Looking to the Steam Summer Sale for the Next Game

Our game of Civilization V goes on.  I just posted the Week 8 update yesterday.  Things are going well enough and we remain interested, amazed, and enthusiastic to complete the epic journey to victory that this has become.  I am going to guess that we have a good four more weeks of play left in the game (not counting July 4th, which will probably be an off week for all of us) before somebody gets a corner on a peaceful victory condition and either wins or unleashes a nuclear holocaust that eventually ushers in a domination victory over a radioactive landscape.

Chuck Hestonia nuked and open

Remember Chuck Hestonia!

But, as Potshot noted the other night, as cool as this experiment with a multi-month game of Civ V has been, when we get to the eventual end point of the game, our immediate reaction is likely not going to be, “Let’s do this again!”  A certain amount of pig-headed stubbornness is carrying us along at this point, making us determined to see this through.  But when we are done, we will likely be ready for something new.

We have started the discussion about the next thing at what seems quite the opportune time, as we are in the midst of the Steam Summer Sale.  While some are down on the whole thing this year… and I admit that once you have been through one or two, the excitement of things being on sale does wear a bit thin… there is certainly no reason not to take advantage of period of favorable pricing.  So a list of possible candidates has started to coalesce, which I am going to trot out here.  Comments on the games so listed are welcome, especially any insight on how the game might play in a four person multiplayer situation.  And, of course, you can offer up alternatives as well.

But, before you comment to promote your favorite game of the moment, I want to bring up some parameters that will likely apply to the choice.

First, this is not the MMO group.  MMORPGs are probably not going to fly here, so piping in with WildStar isn’t going to make for a useful comment. (Given that I haven’t even used the 7 day key that Liore gave me a couple weeks back, “WildStar” probably isn’t a useful comment on any post here at the moment.)

The game should also be substantially playable in a single evening.  Clearly the Civ V experiment shows that we can play a game over several weeks, I am just not sure we want to jump back into that right away.

And I am going to come out generally against turn based games, as some of us become quite absorbed in the decision making process with others are not very patient.  Turn based isn’t a deal breaker in the right situation, but any scenario where three of us end up waiting on the fourth to make his move will either need to be a game that is generally fast in pace or a game that includes a turn clock.  So while Eador: Masters of the Broken World sounds interesting when SynCaine writes about it, I am not sure we can handle its depth and keep a game running.

With that in mind, here is what has been proposed so far. (Mostly by me.)

Total War: Rome II

SGRome

Loghound put out Total War: Rome II as an option.  I know people who like the game.  Gaff has played through it.  I have played a couple of the past games in the series.  If this is like its predecessors, the tactical game is very much in the detailed RTS vein, so no turns or anything.  I am just not sure how multiplayer works or if it is suitable for a group of four.  Also, there are some minor concerns about how much processing power the game might take.  But after Civ V, we ought to be okay if we stick to machines from this decade.

Possible alternatives: Any of the Total War series, I think I bought them all in a past Steam sale

Company of Heroes 2

SGCompanyOfHeroes2

I tossed Company of Heroes 2 on the list as a more modern alternative to Total War: Rome II.  I actually own this via a past Steam sale and have played through the tutorial, but not much else.  As with Rome II, I am not sure how suitable it is to four player for a multiplayer match.  Also struck me as a bit “arcade-ish” in the tutorial, though that might just be the tutorial, and if it isn’t, it still might not necessarily be a bad thing.  And Gaff likes it.

Possible alternatives: The original Company of Heroes, the second Combat Mission series.

Driver: San Francisco

SGDriver

Driver: San Francisco was my suggestion in order to shake things up and try something that did not involve us throwing armies at each other.  Instead, we could throw moving vehicles at each other.  The game got good reviews, is pretty reasonably priced for the summer sale, the multiplayer options sound interesting, and it involves driving around San Francisco, an area we all know well enough to at least know when we’re lost or not.  Against all of that, I do not know anybody who has actually played it.

