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Building Economy

Latest Blogs - Tue, 09/16/2014 - 15:29
Crossposted from Rindis.com

I've been playing a fair amount of the old city-builder game Pharoah: Gold recently. (Bought it on sale at GoG at the beginning of the month.) And I've been pondering why.

I have played SimCity. I have a copy of SimCity 2000 (bought for cheap after 3000 came out). I have spent time with OpenTTD.

I think they're all fine enough. But they don't hold my attention for long. A few hours fiddling around with them and I'm done.

I am, in general, a strategy gamer. Which is a computer game genre definition so broad as to be close to useless. (The excellent strategy game podcast Three Moves Ahead has had occasional side discussions on 'what is a strategy game?', with Tom Chick asserting that 'everything is', and even making an interesting argument for The Sims as a strategy game.) There is, of course, a large number of sub-genres (ranging from overly-broad to tiny niche), and I've been meaning to talk about some of the smaller ones I've observed.

But, anyway: city-builders. SimCity is kind of the genre definer, and is generally a pure sandbox simulation 'game' without a lot of goals, and limited interaction with the actual mechanics. Pure sandbox games generally don't do much for me; that's the common thread between the games that don't hold my interest that I mentioned earlier.

Caesar was a popular city-builder game, that spawned three sequels, and two spinnoffs based on the the Caesar III engine (Pharoah and Zeus). I enjoyed the Caesar III demo way back when (somewhat to my surprise, and that demo is why I bought Pharoah: Gold). I've now played Pharoah: Gold obsessively for over a week, which is now tailing off (I think).

The difference is that while the Caesar/Pharoah-model city-builders look a bit like SimCity, there is a decided difference in execution. As mentioned, SimCity is pretty much pure sim. You zone areas, lay out roads, and mix in essential services, and wait to see if the sims can put together a viable economy. Pharaoh is actually an economic engine game (who knew I had that much eurogamer in me?). You are placing specific industries to produce raw materials which are then taken to other industries to turn them into usable goods which are needed for other purposes (building weapons, improving living conditions, etc). It can be seen as a close-up of the 'exploit' part of 4X (a genre I regularly enjoy).

This brings me to another game that I discovered and enjoyed years ago that could be mistaken for a city-builder: The Settlers II: Gold Edition. It is fairly close to Pharoah/Caesar, but is easier to see as not related to SimCity. Settlers is a pure economic engine game. Every building has a cost in lumber and stone to build. So you need to cut down trees, convert it to lumber and quarry stone to get anything done. The full set of resources needed to get everything done is much more complicated (but mostly turns into providing food to miners to generate iron and coal for creating weapons and armor, and gold to pay/upgrade the resulting soldiers), but does not involve any hidden mechanisms.

Pharoah on the other hand still has the 'sim' aspect of the residents having wants and desires that are not entirely surfaced to the player. A basic building needs to be provided with water, so the residents do better and upgrade it; then they need a bazaar to get food from, then religion.... But there is also 'desirability'. Placing a storage yard (for example) too close to a residential area makes it a less desirable location, and the building can only climb so far up the scale of increasing wealth. While there are ways to look at this in the game, no real guidance is given. How far does this effect spread? Which buildings are the worst for desirability? There's also an 'overall' mood which can keep new immigrants from arriving when you open up new areas, but I have no idea what contributes to that....

There is a final, very important thing that Pharoah and Settlers share that SimCity does not: They both have campaigns, which have missions. I'm not set loose to just make my own city. I have goals. In Settlers II this is to take control of the gate that leads to the next island/mission (or just wipe everyone else off the map in the alternate campaign; both campaigns are quite challenging). Pharoah starts with a 'build these buildings' format common to a lot of early/tutorial RTS campaigns, but is looking like it is shifting over to 'hit these arbitrary metrics in a challenging situation'. That makes sense, but I have a feeling I'm going abandon the campaign if it continues down that road.

There's also a framing story around the main campaigns in both. Settlers II is the story of a Roman expedition that got shifted to some pocket universe, and is trying to find it's way back through a succession of gates, hoping that one will lead home. Pharoah is about the successive generations of a family of administrators serving Egypt; the transition I mentioned happens at the beginning of the Old Kingdom stage. The former is far more effective at keeping me playing, but the latter is nicely used for a loose presentation of the history of Egypt.
Categories: Blogs

HPS Games

Latest Blogs - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 19:23
Originally Posted by Old Dog Good Day,

I have a number of HPS Simulations that I have listed on Amazon. Prices are either the lowest listed, or match the lowest listed.

Thanks for your consideration.
Old Dog


Squad Battles

Advance of the Reich

Tour of Duty

Early American Wars

War of 1812

Naval Battles

Guadalcanal

Modern Air Power

War Over the MidEast

Civil War Campaigns

Chickamauga

Ozark

Napoleonic Battles

Austerlitz

Waterloo


Thanks again.
Categories: Blogs

HPS Games

Latest Blogs - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 12:13
Originally Posted by Old Dog Good Day,

I have a number of HPS Simulations that I have listed on Amazon. Prices are either the lowest listed, or match the lowest listed.

Thanks for your consideration.
Old Dog

Squad Battles

Advance of the Reich

Tour of Duty

Early American Wars

War of 1812

Naval Battles

Guadalcanal

Modern Air Power

War Over the MidEast

Civil War Campaigns

Chickamauga

Ozark

Napoleonic Battles

Austerlitz

Waterloo

Tactical Studies Series

Point of Attack 2


Thanks again.
Categories: Blogs

The Fate of EVE Online

Latest Blogs - Wed, 09/03/2014 - 11:05
Word has it that CCP, creators of EVE Online, are closing their SF office and laying off numerous support staff. How that will affect EVE over the long term is uncertain, but it got me thinking about the state of the game and where it's headed. And, sadly, from where I sit it doesn't look good.

CCP wants a dark, dangerous, dystopian universe where actions have consequences and risk really means something. But the truth is that CCP has no idea how to create such a dynamic. What they've created instead is a chaotic stew of half-cooked ideas.

CCP and the EVE community rant and rave about the failures and childish gameplay of MMOs like World of Warcraft, and rightly so. But despite all the effort to make the gameplay more challenging and more consequence driven, EVE has devolved into as much of a pointless grind as WoW ever was. It just takes you a hell of a lot more time and effort to discover it's all been kind of pointless.

But it wasn't always that way. Back in the day, EVE had a ton of problems but it also had some very cool adaptive gameplay and a ton of potential. But slowly, inexorably, the most militant players systematically exploited every possible aspect of the game, forcing CCP to constantly make significant changes in order to try to maintain balance and stamp out the worst of the exploits. Sadly, the end result is a game that's so "fair" that there's hardly any point in even investing in your character. CCP has fallen victim to its own logic, and has helped foster a culture where the only thing that means anything is raw currency. Everything has been reduced to money, and since you can now easily buy as much game currency as you need with real world money, what's the point of playing at all?

You don't really get more powerful in EVE, and it's essentially impossible to really do anything meaningful beyond trolling your fellow players. So EVE, pretty as it is, is really nothing more than a giant sandbox to troll other people you don't know by blowing up stuff they don't really care about anyway.

EVE's purported goal was to be a persistent universe where actions had consequences, and one where those consequences mean everything. Instead, EVE has become an incredibly tedious, time consuming game where nothing means anything, really.

It's not all bad. There have been many small changes that add up to a significant quantity of overall improvement in the game. And you can still have some cool PvP action if you go and look for it. But EVE's problems are fundamental structural problems, and CCP won't ever change those things because the problems are simply beyond the skill level of the developers. The folks at CCP are wonderful game developers and they deserve credit for that. But though their technical prowess as developers is undeniable, their shortcomings as game designers is equally manifest.
Categories: Blogs

I just learned how to silence Fanboys:

Forums: Latest Threads - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 21:13
Facts! Yep, simple unadulterated, unbiased facts. Once again I called out the Fanboys and of course they immediately called me an 'asshat' and whatnot for stating that CIG (Star Citizen) doesn't follow it's own guidelines and bans people willy-nilly. So I simply challenged them to ask CIG why 'Joda' was banned without the requisite warning? And the response? Eerie silence. Nothing....not a single peep. The only response was simply more hostility from more Fanboys. Sad.

Riddick:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0ZRNLw2omA
Categories: Forums

Panther Games to Change Publishers

Forums: Latest Threads - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 00:05
Panther Games will be changing publishers at the end of October 2014. It has signed an agreement with another publisher to publish both its computer and board games. We will announce the new publisher soon.


