Bloggers Showing Appreciation for Developers Showing Appreciation for Fan Content Creators

Let’s forget for the moment that in my time zone this is now coming beyond appreciation week. Instead focus on the absolute appreciation fest going on here. Surely it will count as at least a couple of on topic posts for the week, to go alongside my… er. One other. *cough*

Apparently I’m also going for half of my word count in the title today. If you’re here on mobile — I apologise.

Anywho. The other day, when I posted on game hype and how I definitely don’t do it any more and definitely did not squee like a child over the Kerbal Space Program 2 trailer? Well, I didn’t know the full story behind the credit given at the end of the trailer.

I’ve dug into it a little more since and it is actually a really cool story. The KSP 2 trailer is an homage to Shaun Esau’s fan project video ‘Build Fly Dream’ from 2013. Back when KSP was still a fledgling Early Access product with essentially coloured backdrops for textures and hadn’t yet smashed sales out of the park.

Shaun’s fan trailer hit over 1.1 million views and has been given title of best fan trailer ever in some quarters.

The KSP2 trailer maintains the same feel as the original — mixing the serious and the absolute chaos that can occur when things go wrong (which is no small part of the fun).

Some scenes pay direct respect to Shaun’s original work, while others just share in the theme. But over the top, they even paid for and licensed the same music which is just the pièce de résistance for me.

If you missed the original post, here’s the official Kerbal Space Program 2 trailer again — it’s beautiful enough that I don’t really need much of an excuse to post it again.

Beyond the differences in visual fidelity (which is hardly a contest between footage from the 2013 version of KSP1 and cinematic rendering 6 years later, let’s be fair) the main improvement I see in the KSP2 trailer is giving the ‘chaotic’ shots some time to breathe and allows us as viewers to really revel in the madness unfolding.

The credit given to Shaun’s video at the end is really touching though. It isn’t often that you see successful developers so openly acknowledge that the work of someone specific in the community has directly lead to additional sales and success for them.

Well done everyone involved. :)

Co-operative Romance

*Bow-chicka-wow-owwwww* No! Bad background music, stop it!

*Kenny G sax floats in from the nether* Wait- What? No! Stop, I say! Take your sax and go on the waggley-eyebrows you rode in on!

Right. We done? Good.

So I recently heard for the first time about a game called Haven from one of Angie’s posts. It’s from the developers behind Furi, The Game Bakers. Furi was an extremely well received game but even so, Haven forges its own path in quite a different direction in all respects except elements of the aesthetic and an overarching theme of fighting for freedom.

Where Furi was a frenetic action combat game — Haven takes a more relaxed JRPG approach to combat and includes pacifist options to at least some extent.

You play as two characters — a young couple in love. So far we don’t know a lot about their situation, but they’ve escaped to a deserted planet in order to stay together. We don’t know why law or the rest of society wants them apart, but I figure it’s something we’ll discover in the course of the game.

Oooh. That’s where the bow-chicka-wow-oww’s were coming from.

The game is focused on being a single-player experience first and foremost but allows for co-op play as well.

As a single-player experience, this could potentially be a bit of fun. As a co-op experience it makes me extremely uncomfortable.

I noted that in the comments back to Angie, but it took a bit of back and forth to get to a point of articulation on why it makes me so uncomfortable.

Turns out it wasn’t even really that deep or complicated in the end. It’s simply that I view the character (or characters) I control in a game, at least to a certain extent, as an extension of myself. Their actions are my actions. Extend that out to a co-op situation and my character is ‘me’ and your character is ‘you’.

But it doesn’t even matter who I imagine inserting into the role of ‘you’, it seems to me this would be an incredibly awkward and uncomfortable experience — including even playing with my wife (were she even interested in gaming).

I think The Game Bakers have come to this realisation or otherwise already received this feedback though. If you look at their original press kit it merely says, ‘A solo game at its core, but at any time, a second player can jump in locally.’ Contrast to more recent commentary on the co-op feature on the Steam page, ‘A RPG to play solo or with a special someone.’

For me? That still seems strange. But a bit more understandable. I wonder whether or not it would be a different perception if my wife and I gamed together more generally. I think not, but I can’t be certain.

Game Hype

Hype has been on the mind of a few people lately. Beyond the posts themselves, there has been interesting takes shared in the comments. It has also been discussed a little in the Blaugust Discord. It seems to be a topic getting a lot of thought-time, in any case. Possibly in reaction to Gamescom going on.

