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Planetary Annihilation Goes Round and Round October 16, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
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The biggest mistake the devil ever made was agreeing to play God, one on one, on an eight player Total Annihilation map.

-Commander Söze

Origins

In the beginning there was Total Annihilation.

This was not the first RTS game I played, but it was the first of what I consider the three great games of the RTS genre.

The other two are StarCraft and Age of Empires II – The Age of Kings.

There have been other good… even very good… titles in the genre.  But for me, these are the crown jewels that defined the genre.

StarCraft showed that very different factions could be brought together to form an almost zen-like rock/paper/scissors balance that required serious unit management skills to excel at.

Age of Kings brought that sort of balance to medieval armies, advancing at a slower pace.  It reflected the real world aspect of cavalry vs. infantry vs. ranged, with siege engines in tow, forcing players to adopt a combined arms strategy to survive and win.

But before those two there was Total Annihilation, which brought chaos and mass slaughter.

TA wasn’t balance.  The ARM ruled the early game with the Flash tank and the Peewee rush.  Cavedog eventually had to give the CORE a unit whose only purpose was to kill Flash tanks and Peewee kbots.

It had a pretty bad, or at least not a very creative, single player campaign.  Resources were simplistic, just power and metal.  The UI was somewhat primitive compared to its contemporaries.

It was a resource hog that needed a couple of generations of CPU upgrades before it would run smoothly.  The music was literally in the standard CD format, you could pop the game disk into your boom box and listed to the sound track.

And yet it was wonderful, a synthesis of a number of ideas put together in just such a way as to make a great game.  Probably one of the greatest things the game did was make terrain matter in new and interesting way.  Maps were 3D and heights could give you range in shooting or something to hide behind when fire was incoming.  And then there was the whole modability aspect of the game.

Probably the greatest testament to TA is the fact that, while Cavedog Entertainment has been dead and gone for nearly a decade and a half, Total Annihilation still has a pretty strong and dedicated community still supporting it.  You can still buy a copy over at GoG.com, and it runs great on today’s machines.

Total Annihilation

The Atari logo is a recent addition

Its main problem is that it was designed when multiplayer meant friends on a LAN, so being able to play over the internet requires effort.  You need some network know-how or something like Game Ranger to help you out.  So the idea of bringing the game into the 21st century is a compelling one.

More after the cut because of wordiness.

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Rome – Exiled to the AI Team October 10, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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We managed to get all four of us online and together again last Friday.  Mattman, Potshot, myself, and Loghound were all in the hangout, with Loghound telling us about his new Windows 8.1 64-bit install on his Mac, upgraded from an older 32-bit version, allowing him to take full advantage of his hardware.  A copy of Windows 7 64-bit wasn’t readily available, so he had to go with Microsoft’s “tablets are the future, even if you don’t have a touch screen!” UI.  The cost for him to play Total War: Rome II has now moved into triple digits.

SGRome

But he has that to fall back on now for the next game that claims to run on the Mac OS, but has some issues.  In the case of Rome II, it apparently supports multiplayer on the Mac OS, but you can only play with other Mac OS clients.

Life in the world of video games.

With an even number on, we were able to carry on with last week’s river crossing scenarios without a need to have an AI opponent.  After a couple of warmups with the AI while everybody loaded in, where I played as the Spartans, we picked sides.  The teams were Mattman and I versus Potshot and Loghound.  I returned to my usual practice, playing as Rome, along with Loghound, while Mattman went Macedonian and Potshot chose some barbarian horde from Gaul I think.

I am not going to say I am good at this game, because I am not.  But I am okay at taking advantage of the mistakes of others.  So when Mattman and I were given the task of attackers, we each built up our force at one of the two river crossings, hoping one of us could break through, cross the river, and come to the aid of the other.  Not the best plan, I will admit.  It does ignore that bit about concentration of forces.  On the other hand, it keeps and problems with divided command and coordination of effort away as well.

As for what Potshot and Loghound did, you will have to look after the cut.

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Rome – A River Runs Through It October 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night. But ah my foes, and oh my friends – it gives a lovely light

Norman, from A River Runs Through It

Not that either the book or the film have any relationship to our attempts to play Total War: Rome II, I just like that quote and the game does seem in danger of burning out on us in a rather short time.

And there was a river.  But we’ll get to that.

Friday evening I found Mattman already online and playing the game as the appointed time approached.  He was putting in some effort to learn the game by playing the intro campaign, though he seemed to be having issues with a city assault.  I was no help.  I couldn’t see what he was doing and I could only vaguely remember the city assault part of the campaign, as I ran the tutorial back in June.

