Thursday, January 23, 2020

Building for Fun and Profit

I've mentioned before that I play and enjoy the game Stardew Valley, which can be a welcome diversion from other games I play. It's definitely not a deep game by any stretch, but it is a fun and satisfying game. Well, I think I've found a competitor to the "let's play farmer" Stardew Valley.

In the last Steam Winter Sale, I acquired a few titles to play when I wasn't playing any of my "regular" games. Among them was "My Time at Portia", a game that I'd kept my eye on for quite a while. It hadn't been garnering the same overwhelming interest that Stardew Valley had, but the concept of a "builder" type of game in the same Stardew Valley genre, but in 3D* intrigued me. However, I'd been holding back from purchasing the game as it had spent a long time in early access. I do enough IT work for my job to not want to volunteer to be a beta tester, which is what early access effectively means, so I was content to wait for MTaP to officially be released before purchasing the game.

Well, it went live back in mid-late 2019, so when it went on sale in December I finally decided to pull the trigger. My Time at Portia sat around in my Steam Library for a few weeks, and I finally decided to download the game last week to see whether it meets expectations.

My answer is a "sort of yes", but I also haven't stopped playing the game this past week.**


My Time at Portia (MTAP for short) is set in what is described as a "post apocalyptic world", but it is far removed from the type of post apocalyptic world that, say, Fallout resides in. There are ruins a-plenty to explore, but most of the countryside and the area around Portia are pretty much an idyllic farming community. You learn over the course of playing the game that there was a 300 year age of darkness across the land after some cataclysmic war --likely a nuclear war with a Nuclear Winter causing the darkness-- and it was only after a plucky adventurer named Peach brought back the sunshine that the world began to recover.

Yeah, I know. 'Peach'? Really?

But regardless, that's just background so you'll find monsters and ruins and whatnot to explore out there in the world, ala D&D or any other setting of that sort.

I'm going to try to avoid some of the finer details here, since you have to discover the game yourself, but I can cover some broad strokes here about the game itself.

You are a builder, taking over your father's old shop that he'd left abandoned years ago. You never really knew your father, so you're just learning a bit about him and Portia, the community he lived in, as you go. The game itself is part construction game, part dating/getting-to-know-the-community game, and part story about Portia itself.

The basics of the game are pretty simple: You go get commissions to build things from either the Guild Hall or from townspeople who reach out to you directly. Typically you have a time limit on how long it will take to get something built, and the early game especially is spent trying to build up your equipment so that you can then actually build things for people. Oh, and acquiring the raw materials to do so from the surrounding countryside (and the ruins). There are abandoned ruins, which are great for ores, stone, and the occasional ancient relic you need to make something with; a countryside with trees, shrubs, and wild animals you can use to get raw materials from; and townspeople/farmers/ranchers who do own shops that might have what you need as well. As you progress, the requests get more and more elaborate, forcing you to upgrade and stockpile raw materials to try to stay one step ahead of the requests. Oh, and you can also upgrade your house and land as you see fit, so there's a metagame surrounding how you want to organize your pad.

Setting that aside, there's the metagame of the townspeople itself. You have a scale of diamonds (for townspeople you can develop friendships with) or hearts (for townspeople you can romance). Interactions with townspeople on a daily basis will raise their approval of you, and as you progress you learn more about them and you unlock the ability to hang out with them. For those who can be romanced, once you get high enough in the heart listings you can then confess your romantic interest in them and the "playdates" turn into "real dates".***

And above this lies the overall story that the devs wanted to present about Portia. When I think I'm at the point where things will slow down, storywise, it picks up again.


Okay, that's pretty much how the game goes, mechanically speaking.

Does it scratch my builder's itch? Yes.

Does it scratch my interest in the story? Yes.

Then do I give it a resounding seal of approval? Kind of.

Why the "kind of" response? Well....

  1. The graphics, while pretty to look at, aren't designed to appeal to me.

    Oh, don't get me wrong, the landscape is really nice, and the buildings/stuff you build are rather nice in a cartoony kind of way. I'd describe that as Wildstar meets Thomas Kincaid, I guess. However, the character design has more than a bit of Rugrats style cartoon in them, and the Rugrats style did not appeal to me. On top of that, you can tell that the character designs were angling to try to appeal to both adults and kids, so some of the marriageable characters look adult (such as Arlo or Petra or Phyllis), and others look like adults with kid-style faces (Sam is the best example here). The character designs also had a certain "street caricature artist" aesthetic to them as well, which kind of bugged me from time to time.
  2. It needs more polishing.

