On the Digital Creation of Worlds for Play

I have been coping using video games, not just mediocre ones like the PathfinderAdventure Game.

I did a fair bit of programming in the past. I got into programming because I was worried that they wouldn't make the kind of games I liked it the future. It was around 2004 when I realized that I didn't have anything to worry about.

The game industry is huge. Like, billions huge. Much like role-playing games and tabletop games, the return on your investment in video games can usually be pretty large. You can play a game for hundreds or even thousands of hours with a single purchase. The value there is pretty high. Even if you buy new AAA titles and just play them to completion, you're often only paying a dollar or so an hour of gameplay.

However, I find that the actual time I spend actually playing the game is simply a fraction of the time spent sitting in front of the game. Is this true for other people? I find it's true of most games for me, though not all. It certainly isn't a bad thing.

Playing the game means making significant choices. Just walking from one place to another in the game isn't really playing. Waiting for loading screens isn't playing. Micromanaging things isn't playing.

Hearthstone is the type of game where the gameplay is nearly as full as it can be of significant choices. Sometimes it can take people a long time until they even realize what significance their choices make.

Hearthstone is an exhausting game to play.

I can manage an hour before I have to quit. To wit: I finish each season between ranks 8-5. I keep a win rate around 65-70%. It's only that good because I don't start climbing the ladder till the good players have already done it, and generally am playing bad players during that climb. It also helps that I play almost exclusively late at night, when I'm fresh and other players are tired. Things change around rank 5. Not only do you need to play as many games to get from rank 5 to legend as it took to reach rank 5, the quality of play is superlative.

You have 90 seconds on your turn and 90 seconds on your opponent's turn to decide amongst all the lines of play. For the entire length of the game you are thinking.

So with most games, I'm not looking to make significant choices every second. I'm looking to relax. There's a lot I don't want to think about.

That's why I have so many hours in Grim Dawn. It's a meditative exercise.

Grim Dawn is an action-rpg in the vein of Sacred or Titan Quest. There's no randomization of environments. You make all your choices about what kind of character you want within a few hours and the rest is filling in the points and constellations as you acquire them. Most of the game is filled with trash mobs that you only kill to level your character. There's a lot of farming involved for materials and favor with certain groups.

But that's the point. The farming isn't to be avoided. The farming is the point of play. Those systems exist to give you a reason to farm. Moving across the map and killing trash mobs is rhythmic calm, punctuated by the occasional rewarding event.

The shield warden moves like this:
Forcewave, charge, shieldbash, orleon's rage, hit, hit, hit, forcewave, shieldbash, hit hit hit.

Forcewave damages the armor, charge closes the distance, shieldbash stuns, rage does massage damage against a single opponent and each hit adds a charge on savagery. That motion, that rhythm.

Each combination of classes has their own hypnotic rhythm. This is. . . incredibly difficult to pull off from a game design standpoint. There are a lot of action-rpg's out there, and very few that master making the sequences and feedback so rewarding.

It's good in a lot of ways others aren't. It isn't endless. Characters have an end (level 85). Unlike Diablo 3, you can't just keep going forever and forever. Being able to finish a character and move on is a good thing, leading you to new experiences. It has a significant amount of hidden content. Because the entire game is crowd funded over the course of several years, they weren't beholden to a board of producers, allowing them to create large hidden areas and dungeons.

It's also not embryonic. They just released a small free expansion and more are coming, but it feels like a complete game. They don't always.

Total War: Warhammer came out recently and barring a rocky few hours after release, is a real pleasure to play. There are a few minor bugs and quibbles. For example: reinforcements come from a random direction which ruins the replay function. But it allows you to have large warhammer fantasy type battles, while moving around and leveling up your leader guy. It's well done and a lot of fun.

But even so, it seems a little empty. Clearly the 9 free downloaded content's planned, plus whatever other dlc and content they release points to that. You can play as the dwarves, vampire counts, orcs, empire, or chaos. But where are the lizard men? Where are the squigs? Where are the skaven? Where are the wood elves? Where are the beastmen? Where are the other mages?

They know those things are missing, because a lot of those are already announced to be downloaded content.

It's a good game, you can really tell they poured their heart and soul into it. Each race flings different items from the city towers. Dwarves fling kegs wrapped inexplosives.  and brettonia, well, fires this. Sometimes when the orcs sack your settlement, they leave you a present.

Another game on the not ready for prime time side of empty is Stellaris. I have no doubt they will continue to update it as time goes on, with a new patch coming out every month. But right now, the game is a bit of a mess, with some wild balance issues. It also contains one of my biggest issues with space game, the lack of terrain. It leads to a certain playstyle. 

There's others of course. X-Com 2 is basically a version of X-Com that fixed the satellite problem, more customizability, and better mod support. Fallout 4 is the most linear fallout yet with pretty significant changes in design philosophy. I'm also happy I finally get to play with the international version of Final Fantasy X, using the international sphere grid. I remember looking online and trying to figure out what I would have to do to run a European copy.

Like I figured out earlier. I didn't have anything to worry about.

Hack & Slash 


  1. If you get to choose which place you are going to walk to and the hazards vary that's playing the game, but with no real choice it's just as frustrating as watching a cut scene for the 12th time before the game let's you cut it short.

    I hate when immersion is broken by seemingly arbitrary limitations, I was playing a shooter on father's day and my special-ops guy was double jumping over powerlines on one part of a map but just a few virtual feet over he couldn't climb up on a shed and peek over a low wall that was far shorter than the powerlines were. If a game is about enhanced mobility of the player/character silly little limitations in map design break the game for me.

  2. Courtney, play Stellaris using Warp Lanes only travel for all empires. Then you get the terrain you are interested in.

  3. I've been playing Roller Coaster Tycoon. It's still excellent after 17 years.


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