Battle Brothers full release coming March 24th, 2017

If you don’t own Battle Brothers by now, you either A: suck, or B: avoid Early Access games at all costs. Well I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is I can’t fix your suck problem, that’s on you. The good news is I can tell you Battle Brothers coming out of EA on March 24th, so all you EA-phobes can join in and experience the greatness.

The put together a nifty little trailer here. Also note that the price will be going up come release, so you should grab it now before that happens.

Going forward I’m curious what their plan is. I’m all for DLC that just adds more stuff (enemies, recruit backgrounds, items, locations, etc). Plus if they open it up to modding, I’m sure there is a ton of interesting stuff people could do with the game ala Mount and Blade.

Posted in Random | 3 Comments

It’s not the player, it’s the game

Over at Tobold’s blog, across a number of recent posts, the familiar topic of why MMOs in general have declined has come up again, this time framed in the context of whether it’s the players or the game that has changed. Tobold is very clear that be believes it’s the players, while I’ve always been in the camp that it’s mostly the changes to a game that drive things.

My example, as always (because it still holds), is EVE vs WoW. WoW has declined in popularity overall, and what was once a game players would vacation away from (remember that WAR guild named after the release date of WotLK that was a popular meme before meme’ing was a thing?), is now for many a game they vacation to, consuming the month or so of new content before leaving again.

In contrast, EVE in 2017 is still EVE, in that those who play it are still playing (along with all the new alpha people), and the big names from five years ago are mostly still here and important (Goons, PL, TEST, Brave, etc). There is more stuff, and everything looks/sounds/functions like a 2017 game, but the game is still about PvP, economy, and epic player-driven storylines around space empires.

So now you either believe everyone playing EVE is a special exception, or you accept that because EVE hasn’t radically changed like WoW has, the design still hold and works in 2017 like it did ten years ago. Which isn’t to say EVE in 2017 is the same game as it was in 2003, it’s not, but its core design and principles are. It’s also why looking at a vanilla WoW server today misses the point; yes that server is popular because vanilla WoW is still a better MMO than current-day WoW, but had WoW stayed frozen in vanilla it would have also declined. What Blizzard needed to do with WoW is what CCP has done with EVE; update it to keep it current/modern, but not at the expense of your core design/appeal. Had they successfully done that (no easy task of course), WoW’s ‘decline’ would look similar to that of EVE or Lineage 1 (bigger than ever).

As for players changing, while individually we all grow up and stop being basement-dwelling no-lifers capable of putting in countless hours into a single game (most of us anyway), we are just replaced with the next wave. Ten years ago I would have easily had the time to be a full time FC in EVE, or to run a successful Corp (because, you know, I did that), but that’s just not the case today. Luckily for me, there are other who do those things (thanks Mittens and Asher!), and when they retire, others will replace them as well. The same would have happened to the content-creators in WoW had they in general not been driven away by the changes to the game’s design.

Finally, on the topic of the market today being different than it was in 2005 (or whatever time period you want to use as ‘back then’); that is also obviously true, but it works both ways. In 2005 having a gaming-capable computer wasn’t automatic, nor was having good-enough internet. In 2017 both of these things are far more common, far more affordable, and far more socially acceptable (gaming isn’t just for nerds anymore). So yes, we have Steam and its yearly 4,000 releases, or the whole mobile gaming segment, but we also have a much larger pool of potential players, and the age range of people who ‘get’ gaming is also far larger. A successful 35 year old might not have the same amount of time to play a game as they did ten years ago, but you better believe they have a lot more disposable income, which is why games that tap into that successfully (LoL, EVE) are seeing increased revenue-per-player without sacrificing design principles.

In summary, gaming today, MMO or otherwise, should be in a better state than in years past. More people are interested overall, more people with money are interested, and all of it is more accessible than ever. The fact that the MMO genre is suffering rather than thriving isn’t because the players all suddenly decided they hate this style of game, but instead because today the average MMO is terrible. Bad F2P models and their influence on design are a large piece of the blame pie, but there are plenty of other factors as well. Making a good MMO is hard, but even today if you have one, you will have people happily playing/paying it.

Posted in EVE Online, MMO design, Tobold being Wrong, World of Warcraft | 5 Comments

Battle Brothers – Difficulty that keeps the pace

I’m really, really enjoying Battle Brothers, to the point that it’s heavily cut into my EVE time and I’ve been in maintenance mode (market, industry, and PI updating only) the last few weeks now. Luckily EVE isn’t going anywhere, and I did take a little BB break to burn a few things in Jita, which was great fun and it’s always amazing to see that level of coordination from Goons. But yes, back to Battle Brothers.

