Cinematic Universe 2.0

Worldbuilding is kind of my jam. As entertainment media has shifted away from the Stories As Told By A Storyteller model to something a bit more ephemeral and interactive, I feel like worldbuilding is more important than ever. I remember writing research papers on the move from narratives that were entirely about characters to the idea of introducing an entire world with its own rules and concepts. It’s a surprisingly recent shift, as far as the whole of human storytelling goes.


I’m also fascinated by big shifts in media development. The Marvel Cinematic Universe shifted the entire concept of the “summer blockbuster” from throwaway fun to a surprisingly deep, interconnected web of movies and shows that all link up. The biggest issue the MCU is dealing with right now is audience fatigue– people are getting a little tired of superhero movies dominating the scene. It makes the reintroduction of Star Wars so relevant, especially since it’s really apparent that we’re going to see a Star Wars Cinematic Universe in much the same vein as its Marvel precursor.

What I find interesting about this is the postmortem of the MCU– it’s obviously not finished yet, but there’s an interesting question about what lessons have been learned from the MCU’s arc– specifically, what is Star Wars going to do differently? Rogue One hints at this– it’s essentially a war movie set in the Star Wars universe, and I think it speaks to a bit of playing with genre within the setting. It’s a strong differentiator, since most of the Marvel movies follow the same theme of “superhero-action films” which likely drives audience fatigue. It’s entirely possible that we’re going to start seeing a lot of Star Wars movies in entirely different genres.

While it hasn’t been done before, the idea of a Star Wars war movie makes conceptual sense, and on the extreme other end, a Jedi-heavy movie structured like a martial arts film would also fit the setting, while being a heavy genre departure. There are a lot of possibilities, and the setting is big and varied enough to support a lot of them– a crime procedural, a disaster movie, a romance (read Lost Stars for an example), even a horror film could all work within the setting pretty easily. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably thought of the appropriate in-universe proper nouns that would go with all of the above.

I think that one of the big things that’s going to be important is figuring out all of the things that cause audience fatigue and working against them. Certainly they’ll have to do away with the classic opening crawl sooner than later, or it’ll become a tired trope very quickly. Character cameos will also need to be curtailed or kept to a minimum, lest the universe feel too small to fit all of these stories. I think Rogue One does a smart thing by emphasizing its unique title and not that it’s a Star Wars movie.

Furthermore, I suspect we stop seeing numbered “mainline” Star Wars movies after Episode IX, and a shift into a more disparate, more spread out series of movies rather than everything working towards a singular plot arc. It creates a lot of space for other media– comics, video games, TV shows, etc and allows the same experimentation that the MCU heralded with less risk of a single disliked offering bringing the entire thing down.

This might be my own bias talking– I checked out of the MCU because I find Captain America boring and eye-rolly, so I missed literally everything to do with Hydra. Essentially, two movies: the specifically Captain America one and Winter Soldier. Not wanting to spend the time with that section of the property meant that I found it hard to get into parts of Civil War (and disliking Captain America even more), and it left me uninterested in the MCU as a whole.

Star Wars can avoid this kind of outcome because it can separate its movies by genre and exclude entire portions of the setting without jeopardizing the setting. It’s entirely possible to have a Star Wars movie without Jedi, for example, or one that is entirely Jedi, and neither diminish the other. There’s even the possibility of setting up some unreliable-narrator stuff by having characters disbelieve the events of other movies– there’s already precedent for it in the original trilogy. It means that the audience can cherry-pick the parts of the cinematic universe that they like and skip the parts they don’t without necessarily being left behind by the whole.

Long story short, I’m really interested to see what happens in the next few years of Star Wars movies, and how they map to their Marvel predecessors.

Playing Games I Don’t Like (Redux)

I’ve talked about the virtues of playing games you don’t think you’ll enjoy. I think it’s absolutely critical to being a good game designer and why I think that as a game player it helps to keep your horizons broad and not tunnel-vision on increasingly specific game types until you connoisseur yourself out of having any games to play. I have a policy of playing games that other people like that I don’t think I’m going to enjoy, and it’s one I take very seriously.


I got a lot of surprised comments when I started playing World of Warcraft again for the expansion. I found it somewhat amusing but also kind of depressing how frequently my last post about WoW earlier this week was reduced to “Tam thinks WoW is terrible”, when the reality is my feelings on the game are extremely complicated. I’ve now hit the new level cap and have gotten a pretty good feel for what the expansion offers, I didn’t want to write about it without having gotten a complete picture.

As a bit of warning, after the next paragraph there’s likely to be spoilers up to early level 110 content in Legion. Skip if you’re concerned about it, per usual.

There’s a thing I’ve discovered in playing WoW and comparing it to other games, that I see in games like FFXIV as well. I was once absolutely enamored of the gear chase, trying to get increasingly better equipment to take on bigger and fancier challenges, to master those and get even greater equipment to pursue yet bigger, fancier challenges, and so on. I’m not interested in it anymore, to the point where I’m actively annoyed most of the time when I get a gear upgrade. This isn’t just WoW, it’s something I’ve noticed in FFXIV as well; I simply don’t have the interest to spend time chasing after gear upgrades. In conversations with Bel, I’ve previously dismissed this as a distaste for random loot drops, but the structure of Legion and how quality gear flows pretty freely through the expansion really put this into perspective for me. It isn’t that random loot drops annoy me, and it isn’t that I don’t like the token grind in FFXIV for gear upgrades– both of those are true, but they aren’t separate. I no longer enjoy gear progression as a primary motivation. I’m actively annoyed when I get a gear upgrade at this point, because the upgrade rarely makes a noticeable difference in my actual play (but if I ignore it, it will) and I usually have to go put some work into not looking like a clown afterwards. The sole time I am excited for a piece of gear is when it looks particularly cool, which is where WoW’s dated graphical fidelity catches up to it– this is extremely, extremely rare for me, so I’m annoyed the vast majority of the time about the gear upgrading process.

So, I’m not playing the game for the gear chase, which means that a lot of the other systems are less than appealing for me. I think the implementation of World Quests and the “bonus” quest content is rather good and kind of a long time in coming– they’re basically Renown Hearts from GW2 tuned for level-cap play rather than levelling play. It’s a good system, and it’s good to see WoW adopt it. World Quests greatly ease the gear chase, which is generally a good thing but not directly appealing to me. I’ve done a handful of dungeons, and I’m finding that they message really poorly, at least from the healer perspective, so sometimes I have groups that take immense amounts of random damage and other times virtually no one takes any damage, with little apparent rhyme or reason. It’s hard to know if I’m doing well or poorly other than the binary “did people die”, and even that is hard to pin on either my own failings or someone else’s. Healing is also focus-intensive enough that I can’t easily zoom out and watch over the fight’s mechanics the way I do in FFXIV. Combat mechanics in general simply don’t interest me in WoW as in other games, I feel like I’ve played them out and other than slight remixes on the same concepts, I’m not going to see anything new.