Possible alternatives: Need for Speed: World, a billion other driving games

Boarderlands 2

SGBorderlands2

Borderlands 2 is well reviewed, very popular, and has a four player co-op mode that I understand works very well.  Another game I already own thanks to a sale at Amazon for a Steam key.  And another game I haven’t played very much of as I stink.  But are we ready for a shooter?  And, more importantly, are we ready for a shooter where we don’t get to shoot each other?

Possible alternatives: Call of Duty series, or any other co-op shooter, some of which even include zombies.

Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator

SGArtemis

No, not the card game… though that might be an idea… Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator is basically the game vehicle for playing out your Star Trek bridge fantasies.  This is a long shot, but I bring it up because a friend (and occasional reader BlueLineBasher) gave me a copy and I haven’t done anything with it.  This might be good for a single Friday lark, but we would have to pick somebody to be captain who would take it at least semi-seriously.  Alcohol might be required.

Possible alternatives: Urmm… are there any?

Ticket to Ride

SGTicketToRide

I didn’t even know Ticket to Ride was available on the PC until I saw it on the Steam Summer Sale list.  This is one of those awesome board game conversions that keeps all the great bits of the original game while removing the bad bits… like placing all those little train counters and then picking them up again when the cat attacks the game board.  It is one of my favorite games on the iPad.  But the game is easy enough that my past experience doesn’t give me any real advantage.  While it it turn based, it does tend to be fast paced, and against real people it can be a rage-inducing cut-throat experience.  So it has that going for it.  But are we up for board games?

Possible alternatives: Other digital version of board games such as Settlers of Catan or some Carcassonne variant.

StarCraft II

SGStarCraft2

As an alternative, we could just forget Steam and go for the update to the original perfectly balanced rock, paper, scissors RTS, StarCraft II.  While it did not make as big a splash as the original, that was in part because Blizzard tried very hard not to mess it up, so it ended up being mostly StarCraft brought forward to the current decade… which is a good thing.  It isn’t on sale, but Blizzard is in its own summer doldrums right now, so it is possible they might cut us a break before our Civ V game wraps up.

Possible alternatives: The original StarCraft, something from the Command & Conquer series

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation

Potshot actually brought up Total Annihilation, my all-time favorite RTS, and I am using that as an excuse to list it.  The physic in it is great, the variety of units almost boggles the mind, it still looks damn good for a game from 1997, it is available for cheap (and DRM free) over at GoG.com, and because of its age it now runs great on just about anything… which probably includes Mattman’s antique coal fired Ye Olde ThinkePayde portable difference engine.  And, of course, it has simple victory conditions (kill the commander) and nuclear weapons.  The Achilles’ heel is that I love the game and my knowledge of it will give me an unfair advantage.

Possible alternatives: Speak not to me about Supreme Commander, it is but a pale shadow of Total Annihilation… but maybe Planetary Annihilation when it ships.

Summing Up

So those are the choices that come to my mind.  I would certainly be interested in hearing about multiplayer experiences with any of these games, especially involving four players.

And, because I haven’t had a poll in a while, I will put one up so you can indicate your favorite pick without having to much around with the whole comment thing.

 

 

BlizzCon Blues

The crowds are gathered in Anaheim.  The presentations are set.  Jay Mohr is probably reviewing his jokes.  The Foo Fighters are wandering around somewhere I am sure.

BlizzCon is coming.  It will be kicking off shortly.


But unlike past years, there is not much I am looking to get out of BlizzCon.  I have subscribed to it on DirecTV previously and watched it nearly end-to-end.  But not this year.

Part of that is because I am not really playing any Blizzard games.

Cataclysm took too much of the fun out of World of Warcraft for me.

The StarCraft II beta convinced me I had really lost my RTS skills.  I am more of a tower defense guy now.

