Random thoughts or updates on not-so-random titles

November 29, 2010

Thanks to Comcast being… well Comcast, online gaming for the last week has been sporadic and rage-inducing. I mean nothing says “I’m having fun now” like lagging in League of Legends, where for some insane reason you can still see everything happening in real time, but the game won’t process your commands. The result? Watching for 5-10 seconds as your champion just stands there, slowly dying from creeps or when the opponents realize you are no longer moving. Bonus points when this happens just before a crucial team fight. In a ranked game. Not like I needed those 100 ELO points anyway. Aria has also take part in the rage, so good times all around. (They have someone coming out tonight. Place your bets on ‘everything looks fine to me’ being the result. If I don’t blog tomorrow, it’s because I’m fleeing the country to avoid the murder charge. The internets IS srs bsns!)

Luckily Blood Bowl still works with the ping spikes, as at worse the game will try to reconnect for a second or two before continuing on. Our private league is going strong, and I think we have finally gotten into a good grove with people playing their matches and communicating on the forums. After our first-week growing pains, it’s looking like we have a quality league here. Hopefully later this week I can do a formal week three games write-up with highlights and such.

My matchmaking (MM) human team continues to find ways to pull a draw from the hands of victory. The latest example: In a game against Dark Elves, I KO (rather than injure) five of his players in the first half, scoring once. At the start of the second, four of his five KO’ed guys come back, and it’s looking like all the decent (but not great, no injuries) luck is gone and he is moving the ball nicely. Plus he injuries one of my guys and KO’s another. Then I kill two of his players, an assassin and a linemen, get a key knockdown on his ball carrier, and look to be in position to seal the game away.

My 5agi thrower (yup, super lucky on that) picks up the ball, and with two turns to go, attempts a 3+ throw to a linemen at midfield that, had he caught it, he could have run in for a second TD on turn 16. Instead, the one dark elf still standing, and covered by two of my players, intercepts the ball on a 6 roll. On his turn he dodges away from everyone (3-4 dodge rolls with varying tackle zone values), makes the GFI roll, and scores. Game ends 1-1. FML.

I thought I was near the end of Titan Quest, only to discover that I had simply completed Act 1 (of 3, 4 with the expansion). Act 2 takes place in Egypt, which is a fun change of pace from Greece. The whole game overall is great actually, more-of-the-same Diablo 2 action with enough differences to not make it a straight copy/paste job. Looking back, someone must have seriously dropped the ball on marketing this game, because on pure gameplay it’s a winner, and another total steal for $5.

I was hoping to write about Darkfall today, as I finally made the move and joined a new clan (oddly enough, filled with old Apollo members, small (online) world), but Comcast had other ideas. While playing LoL is annoying, and BB is very doable, DF is a straight no-go, as I get kicked from the server on a spike, and then can’t log back in for five minutes or so due to a relog timer. Hopefully the issue is resolved tonight.

Finally, as I made mention earlier, I picked up Supreme Commander 2 for $3.50 on Steam, and so far both the campaign and skirmish mode have been entertaining. It’s been a while since I lasted played an RTS (not counting my time with the disappointing StarCraft 2 beta), and while this SC2 is by no means perfect, so far it’s been good enough to entertain, and has already done enough to justify the tiny amount spent to get it.

Coming up, later in 2011 we will see the release of Witcher 2 and Dragon Age 2. Something tells me Witcher is going to be even more amazing than its original (which honestly might be one of the best RPGs of the last few years. Gritty done so right), while DA2 is going to be a shadow of its original (a game that, IMO, faded towards the end anyway). Of course, I might not have much time for either if Aventurine releases the next expansion to Darkfall at some point in Q1, but I’m not betting the house on that one.

Having too many good games to play is a wonderful problem.

Edit: Oh, and I almost forgot, I’m also waiting for the next Civ V patch to drop before getting back into that game. You know, during that 25th hour of the day that’s coming ‘soon’.


