Horizontal Design

As I put more time into Hades, the more I come to appreciate it’s horizontal design. At the most basic of levels, the tool sets you are given on your 1st run are there on your 50th. Sure, there are some back end number tweaks, like slightly more HP, or better odds for a rare boon. And when you get the weapon aspects unlocked, the damage boosts they give are offset by the gameplay changes they present. Homing missiles on a bow, a long-term DoT for the gloves, a massive AE slow effect for the sword.

In my mind, horizontal design excels where the gameplay itself changes over time. Vertical design is where you do the same thing again, and again, just that your power (and potentially enemy defence goes up). RPGs almost exclusively focus on the vertical aspect, you get bigger numbers, bigger attacks, more targets. Destiny, Avengers, Anthem, Division are in a similar bag, where you certainly have gameplay choices, but often they lack the balance due to the difficulty of enemies. Not that you want to select the highest DPS option, but that you essentially have to. And there’s a place for that design, no question.

What Hades does is more akin to something like Civilization, or XCOM, in that the strategy and tactics you apply change dramatically based on each step. Hades just has so many variables into the mix, it’s bonkers.

  • 6 weapons, 4 variants each. Each weapon has 12+ hammer upgrades.
  • 10 gods, with 15 personal boons each, and 28 duo boons. I’m not counting Bouldy
  • 25 Keepsakes and 6 Companions

You’re looking at hundreds of thousands of combinations, most of which are completely randomized. You can pick the weapon/aspect and the keepsake/companion, but the rest is all RNG.

A previous post mentioned a Chiron Bow (homing missiles) run which focused on Doom stacking. That build is not possible without 2 specific boons – enabled by a Hades favoured run. I got those really late in the run, so it was a decent build… getting those two put a massive smile on my face.

A recent Arthur Sword (AE aura that slows enemies and reduces damage) was off to a rough start. Arthur is the slowest of all weapons, but deals insane damage. It’s the only build I’ve seen where the default attack is actually decent DPS. Normally my start of builds are focused on getting boons and then potentially poms if I think the boons are worth upgrading – it makes room choice important, so I end up skipping gold/nectar/keys. Well, some “bad” luck was in with some so-so boons that aren’t all that good together – then I got an interest hammer upgrade – Hoarding Slash. This thing gives extra damage to attack equal to 5% of your total gold. Which stacks with a % attack boost. Long story short, when I got that one I started focusing entirely on money, no more Chiron shops, and gold rooms all the time. I re-rolled Hermes boons to get the +10g per room and equipped the +100g keepsake. I was at 1500g when I reached Theseus/Asterius and over 2000g when I fought Hades. So 100dmg attacks as my baseline, upgraded through other boons, and an exposed Hades. It was my 2nd fastest boss clear. Just insane damage. And that entire run was dependent on that one random hammer roll.

The less obvious point here is that nearly all the boons build on each other. My base attack may deflect. Then deflects cause Exposed. Another than increased deflect damage. And another that causes deflect to trigger Doom effects or increase crit chance by 20%. And then there’s a similar train for critical hits.

In the 50+ runs I’ve done, I have had only 1 run where I didn’t like the results of RNG. It happened to be a run with Guan Yu which came with a 70% HP penalty. In retrospect, the rolls were not bad, they were just average. I was going in with a large penalty and needed some luck to get through.

I’ve done runs that focused on Cast damage, Special damage, chain lightning, curse stacking, dashing, DoTs… all sorts. I’ve had similar runs, but never identical runs. I’ve cleared with every weapon, using a bunch of aspects. I’ve cleared on multiple heat (difficulty modifiers) levels. I’be maxed out a chunk of keepsakes, and have 1 companion on hand. I’ve beaten the last boss without getting hit once. I’ve died a bunch of times. Every run is a new adventure.

And I’ve not even remotely touched the storyline of the game, the fact that NPCs remember what you did, that you have relationships with them, or their quests. And god forbid I start talking about how this game has fishing!

Life Without Sports

I’ve been playing hockey since I was 5. I took a few years off during university/college, but went back into it about 15 years ago. I was playing 2-3 times a week and it was great exercise and stress relief. The beer after the game helped even more with the socializing, and you know, seeing people. 12 months a year, a few weeks off for holidays and what not. Same guys for most of it too, so I have a larger attachement to that, than I do work.

The past few years, my kids have played sports too. I was assistant coach 2 years ago, and head coach last year. Every weekend was activities, and more during the week. Busy no doubt, but the kids enjoyed it, got to meet new people, and got exercise. Helped that nearly all the other parents were good folks too. More than helped actually, I’ve seen the other side of that.

