A *thank you*, a pseudo-review and a towering wall of text

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A *thank you*, a pseudo-review and a towering wall of text

Post by PirroEpirote » February 4th, 2018, 9:25 am

I finally got around to playing Tides of Numenera, after taking care some logistical difficulties that prevented me from doing it. While I'm not sure this will reach any developer's ears, I wanted to give my feedback anyway.

In short form: thank you for making this game. This was the long-awaited return of a dead (stillborn?) genre, which happens to be my favorite. And it delivered (with a great many caveats I will elaborate upon, but here's the rub: it delivered regardless).

Tides has reminded me how much I've missed this abandoned genre, how much I missed PS:T in particular, and how refreshing this old game design philosophy is compared to the focus tested, self-referential crap of today's gaming landscape.

This is a game you can lose yourself in, drink a cup of coffee to. A narrative that gives you at least the illusion of control, of reacting to your choices and being molded by your personality and, heck, aesthetics. Its design made clear that you understood what made Torment tick. And for that, I'm grateful.

As said above, the game is by no means perfect. It has some significant faults, particularly in regards with the narrative (see: lack of personal engagement with the story, some pacing issues, anticlimactic ending resolution and lackluster companion roster). But the end result remains satisfying enough, as a return to form and a promise of greater things to come.

I find sad, then, that the game feels in a way to have been “disowned” by inXile, and that the developers seem to be distancing themselves from it. I hope I'm wrong in this appreciation. While I understand Tides had a troubled development, the end result remains solid, and should be a source of satisfaction.

I sincerely hope you will come back to this game. Tides would greatly benefit from a Director’s Cut style revisiting (or at the very least bug fixing and cleanup). Heck, I feel you could get very close to the all-too-ambitious original vision (and deliver broken Kickstarter promises along the way) with an Expansion pack-level effort. Not too far-fetched.

With all this in mind, I'm disappointed from the takeaway of Mr. Fargo about the cold commercial reception this game got.

Of course this is a niche genre. Of course this is a kind of game that can't be promoted on Twitch (the kind of people who play this HATE Twitch). Of course the best you can expect from this saleswise is to be a slow burner and give you a long term stream of sales. But that was the *entire* point of funding this with a Kickstarter. You asked fans for support to return to a commercially handicapped genre, and fans delivered in spades (proving that while it is commercially limited, it's not commercially dead).

InXile contacted the old guard with it's Kickstarter campaign. This represented a large amount of instant sales tapping a large portion of the genre's niche. The prospective buyers after the release, then, would have come in part from from marketing (dubious for the genre and resources available for a mid-tier developer/publisher). But, mainly, from the word of mouth "evangelizing" of the backers. However, the mishandling of the Kickstarter and lackluster communication made the critical early positive buzz die on its feet.

While I appreciate the candidness, saying that the game would have succeeded by being exactly the opposite of what it was supposed to be, or that text can't be a core loop because it doesn't work on Twitch (it surely does work in my home), is frankly a bit disingenuous - you all knew the nature of the beast going in. This is a niche genre for a niche audience, and a notoriously difficult sell.

Not to end on a sad note, however...

Regardless of the narrative faults, regardless of the broken Kickstarter promises and dubious backer treatment, regardless of the wrong lessons you may or may not be taking away from the entire ordeal: I’m glad to have backed this game, and gladder still to have played it.

More after the break...
Last edited by PirroEpirote on February 4th, 2018, 12:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: A *thank you*, a pseudo-review and a towering wall of text

Post by PirroEpirote » February 4th, 2018, 11:38 am

Random thoughts – a bullet-point review and improvement road-map.

Since I love bullet points, and can’t order my thoughts coherently (since they’re not coherent in the first place), here’s a list of things I found good, bad or simply ugly, in no particular order.

