Diecast #311: Eh! No Man’s Anthem

By Shamus Posted Monday Aug 3, 2020

Filed under: Diecast 78 comments

My voice was super dry and scratchy when I recorded this. I spent most of the show hacking and clearing my throat. I tried my best to hide it, but you can probably tell something’s off.

Also, our first mailbag question is really good this week and I’m curious to hear other people’s take on it.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Link (YouTube)

Show notes:

00:00 Eh! Steve!

If you somehow want to hear me talk even more, then do check out my chat with Chris, where we discussed about the poison of Twitter, the upcoming console generation, and the amazing value of Microsoft’s Game Pass. It was a really good talk.

03:26 No Man’s Sky

I think my time with the game is winding down. I might dash out one more post. We’ll see.

07:28 Embedded Programming

It turns out this doesn’t have anything to do with programming while in bed.

17:47 Anthem 2.0

It really does look like they might turn it around. Their objectives look reasonable and their diagnosis of the problems with Anthem 1.0 look correct. Now we’ll have to see if EA lets them follow through, and if the community is willing to give the game another chance.

31:40 Mailbag: Dark Souls: Punch in the Face Edition

Dear Diecast,

A lot of discussion has been had on the blog about disincentives for defeat in video games. The typical method is the loss of time. The boss kills you in Dark Souls, so you have to spend ten minutes fighting your way back to it. Or, less directly — you fall into the lava and lose all your gear in Minecraft, so you have to redo all the work you did to acquire it.

This is suboptimal in various ways, depending on the execution, but games do it because there are few other options. However, if in the future technology is developed that allows for a much more direct interface between computer and brain, another form of disincentive presents itself: physical pain.

The boss kills you in Dark Souls, and the computer stimulates your pain sensors so it feels like you’ve been punched in the face. But then it stops, and you reload a save from right at the beginning of the encounter. Very little time has been wasted, but you still have a pretty good reason not to let the boss kill you again.

Obviously, keeping this technology safe and out of the hands of bad actors would be a…challenge. But assuming that could be managed, what do you think of the implications of this for game design? Would you be more or less likely to play Dark Souls: Punch in the Face Edition?



43:59 Mailbag: Covert Action Rule

Dear Diecast,

With the series on Civilization wrapping up, I wondered if you’d ever come across what Sid Meier calls his ‘Covert Action rule’.


It might explain why Civilization doesn’t have a dedicated tactical
combat mode, like in Total War or Age of Wonders. Sid asserts that getting involved for a stretch in a tactical minigame leaves the player disoriented when they get back to the ‘overworld’ and have to pick what they were previously doing up again.

Given that many successful and popular games have been happy to mix complex subgames together, I wondered what your thoughts were as to whether this rule resonates with your preferences, and whether you think it has general applicability or should be considered more a question of taste.


52:45 Mailbag: Next Gen Hardware

Hi Shamus and Paul,

Glad you’re both moving through the recent bumps in the road! I was wondering what your thoughts on PC hardware are going through into the next generation of consoles. Shamus’ PC was basically god-tier level (IIRC) when he got it but the upcoming hardware (both on PC and in the Xbox Series X) looks like it’s going to blow even that out of the water. Do you think there will be a huge divide between those who have ray-tracing “on” and those who have it “off”? Does supporting those different rendering techniques and vastly different hardware performance levels effectively double the work for developers?

It seems like a nightmare just as we were getting out of the limitations of the current generation of hardware: I was expecting big, open, highly detailed worlds but it seems like putting in ray-tracing (while a really cool and probably end-point rendering technology) we’re going to be limited in the types of spaces that can be made when those effects are implemented because it’ll just be too taxing…

All the best,


From The Archives:

78 thoughts on “Diecast #311: Eh! No Man’s Anthem

  1. Mephane says:

    17:47 Anthem 2.0

    It really does look like they might turn it around. Their objectives look reasonable and their diagnosis of the problems with Anthem 1.0 look correct. Now we’ll have to see if EA lets them follow through, and if the community is willing to give the game another chance.

    I am not very confident about that. First of all, the blog post is extremely vague, to the point where they leave themselves a lot of room to pay lip service easily without doing all that much.

    Second, and more importantly, they already hint at raising he power level cap in the future. If this turns out as the start of a Destiny style treadmill to increase one arbitrary number, grind for grind’s sake, they deserve to flop a second time.

    1. Asdasd says:

      Yeah, I dunno either. I’m all for giving people another chance and letting them learn from their mistakes, but the original loot system in Anthem was so misbegotten – a smoke and mirrors sham that gestured at the idea of what its competitors were doing and hoped players were too stupid to notice the difference – that my levels of trust, optimism and even goodwill are frankly not high.

      1. Hector says:

        In either case, like NMS, the market will have moved on. Re-releases like this very rarely do more than a fraction of the original.

        1. Henson says:

          The examples of times when a re-release has worked, that I can think of, are The Witcher 1 and Final Fantasy 14. Witcher, however, had the benefit of a slow cult following. FF14 is probably the best comparison, but while SquareEnix has plenty of fans willing to give the company several chances, I’m not sure Bioware fans exist in any significant capacity anymore. Anthem is going to have to make a hell of an impression to gain any traction.

          1. Hector says:

            I thought about bringing those up those exact games as counter-examples, but in this case I don’t think there’s much to be said for either because… neither were actually bad games. Also, crucially the updates came out in the first year following launch.

            The Witcher 1 has major technical issues, yet at the core it was a great game. The patch was rather sizable but it fixed big performance problems rather than needing to make the the experience fun. (For reference, I played before and after the patch and could not get going due to the very performance problems, but it was genuinely good enough to bring me back. I was hardly alone.) FF14 is a similar case. Despite the extremely rough start, the foundation was there. The lead just lacked the experience and drive to put the layer of polish that an MMO needed to compete. The post-launch year was undoubtedly a hellacious amount of work, but the fact that it could be done in a year at all implies that Square needed to re-center the existing systems, not reinvent everything.

            No Man’s Sky could maybe be said to be a counter-example, but it’s only doing “ok”. Certainly not bad at all (I checked, it’s ranking 60-ish on Steam’s top games by player count). But it’s obviously a niche game now.

            Anthem is just not in either of those positions. It’s no longer new or even new-ish, the player base has long fled. Shamus congratulates them for now getting the basic foundations of the game right in a blog post talking about what they *intend to do* at some vague undefined future state. That’s a really bad position to be in, and frankly the game looks like to be 2 years away from this supposed renewal. Will it even exist by then, frankly?

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      I am not very confident about that. First of all, the blog post is extremely vague, to the point where they leave themselves a lot of room to pay lip service easily without doing all that much.

      Seconded. They basically said that fun is good and loot should be fun. A few of their comments were about fixing embarrassingly basic mistakes like how you can’t see loot immediately, but besides that almost none of what they said is actionable. No one on the dev team is going to create a Jira ticket that says “Loot feels exciting and more noticeable when it drops”. I’m not saying they’ll certainly fail, but nothing they’ve said makes me more inclined to think they know what they’re doing.

    3. My big problem with Anthem is that the game is TINY, so you very rapidly completely run out of new stuff to do. If the only improvement is “you can pursue more interesting loot in this dinky little sandbox of repetitiveness”, no thanks.

  2. JakeyKakey says:

    “Obviously, keeping this technology safe and out of the hands of bad actors would be a…challenge.”

    It really does betray my degree of cynicism that my first instinct was to bless this person for thinking this would not first and foremost be designed and developed with the possibility of virtual waterboarding as one of its top intended applications.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Yeah, I was reminded of those ‘I’ve hacked your computer and found all of your embarrasing secrets, pay up or I’ll send the details to your friends!’ spam emails that went around a couple of years ago.

