Friday, May 27, 2022

My Time And Sandrock

Let's begin with an apology. Or maybe an explanation. This is the post you should have been reading yesterday.

When I checked my email first thing yesterday morning I was more excited than I would have expected to find a notification from Steam that a game I had on my wishlist had gone into Early Access. Half the titles on the list don't even have realse dates, so it was nice to see some movement at last.

Of course, looked at another way, that means half the titles are already available and yet I haven't bought them, so I guess that means half the titles I say I want I don't actually want as much as all that. Not enough to pay money for, at any rate, but that's a post for another day. This post's about a game I did buy: a game called My Time At Sandrock.

MTAS is, as you might imagine, the sequel to My Time At Portia, a building game of sorts that I played and wrote about back in 2020, during the first Covid lockdown. It actually feels like a good deal longer ago than that, which probably says something about the way time has stretched over the last few years.

According to the email, the asking price for MTAS was only £19.99, which seemed like a very good deal to me. Most of the indie games on my wishlist are priced between £15 to £20 but they're probably only going to be good for ten or fifteen hours play. Sandrock ought to give me four or five times that, based on how long I spent in Portia. 

Checking Steam, I see I have just a hair under seventy hours in My Time At Portia and I know for sure I wasn't even close to finishing. I only stopped because some other game came along and stole my attention. I've been meaning to go back and do some more ever since but what with one thing and another...

If value for money wasn't an issue so the real question hanging over the purchase was whether or not I'd be able find the time to play. Since we got the puppy my gaming time has shrunk to next to nothing. On the other hand, assuming MTAS to be very similar to MTAP, something I felt pretty confident in, it seemed like a good fit for short sessions with a dog asleep on my lap.

More to the point, I immediately knew I wanted to play. As I said, I'd been thinking repeatedly of going back to MTAP, so a brand-new, possibly improved version of the same game had considerable appeal. 

As for the Early Access aspect, as discussed numerous times before it has both benefits and drawbacks. I do like to watch the games grow and change and develop, you get to play sooner rather than having to wait, and quite often it's a cheaper buy-in. I don't know at what price point My Time At Sandrock will launch but I wouldn't be surprised if it was more than £19.99.

As for the drawbacks, I chose not to think about them. I bought the game. Then I downloaded it. And that's where there the trouble began.

I've never had even the smallest problem downloading a game through Steam before. It's always been a seamless process. Not this time. The download stopped about a third of the way through with a "Corrupt Disk" error. 

There was a Retry button so I retried. It happened again. And again.

I googled it and found a list of possible reasons and fixes. I tried a few, stopping short of uninstalling and reinstalling Steam. I started the download going again but I didn't keep an eye on it because about then Mrs Bhagpuss and I had lunch. After that we took Beryl out for a walk and by the time I got back to the computer it was about four in the afternoon.

I was all ready to log in and play, always assuming the game had downloaded successfully. Sadly, it had not. That would have been annoying enough but much worse, the screen was frozen and the entire PC unresponsive. I had to pull the plug and reboot but even a couple of restarts the whole machine remained all but unuseable with everything taking orders of magnitude longer than it should. 

I won't go through the litany of attempted fixes other than to say it took over five hours to get it working again and even now I have no real idea what the problem was. For the final fix, the one that worked, I made the classic mistake of changing a lot things at once, everything from deleting the entire Start Up menu to opening the case and reseating all the components.

One of those things must have been the problem because when I powered up, everything worked perfectly. Better than before, in fact. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

It was getting late but I was determined at least to take a look at the game. Naturally there was another patch when I went to log in. Heaven forfend the version I'd downloaded would be the current one. That only took a few minutes, fortunately, and then there I was, in character creation.

I probably need to run through that again for another post at some point. It seemed to be a lot more detailed than the equivalent in MTAP but I couldn't take any screenshots to check because Steam's screenshot function doesn't seem to work in the game. Also, neither does FRAPS, although I didn't know thaat the time. For the shots in this post I was reduced to hitting PrtScrn and tabbing out to paste them into

My haste in rushing through character creation to get into the game proper also left me with a character I don't very much like the look of. Especially those weird lips. I might have to re-roll unless I can find an in-game makeover option.

Next came a short cut scene in which my character arrived in Sandrock by rail. The graphical quality immediately struck me as superior to MTAP although I probably ought to log back in to the older game to re-calibrate my impressions before making any rash statements. Sandrock certainly looks gorgeous, anyway.

There was barely time enough to meet the man who'd hired my character to come work in Sandrock as a Builder, following the retirement of the incumbent. I also met Mi-Ann, who's been employed for the exact same purpose as my character. Apparently it takes two women to do the work of one man in this town.

The retiring builder kindly left me his workshop although not any of his tools or crafting stations, other than a very basic workbench, so from here on in I'll be fixing up my own place as well as doing all chores the townsfolk can't be bothered to do for themselves. Same plot as the last game, in other words.

