Category Archives: Steam

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?

The Steam Summer Sale 2019 Winds Down

When this post loads, the 2019 Steam Summer Sale will be officially over, being set to finish at 17:00 UTC today.

The Steam Grand Prix

I was incorrect in my post announcing the sale back when it started.  I expected it to consist of a lot of the usual things.  Valve has been pretty consistent over the last few years with the tasks related to events which allow those interested to collect cards or levels or whatever.

This time around they decided to try something new.  And, as with many new things, it wasn’t without its problems.

The metaphor of the sale was a race, and you got to select which team to join.  Each team had an animal mascot.  They were tortise, hare, pig, cockatiel, and corgi.

Since people could select on their own, most of the population chose the cutest animal on the internet, the corgi, and so every day when I logged in the race looked something like this:

One of the least lopsided days

Corgi did not win every day.  Tortoise won a single day, and hare won twice, but otherwise it was Corgi on top for 9 out of the 12 days of the race.

Those on the winning team had a chance to win something from their wishlist.  There was some confusion as to how that would happen and, fearing they might be awarded something inexpensive, people began purging their wishlists of cheap indie games.  Since devs get stats on that, it was like an indie game apocalypse I gather.

Valve had to quickly tell people how to designate which game you would win, but I am pretty sure the damage was done by that point.

As I mentioned in the month in review post, even after I knew what the deal was I decided purging my wishlist was a good plan.

There was also a hole in the system early where there was no cap on the number of points you could apply from qualified games from which you had earned achievements that allowed people to go crazy with points, buying badges, the discount, and boosting their Steam level into the hundreds.

Oh well.  I am sure Valve learned something along the way.  And I suspect that most Steam users ignored the whole thing.  My sample size for that assertion is pretty small… my daughter and a half dozen of her friends… but I was the only one paying any attention to that aspect of the event.

On the sale side of things however, my daughter did come to me for two titles.

The first was Rust, which had been on my own wishlist before the purge hit.

She and her boyfriend play that together.  How sweet.

However, her big game for the event was Megaquarium, which is a “run your own aquarium attraction” simulator.

She ended up not having to work over the weekend and burned through the campaign mode. I was looking over her shoulder when she added the whale shark to her exhibit, the crown jewel in the game.  I think she is one achievement away from being complete on that front, and you have to do that one in sandbox mode according to her.

This was her sort of game and she gives in a big thumbs up.

I only purchased one title during the sale, but it was one I have been thinking about for quite a while.  I now own Grand Theft Auto V.

Unlike my daughter’s choices, I was struggling a bit to even get started in GTAV.  This was primarily because it seemed to be all about having a gamepad controller to play it and seemed to be trying to hide keyboard commands from me.

Not that the basic keyboard commands were completely opaque.  It is the usual mouse and WASD for movement and such.  But about 10 seconds into the game somebody is yelling at me to use my phone to detonate an explosive, but there was nothing to indicate how I should do that.  Where in a normal tutorial a game might tell me which key to use, I had to dig into the menu, find where the commands were hidden, and scroll through the list to find the right key.

Fortunately, as a single player game, all the NPCs were able to wait, if not patiently.

I think I need a long stretch of time on the weekend to get into that.

Anyway, another sale passes and another one will hove into view a few months down the line.  It is practically part of the circle of life now.

June in Review

The Site

I was excited momentarily when I saw another WordPress.com blog had a switch on their side bar that allowed you to turn on and off “night mode” on your blog.  This mode makes your blog dark, which solves the war between those who want black text on a white background and white text on a black background.

The magic switch

On seeing that I immediately started looking up how to add that to TAGN.  And I found out how.  It is a plugin, and to be able to add plugins you need to have a business level account with WP.com, which runs past $300 a year.  Given that is over 10x what I pay today (I have a no longer available “No Ads and CSS editing” plan for $30 a year), night mode won’t be here any time soon.  I just don’t care about you, the reader, that much.  Sorry.