For myself, I’m not about being extremely cynical about everything, as that isn’t a fun position for anyone involved. But I am by and large very… cautious when it comes to jumping on the hype train. There was a time when I was capable — and indeed happy — to quite ‘actively’ wait for an MMO I was excited on, fueled by little more than the sniff of an oily rag.

Shadowbane — which if you’re familiar with the development history and ultimate fate, you might think would have taught me my lesson — and then again Darkfall being the two prime examples. I was an active forum member of both, and for Darkfall even joined the community staff as an IRC channel op before leaving that position in order to run the WarCry Darkfall site (RIP) .

I can’t do that again. Not ever. Not for anything.

That’s not to say I’m not excited by the prospect of any potential new MMOs — but my waiting will be much more passive in nature. I’ll keep my distance, without much in the way of investment, and just poke my head in for a look every so often.

That’s my approach more generally to games far out from release. Hype is something to be kept at arms length, and I absolutely believe this is a defense mechanism against the waves of disappointment that inevitably arrive when your expectations shoot through the stratosphere.

Roger Edwards made a comment that I can’t help but to agree with too. He said, “So although it is fair to lay a portion of the blame for hype culture at the door of marketing departments and PR companies, we should also look to ourselves.” I can think of at least a few examples, easily, of where my hopes for a title have led me down a garden path completely of my own design.

It’s so easy to latch onto one or two vaguely worded promises or features and allow your mind to just run to the extreme ends of the earth on what it might entail or look like.

The end of the broken hype cycle is, I reckon, a bit like finally reaching the end of the rainbow and finding that there is in fact a pot there. And as you approach, you can even tell that the pot is full of something golden and glittery. Your pace hastens and you reach in, letting handfuls of the golden bounty flow through your hands. It’s real. It’s here.

But the weight is off, bringing a small frown to your face. They are too light. And the texture is wrong. You pick one golden coin up and inspect it closely and your guts sink. It isn’t a golden treasure at all — it’s a pile of confectionery for a kids party. Pirate coins.

Sighing deeply, you unwrap one, hungry from your journey and pop it in your mouth.

And if you are very, very lucky — it is actually chocolate.

Eat crap often enough and eventually you learn that the promised pots of gold are not all they’re cracked up to be and you start to look upon them with a great deal of caution.

Still — sometimes, perhaps inexplicably in restrospect, something cracks through the armour of jaded cynicism and the hype begins to grow. This happened to me with Anthem, but if it hadn’t — I probably wouldn’t be here blogging today.

More than that, occasionally it is just nice to experience a sense of glee and child-like excitement about something. I’m sure a balance exists somewhere, but I surely haven’t quite managed to find it yet.

Case in point:

*SQUEEEEEEEEEEE!*

SO MUCH EXCITE! THIS TIME IT WILL BE GOLD, I AM SURE!
(KSP 1 was amazing, I jumped on after the Early Access was over and had the time of my life and accidentally learnt about orbital mechanics in the process. Ohgodohgodohgod, let me have it naaaoooo!)

No Man’s Sky Added

My gaming preferences are mysterious and ever shifting. Like a leaf upon the wind, one can never be too sure where they may land. … Which is to say, I’m very fickle and typically struggle to settle into any one title for any reasonable period of time.

Which let me tell you, can really make these games I’m playing posts a bit of a mission.

Often by the time I realise, “Yep — I’m playing this thing a fair bit” and reckon it might be an idea to add it to the sidebar, I grow suspicious of the fact that I will be done with it a day or two hence. Or that the act of officially recognising it might even somehow break the spell of game continuity.

But I’m going to risk it. I’m putting the cards out on the table and saying: Yep — I’m playing a boatload of No Man’s Sky at the moment. Not an outcome I expected when I first booted it up and tinkered around a bit. I didn’t really see much of a reason to consider it significantly improved over what I’d seen before.

Oh good. Doesn’t look like I’m on the menu today.

Turns out I was wrong. I’m glad I went back for a second look. I couldn’t even tell you now, only a few days on why I did though!

Not really any change otherwise this time around.

Changes to the Game List

Added

  • No Man’s Sky

Remaining

  • Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
  • Final Fantasy XIV

Nearly Removed

  • Lost Ark

Removed

  • None

My Lost Ark account is still functional, I check in every once and a while. But I’m trying really hard not to get too invested in my characters. The risk of being banned is still ever present and I can’t imagine the pain of that happening if I actually reach end game and make significant progress with it.

To such an extent I almost wish the ban hammer had already fallen.

I half expect to find some Night Elves hiding in the bushes here.

