Category Archives: Other PC Games

Disney Checks EA Over Battlefront Microtransactions and Other Hilarity

As it turns out, all of that firestorm about Star Wars: Battlefront II did not change EA’s mind.  Electronic Arts was fine just staying the course and going all-in on pay to win in the name of boosting revenues.  They were willing to move the dials some, but actually turn it off? Nah!

I don’t directly have a horse in this race since I’ve written off EA as a horrible company and don’t give them money in any form any more, but I figured I ought to follow up last week’s post and also note the state of affairs so I can come back to it a year from now and see how things played out.  Also, my daughter, cringing at my childish artistic efforts, made me a new “EA is Hell” graphic for such posts.  I’d feel bad not using it.

Electronic Arts – Fun is Made Here

Anyway, as it turns out Disney had to step in and yank EA’s chain to get them to stop shitting all over the Star Wars franchise just before a big movie launch next month.  So I suspect we won’t see EA suspend their temporary moratorium on predatory practices and straight up pay to win until Star Wars: The Last Jedi makes its billions in screen revenues and toy sales.

Then there was the analyst who, displaying all the depth the profession is known for, like a true Scooby-do villain, blamed the whole fiasco on “those meddling kids,” in the form of Reddit and a momentarily not subservient gaming press.  Can’t they see that EA needs that extra revenues to stay alive?  Games are so much more expensive to make these days, or so we’re told, so if gamers can’t be milked for more revenue the whole industry will collapse.

Oh, wait, EA says that shutting off its Star Wars Battlefront II whale exploiting program won’t affect earnings.  So which is it?  Are these all a necessary evil in order to ensure games keeping getting made or just another unconscionable way to boost revenues?

Anyway, all of that nerd rage has buoyed the FIFA fan base to demand EA fix the exploitative nature of that franchise as well, to which I can only respond with a hearty Nelson Muntz “Haw, haw!”

Or I would if this sort of thing wasn’t on the rise everywhere it seems.  Your dollar votes make this possible.  I know, we all just want to play our video games with our friends, and it is easy for me because EA literally makes no games right now that I care to play, but at least give this some thought now and again will you?  Spending $60 on the box for a game that contains a blatantly, unarguably vulgar straight up pay to win mechanic just makes that more likely to happen again in the future, even if you don’t participate in the most crass aspects of the money grab.

Did I get enough adjectives in that last paragraph?  I think there is room for a few more.  Would more change your mind?  Or are you just going to buy the games anyway?  You’re just going to buy them anyway, aren’t you?  Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you way too late!

Meanwhile various small time government officials are trying to ride this storm for some publicity.  The Nosy Gamer has a post about some of this.  The gambling commission in Belgium, a French senator, a Hawaiian state representative, and now a state gambling commission in the Australian state of Victoria have weighed in, all looking to play this for some press to further their careers.

I mean, I have some mild hope given the direction some of this is going.  There seems to be a line of thought that random chance plus real money alone is sufficient to declare something, if not real gambling, at least a predatory practice that targets the young, without having to open the can of worms that would come from declaring virtual goods to have real world value.

But even with virtual goods being worth cash money, the whole idea that random chance and money are predatory causes me to see how this could immediately bleed over into collectable card games (I don’t care if adults play Magic: The Gathering, it is still viewed in the mainstream as the domain of 13 year old boys, while the Pokemon TCG is straight up aimed at kids), baseball cards, the gumball machine in front of the drug store that drops out random toys in little plastic capsules, and McDonald’s Happy Meals.

There is a long and lamentable history of laws being written with a specific intent and then being expanded to include semi-analogous but never intended scenarios.  If “money + chance + children” is predatory do you have a green light to sue McDonald’s if you don’t get the right Star Wars toy in you Happy Meal?  I’m sure some lawyer will take that case and try to make new law if you’re willing to pay his many billable hours and expenses.

Anyway, the potential for a law that might get expanded into various other venues will cause a cross-industry alliance against any such changes to be formed.  They will battle directly by making up numbers about how many jobs would be lost by such regulation and promises of self-policing in the industry while at the same time innocuous sounding industry groups will donate to the campaign funds of politicians… or directly to politicians… to sway their minds and soon, if EA can keep itself from publicly shitting the bed again for just a little while, the whole issue will disappear.

