I’m ashamed to note that Postal 2 had Capture the Babe mode years ago. And yes, it was a funny variation from the normal Capture the Flag - especially if you played as a team of catholic priests.
I’m starting to feel that DNF is trying too hard. It’s a shame that Duke Nukem Forever was so long in development that the whole culture and values around games changed in the meantime. Or maybe I’m just getting old. I do, however, still enjoy a round or two of Postal 2’s CTB.
The second episode of BTTG:TG is up on Telltale's site (or Steam) and that means that the cheapskates like me (and you, if you got the promo code back in December or so). can get our dirty paws on the first episode for free.
However, just as I was planning to download the first episode, I realized that there was a Mac version of Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People out too and I had the first episode hanging there. So I got it instead.
Because, let’s be honest here, Back to the Future is for nerds. Strong Bad is for the cool, attractive people.
PC Gamer: I think you said you don’t like [social] being attributed to some of those games?
Jonathan Blow: Well, they’re not very social. A game like World of Warcraft or Counter-Strike or whatever is way more social. Because you actually meet new people in clans or guilds. You go do activities together and help each other out, right?
[With certain social games] it’s about the game exploiting your friends list that you already made, so it’s not really about meeting people. And it’s not really about doing things with them because you’re never playing at the same time. It’s about using your friends as resources to progress in the game, which is the opposite of actual sociality or friendship. Maybe not exactly, but it’s not the same thing, right? They’re really just called social games because they run on social networks but they’re way less [social] – like sitting down and playing a board game with friends at a party is a way more social game. That’s an intensely social experience, right? So, like whatever. I hate that name.
I find this classification [of games to casual, social and hardcore] both stupid and harmful.
I feel the need to rant a bit more and flesh out my argument.
In addition, there are serious games, or games whose primary goal is not to entertain, but for example to educate or which are used in simulations. I think Wii Fit matches those conditions. However, it didn’t make the cut for Wikipedia’s article on serious games, unlike most flight simulators. Which is a bit pretentious, I’d be quite willing to bet that most Microsoft Flight Simulator players bought the game for sole entertainment purposes.
While there might be some justification for “serious” games, “Social games” is in my opinion a rather empty neologism. What it in practice means is computer games that are run on top of a social networking site1, mostly using Flash and allows some interaction between friends. Was it not for this social network aspect, most of these games would be classified as “casual games”, because most of them do not involve much learning, skill or (mental) commitment.
The wikipedians have apparently ended with the same conclusion, as it only differentiates with (hard)core, casual and serious games. In my opinion the “serious” games is such a niche whose existence on that list can only be explained by the elitism felt by that crowd.
Another place I looked for a games ontology was Quora, because its more start-up focused outlook on things. And I was not disappointed. Looking at Quora’s2 Games topic’s ontology, we can see such monstorities as Serious Social Games, Casual Social Games, Synchronous Casual Social Games. What, of course, is missing is Synchronous Mobile Casual Social Serious Games.
However, I picked a group of games and tried to do completely subjective comparison of each games’ social features. The end result is in no way scientific but I hope it still shows how silly the meaning of “social games” is.
It might be look like I’m trying to be harsh on Plants vs Zombies, but I was just trying to find a popular game that was generally thought as “casual”, but not “social”. Anyway, what’s wrong with online “casual” games? Maybe because there was no money in all those game portals of yesteryear. “Social games” gives a new, shiny brand.
Sure, maybe the current batch of “social games” is just the first generation that will eventually give way to more “social” experiences, but that remains to be seen.
Paradoxically this does not include pure gaming social networks like PSN, Steam, or XBox Live. ↩
I completely forgot that there are many adventure games that feature a female lead. Notable mentions include:
Sierra’s Laura Bow (and its sequel)
The Longest Journey (and its sequel)
Syberia (and its sequel)
King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride
Secret Files: Tunguska
In addition the platformers America McGee’s Alice, Jill of the Jungle and Great Giana Sisters come to mind as well. Many of the adventure games listed were published when the genre was already in a decline. And half of them were created by Sierra’s Roberta Williams.
It’s really nice to see how they take care of their customers and players. What’s strange here is of course that Company of Heroes is really solid game, probably one of the best RTS games ever so one might have thought the model that seems to work in Asia and in Facebook would work for the Western world as well. Apparently not.
EA has more experience with the whole “free to play” (or as they say, Play4Free) concept with Battlefield: Heroes so I’m not that worried that NFS: World will see a similar fate. Though it too was based on a Korean version, it did escape from beta. However, like in the COH:O beta, I have seen the game become more aggressive about the paid upgrades.
There’s a lot of interest in the field right now. It would be interesting to know what will happen to League of Legends once Valve gets DOTA2 out. Team Fortress 2 has shown that they can do the microtransaction thing so it remains to be seen if there are more casualties on the microtransaction front this year.
Not only did they make a full parody of the “Believe” Halo advertisement, the guys at Epic pushed out Duty Calls, a parody game of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and other full-on realistic modern warfare first person shooters.
The game is fun, for as long as it lasts. Too bad, downloading and installing the game take both longer than the game. As does the Bulletstorm advertisement at the end of the game. So that no-one forgets this is a marketing thing, not just a parody.
The problem here is that both Epic’s Unreal Tournament 3 and People Can Fly’s Painkiller were rather repetitive and empty. Sure, both are fun. And no doubt Bulletstorm will be too, guessing from the trailers. For some strange reason, this game reminded me of Duke Nukem 3D of all things. And maybe a little bit of Postal.
A fun idea, but the download/install cycle just makes the joke too long. There’s no reason to download Duty Calls, there are probably thousands of YouTube videos of the “full” gameplay already. Put one in full-screen and just pretend that you’re playing it. They saved you from playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and I saved you from playing Duty Calls. Everyone wins.
I was also disappointed that there wasn’t a vehicle sequence in Duty Calls.
Zynga, Digital Chocolate and other Facebook timesink developers
I have been putting off writing this post and by now FarmVille is probably on a terminal decline. However, it looks like these guys have learned a thing or two from Gillette when it comes to product lifecycle management. There’s now CityVille, FrontierVille, CaféWorld and so on.
Okay, the guys at Digital Chocolate got couple of things right before Zynga. FarmVille's achievement thing was quite limited for people with OCD and were mostly about doing some repetitive task1 for X times. Digital Chocolate’s suite of Safari Kingdom, NanoTowns and Millionaire City (aka. SimCity) had quests that were basically the same thing, but executed better. Sure, you were still asked to build 5 pyramids or something or get 20,000 of the worthless virtual currency. Too bad the three games were pretty much identical to themselves and to FarmVille and to the hundreds of other mindless build-something-on-rails games. The saddest thing is that Zynga followed closely behind with CityVille and friends.
I don’t expect that Electronic Arts’ Pet Society, Restaurant City and Hotel City really break the mold here.
The worst in these simulation games is the RPG leveling system, where each level takes twice the points than the previous. This fine mathematical property fails around Level 10 or so, where you have pretty much everything interesting open and your free land is full and the game has lost all its meaning. At this point you also realize that the normal currency you accumulate in these games is worthless and the game starts to expect you to buy the real money-worth gold coins. You have basically been playing an unlimited demo like in most free-to-play games. This isn’t nothing new though. The only difference between, say, Lord of the Rings: Online is that there are many orders of magnitude difference in production values.
The social multiplayer angle is mostly window dressing and superfluous in these games, despite being “social” games. You can “help” others and they can “help” you. Of course, this “helping” is encouraged so it’s in everyone’s interest to “help” each other. However, in Digital Chocolate’s games the developers have understood that not everyone has friends2 and so the games feature a NPC character that you can “help” - so that you can achieve the superimportant.quests of “help X amount of people” to get more of the worthless kind of virtual currency.
