I’ve been playing Age of Empires Online and I am distressed.
Let me add context: I love video games. Video games provide an outlet of expression for developers and gamers alike, a new art bringing untold potential to humanity’s table. Personally video games have helped me get through tough times by relieving stress, catalyzing the learning of life lessons, and, in the case of the Age of Empires series, teaching me history in an interactive experience.
As a gamer and as a fan of the Age of Empires series I had high hopes. I should have known that these hopes would be obliterated like a castle bombarded by an army of trebuchets (for anyone unaware: a reference to Age of Empires 2).
To be fair the core game is amazing. The real-time strategy (RTS) portion of the game (as opposed to the quests and crafting) is rock-solid, in my opinion. The game is paced just right and the resource gathering, combat, and other aspects are – in my opinion – spot on. There are not many civilizations available for selection but there doesn’t have to be. Each civilization has a unique feel.
Beyond that the AI is competent which is a very pleasant surprise. And collaborating with other gamers or finding a sparring partner for PvP is dead-simple.
The icing on the cake is the stylized graphics and cheeky humor. Age of Empires Online has personality. How many game can claim that? (In case you don’t know my answer, here it is: not many can truly claim that)
I could expand on the good qualities but alas for all the good Age of Empires Online has it has been weighed down with cement shoes by some mafia boss of a manager or producer. Some moron decided to take Age of Empires Online and slap onto it a free-to-play system. On top of that the idiot-in-charge ignored any successful model for a free-to-play game and set up something frustrating and inadequate (I mean come on, League of Legends was right there!). To be fair I don’t know who made the decisions behind the scenes but I can see where some good people tried to make the best of a bad situation but…
There’s a good reason the developers had to announce no further developments for the game: the people in charge screwed up. Read this portion:
Why no more content?
Because creating top-tier content, as we have been for the last year and a half, is very expensive—too expensive to maintain for long, as it turns out. We can no longer afford to keep creating it. AOEO already has a very large amount of high-quality, hand-crafted entertainment, and adding more is no longer cost-effective.
In other words the game makers failed to pull in the revenue needed to continue with the game. Or they never planned on going beyond what they’ve done anyway – which is, in other words, create a standard retail game and disguise it as a free-to-play game.
Whichever the case may be the developers made critical errors in judgment:
The priorities are backwards. The core of the game has always been a great skirmish/sparring mode with an interesting campaign added on but here the developers somehow created an extensive campaign (sometimes interesting, sometimes not) and walled off the interesting things (read: PvC and balanced PvP) with a financial barrier to entry. The carrot on a stick here is that it’s theoretically possible to earn entry without spending money but at what cost? More time than it is worth. I’ve put in more than 60 hours and have not gotten close to unlocking anything without paying.
The game is unfair without purchasing premium. Many powerful items that you can equip or use (an idea I am fine with) are locked away from free players who have not upgraded a civilization to premium. At lower levels and towards the beginning of the game this doesn’t prove to be an issue but when computers start using items that give them an unfair edge over the player it becomes a frustration rather than an incentive. It’s not that the computers are using items that is an issue – it’s that when compared to items available to non-premium players the premium items are overpowered leading to an imbalance that can only be corrected by paying.
There is little value for any money you do put into the game. At 900 Empire Points, or EP, to unlock a civilization the price can quickly become steep for unlocking 3 or 4 civilizations. Add to that having to unlock the skirmish mode (PvC), Champion PvP (PvP without items and everything accessible) and other modes you get a full-priced game disguised as free-to-play. If this is how they were going to price it they should have just made it a more traditional release than with all these other extraneous trappings. There is a great cognitive dissonance (is that how this expression works?) between what the game claims to be and what the game is.
Apparently the idea of making a good, satisfying free-to-play game is difficult even after successful examples have proven themselves.
I first crossed Halo’s path when I convinced my parents to purchase the original Xbox with Halo to play with my high school friends. Many a LAN party was had and I have fond memories. Due to the significance of the original Halo in my life I picked up Halo: Anniversary Edition (Plus I would be able to play through the story with one of my fraternity brothers, in theory). I finally started playing through it and my, the power-armored stroll down memory lane is wonderful.
