First, check out this article on endings in video games. tl;dr: Dude thinks that open-world games should let you down gently at the end. They should provide some aftercare.  He wants to be able to go back and see how you’ve changed the world, see how the quest givers are faring, maybe pick up some grateful plaudits.


But then what happened?

My overall response: no you don’t, dude.  You think you want that, but it’d be a shit-ton of work to provide, and you’d be bored of it in ten minutes.

Now, there is something unsatisfying about having to save the world, then never getting to explore what happens afterwards.  Fallout 3 and Fallout NV are like this: you do a huge thing and then you’re just told what happened later in a slideshow. And half the time this isn’t even very well thought out.  (E.g. in my ending of Fallout NV, I have a frigging army of upgraded robots, but I’m told that the neighboring suburb has become even more lawless.)

But really, to get what this guy wants, you’d have to add multiple hours of content (because who knows what part of the open world the player wants to check up on), and almost by definition, what you’re adding won’t be game-like. The big bad got impaled on something; you killed all his lieutenants earlier; there’s not going to be much to do. NPCs are not actually people; during the main plot they got a little simulacrum of being real because they had problems you could solve. It’s not at all easy to make them seem real when the plot is over.  “Thank you, Champion of Cyrodiil, things really are better now!” is not really going to be a compelling interaction for long.

This isn’t to say the game can’t let you down gently.  I think the later Arkham games are good at this.  You can wander around for many more hours doing all the side quests, and finding Riddler trophies.  Or you can spend another hundred hours polishing your skills on the combat maps.

The game I just finished, Bayonetta, has a nice approach, I think. You don’t get a lot of “what happened next”. But you do get an explicit denouement scene that brings back the major characters (and offers an easy fight), then a credits sequence that includes a couple more fights, and then an extended dance scene.  So you move from some emotional closure, to some low-key interaction (sprinkling the credits with fights is a brilliant idea), to just sitting back and enjoying the dance.  It’s like stretching after strenuous exercise, it calms you down and makes you feel good.

The thing that most bothers me about the article is that it doesn’t seem to recognize that the plot’s ending is not the game’s ending. You may read a novel straight through and then put it back on the shelf, but games don’t generally work that way.  If you liked the game, finishing the plot may just be the start of your adventure.  You play it again, just for fun or to experience different approaches or to challenge yourself on a higher difficulty setting. The real ending is the point where beating up one more thug, or finding one more space durian for the helpless peasant, suddenly strikes you as boring rather than fun.

Besides, it’s a rare game where the actual plot ending is really the high point of the game. I’ve said several times that the best part of Bethesda games is the first 10 levels– the part where everything is new and scary, you’re half-bewildered by all the quests available, and a single stimpak/health potion is a rewarding find. Most game endings are variants on “fight some dude with a lot of hit points”, and often you only use a small subset of the skills you’ve learned. (E.g. many a stealth game offers no opportunity to use stealth during the last boss fight.)  If the game explored some darker or more nuanced ideas, that was probably in earlier sections.  So while the last fight should be cathartic, it’s a hard ask.

Of course, there are a few games that completely upend our expectations.  My go-to example is Fable 3: you have the final boss fight, murderate your evil brother, and become queen… and then find out that you’re facing an even larger problem, the one your brother failed to solve, plus all the promises you made to secure allies along the way now come due.  It’s a ballsy move– far more than (say) Fallout NV.

Finally, though it’s true that the devs could say “what happened” for each of the 153 side quests, I’m not sure the article author realizes that an author can always add More Story; the art is knowing when to stop. As Neil Gaiman remarked, in real life people’s stories don’t end until they’re dead. You can’t really ask of a piece of art to let you keep asking “what happened next” indefinitely. At some point the character dies, or the author dies, or you die. If you want more story, get the season pass.  Or just learn to appreciate closure, the artistic technique where author and audience agree to leave things be for a time.


So, Bayonetta (1) is finally out for the PC. It sounded fun back in 2010 when it was released for consoles, and it’s only $20, so I picked it up.  It is fun. Also one of the weirdest games I’ve even played.


Punch punch kick is like a big evil kiss

I can maybe imagine a Western studio basing a game on the traditional Catholic hierarchy of angels.  But it would be a little eyebrow-raising that these are the game’s enemies.  And that you play a witch allied with Hell, fighting your way up the hierarchy, and the final boss fight is with the Creator.

