Early Access Games That Aren’t Trash

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With all of the itchy, uncomfortable, and downright exploitative ways game dev studios are trying to monetize their game, it’s easy to pass off anything other than “gold product” as nothing more than a scam. And for the most part, you’re right. Even I can admit that crowdfunding a game is a whole lot riskier and possibly more scam-adjacent than not, when previously I had foolishly hoped that it would open up a lot more doors and ideas.

One of the most recent and proliferous forms of “alternative” game monetization schemes is the early access launch, which asks folks to buy an incomplete game, provide feedback, and watch it evolve into a fully-launched product. It’s, at the brass tacks level (and grossly oversimplified), spending money to be a tester instead of letting professionals do that and get paid for it. However, as vile as that sounds, there are a few games that I’ve come across that actually are worth the buy-in cost in my opinion, and so I wanted to take a moment to highlight them with today’s post.

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Finding Fun Despite the Doldrums

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Honestly, I was kind of hoping to avoid any topic related to the hellscape that is Activision-Blizzard’s treatment of its employees. Mostly because far smarter and better people have written about the matter than I have and I don’t have anything of worth to really say on the subject without just standing on the shoulders of those giants. However, a recent event today spurred this post. Specifically, a tweet from someone I follow which read that, despite their best efforts, they couldn’t really get invested into Final Fantasy XIV and decided to return to WoW.

This is in spite of some best efforts and some found delight by this person, I should point out. I’ll not go into detail but this player really did try to dig in. Of course, this attempt was spurred on by the aforementioned issues, and I suspect that this particular WoW player wrestled mightily with their long-standing love of the game and the unveiled misery many of its developers have had to suffer through — something that I’ve written about before on this blog. And despite my feelings about Blizzard and its games, I get it.

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Latent Friendship is Magic

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Recently I’ve gotten back into Final Fantasy XIV a lot more than I had previously. This wasn’t kicked off by recent awful events, by the way, and it wasn’t necessarily spurred on by the larger Endwalker expansion reveals (though that did have a small part to play in things). Mostly, my return was fueled by friends. Friends that I sometimes play with and people that I’m not necessarily friends with.

Allow me to explain

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The Thrival Sandbox or How I Learned to Love the Grind

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I’ve made no attempts to hide my distaste for survival sandbox MMOs and games. They’re one of the laziest forms of game design and I still hold to that opinion for the most part. That said, I have slowly begun to find a few exceptions to the rule that have endeared me to at least a couple of aspects to the sub-genre and, perhaps in some small way, helped me to build a bit of empathy and appreciation for those who love these kinds of games.

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These Four Years Gone

These sorts of things tend to be relegated to Twitter threads. But Twitter (rightfully) doesn’t have an edit button and I have fat-ass thumbs. Also, I like to proofread a bit (believe it or not), so I want to take these thoughts here on one sheet of digital paper instead of the digital Post-It Notes of that platform.

Also, I appreciate that politics are an exhausting topic for many, so those who want to skip it can without being bombarded by posts on their feed. But for those who didn’t skip — for those who clicked the link — I feel like I can finally collect my thoughts on this past election.

As a means of dating this post, yesterday marked the defeat of Donald Trump as President of the United States by Joe Biden, the end of a long four years of grief, confusion, worry, stress, and out-and-out fear. And these feelings are coming from a straight-passing white dude; I can’t even begin to get close to the experiences of Black people, of people of color, of transgendered people, of women. But we, collectively, breathed a sigh of relief and held parties in the streets of the cities around this country while the world looked on and very likely wiped its collective brow.

Now that the dancing and partying is over, though, I can reflect on what has happened, and express what I want to see happen the next four years at least. And it starts with discussing the oft-raised point of working together with Trump supporters.

First off, it is absolutely feasible — the possibility of foolish hope that I have — that people finally got over the grift of Trump and voted with their conscience. For those people, some mending of bridges can and should happen.

But the onus is ultimately on them to reconcile. Not us.

These are folks who were angry that a Black guy tried to fix things for eight years and admittedly didn’t always do a graceful job of it. These are people who saw someone mocking the other, expressing and validating their hatred, and cheered. They rallied behind a man whose whole platform was to stop the Black guy’s moves and make liberals sad. And they would gleefully ignore the obviously fascist plays to see it done, ignoring the fact that what happens to the few often can bleed into the rest.