      It’d be like those, but with threats of virtual kicks to the groin. Or, the ‘Stop Hitting Yourself!’ computer virus…

    2. Syal says:

      Even in the hands of “good” actors, I don’t trust them the know what a good pain ratio would be.

      Brain stuff in general seems like a really bad idea; a wire shorts out one day, and suddenly you no longer have short-term memory.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Bug-fix: give punishment-jolts when the player *fails* the level, not when they *succeed*.

        1. Hector says:

          Priority 2 ticket: Pain caused by boss 2-2 should not be crippling and permanent (delayed from patch 1.1 to 1.5) ; (obsoleted – see Microtranactions patch 1.4)

      2. BlueHorus says:

        a wire shorts out one day, and suddenly you no longer have short-term memory

        yeah, you’d also lose your short-term memory.

        …and your short-term memory!

        as well as your short-term memory…

        (I’ll see myself out)

    3. Mephane says:

      The whole idea is misguided.

      Failure itself is the disincentive for failure. To keep going, you got to defeat this boss. If the boss defeats you, you should start right back at the beginning of the boss fight, no strings attached, not loss of XP, time getting back from distant spawn point, money, loot, whatever. (And if the boss fight begins with a cutscene, it sure as hell needs to be skippable.)

      You just keep trying until you “git gud” and beat it.

      This applies to the vast majority of games. You get nothing for being defeated. There is rarely ever a need for an extra disincentive, and I think the punishment mechanics employed by various games could almost always be cut entirely and the game would be better for it.

  3. Grimwear says:

    As someone who’s played too much Dark Souls I would not play Punch in the Face edition. The introduction of real physical consequences is just a major turn off. Rather than admire the atmosphere or explore areas I’d be too concerned about any potential traps or enemies. Rather than trying to master bosses and do amazing dodges or parries I’d just sit behind a shield and play as defensively as possible. The problem is a simple one which is that the general punishment for dying is a loss of souls and a return to the bonfire, is time. Losing time can be annoying but is never a threat. You can get angry when you lose progress but on the whole having a time loss isn’t considered something that is a risk to your well-being. Pain on the other hand is. When you’re hurt your body is telling you to get away as fast as possible. If suddenly you’re playing a game and getting punched in the face when you lose your body and mind will naturally tell you that there’s danger and get away. Now obviously some people who are extremely dedicated will still play, much like some people participate in combat sports, but they need to specifically train to overcome that fear response of being hit and the pain that follows and for the average gamer who just wants to have fun…that’s not appealing. Also I feel like I remember hearing about something like that a few years ago that was set up to give you a shock when you got hit in a fighting game and another that drew out blood. Weird.

    In regards to the Covert Action Rule I don’t believe it. Having played a lot of Total War games the only time I’ve ever been disoriented is when I came back to a campaign after an absence and couldn’t remember what I was doing and I feel Civ works the same way. Even with a dedicated tactical mode you still have structure so I always do the same thing when my turn comes around. I always check the updates, check my cities, build units and buildings, then move to armies, upgrade generals, then move my armies to attack. When I get out of the battle I move to the next army until I’m done. If I attacked and conquered a city then I just fix up the build order for that city right then and don’t have to worry about any more overworld stuff because it’s already dealt with. I’ve honestly never found myself lost coming out of it. Rather learning all the overworld systems are much more complex on the whole.

    1. Asdasd says:

      I think a fundamental appeal of video games lies in the dynamics of gratification. Some people like their gratification to flow freely and volubly, others find pleasure in having to work for it. People may find they have a Goldilocks point, or that their preferences change depending on their mood. Dark Souls may hold more appeal for the ‘work for it’ crowd, but I’m sceptical that that spectrum extends to some horizon where people would want games to cause them physical pain. It seems like a qualitative difference.

      The question strikes me more than a little like an attempt to prove by reductio ad absurdum that liking Souls games is somehow unhealthy, which is silly. I apologise if that’s an uncharitable interpretation, but I’ve noticed that ‘against Dark Souls fans’ is a cause celebre on here.

      1. Geebs says:

        Wasn’t the “get hurt in real life” idea already in Never Say Never Again? It wasn’t appealing in 1983 and it isn’t now.

        Also, in my opinion, Soulsbourniro boss fights are thrilling enough the first time through that the threat of physical pain is completely redundant. Anyway, the actual “punishment” for failure in From software games is completely insignificant compared to e.g. a rogue/like/lite and I have no idea why people are so obsessed with it being unusually harsh.

        1. Lino says:

          Even though I’ve never played a From game, the talk about difficulty has always baffled me. Compared to dying in Hardcore Minecraft, or screwing yourself in X-COM Ironman Mode, punishment in From games looks like a mild slap on the hand. It’s weird how few people ever bring this up when they say how incredibly difficult From games are…

          1. The Puzzler says:

            The people who complain about having to tediously retrace their steps in Dark Souls are probably not the people playing on Iron Man. X-COM and Minecraft both have easy modes to cater for people like that. Dark Souls doesn’t.

            There’s also a big difference between roguelike ‘death is the end’ and ‘waste five minutes of your time repeating something you already did and you have to keep doing this bit over and over until you do it right’, in that roguelikes are designed to avoid repetition. You died? Then you get to play as a new character on a new map.

            1. Geebs says:

              Not that people shouldn’t like things I don’t like and all that, but I’ve never met a rogueoid with enough variety in the procedural generation that I didn’t get thoroughly sick of playing the first few levels over and over before I Git Gud. I find the maps are usually *technically* different, but constrained sufficiently by the need to make a functioning level that it’s just the same stuff in slightly different order. Player deaths wind up being either pratfalls due to boredom, or “unfair” bits of randomisation.

              All of which is a long-winded way of asking: are there any rogueoids out there which do manage to avoid the “sick of the first level” syndrome?

              1. Lino says:

                All of which is a long-winded way of asking: are there any rogueoids out there which do manage to avoid the “sick of the first level” syndrome?

                The only games I can think of are ones wifh shortcuts to the later levels. That way the first level never overstays its welcome. Unless it’s a game like Enter the Gungeon, where shortcuts are useless for casual players, and needlessly hard to unlock…

          2. ivan says:

            It’s weird how people never compare the one (unt pvecicely vun) game mode and difficulty setting of From games, to the niche optional mode in other games, that you have to expressly choose to play in, and that you probably have to unlock?? (even if you don’t it doesn’t devalue the point) Did you seriously just say that?

      2. Grimwear says:

        I personally didn’t see it as an attack on Dark Souls though of course there would be some people who play Punch in the Face edition just to put it on youtube for the views in which case good on them. I feel going straight to pain is too high a hurdle. What about sensation in general? If someone were to play Minecraft and punch a tree and the game didn’t hurt you but gave you that sensation of pressure on your knuckles from punching. Or you got a slight jarring sensation in your arms when you were mining with a pickaxe. Would you be more incentivized to play with greater immersion or would those sensations become tedious and a cause for dread? How far do we want to go with creating real sensation before it ruins a game we otherwise love?

        1. Asdasd says:

          You’re right, and I regret the assertion. I don’t want to foreclose good discussion with an accusation of bad faith.

          “How far do we want to go with creating real sensation before it ruins a game we otherwise love?”

          I suspect the lesson from history is that we may draw the line at senses beyond the audiovisual.

          1. Hector says:

            I can’t think of a way to make it practical or worthwhile, but the idea of, say, playing Cyberpunk 2077 and smelling the rain, or feeling the rush of bullet smoke, or the feeling the warm sun out in the dry hills would be cool. It’s just unlikely to happen.

