Thursday, September 21, 2023

A lesson was learned but the damage was irreversible 

Retrieved Sept 20 2023, publish date unclear 

The Vast Majority of NFTs are Worthless 

Of the 73,257 NFT collections we identified, an eye-watering 69,795 of them have a market cap of 0 Ether (ETH). 

79% of all NFT collections – otherwise known as almost 4 out of every 5 – have remained unsold. 

March 28,2022 

So, my current "I have a half hour to kill" game of choice is Storybook Brawl. It's a free-to-play auto battler with an aesthetic very reminiscent of Hearthstone. [...]. It's not revolutionary, but it's fun. 

In terms of monetization, it's truly free to play.[…] It's been fun. I've seen video streams with the devs talking game balance, updates, and strategy. They seem fun and engaging. 

The company making the game has been bought out by a crypto exchange, with a grand goal of NFT-ing the game. Somehow. It's not clear, even in terms of handling asset rights what is supposed to happen. There's nothing to transfer between players or games, and art NFTs NFTs. 

The game, which had been wildly popular and highly rated, is currently being review-bombed into oblivion on Steam, and I'm likely to uninstall unless something happens to reverse course. Dammit, I liked that one. 

Steam review graph for Storybook Brawl, showing positive/negative reviews over time. 

Aug 4, 2022 

Sooo I used to play casually and returned to the game recently. I had no idea the game was acquired by a crypto company until I read a comment on reddit. What are the implications? What has changed with SBB? Pardon my ignorance but is the game some kind of crypto miner malware now lol? Is it becoming one of those play to earn scam games? 


There was talk about incorporating NFTs to the game since the FTX acquisition but no word about how yet, or whether it'll even work. For the time being, there have been no changes. 


[…] There is nothing in the short term planned for this 


Something might happen someday related to crypto or NFTs connected to something about the game. Maybe. Someday. With something. 

The liquidation of FTX, a Bahamas-based cryptocurrency exchange, began in November 2022 

May 1, 2023 

Game is broken as of today: says 9.999.9 update is available 

The game says that version 9.99.9 is up and should close the game and update. There's no update, even reinstall didn't help 

User “Ash” 

Game is dead as of yesterday. Literally, not hyperbolic. They've shut the servers off. 

User “Netwolfe” 

[…]Link to the article I am referencing 

The game’s shutdown announcement was met with sadness and disbelief, as it was noted that the game was Sam Bankman-Fried’s favorite NFT card-battling game. The association with the notorious CEO may have played a role in the game’s steadily declining fanbase, resulting in a drop of 59% in the average player count from 817 average players in February 2022 to about 331 average players in the past month. 


From Blockzeit: 

Final Thoughts 

The shutdown of Storybook Brawl serves as a stark reminder of the risks associated with building on a centralized platform. With the growing popularity of NFT games, it is essential to choose reliable platforms that can provide stability and security for both players and developers. The NFT gaming industry will undoubtedly continue to evolve, and it is up to developers and players alike to ensure its long-term success. 

From the Steam discussion thread: 

User "Sven Viking" 

The article calls it a Web3 NFT game, but as far as I saw the released version had nothing to do with either[...] 

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Terraforming Mars

Colonizing mars is a fantasy. It's an ideological project being driven by people who want a last-ditch effort to save humanity from extinction because they think earth is doomed. That's important context for the recent swell of "terraforming (and colonizing) mars" games. 

These games run the gamut from highly scientific to mostly abstract. They can acknowledge ideology and nationality or they can obscure it. They all take, without a single question, the premise that Mars must be terraformed.  Even the most scientific game, Per Aspera, handwaves away the problem of Mars' distance with a handy ultra-fast space travel technology and plenty of made-up terraforming technology. In other games, such as Terraformers, or Terraforming Mars, terraforming is the only path to victory and no other reasonable option exists. Yes, it's literally the name of the game - can we come back to this after a brief survey of these games?

Farlanders puts a person-centric face on its puzzley-terraforming scenes. There's a story that's primarily about training new terraforming techs, and the mechanics are about using your limited terraforming tetris pieces to make room for your level objectives as you chat with your friends. Apparently the story does eventually question the politics of terraforming as you go on, but frankly I didn't get that far because it's a quite challenging game!

