Category Archives: Other PC Games

Return to Barbarossa

As I mentioned in my summing up of the Steam Summer Sale, my search for a new game also led me to rummage through some of my old game as well.

The first one I went after was the Battlefront.com classic Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin, sometimes called Combat Mission II.

Somewhere I probably still have the CDs for the game, but since it came out about 15 years ago I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to find them… or if the game would even run.  Still, I was keen to give it a try, so I headed over to the Battlefront.com site to see what they had to say about the current state of the game.

My expectations were not high.  The company has since released an updated Combat Mission series based on a new engine which supports modules set in WWII and the modern era.  Given that the new version, Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy has already aged some, having come out in 2011, I wondered how the original series had fared since.

Back in 2011, when Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy was available for pre-order, I wrote a piece about playing the previous generation.  I won’t rehash all of that, but suffice to say I spent many hours playing the game.

At the Battlefront.com site I was pleased to see that Barbarossa to Berlin was still available.  However, the latest patch was from back in 2009 when they did an update in order to get it to work with Windows Vista.

I wasn’t going to buy a fresh copy based on the hope that it might still work in 2017, but they still had the demo version available.  The demo is almost fully functional, only locking the player out of scenario creation, custom battles, and limited to only a few sample scenarios.  I downloaded that to give it a shot and it actually ran on my Win7 64-bit setup.

So I dove in and bought a fresh copy.  It took a minute to figure out how to download it… the Battlefront.com site feels mired in the last decade… but I got it after a bit, put in the license code… another non-intuitive process, but doable… and got it running.

Given the boost in processing power available since 2002… or even 2009… it also ran very quickly.

A turn-based game, you spend the first phase of each turn giving orders to your units.  Once done, in a single player game, the AI then computes its orders, after which the game resolves the and contact between opposing forces and generates something of a “movie” showing the results of the resulting 60 seconds of the operation.  The “movie” is a 3D rendering of the battlefield with terrain and units that you can pause, rewind, fast forward, and view from multiple angles.

Basically, you give the orders and the game plays out what actually happened.  Things do not always play out as you planned.  Troops won’t do the impossible and their discipline can vary.  There are units that are raw recruits or green troops through to veterans and crack units.  The better quality the unit, the faster it will respond to your orders and the more likely it will try to follow through against opposition.

Back in the day waiting for the AI to do its thing and then the engine to generate the outcome used to take a long stretch.  With my current computer though, everything resolves super fast and in small scenarios we’re practically straight to the movie.  Larger scenarios still take a bit… under a minute… but still much faster than 2002.

Defeating the Germans at Sevestapol took a bit of processing power

The version available now is the deluxe version that includes a lot of extra scenarios created by the community.  I have been running through them, playing both sides.  It is generally better to play the attacker and let the AI defend… the AI gets itself a little hooked up on the attack sometimes… but if you give the computer some bonus budget as the attacker it can give you a challenge.

The interface is pretty good for an indie war game, a genre that is traditionally horrible at interface design.  The graphics are serviceable.  Vehicles are okay, but the people are pretty primitive in design, and the terrain can make it feel a bit like you’re battling 1999 EverQuest at times, but it works.

How many polygons does it take to be a tank commander?

The game will teach you some tactical lessons, like what it really takes to move infantry across the open terrain into opposition.  You need to shell the shit out of obvious points of cover.  And the range of weapons and unit types are vast and detailed and change depending on what year of the war your battle is played out.

There are even minor combatants, including a scenario where the Romanians, having swapped to the Allies, face the Hungarians and Germans.

All in all, I thought this was a great game back in 2002 and despite its age and somewhat dated appearance, it has held up when it comes to enjoyment.  If this sound interesting, but the Russian front doesn’t thrill you, the follow on title in the series, Combat Mission: Afrika Korps follows the campaigns in the Western Desert through Sicily and the Italian campaign.

The End of the 2017 Steam Summer Sale

Another Steam Summer Sale has come and gone.

Summer Sale 2017 Version

I logged in every day and collected all the stickers from the event.  I managed to get one full set of the trading cards so I could turn those in.  I even added about a dozen new games to my wishlist as ran through my daily queue.

But the real question is; did I buy anything?