I did also see that WP.com had re-arranged their plans yet again.  I hadn’t gotten a note about that, but the range now includes some more reasonably priced options.

The June 2019 personal plans

The Blogger plan is only slightly more than what I pay now, so I might be tempted by that for the other site, if only to remove ads.  The Premium plan would even be within my means for this site, if I had any use for most of the features.  Therein lies the problem.  I don’t even want a custom domain name.  After more than a dozen years as tagn.wordpress.com, why would I want to mess with that.  All I really want is ads removed and enough storage space for my many screen shots.

Meanwhile, WordPress.com pushed a new version of their mobile app last week that not only shows less information, but insists on showing stats based on the time zone you happen to be in as opposed to the time zone to blog is set to.  My attempts to engage with WP.com have been met with the usual blank looks and unhelpful replies.  This does not make me want to give them more money.

On another front, I got sick of the Blog Roll Feed in the side bar failing to load.  It was always a bit problematic, but of late it seemed to be failing to load almost all the time.  So I dug into my Rube Golberg setup and found a problem that should have prevented it from loading ever.

This comes up more often in software than you might hope in software.

Anyway, I redid how everything connects and it seems to be much more reliable now.  So op success for what is now v.7 of the sidebar feed.  It isn’t bullet proof… it is still a hack… but it shows data now more often than it did previously.

One Year Ago

I was done with DragonVale.

Blizzard picked the version of the game that would become WoW Classic.  Version 1.12 would be the destination for nostalgia.

With Pokemon moving on to other platforms, it was clear that the Nintendo DS/3DS/2DS platform was on its way out.

In New Eden it was time for the CSM13 election.  Surprise!  Null sec candidates won most of the seats yet again. #NoCollusion

Running Abyssal pockets seemed to be all the rage.  The Federation Grand Prix, on the other hand, was something of a disappointment… unless you were selling shuttles I suppose.

I was also time for the great outpost conversion, where all those stations dropped in null sec over the years were converted to faction Fortizars.

We were also wondering what EVE: Project Galaxy was.  I guess we still are, since it hasn’t shipped yet.

Somebody said something dumb about PvP in EVE Online, then went on to get banned.

Star Citizen was roundly trolled for rolling out a ship that looked a lot like an EVE Online ship, and they took that trolling badly.  It happened to be the same ship that we used for a race.

I also went on a main fleet op, which is something I do every so often to remind myself why I do not go on main fleet ops.

And then there was the return of the Mystery Code in EVE Online.  There was a lot of stuff going on at CCP.

And it was a year ago that Steam announced that they weren’t going to judge games, they were just going to let everything onto their service… unless they considered it “trolling,” which sounds like a judgement to me… or if it was on the version of their service in China.  The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China pretty much demands curation of all aspects of life.

But the Steam Summer Sale was on, so who really cared about all that?

I wrote something like a review of the game Vietnam 65.

Daybreak gave us all another free character boost in EverQuest II.

I did a summer reruns post about 80s video games.

Finally I did a Friday Bullet Points post that included Star Citizen, Diablo IV, Apple killing support for OpenGL, the pending Aquatic Update for Minecraft, free video games for Amazon Prime subscribers, and perhaps my last Pokemon download even post ever.

Five Years Ago

I toasted the Newbie Blogger Initiative class of 2014.  Long may they post… those that remain in any case.

WildStar launched… and started its journey to F2P and eventual closure.

SOE finally broke its ties with the ill-fated and ill-conceived ProSiebenSat.1 deal.

Derek Smart was telling us why to charge for beta.  Lord British was getting serious with virtual real estate.  Meanwhile, DC Universe Online was doing well on the PlayStation.

It was summer and the short lived strategy group was looking to the Steam Summer Sale for a new game.  Meanwhile we were still playing our epic game of Civilization V.

We heard about how CCP handled/mishandled World of Darkness.

