Steam and the Path of Exile October 25, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, entertainment, Path of Exile.
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.
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 planned. Torchlight 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.
Delta Force – A Memory of Voxels August 7, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment, Other PC Games.
Tags: Delta Force, NovaLogic, Starsiege: Tribes, Steam, Voxels
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And there were even tinier 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.
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.
We Bid Adieu to Another Steam Summer Sale July 23, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
Tags: Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, Steam, Steam Summer Sale, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
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.
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.
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, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
Tags: Civilization II, Civilization V, Steam
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.
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.
Tags: Age of Empires II, Age of Kings, Hidden Path Entertainment, Steam
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
Tags: Age of Empires II, Age of Kings, Hidden Path Entertainment, Steam
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.
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, 2012Posted 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.
Tags: 2012, EverQuest Online Adventures, Steam
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
RiseEnd 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Lots of big sales.
- Still a reasonable way to buy games and keep them updated.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
Stormpowered, Steam, and Divorce September 14, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
Tags: Jutland, Steam, Stormpowered
There is always a pile of things, ads, press releases, and what not waiting in my inbox every morning.
Because of this, my tendency is to delete unless there is some hook that grabs me. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to run all of this stuff down, so I relay on things standing out. This is the heart of advertising, and that is what most of the things in my inbox are, ads in one form or another.
The package itself rolls up their WWI naval combat game Jutland with the three available expansions for a single price 50% off of retail, making the total $74.99.
This ad was in my mailbox because I actually tried out the demo of Jutland a couple years back. In one of those after hours fits of interest, I suddenly decided that naval warfare simulation would be an interesting avenue to explore, and so I ended up at Storm Eagle’s site where I downloaded their demo of many hurdles. One does not simply download into naval combat.
After a couple of hours of tinkering, the realities of the situation were brought home.
As I noted in a past musing on battleships, fleet engagements in the age of 20th century battleships were things that took place at considerable distance. The romance ideals implanted in my brain by the likes of Patrick O’Brein of laying alongside and blazing away were replaced by shooting at small dots on the horizon. Encounters tend to be prolonged sessions of wandering about trying to make something happen, followed by trying to figure out what actually did happen.
Basically, it is a game for a grognard, a hard core wargamer, who wants as realistic a simulation as can be managed. World of Warships (formerly World of Battleships) will pose no competitive threat here.
This is doubly so because, like so many such war games from small studios, the UI feels like it was designed by the IT department at my last company, where “Good Enough” wasn’t just an excuse, but a treasured organizational value.
It was enough to overcome any interest I had in simulating naval battles from the WWI.
But I remain on their mailing list, and so it was that the ad showed up and I decided to head on over to their site, if only to figure out how “divorce” played into this bundle. Thoughts of the studio chief attempting to goose sales in order to pay alimony were in my head.
Unfortunately, the site seems to owe a debt to our old IT department motto as well. Look at the description of the Divorce Pack Bundle in the screen shot above. Yeah, that. It looks the same in Firefox, IE, and Chrome. And I could go on.
In my looking around, I also found out that, among the changes that had occurred since I last visited their site, Storm Eagle had taken their onerous copy protection scheme and decided to turn it into a digital distribution system. They even lay out their features (detailed chart) and ask how they stack up against Steam.
Which is kind of an awkward question to ask, because it isn’t even possible in my mind for them to stack up, as far as user experience goes, with Steam. And user experience is important.
None of which should be taken as an explicit slam of the studio or their products. I get that, in a small studio with a small audience and a complicated, niche product, you have to pick your battles. Realism has to trump for your audience, and they’ll put up with a certain layer of awkwardness to get it.
And you have to have a delivery system for your games and if you expect low volume you like to be sure that you get as many sales as you can in a world of 93-95% piracy, which means copy protection.
But am I going to buy Tropico IV here rather than at Steam? I don’t think so.
But I wouldn’t buy it on Origin either, so don’t feel too bad. I just already have this relationship with Steam and a desire to minimize the amount of content management software running on my system.
And speaking of relationships, what was the divorce bit all about?
Ah, marital problems. I get it, ha ha.
Look, I play MMOs. Anything with a pause button is like ice cream and cake in my marriage.
But, as I said, the game is also too hard core for me.
