Tag Archives: Steam

RimWorld Ate My Gaming Time

I mentioned RimWorld back at the end of the Steam Summer Sale this year as one of the games I picked up.

It had been on my wishlist for a while as something interesting to look into, but the early access label kept me at a distance until I saw SynCaine’s write-up on it.  That was enough to flag it as safe to buy, but even a little while with it told me it was a game which needed some time devoted to it, a good game to while away the hours with once the weather turned chill enough to have a legit reason to stay inside.

Now, as the nights have grown longer and the weather a bit more chilly, I have finally gotten around to RimWorld.

My elevator pitch for the game is that it has all the sticking power of early SimCity at a more micro level.  Like SimCity it moves along constantly (though you can pause or speed things up) and you don’t control the people in the game directly.  Instead you setup tasks for them to do.  And, of course, keeping them happy is important lest they face a mental breakdown which, best case, will have them huddled in a corner for a while.  If they have the pyromaniac trait they might start setting fire to everything instead.

The game itself looks somewhat like Prison Architect and Escapist 2 and probably a few other indie games with stylized characters.

The default scenario starts off with three people in a wrecked spaceship landing in their survival pods on a semi-tamed planet, a world on the rim of explored space.  Once down on the planet your three stranded characters have limited survival gear so must setup a camp in order to survive.

In the first shelter built

Each character has certain skills (e.g. shooting, melee combat, cooking, crafting, medical, etc.) they bring to the mix, but nobody is strong all over. (Though skills improve through use, so that person who is only level 1 in cooking may become a chef some day.)  They also have some traits, things they enjoy, things they will never do, biases and weaknesses.

That first mix with three characters is pretty vital because once you are down you’ll need to build shelter, defend yourselves, and start working on a food supply.  Wood will get you shelter, beds, and some covered storage, while the bits and pieces from the ship will let you setup some basic electrical network.  With electricity the first thing I always build is a freezer to store food indefinitely.

I tend to over-focus on food.  But the first few runs food became a problem, so now I end up with excess rice and potatoes.  You can hunt as well, but there is a bit of risk in that and you need a butchering table to process the prey into raw food to be cooked and skins for clothing, so I start with rice, which grows quickly, along with harvesting the local berries.

Another setting you get at the start of the game is placed in the context of telling the story of your adventure.  You can choose what sort of story it will be.  You can have a tale where nothing bad ever really comes your way, or when events like packs of wolves or raids by nearby settlements come at regular intervals, all the way up to facing a series of ever more powerful kaiju attacking your base.

Well, maybe not kaiju, though there are a lot of mods out there for the game, so there might be a kaiju option.  There is certainly a Star Wars option… but when there are mods there is always a Star Wars option.

Meanwhile your characters need to go on surviving day to day while you try to keep them happy and on task.  Their mood and ability to go on are keyed into what is going on.  Some things are easy, like keeping the housing area clean.  Living in a dump is depressing.  So it having your sleep disturbed, so you have to split up sleeping quarters to make sure the early risers don’t end up next to the night owls.

And then some of your characters are boosted by specific things.

Sammy saw somebody die and it was intense!

If they grow too unhappy they may wander off or have a psychological break.  I had one character who would start setting fires around the base when her mood got too low.

Their relationships count as well.  Sometimes they bond or become lovers or hate each other and will start fighting and need medical care.

And then there is their past history.  I had one guy who had a smokeweed dependence going in, so eventually I grew some and he became happier.  But then other characters started smoking too and I ended up with one guy who would go off and binge on the stuff for a day at a stretch.

Likewise I grew hops to brew beer and ended up with a character who ended up disabled from alcohol abuse.  She had to stay in a medical cot all the time and have people feed her.

So, while there is an end to the game, a winning and losing scenario where you either escape the planet or all die off, I spend lots and lots of time just managing the day to day operations and expansion of the base, managing supplies, setting tasks, dealing with bandit raids, mad animals, and trading caravans, and just generally making sure things are getting done.

