Here it is. The last of what I loved in 2018. As always, this list is limited to stuff that I played, and I don’t usually jump on games at release unless I have a really good reason. If I overlooked your favorite game, it’s not a snub. I’m just one guy and I have the same number of hours in my day that you do.
Here we go:
I guess if I didn’t call this the Year of Good News I could have called it The Year I Played a Bunch of Driving Games With Neon Lights and Music.
What a fascinating game. I’ve actually been playing this on and off since early 2016. But the game finally exited early access and hit version 1.0 in September of this year.
To be honest, I picked up Antigraviator because I was hoping for the lightning to strike twice. I hoped it was going to be like Distance. It wasn’t, and the two games make for an interesting comparison.
In Distance, the designer creates a sense of speed by having lots of parallax between nearby objects and distant ones. Roads usually have things like street lights and archways attached to them. This provides a contrast with distant scenery and creates a sense of speed.
Imagine driving over an open plain where the only landmarks are on the horizon. Even if you’re going a hundred miles an hour, it will probably feel slow because those distant objects are barely moving. But if you’ve got telephone poles and picket fences beside the road then they’ll rush by in a blur, creating a sense of speed. Distance used this roadside clutter to give the player a feeling of scale and motion. Antigraviator had you driving on extremely wide roads without much in the way of familiar objects, which means that even high speeds would feel slow. The designers compensated by ramping up the speed to ridiculous levels, making it barely playable. This means that Distance felt faster even though your speeds were overall slowerAssuming the vehicles in both titles are roughly car-sized..
In Distance, the traps and hazards stood out against the scenery. The roads might be covered in buzz saws, grinders, and lasers, but those objects popped. They were usually glowing against a dark background. In bases where the road surface itself was glowing, the hazards were given a contrasting color. In Antigraviator, the track is a tangle of pulsing lights and bloom that obscure the hazards until you’re caught in them.
In Distance, you’re usually traveling on a road with a definite endpoint. The road might wind and twist a bit, but you can usually see things coming ahead of time. In Antigraviator, the track constantly loops back on itself so that you lose all sense of place and direction. The whole thing is just a blur of hairpin turns.
I’m sorry to dump on Antigraviator again. My goal here isn’t to heap shame on the hard working indies that made it, but to point out how good Distance is. Distance makes the hard stuff look easy. If I hadn’t played Antigraviator, I wouldn’t have realized just how many tricky problems Distance solved.
Distance is less about running races against AI, and instead is about completing obstacle courses and time trials. You can race against friends or against a ghost of a previous run you’ve completed. Since racing games have generally been garbage about opponent AI, this seems like a better system for pushing the player to improve and refine their performance. The presence of rubber band AI in driving games is usually pretty harmful to the experience for me. If you’re ahead then you know the AI is cheating. This means that when you do eventually win, it feels like the AI let you win. You get the frustration of defeat without the thrill of victory. There’s nothing more fair than racing against an exact re-creation of your own driving. As a bonus, it nicely gives you a challenge perfectly suited to your skill level without the AI needing to fudge things one way or the other.
I realize you can’t do this for real-world settings or simulationist-minded games. I don’t think fans would appreciate a Grand Prix or NASCAR game where you race against the clock without any opponents, but for a fantastical sci-fi setting I think it makes sense and makes for more interesting challenges.
On top of all of this is the editor. The game ships with a full-featured edit mode that gives you all the same features the developers had. You have access to environment building, lighting, track layout, the particle engine, and countless other features. It’s fantastic. I’ve probably spent just as much time building maps as racing them.
For the record, I have no idea how we’re supposed to pronounce this. A typical western anglophone will probably pronounce it to rhyme with “Chris”, but I’ve also heard various people call it “greeze”, “gree”, and “greese”. Since this is a game with no spoken dialog, there’s no way for us to know what the developer intended. Maybe some people will look online and discover that the developer is from Barcelona, and maybe some of those people will know enough about Spanish to intuit the intended pronunciation, but l imagine most people will mangle the name the way they mangled DOOSE ECKS back in 2000To be fair, Deus Ex actually had a pronunciation guide inside the CD case. Having never studied Latin, this is where I learned how to not make a fool of myself when saying “Deus Ex” out loud..
“Gris” is actually Spanish for “gray”, which makes quite a bit of sense since so much of the game is spent returning color to the world.
I can’t stand 2D platformers. I’m not sure why. I just don’t get any pleasure from performing a successful series of hops. At the same time, I get really annoyed when I fumble a jump and fall, losing a bunch of progress along the way. Platformers don’t stimulate the reward center of my brain, but they do activate the annoyance regionTo be fair, that’s a pretty big region in my brain.. So the gameplay is all downside. It’s like eating something with no flavor and tons of calories.
And yet, Gris was able to overcome my overwhelming bias against it.
A lot of platformers are built on some kind of discernable grid. In your typical Mario-style platformer the grid is designed to be obvious. Other games hide the grid in artistic sense by blending tiles together and visually rounding them off, but the player can still tell that underneath the textures is a play area that can be depicted on graph paper. Gris is different in the sense that the environments feel incredibly organic. This can make the game more interesting to look at, but there’s a risk of losing perceivable consequence. The player can find themselves looking at a large-ish gap and asking themselves, “Can I make that jump? I can’t tell. Is this where I’m supposed to be going?” That’s fine if you’re trying to make a punishing gauntlet where a player needs to fail a jump 5 times before they’ve proven to themselves that this gap is 4 pixels too wide and they need to look elsewhere for progress. But if you’re trying to make a low-stress experience then it’s easier and safer to go for the clarity of a grid.
Yet somehow Gris gets away with this. You’re often platforming on curved surfaces or irregular shapes, and yet I was rarely confused about where I was supposed to be going and what the game expected of me. I suppose it helps that this game is more about solving puzzles than completing jumps.
