Praey for the Gods

Shadow of the Colossus-inspired action-survival game Praey for the Gods has been trucking along since hitting its Kickstarter goal in 2016, with regular newsletter updates charting its progress (though it was last in the news for having to change its name after a trademark dispute with Bethesda). The latest newsletter doesn't show off any god-slaying combat, but it does show off something almost as enticing: a new climbing system that lets you grappling-hook to any rock surface and climb, climb, climb. Developer NoMatter Studios doesn't specifically call out The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as an inspiration, here, but it's a safe bet the freedom of the latest Zelda has made everyone reconsider the climbing in their games.

"A large part of our game is climbing and we weren’t using it as much as we should have," the newsletter says. "Then we ripped the band-aid off and just set all terrain to 'climb.' Currently, it means the player can climb the ground (we’ll fix that)... but overall it's awesome!... The freedom and the overall sense of exploration went through the roof. That, coupled with the improvement to the overall scale, really felt epic."

The update also shows off a new feature that goes hand-in-hand with climbing: a glider, which will let you parachute off high peaks after you've proven you can climb them. 

"I was worried it would break bosses or make them too easy," the newsletter continues. "It actually does the opposite and it makes the combat way more awesome and epic. Also, you now have a much more strategic choice to climb up and then try to leap to a boss with a little more range… This is something we’ve found makes the game and world come alive. With our storms you can quickly get into trouble as you think you are safe but the wind gusts will push you around and cost you precious stamina, and could also push you into harm. If you are lucky you can use your grapple hook with it and overall movement in the game feels insanely fun and freeing."

Praey for the Gods is one of the first games we've seen to directly channel part of what made Nintendo's latest Zelda game such a joy to explore, but it certainly won't be the last. You can read the full update here, which talks about other features coming to the (mercifully not Early Access) survival game as it progresses.

H1Z1: King of the Kill

My return to Daybreak's Early Access survival sandbox Just Survive (formerly H1Z1) wasn't exactly a triumph. As I ran around the playable portion of the new map, Badwater Canyon, I kept seeing notifications that one particular player was killing other players with a bow and arrow. A few moments later, I spotted someone firing a bow from behind cover. His back was to me, so I heroically snuck up behind him (heroes do that) and killed him (hero!) with a machete. Only when he was dead did I notice it was the wrong player. Whoops!

What was the player I killed shooting at? A bear. A bear that then chased me into an enormous crowd of zombies, which then chased me to a stronghold, where I ran into some defensive spikes and promptly died. Not quite the glorious victory I was shooting for, but representative of how I'd really fare in the post-apocalypse.

Speaking of Just Survive's new strongholds: while there are a few benefits to the new system I think they're ultimately a turn in the wrong direction for Just Survive, which is undergoing a hefty revamp. Rather than the building system that previously allowed players to construct homes and forts anywhere they like on the map, the new strongholds can only be built on certain plots that are purchasable with in-game currency earned by selling items to the NPC military base.

There are reasons for the switch: when I talked to Just Survive's creative director Ben Jones last week, he said that having a map littered with hundreds of little player-made homes can lead to performance problems on busy servers. Daybreak is introducing timed raids, which sounds cool: enemy players won't have all day and night to completely destroy your base while you're offline. Having specific building areas will also presumably prevent base-griefing—players building unfairly in spots that cause problems for other players (for example in Rust, when someone builds walls around a sleeping player or places spikes on a spawn point).

Keeping in mind Just Survive is in Early Access, and this new stronghold system has just been added publicly to an unfinished map and will certainly undergo changes in the future, it still feels like the negative aspects of the new stronghold system outweigh the potential positive ones.

Being able to pick your own spot on a map and build a fort there, rather than having to choose from a pre-selected spot, is important to feeling like you're carving out a bit of wilderness for yourself. In Ark: Survival Evolved, I built a small shack next to a lake frequented by beavers and surrounded by cliffs. I eventually closed off all the routes to the lake with walls and defenses. I slowly expanded outward from my original hut, and I even built a few things on the surrounding peaks. As a result it felt like I'd really put a personal stamp on the area beyond just coloring inside the lines. If I'd been confined to a set square of foundation instead of having my choice of where to build it wouldn't have been as enjoyable an experience.