Diablo III has been pushed out to next year.  I guess it would be nice to know the final release date, but since that will be somewhere past the SWTOR event horizon, it isn’t really a big deal to me at the moment.

There are bits of BlizzCon I wouldn’t mind seeing.

There are usually some good interviews and sessions.  I find watching the StarCraft II tournaments to be surprisingly interesting.  48 million Koreans can’t be wrong.  The dance and costume contests are always amusing, though this many years in a row the freshness has certainly worn off.

And the musical act… well, the Foo Fighters spark no interest from me.  But neither did Ozzy Osborne.  Tenacious D was okay last year, but that was more novelty I think.

But none of that really makes it worth paying to watch the event.

So I will watch other people reporting from BlizzCon this year.

And what dare I hope for from BlizzCon 2011?

Maybe they will announce the next WoW expansion.  Though to excite me, they better be able to explain how it will make up for Cataclysm. (And it better not be another 18 months away.)

Then there is the new MMO, the secret project called Titan, where all the real talent at Blizzard is alleged to be focused. (Judging from all the live team smack down comments people make.)  I would like to hear about that, though I doubt they will be able to tell me anything at all that will get me eager to play at this stage.  We know how the Blizzard release timeline goes.  If they are just giving us a glimpse over the next two days, they are at least two years away from launch.

And what else is there?

What news do you want to hear out of BlizzCon, if any?

What would get you amped up about Blizzard?

April Fools at Blizzard – 2011

There were April Fools pranks all over the internet this year like every year.  Many were quite amusing, like EVE Online’s announcement of player mounts being included as part of the Incarana expansion.

But nobody goes over the top the way Blizzard does.  Last year they had a number of April Fools jokes and this year they have kept up the tradition.

Last year there were items that only appeared on either the US or EU sites.  This time around it seems like it was a unified effort across the two geographic areas. (Though I did not do a thorough search, so if I missed something, speak up!)

There is Crabby the Dungeon Helper, a send up of the old Microsoft Office Paperclip helper.

You Cybernetic Crabby Pal

And to just rub Crabby in our faces, he is also present on the Tomb of Immortal Darkness page, a preview of the most challenging WoW instance ever.

Crabby will not be deterred

He also hangs out on the WoW community page as well, and keeps talking while you are trying to read the faux Patch 4.1.11 Release Notes, which includes items like the Random Guild Finder and and appearance tab… for non-combat pets.

Then there was the Horadrapp, a Horadric Cube iPhone app that can be used to transmute your current iPhone apps into new and more powerful apps.

Horadric Cube App

On the StarCraft II front, there was the StarCraft Motion Overdrive video, showing StarCraft II being played via the XBox 360 Kinnect as well as the StarCraft II Patch 1.4.11 Patch Notes.

And while all of this is very amusing, it does lead one to wonder what might have been accomplished if the time that went into these things was spent focusing on the actual games involved.

World of Tanks Sets a Record, I Look for the Definition of “Server”

I received this press release from Wargaming.net, the makers of World of Tanks.

I get a press release of some sort from them about once a week and they vary in quality.  But today’s had me… asking questions.

Here is what they said:

World of Tanks Sets World Record

London (24th February, 2011) - Wargaming.net is glad to announce that its free-to-play action-MMO game World of Tanks has set up a Guinness World Record™ in the category of Most Players Online Simultaneously on One MMO Server.

The record was registered on January 23rd, 2011 when the number of players on the game’s Russian server totaled 91,311.

“We are excited to see so many people playing World of Tanks and the new record is an important achievement for us,” said Victor Kislyi, CEO of Wargaming.net. “However, with the population of the game growing steadily another week or two would let us report a more impressive record as the current PCCU number surpasses 120,000 players”.

Wargaming.net wants to thank all World of Tanks fans that made this record possible.

Join the beta at: http://game.worldoftanks.com/registration/ (NA server)
Join the beta at:
http://game.worldoftanks.eu/registration/ (EU server)

For more information on World of Tanks, visit http://www.worldoftanks.com/.