The central appeal of this game is in the art: the scenery, the music, and most of all the animation. This game is a sensory feast. Dan of New Frame+ gave the game a mention in his end-of-year video, but I’m hoping he’ll turn his animator’s eye to Gris in 2019 and talk about how this game looks in motion. There are dozens of little details in how your character moves, how her dress flows, and how her body language is used to tell us about her without the game ever needing to have a single spoken or written word. This game communicates entirely through its visuals, and yet I was never frustrated or confused about what I was doing, what the game expected of me, or why I should care.
This game is a masterwork. It does so much with so little. In the first ten minutes it got me to care about the protagonist and her struggle. Shadow of the Tomb Raider didn’t manage to accomplish that in the hours of mo-capped, voiced acted exposition and dialog it had me sit through. Gris demonstrates that if you want to make a compelling and emotionally impactful game, then you don’t need millions of dollars of equipment. You need to understand your tools and the medium you’re working in.
2. Prey Mooncrash
At the risk of repeating what I said at the Escapist, I loved Mooncrash, the DLC expansion for 2017’s Prey. I’ve wanted this game for ages. Over a decade ago, I toyed with the idea of trying to make something like this. I’d played System Shock 2 to the point where I had the world memorized, and all I wanted was a way to crawl through the starship Von Braun with the contents re-arranged. I wanted to make the experience more random and varied so I could keep playing.
Prey was my top game last year, and I wasn’t expecting to see anything else from this genre for a long time. But here we are. Mooncrash tells a story largely disconnected from the core game. The designers took the same mechanics and art assets and used them to make something really different and surprising.
The immersive sim has always been a challenging kind of game to develop and it’s never sold particularly well. And now we have a AAA studio making a roguelike based on an immersive sim. That’s a niche genre inside a niche genre.
In Mooncrash, your task is to take control of five different people on the moonbase to help them complete their individual story missions and escape. Each character has their own agenda and their own skills. One is good at fixing things. Another can hack computer systems. Another excels at combat. When one character dies or escapes, you pick another one. The trick is that the world is persistent from one character to the next. You can have one character stash supplies for another to find, or open doors so that later characters can pass. Once everyone is accounted for – once everyone is dead or successfully escapes – the world resets and you can have another go.
Your characters retain their skill points between runs and you’ll gradually unlock more powerful gear for them to start with, but each iteration of the world is a little different. Sometimes a facility will be on fire. Sometimes you’ll have to face radiation hazards. Or electrical hazards. Power outages. Broken and locked doors. Different monsters. Different loot. The world keeps changing.
I’d love to see an idea like Mooncrash spun off into a stand-alone title. I know it takes a lot of money to create all those cutscenes and the huge cast of characters we saw in Prey. I don’t know anything about the financials of the developer, but I have to assume that an experience like Mooncrash is a lot cheaper to develop. Even if it was scaled up to the scope of the core game, the smaller cast, the lack of cutscenes and the lack of a strong overarching narrative means it ought to be quite a bit cheaper to develop. I’d be more than happy to settle for a less ambitious story if it meant we could get some more immersive sim in our gaming diet. I appreciate the narrative stuff Prey did, but I’m really here for the mechanics.
You saw this coming. I know. Insomniac made a game with my favorite superhero and my favorite traversal system paired with a rough knockoff of my favorite brawling system. It’s not exactly shocking that it wound up being my game of the year.
I’m already in the middle of a long form retrospective on the game, so there’s not much I can say here without repeating myself or spoiling future entries. It’s gorgeous. It’s fun. It respects the source material. It doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The only major gripe I have with the game is that it really needed to come out on other systems. It’s a tragedy that something this good is exclusive to a single platform.
So that’s it for 2018. Onward!
 Assuming the vehicles in both titles are roughly car-sized.
 To be fair, Deus Ex actually had a pronunciation guide inside the CD case. Having never studied Latin, this is where I learned how to not make a fool of myself when saying “Deus Ex” out loud.
 To be fair, that’s a pretty big region in my brain.
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124 thoughts on “Dénouement 2018: The Best Stuff”
Anyone who would like to try Distance, but can’t afford it right now: Try the game that the team made first, Nitronic Rush. Less polish, but the price is right and there is actually quite a bit of content.
Yeah I guess the pronunciation of Gris can be challenging for a non-Spanish speaker. Just do Grease, like the movie. The good one. Try not to roll the r too much if you can manage it.
I liked this list. Only one thing seems missing: other people. All your games this year seem to be single player. Do you play with others? Not necessarily multiplayer. I’m talking about sharing the pad when web-slinging. Or was it all by yourself?
I’ve got a two year old and we have started doing some very basic videogames together (currently Chuchel). So things that can be shared with others now are suddenly important to me.
I used to study Spanish and so I was trying to figure out of being made in Barcelona meant it would be more like “greeth”. But apparently the Castilian ‘Lisp’ isn’t present in Barcelona specifically so I was too clever by half. So this is surprisingly complicated even if you do know some things. :)
There’s no link in your link tag!
I dunno how that happened. In case this one doesn’t work, it was just the Wikipedia page on “Phonological history of Spanish Coronel fricatives”: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonological_history_of_Spanish_coronal_fricatives#Castilian_'lisp‘
The lisp is also only used on the letter “c” and “z” when pronounced like “s”. So “Barcelona” is pronounced “Barthelona” in “Castellano” (not “Cathtellano”, because it’s an “s”.) Once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature.
I learned Latin American Spanish from 1st through 12th grade, but one of my college professors was Castillian, so I learned to speak with the Castillian accent.
And yeah, it’s pronounced liked “grease” (rhymes with geese) with a SLIGHT roll of your “r”
I think Gris is French, so it’s pronounced gree. I *think*, but my French is abysmal.
You are correct, it’s also French for grey, and pronounced as you said.
Sure. But Barcelona is not in France.
Dang it, Rome. Why you gotta rule the world two millennia ago?
Only an American would be utterly confused about how to pronounce as trivially common word that exists in one form or another on all languages that came from Europe. You don’t even learn how to read/write phonetics any more as I had to when I was a kid.
Just google it and press the loudspeaker icon.
The only question here is whether this is Spanish of French, because both have that word. Assuming it’s in the language the developers speak is most likely a safe bet.
