Monday 19 February 2024

There Is No Peak, So Climb With Care


I'm an occasional stand-up comedian. You won't have heard of me, I don't have a social media following, and I'm largely inactive throughout the year. My day job and my life get in the way of doing regular weeknight slots around town and that's just the way it is. I also play djembe in a band a couple of times a year. I like putting on a good show with my friends! I don't perform all that often, partly because if I do commit to participating in a live show, I want it to be excellent. Everyone has bad gigs, but I don't want my next bad gig to be because either I or my co-performers didn't have the resources to commit to all the required practice time. 

A jerkass truism about putting on a performance for others is that you need to Be Good Or Get Better. It's both very good and useless advice to offer to a performer. The good side first. Your absolute aim should be to give your audience the best show you can in return for their taking a chance on you and your show. They could have just as easily stayed at home with a cup of hot tea. It's tough to beat a cup of tea at home when the alternative involves leaving home and traveling to something which might be a shit time. I don't know about you but I take that kind of responsibility over someone's evening entertainment very seriously. So yeah, if you're not good enough to put on that show, you need to get better before you do, no ifs no buts.

The shitty part of the Be Good or Get Better advice is that it's not very constructive, is it? For one, what is Good Enough? All you can do with Be Good or Get Better is to seek continuous improvement. Perpetually seeking out imperfection and destroying it. Finding great things about what you can already do and push it even further. On the face of it, this isn't a terrible game plan and it is how you improve but the real issue is that there's no tangible end to this climb. There is no hard maximum. There is no peak. Just more slope and sheer cliff face and at some point, you have to abandon or at least temporarily cease the pursuit of ever greater skill. 

You have to stop climbing. If not simply for the practical reason that there's a performance coming. The one you're about to be in. Climbing time is over. You have to be comfortable with the level of performance that you are currently able to give and believe that is good enough, even if just for one show. As a sidebar, if you truly don't believe that what you're doing will be of any value to the audience that you intend to perform to, then you should have a serious conversation with yourself or your team, but that conversation should happen in good time to cancel or postpone the performance. Otherwise, just get out there, put a smile on your face, and have at it. You would be astounded how much your audience will adore your terribly imperfect skills that are secretly very good actually. Once the performance is over... sure, you can look at the data and beat yourself up about it. You can find ways to improve and resume the endless climb again. But that's for later. Enjoy your performance and the after-party, you've earned it!

The performers I've met in my life tend to be lovely, hypercompetitive, and relentlessly self-critical people and I try to say nice things to them. Especially stand-ups. The competition there is especially fierce, and the experience of being a stand-up can be devastatingly lonely at times. Going it alone can be a bad time! More often than not you're only able to compare notes with yourself. Most of your fellow practitioners are also rivals, and you're extremely lucky if you have a congressive, collaborative space within which you and other acts can offer candid and useful advice to each other in an equitable way. In practice, you don't often have a good support network there. Your friends and family can be a great source of emotional support but chances are you don't come from a legacy community of stand-up comics. Even then, the journey of stand-up is a solitary one. It's the best and worst thing about it, complete authorial power with complete responsibility for the performance.

Any work that you intend to submit for subjective criticism is affected by this. Years ago, I submitted my PhD thesis (it's about secret intelligence-gathering operations if you were wondering) and I also know quite a few people who are in the business of writing books. If you've ever tried to write something that breaks the 50K word count, there's a good chance that you're the world expert on whatever you're writing about and it's almost certain that nobody on Earth knows your specialist topic better than you do. This can put the writer at risk of entering a toxic headspace. Even great acts of self-encouragement and forgiveness can ultimately fall on your own deaf ears. It's terribly easy to talk yourself down to the point where you're wishing for an end to the torment of putting the beastly words together. You might even want to quit outright. You will almost certainly have a crisis of confidence about your ability to inform, entertain, and enlighten your prospective audience. Personally, I don't think I could trust a writer who claims that they have always written with an unflinching sense of purpose. I'd simply smell a rat.

So sure, I've so far come to the conclusion that creativity is hard. Big whoop, not much of a takeaway. We're all vulnerable to the mental health pitfalls associated with simply putting ourselves out there. The impulse to pursue that challenge in itself is fine. Better than fine actually. I respect anyone who picks up a paintbrush, a word processor, or whatever with the intent to create and share something. But when the healthy self-criticism tips over into ritualised self-loathing, it becomes unsustainable.

You need to regularly free yourself from the stress of self-criticism if your work is going to have any positive outcome. Choose to believe it for that reason if you don't think preserving your own personal well-being is reason enough. You have to be able to say to yourself  "This is my current level. I know what it's going to take for me to take my performance to the next level, and I know that I can't do that right now". Even reading that thought again to myself I can hear how much that sounds like compromise. It is. It's supposed to be. It has to be. 

You have to care about your performance, but you also have to care about yourself. I know there's a temptation to romanticise a do-or-die mentality. To leave it all out there on the field. To be the most dedicated artist possible. Sure, there are some exceptional artists and art that have been wrung out of that kind of approach but just as many artists have been chewed up and spat out by it too, successful or not. People like that will have not read this far. You are most likely not one of those people who can put everything about the performance ahead of themselves. You, my friend, have things that you care about. And people who care about your wellbeing.

You have to grow where you can and maintain what you need. Performance literally has no skill ceiling, and therefore there is no strict effort ceiling beyond what kills you. There is no peak to that mountain, just endless and ever-steepening slopes. I advise anyone still reading that the mountain has an infinite number of ski lodges for rest and relaxation. It's also perfectly okay to retreat back down the mountain if that's what you need. It's just not worth it otherwise and hey, if you still think rest is for the weak, please climb with care. It's a long way down.

Friday 5 January 2024

I've Become the Guy Who Plays Games at the Hangout


Console gaming has many flavours

The platonic ideal first. The intense single-player experience is just you, your controller, the screen, and maybe a beer. Very intimate, personal time with four hours of uninterrupted progress. In second place there is multiplayer. You're playing with one or more friends. Snacks are eaten. Swear words are sworn. Smack talk. You know, bonding. Third, we have co-op gaming which is a combination of first and second place. 

Then we get down to playing games for the benefit of an audience. We have small streamers who casually stream for their friends or a small but dedicated fan base. A few streamers even make a tidy buck doing it for a living! Single-player streamers tend to be the norm here. We also have a fair amount of Let's Players and sick clippers doing the rounds but all of this requires an internet connection and for someone to click on a link. But we can go deeper still. 

