The Power of Implied Lore

What You Don’t See

Some people have a strong focus on lore in video games.   There are modes in games that are meant for the story, characters, and history of the world to shine.  I love lore in video games.  I may not have the greatest memory, but I sure do love to store as much lore as I can into my brain.  I love reading Mass Effect’s history of the planets.  As a biologist, I am so happy that they got a lot of the chemical and evolutionary biology correct when it comes to how life develops in other worlds.  The fascinating connection between what is real and the fictional elements are so brilliant.

But perhaps even more so are the things that are just mentioned.  The strange labyrinth of an ancient unknown race from eons ago.  Just through the story we think we know of old, old aliens, but these structures are unknown.  Or what about in Path of Exile, where many of the legendary items speak of old proverbs, that are absolutely fantastic and usable in real life, that mention great heroes or villains that are not part of the story anymore.  With the divination cards we hear murmurs of stories that take place in small worlds like one that really only involves only a lover and their lost one.  What happened to them?  Or what caused madness in another implied legendary figure?

I love implied lore.  It’s the kind of thing that makes science so captivating for me.  Science and mathematics always implies something bigger or stranger.  When mathematicians begin to see patterns in the way numbers are organized, or chemists recognizing similar chemical patterns in a far away planet, these things imply there is more to the picture than we know about.  That sense of curiosity is sort of a thing that encapsulates my mind.  My name in my native language was originally going to mean “wonder”.  I think that defines pretty much how I feel about these things.

The same feelings happen in real life when we see empty office buildings or abandoned industrial structures.  What history happened in these places?  What are their daily lives like when they’re active?  And what about right now, empty?  What is it like?  You don’t need to show every bit of history to let the player know there is history.  Let it be explored and excavated from the recesses of the virtual world.  Make legends and tall tales for the players to see glimmers of leftovers in the world.  There are few things so exciting as seeing a sly reference in the world when you first read or heard it in a game’s books or myths.  

I think implied lore is just as important and wonderful as concrete lore, because it allows you to explore the imagination of what the world is like, just as we do in real life.  
Thanks for reading!  I’ll see you next time!

Elise

What Makes an ULTRA Game?

What are the determinant factors that trend on the Ultimate Loosely-Thought Ranked Analysis?  

I believe there are two main factors.  Is the game entertaining?  Games are entertainment after all.  Does the game provide a good gameplay loop?  How does it handle design and difficulty curve?  Does it provide more artificial difficulty or natural difficulty?  How is the game feel?  Is it just fun to play?  Is it just…fun?

Games that have a greater focus on entertainment are things like DOOM, Dungeon Siege, Megaman 2, Star Fox 64, and Super Mario Bros.  The stories are not really a huuuge part of the game. The story is a platform for the action to take place.  There’s nothing wrong with a game that focuses just on the fun!  You don’t need to be a tea-sipping fancypants to know good games.

The other factor is whether or not it is inspirational.  Do they have good stories and characters?  Is the world built and designed well?  How well is the player’s emotion directed?  What innovations are there?  These are games like Final Fantasy VI, What Remains of Edith Finch, Baldur’s Gate, Genshin Impact’s character arc quests, and Psychonauts.  Characters don’t need to be super deep.  They can just be fun, have great synergies, or present the world in a way that makes you think about life.  Stories don’t need to be entirely plothole clean.  You gotta use your imagination too!  

I am a little biased because I tend to lean towards more story-telling, world-building, inspirational games.  That’s just who I am, but all gamers are different!  And that’s okay!  There’s also a third mini-factor that I also recognize: the history and context of the game.  What did the developers have to go through to make this?  What was development culture like?  How have they approached this game in the franchise as compared to the past?  What artifacts and history lie beyond the game?  Game history is important.  I love art history, and I think video game history is just as important.

Something that I’ve noticed as we get near the top of the ULTRA is that the games start to converge on both ideas of entertainment and inspiration.  The top ones are usually brilliant at being both.  These are things like Dishonored 2, Celeste, Bioshock, Guild Wars 2, Starcraft, and Hollow Knight.  

I think video games can be such an inspiration and entertaining thing at the same time.  I feel the same for films.  Artistic vision backed up with great cinematography makes amazing films.