Milkfat and you

October 6, 2010

Expansion launch day in Darkfall = Return to Darkfall for me, and honestly, I’ve been itching to return. League of Legends is extremely fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just not an MMO, and that really is the style of gaming I love most. Not that a return to Darkfall means no more LoL, far from it, but a little more balance will return to my gaming. Unfortunately or otherwise, I’ve got Civilization V on somewhat of a hiatus as I wait for some patching, having finished four games and seen ‘enough’ for now. The great thing about Civ though is that it ages like fine wine, only getting better with time.

Today though I want to talk about the recent ‘big deal’ event in League of Legends; this whole Milkfat hubbub. The original thread can be found here (caution its long and rage-filled), but the short story is this: Milkfat claims he is a pro player from DotA/HoN, Riot gives him an account with a TON of RP and LP, people see that due to his live stream, forum post gets made, people rage, Riot says “oops” and takes back the points, life goes on.

One of the big issues people had went something like this “I paid for skins/champs, and this guy gets them all free, not fair!” I’ll just address that with “life’s not fair”. I mean really, are we going to harp on someone being able to drop $1000 instantly on League of Legends because they are a lottery winner, a doctor, or whatever? Is that ‘not fair’ either? Is someone buying champs with RP when you ‘earned’ them with IP ‘not fair’ either? Point being, worry about yourself, because if you compare yourself to others long enough, it’s not going to end well for you.

Second lets look at the precedent set here, is giving someone a maxed out (or close to it) account really all that special? Nope. Reviewers often get such accounts, devs give them to friends/family all the time, and what about all those who win such accounts or exclusives through one contest or another? Point being, it happens, often, and the only difference here is that the guy live streamed and everyone watching saw it, someone made a forum post, and the snowball rolled.

Ultimately though, this just highlights the beauty of the F2P model League of Legends has going. What did that guy REALLY gain when he received that account? Did Riot give him stronger heroes? More mastery points? More powerful runes?

Nope.

He got access to a lot of fluff (skins), access to more heroes, and the ability to fill up some rune pages (of which you can only use one at a time anyway) faster than someone who plays for free. Nice to have, sure, but once hero selection is over and the game loads, he is just another player, no more powerful than anyone else. And that really applies to anyone spending money in LoL; it opens up options, it gets you stuff faster, but once the game loads it has no real impact, and that’s huge. Anyone who reaches level 30 (ranked play) will have more than enough IP to buy some heroes and fill out some rune pages, so whether you have a loaded account or have yet to spend a dime, you are on the same level in terms of in-game power.

Think about that too. Riot is able to make money (and given the rate they are hiring, truckloads of it) from a competitive game without selling a single item of true power. A hyper-competitive game is fully supported by selling, ultimately, fluff. That not only says a lot about your base game, but about your fluff as well.

Chuck-o-the-day: The Burning Man festival got its start when Chuck Norris set fire to a bunch of hippies with his eyebeams.


Civilization V : The flaws

September 28, 2010

As I said before, Civilization V is a phenomenal improvement to an already incredible series, and any fan of TBS games should already have it. But with that said, it’s by no means perfect, and outright lacking in some areas that have me both confused and a little worried.

One of the things that jumps out at me as unfinished or missing is the lack of end-game replay or extensive history information. In previous games you could watch a mini-review of the game you just played, seeing city placement and growth, wars and conquest, and major events like wonders being created or great people being born. I loved this not only for a chance to ‘relive’ the game I just played, but as a learning tool on how to improve. This is simply missing from Civ V, and for me really takes away from the joy of finishing the game. On top of this, the ‘ending’ is just one picture based on your victory type (or loss), and aside from one demographics table, that’s it.

Now I’m hoping a future patch simply adds the replay function to the game, and perhaps gives some extra bang to victory. My fear is that this might be part of some $5-$10-$15 DLC ‘bundle’. I won’t mind having the option to buy different civilizations, units, or technologies, but selling what I would consider core features as extras won’t sit well with me.

