Author Archives: Wilhelm Arcturus

About Wilhelm Arcturus

I started playing online, multiplayer games in 1986. I expect to get the hang of it any time now.

Resupply in the Jungle

The line between disorder and order lies in logistics…

– Sun Tzu

At some point last year I picked up the game Vietnam 65 on Steam.  I’d read a favorable review of it elsewhere and put it on my wish list and, when it came up on a sale, I bought it.

Vietnam 65 Splash Screen

And then I sat on it for many months.  It was installed, but unlauched, not an unheard of situation for games purchased on Steam.

Then came the Steam Spring Cleaning Sale a few weeks back which, among other things, encouraged Steam users to play games they hadn’t played in a while or had sitting in their library yet hadn’t played at all.  They were offering a badge as a bribe and convincingly listed titles that applied for each category and Vietnam 65 covered a couple of those.  So I launched it at last.

The reviews for the game were good and I can see why now.  Vietnam 65 is simple for a war game.  I pretty much picked up most of what I needed in the tutorial mission.  After that there were just a couple of units to learn about and I had the basics.  Then it was just up to me to actually play the game.

Winning is measured by the state of the hearts and minds of the province you’ve been assigned to protect.  Defeating Viet Cong or National Vietnamese Army units strengthens your position in the province so the locals will trust you.  Letting the VC or NVA run wild or mass their forces turns the locals away from you.

A fresh province to win

Those two also affect the political will of the people at home which impacts your supply and replacement situation.  If you’re winning, the folks at home are happy to reinforce success, but if you end up losing badly you’ll find it tough to climb back as supplies and replacements dry up.

Generally speaking the US forces can dominate any situation.  Infantry, tanks, Green Berets, air strikes, attack helicopters, and artillery will lay Charlie low when you spot him.  The key is finding Charlie.  The fog of war is your main barrier to success.  You have to keep scouting.

An rare moment of contact

I’ve been most effective with a fire base planted in the midst of some villages and a couple of Green Beret units, scouts who can spot from a distance without being seen, and dropping artillery from the base, along with air strikes when available, on targets of opportunity, with a Chinook helicopter keeping the fire base supplied with ammo.

Supply is key.  You units out in the field can only survive for so long without being resupplied.  A lot of the effort of the game is keeping the supplies coming to your units out looking for the enemy.  And your helicopters, which can only move so far in a turn, also need to get back to base to refuel before they can haul more supplies.  Some of my early disasters have been caused by too many units spread far afield and waiting too long to start supply runs.

Operations around a firebase

The combat is pretty basic.  There is a simple win/lose mechanic for straight up fights and a hit/miss roll for artillery, air strikes, and other indirect fire.  US units are eliminated after two losses.  This includes your helicopters, which can come under fire from the ground when trying to get supplies out to your units in the field.  One such hit means they need to get back to base for repair, while the second hit sends them crashing into the jungle, leaving a wreck behind to remind you of your mistake.

But combat can be simple, as it is an end result of your efforts.  You need to get out in the field and find the enemy.  The local villagers will help you with intel if you have proven yourself around them.  Defeating nearby hostile units will help, as will clearing mines from the vicinity of their town of hooking them up to the road network with your engineers.

Turn 13 and I am doing well

Once you get used to things and find you’re winning every game decisively you can start fiddling with the difficulty.  There are two presets; Normal, which is where you start, and Veteran, which is all the sliders moved to “hard.”  In between there is Custom, which lets you tinker with the sliders so you can build up to Veteran.

All the sliders

Veteran is a challenge.  You start behind on hearts and minds, your supply pool is low, the enemy is very aggressive, the weather is bad, and the jungle is very dense.  I’ve survived a few rounds of Veteran, but faced defeat as I could not repair or replace units due to a loss of public support from about the halfway point of the game.

The game is single player only.  It also comes with 51 achievements which, because it is single player, you can go out and earn without having to interact with anybody else.  Some are easy, and some are not, requiring you be running in Veteran settings to start with.