These are people who wanted horrible things done to people of color. Who wanted to see gay rights revoked. To uplift white supremacy. To erase transgender care from the record. This is hate, which is not a “toe-MAY-toe/toe-MAH-toe” difference of opinion. And while hate can be reversed through exposure and experience, that change comes by the efforts from those who foster hate, not their targets. The onus is on them to reconcile, to change, to forgive, to apologize. It is not the responsibility of the abused to coddle the abuser.

And some of that cannot be reversed no matter what.

So, to that point, I demand of this administration cleansing fire. I want to see the expulsion of hatred, of dangerous rhetoric, of literal denigration of American democratic institutions. In his speech last night, Biden said that it was time to lead with empathy and to heal “the soul of America,” but there are some things where healing means cauterizing, and Trump’s honest-to-goodness fascist Nazi maneuvering and those who helped that along must be out. We had a World War over this.

I demand of Democrats to stop being so fucking toothless. I’m not saying that they need to never work with Republicans — that’s not how this works — but I also don’t want mealy-mouthed, hand-on-the-clavicle operatic shock when things don’t happen or things can’t be changed. Act. Decisively. For fuck’s sake, act.

And, of course, I want to see all the things that were talked about on Biden’s platform — control of COVID, uplifting the actual middle class and the economy instead of conflating the stock market as fiscal progress, reversal of climate change, and a return to sane international relations.

I also recognize one guy and four years is not enough. Trump is not the source, but a symptom of the wider disease, an illness int his country that minorities have been made to suffer and have tried to tell us about and fight against for centuries. He is the manifestation of those who don’t want societal progress for all. And they carried Biden to the White House on the idea that he would work to correct that. And he had better.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that many changes won’t come in this term. But I can at least hope. A foolish hope.

The Silent Support of Awful, Awful People

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Take Two Interactive’s boss bragged about working his devs to the bone in order for Red Dead Redemption 2 to make it to market. Ubisoft has been demonstrably shown to keep miserably sexist and racist people in its upper management. J.K. Rowling has pulled off her mask to unveil a transphobic goblin beneath.

In spite of all this, I absolutely bought RDR2 day one, am interested in Riders Republic, and am at least curious about Hogwarts Legacy. All of which come with the extraordinarily complex baggage that feeling this way means I stand alongside vile humans and their even more vile opinions and behaviors.

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Hardspace: Shipbreaker and the impact of visual storytelling

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I’ve got a new gaming obsession. It’s Hardspace: Shipbreaker, a game where you play the role of a Cutter that chops up derelict spaceship and repurposes the various components, either by refinement or straight-up salvage. It’s already a brilliant and unique bit of gaming and is only just in early access, meaning that its already impressive gameplay can only grow from here on out.

I could write up plenty of effusive praise on this game as it is, but I’m not really here to write a review on the title as a whole. Instead, I want to focus on one aspect of this one that it absolutely nails: telling a story without outright writing one out.

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FFXIV 5.1 and Self-Exclusion

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So Final Fantasy XIV has put out its sizzle reel for Patch 5.1, and almost immediately I felt pretty much excluded. Most of it was about content tiers I don’t care about, styled after a game I am worn out about, with only a couple of nods to parts of the patch I’m interested in.

To be fair, this feeling is mostly self-inflicted, but it brought up a whole lot of sour thoughts all the same and I felt the need to talk about them. About how this patch seems to be about folks who need to be at the bleeding edge of content tiers at the repulsion of all else who don’t feel that way.

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This means something to lots of others, but not to me.

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Send the Clowns Away

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Yesterday, I picked up The Division 2. Haven’t played it yet at the time of this writing, but I had some extra money to light up and I’ve been looking at it from the sidelines for a little while as something different to try out. Coincidentally, I had picked up Anthem just after it released and played that a fair bit, too, but also completely stopped.

What makes me think that The Division 2 will stay in my gaming rotation when Anthem fell away? There are a number of ideas, but chief among them is that even though I really do enjoy Anthem’s gameplay, I also really can’t bring myself to fire up a game when the developers are making clownshoe decisions. I have managed to be convinced to fall out of love with playing in a giant, pink, stompy robot suit, which isn’t a sentence I expected to type.

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The Pink Cadillac, moments before it started collecting dust.

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Singing the Anthem

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Thanks to some extremely good fortune, I was granted access to the VIP demo (read: pre-order bonus) of Anthem, the upcoming looter shooter from the folks at BioWare. Unfortunately, I only was able to get my code on Sunday, which happened to be the last day of the demo. As such, this is less of a deep hands-on than an initial impressions piece. Not a complaint, though, because I really had fun.

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Not least of which being the ability to wear a thick, bright pink robot suit.

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