Well, yes.  Yes I did.  As I noted previously, I went into this sale keen to buy some titles.  I was l was looking for something new, something to shake up the current, slightly stale state of my gaming.  I showed up to chew gum and buy games… and I was all out of gum.  So what did I buy.

Mini Metro

I already posted about this game at the start of the sale.  I actually liked it enough that I bought the iOS version to play on my iPad Air 2… which I notice actually has a higher screen resolution than the 19th century steam powered monitor on my computer.  Hrmm…   Anyway, good stuff, but still light fare.  I like it on the iPad because I can play while I watch TV.

RimWorld

This has been on my list for a while, but Early Access is a bit of a red flag for me.  However, after SynCaine wrote about it I decided it might be worth the gamble.

I bought it, I played for a couple of hours, then I stopped.  I didn’t stop because the game was bad.  I stopped because this game really needs a rainy day when my wife and daughter are out and I have an excuse to not do anything else for hours at a stretch.  My impressions were good, but I didn’t want to jump in until I had time to really immerse myself in it.  So now it sits in my Steam library waiting for its time.

Civilization VI

The inevitable purchase.  Having owned every Sid Meier game in the series up to this point, it was only a matter of time before I grabbed this one.

However, I am mildly disappointed with it.  I only have a couple of hours in, but my disappointment was almost immediate.  Upon starting off it seemed like they spent a lot more time making graphics and spiffy animations and other things that, for me, just get in the way of the actual mechanics of the game.  Classically, the first 100 or so turns of a Civilization game are the most exciting part, or so legend say.  However, as the series has progressed, the free wheeling aspect of the initial phase of the game has been toned down.  Civilization VI, subjectively, feels like the culmination of this to me.

Also, the AI remains as dopey as ever.  I had a scout on automatic.  He went up an isthmus and got hung up on a barbarian camp there.  I took over and moved him in another direction as there were other unexplored areas he could have chosen.  I left him on the edge of unexplored plains and set him to automatic again… and he ran straight back to the same damn barbarian camp.

I might need a rainy day to dig into this as well, but my immediate, superficial response to Civ VI is a hearty “Meh” and a desire to figure out where my Civ II disk went.  Civ II remains my favorite in the series.

And that was it.  Three games.  Not exactly an overflowing bag of loot.  There were a few titles I was strongly considering buying… I was at home on the evening of the fourth wondering if I should pull the trigger on any of them… but ended up not doing so.  The key contenders were:

Doom

I put this on my wishlist after it came out because people who were into it were so jazzed up about it.  I haven’t been much on shooters for at least a decade, but Doom was so well received that the sale price almost made me take the plunge.

Saints Row IV

I put this on my wishlist on a whim at one point due to somebody going on about how great the Saints Row series is.  I’ve never played any of it… I’ve never even seen it played.  But it seems whimsical and silly in its style, and the price was down at the eight dollar level for the sale.  And then something in the back of my head said, “Isn’t this series something of a parody of the Grand Theft Auto series?” and I was afraid I might not appreciate the reference unless I played something from the original.

Grand Theft Auto V

So I went looking for the current champion of the genre.  It has the reviews.  It has history.  It has Target Australia on its case.  What is not to love?  But when I got to the store page on Steam the reviews were atrocious.  I gather, reading the more recent ones, that Rockstar did something to piss off its user base, but I wasn’t sure how deep I needed to go into reviews to find any other objection, so I decided to give it a pass.  So, reviews make a difference.

At the end of the day I purchased three new games, with is three more than I bought in the last Summer Sale when I was feeling a “sale weariness” around Steam.  If the three I considered strongly, but did not purchase, I am still open to them down the road if somebody has something to add to their reputation.  They are still on my wishlist.

The odd side effect of the sale though has been my jumping back into some older games after reading about new ones.  But that is a topic for another post.

Mini Metro

Mini Metro had been on my Steam wish list for a while.

That isn’t saying much.  I put lots of things on my wish list to consider buying later, to look into, or just to remind myself that they exist.  Titles can linger there for ages, waiting for a something to push me either to buy them or drop them from the list.

Fortunately for me… or the game… or both… Zubon did a write-up about the game which tipped the balance in favor of my grabbing it as soon as the Steam Summer Sale hit.  And it is all he said it was, light and simple and elegant in design.

