Monthly Archives: January 2016

You Play the Hand with the Cards You Have, Not the Cards You May Want…

I have mentioned in the past that I am on the mailing list for a number of PR agencies who employ the shotgun approach, which means I get a pile of email about new games, expansions, albums, and what not.  Most of it just gets deleted, though I am always amused when I see a post go up on Massively OP that is based off of a press release that I got as well.

Most of it gets deleted because most of it is of little interest to me.

But sometimes a press release comes along that makes you sit back and ponder, “How is this even a thing?” or “How could this come about?” or “No, really, you’re shitting me, right?”

And so it is with Churchill Solitaire.

Paraphrase your favorite Churchill speech...

Paraphrase your favorite Churchill speech…

According to the press release, the 83 year old former congressman and twice US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, working with with a company called Javelin in Alexandria, VA, the president of which is former Rumsfeld staffer Keith Urbahn (who, among other things, was, along with The Rock, one of the first people to leak the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed before the official announcement), with the cooperation of Churchill Heritage Ltd, which represents the Churchill family for the use of the late Prime Minister’s name and image in commercial projects, is releasing a solitaire game for Apple iOS devices.  A special solitaire game that Churchill himself created that involves two decks of cards and some other complications.

On the iPad

On the iPad

If horse racing is the sport of kings, then the press release (available here) would have you believe that this variation of solitaire is the card game of diplomats, Rumsfeld having been taught the game by Andre de Staercke back when he was ambassador to NATO during the Nixon administration. Rummy is alleged to be the last remaining link between Churchill and today when it comes to this game, if the PR material is to be believed.

Of course, we have to get into the FAQ to find the price:

Q: How much does the game cost?

A. The game is available for free. The game comes with three trial deals with In-App Purchases (IAPs). Additional game packs of 25 deals can be purchased for $.99 each, or one upgrade to the premium version for $4.99 gives you access to 200 specific deals, as well as unlimited random deals. In random deal mode, there are so many combinations (1.03e166 or 1.03 with 166 zeroes behind it to be precise) that it’s likely any deal you play has never been played before and will never be played again. Hints and undos are also available for purchase.

A revenue plan only a former government staffer could love.

We’ve worked hard to replicate the game as Churchill would have played it – and believe the final version does justice to one of the greatest leaders in world history.

How Churchill would have played it… on a little glass and metal clipboard sized device, sitting on the couch while half listening to your spouse or some TV show, while is attempts to nickel and dime you.  A legacy worth preserving.  Available in the iOS store today.

MMOs on the List of Most Important PC Games

Earlier this week, over at PC Gamer, which I think still actually has a print magazine version, publishes a list of what they felt were The 50 most important PC games of all time.

PCGamerLogo

And, if you know me, you know I love a good list like that.  Those are discussion starters without equal, and I bring them up pretty much whenever I find them.  I’ve even written about a PC Gamer list in the past, when they were writing about the 100 Greatest Games of All Time, (they do that article every year, here is the 2015 version) that being a distinct and separate category from the 50 most important.

The most important games are the ones we could not imagine not having existed in the genre, that inspired people, or that changed the market.

Wisely, PC Gamer decided to not stack rank the lot of them, choosing to list them out chronologically, kicking off with Space War! from 1962, the first thing that actually looks like what we think of when we say “video game.” (I even wrote a bit about Space War! at one point.)

Of course, this being me, I went storming into the article shouting, “Where are the MMOs?  Show me that online massively multiplayer goodness!”

And I was not disappointed.  MMO titles that made the cut were:

  • Ultima Online 1997
  • EverQuest 1999
  • EVE Online 2003
  • Second Life 2003
  • World of Warcraft 2004

Yes, I am admitting Second Life to the fraternity of MMOs I recognize, and not just to pad the list.  It was a thing in its day, even if Massively totally over-covered it for a bit.  I have even played it a few times.

So that is five MMOs on the list… by which I mean persistent world online games in the mold we all know and grudgingly tolerate while complaining about incessantly… or 10% of the list.  Not bad for a genre.