That was it for the first session but this afternoon I logged back in and spent another hour just exploring the town and talking to a few of the residents. Whereas Portia was a quasi-European market town, Sandrock looks more like a moderately prosperous railroad burg from the American West circa 1870 or so. It's a period I feel hasn't been done to death yet in gaming so I'm happy to see the change of setting.

As I was wandering about a small girl ran up to me and offered to give me a tour of the town. There was the option to refuse, claiming I already knew as much as I needed, but why hurt her feelings that way? I accepted and off she went at a dead run. Just as well each location was marked on the map because I kept losing sight of her as she disappeared over the brow of a hill or round a corner, teddy bear backpack bouncing along behind.

She talked a lot, too. The voice acting seems solid, if a little mannered, something I seem to remember was a feature of the first game. If I'm honest, I was fiddling around trying to take screenshots most of the time so I wasn't really paying attention to what she was saying. I'm sure I'll be able to work it all out for myself in due course.

After the tour I pottered around for a while, chatting to the locals and taking pictures. Before I knew it, the sun was down and a massive, desert moon was rising overhead. By the time I got back to my room in the workshop it was after midnight and the game was giving me dire warnings about what would happen if I wasn't in bed by three. I'd forgotten that part. 

Apart from the lack of a screenshot facility, about the only Early Access weirdness I noticed was that I couldn't find any way of quitting. I went through every menu option and key-bind but nowhere could I find any way to Exit or Log Out. In the end I had to tab out and close the game through Steam.

Oh, and a T-shirt turned up in the mail. A "Backer's T-Shirt". For people who backed the game on Kickstarter. I am almost certain I didn't do that. Did I?

Other than that everything was smooth as butter and just as delicious. I really like butter and I really like this series. Looking forward very much to getting stuck into both the story and the character progression. I'll report back on what I find but early impressions are very favorable..


  1. The screenshot issue might be the game running in Administrator mode, but the screenshot tools aren't. It's hard to say without having the game myself. You might try running Fraps as an Administrator and see if that fixes your issue. I wish I could give more advice about Fraps, but I haven't used it for a decade now. (I've been using ShareX -- free on Steam, but I have it setup to run as an Administrator to handle any game that also needs to be an Administrator.)

    1. Thanks. I'll give that a try. I'm guessing its part of the whole Early Access thing that'll be fixed later but it could be something to do with the problems I had with my PC, when the drive letters got swapped. It also might be related to the in-game Camera feature, whereby you have to get an actual camera somehow before you can take selfies. It's not unimagineable that the devs have deliberately suppressed other means of taking screenshots to enhance that aspect. I'll just have to get to the part when you get a camera and find out!

  2. I haven't had an issue with Steam like that... Ever. So... bad juju, I guess?

    At least the design is similar enough to MTaP for me to feel at home with the screencaps you did post. I ought to go back and play that game again, hoping that some of the annoying quirks --such as voice acting lines not matching what you see on screen-- got fixed. The pathfinding was atrocious too, so hopefully that was fixed as well.

    1. But I must admit that yes, I really did like the story. That's what kept me playing.

    2. It looks identical to Portia to me although I read several reviews on Steam praising the improved graphics so maybe I remember Portia being prettier than it was.

      That thing about voce actors not saying exactly the same lines as appear on screen is common to almost every game I've ever played. I can't say I noticed it being more prevalent in Portia than other games. It usually amuses me more than annoys me, anyway.

      I also don't recall any issues with the pathfinding. In fact, I don't recall pathfinding being a thing. All the NPCs move on set paths and the mobs barely have to move at all as far as I recall. You just walk up to them and fight them where they are. Maybe I've forgotten something?

    3. Well, it was a matter that if you walked up and talked to somebody, then afterward you hung around to watch them, they'd kind of, well, wander around until they found the path they were supposed to be on and then they'd move. When you married someone, they'd kind of just, well, wander around the house. There was no "I'm going to bed" sort of movement at the end of the night, or anything you see in Stardew Valley.

    4. Ah, the unresponsive married thing I do remember reading people complain about. I never romanced anyone in Portia so I never saw it personally. I might try being a bit more romantic in Sandrock just to find out what that part of the game is like.

  3. Not the characters, but the buildings and environment remind me of Wildstar.

    1. Yes, it does have some similarities. It's interesting that the set-up for the "My Time At.." series is that you're in a post-catastrophe world, where a cataclysm of some kind destroyed a much higher-level, technological society and you're in the post-recovery period, where society is back on its feet but still scavenging the technology of the past. That also has affinities with Wildstar.

  4. As much as I'd like to focus on the game, those drive errors do sound nasty. Maybe you should check into that.

    1. As far as I can tell from googling it, the Corrupt Disk error is a standard Steam problem that can happen whenever you download any game. Loads of reports and complaints about that. None of them mention Sandrock specifically, though, so I don't believe it has anything to do with that game rather than any other.

      I suspect it has more to do with my PC than Steam or Sandrock. It's not like I haven't been having a ton of other problems. Fingers crossed, things are going better now. I suspect reseating everything on the motherboard (and swapping the ram into different slots) probably helped. This machine is getting on in years, after all.


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