It’s also rather sad that in the top 10 Facebook games, there are just two games that are of a different genre. There’s Zynga’s Texas HoldEm Poker and PopCap Games’ Bejeweled Blitz.
It’s a good question whether these simulation/rpg-hybrids like FarmVille are popular because of their viral nature (you need friends to advance in the game) or because they have some other advantages of other genres on social network platforms or are people really after this kind of short time sinks when they are browsing the web? Or, do these games just represent the first generation of “social” games?
There is obviously demand for these games, and apparently many people enjoy them. This is a fact that can’t be denied just because one would loathe these games. It’s still good to remember that these games are built to make profit - and it isn’t always pretty.
Like there were something other than repetitive tasks in that game. ↩
One of my planned acquisitions from last year’s Steam Christmas sales was DeathSpank. It’s an Action-RPG, like all games these days, but I think a better description is that it’s a bit like the various Diablo II followers, Torchlight and Titan Quest. With a bit of Monkey Island in there.
DeathSpank first appeared on Ron Gilbert’s blog as one of his comics, Grumpy Gamer Comics #8.1 However, this throwaway character had much more potential.
I started working on this game four years ago and was turned down by just about everyone that had a business card with “publisher” printed on it. A couple of years ago Clayton Kauzlaric and I start doing the short-lived (mostly because we’re lazy) Grumpy Gamer comics and created the DeathSpank character and I thought, hey, he’s a lot more fun than the main character I had before, so we started messing around with story ideas and fleshing him and his world out.
At first, DeathSpank: The Game was supposed to be an episodic game. Then it turned into a one full game and finally was released as a two-parter, DeathSpank and DeathSpank: The Thong of Virtue. The second game continues exactly from where the first game ended, even though the first game is set in the medieval world of dragons and castles and the second one starts from the Second World War.
Like Torchlight, DeathSpank has a bit of a problem with the inventory. You don’t really know what you’re supposed to do with all the junk and you have very limited storage options and yet you accumulate all kinds of crap quite quickly. The game has stores where you can buy additional gear2, but most of the stuff drops from enemies and barrels anyway so I didn’t end up shopping at all.
The game also has elements, like Fire, Undeath, Nature and Ice. However, I did not really utilize this aspect of game at first, but then I realized that certain enemies are quite easy once you use the right element weapon against them. Even then, Fire is pretty effective against everything except for demons, who, naturally, are quite easy with an ice weapon.
In short, the game has everything your run-of-the-mill role-playing game should have. It does not bring that much new to genre, other than being really fun - especially if you are a fan of Gilbert’s previous games3. The game’s world resembles a bit of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. You have odd characters, crazy weapons and a general sense of oddness fills everything. And yes, there’s a sidequest where you’re expected to collect unicorn poop. The game also makes fun and references other games and pop culture in general. For example, one of the biggest revelations in the game is that Eubrick, the retired hero, knows the Secret of Monkey Island. In Discworld fashion, you’re the really stereotypical hero who needs to vanquish the evil. DeathSpank is happy when things are this simple and easy.
Borrowing from the good old adventure games, DeathSpank has also some puzzles and your hero has an inventory, but the most fun you get out of it is from the item descriptions. There are one or two places where you’re supposed to combine some of your inventory items to accomplish your task. And maybe there are uses for the junk in your inventory (which has more space than your separate weapon inventory), but I ended up with a lot of stuff I had no idea what to do with. You also get dialog trees, which are one of the strongest points of the game. The dialogue is what really fills the world of DeathSpank and breaks it off from the normal hunt for bigger numbers that describes many new Action-RPGs. Sure, DeathSpank levels and the weapons do certain point amount of damage but these don’t mean that much because for most part the combat is quite easy.
The game has a co-op mode, where the other player plays as Sparkles the Wizard, but I don’t have any friends nor a gamepad, so I wouldn’t know about it. It does sound like a cool idea, though.
DeathSpank is the first (and probably only) game for which I achieved all the achievements. You end up getting almost all of them through normal gameplay and only one is a bit tricky because it’s a bit hidden. As such, they’re a good indicator how far people usually get in the game.
We can assume that every player who actually plays DeathSpank, dies at least once in the game, so we can say that 78,7% of players have really played the game.4 Of those, just 37% (or half of actual players) manage to kill the third-or-so boss character. And just 24,2% of all (or a third of actual players) have completed the game. It’s easy to see why strong single-player campaigns are rare, if just a quarter of your customers see the whole of it. DeathSpank is not a long game (I completed it in 12 hours, but I did a lot of sidequests) nor really hard.
In summary, this is a game for fans of adventure games. It’s great fun and I will probably play the game again ,but on a harder difficulty setting than the normal and no doubt the sequel will also be on my to do list.
Unlike in the comic, in the real game DeathSpank can’t jump. ↩
One nice thing was that throughout the game DeathSpank’s wardrobe changes in certain themes. There’s the outfit that reminds you of Ancient Egypt and then there’s an outfit full of gargoyles and so on. It reminded me of Hand of Fate, where the main character changes her outfit many, many times throughout the game. ↩
The game is not necessarily for Putt-Putt fans, though. ↩
Zombie thingies, fire, sawblades, limited ammunition and finally, shotgun. It is a bit scary in the “do I really want to play this game anymore?”, tedious way. I think one part of that feeling is based on the fact that I’m just trying to finish this game but I’m failing to get into it.
I think I remember that I felt this kind of fatigue to hit in in the original Half-Life as well. It was a room after room and I had probably already forgotten why I was where I was in the first place.
My Half-Life playing is quite similar to watching a “great” film you never saw when it was relevant. You know it should be good because it’s number 13 on IMDb, but on the other hand it’s over 3 hours long and in black and white and you still haven’t watched Inception.
An interesting take on the female protagonist thing on InnerChildGamer. It takes a bit of a different view than my previous article. The author argues that the female gamer demographic is actually quite large and has presence in the game retail space and this would mean the publishers’ fear of female protagonists failing to capture large audience is wrong.
The argument in the linked article is somewhat flawed in my opinion though. I think the author believes that players want to some extent to play same gender characters as themselves1. I also think that just because there are female gamers doesn’t mean that games with female protagonists will sell. One thing is that while 40% of “gamers”2 are female, do they buy/play games where they are represented by an avatar? The answer to this is probably yes, but it is not stated anywhere.3 The player does not assume an avatar in all games, I would even go as far as to say they are in minority.
Also, the research clearly shows that not "only males play video games and [not] all buying power lies in the hands of young men, adolescent boys, or elementary-age boys” and yet, despite this, the top games reek of testosterone. I’m quite certain that the publishers know their market and are just providing what the markets want. They author just throws away that
Oh, and if an “average-aged” 34-year old male gamer is put off or too insecure to buy a title with a female lead… well, that’s a whole other discussion in social commentary.
But that’s exactly the problem. The publishers are not trying to guide social discourse, they are selling games. Sure, they might alienate some portion of their potential customers, but so far that has been the most profitable path.
As I noted in my article, many of the games with normal female leads end up being critically acclaimed but haven’t so far captured large markets. This excludes Tomb Raider; as quoted in the linked article, the publishers are fine with mature/sexy female leads. Just for fun, do an image search on Google for "samus aran" and see the racks on those fan-made pictures of her. Another example is the “improved” picture of Mirror’s Edge's Faith which shows exactly what's wrong here. This isn’t just offensive to women, it’s offensive to men as well.
The problem here is that there is ample evidence that the marketplace has demand for games with very heterosexual men going to war and games with hot chicks. It should also be noted that many of the games with female leads are marketed for more mature audiences, notable exception is Beyond Good & Evil. Mirror’s Edge, for example, was rated 17+ in Europe (Teen in US), which probably didn’t help its sales.
Remember Left 4 Dead 2? There’s black skinned people in the USA, so naturally, a game that is based in the USA will let you shoot black skinned zombies. This was an incredible step for a developer, and what did they get?
