Category Archives: Other PC Games

The Passing of the 2019 Steam Winter Sale

The new year has been rung in, we’ve had a day off, and now it is January 2nd and reality has to kick in for some of us.  Not me.  I’m not going back to work until Monday.  But not everybody has that luxury or that much vacation time back logged.

And so it is with Valve.  By the time this posts another Steam Winter Sale will have come and gone.

Holiday 2019 Edition

Lots of things were on sale.  I got the traditional email letting me know that just about everything on my Steam wish list had been marked down.  And yet I got through almost the entire sale without buying a thing.  It looked like another dry year for me.  I didn’t even log on to play the store event game, which seemed pretty dry… dry enough that they had to revise it mid-way through to drum up some interest.  You think Valve would have that nailed down by this point.

The reasons for my lack of interest in buying new games are not much different than most years.  That something is on sale at Steam is no longer reason enough to buy it.  The novelty is gone there.  I have a list of unplayed games in my Steam library which acts as a deterrent.  And I am invested in playing something at the moment.  When I am not logged into WoW Classic I am logged into EverQuest II and playing the new Blood of Luclin expansion.  Expect posts about that to start next week.

So until yesterday it looked like my only purchase was going to be a Steam gift card for my daughter’s boyfriend as a Christmas gift.

And then we binge watched The Witcher, wrapping it up on New Years Eve, which got me to check if the original game was available on Steam.  And, sure enough, there it was, The Witcher: Enhanced Edition, in the store and on sale for $1.49.  So I bought that.

Toss a Coin to Your Witcher

So op success for Steam?  I guess.  I didn’t even end up paying the $1.49.  Because I bought that gift card I ended up with a $5.00 discount, which I applied to the game.

No coins for your Witcher

One more item in my library.  We’ll see if I end up playing it.  But now it is there.

As usual, Steam had its own lists and such to share.  There were the top revenue earners of 2019.

Top Revenue Titles for 2019

The ranking… since there are no numbers… include in-game purchases, which is how the aging Warframe and  Grand Theft Auto V stay up with the newer titles.  Warframe making the top spot is quite a coup.

Then there are the most played games, which has its own ranking structure.  Still, there is some overlap between revenue and being played.

Most played titles for 2019

You can find more such lists on the Steam Blog entry about 2019.

Then there were the Steam Awards, the user nominated and elected “best of…” designations.  It wasn’t a surprise to even me that Beat Sabre won the best VR game, since it is literally the only new VR game I can recall hearing about.  VR isn’t dead, but it is a lot more aspirational than real still.  And Grand Theft Auto V crept into another winning position.  How does that game keep going?  I guess I might know if I played the copy I bought during the Steam Summer Sale.

And so it goes.  I have one new game in my Steam library and six months to go until the summer sale. (I don’t count the spring and autumnal sales, they don’t get nearly as much press.)

My Games Played for 2019

I realize that we’re only a few days into December at this point, leaving almost 8% of the year left to go, but there are also only so many days in a month and I had nothing else brewing for a post, so I am going to run with this a bit earlier that usual  This is where I look at, in a broad sense, which games I ended up playing in 2019 relative to what I thought I might play.

Back at the start of January I wrote a post about what I thought I might end up playing, so this is the nearly end of year follow up to that post.  There is something of a tradition around here with this sort of post, going back years at this point.

The list used to be largely about new games that I was going to play.  And then at some point it became clear that I don’t really play that many new games anymore.  But that is the essence of MMORPGs, that they want to keep you playing for years.  Op success for them I guess.  So now it is more about which stale old title I am going to linger on for yet another trip around the sun.

Back in January I broke my picks out into a few bands of likelihood.  Up first were the safe bets:

  • EVE Online
  • WoW Classic
  • WoW Battle for Azeroth
  • Lord of the Rings Online

And, I was pretty bang on with that list.  EVE Online got play time through the whole year.  WoW Classic has been a big play time favorite since it launched in late August.  WoW Battle for Azeroth was not neglected, though I still haven’t unlocked flying for the expansion, the measure of whether or not you really played by some accounts.  And I did kick off the year still invested in the LOTRO Legendary server idea, though that faded at some point in Moria.

After that there were the “somewhat likely” titles, which were:

  • EverQuest II
  • Project: Gorgon
  • Minecraft

EverQuest II was a last minute winner, getting more play time last month than anything else.  And I did dive into Minecraft when searching for stuff that came with the Village and Pillage update.  But Project: Gorgon, that remains unplayed.  I think it might be time to admit that I am just not going to find the time for it.

Finally, there were the wildcards, things I thought that might find their way into my rotation.  That list was:

  • EverQuest
  • Atlas
  • Torchlight Frontiers
  • Camelot Unchained
  • Destiny 2
  • Diablo III
  • War Thunder and/or World of Tanks
  • Something Else New

Out of that list I played EverQuest.  I jumped in and played on a live server for the 20th anniversary in March, explored some new places, struggled with the layers of interface options the game has accumulated over two decades, and generally had a good time.

