Category Archives: Steam

Musing on Old MMOs Going to Steam

One bit of news that has popped up over the last week or so is that Guild Wars 2 is now available on Steam.

Still a damn fine logo

The immediate benefits are obvious.  This is a press release moment for the game, getting them a few headlines here and there.  The game is now available on what is arguably the most popular internet store front for video games, so the potential audience has grown a bit as it is now findable on Steam.

More exposure, greater access, both wins.

And this is a fairly well trod path for an older MMO… and Guild Wars 2 is turning 10 this weekend, so isn’t it time to start asking for a “classic” server… with titles like EverQuest, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and EVE Online having already blazed that trail.

So something of an obvious move really.

But is it worth the effort?

Superficially, yes.  Getting some more customers, even if you have to cut in Steam for 30% of the revenue, is no doubt a worthwhile venture.  As the argument for Steam sales goes, once you have sold all the copies you can at list price, you can only benefit from a sale if it will bring more people in.  You likely were not going to get those purchases without the sale, and 70% of something is better than 100% of nothing.

However, there is more to it than cutting Steam in on a percentage of sales.  The company has to integrate with Steam for things like account management, something that can present a technical challenge and lead to some odd compromises.

For example, if you already have a Guild Wars 2 account, you cannot use that to play the Steam version of the game.  You need to make a new account via Steam that will be forever linked to the platform.

And “start over” as I call it, is not an uncommon approach.  CCP allows you to connect your current EVE Online account to Steam, but once you do that there is no going back.  You are locked into making your purchases through Steam, while the benefits of being there are somewhat dubious, at least in my opinion.

I don’t dislike Steam, but I’d rather more of my money go to CCP.

Being on Steam with a live free to play game also has some overhead.  You can still use your own launcher, so you don’t have to patch the game through Steam, but you still have to keep the launcher patched through that route, which requires some work and approvals.

You also have to keep all your special offers and such in sync.  Steam isn’t happy if you give your direct players a discount and forget to off the same to your Steam players.  Pretty sure there is a line or three in the contract about just that sort of thing.

There is a reason that studios that are deeply tied to Steam, like Paradox, have their summer sale in their direct sales store at exactly the same time as the Steam summer sale.

Finally, there is the question of numbers.  How many new players will this bring in?

There is often a surge of players initially, following the press release and the company buying ads on the Steam front page.  Steam Charts shows that SWTOR, for example, got to nearly the 35K mark for concurrent players via Steam at one point.  Give the nature of MMOs, that probably means that 2-5x as many were playing overall.

And even now, when the 24 hour peak is closer to 7K players, that is probably still very worthwhile.  EA biting the bullet and putting SWTOR on Steam rather than their own Origin was probably worth the effort.

EVE Online peaked a bit past 10K concurrent and still pops up to 5K now and then, which is a significant portion of the player base logged into the single server, where 25K players total has been the weekly high water mark of late.  No doubt worth it… as long as most of those were new players and not people who converted their accounts.

EverQuest though… it has never passed 1K concurrent players on Steam.  If the title wasn’t so low overhead I might question whether or not they should have bothered.  But there it is.

Which brings us back to Guild Wars 2.  I read that 25K Steam users had put the title on their wish list when it was first posted.  It will be interesting to see how the game kicks off this weekend and what it eventually settles down into as a pattern.

The weekend so far, with some other titles

The base game being free will no doubt help it find new players, even after the initial promotional push subsides.  However, the free base game will also mean that a lot of the new players won’t be paying customers, so whether or not the effort pays off remains to be seen.  I somehow doubt there will be a big spike in the NCsoft financials for Q3 2022 over this, but I could be wrong.

Adrift with Raft

In our ongoing search for the next group game Potshot found the game Raft on Steam and thought it looked interesting.  Ever willing to go along for a ride… look how well that raft worked out in Valheim… I grabbed a copy as well and we went sailing.

Raft was chosen because it was another co-op survival title and because we’re clearly done with Valheim again for now and Minecraft… it just isn’t grabbing us.  So it seemed like it might be time to set sail with Raft.

Fooling around on something like a boat…

True to the title of the game, you start out on a raft.  You have a 2×2 raft and a plastic hook.

The Hook

You’re just out there in the middle of open water without much in the way of instructions.  Not that instructions were really necessary off the bat.  You got that hook and there is a bunch of trash floating in the ocean for you to grab.  You throw the hook out and reel stuff in.  That gives you resources to craft other things… like another hook when yours breaks, which it is almost sure to do the moment you see something special floating past you want to grab.

Also, you can repair your raft… because there might be issues to deal with on that front.

He’s eating my raft

There are, of course, sharks in the water, so you want to avoid falling in.

So you float along grabbing wood, plastic, palm fronds, and the occasional bounty that is a barrel or chest.  One of the key bottlenecks for my initially was rope, which I only ever saw in the occasionally barrel.

