Saturday, 25 September 2010

On CIV 5

Well, to kick off my play time, I've been playing Civ5, and I'm impressed, I like Civ, and this is a lot like an improved version of Civ IV, which looked great but I didn't get along with, this one looks great and I get along with it.

It's not without faults however, there's bugs in trying to cancel the introductory movie playing, which is a pain in the bum.  There are strange, almost random, camera movements being carried out, which to my eye lead to feelings of nausia at times... game devs why do you want players to feel sick?

But the most strange thing to me, as a Civ Player is that you always used to struggle to get to the sailing tech, to colonise more and more of the world, my personal favourite Civ game I've ever had was in Civ2 where I had to mass and keep a huge navy of the classic destroyers and cruisers to keep an AI opponent at bay... and I think that Civ 5 leads to the potential for more of that great action, but also undermines it.  Yes, the feature to which I'm elluding is the new feature to let units instantly travel over water.  Before you had to mass up transport ships and protect them, this time... well you can just move a unit onto water and hey presto it crosses said water..

I'm yet to be swayed over by this, but so far I have only been playing small continental games, I am however about to start a giant archepelego marathon game... lets see where this takes me.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

CivV - The Preload

Here I am folks, back from holiday, a little earlier than expected.  I've spent no time whatsoever over the last week gaming, I have however read three books in seven days.  And I'm not talking about little ones, I'm talking about 1000 pages of Robert Jordon's Wheel of Time, the whole of Terry Pratchetts "Unseen Academicals" and a good slice of a C++ book about 3D Terrain Engines... all in all, I've fed my brain sufficiently for the comming autumn season.

And with all this new brain power at the ready I've today preordered and started the pre-download of CIV5 on Steam.

To anyone else out there pre-ordering on steam, ignore the message "An unexpected error has occurred with your order", simply ensure you wait for the payment confirmed email from them, and then restart your machine.

Now, speaking of restarting machines... my Motherboard has had a fault come up today, I thought it was a memory issue until I investigated it.  My board takes four memory modules, in pairs... on the board one set of slots is black, and one is blue... the blue pair are broken.

As in, blue screen of death, beeping at the BIOS, dead as a door nail, broken.

This is my gaming rig.... so I'm currently hobbling about with half my normal compliment of RAM... god help me.

My remedy for the situation is not a simple one though, I'm going to pick up a not so cheap new mobo (which can take all my current parts) and then over the next couple of years save up for a new top of the range i7 based system.  Hopefully by then they'll be affordable.

Because I notice that parts equivalent to the ones I have fitted at the moment, are rather more expensive than one would expect after two years...

Anyway, there's been a wonderful rain storm here today, my preload now states 5.7% and tomorrow I've got nothing to do... the Mrs is on about cutting one of the ever green's tree's out back down a bit, but I'd rather take the fence panels down and torch the bloody thing... hey ho, a litre of petrol is greater than my horticultural knowledge.

Friday, 17 September 2010

More Future Development of MMO's

Further to this post which I put together earlier in the week this sad news has come to light...

I've mentioned APB before, upon its release, and I noted in the report a quote from Dave "Lemmings" Jones, which says:

"I truly wish we had the chance to continue to craft APB into the vision we had for it,"

And I think this echo's tenfold into my point made in the post I made earlier in the week, these guys released a product which was not the intended vision that had for it. Basically is appears they had to ship, it shipped earlier, and though I've not heard of them I'm sure there were teething issues.

And basically, aside from the game being in a field of interest thoroughly covered by Grand Theft Auto titles (meaning this APB was going to be on the back foot from release as you don't need to keep coughing up cash to play GTA... therefore one has to wonder whether anyone involved in APB realised that unlike WOW they didn't have a unique product?).

But that as it may, it also seems that the game released was not only not quite ready for market, but it was not quite what the developers intended for us players to experience.

And I have to say, ANY title coming to market which uses this excuse again needs to be trashed, seriously trashed.

I understand that development scales are on the fist full of years side, however, beyond development these games need to be put through full and thorough testing regimes. And they need producers with balls, balls enough to stand up to market pressure and say "no, it's not ready".

I can't stress my point enough, that these people funding these games need a re-education that though with a traditional game release you make your most sales in the first few weeks is true, but with an MMO they have to realise their outlay of funding is returned over a longer period, like a mortgage, it could take tens of months, or as in the success of the mega titles out there today, in tens of years!