And that was it.  I never touched AtlasTorchlight Frontiers and Camelot Unchained remain as yet unrealized.  I am at the point where I’m wondering if I should apply for a refund on the latter.  It doesn’t seem like it will be a thing anytime soon.  Activision gave me a free copy of Destiny 2 and then it went away before I could be bothered to even launch it.  Diablo III I’ve played enough of.  War Thunder I am just so terrible at that I couldn’t be bothered to install it again, and I thought about Word of Tanks, but never pressed the button.

As for “something else new” I must have been making a joke, right?

Well, as long as we get away from MMOs and such, I did try a couple of new items.  On the other games list I said I would probably play the following:

  • Civilization V
  • RimWorld
  • Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings

And I did, in fact, spend some time playing all three of those.  But I also played:

  • Path of Exile
  • Diablo (via GoG.com)
  • Microsoft Solitaire
  • Defense Grid: The Awakening
  • StarCraft (original)
  • Dota Underlords
  • Teamfight Tactics
  • Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin

Those all came and went in short bursts of activity, usually centered on some event.   Path of Exile had a new season and some friends wanted to play.  However, the people in the group who were into it raced ahead and those of us who hadn’t touched the game for a few years ended up somewhat lost in the new mechanics added over time.  For me PoE isn’t as compelling as Diablo III or WoW to play solo, so I let it drop.

The original Diablo got a GoG.com remaster, which means they made it work on Windows 10, so I ran through that.  It was good fun.  StarCraft got a Carbot skin, which was enough for me to drag it out and play with it for a bit.

Microsoft Solitaire is pre-loaded with Win10.  I tried it for a bit as something to do while waiting for an op to get going in EVE Online.  It wasn’t all that special, and when it started prompting me to pay, I was done.

Then there was the late summer Auto Chess/Auto Battler round up, where I tried out Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics.  They are kind of fun, but in using the heroes from their respective parent games, DOTA 2 and League of Legends, remained a bit too close to their core player base to interest me.

I got Defense Grid: The Awakening, a great tower defense game, during the Steam Summer Sale to earn a badge by unlocking an achievement.  I think that explains a bit of Civ V as well, though you can never play just a “bit” of Civ VAge of Empires II HD probably came in as part of that as well, though there was also the launch of the Age of Empires II Definitive Edition that might have sparked some interest there.

And every once in a while when I feel like something akin to old school table top war games I drag out Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin, perhaps the best game in the Combat Mission series.  I’m not a fan of their new engine and they no longer sell the old games, support being an issue.  But my copy still works.

With all of that, here is that annual chart that shows what I played and when.

2019 games played by month

I tried to shade partial months when time played was lot.  Also, this is clearly not the hours played evaluation that my usage of ManicTime has made possible.  I will have to wait until the new year to sum that up.  What I played is easier to do early than something based on real numbers.

EVE Online I played some every month.  There is some pressure to get credit for the corp by going on some ops every month, and I help out with that.

I am a bit surprised by how much retail WoW I played.  I guess I did get into the new content and leveled an alt to 120 and all that.  But that pretty much fell off a cliff when WoW Classic hit.

LOTRO also fell off a cliff once I got into Moria on the Legendary server.  I loved the original content, even in its modern form, and even Moria isn’t so bad, but everything after that is pretty much dead to me.

I figured I would play some EverQuest II, but I wasn’t sure if I would find some way to enjoy EverQuest during its 20th anniversary.  But I found a way.

RimWorld remains a solid time eater when I pick it up.  However, it does suffer a bit from the mid-game problem.  You hit a point where things are pretty balanced, you have supplies to last you through downturns and your defenses are good enough to thwart attacks and you’re just kind of waiting for research breakthroughs.  I started a primitive tech game… well, I started about a dozen until my group didn’t die out in the first two years… but that just pushes the mid-game back some, so eventually there is refrigeration and defense turrets and assault rifle production and you’re just working your way to the end game.

So that is what I played in 2019, for a specific definition of the word.  I decided not to bring mobile into the mix… Pokemon Go would just be another 12 month bar and I don’t record when I play anything else… and I left off a few where the play time was so small as to fall below my own mental threshold what ought to count.

Teamfight Tactics vs Dota Underlords

I have now spent several hours playing both games and I am here to break it down for you, to give you the full and detailed exposition as to how Teamfight Tactics and Dota Underlords are different.

It comes down to one thing and one thing only.

In Dota Underlords, you place your heroes on squares.

Dota Underlords is squared up

In Teamfight Tactics you place your heroes on hexagons.

Teamfight Tactics will put a hex on you

That is it.  Otherwise the games are literally so similar that if you didn’t know better you would swear that one of them copied the other wholesale.

Of course, we do know better.  We know that both of them were copied from the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2, which is what launched the Auto Battler genre.

