GGOAT: Silent Hill

I realized something about myself: I like columns.

Akropolis
No, not these. Well, these too, but this ain’t about them

I’m talking about topic categories. My first one was Stay awhile and listen which is about music I like and other musical subjects, then came Memorable Moments where I recount great gaming adventures I had.

Now here’s another one: Greatest Games Of All Time.

This is where I’d like to talk about games that, for me, rank among the best ever made, and what exactly it is that makes them so great.

Here goes.

Reading about the Resident Evil 2 remake, which even Angry Joe really digs (NSFW) and which I’m definitely going to buy as soon as I’ve got the time to play it, made me reminisce about the various horror games I’ve played over time. The greatest of them all, and indeed one of the best games I’ve played period, is Silent Hill.

SilentHill_Logo

It is easily the most scary piece of entertainment I’ve ever consumed. For a game that had to make do with PSone graphics and mostly refrained from utilizing jump scares this is all the more impressive. How did they do it?

One important factor for me is the despair and helplessness the game makes you feel right from the start without actually rendering you totally helpless as a player. I mean, sure, you don’t have any weapons at the beginning, but the first monsters you encounter you can run away from easily, and you find your first weapon, a club or somesuch, relatively soon.

For comparison, The Evil Within, a game that many, myself included, had hoped might bring Silent Hill’s spirit back, pits you against enemies you can neither fight nor escape from all the time. Either you get the sneaking part just right, or you die. To me that was much more aggravating than exciting.

Instead of invincible opponents Silent Hill mostly uses its very unique atmosphere to scare you.

Firstly, the town is pretty huge and you’re wandering around all alone (most of the time anyway). Due to the ubiquitous fog you can’t see very far, so you often have to rely on your hearing to identify threats.

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You don’t actually see much, but your imagination runs amok constantly

The sounds most monsters make send chills down your spine, as does the crackling and squeaking radio alerting you of their presence. Even scarier than that is Akira Yamaoka’s ingenious soundtrack though. Much of it is more soundscape than music, and it’s fucking terrifying. Seriously, just listen to this and imagine playing the game alone in a dark room to that.

Whenever you think it can’t get any worse the game cranks up the horror to 11 by shifting over to the Otherworld, some kind of hellish parallel dimension.

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Not much left to the imagination here

When that happens the ‘music’ also goes all in. If this doesn’t freak you out I don’t know what would. I firmly believe that the game would only be half as great if it didn’t have that soundtrack.

It’s been about 20 years since I played the game, so I don’t remember many details about the story. I do remember that I didn’t get the ‘good’ ending though (if there even is such a thing) and that I was pretty disturbed and sad. It’s definitely not your standard demons invade our dimension, shit happens story, that’s for sure.

Despite all of this I’m afraid that Silent Hill isn’t a game I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who hasn’t played it yet. Much time has passed since it was made and gamers’ habits and expectations have changed a lot since then. I had to realize this myself when I started to play Silent Hill 2 for the first time about three years ago. Most fans agree that it’s even greater than the first one, but for some reason I’d never gotten around to playing it before. I gave up only a couple of hours in. I just couldn’t get over the sluggish controls, the stubborn camera, the backtracking and, yes, the blocky graphics anymore.

Now that they’re finished with Resi 2 I really hope Konami will do an equally great remake of Silent Hill. I think no other game deserves it as much. And, Konami, why not also do part 2 while you’re at it?

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These are the rifts you’re looking for

I don’t follow Black Desert Online’s development over in Korea too closely. While it can serve as a mouthwatering preview of content or features that might come to our version of the game sooner or later it’s not actually guaranteed that we also get that stuff, nor that what we eventually get will have any kind of resemblance to what they have. So why bother?

Due to that I wasn’t prepared for the content drop we got last week. To say I’m very pleasantly surprised would be a huge undestatement.