For me, the ideal streaming experience is entirely offline. One person (usually me) is playing, but one or more people, whether they are paying full attention at any given time or not, can dip in it out of watching me play, chatting to someone, or fixing drinks for everyone. Think less Scorsese film and more like Bake Off in terms of what's on the screen and what purpose it serves for the room. It's one step above watching the music-fueled screensavers from the Windows Media Player days. This is the lane I prefer to swim in.

An example then, my mother-in-law visited over the holidays (see here for another reference to my mother-in-law). For as long as I've known her, One of her favourite things to do in the world is to casually watch me play Super Mario World on the SNES Mini. According to my spouse, she also used to be quite good at playing the game herself but she has since decided to retire from actively playing it herself and now prefers to watch. Um, you know, to the point where she'll have flown all the way across from Madrid just to watch me play Super Mario World again.

Sometimes we will forgo a restaurant date because she prefers to watch me doing this. It's great though. Like, I've played the game to death anyway so it's a nice relaxing time for me. On the one hand, she's transfixed for brief spells but then on the other, she can check her phone, talk to me and my spouse, and generally stop paying attention whenever she wants and it's nobody has to make a big deal out of it. It's Bake Off, but Mario.

But historically she's only been interested in Super Mario World. I can maybe get her to watch some Crash Bandicoot if she's in a spicy mood but that's very rare. This year it was a relief to see that she would accept the entertainment value of Super Mario Wonder because Hey, it meant that I wasn't playing Super Mario World again. You know what else? I was trying to complete my standee collection having finished literally everything in the game at that point. I could cheekily farm for purple coins while entertaining my mother-in-law. By the end of her time with us, I was done!

*

Closer to New Year's, we invited our relatively new neighbour over for a smoke and a drink, he vapes outside a lot and I'd said hi to him enough times. This would be the longest time we'd spent with him. Real 'get to know you' territory.

So of course I start playing Thumper on the big TV. I think we were talking about music tastes and the new neighbour used the word 'intense' to describe his music taste and one thing led to another thing led to Thumper on the big TV. It was the tail end of a messy night so that's all the detail I have about how Thumper came to be on the big TV. My spouse casually apologised to the new neighbour for the abstract rhythm horror playing out on the screen but the neighbour was nodding and smiling, stating that 'he was into it'. Our new neighbour is a pretty cool guy it turns out.

I don't have a similarly cool story for how Bomb Chicken, Super Mario Wonder, or Puzzle Lines DX ended up on the big TV. At this point, I was just playing five or so minutes of this game. and then five or ten minutes of another. I was creating colours and shapes on a screen that were compelling enough to create a mild background vibe in the room, but nothing so compelling that casual conversation and general vibery would have to take a back seat to the action on screen. We had achieved a delicate balance and dear reader, it was a really chill time.

*

Some games are better than others at achieving this 'Sitcom Effect'. I've had some time to reflect on what makes for a good Sitcom Effect Game (or SEG if you will) and I'll set them out for you now.

You need a very low on-ramp time to get SEG status. The time from booting up the game to actually playing the game should be less than a couple of minutes. If your PS5 game requires a 45-minute patch then that's clearly not a SEG. I'm also not keen on 60-second loading times every time you die so that eliminates most FromSoftware and Bethesda stuff. You don't have any of that nonsense with Bomb Chicken. You can be bomb-shitting kick-chicken in next to no time. Bomb Chicken is a SEG.

Next up is readability. A spectator who is low on both investment and attention, possibly even low game literacy also, must be able to get a good read on what is happening on the screen and why. Unless you're all part of Riot's League of Legends death cult, that game is nigh unreadable for anyone trying to watch it. Before you all rush in to disagree with me you'll have to admit it's no Mario Tennis Aces or Nidhogg. It's certainly no Bomb Chicken. Everyone knows where they stand concerning Bomb Chicken, even if they didn't watch the tutorial levels.

The final gut check for the SEG is admittedly context-sensitive. It's almost redundant to say 'read the room' because that generally applies to all actions where the number of people in the situation is greater than or equal to 2. But vibe check you must. If you're at Jesse Pinkman's house, maybe RAGE is a legitimate SEG, but graphic violence is generally a no-no, except for when it isn't. Doom is either the best SEG for your hangout room or the worst. Use your best judgement, traveller. 

*

Practicality aside, there's a deeper sense of relaxation I get from playing games without any particular purpose or goal in mind than mildly entertaining a room of stoners and drunks. I find that all too often that when I'm playing videogames, that I'm doing it with a task-oriented mindset. I often hear people talking about their gaming in the language of productivity and work. People set themselves goals of completing AAA games as if their next performance review depends on it. The 'pile of shame' is partially shameful because it represents a body of unfinished projects and wasted effort. Not to mention of course the culture of achievements and trophies. Sure you played the game, but did you play the game diligently and masterfully? This is all sounding less 'I'm having fun' and more 'I'm doing my job'.

When I become The Guy Who Plays Games at the Hangout, there is an element of a different kind of work being done. Emotional labour, fulfilling a social role, call it what you want. But the work I've done in these contexts is mostly social. It allowed me to enjoy the simple pleasure of playing for its own sake in a way that I typically find it hard to do otherwise. I'm not playing Bomb Chicken to tick Bomb Chicken off my list. I'm playing Bomb Chicken because it's a thing to do.

(And yes, I do realise that the Super Mario Wonder purple coins thing was a bit of a productivity wheeze in its own right. This mindset is a sickness.)

As a neurospicy individual (diagnosis pending) I want to try all the things and do all the things and see all the things and it's exhausting. Whenever I'm playing one game, there is an acute feeling that there's an opportunity cost being realised because I could be doing several other things. It's taking me years of training, therapy, and drugs to condition myself to channel my fizzing mind in such a way that it can perform well in the workplace at all.

That mental training has leaked over into my leisure time. Yes, it's very cool for me that I can marshal the attention span to finish difficult books and finish long video games. But because those skills were learned in my work life, in the world of work, it somewhat poisons the enjoyment somewhat. Why would I even apply the word 'backlog' to a pile of books that I haven't read. It all sounds very Salesforced!

Working against the playful and chaotic nature of my own mind is a small yet constant drain on my mental reserves. There's something refreshing and easy about just bibbling around from one game to the next and just trying things out for a few minutes at a time. It's refreshingly effortless to chase the pure thrill of being constantly stimulated with new and different things in rapid succession with no guilt or shame attached to it. It's the guilty pleasure of short form video content applied to videogames. It's the pleasure of trying the first few levels of 30 different Super Mario World rom hacks in an afternoon. Who cares if it's decadent and wasteful. Downtime doesn't need to be frown time!