However, if you are looking for a realistic battleship fleet engagement simulation, you don’t have a lot of choices, so there it is. And you can even play it for free this weekend.
Crazy Train out of Barstow August 24, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
Tags: Railworks 3, Steam, Steam Summer Sale
My goal for the dread Steam Summer Sale (so much temptation) was pretty simple this year. Despite all of the crazy deals, I was only going to purchase games I was sure I was going to play.
And I did pretty well.
I picked up Portal 2 for 75% off. (And Steam just sent me a coupon for 75% off of Portal 2… not so useful at this point.)
I definitely got my money’s worth out of that.
I also picked up Harvest: Massive Encounter, a game that sits in one corner of the tower defense genre. I don’t feel like I lost on that, but I went back to playing Defense Grid for my tower defense needs pretty quickly.
And then, at the last minute, I swooped in and grabbed Railworks 3: Train Simulator 2012, which was 90% off list price.
This was clearly counter to the plan, and a perfect example of the rule about not buying anything on the internet after 8pm. Your brain seems to go into a “just get it” mode after that point. My brain succumbed to the 90% off and the idea of playing a game with over $2,000 worth of DLC on Steam, something that got the game injected into a column over at Cracked.
So, I had to do the reverse to keep to my plan, and play the game to enough to get my money out of it… and at least one blog post. Tales of terror on the rails after the cut.
We Will Get Some More Defense Grid… August 20, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
Tags: Defense Grid 2, Defense Grid: The Awakening, Kickstarter, Steam
But not as much as I had hoped for, and probably not as soon as I had hoped either.
I posted a while back about Hidden Path Entertainment attempting to fund further installments to their exceptional tower defense game, Defense Grid: The Awakening by taking their plans to Kickstarter. They had a detailed plan with four tiers of funding that would mean specific deliverables.
Even at the base level $15 pledge, you got a code for the original game on Steam, which goes for $20 when Steam isn’t doing one of their sales, plus any content eventually funded. So if they made it to a million dollars and you kicked in $15, you would get all of it.
They also teamed up with AMD and Razer to offer up special deals and incentives. The team running the Kickstarted project put out plenty of updates. And they ran in-game contests where, if you achieved a certain goal on a specific level, you were entered.
It was quite an event.
Still, a million dollars seemed like a pretty ambitious goal, even for a game this good. It just isn’t that well known. Still, I was pretty sure that the first tier would be achieved easily. The initial surge of pledges got it half way there pretty quickly.
That would get an expansion to the original game. I would be all for that.
The second tier was a new engine for Defense Grid 2, which would include putting the old game on it to test it out. Infrastructure is never very sexy though. Try telling marketing that the major feature for a release is a new version of Visual C++ and see how excited they get.
But multiplayer was going to be part of the whole thing. That… that I could go for. And the second tier seemed possible given the initial momentum.
The third tier was offering up cross-platform compatibility and a level editor so end users could create their own content. A level editor, hopefully tied in with the Steam Works user content system, would be cool. But that seemed a long way away, being priced roughly the same as my house. (In Silicon Valley that means a run down place in a decent school district.)
And then there was the magic million dollar goal. All of the above plus a completely new game, Defense Grid 2, the full sequel.
As unlikely as it seemed, a man can dream can’t he.
And, as I said, the early momentum in the campaign was quite brisk.
Then it slowed to a trickle. When the time left was under a week, I didn’t think they would even make their first tier goal. This in a world where Penny Arcade can bring in double that by offering too… um… take some stuff off of their web page? Really?
Then there was a last minute rush, accompanied by some outstanding video card offers that were no doubt subsidized by AMD, and the threshold was crossed at last.
The whole thing ended with $271,727 in funding.
That meant the production of the Containment expansion to the original game, which all backers will get once it is available. An update says they are working on that even now.
But we will also all get Defense Grid 2. A note was posted to the Kickstarter page towards the end of the event saying:
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.
That seemed to me to be a pretty generous offer since the commitment, as originally stated, was that only items that were funded would be available. I am just happy that they still have a Defense Grid 2 in their plans.
I am not sure what will becomes of the other items… cross platform, multi-player, level editor, and such… but at least there is a new game to look forward to and some new levels to play in the mean time.
Now I have to figure out what to do with my Steam codes for the original game. I already own it. Hrmm.