THE LAN THE LAN THE LAN 2017

Last weekend was a LAN weekend. Man it’s been awhile, some suspect a decade or more. We did it up in the basement of scooter’s abode and it was gibbing madness. Some of these games I hadn’t played in a looooong time so here’s a run down of my feels here in 2017.

FPS
We played a mess of FPS games, originally thinking we would run the gauntlet of Doom all the way to new Doom.  We almost did, but there were games we skipped (and one we shoulda skipped!).

L4D2

Always a great time, but not great when you have more than four players as the monsters aren’t fun to play as. Interesting? Yes, but you end up looking at the respawn screen a lot more than if you are one of the survivors.

Vermintide

We gave this a try at the LAN and got pretty confused by the maps and environment.  This is one that is likely better not at a LAN and just in normal internet play.

The Bad Place

Quake

While unbalanced weapon-wise Quake is an amazing death match game STILL in 2017. We used the RUNE mod which has runes lying around that you can pick up that give you X2 damage, damage resistance, rapid fire (not my favorite) and regeneration. I would argue that Quake still has some of the best Death match maps ever made.

DOOM
We tried to get BRUTAL DOOM up and running and it desynched constantly. While we didn’t deathmatch this, it was fun for the hour or so we were able to actually play. Brutal DOOM is something to check out for sure.

Quake 3

The penultimate death-match FPS. While many have tried, nothing has come close to how good this game is for straight up death match. With the weapon balance that Quake lacks and some really awesome DM levels, I think we played this the most out of any of the FPS games over the weekend. It just shows that it’s not the graphics that make a good DM game at all.

Insurgency
I didn’t get on this, but people said it was a good time. We played this because we could not get Battlefield Bad Company 2 working for everyone, which was too bad.

this is the screen you LOVE to see in newDoom because it’s over and you can go on to any other FPS!

New DOOM

Playing Quake, Quake 3, UT3 and OG Doom just before trying newDoom showed how awful the death match for the New Doom really is. Great single player, amazing graphics still makes newDoom a fantastic game, but don’t bother at all with the death match. It feels like you are inside a robot suit slowly moving and turning around. It’s not even worth trying out to see how bad it is.

UT3
I got a single round of Vehicle CTF with maurice!Bastard and it was great. While UT3 is not a very good Death match game compared to nearly all other games (it’s still better than NewDoom), I’ve always found it’s Vehicle CTF to be absolutely superb. Totally insane vehicles, very fast movement speed across large maps and the whole bevy of weapons that UT brings to the table makes me wish I had the chance to play this more.

RTS

We played three RTS games and all three were enjoyed, though one for very different reasons for the other two.

Planetary Annihilation

This is on the cusp of being a good game, and certainly it’s fun for a bit.  However there is just so much going on and you are spread out over so many areas (planets and strategic layers) with your units and buildings that it makes it an unmanageable mess.  We got in a few games of this vs the bots and after winning easily on normal, we tried it on hard and it was comedy.   The bots ended up nuking our commanders on a planet we had total control over.   Overall, fun but the game devolves into ALL orbital combat after awhile.  There’s minutia and counters here, but it is all just a unit-flood steamroll of some sort in the end.

Warcraft 3

The best RTS had to get busted out.  We played coop again vs the bots and I forget that this has a very steep learning curve to it with the heroes and creeping and total disregard for the base-defense that other RTS games rely on.  I also forgot nearly everything I had known about the game and played terribly, but still, really fun game– especially the battles.

Total Annihilation

People begged to bust this out and..was a total joke.  We jumped into the game with 5 players and two of the commanders were D-cannon’ed within the first minute.  RTS games have come a long, long way.  While Starcraft, due to updates, stands the test of time with it’s controls and UI, Total Annihilation does not at all.  As compelling as it was in the 90’s it just is not any more.  Frankly if you want the TA feels, Supreme Commander is the way to go these days.

CRPG

We got in some Torchlight 2 both Hardcore Elite and non-Hardcore Veteran.  While the chance of permadeath is fun, the MASS hitpoints the enemies have in Elite multiplayer makes it slower than I really like in my TL2 madness.

So yes, we should do it again but bring some candles or votives or something for the rump gasping.  There’s only so much bad air a basement can hold before spontaneous human combustion sets in.