But seriously, the game play is exactly the same.  You’re matched up in groups of eight, you earn gold to buy heroes, buying three of the same hero yields an upgrade, you put your heroes on the board and watch while they fight some NPCs for a couple of rounds before being matched up against the other players you’ve been grouped up with, and so on and so forth.  Heroes are also part of two or three groups, and having multiples of those groups on your team give them boosts.  Battles play out before you and, at least half the time I cannot really tell why I win or lose.

So most of what I wrote last month about Dota Underlords applies to Teamfight Tactics as well.

Right now neither is monetized, but that will change soon enough, and both feel like they need some tuning.

Anyway, that is about all… what?  What are you saying there?

Okay, stop your howling.  There are, in fact, some other differences between the two.  I’ll tick off a few of the differences… and maybe even help you choose which one you ought to try.

Teamfight Tactics is somewhat hidden in the League of Legends client, so you need to have that and an active LoL account, and the ability to find the game therein.  There are a couple of things that seem to be telling you it isn’t available on the landing page.

The hub is down, but the game is there

You need to click the play button, then select PvP (because nothing else in LoL is PvP? I don’t understand?) and you’ll find the button to launch TFT.

On clicking the button, then another, you’ll get grouped up with seven other people, at least one of which will forget to click the accept button, and the grouping thing will have to run again until you finally get into a group five tries later.  I don’t know why you have to click an accept button.  You cannot see, to my knowledge, who you are even playing.  This is why I assume people are simply forgetting to click rather than hitting the reject button.  I don’t know.  It seems like an unnecessary step.

Dota Underlords is on Steam, which means you need the Steam client and an active account, and is early access, which means it is effectively hidden from view more so than TFT.  But at least there is nothing telling you some aspect of the game is down.

DU launches as a stand alone game using your Steam account credentials.  You click the PLAY button, decide between tutorial, bots, and players, then wait a while while it matches you up.  Then, for a brief moment every single time it does something that looks like the whole process is about to fail, then suddenly you’re matched up.

TFT uses the champions from LoL, DU uses the heroes from DOTA 2, so if you play one of those already you are a step ahead of random people like myself.

TFT also has an odd start point where a bunch of champions are marching around in a circle and everybody has to run out and grab one.  That is your starter champion.  However, the champions do not have names visible nor can you click on them to get more information, so unless you know all the LoL champions it is something of a crap shoot.

TFT also, for reasons I do not quite get, gives you and avatar on the battlefield.  By default it is a little ghost that looks to be straight out of the Mario universe, though you can earn other versions.  I saw somebody who had a penguin.

My little ghost avatar

The ghost is what you use to grab heroes during what I am going to call “the circle jerk.”  Champions walk around in a circle and you jerk them onto your team.

Everybody grab your champion

You also use your little avatar to run out and grab drops from the NPC rounds.  Otherwise, your guy has no impact on the battle so you can run around during a fight to be annoying.   Sometimes I will accidentally right click on something which will send the avatar wandering off, sometimes off the board, which will drag the camera with it.  Annoying, but not something I would claim should steer you away from the game.

On the plus side, TFT does seem to be a bit more free with gold.  I never feel quite as cash constrained playing that as I do in DU.   Also, the pace in TFT seems a bit quicker, though that is in part because you seem to lose bigger as the game goes along so you are rarely lingering along in way behind in 8th place for many rounds.

That bigger win factor also means the tide can turn pretty heavily.  One match I won the first 9 rounds in a row.  I still was at 100 while the next highest player was at 56.  And then my advantage faded and I lost the next 6 in a row and was in sixth place and the lowest ranked survivor with only 4 points left.  And I managed to hold on and end up in fourth.  Wild turns of fate happen, and make the game interesting.

When it comes to Dota Underlords, one of the primary problems is that it isn’t as far along as TFT.  Neither feel done yet, but DU has been changing up quite a bit every week.  For example, even as I started writing this DU was updating to add a competitive ranked mode, something that TFT already had in place for a while.

But DU has what I feel are two big advantages over TFT.

First, DU is available on mobile.  I am rarely in a match where there isn’t somebody who has the cell phone icon indicating that they are playing on mobile.  I haven’t tried it myself yet, but my daughter says it is pretty good.  It might be a decent iPad game to play on the couch for me.

And second, and more important to me, the UI in DU is dramatically better.  It is more clear, more helpful, and much more informative that the TFT UI.

For example, if you look at the two game screen shots further up the post, it is easy to see which units in DU have been upgraded.  Normal units have one star above, the first upgrade has two, and the second upgrade gets you three.  Easy to see.  You need to click on units in TFT to see their status.

When buying units, if a unit in the list pops up that will complete a set for an upgrade, DU highlights that unit in an obvious way.  TFT doesn’t give away such hints.

Not getting a hint might not matter if the units in the buy list were easy to discern.  They are in DU, where they use the same avatar in the buy list, the reserve slots, and on the game board.  There are a couple that looks a little too similar, but I am able to discern most of them pretty easily so I know what to buy.

