Updated projectile VFX to better represent its hitbox, especially when it is traveling towards your POV
We’re keeping an eye on the overall power level of Paranoia, but as a first step wanted to resolve visual issues where players hit with Paranoia appear outside of its impact on their screen.
Blade Storm (Burst Fire)
The time between consecutive Burst Fire use has increased from 0.33 seconds >>> 0.45 seconds
Daggers thrown in Burst now have a damage falloff that begins at 12 meters and drops steadily (to 35 damage) at max falloff
Headshot multiplier on Burst Fire reduced from 3x >>> 2x
While we continue to investigate some of her outsized strengths, we think the burst fire on her Blade Storm has been over-performing at long ranges. The burst fire is intended to be a close range attack, but we found it frequently getting frags at over 20 meters away. These changes aim to rein in its effective range while retaining its close range potency.
Viper now starts the round at 100 fuel (previously 50)
Now that Viper can place her wall pre-round, we want her to be able to act with her team right at barrier drop without the tension of also trying to maximize her fuel for an initial move.
Vulnerable debuff applied from Snake Bite now lingers for 2 seconds after leaving Viper’s acid
Immediately dropping the vulnerable debuff upon exit wasn’t creating the threat we’ve hoped for when we added it. This change should make the Viper (and team) advantage window more realistic, as well as project a unique threat on opponents playing around it.
Move speed doubled while casting
Viper now fast equips her weapon after casting, re-equip times vary per gun—but on average will reduce her weapon down time by .4 seconds
The combination of a slow placement and re-equip time was resulting in Viper players getting too hurt or killed while casting ults in a situation we felt should be pretty safe. This change should increase the positional options available while casting, and get your weapon up sooner.
Fire rate bonus decreased from 25% >>> 15%
At its previous fire rate, we felt Empress was too effective when using heavies/smgs, AND too fast to master the change in spray pattern on rifles. We hope this change allows us to address both issues at once, while also giving us a chance to have a unified fire rate increase (matching Brimstone’s stim below) that players can learn and master.
Fire rate bonus increased from 10% >>> 15%
Paired with Reyna’s change (above), we felt Brimstone’s stim could use a little more punch. This also unifies our two fire rate increase buffs, making them easier to learn.
Increased price from 4500 >>> 5000
Decreased scoped movement speed from 76% >>> 72%
Adjusted weapon deadzone from becoming inaccurate at 30% movement speed >>> 15% (become inaccurate sooner, become accurate later when stopping)
Firing rate reduced from .75 >>> .6
Instant equip time adjusted from 0.3 >>> 0.5 (instant equip plays after tapping orb, bomb defuse/plant tap, Jett Cloud Burst, and Phoenix Curveball)
Leg shot damage decreased from 127 >>> 120
Jump land inaccuracy state changed from gradual >>> binary
Jump land inaccuracy duration increased from .2 >>> .225
Jump land inaccuracy value increased from 5.0 >>> 7.0 (more inaccurate for .225s after a land)
During this patch, the chances of being in an hour+ queue should be notably reduced
This is already a very rare occurrence, but it can happen more often for high rank players—especially in premade groups. We are also doing some tuning behind the scenes to keep high rank matches found after long queue times reasonably balanced and fair.
Riot ID Reviews
Players that have been reported for inappropriate Riot IDs will now be reviewed automatically after the match has ended. If their name is flagged as inappropriate, they will be forced to change their Riot ID the next time they log in to the Riot Client.
Removed Multi-line Breaks in Chat
Some sneaky people were impersonating system messages to troll others into quitting a match. Enough!
Changes to party push to talk settings will now take effect immediately
The chat window can now be pinned to stay open across menus
Social Panel Sorting Logic
Sorting algorithm for the social panel has been updated to make it more intuitive for players as they interact with it.
Fixed issue where Sova’s hitbox was incorrect while using his Owl Drone
Fixed bug where Omen’s glowing eyes weren’t properly removed when he cancelled his ult
Fixed a bug where Custom Game preferences would be wiped after navigating away from the Custom Game lobby
After the excellent Wasteland 2, we were excited to get our hands on the new installment, and we can say without fear that it has met expectations. Wasteland 3 is a sign of the love that InXile has for his work and Brian Fargo for the genre that has created a name for him. If you are a lover of the saga or the genre, do not hesitate to enjoy it.
Wasteland 3 doesn’t pull any punches with its subject matter in sexuality, violence, and language. But if you are fine with that, I would highly recommend you give Wasteland 3 a shot, especially if you were (or still are) a Fallout fan.
On Paper Wasteland 3 sounds like the perfect RPG-Dream but the execution leaves much to be desired. Bugs, Glitches and graphics that doesn't really represent a game that releases and the end of this console generation are a bit of a letdown. Everything else from the great story, entertaining NPCs, solid battle system, clever leveldesign over to the love for details is amazing, besides some flaws that should soon be fixed, as inXile and Brian Fargo promise. Everyone that wasn't happy with the latest Fallout Games will surely love Wasteland 3.
Wasteland 3 is a old-school role-playing game, with a compelling story, a combat system that promises but is not groundbreaking and some funny moments and black mood, which always remind us that we are in a post apocalyptic world, but with a smile. Don't forget the powerful character editor, rhythm voices, and the beautiful scenery that puts you in that atmosphere of cold and snowy Colorado.
Wasteland 3 can be a bit of slog if you're gunning for marathon gaming sessions with it at the helm. Combat, whilst exciting initially can fall into the traps of repetition. A little more variety could have negated some of the repeated player actions. That said, the story is compelling and the characters an interesting assortment of misfit survivors, although perhaps fitting post-apocalyptic stereotypes. It's a fun, easy to play game overall though that should well-please fans of the series and keep players entertained for quite some time with its high replay-value. However, aside from some bugs here and there, the impressive amount of voice-work on offer, the character building is the best part of the experience where you can really nurture your ranger squad in this snowy post-apocalyptic world.
At least in my time with it, Wasteland 3 has been a fascinating experience. I’ve come to appreciate its depth of gameplay, character, building, and exploration, even if some of its pieces and parts still feel very foreign to me.
I will be even happier with Wasteland 3 once it’s patched and most of the bugs that bit me end up getting squashed. Even in its current state I’m having a grand ol’ time bringing some justice to the cold depths where no Ranger has dared to before. But for as much of a blast as I’m having out northeast in the cold, I hope I can make it back to sunny Arizona in time to save my fellow lawmen!
Wasteland 3 is a throwback to the old School RPGs of yesteryear, while providing a new combat experience and a bigger world. Players that liked previous Fallout Games, or games like Wasteland 2 or Baldur's Gate will feel right at home with this title, and will have the opportunity to try X-Com like combat. For the amount of content provided, 60 USD is a very good price, and fans of the genre should get more than their money's worth.
Wasteland 3 doesn't bring much new to the table, both as a CRPG and as a piece of post-apocalyptic fiction. But, it's a terrifically executed role-playing game that rewards player investment from beginning to end.
Wasteland 3 is a heady crescendo of post-apocalyptic story-telling. Its combat is compelling and fun while its characters and overall plot are engrossing, even when it goes to some dark places. A must-play for tactical RPG fans.
We’ll update this review if the game is fixed, and the issues outlined are fixed or at least addressed; and then I’ll pick it back up. As it stands now, I’ll be playing something else that isn’t as apt to crash. Buyer beware.
There are a few misgivings related to Wasteland 3's technical aspects, mechanics, and overall challenge. However, its cast of characters (both old and new), the switch to a traditional turn-based combat system, and branching paths filled with decisions and dire consequences make for a superb journey with the Desert Rangers.
With a focus on freedom of choice that is second-to-none, Wasteland 3 has set the benchmark for CRPG narratives, all the while being supported by wonderfully engaging gameplay and roleplaying mechanics.
It took me a while to realize how much these interactions, whether it be the interpersonal conversation or combat encounters themselves, stuck with me. Wasteland 3 has rules, but they only exist for you to bend them. With limitless character creation combinations, branching dialogue choices that affect what quests you do or don’t experience, and multiple endings, Wasteland 3 is an expanse of content and opportunity. The change in locale does wonders, no longer relying on a tired post-apocalyptic biome. Wasteland 3 has a wonderful backdrop in Colorado’s frozen wastes, making it the perfect place to spend a nuclear winter.
Wasteland 3 takes players to a new location and presents them with equally unfamiliar challenges, yet still perfectly demonstrates all of the reasons why this series has had die-hard fans for over three decades, and is absolutely worth playing for anyone looking for their next post-apocalyptic fix.
Wasteland 3 doesn't change its predecessor's successful formula but, outside of certain design limitations, it perfects and modernizes it. It's easily the best game in the franchise, in terms of pure technique, and one that clearly gives you an idea of what inXile is able to achieve.
Wasteland 3 is a good role-playing game, technically passable but enriched by a dense network of intriguing subplots that will push the most dedicated to play it several times. Watch out for the ever-present release bugs, though – best to wait a couple patches if you want to avoid unnecessary hurdles.
Wasteland 3 features everything only the best role-playing games do: an engaging story powered by excellent writing, compelling characters, tons of customization options, and a deep tactical combat system that feels fresh even after dozens of hours. But, most of all, it features a living world that reacts to what the player does, and changes depending on how the player decides to deal with the troubles ahead, providing a role-playing experience of the highest degree, one that very few games can boast of.
Wasteland 3 is a testament to the power of the branching narrative, taking it far beyond binary choices and into a grand canopy of cause and effect. It gives the wintry climbs of Colorado a lifelike quality that must have been painstaking to build. The most impressive RPG in years, Wasteland 3 is a masterpiece.
Wasteland 3 shines with clear dedication to crafting the best game its genre has ever seen. Excellent visuals are matched by top notch voice work and some of the best and most natural writing I have seen in a video game not made by Naughty Dog. The combat is a brutal dance where one wrong move can spell disaster, but victory is an exhilarating rush that never becomes old. Wasteland 3 cements inXile as one of the best in the business in the RPG genre and affirms that Xbox has something truly special on their hands.
Recently on the csharp subreddit, the post C# 9.0 records: immutable classes linked to a surprisingly controversial article discussing how C# 9.0's records are, underneath it all, immutable classes. The comments are full of back-&-forth over whether one should use records for ease or structs for performance. The pro-struct argument revolved around the belief that performance should always be a developer's #1 priority, and anything less was the realm of the laggard. Here is a real-world example that shows with stark clarity why that kind of thinking is wrong. Consider the following scenario:
You're working on a game with dozens, maybe hundreds of people on the team; you don't know because when you were cross with facilities about them removing all the fluorescents, you got accused of being against the new energy saving initiative. Now you swim in a malevolent ocean of darkness that on some very late nights alone in the office, you swear is actively trying to consume you.
The team that preceded you inherited an engine that is older than OOP, when source repositories were stacks of 8-inch floppies, and it looked as if Jefferson Starship was going to take over the world. One year ago they bequeathed upon the company this nightmare of broken, undocumented GOTO spaghetti & anti-patterns. You're convinced this was their sadistic revenge for all getting fired post-acquisition.
Management denied your request to get headcount for an additional technical artist, but helpfully supplied you with an overly nervous intern. After several weeks working alongside them, you're beginning to suspect they're pursuing something other than a liberal arts degree.
Despite the many getting started guides you spent countless evenings writing, the endless brownbags nobody attended, and the daily dozen emails you forward to oppressively inquisitive artists comprised of a single passive-aggressive sentence suggesting they scroll down to the part that begins FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: RE: WE BROKE TOOL NEED WORKAROUND ASAP ...
...yes, despite all of that, the engineering team still spent days tracking down why the game kept crashing with Error 107221: У вас ошибка after re-re-re-re-re-throwing an ex_exception when it couldn't (and should never even try to) load a 16K-textured floor mat.
Despite your many attempts to politely excuse yourself, one blissfully unaware artist exhausts 48 minutes of your lunch break explaining how the Pitchfork review for the latest "dope slab" of this TikTok-Instagram-naphouse artist you never heard of was just sooooo unfair.
And then in their hurry to finish up & catch the 2:30 PM bus home, they forget to toggle Compress To CXIFF (Custom Extended Interchange File Format), set the Compression slider 5/6ths of the way between -3 & -2, look to their left, look to their right, click Export As .MA 0.9.3alpha7, and make absolutely, positively, 100% SURE not to be working in prod. And THAT is how the game explodicated.
You know better than anyone the intermediate file format the main game loop passes to Game.dll, memory mapping it as a reverse top-middle Endian binary structure.
You know for 381 of the parameter fields what their 2-7 character names probably mean.
YOU know which 147 fields always have to be included, but with a null value, and that the field ah_xlut must ALWAYS be set to 0 unless it's Thursday, in which case that blackbox from hell requires its internal string equivalent: TRUE.
YOU know that the two tech artists & one rapidly aging intern that report to you would totally overhaul tooling so artists would never "happen" again, but there just aren't enough winters, springs, summers, falls, July 4ths, Christmas breaks, Presidents Days, and wedding anniversaries in a year to properly do so.
And so somehow you do. A blurry evening or two here. A 3:00 AM there. Sometimes just a solitary lunch hour.
Your dog no longer recognizes you.