“Only an American”
And Indians. And Asians. Africans.
“would be confused”
Why would you expect ANYONE to know how to pronounce words from another language? We’ve all been exposed to other languages enough to know that our familiar rules don’t apply. Are you suggesting that everyone outside of the USA is walking around with a complete working understanding of the phonetics of all languages with a shared alphabet? Or are you just engaging in a little recreational America-bashing?
Although yes, I could have used Google translate’s audio feature. I actually forogt it existed and I’m not sure how reliable it is.
I mean… kdansky is being a bit of an asshole here, but there’s something to what he’s saying. AFAIK, about 20% of Americans speak a foreign language. Compare that to 38% of British citizens or over 80% for working-age EU citizens. Hell, in Russia we study at least one foreign language in addition to English. I think it’s fair to say that, on average, Americans have lower awareness of foreign languages than many other nations. Now, this is completely understandable given that English dominates the world and particularly the world of pop culture. It’s not anyone’s fault or an indication of some special brand of willful ignorance displayed by Americans.
That said, I can see how a lot of people from non-English countries can get annoyed by that. People in most countries at least know some English in addition to their native tongue. It’s expected these days. So seeing Americans get by perfectly well without even taking an interest in other languages can be frustrating for some, I imagine.
90% of the non-English bi-lingual speakers speak English as their second language. Not because English is fascinating or because US culture is so refined, but because its business.
And there are hundreds of other languages. Let’s say I spoke, say, Russian. Then people would still ‘get annoyed’ because ‘I didn’t bother’ to learn *their* language.
And all of them would have trouble with words like huachuca or quechan. English speakers in the US – a country larger than all of Europe (let alone adding non-Quebec Canada and Australia in) simply aren’t going to be exposed to these languages regularly.
And even where I live, where Mexican Spanish is a first language for half the population, there are significant differences in pronunciation and dialect between that an Spanish as spoken in Spain. And that’s not counting that ‘gris’ is pronounced one way in Spanish but a completely different way in French – and spelled the same in both.
I have to admit that I went to the French pronunciation first, but I chalk that up to my language studies being three years of French and one quarter of Spanish.
I’m English and also assumed the French pronunciation was correct, not realising it was made by a Spanish dev team.
You should check out how many Chinese people speak any non-Chinese language, and how many Japanese people speak another language.
Multilingualism is very uncommon in global hegemonies.
China, I feel, isn’t such a good example, given it’s pretty closed off from the rest of the world in many ways. It’s not exactly encouraged. Don’t have a counter for Japan. And I don’t exactly disagree – Americans’ approach to language and culture is primarily a result of the countries dominance in world affairs, economy and culture. Like I said, it’s not anyone’s fault, really. But the whole hegemony thing is also why people in a lot of other countries who feel a pressing need to learn other languages can be a bit salty about the whole situatuon.
It’s not just cultural dominance.
The United States is twice the size of the entire European continent; Canada is even larger. So you have an area of land more than four times the size of Europe wherein a single language is spoken almost universally. There is just no good reason for people living in that area to learn another language.
Europe’s cultural and linguistic diversity is actually somewhat unusual.
Pretty much the normal development has been towards more language diversity.
Europe has had multiple competing nations for centuries (one or another way) none of which could absolutely overpower all other to the degree necessary to make themselves the cultural and lingual hub of the continent. Many learned (and languages were influenced by) latin due to roman influence, but it never became a lingua franca to the degree that English is.
Africa has not exactly been a unified continent as well. It hosted a multitude of languages and many Africans I have met could only talk to each other in their respective colonizer’s language despite originating from the same village. They still knew their native african tongue, but it was no use, as they seem to have been very fragmented.
Wikipedia shows no less than 7 language families home to africa.
Similarly Asia: Even dismissing subfamilies leaves the continent with no less than 15 language families again. China itself is mostly united by its writing, mostly thanks to a Qin emperor (the one who was represented in the Jet Li movie “Hero”) who unified the writing (and possibly the language?) of his realm, and even today there are are still 9 different branches of Chinese (of which I heard said from linguists they were way more different than just a different accent or dialect).
Latin America today may look very differently due to having been colonized by only few peoples (and even then it houses 5 different colonial languages), but before that there were multiple indigenous languages, Wiki shows at least 9 families of even contemporary indigenous languages. I wonder how many more might have been eradicated by colonization.
Leaving Australia, home to 300+ aboriginal languages and North America, home to (according to Wikipedia) 296 still spoken indigenous languages.
Everyone communicates in English, sure, but not because it’s natural for everyone to speak it, but because there is no other way of handling oneself in overly fragmented societies unless there exist parallel societies with enough members to provide for themselves in most matters to relieve them from having to communicate in other languages too much.
So…no, Europe’s linguistic diversity actually IS the norm worldwide and is, I’d say, only disturbed by people forcibly invading other regions, subduing the population and insisting on being adressed in the imperial language.
What Scampi said, but also: the United States is absolutely not twice as big as the European continent. The United States is 9,833,000 square kilometers while Europe is 10,180,000 square kilometers. Same goes for population.
You’re right, I got my density numbers crossed. The US has half the population on the same amount of land, not the same population on twice as much land. That’s still an area twice the size of Europe with one singular language.
I mean, you could learn some form of Chinese as your second language based on the logic that it is spoken by the most people in the world. And then you still wouldn’t know how to pronounce Gris. It’s just not a good argument.
38% of British citizens?! Now that is very surprisingly high. I’d have guessed less than 10% (I’m British, and know only school French and German).
It does seem somewhat surprising that (United States of) Americans would have less exposure and propensity to knowledge of European languages such as French and Spanish – being comprised of such a multitude of Europeans, and bordering two countries that speak Spanish and French as national languages. I’d have thought we monolingual Brits would be far ‘worse’.
Spanish is the most popular foreign language in the States, both because of the large number of bilingual families and recent immigrants from South America and because it makes quite alot of sensd in terms of business and convenience in the Southern states. French, I think, is second most popular, although I’m not sure. But, again, it’s not exactly being learned by the people whose ancestors came from France and Spain in colonial times. Modern convenience is the name of the game when it comes to learning languages.
