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.
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.
Steam Summer Sale – Time For Damage Control July 13, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
Tags: Defense Grid: The Awakening, Endless Space, Harvest: Massive Encounter, Portal, Portal 2, Steam, Steam Summer Sale
Oh, it is that time of temptation again. It is the dread Summer Sale at Steam.
For 10 days Valve will tempt us with incredible discounts on a wide variety of game titles.
This will lead many of us to buy titles we might not otherwise consider… and, often enough in my case, games that I certainly should not have considered.
But the price… the games can be so cheap! I have seen things marked down 80% or more off of retail. For example, the first day’s featured deals.
This is how I ended up owning the entire PopCap library despite the fact that I really only wanted Peggle Nights. And no, it was not cheaper to buy the whole library. I was just swept up in the moment and 90% discount.
This year I am going to stick to things on my Steam wishlist. That is a reasonably well vetted list of games I am actively interested in, though I do see a couple of games I left on it back when Valve had a contest that would win you the top 10 games on your wishlist, but only if you had at least 10 games. I will have to drop those, as my wishlist is now big enough not to need padding.
And, on day one, right out of the gate, two items from my wishlist came up.
Also popping up on day one was Harvest: Massive Encounter, a little game that looked interesting, but not quite interesting enough until it was marked down. I put it there as park of my search to find more tower defense games, though honestly nothing has stacked up to Defense Grid: The Awakening so far.
Total cost for the pair, $7.49.
I haven’t had a chance to look at Portal 2 yet, as it was a sizable download. But Harvest was small, so I was able to launch it almost right away.
It appears to be a mix of RTS and tower defense with a few game mode and level choices, but otherwise very simple in design. It is kind of what I hoped Gratuitous Space and/or Tank Battles would more like. (Neither of those titles quite clicked with me.)
Anyway, worth the $2.50 it was list at.
Now what will Valve throw at me next? And can I stick to my plan?
I am kind of hoping that Endless Space will make the cut for a discount, because I really need yet another game like that to distract me. (Isn’t the updated Civ V enough? No?) I have seen a bit posted about it. However, it just launched, so it might be too soon.
What is on your list for the Steam Summer Sale?
Musing on Torchlight II’s Real Potential… July 11, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, Torchlight II.
Tags: Runic Games, Steam, There is a point in here somewhere, Valve
I wrote a post a while back comparing the game play, and other items important to me in a Diablo style game, between Diablo III, which had just launched a couple of days before, and Torchlight II, which happened to be having a beta weekend at the same time.
It was a post of opportunity, as I had played neither game before that week and so I was able to have a fresh look at the pair of them, side by side.
And the conclusion to my post was that, for game play, Diablo III and Torchlight II were close enough that what really separated them was a matter of details. Those details were minor to some and major to others, but they were not worlds apart. I said I would be playing both games.
The prime criticism I received about that post was that I did not spend much time on the always online aspect of Diablo III.
The thing is, to my mind, and in my experience, always online is a subordinate issue when it comes to the big picture.
Yes, it is a deal killer for some people. But the history of online gaming shows that will put up with a lot of crap for good game play. Day one EverQuest is a good example. The first year of World of Warcraft is a good example. And the post-release period of most versions of Civilization are prime examples of people putting up with often horrible technical and environmental issues to get to game play they desire. The auto-save every turn function in Civ II and beyond was put in because the original Civ crashed so damn often it was practically heart breaking.
Game play trumps absolutely.
Players have proven time and again that we will put up with horrible technical issues and oppressive DRM for good game play. So the negative aspects of always online (lag, downtime) were comparable in my eyes to things people have put up with in the past, while the positive aspect (really easy to play with your friends) seemed a plus. My opinion, naturally, but I suspect that people who liked the game play would agree. Unless they died to lag in hardcore mode.
On the flip side of the “always online” issue, one thing I mentioned in that post (along with a couple of other posts) and on which NOBODY commented, was the sentiment that I sure hope Blizzard has some sort of follow up plan for content, game modes, or something, because while I liked what they delivered on day one, there wasn’t enough there to keep me interested in the long term.
