Friday, December 8, 2017
By Bixyl Shuftan
One would think most anything with the name "Star Wars" connected to it would be a moneymaker. But with EA's recent release of "Star Wars Battlefront II," the result has been controversy and trouble, with the company loosing billions in stock value, and talk of the government getting more involved in the computer game industry.
The controversy revolves around the issue of microtransactions. Microtransactions in games are nothing new. Those familiar with free games online, such as "Forge of Empires," "World of Tanks," and others offer players the chance to buy in-game credits of some kind which can be used to purchase ways to advance the player. Gamers can be accepting of this in free games, such as the "wallet warrior" jokes in "World of Tanks." But with games the player had to buy up front to play, not so much. In 2011, the makers of "Eve Online" were faced with a revolt of angry veteran players when reports came that they would soon offer microtransactions that could affect gameplay. More recently, Blizzard introduced the ability to buy "loot crates" for it's recent hit "Overwatch." This raised some eyebrows, but as the items were just cosmetic and didn't affect gameplay, there was some controversy, but less than what would come later.
it was revealed that the loot boxes in the game were a key part of the Star Card system. Since they could be purchased, this quickly led to criticism of the game being "pay to win." As the contents of the boxes were random, and they could contain either common items or rare ones, there were charges that they were a form of legal gambling, one accessible to teenagers. Gamespot game the game a 6/10 review, saying "the biggest hurdle that Battlefront II will need to overcome--for its simultaneous attempts to balance microtransactions with genuine feeling of accomplishments--is deciding on what type of game it wants to be." Shacknews also gave it 6/10, "The loot crates diminish its value greatly, and it's a shame EA forces them down your throat as part of the core gameplay."
there were comparisons to online gambling, a form that could exploit young teenagers. Then government officials began making their moves. Belgium's Gaming Commission began an official investigation of both Battlefront II and Overwatch to see if the loot boxes were a form of gambling, which could mean the removal of the games from play from the country and the makers given huge fines. One politician from Hawaii openly criticized Battleftont II, "This game is a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money. It's a trap." It's unclear if the second sentence was a deliberate quoting of a "Return of the Jedi" line.
Financially, the controversy has not been good for EA's bottom line. The price of the company's stocks has dropped, causing their total to drop by 4 billion dollars, with some estimates going higher. Although the price was already dropping before the loot crate fiasco, this latest mess shook the confidence of investors further. It is ironic that a company's attempt to get even more money out of a game players already put a good amount of money down for, the deluxe edition costing 79.99, and the regular version 59.99, at one store, ended up causing it to lose money.
In response to the criticism, EA removed microtransactions from the game, saying they would be gone until further notice. "We’ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we’ve heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn’t get this right. We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases." A new system for the Star Cards is being developed, though whether or not microtransactions will appear in any way is unclear. In response to the threats of government intervention, some from various gaming companies formed an organization with the purpose of the industry self-regulating itself on issues such as loot boxes. Whether or not these moves to steer governments away from starting to regulate the microtransactions of online games remains to be seen.
Sources: Polygon, Venturebeat, Gamespot, Gamesindustry, CNBC, The Verge, Forbes
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
By Bixyl Shuftan
When it comes to computer games and marriages, we often think of the electronic entertainment as a source of friction between a wife who couldn't care less about computers and a husband who is unable to put aside the addiction he developed while single. So when we hear about a couple that goes dungeon-whomping together, it sounds like a match made in heaven.
But what happens when one of the couple passes away? What happens if it is "game over" for a gamer's "player two?"
I May Be Done," in which an "Acktion" described how he and his wife ended up playing the game together for years, and his loss and sorrow now that she was gone.
My wife passed away on 10/05. They say the fact I was sitting right beside her, waiting for her to wake up so we could hit Darkmoon Faire and Brewfest together and had no idea when she left is a good thing. That it means she was at peace and the transition was easy and painless.
I don't know anything about that. I'm trying to take their word for it. But, all I can feel right now is pain and loneliness.
I had actually picked up World of Warcraft when it first hit the shelves out of Beta.
I corrupted my wife to it sometime during Burning Crusade.
