Monday, 6 July 2015

CCP Rise Comments on Eve's New Player Experience

Earlier this week, CCP Rise posted some interesting ideas regarding the new player experience of Eve Online on both Reddit and the Eve forums. In these posts, he posts an answer regarding the amount of skill points that a new player to Eve would start with:
Q: 'Starting skills are a huge barrier, can we give a lot more to new players'
A: Yes. But this is not a simple change. You guys seem fairly agreed that the small amount of starting skills, combined with a high amount of 'must have' support and requirement skills, leads to some really icky barriers to participation for new players. We are inclined to agree and we are in the process of laying out a plan to address the problem. Nothing is set in stone yet but it seems likely that we will try and move new players towards starting with significantly more SP. Maybe between 1 and 2 million. It also seems likely that we will probably avoid any major skill reworks or skill removals. As this plan solidifies you will hear more from us.
Finally, CCP is actually looking at doing something about the NPE that makes sense. Here's why I'm in love with this idea, and I genuinely believe it will make an impact to retaining new players in Eve.

Skills in Eve are all trained in real time, and depending on who you ask, this is either the best way to handle progression in an MMO, or the worst. Each skill has 5 levels, with each level taking more and more skill points to obtain, and thus more time. As a new player coming into Eve, you are confronted with a lot of choice, and freedom to do any number of things. However, nearly everyone agrees that there are a core set of skills that are extremely important to train:

  • CPU Management: Gives a bonus 5% CPU per level
  • Power Grid Management: Gives a bonus 5% power grid per level
  • Capacitor Management: 5% bonus capacitor capacity per level
  • Capacitor Systems Operation: 5% reduction in capacitor recharge time per level
Then you need skills to suit what type of tank your ship has, either Shield Management, Shield Compensation and Shield Operation, or Hull Upgrades, Mechanics and Repair Systems. In this time, nothing exciting, like guns, missiles or drones have been even thought about.

Granted, these skill trains are reasonably short, but I know from personal experience, during this time most new players will quit the game because they don't see any pay off for the time spent training these 'must have' skills. To put it frankly, it's boring to have to wait for all of this to train when all you want to do is blow stuff up because you're new to the game and lack the patience that veteran Eve players have developed.

The figure that CCP Rise gives of 1 - 2 million skill points would cut off around 2 months of training time, allowing for people to more quickly jump into the action. New players would no longer have to only be "hero tackle", essentially ships that dive in to hold other ships and then die because they can't handle the damage output of the enemy. They don't need to have the skills trained to 5, giving them even more skill points to play with, to make mistakes with.

To wrap all of this up, I honestly hope that CCP goes ahead with some variation of this plan, because I can only see this working in favour of new players, without giving older players advantages. Ignore the people who are saying that because they had to train skills, new players should have to as well. Do it!

As always,

GAME ON!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Batman Arkham Knight

Warner Bros, why did you have to outsource development of the PC port of Arkham Knight away from Rocksteady? You saw what happened to Arkham Origins right?

Arkham Knight was released yesterday on PC, and almost immediately users reported that the port was, to put it simply, terrible. Capped to 30 FPS and buggy to boot. Users also reported that you could uncap the frame lock with an edit to the config ini. However the game does not like running about 30 FPS, and would crash even more frequently after the change was made.

This isn't the first time an Arkham game has run terribly on PC. Arkham Origins had some massive issues on release, including one gameplay breaking bug that I encountered where you could not leave a room, forcing you to reload an earlier save. That port was made by Iron Galaxy Studios. Take a look at that list, and note the most recent entry. Sigh. I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. Rocksteady, who made the previous core Arkham games (including the PC ports), have generally released great products for PC gamers.

So as a PSA for anyone who reads this, don't buy Arkham Knight right now. If you did fall into the preorder trap, remember that Steam now has a refund option, and this is the exact sort of situation where using that option is the best course of action. Don't support publishers and devs who treat our platform like this. If they fix the game, then look at picking it up. I'll keep my eye on the situation as it develops.