Note that all but a few faults could be addressed by an ambitious expansion-sized update or Special Edition (wink, wink).
  1. Bugs/oversights:
    • Sound: muffled response sounds in Inventory/Character Sheet screen (a lot of funny banter is lost this way). The game should pause and the audio environment reset to defaults in the interface screens to avoid this.
    • Cypher Sickness bug: some unknown combination of actions makes cypher sickness persist on companions even after removing cyphers and resting. Even worse, I think the penalties stack, so for instance in my play-through Aligern had hopelessly crippled stats as a result.
    • Tybir mentions Oom when he's not in the party, and even before meeting Oom.
    • Anechoic Lazaret quest: going on the first day almost guarantees the quest can’t be turned in. Going on the second day, it depends on the sequence of events.
    • Anathema quest: lockup on scene - current workaround is interacting with device, notes and construct before persuading/intimidating Ioxu.
    • Chiurgeon's Slump: the guards’ opening interaction is still bugged, making the area apparently unreachable.
    • Twice the Trouble quest: after expelling Vrung and switching areas, Delny appears as a shade again.
    • Erritis quest: the “talk to me” icon persists after the Iron Wind scene is resolved and he has nothing more to add.
    • Freedman quest: just asking the Observant Speck for a job, or noncommittally persuading the employer for any other option, counts as a final decision even before talking to Coty, and closes dialog paths early.
    • Tybir ending slide: reconciling with Auvigne and sparing Ragmin still results in the bittersweet ending where Ragmin is killed.
    • Adult Rhin ability icons are mixed up (Hiding and Healing should be Ahl the stone, Fluke and Fortune Varlin the coin, Blood and Bell the collection of doodads).
    • The Codex has a Memovira portrait before meeting her.
  2. Dialogue structure.

    Dialogue structure was quite solid, and well above your average story-focused RPG. With that I mean that the dialogues were mostly well written, well structured and allowed (for the most part) to give reasonable responses and press on the appropriate issues.

    Still, PS:T is still the gold standard in this category. As usual, there are lessons to be gleaned from the classic here.

    In Tides, dialogue skills (Persuasion, Deception and Intimidation) often operated as "win buttons" in conversation. With that I mean, a player might go blind and select skill-tagged options and, provided he succeeded the corresponding skill checks, he would be almost certain to get a positive result. Sadly, by their nature dialogue skills weren't usually the ideal showcase for the "failure leads to an interesting outcome" concept.

    This isn't the best way to encourage player involvement nor identification with the main character. One of the main reasons PS:T worked so well was that the main character had well thought out, elaborate responses, and that "persuading" required to actually select dialogue options that followed a particular train or thought, or to use information gleamed from other dialogue threads to achieve a truly persuasive argument. The attribute checks themselves were hidden, with helped to make the player pay attention. But, had the checks been shown, sometimes you had several "high intelligence/wisdom" options which might not be really wise to pursue. Again, you had to pay attention. This is a point were the player skill / character skill dichotomy was rightly dissolved - you were the Nameless One, and you had better think about what you said.

    This contrasts with the rather abstract persuasion options we sometimes get in Tides. I understand the dialogue flow was in part determined/constricted by the Numenera's skill check system. However, a better approach within the system, particularly for key dialogue confrontations, would have been to place the skill checks at the end of sensible (and mutually exclusive) reasoning chains, or to make successful skill checks open up such dialogue chains (and pepper those chains with multiple options having different, some non-optimal, outcomes).

    That said, this is not a general fault of the game, just a point I feel could have received more attention - quite a few dialogues did take clever advantage of the system (some following a similar pattern to that outlined before) and had a lot of depth, pitfalls, twists and turns while remaining logical and well structured.

    Another thing that made PS:T stand out is that you usually had a response that somewhat reflected your or your imagined character's beliefs. Even idiotic responses were cool idiotic responses. For current RPG standards, Tides is very good in giving you reasonable/interesting things to say, but I feel more focus on this aspect for the key dramatic episodes would have been warranted.

    Finally, while your average dialogue in Tides was fun and satisfying, some of the game's key confrontations (The Specter, The Sorrow, The Fist Castoff) were somewhat anticlimactic and left the players wanting for more - more sharp questions and more ways to challenge the opponent's positions (even if ineffectually).
    • Vaguely unsatisfying Companions.

      There are two separate issues. The first is that the companion rooster lacks close ties to the main character and his quest.

      It feels as if each of them are doing their own thing (which is good), but that this thing only tangentially relates with the plight of the main character. While their tales may be about legacy, they don’t particularly illuminate the nature of the setting, the conflict of the Tides, nor the condition of the player character. They don’t help reinforce the main narrative, and only very distantly reinforce it’s themes.

      As a counterexample, just think what having the Genocide as a companion would have done to the game. Now you are hanging around with a constant reminder of the main quest, the Changing God’s dubious but relatable morality, and someone who can contextualize a core element of the lore (Tides) at each turn. And you have a self-imposed quest to either persuade him away from its ironically genocidal warrior-philosophy, or cynically make this philosophy strengthen him.

