Life (and Work) Keeps Happening

Despite appearances, I have NOT thrown in the towel on blogging. I just have had a load of work-shaped and work-adjacent-shaped bricks fall on my head lately.

I have a bunch of work projects heating up which have had me working in the evenings, and I have agreed to join another developer in building out a portfolio site we can both use, and that is eating even more time. End result, very little free time for gaming or blogging.

Last Sunday I broke down and bought Tales of Arise for the PS5 which seems like it will be very good if I ever find time to play it. It certainly is a pretty game. New World is launching Tuesday (I think) and I have it pre-ordered though, again, not sure when I will play it. I did spend an hour on Thursday downloading EVE Online to play through their new New Player Experience which wound up being fairly underwhelming. This morning I played come Control on the PS5 before I nodded off on the couch because I haven’t been sleeping much.

There ya go, one paragraph to describe a week’s worth of gaming. šŸ™

But I’m not dead yet, and neither is the blog. So this is just a heartbeat post!

Re-Visiting Star Trek Online

Star Trek is to me what Star Wars is to a lot of the folks in my social-media circles: I grew up with Star Trek the way folks 10+ years younger than me grew up with Star Wars. In other words, there’s a special place in my heart for the IP. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Star Wars too!)

Star Trek is enjoying a resurgence of interest lately with new shows like Discovery, Picard, The Lower Decks and soon, Star Trek: Prodigy and Strange New Worlds. While all this is going on @partpurple and I have been been doing a re-watch of Next Generation. So I’ve had a lot of Star Trek in my brain lately but somehow I’d all but forgotten about Star Trek Online.

I’ve played STO in the past of course. I’ve found it a bit of a challenging game to love. I really enjoy the ship-to-ship combat, but the ground combat has always felt clunky to me. Staying with that theme, I find the ship models quite nice while the character models feel pretty dated. Then there are the free-to-play MMO trappings which means all kinds of esoteric systems designed around getting players to stick around and grind for items and hopefully spend some $$ in the cash shop. And of course, worst of all: other players. šŸ™‚

But today Roger Edwards published a post on Playing the Story Arcs In Order and he got me intrigued. Before I knew it STO was installed and patched up and I was creating a new character.

Meet Cadet Jhemen, an Andorian from the 25th Century. During my last few tilts at STO I’ve created Original Series era characters but Roger’s post focuses on 25th Century characters so I went with that time period.

I chose not to skip the “tutorial” and I’m glad I did. I put tutorial in quotes because the tutorial these days is like a mini campaign. I don’t know how new this is but it is different from what I remember. This tutorial-campaign takes you from your graduation day at Star Fleet Academy right through a point where you’re commanding your own ship and along the way you pick up three Bridge Officers, upgrades for most of your ship’s systems and have the main gameplay systems explained to you. It took me over an hour to play through it and it was thoroughly enjoyable. (Story wise you do battle with two different enemy factions, both in space and on foot. The ground combat seems a little better than it used to be, but it still isn’t great IMO.) If I never launch the game again it was already worth the trouble of re-installing it.

Jhemen is a tactical officer. I don’t know if that matters but the 3 bridge officers that were assigned to her during the tutorial work well together. One has a skill that depletes enemy shields, another has a skill that enhances photon torpedoes. I quickly got into the habit of tearing down an enemy’s shields then launching a salvo of torpedoes. The third bridge officer can reinforce our shields, and Jhemen herself has Evasive Maneuvers which is a defense buff.

Now I’m ready to start the Klingon War story arc. My plan is to basically treat STO as a single player game. I set the chat to only show NPC dialog. I need to find a way to auto-deny Fleet (Guild) requests because I was getting spammed with those. My plan is to ignore the Duty Officer system, which I hate so much that every time in the past I’ve gotten to that point I’ve quit playing. (It just feels like a chore to constantly tend to them.) I’m hoping it can be safely ignored. I’m also going to ignore crafting which I’m only vaguely aware of in STO. I’m just there for the story this time, at least to get started. At this point in STO’s life there seems to be a LOT of story to experience.

I will have to figure out how to get better ships and remember how to level up Bridge Officers and stuff, but generally as much as possible I just want to fly around and pew-pew and experience the stories.