By the time Cataclysm came out, we were both housebound disabled. At the time, it was more difficult for me to sit up and play for very long than it was for her. I managed, but frankly only because she wanted me to play with her. And then, not for very long before I had to rest.
Sometime in Mists, we corrupted her son (my step-son) to our WarCrack addiction (and she somehow managed to finesse our much reduced finances to pick up a second account since she no longer had room to make new characters) even though she'd become largely bedridden and played from a laptop on a hospital style lap tray.
Sometime during Warlords of Draenor, he got married and his wife joined our band of happy fanatics.
We typically only played together or with one or two friends or a couple of my former students who'd stayed in touch. And, frankly, I really only played to be with them, doing something with them which we could all do.
Ok, mostly I was playing because she was pleading, begging, or nagging me alternately to come spend some time doing one of the few things left she could enjoy as she became bedridden and it hurt her for me to touch her most days.
She loved World of Warcraft. Perhaps I did too, but it was mostly my love for her that drove me to continue adding expansions I could no longer fully explore since raids and pvp and many of the things I once enjoyed were beyond my declining abilities.
I cancelled both of her accounts less than thirty minutes ago.
Sharley will no longer be running beside Acktion.
Lubov will no longer be guarding Panaceah.
All of the characters I have built specifically to run amok with my beloved are now as alone as I am in this home we once shared.
The game has been brought up by our children whom I couldn't love more if they were flesh of my blood, by friends who have stopped by or called to give their condolences. I have told them that I'm not sure if I will ever be able to play again. And I'm not.
Just hours before she slipped from this mortal coil of Earth, my beautiful bride was logging out of Azeroth content because she'd managed to take, if not all sixty characters, at least the ones she was going to this month to the Darkmoon Faire to do their profession quests.
Right here, right now, I think I vastly prefer to remember her competing with me to see which of us leads our guilds in achievement points than visiting Azeroth without her.
That may change. I may be lured back by our friends and family. But not for awhile if ever.
In the meantime, thank you Blizzard for giving her Azeroth to make her last years on Earth so pleasurable for all of us who ran with her.
As of the writing of this article, there were thirty-seven pages of responses, and growing, "This was the most beautiful, yet heart-wrenching tribute of love and life I've ever read." Mostly of people expressing their sorry and trying to offer comfort, "If you decide you want to return to Azeroth someday. We'll still be here, and we'll welcome you back with open arms." "I've sat here for several minutes trying to figure out what the hell to say, or how I can help. I'm not sure how much it matters, but know that we're here for you." Some had their own stories of loss. One brought up a poem that was part of one of the game's quests. One of Blizzard's forum managers would post, "Blizzard sends its condolences to you and your family as well friend. Thank you for telling your story and it warms my heart to see that something we do had a part in it. Loss is never easy but it does get better. Take all the time you need. Real life always comes first."
The man, under his other character name, would later comment, "I realized at the time I wrote it that the overwhelming majority of WoW players would have absolutely no idea who we were or, if we are honest, care much beyond a brief 'oh, that is sad.' But, Lubov (or Sharley on her Horde main), did have many friends in the game that I felt I should at least try to let know she was gone. And this was the only way I could think of. I certainly didn't expect such an outpouring of warmth from strangers. Well, strangers to me, although she might have known you. I'm afraid she was the one who was good with people. And I definitely didn't expect to be notified that my post here on her behalf would be picked up elsewhere as well."
"for what it's worth, I (the OP) and our son, are aware of the outpouring of well wishes both here and other places my original post has turned up. We do thank you for those well wishes and, indeed, feel the comforting touch of my wife and his mother in your kind responses. Thank you. ... Peace be with you all. Don't forget to make your own day as good as you can. And anyone else's you conveniently can as well. Your support voiced here has helped ours immensely."
When gaming communities at times seem full of little or nothing but immature players who think of nothing but themselves, this is a reminder that they're full of people with heart.
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
By Bixyl Shuftan
It is notable that originally, the game was going to include an artificial life engine that "would affect animal behavior, potentially creating new adventure possibilities in an organic manner." But it never made it past beta development as, "We thought it was fantastic. We'd spent an enormous amount of time and effort on it. But what happened was all the players went in and just killed everything; so fast that the game couldn't spawn them fast enough to make the simulation even begin. And so, this thing that we'd spent all this time on, literally no-one ever noticed – ever – and we eventually just ripped it out of the game, you know, with some sadness."