      The second issue is that most of the companion rooster lack powerful narrative hooks, strong personalities or simple in-game development that make you remember them fondly.

      A more alien and wacky cast would have helped, sure (where is the Philethis companion? How about an Abykos only you can see?). Just one additional wacky and possibly insane character thrown into the mix would have helped tremendously.

      But that wasn’t really necessary, as the current roster’s premises are interesting on their own right (except Tybir). The problem is that there is a distinct lack of chemistry, humor and warmth between them and the main character. And their personal quests are resolved in rather anticlimactic ways, often near the end of the game, and with minimal mechanical impact.

      Note that I loved the companion banter in this game. The characters might not have chemistry with the main character, but they had it among themselves. Sadly these relations didn’t lead anywhere.
      • Interesting narrative with anti-climactic resolutions.

        One consistent criticism the game has received that I agree with is that the ending is disappointing. While in part this is a symptom of a larger narrative problem (lack of personal stakes in the main narrative), most of it can be pinpointed to the abrupt, extraneous introduction of the “Tides are inherently bad” element from the Sorrow.

        So, I’m wrapped up in this awesome story where a grief-stricken father tried to save his daughter and lost his way, discover that the main players are in a way all phantoms looking for catharsis, acknowledge the unique position of my character to bring this story to an end, and suddenly…

        An antagonist comes from nowhere and explains to me that this saga I’m invested in is really not important, and that actually I should kill thousand of my brethren because we’re bad and I should feel bad, since I cause suffering through techno-magickry. Say - what?

        Now, the story I‘m actually interested in fades to a second plane, and I’m supposed to make an ill-informed decision that has nothing to do with legacy, the Changing God, the nature of consciousness, and those other, actually interesting subjects the plot was hinting at. So, now I need to either kill thousands of innocents, destroy an ancient being and discover that it actually spoke the truth and make thousands suffer as a result, keep things as they were rendering the entire adventure moot, or “merge” (i.e., kill) thousand of minds without their consent into a normal being that has no shared mindspace, again rendering everything moot.

        See, while I found some of these options intellectually and morally interesting, the abrupt, uninformed and extraneous aspect of the whole thing made them feel jarring and emotionally null anyway.

        Now, this very same ending could have worked much better with just a few text-only retouches. For instance: instead of taking it on its word, you should be able to press the Sorrow on the nature of the evil Castoffs bring, and either persuade it of the absurdity of its mission with all information gleaned through the game (if the Castoffs suffering is the same that other beings bring, but magnified by their power), or persuade yourself that she has a point (if the pains Castoff bring are inherent to the Tides and this is sufficiently explained). In addition: offering a complex out-of-the-box solution to the predicament, such as keeping all Castoffs distinct inside the Labyrinth, living eternally in a shared mindspace of their own making, while the Last Castoff’s body remained in stasis in the Blooms Heart, the Crystal World Stasis chamber or other place. Or having time-distorting mere experience that brings the whole thing tumbling down by temporal paradox, and brings yourself to nonexistence.

        NOTE: the game's penultimate Mere hints at alternate solutions ("I have discovered something about Miika's disease the Changing God didn't know", Surrimene Crystal, etc.), but I haven't been able to achieve anything with them. They sound as recipes for clever, Gordian-Knot-breaking ending resolutions (deploying a Resonance Charged Tidal Surge on Miika and reviving her, finding the Surrimene Crystal in the Ashen Imitation quest, discovering its purpose in the Mere and using it to good effect against the Sorrow, etc.).

        This general lack of catharsis and anticlimactic streak is common to the narrative as soon as the meeting with the First Castoff starts and the plot rushes towards its resolution. It’s not that there are no interesting concepts to explore, it’s that THERE ARE interesting concepts, and they remain unexplored. The story needed more time and room to breathe. For instance:
        • What makes the First Castoff tick? What’s she about anyway? She seems ruthless but driven by compassion, but we don’t get to know her, we just get glimpses at what could be an interest antagonist and/or ally.
        • The Labyrinth is a shared mindspace and is tied to the Changing God’s resurrection mechanic. This should have been explored earlier, in more depth, giving you a chance to “hack” the mechanics of resurrection and argue properly with the Specter and the Sorrow.
          Maybe it's my interpretation, but at some point the game hints that the Changing God's mind transfer is a botched copy-paste job, that essentially erases the memory pointers, without actually deleting the "core" data (whatever that is). So in a way, the Changing God's consciousness/soul/whatnot resided in the Castoff formatting (FAT32?) matrix where he imprinted his memories. Every single Castoff, then, IS the Changing God, and the Labyrinth is a reflection of this shared-spirit matrix. You should have taken this idea and ran with it, as it's implications are fascinating.
        Another big offender is that companion quest resolution required metagaming knowledge to know when to have them in your party (Oom, Erritis, Tybir, Callistege). For instance, Erritis final decision was dependent on having him on the party on one specific moment (bringing him to the First Castoff encounter), regardless of what you said or did to him before. I wouldn’t mind it if you needed to bring them to specific places if there was a, however subtle, warning that it was to be so. There’s nothing of the sort.
        • Tybir.

