Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Sea Of Starsfield

Maybe it’s because I’m old, but if you look at the games I’ve spent time with, enjoyed, or beaten over the past few years, the one thing they have in common is that they’re easy to play.
Easy to play doesn’t mean easy to win or beat or get good at. It just means that their interfaces, their gameplay loops, and their whole fucking vibe is streamlined, simplified, and can be focused on instead of extraneous bullshit. 

Case in point - the same week, I started playing two Game Pass RPG’s. Starfield is, well, you probably know. A big, sprawling sci-fi RPG from the people who’ve spent the past… two decades or so making sprawling fantasy RPGs.  It is not easy to play.

I reached the end of the first “dungeon”, a research base that introduces quite a few mechanics and tutorials your way through them. I was then taught about fast travel and instructed to fast travel to my ship. But I couldn’t fast travel to my ship because I was carrying too much stuff. So I dumped some stuff, hoping it wasn’t important or valuable, and couldn’t fast-travel to my ship because there were enemies “nearby”, by which the game meant across a large chasm and difficult/impossible to target. So I finally found a spot on the tiny chunk of map where I could see the fast travel target but the game didn’t consider the enemies “near” me. Even though they were still shooting at me. This is a game that is NOT easy to play.

The other RPG is Sea of Stars, a painstaking love letter to 2D JRPG’s of the PS1 and Saturn era. In Sea of Stars, when you finally get to a shop, and buy a piece of equipment from the shop that’s better than what you have equipped, not only can you equip it, you then immediately get a prompt asking if you’d like to sell the equipment you just replaced. And of course you want to sell it. For 36 years we’ve been going to shops and upgrading our sword and our armor and selling the old ones back to the shopkeep. That’s not going to change, and Sea of Stars knows this, and Sea of Stars builds its interface around doing the things it knows you’ll want to do in the easiest way possible. That’s easy to play.

So I’m still playing Sea of Stars and quit playing Starfield. 

And while I’m here, I’d also like to point out that Starfield is one of those AAA games that is so densely populated with identical-looking procedurally-generated junk and clutter that it has to give you a scanner so you can tell what shit you can interact with and what shit is just shit. And then, when you do that? It turns out that 95% of what you can interact with is ALSO procedurally generated junk and clutter, but junk and clutter you can add to your inventory if you want to drop it five minutes later when you realize you’re carrying too much shit and can’t do anything. 

It’s OK to put one important thing on a desk, game designers. We won’t think you’re less realistic if that desk  lacks three scattered pens, two staplers, four file folders, and two coffee mugs you can pick up that way half a pound each and can be sold for four credits each. We’ll be fine.

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