Category Archives: Other PC Games

Age of Kings Continues to Expand

As I mentioned in the previous month in review post, I have been playing some Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings recently.

In part that has been because it is an easy game to fall back on.  I have a long history with it and it is one of the best RTS games I’ve played.  It is well balanced and the AI can be pretty good.  Finding myself without a burning interest in much else besides EVE Online of late, it is pretty natural that I end up here.

There as also a bit of achievement farming driving my return.  I don’t generally chase achievements on Steam unless I am really into a game (like Defense Grid for example).  But I was looking at the list for Age of Kings and had to ask myself things like, “Have I really never won against the Spanish?”  So I started using that as a guide for who I should face.

But mostly I am back because a few weeks ago I got a notice that the expansions for the game were on sale, so I decided to pick them up.

There are now three expansions for the game available on Steam.  These are all recent expansions, as the original 2000 expansion for the game, The Conquerors, comes with the base game now.

I actually already owned the first expansion, The Forgotten, but hadn’t had a lot of time with it.  But I picked up The African Kingdoms and Rise of the Rajas, which add empires from Africa and Southeast Asia.

I have to say I am actually pretty impressed with these expansions.  Even at their normal price of $10 they deliver quite a bit of content.  The all include four new empires to play, with structure graphic to go along with their themes.  I immediately gravitate to that.  But they also come with some new technologies, new units, new map types, new game modes, and four full on campaigns to play through.

I’ve always gone straight to the skirmish mode against the AI or friends, but with a dozen new campaigns to hand I might have to start exploring that aspect of the game.

Meanwhile, I have to say that the additions to the game are pretty good.  The new map types comes with their own biome, so rather than sheep you might have some other livestock to harvest right off.

Grabbing water buffalo on the Mangrove Swamp map

Everybody starts with the same Dark Age buildings, but once you get to the Feudal Age and beyond the buildings in the new expansions reflect the various civilizations.

Burmese in the Castle Age

The new map types have some interesting ideas.  Pictured above is the mangrove swamp map, which limits you to a modest patch of land.  The rest of the map is shallow swamp and trees.  You cannot build on the swamp, so you have to manage and hold your starting spot.  Also, additional gold and stone harvest spots, as well as all the relics, are located within the trees so you have to harvest your way to them or use a siege engine to tear out a path.

Mangrove Swamp map

This would be an interesting map to use against other players.  It certainly eliminates the whole “hide a villager and build a town center in some corner of the map” aspect of the game.  You have to stand and fight because you can’t build elsewhere.

Totally This

On the other hand, this was a map style that the AI wasn’t able to handle.  After repulsing the first attack from the AI and battling it again mid path, I arrived in the AI town to find all the villagers standing around idle.  The AI had harvested up everything on the land patch, used up those resources, and then stopped.

I suspect that the AI has something in it about being efficient, so it won’t harvest wood or mine unless it has a resource collection building close to hand.  However, since you cannot build on the water your villagers have to cross a fairly wide gap to start in on the trees around your land patch.  So despite the fact that the AI was surrounded by woods and had two exposed gold patches nearby, it ignored them as unharvestable.

Still, I have been enjoying some time back with Age of Kings, a game that launched back in 1999.  Thanks to the HD update, which itself is now past the five year mark, it is still very much playable and enjoyable after all this time.

Meanwhile I haven’t really heard anything about Age of Empires Definitive Edition that Microsoft was touting about a year back.  It was supposed to be out on February 20th of this year, a date that came and went without me noticing even a peep.  I haven’t seen any news and since I cannot even purchase it, not having Windows 10, I cannot tell how things went.  I guess it launched, according to Wikipedia, but didn’t make much of a splash.  That’s what making it a Microsoft Store exclusive gets you I guess.

Likewise, the hype around the otherwise vaguely described Age of Empires IV seems to have dissipated as no further news about it has popped up anywhere that I have seen.  So I guess I will stick with what I have.

Honest Game Trailers – Fortnite

Honest Trailers did a video about PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds months back, just when it was starting to rise in popularity, taking over the market briefly held by the now officially released (and suddenly free) H1Z1 soon thereafter.  But I skipped past that back then because the game hadn’t really hit its stride yet as a dominate player.

But now Honest Trailers has a video about Fortnite, the one-time co-op game that showed up to totally eat PUBG’s lunch, according to SuperData, for specific definitions of “lunch.”

The building part of Fortnite, even in its battle royale mode, does look interesting.

