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Just Playin

I liked to post in the Friday fun threads what video games I've been playing recently. Sometimes I recommend the games, and sometimes I ask for recommendations.

I've always enjoyed talking about video games. But themotte has made me picky over the years. Its not just talk that I want. It is thinking, understanding, and discussion of video games that interest me. Video games are mostly a mental activity for me, and so diving into a mental discussion about them often enhances my enjoyment.

I didn't post in the Friday fun thread about what I've been playing, so I'll post now. And I'd like to know what others are playing.

The post I would have written:

This week I've been hooked on factorio (again). I've done many playthroughs of this game. A few vanilla playthroughs (some multiplayer and some not). A krastorio 1 mod playthrough. A few different attempts at the bob's, angels, and seablock mods (never could get into them, too much work, and not enough reward). A krastorio II and space exploration playthrough.

This week though I have been playing with just the space exploration mod. There has been some hints in blogposts that factorio might have an expansion, and that the expansion might be related to the space exploration mod. I thought I'd try and wait for that expansion. But my patience has failed me.

Playing space exploration without the krastorio II mod has been surprisingly way more different than I would have expected. The major difference in my mind is that krastorio II makes the starting world gameplay last too long, and gives too many advantages. I never thought this would be a real problem, but I've never managed to truly beat a space exploration game before. And I realized part of the problem is that krastorio II ties you to the homeworld too strongly. While space exploration on its own forces you off planet just for the sake of some quality of life improvements. For example, you have to go to space in order to get the logistics network chests. The tech is not unlockable based on ground items alone. I don't remember if krastorio II mod combination forced me to go to space, but I do remember that the belt inserters made so many logists aspects so much simpler that the need for drone based logistics didn't seem as pressing. There were also special ground based fabricator buildings for Krastorio II that were larger and much faster (matching the space based ones). But with just the space exploration mod I'm realizing there is an intentional difference. Either you can choose land based production to get productivity bonuses. (and usually the first steps in refinement for special resources). Or you can choose space based production for speed bonuses.

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I've been looking forward to Terra Invicta ( for a long time, and it was released into Early Access this monday. TI is made by Pavonis Interactive, who started out modding the modern XCOM games (turn-based small unit sci-fi tactics) with their mod series The Long War, which generally added both complexity and balance in surprisingly grounded, realistic ways. Now they made their own long-format, complex, hard-sci-fi 4X, and it's pretty much as good as expected. You control one of seven factions that try to control the nations of the Earth in order to control what happens in space in order to control how humanity deals with the arrival of alien visitors. [They] now face the challenge of control. Control is not a simple thing, it requires vigilance, discipline and sometimes…intervention.

Strategy games have struggled with complexity and realism since forever, an unavoidable problem when the subject matter is in itself not that well-understood and you need to heavily abstract it to make it playable in the first place, and moderate it to keep it enjoyable for a large enough customer base. Pavonis did a good job however, and I find the result very impressive. It has its faults of course, which could not be otherwise, but there is great ambition in this project, and it seems accomplished, and that is rare.

The seven factions mentioned above have their own little culture war going on, there's even a political compass for it (

However, one area in which the game falls flat for me is the writing regarding the factions. Terra Invicta is no Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, in that a bunch of very talented modders and self-made game developers unfortunately failed to acquire an excellent writer and instead made do with a handful of adequate ones. There is a lot of text in the game, but none of it really sticks out as very memorable. What's worse, the writers clearly had a hard time getting into the mindset of some of the factions. See the link above for the official description of the factions, see below for my judgement on how well-written they are.

The Resistance: Professional, humanitarian, practically XCOM. Lead by an intelligence officer.

Humanity First: Completely one-sidedly over-the-top violent at all times. Led by an anti-communist war criminal.

The Servants: Not just religious, but usually drugged out of their minds. Led by a self-help charlatan.

