I decided to combine these two games into one review for a couple of reasons: The main one being that they are both extremely simple and don’t require a lengthy review. The other is that they are both very similar, while being almost nothing alike.
What the hell am I talking about?
The name of the game here is nothing short of beautiful simplicity. Not only are these two games easily played with just a mouse, but they are so conceptually simple that they are both casual, and chill–yet still able to occupy hours of your time if you want them to.
Let’s start with Townscaper.
It actually might be a misnomer to call Townscaper a game. It’s really more of a creative tool that even the developer himself describes as a “toy” rather than a game.
I think it’s far more than a toy, though.
Sure, it’s immaculately simple, and there’s no “game” to be played here. There’s no premise other than to build a town with as much creative freedom as your own mind will allow. But that’s the joy of it. You can think as much as you want about your next step, or not at all. You can just click click click away and turn your brain off until you think it looks neat. Or, you can create a masterwork of intentional design. You’re still never doing anything more than clicking on stuff, or choosing a colour. You have a fair number of undos and redos, as well. It’s like a mini-modelling software, where the only thing you’re modelling is a town, and the details like trees and bushes and benches are filled in for you.
All that is expected of you is to click away. It’s almost therapeutic.
Alright, so what’s the deal with Dorfromantik? It’s pretty much the opposite when it comes to the ultimate “point” of the game, and especially when it is in fact, a game.
At its core, you’re building while trying to achieve a high score. You place tiles in accordance to generating points, as well as increasing the size of your deck. Oh yeah, it’s kind of a card game, too. A very simple one; it uses cards as a mechanic in the same way a board game might. You draw from your deck in sequence, and whatever card you’ve drawn, you must place. So there is a definite strategy. You want to place forest next to forest, and farms next to farms, and houses next to houses, while winding rivers and trains throughout. The game encourages that by giving you bonus points and extra cards for completing what are effectively small “quests”– wherein you connect a specified number of say, forest tiles together, or pass a grand total of river tiles placed.
While there is a fair amount of strategy to it, it’s still built on the rugged simplicity of doing only one thing at a time: pick a tile, place it on the board. It’s never any more than that, yet it’s also so much more than that. The fact that it only ever lets you place the next tile in the deck means you can never play the same game twice, or design the same map twice. Plus, you don’t even have to play the game if you don’t care that much about getting the top score–and there’s even a pure creative mode on the way.
So these games are similar and different in a lot of the same ways. While their differences make them great on their own, their similarities are what make them a great contribution to gaming as a whole. The fact that these two games are capable of captivating the creative juices with only a click is elevating. They are both games you could easily play, stress-free for 15-20 minutes before bed… or all day long, trying to create a rare Pepe, or recreating Minas Tirith. You can play these games with your brain off or on. It’s hard to say that about most other titles.
While they are also both still in Early Access, they are also both expected to release sometime later this year. They are also both extremely inexpensive and playable as they are.
It doesn’t get much better than this. Seriously. After watching a seemingly constant stream of disappointment across the board from the “AAA” game machine, CAPCOM has given us something we can finally sink our teeth into. Yes, it’s a monster pun and I’m proud of it.
Monster Hunter Rise puts every other AAA launch in the past 6 months to shame. Square Enix, take fucking note. MHR sold over 5 million copies in less than 2 weeks, to absolutely stellar reviews I might add, and it’s currently a Switch exclusive. After the laughable Avengers and OUTRIDERS launches, I’m playing a game that is just as co-op friendly, yet drenched in glorious attention to quality of life for the gamer.
I’m not even talking about how much better this game is than Monster Hunter: World (and it is), I’m talking about features that this game has that I wish other games had. Features like: instant fast travel. No annoying animations, no having to find a fast travel location. Just open the map, click the spot, poof you’re there.
Or how about: gear wishlist. If you visit a blacksmith and decide you want to craft a piece of gear, you can put it on you wishlist, and you will be notified the moment you have the required components to build it.
There are also presets for everything. You can save dozens of presets for gear and items separately. So you can set your armor and weapons with one preset, then you can pick another preset to decided how many of which items you want in your inventory before, or even during a mission if you stop off at the base camp.
There is so. Much. Quality.
Sure, the graphics are a bit of a downgrade from World, but World is meant to run on more powerful hardware than the Switch. The maps are more focused, however. In a way that actually feels more immersive and dense. You have a more clear path to your goal instead of just meandering around for an arbitrary amount of time. The world is just more interesting, too.
You can also freely play with friends and strangers. I always found it strange that World is often attached to the “MMO” genre, when it isn’t, really. Rise has just as much multiplayer potential, but no one would accuse it of being an MMO. Its online elements are present, but not required. Yet, I still see plenty of room for future content and cross-overs, just like World had. If CAPCOM is smart, they will definitely keep adding to this stellar title, because it is not only above and beyond previous MH titles, it raises the bar in terms of the expectations we should have of a game like this at launch. Especially when we’re paying AAA prices for legacy franchises from A list publishers.
Have I glowed enough about this game, yet? It’s already been about 500 words and I’ve barely talked about the actual gameplay. And believe me, I will use every chance I can to use this as a dig towards other AAA publishers who have literally launched 3 games in a row at AAA prices to “mixed” reviews and massive drops in player counts. LOOKING AT YOU SQUARE ENIX. I still think FF7 Remake is a scam, too. I know a lot of people would disagree with me on that one, but that’s a topic for another time.