*

Look, most people reading this will exist at the intersection between living in a neoliberal work-obsessed hellscape and having a lifelong obsession with videogames culture. I just want you to understand that as fun as it can be to treat videogames as work, or apply what you've learned at work to games (and vice-versa) that there should also be a space in your gaming life that's purely about the sensation of interacting with something digital and enjoying the feedback for a short while without the tendrils of the grindsetters burrowing into the experience.

For me, playing games socially like this in offline, non-monetised, low pressure way is the route I've found to achieving this. I hope you can find your own way too.

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Competitive Duolingo Is Miserable




Duolingo's Competitive scene is a jungle. Constant online controlled feature testing ensures that we are always playing different versions of Duolingo from each other at any given time. And that's before some of us pay an annual fee for the Super tier, which builds several advantages on top of the chaos.

But what unites us all in the competitive scene is a desire to climb the leagues each week. To conquer the Diamond League Tournament Final and earn the coveted gold medal. In that pursuit, only getting the most XP matters. And it's a bad time!

It's not strictly possible to give advice on the most efficient XP-maxing strategies for Duolingo because of the aforementioned feature testing policies! For instance, even though I do not subscribe to Duolingo Super, my experience both in the browser and on my phone is ad-free, and I have unlimited lives. This is not universal. I get a 15-minute XP Boosting potion whenever I complete a set of lessons, and when I complete my third daily quest of the day. This is also not a universal experience. Depending on how far into the future you're reading this post, it may not even be my experience anymore!

But whatever. Life is hard and industrious winners never worry about a level playing field. As long as privilege favours you, reaching #1 at any cost is the goal. But this too is a bad time!

Mastering a language in Duolingo gets progressively more difficult as you progress. Learning to speak at a higher CEFR level is simply harder work than mastering the basics. This stands to reason. But generally speaking, the XP earned per lesson remains static as the difficulty increases. Someone who completes 10 lessons of Beginner Spanish earns the same XP as someone who completes 10 lessons of Intermediate Polish. Can you see where this is going?

If you want to earn 500 XP quickly to climb a few leaderboard spots, you're incentivized to earn the most XP per unit time possible, and this often means reviewing easier lessons (good!) but can also mean splashing out into other languages (okay...?) or grinding out redundant lessons in your mother tongue (bad!) whilst also trying to do as much of this grinding activity while under the influence of those purple XP-boosting potions, which bring their own problems.

I've caught myself deferring progress in my 'main' language (Spanish) because I'm about to complete a set of lessons that will reward me with a non-delayable dose of purple XP drink that I won't be able to capitalize on because I'm too busy for a long session. At any given time I may have a series of languages for which my latest lesson set is but one lesson short of completion. I call this 'loading the chambers'. This means that when I have more time, I can cash in all of these potions and go on an XP-grinding joyride. I am horrified at what I've become and I am going to stop doing it. But this is the best way to grind for XP in Duolingo. It's just a shame that it's also a terrible way to engage with Duolingo as a language-learning app!

A healthy bit of competition can encourage certain player types to get more out of their learning, and lower-level leagues on the app retain this feeling of being a low-impact contest which simply results in a few more language lessons here and there. But the high-level leagues become at best a sales tactic for the paid tier of the app, and at worst a miserable prison for those who lose sight of the real reason we should all be here, to get better at speaking fluently with our suegrita adorada bonita de Madrid on our llamada telef√≥nica semanal.


Friday 17 November 2023

Why I Don't Recommend Breath of the Wild (to my friends)


In Edge's December 2023 issue, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild ranked #1 in their 100 Greatest Games feature. In their 2017 review, they gave it one of their coveted 10/10 scores. The 2023 top 100 list wasn't merely curated by Edge staff. The votes for the Top 100 were collated from an eclectic mix of 100 representatives from the games industry. But, if you don't trust Edge, or their industry poll, or Famitsu, or Geoff Keighley's Game Awards(!), then you can rest assured that I personally rate the game as an all-timer. It is one of the best games of all time.

I don't recommend it to my friends. 

Before we dig into the deeper reasons I'll deal with some low-hanging fruit. Anyone who would have been excited to play Breath of the Wild probably already has, or at least has some real-world reason that's stopped them from doing so. Not everyone has a Switch. It's one thing to recommend a game, but another to recommend a major hardware investment upfront, which is also why I don't recommend VR games very often. Perhaps the least trivial reason in this grab bag is time poverty. I generally refrain from recommending anything that may require a literal month's worth of someone's free time, especially if I know that a person's leisure time comes at a premium. I love the One Piece manga but I've never attempted to recruit someone into the cult. It's just plain unethical.

It's also a waste of a recommendation. You don't get unlimited swings of that particular bat. Make each recommendation as if it's your last. I'm trying to develop an internal algorithm that takes the friend before me as an input in such a way that the output recommendation will be as close to the perfect fit for that person. If I assume that I only get one swing of the recommendation bat, I'm sure as shit endeavoring to pick something fucking excellent. 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has never survived the trip through my own personal algorithmic nightmare gauntlet. Dark Souls hasn't made it through. Super Mario Odyssey hasn't made it through. Gunstar Heroes for the Sega Genesis made it through once, but those circumstances were very particular and unlikely to come up again soon. These are my personal favourite games but I rarely take up people's time convincing them to pick them up.

My personal recommendation system is trying to maximise the enjoyment that any given friend (F) has with a game (G) that I've recommended. I do this by decomposing enjoyment into two distinct factors. Factor One: Probability of Play (PoP) which is the chance that my friend will actually play the thing that I recommended. Factor Two: Enjoyment Assuming Play (EAP) which is how much fun I think a friend would have assuming that that they play the game.

So we have Enjoyment of (G,F)  = PoP(G,F) * EAP(G,F)

The method now is to put a list of candidate recommendations through this formula and choose the highest-scoring one, provided that the highest-scoring game (G*) is going to provide sufficient joy for that person.

So what affects each of these factors? Let's start with PoP, using Breath of the Wild as our candidate. We already covered 'they played it already' so let's dig deeper. I got my mum to play it because she likes long walks in the Lake District and the fantasy of riding horses through open fields. I know she hasn't beaten Calamity Ganon or would particularly care to but my pitch wasn't based on defeating evil. It was about riding horses and lovely landscapes. It also didn't hurt that she had ready access to both a Switch and a copy of the game already. Didn't even need to leave the house. On the other hand, it's got 100+ hours of play time which immediately disqualified a friend of mine who was trying to finish their Masters that year. An easy pitch after dissertation submission, but not before!