We also watched hockey games at night. Either just a couple of us, or with other folks. It was something I enjoyed doing with my grandfather too. I’ve been in a hockey pool for what feels like 20 years too.

We’re the tail end of October, the usually chaos of a first tournament, the start of the NHL, and the transition to indoor activities since Canada gets some crappy weather. Now there’s none of that. Like a giant hole of 20+ hours a week just plopped down, and options to fill it are quite limited.

My city is in a near lockdown due to cases stemming from September. Trend is stable now, but still not below the rate to consider it reasonable. That means that the kids can’t really go out to public spots. Museums were often a good spot for a few hours, but that ain’t an option. Bowling is out. Restaurants are closed (and can’t watch a game). Visiting folks requires the 2m rule, if at all. It’s a high dose of cabin fever!

Working from home has perks, certainly the lack of travel is a big one. But living in your office isn’t exactly good for the mental space. There’s less time to “switch gears” from work to home life. There are days where they wife/kids come home and I still have an hour+ to go. Feels like there’s no break.

Games are helping. It would be cool to share more of them with the kids as I did before. I’m thinking of getting another quick and dirty laptop so that both the kids have one, and I have mine. They are having fun with their games with their friends, the hollers between them are something else. Reminds me of playing Mario Kart with my siblings.

I used to be people’d out with work and sports. Now I’m realizing I have a gap in that area and need to do more about it. I’m sure I’ll come up with something, ideally it will be something that can be shared with the family. I certainly have enough of a backlog of games to help, just not that many that are multiplayer. Plus, paying $70×3 for the gang to play isn’t at the top of my list…

Hades Bosses

Keeping the kick going. There are 4 main bosses to the game, a hidden boss, and a bunch of mini-bosses. They start off pretty easy (one exception), then culminate in the insanity of Hades himself.

General Tips

Every build is different, so play styles will certainly change.

  • Odds are you’ll have the mirror upgrade that increases damage for foes with gems in them, so often best to start the fight by emptying your Casts.
  • Dash-strike is bread and butter, it allows you to save frames when attacking, and with a LOT of boon options, deal damage. Dash strike should be explained as Dash – Dash – Attack. The double dash will come naturally.
  • Dash is a defensive move, it avoids all damage for a few frames. It’s essential to beat the final boss
  • All bosses have attack patterns, and all damage is avoidable with planning.
  • For the 3rd and 4th bosses (and most mini-bosses), learn to use pillars to protect yourself from AE/ranged damage. Just fight around them, and dash through to protect yourself.
  • Bosses cannot be knocked back. They can get the other effects (damage) but they will not be stunned or interrupted. Wall damage is therefore not going to happen from boons (it can happen from weapons).
  • My favorite weapon for first clear is the shield. It has decent close up attacks (with knockback), can block 99% of attacks by holding attack, and a solid ranged option.
  • Dying is a-ok! Your first runs should focus on keys (for mirror unlocks) and darkness (for mirror upgrades). Gems are useless at the start, and nectar will come eventually. Avoid Chaos gates (you need the HP).
  • God duel rooms are awesome since you get 2 boons! They are hard because the 2nd god will have AE attacks while you face a wave of enemies. The worst is Poseidon (his waves are hard to see), followed by Demeter (the AE effect grows and chain hits/stuns you). Unless you’re fishing a duo boon, take the hard god first.

Tartarus

The starting zone is meant to train you on the game, plenty of walls to use, big ol’ traps that you can clearly see, and most of the maps are small enough to see everything without scrolling. The mini bosses here generally focus on a lot of dashing, the exception is the large gem enemy which has tons of beams. This guy is a major pain for anyone who doesn’t have ranged attacks, or decent armour penetration. You want to corner him and get as much wall damage/knock back as you can.

Meg/Alecto/Tisiphone are randomly picked (or up to all 3 with Extreme Measures on) and follow very similar patterns that focus on dashing towards you, an AE standing attack, some sort of spread shot attack, and a delayed AE attack. Meg is by far the easiest of the bunch, but the tactics are similar with Alecto. Get her to dash to you, then dash away and back for some quick hits. Alecto can go rage-mode, and then you need to circle around her to get some quick hits in. Tisiphone is different as she’ll dash twice in a row, and she’ll get a smaller platform as the fight goes on.

Asphodel

No walls here, and the two mini-bosses here can be quite painful. The Medusa fight is annoying because she’ll cast twice in row, which will stun you if hit. Ranged attacks are best, though dashing to the back is a safe tactic as well. The 5x mystic fight is easy if you can deflect or have decent AE. Otherwise, you need to circle outside group and pop through diagonally to get quick damage hits. Dash-strike is key.