So that is my call.  Ain’t nothing going to happen and a year from now the status quo will still be in place.  I mean, maybe EA won’t be trying to sell its pay to win so egregiously, so there will be a small win in that.  But that will have been accomplished through direct economic pressure.  No legislation or regulations will have been passed in any but the tiniest of jurisdictions.

Yes Gevlon, I read your post.  I disagree, if only because I cannot imagine the systems in the US and the EU working with such haste.  The EU only gets itself in gear if it thinks it can milk US companies like Google and Apple to punish them for being better at what they do than their European counterparts.  Somebody will point out that any changes won’t just hurt EA but Europeans as well and that will be that.  And in the US… well, the NRA and its congressional puppets have been reading from the “video games cause gun violence” script for years and that hasn’t changed anything of substance.  What chance does this have?

Anyway, we shall see.  If I remember I’ll make this one of my predictions for 2018.  I need to start thinking about that.

Until then I’ll go back to playing World of Warcraft, at least until they start selling mythic raid drops in loot boxes for cash.  After that it will just be Pokemon for me I guess.  Nintedo would never do this, right?  And they’re going to announce a Pokemon Diamond & Pearl remake next year as well, right? Right?

Quote of the Day – Sisyphean Task

Devs promise to change Battlefront II until players are happy

-Ars Technica article title

It is the rare headline that gets me to laugh out loud, but this one managed it.

EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront II woes around lockboxes and pay to win and the game in general continue unabated.  I’m not keen on EA when they’re having a good day… since a “good day” at EA usually means buying a studio they’ll close down sooner or later or screwing up a long treasured franchise… so this has been amusing to watch from the sidelines.

Fun created here… on an Orca graveyard!

Starting with what seemed to be like a “land war in Asia” grade mistake where players could unlock things either by playing or paying using the same currency, allowing players to immediately calculate an hours/money comparison, made more grievous by having it in a PvP shooter.  So the rage online was epic and the EA response on Reddit became the most down-voted item ever.  Call Guinness, we have another video game record for the books!

EA stuck to their guns… for a bit, then suddenly dropped the price of unlocks by a whopping 75% while trying to put all of this in back in the bottle by promising… well… you can see the quote above.  My immediate reaction on Twitter was:

I guess the devs ought to be familiar with Hell already, working for EA as they do.

At this point EA can only hope to fix enough so that the review scores from the big sites… which are all on hold right now, so the current Meta Critic score of 79 is based on four sites, three of which I would call “minor” and a fourth I haven’t heard of… won’t tank.  But good luck making any of the vocal members of their audience happy at this point.  On that front the pooch has already been well and truly screwed.  Anything short of removing lockboxes completely… and EA won’t ever do that… will fail to meet their stated goal.

Anyway, we shall see if anything is learned here.

RimWorld Ate My Gaming Time

I mentioned RimWorld back at the end of the Steam Summer Sale this year as one of the games I picked up.

It had been on my wishlist for a while as something interesting to look into, but the early access label kept me at a distance until I saw SynCaine’s write-up on it.  That was enough to flag it as safe to buy, but even a little while with it told me it was a game which needed some time devoted to it, a good game to while away the hours with once the weather turned chill enough to have a legit reason to stay inside.

Now, as the nights have grown longer and the weather a bit more chilly, I have finally gotten around to RimWorld.

My elevator pitch for the game is that it has all the sticking power of early SimCity at a more micro level.  Like SimCity it moves along constantly (though you can pause or speed things up) and you don’t control the people in the game directly.  Instead you setup tasks for them to do.  And, of course, keeping them happy is important lest they face a mental breakdown which, best case, will have them huddled in a corner for a while.  If they have the pyromaniac trait they might start setting fire to everything instead.

The game itself looks somewhat like Prison Architect and Escapist 2 and probably a few other indie games with stylized characters.

The default scenario starts off with three people in a wrecked spaceship landing in their survival pods on a semi-tamed planet, a world on the rim of explored space.  Once down on the planet your three stranded characters have limited survival gear so must setup a camp in order to survive.