On the other hand, I’m genuinely interested in some of the narrative of the game. For the first time in years, I can remember what it feels like to care about my character’s personality and place in the game’s setting, because parts of the storytelling are so good that I not only find myself interested in what happens next, but am thinking about myself in the context of that story. It’s the highest praise I can offer to an RPG’s storytelling. There are bad parts, and boring parts, certainly– I am extremely tired of the game giving you no option but to take the quests offered to you and then setting up obvious traps, then laughing at you when you “fall into the trap”. One particularly egregious example was in Stormheim, where a quest for a couple of Tauren turns into a painfully obvious con by a pair of goblins, and there’s literally nothing you can do other than a) ignore the quests, which is really just refusing to play the game or b) go along with their obvious scam until you finish the questline for obviously worthless rewards, one goblin literally says “So long, sucker!” and you get an achievement called, I’m not kidding about this, “What A Ripoff”. It’s supposed to be funny, I’m sure, but it’s a joke at the expense of someone who put time into seeing the story through, which is funny only to the person telling the joke, not the victim of it. It doesn’t really make it better that you get a followup quest (nowhere close to the original chain, and only able to be completed long afterwards), because it serves largely to reopen and salt the wound.

On the other hand, Suramar. The setup for this is great; you’ve spent a bit of time seeing these magic-addicted, twitchy elves without a lot of explanation of their background, except that some are lucid and some have gone completely feral, and that the lucid ones can turn feral if they don’t consume enough magic. It’s an interesting but seemingly throwaway device until you get to Suramar, which opens as a sort of setting-up-the-resistance piece. You’re the outsider, helping a group of these elves rebel against their queen, who’s made some pretty terrible deals with literal devils, but who still retains control over the city. You spend time searching for your contact, dodging or fighting both her pursuers and feral elves, while she uses the last of her magic to find shelter and a base of operations. You help restore her by finding and providing magic powder, a fairly thin metaphor but one that plays well into the rest of the story. Yes, these elves are hopeless addicts, but they’re also competent, intelligent, and capable, and working for a good cause. The addiction is regrettable and always at the forefront but doesn’t define these characters’ personalities; they are more than “just addicts”.

Furthermore, the elves you meet and recruit for this resistance are individually capable and powerful, but don’t steal the show from you. A big problem with a lot of the “helper” characters in WoW is that they’re always, always the ones to ACTUALLY save the day, usually through some kind of deus ex machina. In this case, you play that role, and you get the dual reactions of absolute thankfulness from the people you’re helping as well as a bit of irritation that you’re just swooping in and solving their problems, things that they’ve been working at for a long time. It feels very genuine, it feels very convincing, and it’s a very strong story being told– I would play an entire game and explore an entire setting built around just this premise. It absolutely makes it worth the frustration and annoyance of other parts of the game and other parts of the story (can we please, PLEASE just give up on the whole Alliance vs Horde constant war crimes and idiotic “vengeance” storylines already, not to mention the transparent, awful racism that they get paired with?), and I’m genuinely looking forward to playing more of it and seeing where it goes.

It reminds me, more than a little bit, of my experience with Fallout: New Vegas. I don’t like post-apoc settings, I’ve never gone in much for Fallout, and I played and didn’t really enjoy Fallout 3. FNV *should* have been a “nope, not going to bother” game for me, but I sat down with it anyway. What I found was a game with a really compelling story, a setting that changed my mind somewhat about post-apoc settings, and a bunch of new ideas and inspiration. It’s like Burnout, a racing game I ignored because “I don’t like racing games” until I sat down and tried it and discovered that under the hood (ha!) it was doing something I really enjoyed and found really fun.

I don’t love WoW, Suramar has not made me suddenly love the game again, and it doesn’t change anything about a lot of the other parts I dislike, but I’m glad I’ve gotten back into it and I’m glad I stuck with it enough to see that content. Suramar makes it worth ignoring those other things, because it represents a return to stories I actually care about and really enjoy, and can take seriously, which is what made me love the game in the first place.

What’s Satisfying?

Yesterday’s post sparked a few really interesting conversations for me, including a recurring one that drives home an interesting point and meshes well with a lot of the business-side stuff I’ve been a part of lately. How much is your gaming time worth? What is a gaming session look like for you, and what makes a gaming session feel satisfying?

there's not a lot more satisfying than watermelon

there’s not a lot more satisfying than watermelon

I know the answers for myself, I’ve talked about them a bit here and elsewhere, but for me personally it boils down to a couple of things: I want to experience something new or make visible strides towards mastery of something I’ve learned, and I want to spend social time with my friends. These two things are the prime motivators for me in games, above basically everything else. Essentially, I want to hang out, I want to see something new, or I want to be challenged. If none of these things are happening, I tend to feel unsatisfied by my gaming time. In an absolutely perfect situation, I get to do all three.

The absolute pinnacle of gaming for me is playing a game with my friends where we’re all playing new content none of us have seen before. I sit, sometimes for days or weeks, before going into a dungeon in an MMO just to play it with my friends (I tend to be a little ahead of the curve). I put Borderlands 1/2 and games like Divinity: Original Sin (a game I love even if I’ve never gotten really far in it) incredibly high on my favored gaming memories, and lately some of the most fun I’ve had has been exploring zones with Kodra and Ashgar in Guild Wars 2 and playing N++ with Kodra and another local friend. It’s absolutely what drives me, and I quietly do some frankly nonsense things just to try to make those experiences possible, like levelling alts just to kill time and spending hours researching upcoming games for possible good co-op experiences.

I’ve talked before about the idea of playing a game “to turn your brain off” as a strong motivator, which is a concept I understand though it doesn’t apply to me. It’s why I don’t like a lot of really popular games; the thing they’re delivering on doesn’t satisfy me, doesn’t make me feel like I’m spending my time well. At the other end of the spectrum, I have good friends who want nothing more than that zen, almost meditative state and value the ability to split attention, whether that means watching a TV show in the background (or foreground) or simply having the freedom to relax. It’s a thing I understand and look for in co-op experiences, that familiarity and relaxing atmosphere, because while it’s not for me, it’s important for other people. You’ll also note I’ve avoided using the word “mindless” to describe this kind of play, because I think it’s both pejorative and incorrect. I’ve watched and listened to my friends playing games in this way and it’s a very mindful approach, borne of thoughtfulness of those around them not playing or a self-awareness that the relaxed state they can achieve is healthy and valuable.