Now onto Enjoyment Assuming Play (EAP). What affects that? How about 'the game requires a degree of comfort with twin-stick movement controls'. That makes it a non-starter for more people than you might think, as well as a host of other game literacy and accessibility issues the game doesn't address. Not to mention that the Switch doesn't offer players many ways to customise their experiences to their specific needs. What about the vast non-linearity of the game? An appealing feature to many, an anxiety-inducing nightmare for some, or simply too little direction for some players to enjoy. My mum did enjoy the horse riding but she wasn't about to deal with the Divine Beasts any time soon.

A note on using the algorithm. You don't need to be exhaustive. Your best first guess is probably quite good, but by fuzzily running your candidate pitches through the equation above, you can stress test it with a little more structure in mind, and maybe give yourself a framework to attempt to find a better recommendation. Why don't we try it with Breath of the Wild? Let's try it on a friend of mine with a Switch. They had a Wii in the past, and they quite liked Super Mario 3D World but didn't get on well with Odyssey.

For PoP, we're not looking good here. When asked about Odyssey it was the relative non-linearity and vastness of the game that was off-putting. I'm unlikely to sell them on another open-world-sounding game, and even if I did, the EAP probably won't be all that good either. I can see them getting bored and annoyed more than I can see them pushing through the pain barrier and 'learning' that Breath of the Wild is really good. How about I pitch the remake of Link's Awakening Instead? Might not be the best recommendation I could make but it has a higher PoP  *and* a  higher EAP so I may as well forget about Breath of the Wild as far as this person is concerned. 

And you know what, this isn't the first time I've forgotten about it either. I just don't recommend it to my friends. 

Tuesday 24 May 2022

Ring Fit Adventure - The 103% Review

In 2010 the word 'gamification' received a surge of interest. 

I don't think it's unfair to say that this term has a mixed reputation. 

The word itself is loosely defined as trying to add game mechanics to non-game environments. Leaderboards for sales teams, good behaviour points for schoolchildren, that sort of thing. Leveraging game mechanics where they don't traditionally belong.

Ring Fit Adventure is an example of this process working in reverse. Rather than bringing game mechanics into a realm where they don't belong, Ring Fit Adventure takes something that doesn't usually belong in a video game, a full-body workout, and creates a game world that attempts to accommodate a full-body workout so well that you forget that it was ever a stranger to the gaming landscape.

Spoiler: I think the mad lads did it.

This is the 103% Review of Ring Fit Adventure 


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WORKING OUT IS SHITE 

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Let's establish one fact of life upfront. Working out is shit. Big shit. 

Those people who like working out? Freaks. Fools. Outliers. Not to be trusted. Forget them. They already have an intrinsic enjoyment associated with their gym routine or they have found a sustainable way to suffer there. These people may have even tried to recruit you into their sad sweaty (and often noisy) world in the past. But as a fitness solution, the public gym doesn't work for everyone. Let's consider the other options available, but before I do...

Not everyone feels the pressing need to actually have a regular workout routine at all. A lot of people are happy without one and that's their business. Don't be that guy, even if you think you're helping. But for those looking to take on more exercise, if the gym sucks... what else?

You could take classes? The more structured activities sidestep some of the gym politics, but it's still a matter of finding a class to suit you at a time, location, and vibe calibration that suits you. In many ways, this option has a lot of the same downsides at the gym, and often costs more, not to mention that a lot of the options for classes are rolled up into gym memberships because that's how the economics of the fitness industry works. Personal trainers are great but can cost a bomb, and you still have to find the right fit for you. 

You could just take up jogging like I did for a bit, but it gets old really quickly and I like in the UK so a good chunk of the calendar makes it really unappealing to put on my running shoes. 

Pictured: British Summer
Pictured: British Summer

The best option? I'd say sports. Football, bouldering, hockey... whatever it is. If I'm engaged with a PvP contest, or a PvE challenge (bouldering) then my focus and attention are on that aspect of the activity and I can focus less on the exertion and pain I'm dealing with. I've done 'reps' in the gym before and believe me, I'm counting every single one of those fuckers, and I'm counting down.

But I'll play football for two hours without so much as blinking. I'll climb bouldering walls until my arms turn to stone. It's engaging enough that my brain is content to chew on tactics and strategy rather than focus on pain and fatigue.

That is of course when I can make time for it. I'm less and less able to get a game of football going, especially with people who are at my level either way. Bouldering is great, but it's not something for which I can always set aside time and wallet space. It also makes me feel like a hypocrite because I like it. Remember what I said about people who enjoy working out? Freaks. Fools.

But do you know what kind of engrossing, engaging activity I regularly make time for? I think you know the answer. 

Now let's talk timers.

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EVERY SECOND IS EARNED

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One thing I've never really understood about video games, in general, is the ubiquitous 'hours played' counter on save files through the ages. They are especially visible in the world of JRPGs but they are everywhere, and platforms such as Steam are also keenly tracking playtime as well. You have to wonder why these timers are so prevalent, but you don't have to do the research. I know that I haven't. Because of in-game timers, I know that my current Shin Megami Tensei save file is running at 42 hours and counting. Why is it so important that I know this? I don't know but I can tell you how it makes me feel.

One feeling is "Wow, I can calculate precisely how many hours of play I've gotten for my investment in this game unless, of course, the game timer does that really annoying thing where it continues to tick over during idle time or that one time I took a really long dump in the middle of a gaming session and it counted all such moments because it didn't have a mechanism to deal with pause screen time."

Another more useful feeling is "Wow, I've spent quite a lot of time being engaged with this world, story, and gameplay systems. Good job, game."

I can't recall exactly how much time I've spent exercising with Ring Fit Adventure, but I do know that the cumulative game timer is based on real movement and activity, as the in-game save timer only ticks up during active exercise time, and stops the clock if you much as stop to catch your breath. I can say with some sense of pride that I've burned more than ten thousand calories in my Adventure Mode save because I get to look at my cumulative calories burned each time I start a session. I have become a literal sweatlord, and I have the receipts to prove it.

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IT'S FUN ENOUGH

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But how much fun is Ring Fit Adventure? Well, the sub-title above kinda gives it away. This game isn't exactly teeming with juicy systems and a deep metagame. Your character has HP, an ATK stat, and a DEF stat. There are four types of damage corresponding to different exercise types and most enemies are weak against exactly one of them. Consumable items in the form of smoothies spice things up a bit and you can unlock gear sets, new exercises, and some stat bonuses through a skill tree. 

It's fine you know? Bread and butter RPG stuff. It's not an awe-inspiring nor a brain-bending metagame by any stretch but it's not meant to be Xenoblade. It's meant to be a colourful excuse for a full-body workout at home, and it achieves that. At the end of each session always there is an itemised list of reps and distances covered by all of the exercises you've done and it never fails to surprise me how much I've actually done in each session. 

