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    Loop Hero (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Sep 27th, 2022 at 23:27:08)

    I was initially intrigued by Loop Hero. It has a neat gameplay and narrative premise. I read that this was originally created for a game jam with the theme “start with nothing.” Indeed, you start with nothing each run. Well, no equipment. There are persistent unlocks. The game is a unique hybrid of deck-building, town-building, RPG, tower defense, and roguelike. The world has been destroyed, and you enter “the loop” over and over again on expeditions, collecting fragments of memories to bring back to your village to build it.

    There are two halves of the game, the loop part and the town-building part. The loop has two phases, the expedition phase and the planning phase. In the expedition phase, you circle the loop and fight enemies. Note that by "fight" I mean that your character fights. You watch. The only thing you actually do is in the planning phase, where you basically are pausing the game to sort equipment and place tiles (both of which you’ll do a lot). When you kill enemies and pass over tiles, you’ll get equipment and cards. You need to keep an eye on equipment upgrades and cards to place around the loop. You go on expeditions in order to get supplies to build your town. There is a building tree. New buildings unlock new cards for your deck, new classes (warrior, rogue, and necromancer), the ability to collect and craft supplies, and other effects. You place buildings on a map in the town-building part of the game, though I’m not sure the significance of building the town out in any certain way. I saw a couple buildings that need to be near a couple other buildings, but my town was pretty haphazard and it didn’t seem to matter.

    So, before you go on an expedition, you can select cards to be in your deck. Some cards have to be played on the road (the loop is a road), others have to be played adjacent to the road, and others have to be played in the “surrounding area”—think the landscape around the road (mountains, meadows, rivers, etc.). At first, I was confused as to the point of some of the cards. Most of them exist to spawn monsters, and others spawn monsters if a condition is met (e.g., every 10 rock/mountain tiles spawn a goblin camp by the road). I didn’t quite know why you wanted to fill the road with monsters. Like, you’re making it harder for yourself to progress, right? Well yes, and no. You see, there are two meters that fill as you circle the loop. One is a day meter. Upon new days, enemies spawn, your health refills a bit, and other things can happen. The second is the boss meter. This has to do with how many tiles you’ve placed. Once it fills up, the boss spawns on your camp (which is a special starting tile that, when passed, refills some HP and lets you end the expedition with 100% of your loot intact). The first boss killed me twice before I beat him the third time (and then a fourth, fifth, and forever after). This was after learning some tricks. I learned, for example, that you want to kill as many enemies as possible and go around the loop as quickly as possible. More loops = stronger enemies (enemy power increases each loop) = better equipment (equipment level increases each loop) = better preparedness for boss. So tackling the boss on, say, loop 6, is not nearly as good as doing it on loop 8. Yeah, the boss will be a bit stronger, but so will you. Plus, another thing I learned is that you can use the Oblivion card to destroy the boss’s castle tiles (which spawn all around the boss). For every castle tile you destroy, the boss loses HP and damage. And the more enemies you kill and the more times you go around the loop, the more Oblivion cards you probably have. I typically have 3 or 4 to burn on the boss’s castle.

    There are lots of card interactions to learn. The strategies for placing tiles here or there, in curves in the loop or on straightaways, what tiles synergize and what tiles are bad together, etc., are overwhelming at first. But after a while, you learn what works best. I think that’s the crux of my boredom with Loop Hero. I’ve figured out what works best. The game has become repetitive. I understand the mechanics. I unlocked all the classes, figured out ideal stats and builds for each class, built a lot of buildings, tried a lot of cards. People say it “plays itself.” I originally found myself actively engaged in making decisions to: place tiles, put on equipment. Well, I guess that’s it, but if you set the game speed on max, it flies. But one run, I killed the first boss for the umpteenth time and decided to risk staying in the loop to collect resources. Well, round and round I went. Eventually I didn’t have to pay attention. The game did indeed play itself because I was so powerful I couldn’t die. These expeditions can take half an hour or longer, and you wind up watching your character go in circles waiting for your resources to cap out so you can go back to town and maybe have enough to build a building. Then back into the loop.

