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The Passing of Another Steam Summer Sale July 1, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
14 comments

Another Steam Summer Sale has come and gone.

As others have noted, its regularity… and the fact that we get a Holiday sale in December… has taken some of the edge off of the whole thing.  Seeing a whole pile of games marked down was a huge deal the first couple of times we saw it.  Now, however, we have come to expect it.

Oh look, games on sale... yawn...

Oh look, games on sale… yawn…

Such sales have changed my behavior some.  If there is a game I have to have right away, I still buy it right there and then… unless the sale is around the corner.  Steam screwed me on that last year.  I bought the Brave New World expansion for Civilization V the day it launched, despite the summer sale coming up.  And then two days later the Summer Sale launched and the expansion was marked down, a gaffe that even Steam realized might have been a discount too soon.

Steam tries to make up

Steam tries to make up

So maybe I won’t pre-order anything that will launch close to the sales zones any more, but otherwise my behavior on must-haves has not changed.

But for things I am not sure about, games that are not “must have” but merely nice to have… the Steam sales process has changed my behavior quite a bit.  My wish list is now filled with things that I “sorta” want, if the price is right, and I am in a good mood.  The impulse buy aspect of Steam sales has been replaced by watching my wish list.  I look at what is on sale that day, then look at my wish list, ponder if anything is “must have” at their current price, and then move on, generally without buying anything.

This year I did end up buying a couple of games.  One was for the strategy group “next game” plan that I wrote about last week, and which makes a good example of how Steam has influenced me.

While we had a list of potential games, Total War: Rome II was the primary contender, backed by Loghound. (I had other suggestions, but I wasn’t sold on any of them.)  A not-too-old release, it still has a list price of $59.99, the current benchmark price for AAA games from major studios.  As the summer sale was already in progress, it was marked down to half off.  $29.98 wasn’t a bad price.  There is a whole lot of game there.

But Steam has taught me to always wait until the REAL DEAL has been offered.  So while Rome II was the prime candidate, nobody moved to purchase it until Friday, because it wasn’t until Friday that the REAL DEAL kicked in and the price dropped to $20.37.  At that price it was an easy purchase and all of us picked up a copy.  So that is the tentative next game for the group, once we finish up our Civ V game (at some point in August by my guess) and if it turns out to be suitable.  A quick look shows a battle style that gives you a budget to buy units in advance, so I suspect this could mean long lead times before we actually play.  But the single player campaign looks to be worth the investment, so even if we don’t play it much, it was probably worth the money with the deep discount.

So there it is.  Our next game has been chosen.

I did have two impulse purchases, one of which was Europa Universalis IVas it had been marked down to $9.99.  It has been on my wish list since it launched, so I am not sure if it is really an “impulse” buy, but I grabbed it.  It is one of those games… like its predecessors… that I really want to like, but which is so complicated and so deep that I can never get into it and actually play.  I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to do simple things, which quickly becomes frustrating.  I have no reason to suspect that this will be any different.

The other was Ticket to Ride, which I already own on the iPad.  I should have just stuck with that.  The iPad version is the game as it should be played and as it should look and perform.  The Windows version is slow, graphically inferior, and prone to buffering mouse clicks as you wait for it to catch up, leading to many a mis-played moment.  I regret this purchase and I could not recommend this on Steam even at its very low sale price.

And, in a sale related matter that isn’t really about Valve or Steam, I was just a tiny bit annoyed to see Planetary Annihilation early access up on the list of things on sale… or even available at all.  I backed their kickstarter, but not at a level high enough to get early access yet.  I get a finished copy and that is all, but I actually paid more for that than the early access sale, which also gets you a full copy.  And Uber Entertainment, the studio behind the title, hasn’t been the best about communication when it comes to actual progress towards release, they are a year late at this point, and  they are out there hawking early access at retail.  I realize early access is basically a retail pre-order, but it still makes me think, “Dude, remember me? I gave you money nearly two years ago?”  Just the nature of Kickstarter projects I guess.

And then there was the contest.

In order to spice things up… and get people to spend more money… Valve put everybody on teams and set us against each other for the possibility of getting something for nothing… assuming you didn’t buy anything for this gimmick.  Clockwork over at Out of Beta covers the whole thing better than I, I just want to grouse about the level of exclusion.

Summer Adventure Gimmick

Summer Adventure Gimmick

Anybody who wanted to participate got dropped onto one of the five color teams.  However, to actually do anything to help your team, you had to be level 10, at least as far as I could tell.  So despite years of Steam usage and owning over 100 games, I wasn’t able to play because I was only level 7.

Level as of July 1, 2014

Level as of July 1, 2014

While that was up from where I stood last year, it still wasn’t enough.

The problem is… well one of the problems I suppose… is that I purchased most of my library before they got into the whole levels thing.  And one of the prime ways you earn points to level up is based on how much money you spend, so most of my purchases didn’t count.  The other problem is that I am not inclined to spend money just to level myself up on Steam.  But that probably excluded me from the Summer Adventure thing anyway, as Clockwork pegs the whole thing as a pay to win affair.

And, on the annoying front, one of the ways I could have earned a few badges and points was by voting on the content of upcoming sales.  Only you must be level 8 to earn anything by voting, so once again Steam failed to engage me by imposing what looks to be an arbitrary level limit on rewards.  Bleh.

So, the score for the event.

  • Purchases at the lowest possible price as Steam has trained us: 1
  • Impulse purchases: 2
  • Engagement in sale related events: 0
  • Games on Steam I haven’t even played yet: too many

Maybe I will be the “right” level for whatever event Steam has planned by the time the Holiday Sale comes around.

Steam Tags… Not So Bad Really… February 14, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
Tags: , ,
10 comments

So the big brouhaha of the week seems to be the tag system introduce by Valve that allows players to tag games listed in Steam with whatever the hell they want.

Queue typical human behavior.  Trolling.  Bad attempts at humor.  Injections of obsessive behavior.