Spanish is known by a large number of people in the US – its just that they’re concentrated mostly near the border with Mexico and in Southern California with (for Mexican Spanish) with other areas containing Cuban (Florida) and Puerto Ricans (Puerto Rico – obviously – and the NE US).
As for French – outside Creole (which is spoken only by a tiny, tiny number of people around Louisiana) you have a single Canadian state (Quebec) that speaks French (and not even exclusively) while the rest of that nation speaks English. You could just as well ask why Portuguese isn’t more common inside the US.
Brits are never more than 600 miles (from the tippy-top of Scottland) from France. I live 2000 miles from Quebec and there’s still another 300 miles further before you get to the end of the US.
And its not that Americans don’t speak two languages. Its what you mean when you say ‘Americans’. We have tons of people that speak a second language – Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Hindi, Bengali, etc. Or what you mean when you say ‘speak another language’. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a Spanish speaker, but I’m fluent enough to get by and get basic business done. And I’m nearly as poorly versed in French, Italian, and Japanese. I couldn’t hold a conversation with you in those languages, but I could live comfortably in those countries – and have.
Hehe never mind France, I’ve never lived more than 50 miles from Wales and yet I still find myself thinking the people on the train are speaking an Eastern European language, and in one case theorised Hebrew.
Whenever I’ve been to France or Germany I’ve barely had the chance to use any of either language – reached the hotel in Berlin (yes, I know, not the best example of a place not likely to use English), and after a bit of struggling to understand the receptionist he asked if we spoke English.
I’m definitely not convinced that 38% of Brits are anywhere near fluent in a second language! Even if we assume all of the ‘immigrant’ population and descendants, expats and resident foreign nationals, and Welsh, I’m sure it would be less than 15%, there just isn’t the need or exposure in most communities for languages to be known beyond recreational learning of another language. Unless the school French/German(/Latin/Spanish) counts.
I realise that any generalisation about such a large country (US) would be ridiculous in some respects, I just imagined it to be (on average) somewhat diverse in its population of (fairly) recent European immigrants with cultural and language ties to their European origins, and (even more recent/current) migrant/worker population from the rest of North America and South America.
(Whereas my assumption about say Australia, would be that such diversity would be far less)
Maybe I watch too many programmes based in New York. I guess one might assume much the same if one visited London. Whereas even the next largest main cities of the country are absolutely nothing like as ‘diverse’ or ‘multicultural’ in that way, even if their % immigrant population is just as high.
Edit: Okay looking at a map maybe it’s 70 miles haha (re: Wales)
I do not wish to endorse America bashing but significant portions of both Africa and Asia were subject to French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese conquest… so they’re pretty familiar with the Romance languages thanks to somewhat less than romantic circumstances.
Bad example is all I’m saying.
Familiar enough to know how to pronounce this word? :P
Algerians would be.
Weren’t most of the colonies in those regions French? If so, they’d have gone for the wrong pronunciation. Portuguese might hew more closely to the Spanish.
It looks french, and in french a final s is generally silent. Turns out this is actually probably the spanish pronunciation though, where it sounds more like ‘grease’.
In any event, it’s puzzling that you’d take the time to write what you did, instead of just googling how to pronounce it (or just leave it out the musing entirely).
My guess is the opener was a subtle self-deprecating joke on Shamus’ part. Jim Sterling did something similar in his video on Gris, though he settled on the French pronunciation if I remember correctly.
Perhaps he meant “Only an American would be confused”, because of your (on average) high likelihood of exposure to a multitude of European languages, within and bordering the USA, leading to inevitable confusion by knowing too many options for how it could be pronounced :)
Not an insult, but a recognition of superior knowledge of potential pronunciations!
I don’t think being confused on the pronunciation of a word not in your native language is “only an American” problem. Do you think everyone in the world, except Americans, has an intuitive grasp of European language phonetics, or maybe that’s just the Europeans.
Plus , formalized post-nationalism Romance languages do not make up “Europe”, either. The majority of the Continent is filled with two branches of Germanic, Slavic, and several other language families.
I’ve studie several foreign languages, and I wouldn’t just randomly assume this was intended to be Spanish without some context. I would have thought of French first, and more Americans would likely pronounce it with “non-textbook” Spanish accent because they’re more familiar with that, say, the Barcelonan accent.
As a heads-up in case you aren’t a native American English speaker: the connotation of the word ‘trivial’ lands somewhere between patronizing and a direct insult. It’s extreme enough that we were told never to use the word in front of a classroom during my teaching assistant training.
The same can be said of using the adverb ‘utterly’ in reference to people who are not you.
That may be a generational thing – people my age (late 40’s) wouldn’t consider ‘trivial’ to be either insulting or patronizing except in a very narrow set of uses. All of which would be when you’re deliberately trying to be insulting or patronizing.
Not even after someone’s admitted they couldn’t do the thing being called trivial?
I speak English natively, and really broken Ukrainian. Even if I was fluent in Ukrainian, it wouldn’t help with Gris, because it’s a very different word (transliterated into English, it would be “see-ray” but spoken fluidly, not a break in the middle). If I’d learned Russian, it again wouldn’t have helped (many eastern European languages are similar for simple words). Google translate tells me that my Norwegian ancestry wouldn’t have helped either, since it’s more like “grah”.
As for using the phonetics in Google translate – that doesn’t appear to be an option. Maybe it only works on phones right now? It doesn’t appear when I use my desktop on my lunch break.
I had 6 years of Latin, I kind-of speak (about) 4 European languages (not counting Latin, as it’s not a spoken language), just learning number 5. I did not know how what pronounciation was intended — judging by the artsy style, I was going for French (“gree”) but in Spanish the “s” would be audible and the “r” on the tip of your tongue, except Barcelona is Katalan and has it’s own local dialect (which is kind-of between French and Spanish but not really), so …
Yeah, not something you’d expect someone to know who doesn’t even live in Europe and whose mother tongue may be heavily influenced by Latin but is ultimately more Germanic than Roman.