Of course, it isn’t a discussion about female lead characters without Metroid.
I’m just glad that Nintendo paved the way with Metroid heroine Samus Aran so early in the industry’s history (1986)
I’d agree if making the hero female wasn’t an afterthought and only revealed to the hardcore players who managed to beat the game in a certain time.
I realized that I was completely biased by 3D games in my earlier piece and forgot all about female leads in games such as King’s Quest IV (1988), The Legend of Kyrandia: The Hand of Fate and probably a lot of other adventure and 2D platform games. However, yet again, Rosella’s task is to safe his father, not the world (okay, indirectly maybe). Zanthia, on the other hand, was chosen to save the world exactly because she was supposed to fail4. I also realized that the advertisements of Portal 2 I have seen so far have mostly featured just the two male-voiced robots, not Chell5.
To summarize, the question is what would have been the effect on, for example, Metroid's sales, had it been marketed from the start that the protagonist is female. The publishers fear that it would have been disastrous. No matter if it makes for a “better” game, because the publishers are in the business of selling games. While having many valid points, I think that InnerChildGamer's analysis doesn't really prove that there is market for female-led games and instead, the numbers make a case for the status quo.
The guys at BioWare/EA probably have some demographic information on this, as they could check an EA account’s gender and which Shepard was played in ME2. ↩
Actually, the survey looked at people in the US who play games. ↩
The Top 20 computer games for 2009 (by units sold) do include 6 The Sims games and World of Warcraft games. Both have gender choices for players characters. However, if we look at the Top 20 video games (including consoles), neither of the above games make the cut. The only games making the list where there are gender choices are Wii games with Miis. ↩
Yes, a major spoiler right there. The game’s over a decade old and if you haven’t played it yet, you probably weren’t planning to. ↩
On the other hand, it required you to put the portals next to each other to catch even a glimpse of what your character actually looked like in Portal, so this isn’t really anything new. ↩
Portal and Mirror’s Edge were both games that I wanted to like and play, but for some reason I just put them off until I got Portal for free when Steam launched on Mac and I bought Mirror’s Edge about a year ago for some ridiculously low amount of money. They both wanted to show something new and exciting.
To make that “new stuff” point as clear as possible, the main characters are neither MIT doctorates nor super soldiers. Both games1 feature a normal2 woman main character. Both Mirror’s Edge’s Faith and Portal's Chell end up strong and making their own decisions and so forth. So far, normal 21st century independent woman stuff, but the stories themselves are not. In most male-lead first person shooters, the story doesn't make the main characters victims of circumstances. Or if they are, they need to safe the whole goddamn world or universe, not just themselves or their family. Yes, in both Portal and Mirror’s Edge it can be understood that there’s a grand conspiracy somewhere there and you do play a role in fighting against it, but it’s not at the usual "let’s save the universe!" level of motivation.
As such, this is somewhat similar to Jade in Beyond Good & Evil. It’s also notable that instead of guns, Jade’s arsenal is a stick and a camera. Consider what if in Half-Life, the only weapon Gordon Freeman had was just his trusty crowbar? In this respect, it seems that MacGyver would make a really bad game lead character.
The only games featuring female leads who have decidedly in harm’s way are Cate Archer from No One Lives Forever, Samus Aran3 from Metroid series and Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. It is also notable that these characters were on a self-chosen missions to save the world/universe, not just themselves or their loved ones. Of course, being spies, soldiers and mercenaries that is pretty much their job description.
However, in Mass Effect's and Metroid's case, the characters are rather ambiguous in regards to gender. In Metroid, it wasn’t until well into development that it occurred that they could make the player character female. In Mass Effect, the player chooses Shepard’s gender and in all advertising, a male version is shown. Even in NOLF, the main character was first called Adam Archer. So, in strict sense, none of the above games were actually designed around a female lead. I find it rather sad that the only way a female lead has an assault rifle in her hands is if at the beginning it was thought that she was a he.
And to top that off, in No One Lives Forever Archer has to prove herself as the first female spy of UNITY - something her previous incarnation as Adam definitely would not have needed to do. Of course, this can be accepted as the game is set in 1960s. But, as far as female leads go, the game industry seems to be well set in the same period4.
Anyway, focusing on the gender of the female lead doesn’t really do justice to Portal nor Mirror’s Edge. They are very interesting games and both have by now a nice cult following. Portal might be a bit over-hyped, but it’s an interesting reminder in how to progress narrative without resorting to cut-scenes. I find it a bit dull that Portal is put into the puzzle genre bin solely because the player’s character doesn’t wield a lethal weapon - the physics “puzzles” are not that different from what Half-Life 2 had (except, naturally, that you can’t shoot back and there are portals). However, while both games were critically acclaimed, neither was a commercial success. In itself that was not a problem for either game, but might hinder chances to see more female leads in games5. I hope to be proven wrong.
This year will see the sequel to Portal and as far as we know, development will continue with Beyond Good & Evil until it’s perfect. Both EA and DICE have not out-ruled a sequel to Mirror’s Edge, but I doubt it will materialize. I don’t think that the game would really benefit from a sequel, and in that case there’s a a lot DICE would need to improve on. However, I’m quite sure that they’re looking at something in the spirit of the original game.
As I said earlier, I really wanted to like Mirror’s Edge, but I abandoned playing it a while ago. I did however play through the iPhone version of it. On iPhone, the game is a pure 2D platformer and is much more straightforward and shorter. It was rather enjoyable and it might have convinced me to try the original Mirror’s Edge again. I like the idea of free-running and I think what the main version missed was just some polish - and the Time Trial mode should have been there from the beginning, because Mirror’s Edge's world just screams for exploration.
The games share ridiculously many things so I’m bound to end up using “both games” a lot. For example, they were both released in 2007. And, coincidentally, both games end with a song titled "Still Alive". Both are rather good but, like the games, they are completely different. ↩
Maybe it’s just nostalgia or the surprise ending that often give reason to raise Samus Aran as the female lead. After the atrocity of what was The Other M's plot, the crown of the most bad-ass bitch now belongs to Commander Shepard. ↩
We successfully pulled off the LAN event. In the end we were just 6, which was a nice even number for some 3 vs 3 action.
Unreal Tournament 3
We started off with this game because while we were waiting for the sixth guy, we realized that the five of us had Unreal Tournament 3. Apparently UT3 was to be similar to the original Unreal Tournaments and be the new the game, but failed. There are probably many reasons, but one that’s clear when playing the game is that it’s pacing is much slower. That’s not all bad, because the slower pace meant that the average lifespan was somewhat longer than in UT2k4 (especially with the handicap mutator). The graphics and maps are gorgeous, but of course come with a price - and this is the game where every frame per second counts.
There was however one really big problem with the game. For couple of us, the game gave a Steam authorization error and didn’t let these guys to join any games1. More specifically, you could only join someone’s game once. This obviously sucked because we hadn’t really played UT3 previously much and were still experimenting with the map rotations and mutators. It looks like this error might only affect retail copies activated on Steam, not copies bought from Steam.
Unreal Tournament 2004
The sixth guy didn’t have Unreal 3, so we went back to UT2004. The maps looked ancient after UT3, but at least there was no demented DRM to block our games.
It’s familiar, it’s fun and fast.
Probably the best game to have some fun between serious deathmatch rounds. The game gets rather ridiculous with keyboard and professional handling & snow track. It’s nearly impossible to stay on track.
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
The obligatory camping simulator was fortunately played for just a short session this time. It’s fun, but there’s a lot of nostalgia factor involved at this point. It might make sense to upgrade to Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.
Wasn’t as fun as last time and the new guy in our group didn’t appreciate it at all. The pace is much slower and respawn times are long compared to other shooters, but something just didn’t work this time around.