Some friends I have intensely value any gaming experience that they can get up and walk away from at any given time, guiltlessly vanishing at a moment’s notice. Multiplayer games in general tend to be a turn-off, and even playing socially on voice while playing something is something of a stretch, simply because it doesn’t allow the freedom necessary to really enjoy it. I have a bit of this myself, and almost always spend a little bit of time each week playing games entirely on my own without anyone else around. For me, a lot of this time is me ‘scouting’ games to play with the group, or indulging in something I know no one else wants to hear about.

Still others game entirely for the story– if a game lacks a good story they’re already checked out, and virtually nothing else matters. For yet others, it’s about art, seeing something gorgeous or a visual masterpiece is everything. I have a friend who plays slews of frankly horrible games just because of the textures or art style, and even if the game itself is barely functional he can use it as a vehicle to see new, exciting art. He’ll even comment that the game is buggy or pointless or mechanically unsound, but return to playing just to see more art. It really puts the idea of enjoyment of games in perspective for me– he’s even commented that he’s pretty sure X game is going to be garbage but it has a cool art style so he’s buying it.

I totally understand this, I’ve played games I don’t much enjoy simply because they fill whatever particular satisfaction hole I have that needs filling. Some of my favorite games are objectively terrible games but they fill a niche that is hard to fill elsewhere.

Thinking about games from the perspective of “what will I enjoy” or “what makes me feel satisfied” has really helped me figure out both what games I like and what games I might like, but has also made me a lot better at figuring out what games other people might like and why. We don’t have a great set of widely-accepted language tools for discussing this sort of thing, so it’s a lot harder than it seems. We kind of get stuck in a “I like this game” vs “I don’t like this game” qualitative mindset without always delving much deeper. It seeps back into the development side too, where “like Game X, but with Y and Z” tends to dominate the conversation.

What makes a game session satisfying for you? How does your time feel valued by the game you’re playing?

A Return to World of Warcraft

As anyone who’s listened to more than an episode or two of the Aggrochat podcast can verify, I have what you might call Strong Feelings about World of Warcraft. I’ve been all over the spectrum with the game, and have landed in a kind of complex position. Possibly worth mentioning, if the post title didn’t give it away: I’ve been playing WoW again, a little bit, and it’s given me some context and ability to articulate how I feel about the game. Maybe you feel similarly.


A few major different thought bubbles form when WoW comes up:

First, and importantly (though it’s something that often gets dismissed so I can move onto the parts that I find more interesting), WoW is definitively an excellent game. There is a reason it is as successful as it is, and quite frankly any attempt to deny that it’s a great game is simply blindness. It isn’t without flaws, and there are other reasons to dislike it, but it’s the pinnacle of a certain type of game that competitors have tried to top for a decade and failed. It has more than ten years of evolution, to the point where it’s reached that magic MMO point of being multiple games all at the same time, all appealing to different people and bringing them all together into one place.

Second, WoW has a lot of history. It has, quite frankly, an unwieldy, overwhelming amount of history that is scattered throughout its playerbase. Some things have to give somewhere, and WoW has made it choices as far as what it wants to give up to make the game more focused and less crushed under its own weight. It knows it’s alienated some of its players with these choices, and it’s okay with that. I’m one of those players.

Third, WoW is dated. It felt dated when I last played in Pandaria, and four years later and many other games, coming back to WoW feels like installing an old, nostalgic title, even though it just released a new expansion. It’s the kind of thing that’s hard to see if you haven’t played many other, similar games, but there are a lot of little details and quirks that have become de rigeur in online games at this point that WoW feels very behind in. Movement is one of the biggest ones. Most online RPGs now have quick, dodgy movement as a core mechanic, and usually many, many other baseline, easy to use movement tools. Ground-targeted short-range teleports are standard, characters stick to the ground when they move, slow-falling (or removal/elimination of falling damage) is implemented in a wide variety of ways, gap-closers and gap-openers are commonplace, the list goes on. WoW has had very tight, very responsive-feeling controls since its creation, but it hasn’t kept up with movement options. Most interesting to me here is the Demon Hunter, a class that, for no extra cost, gets double-jump and a gliding ability, as well as multiple forward dashes, a backward dash, and at least one targeted teleport (albeit tied to another ability and on a lengthy cooldown). The Demon Hunter feels far more modern than any of the other classes, and it’s shocking to me that there wasn’t a similar revamping of movement for every class in the game, not just the one new one. Add onto that little quality-of-life things like a lack of one-button looting, no talk-to-NPC or quest-acceptance keybindings, and a constant need to click into the gameworld rather than letting smart-targeting handle that for you makes the UI feel clunky, even with (fundamentally required) addons.

As an offshoot of the game being dated, there are a lot of places where the fidelity is surprisingly low. Few if any characters move their mouths when they speak, animations are jerky and don’t flow into one another, most armor is just a texture painted on one of a small number of models, with a couple of exceptions (shoulders) that stand out and bear the weight of a character’s appearance. It’s a throwback to when games pushed the limits on hardware frequently, and WoW could play on virtually anything. As the desperate need to keep up PC upgrades just to play games have slowed down thanks to console gaming (which is pretty much a good thing for everyone, certainly PC gamers’ wallets), lots of games have caught up to a modern hardware standard, and WoW, despite touch-ups where it can, sits pretty far back as far as visual fidelity goes. Playing WoW, FFXIV, GW2, Blade and Soul, and ESO in rapid succession really makes the fidelity more apparent, which brings me to the next big thought.

Fourth, while graphics aren’t everything and fidelity doesn’t necessarily make or break a game, the lower fidelity and lack of ability to do subtle, nuanced graphical effects means that WoW has a very hard time being subtle. NPCs to talk to and objects to interact with stand out garishly and blatantly; the game basically shouts at you where to go and what to do. Not a problem when there’s a possible chance you might miss something, but considering the fairly few quest types in the game (kill X, click on X, talk to X) and how many of them you do (I’ve done at least a hundred quests just going from level 100 to level 106), it starts to feel like every quest is a tutorial.