I just wanted to let you have a little more insight into the way that video games are seen in my mind.  Although I’d like to believe I have a lot of insight on video games, as it has been a focus and study of my life, this list is definitely not going to be 100% solid for other people.  That’s why we like different games. 

What are some foci that represent what you like in a game?  
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time! 

– Elise

Change in Direction

Originally this was going to be a blog based on game design and talking about good game design in video games, but I think I’m going to head in a more casual direction to literally just talk about games that I like. I won’t delve super deep into game design unless I really feel like it because I don’t have the time in the normal life to do both research and play.

So now this is officially just a casual video game blog.

– Elise

The Responsibility of a Series

A Chip Off the Old Block?

This is just one big perspective thing, so if you don’t agree with it within reason, that is fine.

I think one of the interesting things about video game series, and well, any series that is in the entertainment industry, is the responsibility they have being a series.  Is there the obligation to continue being the same thing?  Or is it possible that finding the better thing is the right path?  And even more so, does the audience have a say?  Should they?

We love sequels.  I mean, at least when the game was good, we want more.  But do we really want more of the same?  If we look at sequels that people love, we can see that they gave us a brand new and great concept.  The sequel might look the same, but the development and design have definitely evolved.  I am talking about things like Super Mario Bros. 3, Dishonored 2, Half-Life 2, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between worlds.  They seem to play just like the predecessors, but there are new concepts that are brought in.  So…the same?  I don’t think so.  Can they kind of feel the same?  Yes.  Half-Life 2 does indeed feel like Half-Life 1.  Does Half-Life 1 have many physics-based puzzles and a gravity gun?  No.

So, I guess we want sequels that are not just improvements, but developments in design.  That is what we want and should be asking for if we want a sequel, not more of the same.  But…are the developers obligated to do so?  And should they?  I think… not?

“Wait, Elise, wait.  What about Mass Effect Andromeda?  That game–”

Yes, I know, it wasn’t amazing.  But if we take a closer look at what Mass Effect Andromeda feels like, it actually is more like Mass Effect 1.  Mass Effect 1 is still a great game.  So, why didn’t Andromeda feel like that?  It still feels like Mass Effect, just a very different, and older Mass Effect, but some core things have been tweaked just enough to make it not as comfortable.  Long, fetch-questy missions, and exploration that felt free, yet restricted at the same time made it feel…inefficient at feeling like Mass Effect.  Constant radiation restrictions, a lot of collectible side quests, and change in playstyle pushed fans even further away.  I think it was done in a style of Mass Effect 1 with some bad gameplay elements.  Personally I feel like the gunplay change was a good thing, but again, it was different.  Could Andromeda be the same while still being satisfying?  Yes.  I think with the same lore and content material it could’ve been better if the game felt a little bit leaner.  And saying that, yes, I think it could be that different weird Mass Effect 1 mix while still being Mass Effect.

“Okay, but how far are you going to let that go?”

I think if an idea is different enough, developers shouldn’t be using the same lore and name, because that brings up that responsibility of it having to be like the previous games.  I think it all comes down to lore.  We see games with very different lore and yet they can play similarly but still be distinguished as two different games.  Starcraft 1 and 2 feel very different.  But they still feel like Starcraft in the way that they approach the lore.  

Let me talk about two examples that have jarring differences in the audience response.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is considered a huge keystone now because of how amazing it is.  It is very different from the previous games.  It is now an open-world game with only a few small dungeons, and dozens of micro-dungeony things.  Crafting is a thing, and getting owned because you ran into a difficult monster is definitely a thing now.  Link can now climb and jump, which is very strange for the series.  The lore is still the same though.  It retains and is accepted as a new Legend of Zelda game.

Paper Mario: The Origami King is a great game with a very different fighting style than the previous four Paper Marios.  It is now more like a puzzle-adventure game.  You…kind of have partners and bosses are real life items.  You don’t level up at all.  You still have the durability item system.  World-building is fairly different.  Lore is largely the same without extremes as in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.  And …people are still hesitant to accept it as Paper Mario.  Now, you might say, well Paper Mario did GREAT with it’s first two and they shouldn’t have changed it up.  You’re right, but The Legend of Zelda also did amazing with its many predecessors.  The gameplay in Origami King is also not bad either.  Sure, it’s not like Breath of the Wild’s, but I cannot deny that Origami King is a great game in its own right.  But it still isn’t accepted very well.  So what gives?