Another area that really could use some work is knowing exactly what the AI is thinking. Currently it’s simply too difficult to tell whether someone is buddy buddy with you or getting ready to drop a nuke. It’s also difficult to see the effects of not accepting a deal, of giving someone a resource, or from making demands. One would assume making demands makes people angry, or that giving them a resource makes them happy, but it would be nice to get a little more feedback here. I’m not asking for a +1 Rep! ding to pop up or to see a + – table next to a leader, but I do feel SOMETHING is missing here.

The saddest part about this is that finally you have more diplomatic options in Civ V, like the ability to show your displeasure about another civ settling in ‘your’ area, or the ability to work against another civ without declaring outright war. These and others are great additions, but they are somewhat muted by the fact that you can’t really tell their full effect.

Finally, the AI could use a few lessons in the art of war. While I don’t feel the AI is as bad as some make it out to be, it’s always a little disheartening when you see an enemy charging you with cannons, his infantry a few hexes behind. Or outright frustrating when your city-state ally prefers to bomb spearmen in a jungle two hexes away when the city has three units of knights right next to it ready to overtake it in the following turn.

So far most of my wars have not really been much of a challenge, and when they are it’s because the AI outguns me by a large margin. Watching a war between two AI opponents is at times like watching a cripple fight (no offense to my normal-life-function-challenge readers (that’s the current PC term for the handicapped, right?)). My guess here is that a future patch will have some AI improvements, but hopefully it arrives sooner rather than later.

I’m not going to address multiplayer myself as I’ve yet to try it, but Paragus has a good Civ V review up that raises some issues on that topic. Again, it just sounds like Civ V got shipped a little early, and some of the final polish is still missing. The MMO gamer in me accept it and can look past it for now, but I’m wondering how many ‘normal’ gamers are feeling a little down right now. I’ll lay the blame firmly on the city that declared the release date “Civ Day”, that’s a lot of hype to live up to and you can’t really delay once that’s happened, now can you?


Civilization V : City States

September 24, 2010

City States are one of the major additions to Civilization V, and during my initial playthrough I found them to be slightly more than gimmicks used to ‘populate’ the world. In my current game they are invaluable, and really add a huge new element to the game. They also fit well with how Civ V truly splits economy, culture, and science, rather than having them all interdependent like in previous games.

I’ll start with my first game. In that game I played Civ V like I played Civ IV, focusing on getting ahead in technology in order to get better units to eventually crush my enemies. In Civ IV that meant keeping your science slider as close to 100% as possible, and your bank account at a constant minimum. This resulted in everything gold-related being minimized, at least for the most part. You could still do goofy stuff like, for just a few turns, go 100% income and get a massive amount of gold, then immediately switch back to science.

So in my first Civ V game, I had very limited gold, which meant I could not give the various city states gifts to keep them friendly or allied. And when I finally did have the 250 gold needed, I would only be able to bump one city state to friendly for a few turns before it went back to neutral, which seemed rather pointless to me. After all, I could just conquer the city if I wanted its land and resources. So in that game city states were just blobs of ‘useless’ terrain, or something for my enemies to use as an additional source of trouble. They never heavily factored into anything I was doing directly (this was on Prince difficulty), and I never noticed them being major factors between the other AI-controlled civilizations.

In my current game (King difficulty), I set out to better control the economic side of things, which meant only getting the buildings I truly needed in each city, not going crazy with infrastructure, and focusing more on trading posts to generate extra gold per hex, all to keep the gold flowing. In this game I’ve managed to have a steady income of around 40 gold per turn, which made paying the 250 gold to get on good terms with a city state much easier. I also more actively completed various missions for them, the result of which sometimes put me at 150+ favor with them, meaning they would stay allied for a long, long time without further investment.

The current result is that I occasionally get free military units from some city states, get increased food production in my cities (especially the capital, which is huge for my Roman civ), and my culture rate is increasing much faster than in the previous game, allowing me to pick up civics earlier (and by spending some of those points in the Piety tree, I get even better results from city states). It’s a very rewarding snowball effect overall, plus seeing my allied city states join in against my enemies is a nice bonus, and at times very helpful to the overall war effort.

