Category Archives: Steam

Friday Bullet Points from Gamasutra

It is Friday and time for some bullet points about things about which I could not muster full blog posts.  This week the common theme here is that they are from the Gamasutra blogs, which are opinion pieces submitted by their community.

Gamasutra focuses on the video game industry from a developer’s perspective, which can give the site its own flavor.  This includes an often used outsider submission system for blog posts.  These posts can range from esoteric to down in the nitty gritty technical, but enough of them interest me that I keep the blogs section in my RSS feed.  So I thought I would share a few recent items from there that I enjoyed.

This is the article that made me think about doing this post.  A lot of blogs are retros about how things worked out for a particular game.  In this case, it is a pretty deep view into how the game Cultist Simulator did on Steam, diving into so pretty specific details you are unlikely to find elsewhere.  To an outsider it provides information both about how well the game did and how things even work when you’re a developer on Steam.

A developer side view of the impact of microtransactions and cash shops in video games and how they can be a good for a quick buck up front but may ultimately end up losing you player support over the longer term if not well thought out.

A look at another item that I think about now and then, the daily login rewards and such that games use to tempt players to keep logging back in.  Fatigue is such a good word to describe how I feel about them after a while.

I mentioned the game play loop idea in a comment recently, as it is something that comes up in Yahtzee Croshaw’s video dev diary series about developing twelve games in twelve months. (I recommend it. You can find it on YouTube under The Escapist.)   This is another look at the importance of this aspect of game design.

This is actually from the news section of Gamasurta, but I thought I would end with it as a bit of an illustration.  I think the headline is a good look at an insider view of the Project Nova announcement.  The gaming press largely fell over itself in a rush to declare the game cancelled, despite there being evidence against that and even a question as to whether CCP or Pearl Abyss even said that during the investor call.  And the focus of the post is about how CCP will handle project announcements going forward, a very different tack than the gaming press took.

Anyway, that is what I have for this Friday in early March.  If you live in the US in an area that does the semi-annual daylight savings time dance, this is the weekend we “spring forward,” so I look forward to everybody at the office being sleep deprived on Monday.

The Passing of the 2019 Steam Winter Sale

The new year has been rung in, we’ve had a day off, and now it is January 2nd and reality has to kick in for some of us.  Not me.  I’m not going back to work until Monday.  But not everybody has that luxury or that much vacation time back logged.

And so it is with Valve.  By the time this posts another Steam Winter Sale will have come and gone.

Holiday 2019 Edition

Lots of things were on sale.  I got the traditional email letting me know that just about everything on my Steam wish list had been marked down.  And yet I got through almost the entire sale without buying a thing.  It looked like another dry year for me.  I didn’t even log on to play the store event game, which seemed pretty dry… dry enough that they had to revise it mid-way through to drum up some interest.  You think Valve would have that nailed down by this point.

The reasons for my lack of interest in buying new games are not much different than most years.  That something is on sale at Steam is no longer reason enough to buy it.  The novelty is gone there.  I have a list of unplayed games in my Steam library which acts as a deterrent.  And I am invested in playing something at the moment.  When I am not logged into WoW Classic I am logged into EverQuest II and playing the new Blood of Luclin expansion.  Expect posts about that to start next week.

So until yesterday it looked like my only purchase was going to be a Steam gift card for my daughter’s boyfriend as a Christmas gift.

And then we binge watched The Witcher, wrapping it up on New Years Eve, which got me to check if the original game was available on Steam.  And, sure enough, there it was, The Witcher: Enhanced Edition, in the store and on sale for $1.49.  So I bought that.

Toss a Coin to Your Witcher

So op success for Steam?  I guess.  I didn’t even end up paying the $1.49.  Because I bought that gift card I ended up with a $5.00 discount, which I applied to the game.

No coins for your Witcher

One more item in my library.  We’ll see if I end up playing it.  But now it is there.

As usual, Steam had its own lists and such to share.  There were the top revenue earners of 2019.

Top Revenue Titles for 2019

The ranking… since there are no numbers… include in-game purchases, which is how the aging Warframe and  Grand Theft Auto V stay up with the newer titles.  Warframe making the top spot is quite a coup.

Then there are the most played games, which has its own ranking structure.  Still, there is some overlap between revenue and being played.

Most played titles for 2019

You can find more such lists on the Steam Blog entry about 2019.