In a lot of ways, Rise feels similar to World, but with a more streamlined approach. While some argue it takes a bit of the “hunt” away, recent editions of Monster Hunter’s hunting mechanics feel arbitrary, and just extend the gameplay for no reason other than to take more time to do the same thing: fight the monster. So we might as well just get to it then, shouldn’t we? You can still wander around the maps, picking up items, and fighting mobs that spawn at different intervals, just as World allowed. But now, missions take less time because there’s less puttering around and more getting to the action.
Action that is great. Action that not only includes all of the diverse array of weapons and play styles available in previous Monster Hunter games, but refines them. Mobility has become a joy, with such a variety of ways to get around, including a personal dog mount, (called a Palamute, of course) and the ability to ride and control wyverns. Yes, you can ride monsters.
They’ve also replaced the grapple hook and claw with a new mechanic called the Wirebug, which effectively gives you some lite Spider-Man abilities. You can grapple and swing in mid-air, while also being able to run along walls for several seconds. The Wirebug also has unique abilities with each weapon, and is what allows you to mount your prey–giving a new depth to combat yet seen in the series.
By the way, did I mention the cool quality of life features? Some of them even add to the immersion. You can actually choose your overworld theme. Themes, by the way, which appear to be sung by some of the main characters you interact with.
And sure, it’s not perfect. There are even some little annoyances which have persisted through a number of the MH games, like cinematic sequence that happens at the end of a hunt. While it looks cool, it can be disorienting and a bit long–especially if there are still other active monsters on the field, because they don’t stop attacking during the sequence. The UI could stand to be a bit more intuitive as well. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you’ve never played another MH game before. That said, there are a lot of in-game resources, and tutorials you can flip through to help you make sense of everything going on.
The reason why I am glowing so much about the quality of life in this game is simply because a lot of modern “AAA” games especially, don’t feel as if they were made by people who play games. There are certain features which should never be missing at launch; graphics options we should always be able to control, like motion blur and screen shake… there are so many things which annoy gamers, which manage to always be present at the launch of modern games, with the promise they will fixed later. I’m. So. Tired. Of. This. It’s one of the things I constantly debate about the hotly contested OUTRIDERS (yeah, I’m back to bashing Square Enix again), because people tell me how much better it’s going to get after polish. I don’t care about or want that. I want a game that doesn’t lock cutscenes to 30fps on my 3080 at launch, or force motion blur or have pointless animation sequences every time you walk through a door. I don’t think my expectations are out of line when these are extraordinarily clear oversights that any modern gamer should have pointed out at extremely early stages in development, never mind after a game is launched. A game which costs over $100m to produce, and has as lauded a publisher as Square Enix shouldn’t have bullshit oversights at launch. And the same goes for everyone else.
This is why MWR is so important a launch for me. It’s both a great game, and it didn’t have the rocky launch we’ve come to expect from big publishers, while still having sales well into the millions. It all comes down to commitment to quality for the player. This is what absolutely shines about Monster Hunter Rise. Not only is it a solid evolution of the formula, but it sets the bar for what expectations of a AAA release should be. One has to wonder how much influence Nintendo had in this, since it is a Switch exclusive, and Nintendo certainly has a track record of maintaining a standard of quality for their own products–with MHR being no exception. Perhaps there was some collaborative effort?
Either way, it’s a well produced effort by CAPCOM for Nintendo, and I’m here for it. This is the level of quality we should be expecting across the board.
Yes, I’ve dug through this 365 page court document and it’s a dry read, to be sure. But it confirms everything I’ve been thinking about Epic for the last two years: Their profit model is unsustainable.
Epic Game Store certainly is.
So let’s start there.
To preface, most of this information about Epic is from the document I’ve linked above, and it’s written by Epic’s own lawyers. I will also be using language from Apple’s findings, as well. It doesn’t get any more straight from the horse’s mouth.
According to this lengthy finding, Epic Game Store (will be EGS for the rest of the article) lost over $450 million in two years. 2019 reported a loss of $181 million, and 2020 reported a loss of $273 million. While the document goes on to claim their “generously low” 12% take (and oh boy, is there a lot of self-congratulating on how low it is) from the games in the store is enough to “cover operating costs”, it really just serves to baffle at how much money they are actually spending just to have a few exclusive titles.
Extraordinarily false exclusivity, at that. I’ve already gone into this pretty hard in another article, but I will drive the point home again: Epic doesn’t buy exclusivity for their own platform, they buy exclusivity away from Steam, specifically. There are many “Epic Exclusives” that can be found on Game Pass, or UPlay… but just not on Steam. So the interest here isn’t in creating a competitive PC gaming market, it’s to vindictively pull games away from Valve alone.
As is indicated by their ludicrous spending patterns, they are losing this battle. According to Apple’s findings, Epic themselves admit they will lose at least another $139 million in 2021.
Yet, in their own findings, Epic claims that EGS will be profitable by 2023. How is that realistic when they blew through half a billion in two years, with the latter year being almost $90 million MORE than the previous? Not only that, but we’re talking about 2020–the year the tech industry as a whole exploded due to people spending a lot more time in the digital world for reasons we all know. So how is it possible that Epic lost more money on EGS in the year where most tech companies saw dividends triple?