You miss your wife calling to say she's finally cleaning out the hall closet and if you want to keep this box of old cards & something in plastic that says Underground Sea Beta 9.8 Grade, you better call her back immediately.
And your Aunt Midge, who doesn't understand how SMS works, bombards you one evening: your father is... no longer with us... they found him... 1 week ago... in an abandoned Piggly Wiggly... by an old culvert... split up... he was then... laid down to rest... sent to St. Peter's... and your father... he's in a better place now... don't worry... it's totally okay... we decided we will all go... up to the mountain
You call your sister in a panic and, after a tidal wave of confusion & soul-rending anxiety, learn it was just Hoboken Wireless sending the messages out of order. This causes you to rapidly cycle.
On your bipolar's upswing, you find yourself more productive than you've ever been. Your mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention. It's like your brain is on 200mg of pure grade Adderall.
Your fingers ablaze with records, clean inheritance, beautiful pattern matching, bountiful expression syntax, aircraft carriers of green text that generate the most outstanding CHM for an internal tool the world has ever seen. Readable. PERFECTLY SOLID.
After much effort, you gaze upon the completed GUI of your magnum opus with the kind of pride you imagine one would feel if they hadn't missed the birth of their son. Clean, customer-grade WPF; tooltips for every control; sanity checks left & right; support for plugins & light scripting. It's even integrated with source control!
THOSE GODDAMNED ARTISTS CAN'T FAIL. YOUR PIPELINE TOOL WON'T LET THEM.
All they have to do is drag content into the application window, select an options template or use the one your tool suggests after content analysis, change a few options, click Export, and wait for 3-5 minutes to generate Game.dll-compatible binary.
Your optimism shines through the commit summary, your test plan giddy & carefree. With great anticipation, you await code review.
A week goes by. Then two. Then three. Nothing. The repeated pinging of engineers, unanswered.
Two months in you've begun to lose hope. Three months, the pangs of defeat. Four months, you write a blog post about how fatalism isn't an emotion or outlook, but the TRANSCENDENCE of their sum. Two years pass by. You are become apathy, destroyer of wills.
December 23rd, 2022: the annual Winter Holidays 2-hour work event. The bar is open, the Kokanee & Schmidt's flowing (max: 2 drink tickets). The mood a year-high ambivalent; the social distancing: acceptable. They even have Pabst Blue Ribbon, a beer so good it won an award once.
Standing beside you are your direct reports, Dave "Macroman" Thorgletop and wide-eyed The Intern, the 3 of you forming a triumvirate of who gives a shit. Dave is droning on & on about a recent family trip to Myrtle Beach. You pick up something something "can you believe that's when my daughter Beth scooped up a dead jellyfish? Ain't that something? A dead jellyfish," and "they even had a Ron Jons!"
You barely hear him, lost as you are in thought: "I wishIhad 2 days of vacation." You stare down ruefully at your tallboy.
From the corner of your eye you spot Milbert, index finger pointed upward, face a look of pure excitement.
"Did I tell you about my OpenWinamp project? It's up on SourceForge", he says as he strides over. It's unsettling how fast this man is.
Dave snickers. The Intern keeps staring wide-eyed. You position yourself somewhat close to the studio's 3 young receptionists, hoping they serve as a kind of ritual circle of protection.
It works... kind of. Milbert is now standing uncomfortably close to The Intern, Dave nowhere to be seen.
From across the room you distinctly hear "Think about it, the 1st-person UI could be Lua-driven Electron."
The Intern clearly understands that words are being spoken to them, but does not comprehend their meaning.
You briefly feel sorry for the sacrificial lamb.
You slide across the wall, putting even more distance between you & boredom made man. That's when you spot him, arrogantly aloof in the corner: Glen Glengerry. Core engineering's most senior developer.
Working his way up from a 16-year old game tester making $4.35 an hour plus free Dr. Shasta, to pulling in a cool $120K just 27-years later, plus benefits & Topo Chicos. His coding style guides catechism, his Slack pronouncements ex cathedra; he might as well be CTO.
You feel lucky your team is embedded with the artists. You may have sat through their meetings wondering why the hell you should care about color theory, artistic consistency, & debates about whether HSL or CMYK was the superior color space (spoiler: it's HSL), you were independent and to them, a fucking code wizard, man.
And there he stands, this pseudo-legend, so close you could throw a stapler at him. Thinning grey-blonde tendrils hanging down from his CodeWarrior hat, white tee with This Guy VIMs on the back, tucked into light blue jeans. He's staring out into the lobby at everything and yet... nothing all at.
Maybe it's the 4.8% ABV. Maybe it's the years of crushing down anger into a singularity, waiting for it to undergo rapid fiery expansion, a Big Bang of righteous fury. Maybe it's those sandals with white socks. Maybe it's all three. But whatever it is, it's as if God himself compels you to march over & give him a piece of your mind, seniority be damned.
"Listen, you big dumb bastard..."
That... is maybe a little too aggressive. But Glen Glengerry barely reacts. Pulling a flask out of his back pocket, he doesn't look over as he passes it to you.
Ugh. Apple Pucker.
"I thought bringing in your own alcohol was against company policy", wiping sticky green sludge from your lips. He turns with a look of pure disdain & snorts.
"You think they're going to tell ME what I can & can't bring in?" He grabs the flask back, taking a big swig.
For what feels like an eternity, you both stand in silence. You swallow, speaking softly. "None of you even looked at my code. I worked very, very hard on that. My performance review for that year simply read 'recommend performance improvement plan." The words need no further context.
"I know", Glen² replies. "That was me."
Now you're not a weak man, and maybe in some other circumstance you would have punched him in the goddamn lip. But you feel nothing, just a hollowness inside. "Why?", you ask, wondering if the answer would even matter.
"Because you don't use Bulgarian notation. Because your method names aren't lower camel case. Because good code doesn't require comments. Because you use classes & records over more performant structs, pointlessly burdening the heapstack. BECAUSE. YOUR CODE. IS. SHIT."
You clinch your fists so tightly the knuckles whiten.
He looks away from you, taking another sip of green goo. "You're not a coder. You're an artist masquerading as one" he speaks, as if it were fact.
The only thing artistic about you is the ability to create user-friendly internal tooling using nothing but a UI framework, broken down garbage nobody wants to touch, & sheer willpower. If your son's life depended on you getting accepted into art instruction school, you couldn't even draw a turtle.
He doesn't pause. "I'll champion ruthless micro-optimization until the day I die. But buddy, I'm going to let you in on a little secret: you aren't here to improve workflow. You're here to LOOK like you're doing something NOBODY else can."
He goes on. "What do you think those artists are going to do when they have to stare at a progress bar for 4, 5 minutes? They're going to complain your tool is slow."
"Sure, it may take them 20, 30 minutes to do it the old way, there'll be an error, and either they'll stare at it for 30 minutes before adding that missing semi-colon or they'll come get you. And you'll fix it. And 1 week later, they won't remember how. And you'll stay employed. And every. Body. Wins."
A little bit of the pride, the caring, wells back up inside from somewhere long forgotten.
"You don't think we should care about rapid application development & KISS, quickly getting things out that help our team, instead devoting ourselves to shaving off ticks here & there? What do you think artists are going to do with those 4 minutes you talk about?
You don't stop. "I'll tell you what they'll do. They'll 9GAG for 20 minutes straight. They'll listen to podcasts about dialectical materialism vis-a-vis the neo-feudalism that is a natural extension of the modern world's capitalist prison. They'll Reddit."
His silence gives you the bravery to push the limits.
"Christ, man. Are you only in it for the $120K..."
He corrects you: "...$123K."
"...only in it for the $123K/year? The free snacks from the microkitchen? The adulation? Have you no sense of comraderie?? No desire to push us to something better?! No integrity?!!!"
His eyes sharply narrow, face creases in anger. You clearly have overstepped your bounds.
"You thinkIdon't have integrity? No sense of teamwork? I'm only in it for the cold cash? You think I don't care about you all?", he roars.
A light volley of small green flecks land on your face.
"Why do you think they made a 16-year old tester the lead developer of a 1993 Doom clone?! Because my code was clean & painless to work with?! Because I made coding look easy?! No! IT WAS BECAUSE I WAS A GOD TO THEM.
And from a God, a PANTHEON. We built monuments to over-engineering! We crafted that of 7 weeks onboarding, that of immortal bugs, demonic hosts spawned by legion from the very loins of a fix. It took 2 years before a developer could BEGIN to feel confident they knew what they were doing. And by that time, they were one of US!
You think the team we laid off November '19 was fired because they were bad at their jobs? NO! It was because they worked themselves out of one. They didn't leave us a broken pipeline. They left an internal Wiki, a wealth of tools & example projects, and a completely transparent code base.
We couldn't have THAT, now could we? No, we couldn't. So we got rid of it. ALL OF IT. Poof. Gone. Just like that. Before anyone even knew a THING."
He leans forward, so close his psoriasis almost touches yours. With an intensity that borders on frightening, he whispers "You think they left us Game.dll? I fucking *MADE** Game.dll."*
The words hit hard like a freight train.
And without another word, he turns & leaves. You're left there, alone, coworkers milling about, with only one thought.
Were one to get a hobby, should it be cocaine?
It's these kinds of situations that make me believe there are far more important considerations than a ruthless dedication to performance, even in the game industry as my real-world scenario so clearly demonstrates.
I'm reading every Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award winner. Here's my reviews of the up to 1980 (Vol 4)
It is that time once more, folks. Links to previous posts at the end, links to full length blog reviews are all in one comment. Man Plus by Frederik Pohl
Plot: A normal human could not survive on Mars... our only option? Cyborgs!
Page Count: 183
Award: 1976 Nebula
Worth a read: No... but consider it for a laugh.
Primary Driver: (?????????)
Bechdel Test: Pass... but a real weak pass.
Review: Imagine if you took subplots from a trashy romance, a political thriller, a horror flick, and a space travel story... and forgot to put in the main plot. Starts decently, spirals wildly out of control with astounding speed. Almost worth reading to experience the hilarious concluding deus ex machina. This one is probably in the "so bad it's good category" - but sweet skittles is it bad. Also, turn on safe search if you look this book up.
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
Plot: After a pandemic causes infertility (and every other apocalypse hits), the only way for humans to survive is through cloning. But are they really human?
Page Count: 251
Award: 1977 Hugo and 1977 Locus
Worth a read: No
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: Disappointing and disjointed. There are a lot of messages here that just get blended together to nothingness. Cumbersome writing, uncompelling characters, bland dystopia, and just a dull story. Odd choices on where to discuss science at length and where to just skip over it. First third was its own story originally, and is the best part.
Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle
Plot: There is no joy like dying to advance science, at least according to Doctor Rat.
Page Count: 243
Award: 1977 World Fantasy Award
Worth a read: No... but worth a glance at a chapter or two.
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: N/A
Technobabble: Frequent descriptions of animal experiments.
Review: This book is truly horrifying to read. It's about the gruesome nature of animal testing - and cruelty to animals in general - and is chock full of graphic animal gore. It's the child of The Jungle and Animal Farm but without subtext. Consider checking it out to read a couple of chapters - the grotesque fascination wears thin. Some might consider the unambiguous use of Nazi imagery for animal testing to be a step or three too far.
Gateway by Frederik Pohl
Plot: The Heechee left behind technology so advanced that we cannot understand it; that doesn't stop us from using it to get rich or die trying.
Page Count: 313
Award: 1977 Nebula, 1978 Hugo, and 1978 Locus SF
Worth a read: Yes. Very yes.
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: Really good. Cleverly bounces between the story as it unfolds and therapy sessions afterwards - we know that our hero survives, but something terrible has happened. A bit too Freudian. Still, excellent job of making a complex protagonist, interesting world, compelling story. Wanting to know what went wrong kept me reading - and it pays off.
The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
Plot: Turns out Middle Earth had other jewelry too.
Page Count: 386
Award: 1978 Locus Fantasy Award
Worth a read: Yes.
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: This is epic fantasy in its purest form; it is myth and legend, at times obtuse, but absolutely riveting. Tolkien's world is fully immersive. Had the physical book to follow the story, the audiobook for pronunciation, and laptop for family trees. Absolutely worth it - even as a casual LoTR fan.
Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber
Plot: Something sinister is haunting Franz Westen, and dealing with it involves unearthing answers that might be best left buried.
Page Count: 183
Award: World Fantasy Award 1978
Worth a read: Yes
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: This is a horror story. Atmosphere is excellent. Book begins with some truly unsettling images and world building. The narrative itself is slow and frequently self-indulgent, but atmosphere stays on point. A qualified recommendation; but some scenes from this will stick with me for quite a while.
Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre
Plot: Long after the end of the world as we know it, Snake wanders the world, healing those she meets to the best of her abilities.
Page Count: 288
Award: 1978 Nebula, 1979 Hugo, and 1979 Locus
Worth a read: Yes
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Technobabble: Minimal to moderate.
Review: Less-is-more world building with good execution. A lot of interesting tidbits to keep you wondering what the rules are, who the people are, and so on. Story itself can be slow and stakes are consistently low. "I'm going to a place, surprise! something comes up, I will go to another place along the way." Characters are well written though not particularly complex.
