How Not To Be An Asshole About A Video Game

So, as it turns out, No Man’s Sky was not the Second Coming. To a reviewer, this is no big surprise. To players, however, it seems to have been, to the point where death threats have been sent to the feller who reported that the game was being delayed for two months, to the developers when they confirmed it, to the developers when the game came out and it didn’t meet some really heavy expectations, to, oddly, anyone who criticises the game.

Thing is, it’s relatively easy not to be a death threat spewing asshole because a game disappointed you. Here’s a few handy tips, from most obvious to least.

This Doesn’t Apply To Everybody Reading This

This, like the thing below, shouldn’t have to be said. But there’s often that worried little voice “But what if he’s talking about meeeee?”

Okay, here’s your checklist. You don’t fill this criteria, it’s not about you. Good on you:

  • You bought a game without trying to find out if it’s for you.
  • You got angry about this, possibly enough to send death threats to somebody, definitely enough to rant about it somewhere.
  • You even possibly thought that would make the game better.
  • (Side possibility: You bought the game and are angrily shouting at everyone who thinks it’s not for them.)

Death Threats Are A Crime. A Video Game Is Not Worth Committing A Crime.

This really shouldn’t have to be said. But, somehow, it does. Again. And again. And again. And again. If you’re getting angry… About a video game… Enough to send people death threats… Then some serious anger management is needed. This is true even if other things about this NMS debacle weren’t also true. It also doesn’t magically make the game better. Often, what it ends up doing is needlessly harming or pissing someone off, you end up on a blocklist (And, occasionally, a watchlist), and you then don’t get to give feedback on it anymore because you’ve proven that you can’t criticise effectively or usefully. All you’ve shown is that you get angry about things.

What Was Actually Promised?

This is a very important one, folks, and too many people out there forget this one. No Man’s Sky promised exploration (Yup), Procgen planets and creatures and languages (Yup), resource gathering (Yup), and flying through space between planets (Yup.) It did not promise a romance plot. It didn’t promise a massive variety of guns. It didn’t promise 4X elements.

If you expect things that were never promised, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for heartbreak, and have nobody to blame but yourself. If you believed the rumour mill over official sources, you have nobody to blame but yourself. If you didn’t even look at said official sources before putting down your money, you really have no-one to blame but yourself.

Another thing that often happens is someone says a thing, and it’s misconstrued to be another thing, or expectations are built on only a few words. “Spiritual Successor” is a good one, because that’s actually pretty damn ambiguous. What it actually means is “We were inspired by this thing to make another thing that takes elements from that thing.” It doesn’t mean “We are remaking the thing” or “We are making a thing that’s exactly like the thing”, because, very often, the thing it’s a “Spiritual Successor” to had design elements that maybe wouldn’t work so well in the modern day, or are patented, or don’t fit with the other things that the developer is doing in their game.

I Paid Money For This, You Know?

Yes, you did. Of your own free will. I’ve yet to hear of a case where someone was actually forced to buy a game, especially not by the developers. If you didn’t research before buying a thing, then it’s not the thing-maker’s fault you bought the wrong thing. An example using everyday stuff: The words “May contain nuts” are there for a reason. Because there are people out there who can die if they eat nuts. It is not the maker’s fault that their thing contains nuts if it says, right there, “May contain nuts.” It is also not their fault if you wanted nuts, and it did not say it had them.

This ties into, for obvious reasons, doing your research. You bought a game without knowing what it is? There’s no nice way to say it, you’re an idiot. There’s YouTube Let’s Players who leap on the game from release, there’s lots of reviews that get published, there’s all those trailers they put out and articles and things, and the developers aren’t even going to know that you waited for a day or two while seeing if the game was what you wanted to pay money for.

“But I don’t want SPOILERS!” is, at least, a semi-valid concern. I say semi-valid because while there is no foolproof way of avoiding spoilers for a game, there are ways to mitigate that risk. I’ve known Let’s Players spoil the ending of a game… At the beginning. But most of them, funnily enough, don’t, especially if they’ve come in blind. Gameplay trailers and streams from the developers are often kept as spoiler free as possible. There’s two possibilities, right there, for seeing what the first hour or so of a game is like. And if it’s not for you, it’s not for you… Leading us nicely to…

Guess What? People Are Different

This one is low on the list, not because it’s not obvious (Look at my photo, then look at you. Odds are pretty high we don’t look all that much alike, even superficially), but because it’s a sort of side case. People sometimes get it into their heads that if other people don’t like a thing that they like, or, HORROR, like a thing they don’t, they are automatically the Spawn of Satan. Sometimes, the people who like the thing or don’t like the thing haven’t done their research.

