It’s interesting to observe how my attitudes have shifted in relation to massive Steam sales, lately. At first, I snapped up titles like a hungry alligator.
But, as I’ve accumulated a huge backlog of unplayed titles, I’ve found that very backlog to be a disincentive to taking advantage of new sales. Why buy more games when I’ve still got 30 other titles waiting for me to find the time to play them? Why spend money just to make that a backlog of 35 titles?
(It’s honestly probably a lot more than 35, I’m just too lazy to count right now. And I’d have to go through my GoG, Humble and GamersGate accounts too.)
We’ve reached the point where my ability to get through games is vastly outpaced by the rate at which I can affordably purchase them, and this counters, to some degree, that sense of pressure, of not wanting to miss out on a deal, that these time-limited sales usually generate.
Interesting to think about, how those past sales served to incentivize purchasing when they occured, but now, later on, they act as a disincentive to current purchases. The sale came at a price, for future sales. Is it a case of the present stealing from the future?
I doubt Valve are noticing any real drop-off in purchases during their sales, so it’s probably not a very strong effect. Or, at least, probably not strongly felt by many gamers. Still, I do wonder, will there eventually be a drop-off?
What do you guys think? Do you feel any disincentive from having a huge backlog of unplayed titles?
The story looks interesting, the art style is simply gorgeous, the tactical combat system I played with in Factions was elegant and fun. And the meta-game of managing your caravan looks like it will introduce some interesting choices and consequences to your journey, King of Dragon Pass-like.
A new Witcher 3 trailer has been released recently, and it’s rather lovely.
Personally, I rather enjoyed the trailer. It’s bog-standard “gritty” heroic fantasy, but it still stirs the teenage boy in me.
That aside, there was a short discussion online about whether it’s “sexist” or not.
Now, before going any further, I will say that one of the most aggravating aspects of these debates is the lack of nuance involved. People want it black and white. Either it’s good or it’s bad. Totally acceptable or monstrous and contemptible. People struggle with the idea that something might be a little bit problematic. Like, 5%. And, that it’s ok to enjoy something while still being critical of some aspects of it. Holding both the thoughts “I found this enjoyable” and “I see it manifesting a problematic pattern worth discussing” at the same time, about the same subject. It’s a real problem, this lack of nuance, and it taints these discussions. Discuss critically anything that someone somewhere enjoyed and you’re sure to see defensiveness.
Let’s try not to do that, in general, please.
That out the way, let’s examine the video. It’s a fairly straightforward damsel in distress scenario. Being a trailer, it’s got to communicate its context quickly, and generally writers achieve that by relying on cliches.
The Witcher is the morally conflicted, gritty anti-hero, the woman is the innocent victim, her persecutors are evil dudes.
Examine how you know this. The woman in the video is accused of “murder of the wounded, looting, cannibalism.” Now, those are nasty things to have done. If we thought it was true we might be convinced that we’re seeing a righteous punishment of the wicked. Which is what you see at the end of the trailer. Notice how you don’t feel sympathy for the dude about to be executed, whose crimes, that you can see, are punching a lady and almost executing her. Yet we don’t for a second entertain the notion that the woman is a monster being righteously punished for her wickedness. You don’t feel that same “Yes! The monster is getting its just deserts!” even though you don’t know for sure that she didn’t do those horrible things. We’re happy she escaped in the end, even though she may actually be a cannibal.
Why? It’s because we’re offered cliches, framing elements to guide our understanding of the context, and we easily latch onto them. Our minds slide into the comfortable, familiar grooves painted by the “language” of the scene.
The order comes from a distant Emperor, an Authority figure. We’ve instantly got the little guy vs The Man narrative to ground us in, reinforced by how it’s a group of dudes vs one defenseless person. The guards sound sneering and mean, so we definitely know they are bad people. And they are also beating her, which is a sure sign they are the evil ones. Because guards on the side of righteousness are upstanding, noble, and never take pleasure in pain.
Also, the woman is…a woman. Woman are generally seen to be more innocent than men, especially youthful, attractive women, and she’s crying for help (who wouldn’t cry for help?) Without any other cues at all, if you just had a young attractive woman in distress, the instinctive side to fall on is the woman as the victim. A crying woman, like a crying child, is a lazy writing shorthand. It tells you, the viewer, who you are supposed to sympathize with, without establishing via a proper narrative which character is actually most deserving of sympathy or justice. The cliche is a shortcut to character building.
So, in this case, the woman isn’t a character at all, she’s a symbolic representation of victimhood. Really, besides Geralt, none of the players in that scene is anything but an iconic representation of an idea. Which is fine…except that it’s problematic that the symbol of victimhood usually has one particular gender.
The problem comes back to the lazy shorthand, of using “woman” as a placeholder for “victim.” Yes, of course, women are often the victims of violence. It’s a scenario that can and does happen, in the past and in the present. But storytelling involves conscious choices. And the conscious choice being made, over and over, by writers, is to use “female” to mean “victim.”