Lernie as a final boss is probably the easiest boss since he doesn’t really move (Extreme Measures he moves in phase 2/3). Cast + dash-strike for some quick hits, followed by a dash-strike away will avoid nearly all the damage in this fight. He has 3 modes, and the only tough one should be the summon mode. Fire can be easily avoided, and the waves can be dashed through. Imagine a clock face and you standing at 6 o’clock. Dash to 11 or 1 will avoid 99% of the damage in this fight.

Elysium

The zone as a whole sucks because of the armour and shield wearing enemies. Ugh. The butterfly balls are also painful, but can be circled for some quick hits. The chariots have a weakness where they will stop if you dash through them, allowing for some quick hits. This zone above all makes the Poseidon dash-knockback feel like the best thin in the world.

Theseus and Asterius are a big mess (and are extremely mobile with Extreme Measures). If you’re close to Theseus, he’ll spin attack. If you’re far, he’ll throw his spear and you can use the pillars or dash to avoid it. At 50% he summons a god to help him out, and that starts filling the screen with AE attacks. Oh, and his shield deflects all front attacks. AE attacks are amazing here. Best bet is to dash through him while he’s not aiming his spear, take a pile of hits, then dash away when he tries to spin (there’s a long tell).

Asterius is a tank and spank fight. All his attacks are from the front, so always attack from the back. His ram run can be stopped by dashing through a pillar. His overhead axe attack always goes in your direction, and the waves (phase 2) go forward, so dash in the opposite direction to reach his back.

I prefer to keep Asterius above 50% and kill Theseus. Makes the area easier to control, and Asterius is pretty easy to avoid when he’s above 50%.

Styx

So this place sucks due to poison (use the pits to cure) and AE damage. The dragon statues should use line of sight if at all possible, otherwise knock back and strikes from the back are the best bets. The small rats require you to always be dashing. The large rats are manageable if you have knock back to keep them away from you. The poison-spitting gnolls…you can chain stun if they don’t have armour. If they do, then you should be using your Call ability on them. Especially if they are a mini-boss. I personally think the mini-boss paths in Styx are easier than normal rooms – less enemies to manage.

Hades

His own section, with 2 phases. If you’re struggling, use the Skelly keepsake for a free Death Defiance (give him a nectar to get it).

In both phases he has 2 main attacks. He will throw skulls that deal damage on contact, or after a timer deal expanding AE damage. I prefer to ignore them and then dodge through the slow moving AE. He also has a spin attack for some crazy damage (25+) which can potentially hit you more than once. There’s a white circle around him before he does it, and you need to dash either through him, or diagonally through him. Dashing right/left/away will mean you get hit.

First phase

  • He has a quick front stab
  • At 66% and 33% he’ll summon some enemies to help the fight. They are armoured.
  • He can turn invisible, but you can see his footprints. Normally comes out with a spin attack.

Second phase

  • He summons green jars which when broken deal damage and stun you. Can generally be avoided.
  • He shoots lasers from his fingers. The pillars block all damage.

A “standard” build will have boons on all types of attacks. You want to keep your Casts empty for as much as the fight as possible. They often deal decent damage, but having them in the boss means more damage output from you. If you have a damage Call, you want to use it all the time. If you have a defensive call, wait til the bar is full to get a longer duration.

Phase 1 is all about dash-strike to his back, quick hits, then dash-strike to his back. You will be able to avoid his spin attack as noted above if you’re close to him. When he summons adds, you want to take them down quickly (especially any ranged attackers) and try to keep him at the other side of the map.

Phase 2 is all about keeping your distance. Close up attacks are extremely painful as he can spin strike twice in a row, changing directions between them. Learn to love the pillars and fight near them (not touching them). He can’t move through them, and his finger beams will be stopped by them. If for some reason you don’t have good ranged attack options, you will dash-strike, dash AWAY from him and then wait until he has done a spin attack, then attack again. He is 100% vulnerable before, during, and after (~2s) his finger beam attack.

Some “cheap move” boons include:

  • Festive Fog (Dio) deals major damage from a cast, and can be lobbed over pillars. The Duo with Zeus is bananas.
  • Crystal Beam (Demeter) deals a beam attack from a cast, and has quite a few upgrades (Artemis Duo is quite powerful)
  • Support Fire (Artemis) shoots an arrow every time you hit an enemy with any attack. Fast attack weapons, or DoT weapons are very useful.
  • Defensive Calls (Ares/Poseidon/Athena) make you immune to damage. Maxed effects can last 10 seconds, and allow for serious damage.
  • Doom (Ares) effects are very useful for dash-strike attacks since they take a second to take effect and don’t naturally stack.