The lack of rope kept me from crafting a paddle along with a few other essentials.  I found enough to craft a hammer, which let me repair and expand the raft a bit.  Otherwise I kept on drifting, watching the occasional island float past.

There goes one now

It wasn’t until I had been at it for a while that I found the recipe for rope in the crafting menu.  It turned out that palm fronds become rope, which quickly loosened up that constriction.

I also found the intro… most of which I had figured out before I stumbled upon it.

Welcome to the raft

By that time Potshot had joined me, the whole point of the exercise being to play this as a co-op title.

He has a hook too

So together we gathered trash from the ocean and built up our supplies and collection of tools, even managing to get to an island now and then… though that went comically bad at one point as we had not yet crafted an anchor, a one-use item that will hold your raft in place while you root about ashore.

So Potshot went drifting off while I was stuck on the island, though I was eventually able to rejoin him through the medium of death.  In addition to collecting sea trash, you have to keep your health up, which means finding food and drinkable water.  The health bars begin to loom.

Everything is find now, but wait a bit…

As you health diminished the world grows dim and, eventually you fall over.

Now you’ve done it

Once you cast off this mortal coil we call life, you respawn back on the raft… which is how I got back together again with Potshot after he sailed off.

Unfortunately, one of our mistakes was kicking off the game in “normal” mode rather than one of the easier settings, because when you die you lose a bunch of your collected trash.

Talk about a death tax

It doesn’t seem to go after your tools, but it can knock down your ocean plastic supply pretty quickly.  So our focus became that of staying alive… well that and not getting eaten by the shark and keeping the raft in decent repair.

There he is again

We slowly built up our infrastructure.  To avoid too much loss due to death, a chest was crafted to hold some supplies.  It didn’t hold much, but it was better than nothing.

I had crafted a plastic cup early on, but never found any fresh water to put in it.  But Potshot managed to put together a small desalinizer in order to create some fresh water on the raft.

Just add fire and some salt water

That kept us alive somewhat longer and allowed us to bicker over who forgot to refill the thing with sea water after having drank all of the available fresh water.

Meanwhile we mostly drifted, stopping at the occasional island to find some food, and collecting trash from the ocean.

We’re never going to clean this all up

At one point we spotted another raft, a much better looking one than ours, and paddled towards it, then jumped overboard and swam to it.  But it sank when we climbed aboard and we ended up having to scramble back to our raft as the shark went after us again.

I did eventually realize that  our raft was the only thing moving on the ocean, drifting ceaselessly forward, which everything else was pretty much still in the water… except for that shark.

Things might have gone more smoothly if, as I mentioned above, we had chosen the easy setting.  We eventually hit a state of semi-equilibrium, where we could stay alive if we just didn’t do anything dumb.  But we never seemed to be making any headway towards raising our standard of living of setting ourselves up like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island.

It doesn’t seem like a bad game, and I am sure we haven’t explored it enough to give any sort of definitive judgement.  But it also didn’t really grab us.  Or at least it didn’t grab me.  I wasn’t thinking about when I could get back in and play some more.

And, of course, it lacks that persistent world aspect that Valheim and Minecraft allow.  You can join your Steam friends when they are playing, but if they leave the world goes away.

Staying Together, Resting, and Saving Occasionally in Solasta

Potshot and I have been trying to carry on with Solasta.  We have been reasonably pleased with its play style and a lot of the things people complained about in the Steam reviews seem largely irrelevant to our enjoyment.

Solasta splash screen

The Play-Doh quality character hair and stilted dialog aren’t part of the actual moment to moment game play.  You’re generally zoomed out far enough that you can barely see character details.  Meanwhile, the terrain is very nicely done, and if LOTRO has taught us anything, it is that landscape can distract from bad character models.

A nice grassy location for a goblin camp

And we were happy enough to experiment and learn the game by doing… and dying… just to get a feel for things.

It was the ogre that got us in the end… and you can barely see how bad my hair is

Eventually though you kind of want to level your character up and get another roll of the dice for hit points, because you die very easily at level one, even in level one content.  Potshot has healed my laying on the ground dying characters enough times that I should as if he has a frequent healer rewards program.

And the first thing you need to do to reap the rewards of your adventure experience is live long enough to finish the adventure.  Boromir got lots of xp in that fight with the orcs at Amon Hen, but he didn’t live to level up and gain the rewards.

So Potshot found a short adventure called First Level Primer in the Steam Workshop which involves guarding a caravan and clearing out some of the local monsters near where caravan has camped for the night.  There are some goblins, skeletons, and an ogre to fight with and… we managed to wipe on our first go around.

We wiped because after defeating the goblins, we spread out all over the area to collect loot and search for anything else to discover and my fighter discovered that there was an ogre near by… and the ogre discovered him as well.  After that it was like one of those movie fights where the bad guys obligingly show up and get beaten down by the hero one by one… only, in this version the ogre was the hero.

So it seemed like a good idea to not scatter all over the map, especially if you have just asked aloud, “Hey, do you hear something grunting over in that thicket?”