One of the games more memorable events occurred in it's beta in which the in-game alter-ego of Garriot, Lord British, was successfully killed by a player character. Lord British was supposed to be invulnerable to this kind of attack, but a server crash had made him vulnerable. This event is considered by some to be the most memorable event in early MMO history, and led to the saying "If it exists as a living creature in an MMORPG, someone, somewhere, will try to kill it."
Ultima Online still active. To celebrate their twentieth anniversary, they had a real-life party in Herndon, Virginia, near Washington DC. They also have a new content arc, "The Shattered Obelisk." So after twenty years, presumably with some of it's original players still at it and some new ones who weren't even born yet when it first came around, "UO" is still offering players the chance to do some monster clobbering and dungeonering.
Sources: Ultima Online, Wikipedia
Hat tip: Hamlet Au
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
By Bixyl Shuftan
Eve Online was once described as "Second Life's Evil Twin." While not a sandbox virtual world, players do have a lot of options in playing alone, or part of a group, to mind one's own business, or raid other players. What would be branded as "griefing" in Second Life can reap rewards here, and raiders can and will enjoy the "yummy tears" of the targets they've successfully demolished. One faction in Eve Online that's been around for years is Goonswarm. Supposedly, it was where a number of former Second Life griefers ended up when they got bored and left, heading to Eve. But it also had some men of obvious distinction, such as Vile Rat who was one of those killed in the terrorist attack on the US Embassy in Libya in 2012.
Factions often form alliances that can and will fight major wars over territory and resources, and sometimes revenge. But in early 2016 came what was billed as "The Largest PVP War in Gaming History." The biggest alliance known as The Imperium, led by the "Goonswarm Federation," threatened smaller alliances in low-security space with invasion unless they paid up protection money. But instead of giving in, some of these alliances formed a coalition and to the surprise of onlookers, the Imperium suffered a major defeat. As a result, old enemies of The Imperium "quickly came out of the woodwork," and what became known as "World War Bee" was in full gear, "with over 60,000 players around the world choosing sides." The fight has also been called "The Casino War" as the owner of an Eve gambling website began bankrolling the war effort against The Imperium. The result was a series of defeats for The Imperium as key stations were overrun and factions left it. The Imperium's strategy was to try and outlast it's enemies, then retake what they lost.
Finally on August 2, there was an announcement that The Imperium would be on the march again. And soon close to a thousand capital ships from Goonswarm moved to a strategic location close to two areas held by their enemies, sometimes called the "Moneybadger Coalition." The goal of the ships there seems to be to mainly harass the enemy for now by sending numerous lone ships to multiple hard to defend locations. "Massively" writer Brendan Drain felt, The Imperium's plan was a "highly aggressive" one, not to worry about losing the economic war, "relying instead on it's huge industrial and (cash) farming base ... to replace lost ships quickly. That sounds good in theory, but losing the (money) war on paper can give the enemy a huge morale boost and a reasonable claim to victory, even if they concede star systems and lose citadels.
The "Casino War" hasn't seen a fight yet on the scale of "The Battle of B-R5" in which over $300,000 USD worth of ships went up in flames. But in a game noted for not just massive battles, but suprpising political moves, backstabs, and drama, a lot can happen. About the only thing writer Drain felt was certain was, "with the game's largest and richest alliances involved, at the very least we can be sure that some very expensive stuff is going to explode."
Monday, August 7, 2017
By Bixyl Shuftan
On Monday July 31, Linden Lab finally opened it's new virtual world of Sansar. After visiting two of it's locations, my initial impression was the place had promise, but still needed a lot of work. Afterwards, I decided to look a little more for a better overall impression.
Of these four, the NASA Apollo Museum I found to be the most impressive. There was a video screen with footage about the Apollo program, a display of a Saturn V rocket lying on the floor on it's side, and a display showing the path of the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission took. For a someone interested in the space program, this would be very cool. Another detailed place was the "Orgin Cinema 360," which was described as a former arch-villain's lair now converted to more peaceful use. The center area was a 3-D panorama movie view, and stepping out, there was a detailed circular walkway. There was one moving object, a camera, that panned around. Below me were fans that whirled around.