It’s a big thing that bugs me about the play experience. In roughly the same timeframe I’ve been playing WoW, I’ve also been playing Guild Wars 2. I’ve gotten one WoW character from 98 to 102 (Demon Hunter), and one character from 100 to 106 (Monk). I’ve gotten two characters from 40 to 80 in GW2, quite a bit of progression on multiple others, and still had time to spend unlocking masteries and completing the lengthy main story on my existing level 80 character. One of the big things that WoW used to pummel older MMOs into the ground — its relatively quick, painless levelling — now feels slow and ponderous, and like I have very little freedom. The game feels like a slave to its own paradigm, adding ten levels because That Is What Expansions Do without making those ten levels meaningful in any real way. Indeed, everything scales to your level, so the levelling process feels even more meaningless and like a bizarre chore you have to do if you want to play with your friends. I don’t seem to be learning anything in the 10-level process to prepare me for endgame, either; I haven’t gotten any new abilities since level 100 (my Artifact weapon skill) and I haven’t seen any meaningful enemy mechanics to learn how to counter. In a four hour play session, I got my GW2 Thief from 62 to 80 and maxed out his crafting skill from 0 to 500, completed a map, and got a full set of level 80 gear to be going on with, while also doing some character hopping and some story quests. In the same four hour play session in WoW, I got from (the end of) 102 to 106… and I was a lot more focused in WoW.

Fifth and finally, tied to that last paragraph above, I’m intensely frustrated by what WoW represents in the gaming space. In achieving a stranglehold on the market, it’s had a severe chilling effect on everything else in the genre. What was once a widely varied, highly experimental genre is now… much less so. If I want to play an RPG with some progression and some group mechanics and actually have anyone to play with, I’m playing WoW. I’ve wanted to give group content in other games a shot basically since I picked them back up and haven’t been able to, but the sheer number of people playing WoW means I’ve wound up in groups virtually every time I’ve logged in. I feel like I’m renting friends on a monthly basis, where if I don’t pay up and log in, I don’t get to play games with my friends, and I better enjoy the game they’re all playing or I don’t get to play along. I haven’t decided which feels lonelier: playing a game I enjoy with just too few people to be able to do the more interesting stuff or playing a game that everyone else seems to like and I don’t. Currently I’m doing both, in the hopes that together I can fill the hole that neither one can fill separately.

For now, I’m playing WoW. I’m legitimately enjoying some parts of it, but the shine is wearing off. I can predict the stories, I can see the shape of the systems, I feel like I’m well past being surprised. Maybe I’m wrong, and I think it’s important for me to brush up on games that are relevant even if I don’t personally enjoy them. As was true in Pandaria, the storylines that don’t involve the Alliance or the Horde are often very good, and there are plenty of cute jokes littered throughout. Class mechanics have become far less unwieldy (FFXIV could learn something about button efficiency) and there are plenty of nostalgic nods to previous eras of WoW.

I’m just not as invested as everyone else is, and I know how that story ends. I’ve seen it happen enough times by now. I’m already on the edge of it now– I know I’m going to check out when the game asks more of me than I’m invested enough to give, and then doesn’t let me play meaningfully with my friends if I don’t do whatever it takes, be that a gear grind or a rep grind or whatever. I’m already behind in that regard, simply by dint of not being max level and able to do whatever they call max-level dungeons now, and it’s hard to work up the wherewithal to grind more quests to get there. In a move I find personally extremely frustrating, it became incredibly easy to run normal-mode dungeons with higher-level friends, but the exp gain from those is pretty paltry, so levelling through dungeons is infeasible. So, I grind for now, trying to catch up, so I can play with people I know and like and don’t get to play often enough with.

I just wish this didn’t feel like the only choice I have if I want to play games with some of my friends.

How Many Songs Need To Be Good?

I had an off-the-cuff thought during the podcast this weekend that keeps resurfacing in my head. We were talking about music, and I asked how many songs off of an album needed to be good for that album to feel like it was worth it. Pretty much universally, the answer was “about three”. It’s been sitting with me ever since.


I’ve been looking at media in general, and how much of it I have to really like to stay engaged. There’s a song on an album I own that’s three minutes and fifteen seconds long. At about the 2:45 mark, it cuts into a different vocalist for a segment that I really dislike. It’s jarring and ruins the track for me. I now skip that track entirely, even though I like the first two and a half minutes of it. In the same vein, I haven’t played MGSV in days for a relatively banal reason. It’s not any of the objectionable things in the game, it’s that I have a mission where the drop off point is way too far away, and I just can’t be bothered to go through the hassle.

So, I need about 25% of a music album to feel like it’s worth it, but if the last thirty seconds of a track isn’t to my liking, I skip it. I am willing, and in fact expect, to sit through the first few episodes of an anime before making a decision, yet if a game hits a lull, it becomes harder and harder for me to come back to it (see also: grinding of any kind). My tolerance for parts I don’t like varies widely from medium to medium, and sometimes wildly within the same medium.

For any given bit of entertainment, there’s a threshold where the parts I don’t like outweigh the parts I do, and I check out. It seems simple and obvious, but it’s also something that’s gone entirely unevaluated. What are the exceptions? Can I predict this? I feel like if I can understand what the mix is like, I can better understand both myself and the media I consume.

Trying to pin it down is frustratingly elusive, though. When I try to analyze my thoughts across media, I find myself immediately making excuses, about how one thing is different in some specific way. I know enough about psychology to know that there’s almost certainly a pattern I’m not seeing– or more likely, not letting myself see– but knowing it’s there and trying to make sense of it are two very different things.

I say a lot that good design is about knowing what people haven’t yet realized they like. The real magic of good design is being able to elicit a positive, wholly unexpected reaction from someone, and I feel like if I could tap into my own mental hangups and processes, I could start to get a handle on how to better approach design. If I could precisely (or even roughly) pinpoint where people check out, where a piece of media loses people, I could develop better intuition for how to avoid those pain points.

I am opposed, fundamentally, to the idea of “I’ll know it when I see it” design. It asks a designer to magically intuit something that the requester can’t even articulate. It’s like telling a chef to “make some food, I’ll know if I like it once I try it”. It’s why I started taking notes on the things that I loved and didn’t expect to, and the places where I find myself checking out of something. I’ve tried to get better at articulating precisely why I like or dislike something, because it’s from those evaluations that I learn and grow, and can tell other people what I like and don’t like. It’s meant I need to have a constant mental cycle active, monitoring my own reactions as they happen, and drawing connections. When I talk about my “designer brain” always being on, that’s what I’m referring to. It’s comforting at the same time as it keeps me from ever fully engaging with something.

