If you’ve ever spent a decent amount of time playing a MMORPG chances are you’ve come up against the terror that is the Random Number Generator (RNG). No matter how many times you run a dungeon to get that one item to complete your set or kill that particular mob to get that item you need to complete that quest it just never seems to happen. However, sometimes, everything seems to go your way and all your Christmases seem to come at once and the game has you in its grasp again. Whilst RNGesus might be a cruel god to many he’s the reason that many of us keep coming back and now there’s solid science to prove it.
It’s long been known that random rewards are seen as more rewarding than those that are given consistently. Many online games, notably those on social networks, have tapped into that mechanic in order to keep users engaged far longer than they would have otherwise. Interestingly though this seems to run contrary to what many players will tell you, often saying that they’d prefer a guaranteed reward after a certain amount effort or time committed. As someone who’s played through a rather large number of games that utilize both mechanics I can tell you that both types of systems will keep me returning however nothing beats the rush of finding a really good item from the hands of RNGesus.
Indeed my experience seems to line up with the recent study published by the University of Chicago which shows that people are more motivated by random rewards than they are by consistent ones. It sounds quite counter-intuitive when you think about it, I mean who would take a random reward over a guaranteed one, but the effect remains consistent across the multiple experiments that they conducted. Whilst the mechanism of what triggers this isn’t exactly known it’s speculated that randomness leads to excitement, much like the the infinitesimally small odds of winning the lottery are irrelevant to the enjoyment some people derive from playing it.
However the will of RNGesus needs to be given a guiding hand sometimes to ensure that he’s not an entirely cruel god. Destiny’s original loot system was a pretty good example of this as you could be bless with a great drop only to have the reveal turn it into something much less than what you’d expect it to be. Things like this can easily turn people off games (and indeed I think this is partly responsible for the middling reviews it received at launch) so there needs to be a balance struck so players don’t feel hard done by.
I’d be very interested to see the effect of random rewards that eventually become guaranteed (I.E. pseudo-random rewards). World of Warcraft implemented a system like this for quest drops a couple years ago and it was received quite well. This went hand in hand with their guaranteed reward systems (tokens/valor/etc.) which have also been met with praise. Indeed I believe the mix of these two systems, random rewards with guaranteed systems on the side, seems to be the best mix in order to keep players coming back. I definitely know I feel more motivated to play when I’m closer to a guaranteed reward which can, in turn, lead to more random ones.
It’s always interesting to investigate these non-intuitive behaviours as it can give us insight into why we humans act in seemingly irrational ways when it comes to certain things. We all know we’re not strict rational actors, nor are we perfect logic machines, but counter-intuitive behaviour is still quite a perplexing field of study. At least we’ve got definitive proof now that random rewards are both more rewarding and more motivating than their consistent brethren although how that knowledge will help the world is an exercise I’ll leave up to the reader.
I feel it’s pertinent that I get this out of the way before I start the review in earnest: Roguelikes give me the shits. I can understand the appeal that many find in them, figuring out a strategy to deal with whatever might come before you, however I really detest games that punish you with things that are completely out of your control. You get to a point where you think you’re doing great only to find that you hadn’t accounted for situation X which then proceeds to tank your game, forcing you to redo the entire section just so you can account for it. Whilst Gods Will Be Watching isn’t exactly a Roguelike (it describes itself as a Point and Click adventure, which it partly is) many of its gameplay elements take inspiration from the genre and, unfortunately, are the downfall of what would otherwise be a brilliant game.
Gods Will Be Watching is one of those games that started out as a entry to the Ludlam Dare game jam which received such wide acclaim that it then went onto a successful IndieGoGo campaign for development into a fully fledged title. You play as Sergeant Burden, a long serving member of the establishment who’s infiltrated himself into the idealistic rebellion group called Xenolifer. Your mission is to play along with them, gain their trust and hopefully limit the amount of damage they can do. However it becomes apparent that it’s not black and white when it comes to Xenolifer, or even your own organisation, and therein is where the real challenge lies. Can you protect everyone? Are you strong enough to make the tough choices at the right time? These are the questions you’ll be faced with and living with those decisions might be easier said than done.