EDIT 1: Apparently the port was developed by just 12 people from Iron Galaxy Studios.

EDIT 2: Further news points to the PC port almost being deliberately downgraded. An image showing the differences in rain textures between the PC port and the PS4 edition shows a crazy amount of difference. Rock Paper Shotgun also posted this video showing the PC version in all it's "glory".



I'm still showing restraint on the crazy theories about WB Games deliberately doing this. That said however, I doubt I'll be purchasing this game at all.

EDIT 3: There is a theory that Iron Galaxy Studios only had 8 weeks to port the game. It's only a theory, but could definitely explain where the issue started.

EDIT 4: Rocksteady have suspended future sales of the game on Steam, and made a post regarding the issues here.

As always,

GAME ON!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Kerbal Space Program Full Release

A little green man grips the controls in his space pod, firing the rocket engine on his lander to slow his descent to a moon. It's taken many attempts to get to this position, and all the practise has finally paid off. He lowers his landing gear, throttles the engine up, touches down gently... and the lander promptly falls over on its side, and the pod rolls down the hill to rest at the bottom of a crater. No matter, that's all par for the course in Kerbal Space Program.

It's still good right? (All pictures can be enlarged)

This isn't the first time I've written about KSP; there was a short piece on it as one of the first posts on the blog in 2013. I stopped playing KSP regularly after they added in the career mode to the alpha (October 2013), only taking a quick look at the asteroids in the April 2014 release. I didn't want to burn myself out on the game before it was actually released. Now it has been officially released and I've got to say, the game has really improved since the last time I played it.

The tech tree. Everything is unlocked from here.
When you first start up a game, you can now choose 3 different game types: sandbox, science mode, and career mode. Sandbox mode does exactly as advertised, allowing you to create unlimited rockets and aircraft with nothing locked away. It can be a little confusing being dropped into the game with so much to choose from, but for those of us who want to just mess around, sandbox is the place to be. Science mode is a slimmed down career mode, removing the need to manage money and reputation, but allowing you to progress through the tech tree at your own pace.

Career mode is essentially the story mode of the game, placing you in control of your very own space program. The goal is to explore the Kerbin system, a place that has 4 terrestrial planets, 1 gas giant, 2 dwarf planets, and 9 moons scattered around the various planets to explore. To do this, you launch rockets and fly planes, performing various science experiments to gain science points. These points can be used in the Research and Development facility to unlock various new parts that make exploring easier or unlock new experiments and ways to explore.

So many contracts, so little time.
Of course, nothing is free, so you have to manage the funds of your space program. Each part you put on a rocket has a cost associated, so keeping things simple and recovering as much of the rocket as possible is the best course if you find your program strapped for cash. However, even doing that can put your budget in the red. That's where the contract system comes in. Contracts are essentially goals for you to work toward, ranging from simple "test this part" goals to  complex "collect data from another planet" goals. Managing the reputation of your space program is important too. Killing the kerbals that man your ships or failing contracts makes your reputation take a hit, whereas completing contracts increases it. The higher your reputation, the better contracts you can get, giving you more money.

The release version gave us a whole host of added features and changes to the physics. Parts can overheat now, so ships require heat shields to safely come back down to Kerbin (the earth-like home planet of the kerbals), and getting too close to Kerbol (the sun of the system) will also cause parts to overheat. Survey scanners and mining drills allow you to exploit the ore found throughout the system to make fuel, allowing for the creation of refuelling bases out in space. Aerodynamics were also tweaked to be more realistic, with more streamlined designs actually flying faster and heating up slower. There are also now procedural fairings, allowing you to put a streamlined cover over the payload of a rocket to take advantage of the new aerodynamics.

This game has everything: Orbital mechanics, explosions, and more!