Terraformers is more of a traditional city/civilization-builder where you choose a leader and establish colonies, set up mines, and aggressively chase after establishing new plant life to make your human population happy so you can expand so you can repeat the cycle. You can use bots to increase your reach across the planet's surface but it makes it harder to reach the victory condition, which is determined by human happiness. There's a race against the clock to achieve victory before your humans demand too much of you, get upset and leave.  

Per Aspera has you inhabit an intelligent AI. Humans are a minor resource used to obtain research for new techs. This game is the most deliberate about the process of terraforming, which is presented as a series of painstaking stages undertaken one step at a time. Raise the temperature, then harvest the water, then start seeding lichen to increase moisture levels, then finally start pushing plant life across the entire planet's surface. All the work is done by a network of autonomous drones, conveyed across the planet by Hyperloops. The AI muses about how humans destroyed the Earth and Mars is a second chance for humanity. There's a story beat where an antagonist questions terraforming Mars but the antagonist is written as an irrational extremist. Although I enjoyed the process of terraforming most in this game, it was one of the most unquestioning games about ideology despite the premise of a naive AI coming into consciousness.

Surviving Mars has a fog of war around its mechanics. Choices are a shot in the dark whose effects you will not encounter for hours. It is full of backpack problems: given $10m, how full will you stuff this rocket, and using which supplies? Surrounded by no strategic direction except your pre-existing knowledge. "What if I don't have any pre-existing knowledge?" You can consult one of three guides, which all have contradicting information and are written with incomplete or outdated information and terminology. The most useful guide I found says "Do not aim to be self-sufficient. Aim instead to be profitable.": This is all a capitalistic enterprise about reclaiming your cash. There's a faction selection screen, which at least gestures at recognizing ideology and motivation! That's a small relief, at least. 

Finally, there is Terraforming Mars, a board game which mostly takes us back to an abstract puzzle. There are corporation personas which veer between "environmental corporate" (get more plant life because you own a proporietary strain of plant life biohacked for adaptability) and "extremely corporate" (get more money every time you play an event because you are livestreaming this for cash). You are in more explicit competition with your rivals, and you can sabotage them and steal their resources as you compete for victory points, but terraforming mars is the name of the game. 

Is it fair to lean on these games for wanting to terraform mars? The prospect of terraforming Mars is an ideological project, and a fantasy. The premise is not value-neutral because the people pushing the premise are billionaires who believe we need to leave earth and own space companies to further that goal: Surviving Mars has a faction called "SpaceY", a reference to Musk's SpaceX. Mars is a blank slate, Terra Nullus, a playground for us to do what we want. What would it even look like to consider the issue of terraforming planets for human habitation from a different angle?

Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri also posits a ruined Earth, fleeing ideologues, and the colonization of a distant planet directed by you as the embodiment of one of those ideologues. However, Alpha Centauri's planet Chiron is not a blank slate. The ideologues are not silent and blank slates for you to form. Chiron is alive in the most literal representation of Gaia theory, and the ideologues are fated to conflict about how this must be handled. You can terraform Chiron in SMAC if you wish, but the native life has something to say about it -- and so will Deidre, the head of the Gaiaist faction. You can also live in harmony with the planet, and that has some tradeoffs as well. This is all in contrast to Mars, despite the similar "doomed people and differing ideologies" setup. Mars is devoid of life and must be transformed; Chiron is alive and you need to actively choose if you want to support that life or replace it. Mars is a blank slate upon which new ideology can be seamlessly imported; Chiron is a new battleground for existing ideology. Above all, Mars is "real", and gets treated with pseudo-scientific rigor; Chiron is outside the realm of possibility and not to be taken seriously.

