Category Archives: Observations

Difficulty in Games

The writing bug just isn’t biting me lately, but I sure am making a lot of videos. This one is at least closer to a blog post.

I spend some time talking about game difficulty. What difficulty I like to play on, whether I like to replay on increased difficulties. I also talk about some different kinds of difficulty – a requirement for quick reactions, memorization, strategy, harsh punishments – and which of these I enjoy.

What are your feelings on game difficulty?

Saying No and Not Working for Free

Ever since I started making YouTube videos I’ve been running into something I rarely encountered when I was just a blogger. People I don’t know are asking things of me. I get requests to collaborate on videos, to join networks, to post my videos on other people’s websites. It can get a bit overwhelming. I have a hard time responding to these requests. On the one hand many of the people asking seem sincere and enthusiastic about what they do, and I don’t want to be a jerk. On the other hand, a question that has to be asked is – What do I get out of this?

It’s very common in hobby-based content creation for outlets to only be able to “pay” you with exposure. Now, I certainly don’t write or make videos for money – based on the current balance in my AdSense account I should be set to receive my first ever cheque from Google sometime next year. After 6 years of writing here and 1 year of video making. I do it because I enjoy it, I answer only to myself, it lets me talk to people with similar interests, and because I like attention and people knowing my thoughts on things. However as soon as a third party comes in asking to use my work in some way, things change. If I’m asked to share my content elsewhere, do extra work, maybe commit to some schedule, then it turns into work. And honey, I don’t work for free.

What kind of collaborations and such I find reasonable will depend on what kind of effort is required from me, and what I get in return. As of now, the only request I’ve said yes to came from the folks at 1 More Castle (which has, sadly, shut down now). One of the site founders contacted me to see if I was interested in posting my videos on the site. I was really new to making videos and honestly I was just pumped that someone noticed me. So, after some back and forth on the details, I said yes. Luckily, I had only positive experiences with posting there. The requirements from me were minimal – I just made a post in WP to embed my video whenever I had a new one ready (along with some tags and a thumbnail and stuff) and let an editor know it was good to go. My videos stayed on my own channel and there was no schedule or rules to follow. I got a few more hits to my videos, the website readers hopefully had some new interesting content to peruse, and I made a bunch of nice new internet friends.

Currently I post my retro videos as user submissions on another retro gaming site. No one contacted me about this, I just thought it would give my channel more traffic. Again, the videos stay on my channel, I just email in a link and description for them whenever I make them. I get some views from this, but have not really felt any sense of community building. Low effort, low return.

When it comes to sites or people asking for original content with no compensation I have to ask – why would I do that? My bf let me know today that a gaming site was looking for staff writers to do a weekly column. It could be a good source of exposure so I checked out the posting and the application for it. Then I got to the fine print at the bottom, which quietly explained that they could offer no monetary compensation. Sigh. Exposure isn’t pay, and writers shouldn’t be asked to work for free.

Professional writers, especially in the video games industry have a hard time making a living wage. I’m not a professional writer. I’ve never made a pitch, I’ve never worked with an editor. I’ve been paid to write something a grand total of 1 time. However, because I think that writing and journalism should be careers that are viable for talented people, I’d never write for free for any site that collects revenue. The more people that create content for free, the more people think that this is the way it should be. That people don’t need to be compensated for their work. Why pay a writer when some schmuck with no business sense will do it for free?

I’ve sort of veered off topic (see? no editor). At least I resisted the urge to go into a tangent about game companies using fans as free Alpha/Beta testers. Oh wait, I guess I didn’t resist. Coming back around to the original topic… if you’re a content creator, how do you respond to requests for collaboration or for you to share your work elsewhere? My current tactic is to ignore anything I’m not really interested in, which is not the most mature response. I don’t want to be a jerk to people who are interested in my content but at the same time, there has to be something in it for me and I want to be sure I’m getting at least as much out of it as I put into it.

Dragon Age: Injudicious

Dragon Age: Inquisition was one of my favorite games of the year last year. It had its shortcomings to be sure, but there was enough sweet story and charming interactions with other characters to make up for it. Plus, it was a Dragon Age game!