I’ve gotten so used to that background process running smoothly that it’s jarring when it runs into something it can’t or won’t process. I’m still mulling over the idea from before– how much of something can be bad or uninteresting before I stop caring? Why and how does it change across media, even across different entries in the same medium? Why do I get frustrated at stretches of fruitless-feeling running around in MGSV and, in that frustration, switch over to trying fruitlessly to solve challenge puzzles in The Witness?

Building a Bushido Board (Part 4: The Best Laid Plans…)

So, it took a while to actually get all of the pieces I needed for this board. Specifically, I last posted about this board almost two months ago and it’s taken me this long to finally obtain everything. This weekend was a lot of painting and adaptation work, but I’m pretty happy with the end result:


You’ll notice a few things at a glance, first and foremost how my measurements were off. I’d originally planned a short piece, a long piece, and a gate on each side. The actual measurements of the pieces put a section of wall perilously close to (and for a short distance, inside) the stream. What looked like reasonable measurements on paper turned out not to fit in reality.

SO! Back to the drawing board as far as layout goes. I had a few games with friends over the weekend and played around with some board layouts. I knew I was going to need this iteration step anyway to get to a good place with the board, and since all of my original preplanning went kind of out the window, more thought was going to need to go into layout before I finalized anything.

The layout above, as it turns out, is a disaster. The whole map bottlenecks around a single gate, and players starting inside the walls have a huge advantage in most scenarios, while starting in opposite corners makes for a lot of really awkward positioning and very few compelling decision points.

Kodra helped me work out an alternate layout, suitable for at least trying:


It shortens the wall and opens up that quarter of the board a bit more. This is a shot taken after some more work has been done, so there are trees on the board, but you can see the rough similarities to my original design. One wall piece goes unused, but the space works a lot better.

In the first iteration, the larger building on the left was swapped with the small tiled-roof building in the bottom-center, but we quickly found that that made for a significant bottleneck problem between the wall and that building.

One major thing that came out of it over the course of three games was that different lists would approach the space differently, which is exactly what I want, and there were multiple ways to set up; both sets of opposite corners are interesting and compelling (also good). A big takeaway is that the side of the river opposite the main walled complex needed something to make it more defensible– it’s wide open with no cover, making it a fairly poor starting location and vulnerable to ranged attackers. It made movement on that side fairly predictable– deploy as far forward as possible, run to use the big wall as cover because you have no other options. It made an inordinate amount of play happen right around the wall corner, which isn’t bad (bottlenecks aren’t automatically awful), but would really cut into the replay value of the board.


Looking at the board from a different angle yields a better result, though we didn’t play on this layout.

A couple of physical takeaways on the board– while I’d hoped that the roof slats would make it reasonable to perch a model on the roof, it was more precarious than I would’ve liked. C’est la vie. More annoying was the smooth surface of the board tiles made for models sliding around pretty easily, which isn’t ideal. Luckily I’d picked up some grass flock and spray adhesive, and you can see patches of darker grass breaking up the simply painted board surface. This is more for traction than anything. I also noted that the stream was VERY shallow, and tended to make it awkward to put models in there. Making it deeper became a goal, just for more flat surface for mini placement.

I’m pretty happy with the layout above, but I also don’t think I’m in a place where I can call it permanent. This is a bit touchy, since I want to also place down foliage and there’s no good way to do that and still have the foliage move around. However, there are some predictable terrain needs that almost don’t care what the wall/building layout is:

1.) The riverbanks need cover; the stream area is too open in general.

2.) The opposite bank is way too open, and needs some kind of cover.

There’s virtually no building placement that changes these; the biggest thing is putting a building on the opposite bank which breaks up the space but doesn’t provide a lot of playable cover, just a dead space that blocks line of sight. I have a bunch of bamboo trees which work really nicely for terrain (because they’re essentially just sticks, meaning it’s easy to maneuver minis around them) which are going to pretty much all go into service of making the opposite riverbank a bamboo forest. In addition, I have a number of cat-tails to plant on the riverbanks, so the non-building side of the river will ultimately have a lot of usable cover, probably more than the building space itself.


I like this because my biggest issue has always been the building-side having a clear advantage. Now the river-side is really appealing as well, perhaps more so.

I’ve also placed four trees on the board. While these are static elements, I can still move and rotate the tiles and change up the board layout pretty easily even though the trees aren’t movable. For now, I don’t want to make any other elements static, because I’m still reworking the concept of static terrain.

One of my goals for building a static terrain board is that I can make it really look great and purposeful if I place everything in specific places. I’m finding that even without a static board, I can achieve surprisingly high quality visuals, even without significant pieces in place, like this:


This approach really needs a road to look “right”, but even without one, it looks acceptable. It’s not the highest possible fidelity, but I’m starting to look closely at the tradeoff I’d be making for that level of fidelity and wondering if it’s worth it. In carefully choosing certain low-impact static elements (the trees), I can still have a highly modular board without necessarily giving up appearance.

What I expect is that as I play more on the board, I’ll place more and more static terrain pieces, iterating on the design and determining which pieces move around a lot and which don’t. If I can, at any point, lock down a wall layout, I almost don’t need anything else to be static because I can simply put down roads and let the buildings sort themselves out. What I suspect, however, is that the walls are going to prove to be the most influential part of the board as far as play, and so they’ll have the most iteration before something is settled on.


In the meantime, I’m surprised at how well the whole thing has turned out, since I’ve never before built a board or even really worked on terrain. It’s a gorgeous board thus far, and I’m really happy with the results, even if it’s not the static board I was shooting for.

What Makes a Good Stealth Game?

It’s not a huge secret that I love stealth games. Really, I like almost any game where winning requires you be observant and get creative with the tools you have, but good stealth games tend to excel at this. After I talked about the stealth mechanics in MGSV, someone asked me why I like that game as a stealth game but not the old Syphon Filter series, or Ninja Gaiden. It got me thinking about what I like in stealth games, and what makes one good.

mark of the ninja 2

1.) Messaging.

I talk about messaging a lot. Messaging is the difference between dying randomly and dying because you weren’t paying attention. It’s what makes the first ten minutes of Mega Man X some of the most brilliant tutorial game design ever and so many overbearing, annoying tutorials so painfully bad. Messaging is super important in general, but especially important in stealth games.

Stealth games are cerebral games more than twitchy action games. It means they’re a lot more complex, and need to communicate how you’re supposed to interact with them in a reasonable sort of way. You need to be able to tell whether you’re about to be seen, or whether that guard is about to turn around, or how to know if you’re about to make a huge mess of things. You need to know where you can and can’t go, because so much of stealth gameplay is about traversal and thinking about how to get from point A to point B, often while avoiding obvious paths. Messaging is what makes that work. Lighting lets you know where you should and shouldn’t be, and you need to know where you can reach and where is off-limits, because oftentimes the best route is over or under the main path (more on this later).

