Subnautica

Last night I tried out an early access survival game called Subnautica. I bought it for $9.99 in the last Steam sale.

The premise of this game is unlike other survival games in that you play a big part of it underwater. The game begins with you scrambling into a “rescue pod” while your ship blows up around you. (I assume it’s some kind of spaceship.) The rescue pod lands in a big alien ocean and then it’s your job to survive, while your ship looms in the distance, burning and giving off radiation.

You start with something like SCUBA gear, so you dive underwater to locate resource nodes to build things, just like other survival games. Initially you can only stay underwater for about 45 seconds before you have to come back up for air. (The starting area is very shallow so it’s fairly easy to get back to the surface anytime.) You can build bigger air tanks so you can stay underwater for longer periods. In the few hours I played I upgraded my air supply twice and got up to something like 135 seconds, which is a fairly long time, at least in the shallow areas.

You have the standard food, water, and health indicators. Food and water is a bit trickier than other survival games because you have to catch fish and then “craft” the consumables. Catching fish can be a little frustrating because you actually have to swim after the fish and left-click on them to get them into your inventory, and they don’t sit still to make this easy. Once they’re in your inventory you have to swim back to your rescue pod and use the “Fabricator” (a crafting station) to convert them into things you can eat and drink. Catching “bladder fish” allows you to make water bottles to drink from. Other kinds of fish can be cooked up into a tasty meals. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and it can be a bit tedious but it’s at least a different mechanic from every other game.

I haven’t done much with combat because I haven’t yet crafted a knife, so I can only run away from hostile encounters. There are a few fish that launch themselves at you from pods attached to cave walls, and I saw another big, hungry-looking fish swimming around at night, but so far I haven’t encountered anything that outright killed me. Presumably the farther you get from your rescue pod, the more difficult the game gets.

Once you repair the radio in your rescue pod, you get radio signals that give you “quests” to do. The first one I got marked a location to investigate. I haven’t yet seen what happens when you get there because it’s in a location near the wrecked ship that’s inside a radiation zone. Apparently I need to craft a radiation suit before I can go there. (The wrecked ship is deceptively far away, too. It takes a long time to swim there and the water gets very deep and menacing around it.)

There is also a scanning mechanic where you can build a hand scanner and scan the underwater plant life and fish for information. I’m not quite sure what the purpose of this is yet but it’s kind of fun to try to scan fish while they swim around.

The biggest problem I’ve seen so far is–of course–inventory management. Every game ever has problems with inventory management so this shouldn’t be a surprise. You don’t get a lot of space to gather resources, and it quickly becomes apparent that you can’t just grab everything you see and stuff it in your backpack. You can make floating storage boxes but they don’t hold much either.

The second biggest problem is having to return to your rescue pod to craft things. Most survival games you can craft the basic, starting items on the run without the need for a crafting station. Not so in this game. You have to return to the fabricator and work through it’s somewhat tedious interface every time. It’s neat to see it working the first few times, but after that you don’t want to wait through the animations anymore.

I’ve played for only a few hours, but I have to say I’m intrigued by it. I like that they’ve put a different spin on the survival genre, and this seems to be the most evolved of the handful of underwater games I’ve seen. The game is very pretty, and it runs fairly well. It’s more polished than a typical early access game, and it’s obvious that it’s been in development for some time. I don’t know how much depth is here over the long haul, and I have some issues with the inventory management and the fabricator, but at least initially it’s worth checking out for $10.

Snap Judgment – Conan Exiles

I wasn’t going to buy Conan Exiles right away, because I could tell from the streams and the early gameplay videos that it wasn’t ready yet, but I bought it anyway because I just didn’t feel like playing FFXIV. $30 isn’t too much to waste on a game, right? Eventually they’ll fix it up into a finished game, surely?

To nobody’s surprise, I should have waited for a sale. Let’s start with the bad stuff.

The short version is: Yes, they released it too early. It has all the hallmarks of a game that has had zero quality assurance. Do they even show these games to people outside the development team anymore? Even once? I’m thinking no, they don’t. I suppose there’s no point, since we all buy the games anyway.