Mae is setting fires again while Jova and Queenie are disabled

It all ends up being something in which you can lose yourself for hours at a stretch.  This is probably the first game in a while where I have sat down in the evening to play for a bit then realized hours later that everybody else in the house has gone to bed and I am up way past my own bed time on a work night.  I have played little else over the last few weeks, save for my time at EVE Vegas.

So it has that going for it.  You can just keep going with one crew for ages, adding new people to your group as you find them and expanding.  Even when you suffer a set back, like that time I had everybody bunched up for defense and I found out about grenades when the raider attacking us threw one into the crowed killing two and maiming another, the colony goes on and you can rebuild.

On the other hand, sometimes you hit a dull stretch.  People are happy-ish, but you are just waiting for tech to be researched or you’re short of some supply…  for me usually components for building complex items… and and the random number generator just won’t send a trade caravan your way, and things suddenly lose their luster and you quit.

Still, for a Steam Summer Sale purchase I have already gotten a lot of play value out of it and I haven’t even started exploring the mods available for it in the Steam workshop.

So if you’re into the whole God-like control game where you set your people to work, this might be a winner for you.

Also, hunting with a light machine gun is totally a thing in the game.  Hell, machine guns in general are pretty cool in RimWorld.

The End of the 2017 Steam Summer Sale

Another Steam Summer Sale has come and gone.

Summer Sale 2017 Version

I logged in every day and collected all the stickers from the event.  I managed to get one full set of the trading cards so I could turn those in.  I even added about a dozen new games to my wishlist as ran through my daily queue.

But the real question is; did I buy anything?

Well, yes.  Yes I did.  As I noted previously, I went into this sale keen to buy some titles.  I was l was looking for something new, something to shake up the current, slightly stale state of my gaming.  I showed up to chew gum and buy games… and I was all out of gum.  So what did I buy.

Mini Metro

I already posted about this game at the start of the sale.  I actually liked it enough that I bought the iOS version to play on my iPad Air 2… which I notice actually has a higher screen resolution than the 19th century steam powered monitor on my computer.  Hrmm…   Anyway, good stuff, but still light fare.  I like it on the iPad because I can play while I watch TV.

RimWorld

This has been on my list for a while, but Early Access is a bit of a red flag for me.  However, after SynCaine wrote about it I decided it might be worth the gamble.

I bought it, I played for a couple of hours, then I stopped.  I didn’t stop because the game was bad.  I stopped because this game really needs a rainy day when my wife and daughter are out and I have an excuse to not do anything else for hours at a stretch.  My impressions were good, but I didn’t want to jump in until I had time to really immerse myself in it.  So now it sits in my Steam library waiting for its time.

Civilization VI

The inevitable purchase.  Having owned every Sid Meier game in the series up to this point, it was only a matter of time before I grabbed this one.

However, I am mildly disappointed with it.  I only have a couple of hours in, but my disappointment was almost immediate.  Upon starting off it seemed like they spent a lot more time making graphics and spiffy animations and other things that, for me, just get in the way of the actual mechanics of the game.  Classically, the first 100 or so turns of a Civilization game are the most exciting part, or so legend say.  However, as the series has progressed, the free wheeling aspect of the initial phase of the game has been toned down.  Civilization VI, subjectively, feels like the culmination of this to me.

Also, the AI remains as dopey as ever.  I had a scout on automatic.  He went up an isthmus and got hung up on a barbarian camp there.  I took over and moved him in another direction as there were other unexplored areas he could have chosen.  I left him on the edge of unexplored plains and set him to automatic again… and he ran straight back to the same damn barbarian camp.

I might need a rainy day to dig into this as well, but my immediate, superficial response to Civ VI is a hearty “Meh” and a desire to figure out where my Civ II disk went.  Civ II remains my favorite in the series.

And that was it.  Three games.  Not exactly an overflowing bag of loot.  There were a few titles I was strongly considering buying… I was at home on the evening of the fourth wondering if I should pull the trigger on any of them… but ended up not doing so.  The key contenders were:

Doom

I put this on my wishlist after it came out because people who were into it were so jazzed up about it.  I haven’t been much on shooters for at least a decade, but Doom was so well received that the sale price almost made me take the plunge.