More important are the little clues and the way the game messages things you can’t intuit. Thief introduced the light bar, which let you visualize how much light you were standing in (since you couldn’t look at your own body to tell). Stealth games tend to have HUGE animation libraries, showing everything from sleeping enemies to reactions to minor noises to investigating to various levels of alertness. Often you’ll have enemies be neutral or hostile depending on where in the map you are, whether you’re somewhere you ought to be or not, and you’ll get warned through animation and voice that you’re approaching a place they’ll turn hostile if you enter. These animations are hugely significant in letting you know how well you’re doing, and it’s why static cameras are so frequently the most disliked “enemy type” in stealth games: they lack nuance.


2.) Level Design

A good stealth game is a master class in level design. Levels in more linear games tend to look like long tubes if you zoom out far enough– the best gameplay in that kind of straightforward action game has you moving through a space where the escalation is controlled and paced appropriately, with respites and restore points timed out as necessary. Mega Man levels tend to be a great example of this done well. By comparison, good stealth game levels tend to look like fairly small boxes. Rather than huge sprawls, they’re interweaving meshes with key locations interspersed throughout. They’re incredibly difficult to make well, because each section has to have multiple ways in and out and many different paths while still giving you the ability to fire off scripting triggers and story beats appropriately.

It’s why I don’t like Syphon Filter. Most of the levels I remember from that series were linear, with single-room patrol puzzles where being seen meant game over, rather than actual spaces with multiple paths. It wasn’t a game about perception and movement, it was a game about pattern recognition, more akin to a bullet hell shooter than a stealth game. It didn’t provide choices, just demanded you find answers, which brings me to my next bit:


3.) Options.

Key to a good stealth game are providing options. Are you bad at moving quickly under pressure? Take the slower, safer route. Are you good at knocking out guards but bad at traversal? Go through the guarded route and take out your opposition. Maybe a little of both. It’s why some of my favorite stealth games are ones like Deus Ex or Assassin’s Creed, where (for the most part) you can choose exactly how stealthy you want to be, if at all.

One of my favorite stealth games was Hitman, specifically because despite the premise, it was best played as a significantly non-violent game. It let me play almost entirely non-lethally, save for the target, and in later stealth games I’ve prided myself on playing as non-lethally as possible. It changes the language of games for me from one of overwhelming offense in the face of violence to one of thoughtful conflict-avoidance and nonlethal approaches. Being able to make that choice (which is usually the more difficult option) feels meaningful, like I’m adding challenge but for a good reason. I can hold myself to a particular high standard, knowing that it’s self-imposed and not forced on me by the game.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, I think forcing stealth isn’t good for a stealth game; it’s the choice to remain unseen and unnoticed that really defines the genre, and leaves you to decide what happens if you fail. It’s why fail-on-being-seen is terrible, it robs you of that choice, no matter how narratively sensible it might be. Check out this segue into my next point:


4.) Expectation of Failure.

Bad stealth games throw you to game over or make you restart if you mess up, get seen, whatever. Good ones expect that you will mess up and give you ways to get yourself out of trouble. Entire mechanics are founded on finding a way out of trouble, and it means that good stealth games can make their stealth components MUCH more difficult. You’re expected to fail at some point, and then get yourself out of the pot that you put yourself in. Often, early on in the game, you’ll be put into a situation where you can’t avoid failure, to teach you how to escape and right yourself. It’s cheap if done too often, but incredibly effective (and good messaging) when done well.

You’re often much weaker than even basic enemies, or very easily dispatched by them, to make failure sting a bit (but never instantly end the game). The original Thief pitted you against guards that were both better than you were with a sword and far stronger and more resilient. A swordfight with a single guard would leave you badly injured and limping along, a swordfight with two at once almost always meant death. But, you could get by. You weren’t *guaranteed* to die, it was just very likely, so that time a pair of guards managed to spot you and pull swords meant you probably wanted to run, hide, and then work your way back more carefully. Staying and fighting was a choice, and if you were good enough and knew what you were doing, a choice you could make and come out victorious on the other side.


5.) You Are Special, But Not More Powerful.

Not special in mundane ways. In many shooters, you simply can get hit more times than your enemies can, and recover faster, so the end result is you are just bigger and better than most of what you fight. In good stealth games, you’re usually not bigger or better, but you have tools, or skills, or simply view the space in a different way than your foes. Height is an advantage, and you avoid roads in favor of rooftops (and have the skills to get up to said rooftops. You can open locked doors, or move quietly, or see in ways your enemies can’t.

As above, good stealth games are cerebral, so the tools you get are a celebration of brains rather than brawn. The exciting huge missile launcher and powerful giant axe are celebrations of brawn, the far more common celebration in games, but stealth games give you smoke bombs, and lockpicks, and water arrows so that you can prove that you’re smarter than your enemies, not stronger or tougher. It goes back to the choice thing– the very best stealth games let you choose how you want to play them, and that may not involve being stealthy at all.


I’m playing Metal Gear Solid V recently, thanks to a friend who told me I should look past the nonsense to see a really interesting, really compelling stealth game. She wasn’t wrong, it’s one of the most interesting stealth games I’ve seen in a while and takes a very different approach than other games I’ve played. More on that another time, though, I want to ride around on the elephant in the room for a while.


Holy wow is Metal Gear Solid a weird game. It’s worth noting that the last one I played was Metal Gear Solid 2, in 2001, when I was young enough to take the series 100% seriously. I’d played the ‘original’ MGS when it came out as well, and fully believed that it was a completely serious game meant to be played entirely straight. It meant that when MGS2 got really weird and kind of wacky, and started playing jokes that felt like they were mocking me for taking the game seriously (retrospect protip: they were), I bounced off of the game series, hard, and never returned to it.

I should break at this point to comment that, as a game designer, I don’t see anything terribly compelling or ‘genius’ about proving that you’re cleverer than your players. I tend to think games that rely on that sort of gimmick are kind of hacky, because you can literally create reality from nothing and twist it however you want. Doing something disruptive and unexpected and then subtly mocking your players for not being prepared for it is a kind of smug high-school-D&D DM-style behavior that I don’t think has a place in a mature industry. It’s like killing a player entirely at random and then saying “HAHA U DIED”. Crafting experiences that are predictable and internally consistent is the hard part of game design; your players are not your adversaries, and treating them as such is bad design. This is, notably, what separates Dark Souls from your high school DM, and why one of them is brilliant and the other you stopped playing games with fifteen years ago.

