Category Archives: Other PC Games

Civilization VI Launches

Today is the official launch day for Civilization VI, though I understand if you pre-ordered on Steam you got access last night, the next chapter in Sid Meier’s now quarter century long attempt to make the perfect 4X strategy game.

Come and get your 4X

Come and get your 4X

The whole thing began with the launch of Civilization back in September 1991.

I do not remember exactly when I bought my copy of the first Civilization… early 1992 I think… but since then I have purchased most of the series on the earliest possible date I could get my hands on a copy.

However, I do not have a copy of Civ VI in my hot little hands today.  I don’t know if it is aging or ennui, but I am not impatient to pick up a copy just yet.  Certainly, some of it is experience.  Civilization games tend to be a hot mess on day one.  Early versions usually needed the next generation of processors to show up in order to make them playable, while later releases you were probably not going to be able to play reliably until the first patch landed.  Back in October 2010, I was complaining about how Civilization V was crashing on my machine day one.

So I am not buying a copy today.

I will buy a copy at some point though.  I will just let things settle down a bit first, watch reactions to the game, maybe wait for that first patch.  And we all know it will be marked down a bit for the Steam Holiday Sale anyway.  I will probably get it then.  I certainly have to get it before the first expansion.  If it is anything live Civilization V, each expansion will change the game so much it will be like a new game.

Meanwhile, here is the usual stack rank of Civ titles ordered by how much time I spent with them, which is generally a sign of which ones I liked best.

  1. Civilization II
  2. Civilization V
  3. Civilization
  4. Alpha Centauri
  5. Civilization III
  6. Civilization IV
  7. Beyond Earth

I’d play some more Civ II except I lost the damn CD again.

I see there is already a look at Civ VI over at Nomadic Gamers.

Hero’s Song Returns to Crowdfund Again

You might remember Hero’s Song, the John Smedley/Pixelmage Games project in development, which launched a rather poorly thought out Kickstarter back in January of this year.  The flaws in the campaign were manifold, and by the time I wrote a list of them up the campaign had been cancelled.

Hero's must face turmoil, it is what makes them heroes, right?

Hero’s must face turmoil, it is what makes them heroes, right?

The team found other funding and carried on development of Hero’s Song, which is currently described as:

Hero’s Song is an open world rogue-like fantasy game done in a beautiful 2D pixel art style. Create epic fantasy worlds uniquely shaped by your choices, the power of the gods, and thousands of years of history. Become a legendary hero in a dangerous and mysterious world of magic and monsters. Explore endless dungeons and ancient cities in long forgotten lands in search of knowledge, treasure and the power of the gods!

Well, as the title of the post says, Pixelmage is back with a new crowdfunding effort.

This time around they the goals are more modest, the pledge tiers are better, the details are expansive, Smed isn’t using the word “hardcore” all over the place, and there is a somewhat more realistic timeline for the project.

Dates quoted for truth... again

Dates quoted for truth… again

I still think that schedule is optimistic, but more than 25 years in software development has made that my knee jerk reaction to any schedule I suppose.  Still, it is better than the last one (shown in this post), which had launch in October of this year… so I was right in calling it out on optimism that time at least.

Also different this time around is the platform they chose to run their campaign.  Rather than going with the perennial favorite, Kickstarter, PixelMage chose to go with Indiegogo.

The choice of Indiegogo gives them at least one advantage; there is no minimum threshold to allow them to collect some money.  Unlike with Kickstarter, where you have to make your goal to get paid, even if PixelMage does not make it $200,000 stated target, they get to keep any money pledged at the end of the campaign.

If you pledge it, they get it

If you pledge it, they get it

There are, however, some downsides.

First of all, while Indiegogo isn’t exactly unknown, it still isn’t Kickstarter.  Kickstarter is more famous and, I suspect, more trusted when it comes to giving them payment information.  I mean, Kickstarter has been around a while, to the point that the verb “to kickstart” has practically acquired a new meaning largely associated with them.

NOT the official drink of Kickstarter

Verb also used for motorcycles and energy drinks, which is pretty powerful

The second downside, for me at least, stems from one of the advantages, the fact that PixelMage gets the money pledged even if they do not make their stated goal.