My big question is what will Blizzard do with the game they have created? Eventually it will be played out for most people. Will it get expansions or new game modes or new games on the same platform?
“We recognize that the item hunt is just not enough for a long-term sustainable end-game. There are still tons of people playing every day and week, and playing a lot, but eventually they’re going to run out of stuff to do (if they haven’t already). Killing enemies and finding items is a lot of fun, and we think we have a lot of the systems surrounding that right, or at least on the right path with a few corrections and tweaks. But honestly Diablo III is not World of Warcraft. We aren’t going to be able to pump out tons of new systems and content every couple months. There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it’s not there right now..”
That appears to be the tragic flaw which is likely to turn Diablo III into a “flavor of the month” in play time relative to the long term popularity of Diablo II. “Always online” is small compared to that.
Their key game play driver is flawed and they have no options in the pipe. Content comes slowly to WoW and this, as they say, isn’t WoW, which sounds like they’ve got nothing.
The first part, the item hunt, as has been well discussed in many other places, Blizzard themselves killed with the auction house.
Even I noticed early on that every drop I saw was usable by characters of much lower level than my own. So to get equipment at my level, I have to buy it from the auction house. Drops lost most of their value except as items for alts or fodder for the auction house to finance other purchases.
Chasing loot is dead. The only point in comparing stats between what just dropped and what I am wearing is to see if drops are closing in my equipped gear, in which case it is a sign that I need to hit the auction house again.
I didn’t start out with that in mind. I told myself I wasn’t going to use the auction house. Then, when I started getting frustrated at the low level requirements of the weapons that were dropping, I went there to get a weapon upgrade. That was easy. The one piece of equipment I always try to keep current is my weapon, operating on the theory that if my enemy is dead, the rest of my equipment is irrelevant.
But as the gap between my own level and the level requirements for equipment drops grew larger, I started going to the auction house “just to see” what was available. Uber leet stuff was outrageously expensive, of course. But items that were a serious upgrade over what I was currently wearing seemed pretty cheap. Fair to middling gear close to your own level is cost effective, readily available, and usually a huge upgrade over the drops you see. The auction house won.
So, for me, there is basically the story and group play keeping the game going.
I really like the story. But the story doesn’t change with subsequent plays. I can vouch for that. (Though the need for AH bought equipment goes up.) And I picked the most amusing companion, the soundrel, for my first run through, so swapping out for the enchantress then the templar in the second run actually made the whole story less enjoyable.
Meanwhile, group play requires me to actually log into the game. Since my return from vacation, the war in Delve has been my main focus, so I haven’t actually logged in. We’ll see what happens this weekend, but for the moment Diablo III is looking like a pretty weak entry in the “Games I Play” section on the side bar.
So what does this have to do with Torchlight II?
Well, to start with, TL2 has no auction house. So, in theory at least, the “item hunt” game is more viable. That remains to be seen, the itemization in Torchlight was kind of quirky… 1h and 2h weapons seemed to have the same DPS at points, so why would you go 2h if you can dual wield… something I also saw in the TL2 beta… but at least they haven’t shot the whole thing in the head the way Blizzard has.
But, probably more importantly, TL2 has support for mods, so users can create more content for the game. More content is the gaping hole in Blizzard’s plan, and likely the only thing that can save them.
So Torchlight II is poised to wipe the floor with Diablo III, right?
Not so fast there, sport.
First, I am not sure what winning and losing even means in the context of these games beyond day one sales. For once, we are not talking about subscription numbers. The money comes in when people buy the box and that is about it.
And Blizzard has sold a lot of boxes, in part just because they are Blizzard. Success leads to success, and not only did Blizzard set some sort of record moving boxes in the first 24 hours, a lot of those boxes were going for close to $60, which is about three times the list price Runic is charging for Torchlight II.
Torchlight II will likely not set such records. The company is not that well known outside of core gamers. My wife knows who Blizzard is, but I am pretty sure that Runic Games would just get a blank look. And they do not have the budget yet to make themselves well known. TL2 could change that for them, but they won’t be going into this deal with that name recognition.
