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COVID-19 – How realistic is Plague Inc?

March 19, 2020

Plague Inc is a simulation where the player evolves a plague, with the goal being to eradicate (or enslave, depending on the plague type) the entire world. The game has recently been removed from Steam (China only) and other online game stores in China, although there is no formal evidence this is linked to coronavirus / COVID-19.

Now, while it’s pretty easy to topically accuse Plague Inc of disrespecting those affected by COVID-19, I’m more interested in whether or not the game’s simulation of an actual pandemic outbreak comes close to what is happening right now, on this wonderful planet we call home.

There’s a very simple way to test this, which is what I’ve done: create a ‘virus type’ plague, give it coughing and pneumonia symptoms (adding pulmonary oedema later on), a few abilities that make it hard to cure, give it a starting location of China, let it loose and see what happens.

Some info about how I played this: I set the game difficulty to ‘mega brutal’ which means the world has the best chance of beating the plague. If the virus mutated, I removed the mutations to keep it as close to the current version of COVID-19, at least as far as we can figure out what that is, based on available information.

Here’s the story of how it played out, with some screen images of the way the simulated COVID-19 affected the world.

If the plague has no (serious) symptoms, it tends to go unnoticed for a long time, but in mega-brutal difficulty it can be spotted in a random health check.

Once people start to die, the plague gets mentioned in the news, a cure will start to be developed, and countries might start closing airports and locking land borders.

While the country where the plague started works on a  cure, the virus continues to spread to other countries.

China shuts its airports, but the plague has already got out and is infecting other countries quite quickly, albeit with only coughing and a bit of air transmission to pass it around.

As the death toll rises, the WHO puts the plague on a watchlist. Other countries are taking various actions but the cure is barely starting to be developed.

Less than a year in, and more than half the world has been infected. The cure is still more than a year away.

Random news events occur in the game. In this session, the USA President is taken ill. Note the news stream at the top of the screen casually mentions the UK distributing face masks.

This one is pretty realistic, with the 2022 world cup being cancelled. Looking at the state of that map, with almost the whole world infected (even Greenland – yay!) this is hardly surprising.

The cure is more than half completed, but the virus is still doing a good job of infecting almost the entire planet. Note – I didn’t allow the virus to mutate any symptoms, so this is still just coughing, pneumonia and pulmonary oedema causing these effects.

No healthy countries left. Some infected countries still have healthy people, and there are no destroyed countries due to the relatively low lethality of the virus.

Although, even with a fairly mild virus, the death toll is still high.

And…that’s it, they developed a cure and started to deploy it around the world. Congratulations, but look at the death count.

That graph shows the way the infectivity tended to rocket, while the severity and lethality were fairly flat. The highest peaks were where Pulmonary Oedema was introduced. I took it away the first time it appeared, although it seemed like it did fit in with the way COVID-19 is affecting people so I put it back later on.

This is interesting, at least by ‘graph’ standards. The death count, as a percentage, is very low – you can see it at the bottom, most noticeable at the lower right of the graph. The percentage is pretty close to the overall percentage of deaths per cases being seen with the actual COVID-19 virus.

And there you have it, all over in 665 days. I really, seriously, hope it doesn’t take that long to deal with COVID-19 and get everything back to whatever ‘normal’ used to feel like.

 

This opinion article was written on a dasKeyboard Model S Professional.
I also write novels – JW Tapper website

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stoneshard review – PC

March 14, 2020

 

10 word description (from official site): Challenging turn-based RPG where your tactical skills will be tested.

Every action is turn-based, including all out-of-combat movement and interactions

10 word review: Rogue-like medieval fantasy romp versus agonising start-again deaths.

Body parts can bleed, or sustain injuries requiring medical assistance. Leaving them untended will wreck your ‘pain’ statistic and possibly have long-term repercussions, for example dying and re-loading.

You will like this if you enjoy: Rogue-like games where permadeath is an option. Identikit fantasy medieval-looking environments, weapons, and skill-sets. Re-loading after losing a considerable amount of progress, over and over again. Survival games where you have to manage hunger, thirst, bleeding, broken limbs, pain, intoxication, sanity, all while doing your best to level up high enough to even consider attempting the first quest.