I played through the game once. However, it was a 300 hour playthrough. I did everything. I always meant to play again. I wanted to choose the Templars instead of the mages, I wanted to have another romance (or 7), I wanted to let the Chargers die and leave Hawke in the Fade. I want to find out who the hell this Blackwall guy is that I totally missed. But, after 300 hours of playing I needed a nice, long break from the game.

I finally went back to it this past week when the Trespasser DLC was released. I picked up all three of the DLC packs and hopped back in. I started with Jaws of Hakkon. This was a mistake. I wish I never played (or paid for) this content. The few hours of gameplay it offered put a spotlight on all of the annoying aspects of the game and offered none of the good parts. It also made me re-examine the game as a whole.

We all know where Dragon Age shines. It’s in the conversations, friendships, romances, and rivalries with your companions. It’s in the choices you make and seeing the results of those choices in the world. It’s in the banter. It’s in shaping an Inquisitor into what you want her to be. The rest, looking back at the game a year later, is kind of shit. Open world was a huge mistake. Adding the ability to jump (and making it use the same button as interactions) introduced all kinds of annoyances. Collection quests are bullshit. Inventory management and the crafting process are annoying (even if the gear is pretty). The codex… fuck the codex, I shouldn’t have to read a novel to understand what’s going on. Making your average conversation with an NPC have a free-roaming camera instead of fixed, more “cinematic” fixed camera angles make conversations feel cold and unengaging. Combat could be okay, if every fight didn’t take a million years and feel exactly the same. Also, I’m pretty sure this game gave me a repetitive strain injury from clicking left stick every 3 seconds to look for items.

DAI map

There’s just so much shit to get through in order to get the parts that make the game worthwhile. Jaws of Hakkon just added another huge, open map with more shards to collect and too much combat and travel time, with nary a glimpse of what makes Dragon Age charming. And it made me realize…that’s what 90% of my experience with the main game was.

I continued on to play through the other DLC. The Descent was good. It didn’t fall into the same traps that Hakkon did. It was nice and linear, there was more story and interaction with other characters. I actually got to see close ups of characters I was talking to during conversations. There was still some shitty collecting of gears but there was an actual purpose to it (opening doors) and you didn’t need to get every single one. It did have a lot of boring combat and for some reason there are no walls in the Deep Roads, meaning I Leaping Shot to my death about a billion times. If you don’t play an archer, Leaping Shot is the most fun and visually appealing ability, plus it makes noise like bowling pins being knocked over, so not using it is not a reasonable option. However, the DLC was decent. Some of the Dragon Age Charm was there.

Trespasser is the last story DLC so I expected a lot of story. For the most part I got it. It had a number of charming bits. Seeing my companions again after so long was nice. Though when I met up with my boo Cullen, I said hello then 3 seconds later we were married. That was a bit jarring. It was great to go to the theater with Josephine and the spa with Vivienne, to hear the bard sing again. Then there was a bunch more combat in more high up areas with no walls. Lots of falling. The end was alright, though it’s the narration during the credits that ended up being my favourite part of the whole thing. Cassandra’s great. Makes me almost want to play the game again to romance her.

However, I think I’m done with my Inquisition experience. Going back for the DLC made realized just how much useless, un-fun filler is in the game and I just can’t bring myself to take part in that again. No matter how much I want to kiss all my companions.

Things I Don’t Get About Gaming: Respect for One’s Time

So here’s something I’m becoming more and more perplexed by as time goes on – gaming’s relationship with time. More specifically, the relationship between time and enjoyment.

I’ve talked before about how I find it strange that “short” is so often used as a criticism of games, or something included in the negative column of a review. I’ve actually made a whole video about it. I love short games. They don’t overstay their welcome, you have less of a chance to get bored. There’s less “busy work” like fetch quests or loot grinding. If it’s a story-focused game, the narrative is usually tighter. That’s not to say I don’t like long games too – I love a lot of those but honestly I probably would have enjoyed Witcher 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition more if I spent 50 hours with them (which is still a very long time) rather than 100+. Did looking for weapon and armor patterns or shards add anything to the game but extra playtime? Not really.