CCP launched the last of its expansions with a six month lead-time.  Kronos was the end of the line for twice yearly expansions.  I set off on the training plan to be a wing/fleet booster in EVE Online.

I also did a summer reruns post about the Fountain War in EVE Online.

In Azereoth, my attempt at the Loremaster achievement had me in Darkshore and then on to Ashenvale and the Stonetalon Mountains .

Meanwhile the Warlords of Draenor alpha was starting, so I had to avert my eyes.  So I started pondering things like how Blizzard should change the starter edition of WoW.

The instance group, heading towards its regular summer hiatus, was hitting the Mogu-shan Palace.

I took a look at a long history of gear obsession.

And I was wondering if authenticators were still a thing.

Ten Years Ago

People were upset about Blizzard not including LAN play in StarCraft II.  It looks like Blizzard stuck to that plan company-wide, as every game since has been always online.

The NeuroSky MindSet was released, but I still cannot cast fireballs in WoW using only my brain.

Then there was that Wii Bowling Ball controller.  Seemed more like a lawsuit magnet.

There was a new definition of hard core gamers.

I was complaining about the local newspaper being made up of 8 pieces of paper.  I have since stopped getting the daily paper.  We still get the Sunday paper however.

There was an attempt to get Age of Empires II: Age of Kings going while people in the instance group were on vacation.  We did end up getting connected via a service called Game Ranger.  Now you can play it live on Steam.

The in-game map in EVE Online was showing me where I had been and where all my stuff was.  Pretty neat.  CCP added a new map since, but they had to leave the old one in because the replacement still hasn’t achieved feature parity.

And then there was World of Warcraft.  They changed when you got mounts in the game allowing people to (literally and figuratively) fly through The Burning Crusade.  There was that whole WoW/Mountain Dew cross promotion which, if nothing else, got me another in-game pet.  I spent all my gold on the artisan flying skill, and then they lowered the price with the mount changes.  I got the achievement The Explorer, but that didn’t mean I was necessarily an achiever.  And I bought an authenticator.  Viva account security.

And then there was the Midsummer Fire Festival.

The instance group was deep into Wrath of the Lich King.  We did Ahn’kahet: the Old Kingdom and Drak’Tharon Keep when we were all available.  When not we went back to TBC and did some heroics with four of us just for kicks.

And then there was FarmVille, a Facebook game that had our attention for a brief moment.  It went live ten years ago.  It won awards and faced criticism from a range of sources.  Even Martha Stewart was on Zynga’s case for a bit.  And, of course, it set the standard for spammy, cash hungry crap games on social media.

Twenty Years Ago

The Half-Life mod called Counter-Strike had its first public beta release.  Valve hired the two people who developer the mod, acquiring the code and name as well, and it was developed into the stand-alone title Counter-Strike.

Thirty-five Years Ago

The first version of Tetris was released.  It might have made an appearance on more platforms than any other commercial title, and variations on it are still appearing.

Most Viewed Posts in June

  1. Alamo teechs u 2 play DURID!
  2. How Many People Play EVE Online?
  3. What Should EverQuest 3 Even Look Like?
  4. Minecraft and the Search for a Warm Ocean
  5. Is New Player Retention Fixable in EVE Online
  6. Drifters Hitting Null Sec Upwell Structures
  7. Three Problems MMORPGs are Never Going to Solve
  8. Rumors of Future Daybreak Projects and the End of EverQuest
  9. That EVE Online Starter Pack Controversy
  10. WoW Classic Stress Test Redux
  11. The Alleged Purity of Leveling
  12. Failed Headshot in Tribute

Search Terms of the Month

best way to raid with mouse/keyboard in eq2
[Can you even do so without mouse/keyboard?]

redeeming starter pack eve online
[There wasn’t much redeeming about it]

wow classic support 32 bit?
[A big negative on that]

Game Time from ManicTime

Overall time was down by 30% this month.  I must have been doing other things, like writing blog posts about everything that happened last week.  WoW also seemed to be down, though I’ll get to why in that section.

