Living Ships

The whole Twitter stuff is enough distraction. I disabled my account yesterday and I’m moving on.

No Man’s Sky doesn’t have many timegated systems, 2 that are quite obvious – Frigate missions and Settlement Upgrades. The latter doesn’t have any real impact on gameplay today, and feels more like the seed of an idea. A sort of ant farm really. The former is a very weird (for this game) system that allows you to send smaller ships on missions, where they can return with various items. With two exceptions, these items can be found through other means, so this activity acts as a more passive gameplay than much else.

Obviously, I am not considering mining operations as timegated.

In 2020, the Living Ships update was added. This is a quest that starts in the Anomaly, requiring 3200 Quicksilver (a unique quest currency, takes less than a week to collect this much). Using the Void Egg, you embark on a quest that spans a few systems with relatively simple steps. Each quest then has a 24hr timer, so it ends up taking about 5 days to get to the final part, where you unlock a new starship. Living Ships are starships in a practical sense, all S class, and cannot take any normal upgrades. Selecting your ship is dependent on the system in which you unlock it… so some save scumming is advised to get a look you want. All told, about 2 weeks or so to get one. Now, aside from looking cool, in nearly every other regard it’s worse than any exotic ship due to the upgrade issue. Less cargo slots, slower speed, less damage…

One of many, many designs

In July 2022 the Endurance update added an upgrade path for Living Ships. You need Psychonic Eggs, which only come from Frigate Missions, and then only from missions where there is an Organic Frigate. To get the first Organic Frigate, you need a Dream Aerial, which is a random reward from a normal frigate mission. Getting more Organic Frigates pretty much requires Anomaly Detectors (found in asteroid fields), and then pulse driving until you get the proper encounter (could take 20 mins). Frankly, that is a ton of RNG and timegating to get something that does look cool, but is a real struggle to actually improve. I’ve got my ship, 10 Organic Frigates (that was not fun), and 3 upgrades. Now it’s just a matter of sending them on mission and hoping for RNGesus.

A view of some of the organic frigates

I do get that none of this actually matters in the larger scale, and it’s truly more of an end-game customization thing. The real joy in NMS comes from the discovery and building phase, and then slowly drifts off as the new-car-smell fades away. That joy lasts for way longer than I had expected. There’s a true sense of achievement when you finally reach one of your goals – be it automated mining, a cool base, or a new ship. The fact that you’re not pigeon-holed into a single activity in order to find progress is amazing.

I know I’m in the long tail now. I could reset the universe (crazy typing that out), build an underwater base, or complete a full farm setup for every remaining element (there are only 4 I don’t mine currently). Regardless of where this goes in the next few days/weeks, this ride has been absolutely amazing.

NMS – Stasis Device

No Man’s Sky has is an open ended game, where the goals are mostly self-driven. There are certainly crumbs along the path, to give you an indication that something exists to chase, but the decision to do so is mostly yours to make. Now, compared to most MMOs today where the systems are not at all connected (or just dumped at the next expansion), most of the systems in NMS are interconnected. Derelict Freighters, Frigate Missions, Nexus Quests, and Mission Boards all get you to a similar goal – improving your own freighter.

One of the challenges of these open games is that the initial breadcrumbs often lead to a massive gulf of content, before you can find footing for the actual goals. Examples are things like Factorio or Sim City, where you will likely reach a point where you need to undo a lot of what was built in order to move to the next step, as you didn’t fully understand the logistical implications of earlier choices. Minecraft sort of has this, where you have “starter homes” before you get the idea of the larger/complex systems. NMS is more like this, where development is almost always forward. It’s certainly possible to make bad choices, but they are clearly bad choices when made, and you can recover from them quickly. Even your starter base isn’t a bad thing, because you unlock more blueprints, see how the various systems interwork, and rather simply grow it to something larger (though likely, you will want a base on another planet for reasons…)

Along this path is the RNG of loot. There’s a ton of it, and all of it has some use. Either you craft with it, eat it, upgrade with it, or sell it. Some of these items are of a rarer quality than others and are therefore worth more. When you find your first item that’s worth 500,000 credits, you’re going to be extremely happy. On the 5th time, you’ll start wondering how you can more readily acquire said item, and if there’s something beyond. Well, there is a path for both.

