Black Desert of Content

There’s this MMO, Black Desert Online, that I just don’t get. People still play it. It gets new characters and months-long “seasons” to level them up. That’s not what has me confused. It’s Korean, which means it’s graphics-card-boilingly extra shiny, with sexy armour and boob sliders for the ladies. Character customization settings can be saved and traded. Is that waifu? It uses pre-set characters, for example a Witch is always a little girl named Deneve who uses a staff. Some people get furious, calling that “gender locking”, but not these players. Game-play is good: skills are fighting game quality — fast mini-combos, added movement, invulnerability frames, small juggles, cancels; and the monster packs are varied and challenging. I recommend it if you get a deal. But here’s what I don’t get: the fans are all about doing end-game stuff, and end-game stuff is a cross between pointless and non-existant.

For a while I thought this was a big PvP game. PvP is World — can be attacked any time — and Clan vs. Clan. Players rave about how 1-on-1 PvP is fast and skill-based. But apparently only in Korea on a LAN with sub-zero ping speeds. Plus it’s pointless — if you kill some sleazebag stealing your ore, you can’t loot them, and they quickly pop back alive with no penalties. Forums say the Clan-vs-Clan is just a boring AoE spam-fest. So the exciting end game isn’t player-vs-player.

I don’t hate the plot or the heroic device: the region’s been conquered and you can work for the new overlords or the rebels. You’re so tough because you made a deal with a tiny energy ball of a demon, but have amnesia and can’t recall what or why. Sadly, we never find out. But fans see this as just something to rush through on the way to End Game. Black Desert isn’t popular because of the story.

Now about that end-game. To get gold you set up a farm and an off-line factory system. There are guides and then it’s just 1/2-hour of tending them with an alt. The rest of your time is farming monsters for gold — kill monsters in a big circle which respawn by the time you get back. Every few days, use that gold to attempt to level-up your weapon. That’s it. No dungeons, no 3×3 arena league. Just grinding. Updates to the game are just new more powerful weapons and more areas to grind for gold. I don’t get it. There are boss battles: time-limited tokens allow one to be summoned, and it’s tough but quickly trounceable by your guild, dropping weapon upgrade items. In other words, they’re not boss battles, merely a boss-themed way to grind for upgrade items. I don’t get the appeal.

Each character can choose from two weapons, each with their own moves. That’s nice, but it’s done in the worst possible way. You have one weapon the entire game. Then at max level you lose it, which means you lose all your moves, and are forced to use the new second weapon. There’s a quest to re-unlock the original. It involves fighting (yep — you’re forced to learn the new moves).

Of course, the upgrading process is ridiculously over-complicated. The chance drops to a few percent — sometimes literally zero. Stacking various items will raise it to single digits. An expensive but near-mandatory item prevents losing a level on failure. Every time you fail, there’s a small cumulative bonus added to the next try. It’s too small and expensive to use directly, but if you build up a “fail chance” on a cheap weapon you can transfer it to your real weapon (using another expensive item). Now you’re on track to finish in a month or two. Except the inevitable failures build up enchantment damage which eventually needs fixing (using more expensive items). There are multiple ways of doing these, with internet guides on which is best depending on current level and your tolerance for risk.

While writing down those last two paragraphs — and suffering through the memories — I suddenly realized why people still play this game — sunk cost and trauma-bonding. They know it’s a boring grind leading nowhere, but it’s their boring grind leading nowhere.

SR:L isn’t boring enough

The collectable hero game Shadow Raid:Legends got me thinking about the complexity of mobile games, in two ways. One is the reasonable-seeming thing mobile games have gotten very good at — starting simple and gradually ramping up the complexity. The other is the total amount of complexity that players want.

I like to think I like complicated games — even where you have to take out a sheet of paper and plan. But I’ve quit games for having too much thinking. I open them up, remember I’d been trying to think of a team to fight the new boss monster, just wasn’t in the mood, that goes on for a few days, and I’m done with that game.

I’m fine with new features gradually unlocks — it’s good teaching. But we all know how it goes from good to bad. “I’ll let you play 5 matches with only these rules before I toss in new ones” turns into “I’ll force you to play 50 matches before you earn the new rule”.

Those two things combine in a weird way. Many games start out too easy, but we know that means nothing. Many stay easy for quite a while, but we know that means nothing. A month may or may not be long enough. There’s this weird situation where we never know the “real” game. Maybe it gets good later, or maybe it’s fine now and gets too complex later.

