Gaming Drought, Gaming Rush, Gaming Reasons

I love video games, but lately I had a kind of “drought.” Nothing interested me or inspired me. Sure I might load up Team Fortress 2 for the usual (setting the opposing team on fire or blasting them with automated sentries), but I wasn’t, well, inspired. Occasionally there’d be a patch to Approaching Infinity to play, but that was it.

I even wondered if this hobby of decades was over for me. Maybe it just didn’t do it for me anymore, something went unfulfilled.

Then two games came out and I suddenly found myself playing them for hours.

The first was Cobalt Core. This was a Roguelike Deckbuilder – a game where your characters are represented by a deck of cards, and you play it repeatedly, unlocking more. It presented an interesting plot, plenty of card synergies and tricks to figure out, and lots to discover. There was something “moreish” and stimulating about it.

The second was the full release of Backpack Hero (well, after a few fast patches). This game crossed inventory management and dungeon-crawling, building a plot around a fantasy kingdom and a magical backpack. Tweaking what equipment was stored where, while rebuilding a pastoral town, was also compelling and fun. Someone made a game that was sort of work and geometry very engaging (and the actual plot didn’t hurt).

I played these for hours at a time – and as of this writing still am! I felt happier, satisfied, and engaged. So of course I analyzed why.

In gaming I seek both challenge and stimulation. I want to use my mind and reflexes, think and calculate – in short, be involved. I also want something that interests and stimulates me, with stories and new ideas, wild vistas and fascinating mechanics. I leave a game having been engaged – and coming out maybe more skilled and with some new ideas.

I think good games – indeed any media – have that level of, well, connection. There’s something that brings you in and makes you leave simulated, and sort of better. Even if it’s a good belly laugh and wondering “why that movie was so bad.”

Now that I knew what to look for, I’m curious to see where my gaming journey takes me. Plus maybe I understand why I enjoy blasting the enemy team in Team Fortress 2 a little better.

Steven Savage

Why ‘No Man’s Sky’ Can And Should Only Be So Deep

(This column is posted at,, and Steve’s Tumblr)

I’m looking forward to No Man’s Sky – which is apparent if you see my Twitter, Facebook, blogs, or just talk to me. The procedural space adventure fascinates me as it pushes all my buttons – and of course I’m big on procedural generation, so of course I’m following it.

Acknowledging this, this is fair warning you’re gonna see some No Man’s Sky posts. It’s relevant to my interests, to what I do here, so I hope they’e informative and interesting.

As I’ve scanned internet posts and Steam communities, one useful insight I’ve seen is that the game may face an issue of being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” A game, in short, of great breadth but not a lot of depth. I think this concern is worth addressing, as it reveals some truths about games, procedural games, and their development.

The concern is one I feel is legitimate for some in the audience. NMS’ videos make it clear that the game presents an enormous Sandbox galaxy, with straightforward systems of crafting, exploring, fighting, trading, and reputation-building. This may be enough for many (such as myself), and certainly enough for a broad, wide adventure – but it may not be enough for everyone attracted to the premise.

The “mile wide” may stand for people, but for some people the game may not have the depth they want – or the kind of depth they want. You won’t be building structures, negotiating trade agreements, or going on elaborate story quests – hallmarks of other games and science fiction. For some NMS will have everything they want – for others it’ll be a beautiful galaxy that might not have what they want, or enough of it.

I analyze what I see from NMS’s designers and ads, because watching this dream game evolve has taught me a lot about games and procedural generation. The concern about NMS not having the depth some one made me ask, simply, what if the game tried to add more?

It’s not hard to imagine adding some more classic science fiction elements from the novels that inspired it. Take the simple alien language engine and add some negotiation and trade deals. Allow some encounters to spawn some quests – like smuggling something thorough a blockade. Maybe even a bit of building or improving buildings. Just a bit more maybe . . .

. . . and this is where it gets complicated.

First, even if there is a desire to add “more” we’re talking a game with a setting the size of a galaxy, filled with procedural content so large the devs had to make in-game probes to study the worlds. Any addition of new features could produce development nightmares, adding them onto an already careully developed and tweaked engine.

Second, the developers would have to choose what new features to add to their already polished set. What would sell? What do people want? S much work is procedural, so much unknown, can the devs predict what people will want? Will they be able to balance demands? They can’t be sure how people will react to the game – potential pirates may become explorers, traders decide to cut out the middlemen and become pirates, and explorers may drop their archiving duties to just swap rare minerals for cash. Throwing in more features requires careful consideration of how the audience will reacts.

Third, if the new items could be added, then comes the question of testing. Adding new features onto procedural content produce a new nightmare of testing it and making sure nothing else broke and all the pieces work together. That “mile wide” part means a lot more testing work when you try to make that “inch” a bit deeper.

Fourth and finally the extreme “width” of the game means that, with too much “depth” the game might become a muddle of choices and options. NMS may give you the stars, but its focus on being a kind of space exploration/survival game provides useful boundaries for play. Throw in a few more features and a game that already provides little direction could end up a muddle.

Those concerned about depth have a legitimate concern – for some of the audience (again, I think most people buying NMS who are informed will know what they’re getting). But I think the creators have a sweet spot of features for this grand enterprise, and changing beyond that is fraught with dangr.

Is it the right choice? Well, we find out in June 2016 . . .

– Steve

Link Roundup 10/21/2013

In the US, 15% of youth 16 through 24 aren’t employed or in school.  Needless to say that’s got some unpleasant economic and cultural repercussions down the road, and may be something we’re revisiting (and fixing) in the next decade.  I suppose at least we’re still having sex.

Good for Netflix?  They’ve surpassed HBO’s viewer base.  Bad?  The binge viewing they created may work against them.  The first is obvious and should give people pause (and get you sending resumes).  The second is an issue because it messes with earning reports and often involves paying a lot up front to recover it years later.  Not a big issue – but a damn good reminder of the complexities of how technology changes even simple things like accounting.

Gaming has had over $5 billion in mergers and acquisitions globally.  Article six thousand and whatever in “gaming is a big thing” news.  But worth remembering.

Finally California is getting a bullet train and the complaining has begun.  Plus side, lots of job potentials for a long time . . .

– Steven “Amortizing Your Viewing Experience” Savage