          2. Fizban says:

            I think that even the slightest brush would be massively offputting for most gamers, who have been gaming their whole lives *without* such feedback. As an optional overpriced addon some people might be interested, but even then negative pain responses would only be seriously adopted for masochism’s sake- people who genuinely like the pain response are probably less rare than one would think, but still a minority.

            But this ignores the only real reason I’d expect that tech to be developed, and the one where it would make the difference, which is of course VR. Develop an unintrusive magic addon that makes VR go from “wait how does that work when you can’t actually feel anything?” to “holy shit it can actually tell your brain to feel touch and pain and anything!” and that’s it. Game over, say hello to the new king of entertainment devices.

        2. Syal says:

          What about sensation in general?

          Dark Souls: Too Much Tickling Edition.

    2. Syal says:

      Losing time can be annoying but is never a threat.

      Losing time is, in fact, the primary purpose of a video game. It can be annoying when a particular block of time is less entertaining than the previous, but that’s also exactly what you get with the alternative of sitting in a chair and not playing a video game.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        Losing time is, in fact, the primary purpose of a video game.

        No, the primary purpose is to be entertained. No healthy person considers losing time an end in itself.

  4. Cozzer says:

    I don’t know about anything else, but I’m pretty sure that an eventual “Dark Souls: Punch in the Face Edition” would be the exact moment when the Dark Souls fanbase becomes insufferably smug enough that literally everyone else on Earth puts their differeces aside and unites against them.

  5. Joe says:

    From an ideal perspective, the NMS team bit off more than they could comfortably chew, and have spent the last few years working through their meal. From a cynical perspective, they knew no one would buy their next game unless they made this one good. I like to hope it’s the first.

    No, I would not play Dark Souls actual pain. The very idea is worse than the way it currently stands. I just don’t have the skills for DS or the patience or even desire to learn them. I know that. Let’s leave it there.

    I actually played Too Human. Interesting premise, great art. Below average gameplay. Didn’t deliver on the premise. One example, something that was supposed to be a big moral choice ended up as a choice between two skill trees. I want a graphic novel in the TH universe, where its concepts and art can be properly explored.

    God I was excited before it came out. It even inspired a story. Though where TH was cyberpunk before the dawn of recorded history but after an apocalyptic event, mine was second world space opera. Got a fair way in before I realised I had no ending. Still, there are some good parts I can recycle one day.

    CP2077 and Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines 2 will both have ray tracing. I have the feeling there are a couple of other games advertised, but I can’t remember what.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      From this article it seems like the raytracing in Cyberpunk 2077 will be most of the lighting effects, which used to be pre-rendered for levels in older games. Moonlight, ambient occlusion, diffuse lighting, those types of things. So, I imagine there will be quite a few more games offering raytracing, since it seems like the type of stuff that happens down in the graphics-engine layer, and shouldn’t affect the higher-level game-development process too much. Like, you’re either baking the lights into the level, or doing them on the fly, but it should be pretty similar setup for all the normal level-making, texture-making, etc. :)

  6. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I think there’s a core problem with the idea of a setback after you die being a “punishment”. That should not be the point. The player should never actually need to be punished– the point of the game is the entertain someone, not to discipline them.

    The point of death penalties should be to ensure that a player can successfully complete a certain quantum of the game without dying in order to make progress, rather than relying on things like save-scumming (if free quicksaves are allowed) or whittling away a boss by constantly respawning, shooting him once, and dying again (if the boss doesn’t reset on player death). In Mario, for example, you have to develop enough skill to complete a single level without falling into a pit. Starting again at the beginning of the level isn’t a “punishment”- it just defines the quantum of the game that is long enough that the player will not beat it out of blind chance. For a more open-ended game, like an MMO, it becomes more about success rate: if you can’t reliably defeat monsters of your level, then you will lose too much exp/money to be able to continue advancing.

    The implication of this is that death penalties should never simply be arbitrary wastes of a player’s time. Making the player sit though a 30-second death video, run through empty hallways, or fight trivial enemies in order to re-try a boss fight is a terrible system. Just physically hurting the player would also be terrible- not my ability to beat a boss is dependent on my ability and willingness to suffer physical pain. I won’t have to get better in order to beat the boss- I’ll just have to suffer enough. Yay?

    Instead, the rule should be “Does the penalty ensure that the player must develop a certain level of mastery over the game systems in order to progress?”.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Well, no, in order to beat the boss you’d have to get better at the game AND suffer punches to the face at the same time.
      …unless the game gets easier every time it punches you…*

      Agreed that ‘Punch In The Face’ edition doesn’t really add anything good or worthwhile to the game.

      *Which leads to its own problems and hilarities:
      – People complaining (or boasting) that they didn’t get punched in the face enough, this game is too easy. Git Gud, scrub, go earn your virtual black eye in hard mode.
      – If I just sit through enough punches (or, if I’m smart, disable the punch machine and sit through some loading screens) I can beat the game with zero effort.
      – Or, last but by no means least, publishers deliberately making bosses hard in order to sell the means to avoid facepunches via microtransaction**.

      **Coming soon, the Virtual Punch Lootbox! Where will it hit you? Nobody knows! There’s a chance it won’t hit you at all, but we don’t publish the odds on our system! Buy now!

    2. Steve C says:

      I’m with Bloodsquirrel. Punishment in games is not good. Punishment of the player (time lost, locking you out of the game until tomorrow, micro-transactions, etc) are extra not good and often stupid. Physical punishment of the player is simply ridiculous. It is a terrible idea on so many levels.

      I’m already uncomfortable with how some games use/misuse haptic feedback. Which is a good and powerful tool in a game like Ico. And in other games it vibrates so much it makes my hands unpleasantly numb like using a lawnmower. Even if ‘Punch In The Face Sim’ was extremely mild discomfort, I would not like it, nor like that it existed. However I do not think it existing would would be real concern. Well besides for the extreme niche of circus geeks and body suspension crowd.

      It reminds me of players wanting ‘realistic gun play’ in their FPSs. If that was actually true, Receiver would be more popular.
      This level of realism is not a thing anyone wants.

    3. RFS-81 says:

      I totally agree! I don’t think punishment is necessary, I will try to git gud if it’s fun to do so.

      To nitpick your example, Game Overs in Mario do feel like a punishment, although I suspect that they’re just a vestigial bit of arcade gameplay that stuck around for no good reason.

    4. Fizban says:

      I’m not sure which way you’re suggesting, but this is something I find Dark Souls does. Turn it all the way up to speedrun level and the bosses are the least difficult part of the game, but the point being that getting good at moving through the areas is in fact supposed to be a significant part of the game. Once they’ve learned to be patient and stingy, anyone can creep through a zone one enemy at a time on their first visit. But that’s not what the game expects you to do- it expects you to get good at fighting, evading, or both, for each area, because you’re going to have to move through that area multiple times. You’re supposed to master not just the bosses, but the levels surrounding them as well.

      Unfortunately the fact that the game is mostly fair about things and thus you can usually make it through a zone in only one or two tries, means most people never master the preceding area, and thus get frustrated at how long it will take them to return to the boss. I don’t really see a good solution to this- maximum enjoyment of Dark Souls requires both the ability and desire to both take things slow and rush through, and ability to flip those internal switches between them at-will. A design feature that forces people to criss-cross the level multiple times before fighting the boss will just make it take longer for everyone without really changing their playstyle.

  7. Lars says:

    Wow. I never knew, that Paul is related to Chuck Norris, as he also can devide by zero.