This confuses me a bit, since I do not understand what they mean by “One MMO Server.”

Not to bash Wargaming.net or anything, but there isn’t a lot of shared space in the game.  At the most you are involved with 31 other players you can see and otherwise you are in your own private garage or in the queue to get into a battle.  So it isn’t exactly like 91,311 people shared an experience together.

Plus, is under 100,000 really the high point for what we define as a server, shard, or realm?

Surely some game like Guild Wars has already been there, done that.

Or a game that plays like World of Tanks… like, say, StarCraft II?  If you can call WoT an MMO at the moment then the door seems open for StarCraft II, doesn’t it?

So unless they can prove that all 91,311 people were logged into the same single server in their data center rack, I’m not sure this record is very well defined.

What do you think?  Record? No Record? Poor definitions?

Blizzard Customer Service Just Giving Away Authenticators

In my further adventures with Twitter and trying to figure out exactly what it is good for, I decided to follow as many MMO company Twitter accounts as I could.

I wanted to see what companies were doing with Twitter.

A lot of the game companies are very quiet most of the time, which I appreciate.  They save their tweets for something special.

SOE, is more verbose and occasionally talks about game status, but has been mostly promoting DC Universe Online of late.  Heck, even John Smedley is suddenly quite active on the DCUO front.

TERA Online talks a lot about… well… TERA Online.  Too much, I think.

LOTRO announces flash lotteries and community related items.

But BlizzardCS seems to be unique in that they give actual customer service status, like the in-game petition queue duration. (Which went from about a 3 day wait to about a a 12 hour wait in the course of a day at one point.  Somebody turned on the steam there.)

But they also give away Blizzard Authenticators by the hundreds.

No, really.  I’ve seen a couple of tweets like this already.

I was curious enough about this that I responded and won a free authenticator on the first try.  And they sent it to me, for free.  No shipping or anything.  I didn’t actually need an authenticator, but I know enough people who play WoW that I’ll find somebody to pass it on to.

But I thought it was interesting that the organization within Blizzard that probably benefits most from people having authenticators actually has budget to send them out to people who know where to find them for free.  It is one of those things that seems logical, but which I hardly ever see.

Enlightened self-interest or some such.

[Addendum: You can read a more clearly worded and detail description of the Blizzard Twitter Authenticator Give Away contest here.]

What Am I Looking For At BlizzCon?

BlizzCon starts in just a few hours.

The BlizzCon Musical Act

As we did last year, we have ordered the DirecTV Pay-Per-View at our house.

After viewing last year’s event, my daughter wanted us to go to BlizzCon this year.  Unfortunately, I was unemployed about the time the tickets went on sale, so thought we probably had better uses for our money.  Not that I could have gotten tickets.  How quickly did they sell out this year?

Anyway, after a flurry of deletions by my lovely wife, there is space on the (apparently non-upgradeable R15 model) DirecTV DVR for 20 hours of BlizzCon.

But what do I want to see this year?

Sure, watching panels is good.  Hearing from the people who make the games, and who are obviously very passionate about the games they make, is always good for me.

And the light bits are always fun, like the costume and dance contests.  Jay Mohr is supposed to be back again as MC of the contests.  He is a hoot to watch.

Then there is the live Tenacious D concert.  Even my wife might sit down and watch that.

But what else do I expect?  What else would I want?

World of Warcraft

Cataclysm is a little over a month away, so what can they really talk about that we don’t already know?  I mean, if you’re hard core enough to go to BlizzCon, you’re probably in the beta (unless you’re Wolfshead) or at least you’ve immersed yourself in what is coming.   The 4.0.1 patch has already dropped, so we have the new talent trees.  So what else is there.