Then there were the Steam Awards, the user nominated and elected “best of…” designations.  It wasn’t a surprise to even me that Beat Sabre won the best VR game, since it is literally the only new VR game I can recall hearing about.  VR isn’t dead, but it is a lot more aspirational than real still.  And Grand Theft Auto V crept into another winning position.  How does that game keep going?  I guess I might know if I played the copy I bought during the Steam Summer Sale.

And so it goes.  I have one new game in my Steam library and six months to go until the summer sale. (I don’t count the spring and autumnal sales, they don’t get nearly as much press.)

The Steam Winter Sale Kicks Off for 2019

With the turning of the seasons comes a sale at Steam.  There is one for spring, summer, and autumn.  But the winter or holiday or whatever sale, that is the original big sale, the one that used to spark excitement and a frenzy of buying titles you never ended up playing.

Back for 2019

No doubt if you have a wish list on Steam you have an email in your inbox this morning telling you that a good portion of it is currently available at a discount.

There is also the usual Steam event with things to do to earn badges and such.  One of the day one actions was to put some items on your wish list, Steam no doubt still stinging from the summer sale when they managed to get people to purge their wish lists, to the chagrin of many an indie dev.

It is also time for the Steam awards voting.  The nominations were last month and now users get to pick from the most nominated titles.  As a crusty old MMORPG player who rarely plays the latest and greatest titles, I haven’t touched many of the nominated titles.  I think I own two of them.  But, like the general public on election day, ignorance never stopped me from voting.  Only laziness can do that, and I am not that lazy yet.

Anyway, it is here.  Time to shop… or browse… or earn a badge or two… or maybe log in and see if your account is still there or look at your game list for some sort of “games of the decade” post.

EVE Aether Wars is Returning via Steam

CCP and Hadean are back and eyeing another attempt at a world record as they test technology to enable huge multiplayer spaceships battles beyond the scale of what EVE Online has managed so far.

Aether Wars Tech Demo

I am still not sure about their plan to get to that world record number, surpassing an actual EVE Online in-game battle, the Keepstar battle at 9-4RP2 (the “million dollar battle“), which saw 6,142 players involved and was recognized for a Guinness world record.

The first attempt fell well short and the second run to surpass that number only got about half way to the goal.  But they are giving it another shot and they have some new ideas.

The first idea is to get people involved by doing two preliminary runs before they go for the record.  So the events will be:

  • Public Stress Test 1 Sat 9 Nov 2019 19:00 UTC
  • Public Stress Test 2 Sat 16 Nov 2019 19:00 UTC
  • World Record Attempt Sat 23 Nov 2019 20:00 UTC

That is basically the next three Saturdays.

The second idea is to put the whole thing on Steam.  So if you want to join in there is a page up on Steam for the EVE Aetherwars Tech Demo.

Being on Steam will make it easier for people to grab the client and get it launched and logged in for the events.  However, Steam could also be another barrier as well.  Just try finding it on Steam if you don’t know it is there for example. (I found that searching on “Hadean” was a reliable way to get to it.)

CCP published a blog update on the plans the goes into detail as to what they have in mind.  We shall see if they can hit their goal this time.

PlanetSide Arena Arrives at Early Access

PlanetSide Arena is up on Steam today and available to download as its Early Access launch begins.

This is the first stage of Daybreak’s announced path forward with the game, which was first revealed to the public late last year with an initial goal of a beta in late January of this year.

That was scrapped and pre-orders were refunded as the whole project was pushed out until summer, with the desire for a simultaneous console launch given as the reason for the delay.

Then we had one of those long stretches of silence, so familiar to watchers of Daybreak and SOE before them (and maybe of Rogue Planet Games at some future date), until a new set of dates was announced on August 30th.

PlanetSide Arena – August 2019 Schedule

Today the company met the first of their revised dates and, despite having pushed console support out into the future, they did managed to release something still within the months of summer.  Autumn begins on Monday in the northern hemisphere, or so say the calendar makers.

The game is free during early access on Steam, so it only costs the download time to get into it.  There are, of course, starter packs available for a price.  Daybreak has to fund this somehow.  Reviews are currently “mixed,” though there are only 70 as of this writing and the negatives seem to be coming from PlanetSide purists.

