Games

Audio dramas with a side of gaming


One of the things that’s always been difficult for non-Japanese anime viewers is the amount of extra untranslated content that develops the characters and cleans up the stories. The mobile game for the “Is it wrong to try to pick up girls in a dungeon?” franchise is only moderately interesting as a game, but is absolutely stuffed with story, with music, art, and voice work by the anime staff and actors, and side stories co-written by the original author, making it all canon.

The only downside is that the game mechanics are optimized for deep-pockets “whale” players, and it gets increasingly grindy for free players after a while. You get enough “stamina” credits to play for free for quite a while each day, but unless you get some lucky gacha draws, you’ll eventually stop progressing through the quests, and be forced to spend your time grinding for materials and cash to upgrade your sub-optimal party members and/or replace them with better ones.

Fortunately, by then you’ll have unlocked a number of side stories that flesh out characters who are barely touched on in the anime, some of which are quite lengthy. (seriously; the catgirl waitresses just got a sequel to their previous adventure)

Performance-wise, the game is a real space-hog (3+ GB without the optional extra voice content; make sure you’re on wifi when you run it the first time) and battery drain, and will not run well on older devices with limited memory. For instance, on my iPhone 6+, it’s too big to stay suspended in memory if I switch to any other app, it takes quite a while to load, and it drains the battery very quickly, so I play on my iPad Mini 4 instead. (you can transfer a game between machines using a code/password combo)

It’s fully translated, and most of the Japanese voice content is subtitled (except for combat taunts, etc). The chibi versions of the characters are adorable and well-animated. Many of the side stories are a lot of fun. The main questlines cover both anime seasons and all three novel series, and given the kind of money they must be pulling in, I expect they’ll keep adding more.

The casino “poker” game unlocked at the end of the Ryu questline is really just a slot machine that’s almost impossible to lose money at, but it provides another way to grind for upgrades when you’re bored with the usual ones.

There are a lot of things not made clear in the documentation, and I was kind of surprised that none of the FAQs really cover it well, either. For instance, I was running around with a gimped party for quite a while because I didn’t realize that assistants add all their stats to the character they’re paired with, making it important to level them up just as much as the adventurers, and to pay as much attention to the distribution of their stats as to the buffs they provide.

Also, “White Healer” Amid was my single best gacha pull. I wouldn’t have made nearly as much progress without her in my party, and I’d almost pay to limit-break her right now.

I did make a single in-game purchase (“Syr’s Daily Lunch Box”, which provides resources for 30 days) to reward the company for amusing me, but everything else costs about 10x what I’d be willing to pay, and even paying real money doesn’t let you pull specific characters.

No Man’s Sky language-switcher


After the latest mildly-hyped upgrade, how is No Man’s Sky? It’s an early beta of a half-decent $20 indie game, currently marked down to $30 on sale for $60. With some mods (Faster Walk, Faster Scan, and Reduced Launch Cost, at a minimum) and the save editor, you can work around most of the remaining design flaws and bugs, making it possible to see the originally-promised game off in the distance.

Still plenty of deliberate user-hostile design decisions, including some brand new ones (like stretching out the limited quest content by adding real-time delays between each step in a chain, ranging from 1 to 6 hours (!)).

Modding is still possible, in a fragile, clunky way, but one early mod that I liked hasn’t worked for a long time: changing the suit audio to Japanese.

With some hints from one of the forums and a copy of Sony’s PSARC tool, I was able to come up with a crude but functional method to generate a working mod for any of the supported languages. All of the other languages seem to be quieter than the English voice, but that’s actually a bonus, given how annoying the damn thing can be.

Edit to set the location of your game data and psarc, choose your standard language and what you want to replace it with, and run the script. It will chug for about 5 10 minutes extracting the language-specific audio from the right PAK file, then repack them under the localized language patha. The resulting mod is about 4 8 megabytes.

Releasing it as a batch file not only avoids the copyright problem that helped sink the original mod, but also allows you to apply any of the 14 supplied localizations to any other, so someone playing the game in Korean could have a Polish space suit, for instance.