  • EVE Online 40.10%
  • WoW 27.47%
  • RimWorld 21.79%
  • Civilization V 6.16%
  • Minecraft 3.99%
  • LOTRO 0.50%

EVE Online

There was quite a lot going on in New Eden in June, what with EVE North, CSM14 elections, selling skill points, and the war in Tribute and Vale, I had lots to write about.  And then the Drifters started hitting our structures, future war plans were suspended, and we all went back to Delve to PvE.  Oh well.  The 64-bit client seems to work though.  I used that all month.

Lord of the Rings Online

I did, in fact, play a bit of LOTRO this month.  I wanted to grab the 64-bit client, which didn’t take too long, relatively speaking.  LOTRO updates always take longer than they should because the patcher is archaic.  But I managed it.  Then I logged in and was in Bree and had to remember how to get back to Moria.  And then Mirkwood opened up a few days later on the Legendary server and my interest waned completely.

Minecraft

I ran out of steam somewhat when it came to the Village and Pillage update.  I found villages, improved them, fought pillagers, did a bunch more exploring, and then came to the usual “now what?” part of the game, at which point I tend to stop logging in so much.  We’ll see if the bug hits again.

Pokemon Go

I had a pretty good month with Pokemon Go.  I didn’t level up, but I got some break throughs, such that there is a blog post in progress on this, that would have gone last week… but last week managed to fill itself up.  So I’ll get to that.  Otherwise, the usual stats:

Level: 36 (+0)
Pokedex status: 425 (+6) caught, 453 (+6) seen
Pokemon I want: Togekiss
Current buddy: Prinplup

RimWorld

As Minecraft faded, RimWorld came back into the picture.  Both are games you can sit and play while listening to podcasts or audio books, which I find relaxing.  Having won the original scenario a couple of times, I wanted to do the next more difficult scenario.  You start with five colonists and almost no technology.  That led to a some restarts as all my colonists died again and again.  But I got past that finally.  There is a blog post in the works as to where that led.

World of Warcraft

What with the war in EVE Online and not much new happening in Azeroth, WoW time slid quite a bit.  The percentage shown even includes the WoW Classic load test, since the final WoW Classic client registers with ManicTime as the same as the live client.

Actually, something big did happen.  We got the 8.2 update and more content and the chance to unlock flying.  Due to EVE Online, I haven’t even started on any of that.

Steam Summer Sale

Despite my guess last  week, the Steam Summer Sale is not the same old thing.  No, they have some new ideas, and some old ones, and they have had odd results.  First, you have to choose a team and nearly everybody decided to go with Team Corgi because corgis are cute.  So Team Corgi wins a lot.  I went with Team Tortise, which won a day after Valve gave us a way to sabotage other teams effectively and everybody hit Team Corgi.

Then there was the chance to win something from your wish list.  They did this years back, and it got people to add games to their wish list.  Now we all have so much crap on our lists that Valve threatening to give us a random game from it for free triggered a mass wish list purge, much to the horror of devs, who get stats on that.  That was amended so that you will now win the first game on your wish list, so you don’t have to banish all the five dollar indy crap from your sight.  I did so anyway, paring my wish list from 71 to 11 games.

Finally, to earn points and such in the event you have to buy games (duh), play some specific games and complete special tasks within them, or play a game that has Steam achievements.  I did the latter, which is how Civilization V made it onto my ManicTime list this month.   I would have just played RimWorld, but it does not have Steam achievements.  Oh well.

Coming Up

We have another week or so to run with the Steam Summer Sale, so we shall see if I end up buying anything.  My daughter is pestering me about a couple of titles.

In World of Warcraft I have the whole Rise of Azshara update to explore.  With almost two months to go before WoW Classic I should have enough time to unlock flying.