You can expect the full assortment of glitches that come with a lack of polish. Random hitches in the frame rate. Random lag. Random models appearing and disappearing. Random getting stuck on paving stones on the ground. Random clipping, seeing through your own arms while swimming, etc.

So what exactly is Conan Exiles? What do you do in this game? Well, imagine ARK. And … that’s it. You’ve got the whole thing. Not to be too sarcastic, but it’s an exact copy of ARK’s gameplay, except instead of dinosaurs, there are Conan-themed monsters and other exiles roaming the landscape. You pick up sticks and rocks and plant fiber, just like ARK, you make them into axes and picks, just like ARK, you make camp fires to cook meat, just like ARK.

Let’s talk about the combat. It’s awful. Yep. That about sums it up. You know how some games really feel like you’re fighting with big heavy weapons? Conan Exiles is on the exact opposite end of that spectrum. This game feels like you’re pushing a mouse button and watching an animation play on the screen. If you’re lucky, if you’ve managed to position yourself close enough to the other model, and guessed which direction you need to point to make contact, maybe you’ll hit something. Probably not, though. I think they spray blood all over the screen to hide the fact that you have very little control during combat.

The enemy AI? Wow. Just wow. And I don’t mean that in a good way. One guy actually sat down in the middle of a fight. He was like, “Whew, fighting this player is too tiring, I’ll just sit down now.” That was pretty cool. Sometimes they stop in the middle of a fight and raise their arms in a war cry without moving their mouth. Pro tip: If you’re in trouble, just swim into some water. No enemies can swim, and nobody ever follows you through water. Okay, well, one crocodile did.

Now for the most egregious problem: Your speed when strafing left and right is considerably slower than moving forward. That means the moment you touch a strafe key while moving or running, it feels like you stop dead. It’s a huge problem.

Bitterness over the death of my dream of playing a AAA-quality survival game aside, Conan Exiles has some merits.

It’s pretty, and it’s fast. At least they managed to tune it so that it runs at an acceptable frame rate out of the box. Unlike some other games *cough* ARK *cough*.

I like the setting of it. I’m a fan of the Conan universe and low fantasy and so forth. (According to the early access notes they will be adding sorcery eventually.) It’s got a nice ambiance, with the ancient ruins dotting the landscape and whatnot. It’s kind of relaxing.

The crafting system looks pretty good, if not particularly inventive. It’s about on par with ARK, in the early game at least.

There seems to be some kind of story element, but as yet I don’t know how deep it runs. There’s at least one wandering NPC that you can talk to.

I like that the world is dangerous. A key component in any survival game is a dangerous world, and they’ve nailed that. (You’d be surprised how many survival games you can just walk around in forever without any chance of dying.) If you walk too far in the wrong direction, you could run into a wide variety of nasties.

The music is pretty good.

It has some nice sorting options in the inventory.

It was fairly easy to setup a private server on my LAN. The server runs, well, just like ARK. It’s the same game engine, after all.

Overall though, I would recommend playing ARK until Conan Exiles goes through about six more months of iterations. I mean, unless you like to complain about bugs. :)

Steam Entertainment Value 2016

Here’s a chart I just made showing all my Steam purchases in 2016. I computed the cost per hour for playing each game, based on the price I paid for the game and the number of hours I played (according to Steam). In this way I came up with a list of games sorted by best entertainment value.

If the cost per hour came out more than the purchase price (such as Bastion which came out to $37/hour), then I capped it at the purchase price. It didn’t make sense to me for the mathematical cost to be more than the actual real world cost.

If I had not played a game at all, I also set the cost per hour to the price of the game.

