Axis Football 21 - title

Axis Football is still a tough game to review. It's a very playable game that I support and recommend, but without Maximum Football to make Axis look better by comparison, it's a lot harder to overlook Axis' flaws, limitations, and lack of large-scale improvement. There's forward progress and noticeable changes, but still so many long-standing issues. The slow rate of progress is much more forgiveable than Madden, however, because the developers at Axis Games do not have access to hundreds of programmers and animators, or billions of dollars in cash. Progress is slow and steady, and that's pretty much all we can ask for given the company's limited resources.

If you're looking for a remarkably different game, then you'll be disappointed. Axis 21 feels largely identical to Axis 20, which felt largely identical to Axis 19 If you like Axis Football and are OK spending $30 to play more of it, then you'll get your money's worth.

Axis Football 2021 still looks and feels very similar to previous years.

Customization is the focus in 2021

The primary focus of development for Axis 21 seems to have been in its customization options. Previous iterations offered only limited options for customizing teams and uniforms, but Axis 21 has a much more extensive customization suite. Team uniforms and logos can be edited, and whole new uniforms can be created. Team playbooks and play-calling tendencies can be edited. Even the field is customizable.

About the only things that are missing from this customization suite are the ability to create or modify stadiums, and a playbook editor. Maybe we'll see those next year.

The customization suite is much more extensive this year.

This more advanced customization suite should hopefully draw in some of the crowd that got left in the dust when Maximum Football was canceled. If you're a fan of customizing teams and uniforms, and you haven't played Axis Football before, then 2021 might be the year to hop on the Axis Football bandwagon.

Another nice inclusion in this year's customization suite is the ability to update team rosters, which means I could modify my roster to match my roster from several seasons into Axis 20's Franchise Mode, instead of having to start over with the same initial roster that I've been using since 2018. It's a lot of work though to modify every player on my team (let alone the entire league), and I opted instead to just randomize my roster and go from there. Randomizing the roster is, I think, also a new feature in this year's game. I wish Axis would include the ability to import last year's Franchise rosters so that I can have a sense of continuity and progress between releases, without all the tedious busy-work on my end. Being able to import team customizations from year-to-year would also help reduce the prep work required by the user, and allow us to get right into enjoying the game.

Using the roster editor, I can re-create my team from last year, but it's a lot of busy-work.
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12 Minutes - title

It may have taken almost 20 years after Majora's Mask, but it looks like time loop games have suddenly become an emerging fad. Not that it's a bad thing, per se. Outer Wilds has, after all, become one of my favorite games ever. Twelve Minutes is much more scaled-down and far less ambitious than Outer Wilds; it takes place entirely within a small, one-bedroom apartment, and the individual loops average 5-10 minutes instead of the 22-minute loops of Outer Wilds.

12 Minutes has a high-degree of responsiveness to player actions.

12 Minutes is also a much more straight-forward point-and-click puzzle-adventure game in a vein much more reminiscent of classic Lucasarts games. There's only a handful of interactive objects in the apartment, and each one has a variety of different uses. In this way, 12 Minutes rather explicitly telegraphs the solutions to puzzles, since there's only a handful of things that the player can even try. The options available to the player lead the player down the path to progress, and if you ever get stumped, idle conversation will often provide clues as to what you could maybe try next.

Although the seams in the facade do become evident if the player gets stuck repeating a particular loop too many times, I did find myself impressed by just how naturally reactive 12 Minutes is to player interference. The wife and cop will react believably to many things that the player might do, including some off-the-wall things. The wife might comment on weird or rude behavior by me, or the entire time loop may go in a completely unexpected direction because I chose to do something slightly different. It's a surprisingly wide and robust possibility space.

The short duration of time loops, and the relatively small amount of intractable objects really encourages lots of player experimentation. Screwing up any given loop doesn't lose a whole lot of progress, so there's very little penalty for trying some seemingly-crazy solution on a whim, and sometimes, it will even reward the player with some new piece of information that you didn't have before, or a clue to how you might proceed.

12 Minutes provides lots of subtle clues for ways to proceed.

12 Minutes is also quite good about providing clues that are subtle enough to not be obvious spoilers of what to do next, but which might still make you facepalm in retrospect "of course that's what I should have done!" What makes these clues work without feeling like they solve the game for you is that there is often multiple ways to go about testing them. The wife making an off-hand comment about needing to clean the closet is, in retrospect, an obvious clue that the player should check the closet. There is a useful object in there, but its usefulness isn't necessarily immediately obvious. What might also not be immediately obvious is that there's another way that the closet is immediately useful, it just has nothing to do with the object you found there.

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Saturday, August 28, 2021 11:45 AM

7 tips for surviving Stranded Deep

in Video Gaming | Strategy by MegaBearsFan

Stranded Deep - title

Stranded Deep released on consoles last year after having spend half a decade in early access on Steam. I downloaded it for my PS4 when it was offered as the free monthly game, and had a lot of trouble getting into it. I was very frustrated with how little the game bothers to explain itself, and how much trial-end-error I had to put up with just to learn the basics. However, I did stick with it, and started to warm up to it after several restarts and some time spent on the wiki.

I imagine I'm not the only one checking out this game on consoles, especially since it was free for PSPlus users earlier this summer, so I thought I'd share 7 tips that I wish I'd known when I had started out. Hopefully, I can spare other players a lot of the trial-and-error and frustration that I had to endure, so that you can get to enjoying the game a lot quicker and more fully. I also want to point out that I'm playing the game on a PS4, and I understand that the PC version of the game is a little bit different. The tips that I offer here should also be relevant to PC players, but they are geared towards console players. That being said, here are 7 tips for surviving Stranded Deep:

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Stranded Deep - title

I've been diving into my Steam wishlist and backlog while waiting for this fall's suite of football video games. Stranded Deep is a game that I had on my Steam wishlist for years -- when it first became available through "early access" -- along with games like The Long Dark and The Forest. I don't typically invest in early access games because I don't want the incompleteness of the game to combine with my overly-critical eye and completely sour me to an experience that would likely be positive when the game is finished. This is also the reason that I rarely go back to games that received major overhauls post-release, like No Man's Sky or SimCity (2013) -- I'm already soured on the game, and it's unlikely to win me back.

I never got around to buying Stranded Deep on Steam, even after it left early access which is apparently still in early access on Steam, because the "survival sim" fad had petered out and my own interest in that particular game fizzled out as well.

Survival sims were a huge fad on Steam, but the fad started to fizzle out
long before indie titles like Stranded Deep or The Forest ever saw full releases.

But Stranded Deep showed up as another free game for PSPlus subscribers (along with Control), and I went ahead and downloaded it. Gotta get that $60 per year of value from the subscription somehow. Honestly, I use my PSPlus subscription mostly for the cloud storage. I consider it "game progress insurance" in case my console fails on me. So I rarely play the free games. But I mostly liked Control, so went ahead and gave Stranded Deep a shot too.

Stranded Deep is definitely not as good as Control.

Survival of the wiki-est

I kinda knew I was in for a disappointing experience when I had to pause the game during the tutorial in order to look up how to proceed. My girlfriend also said as much and wondered out loud why I would even continue playing a game that couldn't even do an adequate job of communicating its fundamental mechanics. She said I have much more patience than her, because she would have given up right then and there.

I had troubles right from the start with simple things like operating the inventory and performing some of the early tutorial crafting. The thing that dead-ended my progress and forced me to look online was trying to figure out where to get the leaves to make rope to craft the knife. I thought I would use leaves from trees, but I wasn't sure which trees, nor was I sure how to pull leaves from trees. The game lets me pluck coconuts off of trees, so I thought it would allow the same for plucking leaves off of trees. Nope. So I tried using my stone tool to cut leaves off of palm trees, only to get palm fronds, which cannot be made into rope. Then I started doing laps around the island looking for seaweed or hemp or something. So 2 minutes into the game, and there I was stuck on the tutorial.

I had to go online to find where to get fibrous leaves.

It turns out, the necessary fibrous leaves are harvested from the exactly 2 yucca plants on my starting island, both of which are kind of hidden next to large boulders. Or I could cut the baby palms growing all over the island for small amounts of fibrous leaves. But I didn't think to try this because I didn't have any reason to think that the baby palm fronds would be any different from the adult palm fronds.

This specific tutorial problem could have been fixed by modifying the tutorial objectives to specifically tell the player to harvest fibrous leaves from a yucca or baby palm. More generally though, it would have been helpful if the game could provide a tooltip when the player hovers over certain resources that explains what that resource might be used for. Or have the character speak to himself out loud that "I could probably use the leaves of that yucca to make rope.". The character comments out loud how "disgusting" it is to skin an animal every time I do it (even though the character has been living off of skinned animals for weeks and should be used to it), so the developers were definitely able to implement contextual dialogue. And even if that kind of dialogue is too difficult to implement, an "examine" button (like in old-school survival horror games) could have worked to tell the player in plain text what can be done with any given resource on the island.

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Civilization VI - Basil II of Byzantium

Firaxis has released the final update for its "New Frontiers" DLC Pass for Civilization VI. I have attempted to create guides for each new civilization included in the packs, but there is one civilization that I just didn't have time to cover when it was first released. That civilization was part of the September 2020 update, and it is the Byzantine Empire, lead by Basil II.

Patreon

It looks like "New Frontiers" represents the end of the Civilization VI life cycle. If that is true, then don't fret. If I get enough demand from my Patrons, I'll also write guides for the "New Frontiers" game modes, or go back and create / update guides for legacy leaders. We also have new games such as Old World and Humankind coming out. I'll be playing both games when they release on Steam, and can also write guides for those games, if my supporters ask for it.

By the third century AD, the Roman Empire had expanded to control much of Asia Minor and the Eastern Mediterranean. The cities in the eastern Greek, Asia Minor, and eastern African provinces tended to be larger and more developed than settlements in the west, owing largely to the Greek and Macadonian empires that had preceeded Rome's occupation of the regions. This made these cities far wealthier than most western cities, and in 330 AD, Emperor Constantine relocated the Roman capital to the city of Byzantium due to its strategic location at the epicenter of trade routes between Europe and Asia, and between the Mediterranean and Black seas. The empire was later split into Western and Eastern administrative partitions, each with its own emperor. When Rome was sacked in 476 and the Western Roman Empire collapsed, the Eastern Empire in Constantinople continued to thrive.

It can be argued, thusly, that the Roman Empire survived until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century. However, even though the Byzantine Empire can trace its authority directly to Imperial Rome, and it retained much of the legal and administrative framework inherited from the Roman Empire, eastern culture had begun to diverge from western culture before even the fall of Rome. Most citizens of the Eastern Empire may have considered themselves to be "Roman", but they spoke Greek instead of Latin. The architecture utilized ornate domes and spires as opposed to the austere columns, arches, and triangles of Latin architecture. Religious practices in the east also gradually transitioned away from the dogmatic practices of the Catholic Church until the Schism of 1054 formally established the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is, thus, equally accurate to say that the Byzantine Empire came to represent its own unique culture, independent of the Western Roman Empire.

Civilization VI - Basil II portrait

Basil II Porphyrogenitus was a life-long ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire. He was coronated as co-emperor along with his brother when he was just two years old, and ascended to the status of senior emperor at the age of 18, ruling until his death almost 50 years later. For most of his reign, he personally lead his armies into battle against Anatolian rebels, Bulgaria, the Fatimid Caliphate, and the Kingdom of Georgia, securing the empire's borders in both the west and east. Despite being away from Constantinople for so long, he also found time to distinguish himself as an administrator, reforming tax and property laws to protect poor land-owners from exploitation by wealthier elites. He also married off his sister to Vladimir I of Kiev, securing an alliance with the Kievan Rus and converting them to Orthodox Christianity. His reign was so successful, that the Empire prospered for decades after his death, despite his successor emperors being considered largely inept by both contemporary writers and modern historians. Though he is considered a national hero by the Greeks, he is known as "Basil the Murderer" by Bulgarians.

Basil II favors aggressive religious play backed up with a powerful mounted army and navy. He should seek to convert or conquer rival holy cities as soon as possible, then crush or convert his remaining rivals.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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