Furthermore, TL2 is going out in a limited sales channel. You can, to my knowledge, buy it online through Perfect World Entertainment or via Steam. That is it. And while digital sales may very well be the future… and digital is clearly the right fit for Runic with its “keep it lean” philosophy… boxes on shelves, even if those boxes are on shelves in an Amazon warehouse, still make up a big part of the sales channel.
So it seems that, at least in the short term, Diablo III will eclipse Torchlight II in sales.
“So what?” I hear a voice in my head say, “TL2 is providing the tools to keep it viable long after we’ve stopped playing D3!”
Runic seems poised to pick up the slack in the one area that Blizzard has admitted failure, additional content. More content gives you more reasons to play the game. And there are two potential avenues for this.
Runic can actually sells us more content. This might even be in their plan, post-launch DLC adventures or what not. But I have not seen anything to indicate that this will come to pass. And since they seem to have plans for a game beyond Torchlight II, a Torchlight MMO or some such, it seems more likely that we will see a replay of Torchlight.
With Torchlight we got a game, we got some patches, we got some ports to other platforms, and eventually we got a box on the shelf. What we did not get was an ounce more content. This was fine because they were clearly headed off to do Torchlight II, which sounded more like the game we wanted in the first place.
Maybe it won’t be that way this time around. Maybe the Runic team won’t rush off to the next project. We shall see.
But if they do, that still leaves mods.
Mods. I am even going to link to a definition of mods, just because it has some good examples.
A well done mod is a thing of beauty, something that can transcend the framework of the original game. A good mod can make people buy your game. About a decade back I bought Battlefield 1942 specifically to play the Desert Combat mod. I installed the game, installed the mod, and then never went back and played the original. The mods for it were far more appealing.
The problem is that, for every great mod, for every Counter-Strike or Defense of the Ancients, there is a huge pile of… well… crap to sort through. It is the eternal issue of user created content, the signal to noise ratio is always very bad. How many variations of the Lost Temple map have people made for StarCraft that really added nothing beyond more resources or maybe better defensive positions so people can turtle relative to the number of truly new and well thought out maps?
And that is compounded by the fact that finding out a mod even exists is a crap shoot as well. I am past the age where I will go out and hunt down mods on various gaming sites any more. Mods pretty much have to come and find me. I am also past the days of the epic install to get a mod to work. Desert Combat required a whole series of steps, installs, patches, and mods layed down on mods, all done in the right order with the right versions that I am not sure I would have gotten the thing running had not someone in the gaming clan I was in made up a document with all the steps written out in detail with links to the appropriate software. And people in the forums still screwed up that install.
For me, I need something like what Steam has cooked up. Their Steam Workshop for Civilization is the level of mod organization and management that is required to make mods more than the domain of the serious hardcore fan. Since Steam is one of their channels, I hope they will get Valve to put up that sort of interface for them.
So there is a potential there. I will be interested to see how it plays out, and disappointed if mods fade into a quiet background, as with so many other games.
What do you think? Blizzard is clearly going to win the money achievement with their sales. Will Runic be able to make their mark on the content front?
Mods, Performance, Faith, and Spies June 21, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
Tags: Civilization V, Steam
The story of that ten year long game of Civilization II certainly put thoughts of turn-based strategy into my brain.
I had been tinkering with Warlock: Master of the Arcane since shortly after Ken at Popehat mentioned it (which is when it went on sale for half price). It is another strategy game from Paradox Interactive, the company that seems to have a near strangle hold on the strategy game market. At least on my machine.
While a decent game, and well worth the money at half price, it didn’t quite scratch the itch the itch caused by all this Civ talk. And while my impulse was to go straight to Civ II again, I decided to crank up Civilization V. It had been a while since I had played it.
That meant getting into Steam, and Steam took the opportunity opened by my looking their way for a minute to put up a message announcing that Civilization V was now on Steam Workshop.
Steam Workshop is Valve’s interface for dealing with mods and other user created content. This got me looking through some of the player content.
I grabbed a few custom maps, including one of Westeros, which I immediately tried out. It is a standard size map only, and it played pretty well. I ended up starting north of Winterfell, so I was in the Night’s Watch position, which did leave me dealing with a horde of barbarians almost constantly throughout the game.
