Gut Check: Core

No one is quite sure how video games are actually made, with many scientists believing them to be the result of some sort of dark magic or inter-planar phenomenon, but I’m here to present my latest findings on the matter. All of my evidence suggests that people make video games on their computers, utilizing software like Unity or the Unreal Engine to accomplish the laborious task of crafting a game from nothing but bits and bytes. Then there are the people who are using Core to make bad versions of much better and more popular games, except these versions are loaded with micro-transactions and terrible controls. Sounds fun, right?

If you’ve never heard of Core, rest assured you’re not alone. It popped up in the new releases section on the Epic storefront, billing itself as a game creation and playing platform akin to something like Dreams on the PlayStation 4. So I took the plunge and tried out this new content creation platform, and boy howdy is it rough. Now I will say that Core is technically in early access and is actively being worked on, but within ten seconds of playing it you pretty much get what’s going on here and what kind of games are being made.

Core is less Dreams and more Roblox in the sense that, as far as I could tell, every game is made with the conceit of being online multiplayer enabled, although further research revealed that single player content can also be generated. You’re dropped into a lobby with other real people running around and riding on hoverboards, moving between platforms that highlight popular games, active games, and another one which seems to be where the developers will highlight the winners of creation contests and stuff. So I perused some of the community’s offerings and boy-howdy, all I can say is that it’s extremely dangerous to give people the ability to infused micro-transactions into their games, because they will go buck-wild.

Out of the five games I played, almost all of them had some sort of mobile game, money sucking mechanics in it. The first game I played was a Marble Madness styled experience where you and the other people in the lobby race through an obstacle course towards the finish line. The game itself was fine, but the physics, and this is going to be a running theme, were pretty wonky. Jumps weren’t reliable and you’d hit a piece of geometry in the wrong way and send your marble flying into space. But hey, there was a daily check-in station in case I wanted to come back tomorrow and play this super cool game, earning some extra marble-bucks or whatever.

The next thing I tried was a survival game where you and a bunch of players are in a plane, crash on an island, and try to survive. Once again, controlling the game wasn’t my favorite part of the experience, and every game I played was deeply flawed on that level. Everything just felt a little too inaccurate, which is a problem when you’re trying to bash a rock with a pick ax for a full minute, only to realize that half of your hits have been missing. Also, the fact that it was a bunch of people playing on the same server didn’t make for the smoothest or most stable online experience, but that seems like a Core issue more than the game creator’s fault.

What is a game creator issue is the inclusion of mobile game styled timers. There was no shortage of opportunities for me to spend diamonds to speed up my timers on growing plants, crafting items and researching recipes. Now follow me on this, cause this might get a bit confusing, but the way you obtain diamonds in this game was by trading in the paid currency you can buy in Core for real actual earth dollars. It was pretty gross to see those mechanics implemented in a user generated game, but I guess everyone’s trying to make a buck somehow.

After way too much of that, I moved onto a bad mini-golf game. You wanna talk about whack physics in a game, look no further than whatever this golf game was called. It was basically a worse version of Golf With your Friends, which is a fun game you should play instead of this. It had all sorts of wacky courses to play through, all of which you were playing through with other people who were also having trouble dialing in the strength of shots, just like I did. Or maybe they were also fighting with the atrocious camera that would rather show you the scenery than where your ball was. But hey, if I come back tomorrow, I’ll get like 800 fun coins or whatever.

Next, I played a game that billed itself as a “true” action-RPG, a claim that was made by a big fat liar. You start in a town with a sword and can walk outside the gates to kill generic NPC dudes with swords, skeletons with swords, or a big rock monster. That basically involves mashing the left mouse button in the general vicinity of an enemy until they die. You do that a bunch of times until you level up, pick up some gold off of the enemies, and return to town to level up and maybe buy new weapons. You can buy a sword, a sword and shield, a crossbow, a hammer or some magic staff along with a bevy of skins. All of these things have price and level requirements, but it all just seemed in service of getting better weapons to run into a higher level field to run that loop all over again. It’s immediately boring and the maker must have realized that because they literally put in places for your character to idle AFK and gain gold or experience. Maybe that’s a thing in MMOs, I don’t know, but it was incredibly wild to see for myself. I suspect this was in an attempt to boost their active player count by inciting people to literally not play their game, while playing their game.

Finally there was this real fucker of a game that was all about messing with you through misdirection and straight up bullshit. It’s one of those trial and error type platforming games that streamers love to play, like Kaizo Mario or I Wanna Be the Guy. But imagine doing it with a bunch of other people and god awful physics, wouldn’t that be fun? Well actually, it kind of was. Not because of the game, no that was weapons grade bullshit right there, but interacting with the other people on the course was kind of nice. We all hated this stupid game and started helping each other by communicating in the text chat. We’d call out secret platforms or lead each other through invisible mazes. It had been so long since I’d engaged any online play because it usual sucks, but these people were genuinely good to each other. We all helped navigate the deluge of invisible platforming challenges and mazes that made the game such a chore, but through our collective stubbornness and spite for the game, we overcame. At the end of it all it just reset me back to the beginning, but it was a really positive interaction nonetheless.

But it’s hard to poke fun at the people who spent time making these games, because they probably put a lot of work into making them and I don’t want to detract from that. Sure a lot of them put in some pretty nasty mobile game mechanics into their games, but they still took the time to make a thing. With that thought, I checked in on the creation stuff and it seemed pretty dense and involved, although Core does let you pick from a list of premade concepts like racing, fighting, king of the hill and more, to give you a better starting point than just a blank screen. So I loaded up a deathmatch prefab and immediately was overwhelmed by the tools available and closed it, which could be interpreted as the tools being fairly robust, or me just not having the patience for that shit.

Everything about Core just screams unfinished which makes sense for a game that’s been in some version of early access for the past few years, but even inside of user created games everything just feels messy. No UI in any game I played actually looked good or was an efficient use of screen real estate, with everything instead looking like a placeholder for a placeholder. Interacting with stuff, moving the characters, all of it just felt muddy and imprecise across every game inside of Core, which speaks to a larger issue with the platform that needs to be resolved. If the platform isn’t giving people the appropriate tools to make a fun game, then every game on that service, regardless of its ambition or craft will feel stunted in some way because the engine behind it is inherently flawed.

I don’t ever want to see a game fail, but I just don’t know if Core will ever catch on in a sustainable way. Maybe if they tighten up the physics and general interaction stuff, integrate some proper controller support and overall just allow people to create more refined and interesting content might make it something worth sticking with, but as it is I just don’t see it lasting. Although it is free, and that does seem like an attractive enough price point for people to engage with for the time being. Maybe it’ll be a quiet success like Roblox is or maybe it’ll fade into obscurity like Project Spark did, but ultimately I bet streamers will enjoy this thing if only to rag on it to their audience, which is basically what I’ve done here in written form, so mission accomplished Core!

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