Also, it is wise to set yourself to move with caution… trying not to be noticed… if you’re not sure the area is clear of mobs yet.  I might have seen the ogre before he saw me if I hadn’t been blundering about but had tried being at least a bit stealthy.

Everybody being cautious… also, dubious mushrooms

Then there are rests.  The ogre fight was going to go badly no matter what.  It too my rogue three turns dashing to get into range of the ogre with his bow, by which time my fighter and Potshot’s cleric had both been clobbered.  But it could have gone better had we been rested up.

There are short rests and long rests.  Short rests can happen anywhere free of mobs it seems and will restore some hit points.  A long rest has to happen at a campfire and it restores your spell slots, abilities, and health.  You can also level up with a long rest.

It also introduced us to the day/night cycle of the game.  Taking a long rest at the wrong time and you might wake up and find it dark.

Anyway, in addition to being scattered we were also down on hit points and had used up spells and special abilities.  A rest after battle would have been a good idea… especially since this little adventure has a campfire back where you start.

Finally, this is a turn based game, not an MMORPG, so you can save your progress and restore if you make a huge mistake with an ogre… or you could if you remembered to save.  I think this literally didn’t occur to me because I’ve spent so much time in games like EVE and WoW and Minecraft and Valheim where saving simply isn’t a thing.  Even when I play RimWorld I play without the restore to save option.

With a bit of forethought we could have had a do-over.

But we learned.  We muddled around a bit more with this and another campaign and eventually came out of the far end alive with a level and some experience.

Our party survived!

When you get to the end you update the file for your character which brings forward your levels and loot.  We had done it, we had made it through an adventure.

Unfortunately it seems that once you’re tainted by adventures from the Steam Workshop you can no longer take that character into the main campaigns.  That was disappointing, though probably understandable.  Any time you have user created content you have “easy super level up and generous overpowered loot” creations that people make.

But the Steam Workshop has a selection of other adventures to try out.  We are almost done with another one Potshot found.

The next adventure

We have managed to fight our way through the whole thing… on the second try… but are stuck on a puzzle that is keeping us from leaving.  We have the game saved so we can go back and complete it, but until it is done our characters have no loot to take home.

First Impressions of Solasta

I mentioned last week that my one purchase from the Steam Summer Sale was a copy of Solasta: Crown of the Magister.  It was very much a last minute purchase too.  While it was on my wishlist already and was available for half off during the sale, it wasn’t until Potshot mentioned he was interested that we both went in there and purchased it.  That was the day before the sale ended.

Solasta splash screen

Even then I had some doubts as to whether or not it would be a good purchase.  It has very favorable reviews, but they are often couched in apologies for some of the shortcomings of the game.  If every other review you read goes on how you have to get past the character models, the voice acting, the stilted dialog, and the stiff and linear story… well, it can raise doubts.

And the goal of the game to bring a 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons experience into a video game wasn’t a huge selling point either.  I don’t know 5th edition from anything as I fear my tabletop RPG experience tapered off when TSR was still a thing.  D20 rules and Wizards of the Coast still represent the “new stuff” to me almost 25 years down the road.  It took me a long time to get used to 2nd edition and things like THAC0.

Then there is the camera, always a sensitive subject with me.  It doesn’t have a follow mode or anything, so you have to keep wheeling it around and scrolling along to see things.

Anyway, as it turns out, for me at least, these issues ended up being largely irrelevant.  Yes, the character models look odd and the voice actors all seem to be trying to imitate one UK actor or another… also, why are UK accents the default for fantasy still?  You also don’t need to know anything about 5th edition, the game holds your hand and lays out options for you.

Potshot and I both grabbed a copy, as noted, and tried it on our own, running through the tutorial, creating characters, and fiddling around with the game.  I will say, even up to that point the game wasn’t an obvious sell to me.

But on Saturday we got together to try and run a multiplayer campaign, and that is where the game began to shine for me.

Getting ourselves into a multiplayer game wasn’t too hard.  It isn’t a persistent world game like Minecraft or Valheim.  Somebody has to host the game and you join them, putting your characters into the campaign that is created.

Going multiplayer

You have to have four characters in the campaign.  When you play solo you control all four.  With two of us, we had two characters each.  We both brought one we had created (Skronk the cleric and Blain the ranger… it is a character flaw of mine that I always make rangers in D&D) and then grabbed one of the pre-made characters each (Anton the rogue for him and Nialla the wizard for me) in order to round out the party.

From there it was into the campaign, which starts off with some more introductions to the world as you run around town and learn about what is going on.  You have to listen to some dialog as the town council bends your ear about this or that and makes you deputies to go out and do some work for them.

Everybody has a quip

Then there is the trip to the inn and the shops and the scavengers guild and blah blah blah, all the groundwork goes on for a bit as you visit various points on the map.

People to see, places to go

It takes long enough that even your characters get sick of it eventually.

