Diecast #341: THEY ARE BILLIONS, Valheim

By Shamus Posted Monday Apr 26, 2021

Filed under: Diecast 71 comments

Heads up: As of publishing, the YouTube version of the podcast is set to private. Paul’s in charge of that, so I can’t do anything about it on my end. I’m just bringing this up so I don’t get fifty comments telling me about a problem I can’t fix. I’m sure Paul mis-clicked and he’ll fix it when he’s available.

EDIT: It’s fixed now. Paul published the video after midnight, and thus made the classic off-by-one blunder with the publishing date. As the guy who regularly publishes the entire article to the front page and fails to learn from his mistake, I find myself with very little room to criticize.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Show notes:

Link (YouTube)


I’d really love this game if it wasn’t for the small number of flaws that make me HATE it.

13:43 Valheim is addictive

Looks like Paul had a better week than I did. Valheim does look really nice.

21:54 Mailbag: Selling Gameplay

Dear Diecast,

Couple of months ago I played Prey (2017). It’s now one of my favourite games ever. Obviously it didn’t sell very well. And it seems to me that, generally speaking, selling these types of titles might be difficult – their strength lies in the way they allow players to use the game’s environment and mechanics to achieve their goals (I think it’s called „emergent gameplay”?). Which is great – I think Prey is a perfect example of what video games should be if they’re to have their own language – but showing that to the mass audience in order to sell it could be hard. I don’t think their awesomeness can be captured in one picture or 5-seconds long video.

So I was wondering – is there a direct corellation between how, er, „gamey” the game is and how difficult it is to sell it? As in: maybe we don’t have good methods to present the essence of games through their natural enviroment, so instead we are focusing on the visual aspects: cutscenes, elaborated animations and such (kinda like advertising books just by their covers)? If so, what can we do to make gamey games and be filthy rich at the same time?


37:47 Mailbag: Back 4 Blood

Dear Diecast,

Have you looked at Back 4 Blood?

It’s marketed as “the new game by the guys who did Left 4 Dead” (though realistically it’s more like “by a team whose leads were in the L4D team”).

There’s only been alpha gameplay footage so far, so it’s hard to guess what the final product will be like, but I’m confident predicting it will be a disaster.

The artistic direction is all wrong (players quickly get covered in blood, in a zombie game that wants you to avoid friendly fire), it’s got a bunch of “video-gamey” mechanics like money and perk cards and inventory management that feel like they’re here because that’s what video games have to do, teammates have really elaborate barks about actions you do every 10 seconds, etc. The Valve magic isn’t there.

I think the game will be an interesting case study when it comes out: it’s a game that tries to imitate L4D and has many similar mechanics, but misses the mark on a ton of subtle game design stuff like sign-posting, sobriety, encouraging certain play styles with game mechanics, etc.

(incidentally, Oddworld Soulstorm was just released and has the exact same problem)


56:29 Mailbag: Modern Mario

Dear Diecast,

I was talking with a friend about innovation in modern AAA games and he said that Super Mario would never get through corp today: a sidescrolling platformer about a plumber who gets stronger by eating mushrooms and has to defeat an oversized turtle to save a princess.

What do you think, are there any double or triple A studios who would take a chance on something so out of the ordinary today? I know Ubisoft occasionally does take side risks (like with Child of Light), but aside from that I can’t think of any.




From The Archives:

71 thoughts on “Diecast #341: THEY ARE BILLIONS, Valheim

  1. Vertette says:

    The video’s private :(

  2. Lino says:

    Just a heads-up – the YouTube video is set to Private.

    1. Wolf says:

      Just a heads-up. The fifty comments about the YT video being private are set to private.

      1. Daimbert says:

        What we really need to see are when it gets set properly fifty comments about how it’s now working …

        1. Vertette says:

          Dang, you beat me to it.

          Jokes aside, you could just set the YouTube video to go public at a certain time.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            Yeah, that’s what I normally do. And in fact, that’s what I did in this instance as well, but this time I uploaded it just after midnight. The date defaults to the next day, so I normally don’t have to change it, so I didn’t check it. Just set the time to 3am local and called it a night. OOPS!

  3. Joe says:

    God, Shamus, no wonder you didn’t like They Are Billions. You’re supposed to read the Reddit, watch the best streamers, and follow all the relevant twitter accounts. Then you’re supposed to play it for three hundred hours before it’ll be the least bit fun.

    Kidding aside, I wonder if it’s one of those games where the devs had some older game in mind that did those dopey kind of things, and they wanted to recreate it. I have a couple of old games I’d like to see recreated, but even then I would want certain features improved upon. Maybe the devs are being a little too slavish to the past.

    There doesn’t seem to be a lot of experimentation in the triple A field. Kind of, the same as last time, with one or two new features. I suppose it’s money. If you go too wild, you risk losing a lot of money. Better to do the safe and same kind of thing as last time.

    1. John says:

      I haven’t played They Are Billions, but from what I can recall of the reviews I read the game was more fun in Early Access when all it had was a sort of a skirmish mode. Actually, for all I I know the game still has a skirmish mode. If it does, I hope it’s fun. Regardless, Shamus is not alone in disliking the campaign.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Even with skirmish, I’d still hate the game. Long, slow base-building does not combine well with perma-death. Also, fuck constant unit-barks; That’s the reason I have to mute voice-volume in Starcraft 2, Leage of Legends, etc. If it’s every once in a while, it’s fine. :)

        1. Mattias42 says:

          I really wanted to love They Are Billions, but the pacing & unforgiving mechanics killed it for me, personally.