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Yes, Dark Rifts are a thing now. Every now and then a rift spawns somewhere in the world and spews out a boss for you to fight once you get close. Funnily enough these are pretty much the exact opposite to the rifts in, well, RIFT insofar that the bosses aren’t meant for groups of people, it’s a pure solo experience instead.

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That’s no boss, that’s a…I have no idea what the hell it is

Another player won’t be able to see your boss, not even when grouped up with you. That last bit is a shame I think, but it seems the devs wanted to specifically give us bossfights to test our mettle 1 vs 1. A bit strange for an MMO maybe, but since the game already has bosses for groups as well as proper world bosses galore I just see it as yet another option to play you can either embrace or ignore.

After encountering five different rifts and their respective bosses I already know for sure that it’s definitely the former in my case. It’s great fun, and the rewards are very worthwhile.

I know a lot of folks have complained about the lack of classic dungeon- and raid-gameplay in BDO. Well, fighting these bosses is pretty much the next closest thing, if you can ignore the fact that you’re doing it alone of course.

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Oh, oh, I’ve seen that before, I know what to do!

Positioning, dodging attacks, healing myself, dealing with adds, these fights provide it all.

The bosses come in different flavours and difficulties. Of the five I fought one was labeled ‘normal’, three ‘hard’ and one ‘very hard’. The latter indeed killed me a couple of times while I downed the others relatively easily – they all take quite some time and concentration with my current gear though.

The hardest one doesn’t telegraph its AoE attacks quite as clearly as the others do, which combined with the fact that pretty strong normal mobs surround the place makes that fight much more unpredictable than the other two.

The guy you see above, on the other hand, throws different telegraphs at you all the time and also spawns adds regularly.

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Weaponry used with kind permission of Tony Stark

As mentioned the rewards are pretty good. In addition to some black stones and memory fragments they seem to always drop a new type of currency item that can be exchanged for boss weapon boxes or other rare stuff once you’ve accumulated enough of it, and a box that contains an accessory item up to DUO grade. I assume that the chance for actually getting a DUO is very slim, but the five base-grade items I got until now have a combined worth of about 270 million silver, so I’m definitely not complaining.

BDO_Rift5
Give me that sweet loot, piece of rabble. I hope Stark Industries offers warranty

My biggest fear going in, other than not being able to beat the bosses at all, was that I might feel pressured to drop whatever I’m doing as soon as a rift spawns from now on so I don’t miss out on its rewards. That would’ve been very detrimental to the way I love to play the game, which is to just do whatever the hell I feel like without any kind of schedule or must-do’s.

Fortunately there’s no time limit at all, once spawned the rift stays open until I can be bothered to show up and kill the boss. It doesn’t even prevent more rifts from spawning as there can be up to ten open at a time. Now that’s what I call unobtrusive and player-friendly.

In my opinion this is a great addition to the game and I can’t wait to see more rifts spawn. Next time I’ll even remember to take some screenshots of the awesome, Balrog-like boss at Omar Lava Cave. Promise!

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Until then a picture of Rednose charging at me will have to suffice

About long term goals in MMORPGs

As you know I’m currently busy building an Epheria Frigate in Black Desert Online. I think it’s the biggest project I’ve ever worked on in an MMORPG.

Goals1
Much effort went into this already, yet there’s still a long way to go

Not that this deters me, I like having long term goals in the games I play. This wasn’t always the case though. At one point a couple of years ago I’d played mainly SW:TOR and The Secret World for quite some time. When I started to play ArcheAge afterwards I was a bit shocked and also disappointed by the large amount of resources necessary to build fairly basic things like a clipper or a small farm cart.

After a while I got used to things taking longer and learned to appreciate effort vs reward again, something I seemed to have lost while playing the aforementioned games.

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As a consequence I was pretty proud and happy to finally get this

Not all long term goals are created equal though. I’m not talking about the reward I get in the end, a purely cosmetic one like a really nice looking mount can motivate me just as much as a powerful item with actually measurable benefits. I’m talking about how much time and effort need to be invested, and how much restrictions or obstacles the game puts in my way.