City States highlight the fundamental shift in Civ V, that although on the surface it’s a ‘simpler’ game, the actual decisions you make are not only more profound, but lead to a wide variety of strategies. It’s perfectly viable to ignore City States, just like it’s perfectly viable to focus on them and propel your civilization through them. I get the feeling the same can be said for focusing on economy, science, or culture. I’ve yet to try it, but I also suspect that growing the absolute biggest empire is also no longer the only viable strategy, as a smaller, hyper-focused empire could work thanks to the various systems and civics.

The funny thing about Civ V is that although the real core of the game is similar to Civ IV, enough has been changed to really make it a completely different game in terms of the decisions you make, and that ultimately is what makes it brilliant.

Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird.


Civilization V Review

September 23, 2010

Is the sun up already? And what day is it…

This review is based on having played 800 or so turns over roughly 12-15 hours. In other words, a lifetime++ in EuroGamer years. In that time I’ve finished one game to 2050AD and taken a few others into various stages. The 2050AD game was with Japan (randomed), but I’ve also played as the Romans and the Greeks.

Civilization V is the best version of Civ yet. That alone should make it an instant buy for basically anyone who has every enjoyed or believe they might enjoy a turn based game, but as that would make for a short review, I’ll keep going.

The move to hexes is one of those things that initially feels a little odd, but after about an hour or so it becomes tough to imagine what the game is like without them. Same goes for only being able to have one combat unit on a hex; at first I was making countless mistakes in positioning and movement, but again after about an hour it not only feels ‘right’, it adds an amazing level of depth and strategy.

Speaking of depth, on the surface Civ V seems like a simplified version of IV, with many of the more complex systems (pollution, city-based unrest, religion, fewer techs overall) gone. Yet again you soon realize that it’s not about the number of systems, but how they are implemented and what decisions they force you to make. Take resources for example: in IV once you had iron, you could pump out as many iron-based units as you wanted. In V, one source of iron will only allow you to make a limited number of iron-based units or buildings. That’s huge in a number of ways. For starters, it means even if you DO have the resources, your military is still likely to include a variety of units due to resource limits. Secondly, it means that even if you have access to an iron resource, you can still trade for more, or provide someone else with yours even if they also already have some. Finally, cutting off an enemies resource means they not only lose the ability to make those units, their current units get a huge combat penalty until they regain it. And that’s just one example of the changes, but as you can see, it’s a little change that has a huge impact, while also feeling ‘natural’ in many ways. It was completely unrealistic before that one single iron mine could supple an entire nation, and Civ V ‘fixes’ that issue.

Graphically the game is stunning. Not in a Crysis “zomg look at the fog!1!” kind of way, but more in the “hey it all just looks right” style. Everything fits, looks very polished, and small details abound that not only look good, but provide information as well. For the first time, a unit of spearmen is finally a unit of 10 soldiers, and as they ‘take damage’, some of them die and the unit gets smaller. You still have a health bar, but a quick glance at the actual graphic will show you what you are looking for. This change also means combat looks a lot better, as a 10 vs 10 battle between spearmen and swordsman is a lot cooler looking than a single spearmen icon moving over a single swordsman icon (or the simplified combat animations in Civ IV). By far the coolest combat animation? The most powerful unit, the giant death robot, with its swarm of missile and laser fire. It just has that “yea, you can’t stop me” thing going for it (and actually looks a lot cooler in-game than in that picture).

Combat itself is a lot more entertaining in Civ V as well, and not only from the hex and single-unit-per-spot changes. If two units are somewhat evenly matched, the result will most likely leave both damaged but not defeated, which is a huge change from the one-and-done style of previous games. Ranged combat is also a new addition that adds an important layer of strategy, as finally you actually have to protect weaker units and use the terrain for more than just a single defense bonus, and units like archers are valuable not because they are outright stronger than warriors (they lose to them in melee), but thanks to the ranged fire they provide. Other changes I’m really enjoying include naval combat being a much slower exchange of fire rather than one-and-done ‘melee’ style, and that ships and planes can actually kill units rather than just weaken them like in IV. This makes having a strong navy and things like aircraft carriers not just a nice-to-have, but critical when attempting to make landfall on an enemy island or continent.