Dawn of War 3

There’s been teasers for DOW 2 and the like and now footage is coming out so the game must be hitting in Winter/Spring 2017 or the hype machine wouldn’t be this fired up yet.  I must say I’m pretty excited for this one.  I played a lot of DOW 1 as it’s in the BEST RTS lineage of Warcraft 3 > Company of Heroes > Dawn of War (a lineage that Blizzard has since abandoned for the very boring Starcraft 2 style).  Below is a run down of the factions and main characters in each. It’s the best three of course: Orks, Eldar and Marines.

Steam sale wallet rape – week 1

So far I have either held strong or already had the stuff I wanted from the sale.  the one game I picked up for 4$ was APOTHEON which is a side scroller fighter where you need to go fight the Gods to get to Olympus.  I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks pretty cool.  My thumb is still healing from some glass up in there so I can’t play Dark Souls 2 or anything on my controller quite yet but this is one I wanted.

Shit I’m checking out:

  • Invisible Inc.  – Sneaky spy game that may scratch the Jagged Alliance itch.
  • Road Redemption – biker gang  in real time.  Reminds me of Mount and Blade a bit, except on motorcycles…
  • Shadow of Mordor – still expensive at 25$ but this is supposed to be a good one.
  • Abyss Odyssey – another side scroll fighter (like Castlevania).  Looks great, but I need my thumb to heal up a bit before playing.

And what the hell is this monster game on steam?

2000-2009 – The best video game of the decade is…

Oh boy, I had this article in my drafts folder since 2011 or so and just forgot about it, but at the time (and now) I feel I must crown the king of video games for the last decade.  There were so many to choose from. I realize this is a bit… late.  It goes without saying that 2000-2009 far outstripped any other decade for video game entertainment with the only genre I feel fell off the radar a bit were fighting games, and even those got some mega love with Virtua Fighter 4 and 5, Blazblue and Guilty Gear.   There is no denying that Halflife 2 is certainly a highpoint in the decade’s games, I’m contrarian and liked Far Cry quite a bit better.  I probably put more hours into Rome Total War or Morrowind than any other games, and both were contenders.  Yet title can only go to the game that redefined an entire genre forever, a game that, for me, was a sleeper hit and came out of nowhere in the Spring of 2003 to be the dominant gaming addiction for almost an entire year and has remained on my various hard drives ever since:  Warcraft 3.

Why?  First, and probably least important on this list, the storyline.  I’ve always felt as if the folks at Blizzard watched the new Star Wars movies with the same abject horror and revulsion as the rest of us and decided to show everyone how a good anti-hero story should unfold. And they did. The Arthas story line starts out a bit cheesy but then descends into madness and death and some fantastic character development. The overall plot is quite complex and intertwines through the campaigns for each of the factions running seamlessly through the base game and the expansion.  However, I never once, even nearing the crazy climax of Frozen Throne, felt that I had lost it and had no idea what was going on (see Soul Nomad and the World Eaters for an example of a game that goes completely off the rails of understanding).  The pacing, difficulty scaling and even character development is absolutely top drawer. Nothing I’ve played in the genre has come close. Starcraft 2 pales in comparison (they just can’t keep the cheese out of the space shit…)

Second, and most important: gameplay.  Originally, Blizzard didn’t fuck around like they do now when it comes to gameplay, it has to be absolutely perfect for a game to go out the door and what’s more, it’s a moving target of perfection that was (and still is) constantly tweaked after the game was released.  More that the jewel-like quality of the interface, Blizzard took on the huge risk of merging RPG elements with RTS in a way that actually works with forcing your characters into battle, either with creeps and especially with the enemy to get more powerful.  This made the game reward the super aggressive, the antithesis of the lesser RTS games of the decade such as Age of Empires or Supreme Commander.  You must attack the creeps, you must scout and you must harass your opponents as quickly as possible for any hope of winning.  Two-player games typically last 15-45 minutes, another distinct contrast to the unfinishable games of Age of Empires or Rise of Nations RTS fans had been suffering with.  Even big free-for-all games are quickly completed.