It's all annoying me, I don't think I'll ever see a fully tested, fully working from the box game ever again. And I've not seen one in a long time. Patches & updates are just run of the mill now. And they shouldn't be, we players and users should ask, why was it not working before you shipped it?

I'm not saying a developer should not release a patch, oh no, they are always needed at some level, but the easy going approach developers, like Blizzard, like Bioware, like 2KGames when it comes to sorting out issues grates over me.

In the case of Bioware, I speak of my personal issues getting Dragon Age to work and keep working, in the span of a week we had nothing but patches and community speculation as to the problems being encountered. And the longer things dragged on there, the worse the convoluted confused critique got a chance to take hold and so ruin my optimistic outlook of the game.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The End of my RTS Kicker

So, having now recovered from the dizzy heights of celebrity offered by appearing on Shut Up We're Talking (hehe, I jest but it was an honour) I've come to the end of something I covered in one of my very early posts, I have come to the end of my RTS replay.

It's been a bit of a roller coaster, I've converged on games which some people might not call RTS, but which I covered as they have some real-time feature, or some strategy facet, or simply because they were not a shooter and I played them during my kicker :)

I started out by replaying an amount of one of my all time favourite games, CIV2. I'm specific in this, it is CIV2. Not that the other games in the CIV series are not excellent, just I have rather a soft spot for the second incarnation. I owned and enjoyed is as pretty much the only game I could turn to for some rest & relaxation while doing my bachelor degree dissertation in the embers of Christmas 1999. I had of course owned it for a long time by then, it had been a birthday gift years before. But I really got to grips with it in 1999, and I remember building massive armies and having a robust AI fight back against me on land. I enjoyed it, I pushed my 486DX2-66 running it to the max.

With CIV5 available now on pre-order, to be delivered next Friday (at the time of writing), I hope to talk the wife into letting me pre-order it this very evening. I however don't hold high hopes for it being as simple, clean and easy to get to grips with as CIV2. Graphical complexity will be massively improved however, will game play simply be more complex? Certainly some of the game play reviews out there suggest it is so.

The next on my list ironically was a delve into a title new for me, which I did blog about in an earlier post “Supreme Commander”. A great game, I'm surprised my grape vine didn't light up more thoroughly with its original release. I enjoyed it, and more importantly, intend to enjoy it some more soon.

Next on my list was a jump to my long past, further back even than CIV2. To Command & Conquer. Oh how many hours did I throw away playing this game? Oh and how glorious those hours were. I'm talking about the original game, which though looking its age, plays well, clearly the time taken to normalize the it for the modern audience into a repackaged form (you can buy the C&C through the decades pack) has been well spent.

Modern game developers could learn a good lesson from the simple clean delivery of audio visual delight that is C&C. Of course the series itself is still going strong, but for me the original game is a classic.

Between those three titles we've been on about three months of play time, and as you can see not all of them belong in the RTS genre. But certainly all of them have a special place in my heart.

The next stop on my adventure was a strange one, Sim City 4. I'm sure back in the midst of time I blogged about this title, or at least mentioned I was about to play it... it's a good game, it's not in my opinion as good as the original was on my Atari ST, certainly unlike CIV2 which eclipsed the Atari ST version of CIV I was playing Sim City 4, in my mind, does not eclipse the original game. It's a fine execution of the Sim series, it is however simply not for me.

And I'm being fair there, this is an old game, no-one is going to really go out there and buy it on purpose, one thing you should be aware of out there however, is that it is coded linked to the speed of your CPU and so on modern fast processors very hard to play. It is also hopeless at understanding dual headed graphics cards with two screens attached.

With three games I love, and one dross one on the pile, I took a bit of a break from my kicker and I played some Eve Online, but slowly as Eve does it waned and I started to play some other games from my past.

First was a replay of Rome Total war, which I consider to be the best incarnation of the Total War concept from Creative assembly. However, also on my shelf was a copy of Medieval Total War 2. A title which at first glance I had dismissed as it played rather badly on my computer of the time.

But, after routing Carthage and conquering leptis magma on the African coast I popped the MTW2 DVD into my drive and went to boil the kettle while it installed.

When I returned, somewhat caffeinated, a revelation was waiting for me. I can't say if it was the graphical ability of my new gaming rig, or whether it was because I was on a high craving RTS games, but MTW2 no longer struck me as an over demanding expectation breaking. No indeed it exceeded my wants and desires and I quickly set about playing my native English nation and kicked the snot out of most all of western and central Europe.