It’s nice to find a “new” game after bouncing off FFXIV. We’ll see if I stick to this one or now.

She’s not much, but she’s mine

Final Fantasy Fourteen Fail

Like that title? I’m still reading a bunch of Golden Age comments so alliteration is my life now.

So sometime around today my subscription to Final Fantasy XIV expires and I’m not renewing it. This is the 2nd time this year I’ve subscribed and basically not played. It’s time to learn my lesson.

Now let me be upfront. I actually think FFXIV is a wonderful game. I love the world’s aesthetics. I love how the characters talk. I love walking through cities and watching the crowds of players interacting. I just don’t really enjoy actually PLAYING, and spending $15/month just to sight-see is a little steep for me these days.

I did have more success this month than I did early this year when I basically never logged in. This time out, I started a new character just to get re-accustomed to how things work, and interspersed those sessions with logging in my level 60 Dragoon and refamiliarizing myself with his skills, as well as setting up the UI (since this was a fresh install and I hadn’t backed up my settings to the cloud last time I played).

My Dragoon somehow had not gotten a lot of his skills so I started going through those quests. I was wandering around some bleak frozen area (Coerthas/Foundation area) where I rarely saw another player. I found the map kind of confusing; maybe the designers expected me to have a flying mount? But I would run back and forth trying to get from Point A to Point B, with the points being at different elevations. Then I’d find an NPC, talk to it, kill a couple of trivial monsters (5+ levels lower than me) then teleport back to ‘town’ and get the next bite of the quest. Solo combat was basically hit 1, hit 2, hit 3, hit 1, hit 4, hit 5, repeat. At least in theory, mobs didn’t usually last that long.

[I wanted to add, this dissatisfaction with tab-target, hot-key based combat isn’t limited to FFXIV. I’ve recently bounced off both LOTRO and SWOTOR for the same reason. The difference with those games, of course, is that it doesn’t cost me $15 to test the waters to see if this ennui has faded yet.]

It was all kind of bleak and depressing. I probably should have powered through it to try to get where combat was challenging. but then I thought “Well if I do that I’ll have to start doing PUG dungeons” which I really don’t want to do even if the community is apparently awesome.

I was kind of tempted to just buy a story skip (looks like I’d want Tales of Adventure: Stormblood for $25?) to get to the expansion where the Trust system kicks in. I just want all the things unlocked, and then I could just become a farmer or blacksmith or something, and just hang out in towns enjoying the vibe while doing whatever dungeons are required with my Trust Buddies. At least I think that’s how it works. I should check to be sure.

But again, money is a little tight these days and there are free-to-play MMOs I can jump into if I want to scratch that itch (though I don’t know of any game that has such a wonderful world as FFXIV).

So I’m kind of bummed, but I’m not sure if I’m bummed about the game or about the place where my head is at. But I have to stop paying a monthly fee to NOT play a game!

State of Decay 2: How Multiple Play-Throughs Work

I finally finished my first campaign of State of Decay 2. I was kind of confused about the whole ‘meta’ aspects of the game so now that I know a little more, I thought I’d scribble it down so in two weeks when I forget I can refresh my memory. This isn’t a review of SoD2, but I’ll just say it’s a zombie apocalypse game that gives off a pretty strong Walking Dead vibe in that your goal is more about building a community than exterminating zombies, because the zombies are just endless. The game has action-based combat mixed with menu-driven base building. You have various materials (medicine, food, ammo, etc) that you have to maintain a stockpile of, while providing your group of survivors with beds and amenities that keep their morale up. That’s the 10,000 foot view anyway.

Fairly early in the game you’ll assign a leader. There are 4 classes of leader. I played a Builder. There’s also Warrior, Sherriff and… one I’ve forgotten. You get a specific benefit depending on the type of leader you choose.

Then you spend a bunch of hours fighting zombies, building your base, probably moving your base to a new location, making friends, recruiting friends, making enemies, probably killing enemies, and in particular destroying Plague Hearts which are these big nasty masses of flesh that pollute the area around them and produce zombies that carry a plague. Along the way your survivors level up various skills like Medicine, Farming, Mechanics and so forth.

