What we can learn as we watch little sprite people burn

June 3, 2014

Tales of randomness incoming!

I’ve been playing Sim City 4 lately. A game released in 2003, that is now on GoG.com, which was on freaking sale for $5 due to a 75% sale (so to recap: a game from 2003 is normally priced $20 still; very impressive). I think the last great Maxis game before EA completely ruined that studio? Anyway yea, Sim City 4.

Graphically the game has held up well despite using sprites and going no higher than 1600×1200. It’s not blowing any doors down, but it more than gets the job done, and still gets a laugh or two out of me (the random hyper-violent car crashes in particular). It’s stable, I think bug free, and opens/closes/loads quickly.

What I think I’m enjoying most is the sheer difficulty of the game, in that at almost no point am I in a boring too-comfortable zone with a city. Something always needs to be built, and that something always hits the razor-thin budget or creates new strains on support systems like power, water, or crime/fire/health coverage. The game is a pretty beautiful dance in that regard, made even better because some of the major stuff like the top airport or a highway system are absolute resource monsters.

On a higher level, a well-executed city builder like Sim City 4 hits a lot of points I enjoy in a sandbox game. The open-ended decision points, the more freeform flow of the game, the ability to fail due to your own decisions; all of that just works for me. And then depresses me because I need to go back to 2003 to find such entertainment. Do more gaming, do more!

#SimCity


Steam number crunching

April 17, 2014

Ars Technica has done some really nice work around Steam and what players are buying and playing on that service. If the stat that Steam makes up 75% of PC sales today is even remotely true, it only makes this reporting all that more interesting.

It’s worth a read for sure, and hopefully they drill down into MMO-specific data so we have something more meaty to chew on. That DoTA is really popular is nice, but yea, not that interesting as a discussion topic. Good start though, and something I’ll be keeping an eye on for sure.


SOE: This is not the dying-trend clone you are looking for

April 10, 2014

What are many gamers sick of? Zombies. Specifically DayZ-clone zombies. This sentiment will only grow as more and more clones get dumped out.

What is SOE working on? A DayZ clone poorly titled H1Z1!

Do you SOE, do you!

PS: Pitching a DayZ clone as the “welcome home” for pre-NGE SWG fans previously screwed by SOE is such a giant middle finger to that fan base I’m actually surprised even the tone-deaf SOE did it. Just next level trolling. Hate to but have to respect it.

PPS: Sorry about the title of the blog, but sometimes you just gotta take a swing when someone throws you a meatball, even from the meatball king that is SOE.

#SOE #H1Z1


DF:UW – Ushering in the play to crush era

April 3, 2014

“Play to Crush” was the marketing pitch for Shadowbane (SB), a somewhat short-lived MMO that was based around PvP conquest. The core reason SB died? The players crushed it. Server by server, one alliance would rise to dominance, and that dominance lead to all enemy opposition being crushed either off the server or out of the game. The ‘why’ includes a laundry list of design mistakes and technical issues, but at the heart of it all was the general idea of playing to crush, and the players did just that; they crushed SB until it was gone.

An even larger theme than “Play to Crush” is that the players always seek to ‘win’ a game, even if the road to that victory means removing the fun out of the game itself. More than providing victory conditions, a good designer will seek to ensure that the path to winning is not only fun, but in the case of an MMO, sustainable. Basically, NOT allowing “Play to Crush” to happen.

EVE does a good job of this, at least if you consider the rest of the genre anyway. Some EVE players will tell you CCP sucks in this regard and lets the Goons win because the Goons run CCP, but yea, if you look around the genre EVE has balanced motivating winning without crushing well for the past 10+ years.

AV today publicly posted a preview of the next big patch for the game, which will include the territory system. They unfortunately went with player-based buffs over the suggested area-based system, which IMO leaves many of the real benefits of the system on the table and introduces a potential major “Play to Crush” aspect.

To quickly sum it up, the new system will provide a clan-member (and at a reduced rate, alliance member) a buff to PvE (gold, item, and prowess gain) if they are within the area of a holding they own. The more holdings that they own that are connected, the larger this buff becomes. The main sources of this buff will be cities and hamlets, but villages and the two sea fortresses can also contribute if they are captured and connect to your territory. There is currently no cap on the number of holdings that can factor in and stack here.