Does the audience know what they want?  Yes.  Will they accept anything else?  … The audience of Paper Mario has become so adamant that the first two games are the only way.  A lot of Zelda fans, without hindsight bias, believed the old Legend of Zelda was the way as well.  And the big difference is that Paper Mario decided to jump off the face of the Earth and try things.  Some things worked, like Super Paper Mario, and other things didn’t, like Sticker Star and Color Splash.  Color Splash had at least a few things going for it though, I must admit.  The thing is, that is part of the process of innovation.  You fail, and that is because if you don’t you’ll never find something new.  Nintendo has a habit of taking that risk with games like Splatoon or ARMS.  Most of the time they do well.  Most of the time.  

Every time Intelligent Systems took a wrong turn, the fans strengthened their idea that the originals were the way to go.  The Legend of Zelda didn’t have the disparity of having games in the main series that were not well received.  I mean, there was Triforce Heroes, but nobody even mentions that.  I can understand the doubt with EA Games concerning their upsets with Battlefront II, Battlefield V, and Anthem, and when they finally bring something good, like Star Wars: Squadrons, people are hesitant.  Most people agree that Squadrons is a good game.  But Intelligent Systems took this one step further.  They didn’t use something familiar.  Squadrons hearkens back to the old days of 3D dogfighting, while The Origami King did something so strange and different.  

The lore still feels like Paper Mario to me.  And as a game, it is good and fun, and is that not the responsibility of a game?  

I think there is a heavy burden on developers of series to be like their predecessors, and I don’t feel like it is necessary.  I think developers have to be unafraid of changing things up to make great games.  Sometimes even to the extreme of The Origami King.  The difference between me accepting The Origami King as a good different successor and Andromeda being a mediocre successor all points to two things: is the lore the same?  Is the game still fun?

If we say yes to both, the game has met the responsibility.  Is it unfortunate that we likely will not return to the original Paper Marios?  Undeniably yes.  We may not even return to the Origami King.  But it is also fortunate that we can experience something like Origami King.  If you only choose to like one style, then you have chosen.  The truth is that they can both be great.  I think accepting that kind of breaks the status quo, and people don’t like doing that, especially as the consumer.  I am fortunate enough to be both a consumer and creator, both as a scientist and an artist, so maybe my view is very skewed. 

I think as just a consumer this can all seem kind of unfair, and, you know, that makes sense.  Unfortunately, I can’t really say that restricting what I enjoy to a narrow group of games doesn’t really seem that enjoyable to me.  

I think that’s the one thing that people despise me as a Game Praiser.  I enjoy everything, and that is both a blessing and a curse.  I place my thoughts here on this blog because I feel like it is a fairly unique viewpoint, especially with a video game audience.  I’ve met very few people who just really like gaming as a whole, and I want to share my perspective.  Maybe you completely disagree.  Haha.  That is fine!  This is just meant to be a perspective piece.

Thanks for letting me talk this out.  I’ll see you next time.

Checklist or Game? Both?

There are a lot of arguments against games that send you off on a checklist, especially if it is an open world game.  You might wonder how these games still sell when you’re just being led by the hand all the time.  This is like games that tell you exactly what to do in the quest objective and everything makes it pretty obvious: a glittering line, a ping above someone’s head, or pop-ups that tell you when something is going to happen or there is something you need to do.  Then there are side-quests or small things you can do, but they’re just pins on a map that need to be completed.  The same thing here or there.  Why do these kind of games still thrive?  I was just thinking about that this morning and I realized that it’s because although they are not exactly great game design, they can still be satisfying.

You want your player to explore and find the way by themselves.  Signposts and rules can only feel so…explorey.  But if you look at games like The Division, the Assassin’s Creed series, sometimes Skyrim or Fallout, and some others, they just pile on objectives and little collectibles everywhere.  In the end, you’re not really playing a game, you’re just doing a checklist.  Yes, you could explore without looking at the map, but since everything is already marked on the map, how much exploring are you actually doing for yourself?  