Shadow Raid: Legends is one of the most boring genres of mobile games — collectable heroes. It starts like them all — you have a Common hero, find more and better heroes, find better armour and weapons, unlock the “ring” slot and start finding better rings. Always growing in power. Pretty soon you’re watching them fight the same monsters 100’s of times, hoping for a helmet with at least 4 stars and a +defense stat. And that’s fine. It’s almost like a slot machine — today I killed monsters for only 14 minor force potions, and no major ones, but there’s always tomorrow.

The weird thing is, it does get complex. After a slow start, in a genre where the players never expect anything special, it gets complex. After a while you realize the red/green/blue color system actually matters — you prefer green heroes against red bosses, and so on. At first you were equipping just whatever you found, but then you realize it’s completely mix-and-match — you can make someone absurdly hard-to-kill, or all offense and extremely fragile. You start meeting boss monsters with special abilities requiring specially-made teams to counter them.

Here’s some paraphrased advice from the game: to beat this area it helps if you have one of these 3 super-rare heroes. Otherwise there’s an adequate one by playing a certain dungeon about 100 times. Then play these other areas 100’s of times for about a week for a full set of +speed equipment. Next … .

I was thinking back about other games like this, and realized how hard they worked to not have a strategy. For example, healing characters are tough, do pretty good damage, and don’t heal all that much. Special abilities tend to be minor and difficult to coordinate. Equipment is pre-set. Those game work hard to make nothing matter. You can always play a bit, win something that shows a green “this will make you more powerful” up-arrow, use it, and eventually be able to beat slightly tougher monsters. You never have to ask someone how to beat X. The answer is always the same — get bigger numbers. Those games never get complex, which is on purpose, and the point.

Plarium makes SR:L. To me, they’re known for copying mechanics from other games, scrambling them together in a “see what sticks” style. They’re original, in the sense of never having seen those particular things combined. SR:L seemed pretty well thought-out for them. Then I realized how insane it was: a game for people who like to plan, but are happy pressing the same button for an hour, every day for a week, for a chance to try that plan.

I have to mention the art department. I’m always surprised, even through I shouldn’t be, by how completely separate it is — like a movie with beautiful costumes and sets, but terrible dialogue.

The 100’s of 3D heroes are divided into various factions. The good guys are Telarians and the neutrals are the Gaellen Pact. That sounds like something. There are lots of knight heroes, but divided into the Sacred Order (not that interesting), the Banner Lords (banners? what kind of banners?) and the evil Knights Revenant (undead former-knights). We never learn anything more, but it draws you in. There’s an entire faction of rock trolls, and another of lizardmen. They did a really nice job with variety, but making them look related. The next is the Skinwalkers — whoa! — minotaurs, devil dogs, and other abominations. I think they had a ton of fun designing them, and it shows. The worst thing is the name — there’s nothing about Shadows or Raids in this game.

I can’t recommend it (well, if you’re never played a collectable hero game and want to try one, once, and have a high tolerance to electronic addiction), but if you see someone playing it, ask if you can look through the screens where it shows every hero in the game. Really pretty.

King’s road has the best paywall

King’s Road is a pretty standard 3rd-person hacker. You control one guy running down a path killing stuff with a boss at the end. When you complete all 24 areas, do them again on hard, then expert. But we all know at some point you’ll be out of energy until tomorrow, or until you buy more. But you aren’t. There’s no limit. You can even freely rerun areas to gain levels or better gear until you can beat the next. Still for free, you can switch between the 3 classes and level them by replaying any areas. Is this the first mobile game ever that doesn’t make you play a little each day?

Along the way you unlock a minor pet. They call it a dragon, but it’s the size of large hawk and about as dangerous. As you play, the pets level up. Eventually your pet is doing half the work. This is where it gets interesting. Your pets have a short cool-down before they can be re-used. You have 3, so that’s not even a problem. But you see where this is going? You need to level them up to keep winning, until the cool-down is up to 8+ hours. So now, like every other mobile game, you can play 3 times every 8 hours.

It’s just delightful the way you never see it coming. You don’t even have a dragon at first, then it seems so unimportant. Then it’s exactly the same limit as everything else.

My Review: if you like MMO’s you’ll hate the overly complicated upgrading buildings system to power up the dragons. I hate it, and usually like upgrading buildings on timers. Experimenting over which of your abilities to power-up is somewhat fun. There’s no obvious choice, and each ability feels different. There’s even a looking-for-group feature to team-up with another player.

A Team Battler with IP

IP, intellectual property, has long been a big deal — ScoobyDoo lunch boxes or commercials using Spiderman — but games take it to another level. For one thing, you can theme any type of game with anything. You can make a Marvel superhero-themed Match-3 puzzle game, or a farming game with characters from Speed Racer. Another trick is taking valuable IP from one of your games and reusing it in a completely different genre. Blizzard did this with its popular RTS WarCraft, re-using the setting for MMO World of Warcraft, then much later their WarCraft-themed card game HearthStone.

