Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Champions Online

City of Heroes never really broke subscriber records, but it's certainly qualified as one of the game industry's most notorious "cult classics" in its former playerbase's nostalgia.
(Like me. I'm one of those nostalgic players. In case it wasn't clear. Obvious Werwolfe is obvious.)
It left an internet void upon shutting down which nothing has managed to fill, though not for lack of trying.
fanboy-fictional copycats promise up and down to bring back the magic, and this year has seen an unauthorized revival of CoH by fans who got their hands on the game code. Yet what hope have they, quoth ye Wolfe, to match CoH's success (less address its many glaring flaws) when even the old game's own developers couldn't manage an encore?

This is a mission map in Champions Online, Cryptic Studios' attempt at a competing title after breaking away from NCSoft's mismanagement of CoH.

Yes, that is the mission map. The entire robot mafia... I mean, the entire mission map. And sure, most of them aren't that small, but when half your content consists of linear series of 10x10 sized rooms with an orc guarding a treasure chest, you're not exactly earning your pay.

To a limited extent, this game fails because it's a microtransacted modern title and thus seems to have invested most of its development time in churning out endless funny hats for its cash shop, to be bought by moronic scum desperate for status symbols. You can't walk two feet without being hit in the face with cash grab boxes requiring keys made of solid currency. Still, given that playing dress-up was always a major draw in CoH, this doesn't hit it quite as hard as it does other titles. It's also blown impressive amounts of development time on overextended (and low-quality) cutscenes which have no place in a persistent virtual world to begin with.

But mostly, Champions Online fell prey to the post-WoW trend for Simpler!Faster!LOUDER! entertainment to try to appeal to retards, a.k.a. "a wider audience" and everything from punching to landscapes reflects it. Fewer types of abilities, little to no crowd control, no specialization, regeneration by powerups, instant teleportation to instant quests with instant teams and no teamwork, just aimlessly bullrushing a map marker while ignoring the map.

Oh, and of course a looming GIGANTIC FLOATING ARROW above your head to order you this and that way so you need never be aware of your surroundings. Aaaand to save the developers the trouble of fleshing out those surroundings appropriately.

Before it too succumbed to the instant gratification of grinding "door missions" City of Heroes caught our eye back in 2004 for making a fair attempt at obeying the first and most important point of my MMManifesto: the world is the game. Paragon City's neighbourhoods each had its own theme, from drugged-out street toughs to mobsters on the docks to cyber-punks roaming industrial decay. You could catch thugs in the act snatching purses, breaking locks, trying to kidnap innocent civilians for nefarious experiments gone wrong. CoH (at least pre-release) still remembered that "super" is a relative term, and the truism of every superhero comic that the superhero is the special one, contrasted not only to villains but to mundane humanity. While these elements are present to some extent in Champions Online, they're wholly effaced by the swarms of inexplicable enemies on every street corner. It's not hard to find streets like this one completely devoid of life, and in contrast even the city center is littered with transdimensional robots and demons. Mission maps fare no better, lacking the detailed decor of CoH and resolving more often than not to a simple series of boxes. When the entire universe is built around superheroics, they simply cease being super, or heroic.

Sure, I could bitch some more about combat / itemization mechanics and whatnot, but the truth is Champions Online doesn't entice me to even get far enough to fiddle with minutiae, because it fails as a virtual world.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Kevin and Kell

"I'm nothing special, in fact I'm a bit of a bore
If I tell a joke, you've probably heard it before
But I have a talent, a wonderful thing
Cause everyone listens when I start to sing"

ABBA - Thank You for the Music

Wolves normally eat rabbits, so it is unusual for them to be married. Carnivores eat herbivores. Rabbits eat grass. Wolves have a good sense of smell. Vultures eat roadkill. Carnivores eat herbivores. Hedgehogs are spiny. Fennec foxes have good hearing. Carnivores eat herbivores. Bats and hedgehogs eat insects. Bats can echolocate. Rhinoceroses have bad eyesight. Dogs and cats don't speak the same language. Carnivores eat herbivores.