Selecting a skill with a ranged effect draws a functional, if rather clunky looking, box to show the enemies you can hit with it

The good news: Stoneshard is currently in beta (or ‘early access’ to use Steam terminology) so a lot of the issues might possibly be dealt with when (if) it comes out of early access. Right now, it often feels unbalanced and unfair, although the heightened challenge is also a big positive for players looking for this type of die-restart-die-restart game. Getting to the actual ‘good’ part of the good news section, the game does look quite nice, the interface is generic but almost instantly intuitive, weapon choice and skill customisation let you play pretty much any type of generic medieval fantasy class you want to play. Combat doesn’t feel unfair all the time, just when you, for example, get ganked by a virtually unkillable bear after a good run of kills and pelt-collecting.

Here, I am tactically waiting at a safe distance while the totally overpowered bear kills those two ruffians

The bad news: Due to its ‘early access’ status, the game isn’t complete. The option to create your own character isn’t available yet, although the menu option is there so it’s definitely a feature they’re likely to be adding at some point. The game can only be saved at the pub in the starter town, and at various locations out in the wilderness after you discover the locations by heading towards ‘points of interest’ on the map. I didn’t find this as bad as I thought it was going to be, and once you unlock a few of the camps (extra save locations), the fear of wandering far from town is significantly reduced.

Enchanting items is random. Buy an enchant scroll, use it on an item, receive a random enchantment that should, just about, match the item you’re putting it on. Fingers crossed, and I got a fairly decent upgrade on this axe

Permanent turn-based movement adds a veneer of tedium to out-of-combat wandering. You can’t just hold down the left mouse button and have your character follow the cursor around, you have to keep clicking to make the character move. Also, every other character only moves when you move, so it does look a bit weird in town at times.

Animal pelts sell for a decent amount, but they take up a lot of inventory space. The wolf pet takes up six slots, but the moose pelt takes up even more

The inventory fills up very fast, some items take up a massive 3×3 grid of slots, and nothing stacks. Some food and medicine sort of stacks, for example you can get cooked meat with more than one use, so it’s a bit like having it stack but not really. One final bit of bad news, there aren’t multiple character/save slots, so if you want to try a different character you’re going to have to lose your current one. Hopefully that will be sorted out during the early access period.

Arcadelife verdict: Taking into consideration the early access status of the game, and a few moderately frustrating features, I do like Stoneshard and I keep going back to it because I’ve figured out a couple of ways to make money, how to avoid or escape from most certain-death encounters, and I like games with constant incentives to level up and dump points into cool-sounding skills. One thing about the skills – you learn basic skill unlocks and skill trees by buying (possibly finding, although I haven’t yet) skill books and reading them. This isn’t a minor skill-boost type of book, like in Skyrim for example, this is where you can have a sword-and-shield dude buy a magic book, read it, and get a specific school of magic added to their skill-tree choices. That’s pretty cool.

Don’t have natural bow skills on your character? Buy a book and learn!

Overall, playing the ass-hat’s advocate card, I could say there’s absolutely nothing in Stoneshard that we haven’t seen before in one or more fantasy-themed role-playing games. Does Stoneshard present these tropes in a stunningly new and exciting way? Nope, it doesn’t. Does it feel old and tired? No, not really. In fact, it feels like it could end up being a compulsive little time-sink if they polish it a bit, maybe let some items stack in the inventory (or give us more inventory pages to unlock), and turn off turn-based out-of-combat movement and actions.

Lots and lots of skill trees. This is the axe skill tree, see the list of others on the left…that’s some character customisation right there. Note the grey ones – read books to unlock those, or don’t. It’s up to you.

As it is, Stoneshard is well worth picking up while it’s in early access, but don’t expect an easy time!

Arcadelife rating

Presentation – 7/10
Visuals – 7.5/10
Controls – 9/10
Content – 6/10
Fun – 6/10
Final rating – 7.5/10

GO ROGUE!

 

This review was written on a dasKeyboard Model S Professional.
I also write novels – JW Tapper website
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Grim Dawn – Purifier montage featuring Rollins Band

December 4, 2019

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Grim Dawn – hardcore level 100 achievement

November 20, 2019

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Grim Dawn Forgotten Gods – Hardcore Oathkeeper – Part Two

March 30, 2019

The planned progress update at level 20 has turned into this level 36 progress update…

I’m currently about halfway through Act 2, taking my time after a couple of ridiculously close calls, mostly due to the combination of the lack of tank skills in my Oathkeeper build and my own reckless attitude to rushing into the Steps of Torment on Veteran difficulty. Which unsurprisingly led to this near-death experience at level 33:

That picture, and a few others in this progress update are still images from recorded footage – apologies for the quality but you can see what’s happening!

