Category Archives: Steam

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.

The Steam Summer Sale 2017 Arrives

As predicted/expected/hoped, the Steam Summer Sale went live at 17:00 UTC today.

Summer Sale Comes Again

I have been much less ambivalent about the upcoming sale than I have been in past years.  I am feeling the itch for a new game or three.  So as soon as the sale went live I checked my wishlist and… nothing I added recently is on sale.

Ah well.

This year the activities are driven by quests to obtain sticker by performing various activities.  Going through your discover queue is the obvious one, but there are other tasks.

Sticker pack for checking my prefs

Of course, the immediate heavy load on the store meant that such tasks led to errors, but it will smooth out once the rush to find the inevitably comically mis-priced items has died down.

Since my wishlist let down my initial rush of enthusiasm, I’ll have to stalk the store to see what I can find.  Or maybe I will buy something I really want at full price.  It’s been known to happen.

How are you feeling about Steam this summer?

Atlantic Fleet

Back in January I took my refund from the Hero’s Song debacle and picked up a couple of games off of Steam with the money.  Refunded money is like found money and should be spent immediately.  I grabbed Orwell, Death Ray Manta, and Atlantic Fleet, something I even documented on a Friday bullet points post. (I had forgotten about that until I went to make a tag for Atlantic Fleet and found I already had one.”

I let Atlantic Fleet sit for a bit, finally picking it up to play last month.

Atlantic Fleet by Killerfish Games is a tactical turn-based naval combat simulation that focuses on the war between Britain and Germany in WWII.  You can replay the surface and submarine encounters that characterized the Battle of the Atlantic before the US Navy showed up.

For a game that is $9.99 it has a lot to recommend it.

The models of the ships and aircraft are good.  The game runs well, being both stable and resource efficient.

The mechanics of the game are reasonably simple once you grasp them.  For complexity, the game lies somewhere between the first person whimsy of World of Warships and the grognard impenetrability of Storm Eagle’s Jutland series.

There is a tutorial that guides you through playing the game.  It doesn’t exactly hold you by the hand and guide you… it throws up a text box that requires you to both read and comprehend what it is telling you, so you need to take a minute rather than just jumping in… but there isn’t a lot to learn so once you get the basics things fall into place.

Once there you can pick one of the pre-set scenarios or start a campaign.  I prefer the scenarios, which cover a range of historical engagements.  I gravitated to the pursuit of the Admiral Graff Spee, an encounter that my grandfather deemed important, making me memorize the names of the British cruisers involved. (Achilles, Ajax, and Exeter.)

Of course, all is not perfection.

I found the basic AI to be a bit simple.  It does what it needs to do and at least doesn’t lock on and hit with every shot.  But it doesn’t seem quite up to the task of dealing with even a dolt like myself.  I have played the Graff Spee scenario a number of times, playing each side, and I have never lost outright.  My first run, when I was just learning and made many mistakes, I managed to sink the Graff Spee with desperate torpedo run, though I lost two cruisers, with a third damaged, in the process.

Later, when I figured things out a bit, I could zero out the Graff Spee without loss and then re-run the scenario and kill all three British cruisers and sail away barely touched, like Captain Langsdorff’s dream.

The Bismark scenarios likewise led to some different historical endings.  I managed to sink both the Bismark and the Prinz Eugen with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales.

Bismark, turrets wrecked, going down by the stern

I appreciate that you can use your skill to change historical events.  HMS Hood doesn’t always have to explode… though I made that happen.

HMS Hood goes up just like it did in 1940

It was more a matter of my being able to change events, sometimes drastically, by just watching how the AI works rather than because I posses some special skill at naval combat. (Which I most certainly do not.)  You can engage the “hard” level AI and “elite” AI gunnery, but that quickly becomes pretty viscous.  AI is always a dicey issue because you want a game to be accessible (i.e. shouldn’t dunk new players mercilessly) but if it is too easy then things become tedious quickly.

This isn’t a huge fault, and given the game price the AI is pretty good, but it did strike me initially.  And the default AI fights on to the bitter end.  I had the Hood firing away at me still when its rear turrets were swamped by sea water washing over the rear decks.