The Protectorate: Professional, humanitarian. Led by Commissioner Pravin Lal.

The Academy: Professional, humanitarian. Led by a scientist.

The Initiative: Cartoonish capitalist strawmen. Led by a younger Donald Trump equivalent.

Project Exodus: Professional, likes cool starships. Led by Elon Musk in a kefije.

I think you can see where I'm going with this, RE: the Culture War in sci-fi.

To reiterate on the comparison with Alpha Centauri: In AC, all characters made valid philosophical or practical observations or asked genuinely hard questions. In Terra Invicta, that kind of depth does not exist, and whatever comes close is very unequally distributed among the factions. And I wouldn't dwell on it if that just weren't what the game is about, but as mentioned above TI contains a lot of text. Some of it may be purely technical, but whenever it's narrative or ideological I get a feeling that there's too much quantity for the quality.

Overall I'm happy though. This is one of those rare games that aims high and mostly gets there.

I've been playing Rimworld, which feels appropriate given the circumstances. I did a run last year with Royatly installed, which was nice but felt more like a well-polished mod. This time I have Ideology installed, which makes the game feel complete, to put it simply. Being able to modify how colonists think with a dynamic ideology you can convert others to is both fun and feels true to what the game is trying to be. It's worth playing again with it installed if you've done one run but haven't been back to it.

I'm also running more mods than I've done before, at least on Rimworld. I'm quite into modding Bethesda games and have made a few simple mods for myself in Skyrim, and while that process has gotten more user-friendly over time, if you really want to get into it you're going to have to do a lot of reading and be prepared to get hands on with it. Rimworld's mod support is... shockingly good. Compatibility is rarely an issue as long as the mod maker has updated to the latest version of the game. It remembers your mod order for each save and will automatically regenerate it for you if it detects a difference. It's so nice.

Some of the standout ones are the Rimworld of Magic, Vanilla Expanded, Outposts, and Rim War. I did a tribal start which kneecaps your tech growth and is much tougher overall than a drop run. Combined with ideology it really feels like you're some group of tribals that has broken off and is doing its own weird thing. Rimworld of Magic interacts with Ideology so my tribe venerates magic and has a priestess that can awaken the spark of magic in colonists to let them eventually become one of the (overpowered) magic classes the mod adds. Extremely cool. I've teched to electricity but I've kept the colony electricity-free, letting magic serve our needs as we move through the midgame.

Outposts and Rim War gives you a dynamic, warring world to play around in and raid. One of my pawns has a spell that lets him teleport in our attack squad of powerful gun-wielding mages to annihilate rival resource outposts and colonies, forgoing the need to caravan over there. The magic is definitely OP but it feels like our small group's unique advantage that lets us punch above our weight despite the low numbers and lack of electric tech.

Still not near the victory condition yet. I might eventually get electricity, but we'll have to see. I may try to wipe out my rival tribe instead. Rimworld is proving to be one of my favorite games of all time at this rate.

I played some rimworld, but each colony of mine just ended when raids got to >100 pawns in size and the frame rate dropped to 1.

I find myself easily overwhelmed with the idea of playing a new game mainly because of time constraints. It's a lot of commitment to spend the time to learn something new only to find out it isn't your bag. So I tend to gravitate towards the familiar, and revisit old flames. Currently that's been the chillaxed atmosphere of Anno 2070. I have a thing for city-builder games, and the Anno series is one of the best exemplars.

The core gameplay loop is setting up balanced supply chains across islands to satisfy your resident's needs. You'd start with low-tier workers who require basic food and drinks which can be produced within one island. But each island has only limited "fertilities" and inevitably you're pushed to settle new areas in order to upgrade your residents. The production chains for later items can get quite convoluted. There's combat in the game but it's always been an annoying after-thought that most players wish didn't exist. So for the most part, it ends up playing like a bonsai city simulator. It's just so cute and pretty and fun to develop a city with thousands of residents and seeing your little ships truck goods all over the map. I think that's the core appeal to me, but I remain somewhat confused as to why I find these types of games so compelling.

