loopingworld.com

Books/mythology/stuff discussions moved to: loopingworld.com

This means that the site here won’t (usually) be updated and I’ll eventually copy all of book-related posts over there. The rest of the stuff will stay here for as long the site stays up (not planning of pulling it down for the foreseeable future).

UPDATE: I’ll sporadically still post here, but it will be for writing about roguelike development, tracking my own (lack of) progress, or other quirky gaming things.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

The end of Black Desert Online

Black Desert Online was the only survivor of the classic, sandbox-y core concept of MMORPG. Even its existence was singular, and it’s curious that the game that got closer to that ideal was a Korean-made game, since that ideal was born and developed (and then killed) in the West. Now it is going to be corrected.

Pearl Abyss, the company that develops BDO in Korea, and that ironically bought Eve-Online recently, announced a sequel-inspired new MMO titled “Crimson Desert.” Players have already noticed that in the past year development on BDO slowed dramatically, an obvious sign that developers resources are being moved to new projects (PA announced more than one new game).

And it’s more than irony that Crimson Desert is built on the basis of what they learned from BDO, and they decided to develop Crimson Desert… as a single-player game shoved clumsily into a MMORPG.

Doing more things, all of them poorly (nothing in a single-player game benefits from a MMORPG, nothing in a MMORPG benefits from single-player, they are antithetic in pure game design).


So, the reason why these days the mmorpg genre is in the shape you all can see is that it FAILED. These days we can see that the most successful are those with a very conservative design, like Destiny and similar structured games, where only the general context is shared and there’s nothing “massive” going on.

The genre died because it faced significant technical and design problems, and the industry as a whole eventually embraced the path it always embraced historically: the one of least resistance.

The reason for this is that a mmorpg is the most complex game software you can make. It’s the culmination. And for these reasons making a mmorpg COSTS A LOT. Maximum costs are then matched with maximum risks, exactly because there are plenty of things that can go wrong and make you ambitious project (and invested money) collapse into nothing.

Maximum costs + maximum risks = lots of failures in so many years. Eventually all game companies decided to take the easy, safer road. The easy road was making copies of World of Warcraft, and for many, many years that’s all we got. Simply going for that recipe made by others that was proven successful. WoW that itself was rather conservative and very simple in its design. And yet none of those thousands of copycats even got half as good as WoW. Because they were just that, pale imitations without insight or competence. Even “copying” is an art that requires skill, diligence, study, at least a little bit of passion for what you are closely observing to steal its secrets. And those were instead just greedy attempts at stealing some golden eggs that WoW left unattended, since its hoard was so immense.

The mmorpg industry as a whole fed on WoW’s scraps. Like hyenas.

Crimson Desert comes from the same philosophy of trying to copy those paths of least resistance. In this case the lure of a simpler, more directed single-player experience whose recipe appears so much easier to get. It’s a mmorpg that goes to copy the proven recipe, the safe success. The path of least resistance.

That’s why it’s not a mmorpg, even if it will eventually use the genre to excuse its shortcomings. You don’t make mmorpg sequels because mmorpgs exist as if they are gardens, organic environments, alive, that need to be taken care of with dedication and devotion, and then slowly grow and improve. It’s a long journey of hard work and learning, that the developer has to do hand in hand with the player, and that is the very opposite from the ivory tower of superiority and privilege where most developers in leading positions prefer to live in. If you instead destroy everything every few years, you end up with nothing, because things take time and dedication to grow properly (and these games simply aren’t very suitable for an industry that devours and wastes).

We can go all the way back to Tolkien, who also tried to build a world, and still is today the most successful attempt. Tolkien spent all his life building and precisely refining his world. He never restarted from scratch every time he decided that he learned a valuable lesson.

The mmorpg “industry” is dead because it failed. We now have a former, consolidated game industry that “adopts” some mmorpg-light concepts and integrates them into classic games. The carcass of mmorpg has been torn apart and scattered. It is unlikely it will show up whole again. It’s done. It’s dead.

Back to mmorpgs, we continue to see mmorpg-sequels solely because mmorpgs are still being built as linear games. And the industry still today prefers to copy the conservative recipes. Even BDO, as a clumsy attempt of trying a sandbox, is now being sacrificed to go back to the recipe of tacked on single player linear game. And that’s why, being greedy and jealous of what other companies do better, they’ll end up loosing what they had, and obtain nothing else either.

Maybe this time PA isn’t copying WoW, it’s copying The Witcher. The result is just the same. Wait and see.

Destiny 2 has taken a wrong direction, I suggest a few quick and simple fixes to have it back on track

(archived)

I’m adding at the end of this post a quick summary of the changes I’m proposing, both major and small nitpicks. The rest of this post has the purpose of motivating those suggestions.

Or: **the main game content is way too easy**, fixing it and significantly improve the experience for new players is very simple and doesn’t requite retouching that content.

TL;DR = scroll to the bottom for the solutions I propose

I’ll do my best to explain my reasons, but since most of everyone around here is a veteran, their attention is focused entirely elsewhere, on the new content, and so I doubt this will spark any interest, even if I feel it’s instead crucial to the success of the game. I’ll try anyway. (and I’ve seen it happen many times, see the high demand in World of Warcraft for classic servers after the “live” game has made bad choices after bad choices, only to realize it’s too late to fix)

The two main reasons that make me say D2 has taken a wrong direction are:
– The decision to make the immediate level up to 750 obligatory.
– The decision to have seasonal content temporary, so that it is not playable anymore after the end of its season.