My character role playing me

Soon enough though we were off on a first adventure into the badlands and were waylaid by bandits at night, which introduced the pace of the game.  Everything else is kind of window dressing around the combat element.

When combat commences, everybody rolls for initiative automatically.

Need to get the dice in there somehow (this was later in our run)

That stacks everybody up into a turn order for actions, which is displayed at the top of the screen.

Here is our initiative ordering for the bandit fight

And then you go down the order… the bandits did get a free turn to start due to surprise… and play each character in turn.  When it is your character, you can see the options as to where you can move and what actions you can take, and when it is not your turn you get a somewhat annoyingly large banner telling you who is up.

Potshot is, in fact, playing

But playing with somebody else is where a key bit of the magic of the game is for me.  If you play solo and are controlling all the characters, then they tend to act in a unison that would be unnatural in the real world.  They focus on the same targets, split tasks, heal, and otherwise follow the directions of a single mind.

When playing with another person you don’t get that and there is some randomness injected into the game if you don’t communicate effectively… and Potshot and I failed on that front hilariously.  I mean, occasionally we would go after an obvious target together.  But at other times we would run in odd directions, get in each other’s way, attack random and changing targets, and generally fumble our way through encounters… all of which gave it an organic feel that would be difficult to replicate solo.

Not that the solo game is bad.  I think 12 to 25 year old me would have gone nuts with this game solo.  But late 50s me finds that a bit stale and predictable.  I need a bit more chaos than simple RNG gets you.

We carried on to our destination, the Caer Lem outpost, where we found all was not well.

On the way overland

There we made contact with the locals and teamed up with them to get away to safety as things went bad.  We each got one of the locals to control, giving us three characters each to manage, as we headed into the caves and ended up in a series of fights where we were tested.

Both of my characters incapacitated

We learned about short rests and long rests and a lot about healing and potions and how maybe having more than 20 arrows might be a good idea… though honestly I had a couple left at the end.

The end came for us long before the story was done.  We got in over our heads in the caves in a fight where we split targets, got in each other’s way, and opened ourselves up to repeated attacks of opportunity until we were all down.  Game over.

Everybody was down

I think one important thing to describe about the game is the pacing.  We spent about three hours getting to the point where we all died and it was game over.

If this had been in World of Warcraft, three hours would have seen us through something like the Deadmines at level with time to spare to go do something else.  I think, even as a group of four, running it in WoW Classic, we didn’t need three hours.

If I count the fights we were in and the number of mobs we killed in our first Solasta run, that was maybe the first half dozen groups of trash mobs in the Deadmines.  I think it was a total of six fights for our run, plus all the dialog in between, and we wiped on the sixth.

In some ways Potshot and I might have been an ideal pairing.  We were both new to the game, were willing to press on and learn as we went, didn’t get too invested in things, and took every setback in stride.  Ending as we did in failure was kind of funny, though not as funny as when my wizard missed with a spell for the fifth time running and Anton shouted “You suck!” in the middle of a fight.

The dialog isn’t original, and the voice acting is just okay, but the interjections in fights do liven things up a bit.  There appears to be a wide range of responses and retorts queued up for everybody.  As for the character models… well, you don’t spend that much time up close where they look awkward.  In combat nobody cares if your beard looks like it was formed out of Play-Doh.

So my initial response to the game, at least as a multi player venture, is pretty positive.  It does recreate, in its way, some aspects of real table top RPGs, including the player coordination and slower pacing.  We shall see if we can wrestle the rest of the group into joining in and how four of us will interact.  The one bonus of just two people is that you aren’t left waiting nearly as much as you would be with four.

Wrapping up the Steam Summer Sale 2022

By the time this post goes live the annual Steam Summer Sale will have been consigned to history, another sales event in a long series of such events.

Steam Summer Sale 2022

In the end, I bought a single title, Solasta: Crown of the Magister.  And that last night.

Potshot was into it, it was already on my wishlist, and it was 60% off.  I had to tell myself that I would spend time with it this coming weekend.  We shall see how that fares.

That was my sole purchase.

Not that the sale was missing other temptations.  There were a number of items on my wishlist I seriously considered.

I probably cam the closest to buying LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, which had been marked down by 25%. That isn’t a bad discount for a major multi-platform title released just a couple of months back, and all the more so as I was considering buying it at launch.

I was keen to buy it, but then got hung up on which platform I should play it on.  If I bought it on Steam I would be locked into the PC.  That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.  I have a game pad now, the one I bought to play Forza Horizon 4 & 5 late last year. (Well, technically it was a Christmas present, but my wife and I are to the point of buying ourselves something and giving it to the other person to wrap and put under the tree at this point.  That sounds unromantic, but it saves me a lot of anxiety.)

So I could play it on the PC without having to negotiate the awful keyboard control scheme that the Traveler’s Tales LEGO series has in place.  It is really unplayable that way.

However, the title was also available and 25% off in the Nintendo eShop on the Switch, and it feels like much more of a console title than one where I sit at my desk and play.