Fun fact: German has a homophone to the Spanish “gris”, which means something entirely different :)
English here and I would have assumed it rhymed with Chris
I’m only two hours into Prey Mooncrash, and I am already loving it. Not only is it a return to the amazing Prey gameplay, and not only is it just more… But the possibilities and the unknown and the lack of being able to save-scum so you have to stick with your mistakes are just so exciting. I already had some of the most memorable experiences with the game just messing about in those two hours trying to figure everything out.
Lots of people seemingly were dismayed that it wasn’t a traditional expansion story which is a shame, because this is something truly innovative for the genre as a whole, and it really encourages you to experiment even more with the characters since you can’t be a jack of all trades/OP typhon master or whatever now, you now get to try out the other branches that you didn’t try in your first (and for most, only… not everyone has time to replay a game 4 times to try out all the different skill trees) playthrough of Prey.
I am already cherishing the moment when I aggro’d the moon shark and put me down to such a low health that I couldn’t jump without bleeding out, so I really had to be super careful and live with my mistakes. Or when I accidentally let out those typhons because I’m an idiot and thought they would maybe attack something else, but OH GOD THEY SAW ME OH SHIT OH SHIT….
Or that time I threw up an explosive canister and shot it in mid-air to destroy that robot chasing after me. That was pretty cool.
I need a machine that can play Mooncrash. :S
Well, your glowing “review” of Gris and mooncrash got me interested enough, I’ll buy them tonight.
I believe that should be the other way around: “If you’re behind then you know the AI is cheating.”
Actually, I don’t think a real-world setting would be at odds with a time-trial / self-race mode. In a few more years, we’ll probably have high-speed, card-chasing camera-drones, that follow racers as they practice on courses. Then the racer can either race again, with their car’s HUD showing a ghost of their previous race, or they can race again in a simulator, if track-time is expensive. Even without fancy new technology, I’m certain that racers (or their coaches / co-pilots) would keep track of their lap times, so that they can train their skills. Videogames doing the exact same things feels totally reasonable to me.
Rubber band AI means that the AI will catch up when you’re ahead, and deliberately fail when you’re behind. So if you’re ahead, then it’s cheating to catch up.
I haven’t had time to play much of it, but for what it’s worth The Persistence on PSVR is another very System Shock-ish roguelike.
It’s a shame that we’re in 2019 and developers seem to keep being entirely unable to solve the problem of rubberbanding AI in racing games. Sure, all other games have the AI “cheat” here and there, but they don’t make it obvious (well, except for those collectible card games, like “Yu-Gi-Oh!”).
It’s always a complete immersion breaking and a fun killer when you realize the AI is cheating, whether it’s in your favor or not. You’re playing a stealth game, an enemy sees you and somehow everyone instantly knows exactly where you are. Or, they all see a growing pile of bodies and rather than call for backup they all go to investigate the corner one by one without even bothering to check for obvious hiding places.
But those games generally have other places where AI acts in what’s perceived as a normal way, or other gameplay mechanics that don’t depend on AI so much. Racing games have nothing else. It’s either the AI going ahead of you or behind you, and its tricks become evident very soon. It’s just so irritating.
Why does this happen? Admittedly I know very little about AI design or programming, but I’d have thought it would be relatively easy to design AI for a racing game compared to – for instance – a shooter or strategy game. Shouldn’t it be reasonably simple to make the cars follow the ‘perfect’ route around the track, and just tone it down from there to give the player a chance?
The problem is that the developer generally doesn’t want the race to be a landslide victory or loss so they will design the AI to have unfair advantages when behind, and suck when ahead. This results in, win or lose, close results.
To be fair it generally IS boring to be hopelessly far behind or to walk the motions of a race already won.
Proposed solution: The AI doesn’t get better or worse, but every racer’s progress is actively tracked gameshow deathrace style. The track gets actively more dickish to anyone who builds a big lead and gives better items to players far behind.
Why it’s good: The pro first player has something to contend with that shouldn’t feel as sucky… Hopefully.
That’s still rubber-banding, just at a higher level, rather than the immediate speed at which cars are driving and taking corners. So, I don’t think it would be any more satisfying, if you only have lots of rocket-launchers, because you lost a few races. Players already complain about this in the modern Mario Karts (e.g. last-place gets more blue-shells), so that’s my proof. In fact I think most of the time, players value fair over close, regardless of genre. I’ve seen complaints from people (or made them myself) about RPGs, RTSs, and even stealth games, that had some kind of rubber-banding or auto-leveling.
A better solution needs to abandon the idea that a close race is more satisfying than a fair race. Older games already had a good solution, which is to have AI that acts in a predictable way, based on a “difficulty” slider, or the type of tournament (e.g. “rookie league”, or “bronze”, “silver”, “superstar”, or the “CC” ratings in Mario Kart games). If the player wins by a wide margin, they can quit the race early, and increase the level they’re playing on, or the game can detect this, and end the race early (and just use the other players’ current positions). Races can also end after the top X racers finish; For example, if 1st place gets $10000, 2nd $5000, 3rd $3000, 4th $1000, then the race can end after 4th-place finishes. In this way, players who are badly behind won’t lose much time, and can restart the race again quickly, or change to a different difficulty.
Having played races with no inherent catchup mechanic… no. Vast distance with no reasonable chance to close SUCKS. Not just sucks, but BLOWS EGGWATER. Like actually worse than rubberbanding, because as the one ahead absolutely nothing you’re doing is mentally stimulating, and from the far behind it’s the same except also having your failure rubbed in your face for minutes at a time.
Why is the track being less kind based on lead distance better? The pro actually CAN build distance if they’re good enough. They just have to work at it. Similarly catchup can still happen but must be earned as opposed to being inevitable as gravity.