Hades Build Tips

Continuing on the the Hades topic, an overview of how builds generally work. Given the randomness inherent in any given run, this will assume that the player understands all the enemy mechanics, from Tartarus to Hades himself.

Weapons

Each weapon has 2 types of attack, regular (attack), and special, with the latter being twice as strong as the former (e.g. 25 and 50 dmg). Cast is always 50 damage. % increases to these are therefore quite small in the larger scale. Raising attack to 50 would require 100% dmg, which is not going to happen on most runs. Instead, you need to think of these as enablers for other types of attacks or boons.

The Bow’s Chiron aspect is a good example, where you use attack to target a foe, and all special attacks send missiles to that target. This is different than the usual “spread” attack for bow specials, and allows for HUGE damage stacking.

Cast is a weird one, since most boons that affect cast change it’s behaviour – either a fog, a beam, or a pulse. The beam is low damage but consistent, while the fog (100+) and pulse are high damage and well worth a % increase. A decently buffed fog cast can deal 500 damage and chain stun an enemy.

You can get up to 2 hammer upgrades per run, and these can have a dramatic impact on your success. Make choices that align with your build…and as a general rule, you want to avoid anything relating to armor penetration – that only matters in the final 3-4 rooms of Elysium.

Mirror

It’s a good idea to focus your first runs to unlock all the mirror upgrades, even before unlocking more weapons (at least the 20 key options). Death Defiance is key, giving you multiple tries to complete a run. The rest are either safety nets or increases in options and up to personal choice. My personal choice is to swap the last 4 to their alternate options (+5% per god boon, 20% chance of gold laurel rooms, 10% legendary/duo boons, 4 reroll chances on boons).

Gold (Obol)

9 out of 10 runs will reach Styx with less than 500 gold. Visiting Chiron’s shop doesn’t mean you need to buy something, though often it’s still a good idea. Keep in mind that Styx’s shop offers diamonds (1000g) and titan blood (1200g) if you happen to have that much on hand. Getting a Hermes boon for +10g per room can give you ~300g if you get it early on. Well of Charon items are extremely situational, and generally best reserved for the final rooms of Elysium. Styx burns through these effects since it’s 4-5 encounters per path.

Curses

Each god has one, and they are not made equal. Weak causes enemies to deal less damage, which has only marginal use – meh. Rupture causes enemies to take damage while moving, but is super low to be unnoticeable. Hangover deals damage over time and stacks up to 5, this is really only effective with high attack speed builds. Marked causes a target to be more susceptible to critical hits, after taking a critical hit. Crits are insane damage but you need this to be very high for it to be useful (> 50%). Jolted causes enemies to take damage when they attack and is very high, it can become pretty insane. Exposed makes enemies take even more damage from backstabs, which really only impacts a couple weapons and a couple fights. Doom causes enemies to take a big hit after a second, it can reach very high levels but will not stack. Chill causes enemy movement to slow down, meh.

Except for Jolted, they are all situational. However, they all unlock interesting tier 2 boons or duos. Weak is usually useless, but it can cause enemies to take 25% more damage, or Doom to tick, or plain charm enemies as examples.

Boons vs Poms

First a note that every run has a preferred god. You’ll know who it is before Tartarus is over and see them show up more than any other.

When you meet a god, you get to pick from 3 boons. The rarity is locked, and you need special items to increase them. Rarity increases the base effect of a boon, which is good but rarely a deal-breaker. This can help if you’re fishing for a specific boon, as the pool of available ones gets lower as you go on. Some boons are only available if you select prior ones (e.g. you can’t get Static Discharge if you don’t have lightning effects already.) You can upgrade each basic boon by using a Pom of Power, which has a decreasing effect the more you use. The first Pom is worth more than Poms 4,5,6, and 7 together. So not much use to go past level 4.

Legendary boons are the same, requiring the 2nd tier of boons to be chosen (so at best, the 3rd time you meet that god). Duo boons require specific boons from both gods and have a random chance to show. Chaos boons require you to play with a penalty for a few encounters and get boon afterwards – the cast boon in particular is amazing. None of these three types can be upgraded.

Making a Build

It’s a good idea to prioritize 2 types of attacks per build, say Cast and Special. This also depends on the weapon you’re using, and the hammer upgrades you have. Say you have the sword hammer upgrade that causes attacks to heal you – probably a good idea to invest in attack options that run.