Any of the most recent Anno games (1404, 2070, 2205) are excellent in their own rights. I haven't played 1800 yet but watched plenty of LPs and it looks like it has improved upon every single aspect of the series.

I haven't played Factorio in a while, but I'd like to submit my pitch for Industrial Revolution 2. It expands and improves on vanilla gameplay in a number of ways.

IR2 inverts a crucial dynamic from the original game.

In vanilla, science costs are everything. The cost of your actual base - in material, in assembler throughput - is a rounding error compared to the titanesque costs of making hundreds of little colored bottles.

In IR2, science is cheap, or at least comparable to vanilla. But infrastructure is 5-10x more expensive and complicated. So the dynamics of the game shifts away from giant buses and towards big beautiful malls.

In vanilla, there is really only one power distribution medium: electricity. There is the embryo of a second power distribution medium in the form of coal lines feeding furnaces, but the final solution to the furnace question is easy to work out, and indeed everyone is using the same design. Steam trains are a curiosity and mostly unworkable.

IR2 keeps coal lines, but it also adds a new early-game power distribution story in the form of steam, carried through pipes. Designing with colony-wide steam distribution brings a number of new problems and solutions that you wouldn't encounter just in vanilla refinery design.

In vanilla, there is one way to smelt. IR2 has three, with accelerating efficiency: vanilla smelting, crushed ore smelting, and washed ore smelting. Crushed ore is available fairly early; washed ore coincides with the time you want to centralize your smelting. (I've designed a poly-ore washing and smelting setup with rate-limiting before, it was a great challenge.)

The IR2 recipe graph has byproducts.

The vanilla recipe graph also has byproducts, in particular from oil refining. And that makes for interesting designs! But the IR2 recipe graph has many more, and some of the byproducts participate to cycles in the recipe graph, leading to integrated multi-product lines. It's neat.

The average well-designed vanilla base looks like a main bus with long production lines sticking out on either side (or on only one side in some designs).

This is by necessity. When you need 10+ assemblers for every product to get decent scale, an orderly rectangle of stacked production lines is the only way to get anywhere.

IR2 by and large does not require long production lines. I am a big fan of Seeing like a State, so I appreciate that spaghetti is actually a competitive design strategy all the way into purple science.

This extends to trains, by the way. One or two cargo wagons is all you'll need until fairly deep into the game. This enables designs using e.g. dense city blocks, a design I'm fairly proud of.

FTL Multiverse, a massive expansion of a most excellent roguelite.

It adds an obscene number of events, sectors, species, weapons, strategies, secrets, endings, and ships to fly. Perhaps more impressive is the way it fits into the normal gameplay and world. I also found the writing to be cohesive and funny. Adding blue options that are obviously bad ideas with predictably bad outcomes was a stroke of genius.

Highly recommended for anyone who liked the original FTL.

I've also been trying to get back into Nebulous: Fleet Command. It's a multiplayer space battle sim pitting teams of battleships, destroyers and the like against each other in glorious 3D movement. Fleets, ships, and even missiles are designed by the player in a robust editor.

The catch is that the dev was a Navy EWAR specialist and has strong opinions about naval warfare (in space!). It's the only game I know which bothers to model radar physics, including jammers. Given my day job, that just scratches an itch like nothing else.

I highly recommend that any wargame enthusiasts take a look.

I really like Nebulous, but since its launch I've had time to join an actual multiplayer match exactly once.

Shame the AI is a dunce.

I’ve definitely spent more time in the ship editor than in matches. Honestly, now that modular missiles are available I’ve been pretty overwhelmed and haven’t played a real match. There’s just so much to fix on my shitty fleets.

Recently, I have been attempting to learn Dominions 5: Warriors of the Faith.