I’ll wrap things up here for now, but expect some more Civ V related posts in the near future, most likely breaking down certain systems and the game design theory behind them. As I said at the start though, if you are even a remote fan of strategy games, Civ V is about as good as it gets.


Civilization V is out!

September 21, 2010

A full (non-EG) review should be up either Thursday or Friday. Until then I’ll be in the command center for the next 48hrs+.

Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck has already beaten Civ V on Deity.


Darkfall: The expansion, ever closer

September 17, 2010

Tasos posted an update regarding the recent connection issues, the upcoming expansion, and beyond. From the tone of the update it sounds like things are finally picking back up and the final touches are being put on the long-delayed expansion, which will no doubt give the game a nice jolt and set things up for year-end and early 2011 updates.

I’ve personally been waiting for this upcoming expansion to get back into Darkfall, as I figure it will bring a large number of people back and create a good environment to get back into the swing of things. It sounds like in addition to the visual and audio updates, there should be a significant amount of PvE content to keep busy with between the PvP downtime. I must say I do miss playing an MMO, because as entertaining as League of Legends is, it does not scratch the same itch that Darkfall does, so it will be good to have that back into my gaming rotation.

With LoL, Civ V, and DF, I’ll be one happy gamer this Fall/Winter.

Chuck-o-the-day: When the going gets tough, the going is channeling Chuck Norris.

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)


Well this is awkward

September 16, 2010

In order to pre-load Civilization V, Direct2Drive sends you to Steam. Ouch.

(But the D2D deal is still, IMO, better, since you get the first DLC pack included, which is better than the map you get from Steam)


Pre-loading Civilization V now

September 16, 2010

Mmmm, so close I can almost taste the turn-based goodness.

Chuck-o-the-day: There has never been a hurricane Chuck because that would just be redundant.


League of Legends update

September 1, 2010

League of Legends continues to dominate my gaming time, and my account is now midway through level 25 while Aria is at 15. Her current two favorite champions are Garren and Blitzcrank, while I tend to favor Amumu, Katarina, Poppy, and Master Yi (for 3v3 matches only).

There is just nothing quite as satisfying as having Aria pull someone into tower range with Blitz, pop them up, and as they come down I stun-tackle them against a wall with Poppy, delivering a Devastating Blow to finish them off. Short of using Flash to escape, its death for any champion early on, and that combo has lead to many a first-bloods or ‘surprise’ kills. The other nice thing about the combo is that Blitz continues to be a great initiator throughout the game, and with a few items Poppy becomes a single-target wrecking machine with good survivability.

I just recently picked up Master Yi, and while his performance is just average at best in a 5v5 game, he can be a real monster in 3v3. He is a total snowball character and just gets silly with the right item build and a solid start. Critting for 1000+ every other swing, swinging multiple times per second, and lifestealing 50% of the damage you deal is just great, and watching enemy champions melt in seconds never gets old. On the other hand if things don’t go well, he brings next to nothing to a team, and the fact that he is so fragile can make for some frustrating moments, especially since I generally play ‘tougher’ champions like Amumu and Poppy.

Most nights we are playing arranged team games with 4-5 people from Inquisition, and once everyone caps out at level 30, the ranked game madness will begin. I’m really looking forward to the draft selection mode used in ranked play, as it’s just another twist on an already fairly complex game to spice things up. Until then, there are still plenty of champions to learn and team strategies to master.

Civilization 5 is just weeks away, but given how steady and entertaining League of Legends has been for everyone since we started playing, I’m guessing even Civ 5 will only put a dent into how often we log on and play. With Riot (the devs) updating the game weekly with balance patches and new champions/skins, the game is rapidly expanding and improving, and so it’s no surprise that the total amount of people playing continues to increase weekly.

Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris invented ice skates after he realized not everyone is born with blades attached to their feet.


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