Left 4 Dead
Another surprise was that everyone also owned L4D. This turned out to be the favorite this time. The 3 vs 3 versus meant one of the survivors was running on AI. It wasn’t really a problem, but the bot had a tendency to run way forward past the human players.
Not everyone was familiar with the game and the maps, but we were roughly on equal footing. I think in total the survivor team was able to finish a level about two or three times.
The structure and the goal orientation in the versus mode meant that it was more enjoyable than just running around killing everyone. There were lots of occasions for excitement and disappointment alike.
In the end, the selection this time was very heavily FPS-oriented. It’s also great to see some fresh games, but it’s also a bit sad to see how some old favorites are starting seriously show their age. After Steam’s Christmas sales, I think we are now all equipped with L4D2, so let’s see how that plays out next time.
So, the Steam sales are behind us so I don’t expect major additions to this list until spring. And besides, I only bought two games from the sales which showed quite a lot of restraint. Anyway, on to the games queue for this winter:
Half-Life 2 and its episodes (I’m currently entering Ravenholm.)
Warhammer® 40,000™: Dawn of War® II: Chaos Rising™ (I’m on Day 7, I guess.)
Braid (Traversed through World 5.)
DeathSpank (Measured the first Thongolith.)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Yes, yet another BioWare RPG, and in Star Wars universe that I couldn’t really care less about.)
Mass Effect 2 (and if ME1 is any guide, all the DLC)
This spring will also see the releases of Warhammer® 40,000™: Dawn of War® II: Retribution™ and (OMG) Portal 2, and I’d expect at least one of them make the Summer 2011 list. Otherwise I’m quite certain there won’t be any other new additions. In addition, I expect a little play time for
Need for Speed: World, even though it feels more and more unbalanced after the in-game store was introduced.
Team Fortress 2 & Left 4 Dead 2
League of Legends
Poker Night at the Inventory
Magic: The Gathering® - Duels of the Planeswalkers®
Sam & Max Season 3: The Devil’s Playhouse
Back to the Future: The Game: Episode 1
Games notably not listed:
GTA IV: Episodes from Liberty City - was for sale (twice), but right now ME2 takes priority. I expect the expansions to be huge time sinks and I’d probably get more out of them with better graphics my MacBook Pro just can’t deliver for this game.
Splinter Cell: Conviction - this and Double Agent were both on sale, but the former still has the crappy DRM and the latter is apparently just crappy. The canon SC seems to end with Chaos Theory, which is just fine with me.
StarCraft II - After playing some Company of Heroes Online and Age of Empires III, I just think I’ve lost my RTS mojo somewhere during 1990s.
Company of Heroes and CoH: Opposing Fronts - see above. Also, CoH:O happened.
Mirror’s Edge - it’s great, but it’s so linear. It’s also quite short, so I might finish it this year!
Penumbra Overture - I realized I don’t like horror games
Machinarium - it’s cute, but look at that list already!
The Humble Indie Bundle is one of my favorite things. It’s a pay-what-you-want scheme for a great bunch of indie games. This time around the games are the highly-acclaimed Braid1, Machinarium, Osmos, Revenge of the Titans and Cortex Command.
Best of all, the games are available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. And without any pesky DRM. And you’ll be contributing to some worthy causes.
The first HIB went up in the beginning of the year and had some great games like World of Goo and Penumbra Overture and ended up raking in $1,273,613. The second incarnation has still 5 days to go and is just 100k short of the previous record.
And yes, for the OCD among you, you can add (most of) these games into your Pokéde… Steam collection.
Sure, One Chance was a nice little game but it probably doesn’t deserve all the attention it is getting. It is frightfully simple game with decisions. It is the how the players react, that I think is much more interesting. This of course wouldn’t be possible unless the game was well designed to evoke these reactions. My argument is that the game is genius because it messes up with our animal spirits1, not because of any technical limitation or feature.
The game as such is a nice example of how the human psyche really hates uncertainty. The game gives you really basic controls and really basic instructions and makes clear “you only have one chance” (it’s even in the title). One chance at what? Saving the world? Saving your family? It’s pretty much up to you. To make things worse, you don’t really know what happens after you interact with the few things in the environment, but the game strongly implies the decisions are permanent. This rubs many people the wrong way, because they want to know which interactions lead to the “win”, not to see what their choices will lead to2. The game doesn’t really give you any insight to what the character is going through so you can’t really relate to him, as much as think of him as a vessel for your choices3. It’s you who has to react to the happenings in the game world.
The other nice thing is the whole you-can-only-play-this-once4. However, I don’t think this is the root cause for this being a good game. Our dislike to make decision under uncertainty and our nature as a gamer are the root-causes for this to be a great game, and by allowing the people to play just once you evoke these two animal spirits. As soon as the game hit the news, the comments were full of people wanting to know how to get all the endings. I don’t really mind that and I don’t think that replaying it lessens the game at all. Like book, movie or song authors, once you have published your work, you don’t really control it anymore. You’d better make your point in your self-standing work, because you can’t really add anything there once it’s out or control how the people use or interpret your work5. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are people who will try and play the game many times and your work should stand on its own even then.
According to some research, there are several types of gamers. Among others, there are people who want to explore and then there are people who want to beat the game. And does this game deny both groups? Hell yeah.
The power in the game is how it goes against our nature. The players of One Chance are in a foreign environment and don’t really know how things work and the game doesn’t allow for experimentation, you just have one chance. And one part of what makes us human is our tendency to explore our surroundings and our curiosity to learn how things work. The players of One Chance are not allowed the learn the game, which is these days quite rare in games. My argument is that the people who want to play the game repeatedly only want to experiment, or explore the game, not really play it. You played the game the first time around.
The other nice touch, without which the game wouldn’t really work is the cut-scene at the beginning of each day. Note that how the sentence says “In X days, every single living cell on Planet Earth will be dead”. This implies that there’s not much you can do about it, you fucked up even before the game began when your character developed the cancer drug. These are the X remaining days, make the best use of them. However, “You have one chance” implies there might be a bit of hope for … something? The game goes even more evil as the second sentence (at least for me) changed at some point to “You had one chance” to even more discourage me from trying to make a change, but to be more hedonistic about my choices. Fuck it then, off to the park it is to slowly die by my own creation.6
I believe it is obvious to many, even before they have played the game, that the “winning” condition is achieved by going to work each and every day. As the author said in an interview, “I mean, given six days left on Earth, who wants to go to work everyday?” Where the game truly excels is making this decision harder by the day.
Anyway, you can’t truly win at the game. There are many sacrifices on your path. Your wife can’t take it anymore and kills herself having lost all hope (and attention from our dear player). The beater/explorers don’t take this easily and swarm to the comments asking if it’s possible to both save the world and your family. Once again, it’s easy to say that they are entirely missing the point but I argue they just play games differently from some other people. For them, Once Chance wasn’t a game telling a story about a man, who goes on a futile search for a drug while everything around him is dying, going so far as to neglect his family at a time of need with grave consequences. And it is truly futile search, as the game constantly tries to discourage the player from going to work and to just live the last days of his life to the full. Whatever that means is up to the player and they don’t seem to take this freedom easily.
As defined by behavioral economics and psychology, not your neighborhood shaman. ↩
The meta-level choice is something many don’t consciously realize they are doing. ↩
I was attending a LAN gaming session (aka. real "social gaming") with a group of friends a while ago. Last time, we spent a lot of time installing (and updating) games and trying to get computers to find each other and I had to borrow someone else’s computer. This time, we were quickly up and running and I could proudly play on my MacBook Pro.
Sure, I had installed Windows 7 using Bootcamp on my Mac, because while VMware Fusion was okay for Tales of Monkey Island and even Torchlight, it just doesn’t cut it for hardcore gaming. The only game that I had any problems running over Bootcamp was, oddly enough, Postal 2. Otherwise, I was equal among my PC using peers. I had dreamed about this day.
But what really made things easy for all of us was Valve’s Steam, a gaming portal/service.
The iTunes model strikes again
We have passed a long time the point where new games are automatically better than older just due to technological improvements. We were still playing games we played over 3 years ago, and some of them were “old” even by then, like Unreal Tournament 2004. The reasons for this are Windows XP and DirectX. These two technologies have enabled a decade of games that are still playable almost without any emulation. The biggest change is happening right now with multicore and 64bit CPUs.
What Steam has done is basically something that other forms of entertainment could learn a lot about, if they could get over their stone age business logic and hunting down their customers. PC game piracy has always been a problem and one reason why PC gaming today seems to be an afterthought to console gaming. Steam (and other similar services, like Impulse) mostly eliminates the piracy problem with a central authorization structure, but yet provides added value to the customer. You only need to install Steam on any computer and log in and you have access to all your games (provided that you have the bandwidth to download the over 2 GB that most games today use). This is something that isn’t possible with iTunes and only recently was possible with Spotify.
What really sets Steam apart here from other entertainment industry offerings is actual value for users. What Steam has done, is really catch the long tail of ecommerce, even though the concept of long tail has long since gone out of fashion. By being able to sell couple of years old games that are virtually impossible to find anywhere (legally) and for a fraction of the price is just amazing. I was able to buy Psychonauts, the most amazing game ever, for just 2 euros and even at the normal price of 9,99 euros it’s 1/4th of what it did cost on the shelves (and it still costs around 15 euros on Amazon). After the Steam’s holiday sales during Christmas, I found out that I had bought many games, mostly because the price was right.
Other benefits from using Steam is that all your games are automatically updated and even for some games, your progress and settings are saved in the “Steam Cloud” - allowing you to play seamlessly on multiple computers.
But there aren’t any games for Mac
The year 2010 turned to be a pleasant surprise for gamers, especially for those, like me, who have switched to Mac. First, Telltale Games announced that their games would be available for Mac as well. This was excellent news for all Sam & Max and Monkey Island fans who would no longer need to boot up VMware Fusion.
And, sure, there have always been Civilization IV and The Sims 3 for Mac, but having new, native games for Mac was excellent news. Clearly a certain threshold has been breached and the amount of gamers living in self-denial on Mac is now large enough that the market is suddenly viable.
Now, I don’t see that this will mean that soon Mac OS X would be equal gaming platform with Windows, but it does warm my heart. I know that I still need to boot to Windows to really enjoy gaming. The reason Telltale and Valve have been able to pull this out is based on their choices to use cross-platform frameworks (like OpenGL) instead of Windows-only technologies like DirectX. You also need to keep in mind that both Telltale and Valve seem to have target audiences that use Macs and have both targeted certain niches, the former makes high quality “casual” adventure games and the latter high quality first person shooters for more “hardcore” crowd. It is unlikely that other game developers or publishers will follow suit. For a true revolution, Microsoft would need to not only port DirectX to Mac OS X but also develop it at same pace with Windows. Looking at Microsoft’s track record with Mac software, this is even less likely than playing Left 4 Dead natively on Mac looked a couple of months ago. The more likely scenario is that as hardware gets faster and emulating a graphics card gets more efficient, running even the most recent 3D games in VMware Fusion starts to be feasible. A possible scenario is also that through technologies like OpenCL, PC games aren’t as dependent on GPUs and DirectX as they are today.
On the other hand, this shows how Apple’s decision to invest in cross-platform frameworks like OpenGL, OpenCL and WebKit can really pay off in the long term. It also shows that being nice and having something like Bootcamp can be an advantage. I was really surprised how easily I could install Windows 7 on my Mac and how Apple had provided drivers for everything.
What Steam proves is that to succeed on the internet, you really need to be familiar with your customers and understand their needs and truly deliver superior experience and added value to them. This is nothing new, but somehow the rest of the entertainment industry seems to think that they can still get away with last century tactics.
In essence, the CEO of MyLifebook says that Facebook is a bad place to find other people to play games, unlike his site. It’s really easy to mock Facebook and Zynga on that FarmVille and its successors are not “real” games, but rather simple creations to kill time. However, it’s not like Facebook forces people to play FarmVille and yet it seems to be a popular choice and according to the study Cook links to, a main reason why many log on to Facebook.
My problem with the article is not Facebook-bashing, but the slowly creeping revelation that Cook probably doesn’t know that much about games.
And while we may not explicitly think of eight-ball, basketball, monopoly, and cards as synchronous games, that’s what they are.
It would be of course interesting to know what the reasoning is behind the above is, as basketball is the only non-turn-based game of the above. The one thing that all of them have in common is that they are games that are played in the real world (but do have their computer incarnations as well). It’s like games that can be played on only computers are a new thing or something.
One interesting aspect is the URL slug of the article the-dark-ages-of-social-games-and-the-coming-renaissance, which was probably the original title of the piece before it was SEO'd up. The dark age wasn't dark because things were bad but because people forgot a lot of what was already discovered. And to me, the current generation of Flash games on social networks are just that. They are missing at least a decade's worth of innovation in computer games. That Cook has only real-world games as examples of “synchronous” games affirms that he's well stuck in that dark age.
In my opinion the whole term “social game” is a misnomer, as games and play has always been a social activity. Sure, what people usually mean is that the game utilizes some sort of a social networking service, but when you put it that way it doesn’t really sound so revolutionary.
Which is why if I had to bet on any trend in social gaming for the next 12 – 24 months, I would bet on synchronous games.1 The space is wide open and has a lot of favorable dynamics.
The fucking huge elephant in the room, of course, is Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. Boasting 12 million paid subscribers today, it’s hardly a trend anymore. Also, with an increasing number of people playing on a console or a smartphone that space is not really wide open but pretty much locked down by Sony (PSN), Microsoft (Xbox Live) and Apple (Game Center). On PC, Facebook pretty much dominates the web space and many game publisher already have their own social platform (like Blizzard, EA, Microsoft and Valve).
And that’s before we even tackle the underlying assumption here that somehow “synchronous games” (whatever that means2) are better than “asynchronous, asocial games” (actual quote). The fucking genius behind games like Words with Friends is that it allows you to time-shift the game - something that’s borderline impossible with real-life Scrabble. Like digital video recorders, it puts you back in control of your time. Sure, the game probably spreads over couple of days and the intensity just isn’t there, but in the end you probably end up playing more games than you could if you had to arrange a mutually suitable time slot to play. Also, you can easily parallelize many games. I really don’t see how Words with Friends is inferior just because it’s not “synchronous”3.
It’s also rather strange to claim that Facebook’s social graph is incompatible with synchronous games while at the same time AAA-games like Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and Company of Heroes Online have Facebook integrations of some sort. Granted, Cook’s argument is that by trying to limit the social graph to actual friends, Facebook’s social graph is not suited for finding people to find games. However, is this really a market Facebook wants to be in? Facebook’s plan is to make money out of the valuable social graph so it’s definitely not in their interest to clog it up with people you played a game of online pool once. This of course raises the question on how MyLifebook plans to make money on these weak connections.
The reason why there are 0 friends online at a given time to play a game you want is not really Facebook’s fault. It’s pure conditional probabilities and Venn diagrams. Without prior communication, I would find it a (pleasant) surprise if my friends wanted to play a game with me at the exact time as I am4. So that’s one of the few things where I think Cook is right is that Facebook is not the hub you want to use if you’re looking for people to play with you. However, his own network is not much better. He boasts that “with 25+ million members and 100,000+ online at a given time” his social network is the place to be. Right now as I wrote this, there were 227,382 in-game and 1,952,228 online on Steam and last October Steam passed the 30 million active account mark. And that’s just a service for PC5 gamers, who Cook would probably categorize as “hardcore”. PlayStation Network has 50 million registered accounts and Xbox Live has more than 20 million. Compared to these numbers, active user to customer base ratio doesn’t really sound that good. You might argue that the comparison isn’t fair because the market MyLifebook is after is different, but then what’s new there that Yahoo! Games didn’t have since 1997?
In my opinion Cook also a bit misreads the study he links to. To quote:
Recent research from the Information Solutions Group’s study of Popcap gamers found that the #2 and #3 most popular groups of people to play social games with are not people they know in “real life,” but instead “online friends” and “online strangers.” What’s more, 76 percent of people prefer to play with others of around the same age. Why? Because the point of playing with people you don’t know is to make new friends, and people generally make friends around their age. The study also found that more than 70% of people made new online friends by playing games together.
The first sentence is of course a bit puzzling, as what on Earth is left after those three groups? Pets? The second sentence is misreading the statistics as it actually states that 76% play with others in their age range (+/- 10 years) (as opposed to their children’s, parents’ or grandparents’ age groups), nowhere is said that they’d prefer it6. The study doesn’t either say why people play with strangers, but says that just 24% play because it allows them to connect with others (friends and strangers). I couldn’t find the 70% figure for people who made new friends through online games. Also, the study was made for PopCap but was not about players of PopCap’s games.7 Also, PopCap is hardly known for “synchronous” games and as far as I can gather none of the games named in the study were what Cook would call “synchronous”. The only social aspect Bejeweled Blitz offers, for example, is a high score list of your friends.
What I did learn from the study is that games are apparently divided into three distinct groups: social, casual and hardcore. Also, examples of social games were popular Flash-based games in Facebook (FarmVille, Mafia Wars, Bejeweled Blitz, etc.). I find this classification both stupid and harmful.
If there are people who truly believe that the “renaissance” of social games are Flash-based browser games with Google Ads and other monetization schemes we’re pretty fucking far from anything resembling a rebirth of gaming.
My bet, mobile. Look at Top 10 iPhone games and see how many of them are “social” at all. Not many. ↩
It seems to me that Cook’s definition is that to a game to be both social and synchronous means that both players share the same experience at the same time, but possibly at different places. He never really explains any of the fancy terms he uses, probably because he’s a pro. ↩
Words with Friends has Facebook integration to find friends, by the way. ↩
This is also the reason why “asynchronous” turn-based games are more suitable in Facebook’s context. This goes for mobile games as well. Forgetting the context where people play these “social” games is a another crucial omission Cook makes. ↩
Sure, I agree that most of probably prefer to play with others our age and not with our parents. Do they even play games? PopCap’s study suggest they might, but not probably the games you and I play. ↩
Also, it only looked at US and UK “social” gamers and even between those two quite culturally similar groups there were notable differences in how people behaved. ↩
Grand Theft Auto IV™. You will never play through this game. Forget about the expansions.
That’s what went through my head when I got GTA IV from Steam’s Christmas sales last year. But how could I not buy the game, when I had bought, played and enjoyed all1 the previous games. The game went unplayed for a long time not because I didn’t have time for it but because the game did not run on my laptop at all. As fate would have it an update that came much later made the game suddenly run above 0 fps did come later and I was able to start my journey in to the life of an eastern European mercenary in New York.
I had to recheck that it really says Grand Theft Auto on the box2 but before you get to shoot anyone or even steal a car, the tutorialisque first hours put you up on a date for a round of bowling with a girl instead. Fortunately, after some time the game breaks away from looking like The Sims and back to being about shooting and driving.
GTA IV takes itself much more seriously than its predecessors. In practice this means that the missions are rather similar (drive, kill, drive, kill) in the end. No picking up donkey porn falling out of a van or anything that would break the bleak reality of this revenge drama3. On the plus side, no miniature RC flying4.
The plot is not really that surprising if you have played GTA3, Mafia or any of the other games in the genre or seen Godfather, Goodfellas or Scarface or any of the numerous crime movies.
But the story just keeps going. The story keeps building up to epic proportions with Niko involved in pretty much every crime gang in the city, but it doesn’t really advance from that. None of the story arcs really end. Maybe because this story isn’t about the gangs, it’s about Niko’s personal revenge. The story also starts to fall apart a bit in the end, because at this point Niko is arguably the biggest badass in the city and still he keeps working for the little bad guys. In Vice City and a bit also in San Andreas it felt like you were building a crime empire, here you’re just freelancing to make way too much money to exact revenge at some random point in future.
So, all the hints were in the air and I’m off to the last mission at the ship5. 20 minutes later I ragequit with the last boss in sight because Niko decided to drop a grenade at his feet instead. I was also a bit bummed because I was quite certain that GTA3 also culminated in a showdown at ship - or something.
Okay, so it turns out that it wasn’t actually wasn’t the last story mission. There are still mandatory plot twists/clichés to do. Also the developers didn’t crank the artificial difficulty setting to max in the previous one. Multi-part mission? Check. Car chase through city? Check. Check. Check. Off-road bikes? Check. Helicopters? Check. The game seriously forgets that it’s a sandbox game and Niko has access to a fucking sniper rifle and/or RPGs. Because this game just has to end with a single bullet to the head from an AK-47 even though you upgraded to American M16-like half a game ago.
Suffice to say I spent many evenings on that last mission and my only comfort was knowing that I wasn’t the only one stuck with the mission.
The feeling after finishing the game was quite anticlimatic. Like Niko, I should feel like I won, but what did I accomplish, really? Suddenly, I’m not in a hurry and I can hear birds singing and the people around me chattering. It’s over.
So, finally, 56 hours later, I have finished GTAIV. Can The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony (also known together as Episodes from Liberty City) add anything to this experience? The main story in GTA4 was revenge and its consequences, and I do hope those two expansions’ leads have a bit different motivation.
Apparently the notorious mission in GTA:SA was hard as fuck on PS2, but somewhat manageable mission on PC once you discovered the optimal route and aiming point. Then again, I did voluntarily play the similar RC missions in GTA:VC… for fun. ↩
Hey, if this is a revenge story, I’m going to choose the revenge choice. ↩
I quit Kingdom of Loathing recently. I guess I was a bit hooked to the game, as I did play it almost daily. Sure, I did earlier say that I didn’t play RPGs, but I guess KoL was something else to me.
In short, KoL is a browser-based turn-based RPG and is riddled with puns and parodies. The above image pretty accurately describes the art style of the game. It’s stick figures and total insanity with weapons like Staff of the Midnight Snack and pets like Adorable Seal Larva. The game requires love for puns and knowledge of pop culture, otherwise many quests aren’t funny or don’t make any sense1. The game has insanely difficult puzzles, including the hardest logic puzzle ever as part of the final showdown. Fortunately there’s a very comprehensive and spoileriffic wiki, but I’m not going to link to it because it really spoils the game.
One of the key differences in the game is that the playing through the main quests doesn’t take long, maybe 30-90 days depending on class and difficulty. For long, that was everything there was and after that you could reincarnate and do it all again2! The game until recently was also basically single-player but now has raids and also some special events affect the whole world.
The fun in playing the game again and again is that you get to keep your inventory and some skills and so the gameplay is different every time around. There are different class quests and there’s new game content quite often. The game is completely different from what it was just a year ago. One of the great things about this game is that there is very little grinding or farming for drops. Also, every subsequent ascension also decreases the need to farm or grind, if you select to make skills that increase drops permanent.
The game is also full of surprises as it is not tied to any single theme, but has everything from mariachis and pirates to zmobies (sic) and giants. No single possibility to make a joke or a bad pun is left untouched, from the quests to item descriptions. And yes, it does get a bit tedious in the long run.
The whole ride was enjoyable. But after so many years, it’s time to move on. I had ascended just about 24 times, but that was enough to do it in hardcore, bad moon and oxycore for all classes, including the new nemesis quest for all. Other accomplishments are 81 tattoos and 54 trophies and permanent unlock of Bad Moon. I didn’t really get any of my friends to play KoL with me so there’s also that.