In the first shelter built

Each character has certain skills (e.g. shooting, melee combat, cooking, crafting, medical, etc.) they bring to the mix, but nobody is strong all over. (Though skills improve through use, so that person who is only level 1 in cooking may become a chef some day.)  They also have some traits, things they enjoy, things they will never do, biases and weaknesses.

That first mix with three characters is pretty vital because once you are down you’ll need to build shelter, defend yourselves, and start working on a food supply.  Wood will get you shelter, beds, and some covered storage, while the bits and pieces from the ship will let you setup some basic electrical network.  With electricity the first thing I always build is a freezer to store food indefinitely.

I tend to over-focus on food.  But the first few runs food became a problem, so now I end up with excess rice and potatoes.  You can hunt as well, but there is a bit of risk in that and you need a butchering table to process the prey into raw food to be cooked and skins for clothing, so I start with rice, which grows quickly, along with harvesting the local berries.

Another setting you get at the start of the game is placed in the context of telling the story of your adventure.  You can choose what sort of story it will be.  You can have a tale where nothing bad ever really comes your way, or when events like packs of wolves or raids by nearby settlements come at regular intervals, all the way up to facing a series of ever more powerful kaiju attacking your base.

Well, maybe not kaiju, though there are a lot of mods out there for the game, so there might be a kaiju option.  There is certainly a Star Wars option… but when there are mods there is always a Star Wars option.

Meanwhile your characters need to go on surviving day to day while you try to keep them happy and on task.  Their mood and ability to go on are keyed into what is going on.  Some things are easy, like keeping the housing area clean.  Living in a dump is depressing.  So it having your sleep disturbed, so you have to split up sleeping quarters to make sure the early risers don’t end up next to the night owls.

And then some of your characters are boosted by specific things.

Sammy saw somebody die and it was intense!

If they grow too unhappy they may wander off or have a psychological break.  I had one character who would start setting fires around the base when her mood got too low.

Their relationships count as well.  Sometimes they bond or become lovers or hate each other and will start fighting and need medical care.

And then there is their past history.  I had one guy who had a smokeweed dependence going in, so eventually I grew some and he became happier.  But then other characters started smoking too and I ended up with one guy who would go off and binge on the stuff for a day at a stretch.

Likewise I grew hops to brew beer and ended up with a character who ended up disabled from alcohol abuse.  She had to stay in a medical cot all the time and have people feed her.

So, while there is an end to the game, a winning and losing scenario where you either escape the planet or all die off, I spend lots and lots of time just managing the day to day operations and expansion of the base, managing supplies, setting tasks, dealing with bandit raids, mad animals, and trading caravans, and just generally making sure things are getting done.

Mae is setting fires again while Jova and Queenie are disabled

It all ends up being something in which you can lose yourself for hours at a stretch.  This is probably the first game in a while where I have sat down in the evening to play for a bit then realized hours later that everybody else in the house has gone to bed and I am up way past my own bed time on a work night.  I have played little else over the last few weeks, save for my time at EVE Vegas.

So it has that going for it.  You can just keep going with one crew for ages, adding new people to your group as you find them and expanding.  Even when you suffer a set back, like that time I had everybody bunched up for defense and I found out about grenades when the raider attacking us threw one into the crowed killing two and maiming another, the colony goes on and you can rebuild.

On the other hand, sometimes you hit a dull stretch.  People are happy-ish, but you are just waiting for tech to be researched or you’re short of some supply…  for me usually components for building complex items… and and the random number generator just won’t send a trade caravan your way, and things suddenly lose their luster and you quit.

Still, for a Steam Summer Sale purchase I have already gotten a lot of play value out of it and I haven’t even started exploring the mods available for it in the Steam workshop.

So if you’re into the whole God-like control game where you set your people to work, this might be a winner for you.

Also, hunting with a light machine gun is totally a thing in the game.  Hell, machine guns in general are pretty cool in RimWorld.