For those that don’t know, Halo: Anniversary Edition allows a transition between updated graphics and original graphics at the press of a button. Besides the direct nostalgia, comparing old and new is an eye-(and ear-!)tickling experience.
The first thing I noticed is color. The ring world is vibrant and colorful where once it was drab and dark. The technology improved since Halo came out for the Xbox and allows for all this extra detail.
Another big graphical advancement is the draw distance. I’m not quite sure what the effect is. Somehow the world seems less lonely initially because I can see more. I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m playing on Easy to try and observe all these differences so all the marines’ chatter breaks up what could be a very solitary romp around the big ring. I’ll have to come back on Heroic or Legendary and see how it feels.
I believe the music has been re-mastered as well. Not being much of an audio person I’m not exactly sure what that entails, but it is my impression that the music exists with the rest of the game much more noticeably. I’m hearing more subtle tunes coming from the background that I did not previously. Whether it’s new or not I can’t be certain but that it affects me as much as it does is a testament to the well crafted sound track. The ebb and flow of combat, the prelude to engagement, and the prologue of relief is all captured and amplified so well!
For anyone who enjoyed Halo: Combat Evolved, the Anniversary Edition is a worthwhile purchase.
I am a proponent of video games as art. As a gamer fortunate enough to experience a golden age of gaming (marked by the birth of the NES, though I did miss out on the even humbler roots of gaming) it disheartens me seeing many artistic qualities of video games stripped to more directly appeal to consumers for reasons of profit. I understand the reasoning behind it – both the greed involved and the need for a publisher or developer to pay the bills, which means the employees can feed their families. That doesn’t stop my lamentation, however, and it is up to me and individuals like me to fight to retain the imagination that made games wonderful.
It occurred to me that a developer could infuse a game with all the artistic creativity in the world and the player may never see beyond the mechanics of the game into the art. (I realize that this particular case is a glitch and thus unintentional, but regardless this is what sparked the thought. I do address the fact that this is a glitch further down so read that at least before you comment)
Consider books, another medium requiring imagination. Without the reader suspending disbelief and diving into the world a book is nothing more than a large set of words arranged in grammatically proper groups. The author is responsible for ensuring tone, vocabulary, setting, plot, characters, and much more are appropriate for the effect he/she seeks but it’s all for naught if there is no kindling to set alight with creativity.
Here’s another example but about movies (I don’t know the source for it, so if anyone wants to enlighten me I’d be much appreciated. Personally I encountered it first on Reddit):
This is satirical and thus exaggerated some, but it holds enough truth to be valuable. I submit Exhibit A (a comparison done by metacritic) as evidence.
Now back to video games. “MrBtongue” on YouTube makes a compelling argument about Diablo 3 under this light, with this being his most poignant statement:
In my opinion, the game they set out to make is a regression from the rest of the series.
Watch the video for his arguments. Pay attention in particular to his description of Diablo I. This guy gets it.
How many people would notice the points he makes though? I fear that the average gamer would not pause to let their imagination wrap around the world of a game, instead focusing on the surface game mechanics and its direct response in the brain. (Note MrBtongue’s second and third points)
I said earlier, “This guy gets it.” Let me clarify. This guy is a minority who can enjoy subtleties in games. With skyrocketing popularity games must cater to more and more people to earn the profits needed to be considered a success. As a result they are tailored toward the average human to drawn in more people than a player who has an imagination to call upon.
It is on the developer to sow their games with the seeds or art, and it is the role of the player to water those seeds. The developer is the spark plug in the internal combustion engine of a players artistic perception, and the imagination of the gamer is the fuel that undergoes ignition.
For example, a developer cannot deliver a broken game and call it art. This glitch in Skyrim is one of many, but never was the game as a whole broken. Big Rigs, for example, is NOT art. For what it’s worth the referenced Skyrim experience was accidental so let’s look at something more intentional. *spoiler alert* In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, there is a poignant moment where the character you control dies.