In the end I did not buy it on Steam… though even as I write this I am still pondering it on the Switch.

But I didn’t pull the trigger on it for a couple of reasons.  First was my rule about not buying video games unless I play to play them right then and there.  I’ve purchased too many games over the years simply because they were on sale thinking I would play them later and… well… I’ll have a post about my Steam library again soon.  But it calls out the lie I tell myself in that.

Second, I have to admit my interest in the title is very much rooted in the past.  LEGO Star Wars… and some of the other LEGO titles from Traveler’s Tales… were games my daughter an I played together on the Wii fifteen years back.  So I wonder if my desire is more rooted in that than the game as it would be today.

And, finally, while there is a lot of new content and a whole new meta campaign with a bazillion character and vehicle unlocks, the essential game is… well… the game I played back in 2007 or whenever, no doubt somewhat upgraded, but still made up of a lot of content I have played through a few times already.  I am not sure if I am into it enough to go search for the secret hidden bricks or all of the other achievements the game hold for you to unlock.

Too much commitment based on a desire clearly built on a foundation of nostalgia.

But that interaction brings up something else.  I mention in my post at the start of the sale how one could view Steam as having withered in influence over the years.  The sales are no longer such a draw and the console vendors, Microsoft and Sony specifically, have been assembling their own collection of studios and content for both their platforms and the PC for their own subscription “all you can eat” package that dwarfs Steam in value.

As I said, Tim Sweeney chose the wrong target, going after Steam but letting the console companies off the hook.

The flip side to that is exactly how much influence Steam and its sales still have on the industry.

A summer sale isn’t exactly a daring concept.  Companies can always find reasons to put things on sale, and they’ll make up a reason if there isn’t one to hand.  After all of these years I still don’t know what the “Macy’s White Flower Sale” is actually about.

But when Steam has a big sale like this, winter or summer, others follow along.  Companies that depend on Steam like Paradox put up the same deals in their own online store.  Platforms that share titles with Steam likewise seem to follow suit.  I was tempted by LEGO Star Wars on the Switch because it was the same 25% off deal over the same date range as the Steam sale.  That isn’t an accident.

Even companies with no link to Steam have concurrent sales.  Hell, Blizzard had a summer sale that ran mostly concurrent to the Steam sale… though Blizz has been a little hard up to push product of late, having nothing new to offer.  They may not be on Steam but World of Warcraft is now giving away freebies over on Amazon’s Prime Gaming.  That isn’t “Blizz is dying” moment, but it is certainly a “Blizz is feeling the pressure of the reality of it situation” event.

Steam still makes waves in a way that Tim Sweeney can only fantasize about.

Anyway, we will see if Solasta becomes a thing with our group.

The Steam Summer Sale Returns Again for 2022

Summer has returned, so here we are again at the launch or another Steam Summer Sale.  The sale actually started yesterday, but I didn’t really feel the need to jump right on that with a post as I have done in past years.

Steam Summer Sale 2022

I write about the annual Steam Summer and Winter sales as much out of habit as anything now, and it is beginning to feel almost anachronistic to do so.  There is nothing wrong with the sales.  But the faded enthusiasm within me is a faint echo of a time when these events used to be a big freaking deal.

Steam was a ground breaker, and Steam sales have been loved by many a gamer and hated by many a publisher for years now, to the point that the edge is gone.  Everybody has a summer and winter sale now.  Blizzard just sent me an email about one.  Paradox always has one too that coincides with the Steam sales, in the hopes you’ll give them the money directly rather than giving Steam a cut.

But the landscape of video games has changed, and in a somewhat ironic way.

Well, there is an option to buy…

Back in late 2018 Tim Sweeney threw down the gauntlet, creating the Epic Games Store, with an eye to challenging the almost hegemonic sway that Steam held over PC gaming.  He has thrown money at developers to get exclusives and rarely misses an opportunity to bad mouth Steam or to try and frame himself as the plucky upstart hero, omitting how rich the Unreal Engine and Fortnite has made him.

He has also gone after Apple and Google in his self-declared crusade to break down alleged monopolies.

And during that time the console barons, Microsoft and Sony, whom he let off the hook in his crusade, splitting extremely fine hairs to claim that their absolute control over their platforms was somehow different than Google or Apple or Steam.  He vilified those three while letting the consoles off the hook.

Now, however, it is starting to look like Microsoft and Sony are going to be the real winners here with their competing game pass options growing out from their consoles onto the PC platform even as the acquire more studios so that they control content creation, platform, and sales channels.

The XBox Game Pass for PC… that is a damn sweet deal.  A much younger me, a me that had the energy to dive into new titles all the time, would be all over that subscription, playing new titles every month and barely caring about Steam sales of Epic Games exclusives.

The young and hungry love an all you can eat buffet with new dishes being served up on a regular basis, while old favorites remain an option.

Sony is a little behind in that race, but not by a gap that they can’t bridge.  They aren’t as all-in as Microsoft, but they have always been a somewhat conservative business.  But they will get there.