Fighting the Flight Sim Urge

Every so often I start feeling the urge to get into combat flight simulators.  Something triggers a wave of desire to go spend time trying to fly a plane in order to shoot down other people flying planes.

I’ve been feeling this lately due to the fact I started watching videos on YouTube by Bismark.  He does a variety of different videos, but many of them focus on the game IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad, one of the more recent entries in the long running IL-2 Sturmovik series of games.

I am pretty sure I have owned a couple of the titles from the series in the past.  I was never any good at them.

Rather, watching these videos fans the long quiet embers of a time when I played games like Air Warrior or Falcon or Hellcats over the Pacific, an era of my gaming that runs from the late 80s into the mid 90s… which is to say, a long time ago.

Spitfire Artwork from Air Warrior on the Mac, circa 1989

I was young, had the time, energy, and patience to get… if not good, at least past bad and into the range of somewhat competent… with these titles.  And then I sort of stopped focusing on that.  Things like TorilMUD and Diablo and various incarnations of Civilization became more my thing, and then EverQuest came along and we get to where I am today.

But I have never quite lost that flight sim urge.  Every so often I buy or try some flight sim title, realize I don’t really have the patience to get into it again, and move on.

Fortunately we live in the free to play age, so I no longer have to buy to douse that urge.  Since the urge is back, I have been back to tinkering around with War Thunder.  And since the urge was stoked by IL-2 Sturmovik, I have been playing the Russian tree and the ground attack portion thereof.

An early model IL-2 in War Thunder

Doing ground attack has less of a learning curve than air to air combat.  However, it also means you’re meat for the enemy if you’re caught alone, and since games like War Thunder tend to be chaos for the most part anyway, sticking with others or finding targets where fighter cover exists can be problematic.  Situations are fleeting and people will run off after any opportunity.

Then the urge to take a fighter up and reply in kind comes through and how bad I am shines through.  My copy of Fighter Combat glowers at me from the bookshelf as I make all the rookie mistakes, even though I know as I do them that they are mistakes.

I tell myself that trying to do this with mouse and keyboard… and not even a mouse, but a trackball… is just wrong and that I really need a new flight stick because I got rid of my old one when it became so old that the company dropped driver support for it.

And then I spend some time looking at flight sticks… I think I would go with the Thrustmaster T.1600M at this point, based on what I have read… and I think some more, put something on my wish list, take it back off, then put it back on again as the urge fights with the more detached knowledge of myself.  I know, if I can step back from whatever passion there is, that I don’t really have the patience to get up to speed, much less good.

Meanwhile, the urge counters with the fact that I already own some games like Elite: Dangerous where the flight stick might be useful.  I could get use out of something I already own.  Looking in my Steam library, at some point I even bought IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946, during a sale no doubt.

Meanwhile the detached side starts going on about the sunk costs fallacy.

The likely end result is that I’ll just play War Thunder with my current setup until I get tired of being shot down constantly and go back to things that are now more my speed.  But there is always a battle within me.

StarCraft Resurgent

The remastered version of the original StarCraft/StarCraft: Brood Wars went live last week.  For $14.95 you can have an updated version of the original 1998 title.

Splash Screen Remastered as Well

I picked up a copy just to see what a Blizzard remaster felt like.

This is a true remaster, in the same sense that something like Dark Side of the Moon was remastered.  There is nothing new to be found in the game, everything that ever was there is still there, from the slow AI to menus that you have to click and hold on in order to select from.  It plays exactly the same and you have as much of a view of the world on your screen, even if it now displays in 1600×1200 detail [for me, your resolution may vary] versus the 640×480 limit of the original.  Everything just looks and sounds much better.  We went from this:

Build order? What is build order?

To something more like this:

Still screwing up my build order at the opposite end of the same map

Graphics were updated, some colors changed, but Blizzard did not mess with game play.  It is, so far as I can tell after a couple of quick run, completely true to the individual and all of your favorite maps still work, even the one where you have all those minerals so you can turtle up and never bother expanding.  So the remaster is just that, in probably the purest sense of the word.

What is perhaps more interesting to me is that StarCraft also suddenly has a spot on the Blizzard launcher.  Older Blizzard games that they still sell… Warcraft III, Diablo II, and, until last week, StarCraft… have been stand-alone affairs, as they were before Blizzard had a unified launcher/sales platform.