  8. Philadelphus says:

    I’m kinda with Shamus on the discussion of Dark Souls: Punch Edition. As a recovering perfectionist, all games automatically come with a very powerful built-in “disincentive for defeat”, namely: the fact that I failed. I don’t need a game to unnecessarily waste my time, punch me in the face, or any other mechanism to make me feel even more annoyed after failing.

  9. Joshua says:

    So, that link to the Covert Action rule didn’t work for me for whatever reason. But searching around on Wikipedia found the relevant passage from the actual game Covert Action:

    “The mistake I think I made in Covert Action is actually having two games in there kind of competing with each other. There was kind of an action game where you break into a building and do all sorts of picking up clues and things like that, and then there was the story which involved a plot where you had to figure out who the mastermind was and the different roles and what cities they were in, and it was a kind of an involved mystery-type plot.

    I think, individually, those each could have been good games. Together, they fought with each other. You would have this mystery that you were trying to solve, then you would be facing this action sequence, and you’d do this cool action thing, and you’d get on the building, and you’d say, “What was the mystery I was trying to solve?” Covert Action integrated a story and action poorly, because the action was actually too intense. In Pirates!, you would do a sword fight or a ship battle, and a minute or two later, you were kind of back on your way. In Covert Action, you’d spend ten minutes or so of real time in a mission, and by the time you got out of [the mission], you had no idea of what was going on in the world.

    So I call it the “Covert Action Rule”. Don’t try to do too many games in one package. And that’s actually done me a lot of good. You can look at the games I’ve done since Civilization, and there’s always opportunities to throw in more stuff. When two units get together in Civilization and have a battle, why don’t we drop out to a war game and spend ten minutes or so in duking out this battle? Well, the Covert Action Rule. Focus on what the game is.”

    Reading this, it made me immediately think of so many games from that era that had completely different sub-games enclosed. I guess ActRaiser would be the first one that came to mind, although the very first computer game I ever owned was War in Middle Earth, which had a weird mixture of (VERY bare bones) party RPG and strategic warfare, although maybe not as great an example because it was more of a transition than a constant switch back and forth.

    1. John says:

      You can hear Sid Meier himself discuss the Covert Action rule with Soren Johnson (designer of Civilization IV) in this episode of Johnson’s Designer Notes podcast, which is the second part of an exhaustive but fascinating four part retrospective on Meier’s career. It’s well worth a listen, as is the podcast more generally. (My other favorites are the three part series Johnson did with Brian Reynolds, of Civilization II, Alpha Centauri, and Rise of Nations fame, and the episode he did with Louis Castle, co-founder of Westwood Studios.) Interestingly enough, one of the things Johnson and Meier discuss is whether or not XCOM violates the Covert Action rule.

      For myself, I don’t think that either Civilization or XCOM (the Firaxis one) violate the rule. Civilization may have a few alternate screens (city management, diplomacy, etc.) in addition to the default map view, but it doesn’t have alternate game modes. The player seldom spends much time on any of the alternate screens. XCOM has two modes, combat and base management, but the vast majority of time is spent in combat. Base management exists mostly to give the player a little time to breathe between combat missions. The player never stops thinking about combat, however, as he knows that all the decisions he makes during the base management phase will affect combat.

      1. Asdasd says:

        Maybe I misinterpreted, but I got the impression in that episode that Sid and Soren possibly got their XCOMs confused. Soren seemed to be citing the original as a game that defied Sid’s rule, and Sid seemed to reply that he thought the modern XCOM observed it (‘Jake did a good job on that’). And then Soren was sort of too politely embarrassed to clarify.

        Thanks for mentioning the Louis Castle episode as one to check out though. After listening to the Meier and Reynolds episodes, I wasn’t sure where to go next (if Indie Game: The Movie taught me anything, it’s that it’d perhaps be best to let indie developers’ games speak for themselves).

        1. John says:

          I haven’t listened to those episodes of the podcast since they were originally released, so I’m afraid I don’t remember the details of the discussion. The Castle episode is one of my favorites for a whole bunch of reasons. I was a big Command & Conquer fan once upon a time, but the real reasons the episode clicked for me were, I think, that Louis Castle is a fairly entertaining conversationalist and that the history of Westwood is just fascinating both in its own right and as sort of a slice of the history of the industry. I re-listened to it just recently. Castle’s brief Richard Branson impression amuses me much more than it probably should.

          Other episodes that I remember being good include but are not necessarily limited to:

          – Bruce Shelley, who worked with Sid Meier at Microprose and also on the Age of Empires series
          – Mark Herman, a tabletop board- and war-game designer
          – Amy Hennig, who is probably most famous for Uncharted
          – Roger Keating, a veteran designer of computer war games

          None of this is to say that the other episodes are bad. This list partly a reflection of my tastes in gaming but mostly of the fact that I think that older interviewees have more and better stories to tell.

  10. Joshua says:

    So, can you imagine the furor raised and the subcommittees convened if an actual “Pain to Play” mode was designed, much less released? “Think of the children!” indeed.

  11. Gordon says:

    Random aside, I’m some kind of weirdo who really likes the base building and logistics side of X-COM (the original) and really can’t be bothered with the combat.
    So I play in totally the “wrong” way.
    With the logistics game scale is more interesting than experience so I treated my guys like expendable cannon fodder and just made sure to always have 4 fully equipped Avenger’s ready to roll with good equipment, but I never knew anyone’s names.
    Also the funding nations can take a hike, I generally bank rolled stuff by manufacturing and selling high tech arms.
    I liked Apocalypse because the pause time made battles so much quicker than the turn based version. And being able to land multiple transports at one incursion was great.

    I wish someone would remake Alien Legacy already

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Apocalypse was really the highlight of the series for me. Brain-slugs, city-destruction – what else do you need? :)

  12. Ninety-Three says:

    I find it weird when people talk about how Diablo-style progression is all about the slot machine aspect, because I always felt the opposite way. The moment-to-moment of getting individual loot drops, even really good ones, barely registered to me. Instead what I liked was the feeling of knowing I could play for an hour and make my numbers go up, the gradual sense of progress. Highly random loot has always been the worst way to achieve this feeling: when you’re grinding for loot with a 1% drop rate, you spend hours and hours getting absolutely nothing, then you hit the one lucky roll and all the progress happens in an instant as your character gets 50% stronger with one gear upgrade. A zillion years ago when I played Runescape, I decided to do a few boss kills just for kicks, got super lucky on an ultra rare weapon drop and my reaction was just “Oh huh. I guess that’s pretty good.” I equipped it and pretty quickly my brain adapted to the powerful weapon as my new normal. Going dry at a slot machine feels miserable, and lucking out makes it feel like your rewards weren’t earned.

    I think the Roguelite formula is one much better suited to swingy random loot. When a character lasts for one hour instead of one hundred, there isn’t that background expectation of gradually earning progress and randomly finding an ultra powerful sword makes me think “Oh boy, this is gonna be a sweet run”. It also lets me feel like the loot is really going to matter, rather than just making the next hour of my grind slightly easier before the level curve catches up with me and my purple sword starts going obsolete.

    1. Steve C says:

      Yes! I felt the exact same way. What you describe is the exact reason why I did not like any of the Borderlands. It did feel like I got 50% stronger with a single gear upgrade with long periods of time of nothing. (And plenty of useless time spent looking through inventory to determine which it was.)

      1. The Puzzler says:

        Suddenly getting 50% stronger is probably what most people like about that kind of thing. If you got 1% stronger every twenty minutes, you’d barely notice.

        1. Steve C says:

          Maybe? I can’t speak for most people. I know that I liked Diablo 1&2 but not later entries to that style of looter. I found the large jumps and the fussiness of determining what was worthwhile drove me away. So the genre stopped being for me but clearly it was for others. Therefore your assertion tracks.