Potshot had not responded to the event, so was not expected, but Loghound had replied in the affirmative.  I left Mattman to his solo mission in case Loghound showed up, but as the minutes ticked by, I grew restless and began hinting, then bluntly saying, that perhaps we could have some multi-player gaming.  Mattman gave up his city assault and we formed up for another skirmish match.

Unfortunately, skirmishes look to be the extent of game play we can expect to have for the four of us.  There is a multiplayer campaign mode, but in this case “multiplayer” is defined as two people, so isn’t really an option for a larger group.

I already had the hosted game up, which put me in the drivers seat as to what we would be doing for the evening.  After the somewhat chaotic events last time, I had formulated a plan.  Rather than an open battle with troops wandering all over an open map, I chose river crossing battles as the theme for the night.  See, a river.  Several rivers actually.

I also went for a small budget… you get points to spend on your troops, so a smaller budget means less troops… with the idea that we could focus on controlling a few units so as to get better at the nuts and bolts before moving back to grand armies again.

So I formed up teams, with Mattman and I on one side and a pair of AIs playing as the Carthaginians on the other.  I was inspired by the Extra Credits YouTube series on the first and second Punic Wars, which was paid for by the people who made Total War: Rome II. In fact, the other quote I was considering using at the top was “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.”

I also made us the defenders.  All we had to do was hold the river crossing and let the Carthaginians come to us.  They would have a few more troops, but we would be able to focus on a simple objective.

Actually, it turned out to be two river crossings on each map.  But that was okay, as it let us each have our own position to work with.  And we did pretty well on the first run.

Defending the Crossing

Defending the Crossing

I took the bridge and Mattman took the ford.  As it turned out, the hostiles seemed to consider the bridge to be their favored crossing and so massed most of their troops opposite me.  Mattman was able to drive off or defeat the forces facing him and come around to strike them on the flank and read while I held them at the foot of the bridge, drawing them out so that they had to face three ways or be taken on a flank.

Mattman across the river and coming to the rescue

Mattman across the river and coming to the rescue

That worked out quite well.  The enemy was crushed, his demoralized troops driven from the field.

This gave us the courage to change sides and we did a run with us as the attackers.  That gave us a bit more budget to spend… worth about a single additional quality unit, or a couple of cheap ones… and made us push across the river to take the fight to the enemy.  We managed to win on that round as well.

As we were finishing that Loghound showed up to join the game.  I set up a new match, adding a slot for him on our side and another AI to face us, while he tried to get himself sorted.  He had downloaded the new Mac OS client for Total War: Rome II, so would be playing native in a 64-bit OS that could access all his RAM rather than in the 32-bit Windows partition he had been booting up to play previously.

However, there were issues.  The Total War: Rome II client for Mac OS either didn’t support multiplayer or was having problems trying to get hooked into multiplayer… it wasn’t clear which… so that eventually Loghound gave up and went back to Windows.  While he did that Mattman and I ran another two player against two AI battle and won.  We were looking good.

So when Loghound got online again and into the game, I decided to give us a bit of a challenge.  As we had been defeating two AI attackers quite handily, and would now have three of us playing, I boosted the odds for the Carthaginians a bit by adding in another AI player for them.  There would be 4 AI players against the three of us.

This did not work out quite as well.

With even numbers, the AI wasn’t able to mass forces against one of us without being weak against the other, and the AI’s modus operandi up to this point had been to weigh their attack heavily against one of the crossings.  But that weight was such that one of us had always been able to hang on until the other defeated their smaller foe and could came to the rescue to finish the battle.  With four AIs against three of us, the Carthaginians were able to put a big enough holding force together to keep that rescue plan from happening.

Compounding that was our setup.  I planned to hold one crossing while Mattman and Loghound tried to force the other.  As it turned out, the AI put the holding force on their side and the break-through force on my side.  And then I bungled my lineup, leaving a gap that allowed two units of Carthaginian cavalry to slip past me.  They proceeded to route my archers, who ran off to hide in the woods, and then started to charge my lines from behind.  As my infantry was barely holding, this caused my whole side of the battle to come unglued.  Units started to turn and run only to be destroyed.

My crossing uncovered, the mass of Carthaginians headed around to take Mattman and Loghound from the exposed flank.  The battle came down to a desperate stand by Mattman’s troops at the ford.

Rally at the banners

Rally at the banners

The field was littered with the dead and none of our units were able to escape, aside from a couple of my archers who had run literally to the furthest corner of the map before exiting.

