Tag Archives: Age of Empires II

Age of Kings Continues to Expand

As I mentioned in the previous month in review post, I have been playing some Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings recently.

In part that has been because it is an easy game to fall back on.  I have a long history with it and it is one of the best RTS games I’ve played.  It is well balanced and the AI can be pretty good.  Finding myself without a burning interest in much else besides EVE Online of late, it is pretty natural that I end up here.

There as also a bit of achievement farming driving my return.  I don’t generally chase achievements on Steam unless I am really into a game (like Defense Grid for example).  But I was looking at the list for Age of Kings and had to ask myself things like, “Have I really never won against the Spanish?”  So I started using that as a guide for who I should face.

But mostly I am back because a few weeks ago I got a notice that the expansions for the game were on sale, so I decided to pick them up.

There are now three expansions for the game available on Steam.  These are all recent expansions, as the original 2000 expansion for the game, The Conquerors, comes with the base game now.

I actually already owned the first expansion, The Forgotten, but hadn’t had a lot of time with it.  But I picked up The African Kingdoms and Rise of the Rajas, which add empires from Africa and Southeast Asia.

I have to say I am actually pretty impressed with these expansions.  Even at their normal price of $10 they deliver quite a bit of content.  The all include four new empires to play, with structure graphic to go along with their themes.  I immediately gravitate to that.  But they also come with some new technologies, new units, new map types, new game modes, and four full on campaigns to play through.

I’ve always gone straight to the skirmish mode against the AI or friends, but with a dozen new campaigns to hand I might have to start exploring that aspect of the game.

Meanwhile, I have to say that the additions to the game are pretty good.  The new map types comes with their own biome, so rather than sheep you might have some other livestock to harvest right off.

Grabbing water buffalo on the Mangrove Swamp map

Everybody starts with the same Dark Age buildings, but once you get to the Feudal Age and beyond the buildings in the new expansions reflect the various civilizations.

Burmese in the Castle Age

The new map types have some interesting ideas.  Pictured above is the mangrove swamp map, which limits you to a modest patch of land.  The rest of the map is shallow swamp and trees.  You cannot build on the swamp, so you have to manage and hold your starting spot.  Also, additional gold and stone harvest spots, as well as all the relics, are located within the trees so you have to harvest your way to them or use a siege engine to tear out a path.

Mangrove Swamp map

This would be an interesting map to use against other players.  It certainly eliminates the whole “hide a villager and build a town center in some corner of the map” aspect of the game.  You have to stand and fight because you can’t build elsewhere.

Totally This

On the other hand, this was a map style that the AI wasn’t able to handle.  After repulsing the first attack from the AI and battling it again mid path, I arrived in the AI town to find all the villagers standing around idle.  The AI had harvested up everything on the land patch, used up those resources, and then stopped.

I suspect that the AI has something in it about being efficient, so it won’t harvest wood or mine unless it has a resource collection building close to hand.  However, since you cannot build on the water your villagers have to cross a fairly wide gap to start in on the trees around your land patch.  So despite the fact that the AI was surrounded by woods and had two exposed gold patches nearby, it ignored them as unharvestable.

Still, I have been enjoying some time back with Age of Kings, a game that launched back in 1999.  Thanks to the HD update, which itself is now past the five year mark, it is still very much playable and enjoyable after all this time.

Meanwhile I haven’t really heard anything about Age of Empires Definitive Edition that Microsoft was touting about a year back.  It was supposed to be out on February 20th of this year, a date that came and went without me noticing even a peep.  I haven’t seen any news and since I cannot even purchase it, not having Windows 10, I cannot tell how things went.  I guess it launched, according to Wikipedia, but didn’t make much of a splash.  That’s what making it a Microsoft Store exclusive gets you I guess.

Likewise, the hype around the otherwise vaguely described Age of Empires IV seems to have dissipated as no further news about it has popped up anywhere that I have seen.  So I guess I will stick with what I have.

How Many Ages Should an Empire Have?

There was an announcement yesterday that we might see an Age of Empires IV some day, complete with a deliberately vague hype trailer.

Age of Something IV

Still, on a slow Monday in August just before Gamescom simply whispering “Age of Empires” under your breath will get somebody hyped up.

It is a series with some genre-defining entries.  The original Age of Empires felt fresh and new back when it launched while the follow on, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (which we tended to call AoK)took the formula and refined it to near perfection.  It is an 18 year old title I still get out and play now and again.  It is an amazing mix of civilizations, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that somehow ended up as balanced as one could hope for.

It was a title deserving of an HD remastering, which we got via Hidden Path Entertainment back in 2013.

I am even a bit jazzed about revisiting the original game via the Age of Empires Definitive Edition that was announced earlier this year at E3.  I was never as big of a fan of it as I was the sequel, but I would still go back to give it a try again, especially with the promise of “improved game play,” which hope means rolling back some of the features from AoK.

So I have some sincere fondness for the series… or at least parts of the series.  After AoK the games fell flat for me.

Age of Mythology never thrilled me while Age of Empires III just fell flat in my opinion.  These are not titles I would go back to play again.

But by then key members of Ensemble Studios responsible for the initial magic of the series had moved on and the studio itself was shut down by Microsoft in 2009.  And while Microsoft attempted to leverage the fame of the series with Age of Empires Online, which really did flop, heralding the end of things.

Except now Microsoft is back and banking on the fame of the series yet again, with the remaster of the original and a new title in the form of Age of Empires IV, and my response to the latter is fairly cool.