TFT on the other hand seems to want to punish you for not knowing all their champions by heart.  In the buy list TFT doesn’t use the field avatar.  Instead it uses a dramatic graphic of the unit, which doesn’t always look a lot like the champion on the field.

Units in the TFT buy list

I spend way too much of my time between matches trying to figure out if one of these champions on the list matches somebody on my team, which means matching names.  It is just a lot more work.  And then there is the above mentioned “circle jerk” event, which comes up every so often during a match, where you have to pick a champion based on no information at all… unless you know them all by heart.

And just beyond that, the UI in DU has larger, clearer text consistently throughout the game when compared to TFT.  The UI clarity is probably related to the fact that the game also runs on mobile, but even on the PC this is actually important to some of us old farts who now have to wear glasses to read text smaller than a certain size.  I don’t have to wear my glasses to play DU.

So if I were to recommend one these games to a new player who was not invested in LoL or DOTA 2, it would be Dota Underlords.

If you’re already invested in one of the MOBAs, then you play the spin-off that has the units you know.  If nothing else, deep knowledge of LoL champions will give you a marked advantage in TFT.

Of course, there is still Auto Chess Origins, the stand alone game from the team that made the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2 that kicked all of this off.  And, given the buzz that the Auto Battler genre has been getting, I expect we will see more knocks offs, so there is still the potential for a Fortnite-like entry into the field with some special twist that will steal market focus away from the first round of games.  We shall see.

Where Does The Age of Empires II Definitive Edition Fit?

The golden age of the Real Time Strategy genre is nearly 20 years gone at this point.  Like most ideas in video games, it first made a splash in a raw form, in this case via Dune II ,and then saw change in great leaps, some of which made companies, as the original Warcraft did with Blizzard.  There was lots of variety as new titles rolled out.

Then somebody “won” the genre, created a title that seemed to perfect some aspect of it… that was probably StarCraft… after which the genre tapered off.  It didn’t die, but like MMORPGs or Facebook games, it stopped getting so much attention.  It was no longer the hot new flavor to chase.

In around the peak of the genre came Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, one of my favorite RTS titles.  I’ve written about it before, but in summary it was kind of a big deal for myself, friends, and co-workers.  Back in the days when IT wasn’t policing every PC in development for unauthorized software, we would play a couple of games at the office every Friday night.

So you might think I was pretty excite to hear about Microsoft announcing Age of Kings II – Definitive Edition last week during E3.  Except, of course, I am not.

The Age of Empires trio at the Microsoft site

I mean, I should be happy that Microsoft has finally dusted off the web site for the franchise, which was locked in 2001 for about 15 years, and decided to pay attention to the franchise.  As late as four years ago there was a banner ad for the original XBox on the franchise page.

But there are a few issues for me.

The previous remaster, the Age of Empires Definitive Edition didn’t exactly make a splash.  After a big announcement two years back, it was quietly released on the Microsoft store eight months later where little seemed to be said about it.  It remains an exclusive there last I checked, though there seems to be some plan to bring it to Steam at some point.

I was also more than a bit convinced that the AoE remaster was little more than a marketing scheme to draw attention to the planned Age of Empires IV, so this might just be more of the same.   Also, given that I wasn’t big on Age of Empires III and that all we got was a vague trailer about the game, I wasn’t too excited on that front regardless.

But the primary reason I haven’t been all that thrilled about the Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition announcement is that we already got an Age of Empires II remaster just over six years ago.

Hidden Path Entertainment, who did the wonderful Defense Grid and Defense Grid 2 tower defense games, did a remaster of the game back in 2013 that included:

  • 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.

Not only that, they also updated the unofficial expansions for the game and even added another one just last year.  When steam does stats, Age of Empires II – HD Edition is always doing surprisingly well given its origin in the last century.

Basically, there is already a happy and thriving Age of Empires II community on Steam that is good with the game, so a new version from Microsoft just raises uncomfortable questions… like what happens with all of the Steam Workshop stuff people have created and what about those three expansions?

What does Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition really bring to the table, besides 4K graphics, and what will people lose if they go there?

I personally think that the graphics upgrade and a remastered sound track is insufficient to get people to buy another copy of a game they have probably already purchased twice at this point.  Or that seems to be a common thread in the reactions to the press release on Steam.

The press release mentions three new single player campaigns to be released with the Definitive Edition, and four new civilizations as well, which makes this seem even more like a branch that will be incompatible with the HD Edition.

Microsoft also seems to have learned from the Age of Empires Definitive Edition and will be launching the new game straight onto Steam, where the fan base has resided for years now.

However, even that move gives me pause.  Are they planning on supplanting the HD Edition on Steam?  Hidden Path may have done the HD Edition, but Microsoft owns the title and all the rights.  If they want to yank the HD Edition in hopes that the fan base will be compelled to buy the Definitive Edition, they can do that.