Right now I’ve bought the old annual pass, but haven’t played directly any of its content. But I can still access all of it, if I decide so. If instead I buy the current annual pass and wait a year, then that money would be simply spent on nothing. While this only affects a small groups of players, it still plays a role when it comes to decide whether to purchase a piece of content or not. If I’m not sure I have a big chunk of time to dedicate to the game in the short term, then I’ll have qualms even making an impulsive purchase. In the previous system players were always encouraged to come back after a few months and “catch up” with all the content that piled up while they were away (which also gives a pleasant feeling, knowing there’s so much to do when you return), in the new system that content is gone, and there’s no catch up at all. The more you lose that time and content, the more you feel detached from the game and more and more less likely to return. The result is that players are actually encouraged to leave the game without looking back, because they will feel like they lost that train and the game moved on without them.

But this post will focus on the new player’s experience, and why I think Shadowkeep will destroy it, at a time when it was needed the most to bring fresh blood into the game. My point is that the new release will bring many new players, but they will abandon it because of some bad choices that make the game feel dull and too watered down.

I’ll go to the point: all current story missions (base, Osiris, Warmind and Forsaken) are way, way, WAY too easy. They aren’t unfun because they are badly designed, but because they require no effort and simply end up feeling pointless and boring. Shadowkeep will make this problem even WORSE by forcing a level up to 750. When already most players will tell you that “the main game is not the real game”. And yet that’s the part of the game that most players will see and use that decide whether or not they will stick with this game or abandon it. What you think is unimportant is instead crucial.

The beginning of the game has to be good, because it’s what required to spark the interest and cement the desire to play and be part of the experience.

I’ll tell you that the most fun I’ve had with D2 was this past week, doing for the first time story missions in Osiris, Warmind and Forsaken. What made the experience immensely fun was that I had the possibility to go into those missions underleveled, 3-4 levels below requirement. The first time I started the first mission of Warmind all the enemies were invulnerable. So I went out, came back after gaining a level, and then all those enemies at the beginning of the mission were going down in two hits.

I was still severely underleveled and to complete that first mission I died more than twenty times, since there’s a part at the end that is “no respawn”, and it has waves and waves of enemies. It was HARD, but it was never impossible, and I pretty much felt always in control. I died a lot, but made progress, refined my strategy, got close to succeed many times, and eventually won. When I made it through the feeling was glorious, immensely satisfying, and my hands were even shaking a little bit, as the fight was intense. That’s the kind of stuff that you get only from games like Dark Souls.

Now… none of that is possible anymore. It was already impossible doing the main game missions underleveled, but it was possible for Osiris, Warmind and Forsaken (though you had to go way out of your way to stay under level, and most players wouldn’t normally be able to see this). That’s why this week was incredible for me, and why it’s gone. Starting tomorrow, all that content will be instead significantly over-leveled. New players that now come to the game in the post-Shadowkeep era will see that significant amount of content at its worst. That then will contribute to the feeling of blandness and pointlessness that eventually drives many of them away.

Let’s go to the core of the “looter” game design that Destiny is built on: the loot is only meaningful and fun when it’s matched with challenging content. It’s when you’re squeezing all you have to try to push past a difficulty wall that you feel the real thrill of a new piece of loot. Because that loot gives you that bit of help that you absolutely need to push through. That gives you a necessary nudge.

But if instead there is no wall to climb, and you rush through the content effortlessly, then the loot becomes perfunctory. An end to itself without a function. It will feel like a grindy, repetitive and boring experience.

I made through all the missions of the base game without even using my class power. Because enemies and bosses would die effortlessly anyway. If I used my power I could have killed those bosses so quickly that I wouldn’t even been able to experience the mechanics of their encounter. When instead I went through Osiris and Warmind while under-leveled, I had to throw EVERYTHING and the kitchen sink to survive and win.

Whenever the class power came up, it felt like a boon. It felt exciting.

So the deal is:
1- The game needs challenging content to motivate the existence and fun of looting mechanics. Otherwise it feels bland and soulless.
2- You cannot only shove challenging content to the end game and raids. As most players have already left bored before reaching that point.

At the same time, you cannot have a new player start, say, from Forsaken 1st mission. That mission is awesome, but a new player needs to be eased slowly in, get comfortable with the mechanics. The main campaign is *good*, but it’s just way, way too easy, all the way through. It’s extremely boring and pointless because of that.

This part is about solutions. As I said, I got the most fun in the game when I finally had the possibility to run story missions while underleveled (and heroic missions and vanguard strikes, still underleveled and solo).

We don’t just need *new* challenging solo content. We need ALL the game content be like that. Throwing that out is an immense mistake, and the forced jump to 750 will destroy that content.

And yet it’s very, very easy to fix this.

So… what we need is essentially a way to manually de-level characters, in order to play those legacy missions as I was doing this week with Osiris, Warmind and Forsaken. Extended to the main game missions too. Nothing in the content needs to be redesigned and touched, we just need a way to manually level down characters. There’s already a system in place that does it, but it only caps your character at the content level, not lower. What we need is a system to push it further down (manually, optionally), so that the content becomes challenging.