I suppose it says something the “important MMO” era is pretty much 1997-2004.  Has everything after that been simply refinements and derivatives of what has gone before?

Of course, limiting themselves to 50 games meant that anybody is going to find omissions that they feel are important.  Even the editors had to make an Honorable Mentions list because there was no doubt a large number of titles that were so close.

On the MMO front, I am a little disappointed that MUD1 or anything from the 1980s online era was neglected.  Maybe MegaWars III wasn’t that influential, but what about Air WarriorBut the list does feel a little heavy on the more recent end of things, probably a result of the relative youth of some of the contributors and the general feeling we tend to have that nothing is more important than right now.

Still, there are some good games whose presence on the list surprised me, like Starsiege: TribesFor a fleeting moment of time that was the best online shooter ever.  I played the hell out of that

Ultima IV is on the list, which is interesting because I think you have to have at least ONE Lord British game on the list, but which one?  I suppose Ultima IV was a turning point in the series, but I was always a big fan of Ultima III.  I’m shallow like that.  Also, I had that Ultima III editor, so made my own version of the game.

I find it somewhat odd that DotA is on the list by itself as opposed to being paired up with Warcraft III, since then you could have gotten in a side mention about how much Warcraft III influenced WoW.  Ah well.

And, of course, a lot of the list includes the games you would expect… probably demand… should be included; Wizardry, Pinball Construction Set, Civilization, League of Legends, Quake, Tomb Raider, Diablo, Half-Life, SimCity, The Sims, Minecraft, they are all there.

Yes, of course Doom is on the list...

Yes, of course Doom is on the list…

But I still look back at that list of five MMOs and wonder, is that the legacy of the genre?

Entering Season 5 of Diablo III

We got the 2.4.0 Patch for Diablo III last week, which included a few new items.  The big items were listed out in the new patch intro screen.  The focus there was on new places and new gear.

Diablo III - Patch 2.4.0 highlights

Diablo III – Patch 2.4.0 highlights

That was enough to get me interested.  Then there was the new season, which started this past Friday evening, which also held the promise of new items.

Season 5 - All this can be yours

Season 5 – All this can be yours

Together that was enough to rekindle some interest in me to play the game.

I had tried out the season thing last time around, rolling up a Demon Hunter for Season 4.  However, the DH never quite stuck with me and I ended up leaving him lingering at about level 13.

So this time around I figured I would go straight to a class I already enjoyed playing, which pretty much narrowed things down to either a Barbarian or a Crusader… and since I already had two Barbarians, a Crusader was the choice.

I created him… character creation in Diablo III is basically just choosing a class, a sex, and a name, with check boxes optional for season and hardcore, so the term “rolling up” is barely applicable.

Oh, and you get to choose your difficulty.  This time around I decided to start with Expert, which sits in the middle on the continuum of difficult, arrayed as: Normal, Hard, Expert, Master, and Torment, though I am not sure if you can pick Torment right away with a fresh character.

Expert, if I read the chart correctly, gave me a 100% bonus for gold and exp and gave the monster a 320% boost in hit points and a 189% boost in damage output.

That seemed to be just about the right choice for me when setting out, at least while solo.  I opted to go through the story again rather than straight into Adventure Mode, and there is a gap between when you show up outside New Tristram and when you finally acquire a companion, some decent gear, and some skills that feels a bit iffy to me.  It wasn’t horribly difficult or anything, though I did die once.  It feels more like punishing the new player a bit.

Ah well, with the boost in exp I leveled into skills pretty quickly and you get a companion soon enough.  Gear dropped well enough, though the extra gold helped on the crafting front to fill in gaps.

One of the first thing I noticed is that the game is a lot more communicative about things like massacres, which can grant you a bonus to exp.  Previously you found out after the fact that you were on a streak.  Now you get a pop-up that tells you when you’re on your way and shows a little timer, in the form of a burning fuse, to let you know how much time you have to start hitting something new to keep it going.