Because they’ve turned Fortnite into a cash cow. They aren’t spending based on the profitability of EGS, they’re spending based on the profitability of Fortnite, which has become far and away, their primary source of income. This is a bad thing. They’re dumping vast profits into a store to create false competition in a market where the most popular platform also happens to be the best platform. Steam has unmatched functionality including full spectrum console controller support. EGS doesn’t even have a wishlist. Sure, they take a bigger cut from games, but they also have wider outreach, bigger selection, a social media network, a points reward system, a secondary market for in-game items, a VR ecosystem, etc, etc. At the same time, they’re trying to bring down Apple’s stranglehold on… *check notes* their own platform?… while banking on speculation that EGS will actually be profitable in the future with no evidence to support the claim.
Now, I’m not a lawyer in any capacity, so my understanding of whether or not they actually have a case here is limited, but I’m going to try to break this down in the best way I can:
Epic’s case against Apple is based on antitrust. Antitrust laws are written to prevent a hostile monopoly. I say hostile, because monopolies aren’t inherently illegal. In order to invoke antitrust, you have to prove market manipulation or at the very least, an unethical stranglehold over a market. While the argument certainly exists that Apple has a monopoly on iOS, they don’t have a monopoly on the mobile market. Android is a much larger platform, and has a wide variety of manufacturers and even versions of Android to choose from. While Apple is definitely a major chunk of the mobile market, and most certainly influenced the smartphone ecosystem as we know it, they aren’t the only player in this game.
If Epic wanted to go after Apple where it hurts, they should have taken a page from their own book, and set out to make platform exclusive mobile games outside of the iOS environment altogether. Maybe make a deal with Samsung, or other big players to generation new interest for competition against Apple. Instead, they seem to be intent on playing the same game they play with Valve–but on Apple’s own operating system.
First off, they’re losing their battle with Valve, as I’ve already said. It’s well known that the only reason anyone appears to use EGS is for their free games; as is evident by their $half billion deficit in 2 years. Second, Apple’s ecosystem is entirely closed. It’s hardware and software combined. To me, that’s the same as Epic wanting to open up the EGS on Nintendo’s Switch, or Sony’s Playstation. It’s proprietary hardware and software. If those other companies don’t owe Epic space on their platform, then neither does Apple.
But ok, let’s switch sides for a second. I am clearly biased against Epic, and will fully admit that. I even wish I wrote an article two years ago just to prove that I’ve been saying for the last two years that there’s no way EGS makes any money.
Alright, so let’s just say I agree with Epic. And I actually do for the most part. Apple’s ecosystem is extremely restrictive, especially in iOS. Their approval system is clunky and doesn’t really do much as far as quality control goes, nor does it greatly affect the security of iOS or iPhones in the long run, which is more or less the crux of Epic’s argument. Especially when you consider that MacOS is far less restrictive, and gives developers the freedom to monetize their products however they like. There is room for an argument to be made that there is a stark contrast in restrictions between the two operating systems which Apple develops, and especially considering that iOS is built from the bones of MacOS.
While I do like some of what Apple has contributed to computing as a whole, and I still primarily use MacOS for music production, they are also an easy target for some of their less savory practices of forced obsolescence, and their restrictive, closed ecosystem.
Is this really Epic’s fight? Again, my not being a lawyer precludes me from actually saying if they have a case here, but my biggest issue isn’t even whether or not they have a case, but in how Epic is going about this. They aren’t coming at this from the perspective of an independent developer, they are coming at this from the perspective of a platform developer trying to get their own slice of the pie. There are no good guys here, and that’s the problem. There’s no underdog. It’s not David vs Goliath, it’s Goliath vs bigger Goliath.
Plus, there are some legitimate concerns about the potential lowered security of apps within apps. Security concerns which are passed on to the consumer, and so then they become the security concerns of the end user. Even if it is a somewhat false sense of security, it is still a sense of security, and people will pay for that. One thing that is absolutely absent from this document are the needs of the user. Again, there are no little guys in this battle.
If Epic had gathered 100 indie developers and launched a class-action suit on their behalf because they have the lawyers and resources to fight the battle, then I’d probably be on board. I am by no means pro-Apple. Fuck Apple. But, fuck Epic, too. They aren’t heroes for only taking 12% instead of 30%. They exploit indie developers by dangling huge wads of cash in their face in exchange for exclusivity, and then put their games up for free and wonder why they aren’t actually making any money. If they were truly as pro developer as they claim to be, why wouldn’t they encourage developers to release across all available platforms for the most potential profit?
Before I conclude about why I think Epic is about to flush itself down the toilet, let’s just punctuate the case against Apple: If they want to win, they have to prove the case for all developers, and not just their own profits. Apple doesn’t have a monopoly on the mobile market, despite their undeniable contributions to its very existence. Since iOS is a closed ecosystem of both hardware and software, then they need to be able to prove that this *entire concept* is bad–which means not just iPhones, but Playstations, XBoxes, and Switches must also be wrong, too, because it’s arguably the same thing. Video game consoles are a unique platform that aren’t replaced by anything else, just as mobile phones are described in Epic’s own words. They need to set a precedent, and that’s not going to be easy.