Some games let you turn rubberbanding off (Need For Speed: Carbon, in my experience). I wish more games let you explicitly turn it off like that. Even Mario Kart has a noticeable skill gap despite rubberbanding at every CC level (with a little more weighted to letting the player win at lower levels); watching glitchless speedruns cured me of my former claim that it’s too random. I understand the reasoning that sees rubberbanding as a problem in itself, but I don’t experience it, and I don’t think the majority of people experience it as a problem. Devs have data on it one way or the other, and they seem to consistently choose rubber banding.
For some of us, a close race is more satisfying than a fair race. In theory a fair race would be more satisfying; in practice, some don’t care enough to develop that skill. And rubber banding lets those people have fun without caring about skill. Such people may be filthy casuals. Alas, devs (or publishers; whatever) seem to think there are enough filthy masses to cater to.
Thing is, in a competitive game, if the newbie doesn’t have a fun environment to build skill they’ll drop it and never GET good. You also can’t really demand that people spend a lot of time in single player for a game marketed almost exclusively on it’s competitive aspect. And let’s not pretend the sort of person who will put the work in without the positive learning environment are the majority or even common. You’re not going to find a dark souls brand racer successful. That’s like ketchup and ice cream.
Rubber-banding is an AI driver thing; the kind of thing where you knock an AI driver halfway back down the track and they boost for the entire rest of the race and still win. If you’re playing against other people you won’t experience it. (The item variant usually isn’t enough to change the outcome of the race, and if it is, that becomes a strategy that all players can employ.)
You can rubber band player vehicle speed. I don’t know if it’s done or not, but in principle it could be.
I doubt any game does that. It would become really obvious once one player started driving the wrong way on the track to cause head-on collisions.
Yes, all players can cheese the item-variant of rubber-banding. NorthernLion and friends recently did this in a Mario Kart game, where they’d sit back in last place for the first lap, then get lots of blue shells and Bullet Bills, and jumped to first place and won.
If new players are getting built-in cheats to win the game, how are they building any skill at all? Their mistakes will be masked by the cheats, so I don’t understand how they’re supposed to learn, from something that’s being hidden from them (the mistakes).
Having artificial assistance does not completely preclude the development of skill. I assume that’s why people use training wheels on bikes (I “assume” because my dad didn’t see the point of the things; he was more in the “how are they building skill?” camp, so I guess I don’t speak from experience).
Same as anyone really. Do you think people are stupid enough not to notice that plowing into a wall is a failstate even if it’s not individually game losing? You lose all momentum, get to see a few people zoom past you, and visibly see your place tracker in suboptimal position for a while.
The fact of the matter is that training wheels in no way prevent someone from learning the basics of riding a bike, and you shouldn’t take them off and ride downhill when you’ve never even been on one.
Training-wheels are an effect for the one person (just like competing against easier AI modes, in single-player); What you are advocating, is for rookies to compete against experts. Real-life sports have different leagues. E-sports have leagues, and also auto-match players against similar skill-levels. Why are those solutions not useful, for racing games? Is the player base too small?
When the players are a group of friends/co-workers, some of whom own the game and only one of whom plays online, a small player base is a great way of describing the issue that leads to rubber banding.
NO PLAYER BASE save the most optimistic nonsense is big enough to work based on splitting everything into drastically different leagues. Not when the expected game size is eight to twelve, and the game is targeted at friends.
If the game is expected to be played among friends with very small groups, why is rubber-banding (or any automatic cheating) needed at all? If it’s in the game (and known about), the less experienced players are robbed of satisfaction in victories, because they had cheats given to them by the game. If there is no built-in cheat mechanics, the more experienced player(s) can play a friendly game, and help teach their friends how to play.
“the less experienced players are robbed of satisfaction in victories”
That simply doesn’t match my experience in those situations. Casual gaming, in my experience, is more damaged by Stop Having Fun Guy who either plays his best and always wins or intentionally under-performs, presumably less fun for him. Rubber banding lets everyone play to the best of their ability while the computer artificially makes the race closer. It might be less satisfying (again, not in my experience as occasionally the newbie and less occasionally the expert), but it lets everyone play with their highest skill. In my mind, the experience of playing at highest skill and usually getting rewarded for it is more valuable than playing at highest skill and either always or never winning unless skill level is very close (which, given the small player pool of the casual gaming party, is a rare thing).
“You’re not going to find a dark souls brand racer successful.”
I love the idea of a Dark Souls racer. It’s this dreary post-apocalyptic world where your character has to trade their own blood for gasoline. It’s a cross-country race and the track is filled with sudden pits and spikes. There’s no map to tell you which routes are good and which ones lead to a dead end. After hours of practice and experimentation, they player finally overcomes their adversaries and wins the race. Then at the end it’s revealed that the prize for first place is to be beheaded and have your head placed on the Champion’s Spike.
Don’t forget that just when you think you’re going to get through this particularly difficult stretch the multiplayer mechanics kick in spawning in a “raider car” driven by another player who has not stake in the game other than to drive you off the road.
And the ability of other players, who’ve beaten the game, to place messages on the track from you to find.
Like arrows pointing the wrong way, or ‘LOOK OUT FOR THE SPIKE PIT’ at the bottom of a spike pit you’ve just fallen down.
And that’s exactly why it wouldn’t work. Racers trend inherently casual, inviting, large player group experience. They NEED that. No racer is meant to play alone.
Dark Souls, whatever your opinion on it, functions perfectly fine at its stated goals of deeply immersive, and atmospheric depressing struggle if you play alone. In fact it could be argued loneliness furthers the tonal goal.
Dark Souls: Prepare to Drive
The expansion could be Chosen of the Checkered Flag.
You’re thinking of the second game in the series. The expansion to the original Kart Souls* was called Cartorias of the A56 (between Runcorn and Cheshire)
* it’s a retcon, sue me
Dark Souls Perpare to Kart Edition starts off with 4 main racers, but then the one in fourth (last) place spawns more karts infinitely until there are more Karts than anybody knows what to do with and the lead drivers don’t even know if they are in front anymore. Most of the top Karts drive for Gwyn Electricals. The only solution is to continuously burn rubber until you cut your time by erasing time itself and all trace of the track that once was is no more and everything is left in the dust.