Moni's World blog an address to the place. Taking a look at the Sansar website, there was a search bar on it's atlas that was missing in the viewer. So I was able to locate a location that I had heard the location of.
In short, Sansar has a lot of potential, but there's not much to attract your run of the mill Second Life user. One big disadvantage is it's not that easy to hold events there. Tengu felt it's appeal would be limited among his fellow Luskwooders, "I'm not really sure how it will turn out. We at Luskwood aren't really interested in 'experiences', we're first and foremost a community. And I'm not sure how well the Sansar platform fits an online community. Two particulars: live music and collaborative builds, Primtionary, specifically. No way to do either right now in Sansar."
As for how many will use it? That's a question only time will answer. But when Second Life came around, there were only a handful of other virtual worlds that were unknown to most. Today, it's fair to say the majority with computers have at least heard of Second Life. So why aren't more using it? Perhaps it's bad publicity or it's not the kind of virtual experience they want, which Linden Lab seems to be thinking. Or maybe most computer users aren't that interested in virtual worlds that don't involve blowing something up.
So Sansar may just end up a much smaller alternative grid like InWorldz, with a few people and making it's owners a little money, but not much. Time will tell.
Sources: Moni's World
Saturday, June 10, 2017
By Bixyl Shuftan
One game that I've been seeing commercials on television for is "Forge of Empires." This strategy game was developed by Innogames, and can be played on one's browser, on Facebook, or as an app on a tablet or mobile. It was first released in 2012, and is described on Wikipedia as having 10 million players a year later. In the game, the player starts out as a small village in the stone age, and through the players progress, the people grow in size and technology through the eras.
Eventually, you're going to run low on room for new buildings. Expansions will enlarge your city limits by a 4x4 area. They can be acquired by gaining territory, technological resources, or gaining enough medals. Over time, expect to make harder choices about how to use the land on your city as your next available expansion is quite some time away.
There are other players in the game. You can either help them by motivation a residential or production building, or by polishing a cultural building or decoration. Or you can attack them. When a player is attacked, the computer handles the defense of any military units the player has chosen for defense (if the player forgot to select, it's an easy win for the attacker). Beating the defense means the player has a choice of plundering a single building that produces coin, supplies, or goods. If someone is friends with you, he can't attack you or vice-versa without dissolving the friendship. Players can also form and invite people into guilds.
Being nice has a couple benefits. You get a tiny amount of coin, and have a small chance of finding a blueprint. These are used to make Great Buildings. Players can also trade goods. This is desirable as your map will contain on average only two goods bonuses per era and you only have so much room in your city limits. If you need goods of a higher era than you produce, be prepared to trade slightly more of your goods to them, such as 25 marble for 20 iron, or 30 iron for 20 glass. You cannot offer more than twice the level of goods for another good. So eventually it will be desirable to shut down old goods buildings.
One recent feature added is the tavern. Only people you've friended can visit your tavern, and vice-versa. As your friends visit, they fill up your chairs and put a few "tavern silver" coins in your collection plate. You also have a small chance of picking up a little silver and a forge point when visiting a friend's tavern. Taverns are small and simple at first, able to seat only a few people and without decoration. But tavern silver can be used to build and decorate them up and eventually they can become fancier places able to seat many people. Tavern silver can also be used to purchase bonuses for your city in the tavern shop, which can grant a resource boost, a boost to your military, or speed up your building time for a little while. Since the larger the tavern, the more silver is collected, most players concentrate on building up their tavern until it's quite large and fancy.
It will take many months of game play to reach the end of the Colonial Era, and the end of your first map. But as is so often stated, it's not the end but a new beginning. Beyond that are additional maps, and quests across your globe. If you like city and empire building games, especially those with a sense of history, Forge of Empires may be for you.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
By Bixyl Shuftan
Conan the Barbarian," the tale of a heroic warrior in a fictitious and ancient time and place when people were terrorized by monsters and warlords, the "Hyborian Age" described as being sometime between the destruction of Atlantis and recorded history, made for many stories since the 1930s, and would eventually make it's way to television and movies, notably the movie made in 1982 starring Arnold Scwartzenegger. Video games of the character and story universe began appearing in the 1980s. In 2008 came the first MMORPG: "Age of Conan," Developed by Funcom and published in cooperation with Eidos Interactive. The player controls an ex-slave, whom after escaping the beginning quests lead to him or her killing the master then goes on to further adventures. The game received "generally favorable reviews," but suffered from a number of bugs and other problems that resulted in a number of complaints. Funcom did eventually respond to the feedback with bug fixes and new zones.