1
Name Purchased Price Played Cost/Hour
2
DARK Souls III Deluxe 4/7/2016 80.73 351.0 0.230
3
Divine Divinity 12/24/2016 0.89 0.0 0.890
4
Immune 2/27/2016 0.99 0.5 0.990
5
DIRT Showdown 3/26/2016 2.99 2.7 1.107
6
Devil Daggers 10/30/2016 2.99 2.7 1.107
7
Enclave 11/23/2016 1.24 0.0 1.240
8
DOOM 8/5/2016 29.99 21.0 1.428
9
Return to Castle Wolfenstein
12/24/2016 1.64 0.0 1.640
10
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI 10/22/2016 59.99 34.0 1.764
11
A Story About My Uncle 3/2/2016 1.94 0.0 1.940
12
Far Cry Primal 3/2/2016 59.99 25.0 2.400
13
Black Mesa 6/27/2016 7.99 2.8 2.854
14
Survivalist 11/23/2016 2.99 0.0 2.990
15
Apotheon 11/23/2016 3.74 0.0 3.740
16
Titan Souls 12/24/2016 3.74 0.0 3.740
17
Miasmata 3/12/2016 3.74 0.4 3.740
18
Bastion 9/17/2016 3.74 0.1 3.740
19
Ember 12/28/2016 3.99 0.0 3.990
20
Shrouded in Sanity 11/23/2016 4.79 0.0 4.790
21
NEO Scavenger 6/27/2016 4.94 0.0 4.940
22
Batman Arkham Origins 10/30/2016 4.99 0.0 4.990
23
Dead State 10/30/2016 4.99 0.0 4.990
24
Deadfall Adventures 12/24/2016 4.99 0.0 4.990
25
Wander 6/27/2016 4.99 0.7 4.990
26
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
12/24/2016 4.99 0.3 4.990
27
ABZU 12/28/2016 5.99 0.8 5.990
28
DarkMaus 4/29/2016 6.69 0.5 6.690
29
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
7/2/2016 20.09 2.8 7.175
30
Out of Reach 5/30/2016 7.49 0.0 7.490
31
Shadow of Mordor GOTY
9/17/2016 7.49 0.0 7.490
32
The Age of Decadence 12/28/2016 7.49 0.0 7.490
33
DIRT 3 Complete 3/26/2016 7.49 0.9 7.490
34
Novus Inceptio 10/30/2016 7.99 0.5 7.990
35
Kholat 2/3/2016 8.60 0.0 8.600
36
Vortex: The Gateway 5/30/2016 8.99 0.0 8.990
37
Project CARS 12/24/2016 9.89 0.3 9.890
38
Salt 2/11/2016 9.89 0.2 9.890
39
SOMA 7/3/2016 14.99 1.5 9.993

The total spent was $431.07 with total playing time of 448.7 hours, for a grand total of 96.1 cents per hour. Relatively cheap for a hobby.

P. S. It was a nightmare getting that table from Google Sheets to this blog post. Whatever happened to copying-and-pasting tables from one place to another?

The Prestigious Endgame Viable Awards 2016

It occurred to me that the end of the year is approaching, and it’s time to do one of those year-end posts that bloggers love to do. Unfortunately I kind of hate doing them. It’s a lot of work. You have to actually look things up and think and count and multiply and divide and things like that. That goes against my normal principal of blogging by “just typing words into a text editor.”

Here are the 2015 awards. This year I’m going to award Biggest Disappointment of the Year, MMORPG of the Year, MMORPG Expansion of the Year, Game of the Year. In another post I’ll also be revealing my Most-Played MMORPG, and Most-Played Game.

2016 Contenders

As I defined it last year, my selections are based on the best game that I bought and played in 2016 which was also released in 2016. I also consider Early Access releases, to punish developers for releasing their game too early. You can have money, or you can have an award, but not both. :) Anyway since I only buy a handful of new games every year, the pool from which I can pick is often very small. Based on my extensive research of Steam emails, these are the 2016 released games that I’ve bought and played:

Battlefield 1
Black Desert Online
Blade and Soul
Civilization VI
DarkMaus
Dark Souls III + Ashes of Ariandel
Devil Daggers*
DOOM
Far Cry Primal
Riders of Icarus

* I can’t find out if there was an Early Access version available before 2016. Steam does an admirable job of “hiding” that games were released in Early Access before they were actually released.

Note: I could conceivably add The Division, but I only played an hour of open beta, so I’m discounting it. Same for Overwatch. Neither would have won anything anyway.