But after reading several posts that pretty much convinced me that the world was going to spontaneously combust due to the absolute horror of this feature and the uses to which it was being put, I actually went and looked at the store pages for all of the games in my library.

And the results were not all that bad.

The key here is that Steam, by default, only shows you a few of the most popular tags… usually 3 to 5 depending on how long they are… and as far as I can see, the most accurate tags are bubbling up to fill that position.  So, for example, SimCity 4 seems to be quite accurate when it comes to tags.

SimCity4Steam

Yes, if you click on the little plus sign, you can see all of the tags people have added.  But even those are mostly accurate.  A couple editorialize… “last good one” is on the list… but I am not sure editorials are off limits or should be.  And all the games in my library look to be about on par.  Do I care that “one more turn” is one of the tags displayed for Civilization V? That is clearly an editorial, but seems totally appropriate to me.

Sure, some games seem to suffer from users being allowed to apply tags.  I wouldn’t be very happy if I was a developer on Call of Duty: Ghost.

CODGhostSteam

But I would probably be even less happy that Steam also displays the Metacritic score.

CODGhostMetacritic

In a world where big studio titles tend to be rated on a 70-100 scale, getting a 68 is already failing.

And for those who are concerned that these aren’t the tags they are looking for, I would point out that Steam has had genre tags for ages now.

CODGhostTags

So, if you already have that sort of thing in place, it seems like some editorializing might be appropriate in the user defined tags, which are marked as user defined tags.

Meanwhile, it would appear that Valve went through and cleaned out some of the more egregious and off topic tags that were polluting the system.  Holocaust denial is no longer a thing in user defined tags as far as I can tell.  Prison Architect is no longer tagged with “Not-a-rape Simulator.”

So it appears to me that Valve has decided to devote some resources to policing the tags, which seems reasonable.

I can see how the game studios are still mad about this.  It allows people to say negative things about their games!  Oh no!

Color me somewhat unconcerned on that front.

So worst idea ever?  Not really.  Crowd sourcing from idiots?  On the whole, no.  Whatever Tobold’s point was… as I mentioned above, Valve already had tags… handled… I think.  That Tumblr site devoted to bad Steam tags?  Taken down.  The world? Continues to turn.

Addendum:  And I forgot to mention, if you’re really worked up about a tag, you can report it.

What offends you?

What offends you?

Crowd sourcing goes both ways here it seems.

December in Review December 31, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, Month in Review, Pokemon, World of Warcraft.
Tags: , ,
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The Site

How many extra embarrassment points to I get for misspelling the word “embarrassment” in the title of a post?

The usual story, I throw some text in the title as a placeholder, write the post, hit publish, and realize some minutes later that I didn’t actually look at the title.  While I fixed the title here right away, the error was immortalized in the URL and on G+ and Twitter.  Go me.

WordPress.com broke a few less things than usual this month and provided me with the 2013 version of their blog annual report:

WP2013TAGN

I have flagged the report as public, so you can go and read it here if you want.  There isn’t much to it really, just a few basic Top 5 lists.  Interestingly, a couple posts that never bubble up to the top 12 I post monthly still get enough traffic over time that they end up on the top 5 for the year.  Of course, they produced this report more than a day early, so if as few as 5,000 people suddenly decide to view one of my posts, it could be rendered incorrect.  That doesn’t seem likely, but it could happen in theory.  If you are really into this report, you can compare it with the reports from 2012 or 2011.

And I mentioned quite a while back that there was a huge surge in Brazilian email list and SEO spam coming in.  That seems to have subsided.  The new thing this month appears to be online casino spam in Swedish.  Vive l’esprit international!

One Year Ago

I wrote a post looking at 50 years of James Bond.  It included ranked lists for people to argue about.

There was my standard Highs & Lows post for the year gone by, and I reviewed my questions for 2012.

Turbine announced that they were bringing back Asheron’s Call 2.  I am not sure what became of that.

I was deep into my World of Tanks binge.  I was up to the KV-2 on the Soviet heavy line, choosing that path after the three way split at the KV-1. (And the T-28.)  I was also still working on the German tank destroyer line.

We were having a bit of fun in Need for Speed: World.  I even made a holiday video.

In Rift we were having some trouble getting a full group together, so we were doing some lower level instances as a group of four.  I was also struggling with the whole dimension thing.

Gaff and I took a quick peek into EverQuest II.  Nostalgia didn’t last long.  I also took a one-time shot at Wizardy Online.  It just wasn’t a game for me, but not every game has to be.

I was looking back on a year in null sec in EVE Online.  The Retribution expansion went live.  And I hit 90 million skill points.

I crammed together all the ads I could find from the EVE Online splash screen.  The launcher killed off those ads.

Five Years Ago

December seemed to be all about the micropayments and the like.  Sony Online Entertainment surprised some by putting Station Cash driven stores into EverQuest and EverQuest II.  The selection wasn’t great and the pricing seemed a bit off, but I was more interested to know what other SOE products would get the Station Cash treatment.

And then EA announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic would be microtransaction financed.  Or maybe they didn’t.

In EverQuest II I ran Reynaldo Fabulous from creation to level 50 in an very short (to me) stretch of time.  And then I stopped.

In Azeroth we were still coming to grips with the Northrend instances.  In Utgarde Keep we managed to kill off Prince Keleseth, but couldn’t hold it together to finish the instance.  Outside, we were running around doing quests.

Meanwhile, somebody was working on a WoW code, akin to the old geek code that used to clutter many a .sig file back when Usenet was cool and we knew the spammers by name.

I actually found some time to play Lord of the Rings Online.

And on the MUD nostalgia front I was reminding people what quests used to be like and sharing some really bad limericks.