Gloriana, or The Unfulfill'd Queen by Michael Moorcock
Plot: In an alternate timeline, Queen Elizabeth I rules over the vast empire of Albion and must do her best to manage a corrupt and twisted court.
Page Count: 368
Award: 1979 World Fantasy Award
Worth a read: Absolutely No.
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Review: This book is remarkable in that it combines shockingly dull and lengthy exposition with some truly awful and problematic ideas about sex. A whole lot of parallel world court intrigue that just does not matter at all. The actual plot starts developing halfway or later into the book - and is not interesting. The title addressing Gloriana's inability to orgasm is a big ol' red flag. A deeply unpleasant read. Really awful.
The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
Plot: Humans have built many marvels, but nothing can compete with a space elevator.
Page Count: 317
Award: 1980 Hugo and 1979 Nebula
Worth a read: Yes
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Fail
Review: Overall enjoyable. Main narrative is about the space elevator, secondary is about an equally ambitious ancient building project - woven together in interesting ways. The science and vision offered are interesting, though characters are not and tension is infrequent. Marred somewhat by some truly bizarre (and underdeveloped) side plots and unnecessary epilogue.
The Riddle-Master Trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip
Plot: All the wizards left behind were riddles, and the only one who might be able to solve them is the biggest riddle of all.
Page Count: 578 (Full Trilogy)
Award:Harpist in the Wind (Book 3): 1980 Locus Fantasy
Worth a read: Yes
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Technobabble: Fantasy Babble: Minimal.
Review: It's an epic fantasy trilogy. It's a good one. Kinda loved it. Heroes and villains are complex, magic is interesting and coherent. Excellent characters. Cool development of powers, though it is far more power sprint than power crawl. Pacing can be odd; a few long pauses followed by frenetic scenes. Very well written. A satisfying read.
Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn
Plot: The Southerners picked the wrong keep to invade; Ryke will do everything he can to get it back.
Page Count: 240
Award: World Fantasy Award 1980
Worth a read: No
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Technobabble: Fantasy Babble: Minimal.
Review: The sweet, sweet taste of subpar writing. World building: "You people from the hot South are not used to how cold it is here up North!" Character Development: "You mean... I don't just need to indiscriminately murder people?!" and "You mean... women can fight too?!" Writing Quality (Verbatim): "He thought it might have ben a room in Tornor. The room was hot. He went to the window to open the shutters. They stuck. He had to force the latch. At last one opened."
Titan by John Varley
Plot: The intrepid crew of the Ringmaster crash in alien territory and must figure out how to survive.
Page Count: 309
Award: 1980 Locus SF
Worth a read: No
Primary Driver: (Plot, World, or Character)
Bechdel Test: Pass
Technobabble: Minimal to moderate.
Review: It is hard to find such a dumb book that takes itself so seriously. Some legitimately interesting exploration bits not enough to redeem this one. Extremely juvenile. Raises interesting questions and offers insultingly insipid answers. There are elements that are quite good - particularly some crisp dialogue - but it's just not worth it.
Any questions or comments? Fire away! A truly massive thank you to u/gremdelfor mailing me a bunch of books! People like you are what make this endeavor worth the effort. I’ve been using this spreadsheet, as well as a couple others that kind Redditors have sent. So a huge thanks to u/velzerat and u/BaltSHOWPLACE At the request of a number of you, I’ve written up extended reviews of everything and made a blog for them. I’ve included the links with the posts for individual books. I try to put up new reviews as fast as I read them. Take a look in the comments for that link! The Bechdel Test is a simple question: do two named female characters converse about something other than a man. Whether or not a book passes is not a condemnation so much as an observation; it provides an easy binary marker. Seems like a good way to see how writing has evolved over the years. At the suggestion of some folks, I’m loosening it to non-male identified characters to better capture some of the ways that science fiction tackles sex and gender. For a better explanation of why it’s useful, check out this comment from u/Gemmabeta
Seekers Beyond the Shroud is a Solo modern day occult RPG, written by Alex T. for Blackoath Entertainment. I first stumbled upon it on Kickstarter in October of 2019, and immediately backed it. There are few deliberately designed Solo RPG's, and its promise of solo rules, robust system, and setting was irresistible. I received my print copy this summer, but haven't had a chance until recently to play it. Now that I have, I wanted to do a quick review of the game, based on both my reading of it as well as the couple of sessions I've been able to play. While most of the review will be discussing the book itself, I'll include some notes on my play experience in spoilers. Layout and Design The book itself is solid. The cover image is cool and evocative--and the art in general is very well done. I only backed at the softcover level, but it's a solid and well designed layout. Actually, better than some of the recent games I've bought from more established companies. Setting It's modern day London. Your character has gone through some traumatic and horrifying experience that awakened them to the greater supernatural world. After much searching, you have come to the Omphalos, a secret town populated by mystics, monsters, and other...things. There, you begin your journey of both personal enlightenment and personal power. Character Creation Seekers uses the 6 classic attributes--Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, and Charisma, with Will replacing Wisdom. The scale is from 1-20, with all starting at 10. You then get an additional 20 points to further customize your character. I ended up putting my points into Dexterity, Will, Intelligence, and Charisma. I figured Will and Intelligence are key to any aspiring wizard, and--desiring to do something different than a rogue bad ass--I was hoping that Dexterity and Charisma would give me options to solve issues with something other than direct violence. This would become an issue later on. Next, you have "Secondary Attributes"--Hit Points (Con x10) or Sanity (Int x10) and the like. Then, you have Skills. They're pretty much what you would expect, a mix of combat and non-combat. You have 250 points to spend on the skills, but are limited to no more than 50 in any skill at creation. Some skills have a base value derived from your attributes (for example, One-Handed Melee starts with a value equal to your Str+Dex, while Persuade starts with a value equal to your Charisma X2), while other skills--the mystical ones--begin at 0 and can only be increased through gameplay. If you use a skill 5 times, you can make a Skill-Up roll. If you roll above the current value (i.e.: fail), you add 1 point to the skill. Given that I had a decent Dex, my combat skills were decent to begin with. I wanted to play an "ordinary joe" kind of character, so I spend my points on skills like Technology, Linguistics, and Persuade. I finally caved to my min/maxing tendencies though, and ended up boosting Parry and Sneak as high as I could, with a smattering of points in other combat skills. I had quite a few in the mid-40's, so my "mild mannered accountant" was surprisingly dangerous. Or so I thought. Backgrounds After the basics are done, you roll a d10 for your Background. Each provides and in-depth backstory for your character, and details the traumatic and often horrific moment that set you on the path of magic. Each also provides various penalties and bonuses that further modify your character. I rolled the "Near Death Experience"--my PC was a workaholic who almost dies of a heart attack. While "dead," he encounter a horrific spirit that he just barely managed to evade. Upon waking, he through aside his career and sought out some explanation for what he had seen. He has a bonus to Psychic Combat--which is used in the Astral Plane--but a penalty to his Constitution and Charisma. I had left my Con at 10, so it dropped to 9, and my Hit Points also dropped from 100 to 90. I wasn't worried though, as I had intended to be more sneaky and charming than tough. He said foreshadowingly. Combat Combat is relatively simple. As you approach a foe, you make an Initiative roll on a d20. Each foe has a static Initiative value; if you beat it, you go first and if not, then they do. If you beat them on the first turn, you have a chance to surprise or avoid them entirely. All combat rolls are done by the player. If an enemy attacks, you need to make a defensive roll (Parry, Dodge, or Find Cover) to avoid their attack, and you make your offensive roll (like One Handed Melee) to hit them. Certain foes are Veterans, and apply penalties to these rolls. Different types of weapons do different amounts of damage--like 2d10+10 for a pistol. In the intro adventure, the PC gains a "talent" that grants them a flat +25 to their damage from then on. Most foes have roughly 100-130 Hit Points, so even with the player bonus, it can take quite a few rounds to get through even minor enemies. The Mystical World The next few sections are some of the most interesting, describing the Astral World, Magic, Summoning and Binding Spirits, and the like. I haven't had a chance to really dig into this aspect of the game, however. The Omphalos and Scenarios The core of the game is the Omphalos, a hub of trade, commerce, knowledge and intrigue. Here the PC can buy and sell gear, learn new knowledge, encounter the strange denizens of this world, and get missions for various factions. There are four listed in the book, each with their own agendas and philosophy. Each has constant need for "foot soldiers" to do various unsavory tasks for them, and as you gain Favor with each, they provide various bonuses and spells and other benefits. >! So, I finished the intro scenario, had some knowledge of the greater world, and had been introduced to the Omphalos. Time for the first "real" adventure! First, I roll on the Emphalos Daily Event table and got "quiet day"--things are calm today, and prices are low. I have only a few obols (the currency of the magical realm), so any discount is nice. Then I roll for Encounters, and get "pickpocket." There's no roll to avoid this, so my PC loses 100 obols. This is more than I have, so I am no broke. Desperate for work, I see who is hiring. There are 4 factions, and each might have a represented in town that day, based on a roll of 7+ on a D10. I roll for each, and only one is present, the Causa Scientiae a particularly rational and Order focused faction. I then roll for the Scenario--I get "recover." One of their artifacts has fallen into mortal hands and is in a museum. They want me to recover it for them. Given the setup, there will only be mortal guards--which is nice--and they don't want me to kill anyone. In fact, each guard I kill will cost me the possible Favor reward with the faction. Works for me--I don't want to kill anyone either.!< I could refuse job, but risk losing Favor with them. Given that they are the only ones hiring today, I'm loathe to refuse. Plus the job seems up my alley--no magics needed (and I have none), and I should avoid all combat. Since other types of mission are "kill everything on site" or "kill everything and cast a really tough ritual" I figure I'm unlikely to get a better mission. Next I go to the scenario design. There are a number of possible locations, and each has a unique setup, Events, and Discoveries. This is probably my favorite part of the game. I roll some dice, get a list of rooms and locations, and then create a simple map for my explorations. I know given the setup that the artifact in question will be discovered in the 16th room. But, a roleplayer is gonna roleplay, so I decide my PC will make a beeline for the Archives, assuming that the object surely must be there. And, if not, it will have the necessary paperwork showing where the object is. Each room has unique odds for three different types of encounters--Enemies, Events, and Discoveries. I begin at the Entrance, and have no enemies but an Event reveals Drug Fueled Goons--apparently the guards here are all high as hell, and have a bonus of 20 to their Hit Points, but a -10 to combat. So, tougher to kill, but easier to hit and avoid. The next room I enter is the Lobby, and there's a guard present. The guard rules state that they will attack on site. I could use an alternate rule that lets you talk past human-type foes but, well, I am breaking in and they are all drugged the hell up, so I stick with the basic rules. Still, I try to avoid them but fail in my starting initiative roll. The battle begins, and the dice are on my side. It's a running gun battle, but I'm able to kill the guard. When he's wounded, he calls for backup, and the dice gods are still smiling at me, and I make it through that battle without any injuries. I'm upset at my failure to avoid combat--and losing Favor with my client--but after some nasty battles in the intro adventure, I start to think I'm getting things sorted out. I continue exploring and even manage to successfully sneak past a guard. As I'm exploring one of the administration offices, I run into another one. This time I can't avoid him, and another fight ensues. This time, the dice don't roll so well. He quickly gets the better of me, and I end up taking a lot damage. And with only 90 Hit Points, it's far more than I'm comfortable with. I decide to run. To run away, you need to roll a D20 and, like initiative, and beat their Dexterity but even still they get a free attack on you. Not that it matters, as I fail to disengage. After two rounds spent trying to run away, my PC is shot dead on some secretaries desk and my game came to a close. Concluding Thoughts Seekers Beyond the Shroud is a very interesting game. Obviously, a ton of thought, love, and work has been poured into this game. And there is a lot I love about it--the world, the discussions on magic and spirits, the mission setup system--all top notch. But, there are some things that didn't quite work for me.
Skill resolution. The binary pass/fail doesn't really interest me, particularly for a Solo game. This is purely a personal preference, however.
Skill improvement. 5 usage of skills or 5 combats (for combat skills) to have the chance to increase a skill by 1%? Character progression seems like it would be glacial. Not that I would know, since...
Combat is brutal, and tedious. Not only does even simple combat take several rounds (each requiring an Initiative Roll, a defense roll, an offense roll, and various damage rolls), but they are fairly generic without a chance to meaningfully do anything different or interesting. Also, while the game embraces an "old school" philosophy that not all fights should be fought, this runs counter to both the Scenario design (where "kill all foes" is a pretty common goal), and the System itself. Combat is assumed, after all, and avoiding it requires two separate rolls, neither of which will have a more than 50% chance, at best, of success. And failing either results in combat which requires sheer luck to disengage from.
The Scenario and the system felt...disjointed. This is another purely subjective point, I'll concede, but I didn't like how I had to "dungeon crawl" my way through the Museum. I like the idea of a museum unknowingly having a mystical artifact and my ex-accountant having to figure out how to steal it, without killing anyone. I'd love to do a solo game where I need to assemble a crew to try and help me (can I trust them?), try to locate where the artifact is, do some recon, plan the heist, try to get and get out without drawing attention. Sounds like a fun heist game that could at any moment fall apart. Walking around room by room killing guards didn't seem to do the setup justice.