Especially since it’s already been passed on by other countries. To hedge their bets, they launched suits in as many countries as they could, to increase their chances of a win. Seems like a desperate move to begin with, but with all other countries deferring to the judgement of US courts, it seems like it’s all going to come down to the trial to be held in California, starting May 3rd. Should be interesting to watch, either way.
So how is this all killing Epic?
Well aside from the undeniably ridiculous amount of money they are burning on the EGS for unexplainable reasons, they clearly have all of their eggs in one basket: Fortnite.
Because that’s what this all about. Fortnite is paying for the whole party: EGS, Unreal Engine, everything. That 12% cut might be covering “operating costs” but there’s no way it’s cutting into those hundreds of millions they’re dumping on free games and platform exclusivity–especially if that number is growing.
That’s a lot of faith in one product. One product they aren’t even really claiming is a game anymore, either. That’s the thing that is particularly apparent in this document; they constantly refer to Fortnite as some sort of venue, or vehicle for other forms of entertainment than the game itself. It goes on to mention the various films and events they have hosted, and the creative and social spaces which exist within the game, and while true, I don’t see Fortnite having the lasting platform hosting ability of say, Second Life, where the user has ultimate control over the space they’re in. Fortnite is not itself an open platform; it’s a closed game environment.
Epic is speculating that Fortnite will at the very least, maintain current profits or better, when there is absolutely no way to prove that. We know how fickle the game industry is, and all it could take is another, similar game to come along for everyone to jump ship. And the thing is, Fortnite could probably be profitable with only 10% of its current userbase–but not if Epic is using it as a piggybank.
This is where the shades of Blockbuster come in. I dunno if any of y’all checked out the recent Blockbuster documentary that popped up on Netflix (The Last Blockbuster), but it was extremely enlightening as to why Blockbuster fell, and it wasn’t because of Netflix. Blockbuster was set to compete very well with Netflix, but had incurred a ton of debt while Viacom was the owner and were using them as a cash cow. Since they were literally the only name in movie rentals for so long, Blockbuster was both unstoppable and immovable for a time. Those of us over a certain age remember when it was unfathomable to think that there would never be movie rental shops again. Blockbuster was more than just a store; it was a landmark where you’d go to pick up your weekend entertainment, whether movies or video games. It was a social gathering to prepare for sleepovers, date nights, and so many others.
Blockbuster was still beating Netflix when Netflix was rising up via its mail order system, and Blockbuster was competing with their own mail service quite well. So what happened? Blockbuster deleted 2/3rds of their revenue when they decided to nix late fees. Not because late fees were that big a fraction, but because people simply weren’t returning rentals, so they were constantly having to rebuy and restock. At the same time, digital streaming was just starting to take off. For a company of Blockbuster’s size and reputation, it shouldn’t have been any more than a reorganized business plan, and a shuffling of management. But because they had piled on so much debt over the years by cash-cowing for Viacom, they had no runway to restructure, and imploded seemingly overnight.
Consider Fortnite to be Blockbuster in this scenario, and Epic is Viacom. Right now, Fortnite is a massive cash-cow, and they are using it to pay the bills of their other projects. Which is fine, but they haven’t actually diversified profits. Their income is still entirely based on Fortnite. If Fortnite has one single misstep, Epic folds. That one misstep could be a bad update, or a competing game. Or being countersued by Apple for $billions after losing their current suit to them. There are a number of scenarios where suddenly Fortnite ain’t paying the bills anymore, and now they need EGS to become profitable. They claim it will be by 2023. It better be, because if anything happens between now and then that changes the profitability of Fortnite, Epic folds faster than a house of cards in the wind–and Unreal Engine gets sold off to Tencent or Microsoft just to pay the debt.
Anyone remember playing Unreal Tournament 2003/2004 and how genre defining it was? Or Gears of War a few years later? Epic needs to go back to making video games instead of trying to take down tech companies with decades more experience in the kinds of games they’re playing. I think we’d all have a lot more fun.
So I was working away at my Monster Hunter Rise review, when I suddenly happened across an announcement on Steam: Unveiling X3: Farnham’s Legacy. Whoa.
X3 is easily one of the greatest space games ever made. Often touted as an offline EVE-like, it’s a dense, open-world space conquest game where you can play anything from a simple trader, to a galactic warlord. X3 Albion Prelude was the final expansion released a full 10 years ago. Seeing this come up on my feed was stunning. I have well over 500 hours in X3: Terran Conflict (the previous expansion) alone.
As it turns out, this is a fan-made project that started around 5 years ago, and was recently completed under the supervision of Egosoft. Anyone who is a fan of this series should be pretty excited, since Egosoft really hasn’t been able to deliver, since. X: Rebirth was an abomination that stripped away many of the things that made the original series great, and X4 still feels unfinished for how many expansions it currently has, especially considering it will cost you nearly $100 to put it all together.
So, you can imagine I’m pretty hyped to check out Farnham’s Legacy and relive some of the greatness that was X3. It is slated for release on May 4.
Like many others last year, I never got around to playing Chimera Squad. While I’m certainly not disappointed to have found it in my monthly Humble Bundle, I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t take my own advice and consider that it was only getting negative reviews because it lives in the shadow of its predecessors.