Gamers loved it (for good reason). So what did the makers of Call of Duty do? They spammed scenes like this until it lost all meaning. A developer cannot repeat the same thing over and over and expect to evoke the same reaction. Rather they are tasked with the admittedly arduous task of taking the fundamental heartstrings of a player and knitting it together into a new experience.
On the other hand, when a developer delivers a gem of a game full of fun, personality, and awesome the player needs to be receptive of it. A great example of this category is Psychonauts, which was saved from obscurity by turning into a cult hit but not without taking damage. Really it should have been a blockbuster hit, but the mettle of the average person is not the kind to appreciate an intelligent game.
I tend to hold everybody to a high standard. If we are to proudly display the banner of “civilization” and embody the pinnacle of evolution (or creation, as you may believe) on the planet, we need to act the part. Perhaps this is a flaw, however, and my punishment is to be disappointed time and time again in my fellow man and woman.
Free2Play games get a lot of hate. Sometimes it is for good reason and sometimes not. Personally, I think that Free2Play with micro-transactions for content is the way games should be in the future.
Before you respond, let me explain.
There used to be a time when I could find a demo for a game and try it to see if I wanted to get the full game. This practice is becoming rarer by the day. Now, even if I wait for a price drop, getting a game is a significant risk of not recouping the monetary value in some other way (enjoyment of the game, in particular). If you’re going to tell me to pirate the game and then buy it if I like it, I tell you this: I do not condone piracy in any way. In fact, I think my vision of the future will eliminate piracy quite a bit! (Just a hunch, so take it with skepticism – I’m not an expert)
Furthermore, microtransactions can possibly provide just as much influx of cash as a full priced game according to a study.
Here’s the hypothesis:
I want a game. I see that Game A looks good and want to play it. At this point, I should be able to download a Free2Play version. I can play this fully fledged game that’s not compromised in any way and if I like it, I can then spend my money to expand my experience. If I do not enjoy the game, then I can move on to Game B, and try that out as well.
The ground rules:
1. Free2Play DOES NOT MEAN Pay2Win
If Game A wants me to enjoy it, I should not be at a disadvantage because I have not purchased anything for it. If it’s a single player game, the experience should not be more difficult than intended or somehow limited because I did not buy some pack for the game. If it is multiplayer, I shouldn’t be handicapped because I didn’t buy a weapon set.
A limited inventory/skill set/whatever is fine as long as it is balanced with purchaseable content. I should be able to play just as effectively and have just as much fun in the free version as with any paid content.
Don’t get me wrong – the new content should be fun too, but the goal should be to extend the length of time I have fun. Playing with the same set of options, no matter how fun, gets boring eventually, and this is where the paid content comes in. If I enjoyed the game, I can extend the length of time I enjoy the game by purchasing more options (that are balanced) and thus the increased diversity lends itself to a longer period of enjoyment.
In no way should paid content break the balance, however.
2. The Free2Play game should be complete. Paid content should expand on the content, not fill in gaps.
You’re careening down the roads running from the bad guys. The car chase is chaotic and there are explosions everywhere, just like you want it. You decide to make a hard right when suddenly, “For access to this area, please purchase DLC Pack A.”
It can be argued that this area expansion is adding to the game, but let me specify further: a single game experience should not be broken at any point by paid content. If I am in a city to explore, I should be able to explore that entire city as that character. Here are ways developers can work with this:
1. Create a new city to explore that is entirely separate from the original city, with references but no hard links to the original (I.E. – don’t make me do a fetch quest in City 1 from City 2)
2. Recreate the content from the perspective of a different character or role. A great example would be a GTA-type game where you first play as the traditional protagonist of these games, while the developers have a paid pack that lets you play the role of the law enforcement trying to stop this madman. Same city, mostly same content, but entirely different perspective and one is not limited by not having the other.