          The setting, units, buildings, zombie variants, world, style… all of that is great.

          But~ slowly clearing the map again & again, while surviving the hoards you either beat effortlessly or get cascade mauled by… and then you have an hour or two of reset to try again, better this time. Doubly so how you have such a limited amount of tech, and if you make as much as ONE sub-optimal choice, it might genuinely force you to restart the entire career mode.

          It’s just… very feast or famine in the having fun department for me. Doubly so when you try to Google ‘TAB for n00bs’ and the top results are a fifty video playlist and a couple of novels on strategy.

          If I felt like pouring THAT amount of effort into just learning a game, I’d do it with Dwarf Fortress, Rimworld or, heck, Chess or Go, you know?

          1. Joe says:

            “It’s just… very feast or famine in the having fun department for me. Doubly so when you try to Google ‘TAB for n00bs’ and the top results are a fifty video playlist and a couple of novels on strategy.”

            It’s uncomfortable to realise that my joke is closer to the truth than I intended. But I’ve seen those kind of statements for other games. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

          2. Sleeping Dragon says:

            I like defense focused strategies (tower defense is one of my favourite genres) so I was quite interested in TAB initially but I’m not too fond of skirmish only games so I thought I’d wait, in the meantime watched a streamer play it (admittedly it was way back so the game must have changed by now) and seeing how his most frequent point of failure was missing one zombie who snuck past from a direction that the camera didn’t cover well and started a spiral of death in the middle of the camp way beyond any defense lines. To be fair the streamer was just learning the game at the time so I imagine there were already ways (chief of those being “pay attention”) to deal with this and the game has been updated since… but by the time the campaign mode launched my enthusiasm for it was basically gone and reviews of the campaign did nothing to reignite it.

  4. Lino says:

    Regarding “gamey” games, some people just aren’t interested in playing them. In the case of Prey 2017, I just didn’t get it – I felt directionless, and ultimately lost interest. There were some areas I was interested in, and once I had got there, there was nothing more to pull me through the experience. Halfway through, I had lost most of my interest in the story, and a neuro mod I found very early on had eliminated the one mechanic I liked about the game.

    To me, this sort of looking down on more linear experiences isn’t very productive. There are people who like having a more guided sort of game, and that shouldn’t be viewed as being an inherently inferior way of making games. And while you may enjoy more open-ended games, that doesn’t mean that open-ended games are the one, true way of making a game. Because making a good, linear experience can be many things, but it’s definitely not easy.

    1. Lino says:

      Listening to the podcast more (should have done it before commenting :D), I’d say these games are for more engineering-minded people – people who like exploring systems, seeing how they work and interact, what happens when you push a small lever, how that influences a bigger lever, and how that then proceeds to change the entire system… I’m definitely not like that. I care about totally different things (such as theme and overall utility). So that’s why these kinds of games have never clicked for me. I’ve just never been part of their target audience.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Are you still talking about Prey here? Because it doesn’t sound like Prey…

    2. Shamus says:

      I know it sounded like I was making fun of people that want a more guided experience, but really that was just my general frustration with the way the market has gone. We have tons of guided games, and titles like Prey come out about once a decade. It’s my favorite genre (remember I even wrote a novel based on System Shock!) and nobody wants to make the dang things because the vast majority of players aren’t interested in system-driven stuff like that.

      So I’m not really looking down on anyone and I’m not saying their games are inferior, I’m just really frustrated with their choices because it means my preferred games barely exist.

      1. Lino says:

        No offence taken! I think you kind of clarified that later on in the conversation – I just wrote my comment before listening to the end :D

    3. Freddo says:

      Prey was very buggy when released, including the ultimate are-you-people-really-this-retarded-or-are-you-just-shitting-on-your-customers bug: save game corruption. I can deal with the occasional crash or a side-quest being bugged, but forcing me to replay the entire game is a deal-breaker for me. Won’t pay for any game of that publisher again.

  5. Ninety-Three says:

    Re: Game ads, I have to shout out Dead Cells which has my favorite trailer of all time. It doesn’t sell you on the specific gameplay of Dead Cells in the sense of “this is a side-scrolling hack’n’slash with wall jumps” but it perfectly captures the “Live, die, repeat” essence of roguelites and everything about it is just so well put together.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Actually, I think it does sell the main gameplay – you’re a dude fighting zombies with different weapons every time. It’s not showing gameplay footage, but translated to the medium of a cartoon, that’s exactly how you show never-ending combat. In addition – fucking holy shit-fuck, that’s a great trailer! Every other game studio in the world needs to do some homework, and write an essay explaining why that trailer works for Dead Cells, and how they could make a similar trailer for their own games! :)

      More generally, I think that it’s very much possible to sell gameplay-oriented games in a short trailer; As Shamus notes, showcase the fun mechanics, that players will spend their time experimenting with and combining. For Prey specifically, you could have the player character self-narrate as they sneak around this space station, musing on how they’ll get out of zombie-infested rooms. A short encounter using melee weapons, one showing some hacking, one instance of installing a neuro-mod and zapping aliens with cyber-juice. For the final scene, the player character wakes up in some cot, wondering what bullshit they’ll have to deal with today.

  6. Chris says:

    I think Shamus means kiting, not stutterstepping :P. Also the constant barks is what I hate about old C&C, they all use the same voiceactor and it’s really bad.
    From what I heard the zombie defense mode of they will be billions was a side mode only for that to be the most popular mode.

