Tuesday, March 24, 2015

8 Recent Open World Video Games II

I think I'll talk about two similar games in this post: Salt and Stranded Deep.  Stranded Deep is basically a Castaway simulator with relatively realistic graphics of islands and sea life.  Salt is a more cartoonish island-exploring game where your main enemy is the pirates that pepper various islands.

But both involve gather rocks and sticks, crafting tools, acquiring food, and exploring infinite islands.  These games focus more on the exploration part of a sandbox game than some of the others on my list, and island hopping is a really good way to do that.

Salt
I think the strong point of Salt is that the islands you find can be quite different.  Some have pirate encampments, some ancient ruins.  I found an ancient altar once, and have found merchants that traded with me and gave me a simple quest.  I've hunted black deer at sunset and had a few terrifying nights fighting spiders by torchlight.

While you can build better boats as you get more materials and the books that teach you how to build them, one thing I found myself craving was the ability to make a change in the world-- to build a house or somehow make an island mine.  But the world is not a voxel world, and when I last played the only things you could build on land where a campfire and a flag.

The worst thing about Salt for me was the poor quality of the art work for the pirates and the item icons in the UI.  I realize the game is still in development and that you might want to put some placeholder artwork in a game you are making, but if your main enemy is going to be pirates I think you need to find artist to make you a better representation, even if a cartoony one.  The item icons are small and cartoony and I would often have a hard time distinguishing them.

Stranded Deep
It is really cool to be able to dive into a shipwreck and find random loot in them.  After a while you know all the possible items you can find in this game, but more items could be added- the point is that this setup scratches a fundamental exploration/scavenging itch I have.  It's also neat to be paddling along and see a marlin, a sea turtle, or a great white shark.  There are whales and sea urchins and sting rays too.

One of the things that get's frustrating is dealing with your limited inventory.  I think this is another common way some of these 8 games try to make themselves more difficult and more "realistic" than minecraft by limiting how much you can carry.  But when you have to go from island to island with sharks trying to bump you off your shaky raft carrying your precious bundle of sticks, rocks, and palm fronds, it can get irritating.  I wonder why I can't make a raft of logs and then break it up at another island, or at least tie a bundle of fronds or sticks to my raft.

Another thing that bugged me was the way the game renders distant islands.  Islands in your peripheral vision zoom closer and then zoom back out when you look directly at them.  It makes it quite disorienting when trying to judge which island is closest and which you were trying to reach before the sharks attacked you and you lost your line of sight.

But I'd say the most disappointing thing is the homogeneity of the islands.  Yes, they have interesting assortments of wrecks around them, but once you've seen one of the islands you've seen them all.  The game really needs some islands that are bigger, with hills, waterfalls, and caves.  The latest update to the game introduced Sea Forts and I've heard they might be trying to add caves, so that's cool.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

8 Recent Open World Video Games

I've spend a lot of time exploring single-player video game worlds.  I wanted to reflect a bit on what I've experienced in the last few months.  Of course most of these are early access, but from my experience that doesn't mean a game will change significantly once they once they remove that label.

Minecraft
Not one of the 8 and obviously not new, but the benchmark.  If you want a tenuous connection for this series to pen and paper gaming, Minecraft is the D&D of open world games and the rest on this list are fantasy heartbreakers.  Which, actually is a pretty good fit because I think most of these games are trying to fix one of two traits of Minecraft -- making the world less cartoony and making survival more difficult.

7-Days to Die
Set in something like a post-apocalyptic Arizona, you scavenge, gather resources and try to survive.  It's a voxel based world, so you can dig up every block.  It touts its building physics which requires building with adequate support to prevent structural collapses (unlike Minecraft's floating blocks).

It's fun to go through the modern buildings looting, but there are way too many zombies for me.  I think this might be because it's aimed at multiplayer, so they expect you to have help.  Ammo is limited, weapons wear out and do less and less damage as they do, gathering and cooking meat brings more zombies down on you.  But worse, for a game that includes building, it undermines any kind of building you do.  You can't prevent zombie spawns in an area, so walls are useless.  Zombies will dig at anything in front of them, so ditches or moats will just mean they eventually end up digging up through your floor.   Worst of all, the dead flesh hands of zombies can break through anything given enough time, even reinforced concrete.  In my play-throughs the only viable strategy has been to build an underground bunker, which is kind of boring.