Well, that’s Bayonetta.  Partly mitigating the weirdness of the concept, but also adding to it, you have the fact that the makers know no more or care about Christianity than, say, the makers of Assassin’s Creed know about Islam. It’s just a source of ready-made symbols for them; it has nothing to say about actual religion. It’s not even blasphemous– the ‘Creator’ here certainly isn’t the Christian idea of God. The “angels” are accompanied by heavenly music and have an appropriate white-and-gold color scheme, but they look far more like aliens than angels, especially as they get battered up and their masks literally slip.

Bayonetta starts out almost as unsettled as the player: she knows she’s a witch, but has forgotten her history and doesn’t know why angels keep appearing and fighting her. When she collects their haloes, however, she can turn them in to her demon friend Rodin, who works as a bartender in a rundown US city and makes infernal magic weapons on the side, which he sells for haloes. Oh, and part of the exposition is given by a comic-relief character– a short, cowardly guy named Enzo, with a New York accent. (I’d love to know what he sounded like in the original.  I’m guessing he had an Osaka accent, as Japanese comedians tend to come from there.)  Soon she’s traveling to Vigrid, an isolated European country which is positively infested with angels to fight.

Combat is a remote relation to the Arkham games, or Remember Me: it’s not based on aiming and shooting, but on building combos while evading attacks (with Shift). The simplest combos are based on mixtures of punch (LMB) and kick (RMB), but there is plenty of complexity, and you pick up new moves and abilities at an alarming pace. There’s a large variety of angel types, each of which has attack moves that you must learn to recognize. If you can evade at the last moment, you get “witch time”– time slows down so you can get in some good combos. Some enemies can only be defeated this way.

Along the way there are several (fairly simple) puzzles and (less forgiving) platforming sequences. There are things to collect along the way, and you can build candies, the game’s equivalent of potions.

The Steam page suggest that you should use a controller, but PCGamer said you didn’t need one, which is good because I don’t have one. It’s certainly possible to play with keyboard and mouse.  (The main complaint I have about the UI is that the game doesn’t always orient the camera usefully. You can move the camera yourself, but it moves slowly.)

I found playing it on Normal to be too frustrating, so I switched to Easy. I’m not that good at twitchy timing, and there are some nasty QTE bits (though not as many or as annoying as those in Tomb Raider). It’s not always clear what to do.  But then, the game is intended to be replayed multiple times; as you do, you can easily dispatch enemies or find routes that were a complete bear the first time. (I just went back and finished a couple of chapters on Normal that I couldn’t the first time.)

The cosmology isn’t the end of the weirdness. Bayonetta quadruple-wields guns: one in each hand, and one on each heel. How she fires these is not explained, but it seems to work for her.

The game has been updated and perhaps retextured for the PC; it looks great, and often gives you astonishing vistas:


In paradise, gravity is merely local

Bayonetta is a little like Catwoman, and not just because of the black catsuit. She’s sexy and flirty, and yet cocky and superheroic. The player may marvel at the huge and strange boss angels, but she doesn’t– she just makes fun of them and jumps into the attack. Some things puzzle her, but nothing seems to faze her. She has oodles of agency.

The single weirdest thing about the game– well beyond fighting the cherubim– is that Bayonetta’s catsuit is made of her own hair, and for special attacks it unravels and turns into weapons or monsters.  That’s… not something I’d expect DC or Marvel to ever come up with. If it helps, it’s not as pervy as it sounds: it occurs in the middle of a furious fight, so what you actually get is a split-second fairly PG-rated view.  Then the hair monster eats the defeated angel.  It’s just part of the general insanity.

I’m about 3/4 of the way through, so I can’t say much about where the story ends up. Suffice it to say that you learn a lot about where Bayonetta came from and about the line of witches that taught her, and that she’s nowhere near as antiheroic as she seems as first.

The game is from the same studio as Nier: Automata, which I’m eager to try next.

Edit: Finished the game. The whole story is about 14 hours, but (as I said) it’s designed to be replayed till you can combo your way through like a boss. The ending is not as weird as the rest of the game– it makes a valiant effort to make sense of the rest of the game. Nicely, the game lets you down gently at the end: after the final boss fight, there’s a denouement at the cemetery which features a small fight, and then there’s a couple more little easy fights during the credits; then a dance sequence. So you’re eased down from the adrenaline high.

Edit edit: Replayed the first 5 chapters on Normal, and it’s pretty frustrating. Being able to do something I couldn’t do earlier is nice (e.g. defeating a Fearless without Witch Time).  But then they throw enemies at you which are basically tests of reaction time, which is not fun for me.