Destiny loot grind

Today there was an opinion piece about Destiny over on Polygon. My history with Destiny is quite short. I picked it up not long after release and gave it a fair shake. It looked nice – not exactly glowing praise. Are there really any current gen AAA games you can’t say that about? The shooting mechanics were solid. The story was almost non-existent, and what little there was was wedged into a phone app rather than in the game. The gameplay got repetitive and boring real quick. Playing alone was dull. Playing with a friend (who outleveled me) was dull (and full of death). Loot grinds are dull. Plus, the number one strike against games for me right now – it doesn’t end. So I quit. This was not the game for me.

Anyway, one quote from this article made me kind of sad.

I’m like many of you in that I only have an hour, maybe two, of non-working game time every night. So I tend to play games that allow me to make some forward progress in that time. Diablo 3 was a perfect game for that rhythm, as you could play a little here and there and always gain a bit of level or some loot.

Destiny actively pushed players like me away with its endgame leveling scheme, which depended on an arcane “Light” system. You were completely reliant on random item drops to level up and, while there were certain things you could do to maximize your time, if you didn’t pull any good items in your evening of playing, you were sunk. The time was all but meaningless.

It felt like a grind that ended with a slot machine that would determine whether or not you wasted your time. It sucked, and it sucked hard.

I understand that things like gears and levels serve as both goals and rewards in games. However, shouldn’t the simple act of playing the game be something worth your time? Shouldn’t playing be fun? Fun might be a bit reductive – but it should be engaging, or entertaining, or thought-provoking, or interesting. If the time you spend with a game is only worthwhile if X happens (you get a piece of gear, you gain a level, you get an achievement, you win) but is considered a waste of time otherwise, is that a good game? Does it deserve your time?

Say you play for an hour. At the 58 minute mark you get a piece of gear. Whether it’s useful or not will certainly impact your enjoyment and mood for those last 2 minutes of the game. But what about the first 57 minutes, before the loot dropped. Were you enjoying yourself? If not, why are you playing?

My thoughts on this have evolved over the years. I can think of many, many times in World of Warcraft where I spent hours in a raid and was just miserable the whole time (heroic Garrosh springs to mind). These times weren’t contained to a certain tier or xpac, there were lots times I spent in WoW that were unequivocally NOT FUN. But I did them for some larger goal – an achievement, a boss kill, a better arena ranking.

Now I’ve come to a point where if I were to play a game for 2 hours and consider my time wasted I don’t think I’d be going back to that game. Life’s short. There are a lot of games to play.

What do you think? Is it worth it to power through uninteresting gameplay, to do things you consider a waste of time, in search of some bigger in-game goal? The more work you put in, the better the “win” will feel? Or do you think games should always be fun (or at least interesting) to you in some way?

Blaugust Complete

This is day 31 of Blaugust.

Well, I did it. 31 posts in 31 days. It was easier than I thought it would be, except for one point in week 4 when I never wanted to look at another blog again.

Let’s look at the positives fist. I learned that I can put out content much more frequently than I usually do. Of the 31 posts, there are only 5 that I really consider filler that I never would have posted if not for Blaugust. That’s not too shabby. This was a really good writing exercise. Another positive is that I found more blogs to read and tried to comment more often than usual. I also got more comments than usual here (at least at the beginning of the month).

Most of the negatives of Blaugust have to do with oversaturation. After a while, the challenge was not only putting out my own posts out but also reading other people’s posts. A post a day on 50-100 blogs is a lot of reading especially since I don’t tend to read on weekends, so they pile up. I read and commented less as the month went on, and I in turn received less comments. My post links on Twitter barely got shared at all, likely because there were so many of them. Likewise, I did very little retweeting myself.

Traffic-wise, this month I received less views than 10 of the 12 previous months. So posting daily didn’t really drive traffic. My post viewed post was Breaking News, Women Play Video Games, while a number of my posts got only a handful of views (especially the ones where I just embedded a video). There were a couple posts I really liked that didn’t get much attention, I’m sure at least partially because they got buried under everything else.

Overall, Blaugust was an interesting exercise and I’m glad I did it. I won’t be making an effort to continue to post this much though.

I’d ask you how Blaugust was for you but I’m sure everyone is writing this post today.

Show Don’t Tell

This is day 30 of Blaugust.