But we’re talking about why the checklist style is still present in some games.  I think it comes down to the combination of two things.  One, is just the base that checking off a list really can be satisfying.  The focus can end up focusing on checking off a list, but it’s still satisfying.  We do this with things like chores or goals that we set for us to do during quarantine so we can feel good about ourselves.  And we are doing things, so we are legitimately feeling accomplished.  

The second thing that combines with this is that video games make us feel good.  They are entertainment and art, and those two things cover such a vast distance of things that the satisfaction of checking off a list can feel like it fits in there.  I think there are times that playing a game just to check off stuff on your quest list or pick up items is not necessarily a bad thing.  Sometimes that’s what we need at the end of the day.  We just need to feel like we’re getting stuff done.  And…I guess we are.

This satisfaction is not the same thing as playing a game with good game design though.  It is a similar trouble with art and the layman.  Both amateur and professional art can be appreciated, but the difference is difficult to distinguish for someone who doesn’t understand how the painting process or color theory works.  Both levels, and all that is in between, can still give a feeling of satisfaction, but not the same understanding of what makes an art piece seem to be at a higher level.  

I said sometimes Skyrim or Fallout, because concerning the main exploration, all the guidance is is a marker on your compass to tell you that something is nearby, which is not too bad of a hand-holding thing either.  Just enough for you to get lost in the world.  The smooth tutorials of Half-Life 2, the extremely well designed difficulty curve of Celeste, and landscape design of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild bursts into our playthroughs.  We can feel that these games push us forward and make us feel like we’re out there in the video game world doing something great, without having us check off a list.  It makes us feel like we’re doing it because we ourselves are making our own list or trudging our own way through the land.  That feeling of fun is from good design.  At the right times, I think it is possible that satisfaction of checking off a list suffices, but can be misunderstood as that same fun from good game design.  Guidance doesn’t have to be removed from a game, it is how they approach it that makes it feel good.

Entireties of games are not just the checklist though.  There are still many good gameplay and design elements in these kinds of games.  Remember that this (hopefully) does not make the whole of the game.  I personally feel like they may bring the game down a notch, but I don’t think it should cause the whole game to feel like it collapses on itself.  There are good games that are like this, and that may be because of other elements in the game that hold up what may be a lackluster guidance in the game.  Because games are such a mixed media, no one pillar of games, whether it be graphics, gameplay, sound, or something else, can really bring down the whole game, at least not easily.  

You know, I think the reasons for playing a game are really up to you.  I’m not saying to not support these games just because they have this design.  If you really enjoy them, by all means, you should play them.  But we have to remember that these two types of entertainment are indeed different.  The checklist is using gaming as a medium, while the good game design is emphasizing that it is a game and works on engineering itself to be better at that.  I’m not going to say that the checklist style is good design, just like how I wouldn’t say that my art is professional, but just like how I can still appreciate my art even though it’s not perfect, games can still be appreciated for the level or style of design that they present to us.  I mean, unless they’re a glitchy mess or highly inappropriate or something.

This is Elise.  Thanks for reading!  We’ll see you next time.

Day 8 of Genshin Impact

This will probably be the last of my Genshin Impact diary things, but not because I won’t play it anymore.  I think I’m just done writing about it.

The longer I play this game, the more it grows its own identity.  I feel like the first prologue area was a nice dedication to all the things that have influenced it so far, but once you start moving out of that area things become more refined into the idea that Genshin Impact is its own thing.

So far, I feel like I’ve gotten enough characters to get myself through most of the stuff with the wishes I have been able to use.  I don’t think I ever directly explained that.  Wishes are gachapon tickets used to get stuff.  Every 10 is a guaranteed four star or better item.  Granted, I have been given a lot of those prismogems, which are one of the cash currencies.  This will not always be the case, as most have been given for an event for starting near launch day.  I’m already satisfied with the current cast I’ve been given. 