Under the waves, submarine combat is just okay.  You get to lurk and go to periscope depth and unleash your deadly fish.

Avoiding detection

But this is not a submarine simulator, and the submarine aspect feels very simplistic if you have ever played one.

The submarine scenarios emphasize this.  They tend to start with the sub in position.  You launch your torpedoes then dive and evade.  If you aimed true and hit your target, you win.  If you missed you likely lose.

HMS Glorious takes three torpedoes

Meanwhile anti-submarine warfare feels very simple and haphazard… which makes it pretty realistic for the time.  You get a sonar contact with an estimated bearing and range, and then you either pop away at periscopes with you guns or you drop depth charges.  Both tend to feel like throwing stones in the ocean which, again, is probably realistic.  The most exciting moment in ASW for me so far was having the HMS Queen Elizabeth fire her 15″ guns at my periscope.

Then there is the aircraft component which I found unsatisfying.  I am not sure what I would suggest as an alternative, but even in a simple simulation like Atlantic Fleet the aircraft feel tacked on.  The aircraft models are nice though.  I will give them that.

But perhaps the most unsatisfying part of the game for me is how turns are managed.  I don’t mind turn-based combat.  Not everything has to be real time and one likes a respite now and again to assess the situation.  But how turns are structured, and how that structure influences the game irks me a bit.

Let us say you have a scenario with two friendly ships and two enemy, which I will designate F1 and F2 for friendlies and H1 and H2 for the hostiles.  This is how a turn plays out:

You give F1 its movement order, then F1 moves.  After that you select F1’s firing option, then F1 fires.  Following that you do the same thing for F2, each moving and firing in their own turn.  Then H1 moves then fires, followed by H2, which moves then fires.

A little clunky, but not the end of the world.

However, in order to fit this all together, the firing phase is rather simple.  You designate your target then select which of the weapon systems on the ship you care to use.  For a battleship, as an example, you can use main armament with armor piercing rounds, main armament with high explosive rounds, secondary armament with AP rounds, secondary armament with HE rounds, torpedoes, or a star shell to light up targets for night combat.

So you can fire your main guns, or your secondary guns, or torpedoes, or an illumination shell.  They are all mutually exclusive.  Furthermore, your guns get to fire every turn, there being no reload time differential between main and secondary armament.  Effectively a battleships 15″ guns fire just as fast as a wee destroyers 4″ guns or a cruisers 8″ guns.

Torpedoes do get locked out until they reload, so you cannot launch a spread of those every turn.  That would be completely unbalancing.  But when it comes to the choice between primary and secondary guns, you wouldn’t ever fire the secondaries unless the mains were knocked out.

Ideally, I would have preferred to have a simultaneous scheme where you give movement and firing orders for all weapons systems and then the turn resolves, accounting for timers for things like guns with differing rates of fire.  That would have been a better solution.

However, that is asking a lot for ten bucks.

And for that price the game delivers some pretty good value.  In addition to the historical scenarios, you have a wartime strategic simulation campaign, where you place your ships and fight battles as they come up, along with a “build your own navy” campaign where you have to earn ships as you go along.  The former is pretty amazing and intense, the latter is a bit silly, but all told you can fight a lot of battles.  I like the historical scenarios, which are quick battles, and the ability to create your own line ups for such encounters.  I’ve been battling the Tirpitz against various Royal Navy battleships.

So, to sum up, Atlantic Fleet might not be the naval combat simulator you want, but it is likely the one you need.  If you have a naval combat itch to scratch, this will do it for you at a reasonable price.  Well worth the time and money.

Meanwhile Killerfish Games has a Pacific Fleet version of the game in the works according to their site and just launched a new title called Cold Waters.

Now available

Cold Waters is a simulation of the naval actions in Tom Clancy’s book Red Storm Rising. Those actions were based off of a scenarios played with the table top game Harpoon which was later turned into a series of computer games which included the events from the book, making this new game a re-imagining of a conversion of an homage or something.  I am not sure.

But it is $39.99, so I will be interested to see what the reviews say about it.  That is past the point of impulse purchase price for me.