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. 😄


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.

Bump and Grind

Over the weekend, I made a second run through Sakura Dungeon to try to unlock a few achievements and screenshots I’d missed. This included increasing the difficulty level, but that didn’t make the fights more difficult, just more tedious, so I soon started using console cheats to buff my characters, and skipped through most fights (press “S”, then “A”) and all the dialog I’d seen in my first run (“S” again). I couldn’t bypass the puzzles, but most of them can be navigated quickly with maps; level 12/13 and level 15 are still really annoying, though.

Once the console is enabled, you can do all sorts of cheating, but the method that has the least risk of breaking the game is to use just two commands, repeated as necessary:

for i in party: i.xp=99

Setting xp=99 means that everyone in your party will level-up during the next fight (eliminating a lot of tedious grinding), and adding an elixir to your inventory will revive and heal anyone who’s down after a fight (allowing you to only return to the surface when you find a teleporter, eliminating a lot of tedious navigation through cleared floors).

Basically, even on normal mode you need to grind wandering monsters to get your level high enough to handle bosses (who will one-shot party members ~5 levels below them), so any enjoyment I got out of the simple combat system was gone well before I beat the main campaign, and I had no interest in grinding even more on “hard”, so I made sure my party was always a level or so ahead of the monsters.

I now have 34 of 37 achievements, and I’m not going to bother with the other three, because they are: grind more monsters, go through the main campaign on really-hard mode, and grind even more monsters.

The Steam global achievement page for the game says a lot about how much people liked the dungeon-crawling:

  • 20% didn’t finish level 1 (“never played the game”)
  • 25% didn’t finish level 2 (first boss)
  • 45% didn’t finish level 4 (unlock Sylvi)
  • 60% didn’t finish level 8 (unlock Yomi)
  • 73% didn’t finish level 14 (unlock Maeve)
  • 81% didn’t finish level 21 (milk for Anubis)
  • 85% didn’t finish level 27 (the main campaign)
  • 89% didn’t finish the short bonus campaign (defeat Hiriko)
  • 91% didn’t defeat the extra boss (Izanami)

That is, they didn’t. Basically, half of the people who played at all stopped around ¼ into the main campaign, and half of the remaining players dropped out by the ¾ mark. Obviously this is skewed a bit by recent purchases, but the game’s over a year old, so it should be in the ballpark.

(note that the “Burning Soul” achievement is rare not because it’s difficult, but because it’s broken unless you’re playing the 1.05 “beta”, which has never been made the official version because of Winged Cloud’s breakup with their former publishers. If you play, play 1.05)

Cheap Hunie

HuniePop and HunieCam Studio are deeply discounted in the Steam Summer Sale for another 24 hours, at $2.49 and $1.74, respectively. I found them both quite entertainingly naughty (or naughtily entertaining) games.

Mini-Review: Sakura Dungeon

WARNING: as published on Steam, Sakura Dungeon is NSFW. As augmented by the free patch, the art includes hardcore porn. It’s also on sale for $12 as part of the Steam Summer Sale, along with all the other Sakura games (all NSFW, but only about half with explicit patches).

Developer Winged Cloud is a bit of an oddball, since their only web presence is a Patreon, and everyone who used to publish their games broke up with them a while back, so there are a lot of dead links out there.

Sakura Dungeon is apparently their most ambitious title, with a full RPG dungeon-crawler layered over the standard dating-sim kinetic novel core common to their other titles. The PoV character is a fox-spirit (female) trying to take over a dungeon full of monsters (female), with the reluctant help of an adventuring knight (female). Naturally, all of them are young, busty, and cute as buttons.

(via, apparently from a pre-release copy, since the names are incorrect)

The dungeon is a strict grid, with only a few different images for each floor type. The puzzles are pretty simple and occasionally tedious, the loot is unimpressive, and the combat is straightforward turn-based point-and-click.