I don’t think they will keep you from playing the HD Edition if you already own it.  It will likely still be there in your library.  But they can certainly disappear it from the store, take down the Steam Workshop, and remove all evidence of the expansions that have appeared since they last cared about the game.

Furthermore, it Microsoft being tone deaf and heavy handed isn’t exactly out of character for them as a company.

I hope that they will find a way to embrace the current and thriving Age of Empires II community that exists on Steam.  Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition is due out this fall according to the press releases, so I imagine that we will see how they plan to play this soon enough.

Steam Policy Plays Out as Expected

This took a bit longer than I thought.

Back in June of last year, when Valve announced that they would no longer do any sort of curation of games being submitted to Steam, I figured we would see some horrible game as a test case in the next three months that would prove they couldn’t pretend the games they were profiting from had nothing to do with them.

Actually, given that they almost immediately played the “trolling” card to block the game Active Shooter, I thought maybe they had quickly figured out that being as hands off as they were saying wasn’t a viable plan after all.  (That Valve then quickly announced that Steam was expanding into China, where all content would need to be heavily curated, was merely the delicious irony icing on this otherwise sad cake.)

But here we are nine months down the road and Valve has managed to thread the needle between not curating content and not damaging its own reputation by selling something truly offensive, to come out look bad on all fronts.

Seriously, as I said elsewhere, it is like somebody at Valve asked, “How can we do the right thing and yet still look bad to all parties?”

The test case was a game called Rape Day, which started getting press the moment it popped up on the site as coming soon.  On Wednesday the Steam blog posted a statement saying that they would not be hosting Rape Day on the service.

Over the past week you may have heard about a game called ‘Rape Day’ coming soon to Steam. Today we’ve decided not to distribute this game on Steam. Given our previous communication around Who Gets To Be On The Steam Store?, we think this decision warrants further explanation.

Much of our policy around what we distribute is, and must be, reactionary—we simply have to wait and see what comes to us via Steam Direct. We then have to make a judgement call about any risk it puts to Valve, our developer partners, or our customers. After significant fact-finding and discussion, we think ‘Rape Day’ poses unknown costs and risks and therefore won’t be on Steam.

We respect developers’ desire to express themselves, and the purpose of Steam is to help developers find an audience, but this developer has chosen content matter and a way of representing it that makes it very difficult for us to help them do that.

This response, of course, satisfied almost nobody.

Defenders of the game, including the developer, pointed out that the game was hidden behind the “adult content” tag, so you had to opt-in to even see it and, of course, on a service rife with murder simulators how does rape stand out?   How does Grand Theft Auto V get a pass?  Per the developer:

You can’t reasonable [sic] consider banning rape in fiction without banning murder and torture

That the developer chose to emphasize a particular aspect of the game by choosing to title it Rape Day seems like they were looking for easy publicity.  The developer still plans to sell the title directly, and it will likely see much more success now that it has been in the headlines of various new sites, both gaming and mainstream.

Meanwhile others, myself included, looked at the game and wondered how that wasn’t straight up trolling given the past statements from Valve.  Did #MeToo pass its expiration date or something?  Did this occur during Women’s History Month by accident?  (Happy International Women’s Day by the way.)

Also, while I understand the whole “case by case basis” thing, since that is how real life works, I think they would have been better off reviewing the game before they let it appear on the store front, even behind the adult content tag.  Another random dev complaining about Valve rejecting their game would have been lost in the background noise.  This is only a story because Valve put it up on the store like they had approved it already.  And maybe they had.  I don’t know and Valve isn’t saying.

But whether or not they had approved it, their brief saying that the game would not be made available on Steam managed to squander any positive from the decision.  A strong statement, or even a lukewarm one, indicating that this game was not going to be on Steam because it crossed a line that Valve, as a company, could not endorse might have managed to wrest some good will.

Instead, we got:

After significant fact-finding and discussion, we think ‘Rape Day’ poses unknown costs and risks and therefore won’t be on Steam.

“Costs and risks” could have been maybe meant to indicate something to do with the Steam community, but in that dry statement is comes off a lot more like a worry about some impact to the bottom line.  Feeling that endorsing rape might not be financially advantageous doesn’t win you much sympathy.

And so it goes.  Valve ends up looking good to almost nobody.  Depending on your point of view, they’ve either managed to betray their statement about not passing judgement on games or they’ve nearly come close to affirming rape as an acceptable entertainment option in their online store, only having been waved off at the last minute by bad press.

All of which was an entirely predictable outcome when they announced this nine months back.  I think they made the correct decision.  I am mostly bemused by how Valve managed to make things much worse for itself than they had to.  I hope they have a serious after action meeting to keep this level of stupid from occurring again.

Some further reading, none of which makes Valve look very good:

Reviving the 190cs and Some History

I’ve written some about my early days of gaming, days dominated first by the Atari 2600 and then the Apple II.  I have also written extensively about the era from EverQuest forward, when I was playing on a Windows machine of one sort or another.