Once you eliminate all the Plague Hearts on the map, the endgame starts. You’ll have a few more missions to do and then the campaign ends. There’s not a huge narrative drive through all of this. I played on the ‘normal’ difficulty and through the course of the game I lost one survivor. Two technically but the 2nd one I sacrificed in an attempt to get an achievement. Long story, not worth re-telling. Point being, I didn’t find it to be a particularly hard game, or maybe I was lucky.

So game over. Now what? First, you can keep up to 50 survivors in a kind of ‘people bank’ that persists between games (your band in any one game is 8-10 people so this is a lot of guys and gals to save for later). Second you get a “Boon” based on the type of leader you beat the game as. Third, the “save” you just completed goes Poof. There’s no going back to it.

When you start a new campaign you can choose up to 3 of your saved survivors to act as your starting crew on a new map. You can also take up to two Boons. Since I played as a Leader I have a boon that gives my base electricity and water, which seems like a huge benefit that would make the game even easier (setting those up in Campaign #1 took quite some time). The idea, I guess, is to play a campaign as a different kind of leader in order to earn a different Boon at the end that campaign. Eventually if you’re a super fan you’ll play all 4 leader types and have 4 boons to choose from in Campaign #5.

When the new campaign starts, your characters will have the same inventory they had when you put them in cold storage, which is good to know since, just prior to finishing your old campaign, you could load them down with high value items to make the next start even easier. Sadly I didn’t know about this. They also retain all their skills. The stockpile of goods you had in your prior campaign does not come forward with you. The fictional conceit is that a few of you left your old ‘town’ and set out to start a new one, so all you have is what you could carry in your backpacks.

And that’s about all I know so far. All the above applies to the basic “Campaign” game. There’s also now a mode called Heartland which I believe is a more narrative-driven experience, and one called Daybreak which, I think, is a kind of horde mode primarily meant for multiplayer.

Oh, and worth noting that if you don’t want a Campaign to end, you can travel to a fresh map and keep playing. This is important because resources don’t respawn on a map so eventually you could completely exhaust a map you’re playing on. New maps have a new set of Plague Hearts and of course all new resources to collect. I’m not sure why you’d do this but some people do. I saw on reddit someone say they were on day 121 or something in their game. I think I was on day 15 or 20 when I finished my game (I wasn’t really paying attention and now that save is gone so I can’t check).

I enjoyed State of Decay 2 but I don’t think I’m ready to dive right back into a 2nd game just now. Maybe at some point down the road though. Perhaps I’ll nudge up the difficulty some the next time around. I was kind of expecting a narrative-driven game but what I got instead was more akin of something like Civilization, only (mostly) action based. The developers intend you to play it over and over and they’ve added some nice systems to make that interesting for you.

Weekend Recap for September 7th

It was a 3-day weekend which means I should’ve done 50% more things, right? Sadly that wasn’t the case and now we have to get through to the end of November before another break. I think. I know we all hate Columbus now but I miss having his day off. I promise I never spared a thought for him; I just enjoyed having a 3-day weekend when I was working for a place that gave us that one.

Anyway, onward!

Movie Night — This week we watched Cruella on Disney+. I honestly didn’t expect to like it. I wanted to see it because I was curious as to how they’d make a live action movie about such a despicable character (You’ll remember in 101 Dalmatians she wanted to skin puppies to make coats out of them…that’s about as low as you can go.) Turns out this was more an alternate timeline Cruella and this one likes dogs. And I liked the movie, quite a bit, though I think a solid 60% of my enjoyment came from the soundtrack. It was a really good homage to Dalmatians with a lot of the same characters but everyone was just a little different. Would watch again.

Family TV — This is mostly a “see last week” situation. Still on Clone Wars and ST: The Next Generation. We did catch up on Expedition Unknown, which a kind of adventure-documentary show on Discovery. Imagine a ‘Finding Bigfoot’ show only instead of Bigfoot they’re looking for something real. This week it was the wreck of the steamship Pulaski which sank in 1838. Interesting stuff.

Reading — Still on book 7 of The Saxon Stories…

Gaming — Everything went upside down with my gaming. I had intended to play No Man’s Sky, but instead found myself logging into Lord of the Rings Online for a bit. And then, totally out of the blue (I blame reading some 7 Days to Die posts) I started a new community in State of Decay 2 and got HOOKED in a way this game has never hooked me before, despite owning it since it came out in 2018.

