Thursday, December 7, 2023

Confessions of a proud save scummer

And other observations about gaming


I have over 80 games in my Steam library. This is a ridiculous amount of games. Some of them I've played through, completed, and uninstalled. Some of them I keep installed because I'm not done playing it (like Cities: Skylines.) And there are seven games in my library right now that I haven't installed yet.

So out of shame, I finally installed Styx: Master of Shadows, which I've had since 2014, and began playing it. What a great game. The rendering is fantastic, everything is skinned elaborately, the AI of the NPCs is very well done, and the mechanisms for solving puzzles are really innovative. Styx is a goblin creature that can hide very well but isn't very good at fighting. He mostly jumps, rolls, hides, turns invisible, and has a clone he can create which crawls through gates and unlocks doors. He also swears a lot, and sneaks up on people and stabs them, so this is definitely a game for mature audiences.

I also have Bendy and the Ink Machine, Little Nightmares, We Happy Few, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Subnautica to look forward to if I need a break from Styx.

Save scumming

But I'm not here to review Styx: Master of Shadows. This is an old, popular game, and I haven't played enough of it to evaluate it properly. I wanted to talk about 'save scumming.' It’s the practice of saving often so that you can explore different options to solve a puzzle, or because you don’t want to lose your hard-earned progress in the game.

I'm not good at Styx, so every five seconds it seems I'm going down the wrong hallway, forgetting to crouch and knocking over a mop bucket, and alerting the guards, who then come and pound on me. Styx allows a save whenever I want, so after I crawl up the wall and walk across the beam to the next wall, you bet I'm going to save that point, because I don't want to have to do it again. I also end up saving an alternate, older point, because I'm trying not to paint myself in a corner.

I also save scum if I'm playing Potion Craft. The game requires some precise grinding and mixing of the various herbs and crystals in the cauldron, and one tiny jerk of the mouse can ruin a potion. So, I'll save before I start the process, just in case.

There are many gamers who think of themselves as somehow virtuous for trying to play the game without that safety net. I say, good for you if that gives you some satisfaction. Personally, I get very frustrated at having to do things over, and I enjoy the game more if I can save at convenient spots.

GameON Concert in Fort Worth

The Fort Worth Symphony is performing a GameON Concert (nothing to do with this column!) in Ft. Worth on Saturday, Oct 7 at the Will Rogers Auditorium. They'll be playing music from Civilization 5, Ori and the Blind Forest, Portal 2, Destiny 2, World of Warcraft, Bioshock, Diablo, The Witcher, and more.

"GAME ON! COMES TO THE FORT WORTH SYMPHONY SAT. OCT. 7 FOR A MESMERIZING PERFORMANCE OF LEGENDARY SYMPHONIC GAME MUSIC! Be among the first in Texas to experience the excitement and adrenaline-fueled drama of this wonderful symphonic music, as the epic universes of The Witcher 3, World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls Skyrim, Assassin‘s Creed, Guild Wars 2, Ori and the Blind Forest, and many others unfold before your eyes." Tickets start at $41.80.

Unity’s new Runtime Unity Fee has indie game developers outraged

Apparently, Unity, the gaming engine that many indie game developers rely on to build their games, has announced a new fee structure, and will start charging developers on a per-install basis after certain minimum income thresholds have been reached. $.20 per install after an individual game reaches $200,000 in annual revenue and 200,000 lifetime installs. This will force the smaller game developers to pull their games entirely from distribution services, because they won’t be able to afford the per-install fees. This is a drastic U-turn from Unity’s previous pricing structure, which was royalty-free.

Users of Unity Pro and Enterprise tiers, which are paid subscriptions, will be a smaller per-install fee. But the real problem here is that Unity is applying the new fee structure to existing games, not just new ones. So developers that have successful games will owe Unity thousands of dollars starting January 2024.

The indie developers are abandoning the Unity Engine. Unity’s fees will destroy these small game developers because they can’t afford for their game to be successful.

Even worse, this will probably kill game subscription services like Game Pass and Netflix. Developers would not be liable for fees from distribution through these services, but it will make indie games far less attractive to these major companies. Free demos of games will be a thing of the past.

Experts say that this will make in-game micro-transactions more attractive because it will generate more revenue for developers, which is just awful. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate micro-transactions.

At this point game developers are recommending that everybody should avoid Unity for any new projects, and if your game in development uses Unity, switch to something else, as the Unity Engine can’t be trusted. Game developers will move to Unreal Engine, Source, Havok, or one of the other game engines as a more reliable platform.

Unity games on Steam include: Kerbal 2 Space Program, Outer Wilds, Ori and the Blind Forest, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Gorogoa, Everything, Bendy and the Ink Machine, Return of the Obra Dinn, Two Point Hospital, Battletech, Hollow Knight, Cities Skylines, The Room series 1-4, Inside, Subnautica, Cuphead, and many, many more. At this point we don’t know if Unity will change their minds, or if the companies that produced these games will withdraw them from distribution.  So this may be your last chance to get Cult of the Lamb, Serious Sam 4, The Falconeer, and many other award-winning games. If you’ve got these games on your wish list, get them now!