No Man’s Sky’s NEXT Patch Introduction Might Be Worse

Co-founder of my favorite old pub, The Rock, The Paper, The Shogun, John Walker has written a bit about how the introduction to No Man’s Sky has changed with the latest update:

More usually a feature of games that have spent far too long in early access, No Man’s Sky feels like a game that’s made for people who already play No Man’s Sky. When an available game’s opening is reworked and reworked, iteration colliding with iteration, both the developers and current playerbase seem to lose track of accessibility, and that is woefully apparent in No Man’s Sky’s latest incarnation. Already being a very familiar player, I knew to just wearily restart the game three times until I got a planet that wasn’t outrageously toxic with Sentinels that attacked on sight. Three times it took me to get a habitable starting location where I could wrestle with all the daft new faff. None of this would be communicated to someone coming in cold, who would be left to assume that either the game was idiotically difficult, or broken.

The game’s controls and feel especially overloaded as Walker says:

Each menu seems to have contradictory controls, leaving me never knowing if I’m supposed to be left clicking, holding down left click, or pressing E, F or X, and even something as simple as moving items between your inventories is now a confusing jumble of both. Once where you could open a green box on the ground by just pressing a single key to get its contents, now you have to press X and select a menu to move some “rusty parts” out of the way, before it then dumps the item inside into a menu of its own choosing. It’s like they went through every single system and pondered how they could make it far more of a fiddle.

Despite all of the flaws, I love No Man’s Sky particular brand of exploration, quirks and all.

A Brief History of Casual Games

Jake Birkett of Grey Alien Games (Shadow Hand, Regency Solitaire, and more) has a good article up talking about the history of casual games for personal computers from a developer’s perspective.

Tetris is, to me, the pinnacle of casual gaming. Experts can have so much skill to be at the higher levels, but it was always as approachable as less demanding puzzle games. Maybe people who balk at “casual games” would hesitate to slap the title on Tetris because they recognize how important it was as a foundational element of the modern gaming era.

Birkett ends his article by talking about what he wants from Steam:

However, Steam isn’t very appealing to casual gamers with it’s dark “gamer” theme and the inability to easily view old-fashioned casual game categories like match-3, HOG, card game etc. on a single landing page. If you browse “casual” on Steam, you’ll get a huge variety of games including “naughty” visual novels.

If Steam fixed that and basically made a really nice CURATED casual game landing page I think could poach a huge amount of sales from the casual portals.

The entire Steam storefront is a game for Valve to exploit the maximum profit from users. The only curation Valve’s team is interested in is the kind that users and journalists do without Valve paying them. If you’re not going to buy anything this second, they want you to look at a selection of games and tell their algorithms if the games are any good. If you get a virtual trading card for doing that you can sell it for 7 Steam Cents to someone else and they’ll end up with the majority of the sale. Steam will never be presentable to regular people because the theme is part of the game. Decoupling the theme from the program and website would unmask Steam for the nightmare exploitation machine that it has become.

No Man’s Sky Is Back & On the Xbox One

Hello Games’ No Man Sky is two years old, but if you are like me and tried it out back then only to move on before finishing the main quest then you might want to check out the latest updates. Hello Games has added multiplayer, Jack wrote that they have also added third-person options, base buildingbiological horrorsredone all of the story progression, and so much more to the game.

I liked NMS when it was just a 1950’s sci-fi book cover simulator about lonely astronauts exploring space, now I’m even more interested. Or, maybe Hello Games changed just one variable:

Nearly two years after it first released, the incredibly lazy developers at Hello Games have finally bothered to open up their fucking computers and set the ‘make_game_good’ variable in the code of the game to ‘true’.

Point & Clickbait understands that lead developer Sean Murray finally decided to make the game good after accidentally turning on his computer for the first time in two years and saying “Oh, haha, yeah, shit, that thing.”