That’s on them. You see somebody who hasn’t done their research, point them to one of the many articles by reviewers and critics who’ve been pointing out for the last god-knows that if you buy a thing without research or critical thought, you’ve made a boo-boo (Not necessarily the thought of critics, just thinking critically yourself.) It doesn’t even have to be mine.

However, the core thing here is that people like different things. Good example: I severely dislike HOPAs. I disagree with at least one fellow critic that they write women better. I find their lack of thought about things like colour blindness, or placing puzzles in a manner that makes even the vaguest amount of sense to be repellent. And I have played and reviewed enough of them that I feel this opinion is a considered one.

Funnily enough, though, they still sell well. They still get praised in certain circles. They still get played. And this is because they’re not, the majority of the time, targeted toward me, or folks like me. Many of the people I’ve talked to who play HOPAs and enjoy them give not the slightest fuck about the story beats, or the placement of the puzzles, or the colour blindness thing, and the best of them actually work quite well in a language teaching context.

Okay, people don’t like the game you bought. It’s not going to kill the developer, or crash the games industry that they don’t like the thing you bought. Just like it’s not going to make the game you liked magically vanish because somebody else didn’t.

Now that we’ve got this over with, some nice, easy ways to properly give feedback about a game.

Giving Good Feedback

Write from a place of calm. If you’re writing angry, you’re writing when you’re not thinking clearly. And, funnily enough, people have a tendency to listen more if you are polite about things than if you’re ranting and raving.

When talking about a feature, try and make sure you understand the feature first. If you don’t, that, in and of itself, is potentially valuable feedback. But if you do not understand the feature, that’s going to affect how useful your feedback is, usually negatively.

Be clear. “This isn’t like X other game” is not useful feedback. Especially since, surprise surprise, this isn’t X other game. One useful criticism I heard for No Man’s Sky is that the resource management and collection aspects interfere with the exploration aspect of the game, in that it limits where you are likely to go, and how far you are likely to go. That’s a conflict. An example of a piece of criticism that isn’t useful is “It doesn’t have a rocket launcher.” That’s not useful because hey, guess what: This isn’t that sort of game.

If you would like to see a new feature, do not dictate, suggest. And don’t be all too surprised or disappointed if said suggestion is not taken. A good example of this would be multiplayer in NMS. Yes, it seems simple to you. But as anyone who has even dabbled with netcode could tell you, it isn’t. You’re very possibly thinking in terms of how “simple” the data is that needs to be transmitted. What you’re very possibly forgetting is that those supposedly small numbers (Which aren’t as small as you think they are if you don’t want fun things happening like other players appearing inside animals that are on your end and not theirs) add up. And have to be processed. As close to realtime as possible. Things you may think are simple to add, or beneficial, may not actually be in context, or with a greater understanding of how the game is coded. And, most importantly, you are not the developer or the publisher. It’s important to remember that when giving feedback.

Most of all, remember what is fact, and what is opinion. Fact: No Man’s Sky crashes on start up for me, and it gives this error message. Okay, that, along with diagnostic information, may help the developer work out why it’s crashing at start up, and perhaps be able to reduce the amount of crashes on start up (Providing they can reproduce that.) Opinion: This game sucks, go fuck yourself. That’s not even a useful opinion, because there’s no information the developer can work with, nothing that invites discussion, just… Noise. Opinion: This game sucks because it doesn’t have loads of guns. More useful, because it’s at least giving a reason, but where did you get the impression it was a shootmans game, as opposed to an exploration game?

Okay, let’s try a useful opinion: I feel that the limited inventory slots of the early game hampers the pacing of my experience, because I end up wasting a lot of time on inventory management rather than, for example, crafting or exploring or learning alien languages. That’s still not going to guarantee any changes, but it gives a reason for dissatisfaction, it’s not insulting, and it shows the developer where part of their audience is getting their enjoyment. It’s not going to fix any bugs. It’s still an opinion. But it’s a lot more productive than that first opinion.