Dominions is a turn based fantasy strategy game. It can be best summised as a bizarre mix of Heroes of Might and Magic and Risk, with a DF-esque combat system that models limb damage and such. In it, you play as one of many Pretender Gods worshipped solely by a single nation, trying to banish the other Pretender Gods and occupy the place of the Pantokrator, the God of All Gods, the creator of the Universe, whose empty celestial seat and the resulting power vacuum is the trigger of the conflict. To do this, you must either kill off the other nations through traditional violence or capture a number of red chairs called "Thrones of Ascension" scattered throughout the map. Alternatively, you may spread your religion so hard that your opponents fade out existence through not being worshipped any longer, as this universe shares Warhammer logic where a God is only as powerful as the number of people that believe in them.

Dominions has a reputation for being incredibly complicated with a near vertical learning curve. Having played it for a dozen or so hours now, I would not say that the core game is complicated. What makes Dominions complicated is the sheer amount of content in it and the way it intersects with each other. You have three different time periods to chose from, each with their own nations and theme and each period holds roughly two dozen nations. On top of that, you must design a pretender god, which again has countless designs to choose from (you can be anything from a simple wizard seeking Godhood to a Dragon to a Zeus-like figure or a giant tree, or possibly even this thing) and stat them out like they're a D&D character. Then you have battles - battles in this game are not real-time, nor are they turn based. Instead, you setup your commanders and groups of soldiers with specific, ordered commands and the battle plays out based upon those commands. This is not Endless Space: giving your units the correct orders is the difference between having your mage rout the enemy army with a cloud of poisonous gas and having him kill your units instead.

My current nation of choice is Abysia. They are lava-men with incredibly tanky units and a range of mage-priests skilled in Fire, Blood and Astral (a mixture of astronomic and lovecraftian horror) magic. With these powers combined, you can expand very quickly at the start of the game, rolling over the weak and pathetic independent provinces while taking very few or no losses. Unfortunately, they are hard countered by the existence of rain, and I'll probably need to branch out if I ever go online.

Last thing I bought was Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. It's okay. It's a musou game and that's kind of all it is.

I really have the itch for a new farming game at the moment, honestly. I passed on Rune Factory 5 because every review said the difficulty was far too easy, though.

Yeah Space Exploration feels almost like playing a vanilla extension. I have my own beefs with it - all the SE science recipes are basically the same layout (three rows of fluid buildings that eat data cards, one aggregate, two wildcards and then you make the science) but it's mostly just a great normal ride, no difficulty adjustment, not much playstyle adjustment aside from, well, planets. :)

I will say that I strongly recommend playing it with friends. The multiple planets allow, or rather borderline require, division of labor. We play with a bunch of added mods on top, LTN, LTN Manager, Factory Planner, Inventory Sensor (this makes reactors ~ 10x easier to design), TODO List and Quick Item Search. I recommend all of them, even though LTN is less necessary now and it's still a bitch to configure - don't use it without LTN manager.

Played some Borderlands a while back, for old times' sake when I used those games as a tool to learn a foreign language with. Characters constantly jabber at you, but it's still an action game so it manages to retain my attention better than the more dialogue-heavy genres. And since it's from big-time publishers, it's fully voice acted in many languages, and with subtitles to boot. Worked well!

But to the point: I skimmed through various titles just to take a look, and I was somewhat surprised by how suddenly they took a woke turn. BL1 and BL2 seemed to have relatively little of it (or I missed it all in my brief excursions), the Pre-Sequel had some, but it was very limited and could be ignored or even missed with ease (though some research showed that it was included very intentionally), but BL3 is pretty much just one big propaganda piece for progressive sexual ideology. Male characters are almost all incompetent whining buffoons in constant need of saving, women are all competent and/or sane and can handle themselves. The women are always right, the men usually wrong. Family is practically always depicted in a deliberately negative light, romance mostly comes up in homosexual contexts, and of the four playable characters two are women, one is a "non-binary" robot and one is an old man. The old man is alright, probably a lifeline tossed to the median gamer. Other men in the various plots, especially old, white and straight ones, tend to just get killed so as to free up narrative space for the women.