I'm also a little concerned about high-population servers filling up available stronghold plots quickly. In my seven hours of play on three different servers I wasn't able to find a vacant plot.

Designated areas for building may help players quickly determine which are the most valuable plots, and thus give rise to some monumental conflicts to control them—but that happens organically anyway. Ark's various maps always wind up with a few highly desired and contested locations without the developers specifying them in advance. Players learn maps inside and out, build all over the place, and eventually discover the key spots in terms of strategy and resource availability. That's part of the fun. And, if you're late to the party and the server is already populated by bases, you can always still hunt around for a nook to call your own.

I'm also a little concerned about high-population servers filling up available stronghold plots quickly. Currently there's only one area of the map available, and while it has dozens of potential stronghold spots, in my seven hours of play on three different servers I wasn't able to find a vacant plot. The areas near the military base were all claimed—most of them already had strongholds on them—and deeper excursions into the map weren't fruitful either. Given more visits to low-pop servers I'm sure I would eventually find a vacant plot—and of course more will be added in the future—but it still felt discouraging.

I'm not sure how strongholds fit into PvE at all. Without the threat of other players, the idea of not being able to build wherever you want really takes away from the idea of conquering the environment, and without raids there doesn't feel like much of a need for the stronghold system at all. Maybe this will change when the plans for quests and missions given by the military arrive.

Finally, my general thoughts on base-building—not only in Just Survive but in just about all survival games—are still the same ones I had the last time I wrote about Miscreated. Bases, more often than not, just wind up looking like giant drab brown wooden boxes built on a square foundation, with square walls, squarely. You spend all that time and effort and wind up living in a house that looks like a damn shipping crate.

This is just my pipe-dream, but the idea of conquering a post-apocalyptic world would feel more fitting if you could claim an existing building—a house, a store, an office building—and build onto it. Not just boarding up windows but really repairing and reinforcing it. It would certainly feel more realistic and be more aesthetically pleasing than building a boxy crate castle, and a town, even a small one, feels like real estate worth fighting over.

QUAKE

The retro-FPS Dusk, as we said in our preview earlier this week, is "not shy about its Quake-and-Doom inspiration." It's fast, bloody, loud (Brutal Doom composer Andrew Hulshult created the soundtrack), and looks (and plays) like it fell out a rupture in the space-time continuum that leads directly back to 1994. It is also, with very little fanfare, now available for pre-purchase on Steam

Dusk, like Doom, will ultimately offer 33 levels spread over three episodes, the first of which, "The Foothills," is playable now. One of three "Endless" survival mode arenas is also in there, if you just want to run around and shoot stuff until you die, without worrying about... well, anything else at all, really. Multiplayer doesn't appear to be live yet, but it's on the way as well. It goes for $20/£15/€20.   

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

Only one in 6,000 people win their first game of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. That means, of the 7 million copies sold, only around 1,166 people were so skilled (or lucky) to have been the last person standing after their first game. I'm going to make the bold assumption that they all read our guide before playing. Considering I still have friends that, after hundreds of hours, still haven't won their chicken dinner, that's impressive. What's even crazier is that your odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime are twice that. 

These fun facts come from a recent video over at IGN, detailing some statistics about what is quickly becoming the most popular game of 2017. For example, players have already racked up 25,816 years and counting of collective game time. I'm a little surprised by the fact that of the 965.83 million deaths tallied since Battlegrounds launched, only 9.73 million—1 percent—were committed by the red and blue zones. It seems that most players are pretty damn good at avoiding them—or at least getting gunned down in an attempt to run away. In fact, you're twice as likely to get punched to death than killed by the deadly blue zone.

The video contains a whole bunch of other stats, some interesting and some predictable. For example, it's not surprising that assault rifles account for 56.97 percent of all gun-related deaths. Of those, the AKM is clearly the popular choice, though I've personally come to favor the M16.

