2021 Wrap Up, and Future Plans for Gametrodon

Survived another year of the apocalypse. How did it go?

I did one of these posts last year, and I guess I’ll do one again this year. This is where we look at where Gametrodon is, and what was accomplished, and try to figure out what we want to do next year. Though, brief spoiler warning, I’m writing this at the start of December, so this may be inaccurate by the time you read it. I kind of doubt it though.

A brief scan of my logs shows that just over 60 posts went up this year. Diving into that a little deeper, it seems like 42 of those were their own, full individual writeups on games. Also, I missed six weeks of the year where nothing went up on the blog that week. In addition, several of the posts that went up were by folks other then me, so I’d like to give a shoutout and thank you to everyone who wrote for the blog.

So. How are we doing? How am I doing? Did we meet goals from last year? Let’s review those goals. As far as I can tell, they were something like the following:

Switch over to writing articles primarily about stuff I like.
Stop writing as much about stuff I played and dropped/didn’t finish or like.
Do weekly writeups on the sorts of stuff me and my friends were playing.
Add a random good game button to the blog to improve discoverability.

Looking at it like that, I’d say we’re at about a 75% on those. The random game button works! There are a lot fewer “Didn’t Make the Cut” articles. Most of what I wrote is either about a thing I enjoyed or a thing I recommended, even if it had some flaws. With that said, I absolutely did not follow through on doing weekly/semi-weekly “What We’re Playing” posts. Also, I feel like the random game button isn’t quite the right solution for discoverability, even if I did meet my stated goal.

With that all said, there’s an elephant in my room I’d like to talk about briefly. And that elephant is readership. I would like more people to read/see my stuff, but I also don’t want to end up getting those eyeballs by doing scummy/clickbait sorts of stuff that drives me nuts when other people do it.

So in order to do this, there’s one big thing I’m gonna try to do this coming year: every Wednesday, if you come to the blog, there will be a new post up. It might earlier in the day, it might be later, but it will be up and readable on Wednesday. My goal will be for these posts to primarily be about games I’ve been playing, or interviews/investigations. But if you show up on Wednesday, there’ll be something interesting here for you.

So yeah. That’s gonna be the goal for the year. To the me of the future, did you succeed? Let me know. It’ll be cool to see.

Princess and Conquest

I bought this because I was kind of horny, and frankly, the money could have been better spent.

Princess and Conquest is “unique.” That’s not the same thing as good. I cannot come up with a single simple way to describe it, so I’m choosing to go with Pornographic Action RPG with Political Simulation elements. From what I’ve played so far, I would not recommend it.

I don’t really consider this blog to be “Family Friendly,” but I also don’t currently provide a way to easily opt out of seeing 18+ content. For that reason, I’m not going to provide any in-depth level of analysis of the game’s sexual content. That’s not to say I won’t talk about it, but there should be nothing in this blog post that will make anyone upset or hot and bothered.

General Concept

So, what is Princess and Conquest? Well, at the base, it’s an open-ish world RPG. After a brief tutorial that explains a few of the general mechanics, you’re tossed out into a large open world map. From here, you can whatever you want, as long as whatever you want consists of wandering around, exploring areas, having casual sex, and taking quests to complete for Swirlies, the game’s currency and XP. Combat is done in a sort of real time action RPG thing, where you can switch between members of your current party on the fly. Each member has their own equipment, stats, and abilities. Some have access to magic and projectile attacks, while others don’t.

This isn’t a static open world. There’s a day/night cycle, and time is constantly passing, during which the various kingdoms will declare war on each other, send armies at each other, and generally cause the world to slip into absolute chaos. You can choose to intervene in these fights for one side or another, in order to push the balance of power a given direction. Doing this also gains you affinity with the Princesses you aid, allowing you to convince them to stop trying to murder their neighbors and whatnot.

If you’re reading all of this, and thinking “Okay, that actually sounds kind of neat, and I’m horny and want to play this” pause that thought for a moment. Because Princess and Conquest is, as far as I can tell, made in RPG Maker.

I do not know why anyone would ever choose to make a game with real time combat and open world mechanics in RPG Maker. In another post on this site, I wrote about No Delivery, and noted how the game was impressive for utilizing the engine in interesting ways, and taking advantage of some of its quirks for neat effects.

Princess and Conquest does not do that. Instead, it takes an engine that was primarily built for single player traditional semi-linear turn based RPG’s and uses it for a game that relies primarily on simulation and real time action combat. While it’s impressive that they were able to get it to do this at all, a large number of the mechanics just feel terrible.

The worst one by far is combat. Switching between characters on the fly is incredibly floaty and feels laggy. The hitboxes for the player weapons can feel absolutely miserable, compounded by the fact that many enemies can deal damage on contact. One of the bosses can’t be damaged, even with projectile weapons, unless it is faced directly head on; otherwise projectiles just phase through. Another boss is be able to land hits while in its theoretically “Vulnerable” phase, in addition to not actually taking damage when attacked. In another instance, because of how projectiles were handled, I attacked, missed, and then couldn’t use the projectile again because it was still traveling and hadn’t been cleaned up.

I’m not sure where this part of the article will go, but I’m just gonna write it anyways. I also want to apologize for the relatively lower level of quality in this portion of the article. Sex, and by extension, porn, is complicated topic for a variety of reasons. Frankly, I don’t have desire to do a deep dive analysis and criticism of a $12 Steam game’s portrayal of fantasy sex. Just like I don’t feel like reviewing random videos on Pornhub. If that was what I wanted to do, this blog would have a different name, and likely a higher readership.

Sexual Content High Level View

For a brief bit of context: I’m a straight man. I’ve done some stuff. I would not consider myself particularly “Vanilla.” I’ve seen a fair amount of weird porn, and weird porn art. I’ve had sexual relations with both genders. Okay, context and perspective set? Good. Back to the game.

My primary issue with Princess and Conquest is that it doesn’t offer adequate ability to opt in or opt of the sex/sexual activities. In the time I’ve played so far, I’ve seen content and situations that I suspect would make some players highly uncomfortable. However, there is only one form of controllable interaction, and it’s not broad enough to cover what the game offers.

My secondary issue has to do with the nature of sex in Princess and Conquest. While I consider the above topic to be more of a general statement regarding sexual content, this next one is more of a personal opinion. Sex within Princess and Conquest is almost universally encouraged, as is getting characters that the player has sex with pregnant, through two mechanical benefits. First, having sex has a chance to get an egg which grants more party members, potentially a party member of a hard to find “race” or with better stats. Second, having sex with an NPC will increase the affinity the player has with the Princess character of the same race as the NPC. One of the player goals is to try to avoid massive chaos and breakdown, and affinity points are used to convince people to stop waging war. Since affinity points can otherwise be difficult to get without pissing someone else off, in order to prevent a world war you kinda have to fuck everyone you come across who is interested.

Okay, so enough of that. Again, please don’t take this as some form of full analysis of the game’s sexual content, or my views of sex. The above are merely my two major problems with how the game handles its pornographic content and mechanics.

Okay, so, back to the rest of the game. I have a bunch of smaller problems outside of sex and combat. Here’s a short list:
1. The game is buggy. Most of the time, these bugs don’t do too much. Sometimes, as I discovered to my incredible annoyance, they crash the game. And because of how the save system works, have fun going back to your last save.
Author Note: I actually went back and played some more of the game to get screenshots/see if I was being overly harsh. Then the game crashed.
2. Obtuse systems. The game wants to have a level of political strategy and simulation, but good luck understanding how population growth, eloping, or any other system works without the Wiki, because the game will not tell you. Or Tea Parties! Because I read the wiki, and I still don’t understand how Tea Parties work, or are supposed to work.
3. Frustrating map design. This wouldn’t be as bad if it wasn’t somewhat accentuated by the game engine, but the map design. Dear God, the map design. I want to make something clear. If you have game with a zone-based map, and you leave or enter zones by pressing in a given direction, DO NOT FUCKING MAKE IT SO THAT YOUR MAPS SPAWN THE PLAYER IN A LOCATION WHERE IF THEY PRESS THE BUTTON THEY USED TO LEAVE THE AREA A SECOND TIME, IT BRINGS THEM BACK INTO THE ZONE THEY JUST FUCKING LEFT.
4. Quest system weirdness. I do not like that I cannot have more than one active quest from the adventurers guild at once. I do not like that quest descriptions can be weirdly vague about what you need to do to complete them. And I absolutely hate the quests where the descriptions don’t actually give information about what you need to do to progress the quest.

So that’s Princess and Conquest. A unique concept and set of game mechanics using a game engine absolutely not intended for them, with not great, but functional results. For what it counts for, the writing and porn (from my mildly kinky straight male perspective) is decent, but does not mesh comfortably with the game’s mechanics. Currently, I do not recommend the game, and short of them rebuilding the entire thing in a game engine that can gracefully handle their design decisions, I likely will not ever recommend the game.

Content on these links is NSFW. If for some reason, you still want to play the game after all of this, you can find it on itch.io here or on Steam here. You’ll have to sign in though, as again, this is an adult only game.

Operation: Tango

A very solid digital set of puzzle rooms with a vibrant 80’s spy movie/secret agent theme.

Author Note: Images in this article are from the Operation: Tango Press kit. It turns out getting nice images off a two player game on an ultra wide monitor is kind of a pain. I’d say they accurately reflect the look of the game.

Operation: Tango is a really cool asymmetric co-op puzzle game, where you play as one of two secret agents. And when I say “Co-Op,” I mean Co-Op. There is no single player option here. Good news is that you only need to own one copy of the game to play it with someone else on Steam, since they can just download the demo, and play the full game through that.

In Operation Tango, you and your friend take the role of two spies. One player is the Hacker, and one player is the Agent. The world has a “Futurist 80’s spy” vibe which is generally executed exceedingly well with bright colors, flashy outfits and locales, and clean UI for the puzzles.

Working together with your partner in anti-crime, you’ll need to make your way through a series of missions, each with a varied set of objectives and goals. While the game does require coordination and timing to be successful, not all puzzles are on timers, and even those that are tend to be generous, giving an illusion of intensity while offering far more time than might otherwise be obvious.

Because of its whole thing, most of the puzzles in Operation Tango that I saw don’t really fall into any single consistent pattern that can be used to describe them, outside of the idea of relying on asymmetric information. So I’m just going to go through a few that I remember and liked, to give a general sense of the vibe.

One mission has one player effectively playing an infinite runner while the other player feeds them information and call outs, while moving obstacles out of their way, healing them, and managing the rest of the interface. Others involve disabling security drones and cameras so that the other player can get by. There are a few re-used elements, such as lock picking, but those tend to amp up in difficulty as you progress.

My one big criticism would be that the game does suffer from a bit of a breakdown near the end. The last mission in the game is by far the weakest one in my opinion, and feels like the designers took 2 half finished missions and smashed them together to make a single level. To quote the person I played with, the finale felt like a worse version of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and there’s a section in the previous level that is more or less just Spaceteam. With that said, the rest of the game is much stronger, and much more fun.

The game also doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to replayability once you’ve done a level as both roles. While the game does its best to randomize various elements of any given puzzle, once you understand the rules in play for a given puzzle, they’re mostly solved. Looking around to search for clues or ideas was the most enjoyable part of the game, and when you know what you’re looking for, it’s a lot less of a “Secret Agent” infiltrating a building, and more “Puzzle Speedrunning.”

Still though, Operation: Tango was one of my favorite demos from PAX East for a reason, and the full game feels like it delivers on the promise of the demo. Because of what the game offers, and because of the fact that only one person has to buy the game, I feel comfortable recommending it. If this article hasn’t persuaded you, I suggest you grab a friend, pull down the demo, and see what you think.

Good luck out there agent.

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 3

I can’t think of anything clever to put here. PAX was fun.

It’s day 3. One of the things I enjoy about PAX (and conventions in general) is the chance to do things I might otherwise not. Sometimes this takes the form of playing games in genres I’m not as interested in. Sometimes it takes the form of doing something completely unrelated.

In this case, it’s the second one: painting miniatures. After trying to line up at the free painting zone, realizing how slow the line was, and leaving yesterday, I showed up earlier today. While waiting in line, I ended up chatting with a dude and his boyfriend, and asked him to play a game of Knights of the Hound Table with me. Despite being the person teaching, I got absolutely demolished before the floor even opened. After thanking him for playing, I headed over to the free painting zone, picked out a Space Marine, and sat down.

This isn’t a painting blog, so I won’t be going in depth on this. The short version is that: 1. Unsurprisingly, since I haven’t done this in years, I’m not currently very good at painting. 2. Despite that it was very relaxing. 3. The lady sitting next to me was very good at painting, gave me a bunch of helpful tips, and also finished in about half the time, with her Space Marine looking twice as good.

After this, I ended up browsing the show floor for a bit. My partner who came to the show with me had played in a game of Kids on Brooms the previous day, and really enjoyed it. I picked up a copy of that, and also a copy of Cats of Cthulhu. Then, after talking myself out of purchasing too much other stuff, I wandered back over to the Unpub Hall.

In the Unpub Hall, I found Privateer. It’s a drone piloting tactics game, and I really enjoyed it. It also had my favorite components of anything at in the Unpub hall. While I didn’t play a full game, I was really enjoying what I saw, and I’m going to keep an eye on this one. It’s made by TimeSpacePlace, and they told me they’re planning to have a tabletop simulator version of the game up at some point in the next year.

The last game of the day I played was a demo of Skytear. It’s a MOBA inspired miniatures board game, and while I didn’t quite mesh with it, it does have one really cool thing I want to quickly talk about: how it handles the concept of creep waves. (This next part is going to be a bit inside baseball for folks who don’t play MOBAs, so apologies in advance.)

Because Skytear is a miniatures game, the default assumption would be that creeps would be their own set of miniatures that spawn at the Ancient/Nexus, and then walk out into lane. This would require a lot of miniatures, effort, and extra movement. Skytear doesn’t do that. Instead, it has a “Capture Point.” It’s a little token that indicates where the creep wave currently is, and at the end of each set of rounds, it gets moved toward one of the towers, based on a variety of factors that simulate who’s applying more pressure to the wave. Then, new sets of creeps spawn in on this marker. It’s an incredible implementation of the system, and I really like it.

And that ended up being the last demo of the day. I wandered the show floor, grabbed some presents for friends, and headed back to the hotel. I really enjoyed PAX Unplugged. It was my first in-person convention since the start of lockdown, and I really appreciate the fact that everyone attending seemed committed to wearing masks, and following the safety rules. While we’ll most likely want to wait a few weeks to see how things turned out, I hope that this means that life can return, at least a bit, to normal.

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 2

In which our narrator sleeps in, and then goes to the Unpub hall.

Day 2! AKA Saturday. This was my lightest day of the show. Not because the show floor was any lighter, but more because I was up past midnight the night before playing some two-headed giant sealed Magic: The Gathering with friend and occasional Gametrodon contributor, Max Seidman of Resonym. Of course, he got up the very next day, and went to work his booth and demo games for the remainder of the day… so… hmm.

I might just be weak.

By the time I got to the convention center after making the arduous trek all the way across the skybridge, I’d decided to spend a majority of the day at the Unpub hall. For anyone reading this post who hasn’t heard of Unpub, it’s a room where folks show off their unpublished board games and game demos. Polish levels range from “The Kickstarter is next week” to “I have never shown this to anyone I’m not related to.”

The first game I played was Arachno-Bump/Bounce, a fairly simple board game that according to its designer is targeted at families. It falls heavily into the second category of the above of being very new to playtesting. (That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a literal assessment.) In this game, you’re all spiders on a big web trying to capture as many flies as possible by moving around, and prevent your opponents by bumping them. I’d say that right now it has some problems, but honestly, what prototype doesn’t? Hopefully a few days of exposure to the general population of con goers will let the dev collect some good feedback and understand that players are ruthless fucks information. (To be less metaphorical and prosaic: right now, it’s very difficult to score points, the game heavily rewards aggression, and it also has room for accessibility improvements. But again, THIS IS A PROTOTYPE. These are all things that can be fixed.)

Next up was Territory CG, an LCG. I managed to scrape out a win here, either because the dev I was playing against was going easy on me, or because I top-decked a massive one-copy-allowed-per-deck dragon right as I needed it. But regardless, I was victorious! This game was unlike Arachno-Bounce in a number of ways. For starters, they have a website! And estimated prices! And they already have a playable version of the game on Tabletop Simulator! I might try to rope a few more friends into playing this with me. One round is really not enough to get a good sense of an LCG, but I applaud the effort, and the also the part where I don’t have to sell my kidneys in order to afford a card game.

This brings us to the last game of the day: Wingspan! It’s not an Unpub hall game. It’s actually been out for a while. It’s won fancy awards with German titles, and it’s rank 22 on Board Game Geek at time of writing. Wait, you find yourself thinking. Is he just using awards and other secondary features of the game to get out of having to actually describe the mechanics and gameplay? Is he not going to touch on the game’s themes, engine building mechanics, and other aspects?

Yes. That is exactly what I’m doing. Also, I got kicked out of the convention hall before I could finish. Because it was midnight.

Return tomorrow for DAY 3!

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 1

Like regular PAX, but in the dark.

Each day for the next 3 days, I’ll be recapping my PAX Unplugged experience.

I’m writing this while chilling in my hotel room on Saturday. I’m also writing it on my phone, so I’m gonna blame that for any problems or text issues, as opposed to my own ability.

Ed Note: Now I’m editing it on my computer post con, so uh, that excuse doesn’t work anymore.

Friday started off with a bit of a struggle to get into the building, but once I was in, lines were quick and easy. PAX Unplugged is enforcing masks and a vaccine check this year, so you have to get a little black wristband to enter. I haven’t seen any issues or folks being jerks about masks, so hopefully this signals some sort of path forward for big conventions. Realistically, we’ll want to wait a few weeks to make sure a NYCC doesn’t happen here.

Okay, so games. I started off by playing Robot Quest Arena by Wise Wizard. It’s a neat 2-4 player arena combat deck builder. It’s not out just yet, and while a few of the interactions were a bit hard to remember, I enjoyed it. Trying to edit links on Mobile sucks, so here’s the Kickstarter page. The short version is that you build up your deck while also moving a little robot around on a grid, and scoring victory points primarily by damaging and knocking out other bots. One big thing I enjoyed is that the game doesn’t ever eliminate players. Instead, when you get knocked out, you just come back in right at the start of your next turn. It’s nice to see a combat game without elimination, but where getting hit and knocked out still feels meaningful.

Next up was Knights of the Hound Table, by We Ride Games. This game is also a deck builder, but with a very different vibe. Instead of battling robots on a grid, you’re leading an army of dogs to battle. I was interested enough after the demo I played at their booth that We Ride Games loaned me a test copy of the game that I need to remember to return to them tomorrow, hopefully after playing it tonight.

Ed Note: While said night game never happened, I did end up playing it, and getting a copy. There will likely be a full review at some point in the near future.

My last two games were right next to each other, but we’ll go through them one by one. First was Valiant Wars. It’s a head to head push your luck deck builder. (Yeah, there are a lot of deck builders this year.) The oversimplified description of it is that you flip cards out at the same time as your opponent until you either choose to hold and use the cards you’ve currently drawn to buy units, or bust by flipping up two of a card called a Dark Omen. It’s interesting, but I didn’t get a chance to play the full game, so I don’t have an opinion on it quite yet. While it’s already out, I’m linking to the Kickstarter page, mostly just to match the other games I’ve linked to.

Finally, the last game of the day was Iconoclash. It’s by Quinn Washburn, the same fellow who made Valiant Wars, and it’s a Smash Bros style board game. While I played a full round, I feel like I’d really need to play a few more to figure out how I feel about the game. I believe the version I played is a prototype of something headed to production shortly. Frankly, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.

As far as I can remember, that wrapped up all of Day 1 of PAX Unplugged. Did I do other things? Yes, but they weren’t game related. And as much as I’d love to write some sort of love poem to the food of Reading Terminal right next to the convention center, I’m not sure that really meshes with the tone of this blog.

Day 2 approaches! Tomorrow.

Lucifer Within Us

Really good, but way too short.

Lucifer Within Us is very good. It’s an incredibly interesting deductive reasoning puzzle game that takes place in a world where exorcists (of which you are one) solve crimes. It is also very short.

This makes it kind of a problem to recommend. Here’s the closest metaphor I can come up with: Lucifer Within Us is a piece of fudge from that really nice bakery that you don’t go to, because even though the fudge is the most delicious thing in the world, it’s $12 an ounce. The fudge is delicious and incredible, but the money to fudge ratio is incredibly high.

So, first a brief overview of mechanics, and a screenshot, so I can reduce the number of words I have to write. Like I mentioned above, in Lucifer Within Us you’re an exorcist for the Church of the worship of Ain Soph. The first murder in over 100 years has just occurred, and you need to find the culprit, and name the demon possessing them. You do this by gathering evidence and interrogating witnesses to the crime.

Oh and also if you catch them in a lie, you can delve into their mind with divinely imbued powers and see into their soul, revealing possible motives for the crime.

You’re given access to the crime scene, and the witnesses. You can search the crime scene for physical evidence, and talk to the witnesses. Each witness gives you their version of events, which can be played out over a timeline. However, because it’s just their version of events, almost everyone will be hiding something about what actually happened. You’ll need to call them out on their contradictions and omissions to determine the truth.

Being able to scan through the timeline is a really cool mechanic.

Okay, first let’s talk about the good stuff.

Lucifer Within Us is an incredibly unique puzzle game/deductive reasoning game. There are a lot of things that can be complimented about it. Its unique blend of cyberpunk and faith. Its general art direction for its characters and world. The 3D models look like old school Runescape, but they suffice, and the art for the demons and characters reminds me of Hades. Look, this is the part where we say nice things about the game, okay? I do not give a shit that the 3D models are basic. It doesn’t matter. The transitions, effects, and everything else easily makes up for it. The mechanics are incredible, and I’ve never seen another game that works like this one does. I love the parallel timeline for suspects. The process of actually solving the crimes, in 2 hours of straight puzzle solving, hit a “Adventure Game Bullshit” moment only once. That’s a high fucking bar.

As a brief aside: talking about Lucifer Within Us is going to require spoiling either one of two things: the specific plot and details of the game, or the specific number of “levels” in the game. I’m choosing to spoil the later. The reason for this is since Lucifer Within Us is a narrative based puzzle game, I think more would be lost by revealing narrative and plot details than the other info.

And when I say short, I mean short. My own steam achievement list lets me estimate the game at being just over two hours in length. My playtime says that the game has 4 hours and 20 minutes on it, of which just under half was spent getting every achievement just so that I was sure that I hadn’t missed anything. I had not. This is compounded by the fact that it offers almost no replayability outside of the aforementioned achievements, which don’t add that much.

“Well” you might be thinking. “Perhaps he used his incredible reasoning skills and logic to speed through the game, without appreciating properly.” To which I reply, 1. Haha, funny joke implying I have skills and reasoning and 2. No. No it’s not. It’s because there are only 3 levels.

The length (or lack thereof) is compounded by the game’s ending. I have mixed feelings on it, and I’m not going to go into details here, but the last portion of the game feels as if Lucifer Within Us suffered from a massive cut in scope at some point in production. I’ve actually emailed the devs in the hope of getting an interview, because I really want to know what’s going on. The game ends with what amounts to PowerPoint presentation and a massive lore dump, despite the rest of the game carefully avoiding heavyhanded storytelling.

No, really.

Look, I’m gonna be honest. I do enjoy novelty and unique events. Would I refund the game currently if I could? No. It was $12. I’m always happy to see people pushing the envelope of neat game mechanics and design. Much of the writing and subtle world building present in Lucifer Within Us, along with the mechanics, is top notch. It is premium, grade A, good stuff. But I’d be lying the game’s ending didn’t disappoint me. I was just starting to get interested in the world, and then lore dump plus credits roll.

If you prize unique mechanics and storytelling over content length, I can recommend Lucifer Within Us. But if you’re expecting something that takes you more then a couple of hours to play through, you’ll likely be disappointed. It’s available on Steam, and also here on itch.io.

Ed Note: We reached out to Kitfox about trying to set up an interview to ask some questions about the game. I was going to add/include that as part of this writeup if it happened, but it’s been over a week, and I haven’t heard anything yet, so for now review will stand on it’s own.

Halo: Infinite – Multiplayer

The actual gameplay is great. Everything else feels half-baked.

When actually playing the Halo: Infinite multiplayer, it’s fantastic and an incredibly enjoyable experience. Everything that isn’t actually playing the game, though, kind of sucks.

Halo: Infinite is the 6th mainline entry in the Halo series. Or something like that. I guess we also have Halo: Reach, and Halo: MCC? But Halo: MCC is a remake, sorta, and Halo 5 should never have been released. So with a bit of creative math, we can pretend that Halo: Infinite is the 6th game. Whatever, I’ll probably edit this bit out later, so it doesn’t matter. The point is, Halo has been around a long time.

If you’ve somehow never heard of or played Halo, this next bit is for you. For everyone else, please skip ahead.

Halo Crash Course

Halo is a first person shooter, developed originally by Bungie, but the series is owned by Microsoft at this point. Currently the series is developed by 343 Industries. It has both multiplayer and single player components. For the purpose of today’s review, we’re just looking at the multiplayer portion. As far as first person shooters go, there are three main things that differentiate Halo from other FPS games: the health system, the guns/gunplay itself, and the generally higher time to kill. All three of these are somewhat present, so we’ll cover their presence and implementation in Halo:Infinite. We’ll cover them quickly here.

  1. Health System – Players in Infinite have two types of “Health:” these are Health and Shields. While a player has shields, all damage dealt is equivalent, regardless of where the shot lands. Bodyshot vs headshot makes no difference while a player still has shields, but the second the shields go down, headshots are meaningful again. Both health and shields start to regenerate after several seconds out of combat.
  2. Guns/Gunplay – All guns are not made equal. When a player spawns in, they either get an assault rifle and pistol in unranked modes, or the DMR in ranked modes, and 2 grenades. There are no loadouts or secondary options in Infinite. Instead, there are weapons spawns scattered around the map. The length of time it takes for a weapon to respawn ranges from fairly short, to a sizable portion of time for the game’s Power Weapons. Power Weapons have fairly low amounts of ammo, in exchange for being incredibly destructive and often being able to one-shot other players. They include the classic rocket launcher, and the sniper rifle, along with new additions such as the skewer, and cindershot. You can only carry two weapons at once.
  3. Time to Kill – Generally speaking, it takes far longer to shoot someone to death in Halo then it does in other similar games. Unlike games like Valorant or Call of Duty, where getting the drop means you just win the fight, engagements in Halo tend to be more prolonged events where you actually get a chance to respond.

Okay, so these are the main things that differentiate Halo in terms of gameplay feel from other entries in the FPS genre. Crash course complete. So now let’s actually talk about Infinite.

The Good Stuff About Halo Infinite

Price – The Halo: Infinite multiplayer is free.
Not having to pay any money for something is almost always good. Of course, it also means that the game is going to try to get it back from you somehow, but at time of writing their are no in-game advantages that can be gained by spending money.
Guns – They’re good, and they feel good.
It’s that simple. With the exception of the shotgun (which feels bad), and the plasma pistol (which has always been garbage), everything here feels good to use. The assault rifle isn’t trash for once. The pistol is solid as a secondary, and the new weapons like the Hydra have some cool alternate fire modes. The skewer is a rocket propelled crossbow. The cindershot fires big blasts of plasma. The ravager needs its shots charged, but has some really cool area denial options.
Maps – They’re all fairly solid, and feel good. They do get re-used a decent amount, but they all feel good to play on, regardless of game mode. There’s no map that feels unbalanced or completely broken.

The Bad Stuff About Halo Infinite

Maps – Not enough of them.
Wait, maps was just up above in the “Good Stuff Category.” Why is it here? Easy. There are currently only 10 of them. Three 12v12 maps, and seven 4v4 maps.

A friend said that Halo 2 shipped with like 20 or so. So why is this shipping with 10?

Performance – Long loading times are too god damn long.
Exactly what it says on the tin. It takes me just about 2 minutes to go from clicking the “Play Button” to the point where I can actually move around and fight someone. I have no idea why these load times are so long, and this is on a 1080, but it’s still annoying.

Playlists – There are only 3 of them.
Probably the biggest issue on this list, honestly. Right now, the only playlists that you can choose from are 4v4, 12v12, and ranked. And that’s it. No team slayer, no CTF. The only thing you choose is how many people are in a given match you queue into. Look, I don’t want to play Total Control. It’s a shit game mode. Let me opt out of it. Let me make custom playlists. Let fiesta be an actual normal game type instead of a special mode.

Cosmetics/Microtransactions – Price is high, grind is too.
This is the thing that’s gotten the most media attention and player frustration. Frankly, I think it’s the lowest priority item on this list. Yes, 15 dollars for a skin is stupid. Yes, 20 games per level in the battlepass was dumb. But these are all additional little flexes/addons. They aren’t where I would be focusing my efforts if I wanted to make Infinite more enjoyable right now.

Conclusion: I’m not quite sure yet.
Halo: Infinite being free is nice, but I found myself asking “How much would I pay for this right now?” and the answer is “Not fucking $60.” What currently exists really feels like a networking test, or a bit half-baked at the moment. Right now my advice would be something like this:

If you like Halo, download and play Infinite until you stop having fun with it, and maybe come back in a few months to see if the content and performance issues have been fixed. If you don’t like Halo, but want to play a Halo game/FPS, buy the Master Chief Collection instead. Yes, MCC is $40 for the full package, or $10 per game if you want to buy them bit by bit, but they’ve got the full single player campaigns, forge, and all the other good stuff that makes Halo… well, Halo.

Bloodborne

Note: The images in this article are from the press kit for Bloodborne, and the game’s concept art. Capturing screenshots from Bloodborne is annoying, and I’m not sure that a bunch more images would do too much for this writeup.

I like Bloodborne. I think it’s very much worth playing. With that said, writing about Bloodborne is hard because there is so much that I could write about. Almost every aspect, from the technology, to the multiplayer, to the art, to the story, to the lore, to just the design and mechanics could have more than its own article.

This article will not be digging into any of those topics to the level they might deserve. My end goal for anything I write for Gametrodon is to convince you, the reader, that a game has something interesting about it that makes it worth playing and engaging with.

In the case of Bloodborne, the game is 6 years old, and exclusive to the last console generation on PS4. I don’t think it really needs someone to advocate that it’s a unique experience, or a good game. The world already knows that it’s both those things. So instead, I’m going to advocate playing the game for folks who might have thought about playing it, but were put off by the game’s somewhat notorious pedigree and difficulty curve. It’s an article directed at… well… me. Me from 70 hours of Bloodborne ago.

First, a little bit of history for those who might not be familiar with Bloodborne, or why the game has the reputation it does. Bloodborne is made by From Software. If you look them up on Wikipedia, you will see the following quote.

FromSoftware, Inc. is a Japanese video game development company founded in November 1986 and a subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation. The company is best known for their Armored Core and Souls series, including the related games Bloodborne, Sekiro, and the upcoming Elden Ring, known for their high levels of difficulty.

Wikipedia

“Known for their high levels of difficulty” is the key phrase here. FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series is responsible for naming an entire genre, the “Soulslike” game, in the same way that we get phrases like “Metroidvania.” The “You Died” screen is infamous.

At least in my case, this reputation meant that I had almost no interest in any of their games, despite the fact that they are almost universally praised on every level. This is because I think I misinterpreted “Hard” as “Unfair.”

It is not very difficult to make a game that is very hard to beat. Two examples I can think of would be Kaizo mods/levels for Super Mario Games, and the “I Want To Be The Guy” series. In the case of Kaizo, the difficulty often comes from requiring both near perfect inputs and an absolutely massive chain of them, all while having an almost perfect knowledge of its game. On the other hand, “I Want To Be The Guy” simply puts the player into situations where without knowledge about what is going to happen, the player simply cannot succeed, such as platforms that move when you try to jump on top of them.

Bloodborne’s difficulty doesn’t come from anything like that. Bloodborne doesn’t rely on cheap shots or perfect mechanics to make things difficult. Instead, the difficulty comes punishing you heavily for mistakes or misplays. But almost every time I died, much like with Spelunky 2, I understood why I died. Bloodborne wants you win. It’s just not going to give it to you for free.

Here’s an example: in an area that feels about mid-way through the game, there’s a large rolling log trap that if it hits you, will pretty much just instantly kill you. While this might seem like bullshit, there’re a few important elements about the area that make me view it as incredibly smart game design instead. The first element is that the trap is located incredibly close to one of the game’s respawn points (lanterns), and after only two enemies, making it incredibly easy to get back to your corpse after the trap kills you. The second is that when you look at the area, you’ll see that the trap is actually only triggered when you run across a large button directly in the middle of the road.

This means that after you spot the trap, it’s very easy to avoid it, travel deeper into the marsh, and then get killed by a second trap that’s almost identical.

So why is this first trap important? Well, because to my mind, it’s actually very generous. While deaths in Bloodborne can be punishing, this one isn’t. The purpose of the log trap near the respawn point isn’t to unfairly kill the player, it’s to introduce the concept of the trap to the player, to show the player what it looks like, what happens when they trigger it, and to warn the player that this is an element that might still be encountered farther on. In essence, it’s actually functioning as a tutorial.

The same is true of many of the enemies. Some of the enemies that can combo you to death are first encountered in areas that are either actively detrimental to the enemy, or very near respawn points. And for almost all enemies in the game, choosing to run away and simply not fight them is an entirely valid option.

Bloodborne is not unfair. It asks you to think, and to actively work to defeat it, but it’s rooting for you the whole time. If the pedigree and rumors have made you skip it, or some of the other games made by FromSoftware, I urge you to reconsider. Bloodborne is incredibly satisfying, and worth playing, and if you persevere, you can and will beat it.

And the sun will rise.

Author Note: A brief story for those that aren’t convinced. After beating Bloodborne, I found myself wondering if I’d actually gotten better at the game, or if the game’s small incremental stat buffs, weapon improvements, and other systems had made it so that I eventually made progress without improving. So I made a brand new character with the lowest stats, didn’t take any of the free weapons offered, and replayed the first portion of the game.

A section that took me about 8 hours initially only took me 2 hours with the new character. Two bosses that initially took me over 10-15 tries each took only 3 tries each with this incredibly weak character, and I was using a garbage weapon that I found on the ground and I’d never used prior to this run.

Bloodborne – The Other Post

There is another post about Bloodborne up on the site. That post’s goal is to convince people that they should play Bloodborne, because it’s a very good game. It sticks to definite observations, attempts to be fairly factual, and generally has a concrete set of themes and thoughts. It is also readable by people who don’t spend a lot of time thinking about games.

This is not that post. This is where I am going to put everything else that I thought about while playing Bloodborne. Consider this post to be a bunch of random thoughts, paragraphs and posts that didn’t fit into the first one. As such, it contains spoilers, non-sequiturs, and has no consistent tone.

Part 1. Bloodborne isn’t as hard as it wants you to think it is, and that’s to its credit.

When I wrote about Shovel Knight a while back, it stood out to me because while it attempts to stylistically copy certain things about old, tough as nails games, it didn’t quite go 100% in on it. Instead, it sanded off some of the edges and pointy bits, and made a game that gave you the sense you were beating something incredibly hard, while at the same time pulling quite a few punches.

Bloodborne gives me the same general vibe/sense. Yes, there are one hit death traps, but they tend to either have a straightforward tell, and/or the first time you encounter them they’re next to respawn points. Yes, you have to run back to the boss each time you die, but almost every area is laid out in a way that there is a conflict free route to the boss that is opened up as you explore the level around them. Enemies can be brutal, but are often introduced in 1 on 1 situations in small areas where you can observe and fight them. There’s no Kaizo or I Want To Be The Guy style gutpunches.

Part 2. Lore is interesting, incomplete, but not unsatisfying.

I like the lore and world of Bloodborne. I heard a story somewhere that I’m going to go try to verify later, about how Miyazaki bases some of the feeling of his games on experiences he had as a child, where he would read stories or watch movies in languages he didn’t understand. As a result, there would be parts of the story that he simply missed or couldn’t follow, because from his standpoint, they weren’t present.

To me, this feels like writing a story by writing the whole thing, and then tearing it up it up to be put back together. But before we put it back together, Miyazaki went through and pulled out and burnt a few choice pieces of information, so that info is missing when we start to pull things together. It’s not that the information was never there, it’s just that we don’t have it. And he’s careful to not remove too much, or to remove things that make everything break down or fall apart.

Part 3. Bloodborne does justice to the concept of Cthulhu mythos.

Something that I find a bit annoying is how much many modern interpretations of cosmic horror forget about the “Cosmic” bit. Yes, a slobbering blob of eyeballs rolling over each other making a wailing noise and oozing foul ichor is a nasty mental (or literal) image. But it’s not really where the interesting part of the horror comes from.

They say that humanity is but insects beneath elder gods, but many Cthulhu-inspired works don’t consider what that means.

When you kill a mosquito, or an ant, or a bug, you don’t have any real malice toward it (or at least any malice you have dissipates after it becomes a squashed paste). You might remember that it’s a thing you’ve done, but you don’t remember any given instance. It’s not that insects are meaningless, it’s that you literally do not care a good 98% of the time. When you do care, the caring is at most momentary. Insects are the white noise of reality, something so inconsequential that their existence often just doesn’t even register to you.

And that’s the impression I get from many of the elder god style beings in and their role in the story from Bloodborne. They can be terrible and horrific to look at, but they’re not terrible or horrific because they harbor some level of hatred toward you. They’re terrible because they have a sort of obscene majesty to them, and you are just inconsequential to them. They are impressive, and inspire revulsion, but they do so while being grand and terrifying and uncaring.

And the overall story reflects this as well. The city of Yarnham is not special, and the events of the game and the game’s world are not a unique occurrence. This has all happened before, and there’s no reason to suspect it won’t happen again. The movers and shakers of this world and of the tale are not cosmic evils, but men and women who thought they knew better than others, and who chased their own goals to madness. Human beings are responsible for the plague, the hunt, and the death and terror brought by all of this. Humans, not monsters, discovered things they did not understand, and then made the choice use them anyway.

Part 4. I played 60 hours of the game without realizing you could sprint and jump.

I don’t have anything more to add to this one. But yeah, it’s a thing that happened. And I still beat the game anyway. #JustGameJournalistThings

Part 5. I have mixed thoughts on limited use consumable items and weapon durability.

Pretty much everything in Bloodborne outside of weapons and clothes is limited use. This means your health potions, your bullets, etc., flame paper, shock paper, molotovs. Oh, and your weapons can break down, and deal less damage.

I think this is mostly a good thing, because it means that finding stuff is useful, except for when it comes to boss fights. With that said, it does definitely lead to hoarding problems on occasion.

Part 6. For some reason I attempted to write a sparknotes version of the background lore of the world of Bloodborne. It’s below:

Everything after this constitutes massive spoilers. You have been warned. It’s also incredibly skimmed down.

A very long time ago, there was an ancient city populated by a species known as the Pthumerians. At some point in their history, they either made contact or discovered the existence of the Great Old Ones. These are the elder gods of the story. They are immense beings of incredible power and unfathomable goals and vision. They are not inherently indestructible or immortal.

Anyway, after this contact and research began, something happened and ended up more or less wiping out the Pthumerians, leaving their civilization a ruined shell of its former self. They only continued living in the endless catacombs that become Bloodborne’s procedurally generated Chalice Dungeons.

Some time passes.

A group of scholars end up discovering these catacombs and being to explore them. They are led by a man named Wilhelm. Wilhelm and those working with him end up following basically the same path as Pthumerians before them. They want to study the Great Ones, and to some extent understand them. This leads to the founding of Byrgenwerth academy.

At some point, the individuals at Byrgenwerth discover an unknown substance in the underground catacombs. This substance is the “Blood.” While it’s unclear how exactly the blood is obtained, there are implications that it may be harvested from a great one. The blood has miraculous properties, including the ability to heal wounds and injuries that are completely untreatable by any other means.

And like any other miracle, it leads to disagreements. Wilhelm is of the opinion that the blood is dangerous and should not be used. A subfaction of the Byrgenwerth scholars, led by a man named Laurence, think that the blood can be used to bring about the understanding they’re seeking. While the disagreement hasn’t lead to violence (yet), Laurence and those that agree with him leave Byrgenwerth, and find a group called the Healing Church.

The timing of the next set of events is a little unclear, as is how long it takes for them to occur. More on that in a moment. But here are the big things that happen.

  1. The Healing Church becomes incredibly influential and powerful. They have extensive influence over the city of Yharnam.
  2. Two new organizations come forward from within the Healing Church. These are the School of Mensis, and the Choir. Just like with Byrgenwerth, these groups have the goal of understanding the Great Ones. They disagree on methodology and tactics. The Choir and School of Mensis do not trust each other. To outsiders however, all three organizations are still allied, and presumably working together.
  3. Word of the Healing Church and their ability to cure any disease and ailment spreads across the entire world.
  4. The Healing Church declares Byrgenwerth off limits, and forbidden ground.

And then things start to go wrong.

While Blood can heal injuries and sickness, it also has side effects. Overuse leads to a state described as “Blood drunk,” and potential dependency. In addition, blood is transformative. Unfortunately, it’s transformative in a “Turn you into frenzied monster” sort of transformation.

Upon realizing that their miracle cure occasionally leads to cases of were-wolfitis, the Healing Church decides to stop using it and give up their influence and power to protect the citizens of Yharn-

Just kidding. Of course they don’t.

Instead they set up the Hunters, individuals whose job it is to deal with the monsters that are starting to show up. The Hunter organization starts off as a sort of secret police force trying to keep everything on the down low. It’s not obvious to me how long they succeed at this for, or if they’re open secret by the time the next really bad thing happens.

Because things are about to get worse.

In an area of the city called Old Yharnam (it’s not clear to me if this is because it’s an older part of the city, or because of… well, the bit that happens next) there’s a massive outbreak of some form of infection. It’s not clear if the infection is caused by the Healing Church, or one of its subgroups, or someone just had a snack at an open air meat market, but the end result is that the area turns into a disaster zone. Whether it’s the infection, or the Church’s attempts to cure the infection with Blood, basically everyone living Old Yharnam either gets infected or turned into a monster.

Seeing the entire situation spiraling out of control, the Healing Church puts Old Yharnam under lockdown. When even this isn’t enough to deal with the problem, they go one step further, and use the Hunter organization to burn Old Yharnam to the ground and to kill every single person and monster living there.

And while the Healing Church is authorizing flambé massacres, none of the other groups are really helping. The Hunter organization starts to fall apart for a variety of reasons, including members going into blood-induced murder frenzies, individuals deserting after having to barbecue citizens, and just everything generally going to shit. The School of Mensis is still real focused on that whole Eldritch Truth/Being thing, and they’ve started used the chaos to kidnap people to experiment on. The Choir are far more ethical, and so they’re not experimenting on victims of kidnapping.

No, they’re experimenting on all the children they have at their orphanage.

At some point, Laurence gets infected, and turns into a monster. And it turns out that all monsters are not created equal, because Lawrence turns into a fucking two-story tall wendigo-esque abomination. Fortunately, by this point, the Church has reformed the Hunter organization into their own group known as the Church Hunters, led by a man named Ludwig.

Either Ludwig or one of the Church Hunters manages to kill Laurence. But by this point it’s a bit late. The School of Mensis and Choir are outright hostile to each other, spying on each other, and killing members of the other groups. The Church Hunters do not have the manpower to suppress the outbreaks and monsters are showing up across the city. The Healing Church is now led by Vicar Amelia, and it’s unclear what she’s actually trying to accomplish. Unaffiliated Hunters are either hunkering down with their families, trying to take out other Hunters who have gone crazy, or just trying to minimize the carnage. The citizens of Yharnam, having had enough of this have armed themselves with whatever they can get their hands on, and formed armed mobs, patrolling the city and killing anyone who seems infected, even as they themselves show increased signs of infection.

And somewhere around this time is when “you,” the player character shows up.

Part 7.

Bloodborne is played from an over the shoulder view of your character. You have health, and stamina. Stamina regenerates over time when not being used, while health does not, but can be restored with Blood Vials. When you get hit by an enemy, while you immediately lose health, a portion of the bar stays lit up. Damaging an enemy while this portion is still lit up will recover a portion of that health. This mechanic is called Rallying. Your character can have up to two weapons equipped at once, a primary and a secondary. Primary weapons can be trick weapons, which have the ability to switch form. They have light and heavy attacks based on their form, and you can also dodge and roll. Dodging, rolling, and attacks consume Stamina. Secondary weapons tend to be ranged weapons of some type, mostly guns. While secondary weapons usually only have a single attack, when used correctly, they can interrupt an enemy’s attack, and knock them down. This is called a Parry. Enemies in the knocked down state can be Visceral Attacked. This is a short attack that does a large amount of damage, and restores health to the player equal to whatever portion of their health bar is still lit up, while also pushing enemies near the attacked enemy back. Once you commit to an attack, or part of attack combo, you cannot stop or interrupt the combo.