To give some idea of how many times I’ve tried to say this in one form or another, here’s some further reading on the site:

When Is It Okay To Harass About Framerate? (HINT: NEVER)
On Fandom, Early Access, and Backseat Developers
On Games Journalism: We Are *All* Only Human

Become a Patron!

Reigns (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.99 (£2.37 for the soundtrack, interactive soundtrack, and companion artbook too, or 79p each for each of these things.)
Where To Get It: Steam

I’ve seen a lot of comparisons with Reigns. Tinder: The Visual Novel (because swiping left or right is the main decision making mechanic.) Cards Against Royalty (because there are event cards, and horrible things can happen.) Long Live The King (Because, effectively, it’s a visual novel with a lot of bad ends, like Long Live The Queen.) But, while these do indeed illustrate aspects of this game by Nerial, it’s definitely its own thing.

You could be seeing this a fair bit.

You could be seeing this a fair bit.

Essentially, you are a King. An archetypal King, for good or ill. One who’s made a deal with The Devil for an endless life. Of course, nobody specified that this life couldn’t involve reincarnation. So you’re stuck in a cycle of life and death, trying to find a way out of this curse. And you will die. It says a lot that the very first achievement in the game is “Survive for 5 years.”

Now, it should be mentioned that, just like your average visual novel, once you’re aware of events you can plan for them, and move toward the True Ending of the game. It should also be mentioned that, like a Visual Novel, it’s somewhat short (34 minutes in, I’d gone through seven kings and met just over a third of the cast. An hour in, and I’d been given An Important Clue.) But it’s a game where things genuinely get better as time goes by, and that “Gets Better” is around five minutes in. As part of the design.

One of the people you meet. If you guessed they might not be helpful, win an imaginary cookie.

One of the people you meet. If you guessed they might not be helpful, win an imaginary cookie.

You see, as you progress down the lineage of kings (Harry the Doomed, Michael the Martyr… Y’know, just king stuff), you start to meet people who can help you in your long, slow battle against the devil. People who make your life easier… Mostly. I’m not even going to pretend that some of them are assholes that I won’t miss. And being a king, as it turns out, is somewhat difficult, because you have to balance things, and I really do mean balance. Run out of Papal Power, and the pagan hordes string you up. Give the church too much, and you find yourself declared a heretic. Similarly with the other three concerns (Population, Military Power, and, the thing The Mad Welshman keenly understands, Cashmoneys.) It also introduces new concepts at a reasonable rate, and so, the further in, the more interesting it gets.

In the name of balancing my own Review meter, it should also be noted that, once you understand what does what in an event, this is unlikely to change, although the spread of events does, narrowing at times, but generally expanding. So I now know that if I’m absolutely sure I want to stop my military from overthrowing me, I can send them to pacify the east… So long as that doesn’t max out anything else. The game even helps a little with this understanding, giving you little dots for a small change, and big dots for a big one (Although not everything you do has an immediate effect.)

You partied so hard you died. Because you had all the money. Haha on you for being such a fiscally successful king! XP

You partied so hard you died. Because you had all the money. Haha on you for being such a fiscally successful king! XP

In short, it’s interesting, it’s accessible, it’s kind of fun, and it’s £2.

The Mad Welshman has lived many lives. He’s even swiped in a couple of them. But this “swipe left/right” thing is a new definition for him.

Become a Patron!

The Technomancer (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £34.99
Where To Get It: Steam

This game has been somewhat of a thorn in my side, reviewing wise. Because I’ve wanted to give it a fair shake. But it’s time to admit that The Technomancer and I just don’t get along. This isn’t to say that there aren’t elements of good design in there, but there are quite a few things that make this game Not For Me. So take this review with a larger than usual grain of salt.

It starts with a plot. Water is scarce on Mars, so there are gangs and mutants and corporations of varying evilness, and you are a member of one of those Special organisations who…

Okay, let me stop for a minute and bring up one of the tooltips. This is emblematic of why I’m not so keen on the Technomancer.

What a load of Old Dome. :(

What a load of Old Dome. 🙁

Electric, electric, electric… I feel like Billy Connolly at an opera. “I FUCKIN’ GEEET ITTT!” But of course, this is before the game has even started properly. Once it does, I’m in character generation, and I am Zachariah. I am always Zachariah. Zachariah can be dark of skin or pale, of many faces, but it’s always… Zachariah.

This, too, I understand. Sometimes, you want to write a plot with a very specific protag, and that’s Okay. It works for the Witcher. It works for Bayonetta. It’s worked for a lot of games. I even understand why he’s always voiced by the same person… Because VO is expensive. I’m down with that.

There's a sense of uncanny valley about some of the voices compared to the animations.

There’s a sense of uncanny valley about some of the voices compared to the animations.

I’m less down with the fact that, half an hour in, I have yet to leave the tutorial mission, I have made precisely one dialogue choice, and I have, so far, been the only person of colour (In character, anyway. In real life I have been described as “The Whitest of White Folks”) I have seen. It’s somewhat hard to tell in the tutorial mission, because everyone is wearing some kind of wrap or bucket or other concealing clothing (There’s a reason for that. Turns out, the sun on Mars turns people into Mutants. No, I don’t know either.) The world I’ve been pacing through, similarly, has been one note. It tells a story, but it’s a story I know because this is how this kind of story goes. Resource scarcity (Water, specifically) has led to a decline in population, and so lots of buildings out there are ruined. Also, Mars is not exactly known for the variety in its landscapes, as such.

Of course, this isn’t stated as such in the tutorial mission, beyond the reasoning behind the moral choice in this game (Kill for more resources, but leave the world lessened by it, or don’t kill, but deal nonlethally with things, despite the possibility that many of these people are themselves going to kill and Drain Serum, because you’re Good Like That.)

I’m mostly talking about the tutorial mission, by the way, because it’s emblematic, much like that splash screen. And the ending of the tutorial… Oh no, Technomancers are actually mutants (Who are second class citizens at best as it is), and their little hazing ritual base has been invaded by bugs from below, so…

"Hudson, er... Zachariah!" "Is this gonna be another Bug Hunt, Sir?"

“Hudson, er… Zachariah!”
“Is this gonna be another Bug Hunt, Sir?”

…The moment I saw the End of Tutorial boss, I just sighed. Yep, it was a big bug. Yep, it had boodles of hit points, and an obvious, fleshy weakpoint. Yes, you could animation lock it. It’s… Predictable. It’s similarly predictable that it ends each “phase” by covering it’s weakpoint, trying to kill you with collision damage (often succeeding), and summoning its lil’ sandhopper brethren. Worst of all, I’d known this from the moment I saw a big circular arena and bugs. So… Good signposting, I guess?

And it doesn’t really get better. Combat nearly always involves multiple enemies, because if it was a single enemy, then you would attack a few times, dodge out of its attack, and repeat until it fell down… As such, it becomes a slog. The story involves the very same Big Secret you’re meant to keep getting out there, and now you’re the Rebels to the Martian Empire…

…It makes me so very tired. I wanted to give it a fair shake. But the game, to me, resists being played. And that’s often the worst thing for me to try and review.

The Mad Welshman also has powers. Train-tying hands. Train-tying train-time prediction. Train-tying mad cackling… The list is highly varied, you know!

Become a Patron!

Book of Demons (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Confidence is a fine thing, bravado a little less so. So you can imagine my surprise when I see the words “Three years to develop The Book of Demons” (and it’s still in development), and then the intro to the game reveals it’s just 1 part of a seven part, presumably episodic set of games meant to create more accessible versions of popular game types, I worry somewhat. I also find two words that are going to be the theme of this review.

“Truly accessible.”

Look, it's gotta be a friendlier game, Satan has a rubber duck! That's a good sign, right?!?

Look, it’s gotta be a friendlier game, Satan has a rubber duck! That’s a good sign, right?!?

These are not words said lightly. Games do exclude some players, sometimes because the developers don’t get that they want to attract new players… Yes, you can market a game to the “truly hardcore”, but you’re only limiting your audience that way, even beyond genre. Sometimes it’s because of the nature of the genre itself, and the impression I get is that The Book of Demons is trying to make ARPGs “accessible” so people can… Return2Games. Oh ho, ho ho ho ho.

There’s just one problem. I’m not even a third of the way in, and those two words are beginning to sound increasingly hollow. Let’s discuss why. Starting with how The Book of Demons tries to simplify the ARPG formula… Because, in case it wasn’t obvious by the screenshots, this is meant to be a sort of Diablo Lite. There’s a town, it’s been infected with an evil under the church, and hell has broken loose. Heck, the first quest is even called “The Cook”, a reference to Diablo 1’s “The Butcher.”