          I don’t understand what the point of this character is. He doesn’t illuminate the setting in any way, even being related to the Endless War. He has dubious ties to the main game themes. He’s supposed to be smooth and manipulative, but comes off as creepy and bitter (no problem with that, but he should have negative --Persuasion). You expect either betrayal or redemptive revelation from him at every turn, but nothing comes of it.

          To be honest, he seems like an effort to include a gay character that can’t help but advertise he’s gay constantly. Frankly, I don’t know if this is supposed to be transgressive in this day and age. Oom can be gay for all we care. The point is if he’s an interesting, fun and/or intriguing guy to travel with.

          I don’t actively dislike him, and actually had him in my party quite often, but his early appearance really hurt the game by robbing the early party composition of more thematically-reinforcing buddies.
          • Tides.

            The Tides are an interesting “don’t-call-it-morality” system, and are well tracked and integrated with the game’s many choices, but sometimes their effect feels either shallow or annoying.

            The most visible thing they do is senselessly lock the players from a few key options (i.e.: merge with Specter ending), something they were explicitly stated wouldn’t do. Few mechanics or items overtly interact with the Tides (though Oom changed that quite a bit - good call on that). I understand that a lot of dialogue interactions do react to the Tidal Alignment, but it's rather opaque on a first playthrough (not a bad thing by itself). That said, these reactions can sometimes feel a bit flat or anticlimactic (“so you’re Gold tide then? Help me and don’t expect pay from me”).

            Still, they are heads and shoulders above the customary RPG "morality systems". Just a couple of additional Tidal reactive items or abilities would have been enough to bring them to the foreground in the players' minds.

            Note that the nature of the genre (a dude goes around asking questions and presumably helps people with ulterior motives or not) makes Blue/Gold all-too easy to achieve. All the while, the other Tides are often written in such a way that makes clear the writers couldn’t find a positive side to them (which would have warranted their redefinition, but I digress).

            From a narrative standpoint, the Tides themselves are somewhat unsatisfactorily integrated with the setting (the hyper-materialism of Numenera quickly points out they’re not metaphysical, mystical, nor an intractable mystery, but no explanation, mechanics or reflections on their nature are forthcoming). This is also related with the unfulfilling ending dilemma.

            On a related note, Legacies amount to a three line slide on the ending. Better to remove them as a consideration and make a more free-form ending slide for the Last Castoff.
            • Hand-holding.

              The game would have benefited with more old-school minimum hand-holding sensibility. For example:
              • After the very beginning of the game, almost all tasks become too easy for the main character. The character progression should be slower, and the tasks slightly more difficult overall. Also, the balance skill vs. edge is too much on the edge side.
              • The journal should be less specific about what options are open to you.
              • Some puzzles could be bypassed by using appropriate Lore skill, which made less satisfying to have them (Ancient Box oddity, etc.).
              • More true puzzles would have been welcome. In particular, puzzles where you actually used cyphers out-of-combat would have been great.
              • Trade-offs for risky behavior should be greater (health pool damage should double at least).
              • In general, rewards for being a douche-bag and sacrifices for helping others should increase. For instance, the bonus Erritis gets from being empowered by the Audience should be much bigger, to “tempt” the player.
              • In the Valley of Dead Heroes, there should be no shortcuts to tombs at all before first typing them manually.
              • The Voluminous Codex.

                The Codex was neither voluminous, nor well integrated to the game. I appreciate you trying to fulfill a backer promise, but the Codex as it stands is just checking a box, without really delivering on the promise.

                The Codex was supposed to be something integrated to the game (it should exist as an actual, physical object you acquire in the course of your adventure, as the Nameless One’s spell-book or journal). It was supposed to be reactive to your knowledge of the setting (for instance, knowing the nature of the Spectre doesn’t update its entry). And finally, it was supposed to be voluminous. While the Codex is quite complete and has quite a bit of text, it really doesn’t fell “huge” in either figurative or literal senses.