How many jokes do you think you could spin around the above observations as punchlines? Kevin and Kell is one of the earliest webcomics, or at least the earliest few that went beyond some teenager slapping a dozen random doodles online then acting shocked at not getting crowned Grand Poobah of the universe for such an achievement. It kicked off with an anthropomorphized rabbit who owns an internet service provider, married to a wolf working as a huntress for a meat supply company. From there it gradually developed an entire inter-species society mostly revolving around the social conventions of who gets to eat whom. As such it started as a very "niche" product. In fact for most of its early years it was often cited as a representative furry comic and little else. It did try getting political around issues like sex changes and disabilities for a while, but did so in a low-key, self-aware fashion which likely appealed less and less in the increasingly fanatical snowflake era. It also tried its hand at longer storylines (Y2K or Domain's furries making contact with humanity) but these often proved counterproductive.

When mentioned these days, Kevin and Kell is likely noted for its incredible stamina... and little else. Where most webcomics vanish after a hundred pages or so or go into a permanent "hiatus" Holbrook has managed to keep a more or less daily comic running steadily for over two decades. But it's insulting to degrade a creative pursuit as merely an endurance test. Kevin and Kell is remarkable not just for staying online but for staying funny. While its family-friendly cutesiness and humor certainly won't register as "edgy" or unexpected, there's a certain fascination in seeing just how many three-panel facets can be polished on a topic as simple as bats hanging upside down. Though thematically it should by all rights be as boring as Garfield, on a day by day basis it's managed to consistently mix quaint facts of the animal kingdom with the sort of homey attention to mundane life that defined early seasons of The Simpsons into a reliable chuckle.

And, with several hundred thousand animal species out there, it won't be running out of material anytime soon.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Why do we no longer laugh at comedians born in the 1950s? We have no sense of boomer.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Games Are Not For Children; Children Are For Games

"Remember: children are strong. They're resilient. They're designed to survive. When you drop them, they tend to bounce."

Terry Gilliam - prologue to Tideland
(Well thanks for the reminder Patsy, but did you really have to drop her quite so often and so far?)

The sadly underappreciated A Monster Calls is a skillful enough movie to make me forget my usual disdain for "coming of age" tripe. In most such stories the youth is condemned as only clay to be molded by the wisdom of elders. Here, as I worded it in the case of Whisper of the Heart, the protagonist remains the principal agent of his own becoming. Moreover, his internal struggle, the perceived moral failing he faces is one which would cost most adults no small amount of sleep. Yet at no point does it ring false; a thirteen-year-old boy may have lacked the foreknowledge of such morbid quandaries, but we have no trouble empathizing with his assimilating them, grokking them into his personal growth.

I've repeatedly railed here against various computer games either stagnating or being deliberately dumbed down. The catch-all excuse you're most likely to encounter is "accessibility" for those naive of such products' potential. Now, to me declaring your entire customer base handicapped seems a non-starter in itself. We make the various functions of society more accessible by empowering the disabled to perform at a competent level, not by forcing the entire population to walk around blindfolded and read everything in braille. In games in particular "for the children" (or at the most for teenagers) provides an even easier cop-out for uncreative hacks who are themselves incapable of moving past the tropes of twenty years ago. Reminds me of my uncle who, upon watching Princess Mononoke, commented that it was no good for the "kiddies" for incorporating too many factual references, mythical/philosophical symbolism and moral ambiguity. I guess those millions upon millions of DVDs it sold must've all gone to university-trained historians and semanticians.

To use such an excuse for childproofing gameplay mechanics ignores the simple fact that "Nintendo hard" titles were aimed at children to begin with.
Using it as an excuse for Disneyfying plot and setting ignores our own memories of reading Ender's Game, Dune, Red Mars, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Silmarillon and fucking Hamlet in our mid-teens.