I am not completely dismissive of the idea.  The did get Relic Entertainment to take on the task of creating Age of Empires IV and, as a studio, they have some RTS chops.  The are responsible for Homeworld and Homeworld 2, the Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War series, and the Company of Heroes series, all of which are notable titles in the genre.  And being owned by Sega hasn’t completely killed them off.

But can they make an Age of Empires title that feels like an Age of Empires title?  Do they really need to ride on the back of the old series?  Will that fence them in or set them free?  And what age will this be set in?  The industrial age?  The modern age?  The space age?  And haven’t they already been to that last one with Homeworld and Warhammer 40k?

Anyway the complete absence of any details regarding the title means any conclusion you care to come to barely meets the minimum requirement for speculation.  So we will have to wait and see if this is really hype worthy or not.

Starting the New Year in the Age of Kings

The so-called Strategy group finally came back from its nearly three month hiatus and actually played a game together last Friday night.  Well, at least three of us did, but that was still two more than most of our attempts to play since mid-October.

In something of a step back to our roots of nearly a year ago, Loghound, Potshot, and I got out Age of Empires II – The Age of Kings again.  It was a nice return back to a good old game that we had not played for many months.

AoK450I actually had to install it right then, but even the HD edition isn’t that big, relative to modern titles at least.  And then we had to remember how to get a game started.  Of course, once in the lobby, everybody seemed to remember the number for the “Start the game already!” taunt. (14)

We set up a game of four random civs, the three of us and a computer opponent.  In this case we set the cpu to hard and used what was billed as the “Conquerors AI,” which I guessed was the slightly smarter AI from the expansion.  We also set ourselves on different teams and locked that so there would be no alliances, and off we went.

Back to sheep again

Back to sheep again

Then we all had our moment of “What do I do?”  Fortunately, years of playing the game has at least instilled the first few steps permanently in my brain.  I think, on my death bed, if somebody asks me for my Age of Kings build order, my final words in life will be, “queue villages, build house, gather sheep… arrrgh…” followed by the machine making that flat line noise.

Anyway, I started down the path towards an economy of some sort as my scout began poking about.  In a classic AoK situation, I didn’t managed to locate all of my own sheep until the very end of the game, but I managed to steal a few of Loghound’s sheep.  Must be some of my Scots ancestry showing through.  I also managed to kill his scout.

The map, which we had set to full random, turned out to be a good one for us.  I think it was the “Rivers” map, where each player ends up on their own island of sorts with rivers dividing up the map and a limited number of crossings for choke points.

The game itself shook out into two parallel battles for a while, with Potshot and Loghound laying into each other while the computer AI, which had drawn the Mongols, came after me.

That turned out to be fortuitous, as I managed to get walls up at the crossings and the AI did not feel like an amphibious assault.  So the AI spent a long time going after my walls in its obsessive compulsive way, where it keeps attacking them even after it has a path through, while I was able to build up a small army and some defenses.  A strategically placed castle and a host of pikemen and skirmishers proved deadly to the Mongol horse archers.

Carnage before the castle

Carnage before the castle

Once I had slaughtered the attacking forces, it was time to go on the offense myself.  I pushed the computer back a ways and took out some of his buildings while breaching his wall, during which time I restored the walls at the crossing between us.  However, the cpu was also coming around via the crossing to Loghound’s island.  So after my frontier with the Mongols was momentarily secured, I pushed my force across into Loghound’s territory to clear out any buildings the CPU might have established.

While I was there I took a quick detour to kill a bunch of Loghound’s villages, destroy some of his buildings, and generally mess up his economy a bit.  Then I turned north to confront the Mongols again.

My foray into Loghound’s empire appeared to take some pressure off of Potshot.  As I was rampaging into the Mongols’ base with trebs and rams and a host of pikemen and skirmishers, with a few villages and priests in tow to repair and heal, I actually ran into a force Potshot sent in to attack the Mongols as well.  Between us the Mongols withered and ceased to be a force on the map, surrendering soon after.

There I was facing Potshot who had mounted his expedition using what I might generously call “economy of force.”  I outnumbered him heavily and started pushing into his lands.  Getting a ram up to his gate at the crossing, with my troops crowding the ford, was my most immediate problem, and soon I was into the midst of his economy.

Burning him out there, I returned to Loghound’s lands.  He had rebuilt quite a bit and had a force of Samurai, maybe the best melee unit in the game, waiting to oppose me.  But my mass of cheap pikemen and skirmishers, fully upgraded by this point, were able to defeat his force with minimal losses.  Then it was time for the siege engines to come up and to chase down the villagers.  I also caught up with Potshot’s last little outpost as well.  So I was the only force in being.

Timeline of the conflict

Timeline of the conflict

All good fun.

Well, probably more fun for me thanks to a couple of lucky breaks.  If the CPU had been set to hardest or if Potshot and Loghound hadn’t decided to go after each other things might have ended up differently.  But still, a good set of pitched battles and it was fun to get back together and play again.

But while AoK was fun, and will likely remain so for a couple more sessions, it does have a limited shelf life before it starts to feel repetitive.  Patterns will begin to develop and we will start looking for another game.