NMS Crafting Tree

Currently, there are two “ultimate” crafts – Statis Devices and Fusion Igniters. Each is worth approximately 15m credits. The top row of that image is the base material required to start. With the exception of Mordite, each one can be farmed in raw form, though the pre-requisites to do so varies a tad. The metal & gas items have to be mined, while the plants need to be harvested.

The harvesting part isn’t too bad, you need glass Bio-Domes to harvest 16 plants. You need seeds and some elements to get started, so it will take a few days to get it all sorted out at a single base. No power required, just the glass to build it all (which ideally is bought).

The mining part is less obvious. You need a Survey Device in the multi-tool in order to find gas/mineral hot spots. It’s a hot/cold game to find them, and then fingers crosses it’s the actual material you want. Finding Paraffinium took me way too long. Once you have those 2 elements, then you need to find a power hotspot, giving you 3 points of interest. Finding the center of those, you build a Base Computer, a Portal, and then some Supply Depots. You then branch out from this base, back to the points of interest and build various collectors (harvester, miner, generator) and then connect all that back to the base you built. Repeat for all the base materials you need (3 to 4 bases). Building each base like this also has a cost, mostly in Metal Plates. You’ll also learn how to “extend” your base past the 300u limit up to the 1000u limit (this really feels like there’s a bug preventing the true size).

The table above gives you an idea of the materials required to make 10 Stasis Devices. The first 2 items listed are actually a combination of Oxygen + Carbon/Cobalt. In most of the scenarios, you can expect to wait 24 hours between collection timeframes, assuming you have 50 or so of each plant, 2 harvesters of the elements, and 5 supply depots along with it. Getting the entire production chain ready is a good 10+hours of effort, with a fair chunk of shopping ahead of time to stock up on construction material (metal plates, ferrite dust, chromatic metal and glass most notably).

Once it’s up and running, it’s a rather simple affair to collect the material (<5 mins), process the Carbon/Cobalt (2 mins), and the craft the materials (2 mins). If you time it right, you can queue the processing for the next day, making it even faster. That’s a nice 150m in your pocket per day.

Scaling to MORE than this is a tad more painful, mostly due to the fact that items only stack to 9,999 and you will run out of inventory space. Plus, with perhaps 1 or 2 exceptions, there is no object in the game that costs more than 150m credits. Being a billionaire is more status symbol than much else. Though perhaps it can help seed a massive gold mining farm…

Loaded RNG

No Man’s Sky has both determinate and RNG elements, and they intersect in very interesting ways.

Obviously, in the “near infinite” variety of planets, there needs to be some randomization. Theoretically, there should be enough random to have bubble shooting dragons somewhere in this game. There’s a “pool” of events that can occur given fixed conditions. Every planet has creatures, plants, caves, secrets and so on. The variety of each changes, and the quantity, but they are there. Systems are classed on the star type, which impacts the resources found within. There’s a random element to the major race in a system, and then the type of industry. This also impacts the types of events in a given system, as well as the types of ships you’ll find. What remains random (in general) is the quantity and quality of an object.

NMS has a ranking system for many things, from the lowest (C) to the highest (S). Within each rank is some additional random aspect to stats, so that the best rank A item may be better than the worst rank S item, though the overlap is min-maxing in practical terms. A Gek system, for example, will have 7 shuttle types, 7 Haulers, 3 Fighters, 3 Explorers, and 1 Exotic. These types are randomly selected from a pool, but are fixed for that system – realoading will not change the look of these ships. This also applied to Freighters, which is where I’m going with this.

Freighters are acquired through space battles. These battles only trigger when both the following have occurred: 3 in-game hours have passed, and 5 warp jumps have completed. (They will not occur in an unoccupied system, a black hole system, or an Atlas system.) When you warp into a system, it will be assigned a specific Capital Ship Freighter, which is selected from a given pool. The “largest” of them require you finding the correct – random – system. I wanted a Resurgent Star Destroyer, the largest of the bunch inspired by Star Wars. To find this thing, I needed to ensure I had a save prior to my 5th jump. I created a save point and then made single warps until I found the ship TYPE I wanted. That’s RNG phase 1 down, which took about 30 minutes.