I finally got frustrated and turned zombies off completely, which turned out to be a lot of fun.  It felt oddly peaceful being the last person on earth.  I was quite surprised, then, when I came back from a short break to find out I'd been killed.  Apparently the zombie sieges are coded separately from normal spawns and there is no way to turn them off..  Hah, how's that for hardcore, you get monsters even when you specifically turn off monsters.

So anyway, this heartbreaker succeeds in being more realistic than minecraft, but over-does it on the difficulty aspect.  Unless you enjoy killing infinite zombies forever and living in a hole, it will lose it's shine quickly.

The other 7
I'll talk about these in future posts:
Salt

Stranded Deep
The Forest
Savage Lands
the Long Dark
Subnautica
Space/Medieval Engineers

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Update with Magic Item

My blogging computer died sometime in July.  I attempted to recover the data myself and failed.  My next step was to check local businesses with good Yelp reviews.  Found one.  And they proceeded to give me the run around for months.  I finally got my data back and the good news is that it looks like most of it is there.  The most important stuff anyway.  I'm now on what was my gaming rig trying to set up a smooth process like I had before, but little things make it feel weird (like the fact Windows 7 can't understand svgs).  It feels like swimming against the tide to get back going, but I value the conversations with you and I like making stuff, so I'm going to do my best.  I might do some mini-video game reviews as a start.  Anyway, here is a magic item I came up with right at the tail end of that last set of posts:

Aspasia's Shroud - Cover yourself with this threadbare length of linen, fall asleep, and your body will disappear until you wake.

(DM might want a table for who picked up your shroud when you were sleeping and where they took it :)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Yet More Magical Treasures

More things that might make braving the dungeon worth it:
  1. Brass Saddle - No mount can fall while you ride in this intricate, decorative saddle.  Neither gaping wounds nor small scrapes will have any effect on your steed until you dismount.
  2. Skull Rattle - Shake this and all your enemies must change the target of their attacks.
  3. Meddler's Coffer - Say a name, open this small coffer, and you will be able to rummage through that person's things.  Anything in chests, purses, cupboards, or baskets can be seen and picked through.  Nothing can be taken through the coffer, but one might awkwardly read letters, study a map, or inventory items.
  4. Selfish Chisel - Use as you normally would a chisel, but arrows, inscriptions, or beautiful decorations made are only seen by you.
  5. Bone Comb - Use this simple comb to clean gore from your hair and reflect on your actions immediately after a battle and you will learn twice as fast (2x xp for that battle).
  6. Spider Brooch - When you are still (not moving, not fighting) this stylized copper spider comes to life and, with bites and webs, sees to your wounds (2hp per turn healed). 
So,  4 would have been good for the solo magic item list and I'm worried that 5 and 6 are too powerful.  The spider brooch is basically a limited ring of regeneration.  You might limit the bone comb similarly by requiring the grooming take 3 turns or an hour, the rest of the party might be less willing to wait around that long.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

6 Roguish Magical Treasures

Magical treasures for more roguish types of play:
  1. Tabard of Shifting - Goes over armor and shows enemies the heraldic symbols of whoever they least want to fight- be they family, ally, or powerful enemies.  Enemies that understand such symbols will lose the first round of initiative and have -1 to hit thereafter. The tabard can shift even within combats.
  2. Quill of Stealing - Quill that allows you to forge, by stealing the real signature off of one document and placing it on another.  Only holds one signature at a time.
  3. Coins of Return - 7 gold coins with different ancient emperors depicted, each known for despicable acts.  Pay someone with all of these at once and the coins return to you at midnight.
  4. Fidelis Fibulae - Give one of these beautiful cloak pins to a trusted hireling.  As their loyalty diminishes, so does their hair- falling out little by little (the bald will grow hair).
  5. My Last Mistake - A colorful porcelain knot the size of a coin.  Break it and the last hour can be done over.
  6. The Golden Bones - Crude, carved from bone, as long as these dice are rolled anyone within earshot will gather round and watch the results.