Thursday, March 4, 2021

Nothing Lost And Nothing Gained

One of the more surprising things about Valheim is the absence of bugs, glitches and things not working as they should. For a game in Early Access, let alone one with just five developers, it's astonishingly stable, solid and bug-free.

According to Steam I've now put a hundred and fifty hours into the game, a figure that would suggest obsession verging on madness were it not that it includes a considerable amount of time when the game was merely idling at login as I wrote blog posts and even played other games. In however long it may be that I've actually been logged in and playing, though, it wasn't until yesterday I encountered the first thing I'd tentatively describe as a bug.

And it was a killer. 

If there's one thing you really don't want to run into in a game based on vertical gear progression it's a bug that results in an unrecoverable corpse. When you've spent the best part of three days of your real life finding, mining and refining ore, turning it into armor and weapons and upgrading those as far as you're capable, you very much expect that the game will play fair and not wipe out all your hard work in a moment.

Here's what happened. I was in a sunken crypt. My bags were full of scrap iron and I needed to ferry it back to the nearest holding camp so I could come back for more. I came out through the gate and there was an oozer right in doorway. 

It was night. Visibility was near-zero. I went to skip around the ooze and leg it but somehow I got spun around. I was disoriented. I carried on running but I wasn't going anywhere. I couldn't figure out where I was or where the oozer was but it wasn't having any such problems. 

I'd been low health when I exited the crypt and I didn't have a poison resist running. By the time I'd hit the key to glug one down it was already too late. I was dead.

I was mildly miffed. It was a careless death and my own fault. Never mind. My bed was close by. It was a simple recovery.

Only it wasn't. When I got back I couldn't see my gravemarker. I could see it on the map but not in the world. Since I wasn't sure where I'd been when I died my only recourse was to roam around in the dark hoping to stumble over my grave by chance. I died again doing that. Only to be expected. 

Coming back again, it occurred to me that maybe I'd died inside the entrance to the crypt. I'd been stuck on something. It could have been the stonework.

It was. In a way. When I got to the entrance and looked through the gate, there was my grave, glowing bright red. Not in front of the gate. Beyond it. Well beyond.

"She's only shining bright 'Cause she's so out of reach".

Somehow I'd contrived to die outside the crypt itself but inside the invisible barrier that separates the open world from the instanced dungeon. My stuff was neither here nor there. It was somewhere else.

I tried edging close enough to click on the corpse but the game was having none of it. Before I could get in range I zoned into the crypt. 

I tried from the roof. No dice. All around the walls. No response. Inside the crypt. Nothing.

At this point I was sure it was unrecoverable. It existed in an ethereal state, neither lost nor found. I could see it but I couldn't touch it.

In an mmorpg at this point you might put in a petition or contact customer service. I didn't think that was likely to be something Iron Gate would offer. And anyway, it's Early Access. Play at your own risk.

My feelings on the situation were surprisingly muted. I had, after all, made all the things I'd lost. I could easily make them all again. It would be annoying, having to repeat a couple of days gameplay, note for note, but I've endured far worse in other games.

I'd rather avoid it, all the same. And Valheim has five million players now. Maybe one of them had run into something similar and found a way out. 

Turns out they had indeed. A search brought up this thread on Valheim's Public Bug Tracker. It demonstrates just how many ways there are to lose your corpse for good. A lot of them arise from situations like mine, from deaths in liminal hinterlands the game can't seem to parse.

The bad news is, if it happens to you there doesn't seem to be any way to get your stuff back. The good news is you can get new stuff just as good. All you have to do is cheat.

In retrospect I probably could have worked this out for myself. I'd read Potshot's post on how to set Valheim up in pseudo-creative mode. I'd read a couple of posts by Tobold that alluded to various cheats that should have given me a clue. I'd even pressed F5 by mistake many times (I keep my hammer in slot 5) so I knew just what the console looked like.

But I never cheat in video games. Well, unless you call using walkthroughs cheating. It's not that I have any moral issues with cheating in single player games. I just don't like to do it myself. 

