Little stuff: Mission architects, what I’m playing

I’m behind on my blog reading, and on my blog writing. Spring has finally arrived, and I’m spending a ton of time outside with my kid, and then playing games late into the night, without taking time to write. Work’s crazy busy, so there’s no blog reading/writing time there.

Here’s a quick update on things knocking around my head, or being played on my computer.

I read Zubon’s post about the CoH Mission Architect system, and it made me wonder if anyone has tried it, and also tried the Ryzom Ring. Let me know if you have some experience with each system. I wonder which one is easier to use, has more depth, etc. I really liked Ryzom, but I didn’t get a chance to try out the Ring; I think their finances imploded before I got a chance to try it out, and now I’m distracted with other stuff. I remember thinking that Ryzom was totally on the right track with the mission editor, and I hope CoH has continued success.

I’ve been playing a ton of Team Fortress 2, and I’m thinking it’s one of the best video games I’ve ever played. Simple design, a small number of beautifully crafted maps, awesome diversity in classes while maintaining a really good rock-paper-scissors balance, and wicked awesome team play. I’m mostly playing on the Trashed Gamers servers (the Gamers With Jobs server is usually empty during the hours I’ve been playing), and I was surprised to find that I’m ranked in the low 200’s out of the 56,000 players who have happened to play on their servers. I think the rankings are based on points earned, and the major lesson learned by my stats is probably that anyone can appear successful if they play far too much TF2. Still, I’ll take it as an ego boost for a middle-aged gamer.

I renewed my Gametap subscription for another year. I’m locked into the $59.95 yearly subscription price, since I was a premium subscriber before they raised their prices, and it’s totally the best value in gaming. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of games to play over there. The switch from a client program interface to a browser-based interface has been very smooth for me; I had a small problem that required me to download a tiny executable and restart my computer, but after that, it’s been silky smooth.

The Everquest 2 announcement that players can write books in-game is an awesome addition to MMO’s. I probably made original EQ devs crazy with my constant suggestions about player diaries. I wanted there to be a journal feature, where you could write about your experiences, and other players could read it in your character bio. I love the EQ 2 ideas, but I’d still love to see a journal that would import major game events (where you leveled, who you leveled with, how much money you made, what you looted) alongside a WAR Tome of Knowledge achievement tracker model, as well as a place where the player can enter notes, fiction, etc.

It’s encouraging to see EQ2 taking the first steps toward that, and CoH enabling player mission creation. We’ve bandied about the term “second generation MMO” for a long time, without seeing anything that’s really second gen, but I think these ideas are the initial steps toward an evolution of the genre.

I’m re-subscribed to LoTRO, but playing really casually. I’m still feeling MMO burnout, at least with an achievement-based gameplay, so I’m refusing to get obsessed with levels, or money, or gear. It’s super-easy to solo in LoTRO, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m level 34, I have a house, I’m saving for a horse, and I’m having fun crafting. It’s such a drop-dead gorgeous game.

I realize now why it didn’t stick with me the first time I played, though. The classes don’t appeal to me that much; nothing stands out and makes me say “I want to play THAT class,” and the character animations seem awkward to me. I’m not a big fan of the character models, either, and I think that partially contributed to my lack of attachment my first time through the game. I’m still not a big fan, but I have a computer now that can run everything at high resolution, and damn, it’s a beautiful world.

I happen to be on the wrong server to play with Oz from KTR, or with the CoW LoTRO guild, and I’ve considered re-rolling, but I’m 34 levels in, and I just don’t think I have the motivation to start from scratch when I’m playing so casually. The last thing I want to do is make an MMO feel like work again.

Oh, and I’m in a beta. Yeah, that beta. Darren’s shame is my shame as well, but I’m man enough to deal with it, for the sake of my 9 year-old daughter . You’re a good dad, Darren, even if you are a fairy. Takes one to know one, I guess 🙂


Fuck Gamestop

My train ride home takes me through Center City Philadelphia, and I’ll sometimes stop at the Market East station if I have a little shopping to do.