Recognizing that, we started the “next game” discussion immediately, but have not yet come up with a title.  We could always go back to Total War: Rome II, which was where we left off back in October.  There is probably a little life left in that, though it was starting to get a bit repetitive itself.  I am also concerned that, after the great Thanksgiving power supply blow-out, that my video card might not be up to the task.  With my last video card dead, I had to go back to the 2010 vintage backup card, an nVidia GTS 450, to achieve stability.  It was a modest but capable card back then, and hasn’t gotten any faster sitting on a shelf for a while.

Though if we really wanted to repeat history, we could go for another epic, multi-week Civilization V conflict while we wait for the expansion that will make Civilization: Beyond Earth worth picking up.  My video card could handle that, and my new CPU is a generation or two better than the old one.  Maybe we could beat Mattman this time around.  He won the previous two games.  And I am sure we would have a very different set of views on what options we would select. (Raging barbarians? I think not.)

Anyway, we are sort of where we were last summer, when we were looking for a new game for the group during the Steam Summer Sale.  I suppose the options I listed out in that post are still on the table, but has anything new come out since then that might be worth considering?

A State of Civilization

The… well… I am not sure what to call our Age of Kings group, especially since this post will be about us not playing Age of Kings.

I suppose I will call us the Strategy Group, lacking any other ideas.  We seem to be picking titles in genres where strategy is the common denominator.  And I will have to make a tag or a category or something, since this appears to be an ongoing endeavor and not just a flash in the pan.

Anyway, the Strategy Group has been growing less enthusiastic about Age of Kings.  It started with a burst of nostalgia, developed through recalling how things actually worked, and then landed in that pit that has so often been the downfall of RTS games, at least for me, where we remembered that once you have things sort of nailed down, every game starts to seem the same.  There is the build order, the harvesting, the scouting, the building up of the economy, the timing of the ages, initial defenses, the military build up, and so on down the line.

Sometimes that can be okay.  Sometimes honing a skill or really optimizing a routine can be its own fun.

And sometimes you’ve been down that path already and maybe this time around it isn’t so fun.  And maybe we’re old.

So last week the group started talking about trying another game.  (I mentioned this in the month-in-review post earlier this week.)  I was out for that session, but Potshot got me up to speed.  The first alternative on the list was Civilization V.

For me, that was a fine choice.  I have Civ V in my Steam library… I am going to guess it was a choice because we all happened to have it in our Steam libraries… I have enough hours in to be familiar with the game, though by no means an expert, and I am upgraded all the way to last year’s Brave New World expansion, which I quite enjoyed.

On the other hand, in the last 20 years or so since I played the original Civilization, I have not once played a multiplayer game.  Never.  In fact, given how turns tend to go, expanding in duration as the years pass, I wondered at times how viable a multiplayer game the Civ series might make.  It always seemed an unlikely candidate for multiplayer.

Now was our chance to put that to the test.

Potshot and I actually got to give it a pre-test.  The instance group… now that we have two groups, should I capitalize the names of groups?  Anyway, the Instance Group was having a night off last Saturday, so Potshot and I decided to give things a test run.  So, for the first time ever, I went to the multiplayer menu in Civilization.

The Menu

The Menu

We went with the Standard option.  Hot Seat clearly meant multiplayer on one computer… possibly the worst of all possible worlds for a Civ game… and I am still not sure what the Pitboss option really entails.  Something about the game running on its own server.  Not for us, not yet.

As with Age of Kings, the integration with Steam made getting us together in the right start screen easy.  Potshot created a game and then was able to invite me in from his friends list.  From there he setup a 4 player game, with the two of us and two computer opponents.

Setting up the game

Game starting in 6 seconds…

Some of that was easy enough, selecting landmass, size, pace, difficulty, and level of barbarian rage.  Other aspects were a bit more… interesting.

There is a timer for turns.  We talked about that for a bit, and then left it set for two minutes.  Early in the game no turn should take anything close to two minutes, but I began to wonder how things might play out as things got more complex.  As it turns out, that never really became an issue, but we’ll get to that.

And then there is the “who has what version of the game?” issue.

As it turned out, Potshot only had the original release of the game… and the Mongols DLC for some reason… while I had both expansions.  The game, however, will reconcile this for you and show you what your options are.  In this case, we pretty much had to play the original rules version of the game, with the Mongols thrown in, because why not.

So Potshot kicked off the game and off we went.  I ended up as the French, he got the Russians, while the computer ended up controlling the Chinese and… of course… the Mongols.  I ended up with my settler in a decent spot, so I did not have to engage in the debate about moving my settler.  There is a school of thought that you should never even waste a turn of production, but just build that first city and get going.  I, with an eye towards optimization, tend to move a hex or two if it will substantially improve my access to resources, though that has come back to bite me at times.

Paris is founded

Paris is founded and expanding

In that picture you can see a couple of aspects of multiplayer.

At the bottom of the screen is the two minute turn timer.  Turns are taken simultaneously, so that timer is for everybody at once and no turn can take more than the allotted time.  This is a very good thing.  Everybody moving on the same timer, as opposed to everybody getting their own two minutes, will speed things up dramatically.

And in the upper right corner there is a scoreboard that shows everybody’s basic relative standing.  That should be an amusing barometer for our match up.

As for playing the game… it was odd.  Well, it was odd for me, because I haven’t played the pre-expansions version of Civ V since before the first expansion, Gods & Kings, which gave us Steam Workshop mods, performance updates, and spies.  That was nearly two years back.  So I had to stop looking for bits of the game that were not there originally.