        2. Steve C says:

          Wait… I thinking about what you wrote some more. I believe we have misunderstood each other. I believe I understood Ninety-Three’s point. It was *not* “1% stronger every twenty minutes.” His point was there was a clear progression over time.

          Where if character power was graphed, it would be trending up along a smooth-ish line over time. The enemies would also be trending up along a pretty smooth-ish line too. So when those two graphs are taken together, what you get is a graph of relative power change. A graph which is very close to a line with some noise in it. We are talking about is the deviation in that noise. IE how spikey it is vs how smooth it is.

          I found the relative power levels in Borderlands to be extreme. Enemies would gain a level or two and suddenly you feel like a weakling. You get a new gun and suddenly start breezing through them. An incredibly noisy graph with plenty of peaks and troughs. I did not, and do not like that. I would much rather have a smoother experience. With some variably sure, just not massive swings each way. The larger swings is the new norm for this genre and it forced me away from it.

          Note that “1% stronger every twenty minutes” is not possible. Because it is always against something. If you truly got 1% stronger compared to the enemies every 20mins, then the start of the game would be so difficult to be impossible and the end would be a joke. I get that you mean “compared to your character 20mins ago.” My point is that is just one part of the equation and not useful to look at in isolation.

          A better example to illustrate what I mean is World of Warcraft. When WoW went to 5 levels per expansion, I could really feel each level up… in a bad way. I distinctly remember going from level 82 to 83. My character suddenly became significantly weaker due to the power scaling system. In that case it was spikey due to the numbers under the hood changing. But the same thing applies in a game with random loot drops like Borderlands vs enemy scaling.

  13. ccesarano says:

    I’m glad the constant blue bar is not a unique problem.

    And to confirm for Paul, yes, Eh! Steve! is in reference to Homestar Runner, and was basically how I would greet him when we first became friends. I realized the gimmick would make for a great way to start every episode of a show without being a generic “This is a Video Game Themed Podcast” title, though sadly it does present problems when people that aren’t named Steve are on and he is absent.

    Regarding Anthem, it’s been out since last February, so we’re approaching a year-and-a-half. I’ve played it a bit on Xbox One since my niece was interested and I found it more palatable to play with her than Ark. Schreier’s exposé revealed that the team, in fact, wasn’t even permitted to bring up what Destiny or The Division did because BioWare wanted to just do their own thing, and… well, the end result is a mess. I’ve not beaten it, and part of the reason is because there are two or three missions I need to do with other players, my friends haven’t caught up, and I don’t want to play these missions with randoms. So my play has basically stalled.

    It’s funny because there are elements of the game I prefer over Destiny, but the very nature of its headquarters being a slow-moving single-player space versus the game being so multiplayer focused makes it difficult to play together. In Destiny, I’m often behind my friends Steve and Nolan but we can all still group up and play together regardless of story progress. Anthem just… doesn’t seem that balanced.

    Oh, and I was also somehow able to purchase some epic-level gear that has sky-rocketed my character’s level, and these things are available for purchase every week, and it has made many of these missions a cinch.

    So, yeah, I’m curious about Anthem 2.0, but I feel like the loot system being more immediate is surface level problems.

    As for who wrote the blog post, in Schreier’s break down it was made clear that BioWare Austin, the folks behind The Old Republic MMO, kept trying to tell BioWare Montreal what to avoid and what to do and Montreal completely ignored them. So Anthem 2.0 has been handed to BioWare Austin, who should have been making the game in the first place. It makes me wonder if there was an internal conversation between EA, Montreal, and Austin, with Austin making a strong case for how they could fix the game. I can’t imagine any other reason EA would stick with it. So, at the very least, Anthem 2.0 ought to be better, but whether it’ll be enough to compete with Destiny 2 remains to be seen since so much of Anthem’s problems are deeper than loot systems.

    The “I built my whole character around this gun” thing is kind of funny, actually, because Destiny 2 is starting to sunset earlier weapons, some of which I’ve kept coming back to due to how much I enjoy their feel. I’ve been relying on the Horror Story assault rifle as my primary because the rate of fire, accuracy, and range all feel like my ideal assault rifle in a video game. So, naturally, it is being “sunset”, meaning its power level will be capped off soon and won’t be able to be made stronger.

    It is both fortunate and unfortunate that there aren’t a lot of guns I’m overly attached to, but it’s part of Bungie’s got this weird attitude of “Play how you want!” and then turning around and saying “Wait, no, we meant play like this, but with some illusions of playing how you want”. They made some really good weapons that players have become too attached to, so they’re just going to remove those guns from the options to try and highlight the new stuff.

    Here’s to hoping I’ll be able to find a gun I like to replace Horror Story.

    Because Paul mentioned Sword Art Online I feel compelled to recommend Log Horizon, an incomplete anime whose first season was a far more excellent examination of how to adjust to being trapped inside of an MMO, primarily focusing on how to create a government within it so players can follow some form of order and be given purpose, while simultaneously considering how game-world NPCs would react, and so on. The second season starts strong, but the truth of the “trapped in a game world” angle gets weird, and it is obvious that the latter half of the season is squeezing too many of the light novels together in as small a frame of time as possible. Season three was going to premiere this Autumn after several years, but with Covid-19 impacting production it may have been delayed further. It is available to watch on Hulu both dubbed and subbed, so if you play MMO’s and would like a show that does a pretty solid examination with less of the questionable “why is that woman dressed like that” content than usual (and unlike Sword Art Online, no cousin-incest-crushes), then Log Horizon is for you.

    In regards to feeling the pain of a face punch when your character dies, I uh, I’m gonna have to go with “no” on that one. Dying in a game is a “failure state”, and what comes after are simply consequences, and those consequences will vary from game to game. When I think of the original Resident Evil, there was a limited supply of ink ribbons, which meant the player has less incentive to save as often as possible, which increases the threat each zombie represents the longer you go without saving. It adds to the “horror” of the game world. This sort of exists in a game like Bloodborne, though once you’ve explored an area it usually is possible to just sprint on past enemies and avoid fighting them (most foes have a limited range which they’ll follow, though this is not always true, nor are all paths easy to sprint through). However, that itself requires familiarity.

    Yet as seen with BioShock’s Vita Chambers, a lack of proper consequence can reduce any thrill from the challenge. You may “lose” supplies after dying, but there’s so much ammo and health resources scattered about that it doesn’t really make much of a difference.

    It’s interesting to me that Shamus brought up Half-Life, but didn’t mention how the amount of damage taken changes based on how much health you have. A clever trick to make sure the player always feels like they’re at risk while keeping them within the game for as long as possible.

    I also find it interesting that rankings are brought up as well, as a lot of folks have complained about the rankings in games like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. Personally, I don’t mind if I get a low ranking in a level so long as I beat it, though I’m more inclined to try and better myself at the former franchise than the latter. While those rankings have acted as incentive for many action game fans to dive deep into the mechanics and max rank on every difficulty (with harder modes also remixing enemy placement), there are just as many that feel like the game is mocking them for failing to play as skillfully as possible.

    It’s an interesting question of how severe you want the consequences of a failure state to be, while also figuring out what incentives would encourage a player to get better at the game.

    Okay, so Nier: Automata’s endings… this is a bit of a thing that Yoko Taro loves to do in his games. Nier: Automata’s are probably the best handled, as they only require actual replaying of the game once. The first time through is where you play as 2B and get the general gist of the setting and world and a surface level story with some philosophical observations. The second time through you play as her companion 9S and get a little bit more info you hadn’t before.