Like all megalomaniacs In history however I soon had a set back, in the game, when the Muslim nations raised against me and struck my borders.

A double barrel load of weeks later and I was cleaning up the highest level of AI, with some surprise at how good it was (though I was sure the barbarians cheated a lot).

Now in the glowing twilight of today I'm satiated, ready to move on, and I wonder what genre of games I might wonder through in the next quarter of 2010. But I don't wonder for long, until I realise my Civ5 pre-order will be taking me back into Strategy gaming...


Well, its time today for a new browser from Microsoft. I myself will remain on the side lines with my Firefox heated Chrome clad pasty watching the Opera without comment...

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Future Development of the MMO Genre

Maybe we've missed a trick, or rather a decent analogy, in our mental impression of how MMO's are currently shaping up, maybe we've missed the obvious staring us in the face in mapping out how we perceive this genre of entertainment... And this is realizing how lazy the human-being can be.

Now, I don't mean us bloggers, commentators and players of games (though some of us, no doubt, are bloody lazy) and neither do I mean that the developers of these games are lazy; quite the opposite on that front I feel, rather I think that due to pressures of necessity and our ingenuity as a species we will always look for a short cut to get things accomplished, we like things easy and sometimes when we can't get to the solution we want out continual thinking sends us into mental frustration as literally can't see the wood for the trees.

I think as observers, players and EULA sufferers of the MMO genre, we've missed realising, missed tempering our opinions and reviews with the fact that people find it easier to do one thing than another. Not that some out there don't understand the necessity of developers cutting corners to get a job done.

However, during the recording of SUWT on Sunday morning I speculated that things were getting a bit homogeneous in a certain large scale online game, that they were ever expanding up and up and up and never adding any real breadth or depth to the game.

And I'm afraid to say in some areas of that game I was right, however, I was wrong in applying that opinion to other titles out there, Eve-Online most certainly has massive breadth & depth, though it mediates this by real-time progress as much as repetition. I suppose that's a strength of CCP over Blizzard. It also reinforces another topic covered in SUWT, that of how different companies interpret their products.

I suppose you're asking what this has to do with laziness and finding the short cut? Well, I believe the current generation of MMO's are either so busy trying to get out of the stable door, to be the next wow, or to be wow itself, they have had certain faults, certain plot devices ill explained. We have however enjoyed a plethora of new offerings in the MMO genre. The genre has matured a lot since the days of Ultima Underworld.

But I believe we need to look at all current and indeed most up coming MMO releases including WoW, DDO, RoM, LOTRO, WHO, AION, STO and all the rest as one generation of the games (obviously).

And I believe the thing which will define the next generation, won't be the story line, or the plot and probably not even the graphics (though it'll look spanking as processing power has gone up a lot as it ever has). No, the thing I think which will mark the next generation out from the current offerings will be delivery.

If an MMO suffers teething problems, scaling problems, order fulfilment or even billing and support issues, it will be instantly tarred with the same laughing stock brush as all the current bunch which have bolted from the hands of their development teams and been unleashed on the paying public early.

Those producers have got to sit back and think carefully, they have to execute their development cycle with delivery of perfection before delivery on time. Maybe this means tempering down the amount of public information released, not to promise too much too soon (as so often happens with blogs, tweets and journalists).

Whatever it means, it means letting development and testing, real testing not “public beta”, decide when to release.

Toilet Training

This isn't gaming related, but I work at a company who make game products, so it's all the same to me... but I'm sorry, I have to apologise a head of time. I'm going to bring the topic of conversation low right now, I'm going to talk about something us office workers don't mention to one another... the bathroom... Specifically the bathroom habits of those around us...

Now, I'm not lord cleanliness, I've lived like a bachelor and student for a swathe of my life, I'm house trained now, but I'm glad to say I've always been happily and genially toilet trained... I know how to sit without falling off... I know how to aim without missing (too much)... and I know how to wipe & wash my hands...

But it seems, unfortunately, that memo didn't get around the playground when I were a kid. There are grown men, grown men who are but a cubicles breath away from me, who wipe with balls of paper I can only imagine would choke a rhino, and whom do not wash their hands.

Let me tell you, I'm looking warily at every single door handle, every button on the coffee machine is a suspect... I'm not happy...