The game itself wasn’t a dramatic success.  I got dropped on an island with the Mongols and the Chinese who boxed me into my little corner of things pretty quickly, helped by some serious raging barbarian hordes, which put my expansion on hold for a while.

Facing Mongols and Chinese

Facing Mongols and Chinese

Meanwhile, Potshot was on another island with a couple of city states.  We didn’t come into contact for quite a stretch.

I started trying to tech/culture my way out of trouble while trying drop at least one or two more cities.  Not being in contact with Potshot meant that there wasn’t much to talk about, and having a plan meant that I wasn’t spending a lot of time on turns, so I was often reading the news on my iPad while waiting for the game to alert me that another turn had come.  I started thinking at about the one hour mark that we ought to cut our experiment off, but the “one more turn” obsession kicked in, even with a game where I wasn’t really getting anywhere.

About 90 minutes after I figured we ought to stop we actually did try a stop to test out ability to save a game and then resume it.  As with creating the multiplayer game, this seemed to work pretty well.  Potshot saved and left, then was able to restore the game and invite me back into it.  There was an awkward “I’m alone so what is the situation?” moment when he left and I was still in game, but after I bailed and then got back into the restored game, things were okay.

After that, I bought off the local city states to make them allies and declared war on the Mongols.  I managed to drive off their initial assault on my territories in something of a Pyrrhic victory.  Then he destroyed two of my city state allies in quick succession and bought off two more who quickly sued for peace, leaving me with Kuala Lumpur and not much of an army facing what could be correctly described, both literally and figuratively, as the Mongol hordes.

It was time to call it a night.

As a test run, things went fine.  We were able to create a game, play, save it off, and restore it without issue.  Waiting for turns wasn’t too onerous.  We just have to come up with something like an optimum settings mix so that the four of us are playing and engaged with each other.  We might need to go with a single continent and maybe just one or two computer players.

I also started mocking Potshot in our Google hangout, which is the base of operations for our games (Because why not add yet another peer to peer interface to the mix?), for only having the base game… plus the Mongols.  This may backfire on me though, as I may be the only one in the group who is up to date on the expansions, flagging me as the one they had best gang up on.  They probably aren’t going to fall for things the way they did for the first game of Age of Kings.

We shall see how it goes.  Suggestions for settings… or for other games we might consider… are welcome.

March in Review

The Site

WordPress.com, ever fodder for for this section of the monthly round up, popped up something amusing this month.

Leet?

Leet?

We all love the number 1337 right, being “leet” in “leet speak” and all that.  But the pop-up does make me wonder a bit.  I am close to 3,200 posts here, but only 1,337 were likeable?  Okay, the whole “like” button thing didn’t show up here at WordPress.com until quite a while after I had started blogging, but still.  If it were not for C.T. Murphy, I wouldn’t even have 1,337.

Meanwhile, on my “other” blog, EVE Online Pictures, WordPress.com congratulated me on having 500 posts.

500! It's a round number!

500! It’s a round number!

Which confused me, because I have nearly 800 posts total over there.  However, I started posting under a different nom de plume when I launched the blog.   It was done for dubious reasons.  That whole story is here.  So what this really meant was that I changed over to just posting as me, Wilhelm Arcturus, 500 or so posts ago.

And, finally, I applied for official EVE Online community fan site status for EVE Online Pictures, and it was accepted… which shows you just how low the bar is for that sort of thing. (I decided to give it a shot after reading one of many posts on monetizing blogs.)

Between my Italian pals! Ciao!

Between my Italian pals! Ciao!

While that lead to a very minor boost in traffic, the big thing is that my main account is now a “fan site account” which means it is free so long as I keep the site active and fill out a form every few months.  The main change for me was having to put up a couple of legal disclaimers, which was no big deal.  The impact here is that I will likely remain subscribed to EVE Online for the foreseeable future, as keeping the other blog going doesn’t require a ton of effort. (And I got a pile of pictures for the site this month.)

So you can consider me bought and paid for by CCP, but I doubt it will change what I write here in the slightest.  After all, this isn’t the fan site, the other one is.

One Year Ago

Dave Georgeson of SOE said MMOs should never die. A noble sentiment at the time, it rings a bit hollow a year and five SOE MMO closure announcements later.  Business is business.

I got a seven day pass to Azeroth from Blizzard.  It was nice.  I had some fun, but I wasn’t ready to go back full time yet.

Meanwhile, Blizzard was saying they were blindsided by the popularity of the auction house in Diablo III.  They were nearly a year late on that revelation.

On a similar theme, EA launched a new version of SimCity, pretty much ignoring the obvious expectations the franchise comes with.  I could only wonder if they learned anything from their efforts.

The instance group was doing some Rift content as a four player group.  This was the time of our long hiatus, though we got a full group now and again.  And when it was just the three of us, we ended up playing Neverwinter Nights 2 instead.

In EVE Online we were chasing around Deklein, flying the Tech Fleet doctrine, and bagging a carrier or two.

EON Magazine was closing its doors, marking the end of an era in EVE Online.

EverQuest hit its 14 year anniversary, and there was some talk about the camera view’s influence on the game’s popularity.

I was still playing World of Tanks and had hit the 2,000 battle mark.  I was out there with the KV-3 and the ARL 44.

I finished up all the things in Wayfaerer Foothills, which sort of ended my time in Guild Wars 2.