Yesterday I played Until Dawn for 6 hours. If you’re not familiar with the game, it’s a cinematic horror game that advertises how player choice matters. A group of teenagers has gone to an isolated mountain cabin (in Alberta!) on the anniversary of the disappearance of a couple of their other friends and a whole bunch of bad shit happens. Surprise. The characters in the game can survive or die based on player decisions.

I like the game. Obviously I like it, I played it all day. It’s fun, scary, and the animation is just amazing. However, it does something that really bugs me.

Until Dawn butterfly effect

When you make a decision that’s important the game tells you, loudly and obnoxiously. Bells are chiming, text is flashing. Butterfly effect! The game really wants you to know that this decision has an effect. That you’re awesome for changing the course of the game. That it’s awesome for letting you.

This for me, is completely ineffective. If anything, it destroys immersion. Yes, I’m playing a video game. I can tell by the controller in my hand, you don’t need to remind me on-screen every time I make a decision. Explicitly telling me I’ve altered the course of events by snooping and reading someone’s text message does nothing for me. Either I’ll play the game again, make new decisions and see their outcomes, or I’ll only play this game the once in which case it doesn’t matter.

Of course this isn’t the only game that does this. I got really fed up with Telltale games when I played The Wolf Among Us. Snow will remember that, the game would tell me, menacingly. So what? If you have to tell me something I’ve said or done has had an impact on another character via a text message on the screen, you’re not doing a very good job with writing (or animation, possibly).

Life is Strange - This action will have consequences

Life is Strange (which basically ripped off Telltale’s boring formula) does this too. This action will have consequences… Shut up, game. Show me consequences, don’t tell me. I think for most games this is just a way of making the player feel in control when they’re really not but for me, it backfires. After playing The Wolf Among Us, or even The Walking Dead  I saw I wasn’t really making that much of a difference. If a character was going to die, they were gonna die. I could save them at the beginning of chapter 3, but they’d still be dead by the end of it. So this control you have over the story is really a lie, and that’s a bit of a piss off. Had I not been bombarded with messages telling me how much impact I’m having, I wouldn’t be upset at all about my choices not really mattering. I like to play the games, I like to experience a story whether it gives me options or sets me along a particular path. What I don’t like is being constantly, obnoxiously told how important my choices are when they generally really aren’t.

What do you think about these kinds of games? Can you see any positives to constant on-screen messages telling you when you’ve (apparently) changed the course of the game?


This is for day 22 of Blaugust.

Let’s talk about Heroes of the Storm. Again. I was happy for the season reset that just happened. I was experiencing a bit of a pattern in ranked games that was getting really annoying. I’d win my way up to Rank 20 or so, and then lose. And lose. And lose. I’d win maybe 1 in 8 games during my long plummet from rank 20 all the way down to rank 28-30. This happened twice. If rank 20 is my skill-cap right now, that’s fine. I can accept that. But I can think of less soul-sucking ways to keep me out of the 19+ bracket.

Now, this is all just anecdotal. I have no idea how MMR works. Maybe it’s meant to make reaching your skill cap a miserable experience, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky. The worst part about the huge losing streaks is that I didn’t feel I was losing because the opposing team was really good. It felt like I was losing because my team was terrible. Now, I’m not amazing. I sometimes chase a little too far and die, or think I need to finish of a merc camp instead of doing something more useful. But my teams were full of people so bad I often questioned whether they were trolls. It started right from the draft. No one thought about comp at all. Malf and Li Li? Sure! Double tank? Okay! All melee? Sounds like fun! Then once we were off to a limping start, it got even worse. There were the people who wanted to team fight at level 2 and collected no XP (plus yelled at the people who didn’t join the fights). There were tanks off doing their own thing, smacking away at towers while the rest of the team went 4-5 against the enemy. The people who ignored objectives. The people who exclaimed “gg” and went afk if we were 2 levels down. The people who gave me the impression they had never played their hero before. It was pretty disheartening to run into some variation of this in every single match.

I feel like this is kinda backwards. I should be facing the challenge of better players as I rank up, not the challenge of being grouped with a bunch of potatoes.

I’m wondering what other people’s ranked experiences have been like?