What happens when the current craze for block based building games meets medieval war machines? You get an awesome puzzle game.
No war crimes were committed in this video. Except the ones that were.
What happens when the current craze for block based building games meets medieval war machines? You get an awesome puzzle game.
No war crimes were committed in this video. Except the ones that were.
What’s the best arcade driving game series ever made? That’s probably obvious if you’ve either listened to us before or read the title of this post. We’re playing the crash junctions in Burnout Revenge that are so sorely missing from Burnout Paradise.
It’s video time again, and this time we had a look at Star Trek Legacy, a largely forgotten game that features the proper voice acting of all but one of the Star Trek captains, as well as Shatner doing whatever it is he does when he can’t be bothered to act. The game is worth playing if only just to hear how bored Kirk is with the whole captaining thing.
We mess around with the odd Quantum Leap episode part because I lost my save and I can’t face getting through Shatner to get to the real actors on the other side.
It’s an interesting game that probably should have done better than it did as it’s one of the better Trek games made, although that’s not exactly saying much.
This week we’re chatting about the games we’ve been playing again, this time featuring:
As is the new norm you can also watch the video version, which makes it a lot easier to see what a game like TerraTech is actually like than a clumsy explanation.
I’m not sure I was ever going to be able to be stubborn about launch dates when it came to Elite: Dangerous, and sure enough, I grabbed it on day one. This turned out to be much later than many people who were interested, who being hopelessly nostalgic sorts, have been waiting patiently for the thing for the last thirty years give or take, so can grudgingly be forgiven for jumping the “beta test” gun a bit.
I am indeed also one of those tiresome gentlemen of a certain age who has fond childhood memories of enduring hypnotic screen borders and high-pitched data-shrieking for two minutes at a time so that I could fling myself into the stars and explore several white-lined objects drawn quite slowly and repeatedly on a black TV screen and pretend it was space exploration. Like this!
You had to make your own entertainment in those heady days, although nine-year old mini-Hemlock had never come across the term ‘sandbox’ applied to what was clearly a game about space, it seems that the modern remake is true to the original in many ways. I was there in the first few weeks of Eve Online, long before it became the modern-day alternate reality opt-in lifstyle choice it is now, and even then, it probably had more rigidly defined structured hand-holding than Elite: Dangerous does. The new Elite basically just gives you a spaceship and tells you to hop it. You get a Sidewinder with low-end gear, 1000 Credits, and no further guidance, structure, narrative or purpose than that. Go! Fly Someplace! Do a Thing! Or Dont! Why are you still here!
Which is fine for some folks, (especially those with the rose-tinted eighties spacehelmets, like me), but seems to have left the more contemporary demographic quite split. The official forums abound with “I’m bored, I quit!” type posts, which are unusual this early after an MMO launch in my experience; clearly folks with a much more modern sensibility of what computer games should be than these old BBC Model B Gaffers. Elite: Dangerous has no rousing opening cut-scene, no celebrity voice acting, no Nolan North, no stirring plot about corporate espionage, your murdered father (who you never got on with since mom died) and a sinister shadowy conspiracy menace masquerading as your sassy female copilot, who constantly tells you which waypoint to fly at next. I’m not even sure that 12 hours in, it turns out that you were the main villain all along, but had memory wiped yourself! (Or perhaps it did. I forget.) It’s all a bit of a departure from today’s style of game design, although I remain hopeful I still get to sacrifice myself at the end to save the galaxy!
Assuming they had a basic design goal of “remake Elite using colours, modern graphics and noises”, what they’ve released is indeed very good. It fundamentally works, and as far as the original went, is all there and then some. I find myself using the word ‘iconic’ a lot, like some gibbering media arts wonk, but it really all is. The station and ship designs could have come from nowhere else, and trying to pilot the Sidewinder through the unhelpfully spinning letterbox slot in the face of a Coriolis Starport literally sent shivers down my spine the first time. Old favourites abound; the Anaconda, the Viper, the Asp and of course the Cobra Mk III, all instantly recognisable by their clean, minimalist, eighties polygons, yet given a brush of modern-day twiddley bits and shinyness. In some ways, I think its how I’d imagined the ships to look, all along.
Again the nostalgia forgives many sins. For the newer player, its hard to say what they make of this curious retro styling that seems to be everywhere. There are many modern touches though; UI, interface, all sorts of advanced controller, head-tracking and VR gubbins, impressive sound-design, and of course, the bit we schoolyard nerds had wanted all along; persistent large-scale multiplayer.