For one thing, the last thing I wanted when I was twelve was to be treated like a child, and I'm hardly the only one. Play, as a mammalian learning tool, aids development by approximating adult behavior... or at least what we in our youth imagine to be adult behavior. Elevating the expectations of adolescents is very much a matter of "fake it 'til you make it" as we are so achingly sensitive to societal expectations at that age that simply creating an awareness of a better option can shift an overwhelming demand. Starcraft and Half-Life may not have been Asimov-quality SF plots, yet still made it vastly more difficult for companies to market plot-less RTS or FPS in their wake.

For another, you don't make a good game by designing it for children. Chess did not become a classic by limiting itself to the presumed cognitive abilities of ten-year-olds. Yet I did play it with some zest when I was ten, as did many others. A billion children don't kick a ball around after school because football was designed specifically for them but specifically because it wasn't, because they are emulating the World Cup (right down to bribing the referee with a stick of gum.) This is especially poignant in online games, where companies refuse to enforce the logical rules of sportsmanship for fear of alienating the braindead little shits who continually grief their own teams. Yet learning good sportsmanship was integral to the endless after-school pick-up matches which online games have replaced. Arbitration is not artificial. The lack of repercussions for griefing, online game developers' insistence on protecting bullies from retribution, that is the artificial element in these social interactions.

Neither should we expect that such punishment would drive away more customers than the inequity of watching bullies get away with their bullying match after match after match. When some retarded little shit scored an own goal on the playground because he thought it would be funny, he used to get shoved off the field. He didn't stop playing. He sulked for a few days, then came back asking to play again. Instead, online game developers refuse to analyze the griefer's actions while banning anyone who curses him out in team chat as "toxic" players. Decades of punishing the crime of fair-mindedness have contributed as much as anything to the narcissism of snowflake culture. While playing games, youths are supposed to assimilate the objective rules of fairness, practical harm and instrumental self-worth in interacting with others. This is not an unrealistic expectation to demand of adolescents, and the rules of fair-play should not be mangled to suit some false image we've concocted of the mental fragility of youth.

Don't design a bad game for bad players. Design a good game and let them learn to play it.

Friday, May 17, 2019


"It was considered a natural thing that having children and raising them during the first years of their life should require high qualifications and extensive preparation, in other words, a special course of study; in order to obtain permission to have offspring, a married couple had to pass a kind of examination; at first this seemed incredible to me, but on thinking it over I had to admit that we, of the past, and not they, should be charged with having paradoxical customs: in the old society one was not allowed to build a house or a bridge, treat an illness, perform the simplest administrative function, without specialized education, whereas the matter of utmost responsibility, bearing children, shaping their minds, was left to blind chance and momentary desires, and the community intervened only when mistakes had been made and it was too late to correct them."

Stanislaw Lem - Return from the Stars

I don't bother with the news much, so normally I wouldn't have taken notice of the United Nations' report on how we dun fuck'd up tha planet. Yeah, we know that already you assholes. We're careening from record-setting winter lows to a summer that'll probably boil our faces off. A polar bear just paddled past my window on a catamaran made of 2L Pepsi bottles. So many ice shelves are collapsing that Antarctica is now Ntrctk. Mammoths are looking at us and thinking "glad I didn't live to see that shit" and the Permian's petitioning to have us labelled mass murderers. We know!

What we needed from you nebbishes was a strongly-worded, clear-cut, fire and brimstone ultimatum on the naked ape's self-immolation, not a bunch of vague hand-wringing about low-impact equitable trajectories of integrated transformation diversity mobilization decision making best practices doodlefuddlewaddle please-don't-shoot-the-messenger. We need you spineless, anal-retentive academics and analysts to word it clearly enough that even the drooling rednecks in Alabama can understand: humanity has fucked itself into civilizational collapse. Figuratively and literally.