There are essentially four variables in play: your character overall level, your active weapon, your active slots, the overall light level for all equipment. Those are the numbers that, at the start of a legacy story mission, should be manually brought down, as desired by the player, and then pushed back to their standard values when the mission is over and the player returns to the main game.

There are also two aspects, in my experience playing under level, that should be addressed and that I’ll add to the list. One is that sometimes some attacks deal way too much damage, and you can occasionally get killed in just one or two hits. This in never fair nor fun, and should be mitigated. The other aspect is that you generally use more ammo to kill enemies when you’re under level, and run out of ammo quite often. The worst aspect to this is that in those “no-respawn” zones it happened quite often that I died and respawned with zero heavy and special ammo, and sometimes low on main ammo too. So I also think that for those hard respawns (those where enemies respawn too), the ammo on your character should be reset to standard values every time. To have every time a fair fighting chance.

Consider that allowing players to de-level their character only fixes one half of the problem. The content would be challenging, but the loot you obtain would still be pointless. So my proposed solutions below will also address this other aspect.

Here’s everything I suggest:

– At the start of a legacy story mission (main game, Osiris, Warmind, Forsaken, plus whatever you want to include) you give the player a menu option where the player can decide the overall character level to start the mission. This allows players to go in a mission under level, and have that content properly challenging, and so FUN to play. All the content, from hour 1.

– Linked to the first point. The de-level choice should not only set the character to that lower level, but all items in the inventory should be also reset to the same light level, for the duration of the mission. Then they would be reset back to their standard values when the player exits the mission. All the new drops acquired during the mission would be slightly above the de-level (following current standard rules), so that they still provide upgrades (at least temporary). Those new drops should also then be bumped up to standard levels, after the mission is over.

– For ease of use and to encourage players new and old to experience the content in this way, you can hide the de-level mechanics behind intuitive difficulty labels. So you get “very easy” and the more you go lower in level the more the label flags an higher difficulty. Something like: very easy (the game right now post-Shadowkeep), easy, normal, hard, very hard. You can make it granular since it just hides character level tiers. So it’s just one number changing and nothing else in the content. Then encourage players to increase the difficulty to have better chances at drops (for example).

– An hard cap to the damage the player receives, so that no matter the condition, a single hit can never do more than 30-40% the total player health pool. (if done through an algorithm based on damage velocity within a small time frame, even better)

– In “no respawn zones” if the player dies and respawns, a standard amount of ammo should be restored, including heavy and special ammo.

The bottom line is: please make Destiny 2 challenging and fun also for ALL story missions, and not only for a remote endgame. Don’t overlook legacy story content just because you want to sell new stuff. The solutions are easy to implement, and can massively impact the success of the game with minimal effort.

Posted in: Uncategorized |

The planning of plans

Just a note to myself.

I think I’m going to archive here what I wrote and plan to write around a certain couple of projects.

The first project is my old one, about trying to plan and build a computer roguelike RPG hybrid I mentioned before. The coding side of that project is on hold, and I’m focusing on the groundwork for the ruleset. But this has become its own rabbit hole and I keep getting deeper and deeper, and further away from the goal. That’s part of the fun.

The second project is a new one, as a kind of branching off from the first, and is about planning and building a computer roguelike hybrid built on simplified rules and directly inspired by solitaire boardgames. Including both dungeon-crawl and hex-crawl and exploring a world that is part static and part randomly generating, but again with no computer algorithms involved, only boardgame type rules made of basic algebra, tables and simpler dice rolls. To be explored non-linearly and even with multiple characters active at the same time in the same world. The idea is that it’s a computer game that removes the computer as an actor in the game. The game only offers a set of tools through which the player explores and builds the fictional world, and the computer is used to facilitate bookkeeping and similar chores.

I stated writing about both in a thread on QT3, but I think I’ll splinter that too so that I keep there the analysis of all old stuff like PnP RPGs and wargame-boardgames, while I’ll need to find a specialized forum to write down the experiments about the rules…

https://forum.quartertothree.com/t/aimlessly-rambling-on-the-ultimate-boardgame-pnp-rpg-hybrid/141288

Metaphysics of “subscribe to Pewdiepie”

Yes, this is a funny title for a very, very, unfunny topic, in light of recent events. But I always disliked rhetoric and the metaphysics are indirectly pertinent here, providing the structure and patterns I use for analysis. So it’s more like a subtle hint.

While in most other cases I didn’t consider Pewdiepie responsible of what he was being accused, this time it’s different. Things are more complex than how they appear and you can’t simply distance yourself from the act. Saying you have nothing to do with it, on one side it’s obvious, on the other it’s myopic.

So let’s talk about this myopia, and why it’s so widespread.

When there’s some controversial topic it’s always hard to discuss it and analyze for what it is, because people get irritated, come with prejudices and the end result is that instead of a better understanding of a problem you end up exacerbating it. One strategy I use, both when I think by myself or when I discuss this with other people, is to cut away the topic from its context and explain the pattern I see using a completely different example that won’t have “strings attached”. A different example that retains the same characteristics but that doesn’t come with the same set of prejudices, and so can offer a more neutral basis of understanding, if it’s true that you aren’t anymore directly emotionally attached to it. Otherwise it’s those emotions that take control and that’s the opposite of a clear sight.