All in all an approachable war game that has enough depth and replayability to keep you going for a while.  Play time for a 45 round game is a little over an hour.  Some turns take time, some go by fast.  Overall I recommend the game.  You can read up about it over on Steam.

Vietnam 65 is actually a few years old now and the company that made it has released something of a successor, Afghanistan 11.  In the same vein as the original, you are fighting a counter insurgency and have to win the hearts and minds by finding the insurgents and proving you can protect the locals.

I have already purchased Afghanistan 11, but haven’t dug into it yet because I am not done with the original.  But if you want to move on to more recent conflicts, you can find it on Steam as well.

Summer Movie League – Incredible

Here we are at week four of our special rules Summer Fantasy Movie League and… well…

I’m actually away. So there is no score summary or lineup review this week.  But I am sure The Incredibles dominated the box office.  I doubt things went down hill from an $18.5 million Thursday night preview.  I might have considered a Friday/Sunday lineup with that bit of knowledge.  But I stuck with my Monday Hot Picks league lineup, 2x Saturday, 1x Deadpool 2, 5x Hotel Artemis.

This week we have Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

I have to admit that I am not really a fan of the Jurassic Park follow on movies.  Dinos been done since the first one for me; we don’t need this to turn into a CGI Land Before Time length series.  However I am something of an outlier on that front as, when I am writing this, the forecast is for a $130 million box office take, which would boost it well beyond Solo: A Star Wars Story.

But The Incredibles 2 is still on the scene and might be big enough to reign in the dinos a bit.

Meanwhile, one of the problems I thought might occur with an early lock time seems to be coming to pass; people are forgetting to make their picks in time.  Six out of 22 didn’t make the cut in time.  My own habit is to make an initial pick on Monday night and copy it to all the leagues, so at least if I forget or get distracted, I have something.  And, as noted, I stuck with my Monday night pick this week.

Anyway, if you’re looking for some insight on the coming week, check the TAGN league chatter channel on FML where Po often examines the week in detail.

My goal for this week is to find a decent signal or some WiFi so I can make my picks on my phone.  My stretch goal is to add a picture from my current location to this post from the WP.com app.

Make your picks soon!  The league locks in less than 24 hours from when this post goes live.

Being Boosted in Norrath

I wanted to mention my experiences with the recent free level 100 boost that Daybreak was offering a while back.  The time has passed to get the boost… you had until June 7th, which was nearly two weeks ago at this point… but I went and did it back when the time was ripe.  And, in spending some time with the game I thought I would write about it.

Here we go again…

As I mentioned, I have been down the free level boost thing before and have found it… dissatisfying.  But as I find getting all the way from level 1 to the epic triple digit level heights where these well-past-a-decade old games now reside, boosting seems to be the only way I am going to see any recently created content.  You know, the “good” stuff.

The problem with boosted characters is really just context.  When you level a character up you learn the ins and outs.  You can tell when you’re doing well or when you’re doing poorly and when your equipment is really on point or letting you down.  You know how long a fight at level ought to be, what ought to be difficult and what should be a push over.

With a booster character you lack all of that.  You’re given the levels, all the skills and spells, a bag of nice equipment, and maybe a hint or two as to where to go, but then you’re on your own.

Previous times I have made characters in classes I already knew, in hopes that whatever insight might still be lingering in the back of my brain might help, or have boosted up characters I’ve already had, when that was an option.

This time around you had to make a new character and, knowing my lack of success with boosted characters in the past, I decided to try a new class.  I wasn’t going to go crazy and make a mage or anything, but I had never run much with a Shadow Knight, so I made one named Werner.

I was surprised I could get that simple of a name.  Anyway, I created him and logged in at let the game start handing me things.  Being EverQuest II, it couldn’t do this quietly or succinctly, it had to announce a whole list of skills or spells or whatever, give me a box of goodies, tell me where to go, and try to sell me the latest expansion all at once while only giving me a singl 12 slot hot bar, already full.

Welcome, let me first overwhelm you…

I opened the box to see what it had.  I was already wearing the gear, so at least I didn’t have to do that.  The box did have a fabled gear item, but I couldn’t equip that because I wasn’t a subscriber.