Geralt is a locked character, from the narrative perspective. It has to be him in the role of the hero for it to be a Witcher game. The nature and roles of the rest of the characters are not. The victim could have been any gender. A male, wrongly accused by thuggish louts, beaten and about to be executed fits the scene as well as a quivering female. An old, fat woman also fits. You can slot just about any character in there and have them be sympathetic for the viewer, in that situation. But the choice was made to make it a young female.
And that one choice, alone, doesn’t mean anything. If the choice is random, and you happen to choose a young woman once, it means nothing. However, if you take a sample of 100 such trailers, sample them, and 70% or 80% or even 90% of the time, that victim role is filled by one particular variation of the many choices available, you know there is a bias at work, pulling the results away from pure randomness. This is how you evaluate the more subtle forms of bias, not by single anecdotes but by the pattern formed by all the anecdotes examined together as a group.
Now, I liked the Witcher trailer, as I said. But I can also see how it does fit into the damsel in distress trope, how the storytelling relies on lazy cliche, and how that trope fits into a greater pattern of sexism, which generally manifests in gaming as a bias toward certain cliches, certain narratives, repeated treatment of certain groups of characters in certain ways. There IS sexism there, even if unintended by the devs, and I say that even though I enjoyed the video overall.
Interstellar Marines has gone up on steam recently. Early access only, mind you, it’s not at full release yet. And this is what they posted today.
The last 48 hours on Steam have generated more revenue for developing Interstellar Marines than our own website have in 3 years – we couldn’t be more happy!
I had a conversation with another developer a while back, encouraging him to vigorously pursue portals. He’d argued that his game had been in development for a long time, he’d done plenty of PR and interviews on mainstream sites, surely most everyone who could potentially be a customer had already been exposed to it? Surely the traffic he got on his site, selling direct, was a good judge of potential sales?
I’m a sucker for a good sci-fi horror title. And Routine looks like it has the potential to scratch that itch.
Not much information about the game on the site, other than it being set in a Lumar base and, as is traditional, the prior residents of said base having up and disappeared, all mysterious like. It also promises a non-linear experience and one of them fancy “immersive huds”, like wot they had in Dead Space.
They’re certainly saying the right things. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.
Card Hunter is a game I’ve been looking forward to playing for a long time. A fresh take on CCGs, combining the intricacies of MtG-like deck building with the addictiveness of RPG levelling and loot progression, all wrapped in a fun, nostalgic old-school DnD art style.
They’ve been opening up the beta testing recently, and finally I got my mail inviting me to try. And eagerly, I’ve done so. My aventuring party comprised of Mordred, the Human Warrior, Danae, Elven Sorceress and Mellisan, Human Priest, are around level 3. The local Kobolds and Troggs have learned to fear their names, and they’re merrily looting wizard’s towers and foreboding lairs.
So let me report back on my initial impressions.
Firstly, I quite enjoy the gameplay. The combination of CCG and RPG mechanics works well, it’s a concept I’ve toyed with myself (while designing System Crash), and it’s well-put-together in Card Hunter.
Often, hybrid-genre games can struggle to find a middle-ground that satisfies fans of either of the genres they mash together. But here it works fairly well, both genres are ones which appeal to number wonks, it’s not like combining action and strategy where you feel like one comes at the expense of the other.
That being said, deckbuilding isn’t quite as elegant as it is in a pure CCG experience. Because weapons have 7 associated action cards, each with a variety of stats, trying to work out which weapon is more effective in your deck can be a bit more complicated, especially when the differences are slight. But overall it works well.
Battles are well designed, with the environment playing a role and various creatures employing differing strategies that can require rethinking your approach. Armor, mobility, range, line of sight, terrain type, all come into play.
Thematically, the game plays up its old-school D&D stylings well. Adventure modules have some bombastic narrative setting the scene, and the comments from your Dungeon Master, Gary, and his older brother, Melvin, are amusing. Especially if you have fond memories of your own teenage years spent eating pizza and sitting around the gaming table. The interface is responsive, information is easy to find and the effects are slick.
So that’s the good. Now let’s talk about the bad.
I am all ready starting to resent the F2P system.
The two big problems I have with it is that it’s “pay to be better at the game” and how much it’s pushed into your face.
Let me say up front, I’m not intrinsically opposed to F2P, at least certain types of F2P. I’m fine with things like in-game expansion content (unlock new adventures, levels, characters) and vanity kits. But I don’t like feeling like I’m playing a crippled version of the game, one which reminds me that it’s crippled, so as to prod me into paying. Let me play, or ask me for money to play further. But don’t apply slow pressure until I give in.