PG Logo Gold on Black.jpg

Panther will be leaving Matrix Games with a lot of good will. The Command Ops Public Forum at Matrix Games will remain available to customers after the transition and support through Matrix Games will continue until the end of October 2014. While not expected, should any future updates to the titles sold through Matrix be required, they would also be compatible with the Matrix Games releases.


Mr Dave O’Connor, President of Panther Games, said “We have been with Matrix Games for ten years and have enjoyed working with them. We are looking forward to streamlining our arrangements for publishing both our computer and board games. We wish Matrix Games all the best for the future.”


Canberra, Australia. 2 September 2014
www.panthergames.com Attached Images
Categories: Forums

Gaming Industry Under Siege??

Forums: Latest Threads - Sat, 08/30/2014 - 02:44
Over the past two days I have become aware of several large scandals exploding across parts of the gaming world. One is about gaming journalism and the other is about threats to a female gamer and her criticism of the portrayal of women in video games. Another issue that was brushed under the rug was a gamer being "swatted" on live stream whilst playing Counter-Strike. While I am still sifting through the debris it is important to point out that the gaming community appears to be actively drawing lines and firing on all cylinders at each other over various issues.

For example, Anita Sarkeesian is known for a series Feminist Frequency (FemFreq for short). She recently did a mini-series detailing the portrayal of women in video games. Almost immediately she came under extremely harsh backlash that even targeted her personally (death and rape threats as well as the release of her and her parent's addresses). She was forced to leave her home (apparently) under the advice of the FBI whom she contacted in relation to the threats. However, some have claimed that her videos steal content from other content creators without crediting them, spew out fallacies, misconstrue games, and outright lie about them. So the community is split. But, I wholly disagree with those who believe she is getting her just deserves for misinforming people about games. They just that, GAMES. To go so far as to sit back and let people threaten her and her family's lives is as disgusting as those making the threats and it just really reinforces the gamin community's issue with female gamers, characters, and the enormous amounts of misogyny that exist.

Here is Pt. 2 over her series:



The other is about terrible gaming journalism, specifically between Kotaku and Plygon. I honestly just discovered this minutes ago so I cannot really comment on it as much as I did above:

From Gamer Headlines:
Quote: A few days ago I posted an article that discussed in no small part the importance of standards within journalistic media. Gaming journalism is currently enduring a colossal change in tides that has seen several big names within the industry heavily criticised for acts of non-disclosure, censorship, as well the burial and with-holding of information. This string of events has been primarily publicised, fought for and evidenced by the gaming community itself, who have over-come all attempts to prevent the matter from spreading further.

Unfortunately, those attempts to quell the spread of information only served to infuriate and further encourage many gamers to continue calling out press regarding ethical negligence. Today, two more popular writers found themselves on the receiving end of strongly worded criticisms regarding the unreasonable overlap of personal relationships and publications.

Patricia Hernandez (@xpatriciah), writer at Kotaku, and Ben Kuchera (@BenKuchera), editor at Polygon, have been scalded this evening as Reddit users diverted to a highly detailed account of articles in which the two writers had failed to disclose personal interests prior to publishing their work. The accusation is especially scalding since it directly contradicts the recently stated ethical expectations of Kotaku editor-in-chief, Stephen Totilo (stephentotilo).

Read The Rest: Here So, what are everyone's thoughts on the subjects? I can already guess that many here agree that gamin journalism is the shits and I know that this is a hugely commonly understood fact from throughout the gaming community as evidenced across multiple forums I visit.

As for the issues with Sarkeesian, it is much trickier I feel. I have seen people criticize her content in other videos but agree that the backlash is totally unnecessary and just wrong. Others have stated that she deserves it which is enabling this form of disgusting cyber-based behaviour. I find it appalling that people are basically okaying those actions. Another thing is is that, as stated in the article from Gamer Headlines, the gaming industry has not major impact on world politics and economics, and etc. It is a purely entertainment industry first, and a possible educator second. However there are parts of it that undoubtedly require oversight. Both of these examples are important for the industry/hobby in moving forward. And to adequately tackle them every single tier of the industry MUST take part in open conversations about what to do and where to go. I feel that the industry is one of the few that can really shift and direct itself as a whole, along new paths. Yet, this requires its participants to understand and realize that mature, open, and honest debate is needed and childish trolling and threats are unfounded and should be accompanied by severe consequences.
Categories: Forums

CCP Closing SF Office

Forums: Latest Threads - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 21:05
From Blues News:

http://www.bluesnews.com/s/154519/ccp-closing-sf-office


Quote: CCP Closing SF Office

The latest financial report from CCP (in Icelandic, Adobe Acrobat format) reveals the EVE Online developer is closing its San Francisco office, and parting ways with former chief marketing officer David Reid and chief financial officer Joe Gallo. CCP explains they are looking to "combine and simplify" some operations, and Reddit notes that translating the report suggests flat revenues played into the decision. Thanks Eurogamer.net. And it is only going to get worse as Elite moves closer to release. Elite is the type of space game people have wanted for years. Eve Online was a good substitute...but just that: a substitute. If Elite launches in good shape, I expect to see Eve sub numbers crater rather quickly as all the "carebears" abandon the game, leaving the corp hardcore to fight it out in an increasingly empty universe.

PS: as if more proof is needed as to the mortal threat Elite will prove to be:

Categories: Forums

HPS Games

Latest Blogs - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 15:14
Originally Posted by Old Dog Good Day,

I have a number of HPS Simulations that I have listed on Amazon. Prices are either the lowest listed, or match the lowest listed.

Thanks for your consideration.
Old Dog

Panzer Campatigns

Tobruk '41

Ancient Wars

Roman Civil Wars

Squad Battles

Advance of the Reich

Tour of Duty

Early American Wars

War of 1812

French and Indian War

Naval Battles

Guadalcanal

Midway

Modern Air Power

War Over the MidEast

Civil War Campaigns

Chickamauga

Ozark

Napoleonic Battles

Austerlitz

Waterloo

Wagram

Thanks again.
Categories: Blogs

HPS Games

Latest Blogs - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 20:03
Originally Posted by Old Dog Good Day,

I have a number of HPS Simulations that I have listed on Amazon. Prices are either the lowest listed, or match the lowest listed.

Thanks for your consideration.
Old Dog

Panzer Campatigns

Tobruk '41

Ancient Wars

Roman Civil Wars

Squad Battles

Advance of the Reich

Tour of Duty

Early American Wars

War of 1812

French and Indian War

Naval Battles

Guadalcanal

Midway

Modern Air Power

War Over the MidEast

Civil War Campaigns

Chickamauga

Ozark

Napoleonic Battles

Eckmuhl

Austerlitz

Waterloo

Thanks again.
Categories: Blogs

The Not-So-Secret Secret World

Latest Blogs - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 17:09


I think one the greatest events in any gamer's life is that magical moment when he knows that he has discovered an original game universe, one that he intuitively knows he will be exploring and enjoying for a great many years to come. Such moments are unfortunately rare. Gaming is no different than other media, be it books, television, or movies: works of true genius are exceedingly rare, so such magical movements are few and far between. For me, I've only had two such gaming moments: when I first discovered the fantastically grim military science fiction setting that is Warhammer 40K,and now that I have belatedly discovered the wonderful Shadowrun universe (thanks to Harebrained Schemes fantastic PC translation).

When I first heard about the Shadowrun setting I was not all that interested because it seemed like such a weird mash-up of differing genres....

Shadowrun initially seems like your classic cyberpunk setting: a near future, a high tech dystopian world where mega-corporations rule with an iron fist due to their vast wealth and power. What is more, it is world where trans-humanism has become the norm, where people replace entire body parts with cybernetic enhancements, and can "jack in" and experience virtual reality in the same way as Neo experienced The Matrix. And, of course, it wouldn't be a cyberpunk setting without the crucial element of small time hustlers who run missions - "shadowruns" - for corporations, missions that can involve everything from corporate espionage, to outright hits on competing executives. Needless to say, these seemingly simple missions usually go very wrong for the runners in classic noir form, leading to some entertaining and grim scrambling for all involved. Good stuff!

But where Shadowrun throws a curve is by introducing a healthy dose of Tolkien into the mix. In 2011 "the Awakening" occurs, where a portion of humanity slowly mutates into the archetype fantasy races of dwarves, trolls, elves, etc. However, unlike their somewhat trippy portrayal in fantasy media, in the world of Shadowrun these races basically blend back into society as would any other racial subculture (I particularly like how trolls often come across as goombah Italians. LOL!). In addition to the genetic mutations, magic has also started to come back into the world, something that makes for a fascinating contrast with the setting's cyberpunk high technology. Of course, if you have the reappearance of the fantasy races, and you have the return of magic and wizardry, well, you can count on the reappearance of dragons, ancient horrors, vampires, and even the confirmation of urban legends like the existence of Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.

