Sandbox Gaming: Too much of something can be a bad thing

“We made a massive map full of interesting things and cool sites to see, how will we get our player to explore?”
“Make them collect 5 of something, over and over again”

This idea was once kept to the boundaries of your typical MMO. Go out see the world and kill x of every animal or being you can find until, eventually the killing for experience stop and the grind for gear began.

Unfortunately the more sandbox games get released the more of a cross over we begin to see.

Its been quite refreshing playing Uncharted 2 over the last month, a game thats driven by story content and the occasional killing spree in an ancient temple. I managed to sink about 8 to 10 hours into the game which for me is a good amount of time. The problem I find with open world games is you never know when to stop the fucking around collecting werewolf dicks and actually put sometime in the story.

Final Fantasy 15 has an interesting approach to the sandbox vs liner gameplay. They essentially split the game up into both categories. The first part of the game sees your driving around with your j-pop boyband – killing the odd monster, collecting the occasion special weapon and upgrading your car. From what I can see none of this seems to be getting your kingdom back its just helping you prepare for the final story.

However even Final Fantasy cannot escape the MMO trope and you soon find yourself killing monsters over and over again for loot and exp, and of course lets not forget collecting things. Earlier Final Fantasies like 7 and 9 had an open world feel to them but managed to avoid the unnecessary repetitive quest approach which seems to be plaguing new sandbox games. Even FF10 which was a much more linear game felt open enough to give you a sense of freedom.

I must admit i managed to spent at least 75 hours in Skyrim and again maybe about 50 hours in fallout 4. A game that in my opinion was incredibly weak. I also managed to spend the equivalent on Witcher 3, again a game i felt was weaker than it previous games simply because it was a sandbox game.

Too much of something can be a bad thing

In all these games i mainly focused on the main story quest and any secondary quest which i can find meaning in, like a little side story. In some cases i get bored of the game long before i even complete it. Too much of something can be a bad thing and this is probably my main issue with sandbox games.

After sinking 45 hours into Final Fantasy XV i managed to make it to chapter 13. At this point i was pretty bored with the game but having read that chapter 13 was just bad, i dragged myself through. Now i’m on the final 3 bosses and to be honest i really don’t give a fuck any more.

Uncharted left me wanting more, so once i completed 2 i moved on to 4 (i’ll go back to 3), however when i complete a sandbox game… well you can’t really, you just get fed up and do the last mission so you can say you sort of finished it.

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Mother 3: The first three-and-a-bit chapters

Earthbound was a pretty great, funny game about kids who save the world from aliens through courage and baseball bats. It has certainly left a lasting impression, as evidenced by the still prevalent boom in indie RPGs and Kickstarters citing it as an influence. I assumed that Mother 3 (a.k.a. Earthbound 2, never released outside of Japan) would be more of the same. I was wrong.

Maybe mild spoilers to follow.

If Earthbound was a game about hope, it’s sequel is a game about loss. Loss of old ways of life in the face of aggressive modernity and consumerism. More personally for the various characters you control, it’s about a family torn apart, simply for choosing the wrong night to walk home through a usually peaceful forest.

That the first chapter is called ‘Night of the Funeral’ should prepare you for the worst, yet by casting you as a father, whose whole family has gone missing in the woods, couples the inevitability with a mounting dread as the situation worsens. You know it’s going to end badly, but just how badly is left to play on your imagination as you plunge further into the forest in search of them.

However, games aren’t supposed to be all out depressing, and Mother 3 successfully counters all of its heavy themes with an all-round pleasantness. The world and it’s characters are so likeable, and so fully realised, and above all so creatively odd, that you want to keep going for their sake. It’s so damn charming. The save points are talking frogs! I just me one who was driving around town in a tiny sports car, but still willing to stop and let me save my game.

Also, I remember Earthbound’s battles being a bit dry. The designers probably thought this too, and decided to augment the whole thing with rhythm game aspects. It’s so fun, I wish all turn based RPGs would do the same.

Although I suspect bigger plots are afoot, the standout villain of Chapter 3, leading into Chapter 4 via a surprising, world-changing 3 year timeskip, is Fassad, a slimy overweight rich guy, determined to bring capitalism and conformity to the small town you live in, controlling peoples minds through total control of the media, and turning lifelong neighbours against one another if they won’t subscribe to his ideology of selfish enrichment at the expense of others.

Plus he’s all about torture.

Perhaps I inadvertently chose just the right game to finally get round to playing in 2017…

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Stardew Valley – The Adorable Way to Farm

So this has been a busy June/July for me – in the space of one month I went from working as a contractor, to being unemployed, to working as a fully permanent employee (take that old job! You jerks!). During my unemployment “holiday” (read: “being a no good jobless bum time”), I went to visit my friend and she showed me a game she was playing – Stardew Valley.

When she explained me to what Stardew Valley was about, the first thing that sprung to mind was Harvest Moon – and then immediately after that remembering how goddamn awful I was at playing it. I’m not talking about your fancy DS and what-have-you Harvest Moon, oh no! My memories are from my dusty Playstation, buying my copy and sitting in front of my tiny TV/VHS combo (if that doesn’t age me I don’t know what will) worrying about whether or not I will have enough decent crops to just scrape by and make any kind of profit. Seriously, I was the worst at that game and gave up pretty quickly.