I do not subscribe to either service at the moment, though I did do a trial of the XBox Game Pass back at the end of last year, playing a lot of Forza Horizon 5 as part of that.  But there wasn’t much else I was completely sold on, so I let that lapse for now.

But at some future date Activision Blizzard will be part of the Microsoft stable of studios.  There is a lot on that plate that could tempt me.  I don’t think a WoW subscription will be on the XBox Game Pass, but if it was I’d be sold.  That could lead to crazy thing, unhooking the WoW team from the box sale pressure somewhat, or at least letting their core audience dabble elsewhere and feel no need to drop the subscription that gives them access to Azeroth.

But that is all in the future, and in no way guaranteed.  I am still not using the XBox Game Pass now, and don’t feel a real need to at the moment.  But that could change as the options it offers grows.

Meanwhile, there is the Steam Summer Sale.  I won’t toss that by the wayside either.  My Steam library still represents a substantial number of titles, and my wishlist is not empty.  I’ll go look at what is one sale and won’t be shocked if I am tempted into buying something.

But it isn’t the same, the Steam sales of a decade back, when they felt rare and the prices were so radically below our expectations that many people bought just because they thought they would never see that kind of discount again.

Instead, the discounts became the norm.  It takes a serious sale to really rouse me to action for a title that I am not set on playing immediately.  On the other hand, the site was pretty slammed yesterday during the first hours of the sale, so it remains popular.  Also, I suspect that the sale has a reputation for first day errors in pricing that lead to unexpected bargains, so people were no doubt scavenging for some extra special deals before they got fixed.

Friday Bullet Points on a Chilly Spring Saturday

[This was supposed to be yesterday’s post, but then I woke up to a big news event, so it is a day late.]

It is cold out, considering it is spring here in California.  It has even rained here in the last 24 hours.  I am wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, which isn’t exactly the gear of arctic explorers, but by this late in April I have generally been well into the “I will wear shorts every day until I have finished off the Halloween candy” state of affairs that working from home forever has brought me to.

Not that the weather has anything to do with the rest of this post, but I needed a headline and the weather will serve when nothing else comes to mind.  So on with another bullet points post or items I thought worth noting but which weren’t worth a whole post on their own.

Enad Global 7

  • EG7 Dropping Russia

On the trend with western companies bailing from Russia after its brutal invasion of Ukraine, Enad Global 7 has announced that they will selling off their Innova subsidiary to the management of the team for a total of 32 million Euros, quite a haircut for the company considering they shelled out 109 million Euros for the company when they closed the deal for it a little over a year ago.  Innova was primarily acquired because they held the license to run a number of MMOs in the EU and Russia.  The current state of the Ukraine conflict puts Innova in a tough spot.

Meanwhile EG7 also announced that they would Toadman Interactive, another acquired studio, would be relocated from its current location in Russia to somewhere in the EU.

Database evolution

  • EVE Online Database History

CCP has posted another of the dev blogs that makes them a standout on the communications front in the industry.  Every time I think that they could do better, I have to remind myself how poorly the industry handles this sort of thing.

New database server upgrades have arrived and that has prompted the team to write a history of the databases of EVE Online, spanning from the early days when they had to solve lag problems with people just warping across systems, to being able to cope with 100 vs 100 fights, to the monster servers that they have today which make the original 2003 game look as powerful as a digital watch by comparison. (Though I still think digital watches wee a pretty neat idea.)

Anyway, if this is your sort of thing… and I am all over these sorts of posts… you can find the whole thing on CCPs news site here.

A new drama generator

  • RimWorld is Legal in Australia Again

It was noted previously that, after the Ideology expansion for RimWorld landed, it seemed like maybe the thought of feminist nudist cannibals was too much for the faint hearts in Canberra.

And that could have been it, though the whole thing came up due to the fact that there was a console version of the game on the horizon, which was what got the Classification Review Board taking a look at RimWorld again.  And they didn’t like what they saw, so flagged it as “Refused Classification” which made it unsalable down under.

That was undone earlier this week… on 4/20 if you think there is any significance in that… allowing the people of Australian to once again purchase RimWorld or redeem Steam keys for the game.

And, speaking of console support, RimWorld also announced that the game now has full support for Steam Deck, so perhaps that was what triggered the whole thing.

The return of the classic

  • Diablo II Resurrected Gets Ladders and more

Diablo II Resurrected has gotten its 2.4 patch, which is the biggest update the game has received in a long long time.

The lead story for the update is the unlock of the ladder seasons for those who want a competitive Diablo II experience, but there is so much more in the update such as class updates, mercenary fixes, new rune words, new Horadric Cube recipes, quality of life updates, and even some new levels of legacy graphics emulation for those who play with the old school look.

The great thing is that Blizzard has gone all in on this 22 year old game to make it better and fix things that has been problems for decades.  The sad thing is that this might be the peak of Diablo news this year unless Diablo Immortal is a lot better than I suspect it will be.