Anyway. Metal Gear Solid. What playing it now, fifteen years later lets me see is that the series is basically incredibly deadpan parody. It’s so deadpan that it walks the line between serious and silly on a regular basis, and makes both bizarre jokes and surprisingly heavy commentary, often within moments of each other. In the first ten minutes of the game, I’m treated to a first-person perspective on battlefield trauma followed by an incredibly odd character creation bait-and-switch that appears to be an incredibly elaborate joke played for no reason. The game has you create your character and then does precisely nothing with it. You look like Snake. You were always going to look like Snake. You spent however long in character creation for… versimilitude? A story point? A joke at your expense?


I don’t ascribe to the fannish theory that this sort of thing is a “genius” move by the series creators. It’s honestly kind of a cheap joke created at great expense, and one thing I will say about MGS is that it’s very careful about breaking the fourth wall– it’s how it maintains its veneer of being an entirely serious game, while no one is uncertain that, say, Saint’s Row is a parody. The couple of times MGS 1 and 2 broke the fourth wall were honestly pretty clever (hello, Psycho Mantis, one of the most creative bosses of my childhood). The character creation bit in MGSV mostly seems like a transition trick that came about late in development, after the multiplayer (and, I assume, its character creation system) was already up and running. You’ve got the character creation system already for multiplayer, and you need a good place to hide some loading from the camera, and hey, wouldn’t it be funny if… and there you go. Not genius, just expediency. Another trick to game design is looking like you meant it the whole time. Even better if people actually believe you.

The abject silliness ramps up, though, in a scene where you sneak out of a hospital with the help of a guy wearing nothing but a hospital gown. You get a lot of painstakingly deliberate shots of the guy’s bare butt as he sneaks around ahead of you, up to and including a moment where you lose him in a crowd and look around for him, staring at the bottoms of everyone you see, complete with zoom in and dramatic music as you try to recognize your comrade. There’s a lot of this kind of thing; I’ve been waiting for Snake and Ocelot to kiss for hours now, given that every single shot involving the two of them is ripped straight from a romance drama, and in one of the first levels you have a pseudo-touching reunion as you rescue a comrade that quickly becomes a one-sided patter suggestive of old lovers. Seriously, you have a scene where the guy you’re rescuing purrs out weird little “c’mon, say it for me, I’ve been waiting to hear you say it for nine years” comments while your character says literally nothing.



You may have noticed I’m using a lot of cinematography terms (shot, scene) rather than game design terms (encounter, level). It’s because MGSV is pretty heavy on the cutscenes, and they’re constructed (to their credit) with a lot of cinematographic know-how and skill. They draw from a huge variety of sources and execute them nearly perfectly, and it’s only if you know what’s being referenced that the use of whatever technique or style becomes jarring. I’ve watched a scene that, sans dialogue, would look exactly like a dramatic romance telenovela, except it was a couple of guys talking about a superhuman pyromaniac. It’s bizarre but compelling.

On the other hand, it’s not without its flaws. Pacing, for one, is atrocious. Scenes drag on and on for virtually no reason, and you have to jump through a lot of repetitious hoops. Leaving your base requires you to call a helicopter to pick you up, which takes a good thirty seconds or so EVERY TIME, and you still have to walk over to the landing pad and hop into the helicopter. This kind of thing makes sense out in the field, as a way to make extractions more interesting, but having to do it to start the next mission basically every time is inexcusable, especially because I then have to sit through another thirty seconds or so of the same “look out the window as the helicopter takes off” scene every single time, then the same “look out the window as the helicopter comes in to drop you off” as I head into the mission drop point. You do this a LOT.


I also find it annoying that literally every speaking character that’s lived more than a couple of minutes is a gruff male voice. A gruff male voice very similar to the last gruff male voice, complete with not-so-subtle hero-worship-slash-homoerotic-yearning overtones. I long for a female character of almost any kind (I’m aware that I’m going to be heavily disappointed/offended here), just for any vocal distinction at all. I’ve had entire conversations play out over radio where I have no idea who’s speaking, if it’s even Snake speaking, or what. I’ve started playing with subtitles on in the hopes that I’ll get some kind of indication of the speaker just so I can keep the dialogue straight (tip: doesn’t help).

The deadpan line between completely serious and abjectly silly is something that I’m afraid is going to sabotage the game later. Thus far it’s ridden a line really close to some very sensitive subjects (and I’m given to believe that it crosses that line later on), and the permeating silliness means that I don’t think the game will be able to treat those subjects with the gravity they deserve. There’s a difference between pushing the line and being disrespectful, and I don’t know how a game that turns everything into a bizarre sort of joke manages to be serious about subjects that deserve seriousness. I suspect it doesn’t, and I don’t think that’s to its credit.

That all having been said, the craftsmanship is excellent and I’ve had a dramatic escape from paramilitary squads at a hospital ultimately segue into a whale on fire eating a helicopter out of the sky before being rescued by my gay Russian cowboy lover straight into an 80’s training montage without any of that feeling out of place. Credit where it’s due, I don’t think many people could pull that off.

Also, I’m playing this entire game as a woman. FemSnake. It’s just… a hidden easter egg that I seem to have stumbled upon. Who knew?

What is a Game Worth?

Someone made the comment to me yesterday after my post about No Man’s Sky that their biggest issue with the game wasn’t that it was a bad game, but that they didn’t feel it was worth $60. I have some complex thoughts about this.



First: I feel like it’s not hard to wait a little bit and see what people are saying about a game, if you’re really on the fence about whether or not $60 is what you want to pay for the experience. Second, you have to decide for yourself the value of playing the game on Day 1 rather than some other time. For me, that sense of newness and discovery is worth a lot– I like to be able to tell cool stories right away, when everyone is still finding out new stuff. Other people don’t care about that at all, and would prefer to play a game when other people can give them tips to save time or ease frustration.

Third, I feel like we are, on the whole really bad at assigning value to games. Sales and indies and whatnot don’t really help this much.

A bit of math:

The standard $60 USD price point for games started, broadly, with the Xbox 360 era; about 2005 or so. Despite being categorically untrue, the accepted cost of games before then was $50. To compare it with another popular media, movie tickets in 2005 cost, on average,  $6.41 USD (source). Assuming no major fluctuations or advances (we’ll assume, perhaps incorrectly, that games and movies have not gotten significantly more complex to make relative to each other in 10 years), we can compare the cost of a movie ticket versus a game now. Movie tickets in 2015 in the US cost, on average, $8.43, a 31.5% increase since 2005.