SMAC was released in 1999. What happens when we look to a more recent game for a different view on terraforming? Terra Nil is a terraforming game about reclaiming wastelands. It looks like a game about fixing human damage to human ecosystems, with levels about reclaiming skyscrapers and turning them into bamboo forests. In practice, it is another abstract puzzle game with fake technology and an unreal setting. Humans are mysteriously absent from the world. Ecosystems don't exist as a delicate balance between parameters as they do in Per Aspera's terraforming. The purpose of Terra Nil is to paint as much green as you can using as little resources as possible, and that sometimes means blasting the land to pieces and erupting magma streams out. If you tweak parameters enough, you can solve a small puzzle to make animals magically appear. Wasteland restored! It's not a serious consideration of terraforming, it's a puzzle game about lining up shapes efficiently. Furthermore, the title has an unmistakable connection to the doctrine of "Terra Nullus", the legal principle that considered land vacant "if it had not yet been occupied by Christians. Such vacant lands could be defined as 'discovered' and as a result sovereignty, title and jurisdiction could be claimed" ( This principle was used in Canada, Australia, and the Americas, none of which were "vacant". Assuming the best intention this is an unwitting reference and sign of complete thoughtlessness; assuming the worst, a clear sign that even cheerful environmentalism is a new form of colonialism.

Ideology is not a dial that gets turned during the production process while developers look back at the audience like a contestant on the price is right. The construction of a video game has many considerations, and things may be removed or added for reasons as mundane as "this is too hard to localize" or "We ran out of time". "We didn't think of that" is another reason, though, and that's where ideology comes into play. I'm not sure the developers of these games currently conceive of Mars as anything other than a playground for our technology. We don't see Mars as a beautiful planet in its own right. We don't see Mars as something that has existed alongside our planet for longer than life has existed. We don't see Mars as worthy of preserving. Red Mars, the book that is the blueprint for a lot of this generation of terraforming talk just as Snow Crash and Ready Player One is the blueprint for lots of the Metaverse talk, was very careful to establish Mars preservationists as a faction who were relatively sympathetic. The way we think of Mars today is as a replacement Earth. It's worth asking why we think we can handle that when we are having trouble with our current Earth as it is. 

Sunday, November 27, 2022


I have spent the past month sick, my family has spent the past month sick, I am absolutely not getting a blogpost out this month.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Pandemic Games - Death Stranding and Xenoblade Chronicles 3

After I finished Xenoblade Chronicles 3, I picked up Death Stranding and was surprised that I went straight from one pandemic game into another. Both games are are about reconnecting splintered communities, although they approach the subject very differently. 

Death Stranding came out November 2019, about a month before COVID-19 was identified. The timeline is a little ambiguous, but the deadly "Stranding" which left people... stranded... happened within living memory for many of the characters.  Your job is not to fix the problem, but live within it by basically plugging a bunch of communities back into the internet. You very rarely see people face to face. They are buried deep in bunkers, and you will almost never be in the room with more than 1 person at the same time.  

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 came out July 2022, almost three years into the pandemic. The inciting incident that sets the plot into the motion was so long ago it is forgotten to history and the "new normal" is an endless murderous battle royale grind that everyone believes to be either the only system available or the best system possible.

It's hard not to look at these two games and see shifting attitudes towards the pandemic in them. In Death Stranding, technology is hopeful. You are using it to "Make America Whole Again." In XBC, you are a Luddite smashing clocks as fast as you can. The Death Stranding is a little magical, a mystical connection with the afterlife, which is never fully explained and came out of nowhere. In Xenoblade, the world is a system intentionally set up to benefit the elite who literally feast upon our deaths. Most cynically, Death Stranding occasionally treats Sam as a gig worker sent into unbearably dangerous conditions. In Xenoblade, the danger of the world is just something everyone takes for granted. The level 50 dinosaur tromping around the level 12 area is unremarkable. Even playing Death Stranding in 2022, I barely picked up on the gig worker critique - of course we sacrifice people to do dangerous jobs for no pay. That's just life now. Hasn't it always been?

3 years of perspective doesn't only bring cynicism. In Xenoblade, you see communities change and grow. People leave their home colonies, visit other places, learn and come back home with new knowledge. They overcome distrust of each other and make new things together. In Death Stranding, one person does that. Once. The other times people leave are in a body bag. You spend almost the entire time by yourself. In Xenoblade, you travel with your friends. You are never alone. Maybe one thing we have learned in the past three years is that our governments won't care for us, but other people still might. 


Friday, September 30, 2022

xenoblade chronicles 3 - endgame

After 130 hours, i have finally finished Xenoblade Chronicles 3. I'll talk about the ending below. I guess that's spoilers territory, but to be honest it's probably better knowing what the ending is before you experience it for yourself.