Streak under way

Streak under way

There were also a pile of changes to all of the classes with the 2.4.0 patch, though it had been long enough since I played that I had to pretty much relearn the class anyway.  I pottered away solo through the first act going with the skill that let you single hand a dual wield weapon with a penalty to damage with reasonable success.

Then, in comparing notes with a co-worker, he said he preferred to go with single hand weapons and the skill that buffed up their speed instead.  I swapped to that and started in on Act II, which was a bit of a trial because I needed to get a decent 1h weapon.  There was a bit of a DPS deficit going from a Legendary 2h to just a Magic 1h that was handy.

Once I got a 1h Legendary however, the gap was clearly filled and my Crusader began tearing through mobs like they were paper.  He was doing well enough that part way into Act II I upped the difficulty from Expert to Master.  That put some effort back into the game and I had to start paying some attention to my health globe again.

So far, so good.  I have 7 of the 9 initial objectives complete.  Doing that gets me some stuff.

First objectives

First objectives

And my Crusader is advancing at a decent rate for me.  Playing solo and in short-ish chunks of time (there is always that one more thing cycle to deal with though) means that, unlike Bel who hit level 68 over the first day of the season, I am only level 43 so far.

Chadwick the Crusader

Chadwick the Crusader

But that works for me.

Signal Cartel Anniversary Contest

Signal Cartel has been around for a year now.

SignalCartel
Those hug fleet running, snowball throwing, Thera dwelling, space hippies… erm… I mean those intrepid explorers who help keep us appraised of the state of Thera wormholes… are holding a contest as part of their celebration.

You thought I was kidding about hug fleets, didn't you?

You thought I was kidding about hug fleets, didn’t you?

It is an EVE Online screen shot contest, something near and dear to my own heart.  They are looking for a few good screenies from your toonies for which they might even give you some ISKies. (It was painful to write that sentence, even ironically.)

You can find all the essential details here.  Entries will also appear, if I understand things correctly, in the EVE Scout Flickr library, while the best of the best will join the showcase at the EVE Scout Observatory.

The deadline for entries is January 29, 2016, with any ISK awards slated to be distributed the next day.

I am already in with 6 entries.  I had to choose them quick because I could spend days sifting through screen shots.

Meanwhile, I wonder what Signal Cartel has planned for today, since it is apparently the 30th annual National Hug Day.

The Return of the Stripper

Video safe for work, it is just music.

That is the song that came to mind when I saw the CCP Dev Blog go up about a return to the skill stripping plan, though Smed over using the word “hardcore” and “extremely deep” yesterday might have influenced that line of thought.  Anyway, the whole thing is a bit lurid, something of a tease, and not making everybody in the community happy.

Officially CCP is calling this Skill Trading.  This is the ability to strip skill points from a character in 500,000 SP chunks and sell them on the open market.

For lore reasons this may hurt a bit...

For lore reasons this may hurt a bit…

There seems to be a couple of reasons behind this move.

The first was articulated by CCP Quant at EVE Vegas, where he said the desire going forward was to have players able to create as many of the items in the New Eden economy as possible, including skills… and, apparently, skill points.  This seems to fit withing that over-arching goal.

The second is the classic new player complaint about their inability to “catch up” to older players.  I’ve seen that come up any number of times, the feeling that skill points are the levels of EVE Online and that people who show up late are being unfairly penalized by a system where time alone is the only way to grind up the skill point scale.

And, true enough, no day one newbie is going to be flying a titan or a faction battleship or even a strategic cruiser most likely.  Then again, no day one newbie is going to have the ISK to buy a titan or a faction battleship or a strategic cruiser… or a 500K SP bundle, which is bound to be a bit pricey… not unless they also buy some PLEX to boost up their bank balance.

And therein lies the rub, as the whole discussion gets into the “Pay to Win” arena.  There was enough push back on this idea when CCP broached it initially a couple months back that I thought they might shelve it, but now it is slated for the February 9th release.