I Expect:

  • Cataclysm Cheerleading
  • A lot of air time for the Cataclysm trailer
  • More details with few surprises
  • Maybe some new shiny announced for the Blizzard Store
  • Some excuse about why the World of Warcraft Magazine Fall issue isn’t in my hands yet
  • Goblin and Worgen dancers in the dance contest

I Want:

  • Something huge pulled out of the hat, a surprise they’ve kept under raps about Cataclysm
  • A great big hint about the next expansion
  • More bank slots (I always want more bank slots)

StarCraft II

This just released a couple of months back.  I still don’t own it, so my interest is low.  We were moaning at the office about how we could actually play the original StarCraft on machines we had at the office.  With StarCraft II, that just isn’t reality.  No LAN play an heavy system requirements… at least relative to the machines on which we work… which are from about 2004.

I Expect:

  • StarCraft II Cheerleading
  • Talks about upcoming patches
  • Ladder talk
  • Downloadable content for the Blizzard Store

I Want:

  • A date for the next episode
  • Details about the next episode (Zerg, please)
  • A price cut, LAN play, and a pony while I’m wishing

Diablo III

Here is the game about which we know the least, which gives Blizzard the opportunity to tell us something we don’t know.  Don’t blow it Blizz.

I Expect:

  • More game play videos
  • A whole lot of “here’s what we’re doing” panel time
  • Talk about RealID integration, and Facebook, and all that crap
  • The fifth and final class announced and demonstrated – If we get only this, it will be enough

I Want

  • A date, dammit.  I know it will be off by at least 90 days, but give me something
  • Some way to play without logging into Battle.net
  • Talk about how the Diablo III platform will be open to mods, with tools and real support, which they should have spent time doing for Diablo II over the last decade

Other Games

Of course, there is some other huge project going on at Blizzard.  But there has already been a denial from Blizzard that they will have any sort of announcement about this project.  Still, they might just be playing coy, and there isn’t a lot else to get us worked up about this time around that I can see.

I Expect:

  • Nothing

I Want:

  • A hint
  • Several hints
  • Maybe some anagrams
  • A teaser video

We shall see.

Of course, I’ll hear about any big news long before I see it on my recorded copy of BlizzCon.  I’ll be at work, and not in front of the TV, so anything really newsworthy will probably be a Yahoo headline before I see it.

But even when you’ve read the reports, which are always filtered through somebody elses’ perspective, it is nice to see the announcement on your own.

What will we see at BlizzCon?

Are You Buying StarCraft II?

StarCraft II comes out next Tuesday, and it is almost assured to be a best seller from day one.

I mean, it is a Blizzard product, right?

Or is it really the first Activision-Blizzard product?  Hrmm…

Anyway, it is coming out in a few days and I am trying to decide if I should buy it.

Part of me, the part that really enjoyed StarCraft when it came out in 1999, the part of me that wants to shout, “Jacked up and good to go!,” that part wants to go out and buy it on day one.

But then there is the part of me that is annoyed by the absence of direct LAN play features in the game and the fact that you will have to log into Battle.net even for solo play.  And then there is the whole Facebook integration and the Real ID question, which has been shelved for the moment, but which I am sure will return.

And finally, there is the part of me that played in the beta.  Whee, I got in the beta!  Okay, I got into it roughly 6 weeks before it ended, but I was there.  That experience left me with a few impressions:

  • The game looks really nice
  • The game play and controls are as crisp and as sure as expected
  • They took almost no risks with the game, so if you’ve played StarCraft, you know what you are getting
  • I suck at it

The last came from me getting smoked regularly in matches.  I’ve lost my build order and unit control skills over the years.  And since single player wasn’t available to me in the beta, I have no idea if that is at all worth the price of admission.

So I am on the fence about buying the game.  Nostalgia and the fact that Blizzard does make good games is pressing me forward.  But the Battle.net requirement and the fact that it is the same game most of us have played already makes me want to pass, at least until I hear how the single player campaign play.

How about you?