Edit³: Trying some more: if you hate finishing a chapter with a Stone award (generally meaning you died too much), the best thing to do is replay it a few times. Then you remember how to fight its particular bosses and what QTE keys to press.

I have a couple of side projects besides all of the India.  One is Ticai, the game I started working on a few years ago. Here’s what it looks like today.


You can compare this to the last look from… gulp… three years ago here. What’s changed?  A bunch of things:

  • A better skybox, rather than featureless blue.  Still needs to be redone, but at least I know how now.
  • Even more buildings, including the nice round temple on the left.
  •  The cobblestones are bump-mapped, so they don’t quite look like a flat texture slapped down on a flat surface.
  • Previously the streets were modular; I figured it would be easier for Unity to render them if there was only one copy of each unit.  Then I realized that the entire street grid has fewer polygons than a single human model. So now the whole grid is one model. This cleared up a lot of little alignment problems and makes the streets look better. It also allowed me to do things like put the tower on the right on a little hill.
  • The camera stays closer to Ticai. This makes it harder (though not impossible) to see through walls and such, which helps out a lot in some of the smaller spaces.

Unity has been upgraded to version 5.4, which broke a few things.  Most are fixed, but something has changed about the lighting which I haven’t figured out.  Ticai’s clothes don’t look smooth, nor does the round temple.  Unity used to correct for that, and I don’t know how to fix it yet.

There were some major bits of the city that weren’t done yet.  There is a whole underground that was only mocked up; it’s all finished now. I also added an alchemist’s shop:


I like the various jars and things. There’s even a microscope!   Not shown: the alchemist has a rather pretty globe of Almea.

I’m convinced that one reason games are so often late and buggy is that the developers spend half their time redoing things.  You make something quickish just to get it working (possibly learning how to do it at the same time). Then you learn how to do things better, get dissatisfied with what you did, rip it out and redo it.  For instance, Ticai’s feet:


I half-assed her feet the first time… I figured I could suggest her toes using the texture, and it looks bad.  Finally I redid the toes, separating them in the model.  Plus I redid the ankles. Also her eyes: she has eyelids now, and blinks.  Her face still looks kind of weird, though, so I’ll have to work on that.

(The four toes are not a way of saving work: Ticai is Almean, so she really does have just four toes.)

I put the project aside before mostly because I was hung up on the writing side. The game is supposed to be a set of interlocked mysteries, which Ticai solves by running around and talking to people.  I want a really complex conversational engine, where you don’t have four options to choose from, but a hundred or more.  But of course that means a lot of writing, and even more testing, and I haven’t found a way to keep the amount of work under control.

The other project is a new conlang, something at least two or three of you have been waiting for patiently for years.  It’s Hanying, one of the language of the Incatena— in fact, the language of Areopolis, more or less Morgan’s native language.  I said it was “in origin a Chinese-English creole”, and it was… for the first half-century or so of its existence.  But it will be much weirder than that.  E.g., it suffered a series of phonological adaptations to new speakers twice, and it went through both some relexification and decreolization.  By the time it’s done I hope it really looks like something that survived a thousand years of change.

I’ll admit right off that my interest in Conan Exiles was piqued by my friend Chris’s article about its dong physics. You can adjust dong size, you see; as Chris says, there should be a slide whistle sound effect for that. For women it’s breast size.

The idea is, you start out naked in the desert, and move up from there.  I would not like to be put naked in the desert in real life, but it sounded like fun in a game, so I picked it up.


Primal life: watching a dude fight a giant turtle

This is a different approach from (say) Empyrion, where you arrive on an alien planet in an escape pod that includes a buttload of metal ingots, seedlings, weapons, a fabricator, a chainsaw, and motorcycle parts. Exiles is made by a Norwegian company, presumably strung out on death metal, so you begin with zilch.

Back in the Hyborian Age everybody was built. My character is supposed to be an exiled criminal, but I guess the prison had an excellent food service and exercise program.

I have no interest in PvP, so I’m only doing single-player.  This is also Early Access, so who knows what mechanics will be added in the next year. Still, the basic gameplay is there.

In any survival game, the question is how long is it till the mining and crafting loop becomes too tedious? I put in over 300 hours in Empyrion, which is about as good as it gets. I played Astroneer for about 6 hours: it’s charming but I didn’t feel like anything new was coming up.  I’ve already played Exiles for 30 hours– it’s mostly fun, a little grindy, sometimes infuriating.