    As for new IPs. Little big planet was from the PS3 era, so not exactly recent. I think that’s a big problem for modern games. Before you could do a triple A game with a small team. Valve was a small team of elite developers that cranked out half-life. id software was a small team of elite developers that cranked out big games. Blizzard was a small team that cranked out Warcraft and starcraft. And Those studios all struggled to deal with the increased scale of games. For example Peter Molyneux wanted to keep a team of 20 people max for lionhead (after he felt that bullfrog became too big for him to personally keep up with every single one of his workers), by the end of fable they were at around 200. I read a story of a guy who worked on watchdogs, and his only job was making the minimap. He had to make sure it looked like the concept art, it would rotate correctly, it would zoom in and out, display what it needed to display, etc. He was completely disconnected from the larger product. People like Warren Spector mention that videogames aren’t auteur products, a vision of a single person. That is true even back then, but now it is more diluted than ever.
    As Shamus mentioned in his “golden age of gaming” around 2000 you had a sweet spot where making games didn’t require too much fiddling about with hardware, but wasn’t so bloated as to require a hundred plus people. I think that is why a lot of games either end up as unique indies, or generic action blockbuster. In part because a lot of middle developers died to the 2008 crisis, and in part because the gap between them and the top would increase. And this is also why there are less exclusives. You need the money a multiplatform release brings in.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      No, stutter stepping is the RTS/MOBA term for what you do to optimize ranged attacks on a cooldown. Rather than just pressing attack and having your units stand still while shooting every 2 seconds at the zerglings charging towards them, you press attack which takes 0.5 seconds to shoot, then issue a move command to retreat, then 1.5 seconds later when your cooldown is finished you issue another attack command, then another move command, repeat. It’s basically the developers putting in a dexterity check to raise the skill-ceiling of the game, since there’s no reason they couldn’t just give you a stutter step button rather than forcing you to build it yourself out of the move and attack buttons.

      1. Chris says:

        Kiting is using your range advantage to attack, run back, attack, etc. While stutterstepping is stopping for shots while chasing, often canceling the swingback animation that you get when you just give an attack command on someone who’s running.

      2. Echo Tango says:

        Liquidpedia says Chris is correct here.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          To be clear, the thing I was trying to describe is not whether it’s offensive or defensive (it’s the exact same series of clicks in slightly different locations to do move-attacks whether you’re moving towards or away from an enemy), just that stutter stepping is a feature of certain genres that do attacking a particular way, while kitting is a general gaming term for the broad concept of using your movement to drag around pursuers (like a kite).

          1. Lino says:

            I also think the correct term is “stutter-stepping”. I’ve seen the word “kiting” used in all sorts if games – from FPS’s, to 3rd person shooters, to MOBAs, while “stutter-stepping” I’ve only seen used for that specific RTS mechanic (which I’ve also seen in They Are Billions).

  7. Joshua says:

    While I’m enjoying Valheim, and my wife is putting some SERIOUS hours in, I can’t see playing it more than once if we eventually beat it in its current state. It’s a procedurally generated world, but the gameplay progression is fairly linear and there isn’t that much variety in the landscape. It’s requiring so many hours to beat that I’d be hesitant to start over again.

    Of course, it is still early access and the $19.99 we paid has certainly been earned.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      This is why I try to play shorter games as often as I can. I’ll probably never go back to Firewatch, Gone Home, or VA-11 Hall-A, but they were all enjoyable evening or weekend experiences for me. Factorio and Rimworld were both more substantial, but after beating them each, there’s not enough new to go back to. Multiplayer games often have some intrinsic replay value from the different outcomes from different peoples’ choices and strategies, but even then the mechanics have to be deep enough to warrant replay. Unfortunately most of the games I know of with more replay are real-world board games. ^^;

  8. Ninety-Three says:

    For any SC2 watchers in the audience, last week had one of the coolest pro games I’ve ever seen. Check out game 2 of Bunny vs Dream (starts at 28:30), it’s one of those games where things go way off the normal path a game evolves along and you get to see a bunch of events that usually never happen.

    1. Richard says:

      Really appreciate you sharing this–that was a great watch!

  9. Olivier FAURE says:

    Since I apparently forgot to include a question at the end of my mail, I’ll post it here:

    With all that in mind, Shamus, are you willing to commit to writing a 300-chapters-long retrospective analysis of Back 4 Blood’s story and game design and differences with its predecessor once the game comes out? It’s okay if you drop everything else you’re writing in the meantime.

    Sincerely, Olivier.

    (hearing Paul read my question all theater-like was wild, btw)

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I wouldn’t mind playing B4B, but the $80 price tag and photo-realistic visual aesthetic mean I probably won’t ever pick it up. First, because I probably won’t be able to play it on my machine[1], but I don’t think generic high-fidelity graphics really work with a game about zombies. Like sure, you can do that, but aiming for photo-realism in a grim setting is a high bar to reach. If they’d instead used a dark, gritty cartoon aesthetic like Darkest Dungeon, or some kind of black and white semi-cartoon visuals like the movie Sin City or even better, black and white plus it looks like an ink-sketch – any of those would set the realism threshold much lower, and give the game much more room to work in. As is, I share your general sentiment – this game’s going to be an interesting failure to learn from. :)

      [1] One of the best things about L4D and L4D2 was that Valve put a lot of effort into making their games playable on mid-range machines out of the box. Tweaking settings could even get it playable on lower-end machines, I think.

      1. Lino says:

        $80 price tag? According to Steam, the standard edition is $60…

        1. Echo Tango says:

          $80 Canadian. Our dollar’s a lot weaker now, compared to USA a decade ago.