[Update: Oh, FFS, NMS! You changed the paths for all the audio files between 1.55 and 1.57? Are you all descended from the surviving deck-chair-rearrangers on the Titanic?

…and now replaced with a more robust version that will be easier to fix the next time they move everything around.]

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Fallout 76 quick take


No mods.

No NPCs.

No companions.

No pause button.

No offline play.

No save/restore.

No console.

No game at all when they decide to shut down the servers.

Update

Thinking about it a little more, I think there’s going to be a much bigger problem than any of the above: nerfs.

Even if it’s not just a gankfest of foul-mouthed randos, the simple fact that it emphasizes PVP is going to produce frequent “game balance” updates that force you to change your play-style whenever someone comes up with a min-maxed buildout that lets them roflstomp your painstakingly-crafted homestead.

Clearly, the only way to play is in carefully-curated groups of like-minded friends, so of course I expect them to make that hard to do, and default to dumping you into public sewers servers.

Flash! Aa-aaah! He’ll generate random words!


I’ve been reworking the code behind my random word generator, to generalize the methods of modeling the source word sets and creating the output. The first fruit of that is one tuned for Pinnacle’s new Savage Worlds Of Flash Gordon RPG (slowly trickling out for Kickstarter supporters, and being vigorously edited on their forums).

For the source file, I took every Mongo-ish name/word I could find from the original comic strips, series, and movies (all hail the concept of wikis), and added everything Pinnacle has created in their new books. They’ve done a great job of mixing their own names with the originals, IMHO.

Unfortunately, it’s still a fairly small set (285 words at the moment) with wildly divergent phonetic patterns, making it unsuitable for either trigrams or n1grams, so I kept the lessons I learned and threw away most of the code, creating a brand-new digram-based generator that preserves more flavor than the obvious implementation.

As configured, mongowords can generate at least half a million distinct words, and even at the end of the list, a fair number of them are usable. With the new code, it will be easier to merge back the full feature set from the old one, while supporting a wider range of generation techniques.

Now that that’s out of the way, back to finding errors and tyops in the new rulebooks!

Savaged Rules


As far as I can tell, the Savage Worlds RPG has never been playtested against veteran rules lawyers. Fourteen years after the first release of the core rulebook, there are still significant ambiguities caused by flavor text, inconsistent wording, and poor organization. The FAQs and forums do not clear them all up.

I suspect that the only reason the system thrives is that it’s largely taught at cons rather than learned from the book.

Update

Half the fun is figuring out which official downloads to ignore. The current version of the Test Drive rules is the one in the Lankhmar section of the site; the only sidebar link in the Savage Worlds section that’s current is the GM Screen Tables (and it oversimplifies some rules).

No Man’s Sky: Pinky’s World


[note: Steam has a 60% off sale for Halloween. I think $24 is still a bit high, but a lot more reasonable than $60]

Out of the tiny number of people still playing No Man’s Sky on the PC, there exists an even-smaller number who have completed the main quest in Permadeath mode, and of those, a very small number of masochists who chose Raging Galaxy as their destination and ended up in Calypso.

So, for those dozen or so players, if you want to travel through a portal and visit someone’s base to either get the Steam achievement or pick up a decal, come to Pinky’s World:

Just watch out for the Bone-Stripping Acid Storms (not a euphemism).

Pinky’s World (PC, Permadeath Mode, Calypso Galaxy)
Portal Address 201103513B8C (038B:0082:0D12:0011)
Base is 3:30 due East.

(I also left a Comm Station with these instructions at the de-facto message-board portal 111111111111)

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No Man’s Sky revisited


After Shamus wrote up his one-year-later look at the ambitiously flawed No Man’s Sky, I decided to take another look myself. Before I’d even consider it, though, I made sure that I had workarounds for the most crippling of its misfeatures. The Pride of Euclid mod makes it possible to travel around planets at something other than a crawl, and nmssavetool allows editing save files to fix the ridiculous inventory limitations and reduce grinding by about 80%.

With the original nmssavetool, I had some canned jq scripts to do basic useful things: add cash, add an item to inventory, and report or change the current ship/multitool seed (a purely cosmetic cheat that changes their procedurally-generated appearance to something cooler).

