Friday, January 31, 2020

A Few More Portia Thoughts

Even though I'm no longer playing My Time at Portia like a maniac, I still am playing to see where the stories go.

And, really, to see which NPC to romance.

I just kind of cringe at the "play date" portion of the game, because it feels like what a child would think that an adult "hanging out" or "date" would be like. Most adults I know wouldn't want to spend an entire play date swinging on swings or riding a seesaw. While those are obviously not required activities, you have to burn through a certain amount of activity in each play date, and that going back and forth from the game room area of the restaurant to sitting down and talking (either inside the restaurant or in the square) just burns up time you don't have.

I'm kind of a "bang for the buck" kind of person, and burning a lot of those "activity tokens" by traditional kid's playground activities delivers the most, so I end up using them a lot in spite of the "Really?? I mean REALLY??" aspect of them.*

One last thought about the play dates: why on earth would an NPC request to meet at one location and they say "Hey, let's do XXX!" which is about 1/2 hour walk away? Why not choose a better location for the starting of the play date in the first place? I get that it might be my choice when I initiate the request for a play date, but when the NPC initiates a date and selects a specific time/location, and then it's all on them to select an activity nearby.


There are some cut scenes that make me really want to push the game further, just to see what happens to the story. There's the main story, of course, and there's also the personal story of several characters. The thing that gets me is that only some of the NPCs you can romance have a fully interactive storyline, which kind of bugs me a bit. The ironic thing is that while the game kind of pushes you in the direction of one female and one male NPC --if you play the game you can figure out which is which fairly easily by the side quests they ask you to do-- one of the NPCs you have to actually go and seek out has a couple of cut scenes that are so fully fleshed out that it seems that at some point the devs believed most people would go and try to romance this character.**

I recognize that this is about as "romantic" as a G rated movie is concerned --no Mass Effect stuff (or even SWTOR stuff) here-- but in some ways the story is a bit more adult than I expected. It's a curious blend of kid friendly yet teen/adult-ish content.


My Time at Portia has the same save characteristic that Stardew Valley has: saves only happen when you go to sleep for the night, so you lose any activity if you quit the game during the day. This has led to me "pausing" the game by hitting the escape key or another key (such as i for inventory or m for map) and then doing something else around the house for a while because I don't want to lose my place in game. This has the unfortunate side effect of seeming to Steam like I'm playing it for a lot more hours than I really am. I think it told me I'd been playing it for over 100 hours by now, but over that time I think I've only truly played about 30 hours or so.


One final side note on MTAP: the adventurer's guild is known as The Flying Pigs. That might sound goofy to people, but me, I'm totally amused.

But not for the reason you might think.

My hometown of Cincinnati has a marathon that is known as The Flying Pig Marathon. It's called that because of Cincinnati's historical connection to the pork packing industry. In the 19th Century, so many hogs and pork processing was peformed in Cincy that it garnered the nickname "Porkopolis". To honor that part of the city's past, for Cincinnati's bicentennial back in 1988, the (then) newly created Bicentennial Commons had statues of flying pigs atop columns like so:

Courtesy of WVXU***

And so when I saw the posters and statue in Portia for The Flying Pigs, my first thought was "someone from Cincinnati must have worked on this project".

Not very likely, given that Pathea Games is a Chinese company, but still....

*Apparently play dates and dating options get better the farther you progress along the storylines, so we'll see.

**Maybe the baser instinct in me says that the devs figured this because "big boobs!", but it's not like she's the only character with a voluptuous build in the game.

***The article the pic came from is Cincinnati's Flying Pig Icon Wasn't Always So Beloved by WVXU and contains a 25 minute audio portion for those who want to listen to the story.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Finding Myself in Classic

Apparently I do exist in Classic....

Sorry, I'm not bald. And I haven't
worn my beard that long since
I attended college.

I can live with being a Dwarf.

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.