        2. Grimwear says:

          I’m assuming CAD which is priced at 80 bucks for us. Also man…Turtle Rock Studios. The guys behind Evolve which was one of the biggest disasters of all time. And now they’re trying to make another L4D? Why? Odds are good the people who play L4D will just…go back to playing L4D.

  10. Thomas says:

    I heard about They Are Billions recently. I had a theory that we won’t see a new RTS get widespread success any more*, and someone suggested They Are Billions as a counter example. It’s not sold massively well but it’s don’t better than a lot of recent attempts at RTS’.

    If it sold okay and wasn’t even good, maybe there is hope for RTS’ based on a new IP.

    *Mostly because I think the multi-tasking aspect is too hard for newcomers to learn easily.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      I’m pinning my hopes on Frost Giant Studios, a bunch of former Blizzard devs (ie, the only people who’ve done well at it in the last decade) aiming to make The Next Big RTS. It’ll be a while though, they’re still at the “hiring concept artists” stage of development.

      Man, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs when an entire genre rests on one indie studio plus “maybe some nobodies will randomly throw their hats in the ring”.

      1. Thomas says:

        It was that news that prompted the original discussion. I got too hopeful for too many RTS’ to be the break out hit over the last decade that didn’t, and now I don’t believe in any of the new announcements.

        I feel that the various parts of RTS’ that large segments of the community liked have been split into genres that absorbed a lot of the fan base.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          There’s also projects like OpenRA, for people who want to play games in the style of older RTSs. They’re such a niche game now, compared to back in the day. I think a lot of ‘normal’ people were a lot more willing to put up with complex games and interfaces back in the day, either because of changing attitudes in demographics, or demographic shifts as players grew up and became busy adults. I think open source might be the best path forward for RTSs, since the mechanics / engines are fairly complex, but the niche means the budget isn’t there anymore.

      2. Moridin says:

        PiG did a podcast on Immortal: Gates of Pyre (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDAbgU7WktU) which will apparently be in alpha sometime this year. Some of the devs there appear to also be former Blizzard guys.

    2. Grimwear says:

      RTS games are still insanely popular. There’s always about 1-3 of them in Steam’s top 100 played. The problem is that rts is still in the realm of “pushed multiplayer” which is not what your customer base plays. Quandric…Quantic? Foundry put out a study and found that on average rts players are older and that most older gamers get less enjoyment from multiplayer games. Heck arguably the best Age of Empires 2 competitive player TheViper has even acknowledged that most players of the game like fully building their base and getting all technologies before moving out and clearing the map, something which is anathema to the competitive scene. On the large scale, multiplayer for rts is an incredibly small segment and the reason most new attempts to make good rts games have failed.

      Look at Dawn of War 3. Pushed multiplayer, threw in some moba aspects, failed immediately and the whole series died. Good job Relic. And now Relic is working on Age of Empires 4 and questionable graphics aside their interviews keep talking about multiplayer and the competitive scene which is not your freaking player base. It’s infuriating. People will buy rts games! Just make them good and ignore multiplayer. Your vocal minority yells about balance but the regular player doesn’t care. Hey in Dawn of War 1 you could play Necrons, kill your entire army, make a new one, then use a ressurection orb to bring your first one back to life thereby having double your population cap. You could literally have a full chaos army of fully stealthed units. But no one cares because 1) ai doesn’t abuse it so you don’t fight against it and 2) you don’t have to play that way if you don’t want to. I would much rather play an unbalanced game with 8 factions than one with 3 balanced ones.

      I’ve been playing Age of Empires 3 and I’ve played 2 online games because I have a friend who enjoys online. But he only plays treaty mode where you literally can’t fight your opponents until 40 minutes have elapsed. So the entire match is everyone maxes out economy, gets all upgrades, then when 40 minutes is over everyone rushes with their army and the games end within 5-10 minutes. So even my friend who plays way more online than me still plays in a “bad” way.

      1. ElementalAlchemist says:

        their interviews keep talking about multiplayer and the competitive scene which is not your freaking player base

        Because they want money. You can’t monetise a single player game to the extent you can a multiplayer game. Everyone is on the “live services” bandwagon now.

        1. Grimwear says:

          O I understand that just it’s stupid and is trying to cater to an audience that doesn’t exist. Just look at any rts achievements (not ideal but all we really have). Aoe3 30% of owners won their first multiplayer match but only 4.5% have won 25. Aoe2 46% won 1 multiplayer, 4.6% won 50. Aoe1 1.8% won an elo online match. Company of Heroes 2 15% played an automatch game, 7% played 10, 5% played 25. Unfortunately none of the other achievements for games are worthwhile (you can look at Dawn of War 2 except the game released on cd years before steam so all those achievements are abnormally low). The point is that rts games are not sustained by multiplayer and anyone with a brain can see it. Just not the devs or publishers for some reason.

          1. ElementalAlchemist says:

            Lack of long term play affects the vast majority of games. Look at any purely single player game and – at least for those with sufficient achievements to track it – you’ll likely find that most have a significant drop-off in completion after the the earliest parts. Check out popular single player games like Skyrim, Fallout 4, Witcher 3 and for all of them their very earliest possible achievement is well below 100%. I remember there being one famous example, I can’t for the life of me remember what it was now, that had an achievement for simply starting the game for the first time, and it was under 75% as I recall. The reason “the backlog” has become a meme is because people apparently love buying/collecting games a lot more than they do playing them.

            1. Grimwear says:

              I realize lack of long term play is a thing. But when you’re pushing multiplayer and your multiplayer achievements are in the lowest bracket for achievements completed maybe focusing on multiplayer is a bad idea. Because many people will try multiplayer but won’t stick with it. Play a match or two and never go back. That’s the point. Games like Rainbow Six Siege or Pubg people will boot up an only play multiplayer. So long as they’re playing it’s against others so live service works. That’s not the case in these games and that’s why I went to the achievements. If everyone played multiplayer it wouldn’t be too hard to have your player base play 10 matches. And yet barely anyone did. Aoe2 is constantly in Steam’s top 100 played games and yet barely anyone has the multiplayer achievements. Then what are they playing?

              I admit that many people buy games in bundles and never touch or boot them up but we can generally see trends. For example Aoe1 is a terrible game that’s brutal and annoying to play yet 33% of players got the achievements to collect 50k food and wood, something that takes hours of boring and tedious gameplay yet only 1.8% won a single elo match. Some games are just single player focused. RTS is one of them. Because most people don’t care about build orders. It’s fun to watch players do that but when I play I don’t want to memorize ideal strategies.

              Aside from rts we have tactic games like Blood Bowl. Never a super popular game but all their achievements are multiplayer only and the most prominent one is 14%. Total Warhammer, another mostly single player game in the Steam top 100 has more people win 50 battles in a campaign (45%) and win 25 siege attack battles (36%) than people who simply played 1 multiplayer battle (which can actually be done without another player against AI at 33%). No matter which metric people want to use multiplayer is not what makes the game popular or have people play it. Focusing on it will kill a franchise, especially in the realm of tactics/rts. It’s not what your customer base is interested in and trying to pull in your fps crowd won’t do anything. Your COD, Pubg, Rainbow crew want to go in and run and gun, they don’t want to memorize build orders, what units are good for, what upgrades they need from which building, how to counter certain strategies, all while maintaining 200 apm.

    3. GoStu says:

      I’m pessimistic about the RTS genre ever really flourishing again. Short version: I think the things RTS fans demand of the game are the same things that prevent the mass market from really liking it.

      It seems to me like RTS fans demand (in no particular order): base-building, resource-gathering, tech trees, unit micromanagement, and various highly specialized units that are good at one or two things only which necessitates combinations of units and more micromanagement. Any game missing these elements is going to be denigrated as “RTS-lite” or “Tactics” or something.

      This makes the genre just bloody demanding of its players and constraining for its developers. It’s almost “just make me more Starcraft” but the Starcraft fans don’t need another Starcraft because they’ve already got a Starcraft.

      Total War is off doing its own (solid!) thing, but aside from that I’m not aware of a lot of innovation in the genre. I remember Grey Goo getting some hype as an ‘old-school RTS’ and it went down like a lead balloon. The only really innovative game I’m aware of from the last decade in the RTS genre is Achron and it launched with little fanfare and made my head hurt when I played it. VERY cool premise but really hard to wrap your head around.

  11. Lino says:

    Total non-sequiteur, but I used to watch streams of They Are Billions when the came out a couple of years ago. It seemed really fun, but as these things go, I stopped, and I hadn’t thought about it in years. Since then, I’ve been spending a lot of time playing with my baby sister (who’s now 4 years old), and some of that includes watching YouTube Kids.

    So, once I saw read the title of this game in the notes for this episode, the first thing I thought about wasn’t the time when I was watching streams of it. Instead, the first thing I thought about was a… band?… called D Billions who I associate with this masterpiece. Now you have also seen it. And there is nothing that will ever change that. No matter how hard you try!!!!

  12. beleester says:

    I bounced off Prey not because it didn’t sell me on its open-ended environmental manipulation – the glue gun was exactly as cool as advertised – but because the environment it wanted me to manipulate was infested with disguised tentacle monsters. I can’t enjoy messing with the scenery when there’s a small chance that any given piece of scenery might jump up and bite my face off. It was a cool idea but got incredibly tedious when stretched over the length of a whole game.

    1. Fizban says:

      The thing I find funny about the mimics is that I started predicting them. Not based on “oh, there’s too many chairs,” that shit got me all the time. But since the game spawns packs of them at certain points, and gives you a scanner that reveals them, it just kinda becomes routine. Still missed them often enough and freaked out as usual, but the biggest problem I have with them is literally just hitting. Weird-ass hit-box that gyrates all over the place, which you’re supposed to hit with a melee weapon? They’re a health/shotgun shell/(stress) tax for backtracking. I’ll take mimics over headcrabs thout- at least they have an excuse for being jumpscares.

      They way to get really inured to them is playing Mooncrash. Since it wants you to go fast and you don’t start with the mimic scanner, you just get good at responding when they jump out. But I bet if I went back to the main game that skill would evaporate with the change in pace.

  13. Syal says:

    Any complicated, slow burn concept is going to be really hard to advertise. You can barely introduce the concept, you don’t have the time to show that it actually works, as so many of them don’t.

    I remember a Red Faction review talking about how you could destroy the environments to deal with various enemies, but I don’t remember doing that for any enemy that wasn’t explicitly mentioned in that review. That’s always going to be the problem; any example you use is necessarily a setpiece. The only way to prove it actually represents the entire game is to show the entire game.

    For something simple like Dead Cells, or Nuclear Throne, or Loop Hero, you can absolutely sell the game on the mechanics.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Companies showing off game-play that’s heavily scripted, or only represents some small fraction of the game isn’t a problem that can be solved with a trailer. Either look at the company’s history, or wait and read reviews, to see if the game lives up to the trailer. This is why James Stephanie Sterling and Ben Yahtzee Croshaw harp on about not pre-ordering games – the review is a critical tool for avoiding bad games, or games which don’t match their trailers, and bypassing it is akin to buying lottery tickets.

  14. Joshua says:

    I might recommend that Shamus *not* play Valheim. Paul is right that it can be very slow. As someone who is making their career (partially) off of writing about video games, putting in 100+ hours before you can even talk about the game might not be the most productive use of time? I’ve put in about 41 hours and we’re now just about at the 3rd boss, but that’s because my wife is doing most of the work searching around looking for resources and exploring, and I mostly show up to provide muscle to help search dungeons and take down bosses.

    The gameplay is:
    1. You’re a recently deceased Viking Warrior, sent to this world to finally kill off some of the Sealed Evil in a Can that was banished here.
    2. Due to something, something, you can only arrive naked.
    3. Before you can even get to fight some of these evil monsters, you need to figure out a way to equip yourself properly to even have a hope of surviving.
    4. Most of the game is slowly building up your resources one step at a time to progress further. Get basic leather armor so you can take on Trolls to get Trollhide leather armor. Use that armor to help take down the first boss which gives you a mining pick so you can mine copper and tin to make bronze armor so you can take on the second boss, which then gives you a key that you can use to access burial crypts which provide scrap iron, etc. etc.

    This progression of production can take some serious time, and exploring to even find some of these resources (it can take a LONG time to find the swamps that have the burial crypts) just adds to the time sink.

    * I think there’s a correction to Paul saying that you ONLY lose your equipped gear when you die. You also lose some skill points too. I think it’s 5% or so? Now, some of this stuff won’t matter much because you’re using these skills so often you’ll regain your lost ground (mining, wood-chopping, fighting), but losing points in something like Swimming can set you back if you don’t consciously make a point to practice the skill. You try to swim across an inlet and realize too late you haven’t swam in anything since about half a dozen deaths ago. Oops.

    1. Retsam says:

      The 5% on death gets progressively more punishing as the game goes on, too. Sure, if you’ve been playing an hour, then you’ve lost only a few minutes worth of skill-point building. But if you’ve been playing 100 hours then that’s essentially 5 hours of lost skill points.

    2. The Big Brzezinski says:

      Those skills don’t actually matter, though. You don’t gain any new capabilities as they increase. They’re basically a running bonus for not dying. High skills let you do things a little better and little faster, but that’s all. Food and rest are far more consequential throughout the game.

      What actually makes you more capable is killing bosses because that’s what unlocks the next material tier.

      1. Joshua says:

        I don’t disagree too much, and it’s why I don’t get too bent out if shape about dying and losing points (although losing points in Swimming sucks when you didn’t anticipate it, as I said above). I was just pointing out the correction where Paul said there is no other loss from dying other than losing your gear (which is still the biggest issue!) and you didn’t lose any experience or anything, which is incorrect.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          You are correct, and I knew it at the time, so I’m not sure why I said it.

    3. Wolf says:

      Actually I was surprised by Pauls resumé of his Valheim experience.

      The one problem I never had until finishing the current bosslist is “What’s my goal?”. One of Odins ravens shows up and tasks you with killing the bosses in the beginning and there are rune stones that point you at the next one pretty much all over the place you need to be running around in to kill the current boss. I guess you could miss some of them, but the directions are pretty strongly presented for an open world survival game. Terraria for example left me much more confused about goals during my playthrough.
      What it does not explain is how to get strong enough or mobile enough to get to the bosses and kill them… that was sometimes not really clear and sometimes I did not believe the grind was really what I was supposed to do since the progress was too slow for my liking.

      What I had trouble with though was the punisment for death. Not only does it take away skillprogress as Joshua was saying and to a degree where I tended to plateau in skilllevels since my super slow progression was negated by death penalties… UNFUN!
      No the game also takes away your equipment in a slow grindy game that has very long travel times. So sometimes I would end up taking the risky nightrun option since I was bored of waiting forever and then you die on an island and lose your only portal to it and suddenly you are faced with re-equipping, building a new boat, sail for 30minutes to the island, build emergency portal, fight over your corpse, rebuild original portal and then you are 2 hours into this mess that started out with being bored with slow ass travel times…

      I don’t know. Valheim was kinda fun but the punish got worse over time while travel and fighting only got more tedious. I think the game really need better travel options as unlocks. Terraria makes you more mobile the further out you need to travel, while Valheim seems to punish you with more tedium for every progress you make up the tech ladder.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        That corpse run nightmare actually happened to me twice. The first time I managed to catch it in a “base tour” video I was doing:
        Basically a wolf killed me and then wrecked my portal.
        The second time was when I was heading out in the open ocean on my Karve, and discovered a Plains biome. It looks so inviting! Deathsquito had other thoughts.

      2. Joshua says:

        It does seem like a game that really, really wants you to take the slow and cautious route. Attempting to take shortcuts to avoid the grind just risks giving you larger grind.

  15. Profugo Barbatus says:

    Hey Shamus, technical issue thats *not* the youtube stuff. The actual podcast file, the internal numbering is wrong. The files named 341, but internally its 330. This threw my phone and me for a loop when I downloaded it and it just wasnt there? It took me noticing I had 4 copies of 330, with one of them being shorter, after 3 download attempts, to put two and two together.

    1. Shamus says:

      What do you mean, “Internally”? I just clicked the link to download the show and I got diecast341.ogg as expected.

      What am I missing?

      1. Shamus says:

        Ah! I figured it out. I looked in my MP3 player and I see that it shows the title as 330.

        A fixed version should be uploaded within the hour.

  16. bobbert says:

    Starcraft with permi-death sounds… not fun.

  17. Grimwear says:

    So I’m pretty sure I raged here about They Are Billions when it first released campaign. I went back in my comment history on the Steam forums and will copy paste what I said there. I’m not sure if any changes have been made because I haven’t checked. I threw the game down and never went back. Which is unfortunate because their initial mode (survival) is really good. It’s what the game started with which is just a regular defensive mode. And a couple notes for the notes I made: so in survival you have everything unlocked (can’t build them right away obviously but the capability is there). In campaign based on your mission success you’re awarded “Empire points” which you can use to unlock buildings for campaign. Basic buildings like farms or fishing outposts. Things which should not be locked behind a wall. Especially since if you’re having trouble with the game as you progress it gets harder and harder as you’ll have less Empire Points to get new buildings/units, which means you get less Empire Points, downward spiral. So without further ado my thoughts:

    So I’ll preface this by saying that this will be relatively negative and I don’t have an answer to all the problems. I’ve played a fair few rts games and I’ll be referencing a few of them. Not because I think they should be copied but to give guidance on how to make a campaign. They’ve had decades to evolve and we’d be stupid to ignore that.

    I will also say that TAB is unique in that the gameplay provided by Survival Mode is amazing and well crafted. That being said it’s that same gameplay which makes campaign so bad. So let’s get into it.

    1. Put saves into your campaign. You’re asking people to play a 60 hour, 48 mission campaign. Please respect your players and provide the basic building block of every rts game. This isn’t a situation where you mess up a survival mission and lose an hour or two and restart. This is a campaign where the goal is to complete it. Don’t let your players get soft or hard locked with no option but to restart from scratch. Also add in a restart option. Why force people to sit through their base being broken down when they just want to get back to playing. They know they’ve lost don’t make them sit through 2 minutes of failure before they can try again.

    2. In regards to the tech tree. Ideally I’d take a note out of Starcraft 2’s book where you provide basic buildings and units and then can use points accumulated to make them better. For instance how you can invest into making zerglings faster, stronger, or able to jump. Don’t keep units behind the tech tree (I’m willing to make exceptions for middle and late tier units) but instead let us invest to make them better in some fashion. Also rather than unlocking units through the tech tree you could have them unlocked through campaign missions which also teach you how to use them. Example: An early swarm mission where you are given a couple lucifers with small chokepoints. Players get experience with swarm missions while also learning how lucifers can benefit them. If all of that is too much then at least let people respec their tech tree at will. Instead of screwing over players for the “wrong” build instead they can go in, fail, respec, try again, or better yet use the provided blurb about the mission to evaluate which skills they’ll need going in. If you won’t let people respec or give them basic units and buildings then I will say this. At the very least in terms of 100% difficulty you should be able to beat the entire campaign without any points in the tech tree. You cannot know how many Empire points people will get or where they will allocate them. The tech tree should be used to make the game easier or provide more diverse gameplay. But people should not be punished for making a bad choice and the only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to then make it so that someone can beat the game on “normal” without any points in it at all.

    3. Make a tutorial. This really needs to exist. The first thing new players are going to do is jump into campaign and they will be lost, waste time, end up losing, feel like they wasted 45 minutes, and never play again. The tutorial should be short, sweet, and be optional for established players. This requires actually making scripted events with triggers, something I’ve yet to see and conflicts with the broad stroke AI that works in Survival. Example: Player enters the mission and is taught to make tents and what they’re good for. They also get the rangers and are taught how to move them, explore for zombies, and most importantly how to establish patrol routes. Once the tents are built the player is told how to make hunter’s lodges, fisheries, and lumber yards, etc. Ideally there would be some form of narrator in game acting as an advisor to you or some such. Even better if they had some voice lines. Make them a part of the game and who comment on things happening while you play. Starcraft 1 managed this in the early 90s I have faith you can do this now. Have them comment about how the bridge is a weak point and that while you can’t build walls over the train tracks you can build gates. Then have them build a gate. At this point they should be comfortable so you have them build a barracks, build 10 rangers, and then have them hold off a really small wave of around 20 zombies from the north. Kill the zombie wave and mission over. This should take no more than 10 minutes and ideally the game should give the player the resources needed to build the buildings and rangers at the specified time. We’re teaching them how to play we don’t need them to sit around waiting to accumulate resources. From there give them short 10-15 minute missions where they learn how to use towers, soldiers, etc. Don’t have basic necessities stuck behind the tech tree. As it stands there are too many branching paths for players. I’m not saying it needs to be streamlined but the basic units and structures should be unlocked.

    4. Story. From what I’ve gathered there isn’t much plot or story present. Honestly I’m not asking for cutscenes and high production value but ideally before each mission there should be at least a small skit which introduces the character to the mission they’re about to undertake, what they’re hoping to find, how this helps them in the long run, something. This can be done Starcraft 1 style with just some static facial portraits (make 2-3 characters that banter or argue about what needs to done while explaining what you need to do). If you want to go all out even give them some small character arcs as they learn to work together. Or you could go Age of Empires style where someone reads a blurb at you about what’s going on. They don’t even need to be voice acted though they should be. You need to get people invested in the story presented.

