Thursday, May 29, 2014

No SteamBox this year

Originally published on Kupeesh!


Breaking news! 

If you were breathlessly waiting for your opportunity to stick it to Microsoft and Sony's dominance in console gaming you're going to have to wait a little longer. 

This week Valve announced via its Steam Universe community forum that the much hyped Steam Box gaming console wouldn't see an official launch date till 2015. Originally scheduled to launch this year, apparently feedback from the 300 testers in the Steam Box beta program have discovered some issues with the console's controller. Truth be told, calling the Steam Box a console is a bit of a stretch.  The Steam Box is really more of a specification than a product.  

Consisting of a customized Linux distribution called Steam OS, A hardware specification based on PC components and that troublesome controller that's hanging up the launch date. It seems that Valve's idea of making a better game controller simply isn't.  For one thing, instead of joysticks the control surfaces are touchpads with vibratory feedback similar to some on-screen keyboards found on smartphones. 

Valve's official explanation for the delay is this... "Obviously we're just as eager as you are to get a Steam Machine in your hands. But our number one priority is making sure that when you do, you'll be getting the best gaming experience possible" That's nice but the controller may be the least of the Steam Box's challenges. 

Hardware partners who've committed to producing products based on Valve's prototype are already complaining about the relatively low (meaning slim margin) hardware specifications.  Unlike top-tier boutique systems commanding thousands of dollars, Valve's Steam Box (or Steam Machine as it's now called) looks more like an entry level PC in a fancy case. It's left partners voicing their concern that, " it will absolutely be the least profitable system we ever sell.” It's also unsure if the console market will tolerate these delays much longer while Valve continues to tinker with its flagship product.  

It's already been suggested that interest in Valve's console is waning due to slipping launch dates and licensing instead of actually manufacturing the console. 

If that's true then the real question for partners and perhaps even Valve is, why bother?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Battlefield 3 for Free!

Originally published on Kupeesh!

Have you been longing for the days when you could play a Battlefield game that didn't make you pull your hair out?  How about an FPS that not only looked good but didn't make you wonder if your last visit to the kill cam was legit or a game glitch.

If you've been saying you'd never play another Battlefield game again even if it was free you may want to reconsider.

Till June 3rd, EA has offered up Battlefield 3 Standard Edition for free as part of their ongoing On the House promotion.  Normally $19.99, the PC download is available via EA's Origin service.

For the uninitiated, Battlefield 3 was a military themed FPS set against a backdrop of a modern day global conflict.  A long awaited follow-up to Battlefield 2 and the Bad Company Series, the game had garnered an almost cult following shortly after its release and set the bar on what an FPS should be.

That was due to cutting edge graphics, a wide variety of maps and dozens of weapons, vehicles and loadouts to choose from.  Arguably, it was the most immersive FPS experience of its time if you didn't count its primary competition Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

All of which were promised but only partially delivered by Battlefield 4 at this point.
You can't beat free so invest a little time to experience one of the best triple-A titles to come along in the last 5 years.

A claim Battlefield 4 won't be able to make for at least that long...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ghosts of Games Gone By

Lord of Ultima wasn't the first MMO to go dark.  It wasn't so long ago that faithful players of Star Wars: Galaxies and City of Heroes watched hopelessly as the axe fell.  

Remember the first real racing MMO, Motor City Online?  EA tried in vain to convince us that the online components of then new Need For Speed titles would be a good substitute.  Except it never was and led to the annoying Autolog.  

It was a web based interface players were forced to go through even for single player games!  It laid the foundation for the hated Battlelog in Battlefield 3 and 4 where you can now be completely locked out of any play mode of a game due to a server outage.  The precursor of "always on" and relentless promotion of ever more crappy DLC.  

But hey, everyone loves subscriptions (aka: pay for the game twice) and DLC packs pushed out before core games are fixed right?

Anyway, a friend sent me this screenshot and apparently some of the Lord Of Ultima portals are still around.

Check it out...

Maybe we can send a million hits on this page and give EA a hint that we'd like them to put it all back....


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The day Lord of Ultima died

The skies have gone dark, the hearths are cold and once great empires have fallen into ruin.  Never again shall the sun rise over Caledonia.

On Monday at 07:00 UTC, Lord of Ultima became a memory. 