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, an update has caused some issues. Version 1.0.2 broke the aerodynamics in the game, making the air soupy and slowing down anything falling from orbit to the point where re-entry isn't as dangerous as it was previously. Overheating display bars also cause a memory leak, causing the used RAM to jump up into the 4gb range from around 2gb. Fortunately you can turn off these bars (hit F10), and the current aero doesn't really cause anything other than exposed batteries and solar panels to overheat to the point where they break. Update: Squad are aware of all these issues, and are working on them now. Also, when KSP is installed on a regular HDD the game takes an awful long time to load to the menu (I had it take around 4 minutes at one point), so I recommend installing it on an SSD to drop the load times down to around a minute.

Not shown, the GIANT rocket needed to get this to space.
All of the changes to Kerbal Space Program give it that finishing touch it needed to be a complete game. No longer just a physics sandbox, the game has direction now. My feelings for the game generally haven't changed. It's simple enough that anyone can built a basic rocket and launch it into the air, but complex enough that more experienced players can replicate entire space programs. Even failure in KSP is fun, for two reasons: you usually learn from it, and sometimes you get beautiful explosions. On the other hand, success in KSP leaves you feeling a sense of accomplishment that few games can. Even partial success situations like the one described at the beginning leave you grinning, and for me, an opportunity to plan the rescue mission for the stranded kerbal. I highly recommend it.

As always,

GAME ON!

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Swing and a Miss: Valve and Bethesda's Paid Mods.

Modding is a cornerstone of PC gaming. Some of the most popular games in the world right now started as mods for other games: League of Legends, DotA 2 and Counter Strike to name a few. For some people, modding is one of the main reasons that they play games on a PC. So when Valve and Bethesda announced they would be trying out a system of paid mods for The Elder Scrolls Skyrim it was bound to ruffle some feathers.

For those of you who don't know, modding refers to modifications to an existing game. They can range from a simple tweak that changes small parts of the game, to a completely different game mode, like those mentioned at the start. The mods available for Skyrim range from unofficial patches that fix bugs, and SkyUi that fixes the issues with the default ui on PC, to visual upgrades, and complete companions with unique quest lines. They fix issues, add content, and are generally considered to increase the life span that a game has.

Valve's announcement was simply not taken well. At best there was unrest in the community, and as usual, the very worst of the community started with the death threats and general vitriol that we've all come to expect. Some modders were even against the idea of paid mods, and made their thoughts known in the Steam community forums. The final result? Well after four days of complaints from the community, Valve announced they were shelving the paid mods idea for Skryim, while still leaving the option wide open for them to try again with future games.

So why did the community react the way they did?

Of course, there is the obvious fact that people don't want to pay for something that was previously free. While some mods definitely are worthy of payment, most of them are tiny little things that people made for fun and decided to upload. There is also the report of a mod being pulled from Steam because it contained someone else's work without permission, adding to the idea that paid mods were just going to hurt the community.

The main justification for paid mods came down to supporting the mod authors, which in my opinion is completely fair. They did all the hard work, and by all accounts in situations where donation buttons were setup, they were rarely touched by those who used their mods. However as more information came to light about the exact model that Valve and Bethesda were using in the Workshop, that argument started to lose some weight. Bethesda disclosed that exact split of money from the sale of a mod was 30% to Valve, the standard cut Valve takes from all sales, and 45% to Bethesda, leaving only 25% to go to the mod creator. To many gamers, myself included, this seemed like Bethesda trying to profit from something they didn't work on.

There is another argument too. Skyrim without mods on PC has one of the worst UIs I have ever used, more bugs than you can shake a stick at, and the depth of a plate. Don't get me wrong, I love Skyrim. But I don't play it without the unofficial Skyrim patches, SkyUi and Live Another Life. I just can't. The thought of Bethesda profiting from those mods, mods that fix problems they still haven't fixed, feels wrong to me. It rewards Bethesda for releasing a buggy game, and encourages them to do it again.

Fortunately, mod authors seem to have rallied against Skyrim's paid mods. If that is because they don't want to face a backlash from the rest of the community, or because they truly feel that way remains to be seen. Valve will definitely be trying the paid mods route again in the future, so this is only the beginning. And if I'm honest with myself, I'm 100% against it. I don't mind paying full price for a game. I dislike DLC, but understand why it exists. But being forced to pay for a community made mod, especially when the vast majority of money goes to a developer who put nothing into that mod is not something I ever want to see. For me, donation buttons where the mod creator gets the lions share of the money would be ideal.