I think I’ve made more progress than I ever had before, and things are getting really interesting. State of Decay 2 is a zombie apocalypse game where you have to both fight off the zombie hordes and oversee a base. The ‘base building’ is all menu-driven but you fight the zeds, as they call them, from a 3rd person action perspective. Clear out hordes, scavenge for materials, try to keep your survivors alive and healthy. You switch between the members of your band, so you’re always playing a character but no character is “you” per se. Characters need to rest and to heal so it’s a matter of who is fit enough to go out on the next scavenging run. I’m finding it really compelling.

And that’s about it. Long weekend, short recap. I did spend a good amount of time messing the caching solutions for the blog. I’m still not 100% happy with what I’ve got but it’s stable for now, until I get up the mental energy to have another go at it.

Moral Outrage and Collateral Damage

Here we go again. A few months ago (time flies) the gaming world was up in arms over Blizzard-Activision’s culture of “harassment and discrimination against women.” That controversy bubbled to the surface of our collective consciousness because of a lawsuit against the company. (If you missed this story, The Verge has a good write-up about it including a copy of the lawsuit, which I just quoted here.)

Yesterday another controversy erupted. This one concerns Tripwire Interactive and we learned about it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Tripwire president John Gibson posted a tweet which said:

Proud of #USSupremeCourt affirming the Texas law banning abortion for babies with a heartbeat. As an entertainer I donā€™t get political often. Yet with so many vocal peers on the other side of this issue, I felt it was important to go on the record as a pro-life game developer.

First, if you don’t know what he is talking about, Jen over at Book of Jen has an excellent post about the situation. Jen sums the whole law up quite succinctly when they say: This is absolutely terrifying.

* * *
[Update]
Tripwire Interactive has published a statement on its site. The main take-away is that John Gibbons is stepping down as CEO. Important to note that it does NOT say he has left the company. Still, it seems like the gaming community made its voice heard.

This news renders the rest of this post somewhat hypothetical, at least until we learn more about what is going on (IF we learn more).
[/Update]
* * *

I sat out the Blizzard thing and I’m mostly sitting this one out in its particulars. Why? Because my voice isn’t as important as the voices of the people directly impacted. I feel like my job is to be supportive and to let those directly impacted share their thoughts on the particulars. (Hopefully it is obvious that I stand in support of these people.)

What I do want to talk about is the conundrum of what we, the gaming public, can do when things like this happen. It’s difficult because the only tool we have is a boycott. This is a thorny issue when it comes to games. If an author does something you disagree with, you can decide to stop purchasing that person’s books and for the most part they will be the only one impacted.

But when it is a game publisher, boycotting potentially hurts everyone working at that publisher, guilty or not. In the aftermath of the Blizzard situation I saw Tweets and posts from folks who said they’d heard from Blizzard’s devs (the actual devs, the people doing the labor of building a game) a desire that we please keep playing/buying their games. That seemed to be enough to dissuade some from boycotting.

I think this is the wrong move. To quote Spock, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

In this case, the ‘many’ refers to our society as a whole. We need to demonstrate that a company can’t get away with bad behavior. Yes, there will be collateral damage. When a company’s bottom line falls, execs are generally not the first to be impacted. It’s the workers that pay the price first, and that sucks, but they are the few in Spock’s equation.

The situation is even thornier with Tripwire. People who worked at Blizzard must have been aware of what the culture was like, plus what happened/is happening at Blizzard is illegal. At Tripwire, Gibbons is just voicing an opinion that many of us don’t agree with. It isn’t illegal to have a dissenting opinion (yet) and we don’t really know if everyone in the company was aware of the president’s opinion. I have no idea what the CEO of the company I work for thinks of Texas right now.

Add in the fact that Tripwire is a publisher. Their newest game (I believe) is Chivalry II, which was developed by Torn Banner Studios. Did TBS know about Gibbon’s opinions? Who knows? So then should we punish them for being published by Tripwire?

Unfortunately, yes we should. It isn’t fair, but again, not buying games published by Tripwire is the only tool we have. I wish we had another.