3. Paid content should be reasonably priced.
Remember Oblivion’s horse armor? The pack did nothing functionally for the game and as a result the price for it was way, way too high. It’s even been called, “the most useless, over-priced piece of DLC in video game history.” Pricing appropriately is not that difficult and furthermore low-balling might even work out better! Remember how Valve discounted games by 75% and saw an increase in total gross revenue by a FACTOR OF 40? There is a lot of evidence that decreasing the barrier for entry increases profits. (Want another example?) Applying the same philosophy to Free2Play games with micro-transactions is a no-brainer.
Do I think that these rules are reasonable? Yes. Do I think they’ll be followed? No. So what’s the answer? I have no idea.
I think that at least for now and the foreseeable future the gaming industry – both the makers and the consumers – are far too immature to handle such a thing. Publishers will want to charge too much and the under-educated (about games) masses will still buy it.
For a true gamer, I think that is the saddest truth of all – what used to be relegated to a niche by obscurity and novelty has grown to popularity and is suffering for it.
It is my belief that video games are an art form. Keep in mind that like any art form there are pieces with immense substance and value while other pieces are not at all significant from an artistic point of view (they can still be great for consumers – perhaps better than the better art). Example of artful games include Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. An example of the second category would include Angry Birds. Note that I’m not saying Angry Birds is not a good game or that it has no art direction but that it is not at the same level of Prince of Persia. If you really want to pull out a steaming pile of shit you can look at something like Big Rigs.
Now, what makes video games different? They have narrative elements, audible elements, and visual elements. At the core they are books, paintings, music, movies, and every other form put together into one. The big difference however is in the involvement of the consumer. Even in linear games the involvement of the player is more actively participating. Especially with newer games tending toward having choices and multiple endings they player is no longer a passive recipient of an intention, idea, or a story but an equal partner in crafting an experience.
Of course, people that don’t generally appreciate the artistic and abstract won’t get anything out of a video game. These are the same people who don’t read or appreciate Picasso and Monet. They will always exist but it does not take away from video games at all.
If you haven’t figured out already I’m pretty excited about video games. I’m really happy to see the direction that quality games are heading and there are definitely issues to deal with (as evidenced by Mass Effect 3’s ending controversy) the future is promising.
First of all, if someone can explain to me how I should grammatically word the title I’d appreciate it. I have full faith that the Internet will do what it does best – point out grammar mistakes.
Now, to begin.
Alleged screenshot of Half-Life 3 found on Reddit
Half-Life 2 arrived to gamers in 2004. Episode 2 released in 2007. Since then nary a word has been said about the next entry in the series (well, aside from Episode 3 being announced in 2006 and other inconsequential news… which by the way, I tried to find an announcement altering the game from Ep. 3 to a full Half-Life 3 but could not find it, so if it exists let me know where I can find it). Many gamers want to know not just that the next installment in this beloved series is being released but when it is being released. There have been many supposed leaks of information or hints of a release date but nothing official.
It’s now been 5 years, approximately.
I am afraid that Half Life’s next episode might be following a similar path.
What happens if the fans get tired?
New and fun games are being released time and time again without a new Half Life anywhere on the radar. Eventually the bond that Half-Life 2 garnered will deteriorate and there will be fans who are not as receptive.
There will of course still be a ton of fans, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about the legend that no longer connects me to the Half-Life world. Perhaps I’m just not as fond of the series as others, but I also believe that some of it has to do with anticipation fatigue. I really, really wanted to know what happens next but over time my attention has focused on other things and there are other stories that I am following. I’m personally not as excited about Half Life anymore because Valve missed that sweet spot where I am excited about the next game and it’s been long enough from the original that another game is sensible.
What happens if development can’t keep up with an evolving environment?
If the game isn’t in development then this is not an issue but let’s say for all this time Half-Life: Ep. 3 has been in development. The begin with an engine and some ideas of features they’d like to evolve and features they’d like to revolutionize. However what happens when these features, while they are developing it for 5 years, become standard or even moot and any new features and expectations that gamers have suddenly requires a new change to the engine? It is my understanding that the Source engine has this in mind at its core but even the Source engine has its limits.
Furthermore, technical issues aside what if the group of gamers intensely fond of the series grew up and their lives changed that they are no longer that interested? Or able to continue gaming?