That of course ties into one of the other big pieces of news here in the U.S., the continuing attack by brain-dead superstitious filth on abortion. Alabama has now all but outlawed it. For those outside the U.S., you can safely equate Alabama with whichever province of your own country ranks as the most backward, primitive, virulently anti-intellectual stretch of culture-less ballast. It routinely ranks dead last in education out of all American states (and among the last in every other measure of personal well-being) so it's hardly surprising that it also routinely tops the charts in religious brainwashing. Thus, based on some or other imbecilic mass delusions about "souls" they've decided to force each other to continue breeding more and more ignorant hillbillies.

And that's a problem. I don't mean just for their own sakes. Screw 'em. If idiot rednecks want to spend their lives changing diapers, that's their business. Or it would be, except that all those redundant, unwanted diaper stuffers will grow up into yet more redundant, unwanted wastes of oxygen, each demanding its own living space, its own greasy triple helpings of food, its own i-phone and minivan. There you have the death of sentience: degenerate cretins spouting caveman superstitions as they drown the world in their filth. Take any of the myriad issues described by the U.N.'s convoluted beating around the now-extinct bush, and not a single one could not be alleviated by a reduction in the sheer bulk of ape flesh on the planet. Crops, cities, plastic waste accumulation, toxic runoff, overfishing, fuel churn, carbon emissions, every problem we've inflicted on the world is multiplied by the number of those inflicting it. Do they still learn multiplication in Alabama or just practice it?

Yet I'll be damned if a word search for "population control" through the IPBES' document returns more than 0 (ZERO) hits. Oh, sure, they allude and hint at it a few times by mentioning demographic shifts and increasing baseline resource demands, but will not dare outright state that Africa's abusing the aid it gets from the developed world in order to breed an even more bloated AIDS-infested swarm which it cannot feed, house, protect, treat or (dare we hope) educate. Or that India has done absolutely nothing to curb the swell of its sickening termite hive of simian superfluity. Or that China, the multi-millennial world leader in both ecological damage and human misery, continues to grow despite decades' worth of hollow assurances to the contrary. And what moral clout could the U.S. leverage against any of them while its own Christian fundamentalist backwaters still demand to force their lower classes to breed beyond their means?

It's commonly touted that if the whole Earth were to live the life of plenty of a Western consumer, we would need several more planets' worth of resources. The solution proposed is always to reduce consumption. A fair point, but how drastic a reduction would ensure sustainability for seven and a half billion naked apes? For nine? For twelve? To live a decent life, fewer of us must live. There is no way around it, and if we do not achieve that goal by peaceful legislation it will inevitably, detestably, be achieved by mass murder and mass starvation, as our species has always done in the past. A positive population growth curve is a declaration of war, against all those whom such replicate swarms must displace in order to secure their lebensraum. Birth is murder. The life you create must kill to exist. We are already a mass extinction. We're long past affording to coddle and bow to the primitive, mindless lower primates capable of no more than conjoining their gonads while expressing bronze-age superstitions in stone-age grunts. Reproduction can no longer be left up to chance and appetite, and the vermin who breed as such must themselves suffer for the undue harm they cause, not be allowed to inflict it upon their more continent fellows.

Reproduction must be taxed, and penalized, and curbed. In large part, this is but one facet of combating those primitive memetic infections endemic to all our societies. Hinduism, Christianity, pretty much any religion in its role as tool of social control invests some degree of effort into managing its populace's reproduction, maximizing work forces and cannon fodder. They can no longer be permitted this interference in what should be a rational, socially conscious set of public policies. The greater issue, the greater hurdle, however, is instinct, overcoming the greatest innate drive of every self-replicating pattern: self-replication. The only recourse is to treat it as any of the countless aggressive, gluttonous, filthy simian habits we defer or abstain from as members of an ersatz civilized society. Don't fling poop; don't fling fetuses.

Birth is murder, an ugly sometimes necessity, and should be legislated as such.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Chosen One

"And the babe, all in slumber dreams
Of a place filled with quiet streams
And the lake where her cradle was pulled from the water.
And we'll all come praise the infanta..."

The Decemberists - The Infanta

Possible minor spoilers follow for various cRPGs, regarding whether the player is intrinsically "special" or not.