One big thing: it’s really beautiful.  You get some lovely sandy vistas, with arcane ruins in the backgrounds, and lots of animals and NPCs to go hunt down.


North of the river, it’s advisable to put clothes on

The idea here is that back in the Hyborian Age, miscreants would be hung up on the cross on the edge of the desert. A helpful note details my character’s crimes: singing bawdy songs, piracy, and blackmail. Conan comes by and cuts you down.  That’s about it for story and for any actual connection to the Conan franchise.  Well, you do pick your race and gods from the Conan canon. Other than that the main thing is, you know, being primal. So there are elements like making slaves of NPCs and exploring sorcerous ruins. If you follow Mitra, as I do, when you kill an NPC you collect their soul, which you do by hitting them with an ankh.

In practice, you gather resources, craft things, and progress in a tech tree. My first hours were a bit precarious– there’s no tutorial, and on-line material is scanty. So, some news you can use if you want to try it out:

  • Most interactable things don’t get any on-screen prompt or glow or anything. Eventually I realized that most plants, rocks, and sticks can be picked up by looking at them and hitting E.
  • Water is not a problem when you find the river, and food is not a problem once you have a campfire.
  • Hides seemed scarce at first, till I realized that you can’t loot a dead animal: you actually have to whack it with your pickaxe till it gives up the goods. You need hides to make a bow, which is key to attacking the meaner animals.
  • You will die a lot at first. You can set your respawn point by making a leaf bed– you have to remake it each time. Respawning will go much easier if you create a wooden box and put some basic supplies in it (like a spare bow and stone sword).
  • Eventually you will want a tannery, which is fueled by bark. You get bark from trees only if you use the pickaxe on them.
  • While I’m giving advice: I found the game laggy till I turned down some inessential graphics things, like shadows.

You can make rather handsome sandstone structures, and then you start to accumulate workbenches and other advanced crafting tools. In general the map gets harder as you go north.  I can’t tell you what’s up there yet, except that I’ve found where the iron and coal rocks live.  (And regenerate!  Rocks, plants, and monsters regrow after awhile.)

So far as I’m concerned, if I want a workout I’ll go to the gym.  The game is extremely stingy in XP advancement; it takes forever to build all those workbenches, and then you have to wait for more levels to get to the good stuff, like iron weapons. But in single-player you can set your own rules, so I bumped up the XP allocation considerably.  There’s only so much splitting rocks with a stone axe that I can take.

Combat… well, combat needs work.  You can use a shield and sword, only the shield will break pretty much immediately.  There’s not much variation otherwise. I spend a lot of time retreating to rocks; the monsters and NPCs can’t climb most rocks, so you can then shoot them with arrows. There’s some animals I haven’t figured out yet, like the spiders.  The bows are too wimpy to hit them from far away, and they shoot poison at you.

Most infuriating thing yet: I explored an underground temple and found that I was accumulating “corruption”– expressed as a permanent reduction of my health and stamina. There is a cure for this: you have to get yourself a thrall who’s a dancer. This was so dumb that I restarted, avoiding nasty caves this time.

The map is terrible.  There is no way to mark points.  You can’t see where you’ve been; there are no landmarks.  Your base is not marked, nor is your corpse (which you want to loot to get back the inventory you had when you died).

A minor quibble: you can’t loot enemy gear, which seems silly.

The basic draw of these games is to see what you can do next, as you learn new skills, or are able to take on enemies you couldn’t before.  From that point of view, Exiles is still working for me, because I want to see what comes next.  Also, I want to see what this pile of bones and lotus flowers I’ve been accumulating will eventually be good for.



For some reason my post on suffering got an unusual amount of attention and possibly some new readers.  Now I’ll send them all away again by talking about video games.

I’m in the middle of Dishonored 2. Alert readers may recall that I wasn’t sure I liked Dishonored at first, but the DLC won me over. Spoiler: the new game is great. It’s much like Mass Effect 2: adding to what works, quietly removing what doesn’t.


Basic gameplay: Can you arrange bodies more artfully than the developers?

You play as either Corvo Attano (as in the first game), or as Empress Emily.  I’m playing as Emily, of course, because Corvo? You’re fired. You had one job, Corvo– you are Royal Protector to the Empress– and you’ve fucked it up twice. In the first few minutes of the game, Corvo completely fails to notice an empire-wide conspiracy, sees his charge captured, and gets turned to stone. I expect I’ll rescue him eventually, but really, thanks Dad.