Further details about the game are available at the Daybreak web site.  And, of course, there is a trailer:

We shall see how it goes, but Daybreak is off to the races today with their only new game since the SOE era.

The PlanetSide Arena story so far:

 

Teamfight Tactics vs Dota Underlords

I have now spent several hours playing both games and I am here to break it down for you, to give you the full and detailed exposition as to how Teamfight Tactics and Dota Underlords are different.

It comes down to one thing and one thing only.

In Dota Underlords, you place your heroes on squares.

Dota Underlords is squared up

In Teamfight Tactics you place your heroes on hexagons.

Teamfight Tactics will put a hex on you

That is it.  Otherwise the games are literally so similar that if you didn’t know better you would swear that one of them copied the other wholesale.

Of course, we do know better.  We know that both of them were copied from the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2, which is what launched the Auto Battler genre.

But seriously, the game play is exactly the same.  You’re matched up in groups of eight, you earn gold to buy heroes, buying three of the same hero yields an upgrade, you put your heroes on the board and watch while they fight some NPCs for a couple of rounds before being matched up against the other players you’ve been grouped up with, and so on and so forth.  Heroes are also part of two or three groups, and having multiples of those groups on your team give them boosts.  Battles play out before you and, at least half the time I cannot really tell why I win or lose.

So most of what I wrote last month about Dota Underlords applies to Teamfight Tactics as well.

Right now neither is monetized, but that will change soon enough, and both feel like they need some tuning.

Anyway, that is about all… what?  What are you saying there?

Okay, stop your howling.  There are, in fact, some other differences between the two.  I’ll tick off a few of the differences… and maybe even help you choose which one you ought to try.

Teamfight Tactics is somewhat hidden in the League of Legends client, so you need to have that and an active LoL account, and the ability to find the game therein.  There are a couple of things that seem to be telling you it isn’t available on the landing page.

The hub is down, but the game is there

You need to click the play button, then select PvP (because nothing else in LoL is PvP? I don’t understand?) and you’ll find the button to launch TFT.

On clicking the button, then another, you’ll get grouped up with seven other people, at least one of which will forget to click the accept button, and the grouping thing will have to run again until you finally get into a group five tries later.  I don’t know why you have to click an accept button.  You cannot see, to my knowledge, who you are even playing.  This is why I assume people are simply forgetting to click rather than hitting the reject button.  I don’t know.  It seems like an unnecessary step.

Dota Underlords is on Steam, which means you need the Steam client and an active account, and is early access, which means it is effectively hidden from view more so than TFT.  But at least there is nothing telling you some aspect of the game is down.

DU launches as a stand alone game using your Steam account credentials.  You click the PLAY button, decide between tutorial, bots, and players, then wait a while while it matches you up.  Then, for a brief moment every single time it does something that looks like the whole process is about to fail, then suddenly you’re matched up.

TFT uses the champions from LoL, DU uses the heroes from DOTA 2, so if you play one of those already you are a step ahead of random people like myself.

TFT also has an odd start point where a bunch of champions are marching around in a circle and everybody has to run out and grab one.  That is your starter champion.  However, the champions do not have names visible nor can you click on them to get more information, so unless you know all the LoL champions it is something of a crap shoot.

TFT also, for reasons I do not quite get, gives you and avatar on the battlefield.  By default it is a little ghost that looks to be straight out of the Mario universe, though you can earn other versions.  I saw somebody who had a penguin.

My little ghost avatar

The ghost is what you use to grab heroes during what I am going to call “the circle jerk.”  Champions walk around in a circle and you jerk them onto your team.

Everybody grab your champion

You also use your little avatar to run out and grab drops from the NPC rounds.  Otherwise, your guy has no impact on the battle so you can run around during a fight to be annoying.   Sometimes I will accidentally right click on something which will send the avatar wandering off, sometimes off the board, which will drag the camera with it.  Annoying, but not something I would claim should steer you away from the game.

On the plus side, TFT does seem to be a bit more free with gold.  I never feel quite as cash constrained playing that as I do in DU.   Also, the pace in TFT seems a bit quicker, though that is in part because you seem to lose bigger as the game goes along so you are rarely lingering along in way behind in 8th place for many rounds.

That bigger win factor also means the tide can turn pretty heavily.  One match I won the first 9 rounds in a row.  I still was at 100 while the next highest player was at 56.  And then my advantage faded and I lost the next 6 in a row and was in sixth place and the lowest ranked survivor with only 4 points left.  And I managed to hold on and end up in fourth.  Wild turns of fate happen, and make the game interesting.