Then there was the Shroud of the Avatar Kickstarter campaign, which seemed more marketing tool than funding effort, and which hit its number in 11 days.  Still, Lord British felt the need to stir the pot by declaring most game designers suck… and are lazy… and are not as good as him.  Then he claimed he was taken out of context and not just saying things for cheap publicity.  As the month closed, his Kickstarter was wrapping up, but Camelot Unchained was coming.

It was announced that Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings was getting updated to run on modern machines with better graphics.  That set me on five other older games that I wished would get a similar revamp, which I think was more useful than just declaring that game developers need to innovate.

Finally, I was looking for input on some actual, real world things.

Five Years Ago

In March 2009 we were excited about Pokemon Platinum around our house, although we weren’t really finished with Pokemon Diamond yet.

I spent a day up at GDC in San Francisco.

In WoW we finished up a short hiatus and started back in at the SteamVault.  My daughter was tearing up Warsong Gulch.  Meanwhile, the Lich King seemed to have laid a curse on my new video card.  Nothing I did ever seemed to change this issue, though it did seem to go away eventually.

In EVE Online, Apocrypha came out, and with it the classic graphics were swept away.  Adam though, was making his own adventures in New Eden.  Oh, and I bought a freighter.

Somebody tried to put together a list of the Ten Most Important MMORPGs.  Like all such list, this one started the comments rolling.

It was launch day and I was already complaining about Runes of Magic… well, about the patcher in any case.

I finished up what was the last book of the Wheel of Time series.

The EverQuest 10th anniversary just wasn’t evoking the level of nostalgia in me that I thought it would.

And we had to say goodbye to an old friend and family member.  The picture my daughter drew is still up on the wall.  It still draws the occasional tear later in the evenings when people are tired and a bit more emotionally fragile.

New Linking Sites

The following blogs have linked this site in their blogroll, for which they have my thanks.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in March

You can tell when I have written nothing exciting all month, some old nuts and bolts post rises to the top thanks to Google.

  1. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  2. Level 85 in EverQuest… Now What?
  3. Warlords of Draenor to be a $50 Expansion? And Something About Insta-90s
  4. Picking My 15 Most Influential Games
  5. Blizzard Isn’t Giving You a Free Copy of Warlords of Draenor
  6. The Mighty Insta-90 Question – Which Class to Boost?
  7. Show Me The Planets Contest Results
  8. Report from New Tristram
  9. How Blizzard Got Me to Play Hearthstone
  10. Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk!
  11. The Insta-90 Choice is… Death Knight
  12. CCP – Losing Money and Getting Closer to Sony

Search Terms of the Month

that moment when a ex friend still manages to steal your beer
[That pretty much cements the ex-friend status]

is there aplace where some one can get donated plex for eve
[I’m not sure that is how it works.]

how did the lego universe story end
[Quietly]

Age of Kings

Our floating Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings group managed to get in a few matches over the course of the month, including our disastrous encounter with actual, real people.  The question is whether we will carry on.  Player against the computer gets dull fast, playing against each other remains imbalanced, and playing against live people… is a challenge mostly confined to seeing how much we can slow down the inevitable steam roller.  We might need a different game.  Maybe something more in the turn-base strategy genre, playable by four people.  Ideas?

Diablo III

Loot 2.0 and the coming of the Reaper of Souls expansion for Diablo III revived some interest around the game.  I rolled up a new barbarian… can you used the term “rolled up” when your only options at start are name and sex?  Anyway,  went out and played most of the way through Act III and found the game much improved for the effort.  However, I didn’t run out and buy Reaper of Souls, or even finish Act III.  Even at my most engaged, the game never got higher than second place in my mental “what do I want to play?” list, where I barely play the third place entry and fourth is lucky if I launch the game.  Still, maybe at some point.  The expansion sounds exciting.

EVE Online

EVE Online spent most of the month sitting in that fourth place position, as reference above.  There is no real war going on.  We’re back to cloaky campers in the systems I might rat in just to earn some ISK.  I have ships scattered all over the game that I should corral and bring back to staging systems, something that can be an adventure when I am in the mood, but which has just seemed like work of late.  And our corp, which hasn’t kicked me out for idleness yet, has gone through a leadership change.  Gaff is out.  And with that change, the “more POS towers!” faction is running the show.  We had a corp day to mine ice, which I attended.  The op was to gather ice to fuel our towers, and most of the talk was about where to get the rest of the ice we’ll need to fuel our towers.  Because we have a lot of towers.  Because, towers.

I did find out that one of the reasons things have been so quiet is that strat ops are no longer getting rebroadcast from Goon coms to our own.  So if I want strat ops, and that is pretty much all I want, I have to log into their coms, not ours… which is not a big deal, as I am on their coms most of the time anyway.  If I had actually bothered to post something from my SA forum account in the last six years, I’d consider just applying to Goonswarm to cut out the middle man.

World of Warcraft

Azeroth still looms large in my daily gaming, in part because I am on the auction house and daily quest treadmill.  That isn’t a bad thing.  I have a set of goals which keep me coming back.  It is when I have no goals that these sorts of things become drudgery.  The guild remains active over the weekends.  Gaff, no longer worried about running a corp in EVE Online, has joined us and brought along a friend.  So they are diving into Pandaria and doing all the usual alt-a-go-go routine.  The guild is lively enough that we’ll get to level 25 before summer I am sure.  The instance group also has enough content ahead to get to summer and our usual hiatus.  What will happen come the fall if the launch date for Warlords of Draenor is close to the first day of Winter?  I couldn’t tell you.