    That’s not to say that I’m anywhere near beating this game. No, it’s like a 40-hour game! I can’t imagine putting 4 times what I’ve played already into this. I haven’t even seen the second boss (of 4). The second act kicks my butt. But here’s the thing. Progression is a matter of grinding resources to unlock buildings to unlock cards to get more supplies to place things a little better in the loop to grind more resources, etc. There is little skill, no action. Winning is inevitable if you just go around the loop enough times. Eventually I’ll automate my way to beating the second boss, then the third, then the fourth. So, I am setting Loop Hero aside. Neat premise, grindy execution.

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    In Other Waters (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Sep 26th, 2022 at 11:41:02)

    Didn't realize this never got an entry. This was a freebie on Amazon and one I'd heard of for its innovative UI. Indeed, and briefly, the UI is quite neat. You play as an AI, awoken in a dive suit by a researcher who is pursuing a colleague/ex-lover into the depths of the ocean on a mysterious alien planet. You navigate, scan things, use tools, and so on by clicking on the UI instead of traditionally controlling a character in the underwater environment. You can see the environment represented on your radar, and move by setting (pre-determined) waypoints. It's quite linear in this fashion. It was really weird not being able to "see" what is being described, what the human in the suit is looking at. A metal door barring the way is just a line on the map. Sea creatures are little moving dots. Points of interest are triangles.

    The story is really what kept me going through the game. It's intriguing for sure. There is mounting dread as you go deeper into the ocean, encounter more mysteries, and eventually something sinister and tragic. It could get a bit boring because it's mostly reading and no action. There is a big focus on building a taxonomy of marine life, taking samples, learning about the alien flora and fauna. Having recently played Subnautica, I didn't really care to do all that again and mostly ignored the "biologist" part. But it's a short game and yeah, like I'd heard, has a neat UI. Do you like to use a novel UI to play a game? Do you like science fiction? Are you a marine biologist? Then this is for you.

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    Gwent: The Witcher Card Game (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Sep 26th, 2022 at 11:28:32)

    Since I've recently retired Legends of Runeterra (LoR), I can't help but compare it to Gwent. They're very different games. I've also been thinking a lot about Hearthstone lately, which I haven't played in years, but did spend a few years playing. (LoR is much more similar to Hearthstone). Here are reasons I'm enjoying Gwent more than LoR:

    1. It's slower, less chaotic. I have more time to think in Gwent. Along with this, there are fewer card mechanics, and the numbers on cards are smaller (e.g., attack power doesn't skyrocket). This is generally good for me in handling so much information!

    2. The relative difference between more and less powerful cards is smaller than in LoR. You're not going to play one card and insta-win. Your opponent is not going to buff a card to unmanageable heights in one round and annihilate you. For these reasons, the game feels more fair and balanced.

    3. Gwent is more tactical and involves planning much farther ahead. This is in part due to its best-of-three structure. Hearthstone just went back and forth player-opponent in each round. LoR went back and forth but added attack and defend phases in each round. Gwent goes back and forth sort of like Hearthstone, but you play three "sets" (idk what to call them) in the game. It's best two-out-of-three. Cards in your hand after each set carry to the next. Between each set, you draw three more cards. This means that if you play all your cards in the first set, you'll only have three cards in the second set. This happens often. But, you can choose to "pass," which is useful if you are clearly ahead or behind. If you're behind, it saves you from wasting more cards in that set. If you're ahead, either your opponent will also pass (realizing that they're behind, or that it's not worth trying to come back from behind to win the set) or they will play cards to win the set, which puts them at a disadvantage later because if they play extra cards to win a set, then you'll have more cards than them in the following set. You can also strategically hold cards through a set. Often, I will try to save more powerful cards for later. Some cards grow in power if you hold them. Or, you may hope to draw better synergies after each set. But it's never guaranteed! Sometimes you hold a card the whole time and realize it would have been much better played in the first set. Other times, it wins you the game. There is also a lot of guessing what your opponent is up to. I've already learned that I can "trick" people into removing a threat that isn't really a threat, or playing a little bit of a strategy, but really moving into a different strategy, and the opponent counters the wrong thing. Overall, I feel I can be cleverer in Gwent!