This is why the mobile game “ArcheAge Begins” astounds and amazes me. It’s a typical hero collecting game, based on IP from their MMO ArcheAge. That sounds reasonable so far, right — common sense re-use of your own IP. MMO’s have lots of countries and NPC heroes and super-evil boss monsters and stuff that people recognize, right? But here’s the thing: ArcheAge is a player-driven game. It may have a plot, but I played it and can’t remember one. I remember a guy in chat who kept talking up how tough his pirate guild was, and others mocking him about how 2 guys in a boat outran them all. I remember ships and barns with player-designed Isis flags and giant wangs. Does that count as IP?

But ArcheAge Begins found a dozen heroes we know and love. That’s a joke. I never heard of any of them. I think they’re from the backstory no one read. Country and region names are the same problem — it turns out I was in the Nuia Alliance but I never did quests for them or engaged in any way. I never saw anything in the new game that was even vaguely familiar.

Well, it had one thing. In the MMO you could grow trees and very rarely got a magical one called a “thunder struck log” (which I assume was a translation error and they meant lightning). Those turned out to be crazy valuable — maximizing the odds was a topic of furious discussion. The new game ArcheAge Begins has that — the tree you tap once a day to get free lumber (hey, it’s a mobile game, that’s how they work) rarely gives you a TSL. Ah, memories.

There’s also an instructive misfire. In the original game you raise and slaughter cows, no big deal. Somehow this was misinterpreted in the new one as a moo-talking cartoon cow jumping around in a milking mini-game. These sorts of mix-ups happen. I’m sure there’s a hidden objects game somewhere with Luke SkyWalker as a bad guy.

Art of Conquest

Right after noticing that every conquer-the-world game is so, so similar, I see Art of Conquest. It adds a bunch of great ideas, but then manages to ruin the entire point of the game.

The best idea, and the worst, is playable battles. Your forces line up across from the enemy; then infantry charges, archers fire, cannons blast, horsemen attempt to flank, heroes carefully target spells and more. The battles are great fun, especially when you recall the old ones are a single text-based report. We even get unique, beautiful troops for the handful of races.

It’s so fun that I hate to point out how it ruins the group part of the game, which is the entire point. In the original version we can group-attack against that overpowered big spender. Guild-mates have hours to see the big arrow and possibly help before an attack on you gets here. Art of Conquest’s much more fun battles also insure every fight is both instant and one-on-one. As terrible as the old way was, it more-or-less equalizes 20 people who spent $100 each against 4 guys at $750 each. In Art of Conquest all those $100 players can do is line up to get demolished.

Game of Browser of Clans

Remember the old Super Bowl Ad with Kate Upton ordering her generals from a hot-tub? Then there was Arnold Schwarzenegger walking through a realistic battleground giving orders. Another showed an epic live-action tale of a tank being killed by a guy with a bazooka, who was killed by a sniper, who was killed by a bomb. One Ad had two young men playing the game at a coffee shop with a realistic holograph on their table, destroyed by a missile launched by two flirtatious girls across the room. The most recent is a young woman in a glued-on chiton watching a massive fantasy battle, complete with dragon, while she holds her cell-phone at the ready. So many network television Ads for cell-phone games.

It turns out they’re all pretty much the same game — conquer the world. And despite the Ads’ epic graphics, they’re text-based slow-play. You declare an attack, an arrow with “4 hours to go” appears on the map, maybe someone sends reinforcements, and you all finally get a text report of how many troops on each side died. I’m sure it’s exciting to read about how you crushed them, but not fully-3D dragon exciting.

The TV Ads are because these games are huge money-makers. Matches last several months and allow unlimited spending. Experienced players start off paying to get a fast start and spend more and more as the game tightens up. Near the end, after a big loss, players are so invested they rage-spend even more.

The best part is probably how reviewers never play them long enough to figure out what they are. New players start deep the game world’s boondocks where the only thing to do is upgrade your castle using easily obtainable wood. Oh, it’s a relaxing building game, they say. They don’t know everyone else spent $5 to skip that part, teleported (your castle can teleport) to the advanced and more violent area, quit after having their army pummelled into oblivion 2 months later, and resolved to do even more early spending next time.

What is Goddess Kiss?