                The thing is, many fun things could have been made with this feature:
                • An oddity/cypher archive that conserved info on all such items you ever owned, and maybe could be used to produce them with help.
                • A “research center” where you could use Lore skill checks, in-game conversation and Tidal affinities to fill entries on key subjects (Tides and so on). Some entries could be later used on conversations (think Alpha Protocol’s dossiers).
                • A way to integrate concept art, promotional videos, novellas and other materials to the game in an organic manner.
                • Cyphers.

                  Numenera is a setting founded on the premise of “lets make players spend their consumables” with mechanics created expressly to that purpose (cypher sickness). In Tides, the mechanics are there but the hoarding instinct is just too strong. The points are: cyphers are very cool, VERY cool. Throwing a burning mouse or using the fog of war revealer means I permanently lose it, lose its story, for a dubious advantage.

                  This is no fault of the game, but I feel you can do more to encourage the cypher totting-style that’s supposed to be at the core of the setting.
                  • Cypher archive (see entry on Voluminous Codex).
                  • Cypher replication of some kind (see entry on Codex again) is enough to break the psychological aversion to loss (even if its crazy expensive and functionally unpractical).
                  • More though combat situations that demand their use, and more non-combat uses for cyphers.
                  • Rewards/feedback for using cyphers: say, use 5 cyphers and the Order of Truth gives you a “honorary member” ornament, use 10 cyphers and Aligern gives you some safety tips that grant you a Cypher carrying bonus, etc.
                  • Miscellaneous things to improve:
                    • The Labyrinth felt underwhelming. It was probably the most conceptually interesting thing in the game (shared mindspaces, storing memories vs. storing consciousness, could you live entirely within it/your own mind, who are reflections anyway, etc.), and also the most mechanically flexible (you could put dungeons, reflections of your companions you could glean info from, puzzles and quests that changed your skill, attributes and even focus, pretty much anything you chose). But it remained painfully underutilized to the end.
                    • Implants increase the gap between the main character and his companions. They should have drawbacks (permanent HP loss, handicapped skills, etc.).
                      By the way, the “Encroaching Darkness” teased-upon concept was a lost opportunity. This implant should have zero benefits initially. With each sleep you would have a small dialog prompt with the tattoo taking over more of your body. With enough sleeps and area transitions (say, in the Bloom), it would “speak” with you and grant you a benefit with a drawback.
                    • Turn-based combat would really have benefited with an animation speed slider, or an instant resolution button (space-bar).
                    • The main character looking as a dull averaged-face pretty-boy with a promising modeling career may be thematically consistent, but boy is it dull. Playing an old scarred amnesiac was cool when I was a kid. Playing a wet behind the ears bland-faced kid is uncool for kids and old-codgers like me alike. Note that I, unlike most, didn’t mind the female face, she had a bit of personality.
                      At any rate, I would have appreciated if the burns where more severe. And the faces more idiosyncratic, with stronger features. A face that made the “I am the Changing God” intimidating responses ring true.
                    • The only class that gets a truly distinctive “replay worthy” ability is the Nano with “Scan Thoughts”.
                      For Jack, the role equivalent is “Flex Skill”, but befuddlingly the game opens up with an amulet that grants just that skill (the Scan Thoughts amulet comes too late to be a consideration), and doesn’t stack with the natural Jack version.
                      Glaives have several distinctive skills, but they only come into play in combat and are not “replay worthy”.
                      Both the Jack and the Glaive could use a conversation/exploration twist that is unique to them and rewards replays. But at the bare minimum, the Flex Skill amulet should be moved to the end of the game.
                    • I missed more "just for fun" combat to test character progression and give me an excuse to use my cyphers. While combat is not a focus of this kind of game, it is the ideal way to transmit the player the idea that his character is getting more experienced and capable, and to reward his efforts. Some “non deadly” combat interspersed around would have been welcome. The Labyrinth would have been ideal for this purpose.
                    • Reflections should come with heavy pros and cons so it would make sense to selectively activate them.
                    • The interface visual design should have taken pointers from PS:T. It should be less schematic and have more of a physical, tactile, even baroque, feel. It should feel a part of the gameworld - a numenera that itself acts as a window to the world of numenera. Note that functionally, however, it’s quite alright.
                    • Foreman’s Brood quest: giving Tarnish the Turbine for him to use at discretion would have been an obvious, satisfying solution. Fortunately, persuading the Foreman resulted in the outcome I was looking for.
                    • Oom's "banter" with the other companions should be fully voiced to bring it in line with the rest (it's quite funny too, so it's a particular shame it's not voiced).
                    • The Anchorage should have found some utility after evacuating the Lascars. At the minimum, a small merchant/cypher scavenger team should have appeared afterwards.
                    • Trying to patch up Callistege and Aligern's relationship: you learn that your Tidal Surge at the start of the game broke their already straining relationship. It would be nice to at least tell them about it. Even better would be to somewhat patch things up, maybe even allowing them to travel together (a nice, organic reward for this ad-hoc quest). I think it would be neat having them use the "Rings of Entanglement" factor in the solution.
                    • Cutscenes : the much maligned "cutscenes" were a staple of 80 and 90s gaming, and I tend to enjoy them for what they offer - pacing tool and player reward in one neat package. I would have enjoyed some cutscenes in the style of the excellent Story Trailer. Heck, the scenes in that trailer could have been used with small adaptation at many junctions in the game. Particularly the ending could have used that touch.
                    • Deeper Factions and Cults (Memorialists, Dendra O'hur, Cult of the Changing God, Order of Truth, etc.). This is a pretty large scope change from the Kickstarter, as Tides doesn't even have PST's simplistic (but satisfying) faction system. I don't know if the game's narrative supports joining, say, the Dendra O'hur, but at the least I would have enjoyed a deeper understanding of their foundation, story and philosophy and a few exclusive items for those who help them / "join" them (for example, it's a shame we can't wear the grotesque and wonderful armor designs of the Dendra concept art).
                    • Achievements and Cloud Saves on GoG.
                    • Effort mechanics.
                      Numenera's effort system is designed for an intuitive, fast PnP experience, so I was quite satisfied by the way you made it work for the much different environment of a CRPG.