I was planning on sticking with a pure Oathkeeper until level 50 but leaving it until then is just not going to be viable, knowing what I’d have to go through to get to that point. Due to the skills I’m using (and really loving, I have to say) the only real choice for a second mastery is Soldier because I need the tank skills and various backup plans that come with them. I’m also going to start getting some health/resistance devotion constellations sorted out after I complete the Magi constellation. This is what my choice of Oathkeeper skills looked like at about level 35:

I’ve ditched a few early skill choices and gone for an almost totally damage-based build, primarily Burn and Fire, with some Vitality damage. I made what I suppose a lot of people will think is an odd choice of attaching the Bat constellation’s Twin Fangs to Eye of Reckoning, but this is how it works: Eye of Reckoning is set to a level where I can pretty much keep it on all the time because the amount of energy it uses is constantly being restored due to the energy regen rate I’ve got. Now, Eye of Reckoning deals damage every 0.2 seconds (at 100% attack speed). Twin Fangs has a 20% chance to occur on attack, which means the EoR skill is firing off five times a second, so Twin Fangs is activating approximately once every second. Twin Fangs has ‘% Attack damage converted to health’ so in a big fight something is always getting tagged about once a second and I’m getting health back from it. Not a lot, and certainly not enough to compensate for reckless behaviour. Should be a different story once I get Menhir’s Will and Overguard early on in the Soldier skill tree.


Overall, with the damage skills set up this way, I’m having a whole load of fun with the new mastery from the Forgotten Gods expansion. I can see a lot of different ways this class could be used, and I suspect the way I’m doing it is fairly predictable. For now, I’m not looking at anyone else’s Oathkeeper builds or videos so what I end up with is pretty my own invention. Always assuming this character stays alive long enough to get there!

Link to Part One

I also write novels: https://jwtapper.co.uk/
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Grim Dawn Forgotten Gods – Hardcore Oathkeeper – Part One

March 27, 2019

Last time I posted something like this on Arcadelife was back in 2013 when I was playing Diablo 3, trying to get a hardcore character to the level cap. This time (with a lot less available time) I’m trying out the new Oathkeeper class/mastery in Grim Dawn’s new expansion – Forgotten Gods, which was released about five hours ago on Steam.

I’ve already taken a couple of hardcore characters to level 50, completing the base game (i.e. not including the Ashes expansion) with one of them, so I’ve got a reasonable idea about what I’m doing. Unlike in Diablo 3, where there’s a 10 second countdown whenever you try to leave the game, Grim Dawn can be paused at any time and you can quit immediately – this makes hardcore mode considerably less stressful.

Currently, my hardcore Oathkeeper character is level 15, which is exactly where I planned to get it to on day one. I’d already figured out where I was going to assign mastery points which you can see here in a screenshot from the game (not from Grim Tools, which is a truly brilliant site, in case you were wondering):

Getting to level 15 was pretty quick. I used the Crucible (sort of an infinite arena mode if you don’t know what it is) from level 7 until I unlocked 5 devotion points, after a couple of runs through the Slith island very close to the start of the first campaign area. For early levelling, and clearing trash mobs, Aegis of Menhir is adequate but nowhere near as effective a starter skill as the Necromancer’s skeletons or the Shaman’s Devouring swarm. It starts to look good once you get the mastery bar up to level 5 and start putting points in the Avenging Shield skill which lets your Aegis hit more targets. This is what it looks like early on, in action at character level 6:


As I mentioned, I used the Crucible from level 7, once Aegis of Menhir was doing enough damage to be effective at clearing waves of enemies. Crucible is a quick and easy way to get 5 Devotion points before wading into the main campaign. I wanted to get the Fiend constellation as quickly as possible because of the percentage buffs to fire damage – which is the default damage type on Aegis of Menhir. You can modify it to acid damage, which I probably won’t bother with, and the whole point of that would be if you were going for a totally different damage focus on a particular build. Fiend also gives you this 25% chance damage effect – I’ve got it bound to Righteous Fervour which is being used as default attack (left mouse button). Just one point in that skill; I might stick with it but I’ll probably swap Flame Torrent out for a better devotion skill at a later stage.

Reprisal unlocks at mastery level 20. This looks very much like something they added in for all the people who quite sensibly want to dump all their attribute points in Physique and not bother putting any in Spirit. As you can see (pic below) each level of Reprisal lowers the energy cost of Aegis of Menhir in addition to adding a large amount of burn damage. It also includes a new buff type that appears in Forgotten Gods – the addition of a percentage of retaliation damage to attack damage. Again, they’ve realised the basic retaliation builds are a bit boring to play because you generally just stand there and don’t attack anything. This type of buff just gives you more options, like you’d maybe want to equip that Perdition set you’ve got hanging around but never really wanted to play a Retaliation build because it sounds too boring.

That’s about it for level 15. It’s pointless talking about gear because I’m picking up whatever drops and occasionally swapping around some items where I’ve got low-level rares and epics in storage. Nothing worth mentioning – it’s the same stuff every player will have seen if they’re played a few different characters through normal/veteran.

I’ll aim to get an update posted when I reach level 20. That could be before or after getting past the warden, depends how tanky the Oathkeeper is feeling at that point. If you’re playing this expansion, have a good time with it – it’s looking fun so far.

 

I also write novels: https://jwtapper.co.uk/
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Marbloid review – iOS Universal

December 8, 2018

10 word description (from official site): Marbloid is a 3D marble runner for iPhone and iPad.

10 word review: Incredibly good-looking, incredibly annoying. Prepare for extreme frustration.

You will like this if you enjoy: Failing due to deliberately perverse game design choices, losing everything you collected when you crash and fail due to those wacky design choices, being told “FAIL” by an annoying voice every time you fail and lose everything you collected due to those oh-so amusing game design choices.

The good news: Graphics are very nice. Performance is good – I didn’t get any slowdown or lag on my iPhone 8+. Concept is sound – guide a rolling ball through some areas collecting stuff and levelling up skills. No IAPs.

The bad news: Oh boy, where to start… The first few minutes with Marbloid are pretty good. But then you realise you lose everything you collected when you FAIL, so it’s different in this respect from other endless runner type games, you know, where you collect coins or whatever and they add to your stockpile every time you play. In Marbloid, the currency is emojis, which to be honest should have been a massive clue as to how annoying this game was going to be. Unlike the way you would expect this emoji-collecting to work, if you FAIL before reaching an exit point you lose all the emojis you have collected in that run, and you also lose any quest-related progress. This means you have to play the game a couple of different ways: One, grind on short, wimpy-but-safe(ish) runs to the first or second exit while collecting as many emojis as you can. This method can also be used to complete quests where you have to collect a total number of whatever in as many runs as it takes. The other way you have to play is enforced by quests to complete whatever in a single run – these are horrible because FAILING in this game is hard to avoid due to appallingly sadistic level design, specific level features which catch you out by being hidden around corners or just unavoidable, and the stupid tilt-only control, and the fact that you have to jump using a screen-tap but the bottom of the screen (where there’s a quest status bar) doesn’t register the screen taps and aaaarggghhhh! Trust me, it’s bloody annoying.

One thing which would remove the massive frustration of failing on a long, profitable run, would be if the stupid game let you keep what you had collected. You can even complete a quest – you get the screen prompt and everything – but if you don’t exit cleanly through an EXIT, and you FAIL, you lose that quest completion. It’s just stupid. I had to turn the volume off completely because the voice shouting “FAIL” every time you fail (which feels like every ten seconds) is ANNOYING. AS. HELL.

Arcadelife verdict: This is not so much a wasted opportunity as an excellent opportunity repeatedly slaughtered at the unholy altar of player-FAIL as part of some kind of evil, Groundhog Day experiment in phone-smashing frustration. This game’s annoyance could be mostly fixed by removing the unnecessarily cruel progress loss and the “FAIL” voiceover which purely serves to express just how much the designers don’t want you to enjoy playing their game.

Arcadelife rating

Presentation – 8/10
Visuals – 8.5/10
Controls – 6/10
Content – 6/10
Fun – -1/10
Final rating – 3/10

SMASH YOUR PHONE, THEN YOURSELF. IT’S WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO DO

 

 

This review was written on a dasKeyboard Model S Professional.
I also write novels – JW Tapper website