Playable Worlds

  • Playable Worlds gets $25 Million in Funding

Finally, news got out this week that Playable Worlds, Raph Koster’s sandbox cloud MMO venture, managed to pick up $25 million in financing for the project from a group that includes Korean video game publisher Kakao Games Corp.

That got Raph Koster to speak a bit more about the vision for the title:

“It’s about having environments that are more alive,” Koster said. “Players can affect things that evolve and change rather than being static. Most games build their maps out of static meshes. Ours are dynamic and come down on the fly from the server. It’s about enabling worlds to feel more alive. That’s really what it comes down to.”

“Offering truly and fully persistent shared environments and massive scale is something else that is really important to us,” Koster said. “These aren’t just theme parks that you ride through, right? Where the developers are the ones who are in control. Giving full persistence also unlocks the ability for players to have far more impact. If you chop down a tree, it is permanently gone from the world for everybody.”

Specifics about the project were not forthcoming.

And we have heard a vision like this before, with the EverQuest Next project, which was eventually shelved by Daybreak, in part because of the processing requirements such a dynamic and player changeable world entailed.

Waiting on Valheim

I was working on the month in review post for this month, doing the hardest part, which is pulling together the One Year Ago section… for all of the older ones I just go back and copy, paste, and occasionally edit, what I wrote in a past post… and it was pretty clear that the instance group was all in on Valheim in the March of a year ago.

Valheim on Steam

You will get the full sense of it on Thursday, but 10 out of 31 posts in March 2021 were about Valheim. We had gotten past the stumbling first stages of playing in February, setting up a shared and server managing to log in, our first shelter, the perilous raft journeys, the somewhat unnecessary amphibious night assault on another island, building a base in line of sight of a troll spawn, the whole death skeeter incident, and had settled in to expanding our reach in the game.

And we certainly carried on into April with the game, but before the end of that month we had defeated Moder, built a secure base in the plains biome, and were mostly pottering about, exploring, stocking up on supplies, and engaging in base building.  There was still another boss to slay, but after that the next biomes up the ladder in the game were as yet unfinished.

We carried on base building and exploring into May, but we were slowing down and kind of waiting for development to catch up and populate the next biomes.  Something that we’re still waiting for.

Yes, the Valheim development team is very small and they spent most of the first six months just trying to keep up with the runaway success of their game.  A good problem to have.  And eventually they were able to get back to delivering some updates to the game.  But, so far, the further biomes remain unfinished.  Not only are the unfinished, but there is a disincentive to exploring them as Valheim shares an issue with Minecraft in that new features and updates don’t necessarily show up in places you have already explored, and I spent quite a bit of time in May of last year sailing and exploring.

I think, as a group, we’ve decided to roll a fresh world once we get some new content to play.  There have been other changes to the swamp and mountain biomes to change up the game that would give some additional spice to another play through.

But the question remains as to when we will get there.  This past Friday we got an update from the dev team about the next biome, the Mistlands.  But the message in the middle of that was that the release of that update was “quite some time away still.”

That makes it much further out than even the “soon” of developer legend.  When they can’t even promise soon, it is very far away indeed.

And so we wait.  Valheim is the third most played title in my Steam library, not far behind RimWorld… which has been pulling ahead this month.  The Mistlands release and a fresh start would push it into second place.

RimWorld Ideology

The Ideology expansion for RimWorld has been out for quite a while now, having launched back in July of 2021.  I know because I bought it when it came out and fully intended to write about it last summer.  But the expansion went through some needed changes based on feedback pretty quickly, so I waited for that to settle down then moved on to something else and forgot about it.

RimWorld Ideology

But I got RimWorld out again this month and played a bit… this week literally has three posts now about me looking for something to play… and I figured I ought to revisit my thoughts on the expansion.

RimWorld, just to dial back a moment, is a top down survival simulator that has been around for over five years now if we count early access.  My earliest post about playing was back in 2017.  Since then it has had the Royalty and then the Ideology expansion packs.

The basic scenario premise is that of three people having their spaceship crash land on a planet and having to get themselves off planet and home again.

From a mechanics based “win the game” point of view, there is a well established through path which SynCaine covered back in 2017; get food production up, build defenses, ignore missions, do the minimum to keep your people happy, and focus on tech to build that spaceship in order to get off the planet.

Even adhering to that, getting through the game has some challenges.  Raids become more common and more aggressive as you move through time, and when you have that ship built and are getting it ready for launch, the attacks become relentless.

But another way to look at the game is as a story generator.  Each of the people in your game, the colonists, have skills and personality traits that dictate what keeps them happy and how they get along with others.

The game has a whole system of possible interactions, including rivalries, relationships, couples falling in love, marriage, divorce, and simple animosity that can break out into fist fights.

Royalty and Ideology both add more layers to your colonists, though Ideology much more so than RoyaltyRoyalty you can basically play along with or ignore.  Ideology becomes a serious part of the game play.