Trying to address this will add more development time which leads to more things to address and it could create a vicious cycle.
On the other hand…
Valve is a great developer and has many successes under its belt. If anybody can pull it off, they can. The only other company I’d have that much confidence in is Blizzard.
And hey, let’s be honest… I love Half-Life. Even if it’s 20 years from now I will remember my fondness for the series and check it out anyway.
It’s tough to say. I can’t be sure if I should be worried or if I should be excited or somewhere in between. But while I am waiting for Half-Life: Ep3 or Half Life 3, I’m going to be reliving the adventures of Gordon Freeman again and again ‘cause damn it the Half-Life games are so much fun!
DOES THE DEMO MAKE ME WANT TO GET THE GAME? YES, YES, YES!
Relative to how long the Warhammer 40k series has been around in its various format I am a late entry to the series. But my what a great time I’ve chosen to get into it.
It all began with Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War II a few years ago. Pretty soon I’d gotten absorbed into the lore of the world when I stumbled onto the Lexicanum. I ‘m now completely enamored of the world created by Warhammer 40k and its constant warfare.
The first thing I looked for is if the feel of the Warhammer 40k world is captured in this new game. The answer, in my opinion, is a resounding yes. The bleak world is captured in the art of the game, oozing off of every bit of architecture. As combat picks up blood splatters everywhere, the Ultramarine captain you play as mowing down enemies with no mercy. On the harder difficulties you must be wary of your health and the enemies around you but if you really just want to have some fun, turn the difficulty down and you’ll mow down orks in authentic Astartes fashion (Astartes = space marine).
The gameplay itself is fluid and fun. Combat – arguably the most important part of the game – makes sense. Your character moves as you’d expect a hulking space marine to move and fights with the strength of the power armor he wears. The health system encourages fighting where you recover health by performing execution moves or activating Fury mode. To achieve either you must be in the midst of battle killing your enemies.
At any point you can hit your right mouse button to activate your chain sword. It’s very handy for when you get surrounded by enemies and in my opinion a lot of fun in general. You also have other options – the bolt pistol, the standard bolter, and the game’s equivalent of a sniper rifle and a grenade launcher. To be honest I haven’t quite figured out how the grenade launcher works. The other weapons are extremely satisfying to use, however. I particularly like the bolter – if melee combat ever gets tiresome I can hang back a bit and mow down foes. Headshots in particular are satisfying.
If there’s any doubt I’d have for the actual game it’d be what I just mentioned here. It’s all combat and the demo’s two levels were very combat heavy. I didn’t get too much of the plot through the demo so I can’t speak for how compelling the narrative is. On the other hand the jump pack mission was pretty nice. It was an exciting addition to the combat though I can’t speak for how the full game would be like.
Of course, taking all of that into account I think the game is worth every penny. My feeling is that it won’t be something you will remember forever but that you can come back to it time and time again to crush Orks and other enemies. For a fan of the series (such as myself) this is a must-have game. For someone who is just getting into the series perhaps wait for a price drop but I think if you’re into action games you’d really like it. Warhammer 40k: Space Marine knows what it is doing, and it does it amazingly well.
Back in the day I LOVED Dungeon Siege. In my experience Dungeon Siege is game of epic proportions about a great adventure with RPG elements and tactical elements as well. For whatever reason I just never got Dungeon Siege 2 so I figured I could try out Dungeon Siege 3 and see if I can recapture my enjoyment of the Dungeon Siege series.
The first thing I noticed is that the graphics are pretty decent. The characters are modeled well and the effects are nice to look at. The fire though looks very artificial to me for some reason and that stood out to me. Also, I had pretty frequent issues with trying to figure out where the path was going. Often there’d be ramps to the next part of the cave or the woods but it’d be difficult to tell it apart from the normal level ground. Maybe the environments will be varied enough in the full game to avoid that issue becoming a nuisance but if there are going to be a lot of caves or dark areas, that could be a huge problem. That aside, while nothing about the graphical quality and arty style wowed me, nothing struck me as particularly bad either.