I then looked at the instructions as to what to do.

What to when your in Norrath

The flying bit was easy.  I’ll take any mount they hand out, but a good looking one… or at least a non-gnomish one… is preferred.

Flying Away…

I still find it awkward that when you go to fly your angle of attack is always set by your camera angle, which means that you are trying to fly while pitched nose down into the ground because the camera… at least my camera… is always up behind me looking down so I can see things.  Of course, it is pretty much the same thing in WoW as well, but I find it endlessly annoying.

I did not, however, see a potion that would send me to Velious or the Tranquil Sea.  At least not one labeled as such.  There was one for Thalumbra however, and seeing that I didn’t have many other choices, I went with that one.

Potion to somewhere in my bags…

That seemed to work.  At least it got me to an NPC who wanted to send me on some sort of journey.  Of course, that is pretty much all of them, isn’t it?  This one wanted to send me to Neriak to track somebody down, so I obligingly clicked on his teleporting contraption and went on my way.

Neriak, however, was an annoying place.

I mean, it is annoying on a good day, and not just because of the dark elf attitude.  But this was especially annoying.  Something to do with the quest or being in Neriak or whatever seemed to require you to have subscribed to All Access.

All Access something something…

Basically, the whole time I was in Neriak I had this window for All Access up on my screen.  Dismissing it only saw it pop right back up.  Trying to do something in the foreground seemed to offend it and it would jump on top of whatever window or dialog I had going.  It was painful enough that I considered just giving up the whole venture, but the diversion into Neriak ended up being fairly short and I was soon off for other locations… locations that did not demand All Access as part of the plan.

That’s who I am man

It was there I actually had to go up against hostile mobs.  I opened up three hot bars… though the game kept paring me down to one if I logged out and then back in… and looked at my skills to see what I, as a Death Knight… ermmm… Shadow Knight might do.

As it turned out, I think the sneeze emote would have been sufficient.

Boom! Head Shot!

As it turned out the gear they provided was very good.  I wielded god-like power and the ability to one-shot any normal creature and two-shot any named in the vicinity.  I didn’t need to worry about which skill to use, anything with a red background seemed fine.  Hell, auto-attack seemed fine.  I was become death.

Of course, while that is the extreme end from my past experience, where the gear was flimsy enough that every fight was a struggle and dying a repeated adventure, it still wasn’t all that fun.  As somebody once opined, players don’t want the game to be hard, just hard enough that they feel like they are accomplishing something.

Still, it wasn’t all that bad.  I spent a few hours following the chain and killing stuff with a hard look.  But I never got anyplace really interesting.  Nothing grabbed me and got me invested.  In the long ago conflict between WoW and EQII, getting a player invested wasn’t one of the latter’s more glaring flaws.  Now however, WoW seemed to be able to hold me for at least a few month, invested in their story, while EQII… just doesn’t.

Of course, my main character in WoW are all ones I’ve leveled up myself over the years, not ones I have boosted.  So maybe it is more than context.

Anyway, I let things fall by the wayside after a few days and had stopped before the June 7th deadline.  Never say never and all that, but EQII just seems to have lost its edge with me.

The Great New Eden Shuttle Abandonment Festival

Otherwise known as the Federation Grand Prix.

See, I’m not making this up

In order to celebrate Federation Day in the Gallente Federation this event has been staged that celebrates neither democracy nor the Gallente Federation so far as I can tell.

It is, yet again, based in The Agency interface, home of nearly all PvE and like events (save for Abyssal pockets… so good PvE isn’t in The Agency I guess), which is probably why I didn’t notice that it was actually a thing until I saw somebody complaining about it on Reddit.

That complaint actually got me interested in the event.  I bypassed what the write said to look at all the prizes he had earned.  He had quite a range of SKINs and boosters.  Being in Reavers, I clearly love SKINs and boosters, so I wanted to know how I could get my share of them.

