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    Apr 7th, 2016 at 09:55:28     -    Undertale (PC)

    3rd Entry:

    My third entry covers the Waterfall area/chapter as well as what I read about the game -- knowing that I would not be finishing it directly on my own within this log. I will spend some time covering each: for chapter 3, some of the specific bosses or mini-bosses, and for the game as a whole, the alternative ways to play the game.

    The Mad Dummy encounter was interesting. There was no way to directly damage him other than to have him unintentionally damage himself. This was an interesting way to emphasize the pacifist mechanic, in that you as the player are disempowered and must rely not on your MIGHTY FISTS (yes, at this point I'm still wearing the "tough gloves," which feature a combo-punching attack) but on your agility and defense.

    Thundersnail was another interesting mini-game, one that can be manipulated to accrue a vast quantity of gold if you're so inclined. It's essentially a snail racing bet where you can influence how quickly your snail moves. A bid costs 10g, and a win gives 9g ... seems like a bad deal, but if your snail *barely* loses the race, you'll get 30g as an apology for the confusion. Technically, I believe you can do this as many times as you like.

    Lastly, the obvious and important battle here is with Undyne, a bad-ass skeleton. Her spear attacks are fairly deadly, and there definitely was a little bit of dying on my part before I figured her out and sort of memorized her attacks. What's more, after she dies the first time, she gets put back together again -- totally true to her name! Each time she revives, though she comes back weaker. Eventually, she dies in a totally gruesome fashion. Yikes.

    Okay, so I read through some of the other ways of playing the game and got a brief sense of the story. The player can pursue 3 routes in general: neutral, pacifist, or genocide(!). I would say that my play-through was essentially neutral ... I spared some monsters and killed others, mostly based on my connection to the creature encountered and/or the degree to which it was a pain in the ass to spare the monster. The pacifist route requires that the player kill zero monsters. Ever. Period. This ends with a unique encounter, a boss that you wouldn't otherwise meet. Furthermore, many little easter eggs are unlocked after you complete the game, and you can walk through the world you've "saved."

    The other option is the "genocide" route. The player must kill EVERYTHING. MANLY FISTS FOR ALL! This unlocks after completing the first area: the player gets a tracker showing how many monsters are left to be slain. Fights become *significantly* more difficult.

    One last thing to note: each time you reset the game, it doesn't *entirely* reset. Some history is preserved, and the way that the player is treated depends on what happened in other play-throughs. The completion of the pacifist route offers a "true reset" ... but completing the genocide route makes this "true reset" actually incomplete. It actually changes the outcome of the story in the pacifist route. Yeesh.

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    Apr 7th, 2016 at 00:51:14     -    Undertale (PC)

    Entry 2:

    I don't have as much to say for this entry, as the mechanics are basically the same as what I covered in the past regarding combat. I will say that I tried a few different options other than BEATING THINGS TO DEATH WITH MY MANLY FISTS for some of the fights. Most of the combat, in terms of dodging things, is relatively easy, but tandem monster fights can make things rough.

    My second day featured the second "chapter" of the game, in which the player has to progress through Snowdin with the accompaniment of two skeletons (one of whom is oddly fat) named Sans and Papyrus, named after their fonts. Sans is helpful while Papyrus tries mostly unsuccessfully to defeat you. Meanwhile, Sans jokes at this brother's expense. The puzzles here were somewhat fun but largely unremarkable in terms of difficulty. The chapter concludes with a battle with Papyrus, who is surprisingly strong. I opted to engage him in combat but ultimately to spare him at the end of the fight -- the poor guy seemed like he wanted to fight, and who was I to take that pleasure away from him. Anyway, he was entertaining enough to be spared.

    The chapter also featured a significant number of dogs. The first one, Doggo, was so weak that I decided to spare him. The second notable battle was against Dogamy and Dogaressa (collectively named Dogi), who I decided to fight. Their ax attack was pretty painful, and I ultimately destroyed them. I took down Dogaressa first, and after that Dogamy's attacks became quite weak ... but he seemed so down about me offing his lady that I put him out of his misery. Lastly, there was an adorable dog named "Greater Dog," who appeared at first to be a tiny yappy dog but rose from the snow to reveal an impressive physique. I defeated him as well.

    Reaching Snowdin later, though, and talking to some of the townsfolk, I felt a pang of guilt upon hearing one of them talk caringly about the dog couple I had killed earlier on. Each year they would give each other bones under the Christmas tree (monsters celebrate Christmas??). But honestly they shouldn't have been in the woods trying to kill me. Rude.

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    Apr 5th, 2016 at 16:39:23     -    Undertale (PC)

    1st Entry:

    This entry will cover my experience playing through the first "chapter" of Undertale. Undertale is a PC (& Mac, but in my case PC) game developed by Toby Fox in Gamemaker: Studio and released on Sept 15, 2015. The player navigates a child through a subterranean environment populated by an odd array of monsters. In the fictional world, there was long ago a war between humans and monsters, and the monsters, having lost this war, were banished to the underground. According to the story, people occasionally fall into the underground world, though few if any are ever seen again.

    Let's discuss the narrative a little bit before covering mechanics in detail. In the opening sequence, the player encounters a seemingly innocuous flower creature, who introduces the environment, warning that the underground realm is incredibly dangerous and that many monsters may try to destroy him. The flower introduces player to the idea of gaining "love" to increase his or her hitpoints, and it offers to do so. But alas, perfidy! The flower creature reveals its true nature and attacks the player's heart, reducing it to a critically low level. Suddenly, another creature intervenes, rescuing the player and offering to guide him to safety through the subterranean lair.

