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A Listless October 2014 Beginning

I feel odd; what a strange batch of PC gaming I've gotten myself involved in lately.

ArcheAge, surfeit of labor.

ArcheAge, a South Korean import MMORPG, also happens to be one of the best MMORPGs in terms of virtual worldly aspects since Ultima Online.  It also imports the best of Dark Age Of Camelot's end game PvP and throws in a pinch of Farmville-like land management for good measure.  The one-character-can-do-everything approach neatly thwarts my rampant altaholicism.  So, while ArcheAge might alienate some people with its foreign accents, it is nevertheless a fiendishly-clever everlasting gobstopper.

Alas, the honeymoon has ended between ArcheAge and me.  It's because I am annoyed by the glut of labor points.  "Patron" status subscribers earn half as many labor points while offline than online.  24 hours of not playing the game is another 1440 more labor points to spend.  There's a 5000 point cap, so you use those points or lose them.

Using that many labor points is annoying, partly because of a lack of choice as to how to spend them.  Sure, there's no less than 21 professions that you can spend those points on, but just about everything is limited in availability in the world.  For example:
  • Gathering - If you're lucky, you'll have a farm plot that you can plant and harvest things at.  Otherwise, you will be restricted to ten plants at a time in various public plots (provided there is room to be found to plant anything).  Even with a fairly large farm plot, you will have plenty of labor points left over in the time it takes for you to harvest and plant most things.  Actually having something to do with that many harvested things is a challenge in itself - how many trade packs can you move in a day?
  • Logging - Whether in the farm or out in the wilds, growing trees takes about a day of real life time.  This makes it extremely rare that you will ever find a mature one in the wild before another player has already cut it down.  Given that this game is rather popular, players are so desperate for trees that they will steal other players' trees if they are planted in unprotected areas.
  • Weaponry/Tailoring/Metalwork - Crafting a piece of armor or a weapon takes a hefty 100 labor points, at least, but you probably will not be able to do much of that because these items almost invariably require archeum, a magical resource which is hard to obtain.  If the developers simply changed the game to drop more, then the bottom would fall out of the rarity of good equipment, so crafting these items remains an unlikely way to spend much labor.
http://mastorpatt.com/personal/breaking-rocks/There is only one thing I can consistently find to waste my labor points on. Breaking rocks. There are a few places in the game world where you can find lots of mining resource nodes, and here you will almost invariably find players scrambling from rock to rock trying to break it before the another player harvests it first.

Eventually it hit me that I was essentially fighting over something that we make prisoners do in real life.  Coincidentally, ArcheAge has a prison for naughty players to spend a few minutes in where they will have fun playing kickball, dropping the soap, or plotting to escape.  Meanwhile, the supposedly free men and women on the outside are engaged in the monotony of breaking rocks.

Maybe the worst thing about my labor points is that I have severely out-leveled my quest content just trying to get rid of my labor points.  You get experience points for most uses of labor points, my current quests are about level 32, and my character is in the home stretch at level 40 already.  The reason I want to do the quests is because I want to get the weapons and armor rewarded in order to break them down into archeum so I can upgrade my crafted weapons and armor.  However, the quests are now boringly trivial to perform, and their experience and monetary rewards have been mitigated to about nothing.  Labor points clashing with quests is a point of proof about how poorly quests jive with the virtual worldly aspects of this game.

I just logged in and dumped 2000 labor points making 50 tax certificates, which are used to pay for the land plots I have in game.  They cannot be sold or traded, and I only have one land plot right now with a rent of 5 tax certificates a week, so spending my labor points in this way was basically a desperate gambit to buy myself some more time not playing ArcheAge until I am in the mood to go in and break some more rocks.

I later learned that hereafter stones are a pretty good way to go for blowing your labor points.   For 50 labor points, 3 raw stone (mined) and a blue salt wedge (purchased off of merchants), you can craft 3 hereafter stones.  These are used for teleporting, the quickest way to move across the world, so they are a fairly hot commodity.  Each batch seemed to get my level 40 character over 2000 xp per batch, which quickly got me to level 41.

I am also noticing that botting is a bit out of control.  I do not know how many customer service representatives that Trion Worlds has put on bot disposal detail, but it clearly is not enough, as I have seen bots who have accrued over 30 or 40 levels.  There is a system in the game where players can report bots, and if five players do it then it puts a debuff on them, but that does not seem to meaningfully slow them down.

Starpoint Gemini 2, proof that space is relative.

I am a sucker for a good open-ended space game, and Starpoint Gemini was an interesting, if flawed game.  Its sequel, Starpoint Gemini 2, crawled out of early access last Friday, September 26th, 2014, and it was being offered at a very reasonable price of $28 after a 20% discount (a common release day hard sell tactic).
So I gave Starpoint Gemini 2 a hard play through on the following Monday, and I am currently feeling rather teased about my purchase.