RNG phase 2 is finding the highest rank ship, S. That means reloading the same TYPE until I found the proper RANK. To do this, I entered the battle, went to the nearby star station, and created a restore point. This meant I could enter the freighter, scan it to see the rank, and reload if it was not S. The odds of finding an S aren’t exactly high, reports vary between 2% and 5%, with “better” chances in 3* systems or Outlaw systems. The good news is that the reload doesn’t require a battle, simply flying into the freighter. It took about 90 minutes of reloads to finally get an S class.

Effectively this was save scumming, where I limited the RNG portions to only the ones I could not control. Under normal circumstances, you can only roll the dice every 3 hours for a TYPE and RANK, which is a crazy level of random. All told, it took me just over 2 hours of reloads to get what I wanted, which is over 100 attempts. At regular rate, that would have been closer to 300 hours of gameplay. Yeah, I’m good.

Does this freighter have any practical value over others? There are some minimal stat boosts. The real benefit here is 100% cosmetic.

Next up is finding an exotic starship. The good news is that they always spawn as rank S, though the odds of spawn are relatively low. I think I found a way around this though… while I was hunting my freighter, I noticed that starships landed inside the saved freighter, and there was almost always an exotic within. Now the kicker is figuring what type of exotic I want, spawning a space battle (3 hours + 5 warps) in the proper system, and then entering the freighter to collect. Sounds simple, let’s see how that works out.

Diablo 3 Design Time Travel

An interesting article about ex-D3 lead Jay Wilson talking about the original launch of the game. I won’t shy away from thinking he did a poor job and is exceedingly good at deflecting any responsibility from being you know, the actual LEAD.

First in the area of dumb, is that the RMAH was honestly thought to be a good idea to fix the 3rd party market…clearly a solution in search of a problem as 3rd party sites launched at 1/3rd the price of the AH. Duping was fixed with the always online bit, way back in 2012 when cloud computing and dynamic demand management wasn’t yet a thing. The AH was a bad idea from the start, every metric said so, and the gameplay loop clearly pushed people towards it. The truly bonkers reason for keeping the RMAH though… that it was on the box. For fear of being sued and the lawyers needed to confer on this. It took 2 years to remove it. Amazing. I’m all for innovating and taking risks, but you need a back-out plan. Which leads me to…

Jay mentioning that Blizzard’s design approach was iterative perfection, rather than good enough. The old saying of “it’s ready when it’s ready”. Which I think with rose coloured glasses is certainly a valid point and most assuredly delayed a lot of the work on D3. And yet, in that exact same train of thought, the RMAH was therefore “perfected”. Indeed.

Today’s Blizzard is not what once was. The pipeline to delivery is ultra long and their release quality does not indicate perfection. Which I think people are willing to take in stride if the cadence is reasonable, and the corrections doubly so. The last few years of WoW certainly was certainly a head scratcher, where the beta feedback was pretty darn clear about the faults, followed with a “trust us”. And history certainly tells us how that has gone.

It’s a fickle world, where the smallest of soundbytes can be taken out of context. Jay Wilson has spent the last 10 years trying to find every reason why the launch of D3 and its design was someone else’s fault. This older interview with Kevin Martens is a much better take on listening to feedback and an iterative focus on content in Reaper of Souls. Wild how much better than expansion was/is.

Achiever vs Explorer

No Man’s Sky attempts to hit the Bartle archetypes, to various levels of success. You’d have to put a lot of effort convince me that either the Killer or Social types have much weight here, which dramatically reduces the feeling of competition and FOMO. The Achiever and Explorer types are the main targets.

Achievers are goal setters, where progress for the sake of progress is the main joy. The goals can be self-defined or system driven, but they are there, and the goal is often times worth more than the journey. RPGs tend to scratch a crazy itch for achievers, as there are numerous levels of goals within (quest, levels, stats, items). Games with logistical challenges are also a big hit, be it Valheim, SimCity or Factorio.