Coming Up

The Elder Scrolls Online launches this week.  The head start kicked off yesterday, mere mortals to be allowed in by the end of the week.  I am not buying the game as yet, but I will mark the launch date.  Have to get that into the “one year ago” and “five years ago” system.

I have a post coming up this week about new hardware and a new game I have been playing.  We’ll get to that on Wednesday I think.

The instance group carries on, World of Warcraft remains a thing.  EVE Online, likewise, remains on my list.  Diablo III… we shall see.  It has fallen into fourth place for now.  Or maybe lower.  I didn’t play it at all over the past weekend.

And then there is tomorrow, when we get to sort out the obligatory from the inventive.  I have nothing planned, so I will probably just point at others.

Mere Knaves in an Age of Kings

I mentioned in February’s Month in Review post that Potshot and a couple of his old college pals had pick up Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings HD on Steam.

I had been interested in getting some games together with the new-ish HD version that became available on Steam about a year back.

AoK450

Potshot and I have brought up the idea now and again, but only in the last month or so has this become a thing.  Four of us now try to get together and play a match or two once a week.

All of us played the game back in the its heyday… which I guess would be back in the 20th century if we want to get technical… and remember it fondly.  however, in our first match it became clear that some of us (me) had been tinkering with it more recently than others.

Okay, and with a week’s warning of our first match, I put in some time to get warmed up by playing at least one game against the computer nightly.

So when it came to the first game, things played out badly for some.  And the fact that I suggested that we all start on different teams ( including a computer opponent to mix things up) and lock teams, it might have been influenced by a fear of everybody turning on me if I got too far out in front.  *cough*

Actually, I wanted to computer player in the mix as the CPU usually goes after the most advanced player.  I thought that might moderate any advantage I might bring to the game.  Only the computer started far from me and we left the setting on “easy,” which meant that, if left alone, it might make it to the Castle Age in a few hours.

So I managed to win the first outing by beating down everybody else and then building a wonder, because we’re the type of people who won’t resign even when we’re down to one villager.

Totally This

Totally This

I built a large cavalry to sweep the lands and purge and resurgent force seeking to take down my wonder, successfully holding of the remnants opposing me until the timer counted down to zero.

That outcome, pointing out the imbalance in skill/knowledge/memory/whatever put our head-to-head matches on hold for a bit as we tried to get everybody up to speed.  The game now records matches by default, so while I was free in sharing my own build order and what not, everybody could watch and see what I really did.

But we were otherwise impressed with how the game held up after close to 15 years, with the integration into Steam’s match making and game hosting mechanism basically filling a major gap that has existed since official Microsoft support of such faded years ago.

Yes, we managed to close that gap with Game Ranger at one point.  But while I appreciate Game Ranger and what they do, having the game and the match making all built into Steam is simply easier to deal with, especially since Hidden Path Entertainment, who did the HD revamp, build the hooks right into the game interface.  (The downside is that there is no multiplayer without Steam.  But we’re good with that for now.)

So we were good with the game and started playing matches against computer opponents in order to share ideas and to close the skill/memory level between us.  We play random civilizations and random map types just to keep things changing.  While some of the game was clearly as I remembered it, at times there were oddities.  There was at least one map where I seemed to run into a LOT more sheep than I recall ever seeing.

Sheep I found AFTER my local sheep

Sheep I found AFTER my local sheep

We warmed up slowly, finding that computer opponents set to “hardest” were indeed a challenge to us.  When you decide your only hope is to go for a wonder victory against the computer, things are not going your way.

Just keep the wonder alive a little longer

Just keep the wonder alive a little longer

And when the computer wins anyway… well…

The wonder, the wonder...

The wonder, the wonder…

But we kept on until we found that we could at least take down an equal, or even a greater number, of computer opponents set to “hard,” though “hardest” still bedeviled us.  At one point two computer opponents set to “hardest” managed to beat the four of us on the Black Forest map by building a wonder of their own.  We were pretty much defeated by the computer’s ability and willingness to sacrifice villages to rebuild wall breaches.   We would build up forces, force a breach, only to have one villager slip through and start enough of a wall to stop us part way though again.  We could never get enough of a concentration of force through the gap, and since Black Forest is a map all about fighting over tight roads through the forest, there wasn’t a way around. (The fact that fully upgraded onager siege weapons can tear down forests had been discussed right before the match, but by the time we could bring that idea to bear it was too late to get through.)

But we had started to hit a point where we were all feeling like we had come to grips with the game and that it was time to step it up a notch.  So, when game time came around last Friday… we always form up via a Google+ video hangout, where I am the odd man out since I haven’t had a webcam since the days of the Connectix QuickCam… there was a question of how we should proceed.  The idea was put out there that the three of us… Potshot was away for the weekend, happy birthday to him… should form up an open match, with us on one team taking on whatever three people happened to join our game as the opposing team.

Our first match against live opponents!

Which brings up one of the problems of the way I often play such games.  I tend to like to play with/against friends.  So, all told, in the last fifteen years, I might have played with as many as 20 different people, many of them repeatedly.  That is a pretty small competitive ecosystem in which you tend to learn to play against specific people.  If you get good, that level of good is only relative to a very small set of possible situations.

So, while my fifteen year old build order through the first 20 minutes of the game gave me a clear advantage against our little group in that first game, things went less well when exposed to people who had clearly faced a wider range of competitors.

Basically, we got slaughtered.

