Posts about games, online gaming, other peoples games and stuff


I played a lot of Railroad and Transport Tycoon. Some of the recent attempts to recreate the experience fall flat because they either look hideous or they are too busy delivering an ultra-realistic world/train-driving simulation.
On Steam, “Mashinky”  popped onto my queue and it looks like Jan Zeleny may have found a great middle ground.
There is a tycoon-like, low-rez tiled experience which he maps into a more beautifully rendered 3d mode with fancy camera options.
Steam reviews are mixed, but this is now top of my queue to try and Secret World.

City/Empire/Culture building games?

Asked several times yesterday what my favorite kind of game is, and I don’t know if I have an answer for it. Then I happened to be background watching a youtube video about Sid Meier’s “Starships“. How the heck could I have forgotten the man-months I spent playing Blue Byte “Settlers” Games? “Civ 3“? “Age of Empires“?
Platformers and side-scrollers, I remember “Jet-Set Willy“, “Monty Mole“, “WizBall” and then after that, I maybe remember “Turrican” and “Giana Sisters“, “Duke Nukem” briefly (Also, “Bubble Bobble“, I’m ashamed to admit). I’d seen it all already, and I wasn’t interested in the newcomers.
Graphical adventures rarely floated my boat – I was late to the party with “Monkey Island” and “Day of the Tentacle”. I spent some time in Myst.
I played hundreds of other games I just don’t remember. The “Jedi Knight” and “Tie Fighter vs” games ate chunks of my life. “Doom”, “Quake”.
The games I played most and returned to most? My first ever experience with a computer was at school with 5 of us sharing an Apple Lisa at a time and playing a settler-type game. For the longest time, those were my favorite kinds of games, with space games (“Elite”, “Federation of Free Traders“, etc edit: How could I forget? Paul Woakes’ amazing Mercenary Games?) being my favorites.
I’ve tinkered with a few in recent years but never gotten hooked. They became too predictable and grindy. It seems like, instead of expanding in meaningful ways, people just hacked on new ‘cool’ features to the repertoire.
Last “Civ” I played was “Civ 5” and it was just unfulfilling. The wonders weren’t … wonderous. Just a building with stats. Overall, the game just felt too much like it was designed or tuned by engineers.
I liked the earlier “Caesar” games, but it seems empire games at the moment fall into just one of two categories: 1/ Fight: Grind a big enough army, 2/ Decorate: optimize city layout so you can make more of the same. Nothing seems to hit that nice middle-ground that I remember “Civ 3” or “Settlers III” (I think) having.
Any suggestions for games to check out?

Landmark cancelled

Daybreak just announced cancellation of EverQuest: Landmark. This is part 2 of the death of EverQuest Next.


The idea was that EQ:N would have a voxel-based world (like Minecraft) where the buildings and terrain were destructible. I figure this requires such a radical change in the art pipeline that they built the engine early, and it just naturally lent itself to a sort of EQ:Minecraft which they went on to reveal as EverQuest:Landmark. The PR behind this was that the community would have chance to experience it and to provide feedback to the tools, and to contribute designs and buildings that would eventually become part of EQ:Next.

It always struck me as a bit insanely ambitious for an MMO; flash backs to the landmines EQ1 discovered that most modern MMO players don’t know about. Griefing factor 11 much?

Landmark was cute. I can’t speak to how the game has shaped up because we stopped playing it a long time ago. You probably have to have some passion for 3D art to enjoy it – not even Meg’s decorating/housing stuff was enough to get past dealing with the controls.

When they announced the cancellation of EQ:N, I couldn’t see a long future for EQ:L. You really have to be good and/or lucky to release your game more than once, including beta and alpha. There are many more dead fish in the MMO/online game sea than there are successful, thriving ones, and running your game in beta/open-beta can be a real risk. Plenty of potentially good MMOs disappeared into obscurity because of unsuccessful beta runs, with a team slaving away under the impression that “it’s just beta”.

The days when the internet was populated by geeks who actually gut-understood “beta” are long gone. Today’s players treat a “beta” the same way that restaurant goers understand a “Grand Opening”… Launch accordingly.

Happy new year

To the random individual still tuned in, a happy new year to you.

I’m still at Facebook, no evidence of it being the evil empire folks want to believe it is. Rather, a collection of folks who worry about the same things you do, who care about privacy not least because their mom is on Facebook too.

I’ve been playing Crypt of the Necrodancer, Faster than Light (which I didn’t play when it was hot and new) and a lot of Kerbal Space Program.

I’m starting to feel I’m done with KSP now, though; I can launch to orbit, even recover small payloads from orbit with a recovery ship, I’ve built a (crappy) station.

I squeezed some extra longevity out of the game with mods including MechJeb (an autopilot, so I could focus on building rather than flying, because I just find the flying part tedious key-holding). But I haven’t flown a rover, built a base on another planet, manned mission to Duna etc.

