Category Archives: Steam

Steam Summer Sale 2020 Starts Today

The regular Steam Summer event kicked off earlier today and will run through until July 9th.

Summer 2020

Once again most everything on your wishlist is likely to be on sale… if you can get to your wishlist.

Oops indeed!

But it wouldn’t be a Steam Summer Sale without some problems.  The whole site is pretty slow every time a big sale like this starts.

Still, there are lots of things marked down, some more than usual.  Even as jaded as I have been over the last couple of years I do look down the list and feel the temptation to buy.  Unfortunately, the one thing that seems to be loading quickly is my library where many unplayed games stare at me, making me less likely to grab something new.

We shall see if I can overcome that hurdle.

March in Review

The Site

What a month.  There was nothing much of note new on the site, but gaming life and blogging time and all of that was subject to some changes as the COVID-19 pandemic confined so many of us to home.  Fortunately my job is doable from home, but being there at my desk all day long does suck some of the joy out of gaming or writing.  If I’ve already been in my chair for nine or ten hours, there isn’t a lot of joy in staying there for a few more to play a game or write.

At least I can go sit on the couch and play Pokemon Sword.

My new Switch Lite

Good thing I got that for my birthday early in the month, as they are sold out now.  I have not yet succumbed to the mounting pressure to get Animal Crossing: New Horizon though.  My daughter loves it, but she isn’t sure it is a game I would like.

Otherwise it has largely been a constant series of, “Wait, did that happen this month? It seems so long ago now.” moments as the world falls further into whatever it is that we have going on now.

One Year Ago

I dug up my old Macintosh PowerBook 190cs, which I didn’t even remember I still had, and thought about writing about some of the games still on it.  However, I was unable to get it onto the network, so screen shots were difficult to obtain and I ended up running out of steam on the whole thing for the time being.

Activision Blizzard was hedging a bit on what effect their layoff of 8% of the company might produce.

Perfect World Entertainment officially killed of the Foundry in both Neverwinter and Star Trek Online, ending their player made content experiment.

Steam decided that they really did need to curate games on their site, a decision pushed by their inept handling of Rape Day.  The Epic Game Store, always eager to capitalize on Valve’s foibles, declared that there would be no porn in their store.

Gamigo killed off the Rift Prime retro server due to lack of popularity.  It remains my opinion that the Storm Legion expansion killed the game the first time around, so having it do it again was no surprise.

A data center move brought down and kept offline Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online for longer than expected.

Over at Massively OP they were talking about “niche MMORPGs,” a term as ill-defined as most in the gaming world.  Honestly, one could argue that MMORPGs are a niche genre.

Over at GoG.com we got a version of the original Diablo, and while it felt primitive it was still very playable and pretty damn good.

Niantic finally allowed players to change teams in Pokemon Go, allowing me to swap from Team Mystic to Team Instinct.

I was giving Path of Exile a shot again with their Synthesis update.

On the LOTRO Legendary servers the Mines of Moria expansion opened up.  That sent me off to Eregion in search of legendary weapons and such.

In EVE Online the March update brought new restrictions to Alpha clones.  They could no longer run level 4 or 5 missions.  People could buy skill books straight from their character sheet… for a bit of a markup.  CCP was also tinkering with null sec anomalies.  They were worried about too much ISK in the economy.  Skill Points though?  They were just handing those out.

There was a video of Burn Jita 6 in full 4K.

CCP Guard announced he was leaving CCP after 16 years of service.

In New Eden there were two notable ship losses, the first Komodo titan to die and a rare Gold Magnate.  I also got a ship blown up as part of my Myrmidon Experiment, though that was a much less expensive loss.

There was also the EVE Ather Wars tech demo, which went well enough, even if it did not get as many players in space as the company had hoped for.

But Katia Sai was being celebrated for visiting every system in New Eden.

I was pondering the proposed level squish for World of Warcraft.  My guess was that Blizzard would be too risk-averse to do it, but I was proven wrong later in the year at BlizzCon.  Blizz also revived Wintergrasp, the huge battleground from Wrath of the Lich King, which was fun to visit again.

Runes of Magic turned ten and I reflected on its place in the tale of the genre.

