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Art: Heavy weapons guy eating a banana at the end of pd_watergate.

Om nom nom, nom nom. What’s that, Banana? Aliens are drunk!

Partly a paint-over, but mostly by reference, a rendering of one of my favorite Team Fortress 2 maps, Watergate (TF2 Wiki: “Watergate”).

It was the map that introduced the game mode of player destruction, in which slain players drop some sort of tokens that are later deposited, and the team to deposit enough to match a goal number wins.

Some of the other maps that use the mode have better calculations on that goal, and there’s a lot of variation in how fun the maps are. Watergate remains my favorite, even if it’s got a steeper goal than the newer maps of the mode.

The main drawback to player destruction is that if you happen to be abandoned and by yourself, you have no way to finish the match, as you can’t generate new tokens, so unlike most modes, the only move is to quit out. That can especially be a problem with bot-riddled matches, as the bots will eventually quit and you won’t see fresh players.

One solution there would be to do what versus Saxton Hale does, and have a capture point become available if the map goes on too long. But it’s an older mode so I doubt it will ever see such an update.

Review: Shapez

Which way should I rotate them?!

I’ve been playing Shapez, a factory game where your raw resources are colors and shapes. There are three primary colors (red, green, and blue), and there are four shape-pieces (circle, square, star, and windmill). Colors are always pure, while some of the sources of shapes are a mixture of two or more quarters of different types (but always a four-quarter shape).

You start with minimal tools, and you unlock additional tools as you complete levels. You also get upgraded versions of tools by meeting delivery quotas for different shapes. But the goal of the game is to make shapes, paint them, and deliver them, all with conveyor belts and the machines you have and make.

As the game plays on, you get more ability and faster tools, but the complexity of the shapes grows with that, until a couple are downright puzzles to figure out how to build.

And after level 26, the shapes asked of you are random, requiring you to build an everything machine to build the shape without rebuilding your whole factory every time. While in the early levels you don’t need to do much wiring, building an everything machine requires a lot of wiring (signals and filters and booleans and inspectors to figure out which pieces are needed by the machine to make the layers and shapes).

As far as achievements go, most are simple enough and obtained through normal play. The hardest is likely to speedrun to level 12, which is a whole other (but probably equal) challenge to the everything machine. The everything machine requires a ton of building and wiring and checking and testing. The speedrun puts you back at the start of the game, and you have to figure out how to do things fast. Everything machines are zen gardening, speedrunning is a hotdog-eating contest.

My own modest tips for the everything machine (assuming the reader has looked into the task already):

  1. Four-color painters with four lanes of every possible color feeding it. You can run those lanes from afar, so that the rest of the factory can be closer to the goal.
  2. Trash filters before and after each step so you can clean up when the requested shape changes.
  3. You can find shape resources that contain all four parts. I used two different ones, but the maps vary. Throw them into four-way cutters and you have the raw materials. One full belt output will require 16 lanes of shape pieces (one per quarter makes four per layer, times four layers maximum).
  4. So you need seven colors times four quarters (28) times four layers: 112 color lanes total.

But it’s mostly a lot of wiring and shame that you didn’t build everything perfect the first time, reworking, figuring out you forgot to add that belt, and so on.

As for the speedrun, it’s tough. A lot of the trouble here is realizing you have to unlearn all those nice tools and upgrades you earned in the main game, because you only get some of them back as you progress through the run.

You need to get upgrades fast as you can, but you’re limited on how far you’ll get in the 30 minutes for the gold medal. You have to balance the immediate level goals with the amount of time they’ll take to complete.

My first attempt was just over an hour (so I only got bronze), but it took practice to keep my wits about me in the early game, staring blankly as I couldn’t copy-paste, couldn’t build how I’m used to. It was a fun challenge.

After maybe ten attempts I got down to just over a half hour, and on my final run I was done building with five minutes to spare. Enough, I thought until I realized I’d forgotten to let enough purple circles through for the next belt upgrade (47 short!), so I frantically tried to beg-borrow-steal them to upgrade as time ticked away, but it didn’t matter. I got there in just under 30 minutes.