It’s hard. It’s hard to know we’re having to hurt innocent people, and let’s face it, it’s hard to take a pass on games we were looking forward to. (I was looking forward to Diablo 2 Resurrected!) But social change IS hard, that’s why it comes about so slowly.

I mean obviously we all have to do what we think is right; I’m just some loon with a blog so don’t listen to me. But maybe have a think on it.

Sad. It was kind of fun.

And honestly talk is cheap for me. I don’t really play Blizzard-Activision games anyway (though I was going to get D2 Resurrected) and I think the only Tripwire game I own is Maneater, and I got that for free via Playstation Plus. (I’m deleting it from my Playstation just in case somehow that is tracked by Sony). If we learn something horrible about Guerilla Games and I have to boycott Horizon: Forbidden West next year, now THAT would be hard for met to do. Please Guerilla, please don’t turn out to be an awful employer.

Back in the here and now, for me the boycott stands for both these publishers. Blizzard will hopefully improve and if they do, it is just as important that I reverse my boycott. For Tripwire, I don’t think anything will change. I don’t think it is a public company so it isn’t clear if there’s a board that can force Gibbons out. They’ll just go into the permanent “Do Not Support” column of my mental spreadsheet.

If anyone has ideas for a more nuanced way we can act against these companies without hurting the workers, I’d love to hear it.

A Change in Game Purchasing Habits

Not too many years ago, I was the guy there on Day 1 to buy the hot new game. Really, on Day -1, or Day -30 or something. I’d have the pre-order in well before launch date.

I noticed this summer that I don’t do that any more. It wasn’t really a deliberate decision, but a learned behavior. I think the last “OMG new shiny!” full game I bought was Assassin’s Creed:Valhalla last November.

These days I’m content to let a new game ripen for a few weeks or months before buying it. I’ve identified a few reasons why.

1) Cost — I don’t have the disposable income I once did, and you can save a lot of money by being a little patient. Games go on sale so quickly these days. This one is a no-brainer that we’re all aware of but for the sake of completeness I’m including it.

2) Game Pass/Novelty — I used to buy a lot of new games just because I was bored and wanted to try something new. Now there’s always something new on Game Pass. Even without Game Pass there are so many games coming out, and so many sales constantly running, that you can almost always scratch the ‘something new [to you]’ itch by grabbing a game on sale. Heck half of us have games in our Steam Library that we’ve already purchased but haven’t ever played.

3) Spoilers (or lack thereof) — I hate spoilers. I used to sometimes buy a game at launch because I wanted to experience the story before it was spoiled. Since I’ve become a console gamer, and primarily a single player gamer, I’m not really exposed to spoilers because no one I am in contact with plays the same games. It is VERY rare that I go to a gaming site (I just now realized I don’t do that anymore). Between these two factors, spoilers are no longer a concern.

4) Game Quality — Just about every game gets patched after launch. Bug fixes, quality of life changes, performance improvements… In almost all cases the launch-day version of the game is the worst version to play. Why not let a game improve before investing your time and money into it? One exception: if a game is coming out that I feel passionate about and that doesn’t seem to have the resources of a big AAA title, I might make a Day 1 purchase just to support the title and the team. That hasn’t happened in a while, though.

5) Single Player — As mentioned I primarily play single player games these days. A good reason to buy a new multi-player game is to get in on the fun while all your friends are playing it. That doesn’t really apply to solo games, but this is why my pre-order of New World exists. I pre-ordered that game in, I think 1885 or something. I’m still not 100% convinced it’ll launch this month!

6) Backlog — I have SO MANY games I haven’t played that it seems silly to buy new ones, frankly.

I could probably come up with more reasons, but those seem sufficient.

But it’s WEIRD, y’know? It’s such a change for me to show… restraint? šŸ™‚ At least when it comes to gaming, I’ve always been fairly extravagant. It kind of feels good too. It feels responsible. Maybe at 60+ I’m finally becoming an adult, I don’t know. I also kind of feel like I have more respect for the games I do buy. That sounds strange to say. But when I buy a game it isn’t on a whim. It’s a game I’ve been interested in for a while, and a game that has been on the market for a while and so has proven itself. I miss a lot of clunkers this way, too. Games that were hyped but then kind of fizzled. Or games that are actually quite good objectively, but would not be good for me. Returnal, on the PS5, is a good example of this. I almost bought it Day 1 but am glad I didn’t because I now know it just isn’t the style of game I’d stick with.