I was a little bit surprised when I first launched the game as it drops you straight into playing.  There is no mucking about in any menus or settings, you’re just on what is essentially the playing field playing the game.  It is a strategy that works with a game of such a spare interface.

At its heart it is the same game as Train Valley, of which I wrote previously.  The player sets up a transit network based on a set of stations which gradually increase over time, servicing a population that has destinations in mind.

Mini Metro sheds all of the non-essentials, paring away money and rewards and switches and collisions, leaving just the necessities.  Your passengers are simple shapes who want to travel to a station that matches them in stylized versions of major cities.

Four Lines running through London

You  passengers are not picky.  If they are circles, they just want to get to one of the likely many circle stations on your map.  Other shapes are more rare, some of them being one per map.  You draw out and change your transit lines by just dragging them.  Your rolling stock are little rectangles that move up and down the line, stopping at stations to pick up or drop off passengers.

There are, of course, constraints.  That is what makes it a game really.

There is a limit on the number of transit lines you can have and tunnels for crossing water and trains and carriages to which you have access.  When a new week starts up every Sunday you are given a new train and the option to add something else in a binary choice.  You might have the option add another line (which will require your train) or a couple of tunnels or a carriage that allows a a train to carry additional passengers, or a special station that loads and unloads passengers more quickly.  But the you only get two options each week and you only get to choose one.

And then there are the passengers, who get upset if your transit system leaves them piling up in stations for too long, with grumpy sounds and angry black timer circles forming if they are backed up.

Some unhappy Londoners south of the Thames

Passengers are the ultimate constraint, the one that will end your game.  If the timer circle sweeps through the full 360 degrees, your transit system fails and you are done.

Game over man!

Score is measured in how many passengers you have delivered and how long your transit system lasted.

There is a list of maps representing different international metropolitan environments from London to Paris to New York to Shanghai.  Each map has a simplified representation of the water obstacles the city presents, tunnels being a key constraint as your system expands.  There are also some variations on some of the maps.  In Cairo the trains only hold four passengers rather than the six on other maps, while in Osaka you get fast moving bullet trains to help move your population about.

Osaka on the list…

There is a hierarchy of maps and map difficulty, and to unlock the next map you have to deliver a certain number of passengers on your current map.  There is also a list of achievements for doing specific things on various maps, if you are looking for additional constraint.

The game reminds me of a software package I used back in college.  I took a class, the name of which I have long since forgotten, which was essentially holistic systems analysis.  The software, which I wish I still had, let you model processes as water flow, so you could lay out something like the DMV and see where the bottlenecks and the idle locations were.  By abstraction, you could see the flow of a system.  Mini Metro is like that, even to a real transit planner.

Anyway, the game, which is an inexpensive indy title to start with, is even cheaper with the coming of the Steam Summer Sale.  If you like this sort of system management I recommend picking it up.  There are even iOS and Android versions of the title in the respective app stores.

Return of the Shang Rush

There is a correlation between some of my past jobs and certain video games.  For a long stretch of time there was usually a video game, or a series of video games over time, that whatever team I was on would play at the office after hours.

Games like NetTrek or Marathon or Diablo or Warcraft II or StarCraft took their turns at various companies as the game to play after hours.

That all ended late in the last decade when HR reached a point of ascendancy in Silicon Valley in companies above a certain size and decreed that people enjoying themselves on company property was bad unless they were doing so in company organized and controlled events.

Before that we were able to find support against IT for our after hours fun.  After that IT was cleared to keep our machines free from anything not specifically mandated by them.  And so ended after hours bonding.  Now we just talk about video games that we play ourselves.  Nobody sticks around late to hang out any more, we all just go home.  Life in enterprise software, where everything is super serious.

There is probably a correlation between the wind down of games after hours or work and finding time at home to blog about games.

The funny thing is how certain games were popular at one company but not another.  In 1998 I moved to a new company.  The previous one had been very much Warcraft II and early Total Annihilation.  The new company was just getting into StarCraft.  The timing was just about perfect, as I was in for the early learning curve of StarCraft, which had just been released.