New Linking Blogs

The following blogs have linked this site in their blogroll, for which they have my thanks.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in December

  1. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  2. Greetings from the Timeless Isle… of DEATH!
  3. Quote of the Day – CCP Layoffs and World of Darkness
  4. Shroud of the Avatar… It’s a Thing
  5. Do You Know the Way to Blackrock Caverns?
  6. Seated on the Throne of Tides
  7. Remembering Warhammer Online
  8. LOTRO and the Latest Insta-Level Scheme
  9. The Instance Group… Under the Sea
  10. Four Space Operas and a Funeral
  11. An Embarrassment of Options…
  12. Looking Back at 2013 – Highs and Lows

Search Terms of the Month

love strawberry hate raspberry
[I'm with you on that.]

eve online missiles or guns?
[As much as it pains me, guns.]

ccp mintchip fired
[Not that I have seen.]

why would someone transport plex?
[That is one of the mysteries of EVE.]

jita make lego bolo
[All those words mean something, but not when strung together.]

EVE Online

I passed the two year mark in null sec this month.  Despite being in something of a lull for the last couple of months due to the lack of a really intense deployment, I still keep my hand in with a fleet now and again.  I still enjoy a big fleet fight and sovereignty wars in general.

World of Warcraft

The Azeroth binge continues.  I think I have said this before, but everybody in the regular group is playing at about their maximum rate.  I know I have been playing WoW more than anything else by quite a margin.  It is a combination of Blizzard smoothness, familiarity, and each of us discovering in turn that Mists of Pandaria is actually a pretty meaty expansion… and that there was still quite a bit left uncovered in past expansions.  I keep going back to bits of The Burning Crusade with various characters.  I feel like I haven’t done very much in that expansion to this day.

Steam

The Steam Winter sale has almost run its course.  I did manage to find a couple of titles I wanted on deep sale.  Company of Heroes 2 is the one I have actually spent some time playing.  It isn’t bad, though it isn’t quite Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin in depth.  The other game I bought was Endless Space, which I have heard both good and bad about, but which dropped to a price point that I just bought it.  Now to find time to actually play it.

Coming Up

It will be the new year, which means tomorrow I will have a post with some ridiculous predictions and such as well as a somewhat delayed yet probably very predictable 2014 MMO and like games outlook.  Things I do every year so at least you can plot my insanity/inanity over time.

My daughter also got a Nintendo 3DS XL for Christmas, and immediately used some gift cards she got to go buy Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Pokemon X.  She has played quite a bit of both since then.  I will have to give the unit a closer look.  It seems very nice and the big screen means I can read the text without my glasses.  Anyway, there will no doubt be a post on that at some point in the not too distant future.  Is the 3DS XL worth it, or would a DSi XL and a pile of older games be a better choice?

Then there is the ongoing adventures of the instance group, which I have been slacking on the last two weeks and all the things that go along with that.

And, finally, I have a Mystery Code from the EVE Online Second Decade Collector’s Edition to give away.  There will be a contest.  I expect it will involve screen shots.  I can’t help it, I can sit and look at EVE Online screen shots all day.

Steam and the Path of Exile October 25, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, entertainment, Path of Exile.
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9 comments

Path of Exile was sort of the third horse in the two horse race to find the true successor to Diablo II.  I got into the beta almost two years back and was pleasantly surprised by how well the game recreated some of what I felt were the defining essences of Diablo II.  Grinding Gear Games seemed to be on the right path.  I put it on my list of games I was looking to play in 2012.

Path of Exile

Path of Exile

2012 came and we saw the release of Diablo III in the first half of the year on what has become known internationally as Error 37 day.  Then towards the end of 2012 Torchlight II made it on the scene.  Neither of those games really captured me as neither really felt like true successors to the Diablo II crown.  Diablo III clearly got story right, but failed on itemization as well as with the “OMG we hate RMT so much!!1″ auction house plan, which even they now grant didn’t work out quite as plannedTorchlight II got points on simplicity and itemization plus having real modding potential, but really didn’t have a story that was at all compelling to me, which meant that the game ended up feeling like a disjointed series of fetch and carry quests. (Plus I am still waiting for the promised Macintosh version so my daughter an I can play together.)

And neither game got many points when it came to atmosphere, one of the more compelling aspects of Diablo II.  It takes more than just making sure there is a desert zone and a jungle zone and so on.  The sense of atmosphere was spoiled because both games apparently took place on worlds where OSHA had mandated all subterranean lairs must be fully illuminated via a blanket installation of indirect lighting.  They successfully banished the dark and, with it, the prevailing sense of mood.  Go look at that YouTube clip in that Essence of Diablo II post I did a couple of years back to see what I mean.

Yes, some people did not like that.  I happened to think it was a vital element in setting the mood of the game.

Those two games launched, I played them both for a bit, and then let them fall by the wayside.  Meanwhile, Path of Exile remained in beta.  Earlier this year it went into open beta, so more people could pile in and give it a try, but otherwise remained an unfinished project.

More text and some screen shots after the cut.

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Delta Force – A Memory of Voxels August 7, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment, Other PC Games.
Tags: , , , ,
7 comments

I wish I could have seen the expression on my own face when, at the EverQuest Next reveal, they first said the word “Voxels.”

I am pretty sure it would have been a dubious frown, that serious look I get when things do not add up.  My lips disappear as my mouth forms a tight, inverted U.

And that is all related to a game called Delta Force.

Delta Force

Delta Force

NovaLogic brought out Delta Force back in the late 90s and it was something of the pinnacle of pre-3D accelerated shooters.  It had a single player campaign, not terrible computer AI, and offered online mulitplayer matches that we have come to expect from shooters.  But its big bragging point was terrain.

It launched at around the same time as Starsiege: Tribes, another game I loved, and which became something of a cult classic that got played for years beyond what one might expect.  Tribes, building on the ideas of Quake, attempted to create an outdoor multiplayer shooter using the 3D technology of the time, which was giant polygons with textures that looked like you laid bad linoleum in the forest.

Cyclops Attack! Run!

Not Tribes, but you get the idea

So its world was often a lot of flat planes laid out.  And, of course, you needed a 3D accelerated video card of some sort… probably a 3dfx model if you were like most people… in order to play.  And such cards were reasonably rare at that point.