If the game actually presented enough metagame exploits to allow swifter progress in exchange for less exercise, it would miss the point of this game so hard. It would also be less inclusive and take too much time away from the exercising part.

The typical RPG game flow goes a little something like this. 

1. Fight some battles to gain EXP and resources (Core)

2. Futz about with systems and menus to improve your build (Meta)

3. Repeat until end credits (with lore breaks) (Loop)

These are not new ideas

A game like Ring Fit Adventure really needs you to engage with the Core (geddit?) of the game as much as possible. If you get too distracted with the Meta side of things for too long, the exercise class grinds to a halt, a water break can quickly transform into a coffee morning and that's no good for your atrophied abdominals.

The Meta side of things is very sparse, as skill points are earned slowly, and the best way to prepare for most enemy encounters and bosses is to be of a high enough level and have a good range of skill types equipped. Ring Fit Adventure even tries to introduce more exercise into the Meta side of things by requiring a few chest presses to create consumable items (or "smoothies", which is adorable), but you really won't spend too much time thinking about this, and when you do it isn't for long. It's just enough of that sweet RPG goblin goop for your infantile gamer brain to latch onto. If there was ever a time for a Skinner Box, it's here. And here it is. 

It's not trying to be Gym Megami Tensei, and it would run the risk of being a poor exercise game if it did. That being said, I reckon most people won't finish the main campaign, let alone the New Game+ campaigns, and we'll explore that in The Verdict, which is now.

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THE VERDICT

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Ring Fit Adventure is a great piece of fitness technology. It's inclusive, versatile, and well thought out. Unless you are going very far out of your way to cheat the system, this game will give you the all-body workout you desire and teach you more than a few healthy life lessons about your body and your relationship with it.

Far from the gym bro grind-set culture that encourages you to treat your body like a fucking piece of shit that needs to be broken and beaten at every turn to promote muscular supremacy, Ring Fit Adventure treats your body as something to be taken care of and nurtured. The draconic antagonist Dragaux is presented as a tragic figure whose insecurities have led him down a toxic path of overtraining, and jockishness driven by unhealthy body image insecurities. The 'dark influence' of this bad attitude infects others around him. Ring Fit Adventure encourages a more sustainable exercise regimen accompanied by sensible eating practices. It is a welcome anathema to the unhealthy mindscapes often associated with extreme bodybuilding and drastic crash dieting. 

Are you, though?

If Ring Fit runs out of new tricks to keep you engaged for its main campaign run time of around 40+ hours of real exercise time. But my copy of Ring Fit Adventure remains the primary way I do my serious structured exercise at home. Ring Fit is a victim of a truth that its in-game coach Tipp will often recite, that it's best to change up your exercise regime once in a while to keep yourself interested. Don't do the same routines, change your hiking routes, and take up new sports. Ring Fit can only keep things interesting for so long, so I take breaks from it. But I always come back.

I may not play Ring Fit Adventure as much as I did when I first got it, but I certainly do a lot more exercise than I used to, and I've never been in better shape. In all honesty, I have to attribute this to Ring Fit Adventure. I strongly recommend trying it if you can get a hold of a set.

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THE EXTRA 3%

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Welcome back another extra 3%!  The text-based 'check out my other vids' section! Taste the back matter!

My other reviews in this 103% series are:

And now we review the Ban List (renamed!) and the Blind Spots (problematic?)


BAN LIST

Games Published by Devolver Digital (I've done 2 from their label)

-- No new additions to the ban list, and Devolver Digital is still in the doghouse! 


BLIND SPOTS:
A console exclusive (Ring Fit Adventure was a Nintendo Switch exclusive)

A game that was released before 2019!

A mobile exclusive

A tabletop game

(Yeah that will do for now, could be here all night!)

Please consider interacting with me on Twitter @jak1oh3 and explaining to me what the hell the entity known as Paimon is and why everyone accepts its presence uncritically. I'll wait. 

Otherwise, thanks again for reading, it goes a long way :)
Jak

Sunday 11 July 2021

Genshin Impact - The 103% Review

There is a free to play videogame called Genshin Impact.

This is the logo for the videogame Genshin Impact.



This is the 103% Review of the videogame Genshin Impact.

(Get the game here)

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REVIEWING LIVE SERVICE GAMES

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A moment of sympathy for those who review video games on a deadline. A standard $60 boxed game with no DLC can easily require 40 hours of playtime for just one playthrough. You might be pushing closer to 60-100 hours for some of the meatier RPGs on the market. And that's not to mention user-generated content, expansions, and repeat playthroughs. Even if you're like me and have no particular deadlines to meet, the reviewer must eventually write and submit their review, omitting at least some non-negligible amount of the potential gameplay experiences offered by the game itself. 

A skilled games reviewer can usually hope to play enough of the game to develop some potential thesis statements that say something meaningful about it that won't be later overturned in a catastrophic fashion by someone else who played the game for a longer time. You don't need to have caught all of the Pokemon to give me a solid 900 word summary of the latest entry in the series. Just *how much* Pokemon the reviewer deems necessary to play is really down to their judgement. In the case of paid games journalists, deadlines also simply must factor in, especially if you're an outlet that does not benefit from access to review builds from major publishers. Part of the skill of a reviewer is judging how to best experience a potentially vast experience in a very limited time.

This is where we talk about live service games, also known as "games as a service" - or GAAS. These are often free to play games (sorry Nintendo, "free to start" doesn't seem to be catching on) but they don't have to be. They can be paid games with a free DLC roadmap, they can be paid games with additional paid content options released over time. And yes, they can be free to play games like Genshin Impact. Now imagine that it is your job to review Genshin Impact. The first question isn't even 'How?' here but 'When?'



I'm painfully aware that I've not said much about the actual game yet. We'll get to it.

Genshin Impact came out in September of 2020 and it has been updated on an ongoing basis ever since then. I started writing this review in May of 2021 and will probably complete it by the end of summer. I've never played it before, but I read a little about it when it came out. When I went to read reviews of the game from September of 2020 they often remarked about how much the overall look and feel of the game reminds them of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and how the sheer ungodly sum of money it seemed to be making. 

I see the writers behind these reviews making the shame shrewd choices they always have to make. What are the most salient points I can talk about before I have to submit this review? They made good choices. But the thing about GAAS products is that they are only ever in a complete state once the developers behind them stop adding new content. There is no one ultimate and best time to review a GAAS product. Anyone reviewing Genshin Impact has to just take the game as they find it and comment on what they find at that point in time, adding to the overall history of things people have said about it as it evolves.

For me, that involved starting at the very beginning. The game won't let me start anywhere else.