Friday Bullet Points Dipped in Nostalgia

It is raining again… which is a good thing in California… and a spate of different things have rolled across my screen, all of which interest me but which don’t quite warrant a full blog post yet, so we’re back to Friday bullet points.

Age of Empires Restrictive Edition

I was keen as mustard when it was announced last June that Microsoft was working on a remaster of the original Age of Empires.  While I was always more of an Age of Empires II – The Age of Kings fan… and I own the remaster of that already… I was still in for the original.

Age of Empires

After a long stretch of silence, there was finally some news about the game.

On the upside of things, the remaster will be available come February 20, 2018, so it will be here soon.

On the down side, the game will ONLY be available through the Microsoft Windows Store.  Leaving aside the whole “I don’t need another goddam Steam clone” and my lack of trust in Microsoft, the store itself tells me it won’t be available until the end of 2018 and that it won’t run on my device.

Also, it may require certain hardware

So I guess that pretty much lets the air out of any Age of Empires nostalgia I had as well as being a bad sign for any possible hope I had in their whole Age of Empires IV plan.

Rift’s Prime Number

From there we head over to Trion Worlds where their 2018 Rift On! producer’s letter.

Not a dye nor a floor wax

Trion looks to be eyeing the green fields of nostalgia as well, taking a card from Daybreak’s deck and promising something called Rift Prime, a subscription only version of the game that will come with a fresh server, reduced cash shop options, progressively unlocked content, and NO lockboxes.

I have said in the past that the one thing that would surely get me to roll on back to Telara was a retro server of some sort, so this sounds like it might be the time.  The instance group in pre-Storm Legion expansion Rift was one of my MMO high points.  Still, there are some mixed messages.

We plan to present RIFT at its roots as much as is possible to do, and look forward to sharing details over the coming weeks. The PRIME server will progress at a faster pace than the original launch and will eventually come to an end in spectacular fashion.

So back to the roots is good, and I expect that the servers will have to progress… by which I assume they mean unlock expansions… more rapidly that than the first time around.  I am curious as to what the spectacular end will be.

But then there is also this to wrestle with.

As a small teaser of what’s to come, dynamically matching characters to their current zone’s level, dungeons dropping loot specific to your character’s true level, caps on the number of professions available to a single character, and participation awards that carry over to your characters on existing servers.

Many upcoming live content changes that apply to existing servers will also apply to the new PRIME server, assuming they’re not restricted by progression locks.

That doesn’t sound very much like Rift at its roots.

Anyway, the current time frame is “spring” for Rift Prime which, as we recall from the Landmark launch, extends out to the first day of summer in the back half of June.  Syp goes on about the Rift Prime server idea at length, but I am waiting for more details before I crank up the thousand word minimum post-o-matic opinion machine.

Legendary Pokemon Return.. Again

It is an even numbered year so Nintendo is having Pokemon events to give away legendary Pokemon.

Didn’t we just get some of these?

Getting people to come to events to make Pokemon a more social game has always been part of the Game Freak/Nintendo plan, but didn’t we just spend 2016 having monthly legendary events?  And isn’t the ability to catch a bunch of these part of the sales pitch for Pokemon UltraSun & UltraMoon?

Oh well, if you missed out and don’t have the wherewithal for end game Pokemon, another series of events are coming for 2018 starting with a Dialga and Palkia event in February at your local GameStop.  In order to participate you must have a copy of Pokemon Sun, Moon, UltraSun, or UltraMoon.

Also coming up in February for Pokemon nostalgia buffs is Pokemon Crystal on the 3DS Virtual Console.

More on the Expense of Video Games

In something of a follow up on the raging discussion back at the end of November about how expensive it is to make video games, Raph Koster has returned with a new presentation and discussion about the cost of making video games.  So more charts and graphs and a list of suggestions await.  If nothing else you can bask in how little we pay per kilobyte of video game software these days I suppose, a measure which makes those old 143KB Apple II floppies seem like something of a gold mine.

Where Have All Our Video Cards Gone?

And finally, we can wistfully recall the glory days when we were able to go down to Best Buy and purchase a goddam video card.  Ars Technica has an article up about how all this Tulip bubble crypto currency boom is soaking up all the high end video cards.  I guess I will be stuck with a GeForce GTX 960 until this whole thing collapses.

Anyway, those were my bullet points for the week.  If you want more there are some over at Endgame Viable, most of which are not duplicates of items on my list.

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.