If you want to find out more, you can watch the video above.

Note: The statistic about your odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime appears to be out of date. The current odds are 1/13,500. But don't think you're safe. Lightning will get you eventually.

Dishonored 2

Billie Lurk has played a prominent role throughout the mythos of Dishonored: She was present at the assassination of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, aided Daud throughout the Knife of Dunwall expansion, and even gets some work in Dishonored 2. For that game's expansion, the upcoming Death of the Outsider, she finally becomes the star, and so fittingly Bethesda has put out a new teaser revealing more about who she is and what she brings to the table. 

Spoilers ahead—Billie could quite easily end up dead at the end of Knife of Dunwall, but in the Dishonored canon she slips away to start a new, presumably quieter life. Obviously that doesn't go quite as planned, and she ends up rejoining her mentor-turned-adversary Daud for one last job. 

"When we find her in Death of the Outsider she's sort of getting it back together. She's finding purpose in her life again, and she's taking action," Arkane creative director Harvey Smith says in the video. "She's going to change things for the better."

In Death of the Outsider, Billie wields powers and gadgets that haven't previously been seen, including the Sliver of the Eye, a sort of supernatural monocle that presumably gives her special visual abilities. (It may also be a cool callback to a malevolent gem in Thief: The Dark Project called The Eye, although that's strictly speculation on my part.) Her arm is made of chunks of the Void—I'm sure that's an interesting story all by itself—and she packs a "Voltaic Gun," a sort of electrified wrist-bow. 

Dishonored 2: Death of the Outsider comes out on September 15.   

Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord

A couple of weeks ago, Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord developer Taleworlds Entertainment kicked off a new weekly developers blog as part of its effort to be more transparent and communicative with its fans. But while those fans were surely hoping it would communicate a release date in fairly short order—especially with the big Gamescom show looming—the studio explained in today's blog that it's not going to happen. 

"We have not disclosed a release date so far because it does not exist. We don’t work like that. We are not a company who sets a timeline to release a product and then works to meet that deadline," the studio wrote. "We create games because we love making them, and we want them to be the best games that we can possibly make. We think that our fans don’t deserve less than our best efforts, our total commitment. We don’t believe in releasing a game before it is ready just because we might miss the hype." 

The post emphasizes that Taleworlds, unlike many other studios, isn't beholden to publishers, shareholders, or anyone else who might push it to cut back on features or scale in order to meet a schedule. It obviously doesn't benefit from holding Bannerlord back, but "the only thing that is important to us is developing a game that is truly unique, something that you will enjoy playing as much as we love making." 

As for why it's taking so long to get the thing out, the answer is simple: This is a really big game. "Five years is actually not that long for the development of a game which encompasses as much as Bannerlord does," Taleworlds explained. "There are a lot of fundamental tech and architecture changes compared to Warband: It’s more complex than just adding some new textures and animations. It involves the technology, such as the new engine we built from scratch, but also the system, the mechanics—this is about balancing the invisible, the look and feel of the gameplay." 

"This is why we have not announced a release date, and why we won’t do it at Gamescom either. And these are the reasons why we think of it not as a sign of weakness, but of respect for our work and our community. We are working as hard as we can to develop the great game you are all waiting for, and our primary focus is the quality of the final product." 

Taleworlds will show the game off at Gamescom, however, with "something slightly different from the demo that we took to E3." The show will be open to the public from August 23-26 in Cologne, Germany. 

DOOM

Id Software's arena FPS Quake Champions will wrap up its closed beta and move into Steam Early Access on August 22, Bethesda announced today, a move that will see the addition of new maps, features, and a familiar face—or helmet, anyway: The great, green Doom Slayer is joining the fight. 

"The Early Access version of Quake Champions is, obviously, a work-in-progress, but represents a solid and robust version of the game, with four modes, 11 Champions, a variety of maps, and a thriving community of fans," studio director Tim Willits said. "Early Access will allow us to work closely with players to improve the game and add additional features before the official launch of Quake Champions in the coming months." 