Now I have worked on a number of GAAS games in my time and I'm glad to see that Genshin Impact has a very generous Honeymoon Phase. The Honeymoon Phase is what I like to call the time you spend with a GAAS game where you are able to forget that this game is looking to monetise some of its players, potentially very heavily.

Download a free game with in-app purchases onto your phone at random and chances are that it will be painfully obvious how they intend to monetise your experience within twenty minutes. You almost certainly won't *need* to spend any money yet to continue having fun, but already you grok the gameplay loops and systems that will eventually start placing demands on your real-life cash money.  

I know in my heart that Genshin Impact *must* have something up its sleeve to make me monetise down the road. But at Adventure Rank 20 and several hours of having a mildly good time, I'm not even close to being there yet. I do not appear to be in any way stymied by economic paywalls or the feeling of being a second class player as a result of playing for free. 

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DEATH OF THE MILD

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To say that Genshin Impact is ripping off Breath of the Wild is to say that Fall Guys is ripping off Super Mario Oddysey. Just because two games are about platforming in colourful environments doesn't mean that they are trying to do the same thing.

A better comparison might be any film that was later adapted to a TV show. Think about Snowpiercer the movie versus Snowpiercer the TV show. The two products have a lot of shared characteristics and features, but their core purposes are so different that the end products naturally diverge a great deal.

Breath of the Wild was created to take gamer's breath away and redefine how we think of both open-world adventure games and how a Legend of Zelda game works. Given the whopping commercial and critical success of the Link's first Switch outing, it's reasonably safe to conclude that the development team achieved what they set out to do. 

When you explore the hauntingly empty wastes of Hyrule, very little is given to the player on a silver platter. There are very few quest markers to use as a crutch, and the player must rely chiefly on their sense of exploration and survival to gradually master the environment and piece together a network of fast travel points piece by piece.

Genshin by comparison isn't here to break new ground. It shouldn't be judged on its failure to do so. It's perfectly legitimate to criticise its lack of overall creative ambition, but not on its failure to reach new heights. It was never shooting for the moon in that way in the same way that The Big Bang Theory wasn't trying to redefine serial storytelling. Genshin Impact's core goal is to command your attention for long enough that you eventually spend money within its ecosystem, or persuade other people to play the game for longer so that they might spend money instead. 

Not surprising given that Genshin Impact is free to play, but that means that Genshin is completely unable to trade in the kind of player antagonising gameplay that Breath of the Wild routinely deploys. 



There's a whole lot of world here, but it's all about as foreboding as a theme park

Where Breath of the Wild will often leave the players fumbling around to define their own moment to moment short term goals, Genshin Impact strives with all its might to ensure that you always have something clearly-defined to do. Go to this place to advance the story. Here are four quick fetch quests if you don't have time for something more involved. Here's a scrapbook full of different achievements to chase after. Play Genshin Impact for just ten minutes and you'll be able to select a quest, go to the quest area, complete the quest, and get some loot and an 'attaboy' from the game's UX. 

In Breath of the Wild, it is highly likely that at some point during your playthrough that you will run around an icy mountain for twenty minutes and fight exactly one wolf to get exactly one piece of cold meat. You might not even know why you were there in the first place. Genshin has a lot of systems, sub-systems, and menus, but you never feel lost, stupid, or particularly challenged. If you need to be stronger, you usually need to upgrade your weapons, characters, items, or choose a lower level quest. 

You'll never truly be mystified with Genshin Impact, but that's the point. Being lost is uncomfortable, and Genshin Impact doesn't want that for you. It just wants to keep giving you a steady supply of dopamine hits. It's the gaming equivalent of binge-watching a TV show. I would argue that the whole genre of mainstream MMORPGs is to create the endlessly binge-able game. Comparing Genshin Impact to Breath of the Wild may have been what we all did when we first saw the two games side by side. 

A better comparison may have been World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV, but I have decided that deep-diving into two subscription-based MMORPGs in order to review this free to play MMORPG is simply more time and money than I think is appropriate to spend on this review. If that bothers you I refer you to the previous segment where I have set out my case for why I have a perfectly good excuse not to do that.

But to conclude this segment, I will say that as far as my overall experience of Genshin Impact has been on a personal level and the sheer financial success that it has so far enjoyed on the market. Genshin Impact seems to succeed by letting players get very comfortable in its world. It doesn't seem to be in a big fat hurry to extract money from me or direct me to storefronts that I don't want to see. 

If you've ever played a mobile game that seems to feel more like a mugging than a videogame. Don't worry. This game leaves you alone to have a jolly good time, and there's plenty to do.

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A FEW WORDS ON INDUSTRY-STANDARD IZEKAI ANIME STUFF

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One of my games journalism pet peeves is when a western reviewer encounters a game with an anime art style and spends a lot of time ensuring their presumed western audience that they are as distanced from that culture as possible, so much so that they find the idea of Goku to be simply baffling. Oh, those weird Japanese! What will they come up with next? 

I also don't care for the idea that you can't look at something like Genshin Impact and criticise it from any other point of view than a dyed in the wool lifelong enjoyer and expert of anime. As far as my own 'power level' goes as a consumer of anime, I would say that I'm far more powerful than a detached casual observer but far less powerful than the all-powerful otakus of the world who usually have a handful of different anime shows on the go at once. 

Rest assured that I am not here to shit on anime, nor am I here to advocate for anime. I'm here to tell you what the hell is going on with Genshin Impact.

Simply put: there's not much going on.



My partner asked me to explain what was going on with this character and I just said
"It's exactly what it looks like, what do you want from me?"

Anime isn't a monolith. It has a rich and varied history just like anything else in the art world. But just like any other genre of entertainment, there are different levels of risk that are tolerated by publishers. There's wildly experimental storytelling in anime, there's anime that pushes the technical limits of what animation can do, and there's stuff that's just absolutely baffling, even to hardcore anime fans.

Then there's stuff like Genshin Impact. I'm not going to use the phrase "lowest common denominator" in a derogatory sense here, because that's exactly what the product developers were aiming for here and they hit the nail squarely on the head.

Genshin Impact has a silent protagonist who begins the game by entering the game world due to a freak dimensional accident in another place. This protagonist also has a SPECIAL QUALITY which means that they have a SPECIAL DESTINY TO FULFILL in this world. This world is populated with every conceivable fantasy world character trope from mainstream, family-friendly anime products. Everyone may dress in conservatively racy cosplay outfits, and it may not be entirely clear how old everyone is in this world, but there's absolutely nothing in here that could cause all but the most conservative player to take offence.