There’s a Gamestop just around the corner from the train platforms, and holy god, it’s a hell hole. The only non-PC gaming I do is on my daughter’s DS, so I could give a damn about console titles. Over the last couple years, with the market for trading in used console games increasing, Gamestop has pretty much abandoned any sense of presentation for PC games. They still have a couple shelves of PC games available, but it’s usually a pretty odd selection. New titles, some random old titles, and quite a lot of crap titles are mixed in together on the shelves.

A friend on The Well mentioned recently that he’s doing most of his PC gaming through Steam, and that’s a trend I’ve noticed in my own gaming. Between Steam and my Gametap Gold subscription, I’d rather do all my PC game buying online. I can look at a game requirements, trailers, and Metacritic scores through Steam, and sometimes I can download a demo before I decide to buy.  Steam can carry a lot more titles than Gamestop can manage to stock in any sort of appealing manner, and Steam has the advantage of catching my attention every time they run sales on titles.

The Gametap Gold subscription is just as good for slightly older titles. For $60 a year, I get access to over 1,000 titles across a variety of genres. Quite a bit of it are games I’ll never play, but there’s more good titles in there than I’ll be able to get through in a year’s worth of play time.

Plus, there are older games that I did love playing that I somehow lost track of…”Hey Rick, can I borrow your copy of Fallout? I’ll get it back to you when I’m done…”, and it’s simple to download and play from Gametap without needing a library of boxes, disks, and licenses. The same is true with Steam. Both systems are convenient, easy to browse, and a pleasure to experience. Why the hell would I ever want to support the PC gaming clusterfuck at Gamestop?

I missed a lot of great single player games while I was an MMO addict over the last ten years, and I feel like a kid in a candy store with Gametap. Civilization IV and the Warlords expansion, Psychonauts, Beyond Good and Evil, both Homeworld titles, the Prince of Persia series, the Codemaster’s Colin McRae series, classis Bioware RPG titles and all the expansions, Fallout 1 and 2, the Dawn of War series, all the Sam & Max titles, Sid Meier’s Pirates, Overlord, the Hitman series, the Splinter Cell series, the Deus Ex games, the Stronghold series, Supreme Commander, Far Cry, S.T.A.L.K.E.R (which is wicked cool)…the list goes on and on. Sure, there’s stuff there I’ll never play, but $60 is a great value.

For the price of a couple games at fuckin’ Gamestop, I get access to a ton a great titles on Gametap. Steam brings me a lot of the new games that I might be interested in, and has sales on other older games that may not be on Gametap (although there’s some overlap between the two).

I don’t know that I’ll ever be a brick and mortar PC game buyer again.

WAR: Good night, post-patch

I wasn’t going to play WAR tonight, actually. I played quite a bit of Team Fortress 2 (man, I suck at TF2…I used to be good at FPS games! Back before Everquest came out, I guess…lol, that’s a long time ago), and I was just going to hop into WAR to check mail, do a bit of crafting, etc.

I wanted to get a good night’s sleep, so I wasn’t planning to stay long. I swear!

Then I heard the Vent crew talking about doing some T1 scenarios, and I thought “T1 doesn’t take much investment, that’s easy in-and-out, I might as well join them, right?”

And then I traveled from the Dwarven area with my Ironbreaker alt (they had plenty of healing) to Nordland, and open RvR was hopping, and suddenly I was in for a couple hours of gaming 🙂 I dinged 8 and 9, and RR 6 and 7, all from the oRvR and a handful of scenarios.

If you felt like you got left behind in WAR, now’s a good time to get back in. With the launch of the new careers to everyone in this patch, T1 is hopping, and I’m sure T2 will be busy as well. We had some really good fights tonight. Our last scenario, Gates of Ekrund, ended up 500-495 in Destruction’s favor. The oRvR fights were pretty epic, on the scale of the beta fights, maybe 100 people fighting in and around Festenplatz, Harvest Shrine, and along the beaches.

Performance was great, I had nary a hitch, so I’m hoping the patch is pretty stable. There are some nice new Influence rewards for the first stage reward with Rally Masters, instead of potions, although your Renown rank has to be as high as your level.