So that’s it, that’s the post, as they say. Only they say it about Tweets. I don’t really get what it means. I think it’s what you say when you don’t really have a point!

[Header image is from LOTRO. It’s a view of Bree from the bluffs of the Barrow Downs.]

More About A Plague Tale: Innocence

I mentioned my issues with A Plague Tale: Innocence in my weekend recap but wanted to expand on them in this post.

So first a bit about the game. Plague Tale takes place in an alternate history France in the 1300s. You mostly play as Amicia, a teen-aged (I’m guessing 15 or 16?) girl who is suddenly tasked with protecting her 5 year old brother Hugo. A plague (called ‘The Bite’) is ravaging the land, and the Inquisition is out in full force hunting for Hugo for reasons unknown.

The plague takes the form of demonic rats. There are LOTS of rats and they’re so very, very hungry. Thousands of ’em and they have but one weakness: they are afraid of light. Amicia is armed with a sling and over the course of the game she learns how to make special ammo for it: shots that ignite smoldering fires, shots that douse lights, and so on. As she travels through the game world she has to guide Hugo along by holding his hand. If he is left alone for too long he’ll start to panic, making noise and drawing enemies to the pair. At least that’s what we’re told. I was too good a big sister to ever let him get to that point.

OK so that’s the as-spoiler-free-as-possible setup.

The game is strongly narrative-driven and is not open world. Stripped of story, you are generally tasked with going from Point A to Point B in a level, though the animations of the characters, the excellent voice acting and the world building hide that exquisitely. The first half of the game is just *chef’s kiss* amazing.

In terms of mechanics, a lot of the game is essentially puzzle-based. You see a swarm of rats…how will you get past them? Can you light a fire by using your special ammo? Can you distract them by offering them a meal of some kind. Can you just avoid them? The further in you go the more complex the puzzles get, but the more tools you have to solve them. I found this all really fun. Fun, but really dark. Sometimes the meal for the rats is an enemy soldier. Actually a lot of times that’s the case. The various sling ammo types reminded me of Thief: The Dark Project, if you remember that game.

Amicia is a 15 year old girl with a sling and the beginning of the game leans into that. She has no interest in killing people and she’s not skilled enough to do it reliably anyway. But the farther you go, the more combat there is, and in the last chunk of game Amicia is like some kind of sling-wielding super-hero taking out enemies left and right. Not only did this kind of ‘cheapen’ the character for me, but the game’s mechanics (at least on console) just don’t offer a great combat system. As you wind up a sling shot your targeting reticle will ‘lock on’ to an enemy’s head, or the lantern they are carrying, or some other hotspot. Let fly and you hit. But sometimes it won’t lock on. Sometimes it ‘loses’ the lock just as you release. Sometimes it locks onto the wrong thing. This all makes combat less than satisfying so the more the game relies on it, the less gratifying the overall experience becomes.

This weapon wheel is from early in the game. By the end game it has choices all the way around.

You choose your ammo type from a weapon wheel (again, this is the UI on consoles). This feels sloppy, and you can’t re-arrange the ammo. So (again trying to stay as spoiler free as possible) there are times when I frequently wanted to use the item at 3 o’clock on the weapon wheel followed quickly by the item at 7 o’clock. I would have really liked to have been able to re-arrange these items so they were next to each other, but there was no way to do that. When the wheel is open (and obscuring your view) the game slows down a tiny bit, but not nearly enough. There isn’t an indication of what ammo type you have selected until you start your wind up to throw. I frequently died because I thought I had selected the right thing, but when I’d start Amicia’s wind up I’d realize my selection was wrong. By that time the enemy has closed the gap and boom! Dead. No time to change to the correct item, and you can’t effectively run/dodge while using the wheel (at least, I couldn’t). Amicia doesn’t have hit points. If an enemy strikes her, she dies.

Anyway, you get the idea. Putting so much emphasis on fighting at the end of a game where combat isn’t super polished or really the focus just totally busted the pacing for me. There was also a too-long pure stealth mission, and a mission where no matter what you did you would fail to some extent. Of course you, the player, doesn’t KNOW you’re expected to fail so I restarted that section so many times and got so frustrated trying to take out what I guess is an endless number of enemies.

