Wednesday, September 26, 2012

30 Flights

30 Flights of Loving was a great proof-of-concept. I played Gravity Bone immediately beforehand, and I enjoyed the setting (a kitschy spy thriller) as well as the complete lack of expository cutscenes or text. 30 Flights was very similar: a great set-up, a great sense of how to tell the story, and an amusing thrill ride through and through. However, while the technique was impeccable, the actual story was pretty unremarkable. Like Gravity Bone, it was a quick tale about betrayal and love in the spy world.

The best moment in 30 Flights is definitely navigating through an airport. You’re lost, but you pick a direction and start going. There’s a sudden hard cut, and regardless of which direction you were going, you end up where you needed to be. Normally, most games will either: 1) punt you into a cutscene where the correct path is chosen for you, or 2) make you walk the entire length of the corridor to reach your destination.

A hard cut shaves off that obnoxious empty walking time, and avoids the helplessness of watching a cutscene.  It’s a great showcase of how to tell a story, and that’s awesome and badly needed, but (“by design” and not by accident) the threadbare plot isn’t anything more than an instruction manual. It’s not a complete and worthy story in its own right.

P.S. Over at This Cage is Worms, Cameron has a completely different reaction to the game.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Encountering an alien ship, near a flaring sun, while their boarding party tries to take out my oxygen supply

I ended up with some pretty strong feelings about FTL.

I really like the combat. There are lots of decisions, but they have different consequences.  Rowan advises: Missile to the shields, lasers to the weapons - a missile can slip through shields and take out the subsystem, and your lasers have enough time to take out the enemy ship’s armaments before the shields pop back online.

In a lot of games (the example that springs to mind is Skyrim) you eventually end up in a state where you one-shot most enemies and any damage they might incidentally deal to you is easily recovered. The system progresses to a point where it carries very little consequence. In FTL, damage might be survivable but can still have deadly consequences. A breach in the hull is never fun to deal with, even outside of combat. A breach and fires on deck are even worse.

At higher levels there are enough moving parts that you get a lot of frantic maneuvering in. A boarding party might engage your crew just as fires engulf the engine room, but you can pause, order your chief engineer to brawl with the boarders, and open airlock doors to vent oxygen from half the ship to put out the fire, while diverting power from the engines to the medical bay in order to heal your crew.

During combat, your skill at management might dictate whether you survive, but your longer-term goal is to avoid getting damaged in the first place so your precious currency doesn’t get consumed by repairs. It’s a lot like Arkham Horror in that combat is all-or-nothing. Maximize your chances to hit instead of maximizing the values of your hits. Getting a hit in is harder and more important than having bigger numbers come out of the other guys’ head. You decide between taking down an enemy’s shields or their damage-dealing capabilities, not between doing 35-40 or 25-60 damage in a hit. It’s “crunchy” in that it has few hits, but each is a discrete action with severe consequences or major successes, as opposed to mashing the attack button 10+ times until the enemy runs out of HP.

Skyrim just opens itself up to inflation, in economics and in combat. You can create amazing health potions for nearly free, or turn around the minor artefacts you constantly discover for significant amounts of cash. Enemies get more “difficult” by getting more HP, so the only consequence is needing to mash attack for longer. FTL is smaller scope, but that means the economy doesn’t have the time to spiral out of scale. Enemies become more difficult by receiving new and dangerous abilities. Really dangerous situations arise when you’re in a poor position (trapped behind the encroaching lines of the enemy fleet) and you don’t get resources for killing an enemy. I don’t think there’s a single analogous situation in late-game Skyrim, where you almost always have immediate access to a crate full of life-replenishing cabbages.

Unfortunately, I’m one of those boring gamers who gets irritated and put off by relentless difficulty. What I’m really missing from the game is a sense of progression. I can get a lucky run and take out the rebel flagship once, but on my next round I’m just as likely to make my first jump too close to the sun while a pirate attacks me, getting us both killed by solar flares. FTL might not have a ton of inflation, but narrowly losing a game and having nothing to show for it is pretty deflating.

If I were to brainstorm a bunch of bullshit for a game I didn’t write and have no claim to:
I would love to be able to export my “story,” just a quick writeup of what happened during my last game in a simple text format for me to pretty up and share with others. Crewman X died putting out a fire caused by the Slaver’s attack, etc.

I would love to see the ability to connect Facebook/Twitter/whatever and import crew names, and use that in conjunction with the export feature to share what happened with them.

I really want just a little bit more progression across all my games, maybe a “casual” mode where one crewman can keep the training acquired across the course of the game. There are some unlocked abilities but they seem pretty difficult and random to get, so they aren’t very satisfying to me.

An option to auto-pause after weapons have fired would help me remember to come up for air during particularly frantic battles.

Monday, September 10, 2012


We played Sanitarium with two friends at PAX. Since we’re generally not competitive people, we were attracted by the cooperative mode and the short time commitment.

What was interesting about the game was the “board” is constructed every turn by drawing an item card and placing it face down, so the board constantly expands in strange and unpredictable directions as the Bad Guys chase you around. Since the game is about escaping a sanitarium (by collecting your personal totem items and shedding whatever neuroses you’ve acquired), it becomes an exploration of the Psychic Space of a Sanitarium.

Unfortunately, I can’t really tell you about the Psychic Space of a Sanitarium because the game wasn’t very good. There wasn’t any mechanic that hooked me. There was nothing that made me say, “Oh, I’ve got to play another round.” We finished the game and asked, “Wait, how could we have even lost?”As it turns out, the last page of the rules said the game ends when you run out of item cards, but the Bad Guys chasing us were pretty easily evaded or diverted, and even if one “caught” you, rolling dice to pass an increasingly difficult horror check meant nothing because the consequences were not that dire.

The concept of spreading nebulous, hidden information onto a map that connected distant safe rooms was a great concept, but it didn’t go any further than that. Probably without the cooperative goal we would have been reduced to betraying each other (the real monster is MAN’S INHUMANITY TO MAN), but then we wouldn’t have been playing a cooperative game, which was our #1 goal.