It may be because I don’t feel “free” to experiment with stuff before I launch it into space. I’ve built rovers and driven around KSC with them but I’ve no clue how I would get it into space and drop it anywhere useful. (It doesn’t help that stock fairings are broken in 1.0.5 and turn any rocket into Tippy McSplodey).

Development-wise, nothing exciting to report at the moment. I’m building up a hankering to get my teeth into C++14 and ++17 properly, but I’m lacking a good project to work on and a good description of what the changes are to actually rustle up a project.

Talking with the new team at CRS/Playnet, I’m filled with a lot of confidence. I think the clean break is going to prove good for the guys, they’re clearing away the dead bodies that the old team — self included — were stumbling around. I’m really looking forward to them having a successful 1.35 launch. We left them a lot of landmines, so … be gentle on them.

4 billion stars

Elite Dangerous has 4 billion+ stars. Cool concept, and as a programmer I can see how the tech behind that would be neat to develop. But I sort of feel there should have been a meeting where a designer stood up and slammed his fist onto the table and said “NO! That’s stupid”. “Cool” does not automatically translate into “fun”; “cool” is a few degrees from “cold”.

Massive flop

A “massively online game” is a game with a large enough population that there will be some requirement to distribute processing work and some form of shared, persistent state that is going to make distribution non-trivial.

WWIIOL is a big empty PvP sandbox with a shared world-state and a single, shared, resource (supply of equipment). Elite Dangerous is technically just a multi-player, map-based shoe box (star systems are sharded dynamically) but it has a single, shared, supply economy… Both are “massively” by the technical definition.

People have been making “massively” games, then, since 1988 (AirWarrior) at least. Many of the same problems have persisted across the development process since. But it seems that, today, there are still people stepping over that threshold in denial and breaking themselves in the process.

There are two main ways you can flop across the finish line, whether you’re a new startup or an established and successful developer…

Elite could be dangerous

I’m unsure whether to write a long, rambling rant about my observations of ED, trying to explain and expound, or whether just to cut to the brutal chase. Today is my birthday so I’m going to treat myself to a short brutal vent.

Frontier have released a decent number of games and they’ve done OK in the console/pc box game market.

Elite Dangerous is the first Elite to leave the hallowed ground of single player, and it’s skipping simple campaign / self-hosted co-op and going straight to sharded MMO. And I see all the warning signs of a box-game dev team making the mistake of thinking they have a clue about how to develop an MMO.

1. They’re referring to the current state as “beta” when it is clearly “alpha”. Unfortunately, the terms have their meanings kind of fixed, and people draw conclusions based on them. Including the engineers etc working on the product (“What comes after beta? Pay!”)

2. They seem to have selected Web Forums as the primary means of communicating with players. Perhaps they have secretly discovered that the 12 years or so of evidence that this does not work only applies to games developed in the US? But click that link and compare the number of posts in “Elite: Dangerous General” – just the one forum – with the older frontier game forums which represent games that have been out for years.

3. Any MMO dev who plays the game and loiters in the forums briefly for a week or so will know in their bones that nobody is “watching” the beta, certainly not any of the important metrics, stats etc, and since they are clearly competent at single player games, you can only conclude that it’s because they just haven’t got a clue that they should be.

4. There is no evidence of QA.

I’m just going to skip straight to the conclusion I’ve drawn from years of experience applied to filtering/processing what I see in their forums, in their patches, etc.

Frontier are working this exactly like a single player game would be shipped, with the addition of forums to handle the online community.

Playing the E:D Premium Beta

I’ve been an Elite fan for a long time, so naturally I backed the kick starter.

Since I’m in the middle of seeking new employment, I’m not getting a great deal of time to play, but you may see me flying around as ‘kfsone’ if you too are trying to beta.


Finished ACIV: Black Flag

I’m left confused, annoyed, angry and also confused.

In a nutshell: They took what they’d developed in previous games, streamlined it to make room for scope (more side games etc) and shipped a game which did nothing really well.

The game spends more time tipping it’s hat than a fez-wearing Doctor Who bobble head, as a result, none of the side collections were engaging and the overall story line was very shallow and lackluster, the plot is it’s own synopsis.

During my play through, all kinds of things bothered me about the game as an experienced developer; it smacked of too-many-cooks and too-many-new-recipes. So when I finished the story, I let the end-credits run. Oh. My. Goodness. What is that – 8 minutes? 10 minutes? Of steady scroll?

It’s not the run time of the credits but the sheer headcount. Firstly it makes it much, much harder to deliver a cohesive story across all the little details when you have so many people. The bigger problem is the amount of time that must have been spent in meetings.

Why did they need so many people? Localization for one part, but also because they broadened the scope of the game. My personal take is that they were unsuccessful: you don’t get to say “I made an omelette” just because you put 12 eggs into a pan and applied heat.