Among the (by now) tired old tropes which computer role-playing games need to ditch, we can include casting the player as a prophesied hero. The Elder Scrolls series has been terrible about it. At least Morrowind allotted you a decent-length introduction as a penniless exile before unveiling you as the next avatar of Vishnu, but Oblivion's very tutorial had the Emperor himself declare your manifest destiny and Skyrim's had you eating dragons for breakfast. The Black Isle / Obsidian / Bioware genealogy has been slightly more dignified, but whether you're a demigod in Baldur's Gate or born with a mystical artifact in your chest in Neverwinter Nights 2, they still managed to slather on plenty of cheese. Even the Grey Warden in the Dragon Age: Origins campaign, though not strictly speaking a fated savior, was simply handed too much inherent, unearned political clout.

Pillars of Eternity's nosedive in quality of writing between its two installments renders it an interesting object lesson. The dumbed-down sequel elevated you to a goddess' champion from the start, whereas being a "watcher" in the first game was merely a confluence of historical threads which could likely have spun around any of countless souls impacted by Thaos' actions over the centuries. You incidentally served as the gods' tool in their faction war while really addressing your own past deeds. The same was true in Planescape: Torment, which certainly gave you a very special background but mostly resolved to you fighting yourself or the consequences of your past actions while the planes kept spinning indifferently around your little drama. This was unfortunately reversed in Torment: Tides of Numenera, which cast you as a pure soul, the last and greatest prophet capable of overthrowing the works of a god. A better example would be Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines, which as "an adventure in mookdom" as I've previously called it here, hinted at you being abnormally gifted to explain your abnormally fast rise in power among your be-fanged brethren but left it at that. Contrast to the more cheesily operatic vendetta plot of V:tM- Redemption with its star-crossed lovers.

Tyranny deserves special mention as within its more thoughtful interpretation of RPG moralizing it also addressed the autopoietic nature of mythopoiesis. When the infamous Voices of Nerat condemns you with his dying breath as "you Archon of misguided decisions" he is warning you of the danger of building yourself up into a figure larger than your own life, of losing yourself in the patchwork destiny you're threading together by each of your actions. And that's really the issue at stake here: your actions.

We're accustomed enough to stories about "The One" from movies and other passive forms of entertainment which strive to make the audience want to identify with the hero on screen/stage. In a computer game, however, the audience already IS the hero on screen, actively advancing through layers of incremental badassery. There should be no need to explain why I'm important. Instead allow me to prove my importance by the actions I as a player undertake, to write the verses to my own legend, to scribe my own Archon's Sigil as I go, not to dance to the tune of some prophecy, unless it's one I myself have been reciting.

An RPG protagonist should be a nobody who becomes somebody, rags to riches, the tale of the act of becoming, character advancement. Even in a completely scripted, linear plot, the role-player should be defined by actively playing a role, not by pre-masticated backstory. If Muad'dib can trap himself in his own web of self-fulfilling prophecy, that still makes a better plot than popping into existence as an insta-bake Kwisatz Haderach at a time and place appointed by others. Let me railroad myself. Don't tell me I'm special. Show me acting special. Let me gradually become a creature of flames, voices and secrets via conquest by agonizing conquest, click by click of the mouse.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Why did the prostitute never chuckle at the right time? She had no sense of hummer.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

ST:TNG - The Best of Both Worlds

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate: 3.26 & 4.01
The Best of Both Worlds

a.k.a. that one episode everyone remembers.

Hey, no point in posting yet another screen-cap of a Borg-ified Patrick Stewart shining his red targeting laser at the camera. The internet's full of 'em. As a rarely well-executed season ending cliffhanger, this two-parter not only cemented the Borg's primacy among pop culture SF tropes but TNG's success for the next seasons. Thirty years later, if anyone remembers anything from the show it's likely Stewart monotoning "I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile." Given that it falls almost precisely in the middle of the series, many automatically think of it as the high point between fumbling aimlessly in seasons 1-2 and losing the thread in seasons 6-7.