The first impressions it puts out are pretty solid.  Here is a game that plays smoothly, has a pretty nice GUI after you get used to it, and the way the projectiles fly reminds me a little of Freelancer.  It's also extremely open-ended, you can freeroam through a reasonably large galaxy map (even if you choose to play in "campaign" mode, which mostly just adds "main campaign" goals to the map that you can ignore at your leisure).  The graphics are pretty decent: not quite as good as EVE Online, but just good enough to be reminiscent of it.
About eight hours in, I am feeling this game is brokenStarpoint Gemini 2 has a few major flaws that I am finding difficult to surmount:
  • Starpoint Gemini 2 is level-based, and it scales.  You get experience points for performing quests, destroying enemy ships, and the like.  This will result in encounters around you being higher leveled, too.  Scaling with levels is a decent idea from a gameplay standpoint, because it helps to assure a challenge from beginning to end, but it feels out-of-place in a game that is trying to be an open-ended universe.  I should start out as plankton in a sea of diverse creatures and evolve into a whale.  Instead, I start out a fish in a pond filled with other fish, and end up a whale in an ocean filled with other whales.
  • Starpoint Gemini 2 scales poorly.  When I reach a level where my small ship can no longer handle a higher-leveled encounter, upgrading to a bigger ship does not solve the problem.  Bigger ships may have more guns, but they are also bigger targets and worse at dodging enemy fire.

    Perhaps a larger flaw in the scaling is that encounter levels are based on your character level, and not ship power.  However, your ship is far more important than your character's skills (which are laughably passive). 
  • "Fire at will" is required, but your control of it is not robust enough.  You can fire your turrets manually, but there is no lead-indicators so hitting the enemy this way is hard, and you cannot fire in two places at once manually.  Thus, you are more or less forced to turn on the "fire at will" automatic mode, which randomly targets everything in range of all the turrets on your ship. 

    That would not be a problem, except you have very weak control over what "fire at will" does.  You can "mark" targets, which causes turrets on that side to prioritize that enemy, but meanwhile your other turrets are wasting energy on everything else.  You cannot set a target to be ignored by "fire at all," and this is annoying because the smaller ships are more vulnerable to boarding operations, but get obliterated by random "fire at all" spray before you get the chance.
When all is said and done, I think Starpoint Gemini 2 is one of the better open-ended space sims to come out in awhile but is imperfect in ways that will annoy hardcore aficionados of the genre. Consequently, if you hated X Rebirth because it was so kludgy and difficult to play, you might like Starpoint Gemini 2 for at least being fairly cohesive, but this game is not quite as balanced or enduring as the likes of Freelancer or Darkstar One.
Perhaps, in time, the modding community can iron out the wrinkles in the balance.  However,  they probably will not be able to do anything about "fire at will" targeting system being limited in your ability to control it.  Little Green Men has been pretty good about releasing post-release patches, perhaps they will do something about this before they move on to their next game.

Sims 4, the silver standard of living vicariously.

If Sims 3 was not rendered so top-heavy by all its expansions, to the point of instability, I would probably play that instead because it is undoubtedly better featured.  However, so long as I am willing to stick to a single household and keep visits to other lots to a minimum, the Sims 4 works out just fine.
My first Sims 4 girlfriend instantly morphed from a young lady into an old woman upon moving in.  That was embarrassing. 
Then she died.  Well, I guess that took care of that.  It would seem EAMaxis has some important bugs to fix.
I find the game is most enjoyable if I just play a single sim and see how much I can accrue.  Playing just a loner who is practically immortal (perhaps due to having set the game lifespans to long or making sure I always have "potions of eternal youth") is more or less a surefire path to victory.  Lets face it, this is a damn Mary Sue power fantasy we're looking at here, and that's pretty much what The Sims is by default.
Yet, the ease of accomplishing this is rather boring, and I am seriously considering playing a legacy game right now.  In such a game, I would start over anew with a pretty-much-destitute sim living in an empty plot of land, and see how much progress can be made in ten generations.  Setting the game length to "long" and using potions of youth would probably undermine a significant part of the challenge, and this is typically mentioned in the rules.  A certain point can be derived from just how hard you have to restrain yourself to make The Sims challenging.

I really ought to be making my own games around now.

Lets face it, when you're as picky as I am, rolling your own may be the one way to derive lasting satisfaction.

There's quite a skillset involved in making games, though.   Independent game development is not like learning an instrument.  It's like learning how to play every instrument in a symphony, conduct, and run the entire theater.  If you are not using middleware for your game engine, you will be building the theater, too.

All of this, while working through an extremely capable intern who is the only one who could have made creation of this incredible creative artifact possible.  This same intern is an utter idiot because he or she takes everything you say completely literally and has no capacity to figure out problems for themselves.  This intern is the computer.

It's really no wonder computer games are so damn imperfect when this is the condition of their production.

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