Press Reset – Jason Schreier

A good book that you can get for free if you’re the first person to come to my apartment and ask to borrow my copy.

I think that if you have any interest in video games, it’s worth reading Press Reset. That shouldn’t be confused with implying that the book is fun read, or a good time, because it isn’t. This is a book primarily about what happens when you work in a industry where you can lose your job in a instant, because of decisions that you didn’t even make, even when everything goes well.

Okay, so with that cheerful introduction out of the way, lets talk about the book itself. Overall, it’s morbidly fascinating. Jason Schreier is the person I trust when it comes to talking about the video game industry and things related to video games. And while there wasn’t anything in the book itself that I found shocking or surprising, it does an excellent job of collecting a variety of stories from individuals at different levels of the process.

This brings up one of my two gripes with the structure of the book. After a little while, the chapters become somewhat formulaic: we get introduced to a brand new game company, learn about their history, meet a few employees, and then boom, it closes down. Sometimes it’s because of financial mismanagement. Sometimes it’s because games didn’t meet sales figures. And sometimes it’s because publishers aren’t interested in maintaining a studio with a key figure. The end result is like reading a series of murder mysteries where the only elements that changes is the murder weapon.

In terms of value to the reader, I think the book will be the most impactful to folks like myself who care a lot about games, but also who (perhaps fortunately) aren’t in the industry. At times, I find some of the explanation of common games and concepts to be a bit heavy handed (I know what Diablo is and what Microtransactions are Jason), if necessary, because not everyone who reads the book is going to be a game nut like myself.

My second minor gripe has to do with the ending structure of the book. The book ends with a light touch look at what might need to happen next to turn the game industry into a bit less of a meat grinder. Schreier does a good job discussing unionization, smaller scale contracting, remote work, and a variety of other possibilities, but doesn’t really take a stand on any of them. And that’s understandable. Schreier is a journalist, not a pundit.

Press Reset is $15.49 on Amazon. It’s also on Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, and free for the first person to come to my apartment and ask to borrow my copy.

MMORPG Tycoon 2

Lots of bone, not enough meat. Yet.

Okay, so let’s get the core of my opinion out of the way: MMORPG Tycoon 2 as it currently stands can be pretty fun, but it feels more like a creative playground than a simulator/tycoon style game. If you’re like me, and you are seeking simulation/tycoon games for the system interactions, I’d say wait on this game for the moment. If you’re not like me, and you just want a really cool imaginative playground of game, you still might want to wait, because I can’t tell if its going to stay that way, or turn into the heavy sim I was looking for.

Look at this. It’s incredible.

It does have the single greatest video game cursor ever though.

Okay, let’s talk about the game’s systems, before we get into why I don’t want to currently recommend it.

MMORPG Tycoon 2 is, as the name suggests, a tycoon game about making a MMO. You start with a blank world map of zones, and it’s your job to make it into a world that your little fake players will want to actually exist in. And also to not go bankrupt while doing it.

Ah, Kyle Land 2021.

This means installing the sorts of thing that every MMO needs, from quest-givers, to shops for equipment and taverns to log out in, to putting in zones that spawn monsters so that your players can grind to their hearts’ content. You’ll also have to put down paths, and set up bandwidth networks which power everything.

In addition to the world building, there’s also a massive amount of customization available. You have the ability to customize the looks of the player characters and NPC’s in the game, with what struck me as an impressive modular system for building simple character models. Buildings and other objects also have robust tweaking and modeling controls.

The in-game classes, NPC’s, and monsters also all share a pretty robust customization system that allows you to tweak their abilities, stats, and also make changes to their character models.

People with good taste and thoughtful design ideas can probably use the modeling system to make interesting and neat monsters and characters. I used it to make a 6 story tall hobo-plague doctor with floating arms that just runs around and beats people up.

Okay, so if the game has all of these features, why do I currently not want to recommend it? Well, while many of these systems exist, they don’t yet interact with each other in particularly interesting ways.

For example, take the bandwidth system. It’s completely decoupled from every other part of the game. You just put down bandwidth everywhere you have objects, and if they don’t have enough juice, you add more. There’s no real need to manage spikes based on player behavior, or other activity.

The same thing feels true of the classes and the monster balance. While you have have the ability to make changes to them, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t really influence the fake players’ decisions. While fake players have the ability to request buffs and nerfs, they don’t do much else.

Closer.

Finally, the weakest system in the game by far in my opinion is the versioning. This is effectively leveling up your MMO, and I dislike it for two reasons.

Reason #1. You don’t level up by getting subscribers/money, or by building out more content for your players. You level up just by placing objects down. If you look at some of the screen shots below, you can see that there are areas where I just smashed down a massive amount of objects because I needed to get my level ups. And also…

Reason #2. The benefits of leveling up are almost entirely numerical, i.e., +5 to loot or something. There are a few that give you more interesting and fun powers (Flight paths, PVP), but most are just… more numbers.

Even closer.

And these are the bones with no meat. The level up system is lackluster, but if the numeric benefits were replaced, or added to with a tech tree, all of a sudden they could become far more interesting. If player classes influenced player behavior more, there would be more impetus to balance them and tweak them. And if quest rewards changed a player’s likelihood to complete them, you could use quest rewards to influence player pathing and decisions.

Of course, these are all just the changes I would make, because I’m curious about what the game would look like as a “simulator” as opposed to a Sims-style creative expression toy, with some light simulation elements. And that’s where I run into my main problem with recommending the game in its current state.

Perhaps a bit too close. Yes, the crocodile is a player class.

I can see the game’s design going in one of two different directions, and it’s unclear to me which of the two it will take.

The first design direction that the developers might choose would be the route of a simulator, something with more in common with maybe Cultivation Simulator, or a pure RollerCoaster Tycoon sort of thing, with systems that govern fake player behavior, happiness, willingness to spend, interaction with in-game systems, etc.

The second possible design direction would be for the game to take a tone of something like Animal Crossing or the Sims. This version of the game would have less focus on the simulation aspects, but with more attention paid to your ability to customize and edit your MMO to be exactly the way you want it, much like building up a village in Animal Crossing or the joy of playing with Legos.

Thing is, I’m not sure that it can go both directions at once.

You don’t get anything out of making custom quests, quest names, or NPC’s other then the satisfaction of making something to annoy your friends with. Or crafting a believable mechanical world, but who does that?

The game currently contains more of the features related to the “playing with Legos” situation. Which is fine. But I suspect that the person who wants to craft a beautiful creation of a MMO doesn’t want their fake players to quit en-masse because they died too much to an angry herd of sheep. They don’t want to have to carefully build exact flight paths, and try to understand fake player behavior, or have to deal with managing the underlying data grid. They don’t want to find themselves in a situation where they need to slap together a higher level zone just to make sure they don’t lose subscribers who hit the previous level cap. They don’t want to be punished for building a dingy back alley in their city, just because they used spooky looking buildings in what the game thinks should be a “happy zone.”

The closest comparison I can draw to this is trying to get a highly rated island in New Horizons. Getting a high rating requires that you make a bunch of changes and follow a bunch of rules that may not mesh with the specific look and feel you’re aiming for on your island. And tying in mechanical progression to making those changes feels bad.

On the flip side, I don’t think the person who just wants play with the simulation/ant farm aspect of the system wants to be forced to put down individual cacti to make the desert area more “Deserty” so that players don’t quit over a lack of immersion.

Running won’t save you Inbae. Bob is coming.

And this is why I’m hesitant to recommend the game right now; there’s a lot of potential, but it’s unclear to me what direction this game will go in, so it makes it hard to know who to recommend it to. Will it remain a lite sim where the primary joy is something akin to Animal Crossing, that of building out and creating your own cool space? Or will it become something more mechanically heavy, but less focused on customization?

With that said, the game has a bunch of potential, and I encourage anyone who finds the premise interesting to add it to their Wishlist and keep an eye on it. It’s $25 on Steam, and as far as I can tell, that’s the only place to get it right now.

Didn’t Make the Cut

Some more things I was not impressed by or didn’t like much.

At one point, these posts were gonna be weekly or something. In any case, it’s time for another “Didn’t Make the Cut” AKA “Here’s all the things I either didn’t enjoy, or didn’t think were interesting.” So with minor further ado, let’s get into it shall we?

Ado: Social Justice Warriors and Kids were in the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle, so if those two seem neat, you can check them out there.

Social Justice Warriors

In Social Justice Warriors, you play as someone arguing with other people online. Each time you finally defeat someone, you move on to arguing with a new person. Regardless of how many trolls you defeat, nothing actually changes, and you just waste your time.

It’s almost as if there’s some sort of message in the gameplay or something, but I don’t have anything else to say on this one. Also the combat is pretty boring. Next!

Kids

Kids describes itself as an interactive animation. If you want to buy it, it’s $3. Had I bought it for $3, I would regret not using that to buy a cinnamon roll instead. I guess a lot of other people find that it speaks to them, though? I dunno. I just don’t get it. Unlike….

Void Bastards

I do get Void Bastards, and what I get is that I don’t like it very much. Void Bastards is in theory a procedurally generated rogue-lite shooter, with a comic book graphic aesthetic. I would say that the “Shooter” part of that description is debatable, given that you never seem to have any fucking bullets. I’ve played 5 hours, and I have no desire to play anymore. The game’s mechanics just did not feel good, to the extent that they made everything else about the game more annoying.

Side Note: Void Bastards wins some sort of prize for single worst rogue-lite mechanic I’ve seen: Space Whales. You just die, because you clicked on the wrong node on the map? Why? Why would you ever add this?

That’s all for the moment. Planning to do some writeups on a bunch of Switch games in the future, including the somewhat difficultly named new “New Pokemon Snap,” so we’ll see how that goes.

Wide Ocean Big Jacket

I think Wide Ocean Big Jacket is very good. It might be great.

I’d like to open this writeup on Wide Ocean Big Jacket with a long series of paragraphs discussing the definition of games, what it means to be a game, and just general thoughts on interactive media.

I’m not going to do that because it would be a tremendous waste of time, and take away from actually talking about the Wide Ocean Big Jacket.

I think Wide Ocean Big Jacket is very good. It might be great.

Wide Ocean Big Jacket is not something I would have played if I wasn’t trying to force myself to step outside of my comfort zone. If you’ve read my other reviews, it’s pretty easy to figure out that I prize interesting mechanical gameplay over just about everything else.

That’s not really what Wide Ocean Big Jacket is about. The game itself has more in common with a visual novel than any other genre. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any major branching decisions, and the whole experience is fairly linear.

The thing is, the game absolutely nails almost every aspect of the writing and the setting. I would rank it up there with Night In The Woods in terms of being accurate to what human beings are actually like, and also nailing what going camping is actually like. There are very few games with writing this good.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot. Generally speaking, it feels like a slice of life style thing. It’s about going camping in the woods and relationships. And that’s all you really need to know.

Wide Ocean Big Jacket is $8 on itch.io. It’s not a long game by any means, but I don’t think that’s a valuable tool to measure it by. It was also part of the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle, so if you own that, you can download it and play it now. And I think you should.

Oh, and if you’re on the fence, there’s a demo! It’s an entirely separate set of extra chapters of the game. You’ll have to scroll down a bit on the page to find it.

Wheels of Aurelia

An interesting attempt at combing visual novels and other mechanics, but I didn’t like it.

I have mixed feelings on Wheels of Aurelia. On the one hand, I don’t like the game enough to play more of it. On the other hand, I keep thinking about it. It was going to get a section in “Didn’t Make the Cut,” except I think I have more to say about it than any of the other games that didn’t make the cut, so it gets its own article.

So what is it? Wheels of Aurelia describes itself as a racing game set in Italy in the 1980’s. I’d describe it as a visual novel with a light driving element set in Italy in the 1980’s.

Potayto, potahto.

For those of you with busy lives, here’s the five second summary: I think it’s very interesting, but I did not like it very much.

There are some really strong parts to Wheels of Aurelia, but these parts (usually the writing and the setting) feel somewhat disconnected.

The big one is the setting of 1980’s Italy. One thing the game has made abundantly clear to me is that I don’t know shit about 1980’s Italy. And while the game does link to some sections of text from Wikipedia, this wasn’t enough for me to understand a lot of what was being referred to in the writing. Which brings us to the second problem.

The writing shifts tone rapidly to the extent that it feels almost non-sequitur, with the result being that parts of the story just don’t make any sense whatsoever because of this tonal shift. For example, characters that have barely been named suddenly become relevant.

The main character goes from losing their car in a race to a molesty creep (and being understandably fucking pissed), to buying a 3 wheeled tractor cheerfully from a farmer, to chasing fascists for some reason. The end result was that I had a harder and harder time following the plot as it went on.

However, this doesn’t characterize the entire game. There’s a well-written and interesting dialogue with a hitchhiker about a football club. And sub-sections of the game are fine. It’s how they connect that sucks. At first, I thought this might be related to the game’s localization or translation, but the game’s credits don’t actually list an English translation. So I’m honestly not sure what happened with the writing. Sub-sections of it are fine, the but the overall arc feels janky.

In either case, enough ragging on. Let’s talk about what the game does have going for it:

  1. A solid soundtrack. I actually kind of want to re-listen to a few of these. (Wait until 1:00 minute in for it to go crazy.)
  2. Strong art design. Both the characters and environments are well done. They’re fairly minimal, but I’d consider that to be a good thing.
  3. A solid attempt at combining standard game mechanics with a visual novel. I wouldn’t say it succeeds 100%, but it’s interesting, and trying to drive while also deciding how to respond to prompts is neat.

And yeah, that’s about it. Wheels of Aurelia is $10 on Steam, Epic or itch.io. And it’s also in the itch.io racial justice bundle, so if you purchased that, you already own it.

It wasn’t for me, but maybe it will be for you?