Saints Row IV

I put this on my wishlist on a whim at one point due to somebody going on about how great the Saints Row series is.  I’ve never played any of it… I’ve never even seen it played.  But it seems whimsical and silly in its style, and the price was down at the eight dollar level for the sale.  And then something in the back of my head said, “Isn’t this series something of a parody of the Grand Theft Auto series?” and I was afraid I might not appreciate the reference unless I played something from the original.

Grand Theft Auto V

So I went looking for the current champion of the genre.  It has the reviews.  It has history.  It has Target Australia on its case.  What is not to love?  But when I got to the store page on Steam the reviews were atrocious.  I gather, reading the more recent ones, that Rockstar did something to piss off its user base, but I wasn’t sure how deep I needed to go into reviews to find any other objection, so I decided to give it a pass.  So, reviews make a difference.

At the end of the day I purchased three new games, with is three more than I bought in the last Summer Sale when I was feeling a “sale weariness” around Steam.  If the three I considered strongly, but did not purchase, I am still open to them down the road if somebody has something to add to their reputation.  They are still on my wishlist.

The odd side effect of the sale though has been my jumping back into some older games after reading about new ones.  But that is a topic for another post.

Mini Metro

Mini Metro had been on my Steam wish list for a while.

That isn’t saying much.  I put lots of things on my wish list to consider buying later, to look into, or just to remind myself that they exist.  Titles can linger there for ages, waiting for a something to push me either to buy them or drop them from the list.

Fortunately for me… or the game… or both… Zubon did a write-up about the game which tipped the balance in favor of my grabbing it as soon as the Steam Summer Sale hit.  And it is all he said it was, light and simple and elegant in design.

I was a little bit surprised when I first launched the game as it drops you straight into playing.  There is no mucking about in any menus or settings, you’re just on what is essentially the playing field playing the game.  It is a strategy that works with a game of such a spare interface.

At its heart it is the same game as Train Valley, of which I wrote previously.  The player sets up a transit network based on a set of stations which gradually increase over time, servicing a population that has destinations in mind.

Mini Metro sheds all of the non-essentials, paring away money and rewards and switches and collisions, leaving just the necessities.  Your passengers are simple shapes who want to travel to a station that matches them in stylized versions of major cities.

Four Lines running through London

You  passengers are not picky.  If they are circles, they just want to get to one of the likely many circle stations on your map.  Other shapes are more rare, some of them being one per map.  You draw out and change your transit lines by just dragging them.  Your rolling stock are little rectangles that move up and down the line, stopping at stations to pick up or drop off passengers.

There are, of course, constraints.  That is what makes it a game really.

There is a limit on the number of transit lines you can have and tunnels for crossing water and trains and carriages to which you have access.  When a new week starts up every Sunday you are given a new train and the option to add something else in a binary choice.  You might have the option add another line (which will require your train) or a couple of tunnels or a carriage that allows a a train to carry additional passengers, or a special station that loads and unloads passengers more quickly.  But the you only get two options each week and you only get to choose one.

And then there are the passengers, who get upset if your transit system leaves them piling up in stations for too long, with grumpy sounds and angry black timer circles forming if they are backed up.

Some unhappy Londoners south of the Thames

Passengers are the ultimate constraint, the one that will end your game.  If the timer circle sweeps through the full 360 degrees, your transit system fails and you are done.

Game over man!

Score is measured in how many passengers you have delivered and how long your transit system lasted.

There is a list of maps representing different international metropolitan environments from London to Paris to New York to Shanghai.  Each map has a simplified representation of the water obstacles the city presents, tunnels being a key constraint as your system expands.  There are also some variations on some of the maps.  In Cairo the trains only hold four passengers rather than the six on other maps, while in Osaka you get fast moving bullet trains to help move your population about.

Osaka on the list…

There is a hierarchy of maps and map difficulty, and to unlock the next map you have to deliver a certain number of passengers on your current map.  There is also a list of achievements for doing specific things on various maps, if you are looking for additional constraint.