Since the theme for the original Ludlam Dare entry was “minimalism” Gods Will Be Watching took the cue to use the current ultra-minimalistic pixelart styling that other games like Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery EP are known for. There’s not a huge amount of visual variety in the game with the vast majority of it taking place within a single frame for each chapter of the game. It serves its purpose however, conveying the numerous visual clues and other elements form part of the core game play. It all kind of blurs into the background after a while as for the most part you’ll be spending your time in menus rather than constantly searching for things that you need to click on.
As I alluded to earlier the gameplay of Gods Will Be Watching is a mix between a traditional point and click adventure and a Roguelike. Each scene has a specific objective that needs to be completed in order to progress to the next chapter. Usually this objective requires you to play with a set variables in order to achieve the desired outcome so the majority of your time will be spent balancing them all out. Sometimes these variables are obvious, given to you in plain numbers, other times they’re hidden in the form of visual clues that you’ll have to decipher. There’s also several different ways of dealing with the problem at hand, some of which will make your life easier or harder depending on the objective. It’s an interesting concept however I feel that the execution has let it down somewhat.
You see I get the idea that there’s variables that need maximising and that you probably won’t get everything to go exactly the way you want however the inclusion of randomization feels like a big middle finger to the player. They mention this at the start, forewarning you that failure is to be expected and that you should just keep on trying, however the randomization can and will completely fuck you over numerous times before you get it right. It’s not even a matter of strategy after a while as even the best strategy can get completely wrecked by the random number generator spurting out a couple unfortunate numbers in a row. In a decently designed game this would be a low chance occurrence but in Gods Will Be Watching it happens constantly.
I’d probably be more forgiving if failing a chapter didn’t mean having to start all over from the start again, giving RNGesus another chance to fuck me over. Take for instance the torture scene where you have to distribute damage between the two characters in order to make sure you make it through the day. If your begs happen to fail, or you don’t get the response that allows you to rest, you’ll likely end up killing one of the characters. This isn’t to mention the Russian Roulette scene which can completely fuck you over, even if you use every trick at your disposal. The desert scene is even worse for this as even when I was doing things nigh on perfectly I still got ruined by random events that were out of my control which is where I ended up leaving the game.
Which brings me to the real reason why the random elements piss me off so much: the story is actually intriguing and one where I felt I was crafting my own little narrative within the game. Looking over the forums you can see how varied everyone’s experiences is, something that I really admire in a game when its done well. However like many games I’ve played as of late the mechanics of Gods Will Be Watching are just so onerous that those tasty morsels of story are so few and far between that they are simply not enough to keep you going. It’s a real shame as after reading a couple other reviews I’ve found out there’s still 2 chapters to go but, honestly, I just can’t be arsed to slog through the numerous rounds of RNG roulette in order to see them.
Gods Will Be Watching is a game I really wanted to like as it had all the makings of other titles in the genre that I had considered good. The simplistic presentation and story with a some level of depth to it, coupled with the ability to craft your own narrative above that, has great potential. However the Rougelike elements destroyed any hopes of that happening, trapping the story behind too many RNG determined gates forcing the player to spend hours redoing content in order to get to the next chapter. I’m sure there will be many people who say I didn’t get the point of it or some other bullshit but the simple fact is that Gods Will Be Watching failed to provide the writer with a good game experience, hiding its moments of brilliance behind mechanics that are simply not fun to play.
Gods Will Be Watching is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total play time was 5 hours with 10% of the achievements unlocked.
The roguelike genre has always been on the periphery of my gaming world; sitting in the corner with its randomly generated levels promising me all sorts of wonders should I take the time to play through it. Of course it’s a fool’s gambit since the Roguelike genre dictates that your path in the game will be a slave to your computer’s random number generator forcing you to make the best of the situation that you’ve been dealt. I think it’s this exact reason that I avoided the genre for so long, I’m not the kind of player who likes being out of control of a situation especially when if a wrong move means I won’t be able to reload and try again. You’d then think that FTL: Faster Than Light wouldn’t get a look in but it overcame the barrier by being in space and having several recommendations from friends.
FTL puts you in control of a small federation ship that has intercepted a data packet from the rebel fleet that’s hell bent on taking your empire down. This data could prove to be invaluable in stopping them so it’s up to you to get back to your fleet in order deliver this information. You’re a long way away however and the rebel fleet is hot on your heels, forcing you to venture through some sectors of space that you probably wouldn’t have gone through in the first place. Indeed space seems to be a rather hostile place as you’ll face many obstacles along your way and even upon reaching your final destination there will still be many challenges for you to overcome.
