I Enjoyed The Hell Out Of Hades

I’ve tried and gotten pretty much nowhere in a lot of roguelikes. While I can appreciate a grind, I don’t really enjoy games where the grind is the point and the grind requires your full attention. For a lot of roguelikes, that’s not just the point of the game, that’s the entirety of the game. There’s not a lot of plot, just an endless series of attempts to reach some nebulous end. As someone who appreciate puzzles, I would never say people are wrong for enjoying something that’s just work until you get to the end and then just slightly different work until you get to the end again. Still, I’ve always struggled to enjoy those kinds of games despite them including a bunch of ingredients I enjoy in other games.

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I’m Just Going To Rant A Bit

I don’t talk about my day job in any specifics too frequently, but I test software for a living. Techincally software and hardware, but I focus mainly on software and the proprietary hardware said software runs on. I’ve done electrical testing, mechanical testing, software testing, and, my personal favorite, destructive testing. While the specifics vary from project to project, each type of testing is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. As of this writing, I’ve been in the industry for almost eight years and have pretty much reached a point where I have the skills required to tackle just about any project.

What all of this means is that I have a pretty good grasp of the testing effort that goes into software production and, as part of keeping up on the industry I work in, I have a pretty good idea of what testing all software, except the most proprietary and niche stuff, will look like. So when I say the testing and release for most triple AAA games is bullshit, I mean it and you can trust, at least a little bit, that I know what I’m talking about.

I mean, have you ever looked at the credits for a game and noticed how few QA and testers (the job name changes from company to company since there’s nothing to really enforce consistency across the various industries that employ software testers) there are in comparison to developers? In my industry, it is pretty much required to have at least one tester to every one or two software developers. The best bet is to have a one-to-one ratio since it can otherwise force testers to work extra hours to make up the difference or to cut corners in order to finish on the required deadline. Because let me tell you, testing is the first thing to be given less time to work when there’s a looming deadline and the developers need more time to work.

It is the easiest to do that in industries where no one’s life is at stake. I work for a company that produces a lot of different types of software and products that use that software, so while my testing has to be done with the thought in mind that the worst case scenario can involve bodily harm or even death, that’s not really a concern for most of my coworkers. Which is why my team has three testers to work with four and a half (one outside consultant who works part time) developers. We’re a bit short staffed, since those three testers are also responsible for working with the electrical and mechanical engineers as well as the software developers, but we just need a fourth person to keep up with the work that needs doing and maintaining records, test equipment, etc. We’re not falling behind (yet).

So when you see a dozen or so testers at the end of a video game’s credits, following a few hundred software developers, I think you can start to see why so new games seem to be getting buggier and buggier as time goes on.

Like most problems, this one is also multi-faceted. Developers who have the opportunity to rest do better work. Developers allowed to work on a single piece of the project, start to finish, do better work. The current methods of just throwing more bodies at problems and expecting the work to get done faster ignores the limits of human consciousness and just how much time gets wasted by bringining someone up to speed so they can peck away at a problem for a day or two before it gets handed off to someone else.

Not every studio does that, of course, or else the industry probably would have collapsed by now. But as work gets spread out and testing employees get cut infavor of customer betas or alphas and the work of actual testing is placed on the shoulders of people who preordered the game and have no knowledge of how the software works (or how testing should happen), quality goes down. More and more games, as a result of pre-sales, are putting testing work on their customers and trying to frame getting people to pay them to work on the game as an incentive or bonus for paying sometimes years ahead of the game’s release (and who knows how long after that it’ll be actually playable).

As someone who works in the industry, I find the practice abhorrent and kind of insulting. It takes a lot of work and skill to be good at finding, investigating, writing up bugs. I spend 40-50 hours a week doing that, most months, and now it is not only culturally acceptable for companies to expect me to pay for the privilege to do that for their games, but I get people telling me that they’d make great software testers just because they’ve played a lot of games on Steam prior to their actual release. I’ve even had a few tell me my job isn’t demanding or tiring because it must be so easy since anyone can do it.