However, I am beginning to feel the tugs of lack of resources.  I am now at Adventure Rank 21, and I’m starting to feel the thing where if I don’t play every day I am falling behind.  The strange thing about that is, for most of the content I play, I really don’t need to care that much.  Of course I care a lot about story, that’s one of my favorite aspects of a game, but the combat is fun enough to log in and just fight some monsters and log out.  There will always be monsters to fight.  Some good fights to do for fun are those ley line ones.  They cost resin, which is the energy system, but the resin replenishes every day.  If I just play a little every day, not only am I secretly grinding, but I’m also making good use of that stuff.

Everything levels up.  The characters, the artifacts your characters equip, the weapons, and the adventurer rank, which is like your account level.  The first four can get strained when they need to ascend, because they require looking for certain materials that may only drop during specific days of the week.  So yes, I am beginning to see that, but that doesn’t restrain me from playing for fun.  And when the time comes that all that time playing for fun can pay off for moving forward in the story, I think it will be okay.  My prismogem growth isn’t exactly quick though.  Maybe more events in the future can provide for that.

There is a battle pass.  I hate battle passes.  Although different from gachapon, they force the same pressure where you must spend time on the game within a set period of time or you won’t get the reward.  Even worse, you have to pay.   I suppose if you’re chunky enough in cash you can pay to get the whole thing at once.  I mean, the honest truth is that all online game events are like this, so can I really complain?  Perhaps.  

I still like the writing and the characters.  I like the voice actors, although I don’t know about the English ones.  Sorry about that.

Two more things to note before I stop this diary.  The boss battles are really fun.  I like them a lot.  They’re very fun and they really let me show off the power of each of my people.  I can also get owned when I run into one that’s way too high level for me, but that doesn’t keep me from trying (and sometimes beating) bosses that are ten levels higher than me just through my combos.  I love when RPGs let you wander into areas that are higher level areas, or that there are high level monsters hiding in lower level areas.  It’s like running into a bear in the forest.  It’s a chance high level encounter.  Disclaimer, I don’t like running into bears in the forest in real life.

The second thing I wanted to note is the Spiral Abyss, which is a rotating dungeon that is simply chambers with enemies.  Each floor has three chambers.  You have to try and beat them as fast as you can for rewards.  The twist is that you can choose buffs that affect the chamber or floor.  I really like this rotating dungeon and it almost feels rogue-lite in the manner that you can choose the buffs and that the dungeon rotates every few weeks or so.  It’s kind of like a remixed version of those floor trials like in The Legend of Zelda or Paper Mario.  I love it.

And this is where we part ways concerning the writing of Genshin Impact.  I will continue playing a little bit here and there.  It’s a good experience, and I think it’s a game worth trying out.  It’s possible if it keeps it up (and maaaaybe make it easier to not have to grind too much later) that Mihoyo pulled off a good gacha game.  I will probably write more about this in the next few months or so, but that’s it for the diaries for now.

If you’ve tried it, what are your thoughts?  


Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all next time!

Day 4 of Genshin Impact

I think there are a couple of things to note about Genshin Impact.  It looks like Breath of the Wild.  We’ve established that already, but it definitely doesn’t feel like Breath of the Wild.  Even with the climbing and gliding it feels like a very different game.  And that’s a good thing!

I said it before, but I’m saying it again, the gameplay is very good.  The flashy strikes, switching of characters, and elemental combinations make it very fun.  Regular combat is actually fun and worth playing.  It reminds me of Black Desert, but I think I like Genshin Impact’s combat a little more.  I like being able to combine elements.  The differences between characters can range greatly.  Sometimes things are very small, like how Kaeya actually takes a step back when he performs his charged normal attack, but the protagonist takes a step forward.  And of course, the big things are their actual elemental skills and stuff. I want more of that variance, in both sizes.  It’s great.

Your elemental combos actually feel like they have a punch.  You could go through fights with just one character, but you can definitely see the difference when you combine the elements to cause status effects.  Mixing both the regular and ultimate (or whatever that move is called that is on Q) combat elemental skills with the different characters is not too difficult but has high skill potential.  I especially like characters like Xingqiu.  His ultimate provides bonus wet damage even after you switch the character out.  Other characters that likewise create fields or effects that last long after you’re done with the move help create some cool combos.