Explorer certainly have goals, but the journey is the key driver. Looking under each rock, they take joy for cataloguing the world and see how the pieces fit together. A goal is often just another part of the journey to the next exploration bit. Games with large maps and interconnected systems really resonate here, so things like Minecraft and Skyrim are like crack.

NMS has a lot of content for both types. A practically infinite world to explore (I am the first human discovering some planets in a game that’s 6 years old). A very large swath of procedural tasks to accomplish (on a per-planet basis, this dwarfs most “games”). There’s a substantial amount of “stuff” to find and catalogue – language alone has 700+ words for each of the 3 species. There’s a tiered systems of resources, where complex ones can only be crafted. There’s a “system of trade” that has market forces within (you can “crash” a market by flooding it). And there’s a collection system with an RNG rarity tier on top of it, meaning that there’s usually a carrot of sorts to aim for.

One of the twists here is the interconnectivity of these systems. Valheim forces you to explore in other to achieve, that’s where all the bosses are and by consequence, the ability to use any of the new materials. And exploration is generally gated through achievement, you simply need a better boat to get across the ocean, or armor to avoid squito. NMS is in this vein, where you absolutely need to move between planets and explore them to some level of detail in order to acquire necessary stuff. There are certainly “golden planets”, where you can set up self-sufficient mining operations – I mean it’s a game of odds after all. But you still need to find them, and the only way to catalogue a planet is to land on it.

This effectively placed tiers on NMS’s various systems, in that in order to progress (achieve) you need to find (explore) the necessary components. Some of them are obvious – find copper. Some less so – Vykeen Daggers are randomly dropped from specific events in certain systems.

Where things get a bit tougher to digest is when you apply scale, as with all other logistic games. You will find dozens if not hundreds of systems in your travels – let alone planets. Organizing them is just bonkers. Mining is useful, until it’s not because you have what you need. There’s no automation of this system, just some standalone pieces. Exploration will reach a point where you simply accept the infinite variety of things – which I suppose is a message in itself. Never have I seen a game better reflect the adage of “stare into the abyss and the abyss stares back at you”.

These are far from complaints. The journey along the path lasts as long as you want it to last. The infinite goals are there as long as you want to achieve them. I’m frankly amazed that this game even exists.

No Man’s Sky

In all the history of gaming, there are only a handful of games that we can generally accept as “comebacks” from their launch failures. FF14 gets most of the attention, but we forget how it was shut down and relaunched, acting more as a sequel than an iteration. No Man’s Sky however, that’s something altogether different.

Launched in 2016, it was touted as a near-infinite procedurally generated miracle. The hype machine was going full speed. What actually launched was a proof of concept of a universe builder and exploring simulation. A sense of ownership and place just didn’t exist, and gamers were not pleased. The developers took the flak, shut down most social media, and then decided to get to work.

Foundations was the first post-launch release, about 3 months later. It started things off with being able to create a home base. There have been 30+ releases since launch, culminating with version 4.0 – Waypoint, and a Switch release. The most recent one streamlines a lot of the starting experience, and provides a “relaxed” mode that fits between survival and sandbox.

I’ve had NMS since 2018. It was on my radar for a very long time, and the mid 2010s continued failure to launch junk had me wary of jumping in. The whole “no presales” bit eventually dove into “wait for reviews”. It was the tail end of the 1.x content, which if I recall was what the game’s original launch vision was supposed to be. I gave it a go, and lasted a few days. The training wheels section was both painful and too short, with survival mechanics that were a major source of friction.

I’d pop back in every year and a bit, start a new save and see where it lead. The pandemic certainly gave time. If I played sandbox mode, the sense of exploration was dramatically neutered because you had everything at hand. If I played the normal mode, then it felt like I was in the northern wilderness continually finding base materials to fix my mining laser. I wouldn’t say I despise, but certainly have an aversion to survival mechanics that are simply time padding. I think we all have enough of that in the real world, right?

4.0 came out a week+ ago, and with it came relaxed mode. The “default” relaxed mode is essentially survival without so much friction… things take the same amount of materials to construct, but they just last longer. Not having to recharge your suit or mining laser is AMAZING! Death is far less frequent as well, which is a huge boon as combat is not this game’s strong suit. The game just becomes substantially more accessible to everyone. And on top of that, there’s a slew of additional toggles you can use to add/remove difficulty to the game.