Quake Champions will be free to play, but the Early Access release will not: To jump into the action you'll need to spring for the Champions Pack, which unlocks all current and future Champions (there are currently 11 characters to choose from, and Bethesda said that at least six more are expected to be added to the mix by the end of 2018) as well as an Early Access-exclusive "diehard Ranger" skin, and three Reliquaries, the Quake Champions version of loot chests. The Champions Pack will go for $30 during Early Access and climb to $40 at launch; players who took part in the closed beta will continue to have access to the game in "free-to-play mode." 

As for the Doom Slayer, it sounds like he'll operate much as he did in his own game. His active ability, Berserk, enables him to rip and tear enemies with his bare hands (he'll punch them, actually, but you know what I mean), while his passive ability is the thrust boots-enabled Double Jump.   

The Early Access release of Quake Champions will also feature the new Church of Azathoth and Tempest Shrine maps, Rune Challenges, a new Lore System that will unlock "high-end Lore Skins," in-game voice chat, new customization options, and features like a movement tutorial and shooting gallery that will help get new players up to speed. 

Sid Meier's Pirates!

PC games are full of arcane artifacts spurring on ancient civilizations, Nazis riding dinosaurs, and Ghandi nuking the entire planet. Historical accuracy isn’t always a priority, and even the ones that try to get it right have to take some liberties with the facts modern scholarship hands down to us to be, you know, a fun game. But there is a definite divide between games that offer a mere nod to history (or use some vague, pop culture-informed stereotype of it as a jumping-off point) and those that actually put in enough research time to get at least some of the important facts straight.

It’s hard to measure a variable like “historicity” when it comes to games—and yes, that is a real word. Games that put history first tend to wind up overly complicated rather than fun, so I've highlighted genuinely great PC games that go out of their way to include some historical accuracy. In particular, I chose games that accurately and ably depict a facet of history that is often misrepresented or ignored in other, ostensibly historical games.

In chronological order based on their setting, here are the most historical PC games.

Screenshot via Steam user OriginalNickname

Total War: Attila - Most historical game about the collapse of the Western Roman Empire 

Attila pulled Total War’s tired campaign formula out of its slump and gave us a living map that portrayed the cultural, political, and environmental challenges facing Rome in her twilight years. Rather than playing into the stereotype of angry, marauding barbarians showing up out of nowhere to sew chaos, the map really put you in the middle of why these invasions were happening—the oncoming of climate change making northern regions progressively less supportive of large populations, and the migration of the Huns into Eastern Europe.

It was also the first Total War game to model the fact that not all societies have permanent cities, and how tributary relationships could form between cultures as a pressure valve against open war.

Assassin’s Creed series - Most historical depiction of ancient cities 

There is very little about the plot of any Assassin’s Creed game that could be regarded as staunchly historical (though we do get some cool nods here and there—the Siege of Masyaf in AC1 is a thing that really happened). However, they’ve gone to great lengths to depict, in full scale, what it would be like to walk the streets of Renaissance Florence or medieval Jerusalem. From the crowds, to the architecture, to the small details, there is a lot of history to experience just by wandering the environments. My personal favorite is Revelations’ post-Ottoman-conquest Constantinople, perhaps one of the most interesting cities in world history snapshotted at one of its most interesting ages.

Screenshot via Steam user Mr.Nekator

Crusader Kings 2 - Most historical modeling of medieval Western European politics 

With expansions highlighting Satanic cults and fanciful, “What if?” Aztec invasions, there is plenty of ahistorical nonsense kicking around CK2 these days. But at its core is a system that does an excellent job of modeling how politics worked in Western Europe from about 1000 to 1400 AD. We take for granted the concept of a nation state in our modern world, but if you lived in Auvergne, France in 1150, you were probably loyal to a person, not a flag or a constitution. All of CK2’s titles have holders, and it is they who interact and play the grand game against one another.

A strong realm can crumble under a weak king just as a poor realm can rise to glory under a great king. And while the hierarchical depiction of feudalism it presents is highly disputed in modern scholarship, excellent expansions like Conclave have added more weight to the lateral bonds that many historians argue were the greater driving force among the nobility of the age.