With null sec wars in EVE Online called off on account of CCP, there will likely be a return to SIGs and Squads being the place to actually play the game.  We’ll see what CCP has planned for this Drifter invasion, but it isn’t making people in null sec happy.  The Drifters aren’t actually killing structures and don’t even drop loot.  They are just a plague sent to afflict us.  We’ll survive, but there had better be a point to this.

And, otherwise, it is July.  People used to say August was the dead month for video games, but then Blizz started launching things in August, so now July is it I guess.

The Steam Summer Sale 2019 is Under Way

It is that time of year again… or one of those times of year… when Steam has a big sale.  This year the event has a racing theme.

The Steam Grand Prix

While I haven’t dug in yet, it looks to be off to its usual splendor.

Better than something priced wrong I guess.  Also, who goes there via the web?

I am sure there will be the usual cards to collect, queues to browse, and stickers to… also collect I guess.  I know I’ll deride the whole thing while logging in every day to dutifully do all the things.

Whether or not I will buy anything is a different story.  I will go through my wish list and stare at things like the ageing Grand Theft Auto V and wonder if this time the price is right and I will buy it at last.  (GTAV is 50% off, making it $15. Seems like a deal.)

Anyway, the whole thing is in motion yet again, so I might as well press my nose up against the glass to see if there is something I must have.  Honestly, the only Steam game I have played lately has been RimWorld.   That isn’t even marked down, though I own it already so I don’t know why I should care.

I have between now and July 9 to get in any deals.  And if I miss one… well, I guess I’ll have to wait until Winter.  Steam has trained us to wait for sales.  At least titles don’t completely disappear from the store when the sale hits.  Or maybe Steam just gets their consent.

Where Does The Age of Empires II Definitive Edition Fit?

The golden age of the Real Time Strategy genre is nearly 20 years gone at this point.  Like most ideas in video games, it first made a splash in a raw form, in this case via Dune II ,and then saw change in great leaps, some of which made companies, as the original Warcraft did with Blizzard.  There was lots of variety as new titles rolled out.

Then somebody “won” the genre, created a title that seemed to perfect some aspect of it… that was probably StarCraft… after which the genre tapered off.  It didn’t die, but like MMORPGs or Facebook games, it stopped getting so much attention.  It was no longer the hot new flavor to chase.

In around the peak of the genre came Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, one of my favorite RTS titles.  I’ve written about it before, but in summary it was kind of a big deal for myself, friends, and co-workers.  Back in the days when IT wasn’t policing every PC in development for unauthorized software, we would play a couple of games at the office every Friday night.

So you might think I was pretty excite to hear about Microsoft announcing Age of Kings II – Definitive Edition last week during E3.  Except, of course, I am not.

The Age of Empires trio at the Microsoft site

I mean, I should be happy that Microsoft has finally dusted off the web site for the franchise, which was locked in 2001 for about 15 years, and decided to pay attention to the franchise.  As late as four years ago there was a banner ad for the original XBox on the franchise page.

But there are a few issues for me.

The previous remaster, the Age of Empires Definitive Edition didn’t exactly make a splash.  After a big announcement two years back, it was quietly released on the Microsoft store eight months later where little seemed to be said about it.  It remains an exclusive there last I checked, though there seems to be some plan to bring it to Steam at some point.

I was also more than a bit convinced that the AoE remaster was little more than a marketing scheme to draw attention to the planned Age of Empires IV, so this might just be more of the same.   Also, given that I wasn’t big on Age of Empires III and that all we got was a vague trailer about the game, I wasn’t too excited on that front regardless.

But the primary reason I haven’t been all that thrilled about the Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition announcement is that we already got an Age of Empires II remaster just over six years ago.

Hidden Path Entertainment, who did the wonderful Defense Grid and Defense Grid 2 tower defense games, did a remaster of the game back in 2013 that included:

  • Re-mastered for high resolution displays 1080p+.
  • Enhanced visual engine with improved terrain textures, water, fire and ambient lighting effects.
  • New Steamworks features: Achievements, Leaderboards, Matchmaking and Cloud support.
  • Share user created content with Steam Workshop support.

