Category Archives: Steam

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.

Project Gorgon on Steam

The day arrived earlier this week as Project: Gorgon, long in an alpha that you could play for free, finally moved to Steam.  It is early access, to be sure, but it has arrived.

A New Logo for Steam

For a very small project that took three tries to get a Kickstarter funded, this is a pretty big deal.

Yes, I expected it would get there sooner.  I’m pretty sure Eric Heimberg expected it to get there much sooner as well.  After all, the post-Kickstarter plan was to get to Steam some time in October.

October of 2015.

Welcome to the problem with Kickstarting a beast as complicated as an MMORPG.

At least the promise was only to get onto Steam.  Other ventures in which I have a minor stake, Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained, and Star Citizen, have all blown past their promised ship dates.  Shroud of the Avatar might hit something that looks like a finished project by the end of this year, but Star Citizen continues to recede from the horizon while Camelot Unchained is shooting for a beta at some point this summer.

So the two people pretty much baking an MMO on their own project looks pretty good by comparison.  Sure, it still doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet (Project Gorgon there references an US Navy missile program) but there it is on Steam at least.

Of course, there are something like 35 games arriving on Steam every single day, threatening to bury us all in a bottomless pit of derivative crap that should never see the light of day, so getting there isn’t exactly the leap over the high bar it was once upon a time.  But, woo hoo, go indie dreamers all the same I guess.  (Just don’t quit your day jobs.)

I am in a mood to bitch, aren’t I?  Well, I shall complain no more… or not as much… for this should be a happy thing, something to celebrate.  You can actually find Project: Gorgon on Steam and read all about it.   And, honestly, it sounds better than I remember.  The bullet points are all good.

  • Each non-player (NPC) you meet has their own goals and interest, and reward players that choose to be their friend.
  • You can drop items on the ground, and other players can pick them up. What’s so great about that? Imagine laying down a trail of literal (virtual) breadcrumbs to guide your friends (or lure your enemies) into the woods.
  • Shopkeepers keep inventory, so you can buy items that other players have sold to them. Want to help out new players? Sell your cast-off items to the shopkeeper in the new player zone and watch the new players go to town.
  • If you are on fire, you can jump into a lake to put it out. This type of mechanic can have a subtle effect on your strategies, especially when you are fighting a fire mage!
  • You can inscribe messages onto items, write books, and even leave notes for other players. Make your name as an in-game poet, or pronounce your greatness to the world!

Some of that sounds like classic MUD stuff that has gone missing in the more modern revisions of the genre.  Likewise this batch sounds interesting.

  • Battle Chemistry: Create huge explosions, inject yourself with mysterious mutagens or program a pet golem!
  • Unarmed Combat: Grapple and control enemies using a situational-aware combo system that varies based on where you are and what day it is.
  • Animal Handling: Tame animals and train them to become ferocious fighters. Then breed your best and sell their offspring to other players.
  • Necromancy: Seek out corpses and graveyards to raise an undead army. No graveyard around? Well, there are always the corpses of your friends.
  • Cow: Got turned into a cow by that boss? That sucks. But learn some kicks and how to stampede, and you’ll be right back out there kicking grass in no time!
  • That’s just a few! There’s also Sword Fighting, Combat Psychology, Staff Fighting, Sigil Scripting, Mentalism, and more.

In addition, there is a reasonable list of goals to achieve before the game moves from Early Access to Live, like fleshing out the content, which currently runs up to level 70, to level 100.

All in all I am impressed.  And if you act now, you can buy it on Steam for 25% off the normal $40 price.  Or if you are like me and paid back in 2015, there is a Steam key waiting in your in your email.  I got mine.

Project: Gorgon moving to Steam has long been my stated trigger point to start playing, and I am going to get right on that… once I am done with Rift Prime.

Okay, I’ll probably get Project: Gorgon loaded up on Steam and take a peek but, in my dotage, I have become mostly single threaded when it comes to fantasy MMORPGs.  I kind of just want to play one at a time, enjoy myself as the world washes over me, then change up when I am starting to tire.  And for the moment that world is Telara.