One of the things that is really holding my attention with the game is the overall difficulty has stayed very consistent, while the risks/reward aspect increases as you progress. BB is a difficult game, both in terms of in-battle decisions, and with regard to larger, long-term stuff (when and who to hire, when/what to buy).

At the very beginning, the challenge is learning the basics, but you are also facing basic enemies that don’t bring a great deal of complexity to combat, while your own units aren’t yet specialized. It’s not quite “line up and swing away”, but it’s not terribly far from that, especially if you aren’t hyper-focused on minimizing damage and just want to win. The economy aspect also starts simple, where you are mostly focused on having food and tools, and you aren’t really diving into buying equipment or moving trade goods between settlements.

At the mid-point of the game, more of these things start to factor in. As you gain levels, you open up more abilities or specializations, which you need to align with the gear you have. Say for example you hire an amazing archer with fantastic ranged stats/bonuses, but you haven’t gotten a single decent ranged weapon yet. It would make sense to seek one out on the market, but how much do you spend and where? (at the first city you find, or do you run contracts for a city with a bowyer to increase your reputation and lower the price to create a more long-term solution?)

Let’s say you have that great archer, and are working on reputation with a city that has a bowyer. Suddenly in an encounter that archer is killed. Now what? Do you scrap the whole general direction you were going in, or continue and attempt to hire a suitable replacement? What happens when you pay a high price for a replacement, and their stats/bonuses just aren’t worth really focusing on?

And all of that is just one example, and you will likely have half a dozen such example going at the same time in one game, with varying degrees of impact, complexity, and demand. If two settlements are in close proximity with each other and produce profitable trade goods, you will really want to focus on that area and build a reputation to get lower buy, higher sell prices. But maybe the game has other ideas, and the contracts you are offered are ones to protect a caravan that is traveling to the other side of the map. If you keep declining them, you might not have other work to do. If you accept them, now you aren’t in that area. If the towns are often hit by raiders pillaging supplies, or greenskin raids, prices and supply will also suffer, and your once profitable area is now (at least until you fix it) poor and doesn’t produce what you need to keep going.

The final layer is once you are further in, and you have higher-level mercenaries with mid to high-end gear, a single death or crippling injury is now far more of an issue than it was earlier in the game. Lost gear is much harder to replace, and if the merc lost was also a specialist, his replacement will be both costly and difficult to find. If your general battle strategy counted heavily on the specialist (say a center line holding defensive guy), until you replaced that guy and his general effectiveness, you either can’t fight the same difficulty of battles (not always an option), or you have to change up how you fight.

Now multiply the problem of a single merc lost with a battle that goes really poorly and you lose two, three, or even six+ guys. Sure you can give up and restart, but it’s far more fun to try and recover, which is possible but is its own complex set of problems.

All of this really only works in Ironman mode too. If you save scum BB, you really are going to ruin the game. Being able to reload after a failed contract negotiation, or a bad battle, or even to only hire the best recruits not only cheapens the whole experience of difficult decisions and dealing with them, but you will also out-scale the difficulty since you are accepting only the best results all the time, which the game isn’t balanced around. Even if you generally stay away from Ironman modes in other games, don’t do that here. It should also be noted that Battle Brothers is intended to be played multiple times. Each game has its own map, towns, units; basically everything is different but the game basics, so don’t be afraid of playing with one band, it going poorly, and now having to ‘repeat’ the game again. It really won’t feel like that, and you won’t see that brilliance if you save scum and progress with only one perfectly-played merc company.

 

 

Posted in Random

Battle Brothers:Death comes in many forms

The best stories in gaming aren’t written by developers, but by you. The best stories in gaming are often enabled by developers who set the table, who provide the environment, but then let you drive the narrative and its ultimate conclusion. In more open-ended MMOs this happens often (EVE), and it can even happen in more controlled environments (WoW). In single-player games its a bit more difficult to achieve truly memorable player-driven stories, often because the game won’t allow it (on-rails dev-written story), but other times also because the events just aren’t that memorable (your events in one game of The Sims are likely pretty close to the events of another playthrough, just with some details changed up).

The best single-player game to deliver memorable stories IMO is Mount and Blade: Warband. It has the setting, it has the scope, and it has the high consequences for success/failure. Given that Battle Brothers is very much inspired by M&B, I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised that it too has already given me a very memorable story, and here it is.