The gameplay is basically that of the first game: you get a target and a small but richly detailed mini-world to find them in. You carefully sneak around, inching forward or teleporting to useful perches, and then curse and reload because one of the frigging guards saw you.

You can fight everyone if you want, which will give you a High Chaos walkthrough– which in turn makes the game world a little nastier. You’ll get more bloodfly infestations, and in general people are more murderous.  E.g. there’s a scene where an officer talks to a woman who’s been stealing for her; in low chaos they are lovers, and in high chaos the officer pushes her off a building. How exactly this is caused by Emily choosing to choke rather than kill guards in another district isn’t quite explained, but it does appeal to our moral intuitions. (It’s very Confucian: the morality of the ruler wafts out to become that of the populace.) However, here and in Deus Ex, I’ve had a lot more fun sneaking and finding all the lore and runes than in combat, so for me it’s Low Chaos all the way.

You get special powers from the Outsider. Intriguingly, you can reject them. Kudos to anyone who can play the game without the teleport; I don’t think I could. The first mission, before you get your powers, can be quite frustrating.

Now, I think the Arkham games are the perfect stealth games, and that’s largely because Batman has so many options. And if you get into a bad situation, you don’t reach for the reload button, you reach for a gargoyle.  Dishonored 2 doesn’t give you the same range of options, though it does move in that direction. E.g. if discovered, Emily can leave a magic clone behind and escape in shadow form. (However, this takes a lot of mana, and mana potions are kind of rare, so I just hit reload.)

More interesting is Domino, which lets you magically link 2 (and later 3 or 4) victims. What happens to one will happen to the others. Most prosaically, you can choke or sleep-dart one, taking them all out. In High Chaos you have more entertaining options– e.g. link that officer to the civilian she is pushing off a building, and she’ll die too.

(Emily’s teleport is technically different from Corvo’s, but you use it exactly the same way.)

The Empire is a pretty fucked-up place. You have the frequent assassinations and coups, the sadistic whale-draining, the rat plague, the trigger-happy guards, the lethal checkpoints,  the witches, and now you have enormous flies that make the rats look cute, a tyrannical duke, clockwork killing machines, and exploitation of the workers. And you’re playing the person who is supposedly in charge of all this. The game occasionally confronts the paradox– e.g. Emily comments to someone that while the workers suffer, the Duke is eating from fine silver, and she’s reminded that she ate from fine silver in Dunwall Tower too. And there’s a story that tells us that Emily’s mother wasn’t exactly a saint.

Maybe this is addressed later, but it does still seem that Emily gets off too easy. She’s 25, which is young, but monarchy is a rough game– if you don’t know what’s going on in your empire by that age, and aren’t pulling the strings, it’s you that’s the puppet.


The game’s biggest showcase is surely the Clockwork Mansion, created by mad scientist Jindosh Kirin. It can be reconfigured, you see: clockwork turns your bathroom into a study, or your music room into an electric death room. It puts the punk into steampunk.  (Though the Empire is permeated by magic, Jindosh seems to be a tech only guy. His transitions have a pleasing mechanical slowness, as if they were controlled by a punch card somewhere.)

This is absolutely cool, and yet doesn’t quite succeed as level design, because it confuses the player. It’s not at all clear how you are supposed to attack this thing. I had to consult a walkthrough, which mentions among other things that any given room only has two configurations. You also have to defeat a clockwork soldier, and these have been designed so you can’t really defeat them with stealth, which is a little annoying. On the other hand they don’t count as kills, so the most effective way to deal with them is to blow off their heads.

I departed from the walkthrough, simply in that I wandered into a part of the mansion and there he was.  I immediately sleep-darted him.  That left two clockwork soldiers to deal with. I think I blew up the head of one, which made him kill the other.  I’m not sure, it was kind of chaotic. (If you’ve played that level, you’ll love this video on 80 ways to kill Jindosh.)

The next level offers you an interesting choice. To get into the next culprit’s mansion, you need to solve a hard riddle. The district is divided between Overseers (zealous anti-Outsider clerics) and a street gang, and each will help you if you deliver to them the body of the enemy’s leader. Or you can skip all that by solving the riddle! Which is what I did. It’s not that hard, though it probably helps to think like a programmer. Anyway, I could have gone right on to the mansion if I liked, but I scoured the district anyway, so I could get the runes and bonecharms.