Just in case I was missing something I checked around on places like Reddit and yeah, I wasn’t the only one cursing about the combat at the end. It may be that none of this is an issue on PC and that’s why it hasn’t been mentioned much. I just thought so much of the enjoyment of the game rested on the story, but the devs ruined the story by making the gameplay at the end of the game so cumbersome and frustrating that the pacing of the narrative was destroyed. I don’t know why they would do that.

There’s a sequel, A Plague Tail: Requiem, coming in 2022 and I hope they can keep the amazing storytelling of Innocence while addressing the flow of the end game. I’m willing to give them a second chance.

Microsoft Rewards Points

Today I want to talk about the meta-game I’ve been playing the longest: Microsoft Rewards Points (MRP). MRP are Microsoft’s way to try to incentivize you to use their products like Bing and Game Pass. You can learn about the program here.

I have three primary ways to earn MRP. The first is by visiting https://rewards.microsoft.com/ every morning while I have coffee. There I do the “Daily Set” which is some mix of clicking links and taking quizzes. A lot of these are ‘no-fail’ situations where you get points just by trying, but if you want to be sure you get max points you can check the MicrosoftRewards reddit. I find doing these Daily Sets kind of amusing just from the point of view of learning trivia-level facts and stuff.

The second way I earn MRP is via the Microsoft Rewards app on the Xbox. This is somewhat similar to the above system, and often asks you to “Check out this featured game” or something equally trivial. (Selecting these tasks takes you to the store, but you don’t have to buy the featured game in order to earn points. Just visiting the store page is enough.) Other times you’ll be tasked to do something like earn an Achievement in a specific game or selection of games. In fact there is a daily task for earning an Achievement that grants you 50 points. Overall this is another fairly mindless way to earn points.

The third and most interesting way I earn MRP is via Game Pass Quests. This is where things get fun. There are daily, weekly and monthly quests. The daily quests are boring and always that same: 1) log into the Game Pass app, and 2) play a Game Pass game. The weekly and monthly quests are more interesting. They task you with doing specific things in specific Game Pass games (at least some of them do). So “Drive 1 KM in Game X” or “Kill 10 enemies in Game Y” or “Play an online match in Game Z.” These are usually fairly quick to complete (though there are exceptions). What I enjoy about them is they prompt me to play games I usually wouldn’t play, and sometimes I find games I really enjoy. For instance this week one of the quests involved A Plague Tale: Innocence. I accomplished the quest objectives pretty quickly but by then I was hooked on the game. Now I’m going to finish it!

The point of all of this is to amass MRP so you can exchange them for various goodies. My preferred goodie is store credit. A $100 Xbox gift card can be redeemed for 91,000 MRP, which sounds like a huge number given some of the tasks reward 5 or 10 points, but they add up more quickly than you might expect (accumulation is helped by various “double points” events and other promotions). I’ve earned over 400,000 MRP since starting with the program. I don’t really track things but at least once a year I cash in for a $100 gift card.

It wouldn’t be worth it if earning the points was bothersome, but for me it has become a game in and of itself. I look forward to Tuesdays, which is when the weekly quests come out. What has made this even better/easier is Xcloud since a lot of the games can be played via streaming, meaning you don’t have to install them to complete the quest. The daily sets on the web are either inoffensive and quick, or they’re quizzes which are kind of fun for me to do because I enjoy trivia.

Anyone with a Microsoft account can sign up and start earning points, but it is when you’re a Game Pass member that the system gets really interesting. If you have Game Pass you might want to check it out!

Concerning Controllers

Yesterday I got into a spirited conversation on Twitter about game controllers. Apparently people have opinions.

This honestly came as a surprise to me. I use game controllers all the time. I use Xbox controllers and Playstation controllers and Stadia controllers and Switch controllers and… I don’t really think about them very much. If you don’t use game controllers, a lot of the spirit of this post (that people have very different reactions to peripherals) could also apply to keyboards. There are people who are PASSIONATE about keyboards and spending $300 on a keyboard makes complete sense. Then there are people who’re completely fine with using the $10 keyboard that shipped with their PC. (I’m somewhere in the middle on that debate.)

But today is about controllers. The folks I was talking to HATE the Xbox controller. Like, it seemed as though their feelings were strong on this topic. It took a while to get them past generic gamer responses like “it sucks” to start to understand what they hated. One thing that came up was that the d-pad on the Xbox controller is too loud. That surprised me so much that I went and grabbed an Xbox controller and pushed the d-pad around. “Huh, what do you know, it does make a clicking sound.” I muttered. I had never noticed it. Of course now I’ll never not notice it so my friend owes me a beer or something.

The other issue that both friends had was that the sticks on the Xbox controller are too “loose.” I tried to understand this. I grabbed a Dual Sense and an Xbox Series X|S controller and wobbled the sticks on both and they felt the same to me. If anything, the Dual Sense felt looser but it was a really subtle difference. Then I was told that you only notice it while in-game and that FPS are hard to play on the Xbox. As someone who plays FPS on the Xbox this left me really confused.

Talking more, one friend who loved the Xbox 360 controller hated the Xbox One controller, and that same friend hated the PS3 controller but loves the PS4 controller. If only he could’ve seen my blank stare because I was like “Wait, they feel different?” Now remember, I play console games every damned day, and I switch between consoles frequently, sometimes several times a night. I just don’t notice these changes.

I don’t have any great revelation to share, I just thought it was really interesting. Maybe I’m just not a good enough gamer to care?

But as long as I’m on the topic, here is MY comparison of the PS5 Dual Sense controller and the Xbox Series X controller. These are the aspects that do matter to me:

Batteries:
The Xbox has removable batteries. I spent $20 to buy a charger and 8 batteries, which gave me enough batteries for both the controller and various TV remotes. I only need one controller and I always have a fresh pair of batteries sitting in the charger.

The PS5 controllers are rechargeable. My past experience with the PS4 is that over time they hold a charge for shorter and shorter periods. Because of this I felt I needed to purchase a second controller and a charging station for the PS5, total cost around $95. I make a point to rotate the controllers to try to ‘wear’ the batteries evenly. It’s a pain in the ass, but over the course of the PS4 generation I think I bought 4 controllers as batteries kept essentially failing (going from full charge to dead in 30-40 minutes).

Physical Comfort:
First, this category is SUPER personal. What is comfortable for me might not be comfortable for you.

The PS5 Dual Sense feels ‘harder’ to me. Like I feel like I’m holding a very rigid piece of plastic, and towards the end of a long gaming session the outer edge of the grips start to cause pain in my hands in the area between the base of the pinky and my wrist.

I find the Xbox controller very comfortable and I can hold it for more time than I ever have available to play games, and not have any pain.

Features:
The Dual Sense controller is kind of a marvel. The haptics can be almost startling. There are times when it feels like there’s a little creature inside the controller scratching to get out. I love the added immersion of (as an example) different guns having different trigger tensions. Another example is being able to feel the terrain your traversing via the slight vibration in the controller changing.

Now I don’t think haptics are for everyone. In a lot of cases they make games harder. Sometimes my trigger finger actually gets tired from having to work to pull the trigger due to increased tension. Fortunately you can turn all of this off, but I LOVE the added immersion.

The Dual Sense also has a speaker and a microphone. Some games make great use of the speaker to enhance your experience. I’m not sure I’ve seen the speaker used. I guess in a pinch you could use it for voice chat but I’m guessing the quality wouldn’t be great. Honestly haven’t tested it though.

The Xbox controller has none of these bells and whistles. With the Series X we finally got a share button. The Xbox controller (including last gen) has some “advanced” rumble features but honestly I’m not sure I’ve ever really noticed them, or I’ve been using the controller for so long that it’s become so normal that I just accept them. Remember the Xbox Series X supports Xbox One controllers so effectively this is a last gen controller, with the one addition of the Share button (which Playstation has, and had last gen).

And…that’s really where my comparison of the two controllers ends. As far as functionality I really don’t notice much difference between them. The Dual Sense haptics is huge, but if I’m playing a PS4 game that doesn’t support the new haptics…it’s just a controller. Like every other controller.

Am I broken? Does everyone else have strong feels of this vs that controller?