Adding in an extra AI looked to be a boundary we were not quite ready to cross.  So we gave it another try.  Same plan, but with a three on three scenario.  As before, the AI chose my side… I opted to defend the bridge as opposed to the ford, and the AI just has a thing for bridges I guess… to mount the main weight of its attack.  Things nearly came unglued again.

Fortunately, Mattman and Loghound were able to break through at the ford and march to my support, as the battle at the foot of the bridge became a desperate fight.  I managed to keep anybody from slipping through, but the weight of the attack was falling most on a single unit and my attempts to reform my lines to relieve pressure only let the Carthaginians bring more troops to bear.  I was holding on by a thin margin, using my cavalry to drive on any unit that looked to be ready to break out… and popping off the morale boosts that my general provided to keep the troops in the line… when reinforcements started to show up.

Holding the foot of the bridge

Holding the foot of the bridge

There was a mountain of bodies at the foot of the bridge and my cavalry was spent, but as Mattman and Loghound came across the bridge, the enemy melted and was destroyed.

Victory was ours, but yet again it was a narrow victory.

So we got a bit more experience under our belts.  However, fighting against the AI is always a bit unsatisfying.  If you lose, then the computer beat you and if you win, well, it was just an AI.  We will see if this round makes us sharper when we next go head to head.  The river crossing scenarios certainly got us to focus, but once those get old I wonder which scenario to pursue next.  I tried a naval battle.  That was… different.   I also played historical harbor and city assaults.  We might be better suited to the open terrain battles where maneuver and position play more into things.

Anyway, we will see where we stand next time.

Defense Grid 2 Coming Online September 23, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
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A little over two years back the team at Hidden Path Entertainment, the creators of Defense Grid: The Awakening, ran a Kickstarter campaign with a slate of goals.

The baseline goal was to raid $250K to create a new set of levels for Defense Grid: The Awakening.  Being one of my favorites in the tower defense genre, I was in just to get a few more levels of the game.

But Hidden Path Entertainment had a grander vision.  They had their eyes on Defense Grid 2, a sequel they hoped to fund through the Kickstarter.  For everything they wanted to do… new engine, multiplayer, level creator/editor, support across multiple platforms… the target was one million dollars.

DG2_Short

However, sometimes our reach exceeds our grasp.  In this case, 30 days of Kickstarting only came up with $271,727.  That was enough for the basic goal, more levels for Defense Grid: The Awakening, but nothing else on the list.  And they delivered on that… almost on time.  The promise was for December of 2012 and we got it in January of 2013.  Not much of a slip at all.

But Hidden Path also promised us Defense Grid 2.

You’ll Get DG2

We’re working to cross the minimum and fund Defense Grid: Containment.  But please also understand that by joining the team as a backer, you’ll also get a copy of DG2 when we release it.  We’ll need to do extra work on our end to earn or raise the remaining funds in order to complete DG2, but when we do, you’ll still be a part of the team.  Crossing $250,000 gets you DG:Containment this December, and DG2 when it is complete.

They were going to have to go find another way to fund it, but it was still part of the plan.

Time went by.  I played through all of the levels in the new expansion multiple times.  Hidden Path kept us up to date on funding, which they managed to secure through a couple of sources.  Kickstarter backers were allowed into the beta on Steam earlier this year.  And, today, Defense Grid 2 becomes available on Steam.

Defense Grid 2

Defense Grid 2

At least the Windows version is available today.  Mac and SteamOS versions are slated for mid-October.

Those of us who supported the Kickstarter got our keys this past weekend, so I have already spent some time with the game, and it is good.

The single player game is an expansion on the original Defense Grid: The Awakening, with story missions that carry on from there and all the variations on how to play through a given level you have been lead to expect.  There is still multiplayer co-op and the whole DG Architect, which allows players to create their own levels and share them through the Steam Workshop, still to discover.

Here are a few screen shots I have taken of the game.

The art style has changed, the turrets have all be redone, and the levels are part of a wider landscape now.  The aliens are a bit less interesting so far… though I haven’t made it that far into the game.  The turrets do seems to have more well defined roles now.  And, of course, there are a pile of achievements.  But for the most part it feels like a good, solid tower defense game.

As part of my Kickstarter pledge, I ended up with an extra key.  I am going to give it away to somebody who comments on this post.

All you have to do is leave a comment indicating that you would like the key and make sure that the email address you use when leaving the comment is valid (nobody by me can see it and that is where I am going to send it, so if it bounces you lose) within 24 hours of this post going live (by 15:00 UTC, 8am PDT, or 11am EDT September 24, 2014) and I will use some sort of random number generator to decide who gets it.