There are a bunch of details about the content of the update at the No Man’s Sky site, the update is live now on Windows (via gog, Humble, and Steam), PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One.

There’s no cross-play between platforms, unfortunately. The DRM-free versions on gog and Humble don’t have multiplayer yet.

C64 Mini Gets a US Launch Date in October; Is Still Garbage

The people behind the US launch of the C64 Mini today announced an October 9th US release date for the C64 Mini that we last talked about more in-depth way back in April:

The miniaturizing nostalgia shrink ray is sprayed at everything now: Cars; entertainment systems both super and conventional Nintendo; iPads; arcade cabinets… There’s also now a The C64 Mini, not a Commodore 64 Mini or Classic Edition, but strictly The C64 Mini. Apparently they couldn’t get the name Commodore 64.

It doesn’t appear that much has changed since April, so this is your reminder that besides being a tiny clone of the original Commodore 64, it still has a completely non-functional keyboard and barely functional joystick, and is probably not worth buying. No price has been announced for the US yet.

Today in Shitty Capitalism

Albert Burneko talking about the situation with Tronc, Inc, the company that just laid off half of the editorial staff of a paper after paying out an executive a $15 million award for groping women:

It’s legal, if you’re rich enough, or carefully enough obscured behind the legal fiction of a hedge fund or corporation, to borrow vast sums of money, purchase a company with it, and then simply pass that debt along to the people who do the company’s work and make its products, by stripping their jobs so you can redirect their salaries toward debt payment. It’s legal to decide, freely, that you will pay a disgraced former executive tens of millions of dollars all at once rather than over a period of years—or rather than going to court to argue you shouldn’t have to pay a guy $15 million for not being able to keep his fucking hands to himself!—and then recover some or all of the cost by just straight-up taking people’s livelihoods away from them. It’s legal for the parasites who buy an ownership stake in your company to decide they will appropriate your livelihood for themselves; it’s legal for them to say that your wages and health care must pay their debts for them. It’s legal for them to trade your employment for their enrichment; it’s legal to purchase a company for the sole purpose of liquidating it, laying off all its workers, and keeping the money for yourself.

49 Years Since The First, 46 Years Since The Last

On July 20th, 1969, humans first stepped onto the Moon with Apollo 11’s mission. That was 49 years ago and it’s been 46 years since Apollo 17’s final landing. We haven’t been back since.

Today, the US space program is in shambles. Much of it has been given over to private entrepreneurs. It’s a global embarrassment that humans haven’t been back, and 2019 will be the 50th anniversary of that first Moon landing.

There’s some hope that if people can work together across borders, we might see another manned mission to the moon by 2029 or 2030.

Danger Zone 2 Review (Windows)

Is Blue Sky Crashing Back? Find out, in this review of Danger Zone 2.

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Danger Zone 1 was close, so close, to matching the fun of the old Burnout games’ Crash Mode. It just couldn’t reach the last few meters, even though it brought some interesting new ridiculousness to later levels that had floating cars and a chance for raining taxis exploding along the route. Danger Zone 2 might be a correction that loses the virtual crash simulation for a return to something closer in spirit to that beloved crash mode of yore.

If you’ve ever played a Burnout game crash mode, you’ll recognize the way that Danger Zone 2’s crash puzzles work. Drive up to an intersection at high-speed and attempt to rack up as much damage as you can, scored in dollars, by smashing into other vehicles. Once you rack up those high scores in Danger Zone 2 you can admire them on the online leaderboard for each scenario and collect virtual medals to mark your progress, but that is it for progression. You won’t unlock cars, or skins, or anything else.

Go for the gold

There are a few big changes to the gameplay formula this time out. Danger Zone 2 calls the intersection the “Danger Zone” and now has optional objectives before you hit it. They call this the “run up,” like smashing into every limo or jack-knifing every articulated truck. Those goals can be fun, but they’re also a distraction from the original goal of slamming into an intersection and trying to ping-pong off of each vehicle and nailing every smashbreaker power-up and score bonus for the “grand slam.” Sometimes you could be driving for a few minutes in the “run up” before hitting the Danger Zone, which makes it a bit more difficult to work on improving your scores.