When I saw the seller’s description of Goddess Kiss in the Ap store, I sensed I was looking at a true piece of kink sub-culture. The splash screens are exclusively top-heavy tarted-up anime schoolgirls, but the text makes you realize this game was someone’s vision: “Touch your beautiful angels and experience various responses and motions,” “Only your kiss can free the beautiful angels,” “Costume is not just clothing. It’s an affection.” And finally: “Each commander engages in a battle riding inside a mechanical unit. Each unit has unique skills and attack pattern.” So it’s some kind of battling game, but the rest seems way too specific to be simply “and the female characters show a lot of skin”.

The hour-long download screen let me know I was on the right track: 2D schoolgirls with long animated flowing hair, and short pleated skirts swaying. And, key, at about “10% loaded” a skirt blows up not too much, and not for too long, to show a flash of cheek. Someone with very specific tastes worked on that wind simulation, just for the loading screen.

54 minutes later, I’m hearing JPop while reading the insane backstory: evil-doers have made Obedience drug. The first screen shows two rows of captured cuties floating in individual tubes full of green liquid, being mind-controlled. But Obediance (always a proper noun, in blue text,) doesn’t affect some people, and they formed the resistance, Goddess Kiss, and defeated the bad guys. Wait, what? Its over? It goes on: but the good guys became overconfident, lost the last battle (it walks you through a battle), and are scattered. The name Goddess Kiss has now mostly been forgotten. You have been appointed the new leader of the revival of Goddess Kiss, working under an umbrella group with the harmless-sounding acronym R.E.A.P.

That’s quality nonsense written by a true believer. It’s clearly important that later sub-villians sneer when they hear our name, and suggest we should have stayed dead.

Now it’s on to the game. We start in the warehouse/item area, managed by a sexy mechanic: a grown woman, using the latest in jigglemation, coveralls pulled down to reveal her sweaty T-shirt. As per the Ad copy, tapping the character pops up more voice bubbles (written in English, voiced in Korean). Ask me Korean for “I like it more and more”. Then it’s on to the daily chests area, presided over by an anime woman in a full-on playboy bunny outfit. She doesn’t appear to be sweating at all. When you get a good treasure her face pops up with hearts flying out of it, pulls back to a bust, then you finally get the chest opening animation. So as not to keep you in suspense: later there’s a 2nd sexy mechanic, and a sexy nurse wearing a cannabis pin, uniform unzipped to the navel.

But that’s not the kinky part. It doesn’t take too long recruit two mech-driving young women and beat the first boss, also a young woman. Your pilots remind you that she’s Obedience-controlled, and tell her the cure is in your body. I hope not my spleen. The screen moves to a close-up of her face; her eyes close and her lips purse. Ah, this is the kiss in Goddess Kiss (hold your finger down, or, I assume, kiss the screen). The sparkles now flying out of her eyes let you know it’s working. Your two pilots joke they didn’t get to kiss you yet. Hmm… .

Starting the next mission, the new pilot talks about how she hopes the next place you attack will have a shower. Another hopes for food, so that you can feed it to her. What? I think I’m getting it. You’re like the headmaster of a girls’ school, keeping their tummies full and bodies clean, and also the only man they have to practice flirting with. Your harem is completely dependent upon you.

You can also pick their clothing, but much later and it’s the same alternate costumes as in every other game. They cost a ton of gems and are the only way to customize characters’ stats. Beside the swimsuits and frilly nighties with teddy bears they even have a non-sexualized option: the battlesuit is a full body skin-tight vinyl .. ah, nevermind. They are all highly sexualized. But the teddy bears are Amanda Beard jokes, I hope.

You later get to give them gifts. In many games you use “runes” to raise rune level, for bonus stats. In this game it’s poetry books, flowers, steak dinners, rings and cocktails, with voice bubbles like “you really shouldn’t, but I like it.” They increase “affection points”. When you gain a level and tap to collect, it flips over to tell you the character’s age, which is 16, 18 or 25. But mostly 16. The next level gives a pretty good attack bonus and reveals … their birthday?. That’s also pretty common. Did you know that Zangief from early 90’s Street Fighter-II, was born on June 1st?

The last thing to unlock are the personal mini-quests. From way back, Final Fantasy had these – just a fun easter egg. You do a few little things, when the game lets you, and get to see some cut-scenes telling about the character’s background. These seem to involve the girls sitting on your bed at night. The farm-girl, who pilots a giant robot like everyone else, has one named “Machines are so difficult to handle.”

The game part uses the standard energy points system – each mission uses some, and you can quickly auto-complete to trade all energy for the various rewards. When you run out, you can tap a heart icon to increase them faster. For no reason, you have to pick one character to come with you. You walk with her into an opulent cruise ship’s dining room, with the caption “Currently Dating.” Eww. Your companion gains a few affection points each minute. They missed an opportunity by not making this the page where you ply them with flowers and liquor. I’m sure this inter-office dating and misappropriation of funds partly solves the mystery of how the first Goddess Kiss organization fell apart.