In January, Funcom released a new Conan MMORPG: Conan Exiles. This is an open-ended survival game in which players start with nothing and use the resources they find around them to make basic clothes and tools while fighting hazards around them, which may or may not include other players depending on the server, and soon building a base, either alone or in cooperation with friends. The player controls an "Exile" sentenced to death, and after being freed by Conan tries to survive in the Exiled Lands, the goals described by the makers of the game as "Survive, Build, Dominate."
The first step is choosing a server. They are categorized into PvP in which players can attack one another or their buildings, PvP Blitz, in which players have only a limited amount of time before the servers are wiped and everything has to start all over, and PvE, where players don't have to worry about being attacked by other players but can't attack them or their structures either. Each has servers in five different categories from purist, to roleplaying, the sixth option being to list everything available. Choosing the later reveals many hundreds of servers, including some "official" ones and numerous ones hosted by others, some of which need a password to enter.
Upon choosing the server is the character creation process. Characters can be either male or female and can be Cimmerian, Hyborian, or several other races in the Conan universe. Players chose one of four Hyborian Age gods the player follows, three of which allow you to build temples of the chosen deity from the start. Besides choosing skin color and facial features, one can also choose the size of breasts for females, and "endowment" or penis size for males. This feature has gotten the game some chuckles in some low humor conversations. When the character is complete, he or she is hung on a cross with a proclamation stating the character is condemned to death for crimes including three listed that are apparently picked at random. These crimes can consist of anything from "unlawful dismemberment" to gambling to deflowering a virgin to "impersonating a priestess."
Following the cutscene where the character is rescued by Conan, the player appears in the middle of a desert with the remains of a stone road ahead. Nearby is a stone sign warning the civilized away from the Exiled Lands "where savages make war upon one another" and on a rock is a waterskin with a little water and a message from another condemned man who choses to leave his water for the next person to find it and allow himself to die. Going along the road, one can gather plant fibers, seeds, and insects from bushes, and stones and sticks on the ground (press E button). Fibers can be used to make simple clothes, and sticks and stones into a simple axe and pick. Gathering these resources, and making items, will get you a small number of experience points. By the time the player reaches the end of the road, they should see signs of small mountains and greenery in the distance, and you should have leveled up once.
Leveling up gets you points that can be used to raise your attributes, such as vitality which determines how much damage you can take before croaking, strength whch determins how much force you can deliver with melee weapons, agility which helps you avoid blows as you wear heavier armor, encumbrance with allows you to carry more, etc. Leveling up also gets you skill points which are used for crafting skills. You start out with just a few, but need more such as "Experienced Survivalist" to make campires and waterskins, stonemason to make bases, walls, door frames, ceilings, and doors for basic structures, "Mercenary" to make stone swords and wooden shields, etc. Some skills are locked unless you know all the prerequisites, such as "Apprentice Craftsman" which does nothing by itself but makes available a number of other skills. All but the first few skills have a minimum level requirement to reach.
At first, you'll be only able to take on the weakest of creatures, such as rabbits and baby shellbacks. Imps, which look like short and stocky severly mutated humans, are the toughest thing you can take on with an axe and expect to live, and if your computer is being slow you may want to level up a bit first. Melee fighting inevitably means your health goes down, which will heal slowly when you're not fighting. It also means damage to your weapons and clothes, which can be repaired if you have the materials on hand. Antelope and gazelles do not fight back, but will run when struck. Unless they're cornered or somehow get stuck, taking them down with a melee weapon can be very difficult. You'll need a bow and arrows for them. Taking on mature shellbacks, crocidiles, and NPC hostiles is not recommended unless you have leveled up several times, and without iron weapons and leather armor you can expect even successful encounters to leave you hurting bad. Unlike Conan, don't be afraid to turn tail and run (press and hold the shift button).