Speaking as someone who has enjoyed anime for more than a decade, Genshin Impact is rammed to the gills with generic anime trash (GAT) and you already know if you're down for that or not. I end up skipping through almost all of the cutscenes, and I have no time for the entity known as 'Paimon' but it also doesn't get in the way of me having a good time with this game. I will also say that even if this is game is filled with GAT, it is a very well presented piece GAT. There's a generous amount of competent voice acting, the game is a pretty thing to look at. Nothing about this game will blow you away, but it is perfectly possible to have a chill time with it.

If you've ever re-watched old episodes of Dragonball Z for hours on end with some snacks, or mindlessly replayed Skyrim for the fourth time, that's the kind of experience you're going to get out of this. Go forth and binge!

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THE VERDICT

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Genshin Impact offers a very competitive value proposition to players looking to play something for free. From what I've played so far, the world is vast and dense with activities. Those activities may be simple and derivative, but there's an assload of it, it runs well on a variety of machines... and it's free. It's an all you can eat buffet that someone else has paid for so you may as well dig in.

Paid MMOs may offer richer experiences that cater for specialist tastes, and are usually the sign of a legacy game like World of Warcraft or similar. If you're looking to jump into a new epic fantasy world and either enjoy (or can stomach) the cutesy anime narrative stylings then I would strongly urge you to consider Genshin as the title to beat. By all means, pay subs for something that appeals to you more, but just make sure that you're getting a worthwhile deal! 

Genshin doesn't use dirty tricks to keep me coming back. What keeps me coming back is the promise of a massive world to explore, plenty of things to do, and a reasonable guarantee that I will be able to make progress even if I don't have a lot of time on my hands. Yes, they'll eventually want to try and squeeze some money out of me, but that feels a long way off from where I'm at, and if they keep showing me a good time, I wouldn't grumble at the prospect of giving this team a little of my money down the line. In the free to play the market, you can't really ask for a better result than that.

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THE EXTRA 3%

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Welcome back to The Extra 3%! I hope you enjoyed my review of Genshin Impact. It's okay if you didn't, but I hope you did. 

That's three reviews that I've done in this series now. If you liked this one, then you might also enjoy my reviews of Sludge Life and Loop Hero, especially since I'm currently BANNED from reviewing games published by Devolver Digital (at least for a good, good, while)

BANNED FOR ALL TIME (or at least for a good, good, while):

Published by Devolver Digital

I've reviewed games on the PC so far, so I should really strive for a console exclusive. Probably something on Switch? I don't know yet. We'll see, eh?

BLIND SPOTS:
A console exclusive

Please consider interacting with me on Twitter @jak1oh3 and explaining to me what the hell the entity known as Paimon is and why everyone accepts its presence uncritically. I'll wait. 

Otherwise, thanks again for reading, it goes a long way :)
Jak

Saturday 29 May 2021

Loop Hero - The 103% Review

Free to play games on all platforms have an uphill battle amongst gamers who grew up in the same millennial generation I did. They barely stand a chance with people who are even older than I am.

The mere presence of *any* free to play mechanics is seen as a black mark against any game that would dare to include them. 

Microtransactions are the most obvious villain but energy mechanics, needlessly complex economies, appointment timer systems... these are all dead giveaways that gamers of a certain persuasion will use to dismiss a game entirely and move on from it.

But the truth of the matter is that free to play game designers, particularly those on mobile, know that they are fighting an uphill battle for your attention and some of their efforts to keep you hooked have already made their way into 'real games'. Games that you like. Games that you tell your friends to play.

Games like Loop Hero.

This is the 103% Review of Loop Hero.


(Get the game: Loop Hero)

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ENTER THE VOID

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Loop Hero was developed by Four Quarters and published by Devolver Digital. 

This also marks the second game in a row that I've reviewed that was published by Devolver Digital, so I shall refrain from reviewing another game that they've published for a bit. See 'The Extra 3%' in this reviews' postscript for more details on this, along with some other goodies.

Loop Hero is a very nice video game, and I've been playing it on PC via Steam. I actually paid for this one unlike Sludge Life, which I got for free on the Epic Games Store. I paid £12.49 for Loop Hero.

That's a pretty good deal whichever way you look at it. But where Sludge Life is a nice little exploration game to play between larger games. This is the game that devours any time you happen to have going spare. Just be glad this thing isn't on your mobile phone asking you for money.

So what is Loop Hero? 

You play as the nameless Hero who has amnesia. Don't recoil from the cliche because the narrative of Loop Hero takes the amnesiac hero to its extreme limit. 

The whole world has amnesia. Not just the people either. The creatures, the towns, the very land itself. It's all been consumed and forgotten due to the machinations of The Lich. As the nameless Hero awakes in a void lit only by a campfire, a road spontaneously appears to form the eponymous Loop. 

Trapped in a reality with nothing but this Loop, the Hero automatically walks along the path and returns to the campfire at the end of each lap. 

You encounter a slime and start to fight it automatically. The game has lasted about 20 seconds at this point and you haven't actually done any gameplay yet. The Hero approaches and fights the slime with no input from you other than a few mouse clicks to advance dialogue. What's going on? When do I, the almighty player, get to do anything?




Eventually, things start happening, none are fully explained but all make enough intuitive sense to tease at the player's brain. A weapon drop from a slime zips over to an inventory, which can be equipped onto the Hero's strange loadout area. Strange playing cards depicting locations such as mountains, or meadows will appear in a sort of 'hand area' at the bottom of the screen inviting you to play it onto the black nothingness around the Loop, or onto the Loop itself. You do these things not because you have any strong sense of what the consequences should be but because this is a video game, and you do things in video games.  

You equip weapons, you play cards onto the Loop. You see what happens.

Things happen.

That graveyard you put down said something about 'spawning skeletons at the start of each day'. What is a day? Why would I want to start spawning skeletons anyway? You notice the day counter in the top left ticking up, you notice that the skeletons have their own loot tables for weaponry and resources. You notice resources. You notice that the enemies get stronger as you complete laps of the Loop. You notice a mysterious 'skull' meter that fills up as you place cards onto the field. You wonder what happens if you can fill it...

You die, most probably. You encounter a town. A town that you can develop with resources. The buildings in the town all have effects of their own. You venture to the Loop again but this time you notice that you can deck build. You haven't mastered each card's nuances yet, and you won't for some time. You experiment, you learn, you discover new cards, creatures, classes, secret interactions between cards...




You just keep going. You keep trying. You keep building, discovering and learning. 

For a game world set in an endless empty void, this game has a lot of systems crammed into it, and you'll want to master them all.

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THE (CORE) LOOP HERO

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And when I talk about 'the systems' of Loop Hero, what I really mean is 'the metagame systems' of Loop Hero. So I should make sure that everyone reading this knows what I mean by that as I don't think I can take that for granted.