As a bit of a standardizing metric, we can also compare that to the inflation rate, to see how much the “real” cost of movies has gone up. $6.41 in 2005 was worth ~$7.78 in 2015, so the “real” cost of going to see a movie went up about 8.3%.

Games have been $60 since 2005. Adjusting that for inflation, games *should* cost ~$72.82, but notably they don’t. If games had gone up in cost commensurate with movie tickets, they’d cost $78.86, almost $80. Instead, the real cost of buying a new video game has gone DOWN 17.7% in the last 10 years.

Both that ~$80 expected price point and the 17.7% drop in real cost are interesting to me, for different reasons.

First, that $80 price point looks really familiar. It just so happens (nothing ‘just so’ about it, this almost certainly isn’t a coincidence) that almost every “deluxe” edition game costs $80. You know, the ones that have some fun extras but aren’t a whole collector’s edition, and are some of the most popular pre-orders of major titles. Fancy that.

Second, that price drop seems telling. The “real” cost of games has dropped 17.7% to… what would that be in 2005 dollars? oh! $49.43, check that out. It looks like we’re paying less in real money for our games. This mostly wouldn’t make sense unless our assumption above about the relative difficulty of making movies vs games weren’t true, and, well, it pretty much isn’t. The difficulty of making a game has gone up less from 2005 to 2015 than the difficulty of making a movie.

“But Tam,” you say, annoyed by all this math because you still feel like you paid too much for a game, “that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t think the games I’m playing are worth $60, even if economically that price point makes sense!”

How much is showing off screenshots of your cool new game worth? Watercooler talk about what everyone is playing this week? Online conversations that you want to be relevant for? Not being spoiled? Can you put a dollar value on those things? MMOs can, and have been for years. There’s significant, quantifiable value in being able to play a game before other people, or being one of the first to play it. This wasn’t always the case, but now that Everything Is The Internet, it pretty much is now. It used to be that you had to buy a game when it was still on shelves, and if you waited too long it simply wouldn’t be available or you’d have to watch for it in the used games bin, which was pretty random (but you didn’t pay full price). It’s worth noting that when the used game bin became more reliably predictable, you started paying closer and closer to full price. Now, you can be pretty much assured you can buy it at a time that’s convenient for you, and if you want to play it when it’s relevant to most other people, well, you pay a “premium” (i.e. full price) for it.

If you don’t ascribe value to playing a game when everyone else is, then you can wait until it’s less relevant and get it on the cheap. Plenty of people do that. If you’re not sure you’re going to like a game, it’s probably best to wait, so that you can find out whether or not it’s a game you’ll actually like. If jumping right into it while it’s relevant is important to you, though, you need to recognize that you’re paying a quantifiable amount for that. For myself, I jump into story-driven games right off the bat because I want to see the story for myself and not get spoiled. In MMOs, I want to get in close to the start, because there’s an advantage to doing so. For other games, I care a lot less about that, and tend not to pick them up until much later.

On No Man’s Sky: Elitism is Valueless

No Man’s Sky is one of the most divisive games I’ve seen in a long time. Barring the unfortunate PC launch which left a lot of people with perfectly reasonable to high-end computers unable to play (myself included), it’s been a fairly smooth launch and the game works well if you’re either on PS4 or on a PC that runs it. Since I waited for the PC copy only to find that my PC wouldn’t run it, I had about a week before trying it on PS4 to see how the internet at large reacted to it.


Before I get into that, a bit on what I think of the game. No Man’s Sky is more or less exactly the game I expected. Like virtually everything else in its particular genre, it’s systemically heavy while content-light. In this case, I’m defining content as story, characterization, worldbuilding, setting, etc. NMS is full of widely but shallowly varied locations and, like other similar games, is mostly about playing with the various systems at play. Minecraft and Starbound let you build, Elite: Dangerous has complex flight mechanics, No Man’s Sky has detailed systems to procedurally generate flora and fauna on planets. It’s a great game if what you want to do is write your own story or simply play with a complex experience.

Following the general response to it, however, makes me wonder what many people expected the game to be. The trailer showed you basically everything you need to see; it’s not like there was some kind of bait and switch going on. You wander around vaguely in a direction, cataloguing your findings and collecting enough resources to keep on going. If you’re into that kind of thing, it’s GREAT. It’s also one of the only games I’ve ever seen that has a nice, seamless planetside-to-space transition with mechanics beyond “point in that direction”. It’s got a soothing, fun soundtrack and nice, surreal colors.

It gets a lot of hate. People criticize it for being too obviously procedural. People who wanted more simulation compare its flight mechanics unfavorably with Elite: Dangerous or Star Citizen. Both are said with the same tone of “if you like No Man’s Sky, you either don’t know any better or are wrong”. It’s a little sad.

I put a few hours into the game with Kodra. It’s not really a game for either of us. My biggest criticism is that it is really, truly awful at messaging– within thirty seconds of getting control of my character I was nearly murdered by floating robots that swarmed me, left with fewer little health boxes and no shields, and an empty laser. It wasn’t a good initial experience, certainly didn’t welcome me into the game. Some people love that, though, they want their games to tell them nothing and force them to figure out every little detail of the interface and what they should be doing and why. For that kind of player, bad messaging is freedom, and a chance to feel clever.

Here’s the thing about that, though: it’s absolutely cool to enjoy when games don’t tell you basic things and make you figure them out. Pattern recognition is satisfying and using entrenched medium knowledge to solve a problem validates the time/energy spent in developing that medium knowledge in a satisfying way. It’s like film buffs enjoying a film with complex cinematography because they’re bringing a wealth of cinematographic knowledge to that film, or a foodie with a very refined palate enjoying the difference between cane sugar and honey as a sweetener for their sauce. The problem comes in when you start to demand that of everyone else, where it’s suddenly not okay to like a movie because it’s funny and has explosions or because they like an oreo milkshake over creme brûlée.

No Man’s Sky isn’t a “simplified knock-off” of Elite: Dangerous, nor is it a “shallower Starbound with fancy graphics”. It’s doing different things from both of those games, and honestly it’s doing them fairly well. As I said, it’s not a game for me, but I see where it’s good and I can suggest it to people who I think would love it. I’m glad people are having fun with it and I want to hear their stories (and see pictures of either ridiculous buffalo with fairy wings or majestic brontosauri).

It’s okay to not like things, just, well, you know the rest.