Harvest Moon Back to Nature – Another historical gem in the list of “games I suck at”

My friend was quick to assure me that whilst the basic premise of Stardew Valley was pretty similar – you own a farm, you grow stuff on it and make it better, this game was way less pressure to actually be good at it. And she was right.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve gotten older and therefore wiser (one would hope), or whether or not this game is actually designed to be easier, but I have played a full year (in-game *obviously*), and I’ve got to say I’m not actually doing that bad! I’ve managed to upgrade my farmhouse (I own my very own kitchen *smug*), got some farm animals that haven’t died or are even remotely close to death, and I even have completed a few quests (like going off to find the mayor’s underwear in the bedroom of one of his “friends”) So naturally my success has inspired me to stop being useless and finally get back into this writing malarky.

Stardew Valley is an indie farming simulation role-playing video game developed by ConcernedApe and published by Chucklefish Games. Released in February 2016, this labour of love by Eric Barone has taken the cute aesthetic of Harvest Moon, combined it with a soundtrack and adventure-feel/dungeon exploring similar to Terraria, and produced a game that is so relaxing and just pleasant to play. When I log on and see those pixel birds fly across the sky I get a warm fuzzy feeling.

I also know I will lose *hours* of my life, just playing through “one more day” or “just until the next season” – I’m not much of a gamer (as you all may remember), but I have found myself sitting in front of my computer screen at 4am forcing myself to log out and go to bed. I can’t help myself, it is that addictive (plus when I’m close to getting another heart with Abigail goddamn it I will stay awake to make it happen!)

stardew valley abigail love
My experience of Stardew Valley relationships (source:Tumbler lollibeepop)

There are so many different elements to this game, that it doesn’t matter if you suck at one – there *will* be something that you are good at to balance it out; farming, animals, fishing, foraging, dungeon crawling/adventuring – there is definitely something for everyone. I’ve been doing ok on pretty much everything (*humblebrag*), but if anything that shows you that this game is pretty playable on the scale of difficulty. There are plenty of people to wander round and befriend/woo (I’m looking at you Abigail, you beautiful purple-haired siren), and as long as you have the wiki open on a screen next to you it is so satisfyingly easy to see those hearts fill up. Before you know it you have the townsfolk saying hello to you in the town square, and you can feel a part of that happy little community.

The best way to sum up this game is to think about the goal/audience this game is aimed at. Is it aimed at full on players who play to win? Probably not. Is it aimed at providing an adorable, fuzzy, light-hearted experience for someone to dip into and escape the day-to-day? Absolutely. You play a person escaping the boredom of everyday life to look after a farm in this magical town, and I believe that this is true for the player in real life.

Buy this game, tend to your (surprisingly large) patch of farmland where you can make your own mayonnaise to tempt your future wife. I guarantee that like me you will find yourself coming back to reality at 4am wondering where the time went, but at the same time not regretting a single minute.

 

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God sims wanted

With the latest news that our beloved Lionhead Studio is about to get disembowelled by the mighty money goliath Microsoft, the idea for a post came to me about a genera of game which seems to have gone missing over the last few years – God Sims.

Before Lionhead Studios was turned into a Fable sweatshop they produced a title which remains one of my all time favourites, Black and White. Black and White was the first title from the studio founded by the worlds best salesman Peter Molyneux, before Lionhead we had Bullfrog which bought us such awesome games as Populous and Dungeon Keeper.

Populous: The beginning along with Black and White sparked an interest within me for being an all powerful God figure with the capability of killing and rewarding my followers as necessary. Something which at the time helped to mold me in to the all powerful being you see today. Praise be to me.
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Black and White was a ground breaking game for the time. The graphics where pushing it to the top end with the ability to zoom in and interact with each follower individually. Not to mention all the spells you had to master, which you could gesture into life with a wave of your magical God hand. Storms, fireballs, lightning and thunderstorms, you had total control over your domain. Under pinning it all was a basic moral system which allowed you to become a merciful bounty giver or an easy going, people sacrificing, cow slapping, dick.

Being good was always the harder approach in the game but some what more rewarding, people generally got a bit carried away with your resources and plundered everything they could get their hands on leaving you with a large population of complainers, you know.. like the world today. Being evil meant you didn’t care, people where just fuel for your spell power wok and after a while you where so proficient with fireballs you could burn down the next settlement, kill everyone then drop one of your follower in, and job done town taken over.

The added bonus  to being a God is the joy of having a pet to do all your bidding, as time went on the little guy became more self sufficient and started eating people with out your encouragement. You could also teach them spells which almost always ended up with everyone on fire. If the next god over ever got a little bit lemon you could always challenge him to a pet battle, it was a bit like a dog fight but virtual.

Black and White was/still-is a good game, the 2nd game which came out 4 years later was a massive disappointment. Its a shame that after this the franchise disappeared and along with it the God game genera. Being an all powerful being has its appeal and although Fable had hints of this power later on in the games it never truly felt the same.