But there is a whole middle-era that I have mostly left out, or only alluded to in passing, that involves me working and playing games on the Apple Macintosh platform.  And it was quite a big part of my evolution as a gamer.  Flashes of that have come through when I wrote about Air Warrior or when I mention things like Marathon or Bolo.  But it isn’t a topic I’ve delved into much, for reasons I will get to.  But first, some history.

Being in Silicon Valley and an Apple II enthusiast meant it was easy to keep an eye on all things Apple, including the coming of the original Macintosh.  But even though 1984 wasn’t like 1984, or so that ad told me, I wasn’t buying a Mac. (This is also why I have no Nintendo nostalgia.  Who needed a NES when you had an Apple II?)

I was still invested in the Apple II though, which had more software, did more things, and was all I needed at the time.  I played Wizardry and Ultima III and Bard’s Tale and Karatka and was happy.   Meanwhile, the original Macintosh was neat and all, but other that drawing pictures in MacPaint, there wasn’t much to it.

Time moved on, and new Mac models came out.  I used my student discount to buy my friend Kip a Mac 512Ke, but stuck with my Apple II.  Then two things happened.  First, somebody swiped a box of mine while I was moving out of the dorm at the end of the semester.  That box contained mostly Apple II disks, which cut the legs out from under my investment in the hardware.  I didn’t lose everything, but a lot of software was gone and I wasn’t going to go buy it all again.  I wasn’t even sure I could buy all of it again.

Second, as part of a group project we did a bunch of work at one person’s office.  They did all their stuff on the Mac and so I did a bunch of the writing for the project on a Mac SE with an Apple Extended Keyboard on Microsoft Word.

The Mac SE was the first model to lose the already dowdy looks of the original Mac, a look that was still present in the Mac Plus.  The new Apple Desktop Bus keyboard and mouse that came with it were a lot better than the original Mac versions.  And Microsoft Word was really good on the Mac.  I really like the WYSIWYG aspect of it.  It was light and ran well.  Add in the ability to print your documents out on one of those new laser printers and I was sold.

In early 1987 I bought a Mac SE through a contact that was able to buy at the Apple developer support prices, which probably saved me $1,500.  Computers were expensive back then.

It was a dual floppy unit, because I came from the Apple II world and having two floppy drives was freaking critical… especially if you wanted to copy disks for friends.  (I remember sitting there with the cover off of both Apple II floppy drives, adjusting the speeds of both to get them sync’d up in order to get past some particularly gnarly copy protection scheme or another.)

But I still needed a hard drive.  You couldn’t get by without that even back then, the sizes of which seem comically small by today’s standards.  A 20MB drive was a pretty common option, but I went out and spent all that money I saved on the Mac SE on a 70MB drive from Jasmine Technologies, a company I would later end up working for.

Anyway, I was committed.  My Mac era had begun, and would continue on for almost exactly a decade.  I ended up working at companies that did Mac products, even working directly with Apple on a few things.  I ran a Mac oriented BBS from 1990 to 1995, which gave me a knowledge of modems at the dawn of the dial up internet which also got me a few jobs.

But Apple was a ship without a rudder in the 90s, wandering thither and yon, unfocused and living on its past reputation.  By 1997 the place looked doomed.  Michael Dell was telling people that the company should shut down and give the stockholders the proceeds.  The startup I was working at folded up shop and I had to take what little Windows knowledge I had gained to try and find a job elsewhere.  Having Macintosh on your resume at the time was only slightly better than having McDonald’s listed.  A lot of people I knew made the transition.

A year later I had a job in enterprise software, secured largely on my rather superficial knowledge of ISDN (I was hired to work on that, then never did, moving immediately into speech technologies), and a Windows NT Desktop machine in front of me.

Since it had always been my habit to have a machine similar to my work machine at home, I swapped over to Windows there was well.  I soon had a Dell Pentium II machine set to dual boot into either Win95 or WinNT.  It wasn’t my first Windows box.  I had a 66MHz 486 a few years back just to tinker with Win95, but it was the first Windows box set to be my main machine.  Somewhere along the line I got a 3Dfx Voodoo I card… I forget now why I bought it… some game needed it I am sure… so when EverQuest came out I was ready to go.

And almost all of that Mac stuff went away.  I kept that Apple Extended Keyboard for a long time.  It just sat on a shelf, gathering dust, but it was such a good keyboard that I hated to just toss it.  I got rid of the PowerMac 8500, the last desktop Mac I owned, and the Windows compatibility cared I had borrowed from a friend at Apple so I could run ZMud when playing TorilMUD.  After using it on that other Windows machine, I had to find a way to keep using it.

Other bits and pieces disappeared over time.  The TI MicroLaser Plus laser printer stayed a bit, but it was a decade old and supplies were getting scarce.  Boxes, diskettes, CDs, and manuals of various historical value got tossed as time went on as my wife and I moved, then moved again.