It’s frustrating to have a good run up, hitting all of your goals, and then completely botch the score-seeking fun in the Danger Zone and remember that any restart you do is going to wipe out your progress on the run up. It is even more frustrating to struggle with meeting your goals in the run-up while nailing the Danger Zone crash and having that level marked as incomplete. At least the levels load and restart much quicker with Danger Zone 2 on Windows than they did for me on the Xbox One version of the original game.

Danger Zone 1 had a virtual NTSB-style crashing test facility aesthetic that encompassed the whole game from the menu to the pithy jokes before the level began. Danger Zone 2 has blue skies across a global, but somewhat samey, real-world style environment.

Danger Zone 1’s game-ending grid ruined your day if you fell off the virtual test track, Danger Zone 2 has environments that sometimes oddly let you roam off-track until you crash into something or hit an invisible wall. That feels like an improvement except the original environment blessed Danger Zone 1’s designers with the freedom to place tracks for you to drive on in elaborate mid-air configurations. Danger Zone 2 is definitely more graphically pleasing at first glance, but sometimes you’d have a half-dozen of levels of track to tumble through in Danger Zone 1, bringing chaos and destruction with you. Danger Zone 2’s real-world style of environments have none of that creativity. I still believe there’s a mid-point between these two styles to be made with the outrageous designs of DZ 1’s tracks around real-world style environments.

Danger Zone 2 has a wider range of vehicles, some offer boosting while others focus on destructibility, but you can’t pick what car you would like for a scenario, you’re limited to whatever the designers chose for that level. The finest experience in DZ 2 might be driving the tractor-trailer cab which can knock over any of the other vehicles in the game, but you won’t bring that experience to any other scenarios, and the menus don’t bother to tell you ahead of time which vehicle you’ll be driving with so you can’t easily return to one that had a favorite mode unless you remember the level’s name.

Boosting can be earned from driving dangerously, just like in Burnout, but Danger Zone doesn’t have enough visual and audio feedback to let you know that you’re earning boost and what caused it. Was it a near-miss? Does driving into oncoming traffic still do it? The game just doesn’t tell you.

There is one very solid improvement to traffic checking. The feature that lets you slam into traffic to send them careening off into other vehicles, can now steer them into a certain direction by holding down one of the controller keys (X or B on an XBox controller.) It’s a good and fun upgrade that is necessary when you need to take out a larger vehicle, but anyone who plays the game will just keep doing it for fun once you learn how.

The first game felt a little incomplete, it had some of the most abbreviated menus in gaming. Danger Zone 2’s menus are sterile and boring without Danger Zone 1’s style. These menus are so barren that you can’t change the sound settings or rebind keys. The rest of the settings are limited to some graphic rendering options, toggling controller vibration, and changing the sensitivity of the mouse cursor if you’re trying to play without a controller. You’re either going to play crash mode in one of the 23 crash puzzle scenarios, or you can try the 3 survival racing scenarios to challenge the online leaderboard. That is it.

The wonderful driving music hook from the original Burnout games is still missing a Danger Zone-y counterpart. Instead, the menus just have a relaxing scene of traffic breezing along behind them. Typically I listen to music while writing these reviews, instead I left the main menu on to collect my thoughts, which was a completely unexpected feature from a game about crashing cars.

My car would sometimes become stuck in the road. This was one of the odder bugs I came across just a few times.

Many of Danger Zone 2’s missing features feel like what you would get only if the game was about more than crashing and also featured the other side of the older Burnout games, the destructive racing that necessitated more thought into feedback systems and driving tutorials. For example, Danger Zone 2 has drifting, but it’s never explained and is rarely useful, yet there is a Steam achievement for drifting over a long stretch of track in their F1-style car. These days you’d expect an in-game counter to pop-up and tell you how close you are to achieving that goal, at least. That isn’t in Danger Zone 2.