    Then the actual story begins, and you only have to play the next big chunk of game once as the remaining endings all depend on a choice towards the end. You can just cut back to that choice after you get one of the endings, and at that point you can get the true ending. So, those first two “playthroughs” are basically 2/3rds or 1/2 of the game.

    This differs from the original Nier, which always resumed at a mid-point but for later endings required tasks like collecting every weapon in the game.

    1. Retsam says:

      Because Paul mentioned Sword Art Online I feel compelled to recommend Log Horizon…

      SAO is certainly… problematic… at points. But man, I found Log Horizon to be a far more frustrating show. It’s way too fond of its protagonist, the characters are all one-note jokes (including one character whose obsession with panties is the sort of weird anime-ism that turns people away from the genre), and it had completely realistic MMO combat, in the sense that combat was just as boring to watch as it is to watch someone actually play an MMO.

      In fact, probably the longest anime-opinion I’ve written is a three-parter on my issues with Log Horizon.

      It’s … uhh… on the forums. -_-

      1. ccesarano says:

        Interesting. I found its fondness over the protagonist to be typical of the genre, but at least the protagonist is a character. He’s a strategist rather than a magically-good-at-all-melee-combat fighter, and his preference for staying in the background while others play the part of the charismatic leader feels like a legitimate trait a person might have.

        I also don’t find the characters one-note, though their comedic gimmicks certainly are. The character you reference, Naotsugu, effectively only has one joke that is laid thick early on, but I also think characters like Marielle and Tetra take his “I’m a manly man that likes manly things and panties” gimmick and throw him off balance (Tetra being a character that I both really like and also really hate). Which, really, is part of what I like about the show. The different characters bounce off of one another in interesting ways. To me, Naotsugu is a supporting character to someone like Tohya, whose real-world identity really deepens his personality (despite being full of that standard shounen fighting spirit).

        I’m not about to argue the show is perfect or absolutely free of typical anime junk. I kind of dislike how there are three separate female characters that all crush on the protagonist. However, even in that regard the feelings of those characters make sense. I feel like Minori’s crush on Shiroe in particular would be viewed as problematic by many, but a young teenage girl’s first crush being a young man in his twenties that she admires not only seems believable to me, but fits into the experience of some of my female friends whose first crushes were, either in person or through pop media, a grown man.

        If I were to sit here and recommend what I think are the best anime, Log Horizon wouldn’t be on that list. It is my brand of fluff anime that at least puts some effort into its characters despite still filling out a lot of common tropes and archetypes. When it comes to “I’m trapped in a video game world halp!”, I find it far more satisfying than Sword Art Online (the other recommendation would be Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, though with its own caveats and problems… or Overly Cautious Hero, which is a comedy and helps if you’re familiar with the modern state of Isekai that it is lampooning). I think it is better than the current average, but I very much understand why someone would be disinterested as well.

        1. Retsam says:

          SAO’s Kirito is an obvious power-fantasy self-insert character, no denying that… but I think LH’s Shiroe is an even more egregious case. He’s just power-fantasy for the person who sees themselves as the backroom schemer, not the front-line fighter.

          He actually does so little, yet every other character puts him on a pedestal: putting him in charge of the guild, constantly talking or thinking about him, basing their actions on “what would Shiroe do?”, or doing something and then saying “it was all thanks to his great plan”, or pining after him. It was really how the other characters treated him that bothered me, the story revolving around the protagonist is not exactly rare, but usually the rest of the cast isn’t quite so complicit in it.

          And the rest of the cast? Nobody really felt like real characters to me, either. Most characters had a single comedy gimmick, repeated ad nauseum, and probably a love interest to romance after (ad nauseum), but never really develop and that was about it. Very little backstory, nobody seemed to care two gil about actually going back to the real world, or have any strong character goals. I can see the appeal of light character interaction and banter, but that particular cast of characters really didn’t do it for me, and I really found the humor grating.

          1. ccesarano says:

            Huh. The funny thing is I feel like Shiroe’s reputation is at least earned, even if you could argue writer fiat for any potential situation where he resolves the problem. He’s the strategist and therefore any solution to a problem is, by the writer, credited to him (even when another character, say, physically grabs him and runs off so he can go take care of things while everyone else stays behind to fight against the impossible monster odds). That Shiroe is a spellcaster also felt fresh to me as well.

            Perhaps it’s just a personal thing. I’d agree that a lot of the character interactions aren’t really deep themselves, or more often hint towards depth. I guess it’s a portrayal thing. In season two, you can see the blossoming relationship between Naotsugu and Marielle simply through their communication, and it felt like how two adults that were starting to develop feelings might speak with each other. The show never dives into it, and after that there’s a whole bunch of Tetra stirring chaos to create shallow comedy, but I still appreciate its execution. The end of the second season had a similar impact on me, which I’ll keep in spoiler-tags:

            When Kanami suddenly blurts out to Shiroe that her daughter is… 4? I think she said 4, and Shiroe’s just kind of gut-punched by the sudden mention, it just… it’s a moment that says a lot, and felt very much like something adults might experience in that situation. It said so much with so little to me in that moment that explained not only what happened to the Debauchery Tea Party, but with Shiroe himself.

            Perhaps for me it just felt like a comparative breath of fresh air given I was otherwise watching Sword Art Online or, God forgive me, Is It Wrong To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?. In terms of “these characters feel relateable while telling a more mature, deeper story” I’d probably go with the comic Genshiken, but Log Horizon captures more broad appeal for me.

            But, I can’t say I wholly disagree with you. As I said, the second half of season two is a mess in particular, and that’s because they don’t go into depth with a lot of the threads and seeds laid in the first season. It feels instead like they just keep making stuff happen, and in all that time the characters don’t get any deeper. I suppose the best question to ask is “Are these characters different by the end of season two than they are at the start of it?”, and really… they aren’t. In fact, a lot of the characters – Shiroe included – are the same as they are at the start of season one. Not all, but its really the younger characters that developed in season one than it is the older ones, and by season two a lot of that development has grown stagnant. Akatsuki is probably the one character that grows the most, though its manifestation is typically in the frequency in which she tries to crack jokes and other small touches.

            So, I can see why you’d find them all shallow and one-note. Perhaps I find many of them a vehicle to deliver relateable or appreciable situations, but the characters themselves don’t really grow. Nonetheless, the show is doing something that keeps me coming back every so often for a rewatch.

          2. Fizban says:

            As always, I am legally required to respond to every “Kirito is an obvious power fantasy,” by pointing out that he’s really not. Or rather, he’s not in the books, where it’s much more clear that he’s basically helpless and keeps lucking out- VAGUE SPOILERS for anyone who hasn’t already made up their mind about watching SAO-

            -First arc he *loses* the final fight, and survives only because the enemy decides the unexplained freak occurrence of “breaking through” the system actually counts as a win.
            -Second arc he literally can’t do anything to stop the bad guy, and the only reason it turns out okay is due to the actions of three other characters (the captive, a character he fiat saved in a side story, and the enemy from the last story) including a literal Deus Ex Machina
            -Third arc he’s actually the right person in the right place and success does in fact hinge upon his developed skills, but the final scene (IRL) he survives once again due only to luck.
            -Fourth arc isn’t even about him.
            -Fifth arc starts with him losing another fight IRL, and spends a significant amount of time pointing out that for all his “gamer skillz” he’s never learned to fight with actual pain, so he’s got to learn that now.

            Seriously, Kirito is not a power fantasy. He’s a “constantly saved by authorial fiat/narrative expectations” fantasy. The way he’s actually unambiguously helpless against many things and tries anyway is what makes him better than the usual shonen “I’ll just scream really loud until my power level says I win” protagonist- the fact that everything comes back to VR games is somewhat absurd, but his character is not.