I realize I haven’t even gotten into the game mechanics yet, and honestly, I think that’s for the best. There’s no singular answer to what NMS actually is. The things it does offer are rarely in isolation of each other, which makes it that much more surprising as you go through. You can treat it like a base builder if you want. A pirate hunter. A trade empire. An exploration adventure. In small spaces, it had multiplayer as well. It may be easier to explain the things it doesn’t do.

I’ve personally focused on the main Atlas Path quest, to find the source of truth of the universe. I’ve got a simple base, my starter ship, a stupidly powerful multi-tool (through sheer RNG), tons of new languages learnt, a settlement to take care of, and two dozen or so systems discovered. And it still feels like I’m standing in the surf of an endless ocean. A clear research path leads ahead of me. There are a dozen breadcrumbs quests open to add more complexity to the gameplay loop. And I’m still enjoying the gameplay loop.

I’m frankly awestruck as the sheer volume of content here, and overall polish. It’s one of those few games that everyone should give a try.

Surviving Mars

I have a soft spot for city sims, in particular when the settings are a large step away from typical urban settings. I have an even softer sport for incremental builders (Dyson Sphere Project is superb). There’s just something about logistical planning that I enjoy… fancy that. Surviving Mars is a mix of both genres, and in order to merge them, both are diluted.

The setting is simple enough, you’re sponsored and given a rocket ship with some bits that can be used to establish a martian colony. In true red planet fashion, the world is inhospitable and you need to balance restocking from Earth and discovering elements to become self-sufficient. The first “larger step” is building a dome for colonists, which is where the city sim portion comes about.

Colonists have specializations that improve performance in certain tasks, and diminish them when doing something else. There are social factors to ensure they stay happy and don’t go bonkers. They can have kids, go to school, and have perks/flaws that impact their behavior. They also die. See, children in space can only work at a given scale. They take a lot of resources and take a very long time to mature to be “useful” when in a survival mode.

And this is the logistics piece. Mars has a ton of resources to be discovered. Collecting them is very painful. Surface elements are sparse, and most of the elements require you to have a specialized building. Buildings that can only be staffed by people. People who can only live in domes. Domes which are expensive to build and maintain, and have a very limited range. It makes it so that the cost to harvest is often well superior of what you can collect.

Now, there are some solutions to this problem, but nearly all of them are locked behind research, which appears to have some amount of RNG in availability, as well as a significant time investment. Breatkthroughs are a type of research that are unlocked through random events and is completely gamebreaking as it removes the need for people. In the “logic” part of the game, you can also create bionic folks, who eat/sleep, but can’t die of old age. If I can create that, how in the world can I not automate mining?

The logistical challenge of the mid-game is often a frustrating point in many games, as it should be a struggle to balance things while working to add automation. Frostpunk is probably the best example of this mindset, where you’re always on the edge of failure, but the hope of automating one small step has a huge payoff. DSP’s mid-game has undergone a lot of tweaks in early access, and is in a really good spot now – the challenge is moving from a planetary scale to a solar system scale.

Surviving Mars (the base game, I have yet to try the DLC) has a rather large gap in the middle portion where automation should be the goal, yet the carrots to achieve this is hidden behind RNG. I enjoy the balancing of resources, both harvesting and refining. The game just puts a massive hurdle in scaling that system where the goal of colonizing Mars is stalled due to the inability to optimize. Contextually, I understand why research is hidden and breakthroughs are so powerful… that’s the whole point of exploration. Mechanically, the game portion suffers from the RNG in scientific progress and direction. Never to a point of critical failure, but in a frustrating lens.

Domes offer a nuanced tweak, where you can prefer specialists and then build accordingly. Space is limited in domes, meaning you need to build another one. The initial and upkeep costs make that a serious investment. Then the people need food, which is a practical challenge. You reach a power wall, where a single building may require 50 and your best tool only provides 5. The thought process here is to build a housing dome, then attach other specialist domes for specific production in the others. A hub and spoke model is theoretically the best path (and what, you know, NASA wants). The practical implications are that you will need multiples of these as mining requires a hub well away from the main cluster, which needs power/water/food/housing. The net effect is that you are better building core infrastructure and then routing it all over the map – with redundant components so that if they are damaged everyone doesn’t die in a half-turn.