I can still do something like “/roll 1d100″ in WoW can’t I?

The winner will be notified by email and I will append the result to the post.

And if you don’t win, well, the game is only $25.  And if that is too steep, there is always the Steam Holiday Sale in December.

But so far I recommend the game if you liked the original or enjoy tower defense in general.

Addendum: Prize Roll straight from Ironforge in Azeroth.

PrizeRoll

The roll was 13, which I guess means spoutbec wins the Steam key.  We’ll see if his email address is legit shortly.

Rome – A Shameful Display September 3, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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I was not sure we were actually going to get together and play last Friday evening.  It was a holiday weekend.  Nobody had set up a Google event.  And, honestly, I was wondering if the group might want a break after the grand finale of the Civilization V game.

But then, a little while before our usual 9pm start time, I noticed that Loghound had put up an “are we playing tonight?” message.  So I put down Pokemon for a bit and wandered over to my desk to see what was up.  There was a hangout up so I joined without issue, now that I have come to realize that some change was made at Google’s end and they now assume that you have a video source and will wait to acquire it before letting you in, so I just have to click the button to turn off video to get in.

It was Mattman, Loghound, and myself and it looked like we were going to play a game.  The game we had previously chosen, after some deliberation (which included a poll that told us we should play Borderlands 2) and a timely Steam sale, was Total War: Rome II.

SGRome

But that was back in June.

And while Steam tells me that we all jumped right in and did… something… with the game back then, I am pretty sure that we hadn’t done very much since.  I know that I played through the tutorial mission, ran about a bit, glanced briefly at the multiplayer interface, and then went back to my Loremaster quest in WoW.  Total time played: 92 minutes.  Two months later, it was time to see what I remembered.

We all got Steam going and launched the game.  Both Mattman and I tried to host while Loghound, still in a borrowed house and running Steam off of an external hard drive on a less than stellar system, waited for thing to load.  I dropped my game, discovering that the button with the arrow at the lower left corner doesn’t mean “go back” as one might intuit, but rather will dump you from the game.  So I relaunched and tried to get into the game Mattman was hosting.  But the game had been set for two players and Loghound had got in ahead of me.

We started fiddling with thing and Loghound tried to leave the game so it could be reset and discovered the same thing I had about that button on the lower left, which left room for me to get into the match.  Then there was some more fiddling around as Mattman made it a four player game, with the three of us an an AI involved.  Then, since that left a human imbalanced.  So the game got bumped up two a six player match, with three AI players versus the three of us.  Now it was time to figure out what was what.

More after the cut.

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Civilization – The Glorious People’s Victory over Imperialist Aggression! August 27, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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All good things must come to an end… and even the dentist will eventually decide he has gotten the last bit of plaque from your gum line with that iron hook and cease his infernal gouging and scraping… and so it was with our game of Civilization V, entering into its 14th week of play.   As I mentioned last time, a number of victory conditions were beginning to hove into view and become distinct possibilities.

Things picked up as they had left off the previous week.  Mattman, Potshot, and I were online and in the game, ready for turn 751 to commence.  We were expecting Loghound as well, but as the appointed hour rolled around he wasn’t online, so we pressed on.

I managed to hold on to Babylon for the first turn, thwarting Nebuchadnezzar’s feeble counter-attack, and went on to take Akkad, the next city in line.

Rolling over Babylon

Rolling over Babylon

Potshot managed to roll over another Babylonian city to the north at the same time, so it was starting to look like the end of their empire.  After the mountainous terrain past their former capital was an open plain, the perfect venue for my combined arms assault.  It looked like Nebuchadnezzar would be joining Harun al-Rashid of Arabia as a leader without any cities left to lead.

Arabia was still nominally in the game, as we had not tracked down his final units.  Choosing the option that kept empires alive so long as they still had units was such a mistake.

Meanwhile, Mattman and his Chinese empire were buying influence with city states again.  With the world leader election about 10 turns off, one of the victory conditions I mentioned, his ambition was transparent.  So I decided to liven things up with a little ploy of my own.

More after the cut as we work towards the end of the game.

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Civilization – The Fall of Babylon August 20, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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The more people smoke herb, the more Babylon fall.

-Bob Marley

Babylon falling was certainly one of the possible scenarios as we went into the 13th session of our game of Civilization V.

Did you hear about the Netherlands?

Babylon awaits

This time around Loghound was off at a family event, but Mattman was back from camping, so he joined Potshot and I in the resumption of our campaign to reach some sort of victory condition.  But first we had to have trouble with Google.