Like I said: "a weird mash-up" that never seemed like it would work. Let me tell you: it DOES! And in a big, addictive fashion! The world of Shadowrun is one of of those things that is simply greater than the sum of its parts. By taking such disparate genres as science fiction and fantasy, and by putting them together into the same Petri dish, you get a mix that is absolutely volatile with fascinating potential!

And I am now a rabid fan.

Since discovering this wonderful setting I have since learned that its generic name is "urban fantasy", a catchall term that denotes a modern city-based story that contains the elements of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. It is, in short, a smorgasbord of imagination and escapism. I guess in retrospect it isn't a surprise why it has become so popular seeing how it spans so many genres. And popular it is. A quick search on Amazon reveals a growing library of urban fantasy titles (with a surprising number involving romances - I guess that is the Twilight phenom at work?). In fact, one of this year's Hugo Award winners is the urban fantasy title, Warbound: Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles, by conservative author Larry Correia of the famed Monster Hunters International series of urban fantasy.

It looks like urban fantasy is here to stay. Huzzah!

Well, as it often the case with me, I am never just content to have fun with a single game. No, I immediately become restless and demand "more, more, more!" (in internet speak: "MOAR, MOAR, MOAR!"). And that is how I stumbled upon Funcom's MMORPG, The Secret World.

Well, "stumbled upon" might not be the precise term because this game had snagged my attention from the moment it's first teaser was unveiled back in 2011. It is a good one:


Truth is, as soon as the "dark days are coming" tag line appeared I was hooked. That is, unfortunately, my gut feeling too concerning the state of the world. I mean, when Ivy League universities offer a satanism major, when bloodthirsty heresies are on the march, when professors of the dark arts encourage the slaughter of the innocents, and when cadavers walk the earth to instigate mayhem, happy days are most definitely not ahead of us. Dark days indeed....

Now, even though I was interested in this game from the start, I never actually bothered to check it out. The primary reason is that I just don't care for MMOs because I often find the premise to be sabotaged by the restrictive nature of a MMO design (more on that later). What is more, when The Secret World first launched, it was the standard MMO dealie of needing to purchase the base game followed by a reoccurring monthly membership fee. Not gonna happen. A game developer will get one out of me, but not both. So this game just dropped off my radar.

Now, however, things have changed. Fueled by my new found love of urban fantasy, I recalled this game and eagerly sought it out. Sure, it is not a cyberpunk-themed urban fantasy as is Shadowrun Returns (too bad), but it is definitely of the same vein what with its theme of a contemporary setting where "every myth, conspiracy theory and urban legend was true". Close enough for me! Even better, I discovered it has since gone down the Guild Wars route of ditching the monthly subscription. Great! Excited by the game's prospects, I requested a free three day pass from the community and off I went into The Secret World....

....And landed smack in a by-the-numbers MMORPG. Darn it.

The game starts off interestingly enough with a compelling cutscene where your custom designed character has a weird dream about being forced to chose a side in a coming conflict. Upon awakening, he discovers that he has acquired magical powers...powers he can barely control. Days pass and your character is seen mastering his new gifts. Eventually a knock on his apartment door is heard and depending upon which faction the player has chosen during the character creation process - the Templars, the Illuminati, or the Dragons - a messenger summons the player to the HQ of his specific faction where he is to be briefed on the new reality of monsters and magic becoming part of the world once again. All of this is executed very well. The cutscenes are nicely rendered, the dialogue is sharp, and the voice acting is quite excellent.

This solid introduction comes to an end and the player is off on his first assignment to combat "the Filth" (great term!) that is slowly corrupting the world. Tragically, it is here that I first felt my enthusiasm for the game slipping. In a bizarre move, The Secret World, a game that describes itself as being about vampires hunting "for mortal blood in London nightclubs" and about demons "lurking in the shadows of Seoul", incongruously decides to deposit the player in the decidedly un-urban Maine city of Kingsmouth, a classic small New England town that is thematically as far removed from an urban setting as possible. In fact, it isn't all that far removed from the typical medieval villages players usually encounter in a MMORPG, one of the cliched settings this game was supposedly going to buck. I really was dumbfounded by this choice. Now, that is not to say that the game doesn't do a good job of realizing this setting - Kingsmouth proves to be brought to life with vivid detail - but New York it is not.


This disappointment was quickly followed by another: the typically dull "gofer" (aka: "Fed-ex") missions that are part and parcel of the MMO genre - this is where you need to go someplace, collect a certain amount of something and bring it back to the mission giver. Boring. However, even here there is some nice chrome on hand as each story mission gets its own fully voiced cutscene, something that does serve to make these threadbare missions seem as something more important than just pointless grinds for XP...which is what they really are.

So my character sets out on his first gofer mission and discovers another tiring MMO convention: the large packs of monsters - in this case, trite zombies - roaming the countryside. Again, this is a failing of the core MMO design: if you are going to have potentially hundreds of people playing the game simultaneously, you need to make sure there are plenty of baddies hanging around so everyone gets a chance to play the part of the hero. Same thing here. Even worse, these packs usually respawn quite quickly, too, so as to further ensure no shortages of moving targets, a convention that I have always found counteracts any sense of progress in clearing out the bad guys. Sigh.

The triteness of packs of roving monsters is particularly bad in TSW due to the nature of the game itself, and here's why: the early part of the TSW goes to great lengths to try and convince the player that he is standing at the threshold of a new reality, one that the rest of the world is still largely oblivious to (albeit, a recent "terrorist attack" in the Tokyo subway system might change that). Fine. But judging by the massive amount of beasties roaming the Kingsmouth / Solomon Island locale, this isn't the beginning of a gradual infiltration by the Filth, but rather it is a full-on invasion that is anything but secret! I was really disappointed by this because I was hoping my character was going to be involved in an gradually escalating investigation into a paranormal presence - indeed, that is precisely how this initial mission was described. But upon entering Kingsmouth, it is clear that you are just another grunt in a battle for an entire town under open assault by paranormal forces! How is the "Secret World" remaining secret when entire towns are being overrun with otherworldly armies?!?

And then I came to the combat. Ugh. I hate MMO combat. I hate the button-mashing, I hate the stilted combat animations, and I hate the repetition. And it is all here. It did help a little that unlike fantasy-themed MMORPGS, The Secret World's modern setting permits the use of all sorts of firearms, from pistols to assault rifles. That is cool, but it would have been all the more "cooler" if the combat was skilled based, if the player could aim and fire the weapons himself like in a third-person shooter, instead of just hitting a button and watching the game roll some dice and produce a scripted combat animation. Still, being able to go into combat with duel pistols makes for a nice change of pace. Other weapons are available too, like bladed instruments, war hammers, and magic, of course, and players are free to mix and match as they see fit by using earned skill and attribute points to unlock new weapons and increase their deadliness. Again, nice...but still not the MMO revolution I was hoping TSW would deliver.

After an hour or two, I was quickly tiring of the stale MMO conventions that I had experienced in the game so far. The Secret World promised to be something different, but it wasn't. It was the same formulaic MMORPG I have played and abandoned many times before. If only this title was a single player RPG, something that would allow it to break free from the tired necessities of the MMO template! Then this setting could really shine as Shadowrun Return shines. Then we would truly have something special. But it wasn't, and we didn't. Sadly, I resolved to uninstall the game the next day.

But I didn't.

Instead, I found myself logging back in...for some reason I couldn't quite explain (witchcraft?). And once again I quickly found myself gritting my teeth as I suffered through the banal MMO conventions that littered this game. But why couldn't I stop playing it?

I decided that it was those darn missions. Those introductory cutscenes were really well done, and served as a preprandial treat to the actual meat of the quest. But more so that that, some of the quests were actually interesting in their own right. Sure, there were a bunch of those boring gofer quests, but even some of them were suitably spooky and fit in well with the "end days" theme of the game, leading me to actually looking forward to their final resolution. Not only that, but I eventually discovered that the game includes some nice artwork to compliment these quests. For example, when I uncovered a newspaper article relevant to a certain quest, instead of getting what I expected - a pop up window with a transcription of the article - I instead got an actual picture of the article. In another mission I located a cell phone and was treated to an actual in-game image of the phone with relevant text message. I was happy to discover that TSW didn't take the lazy route of just text, text, and more text, but incorporates the sort of art assets one usually encounters in an old school point and click adventure.