How did you feel about the Oilborne variant of the series? Mechanically, I liked the ability to regain speed lost in a bump-up if you’re able to bump the other car back, even if it doesn’t make sense. However, I just couldn’t get behind the aesthetic choice of making all the vehicles horseless carriages.
My go-to game for rubberbanding AI is F-Zero on the SNES. There were four cars, with differing performance profiles, and if you had the fastest car and could wrestle it around the track at top speed the whole way… the car with a top speed ~10% slower was still riding your rear bumper. A late race accident could leave you with a record time… but third or fourth place.
Worse, it destroys the illusion that it’s a fair competition because it’s obvious that the computer is playing with a completely different set of rules
Actually, destructible obstacles could do that; something that disappears once a car hits it, so the front guy has to dodge everything and then the last guy has to dodge, like, one obstacle that was too far out of the way for anyone else to run into. Then reset them every lap or something.
This seems like it would be a pretty good mechanic. Worse players get directly helped by the better players crushing obstacles, and it’s also a gentle incentive, to follow the race path of the better players. In theory, that should help them identify how to take turns better, or where shortcuts are, etc.
And you can take it a step further. Actively harmful obstacles that turn off say… five to ten seconds after first place passes? If the game is close the help is minimally impactful such that no one can say it shifted outcome too much, but if there is a brutally commanding lead it becomes very significant.
Just make sure there IS a method of dodging the thing without losing too much speed so that it feels better than speed rubberbanding.
An example of something similar in a game that actually exists is speedrunners. If a person in last gets too far behind they’re eliminated from the round. If the round goes too long viewable screenspace, and this allowance distance shrink. Why important? The less skilled player isn’t eliminated unless they actively screw up or the guy in first does something IMPRESSIVE. The impasse breaker still favors people with experience because they know the tracks.
Mainly because coding an AI that could race properly is effectively an academic/research level task. Like you’d be doing real academic work in AI research in getting it to run but not run too well that its impossible to beat because its perfect but not easy to beat because its not perfect enough and able to adjust to thousands of different player capabilities where it provides a challenge but it isn’t obvious that its not trying too hard.
Easier and cheaper to rubberband.
Lots of games have the same extent of AI cheating. All shooter AI cheats to let you win – it’s easier to write an enemy AI that headshots you instantly than to write one that normally misses.
Equally, an AI pulling off an infinite juggle in a fighter is pretty easy. RPG enemies could focus your healer (which they rarely do), MMORPG enemies could ignore the tank.
Racing’s problem is it was a lot more obvious when it cheated. Now I suspect that people blame rubberbanding even if the game doesn’t do it. There are plenty of realistic racers with time trials, and ghosts and focus on realistic driving AI. Forza has one that tries to mimic real players who’ve driven round the track.
But how do you know if it’s not rubberbanding? Once the idea is established it’s impossible to get rid of. And then when you’re thinking about that you can’t help but think that they just need to bump the speed +-5% on an AI car and they can choose the outcome of the race.
Not all cheats are equal, though. The shooter AI that’s letting you won, to compensate for how difficult it is to model realistic human behavior, feels pretty fair, because it’s something in trade. Rubber banding just robs you of knowing you won fairly, and punishes you for doing well.
One of my pet peeves is when AI in strategy games cheats in a way that invalidates certain mechanics. For example when denying AI certain resources does not prevent them from building things that require said resources.
That one’s always a disappointment. If you’re trying to practice against the computer to learn how to play against people, stuff like that means you learn the wrong lessons.
I’m trying to think of what the difficulty alternative would be. I’m thinking make the AI’s troops tankier so the battles take more player resources or skill.
“all I wanted was a way to crawl through the starship Von Braun with the contents re-arranged.”
Makes me think of Zelda randomizer (https://sites.google.com/site/zeldarandomizer/) and similar. I never played the System Shock games so I don’t know if a similar kind of randomizer would be fun or feasible, but I have loved playing me some Zelda randomizer.
As soon as you said “Zelda randomiser” I thought of ROM Check Fail.
See, I’m interested in Gris, but the problem is that the Internet is doing it’s thing: either this game is the Best Game Of 2018 and qnyone who disagrees is a mouth-breathing philistine, or it’s pretentious bullshit with an obvious metaphor that forgot to be an actual game.
I’m guessing it’s like The Path? As in of course it’s weird & arty and the gameplay is simplistic; either you like the aesthetic or you don’t.
I really liked this review, from someone who REALLY doesn’t like it when game journos go crazy for an art-focused game with a low skill ceiling.
Spoiler: Even this guy liked it.
“Join the discord if you’re autistic.”
That line in the description is kind of turning me off from watching the video honestly.
To be clear: I wasn’t endorsing the channel. He’s got a super abrasive style and isn’t really my kinda thing. I was just saying “Even this guy liked it.”
However, Yahtzee said it was boring.
Hehe, if that’s the worst he could muster, that almost counts as a glowing endorsement.
I think Dark Souls has got to/influenced Yahtzee a bit. He came across as someone who feels games need a challenge to qualify as ‘games’. Which, sure, is a perfectly legitimate view – just not the only one.
If the game is deliberately designed to be easy, is it a flaw that the succeeded at making it easy?
You’re not wrong, and I find that ironic, because Yahtzee’s initial review of Demon’s Souls amounted to “this game killed me half a dozen times in the first two hours, and those deaths didn’t seem fair. Thus I quit.”
I don’t think that’s it, really. Yahtzee wants a game to be a game, most of all. He wants good narratives told with ludic means. In other words, the man is damn hard to please.
And he made a career out of it.
From what I gather, the comparison to The Path is bang on, except Gris seems to be notably less obscure and slightly more gamey.
Shamus’ own experience seems to confirm this: If he usually hates 2d platformers and he loved this one, it stands to reason that whatever platforming there is will be fairly basic and more of an excuse to showcase the art and animation.
I love the art so I’m getting it anyway, but I’m not expecting much more than a sightseeing simulator.