As one of the people explaining the method used to replace items from an unrecoverable coprse pointed out, though, this wouldn't be cheating. It's effectively no different from having your items restored by a GM. The game bugged out and stole your stuff. You're entitled to get it back.

So I did. It was easy. All you need to do is find a safe spot, hit F5 to open the console, then type imacheater. Dev humor. Dontcha just love it?

That sets cheat mode to True. It'll stay that way until you type the same thing again. It's a toggle.

With cheat mode on you can do as many impossible things before breakfast as you want. If you type "Help" the game will even tell you what they are.

All I wanted was my stuff back. Or stuff that looked like my stuff. The originals were gone forever but what's a digital original? Just some numbers in a database. 

For each item you want, all you have to do is type "spawn". Then the name of the item. Then how many you need. Like this:

The syntax has to be exact, of course, and it's case-sensitive. Once you get it right the items just fall out of the sky and land at your feet.

My only problem was remembering what I'd lost. I was determined to get back only what I'd had. Valheim has very well-paced progression. The last thing I wanted to do was bug my own fun.

Luckily, I'd been concentrating all afternoon on making and upgrading iron armor, tools and weapons. I knew just what I'd lost there. For some reason you can't spawn items at anything but the base level so I summoned those, along with a pile of iron for upgrades.

It took me five or ten minutes to get back everything I could remember. The final thing I recalled was the key I'd gotten from The Elder. Thank Odin I don't have to go back and do that fight again!

I knew there were some mats I'd forgotten but nothing worth bothering about. I put the extra iron and the few duplicates I'd created while I was learning the commands into a chest. My Cheater's Chest. Nothing comes out of there unless it's to address a situation like this one.

And that was that. Potential disaster averted. I'm very happy the option exists although I strongly suspect it may have to be tweaked somewhat as the game evolves, particularly in the light of multi-player worlds.

I did also have a slight concern at the back of my mind that I might have opened Pandora's Box. Would anything feel as real, now I'd peeked behind the curtain? 

Short answer? Yes. I played on for another hour or so and within a few minutes I was mining and gathering with the same enthusiasm as ever. If it's a choice between bending reality a little or losing two days work to a glitch, I'll bend it with the best of them.

And then I'll bend it straight again.


  1. I too am amazed at the lack of bugs and glitches in something that's supposed to be early access. Especially in procedurally generated worlds.

    Even with Minecraft, years after it was fully released it would generate some pretty messy zones with ridiculous terrain and half buried villages, etc. None of that so far in Valheim. Nor have I yet to find anything quite so dramatic as your situation.

    I think that's a fair an elegant solution. A GM would do the same. In any game where you control the game or server that permits "cheats" or "god mode", etc., each has to decide what level of use is appropriate-- for an individual or for all players.

    On our minecraft server (4-5 close friends), we generally permitted several trusted individuals to be able to reset the night/day clock rather than requiring everyone to bed down in order to advance the day/night. Especially helpful when people check in and out, go afk to deal with RL, etc. Is that a cheat when the game would permit the same thing and it was a collective decision to do so? I think not, but I can appreciate that others may view things differently.

    I have found that it takes a certain amount of self discipline not to avail oneself to such opportunities or you risk completely trivializing the experience.

    Consider pen and paper RPG character creation. When rolling up characters, what rules (official or otherwise) did you use to roll up character stats? Straight up, hardcore, roll 3 dice per stat and it is what it is or were various alternatives permitted (e.g., roll 5, pick the best 3, etc.)? Its all about balance.

    1. I don't often petition or call customer service in mmorpgs. I doubt I've done it much more than twenty times in over twenty years. I definitely would have done it for this, though, had the option existed, so it seemed completely fair to just act as my own GM.

      I was already aware of the potential to just have anything I wanted in the game and also to switch off anything I didn't like. It's an odd psychological state to be in, knowing you're doing something you may not want to do (for example, exploring a filthy, dark, dangerous swamp) just so you can do something you do want to do (make iron armor) but that you could skip the bad part and go straight to the good. It gets even stranger when it ceases to be theoretical and becomes something you've already done.