To me it’s very important to be quite free in how I work on achieving my goals, and that doing so is actually fun and doesn’t feel like actual work too much.

The latter is obviously a very subjective thing, so developers won’t be able to please everyone in this regard no matter what they do.

Let’s have a look at the ‘how’ then. Imagine you have set your sight on a specific goal which requires you to invest, say, approximately 60 hours of play, and you’d like to achieve it within two months for some reason. So on average you’d need to work on it for about an hour each day.

Depending on how the game in question is designed this can leave you with a couple possible scenarios.

One: The maximum amount of progress you can make each day is pretty limited, for example because doing a handful of daily quests is the only way to progress. This means that you probably won’t be able to achieve your goal within two months no matter what you do. You’ll also likely feel forced to do these dailies each and every day so you don’t delay completion any further. I know I feel that way in these situations.

Two: The maximum amount of progress per day is still limited, but not quite as harshly. Here you’re able to reach your goal in your set timeframe and are probably ‘allowed’ to take a day off every now and then. You still need to play and work on your goal almost every day though.

Three: there’s a pretty high limit to progress per day, or none at all. Do one hour per day, two considerably longer sessions per week or each whole Sunday, it’s up to you.

Unfortunately (for my taste) many games fall into the first category. Most instanced dungeons, for example, have a lockout timer of 18 hours or so, meaning that I can do them and get rewards only once per day. Consequently, if I want to maximize my chances for the drops I need I have to run dungeons each and every day.

Another example. Back in SW:TOR I wanted to reach the highest reputation rank with the Gree to get this sweet mount:

IntPiPoMo_Mounts1
I can’t help it, if something looks like it’s taken straight out of TRON I have to have it

Unfortunately a bunch of daily quests were the only way to increase one’s reputation, and those weren’t much fun to me. My only options were to either do them anyway or forget about getting the mount. To make matters worse the Gree event was only ever available for a limited time before disappearing again for weeks or months, so I felt doubly pressured to do the dailies every day while the event was active.

I just don’t like that kind of design because it can lead to a spiral of constant repetition very quickly, especially with limited available playtime. You log into the game after work and know that you kind of ‘have’ to do a whole bunch of things first. If it doesn’t all go perfectly it might take even longer than anticipated, and before you know it your time’s up and you haven’t done anything other than your daily chores once again.

That’s why I’m really happy that I don’t feel forced to do any specific thing pretty much ever in BDO. The only task I’m kind of compelled to do regularly is brew beer before my workers have used it all up and stop working. Other than that I can do whatever I feel like and still make progress towards at least one of my goals.

For the Epheria Frigate there’s different kinds of gathering, processing, hauling stuff around, keeping production rolling and managing nodes and workers to be done. On some days I gather materials with two characters back to back until their respective energy pools are depleted, sometimes I only do a bit of processing or don’t work on the frigate at all while still making progress because my workers keep at it. If I didn’t like a specific kind of gathering at all I could even try to buy that stuff on the marketplace instead.

I really like that freedom and wish more games would handle it like this instead of forcing me to do the same stuff every day in order to reach specific goals.

Lots of progress made and still going

Lifeskill clothing aside I hadn’t done any gear upgrading whatsoever in Black Desert Online for almost a year. I just couldn’t bring myself to endure the headaches and disappointments its RNG-heavy enhancement system tends to torture me with.

I had a Dandelion awakening weapon lying around since new year’s day though – don’t ask me why the fiercest, most powerful weapon in the game is called dandelion of all things – and the foes my current main story quest sent me to fight made me feel a tad underpowered indeed. I had lots and lots of upgrade materials gathering dust too, so there really wasn’t all that much reason to cop out any longer. More importantly, a couple of weeks ago a pretty huge change went live: the game now displays the exact chance of success for an upgrade, failstacks included. No more relying on supposedly datamined and/or ‘tested’ success charts like the one in the first post I linked above.