The endgame sets up a nice switch. In early to mid game, quests are primarily about your team earning the trust of newly freed colonies. By the end of the game, quests become about how the colonies, formerly on opposite ends of a war, now need to work with each other for survival and peace. You help them cooperate to grow food, share supplies, and collaborate on new technology in order to build a better world. It's a hopeful turn for the story to take. It really solidified this idea I had that this game is a perfect 2022-era game: a story about oppressive systems, enabled by techno-surveillance (through the Iris, a tool that ultimately reveals your location to the bad guys, and through the Collectopedia cards, questgiving mechanisms which are revealed to be initially invented to spy on enemy supply lines) pushing us to create a better world through mutual understanding and aid. 

The ending tears all of that apart. As it turns out, when the two worlds (The worlds of Xenoblade 1 and Xenoblade 2, for some reason) "collided", they didn't permanently fuse together. Somehow, in a flash of understanding that every character suddenly gained while I was left completely in the dark(*), the worlds are going to just pass through each other as soon as I defeat the bad guy and Agnus and Keves are going to split back apart, and all the Keves people will magically phaseshift back into Xenoblade 1 and the Agnus people will phase shift back into Xenoblade 2? This poses a few problems. 

First, all that mutual aid and cooperation was pointless. Every speck of matter from Agnus will disappear from Keves as well as vice versa, and memories will be lost. That's frustrating. I liked that part and really looked forward to, I don't know, a flash of magic energy where everyone's 10-year life limit was removed and the colonies continued to work side by side to build a better world together. Instead I got  "I'll always remember you! I'll see you again!" (no you won't. when are these worlds going to collide again? what?). 

Second, what happens to the people of The City? They're not from Keves *or* Agnus. If this world was created by the fusion of XBC1 and XBC2, where do the people who are explicitly the descendants of both groups mixing together go when the worlds split apart? The City is like one of the most pivotal groups in the plot! 

I do think one of the more important themes of the game is "people should be free to follow their passions instead of having their lives dictated by natural ability or ruling structures". I think that's a powerful and even anti-fascist message about the importance of self-determination. Characters in The City are able to pursue artistic careers even though they're locked down in a state of hidden perma-war. Joran's is redeemed not because he was weak and became strong, but because he understood he was asked to be something he wasn't in a system that only valued strength and he had the option to choose another path. I'm not very interested in casting out XBC3 entirely because it had an ending that made no sense to me and didn't resonate with me. I played it for 130 hours and mostly just the last hour sucked. The developers here have a history of making games that reach for philosophical and metatextual heights and, in my opinion, they don't grasp what they aim for. And you know what? Fine. Good for them. I want them to keep reaching. I saw a lot of really interesting themes in the stories in this game. But to the experience of playing it...

What actually bothers me is after 4 games in the series, seeing the exact same mechanics play out on slightly different world maps is starting to wear a bit thin. I think one of the most iconic signatures of the series is "Level 90 monster hanging out in a starting area", to give you a sense that these aren't neatly divided sandboxes but messy and breathing ecologies. That's cool! This game has quests about "we need to respect the land so we can help each other grow as better carers for the land and for our neighbors" to bring that point home. Unfortunately you can immediately follow that up with "kill this rare creature 30 times for its parts, don't worry you can leave the map and come back to make it respawn". Ultimately, there's never going to be a sense of ecology here even as the game is reaching for it. Killing rare monsters for parts is at least a genre trope, but it's superficial to place that trope in the third game in a series known for its attempts at philosophy, have it pontificate about the richness of the earth, and all the animals stand next to each other staring straight ahead like a 2009 GameCube game as it replays the same "here's a level 10 creature and WOW here's a level 90 creature right next to it!!!" for the third map in a row and the fourth game in a row.