    4. Gwent is generous with rewards. It's much more free-to-play (although you can of course purchase card packs) and free-to-play players can actually compete in ranked modes. There are also far fewer types of rewards to earn, which simplifies things.

    5. The "single-player" is more interesting than LoR. In LoR, single-player began great, but quickly devolved into playing the same AI decks on the same maps over and over ad infinitum, grinding away. In Gwent, there's no story mode per se, but there are stories. And as this is the Witcher universe and this is CD Projekt Red, the writing is fantastic. As you unlock "reward points," you can choose to progress through various maps with rewards to unlock. This is purely to get you cards and vanity items like avatars or game boards, but the games are online with humans, not against AI! Playing other people is more engaging than playing AI. It makes me wish that the Path of Champions in LoR could have been completed against humans. I have also figured out though that the game, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, is like a standalone single-player RPG of Gwent. It has some tie-ins (achievements, rewards), for playing through Thronebreaker. So, I'm actually stopping Gwent until Thronebreaker next goes on sale on Steam. Then I will play that, and continue Gwent later when I am probably better at it.

    Here are a couple things I'm missing in Gwent:

    1. When your opponent plays a card, you get a few seconds to look at it before it goes on the board or disappears. If it goes on the board, that's fine because you can continue looking. But if it's a spell and disappears, it's confusing because I can't always understand it quickly enough to know what it did! And there is no "previous move" list to refer to, as in LoR and Hearthstone.

    2. I wish there was an auto deck-builder. You get a starting deck for each faction, but otherwise have to build your own. This is fun of course, but I remember when Hearthstone added an auto deck-builder to help quickly try new decks and strategies. It was awesome. You could tweak it later. Since each faction comes with like 8 special abilities (once-per-game powers), it would be neat if Gwent had basic decks for each ability. It was funny, I was trying an ability with Skellige that said something like, "Spend one charge to do one damage to any ally on the board. Once you spend all five charges, summon [some big bear card]." I misread the ability as doing damage to enemies, so the first time I played with the ability, I of course lost because I didn't build my deck around doing damage to myself. I haven't tried to make that one again yet, but instead have been playing a Skellige deck with pirates and ships. I forget exactly what the ability does, but there are some cool synergies.

    Anyway, I've been playing only Skellige to learn the game. They're a fun faction with a few different playstyles. One is heavy use of Bloodthirst, which triggers an action if x number of enemies are damaged. So like Bloodthirst 3: Deal 4 damage to an enemy, means that if 3 enemies are damaged, then that card can deal 4 damage to an enemy. The base Skellige deck uses Bloodthirst a lot, so you've got to constantly be trying to keep enemies damaged (but not necessarily dead!) to maximize your own cards. Then there's the ship-and-pirate one, another that focuses on healing and "alchemy" cards (of which I have few), another (as my failed run in the previous paragraph suggests) that focuses on damaging yourself and going berserk, and others.

    I've barely scratched the surface. Really looking forward to Thronebreaker, probably in the Steam winter sale! Maybe I'll knock out another card game (there are so many...) in the meantime.

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    The Simpsons Game (DS)    by   jp       (Sep 21st, 2022 at 12:45:05)

    Ok, so a little Youtube sleuthing (5 minutes, really) shows that - it seems like the basic storyline and overall structure of the game (DS) is the same as the other console versions. However, those are in 3D (not sidescrolling 2D or kind of isometric 2D) and...look worse? I can't tell if the gameplay is wonky or not - but they did go with 3D looks pretty good! (saw xbox360 footage). It's obviously stylized to look like the show. I'm going to assume that the gameplay is better - mostly because of the additional freedom of movement making the location puzzles seem less linear/obvious, combat seems more open - less just having to take hits will button mashing - and there's more "resources" (e.g. voice, animation, characters etc.) and features. I think the cut-scenes in the 360 version are animated - so it looks like some of the ones in the DS game where recreated in-engine and then exported to the DS? Like, wow.

    I guess picture thought: Should we consider The Simpsons Game (DS) a contemporaneous demake of the 360/ps3 version? Clearly the console version are deeper/richer/have more features and so on - and clearly they're following the same big picture game design in terms of powers, abilities, locations, and also storyline.

    Oh, and yes - Will Wright does appear in the console version!

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    Unexplored 2 (PC)    by   jp       (Sep 21st, 2022 at 12:26:24)

    Here's another game I'm playing thanks/for/due to my critical game design seminar!

    I haven't played ALL that much - in terms of hours. I'm still in my 2nd run - and the 1st included all the tutorial/on-boarding and wasn't that short in terms of playtime because I was reading everything and trying to wrap my head around the game. So, quick thoughts for now:

    (a) I’m really enjoying the fate system – it’s a cool way to solve so many design problems without requiring a lot of development time implementing multiple gameplay sub-systems. This seems like it adds so much RPG flavor in a way that is mechanically fun. At the moment I’m still having a hard time understanding how the system connects to/relates to my character and their attributes – but I think that’s mostly my lack of knowledge more than anything. Oh, the fate system is basically a system where you (representationally) randomly pull a token from a bag - and hope it's green (success) and not red (fail). I think the kinds/numbers of token in the bag when you start is dependent on your attributes and other modifiers. But, there's some wrinkled: There's a spirit points system where you can spend 5 pts to draw again, if you run out you can draw again - but suffer a negative status effect (fatigued?), and some tokens let you draw again for free (there's tokens that add more green tokens to the bag, etc.). So, it's a system that mirrors the usual "check for X" you see in TRPGs, so you can use it to handle picking locks, climbing, etc. all kinds of things - thus super flexible!


    (b) I love the lore/information system that adds things to the map for you to explore/find. It feels really rewarding to just have stuff pop-up on the map even if I don’t plan on getting to it yet. I’m only in my 2nd run (first one was longer than I thought) so I still don’t have a good understanding of how these things will play out over multiple runs (if at all). So, if I clear an area of the sigils – is that area “empty” in future runs? I think there is an effect, but I’m not sure yet and looking forward to exploring that as I play more. The idea is that when you die - you continue as a new character, but it's been a few years and time has passed so stuff updates on the map! There are factions that are possibly fighting each other and stuff like that.


    (c) I’ve been playing on my Steamdeck – and it works really well! Some text is a bit small, but I’m also getting older and that’s an extra challenge. I’m just (positively) surprised by how smooth it seems to run. I haven’t done any specialized tweaking of options or whatnot – so just “vanilla” loading as it were.


    (d) I still don’t understand the overall progression system in the game across runs – I know there’s stuff that gets unlocked and so on, but it’s not that clear to me how the overall narrative is/will progress. With these games my (as a player) worry is that each run will make the overall game harder (because “evil has made more progress in taking over the world”), but that seems untenable in a game like this – too easy for players to get to an overall world-state they can’t get out off – the lead designer is super smart, so has thought of this but I don't know how – so at this point I’m very curious to better understand (as a player) how the meta-progression works. I don’t know yet because I haven’t played enough.

    (e) I invited the designer to talk to class and as he was answering their questions I had an "epiphany" – “Wow, Civ is a roguelike!” which is perhaps an obvious epiphany – but there you go. This was mostly because I sense that Unexplored 2’s “run” is quite long (play time wise) – which makes it “feel” less rogue-like because you don’t have that many iterations on each run? I’m curious how long a “normal” run that ends in success takes for this game – it seems like a long one, but again I don’t really understand at this point what the overall meta-progression is like (e.g. I solve/resolve the first quest I’m sent on, and then die, do I have to do it again?)

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    Super Smash Brothers (N64)    by   Jshibby7

    No comment, yet.
    most recent entry:   Friday 23 February, 2007
    The gameplay of Super Smash brothers is so exciting because things blow up and the characters all have special weapons. As you fight the levels enable you to move around and jump on obsticles. Moreover their are different types of objects one can use against there opponent.
    The most amazing quality this game shows is the fact that you can play 4 players and go into an all out war. There are even game modes where you are able to fight almost an infinate number of CPU opponents.

    [read this GameLog]

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