A bow build

The above shot is a recent bow build I used to great effect. Using the Chiron aspect, it causes the special attacks to all hit the enemy – normally you can get 3 special volleys (I’m currently at 5 missiles per volley). While I have quite a few boons, the important ones are shown and mostly from Ares

  • Relentless Volley (hammer) means my special hits 4 more times per volley, which means 9 total. It’s a 40% damage increase. This damage isn’t very much mind you, since base special damage on a bow is pretty low.
  • Curse of Pain causes my special to inflict Doom for 161 damage. Doom doesn’t stack normally, so this would just be 161 damage after 1 second (so 3 volleys a second apart). 161 x 3 = 483
  • Impending Doom increases Doom damage by 115% – so 346. But is also causes Doom to tick later, meaning I only get it after the first volley and the last. 346 x 2 = 692
  • Dire Misfortune causes Doom to stack and deal more damage per stack. Combined with Impending Doom’s delay, I can now stack 3 times. 2.15*((346)+ (26×16)) = ~1,700 damage.

I got that last one near the end of Elysium and up until that point the run was “ok”. That single boon put it on another level.

The point here is that when you’re making a build, it’s never going to be there the next run, and it likely won’t work as well with another weapon. Like above, damage would have been abysmal with a sword, since the special is so slow. It’s important to understand what each god’s strengths are, and use that as the core forward.

Exceptions

There are 2 exceptions to the boon rule. First is that you want Poseidon’s dash for as many runs as possible. The knockback effect is insanely effective for every single build and makes nearly every other boon look like garbage.

Second is that you ideally want a Call (summon) that makes you invulnerable. That’s Athena, Ares, or Poseidon. These make a massive difference, especially in the final Styx rooms and boss fights. It’s not critical, but it does make life a whole lot easier.

And yes, it’s entirely possible to clear the game without these boons. Frankly, it’s possible to clear the game without any boons, and just hammer upgrades. Just takes longer.

Hades General Tips

The marvel of Hades is the progression through the world, the player, and the character. I remember my first run, and Meg took me down without much trouble. Now she doesn’t touch me.

Some spoilers ahead.

World

Of the 4 zones, each builds upon the last, including the bosses. Tartarus is very simple, you learn to dodge to avoid some attacks, learn that you can backstab and corner lock enemies. You can easily button mash through here – boss somewhat included. Asphodel has no real walls, and it focuses almost entirely on area awareness. There are bombs, fire pits, smoke, and waves that cross the screen. You move defensively. Elysium adds target focus to the mix, and dodging through enemies. Most of the enemies have an “eyeball” phase, where they can regenerate, so you need to focus and burn down. Styx is all about speed. The rooms are tiny, there’s poison everywhere, and AE damage from every corner. You need to clear quickly, and use the environment to protect yourself from attacks. It’s a progressive world building methods, adding to each previous challenge. When you get to Styx the first time, you’ll have mastered Tartarus and Asphodel.

Player

This is about learning the key game mechanics. It is very rare that you can face tank anything, 90% of every build focuses on dashing in/out. So you end up learning how to dash-strike, and how to position yourself best with every weapon against every enemy. Knock an enemy into a trap for massive damage, or taunt one to attack so you can backstab them. You learn that certain boon combinations make basic enemies a breeze but are less effective against bosses. You learn which rooms should be taken when given options (Hammers are always taken).

You learn that every weapon has strengths and weaknesses, and that the limitations of Cast can be offset to tremendous effect. The most important lesson learned is that you are deadly all the time. Learn to dash in while attacking, quickly strike, then dash out while attacking. It’s like you’re a ginsu knife.

Character

This is going to take more posts, but at the very least upgrading the Mirror buffs will make every future attempt miles easier. Maxed Death Defiance gives you 4 chances to complete a run, and should be prioritized. Getting all the keys to unlock weapons and Mirror buffs is a top priority, as well as giving 1 nectar to anyone who has affinity (hearts in the codex). The gifts they give you in return are game changers – I prefer using Skelly while still learning the basics.

The meat of it is in boons. Every god has some amazing boons, but not all boons are great. There are so many variables, it would take ages to go over all the permutations. High level, you have active boons which impacts your active skills, and passive boons that impact the rest of gameplay. You generally want to focus on a giving theme, and that can often change depending on the weapon.

  • Attack – % increases here are bad, since base attack is so poor. Curses are also bad, since they often don’t stack. Zeus’ boon insanely powerful.
  • Special – A good spot for curses, and the damage can be pretty high.
  • Dash – Poseidon rules all here. Knockback while dashing creates room, deals damage, and can trigger other amazing boons.
  • Cast – Cast already deals high damage, and almost every boon is a solid choice. The beam and pulse boons can becomes OP if you stack more boons onto them (like more Casts).
  • Call – The summon ability is often used for immunity (Poseidon, Aphrodite, or Ares). If you want to use it for damage, then you need to use Call actively as the “max bar” version is less effective that using 5 charges.