The game reminds me of a software package I used back in college.  I took a class, the name of which I have long since forgotten, which was essentially holistic systems analysis.  The software, which I wish I still had, let you model processes as water flow, so you could lay out something like the DMV and see where the bottlenecks and the idle locations were.  By abstraction, you could see the flow of a system.  Mini Metro is like that, even to a real transit planner.

Anyway, the game, which is an inexpensive indy title to start with, is even cheaper with the coming of the Steam Summer Sale.  If you like this sort of system management I recommend picking it up.  There are even iOS and Android versions of the title in the respective app stores.

The Steam Summer Sale 2017 Arrives

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

Summer Sale Comes Again

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

Ah well.

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

Sticker pack for checking my prefs

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

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

How are you feeling about Steam this summer?

Atlantic Fleet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, all is not perfection.

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

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

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

Bismark, turrets wrecked, going down by the stern

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

HMS Hood goes up just like it did in 1940

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

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

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

Avoiding detection

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

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

HMS Glorious takes three torpedoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, that is asking a lot for ten bucks.

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

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

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

Now available

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

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

January in Review

The Site

I remain mildly stunned that WordPress.com decided to forego their briefly traditional yearly summary report for people’s blogs.  So I’ll just take last year’s main chart and update it for the year.

2016trafficsources

Top Traffic Sources in 2016

Oddly, that list is almost all EVE Online driven, save for Reddit.  The majority of the Reddit traffic came from repeated links to my homage to/preservation of Alamo teechs u 2 play DURID!

That aside, I do have more tangible WordPress.com issues to complain about.  The new stats page is still broken as I indicated last month.  Furthermore, comments have been acting oddly for a while now.  I will get a notification that somebody has left a comment on the blog, I will be able to see the comment on the admin page, but the comment won’t actually be visible on the post in question for quite some time.  The comment count on the post will take even longer to update.  And the comment in question won’t show up in the Recent Comments list on the side bar for ages, often only showing up when somebody else leaves a comment, which then follows the same routine.  Ah well.

And then, as the month went along, WP.com did another revamp of the UI, which made things tangibly worse for me.  But I can at least still find the old (and reliably functional) editor and most of the functionality I am used to hidden away under a menu at the bottom of the list.

Sanity is under WP Admin

Sanity is under WP Admin

They also changed up their subscription packages in a way that is going to complicate things for me, but I will get into that in another post at some point.  No need to spend all my anger here!

My blog did hit a record high number of page views this month… not this blog, my other blog.  CCP Phantom used a picture from the blog and linked back to its source in an EVE Online news post, which led to a spike in traffic yesterday.

350 views in one hour, when 3 views is the norm

350 views in one hour, when 3 views is the norm

As it so happened, traffic here was down… skill point posts are dull, I understand… leading to the first time ever when daily page views for EVE Online Pictures exceeded the page views here by 81.  Usually the ratio is something like 8 -20 to 1 in favor of TAGN.  Strange times.

On the bright side, at some point Google finally mumbled something about how they changed the G+ API and WP.com dragged themselves over to update that bit of code.

google-plus-logo-640

That connection broke just about a year ago for me, causing posts to be shared, but only with myself.  Not all that useful.  All you have to do to make it work again is disconnect G+ from your blog then connect again and it seems to start working again.  So now the five people who both follow me on G+ AND still actually use G+ will get spammed by my posts yet again.  Blame

One Year Ago

I had 16 predictions for 2016. (Results for those who need to know.)

I was also included on some sort of MMO info page thing.

It was the end of another Steam Winter Sale.

I was wondering what Early Access should really be.  I was also checking out which MMOs made PC Gamer’s latest list.

Smed was going to Kickstarter for Hero’s Song.  It got cancelled before I could finish the post about all the problems it had.  More than a bit of foreshadowing in that I guess.

People were troubled by a potential paywall in Rift.

The price for the Occulus Rift was announced, which led to quite a sum if all I wanted to do is play EVE Valkyrie.

In EVE Online I ran my first incursion boss.  We also got the first of the “no name” monthly updates.  Karma Fleet turned one.  CCP told us about skill extractors. Blog Banter 71 was about spaceships.  Also, there was some sort of conflict going on between I Want ISK and SpaceMonkeys Alliance.

In space we reinforced a tower and ran about in Typhoons and Jackdaws.  At the end of the month Reavers headed south to Wicked Creek to tangle with TEST.

Outside the game Battle Clinic, long a staple of the EVE Online third party universe, was set to shut down while the election process for CSM XI was kicking off.

Daybreak announced that they were going to port the five year old DC Universe Online to the XBox.

I went in to Diablo III to try out the Season 5 content.  I ran through the story quickly, but there was more to do.

I wrote a bit about The Force Awakens.

Finally, I was marveling at all the movies from 1986 that I remembered.  Aliens! Top Gun!  Platoon!  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!   It was a hell of a year for movies.

Five Years Ago

I asked 12 questions for 2012. Some of those questions are still pretty legit.  I also did what was for a while the annual LEGO minifigure round up.

I updated the About Page to its “Infrequently Asked Questions” format.  Has it really been like that for five years already?  It is probably due for an update.

There was that whole SOPA thing.  We still live in peril of its return.

I struck a couple of games from my watch list, as it seemed I would never go back to play them again.

I bought an iPad for our cats… judging by the pictures.

LEGO Universe joined the ever increasing list of departed MMOs when its free to play conversion failed to save it from extinction.

SOE gave us the subscription matrix for the EverQuest free to play transition.  As part of that conversion, EverQuest Mac was targeted for extinction as well. (Spoiler: It survived… for a while)  Meanwhile, somebody had an EverQuest cocktail shaker on eBay.

Prompted by comments from others, I asked why those who sought an old school MMO experience were not out playing Vanguard.

Blizzard said they were going to be too busy in 2012 for a BlizzCon.  Speaking of Blizzard, I hit level 85 at last in WoWAnd then there was a panic about Diablo III maybe launching in February. (It didn’t)

Turbine announced that their fall LOTRO expansion would be Rider of Rohan.

There was an odd divergent current about Star Wars: The Old Republic, with some declaring it dead already (one month in) while others were still in “best game ever” mode.  My favorite (now deleted, but still on the Internet Archive) angry post called it a hate crime.

I was starting to moan… more loudly… about how free to play makes an MMO focus heavily on cash shop content… to the detriment of the game in my opinion.  This was prompted, no doubt, by those wings.  Smed, on the other hand, was very happy about free to play.

In EVE Online the war against White Noise came to a close, leading to a quiet time in the north.  But a conflict with Raiden was looming.  during the lull, I recalled my first PvP death in EVE and celebrated that Garde drones now actually went *pew* *pew*.  Boring no more!

In Rift, the instance group was kicked off its server.  We regrouped on a new server.  We were also warming up and starting to work as a group again in the Iron Tombs and the Darkening Deeps.  That last was a struggle.

The Type 59 tank was pulled from the cash shop in World of Tanks.

And, finally, there was Pop Muzik.

Ten Years Ago

I wrote 59 blog posts, which remains a monthly record here at TAGN.  Of course, that was before Twitter, so I was more likely to do shorter posts.  If I had the patience I would track the average word count per post per month over the life of the blog to see how I changed from short posts to more of a long form/long winded approach.

I gave a brief recount of 2006 in what I find is my first high/low post on the blog.  I had forgotten that I had done that post.  I also uninstalled some games I was no longer playing.  I was also looking forward towards Lord of the Rings Online.

The MMO blogesphere starting talking about generations of MMOs, and I asked if we had even gotten past the first generation, then quoted Wikipedia’s take on the generation debate.

The instance group in World of Warcraft finished up the Scarlet Monestary and rolled through Razorfen Downs.

Blintz, my fae swashbuckler in EverQuest II was just digging into Zek, The Orcish Wastes, one of my favorite zones in post-cataclysm Norrath, as well as hunting for Blood Talon in order to get my dwarven work boots.