In typical roguelike fashion FTL eschews modern graphics, instead favouring pixel art styling for everything. As far as I can tell they’re actually vector based images as rendering them on my 1680 x 1050 screen didn’t give me the huge pixel blocks that I usually get with titles like this which is a pretty great achievement. The simple, clean art style also helps immensely with the game play as it’s much easier to distinguish everything on screen, something which can be crucial when you’re in the middle of a battle and clicking wildly. The UI elements are also straight forward and their functions clear further adding to FTL’s overall usability. It really pleases me when a game manages to get the graphics and UI right without being too over the top as I can’t tell you how many times a bad interface has soured me on the whole game experience.
FTL’s game play is your run of the mill Rougelike dungeon affair with you moving from beacon to beacon, each of which is randomly generated and contains things like an event, an enemy ship or simply nothing. Depending on the choices you’ve made in what to upgrade, what kind of crew members you have and even what weapons you have equipped the events (and the way they play out) will change which means that no two play throughs will ever be a like. This is both a blessing and a curse of the genre as whilst you’ll never be playing the same game twice this does mean that you’ll often find yourself in situations that you’ve never been in before and should you make the wrong choices you’ll be doing it all again in no short order.
For the most part you’ll spend your time fighting other ships with varying levels of weaponry, configurations and additional abilities that are sure to make your life far more difficult than it should be. Whilst the combat occurs in real time there it’s still in essence turn based thanks to the time limits placed on all actions you can take. In the beginning the scales are most certainly stacked in your favour as you have several times the hull of any enemy ship and can usually take them out with a well placed missile, leaving you to clean them up at your leisure. This doesn’t last particularly long however and you’ll soon find yourself waging a battle on several different fronts.
The combat system is actually quite detailed with many viable strategies available. The initial ship you’re given, The Kestrel, is a pretty typical “blast them until they stop moving” type of craft which is optimized for taking out their shields with a missile and then pummelling them with your laser. Other ship configurations, which you unlock by completing certain achievements, focus on different ways of taking out the enemy. The first (and currently only) ship that I unlocked uses an ion canon to disable enemy systems whilst a single drone wears them down. Others focus on boarding parties where your crew is teleported to the other ship to wreck havoc which usually requires careful micromanagement to pull off correctly. These are just the main types of combat as there’s a lot more variation if you include the different types of weapons and drones, each of which can have devastating effects if used correctly.
I spent most of my time on the Kestrel, favouring to upgrade my shields initially to prevent most of the early hull damage whilst looking for some kind of weapon to give me the edge. I’d usually end up keeping one missile around in order to disable their shields so I could then unleash with my other weapons but I did have a lot of success with 2 lasers and 1 beam weapon which would usually let me drop their shields before doing a lot of sweeping damage to them. The issue with this was that it was something of a one trick pony and direct hits to the shields or weapons systems usually left me rather vulnerable so it was always a race to disable their weapons first before they could do it to me.
Now I know this is probably going to sound like I’m missing the point of the roguelike genre but the fact is that a good chunk of this game (I’d say about 50% or so) is pure, unadulterated luck. There were several times when after my first jump in a new game I’d find myself in an asteroid field or next to a sun that’s about to go nova which would do enormous amounts of hull damage to my ship before I could escape. This then put me on the back foot as I’d have to use my scrap for repairs rather than upgrades which usually meant even more hull damage and thus the cycle goes. Sometimes it swung the other way with FTL coughing up a weapon that was seriously broken for when I got it, effectively enabling me to take down all sorts of foes without having to pay too much attention to strategy. Many will argue that this is part of the fun but I’ve got one story that I feel proves my point somewhat.
So I had gotten to the final stage with an amazing ship, nearly full compliment of crew and all the missiles and hull I could want. Not wanting to lose this game I hunted around for the save game files and copied them off (yeah, yeah, I know) before heading off towards the final mission. Upon reaching it I did pretty well but didn’t make it past the first phase and so I reloaded it and tried again. I did this no less than 20 times and whilst I got the first stage down pat it appears the second stage still eludes me. Without doing that I would’ve had to have invested a lot more time to get to that point and there would be no guarantees that I could get there with a similarly decked out ship. Essentially, if I was playing the game normally, I wouldn’t have had the same opportunity to learn the boss fight if I hadn’t jacked my save game which irritates me. I know a lot of people enjoy this kind of challenge but after a while I have to say the hour long build up to inevitable demise started to wear on me.
