Quick, short, often niche posts about games. Sometimes they are brief looks at concepts in art, design, culture, and psychology. Other times they are reactions to specific news items or just something silly that came to mind.


Is “guide spam” a thing now?

Is it just a thing now that big game launches are followed by bad gaming websites rushing out low-quality “guides” for SEO spam?

Dragon Quest Builders 2 is by far the biggest game I’m playing near launch in quite a while, so I don’t know how representative my experience is, but—

Every time I have a question about the game and want to look something up, my search results contain a lot of really bad resources. Mostly from gaming websites I’ve never heard of and which have clearly whipped together a dozen or so nearly-useless “guides,” each of which is three paragraphs of padding around the simple answer to an obvious question that nobody would have to look up anyway (like a “Where to Find Bark” guide, when there’s one quest that needs bark and it sends you to an area filled with obvious bark) or that only covers the first part of the game (like guides for all the scavenger hunt locations that only include the first two scavenger hunt islands).

I get that it takes some time for those generous and industrious players to put together the comprehensive, high-quality guides, and I’m used to not getting any results when searching this stuff on new or obscure games. I’m not used to getting many results, but terrible ones! There actually are some really good DQB2 guides out there, but it’s taken me a while to sift through the crap and find them.


Oh, right. Signal fires.

I mentioned I really like how Dragon Quest Builders 2 has you bring systems back to your home base and use them there. After the island that teaches you to make defensive traps, I got really excited to design my own trap gauntlet for the enemies attacking my home base. I came up with a layout I was sure would be much more effective than anything the story had set up previously, and the NPCs were cheering me on, reminding me of all the traps I had at my disposal and telling me to just use a bunch of them in whatever design I thought best.

Unfortunately, they don’t remind of you the signal fires that create rally points for your soldiers. Those came very early in the previous chapter and I had completely forgotten about them. And without them, the trap gauntlet is completely useless because your people will just charge right through it themselves as soon as they see the enemy and engage with them out past it and none of the traps will even get triggered.

Just one little reminder line of dialog would have gone a very long way. I still won the fight, but it took far longer than it should have and I didn’t get to see my trap gauntlet in action.


Dragon Quest Builders 2 brings it all together

The biggest problem with the original Dragon Quest Builders was how disconnected the chapters and mechanics were. You’d go rebuild a town and save it from the local menace using interesting systems like defensive traps or treating the sick or mechanical constructs. Then you’d move on and start from scratch, and none of those systems came back or got any further development. The only way to play with everything was to use the wholly-disconnected sandbox mode.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 fixes this in a clever way. You still travel to separate areas to rebuild towns and save them from local menaces using interesting systems - but these are always trips from your base of operations and you are explicitly visiting the other areas to find new materials/techniques/recruits to bring back. During each sub-story, you start from scratch because each arc has its own focus - but then you bring it all back together and let things build on each other in a larger, interconnected space where you have much more freedom.

This allows for the best of both worlds - story sequences with clear tight scopes and arcs, and the freedom to play with all your toys together along with the story characters you’ve gotten to know. It’s great.


Damn skeletons don’t give me time to think

It’s important to me that games let me set my own pace.

Some of that is just the freedom from interruptions and time pressure that you can’t get in the real world, but a lot of it is also down to pacing. Being forced to stop what I’m doing and juggle my inventory or hunt down limited resources can ruin a game’s atmosphere. So can repeating content through forced grinding or punishment.

My latest example comes from Dragon Quest Builders and one of the few things I think the sequel does worse than the original. In both games, your towns are periodically attacked by groups of monsters. I’m not talking about boss fights or story battles - just random groups of monsters that show up and try to do some damage.