And these are the MMORPG expansions I’ve played this year:

Rift, Starfall Prophecy
World of Warcraft, Legion

These are some games I bought and played in 2016 but were disqualified from contention:

Bastion (Released Aug 16, 2011)
Black Mesa (Early Access Release May 5, 2015)
Immune (Early Access Release March 25, 2015)
Miasmata (Released Nov 28, 2012)
NEO Scavenger (Early Access Release Dec 15, 2014)
Novus Inceptio (Early Access Release Oct 5, 2015)
Salt (Early Access Release Aug 22, 2014)
SOMA (Released Sep 22, 2015)

On to the awards!

Game of the Year: Dark Souls III

I mean, come on. Not even a contest. Other games on the above list are play-once-and-forget-about-it games (yes, even Civ 6, in which I have not even completed a full game, and kind of wish I’d waited for a sale), whereas I could replay Dark Souls III an infinite number of times and not get tired of it. I’ve played it through at least six times already.

MMORPG of the Year: Black Desert Online

Riders of Icarus barely rates a mention. It was between Blade and Soul and Black Desert, and to me the easy winner is Black Desert Online. I had a lot more fun with BDO. I’m not sure I even made it out of the tutorial area with Blade and Soul.

MMORPG Expansion of the Year: Legion

This was a tough one because I played both Legion and Starfall Prophecy for roughly the same amount of time: Less than a month. Both expansions are basically more of the same in their respective MMORPGs. It’s a toss-up, but I gave the edge to Legion. Legion had less bugs and an impressive array of cut scenes, while Rift had more friction with some frustratingly difficult gameplay.

Biggest Disappointment Of The Year: Far Cry Primal

I was really hoping that Far Cry Primal would have more survival elements. I was hoping it would be the first AAA survival game that wasn’t just a rushed-out-the-door indie train wreck. But it wasn’t a survival game. It was a Far Cry game, set in prehistoric times. It was fun, and they have a good formula, but it was essentially “more of the same.” (I have the same expectations for Conan Exiles now: That it will be the first AAA survival game.)

Morrowinding

I was sick a lot last week, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the world of Bethesda games lately. First it was New Vegas, but I got a little burned out on it so I turned to Morrowind and now I’m totally into that.

Morrowind is enormous. I thought Oblivion and Skyrim were pretty big, but Morrowind seems to dwarf them. (Admittedly part of that could be because the movement speed is so slow it just feels bigger.)

The story seems quite a bit more complex, too. I can’t even remember Skyrim’s story except it was something like “kill that dragon.” And Oblivion was something like “kill those demons.” (I might be misremembering them.) Morrowind seems a lot more grandioise and interesting in scope.

I solved the problems I was having with the graphics settings. Apparently you have to run the game as Administrator to actually save your settings from session to session. I still can only run it in 1280×960 though, one of those old timey resolutions that used to be so high you could only dream of running a game that detailed. (I once had a roughly 100-pound 19″ monitor which could run graphics at 1280×960.)

I also discovered that the unofficial Morrowind Code Patch (MCP) which I thought I’d installed in the beginning wasn’t installed. I downloaded it in the Nexus mod manager thingy and clicked “install” and thought that was all I had to do. But nope, you have to actually run the MCP setup program so it will then patch the Morrowind executable. Whoops. (Also the Nexus mod manager installed it in the wrong place.) Fortunately there doesn’t seem to be any harm in installing it after I’ve started. My saved games are still working.

I got curious about the first two Elder Scrolls games, too. I didn’t see them on Steam or GOG (the only two places I even know about to look for non-EA games anymore), so I wondered if they were gone forever. But it turns out you can just download Arena and Daggerfall from the Elder Scrolls site for free. The first one is about the size of a floppy disk, and the second one is about the size of a CDROM. So adorable! I haven’t tried to run them yet since it involves a DOS Emulator and I’m a bit skeptical about it actually working on my PC.

Anyway Morrowind is a cool game, even if the graphics are dated. The real meat of the game is in the NPC interactions and story anyway. And it’s really interesting to see how little their core formula has changed from Morrowind to Oblivion to Skyrim. They have a laser-focused vision for the world of Tamriel in that series. And I have always loved the flexibility of the character progression system in Elder Scrolls. (I’m playing a Witchhunter this time, something I’ve never done before.)