For all others interested — we’re told that an NA release is in the works, and it looks like Smilegate recently even put out job postings for an English localisation team. But the next step on this journey is the Russian release slated to go into open beta late this year.

That release is rumoured to have a native English language option. It’s also suggested that the Russian release will be far ‘safer’ for foreigners to play, with laxer restrictions than the Korean release.

So my plan is to hold off and wait for this release before getting too heavily involved. But… I can feel that I’m very close to getting my boat in Lost Ark, and I kinda want it. So we’ll see. ;)

Writing Comments vs. Posts

A line in Bhagpuss’ recent post on the subject of when to comment vs. when to turn it into a post and balancing the two, finally pushed me over the edge to sitting down and writing this out. Bhagpuss had noted in passing an observation that had been building in potential significance as a potential source of deeper insight into writing and my approach to writing.

In fact, in my experiment with writing this post — an undiscussed element of what I was looking at was how to capture some of the comment writing experience. Namely, as Bhagpuss said, “It takes me about five per cent of the time to write even a lengthy comment than it would to put a full post together.”

Writing a comment tends to just flow. Even long ones pour forth from thought to virtual-page. There is no second-guessing or rewriting of whole sections. They just… go.

Nyoooom. The speed of comment writing visualised.

Contrast this with writing posts, where rewrites occur haphazardly on the fly. I can jump at random back to the opening paragraph to touch it up five paragraphs into the work. Whole sentences will be wiped and rewritten in an attempt to make them ‘better’.

Best of all is when changing the structure of a sentence and then leaving artefacts of the previous structure behind. While not the source of 100% of the grammatical issues you’ll see in my posts — it’s probably right up there at 70-80% or more. I’m making a rather conscious effort with this post not to do any of the things I’m talking about while writing it, I should add. And it’s certainly speeding up the process, but it doesn’t quite feel natural yet.

And in fact, after the completion of that paragraph? I just noticed myself pausing to read back through what I had as a whole so far. This is very likely the cause of my editing and jumping around a post on the fly, actually. ;)

Another reason — and I just did this one now too, hah — is I’m very distraction prone. A comment in Discord, a random thought to google. You name it and I can break the flow, then necessitating finding my place again.

In any case. Back on track. I wonder how one might capture some of the efficiency and speed in comment writing. I think the difference in expectations between the two is a factor. Certainly in my mind, during the act of writing a comment it seems far more transient and throwaway — even though there have been times where what I’ve liked what I’ve put into a comment more than some posts!

Something that comes to mind here is a comment from Jeromai, about appreciating the ‘rawness’ of his writing. That over-preparation can end up diminishing his overall regard for a piece of his work.

Although really — it all comes back to the same conclusion as before. I need to get better at writing out complete first drafts before worrying about anything else. Just boom. Write. Turn the editor off. Tap some keys. Make some words. Maybe allow for some critical assessment at the end.

Comment writing proves to me this is possible. It’s just a matter of putting it into practice in a different, higher pressure context.

A Better MMO

Kaylriene recently posted on Sandboxes and Themeparks. I love reading the different perspectives people have on this sort of topic. World view can be so incredibly different based on your own experiences and when you started. This particular topic was one once near and dear to my heart, too. Reading Kaylriene’s post appears to have restoked the coals. So. *cracks knuckles* Let’s do this.

I agree with much of what Kaylriene wrote — but I never thought I would see the day where any iteration of WoW was accused of falling into the ‘Sandbox’ camp. I can agree though that WoW Classic was certainly further toward the sandbox end of the Sandbox <—-> Themepark continuum though.

Eventually I want to give my own take on what a better MMO formula might look like. But first… There was an assumption that we’re all on the same page on the definitions though, and I’m not absolutely certain that’s true. So defining our terms to talk on the same page might be helpful after all.

Sandbox Games

Sandbox MMOs rely heavily on principles of emergent gameplay and player-driven story creation. Rather than tell a story of a war through a scripted quest chain, the sandbox MMO developer is more likely to create a system where guilds may officially declare war on each other. Then allow for land ownership and scarcity of certain resources to drive the conflict.

Without the rails allowed by the theme park style of MMO, there is often a strong element of players needing to find their own fun and set their own goals.

Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call were early examples of this style — with EVE perhaps still holding top dog spot for this style of MMO at present.

Outside of the MMO space, you can see examples of this concept too — Minecraft being a big one. And the slew of survival-esque games that followed.

Theme Park Games

By comparison, theme park games tend to be more of a directed experience. You are passed around from NPC to NPC, each with their own story to tell and set of specific actions you need to complete for them.