                      That said, some balancing and design considerations (some I have touched upon before) would have helped to make it much more robust and satisfying. For instance:
                      • Character specialization is quite opaque when performing tasks, which makes character advancement somewhat unsatisfying. While a bigger role for skills vis-à-vis Edge would have helped with this, it's mostly a presentation issue. So, for instance, you could have shown icons for characters with the relevant skills, icons for the skills of the task at hand, and maybe a color-coded aura in each character's portrait showing base skill bonus (from red to green as skill increases). That way you would more readily tell stuff like: "hey, this Matkina was consistently useful for Quick Fingers, but she's getting behind now".
                      • Lack of difficulty after first part of game. As reported before, specialization meant that after the very early stages of the game most tasks were trivially easy, making the alternate failure modes quite inaccessible and the sense of character achievement lessened.
                        I believe a slower leveling curve, smaller benefits from Edge (with corresponding larger benefits from skill specialization), a small selective task difficulty increase and maybe some clever mechanics (e.g. frequent status effects affecting skill chances from non-combat events, bigger roles for critical success, etc.) would have taken care of the problem quite readily.
                      • The introduction of a HP resource and elimination of stats being effectively HP pools took a lot of the "edge" out of the game system. Managing your three resources would have made sleeping and managing your effort consumption much more important.
                        While I understand it would have created strange mechanics (e.g.: crisis you couldn't overcome without someone dying), you could have worked within the system (effort recouping abilities, etc.) and developed quite an original and resource management-focused system from this.
                        You chose to keep it simple and easy instead and brought in the traditional HP concept, which is both functional and disappointing for an otherwise risky game.
                      • The mid-to-late game would have benefited from tighter resource pools. This could be achieved by several means: the HP-less Numenera system described above, bigger trade-offs for sleeping (MotB's Spirit Meter comes to mind) or others. The sometimes deleterious effects of the passage of time were an interesting way you factored this in (why you had to die, Qeek, why?). It just needed another nudge in this direction.
                      • Visual design.

                        Now, one of the faults I find in the Numenera setting is the conceptually inelegant anything-goes and everything-is-super-amazing (so... nothing is) design philosophy. Seeing screenshots made me think that the game's aesthetics would dramatically embody that problem.

                        I’m glad to report that I actually was pleasantly surprised by the visual design of the game. While some areas where a mishmash of unrelated "amazing" stuff (when it felt appropriate), overall they were not, and all had great imagination and care put into them. They also felt alive and full of detail, with lots of small animations that really made them jump out. Truly, the screenshots really don’t make the game justice.