The Passing of a Steam Winter Sale

The holidays are over and with that comes the end of related in-game events along with one sales event, the Steam Winter Sale.

Holiday Sales are over…

As has been noted many times over the last few years, the “special” nature of such sales has long since evaporated.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t log in.  I did, every day, and voted on the various vague awards categories and went through my queues, and collected my event cards and even managed to craft the level 1 badge for the holidays.  I think that all earned me a few more points towards leveling up my Steam level.  After all these years I am still level 13, so I am clearly not taking that very seriously.

I was interested to see my queue stats after the sale shut down.  I generally only use the queue during such sales for the above reasons.

Queue Activity – January 2018

I have “looked” at over two thousand games now.  I seem somewhat reluctant to flag things “not interested” as I pass through titles.  Generally I only flag stuff I know I will never play, like horrible JRPGs, VR titles, or ancient games that I have no interest in revisiting.  An example of the latter as the Unreal series of shooters, all of which seemed to turn up in my queue this year.

I also seem unlikely to put things on my wish list.  Maybe I just don’t want to get a mile long email about things on my wishlist being on sale for every Summer and Winter event.

Steam also released their Best of 2017 lists, which I took the time to go through.  I found the list for the Platinum category of Top Sellers, the best of the best, interesting.

Top Sellers 2017 – Platinum Category

On it are:

The sort order of that list is arbitrary.  Steam randomizes the sort in each category, re-arranging them when you refresh the page, so they are not ranked.

That list has a lot of old stuff on it… and if it isn’t old, it is likely a sequel of some sort.  I think PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is the only legitimate “new” title on the list.  But that is the reality of things now for video games.  If they are expensive to make then studios want to get the most out of them  by selling DLC, loot boxes, and whatever, or by cranking out sequels.

Oh, and multiplayer is clearly a thing, as only one title out of a dozen, The Witcher III, is single player only.

Things even out further down the categories, though old games do persist.  I see The Sims 3 down in the Bronze section.

So I spent time doing all of that.  What I did not spend time doing was purchasing anything.

I have the usual excuses, the weight of un-played or under-played titles already in my Steam library, my satisfaction with what I am currently playing, and the general sense that if I don’t buy something on sale on my wishlist today that it will come back around on sale again soon enough.

The day after the sale ended an email popped up in my inbox with items from my wishlist that were on sale, including GTA V, which was still 60% off list, the same discount from the big sale.

For me, in the end, the big Steam sales was really about me collecting some virtual cards to up my meaningless score in an online store where I didn’t purchase anything at all.  How was the sale for you?

Steam Winter Sale 2017

The Steam Winter Sale is upon us again.  Having kicked off yesterday, it will run through to January 4, 2018.

Holiday Sales are Here Again

I was aware that it was here largely because I got the Paradox winter newsletter in email announcing sale prices, and they pretty consistently put stuff on sale through their direct store to match the prices on Steam.

As with last year you can vote on the Steam Awards, go through your suggestion queues to earn trading cards, and find lots of games on sale.

Naturally, I have my own gripes, though they are mostly about me.

The big sale is here and I am not really looking for a new game.  Last year I actually picked up a few titles and, more surprisingly, I actually played them.  Imagine that!  At some point I decided that there will always be another sale so there is no rush to collect games in my library that I might play some day.

Plus I am in something of a happy spot with gaming right now.  I am in the late expansion groove with WoW Legion, with a little something to do every day plus pet battles and alts to play with when I’ve done a few tasks with my main.

Likewise, in EVE Online there are a few ops a week to go on and not much logistical support needed to keep that up.

So I look at my Steam wishlist and am not burning to buy anything there.  Most of the titles on the list have been there for a year or longer at this point.  What are the odds I am suddenly going to buy GTA V this time around?