The other thing I wanted to note is the writing.  I am playing the game with the audio in Chinese and the type in English.  I’m very impressed with the way they’ve translated the stuff.  A lot of the things to read are amusing or interesting.  I think it’s funny that there are some really far out dialogue choices you can make.  I mean, most of the time the only thing you’ll change is a different reaction, but it’s still fun that I can say stuff that is weird or almost meta.  I also like the things the NPCs say.  Again, they did a great job translating it to feel good.  I like it when MMOs have NPCs that wonder about life or other random things.  I ran into Ross the Quick, and he’s talking about how he feels like he shouldn’t run from things in life anymore.  He also talks about taking a break from missions, which almost feels like he knows the UI.  

A lot of MMOs from China, Japan, and Korea has great music, and I think Genshin Impact follows suit.  There are some melodies that may sound a bit familiar, but it’s still got good songs otherwise.  

So far, the cash stuff still is not demanding at all.  If I played the game a bit more intensely, maybe they will, especially later.  For now, I don’t see it as a problem.  The game has already provided me with characters that do well enough on their own.  More characters would just mean more fighting styles, which hopefully aren’t strict on their necessity.  As annoying as it would be, if that kind of content isn’t too far out of reach and I can still do all missions with the normal characters I happen to get, I think I would be okay to keep playing this game.

If I have more impressions, I will continue to post them.  Thanks for reading!~

Initial Thoughts: Genshin Impact

Any Impact?

Genshin Impact is an action RPG featuring anime characters.  The graphical style is like Breath of the Wild, because it’s kind of…from Breath of the Wild.  Luckily, it seems they’ve veered off into less Breath of the Wild-ish stuff for most of the other things like story.  I hate plagiarism.  So, we’re going to state what IS like Breath of the Wild first.

The graphics could be said to be inspired by Breath of the Wild, but some effects almost look pulled from it, the grass and fire combo especially.  The layout of enemy encampments and the first small enemies in those encampments.  The music in the shrines.  The death animation for animals dying and turning into meat.  I’m not going to say cooking because cooking has been implemented as a normal thing in RPGs for a while now.  The climbing and gliding system.

So, that’s quite a lot for the short few hours I’ve played so far.  After that, it splits off into its own thing.  Obviously the anime character’s style is pretty different from Breath of the Wild, and the story and gameplay elements are pretty different.  It is fun to play, and the ability to switch between characters in your party makes the fighting more energetic and intense.  Every character feels at least a little different so it’s nice to collect them and level them up.  I noticed that they seem to have their own story arcs you can play as well, which would be very nice if they developed that well.

The music is quite obviously inspired by Breath of the Wild with some of the music sounding like it was inspired, and some of it sounding…a little too familiar.  Overall though, I think it could possibly be good enough on its own.  The sound effects of the different characters swooshing and slicing are fun and satisfying to produce.  The menu sounds are nice as well.  

Oh, that’s something that I’m quite pleased with.  The UI and menu are pretty well done.  There’s a lot of stuff to cover, as it is a mobile-style game, but they actually present it all very clearly and I think it’s pretty concise for all the stuff it has to cover.  

So, of course we have to bring up the last two things that make any gamer worried.  The gacha system, and the energy/real life money system.  If the gacha ends up being something where cheap, powerful copies of the normal characters are a thing and only available for like, two months, that is something I am not going to be happy with.  I am pretty sure this will happen for real life events, similar to how Fire Emblem: Heroes does this.  This “you must grind or feel left out” system sucks.  It’s a little different if you are not set to have to grind within a short period of time, like just added content.  Of course, the company wants to make you play their game more, but it’s in a seriously bad way.  We’ll have to see how they handle that.

And then the energy system.  A lot of mobile games have this thing where after you use up all your energy you are either highly restricted in what you can do (efficiently) or you can’t do anything at all.  And most of the time the energy returns slowly enough that you are brought to the idea of spending money just to get your energy back.  These are both systems that are in typical mobile games, and I frown upon both.  Again, how they handle it will depend on how things go from here on out.  If it turns out to be a cash-time eating monster, then I will probably just finish the main story and then go, because otherwise I don’t think it’s worth my time.  

