One step closer to paradise

Today I showed my game Of The Ruins (you can play it here) to a friend. At the beginning, he had some problems grasping the concept of the game. He didn’t get the controls right away, even after a huge prompt appeared on the screen. That was alright, I thought, as the game was meant to promote experimentation. I ended up telling him he had to hold the mouse button down. He then proceeded to solve the first puzzle and got to the second puzzle, where he spent some time trying to get a grasp of the mechanics. I spurred him on as he seemed to lose faith. I asked him if he understood how something in the game worked. He answered negatively. I told him to find out. And he did. After some experimentation, he solved the second puzzle. So far so good. When he got to the third puzzle, he again got stuck for a moment and then suddenly realized that there must be something somewhere with which he could solve it. And there was. I asked him to test for some bugs and fortunately they didn’t occur. I was relieved, more than happy. His experience with the game seemed frustrating, he seemed to get stuck, and even if the game was made during a game jam, I could not forgive myself for making such an impenetrable puzzle game.
And then he said it. He said the best thing anyone has ever said about any of my games. He said the one thing I least expected to hear in that moment. He asked me “Have you played The Witness?”
The game was made for the 36th Ludum Dare between August 26th and August 29th of 2016. The Witness came out earlier that year, on January 26th. After playing The Witness, shortly after it came out, I became totally and completely obsessed with everything pertaining to its design, Jonathan Blow’s design principles and Jonathan Blow himself as a game developer and as a person. The Witness was undoubtedly the biggest influence in my life as a game developer. Never had I been confronted with such seemingly unrelated ideas as Pottery and Quantum Physics so majestically woven together by the overall design of a game as in The Witness. I consider it one of the best games ever made, not to say the best and definitely the best use of solid game design principles through and through. I’ve always wanted to write something about it. It had such an impact on me that I could not, even if I tried with all my strength, resist ever formalizing my thoughts on it. But I didn’t hurry, for I knew the time would eventually come to write about The Witness. I’ve been thinking and writing in my mind, arranging thoughts into sentences, tinkering with ideas and pondering how to talks about it without bias.
But fuck bias. Someone just said that a little shitty game I made in 72 sleep-deprived hours reminded them of an object of praise that I have enshrined in my own personal Church as the holy fruit of the divine itself. Today I’m going to bed with a smile.


Let’s talk about Path of Exile


I have long since been an unconditional fan of Grinding Gear Games’ Path of Exile, the small indie ARPG out of New Zealand that has been gathered a strong cult following since its inception. I’ve been playing on and off since Closed Beta and words cannot describe the joy I felt yesterday when, after much teasing, the studio announced that their 3.0 update would bring not one, but six new acts to the game.

If you’re unfamiliar with ARPGs, the currently accepted definition is mostly based on Diablo 2. Diablo 2 is divided in acts: each contains a town with NPCs and shops, a few zones with monsters to hunt, a handful of dungeons and of course, bosses. Being the godfather of the genre, many recent games have taken inspiration from Blizzard North’s masterpiece.

Usually, though, ARPGs tend to be complete packages (with the occasional expansion) and contain only a couple of acts. Diablo 2 had four acts plus the one in the expansion. At the time of this writing, Diablo 3 follows the same structure. The progression revolves around playing through these acts multiple times with increased difficulty to seek bigger challenges.

Until yesterday, Path Of Exile – a game heavily inspired by Diablo 1 and 2 – comprised four acts and three difficulty levels, before making it into the huge endgame portion of the game.

Grinding Gear Games CEO Chris Wilson had expressed the company’s desire to eventually reach ten acts in the game, which would make it feel fresh year after year with more content being released.

Well, Chris Wilson’s dream came true a bit sooner than expected as the studio announced not only the release of the previously confirmed act five, but also the inclusion of what they are calling “Part II”, which is a re-imagining of the first five acts for a whopping ten act, single-playthrough experience. Yes, Path of Exile is breaking away from the New Game+ formula and throwing the old Cruel and Merciless difficulties out the window.

You might have noticed, though, that Part II is stated to be a “re-imagining” of the game, but that doesn’t mean you replay the game. So far, the story in Path of Exile has the player exiled from civilization and sent to Wraeclast, a forsaken land overgrown with monsters and corruption. It’s sort of the dumping grounds of society. At the end of act four, the player defeats the big baddie who’s been causing all the trouble. So far, that was the end of the “Campaign”, from where the player gravitates towards endgame maps and expansion content (this is where the meat of the game is nowadays).

According to the development team, after the player beats the final boss in act four, they find a way to get back to civilization, from which they were exiled. Enter act five, where players must fight a corrupt government and even awakened gods to exert their revenge. After this the player must, for some reason, return to Wraeclast. But unlike previous iterations of the game where the content would be exactly the same, Part II continues the same timeline. After the events of the previous acts – including the taking down of the governing forces in act five – the land is changed. The zones, while familiar, are different. Some NPCs are gone while others have replaced them. Towns are deserted, the monsters the player relentlessly killed are replaced with tribes of refugees from the war in the mainland, previously used paths are blocked. And the player’s actions have awakened the gods, which are posed to be the big bosses of Part II.

This is, of course, in addition to a ton of new features, skills, items, quests and of course, a long due balance patch.

The studio had talked about bringing about changes that would set Path of Exile aside from other games in the genre by solving problems that the genre as a whole has been unable to solve. There’s no confirmation, but this is likely what they meant.

Besides, an Xbox One release of the game was announced last month and the company seems to be in no hurry to stop improving their flagship game. This might just be the push that Path of Exile needs to stop being a bit of a niche game to being a mainstream hit. Is that good? Maybe. The brutal difficulty of the game will still be present, I hope, but seeing great decisions being made gives me immense confidence for the future of one of my favourite games of all time.

So, to sum it up:

  • No more difficulty levels, no more replaying the same exact content.
  • New act five that finishes the main story of the game and contains none less than 24 bosses.
  • Part II, comprising five new-ish acts that take the player through the first five acts, but with vastly different content.
  • Balance patch.
  • Xbox One release.
  • Globe girls HYPE!

I remind you that Path of Exile is a free to play game in the purest sense of the term. The only thing you can pay for are cosmetics and it seems to be the fairest model around. The game is so good that people can’t stop throwing money at the screen. And the expansion, like all previous expansions, is free as well.

So yes, you should pay attention to Path of Exile in the upcoming months.