            Unfortunately the anime skips most of the internal monolgue that would otherwise highlight these points, in favor of highlighting lol awesome action moments. Still it’s been a pretty solid scene for scene adaptation up until the final season (airing now) where they’ve so blatantly cut the nuance out of a major portion to blatantly focus on making the main characters look awesome in their fight scenes. It’s disappointing not only because they cut possibly the strongest part of the arc, but also because they’ve gone all-in on making the thing SAO is *not* about, the thing the final season is all about.

            ccesarano: “and it is obvious that the latter half of the [Log Horison] season is squeezing too many of the light novels together in as small a frame of time as possible.”
            The second season? Uh, I was pretty sure that the second season actually slowed way down and was adapting fewer books over a longer period because that was all the books there were at time of production. So all those extra bits being squeezed in were actually side plots that were instead not cut- and it slowed the story enough that I was losing interest.

            1. ccesarano says:

              I can’t comment on the Light Novels of SAO themselves as I can’t really stomach Light Novel prose (at least, what excerpts I’ve gone through (and boy I wish I could because I’m curious if Grimgar remains interesting or not)). I can only comment on what the anime has done, which is arguably what has made the property so popular.

              As for the second season, the first half is likely “slowed down” as it is exclusively focusing on the two Raids: the one with Shiroe and company and the one with Akatsuki in Akihabara. Actually, I think I’m incorrectly remembering how many episodes that one was, but it certainly was given plenty of room to breathe.

              After that, however, it feels like several more stories are suddenly crushed together in a brief span of time. The final few episodes in particular, where Shiroe is forced to undergo an “arc” where he loses his confidence, second-guesses himself, and then regains his composure. All of that is two episodes and it just feels really rocky and poorly executed. Perhaps my assumption is wrong, but it felt like they took a whole Light Novel and condensed it into two episodes.

              Regardless, the second season was also a different studio so it’s kind of amazing the show remained as consistent as it did at all (as opposed to One Punch Man going from Mad House to J.C. Staff, I believe?).

              1. Fizban says:

                I’ve been reading fan translations, so when I get around to trying the official versions of things I’ll be curious to see how much the stilted literal slanting fan versions may have masked awkwardness (though the other extreme possibility, localization/rewriting to the point of loss, is one reason I’ve avoided them so far). I can stand some trash so I’ll probably be fine either way. It is indeed fair to judge the anime on the anime, though it’s good to remember the big shows get those episodes because the books were popular enough, and I’m pretty sure that history is showing those that deviate too much from said sources get wrecked. But yeah this last SAO season is really making me mad for drinking its own kool-aid.

                Looking up Log Horizon S2, based on episode titles it looks like a couple books were compressed into two episodes, while others got a full six or seven. Attempts to google a breakdown of episodes vs volumes failed, so if there’s one on a forum or reddit it’s either not visible enough or my google-fu is too weak.

                As for studio switches- I’m sure some go poorly, but usually all I hear is that they went well. When you’ve got professional animators (either able to mimic the original or at least remain consistent in their own adapted style) adapting closely from the same text, with the same voice actors, then having one fail should actually be pretty rare. Much fewer problems than having a video game switch developers, with all the idiosyncrasies of coding and game design. I wasn’t interested in One Punch Man though, so if it’s studio switch was a disaster, I’d have missed it.

                1. ccesarano says:

                  One Punch Man wasn’t a disaster, though there are hordes of comments online about how the “animation” is far worse. Which… it isn’t far worse, but it is certainly different. However, Mad House is probably one of the better studios in the industry, so it’s unlikely any other studio would have been able to match the technique of their output. The characters also seem slightly off at first, though naturally you get used to it.

                  Personally, I absolutely loved One Punch Man and am eager for its continuation, as it actually approaches the more interesting ideas that My Hero Academia teases but is too scared to say or do anything with because Shounen Jump Battle Anime. I highly recommend One Punch Man.

  14. John says:

    I’ve never done any embedded programming, but I have dabbled in Android app development which I think is similar in at least a few respects. Everyone agrees that Android emulators are garbage and that it’s much better to test your code on an actual Android device, so that’s what I do. My test device is my old phone, which is, unfortunately, incompatible with Android Studio’s debugger tools. Most of the time that’s not a problem. Android Studio is good about catching coding errors as you code. If I forget to declare something or if I have a type mismatch error, it’ll let me know. Even buggy but technically correct code isn’t that big a deal. If I screw up some layout XML, some graphics instructions, or the math in some algorithm, it’s usually pretty obvious because the app looks wrong or it’s giving me nonsense results. The lack of debugger tools is a problem, however, when an app crashes. Without the debugger, the only thing I know about a crash is that it happened. I get no information about why it happened. There’s no error log or terminal window for me to look at. I have to guess. What was I doing at the time of the crash? Why might that activity cause a crash? It’s not fun. I imagine that programming for embedded devices involves or can involve similar challenges.

  15. Henson says:

    Oh man, I didn’t realize Steam is no longer selling Alpha Protocol. And apparently, that happened a year ago? Good Lord, I am so disconnected from game news…

  16. CountAccountant says:

    I find the idea of a game punishing me with “Punch in the Face” physical pain revolting and unacceptable. I can accept the idea of games punishing failure with loss of time, even though I don’t love it.

    Yet I would gladly accept a punch in the face to add a little more time to my day. Time is by far my most scarce resource.

    I realize these two views are logically incompatible, and it’s disconcerting. I can’t explain why both seem true to me.

    1. The Puzzler says:

      Well, you don’t really lose time. You might enjoy your time less when running past skeletons to refight the same boss, but you still get 24 hours in a day.

    2. Syal says:

      I can’t explain why both seem true to me.

      Because games are free time activities, already dedicated to lack of productivity, where presumably punchtime would be used for work and chores.

  17. Chris says:

    What concerns me more about consoles is the lack of titles i can remember. If you get an OGbox or PS2 people come with lists of good exclusives and hidden gems you have to play. For PS3 and xbox360 i can remember far fewer unique titles, although i can still remember a few system sellers and niche games you would consider buying a system for. But for the xbone and PS4? Halo and spiderman are the only two games for the systems respectively, and halo isnt even good. I have no idea why someone who doesnt own a PS4/xbone already would want to get one years later. What you would have to chose between when you can buy only one, or what games a gaming PC couldnt play.

    Even stuff like the console’s plug and play ease of use is gone. Now you have to pay for online functionality and download games from an online store.

    1. ccesarano says:

      The list of good exclusives is, I think, going to depend on age. I think we’re all more likely to remember games from our childhood and teenage years more easily, and as we get older we have less contact with younger generations. It is only through some YouTube channels I follow that I discover the Nintendo Wii was a childhood console for creators now in their twenties, which is absolutely bizarre since that thing came out when I was in College.

      It will also depend on who you speak with. On a forum I’m on, the PS4 is largely justified through Sony’s line-up of first party titles, especially over the last few years. Right now, Ghost of Tsushima is making a pretty big impact, as did God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man. I’m in the minority in finding Horizon: Zero Dawn rather “meh”, but a lot of players have viewed that game as being one of the must-haves for the system.

      From there it also depends on player taste. As a fan of Japanese games, there’s a lot of titles exclusive to PS4 that aren’t on Xbox or even PC.

      I finally got myself a PC that’s capable of playing current games at solid detail settings, so we’ll see how I feel in the long run. I’m more thinking of the PC as a way to record game footage than a place where I can relax and game, though. I still prefer the couch for that. I also just prefer a central ecosystem. But maybe in five years time I’ll be singing a different tune.

      1. Asdasd says:

        Yeah, I’d agree with all of that (including the assessment of HZD).