Despite my misgivings with the Rougelike genre I really did enjoy FTL: Faster Than Light for what it is. When I started off just getting around without dying was a challenge but later on it was easy for me to get to the final stand without too much hassle. Of course how I did from there was completely dependent on how much the RNG liked me that day but that didn’t stop me from trying time and time again. I’ve still yet to get passed the second phase of the final boss fight but you can rest assured I’ll keep trying. I might not go the whole hog every time (I still have that game saved) but there is a certain satisfaction in playing from start to finish and I’m sure that’s what keeps everyone coming back.
FTL: Faster Than Light is available on PC, OSX and Linux right now for $10. Game was mostly played on the easy difficulty setting with around 7 hours total play time.
My friends and long time readers will know that I’m no stranger to the darker sides of the Internet. Whilst I don’t spend every spare minute seeking out the depraved sanctuary that many of those sites provide I do love a foray onto the wrong side of the railroad tracks every so often just to see what happens when you grant a large audience an ability they didn’t have before. To be honest it’s probably more apt to describe it as a kind of Internet adrenaline sport although I must admit the rush is nothing compared to say, Zorbing in New Zealand (highly recommend that by the way).
With this in mind you can imagine the slightly perverted part of my subconscious perked up when he heard about a new site called Chatroulette. Stay your hand before clicking that link though as what lies beyond is not for everyone and most assuredly, not safe for work. I came across the site in my usual daily intake of random tech-oriented awesome over at Boing Boing, and throwing caution to the wind about the warnings of penises a plenty I decided to fire up my poor web cam (which has the IR filter removed, making most things appear strangely coloured) and see what came out on the other end. Needless to say I was in for a surprise.
The first bunch of people on the other end looked to be mostly college students, staring intently into the camera probably hoping for girls on the other end of the line to show them some skin. I say this because most of them spent about 2 seconds looking at me before hitting the next button. Feeling slightly disappointed that my random Internet encounters weren’t going to turn up a passable conversation I decided to unleash my inner 4chan troll and mess with the people on the other side of the camera.
This is when things started to get weird.
At first I just tuned into one of my favourite trance channels and turned up the volume loud enough for it to be heard on the other end whilst pointing the camera at a nearby wall. The first of my victims seemed to like the music and it inspired him to dance whilst intently watching the screen. After about 10 seconds I decided to spook him by pointing the camera at myself and yelling, which led to a very surprised reaction and a quick click of the next button. I wasn’t done with Chatroulette yet and decided that whilst providing random dance music to strangers was all good there was something missing. My web cam needed an actor.
One of the side effects of my collector’s edition addiction is the swath of various figurines and models that adorn my computer desk. They then became my avatar in this world of random encounters. From a Cylon to a Daeva from Aion to an Optimus Prime Potato Head they all got their 15 seconds of fame with those who were connected to my den of cheesy trance music. For the most part people just clicked straight on but occasionally I’d get the obviously inebriated college student who would just stare blankly at the screen for several minutes. Despite my hopes of conjuring up a good conversation with phrases like “I’m a Cylon :D” or “Where the hell did I drop my nose?” many of them would just click on, still on the hunt for random Internet strange.
And then there was the torrent of male genitalia. I’d have to say that at least 1 out of every 5 of the strangers I was connected to was a single male with the camera pointed directly at his wedding tackle. I’m sure most of them were hoping for a free peek at some Internet strange but really, why bother? It’s possible they thought that just putting it out there would hopefully make any female that was using Chatroulette to stay more than the second it would take to load up the first frame from their web cam, leading to a IRL hookup.
I think it would be more likely that they’d get their junk struck by lightening, but I’m somewhat of a realist.
You can then imagine my shock and surprise (or lack thereof) when I saw the New York Times publishing an article on the site:
Michael Wesch, an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University who researches how people share and record video on YouTube, said Chatroulette was a “very exciting reuse of existing technologies.” But he warns parents to educate their children. “I can’t say that I would want my kids on there,” Mr. Wesch said, “but I know they are going to eventually find the site anyway.”
From my experience on the site, echoed by those I’ve spoken to, it seems as if 90 percent of users are genuinely looking for novel and unexpected conversation; the rest — well, let’s just say they have debauchery in mind.