Failure. Failure needs to be part of any game system, because otherwise it's not really a "game." And death is the ultimate failure, which gives combat meaning. But there has to be a middle ground between "you can't fail" and "oh, you didn't roll significantly better than average for the past 8 dice rolls, so your character is dead and the game is over." I don't know how to square this particular circle.
I'll probably give the game another shot. But, instead of playing an average guy awakening to a wider world, I'll probably go with a more "badass" character and hope he can survive the first few missions. In Seekers, knowing ancient languages is nice, but real mages know how to use a Glock. TLDR Seekers Beyond the Shroud is an interesting Solo RPG of modern occult shenanigans. it has a lot of very interesting and fun mechanics to bring the game to life, but suffers from some bad editing (make sure you play through the intro scenario or you WILL miss a key "PC Bonus") and an unforgiving system. Still, worth checking out for any Solo gamer interested in more contemporary game.
The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill, Part 3
Okay, Wendy’s or Walgreens or whoever, I don’t care who you are, you’re listening to the rest.
Introduction to Part 3
Welcome back one last time to “The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill,” a series where we discuss all aspects of skill design and development. In Part 1, we talked about OSRS’s history with skills, and started the lengthy conversation on Skill Design Philosophy, including the concepts of Core, Expansion, and Integration. This latter topic consumed the entirety of Part 2 as well, which covered Rewards and Motivations, Progression, Buyables, as well as Unconstructive Arguments. Which brings us to today, the final part of our discussion. In this Part 3, we’ll finish up Section 3 – Skill Design Philosophy, then move on to chat about the design and blog process. One last time, this discussion was intended to be a single post, but its length outgrew the post character limit twice. Therefore, it may be important to look at the previous two parts for clarity and context with certain terms. The final product, in its purest, aesthetic, and unbroken form, can be found here.
3-C – Skill Design Philosophy, Continued
3-12 - Balancing
What follows from the discussion about XP and costs, of course, is balancing: the bane of every developer. A company like Riot knows better than anyone that having too many factors to account for makes good balance impossible. Balancing new ideas appropriately is extremely challenging and requires a great respect for current content as discussed in Section 3-5 – Integration. Thankfully, in OSRS we only have three major balancing factors: Profit, XP Rate, and Intensity, and two minor factors: Risk and Leniency. These metrics must amount to some sense of balance (besides Leniency, which as we’ll see is the definition of anti-balance) in order for a piece of content to feel like it’s not breaking the system or rendering all your previous efforts meaningless. It’s also worthy to note that there is usually a skill-specific limit to the numerical values of these metrics. For example, Runecrafting will never receive a training method that grants 200k xp/hr, while for Construction that’s easily on the lower end of the scale. A basic model works better than words to describe these factors, and therefore, being the phenomenal artist that I am, I have constructed one, which I’ve dubbed “The Guthix Scale.” But I’ll be cruel and use words anyway.
Profit: how much you gain from a task, or how much you lose. Gain or loss can include resources, cosmetics, specialized currencies, good old gold pieces, or anything on that line.
XP Rate: how fast you gain XP.
Intensity: how much effort (click intensity), attention (reaction intensity), and thought (planning intensity) you need to put into the activity to perform it well.
Risk: how likely is the loss of your revenue and/or resource investment into the activity. Note that one must be careful with risk, as players are very good at abusing systems intended to encourage higher risk levels to minimize how much they’re actually risking.
Leniency: a measure for how imbalanced a piece of content can be before the public and/or Jagex nerfs it. Leniency serves as a simple modulator to help comprehend when the model breaks or bends in unnatural ways, and is usually determined by how enjoyable and abusable an activity is, such that players don’t want to cause an outrage over it. For example, Slayer has a high level of Leniency; people don’t mind that some Slayer tasks grant amazing XP Rates, great Profits, have middling Intensity, and low Risk. On the other hand, Runecrafting has low levels of Leniency; despite low Risk, many Runecrafting activities demand high Intensity for poor XP Rates and middling Profits.
In the end, don’t worry about applying specific numbers during the conceptual phase of your skill design. However, when describing an activity to your reader, it’s always useful if you give approximations, such as “high intensity” or “low risk,” so that they get an idea of the activity’s design goals as well as to guide the actual development of that activity. Don’t comment on the activity’s Leniency though, as that would be pretty pretentious and isn’t for you to determine anyway.
3-13 - Skill Bloat
What do the arts of weaving, tanning, sowing, spinning, pottery, glassmaking, jewellery, engraving, carving, chiselling, carpentry, and even painting have in common? In real life, there’s only so much crossover between these arts, but in Runescape they’re all simply Crafting. The distinction between what deserves to be its own skill or instead tagged along to a current skill is often arbitrary; this is the great challenge of skill bloat. The fundamental question for many skill concepts is: does this skill have enough depth to stand on its own? The developers of 2006 felt that there was sufficient depth in Construction to make it something separate from Crafting, even if the latter could have covered the former. While there’s often no clean cut between these skills (why does making birdhouses use Crafting instead of Construction?), it is easy to see that Construction has found its own solid niche that would’ve been much too big to act as yet another Expansion of Crafting. On the other hand, a skill with extremely limited scope and value perhaps should be thrown under the umbrella of a larger skill. Take Firemaking: it’s often asked why it deserves to be its own skill given how limited its uses are. This is one of those ideas that probably should have just been thrown under Crafting or even Woodcutting. But again, the developers who made early Runescape did not battle with the same ideas as the modern player; they simply felt like Firemaking was a good idea for a skill. Similarly, the number of topics that the Magic skill covers is so often broken down in other games, like Morrowind’s separation between Illusion, Conjuration, Alteration, Destruction, Mysticism, Restoration, Enchant, Alchemy (closer to Herblore), and Unarmored (closer to Strength and Defense). Why does Runescape not break Magic into more skills? The answer is simple: Magic was created with a much more limited scope in Runescape, and there has not been enough content in any specific magical category to justify another skill being born. But perhaps your skill concept seeks to address this; maybe your Enchantment skill takes the enchanting aspects of Magic away, expands the idea to include current imbues and newer content, and fully fleshes the idea out such that the Magic skill alone cannot contain it. Somewhat ironically, Magic used to be separated into Good and Evil Magic skills in Runescape Classic, but that is another topic. So instead of arguments about what could be thrown under another skill’s umbrella, perhaps we should be asking: is there enough substance to this skill concept for it to stand on its own, outside of its current skill categorization? Of course, this leads to a whole other debate about how much content is enough for a skill idea to deserve individuality, but that would get too deep into specifics and is outside the scope of this discussion.
3-14 - Skill Endgame
Runescape has always been a sandbox MMO, but the original Runescape experience was built more or less with a specific endgame in mind: killing players and monsters. Take the Runescape Classic of 2001: you had all your regular combat skills, but even every other skill had an endgame whose goal was helping combat out. Fishing, Firemaking, and Cooking would provide necessary healing. Smithing and Crafting, along with their associated Gathering skill partners, served to gear you up. Combat was the simple endgame and most mechanics existed to serve that end. However, since those first days, the changing endgame goals of players have promoted a vast expansion of the endgame goals of new content. For example, hitting a 99 in any non-combat skill is an endgame goal in itself for many players, completely separate from that skill’s combat relationship (if any). These goals have increased to aspects like cosmetic collections, pets, maxed stats, all quests completed, all diaries completed, all music tracks unlocked, a wealthy bank, the collection log, boss killcounts, and more. Whereas skills used to have a distinct part of a system that ultimately served combat, we now have a vast variety of endgame goals that a skill can be directed towards. You can even see a growth in this perspective as new skills were released up to 2007: Thieving mainly nets you valuable (or once valuable) items which have extremely flexible uses, and Construction has a strong emphasis on cosmetics for your POH. So when designing your new skill, contemplate what the endgame of your skill looks like. For example, if you are proposing a Gathering skill, what is the Production skill tie-in, and what is the endgame goal of that Production skill? Maybe your new skill Spelunking has an endgame in gathering rare collectibles that can be shown off in your POH. Maybe your new skill Necromancy functions like a Support skill, giving you followers that help speed along resource gathering, and letting you move faster to the endgame goal of the respective Production skill. Whatever it is, a proper, clear, and unified view of an endgame goal helps a skill feel like it serves a distinct and valuable purpose. Note that this could mean that you require multiple skills to be released simultaneously for each to feed into each other and form an appropriate endgame. In that case, go for it – don’t make it a repeat of RS3’s Divination, a Gathering skill left hanging without the appropriate Production skill partner of Invention for over 2 years. A good example of a skill with a direct endgame is… most of them. Combat is a well-accepted endgame, and traditionally, most skills are intended to lend a hand in combat whether by supplies or gear. A skill with a poor endgame would be Hunter: Hunter is so scattered in its ultimate endgame goals, trying to touch on small aspects of everything like combat gear, weight reduction, production, niche skilling tools, and food. There’s a very poor sense of identity to Hunter’s endgame, and it doesn’t help that very few of these rewards are actually viable or interesting in the current day. Similarly, while Slayer has a strong endgame goal it is terrible in its methodology, overshadowing other Production skills in their explicit purpose. A better design for Slayer’s endgame would have been to treat it as a secondary Gathering skill, to work almost like a catalyst for other Gathering-Production skill relationships. In this mindset, Slayer is where you gather valuable monster drops, combine it with traditional Gathering resources like ores from Mining, then use a Production skill like Smithing to meld them into the powerful gear that is present today. This would have kept other Gathering and Production skills at the forefront of their specialities, in contrast to today’s situation where Slayer will give fully assembled gear that’s better than anything you could receive from the appropriate skills (barring a few items that need a Production skill to piece together).
3-15 - Alternate Goals
From a game design perspective, skills are so far reaching that it can be tempting to use them to shift major game mechanics to a more favourable position. Construction is an example of this idea in action: Construction was very intentionally designed to be a massive gold sink to help a hyperinflating economy. Everything about it takes gold out of the game, whether through using a sawmill, buying expensive supplies from stores, adding rooms, or a shameless piece of furniture costing 100m that is skinned as, well, 100m on a shameless piece of furniture. If you’re clever about it, skills are a legitimately good opportunity for such change. Sure, the gold sink is definitely a controversial feature of Construction, but for the most part it’s organic and makes sense; fancy houses and fancy cosmetics are justifiably expensive. It is notable that the controversy over Construction’s gold sink mechanism is probably levied more against the cost of training, rather than the cost of all its wonderful aesthetics. Perhaps that should have been better accounted for in its design phase, but now it is quite set in stone. To emphasize that previous point: making large scale changes to the game through a new skill can work, but it must feel organic and secondary to the skill’s main purpose. Some people really disliked Warding because they felt it tried too hard to fix real, underlying game issues with mechanics that didn’t thematically fit or were overshadowing the skill’s Core. While this may or may not be true, if your new skill can improve the game’s integrity without sacrificing its own identity, you could avoid this argument entirely. If your skill Regency has a Core of managing global politics, but also happens to serve as a resource sink to help your failing citizens, then you’ve created a strong Core design while simultaneously improving the profitability of Gathering skills.
3-16 - The Combat No-Touch Rule
So, let’s take a moment to examine the great benefits and rationale of RS2’s Evolution of Combat: This space has been reserved for unintelligible squabbling. With that over, it’s obvious that the OSRS playerbase is not a big fan of making major changes to the combat system. If there’s anything that defines the OSRS experience, it has to be the janky and abusable combat system that we love. So, in the past 7 years of OSRS, how many times have you heard someone pitch a new combat skill? Practically no one ever has; a new combat skill, no matter how miniscule, would feel obtrusive to most players, and likely would not even receive 25% of votes in a poll. This goes right back to Section 3-5 – Integration, and the importance of preserving the fundamentals of OSRS’s design. I know that my intention with this discussion was to be as definitive about skill design as possible, and in that spirit I should be delving into the design philosophy specifically behind combat skills, but I simply don’t see the benefit of me trying, and the conversation really doesn’t interest me that much. It goes without saying that as expansive as this discussion is, it does not cover every facet of skill design, which is a limitation both of my capabilities and desire to do so.
3-17 - Aesthetics
I don’t do aesthetics well. I like them, I want them, but I do not understand them; there are others much better equipped to discuss this topic than I. Nonetheless, here we go. Since the dawn of OSRS, debates over art style and aesthetics have raged across Gielinor. After all, the OSRS Team is filled with modern day artists while OSRS is an ancient game. What were they supposed to do? Keep making dated graphics? Make content with a modernized and easily digestible style? Something in-between? While many players shouted for more dated graphics, they were approached by an interesting predicament: which dated graphics did they want? We had a great selection present right from the start of OSRS: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. People hungry for nostalgia chose the era that they grew up in, leading to frequent requests for older models like the dragon or imp, most of which were denied by Jagex (except the old Mining rock models). But which era was OSRS supposed to follow? Jagex elected to carve their own path, but not without heavy criticism especially closer to OSRS’s conception. However, they adapted to player requests and have since gone back and fixed many of the blatant early offenders (like the Kingdom of Kourend) and adopted a more consistent flavour, one that generally respects the art style of 2007. Even though it doesn’t always hit the mark, one has to appreciate the OSRS artists for making their best attempt and listening to feedback, and here’s to hoping that their art style examination mentioned in June 2020’s Gazette bears fruit. But what exactly is the old school art style? There are simple systems by which most players judge it in OSRS, usually by asking questions like, “Would you believe if this existed in 2007?” More informed artists will start pointing out distinct features that permeated most content from back in the day, such as low quality textures, low poly models, low FPS animations, a “low fantasy” or grounded profile that appeals somewhat to realism, reducing cartoonish exaggerations, and keeping within the lore. Compiled with this, music and sound design help that art style come to life; it can be very hard on immersion when these don’t fit. An AGS would sound jarring if its special attack sounded like a weak dagger stab, and having to endure Country Jig while roaming Hosidius suddenly sweeps you off into a different universe. But coming back to skill design, the art, models, and sound design tend to be some of the last features, mostly because the design phase doesn’t demand such a complete picture of a skill. However, simple concept art and models can vastly improve how a skill concept is communicated and comfort players who are concerned about maintaining that “old school feel.” This will be touched on again later in this discussion under Section 5-2 – Presentation and Beta Testing.