The timeline

The timeline

I am not sure if the random map helped us or hurt us.  We ended up with team islands, where each team has its own large island and you have to invade.  That protected us from early harassment, but it also kept at least me from doing any early harassing as well.  Basically, they divided up efforts, with one concentrating on a navy that swept us from the seas and harassed anything in range of the shore, while the other two slipped over and built a barracks, some towers, and eventually a castle just out of line of sight of my town.

You can see the bump in my troop levels as I had my “oh crap” moment upon discovering MoronHunter was massing for an assault on my town.  That did not go well and I had to relocate to the far end of our island to start again.  And since I was, at least economically, out in front on our side, the cascade fail began.

We did what we could to hold them off for as long as possible, but with the enemy on our island, the issue was never in doubt.

On the bright side, our foes seemed happy enough to simply destroy us without telling us how badly we were doing, though I have to admit being so trounced by somebody with the name “MoronHunter” might be rebuke enough.

After our defeat, the question came as to what to do next.  We usually play two games.  This time around though, we decided to replay our first game.  As I mentioned, matches are recorded by default, so we went back and ran through the match together, watching how our opponents started off the game and built up their economy.

My own ideas on that front are from about 2000, when a good plan was to build up 20 villagers before advancing to the feudal age.  That idea seems to have changed.  Our foes held off some, pushing for 30 to 35 villagers before starting the climb to feudal.

There was also a clear difference in gathering for that push.  Back in the day, the default plan for food was to harvest sheep, boars, deer, and then start on farms and berries.  Again, our foes debunked that idea, ignoring boars… and in the case of Lolus even sheep initially… going straight for farms after putting a lot of early villagers on wood.

As a team, we also suffered from the usual problem of limited scope.  We tend to build just ONE of each troop producing building.  There was an early fight for the sea lane between the islands which I ended up losing because I was producing ships out of a single dock while chip_xx was using three.

We can at least say we had an educational night, and I expect that our next round of play will include experimentation with the build orders we observed.  Maybe we can master the “hardest” setting now.  Potshot will probably come off the worse for wear, having missed the match.

And then there was the Forgotten Empires question.

A little over a year ago, a group of player finally finished up an unofficial expansion for Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings called Forgotten Empires.  The team that put it together adapted it to the updated HD version of Age of Kings on Steam, and it is now available for purchase as DLC under the name The Forgotten. (Though there is a question about who is getting the money from it, along with the usual community bitching about having to pay for something that was free at one point.)

The question is, “Should we buy it?”

I tinkered with it a bit back when it came out.  The new empires are not that big of a deal to my mind, nor are a couple of the enhancements, while the graphics were not so great.  But the new AIs that come with it might make it worthwhile, and the conversion to the new HD format might help.  Another item for the group to discuss.

February in Review

The Site

After a couple months I have decided that I really like the MMO Blogesphere feed that I put in the side bar.  I just wish it was a little more reliable.  I grow tired of seeing this half the time.

FeedDown

Life in the internet age.  I have tinkered around with a couple of things to replace it, including Yahoo Pipes, but haven’t really come up with something that work, works as I expect it to work, and works reliably.  So RSS Mix remains my sidebar feed of choice for the moment.

On a side topic, has Google Alerts become completely useless these days?  Back when I started to blog, I created one for the site URL to see if anybody was linking to me.  And it used to work.  A few years back I used to get the occasional notification.  Then it went quiet.  Then, a year or so later, it started telling me about ping-backs from my blog displayed on other blogs… essentially alerting me to the fact that I linked out to another blog.  Not very useful.  Then there was another long quiet stretch.  Now, in the last few weeks, Google Alerts has started sending me notification when I link to other posts on my own blog.  That is all I get.  Another Google mystery.

Finally, if you hit the blog last Sunday you might have been treated to things being displayed in a different theme… or several different themes.  WordPress.com allows you to preview all the premium templates for a two week period.  So I opted in for that to see if I could find something I liked.  As you can see, the template remains the same as it has been for over seven years now.  I have another weekend to go though.  We shall see.

One Year Ago

Raptr sent me a summary of my 2012 gaming.

Google changed how image search worked, causing a precipitous drop in page views.  Google giveth, and Google taketh away… though they have been heavy on the taketh front for the last couple of years.

I wrote of the problem with Bond villains.  And it wasn’t that they failed to drive Jags.  I also looked at the Netflix remake of House of Cards.

RuneScape joined the rare breed of MMOs with an old rules, nostalgia focused server.

I tinkered with Prose with Bros on the iPad.  That was amusing for about two weeks.

In something of a breath of fresh air in an argument dedicated to absolutes and bad analogies, with some game devs equating buying used games with piracy, EA admitted that the used game market wasn’t all bad and that the ability to trade in games might be propping up new game sales.  They still wanted to kill used games like everybody else in the industry, but at least they were attempting a moment of honesty about it.

The MOBA version of Warhammer Online was declared dead before it even left beta.  The good metacritic score for Warhammer Online remained of little value.

A group got together to create an Age of Empires II: Age of Kings expansion called Forgotten Empires.  This was before it was announced that Age of Kings would be updated and brought to Steam.

Blizzard and ArenaNet were both offering deep discounts on their MMOs.  I opted for Guild Wars 2, which has an awkward start for me.

The instance group was still without a quorum and a fantasy title to call its own.  We were playing a bit of World of Tanks, which gets awkward with four.  I also made some short videos about Crushing your VK and a cliff diving BDR GB1.  And I was working on my Soviet heavies as well as the French heavy tree.