When it comes to Dota Underlords, one of the primary problems is that it isn’t as far along as TFT.  Neither feel done yet, but DU has been changing up quite a bit every week.  For example, even as I started writing this DU was updating to add a competitive ranked mode, something that TFT already had in place for a while.

But DU has what I feel are two big advantages over TFT.

First, DU is available on mobile.  I am rarely in a match where there isn’t somebody who has the cell phone icon indicating that they are playing on mobile.  I haven’t tried it myself yet, but my daughter says it is pretty good.  It might be a decent iPad game to play on the couch for me.

And second, and more important to me, the UI in DU is dramatically better.  It is more clear, more helpful, and much more informative that the TFT UI.

For example, if you look at the two game screen shots further up the post, it is easy to see which units in DU have been upgraded.  Normal units have one star above, the first upgrade has two, and the second upgrade gets you three.  Easy to see.  You need to click on units in TFT to see their status.

When buying units, if a unit in the list pops up that will complete a set for an upgrade, DU highlights that unit in an obvious way.  TFT doesn’t give away such hints.

Not getting a hint might not matter if the units in the buy list were easy to discern.  They are in DU, where they use the same avatar in the buy list, the reserve slots, and on the game board.  There are a couple that looks a little too similar, but I am able to discern most of them pretty easily so I know what to buy.

TFT on the other hand seems to want to punish you for not knowing all their champions by heart.  In the buy list TFT doesn’t use the field avatar.  Instead it uses a dramatic graphic of the unit, which doesn’t always look a lot like the champion on the field.

Units in the TFT buy list

I spend way too much of my time between matches trying to figure out if one of these champions on the list matches somebody on my team, which means matching names.  It is just a lot more work.  And then there is the above mentioned “circle jerk” event, which comes up every so often during a match, where you have to pick a champion based on no information at all… unless you know them all by heart.

And just beyond that, the UI in DU has larger, clearer text consistently throughout the game when compared to TFT.  The UI clarity is probably related to the fact that the game also runs on mobile, but even on the PC this is actually important to some of us old farts who now have to wear glasses to read text smaller than a certain size.  I don’t have to wear my glasses to play DU.

So if I were to recommend one these games to a new player who was not invested in LoL or DOTA 2, it would be Dota Underlords.

If you’re already invested in one of the MOBAs, then you play the spin-off that has the units you know.  If nothing else, deep knowledge of LoL champions will give you a marked advantage in TFT.

Of course, there is still Auto Chess Origins, the stand alone game from the team that made the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2 that kicked all of this off.  And, given the buzz that the Auto Battler genre has been getting, I expect we will see more knocks offs, so there is still the potential for a Fortnite-like entry into the field with some special twist that will steal market focus away from the first round of games.  We shall see.

Auto Chess and Dota Underlords

Somebody tell SynCaine I actually tried a new game.  And not just a “new to me” game, but something actually new on the market as well as being new-ish as a genre.

In one of those “plate of shrimp” passages of time, last week the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2 and the games that have spun off from it started popping up repeatedly for me.  Various news stories, mentions on Twitter, an Honest Game Trailers video, and Valve pushing their game at me on Steam all combined so that when my daughter came over to ask if I had heard about this new game she and her friends had been playing, Dota Underlords, the Valve spin on the concept, I could tell her that I had just run through the tutorial.

I don’t understand what the hell is going on half the time in the game, but I’ve been trying to figure it out.

As I noted above, all of this seemed to have spawned from the DOTA 2 mod DOTA Auto Chess.  I didn’t even know you could make mods for DOTA 2, but I guess you can for most Valve games, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

The name “Auto Chess” breaks down, so far as I can tell, as:

  • Chess – because the game takes place on a 8×8 board, like a chess board
  • Auto – because you have no control over the actual battles

My live experience of the genre is made up of a few hours playing Dota Underlords, so your mileage may vary, but this is what I have seen so far.

The basics of the game seem fairly straightforward.  I came out of the tutorial knowing the basics, even if I did stumble a bit.  The game goes in rounds, at the end of each you gain some coins.  You use the coins to buy new units to use in battle or to increase the number of characters you can commit to a battle.