        I’d also note the link between AAA and exclusives: AAA games have become vastly more expensive to make, so less are made and less are exclusive. The trend towards live service is also interfering with exclusives as the point of a recurring revenue platform is to get it under as many users’ noses as possible.

        And Microsoft have very belatedly woken up and realised they have hundreds of millions of Windows users out there who might want to buy their games if they weren’t tied to an additional console purchase, so expect to see the emphasis on ‘true exclusives’ become even more one-sided in the coming generational battle.

        1. tmtvl says:

          While I like that having fewer AAA games be released gives indies and the middle market a chance to strike it big, I think AAA studios would do well to invest less in their games. Putting all your eggs in one basket only works as long as someone wants to buy the basket.

  18. tmtvl says:

    Having done some knockdown karate, I’m actually kinda interested in “punch in the face game,” but I don’t think Dark Souls would be a good candidate for it. There is just too much time between when you start losing and when you finally die.
    I think it’d work better for a shooter with the Touhou style instant-death where you have multiple lives but die instantly on hit. In the face punch case you could have an option to switch between face punch with unlimited lives and limited lives without punch.

  19. Erik says:

    I happen to be a senior embedded systems engineer, who’s been working in embedded since before you were in high school. (Yes, I mean you, Shamus.) As such, I can say that it’s not that the hardware engineer isn’t returning your emails. It’s that fixing that issue will take months of calendar time, and possibly years of man-hours once you include all the testing, layout, updating the automated test equipment production line, new stencils for the boards, and so on. So way more often than you want, you’re stuck doing stupid things in the software to work around the stupid thing someone did in hardware.

    Add to that a very constrained code space. I’m just finishing a project updating a legacy design to a new application, and the current (and please God final) build has a grand total of 6 bytes free. Out of 48K, which is the biggest version of the processor family that fits in the old footprint. Getting more memory would go from a 64-pin device to a 100-pin device, cause a complete redesign of the board… it wasn’t happening. I’ve been rewriting to save tiny bits of space to have room for bugfixes for the last year.

    But debugging isn’t usually as dire as Paul sounded. Almost all current embedded processors load their code through a JTAG serial interface, and all designs newer than 25 years or so have on-chip debugger support through the same interface. I can put in a breakpoint, check memory values, and have a single-key make-and-load. But that depends on the hardware, and sometimes the debugger can’t help you. If you’re talking to an external device and you breakpoint, you will probably never be able to resume because the other end is working at CPU speed instead of human speed, and timed out on you before you could notice that your breakpoint hit. And if you’re really unlucky like me, your board has a class D amplifier on it where if the clock stops while the amp is on it will short power to ground and crash the entire system. so you have to be really careful where to put breakpoints. Fun.

    Let me close with my favorite description of real-time programming, which is the hardcore end of embedded. Some people talk about user interfaces as “real time”, but there’s no real limit except the user’s patience. Graphics are harder, but a missed frame isn’t the end of the world. This project was a telemetry system that read out measurement sensors and sent back results… for a sensor package that was buried next to an atomic bomb for testing. As described, the first three milliseconds were fine, but shortly after that things started getting difficult, and after four milliseconds everything was gone including the processor. This to me was the perfect example of a true hard real-time limit.

  20. Zeta Kai says:

    Here’s a spoiler-free overview of the endings of Nier: Automata:

    Ending A is achieved after going through Chapters 1 through 10 as 2B, which will likely take a player 20-25 hours.
    Ending B is achieved after going through Chapters 1 through 10 as 9S, which is much faster (~5 hours), as you keep your levels, & all previous sidequests stay completed. Also, much more information is revealed to the player, so it is far from a rehash of the initial playthrough.
    Ending C/D is achieved after going through Chapters 11 through 17 as A2, with some time spent as 9S, which comprises the remainder of the storyline, as the final chapter is #17. The player can only achieve one ending or the other in a given playthrough, but achieving either of these two endings will unlock the chapter select option, which will allow the player to achieve the other of these two endings in minutes.
    Ending E is basically one big spoiler, so the only thing that I will say about it is that this is effectively the true ending, the one that the player should strive to achieve; if you’ve gotten this ending, then there’s little else in the game that you haven’t seen.
    All of the rest of the endings (F through Z) are mostly joke endings, achieved by doing strange or nonsensical things; most of them can be achieved in just a couple of minutes, although a few of them are only possible at very specific plot junctures (which are easily reached via the chapter select options). The only ending that is a real exception to this is Ending Y, due the need to collect every weapon & upgrade them all to max level before required sidequest is even available, let alone beatable; to collect all of the weapons & have the materials needed to upgrade them, the player is tacitly tasked with completing most of the sidequests & collect most of the intel files. For comparison, it took me about 60 hours to see 25 of the endings, & an additional 40 hours to finally see Ending Y.

  21. ivan says:

    Regarding the dark sould punch edition question.

    It’s not like it’s hard to cause pain purely through audiovisual stimuli. Play a loud enough sound, you’ll either blow out someone’s eardrums, or blow out their headphones and probably hurt them indirectly. Shine a light bright enough in their eyes, they’ll go blind. Do it well enough, it’ll be permanent. And this is without going into conditions like Epilepsy, and others that probably exist that I’m unaware of, which already cause games and videos to often have significant warnings attached.

    And, do these things a little less extremely, and you can hurt someone without permanently damaging them. It’s not a hard thing to do, it’s just a stupid and illegal thing to do.

    So, to address this dumb, stupid hypothetical, why haven’t game companies already done this? They’ve been capable of physically hurting and damaging their playerbase already for a long time, so why haven’t they? Well, it’d be a warcrime, for starters. Also, the vast, vast majority of even the tuffest dark souls hardcore gamers would probably cry if you smashed their toe with a sledgehammer. I would, and I’ve never even played Dark souls. In conclusion, it’s a stupid question and doesn’t deserve a well phrased answer.

    Don’t torture your customers.

  22. Thomas says:

    The best case scenario for Anthem is they turn it from a bad game in a genre I don’t want to play, to a good game in a genre I don’t want to play.

  23. GoStu says:

    Forgive me for being *really* skeptical about those Anthem promises. Some of them on further inspection actually seem antithetical to the whole Looter-Shooter concept.

    > Loot is viable more often; All items are better and more competitive, but there’s still a chance of getting something exceptional

    This one stands out. I don’t think players really mind if many (even a majority of) items are vendor-trash; the exceptional ones are what matter, and in my own opinion this just narrows down the possibility space of the game. To borrow Borderlands 2 parlance… if there are purple-quality weapons in the game, the greens are all basically just placeholders until you find a purple of your level, and subsequent greens are almost certainly worth very little until you out-level whatever you’re currently holding. Once you cap off in levels, you’ll gravitate to something of the best quality you can find in the type of gun you want and the rest is filler.

    > You can pursue specific loot without relying on randomness alone; Quests; Specialized Vendors; Unique Loot Tables

    I give it about 20 minutes after the game’s live until someone’s figured out the math as to whether these “Specialized Vendors” are either too slow to ever alleviate any problems except the worst possible dry spell, or if they’re probably the best way to get anything done and everything else is just a light show and fanfare.

  24. Dennis says:

    The link to Covert Action’s wiki page is broken; the ‘ needs to be escaped. This one works:

    As for next generation consoles, I think the big selling points are raytracing / 4k 60FPS, and the SSDs. My understanding is that the PS5 has a very high-end SSD, combined with new compression tech that’s handled in-hardware. The scenario they’re pitching is that you’re playing a game, a friend invites you to play multiplayer in a different game, you accept and the second game loads instantly.

    Apologies for the necromancy, I’m perpetually a month behind on the Diecast.

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