StarCraft supplanted the previous dev team champion, Age of Empires.  There were still some people who played it, but the new game supplanted the old pretty firmly.

(Side note: As somebody who has played the same MMOs for years at a stretch, it now seems odd that such games had such a short shelf life and how keen we could be to move on to new ones.)

Some people on the team missed the game while others found the balance of the game to be off and much preferred the fine edge balance of the StarCraft races.  The Rise of Rome expansion for Age of Empires came along, but it wasn’t enough to get the game back in play.

Then of course Age of Empires II – The Age of Kings came along and eclipsed the game completely with its improved controls and balance of civilizations that gave each one their special niche.  There was no looking back at that point.

Somewhere along the line I grabbed a copy of Age of Empires just to try it out, but it never really stuck with me.  Ensemble Studios even rolled back some of the UI and control changes that came with Age of Kings to try and improve the game, but it remained in the shadow of its successor.  People have kept playing and modding and expanding Age of Kings while Age of Empires has languished.

I’ve been playing Age of Kings off and on ever since it came out.  The game still (mostly) ran through the last decade until it got an HD upgrade/revamp a few years back that brought it into the age of higher resolution monitors.

Soon though, almost 20 years since it launched, we will all have a chance to take another look at Age of Empires.  One of the tidbits to come out of E3 was news of an Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, featuring 4K graphics, remastered sound track, and improved game play.

Age of Empires

Microsoft has spruced up the long neglected Age of Empires site so you can sort of get a handle on what they are doing.  Information is sparse and the site seems pretty slow, but you can see they have something planned.   I don’t know who is actually doing the work.  The site proudly talks about somebody on the “About Us” page, but Ensemble Studios that did the original game has been gone for eight years, while Hidden Path Entertainment did the Age of Kings HD update and they aren’t mentioned anywhere.

Also, I am pretty sure this statement from the “About Us” page is laughably wrong:

Considered by many as the top selling PC game of all time

If you’re one of the alleged “many,” maybe you had better check that chart again.

Anyway, I’ll hold out for more information before I make an actual purchase decision, but I am leaning towards picking this up when it goes live.  We’ll see if the Shang rush is still a thing.

Atlantic Fleet

Back in January I took my refund from the Hero’s Song debacle and picked up a couple of games off of Steam with the money.  Refunded money is like found money and should be spent immediately.  I grabbed Orwell, Death Ray Manta, and Atlantic Fleet, something I even documented on a Friday bullet points post. (I had forgotten about that until I went to make a tag for Atlantic Fleet and found I already had one.”

I let Atlantic Fleet sit for a bit, finally picking it up to play last month.

Atlantic Fleet by Killerfish Games is a tactical turn-based naval combat simulation that focuses on the war between Britain and Germany in WWII.  You can replay the surface and submarine encounters that characterized the Battle of the Atlantic before the US Navy showed up.

For a game that is $9.99 it has a lot to recommend it.

The models of the ships and aircraft are good.  The game runs well, being both stable and resource efficient.

The mechanics of the game are reasonably simple once you grasp them.  For complexity, the game lies somewhere between the first person whimsy of World of Warships and the grognard impenetrability of Storm Eagle’s Jutland series.

There is a tutorial that guides you through playing the game.  It doesn’t exactly hold you by the hand and guide you… it throws up a text box that requires you to both read and comprehend what it is telling you, so you need to take a minute rather than just jumping in… but there isn’t a lot to learn so once you get the basics things fall into place.

Once there you can pick one of the pre-set scenarios or start a campaign.  I prefer the scenarios, which cover a range of historical engagements.  I gravitated to the pursuit of the Admiral Graff Spee, an encounter that my grandfather deemed important, making me memorize the names of the British cruisers involved. (Achilles, Ajax, and Exeter.)

Of course, all is not perfection.

I found the basic AI to be a bit simple.  It does what it needs to do and at least doesn’t lock on and hit with every shot.  But it doesn’t seem quite up to the task of dealing with even a dolt like myself.  I have played the Graff Spee scenario a number of times, playing each side, and I have never lost outright.  My first run, when I was just learning and made many mistakes, I managed to sink the Graff Spee with desperate torpedo run, though I lost two cruisers, with a third damaged, in the process.