And City States, which I remain unenthusiastic about in Civ V, at least make sense in the context of Westeros, with its many nobles pledged to one liege lord or another and switching sides at awkward moments.
The game was fun and I ended up pretty much as King in the North. It also left me susceptible to Valve’s next pitch, which was for the Civ V expansion, Gods & Kings, marked down 10% if I pre-ordered. And so I did.
Well, some of the features sold it to me as well. I was not so interested in other potential kingdoms or new technology, but the introduction of spies and faith into the game was big to me. I miss spies especially.
The expansion dropped on Tuesday and I have had a chance to play a bit. And for the most part I am happy.
Faith, in which you essentially found a state religion, is good. You can tailor your religion, and there are details to master there, but it does not come up until your empire has reach a given status, so the game is well under way when you have to pick, rather than it being yet another starting parameter with which you can tinker.
And spies… spies are very good. Spies are no longer units on the field of play, to be moved around and thrown at enemy cities. Instead, there is a new interface to manage your espionage activities. But through that interface, you can do all your old favorite spy things along with a few new twists.
And you can no longer create an army of spies to overwhelm your opponent via an espionage war. You have to take a more refined view of their use.
Those two, along with things like embassies, revamped combat, and tweaks to things like city states have seemed pretty good so far.
But then we come to the annoying bit.
Actually, it isn’t annoying to me, because I bought the expansion. This will annoy those who are waiting for a Steam sale on it.
Basically, the expansion includes improvements to performance.
Like all Civ games that I have played at launch… which is, pretty much, all REAL Civ games (so no Call to Power)… Civ V has shown itself to be a processor hogging behemoth, incapable of running quickly on my relatively beefy system, at least when it comes to the last third or so of the game. At that point I generally spend as much time waiting for the game as I do playing.
It is part of the Civ tradition I guess. I remember the time it took to play a game of Civ II dropping dramatically each time I upgraded my computer.
Anyway, along with fixes to the AI, which now fights better, performance overall in the late game has been improved noticeably. But you only get that improvement if you buy the expansion. If you don’t buy it, you can suck it as far as Sid Meier is concerned I guess.
So it is a good thing I felt the need for spies and religion, because I would be pissed if all I really wanted out of the expansion was to make the game work better.
Now to see what that Middle-earth map is like.
Quote of the Day – Insulting Nordstrom June 14, 2012Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
Tags: EA, Nordstrom, Origin Store, Quote of the Day, Steam, Valve
If you want to sell a whole bunch of units, that is certainly a way to do that, to sell a whole bunch of stuff at a low price. The gamemakers work incredibly hard to make this intellectual property, and we’re not trying to be Target. We’re trying to be Nordstrom.
-David DeMartini, head of EA’s Origin Digital Distribution Platform, on how Valve’s policy on sales and discounts is bad for everybody
I am not an Origin customer, nor do I plan to be one. That is primarily because of the badly handled customer service I have read about concerning Origin and EA.
So, EA, if you are shooting to be Nordstrom, a store that is able to charge a premium based on the perception people have of their quality and customer service (has anybody here not heard the snow tires story?), you have a long way to go.
Frankly, I would rate Target’s reputation and customer service far above Origin’s as well.
Try harder, Origin.
Addendum: And then EA changed tits collective mind and said Costco-like discounts are a good idea after all! They still seem to be failing on that whole customer service and reputation thing though.
Looking Back at 2011 – Highs and Lows December 30, 2011Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Casual Games, entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Need for Speed World, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, Vanguard SOH, World of Tanks, World of Warcraft.
Tags: 2011, Steam
Last week I looked forward to figure out where I might be headed online game-wise in the new year. That list was filled with a lot of not-quite-MMOs.
Now it is time to look back at what came to pass in 2011, or at least what came to pass from my vantage point in this little corner of the gaming world. So, as I did last year, I present you with a lot of bullet points in no particular order.
- LOTRO is still there, still has wonderful Middle-earth charm, still has some of the best role-play tools available in any MMORPG.