Either Bilton is using a completely different site to the one I was on or he somehow managed to avoid the 20% penis rule that I encountered. For the most part the users I connected with were only interested in possibly seeing some random woman’s privates, even the ones who weren’t flashing their trouser snake to the world. The few who attempted to engage in conversation with myself or my various avatars barely managed to get past the first sentence before moving along which is what led me to indulge my inner troll.
What all of the stories on this new sensation fail to mention is that it is basically a direct rip off of another service called Omegle. Granted this service is text only but it has been around for a lot longer and appears to have a steady following. Honestly the people using Omegle were far more interested in a real conversation with someone on the other end of the line than the people using Chatroulette were and, much like Twitter, the limitations of the service are what drive the real creative uses of it. Sure adding video would attract more users but then you’d just end up with the same torrent of random boobie trollin’ strangers that plague Chatroulette’s service.
Both of these sites play into the dark side of us that strives to cast off our identity in order to create a new one that is free from all the boundaries that we’ve built around ourselves. Just like their predecessors they attract both those who seek genuine value from the service and those who seek to unleash their inner deviant. Thrusting myself into this world was an interesting experiment as I went from a seeker of genuine to connection to /b/tard in record time. I can’t see myself going back anytime soon but if I do you can be assured that the return of the trance loving Cylon isn’t too far away.
Urge to troll rising….. 😉
No matter what you do you’ve got to have a bit of pride in what you’re doing. I’d love to tell everyone that my sense of pride in my work comes from my long line of successful projects, which I will admit do give me a warm and fuzzy feeling, but more and more I think it comes down to this: Give me any IT system known to man, be it a personal computer or corporate infrastructure, and guaranteed I’ll find a problem that no one has ever seen before and won’t even try to explain.
This came up recently with our blade implementation I mentioned a while ago. Everything has been going great, with our whole environment able to run on a single blade comfortably. Whilst I was migrating everything across something happened that managed to knock one of our 2 blades offline. No worries I thought to myself, I had enabled HA on the farm so all the virtual machines would magically reappear. Not 2 minutes later did our other blade server drop off the network, taking all the (non-production, thank heavens) servers offline. After spending a lot of time on getting this up and running I was more than a little irked that it had developed a problem like this, but I endeavoured to find the cause.
That was about 2 weeks ago and I thought I had nipped it in the bud when I had found the machines responsible and modified their configuration so they’d behave. I was working on reconfiguring some network properties on one machine when I suddenly lost connection again. Knowing that this could happen I had made sure to move most of the servers off before attempting this so we didn’t lose our entire environment this time around. However what troubled me wasn’t the blade dropping off the network it was how I managed to trigger it (a bit of shop talk follows).
VMware’s hypervisor is supposed to abstract the physical hardware away from the guest operating system so that you can easily divvy it up and get more use out of a server. As such it’s pretty rare for a change from within a guest to affect the physical hardware. However when I was changing one network adapter within a guest from a static address (it was on a different subnet prior to migration) to DHCP I completely lost network connectivity to the guest and host. It seems that a funny combination of VMware, HP Blades and Windows TCP/IP stack contains a magic combination so that when you do what I did, the network stack on the VMware host gets corrupted (I’ve confirmed its not the VirtualConnect module or anything else, since I had virtual machines running in the same chassis on a different blade perfectly well).
I’ve struggled with similar things with my own personal computer for years. My current machine suffers from random BSODs that I’m sure are due to the motherboard which is unfortunately the only component I can’t easily replace. Every phone I had for the past 3 years suffered from one problem or another that would render it useless for extended periods of time. Because of this I’ve come to the conclusion that because I’m supposed to be an expert with technology I will inheritly get the worst problems.
It’s not all bad though. With problems like these comes experience. Just like my initial projects which ultimately failed to deliver (granted one of those was a project at University and the other one was woefully under resourced) I learnt what can go wrong where, and had to develop troubleshooting skills to cope with that. I don’t think I’d know a lot about technology today if I hadn’t had so many things break on me. It was this quote that summed it up so well for me:
I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.
That quote was from Michael Jordan. A man who is constantly associated with success attributes it to his failures, something which I can attest to. It also speaks to the engineer in me, as with any engineering project the first implementation should never be the one delivered, as revising each implementation lets you learn where you made mistakes and correct them. There’s only so much you can learn from getting it right.
This still doesn’t stop me from wanting to thrash my computer for its dissent against me, however 🙂