If you are the most powerful clan/alliance on the server, you will shortly have no negatives to capture as many connected holdings as possible, while each additional connected holding further widens the gap between your wealth generation efficiency and everyone else’s. On paper, its pure snowball “Play to Crush”.

The one saving grace, ironically thanks to the fact that the DF economy is still poor (everyone is still PvPing in top-end gear, because the added sink from PvP was far too small and AV hasn’t increased it), is that wealth generation isn’t a huge factor in DF:UW. You can’t win a war through economics, because basically everyone has access to everything and nothing is all that costly or difficult to replace.

This of course also reduces the impact of the new territory and buff system, but we all know MMO players don’t need major motivation to go out and crush in the name of winning. Hell, epeen alone is often enough, as made crystal clear by the power of meaningless leaderboards that people love and chase spots on.

Like so many times in its history, AV was on the brink of taking a significant step forward, and instead trips over its own feet. Or in this case, got a significant nudge off the cliff thanks to a subset of the community that supported this flawed version of the system.


My 15

March 24, 2014

Via TAGN, my top 15 influential games.

1: Ultima Online

This is an MMO blog, and UO was the first major MMO as we know them today. It’s also had the Ultima IP, which was huge for me. And as time goes on, and the genre tries to figure itself out, we realize (or are proven ‘right’, depending on your starting point) UO got a lot of things correct compared to future titles. It wasn’t just the first MMO, it was a very well-designed sandbox MMO that had a brilliant virtual world. We need more UOs, but making them has proven to be very difficult.

2: Ultima V

Way back when I played games on a Commodore 64, and Ultima V was my favorite game by a mile. MMOs are a big deal to me today because prior to 1997 and UO, I was (and still am) huge into RPGs, and for me Ultima V remains not only the first, but one of the best games in that genre. Non-linear, party based, great lore, great stories, epic scope, ;living world’, difficult; Ultima V got a lot right IMO.

3: Myth 1 and Myth 2

Cheating a bit going with both of these, but allow me to explain. Myth 1 was an RTS game far ahead of its time (something Bungie has a habit of doing), and I played it relentlessly. Sadly at the time the computer I had couldn’t really run it, so at a certain point online I couldn’t win games playing at 5-10 FPS (no joke). Myth 2 improved most aspects from the first game, and I had a better machine when it came out. I ended up holding the world #1 spot in the game until the first rank reset, which totally should be on my resume if gaming was as cool as sports. Either way being able to say you were the undisputed best at something out of 50k+ people is fun. Me > you.

4: EVE

UO was the first and laid the groundwork, but EVE is that groundwork perfected, and is the shining example that an MMO doesn’t die ‘eventually’ if it’s built correctly. The list of things EVE does better than anyone else in the genre is almost endless, but for me personally it drove home the fact that if you set a goal and execute, EVE is your oyster. I wanted to start a corp, I wanted it to grow into something, and I wanted to take us out of high-sec and do ‘something’. All accomplished, and it was a very rewarding experience.

5: Shining in the Darkness

I got this game along with my Sega Genesis, and it was my first introduction to console gaming and that style of RPG games. I still have a notebook of the maps my father and I drew as we played it, and whenever I watch a Youtube video of the game the music takes me back. The game being the first entry in the pretty great Shining series is significant IMO, even if the games don’t share a central story or world.

6: Final Fantasy 7

I loved FF7, racking up a saved game of over 100hrs (this was back when 100hrs with a title was something. Now we call that a 3-monther MMO). The graphics were amazing, the story was solid, the videos looked straight out of the future; the game itself is a masterpiece. It holds a special place for me because this title alone is responsible for turning the RPG genre from a niche to a mainstream thing. Suddenly we had tons of options rather than a handful of titles per year, all thanks to FF7.

7: Final Fantasy Tactic

When it comes to turn-based strategy titles, FFT is still my top-rated title. It’s not without flaws, but the strength of this title so far outweigh the flaws that it’s silly. Incredible depth, a serious challenge, a twisting storyline even despite the hit/miss translation, FFT had it all. It’s re-release on the iPhone recently reconfirmed for me how great it is, it’s held up wonderfully.

8: Heroes of Might and Magic 3

Considered the best entry in the series, HoMM3 is a title my friend and I pour a silly amount of time into. A solid single-player experience with amazing multiplayer depth, whether it was co-op vs the AI or going 1v1, featuring great balance amongst the factions and maps. The series has been trying to recreate the HoMM3 experience since, and while HoMM6 was solid, it still wasn’t it.