I feel like going out and buying a box of one size fits all latex gloves. Horrible, horrible awful people, uurgh.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Web Filtering

I've got a question for you... How many of you work in an Office environment, you work at a desk and you have a computer & paper work around you... if you don't, and you're sat at home reading this... DO YOU KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE?... But if you do... have you got a draconian IT department?

I'm in an interesting place, because I have experience of a very nice, complimentary IT Department, they're good guys and work with us not against us... However, they do have some silly things... one of them is that they employ WebSense which monitors and tracks our web activity and stops us doing naughty things...

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, so here's one of WebSense in action, stopping me wasting company time browsing to www.TheHunter.Com

Now, I have no problem with them blocking this site, as you can see I can choose to allocate my daily quota time to looking at the site anyway, so all's fair in love and war... but what happens when I run out of quota time? What happens if I bypass this filter all the time? What efforts will I go to to get around this?

Now, I'm quite a tech savvie person, I can get around this tool of Ming the Merciless sat on his IT Throne above me, but I choose not to, because it's there for a reason, and recently the company I work for met just such a reason; we have a massive Virus out break, which cost us three down days! Or beau coup dollar as it's known in economic circles.

But, it makes me ponder, what lengths will someone with less morals (yay me) go to to get around such tools... I believe actually that instead of saving the IT Department a shed load of work load in checking us users are not going behind their backs, it actually makes their job harder. Because people are going to be going off of the beaten track across the savannah of bandwidth to get their fix of sites deemed unsuitable for work.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Warcraft and Inflation

So... Saturday Night, Sunday Morning... I was on Shut Up We're Talking, well we were recording it, so thanks to Darren, Karen and especially Richard for putting up with me talking over them, you can get to the show notes for that episode here.

However, the reason for this post on my humble blog however is just to stop you lovely people out there deluging Darren & Karen about the numbers I quoted on the show...

The topic of my rant was Inflation in the game World of Warcraft, by inflation what I was talking about is the level difference between your character and the items that said character can wear. This is a sticky icky fluid sort of conversation, and I've had comments back from the populous at large which are pretty evenly bifurcated along either agreeing with me, or calling me a whining bitch.

I don't think I'm a whining bitch, but that night on the show I had a microphone and you didn't, SO YOU WILL LISTEN TO EVERY WORD I HARD TO SAY!


Yes, so my figures that night came out of this... at level 60 in the original game the first real “end game” content; in my opinion; was Blackwing Lair in there you could pick up level 81 items. Your character at that time would be level 60... so this gives me a calculation of:

( 100 / 60 ) x 81 = 135

This means 35% over and above level 60 for a level 81 items.

Later in the vanilla game they released AQ40, in there you could pick up a level 84 item. You could pick up a spectrum of lower level items in both places, so these are the elite items, the top of the shelf specials (oh la la). So level 84 gives us:

( 100 / 60 ) x 84 = 140

Which is 40% value for that level, between the two then we have 40 – 35, so 5%... Five percent between one “end game” scenario and another in the same game, these two instances came in patches 1.6 and 1.9 respectively, there is just over 7 months between those patches, and also it took a little time for people to get to grips with AQ40 (remember you had to open the gates and complete AQ20 to attune yourself, so say that took 8 weeks [being generous]) this gives us about 9 months between the two states of play... 5% over 9 months... is 0.55% a half a percent...

I consider that a gentle inflation rate, I think anyone with the BWL or PVP reward epics could compete in PVP with someone in the AQ40 kit, I think there's no massive advantage to anyone, and the game play showed this by showing skills being greater than great (in my opinion) at that time.

Of course then Burning Crusade was released, to level the playing field Blizz gave everyone quests in the Hellfire area to equate their gear to level 84+ and everyone started the march up to end game, which came in the ultimate form of Sunwell Plateau, now in there you could pick up level 164 items. And time wise there was 17 months between the intro of BC and the intro of the Sunwell Raid, of course remember we all had to get the rep and complete Registrars Terrace too, so this gives us a calculation of:

( 100 / 70 ) x 84 = 120 = 20% the start point, to cancel out the change of level cap, I'll recalculate.
( 100 / 70 ) x 164 = 234.28 = 134.28% over and above level 70 for the items.

So the amount of inflation is 134.28 – 20% = 114.28% over the life span of the BC Expansion.