The author has baked all those and much more into the new version, so that you can start a new game, save once, and then upgrade yourself to be capable of playing the parts of the game you like, whether that’s exploring new star systems, fighting pirates, or questing. There’s also a Java-based GUI save editor that makes it easier to do things like reorganize your technology in the inventory grid to maximize bonuses (a feature of the game that is still nearly impossible to use legitimately).

On that note, there are now two quest chains, and they’re not nearly as fragile as they were before (although one of them is broken in 1.38…); the new mission generator gives you some short-term goals, as long as you work around its bugs. They even turned the useless portal-ish items into a direct clone of Stargate’s stargates, complete with whoosh.

I can honestly say that, with mods and save tools, it’s now a decent $15 game. Unfortunately they still charge $60 for it, so unless you see a big sale, don’t buy it. And if you buy it, get some mods and a save tool, or you’ll find the fun parts separated by tall grindy mountains; Shamus’ articles cover a lot of that, and I agree with pretty much everything he said.

Endless Sky: The Bus Driver


I’ve played through all the story content of the free, open source game Endless Sky, much of it more than once. It’s a fun little time-waster whose replay value lies largely in non-story content. Instead of worrying about the fate of the Free Worlds, the secrets of the Alphas, or the future of the Wanderers, you can just go off and become a pirate hunter. Or a pirate king. Or a merchant prince.

Or, in my latest run, a bus driver.

Step one was buying a Shuttle and paying off the mortgage as fast as possible. I paid it down at every opportunity, and didn’t worry about trashing my credit rating with missed payments.

Step two was making enough cash to buy a Bounder outright (1.6 million credits), using the profit from the used Shuttle to finance its renovation (ditch the useless turrets, convert the cargo space to bunks, and add a fuel pod).

Step three was heading into Hai space to make enough cash to sell off the Bounder and buy a Blackbird, outfitting it as the nimblest, leggiest bus in Human space (total cost ~6 million):

  • no weapons
  • Pebble Core reactor
  • LP036a Battery Pack
  • Biroo Atomic Thruster engine
  • Bondir Atomic Steering engine
  • Hai Corundum Regenerator shields
  • Hyperdrive
  • 3x Outfits Expansion
  • 3x Fuel Pod
  • 10x Bunk Room

Expected payment from a single mission is between 250,000 and 1.25 million credits, with total expenses under 3,000 credits (200 credits/jump). I’ve yet to jump into a system where I couldn’t outrun pirates long enough to jump back out before they took my shields down.

If you have room for 21+ passengers, you get offered Strike Breaker missions occasionally. They’re lucrative, but only offered 10% of the time, and often at sizes you can’t fit into a Bounder, so transporting families in Hai space is more practical in step two. In the Paradise Worlds, there’s a 10% chance of finding rich tourists, but usually heading to places where there’s not much chance of a decent return mission.

The real money is in Colonists, who show up in certain systems 20-30% of the time, but only if your ship has room for 31+ passengers. The 65-passenger capacity of the Blackbird is large enough for most of these, but some are so large (with a payout of over 2 million credits…) that I needed a second ship. Not a problem with 30 million in the bank.

Now, if I had Jump Drives, I’d build a fleet of Blackbirds and take them into Coalition space, where the passenger transport jobs get ridiculously large and profitable (400+ for some jobs, thanks to the long tail of negative binomial distributions).

Amusing random mission:

Bring 22 wealthy tourists on a fabulous journey to the wild and exotic world of Freedom in the Almaaz system. Payment is 416,000 credits.

Freedom is a pirate world. I think I just sold them all into slavery. 😄

Update

For fun, I hacked in a Jump Drive and did enough Coalition and Wanderers missions to gain access to their ships and outfits. Sad thing is, the Blackbird config above is still the winner. There just aren’t any better low-crew, long-distance people-movers out there, and the Hai outfits I bought for it are better than the gear offered by the higher-tech civs.

Some of the ships you unlock through the story missions might be an improvement, but right now I’d rather have a fleet of Blackbirds than anything else.