I mean, that is GREAT… for PixelMage.  But how great is it for those pledging money?  If a company says they need a given amount to complete a project, and they only get, say, 25% of that amount, what does that mean to those who kicked in?

Now, in the case of PixelMage, I suspect that, at worst, it will mean some delay in the schedule.  I have no doubt they will deliver the game whether they make their goal or not.  But, in general, I guess I have become accustomed to the Kickstarter method where you only get your funding if you can raise the amount of money you said you needed for the project.  There is a certain logic to that.

Finally, as something an adjunct to the previous item, the lack of a hard “must meet” funding goal also takes a bit of the edge off of the campaign.  Not having an “all or nothing” goal mutes any sense of urgency.  Let’s look at where the campaign stands today, a couple of days in:

September 9, 2016 - Morning status

September 9, 2016 – Morning status

The campaign is 23% of the way to its goal… which seems to be okay.

I have to say that among its disadvantages, Indiegogo doesn’t have the range of external trend and activity tracking tools that Kickstarter does, and also seems to be a bit coy with things like the actual end date.

Anyway, Hero’s Song seems to have made my rule-of-thumb metric for campaigns, which is that if you haven’t hit 20% of your goal in the first 48 hours, you aren’t going to make it.  However, they are going to get that money whether or not they get to $200,000.  The goal is just a line in the sand, more of a “we’d like” rather than a do-or-die proposition.  You can’t really call for a last minute surge if they are short of their goal because they are still going to get something.  And even the stretch goals seem like you might get them anyway, so why throw money down now?

Races and housing

Races and housing

But that might just be me.  I am ever the cynic and/or critic.

Then again, Bree over at Massively OP put it this way in the comments of a post over there:

They get the money even if they don’t get to the soft target. They are plainly using Indiegogo as a preorder system and publicity stunt; there’s no way the “we need 200k more” thing is legit (plus they really want more than that for the hardcore housing feature).

And I think I am a cynic!  The again, there is the “Smed factor” I mentioned when the Kickstarter campaign was going.  He has a lot of history and not everybody likes him.

Anyway, the Indiegogo campaign is on and running for… a month… again, end date on that?  You can check it out here if you are interested, pledge if you want to pre-order and get a T-shirt (or limit Smed’s diet), or wait until it hits Steam about this time next year. (My needlessly pessimistic prediction there.)

Or you can go to the PixelMage site and read up about the project itself.

Honest Gamer Trailers – No Man’s Sky

I hadn’t been paying too much attention to No Man’s Sky.  However, a bunch of people seemed to be excited about it before it launched… and upset about it when it was delayed… and have jumped onto the bandwagon such that it is.  And while some people are happy, I have also heard a lot of griping about the title

And if that isn’t enough for you, in this past week’s Zero Punctuation Yahtzee takes on the game and comes up with a very similar list of flaws.  I mean sure, Yahtzee is hard on every game, it is part of his shtick (Honest Game Trailers as well), but he is also good about bringing up bits he does like about a game, and he didn’t get very far on that front.  Plus, both videos seem to echo a some thing I had already heard.  Comparisons with Spore and it promise versus what it delivered keep cropping up, which along with the who refund thing, has put a damper on the title for me.

Which is sort of a shame because it seems like a title I might be interested in.  I’ll put it on my Steam wish list and see if more has been added to the game by the time the next Steam sale shows up.

Addendum: MMO Fallout has a story about the refunds thing and a rant about honesty and promises in the game industry.

A Look Back at Half-Life 2

Every time I go read a bit of the web comic Concerned, I get the urge to go play Half-Life 2.

Actually, I really get the urge to go buy Garry’s Mod and try making my own web comic, but I usually suppress that urge pretty quickly, subverting it with the much more viable plan of simply playing Half-Life 2.  Down the web comic path lays madness.

I actually own the game, having purchased it at some Steam sale a few years back that included Half-Life 2, the two additional episodes, the original Half-Life, and a couple other items.

More unplayed Steam games

More unplayed Steam games

The thing is, I never quite get around to playing it.  I installed it at one point, so it has been sitting on my hard drive ready to go for a while.  But it has taken me a while to click “play” on the title.  In part, that is probably because of a bit of lingering resentment about the early days of the title.