So, in order to analyze the mechanics of “subscribe to Pewdiepie” I’ll use a completely different topic that I think retains all the features. It too comes with its own set of strings attached, but the change will be enough to neutralize it: “not all men.”

When I first heard it, years ago, I also didn’t understand the message. I was one of those “men” who couldn’t understand what was wrong in the typical defense of “not all men.” It was legitimate, it felt legitimate to me, and yet it was used as a “here we go again with that stupid defense men will use.” Why was it considered stupid, “by women”, if I couldn’t see the problem in it? Because I was “a man”, and so of course “I wouldn’t understand.” And when you hear “you won’t understand, you are a man” you feel irritated, because it sounds patronizing. So we are caught in that struggle, and instead of a better understanding of each other we only end up with deeper divisions.

Why couldn’t I understand what was wrong in the use of “not all men” as a defense used by men? Because I was myopic. “Not all men are rapists.” I know I’m not I’m a rapist, so why I cannot claim that? While I should take that blame when I am *certain* I’m not guilty? Again, because I was myopic.

Let’s work with an example then. Let’s say I’m a guy and there’s a pretty woman walking along the other side of the road. I decide to whistle aloud at her, a typical “catcall”, because I see she’s pretty, I’m interested, and I want her attention. Now this is a simple typical case that can make people debate whether this is can be counted as harassment or not. From the mentality of a man, this is not harassment. Because if I’m there, this interaction is meant as a way to be playful. I know the boundaries, I know I’m not going to start chasing that woman, try to grope her or anything like that. I whistled to get her attention, see how she reacts, but it stops there unless she gives a clear consent of moving it forward. It’s not harassment because it stops long before it gets serious. It stays this side of the line, so if that woman wants to play along fine, if she ignores it that’s fine too. So in this example I haven’t harassed anyone, right? Nope, this is again myopic, and it’s directly tied to the idea “not all men.”

From the point of view of a man, in that situation, the whole thing is a closed system. The guy “did nothing wrong.” It was just a whistle to get some attention, but it stopped there. It was fair because there wasn’t an intention to harass, but just to be playful, like a game. It was meant as a positive interaction and even within the hope that the woman would show interest. Everything consensual. But of course that man doesn’t know what’s in the head of that woman, so he cannot know beforehand whether this approach will be positively or negatively received. The whistle is a way to sample a reaction, see if it can lead to something else, again with consent. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. It’s linear, it works. Not all men are rapists, a whistle is not harassment.

Again, this only works, linearly, because you are thinking about it from the confines of your own head. You know your intentions, you know what you are doing and why you are doing it. So it’s true you are doing nothing wrong. But you are still being myopic. You are ignoring the fact this isn’t a closed system, and can’t be judged in separation.

The problem with “not all men” is that its MESSAGE is valid, but it is GARBLED. So the ultimate outcome is that the rift is exacerbated instead of solved. I guess the inner mechanics are actually working properly, as this is a tool meant for a fight. It’s doing exactly what it was meant to do. But let’s instead be naive, and try to take it apart anyway. The theme of “not all men (are rapists, for example)” is that it unpacks more eloquently as “it takes just one”, to ruin the life of everyone. THAT’s the valid theme. Not all men are rapists, yes, but it takes JUST ONE to feel threatened. Why can’t a woman go for a walk without the fear of being assaulted? Why can’t she dress sexily, for whatever reason, and still feel safe? Because not all men are sexists and rapists, but it still takes just one to feel that threat on your skin, and that’s not tolerable.

The whole deal is that, the example above, the guy whistling to the woman on the other side of the road knows the content of his own head (relatively), he knows his intentions, he might know he isn’t a rapists and that he will never cross that line. BUT, on the other side of the road that woman has no such “in-sight.” She has no information to work with. It’s just a stranger over there. Not all men are rapists but it’s something that happens with such a frequency that YOUR LIFE IS AT STAKE if you ignore that possibility. That woman doesn’t know what is going on, she has no control and that loss of control is a form of abuse. It is INDEED harassment. Because, as a whole, we don’t live in a sane society where you can EXPECT to be safe. You have to worry, or gamble and then suffer the consequences.

So no, that woman doesn’t have the freedom of “feeling safe”, or maybe even answer the catcall with a wink and play along, because she would take a risk. And women do live in this toxic environment where they are forced to feel unsafe to preserve their safety, where they have to deal with this moment to moment, all their life. This is what it is, and it is unacceptable. It’s a disgrace and it shouldn’t be tolerated even for a moment. It’s a problem that should have the utmost priority.

Not all men you’ll meet in the course of your life are misogynist, sexist, rapists, but it takes JUST ONE to ruin the rest of your life.