Saying anyone can test software is like saying anyone can write. Sure, that is technically true, but there’s a pretty wide gulf of practice, experience, and skill between testing and doing it professionally. And if you rely on people who have no professional skills to do all your testing, your product is going to fall apart the instant it reaches a wider audience. Turning game pre-orders into Betas and Alphas is one of the worst things to happen to my industry, let alone my hobby, and I’m so sick of 2-4 weeks of bugs followed by 1-2 months of patching all the things fixing those bugs fucked up becoming the industry norm.

Which, of course, isn’t to say that user feedback or end-user testing isn’t a valuable tool in the development process. It is an incredibly valuable tool, since there’s testing that can’t even be done without end users (stress testing is a big one that frequently comes up in the video game industry), but it shouldn’t be a testing solution.

Rant over. Stop paying to do the work companies don’t want to pay people to do. Don’t preorder games. Any game scarcity at this point is manufactured thanks to digital downloads and they’re just trying to offload costs more than ever so they can throw 500 developers at a triple-A game only for it to suck until the community finds and points out all the problems to them. Nothing’s going to change so long as people keep this up.

Three Hundred of the Most Occupied Hours of My Life

In my nightly video game time, I’ve been doing another run-through of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I’ll admit I’m not particularly interested in the game any more and I approach playing it the same way I approach playing Sudoku: I don’t expect to really get anything out of it other than a stretch to the non-artistic parts of my mind. I enjoy strategy and puzzle games for this specific reason, but a lot of the time I play them, it’s because I think I need some mental exercise or a monetary occupation rather than because I actually enjoy it.

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Playing At Righteous Wrath But Only Managing Indignant Pique

So, I finally beat (sorta) Pathfinder: Kingmaker, and started playing Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous. P:K was a bit of a letdown because the alignment system actually factored pretty heavily into the decision-making process for running my kingdom and had some incredibly significant impacts on the “post-game wrap-up” storytelling of the playthrough I finished. I didn’t get the long ending, since my character was content to let things shake out the way they did and just be finished with the whole farce, but my freedom-loving chaos mage apparently was a terrible ruler despite promoting mercy above all else and created a police state using magical surveillance technology. Still not sure what that came from, though I do know some of my advisor meetings kinda glitched through the cutscenes because I was doing a lot of saving and loading to get good outcomes because I didn’t want to deal with that shit. Anyway. I finished that and started the next game.

Wrath of the Righteous starts out pretty intensely, with a decent helping of mystery and stakes that are amped up pretty much instantly, but that was a nice follow-up to the expanded character creator whose UI is… Well, parts of it are better, but not all of it. It’s difficult to get a full-picture of your character when creating them or leveling them up, information is hidden in weird places, and some choices aren’t terribly intuitive. The greater number of options is nice, but the fact that information like which attributes matter most for each class and class variation being hidden in different text windows makes trying to figure out where my points need to be spent a pain in the ass. Especially since some of the class variations change what your primary attribute is. But that’s mostly a problem for Pathfinder as a whole than something tied specifically to this game. They just don’t fix the problem in the game.

After all that, though, the improvements show up. Being able to rotate the camera is nice, though it is made necessary by the somewhat cluttered environment you find yourself in at all points of this game so far. Since things are only transparent in a small bubble around your character, you have to get used to rotating the camera on top of moving it around, zooming, and managing your party. It gets very onerous in large battles that involve multiple angles of approach, too. It is a necessary skill to learn, though, because an object being transparent doesn’t actually mean it isn’t there. Clicking in the wrong place (on the roof of a house that was rendered invisible by your party, for instance) can have nasty ramifications in battle because you think you’re attacking an enemy but really you’re sending your character through an entire mob of foes to be ruthlessly cut down as they walk to the nearest reachable point to the invisible roof you clicked on.

Camera gripes aside, I do enjoy the fact that being persuasive and having a high-charisma no longer feels absolutely necessary to the game. I still made a high-charisma character and didn’t change off it when I got the option to retrain them because I like playing that type of character, but I no longer feel like that’s my only good choice if I want to do everything. I could easily see myself playing a different class some time in the future. Maybe a fighter, barbarian, or something more melee-based than my usual style.