Later, when I figured things out a bit, I could zero out the Graff Spee without loss and then re-run the scenario and kill all three British cruisers and sail away barely touched, like Captain Langsdorff’s dream.

The Bismark scenarios likewise led to some different historical endings.  I managed to sink both the Bismark and the Prinz Eugen with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales.

Bismark, turrets wrecked, going down by the stern

I appreciate that you can use your skill to change historical events.  HMS Hood doesn’t always have to explode… though I made that happen.

HMS Hood goes up just like it did in 1940

It was more a matter of my being able to change events, sometimes drastically, by just watching how the AI works rather than because I posses some special skill at naval combat. (Which I most certainly do not.)  You can engage the “hard” level AI and “elite” AI gunnery, but that quickly becomes pretty viscous.  AI is always a dicey issue because you want a game to be accessible (i.e. shouldn’t dunk new players mercilessly) but if it is too easy then things become tedious quickly.

This isn’t a huge fault, and given the game price the AI is pretty good, but it did strike me initially.  And the default AI fights on to the bitter end.  I had the Hood firing away at me still when its rear turrets were swamped by sea water washing over the rear decks.

Under the waves, submarine combat is just okay.  You get to lurk and go to periscope depth and unleash your deadly fish.

Avoiding detection

But this is not a submarine simulator, and the submarine aspect feels very simplistic if you have ever played one.

The submarine scenarios emphasize this.  They tend to start with the sub in position.  You launch your torpedoes then dive and evade.  If you aimed true and hit your target, you win.  If you missed you likely lose.

HMS Glorious takes three torpedoes

Meanwhile anti-submarine warfare feels very simple and haphazard… which makes it pretty realistic for the time.  You get a sonar contact with an estimated bearing and range, and then you either pop away at periscopes with you guns or you drop depth charges.  Both tend to feel like throwing stones in the ocean which, again, is probably realistic.  The most exciting moment in ASW for me so far was having the HMS Queen Elizabeth fire her 15″ guns at my periscope.

Then there is the aircraft component which I found unsatisfying.  I am not sure what I would suggest as an alternative, but even in a simple simulation like Atlantic Fleet the aircraft feel tacked on.  The aircraft models are nice though.  I will give them that.

But perhaps the most unsatisfying part of the game for me is how turns are managed.  I don’t mind turn-based combat.  Not everything has to be real time and one likes a respite now and again to assess the situation.  But how turns are structured, and how that structure influences the game irks me a bit.

Let us say you have a scenario with two friendly ships and two enemy, which I will designate F1 and F2 for friendlies and H1 and H2 for the hostiles.  This is how a turn plays out:

You give F1 its movement order, then F1 moves.  After that you select F1’s firing option, then F1 fires.  Following that you do the same thing for F2, each moving and firing in their own turn.  Then H1 moves then fires, followed by H2, which moves then fires.

A little clunky, but not the end of the world.

However, in order to fit this all together, the firing phase is rather simple.  You designate your target then select which of the weapon systems on the ship you care to use.  For a battleship, as an example, you can use main armament with armor piercing rounds, main armament with high explosive rounds, secondary armament with AP rounds, secondary armament with HE rounds, torpedoes, or a star shell to light up targets for night combat.

So you can fire your main guns, or your secondary guns, or torpedoes, or an illumination shell.  They are all mutually exclusive.  Furthermore, your guns get to fire every turn, there being no reload time differential between main and secondary armament.  Effectively a battleships 15″ guns fire just as fast as a wee destroyers 4″ guns or a cruisers 8″ guns.

Torpedoes do get locked out until they reload, so you cannot launch a spread of those every turn.  That would be completely unbalancing.  But when it comes to the choice between primary and secondary guns, you wouldn’t ever fire the secondaries unless the mains were knocked out.

Ideally, I would have preferred to have a simultaneous scheme where you give movement and firing orders for all weapons systems and then the turn resolves, accounting for timers for things like guns with differing rates of fire.  That would have been a better solution.

However, that is asking a lot for ten bucks.