We all knew it was coming but held out that last flicker of hope that something would save a cherished time sink.

Whether you were an avid conqueror of worlds or just a passive participant, the last hour of Lord of Ultima (LoU)was bittersweet.  It seemed different, somber, even tragic.  I heard the sound of winds as though they were heralding some coming storm.   A constant companion while I traversed the now mostly empty continents of Caledonia.  A somber murmur broken only by spontaneous interludes of medieval fanfare that would be appropriate accompaniment to any scene Peter Jackson would choose to direct. 
Stirring yet sad...

I began playing it almost from its birth in 2010 but I never really took it all that seriously until the last few weeks. 

That's unfortunate because I didn't know what I was missing.  It literally took me 4 years to figure out the game and then only when I knew it would soon be gone.

I've never really been much into the MMO scene and to my mind, medieval themes have been played out.  As such, I had never been a top tier player and truth be told I didn't deserve to be one.  My interest was always tempered with my impatience. 

It was frustrating...

There was always something to do but I could never seem to do it fast enough.  At times the game seemed more like a career than a pastime.

You could populate an entire city in minutes but if you actually wanted it to be productive you would wait for days or sometimes weeks.  Every achievement seemed to be tempered by a setback.   You may produce 10000 Wood per hour but without adequate storage it goes to waste.  With a more war-themed city you may raise 100,000 troops but have no way to feed them. 

Get the balance wrong and you were doomed to failure...

You could play in relative safety if you chose the more passive path of simple resource gathering and trading but where was the fun in that.  You might as well be playing Lord of Supply Chain...

Besides, a determined enemy could easily overrun the pitiful defenses of a farm-themed city and rob you of critical resources thus thwarting the best laid plans. 

The game was tactical and plodded along at a sometimes infuriatingly slow pace.  Of course this was a Free-to-Play game (F2P.)  That meant there were opportunities to  alleviate you woes with the toss of a few coins.  Speedups, resource buffs and items with special abilities could seemingly erase the shortcomings of the game.

As time went on there were more and more of them.  Ministers were introduced and were basically nothing less than legitimate bots designed to lighten the burden of managing a huge empire.  The problem was they had a high price.  Meaning the well-heeled could gain an advantage over the rest of the masses just trying to plod through the basic game without the benefit of a what could only be called a legal cheat.

I submit that If your empire can become so unwieldy as to necessitate extra AI to manage it then the functionality really needed to be a standard option.  Imagine if EA had decided to offer up an option for a legal Battlefield 4 AimBot hack for $150.  Few would likely take advantage of it based on the price alone but the fallout from such an obvious imbalance would drive players away in droves and ultimately doom the game.

That may be why Lord of Ultima ultimately died...

It seems that almost from inception, a few large alliances in the game were using paid perks like ministers (legal bots) and prevented smaller players from challenging them for most of the game's history.  It was unbalanced and to some extent unfair to average players. 

How long would anyone want to play a game that could literally cost 100's of dollars just to be competitive?  

Especially if it's supposed to be...


There's an increasingly prevalent trend of F2P games built on the premise of Pay-to-Win.  In other words it's a bait and switch.  If you can't win unless you pay then it's not really free is it. 
Still, Lord of Ultima was far better than similar MMO's. 

In my quest to broaden my horizons I had tried other F2P offerings over the ensuing 4 years.  With the most recent being Alliance Warfare.  I began playing Alliance Warfare (AW) about 6 weeks before LoU ended and literally had both games running in tandem for most of that time. 

While I found similarities, I found differences as well.  AW was the kind of game that would let you plod on but you would eventually hit the wall unless you actually started attacking people.  Just like LoU there was an in-game store offering resource buffs and speedups.  Daily logons were rewarded with a smattering of usually useless items from the store.

Accomplishing "Tasks" (achievements) were also rewarded with goodies from the store that bore at least some relevance to whatever it was you were trying to achieve.

Things still moved at a slow, deliberate pace even with the perks but to its credit it was quicker than  LoU. 
I was almost convinced that AW would replace LoU as my daily time sink.  Unfortunately about 5 weeks into it and dozens of hours spent carefully crafting my little AW empire the bottom suddenly fell out.

I was attacked...