Third, in contrast to games of the time, Blizzard extricated turtling as an option.  Player’s bases evaporate quickly under even a medium level attack and almost instantly with a large force.  You can rely on your base for a place to quickly regroup and heal, but a base undefended by an army is one that will not be there for long.  Again, unlike RTS games at the time that focused on players building up massive defenses and then throwing wave after wave of (un-microed) units at it until the resources ran out, Warcraft 3 totally shifted the focus onto the army itself.  Typically you have only a handful of units of each type and with a low population cap you really can only have a single army with a few units here or there for scouting or harassment.  This means that  battles that take place are between one players main army and another players main army– guaranteeing that both players are not only fully engaged in the fight, but actively working to win the battle via micro during the entire engagement which brings us to micromanagement.

Warcraft 3 shifts the micromanagement focus away from the base/town/city and onto your army.  I’ve heard arguments against the game that it was too much micro, but really it’s just a shift away from building units, defenses and towers to managing the movement, positioning and powers of a single army (with the accompanying heroes).   Similar to base building (ugh) you have to know what to do and when to do it.  The main difference is that with army micro, the management has to happen during the heat of a fight and takes, of course, a lot of practice to get down.  Once you do, you realize that not only did Blizzard put the RPG into RTS but they put the Street Fighter into an RTS as well.  Your heroes form the core of your ‘powers’ during battle and have to be used in conjunction with your army to pull off a series of moves.   For example, I’m playing Night Elves vs Orcs.  It’s about mid game and we have a dust up.  He’s got a bunch of Grunts and catapults (the gruntapult tactic typical to orcs vs night elves) and I have some archers and elves riding wolves.   I know that my meat (both archers and wolf elves) has light armor that takes HORRIBLE damage from Siege damage (that the catapults do very well) so I have to take them out first before they get too many shots.  So I attack with my wolf ladies as a group, focus fire with my archers on a single Grunt, then teleport in with my arbiter next to one of the catapults and fire off a couple of powers (a ranged poison attack on a hero and an area effect attack) swallow a mana potion and then teleport back behind my line of Wolf-riding elf chicks.  Then I check damage to my units and dance away any that are too hurt and risk going down, then refocus fire my archers onto another grunt and decide if I can press the attack or have to run away (usually in this case I’d run back home to heal up at the moon wells, then come right back and do the same thing).  All of this happens in seconds.  You have no time to think, you just do this out of practice.  While Starcraft certainly has a level of micro similar to this, it’s so much about positioning and a lot less to do with what I feel is more fun: powers.  We take a ton of things for granted these days with World of Warcraft and every copy cat game out there having powers that cost X mana and have Y cooldown period that weren’t around before Warcraft 3.  Blizzard didn’t invent this, but for RTS, they perfected it.  For me, every game of Warcraft 3, even against the AI, is intense, pushes my skills and best of all comes to the point of decision QUICKLY without a lot of waiting around.  There is no more perfect gameplay in the genre.

Graphics.  By modern standards Warcraft 3 still looks pretty damned awesome.  What sold me on the game was a series of gifs made for the website in late 2002/early 2003 that showed each of the units posing and animating.  Even at such low polygons, these models just ooze soul.  I don’t know how Blizzard pulled it off as really there is nothing that can be compared to it at that time with such low polycounts (and yes, I am also amazed at Starcraft 2’s models as well).  Again, after Warcraft 3 came out, everyone looked a what they had done and said OH YEAH, that’s how you do it.

Lastly, Warcraft three spawned an entirely new genre of games– the MOBA that has far exceeded it’s parent RTS in popularity.  Unlike Diablo 3 or likely anything Blizzard ever puts out again, Warcraft 3 had huge modding capabilities and support and people took this and ran with it.  Little did I know back in the day playing some weird little mod called DOTA that would spawn dozens of commercial games emulating it and that Valve would eventually own the original (and best) version while Blizzard tries to play catch up with their feeble ‘Disney-like kitchen soup of our licenses’ offering.

It’s sad where Blizzard chose to go after this game came out, but they are in this business to make money after all, and RTS games? Well likely they don’t make much money anymore. Warcraft 3 represents a time Blizzard was at their zenith of game development powers before the World of Warcraft made them billions of dollars. Like Keneda says: “Money fucked Star Wars, money fucked Diablo 3.”  Nothing that has happened since can tarnish that Warcraft 3 is the best game of 2000-2009.