I wonder if the studio brought in Anita Sarkeesian for a talk or something, because they’ve reduced the already low levels of sexualization. Emily is a very stylish assassin but not particularly sexy:


Nice eyes,though

Plus there are no brothel levels, and the gangs and guards now include women.

I like the fact that the protagonists are voiced. The old Valve idea was that we can identify more with a silent protagonist (plus, it was cheaper), but I think that’s wrong: a silent character seems dissociated. If they have no reaction to what’s going on, why should we?

I said the sequel was better, but it’s mostly a bunch of smallish things:

  • The choice of protagonists, and giving them a voice.
  • Emily’s new powers.
  • There are more powers available for stealth. (In the first game it felt like most of them were intended for combat.)
  • The levels are not much larger, but they feel packed with things to find and people to choke.
  • Neat ideas like the Clockwork Mansion; apparently there’s some time travel stuff coming up.
  • Marketplaces in each level, so you are not restricted to five sleep darts per map.
  • They evidently had more money for voice acting… the guards are a lot less repetitive.
  • More civilians around– Dunwall felt dead, Karnaca feels much more alive.
  • Minor, but a satisfying change: Corvo in the first game is just told what to do. Emily (like Daud in the DLC) gets clues but seems to make her own decisions.

It plays well on my PC, but it better– I bought the damn thing a month ago just to be ready for Dishonored 2, which simply laughed at the specs of my old machine.

One thing they didn’t change, and this is just fine: it’s still very linear. “Open world” is a big thing these days, but it’s really hard to do well. The Saints Row and Bethesda games are the models, I think. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst moved to an open world design, and I think it’s too overwhelming. Dishonored 2 takes a different approach: you may only be exploring a few blocks at a time, but they are exquisitely arranged and detailed.

(My only plea for Dishonored 3: please, do not start with Corvo failing to do his job again. The title is a brand by now; you don’t have to make it describe the plot.)

I guess the game is officially called SUPERHOT. We’ll get back to that.

You may have heard about this one: time is way slowed down, and only speeds up when you move. You use the slow-mo time to carefully plan a killing spree: throw a telephone at a featureless red guy, catch the gun that he drops, shoot him, and face the next red guy. A single shot or melee hit will kill you; if you die you start the level over. Once you’ve finished you see a real-time edit of your run, looking like the expert maneuvers of a master spy.



Is it Saturday? No, it’s SHATTERDAY. Get it? Never mind, BOOM


The look of the game makes Mirror’s Edge look like Normal Rockwell: everything is white except for weapons you can use (black) and enemies (red). The red dudes shatter when you hit them like they’re made of glass.

If this sounds like a neat mechanic, well, it is.  It’s simple but satisfying. The game description says that “time only moves when you do”, but that’s not right.  Things keep moving– especially bullets– so you really can’t stand there forever thinking about your next move. I think this actually works better than a complete time-stop, because it forces you to try something. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to look around and make sure you’ve got everyone. You generally have multiple options. If you die and replay a level, enemies come from the same places but may be armed differently.

There are bullet-time sequences in other games (e.g. Max Payne and Singularity), but it’s almost the whole game here. Near the end you get another mechanic, which makes the action sequences even more insane.

I got through it in five hours, which is comparable to Portal. And that’s probably about right for the concept. I’m not sure twenty more levels would have added much.  When you’re done you get challenge modes (e.g. I did some where you can only use a katana), so you could certainly get more hours out of it.

The designers evidently couldn’t come up with a story, so they threw a sort of cyberpunk atmosphere around it. Outside the action sequences, the game is all 1980s style ASCII graphics, including folders full of pixel art. One section is a pretty hilarious simulation of a chatroom focused on Superhot, complete with spammers, noobs, and ban-happy mods.

The cyberpunk stuff stops short of being a story, though at least it never becomes annoying. The game is maybe a little too infatuated with itself– e.g. when you finish a level, the replay is overlaid with a flashing SUPERHOT logo and someone intoning SUPERHOT. Thankfully you can turn this off with F5.

Basically, it’s a trifle, but a very enjoyable one that’s done before it wears out its welcome.


When we last left Empyrion, I was about to go into spaaaaace.   Well, I’ve gone into spaaaace. I am all over space.  Here, look:


The big rocky thing is the planet where I crash-landed, Akua.  The gray thing ahead that looks like an office park is my CV (Capital Vessel).  CVs can have a warp drive (it’s the ring on the left) which lets them travel to other planets.  Other than that they act as bases in spaaaace.