As always,

GAME ON!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

The TetrisPC Upgrade

This isn't really news as such, but it is important (to me at least). I finally made some decent upgrades my PC for the first time since I built it in late 2011. When I built my PC, I built it with the idea to not have to upgrade for at least 2 years, and I think it's lasted me fairly well considering its been over 3. To give you an idea of what I changed, the original specs were:

CPU: Intel Core i7 960 (3.2ghz)
Mobo: Asus Rampage III Black Edition
Ram: Corsair 24gb DDR3
Graphics: EVGA GTX570 SC Edition
Storage: WD Black 1TB HDD (Windows install) + 2 x 2TB Seagate HDDs.

After setting a budget of $900, I spent some time doing research and discussing the upgrade with a friend. I knew I wanted to stick with nVidia for the graphics card, as I have had issues with AMD in the past (and the fact that nVidia was offering the Witcher 3 with their cards at the moment was a bonus). I considered simply upgrading straight to a GTX 980, a card which in Australia retails for around $800 - $900 depending on brand and retailer. 

However while looking around at prices for the card, something was niggling at the back of my mind. Solid State Drives (SSDs) were around when I built my PC, but were still very new and not really cost effective for what I was doing. Now however you can pick up an SSD for reasonable money with a decent amount of storage. This convinced me to make some changes to my plan.


Replacing the stock CPU cooler took the most time out of all of the work, but has actually made a huge difference with heat and opens up the possibility for me to overclock. Where before I would idle at between 50 - 60C, I now idle at 39C rock solid. During gaming my CPU no longer hits temps higher than 90C, but sits at around 60C - 70C, and the fan no longer sounds like a small aircraft trying to take off. I have no idea why I didn't make the change ages ago, especially considering the reasonable price of the cooler. If you are having issues with noise, and you are running the stock CPU cooler, definitely consider the upgrade to a quieter, more efficient aftermarket cooler.

A clean install of Windows went onto the SSD, and two things I noticed immediately were the startup load times, and the noise. My old WD Black HDD was noisy, as that series of HDDs is intended for use in server farms where noise isn't a massive factor. The SSD makes zero noise, due to the complete lack of moving parts. For the load times, my old install of Windows would take a solid minute and a half to get to the desktop. On the SSD, that has dropped to 30 seconds.

As for the graphics card, there is no way that it could be worse is there? I kept the GTX 570 in there as a dedicated PhysX Card to help take the load off the GTX 970 (at least until I can afford a second one to SLi with). Because I am not aiming for 4k resolutions with my gaming, I'm pretty sure this card will handle most upcoming games at High, possibly even Ultra settings.

So that's the new improved TetrisPC. I want to take a moment to give a shout out to the fluffiest of FluffyMules. Your help in selecting the right SSD was invaluable, and having someone who is as interested in computer tech as I am to bounce ideas off is a great resource to have.

As always,

GAME ON!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Tabletop Games

Have you ever played a RPG and came across a situation where you want to approach it from a completely different way than the game allows? Do you really like to get immersed in a world and play a character living in it? Are you creative, but not skilled enough to create your own video game? Do you enjoy the company of other people? Then tabletop games might be for you!

I know, I know. This blog is mostly focused on PC games, but to be honest, lately I've not been playing many PC games. The Crew and Swat 4 have been the two I've been playing around with, but nothing at the moment has been holding my attention. Tabletop games on the other hand really do hold my attention. I use the term tabletop to loosely include all non-virtual games. Board games, card games, and pen and paper RPGs are all included. So here's a run down of the three tabletop games that I've really been enjoying.

Munchkin

Spawned from the mind of Steve Jackson, a game designer who started designing games in the late 1970s, Munchkin uses classic RPG tropes in a card game based around exploring and exploiting a dungeon, combined with a cute and clever art style and writing that makes fun of the source material. The goal is to level up your character to level 10, and is achieved by defeating monsters. With a simple combat system based around getting a higher power number than the target, Munchkin can be picked up and played by just about anyone.

Where Munchkin really shines is the comedy side of it. With cards such as "Sword of Slaying Everything Except Squid", the "Duck of Doom" and "Bribe the GM with Food", you can gather that Munchkin has a sense of humour about itself and the source material it jokes about. Some cards use the literal gender of a player, while others allow you to straight up win the game if you are a certain class. I can safely say that playing Munchkin with a group of friends around a table is some of the best fun I've ever had while gaming.

Apocalypse World

The first ever pen and paper RPG I ever played, Apocalypse World is beautiful in how simple it is. One type of dice, the standard D6, some paper and a pen is all that is required to play AP. A narrative focused game (rather than stat based like D&D) AW allows players to describe their actions to their advantage, then back up what they are doing with a dice roll to either confirm they completed the action, or if they fail, how they failed. AW aimed to make pen and paper RPGs accessible to everyone, and succeeds in doing so in my opinion.

Apocalypse World also succeeds at being easy to "hack" (essentially to rewrite the system to suit a different setting). Where AW is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the version we played was set in the Mass Effect universe and played surprisingly well. One of the more well known hacks is Dungeon World, written by Adam Koebel and Sage LaTorra, which has been commercially successful for both of them. You can find a community updated list of Apocalypse World hacks here.

Stars Without Number


My favorite pen and paper RPG by far. Written by Kevin Crawford, and heavily inspired by the old school renaissance RPGs, Stars Without Number is a stat based, super deadly, sandbox RPG that has one of the most robust world creation tools around. I GM a game of SWN, and have found that its simple take on stats based action is reasonably easy for new players to pick up. My wife, who has never played a tabletop RPG before, was able to easily pick up the game without too many questions at all.

Where SWN stands out for me is in world building. Creating a sector involves a lot of rolling (or using this amazing tool at swn.emichron.com), but once created, you can involve the players in writing the history of the sector as they pick home planets and decide on their own backstory. It has tables for rolling alien races, religions, encounters, missions and NPCs, making it easy for new GMs (like myself), to create worlds that feel unique. There is also a whole "mini-game" that GMs get to indulge in: the faction turns. GMs get to create factions with their own goals, agendas and resources, then pit them against each other between real life sessions, progressing the story around the players so that the world feels alive.

SWN definitely scratches an itch for me. The creative itch of creating worlds that players can then go to and have adventures on. Worlds that feel unique to each other and have history, filled with organizations that have goals that don't rely on the players to progress. It's a really well written system.

If you want to try a tabletop game out, its as easy as getting a copy of the game, a few friends and a free night. I definitely feel that tabletop games are making a big comeback right now, and look forward to a time when they become as popular as virtual games as well.

As always though, and no matter how you do it,

GAME ON!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Peter Molyneux and the Godus Mistakes

The name Peter Molyneux for as long as I can remember has been synonymous with both broken promises and unrealistic goals, at least in the gaming world. When I was reading gaming magazines in the early 2000s, Molyneux was busy hyping up Fable as the next big thing in gaming. With promised features like "knocking an acorn off a tree that later grows into another tree" that never made it into Fable, his operating procedure has always seemed to be promise big, and apologise when you can't deliver.

But this time, Peter's promises appear to have bitten him back, hard. On Wednesday, Eurogamer released an article titled "The God who Peter Molyneux Forgot". In the article was an in depth interview with Bryan Henderson, the young man who won the Curiosity Cube competition that Molyneux's company 22Cans had set up. The prize for the competition? For six months, Bryan was to be the "God of Gods" in the latest game by Molyneux, Godus. Part of this position entitled Bryan to 1% of all the revenue that Godus made during his "reign". Cool right? Unfortunately for Bryan, he still hasn't received a cent, and has no idea when his reign will start. And no one seems to be able to tell him when it will.