Every new mercenary company in BB starts with three members, and these three members are the foundation of your group. They are generally stronger/better than most recruits you will get, and because you start with them, there is a certain emotional connection you have with them compared to the more random villagers and city folk you will ultimately recruit. Two of the three are melee fighters, while the third is more intended for ranged combat. Their specific traits and strengths are random each game, but again overall they are strong and very capable, so they are special and worth protecting.

In my first game since the big final update, my original three survived and thrived in dozens of battles, and while other fighters around them would go down and need to be replaced, they remained. And not only did they remain, but they avoided any permanent injuries as well, something somewhat rare after so many battles. The world of Battle Brothers can often times be brutal, and even the best plans tend to go sideways.

It wasn’t until one mid-game battle that the archer of the three took a critical-hit crossbow bolt to the head, killing him outright. It was a devastating blow, crushing my own moral as I finished up the fight. I had gone so many battles keeping the three alive, and yet here, despite solid planning and not making a mistake, one of the three went down.

Yet as the fight ended, hope was returned. Looking at the loot after the battle, it seemed this particular site contained not one, but two special named pieces of armor, an extremely rare occurrence. Not only that, but both suits of armor were incredible powerful, especially for a mid-game warband. The remaining two original members were each given a suit of armor, and this would make them true juggernauts on the battlefield, able to hold the front line while withstanding considerable damage. (The armor I found had over 200 hp on each piece, while at the time most of the armor I was using had between 50 and 110hp).

Despite the loss of an original brother, thanks to the new armor the mercenary band did very well for itself for some time, building a great reputation and undertaking contracts for the nobles of the land. The band had gold, they were well-supplied, and other members of the company were catching up in experience and abilities.

But the world is a harsh place, and just as you start to feel comfortable, disaster has a tendency to strike, and strike it did. Accepting a risky contract, the mercenaries found themselves in a loopsided battle against the undead and a necromancer. Individually each member could handle his undead opponent, but being so greatly outnumbered, they simply couldn’t cut through the horde and reach the necromancer in the back line. As the battle dragged on, fatigue was becoming more and more of a factor, and slowly control of the battle was slipping away.

At the center of it all where the two original brothers, holding strong and putting down undead left and right. They were tough and experienced, and fatigue wasn’t a factor for them just yet, nor was the quality of their armor, as the inexperienced undead had trouble landing a hit, let alone ones strong enough for serious concern.

While the center of the battle was going well, on the edges things were not. One by one brothers were going down, and as each fighter fell, the task of reaching the necromancer and stopping him from raising more undead got harder and harder.

Taking a risk, an archer moved closer to the front line to attempt shooting the necromancer. The chance of landing a shot wasn’t great, but with his cloth armor, the necromancer wasn’t the most durable of combatants. After a few rounds, finally enough shots landed to take him down, and to put an end to his dark magic. At this point however many of the brothers were either dead or critically injured, and at the end only the two original members survived to kill the final enemy.

It was a victory, but one that crippled the fighting power of the mercenary company going forward. New recruits could be hired, but seasoned fighters are very expensive, and that was beyond the financial capabilities of the band. The roster was filled out with farmers, common workers, and a ragtag collection of peasants; hardly the seasoned fighting force the company was prior to that fateful battle.

Costs and upkeep remained however, so more contracts would need to be accepted. The band still had its glowing reputation, despite losing so many, which meant the nobles expected great things, and lesser tasks with easier foes were not common. Given the choice between starving or taking a risk, the band took a tough contract against another lair of the undead.

As the battle started, it was clear to the two veteran members that this was be the bands final stand. The numbers were too much, and the enemies far more experienced than the average mercenary. Additionally, among the undead were a few ghosts, which quickly cause fear and panic among the ranks. The mercenaries never had a chance as a whole, and the new recruits were quickly cut down in brutal fashion. Worse still, the two original members, seeing the carnage around them and with ghosts wailing in terror, started to lose their moral and would soon break.

In a sad twist of fate, they didn’t die together fighting a tougher foe in heroic, but rather were slowly nicked to death by shambling undead as they attempted to flee in terror. And so marked the end of that mercenary company, crushed by a cruel and harsh world. But another band would arise, to make new memories, and to push further towards glory.

Posted in Mount and Blade: Warband, Random | 9 Comments

In time, you will know the tragic extent of my failings…

Darkest Dungeon has defeated me, and I’m ok with that.