My favorite feature is how every click freezes the game for a few seconds whlle it talks to the server. Even clicks that really shouldn’t need to. To somewhat compensate, you can hold down a button and have it not freeze until you let go. Say you want to give someone 12 steak dinners to level them up. Instead of spending 45 seconds tapping and waiting, you can hold the button for a second and let go. It goes so fast you’ll probably give them 15, but worth it.

So what is Goddess Kiss? It’s a real game – a collectable team fighter where you grind to keep upgrading. It’s about as good as every similar game. The sexy parts aren’t really new: costumes and underaged anime art is common. Kissing and gifts are from dating sims. The new parts are having your team be only sexy underaged girls, the crazy kissing to unlock (which you don’t do that much) and “dating” so you can fight more. It’s just enough to turn it from gross into creepy.


To compare and contrast, “Girls X Battle” is 6 months older, and ranked a little higher in the App store.

The backstory is child and girl friendly: the school has teams that fight for fun, and women prefer being on all-female teams. The mooks you fight are girls with soccer and rugby balls, female crossing guards swinging signs, broad-shouldered lady mechanics with wrenches, a spike-haired girl with a keytar.. . All very age appropriate and empowering. The plot is a rivalry between you and another male friend managing a different girls’ fighting team. Plus some gay jokes that stopped being acceptable in the 80’s.

But the rest is more explicitly sexual than Goddess Kiss. More pin-up poses. They all call you master. My least favorite idle quote: “it’s not illegal if we’re not caught.” The Sexy Apron’s flavor text says to wear nothing under it. This is odd, since you give them lots of underwear – they use it to level up. Later on, “level up” purses are made from an empty purse, a cell phone and underwear. Eww, eww.

The relationship section is hidden behind a heart icon. There are many more types of gifts. It says some heroes prefer some gifts over others. There’s no kissing, but once a day you get free “intimacy” points (yes, they found a worse name than Affection points) for “gently caressing”: touch the hero’s head and slowly run your finger up and down their body. There’s a meter that increases, as she tells you how much she liked it. Ew, ew, ew.

So, yeah, Girls X Battle is a stylistic mess: a game fine for girls; but then with boring dirty old man stuff dripped all over it. I stand by my original assessment: Goddess Kiss is someone who looked at generic “can’t play in public” games like Girls X Battle, filled with random cheesecake, and said “do these guys have even a single person on their team who lusts after too-young girls? Do they even understand the importance of establishing a child-adult relationship as part of the kink?” My suggestion: make one for women, with hunky gardeners and pool boys. You clearly have the talent, and “make games that you want to play” is a myth. Get a romance author as a consultant.

Collectable Hero Team genre

I’ve been seeing strange-looking Ads for collectable hero cell-phone games. Not TV ads — mobile or uTube. You can collect cowboys, knights, sexy ice wizards — hundreds of heroes according to some Ads. I could never tell what you do in these games. I figure heroes do things like defend towns, explore dangerous lands and loot dungeons. With 100 heroes I can imagine you’re a Duke sending them on jobs, or maybe a rebel leader building an army. The thing is, the Ads mostly show a lot of menus. Just what are these games?

After a few minutes you’re fighting a small group of monsters with a team of 4 heroes. After another week, same thing. That’s the entire playable part of the game. You’d assume there’s a need for multiple teams — nope, just one team for everything. So what’s with the collecting? Well, your starting heroes have a gray border. Better heroes use green, then blue, purple and finally yellow. Oh, no, it’s about replacing your old weak heroes with better ones. I feel so bad for the artists who drew the gray-bordered heroes — players think “what garbage” every time they see that perfectly nice picture.

But what’s with all of the menus in the Ads? It turns out the heroes can be upgraded — levels, enchantments, ascensions, equipment, bonuses for all space heroes, rebirths, and more. It takes lots of lots of buttons for all of that. It also takes battling the same monsters over and over to get enough orange upgrade dust and the rest. To speed that up there’s an auto-win button (you get it after winning a battle once). We’ll be pressing that a lot. After about 2 weeks your time in the game is pressing upgrade buttons, which take you to the battles where you can get upgrade crystals, which you auto-win until you get enough, or run out of daily energy.

So, it turns out the Ads were correct. The game is menus. Sometimes your heroes are tough enough to beat the next set of monsters, but that happens less and less as you go on, letting you go back to your menus. Really, the game is about transcending. Little people focus on the heroes doing stuff. Making the Total Team Power number get bigger is what grown-ups do.