Scott Hartsman described some of the goals for the EverQuest II expansion that would eventually become The Rise of Kunark.  I also discovered that Sony slipped a promo for the Transformers movie in with the Echoes of Faydwer installation.  That was back when SOE was under Sony Pictures.

I played in some of the Vanguard open beta, once I got it downloaded.  The team was still working on a lot of polishing and features. The launch date was announced somewhat late, but when the game actually launched (on the same day as the much maligned Microsoft Vista), I declined to buy the box even though it was on Station Access.  I thought one of the game’s potential flaws might be the inability to make a “hot” character. A female half-elf was the best I could manage.  The character models were not pretty despite a profusion of sliders and options in the creation process.

Blizzard launched The Burning Crusade without the usual first day disasters that generally accompanied an expansions back in the day, though I couldn’t figure out why I bothered to buy a copy.  I was wondering how long it would hold its $40 price tag.  It stayed at that price for quite a long time.  These days we get a discount before a game even goes live.

Given that expansions were on my mind, I was wondering what the best timing for expansions really was.  EverQuest was still doing two a year back then, while Blizzard took more than two years to get to its first one.

I gave a brief review of Massive Magazine issue #2.

And I found that SOE had provided the industry standard definition for the word “soon.”

Most Viewed Posts in January

  1. I Will Play Candy Crush No More Forever
  2. Daybreak Doomsaying
  3. Where the Hell is that EverQuest Successor Already?
  4. The End of Landmark Foretold
  5. Would You Rather Fight Than Switch?
  6. Pokemon Go Account Hacked and Recovered
  7. 2017 – Predictions for Another New Year
  8. Opening the New War at F4R2-Q
  9. Falling Back in Catch
  10. Too Fast Through Tristram!
  11. Steam Winter Sale 2016 Results
  12. Seagulls Stop it Now!

Search Terms of the Month

what does dellmon mean
[Been asking what he means for years]

pretty alien sto
[The one in Kirk’s quarters]

everquest imperfect diamond
[Summed up correctly]

what is vanilla wow
[A unicorn we all want to find or slay]

Broadband Advertising Church
[Our Latency of Perpetual Round Trip?]

“pantheon: rise of the fallen” pipe dream
[So you may think]

Diablo III

The 20 year anniversary event, The Darkening of Tristram, got me to patch up and log into Diablo III again.  It was an interesting little distraction, some additional content, but beyond superficial graphical tweaks, it had about as much to do with 1996 as Twitter and the iPhone.  It did get me to go find the soundtrack from the 15 year anniversary, which is available on iTunes.  But I got the bulk of the achievements and the pet all the same.  I am just not sure that the event is something that will necessarily be a draw for people every year.  Anyway, if you want to see it this year, you had best patch up and try it, as it is supposed to go away soon.

EVE Online

I started off with a bang in New Eden around New Years, with the battle over the two Fortizars.  But then it was back to work where I caught the flu that was going around and I found I didn’t really have the stamina for ops at that point.  I joined in the return from Catch, but that was about it.  Once I was better I started getting my carrier together to see if I could join in on the promised training ops.

EverQuest II

Somewhere along the line I fell off the wagon when it came to Norrath.  The single quest chain I was able to find wasn’t thrilling me so I was just logging in daily to do a couple of crafting writs and maybe just enough harvesting to get the daily loyalty token reward.  I have about 500 of those and have yet to spend a one.  I haven’t unsubscribed yet, but it seems likely to happen before the next billing cycle.

Minecraft

While I was slacking off elsewhere, I was putting a bunch of my free time into Minecraft.  Not only do I have a big project under way, but I was ill for a week or so and Minecraft is conducive to playing when you’re not feeling well.  The long road hasn’t reached the half way point yet, but I moved the end of the road forward several kilometers over the course of the month.

Pokemon Go

Bad weather and illness kept me from playing very much… though there was at least one evening where you could have seen me leaving the house past 10pm to get in the car in order to drive the half mile to the nearest Pokestop because dammit, it was Day 7 of my streak and I wasn’t going to give up on that big payoff just because I wasn’t feeling well.

  • Level: 25 (+0)  Almost to 26, but not quite.
  • Pokedex status: 111 (+5) caught, 137 (+3) seen
  • Pokemon I want: Anything second generation
  • Current buddy: Nidorino

Pokemon Sun

As with a couple of other titles, I fell off the Pokemon Sun bandwagon for a good stretch of the month.  You would think that Pokemon would be a good game to play when you’re sick, but for some reason whenever I picked it up, I fell asleep.  Late in the month I did finally get back on track and finished up the final trial on Poni island, finished the main story line, and made Nebby get in the goddam bag for the last time.  On to the Pokeleague and then endgame activities.

Steam

For once the Steam Winter Sale actually distracted me from other games.  I bought a few budget titles and actually played through them.  Train Valley probably got the most attention.  I did start off in Stardew Valley, but wasn’t really in the mood to get through the inevitable initial hurdles any building/farming sim puts you through.  I will get back to that later.

Coming Up

The Activision-Blizzard 2016 financial report ought to be rolling in next month.  While the first rule of subscription club remains “don’t talk about subscription club,” I do look forward to seeing what I can divine from whatever clever number arrangements and MAUs charts the company puts out.

There is the inevitable monthly patch headed for EVE Online.  Also the CSM 12 candidate period will be in full swing and we should know by the end of the month who will be on the final ballot.  Then there is the Winter War in the south and a plan for another Burn Jita, though no final date has been set for the latter yet.

There are some things afoot with Lord of the Rings Online… something about a horse… while their partners at Daybreak will be putting and end to Landmark.  And, as I mentioned in the post earlier today (I am writing this before I have written that post, so I hope I didn’t forget to write it!) there is some distant rumor that we might hear something later this week from Turbine about the final fate of Asheron’s Call... something besides “bye!”

Also, wasn’t the EverQuest II Race to Trakanon server supposed to close in January?  I haven’t seen an announcement yet.  Was the team was too busy with server issued this month?  Maybe that will be something for February.

Also, after writing a ranty opinion piece about an EverQuest successor, I suddenly feel like I should got back and revisit a few other opinions.  Maybe.  My writing has strayed from opinions towards reporting on what I am doing over the years.  It might be time to update some views that may have been altered with the passage of time.

And, in a final question, when did my month in review posts start passing 2,500 words on a regular basis?

The Challenge of Train Valley

I brought up Train Valley as one of the titles I bought during the Steam Winter Sale.  It wasn’t quite what I expected it to be… but you never know what a game really is until you start playing it.  I am not sure exactly what I expected, something more free-form or open world, like a Minecraft rail mod, or maybe a more hands on Ticket to Ride.

trainvalley

Train Valley is not either of those.  Still, it looked to be a fun little game so I played on to see what it offered.  It seemed simple enough, you just build tracks between stations and then send trains back and forth.

Simple track layout

Simple track layout

Each level starts with a couple of stations and more get added as the level goes along.  Trains then appear at each station and you click on them to start them off and then make sure they arrive at their destination.  Piece of cake.

You play through various scenarios, which are akin to levels, as you need to succeed on one in order to advance to the next.  The scenarios are divided into various geographical areas, starting with small European countries, then the United States, then Russia/USSR, then Japan, and finally Germany.  Germany is actually a DLC addition, but I bought the whole Train Valley package, including all the DLC which included Germany and the soundtrack.

The first set of scenarios

The first set of scenarios

There is a postage stamp theme to the scenarios and they each have some bonus goals, called “Advanced Objectives” associated with them.  For each goal you manage you get a cancellation stamp on the level.  I would guess that there is a range of about 20 standard goals which get re-used in different combos throughout the scenarios.