Most games can be boiled down into two distinct types of 'gameplay' and the bridges that connect them to one another.

The first type of part is the 'base layer' which is usually what people refer to as the moment to moment 'gameplay' of a game. In Pong, this would be players moving paddles to deflect the ball. In Mario Kart, it's the driving and the firing of weapons in races. It's what you tend to show off in a 'gameplay trailer'.


(Any excuse to type 'Mario Kart 8 Press Kit' into my search bar, honestly)

The 'metagame' tends to be everything else. In Pong, as with most classic arcade games, the metagame layer is the high-score table on the arcade cabinet. Aside from entering initials and trying to secure a place on said board, the player barely interacts with it at all. In Mario Kart, the player earns trophies and star ratings for their performance in Grand Prix events, and time trial records act as a sort of local leaderboard. Again, not much interaction there. 

However, even these bare-bones metagames with next to no interactive parts provide a strong sense of meaning to the base layer. What would Pong be without a high-score table? Where would the tension be in single player Mario Kart without the pressure to get a gold trophy? Even a basic metagame adds a lot.

The ideal videogame gets the player to focus on the base layer for a short while, but not so long that they get bored or tired. Once the base layer session is done, the player is kicked back out into the metagame layer, which should hopefully persuade the player to take part in more base layer fun later. In the Pong example, you play Pong, see your high score and think "hmm, I think I'll try that again". This back and forth between base layer and metagame is typically referred to as a "compulsion loop".

A more complex game may have many such compulsion loops, but there is usually a dominant one. We call this the Core Loop. 

When games were new, and largely skill-based diversions, the base layer did most of the heavy lifting in establishing what made a game good or interesting.

Then complex stories were in games. A desire to see the plot and world of a visual novel became a metagame just as engrossing as the base layer verb of 'read text'.

Then RPG systems were in games. The term 'grinding' refers to often monotonous repeat battles of an often unchallenging base layer battles because the metagame of myriad character-building subsystems and a good story was worth it.

Then achievements were in games. Many a player has doubled down to play games they would otherwise have discarded long ago in search of trophies and gamerscore points, which in turn fed a 'meta-metagame' system of tracking progress across a whole library of titles on one platform for the purposes of showing dedication and skill in gaming.

At some time during all of this, we were told to catch 'em all. The Pokedex metagame layer became far more important than any single battle in the entire experience of a Pokemon player's career.

And of course, along came mobile, and the base layer was all but crushed in its wake, at least for a time.

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STEALING BACK FROM MOBILE

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Successful mobile games with a 'twitch skill' base layer are very rare. It's just very difficult to make that work on a small touch screen where real estate is at a premium. Not to mention that any given app needs to target a cornucopia of device types and screen sizes. Control schemes and camera placement choices are necessarily constrained so the base layer experiences on mobile tend toward simplicity, even when one isn't targeting a casual audience.

When it comes to designing for fun on mobile, the metagame layer ends up picking up a lot of the slack. Strategic games with complex meta-layers lend a sense of tactical cleverness to games where the player isn't actually doing a great deal with their hands. Even supposedly twitchier games like Temple Run rely heavily on their upgrade and mission systems for their staying power.

And of course, it's largely through the meta-layer that free to play mobile games monetise a small fraction of their player base. The laser focussed design works to establish a long term end goal for the player, much like a traditional boxed product video game. Defeat the final boss. Reach the final level. Build the most awesome secret base... that kind of thing. Except rather than design a tight 20-40 hour experience that gets you to that established goal, free to play games allow you to progress relatively unimpeded towards that goal over the course of 2-3 weeks and then start making it difficult to continue making meaningful progress at the same rate without either monetising or through grinding which would be above the odds for even the most punishing late-game challenges of JRPGs.


(*cough*)

To finally bring this back around to Loop Hero, we find a game that is part of a subtle movement to throw out the free to play bathwater from traditionally 'evil' free to play design and keep the delightful meta-heavy, input-light base layer design (babies) from mobile. Core video games do not need to be centred around complex input systems and combat to be a worthwhile challenge. Loop Hero engages your brain in its entirety in every run but still allows one to keep a free hand to sip on a brew or check what's going on in chat.

I've long maintained that there is a degree of snobbery from long-time gamers toward games that find popularity on mobile. They are dismissed as sub-par experiences for sub-par audiences who need to hurry up, smell the coffee and upgrade to a nice console/PC experience. Games like Loop Hero show us that even ardent PC gamers can celebrate core gameplay loops that have been honed in the mobile space, just so as long as the core business model reverts to a more traditional 'one-and-done' financial transaction and that the game lives in the more culturally accepted confines of their Steam library.
 
But let's not kid ourselves, Loop Hero is a game that raided the treasures of the mobile space and dressed up the loot for a self-described discerning PC audience.

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THE VERDICT

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Loop Hero isn't designed to monetise its players, but there are times where I would be tempted to spend gems or some form of premium currency to pick up the pace a little. There are plateaus in progress that can seem almost too much like a mobile game. That being said, I often find that the game rewards those that are willing to think deeply about optimising their builds towards key objectives. The game doesn't shower you with praise for figuring these things out but provides something of a neutral laboratory environment for players to test our strategies and praise themselves for their own cleverness.

I've only played this game in small doses, rather than longer sessions full of back to back runs, so I will admit to something of a blind spot in my research here. The game provides a tight 15-20 min experience that will fill up the back half of a lunch break, or as a welcome break from study. I can easily see the game satisfying a much longer gaming session much in the same way that one may decide to watch a single episode of a TV show and end up bingeing the whole season. The core loop of this game simply is that compelling.

As I said earlier, I'm very fortunate that this thing isn't on my phone. If you're looking for a new obsession, you would do well to consider Loop Hero. It's a mobile game for people who don't like mobile games.

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THE EXTRA 3%

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Welcome to the back pages! Thanks for reading this far. I hope you enjoyed my Loop Hero review!

My previous review in this series was Sludge Life, another game published by Devolver Digital. To keep things fresh my next review will absolutely not be a game published by them. 

BANNED FOR ALL TIME:

Published by Devolver Digital

Although if you're not entirely familiar with Devolver Digital's offerings, they're a label worth looking out for. Games in their portfolio are rarely boring, often very good, and always worth the price of admission to find out. If there was a fringe arts festival of games, Devolver Digital's acts would be the one's that get talked about by the less insufferable hipsters. 

If you like what I'm about please do consider interacting with me on Twitter @jak1oh3 and continuing the conversation there. I love talking to people who make and play video games so I look forward to hearing from anyone that fits that description :)

Thanks again for reading, it means a lot to me,
Jak