Nowadays, I wonder if we really knew what we wanted. A significant proportion of the other sorts of forum complaints are familiar from the launch of EVE Online too; “PvE Only Server Plz!”. I think the main problem is the multiplayer aspects of the game just about support one lone pilot asymmetrically and unconsentually ganking another, but seems to have trouble with anything more elaborate. We’ve tried various typically MMO-ish scenarios and had trouble with most of it. NPC Kill Bounties go to whoever gets the last hit in, there are no wings, squads, guilds, or any of that. It has groups, but that’s used to effectively run a private server mode of the game, and does nothing inside the game itself. It once took two of us 20 minutes to arrive in the same open space location, and that was when the instancing was behaving. Another occasion saw myself, Friend A and Friend B all outside the same starbase. I could see them both and they could see me, but neither of them could see each other. Creepy Spacetime Voodoo, or some broken overlapping instance nonsense. It does have a friends list, but seems fickle on who it will allow to talk to whom – it refuses to deliver messages to two of my friends, and I don’t know why.
The original game wasn’t designed for multiple players and neither is this, at least not so far. Even if all the above technical problems were fixed, there isn’t really much ‘group content’ in the usual sense. I wonder if there ought to be or not. Roadmaps and things lie ahead and apparently Wings is a Soon thing, but it seems remarkable it wasn’t there to begin with. Have they ever played an MMO before?
Anyway, all that seems academic, and here is some SCIENCE to explain why!
After some bollocksed attempts at Trading, I discovered that you could get paid for just Staring At Stars, and since then, I’ve been hooked. There’s a Youtube video somewhere further down on the site, where I gabble on about parallax and am awfully pleased with myself for working out how to Explore. And now I just do this. Out went the cargo bay, in went a fuel scoop, and I’m off to infinity and beyond! Of course to really explore, you have to Boldy Go some place none else has Boldly Gotten At, and so I find myself staring at the Galaxy Map more and more, making Plans.
Aside from being beautiful in its own right, it provides all sorts of fascinating numbers. Elite: Dangerous’s Milky Way is very similar to ours; spiral, weighs about the same and smells similar but is different in two key ways. Firstly, there’s a star called “Sol” where the sun should be, and more importantly, almost all of it is made up. They’ve taken some time to fill in obvious known stars; the big ones with names like Castor, Mizar, Archenar, Button Moon, Unicron and such, and also filled in a few hundred thousand or so from actual stellar catalogues; Hipparcos Catalogue (Sidebar ‘HIP’ numbers) and Henry Draper Catalogue (HD numbers). The rest of the 400 billion or so were surprisingly, not added by hand during the beta by volunteers, but have been auto-generated, which itself must have been no small task!
Obviously I’m going to visit them all, but after sitting down and doing some very shaky maths, it seems to be quite a task I’ve set myself! My current ship can do about 11 LY per jump, although with the right fitting, some of the better ones can do up to 30 LY a hop. Making some pretty dubious assumptions about star density, I came up with an average distance between stars of about 8 LY, based on the bit we all started in. Equipped with the Fuel Scoop (ahh…iconic…), it takes about four minutes to complete one cycle of orientate, charge up, hyperjump, arrive, reorientate, refuel, pick out the next target from the map, and jump again.
The scooping is important, because the jump uses consumable fuel and the alternative is to buy it from a starbase. There seems to only be starbases inside a 400 LY diameter sphere of ‘known space’ centered on this ‘Sol’ planet, which I am apparently not allowed to visit without a permit. Damned bureaucratic Solarians and their nasty damp eyes! This Known Sphere seems to be the bit with everything in, including fellow players, but it’s the bit outside the sphere I am interested in. Here are some interesting travel destinations I seek!
HYPUAE EUQ EI-B D13-0: This snappily named star system sits on the planar rim of the galaxy nearest to the Known Sphere, and is 15,177.63 light years away. I reckon that’s about 1898 jumps, which will take me about 127 hours of continuous play, or 64 days if I put in two hours of solid jumping a day and then sleep, eat and go to work. I should be there by 12th March 2015, if I start now!
STUEMEAE BC-D C12-4612: Reminds me of a Windows 95 Activation Key I used to date. This star system is about as near to the centre of the galaxy as I could pick out. It really is dense in there, and the stars are often less than a light year apart. Knowing my luck, its the supermassive blackhole that powers the whole damned thing and I’ll get all spaghettified as soon as I arrive! It’s 26,419.20 LY away, so that date with the scary angry devil-robot with the egg-whisk hands will not happen until 27th April, so there’s something!