    Even after its official release, I find small bugs here and there, mainly in the writing.

    Let me put it out there before anybody else asks: I could tell that the development team's native language was not English almost from the start. There are certain speech patterns that native English speakers have that non-native English speakers have a hard time picking up, and once I noticed the first mistake I started finding them throughout the game. What makes it worse is that about 1/5 of the voice actors' lines are different than the lines on screen. You can tell that changes were made, but QA didn't align the voice actors' lines with the on-screen lines. Given that the voice actors' deviations typically made less sense than the written ones, I suspect that the written lines were the ones that got more polish**** than the spoken lines, and the dev team didn't have the budget to re-record the voice actors.
  3. The path finding. Oh, the path finding.

    Have you seen videos of some of the worst Skyrim path finding bugs? Or maybe the Skyrim spoof? Yeah, it's like that. At one point you're on a quest with an NPC deep in one of the ruins, and I turned around, wondering where on earth the NPC had gotten. Turns out said NPC was underneath the catwalk I was on, walking through the instant death goo below. /sigh

    I've also seen bugs where an NPC keeps trying to get on a horse and the NPC keeps flickering between on the ground and on the horse. These are pathfinding issues that have seemingly been solved in most other video games, so the dev team really needs to tweak their code in this space.
  4. The stereotypes.

    If you're looking for deep characterization, video games typically aren't people's first choice. That being said, the NPCs are a laundry list of stereotypes: The Hot Farmgirl, The Idealistic College Student, The Church vs. The Scientists*****, The Greedy Competitor, The Tomboy, The Sassy Waitress With the Brooklyn Accent, The Farmer's Daughter Living with the Elderly Grandma, the Hot Girl with the Mysterious Illness, etc. They even have seven brothers who look and sound like they came right out of an episode of The Sopranos.******

    The NPCs would also say the same couple of lines over and over again, depending on where you were with the story, so you quickly got used to the same thing over and over and over.
  5. The Pacing

    At first I thought the game was going to be fairly slow paced, but once you get into the mid-game everything seems to have a timer on it and there seems to be not enough time for me to get into tweaking my house and workspace the way I like it. The game burns through a daily clock much faster than Stardew Valley does, and I have to constantly be on my toes to organize my build schedule properly.

Okay, given that list, it's a wonder why I'm still willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt. That's because the issues aside, it's still a fairly well made indie title. I'd be tempted to say that the dev team is likely more familiar with creating mobile games rather than regular PC/XBox/Playstation titles, and there are aspects of MTAP that seem to fit in better with mobile games --particularly the character graphics-- but it's still a decently built game overall. If the dev team continues to fix the bugs --and more importantly get an editor to clean up the language translation issues-- I think that MTAP will do fairly well for itself.

The game is obviously not for everybody, but when it's on sale it's worth a gander. If you like Stardew Valley you might like MTAP.

But I really need to get back to MMOs now....

*And in third person view, no less.

**I finally got around to logging back into WoW and also playing a few other games last night. Nothing fancy, just wanted to work on Cardwyn's Tailoring.

***Really, it's called "Play", and I'm not making this up.

****Although they could REALLY use a lot more polish than this.

*****Okay, this is still a pretty valid trope.

******True Story: Back when I was at college, I went with a group to a conference in New York City. On a Saturday night, we went into Little Italy to get some food. I kid you not, there were tons of little Italian-American restaurants there complete with a guy out in front --typically dressed in a loud suit-- who would try to get us to go inside. No matter which restaurant we passed by, the guy would also have that heavy NYC accent that made the whole thing feel like we'd stepped into a bad gangster movie.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Not Everybody Wants to Herd Cats for a Living

One thing I've noticed over the past couple of months or so in Classic is a general reluctance to actually start up and get groups together for runs. I've mentioned this before, but the reason why it came into sharp focus the other day was the following scenario:

  • First person posts a "LFG Mara".
  • Second person posts a "LFG Mara".
  • First person posts a "LFG Mara".
  • Second person posts a "LFG Mara".
  • Third person jumps in and says "You both should talk".
I whispered the third person to agree with him, and we both expressed frustration about people not wanting to take the initiative. He felt it was laziness that led people to just posting and not initiating, but I thought that there might be an aspect of shyness to it as well.