The argument against does seem pretty clear.  You can take real world money and, through some process, turn that into skill point advancement for your character.  You are, essentially, buying levels and, while CCP isn’t selling them directly to you, they make money along the way and thus leveraging new players for fun and profit.  I’m sure the #ResistCapitalism team would have some choice words about that situation.

On the flip side CCP makes it quite clear that they are not creating skill points out of thin air.  A quote from the Dev Blog:

It’s very important to note here that this means all the skillpoints available to buy on the market in EVE will have originated on other characters where they were trained at the normal rate. Player driven economies are key to EVE design and we want you to decide the value of traded skillpoints while we make sure there is one single mechanism that brings new skillpoints in to the system – training.

The sum total of skill points in New Eden won’t change inflate because of this, players will simply be trading skill points amongst themselves. [And, as noted in the comments, the total number of SP in game may actually go down a bit.]

Also, for those dying to spend money to advance their skill point total, there is already the character bazaar where you can buy and sell characters for ISK, something that has been around for years without much in the way of objections.

The skill point injectors also will favor new players, so this won’t be just a way for those “rich” in skill point to get richer.  The injectors have diminishing returns based on how many skill points you already have:

  • < 5 million total skill points = 500,000 skill points per injector
  • 5 million – 50 million total skill points = 400,000 skill points per injector
  • 50 million – 80 million total skill points = 300,000 skill points per injector
  • > 80 million skill points = 150k skill points per injector

Then there is the fact that you do not actually have to spend any real world money at all on injectors and the like.  They will all be for sale, from other players, on the market for ISK.  See Jita for the best pricing.

And, finally, there is the fact that advancement does not equal winning in EVE Online, unless your goal… your personal win condition… is to merely skill up your character.  As somebody whose main character recently passed the 150 million skill point mark (while my main alt is past 110 million), I can tell you that having skill points does not mean winning any more than having ISK means winning.  In my case, it generally just gives me a wider range of ships in which to be blown up.

Still, even with those offsets, the whole plan makes me somewhat uncomfortable for a couple of reasons.  One is that even a whiff of “Pay to Win” will give those who already hate the game for whatever reason to throw stones about how CCP is exploiting new players, cash grabs, the evil of money grubbing developers, and so on.  Once you go into an area with a dubious reputation, like multi-level marketing schemes or free to play MMORPGs, you inherit some of the reputation that such has already attained.  You may seem to be selling power with the best of intentions, but it has been done so blatantly wrong before in other games that it is tough ignore.

Then, of course, I am waiting for the tale of how Goons will be the main beneficiaries out of the feature.  If your Goon conspiracy theory cannot include that, you’re doing it wrong!

But mostly I am wondering where the hole, the exploit, the unintentional outcome will show up, because if there is one thing that the last dozen years of the game has shown us is that the wisdom of crowds is a thing and that there is no way a few hundred people in Reykjavík can foresee what a couple hundred thousand people will come up with.

If they mess up with a new ship or a module or game mechanic, they can fix that in the next patch without much bother.  We’ve seen that over and over.  But when you start mucking with one of the core aspects of in-game character development, that might be a place where I fear to tread. We’ll just have to wait see how it plays out.  At least we don’t have skill point losses due to forgetting the update your clone any more, though there is still the strategic cruiser thing.

And in the long run, I suspect that the likely users of this feature will be old hands looking to quickly boost an alt, corps and alliances looking to help promising new players along, people looking for a bit of ISK out of skills they trained and never used, and maybe, just maybe, a few hard cores who want to be able to retrain lost strategic cruiser skills more quickly.

Will I use this feature?  After all, having gone beyond the 150 million skill point mark there must be some skills in there that I ended up never needing.

The thing is, this is EVE Online.  There are so many paths to follow that I can’t really predict what I might need tomorrow given how many careers I’ve had in the past.  Hell, if it wasn’t for Reavers I might run off and join Signal Cartel and be a space hippie for a year, and who knows what skills I might need for that.  So I doubt I will be stripping any skill points out of my skull any time soon.

Others on the topic currently:

Some post from when this first came up: