Machvergil Comic number 043

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Deep wounds or scars?

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Apparently I really really hate World of Warcraft now.  So much so that it is surprising even me.  It’s bordering on irrational.

As someone who likes following industry news as much as I do, I can’t help but hear about the king of MMORPGs even when I’m not playing it because, well it’s the king of the MMORPGs, if not online PC gaming in general.  So, like it or not, I know about the recent ploys to milk even more money from its player base, the excitement surrounding the revealing of female worgen, and the news that they are going to be simplifying the underlying systems in the upcoming Cataclysm expansion.

Sometimes I read the WoW headlines and it makes me go “man I’m glad I quit that mess,” and other times it makes me go “huh, that actually addresses something that I hated,” and it makes me entertain the idea of playing it again.

I haven’t played World of Warcraft in a while.  The last payment Blizzard received for my subscription expired nine months ago (and I’d stopped logging in even before then).  Normally with time and distance, whatever it was that pushed me away from the game cools.  I start to think that whatever I hated was something wrong with me, not the game, and I resolve to do better next time. Within 3 or 4 months of my subscription cancellation I’m back on the horse, trying to pwn hordies and clear dungeons and level toons.

That’s not happening this time.  Instead, every time I entertain the idea of playing WoW again I find something that reminds me why I left last time.  I read an elitist jerk guide about new raid content that reminds me how much I hate the community and how it expects people to be mindless min/max machines of flawless instruction following precision.  I watch a PvP video that reminds me how much I both hate face-owning blood elf paladins and at the same time wish I had one.   It reminds me how cold and lonely it can feel to be one of over 11 million people who, to quote the blizzard ad campaign, are “experiencing the intensity,” sitting around in Dalaran with nothing to do because you didn’t obsessively progress fast enough for your community, praying someone will be nice enough to mercy-run you through something or let you onto their arena team.  I could keep listing things here, but you get the idea.

Instead of these complaints, whines, QQs, whatever you want to call them, eventually fading with time and playing other games, they are festering.  They are forming a into gut-reaction revulsion to the product itself and everything it stands for.  Now when I sit through a “Night Elf Mohawk” commercial, which I used to find so funny, I feel embarrassed or even ashamed to admit that I once liked the product the ad is selling.

The reason I’m writing about this is because it doesn’t make any damn sense.  First of all it’s a freaking game.  This is not a warcrime or a debased corporate act, it’s a video game, one which millions of people across the world enjoy.  There’s no reason to erect an emotional hate wall around it, just don’t play it.

The second part that doesn’t make any sense is I hate WoW, but just WoW, not the MMORPG genre it belongs to.  Quite the opposite, at least once a week I wish I had an MMO I was playing again, where some IRL friends and some new ones made online get together and happily chat about whatever while we’re downing some challenging encounter cooperatively.  Somehow it doesn’t occur to me that any other MMO on the market is going to have the same problems WoW does but worse, be it worse customer service, an even dumber community, or even worse PvP balance.  My six months with Aion ended more or less for that reason, where I realized I could keep playing, but the game I was playing overall lacked the quality of the game I was using it to escape from (although let the record stand: Aion looks and moves better than WoW in pretty much every way).

Now I relish in every opportunity to strike at the mighty giant.  I (probably) bore my friends with rants about how much I hate the talent system and hope no other MMO copies it again.  I glee at people giving blizzard the ‘evil megacorp’ treatment for their increased micro-transactions.  I take the chance to agree with calls out as to why Cataclysm is a terrible idea and its lore moronic.   These efforts have no purpose, nor result.  My personal crew of friends have all quit the game already, so it’s not like I have people I care to convince the game sucks, and it’s not like I’m going to stop millions of people from playing this world-wide phenomena.

Today, I step back and ask myself “Why are you doing this?” Try as I might, I don’t have a good answer.

Why Riot Games gets my $$$

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

There are tons of Free2play games on the internet.  Some are truly free.  Some bombard you with ads and others have premium stores where you spend real money for virtual benefit.   Some are indie, while others are the ‘casual’ undertaking of a massive games super publisher.  With the changing dynamics of the industry, game developers are well aware of the growing market share of gamers who are not the kind of people who read press releases from E3 or PAX.  They are not going to read about your upcoming title so they can pre-order the special edition for $100 and wear that around like a badge of honor.  These same studios are also aware that if they want to keep themselves in business, they need to tap into that market, because the ‘hardcore’ demographic has become so fickle and picky that we don’t just throw our $60 around without doing research (said $60 price tag probably has a lot to do with that).