In EVE Online we went back to EWN-2U, the scene of my first real epic null sec battle.  But null sec was pretty quiet, so we also spent time just flying in circles.  The Goons did produce a nice guide to EVE Online in the form of a .pdf called Thrilling Internet Spaceship Stories.

I was considering the REAL problem with levels and was wondering why nobody else did in-game music the way Lord of the Rings Online did.

And I answered the magic question, just how many times do you have to sign or initial things when closing escrow on a home refinance?

Five Years Ago

My 8800GT video card died.  That was the second one to go.

I had been looking at my dis-used GAX Online account and wondered what gamer social networking needed to be viable.  Since then, GAX Online has shut down.

PLEX showed up in EVE Online five years ago.  In game I got the mining foreman mindlink as a storyline mission drop, I upgraded to a Raven Navy Isssue, and finally bought the freighter for which I had been training, and got some ships blown up in the Worlds Collide mission… again. There was EVE Vegas.   And then there was the whole Goonswarm dismemberment of BOB, which made the BBC news.

I was still active in Middle-earth, playing characters on Nimrodel.  Looking for a class on which to affix the Reynaldo Fabulous name, I put up a poll on the subject.  While Minstrel won the poll, Reynaldo ended up being a hunter with a fabulous hat.  And when I wasn’t fooling around with alts, I was leveling up my captain who made it all the way to Rivendell at one point.

While over in Azeroth, it was revealed that my mom plays WoW.  I wondered at how active Westfall seems to be most of the time.  But the answer to that seems to be the Deadmines, which I ran my mom and daughter through. (No dungeon finder back then!)  There was a little pet drama with my daughter who wanted a raptor.  I also managed my first exalted status with a faction in WoW, the Kalu’ak in Northrend.  I wanted that fishing pole.

On the Wii, we had Wii Music, which was crap, and LEGO Batman, which suffered a bit from being yet another variation in the successful LEGO video game franchise.

And then there was the usual bog war shenanigans as somebody was still looking to blame WoW and WoW players for Warhammer Online’s failure to meets its subscriber goals.  I think we’re all over that now, right?  Warhammer did what it did on its own faults and merits in a market that was well known before they shipped.

New Linking Sites

The following blogs have linked this site in their blogroll, for which they have my thanks.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in February

  1. The Elder Scrolls Online – Mission Accomplished
  2. Warlords of Draenor to be a $60 Expansion? And Something About Insta-90s
  3. Raid Tourism – Being the 25th Man
  4. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  5. Echoes and Repercussions from the Battle at B-R5RB
  6. Grim Batol and Beyond in Cataclysm
  7. Return to the Heroic Deadmines
  8. Raptr Corrects My Perceptions – What I Played in 2013
  9. Is PvP a Requirement for All MMOs?
  10. Landmark and a Dire Vision of Things to Come…
  11. B-R5RB and the Death of Drone Assist
  12. The Downfall of Garrosh Hellscream

Search Terms of the Month

the coveted ccp “mystery code”
[And you could win one here, if you enter REAL soon!]

how to get to west karana from a lady merchant named analya
[When I say that, it rhymes. Does it rhyme for you?]

what happens when you mix root near with icecream
[They get closer?]

where is gm lirus now?
[Probably trying to forget.]

can you buy world of tank type59 g on ebay?
[Don’t you wish.]

dmca and mmo emulator
[You’re up to something totally legit I am sure.]

stone age man on raft
[How did that even get you here?]

Age of Kings

Potshot and I talk about going back and playing Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings now and again, but we haven’t really put much effort into the idea.  I was hoping at one point last year, when a reworked, HD version of the game was released on Steam, that it would be a golden opportunity.  Alas, the idea had to stew for a while.  Then a couple weeks back Potshot mentioned that a couple of old college pals (and at this point, all of our college pals are old) were interested in playing.  And so we have managed a few matches in the latter half of February.  I just haven’t gotten around to writing about them yet.

EVE Online

I have been a complete slacker when it comes to EVE Online.  I still have a Domi stuck in B-R5RB, left there since the big battle and another one hanging out in what was our staging system at least two move ago.  I suppose at least I didn’t put a lot of effort of moving things from Curse to staging systems in the middle of even-closer-to nowhere.  Ah well.  I did have an EVE Online contest.  It is still going as of this moment… unless you are reading this after March 1st, in which case it is over.

World of Warcraft

Things continue to move along in Azeroth.  I think we might be over the “so happy to be back” time of binging on the game.  The binge was part of the reason I was playing less EVE Online.  But it remains the game of choice for our group.  We still have a list of things to do in Cataclysm and then there is Mists of Pandaria.  That will take us out to the usual summer hiatus at least, if not all the way to Warlords of Draenor.

Coming Up

The great Diablo III revamp is upon us.  I expect to devote some time to the game to see if the 2.0 version can revive that Diablo feeling.  So far, so good.

I think that The Elder Scrolls Online is having another beta weekend, judging from the six messages in my inbox about it.  It is just about time for them to slip the launch date back a couple weeks to make changes based on feedback from the beta.  Or such is my gut feeling.

EverQuest will turn 15 in March.  What a long, strange something or other.

And, apparently, I will write some more stuff about RTS games.  I have at least one Age of Kings post to do and we shall see how far I make it in Warcraft III.  Optional blog name possibility: Talking About Game Nostalgia.