In their own way, MMOs are an ideal game for a shy or introverted person to interact with the world. You can go about playing a game online under your own rules, without having to play with other people at all. At the same time, you reap the benefits of a living, breathing online world. Of course, there's that initial leap that you have to make in actually starting to play.

And sticking to PvE servers too.

I can't be mad at people avoiding the responsibility of putting a group together, because when I started WoW that would have been me. I still remember the emotions and almost terrifying hustle and bustle of a busy Orgrimmar the first time Soul escorted me in the gates, but what was even worse --for me, anyway-- was the first time I did it alone. It's like trying to find your way in a new city with a pretty rudimentary map, and the occasional "need a guild?" whisper buffeted me. It was like I was back in my first day of high school, trying to find my way around and realizing that those who I thought were my friends in elementary school were anything but.

If '10 year player' me were to just tell newbie me "just put yourself out there and LFG", newbie me would never have believed him. Even the LFG queue, which was designed to match people quickly with what they wanted to run, was a terrifying step. "What if I fucked up?" I thought. I'd quickly read over the online walkthroughs once more for the instance I'd selected, just to make sure I didn't screw up and get crapped on by the others in the group.

Kind of like this, but with MMOs.

Naturally, my first LFG 5-man would be Azol-Nerub, which is a (relatively) simple instance in theory, but the webs in the background kept confusing me as to where to go as they all seemed to blend together. But I somehow persevered, and I made it through that first time.

In the years since, I'd done enough instances that I know how these work --whether or not you have a walkthrough handy-- but those feelings of "please don't screw up" never really leave me.* And getting a group together means you're partially responsible for the group composition in the first place, so I have a tendency to blame myself since I was the one who "approved" everyone's entry in the first place.

In addition to the fear of reaching out an assembling a group, there's also the "tune out" part of playing an MMO: people who already herd cats in jobs aren't necessarily going to be interested in doing the same thing in an online game. Just like how some people don't want to be part of guild leadership because "they do the same damn thing all day long", people won't want to pull together a PUG just to go run Maraudon, for example. And if you've a hard time finding a tank, which is the current hard to find role on Myzrael, you can spend your entire evening just being frustrated.**

I suppose what I'm saying is to all the people who don't want to be Type A personalities and actively put together PUGs for the instances you want, I grok you.*** You've got your reasons, and while I don't know the specific ones, I understand. I'm fine with organizing our PUGs (now, anyway); just don't be a stranger.

*Particularly for wipes.

**Not that LFG is any better, mind you. I remember days when I wanted to get into a specific instance and waiting a couple of hours for it to pop, only to have the tank or healer drop as soon as we got to the instance. Given that I've seen this in both WoW and SWTOR, I believe this to be an MMO-wide practice where LFG queues are concerned. At least with a PUG via LFG or LookingForGroup, you're going to find people who actually want to be there, even though that may take a while.

***'Grok'. Wow, that's an entry for the Wayback Machine.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

I'll Miss You, Neil

I apologize for interrupting the blog like this, but I wanted to at least pass along my condolences to the friends and family of Neil Peart on his passing this week.

Neil, the drummer for Rush, provided a huge part of the soundtrack of my youth*. When other rock and metal lyricists were getting airplay about getting hot and heavy with girls, Neil's lyrics were deep and touched on subjects from teenage angst to astrophysics to mythology to nuclear war to death and meaning.

Of course, Neil was most well known for his drumming prowess, and he was frequently praised as one of the greatest drummers of all time. When my youngest decided to take up percussion in school, I made a point of getting her a copy of Neil's "Anatomy of a Drum Solo" on DVD.

I'm sure I'll be able to put this in perspective later, but all I can think of now is "Fuck Cancer."

Neil's family --and his bandmates, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson-- asked that in lieu of flowers or anything else, just pick a cancer charity of your choice and make a donation in Neil's name.

From the CBC.