If it ends up being a pretty easy-going game concerning this stuff, then I will keep playing it.

Thanks for reading my thoughts on Genshin Impact.

The graphics could be said to be inspired by Breath of the Wild, but some effects almost look pulled from it, the grass and fire combo especially.  The layout of enemy encampments and the first small enemies in those encampments.  The music in the shrines.  The death animation for animals dying and turning into meat.  I’m not going to say cooking because cooking has been implemented as a normal thing in RPGs for a while now.  The climbing and gliding system.

So, that’s quite a lot for the short few hours I’ve played so far.  After that, it splits off into its own thing.  Obviously the anime character’s style is pretty different from Breath of the Wild, and the story and gameplay elements are pretty different.  It is fun to play, and the ability to switch between characters in your party makes the fighting more energetic and intense.  Every character feels at least a little different so it’s nice to collect them and level them up.  I noticed that they seem to have their own story arcs you can play as well, which would be very nice if they developed that well.

The music is quite obviously inspired by Breath of the Wild with some of the music sounding like it was inspired, and some of it sounding…a little too familiar.  Overall though, I think it could possibly be good enough on its own.  The sound effects of the different characters swooshing and slicing are fun and satisfying to produce.  The menu sounds are nice as well.  

Oh, that’s something that I’m quite pleased with.  The UI and menu are pretty well done.  There’s a lot of stuff to cover, as it is a mobile-style game, but they actually present it all very clearly and I think it’s pretty concise for all the stuff it has to cover.  

So, of course we have to bring up the last two things that make any gamer worried.  The gacha system, and the energy/real life money system.  If the gacha ends up being something where cheap, powerful copies of the normal characters are a thing and only available for like, two months, that is something I am not going to be happy with.  I am pretty sure this will happen for real life events, similar to how Fire Emblem: Heroes does this.  This “you must grind or feel left out” system sucks.  It’s a little different if you are not set to have to grind within a short period of time, like just added content.  Of course, the company wants to make you play their game more, but it’s in a seriously bad way.  We’ll have to see how they handle that.

And then the energy system.  A lot of mobile games have this thing where after you use up all your energy you are either highly restricted in what you can do (efficiently) or you can’t do anything at all.  And most of the time the energy returns slowly enough that you are brought to the idea of spending money just to get your energy back.  These are both systems that are in typical mobile games, and I frown upon both.  Again, how they handle it will depend on how things go from here on out.  If it turns out to be a cash-time eating monster, then I will probably just finish the main story and then go, because otherwise I don’t think it’s worth my time.  

If it ends up being a pretty easy-going game concerning this stuff, then I will keep playing it.

Thanks for reading my thoughts on Genshin Impact.

The Scavenger’s Loop

Scarcity Succeeds

In a lot of open world games and, of course, even more so with survival games, there is a loop of scavenging.  There is the challenge of making sure that you stay alive.  That could be trying to get better weapons.  It could be finding ammo.  Maybe it is finding food or ingredients to make a product that will increase your ability to survive.  I think the Scavenger’s Loop can be very simple: find a thing to survive for longer.  How deep the design goes determines how rewarding it is, and how risky it is to make that a reward.

At the very lightest of scavenging, we can point to games that are not survival games like Borderlands, where ammo is what you chiefly need and better guns to shoot that ammo with.  You’ll ultimately do fine, as there are many alternatives should your gun not be very strong.  Alternatives like…shooting more.  The preferable result is still that we’d like to have a high-rarity weapon with enough bullets to defeat the enemy.  Chances are we will have other guns on hand, grenades, skills, or another player to help out.

Every layer we add makes it more complex and requires more management.  These layers could be things like potions to heal ourselves when there is no auto-healing, limited inventory space, low amounts of ammo that can be found in the world, or a hunger/thirst bar.  Normally these things are a relief to have to not worry about.

You, the Scavenger. You, the Manager

I think part of the feeling of success comes from knowing that we managed correctly, to know that in Resident Evil we saved those bullets for a good time.  The distribution of fears as to whether or not we should expend bullets in the moment is one of the main things that make the game feel challenging.  In the end, we will have made it to the next area, but it feels like it is because of our management.  If it isn’t the management of your resources, it is the management of your skill in gameplay, and both choices end up being rewarding.  Or if you are running from a monster, just the relief itself that you can now catch a break is a reward.  You also have just shown you have the skill to make it to the relief as well.