And for that price the game delivers some pretty good value.  In addition to the historical scenarios, you have a wartime strategic simulation campaign, where you place your ships and fight battles as they come up, along with a “build your own navy” campaign where you have to earn ships as you go along.  The former is pretty amazing and intense, the latter is a bit silly, but all told you can fight a lot of battles.  I like the historical scenarios, which are quick battles, and the ability to create your own line ups for such encounters.  I’ve been battling the Tirpitz against various Royal Navy battleships.

So, to sum up, Atlantic Fleet might not be the naval combat simulator you want, but it is likely the one you need.  If you have a naval combat itch to scratch, this will do it for you at a reasonable price.  Well worth the time and money.

Meanwhile Killerfish Games has a Pacific Fleet version of the game in the works according to their site and just launched a new title called Cold Waters.

Now available

Cold Waters is a simulation of the naval actions in Tom Clancy’s book Red Storm Rising. Those actions were based off of a scenarios played with the table top game Harpoon which was later turned into a series of computer games which included the events from the book, making this new game a re-imagining of a conversion of an homage or something.  I am not sure.

But it is $39.99, so I will be interested to see what the reviews say about it.  That is past the point of impulse purchase price for me.

The Challenge of Train Valley

I brought up Train Valley as one of the titles I bought during the Steam Winter Sale.  It wasn’t quite what I expected it to be… but you never know what a game really is until you start playing it.  I am not sure exactly what I expected, something more free-form or open world, like a Minecraft rail mod, or maybe a more hands on Ticket to Ride.

trainvalley

Train Valley is not either of those.  Still, it looked to be a fun little game so I played on to see what it offered.  It seemed simple enough, you just build tracks between stations and then send trains back and forth.

Simple track layout

Simple track layout

Each level starts with a couple of stations and more get added as the level goes along.  Trains then appear at each station and you click on them to start them off and then make sure they arrive at their destination.  Piece of cake.

You play through various scenarios, which are akin to levels, as you need to succeed on one in order to advance to the next.  The scenarios are divided into various geographical areas, starting with small European countries, then the United States, then Russia/USSR, then Japan, and finally Germany.  Germany is actually a DLC addition, but I bought the whole Train Valley package, including all the DLC which included Germany and the soundtrack.

The first set of scenarios

The first set of scenarios

There is a postage stamp theme to the scenarios and they each have some bonus goals, called “Advanced Objectives” associated with them.  For each goal you manage you get a cancellation stamp on the level.  I would guess that there is a range of about 20 standard goals which get re-used in different combos throughout the scenarios.

Bonus goals for the Tokyo scenario

Bonus goals for the Tokyo scenario

Those goals do not actually enter into your ability to successfully complete a scenario.  They just add up for achievements and provide a bit of extra challenge.  The final round in each region doesn’t even have extra goals.  In fact, you can do all sorts of things wrong… crash trains, send them to the wrong station, lay out your track badly… and still complete a round.

The gating item in each scenario is money, something I didn’t fully grasp until I was into the series of US levels. (And yes, I am using “levels,” “rounds,” and “scenarios” interchangeably, deal.)  There I actually started running out of money, at which point you are declared “bankrupt” and the round ends.

Laying track costs money.  Removing structures that may be in the way of where you want your track to go costs money.  And then there is a tax on your rails that you pay at intervals which takes money out of your budget.  So there is a constant drain on your cash.

To earn money you have to get trains to their destination.  The sooner they roll out and the sooner the arrive, the more money you get.  You can even call for “extra” trains.  (One of the standard bonus objectives is to have 5-10 additional trains run during the level.)

Levels start out with just one train and a station or three, but then things heat up and soon you have trains waiting to go and more stations to hook up and you have to consider how to lay things out so that a train from any given station can get to any other station.  And if a train waits in the station too long, it will eventually just go, rolling out onto the rail line and mucking up whatever you might be trying to do.

I think I got this one laid out okay

I think I got this one laid out okay

You can see on the level in the screen shot above that there is a tunnel.  That is an added complication that rolls a train at you every so often.  More complications.  And when trains crash, that costs money too.  There is a loss for the train, the need to clear away the damage, and the building of new track.

I started going bankrupt occasionally on the US levels until I started paying closer attention to my budget.  It wasn’t until the Russia/USSR levels that this became critical.  At the “Iron Curtain” level the initial stations are far enough apart that you have to thread exactly the right path or go bankrupt immediately.  Again, more attention to budget and pathing required.