    5. The campaign missions. Here’s the big problem that I don’t have a big fix for. The great thing about TAB is that it provides an amazing defensive rts type deal. This is a problem since most campaigns are offensive meaning you’re always going out of your base in order to accomplish a task. Trying to make a campaign based entirely about defensive things gets repetitive and leads to burn out. So first things first hero missions. They suck and are boring. Honestly there’s no great fix. I find them barely serviceable in Starcraft and that’s about as good as it gets. The best chance for fixing it is to give the hero character a whole slew of fun skills to use and hope for the best. At the very least make the missions short and sweet so the player is always moving forward. The big Survival Mode set pieces should be saved for the equivalent of Act or Chapter conclusions. The big map, building up from scratch, the whole experience. These are the moments the story has been building toward. It’s a reward for players where they can bring all their skills to bear to conquer a huge map. All the small quests and missions should lead up to a big, gigantic map where you can bring the greatness of Survival to the fore. Here’s where you want people playing a 2-3 hour long campaign mission. Also this is where people want to be able to save especially since the first 30 minutes of play gets boring if you need to do it over and over. As for swarms honestly I feel like they’ll be better liked if people had more access to units and buildings without tech tree barriers stopping them. On that note once a player has finished a mission let them replay it. If they missed Empire points, let them go back in if they want to go scrounge for them. Empire points are so important for the tech tree and actually playing the game that missing any of them is way too crippling. Which means people are spending way too long in missions looking for them and are becoming bitter and frustrated. You want them to be having fun. And if someone wants to retry the mission they just played on a higher difficulty? Go for it! Or if they just finished a swarm with soldier only but they want to try with snipers? Go wild. Let them explore and play.

    As a final note and the most negative bit here honestly…this whole campaign should be brought back to the drawing board. I realize the sunk cost put into the campaign so far but it really needs to be redone. Players should not need to drop down a bunch of tents at the start of all their missions. You can easily fix this problem. The campaign should be a bunch of scripted scenarios that are connected with a story. They don’t all need to play out like a Survival Mode game. Drop the player into a map with only X amount of units and their hero needing to destroy a certain building or a special Zombie. If they win the mission ends. “A settlement needs your help!” Start the player in a settlement that already exists and they need to repair and reinforce it before a wave shows up. This way you’re at least skipping the tent, hunter, tent, sawmill monotony. You can dictate how many zombies show up, where they show up, and the route they take. It doesn’t need to rely on the pathing technique you use in Survival. There are so many phases and aspects to a full Survival game that you can break up into chunks for missions. They don’t all need to be 2-3 hour slogs, and when they do show up they should be special. Again, with campaign you have so much freedom and can create whatever you want. Have missions where you need to establish an outpost on the fringes that you’ll use to push out from so you build a small base, build basic defenses, survive a small horde, done. Next mission the hero takes a group with him to explore the surroundings and discovers a special zombie, hunts him down, done. You return to base to find that your colonists have expanded the outpost and now you need to hold out for 30 minutes until reinforcements arrive, defend those chokepoints, done. There is so much variety but it’s all been squandered and unfortunately the only way to fix it is to scrap most of the work you did.

    These are just my thoughts but I feel the negativity surrounding the game now are because the opportunity for greatness is there and instead we just got a gimped and worse version of Survival. We already have Survival and the devs blew that out of the park with how amazing it is. The problem is that a campaign needs to play out much differently than that.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Reading between the lines, it seems like this game is missing some key features needed for a proper campaign: the ability to spawn friendly buildings in a mission, and the ability to script things in missions. Neither one of those should be insurmountable, but I’m surprised they tried to make a campaign without them.

  18. Lars says:

    The last game with a rural setting came from Ubisoft. Far Cry 5 played in rural Montana.

    All the big publishers do send a little bit of money to small teams to develop smaller games. EA did Unravel and Little Nightmares. Ubi did Child of Light and Rayman. Square does remakes of secret of mana for a niche market. CD Project has that Gwent RPG. Valve tried Artifact.

  19. DeadlyDark says:

    Rural Pennsylvania in games you say? Well. https://dusk.fandom.com/wiki/Dusk_(Town)

    Funnily enough, I finished Dusk last week. Must say, I think the game drastically improves in 2nd and 3rd episodes. Not only the levels are more imaginative (compared to episode 1), the devs are also started to toy with pacing and horror. Plus the music improved a lot

  20. Gordon says:

    There seems to be a recurrent theme through todays Q&A about ludo vs narrative.

    Prey and Left for Dead and Valve games (and Valhiem :P ) are good because a lot of effort has gone in to getting the gameplay really dialed in, and it’s that gameplay that makes a game.

    But on the other side the execs at game companies and the marketing firms they hire only seem to understand the movie like elements and so we get these games that copy hollywood or other successful games and have messy unfocused game gameplay with a grab bag of features.

    It repeatedly seems to me that a large chunk of the industry just sucks at and does not value game design. Which bad cause a great game is as much about the features you left out because they didn’t gel as it is about the ones you put in.

  21. Gargamellenoir says:

    I am baffled that anyone would think that Prey is hard to sell on a TV spot. It is full of striking imagery! Just show up the creepy stuff (like a teacup turning into a mimic and jumping at your face) and the awesome stuff (alien powers, super strength, hacking turrets and letting them lose, flying the station in space) in a supercut.
    Also I don’t think the problem with games like Prey is that too many gamers are toddlers that need to be hand held exactly, but it’s that it’s do damned punishing at the start. The early game is hell and will turn off a lot of people. That just comes with the genre.

  22. Functional Theory says:

    The Factorio trailer is an example of a perfect TV ready trailer for an emergent systems driven game.


  23. evilmrhenry says:

    With regards to advertising systems-driven games, I think working with a streamer would be a good step. Spoiling the audience on the plot isn’t as big of a deal in a systems-driven game, and a long play session can showcase the depth of the mechanics.

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