The Settlers 2 – Lessons from the past

December 2, 2014

I’ve been playing The Settlers 2: Tenth Anniversary edition (via GoG.com) a good bit lately, and it’s been a nice reminder to what gaming was ‘back in the day’, mostly in a good way.

I won’t explain the basics of Settlers, but ultimately the core challenge comes down to managing traffic congestion; avoiding having any spot get too busy so as to cause a bottleneck. This is rather simplistic in the game as the only travel options are roads, and roads only have one auto-upgrade to a stone path that doubles the rate at which goods move from one point to the other. Everything else, from when to build something, finding resources, organizing buildings into logical groups, the entire military aspect; all of that ultimately boils down to how well the busiest part of your road network performs.

Yet that simplicity still leads to a lot of interesting decisions, and ultimately a fairly challenging game. Because each map is different, you can’t repeat the same building layout, so while general themes work (smithy near mines), you never get too comfortable and unexpected issues arise all the time. This however is only noticeable when the map challenges you, which is another critical factor in my current enjoyment; the game isn’t easy.

A challenging game basically forces you to improve, and one way to improve is to really understand the various game systems you are playing with. Without that challenge, you could fully complete a game and not pick up on some of the depth, and if that depth is critical to the overall ‘vision’ of the game, you won’t enjoy things nearly as much as you might/should.

On the other hand, having to fully restart a map in Settlers is a bit brutal, as a restart easily wipes away an hour or more of progress, and playing the same map again means you already know where a lot of resources are located and when you will encounter the enemy. It’s not hard to imagine that a lot of gamers today would simply walk away from the game after the first failure, and leave with a negative view of the game. While this problem isn’t beyond solving using more modern design techniques (random maps, scaling difficulty, etc), the core issue of challenge vs frustration is interesting.

Ultimately I am pleasantly surprised to see how well the game’s core design has held up. More modern city builders have far more features, options, and tech-driven bells and whistles, yet few if any amount to the number of interesting player decisions and critical thinking that The Settlers requires from you. Certainly recommended, just make sure not to rage-quit when things get a little tough!


Reader vote: Wasteland 2 or Divinity?

December 1, 2014

Both are on sale right now for $26. If you could only pick one, which would it be?

(I’m going to own both at some point, but which one should I grab first to fill time until after Xmas?)


/taunt

November 28, 2014

Can’t use till after Christmas.

It whispers sweet nothings while I play

It whispers sweet nothings while I play

 

Not playing Total War: Rome 2, Farcry 4, FFXIV, and Endless Legends right now because I want to play them without a single hitch maxed out. Luckily The Settlers II – 10th Anniversary edition isn’t a demanding game, and a great reminder of what gaming was ‘back in the day’ (it gets brutally hard, but that’s a post for another day).


Burnout is a myth

November 25, 2014

When WoW was declining due to one crappy expansion after another featuring accessibility-inspired dumbing down, some people tried to write this off as not being about the content, but just due to ‘burnout’. They would have you believe that after 1, 2, or 4 years, people were just getting burned out on WoW and that’s why sub numbers were declining. The counter point the entire time was EVE, but now you can toss WoW itself into the mix.

Related is this recent info about Payday 2. The highest activity in the game, which is now more than a year old, just occurred this October. Perhaps FPS gamers are just immune to burnout? Or maybe its because the content that is constantly added to Payday 2 is fantastic. Deathwish difficulty raised the bar and gave even the most experienced players a real challenge (or for most people, an unreachable/impossible tier, which sounds vaguely familiar to something else…), the mix of paid DLC and free updates have been solid and steady, and the game today doesn’t just have more ‘stuff’, but it has more stuff that fits and actually expanded all of the original content, rather than replace it (now where have I heard about that approach working long-term…).

LoL (4 years+, peak numbers), CoC (2 years+, top grossing app today (oddly Hearthstone didn’t show up in the top 150 for either downloads or revenue, wonder why)), DoTA2 (crazy growth this year), etc etc etc. I think you get the point.

If a game is great and keeping being great, while giving you more of that greatness, you don’t get burned out. If a game stagnates, or especially if it gets worse (hi Trion), people leave because of that, not burnout.


Someone make this: Necromunda

November 24, 2014

So when Mordheim was announced/posted on Steam, I mentioned how I’ve been mulling over the idea of a Necromunda game. Much like the PvE sandbox posts (though far shorter), here goes.

All of the game rules, setting, and characters would come directly from Necromunda itself. None of this ‘inspired by’ stuff, just straight up copy/paste like Bloodbowl. The beauty of this is you are taking something that is not only already established, but well balanced and proven to be fun, and just bringing it out of the basement and into the modern age by taking advantage of things like computers and the internet.

The gameplay would feel like a slightly more tactical version of something like XCOM, with games ;asting about an hour. Turn-based, visual indicators for things like cover or hit percentage, and then let the game handle all of the dice rolls and rules.

Outside of playing a scenario, the game would be an online lobby where you could make changes to your gang, review the current status of your base, territories, and equipment, and do other lobby stuff like chat and see if your friends are online.

Game options would include free form mode (no permanence or carryover, just pick what you want and go at it), practice (use your current gang, but not have the result count or XP carry over), and campaign mode, where you would face off against others in your ‘city’, gain XP, and basically play the long-term game that is Necromunda. These campaigns could be public or private, just like Bloodbowl handles them.

The business model would be the LoL F2P model, as that continues to be the absolute best version of F2P by a mile. The core game (say 5 gangs) would be free. Additional gangs could be purchased for either real money or currency you earn by playing (note that this isn’t the currency you would use to buy gear and new gang members). New gangs would be released every two months or so. Additionally, real money only options would include skins for weapons, characters, and base fluff. You could also sell new fluff animation and sound packs.