That's me being beaten by the metro cop

That’s me being beaten by the metro cop

My resistance to accepting Steam for a long time was in large part based on personal experience, and Half-Life 2 is bound up in that.

But mostly I think it has been a matter of facing a game from 2004.  Not that I don’t play games from 2004 or earlier pretty regularly, but MMOs tend to get updated somewhat over time.  Stand alone, single player games tend to stay fixed in time.  And while I know Half-Life 2 has gotten some upgrades over time, I was still a bit dubious.

And then, last week, I hit a point where Blizz was still tinkering with invasion XP, no fleets were going out in EVE Online, and I had no project going on in Minecraft, so I started poking around in Steam for something to play.  And there was Half-Life 2 and I figured, “What the hell!”

In summary, it is still pretty damn good nearly a dozen years after being released.

While the game is extremely linear… there is no wandering off the path very far… it is still a game that encourages and rewards poking around in every nook and cranny available.  There is often a supply chest or some little note or marker there for the player to discover.

More watermelon for Lamarr

More watermelon for Lamarr

As my intent was more along the lines of a sightseeing mission, I started up a game in easy mode.  I didn’t feel the need to prove how bad I have gotten at shooters over the years, I just wanted to travel, solve the puzzles, drive the airboat, and… okay, shoot things.

Ready to roll out

Ready to roll out

The character models feel their age a bit, though if they are in a metro cop outfit you don’t spend a lot of time checking them out as you’re usually busy shooting them.

Easier to follow on CCTV

Easier to follow them on CCTV

The terrain and objects and occasional spectacle still seem pretty good.

The smoke stack drop

The smoke stack drop

The physics puzzles… well… they all seemed really cool back in the day.  Now they feel a little less thrilling as they tend to involve ramps or balances, which are at the simple end of the simple machines continuum.  Cinder blocks tend to be one of the bigger clues about what you need to do, though I still do like that one where you have to shove a washing machine off a ledge to get your ramp set.  The cinder blocks weren’t enough that time around.

I made it pretty far in a few hours.  Even set at “easy” the game doesn’t let you walk through unchallenged.  I left off at the gate in the wide open area with a chopper defending it that I do not seem to be able to shoot down with the now-armed airboat.

Choppers are a hazard

Choppers are a hazard

So I end up getting strafed or bombed to death… or I hit one of the exploding barrels floating in the water.  I don’t recall how I got past this one back in the day.

Anyway, I’ll have to see how much more of the game I feel like playing.  I am not even out of the canals yet, but I have gotten a good taste of the game.  It still seems to hold up pretty well after all these years… except the loading transitions… those still take longer than I think they should.

Trying to Remember Starsiege: Tribes

The launch of Overwatch got me thinking about first person shooters that I have enjoyed over the years, a list that is pretty short relative the number of titles in the genre.  In fact, I can only really come up with four titles that I was ever really into in any significant way.

At the far end of the list is Marathon, the classic from Bungie, now more than 20 years old, which we used to play on the network at the office after hours… back when companies let you play video games after hours and issued employees machines capable of running them.

Maybe I just work for the wrong company these days.

At the near end is the Desert Combat, which isn’t even a game, just a mod for Battlefield 1942, which is more than a decade away in time.  Yet it was a hell of a mod.  Just listening to the music from the opening credits brings back memories.  That is not the last FPS I played, but the last one I really enjoyed.

And then there were two just about in the middle of that range.  One was Nova Logic’s Delta Force, which I have written about already.

And the other was Starsiege: Tribes.



The problem is that Tribes came out during a time when I was playing a lot of memorable games.  Diablo and Civilization II were still hot properties, while their successors were being actively discussed.  I loved me some Total Annihilation back then.  We were playing StarCraft and Age of Empires at the office a lot.  Sojourn MUD had become TorilMUD and was about at its peak.  The aforementioned Delta Force was on the scene and we were trying to play that using Roger Wilco, and early gaming voice coms package.  And, of course, EverQuest was looming, soon to launch and steal away all my play time for a year or two.

And in the midst of all of this, I played Tribes.

I cannot recall considering buying it or having somebody suggest it to me.  Some part of me thinks I must have read about it over at Firing Squad, the gaming site of Dennis Fong, who later went on the create XFire and then Raptr, but only because I used to read the site regularly.  I could have heard about it on GameSpot for all I know.