    This new creature identifies itself as Toriel, and it takes an extremely protective position in relation to the child, guiding him by the hand and explicitly showing the solutions to puzzles encountered. Toriel seems quite needy, and she(?) worries excessively about the player's safety. As she guides the player around, Toriel also introduces the player to the notion that enemies need not be killed to be beaten: instead, they may be persuaded or compelled to leave. Mechanically, by the way, this seems to be what's at the core of the game: it is possible to overcome obstacles in this RPG by means other than violence. Anyway, Toriel eventually leaves the player on his own (though she IMMEDIATELY calls him to check-in), and the player must solve a few short puzzles to reach what turns out to be Toriel's house. At the house, Toriel tells the player that he is now "home" and that he should not attempt to leave to reach the surface and return to humanity. When the player protests, Toriel decides to destroy the path in the basement of her home to keep the player trapped there in safety. The player must confront Toriel and defeat her. Interestingly, the player essentially cannot lose this fight. Toriel will reduce the player to low health to test his resolve, but at a certain point, the next attack performed by the player will kill Toriel, freeing him to continue his journey to his real home. At the very end of the chapter, the player encounters the flower monster once more, who warns the player of the ass-kicking he will receive on his journey.

    Ok, now onto the mechanics. I mentioned that the player has options to resolve confrontations other than violence. Destroying an enemy results in the player gaining both experience and gold, whereas resolving conflict passively rewards gold but not experience. Thus, violence makes the player technically stronger, but typically at the cost of many other lives. Aside from attacking, players may interact in various ways -- for instance, laughing, taunting, consoling, joking, etc. -- with the creatures he encounters or simply try to flee the encounter. To be honest, though, this mechanic didn't really do anything for me. The responses were typically narrative-driven and didn't spark my interest in terms of technical or mechanical challenge. Some of the ways to resolve conflict peacefully were humorous the first time, but after that they became tedious; attacking, on the other hand, was a much more active and engaging experience.

    The combat system is another interesting feature of this game. The player times attacks similar mini-games in other titles (e.g. smith-work in Fable, shooting rhythm in NBA2K, etc). When the player is attacked, he must move a small heart icon around a board, evading enemy attacks that vary in pattern based on the enemy encountered. This effectively simulates the experience of dodging incoming enemy attacks and adds a compelling skill-based element to the game, regardless of whether the player pursues an aggressive or peaceful attitude towards encounters.

    Lastly, one criticism: the art style does nothing for me. I understand that this game was made with a limited budget and small crew, making the accomplishment quite impressive, but I definitely don't derive much aesthetic pleasure from the experience. As a result, I don't feel that invested in the characters I encounter, and I don't mind slaughtering the monsters that populate the underground.

    Yay!

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    Mar 3rd, 2016 at 14:44:13     -    Prison Architect (PC)

    3rd Entry:

    For this entry, I will talk about chapter 3 and the sandbox mode in the game.

    Chapter three starts with a riot. The player is transferred into a new prison and things are clearly a mess. There are 90-something prisoners rioting and a load of injured guards. It's important to immediately start hiring doctors or getting paramedics to treat the wounded. Part of the compound is ablaze (again!). After treating some of the wounded, I sent riot police into the various parts of the compound under the control of the prisoners, accompanied by paramedics. Interestingly, the prisoners would target the police pretty much exclusively, leaving the paramedics to heal my troops. Simultaneously, I had to deal with the fire in the other wing of the prison. It was a total mess.

    Soon, though, the reality of the motivations for the riot was brought to light: corruption. It turns out that the prison administration was destroying documents that would have secured the release of prisoners, keeping them in the prison and ensuring constant money flow for the prison. The prisoners had rioted and taken the administration as hostages, warning that if their headquarters were attacked that they would kill everyone there. I don't think that there was actually any way to stop them from doing this.

    Given the situation, I definitely felt some empathy for the plight of the prisoners, knowing that they were being cheated by the system. They didn't have a lot of recourse, with their connection to justice outside of the prison cut off by the administration. Nevertheless, I had to squelch the riot, meaning that a great many prisoners died in the process. The riot police definitely kicked some ass in the process of retaking the compound, and a great many prisoners died -- along with a few of the police. I hadn't necessarily anticipated how well-armed the rioters would be.

    To be honest, I finished this mission as quickly as possible. The alternative part of the mission involves rebuilding the prison after the riot, which seemed like a nightmare ... and somewhat unrealistic. In reality, I assume that most of the prisoners would have been transferred to another facility while repairs were underway, but that wasn't an option in the game -- something I found unrealistic and annoying.

    As I said in the beginning of this response, I also tried the sandbox mode. Unlike the campaign mode, the sandbox mode is definitely more about the battle against finite resources. At the beginning of the game, there are so many things that you need to construct with limited tools. The sandbox mode was instead about optimizing the order of construction. First priorities were housing, food, power, water, and administrative offices. The player, though, has to be careful not to build any one thing too big too quickly. Otherwise, it's very easy to run out of resources.

    But after building a few of the necessities, it's easy to lose your control of the facility without knowing why ... the psychologist for this reason is incredibly important, someone I neglected to hire early on, which caused problems (a small riot). Over time, certain things become more and more important. For instance, starvation and overcrowding are things to be avoided obviously, but the prisoners needs pretty quickly turn to things like entertainment and family visitation (the latter being something I forgot to anticipate originally). Later, though, things like literacy and work become important.

    It's also very difficult to build a prison efficiently from the outset. There may be a way to best optimize the layout of the compounded, but it's hard to do that while also rushing to deal with each new crisis that comes up.

    Anyway, I had fun with this game, and I thought it overall did a good job reflecting some of the problems of the prison system as a whole.

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