So why play? Because the characters are fun, the story is shallow but engaging, the girls are gorgeous, and the combat is full of Most Common Special Attacks that blow their clothing off. And not being a Japanese title, there’s no loli, no oddly-specific fetishes, and the closest it gets to non-consensual sex is “aw, c’mon, it’ll be fun”.

Why did I buy it in the first place? Because I kept seeing this picture around the net and finally found out where it came from:


I apologize for misusing genre jargon above. I’ve tended to lump all of these sorts of games together as “dating sims”, but while that may be their most visible manifestation, it refers to a set of relationship-building mechanics that are not present in all such games, and is orthogonal to the distinction between “visual novels” (where the player has choices with consequences, the old choose-your-own-adventure paperback) and “kinetic novels” (where there’s only one narrative thread, what we used to call “novels”). Most of the Winged Cloud games are kinetic novels where your choices boil down to “watch them fuck” or “don’t watch them fuck right now”.

There’s only one narrative thread in Sakura Dungeon, and you can only fail to achieve it by losing fights in the dungeon, not by making choices in the narrative. There’s no point in the story where the PoV character can choose between “take over the dungeon” and “perpetual orgy in this town full of sexy girls who worship me”. There’s also no stable management or relationship manipulation, like a raise-the-princess game or dating sim; if you catch a monster girl, she will join the party, and any improvement to her fighting ability is determined by using magic items with predictable effects (“raise agility”, “increase fire resistance”, “learn shockwave”). Who’s in your party affects only your combat ability in the RPG and some one-liners in key fights (with a few exceptions where a character is required to unlock a cutscene).

So that makes it a kinetic novel where progress is gated by an RPG/MCSA dungeon crawl, with unlockable “watch them fuck” cutscenes.

Amusing note: I’ve been playing around with the popular Ren’Py engine, swiping art assets from Sakura Dungeon to “kineticize” my old Hero meets Villain story. It ends up being about four minutes long, which makes a useful comparison to how much story is in a Winged Cloud game that takes 2-3 hours to play.

Update 2

Thanks to unrpyc and some quick regexing, it looks like there are roughly 138,000 words of text in Sakura Dungeon, making it a good-sized novel. Selecting a few at random turns up such literary gems as:

  • “I like it when people lick me all over…”
  • “If you apply magic to it correctly, it can hold its shape yet remain fluid…”
  • “I care not what I whip, only that I am whipping.”
  • “We cannot let that panda roam freely.”
  • As we step into the room, we find that we’re surrounded on all sides.
  • “Sorry, but I really want to see you in a maid outfit.”
  • “Oh… You’re one of those…”
  • The chocolate absorbs some of your mana and replenishes itself.
  • “That rabbit is going to learn a painful lesson.”
  • I can only imagine having so much attention from so many cute, luscious women…
  • “Please come back later if you would like to use our services.”
  • “It’s not a real tail.”
  • “I wonder what sort of things they have on-board for stimulation!”
  • As it slides into me, my body shudders from the sensation.
  • “Can we cuddle, at least?”
  • “We should do this again sometime!”
  • “Please don’t go wandering off by your-”

And how could I forget:

  • In the popsicle goes again.

One from the vaults

A long time ago, in a Usenet newsgroup far, far away, in response to a post on “Top Ten Reasons Magic is Better than Sex”, I wrote:

  • Magic requires no foreplay; you can just grab a partner and start playing.
  • you can switch opponents as often as you like, and no one will mind.
  • brutally beating your partner is okay.
  • Protection really works.
  • Magic comes with a rulebook.
  • parents don’t go crazy when they catch their children playing Magic with the neighbor’s kid.
  • you don’t feel insecure if you have a little deck.
  • you can play Magic while eating a sandwich.
  • any number of people can play in a game of Magic, and everyone gets a turn.
  • if your deck just isn’t working, you can blame it on the shuffle.
  • Tom Wylie is easier to understand than Doctor Ruth.
  • when you pay for Magic, you’re guaranteed of a good time.
  • you can always get your partner to play Magic with you in public.
  • you can shuffle your deck as much as you want.
  • your partner can shuffle your deck, too.
  • when you buy Magic, you know it’s fresh from the factory.
  • when you get tired of a deck, you can make a better one.
  • your neighbors won’t mind if you watch them play Magic.
  • it’s okay to play Magic with your sister.
  • you don’t need a battery-powered shuffler, but it’s easier than using your hands.
  • you don’t have to tell your current partner about everyone you’ve ever played with.
  • if you quit playing Magic and sell all of your cards, you can probably afford sex.

(I dug this out because I found the old “recently-spotted” link where someone had translated them all into Spanish. Link was still good, to my surprise.)

Alien Sex Friend

(from the NSFW game HuniePop)

Shamus didn’t precisely recommend HuniePop, but he did say that the Bejeweled-ish gameplay was far superior to the original and most of its clones, and that he felt quite uncomfortable with the dating-sim elements, particularly the “overnight date” where you play a twitch version of the puzzle to “score” with the young ladies. So, to be more precise, he did recommend it, but only to pervs who like anime-style cheesecake and hilarous simulated moaning with their match-3 puzzles.

The gameplay is engaging, and it’s completely free of the fetishes it would have if it were a real Japanese dating sim. Meet girls, impress them with your Mad Match-3 Skilz, admire the naughty pictures they send you, and giggle at the noises the voice actresses make as your score goes up and down in the twitch puzzles. There is an easy-to-apply “adult” patch if you buy it on Steam (create a file with the correct name), but all it does is unlock a few pictures that are more detailed and less appealing.

The art and voice acting are mostly quite pleasant in the dating-sim component, making the girls quite appealing. The unlockable characters are pretty easy to get, and include alien bounty hunter Celeste, catgirl Momo, and love-fairy Kyu. Once you’ve collected the whole set (pokémon joke omitted…), there’s one final secret character, and then an “unlimited” mode.

There are two major drawbacks: it only saves when you leave an area (so you can’t upgrade your stats and buy/sell things, then exit), and the Mac version stores your save file in the cache folder, which can get wiped if you upgrade the OS. This is apparently a common problem with games built on the Unity engine. So, be sure to save the contents of this directory frequently: ~/Library/Caches/unity.HuniePot.HuniePop

Bounty Hunting in Endless Sky

The pirates you’re hunting can be three systems away from the planet where you got the mission, not two. And it appears their location is pre-generated and they don’t move, so if you never enter the correct system, you’ll never find them. This also means that if you load up on bounty missions, the odds that you’ll run into multiple pirate fleets simultaneously goes way up. When that happens in a system that already has a high chance of random pirates, like Shaula, even a fleet of Shield Beetles can be overwhelmed unless you draw them far, far away from the planet and the incoming hyperspace routes. (pro tip: the “hold position” key can be applied to single ships by selecting them, not just your entire fleet)

[Mac version 0.9.6, based on a small Perl script that does a crude scan of the save file; haven’t figured out how they mark missions as completed yet, though]

The game is free, fun, and desperately in need of a nicely-designed PDF with all the obscure keyboard shortcuts (scattered documentation here, here, and here). You can also get it on Steam for convenience (no DRM applied, because GPLv3).

It’s moddable, replayable, and regularly updated, and doesn’t chew up a lot of resources when paused, so you can easily hop in for a few quick turns while waiting for other tasks to complete. It auto-saves every time you land, and it’s quite stable.

Speaking of free games on Steam, the ancient MMO Anarchy Online showed up there recently. They’ve been trying to get me to come back for about 15 years, and this time I decided to give it a shot. I managed a successful password reset on my old account and created a new character (the old ones were still there but marked “inactive”), and got the dubious pleasure of remembering what it was like before MMOs settled on some basic user interface conventions. I could adjust to the low-res models and textures, but the controls are another story.