Human beings, in general, are myopic. When you judge yourself from the confines of your head you might see it as an open book, understand your intentions clearly and so judge that a catcall to a woman is all fair game, knowing it won’t cross some definite line. You will think it’s how things should be. But that means you would see your “system” as if it was closed, and blind to what’s outside that you’re also part of. You would ignore that you live in a sexist society where women AREN’T safe. And, because so, because of this wider system you are myopically ignoring, a catcall IS harassment. Because while you can play innocent, a woman instead is forced to learn the environment where she lives, in order to stay alive. There’s no freedom in that, only the real, tangible threat of not learning that lesson. A woman cannot afford being myopic in the same way a man can.

We live far, far, far away from an ideal world. And we cannot pretend it is what it isn’t.

How does “subscribe to Pewdiepie” fit in all this? It’s the whole theme of “i’m not guilty” and “not all men” rhetoric. Yes, as in the example above, a catcall isn’t harassment when judged from the confines of your own head. When you know your intentions and when you know what you’re doing and why. But the system isn’t closed, you live in a wider, more complex environment. Women learned their own lesson the hard way, because they had no freedom not to take it. Now it’s also time that men stop playing naive and start seeing the world for what it is. Instead of constantly washing hands of responsibility.

Stop being defensive, and be more proactive. And don’t be blind (wherever possible).

Wow, that’s smart

I was scrolling through tweets and then couldn’t not notice this one comment below. I was there gawking because it’s truly amazing:

1st, logic:
if the top 10 “influencers” aren’t featuring your indie game because they are featuring Fortnite, then who are you ‘bye-ing’ to? They did that to you, that’s the problem the article is supposedly bringing up.

They DON’T WANT your game.

Influencers aren’t charities whose job is to help a struggling indie developer. They are caught in the same cynical machine where they need the money to justify their work. And they have to build and please their public, otherwise they’re done. But then, I (maybe wrongly) assume that the tweet is so full with spite that you probably don’t consider that a legitimate “job.” That would be curious, because you can then easily find other groups of people that likely won’t consider *yours* a serious “job.” So that would be at least hypocritical, but also presumptuous on my side, since it’s just an interpretation of what was written in that tweet.

But what I find irritating in that tweet is that implicit self-assigned role as a spokesperson. She’s inciting other developers to rebel from the tyranny of these influences. A call for independence from these pathetic kids who get paid for playing games, so speculating on work done by others, and then even betraying the indie hand that gave them their status. That’s of course the rhetoric.

It’s because it’s an emphatic “we” that the message is political in the WORST way. And that’s also why games in general are being flooded by politics. Not real, deep political meaning, that absolutely belongs to gaming as every other field, since politics is important and pervasive, but its worst part that already infects the main political field: shallow rhetoric, meant to be abrasive toward some out-group, while grooming for consensus.

That one message is filled with resentment and rhetoric. It tries to rile the public and find consensus from its side. It’s purely leverage, tactics, posture.

Because what are you gonna do?

Those top 10 influencers don’t care about your game. Buh-bye. Go cry somewhere else.

Let’s say instead there’s a top-80 one that actually asks you the game. He does want to feature your game, and he might still have some significant numbers to give your $10 game a not so irrelevant publicity. But nope. You said fuck them, right? Burn those bridges out of immature resentment.

Who cares, right? You aren’t the “we” who do make games and live or die by the success of that endeavor. You are the “you” who profits on riling the public through rhetoric and pretends to teach how it’s done. You are posturing. A (pretend) Pied Piper of the indie industry that drives them to drown, and then comes back to get paid.

We have on one side the big AAA publishers who administer their business so that only who’s obsequious is allowed review copies. Tending their garden through an elegant blackmailing practice. And how are indie developers instructed to behave? *Exactly the same*.

Oh, that will surely work so well.

It’s so disingenuous.

ResetEra versus NeoGAF: the pattern of future collapse

I wrote a thing, not because these forum wars are important in themselves, but because they represent our future at the broadest level. They are like crystal balls, you peer inside and can see the future.

I use here the term “truth” as a form of ontology, whatever its form. (but you don’t need to know)

GAF shits on Era, Era shits on GAF. So, in this symmetrical warfare, where’s the truth? Is it then in the middle?

Nope, it doesn’t work like that.

Truth can be on the far left, it can be on the far right, and it can be at any point across that spectrum. Truth is just where it is, for any particular issue. When you think you got it, it jumps somewhere else and proves you wrong. You cannot “box” it heuristically so that you already know where to find it every time. To find it for any particular problem requires very, very hard, meticulous work. (cue flat-earthers, another symbolic pattern)

ResetEra is “manufacturing” a very specific kind of truth, that you know you can find when you go there.

That’s how an echo-chamber works: it’s a manufactured consensus that you know is built accordingly to a canon.

And when you’ve built this consensus you’ve also built the prerequisite for war (any war), because that consensus implies the culling of every possible mediation, of all doubts. Replaced by the bright-white purity of righteousness and certainty: the strongest deep feeling you’re right, fighting the good fight. And you feel good as consequence, in a self-serving endless loop of reinforcement.

In our history, religion has served the same purpose. It was a powerful tool to orient and focus precisely the will of people, like the point of a sword or a lance. A weapon. And that’s why historically religion has been the cause of many wars. In this case Era is using politics exactly as a form of religion, and that’s why the behavior of their moderation is very similar in the patterns of the “Inquisition”, false accusations, censorship and all that.

