Xpovos' Blog - Jan to Mar 18 (98 followers)

PermalinkAin't It Dead Yet?
No, I'm pretty clearly not dead. I've been fairly active in gaming, but quiet in terms of the blog and other things. So a quick run-down on some of the major motions of late.

The GTASC abides. The competition has gotten stiff enough that I've seen fairly competitive gamers get knocked out. Some high scoring guys, too, who though the line couldn't move as fast as it did on a Wednesday morning. I'm having a slow week this week myself. It might pay off in the form of a bonus, but I don't think I'm going to count on that. I should be dumping some more points tonight and tomorrow for:

The TA Happy Birthday Community Challenge. For those who missed it, the site has elected to give out 1-month of TA Pro to every member who completes the spelling challenge prior to midnight on Wednesday. A single month is not a lot, but I'll take free for a challenge I was intending to complete anyway, right? The downside is... I haven't even gotten my first H to start spelling 'Happy' yet. My weekend was not game-free, but it was differently focused. I spent a lot of it working on the stuff that pays the bills, rather than one of the hobbies that saps the funds. What did I play, though? Time for some more one-sentence reviews. I haven't done these in a while.

Crypt of the Serpent King It looks like it plays like Dungeon Hack clone, a 1993 D&D dungeon crawler; yet the original has everything the clone lacks.

Seriously, I knew Crypt of the Serpent King was a bad game, but I was amazed at how bad. The concept is solid enough that it could have worked, but it is remarkably empty. The 1993 SSI game, Dungeon Hack is better in every single way, except graphics. And even that is a more of a wash than a point in Serpent King's favor. Still, I like the style of the game, in part because I loved Dungeon Hack. I'll force myself through the rest of this soon, mostly on that nostalgia. This game has that odd feeling where it's clearly terrible, and yet... almost.

Manual Samuel Take literal control of every aspect of a day in the life of a douche. Seriously, how is breathing hard?

War Planet Online: Global Conquest (Win 10) Clash of Clans is huge, we should make a Clash of Clans clone and then obfuscate everything so that people don't realize.

Mafia II Open-world story-driven game about a criminal = the brown shooter of the second half of the decade.

I've been playing Mafia II (when the kids aren't around) to get to the H for that spelling challenge. Once I've got that I should be able to make some faster progress with the rest of the letters.

FIFA 12 FIFA itself is surprisingly fun, but the achievement design is arranged for maximum discomfort, particularly for hack victims.

Borderlands I was overly harsh on this game when I first reviewed it; it turns out that if you get good enough to shoot skags and find some powerful loot, this game has the solid bones that could be turned into the far superior sequel.

Bejeweled LIVE (Win 8) Yo, Dawg, I heard you liked puzzle-matching games; so have some puzzle-matching to match while you match more matches, because you're going to be here for a while.

Charlie Murder This is not the greatest side-scrolling beat'em-up, it's just a tribute.

I streamed my playthrough of the story portion of Manual Samuel. It's currently still available on my Mixer channel (http://mixer.com/xpovos) and will be as a VOD for a few more days. I haven't loaded it to YouTube yet. I did that as part of a community effort for the folks over at Zed to Zed. That was a fun little side-project. Also a nice infusion of points for the GTASC. I didn't get the completion, of course, but I did get over 400 GS in a little over 2 hours of gameplay on Sunday. The completion seems tedious, but mostly it is just pattern memorization. I've done worse, so I'm sure I'll get this done sooner or later.

I hit 10,000th place overall (and a bit above) on the total TA score leaderboard. There are fewer than 10,000 tracked gamers left ahead of me. And since we know the vast majority of anyone who is an achievement hunter in the world is on this site, either actively or having been added, it's probably fair to say that I'm pretty much in the top 10,000 of all achievement-hunting gamers now. Yet...

I'm still not in the top-10,000 for RPGs. Every other game genre I care about I'm well under. 4000-5000 regularly, often lower; sometimes much lower. My CCG score is 34th! Somehow, RPG has eluded me, and I haven't even "kept pace" with the average gamer in one of my favorite genres. I should fix that.