In the original, it was always possible to build structures out of materials that the random monsters couldn’t break through. You could build a defensive wall around your entire town if you wanted and then the monsters couldn’t even get in (except for the teleporting ghosts that showed up at night to harass your villagers, but they couldn’t destroy anything). This placed a constraint on building choices, but one you could manage however you chose - you either had to use unbreakable materials, respond very quickly and effectively to every attack, or repair things after attacks. I generally chose to build defensive walls and then engage the enemies outside of the walls on my own terms, knowing the town itself was safe. This also meant I didn’t have to panic whenever the enemies attacked - I could finish what I was doing, and then go stomp them.

In the sequel, this just isn’t the case. You can sometimes briefly get ahead of the curve, and it’s more of an issue in some chapters than others, but in general the randomly-attacking groups of monsters include at least one or two strong enemies that can break anything you can build. This means the constraint is no longer manageable. Every time you come under random attack, you have to drop whatever you’re doing and rush to the battle or part of your town will likely be destroyed and need to be rebuilt.

I feel like the intent here was probably to solve the “problem” that in DQB1 folks could just wrap their town in walls and ignore the random attacks, but I don’t think that was a problem. I liked it! I liked that my base could become a safe space where I could relax and freely rethink town layout and rebuild everything at my own pace. In DQB2, that’s significantly damaged - I get interrupted and lose my train of thought. It disrupts my flow. And toward the end of chapters when the tension is ratcheted up and the random attacks happen more frequently, I feel compelled to rush the story rather than take time to perfect my town - because if I do take that time, I’ll just get interrupted over and over and over.


You want decay in your game? Require an online connection.

To me, it feels weird that games aren’t subject to the ravages of time but real life is; apparently to Randall Munroe it’s the other way around.

If you want to go back to an old game world and see simulated change and decay, you can always revisit a neglected Animal Crossing town.

For real decay, check out multiplayer servers for old online games. It’s like a memento mori for games with kludged-in online/multiplayer requirements.


Animal Crossing Builders?

Dragon Quest Builders 2 has me cautiously excited for Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

The mayor systems in Animal Crossing: New Leaf added more control over the overall town, and then Happy Home Designer had you creating homes/facilities to resident requests… New Horizons includes crafting systems and has you building up a deserted island with increased customization. These all sound like steps toward the Dragon Quest Builders formula.

This could go a lot of ways, but the idea of an Animal Crossing that’s basically DQB without combat or a closed story (and presumably with Disney Magical World-style renewable resources instead of terrain deformation) is really appealing.


In a lot of video games, you can hang out and...

In a lot of video games, you can hang out and rearrange your inventory or mess with skill points or try on outfits and as long as you don’t leave the room or hit an event flag or cross whatever the designated threshold is, time won’t advance.

Real life needs this. It offends me deeply that if I stay in my room playing video games or messing around with the internet or doing other trivial things until I’m ready to start my day, I’ll find it’s somehow become 9:30 PM.


#gaming #video games #time management

Tags: Thought


I think Dragon Quest has held on to its core...

I think Dragon Quest has held on to its core identity in a way that Final Fantasy hasn’t.

Dragon Quest has evolved, but there’s a clear through-line from the original game to now. As the series and its fans both grow up the games lean a bit more on nostalgia - and a huge part of why that’s effective is because the series has maintained a consistent tone across its installments. Playing Dragon Quest XI today feels a lot like how it felt to play Dragon Quest III on the NES.

Final Fantasy, meanwhile, has reinvented itself a few times. Multiple mainline games feel like the sort of experiment you normally see as a spin-off title, taking the series in bold new directions that sometimes stick and sometimes don’t. Final Fantasy XV is all-but unrecognizable as a descendant of, say, Final Fantasy IV. There’s still nostalgia, but it feels more detached - like bits of intertextual homage rather than bringing tradition forward.

For example: Final Fantasy XV feels the need to justify/contextualize the inclusion of the classic victory theme by having one of its characters sing it. Meanwhile, Dragon Quest XI just straight-up uses the classic sound effects.

Modern Final Fantasy is nostalgic for classic Final Fantasy. Modern Dragon Quest still is classic Dragon Quest.