Curiously, as with religion, the focus is never *what*, but who (“us” or “them”, friend or foe). Because religion is always epistemically wrong. It’s always subjectivity without any objectivity. Are Christians more right or “truer” than Muslims? Nope, it’s all arbitrary. Just men going against other men, and finding an arbitrary cause to do so. Today we mimic that with sport (are Lakers truer than Warriors?).

If you remove the “who” and replace it with “what” then you have at least a shot at truth. Otherwise nope, just a victim of heuristics.

Technically it is heuristics all the way down, but without going down the rabbit hole you could say heuristics are the tools we use to simplify and reduce the world to pieces that make sense, that have meaning, that we can at least manipulate and use. This is an obligation (I play with words here, what I mean is that another way doesn’t exist), because you cannot use what you cannot use. But you have to remember that this compression and reduction through tools isn’t the real thing, and quite frequently it leads us astray.

D-Day: three monster wargames

(most of the links scattered around this post are images, because I like the aesthetic of the monster wargames, many of these come from boardgamegeek, but that I’ve mirrored here because the links get constantly changed/broken)

I was reading an article about simulators and wargames on RPS and the mention of “Panzer Battles: Battles of North Africa” got my attention. I’ve looked before into John Tiller’s games, but usually on the higher scale, larger breath of the “Panzer Campaigns” series.

I’m always intrigued by impossible games whose ambition transcends common sense, those human endeavors that motivate some people to go beyond. And while I’m not really a “player” of these things, I keep being fascinated by them and spending lots of time digging information, reading rules and whatnot. In the past I’ve “compared” a game like War in the East, a computer game, and Case Blue and other OCS games, for classic tabletop experience (all rules are usually available for free officially as .pdf files, and the games themselves can be played with also free Vassal modules, if one wants to fiddle directly with them). So once in a while something catches my attention and sends me on another round. For example CMANO, the modern “Harpoon”. But this is not the time to talk about it.

Last time I looked into Panzer Campaigns I was awed by this. Even if not clearly visible, those are all hexes, and that twisty line made by darker dots shows the actual counters. Those pieces you are supposed to move individually every turn… The scale and the detail are staggering, and they dwarf monster games like War in the East.

At the time I wrote down this silly comparison (and looking into it I also found mention of another of these monster games but of a different kind, Starfleet Battles):

Some stats?

Moscow ’42:
244,620 hexes
8,000/9,000 counters total
1 turn = 2 hours
Biggest campaign is 544 turns long

versus War in the East:
26,000 hexes
4.000 counters
1 turn = 1 week
Biggest campaign is 224 turns long

The bottom line of all this is that, these days, something like Hearts of Iron IV doesn’t even get a passing glance from me, it’s like what’s Skyrim for RPGs.

But that’s just me because it looks like these mad experiments and extremely complex rules are on the way out, so we are looking at something that maybe will never be matched again. It’s like some treasure that soon might be completely forgotten…

This time the RPS article sent me looking at the Panzer Battles, instead. And in particular to Battles of Normandy. This is less of a monster game like Moscow ’42 because it doesn’t have a super huge campaign. It’s more like a collection of scenarios across smaller maps. But this didn’t stop them to outreach in a few areas…

This is the big map (source, it’s a png almost 200Mb big)

You can’t really see the hexes there, the map is 398,000 hexes, almost twice the map of Moscow ’42. Sadly I don’t think it’s playable as there’s no campaign that follows the whole thing and the two bigger scenarios seem still to use only smaller sections of that map. But if you are looking at D-Day then you want to play “the longest day”, the first day of the landings, and that’s one of the scenarios.

(open in a new window for a slightly bigger version)

If you compare this with the image above you can see it’s only like 1/7 of the whole map, yet it’s still HUGE. This is a few turns into the scenario, in the morning when a few landings are already happening on Utah and Omaha, as you can see by the vague green blobs on those two beaches. Then there are also some faint light blue dots scattered around the whole map, those represent the Nazi troops defending the territory, and if you squint some more, on the left side of the map in particular, you could also spot some yellow dots (they blend with the green map), and those are again the allied forces, but that didn’t land like the others because they were parachuted there during the night and previous turns. It was quite beautiful to set the AI controlling both sides and just watch it happen.

This huge scenario is 40 turns long, and covers just one single day. During the night you get 1 turn every hour, then in the morning it gets broken down with one turn every half an hour.

All this ended up making me check another two games, both covering the same overall scenario, but this time not as computer games but as monster tabletop wargames. Both are again available on Vassal with free .pdf rules on their sites (links below).

The first is Atlantic Wall and that I already knew as one of those impossibly huge monster games.

The info page mentions one grand campaign made of 234 turns. This is the whole thing, it covers two months and a half. So with a quick calculation it’s three turns a day, two during the day and one for the night (confirmed by the rules).

The map is freaking huge, of course (here for more). On Vassal the whole thing zoomed out looks like this, or a closer look. (and a description of a game being played)

It seems to greatly surpass in detail one of the previous games in the same breadth (but here it looks impressive too, probably because it was scanned and printed in a bigger format). In fact that one had one turn covering a whole day. It is interesting how you can “slice” these historical situations in various ways, depending on what’s the focus. Of course the more you zoom in, adding detail, the more you lose the big picture, so you have that scenario from the computer game that gives 40 turns for just one day, then Atlantic Wall that covers almost three months, but that doesn’t go deeper than three turns a day… and this leads us to the third one, that bridges the two.