One other thing I wanted to discuss that I'm very much looking forward to is that I'm going to be doing a release day stream of Sea of Thieves. This is not because I'm super-excited about the game and want to. I am excited, but it's mostly because the opportunity is there in a unique way. Since Sea of Thieves is going into GamePass from day one, I can play it on Day One with a Game Pass subscription, which will net me a lot of other benefits as well. Des, my stream partner, has her trial periods, so she and I, and likely two others will be setting sail as a team to see what the game is all about. Come check us out at 9PM EST (UTC-4 due to DST!) on the 20th. I'm thinking it's going to be a hopping show.

Of course, feel free to join us tomorrow night as well, we'll be playing Shantae and the Pirate's Curse to continue the pirate-themed month.

*For those who didn't catch it, this was a Skinny Puppy reference:
Posted by Xpovos on 12 March 18 at 15:23 | Last edited on 12 March 18 at 15:28 | There are no comments on this blog - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkA SMITEy Fortune
I am faced with an overabundance of gaming options these days. If I'm being honest, it's been like that for a long time. I have far more games already than I can realistically play, and yet I keep buying more. And then Games with Gold keeps dumping more games on me. And then we come to the final piece of the puzzle. The free-to-plays. I have mentioned my issues with free-to-play on many occasions, so I won't rehash them here. But some more do get released periodically and I feel their siren song pulling at me.

Using the popularity of Hearthstone as a gravity slingshot, the free-to-play market seems to have shifted orbit into another of my wheelhouses: the collectible card game. We've had a number of them on PC and mobile for ages, and they've existed on console, even, with games like my pet-hate project: Lies of Astaroth. But some folks with deep pockets and big ideas are coming to console now too.

A nicely complex Gwent matchA nicely complex Gwent match

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game has been in development for quite some time now and appears ready to burst out at any moment as a fully-fledged and robust competitor in this now crowded field. The game is impressively robust as a strategy title and the free-to-play collectible bits are fun to obtain. I was certain, given the level of polish already evident in the betas I've participated in, that this would be the first to release. Gwent also has the advantage of tapping into a solid bit of existing lore, rather than trying to build a new storyline, and it is a lore that is familar to the many rabid fans of the Witcher series of RPGs. There is no doubt that Witcher is going to be a successful stand-alone product, but the time in development indicates they want it to be a successful stand-alone product for a decade, not just for the next year.

CCGxTactical Grid combat?  How can it go wrong?CCGxTactical Grid combat? How can it go wrong?

Hand of the Gods: SMITE Tactics actually just released their live game earlier this week. SMITE Tactics splits the difference between a grid-based tactics game and a collectible card game. My experience with it in beta showed me that the game was going to be a fun one. The second layer of strategy helps to separate it from the generic CCG market, and SMITE fans are probably enthused because the God system is being recycled, so those familiar with the lore should feel more comfortable to start. For me, this was my first entry into this particular setting, so I honestly had little clue what was going on, beyond the fact that I was using some units with numbers to make my enemies units have smaller numbers. That's the kind of gameplay I can get behind.

Fable Fortune just had the achievement list drop, that usually means a launch is imminent. We got the SMITE Tactics list just a week before the game came out, and it's rarely more than a month before we see the actual game*. And just like the others, this game already exists and is playable, they just need to turn the achievements on. Unfortunately for Fortune, this was the least polished and least interesting of this trio, to say nothing of the even stiffer competition on PC. My time in beta here was filled with bugs, some of them which broke the game, insufficient guidance and a game system that was too similar to Hearthstone without really adding much of their own that was valuable. The most interesting thing Fortune has going for it is the attention to detail on multi-player vs. multi-player or multi-player vs. non-synchronous AI. There is also the Fable lore to pull from, and a delightful sense of comedy in playing, which is nice, but it still made it feel like cheesy Hearthstone. The achievement list is not impressive either, with there being just 17 generic acheivements and a grind ahead. In a way, though, I'm content with that. I can grind the game fairly happily, and I won't have to do anything too stupid to get all of the achievements in this game, which is the one I'm overall least interested to play from this selection.

Which is not to say I won't be playing it. Pretty much as soon as it goes live, I'll be playing. It's a Collectible Card Game and Free-to-Play. I basically have to.

*In the course of writing this it appears the achievements are live now, some people are unlocking them as I type.