9: Civilization V

I’ve played every entry in the Civ series since the first, but it wasn’t until Civ V that I become obsessed with mastering the game. A great combination of deep turn based gameplay, historical accuracy, and refined game systems place Civ V high on my list.

10: Streets of Rage

The beat-em-up genre is mostly (completely?) dead now, but back in the day it was huge, and Streets of Rage was my jam. A really fun game whether you played solo or with a buddy, and one of the first games I played to master every boss encounter long past the time when I had initially beat it. The birth of my min-maxing, you might say.

11: World of Warcraft

After UO and EVE, WoW is the most significant MMO for me personally. A lot of this has to do with making friendships with people I still talk to today, raiding buddies who I spent hundreds if not thousands of hours with, carrying god knows how many derps through MC, BWL, AQ40, and beyond. Outside of raiding WoW in the early days had a lot going for it, whether it was leading the masses to victory in AV or raiding alliance towns with the guild and others.

12: Marathon

Another example of a Bungie title being way ahead of its time. As a FPS Marathon was excellent, and many of its mechanics went on to become genre standards. If the title wasn’t Mac-only, I wonder if it would have given Doom a run for its money. IMO it was the better game.

13: League of Legends

I played a lot of DoTA for Warcraft 3, so went into LoL knowing what to expect. But seeing how Riot handled the game, especially in the early years, and reading their forum posts about design hammered home that LoL is DoTA without all its flaws. Furthermore, a lot of the basic concept they explained still apply today, and not just to LoL but to gaming overall. I’m still actively playing the game after all these years, my wife is still addicted to it as well, and it’s the biggest game in the world overall. On top of all that, LoL is the best example of how well the F2P model can work outside of the MMO genre.

14: Syndicate

I played this game only when I was over a friend’s house, but we both loved it. Great atmosphere, great sandboxish design, solid graphics for the time, and the first game I played where you could do interesting stuff like convert a dozen civilians to become a small army, get them into cars, and have them run over other people by accident all until the cars exploded. The AI was good for the time, but because it gave you options, it created a lot of “oh wow that was cool” unscripted moment.

15: Skyrim

I played Morrowind a bit, played a lot of Oblivion, but it wasn’t until Skyrim that I was really looking forward to an ES game, and Skyrim delivered on all fronts. This is the model I want followed when it comes to future single-player sandbox RPGs. I’ve played almost all of its content now, and just the depth and consistence of it all is amazing.


Reviews vs Facts

March 19, 2014

A while ago I had a conversation with someone about reviews. My basic point was that they don’t matter all that much, and that we sometimes think they do because the media that produces and relies on reviews tries to convince us that they do.

I think Metacritic is good for a quick glance, but a score of 82 vs 91 doesn’t tell me much, especially for a niche or ‘acquired taste’ title. If a random gamer reviews Darkfall after 10 hours, I’d expect that review to be fairly negative. Unless of course our random gamer happens to be someone who has been looking for a different take on the MMO genre and is really into exactly what DF does well (combat, competition, etc). Then the review is a ‘hidden gem’ type of deal.

On Steam I’ll often look at the forum of a specific game before I buy it (on sale, usually), but I’m not looking for opinion about details so much as I’m looking for “This game is terrible and lies about having X Y, Z” with 3-4 replies confirming the message. Or “This game is a totally buggy mess”, especially when looking at early access titles. I view those not as someone sharing an opinion, but rather confirming facts.

Most reviews are not about confirming facts, but rather the written opinion of the reviewer. Is the reviewer a gamer in my vein, or is he someone who thought WotLK was a great expansion? Because if it’s the latter, what he hates I might find perfect.

Side note: I think ESO is going to be a review nightmare. On the surface and in the first 8-9 levels, it’s a strange and honestly fairly poor mix of not quite Skyrim, but not quite anything worthwhile as an MMO. But then it really opens up, brings a lot of new stuff to the genre, and does a lot of sneaky-great stuff.

The contrast between ESO and WildStar is of particular note. Many expected WildStar to be the next-step MMO, and have been disappointed, while those same people expected ESO to be a clone title and instead found (assuming they got deep enough) something surprisingly better.


Command Center

March 14, 2014

Forumfall has a thread about everyone’s gaming area. Figured some of you might be interested in mine here as well. Click to enlarge.