The primary way the game does this is by giving you extra loot if you have signed up to the “Card Hunter Club,” both in single and multi-player. And by showing you, every time you loot a treasure chest, what you are missing by not being signed up. Which, quite frankly, take some of the joy out of that box of shiny new goodies. Especially since the premium reward item is often better than what’s in your chest. Here, for example, the premium reward is a cool Rare, while the best item in my treasure chest is an Uncommon.
It just sours the experience of getting loot. And since more powerful loot directly corresponds to doing better in the adventures, you are constantly aware that you’re missing out. I’m sure the devs will argue that the game is balanced fine for non-club members and the premium items just boost your power quicker, but perception is everything.
You also get rewards for multiplayer, with Club members getting the same bonus, so there’s definitely a pay-to-win element there, too.
So that’s bad enough. But it gets worse. Club membership is a subscriber model. You can’t just say “oh, all right then” and put down $30 to unlock the full, uncrippled experience permanently. Oh no. You can, at best, subscribe for a year.
Which would cost over $50. >:(
They also employ that manipulative gambling model the eastern MMOs employ, where you can pay real money to buy a chest full of randomized premium items. I don’t care too much about that because I feel little compulsion to play that roulette wheel, but it’s still a bit exploitative, and it annoys me on principle.
It’s a real pity, because honestly, it’s putting me off the game a fair bit. I’d have happily paid $20 once to unlock the full experience, but here that would only get me three months membership. Fuck that noise.
I think Blue Manchu are a talented team with a cool game concept, but I really can’t bring myself to support this financially. Fucking F2P bullshit.
The heart of Pete Molyneux and 22Cans’ “Curiosity” experiment has finally been revealed. And it’s actually kinda interesting.
So, essentially, the winner gets to be an associate designer on Godus, as well as sharing in the profits to some small degree. Now, obviously we don’t know exactly how much say in the design said winner will have, nor what their cut of the take will be. It sounds cool, at face value, but it could amount to little beyond some superficial input.
Still, it’s an interesting idea, and an interesting prize to have won. I’m not a big fan of the mindless clicking part of the experiment, but I can certainly applaud 22Cans for trying something different and a bit out there.
It’s also, without a doubt, a rather cunning marketing plot. Gamifying your PR is hardly a new concept, but still, it was a clever gimmick. As someone who has spent time considering how to get the marketing message out amoungst all the noise and competition out there, I can’t help but admire the cunning of it.
I’m not a fan of Molyneax’s most recent games, but say what you want about the man, he knows how to get the spotlight. I only hope he produces some games worthy of that attention.
In my mind, I often like to think of what I’ve done here, going indie and trying to build my first commercial game, as journeying out to sea on a small boat. A boat that I’ve built myself, loaded with supplies I’ve stocked up over the years.
I said goodbye to my friends and family then cast off, heading for the horizon, looking for my dreams. I didn’t know what I’d find out there, whether I’d reach my personal paradise or end up dashed against the rocks. All I knew is that I had to try. I felt more at risk of drowning in the safe, comfortable humdrum of daily life than out there, in that ‘ocean’.
So I did it. I took the biggest risk of my life. Even though, honestly, I’m not very brave. If I was, I probably would have taken it sooner. And it’s been amazing. I’ve learned so much, about game development, about myself. Even now, even with my life savings pretty much entirely burned away, I don’t regret it. I’ve lived. Perhaps for the first time, I’ve really been alive and engaged.
But, that being said, I have, as I mentioned, essentially burned away all my savings. At the beginning of this month, I hit my red line. The limit I set myself when I left my last job, where I’d have only a few months finances remaining and would need to start looking for work before I ran out of rent money.
It’s unfortunate that I hit this point before I got System Crash completely finished. I had planned to be done by now, but the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. If I was braver, maybe I’d have chosen to gamble further, to race my bank account all the way to the finish line. But I am, as I said, not that brave.
So I found a new job. Started it this week actually, it’s going well so far. Nice people, cool environment, interesting project. And I’m being paid to develop in Unity, which is pretty great.
System Crash development will continue, though now after office hours. This will slow development down a bit, of course, but the game is very nearly finished, so it’s not too bad. The estimated release date is next month. Beta testing will continue, I’ll get a new build out as soon as possible.
So if you’ve wondered why, after the previous beta release, I dropped off the radar a bit, well, now you know.
This isn’t the end for Rogue Moon Studios, far from it. I have plenty of plans for the coming year, beyond System Crash’s release, plans I’m excited about. Like I said, I see this whole thing as a journey, a voyage across turbulent oceans, searching out exotic locales and adventure. Sometimes you can’t make that kind of voyage all in one leg. Sometimes you have to make a detour to a nearby friendly island to restock your supplies.
The good ship Rogue Moon is docked in port, taking on fresh water and salted meat. Hiring new crew and patching torn sails. The open sea still calls to her, soon she’ll set sail once again.