There's a lot to this story, but I think it's important to mention a few things about 22Cans, and some of the things Molyneux had already said that didn't end up happening. To begin, back in 2012, Molyneux made a statement that "22Cans is only going to make one game", referring to Godus. Predictably however, in December last year, Molyneux announced another game, called The Trail. 

Along with that, Molyneux and the Godus team put out the following community update video. It's a little long, but I'd recommend taking the time to watch it.


What speaks volumes to me is not Peter's longwinded and almost dismissive replies, but the unspoken attitude of Konrad Naszynski. A number of times it seems like he has had enough of Peter and his promises. Konrad openly says that the game is not in a position he wants it to be in, and at a couple of points seems to want to contradict what Peter is saying. In fact, Konrad had made a forum post that said he didn't think they would be able to meet some of the Kickstarter goals. Molyneux it seems, isn't ready to say that Godus hasn't met its goals.

The final aspect of this story involves a couple of interviews that Molyneux gave. The first was an extremely hard hitting interview by John Walker for Rock Paper Shotgun. With an opening question of "do you think you're a pathological liar?", it becomes instantly clear that John isn't going to pull any punches on Peter. While some have criticized Walker for his hard ball questions and direct style, I actually appreciate it. It almost forced Molyneux to listen and answer some questions he previously dodged. Finally, Molyneux gave an interview to the Guardian, one he says will be his final interview, despite also having given the same impression to John Walker the previous day, something the author comments on as being "another trail of broken assurances". 

I find it interesting that Molyneux reminds me so much of CCP in the past, before they stopped trying to over promise. Unlike Molyneux, CCP learnt that by promising too much, you only invite disappointment when you inevitably fail to deliver. Maybe Molyneux will actually stop talking. Or maybe he'll stick to his previous form and say it, then get excited about his next big project and start talking again.

Actually that link to the 2004 post by Peter on the Lionhead studios forums sheds some light onto why he gets into so much trouble. He says: 
If I have mentioned any feature in the past which, for whatever reason, didn't make it as I described into Fable, I apologise. Every feature I have ever talked about WAS in development, but not all made it. Often the reason is that the feature did not make sense. For example, three years ago I talked about trees growing as time past. The team did code this but it took so much processor time (15%) that the feature was not worth leaving in. That 15 % was much better spent on effects and combat. So nothing I said was groundless hype, but people expecting specific features which couldn't be included were of course disappointed. If that's you, I apologise. All I can say is that Fable is the best game we could possibly make, and that people really seem to love it.
Everything I've ever seen of Peter Molyneux makes him seem like the ideas guy that everyone who can write code knows. The guy who comes up to you and pitches his amazing, and completely unfeasible, idea that he wants you to build, and that he'll split the profits with you when you do. On top of that, he then gets surprised when you tell him that what he wants is not possible. But then again, he also says he won't talk about games too early again in the same post. It took 10 years, but here is again making the same mistake.

And yet I still can't shake the feeling that Peter isn't going to learn from this. I don't think he deliberately makes these promises that they can't achieve. What I do think is that he has a vision of what his game should be, but fails to check that what he wants is actually possible at any given time. But when he says thinks like "I'm not going to talk about my games to early", I cannot believe him. He'll get excited again about some idea he has and start making outrageous promises about features that simply can't exist. Peter, I think, is forever doomed to be the "in hindsight" guy. He'll always see how silly some of his promises were in hindsight, but never learn from them.

The one I truly feel for in all of this is Bryan. What should have actually been "life changing" is now just something in the past, and something he doesn't remember. "The fact I've won this and I'm going to be the 'God of Gods' and be in this game, it never enters my mind at all," he says in the Eurogamer article, "I've forgotten all about it, I don't think about it ever." Hopefully all the exposure from this actually does speed the process along for Bryan. I got the impression he is a nice guy who was unfortunate enough to win something promised by the guy who has broken more promises than anyone else in gaming. Perhaps one day Godus will be finished, and Bryan will finally claim his reward and become the God of Gods.

As always,

GAME ON!