Going into round 1, use your coin to buy one

You start round 1 with a single coin with which to buy a unit.  You get a few warm-up rounds against NPCs during which you earn some coins to expand your group as well as collecting a few special items to improve their performance.

The units have levels, so to speak.  They start at level one.  If you can buy 3 of the same unit, they combine into level two, which makes the stronger.  You can also get to level three by combining three level two unit, but that takes some luck.

In fact, luck seems very much in play, akin to some card games like Gin Rummy.  You decided you’re going to concentrate on a particular unit, only to never see another one while multiples of another unit appear in the buy options with every round.  So you switch, only to have the next round go the way you were originally headed.

After the NPC rounds, the battle begins in earnest.  You are grouped up with seven other players and each round has you battling one of them.  You all start with 100 points, and with each loss you lose some points based on how badly you lost.  There are further NPC rounds at intervals, but the game itself is to be the last one left with points.

Sometimes victory, mostly not

This is where I begin to fall down.  In addition to luck there is also… well… more luck… and some knowledge that I do not yet posses.

Each of the units also has a type, and having more of the same type can improve how they play fare in battle.  Again, you have to invest in the right units.

And then there is unit abilities.  Some counter other types or work well when mixed with certain units.  However the tutorial is pretty vague on that and, while you can get some basic information about units, the rounds run on timers so you’re always pressed to pick and move on or wait for the next round.

My battles over the weekend indicate that I am not alone in lacking unit knowledge.  I am never the first one knocked out and, as time wore on I was able to get into the final three survivors.

On the flip side though, there are clearly people who have figured out which units work better together and what to concentrate on.  In several matches there was that one guy who went undefeated, winning with their 100 points still intact.  They clearly have played enough to have figured out the meta, while I am still struggling just to upgrade a few units and hope for some cross-unit bonuses.

The problem for me is figuring out what went wrong in a given match.  Sometimes if it easy to figure out, like if I just have unlocked more units on the field or if I have clear superiority in level two units or some such.  But sometimes the other person wipes the floor with me despite my having more units on the field or having parity or superiority in units that have been leveled up.

So this week I need to find a wiki or a unit guide of some sort to help me find tune which units I am buying and upgrading and which I am leaving behind.  Also, I am not certain how various formations lend themselves to units.  You can place them however on your half of the board, but whether being in columns, line abreast, spaced out, or bunched together makes much of a difference I cannot yet tell.

Overall the game seems interesting, though the randomness and hands off battle method makes it feel a bit like Hearthstone to me.

Meanwhile, if the genre appeals to you, there are other options.  In addition to the DOTA 2 mod, there are two other major contenders for the Auto Chess (or Auto Battler as the genre may be called) stand-alone rip-off throne.

Riot Games has added a mode called Teamfight Tactics to League of Legends, which is their own take on the Auto Battler idea.  Unlike Dota Underlords, this is not a stand alone game, so you have to log into the League of Legends client. (Expect LoL MAUs to go up I guess.)  My daughter’s boyfriend likes Teamfight Tactics because he used to play a lot of LoL and it uses the same units as LoL so game knowlegde transfers.

The unit thing may also apply to Dota Underlords, but nobody I know played DOTA 2, so really have no idea on that front.

Then there is the upcoming Autochess Origins, a stand alone game from the team that developed the mod for DOTA 2, which is rolled into a fresh IP, so there is most certainly no pre-knowledge of units giving people any advantage.  From what I understand, Autochess Origins will be available from the Epic Store.

Dota Underlords is still in Early Access on Steam, which means whatever it means these days.  It is also available as a mobile, which reinforces the Hearthstone comparison for me as well.  As of now there is no cash shop or monetization scheme in place for it, though there are plans for a battle pass of some sort and I am sure other things to spend your money on are in the works.

And speaking of Hearthstone, how soon before we see a Blizzard version of this, either as a battle mode for Heroes of the Storm or a spin off with a name like Heroes of the Board or OverChess or some such?  It feels like Blizz ought to have all the pieces in place so that they shouldn’t need two years to get something out the door.

Then again, this is Blizzard.  BlizzCon 2019 announcement or no?

Anyway, for those interested, Kotaku has a piece up about the emerging genre, and then there is the Honest Games Trailers take on it as well.

Are wee seeing a new genre emerge here, or just a passing flavor of the month?