*** Spoiler - click to reveal ***
Posted by Xpovos on 22 February 18 at 16:01 | There are 3 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkGTASC 2018 - Blog 3 - While Time Quietly Kills Them
In the GTASC forums we recently returned to a regular refrain, concerns about how much time is spent by the dedicated GamerScore competitors. These come in a couple of different flavors. 1) Concerns about it being unfair because the poster, personally, can't spend as much time gaming as he assumes the top scorers do. These often come with a heaping of scorn. "Of course I can't score that much, I have a job and don't live in my mother's basement." 2) Concerns about the other gamers, since scoring that much must indicate an unhealthy obsession with, and devotion of time to GamerScore . These often come with backhanded elements such as noting a probable lack of sleep.

These discussions are as old as the hobby, and probably as old as hobbies. But after this latest round, I got to wondering about a different angle. In the United Sates, one of the functions of our government is that it collects a lot of statistical data on Americans. It uses this data, and makes it publicly available for others to use, to help ensure it provides the services Americans actually need and want. At least, in theory. Apparently one of the services we need and want is statistical analysis.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) surveys time usage by Americans. The results are pretty enlightening, particularly if we're going to have a debate about how we are spending our time. The data can be found here: https://www.bls.gov/tus/, but rather than just talk about it, I figured I could show it too.

2016 Data from the BLS2016 Data from the BLS

U.S. workers have long had a reputation for working some of the longest hours in the world. Japan has us beat, but our "Protestant work ethic" supposedly drives us to work more hours than our European friends. Those are old notions and stereotypes, however. A recent survey of workers across thirty-seven countries found the United States only in the middle of the pack at 16th place. Mexico and Russia led the way. Ireland beat out the U.S. by a spot, but the U.S. actually worked longer hours than Japan (22nd), Canada (23rd), the UK (26th) or, of course, France (34th). Some stereotypes are still valid, it seems.

Those are hours worked on the job for folks in those countries in the labor force. The excellent thing about the BLS is that it attempts to capture all American data, not just the workers. As a result, you can see from that table that the average hours of "work" per weekday is 4.6, or 3.6 overall to better include our weekend workers. With a little over half of our population in the labor force, this seems pretty spot on. On average, an American over the age of 15 will spend 25.2 hours per week working. But this is largely a bimodal distribution where a significant portion will work something much closer to the standard 40-hour week, and another significant portion will largely not have "work for hire" hours, except perhaps a few here and there. These non-labor force adults are often students, caregivers (e.g. stay-at-home moms), or ill. Their time is spent in other activities rather than "work", and those other activities are captured in this data as well.

External image

The one category of time from that chart that is the most important for what we're talking about here is the "Leisure and sports" category. This is basically the "free time" allotment and Americans enjoy, on average, a little more than five hours a day of free time.* Obviously, how we choose to use our free time is one of the things that really distinguishes people. The folks at this site tend to spend a lot of their free time playing video games. But few of us would spend it all. We have other hobbies as well. There's a TV show we want to watch, a movie to go see, etc. Also included in this is "sport" so our gym rats will also find that their time is split here between gaming potential and their gym fix.

If we do allow that all five hours of free time per day are allotted to video games, that's more than 35 hours a week to game for score, on average. That is a lot of games. I think very few of our gamers do this, though. My conversations with those formidable scorers that I have spoken to have almost universally shown that they are dedicated family members, hard workers at their 40-hour-a-week jobs, but that they do throw nearly every available hour at gaming. But even then, nearly is not all. There is a balance always.

Personally, I find I'm probably gaming 8-21 hours a week. That's a big range, but life is like that. This past week was closer to the 8-hour range as I did a lot of family stuff. Things that might be put in that caregiver category in some senses, but was realistically just me spending my free time being a Dad. That hurt my scoring. I'm down on the number of achievements I earned by a large margin this past GTASC week. I didn't earn a single achievement on either Saturday OR Sunday. I can't remember the last time I went a weekend without scoring. It was probably when I was out of town on a vacation.