Dungeon Siege 3 plays much more like a 3rd person action game rather than an RPG along the lines of Diablo, which is what I remember Dungeon Siege for. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just not what I expected. However I did have trouble with the combat system. The fighting itself looks flashy and powerful. Each character gets 2 stances for different situations and it felt useful. In each stance the characters have only one combo, though with the abilities chained together a sense of variety is created. The targeting system is extremely clunky in my opinion. I tried to change targets in mid combat but more often than not the target did not change until it was defeated, even if I’m suddenly far away because of an ability of being knocked down.
Ah! Something I didn’t mention as noticing first off the bat is that you can pick from 1 of 2 characters to begin with. This is a drastic departure from what I remember the series for. The character development within the game is also much more structured. I can’t develop a ranged character starting as the melee character, for example, if I decide I wanted to change strategy. This type of character progression simplifies advancement but also takes what I consider fun out it. I enjoy planning out how best to advance my character to meet my mood at the moment. Sometimes I want to play the ranged character, and sometimes I want to be the bruiser. Heck, maybe I can even double up as a fighter/healer or ranger/healer. One of my favorite parts of Dungeon Siege is the party system where I can hand-craft a team.
After watching some trailers, particularly this one:
It may be that I’m missing some controls that allow me to change targets quicker, and things like that. I’ll have to take another look at that but in the grand scheme of things the feel of the game just doesn’t suit me.
I have some minor thoughts on the save system and other parts of the game. However, my conclusion for Dungeon Siege 3 is to try it out and if you enjoy it, get it. If not, well no worries.
Personally, I’m going to check out Dungeon Siege 2 and see if it’s more along the lines of what I’m looking for.
Why do I get the feeling that games are becoming simpler and simpler to attract a broader audience? Great commercially, I’m sure, but what does it mean in terms of gameplay? Time will tell, I suppose.
Windows Live Mesh offers a service much like Dropbox and in fact I use both. Steam Cloud also offers a service like this for game saves. HOWEVER there are games (including a lot of Steam games!) that do not sync. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem but I recently had the unfortunate situation of being away from my gaming desktop. To be specific, I took the free time afforded to me by spring break to play Dark Messiah of Might and Magic on my laptop. Now that I’m back in my room I’d like to play it on my desktop but I realized I don’t have the save files!
This is where Windows Live Mesh comes into play. I’m sure I could have used Dropbox as well but for this particular case Windows Live Mesh worked out easier for me. Now my game saves have been transferred and now I can pick up where I left off at home on break on my desktop! I’m really happy for that.
For those of you interested, here’s how to do it:
1) On the first computer, open Windows Live Mesh and select “Sync a folder”
2) Navigate to your folder with the save files and select it. When asked for which devices to sync the folder to, DO NOT SELECT ANYTHING!
3) Now fire up Windows Live Mesh on the computer you want to sync the files to. Here you should see the folder that you added to Windows Live Mesh on the first computer. Select “Sync this folder” and navigate to where the game files would be saved. Select it, hit sync, and you’re good to go! In a few moments it should be synced and ready to go.
This incredibly useful for any gamer out there who plays on multiple computers and I applaud Microsoft for having such a useful tool. It’s such a shame that this is not more publicized!
If you try this, let me know how it goes! And if you find any other cool applications of Windows Live Mesh, I’d be more than happy to hear about it!
On February 3rd, the author of the book Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal, appeared on the Colbert Report. Here is the interview:
|The Colbert Report||Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
I’m not sure why the video is doing this, but if you click on the link you should be able to see it.
The majority of the interview is really good. However there is one point that I would like to contend:
Colbert: “We game to get away from the real world.”
McGonigal: “Ah, that’s another misconception…”
However I don’t think that’s a misconception at all. In fact it is the reason games exist, I believe. The connection between reality and video games is expressed much better later in the video clip where McGonigal says, “…the emotions we feel in games spill over into real life…” This is a far better point.
Aside from that little tidbit I think I can support McGonigal’s points. Judging by her interview I think getting her book more publicity would be beneficial. Thus, here is my contribution: