Friday, May 29, 2009

Where's My Dictionary?

This has been a long time coming, but it is an issue that is dear to me, even if in the end my core arugment might be summarized as mere semantics, but I do not really care. The use of the term strategy, in Real Time Strategies has long irked me to great end. Because having focused rather extensively upon military history my professor took a class to carefully make sure we each understood what Strategy meant in war. He established it by stating that it took place involving certain numbers of troops, and if you went smaller then you descended into the realms of tactics. And there is a difference between tactics and strategy. 
Tactics wins battles, strategies win wars. 
Since almost all RTS games are more about battles than an overall war, it should stand to reason that tactics is what matters in the game. Being able to have better memorized a specific build order, or micromanage your troops to effectively maximize their damage outputted while minimizing whats taken has next to nothing to do with strategy. 
Basically I'm saying that the 'Craft' series by Blizzard, the C&C games, and the billions of their clones, have all failed to bring strategy into the RTS genre. This extends beyond mere multiplayer matches, most singleplayer games leave out the strategy as a part of the storyline. Which I can understand is necessary in many cases, but it means you are not playing a strategy game. You're playing a game in which you given tactical control of a series of battles to linearly progress onwards to the next battle. There are some actual "strategy" games, but the only dominating my thoughts at the moment would be Total War, and it is a partial Turn Based.
I should be clear, this is not a condemnation of the style of play that dominates RTS games, but rather a critique that most of them fit more into FPS style play than strategy gamers will care to admit. Precise skill and control is far more valuable in RTS games than it should be. I mean strategies are carefully formulated, but in an RTS time is of the essence so it is better to get a shit load of something. Put simply, it is my thought that RTS games contain as much strategy or less than a shooter. The only true strategy games are turn based games. Where you can form plans, respond to changes effectively and generally see a strategy fall apart and try to salvage it.
One of the most horrific moments of late is watching the Starcraft 2 Battle Reports, which feature two pros battling. The fact that blizzard is actively encouraging the use of workers as meat shields, the micromanagement of units for peak performance is complete garbage. It only promotes the multiplayer game as something that advocates a ludicrous style of play that has no real world significance and completely ignores the advances done in recent years of RTS. Sure Dawn of War I & II and Company of Heroes are just as guilty as being more tactical than Strategical, but the Relic openly admit to it; Supreme Commander attempted to bring the Strategy into RTS and made significant inroads. 
I'll still get and adore Starcraft 2, but the multiplayer is not a part of RTS games that has any appeal to me. Micromanagement fests between economy and battles is not my idea of compelling strategy gameplay. Being hit by an early game rush accomplishes nothing other than tell me that the game embraces quick reflexes over sound thinking. And if I want to play a game about reflexes I can play DotA, TF2, L4D, or any other number of shooters. If i want a strategy game I play turn based ones.  I'm pretty sure that story interests me more than the actual gameplay of 'Craft' games ever has.  Well that and the custom game modes that inevitably show up.

Thats all I've got to say and matters of 'strategy'.


Well Since Everyone Else Everywhere Has Done One!

Here goes my E3 Predictions:

Microsoft will make a big deal about something that no one will care about and will be largely ignored, but will still have enough wowswers stuff that they arent pushing yet that it wont really matter too much. There will be no mention of their Games for Windows beyond the plastering of the logo on games that are being pushed on 360. 

Sony will show lots of great new stuff, lots of their old franchises that we're all waiting for, and some system changes that are not really all that compelling to anyone. They'll do something with the PSP but it wont amount to anything.

Nintendo will try to seem hip and cool to the hardcore and casuals and they will fail miserably. It will not matter though because critical acclaim is now irrelevant to Nintendo. They'll show a brief sizzle reel that will wow the dwindling hardcore gamers they do have. 

The Third parties will show us all the real good stuff and will rise to conquer the earth as we know it. Which it turns out is in fact just a lot of basements in very small sections of urban centers. Weird. 

There you have it. I spent all of like 5 minutes thinking those up so if they turn out to be right I demand worship.