Expeditions: Viking -  Most historical Viking game

I was impressed immediately by how apparent it was that the designers of Expeditions: Viking put stereotypes out of their mind and hit the books. As my primary historical interest area, I have a high standard for games about the Viking Age, and this one really has you doing a lot of the things a viking ruler would have actually found him or herself doing.

There are kinship-based blood feuds to manage. There is the emphasis on the necessity of presenting yourself as both a strong and a just ruler, not taking for granted that people will follow you based on your name. It even models the effects those notorious raids had on Scandinavia—bringing back captives and wealth that would help build infrastructure and birth three of the most influential kingdoms in European history.

Banished - Most historical game about frontier settlement

Banished is a fairly simple game. I might even argue that it’s too simple, but the mechanics it chooses to focus on are very much the sorts of things that say, an English settler in the 17th Century Virginia Colony would have been concerned with. Keeping your people warm, fed, and healthy are your main goals. You have to use the resources in your environment and trade with distant lands to provide for a growing population. A harsh winter or a disease outbreak can be utterly disastrous and end your whole settlement—as they often did for early European settlements in the New World.

Sid Meier’s Pirates! - Most historical pirate game 

While Pirates! does allow itself to indulge in some buccaneer stereotypes, it also models a lot of the genuine realities a privateer captain during the Golden Age of Piracy would have to be concerned with. A crew is a ragtag collection of malcontents picked up from all across the Caribbean who will only stay with you as long as they feel like there’s a monetary reward in it. The political interplay between the Spanish, English, French, and Dutch is an ongoing conundrum, and you’ll usually be working for at least one of them. And of course, its modeling of naval combat with wind direction, hull size, decks, guns, and even shot type really gives you a glimpse of all the skills necessary to be a naval officer in that era.

Screenshot via Steam user [HWK] Turenne

Victoria 2 - Most historical game about the Industrial Revolution 

Vicky 2 is probably the most intimidating and inaccessible game on this list, but it deserves its spot for hanging its top hat on aspects of history that often get ignored. The level of literacy among your population matters. More literate societies will become more productive… but they also gain Consciousness, which can lead them towards social movements like communism and demanding an end to slavery, universal suffrage, and labor rights. You know, pesky commoner stuff. It also models industrialization, war profiteering, and the advantages and disadvantages of free markets versus command economies. If you have the patience to learn it, it's well worth the investment.

The Oregon Trail - Most historical game about the Oregon Trail 

An oldie but a goodie. The various iterations of The Oregon Trail that have been released since 1971's HP 2100 version (how’s that for some history!) have all been lauded for their educational value. And with good reason. If a modern person tries to imagine the struggles faced by an American pioneer making the journey from Independence to the Willamette Valley in the mid-1800s, they probably wouldn’t give much thought to how many spare wagon tongues you’d need to bring. But that was the reality, and The Oregon Trail put us in the middle of it. It probably also made us a little more afraid of dysentery than we have cause to be in an era of modern medicine and sanitation, but no game is perfect.

Ultimate General: Civil War - Most historical game about the Civil War  

I know I’ll take my share of hard tac for failing to call out some hex-based, in-depth wargame that features the weight and height of every soldier who fought at Gettysburg compiled from census records, but Ultimate General is the perfect midpoint between attention to historical detail, accessibility, and fun. Its combat engine realistically models terrain, movement, casualties, and morale in real time. The recently released campaign mode even gets into how generals in this era had to prove themselves to the political leadership if they wanted to be well-supplied and have weight given to their strategic advice.

Screenshot via Steam user Stuart

Steel Division: Normandy 44 - Most historical game about tactical combat in World War 2

A truly impressive feat to a military history nerd, Steel Division’s maps are built from actual aerial reconnaissance photographs taken during the Normandy invasion, down to the village layouts and placement of hedgerows. It also features realistic ranges and damage modeling for all of its vehicles and weapons, and even the relative speed and maneuverability of its air units. It limits heavier units to spawning later in a battle to simulate the simple fact that they would have taken longer to get there after first contact with the enemy.

