Older Is Better, But It’s Still Old

Cube World, Pt. 3

Older isn’t always better, but there’s definitely areas in which it is. For example, I am definitely not a fan of the direction UIs went, and it’s not just necessarily being old and curmudgeonly: there was a systemic organization of most of the functions associated with any given program, that generally, allowed a user to figure out where the thing they were looking for is by their familiarity with other programs, and whatever the thing they were looking for was needed to do.

The way of the old was a bunch of drop down menus instead of buttons, but… Buttons don’t really convey as much as a single word can. “File, Edit, Tools,” and so forth was how I learned how to use a computer, and when it comes to certain work-related things like writing, so much prefer this over mousing over a button while I’m trying to find the right one – at least I feel like I’m getting somewhere, maybe even to the right spot.

And that’s a lot like Cube World’s Alpha compared to its Beta. I loaded up the game, and pretty quickly, I had a wildly different experience than the Beta in one of the most key areas I can think of: I felt like I was, pretty immediately, progressing. Whereas my first forty minutes in the Beta, I was totally lost.

This is a semi-unfair comparison. I have played the Alpha in the past, I simply really couldn’t remember it very well at the time of trying the Beta, but I should say that the Alpha had a much different vertical progression, and my biggest hurdle in getting into it was getting over my ‘fear’ from the Beta.

Pretty early on in the game I was set upon by a trash panda with a red name, informing me they was several levels above me. At first I tried running, because, well, the Beta made me think my character would be unable to fight, but as soon as I decided to turn and fight, it became pretty clear I had a solid chance, which itself is a far cry from the Beta as-is.

Even things as simple as talking to NPCs was generally a superior experience. The player isn’t informed who has new information for them, which while ‘immersive’ is a bit of a problem when most NPCs are fairly unrecognizable. You can totally come across adventurers out in the Beta’s wilds in towns, and if you met them in towns, vice-versa applies. On the one hand it’s neat to know, but on the other, it makes most interactions with NPCs pretty much a matter of spam the interact button, and if they have something for you, well, good job.

After that, however, gameplay somewhat stagnates into a low-level grind. While in the Beta, the player needs simply to find a boat or a hang glider to use them; in the Alpha, the player needs to level up their skills in order to use these items. With that in mind, however, these items are generally less effective than their Alpha counterparts, but to a certain extent, I prefer the more authentic behavior of the Beta hang glider, and I think with enough speed (the primary contributing factor of the hang gliding skill from Alpha) that the Beta’s hang glider would offer a far superior gameplay experience.

Progressing through the actual combat skill tree highlights that the real critical lack in the Alpha was primarily a lack of tactical variety to mix up the existing content and keep it fresh. The primary goal of combat is to maintain a combo, but as you’re doing it, there’s simply not a lot of variety, so fighting a boss can take an excruciatingly long time that’s drawn out by the repetitive nature of the fight.

That was the last twenty-something seconds of a boss fight which itself lasted probably something like four to five minutes. Nothing really was missed that doesn’t take place over and over again in that under half a minute, but the nice thing is, immediately after beating that boss, I’m rewarded substantially with a Spirit Cube, essentially Cube World’s enchanting material for upgrading a weapon you like.

Something that I would probably do in the Alpha. In the Beta, I did it to my sword only so much as to see that the functionality was still in fact in game. After that, there was not so much as a reason to touch it, given that the player is specifically discouraged from ever forming any sort of attachment to gear in Beta.

As far as comparing the two iterations, there’s really only two things I haven’t touched on. The first is that the Alpha is pretty populated with entities in an appropriate manner. If I walk around a Lake area, there’s going to be a bunch of aquatic enemies, both around the shore, a reasonable distance from it, and in the water. If I walk into a Dark or Enchanted Forest in the Beta, the only thing that really tells me I’m in a dark forest is the flora.