Bonus goals for the Tokyo scenario

Bonus goals for the Tokyo scenario

Those goals do not actually enter into your ability to successfully complete a scenario.  They just add up for achievements and provide a bit of extra challenge.  The final round in each region doesn’t even have extra goals.  In fact, you can do all sorts of things wrong… crash trains, send them to the wrong station, lay out your track badly… and still complete a round.

The gating item in each scenario is money, something I didn’t fully grasp until I was into the series of US levels. (And yes, I am using “levels,” “rounds,” and “scenarios” interchangeably, deal.)  There I actually started running out of money, at which point you are declared “bankrupt” and the round ends.

Laying track costs money.  Removing structures that may be in the way of where you want your track to go costs money.  And then there is a tax on your rails that you pay at intervals which takes money out of your budget.  So there is a constant drain on your cash.

To earn money you have to get trains to their destination.  The sooner they roll out and the sooner the arrive, the more money you get.  You can even call for “extra” trains.  (One of the standard bonus objectives is to have 5-10 additional trains run during the level.)

Levels start out with just one train and a station or three, but then things heat up and soon you have trains waiting to go and more stations to hook up and you have to consider how to lay things out so that a train from any given station can get to any other station.  And if a train waits in the station too long, it will eventually just go, rolling out onto the rail line and mucking up whatever you might be trying to do.

I think I got this one laid out okay

I think I got this one laid out okay

You can see on the level in the screen shot above that there is a tunnel.  That is an added complication that rolls a train at you every so often.  More complications.  And when trains crash, that costs money too.  There is a loss for the train, the need to clear away the damage, and the building of new track.

I started going bankrupt occasionally on the US levels until I started paying closer attention to my budget.  It wasn’t until the Russia/USSR levels that this became critical.  At the “Iron Curtain” level the initial stations are far enough apart that you have to thread exactly the right path or go bankrupt immediately.  Again, more attention to budget and pathing required.

Still, I made it through that and into the Japan levels, which were the original end game.  Here is where I started having to take a few swings at the ball in order to finish a level.  The Sapporo level took me more than a few tries as it is a tight layout and throws trains at you from off map… fast trains… fairly often.  Still, I managed it.  I didn’t get any of the bonus objectives, but I made it without going bankrupt.

Then I arrived in Tokyo, the penultimate of the Japanese levels.  The trains are long and fast and show up at a rapid pace once the level started moving, you end up with a lot of stations, space on the ground is tight, and to get the layout you need you have to destroy some expensive buildings.

Starting off in Tokyo

Starting off in Tokyo

You end up with a fairly generous starting bank account, but having that first train show up wanting to get between two difficult stations can strain your budget almost immediately.  In the screen shot above I am blowing almost half my initial capital for the first stretch of rail, and I still have four stations unconnected.

I tend to start off okay… if I get a good first train or two I can often add a couple of extras just for a bit more cash… but eventually I hit a point where things begin to spin out of control.

Things begin to go badly

Things begin to go badly

In that screen shot the train in the upper right is going to leave the station, ready or not, two trains have collided at the green station, I haven’t finished repairing after the collision at the purple station, the red station isn’t even hooked up yet, and every station has a train ready to go.  And, as I noted, the trains are long, the freight trains are fast, and the passenger trains are faster.  I forget to set one switch correctly on the tracks and it is like an air traffic controller mistake and everything is going to end in disaster.  I go bankrupt… or quit when I know that is headed my way… every time.  I’ve had the rails full of stopped trains, another train threatening to go in a couple seconds, the game paused, and no solution in sight more than a few times.

But I persist.  Somebody even put together a page of rail layouts that seem to work… I searched for that after a lot of runs at Tokyo… which I am not miles away from on this level, but you need to earn cash to tear down buildings to get it just right, and even then it is a near run thing.  This is the twitch reaction level for the game so far.  I not only need to get the rails laid right, but I need to keep the switches set and the trains going in the right direction… and forget about the bonus objectives.

I haven’t even seen ze German layouts yet.  Not bad for a $3.39 investment.  I have gotten my money’s worth in play time out of it, and I still sit down every night and take a few runs at Tokyo.  I’ve just got to make fewer mistakes to best it.