I cannot even remember if I actually bought the game.  I don’t have the box any more, but I have tossed most of my game boxes over the years.  I have an old Memorex CD-R with “Starsiege Tribes” written on it in Sharpie, so I suppose I could have pirated it.  But that would have been unlike me at the time as I had a good job and the mortgage on my soon-to-be wife’s condo was what one would call laughably cheap these days, so I wasn’t skimping on expenses.  That would come later when my wife stopped working and we bought a house in a good school district.

Besides which, I used to make backup copies of most of my game CDs back then.  I still have copies for StarCraft and Diablo II along with the original disks still in the jewel cases.

And I can barely remember the game itself.  On the list of things I don’t have left from the game is any screen shots.  Looking at the Wikipedia linked article above yielded several, “Oh yeah, I remember that!” moments.

At one point I was convinced that Tribes was the reason that I bought that Voodoo2 3D graphics acceleration card for my computer.  I had the card when I bought EverQuest at Fry’s back on March 16, 1999 (that disk I still have, along with the receipt) so something prompted me to buy it.

But then I found the specs online and saw that it didn’t actually require that.  Plus the name “3dfx” sparked a memory about Blizzard’s early announcements about Diablo II saying that to get the full graphical experience, players would need a card that supported 3dfx’s Glide API.  I am pretty sure that is the reason I got the Voodoo2 card, though by the time Diablo II came out 3dfx had ceased to be the dominate player in the 3D accelerated video card market and Blizz was obliged to support a more universal API. (Open GL if I recall right.)  That is all pretty fuzzy though, and I could have bought the card to speed up Delta Force, only to find out that its voxel based engine could not/would not take advantage of 3D acceleration.  Maybe.  Or maybe that was something that annoyed me later, when Delta Force 2 came out.  Getting old and the persistent march of time sucks.

So what the hell do I remember then?

I remember the rattle of the Gatling gun as it spun up when you tapped the trigger.

I remember the 3D terrain with low res texture mapping, though that memory starts to bleed in with EverQuest memories a bit.  Am I imagining Tribes or West Karana in my mind?

I remember shooting the disk launcher into the fog where I had just seen somebody disappear, hoping for a lucky hit.

I remember the idea of “skiing” as a scout, using your jet pack to essentially glide at very high speed if done right.

I remember that map with the bridge overhead between the two bases, the distance being shrouded in mist.  Though, if I concentrate, I can’t really tell you if that was Tribes or Tribes 2, which I remember even less of, aside from the vague sense that I owned and played that as well.

Mostly though I just have this feeling that it was a really good game for its time.  But then EverQuest came out and eclipsed it.  Was it as good as I remember it, as good for the time?

I suppose I could grab the game and find out.  Hi-Rez Studio made it and its companion games available for free on their Tribes Universe site.

However, I suspect that doing so would burst the bubble.  It is difficult to bring your 2016 sensibilities back in time to look at an older game.

Another Steam Winter Sale Fades Away

One last poke at 2015… for now.

I always want to use water vapor as a metaphor when I write about Steam.  As it turns out however, water vapor is relatively untapped as a source of humor, though Wikipedia assures me that as much as 80% of electrical generation involves steam in some form or another.  Also, autoclaves.

So the best I can manage is something about dissipation or condensation… which I think both accurately describe some aspects of the just past (should be done before this posts) Steam Winter Sale.

Through 10am on January 4th, which is today...

Through 10am on January 4th, which is today…

The dissipation aspect was the nature of the sale itself.  As I previously noted, gone were the daily deals, flash sales, and other usual methods to get us all to stare at the Steam Store wondering if we should buy now or delay.  Everything that was going on discount was at the same price throughout the sale.

That took a bit of the edge off of things for sure.  One could ponder one’s wishlist at leisure and decide if the price was right… though I must admit that my own wishlist is sort of a video game purgatory, where games are sent to linger in an uncertain state, neither purchased nor ignored, for years at a stretch.

Then there was condensation, an opposite action in order to give focus.  In this case, the usual holiday card game required you to go through three recommendation queues each day in order to earn the cards.  Just the sort of minimal OCD sort of activity that works for me.  I went through every day, earning 39 cards, which I guess means that the sale was 13 days long… or maybe I missed a day.