I’ve been playing and greatly enjoying the new Radiant mode, which reduced some of the grind in DD, mostly in how many dungeon runs you need between a fresh recruit and one ready for the final dungeon, which in the original mode was simply way too many. Radiant isn’t any easier though, just a bit shorter on the most repetitive parts of the game. It’s a great addition, and makes a game that was a lot of fun but a bit too long, pretty much perfect IMO.

That said, I’m not going to finish it. I successfully beat the first (of four) final dungeon, but after two attempts wasn’t able to beat the second. I know I could, if I bring the right party with the right trinkets, but even in Radiant mode getting those specific characters ready for the final dungeon was just asking too much from me at that point. I had the town mostly maxed out, beaten all but two of the side bosses, and had basically seen everything in the game save for the final dungeons.

There is also no guarantee that, had I put the correct party together, I’d been successful anyway. The difficulty is high on the final runs, you can’t get stronger, and so luck (RNG) plays a larger role. This isn’t to say its all luck, or even mostly, but getting virtue on your first character is a massive swing, for instance, and that’s mostly down to the RNG gods.

So I went online and watched a video of the final encounter and the ending to the game, which was basically what I expected it to be. ‘Cheating’ a bit, but it closes the circle with DD for me, and I can move on, at least until the expansion is finally released.

Plus the final update to Battle Brothers is out (in beta mode), and oh god is it good.

Posted in Random, Review | 4 Comments

EVE culture almost got raped

The most recent ‘scandal’ event in EVE was the name change of the alliance “Just Let It Happen” due to a reported EULA violation that it promoted ‘rape culture’.

First, I’d love for someone to explain to me how changing an alliance name in EVE results in fewer rapes. Not less ‘rape culture’, whatever you want to imagine that might be, but actual rapes. Like was someone going to go out and rape someone tomorrow because they logged in and saw “Just Let It Happen” on their screen, but now that its been changed that person is all set on the raping?

This whole thing blew up, including getting CCP Falcon to comment that the decision was made by a support person, rather than a higher-up within CCP like Falcon. There was confusion over this because typically Falcon is the guy who approves alliance icons into the game, but that doesn’t mean he also approves or is in charge of name changes. The community also put together a nice list of other questionable names if viewed through the eyes of a SJW snowflake, which I think went a long way to show just how silly the initial issue really was.

Thankfully because CCP is CCP rather than your typical tone-deaf MMO devs, the change was reverted and everyone’s favorite online pro-rapist alliance is back! Their celebration roam using Rapiers, Coercers, and Stabbers should go swimmingly (yes I stole this joke from Reddit).

Posted in EVE Online, Rant | 14 Comments

Some people just don’t want a new experience

I’ve been playing a solid amount of Darkest Dungeon since the release of the Radiant mode patch. For a still-accurate overview of my thoughts on the game, here is my review post from 2015. Radiant mode shortens the game, but doesn’t actually make it easier, which is perfect all around. I’ll likely have a wrap-up post once I actually beat the game. I’m on week 60 right now, with a nearly maxed village and multiple maxed heroes, so I should be pretty close, and just need to get the courage up to enter the final dungeon…

I also really enjoy reading comments about DD on various sites like Polygon or RPS, because people fall into basically two camps. One camp ‘gets it’ and enjoys the fact that in DD heroes aren’t permanent, and the point of the game isn’t to get your favorite buddy to the end, but rather to manage the whole stable of disposable heroes in such a way to eventually beat the final dungeon. The other camp is people who dislike the fact that heroes aren’t meant to be permanent, and just can’t get over that hurdle to enjoy the game for what it is.

The reason I find this so interesting is because it shows how set in there ways some people are. DD by its very design is intended to shake up a tradition in the RPG space (that heroes are the focus), and it accomplishes this very well. It can be rough at first, but once you make the mental shift things click. Yet some people don’t want that shakeup, and despite the rest of DD being what they want, they just can’t make it click.

In this regard, it’s easier to see why, for example, we continue to see basically the same MMO released over and over with just different settings. For every person sick of the same old kill/fetch/grind quest model, there are people who don’t want that shaken up, to the point that they won’t accept anything that does. It’s not ‘wrong’ by any means, because what you find fun is what you find fun, but it helps to explain why we don’t see more developers pushing gaming in different directions; it’s simple easier and safer to stay with what works and what people expect.

Posted in Random | 15 Comments