From a gameplay perspective, the first AC game was tedious and bland, dull, repetitive. It was the story telling that sold it. ACIV’s gameplay is less honed and less nuanced than Revelations and the story telling is abysmal.

Seriously – one portion of the lore you can collect is done in the form of audio tapes. Long, drawn out voice acting sessions, which didn’t really contribute anything for me. They have no video component, which just makes them feel cheap/lazy. One set are letters from Desmond – which had less value to them than eating the box your cheerios come in – but which came with a written transcript so you could skip the tedious reading. The other set are audio-transcripts that you can’t pause without resetting and have no written transcript.

If AC IV is a taste of AC to come, I for one have left the target audience.


Assassins’ Creed IV

*** Contains plot spoilers***

Without playing much, I’ve ranked 38,000th most deadly assassin. Oddly, last weekend, my position had 6 digits.

To my mind, it’s one of the best ACs to date. Excepting the aquatic bits.

The sailing, swimming, diving: well, they’re a turd on an otherwise magnificent serving of filet mignon served after a 2 day fast.

I do the sailing, when I can’t just fast-travel, and sort of look down at my feet, I somehow feel guilty/ashamed. I’ve tried the under-water sections. Then there are the under-water sections. Ok, so every now and again your character drowns because the controls are so clunky you can ‘t turn around and reach an air pocket/diving bell, or you ricochet between columns of urchins like a pinball and die. Those are probably bugs.

*** Plot spoilers are about to happen ***

Then there is the campy-pastiche attempt at a cameo; the non-animus portion of the game occurs in a game studio. You’re working for Abstergo Entertainment in conjunction with Origin researching material for a new Assassins’ Creed game, in their Quebec office.

It was probably funny to the developers, and to the people who knew the developers who they bounced it off. You know who it isn’t terribly funny to? Anyone else. A passing reference or an actual cameo, coulda been funny. Sure, I got a good giggle looking at the desk loot. But there’s also the minor matter of how bad this portion of the game looks. After the beautiful elegance of the animus world, the Abstergo portion looks … like something from an original Xbox game. Animation, textures, it’s all terrible.

There are some fantastic moments in ACIV – tip of the hat to the wake-up scene that looks like it’s going to be a flash back to Desmond originally waking up from the Animus.

But there is vastly more fail: The pitiful handful of achievements, most of which you will complete in the first day or two of play; The utter irrelevance of most of the side-games; The magnificent visuals of bringing the weather in so close you really actually can’t see anything; The immersion and soul destroyer of boarding an enemy ship as a way to prevent the other 5 ships you’re fighting from sinking you; The tedium of cut-scenes that run 90% thru before telling you “Hold B to skip cinematic” (and then holding B causes it to end a second or so earlier than not doing would have, and yes: I’ve tried holding B before that point); the annoying randomly capitalized letters and words.

There is a crafting system, but it’s sort of stupid. There are 3 consumables you can craft, but if you loot corpses, you will never want to. The remainder of your crafting options are one-shot upgrades each of which requires different components. It’s an in-your-face “KILL STUFF AND SKIN IT OR NO UPGRADES FOR YOU”.

Where previous ACs had feathers for you to collect, AC IV has Animus Fragments. It also has shanties (songs for your sailors to sing while sailing) chests (with gold coins) manuscripts (for those who don’t like interesting lore/backstory, and specifically want dull, tedious lore/backstory) and outside the animus there are post-it notes to collect (with tedious, vaguely AC themed, rants on them) and computers to hack (in return for miscellaneous AC-themed tidbits that are at first gratifying but quickly make you want to use your AC box to punch people with).

Yes – there’s a larber number of side activities, but especially compared to previous ACs, they are hideously shallow and tacky.  None of them are well done, none of them are engaging, none of them are immersive, none of them draw you into a sense of story/world connecting back to what is going on either in the animus or outside. And once you reach a certain point (about 60%) there’s clearly no effort put into them. Capturing a fort? Chests and animus fragments start to pretty much trip you up as you follow way points.

But the bottom of the barrel, which AC IV scrapes up with it’s tounge and tries to shove down your ear, is the under-water wreck exploration. Games usually don’t do a great job of swimming-related activities, and AC IV does a really bad one. Plus sharks. Did I mention that you are weaponless during this section? Yes. In the franchise known for running, jumping and climbing, they’ve added a combatless underwater swimming segment where you may get eaten by an eel if you don’t succumb to wounds from sharks that you fail to hide from because the swimming controls would make a blown goat want its money back.

I’m going to try and see it thru to the end of the story mode because I’m determined to see if the story makes any kind of sense or in any way fits into the AC storyline so far. My hunch is that the game will disown itself and reveal that it was all just a templar’s bad dream.

Mine too.