In BL2 and the Pre-Sequel, the character of Jack, or Handsome Jack, was very entertaining. The Pre-Sequel existed mostly just to explore him further after he proved very popular in BL2, but was killed in the finale. Handsome Jack is a lowly programmer turned corporate apex predator, a tyrant with a hero complex, a supreme egomaniac and usually funny in his completely over-the-top violent antics. In BL3 he is long dead, but a DLC adds a side-campaign to milk him some more - by having a woman explain how bad Jack was, and that the player must now commit some damnatio memoriae to heal some of the harm he did to that woman. The DLC is very negative in tone, varying between depressive and condemnatory, and by-the-by shows some more sleazy or incompetent or spineless male characters withering under the gaze of various competent and powerful women. It's the opposite of fun.

It's very on-the-nose, and given that the writers announced their desire to add more progressive elements in the Pre-Sequel, it seems obviously deliberate that BL3 would have orders of magnitude more of them. And it's a worse game for it. The series may have steadily improved mechanically, but in terms of entertainment value it's gone downhill.

K2+SE does indeed force you to go to space to get the logistics network. And also to unlock kovarex, which is a big deal considering that K2 makes nuclear power TWENTY FUCKING TIMES more expensive. I still have no idea WTF they are thinking, as it makes nuclear straight up not viable with the level of production you need pre-kovarex.

Personally, I've been playing a lot of a few things:

  • Xenoblade 3

  • Hardspace Shipbreaker

  • Farming Sim 22

  • Warhammer 3

Xenoblade 3 is pretty good, and I'm pretty close to wrapping that up. TBH I'm kind of burned out on it, it's a long game. I'm close to 140 hours and I think (but am not sure) that I'm in the final dungeon. I'm looking forward to putting it to bed. I think that (so far) the connection to the first two games has been weaker than I would've liked, but it's certainly not ruined the game for me or anything. I also think it's a damn shame that they did away with heart to heart events, which were the best feature of the previous two (especially Xenoblade 2 and the Future Connected epilogue in Xenoblade 1 DE). But I have quite enjoyed the game even if it has gotten to be too long for my taste.

Warhammer 3 has also been an adventure, as the Immortal Empires campaign just came out. I've tried a few campaigns but not found anything I really like so far. I had the most success with Bretonnia, but have discovered that I just really do not like the micro-heavy playstyle they have. You have to be really good at managing cavalry and keeping them from getting bogged down in melee fights, which means either a lot of pausing or great micro. I also tried Karl Franz, but... oh boy he is a hard start in this campaign. I'll probably tackle it again some day, but I kind of bounced off it at the moment. Tried Skaven (Ikit Claw) for the first time and got in trouble so I had to restart, hopefully the second attempt goes better.

I'm sorry to say that I have very little experience with Factorio beyond secondary exposure and some experience with games and mods that strike me as "Factorio-like": automation simulators and production/resource management on a macro scale. I've played a good deal of GregTech (Minecraft mod), if you're familiar with that, but I think I played it "wrong" because I was always using the factory elements as a means to progression, and not as an exercise in factory/automation design in itself. I do, however, have some friends who have played a lot of Factorio. The ones who have played it seem to love it. I respect it deeply, even though I'm not into it, because it's not afraid to exist unconditionally. That is, the Factorio team made a game specifically to appeal to people who like automation design, and that's basically all the game is. It's so straightforward. As an aspiring game dev myself, that's the kind of confidence I want my own artwork to demonstrate.