So one of the first patches to the Ideology expansion was the ability to not use it once you had purchased it.  You cannot just ignore it like Royalty.  After that there was a lot of tuning.

From a pure mechanics “winning” point of view, Ideology makes the game harder because it makes your colonists more difficult to keep happy.  So if that is your gig, then this is hard mode.

For those who enjoy the story of their colonists, this adds in a whole new dynamic.

When starting up the game you can opt out of the expansion or, if you run with it, choose a pre-made ideology, go random, or roll up your own specific ideology.

Choose a path, or go without

The web page for the expansion has a list of the many memes and precepts that can be mixed into an ideology.

An ideology isn’t just a religion, though it can have religious rituals and symbols.  It is more of a total community belief system and, as you can see from the choices on that screen.  It can be anything from a criminal gang to cannibals to tree worshiping vegans.

Some of the pre-made sets you can choose

And with any ideology comes a list of expectations.  There will be rituals they expect, official positions to be filled, clothing to be produced, and activities they will demand, otherwise they won’t be happy.

For example, I had a colony of burka wearing female supremacist dominators who were quite unhappy unless I sent them out on the occasional raid in order to beat down on the locals and capture some of them to enslave.  Every raid gave them a temp happiness boost, every slave in the colony boosted their happiness by a bit, and the person who did the actual enslaving got a big happiness boost.

Interestingly, one of the people they enslaved had the masochist trait and their happiness was improved when the were forced to wear a slave collar and body strap.  That slave was never going to revolt.

Unfortunately, the other slaves were not so inclined and there was a bloodbath when they rose up.  (Pro tip: don’t put the slave quarters next to a storage room that contains weapons.) The slave rebellion left only one colonist alive, one of the slaves, and their wounds got infected and they died a few days later.

One of the reasons for the rebellion was that everybody on the planet has an ideology and if you want to bring people into your colony and keep them happy, then you need to convert them.  That takes time.

Another drug loving colony was wiped out when a raid hit while they were in the middle of getting stoned.  Granted, it was a big raid, but I am not sure all of them being huddled around the communal bong set the right tone for defense.

The expansion opens up a range of new items from apparel to ritual related furniture to quests that can change up your colony completely.

So, is it worth $20?  Certainly more so than the Royalty expansion.

If you like the story of your colonists more than building that spaceship, the Ideology expansion adds a lot of depth to the game.

A Steam Achievements Gripe

I have a post rattling around in my head about achievements, why they work for me in some games and not in other, who I think does them well and who does them poorly.

But for the moment I will say that I mostly like Steam Achievements.  I don’t chase them as much as I do in games like WoW, but I keep an eye on them and have unlocked a good number in games that I have played a lot and which actually have Steam Achievements.

From my profile page

And two of my top five most played games on Steam, Valheim and RimWorld, lack them.  Think of how many more achievements I might have gained with all the hours I put in there.

But my favorite aspect of Steam Achievements is when you mouse over them and it tells you what percentage of players of a given title have earned that particular achievement.

How many Lost Ark players have recovered an ark?

While I don’t chase achievements too hard, it is always interesting to see how popular an achievement is.  That Lost Ark achievement, for example, represents how many people have played so many hours down the main story line.  It is kind of a gimme for the mildly persistent.

On my profile I display my rarest achievements, which are all 1% or 2% of the player base (for Civilization V, Defense Grid, Age of Empires II, and Stellaris respectively).

What I find irksome about that however is Steam’s seeming reluctance to share that bit of information with you.  If, for example, I go to my full list of achievements for Civilization V, I can mouse over them until my hand gets numb, but not one of the achievements on the list will give me any further stats.

Some achievements

Why won’t Steam show me that percentage number anywhere save for a few very specific locations in their client?  They clearly have that information stored.

Also, as an add-on gripe, when I look at my achievements listed out, it would be really nice if I could sort them by date maybe.  That list of achievements, if you can read it, has dates from 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2018 all mixed in a jumble.

If you’re going to have achievements, make the most of them, share all the data, and make them sort… or, crazy talk here, searchable.

Addendum:

Everwake in the comments alerted me to a link I missed on my achievements page that will take me to the global achievement stats, which shows me data for all my achievements, so that gripe has been dismissed.

We underline links where I come from, but whatever

However, that brings up a whole different issue, which Bhagpuss pointed out in the comments.

The achievement I displayed above, “Successor of Fate” currently shows 29.7% of players have gained that achievement, which is a change, so it clearly gets updated as time passes.

But on the global achievements page, it says that 25.7% of players have this achievement.

Cropped a bit for visibility

And the same goes for any of the other achievements I can mouse over.

That is close to the other count, but off by far enough that I have a new gripe about the numbers not lining up.  It points to the idea that the two numbers are being calculated via different data.

Meanwhile, Connor of MMO Fallout says that achievements are questionable now anyway as you can make them come and go with Steam Achievement Manager.  I haven’t even looked into that.