Now, in addition to these rather straight-forward gofer quests, I discovered two other types that did add some nice variety to the game. For example, The Secret World has some very interesting investigation missions. In these quests, the player is presented a mystery that he must solve. Now, solving these missions breaks with the linear nature of the gofer quests by usually requiring the player to go outside of the game and research topics on wikipedia, or even visiting some faux webpages created especialy for the game, to find the necessary bit of info that advances the story. Frankly, this is something I have wanted to see in a MMO for a very long time (I mean, the player is forced to be constantly online anyway, so why not make use of the internet in the game?). While I do think that these investigation missions can be ridiculously hard, largely because the game sort of dumps the player at a narrative dead end and expects him to pull his hair out until he finds the right course of action (thank the maker for the helpful wikis out there!), the mere existence of such puzzle quests really adds a sense of novelty, and mental challenge, to TSW.


Then there are the sabotage missions. Like the investigation missions, these made for a refreshing change of pace to the standard gofer missions. In fact, these missions are much closer to what I hoped would be the norm for The Secret World: quests that don't involve simplistic "kill this" or "fetch that" quest templates, but involve doing something much more suitably convert for a secret society operative, things such as infiltrating a facility, or needing to disable a security system, or even hacking a terminal. What is more, unlike the other quests, these missions involve isolated instances, something that slows the pace of the game and narrows the focus to just one player at a time - you! Because you are alone in these quests they are much more creepy, especially since they usually involve a boss monster of some type hiding in the shadows, awaiting its final battle. This is something that definitely adds to the "dark days are coming" paranormal feeling. Again, these sabotage missions are much closer to what I had hoped to find in TSW, something much more representative of a slow paced investigation into the paranormal rather than the open warfare, you-are-late-to-the-party nature of the main game world.

So I played a bunch of missions that second night and discovered some I really liked, many that were completely forgettable, and a handful that were just plain weird, but still concluded that The Secret World just wasn't my type of game. I would delete it after logging out.

But I didn't.

Instead I found myself logging in once again the following night. And I still didn't know why! What kept drawing me back?!?

This time I thought it was the oppressive nature of the setting of Kingsmouth - it really put its hooks into me. As I wrote earlier, this locale is something less than the exciting urban setting I was initially hoping for. Really, it is just a pastiche of the many small towns that have graced countless horror movies (particularly Antonio Island from The Fog - a deadly fog even haunts TSW's Solomon Island!). Be that as it may, Funcom has nonetheless managed to bring some real horror to this in-game setting. Despite the ridiculous amount of zombies and other creatures plaguing every nook and cranny of the town, not to mention the many cliched horror plot points borrowed by the various missions, the setting nevertheless becomes a very disturbing place after awhile. I didn't really appreciate this until I left Kingsmouth to return to my HQ back in London (I was in search of some cosmetic improvements - TSW seems very stingy with clothes and gear). While there, I found a local pub where I was able to listen in on a conversation between two long time Templars. As with much of the game, the writing was very good, and the tale they told was interesting as well as being informative of the game's backstory. But what really struck me was how I was relaxing for the first time in a long while. The background noise of happy patrons chattering away, not to mention the pleasure of not seeing a single filthy monster anywhere in sight really was a breath of fresh air after my time on Solomon Island. When it finally came time for me to depart this cosmopolitan slice of reality, I actually found myself dreading the return to the hellhole of Kingsmouth. It was then that I realized that The Secret World, despite all the limitations attendant to a MMO, actually had achieved something of what it promised to do: give us a chance to experience truly "dark days".

This realization of just what an unceasing horror show Kingsmouth actually was made me even more committed to following through on the quests to rid the town of its curse and restore some normalcy - despite the fact that my Templar supervisor warned me that my purpose was to investigate and not save; there are no conquering heroes when confronted with such evil. So I set out with gusto exploring Kingsmouth, now more determined than ever, but soon discovered something disconcerting: Kingsmouth is significantly bigger than I had first thought. While most of the initial missions take place within the reasonably sized town itself, the entire questing area of Solomon Island is at least three times bigger, with entire sections locked off until...who know when? This was going to take longer than I thought!

For the first time, I didn't log out of the game with the idea of deleting my account. Instead I planned to return the next night to uncover some more of the horror plaguing my first assignment.

But I never returned.

My trial had ran out.


Will I return to The Secret World? Incredibly, my answer is an unexpected "yes!" Even though this game suffers from all the frustrating shortcomings of the MMO genre, in the final analysis TSW managed to deliver on its (urban) fantasy premise in a very entertaining way. And let's be fair here: I've only sampled a handful of hours from the starting location of a game that has been under development for two years now. Having safely launched the game with boilerplate MMO content (this starting slice of TSW just screams safe game design), hopefully Funcom has since added material that is more daring. And even if they haven't taken that more adventurous step, I still have to say that what is in the game so far seems sufficient to keep me entertained for...well, certainly a few hours more, anyway.

Having said that, I should point out that I haven't actually purchased the game yet. Even though I am hankering to get back into The Secret World, I decided to put it on ice for a bit yet because, frankly, TSW is going to make for some fine Halloween gaming (especially seeing how Kingsmouth is decorated with jack-o-lanterns; apparently the dark days of the secret world arrived with the dark days of autumn). Of course, if a sale happens along I will not hesitate to jump on the game (TSW often sees 50% price cuts), but with that exception I will be content to wait until at least summer is officially over. The Secret World is so dark at times that I fear I will tear a hole in the universe and spill demons into our reality if I play the game in the sunlight of summer.

Well, that is the plan, anyway. When it comes to The Secret World, anything is possible. The game certainly made that clear.

[As usual, a better edited version of this article appears on my main blog: http://burkesjoystick.blogspot.com/2...et-world.html]
Categories: Blogs

I have to ask: why am I so stupid?

Forums: Latest Threads - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 05:54
Recently I posted a comment on another site promoting the idea of making ships cloaked (invisible) for Star Citizen. Not mentioning names but most were adamantly against it despite the fact 99% never tried it! How on earth do people come to conclusions about something they know nothing about? Incredible. And their arguments were just brain numbing, especially the old Chris Roberts said he doesn't want to make an EVE 2.0 argument. Of course he doesn't want to make an EVE 2.0; and I don't want to play an EVE 2.0. What does that have to do with anything? EVE didn't invent cloaking! They got it from Star Trek and no doubt Gene Roddenberry got it from mythology going back hundreds of years. Evochron also has cloaking but for some strange reason it's once again about 'not' being another EVE. God people are stupid.

And I faced this kind of stupidity before. Like when I pushed for outside designers/ship contest and Fanbois went ballistic. 95% of the comments were adamantly opposed to it. Fast forward and ta-da! Amazing ships all thanks to outside designers and a competition!!! Now the Fanbois are all ga-ga over the ships. dumb asses.

And then there was the time I called out the crappy flight controls shortly after Arena Commanders release. You should have heard how defensive the Fanbois were about the buggered mechanics. And I wasn't the only one. Many realized the poor mechanics needed changing and fortunately Chris Roberts agreed and soon we will have all 6 mods of movement in the next patch - for both coupled and decoupled modes. But you can bet your sweet beepee that Fanbois will continue jumping to the defense of anything CIG puts out - even though it is in Alpha.

I could go on and on about Fanbois. They have to be some of the dumbest people on the planet. But I really should feel sorry for them because studies have proven that Fanbois have an inferiority complex and tend to look at criticism of their chosen product as some kind of personal failure; as a result they tend to overreact or simply scream bloody murder when someone doesn't march lockstep with them. Besides, if there is anyone that is stupid - it's me. Because I keep trying to reason with them. God I am a dumb-ass.
Categories: Forums

Star Citizen: if you can get pass all the rabid Fanbois......

Forums: Latest Threads - Wed, 08/13/2014 - 20:30
Just wanted to add something to GAMESQUAD that demonstrates the awesomeness of Star Citizen. A lot of people probably think I am all about criticizing Chris Roberts but that is far from the case. I have always promoted Star Citizen. What I don't promote is worshiping the ground Mr. Roberts walks on; nor do I promote the intolerant atmosphere promoted by Fanbois and Fanboi moderators. What's more, I find pushing the 'community' meme pathetically transparent in terms of ginning up profits. Yes I am a Star Citizen fan but one who believes criticism can be a good thing. Unfortunately there is very little open criticism on RSI Forums for fear of getting banned; meanwhile the constant emphasis on money and profit is making SC look more and more like a 'Publisher' based game with each passing day.