Battle.net Parental Controls Get Tweaked

This week’s Tuesday WoW/Battle.net maintenance  (which went until almost 5pm Pacific on some servers, compared to the usual noon-ish wrap up) included an update to the parental controls page.

They did not fix many of the issues that came with the move from it being part of World of Warcraft to being part of Battle.net. (see past rant on the subject)  They fixed one, to be exact.  And the whole thing still bypasses the Blizzard authenticator, which annoys me.

But there were a few other minor tweaks.

One was the color.  I guess that midnight blue was too dark for some.

Now in shades of gray

And they also added the ability to clear the schedule for a given day.  Previously you could only clear the whole schedule.  That fixed the “once you have a time slot on a given day, you cannot undo it without clearing everything” issue.

But more interesting in view of the whole Real ID in the forums blow up of two weeks back, is the addition of an option to allow forum posting. (Real ID still lives, btw.  Just not in the forums at the moment.)

One new check box

Previously there was only a check box to enable Real ID.  And, since Real ID was going to be required to post on the forums, the two actions were effectively controlled by a single control.

Now, however, in the wake of the “No Real ID in the forums” outburst, there is the new check box for forum posting access.

But what does it mean?

Was this planned to be there all along?  Is this a reaction to Blizzard having to yank their Real ID in the forums plan?

And what will it mean when StarCraft II comes out in a week?  The press release about Facebook integration with SC II seems to indicate that there will have to be additional factors to consider for parental controls.

I guess we’ll find out about that in a week.

The Biggest Lie About Real ID

Sometimes we get mired into arguing about minutia and miss the real point.  I’ve been going back and forth about the symptoms and ignoring the reality.  What forest, all I see are a bunch of trees.

Blizzard is not imposing Real ID on the WoW forums to clear out trolls or to make us responsible for our posts or to save money on forum moderation.  That is a load of crap. An excuse.  A smoke screen.  The post that set off nearly 2500 pages of responses (so far, including one from me) is just a side show, a distraction.

Seriously, are you telling me that after more than five years, suddenly Blizzard can’t take it any more?  Did Mike Morhaime suddenly crack and shout, “I’ve had it up to here with you damn trolls!  I’m taking you all down!” and start hurling murlocs around his giant office?

Not likely.

A big change like this, which is really a change in the way they do business, a change in the way they want to relate to their customers, always comes with a corporate press release.

So I went looking for one.

There is no corporate Blizzard press release out there about cleaning up the forums.

This is not the purpose of their grand stroke.

These are not the forum trolls you are looking for.

The people at Blizzard know that the forums are unlikely to get more civil.  And they also know that support issues diverted from the forums to email and the phones are likely to cost them more money, not save them any.

No, the only press release out there related to Real ID, and it doesn’t even mention it by name, is the announcement that StarCraft II will be integrated with Facebook.

Real ID is the result of that integration.

Because to integrate with Facebook, you have to use your real name.  So say the terms of service.

So if Blizzard wants to come play with Facebook, or is being told they have to go play with Facebook because somebody mentioned to Bobby Kotick that Facebook is where the money is, they have to go in with their subscribers real names in full view of the world.

Getting in bed with Facebook requires full disclosure.

“But wait!” I hear you say, “That press release only mentions StarCraft II!  We’re talking about the World of Warcraft forums!”

That is merely because we haven’t seen the right press release yet.

Prediction: New Cataclysm feature to be announce, Facebook integration with World of Warcraft.

I’m going to stick with that one until proven wrong.

You’re welcome for that blinding flash of the obvious.

You probably beat me to it by a few days.  I just haven’t made it to a post yet that laid it out quite like that.

What that means to World of Warcraft and the Cataclysm expansion… well… I think I’ll quote Robert Heinlein:

When in danger or in doubt
Run in circles, scream and shout!

You may now begin to panic.

If you wish to defer panic for a few minutes, go read this, laugh, sigh, and smile for a moment.

Then begin to panic.