See, the vibe I got was more like Braid, just without all the text. As Shamus said, the focus is on puzzle-solving rather than razor-sharp timing (though I do recall Braid having a few moments of the latter).
I don’t care for the art style at all, but ‘Braid without the text’ is something I can get behind.
Braid has higher execution requirements than Gris. It’s “harder” to get through levels.
I can believe that. In case my previous comment was unclear, I have not played Gris; I’m going off what I’ve read and seen of the game.
Just for understanding: If the platforming (the core mechanic) is very basic and the art is front and center, doesn’t that mean it is actually LESS gamey instead of more? Or was the path REALLY low on mechanics?
I never played any of both so I can’t make sense of your conclusion.
The Path barely required any player input. You just walked around and things would happen depending on which girl you were playing and which part of the woods you wandered into. It all seemed pretty random and/or wide open to interpretation. You could collect flowers (I think it was flowers? Something like that, it’s been a while), but apparently that was a sort of an inside joke and didn’t have any point.
From what I hear, Gris at least does have some basic mechanics that make it feel like more of a traditional game.
How to tell if you will like Gris:
When you hear that it doesn’t have fail states per se does that make you go “then that isn’t even a GAME then!”? If so, it’s not for you. If you’re like “okay… and?” then it might be something you’re into.
Typo alert “for another to fine”. I think you meant “for another to everything is fine”.
The “everything is fine” thing needs to become a t-shirt or something, by the way.
I would totally buy a T-shirt with a picture of Sara Ryder’s derp-out face on it and the words ‘EVERYTHING IS FINE’ on the front from Shamus. Possibly with the site’s d20 logo/symbol in the corner?
Sadly, him selling that would almost certainly be illegal…and I definitely woudn’t want to buy said shirt from EA or Bioware.
How far would we have to change it to avoid IP litigation?
Spider-Man was my Game of the Year too(Smash is a contender, but I only played that for like 4 hours on New Year’s Eve). It’s no 2017 game, I wouldn’t marry it they way I might consider marrying Mario Odyssey, Breath of the Wild or Persona 5. But it took something I love and made a respectful, solid game out of it for once. I’m very happy it finally exists, to put it like that. I’ve been wanting a great Spider-Man game since like 1995.
I held back when you mentioned Antigraviator, and when you mentioned Thumper, but now another neon racing game that isn’t the one I hoped for? Aagh!
For some reason Redout has fallen away from the eyes of the gaming public. It’s an antigravity racer, a-la Wipeout, that really captured me in a way that not a lot of other racing games have. The sense of speed it provides is absurd, the futuristic pod-racer ships and tracks are excellently executed, and there’s some real bangers in the soundtrack.
There are some frustrating bits; I should especially note that it doesn’t solve the problem with rubberbanding AI. It also appears it’s quite expensive for a small title, at $35. That being said, if you’re into future racers, I think it’s worth checking out the free demo!
Gris doesn’t really seem my cup of tea but I’d be willing to give it a shot for the soundtrack alone. From what the store shows it seems that you have to buy the soundtrack separately and it doesn’t come with the purchase of the game? As for the Mooncrash it reminds me of a much more refined version of the Metro Last Light DLC scavenger hunt which I had fun with. The only problem was that there really wasn’t much replayability.
A game’s soundtrack natively plays during gameplay. Buying it separate is a way to legally download/own/play separately.
Or you can copy the audio files directly from the game’s directory and play them that way, provided you own the game.
…maybe. Sometimes you can. Depends on how the developers structured the game…and I’m not sure how ‘okay’ it is.
I’m pretty sure it’s considered polite not to at a minimum. Point is soundtrack buying explained.
For pronounciation doubts: forvo.co
That is all and better than telling you your rhyming with Chris is the right one, because as my English isn’t perfect there’s always a >0.0001% chances there’s a difference I don’t expect from how I think you’d pronounce Chris and how you actually pronounce Chris.
Also, as a side note for anyone who wants to go “I knew a guy from foreign country X and he pronounced this like so” when hearing someone talking on another language: local ways of speaking and pronouncing may not be the canonical (correct, ahem) ones. Accents exist for all languages. So you may find Spaniards who “cecean” (pronounce the s sound like z) and Spaniards that “sesean” (pronounce the z sound like an s, which is AFAIK what every other language does). The z sound I speak of I think English uses for the th of bath. Tongue right under the upper teeth just letting the air pass through.
I’m with the descriptive linguists. “Correct” is “Comprehensible.” “Better” and “worse” are more or less comprehensible. I don’t know of a better way to judge communication.
I tried Distance, but ended up going for a Steam refund after getting frustrated with the aerial track switching controls. Maybe it’s better with a joystick/gamepad?
Tends to be pretty common in racers yeah, though I can’t speak to this game not having played it.
Hey Shamus, wondering if you played God of War this year (or God of War 4, or God of Four, or Dad of Boy, whatever you want to call it). Mostly asking since that was the other PS4 exclusive that made everyone’s list, but it hasn’t shown up on yours.
I feel like Mooncrash wouldn’t be a good risk to take if so much of it wasn’t already in place- it already had all of the setting building that Prey did, so it didn’t have to repeat any of it to reference it.
Several of the cutscenes in Prey were there to establish why the mimics were a threat that couldn’t be allowed to get to Earth; much of Mooncrash makes no sense without the background fact ‘mimics getting to Earth is much worse than everyone on the base dying, for everybody including everybody on the base, but not everybody knows that’.
I don’t play a lot of video games anymore, but Spider-Man definitely tops my list for 2018, too. When you started your write-up for it, I’d only gotten a little ways into it. Now I’ve finished my NG+ on Ultimate difficulty and . . . I have thoughts. So I really can’t wait for that series to return.
I really, really wanted to like Gris and I’m very disappointed that I wasn’t able to. The art is bland, the gameplay is mostly not even there and the theme is uninspired. It’s really just a cookie-cutter “artsy platformer with MEANING”.
I really enjoyed Spider-Man and platinum’d it. The DLC difficulty was set way too hard, so I finished it without trophy collecting.
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