Populous: The beginning entered my life as a demo disc from a playstation magazine. This was back when game demos where purchased with a magazine for £3 and not released as a £20 intro game *cough* Ground Zero *cough*. That demo was played into the floor I would spend hours building up a massive tribe just to take out 1 shaman and 5 warriors. When the game finally showed up  I played the shit out of it, the 15min loading screen and the need to use a whole memory card just to play it didn’t stop me and soon everything was purged for the opportunity just to play some Populous.

As a god blessed Shaman you had powers over the element and could use those powers to achieve a vast array of different spells. From summoning a volcanos to creating more land, you had it all. You could also train your follower as warriors, balloon enthusiast, fire fist bros and preacher. And everything was done just so you could become the one true Deity, by killing everyone who didn’t believe in what you believed in.

God sims seem to have been lost over the years and although some could argue that games like Tropico, Sim City, Rollercoaster Tycoon, etc are similar its not exactly summoning lighting and killing everyone. There is a difference between a game where you manage something and a game where your all powerful. Although some in management like to think they are all powerful, until you key their car in the car park. WHO’S THE BIG MAN NOW SHARON!

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The Cheat Sheet to Character Design

Our little Smashface Family kicked off a new D&D 5e campaign this weekend just gone (6th Feb). We’ve been discussing it for a while, but at the beginning of the year we started sorting out dates and  I had to actually think about pulling my character together.

Now ever since I can remember my online/gaming/rpg persona is a redheaded tall woman by the name of “Sai Rei”. If you have seen any reference to this name in forums or on FF14 then chances are that is me. I loved identifying with a strong, powerful yet slim and attractive woman (don’t all women everywhere?) who had a fucking big gun.

But this time I decided to switch it up. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to play as but it I wasn’t sure how to flesh out my ideas – do I figure out the full background and squeeze the stats to fit, or do I decide how I want to play the game and then make the person match? Or is it completely a 50/50 approach?

Our band of merry adventurers took a variety of approaches to character creation (some writing their backgrounds at the table during the big introduction), and I thought I would share a little bit about mine (because I was actually ridiculously proud of my dwarven fighter).

So, as I said before I had a *vague* idea of what I wanted. I still love to hack and slash (I just don’t enjoy fighting from the back) so I knew I was going to be either a fighter or a barbarian, and I knew that I was going to play a female dwarf. But a picture began to fill in the more I thought about it, and I decided that for me at least, the best way to flesh out this character was to think about her in terms of personality and background, and then the stats could be moulded to fit.

This was by far the most fun I have had with a character for a long time. I saw this kind and motherly figure in my head and just knew that was what I wanted to play. For those that have read Terry Pratchett I basically wanted a Nanny Ogg warrior. I saw her waddling round the countryside with pockets stuffed full of rock cakes (that could be used as rocks), her hammer strapped to her back and the medieval equivalent of a photo wallet crammed with illustrations of her many children.

Think this, but less witchy…

 

Dwarf Picture
Like this! (Original by AnekaShu)

The background and history for my motherly dwarven warrior was fairly easy to pull together. I googled some Dwarven names and picked some out I liked, I even went so far as to google basic Dwarvish to create a name for her Warhammer (no judgement people). What I found hard was the last part – making the stats fit.

If any of you readers have gone to the trouble of filling out a character sheet for D&D you will realise it is not the easiest of endeavours. So many numbers to roll and boxes to fill it – I genuinely found it hard to keep track of what stat affected what bonus and as a result needed ticking in which box. During our initial game our group was still arguing over the finer points on calculating successes for various skill checks or attack rolls.

Normally when playing a character I try to keep my stats fairly balanced. This time I decided to be more creative, and I think having a fully fleshed out character beforehand game be some additional confidence to do so. In the end I made her a full fighter – strong, dexterous yet not at all bright. I gave her some charisma (she did manage to have 8 children afterall), and put some points into wisdom (raising children means you know when they are up to no good and you learn when someone is trying to lie to you.) Therefore the skills I picked were Athletics and Insight (at 284 she’s bound to have gotten insight into something!)

My main focus when pulling these stats together was to create someone I wanted to actually *play* rather than someone that would be useful to the group. To be honest my impression of D&D is that if you enjoy playing a character and put your effort into playing them properly, the DM should reward that and as a result you will help your group.

So after this experience what would my advice me to anyone creating a character from scratch?

  • Pull together a couple of key points you think would be fun to play. I picked motherly, wise, warrior
  • Have a fun side note to flesh out the character – mine was a terrible cook, and will literally go talk to any Bard to see if they have news of her children
  • Don’t worry about the stats until the end – if you have a good idea what type of person you are playing, you will have a good base to figure out which skills fit them best and will give you the most to work with

Most of all – HAVE FUN WITH IT. If you enjoy the process, you will create a fully thought out and interesting character. Seeing a person in your head helps you bring them to life, helping you bring them to the table. Don’t worry about what your group needs or what someone else wants you to play, a good DM will tailor a campaign to fit your needs. So enjoy yourself!

What characters do you like to play? Let us know in the comments below!

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