The complaint seemed to be that the event was boring.  I’m pretty sure that is true of all events in The Agency, so I wasn’t deterred.  Besides which, he maxed out his even points in one 12 hour sitting, so it could have just been burn out talking.

The event itself is pretty easy, you just fly places.  Again, I fly places all the time.  I could do this.

I logged in an alt to give this a try and opened up The Agency.  It told me to fly to the Luminaire system and warp to the Federation Grand Prix beacon.  Since it would involve flying places after that, and the type of places were unspecified, I decided to use a stealth bomber my alt had to hand.  It had a warp speed rig to speed it up and a covert ops cloak to get me out of any trouble.  So I jumped in and flew off to Luminaire.

There I saw the beacon in the overview and warped to it.

Right there in the overview

The event site is pretty much the generic structure The Agency uses for all such events.  I didn’t even get a good look at it the first couple of times.

You’ve seen this structure before

When I arrived I got a notification that something in The Agency had been updated, so I opened that up and clicked on the event.  That gave me a destination, a beacon in a system 11 jumps away, with a timer to get there.

Fly to the thing!  You had 11 minutes

Well, that seemed doable.  So I opened up the route planner, put the system name in, and followed the path to the destination.

On the way…

So I flew manually from gate to gate to the destination system, then warped to the beacon, which was again in my overview and, upon landing there, saw The Agency update.  I now had 2 points.  Meanwhile The Agency was also telling me to go back to Luminaire to do the whole thing over again.  And I figured I was committed.  I had two points, and you need at least 5 to get a prize, so I headed back.

The prize interval

The next time it gave me a four point journey which.  That was further, but it gave me more time, about a minute a system.   When I completed that I got the first prize box.  That box gave me four SKINs, two boosters, some fireworks, and a couple of collectible items which, for the effort, seemed like a pretty good deal.

While I had to agree with the Reddit post that, as far as interesting activities in game go, this was really shit, I could bear it for a couple more runs for more SKINs.  So off I went.

The next one was another four point journey off to another system.  Only this one didn’t have a beacon when I arrived.  As I later found out, the destination was off one of the stations.  But I while I was trying to figure that out the timer ran out and I found I had gone 18 jumps for nothing.  Back to Lumiaire.

The next one seemed really hard, 25 jumps and only 18 minutes on the clock.  You already need to be going about 5 AUs a second to finish comfortably, so don’t bring a battleship, but this seemed to be stretching things.  But I set off, figuring that they wouldn’t set me a task I couldn’t complete.

Of course, along the way I figured out what was wrong.  I had the route planner set to take me via the safest route.  Had I chosen shortest it would have been just 17 jumps.  Still, I nearly made it… in fact, would have made it with seconds to spare… except  that it was another no beacon destination and I chose the wrong station to warp to.

Back I went.

I did start to notice a pattern as I flew this time.  First, a lot of people seemed to be using shuttles in order to fly the race.  That wasn’t a bad plan, they are cheap and warp at 5 AU a second.  A perfectly viable option.

But EVE Online players are all about efficiency.  Every time I landed at a destination beacon, I noticed that there were often dozens of abandoned shuttles hanging about in space.  Apparently the plan was to acquire a shuttle… and somebody is probably making money in Lumiaire selling shuttles now…, set your death clones in Luminare, warp to the start beacon, then head to the destination.  Once there you leave your shuttle and self destruct.  I’m not sure why not destroy the shuttle too, since they are leaving it behind, but the fact that they are there tells the tale I guess.

One page of many shuttles

You can tell they are empty because there is no player name, just the ship type repeated.  You could jump in them and fly off with them if you wanted.  I’m not sure why you’d want them, but you could.

Unsurprisingly, systems with race destinations are currently ranking high on the DOTLAN most violent systems charts for high sec and low.

Anyway, I got another destination in Luminaire that sent me across part of Syndicate, which was both a six point mission and made me feel good about having my stealth bomber.  I got there successfully and back safely.  Another shorter run and I had my 15 points.  I docked up to claim my prize and all I got was cerebral accelerators.