I was right.
Chimera Squad’s biggest flaw is being tied to XCOM.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is (in)arguably the gold standard for turn-based tactical shooters. With its equally incredible expansion, Enemy Within, it is nearly a perfect game. Compelling story, great gameplay, challenge, depth, replayability… it has it all. I’ve put hundreds of hours into it, myself. Hell, I want to play it right now, just talking about it–and that’s the problem.
Chimera Squad is an XCOM game, very intentionally set in the XCOM universe. It doesn’t really place itself as a sequel, or an in-between to XCOM 2, it’s more of a side story. It’s sort of what Lower Decks is to the rest of the Trek universe.
It’s not nearly as deep, it’s not nearly as dark, and it’s definitely a more casual gameplay experience compared to its big brothers. It takes a much lighter, but more direct approach to the story, and your unit is made up of indisposable characters integral to the plot, rather than a lineup of random recruits you may lose along the way. So it’s more narrative focused, and has less overall decision making as to where to go next.
None of these things are poor design choices in my opinion. The problem is that it’s impossible not to compare it to the other games, which are inarguably better. So, I can understand why some people might pick up this game and say, “wow, this just doesn’t hold up to other XCOM games,” and dismiss it as that.
You might miss out on a fun game, though.
It’s true, it doesn’t have the depth or diversity of gameplay as the bigger XCOM games, but that doesn’t make it a bad tactical shooter on its own. In fact, I’d say it’s a very good one.
Since it is made by the same developers of the original games, you can expect that the combat is good. Really, good. It feels a bit more forgiving on those higher percentage chances to hit, as well. Plus, because you are working with unique characters, they also have unique abilities. There’s no need to train or modify soldiers, you can just pick from characters you like. There’s also a new Breach mechanic, which gives you the opportunity to surprise enemies as you bust down a door, or blow a hole in a wall.
Since your unit is made up of important characters, they communicate frequently and seem to have varied dialogue depending on who you chose for the mission. They also contribute to the narrative aspects and feel like characters who were built with consideration, having more than just one dimension. There is a lot of quality game here that shouldn’t be tossed aside just because it’s a more casual approach to the genre.
It’s also not without some depth on its own: there’s weapon and item crafting, there’s unit customization, there are a variety of different mission scenarios and side quests that deviate from the main story. It’s not just a narrative focused, one-and-done game. There’s no reason one couldn’t find a hundred hours or more here.
Plus, I actually like the concept of it being more of a mid level cop division of XCOM, rather than being the top tier focused on saving the world. Sometimes it’s nice to hear the stories from the clean up crew, and not just from the guys making the mess. Being the sole savior of humanity is a heavily used trope in gaming. There’s plenty of room for diversion from that.
Again, it’s so easy to compare this game to its bigger brothers, but you’re best not to. While it fits well into the XCOM world building, it might be easier just to think of this as a game made by a different studio designed as a love-letter, instead. You might just enjoy it more as a thing by itself, rather than as something trying to live up to the original–because that bar is higher than most.
The first installment of the Kingdom series was a curious take on tower defense. I enjoyed it. I put at least a few hours into it. I played New Lands, as well. The problem with both was the depth required to keep me engaged.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of the series. I like tower defense, and I like strategy games. This series manages to combine elements of both in a way that is both minimalist, and yet, deeper than it seems on the surface. There’s a nuanced approached to how these games are designed and I am a big fan of how well it combines simplicity with conscious base design.
This is where Two Crowns succeeds.
Effectively picking up where its predecessors left off, Two Crowns shares much of the same gameplay: explore either direction of a 2D world, find treasure, expand and defend your base, build a boat to reach the next area.
The thing Two Crowns does so effectively compared to its predecessors is the world building. Travelling between levels is travelling between continents. You can and will go back and forth on your boats. It’s fun to see your old bases still operating as you return, and the new challenges waiting when you get there.
The world is grander and full of more interesting things to find, too. There are curious ruins which have various effects when you unlock them. There are cottages with extra characters hiding inside, which you can coax to come join your kingdom. There are even several mounts to find and ride while you explore.
The mechanics are otherwise very much the same as the previous games. Controls are extremely simple, with very little guidance, allowing you to feel impressively immersed in this little 2D kingdom. As each day passes, waves of enemies grow increasingly difficult. So, you’ll have to continue to upgrade your base, and recruit villagers to defend it, just as before. However, if you lose your crown, you return to the same kingdom as a descendent, with many of the original facilities in place–which gives a sort of extra-lite, rogue-like progression. So, even when you fail, the game encourages you to keep going.
There are some things that might give it a little edge, though. It lacks some depth of control, like being able to command your units, or actually fight with your own character. When you respawn as a descendent, previous areas you explored already have their treasures plundered, which can make early progress a bit tedious in return attempts.
Small things aside, I really enjoy this one because there just aren’t many games like this. It’s a simple game with a big ability to charm and tweak the right buttons for a lovely mix of tower defense, strategy and adventure. It’s a game I will definitely keep coming back to.
What do stock trading, logic equations, and mini-games based on 30 year old puzzle games have to do with repairing giant robots? A lot, apparently. It certainly makes for an interesting combination of elements forming together like a bit of a hap-hazard Voltron. Seems appropriate for a game about repairing mechs, anyway.
Ok, so I know I just threw a lot of crazy images together, but I’ll try to make sense of it all.
Let’s just start with the core game:
It is a mechanic simulator at its base. There are many, many games of this type, and a good portion come from its publisher and their “friends.” I put “friends” in quotes, because it seems like a number of these Chinese publishers have an invested interest in each other, especially considering I even got a loyalty discount for owning other games. Some of you may be familiar with PlayWay as a publisher. Their history of mechanic and repair simulators is long and storied.
If you’ve never played one, it’s fairly self explanatory. You are a mechanic, and your job is to fix things. So in Car Mechanic Simulator you fix cars, in Mech Mechanic Simulator you fix mechs. I think you probably get it at this point.
The basic gameplay loop is as it sounds: pick up an order to repair a mech, complete the tasks required, send it back, get paid, repeat. Fixing and replacing parts is pretty straightforward: use the scanner to diagnose the problem, pull a limb off the suit, put it on a table and begin stripping it down. Like other mechanic simulator games, there are various stations to be unlocked and upgraded which allow you to repair, clean and craft individual components. So you can remove rust, weld, fix electronics and apply a fresh coat of paint… basically all the things you would expect from a game like this.
So far so… the same as every other game like this, right?
It seems like it’s going to be like most other mechanic games until after the first few hours, and you start unlocking stations that aren’t at all similar to other games in this genre.
For example, there is a functioning mini-stock market, featuring rising and falling values of the companies whose mechs you service. As you support the company, its stock grows, and so does your income. If you own stock in a company, and complete a contract from that company, you get extra compensation for the job, so it’s worth buying at least a few shares to boost your income.
While some of the cleaning and repair stations are fairly typical; cleaning off rust, and welding broking parts as one might expect. But the electronics station has you play a minigame to repair components that reminds me a lot of the classic puzzle game, Pipedream.
The calibration station actually requires you to solve a logic puzzle (aka, math), which upon completion, puts you in a virtual environment wherein you “calibrate” the mech by running around and shooting things. Eventually, you unlock stations which allow you to build your own mech, customize it with various paint pallets and decals, and even take it on missions.
There’s a surprising amount of game here for one with such a simple premise.
I wouldn’t call it perfectly executed, however. There are some things which feel a bit, oversight-y. For example, some of the background assets feel a bit cheap. Could be store bought or just default engine assets. The lighting could be more natural, as well. There’s a bit of a feeling that the game didn’t have a lot of artistic direction. The android “helper” is also entirely useless and unfunny. Thankfully, his voice over can be turned off in the options menu.
There are also some minor bugs, and missing textures here and there, although I might excuse them as 1.0 issues which could easily be polished in a patch or two. I even got a reply to my Steam review from the developer, asserting this would be the case.
Despite some of the lack of polish, and the game going off script with stock trading and atypical puzzles, it still manages to work. I have to give this studio credit where it’s due: no one else made a game about fixing mechs, and no one else put a stock market in a mechanic game. So kudos for the creativity, and lots of points for the effort.
I’ll definitely get my money’s worth out of this one.
It was sent to him by a private (unnamed) collector for verification and documentation. Thankfully, all of that wonderful documentation has been provided for free to all of us via The Internet Archives in the form of massive, hi-res images.
So what was the 64DD?
Well, it was a planned expansion drive for the Nintendo 64 that just never quite got off the ground. It was intended to provide additional content for games, not unlike modern downloadable expansions. Those of you who have owned an N64 may have noticed an extra slot on the bottom where this machine would plug in to your existing console.
I love coming across stuff like this.
It’s a reminder that the wheels are always turning, both long before and long after the popular games and systems are actually in our hands. We can postulate both on what Nintendo’s plans were for this device before they even released the N64, as well as what may have come had it actually come to market. They sold a couple units in Japan, but it was so late, it never picked up enough attention to actually create meaningful content. Most of what has been made available through the dev kits is very limited, though some sources say it would have allowed for personalized content creation; like taking screen recordings, making 3D animations, and even producing music. It’s fun to imagine what would could have been if we had that kind of creative freedom back in the 90s. Maybe we’d have seen additional content for popular games like Ocarina of Time, or Majora’s Mask, as well. Maybe there are entire games that simply never came to be because of the technological limitations of data storage in the 90s, which may have been solved by a device like this.
It didn’t stop some dedicated modders from making their own attempts at expanding some legendary games with this hardware, however.
It’s this kind of creativity that leads to new innovation. One of the reasons why I love digging up old games and hardware is because there is no limit to where people’s imagination will go. Between the speedrunners, the enthusiasts and the modders, entire genres and subgenres have been spun out of completely separate and original IPs. It’s no secret that modders have been the lifeblood of the gaming industry as we know it. Games like DOTA, Day Z, and Counter-Strike began their existence as fan-based add-ons, only to evolve into their own franchises which in turn inspired entire genres.
Even in recent history, Rockstar paid a modder $10,000 for fixing GTA Online’s load times. Mods quickly become part of the ethos of many popular games, and sometimes are even made more popular for it. Skyrim was made infinitely better by the modding community, and it is arguably its most compelling feature. And of course, I would be remiss in failing to mention the fan-made and Valve-approved Half-Life remake, Black Mesa.