And there isn’t anything new out there that has my interest.  I mean, there are plenty of new games on Steam, but the barrier to entry is so low these days that you have to assume everything is crap until proven otherwise.  I suppose everybody is up about PlayerUnknown’s Battleground.  I am mildly interested in that… though it isn’t on sale so I can buy that any time.. but the voice in the back of my head wants to know if I really need another shooter to be bad at.  I bought Doom during a mid-year sale and, while it was an awesome, visceral experience, my badness kept it from being all it could be.

I guess I can always look at my daughter’s Steam wishlist to see if there is anything she wants.

Is there anything new in the Steaming pile I should be keeping an eye on?

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.

The End of the 2017 Steam Summer Sale

Another Steam Summer Sale has come and gone.

Summer Sale 2017 Version

I logged in every day and collected all the stickers from the event.  I managed to get one full set of the trading cards so I could turn those in.  I even added about a dozen new games to my wishlist as ran through my daily queue.

But the real question is; did I buy anything?

Well, yes.  Yes I did.  As I noted previously, I went into this sale keen to buy some titles.  I was l was looking for something new, something to shake up the current, slightly stale state of my gaming.  I showed up to chew gum and buy games… and I was all out of gum.  So what did I buy.

Mini Metro

I already posted about this game at the start of the sale.  I actually liked it enough that I bought the iOS version to play on my iPad Air 2… which I notice actually has a higher screen resolution than the 19th century steam powered monitor on my computer.  Hrmm…   Anyway, good stuff, but still light fare.  I like it on the iPad because I can play while I watch TV.

RimWorld

This has been on my list for a while, but Early Access is a bit of a red flag for me.  However, after SynCaine wrote about it I decided it might be worth the gamble.

I bought it, I played for a couple of hours, then I stopped.  I didn’t stop because the game was bad.  I stopped because this game really needs a rainy day when my wife and daughter are out and I have an excuse to not do anything else for hours at a stretch.  My impressions were good, but I didn’t want to jump in until I had time to really immerse myself in it.  So now it sits in my Steam library waiting for its time.

Civilization VI

The inevitable purchase.  Having owned every Sid Meier game in the series up to this point, it was only a matter of time before I grabbed this one.

However, I am mildly disappointed with it.  I only have a couple of hours in, but my disappointment was almost immediate.  Upon starting off it seemed like they spent a lot more time making graphics and spiffy animations and other things that, for me, just get in the way of the actual mechanics of the game.  Classically, the first 100 or so turns of a Civilization game are the most exciting part, or so legend say.  However, as the series has progressed, the free wheeling aspect of the initial phase of the game has been toned down.  Civilization VI, subjectively, feels like the culmination of this to me.

Also, the AI remains as dopey as ever.  I had a scout on automatic.  He went up an isthmus and got hung up on a barbarian camp there.  I took over and moved him in another direction as there were other unexplored areas he could have chosen.  I left him on the edge of unexplored plains and set him to automatic again… and he ran straight back to the same damn barbarian camp.

I might need a rainy day to dig into this as well, but my immediate, superficial response to Civ VI is a hearty “Meh” and a desire to figure out where my Civ II disk went.  Civ II remains my favorite in the series.

And that was it.  Three games.  Not exactly an overflowing bag of loot.  There were a few titles I was strongly considering buying… I was at home on the evening of the fourth wondering if I should pull the trigger on any of them… but ended up not doing so.  The key contenders were:

Doom

I put this on my wishlist after it came out because people who were into it were so jazzed up about it.  I haven’t been much on shooters for at least a decade, but Doom was so well received that the sale price almost made me take the plunge.

Saints Row IV

I put this on my wishlist on a whim at one point due to somebody going on about how great the Saints Row series is.  I’ve never played any of it… I’ve never even seen it played.  But it seems whimsical and silly in its style, and the price was down at the eight dollar level for the sale.  And then something in the back of my head said, “Isn’t this series something of a parody of the Grand Theft Auto series?” and I was afraid I might not appreciate the reference unless I played something from the original.