Not only that, they also updated the unofficial expansions for the game and even added another one just last year.  When steam does stats, Age of Empires II – HD Edition is always doing surprisingly well given its origin in the last century.

Basically, there is already a happy and thriving Age of Empires II community on Steam that is good with the game, so a new version from Microsoft just raises uncomfortable questions… like what happens with all of the Steam Workshop stuff people have created and what about those three expansions?

What does Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition really bring to the table, besides 4K graphics, and what will people lose if they go there?

I personally think that the graphics upgrade and a remastered sound track is insufficient to get people to buy another copy of a game they have probably already purchased twice at this point.  Or that seems to be a common thread in the reactions to the press release on Steam.

The press release mentions three new single player campaigns to be released with the Definitive Edition, and four new civilizations as well, which makes this seem even more like a branch that will be incompatible with the HD Edition.

Microsoft also seems to have learned from the Age of Empires Definitive Edition and will be launching the new game straight onto Steam, where the fan base has resided for years now.

However, even that move gives me pause.  Are they planning on supplanting the HD Edition on Steam?  Hidden Path may have done the HD Edition, but Microsoft owns the title and all the rights.  If they want to yank the HD Edition in hopes that the fan base will be compelled to buy the Definitive Edition, they can do that.

I don’t think they will keep you from playing the HD Edition if you already own it.  It will likely still be there in your library.  But they can certainly disappear it from the store, take down the Steam Workshop, and remove all evidence of the expansions that have appeared since they last cared about the game.

Furthermore, it Microsoft being tone deaf and heavy handed isn’t exactly out of character for them as a company.

I hope that they will find a way to embrace the current and thriving Age of Empires II community that exists on Steam.  Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition is due out this fall according to the press releases, so I imagine that we will see how they plan to play this soon enough.

Quote of the Day – No Porn

So we’re not going to see asset flips, and we’re going to explicitly say no to porn games or other intentionally controversial games

-Tim Sweeney, Gamasutra Interview

I have been waiting for somebody to play the quality card… or at least the “no porn” card… against Steam since the day Valve announced their policy of trying to be as hands off as possible when it came to which games made it onto their service.  A policy that they couldn’t stop from biting themselves in the ass with even after they gave themselves a loophole to avoid just that.

But now Epic Games is stepping up to the plate when it comes to their store.

Not that this is a surprise.  In the online video game storefront market Steam is the undisputed king, and the only way you make gains against an entrenched competitor like that is to play to your own strengths and against their weaknesses.

Epic has been using its generous revenue policy and its control over the Unreal engine to get developers to make the jump to the Epic Store, including some exclusives.  That gets stuff in the store, but the customer doesn’t really care what the revenue deal is unless there it makes the price lower, and Steam sales are tough to beat for those patient enough to wait.

So now Epic is assailing Valve, if somewhat cautiously, on another front.  Now they are playing the quality card, indicating that they won’t be hosting crap or porn or games that just want to be edgy or controversial.  And that is fine.  We get all angsty about freedom of expression in the US, but the constitution only applies to the government censoring you.  A retail outlet refusing to sell your horrible game… or even your excellent game… isn’t a problem at all.  If it were, I doubt WalMart would still be in business.

Interestingly, Tim Sweeney also made the distinction between the Unreal engine side of the company and the store front.  They won’t be policing what people do with the Unreal engine once they license it.  But they are also making it clear that just because you are using the Unreal engine doesn’t mean there will be a spot waiting for you in the Epic Store.

We’ll see how well this plays out.  Epic doesn’t have to become Steam, they just have to grab enough exclusives… and give away enough free titles I guess… to make their store front a must have for some critical mass of gamers.  They still don’t have anything that interests me enough to sign up, but the titles I play tend to come straight from the studios that make them in any case.