There are a lot of good advice books on how to make the best use of your time. Most of them start with the assumption you can actually track where you spend your time. It's a hard thing to do. But comparing to an average easier and a good first step. Knowing how you are actually wasting your time is pretty important. It's amazing how much time gets sucked up by things that are absolute nothings. Scroll Facebook for fifteen minutes? What was the end value? Did you interact with your friends more? In most cases it's just fifteen minutes lost. As for that other gamer who is scoring so much more than you? Maybe he's just not wasting his time. It's always easier to criticize someone else who might be doing something wrong than to take the time to really look at the situation and realize you've got the plank in your own eye. Take the time, track your time and identify how you are spending it. Do it to stop wasting those precious minutes. Which is not to say don't use Facebook if you want to. If you get enough enjoyment out of those 15 minutes on Facebook--fine! Just make sure it's a conscious decision not just a habit or a continuation of a choice you made 15 minutes ago because it's easier to keep going on than to change. Claim your minutes for important and fun pastimes. Don't kill time.

*** Spoiler - click to reveal ***
Posted by Xpovos on 14 February 18 at 15:55 | There are 6 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkStupor Mundi - Qualis Artifex Peribunt
The news just flashed for me. Artifex Mundi, the developer and publisher of MANY hidden object puzzle games that are loved by the gamerscore and achievement hunting community for their relative easy and quickness, has decided to raise the prices of their products.


At present, Artifex Mundi has 13 games on the Xbox One. The Canadian marketplace seems to be taking the longest to update, so if you're in Canada, you may still be able to get these for the pre-hike price, which is kind of like a discount now. Though, honestly, these games have gone on discount plenty of times as well! In fact, that's how I got the three I own. In a recent sale I purchased a three-pack bundle containing:

Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride
Enigmatis: The Ghosts of Maple Creek
Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart

I bought all three for $10 and thought it a decent deal. $3.33 for a game that I have mild-to-moderate interest in and which I can probably play with my wife once we get a TV that can actually display pixels well enough to try a hidden object game on.* That bundle, now costs $45 in the U.S. market.

Taking Artifex Mundi at their word, from their statement that I linked above, for a moment, this is a business decision that they needed to take. Their expenses are high. They've brought in a lot of staff to help crank out these games on a regular schedule across multiple platforms. That has to be paid for somehow. And the frequent players of the games can probably attest that $15 is not an outrageous price to pay for these games. They're not amazing, but they fill a niche well, are generally free from bugs, and have a sufficiently large player base to encourage more of them.

The problems I have with this are several, though, regardless of what their true intentions are. I don't see this as a cash grab. For the most part, anyone who was going to buy most of their older catalogue has already done so. I've got three, some people have 13. If you don't have any, it's because they don't interest you at all, or you had somewhere else better to spend your $3.33 on a game. In other words, they don't really interest you. This price hike on their old titles is not going to cost them very many sales... right now.

The price raise on future games is reasonable. If you have a product worth $15... sell it for $15 instead of $10. No one would object. Particularly if there is an increase in perceived quality as the games go forward.

The problem does come from raising the price on their old catalogue. Not only does this fly in the face of the evidence I laid out for best economic practices of game developers in this blog: Xpovos' blog post - Used Game Economics, but it is bound to upset customers. And in fact, I found the news because an angry customer complained about it in a public way. Angry customers are unlikely to be repeat customers.

But wait, there's more. If you are a gamer with a large backlog, as many of us at this site are, we can reasonably hesitate on purchasing a game like an Artifex Mundi title, even if it is on tremendous sale in a great bundle because we have too much to play as it is, and the likelihood is that the game will be on sale at the same price or even cheaper at some point in the future. That no longer seems like a reasonable assumption. This move does them no favors with non-customers who might have been customers if they weren't so busy playing the competition's (other devs/publishers) games. Instead of trying to compete for these customers AM has said, "we're not interested."

I think this is a poor move on their part and one that will cost them a lot of money. The lost good will is the hardest part to replace. And if the damage is bad enough, it will be a sad thing because even though I'm not a tremendous fan of their games or their style, I liked having the variety in the marketplace. If Artifex Mundi is forced to withdraw from the Xbox marketplace or from development of these games entirely, it is bad news for all of us.

My advice to Artifex Mundi, if they should choose to hear it, is to look at your statement again. You are trying to crank out a new game every three weeks. That is the problem, not the price you are selling it at. Sell more games by selling fewer titles at longer intervals with perhaps a slightly higher price tag. But never, ever, try to raise prices on a digital good, particularly not one where you have had multiple sales and opportunities to buy it for an even lower price.