Curses (doom, rupture, marked, weak, chill, jolted) will not stack, but hangover will. Doom can deal crazy damage, but takes a second to activate. Jolted is simply bonkers in power, but you need other Zeus powers to make it really shine.

% increases to attack are often the ones you want to avoid, and instead focus on flat + damage. The is because attack starts at 10 damage, and 40% to that is 4. Every single boon that applies flat damage is more. Dash alone is in the 70s. % increases to others can be useful, like say increasing Cast damage.

In a future post I’ll talk about specific builds that I enjoy. You’ll find that Zeus & Poseidon are there often, it’s impressive how powerful they are when combined.

Let’s Talk Hades

There are a handful of game companies where I buy all their products, they are simply that consistent. Supergiant Games is one and Hades is no exception to the trend.

Incrementals/Roguelikes are all the rage. That does make sense, since developers make smaller packages and re-use it for dozens of hours of content. Assassin’s Creed recycles a ton of content, but it still adds small tweaks to the layout. Clearing that last fort on the map isn’t much different from the first one, it just happens to be on a hill rather than a bay.

A pure roguelike doesn’t allow for increments between plays, it expects the player to learn how to get better over time. Pure incrementals allow for the player to choose when to reset, and then provides some boost to the next attempt. You can find hundreds of these in mobile apps.

The merger between both is a challenge in terms of balance. You want there to be a cap to the increment in player power, but not so much that the game over screen never is a possibility after a few attempts. Conversely, you want the increments to be valuable so that people can “beat” the game. Tricky math, and as a general rule, players are much smarter than developers in that regard. Slay the Spire and Dead Cells are two recent examples of games that hit that just right.

Hades has more in common with Dead Cells, but focuses less on exploration and more on intense combat. The best Dead Cell runs simply blow through looking for specific drops. Hades forces you to clear everything in a room before giving you options as to the rewards in the next room. It’s hectic action with a period of respite afterwards.

Mechanically, the game has multiple levers to increment both the power of the player as well as the difficulty. It took me 17 tries to beat the final boss, and that first win had much less to do with the power increments than it did with my knowledge of the game.

The real beauty in Hades is the setting. Every character you talk to exposes more of the story, but only 1 conversation at a time, and often only after you die. And they are solidly written and drawn. Each one has their own motivations, slowing lifting the fog of the game as you progress. The friendly competitions with Thanatos, or great cooking of Eurydice are high points in the mess of tons of enemies. Even the bosses have dialogue that they expand upon after previous victories/defeats.

It’s easy to lose a couple hours to runs, a whole bunch of “one more turn” of old. Dying never feels like punishment, cause you’re always getting something from a run. And you never really feel cheated along the way, because you have more control over the room rewards than the high randomness of something like Slay the Spire. And once you beat the final boss, a whole new aspect of difficulty opens up, with a level of granularity that isn’t common in games.

And with any game of this nature, speedrunners are going at it. See video below, which took about as long for the whole game as it did for me to clear the last boss on my first attempt.

That’s fast.

An amazing game. Well worth the pick up. I’ll have a future post on some strategies I’ve found over many failures.

The Gacha Connumdrum

Free to Play is a lie. It really means “pay what you want”. It’s a more effective business model because 1 whale can compensate for hundreds of freeloaders, and in 99% of cases, the games are predicated on sheep for the wolves.

As a guy, there’s this interesting thing about being buff or having a suped up car. When you’re younger, you think these things will impress potential mates. As you grow older, you realize that the only other people who care are other males. The intended audience is in fact not the true audience.

F2P games are not made for me, they are made for whales. The largest incentive for whales is showing off how much of a whale they are, yet they need an audience for it. For PvE games, you would think this is cosmetics (it can be sometimes), but it fact it’s ladders. A smart developer will include the ability to view a character from the ladder… then you see cosmetics take a whole other meaning. PvP games are somewhat similar, but now we’re really talking sheep vs. wolves. I am not dismissing the talent that top level players have, but they need targets to practice. And those targets needs targets, and so on.

In both cases, there’s a feedback loop where the bottom of the pole sees the top and has some incentive to say “hey, they did this with X, I should buy X too!”. The monetization model is simple on the surface, but can get extremely complex as more and more systems are developed. The kicker here is that eastern developers have figured this out a while ago, and they have practically perfected it. Puzzles and Dragons is probably one of the most popular ones, and it’s 8 years old.

Which leads me to Genshin Impact. The bait of the game is amazing, I only hear positives. There’s a lot of good content until AR30. The money aspect up until then is mostly around wishes – loot boxes for characters and gear. It appears optional since progress is so quick. The switch that occurs past that point is that the fun things people were doing are now time gated (bypassed by money or waiting a day for resin to recharge). There are hundreds if not thousands of other games that use this exact same business model of energy / loot boxes (who hasn’t seen Raid ads on mobile?). Genshin Impact is different in that it looks amazing, is multi-platform and does an ok job on multiplayer. It’s lipstick on a pig. Nothing wrong if you like pork, but there’s no sane argument that it’s not pork.