Meanwhile Delta Force used a voxel based engine that used all those volumetric pixels, from which the word “voxel” is derived, to create an ugly (by today’s standards) but much more realistic terrain.  There were all sorts of places to hide, shallow depressions, rises, outcrops and such which, when combined with the positional abilities of the game… you could stand, crouch, or go prone, which was also somewhat uncommon at the time… allowed all sorts of tactical flexibility.  Plus the environments were huge compared to other games.

Looking out on an Uzbek land

Looking out on an Uzbek land

But the key to the whole package was that NovaLogic’s engine gave you all of this without requiring a 3D accelerated video card.  Absolutely the right move in 1998 when the game shipped and undoubtedly one of the factors leading to its popularity.

One of out IT guys brought a copy into work to show us and I am pretty sure that most of us bought a copy of the game on the way home that night.  There were some attempts to play as a group from home, which lead to my first voice coms experience when we tried using Roger Wilco.  That went okay.  But it was when we all brought a copy into the office and found that it played well enough on the standard 200MHz Pentium Pros that were common at the time that the real fun began.  Over the local network, using the phone system for coms, battles ranged.

NovaLogic followed success with more success, bringing out Delta Force 2 and so forth, creating a whole series of games.

But time was not on their side.

While ignoring 3D video cards was a good plan in 1998, by 2000 things had changed.  The introduction of nVidia’s TNT2 chipset, made reasonably priced and performing accelerated 3D video card readily available.   This alone pretty much killed 3dfx, marginalized Matrox and S3 in the consumer market, and could be said to have started the trend that eventually sent ATi into the arms of AMD.  It also made 3D configurations so common that the NovaLogic forums were often full of questions and complaints about why somebody’s brand new TNT2 card did not improve Delta Force‘s performance.  No 3D support became a burden.

That was the end of NovaLogic’s dominance.  They did okay with Joint Operations, which continued their traditions of lots of players on big battlegrounds, but other franchises did better.  MODs on Battlefield 1942 made it more exciting.  And other titles stepped in, so that every year we hear about another Call of Duty when it comes to shooters, but nobody mentions NovaLogic.

Years passed.

Then there was the EverQuest Next reveal this past weekend, and the word “voxel” and a flood of memories.  Included in that was “voxels = bad,” which was entirely built on my distant memories of the Delta Force franchise aging badly.  Voxels are good, or good if you want to create landscapes that are not made up of polygons.  It was NovaLogic’s engine that did not stand the test of time.  Or such is my memory.  As usual, the freshness, accuracy, and reliability of all memories older than 30 seconds on this blog are not guaranteed.

So I decided to see if NovaLogic was even around still.  First I looked at Steam.  There I found that not only did NovaLogic appear to still exist, but all of the Delta Force games were apparently up for sale on Steam.  Delta Force alone was listed for $19.99, which was too much for me to spend on nostalgia, but it made me go check out NovaLogic’s site.  There I found I could get Delta Force for just $4.99.

That was a nostalgia compatible price, so I bought a copy, downloaded it, installed it, and much to my surprise, it actually ran.

Of course, I was immediately reminded of how far we have come.  The game wanted to play at 640×480, which on my 1600×1200 monitor ends up being very blocky in full screen or a very small in windowed mode.

Shooting a distant tower guard

Shooting a distant tower guard

And there were even tinier settings.

Delta Force Settings

Delta Force Minimal Settings

I recall there being a school of thought for the game that had you play at the minimum setting with the minimum color because your responsiveness was greatly improved.  You ended up just shooting at what amounted to single pixels when sniping, but it worked for some.

So I loaded up the game and played a bit.  And it played quite well.  I had to go fix the controls.  I have raged in the past about EverQuest at launch having not grasped the WASD movement standard, something the went back as least as far as Lode Runner.  But here was Delta Force thinking I would use the arrow keys for movement.  I had to swap that over to WASD first thing.  But after that it was fun.

I ran some missions, which were harder than I recalled.  The AI did well enough to make me keep my head down.  I have memories of completely broken AI, but I think that came in with later installments of the series.

Then I downloaded and installed the latest patch for Delta Force, which promptly broke the game so that it would no longer let me play single player.  And the likelihood of playing multiplayer seemed faint at best.  As much as I would like another such opportunity, I don’t think there are any more internet hosted games out there.

So I uninstalled the game, cleared out the folder, and then installed it again and was off and shooting.

The default weapon is fun, the M4 with a scope.  But the real good times come with the big sniper rifle, the Barrett Light .50.

The game itself holds up pretty well after all these years.  Graphics, not so much.  What was described as sacrificing “looks for game play” makes the screen hard to look at some times.  And playing sniper at long ranges, even with the video cranked up to 800×600, you still end up shooting at stacks of pixels.  But it gave me an evening of fun and I might go finish out the campaign just for kicks.

And I found that, while the individual game price on Steam is pretty outrageous, they do have a bundle that seems reasonable if I feel like a full round of nostalgia.

Prices calculated in 1950s dollars

Prices calculated in 1950s dollars

Save $260 on that bundle!  Such a deal!

If you are interested in pictures of the game in action, there are more after the cut.

Unless you have a tiny monitor, they will all show as full size in the gallery viewer.

Included are some of the game screens and me using a few of the different weapons.  You will see the scope mode over and over, which is interesting in this day and age.  They tried to combine the scope view while keeping your wider vision available.  The “two eyes open” scope method.  It can be confusing at time to have two aim points.

Also, in a few of the pictures, you can see the tracers.  Red tracers are the bad guys, blue tracers are friendly.  Though they all hit just the same.  In open multiplayer a lot of people favored games with tracers turned off, as they were very obvious pointers right at your position as soon as you opened fire.

And the terrain itself.  It looks blocky.  In fact, it looks like I am playing on oatmeal world when full screen on my monitor.  But it works as advertised, being huge with lots of varied features in and around which to hide and shoot.  We shall see how EQN fares with its voxel based engine.

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We Bid Adieu to Another Steam Summer Sale July 23, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
Tags: , , ,
9 comments

In the end, it is difficult to find anything directly negative to say about Steam and their annual Summer sale.  Complaining that something isn’t discounted enough tends to ring a bit hollow.