But the big news was EverQuest turning 20 years old.  I reflected on its history and celebrated its anniversary.  I covered what the team had to say, which included some good news as well as a bit of hubris.

And I was still doing my own play through of some EverQuest content.  I got a mercenary for my cleric, traveled to distant zones via dangerous paths, and even hit level 50.  It was a lot easier to get there than it was back in the day.  It was quite the tourist excursion!

Five Years Ago

I hit level 50 yet again.

The Elder Scrolls Online dropped the subscription business model.

The Crowfall Kickstarter campaign was still running.  I was wondering if they had a mid-game plan.  They really didn’t, but the campaign still brought in $1.7 million, double what was asked.

EA closed down Maxis as an entity within its organization.  It is what EA does best.

It was a Turbine roast as an insider spilled the beans on problems that have plagued the developer of Lord of the Rings Online.

Rift hit its four year anniversary, but it felt like it had been around for longer than that.

I was wondering what a progression server would look like with EverQuest II.  But it was Sweet 16 for EverQuest, which was getting a new progression server for its birthday it seemed.

Blizzard announced that they were going to go ahead with their PLEX-like idea, the WoW Token.  The instance group was in the Iron Docks and farting around in garrisons.

CCP was talking about the next stage of the proposed sovereignty changes for EVE Online.  There was the Scylla release, which was overshadowed by Fanfest.  Also, the members of CSMX were announced.

In New Eden I attempted to fly an Ibis from Immensea to Deklein.  Then there was a rumor of war as the usual suspects attacked our sovereignty in Fountain.  That called for a big old move op which, in post-Phoebe New Eden, meant caps taking gates.  Then there was that system our foes took.  And once they were evicted from Fountain, it was time for a punitive expedition to Delve.

And The Mittani declared that the power blocs of New Eden would never die.  We shall see.

My daughter and I tried out Diablo III on the PlayStation 3.

I put together a review of my Kickstarter history… I should do that again.

Finally, it seemed as though some of the MMO news sites were paying attention to bloggers again… at least briefly.

Ten Years Ago

With the March 2010 month in review I was able to announce that the site had passed the one million page view mark.  A minor milestone.

FarmVille.  We all tried it as research for Shut Up We’re Talking #60.  We didn’t inhale.

ran through GDC and had dinner.

I was waxing nostalgic for some flavor of Rome.

EA was saying very stupid things about how many subscribers Star Wars: The Old Republic would need.  It is never too early to set the bar for failure.  Also they were threatening to taint 38 Studios.

I was also wondering about greater challenges in MMOs.  Must all paths be equally easy?

I held an April Fools contest, which got a few entries.

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver launched and, after some delay,  I was picking that initial Pokemon.

I was still invested in Star Trek Online… I was trying…. well, they were giving us lifetime subscribers some perks.

In EVE Online I hit 50 million skill points.  I also had my first Tengu.

World of Tanks was staring to announce some of their progression trees, starting with the Russian and American sets.  Those have changed a lot since then.

The instance group was beginning to embrace the Dungeon Finder.  However, after Mauradon we found we still had to do a chunk of external legwork to prepare for our Sunken Temple run.  I also got a chopper along the way, on my birthday no less.

And, finally, that whole Derek Smart/Alganon thing was just kicking off.

Fifteen Years Ago

Monolith, backed by Sega and Warner Brothers, launches The Matrix Online in the US.  It hits Europe a month later. The title is soon taken over by Sony Online Entertainment, which runs it until its closure in 2009.

The Bloodline Chronicles adventure pack is released for EverQuest II.  It is free for Station Access subscribers.  Among other things it gives the game destructible walls.

Twenty Years Ago

Sony launched the PlayStation 2. Available initially only in Japan, it had ten launch titles.