Still, I made it through that and into the Japan levels, which were the original end game.  Here is where I started having to take a few swings at the ball in order to finish a level.  The Sapporo level took me more than a few tries as it is a tight layout and throws trains at you from off map… fast trains… fairly often.  Still, I managed it.  I didn’t get any of the bonus objectives, but I made it without going bankrupt.

Then I arrived in Tokyo, the penultimate of the Japanese levels.  The trains are long and fast and show up at a rapid pace once the level started moving, you end up with a lot of stations, space on the ground is tight, and to get the layout you need you have to destroy some expensive buildings.

Starting off in Tokyo

Starting off in Tokyo

You end up with a fairly generous starting bank account, but having that first train show up wanting to get between two difficult stations can strain your budget almost immediately.  In the screen shot above I am blowing almost half my initial capital for the first stretch of rail, and I still have four stations unconnected.

I tend to start off okay… if I get a good first train or two I can often add a couple of extras just for a bit more cash… but eventually I hit a point where things begin to spin out of control.

Things begin to go badly

Things begin to go badly

In that screen shot the train in the upper right is going to leave the station, ready or not, two trains have collided at the green station, I haven’t finished repairing after the collision at the purple station, the red station isn’t even hooked up yet, and every station has a train ready to go.  And, as I noted, the trains are long, the freight trains are fast, and the passenger trains are faster.  I forget to set one switch correctly on the tracks and it is like an air traffic controller mistake and everything is going to end in disaster.  I go bankrupt… or quit when I know that is headed my way… every time.  I’ve had the rails full of stopped trains, another train threatening to go in a couple seconds, the game paused, and no solution in sight more than a few times.

But I persist.  Somebody even put together a page of rail layouts that seem to work… I searched for that after a lot of runs at Tokyo… which I am not miles away from on this level, but you need to earn cash to tear down buildings to get it just right, and even then it is a near run thing.  This is the twitch reaction level for the game so far.  I not only need to get the rails laid right, but I need to keep the switches set and the trains going in the right direction… and forget about the bonus objectives.

I haven’t even seen ze German layouts yet.  Not bad for a $3.39 investment.  I have gotten my money’s worth in play time out of it, and I still sit down every night and take a few runs at Tokyo.  I’ve just got to make fewer mistakes to best it.

Steam Winter Sale 2016 Results

Another Steam Winter Sale has come and gone.  I think it was “Winter” this year, and not “Holiday,” as it has occasionally been in past years.  I didn’t take a screen shot of the banner.  Whatever, you know what I mean.

The usual array of things happened.  There was opening day pricing comedy.  There was an event in which to participate, in this case the first ever Steam awards.  There were cards to earn by voting and by reviewing queues and badges to craft when you collected enough cards.  And, of course, stuff was on sale, with price marked down anywhere from a milquetoast 10% (looking at you Civilization VI) to a riveting 75% and beyond.

I will take those topics in order.

Pricing comedy this year, as every year, happened just as the sale launched.  This year’s twist was things appearing in the wrong pricing category as opposed to the usual absurdly low or even negative pricing that has happened in past sales.  That was all fixed pretty quickly, but not quickly enough to keep me from getting a couple of amusing screen shots back when the sale launched.

The event, The Steam Awards, was an attempt at…something.  The categories were presented before the sale and people were asked to nominate titles for them.  Then the top nominees were presented, one a day… except for the last day of voting when we got three… for people to vote on.  For each vote you got an event card.

