Aug 4, 2014

robocraft: first impressions

so I started playing this thing I saw on steam called “robocraft” last night

it’s a free-to-play base-capture team vehicular combat game with “”“voxel-based”“” vehicle construction, the banjo-kazooie nuts & bolts / counter-strike bomb defusal crossover literally twos of people have been asking for.

it’s currently in an early access “alpha” but you can already spend money on microtransactions so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I have thoughts about it anyway ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

things that work well about it:

  • the core gameplay of “drive/fly around a robot, shoot other things until they explode, get some points” is a lot of fun.
  • the match length (< 5-10 minutes) and quick matchmaking (~15 seconds to find a match) mean that if your team is losing, it isn’t a depressing slog to the end that ruins your night.
  • thinking tactically about how to build a good robot results in you building significantly better stuff than the game initially presents you with, which feels nice.  for example: adding top armor to my robot made it significantly more survivable against aircraft; adding armor around the radar (that lets you see enemies on the minimap, natch) has made it one of the last things on my robot that gets destroyed, instead of one of the first.
  • the central progression — the tech tree that unlocks parts for purchase, and the CPU limit that increases the maximum size of your robots — is limited by things you can’t pay real money to circumvent.  real money transactions pretty much only buy you cubes, allowing you to upgrade all your parts at once as you unlock new ones, instead of painstakingly saving up points.

what doesn’t work so great:

first, and most importantly: the “build cool-looking shit” and “build a robot that actually does well at the game” objectives work at cross purposes.

to start, the game gives you a vehicle that looks more or less like this (I’ve added a couple things, like the sideskirts over the wheels and some of the guns):



it kind of looks like a real-world infantry fighting vehicle, except shiny. but: it’s longer, wider, and taller than it needs to be, presenting an unnecessarily large target; the wheels are the entire propulsion system, shooting them off reduces the mobility of the vehicle, and they’re directly exposed to anyone approaching you from the side; you’re often fighting against air vehicles, and the pilot is sitting in a big wide-open bowl.

so I rebuilt it from scratch, and came up with:


if you’ve noticed that it looks like a brown square with a lot of guns on top of it, you are correct.  it’s smaller and lower to the ground, has more guns, and the wheels are completely covered by 2-block-thick side armor (ground clearance isn’t an issue in this game.) but it looks like robot poop.

in practice, the system seems to encourage:

1) solid cubes of armor covered with guns;

2) little speeder bike things with high-damage, slow-firing weapons on them, gaming the robot tier system to get incredibly overpowered weapons in low-level matches.

if you’ve got friends who play, you could have fun building cool-looking but frivolous things and sending them into battle just for yuks, but otherwise it’s not really worth it.

smaller issues (nb: any or all of these could change between now and the official release):

  • it’s one-spawn-per-match, so the pacing of the combat is uneven: a minute of everyone driving to midfield, a 45-second cataclysm that destroys half the players, and then 2 or 3 minutes of picking off stragglers and people sitting passively on bases.
  • the matchmaking isn’t great.  save one mildly tense base race (which delivered all the excitement of watching two progress bars fill up at different rates), I’ve only had blowout wins and blowout losses.  other game modes like last-robot-standing would be nice.
  • the game doesn’t do a good job of teaching you how to build robots or how to fight tactically; pubbies tend to just rush up the middle of the map with their robots covered in fragile gun towers, and then get torn apart under withering fire.  (it’d be cool if you could look at the other players’ robots after a match, for design advice.)
  • the prices of tier 2 cubes are ~4 times as high as the prices of tier 1 cubes, without an equivalent increase in the payouts from matches.  if these trends continue, the upgrade treadmill’s not going to be much fun after tier 2; real money purchases will quickly go from nice-to-have to a necessity.
  • you can’t paint your armor, which makes it easier to tell where the weak spots are in an enemy’s design, but also makes your robots look, to put it lightly, ass-ugly.

summary: I’ve had fun with it in the 5 hours I’ve spent playing, but idk how much longer that fun will last.  hit me up if you wanna team, I guess?  (I’m vogonj in-game.)

Jul 22, 2014

in 2010 someone called Paul Mutant made a painting called “this painting is not available in your country

and someone saw it, redid it by typesetting it in Myriad instead of doing hand-lettering and had prints made

a sight gag about restrictive IP regimes, carelessly redone to avoid paying the original artist

is this the new aesthetic

(ht @brundle_fly on twitter for taking the photo of the print and @johnnemann for RTing it onto my feed)

Jun 20, 2014

the Steam summer sale

you play a video game, or give Valve money, or vote on which games should be on sale next (crowdsourcing the labor that Valve would need to do to select which games to showcase on its storefront.)  Valve gives you virtual trading cards. 

it’s impossible to get a full matching set by yourself (the system’s designed that way), so you can trade for your friends’ extra cards, or maybe buy them off the market.

… let’s be real here.  you buy them off the market.

the developer of the associated game gets 10%, despite the fact that they make literally all of the content for the cards.  Valve gets 5%.  the other 85% go to the previous game-player or money-giver, compensated in Valve scrip which will be redeemed at a later date for a product distributed through Valve.

so really, Valve gets 90%.

you craft them into badges so your team gets points.  your team was randomly assigned from a pool of 6 meaningless choices, to incentivize competition.

the winning team, with hundreds of thousands of members if not millions, has 30 lucky members who each get 3 games from their wishlist.  (what if the lucky members don’t have three games on their wishlist?  it’s better not to think about those things.)

90 Steam keys appear out of thin air in a database in Redmond somewhere.  Valve forgoes somewhere between $90 and $5,000 in unrealized retail cut.  maybe it compensates the developer or maybe not. 

nobody will notice, in any case.

and three months later, people will line up to do it all again, in a different season, and give Valve more free PR.

May 30, 2014

No one benefits more from the idea of “online” being a distinct intellectual space of its own than the public relations industry, which skillfully exploits this digital duality to dress bland press releases up as exciting and autonomously generated “memes.” […] There’s nothing criminal about it per se; we simply shouldn’t presume that something is “trending” on “the Internet” simply due to natural and autonomous forces. [… W]hile it might be tempting to celebrate the viral success of the @RomneyBinders Twitter account — a reference to Mitt Romney’s poorly-worded remark on “binders full of women” — we shouldn’t forget that this same account was called @FiredBigBird (and already had a sizable number of followers from the very first presidential debate) right before Romney’s blunder; its owner renamed it to capitalize on the “binders” buzz.

As Ryan Holiday, a marketing wunderkind who got fed up with the dark and exploitative world of Internet public relations, writes in his eye-opening tell-all “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator”, “I don’t think someone could have designed a system easier to manipulate if they wanted to.”

Evgeny Morozov, “To Solve Everything, Click Here”
May 8, 2014

on soylent


(discourse, of course, being the forum platform of Jeff Atwood, concern troll extraordinaire)

May 7, 2014

"better for humanity"

there’s probably a lot to unpack here about the capitalist conception of value to humanity and the fact that apple actively blocks games with a political message from being on the app store

but lol

Apr 11, 2014
He had been very casual about the whole thing. She said she knew a guy just over the river in Allston who sold high-resin dope in moderate bulk, and he’d yawned and said well, maybe, well, hey, why not, sure, special occasion, I haven’t bought any in I don’t know how long. […] This arrangement, very casual, made him anxious, so he’d been even more casual and said sure, fine, whatever. Thinking back, he was sure he’d said “whatever”, which in retrospect worried him because it might have sounded as if he didn’t care at all, not at all, so little that it wouldn’t matter if she forgot to get it or call, and once he’d made the decision to have marijuana in his home one more time it mattered a lot. It mattered a lot. […] Once he’d been set off inside, it mattered so much that he was somehow afraid to show how much it mattered.
David Foster Wallace, “Infinite Jest”
Apr 8, 2014
Adding to the ambiguity, “open government” might just be a euphemism for “small government.” After all, its rhetoric is continuous with some ideas of an older administrative philosophy of new public management, one popular during the Margaret Thatcher era, that argued for maximizing the efficiency of public institutions by turning them into consumer-oriented for-profit entities while outsourcing supervisory, quality-checking, and auditing functions to third parties, of which citizens are now just one emerging part. When everything can be run like Wikipedia, why bother with big government? It’s far better to rely on Cameron’s “big society,” starve the public sector, and expect that the “armchair auditors” will be as effective as the Leveson Inquiry.
Evgeny Morozov, “To Save Everything, Click Here”
Apr 3, 2014

we found that this feature in your smoke alarm causes a potential life-safety issue

within the next 24 hours we will silently patch this functionality out

do not ask why we thought it was good to release, or what this means for the other functionality of this same expensive product you bought

do not ask why we can silently modify your smoke alarm, a device you rely upon to save your life

everything will be okay

Apr 2, 2014

emoji: a cautionary tale

in the beginning, a Japanese cell phone carrier added proprietary extensions to Shift-JIS as a competitive selling point for their cell phone service.  seeing the value in these emoji, that carrier’s competitors added support for them.

"let’s standardize emoji, so everyone can enjoy them!", said the Unicode Consortium, and only three years of implementation later, it became a specification.

except the major Western vendor that took the lead in implementing emoji accidentally encoded a lot of assumptions about whiteness-as-default into their pictographs, and because of those assumptions, the entire standards body is probably going to have to add even more of them.  

and emoji support has been broken for 3.5 years in the web browser of record, so web sites have to spend a bunch of dev time implementing emoji individually.

but other than that, it worked out great.

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@vogon on twitter. I'm probably all about video games, science, and playing the drums. Subscribe via RSS.