      I was concerned that doing it even once would flip a switch, making the mental trick of knowing but not knowing I'd been effortlessly maintaining until then ineffective. I know myself pretty well on that score, though, and I was reasonably confident of stuffing the genie back in the bottle, which is just what happened.

      I definitely wouldn't want to start making "exceptions", though. I think the house rule is going to be "would I have petitioned a GM for this in EverQuest?". I lost corpses there because I couldn't recover them but they were fairly in the world and I never attempted to get a GM to do anything about it (they wouldn't have but plenty of people asked). If I'd had a corpse stuck under the world, though, which I heard happened to people, although never to me, then yes, I would have petitioned for that.

  2. I've just started making my first tentative steps into Valheim, so it is pleasing to hear how relatively bug free it is -- although this one probably would have made me put the game down for a while, without a way to fix it. At least if I was playing solo. In a MP environment I tend to be much more tolerant of these issues.

    I would be concerned that flagging a character as a cheater might disable achievements -- but there aren't any yet! So no concerns there.

    Glad you managed to make a recovery of both the stuff and your enjoyment after discovering the pandora's box of what seams an otherwise fairly open cheat system though. :)

    As much as I tell myself I shouldn't be looking at too many of the Valheim posts now that I'm getting a start for myself -- I still read each one. Haha. Some of the stuff in my future sounds amazing!

    1. Heh! You were on my mental shortlist of holdouts I was waiting to see join the hivemind. Looking forward to reading your take on it.

      On the topic of achievements, I do wonder what Valheim will look like in a year from now. I'm quite convinced it will change a lot. The level of success it's had almost guarantees that. Whether the changes will be seen as a net improvement or or whether we'll look back to the opening few months as the game's golden age, well that's going to be the interesting part.

  3. Ooof. My massive corpse run was as much a kick in the gut as it was a fun experience. I've taken a new approach to have tons of spare stuff now in case I get a huge roadblock... but losing that key, that would have driven me wild. I can mine again, but I have no idea where another Elder spawn is located.

    1. Just as a fyi - the bosses are re-summonable. You don't need a new location, you can just go back and resummon the same one you killed before.

  4. With potshot on this one, is kinda a non-issue really. Having the cheats there opens up flexibility of game possibility, each server can control what they tolerate or not. Even if someone cheats in their home game and brings across whatever they can to a server that doesn’t want to tolerate the result, they can always boot the someone off the server and remove whatever impact that someone had, using the equivalent of cheats aka dev commands or whatever.

    On a singleplayer front, it’s up to the individual to control their own experience. Want to do a corpse run? Great. Don’t want to lose hours to a corpse run and just want to bring back the lost tools stat? Also fine. Surely someone will mod that as a possibility anyway.

    In my recent Minecraft game, I usually do corpse runs to pick up what was left of my inventory, but I died in a really inconvenient location one day and was really miffed about the prospect. Then I remembered that Minecraft had teleport commands. So I turned cheats on, tp’ed to the death location, recovered and stopped being miffed in under 5 minutes and continued with the rest of my happy game experience. Folks who don’t want to deal with that jazz at any time also have an option to /keepinventory for good, but I’ve never bothered with that. 95% of the corpse runs are fine, just some are morale-breaking.

    1. In single-player games I think it's totally up to the individual to use whatever tools the game offers. I have always seen added difficulty as equally "cheating" as reduced difficulty, so playing a game on anything other than the default settings, be that "Story" mode or "Nightmare" are direct equivalents for not having had the genuine, unmoderated experience.

      I'm not religious about it. If I was I wouldn't even be able to do simple things like adjust the volume of the music or turn off other players' pet names. I do like to play all games as closely to the default settings as possible, though. It just feels better.

      As for the ability of hosts of worlds in Valheim to moderate their world's integrity by booting "cheaters" and repairing any damage they cause, well, yes, but that's a real pain in the neck for the person who has to do it. I definitely think using the console commands should set a flag that can't be changed client-side so multiplayer worlds can simply be set to exclude all characters who have it. That could obviously be given more granularity. On your own server/world, though? Play how the hell you want!


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