I really do have to sleep now, unfortunately. Gametap released S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadow of Chernobyl today, and I want to take a run through before bed…but I know myself too well. I’ll see the sun rising if I don’t get up and go to bed right now. One more turn!

I’m also talking myself out of “just one more” TF2 map. Bed!

Expectations for older games

So, the past couple weeks, I’ve been experimenting with digital downloads and the Steam and Gametap services. I knew that I missed a lot of good single-player games (or non-mmorpg multiplayer games, for that matter) over the past eight years. The majority of my game time since the release of Everquest has been dedicated to mmorpgs.

I’d occassionally see the games I missed for sale in Gamestop or other brick & mortar retail stores for like $19.99, but it never triggered my impulse to buy. Steam got my attention a couple weeks ago with their $4.95 two-day only offer for Prey. I had so much fun that I started poking around Steam and Gametap for more bargains.

I’ve played a handful of inexpensive or free games now. Thief: Deadly Shadows (or Thief 3) was the latest (released in 2004). Colin McRae’s Rally 2005 has gotten a lot of play time. I’ve almost finished Prey (released mid 2006). I’ve really enjoyed all three of them, and I wonder how much that has to do with playing them long after their release date.

I’m far away enough from the online buzz surrounding the launch of a new game that I’m fairly free of expectations. Like Thief 3, for example. I haven’t played the Thief games in years, and I never tried Thief 3. Friends of mine online had said it was their least favorite of the series, but they played it at launch and compared it closely with the previous two games. After four years since launch, and 6 or 7 years since I’ve played a Thief game, I don’t have pre-conceived ideas about what the game could or should be. I can just play it, and not constantly compare it to the earlier titles. A couple years after release, it feels a little easier to examine a game on its own merits, free from launch buzz and online discussion.

Did you ever play a game that people rave about, only to find you don’t enjoy it? Did you wonder if you were missing something, or you’re playing incorrectly somehow, and you try to struggle through despite the fact you’re really not liking it? I don’t feel compelled to play something that I’m not enjoying. And since it’s inexpensive, or free, I lose very little if I just flip to another game. I tried Warlords III from Gametap, and hated it. I might have stuck with it if I paid $50 at launch, but that might not have been because I was enjoying myself. I might have just been trying to feel like I didn’t waste $50. I’m enjoying trying a title, moving on if I don’t like it, or getting happily sucked in if the game clicks with me.

I’m also seeing all these games in their full glory. I can generally go into the options and crank up all the graphic effects and play the game at the highest possible resolution. The graphics are dated, but at full rez, the games look pretty decent. It’s not like going to back to Diablo II at 800×600, that’s for sure.

Honestly, it feels a bit like researching something new at the university library. Sometimes I’ll notice a source in a bibliography and follow it up in the library, and discover something unexepcted and engaging. Gametap and Steam feel like that, to a certain extent. There are games that I’ve heard about that are pretty much all new to me. I may have read reviews when they came out, but that doesn’t affect me too much. I can browse and explore and have fun, much like afternoons when I was a kid and I’d disappear into the bookshelves at the local library. There’s a backlog of good games that I’ll probably never work my way all the through, my Pile of Shame, as it were, and that’s a good thing. Digital distribution puts a lot of titles at our fingertips, for very reasonable prices, and I’m looking forward to exploring what’s available. It’s the first time in years that I’m leaning more toward single-player games than mmorpgs, and I’m enjoying it.

Of course, as I’ve said before, there are mmorpgs that I’ve missed as well, so the same opportunity for “research” exists there as well. Now, if I could only figure out a way to get a massive grant/stipend to continue my “studies”, I’d be a happy man 🙂

Thief on Gametap: Update

Yep, now I can play Thief: Deadly Shadows on Gametap without getting the spinning CD icon glued to my mouse icon. The fix I googled yesterday worked fine last night. Here’s the text of the problem from the Gametap support site.

When attempting to load the game Thief, GameTap minimizes and a spinning CD icon appears next to your mouse. This is due to an issue with Securom which can have multiple causes.