Now however, there is StarCraft on the launcher, right down the list from its successor StarCraft II.  What does this mean?

Also here, Activision

It could be simple enough.  It might be that Blizzard now considers StarCraft, in its remastered format, to be worth promoting again.  They have invested in it, so they no doubt want to sell some copies since it now looks more like a title from this century.

But it is hard not to at least consider this a bit of a rebuke to StarCraft II.

StarCraft II occupies an uneasy position.  Nobody wants to be the sequel to one of the best selling games ever.  But even though StarCraft II has sold well enough to be considered a success on its own, moving 6 million copies, that still puts it just over half way to the 11 million copies the original sold.

StarCraft II suffered a bit from Blizzard’s conservatism in that they wanted to make a sequel to StarCraft that was different enough to sell, but not so different that it wasn’t StarCraft.  So it changes things up a bit, has a few new features, and looks better than the original, but when you play it you still know it is StarCraft.  But original StarCraft wasn’t that bad, so why make the move unless you really want another online-only title from Blizzard.

And, of course, StarCraft II never became the cultural phenomenon in South Korea that the original did.  Instead, when it comes to esports StarCraft II has to live in the shadows of both the fame of its predecessor and the new wave of MOBAs, such as League of Legends, which are the darlings of esports now.

So part of me wonders if this is a half-hearted attempt by Blizzard to turn the clock back and get the original StarCraft back in front of people so as to reclaim some of its past glory and a bit more of the esports spotlight.

Anyway, I do hope we will see the remastered versions of Diablo II and Warcraft III that Blizzard brought up back in 2015 along with StarCraft.

How Many Ages Should an Empire Have?

There was an announcement yesterday that we might see an Age of Empires IV some day, complete with a deliberately vague hype trailer.

Age of Something IV

Still, on a slow Monday in August just before Gamescom simply whispering “Age of Empires” under your breath will get somebody hyped up.

It is a series with some genre-defining entries.  The original Age of Empires felt fresh and new back when it launched while the follow on, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (which we tended to call AoK)took the formula and refined it to near perfection.  It is an 18 year old title I still get out and play now and again.  It is an amazing mix of civilizations, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that somehow ended up as balanced as one could hope for.

It was a title deserving of an HD remastering, which we got via Hidden Path Entertainment back in 2013.

I am even a bit jazzed about revisiting the original game via the Age of Empires Definitive Edition that was announced earlier this year at E3.  I was never as big of a fan of it as I was the sequel, but I would still go back to give it a try again, especially with the promise of “improved game play,” which hope means rolling back some of the features from AoK.

So I have some sincere fondness for the series… or at least parts of the series.  After AoK the games fell flat for me.

Age of Mythology never thrilled me while Age of Empires III just fell flat in my opinion.  These are not titles I would go back to play again.

But by then key members of Ensemble Studios responsible for the initial magic of the series had moved on and the studio itself was shut down by Microsoft in 2009.  And while Microsoft attempted to leverage the fame of the series with Age of Empires Online, which really did flop, heralding the end of things.

Except now Microsoft is back and banking on the fame of the series yet again, with the remaster of the original and a new title in the form of Age of Empires IV, and my response to the latter is fairly cool.

I am not completely dismissive of the idea.  The did get Relic Entertainment to take on the task of creating Age of Empires IV and, as a studio, they have some RTS chops.  The are responsible for Homeworld and Homeworld 2, the Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War series, and the Company of Heroes series, all of which are notable titles in the genre.  And being owned by Sega hasn’t completely killed them off.

But can they make an Age of Empires title that feels like an Age of Empires title?  Do they really need to ride on the back of the old series?  Will that fence them in or set them free?  And what age will this be set in?  The industrial age?  The modern age?  The space age?  And haven’t they already been to that last one with Homeworld and Warhammer 40k?

Anyway the complete absence of any details regarding the title means any conclusion you care to come to barely meets the minimum requirement for speculation.  So we will have to wait and see if this is really hype worthy or not.

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.