However, a lot of people can be convinced to at least try something if it doesn’t cost them anything.  Not only that, but at no charge our expectations drop significantly.  I mean think about it, with WoW, you’re paid over $50 for the game and all its expansions, plus you are continuing to pay $14.99 a month.  At that price,  you have every reason to be upset anytime you want to do something with the game and it doesn’t work because you are giving these guys a ridiculous amount of money for the ability to play their game.  Meanwhile,  if  you go to try out a Flash game on some Flash game portal like Miniclip or Kongregate and it doesn’t load, you’re only out the time it took to load the page, no biggie.

The problem with this philosophy is that once you have people playing your game for free, they aren’t apt to stop playing it for free.  After all, they need to save their precious $60 for [Insert name of big budget Fall 2010 game here].  There’s even a real stigma about it in some cases.  I remember when I tried Runes of Magic for a month my big hook was “I better be able to play and enjoy this game at no charge because I am never buying anything at their store.”

Some of this attitude comes from a negative stigma about “buying the win.”  In a traditional video game, we all pay an opening charge and should be on an even playing field.    When we find out someone has spent more money than that to game the system, we naturally get upset because we don’t want to have to spend more money to catch up.  It’s not an alien concept, many baseball fans hate the Yankees because they can buy all the best players and be consistently good from season to season.  Free games that use in game stores therefor have to find a way to sell something to their customers without it feeling like the thing  they are selling gives the players who spend more money an unfair advantage.  Otherwise, the players, both free and otherwise, will be pushed away and go back to some game that has a more level playing field.

League of Legends (LoL) is a free to play game that uses an in game store.  It has the same issue in its concept that other free to play games have.  The difference is, in my opinion, they nail the execution.

For those of you who don’t know, Riot Game’s League of Legends is the spiritual successor to the internationally popular Warcraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients, known as DotA.  I’ll spare you a long winded description of how the game itself works, but think of it as a RTS where the base and it’s units are on auto pilot and each player controls a single “champion” who leads these auto-generated troops to destroy the enemy base.   The catch is each of these champions is unique, and the enemy team’s players are trying to stop you and destroy your base.  It results in a very dynamic game that flows freely from player vs computer play to player vs player play and back again in bursts.

League of Legends (by the way, Riot wins points for naming their game LoL automatically), is free to play.  You go to their site, make a free account and download the software.  Once its installed, you’re in and you can choose to match wits against bots to learn the game, or skip right to baptism by fire through the game’s matchmaking service.   However, just because you can play doesn’t mean the game is fully unlocked.  Every week, the team at Riot picks 10 of the game’s 50 champions (as of time of writing – they continue to add more every two weeks or so) to be available for free.  They go through lengths to make sure the 10 available champions include a number of each possible champion type (think offensive or defensive) and include easy to play and hard to play ones.  As you play with certain champions you will start to get attached to how they play and how their abilities work and how they work with a team.  At the end of that week however, that champion gets locked up again, so you can’t play him/her until the next time they are free, which depending on the champion could be a while.

Once your favorite champion is locked you have two choices.  Playing games earns you a form of in-game currency called “Influence Points” or IP, which you can spend on unlocking new champions OR on items that make your champions more powerful.  You earn more IP for playing games against real people than against bots, and after a certain point they start to limit IP gain vs Bots to encourage PvP play.  Champions range from as cheap as 450 IP to as expensive as 6300 IP.

Alternatively, you can spend real money to purchase “Riot Points” or RP, to buy your champion.  Champions tend to cost as cheap as $2 and are as expensive $7.50 per champion, with most sitting around $4.50.  Players can also choose to purchase champion bundles that include a bunch of champions for about $30, though they should make sure their choice champion is included in said bundle.

This is the point at which Riot Games makes a move that is absolutely brilliant.  By making the game free, they let you try it at no risk.  Don’t like it?  Stop playing, you’re out nothing.  Like it?  Then you’ll keep playing it, though sooner or later you’re going to develop some favorite champions and then you have to choose to pay the in-game or real money to unlock them.  You could choose to play the 123 practice games it would take to afford a 6300IP champion, OR you could just give Riot $10 for 1380RP and buy any champion you want.  You have to ask yourself, what is more valuable, your money or your time?  For some people, the answer is your money, and for them Riot is cool with you not paying them, and telling your friends to play, maybe they’ll feel other wise.  For others, like me, my time is more valuable and I can spare the money to get the champion I want now and enjoy playing them, rather than play a bunch of games with champions I don’t like as much to get them.  Besides, money spent on a champion means you saved IP for runes which will make said champion more powerful.  It’s great that you have the choice.

Add into this the game uses a level-up system to allow you to make your champions slightly more powerful over time.  Between earning IP and earning experience to level yourself up, the game also encourages you to keep playing, and perhaps be risky and try PvP matches before you might otherwise have the courage to do so.  After all you earn more XP and IP losing a PvP 5v5 match than you do winning a practice game against bots every time.

I had worried that Riot wasn’t going to make enough money on a system like this to keep themselves afloat, but Riot’s President spoke to the game’s success in a recent article, so good on ’em!  That article’s an interesting read, I recommend it.

At the end of the day though, as smart as this system for the store is, the most important thing is the game of LoL itself is fun.  If the game itself was underwhelming, then the game being free to play would just give people the opportunity to download it, try it, say meh, and uninstall it, resulting in no profit for Riot and their staff ever.  LoL’s system isn’t for everyone, and probably would never work for a single player game, but I would love to see more multiplayer driven titles use a system like this that invites new players to try before they buy, and then not mandate buying.   For now, shine on Riot!  I have enjoyed Garen, you’re newest offering, and look forward to what new champions your bring out next!

But is it fun?: Command and Conquer 4

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Okay this is a attempt at condensing a game review into a shorter bit focusing on the important question “But is it fun?”  After all we play video games to have fun, they are a source of entertainment, so at the end of the day that’s the most important question.  If you don’t have the time to read this whole thing but still want to know if you should get the game, skip on down to the “but is it fun” item on the bottom.

What is it? Command and Conquer 4 is the forth and “final” installment in the “Tiberium” universe of C&C games.  The C&C franchise is nearly as old as Real Time Strategy itself, and has had a loyal fan base for its over 15 year history. With the fourth game they are finally wrapping up the ongoing struggle between the Global Defense Initiative (GDI) and the Brotherhood of Nod (NOD).  C&C4 is an RTS, like it’s predecessors, but it takes great liberties with the RTS formula, doing away with classic base construction and any form of resource management and replacing it a game that is a funny hybrid between classic C&C and Dawn of WarII with a dash of Supreme Commander mixed in.

What’s done right? As much as it terrified me when I first read about it, the crawler mechanic is actually pretty fun.  the C&C games have always had these conceptual units called “MCVs” that can unpack into bases.  From there the MCV became a “construction yard” which built buildings which built your units.  As a result, even though the MCV itself wasn’t a weapon (well except in RA3 when it starts running things over) it was the heart of your base.  However, once deployed, MCVs are typically immobile, giving the “It’s a base” feeling.

This feeling is gone in C&C4.  Now the MCV, called a “Crawler” is your entire base.  It builds everything and is itself a unit you move around the battlefield.  How this feels is “there is a place on the map that needs attack/defending” so you move your crawler to that location, building units and/or turrets while you walk and then, when you get there, you unpack into the ground and it deploys all the stuff it’s built along the way.  The result is a very aggressive game that is fueled entirely by unit countering instead of at all by the macro game of resource and base management.

The other thing that’s really cool with the game is the music (at least with NOD anyway, haven’t played a bunch of GDI yet).  NOD music has this wonderful ebb and flow it goes with between creepy and powerful based on how the battle is progressing and it helps to capture the energy of the game very well.

Some of the unit designs are also really cool.  The NOD Defense crawler has an infantry unit that look like a big black-painted robot that has a cannon for one arm and a glowing red energy tower-shield for the other.  Totally awesome.

What’s done wrong?: While the crawler mechanic is great in some ways there are other ways in which it totally sucks.  Each side has 3 types of Crawler: Offense, Defense, and Support.  Offense crawlers build all of the game’s tank units, but can only build units.  Defense crawlers can only build infantry, but in addition to infantry can build defensive towers, which are pretty powerful.  Finally, Support crawlers can fly and can build air units and can also wield support powers, things like air strikes or cloaking fields for some of your units.   While this sounds okay on paper, in practice those of us who have been playing C&C for a long time should be able to tell that the guy who gets to build tanks wins in 1v1s, and you know what?  That’s true here. While the offense crawler gets to build units of light, medium, and heavy armor giving you a variety of unit types the enemy has to counter, air units and infantry tend to more or less fall into the same family and are easily counter-able.   At the end of the day, I can see how defense and support crawlers would be great in multiplayer, but going solo, you pretty much need to rock offense every time.

Of course, part of the problem here is also C&C4’s weak attempt at using persistence to goat you into continuing to play the game.  In order to play C&C4 you have to make a profile, which must be connected to the internet at all times to play.  While playing any game mode, you are doing things that earn experience for your profile, leveling you up either in GDI or NOD.  Leveling up is how you unlock new unit types, upgrades, and powers.  Thankfully you level up all 3 crawler types regardless of which one you’re playing, but the campaign is so short that you’ll beat it before you unlock every unit, hell even make it to teir3.  This is a serious issue since the campaign will start throwing teir3 enemies at you long before you get to build them.  Were it not for the ability to steal back mammoth tank husks, some of the missions I did would have been very hard.

Which leads well into another problem.  Because there are no resources, you are instead capped by how many units you can command at any given time.  Aside from this being incredibly not C&C, this limit applies not just to units, but also to the defensive crawler’s buildings.  While the defense crawler can sell buildings as you move around, the offense crawler has to wait for units to die to replace them.  This creates a real problem if your enemy kills your engineers when you’re not looking and you had a tank queued up as soon as the supply became necessary, because now you have another tank and no way to repair your crawler that is getting the crap kicked out of it.  The result is what I like to call “the Dawn of War II problem” in which you just can’t be everywhere you need to be at once to win and the game is like a big juggling act of taking your way too small army back and forth between multiple locations, sometimes forcing you to always be playing defense and never really getting to annihilate your enemies.

That and me, personally, enjoy the macro-management aspects of Starcraft or Supreme Commander, and how if done right it allows you to attack your enemy from every where with overwhelming force.  Anytime I play an RTS that lacks that, I miss it.

The biggest problem has to be, without a doubt, the campaign.  These mechanics issues with the crawlers could probably be worked around with more time with the game and getting some team mates to help me in skirmishes or co-op campaign games.  Unfortunately the story ending to C&C4 is so lame that it steals my desire to ever play the single player again (I haven’t done the GDI campaign yet, and I don’t really want to).  The game ends on such a lack luster note that it makes it feel like the entire four game series was in the end for nothing.   There are even a few earth shattering revelations that remain unsolved as Kane walks off screen for the last time.  To make matters worse, this is one of the shortest campaigns I’ve ever played, 1 faction’s campaign being beatable in 6 hours or less.  The missions themselves are pretty fun and somewhat challenging, especially with only one crawler, but the plot still made my brain hurt, and I’m the kind of person who loves normal C&C plots.

There also all kinds of parts where the game just feels rushed.  Some of the unit designs are lame, not really resembling anything and making it difficult to tell one type of unit from another until they start shooting you.  Some of the unit vocals are dumb, a lot of the supporting actors give lack luster performances (two of the game’s key antagonists to me come off as very, very meh).

But is it fun?: At the end of the day C&C4, taken just for it’s game play, is a fun game and something that any fan of the RTS genre could probably enjoy.  Unfortunately you can’t just buy the skirmish and multi-player and play that to your hearts’ content on the cheap.  No instead you have to spend $50 on a lackluster campaign, needing to always be online to earn ever anything through a very meh level up system, put up with the DRM, etc.  In the end, it’s the stuff around the game of C&C4 that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to recommend to anyone.  I can’t even say “If you’re a die hard C&C fan get it” because you’ll probably be just as disappointed by the story as I am, and newcomers are just going to be lost as to what a “Scrin Tower” is because they’ve never played C&C3 and it’s not explained in C&C4. What a disappointing way for what was an epic RTS series to draw to a close.

Goodbye C&C BCPT

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

As you may have heard, the Command and Conquer (C&C) team is being (perhaps even has been) destroyed by EA now that C&C4 is out the door. To go with it, apparently, is the team that made their monthly netshow, C&C Battlecast Primetime, which was both a giant promotion for upcoming patches and games, community feedback and, my favorite part, commentated replays of bad-ass C&C3 and Red Alert 3 matches.

To this end, C&C BCPT is gone, apparently unable to complete a full final episode, being forced instead to just release their monthly bad-ass replays, aka “The battlecast ten.” This time they took what they felt were the best matches of C&C Generals through Red Alert 3, and personally I feel watching this video represents the end of an era. Not just the end of BCPT, but the end of C&C at EA. As a fan of franchise (I was gonna write “Stalwart” but we all know whose RTS’s units adorn this website and it ain’t Kane’s) I am sad to see this go. Ending BCPT is just one of the many bad calls EA has made with the C&C games since they gained the license. I guess now we can hope that someday they will sell the license to someone who will do it right, or find a team that can, and not ruin it in the long run.

Anywho, here’s the video, since they posted it on YouTube, I figured better to share it this way.

Long time no update

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Few quick things.

First, fourth Starcraft 2 video.  This is several weeks old at this point, but still enjoy:

Learn more at the StarCraft 2 Wiki

Second, I’ll post it again just be sure you got it, but I’m really focusing any not-used-for-work webdev time on the GameKnights site right now, so things are probably going to be dead round here for a bit.  I’m seriously considering killing this blog, or finding someway to phase it in with GameKnights, but I haven’t figured out the best way to do that yet.

Third, I decided to join Twitter.  I have no idea how much I’ll tweet myself, but apparently having an account makes it easier to follow multiple people, and there are people out there I want to follow now.  If you have twitter and want to you, I am adamclegg on the service.

Fourth, we launched the new Michigan State University home page today.  If you’re a friend, student, alumni, former student, college, whatever, and haven’t checked it out yet, please do and leave your feed back for the team using the survey on the bottom of the home page.

Fifth, I beat Mass Effect PC again and am finally starting Mass Effect 2.  There’s a ton to love here, but at the moment there’s also a lot that doesn’t make the game feel like Mass Effect, so we’ll see how things turn out in the final verdict.

Starcraft 2 videos part 2

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

I’ve actually made two more videos since my last post.  Here they both are!

Learn more at the StarCraft 2 Wiki

Learn more at the StarCraft 2 Wiki

Cue hallelujah chorus

Friday, February 26th, 2010

A screenshot of what I saw while I was on IE6 browser testing today.  Oh man I can’t wait for this to cause all kinds of IE6 hold outs to finally upgrade!

I’m in the Starcraft II Beta! Here is the proof!

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Watch more videos of StarCraft 2


Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Gameknight logo

For those of you who may not have heard, as an effort to expand my web page coding skills more fully into the database-driven-web-app direction, I have created a website for my friends and I who play games every Wednesday Night over the internet.  The site, which I’ve titled “GameKnights” is a homepage for all we do, and is a fully built from scratch PHP/mySQL website with many tables and a growing list of features.

The site is exclusive at this time, and not open to the public, but those of you reading this blog who are curious about my web work should really check this one out, just to see how well it runs.  I am proud of it, and it gets better as the community continues to offer up their feedback and suggestions.

Quantum Theory: Gears of War rip off for the good or bad? You decide!

Monday, January 18th, 2010

So, this is a developer walk through of the upcoming 360/PS3 game “Quantum Theory,” which seems to have nothing to do with quantum mechanics and everything to do with ripping off Gears of War.   That being said, the chick he’s throwing at his enemies is pretty cool, though it’d be a lot cooler if she’s playable.

I dunno on this one.  I think it looks like it could be fun because I think Gears of War style games look fun pretty much all the time, but it also looks like it could be half baked in the end, especially if this AI controlled girl comes at the expense of Co-Op.

Anyway here’s the walk-through. You can find a bunch more TGS Quantum Theory stuff on Game Trailers if you’re curious.