I found it by looking at a forum post, written by the designer of this other game while he was still developing it:

my game and Joe’s are of different scope. You can fit all of my four maps on one of Joe’s maps in Atlantic Wall. The distance from Sword to Caen in Joe’s game is 12 hexes or so. It’s 40 hexes or so in my game.

Mine is just on the Commonwealth Beaches and covers just the first week. Joe’s covers the entire Normandy campaign. Which you prefer depends on what you like. I happen to think the first week is very mobile and tense, and the remainder of the campaign is pretty static… so it’s not for me to play or design. Joe’s offers the completeness of the entire theater – and I know that is great for many gamers.

I actually already knew this guy because he also designed The Devil’s Cauldron and Where the Eagles Dare. These also being monster wargames but of the kind still kept on a level (somewhat) manageable. The fun thing of these two is that they can be JOINED into one bigger campaign that covers the whole thing across both games.

See this. Here’s The Devil’s Cauldron. It’s pretty big, right? And here’s Where the Eagles Dare, and that’s again huge. But then we have to JOIN them. Here’s from an angle, and here’s from the opposite. Even on the Vassal module the two can be joined, but the maps are kept separate because of the odd tiling, so I cut it up and joined it all together in a picture just to show the whole thing without the perspective.

These two games, combined, simulate Operation Market Garden (this operation is also covered in one of the modules for the computer game “Command Ops 2”, but I’ll make that comparison at another time). So let’s see this other game, by the same designer, but done to reproduce D-Day. It’s titled “The Greatest Day”, and the subtitle explains it all better: “Sword, Juno, and Gold Beaches, Battle for Normandy: Volume One”. This is just the eastern side of the landings, and once again it’s ultimately meant to be joined with another TWO games, all three together representing the whole front. But this one was released in 2015 and I found no mention at all the the other two games are actually being developed, so it’s possible they’ll never be made and the whole thing will remain a crazy dream.

It’s interesting to compare this one with the other two because it creates a sort of bridge between them. The computer scenario from the first game covered in detail just the first day, through 40 turns (but being a computer game it doesn’t have the intricacy and explicit complexity of the boardgames). Atlantic Wall instead is the 234 turn monster campaign, covering the whole thing from early June to 22 August. And to keep it playable they shrank the detail to 3 turns for a single day and a map that while being huge is still more zoomed out. And here we have The Greatest Day that covers the first week, with a day divided into 8 turns, two hours each, and then one single turn for the night, so 9 turns for a complete day.

(Rules for The Devil’s Cauldron, Where Eagles Dare and The Greatest Day are available here, all three part of the Grand Tactical Series. The vassal modules are here and here)
(Rules for Atlantic Wall are available here (under GOSS), and the Vassal module is here, but even if free you have to register. A current direct link is likely to stop working whenever they update it. This version also has the scenarios set up and is supposed to fix bugs, but it loads many times slower than the previous and has blurry counters for some reason…)

While it’s just 1/3 of the whole, it’s once again a monster game (complete). The full campaign goes from the night of 5 June, to 21:00 of 13 June. That should be 73 turns total. The designer says it’s not a small feat to play it all (the estimation is 20 hours for the single-day campaign, and 150 hours for the whole thing). On the surface the map of operation Market Garden looks way bigger despite the developer claiming this being twice as big, but I suppose The Greatest Day has a much higher counters density. That Market Garden campaign went from 15:00 of 17 September to the night turn of 24 September. The total is 60 turns, because this game has one less turn for each day, making the single night turn two hours longer and removing the 19:00 day turn.

A quick comparison on the surface:

Atlantic Wall
2.5 months full theater campaign, 234 turns total, 3 turns/day.

The Greatest Day
8 days campaign, only eastern landings, 73 turns total, 9 turns/day.

The Longest Day scenario in “Battles in Normandy”
1 day campaign, all the landings, 40 turns total, 40 turns/day.

Looking closer at the map representations I can deduce that, roughly, every step reduces the size of one hex by half:

(Atlantic Wall)

(The Greatest Day)

(The Longest Day)

To add some more detail and compensate the abstraction during the landings, Atlantic Wall uses some separate boards for the beaches, that are then funneled into the big map, for example (or here for the real thing):

And here a wider comparison of The Greatest Day main area and the respective section in Atlantic Wall:
Atlantic Wall
The Greatest Day

I suppose it’s possible to go deeper. I’m pretty sure Advanced Squad Leader has some scenarios covering D-Day but that, too, will have to wait for another time.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

Bethesda’s game engine is, indeed, shit

With the release of the terrible Fallout 76 come the cyclical complaints about how terrible and ancient is the game engine Bethesda uses.

Some guy who thinks he has a better insight ended up writing this:
https://kotaku.com/the-controversy-over-bethesdas-game-engine-is-misguided-1830435351

This is what I wrote on a forum:


This is funny because, very obviously, Jason Schreier doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he’s way too dumb to realize it.

A “game engine”, as used in discussions in forums and articles, IS NOT A PIECE OF TECH. Nor it is a “collection”, as he says.