Planetary Annihilation – delayed release (for good reason)

I’ve made some kickstarter mistakes before and will do so in the future, no doubt. Planetary Annihilation, from the alpha access, has been one of the poster children for me of a Kickstarter that offered almost too much potential for awesomeness that there was no real way they could deliver. So far they didn’t (which shouldn’t be expected in this early stage of dev) and likely they won’t. RTS games are very difficult to make. Even in the genre’s heyday there were very few contenders for the best and a few experienced developers that made horrific stinkers. While Total Annihilation was great, it turned out to be a fluke as TA: Kingdoms was awful and Supreme Commander didn’t capture the magic that TA did at all. It’s no wonder Planetary Annihilation’s alpha was so bad (and should never have been released to the public). Their decision now to use the famous id Software phrase “When it’s done” in regards to the game’s release I applaud, but I really think after what the alpha shows, there is no hope for this game to be any more than a minor blip in the history of RTS games, and certainly not worth playing for more than a couple days at most. Unique concept, poorly executed from a design standpoint is the crux of what the reviews will be.

Look at the tone change in the latest Kickstarter update:
>>>
That means Planetary Annihilation will launch when we feel confident about its level of polish and the amount of awesome we can jam into it. We don’t have a hard date moving forward. However, we do expect it to be feature-complete in early 2014.

“We are extremely happy at what we’ve been able to accomplish with the game so far, but we want to take some additional time to make sure we are releasing the best game we can,” said Jon Mavor CTO of Uber Entertainment.

“I want to thank everyone who kickstarted and pre-ordered the game again because without you this game wouldn’t have became a reality.”
>>>

Look what’s happening above. Typically you have a kickstarter message coming from a team member speaking directly to the kickstarter group– a direct communication without it being a press release sent out to gaming or business publications to publish AS THEIR OWN MESSAGE. What UBER did above was make it SEEM like it was from a team member, but then they quoted another team member within the same message like an official press release–this is a very very strange level of professional PR work for a kickstarter. Why not have the message direct from Jon Mavor? It’s as if at this point instead of the actual developers that we ‘paid’ to make the game speaking to us, the kickstarter people, we now have some sort of PR intermediary that is going around capturing quotes (or writing them for approval) within Uber to create what amounts to a professional press release–not to game mags, but to US. If the releases started off that way, I guess that would be normal, but the message above makes me think something changed very drastically at Uber in terms of what they want the kickstarter people to know. And I think that’s the realization that the game they are making currently sucks and “will never match their teaser videos.”

This is case in point of being wary of big, lauded kickstarters– they make so much money sometimes over what they are asking that something must happen to the developers and designers– that they think their game IDEA (since at the kickstarter time for most of these it’s not a reality) is goldplated by virtue of the amount of dollars they got– and this is indicative of what the final product will be. Grant you the idea for PA is great, but the execution and design decisions will have to be flawless to compete even with Company of Heroes 2 let alone Starcraft 2.

Lastly, I think the developers of this game bowed to pressure to put SOMETHING out after the kickstarter– and I believe kickstarter people exert a lot of pressure on studios to show stuff LONG before they are ready for it, and long before they SHOULD show it when they are starting from scratch, which is what PA’s team is doing. The studios focus their attention on pleasing the kickstarter people with shiny stuff when they need to be hidden away in a cave making a good game. I honestly believe they cast some design decisions in stone FAR to early when they should have been extremely willing to leave them on the cutting room floor if the game’s quality required it. While it’s because of us that this game is being made, it may be because of us that this game is impossible now to make well..hence we get the PR talk now instead of direct team communication.

Ruminations on buying stuff for games

As a high school/college lad (and an embarrassingly long time afterward) I was far too languishing poor to buy a lot of gaming stuff; but oh boy did we used to play.  We would make boats for Man o’ War out of balsa wood, we played with pieces of paper representing units in Warhammer, made terrain from toilet paper tubes and furniture rubbish, wrote our own adventures for WFRP and Paranoia and so on.   What we had rather than cash then was time– and quite a lot of it compared to at least my current count (hell 1 hour free from other stuff is a long time these days) .  Granted we could have been working during this time to buy more stuff for the games, but you know, it was in between classes or those idle weekends right at the beginning of a college semester when all your homework was long done so why not throw down a 15 hour game of Adeptus Titanicus or two?  Or play Talisman every single day (sometimes twice)?