Now, more than a decade on from our last move there are very few things around the house to suggest I ever had anything other than a Windows box during my career.  There are some Mac World Expo badges hanging off a peg, a couple of really old CD jewel cases with titles like Spaceship Warlock or Pathways into Darkness (early Bungie title!), or my affection for the big ball Kensington Trackball that might give it away, but not much else.  I am in a constant battle between keeping old stuff and not having my office turn into a trash heap of old crap.  So I do my own Marie Kondo thing and sift through stuff and ask myself if it brings me joy or not, which gets me to throw things out now and again.

And I have forgotten much.  I am able to go write about TorilMUD as often as I do not because I played it so much during the 90s, but because it is still there and I can get ZMud to still launch, so I can revisit and refresh old memories.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was once again going through my office and throwing things away (like a Jambalaya MRE a friend brought back from the Gulf War) and in a drawer in a dresser that is stuffed in the closet in my office I found my old Macintosh PowerBook 190cs along with the power supply… and the receipt.  I paid $1,499 for it at ComputerWare back in early 1996.

I remember having this laptop… the only laptop I have ever purchased for myself, since work has always seen fit to issue me one if they think I need one… but I didn’t know I still had it until I dug it up.

It was a curious model, straddling the 500 series and 5300 series of Apple PowerBooks.  It had the then new simpler design aesthetic (the 500 series looked like Batman’s laptop) but was powered by the 68040 processor rather than the PowerPC processors then entering the Macintosh model line.

It was the last 68K series laptop Apple produced, and the last 68K Mac I ever owned, putting it at the end of a long line that included the SE, Plus (to run my BBS at one point), SE/30, IIci, IIsi, Quadra 700, and Quadra 800.

I pulled this antique out of the drawer and set it up on my desk, uncertain if it even still worked more than 20 years after I purchased it.  I had to figure out how to turn it on.  It was part of the ADB era, when Apple put a power button on the keyboard with a symbol I had long since forgotten.  But when I figured it out, the speaker chimed and the unit spun up into life.

MacOS 7.5.2 – And Look at all that RAM!

The motherboard battery had faded years ago, so the time and date came up as midnight on January 1, 1904, the default day zero of the MacOS at that time.  I was a little concerned as to whether or not it would recognize 21st century dates, but it seemed to handle that.

Digging through the drive, I found some old apps.  There was a copy of Eudora, my favorite email app of old, probably full of notes to my girlfriend at the time, now my wife.  I used to write her emails while builds ran.  Now I just text her.

There was a copy of Claris Emailer, which I used to monitor the support account.  At a startup you have to do all the things.

There were all sorts of little utilities.  A copy of Microsoft Word 5.1a, the last good version of Word.  At that point it had achieved a fullness of features yet still fit on a 1.4MB floppy.

And in a folder titled “Games ƒ” I found… some games.  Old games.  Games from 20 years back.

Not a lot of games.  This was my work laptop after all.  But a few goodies in there that I didn’t think I still had around.  So I have something from that era to write about, old games played on era authentic hardware.

But first I want to get the PowerBook on the network so I can get some screen shots moved over.  The 190cs didn’t come with built-in Ethernet, but I had a Global Village PC Card that had both modem and Ethernet support.  However, that needed an external dongle (referred to as Clyde by the team that worked on it for reasons I do not recall) and I could not find the dongle.

But a packrat friend and former co-worker of mine had one and sent it to me. Now I just need to get it configured.  As it turns out, MacTCP from 1995 was pretty primitive.  There is, for example, no support for DHCP.  So far I’ve gotten to the point where the router sees the 190cs and has allocated it the IP address it asked for, but it cannot ping anything and cannot resolve any domain names.  Launching Netscape Navigator 4.04, the only browser installed on the unit, yields no web yet.

At least I have a bunch of network utilities in another folder.  20+ year old network utilities, but maybe they will tell me something.  We shall see.

Also found in the same drawer as the 190cs:

Recorded off the air, circa 1980

Maybe I’ll get to that later.  I do still own a car with a cassette deck.

RimWorld Sometimes Be Like That

People I know have been getting into RimWorld of late, which got me back to playing it as well.  It exited early access back in October and had actually changed a bit since I last played.  The changes were mostly in the details rather than any grand direction, but I did spot a few.  Having to stay indoors due to some toxic fallout was a new one on me, for example.

Fortunately the few times I have been hit by that it has been a short duration event, though the description indicates that it could go on for a long time.

I usually play the default scenario without mods and my early game often follows a similar pattern.  I try to be careful in selecting the characters I start with, making sure I have some coverage on all skills.  Inevitably I realize later that the person I need to do something, like research, will end up also being the only person who can plant crops and they spend most of their time on planting.