The second is that various facets of the world gen feel far superior from Alpha, like the way roads and rivers will cut through mountains and plateaus, or the castle layouts, but these don’t quite make up for the remarkably solid world gen that the Beta has, it’s more that they’re nice things I know I’ll miss if I go back to the Beta, but since I’ve touched on those, that leaves me about out of things to say in regards to the state of either version that are actual observations. The issue now is, what should Cube World’s Beta do to move forward?

The first and second steps are definitely going back:

The game absolutely needs to go return to its roots and embrace the classic RPG mechanics that formed its foundation. Region locking needs to be done away with, post-haste. Modders have already effectively removed it, and while there are a few strange folks who defend it, this is one of those situations where something needs to be clear. The true glimmer of a good idea behind the horrible mechanical implications, is really the bad execution of an idea plenty of games already possess, which is to say, an elective reset, rather than one which is not by choice.

The game needs a true vertical progression system and one which is better handled than the current loot system. Whether it is XP based or artifact based doesn’t entirely matter, what matter is that both the player’s combat and traversal skills should be upgraded over time, and the player needn’t worry about losing anything when crossing an arbitrary border.

With the current way the Beta works, I believe if boats and hang gliders were upgrades after the initial boat and glider were obtained, and I think that idea alone presents a better system than both the Beta and Alpha, as the latter’s skills, while powerful, were extremely tedious, and the former’s systems are simply incorrigible without severe changes to the region system.

Wollay needs to learn lessons other developers have learned, derive inspiration from them, as well as vindication about his own project.

Over the course of the week, I think there’s a few things which in order for Cube World to grow right, Wollay needs to understand. The first is that in terms of developing Cube World, Wollay really needs to look at both:

  • Minecraft
  • Terraria

What in particular needs to be learned from either of these games? Primarily that small dashes of content over the course of the game’s lifetime sets a fairly reasonable pace for game development. Minecraft and Terraria’s updates were usually pretty small sets of working features and items that slowly were iterated into the game. Given, in particular, the community’s opinion of Wollay given his past actions, adopting a style of development that matches Minecraft and Terraria’s approach would absolutely behoove Cube World, and not just because it’s kind of like those games’ weird but kinda cool cousin.

Now, Minecraft and Terraria have had huge updates, but these have all come about later and later in both game’s lifespans, and neither game ever particularly had a core alteration of it’s basic progression. Terraria’s threatening an update that will, and it will likely be Terraria’s last big update (but didn’t they say that last time…?).

In regards to the lessons that need to be learned, I think the biggest thing that Cube World needs, is a jump start to the pacing. There’s one particular series which very well exemplifies this.

  • Monster Hunter World
  • (Any Other Monster Hunter game)

Essentially, the core supposition with this is that the early game of most any Monster Hunter game besides Monster Hunter World has a glacier’s pacing. Monster Hunter World takes that pacing and kicks it right out the door with a fairly reasonable alternative: getting the player into the action of hunting big monsters almost immediately, while any other Monster Game is going to have the player gathering mushrooms.

What. I’m not joking. That’s what they do.

In regards to inspiration, there are similar action games and RPGs that use control systems fairly similar to Cube World. These games have interesting skills to use in combat that really define their gameplay, and skill variety is a huge thing Cube World is lacking. Having character skills that are useful in both traversal and combat would significantly add to the game, and as far as figuring out what moves are cool, fortunately a lot of people have already done the work:

  • Risk of Rain 2
  • Dragon Nest
  • KurtzPel

I’d throw things like Vindictus in that list, but I’ve never actually played Vindictus myself so I’m going to instead make mention of it here and say, definitely maybe? That said, games like Dragon Nest have a long amount of vertical progression before horizontal progression is even allowed – makes it a pain to reference, but, I still think it’s worthwhile to look at, while Risk of Rain 2 provides fairly immediate access, and if need-be, it’s possible to unlock all the characters and skills with some cheating.

Still, a little bit of this would go a long way for Cube World.

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