3-18 - Afterword
Now we’ve set down the modern standards for a new skill, but the statements that started this section bear repeating: the formula we’ve established does not automatically make a good or interesting skill, as hard as we might have tried. Once again, harken back to the First Great Irony: that we are trying to inject the modern interpretation of what defines a skill upon a game that was not necessarily built to contain it. Therefore, one could just as easily deny each of the components described above, as popular or unpopular as the act might be, and their opinion could be equally valid and all this effort meaningless. Don’t take these guidelines with such stringency as to disregard all other views.
5-0 - The OSRS Team and the Design Process
If you’ve followed me all the way here, you’re likely A) exhausted and fed up of any conversation concerning new skills, or B) excited, because you’ve just struck an incredible skill idea (or perhaps one that’s always hung around your head) that happens to tick off all the above checkboxes. But unfortunately for you B types, it’s about to get pretty grim, because we’re going to go through every aspect of skill design that’s exterior to the game itself. We’ll be touching on larger topics like democracy, presentation, player mindsets, effort, and resource consumption. It’ll induce a fantastic bout of depression, so don’t get left behind.
5-1 - Designing a Skill
Thus far, Jagex has offered three potential skills to OSRS, each of which has been denied. This gives us the advantage of understanding how the skill design process works behind the scenes and lets us examine some of the issues Jagex has faced with presenting a skill to the players. The first problem is the “one strike and you’re out” phenomenon. Simply put, players don’t like applying much effort into reading and learning. They’ll look at a developer blog highlighting a new skill idea, and if you’re lucky they’ll even read the whole thing, but how about the second developer blog? The third? Fourth? Even I find it hard to get that far. In general, people don’t like long detail-heavy essays or blogs, which is why I can invoke the ancient proverb “Ban Emily” into this post and it’ll go (almost) completely unnoticed. No matter how many improvements you make between developer blogs, you will quickly lose players with each new iteration. Similarly, developer blogs don’t have the time to talk about skill design philosophy or meta-analyse their ideas – players would get lost far too fast. This is the Second Great Irony of skill design: the more iterations you have of a lengthy idea, the less players will keep up with you. This was particularly prominent with Warding: Battle Wards were offered in an early developer blog but were quickly cut when Jagex realized how bad the idea was. Yet people would still cite Battle Wards as the reason they voted against Warding, despite the idea having been dropped several blogs before. Similarly, people would often comment that they hated that Warding was being polled multiple times; it felt to them like Jagex was trying to brute-force it into the game. But Warding was only ever polled once, and only after the fourth developer blog - the confusion was drawn from how many times the skill was reiterated and from the length of the public design process. Sure, there are people for whom this runs the opposite way; they keep a close eye on updates and judge a piece of content on the merits of the latest iteration, but this is much less common. You could argue that one should simply disregard the ignorant people as blind comments don't contribute to the overall discussion, but you should remember that these players are also the ones voting for the respective piece of content. You could also suggest re-educating them, which is exactly what Jagex attempts with each developer blog, and still people won’t get the memo. And when it comes to the players themselves, can the playerbase really be relied on to re-educate itself? Overall, the Second Great irony really hurts the development process and is practically an unavoidable issue. What’s the alternative? To remove the developer-player interface that leads to valuable reiterations, or does you simply have to get the skill perfect in the first developer blog? It’s not an optimal idea, but it could help: have a small team of “delegates” – larger names that players can trust, or player influencers – come in to review a new, unannounced skill idea under NDA. If they like it, chances are that other players will too. If they don’t, reiterate or toss out the skill before it’s public. That way, you’ve had a board of experienced players who are willing to share their opinions to the public helping to determine the meat and potatoes of the skill before it is introduced to the casual eye. Now, a more polished and well-accepted product can be presented on the first run of selling a skill to the public, resulting in less reiterations being required, and demanding less effort from the average player to be fully informed over the skill’s final design.
5-2 - Presentation and Beta Testing
So you’ve got a great idea, but how are you going to sell it to the public? Looking at how the OSRS Team has handled it throughout the years, there’s a very obvious learning curve occurring. Artisan had almost nothing but text blogs being thrown to the players, Sailing started introducing some concept art and even a trailer with terrible audio recording, and Warding had concept art, in game models, gifs, and a much fancier trailer with in-game animations. A picture or video is worth a thousand words, and often the only words that players will take out of a developer blog. You might say that presentation is everything, and that would be more true in OSRS than most games. Most activities in OSRS are extremely basic, involve minimal thought, and are incredibly grindy. Take Fishing: you click every 20 seconds on a fishing spot that is randomly placed along a section of water, get rid of your fish, then keep clicking those fishing spots. Boiling it down further, you click several arbitrary parts of your computer screen every 20 seconds. It’s hardly considered engaging, so why do some people enjoy it? Simply put: presentation. You’re given a peaceful riverside environment to chill in, you’re collecting a bunch of pixels shaped like fish, and a number tracking your xp keeps ticking up and telling you that it matters. Now imagine coming to the players with a radical new skill idea: Mining. You describe that Mining is where you gather ores that will feed into Smithing and help create gear for players to use. The audience ponders momentarily, but they’re not quite sure it feels right and ask for a demonstration. You show them some gameplay, but your development resources were thin and instead of rocks, you put trees as placeholders. Instead of ores in your inventory, you put logs as placeholders. Instead of a pickaxe, your character is swinging a woodcutting axe as a placeholder. Sure, the mechanics might act like mining instead of woodcutting, but how well is the skill going to sell if you haven’t presented it correctly or respected it contextually? Again, presentation is everything. Players need to be able to see the task they are to perform, see the tools they’ll use, and see the expected outcomes; otherwise, whatever you’re trying to sell will feel bland and unoriginal. And this leads to the next level of skill presentation that has yet to be employed: Beta Worlds. Part of getting the feel of an activity is not just watching, it but acting it out as well - you’ll never understand the thrill of skydiving unless you’ve actually been skydiving. Beta Worlds are that chance for players to act out a concept without risking the real game’s health. A successful Beta can inspire confidence in players that the skill has a solid Core and interesting Expansions, while a failed Beta will make them glad that they got to try it and be fully informed before putting the skill to a poll (although that might be a little too optimistic for rage culture). Unfortunately, Betas are not without major disadvantages, the most prominent of which we shall investigate next.
5-3 - Development Effort
If you thought that the previous section on Skill Design Philosophy was lengthy and exhausting, imagine having to know all that information and then put it into practice.Mentally designing a skill in your head can be fun, but putting all that down on paper and making it actually work together, feel fully fleshed out, and following all the modern standards that players expect is extremely heavy work, especially when it’s not guaranteed to pay off in the polls like Quest or Slayer content. That’s not even taking into account the potentially immense cost of developing a new skill should it pass a poll. Whenever people complain that Jagex is wasting their resources trying to make that specific skill work, Jagex has been very explicit about the costs to pull together a design blog being pretty minimal. Looking at the previous blogs, Jagex is probably telling the truth. It’s all just a bunch of words, a couple art sketches, and maybe a basic in-game model or gif. Not to downplay the time it takes to write well, design good models, or generate concept art, but it’s nothing like the scale of resources that some players make it out to be. Of course, if a Beta was attempted as suggested last section, this conversation would take a completely new turn, and the level of risk to invested resources would exponentially increase. But this conversation calls to mind an important question: how much effort and resources do skills require to feel complete? Once upon a time, you could release a skill which was more or less unfinished. Take Slayer: it was released in 2005 with a pretty barebones structure. The fundamentals were all there, but the endgame was essentially a couple cool best-in-slot weapons and that was it. Since then, OSRS has updated the skill to include a huge Reward Shop system, feature 50% more monsters to slay, and to become an extremely competitive money-maker. Skills naturally undergo development over time, but it so often comes up during the designing of an OSRS skill that it "doesn't have enough to justify its existence." This was touched on deeply in Section 3-13 – Skill Bloat, but deserves reiterating here. While people recognize that skills continually evolve, the modern standard expects a new skill, upon release, to be fully preassembled before purchase. Whereas once you could get away with releasing just a skill's Core and working on Expansions down the line, that is no longer the case. But perhaps a skill might stand a better chance now than it did last year, given that the OSRS Team has doubled in number since that time. However, judging from the skill design phases that have previously been attempted (as we’ve yet to see a skill development phase), the heaviest cost has been paid in developer mentality and motivational loss. When a developer is passionate about an idea, they spend their every waking hour pouring their mind into how that idea is going to function,especially while they’re not at work. And then they’re obligated to take player feedback and adapt their ideas, sometimes starting from scratch, particularly over something as controversial as a skill. Even if they have tough enough skin to take the heavy criticism that comes with skill design, having to write and rewrite repeatedly over the same idea to make it “perfect” is mentally exhausting. Eventually, their motivation drains as their labour bears little fruit with the audience, and they simply want to push it to the poll and be done with it. Even once all their cards are down, there’s still no guarantee that their efforts will be rewarded, even less so when it comes to skills. With such a high mental cost with a low rate of success, you have to ask, “Was it worth it?” And that’s why new skill proposals are far and few between. A new skill used to be exciting for the development team in the actual days of 2007, as they had the developmental freedom to do whatever they wanted, but in the modern day that is not so much the case.