But here's the thing: I don't think this was actually such a great episode. Oh, I enjoyed it then and still do now, sure, and it does quite a few things right. As an unusually dramatic high point it nonetheless ensured a sense of balance by keeping the strategic discussions with Starfleet calm and low-key. It could easily have overplayed the dramatic angle of the attack on Earth as well (scenes of terrified populace preparing to be assimilated, etc.) yet chose not to. It did, laudably, continue to play up the Borg's alien mindset in the scene above, their unnatural indifference to individual intruders aboard their ship. Their aesthetic was designed to drive home the point that this isn't just another spaceship, that it works by different rules, from its shape to its social life.

But the blonde in that image is also one of the episode's problems. She eats up screen time like she's meant to become a major cast member (which thankfully did not happen) but like Tasha Yar she's too much of a feminist icon to make an interesting, contextualized character. In Yar's case it was a matter of overblown physicality. Here it's a different "strong woman" archetype, a cut-throat bitch whom we're expected to find sympathetic for being born the correct, entitled (and adorable) sex. If she'd been male her bluster would have drawn Branniganesque levels of scorn. It didn't help that her sub-plot was tied to what had already become a tired recurring theme: Riker being offered command of his own ship yet nobly refusing. I do have some minor quibbles as well, like hearing a command to load forward torpedo bays as the Enterprise is running away from the enemy. The enemy that's behind it. The main issue, however, was rushing the development of the Borg as antagonists.

It's hard to think, watching the series now in order, that this was only their second appearance. They were unwisely written into the over-arching plot as introduced by act of Q and thus never had a chance at a gradual reveal, at building an air of mystery and menacing the fringes of known space. Now, for an encore, they're already getting intimate with the main cast and diving headlong toward Earth. TNG, overall, had a terrible habit of trying to dazzle the audience with exceptions to the norm before it had even defined its norms. The Borg, by themselves, would have made an excellent season capper. Locutus could have waited another couple of appearances. An attack on Earth even more so.

But their aesthetic was a stroke of genius. At their core, nothing new. Puppet Masters had drifted in and out of popularity for several decades, and TNG's initial, failed attempt at fabricating an assimilating alien menace was in fact so Heinlein-inspired as to beg royalties. But this was 1990. The counterculture music scene was drifting more and more away from punk rage and paranoia to industrial despair and nihilism. Neuromancer was several years old and the cyberpunk genre had already established itself. The Crow was still a few years away, but The Sandman was just kicking off. All in all, the Borg in their bleached make-up and black neoprene glory stuck a perfect landing into the rise of the '90s "goth" subculture, even if they're not generally cited as one of its centerpieces. Even their catchphrase "resistance is futile" could've rolled off the tongue of Trent Reznor himself.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Dawn of Man

"Endure. In enduring grow strong."

Yabba 2tha dabba-doo, biznatches!
No, wait, Varok, what the hell do you think you're doing? A flint axe against a fully bully wooly? Are you insane? Varok, no, wait for the rest of your hunting party. No! Nooo!

So yeah, Varok is now very, very KO-ed. As are the two other morons who ran up to the same mammoth one by one.
Rest in peace.

Dawn of Man: the game for people who thought Banished needed more cave bears.

Welcome to Nyctimus ca. half-past Lascaux

A rising trend in the recent crop of city simulators has been to take the Settlers route, go smaller, survival-themed and more people-centered ("village" simulators mixed with base-building) instead of focusing on sprawling megalopolitan zones as per the more classic SimCity feel. This approach can lend a greater air of immediacy and relevance to on-screen events but it also risks running into both the creepiness and frustration of the Sims games, leaning into the psyches of a handful of unfortunate playthings, micromanaging their daily lives like you're the Allied Mastercomputer while constantly wanting to wring their algorithms for not performing logically.
So. Much. Haaaaaaate.