Most Viewed Posts in March

  1. Alamo teechs u 2 play DURID!
  2. How Many People Play EVE Online?
  3. Overseer Feature, Progression Servers, and Free Heroic Characters Coming for EverQuest Anniversary
  4. The State of Voice in 2020 with a Poll
  5. The March Update Brings Market and Moon Changes to EVE Online
  6. New Servers and Server Merges and More with the EverQuest Anniversary
  7. The Windstalker Leaves Norrath
  8. The Passion of the Overseer
  9. Visiting the Katia Sae Monument
  10. An Uldaman of Vague Memories
  11. Blizzard in the Badlands
  12. Seeking the Hydrocane

Search Terms of the Month

camelot unchained massive refund requests after terrible announcment
[Somebody knows what they’re looking for]

online rpg apple iie
[That is going to be a bit or a stretch. A MUD maybe?]

does concord intervene during killing spree in eve online
[All normal CONCORD rules apply]

null sec infrastructure to spawn mining belts
[infrastructure hub]

what plane in war thunder has the most bombs
[Going to guess it is the B-29]

wilma flintstone memes
[I don’t even]

Game Time from ManicTime

Time tracking shows I spent most of my play time with WoW Classic.

WoW Classic – 64.13%
RimWorld – 13.25%
Pokemon Sword – 10.93%
EverQuest – 5.10%
EVE Online – 4.32%
EverQuest II – 1.92%
World of Warcraft – 0.34%

You would think I would be further along, but I always find time to potter about.  Also, Pokemon Sword isn’t tracked by ManicTime, being on the Switch and all, but the save page in the game gives you an elapsed time played report with each save, so I can include it in the mix.

EVE Online

While I did not spend that much time in New Eden in March, the time I did spend was fairly active.  There was a move op north to Venal, followed by some fights, and then a move op home.  Structures were shot, ships exploded.

EverQuest

With the 21st anniversary going on I decided to poke my nose in while my all access subscription was still running.  I used the heroic upgrade on my cleric from last year’s anniversary, which promptly made his spells an unfathomable mess.  But I did end up playing with the new Overseer feature.  While it has a mobile game air to it, the EQ version has more depth than the EQII one does, so I do keep logging into play it.

EverQuest II

I fear my momentum has faded in EQII.  After grabbing the expansion last year and driving a few characters up to the level cap, both for adventure and crafting, I sort of lost interest and wandered off.  I did a bit of the Overseer thing, but it isn’t all that compelling.

Pokemon Go

My drive to the level cap slowed down somewhat.  The friend rewards, which are worth 100,000 points when you hit the highest level, drove me the last couple of months.  However, daily gifts have tapered off as people hole up at home and can’t get out to Pokestops.

Level: 38 (83% of the way to level 39)
Pokedex status: 526 (+14) caught, 556 (+11) seen
Pokemon I want: Lucario, which is tough because I never any in the wild.
Current buddy: Dewatt

Pokemon Sword

As noted previously, I got Nintendo Switch Lite and a copy of Pokemon Sword for my birthday, which was about a week before we all had to go into hiding, so that is some timing.  I am three gym leaders in so far and it is shaping up to be a pretty solid entry in the genre.  The villainous team is a little more buffoonish than normal, but we’ll see how that plays out.  I just have to get myself setup to pull screen shots from the game so I can post about it.

RimWorld

RimWorld got the Royalty expansion, which adds a new dynamic to the game.  I have that out and played through some.  But even if you do not get the expansion, the launch of it also brought a bit update patch for the base game that includes a lot of nice improvements.

World of Warcraft

As usual, my time spent in retail WoW was mostly around Darkmoon Faire, though I did log in to grab a map of Gnomeregan for a post, and found that I had forgotten that they had nerfed some of the outside area as well.

WoW Classic

A lot of time spent playing WoW Classic.  I was grinding for a mount and working on some alts, but the big effort was around UIdaman where, after three weeks, we took down Archaedas.  Now comes the time to prep for Zul’Farrak.

Coming Up

It is Blapril, so expect some blogging reflective posts and as much linking out to other participants as I can manage.

It is also April Fools tomorrow, though given the current state of the political scene in the US, I am not sure anybody will notice.  Much of the last couple of months has involved public figures saying things that should have ended with “April Fools!” but somehow did not… more so than usual.

EVE Fanfest should have been kicking off soon, but that was cancelled in what seemed like forever ago, though it was just a month back.  Still, it has been reported that CCP will have some news and a new trailer for us.

And it seems like a fine time for video games, especially online games.  But April promises to be as relentless with bad news as March was, so the end of the month will probably feel like another year has gone past.

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?

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.