I've been playing FFXIV again lately. XIV kinda touches on that same essence of confidence as something like Factorio. It's not afraid to ask you to play through 200 hours of cutscenes and story quests before you get to the end. Because of that big ask, or perhaps in service to it, the developers ensures that the entire game - as gigantic as it is - is at least tolerable for new players. I didn't mind it at all when I was starting out, and I still don't. I got invested in the story pretty quickly, and going through all the side content with a couple friends was huge fun. We had our own little "content respecter" squad that would hit all the important sidequests and raids and such. It took ages, but it was fulfilling, too, because we got to explore every little nook and cranny of this massive game, and the developers seemed to have put some kind of love and attention into nearly all of it. Being able to share the experience with friends definitely contributed to our enjoyment, too.

Now I play to abuse gil, level the rest of my classes, try out new content and hang with friends. We aren't always on all the time, but that's how it should be. It's a great keystone experience that my small friend group can come back to from time to time and hang out around. Plus, I really like my character. No shame - I did a damn fine job making my character, and trying out new gear sets after I earn them is a reward in itself.

Honestly, though, I've been looking for another "real" game to play. The last one I played that I wouldn't consider to be some kind of MMO or MMO-like would have been either Cataclysm:DDA (which is a great game that's being continually run into the dirt by a terrible team of contributors) or Crystal Project (which is an amazing indie JRPG with an excellent developer). I have a lot of stuff on my radar, but I haven't been able to commit to one yet because I don't want to get too distracted from working on my own gamedev stuff. I have a terrible habit of one-tracking things and losing sight of whatever I was previously pursuing.

I've been lost in this city builder / dwarf fortress type game called Songs of Syx. It's a game about micromanaging a city-state of diverse fantasy races that all hate each other and engineering a caste system that allows for the most racial harmony. Races are all biologically different and have different lifestyles that need to be catered to.

Dorfs really like to be buried in nice tombs while ant people are cannibals that just eat their corpses and don't care.

Elves like circular buildings but dorfs like square buildings.

Pig men are mostly vegetarian while Amazons will only eat meat.

Humans are high intelligence but also prone to criminality.

There is a race of 3m tall blue humanoids that are stronger than ten men, are 1.5x smarter than humans and live for centirues but they complain a lot and are extremely dangerous when angry. Naturally I made these guys the military and cops.

It is impossible to satisfy everyone. If one race gets tipped past a threshold, they will revolt and go apeshit and start a race war. You can end the race war by having your police caste goes door to door murdering citizens of the target race until they are suppressed. In minecraft.

Also it has Total War style real time battles.

It's the kind of game I think Sseth would like.

I've been watching a let's play of this game.

Absolutely fascinating, and addresses some of the niches that just aren't served by DF or Rimworld.

Downloaded the demo, too, but I understand it's missing a couple important features about housing.

That's kind of discouraged me from playing too much of it.

I recently played through A Short Hike, originally just to see if it was appropriate for the kids (conclusion: "more reading than they're really ready for, but we'll see how they do" - Alex has gone absolutely wild for it), but then afterwards just because it's a good cozy game. Fun times.

I think next up is Monster Hunter.

It is neat that you have kids that you feel you can share the video games with. I think I really wanted that with my kids, but it just strikes me as unlikely as they get older and I get a sense of their personalities. I've got two girls so far, and the oldest one is very girly and I could see her enjoying something like the sims. The younger one seems like a potential extrovert/tomboy so I don't think she will ever be very interested in non-social video games.

I've had the mosnter hunter games on my wishlist for a while, and I've never quite felt in the right mood to buy them. They sort of seem up my alley. I'd like to know what you think of them when you get around to it.

It might just be an early-entry age thing. Alex is the old one and she's 4 years old; she loves unicorns and sparkles and bouncing and talking to literally everyone. She also likes video games because I kept showing her what I was playing ("see, these are bugs! they're trying to stop us from getting all the gold") and sitting her down with a controller until she started Getting It.

Cass is 2 years old and sometimes I can convince her to hit buttons on a controller, but that's where Alex was at 2 years old also.