These days I cannot wholly complain as I’ve gotten in a good 50 hours of Warhammer Fantasy Battle in the last year as well as a much smaller amount at the boardgame table, but the long swaths of time like back in the day just cannot be spent without planning  months in advance.  I think it’s because of this lack of actual play that makes those of us with heaving masses of other real life responsibilities buy stuff– sometimes lots of stuff–for games we know we may never even get a few games in.

Case in point for me personally was an Epic 40K fever over the Holiday, where I dropped 100$ or so on miniatures and terrain.  I have one buddy that played it back in the day but no group to get into it– an certainly the game is dead as dead can be from the publisher so it’s a game with no real future at all (that said all of the incarnations of the game are pretty great).  Yet, I see buying stuff for a game sort of like buying a lottery ticket– if you have the lottery ticket you can DREAM about winning and pressing random people onto your personal yacht that goes to your small country in Africa where you can hunt the most dangerous gameof all and drive ATV’s all over manicured English Gardens: if you have the gaming stuff you can DREAM about playing and in this stage of life as it were, I think that’s all you can be sure about doing– the play sometimes is just too much work to get to.

This does not just apply to miniature games– Starcraft 2 was a complete bust for me as I just didn’t have time to get involved in the game online early on nor get a group of friends to play with– and if you get on it later all you will do is get your ass kicked constantly and no one cares about it because the next big thing is already out.  As for board games– I played Advanced Squad Leader (Starter Kit 1) last night and while it is a cracking great game I realized after checking ebay for the second starter kit (ouch that’s $$$) that I had only played three times in two years.  Now ASL is a SUPER heavy, and it takes awhile to get back into the swing of the rules (it does play extremely smoothly once you get going and I still heap praise on it as an incredible design) but is it worth it to buy and expansion when you haven’t even gotten your plays worth out of the initial set?  It may be if I can sit and think OK, I have X game expansion in the bank– I can think about setting up a game whenever, and can read forum posts about it, etc. because I have all the tools I need to possibly play it, it makes thinking about playing it just that more fun.   Twilight Imperium 3, a game I still am on the fence about whether it’s a pile of shite or not, tempts me whenever I see it to pick up the new expansion, even though we’ve only played 3 times and some of my play group abhor it.  Just like a lottery ticket, it may be the fantasizing about playing is worth the price of buying it and by buying it we may be scratching an itch for actually playing that we no longer can have at our stage of life.  As pathtic as that is, that may be the long and short of the reasons for a random splurge on something that logically won’t hit the table more than once or twice, if ever.

That said, anyone up for a Necromunda campaign!?

Anyone get up inside the Starcraft yet?

I’m going with a co-worker to watch him pick up the collector’s edition over lunch.  It’s an exciting day for a lot of gamers.  While I’m not concerned that Starcraft will be another high watermark in the RTS genre–I would be very concerned whether or not the gamers of today care about RTS much at all.  The last really good RTS that pushed the envelope for me was Company of Heroes, with Dawn of War being a lesser but moderately OK version.  Both of these games stood on the shoulders of the amazing Warcraft 3, for which I have no limit to the amount of adoration or praise: for it’s gamplay, single player as well as single-handedly moving the genre away from the domination of the defense (like Total Annihilation or Age of Empires) other than that?  The genre has been rather meh.

The question is, will Starcraft 2 be big just because it’s Blizzard or will it be able to sustain the casual gamers?  Warcraft 3 had Ancients and the Hero mods for players that didn’t just want to go online and get their ass slapped aside in multiplayer, but due to the lack of heroes, Starcraft may not have the branches for modification Warcraft 3 does.

For me, sadly, having very little time to commit to learning another RTS to the level I feel comfortable with, Starcraft 2 is all about the single player which, if Warcraft 3 was any indication, will be absolutely brilliant on all fronts.

Starcraft 2 beta action

I was late for work Thursday after a 6 hour download of the beta and patches and a SINGLE game with the Protoss that went late into the night.  Having played it before almost 3 years ago at Gencon, playing the beta is nothing altogether new– which is going to be a theme as I go forward in the next month or so babbling about the kings of RTS’s new title that is so very improved and so very much the same.

I’ve gotten in a single 1 on 1 game against a total n00b.   One thing to mention straight off if you are on the fence about liking it considering that it feels at first blush very much like an upgrade is the fact that it looks incredible. The level of detail to the maps is just ridiculous, and the units look great.  As much as the multiplayer is the real draw of the game, I’m really looking forward to the single player.