And from Rick Beato, whose YouTube channel I watch to help the eternally musically clueless Redbeard understand a fraction of what the mini-Reds and my wife understand.

*And to this day, even though they retired a few years ago.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Before the Burning Crusade... the only time you would have seen this.

As a Wrath baby, I certainly never have. But the absence of any Horde or Alliance in front of the Dark Portal shocked me more than the presence of all those demons and L60 elites all over the place.

This is yet another reminder that the world of Vanilla/Classic is totally different than what WoW evolved into.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Story Continues (because I don't want to make a major edit to the last post)....

Well, right after I hit "Publish" and sent the previous post out into the world, I remembered something about the post-Cataclysm Felwood: there was a Night Elf encampment just south of Timbermaw Hold. I'd assumed it was an extra flightpoint added in to the game from Cataclysm --having not leveled up through Felwood in pre-Cata Alliance-- but what if it did actually have a flightpoint?

Wonder of wonders, it existed pre-Cata, and it did have a Flightpoint!

Mishellena, I am SO happy to see you!!
I'm sure the Paladin who'd recently landed* thought I was nuts for hugging Mishellena, the Hippogryph Master.

So with that in mind, I decided to tackle Timbermaw Hold without making good on my threat to strip Az down to her skivvies.

There was a group of Alliance who'd obviously farmed enough to have the Timbermaw as at least neutral running ahead of me, although I got the feeling they paused a bit to see if I needed some help. But hey, Az is a Rogue of means, and can get through anything, right?

Because Firbolgs.
Um, yeah, about that....

So I decided to save my gear and crept along once Kernda cleared out.

I did get jumped by one Firbolg but managed to avoid them by Vanishing. And on reaching the end of the tunnels, I found as I ran out that the large group of Winterfall Firbolg that wander around out in front of the Winterspring exit had all been recently cut down, so I managed to put some distance between myself and the exit....

Dead Firbolgs as far as the eye could see.
Sorry, Az draws the line at keeping her brown shirt on, as Winterspring is freaking cold.

And her daggers, but that's a Rogue thing.

So all I had to do was put my gear back on, mount up, and head west.

Destination: Everlook.

*Who was just offscreen.

Why do I do this, Part Whatever...

Az's penchant for getting me in trouble led me to Azshara today, stealthily sneaking along and swimming among the elite Giants out there. It wasn't exactly how I planned to spend part of a Sunday, but I wanted to clean out my quest queue as I was starting to acquire Alterac Valley quests.

And yes, that meant I wandered into Alterac Valley at a severely overwhelmed L51.

I kind of hoped* that the L60 toons would be isolated from the rest of the L50-L59 toons, but as soon as I joined the entrance to AV I discovered I was one of a handful not at L60. And I was the only one lower than L55, which wasn't a good thing.

That meant that enemies had a beat on me no matter whether I was stealthed or not, and I lost track of my deaths after about 7 or so.

Still, I actually got a killing blow in, and I participated in 6 HKs, not too bad for someone who was grossly outleveled in that BG.

And because of that misadventure, I decided I was going to wait on AV for a couple of more levels before I try again.


But back to Azshara...

I had that one quest you pick up in the Mage/Priest/Pally area in Ironforge to go get some rubbings of runes in Azshara, and both the rubbing kit and the flare gun were taking up space in my bags. So between those things and my full quest log, I decided to run on over to Azshara and knock that quest out.

However, I didn't count on the adventure of trying to find the island where the Biggs knockoff** was going to land.

The quest said it was an island off the coast of the southern peninsula, but did you notice there were a LOT of islands in the southern peninsula? And what qualifies as "off the coast", anyway?"

So I spent upwards of 40 minutes swimming from island to island, checking each one I could climb up on for a place for the Dwarf pilot to land. After the first attempt of firing the flare gun I discovered that I should be looking for a specifically built platform, so at least I now knew what to look for. But the time spent dodging regular enemies and elites that were 4+ levels higher than me didn't make this any easier.

I finally found the island as the very last freaking island on the map. Figures, I suppose, but I didn't want to assume that and then have to double back if I found I was wrong.

After that long waste of time, I shot off the flare, talked to the pilot, and then discovered that for my reward I'd have to go visit the original quest giver anyway.