In truth, this is not a complicated game. Your cave-men, cave-women and cave-urchins inhabit a map full of basic resources like flint, sticks and various tasty furry things to be poked with said flint and sticks. Guide your hapless mooks through keeping themselves warm, fed, sheltered and external to the stomachs of cave lions. As you gradually accumulate communal life experience you'll advance through the various stone and metal ages and replace your shallow two-tier tech tree with slightly improved, still shallow three-tier tech trees. Technically, your neolithic neophytes are supposed to have the wherewithal to pick their own tasks of among your decrees, allowing you to automate the tedium of daily life.
Technically... doesn't that word just make you cringe?

Technically, villagers are supposed to organize themselves into hunting parties for larger, more dangerous game.
In practice, unless you manually move them next to each other before launching the attack they'll merrily get themselves mastodo-mashed, rhino-plastered or bison-buggered one by one.
Technically, they're supposed to manage their own food/water needs.
In practice, maps are larger than their pathfinding can sort, and any villagers sent on a long expedition have decent odds of dying just a few steps away from water or food.
Technically, they have a stamina bar for sprinting.
In practice, they only use that stamina bar when trying to catch up to a combat target. They'll never sprint to get something they truly need (even if they're freezing, starving or dehydrated) and they never run from a fight when low on health.
Technically, they and their transports have multiple inventory slots.
In practice, they'll drag a six-slot sledge halfway across the map to pick up a single item than even a child could've fit in its pocketses, ignoring other necessary resources along the way.
Technically, they're supposed to work in groups of four to drag megaliths to construction sites.
In practice, they again get confused by long distances. The first worker starts dragging (and will likely starve to death for his trouble) while one or two others will stand about aimlessly back at the village. Also, if you have multiple construction sites they'll occasionally drag a megalith back and forth as new workers take the lead and try to move it to their own randomly selected destination.

Long story short, the AI is about as capable as the workers in a late-'90s RTS. While it is possible to give direct orders, many tasks will not allow it and the sheer volume of the remainder makes it impractical except for the odd mammoth-hunt. You'll be relying on a surplus of labor to pick up the slack. And this is hardly the only bit of missing functionality. As long hauls and long hunts are cross-map adventures, it's easy to lose track of shifting targets. One would assume RTS-style group designations (e.g. "ctrl+#) would be a basic feature. Build menu hotkeys are just as conspicuously absent. On the outright bizarre end of things, the options menu is inaccessible from in-game... even volume settings!

Corners were cut.
Buildings of each particular era all use exactly the same model. The ambient fauna is somewhat under-represented, except for a surprising breadth of (easily-reskinned) horny ungulates. Even character names lack variety so as to pepper your standard population of 50-100 with several Varoks at once.

Most of us are nevertheless willing to excuse these undeniable lacks because Dawn of Man is simply so... charming. It captures the same dreamy, cozy, immersive frontier aesthetic as Banished, with the added bonus of a more focused, better-defined setting. Moreover, though so far it seems a very simplistic, easy, idiot-friendly game, its nominal survival theme carries through in every aspect. In terms of resources, what you see is very much what you get, each unit of meat or wood having a presence on the game map and in your storehouses, so that it's easy to get caught up in watching stone by stone being stacked. Transparency is a beautiful thing.

You can't help but feel a little bit proud of your plucky little wattle-and-daub wonderland with every new message of "you've survived the winter" and though megalithic structures are certainly important, they're not the point of the game. Instead you advance mainly by standing the test of time. Another harvest, another couple of huts, another winter's worth of straw laid by the mangers. This is a game you leave running in the background for hours and days on end just so you can alt-tab every few minutes and soak in the sight of your villagers braving the vicissitudes of the bronze age. The minimalist music, the gently waving vegetation and ambient whooshing of the weather, the animals lazing about, the grisly skull totems with their ribbons billowing in the wind, the individual units of flour and flint waiting to be collected, it's all surprisingly tangible, and this visceral quality has made Dawn of Man more successful than anyone would've predicted.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

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Nihil lexicon nocive invidious? Refuse diffusion.