                        While I feel other recent isometric games are perhaps more technically and aesthetically accomplished, this one wins out in having the world feel much more interesting and memorable.
                        • Sound design and Soundtrack.

                          The overall sound design is great and reinforces the uniqueness of the areas. For instance, the Bloom is really disgusting, as it’s supposed to. The are some sound engineering problems, however (see: muffled responses in character screen).

                          The voice acting is very good (the guy who did Aligern did a particularly good job), even if the character development itself is sometimes anticlimactic, as discussed.

                          The soundtrack is classic Mark Morgan in that its not bombastic nor obtrusive, works great in setting the ambient, and tends to grow on you the more you listen. Perhaps there aren’t strikingly memorable leitmotifs that carry the game as in PS:T, but the soundtrack is pretty solid. I feel the track placement could improve, however (this is related with the game’s pacing – the First Castoff theme is good, but you can’t “bond” with it since the character itself is underutilized).
                          • Fun Items.

                            I love having items that have unique stories. This game delivered, and how so. Even the more throwaway vendor trash is better written than your average AAA game (granted, not at tall order, but you get the idea). I am Diogenes Syndrome-level hoarder in this game.
                            • Breaking new ground.

                              I was quite happy to find you didn't fastidiously and blindly replicate PS:T, but that you tried to bring new elements to the fold when it made sense. I have to say I found most of your experiments successful, or at the very least interesting enough that they should be revisited in future games. For example:
                              • "Crisis" events instead of combat: some people didn't like this, but I found it pure genius - making a common system for all time-critical, risk-of-death situations allowed for the flexibility (persuasion, exploration, environment interaction) you may find in a PnP "combat" encounter or challenge.
                                By the way, while the combat mechanics could have used some more depth, I found them functional and satisfying enough. If anything, you should have added to the spectacle of the thing with over-the-top PST/JRPG animations to some of the high-end cyphers and spells. But as it stands combat is quite nice for what it is (barring some slowdowns and hiccups).
                              • Failed skill checks that may bring interesting and beneficial effects: a wonderful way to encourage exploration, and "hide" alternate solutions and weird situations (the broken clock was great). It didn't save me from my compulsive save-and-reload syndrome, since I now added failures to it, but it greatly added to the depth and reactivity.
                              • Meres: a "chose your own adventure" game-within-a-game that made sense in the context of the gameworld. I love CYOAs, so I'm instantly sold, but even if I did not, this was tastefully presented and intriguingly integrated through the time-altering mechanics.
                                If anything, they should have been exploited even more - there was a pacing problem with the meres not being properly interspersed. And there were lost opportunities to integrate and disclose the timeline-alteration powers to the player (I understand the Beta had an early Mere through which clever players could infer their reality-bending power before the plot revealed them explicitly - a damn shame that's gone). Also, I missed ending resolutions that involved clever time paradox shenanigans.
                              • Mix of party-supported and main-character-only skill checks: not a new feature as such, but not too common in RPGs. I like that when it makes sense my companions can lend me a hand, they are able to, but in situations were only the main character is equipped to respond, no "magical" assistance is forthcoming.
                            • Backer experience.

                              Not much to say that hadn’t been said before, but I wanted to lay my personal position anyway.

                              The late, incomplete, and apparently forced communication of the missed Stretch goals reflected very poorly on you. This game was kickstarted by a bunch of old codgers, many who work in unrelated complex fields and can understand the misalignment of expectations versus realities on the ground. Most of us suspected what was going on when the game leadership was shaken up. A timely reporting of the situation would have been understood by most, if not all of us. Trying to sneak up the missed promises (if that wasn’t your intention, the optics of the case are not favorable) felt more than a bit disrespectful.

                              To add insult to injury, we have the sad case of the Backers Collector’s edition being both more expensive and less complete than the commercially available one. Not to mention the dubious quality of some materials (easily broken cardboard framing, cheap DVD-cases, minimal size booklets). However, I must say that all the printed contents were of quite a high quality and the box itself very nice, so it was not bad.

