regular maintenance causing random things to fall apart around the house and a general reluctance to invite in outsider repairmen to breach the Covid “bubble” unless it’s a true emergency.

Especially since our local government has been leaning towards the more laissez-faire end of the scale lately to bolster those who have been suffering economically and mental health-wise. Which is all very well and understandable, but our personal situation is that we’ve more potentially vulnerable persons in our household than average, so we’re being more careful than most. So it goes.

One of the latest machine casualties has been the air conditioner in the room housing my PC.

This has been tragic from a temperature management standpoint.

The local outdoors temperature is a toasty average 30-32°C (86-90°F) most days. Humidity runs in the 60s-90s. The equatorial sun blazes down on surrounding concrete walls, which then cheerfully radiate excess heat into the night time hours, causing descriptions of weather and environment to veer away from lovely phrases like “pleasant and balmy” and into “sweltering muggy swamp” territory.

Now, I know that in theory, PCs ought to be able to manage just fine at 60°C and below. For all my fretting, PC temps have only been hovering at 40-59°C regardless… Still, it’s about 10 degrees higher than it normally runs, when in an actually climate-controlled, air-conditioned room. And my PC is seven years old and not getting any younger. AND I need this PC for work-from-home purposes.


Suffice to say, it has been a lot more comfortable for both peace of mind and peace of body to have the PC on, only when needed, for a couple hours at most, preferably at night when ambient temperature drops a few degrees, and not running anything graphically intensive.

I’m sure we’ll eventually get a repairman in, preferably when more family members have been boostered up, but eh, this recent omicron variant news hasn’t done anyone any favors. So it goes. More weeks of this.

The good news is that this has induced some variety into one’s leisure/gaming habits. The portability of the Nintendo Switch and iPad means the ability to retreat to cooler areas of the home, even rooms where the last air conditioners are still functioning (and being conserved like a precious resource.)

Library ebooks are a thing. Youtube on a smart TV is a decent substitute for what usually is playing on one side of the screen while I game on another.

I even got the old Playstation 4 running (last played, 2018) and realized that I might actually get to enjoy some games I’ve been putting off for ages, like Death Stranding. The original hope was to play them in PC form, on a a brand new spankin’ PC, but well, graphics chip shortage and all, we know how those kind of plans have gone this past year. A PS4 version of Death Stranding now… isn’t that old news? And aren’t old games discounted?!

We’ll see. I found a pretty amazing deal from a local online platform this last Black Friday to Cyber Monday weekend, from a vendor that kinda looks legit (as in, officially from the Sony Store), but it did literally say “one copy remaining.” So all manner of things could go wrong, from “oh, we didn’t mean to post it at that price” to “we’re out of stock and can’t find that last copy” to “there is a copy, but the disc is scratched and we can’t replace it so here, have a refund instead.” At which point, I’ll be back to square one on a lack of Death Stranding, but eh, there’s always another sale and another discount. Especially with December on the way.

The one exception to the “let’s not stress the poor, aging PC” rule has been a quick three day push for No Man’s Sky, Expedition 1 Redux.

I bought NMS at the start of November, having a sudden whimsical impulse to fly around in a spaceship sight-seeing and resource-harvesting. It fulfilled that impulse quite respectably. I was making slow and steady progress, 1-2 hours on sporadic cooler nights, before sweat pouring from my brow encouraged me to retreat and let the PC dissipate heat somewhere where I wasn’t.

The most monochromatic planet I’ve seen… so far

Then at the end of November, came the announcement that No Man Sky’s was re-releasing something called Expeditions, for those that missed them. Seeing as I’d only joined this spacefaring cohort at the beginning of the month, I’d definitely missed those.

A brief read suggested that they were basically seasonal special content, where you could unlock rewards. Ah. We’re quite familiar with those. We play GW2, Warframe, Path of Exile and a whole lot of other games with that kind of thing.

These Redux Expeditions were on a two-week time interval, which, to be honest, is my favorite time scale for such seasonal content. Just short enough to kick you in the butt and conquer procrastination and not overstay their welcome, and long enough to not stress out too much if you can’t play for a couple days. As long as all the goals and milestones are scaled for most people to reasonably complete in a week of normal play, then with one extra week’s worth of leeway, it’s Goldilocks just right for me.

Fortunately, the goals for this expedition 1 redux were indeed scaled just right. It felt fairly similar to GW2 achievement tab chasing. Go for easy unlocks on day 1, plan the next sequence of actions to unlock more moderate goals over the subsequent days, clean up on the hardest goals at the end. All in, I got it done in 3-4 days of relatively more hardcore, obsessed play (albeit with periods of surrender to let the PC cool down when it crashed on contact with freighter battles, et. al.)

Huzzah, achievement get!

I’m not 100% convinced that this is a fun way to play No Man’s Sky – I preferred the more relaxed solo pace I was playing at – but I did get a sort of accelerated overview to aspects of No Man’s Sky I hadn’t yet come across in my solo game.

Unlike Aywren, I’m not especially impressed by the intrusion of other players into my peaceful little corner of the galaxy. Particularly when their naming conventions are things like “DarthKiddo’s Planet” and “HA I RENAMED THIS FIRST SO YOU CAN’T.” They make the garbled syllables generated by the base game look good. I’ll take Geistc XVII any day.

Everyone starts at the same point in an expedition game. The starting planet was an Icebound Planet called Keignto Anzai. It sounds fun in theory, have all players begin in a shared space, but y’know, you get the MMO problem, players who don’t know how to roleplay (aka ALL OF THEM) break immersion (in the lore, headcannon sense of the word.)

Then again, when everyone’s starting planet contains interesting fauna like this hopping around… why bother?

I did eventually jump through a black hole, which tossed me some 1 million light years away in goodness-knows-what direction, and a couple more random hyperspace jumps brought me to some pristine undiscovered systems that no one had ventured to yet. There, I got the rest of my goals done in peace and quiet, and set up some tiny bases to bookmark the area, only venturing back to the more littered lands for the Rendezvous Point goals (and boy, were they littered with communication stations, whose only purpose was to state XYZPERSON WAS HERE.)

I’m a little bit nervous to pop back into my solo game now, since installing some patch for Win 7 systems that allowed No Man’s Sky to connect to their discovery servers and get the expedition running. Will my previous systems still be there and untouched, or will I discover to my horror that someone else has been to this part of town and named them all some kind of verbal graffiti? There’s always getting into my spaceship and flying off someplace else, but I’m not sure I can take the dismay. We’ll see.

The PC is always threatening to overheat and there’s always a lot of non-PC things I could be doing instead – especially since I went a bit crazy this Black Friday topping up on discounted iPad, Switch and PS4 games. I can always put it off for later.

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.)