So on Thursday night I finally sat down and got going. I didn’t pay any attention to how much it cost me, I just put my head down and charged through. My goal was to reach TRI on the Dandy and upgrade a couple of armor pieces to at least DUO along the way while playing the failstack-dance.

I reached those goals, but as usual the RNG gods weren’t particularly in my favor.

BDO_work1
Notice that downgrade warning? Downgrade it did before this happened. Four times.

After failing the first four tries for TRI, falling from DUO back to PRI each time, I finally hit it with the fifth. Not great, but it could’ve been worse still.

On the upside, I fared much better with the other parts. In the process of building the right amount of failstacks for the weapon attempts I got my helmet from PRI to TRI, shoes from PRI to DUO, gloves from +15 to DUO and even my off-hand from DUO to TRI. My gearscore made a pretty substantial leap due to that, especially in the defense department.

BDO_work2
Ok bad guys, you were saying?

The difference is very noticable and I advanced the story without much problems. I hope this’ll be enough for a while though because I think I need another year-long break from enhancement now.

In contrast, a project I was actually looking forward to a lot was the Epheria Frigate’s manufacturing process. Gathering and processing the needed materials, while a mammoth task in itself, is only the beginning. I needed to rent the shipyard in Port Epheria and set workers to the task. For each and every single piece of material one cycle of work has to be completed.

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When the required work count doesn’t fit the game window you know what you’re getting yourself into

Fortunately you don’t need to have all materials on hand to begin production. I actually only had about 350 Pine Coated Plywood, 200 Timber Squares and 14 Frigate Designs when I rented the shipyard, but I was able to start the first work cycles immediately. Since it’d take forever with just one worker I hired a couple more, and also connected Epheria all the way to Calpheon so I can send additional workers from there.

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30 tasks finished already, yay! Only 3845 more to go…

I have six workers permanently working on it now. If aquiring the materials goes faster than anticipated I will send a couple more, but for starters this should suffice.

I gotta say, until now I never made any kind of progress this slowly in an MMORPG and still loved every minute of it. I don’t feel the slightest bit of impatience, just pleasant anticipation. And I know that I’ll be proud as a punch when I first set sail with that ship.

Once production was rolling it was back to questing. After I’d defeated the aforementioned baddies for my Striker’s main story I was told that I needed to help my black spirit find its true form again. In order to do so I was to seek out and examine some strange entities in the desert.

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Posing with my new gardbrace on…oh, look, I think I found one

If that thing looks huge to you that’s because it is.

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Felt like Shadow of the Colossus all over again

Fortunately I didn’t need to fight any of them. Color me surprised, just for once examine wasn’t a euphemism for kill.

After that it was back to the alien-like caves from last week. This time around I managed to open the strange device at the bottom and got to meet an old…guardian…or something. I don’t know if it’s the translation from Korean or the story itself, but I still find it pretty convoluted and hard to follow most of the time. Anyway, the visuals were quite awe-inspiring.

BDO_work7
Uh oh, I’m leaving already…what’s that, you don’t want to kill me?

I couldn’t recount what exactly he told me if my life depended on it. Among other things he was pleased with my achievements and basically told me to carry on doing what I was doing. Thanks, would’ve done that anyway.

The black spirit indeed got its ‘true form’ back in the process.

BDO_work8
I don’t know what to say…I’m sorry?

Actually this was the first bit of story that was at least somewhat interesting and surpsising, and it seems I’m finally on the verge of finding out what the black spirit actually is. Hence I was eager to continue right then and there. Instead I now need to run completely unrelated errands for several folks in Valencia City for some reason. I can’t even talk to the spirit about what happened, it just hands out dailies and stuff as usual.

Oh well, I guess I’ll find out soon enough.