Unfortunately, code theft is common within the modding community, because a) mods are by their nature, open source and b) the original owner of the game being modded ultimately has the final say in what code is allowed to exist within the framework of their game. If you add code to their game, and they decide to use it themselves, they are really under no obligation at all to pay you for your time, or even acknowledge that you did. So, kudos to Rockstar for paying out.
Modding isn’t always strictly above ground, either, since it sometimes does require some reverse engineering, especially when ripping from a current console game. Of course, that certainly didn’t stop the modding community from almost immediately getting Breath of the Wild working on PC. Mere weeks after it officially launched with the Switch, people were already inserting other and non-Nintendo characters and creating more hype for a game which, ultimately could only have helped Nintendo sell more copies of the game, and more Switch consoles through popularity alone.
I truly believe this power is underestimated even by the largest and oldest establishments in gaming. Especially since you see the influence of mods, and even emulators everywhere you look, even from the big guys like Nintendo.
Don’t believe me?
NES/SNES Online has a full-time save-state feature. You can stop a game at any moment: right before a boss, during a cutscene, whenever– save it, and instantly return to that spot at any time you want. I first saw that feature in old console emulators when I first stated trying to play SNES and PS1 ROMs on my PC in the early 2000s. Yes, I’m talking about nearly 20 years ago. You can thank the emulation community, largely accused of “stealing” games, for plenty of optimizations over the years.
It may seem like a strange phenomenon, but it actually makes a lot of sense from an economics perspective when dealing with digital content. For example, piracy is still as available as it was 15 years ago (albeit, you definitely want to use a VPN these days, which are plentiful), yet far more people are willing to pay to stream video and music content. Why? Because streaming is insanely convenient. That’s what Daniel Ek, for all his faults, set out to do when he created Spotify in the first place. He wanted to create a better service than piracy could provide, and people were willing to pay for it. I thoroughly believe this is how the free market ought to work, if it is truly to be called free.
I can admit that I pirated a number of games when I was young and broke. Mostly because I was broke. So as a broke kid, I got to play, Civ V, Skyrim, and Mount & Blade and XCOM… all games which I have bought and paid for since. That’s the other thing, too. Piracy doesn’t negate the possibility that someone will buy the game later. It could be used as a demo of sorts. Plus, it’s far harder to ensure reliable updates, and online service is usually spotty or unavailable on pirated copies, so it behooves the player to buy the game in order to get the complete experience. I also firmly believe that most people who pirate a game without eventually paying for it were never going to buy it anyway. That makes it hard to justify the assertion that it counts as lost profit. Piracy also acts as a potential counterbalance to exploitative practices like platform exclusivity, or arbitrarily raising prices of AAA games. For better or worse, piracy is a form of free speech and freedom of information. Like drugs, its prohibition just leads to it being associated with seedier practices, but it cannot prevent it from happening.
Again, where would we be without the people who crack into software and share their findings and creations with the rest of us?
Despite the disappointment of Blizzard shutting down the private WoW Classic servers, I bet they would never have built their own version of it otherwise. I also bet there’s already another more secret one out there somewhere as well. Where there is a will, there is a way, as they say. The City of Heroes private servers still go on, even after having been revealed to the public, likely because NCSoft has no future plans for the franchise. So, in hearing that those severs are ever closed, it might be a sign of renewal, which could ultimately be a good thing. To that end, piracy is actually creating competition and demand, or at least revealing to companies that there is a market for something they didn’t originally have faith in producing.
So, how does this all tie back to the 64DD? Well, it could have been a modding platform for the N64 back in the 90s, had it released on time and in the West. It most certainly is now. Nintendo may not have been too happy about it, since it was also tied to an online subscription service, which would have been costly to maintain in the 90s with dial-up internet, and modders would have most certainly looked to circumvent that. But we may also have seen content creation similar to what we see now, just far earlier. Nintendo was very nearly way ahead of the curve on that one. It’s what I appreciate about them, in the end. Even if they don’t always hit the mark, you can rarely accuse them of sticking to conventions and following the crowd.
At the end of the day, innovation is what drives the market to reach for new heights, develop new game ideas, and design new hardware concepts. It’s why Nintendo is still so prolific after more than 35 years in gaming. It’s also why modding and emulation will always have their place in gaming history.
Yeah, I know, some people will fight with me about this, and I have had lengthy arguments on the topic. The free-to-play model has indeed created opportunities for less fortunate players to get countless hours out of games, while even potentially profiting off the wealthier players. In some cases, it’s a win-win, and there are games which don’t abuse RNG mechanics, or gate content behind paid progression. Path of Exile is a solid example of this, and I managed to pump ~140 hours into it without spending a dime. When I do eventually decide to spend, it’ll probably only be around $40, which I’d say is pretty worth it for hundreds of hours of play time.
That said, if microtransaction stores and free-to-play models were made extinct tomorrow, I would not lament their demise. More often than not, they are exploitative casinos, or at the very least, include gated content and limited progression in a way which encourages spending just to have a little more fun. Fun and general progress should not be gated content.
If a game is otherwise slower, more tedious and less enjoyable because you don’t spend $200/month in the microtransaction store, then the game’s model fails. If the existence of “whales” (those who will spend thousands or more) is not only acceptable, but encouraged and tempered, then the game’s model fails. Genshin Impact is a prime example of a game that many love, but has a dark side of exploiting people who will empty their bank accounts regularly just to stay ahead.