This is about a minute before I died. Can you spot some of the reasons why?

This is about a minute before I died. Can you spot some of the reasons why?

Anyways, there are a couple of ways it tries to simplify, and they don’t… Particularly help. First up is exchanging buying items, using spells and the like, for… Cards that do exactly the same thing. On the one hand, it cuts down on inventory management, because, once you start a dungeon area, you can’t change them out, you can only add cards (if you have room) or change them in town. But while this changes things on the surface, it still means you’re using number keys for potions and abilities and the like, so it just… Limits things. And The Gypsy (let’s not go there, beyond saying “Please can we not do that thing where you have a spiteful, yet helpful magic lady who is a Gypsy, ta?”) even jokes about how using a blacksmith was so inefficient, oh ho ho ho!

If that was the only example of trying to simplify by limiting, and not fully thinking it through, I’d be okay. But there’s one core element that fucks things up righteously. You can only move along a set of rails. You’re still holding LMB to move, and attack, and do other things we’ll get into in a second, but your area of movement is limited.

Sounds okay, until you realise that the monsters you find in the dungeon have no such restriction. Gargoyles quite happily leap into your “able to be attacked” radius, some doing area of effect attacks, then out again. Zombies explode into poisonous clouds that, sometimes, it’s much harder to avoid… And god help you if you’re blocked by a monster in a group from retreating, because yes, that can happen, and unlike many other ARPGs, you don’t have the option of going round.

Let's unpack this. Two of the enemies require holding LMB over their shield before I can hurt them. One is casting a spell to summon two more of these that will make them invincible. If I want to regain *some* health I have to mouse over those hearts too, and those skulls are a poison effect that's about to make my health sphere go green and damage me, with the option to click on the *health sphere* to remove the poison quicker. Oh, and the spell icon needs to be LMB held over to stop the spell.

Let’s unpack this. Two of the enemies require holding LMB over their shield before I can hurt them. One is casting a spell to summon two more of these that will make them invincible. If I want to regain *some* health I have to mouse over those hearts too, and those skulls are a poison effect that’s about to make my health sphere go green and damage me, with the option to click on the *health sphere* to remove the poison quicker. Oh, and the spell icon needs to be LMB held over to stop the spell.

That’s what has led to every single death so far, tbh… There have been large groups of varied monsters, and one of them, sometimes two, have blocked my avenue of retreat, and while focusing on them, the other monsters wrecked my day. All the while, I was having to keep an eye on several different things, just like a supposedly less accessible ARPG, with the added funtimes that I could, theoretically stop a spellcaster from, say, teleporting large groups of monsters to my location, or freezing me, or, in later parts of the first third of the game, summon enemies with shields (requiring further click fuckery) that make the spellcaster immune to any and all damage while they’re still alive.

Somehow, in the quest for simplicity and accessibility, Thing Trunk, the developers, have actually made it more complicated. Now, I’m not an ARPG novice. I’ve beaten the first two Diablos, the first Torchlight, and have gotten most of the way through the second (It’s only really the reviewing that really stops me from knuckling down there, as there’s always something new to get through.) I’m having difficulty curve troubles, before I even get to The Butcher equivalent, that I didn’t get in Diablo, the game they’re trying to make more accessible.

Yes, it’s Early Access, and not all of the classes are in yet. Yes, they no doubt have time… But not as much time as they think they have if this is the first in seven games to fill up that intro set of book podiums. This is the sort of project I want to succeed, because making games more accessible means more people play, and I get more people to talk shit over with, and we can then maybe… Just maybe… Stop with all this “Elite Player” bullshit and just get down to play together.

But this isn’t exactly inspiring my confidence that Thing Trunk, despite talking a good game (Make no mistake, their marketing has been very well planned), are the ones to help people Return 2 Games.

We can, at least, point out that this *is* a laudable goal.

We can, at least, point out that this *is* a laudable goal.

The Mad Welshman started. All of a sudden, he couldn’t turn left… Or right. As the monsters closed in, leering skinlessly as only skeletons can, he tried desperately to wake up.

Their claws disabused him of the notion it was just a nightmare. And that he was going to wake up.

Become a Patron!