And then there is the usual scramble for shelter, beds, storage, then cold storage to keep food fresh, then actual food, which involves some planting.  Then I try to get by on the few survival meals and the local berries and animals until the initial rice crop comes in.  And then the potatoes eventually are ready for harvest and I find that I have so many that my food storage is full.  But if I have gotten there at least I get through the first winter and can go on expanding from there.  If a blight hits the potatoes though, it can be tough.

We were comparing notes on Slack about the current state of our various games and I mentioned that I was entering what I would consider the end game with my current colony.  I had research up to the point where I could build components and advanced components, which freed me from yet another constraint.  I had two people with high intellect skills that were swapping off on research and were going at it so fast that I was going to be able to fill out the rest of the tech tree.  I had turrets up for some automated protection, IEDs planted around some of the usual attack routes, everybody who could carry a gun had a light machine gun or an assault rifle, save for my best shooter, who had an excellent quality sniper rifle, and I had half a dozen big dogs trained to help in defense. (And to haul, which is the most useful pet thing ever.)

My colony at that point had grown to 14 people.  Most of them were getting along.  Six of them had paired off into couples.  Morale was high.  Meals were lavish.  The place was clean.  About the only complaint involved tattered clothing, which is always a pain because each character clings to their favorite piece of worn clothing like an eight year old.  I make them drop their worst item, they go pick out a replacement from the warehouse of clothing I had setup, the complaint goes away.  Then I allow the old piece of clothing to be picked up, because it is laying on the floor where it was taken off and the character immediately runs back, takes off the nice new pants or whatever, puts on the old ratty pair, and then starts complaining about having tattered clothing again.

Anyway, things were looking good.  I could see the research wrapping up, me building some final items, and then getting the hell off the planet for the win.

However, the AI seemed to sense my hubris and decided to teach me a lesson.

It started off with a big raid.

There were eight in the raid, but it didn’t seem too bad.  They were forming to the south and were not attacking yet.  I looked at a few of them and they had pistols.  They weren’t going to be the push overs that another local tribe was, they were coming at me with spears and bows and I had been mowing them down and sending them flying pretty handily, but it should be manageable.

I grouped my fire team into a sandbag pit at the south of the camp and prepared to lay into them as they approached.  As they attacked things seemed to be going okay until one of the attackers got close and threw a grenade into my defenses, and then another.  That blew out the sandbags, tore a hole though a granite wall, destroyed a turret, and wounded everybody on my team, incapacitating five of them.

A couple of the wounded were still firing and the dogs were out and attacking, so they managed to defeat the raid, but now my colony was in a bad way.  In the rush to get things back together four of the dogs died, the other two were wounded while four of the incapacitated colonists died within the next hour, with a fifth dying off the next day when another raid hit and he was killed by the spears and bows group as I was low on defenders and had to haul him out of his hospital bed to help fight.

So my colony was a mess.  Defenses on the south were gone, there was a big hole in the main building, there was blood and mess everywhere, and no one had gotten around to burying the bodies.  Morale was taking a serious hit.  All three of my couples lost one person.  Everybody was despondent.

RimWorld is as much about crisis management as it is about base building.  I likened this situation to being a manager at a high tech firm after a big layoff, something I’ve been though.  You have less staff, the same amount of work to do (if not more), and morale is at rock bottom.

The only good news was that one of my non-violent colonists had managed to recruit the prisoner we had been working on, so I had a fresh person who could handle a weapon.  There was that and the smokeweed crop had matured, so I expected there would be some binges on that front.

When colonist morale gets to low they can suffer a mental break, at which point they go off and do whatever it is they takes them on their own.  Some wander or hide in their rooms.  My main researcher, who lost her husband, went off on a smokeweed binge.

But sometimes the reactions are destructive.  I had one colonist throw a tantrum and start breaking things.  That didn’t last too long and was pretty well contained.  But then another colonist broke and went on a fire starting binge.  He ended up in the cold storage for food, setting fire to the potato crop stocked in there.  Apparently frozen potatoes burn very well in enclosed spaces.  The fire in there got out of control, with the temperature rising above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, incapacitating the people who ran in, one by one, to try and put it out.

So I had to haul people out of the fire and just let it burn out.  Since it was by the kitchen and the dining area, all of my prepared meals went up in the conflagration.  Fortunately I hadn’t used wooden walls.  Stone kept the fire contained.

But now, with the only remaining cook incapacitated in a hospital bed, the colonists were reduced to eating raw potatoes, which added to the morale problems.  That set off one colonist who went berserk and started attacking people.  He happened to be a melee combatant too, so had a steel gladius equipped.  He killed everybody in the hospital room and the remaining dogs before he himself was shot dead.

Corpses and blood

Then there was another raid.  At least it was the bows and spears team again.  But after that I was down to three colonists, all wounded, the colony was a disaster, there were unburied bodies all over, and all I could think was that my statement about approaching the end game now seemed premature.

And, of course, the three remaining colonist were all complaining about their tattered apparel.

But that is the way it rolls some times with RimWorld.  And it is always fun to see if you can bring things back from the brink.