                              I’m not resentful, nor feel ripped off in any way, but you probably won’t have me as a future backer, and only cautiously as a buyer, unless a very sincere effort is made to acknowledge and correct these errors.
                            Last edited by PirroEpirote on February 13th, 2018, 12:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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                            Re: A *thank you*, a pseudo-review and a towering wall of text

                            Post by vv221 » February 5th, 2018, 2:58 pm

                            Really great review and sound pieces of advice, thank you for this ;)

                            Hey, you even make me want to fire the game again, after putting it aside due to bugs-induced frustration…

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                            Re: A *thank you*, a pseudo-review and a towering wall of text

                            Post by PirroEpirote » February 6th, 2018, 10:44 am

                            Glad you enjoyed it. I thank you for your kind words and salute your fortitude in scaling this particular wall-of-text. :D

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                            Re: A *thank you*, a pseudo-review and a towering wall of text

                            Post by Firkraag » February 6th, 2018, 11:58 am

                            Thaks for your review.

                            It aligns well with many of my own conclusions and experiences.

                            That problem is that "mixed response" doesn't even begin to cover my reaction to the game. I haven't written any review either here, on Steam or GOG because I don't trust myself to keep a cool attitude.

                            So, thank you for putting this review here.
                            "I am a warhead of weaponized Truth." The Last Castoff (non-canon).

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                            Re: A *thank you*, a pseudo-review and a towering wall of text

                            Post by PirroEpirote » February 6th, 2018, 12:42 pm

                            My thanks to you.

                            I get what you say. I hold PS:T as the best PC game I had the pleasure to play, so the shortcomings in this project stung really bad.

                            The apparent behind the scenes mismanagement and subsequent cuts, combined with the (unintentional, but still) disregard for backers made me feel ambivalent towards the project at best. And I'm a "cup is half-empty" kind of guy too.

                            But still, Tides feels like a game that was made by people who understood what made PS:T tick, and that's pretty much a miracle this day. Not many folks around who have both the chops and (most importantly) the interest and passion to make this kind of game again.

                            Going in with a clear mind, a lot of time after the release, made me appreciate what it had to offer. It's still a joy to play, even if they came short to capture lightning in a bottle again.

                            Heck, in my mad hope, I see them bringing the original scope back from the chopping block and working on the game's pacing, bringing it to its place among the All-Time-Greats.

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                            Re: A *thank you*, a pseudo-review and a towering wall of text

                            Post by Firkraag » February 6th, 2018, 11:55 pm

                            The one thing I can say for sure, I don't regret risking to bet on this Kickstarter.

                            It's a neat collection of sci-fantasy short stories, tied together with a nice aesthetics and lore, at the very least.

                            It's just, the game still seems so unfinished... Abandoned. Is that hope realistic, at all? Or everyone fled the sinking ship, already?
                            "I am a warhead of weaponized Truth." The Last Castoff (non-canon).

                            "Colin's period as Jesus was an interesting time." © Brother_None

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                            Re: A *thank you*, a pseudo-review and a towering wall of text

                            Post by PirroEpirote » February 7th, 2018, 10:31 am

                            Nah, I don't think it's a realistic hope.

                            Still, a "Special++ Uncut Edition" wouldn't be that far-fetched. It would help them to recover from some of the bad press they got with the fans and give the product a fresh relaunch.

                            Bug-fixing and some pacing and balance tweaking could be done relatively on the cheap. A more ambitious effort to restore part of the original scope and improve pacing along the way would still be realistic - they've probably got the pre-production, and a good part of the assets, of whatever crazy plans they've originally had. It wouldn't take obscene resources if they had good project management and reassigned people who knew the pipeline. I put it in the scale of a meaty expansion pack.

                            But it's wishful thinking anyway.

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                            Re: A *thank you*, a pseudo-review and a towering wall of text

                            Post by phimseto » February 20th, 2018, 2:26 pm

                            I passed this around internally, yet ended up forgetting to say thank you for this great review and Torment-appropriate "towering wall of text"! Belated thanks and glad to have you as a fan!

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                            Re: A *thank you*, a pseudo-review and a towering wall of text

                            Post by PirroEpirote » February 21st, 2018, 10:41 am

                            Thank you for your words and for passing this around phimseto.

                            My intention was to thank the developers for giving us the chance to once again enjoy a game with this design philosophy, to encourage them to continue the arduous task of reviving this mini-genre, and to give some honest feedback that perhaps could be useful for your next projects (AND for further developments on the Tides front - a front that shouldn't be abandoned), so I really appreciate that you guys took the time to look into this.

                            By the way, I have been updating this (last edit seems to be Feb. 13th) with even more deranged ramblings (more thoughts about the ending, the Effort system, and so on) so the brave/insane souls among you that try to read this might want to consider checking out version 2.0.

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