Gaming area

 


Total War: Rome 2 – The difficulty and the details

March 6, 2014

I picked up Total War: Rome 2 during, as always, a Steam sale a while back. My only previous experience with the series was Shogun 2, which I played and enjoyed but was never fully blown away with. That said I put over 60 hours into it, so clearly I liked it ‘enough’ to grab Rome 2, especially because I like that time period a lot more than feudal Japan.

Until just a few days ago I couldn’t really get into Rome 2. The game is a complex beast of systems, stats, and decisions that aren’t all that clear for a while. I felt very disconnected from the game, and even when I got my feet under me and started having success as the Britons, I wasn’t really drawn into the game.

I think I’ve hit a turning point with my latest campaign, playing a German tribe on a higher difficulty level. I lost the first battle, had to start again, and I’m currently really struggling just to get started. And I’m loving it; can’t wait to play more. The higher difficulty really forces you to start paying attention to the small details and decisions you make, and now not only am I hoping to win battles, but I care how effectively I win them because later that’s going to matter.

The above is just another example of why I think games sell themselves short when they are too easy; because when they are too easy they allow you to ignore a lot of the detail the developers spent time designing, and sometimes those details are the real meat of the game that you SHOULD be focused on and enjoying.

Now if it didn’t take 5 minutes to load per battle, maybe I could make some real progress, but that’s a different rant.


Payday the right way, DF:UW boats, ESO beta

February 28, 2014

Random bits on a Friday.

Payday 2 received a nice free update recently, adding a new difficulty level to every heist and two new enemies, among other changes. The game continues to be another good example of how to support your game post-release, mixing DLC and free updates to keep people interested while still making money. Certainly it’s been one of the better games I’ve purchased in recent years, and is still highly recommended.

Went to a Sea Fortress recently in Darkfall. We had ten with us, and I was driving the boat. When we initially arrived we saw a few other boats fighting it out, and the hitpoints of the Sea Fortress were also dropping. We rolled the dice and tried to get the last hit on the tower, but no luck there. We then engaged one boat with cannon fire, only to eventually be swarmed by 4-5 large boats and another 3-4 smaller ships all from the same alliance. We held out for a bit, as I tried to sail the ship in such a way as to reduce the number of enemy cannons able to hit us, but eventually our boat was too damaged (slows the boat), the enemy ships caught up, and we got swarmed. Good times, and credit to the enemy for bringing so many people.

Finally, ESO beta is this weekend, and I’ve got a nice crew interested in the game. I don’t know if INQ is officially going to jump into the game, but either way I’m in and will have a guild up. Hoping to see some of the dungeon content this weekend, and maybe jump into the RvR area as well.


Pathfinder Online: How low is acceptable?

February 23, 2014

The newest Pathfinder Online video is out, and um… yikes.

I’ve said here before that I like a lot of the ideas Pathfinder has behind it. On paper, a lot of things that I believe make a sandbox work they have, and the game is certainly on my radar in terms of upcoming MMOs.

That video though? The reason I’m not a Pathfinder backer to begin with is their first video during the Kickstater campaign was terrible, and at the time the effort looked like some good ideas on paper without a team to execute them properly (Which, you know, is how one could describe 90% of Kickstarter efforts). The newest video, while better in many areas, still at its core looks terrible in terms of combat.

Now I don’t need Darkfall-level combat in an MMO to enjoy it. I think EVE is the best thing out by a mile, and while it’s combat is a lot deeper than F1 and walk away (unless you’re into that and only engage is such things), it’s certainly not what most would call great. But there is a lot of space between great combat and what this latest video is showing, and I’m left wondering if I could really get into a game should the combat remain this… well terrible.

I know the game is still in the early phases, and like I mentioned, this video is a lot better in many areas than earlier videos, but yea, the combat needs to improve between now and release. I don’t need perfection, but what was shown here is asking just a little too much from me.

(Totally unrelated side-note: My latest Banished town went into an amusing death-spiral. First I had an event occur that lowered food supplies, and while I was able to increase production to make up for it, that caused secondary production to suffer. That caught up to me when I ran low on coats and tools. Without coats and tools, people worked slower and did far less during the winter. This in turn further pushed food production down, resulting in starvation. As starvation killed people off, production dropped far faster than the population, as workers would die and would sometimes be replaced by a newborn. Babies eat food, but don’t contribute until they grow up, so things just accelerated down and down. A harsh lesson learned. Game is fantastic.)


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