Possibly most notable of all, though, is that it does an uncommonly good job stressing the importance of ground-based reconnaissance on the battlefields of World War 2, and the idea that engagements could be won or lost based on which side had better information.

Screenshot via Steam user 65y Afrika

IL-2 Sturmovik series - Most historical combat flight simulator 

I think most flight sim enthusiasts remember the first time they tried to do a backflip in IL-2 and saw the screen start to fade out, wondering if there was something wrong with their monitor. Not only are the controls and handling in this classic historically accurate, but it simulates the effects G-forces have on a fighter pilot maneuvering at high speeds. Force too much blood into your head and you’ll experience redout. Force too much into your feet and you’ll experience blackout. In addition, the titular IL-2 was depicted in meticulous, 3D detail and the combat missions presented plausible scenarios.

Screenshot via Steam user XaRoS

Verdun - Most historical World War I shooter 

Move over, Battlefield 1. Verdun sets out to accurately depict trench warfare on the Western Front, and does a pretty good job of it for a multiplayer shooter. Its inaccuracies are forgivable sacrifices to scale, rather than in the details. it would be very difficult to get enough players on a single server to really depict some of the bigger battles of The Great War, and a lot more time was spent waiting around hoping not to get blown up by a shell than was spent taking aim and firing at the enemy—which isn’t really fun if you just have an hour a night to jump in the mud with your buds. Particularly impressive is the detail that goes into the uniforms, with items as small as buttons being painstakingly reproduced from period photographs.

Kerbal Space Program - Most historical game about the space program 

With its science-based modeling of orbital mechanics, propulsion, and aerodynamics, Kerbal Space Program is a great platform to teach about the history of spaceflight. In fact, the developers at Squad agree, and are working on an official Making History expansion. But if you don’t want to wait, the community has already beaten them to the punch. A number of mods, including the Historical Missions Pack, allow you to experience launches spanning from the first German V2 rocket tests all the way up to SpaceX and beyond. 

Deus Ex series - Most historical game about… the future?

So this one is mostly my own speculation based on observation of current trends, rather than anything backed up by in-depth scholarship. But I’ve always been impressed with how well Deus Ex depicts what I see as humanity’s likely next steps. Huge strides are being made in brain-computer interfaces, prosthetics, and artificial intelligence, while advancements in fields like spaceflight and laser swords are becoming increasingly hard to come by. Were I a betting man, I’d put my money on the assumption that we’ll see the world of Adam Jensen come to pass long before the world of Captain Picard.

Shadows: Awakening

Kalypso Media and Game Farm have announced Shadows: Awakening—a new action role-player with "real time tactical combat" that marks the next chapter in the Heretics fantasy series. 

Due next year, Shadows: Awakening promises players upwards of 40 hours, two worlds, and a new 'Synergy' talent system—all of which picks up where 2014's Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms left off. 

Those familiar with the Herectics games will likely know that the series' Book 2 failed to materialise, which is something Awakening addresses head on. Here's Kalypso with more on that:

"[We] are excited to reveal that Shadows: Awakening will not only bring the story of ‘Book 2’ to life, but will also combine it with the original storyline, making Shadows: Awakening not a sequel, but a full and completed experience; improved and re-worked to take full advantage of today’s console and PC technology. 

"Additionally, owners of the original Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms will no doubt remember that they were promised ‘Book 2’ free of charge. Kalypso Media and Games Farm are happy to confirm that they will uphold their promise to reward these long-time fans – with all owners of the Steam and GOG versions of Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms eligible to receive Shadows: Awakening as an update to their existing game, completely free of charge."

No concrete launch date just yet, however Shadows: Awakening is due at some point in 2018. 

XCOM® 2

Seeing re-releases of Final Fantasy games like IX and X/X-2 on PC makes me happy, and it's not just because they're great RPGs. The secret, real reason is that Square Enix added optional fast-forward functions to both of these games, allowing me to knock through their many random battles in seconds, rather than minutes. That shows a lot of respect for the player's time, and inarguably improves the game for me. Well done, Square Enix. Now I want to play everything at four times the speed. 