I think this is why, despite having played more Final Fantasy as a child, it’s Dragon Quest that I’m still drawn to today. It’s Dragon Quest that I want to wrap myself in like a blanket.


Gratitude > Points

There are a ton of improvements in Dragon Quest Builders 2 over the original, but my favorite is the philosophical change in how your town is valued.

In Dragon Quest Builders, what matters is what your town has.

In Dragon Quest Builders 2, what matters is what your community does.

In DQB1, a room is worth a certain number of points toward leveling up your town. Many rooms also carry passive bonuses (for example: if you have a kitchen in your base, your hunger meter doesn’t decay inside your base) and a few are incidentally used by villagers (for example, the kitchen again: villagers will prepare food and store it in the kitchen).

In DQB2, rooms do not have point values. From what I’ve seen, they don’t have passive bonuses either. The only thing they do is get used by villagers. Sometimes this means useful items for you (as in the kitchen example), but it often doesn’t. However, every time a villager uses something you’ve built - sleeps in a bed, cooks in a kitchen, eats at a table, drinks at a bar, takes a bath, anything - they generate “gratitude.” That is the resource you use to level up your town.

DQB1 was a lot of fun, but its point system was admittedly a bit broken. In a couple of the chapters, I found myself building inaccessible hidden rooms buried underground or crammed in under staircases for the points and passive bonuses. In DQB2, there’s no reason to do anything like that - rooms are only valuable if your villagers actually use them. You’re thus encouraged to plan your town not around what rooms are worth a lot of points, but around what your community actually needs and will use.

It’s a good way to enhance the feeling that you are actually building and supporting a community - one of the core selling points of the franchise.


Inventory Limits Punish Players

Watching Allie play Dragon Age: Inquisition again. As I mentioned before she’s not particularly interested in combat-related systems - and this is an action RPG, so a lot of systems are combat-related. She’s been getting more confident and adventurous over time (she literally said, “I’ve sort of figured out how to fight at least,” as I was writing this) but she still avoids micromanagement. She auto-assigns skill points, but since this isn’t an option for equipment she mostly just loots everything and doesn’t worry about sorting things out until she has to.

Unfortunately, the game has an inventory limit, so that’s what determines when she has to deal with managing her gear: it’s when she’s picked up an arbitrary number of items and hit that limit. And in fact, the first time this happened and she was prevented from looting more, she was in the middle of an action-packed quest. No merchants around, no reason to expect she could return and loot later, and an actual ticking time limit while she considered her options.

Naturally, this damaged the pacing of the quest and added uninteresting stress. She trashed a few items from her inventory, looted back up her to limit, and then just stopped looting for the rest of the quest.

In a later session, she was working on side quests and one directed her vaguely to explore a particular area in the hills. Her inventory filled up while she was there, so she stopped looting equipment. Unbeknownst to her, the way to complete the quest was to loot a specific piece of equipment from a specific crate - and though she’d looted the crate, she’d left this equipment behind and there was no indication that it was the target of her quest. After several minutes, we finally had to look it up. She destroyed something in her inventory, looted the item, and completed the quest.

Yet later, she beat a tough boss far into a long quest and started to walk away from the corpse without looting it. I try not to pressure her on how to play, but I couldn’t help myself from pointing out that (as she surely already knew) a tough boss probably dropped good loot. She showed me that due to items forced into her inventory for the quest which she was unable to get rid of, she was already seven items over the inventory limit and would have to destroy at least eight to pick anything up.

This stuff keeps happening and it is always dumb. The common problem is that the game expects the player to be periodically managing their equipment and inventory - and if they don’t do so, they are suddenly punished for it when the arbitrary limit is reached. The player has been avoiding this system because they aren’t interested in it, and now it gets shoved in their face - generally in a particularly obnoxious way. It happens in circumstances where the lack of inventory space directly affects the player’s ability to take advantage of opportunities or achieve objectives, away from merchants who could turn the excess gear into money instead of just trashing it.