Your goals are often set for you and rather than making stories, you are being told stories.

World of Warcraft — including Classic, I would contend — falls into this camp. Final Fantasy XIV, Elder Scrolls Online and truthfully, most of the big MMOs today.

Sandbox and Themepark aren’t Binary Though

A game doesn’t necessarily have to fall into a single camp. It isn’t just one or the other. Games can absolutely layer directed content over a player-reactive world. Even WoW contains some elements of each.

Or, you can simply choose to ignore the theme park entirely and go wandering through the garden. This doesn’t necessarily increase player agency or world reactivity, but it pushes the needle a little further toward the sandbox end by having the player find their own fun.

My Ideal MMO Looks Like…

A world first and foremost. A place to virtually live. A place you can settle and build onto — even if this comes with limitations on place, so as not to create a littered landscape.

Give it an economy similar to EVEs — where players of all skill levels can contribute in some fashion, even if it is simply in the creation of component pieces that other players would then turn into the end products usable by still other players again. And ensure there is a mechanism by which these created products can leave the economy again.

You might be with me so far. I suspect I’ll begin to lose a few more people here though — so I’ll note that the next aspects aren’t strictly speaking necessary for a ‘sandbox’ experience. Just my ideal version of one. :)

Location should matter as a core tenet of the game. I’m not entirely against fast travel, but I am against fast travel that requires no decision making on the part of the player. What do I mean by this? Well, for example in Asheron’s Call you could recall or open portals to a very limited number of locations.

You could bind to a dungeon that you wanted to go to, and then summon a group in as a form of makeshift LFG if you wanted. But this was a choice you had to make and it had an opportunity cost against binding to another place. Otherwise you moved on the power of your own feet through a seamless world.

Global storage if it exists at all should be minimal, getting the necessary resources from place to place an undertaking that carries risk and requires some forethought.

There is more I would like, but many of them orient around being a PvP game. And as much value as that can add, I no longer view it as a necessary component. So this is the detailing of the sandbox elements more or less.

Now, throw on the Theme Park! Layer it all over the top like a fine sauce.

Bring on the quest driven stories. Make the people of the land matter with their own needs and stories to tell.

Bring on dungeons and instanced raids (although world bosses should absolutely also be a thing)!

Annnnnd I’ve done a terrible job of explaining my vision — turns out this isn’t the sort of post I should try work on over lunch at work. I didn’t fully finish it there, but then a late night tonight due to heading out for one of my sons’ Birthday has also lead to less time on this than I would like.

But you know what? It occurred to me just how much I was (attempting) to explain the vision behind the Ashes of Creation MMO. Which is no doubt why they managed to extract a Kickstarter backing from me. So perhaps go read their description as well for an additional view of what I mean — although they also talk to the dynamic aspects which I haven’t raised at all.

I don’t know if we’ll ever see Ashes of Creation in our lifetime. Or if it does come out in an MMO form whether it will even remotely resemble the promises. I’m well over the stage in my life where I was content to hype and hope and wait for an MMO.

But still… If it does. It could be a beautiful thing.

The Ashes of Creation Kickstarter video that took my money!

It’s a Bit of a Fixer-Upper

Before the Beyond update, the last time I played No Man’s Sky was at launch. Back then finding a spaceship wreck on another planet was a fairly common occurrence. But also an experience lacking any kind of excitement. They were always the same ship — a carbon copy of the one you started with. In fact, the whole space around them screamed that you’d simply found another potential starting point for another player.

So I hadn’t really noticed their lack this time around. Until I found one.

I’ve managed to get this thing off the ground and flight worthy. Just. There is still a load of damage to repair, though.

Off the bat, I could tell it wasn’t the same design as the starter ship. It looked about as close to an X-Wing design as the lawyers of Hello Games were willing to let them go.

Intrigued, I jumped into the cockpit to see the damage. From outside it was visibly sparking, with parts of the fuselage torn.

It’s a rainbow! I didn’t even know they’d added these as a possibility!

I was greeted by a series of alerts and warnings from the ship’s auto-diagnostic scan. Shields were inoperable. Launch drive busted. Pulse drive out of action. Photon cannons kaput. Hyperdrive broken. Through all this I almost entirely missed that underneath all the muck and destruction, was an A-Class ship, compared to my C-Class. Also? It had an S-Class (Legendary, basically) ranked Launch System Refueller mod. A mod that would slowly recharge the launch drive when the ship was inert. (Or perhaps at S-Rank, not so slowly.)