But if you can get pass all that, if you simply want to feel like you are actually IN space and experiencing the most graphically intense, beautifully crafted planets and asteroid fields ever created; if flying ships, traversing the universe and scattering your enemy's remains across the system is your only concern - then do I have a game for you!

Star Citizen -- ALL Trailers! (Gamescom 2014):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdjFpYC6czI

Overview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK6612AqI_Q

Single Player Mode:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9sHhhobvAc

Multiplayer Mode:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lms1TbFAhGQ

Ship tour/Deluxe Hangar:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88513y47P7c

Upcoming Asteroid Hangar:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kU9kVyG6QWQ

Commercials:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0gZES2pTWk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuwMKX0h2ec

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GB5PqK7q0_M

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vO7RxsZpcKc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIII81zWCSs

The Next Great Starship:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZffXKdokPwA

Around The Verse (weekly broadcast):

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...9fTTq-X8Kt49nX

Upcoming Planetside:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeQfK9hrfDY

A great video that accidentally stumbles on great things yet to come?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qGSR0y1T_Y

Oculus Rift:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQipmvi3t0M

Cool Vids:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nZmzWu39mY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2EN8GJGfUU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH0jbr6DjNo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Za5lR7yMqaE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cLeXj4p03k

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sg7BuwyP50o
Categories: Forums

Battle Academy 2

Forums: Latest Threads - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 20:04
Combat Missionx2 has the looks, but the BA series has ways had the better MP in my opinion. I hope when BA 2 releases in September, the BA1 complete DLC package goes on sale.

Anyhoo....

Quote: Not so quiet on the Eastern Front!
Official release date and Steam version announced for Battle Academy 2

Epsom, UK – August 12, 2014.

“The German army is a machine, and machines can be broken!” (Konstantin Rokossovsky – Marshal of the Soviet Union)

June 21, 1941 – The German army suddenly turns east and embarks on its ambitious Operation Barbarossa intended to put German troops to Moscow in a couple of weeks. This was the first move of a frightful 4-years conflict that involved millions of soldiers, tanks and weapons of all genres.

In Battle Academy 2, players will have the possibility to join both sides and re-fight some of the key operations that made the east front legendary. Building on the qualities of its predecessor, the gameplay of Battle Academy 2 will preserve both the accessibility and dynamism that built its reputation while enhancing it with brand new tactical tools and vast amounts of new content as well. There are 4 campaigns, a random map generator, multiplayer modes with cooperative and versus gameplay and a unique skirmish mode that allows to generate an infinite number of customized scenarios, players should prepare for long, tough journey on the Eastern Front!

Today we have the pleasure to unveil the official release date of the game: Battle Academy 2 will be available on both our sites and Steam on September 12th. The press has already begun previewing the game “a very playable and solidly entertaining game.” (Armchair General), “hats off to Slitherine, random terrain engines of this calibre are ludicrously rare in contemporary PC wargaming” (Rock Paper Shotgun), so watch out for more coverage and get ready for the release!


Get more information on Battle Academy 2 from its official product page.
http://www.slitherine.com/games/ba2_pc That random terrain generator could prove to be a big draw!
Categories: Forums

Mr. Roberts, your games rock - but honesty will go a long way

Forums: Latest Threads - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 21:30
Chris Roberts is great at making games! Math however is not one of his strong suits. I say this because recently Mr. Roberts attempted to justify ongoing crowd funding in his latest 'Letter from the Chairman' by stating, and I quote: 'To sustain this level of development we need to keep bringing in additional funds. Star Citizen is still much less than other published backed AAAgames that have similar levels of ambition (some would even say a little less) like GTA V, Watch Dogs or Destiny' (1).

I found this statement particularly at odds with reality given Mr. Roberts himself stated that his model of funding (Direct PC Model vs. Traditional PC Model) enables him '4 times the revenue.....so with a quarter of the people we can make the same game'. So by Mr. Robert's graph - clearly presented at 13:35 - he is able to invest 80% of revenue towards development as where Grand Theft Auto V was able to only invest 20% (2). Consequently it would appear that when Star Citizen reaches $50 million, which will likely be achieved next week, SC will have invested $40 million directly as where GTA development investment stands at $52 million (if GTA's $265 million/£170 million budget is correct).

Clearly, by Mr. Robert's own math, Star Citizen is only 15 million (80% of which equals 12 million) short of reaching GTAs development goal - a goal which in all likelihood will be achieved next year. Given that Grande Theft Auto V stands as the most expensive game ever developed, I find it odd that Mr. Roberts would state in a recent newsletter that 'Star Citizen is still much less than other published backed AAAgames', when in fact it is already above and beyond most AAAgames! In fact, Star Citizen is likely to surpass GTA this time next year if the present trend continues. Not bad considering Star Citizen is approximately at the halfway point before release!!!

Clearly Star Citizen still needs to continue funding as it is no doubt the most ambitious project ever attempted. I for one support continued crowd funding but at a certain point we have to be honest with ourselves and stop using other games as a point of reference to justify prices and marketing strategies. Pointing to other games budgets is one thing; pointing to other games while ignoring one's own development cost is another. At least if Mr. Robert's math is to be believed.


(1) https://robertsspaceindustries.com/c...m-The-Chairman

(2) http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/2...is_Roberts.php
Categories: Forums

Act of Aggression

Forums: Latest Threads - Sat, 08/09/2014 - 21:00
Eugen's next RTS:

Quote: Eugen Systems, the studio behind the million-unit selling Wargame series of RTS games and the critically acclaimed Act of War (2005) or R.U.S.E (2010), is back! Set in a modern, techno-thriller setting, their new game promises to be a perfect cocktail of political intrigue, high fidelity visuals and solid mechanics with old-school RTS values.

Act of Aggression vows to bring about a return to the 90's Golden Era of real time strategy games, delivering all of the core mechanics sorely missed by many RTS fans: base building, resource management, unit production and dynamic, immersive battles will meet high fidelity production values and intelligent modernization. Today's images and teaser trailer provide a first look at the game, to be showcased at the Gamescom next week.

In what is shaping up to be their most ambitious project since Act of War, Eugen Systems will deliver a real-time strategy experience set in the 2020's in a darkly realistic future where 3 major factions fight for their interests. In a world where international crisis and financial order is set in a seemingly unending loop, the shadowy organization known as "The Cartel" attempt to complete a secret agenda with high-tech technology, stolen prototypes and stealthy operatives. Against this looming threat stands the Chimere, a UNO funded, classified military organization specialized in fast strikes, which attempts to maintain global peace and order. Finally, somewhere between the two stands the US Army, worn out by two decades of being kept on a war footing with too few replacements, but still fielding a great deal of battle-hardened veterans.

Act of Aggression will include two separate single player campaigns, featuring traditional RTS storytelling and game mechanics: gathering resources, building a base, producing units ... but also supplies to keep the war machine rolling. In true Eugen style, expect vast, skill-based multiplayer modes where technological upgrades, resource storage and base defenses will play an integral role in the battle. Extend your base, defend your structures, and create new bases to control key strategic areas on the map. Unleash infantry, mechanized vehicles, tanks, artillery, helicopters, planes, and super weapons, earning experience as you destroy the enemy's forces and preserve yours (as they get more experienced), unlock skills and abilities to turn the tide of war by specializing them in roles, such as anti-air, anti-tank, etc... With steady development of new technologies, your production capacities will grow always more powerful, unlocking new buildings, units, and ultimate weapons far beyond technologies of today!

As with Wargame: Dragon Rising, this is a game that looks good...but I am prepared to wait for a deep sale before I buy it. As I mentioned before, I am getting a little annoyed with Eugen in that they release a game, but before it gets a chance to flower Eugen is off and running onto the next game. For example, they released RUSE and then rushed off to Wargame:EE. Wargame:EE was released, and off they rushed to Wargame:ALB. Before ALB even had its legs under it, they were off and working on Wargame: Dragon Rising (which was a real tragedy as there were a whole host of NATO/WP WWIII theaters left to explore). And before Dragon Rising has even learned to walk, they are announcing AoA. This is why I refuse to pay full price for Dragon Rising. Even though I had fun with ALB, I know DR is going to be abandoned before too much longer. Why should I pay full price for that?
Categories: Forums

Warhammer 40K Armageddon

Forums: Latest Threads - Mon, 08/04/2014 - 22:10
I am really hopeful for this game. Panzer Korps was a solid game, so the idea of marrying that system to a 40K environment has the makings of a potentially great game, especially if we get all the races in there. Finally, a 40K PBEM game!