If you get clobbered, you'll respawn back outside the Exiled Lands. So eventually you'll want to craft and place a mat. You will also get hungry and thirsty. And once either your hunger or thirst points run out, your vitality begins to drop. While eating raw meat can satisfy your hunger for a short time, it means food poisoning which will reduce your hit points a little, so this should be done as a last resort.
You can eat the bugs you've collected from bushes, and the fat grubs that can be gathered in places, but nothing satisfies like cooked meat. To cook the raw meat you find from monsters and animals, you'll need to make a campfire, or bonfire later on, and place it and some fuel in and start burning. To get water, go to a stream or pond and press "E," or the button where your waterskin is on your hotbar. Meat will eventually spoil if it is not eaten, and is not good for anything.
Sandstorms are another reason for shelter. If you're caught in the open, your hunger and thirst will rapidly rise until your water and food levels are gone, at which point you'll soon expire. Ducking in cover such as between rocks or next to a cliff face will help when there's no building nearby, but it's not ideal.
Combat in Conan is a bit bloodier than some other survival games such as Rust and Ark. Blood splatters, your weapon gets bloody, and the looser ends up in a puddle of his or her blood, often with limbs missing. Given the setting of the story universe, this is not a real surprise. One can chop up a human body like they would an animal or monster for it's flesh. And after combat I've often found human flesh in my inventory. As one of the dieties in the game is a god of canibals, this may have been for roleplaying.
But another aspect of Conan Exiles is likely to be more controversial than human flesh. The game allows for the capture and willbreaking of NPC humans for use as slaves, or what the game refers to as "Thralls." Using a wooden club, you knock out attackers and drag them back to your camp to put on a "Wheel of Pain" until they submit. The tougher the NPC, the longer it takes them to submit. Thralls can make things more convenient for characters, such as blacksmiths allowing for the faster construction of weapons, dancing girls giving a health boost, fighters guarding your camp, etc. One condition you can get from caves, corruption, will lower your stats unless you get healed from a dancer thrall.
So do you take on slaves, or not? Every NPC human in the game is hostile to you, so in a sense you're sparing their lives. And slavery is a part of the Conan story universe, in addition to others. Even "Star Wars" had slavery. Still, it's a touchy subject to some. When Bree Royce of "Massively Overpowered" wrote on the subject, she admitted to finding the subject "unsettling," even though she knew of people who roleplayed as slaves in Star Wars games. Her article drew over 200 responses from people whom either supported the designers' decision, opposed it, or were of mixed feelings.
Perhaps later on, Funcom will update the game so no everyone is hostile, and it's possible for NPCs to freely join you, perhaps in return for food and goods (there's no gold in the game, yet). But until then players are left with the delemia.
The game is early release, and I have encountered some glitches and bugs. The most obvious, the game takes a while to load. At least it tells me "may take several minutes," and it does. Longer than Rust or Ark. Not only is this terribly inconvenient, it also means your character is vulnerable for that much longer as some monster or predator may come across it. Unlike Ark or Rust, there's no record of which servers you've been to. This means if you forgot where you were, you'll have to start all over again elsewhere. My experience with the official servers was a disappointment. These places had a lot of builds. One can't build a campfire to cook your meat within a certain distance from another player's build not of one's group. And there were so many in the official PvE servers I looked at, I couldn't find a place to build one. And as the campfires of others were locked so my character, this meant I was existing on bugs and grubs and always hungry until eventually dying of hunger or from being attacked by higher level beasts as I made my way north to search for a spot. When I checked out an official PvP server, it wasn't much better. I found a couple spots I could set up a campfire in locations impractical for building a base near. Unofficial servers were better, at least the ones I checked out. I didn't see many others, and had no problem setting up a campfire or base.
If you're a fan of the Conan stories, or similar tales, this may be the survival game for you. But with it's longer loading times and the enslavement of NPCs as the only alternative to killing them, I can't recommend this game over others such as Rust and Ark. But the game is still in early release. Perhaps both issues will be improved as time goes on.
image sources: Mystic Xurina, conanexiles.com, gameskinny.com, massively.com