The Refueller sealed the deal. You see, without one of these, it’s a constant battle to keep the fuel-hungry launch drive ready to go and able to answer your beck and call should you so wish it. I had to make this thing mine. It was time to setup a base on this planet and fix it up.

Repair of the basic systems was not too difficult. Placing down a portable refinery, I was able to synthesise the more basic compounds on the spot.

The more advanced materials I still can’t manufacture on my own. But with the basics I could at least get into the air with it and navigate to the in-system space station. There I could purchase the necessary microchip components and nanoweave-type materials to bring the remaining systems online.

All systems but one.

The Launch Thruster Refueller required technology not available in this system. Namely, a Carbon Mirror. I’ve seen them on offer before but I had no requirement for one previously. And they were expensive. That plus 3 additional Antimatter will do the trick. That I can make on my own steam next time I jump in to play.

After this? Well, the work still isn’t done. A lot of the storage space is also wrecked. A mix of containment leaks from elsewhere in the ship to sections torn to shreds like I mentioned before. On top of this, all the additional technology spots are in need of expensive repairs.

It’s entirely possible I’ll take this ship to market and check on its resale value against another functional ship with the modification I want. But who knows… Everyone needs a project. :)

Hello Games

So begins Week Three of Blaugust 2019. Developer Appreciation week. The title isn’t giving greeting to Games in general. Rather it is indicating that we’ll be talking about the developer behind the once much maligned No Man’s Sky.

There is no denying that mistakes were made in the marketing around No Man’s Sky. Gamers as a bunch while not happy about it, have certainly come to expect some… ‘flux’ between developer promises and end product. There are whole rafts of reasons why something discussed early on in a development cycle might not make it to the launched product.

Waking on a new world. This shot doesn’t show it obviously, but planets can have more than a single biome/texture type now. I can’t begin to express how happy this makes me.

But Hello Games (and in particular, Sean Murray lead dev and face of the project) took this to some really extreme places. The one that everyone typically recalls is multiplayer, but there was more. Much more. I would argue some of those additional missing aspects to be even more impactful of the overall experience, too.

The difference in this case though, isn’t that it was just early video or promises latched onto.

A month out from launch, Sean was out in front of media, launching new footage and in general hyping up a version of No Man’s Sky that simply did not exist in any playable form.

I don’t think this narrative should be allowed to be retrospectively altered. I don’t think that people angry about this should be cast as merely ‘entitled’, as if there was no legitimate reason to be upset about what happened. Nor do I think it is OK to blame the consumer for being suckered into believing there would be multiplayer.

Having said all that though…

Sean said it very well in an interview last year:

“The internet is really good at knowing when somebody has made a mistake, [but] it’s not necessarily the best at determining the most appropriate response,…”

Sean Murray, talking to The Guardian (2018)
Visibility conditions were amazing before the storm hit. In this shot, I’m no longer even sure I’m still heading toward the shelter I saw as the storm rolled in.

And this is exceptionally true.

Death threats were made against the team and Sean personally for how things unfolded. It should probably go without saying — but that’s never OK. The entire interview is well worth a read. Even though Sean was understandably reluctant to dredge through the details of the launch era the insight into the pain and worry caused is clear to see.

But They Didn’t Give Up

And this is where the ‘appreciation’ part of this post really begins.

I don’t know commercially how they’re even funding these updates. I haven’t looked into sales figures around each update but while I would assume there to be a spike I also struggle to imagine it’s sufficient to break even.

Perhaps I’m totally wrong — maybe the early cycle of refunds of NMS meant there was much left money left on the table after all.

But whether it’s commercially viable or not. When this sort of thing happens, the usual response is to head for the hills and maybe one day return under a new banner. Or to simply move on to a new title and try put the last one behind you.

Ringed planets might not have been in at launch. But they certainly are now. And they look even better from the surface.

Hello Games has stuck around and put in some huge effort into bringing the original vision if not all the way, then at least closer to being reality. Reading the Reddit post I referenced earlier is actually quite amazing. It puts into context how much of what was missing at launch is present now.

There might be some line of sight to eventual monetisation of this work. Some sort of expansion or full on NMS 2. But after bringing in true multiplayer, controllable Freighters, base building and technology research, improving the flight model, expanding planet biome diversity and just a craptonne more. All for free. At this stage I’d say they’ve earned the right to it. I’m extremely appreciative of the work Hello Games has pumped into NMS.

And if you’ll excuse me a moment, I need to go jump back in with a friend! :D

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