I’ll also say I’m a bit frustrated that so many characters seem to be good at rogue skills early on because I built my sorcerer to be good at those things as a fun build idea and it wound up being so incredibly redundant. Half the characters I got initially could do those things as well as, if not better than, my character could. And not one single character was smart until I got through the whole long introduction section and into the exploration section. I actually missed a bunch of stuff early on because none of my people had any of the knowledge skills. I even got a whole pile of magic items I couldn’t properly use because no one had a decent Arcana skill. Seems like a bit of an oversight to me, given the importance of magic items to this game.

Well, I’ve aired all of my grievances now, so I think I’ll wrap up. I’m a bit too early in the plot to really comment on that (I had some install troubles and started the game 72 hours after release, but I’m not sure I can blame the game for this one since one of my hard drives might be corrupting), but it seems interesting so far. Much more so than P:K’s was since that amounted to “become a king and find out who is fucking with your attempts to become a king!” It’s definitely worth playing and hopefully future patches will continue to iron out the problems. If nothing else, P:WotR is in a much better place at launch that P:K was. Solid progress.

Still, as the title suggestions, I’m not sure where “Wrath of the Righteous” enters into the equation. Sure, demons are bad and they shouldn’t be in our world, but that’s more of a “fighting off an invasion” type thing. Righteousness has nothing to do with fending off a murderous invasive species. So far, the only “Righteousness” I’ve seen is the kind that is Good twisted to commit acts of Evil that has me wondering how all these god-empowered assholes could still be granted powers by their gods when they’re torturing and executing people without trials.

I Might Have Escaped Too Hard

Once again, I am confronted by the weirdness of the time I write these posts versus the time I post them. It’s a bit different this time, though, since I’m writing this only two days before it goes up. There will be no gap in post coverage, but it has been almost a week since I wrote my last blog post. I respect the break I took because I do feel better rested, but I also don’t want to not have blog posts for six days. Also, I have a lot to say since I did that thing where I escaped with a variety of activities and did a lot of thinking in the background while I kept my fore-mind busy. I’ll skip this upcoming weekend, but I’m going to get a couple extra posts written this week to fill in the gaps I created while I rested.

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Reclaiming Past Gaming

Today, as I consider what birthday plans I have made and what my holiday weekend has in store (this is going up after all that, since I write these a week ahead of time), and I gotta admit that the idea of buying my favorite chips, my favorite sodas, my favorite snacks, foods, and treats so I can hunker down in my apartment to play old SNES and N64 games is so tempting I’m not sure I can deny myself.

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Legendary Moments From My Poképast

I finally got to the point in my replay of Pokémon LeafGreen where I can start catching Legendary Pokémon, and my recent attempts to actually catch them reminded me of some fun moments from my poképast and the strange way games can play out when they rely on random chance. If you don’t really care about Pokémon, or maybe even actively dislike it, then feel free to head out. Everything after this is going to be about Pokémon. Or stick around. I’m not your boss. Do what you want.

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I’m Tired and Sad, So Let’s Talk About The Legend of Zelda: Episode 2

Time for another episode of your favorite not-show on this blog! I’ve had a rough weekend, did an emotionally difficult thing, and just cannot shake the doldrums of my week because I’m in a tough but healthy situation of my own making that finally rejects the secret hope of my entire existence in order to move on with my life. No, I will not be getting more specific than that. Also, the day this is going up is my birthday and I can do what I want on my birthday, even if I’m writing this a week before my birthday.

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I Want to Be the Very Best

Today marks the very first day of my new life’s work. I’ve decided to follow in the footsteps of many great trainers before me and abandon any attempt at being a productive member of society. Instead, I am going to wander through the wild parts of the world, capture creatures with funny names and huge powers, and then train them to battle other, similar creatures owned by people like me. All of my money will be earned by robbing the people I defeat, I’ll sleep in the woods, and I’ll rely on free healthcare to keep my captured monsters in peak fighting condition at all time. I may make friends along the way, I may encounter a friendly or combative person frequently enough to designate them my rival, and I may rise from obscurity to sit at the peak of the monster fighting league so that everyone in the world knows my name. Unfortunately, none of those things are guaranteed, but I know I’ll definitely have a great time along the way, bonding with my new pets and crying when I’m forced to say goodbye to them.

If you haven’t guessed what’s going on, I’m talking about my plan to finally go on the Pokemon Journey reality has always denied me now that Pokemon Go finally introduced trainer-versus-trainer battling. I imagine battling will change significantly as time goes on since it’s clearly in favor of people willing to spend money or who have done nothing but play Pokemon Go and the whole “use a shield to block a charged attack” thing is just plain weird, but I’m glad they finally got something out there. So far, I’ve declared one of my roommates is my rival, battled him a few times (we’re tied for wins and losses right now), and done absolutely nothing else with it because society is demanding I do my day job so I can pay my bills and afford to live in my nice house with my actual pets. Someday, perhaps once the holidays are over, I’ll go on a short Pokemon Journey to test the waters. After I’ve figured out how the battling scene is going, that’ll be it for me. I’ll quit my job, pack up everything I own into a backpack that breaks physics, and head off into the great unknown in order to find new Pokemon, battle new trainers, and become the legend I’ve always dreamed I could be.

I imagine it’ll be difficult to live off the land and spend all my time traveling between major cities, but I think I can manage it. I’m single, have no societal obligations that I’d miss, and am a rather hardy individual. I can walk for long periods of time, assuming my pack isn’t as heavy as a typical Pokemon Trainer’s backpack must be, given that it holds hundreds of pokeballs, healing items, berries, cases, bicycles, and so forth. If it’s a bit more realistic and not able to hold a limitless supply of whatever I want (if it removes the weight of the things I put in it, that would also be pretty cool. I could work with that), then I imagine the first couple weeks would be rough while my feet adjusted to the constant walking. After that, I’d be unstoppable.

Unfortunately for me, I seem destined to become a gimmick trainer. Likely a Hiker with a heavy focus on rock-type Pokemon. I could get behind such a gimmick, of course, but only after becoming the best there ever was. Then I’d go find some mountain path to live on and challenge every trainer who passes through before making my team of Geodudes all use “Self-Destruct.” The trick would be that I have a sixth Pokemon, maybe a Mew or something super cool and rare. It would also use “Self-Destruct.” That would be my gimmick and then I would become a different type of legend. I’d become even more famous than when I toured the world as an unbeatable Pokemon Master and trainers would come from far and wide to see if they could beat my team. Unfortunately for them, all my Geodudes would be immune to one hit knock-outs and the final Pokemon would change on occasion so they’d never be able to defeat me. Every match will end in a draw and I will establish myself as an unbeatable Pokemon Trainer. It will be glorious!

I will have to wait, though. Pokemon Go is still in its infancy and we’ve yet to see if it will truly last the tests of time. There’s also no move in Pokemon Go that functions like “Self-Destruct,” though I remain hopeful that they will either eventually add more game-like features to Pokemon Go or replace it entirely by creating Virtual Reality Pokemon. I would be all about that. Nothing quite like immersive games in virtual reality to make you feel like you’re not stumbling around your home while waving your arms dangerously close to every precious and fragile object you own. Heck, maybe they’ll figure out how to make Pokemon robots and then we can go on Pokemon adventures in theme parks. That’d be super cool.

Since none of that is happening right now, I’m just going to focus on battling my rival, enjoying the new combat feature of Pokemon Go, and trying to remember who half the people are on my Pokemon Go friends list so I can remote battle people without feeling weird about initiating an interaction with someone who is effectively a stranger. The feature was difficult to find and it still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense about the way it works, but it’s fun to play. I think the Stardust and Pokemon Candy requires for learning additional moves are egregious, since it’s almost impossible for most players to afford something like that. Only people who play constantly have access to that kind of stardust and enough candies for powerful Pokemon or legendaries. I mean, I spent most of my candies and stardust just powering up Pokemon fairly recently, so I can’t afford to give anyone an extra attack, which means I’ll be vulnerable to anyone who has one since they’re great for countering Pokemon that typically counter whatever Pokemon has the second attack. The fact that you can add extra moves is a huge break from their established methodology, so I’m interested to see where they continue to take.

Whatever they do, though, it’ll be fun. I can’t wait to get out there and start playing again!

Tabletop Highlight: Role-playing

Lately, I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with my ex a long while ago, one day when we were out to breakfast. I was talking about a Dungeons and Dragons character I was making and how I wanted to role-play them. I made the comment that they were nothing like me, and she took issue with that. After a bit of back and forth, as I asked her to explain what she meant, she eventually said “you can’t be someone you’re not. If there’s no trace of them inside you, then you can’t play them and wouldn’t even want to. Any character you make is going to have a bit of you inside them.” I disagreed back then but ultimately dropped it (which is too bad, since it turns out that her view that people couldn’t change into or try to be something they weren’t already informed a lot of my reasons for ending things last summer) since she wasn’t willing to actually engage with my thoughts on the matter.

The thing is, I constantly play people I’m not. I create characters in games who look nothing like me and who do things I wouldn’t dream of doing. I role-play my way through decisions and choices I’d absolutely do differently if I were actually faced with that situation. I pretend to be evil or a sadistic, murderous asshole in order to play out a character I’ve created. I’m a Dungeon Master and I actually role-play the bad guys. I play chaotic-aligned characters who do whatever they want because they only care about myself despite the fact that I feel guilty even pretending to not care about other people. I’m constantly pretending to be someone I’m not for tabletop RPGs and video games and I’m constantly consciously stripping away my preferences and thoughts in order to be someone else.

Role-playing is my favorite kind of escapism for just that reason, to be honest. There are days when I don’t want to be me anymore. Maybe I’m tired from a day full of mind-boggling information that makes me question the sanity of people around me, or maybe I’ve worn down from a day of trying to be more forceful so people actually listen to me when I know I’m right. Either way, being able to step out of my life and into someone else’s gives me a break from whatever it was that wore me out so I can approach whatever problems I have with a somewhat refreshed mind. It doesn’t fix anything, but it can give me the time and mental space needed to be able to fix whatever is going on. The biggest downside is that I have a tendency to get caught up in it, lose track of time, and stay up way too late while playing whatever game has caught my attention. Tabletop RPGs don’t have this same problem because they’re reliant on other people who generally don’t want to play for as long as I do, but they also hold my attention less because it is difficult to stay in whatever role I’m playing if other people aren’t even trying to stick to their character.

Not even reading helps me escape as thoroughly as role-playing does. I love books and always will, but you’re still you, even if you’re still caught up in the story. As much as I like Chris Amann and think he’s an awesome dude, sometimes I really need to just be someone else for a while rather than just get away from my problems. Video games are my favorite way to get the experience because just playing as a character in a game can make you feel things. The controls for the Nintendo Switch version of the Doom remake feel like I’m piloting a donkey on rocket skates over slick ice, but damn if I don’t feel like a total badass as I rip apart enemies and just storm through levels without a care in the world. There’s almost no role-playing in Doom because it’s just some dude on a demon murdering spree, running around until he’s killed all the demons or died, but I still get a sense of escapism from that. When I play a game specifically designed for role-playing, like Pathfinder: Kingmaker or Dragon Age, I can literally forget about the guy sitting in the chair until something happens to pull me out of my game.

There is, of course, a point when this goes too far. It’s never good to entirely lose focus on who you are or what is a part of the real world and what isn’t. Doing so causes way more problems than it could even pretend to fix and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of staying just short of that line. I occasionally overindulge, but I’m generally not consciously choosing to play a game for twelve hours. I just lost track of time and didn’t think to set an alarm or something to pull me back out again. Additionally, I also tend to play most games with the same moral compass that I have in the real world, to keep myself anchored to the identity that produced and refined it. Even though I can be someone who is nothing like me doesn’t mean I have to be. I like characters who allow me to explore different ways I could be. For instance, my Pathfinder: Kingmaker is pretty much me (in terms of personality and morality), but without the firm belief that society benefits from structures and order. My Pathfinder: Kingmaker character believes that structures are order are necessary evils that can’t be avoided if you want to be a part of society, so she tends to support the local government and it’s laws while still promoting personal freedom and self-expression. It’s a fun idea to explore since it makes me reflect on the places where my belief in order and structure falls short of doing the most good possible.

All that being said, it’s still mostly about escapism for me. I don’t really sit down to play Pathfinder: Kingmaker with the thought that I should explore a particular kind of moral quandary. I just play the game to get away and wind up getting opportunities to reflect on what it means to be a good and just ruler. Role-playing is a lot of fun and can be an opportunity for reflection and growth, even if it’s a rather slow one.