In an attempt to avoid the problem last time, where Google seemed disinclined to let me join the event hangout, I went ahead and created the even for this week, stealing that job from Loghound.  However, while I created an event, I somehow did not attach a hangout to it and so… it was just an event.  I am not sure what good an event is in Google+ without a hangout.  It is more than a meeting reminder, since you can check in and such.

So Mattman, spotting my error, created a hangout and invited Potshot and I and, of course, Google wouldn’t let me join.  No idea why still.  Eventually I created a hangout and invited the other two, at which point we were joined together in all the audio/video splendor that this digital age allows.  Basically, three middle-aged guys on the a video conference call.

Finally we were able to get started, which meant letting the first turn drag out for a while as Mattman came to grips with how the AI had been handling his empire while he was away.  The phrase, “Deep, cleansing breaths” was muttered a number of times between sounds of exasperation.  But eventually he was able to reign in the AI’s deficit spending and “600 ship navy” plan so we could move on with the game.

More after the cut.

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Steam Mistake? Tropico 4 Collectors Bundle for 39 Cents [mistake fixed] August 16, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
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The Tropico 4 Collector’s Bundle for 39 cents… um… I’m in.

99% off

99% off

You could literally sell a couple of trading cards to pick up this bundle.

I heard Alikchi spotted this and the word has spread.

Addendum: As noted in the comments, somebody at Steam noticed their mistake and the price has been changed.  It was climbing rapidly up the daily best seller list, so it seems like a lot of people got a bargain today.

Civilization – The Battle for Yaroslavl August 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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We returned for our twelfth round of this game of Civilization V, which started back in early May.  Joining me this week was Potshot and Loghound, it being Mattman’s turn for a week away.

I had a very simple goal for this round.  I wanted to knock out two, or maybe three if we were lucky, of the AI civilizations.  I figured that the fewer AIs gumming up the works, the more responsive the game would be.  And we had two very likely candidates.  Morocco, which had been hanging around without actually possessing a city since week 8, was first on the list.  Last week I had spotted what I had hoped were his last few units and I was ready to dispatch them as soon as we got going.

See you in hell Morocco!

See you in hell Morocco!

And then there was Russia, which had been reduced to a single city on a two hex island, hemmed in by Loghound and his Celts, and just waiting for the dagger to be driven home.

Yaroslavl Under Siege

Yaroslavl Under Siege

The potential third empire headed for destruction was that of Montezuma and the Aztecs.  With Potshot back it looked like we could renew our joint offensive and drive the Aztecs to the brink of destruction.

But first we had to start the game already.  More after the cut.

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Civilization – We Have Met The Enemy, And It Is The Game Itself August 6, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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We managed to assemble a group for the second week running, which isn’t as impressive as it sounds since we have already shown we will play if only two of us show up, letting the AI wreck havoc with the empires of those who fail to attend.  This time it started off with Mattman and I, Loghound having let us know that he was running behind but would join as soon as he could.

Potshot, however, was feeling under the weather… the weather being an oppressive hundred degrees Fahrenheit is his part of the state, so much misery… and would not be able to make it.

This was going to make the game “interesting” for me.  If Mattman or Loghound fail to show, it has very little impact on me.  Most of the time I barely know what they are up to on their side of the world, aside from fighting barbarians and Russians.  Potshot and I, however, have been cooperating allies in a war of conquest against the Aztecs.  We left off last match stuck into the enemy, hostilities still on and with the Babylonians throwing in against us.

Lunge into Montezuma's territory

Our lunge into Montezuma’s territory

The AI is very, very bad at cooperation.  And it isn’t just a matter of heightened self-interest.  The team working for Sid Meier managed to capture the petulant selfishness of a grumpy five year old for the diplomatic relations aspect of the AI.  So, when you look at why the AI civs are mad at you, it is things like, “You’re trying to be friends with Zurich, and they are MY friend! Go Away!” and “You have a city that I want!” and “You’re friends with China and I hate China, so now I hate you too!” along with “I won’t take this mutually beneficial trade deal because you were being mean to somebody else on the playground!”  Plus there is the whole, “You have ideological cooties!” thing.

It is like the devs got in there and said, “Realpolitik? Screw you, Ludwig von Rochau! We’re going with Kinderpolitik!”

So that programming was going to be driving my close ally with whom I share a border and a whole series of open border and mutual defense agreements, not to mention the whole coordination of the war thing.  I was clearly pessimistic as to how that would turn out.

More after the cut.

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