A game engine is a heuristic. It’s a term in language that works like an umbrella and that encompasses the overall “look and feel” of playing a game. *Playing* it, not building it.

Of course the look of Morrowind or Oblivion doesn’t PRECISELY correspond to the look of Skyrim or Fallout, but the analogies and the general feel are absolutely there. You could make an experiment and let someone play a Bethesda game without knowing it’s Bethesda and he’ll know, if he’s competent, within minutes. And certainly not because that game would be very complex.

If an engine is an engine, then it provides a structure. No matter how much you WRESTLE it, the structure is a structure and by being structure it imposes itself and will create limits.

No matter how many times Bethesda explains how they rewrote everything in their engine, PLAYING those games will always reveal the truth. And the truth is that they are too scared to abandon the pipeline they used until this point because they cannot afford to wipe everything clean and restart from zero. Because IT IS indeed an engine, and they don’t want to discard it.

For Fallout 76 we have changed a lot. The game uses a new renderer, a new lighting system and a new system for the landscape generation.

And yet it’s the same shit, as glaringly obvious to anyone who played even for 5 minutes. All Jason Schreier says falls apart right there because it is PROVEN by playing the game and realizing how the “””engine””” is still the same.

What Jason Schreier says is only vaguely correct in the sense that “engine” is not a word used precisely in this context. But it’s only a discussion on the specific use and meaning of that word, and it doesn’t even remotely touch the actual discussion that takes place when players criticize this “engine”.

Ship of Theseus. It’s basically a new engine. I hate that word.

Ship of Theseus is how to nail the philosophical problem yet without understanding it.

The Ship of Theseus means you are different, not that you can become anything. Of course Bethesda’s games have greatly changed, since Morrowind. Yet they still cannot shake from those roots.

Even when you replaced all the parts, the way you have replaced them influences the outcome. It’s not freeform.

In the same way, the moment all your hair cells get entirely replaced doesn’t correspond to the moment you get blue or purple hair. The “engine” is still the same.


EDIT: This slightly blew up on twitter. But who am I to NOT go down the rabbit hole?

– when people refer to Bethesda’s game engine in the discussions they refer to the feel that links all their games, and that has its root in the underlying tech. That’s why it’s a heuristic. I perfectly underlined it’s a semantic problem.

My car’s engine is a heuristic for the smell of petrol, the screeching of tires, the warm leather seats, the gamers in the back seat screaming ‘are we there yet’.

– more or less, yes. More accurately your words are heuristics, as is all human language and representations. Jason wanted to use technical language, I used neuroscience. It’s a semantic problem.

– in fact, your car’s engine isn’t a heuristic. But your “car’s engine” is. Metalinguistics are the sixth function of language according to Jakobson and reason why we can talk about language with language.

I appreciate this from an academic standpoint, but if you tell your mechanic that they didn’t fix your engine and you actually mean the seat warmers are still too hot, they’re going to say you have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.

– yes, context. That’s why all this was spawned from an article that decontextualized the way the term “game engine” was used. Players don’t see code, they see output. So they blame a “game engine” because it’s their heuristic to link experience to tech.

– when someone “feels” Fallout 76 uses the same engine of Oblivion they are observing a heuristic of a link they cannot analyze in detail. Because they lack the precision of vision and information. Hence a heuristic is used.

– so when a player speaks or writes it can only be about the experience and not about the tech. Even if the center of the message is the existence of that link between experience and tech. Because they aren’t independent.

– Funnily, it’s not “academic”. It’s a dualistic problem like mind/body separation. Here it’s tech/feel, engine and experience. We see two things where there’s only one thing. They are one and the same. The tech is what generates experience. There’s no experience without tech the same as there’s no consciousness without a brain.

– It’s as if I say “my hand hurts”, and you, doctor, tell me, “Nope, your brain hurts. Pain can only be a mental construct.” That’s obviously true, but it’s also missing the point.

– RDR2, God of War and Skyrim are all sorta open worlds. Do you think their tools and engines are generic enough that you could perfectly recreate one in the other?

– That’s why people complain. Because the “scaffolding” that on one side allows Bethesda to produce relatively fast some huge games, on the other side ultimately feels archaic and clunky. With its advantages it also inherits its disadvantages, and players are demanding a more radical detachment from those old (but well known and convenient) roots.

– Btw, many times Bethesda has declared they completely renovated their engine.

– Yet players know it “feels” the same. The heuristic proves the underlying tech hasn’t changed in meaningful ways. As someone wrote in the forum: the proof is in the pudding.

Also this: https://www.resetera.com/threads/the-controversy-over-bethesdas-game-engine-is-misguided-kotaku.80983/page-6#post-14984524

Red Dead Redemption 2

This is stuff that was popular in the 90s style game the design and that was progressively parsed out because it was just a “chore”, getting in the way, and not fun.

This is where you learn game design is not progress, but just cyclical repetition. (and trends that shift back and forth like waves)

It’s like UI design, moving from simple and minimal -> complex, elaborate, decorated -> simple and minimal and boxy -> whimsical, shiny, colorful -> minimal and smooth and rounded -> etc…

Illusion of progress like everywhere else. Like the weather. Like seasons.

Posted in: Uncategorized |