5-4 - The Problems of Democracy
Ever since the conceptualization of democracy in the real world, people have been very aware of its disadvantages. And while I don’t have the talent, knowledge, or time to discuss every one of these factors, there are a few that are very relevant when it comes to the OSRS Team and the polling process. But first we should recognize the OSRS Team’s relationship with the players. More and more, the Team acts like a government to its citizens, the players, and although this situation was intentionally instated with OSRS’s release, it’s even more prominent now. The Team decides the type of content that gets to go into a poll, and the players get their input over whether that particular piece makes it in. Similarly, players make suggestions to the Team that, in many cases, the Team hadn’t thought of themselves. This synergy is phenomenal and almost unheard of among video games, but the polling system changes the mechanics of this relationship. Polls were introduced to the burned and scarred population of players at OSRS’s release in 2013. Many of these players had just freshly come off RS2 after a series of disastrous updates or had quit long before from other controversies. The Squeal of Fortune, the Evolution of Combat, even the original Wilderness Removal had forced numerous players out and murdered their trust in Jagex. To try and get players to recommit to Runescape, Jagex offered OSRS a polling system by which the players would determine what went into the game, where the players got to hold all the cards. They also asked the players what threshold should be required for polled items to pass, and among the odd 50% or 55% being shouted out, the vast majority of players wanted 70%, 75%, 80%, or even 85%. There was a massive population in favour of a conservative game that would mostly remain untouched, and therefore kept pure from the corruption RS2 had previously endured. Right from the start, players started noticing holes in this system. After all, the OSRS Team was still the sole decider of what would actually be polled in the first place. Long-requested changes took forever to be polled (if ever polled at all) if the OSRS Team didn’t want to deal with that particular problem or didn’t like that idea. Similarly, the Team essentially had desk jobs with a noose kept around their neck – they could perform almost nothing without the players, their slave masters, seeing, criticizing, and tearing out every inch of developmental or visionary freedom they had. Ever hear about the controversy of Erin the duck? Take a look at the wiki or do a search through the subreddit history. It’s pretty fantastic, and a good window into the minds of the early OSRS playerbase. But as the years have gone on, the perspective of the players has shifted. There is now a much healthier and more trusting relationship between them and the Team, much more flexibility in what the players allow the Team to handle, and a much greater tolerance and even love of change. But the challenges of democracy haven’t just fallen away. Everyone having the right to vote is a fundamental tenet of the democratic system, but unfortunately that also means that everyone has the right to vote. For OSRS, that means that every member, whether it’s their first day in game, their ten thousandth hour played, those who have no idea about what the poll’s about, those who haven’t read a single quest (the worst group), those who RWT and bot, those who scam and lure, and every professional armchair developer like myself get to vote. In short, no one will ever be perfectly informed on every aspect of the game, or at least know when to skip when they should. Similarly, people will almost never vote in favour of making their game harder, even at the cost of game integrity, or at least not enough people would vote in such a fashion to reach a 75% majority. These issues are well recognized. The adoption of the controversial “integrity updates” was Jagex’s solution to these problems. In this way, Jagex has become even more like a government to the players. The average citizen of a democratic country cannot and will not make major decisions that favour everyone around themselves if it comes at a personal cost. Rather, that’s one of the major roles of a government: to make decisions for changes for the common good that an individual can’t or won’t make on their own. No one’s going to willingly hand over cash to help repave a road on the opposite side of the city – that’s why taxes are a necessary evil. It’s easy to see that the players don’t always know what’s best for their game and sometimes need to rely on that parent to decide for them, even if it results in some personal loss. But players still generally like the polls, and Jagex still appears to respect them for the most part. Being the government of the game, Jagex could very well choose to ignore them, but would risk the loss of their citizens to other lands. And there are some very strong reasons to keep them: the players still like having at least one hand on the wheel when it comes to new content or ideas. Also, it acts as a nice veto card should Jagex try to push RS3’s abusive tactics on OSRS and therefore prevent such potential damage. But now we come to the topic of today: the introduction of a new skill. Essentially, a new skill must pass a poll in order to enter the game. While it’s easy to say, “If a skill idea is good enough, it’ll pass the threshold,” that’s not entirely true. The only skill that could really pass the 75% mark is not necessarily a well-designed skill, but rather a crowd-pleasing skill. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, the latter is far easier to make than the former. Take Dungeoneering: if you were to poll it today as an exact replica of RS2’s version, it would likely be the highest scoring skill yet, perhaps even passing, despite every criticism that’s been previously emphasized describing why it has no respect for the current definition of “skill.” Furthermore, a crowd-pleasing skill can easily fall prey to deindividualization of vision and result in a bland “studio skill” (in the same vein as a “studio film”), one that feels manufactured by a board of soulless machines rather than a director’s unique creation. This draws straight back to the afore-mentioned issues with democracy: that people A) don’t always understand what they’re voting for or against, and B) people will never vote for something that makes their game tougher or results in no benefit to oneself. Again, these were not issues in the old days of RS2, but are the problems we face with our modern standards and decision making systems. The reality that must be faced is that the polling system is not an engine of creation nor is it a means of constructive feedback – it’s a system of judgement, binary and oversimplified in its methodology. It’s easy to interact with and requires no more than 10 seconds of a player’s time, a mere mindless moment, to decide the fate of an idea made by an individual or team, regardless of their deep or shallow knowledge of game mechanics, strong or weak vision of design philosophy, great or terrible understanding of the game’s history, and their awareness of blindness towards the modern community. It’s a system which disproportionately boils down the quality of discussion that is necessitated by a skill, which gives it the same significance as the question “Should we allow players to recolour the Rocky pet by feeding it berries?” with the only available answers being a dualistic “This idea is perfect and should be implemented exactly as outlined” or “This idea is terrible and should never be spoken of again.” So what do you do? Let Jagex throw in whatever they want? Reduce the threshold, or reduce it just for skills? Make a poll that lists a bunch of skills and forces the players to choose one of them to enter the game? Simply poll the question, “Should we have a new skill?” then let Jagex decide what it is? Put more options on the scale of “yes” to “no” and weigh each appropriately? All these options sound distasteful because there are obvious weaknesses to each. But that is the Third Great Irony we face: an immense desire for a new skill, but no realistic means to ever get one.
6-0 - Conclusion
I can only imagine that if you’ve truly read everything up to this point, it’s taken you through quite the rollercoaster. We’ve walked through the history of OSRS skill attempts, unconstructive arguments, various aspects of modern skill design philosophy, and the OSRS Team and skill design process. When you take it all together, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the thought that needs to go into a modern skill and all the issues that might prevent its success. Complexity, naming conventions, categorizations, integration, rewards and motivations, bankstanding and buyables, the difficulties of skill bloat, balancing, and skill endgames, aesthetics, the design process, public presentation, development effort, democracy and polling - these are the challenges of designing and introducing modern skills. To have to cope with it all is draining and maybe even impossible, and therefore it begs the question: is trying to get a new skill even worth it? Maybe. Thanks for reading. Tl;dr: Designing a modern skill requires acknowledging the vast history of Runescape, understanding why players make certain criticisms and what exactly they’re saying in terms of game mechanics, before finally developing solutions. Only then can you subject your ideas to a polling system that is built to oversimplify them.
A thorough evaluation of the 9/18 PTS update and base changes, as well as almost everything else coming up.
Hello, here’s another round of Esamir Rework reviews. I’ll also cover the Indar base changes, the storm, vehicle balance changes and new infantry gear. I’m not going to touch on outfit resource changes here, since this post is long enough already. I’d like to give shoutouts to aln-isolator , [NWYT]Praefectus, the pilots of [SACA] and everyone else who helped give feedback. Here’s the image gallery. This time around the bases listed in the document match the order in which they appear in the gallery. https://imgur.com/a/5pd5VFj Esamir has a new skybox which is much less bright. I can now see vehicle weapon tracers when shooting. This is a long asked for change. Andvari: 3 points now, 12 min cap with 2 points, 4 mins with 3 points. Consider adjusting the timers. Ymir: No changes to terrain that I can see. It’s a 12 minute cap with two points owned, and 4 minutes with 3 points. Might consider reducing those slightly. Apex Genetics has had its wall adjusted somewhat, as well as the rocks surrounding the triple stack. There are now more routes for infantry to enter the base. Aurora Materials: Sunderer garage and surrounding terrain seem to have been lowered slightly. Also, there’s now a rock at the end of the garage, which reduces the possible angles the bus inside can be shelled from. The slope between the crescent building and the road has had some paths added for infantry. Overall, good changes. However, there’s still one issue here, and that’s the possibility of shelling the triple stack balcony from the ridge NW of the base. Additional purple spikes from the cluster behind the spawn room could be positioned to block this firing angle. Eastwake Harborage: Point has received a new structure above it. It’s now on the bottom floor of a triple stack that has an expanded balcony around its second floor. This gives point holders a lot of additional cover, but the problems with this base still exist. There’s still a ridiculous distance between spawn room and the point with minimal cover from vehicles/bolters/LAs- a literal Death Valley. The area immediately around point is still extremely harasser friendly and could use some props to obstruct harasser movement. In its current position, the teleporter room is useless since infantry leaving it must still advance through Death Valley. Sundy positions are a bit sketchy, too. Fortunately, I’ve had a long discussion and now believe this base could be fixed with a couple tweaks. Consider replacing the AI turret outside the spawn room with an AV gun. This would discourage excessively aggressive vehicles from camping Death Valley. Likewise, replacing the light vehicle pull with an MBT pull gives defenders a bit more potential firepower, and increases the area attacking vehicles must cover to protect their own vulnerable spawns. This base would also benefit from the moving of primary teleporter room to a point higher up the hill and closer to the point, as shown by squad waypoint in this image: https://i.imgur.com/TuEee9F.png. A second teleporter here at hearts waypoint https://i.imgur.com/JUbXklc.png gives defenders another route into the point without going through Death Valley. At these two locations sunderer garages could be built to create safer spawn points for attackers.https://i.imgur.com/QWblfz4.pnghttps://i.imgur.com/w4HR05n.png Echo valley: Rocks have been added on the exterior side of the vehicle terminal to give it some cover. However, they aren’t close enough to each other to prevent me from driving through with a Kobalt bus, nor is there anything stopping me from hacking the terminal or using a GSD to get through the shield and then start driving around the base. Placement of a couple rocks in very specific spots would stop this. Secondly, a crate has been placed between bridges to give infantry another path into the point building. It’s a cool concept, but it needs some form of obstruction to prevent me from driving harassers or possibly larger vehicles onto the two bridges and blasting point directly. Thirdly, consider some form of sight blockers on the west wall to reduce the potential for LAs to spawn camp. Excavion DS-01E: Cover has been placed over both tunnels, which is an excellent change. MBT pulls have been added to this base, though they could stand to be moved slightly closer to the spawn room to deter attackers from hacking them and flooding the base with AI vehicles. A point is located in a long narrow building near the eastern tunnel exit. B is in a triple stack on the south side. C is located immediately west of the drill site. Capture timer is 4 minutes with two points and 1 minute with all 3. This base is mostly fine, but could do with some small tweaks for increased cover. At A point the point holders have few options for cover inside. There are two small smokestack structures (pictures in gallery) that could be replaced with actual buildings to provide more cover from aircraft for players moving around inside the base. Timers could probably be increased slightly. Overall though it’s in a decent state. Genudine Gardens: Some props have been added throughout the base that’ll prevent harassers from turboing around like maniacs, but the gigantic hole in the wall in one corner needs to be closed off somewhat to prevent vehicle entry or at least make it more difficult. This base would be fine if that hole were sealed or obstructed better. Grey Heron: Additional cover has been placed on the side of the staircase leading from spawn to B/C point. The secondary route for defenders has been fleshed out- the door now is high enough to get under, and there is a hole in the floor that allows defenders to drop down to the lower level. Cover has been added on the B side of this base. For improvements, I still think a roof is needed over the stairs from defender spawn to the lower level. A wall alone won’t stop tanks from shelling it. C could use a bit of cover, but I’m concerned that adding too much will turn it into a fortress. You can enter this base with harassers, so some bollards should be added to each entrance to prevent that. Jaegers’ fist: Sunderer garage has been added, and the trench has been improved. This base has some odd issues from an infantry perspective, namely that attackers and defenders have the exact same routes to the point, as shown in the gallery. I have no ideas for how this could be improved. I still believe the point needs some kind of roof to block HESH spam and A2G, preferably a solid one to deter LAs from doing C4 bombing. BL-4 Recovery and Vidar Observation Post both have spawn rooms and light vehicle terminals. This is a pretty good change, allowing closer vehicle pulls and a shorter sundy reinforcement distance for attacks on the surrounding facilities. Jord Amp Station: More cover has been added around C point. This is a good change, but doesn’t change the fact that A is still inside the station. Mani Lake: This one has undergone the most terrain edits, and consequently has become a lot less vehicle friendly. The two trenches leading into the base have had barricades installed, allowing infantry to move through but not vehicles. The hills surrounding the base have had their exterior faces steepened significantly, preventing treaded vehicles from driving up them. This change is excellent, but needs a bit of tuning. The Western Ridge’s southern tip has a shallow enough slope that tanks can still drive up it. On the large mountain to the West on the far side of the road, there’s a small protrusion that should also be levelled. Once these two spots are taken care of, this base will be fine. Overall, the changes are very good here. Mattherson’s Triumph: The Sunderer NDZ has been reduced in radius, which allows the defenders to deploy inside the south tower for a safer position. This is a good change. The ridgeline to the NE has had its northern face steepened significantly, preventing tanks from driving up that side. However, the SW face has become easier to traverse, so the ridge is still usable for bombardment of the