I would not expect this to be a AAA mega-seller given that it’s both turn-based and rather deep/difficult, but given the business model I think it could be a steady revenue generator thanks to a dedicated, loyal core. If it was pulled off and supported well, it has solid growth potential. Plus given the current game engines that exist, the development cost wouldn’t be anything crazy either. You wouldn’t need cutting-edge graphics, just something similar to XCOM or even Bloodbowl; so long as what is on screen does a good job of representing what is happening, that’s all that matters.

Fairly simple, using an old IP I don’t think GamesWorkshop even remembers anymore, that could provide some fun niche gaming. Someone please make this, thanks.

 

Edit: Just did a quick search and I’ve posted something very similar here before, in 2011.


Mordheim is coming!

November 21, 2014

I am interested in this.

Two immediate thoughts; one is that I love the grid-less turn-based system. Assuming its pulled off correctly it should fit Mordheim perfectly. Two, the game looks slow as hell based on the videos, which I’m 100% ok with. At a time where games need to be over in 5 minutes, it will be nice to have something that takes a little longer (assuming of course the extra time results in depth, not just animation watching).

Still sad that we don’t have a Necromunda game though. I need to write up how I’d make that game, business model and all, as I’ve had it planned out for some time and in my head the whole thing remains brilliant.


Hearthstone: This kiddie pool sure has a lot of leaks

November 18, 2014

More observations as I roll my face across the iPad ‘playing’ Hearthstone:

Just like MtG (or basically most card games of this type), Hearthstone is a major Pay-4-Power game. Epic and Legendary cards are silly strong, and as soon as you see someone drop a few on you in a game, you might as well take your participation trophy and move on (unless of course you also have a stacked deck). The fact that you can’t trade cards further pushed Hearthstone into a wallet-warrior game, because smart trading can’t help you catch up; only grinding or cash.

Speaking of participation trophies, Hearthstone has a few major design flaws in its setup. For one, having a bot automate conceding ranked games for you is amazingly effective. You still get XP for your ‘effort’, and you don’t lose anything. Plus, should you run across another concede bot who goes first (roughly 1 in 5-6 games for me currently), you get a free win to grind towards the gold card/character rewards and the 3-win 10 gold reward.

The whole ranked setup is also a bit of a joke. The only reward is at rank 20, and you can’t drop below rank 20 once you get to it. Also you can’t lose progress while working towards rank 20, so that auto-concede bot will eventually (surprisingly quickly) get you to rank 20. At rank 20 things are an expected mess. Concede bot farmers aside, you will also run into a whole bunch of ‘smurf’ decks just looking to smash people, again because Blizzard designed the system to not only allow, but actually made it incredibly easy for them to sit at that level. Safe to say a solid 50% or so of ranked games aren’t competitive (generously calling any relatively even deck game of Hearthstone competition here).

The game is perfect for ‘playing’ while you do something more interesting, because during your opponents turn whether you are looking at the screen or not doesn’t matter; you can’t do anything anyway. On the surface this is just boring while you wait with nothing to do, but go a bit below the surface and this is actually a major, major removal of interesting decisions and strategy.

In MtG you had to always be aware of the status of your opponent. How many cards they have, how much untapped land they have, how much land could they potentially need to use during your attack phase based on the creatures they have out, etc. None of this exists in Hearthstone.

If it’s your turn, whether someone ends their turn with 10 crystals or 0 doesn’t matter. Whether someone has 10 cards in hand or 0 doesn’t matter (overdrawing aside). They can’t have tapped or untapped creatures. There is no regen they need to pay for. No creature abilities they need to pay for. So many tactical player decisions are gone. Not your turn in Hearthstone? Nap time!

Regeneration is one creature ability completely missing currently, as is its counter bury. Flying is another, as is landwalk (landwalk would be impossible since Hearthstone only has one type, not five like in MtG), so is first strike. So are any player-active abilities beyond on-summon stuff. The game does have a whole bunch of dice roll abilities; such as one creature who randomly deals 3 damage to anyone; friend or foe. Sure you can attempt to limit the randomness by having fewer potential targets, but that critical creature you need killed who has one hitpoint might still be standing if Hearthstone randomizes the card not in your favor and decides the damage is all going to go to heroes rather than that card. Super fun when that happens, and a silly amount of cards are designed with such randomization.

Then there are just more general problems. For instance, there are a TON of board-clear cards/combos. A ridiculous amount honestly. On top of this there are even more single-removal cards, and of course none of this can really be countered since when it’s not your turn, you just sit and spin until it is. Imagine if every deck in MtG had 10 copies of Swords to Plowshares (but without the healing aspect, and the card destroying everything) and you get a decent idea of what I mean.

This leads to basically only playing enough cards to gain board advantage, but not ‘too many’ to lose card advantage when the inevitable board-clear happens. Game after game this is the pattern, and because Hearthstone has so few real patterns, it’s just boring. Arena is again a bit better, but only slightly so, and Arena is (or should be, anyway) like the ARAM to the real meat of ranked/SR, to bring this into LoL terms. Imagine if ARAM was the only interesting/balanced version of LoL? That’s Hearthstone in a nutshell, except if you removed 99% of the needed ability from actually playing ARAM and gave every hero a 1m damage Karth ult on a 30sec cooldown.

It really is not only a shockingly shallow game, but a basically flawed game as well, not just by Old Blizzard standards, but just general game design standards. If this was an SOE or EA product, it would still be a sub-par effort from those studios. For Old Blizzard? This is Ghost/Warcraft Adventures, only released instead of rightly aborted.

 


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