The problem with the whole thing is that, in allowing community nominations and voting, I am not sure they can replay this as an event again next year… unless they radically change the categories.  Fans of certain games will persist in being fans and will nominate and vote for the same thing every year if you let them.  Anyway, the winners were:

  • Villain Most in Need of a Hug – Portal 2
  • I Thought This Game Was Cool Before It Won an Award – Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • Test of Time –  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Just 5 More Minutes – Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
  • Whoooaaaaaaa, dude! – Grand Theft Auto V
  • Game Within a Game – Grand Theft Auto V
  • I’m Not Crying, There’s Something in My Eye – The Walking Dead
  • Best Use of a Farm Animal – Goat Simulator
  • Boom Boom – Doom
  • Love/Hate Relationship – Dark Souls III
  • Sit Back and Relax – Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • Better With Friends – Left 4 Dead 2

You can see descriptions of the categories and the other titles nominated at the official Steam award page.  As you can see, there are some dupes in winners and some titles a that are a bit long in the tooth.  You expect that for the Test of Time category, but maybe not for so many picks.  I would have to say that the most fitting winner is probably Goat Simulator, while the biggest travesty is that a Civilization title didn’t win the Just 5 More Minutes category.  But then, I don’t play CS:GO.

On the card front, I collect many cards, voting and running my two queues every day.  I actually managed to craft one badge but that was it.  Going through the queues I did add a couple of more titles to my wish list, so op success for Steam on that, though I am note sure they needed to send me an email about every single item on my wish list that was on sale.

Then, finally, there were games on sale… and unlike the last couple of events, I did actually buy a few items this time around.  Here is what I picked up:

Dirt3 Complete Edition  – $2.99

dirt3completeedition

Probably the best value of the sale for me.  An older title, it looks good and plays well on my system.  While it clearly believes you should have a game pad to play, I managed to make to with the keyboard controls.  In casual mode you can do the tour and steer while the game limits your speed to what will keep you on the track, so you can pretend you’re instantly good at the game… just don’t turn off some of those helpers or you’ll find out how bad you really are.

You get to drive lots of different cars, including retro models (70s, 80s, and 90s) like my old friend the Lancia Delta.  I like the rally courses a lot.  Not too keen on the gymkhana drifting and tricks aspect that are a mandatory part of the tour mode.

It also has a decent replay mode that lets you watch your race again from various angles and will allow you to upload the video to YouTube directly should you so desire.  I have yet to so desire.

Atari Vault – $7.99

atarivault

And impulse buy.  I actually have an old copy of the Atari classics that probably dates from 2000 or so that still sort-of works when I have a burning desire to play Adventure or remind myself just how bad some of the Atari 2600 games really were.  But I figured I wouldn’t be amiss getting an updated version.

Train Valley – $3.39

trainvalley

Purchased on something of a whim, this did not turn out to be quite what I expected.  There was a promise of sandbox play and I had dreams of large rail empires… I mean, look at all that track I have laid in Minecraft.  But the game itself seems limited to one screen of area on which you are allowed to play, so your layouts cannot get too sprawling.  Meanwhile, the sandbox mode is more in the vein of a developers sandbox in which to experiment as opposed to what you might think of as a sandbox in the MMO world.

Simple track layout

Simple track layout

Still, it is a fun little game in its own right and I spent a few hours playing it so far… and as I made it through various challenges I did manage to get more than my fair share of head-on rail collisions.

Prison Architect – $7.49

prisonarch

I did not buy this for myself but for my daughter who, upon learning of the Steam sale, put a few titles up on her wish list and then came over and mentioned this to me.  So I bought her this, and she actually played the hell out of it over the holiday break from school.  It looks pretty good and is one of those systemic process models where feeback loops (positive or negative) quickly make themselves apparent.  So I watched over her shoulder as she built cells, suppressed riots, and tried to figure out why the inmates inexplicably refused to the dining hall.  This has been on my wishlist and I might pick it up for myself the next time it goes on sale.

Stardew Valley – $9.99

stardewvalley

Another one for my daughter, whose wish list is limited by the fact that she has an iMac.  I was actually a bit surprised to find this title was available for MacOS.  I’ve heard lots of good things about it and it made the Steam Top 100 for 2016, a list based on sales revenue, which isn’t bad for a game with a $15 base price.  My daughter started playing it and got into it right away, though she was still feeling the draw of Prison Architect, so went back to that.  But she enthused enough about it that I bought a copy for myself before the end of the sale.  I have yet to launch it, but it is now in my library.

So that was it for the Steam sale.  I was going to buy Doom, which was 75% off, then totally forgot to on the last day and found it full price when I looked back to do it.  Probably for the best.

I did actually buy a few things this time around, but didn’t splurge.  I tried to keep it to just a few items so that I would play them rather than simply collect them.