Not that those are bad.  I’ll use them.  But I was in this for the SKINs.  And after the first box being so generous, I felt a bit let down.  Still, I was a bit invested now, and it was only another 15 points to the next prize box.  I figured I could hack it.

I got a 2 point run that I dispatched quickly enough.  Then I drew a 4 point run that ended in low sec.  While in the past runs had gone through low sec… even null sec… they always ended in a high sec system.  I figured the likelihood of the beacon being camped was high.  After all, the pile of abandoned shuttles would be a dead give away.  I’d be careful, but off I went.

Purifier on another run

When I entered the destination system I could see the beacon on the overview.  I just needed to warp in and then get away.  I figured I could cloak, warp in at 20km, then turn around and slip away without anybody seeing me.  So warp I did.

And, of course, I landed on a pile of freakin’ abandoned shuttles which both decloaked me and managed to bump me as I aligned out for just long enough for a Condor to point me.  I shot back, but torps don’t apply well to frigates and was dead long before I got him close to armor.

But at least I figured I had gotten my 4 points.  He could shoot me and send me home.  But he didn’t want to pod me.  He pointed my pod, but then unlocked me.  No need to take the standings hit I guess.  So I boarded one of the shuttles and headed back to Luminaire.  My lust for SKINs had cost me more than just buying them probably would have cost.

I guess there is an interesting/danger aspect to the event, at least when it passes through low sec or null sec.  But for the most part it is a pretty dull event.  Somebody has to do it if I want to buy the SKINs, but it doesn’t need to be me personally flying it.  I just have to wait until near the end of the event when prices are sagging.

Addendum: On returning to Jita I did find that selling the cerebral accelerators more than covered the cost.  Still, this race event doesn’t excite me.

Done with DragonVale

I think I last mentioned DragonVale about five years ago.  It was a game my daughter installed on my iPad which we played together for a bit.

DragonVale

It was an innocuous free to play game somewhat in the vein of FarmVille which had you breeding dragons as opposed to growing crops.  Also, it was on the iPad so there was a lot less spamming of friends on Facebook.

So the surprise bit was that, five years later I was still playing it.  For a while it was mostly my daughter, but then I took over management of day-to-day operations she decorated the place.  Later, it was pretty much just me with my wife and daughter occasionally commenting, “Are you still playing that?”

Our “High Value”Dragon Island back in the day

Yes I was.  The game was pretty raw to start with, giving you little information about how you were doing… “doing” for me meaning collecting all the dragons.  That was my goal.  You couldn’t tell how many dragons you had or which ones you were missing.  When breeding them… and the dragons have as many types and more than Pokemon do… you had to do online research to figure out which two dragons to breed in order to get a third.  And then finding those dragons on your ever growing list was a chore, and one you had to repeat every breeding cycle.

However, I will say that Backflip, the makers of DragonVale, put in a lot of effort to make the game better and, more importantly, to make information available to the player in the game.  Now in the game you can sort by types, get breeding information, and most important of all, see a list of all the dragons available and which ones you are missing.  There is a number there, a simple number, that tells you how close you are to collecting them all.

There are other things to the game, like levels.  Levels unlock the ability to have more islands and habitats.  When I left the maximum level was 125.  You could also collect dragon eggs, which were pretty.  And they also added in the ability to collect and track decor items, which was a little much for me.

But it was the dragons that I wanted.  And slowly but surely over the years I closed in on the getting them all.  It could be a slog, since they constantly introduce new ones and every in-game event adds a few more.  Still, persistence was paying off.  I bred all the ones that could only be bred at specific times, like during a lunar or solar eclipse, or during a blue moon, or when the Olympics were in session.

A Year ago and six dragons shy

I just wanted to get them all, then I could quit.  I was going to do what I did with Neko Atsume and get them all and walk away a winner… before they added anything else to the game. (I was done before it was even available in English.)

At three points during this year I was one dragon away, only to have something new pop up and thwart me.

Dragonarium says I had 428 out of 429 on May 14th

The last addition was an epic dragon, which you have to perform a long series of tasks in order to unlock.  You can, of course, pay to unlock it.  And, while I have thrown some cash at DragonVale a few times over the years, I haven’t straight up bought a dragon.