Night. Ciao.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

We Are Intrigued

I've never really thought of myself as an uber-min/maxer when I play RPGs. But my sister recently started playing Mass Effect because she wanted to play a game and that was the only one that really has any appeal to her; Her appeal being JRPGs, or games with obscenely pretty male protagonists. Anyways I watched her playing a bit and was shocked that she did not fully explore conversation options, and tried really hard to bite my tongue when she went to the level up screen. I mean I quickly realized that playing an RPG is all about your own experiences when you play it. And just because I played the game a specific way in no way means that she should follow mine. If hers works great, if it doesnt she can figure out how to get past it herself or can ask me for help.

I think this is a problem with hardened hardcore gamers we see a game and immediately think of the cost/gain effect in gameplay terms. But Casuals just look at the game and experience it, they dont care about trying to find which skill/item set maxes their damage, nor do they care if they miss an extra quest that gives them a wicked +5 Fire damage Mace. 

Maybe thats something we hardcore could learn again. But then again, you cant regain innocence once you've lost it. I even though I might try to simply experience a game, I think a part of me is always going to continue to try and game the game to the fullest for those min/max benefits. Meh I guess as long as I enjoy the game at the end of the day what does it really matter? 
Okay. Thats all.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Seriously. Since the new TF2 update, the servers are alive again. It is nice. And the new item system, while confusing the crap outta everyone, seems to be great for new player to try out new weapons. 

Oh and Star Ocean 4. Pretty fun. Great boss fight I had today. But the cinematics. Dear god. Its like they asked how to make them as bad as possible and then one upped that. 

Thats all I got right. I'm told it is an American holiday so that would explain the lack of news.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ohhhh My Favorite Little Game I Love To Hate

Oh Demigod. So faithful. I just don't know what I'm gonna do with you. On the one hand you have many appeasing factors. On the other hand I have no clue if it is balance issues or a lack of general knowledge about what to do.
See in DotA if you've got skills you can pick up the knowledge along the way. But if there is no skill involved and just memorizing what items to buy and how to level your character up then the so called depth of said game is gonna be short lived. Hence unless I feel like reading dozens upon dozens of blog posts how each character should be built to deal 'x' foe,  assuming he is using 'y' build, then i will have 'z' chance of victory assuming that my partner is somewhat decent as well, and assuming the other opponent is also moderately skilled. 
But then I realize the core problem with Demigod.
I have never played a Multi-player match with more than 4 players total. That means 2v2. 
Perhaps if I could try a 4v4 or 5v5 I would be greatly illuminated as to things, as matchups are far more interesting when you have a diverse field of demigods to combat with. 
Yes I believe I have made a realization here. 
2v2 Demigod is boring and devolves into who luckily got matched up with Demigods that they have inherent advantages over. 
4v4 or 5v5 however. THAT would be a match I would be interested in seeing.
Too bad the system apparently can barely manage 3v3's and it is highly unlikely that I'll ever get to play a good 5v5 match. 
For the record 5v5 is DotA's standard size. Accept no substitutes, if you arent in a 5v5 match then you are not playing DotA proper. You are playing some side gimmick that has no real worth. 

It would seem Demigod may be similiar. Hopefully they release a massive patch that will enable the removal of P2P hosting and switch to servers for gameplay. Because that would be far, far, far better.

Oh Demigod. I only bitch because I care.

Super Duper Quick Observation

Funny how Duke Nukem Forever's biggest press release after being announced was that the game is dead in the water some 12 or so odd years later. 
That will be all.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Oh It Is Truly Is A Grand 'Ole Time

Headshotting people, getting achievements, backstabbing and being backstabbed (since I suck with the spy). The new patch is out and brought something very strange with it that highlights an issue that is very important when patches come out.
They changed the method in which the new weapons are unlocked. Suffice it to say they used to be tied to the achievement system. But now they are like random loot that you get for... well, thats the problem no one really knows why certain people are getting weapons. Often times duplicates. 
The point is developers need transparency behind the changes they make in a game. So if you say you changed something. You need to explain precisely what those changes are and what they are trying to accomplish by changing it. 

Allegedly Valve will explain the new unlock system later today. So that is alright.

Another game that is pretty good with the transparency is Demigod. Although to understand the aims of patches one needs to find the dev journals on the demigod forums and read those. But the results are quite interesting providing very detailed explanations to thoughts regarding why certain choices were made and so on and so on. 
DotA used to suffer horribly from 'bad patch notes' syndrome. Whereby you would read the patch notes and find horribly vague things like 'x' item altered, 'y' hero remade, 'z' hero slightly weakened... Nowadays the map maker, Icefrog, realizes the first thing the community would do was gut his patch notes and expand them so people could actual understand that the item's cost was increased 100 gold, and its damage increased 2 points. Or that the hero had its Str gain lowered by .4 per level.  Now Icefrog includes the detailed patch notes himself since it is just easier, although more time consuming.

So word to the wise. Do not treat the gaming community like fools. Give us the gritty details (well not super technical gritty) to explain what is going on with each point of a list of changes. Most devs are usually pretty good with it.
But finding something like:
- You now find new and old items as you play, instead of through achievements.
Gives us absolutely no fucking clue as to the meat of what the change actually does. And demands further explanation.

Meh I'm probably overblowing this whole scenario, I mean in 12 hours we should have the TF2 blog update which explains the whole thing. Then we can get back to bitching about how now that we understand it in detail, we fucking hate it, and want the other way we hated back.

Yeesh. There is just no pleasing us gamers is there?


Monday, May 18, 2009

Just In Case You Forgot Who Was The Best

Valve steps up to remind us all why they are one of the big guns of developers. This week it seems will be a batch of double update goodness for Team Fortress Two. Originally slated to simply be the Sniper Update week, with the traditional bundle of goodness that accompanies any TF2 patch, we were abruptly surprised to learn that the Spy update had infiltrated to also get out this week. Today we discovered a Meet the Spy video, which Valve had virally leaked over the weekend. (Side note, I really need a better network because the viral video did not reach me, which means I'm tragically out of the loop. Although maybe that is a good thing...) Anyways, Does this mean we can expect further double doses of update goodness in the future. Perhaps, but who knows. We are left with 3 remaining updates, the Soldier, the Demo, and the Engineer.

After which there is rumored to be a tenth class in production that will be rolled out.

All I can say is Valve makes the wait for Episode 3 non-existent. Who cares when there is such compelling multi-player between Left 4 Dead, and Team Fortress 2.
Just thought I'd put something out there.
Also, Bow and Arrow = Wicked.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Just Suck It Up and Say It Already

So I feel the need to ammend an earlier argument I had against Demigod. I stated that I felt the devs would be unable to continually patch it.
But Visiting their forums I found a brief video of their madness after working on fixes for 48 hours straight. It is enough for me to admit that if they continue with this kind of devotion the end product will be quality.
Too bad the game is still working on fixing connection issues. But they are committed it appears, so my hats of to them.
Now if they could just make one truly great map, with some actual design elements within it. And get some balance patches out already, seriously, the game is more or less pretty balanced but you can always make it better.

Oh and for Lost fans. Wasnt that an awesome Season Finale, quite epic. Well minus the ending, I mean I loved the cut to white, that was awesome, but the complete lack of any reveals for next season is gonna me nuts. Great episode though. Hope Sayid is dead, not because I dislike but because I think he needs to finally be able to rest, he's gone through so much. Hope Juliet doesnt die, because she's smoking hot, and Sawyer and her were great. Hope Jack is dead, because that flip flopper deserves it by now. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It May Be The Most Important Garden Ever

So Plants vs Zombies, or Lawn of The Dead as it should have been named, is put simply an outstanding game. First of all it is cheap. $10. You get a lot of good gameplay for that price. It is from the makers of Peggle, but I believe it is head and shoulders above that game. Peggle is addictive, but there is alot more interesting gameplay in PvZ. 

It has its basic lawn defense gameplay, whereby you plant plants to shoot back the invading zombies. You need to manage sunflowers for resources and deciding how many sunflowers to plant is crucial to your home defense. Even more robust is the number of flowers available to use, there is well over 50. Each person will find their own favorite strategies. Personally I prefer to use the kernel launcher, with starfruits and spikey traps. But the options available are incredibly diverse and profound. The options are often limited more by your mind than anything else. 

Needless to say, the game costs 10 bucks, is awesome, so just get it. Worst case scenario, you dont like it and you are only out $10. 

I'll end this post by saying that the new Batman game looks pretty fun, and have my fingers crossed. Also Wolverine looks fun, but not $70 of fun. $30 and I'm sold.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Thy Imprenetrable Fortress Is Not So?

So, I was thinking about things at work today, as I often have much free time. And I noticed that our sales were quite low in general. We were not meeting any goals or anything, and while I brings me no immediate cause for concern, it is somewhat striking for the video game industry as whole. Here's why. 

We've heard the analysts brandy about sayings like the games industry is recession proof. But I think that is something of a misnomer, because the video games industry has simply been recession proof. Which is all great and fine. But things change. Demographics change, your core audience is altered and your expectations get bigger and bigger. 
Put simply, the industry that survived prior recessions does not resemble the current industry that faces this recession. As such, it is foolish to expect the gaming industry to automatically receive a free pass because 'well last time it did not crash so why would it this time around?'
I am saying this because look at the current climate, lots of developers are struggling. But more interesting is that publishers are taking it much harder, regardless of how they react, they are taking losses. Sure they can take the hit. I'm not worried about the future of gaming. It will always go own, so long as there are people out there with PCs who want to express themselves. But the issue is that gaming has become too successful, a business ruled by corporate interests first and game quality second. 
But is that such a bad thing? Most things in the world are governed by corporate interests. Sure it tends to mean that if you don't understand how to tell quality from crap you'll find yourself knee-deep in crap without noticing it. But the crap only illuminates the good stuff all the better. 
Thats all I've got. Gloom and Doom. But meh, I wanted to talk about so I have.
Will the recession knock out the gaming world. No. 
Will it subdue the current giants? Doubtful, but who knows.
I know this. If gaming publishers ever go to beg for a hand out from the government, It will be a sad sad day.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

So I Know This Guy Actually Its Not Even A Guy

He's an alien from Tau Ceta province, anyways he has this problem. He really likes playing games, especially on his PC, but you see he has Steam, which he feels is awesome (rightfully so I think). But the problem with Steam is they continue to get compelling titles brought onto the service, that are merely a click away from being purchased. As a result this alien friend of mine, Bob from Tau Ceta province, sees good games that he'd like to purchase and he sees them with a nice little 10% off discount for the first week. This immediately compels him to purchase whatever great title it happens to be. For example last week King's Bounty emerged. Clickity-Click Click, and he bought it. Yesterday, Men of War arrived on Steam, Click Click Cluck, got it. Now getting game's quickly, easily, and at a reasonable price is all well and good. The problem emerges with so you are buying a game a week. 

How in the name of the great googamooga is one expected to actually play them all an acceptable amount? 

Bob told me this morning that there are dozens of games he has purchased through Steam and failed to even start them up. Many he has played a coupla times before being forced to move on to the next title. 

Worst of all, Bob is in charge of export and imports for the Tau Ceta gaming commission (they handle gambling and such not video gaming as one may expect), as well as prisoner transfers from nearby the Staffholdt Prison cluster.
Needless to say Bob cannot find the time in his section (roughly a month) to alot for all the requisite gaming time to play his games to completion. I told Bob to piss off. There are alot of people who only wish they could have too many games to play.
Yeesh some people.

 Side Note: Crafting in LotR:O... little pricey.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Oi Vey

Seems like a tough time to be a game's publisher. Make good games and you lose money. Make shit games and you'll probably lose money. Make Wii games and you might make money, but you could still lose money.

EA and THQ have recently posted significant losses of late, and last year they put out some very compelling software for gamers, that did fairly well critically and in units pushed. So the question that arises to me is what is wrong with their business models? Lets be clear though, large publishers like EA, Ubisoft, and THQ have incredibly huge "money banks" if you will, and a bad year is not the end for them. However what it does mean is certain developers will get the axe, often times despite quality. 

Do they simply have too many games that are costing too much, are not compelling titles and do not sell? Or is it that a AAA title takes too much money to develop and as such the profits cannot possibly add up to match it. Are they blowing money producing far too many copies far outstripping any possible demand? Is piracy bleeding these companies dry as they often claim? 

Is there any possible solutions? I've got a few but most are not exactly sunny and great.
They could charge more for games. Increase the cost and you get more money. But then push it too high and people begin to feel like they are being ripped off.
They could charge less. Decrease your profit margins with the hope that a cheaper game will sell more. Valve has posted some very interesting findings of sales on Steam resulting in huge increases in units sold. However much of the Steam community strikes me as being fairly affluent and content with most games. Further the Steam purchase system seems to be built for impulse purchasing.
They could get advertising involved even more so in games. I mean television works because of advertising. In television I have read that it takes roughly 20 failed shows to get one hit. That is horrid and seems fairly in line with what goes on with game development. We get a lot of shite games, plenty of decent enough games, and a coupla games that are worth our time. The problem with the comparison to TV is that you do not have to pay money for each show you watch, you pay a flat rate and get them all regardless, the whole thing you invest is your time. This appears to make advertising in games rather difficult to work. Because if you buy a DVD boxset, you do not want commercials to play. And further you expect to be able to skip them.

Overall the whole game's industry is a strange beast. Rest assured, though the industry is not going to up and disappear, as long as there are profitable giants like Valve and Blizzard there will be enough incentive for those Venture Capitals to try to duplicate them and reap the benefits. Tragically it seems like alot of interesting IPs/game ideas might die for it to happen.

In other news Plants vs Zombies is pretty compelling for a Popcap casual game. Full of plenty of strategy and zombie killing goodness. I heartily recommend it to all, especially given it $9.99 price point. Maybe there is something to be learned from a publisher like Popcap. Good simple games, that many people can enjoy and bring in the profits. Sure they are not producing Half-Life or Fallout or Company of Heroes, but they are not in danger of anything.

Also, your Demigod update, game is slowly growing on me. Getting into game's is better but still not as robust as it should be. I'm winning games, but I feel it is more because of opponents lack of skill rather than my superiority. There is some definite problems between Assassin heroes and Generals, that the generals by and large are superior as long as they dont die. Seriously the game has big issues with addressing the reward for pushing. Towers give no experience or gold. Killing grunts gives no gold, only experience. Summons give no gold or Experience. Heroes give moderate experience and shitloads of gold. Control of the map is important, but if you die trying to gain control of the map you're hooped.
But it is fun, and the heroes have good diversity, although standard builds are emerging as people figure out what skills are worth getting/maxing and which get left behind. Updates continue to be fairly regular so there is no reason to be negative though. I'm not giving up on it. 
LotR:Online is still a fun game. But i think I've talked about it enough.

Cya round.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

There's More Than A New Paint Job On This MMO

So, I've put considerably more time into Lord of The Rings Online, and I feel confident that I can state that while it is roughly a WoW copy, a significant difference is the much greater emphasis on the story elements that it is able to pull from. WoW, is good but its story never truly makes you feel attached or valuable to the world, it never makes you feel like anything more than a good samaritan, at least from experience with it a few years back. 
I should also like to point out that I have finally returned to The World Ends With You, and it is a great little title, in so many ways. Art Style, Music, combat... all unique and pulling from that Platinum Games/Clover Studio/Suda51 japanese developer resurgence. It is refreshing to turn it on and just have a game play unlike anything I'm used to playing. Most importantly though is that all the previously mentioned elements coalesce with the story. I simply really feel attached to the story of the game. I mean the amount of games that are set in modern times, in your average urban environment can be counted on one hand, but then you mix this strange type of death/spirit game competition, and the strange use of ghosts/noise as opponents. The sheer diversity of how combat flows makes me love to turn the game on. You get these little 'pins' and they determine what attacks you get. But there are dozens of different types of attacks, and only 6 equip slots to put them. Further, you can level up your pins to make them stronger, some will evolve. Further, there is different types of experience available and only certain types will make some pins evolve a specific way. Needless to say, the game is a touch complex, but I adore it for the depth, because it gives the game so much more reason to come back.
I also got Final Fantasy Tactics A2, and it seems good so far, but i haven't put enough time into it yet to say too much. I like the changes to the Judge system, and how your clan operates. Not a huge fan of how they modified the experience/leveling system, but i understand the necessity to prevent exploitation from people who felt the need.  I do think the MVP feature is nifty, but not really sure what happens when the trophy is fully built, eager to find out though. 
Oh and Left 4 Dead now has pretty detailed stats. Apparently I never miss with the uzi (literally 100%), and headshot them far more often than seems possible. And I think it is missing alot of my gameplay. But oh well, nothings perfect and I still like the stats function.
Oh and Demigod is starting to develop for me, but the utter lack of any depth beyond skill order and items to purchase makes me question if it is a worthy successor to DotA. I am currently leaning towards DotA because the higher skill demand makes winning or losing feel like it was more than just picking the right skills and items.
Thats my thoughts. Ciao.