The first suggested solution is to take any CD’s out of your CD/DVD drive. Sure enough, I had a Photoshop CS 3 video CD in the drive. I took it out, fired up Gametap, clicked on Thief, and it launched correctly. I played for a couple of hours with no problems. If you’ve found this blog by searching for fixes for this problem (I’m seeing quite a few searches about this in my blog stats), there are more suggestions in the link above if you didn’t have a CD or DVD in your drive.

I’m amused that I couldn’t play a legally free game because of a Securom copy protection problem. Ironic, eh?

I’ll pop up some thoughts about the game in another post. I’ve been thinking about expectations for games, and how playing a game years after its release might change my perspective.

Gametap and Thief: Deadly Shadows

I love the internet. I started a new post here, ready to deliver a little bad news about Gametap. I haven’t been able to get Thief: Deadly Shadows to launch from Gametap. Thief 3 is one of about a half dozen games from the Gametap free-to-play list that I was interested in trying. Each time I launched it, I’d get a spinning CD icon at my mouse pointer, and the game wouldn’t launch. Even if I killed Gametap from the Task Manager, I’d still have the spinning CD icon until I rebooted my PC.

Before I started complaining about it here, I figured I should at least do a quick Google search to see if this was a known issue. Sure enough, there’s a fix for the problem listed in Gametap’s customer service pages. I’m going to try the suggestions tonight and see if it fixes the problem.

I’m old enough to still be occasionally surprised by the amount of information available at my fingertips. I can still remember, as a kid, when a weekly trip to the library was the extent of my ability to research anything beyond what was available in my Encyclopedia Brittanica at home.  And I’ve suffered through enough poor support or customer service to be thankful when a solution for a problem is available through a quick search.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Google returned a solution that actually works! That part of the story isn’t written yet 🙂 But hopefully I’ll be sneaking around in Thiefly goodness later this evening. If not, I can certainly jump right back into Colin McRae Rally 2005, which has had my attention for the past few nights. It really is a brilliant racing game, especially when it’s available for free on Gametap.

Steam versus Gametap: Fight!

I checked Steam’s website today to see if they were going to have another weekend special like last week’s $4.95 Prey offer. I didn’t see any announcement, but I did notice Far Cry is $8.95, and Splinter Cell is $17.95.

Both games are also available on Gametap, if you’ve paid your $60 yearly subscription fee for the Gold Games option.

If you buy both games on Steam, you’re almost halfway to your $60 Gold membership at Gametap. It wouldn’t take too many more Steam purchases to add up to a Gametap Gold membership, which gives you access to a lot of other games. For example, some games available to Gold members on Gametap also for sale on Steam include Civilization 4 ($29.95 on Steam), Commandos 3 ($14.95), Conflict: Denied Ops ($39.95), Sam & Max episodes ($8.95 each on Steam), and there are more overlaps.

Steam lets you order off the menu, while Gametap is more of a buffet. You might end up with more than you can eat on Gametap, or with things that don’t appeal to you. If you’re in the mood for smörgåsbord, though, it’s tough to beat Gametap’s year subscription.

There’s a “however” here, though. Once you buy a game on Steam, you own it. I suspect that with Gametap, you have to keep your subscription current to keep playing. I might be wrong about that, I couldn’t confirm or deny that on the Gametap site. It’s probably obvious, and I’m overlooking it. It just doesn’t seem to make sense for Gametap to allow you access to 800+ games indefinitely for $60.

Both services offer great value to gamers. It’s up to each person to decide which plan is more appealing to the way they play games. And you certainly don’t have to choose one or the other. I’ll probably sign up for a year with Gametap, and still pull other games off Steam if there’s a good deal, or if it’s a game not included in Gametap, or if I want to play the game for more than the year Gametap gives me.

Digital distribution has come a long way since Steam launched. It’s making me exciting about non-mmorpg PC gaming again, and that’s a good thing. I don’t fall prey to the “Gaming on the PC is dead!” BS, but I do enjoy seeing the industry re-inventing itself. It bodes well for the future. Screw bocce, I’m playing video games when I retire.