Leaving out the “hollow win” aspect of it, the prices are a bit crazy.  DragonVale has a real money barrier in that to buy your way to things you have to spend more money than I am ever going to be willing to toss at a game like this.  I am good for $5 on a whim.  But $99 to get enough special coins to unlock your new epic… I’ll wait and play the game thank you.

So I carried on doing my daily task to unlock the epic.  Basically, I clicked on something which gave me a random number of special coins along with the option to get some more if I would watch a 30 second ad.  I can manage an ad, so I generally did that as well.  And so I was progressing.

Then a new special event came along.

Special events are an opportunity for the game to get players to spend some money.  It is the time when I have, in the past, been willing to part with five bucks to get enough coins to get that one last dragon.  But Backflip has been tinkering with the special event system, trying to channel people towards that money spending point.  But they have generally been pretty good about it, in the end, being about a special currency which you can then use to buy exactly what you want.

This time however there was a new twist to the event.  There were four new dragons to obtain and a special currency.  But in between they put a new mechanic.  You couldn’t just buy the dragons with the currency, you had to buy an egg which would hatch into one of the four dragons.  A level of randomness, but with a bit of OCD on your side you could earn enough currency every day to buy quite a few eggs.  Furthermore, there were double currency earning days which also allowed you to find eggs in your park if you looked.

The odds were not posted.  But after getting a lot of eggs I could tell that it wasn’t a straight up even 1 in 4 chance.  I got one of the eggs over and over.  Eventually I also got two of the other eggs, so was able to hatch three out of the four dragons.  But I was one shy.  And as we reached the last day of the I spent the last bit of the special currency I had earned in game and still did not have the final dragon.

So I looked at what my options were, and that was the table flipping moment.

At that point my only option to get what I wanted as a customer was to spend money to buy random chances.  Random chances that seemed to have a low probability of success given my past observations.

Basically, I couldn’t get there without buying a lockbox.  And at that point I a said, “Fuck you,” closed the app, and deleted it.  There went a customer with a demonstrated willingness to pay now and again.

If you, as a developer, think you are going to put me in a situation where getting somewhere in your game requires me to buy a random chance, then you are not going to keep me as a customer.

WoW Classic – Blizzard Picks a Vanilla Point

With the looming launch of the Battle for Azeroth expansion for World of Warcraft, I haven’t been expecting to hear much about WoW Classic.  For the most part, my expectations have been met and rightly so.  Talk of WoW Classic would just get in the way of the expansion, better to leave anything big for BlizzCon in November.

So I was surprised to see a Dev Watercooler update from Blizzard about WoW Classic.

Classic Vanilla Flavor

The update has some discussion of the technical issues and changes that the development group has had to deal with.

Probably the biggest bit of news in the whole thing is that they seem to have picked a version that will be WoW Classic.  From the update:

The first—and among the most important—decision we had to make was which version of the game to focus on. As many of you have noted, the classic period was two years long and full of changes. Core features like Battlegrounds were introduced in patches after WoW’s original launch, and class design similarly changed over time. After careful consideration, we decided on Patch 1.12: Drums of War as our foundation, because it represents the most complete version of the classic experience.

Version 1.12 brings us all the way back to late August of 2006, literally weeks before the instance group started its journey in Azeroth. (Full recap of the instance group in Vanilla available in this post.)

Us back in the day

All of the Vanilla raids and dungeons had been in place for a while and Blizz was just tuning things as they worked on the first expansion, The Burning Crusade.

I personally cannot remember much else back that far, but you can find patch notes for it all over the web.  From that I can see that 1.12 did indeed usher in cross-realms battlegrounds as one of its features. (Old WoW Insider did a look back at the 1.12 update back in 2011 that you can still find on Engadget if you want narrative and context.)

Anyway, that was a decent nugget of new, a point in time having been picked.  Fans of Captain Placeholder are no doubt disappointed, but it seems like a reasonable place to call Vanilla to me.