Anyhoo...Slitherine is taking applications for the beta process today:

Quote: Sign up for the Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon beta!

http://bit.ly/1fHcTZG
Today we are overjoyed to share with you that Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon, one of the most anticipated turn-based strategy games of the year, is getting ready for release! This detailed multiplatform wargame is now ready to enter the PC beta phase and we invite you to help us test it! By signing up for the beta, you will have a chance to be selected to be one of the lucky few, who will be able experience Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon before release and help us with the final touches, ensuring a smooth release later this year.

Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon is set during the Second War for Armageddon. In this hex-based, turn-based game developed by Flashback Games and The Lordz Games Studio, you will lead the Imperial forces of the Armageddon Steel Legion and Space Marines from a variety of Chapters against the Ork invasion through over 30 scenarios, on the hostile terrain of the planet and its gigantic Hive Cities. The game features a complex plot, involving known characters from the Warhammer 40,000 universe and while advancing through the campaign, you will have the ability to carryover his core force from scenario to scenario.

Features:

  • The game portrays the Second War for Armageddon in great detail, from the initial Ork landings to the final liberation of the planet
  • Large branching campaign with 30 major scenarios, plus additional 5 tutorial scenarios that explore the story in detail
  • A complex plot, which can develop during a mission, right in the middle of battle, creating an engaging story line with unexpected twists
  • Players lead Imperial troops of the Armageddon Steel Legion, with supporting assets from a number of Space Marine chapters against the ferocious Orks
  • Carry over battle-hardened veterans from scenario to scenario, using their experience and upgrading their equipment
  • Fight alongside Commissar Yarrick and Commander Dante against the cunning Ork Warboss Ghazghkull Thraka
  • Detailed combat model with terrain, weather and morale effects
  • 300+ unit types representing Armageddon Steel Legion, the Orks, Blood Angels, Ultramarines and Salamanders Space Marine chapters and Titans.
  • 20 different units stats, many unique special traits and abilities
  • A separate set of maps are designed and balanced specifically for multiplayer via Slitherine's PBEM++ system
  • Extensive modding options delivered through a powerful and easy-to-use game editor.
10498339_777402662280620_2652230954592658403_o.jpg

http://www.slitherine.com/games/warhammer_PC Attached Images
Categories: Forums

Your Friendly Guide to DCGs

Latest Blogs - Mon, 08/04/2014 - 21:11

As I just blogged about, I am getting increasingly fatigued by modern gaming. Everything is "hurry, hurry, hurry!" Or, if not that, it is often about "second life" experiences. That is, it is about deep experiences where the player can invest hundreds and hundreds of hours immersing himself in a virtual world almost as tangible as his material reality (games likeSkyrim and Eve Online, come to mind). Now, I am a fan of such experiences - in fact, I think such games are what is best about modern gaming - but it can get all so tiring after awhile. Sometimes I just want to be able to sit down and quickly and easily invest myself into a game. You know, sort of like with a board game where you read the rules, set up the board, and off you go! No muss, no fuss.

Usually Chess is my go-to game in this regard. Despite its 21st Century online trappings, it remains first and foremost a classical board game in style and temperament. Indeed, it's these very same hoary characteristics that have proven so irresistible to me over the years. But as I suffer from "poor little rich girl" syndrome (but I suppose it would be with a 'guy' in there instead!) I can't help but to occasionally turn my back on this pearl and cast about for something new and different, something that not only has the endless stratagems of Chess, but also the inviting "pull up a chair and join in" gameplay as well.

And that is how I found myself in the world of digital card games.

Of course, I have heard of the grandmaster of such games - I speak of the world famous Magic: the Gathering, of course - but I have never actually tried it. Much like I was largely disinterested in the Dungeons and Dragons craze of the 1980s, I was never interested in the collectible card craze of the 1990s. That is, until now.

It would seem that the collectible - or is it 'tradable'? - card game craze has spread to PC gaming with all the virulence of a sub-Saharan Ebola breakout. I guess this is understandable as digital card games (DCGs), like their CCG/TCG paper counterparts, are designed to get the player in a collecting mood, hence it is perfect for an online translation with built-in "micro-transactions". For that reason alone there are now more DCGs than I can keep track of! I have to confess: after trying a bunch of them, I am now glad that this is a growing trend. A lot of these DCGs can be a lot of fun in a very Chess-like "easy to play, hard to master" kind of way.

With that in mind, I'd thought I would provide a quick synopsis of those DCGs I have tried and why you might want to as well. Just bear in mind that I really haven't had a chance to try any of these games too deeply yet, so I might be overlooking some great features, or even missing some flaws. The following isn't meant to be a review, just an overview of what I have discovered so far.

1) Scrolls by Majong



As soon as I saw this DCG's Chess-like battlefield, I knew I had to be an early adopter - something very unusual for me, especially when this game is still only in a v.1XX stage of development! But seeing how great it looked even at this early stage of development, not to mention having the legendary Minecraft dev studio, Mojang, behind it, I concluded this was a risk I was willing to take.

And I have not regretted that decision as Scrolls really does feel like Chess in a DCG world. Gameplay is simple: use your deck of cards (or "scrolls" in this game's terminology), currently divided into four armies - Growth, Order, Energy, and Decay - to call units onto the battlefield or to cast all sorts of spells, something only limited by the amount of resources you currently have available (resources are gained by sacrificing cards from your active hand). Once on the battlefield, your units attack after a specific countdown period ends (which, of course, can be influenced by the appropriate spell), eventually rushing across the board to hack away at anything in front of them, including the enemy's five idols that lay at the end of the board. Of course, your opponent is going to be doing everything he can to stop you from hacking away at his idols' fragile 10 hit points, including placing combat units and other obstacles in your path, to casting spells and other dirty tricks. Play continues in this fashion until one side loses three idols, signaling the end of the game. And that is pretty much all there is to this game!



But as with Chess, the simplistic gameplay hides a deep vein of strategy and tactics. Just putting together a deck that properly balances units, resources and spells is quite a game unto itself. Take that challenge, and add in the Chess-like battle board with its idols, lanes of attack, and units that can slide from attack lane to attack lane, and you have a lot on your plate to manage. And let me tell you: it all is a lot of fun. Oh, did I mention the crafting, as well? Yup, you can convert your duplicate cards into something better if you wish. So add that in there as well.

Of all the DCGs I have tried so far,Scrolls has the best art of the bunch. I know that doesn't sound like too much, but in a game genre where the cards are the primary focal point, the card's artwork is essential to getting the player immersed in the game's setting. Scrolls really knocked one out of the park here with all the art being really evocative of the fantasy world it seeks to create, one I hope we get to further explore with some sort of campaign.



Speaking about campaigns, there isn't one yet, but there are a bunch of "Challenges" where you can play against the AI for loot. And, of course, you can spar against the three levels of AI at any time, too. So there is sufficient gameplay for the loner who might not want to go online and compete against real people just yet.

The music in this game is also quite good, too. While it currently is limited, what is in the game also goes a long way to create an appropriate medieval atmosphere.

Another important point to mention: Scrolls, unlike the following DCGs, is NOT free-to-play, but requires an upfront purchase. This is something that I think might actually further its popularity as there is a degree of hostility to micro-transactions in the gaming world. So, once you buy the game, all the scrolls (cards) are yours to unlock!

It might still be in a very early stage of development, but I hope Scrolls makes it to a proper v1.0 because I think there is a lot of promise in this package already. The only downside to speak of is the small player base (about 1000 people online per 24 hour period). I suspect this will change once the game gets further along and closer to release.

2) Card Hunter by Blu Manchu


As Scrolls saw fit to step outside of traditional DCG design with its Chess-like board,Card Hunter has done the same by a) wrapping the experience in a very nostalgic Dungeons & Dragons wrapper, and b) making the player's cards into pieces of equipment for your questing party. This last point needs some explaining because it is so unique.

Unlike most other DCGs where the cards are the actual playing pieces, in Card Hunterthe cards represent the abilities that are integral to the equipment used by your party of card hunting adventurers. For example, in the following picture, you can see that my Elf warrior can equip a level 3 suit of "plain old armor" that comes with three types of armor cards that can be used to turn aside attacks:



It is this very clever use of incorporating cards that really sets Card Hunter apart from other DCGs. That, and the traditional RPGs elements of leveling up via XP, and collecting loot from fallen foes.