And don’t get me started on both the need and pace of research. Argh!!

Boiled down, the game is about 10 hours longer than it needs to be. I ended up setting the speed to maximum (triple time?) and just stepping away for a while. Give me a problem and the tools to solve it.

This comes off as negative, but it’s more an articulation of frustration from the logistics portion. I like the art, I like the challenge of exploring a different planet, the idea that you could be on the edge of something new. There are some neat ideas here, and it would be interesting what would happen if the mechanical components of the genre could better fit the story. And I am very willing to accept that I have simply not cracked the nut of this puzzle.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Still on the metrodivania kick, I picked up Ori and the Will of the Wisps on Switch. I had played the original on PC and was more than pleasantly surprised. The sequel is just as amazing.

Ori is a metroidvania with respect to exploration, non-linear progress, and skills unlocking new areas. That seems somewhat straightforward and evident, but its the differences that make it stand apart.

Ori is really a platformer at heart, parkour to the next level. The closest analogy is Celeste, in the sense of continual movement, without the puzzle element. With the exception of a few bosses, you never need to kill/attack anything. You can, and it’s a way to speed up collection of money to purchase things, but it’s never mandatory. Instead the game puts a ton of emphasis on environmental hazards, spikes, explosions, lasers and so on. It accents this on a more than a few boss battles where you have a wall of death behind you and need to quickly and cleanly escape using a pile of skills. And with the sole exception of the last boss, you should be able to clear the game without getting hit, making hit points not all that relevant.

Ori is also a fable of sorts, where the story is told through a narrator and experienced through the same environment. There are quests throughout, more for exploration than much else. There are a few cut scenes and NPC dialogue, but it’s the world itself that changes around you that resonates the most. You clear a zone, and the world changes. The art is just plain spectacular, and the music is near perfect. If it wasn’t for the difficulty and frequent deaths, I’d consider this zen.

Credit to the non-linear development here. You hit a cross road about a 1/3rd of the way in and have 4 options to take. Each can be completed in the order you want, and gives a skill that allows for further exploration. Aside from a skill that creates a light for dark areas, the other 3 are all movement based to reach new areas. Many metroidvanias give the appearance of choice (Blasphemous actually delivers in the first 1/3rd), but its more artificial as the boss selection is linear. There are no hidden bosses, crazy skills, or major secret areas. Maybe a nook or a cranny here; in general what you see is what’s there.

I’d be remiss not to mention the difficulty here. Metroid Dread can be beat by nearly anyone. Bloodstained takes it up a notch. Blasphemous is next up, and Hollow Knight a sort of pinnacle. Ori is near the top, not because it’s punishing, but because it’s demanding. The final area in particular has some absolutely devastating areas to get through that feel like trial and error, with little respite. It isn’t 1-hit death, and when you do die, you only lose the progress on that attempt.

There aren’t many games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and it’s a right joy to play through. It’s a different take on the metroidvania genre, with a much larger focus on precise movement and exploration, rather than difficult combat. Highly recommended.

Back to Hollow Knight

As many parents can attest, the final week of summer and first week of school is a non-stop adventure. Time management is just at another level, not to mention planning. Everyone is back in class, and hockey restarted this weekend…now it’s about showing up. Looking forward to the first “normal” fall in a long time.

The hectic pace means that most PC gaming isn’t even an option, and the Switch takes lead. (It does make me curious about a Steam deck even further. A new version is due soon.) I’m on a good metroidvania kick now, which works amazingly well for short gaming bursts. Hollow Knight ranked as my #1 iteration of the genre, and given the recent playthroughs through Blasphemous, Dread, and Bloodstained, I wanted to see if it still held true.

No doubt in my mind, it still does. And a Kickstarter no less.

One of my kid’s teachers is a Harry Potter fan. Super fan I suppose. She loves the Philosopher’s Stone, reads it every year, and keeps finding new bits. I played WoW for longer than most, and still there were new bits to find. Hollow Knight has this as well, especially if you’re paying attention to the lore. Given the non-linear construction of the game, there is a ton that’s open quite early if you want.