There's a little bit of this creature placement that does come from an MMO legacy, just like the battle system comes from an MMO legacy. But what really baffles me is that MMOs at this point have a pretty standard design language. MMOs have DPS meters to help you gauge build effectiveness (now present in almost every mobile RPG, totally absent from this game). MMO fights have red circles on the ground to avoid (barely gestured at in this game for 1-2 story boss battles and never seen again). There are raid mechanics where you need to target specific parts or hit things in a specific order or alternate between using all your DPS and avoiding a big attack. Even changing your party composition to meet a specific challenge. None of those things are present here. As much as the game wants to borrow from MMO design, it doesn't seem interested in engaging with MMOs as they exist today. Every fight, from bosses to the weakest creature, proceeds in exactly the same way. Optimizing builds is mostly a chore of scrolling through identical equipment and guessing at your damage output. Even trying to take on the game while underlevelled - a common request from my casual chats with people - is something that is locked behind new game + for unfathomable reasons. 

Overall I think this game is doing interesting things, even if it falls over suddenly at the last minute and the combat is distinctly uninspired. I'd recommend it (and I would anti-recommend playing XBC1 and 2 first, as it's actually more confusing trying to understand why these characters are relevant and showing up and if they're going to do anything related to their games before flying off into the sunset/interdimensional vortex). It's the kind of game that really electrifies me: it has ambition and can't quite realize all of it. I gripe, but I find it really interesting to dig in to what works and what doesn't work.  

(*) ACTUALLY, in the post-game, which occurs chronologically before the final fight, Mia explains exactly what is going to happen. Why it occurs in this order, I do not know, but it is very frustrating and annoying. 

Friday, August 26, 2022

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 - Midway

This post will graze over superficial mechanical and plot elements of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 by roughly the 50-60 hour mark (~chapter 5). This is all stuff I enjoyed discovering on my own, so if you'd prefer to discover it on your own, don't read!

I'm super into XBC3. Emily Price's piece relates it to a YA novel and that's fair. It has the weird dystopian setup, strong characters, and you are reminded frequently that the protagonists are literally children. 

I think the single most interesting thing about the writing is the colonies. Most of the sidequests revolve around liberating colonies from their Flame Clocks (yes, they do make a comeback from their weird initial introduction). Each colony is distinct, from its iconic Ferronis looming over the settlement to the philosophy of the commander who inevitably joins you as a party member, to the makeup of the people inhabiting it. Some colonies are full of the youngest children, others have hardened warriors or logistical geniuses. Some commanders are philosophers who want to ensure you wield power in service of dismantling oppression, others are masking their youth with put-upon airs (and heavy makeup) to project strength and hide potential weakness. 

As each commander joins you, and gives you additional side quests, you are given hardcore doses of straight rhetoric. The game does not cloak its points in metaphor. It is incredibly direct. Characters tell you "Rules are closely entangled with the intentions of whoever set them", "People who see something bad happening in the world and do nothing to stop it because they are personally comfortable in the status quo are also villains". It's actually very refreshing to not have to hunt around the detrius of a game for the themes! 

XBC3 is about an oppressive world set up by and for a class of elites who survive by making people who should have common cause into each other's enemies. Keves and ....Agnes (look, I can't remember the factions names, or who belong to which faction, or which bonus goes to who) have no real differences. Our band of protagonists proves that. Yet they are supposed to be "enemies", locked in eternal war, because of machinations by the Consuls/Mobius. Soldiers die, convinced of the justness of their cause. Mobius benefits, regardless of which side wins. The machinery of war grinds on. This is, unfortunately, deeply relatable. 

Gosh, I'd love to share some of the screenshots I took, but it's impossible to get them off my Switch!

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Xenoblade Chronicles 3

 I am about 4 hours into Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and it is already miles ahead of XBC2. I enjoyed XBC1, and XBC2 was mechanically more-or-less the same. If XBC1 was about friendship and interlocking systems, though, XBC2 was about.... harems? Sexism? Gacha?

In contrast, XBC3 is about death. It's not new ground for a game, but it's a welcome retreat from XBC2, or even Xenoblade Chronicles X, which I mostly understand to be about how Los Angeles is an alien and unwelcoming environment . In XBC3, characters talk about death constantly. You are rewarded for stopping at soldier's corpses and giving them a brief funeral. There's even a brief appearance of a "flame clock", essentially a death clock, which (again, four hours in) suddenly disappears with no apparent consequence and having no apparent use. I'm interested if that inconsequential mechanic is intentionally setting up a callback or if its going to get lost in the next 100 hours. 

I find myself very interested in the story! I want to see where it takes me next.