The only trouble is, it's made me think, in detail, about the games that don't use my time so well. When I'm driving from one side of the map to the other for a mission in GTA Online for the hundredth time, with no fast travel option, I feel like I should be doing something more worthwhile, like reading Great Expectations or learning the German language. That's not to mention the three-or-so minute wait between the game launching and putting me in a server every time it starts. I love GTA Online, but I have to work for it. 

Time is more important than money in PC gaming: it's never been cheaper or easier to accumulate the games you want to play, but the hours you invest have to feel like they're worth it. 

End of the grind?

"I think the developer of any kind of game needs to be respectful of a player’s time, and if you make long-form games you have a lot more time that needs to be treated preciously," says Matt MacLean, lead narrative designer on Obsidian's Tyranny. I ask MacLean whether he believes mandatory grinding has gone out of fashion in RPGs specifically. "I think as more games grow up and away from the D&D model of knocking down doors to kill monsters to knock down bigger doors to kill bigger monsters there will be less and less emphasis on ‘grinding’ monsters and more emphasis on rewarding the player for completing quests, collecting things, exploring areas.

"Seen from a very abstract level, I think very old RPG games failed in that, if you were not winning at a particular battle, your only recourse was to play bully and tackle older/easier encounters until you level up and are ready to tackle the previous impossible obstacle." 

Developers know the fight is on for your time, not just your money.

MacLean also worked on South Park: The Stick of Truth. The combat in this undemanding RPG was pretty simple, with the emphasis instead on enjoying the jokes and exploring an authentic version of the show's town. "The target audience factors into most every decision we make on a game—we have to be very familiar with what concepts players will already know coming into a game. On a game like South Park, our intended audience was ‘the South Park fan’ and while we could safely assume a lot of South Park fans are RPG gamers, the game has to be aimed at the entire venn diagram, not just the overlap that’s easiest to entertain. 

"South Park’s length is more a function of the story and humour than the demands of the audience, but certainly the game’s relatively modest difficulty was driven in part by [us being] conscious that it’s better to err on the hardcore gamers calling Stick of Truth too easy than to have a massive swaths of fans stop laughing because they’re dying over and over again."

Pillars of Eternity was made for a different crowd, one deeply familiar with the Infinity Engine era of RPGs from the late '90s and early '00s. It's fair to assume the player will be more patient when it comes to customisation, absorbing lore and strategic combat. "Whereas South Park had character creation simplified down to one choice (pick your class), Pillars opened with nearly a dozen classes, a bevy of races, attributes and skills to customise—this deluge of options was both acceptable for the target audience of Pillars and, based on Kickstarter input, many of them craved this level of detailed character customisation and would likely have found too much simplicity to be a bad thing."

Instead of thinking about hours invested, they considered the different ways you might spend that time. "Some players will read every line of text, examine every object, and take full advantage of a real-time-with-pause system to ponder their options, others skip every bit of reading allowable and with most folks resting somewhere between those extremes, estimating where the player will be after X number of hours only gets you so far," MacLean says. 

"Taken as a whole, it’s largely meaningless for us to think in terms of ‘hours in’ and most pacing is established by character level, quest completion, or some combination of the two."

Back to the start

Roguelikes, or games with roguelike elements, are repetitive by design. I love FTL, even though I've tackled the same intergalactic moral conundrums a bunch of times and memorised all the various ways they play out. With such light touch writing, though, I can blitz through them and focus on gathering a large crew and decent ship upgrades for the game's final battle. 

Presenting the same chunks of story over and over again can still be a test of the player's patience. In the roguelike narrative game Sunless Sea, permadeath meant repeating chunks of text-heavy scenarios. Alexis Kennedy, the game's creative director, is frank about that. "I think having long negative spaces between events in Sunless Sea made the game, but one thing I regret most, by a long way, is making players repeat content after permadeath. That was just me trying to make two different kinds of games at the same time. It’s not a mistake that I hope I’ll make again." It's something that Failbetter's promising-looking space-based follow-up, Sunless Skies, is looking to avoid. It's even mentioned in the game's Kickstarter pitch video

"FTL was one of my influences on Sunless Sea, but we didn’t do a lot of the things FTL did well. You might play five games, or you might settle down and have a dramatic game that lasts all evening. Cultist Simulator is something much more lightweight: something that you could play over evenings and evenings and get hundreds of hours of play out of it, but you can finish the game in the evening." 

Cultist Simulator is a narrative board game, the prototype of which you can download now. To avoid repetition, Kennedy is looking at including a legacy system similar to Sunless Sea, only with a few additions—that is, you play as a successive character each time, so there's a sense of continuity between playthroughs, but more random elements shape your protagonist so the game feels different from the start. 

Stop wasting my time!

I'm convinced that some of the success of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is down to the way it respects your time as a player. Games last around 20 or 30 minutes and the matchmaking is quick, making it the most concentrated and gratifying form of battle royale around. "I was actually thinking about that as well when I was making Cultist Simulator," Kennedy says. "The games are almost in no sense alike and they’re at the opposite ends of the market, but you know what you’re getting into. It’s not just that it’s something that takes up a short period of time—a lot of games are short and not interesting—it’s that at least I know how much time I’m going to have to invest in it." 

Any design decision that cuts out wasted time is a welcome one, no matter how granular a change that might seem. I was fascinated by the success of the Stop Wasting My Time mod for XCOM 2, which currently has over 240,000 subscribers on Steam Workshop and over 70,000 downloads on Nexus. Despite this unquestionably being one of the best strategy games of the last few years, the mod's popularity suggests many players were more than happy to cut out the pauses that occur between kills, going into cover and so on. 

"When the game was released, my very first mod was a simple config edit that increased soldiers' movement speed," says the mod's creator, Danny 'BlueRaja' Pflughoeft. "I liked that it saved time, but I quickly grew to hate how unnatural it made the animations. I realised what I really wanted was to reduce the lengthy pauses between actions, which would require more than a simple config edit. Thus, 'Stop Wasting My Time' was born." 

Pflughoeft wanted to preserve the natural pace of Firaxis's game, while still removing those little time-wasters that players found annoying. "In XCOM 2, most of the pauses are definitely deliberate. They're also important—if you play the game with no pauses at all, the game feels rushed and unfun. With 'Stop Wasting My Time', I tried very hard to strike the appropriate balance between 'time-wasting' and 'too rushed.' If I did it correctly, you shouldn't even notice the mod is enabled!"

I ask Pflughoeft if developers are conscious enough of players' time generally. "Definitely. In fact, the little pauses and time-wasters are a crucial element in many games to making rewards feel rewarding. Would Minecraft be as fun if every block broke instantly? Would Clash of Clans be as addictive if you didn't have to wait for things to build? Waiting can be so gratifying that games like Cookie Clicker spawned an entire genre of 'Idle Games', where waiting is the entire game!"

Not everything should be instantly satisfying. Games like Dark Souls are built on the idea of delayed gratification, which is backed up by world-class combat and environmental design. And developers are more conscious of how they use your time than ever, I think, because they have to be. That's apparent in better pacing at the start of modern blockbusters, shorter forms of games and more generous use of checkpoints—they know the fight is on for your time, not just your money. 

"I do think that every game dev who’s responsible for checkpoints should be forced to spend a year raising a child," Kennedy says. "Sometimes you don’t have any option but to put the controller down. I think there are strong reasons to prevent someone from pausing or saving, but those reasons are sometimes overwritten because the real world has children, fires and grocery deliveries."

Additional interview quotes supplied by Joe Donnelly. 

...

Search news
Archive
2017
Aug   Jul   Jun   May   Apr   Mar  
Feb   Jan  
Archives By Year
2017   2016   2015   2014   2013  
2012   2011   2010   2009   2008  
2007   2006   2005   2004   2003  
2002