He’ll cheat without scruple, who can without fear

If forced at gunpoint to describe my current gaming situation with reference to an item of furniture, in a bizarrely improbable mugging where monetary gain is secondary to eliciting tenuous metaphors, I’d say it was a battered old armchair, nothing new or dramatically exciting but familiar and comfy to flop down on at the end of the day. Then I’d ask my assailant what the ruddy heck they thought they were playing at, terrifying innocent people on the street and demanding abstract imagery, but they would merely smile and vanish in a blaze of light, their task of inspiring a wildly exciting and attention-grabbing opening paragraph complete (though a later review by the Imaginary Advertising Standards Authority would find no evidence to support claims of “excitement”, wild or otherwise, and forbid any further use of such terminology).

Zubon talked about coasting, which describes things quite well, dabbling in games and keeping them ticking along without really diving in deeply. Neverwinter is one of my coasters-in-chief, where if nothing else I’ll log in, ‘Invoke’ for some minor rewards, and kick off some lengthy crafting tasks. Most days I’ll also run a dungeon or skirmish or two; the game rewards joining a random queue that, as the name suggests, throws you into a random encounter with a suitable number of players. The other day I was in the Temple of Tiamat (bit of a flashback to the old cartoon), presumably the ultimate final raid encounter at one stage requiring careful co-ordination and the very best gear in the game, but a few years down the line the usual MMO power inflation has rendered it a bit less challenging, the main difficulty now being keeping up with the crowd as they rush from head to head. There can be something of a tension between highly experienced/geared players trying to whip through things as quickly as possible for whatever currency is on offer vs. newer players trying to take things at a slightly slower pace or seeing boss mechanics for the first time, but I think, in general, the game has done a reasonable job of keeping older content relevant/populated. Sometimes I’ll settle in for a good hour or two, there’s no shortage of bars to incrementally increase, numbers to embiggen and flowcharts to flow, but it takes a bit of a run-up to both develop the enthusiasm and pick something to focus on.

The expansion of the naval forces beta in War Thunder means I’m mostly coasting in there along the coast in an armed coaster – the only way things could be coastier would be if the ships were modelled in such detail that you could see the protective mat on which the Captain’s cocoa was resting (which they might be, I should zoom in on them sometime to check). The naval beta has been dragging on for a while now, undergoing a couple of reworks to introduce larger ships. It’s interesting as a change of pace, but it seems like a tricky balancing act to allow the various types of vessel, and also aircraft, to all play their part. The main appeal is that it’s very quick to hop in and speed along at 40 knots, chucking torpedoes hither and yon, ideal fast-paced action when that’s what I’m in the mood for.

At the other end of the scale, for slower contemplation of tactics, Battletech is ticking along nicely. My first run through the game started well enough, but while fully getting to grips with the various mechanics I made some poor decisions with pilot training and mission choices, eventually leading to a negative feedback loop of scraping through missions with heavy damage then not having the time and money to fully repair or replace everything before needing the cash from another mission, making that mission more difficult and resulting in more damage, etc. I often find it’s useful to restart a game once you’ve got a better handle on how everything works, and sure enough second time around I’m a lot happier with the situation after six game-months. There was one sticky moment, where I took on a nice, straightforward “defeat enemy Lance” mission; I got a warning at the start that there might be reinforcements, and immediately found myself outnumbered two-to-one. I’m not sure if there was a glitch and the “reinforcements” should have turned up later in the battle; tackling two Lances sequentially would have been fine but simultaneously was too much for my poor old mercenaries. Because things had been going so swimmingly I didn’t have a recent save game to fall back on; I should probably just have withdrawn from the mission, but decided the AI was being terribly unsporting and went looking for a way to even the odds. Until then I’d only used saved games to preserve progress rather than keeping on reloading games until a snipe to the head with a 5% chance of hitting came off. A bit of “save scumming” improved the situation but was terribly laborious thanks to the slow load time so I figured I’d take the nuclear option – digging out a registry setting that enabled debug mode, including an option to take down the enemy with but a click.

Battletech is refreshingly old school; turn based, single player, a story conveyed largely in text. A “debug mode” or cheat codes in server-based multiplayer games would be anathema, especially in PvP; even without the ability to directly attack other players virtual economies are now almost ubiquitous. Giving yourself unlimited money in a single player game is one thing, in an online game with some link between virtual and real currencies it’s a whole other kettle of fish. With nobody else affected the toughest part can be putting the genie back in the bottle, turning off debug mode again. A bit of self discipline is needed there. To me it’s a bit like Fighting Fantasy books, keeping a finger marking the previous paragraph (or three) just in case Turning Right down the corridor ended in an Inescapable Trap of Doom (with or without Sumo Rabbit) is fine, flipping straight to paragraph 400 rather defeats the purpose. It can be an interesting group dynamic in board games. Obviously when there’s competition then, again, cheating is a Bad Thing and policed by everybody. We’ve got a few co-operative games, though, most notably Pandemic: Legacy, where there could be more of a temptation but so far we haven’t (knowingly) bent the rules. I guess peer pressure kicks in with the group; there’s doubtless an interesting experiment to be conducted (or already conducted) about willingness to bend or break rules, depending on the fairness (or perceived fairness) of those rules and whether alone or in groups of different sizes. I’ll leave that to the psychologists, though, as I have a group of mercenary Battlemechs to lead into (rule abiding) combat.

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