Devil Daggers

I saw Devil Daggers on Steam when it first came out and thought, “What an odd-sounding game.” I saw the “Too long, didn’t play” guy on Gamers With Jobs call it “punishingly hard,” and use it as the benchmark for measuring hard games ever since. I put it on my wish list. I laugh at hard games! Ha!

Recently it went on sale and I bought it for $2.99, along with some other stuff I might play some day (including another one of the Batman games–I have them all now but haven’t played any of them yet).

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Welp, Devil Daggers is pretty hard all right, but it’s also fun. Basically you run around a big round platform and shoot weird floating skulls and other demonic monstrosities until you die. Supposedly you’re throwing daggers really fast but it looks more like you’re shooting a stream of alien goo. That’s pretty much the entire game.

Average game time is somewhere around 10 seconds when you first start out. After an hour you might get that average up to about 30 seconds. After about a week I’ve advanced to the point where I can survive 60-70 seconds per game. That’s how you “score” a game, by the way: How long it takes you to die, to four decimal places. My absolute best time so far is 108 seconds.

I love this game. It’s really fast and smooth and responsive. It’s almost hypnotic. After you die, you can hit ‘R’ and immediately start a new game. Like instantaneously. How awesome is that? How many games today let you restart instantaneously? Almost none, that’s how many.

The other awesome thing is that it takes about 5 seconds for the game to startup after you click the desktop icon. You think to yourself, “Man I’d love to veg out with a dumb game for a few minutes,” click the game icon, and you’re right there. What a concept. It’s like the PC equivalent of an Android game, except even faster!

The sound effects are really understated but effective. You can tell they put a lot of work into it. There’s no music, just weird ambient creepy sounds.

The only flaw in the game is their insistence on artistic integrity by using a pixelated low-resolution software-rendered Quake look. You don’t even get to pick your screen resolution. It always looks like a 512×384 resolution game in 1997. I would much prefer it render everything with smooth edges at 2560×1440. But it’s a small quibble.

Snap Judgment – Novus Inceptio

I should be really excited to play Rift: Starfall Prophecy but to be honest I couldn’t care less about any MMORPG right now. I’m just in one of those moods.

Instead I installed one of the many games on my Steam list that I’ve never tried so that I could bring you another (cue huge reverb and echo) … Snap Judgment! .. judgment .. ment .. nt.

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Novus Inceptio is yet another Early Access survival sandbox game. You gather materials and craft things and explore. Currently it appears to only have a single-player mode, but multi-player is supposed to be coming.

I played it for about 30 minutes. I like the overall concept. I like the direction they are heading. I like the UI. I like the realistic art style. I like the complexity of the different crafting resources you can gather. I like the plump rabbits that look like roasted turkeys with bunny ears.

However, they have a long way to go yet before they reach the point where this game will be truly enjoyable. The key bindings are not yet configurable. The frame rates are slow, and everything has the look of the generic sets of free textures and models that come with game engines. The sound effects are somewhat jarring (I swear there is a Tivo blip-blip sound in there). It feels like there are just programmers working on this game, and no artists.

Perhaps a year from now the game will be in better shape.

Dark Souls Character Loss

You might be wondering why I’ve been playing WoW and/or LotRO instead of continuing my re-plays and re-re-plays and re-re-re-plays of Dark Souls 1, 2, and 3, the greatest three games in the history of the universe. (Not to be hyperbolic or anything.)

It’s because I setup and moved to a new gaming PC. Guess what? You can’t move your characters from one installation to another with the PC version of Dark Souls 2 and 3. So all my plentiful characters remained on my old PC, which is kind of a bummer. (I was able to copy my Dark Souls 1 characters though.)

In truth, it won’t take that long to run through the games again, but it’s something I wasn’t counting on. I was planning to record blind playthroughs of Dark Souls 3 DLC when they come out (allegedly the first, Ashes of Ariandel, is coming in October), but before I can do that, I need to build up some new characters.

And before I do that, I need to setup my microphone and audio gear in the new house. I tried to record some Doom with my old USB headset but it sounds too awful to meet my rigorous audio quality standards.