The emphasis of the reward of you being proven as resourceful or skillful is different than the reward of the actual items themselves.  Sure, we may find a fancy crystal for making that one equipment, but the reward in survival games is usually concealed.  We do not expect the actual item reward.  It is merely a bonus for exploring the world.

The variables involved in items obtained depend on how well you do everything.  In games like Fallout where there are more variables such as durability of weapons, scarcity of ammo, and constantly being bombarded with radiation from different sources, you overcome these trials not because you are the chosen hero, but because you are the spunky, everyday person that has fought their way through a wasteland.  You’ve survived long enough so that you can be as strong as you are now.

Thievery

I’d like to add one more thing to the idea of being a scavenger, especially in survival games like Fallout, Subnautica, and Void Bastards.  You are rummaging through other people’s stuff to survive.  It is the weird intensity of stealing parts from a ship in Void Bastards when you know you’re not supposed to be there and the comic words saying “Squelch, Squelch,” indicate someone is in the next room over.  It’s similar to the feeling in games like Dishonored where you’re grabbing some valuables in a house where the person is still down the hall.  It’s the feeling of “How far can I go without getting caught?”  

The high risk, high reward makes the scavenging feel even more rewarding.  Games such as the Subnautica and Void Bastards have the alternative that if you do not risk enough, you will not survive, but if you risk too much, you are going to die anyway.  These games become a balancing act.  This is even more of a risk in Void Bastards where if you like your character on that run and you die, you likely won’t see them again.  

In the end, the Scavenger’s Loop always points back to the main idea of a survival game and that is to point out the fact that you are not dead.  And that is solely because you were digging through someone else’s or something else’s stuff.

Thanks for reading.  We’ll see you next time!

Why I Love: Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness

Ready to Work

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness is where Blizzard Entertainment really started to shine.  They began to show the strong character of the studio.  Every song, animation, and voice line has so much personality.  You were fully prepared to delve into the world.

Blizzard has made games with quite a bit of personality like Blackthorne and more so with The Lost Vikings, but Warcraft II just exploded.  Real-time strategy games were on the rise and Blizzard Entertainment was leading the charge.  The flow would be helped with games like Command & Conquer and Age of Empires, but both of those games settled on a grittier, hard world.  Blizzard leaves enough soft world building to give a sense of wonder.

I think one of the things that really attracted me to Warcraft was how fast the battles took place:  the flying of arrows and axes, the galloping of knights, and cannonballs being fired from ships.  It was all so intense.  I think it may be annoying to some, but the constant clanging of swords when the units are fighting each other is super pleasing to me.  I just imagine them smacking each other with all their might.  It reminds me of playing with toys and making them go to war with each other.  Some toys had special abilities. Some toys were tanks that would just break through the lines.  I guess Warcraft was kind of what I imagined all that to be.

I messed around with the level editor and made some pretty crude levels.  I was pretty young so it’s not like I was making anything fancy, but again, it was one of those situations where I could set up certain situations and have them go at each other.  It was a dream come true.  

Most of the units in either faction were pretty similar which likely helped with balancing issues, but I loved how into the fantasy setting the voice-overs were.  They really felt like two different factions, when stat-wise they were mostly the same.  I think what I love most about Warcraft II is the fact that they fully committed to this fantasy war game.  

With most RTS games game theory is a thing so this is not specific to Warcraft, but I want to point out that this is where that really started building in my mind.  The idea that there are so many different variables and situations that makes each battle feel unique and fought for are what really make RTS games something I love.  I think the esports scene for RTS games are the most interesting because of how mentally intense it is with commanding an army and determining strategies mid-battle, especially in something as fast paced as Warcraft or Starcraft.

Maybe I’m just super biased.  Haha!  But these are the things that makes Warcraft appealing to me.  Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness sits at number 130 as of writing this.  I need to write more frequently or else I’m going to keep getting pushed down this list.  I’ll see you next time on the ULTRA!