SteamSummerSale2013

Sure, I was a bit bemused at the Brave New World expansion for Civilization V going on sale just two days after it launched.  Valve seemed a somewhat embarrassed about that as well.

But lots of things were on sale.  Literally everything on my wishlist was marked down at least 25%.  The fact that I did not purchase everything on my wishlist probably says something about the nature of my wishes.

Towards the end of the sale, while chatting with Gaff, I did end up purchasing two games.

I picked up Chivalry: Medieval Warfare for $6.24, a price it seemed to hit three or four times during the sale.  In the end, I am glad it was that cheap if only because it is practically impossible to play the game with my trackball.  Two key attacks require using the scroll wheel, which means removing my fingers from the trackball mid-fight, so I can either aim my attack or make my attack, but not both.

I managed to struggle through the initial tutorial, but the guy who attacks you immediately afterwards killed me so easily due to my fumbling with the balance of aim and attack that I quit the game.  I need to steal my gaming mouse back from my daughter if I want to play this.

In the last hours of the sale, I decided that being just one dollar from my target price shouldn’t stop me from buying The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.  And then I opted for the deluxe edition, which was more expensive.  Go team logic!  Given that it was at the top of their sales chart at the end, a lot of people were with me on that one.

My experience with Skyrim, limited though it might be, was much better.  While combat is similar to Chivalry, I did not need the scroll wheel and I was able to zoom out into a third person view, which years of MMOs has trained me to use, and which made me feel more comfortable and situationally aware.

I got through the opening scenes, followed my fellow prisoners in escape, fell off of the tower and ended up following the sympathetic guard, which at least Yahtzee seemed to think might not be the brightest of plans.  Sympathetic or not, his lot was just about to lop my head off, no?  Anyway, now I am dressed like him and running around in some tunnels.  I would have gotten further, but it was time for dinner.

Probably the most amusing and/or embarrassing time during the sale was when Gaff was trying to get me to buy things he just purchased on the theory that we might play them together.  It turned out that I had purchased most of them already in past Steam sales, yet had not played any of them.  The argument against buying anything new during the sale, certainly.

I did get him to not buy the Train Simulator 2013, which was marked down something crazy, like 95%.  They want you to be able to buy their thousands of dollars of DLC.  I repeated the list of cons from one of my posts about the game, and the fact that the game pauses when you tab out was a deal killer.

At the end of the sale my Steam profile level remained exactly the same, helping to reinforce my complete lack of understanding as to what it means.

Only level 4

Still only level 4

I played some games during the sale.  I played a lot of Civilization V, which earned me some Steam trading cards.  So I have some of those.  Again, not sure what they do or why I should care, but I am armed with some now.

So here we are, at what must be one of the quietest times for the Steam sales team.  Who buys something the day after the big Steam Summer Sale?  Yes, they still have a couple of items on sale.  Something is discounted at all times.  But after so many things were marked down, it is almost a let down to look at the store now.

And, of course, what this has really done is taken our training to not buy anything except during the big sales.  I certainly got the big rolled-up newspaper over the nose for pre-ordering Brave New World for only a small discount when it was marked down even further just two days after launch.  Way to go Steam.

Do you feel the same way?  Do you have a pile of unplayed games due to such Steam sales?  Will you wait for the big Steam sales rather than purchasing in between?  Have they trained you yet?

And how many more days until the big Steam Holiday Sale?

Brave New World Brings Back Old Civilization Features July 10, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
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4 comments

Yesterday saw the launch of the Brave New World expansion to Civilization V.

CivVBNW

I had it pre-ordered on Steam and downloaded the update as soon as I got home last night.  MMO gaming was out the window as I tried out the new expansion.

There was the usual spate of items included in the expansion.  New civilizations are included, though I cannot see that as a big thrill unless you are looking for some more “Win a game as…” achievements or want to see what the city names are.  Some new scenarios were added on, though I must admit I rarely play those, preferring the traditional long game.  And, of course, there were some new wonders thrown in.

As always, you must remember I look at this through the lens of Civilization II, which remains one of my favorite games ever.  So I used to create new civilizations by editing the game data, which was stored in a text file.  Notepad is ever the most basic tool in software development.  Achievements were barely a thing, and only if you count the high score list.  Wonders were much less numerous, and many of those that were there had a much bigger impact on the game.  And…well… I still preferred the long game back then as opposed to scenarios.

But it is that bias towards Civ II that made this expansion a must have for me, as the Firaxis team brought back two aspects of early versions of the game and integrated them into Civ V; ideology and trade routes.  Eager to see those in action, I started a standard game on a big map.  I played as Morocco, which I only noted was one of the new civilizations a ways into the game, showing how much I pay attention to those sorts of things.

Ideology used to be an incredibly important aspect of the game in the Civ II days.  Of course, it used to be a bit of an exploit as well.  If you could research democracy early in the game and build the Statue of Liberty wonder, which was a mid-game wonder that gave you access to all of the various government ideologies, and then swapped to communism, you gained a pretty steep advantage.  And it also eliminate the period of anarchy when changing ideologies.

In Civ V, ideology is now an aspect of the game, but it is limited to the modern age or after you build factories in a certain percentage of your cities.  So you can not longer have a pre-industrial dictatorship of the proletariat.   Unfortunately I did not make it to the modern age in my first game out with the expansion.  Instead I got involved with a bloody little three-way war with the Celts and Portugal, who both came at me at once, with the Greeks weighing in now and again, in one corner of the map that left us all poking each other with spears and lances well into the 19th century.  Of course, that was plenty of fun, despite not being a winning game, but I wasn’t building many universities in the middle of the war.  So that aspect is left to be explored.

And then there was trade routes.  I like what they did with this.  In Civ II trade routes were pretty simple.  You built a trade caravan unit that represented one of the items your city had to offer and, ideally, sent it off to a city that wanted that item and which, in turn, offered up something your city desired.  When the caravan arrived, the trade route was established, and that was that pretty much.  And even if neither city had the right items, some sort of trade would be established and would still be better than no trade at all.

In Brave New World, trade routes are also established by building a caravan or, for sea trade, a trading ship.  Once built, you are given a pretty detailed list of the places with which you can trade and the benefits they will give.  You select one and off your caravan goes.  But once it arrives, the unit then returns and then goes back again, and so on, actually representing the trade route in game.  And the unit is vulnerable to attack.  If it is destroyed, the trade route is broken.  So you have to actually protect your trade routes.

In my dirty little war with Portugal and the Celts, I had cavalry in their back field expressly going after their caravans as well as triremes afloat to intercept their trade on the high seas.  And during a period of peace when I was trying to annex a captured city and was facing a lot of unrest due to unhappy citizens, the uprisings managed to destroy almost all of my own trade routes, putting me in the red on both happiness and finances.

Fun stuff.

There are also some enhancements to the cultural victory aspect of the game, including tourism and great works which, in the midst of a war, were largely left unexplored by me.  But it looks interesting.

One of the downsides of the expansion is that Firaxis did not seem to spend much time on performance enhancements this time around.  That was one of the things that the Gods & Kings expansion offered, a boots to performance.  So as the game progressed, I again found myself spending a lot of time waiting for the game.  Of course, it doesn’t help that I like big maps and the marathon pace, but I still contend that my system is beefy enough on the processing front that anything that bogs it down has to be pretty fearsome code-wise.

And the team did not appear to spend any time on some of the minor annoyances.  The game still seems to delight in showing me messages out of order order.  And it always seems to jump straight to the “Next Turn” button before allowing that, just maybe, I might still have some units that need orders.  I suspect that the code has been written to show “Next Turn” right away because it is prone to getting stuck elsewhere and that button at least sends things on their way.

All in all though, I am happy with the expansion so far.  It will no doubt keep me busy for some time and make it less likely that I will buy a bunch of games when the Steam Summer Sale finally shows up this year.  Rumor has it that the sale starts tomorrow.

Age of Empires II – HD Edition, That’s What I’m Talking About April 10, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
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7 comments

The Age of Empires II – HD Edition went live on Steam yesterday, and is a perfect example of what I meant when I wrote about games I would like to see revamped.

AoK450

It offers up what I would call “quality of life” improvements such as:

  • Re-mastered for high resolution displays 1080p+.
  • Enhanced visual engine with improved terrain textures, water, fire and ambient lighting effects.
  • New Steamworks features: Achievements, Leaderboards, Matchmaking and Cloud support.
  • Share user created content with Steam Workshop support.

without changing the core game play.  I have been anxious to try it out since it was announced last month.  And given its position on the Steam Top Sellers list, I am not alone.

Top of the Chart

Top of the Chart

Granted, it is modestly prices compared to a lot of that list… just $20… and this is a mid-week reading, but that still shows there is some support for the game.  And it has actually been on that list for more than a week now, with people grabbing the pre-order version which offered a $2 discount.

So last night I was able to download the game and take it out for a run.  And it was good.

Smiting my foes

Smiting my foes

The graphic updates are small but effective.  It looked good full screen on my 1600×1200 20″  monitor.  And one of the first things I saw in the Steamworks mod library were replacement icons for the resources, to change them back to the old ones people are probably used to at this point.  I must admit, I looked at those and kept thinking, “Is that gold?”

All is not perfect in the world though.

The launcher does not draw correctly on my system.

Funky Launcher - Their Term

Funky Launcher – Their Term

There is actually a link at the bottom of the of the launcher that says, “My launcher looks funky?” which actually shouldn’t be a question because my launcher clearly looks funky. (Might I suggest “Does your launcher look funky?”)

Clicking on that link brings up a page… explicitly in Internet Explorer because Microsoft is involved with this.. that say that if you have your desktop text size set to anything besides 100%, the launcher gets screwed up.  I have mine set to 110% because I need the text just a little bit bigger on my monitor to be able to read things comfortably without getting out the reading glasses.  And, frankly, I am not going to change that… it requires a reboot if I recall right… just for a game.

Fortunately, it is just the launcher than has this issue, and I only see that for a brief time.  But this is not the first time the desktop DPI setting has caused problems with a game.  I got into the End of Nations beta at one point and the game threw an error and would not launch if your setting was anything but 100%.   That made it “end of beta” for me.  Damn young engineers and their good eyesight.

Also on the iffy list are achievements.  They do not appear to be hooked up correctly.  I played through a couple of quick games last night which, if I read the achievements right, should have netted me a couple.  But none were awarded.  Plenty of time for that later I suppose.

The game also seemed to be confused as to whether it should use the name I entered in the game, Wilhelm IV, or my Steam user name, Wilhelm Arcturus, when playing the game.  It seemed to use one or the other at various points.  I might not have noticed this except for the fact that the in-game name field won’t accept a name as long as Wilhelm Arcturus.

And, not really going out on a limb here, I am going to guess that unless you already have an account, that this being a Steam only game is probably an issue for some.

Still, for me, none of those got in the way of playing the game.  Now I have to get Potshot to get a copy.

I do wonder what the impact of this game will be.  For example, there was a group that created an unofficial expansion for the game back in December.  Will they forge ahead separately or will they embrace Steam and move what they can into the Steam Workshop?

And what about Game Ranger, the service that basically picked up the slack for Microsoft on the internet game play aspect of things.  Age of Empires II and its variations look to be the most popular game played on their service.  Will this hurt them?

And what will success on this front mean in the gaming industry?  The current fad is to remake old games in a new image, something that has not been wholly satisfactory.  The people who played the original often balk at changes.  Would we better served with efforts like this that leave the core game play alone and merely polish things up so that the game plays and looks good on current systems?

And do game developers even want to do that sort of thing?

I recall being in college back in the 80s, back when the Japanese were going to take over our tech industry.  They had conquered manufacturing and were producing software engineers at such a rate that they would clearly destroy the US software industry next.  A professor, who wast gamely trying to teach us Pascal, stated that this would never happen.

His evidence was a then recent survey of computer science grads and what sort of projects they hoped to work on in their career.  The survey showed that a vast majority of the Japanese respondents wanted to go on to established projects and help maintain and improve them over time.  The US respondents went completely the other way and mostly wanted to work on new projects.  That desire to strike out into uncharted territory, he said, was they key to ongoing success.

Now, I do not know if that actually played into things, but the Japanese clearly did not take over US software development regardless of how many Japanese cars there are in Silicon Valley.  However, that survey remained in the back of my mind for all of these years because the desire to work on something new and interesting seems to be quite a common thread where ever I ended up.

And reworking old games to bring them up to current standards doesn’t seem to fall into that category.

Does that have any influence on how often these sorts of revamps get done?

What do you think?

Age of Empires II – HD Edition March 8, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
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3 comments

Keen tipped me to an announcement today that Hidden Path Entertainment is working on an updated version of Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings.  It is called Age of Kings II: HD Edition.

AoK450

The game will include both the original content as well as The Conquerors expansions and will add the following features:

  • Re-mastered for high resolution displays 1080p+.
  • Enhanced visual engine with improved terrain textures, water, fire and ambient lighting effects.
  • New Steamworks features: Achievements, Leaderboards, Matchmaking and Cloud support.
  • Share user created content with Steam Workshop support.

All of which is curious timing because just last week I posted about Age of Kings getting an unofficial expansion.  It will be interesting to see if the team at Forgotten Empires will be able to (or even want to) include some of the changes they have done to the game via the Steamworks user content option.

This is such big news that Microsoft even has a page up about it.  Maybe this means that they will update their ancient Age of Kings page.  It still has ads from 2001 running on it.

Anyway, I have no doubt that Hidden Path, who made one of my favorite tower defense games, will do a good job bringing this classic into the 21st century.   But we will find out in about a month, as it is slated to ship on Steam (and only Steam I gather) on April 9, 2013.

Looking Back at 2012 – Highs and Lows December 26, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
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15 comments

Every year I try to come up with a list of highs and lows for the year.  You can go back and read my 2010 and 2011 editions if you so desire.  I often complain about the same things year after year.  As for 2012, this is what I recall.

Free to Play

Highs:

  • Another pile of games went from subscription to free to play as a default business model.  If you are a fan, you have lots of options now.
  • Free to play continues to offer the best “free trial” option for games.

Lows:

  • Clearly the dominant business model to the extent that being free to play no long bestows any sort of competitive advantage as it did back when DDO and LOTRO made the transition.  Merely going free to play will not save your game.
  • Being a primary source of income, with revenue targets to achieve, the in-game cash shop becomes a major focus of free to play games.  Increasingly, it is players who buy from the cash shop who matter most, even in games like EQII that push you to become a subscriber. Subscribing removes some annoyances and restrictions, but you are still pushed to buy from the cash shop.  They even hand you a bit of their RMT currency every month in order to prime the pump.
  • An early justification for cash shops and RMT currency was the idea of selling thing to players that could not be paid for via credit card due to transaction fees.  The idea was that players would be offered many inexpensive items that they would buy en masse.  Instead, items that cost less than $5.00, or one third of a months subscription, seem to be the tiny minority of items available… at least at the generally understood value of the RMT currency.
  • The vicious circle of discounting the RMT currency to drive people to purchase it, followed by cash shop discounts to soak up the ensuing currency glut may be emerging.
  • Some players seem to think they can get something for nothing.  They cheer when a game goes free to play, but then get upset when the inevitable reality emerges.  There is no such thing as free.

Turbine

Highs:

  • The pleasant Middle-earth charm of LOTRO can still be found.
  • The Riders of Rohan expansion has received much praise.
  • Still one of the few F2P MMOs that lets you earn their cash shop currency in-game.
  • Have I mentioned their music system lately?  Why hasn’t anybody shamelessly ripped this off?

Lows:

  • Not actually playing LOTRO, there is little chance I will see any of that cool new Rohan content… well, ever.
  • The heady days of F2P success have clearly worn off, and Turbine’s WB overlords have been cracking the revenue whip.  So we have the despoilment of Middle-earth moving forward in the cash shop.
  • Really one of the great passive-aggressive community relations fiascos occurred when Turbine asked for comments on their awful hobby-horse idea with the caveat that they didn’t want to hear anything negative.  That sort of thing never turns out badly.
  • And the F2P divide continues.  You can be a fan of the game, but unless you are buying stuff from the cash shop, you don’t mean anything.  And so some long time fans of the game seem to be moving on.  Eru wept!

Sony Online Entertainment

Highs:

  • EverQuest still going 13 years in and now has parcel delivery through the mail, more zones, five new levels, and hotbars that look like they are now from this century.
  • EverQuest Mac got a call from the governor while on death row, so lives for a while longer.
  • Planetside 2 launched!  That is a massive shooter!
  • Vanguard is alive and free to play and getting content updates!  And Brad McQuaid is back working on it.
  • The Krono experiment will make for an interesting change to watch.
  • Vague promises of a more sandbox-like EverQuest game in EverQuest Next in hopes of breaking the “me too” MMO mold where everything is basically based on EverQuest.  Sounds interesting, but we’re a long way from reality.

Lows:

  • They screwed up Station Cash valuation through heavy discounting and cash shop blanket discounts to the point of requiring SOE to stop selling expansions and gold subscriptions for Station Cash.  This in turn puts more pressure on the cash shop people to sell a couple of useful items and piles of cosmetic crap.  Meanwhile, the triple Station Cash sales continue because, of course, they have trained us to hold out for that.
  • SOEmote.  Science experiments are cool and all, but SOE is starting to accumulate a few too many such things in its basement.  Voice control, Station Launcher, will SOEmote join these on the scrap heap eventually?
  • EverQuest Online Adventures fell by the wayside.
  • Didn’t SOE already have a sandbox-like game in SWG?  The word is that Lucas was behind NGE and the closure, but SOE still has blood on its hands.
  • The EverQuest time locked progression servers seem to be dying from neglect, which is ironic because every player on those servers is a subscriber.  That is a requirement.  So I guess we see where a server full of subscribers ranks in the free to play world?

CCP

Highs:

  • No major player revolt provoking crises.  There is always some drama and things to piss off players, like the inventory changes.  But there was nothing that came anywhere close to the uproar when flying in space was set aside in favor of space Barbies with the Incarna expansion.
  • Really some cool new features in this year’s EVE expansions.
  • A year in null sec was a whole new experience for me.

Lows:

  • With no crisis to rise to, the EVE Online CSM went back to being just a marketing tool. I can see no tangible benefit to players from CSM7.  Roll on galactic student council.
  • DUST 514?  Have you heard of it?  Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you while you were playing PlanetSide 2.
  • So, yeah, null sec.  The wars are over.  What now?

Blizzard

Highs:

  • WoW still has more players than any other subscription MMO you play… not that there are many of those left.
  • WoW remains immensely profitable.
  • Mists of Pandaria shipped, putting WoW back over the 10 million players mark.
  • Diablo III shipped at last, and sold a lot of boxes, both real and virtual.

Lows:

  • Pretty much done with WoW for now.
  • No StarCraft II expansion yet.
  • Diablo III shipped about five years too late.
  • Customer support dickishness around the ability to shut off future payments when you signed up for the Annual Pass.  You can be a dick about many things, but when you start refusing to stop billing credit cards, you have crossed a line.
  • The Blizz obsession with hacks and cheating turned Diablo III into an “always online” experience that lead to the Error 37 fiasco and much complaining about things like server downtime and patch days.
  • The Diablo III auction house, a clear reaction to the illicit RMT that happened in Diablo II and WoW, managed to kill off the “item hunt” part of the game for some.
  • The level based difficulty of Diablo III meant having to play through the whole game in normal mode just to ramp up some challenge.  Some people will be happy to play through the game four times with each character.  I am not one of those people.
  • Stark failure to plan for more content once Diablo III was played out.
  • Titan?  Hello?

Trion Worlds

Highs

  • Rift continued to evolve and add features to keep players active.
  • Rift launched an expansion, the classic “next move” for a successful MMORPG, that added more content, new styles of quests, and player housing.
  • Trion managed to keep to the subscription model for Rift, thus avoiding the ruination of immersion that cash shops inevitably bring.
  • The instance group made it through all the pre-expansion instances in Rift.
  • I managed to get a level 50 character of each of the four classes before the Storm Legion expansion launched.

Lows:

  • Declining subscriptions, soft server merges, lots of “WoW did it first” additions.  They have spun the server merges as a “good” thing and have gotten all of the servers into clusters for warfronts and the like.  But less people means less subscription money.
  • Layoffs.  Not sure yet what this impacts, but it clearly isn’t a sign of sunshine and lollipops.
  • Rise End of Nations seems doomed.  But I couldn’t play it in any case as it refused to run because I have my default text scaled to 120% in Windows, or so said the error message, and I am not going to reset that every time I want to play a game.
  • Cash shop interface is already in Rift, foretelling a transition to eyesore mounts and ugly cosmetic gear… though, honestly, I am not sure I could tell the difference in Rift.

World of Tanks

Highs:

  • The physics revamp was a huge improvement for the game in my opinion.  Power slide that TD down a hill!
  • Free to play that can actually be free without being oppressive.
  • Made gold ammo available for standard credits.

Lows:

  • Got bit by that NA/EU divide.
  • In the end, it is just a shooter dressed up in vehicles.  I will get bored of the same maps and the same tactics in every game sooner or later.

Steam

Highs:

  • Lots of big sales.
  • Still a reasonable way to buy games and keep them updated.

Lows:

  • Has basically trained me never to buy a game until it is at least 50% off of list price.
  • Even with heavy discounts, I have pretty much stopped buying because I don’t really need any more games.
  • I need to delete some of the games I have on my system because there are too many updates downloading.
  • Came home to find the internet down, which meant I could not play any of my games on Steam once I booted up my computer.
  • I still don’t see why anybody would buy or download an MMO from Steam.  I don’t want to log in and start Steam just to turn around and log in and start the MMO, which will then patch itself.

Misc. Gaming

Highs:

  • GuildWars 2 shipped at last.
  • Torchlight II shipped at last!  And it is pretty good.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic actually has an expansion planned.
  • Kickstarter seems to be getting people excited about games.

Lows:

  • As is typical, the Guild Wars 2 fanboys remain pretty much blind to any faults.
  • Torchlight II still isn’t Diablo II.  But expecting that it would be was probably too much.
  • SWTOR basically slammed the door on the subscription model’s dick, while introducing some new noxious ways to implement free to play.
  • City of Heroes gets the axe based on opportunity cost.  It was making money, just not enough money.
  • Glitch fails to get the quirky/greedy balance right, has to close.  I never played it, but I hope something was learned.
  • Most Kickstarter projects don’t make their funding goal, and apparently most that do make it find that they have underestimated the money they really needed or the time it was going to take to get the project done.  Sometimes things are delayed because the funding went way past the goal and the developer decided to add in all sorts of new things, as with Steve Jackson Games and their Ultimate Edition of O.G.R.E., but that seems to be the exception.  Of the six projects I have backed, two failed to meet goal while three of the other four are way behind schedule.  (Go Defense Grid team!)  I am not saying that Kickstarter is a bad thing, but you have to go in with your eyes open.  It is less Wall Street and more “The Producers” than you might expect.
  • Streaming.  I completely fail to get that whole fad.  Why would I want to sit in front of my computer just to watch somebody else play a game?  And really, most of us aren’t as witty and amusing as we think we are.  I’ll just actually PLAY a game, thank you.

Well, that was all I could come up with.  But sitting at the end of the year looking back, I am sure I missed or forgot some key items.

What else should be on the list of highs and lows for 2012?