Grand Theft Auto V

So I went looking for the current champion of the genre.  It has the reviews.  It has history.  It has Target Australia on its case.  What is not to love?  But when I got to the store page on Steam the reviews were atrocious.  I gather, reading the more recent ones, that Rockstar did something to piss off its user base, but I wasn’t sure how deep I needed to go into reviews to find any other objection, so I decided to give it a pass.  So, reviews make a difference.

At the end of the day I purchased three new games, with is three more than I bought in the last Summer Sale when I was feeling a “sale weariness” around Steam.  If the three I considered strongly, but did not purchase, I am still open to them down the road if somebody has something to add to their reputation.  They are still on my wishlist.

The odd side effect of the sale though has been my jumping back into some older games after reading about new ones.  But that is a topic for another post.

Mini Metro

Mini Metro had been on my Steam wish list for a while.

That isn’t saying much.  I put lots of things on my wish list to consider buying later, to look into, or just to remind myself that they exist.  Titles can linger there for ages, waiting for a something to push me either to buy them or drop them from the list.

Fortunately for me… or the game… or both… Zubon did a write-up about the game which tipped the balance in favor of my grabbing it as soon as the Steam Summer Sale hit.  And it is all he said it was, light and simple and elegant in design.

I was a little bit surprised when I first launched the game as it drops you straight into playing.  There is no mucking about in any menus or settings, you’re just on what is essentially the playing field playing the game.  It is a strategy that works with a game of such a spare interface.

At its heart it is the same game as Train Valley, of which I wrote previously.  The player sets up a transit network based on a set of stations which gradually increase over time, servicing a population that has destinations in mind.

Mini Metro sheds all of the non-essentials, paring away money and rewards and switches and collisions, leaving just the necessities.  Your passengers are simple shapes who want to travel to a station that matches them in stylized versions of major cities.

Four Lines running through London

You  passengers are not picky.  If they are circles, they just want to get to one of the likely many circle stations on your map.  Other shapes are more rare, some of them being one per map.  You draw out and change your transit lines by just dragging them.  Your rolling stock are little rectangles that move up and down the line, stopping at stations to pick up or drop off passengers.

There are, of course, constraints.  That is what makes it a game really.

There is a limit on the number of transit lines you can have and tunnels for crossing water and trains and carriages to which you have access.  When a new week starts up every Sunday you are given a new train and the option to add something else in a binary choice.  You might have the option add another line (which will require your train) or a couple of tunnels or a carriage that allows a a train to carry additional passengers, or a special station that loads and unloads passengers more quickly.  But the you only get two options each week and you only get to choose one.

And then there are the passengers, who get upset if your transit system leaves them piling up in stations for too long, with grumpy sounds and angry black timer circles forming if they are backed up.

Some unhappy Londoners south of the Thames

Passengers are the ultimate constraint, the one that will end your game.  If the timer circle sweeps through the full 360 degrees, your transit system fails and you are done.

Game over man!

Score is measured in how many passengers you have delivered and how long your transit system lasted.

There is a list of maps representing different international metropolitan environments from London to Paris to New York to Shanghai.  Each map has a simplified representation of the water obstacles the city presents, tunnels being a key constraint as your system expands.  There are also some variations on some of the maps.  In Cairo the trains only hold four passengers rather than the six on other maps, while in Osaka you get fast moving bullet trains to help move your population about.

Osaka on the list…

There is a hierarchy of maps and map difficulty, and to unlock the next map you have to deliver a certain number of passengers on your current map.  There is also a list of achievements for doing specific things on various maps, if you are looking for additional constraint.

The game reminds me of a software package I used back in college.  I took a class, the name of which I have long since forgotten, which was essentially holistic systems analysis.  The software, which I wish I still had, let you model processes as water flow, so you could lay out something like the DMV and see where the bottlenecks and the idle locations were.  By abstraction, you could see the flow of a system.  Mini Metro is like that, even to a real transit planner.

Anyway, the game, which is an inexpensive indy title to start with, is even cheaper with the coming of the Steam Summer Sale.  If you like this sort of system management I recommend picking it up.  There are even iOS and Android versions of the title in the respective app stores.