There are about half a dozen worlds to explore in this system (and by final release they hope to have additional systems), but it turns out I spend most of my time creating bases. Right now I have three on Akua, one on the moon, and one on Omicron, plus the CV.  After the above screenshot was taken, I learned that there were many more options for base building: variant block shapes, colors, texturing, decorative items like consoles.  So each base is better than the one before.  One nice thing about the game is that it’s quite generous about mining and food-making: a little will last you quite a while.  Backpacks have 40 slots, which is a good number: it makes you think about what you’re carrying without really impeding you.  (And when you work on a mine, you’re only using one slot.)

There are also NPC enemies, with bases of their own, and till recently they were kicking my ass whenever I went near. A friend gave me some key advice: sniper rifles.  I went to the two planets where the really good ores live, so I could make the high-level sniper rifle.  (These are like the boss planets, but they were easier than the NPC bases.)  I crafted a hundred bullets or so, plus rockets for my rocket launcher.

The problem is, on foot the bases’ turrets get me in a few shots– and they can shoot up the terrain.  Plus respawning is bad when you are attacking a base: you respawn near your body, which has a backpack with all your gear in it, but it may be in the turrets’ line of sight.  So I died a few times just trying to get near.

Finally I got the right method: move up to the crest of the hill, where it still provides cover.  Peek over and shoot down the drones; do this till they stop coming.  Then peek over again and shoot at the turrets.  You have time to get 3-5 shots in before the turrets fire at you.  It took me a bit, but finally the turrets were gone.

I flew my ship over and awkwardly docked it over what looked like a courtyard in the base.  Oops, the base was also swarming with alien soldiers.  I used the ship’s weapons to thin them out, then got out and tried to fire down into the courtyard at them.  Fortunately they were not very good at pathfinding– they tended to stay where they were until I turned a corner, and I could waste them with my pistol.

Only they also had huge bat-like animals with them, and one rushed me, bit me, and gave me a poisoned wound.  Oops.  It seemed like a good idea to extricate myself, go back to the ship, and find something that heals poison.

Now I could go back and clear out the base.  I had limited ammo, but the aliens (what were the chances?) used the same ammunition types I did.  Also the same medpacks and canned vegetables.

The base itself weakens when you shoot things, and I fell into a hole I’d made.  Oops… I can’t quite jump as high as a block, so it looked like I was trapped.  You can’t use the base-building tools on a base you don’t control.  But you can still shoot it up!  So I destroyed one cube after another, making my way to an elevator.  But I couldn’t jump up into the elevator.  So I shot my way horizontally out of the base till I hit dirt, then used the drill to escape.

I hadn’t cleared out the base yet, so I went back in and did that, clearing out aliens, bat-monsters, and turrets, and helping myself to their loot.  They also have teleport portals which you have to destroy so they stop respawning.

I could still hear alien roars, but didn’t see anyone, so I worked on taking over the base.  You have to find and destroy the “core” (a special cube), then replace it with one of your own.  It wasn’t obvious where the core was, but I finally realized they’d used an old level designer’s trick: put it right by the most valuable loot box.  Which you have to destroy (after looting it) to find the core behind it.  (Hidden as a spoiler; mouse over to read.)

I thought I needed a Base Starter, but no, I needed a core.  So that meant one more trip to my other base.  But once I installed the core, the base was mine.  Time to redecorate!


Yeah, I paint everything pink in video games.

This is my biggest base yet… the aliens really overbuild.  I rebuilt the side towers, added the sightseeing deck on top, and made a nice big landing pad for my ship.

Oh, and that alien bellowing?  One single alien had fallen into a pit just as I had.  It apparently didn’t occur to him to tunnel his way out.

So, in brief: there always seems to be one more thing to try.  I spent tonight sprucing up the captured base, and preparing to capture a similar base on Omicron.  A Mefi friend created a sweet spaceship in the shape of a Batwing, and talked about making a Batcave, so I’m tempted to do some larger-scale, more creative building.  And there’s multiplayer to check out.

The other planets have different animals and plants, plus various types of aliens; still, you can see what resources they have and I’m not sure they’re different enough.  It would be nice if there was more on the other planets to use than just the two fancy ore types.  But I’m not really worried about this; the game has been well worth it so far and I’m not done yet.


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