All of this and I didn’t even get into the moral aspects of supporting a Chinese company. I’ll leave that to smarter folk.

I will end on saying I’m happy folks are enjoying it for the time being. Dollars to donuts it crashes before end of calendar in the west. As much because it’s a gacha game, compounded by our infinitely small attention spans.

Quality Time

I have a saying in that there’s no such thing as quality time, there’s just time. Coffee mug no less. Often gets quizzical faces. The concept is that if you only think about quality time, you’re missing out on all the rest. And the rest is often the best part.

The best conversations I have with my wife aren’t set up at a pre-ordained time, they are off the cuff. Getting my kids to open up isn’t based on perfect conditions, it’s just all of a sudden the verbal diarrhea comes out and you need to stop what you’re doing.

That said, it’s not about sitting on the couch and expecting these moments to just happen. Serendipity happens when you’re doing something else after all. With a whole bunch of time on my plate with work on hold for the past few weeks, I opted to pick up some new activities. I wrote earlier about Ghost of Tsushima (get it!), but there’s a lot of hours in a day. (Side note, one of the symptoms I have is severe exhaustion.)

In March, my wife picked up a pile of paint by numbers to tide the ways. We didn’t really pick it up then, but I certainly did in September. I have some good memories of it as a child, but it’s certainly more complex today, what with better paint, brushes, and technical knowledge. We have a few different brands, and I have to say that Reeves is by far the best one. Paint is solid, the brushes are quality, and the art itself is nice. I’ll have a shot up once I’m done my panda. I’d say I have about 20 hours or so in it now. It’s good to just sit, have a coffee, and have a chat with people around the table.

Spurred by a friend who dropped off a care package, we finally purchased an ice cream attachment to our KitchenAid stand mixer. I really love baking, and ice cream making is pretty close to it. It took a few tries, but I found a recipe that provides a consistent base to build from. Gave a shot at some chocolate peppermint, and some vanilla butterscotch batches, and I am more than impressed. The challenge is in making the stuff last. It puts a smile on the face of everyone who eats it, so it’s certainly worth the time.

Exercise is also a key fact of life for me. With the inability to play/coach hockey, I still need to move. This summer was incredibly hectic with cottage repairs and way too much office work. I started up again (and dropped alcohol for September) to kick start the metabolism. I have a good program that I follow, swap a few things here and there. Less than an hour and I’m done the set. Doing this while my kids are around has them doing some too. Wife has gotten back on it as well. Nothing to do with getting big, but all to do about feeling good. Being able to shoot some hoops with the kids, pick them up, dance a bit. I love games, but there’s a time and place for them too.

So the month of September was all about taking time to do things I enjoy, and sharing that with others. And conversely, taking time to do things others enjoy. For all the negatives that September has brought, it’s also brought a whole lot of good. Thankful for that.

Ghost of Tsushima

At the end of August, my MSI laptop had 5 dead keys on the keyboard. No idea how, or why, just dead. 6 weeks in the shop to get it both replaced and working – finding the part was hard enough, and the ribbon was wrong, then thermal pad issues. I decided to pick up Ghost of Tsushim on PS4 given the rather high marks. I was not disappointed.

First the less than good news, it’s an icon-filled map of activities. Some more traditional (clear a camp, find a thing), others less so (write a haiku, cut bamboo). The good news in this is that you can (and should) play the game without concern for any of it. It has some cosmetic purpose, and whatever power increments you do get, are exponentially scaled. So you get like 75% of the benefits 30% of the way in. By just playing the game you’ll come across all you need (and there’s a golden bird that pops up to bring you to some too). Ubisoft this is not.

The better news is the combat mechanics. The start of the game focuses a lot on stealth and archery – for good reason. They are efficient from start until end, and a 3 person chain assassination never gets old. Sadly, the enemy AI is not able to figure out rooftops. And standoffs sound and look cool (super cool), but the risk/reward factor is out of whack. As you improve both your passive skills and your awareness of the game (and enemies become more numerous), it becomes better to wade into the thick of things. The end of act 2 in particular has a massive battle that feels like an martial arts movie in choreography. The choice of parry or dodge impacts your counter-attack. Your stance impacts your effectiveness against opponents, think a rock-paper-scissors type of thing. There’s a hidden complexity behind it all that allows for masterpieces of combat to show up. My eldest daughter was able to pick up the “dance” after a few tries, impressive to watch.

The other game mechanics are simple enough. Climbing is straight out of Uncharted, including rope throws. Horse riding just works. Friendly NPCs always move at your speed – why is this not the case everywhere nowdays? Gear upgrades are based on materials found across the game, though in sparse quantities you’ll unlikely max everything until near the very end.

Continuing on the good news is the quest mechanic – or Tales. There are 4 kinds – the main quest, the supporting characters, the legendary ones, adn minor quests. Even the minor ones are voice acted and have some interesting bits. The legendary ones are essentially chasing skills and armor of legend, told through a really neat story mechanic. The mountain one in particular is really well executed. There are a half dozen supporting characters, each with their own arcs. About a dozen quests each and they explore each person’s failures and redemption. They are amazing. The main quest is solid in it’s own right, but doesn’t hit it’s stride until after the 2nd act. The main bad guy is a decent villain – ruthless and intelligent. The final mission…jeeeeeebus is that solid. Feels like the game was pitched with that 1 quest in mind.

Now for the best part, the presentation. The game looks and sounds like a dream.

Words really cannot do this game justice. PS4 has done an absolute stellar job at world building this generation and this is without question my favorite one of the many great examples. You can even turn on Kurosawa mode, which changes the display to a grainy black & white view for a crazy feeling of the old movies. I found myself stopping for more than a few times just to enjoy the visual feast. Also a great reason to complete the haikus, which force you to stop and smell the roses.

My daughter and I completed the game, all map icons, most cosmetic collectibles (not flowers, records, artifacts, or banners) in about 50 hours of play. A solid 10 of those were just exploring the map. I played with Japanese voice over and English subtitles. An absolutely amazing game from start to end.

A Great Man Has Passed

The recent long weekend had a small family gathering, under the provincial limits and we all took our precautions getting in and out. That wasn’t enough, and we became a cluster of COVID positive cases, including myself. My symptoms have been mild, aside from exhaustion. That was not the case for others. Fevers, loss of senses, difficulty breathing, aches. The worst off was my grandfather, near 90, who ended up in the ICU a week ago on an O2 feed.

He passed away peacefully this Saturday. The nurses did all they could, and this crazy pandemic meant that only my sister was able to visit him during his final moments. We were able to video chat during the day, where he could hear us but not respond verbally. Myself, wife ands kids were all able to say our goodbyes and most importantly, our thank you for the live he lived and lessons he shared.

He was a driven man, busier during his retirement than most people would be with work and a kids to keep them going. He was in great shape, walking hours a day regardless of the weather. Last year he fell from a 12 foot ladder, hit his head, drove 6hours, was hospitalized and drilled 2 holes to drain the blood, and was walking within a week. He had pride in what he had, what he could share, and more so with his family. He’d often mention how he was happy we were all successful in our own measures, that he had passed on good values.

He was my godfather, and I don’t know a time without him in my life. He came to my hockey games when I was a kid, I spend summers with him and my grandmother at the cottage. He always welcomed us with open arms, and a full fridge. He read multiple papers every day, always wanting to stay current with events. He’d read piles of books and love to debate any item you could think of. But he was different, he would accept other information and change his perspective. He adapted to every challenge, always pushed forward.

He kept things orderly and neat without it being obsessive. He was collected, and thought things through without reacting. He would recall stories from 40 years ago like they were yesterday, and he was always a meeting new people and striking up conversations. He liked pretty much everybody, as long as they treated others with respect. Something we learned at a young age (and being French, there’s a nuance to this in addressing elders and strangers).

I’m full of memories of my childhood. BBQs at his place. Shooting balls against his garage door. Going fishing our on the river. Collecting blueberries. Mowing the lawn. The stories. The cribbage games. The summers at the cottage. The dance at my uncle’s wedding. A trip to the family’s sugar bush. Long rides up to the cottage and getting busted for speeding. Lunch along the river. Country music. The Christmas parties with more presents than floor space. Watching hockey games on Saturday nights. Miles of memories for me alone. There are hundreds more with my kids, who were more than fortunate enough to have met their great grandfather.

A bit more than a year ago he put all his affairs in order. He sold his house, transferred the cottage to my dad, gave us all pieces of art or dishes from his home. He had said repeatedly that he had done all he wanted to do, that everything from then on was just extra time to enjoy. When my cousin got married last year, he was the best man, and I could not have imagined a bigger smile. He was content that all his grandkids were in a good space, and life goals were complete – no worries left.

My grandfather was a great man. Without question he taught me values through his actions that have made me a better person. He enriched the lives of everyone who knew him. He lived a full life, without regret. I can only hope to honour that memory.

I love my grandfather. I miss my grandfather.