While I finished the main campaign in about 3 hours, I can spend more time getting higher up the leaderboards on some levels, Danger Zone 2 feels a little bit like a sneak peak of something else when it ends with a prompt to look forward to Dangerous Driving, the upcoming racing game coming out later this year. It feels like perhaps Three Fields has stretched themselves too thin in trying to ship too many games at once. Danger Zone 2 is an almost complete crashing game that just came out, and the other half of it just might be in a game coming out so soon.

Maybe I’m wrong. This could be the complete vision from Three Fields for their crash mode. There is still some fun to be had in crashing and tearing up the road, but I feel like this game is ultimately too limited for the $20 asking price. There is something to be said for stripping out some of the crap that was stacked on top of the later Burnout sequels and starting over from a bare-bones base. I recently tried to play Burnout Revenge for the 360, emulated on the Xbox One and it had almost too much going on, but at least it felt like a complete game.

Danger Zone 2 might be supported well after the release like Three Fields did with their previous games. Dangerous Golf and Danger Zone 1 both got gameplay updates with more levels for free long after they came out. However, with the post-game advertisement for Dangerous Driving I’m not very hopeful that this game will get the love that it needs.

It’s just kind of baffling as to who thought this game was done and would encourage anyone to buy a driving game in the same universe when it’s released in a few months. My hope is that Three Fields continues to work on the Danger Zone formula and find some success in their niche, but they’re facing more competition now than they were a year ago. Games like Wreckfest and Onrush bringing new ideas to the vehicular-smash-em-up genre. As it is, I would probably recommend Danger Zone 1 over 2, because the first game expressed a new vision with new ideas. Even if Danger Zone 1’s simulated environment was drab, the level design was completely ridiculous. It’s $5 cheaper, to boot.

2/5 jackknifed tractor-trailers for Danger Zone 2.

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Sailor Moon’s Long-Lost Americanized Bizarro-World Counterpart

Cecilia D’Anastasio has the fascinating story behind the version of Sailor Moon created for a western audience that never aired. I don’t give a shit about Sailor Moon, except that it was valuable in broadening the audience for different kinds of animation outside of the typical Ninja Scroll-tier of garbage that was popular at the time, but this was still worth reading:

Decades later, the pilot for the American Sailor Moon show has achieved mythological status. That pilot—the only episode ever made—vanished into thin air, its remains scattered across the internet like animated ashes. Fans have labored to piece together the show’s history on Geocities-style websites with infinite-scroll Sailor Moon fan art and labyrinthine lost-media wikis. For over two decades, they’ve searched for its only episode with no success. I was unable to play bystander to a piece of lost anime ephemera. Immediately upon hearing about the legendary American Sailor Moon pilot, I knew I had to try to find it. I would not rest until I’d exhausted every lead.

Zachtronics’ EXAPUNKS Announced For August

The Zachtronics behind the other programmatical puzzlers like TIS-100 and Shenzhen I/O have announced a new one of those, EXAPUNKS.

I can’t explain how much I love these games, both for their niche and the wonderful aesthetic each game embodies so well. In this adventure you’re an ex-hacker with a bad case of the phage who made a deal to hack for the cure. You’ll be programming your EXAs, which are the viruses that you’ll use to attack different institutions.

EXAPUNKS will be out in Early Access on Steam for $20 on the 21st of August for Windows, macOS, and Linux. There’s a limited edition pre-order for $35 on the Zachtronics website for the game that includes the feelies you’d normally need to print-out to get your instructions for the game. This time it’s a few issues of Trash World News, 3D glasses, and an envelope with secret contents. I’m normally against any kind of pre-ordering for games, but I can’t think of a time when a Zachtronics game was disappointing.