*** Spoiler - click to reveal ***
Posted by Xpovos on 02 February 18 at 19:37 | Last edited on 02 February 18 at 20:27 | There are 7 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
PermalinkGTASC 2018 - Blog 2 - It's Been a While
I mean, obviously I didn't blog last week. I'm not going to try to blog every week, just when I think I have something interesting to say, even if it's just about myself, as this week mostly is. But that is not why I'm saying it's been a while.

For this week in the GTASC I revisited a couple of games I haven't played in a long time. First, due to a random achievement challenge (more on that in a future blog) I was interested in completing South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play!. So I gathered a crew, and we got to work. South Park's Tower Defense game is a unique one in that you always have four kids, and the kids basically act as mobile towers. If you don't have enough human players, the AI will "play" the other kids, but it will never use their special abilities and it throws snowballs much slower than a human can. So playing by yourself is a disadvantage, particularly when working for the most difficult achievement in the game:

South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play!MANBEARPIG!The MANBEARPIG! achievement in South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! worth 45 pointsBeat Mountain on Insane difficulty using walls and snowballs. No towers!

Beat all three stages of a fairly hard level on the highest difficulty using only walls and snowballs (and special powers, which is what makes it plausible). This is a fun achievement because it requires skill and coordination AND is difficult enough to be a challenge without being so painfully difficult as to be unfun. Overall, I think our crew took three or four shots at this, with one of them being aborted at the first wave because we (I) had messed up our maze. One of the hardest things is to be careful to not build a tower by accident, thus invalidating the achievement. This is hard because you want and need to build walls to make the maze, but the wall building menu is a little slippery, and if you're not very precise with your input you can accidentally build a tower by trying to move while building a wall. All-told, there's plenty of challenge here, so I'd had this achievement set on the back burner for a long time. Thank you for the extra motivation, achievement challenge.

Because we'd done so well blasting through the campaign over the course of two nights and getting MANBEARPIG on a third night, the crew stuck together for the last achievement, finishing the challenge maps, which after the real challenge of MANBEARPIG was a walk in the park. All four of us got a game completion from as many as 6 achievements down over the course of the week. So, congrats and thaks to my crew: Tressilation, Proulx and Jzarp43. You'll find all four of us right next to each other in the 100% club.

I hadn't earned an achievement in South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! since October of 2016. Coincidentally, that was a result of another achievement challenge: UHH 2 match up: Xpovos vs Dude Love I didn't pull that one out then, but I did earn two achievements in the attempt. And then put the game back on hold for another year and a quarter.

What's most impressive about this though wasn't that year and a quarter gap, it's the gap since I started the game. A while back I posted this: Xpovos' blog post - Longest Completion In that blog I talked about how long it took me to complete certain games. At that time, the longest was Castle Crashers with a total completion time of 2314 days. Before Monday night that was still my longest. Now South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! is in the lead, and it was a massive jump: 3017 days. Eight and a quarter years.

But that was hardly my only "long game" story this week. In an effort to secure the bonus Tressilation also helped me out with a viral achievement:

Grand Theft Auto IVLet Sleeping Rockstars LieXpovosThe Let Sleeping Rockstars Lie achievement in Grand Theft Auto IV worth 14 pointsKill a Rockstar developer in a ranked multiplayer match.

One viral achievement down, one step closer to a completion GTA IV. I mean, probably not ever at this point, but if I can just keep knocking down one achievement every so often, it'll happen. So, how long as it been? My previous "last" achievement in GTA IV had been earned 2009-03-01. Almost nine years ago. Man, it has been a while.

This viral achievement hunt had a lot of other folks digging through old games too. It was fun to see, and great to see how willing people were to help each other out. Need a viral? Hit me up was a common theme in the forums.

We're through three weeks now and that means the dust is starting to settle a bit. With ~10% reductions each week, we've knocked out about 27% of the total competition already and we're not even into February. We're likely to see things take a step towards more competitive here, and I imagine by the time we hit week 8, when we'll have less than 50% of the initial field still in play that we'll have a roaring competition.
Posted by Xpovos on 31 January 18 at 16:39 | There is 1 comment on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.