But there is also the nature of the gameplay itself. Really, Card Hunter is less a card game than it is a traditional turn-based game of tactics. Unlike your traditional card game where cards are placed this way and that on a flat surface, in Card Hunter the player is presented with something more closely resembling a match of D&D where figurines are used:



As you can see above (with my party heading into an ambush!), it really is a charming presentation. Also a well-thought out one as such things as line of sight, difficult terrain, other other aspects are displayed on the game board. Really, at times Card Hunter feels more like a tabletop wargame than it does a card game, especially seeing how your cards are just extensions of your gear. Gameplay even reinforces this notion as its tactical, "fire and movement" nature feels like anything but your typical game of cards (which makes me wonder why we haven't seen a WWII card game yet!). These little battles are actually quite challenging as the AI puts up a really good fight. I also love how the battles are linked together in a narrative framework along the lines of a proper D&D module:



All in all, Card Hunter is a wonderfully inventive package for the DCG enthusiast. Of all the DCGs I tried, I also think it is the most friendliest to those seeking an expansive single player experience as in addition to the MP battles, there are plenty of SP quests to go on, too. My only possible concern is that while Card Hunter is F2P, it can feel a bit pushy at times when it comes to getting you to open your wallet. While you can earn in-game currency from selling loot, this only seems to net you a few coins per adventure - something you'll burn through with all the equipment shops in this game! This means that you will probably have to buy more than a little "pizza", this game's premium currency, if you want to buy some decent gear in an expeditious manner. But I think what concerns me more is the fact that this game's "Basic Edition", which unlocks 11 Treasure Hunt adventures, 9 collectible figurines, 100 pizza slices and 1 month of premium club membership (which nets you extra loot), costs a pricey $25. And if you want the Attack of the Artifacts expansion that includes a similar line-up of goodies, that is another $15. All together that is $40, something that leaves the browser-based DCG (yes, CH is browser-based) genre behind and begins to approach the realm of a Play-to-Pay game. To be fair, I actually think I could see myself eventually springing for this package because Card Hunter is that good, but it still can lead to a bit of a price tag shock as far as I am concerned.

3) Duel of Champions by Ubisoft




When playing Duel of Champions, you definitely get the impression that some suit at Ubisoft was green with envy over the success of Wizards of the Coast's Magic: The Gathering and demanded: "What about our beloved fantasy franchise, Heroes of Might and Magic?!? Doesn't it deserve a DCG of its own?!?" Good question. And somebody at Ubisoft delivered a good answer with Duel of Champions.

Of all the DCGs I wrote about so far, Duel of Champions seems the closest to what I imagine a traditional CCG is, in that here the cards of your deck are the only stars of the show. No game boards, no RPG elements, just deck building and dueling. Fortunately, Duel of Champions makes this as interesting as possible.


In some ways, Duel of Champions is similar to Scrolls. Here, the name of the game is to whittle away the 20 hit points of the opposing champion who lies at the far end of the board, much like the opposing idols in Scrolls. And while there are no actual pieces as inScrolls, the player's unit cards behave in much the same way as the pieces in Scrolls in how they unleash attacks on opposing units, and can even slide from row to row in order to seek a less obstructed path to the enemy champion. Likewise, there are a variety of spells that you can cast to buff/debuff units on the field.

But where Duel of Champions differs from Scrolls, and just about every other DCG I've tried, is how this basic gameplay formula is given tremendous depth due to a slathering of other elements. For example, there are three different resources players need to manage in DoC - Might, Magic, and Destiny - and all are needed to make use of the different types of units/spells. Then, in addition to the actual unit and spell cards, you also have other types of cards to play, such as "Buildings" that provide location-specific benefits to units, or even "Event" cards that not only provide benefits to both players, but also manage to add a sense of a larger world to the game:



There are also Fortune cards to consider, cards that can fundamentally change the rules of the game. Finally, there are even "Ongoing Spell" cards last from turn to turn until disrupted by a counter-spell. Here is one of my favorites: Poisonous Bulbs:




Now you know why the game board has so many different slots for different types of cards! Add in the fact that there are SEVEN different armies that you can currently collect, and the player soon realizes that there is almost an infinite number of possible strategies/combinations that he will encounter while playing this game. This, I have since learned, is called the "meta-game". When it comes to Duel of Champions, the meta-game is as robust as they come, which explains why it is currently the most internationally popular DCG out there amongst dedicated CCG/TCG aficionados.

In addition to the requisite multiplayer battles, DoC features a decent SP campaign system where the player can fight against the AI in a linked series of thematic battles spread across multiple campaigns. Not only do these provide some much needed practice for the player to come to grips with the tremendous variety in this game, but it also will unlock some faction decks, as well as providing sizable gold rewards that the player can use to purchase more decks. In general, I have found DoC to be a very generous game when it comes to providing the player with gold for new cards. Not only can the player earn gold by playing in MP and SP games, but there are even daily rewards that provide increasing amounts of gold just for logging in on consecutive days!

So, what's not to like? Well, as with all DCGs, beware the ferocious community! Be prepared to lose a lot, perhaps even more so than in other DCGs because of this game's deep mechanics, and the fact that Ubisoft has done a great job of organizing regular tournaments for prizes, something that has fostered the creation of a very competitive and competent community.

Sadly, players must also beware another issue with DoC: the many gold farmers who are plaguing this game. DoC is an internationally popular game - and gamers know what that means: fanatical players who game the system to earn in-game currency as fast as possible. I suspect there is a lot of this going on in DoC because the vast majority of games I have played in DoC were against people with some random handle along the lines of "Johnny12345", something that is usually a dead giveaway for a person with multiple gold farming accounts. More to the point, the majority of these players also immediately take to the chat channel and demand that I play as fast as possible so they could get their bag of gold and be on their way to the next match (apparently the 2 minute game times is too long for them), or they outright ask if I could throw the match so they can unlock a deck / get some gold. Not good. It is so bad that I really wish Ubisoft would include a way to turn off the chat function because these deck/gold farmers are really hampering my enjoyment of the game. You've been warned.

Be that as it may, Duel of Champions is a very impressive F2P DCG, one I find myself coming back to time and again in a (vain) effort to comes to grip with the game's mechanics and win a few games.

Hearthstone by Blizzard Entertainment:




I have to confess: when I heard that even Blizzard, developers of the ultra-popular Starcraft and World of Warcraft games, were getting in on the DCG craze, I sort of rolled my eyes. Blizzard might be the kings of RTS and the MMORPG, but what did they know about DCGs? Wasn't this just a shameless attempt to cash in on their iconic fantasy universe yet again, but in a different gaming genre?

As Hearthstone has since reminded me, there is a reason why Blizzard is considered to be the Cadillac brand of game developers. Not only is this an enormously talented studio, but it is also a studio that never releases anything until they are 100% sure it is perfect as can be (I'll conveniently look the other way on that whole Diablo III auction house fiasco as it was a rare slip....). Hearthstone in living proof of this.

Remember how at the start of this game article (so long ago) I said I started exploring the world of DCGs because I was looking for that good "easy to learn, hard to master" board game feeling? Well, that is exactly what Hearthstone has in spades. Indeed, even the opening moments of the game reinforce this notion by showing you what appears to be a medieval-looking game box, one accompanied by an inviting host who starts the game with something along the lines of "a busy night, but there is always room for another!" Even the actual game board looks just like what it is: a compact game board of the sort you would expect questing rogues would take with them as a diversion for those moments when they were not clearing out a nasty dungeon:



The game design itself is pure genius. Blizzard clearly took a look at the state of DCGs (and, no doubt, their cardboard cousins) and distilled those games down to their gameplay essence. The result is that unlike games such as Duel of Champions where the formula was to add as much depth as possible via all sorts of gameplay chrome, Blizzard decided to follow Chess' example and stick with a formula that is built upon an "easy to learn" base, but allows for deep gameplay via all the possible combinations inherent in a randomly drawn card game. Like with Chess, what results is a fantastically addictive game that initially entices the player with its elegant and fun gameplay, but eventually ensnares them with the limitless strategic possibilities.