Ok, now I know the game is called Alliance WARFARE.  I get it, it's about attack or be attacked and I fully expected someone to come after me. 

In fact I had done some attacking myself. 

After all, I wasn't playing Farmville Marketplace...

Except, I was attacked by a much, much, much higher level player...

The #1 ranked player actually...

I suppose I should be honored to have shown up on his radar but when it was over all I wanted to do was take a shower.

I'd been done dirty, not so much by the player as by the game. 

Here's why...

To my surprise when I went to find out from whence my foe came, I could find no information on his location.  The closest I came was an empty swatch of land where his empire USED to be.  I had to find out from the live in-game chatroom how this was possible.  Nothing in the game instructions or Wiki page explained how this could happen.

Apparently, the game allows the purchase of an option to "teleport" an entire city and all its troops in for an attack and then teleport away to an undisclosed location.  Perhaps had I spent the next 24 hours manually scrolling the so-called "world" map I might have eventually found him but without guidance as to his whereabouts it was a fruitless pursuit.

Somebody really needs to tell the AW Dev team the difference between a "World" view and a "Region" view...

Ultimately I was left with no opportunity to answer the transgression. 

Meaning he was untouchable...

Which also meant I was done with AW...

Even LoU didn't give you that option.  Sure you could send a few troops through travel points called "Moongates" when they were active (which wasn't that often) but that took a huge amount or resources and your target would have a detailed report showing exactly where it came from.

Since I had no intention of spending hundreds of dollars for the same capabilities it was pointless to continue on just to be someone else's "farm."

F2P MMO's usually follow a formula.

You start out with an empty city and a tutorial that gives you a few free resources.  It's generally ten minutes of furious clicking just to get it all over with.  From there you strive to complete "quests" to earn free resources and speedups that speed your way up the leader boards. 

After you've gained some stature you usually need to join an alliance with other players to gain access to additional perks and of course protection from your competition.
But you have to keep up... and in larger alliances it can start out friendly but quickly move toward, "What have you done for me lately?"

In Lord of Ultima, it wasn't uncommon for members of the same alliance to attack each other.  There was nothing to prevent it.  Alliance membership was little more than a promise to play nice with a few speed perks if someone built a palace and a bird's eye view of what everyone else was doing.

Eventually alliances got so large that nobody was attacking anybody anymore unless they just felt like bullying weaker players.  What should be an exciting clash of titans becomes Mutually Assured Destruction.
Just what I need, another cold war that has its hands in my pocket for a supposedly FREE game.

In the end for F2P and online gaming in general to survive it has to get back to being about the game and not the store.  In LoU's case you ended up with little more than stalemates and bullying.  In other games you have to pay just to survive another round of play.

Extortion has no place in something that is supposed to be a pastime.  I'm all for supporting a good game but don't misrepresent a requirement as an option.

If revenue streams for your game are dependent on a set price per user then drop the F2P pretense and just set a damned price and be done with it. 

So I keep looking...

I'm still holding out hope for Tribal Wars 2.  It appears to be the most LoU-like of the current crop of F2P MMO's.  If the popularity of its long standing predecessor Tribal Wars is any indication then I may have a new place to waste a few dozen hours every week.  

More freebies from EA, Plants vs. Zombies

Originally published on Kupeesh!

In case you were wondering if EA's "On the House" promotion was just a flash in the pan gimmick designed to distract gamers from the continuing woes of Battlefield 4 the answer( at least this month) is a definite 


But I have to wonder if there's a theme involved.

Last go around we were treated to the zombie monster shooter, Dead Space.

This month it's about zombies again... and plants....

This latest offering could easily be considered the most platform agnostic gaming experience since Tetris

Plants versus Zombies: Game of the Year edition includes special features not available in the original 2009 version.  Players will enjoy new music, achievements and other goodies like the Zombatar which allows you to create your own zombie.  It's a game that's single-handedly wasted countless thousands of otherwise productive hours on every platform from Windows to Blackberry.

Yes, I said Blackberry.

It's a tower defense game where your arsenal of militant flora are all that stands between you and hordes of the comical undead bent on soiling your welcome mat.


So what's with all these zombies EA?  Are you trying to tell us something?

Plants versus Zombies: Game of the Year Edition is available free on Origin till May 28th.