- Their games survived and thrived post free-to-play.
- They got a nice new chunk of Middle-earth on the map with Rise of Isengard.
- I made it to freakin’ Moria at last!!11 one one one
- Their stuff still doesn’t feel as polished as WoW or Rift, which is bad in a still-growing field of competitors.
- Their character models, awkward at launch, are not aging well at all.
- I am still in Moria and have no plan to buckle down and get to Mirkwood, much less Isengard.
- They shipped their last new game when?
Sony Online Entertainment
- I say this every year, but EQ still lives! 12 years in and still going!
- Time locked progression servers brought back a healthy slice of that MMO nostalgia goodness!
- I got to partake in that goodness with Potshot for a while… and it was damn good!
- EQ got a new expansion with things like parcel delivery through the mail, more zones, five new levels, and hotbars that look like they are now from this century.
- EQII still does a ton of things better than other games, like housing interiors.
- SOE reconciled the Live/Extended split so there is, again, but one
- EQII got a new expansion and actually added a new class, beastlords, to the game after seven years.
- Star Wars Galaxies goes out with dignity and some fond memories.
- Planetside 2 announced!
- Vanguard is actually getting some attention!
- That whole PSN/SOE hacking thing. It killed our momentum on Fippy Darkpaw and made SOE look bad in general.
- The nostalgia marketing effort around the EQ progression servers started weak and then totally disappeared once they went live. A 12 year old game has a big nostalgia card to play, but SOE chose to pretty much ignore it the day after the Time Locked Progression servers were launched.
- They behavior of some players on the TLP servers reminded us all why we went to instanced dungeons in the first place, plus a lot of other old arguments sprang up anew on the forums. Too much nostalgia.
- Hey EQ team, haven’t items through the mail been on every MMO since 2004? What took you so long?
- EQII still pisses me off with a myriad of stupid little things, like why is “auto loot” when solo and “auto greed” when in a group the same setting. I want to do one but not another. The game has more settings than any MMO I have ever played, yet felt the need to combine these two?
- EQII pissed off members of the instance group and pretty much closed the door on us ever going back there again.
- SOE remains amazingly unprepared to announce things. The whole merger of EQII Live and Extended brought up a couple dozen questions, the immediate answers to which were, “Uh… we need to think about that.”
- I still cannot get past level 60 or so in EQII before becoming bored.
- There were layoffs and the death of The Agency.
- Who decided that a double station cash event was a great idea three days after a triple station cash event?
- Planetside 2? Was the original popular enough to spawn a sequel?
- Star Wars Galaxies… Lucas pulls the plug, leaves SOE to clean up the mess.
- The EVE Online CSM actually does some good, gets management to focus on EVE fundamentals.
- CCP management actually turns things around for the next EVE expansion.
- Crucible moves the game forward by fixing what we already had.
- Oh, hey, I am in null sec! Bet you didn’t see that one coming!
- Dust 514 looks like it might become real giving CCP… two games.
- Arrogance, blindness, and Incarna nearly lead the company off a cliff.
- Over-extension of resources meant layoffs and the long-term postponement of a World of Darkness based MMO.
- EVE is back on the right course… but there are still times when the game is dull. I had to buy Peggle to play while sitting and watching local.
- Dust 514 makes sense I guess… CCP clearly has to focus… but with their customer base all on the PC, was going to a console game really the right move?
- WoW still has more players than any other subscription MMO you play… not that there are many of those left.
- Still immensely profitable.
- Has plans for pandas. My daughter is all over that.
- Oh, and they shipped Star Craft II in the last decade… and are talking about Diablo III and some new game.
- WoW is down 2 million players since this time last year.
- Cataclysm malaise and the killing of game nostalgia by redoing the world we started with. Can they ever do a WoW progression server now?
- The slow response time of Blizzard, which worked out fine when things were going good, is starting to work against them.
- Pandas? That was the big news in 2011 from Blizzard?
- Did they ship a freakin’ thing in 2011? Does Blizzard and its huge profit margin exist simply to keep Activision from losing money every quarter where they do NOT ship a version of Call of Duty?
- Rift actually turned out to be well executed. It is like somebody learned from the last dozen years of MMO foibles.
- Comfortable and polished enough to pick up and hold on to some defectors from WoW.
- Public quests… rifts and invasions… done in the way that Warhammer Online should have.
- Turned out to be a good place for the instance group to call home for now.
- It is, really, just another fantasy MMORPG in the WoW model. If it had shipped against Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King I am not sure it would have been as successful.
- Nothing in Trion’s next acts has me interested.
- I am beginning to reconcile myself with Steam. I am still not fully on board, but I see the utility of the system as a platform to distribute games.
- Wow, they put a lot of games on sale for real cheap over the summer and this winter.
- Steam achievements are… something I guess.
- The internet went down for a couple hours last week and guess what I couldn’t do? Play any of my games on Steam! And, of course, Steam is where most of the single player games I would want to play when the internet goes down are. This is the part I cannot reconcile.
- Just because a game is marked down from $29.99 to $3.74 does not mean I will like it. I have a lot of very inexpensive games that I do not like now that I simply wouldn’t have purchased at all were it not for a Steam sale. Victory for the developer and Steam there, not for me. Steam now represents the greatest collection of games I do not play on my current PC.
- Why in the hell did I buy the entire Pop-Cap catalog? I know it was marked down 84%, but I really only wanted Peggle. Damn you Steam! And damn me for violating the “never buy anything online after dark” rule.
- How often does Team Fortress 2 get updates? Steam was updating it so frequently I had to uninstall it.
Free to Play Movement
- Lots of free to play games out there to sample, like World of Tanks, League of Legends, and Need for Speed World, and a lot more are promised.
- Older games are getting a new breath of life via an influx of new players via this model. It seemed to do wonders for EverQuest II.
- Facebook… there were sure a lot of new games there.
- Lord British is now the self-designated champion of light platforms and free to play.
- To one degree or another, the current consensus on the business model seems to be that a company must bestow some sort of advantage on or remove some annoyance from players who pay. It is accelerated experience and golden bullets that support most of the games I see, with the selling of actual content far behind in the pack. And the idea of supporting a game entirely based on cosmetic items sales appears to be a myth on par with Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.
- The games that I play that converted to free to play were the ones I played when they were subscription based. Time is still the biggest tax on my ability to play games.
- That a game is free to play does not make it fun to play. A business model can ruin fun, but it can rarely create fun.
- Is there any game idea that has not yet been screwed up in attempting to bring it to Facebook?
- Lord British is now the self-designated champion of light platforms and free to play
Players, Blogs, and Community
- Players, like those in EVE Online, show that a group with limited, rational objectives can make their voices heard and see their demands met. #Occupy protestors take note.
- Community and playing together is not dead. Thrown into the EverQuest progression servers, people got together, formed groups, and played nicely… for a while.
- Hey, we all like to comment on each others blogs! Thanks for taking the time to leave comments on mine.
- Every time I go into a game’s official forums, I am saddened. This is surely a symptom of the human condition.
- EverQuest progression servers were a self-selected population of those who wanted most to group up and play nicely… and that has devolved into all the problems that made the WoW model of solo content and instances so popular. Remember that when you have your rose colored glasses out.
- For every rational discussion where consensus is reached I see in a blog comment thread, there has to be a dozen cases of the complete inability to see the other person’s perspective or even admit that it exists. Can we get over that please?
- I am still not sure which is worse, people complaining bitterly about a game they do not play and do not understand, or people complaining bitterly about people who do not like their game de jour. Of course, they are often the same people on both counts, so at least they are easy to spot and ignore.
- Most of the problems in-game… in any game… such as hacking, cheating, bad behavior, poor community, illicit RMT, and the state of official game forums are all pretty much our own damn fault. Can we promise to try to behave better next year?
So that was 2011, at least from where I sit. Yes, I failed to mention SWTOR, but I think that is really part of 2012. There is still too much new game euphoria for me to get any feel for how things are going, especially since I am not playing.
Still, trying to recall a whole year, even with the blog open in front of my for reference, is doomed to failure. What did I miss? What came to pass in 2011 that I should have remembered?