Cards obtained

Cards obtained… and there was no tomorrow when I got this message…

I actually got enough cards to complete the set for once, which allowed me to craft a badge of some sort… not sure what that did, but it got me to level 9 in Steam levels.  I actually badgered Gaff to trade me the one card I needed and, after he finally consented, got that card in the next set of draws.

The queues themselves… which is a feature that showed up like a year ago… I think… are made up of 12 games that Steam thinks you might like based on your past purchasing behavior.  I had run through a couple queues back when they first launched the idea, but haven’t really looked at them since.   And then they became part of this event and I looked at a minimum of 39 of them… more I think, since at least one day I did an extra one, and then I did an extra one yesterday because I suddenly couldn’t remember how many games were in one.  And I went through them with moderate care, not just ripping through them to get my treat at the end.  So, by the last day I had looked at a lot of games.

Some Stats Steam Has on Me

Some Stats Steam Has on Me

I did add some to my wishlist… I think I had 20 games there to start with, though I took a few off as I added more… so maybe 20 games added total.   And, of course, I flagged more than a few as “not interested,” all of which left me with a few observations.

-Jesus there are a lot of games on Steam!  Somebody probably has an absolute number (Google says “more than 6,000”), but there is a difference between a number and actually wading through a few hundred.

-We still need to master the whole online interface for shopping.  Sure, there are more than 6,000 games on Steam, but you only ever see maybe a dozen at a time on the front page and devs are so inconsistent with descriptions that search likely won’t find everything you might want to see.

-How many Call of Duty titles has Activision made at this point?

-You buy one freakin’ Amine themed game (Valkyria Chronicles) and Steam feels the need to show you every other one it can find.

-Flagging something “Not Interested” seems to only impact that particular title.  Flagging half a dozen Anime themed games seemed to do nothing to abate the flow of them through my queue.

-Likewise, flagging something “Not Interested” when it is part of a series of games doesn’t seem to have any impact on being offered other games in the series.

-Removing something from your wishlist though, that makes that particular title appearing in your next queue pretty much a lock.

-There are way too many games out there, judging by description alone, that were made by grabbing 2-4 words from this list and running with it:

  • Sandbox
  • Survival
  • Shooter
  • Roguelike
  • Builder
  • RTS
  • Simulation
  • RPG
  • Story-drive
  • SciFi
  • 2D/3D
  • Platformer
  • Unique
  • Adventure

-There seemed to be a correlation between how dubious/low reviewed/indy a given title was and how much their description leaned on the 2-4 words they chose from that list.  Quality titles (subjective observation) don’t seem to go with those words in their description, all the more so since Steam has tags for that sort of thing.  (Also, remember when Steam tags were the end of the universe?)

-On the flip side, I only saw this used in a description once, and more is the pity; “retrofuturism.”  That is a word worthy of your game’s description.

-There are a load of space sim games out there.  Seriously, if you’re preaching that people must support Star Citizen because there are not enough space sims out there, you just aren’t looking very hard.  Okay, yes, nothing out there is aiming as high as Star Citizen, but there are a lot of niche titles on Steam that would likely tickle some aspect of your space sim needs until Chris Roberts finishes his magnum opus.

-There aren’t very many cowboy games.  Or at least there were not any in my queues.

And how well did all of that wading through queues work out for Steam?

If they were looking to get some money from me, not very well.  I ended up buying no new titles during the sale.

Which does not mean I did not add a new title to my library.  In one of my queues was a game called Endless Sky that I almost flipped past until the words “Escape Velocity” jumped out of its description.

Escape Velocity was a game from Ambrosia Software that I played the hell out of back in the 90s.  That was a long time ago on an operating system far, far away.  That triggered a moment of nostalgia, which I almost let pass… until I saw that Endless Sky was free.

I am not sure how “free” for a game with no add on sales is working for Steam, but I grabbed it and invested a few hours into it over the weekend.  While it is a work in progress, it does feel like the Escape Velocity.

So out of all of those daily queues, that was my big score: a free game based on a game I played about 20 years ago.

I am not sure that is the retrofuturism you were looking for.

Was there anything else worth getting during the sale?  Anything that couldn’t wait until summer?  And did Steam’s holiday queue magic work on you?