I don’t even want to know the total playtime. I’ve spent way too many hours playing this game. It’s not World of Warcraft but those stick figures get you hooked just as well. There were still achievements to get, special items to collect and skills to hardcore perm.
Sure, I never went to under the sea and didn’t do any clan dungeon raids, but those zones are a bit too hardcore for me. Those are the new end-game zones, but they are out of my league. I would need to grind the world to level up enough to be able to survive. And that’s not fun.
I just feel there’s nothing left for me to achieve that is worth my while. Of course, this might change if significant new content arrives in the coming years but I don’t see myself going back.
I’m going to miss the Christmas event.
And even then, many still make very little sense. Like making a goat by combining goat cheese with anti-cheese. ↩
And before reincarnations, there wasn’t even that. ↩
In my continuing series of Valve games I’d need friends for, Team Fortress 2 is a pleasant surprise. While it’s probably great at a LAN or with friends, you can just as well play it on the net with strangers.
Originally I tried the game first when Steam was launched for Mac and Valve threw a free weekend of TF2. For that, I earned my free in-game iPod earbuds. Then, after months of waiting for a recent deal of The Orange Box, I happened to stumble into a GameStop on my way to grocery store and it was there for 10 euros. I bought it primarily for Half-Life 2 and its episodes, but so far I think I have played more TF2 than HL2.
Anyway, my earbuds weren’t the only thing I had in TF2. I got a hat and a pan, because I had Left 4 Dead. This had many to claim that Team Fortress 2 is a hat simulator. I did not get a sweet Max hat, because I bought my Sam & Max games direct from Telltale. Oh, and I almost forgot the Alien Swarm hat. So, hats. The oddest part is that I’ve earned these hats for playing other games. I guess I should get Telltale’s Poker Night for even more TF2 items.
Sure, my play tactic is mostly Pyro + W + LMB1. I’m still trying to remember what second mouse button does and how I really shouldn’t try to fry enemy Pyros.
One thing that I really don’t understand are the achievement servers. Until recently, TF2 seemed to be a game which rewards players who actually play the game a lot, the hats and other stuff drop only if you play long enough or if you reach some achievements. And those achievements are not all the “shoot the gun the first time” variety. I kind of understand them because of the rewards, but even without rewards I’d guess there would still be achievement servers for the really OCD cheaters out there.
Anyway, now that the hats and achievement servers are out of the way, it’s possible to concentrate on the actual game behind the hats. I haven’t really ever been a fan of class-based shooters as I’m always been more partial to the Quake deathmatch type of multiplayer fragging. Which is probably exactly the reason why I play Pyro. I like this game, because it’s easy to pick up and because it’s fun. It’s fun even if you get killed, because you’ll probably be killed in a spectacular way and not by a shot in the dark and once in a while you manage to kill someone else in just as spectacular way.
I participated in this Halloween’s event, which among obligatory hats also had some festive maps and even a NPC that was bent on killing all the players. I also managed to actually achieve one of the achievements, which was fun. I can seriously understand the recently added in-game item store if that means that Valve can justify using resources making this kind of events and keep the game fresh.
It’s that time of the year again. Steam’s Thanksgiving sale is here, six daily sets of deals and also this time, the more insidious gift deals. Because nothing makes sense like dropping 20 euros on 10 copies of Half-Life 21.
These packs are deals made for Steam and the publishers. Not only get the publishers more stuff sold, Steam gets new customers. I’m guessing most of the pack deals involve multiplayer-oriented games with additional DLC, because they’re a hard sell to single customers and these games have network effects. For both R.U.S.E. and Borderlands to actually work as designed, you need a constant population of players on your servers. Also, Borderlands has 24€ worth of additional DLC to sell.
My advice for the sales, if/when the THQ complete pack goes for sale again - get it. Although it doesn’t make much sense if you already own Dawn of Wars, Company of Heroes and/or S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. If not, go for it.
The other advice is that make a list of games you actually want and have time to play in the next 6 months and set the maximum price you’re willing to pay. Follow the list throughout the sales. The next Steam sales are nearer in the future than you think.
Remember, you friends can be pretty pissed off when the Orange Box goes to sale. 5 different games at 10 euros does sound a bit better. Assuming of course that your friends have lived under the rock past five years and haven’t played any of them. ↩
Game theory suggest that you should by a bit more than what you would usually. However, because you can’t buy fractional games, you’re better off buying what you would assuming you don’t get your order free. If you’re buying multiple games, buy them in separate orders. ↩
After a couple of months break, I played some more Half-Life 2 and I’m now somewhere with my trusty airboat.
I have started to rethink what I wrote earlier about health packs vs. regenerative health. I had a discussion about the same issue at work, where a work colleague pointed out that for him the whole health pack/survival thing is the key. He had previously played Dead Space and denied ever playing a game with the Call of Duty-style health mechanic.
And, yeah, he’s right. I remember the joy of surviving on very little health, but those memories are now shrouded in mists by the hours spent playing Call of Duty and its likes. Regenerative health has made the games in some respects easier, but the biggest change is in the pacing. In Half-Life 2 it’s not about storming into a fight and relying on heavy weapon force to silence the opposition before your health goes down, because you have to survive for an unknown period of time after that too.
Previously I wrote that the medikit approach was better suited for scene-based action, but you could just as easily make the argument that regenerative health is much better suited for that.
There was a nice write-up on how the health thing in modern FPSs (post-Doom) is mostly due to the enemies having fast projectile weapons (ie. assault rifles) instead of slow-moving balls of fire. This is why the players in modern FPSes need to be damage sponges, they are more likely to get hit by the enemies1.
Come to think of it, one of the last games where you could dodge enemy fire was probably Max Payne. ↩
So, I have unexpectedly the whole day for myself and decide it’s time for some good Dawn of War II action.
Microsoft had decided that I was not to get this pleasure, though. A small banner on the main screen told that a recent update to GFWL had broken the multiplayer and the game would crash if you tried to use the voice chat. That didn’t sound like a problem and I queued up for a round of Last Stand. The game crashed before finding anyone. I was silent, and the dog was asleep, but no help. Crash.
No problem, I still haven’t finished the campaign in Chaos Rising so maybe some single-player. I really dig the more story-driven missions in CR and I was just capturing a building after some mass demon-killing and … crash to desktop.
It’s stuff like that really gives the bad rep for GFWL (in addition to its unpronounceability)1. I haven’t got anything additional value from it in a game that used it. Despite its whole for Windows bit, the profile management stuff assumes you got an XBOX.
One of my favourite game companies is Telltale Games, because it seems that they really are in touch with their community. Sure, maybe the same thing can be said about any game company you’re a fan of. But these guys brought Sam & Max back to life!
Telltale’s business has been mostly making adventure games of someone else’s IP. Normally, this would sound like a sure disaster, but the people at Telltale really know their audience. And, in some cases, their source material.
Telltale’s latest take, games based on the Back to the Future movies, is a perfect example. There’s quite limited market for such a game, basically the fans of Telltale’s games and fans of BTTF, although I’m quite sure they overlap a lot. Can they realistically bring the game to a new audience who has not seen any of the movies? Probably not.
It seems to me that Telltale has realized that their relatively short adventure game series are today’s weekend morning cartoons. That’s the medium once successful IP can be brought back to life. And it’s great that Telltale has been successful with their model. It’s great that there is a market for such artisan games they make. Hothead Games and their Precipice of Darkness1 and DeathSpank games and Double Fine with their Costume Quest are in the same bunch. It might tempting to label them as casual, but they are quite far from that. I’m not going into the whole games = thing here, because that’s a loaded thing but these games are examples of what the game market needs2.
Or maybe I’m just a hopeless fan of anything by Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and/or Dave Grossman.
Even though, it seems the series met an untimely death. ↩
I’m not implying that Telltale’s or others games are masterpieces, because they aren’t AAA-titles but I don’t see them beating the dead sequel horse. ↩
I was down with the flu couple of weeks ago and used the additional downtime to continue my quests outside the Citadel space in Mass Effect and try out some new games, one of them was the Lord of the Rings MMORPG. I was led to believe by the U.S.-dominated gaming news sites that the game was free-to-play, but no-one bothered to mention that meant actually just in the U.S.
Around here in the Europe, the game only has a 10-day free trial with the free-to-play coming “this autumn”. Fortunately I was sick only for couple of days, so it didn’t really matter. I had played WoW for the similar trial period and it’s surprising how quickly I get bored with the grind. Also, the tutorial-esque first ten levels are quite boring unless you’ve never played any RPG and are not familiar with any of the tropes of the genre.
Also, do not kill any unique monsters in this games unless you have it as a quest. Because apparently it does not count unless you’re explicitly told about the presence of said monsters and how they must be slain to advance the introductory quests.
The staple of these games are the wolves and spiders that seem to occupy each and every known universe in each and every RPG1. I mean, this is supposed to be a LOTR-game and I don’t remember that any of the guys in the books2 got much trouble from either wolves or spiders.
So, I level up to level 13 or so and only then did finally some fantasy characters start to appear, namely goblins. Finally! Until then it was just NPC hobbits speaking funnily and being out of touch with anything bad going around in the neighborhood. Oh, the silly hobbits.
Also, about that MMO thing. I think I only saw activity in the chat about three times while I played and maybe once or twice other players killing spiders. Maybe everyone has already passed on from the Tutorial Town or something, but I didn’t really get a feel of Massively Multiplayer anything here.
I guess you finally get to beat some uruk-hai and guys like that much later on, but this is the problem I had with the game. I mean, this is a game and I’m supposed to be a hero. Instead, in this game I’m just one guy from a village whose destiny just happens to align with that of the better known Fellowship. As those guys set to destroy the Ring, I’m just hacking away some spiders in a village far, far away. Stupid, run-of-the-mill spiders. I guess, further on, my path intersects with the Real Heroes in interesting ways, but not interesting enough for Aragorn to greet me on the street or anything later on.
Sure, I was still debating interstellar diplomacy in Mass Effect instead of defending justice with my assault rifle, but at least in that game I’m the main character, the hero. In LOTRO I felt more like a worker bee of the hive.
I finally got to play this game through last weekend. It was a blast.
Virmire finally gave me a simple way to solve my little problem. Nothing like a 20 kiloton tactical nuclear bomb to solve your love triangles. I maxed out my Paragon points towards the end, so I had to turn a bit evil to rack up at least some Renegade points.
In hindsight, I probably should’ve picked Liara to see the Prothean ruins at Ilos, but the game was quite clear that this was the last mission, so I went with firepower.
Mass Effect’s ending was one in a long time that kept me playing to the end. I have this strange tendency to put off the final confrontation1 and wait for the perfect moment to play it. Fortunately Mass Effect was stern2 and told me to just sit tight and finish the game right now3.
The game’s end credits’ music also reminded me of Max Payne and how that little detail is actually quite important. Both games had a great selection for a song, helping your body to balance the amount of adrenaline in your blood post final boss fight. Whereas the closing song in movies is these days just a marketing vehicle for pop songs, games are in an unique position where the player is not in a hurry to get the fuck out of the theatre to catch the bus. The end credits are the place where you can let the player’s mind reflect what he has just experienced and you’d better choose a song to facilitate this. In this regard, nothing can really beat Max Payne’s Late Goodbye by Poets of the Fall.
Apparently the Steam version I had didn’t include any of the DLC. I don’t remember killing any batarians, for example. Will I play this game again, downloading the odd DLCs and rethinking my choices? Very unlikely as I’m pretty sure Mass Effect 2’s GOTY edition is just around the corner and ME3 should be coming early next year as well.
ME2 is supposedly shorter game than the first one. That’s fine by me, as my ME1 play-through was almost three months of calendar time and 39 hours clocked on Steam.
This is the first game off my list. Things don’t look so good for the rest though. I’m having a hard time connecting with both Mirror’s Edge and Half-Life 2. Both were really intriguing at first, but they just wore off. DoW 2’s expansion pack, on the other hand, smells so strongly of male testosterone that it requires it’s own mindset to get going with it. I think I just have to plow through HL2 next.
The only side mission I did not do (excluding those survey and medallion things) was the rogue VI on the Moon. ↩
Unlike, say, GTA IV that decided I wasn’t worthy enough to finish the game in the first evenings I tried to finish that god-damned last mission. It was a relief to follow how the Tim Schafer was struggling with the game as well. That’s just karma biting Schafer back for Meat Circus. ↩
Okay, so why didn’t anyone tell me about Defence of the Ancients before? A Warcraft III multiplayer mod that focuses on controlling a Hero character instead of micromanaging units and build orders?
Or, more importantly, why didn’t anyone tell me about the free1, standalone League of Legends?
Free with micro-transactions not-so-massively-multiplayer games are really the trend right now and I can see why this seems to be the future of PC gaming. The budget for games where the user generated battle is the content has to be magnitudes lower than for any single-player game. With games like Quake Live, Team Fortress 2 and DOTA/LOL the games themselves transcends that barrier to become games like Chess and Solitaire. Games like World of Warcraft, Mass Effect or Little Big Planet are more like books, or as the trend with AAA-titles have been lately, movies. In the latter games, the player is a spectator, following a script and interacting with the environment. The suspense is the unknown in the future. Every player is more or less having similar experience.
However, in games like League of Legends, the suspense is how you well you can perform this time around. The grind is not about progressing in the game, but performing better next time you play the game.
Yeah, there are people who read a book or see a movie multiple times. But there aren’t people who like Chess and only play once.
While the whole slideshow is mostly a nostalgic circlejerk, it has couple of things right. Magazines, in hindsight, were quite inefficient way to deliver information. And sure, with some games I was stuck until even a year later on I’d learn how I was supposed to get around the obstacle.
But do I miss any of those things? Not really. Things are way better now.
Tumblr updated their queue system this week, which apparently meant that all my nicely and carefully queued messages were published en masse yesterday. So, I have to write new material - enjoy!
The kind gaming gods created a slice of time-space continuum yesterday for me so I could play the new DLC for Left 4 Dead1, unlike I thought previously.
The comic ties really nicely with the levels, which is quite nice. Also, without reading the comic it might not be clear in the finale that you have to sacrifice yourself as soon as possible, because those Tanks just keep on coming. Unsurprisingly none of the AI players have the balls to sacrifice themselves.2
The finale is not the typical slaughter-fest featured in L4D1 but borrows more from its sequel in that you need to complete certain tasks to complete the level. It’s a welcome change.
As I had completed the chapter, only 0,5% of the player base had achieved the “Supreme Sacrifice” achievement. On the other hand, only 24% of the players played the first DLC, Crash Course. And to top that, only 50% have completed the first chapter, No Mercy3. There doesn’t seem to be an achievement to just make a last stand and survive for X seconds in the finale, which is a shame as I think many people will try to see how long they can fend of the zombies.
Now, on to Left 4 Dead 2 and seeing how No Mercy plays on that…
Yes, I played the Sacrifice on Left 4 Dead 1 despite having a Mac and L4D2. I haven’t played L4D2 enough to feel comfortable with it yet. So far, I prefer L4D1 mechanics. ↩
They also have difficulty in appreciating my sacrifice and keeping me or even themselves alive before I get the generator running. ↩
The Steam Achievements make it quite clear how little many people play a given game. It’s amazing. It is however a mistake to cater to that audience, because you probably just piss off the gamers who actually care about your game. ↩