There are 5 core abilities in the game. The dash is acquired early, followed by the wall jump. Those together are enough to do a good 80% of the rest of the game. The charged dash opens a few more optional areas, and the double jump is required to reach the final areas. Finally, the shadow dash is used for reaching the “true” ending. This big middle portion allows for a crazy amount of exploration options, and the scaling of enemies per zone allows for a higher or lower level of challenge.

This particular playthrough was focused on exploring as much of the map as possible early on, including unlocking the fast travel (tram) options. As a fresh player, the difficulty curve acts as a sort of soft wall to tell players “maybe not now”. As someone with experience, in particular as to how the downward slash (pogo) works, it nearly trivializes some content.

Taking out Hornet at the start was a breeze, where my first playthrough took nearly 30 minutes on that single boss. The White Tower’s buzzsaw challenges took me a couple days to get through prior, this time it was relatively smooth sailing. The last boss went down on the 2nd attempt this time… and that’s a full on bullet-hell experience the first time.

After having had this run through complete, I posit that metroidvanias have another defining feature – positioning. This was an absolute back in the old castlevania days, where single hits were enough to put you in a pit. It’s now morphed into a skill-based approach, where all bosses support a no-hit kill mode as well as the ability to completely wipe the floor with you. There are no bosses that have unavoidable damage, and Hollow Knight takes this to the extreme with the final Godhome boss – Absolute Radiance – where a single hit kills you.

It’s been an interesting summer of metrodivanias runs, and solidified my love for the genre. It has all the bits I enjoy about gaming, with a solid mix of exploration, challenge, and progression. Hollow Knight is a near masterclass in this design, and remains the bar which other games are measured.

Fool Me Once

I removed all my Blizzard-specific feeds a while ago, there are sanity limits. When Immortal came out, it was all but impossible to not hear about the F2P / lootbox shenanigans. Clearly there are people willing to dump oodles of money, and Blizz is doing a fine job of sucking up every last possible penny. They are doing a great job competing with EA’s FUT system.

The shadow of Immortal casts a long way, and Diablo 4 (the actual game the “fans” wanted) is having to make due with that. The real money action house (RMAH) that launched with Diablo 3 was meant to deal with the less-than-honorable 3rd party sellers, but ended up being a massive blight on the game’s fundamental incentives. A lot of the responsibility of those decisions is rightfully put at Jay Wilson’s feet (that’s the job of a game director), and Reaper of Souls’ removal of all those bits is ample evidence the “meta” of Diablo 3 needed a full re-work. Overwatch 2 is pure F2P, and is coming with what appears to be insanely large cost structures for cosmetics (the price of a full priced game).

AAA studios are all trying to milk every dollar out of a game, while gamers are trying to find value for that dollar. It’s competing priorities. The Season Pass is a staple of the F2P genre now, where it combines the drive of FOMO with the incentives of small payments. It’s inversely driven though, as you’re paying to have FOMO… instead of getting to the end of the track and then purchasing all the additional items…

Diablo 4 therefore has a hell of a mountain to climb. The need to generate mountains of cash, an industry model that is more effective than drug dealers, and a rabid fanbase that has both expectations and has been ignored for large stretches.

The quarterly update is an attempt at this. It will have a season pass, but only for cosmetics. It’s very clear that it doesn’t want to have any “power” that can be purchased, which is quite fascinating to me. First, that there’s somehow going to be enough cosmetic content to support this mindset (WoW is a good example of challenges with cosmetic design). Diablo 3 seasons have cosmetic rewards, but they are extremely minimal… not sure how that turns into an actual generator of funding.

Second, everyone has their own opinion of what “power” means. Buying a gem directly is certainly power. Buying something that increases your odds of getting a gem… that’s convenience and the core model of Immortal. I am quite curious as to how this particular system works out, both at launch and long term. People expected a dumpster fire with Immortal. Diablo 4 is where the ARPG crowd has been holding their breath. I have very low expectations here, so it should be quite hard to disappoint.