catwalks and A point. If this goes live in this state, it’s not a total disaster since tanks driving up that will be very exposed to AV fire from the tower, but it still could stand to be addressed. Likewise, there’s still a nice spur sticking out of the north end from the NW ridge that allows tanks to easily shell defender spawn and A point. The fix here is simple- flatten the spur completely. A point needs additional work. At minimum, the windows on each tower in the room where A point/SCU would normally go should be sealed off to reduce the angles point holders must watch. There’s very little cover on the ground, especially when you consider all the angles A can be shot at from. I believe the point could be enclosed in the same type of building used at Chimney Rock’s point on Amerish. The bridges are a mixed bag. They’re identical copies with one rotated 180 degrees, which means that crate placement favors the attackers on B side and the defenders on the C side. Picking one crate pattern for all 4 bridge ends is one possible fix. I’m still not sold on the idea of both points being on bridges. They’re very exposed to A2G spam and bolters. Overall, at the very least the terrain edits are a nice start, and the sunderer NDZ change is very welcome. Nott Communications: This base is now entirely underground. Attackers enter by overloading a shielded gate, and then drop down into an amp station interior. These gravity lifts are one way, but please consider adding an up lift to replace one of the drop pads. A point is in the position where A points usually are in amp stations. B and C are in the room where SCU would be normally positioned. At the end of this room where the tunnels and back door would normally be is a one-way teleporter, which is the only way for anyone to get out of this base right now. Defenders spawn underground and there’s a one-way shield leading to where the vehicle bay normally is. To improve this base, I’d make the one-way shield a two way shield, and reverse one of the grav lifts. I could not test the cap timer since I did not feel like ghost capping half a continent. Pale Canyon: Some cover has been adjusted by the big yellow tanks on the SE side. A new route has been placed through the rocks at the NW corner of the base. This is an interesting change, but I don’t know how that’ll play out on live since currently I can park a bus inside the base at the same location. The Rink: The ground texture at A point is now ice, so it’s actually an ice rink. Too bad you don’t slide around here. Saerro Listening Post: Trees added to A point to break LOS between attacking vehicles and the tower. The wall between A and B has had some new gaps placed in it to allow infantry to get in. Interesting changes for sure, but I don’t know how they’ll play out. The Traverse: The bridge has been resurrected, although it’s in a heavily damaged state. It’s now an infantry only playground, unless you’re a bold harasser or magrider driver. Because the storm was here, I really couldn’t stick around and take a long look at this. Lastly, the bottom of the pit has been raised a bit and paths to the bottom have been defined more clearly. There also have been some changes to roads around the continent, but nothing major. Indar: TI Alloys: The removal of the bridge is a failure to understand why TI Alloys is such a difficult base to attack. On live servers, TI currently suffers from horrific sunderer placement options which combine with its central location to create a base that’s easy to defend. From the North, attackers must park their bus and attack up a hill through narrow ravines into entrenched defenders backed up by AI harassers, sunderers, ANTs, lightnings and even occasional MBTs. From the South, attackers have two bus spots: One is placed to the south-east, below the point. The other is placed directly south of the spawn room on the far side of the road. Both of these options are suboptimal- on the south east spawn the bus can easily be sniped by vehicles shelling from the Crown, driving down from the Crown, or by vehicles streaming out of the vehicle pull. The south bus on the far side of the road is also not ideal, since infantry have to cross the road and deal with a flood of vehicles as well as an angry AI turret. The only decent spawn location is at the end of the rock bridge, since that one’s reasonably safe from enemy vehicles and doesn’t involve attacking from the low ground. However, this position’s impeded by the fact that attackers from the north inevitably gravitate to the eastern side of the base since that’s safer from the defenders, forcing a three way that never ends. The result is a base that can’t be broken except by routers. The removal of the rock bridge changes none of this, but instead creates more problems. The safe sundy position on the bridge is gone entirely. Further, the bridge’s removal allows tanks to bombard Ti from the Crown once more, since it served as a line-of-sight blocker. The new attacker foot path to the north east is extremely vulnerable to bombardment from the Crown. As far as the base interior goes, a new wall has been added to the interior of the point room structure. This might give attackers a better chance to get to the point, but at the same time it might make things easier for the defenders should they conduct an organized push since there are fewer angles to set up a crossfire from. So how can Ti be improved? I’d start by bringing the bridge back, or at least a small section of it to allow for a safe sunderer position at the east side. For the south, consider a tunnel leading under the road. This allows infantry to get to the base safely. I’d also consider adding in more props to restrict the passage of vehicles through the spawn room area to the northern side of the base. Removing the Kobalt bus fiesta there will make it easier for attackers to push in from the north. Lastly, if the bridge is not restored, consider creating a rock wall at the north east section of crown to prevent tanks from raining hell on anyone fighting at Ti. Crown: The removal of D point is honestly a good thing. It wasn’t fun for anyone to attack since it’s open ground and below a cliff which enables C4 spam against vehicles and requires attackers push against entrenched infantry. Since Crown becomes a three point again, now the base cannot be stuck in a perpetual stalemate. I’m not a fan of where A point was moved to, either. I think if the rock bridge were kept then Crown would be mostly fine. With the three non-vehicle points it has on live. The issue with A being on that southern bridge is that if the attackers set up sunderers to control B, then they get A almost for free and can contest C as well. B point has been moved farther towards the center of the mountain and the tunnel system lengthened a bit, and a lot of cover has been removed at the initial entrance room that exists on live.The extra tunnel into B is an interesting idea and gives a better chance of an attack from the North succeeding, but at the same time it’s just another tunnel choke point to for aoe spam to create nasty farms. C is also problematic if it’s supposed to be the easy point for defenders to contest. It’s a fair distance from the tower, and it’s also open ground which is prime for A2G farming. I’d suggest moving this one into one of the nearby buildings if A must stay in the position it’s at on PTS. I’m not convinced the base needed any point position changes apart from the removal of D point. The current point layout on PTS favors an attack from the SE very heavily, and attacks from the East or North are far more difficult. While old A was very close to the tower, at least it provided a convenient point for attacks from the East. None of the changes really address the problem of poor bus location options, and with the current terrain there really aren’t many good potential spawn options. At most some garages could be added. Ceres Hydroponics: Defenders now have a slightly shorter path to the point when pushing from the NE side of the base. The point itself has much less cover. I’m not going to make judgements on this without seeing how it plays out. The Esamir storm: I’m not sure what this thing is supposed to do. The entire point of the game is large scale battles, yet this thing rolls around the map destroying the biggest fights. There’s nowhere safe from it. Sunderers will get destroyed even if put in garages. When outdoors infantry can be instagibbed by lightning for staying outside too long, and even when indoors their shielding takes frequent chip damage from environmental effects. The shield damage consistently drops players down about 150 shield points that constantly recharge, but this is enough to start messing with TTKs. For example, a commissioner can consistently OHK players. Since the shield damage is not synchronized across all players, it’s possible to be forced into gunfights where you have no hope of winning not because you were in a bad spot or outplayed, but simply because the game decided it’s your time to die. This applies doubly for lightning bolts which will randomly strike you down. There’s a text warning, of course, but random OHK mechanics really shouldn’t be a thing. You cannot use steel rain in the storm. For vehicles this is obnoxious too. Ground vehicles lose most of their mobility, which will punish new players with poorly certed vehicles even more. Aircraft are even worse off, losing most of their vertical thrust. At times I felt like even afterburning upward was barely enough to keep the aircraft airborne. Vehicles kept in the storm for too long will simply be instagibbed, which cripples sunderers as spawns. The storm also destroys base turrets and terminals. There are counters to the storm, though. Infantry can deploy lightning rods bought with merit that allow them to fight outside, but it doesn’t stop shield chip damage, and can equip an insulated armor suit at the cost of flak armor, nanoweave, or shield capacitor. This suit slot appears to be bugged and doesn’t actually reduce the chip damage taken by your shields. Carapace seems to be immune to this chip damage. Vehicles can equip insulated armor in the defense slot. This mitigates the performance hit to vehicles, reduces the damage taken by lightning, and prevents the storm from instagibbing your vehicle. Now, this is less of a problem in the first place for aircraft and tanks, but it screws over sunderers. Sunderers are already fragile enough even with deployment shield equipped, but forcing spawn buses to use this module and rely on their low hull HP is a very bad idea when paired with random lightning strikes and the severe lack of garages Esamir has. With all that out of the way, the question I have to ask is why is the storm designed like this? It seems like a band-aid fix for zerging and actively punishes trying to create large fights. It cripples the vehicle game, negatively affects the infantry game, creates inconsistent TTKs, and only adds frustrating game mechanics. If the center of the map ends up with stalemates, it’ll circle around there endlessly preventing any kind of progress through the pile of three point bases. Why this, when there’s a lot more interesting concepts that could be used? For example, maybe the storm could reduce the rate at which players can spawn at a base/sunderers/routers. Maybe it could jam radaprevent Q spotting. Consider reducing shield chip damage to 50 shields instead of 150 to reduce TTK variance. There’s a lot more interesting ways it could change the game without being the anti-fun mechanic that it’s currently set up as. Infantry gear: Lightning grenade: Cool, you can launch a targeted lightning strike when in the storm. More instagibs is what the game needed. Lightning rod: This temporarily redirects lightning strikes near you. This is a solution to an obnoxious problem that doesn’t need to exist. Condensate grenade: Reduces movement speed and ROF by 20% for six seconds. This is a terrible idea in an FPS game. This doesn’t create interesting gameplay situations. Instead of being outplayed, players hit by this just lose since the game’s punishing them for playing. Keep this in RPGs and RTS games. Now, we do have status grenades already, but do we need one that’s as powerful as this one is? BEC grenade: Similar to Condensate Grenades, this is a horrible addition to the game. Anything that hurts player mobility/damage output is a bad idea. Neutralizer Device: Campaign reward that allows players to acquire abandoned vehicles, and apparently strip ability energy from players too. I like the idea of vehicle acquisition, but I don’t know if we’ll ever see the second use of this tool. Abandoned vehicles: Around the continent are the hulks of abandoned tanks, sunderers and aircraft. They come with a special ability that I haven’t really tested, HEAT cannons and the first generation ES top gun. For the sake of loadout parity for all 3 abandoned MBTs I’d like to suggest the Prowler get a Gatekeeper instead of the Vulcan. Vehicle changes: Havoc missiles: Are these things still necessary, with the liberator nerfs? These things seem redundant now, and they’ll punish rep gal balls unnecessarily hard while valkyries with rep monkeys can probably still dodge these things easily. Phalanx AA turret range increase: This doesn’t fix any of the problems with the current AA setup. Instead, it’s going to just annoy A2A players who are flying along at high altitude and getting plinked by base AA guns, which is the reason the things got their range capped to begin with! Honestly I think these things should be replaced by weapons like Bastion CIWS guns. Those things are nasty at close range but their damage output falls off heavily at range. Liberator: -500 HP and ESF nosegun resist from 85 to 80. While the liberator needed some changes regarding its durability and repair tanking in particular, this change spectacularly misses the mark on many levels. This change skews ESF vs Liberator combat too far in favor of ESFs. When paired with air locks this brings down the TTK to incredibly fast levels (around 9 seconds, which isn’t even enough for three dalton shots) In this post, mystoganofedolashttps://www.reddit.com/Planetside/comments/ivjg8t/rock_paper_scissor_balance/ explains in great detail the liberator issues- it’s a blatant hard counter to ground vehicles, and gets brutally hard countered by ESFs on PTS. Hard counter mechanics are terrible in an FPS game. In this sort of rock-paper-scissors gameplay, things boil down less to individual ability and more towards who has an exact counter to something, which is extremely boring. There’s no skill in using A2A missiles, just as there’s minimal skill in hovering over tanks and daltoning them. In this post here https://www.reddit.com/Planetside/comments/ivsssx/did_some_basic_math_regarding_the_upcoming/, taltharius demonstrates that -500 HP barely changes anything in the case of liberators eating multiple AP shells before hitting fire suppression and flying off. Skilled gunnery should be rewarded, and sloppy flying should be punished. So how can this be improved? Consider reducing vulnerability to ESF noseguns slightly. Adjusting Liberator resistance against tank shells, light anti-vehicle, gatling guns, and infantry rockets will increase the damage libs take from ground fire and punish poor flying/reward skilled aim. Possibly consider increasing MBT main gun elevation angles slightly, to reduce the ability of liberators to hover over tanks with minimal counterplay. Harasser: Nanite cost to 300. Oh boy this one misses the mark completely. The problem with harassers has never really been cost related, but rather one that got introduced with CAI. The harasser itself is not overpowered and its efficiency in combat drops off hard at higher levels of gameplay. Only when harasser numbers become overwhelming (3 or more harassers vs 1 MBT) do the harassers stand a chance of defeating the best tank crews, and even then the tank usually can take 2-3 harassers with it. Harasser vs tank gameplay is extremely boring and very binary. If the harasser has a CQ AV gun it’s forced to fight at point blank which means I delete it easily. If it uses halberd or ES long range AV we both enter a boring poke fight where neither one does significant damage to the other. Even if the harasser opens up with rear hits the MBT still has an overwhelming advantage in firepower and hit points. With tanks, the problem since CAI has been poor muzzle velocity of HEAT shells which makes hitting difficult and what most players will have equipped, pathetic Basilisk DPS against everything (Kobalt kills stock harassers 4 seconds faster), Skyguards being helpless against every ground vehicle, and the Viper not having the accuracy to deal with small moving fast targets. Small changes to these three weapons will reduce harasser vs tank complaints. Harasser vs Harasser is broken, for a different reason. Harassers have a weakness to gatling guns, which means that the Vulcan and Aphelion rip through harassers while the Mjolnir specializes in fighting heavy vehicles. In practice, this means that for low/average skilled car crews, vulcans are disproportionately powerful since less skilled players won’t know to keep outside minimum damage range. At higher levels an Aphelion car is very hard to fight. Toning back harasser weaknesses to gatling guns might improve this situation, but at the same time it might nerf the Aphelion too much. At the very least this’d probably reduce vulcan whine somewhat. Overall, I have mixed impressions. The base changes are mostly for the better, but the storm, infantry gear, and vehicle changes are mostly bad or miss the mark completely.
OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – ESCAPE FROM STALAG SULTANATE, Part 1
That reminds me of a story. “HELLFIRE AND DALMATIANS!” I shouted to no one in particular. “What’s the problem, dear?” Esme asks in that way she has of telling me to calm down without having to say it directly. “This bloody fucking country. A day late and several dollars short.” I fume. “Can’t get a new liquor license because of the bloody COVID. Can’t go to a hotel bar and have a snort because of the bloody COVID. Can’t even slip across the border to Dubai and soak up some room service and buckets of complimentary cocktails because of the bloody COVID.” Yes, the Sultanate of Oman, in its infinitesimal wisdom, has traditionally followed other GCC countries by at least three months in making any sort of proclamations regarding this latest bugaboo: the hideous, deadly, itchy, loathsome, and possibly serially bent, noxious, pandemical COVID-19; aka, this pandemic’s entry for flu. Their response is one of immense knee-jerk without first having thought of the consequences. “Bloody lockdown, 2100 to 0700. What is this, the whole fucking country’s been bad and now being sent to bed without any supper?” I wondered aloud. “Idiot benchodes.” Even Esme couldn’t come up with a rejoinder to that. “Plus they close all the bars. And all the hotels. And the fucking bottle shops. It’s not enough that these fucking Muppets jack the ‘sin tax’ on booze and cigars by 100%, now they’re not even legally available.” I swore. Of course, once you’ve spent even a small portion of the time that I have in the Middle East, you have your connections. Your system. Your access to the seedy underbelly of any society; the venerable Black Market. Jesus Q. Christ on toast with baked beans, fried tomatoes, black pudding, and mushrooms, I could get most anything in the Middle East, be it legal, shady, or just plain illegal. However, before you all recoil in horror that the venerable Dr. Rocknocker dabbles in the prohibited, just remember: the ends always dojustify the means. “I'm telling you, Esme dear; this Gulf story is getting too complicated. The weasels have started closing in.” I complain to Es as she hands me a fresh drink. “Do you think…?” Esme asks expectantly. Esme is more than ready to go. I’ve used this place as a base of operations for years whilst I wear out the Omani legal system suing those asswipes that think just because they’re local and I’m a kafir, they’re immune to the law. I’ve spent a long, profitable and time-consuming period of the last few years proving them wrong. But, time was marching onwards. I agreed with Esme, we’ve milked this particular cash cow dry. It was time to hitch up our bootstraps, call it a day, and get the hell out of Dodge. But not before I took care of a few loose ends. Now, the country had recently lost its venerable Sultan, who croaked back in January of this year. Sultan Qaboos was a good egg, friend to expat and local alike. Did a shitload of good for this benighted Middle East sandpit. Dragged it kicking and screaming out of the 12th century into, well, not exactly the 21st, but a whole hell of a lot closer. He realized that he needed revolutionary, not evolutionary change in the country. By revolutionary, he needed American, British, Canadian, and the like Western Expats here to do the heavy thinking and lifting and Eastern Expats like Indians, Bangladeshis and Nepalese to do all the scut work. Yeah, I know. That sounds racist as fuck, but sometimes that’s the way the ball bounced. Simple evolution of society where Omanis graduated the local equivalent of grade school, through high school, into University, and finally into Entry level jobs in the oil and gas industry wasn’t going to cut it. Took too long and the country needed a serious cash flow now. So, that’s what he did. And it worked a treat. Then he died. And his chosen took over. Except his chosen was pretty much antithetical to everything the previous and very revered and successful, Sultan wanted. Soon, there are 100% ‘sin taxes’ aimed directly at the western expats. Tourists included. Then there’s quotas and ‘Letters of No Objection’, which are impossible to get so that the Eastern Expats can’t switch jobs. Then, there are Sultanic proclamations of new taxes on tourists, new taxes on fast food, new taxes on this, that and the other. Then there’s, in his own words, “Oman is for Omanis”, blatantly ridiculous and xenophobic Omanization, and the general swipe at all expats. “GET OUT.” This was the clear message of the new sultan. He wanted to take over and possibly nationalize all the oil workings in the country. Ask Venezuela, Iran, and Myanmar how well that worked out for them. Then he wants all expats out on their asses. He wants Omanis to take over all the jobs, even though they’re nowhere near educated nor experienced enough for the positions. Then take up the massive GDP slack in lower oil production and oil prices with tourism. Given everything else, that last line should be enough to get him off the throne. He’s fucking nuts if he thinks people are going to want to cruise or overland anywhere near a place where foreigners are seen only as a cash supply, are despised, and would welcome these all new 100% tax levies. Be that as it may, Esme and I decided that we have had enough of 135O F summer temperatures, virtual house arrest under the guise of a COVID lockdown, and idiots who were the only ones stupid or twisted enough not to vamoose when the great, big bloody letters were clearly written on the wall. But, there was the physical act of getting out of the country. Now, I had plenty of strings which I could pull, but I decided I’d start low and save those until we really needed them. So low, in fact, we went to the US Embassy in Muscat. “How low can you go?” reverberated through my head. What a haven of sad-sacks, flubadubs, and third rate hobbyists. Was either Esme or I surprised that when we finally secured an invitation to the embassy, that required a bit of string-pulling with the ex-Ambassador to Oman, now in Kabul; that besides the peach-fuzz faced Marine guarding the place, we were the only Americans in the joint? “This is American soil!” I laughed, as I pulled out a huge Cuban cigar and was immediately told to extinguish it. “We’re as American as apple pie and napalm! We file our fucking 1040s every April; I pay my fucking long-distance taxes and demand US assistance to vacate this gloomy place of sandy, sweaty, sultry Sturm und Drang!” “Shut up, Rock”, Esme chided me, “They don’t understand English. Much less, the florid English the way you trowel it on.” “Fuckbuckets”, I remonstrated. “Here I had memorized the whole Patrick Henry speech he made to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, at St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia. Troglodytes. No admiration for the classics.” “Rock, dear?” Esme noted, “It’s almost 1100 hours. Best to get to our appointment.” True, our appointment was slated for 1100 hours. But around here, anything starting within three hours of the stated time was considered close enough. We dragged ourselves, none too cheerfully, to the waiting room. Once we pried open the door, there was the usual “If you hear a high pitched wail, hit the deck” signs, and other things one could do while kissing one’s ass goodbye if there was a terrorist attack, we had a whole new slew of bullshit with which to deal. “Social distancing. 6 feet. Or if you’re from Baja Canada, 1 cow’s length.” “Must wear a mask. Bandanna, bandoliers, and large-caliber weapons or sombrero optional.” “No sitting. Faux Naugahyde seats are too difficult to sterilize. You must stand at attention, do not talk amongst yourselves, and remain patient until your number is called.” “Well, fuck!”, I snorted quietly, as I raised my first secret flask in rapt attention to our old glory of red, white, and blue. “Good thing they didn’t say nothin’ about getting a load on. If I’m going to be treated like cattle, I’m going to at least have something to chew on in the process.” “Oh, lord”, Esme grumbled, “You didn’t bring that Japanese Rye Whiskey with you, did you?” “ルハイム”, I said, which is Japanese for “L’chaim”! “Oh, hell”, Esme grinned as she borrowed my flask, “This is going to be a long day.” I began to protest but remembered that I was wearing my Agency-issued field vest. I must have had at least 5 or 6 more flasks lurking around in those pockets somewhere. Funny aside: they don’t bother with my going through an X-ray machine nor do they confiscate my phone, radio, knives, nor other field equipment when I go to the US Embassy. It took them almost two solid hours last time, and by the time they got to my Brunton Compass, emergency flasks, a few spare blasting cap boosters, and saw the label sewn into the back of my vest, they decided they’d just send Rack and Ruin some evil Emails and let me pass unmolested. “I’ll drink to that”, I say as I raise a flask as the locals raise an eyebrow. “Courtesy of Atheists International. We’re here for your children…” The collective gasps and growls indicate they weren’t happy with me or my betrothed. “Don’t care, Buckwheat”, I smiled, “Never did, never will. We’re out of here for good. You can curse my name all you want then. But, then again, why you standing in the American Embassy trying to get a visa to visit the land of the great evil empire?” All the locals and most of the Eastern Expats crowded into a corner as far away from us as they physically could. “BOO!” I snickered over a shot of Wild Turkey 101 Rye. “Now serving number 58! Number 58!” came the call over the tannoy. “Look at that”, I remarked to Es as I stashed both our flasks, “It’s only 12:35. Record time.” We both shimmy into the glass-fronted and presumably bullet- but not C-4 resistant- glass. We pick up the telephones there and acknowledge that we are who we said we were. The East Indian fella, one Harsh Talavalakar, behind the multiple layers of glass asked us why we were here. “Didn’t you read the appointment card?” I asked, “We’re here to have Uncle Sam get us passage out of this sordid and sultry place.” “You are American citizens?” he asked, vacantly. “That’s what it says on appointment cards and these here blue passports,” I replied. “Well, how was I to know?” he scoffed, returning to his half-consumed powdered sugar doughnut. “Maybe read the appointment card and see that we are US Citizens here on the behest of Ambassador Bethesda Orun?” I replied. “Like I have time to read everything that comes across my desk”, he scoffed again. I tapped on the glass to make certain I had his full attention. “Look here, Herr Harsh. I’m not sure how you got this job at the American Consulate but want to be very clear with you. My wife and I are residents of this place for the last 20 years. We’re American citizens of very high standing and have more high powered connections than an Arduino in a nuclear power station. We have direct connections with Langley, Virginia and if you want to retain your cushy job, you’ll put down that fucking doughnut and pay very rapt attention to the two Americans standing here who are getting more and more irritated with some Indian benchode that doesn’t think he has to really do his job. You savvy? You diggin’ me, Beaumont” I guess the benchode got his attention. The two scowls he received from Esme and myself sort of cemented the idea that we’re not too pleased and not with to be trifled. “Yes, sir?” he said, “And ma’am”, as Harsh quickly corrected himself as the doughnut disappeared. “We want out. Gone. Vamoose. Outta here. AMF. You got me?” he nods behind the shatterprone glass. “Now I know the borders are sealed and the airport’s closed, but fuck that. We want out and we want gone for good. I can’t make that much simpler or clearer. Get after it, son.” I said, as seriously as I could. “Well, sir”, he began, “ The airport’s closed…” “Are you deaf or born stupid and been losing ground ever since?” I asked, rhetorically. “I know that. We all know that. My HAT knows that. So, what devious little plan does the US Embassy have in store in just such an unsavory situation?” “Well”, he chokes a bit, “There’s this unofficial lottery where America citizens are issued random numbers and if their number comes up, there are seats made available on special clandestine charter flights.” Considering that Es and I are some of the last American citizens left in the country, I thought our chances might be pretty good. “OK”, I said, “Let us have two of your finest numbers.” “Yes, sir”, he said, “That will be US$500 total.” “Excuse me?” I said. “Oh, yes”, he smirked, “US$250 per number. Chances are you’ll never be called, but with these numbers, at least you stand a chance.” “OK”, I said, “Forget the numbers. I want your name and operating number. I’ve got a report to file that’s due in Virginia before breakfast.” “Oh, sir”, he smirked more, “I cannot release that information. Thanking you. Now be having a good day.” And he slammed the supposedly bulletproof shield between himself and Es and me. “Bulletproof? Maybe. Nitro proof? No fucking way.” I groused as I fished out a couple of blasting cap superfast boosters. “Calm down, dear”, Esme smiled to me as we walked out, “When he wasn’t looking, I took his picture, got his operating number, and full name. In fact, I think I got some information on where he lives…” In the cab on the way back to our villa, I reviewed and confirmed Es’s subterfuge. Flasks number 6 and 8 needed serious replenishment by the time we arrived home. “That’s fucking right, Ruin.” I yelled over the phone, “We need extraction. And now. Along with our personal effects and a few hundredweight of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ boxes of stuff we need to be transported.” “Well, Rock”, Agent Ruin replied, “That’s a tall order. Usually, extraction is for one person and the stuff they’re wearing. Tell you what. Let Rack and I work on it for a week or so. We’ll arrange transport of your personal effects, then we’ll see about getting you and Esme to Dubai. At least there, you can order a plane. Hell, knowing you, you’ll get Tony Stark to fly in and provide door to door service. Sit tight. We’ll be back in touch.” “Good!” I say as I slam the phone down. With these newfangled cellphone telephone instruments, they lack the same sort of satisfying “KER FUCKING CLANG” the old landlines used to have. “Es!”, I yelled, “Start packing. We’re due out of here within a week.” That meant we needed to do some packing triage: • Things going home with us. • Things being shipped. • Things being sold. • Things being left behind. • Things no one was about to get their furry little mitts on. “Oh, fuck!”, I startled. I had just remembered the John Wick-ian stash of various explosives, and adjunct materials I had buried in the basement. Obviously, I couldn’t take it home with me, I couldn’t sell it, and I sure as festering frothing fuck wasn’t going to leave it here. I needed to call one of my more shifty and swarthy friends and arrange for passage out to the deep, dark desert. Around the area where the new sultan had opened a couple of brand new landfills. Looks like I was going to expand them a few meters once we disposed of the few hundred kilos of accumulation I attained over the last few years. See, I’m a packrat. I never leave nor toss anything that might be convenient. Might have a benefit. Might prove to be useful sometime down the line. So, I’ve accumulated a bit of kit. Like…well…a few hundred sticks of Du Pont 60% Extra Fast Dynamite. A couple dozen spools of Z-4 Primacord, in various degrees of fullness. A shitload of C-4; enough bricks for a Floydian wall. A couple, well, a dozen, well, two dozen cases of binary liquid explosives. Hey, this stuff is hard to come by… Continuing, several thousand blasting caps and superfast flash blasting cap boosters. Some mercury fulminate. Some nitrogen triiodide. A couple tens of pounds of PETN. An equal amount of RDX. A few Erlenmeyer flasks full of shit even I’m not certain of what it is… Oh. And a few kilos of freshly decanted, raw nitroglycerin; packed in sturdy wooden boxes lined with new fuzzy lamb’s wool. Not that much. Just 10 or 12 kilos. Yeah. I can’t leave that here. Even a small accident with this stuff would lay waste to not only our villa; but my landlord’s villa with whom we share a common wall. Besides, as Omanis go, my landlord was the only dishdasha dressed denizen for which I had any respect or admiration. He was a good guy. I needed to return his villa at least in some semblance of what I received when we first rented from him. So, I had to dispose of many, many billions of kilojoules of potential energy. I needed to do this out in a distant and far away from prying ears and eyes regions and I needed a truck to haul this stuff out to the range. To be continued…
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