The gameplay itself is similar to Duel of Champions: the players choose one of ninepossible heroes and face off across a board where the name of the game is too, again, whittle away at the opposing heroes hit points (thirty, this time). Units and spells are called into battle via the games single resource, mana, that accumulates in a straightforward manner of one crystal per turn. Simple. From there gameplay continues in the fashion of the other DCGs in that cards are played to call units and spells into battle, but unlike DoC's decks that can contain over 200 cards(!), players are limited to choosing only 30 at a time - again, another nice simplification that keeps thing manageable. Units operate in similar fashion to DoC in that some block enemy attacks (but not physically as in DoC where one card needs to be in front of another to block it; inHearthstone a unit needs the "Taunt" attribute to actually stop an attack, otherwise the player can just ignore it and go for the enemy hero - an interesting twist), others can "charge" and attack immediately, and spells are popping everywhere to the benefit and detriment of units. The nine heroes themselves also come with unique special abilities - such as the Warlock's ability to harm himself for -2 HP in exchange for drawing a new card - something can that be decisive over the course of a game. Again, nothing radical here, rather a general simplification to the gameplay found in other DCGs. But that is what makes it so addictive as it serves to make everything more comprehensible, especially for players new to the genre, not to mention serving to keep the matches nice and short. This is the ongoing theme of Hearthstone: keep it simple, keep it fun.

Even the cards are nicely simplified:


None of that "+/- divide by zero and add the square root to all cards of a certain shade of gray" complexity that you would see in games such as DoC.

Blizzard even took steps to make the tournament system as painless as possible. In Hearthstone, whenever you play a ranked game - and really, why shouldn't you? - you are automatically placed in a competitive ladder that resets each month. In this way the casual player can compete over the course of a month without actually feeling the need to obligate himself to some lengthy process. Nice! And for those who prefer something a bit more intense, the player can even enter the "Arena" where he gets to pick from three randomly selected heroes, and then build a deck from randomly selected cards. A series of games are then played until the player wins 12 games or loses 3. Either way, prizes are awarded based on performance. It is a wonderfully fun mode, albeit it does cost 150 in-game gold, or $1.99 to participate.

Not surprisingly, Blizzard polish can be seen everywhere. While the other DCGs each have their own fair bit of polish, Blizzard has made sure this game absolutely shines. The board itself is often nicely animated - I particularly like the griffin who will begin following your mouse pointer with his gaze if you annoy him enough! - with the cards themselves having some nice vocalizations. The spells are also nicely realized with some cool special effects that serve to really bring them to life.



Blizzard even thoughtfully limited the in-game chat options to about eight or so generic utterances, such as "well played!" (much appreciated after the nonsense in Duel of Champions!). Blizzard even helps the player recognize he is out of gameplay options during the course of a turn with a belly-laugh inducing "Job's done!"

When it comes to a single player experience, Hearthstone is largely as limited as Scrolls. Until recently, players were reduced to sparring against generic normal and hard AI, but with Blizzard's launch of their first expansion, Curse of Naxxramas, now players can match decks and wits against challenging thematic AI opponents and have a chance at winning unique cards in the process. However, as with Card Hunters, I do think the expansion's price tag of $19 is a bit steep even if you can unlock it with in-game gold, as well.

All in all, Hearthstone is a thoroughly enjoyable DCG, one this is smartly designed to be easy to pick up by inexperience players, yet offer plenty of meta-game challenge for the more die-hard card game warriors (as seen by all the guides and videos popping up on the intertubes). In many ways, Hearthstone reminds me of the slot machine of DCGs, a game designed to be so addictive that you can but help to pull that handle one more time. In this regard, Blizzard has succeeded in their mission. But they have also succeeded in another mission: to create a game seemingly designed to be perfect for playing on dark and chilly nights, preferably by the (virtual) hearth in an (virtual) inviting inn. In this regard, Blizzard has also succeeded wonderfully.

Other Mentions

There are two other games that I have tried, but due to time limitations, I haven't been able to give sufficient time for a detailed mention here. So here is a quick summation:

Magic: 2014: This, of course, is the official PC conversion of Wizards of the Coast's world famous CCG. From what I experienced in the demo, the game reminded me ofDuel of Champions, but with an interesting land-based resource system. Unfortunately, before I could even finish the tutorial battles, Magic: 2015 was released. So I stopped playing 2014 with the idea of switching to 2015. However, seeing that Magic: 2015 costs $10, I haven't really had the urge to go back and try it as I am having a blast with these other free-to-play DCGs. Still, I did like what I saw and hope to give this title the time it deserves.

Infinity Wars: This is a DCG (or is it Digital TCG - I am so confused by this nomenclature!) that clearly is trying to innovate. As you might have noticed, all the DCGs I have covered have had a fantasy theme to them (no doubt due to the success of the fantasy-themed Magic: The Gathering). What a waste! While I enjoy fantasy themes as much as the next guy, I think this is so shortsighted, especially in light of how the DCG template could be utilized in a wide range of thematic settings. This is why Infinity Warsinitially caught my attention - it was the only DCG that I have encountered that incorporates some sci-fi units (the game's story involve multiple dimensions clashing, hence the sci-fi meets fantasy mash-up). But there are also other notable innovations to this game. For example, unlike all the other DCGs that have static card art, IW features animated art that can be quite nice at times. Also, IW has an interesting war theme going on where the player's cards are led by commanders (but the player is represented by a fortress that must be defended), and cards deploy to separate assault, defense, and support zones. There is even a morale system that makes it possible to lose a game by suffering too many (card) casualties! Currently in open beta, Infinity Wars is definitely a game I want to explore some more once it goes v1.0.

HEX: I don't have much to say about this because it is currently in close beta. I do, however, know that this is a game that was launched through one of the biggest crowd-sourced funding campaigns of all time, so there is that. Also, this game promises to marry the DCG with the MMO in a way never attempted before. In short: HEX has already created quite the buzz, but card game aficionados await the final verdict.


Final Thoughts

So there you go, some digital card games to get you started. Really, all the games I mentioned on this list are worthy of your time as they each have their charms. As of right now I would have to say that if forced to choose one, Hearthstone would be my favorite - I really enjoy its quick matches and elegant gameplay, but that is just me.

If you do decide to give this beguiling gameplay genre a try, I urge you to go into it with the idea of just having fun. Like Chess, this is a very competitive environment where experience pays a lot in dividends - not to mention giving you lots more cards and, hence, options. So, again, be prepared to LOSE A LOT OF GAMES at first! It is going to happen. But be patient, play your best, and enjoy each match just for the ride. And before you know it, you too will soon be winning your fair share of games.

Well, that is what they tell me, anyway....

[A better edited version of this article appears on my blog: Burke's Joystick :D] Attached Thumbnails
Categories: Blogs

Chris Roberts = the Gordon Gekko of gaming?

Forums: Latest Threads - Tue, 07/29/2014 - 18:55
Whenever I hear CIG go off about how wonderful the Star Citizen 'community' is, I feel embarrassed. Apparently, Star Citizen is now about what Chris Roberts and CIG can get from the community and not what it can give back. Strike that, after reaching nearly 50 million dollars in funding, thanks to us supporters, and greatly surpassing the original 2 million dollar goal, we have generously been given an in game towel! Clearly Gordon Gekko is alive and well at Star Citizen. Don't get me wrong, I support selling ships to support the game - but sooner or later the unadulterated, barefaced greed has to stop. It's high time CIG start giving back to the community instead of trying to fleece it at every turn. A case in point, the Xi'An Scout which went for a hefty $150! Ok, I get Chris Roberts wants to keep making money but in the words of Gordon Gekko's young protege, 'How much is enough, Gordon?'

And it never seems to be enough, even at nearly 50 million - at least not enough to give back to the so called 'community' CIG keeps ballyhooing about. It doesn't take a cynic or major in business science to see what is going on: clearly CIG is pushing the 'community' meme in an effort to create an atmosphere conducive for buying. And it is working - in spades! I for one don't believe a 'community' is defined by money. A community needs to be a two way street; it's not just about taking - it is also about giving. Of course there are people, especially Fanbois, who will argue that supporters are receiving a game and final product. But this is simply purchasing a service - hardly what I call a healthy, robust 'community'!

Which brings me to CCP and EVE. Whatever you want to say about CCP, and I am pretty critical on how they have expanded over the years, at least they understand what 'community' means. They understand that giving is just as important as receiving which is why they build, design and give free ships as a token of their appreciation. It is a far cry from cyber towels! Sure, CCP may have its gaming priorities in a knot but they understand the value of supporters - and good on them!

But perhaps things will turn around at Star Citizen. After all, how much is enough, Chris? Or are we going to continue this unrestrained, in your face, give me your money business model? Oh and here is a free towel - by the way thanks for the 50 mil! But there is a bright side. Instead of a celebratory free ship for supporters upon reaching 50 million, citizens can look forward to seeing their money go towards creating alien languages! After all, its for the 'community'. But I can't help but wonder if the first alien language ever to be translated will be: 'Kallor 300gyk! Shap na tiie hunna! Ani ou ping' (translation: Only $300! Get your ships today! Towel not included).
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