Well, if we calculate this out as the time between the introduction of the BC expansion and the last patch for it we get a span from December 2006 to July 2008, that's 19 months. This comes out as 6.01% (Now let me just stop you there, in the episode of SUWT I quoted a value here of 1.25%, that was because I forgot about Sunwell and based my calculation around an item not from the end game, but from where I got tired and stopped playing... my bad, the value is 6%... imaging when you listen to the episode I say 6%... not 1.25% during my rant).

Okay, so half a percent to six percent that is a rise, it's tempered somewhat by a level up gap too, I'm not forgetting that, but I'm not a statistician, I'm just a player with an opinion.

Lets now take a look at Wrath... in there we all got the same free for all give away of items to level the playing field, we then all rushed to end game, I'm going to pick Ice Crown Citadel (25) as the end game, in there you could pick up level 284 items.

So, normalise the previous cap ( 100 / 80 ) * 164 = 205 = 105% inflation.
To End game ( 100 / 80 ) * 284 = 355 = 255% inflation.

Take take them apart 255 – 105 = 150% total inflation, and how long was this over... how long from intro of Wrath to Ice Crown?

Well, that would be October 2008 to December 2009 that's 17 months that's 8.8%. Now in the podcast I quoted a value of 16%, this was actually based on my character, whom I changed NOTHING on when levelling from 71 to 80. That character had the 164+ level items from BC PVP and Raids and was happy to stick with them... so my actual inflation was calculated over the amount of time I spent raiding, which would I estimate be from around May 2009 to December 2009... that's only 7 months... that makes my experience of the inflation rate around 19 to 21%...

This is where my rant, which you can hear in the podcast came from, because I could legitimately experience this HUGE spike in the levels of items, I could get by as I was, I changed nearly nothing from my hard worked for gear from level 70 raiding in Black Temple & Karazhan and working the PVP system.

As Darren says in the show “This is the difference between what you have now and what you have at the end of the game”... this is correct, this is where my 19% comes from, unfairly calculated I admit, because that was just what I experienced by holding onto my level 164 items doggedly.

And that poses questions in and of itself, how come I was easily able to compete with the PVE levelling and instances in my old gear? The answer is simple, those items were already over inflated in power for a level 70!

By the time items became worth upgrading to the statistics on them had to be so stupidly out of whack I was flabbergasted. This had a negative impact on my appreciation for the game, it was totally unbalanced.

And that has repercussions for how the game will develop in the future...

PLEASE NOTE: I did not intend to represent the value of 19% as the inflation flat value in Wrath, I really didn't get the point across of this being my experience, it was a topic about balance, and this was my showing unbalanced... inflated items from level 70 made 71 to 79 levels easy, and so as Karen says... "The on ramp to get everyone playing" was easy... and then to drop the level 284 items on us made my experience of the inflation curve so dramatic.

Monday, 6 September 2010

An hour to myself...

Well actually one hour 28 minutes and 47 seconds... to myself... so what did I do with this time? Did I expand my mind by putting on some classical music and reading one of the many tomes I have lying around? No.

Did I spend this time profitably catching up with friends and family? No.

Did I even get around to listening to the latest episode of Shut Up We're Talking? No (and I will have to, as I'm on the show next weekend... eeek).

So what did I do?

Well, I went hunting. Darren over at common sense gamer put me onto this game last year, and I had played a little and liked it, I even subscribed for three months, but at that time I had a hell-a-lot of things to get on with, and so my then warden pass went by without my getting much use out of it. And oh boy do I regret that.

Since Friday I have been dabbling in the game, I set all the settings to max it out, even overriding some in the nVidia setting themselves to puch it just that little bit higher, and this game is stunning, so now I have it so realistic even my misses comes and lays on the bed next to my computers just to watch the trees go past....

But, I also seem to have hit my stride. I don't know if the free game is just trying to make me subscribe (as I don't remember there being this many animals to find before) but I'm really enjoying my game play.

I have today however, in the gap of time, just had my best hunt to day, five different kills, including two of them being the largest bucks (my second and first largest in ascending order) I've ever shot.

One of them was winged from a good 500ft away (by my low power free player.243 bolt action rifle) and it ran off, and I had to spend time tracking it back down... was great fun!

The game itself has been called boring, slow even dull. But if you get it, if you actually get it, then it most certainly is not boring, the thrill of the chase, the ambush, the atmosphere its all there.

The only down side id that I can't have TV, Music or iPlayer on, in this game you have to be there, to listen to use your senses.