A lot of runs fall to small things. Forgetting to set up stars at the start, or forgetting to connect a few belts here or there. Getting tangled up in rotations. But with enough practice, your brain figures all that out, you see what you can reuse, and you can become rather speedy.

I’d heard of factory games, but hadn’t really played them before. I played Spacechem years ago, but it’s a bit different from modern factory games and is more puzzle-oriented.

I’ve enjoyed playing. It takes some learning, but the level progression is good at teaching you step-by-step, and outside of the speedrun (and maybe the everything machine) it’s not too hard to get the hang of.

On the whole it took me about 74 hours to finish the game (through level 101) and get all 45 achievements. I enjoyed my time playing, so if you want to try a factory game, give this one a look.

Review of Disco Elysium

A noir-style single-player D&D campaign in a can!

Disco Elysium is an odd game. It is a non-combat role-playing game where you play a detective who can’t remember. He was sent to the unincorporated harbor city of Martinaise, in Revachol, to solve a murder. In that, you’re aided by a true Gamgee of a partner, Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi. Over the course of the game you deal with the murder, the past of the character, the past of the world.

Before proceeding with the review, it’s worth pointing out there is legal drama around the studio that made the game. Wikipedia: “Disco Elysium:” Legal issues provides details, but for those who don’t want to buy a game under some cloud of studio controversy, you might wait. (I bought it before the issues came to light.)

I played on Linux via Proton/WINE, and the game ran fine. Controls are mouse and keyboard. You can use either, though I tended to use my mouse. The interface is nice and you’ll want to lean on the right-mouse button while moving in the world to help you know when the character has a thought orb above him. You can zoom using the mousewheel, you can scroll the dialogue panel by clicking and dragging.

The game is incredibly wordy, by design. It’s also thoroughly voice-acted with very distinctive voices. (The NPCs in the game are all different backgrounds and accents.) It is a game that swings for the fences of all applicable sense organs: eyes, ears, and feels. And it clobbers them all beautifully.

The basic gameplay involves interacting with NPCs through dialogue, asking questions, reacting. You gain experience for these interactions that let you spiff-up your character sheet. Other augments to character include your clothing and internalized thoughts in the thought cabinet. These thoughts have temporary effects and permanent ones, as well as a timeframe to complete the thought. You may forget them if you do not need or want them any longer, or if you need a slot to internalize a new thought—but if forgotten, they’re gone for good.

The various player stats are used when passive or active checks occur, letting you ask questions, get answers, perform tasks, notice things about the interogatee, about yourself, about the world. Active checks show you a percentage chance of success, and mousing over a check will show you its details (what you rolled versus what you needed to roll). There are red checks and white checks. Red checks are do-or-die. If you fail one, you can’t retry without save-scumming. Failed white checks may be retried by leveling up the relevant stat (or, sometimes, by poking around the world based on various hints).

Oftentimes, you will want to go into the proverbial phone booth to change your clothes before attempting a check. For example, if something requires higher Visual Calculus, you will want to change out of any clothes that give you debuffs to that stat and change into any clothes that buff it.

The basic gameplay is stretched over an incredible and dense campaign. Time passes through the day, interaction by interaction. NPCs start disappearing to sleep by about 2200 hours, and the clock stops around 0200 with the world mostly a ghost town. The story is divided into two main parts: the first two days (during which your movement is restricted to the northern urban harbor area) and days three-plus, when you can roam around the coastal village south as well.

On my first playthrough, I had a harder time playing it continuously, feeling the need to take time to digest between smaller sessions. It can be tricky on that first run, to know what matters, to know what’s going on. But it has good replay value, and I completed seven runs total. Even then, there were things I missed. Small things, perhaps, but there is a lot of solid, funny, poignant world in this game.

It took me 121 hours to get all 40 achievements. While I can’t say if I’d currently buy it again, with the drama going on with the developers, if that’s resolved (or it doesn’t bother you) this game is worth a look, a listen, and several feels.

Without going too much into the specifics of the allegations or drama around the company, in some ways it seems almost fitting or at least expected, given the contents of the game, that such a thing would happen. Life imitates art, after all. But those involved produced a great game, and I hope they will find their way to produce more quality work in the future.