"If that was the case, why make me run around for upwards of an hour?" I grumbled as I hearthed back to safety.


I had yet another quest to take care of, and one that led me to Felwood: the ooze collection. I'm almost worried about what that gnome wants all this ooze for, but Ironforge isn't my home, so off I went up to Felwood to perform the ooze collection I'm sure everybody wants.

It was then that I discovered that the Emerald Circle outpost doesn't have a flightpoint in Classic (it did by the time Wrath came along). So I collected oozes and then decided I ought to wander north to see if I could sneak through to Winterspring. As of this writing, I'm parked outside the tunnel entrance, debating whether I've enough flash powder to vanish my way through the cave network.

There's foolhardy, and there's crazy. I prefer to think that Az is on the side of the former, but given that I've got some screenshots of Az in the Western Plaguelands at L28, maybe the latter is a more apt description.

But one thing is certain: I'm not exiting this expedition without acquiring a flightpoint.


And if that means having Az run naked though the tunnels so as not to lose equipment durability in the event of multiple corpse runs.... Well, I hope those Firbolgs enjoy the show.

*Given that I don't read the forums, I just play.

**Biggs Starlighter from the original Star Wars movie.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Who eats those Sour Patch Kids candies, anyway?

I finally got into Az's last Uldaman run* the other day, and by far this run was the most like my previous time in WoW than any other.

And I'm not exactly sure how I felt about it.

On the plus side, it was efficient. We had a Mage whose AoE made me pretty much superfluous, and I was reduced to mainly doing crowd control on various casters. We had a DPS Warrior who could handle threat if the tank went down, even though he wasn't geared for being a tank himself. We skipped a boss or two on the way to cleaning out the instance, and the only time we had a couple of people die --the tank and the Mage-- the three of us who were upright were able to handle the mobs without issue.

However, the efficiency came at the cost of silence and pulling entire rooms.

The tank pretty much made the assumption that our group could handle pulls at the level I last saw in Halls of Lightning, where a tank would get about 3-4 mobs at once and let the DPS toons AoE them down. The problem with that is that the tank had issues keeping threat from the Mage**, so the DPS Warrior and I kept having to DPS down the mobs that ran to the Mage.

And during Archaedas' fight, the Mage had been designated to take care of the adds, but either he kept forgetting or he didn't have the instant DPS needed to zap the adds quickly so I had to run around and kill the adds instead.

But what bugged me the most was how blasted silent the entire run was.

I'd grown accustomed to everybody talking in the instance, if for nothing else than to identify what strategy to use throughout the pulls. But this was so damn quiet I think that the only time we did talk was the lead-up to the Archaedas fight, and that was limited to a couple of sentences total.

This was not what I had in mind when I resubbed to play Classic.

Thankfully, that seems to be the exception, as this past morning Cardwyn ran Razorfen Kraul with a good group, and we had a great time killing mobs, chatting away, and in general having a blast. About the only downer was that I got a call from work that caused me to have to drop after the run, so I couldn't get a second run in with that group. But we did exchange friend requests for later***, so maybe the Uldaman run was an aberration.


I have turned that Uldaman run over in my head for a couple of days, and emphasis on efficiency --and the overall silence-- bugs me more now than it did then. I'm in Classic for the experiences, not the rush to max level, and that Uldaman run felt so much like another step in the rush to get to raiding that it made me want to hang around Stormwind, crafting for a while.

If Classic devolves into the rush to end game like Retail, I'm not so sure how much longer I'll want to hang around. But at the same time, this was only one run. We'll see what happens later, but I'd say this was the first time I'd had a truly bad taste in my mouth since coming back to Classic. The irony is that it had nothing to do with being ganked in a battleground, which is where I expected that first sour taste to come.

On the flip side, I've met some really great people in Classic, and I enjoy talking with them. And seeing old friends who still play both Classic and Retail. So I guess we'll see how things go.

*I should clarify: she only needed one more run to finish the Uldaman quests she had in her queue.

**Rogues have an ability to reduce their threat --can't remember the name offhand right now-- that as of L32 Cardwyn does not have. Therefore, I use AoE with Cardwyn sparingly, and after the tank says it's okay to use it.

***And I politely declined yet another guild invite after the run.