While some may argue that this is a personal choice of the player/consumer, the fact is that these mechanics are introduced at a very young age to children who have no concept of responsible spending, or how gambling affects your chemical reward system. It’s literally gambling for kids, regardless how you package it. These mechanics are especially prevalent in mobile games.
Ok, ok so I know some of you definitely agree that microtransactions can be exploitative–and EA is even fighting a class action lawsuit as we speak–I can also agree that games like Path of Exile can do it responsibly. So, there is room for free-to-play with some oversight, and especially if we can just do away with cash-shop lootboxes entirely.
That said, I still believe a pure subscription model is the least exploitative and gives you the best potential bang-for-buck from a “game-as-a-service.”
While it’s easy to look back at some of the classic MMOs with rose-coloured glasses–since it’s hard to emulate nostalgia without pandering, and it’s equally hard to compare modern experiences as an adult with past experiences as a teenager–there is still something to be said for the rise in classic MMOs compared to how quickly new ones lose players.
WoW Classic is huge and was a massive return for a lot of players. EverQuest Classic has over 80k monthly active players, and even the City of Heroes private server continues to live on. So there is clearly a demand for classic style MMOs, and not just because of the gameplay, but because you rarely had to consider your wallet when expecting new content. While you’d occasionally have to pay for an expansion every few years, and some games still had cosmetic shops–most of the time you could expect to have the same experience as everyone else, and could always expect a consistent flourish of new content.
It’s true that the argument existed, and even to some extent still does, that free-to-play allows for a much larger potential contingent of players, and especially casual players who may still drop $20-30 or even up to $100, when they wouldn’t even have considered paying a monthly subscription.
But these days, I don’t see that narrative holding up when everything is becoming subscription based. Aside from the rise in streaming services like Spotify, Netflix, Prime, Disney+, et al, we are even seeing a rise in game-based subscription services as well. Like Microsoft’s Game Pass, which is making waves with a solid library of games, and even recently added EA Play’s basic plan to it, effectively giving you two subscriptions in one. Along with Sony’s PS Now game streaming, and growing support for Nvidia’s GeForce Now and Google’s Stadia platforms, it’s hard to argue that people are unwilling to pay a monthly subscription for content.
So why should it be hard to sell a grand MMO with a monthly sub? If the game actually delivers content that isn’t arbitrarily gated, has consistent updates and regularly rewards players with events and surprises, then what is the hard sell? Sure, EVE and WoW have technically free-to-play content, but the majority of players pay the subscription. Same with Final Fantasy XIV, and Elder Scrolls Online and even SWTOR you ultimately want to pay the monthly sub if you want to get the complete experience. The oldest and most prestigious MMOs still seem to get away with a subscription model for the most part, so why are new MMOs so hesitant?
I’m weary of New World’s current lack of a funding model beyond the initial purchase price, because this often leads to dramatic changes in expected player funding either near, or post-launch. MMOs require constant upkeep and maintenance. They are the original, “game-as-a-service.” I can’t see it being profitable long-term without either, frequent paid content updates, a cash shop, or a subscription. It’s not to say that Amazon doesn’t have the runway to keep a game running in the red for a while, but how long would it be sustainable?
It seems to me that corporate targeted nostalgia and inspiration often misses the things that made older online games good: and that was their general lack of structure and ability to immerse the player without reminding them to buy something. Because even in a game like Path of Exile, where immersion is high, and advertising is minimal, there’s still a wall when you start to run out of inventory space in the late game. Even if it is a less obtrusive and arbitrary wall, it’s still a wall. It’s still a line you have to cross in order to make your continued game experience more convenient, less tedious, and thereby, more fun.
I just can’t get behind the idea of paying extra for gated fun. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe nostalgia’s call for the glory days of participating in grand space battles with dramatic political ramifications in EVE, or the sprawling freedom afforded in the open world of Ultima Online has summoned in me the opinion that it never got any better than that.
It’s not to say that I didn’t find fun in more modern MMOs with micro-transaction schemes, and shady lootbox systems like ArcheAge and Black Desert Online, but eventually it was those very systems that burned me out–even more so than the tedious gear and level grind they presented. I can’t be the only one who feels this way.
Maybe I’m a relic of the past who needs to get with the times and forget about the whales who probably have more money than brains anyway–but I still feel like my empathy for those with addiction problems or children who simply don’t know any better still gets the best of me.
I’ve been working on a new rant about modern MMOs, but I can’t stop thinking about this piece by Eurogamer from a few days ago, about an archaeological find of a decades old Hyper Neo Geo 64 game prototype (arcade machine guts) found under a tree in a California field.
Not only does it contain a thought-to-be-extinct demo of Samurai Showdown 64, which would go on to help set the stage for early 3D fighting games, but it is also the very first of only a few of these ever to be made, with a 00001 printed on the PCB.
It also worked flawlessly right away, which is pretty remarkable for a bit of electronics sitting out in a field for 24 years. Since Eurogamer not only covered this subject quite thoroughly, and even got an interview with the man responsible for getting it running, I will simply direct you to their article, along with the video made showing gameplay, and comparing it to the finished product.