IORADY EI-B D13-0: Ah…
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in IORADY EI-B D13-0 and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
This Elysian paradise sits at the far opposite end of the galaxy and at 65,444.96LY, is about the furthest away one can get from Lave and still hear the whining about PvP. It will take me until 7th October 2015 to get there, but in fact it might take longer than that, as it is 120LY from it’s nearest neighbour, and I’m not sure anything in the game has that jump range. I expect I’ll meet the Battlestar Galactica coming the other way, in some distress.
I probably need to upgrade to the 30LY/jump ships.
Anyway, all this immensity means that really, the game doesn’t need an Open Play mode at all, because once I get about 25 jumps out from the starting system, I’ll likely never see another player again!
Watch out for progress updates from the back of beyond soon, but in the unlikely event I don’t make it, check out this more organised effort to do broadly the same silliness:
There are many ways to make money in Elite Dangerous and if you’re one of those strange people who don’t like combat or trading then we have a video for you. Watch and listen as Tim shows how to explore systems in Elite and find uncharted planets for fun and profit.
Bet you all thought you were safe from all this, didn’t you? Well we’re back and rambling about what we’ve been playing again. Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Fallout 3, Elite: Dangerous and Desert Golfing all feature.
This season we’ve started doing video versions as well, which let you see exactly how badly we play the games that we talk about. You can find the video for this show here
One of the most disappointing trends in gaming over the last decade or so has been the movement away from local multiplayer. Those games where you can sit around with friends and not worry about random internet strangers getting annoyed that you just got distracted because you’ve found the most fun thing ever in the game, especially if it’s only fun because you’re all drunk.
Red Faction Guerrilla has a fantastic local multiplayer mode that is ideal for this. A series of challenge modes where you can just pass the controller between goes and not worry about everybody having accounts, achievements or anything else and just have fun destroying buildings on Mars. Do we have what it takes to be in the demolition business? How could we fail when we’re more likely to accidentally destroy the place than do what we’re meant to be doing in most games anyway?
Bring back party modes in games!
So after a lot of wandering the badlands of overly restrictive MMO grouping rules, we fetched up in Firefall, which I’m quite enjoying. The game itself is decent enough, a kind of jump-pack fueled riot of colours and noises and massive areas of effect. There’s some kind of plot there to do with Nantes and an alien space plague and a crashed spaceship, which found some special crystals, while carrying out the first ever FTL jump, which mutated all the wildlife in Brazil, and gave powered exoskeletons to everyone! Now I come to explain it to someone else…
There is such a thing as trying too hard, and I think the only trope from my Sci Fi Bingo Card that I didn’t see in the opening cut-scene was “They Look Like Us Now”. (They really don’t.) But who cares! It’s astonishing how easy it is to completely ignore the plot, mission texts and what passes for any kind of narrative campaign structure and just drop in there and go utterly loopy with jetpacks and a variety of satisfying and amusing class-based weapons, powers and grenades. As long as there’s a yellow arrow to follow, the rest is entirely superfluous!
So I’m enjoying the basic jumping about and shooting things, which is hugely important. If the moment-to-moment stuff works, you often don’t need the rest of the twiddley bits, which in more turgid MMOs tend to act as an incentive to slog on through the tab targeting and hotkey rotation. Firefall plays a lot like Tabula Rasa and Defiance, I’m finding, and I always liked both of those. I play a lot of other games these days, but still find time to solo about in there.
But the main reason I’m there is because it turned out to be a decent candidate for the big Static Group Nights. We don’t ask for much from our online clubhouses, only that the game has no levels, no classes and can provide meaningful and fun content for groups of 2-13 people. That’s pretty reasonable I think, but few of the usual lineup meet our needs, and it’s always been a bit of a struggle.
We can work around some of it, and several titles have done well for our nomadic selves in the past, lasting longer than the three weeks it takes us to work out why a game won’t work for us. Old timers like Warhammer Online and Guild Wars, which despite various other faults, catered to the way our gang wanted to play. We had a few good runs at Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online, and more recently Planetside 2 and Defiance have done well to cater to us. I guess EVE Online ticks most of those boxes too, but never quite gained popular traction among us. Private Server Minecraft is popular (Check the Steam Group for details of that), but I’ve never had the guts to suggest Tale in the Desert, Wurm Online or the SWGEmu! Not all our gang like Mining!
Most often we find that the Traditional Mainstream MMO is about the least well-suited to the way we want to play. World of Warcraft (and similar) have a habit of forcing us to pick specialisation roles (tank, healer, etc) which never works well for our week-by-week drop-out, drop-in attendance. Every other week, we’ll fetch up with three tanks and no healer.
They force us to play for exactly the same amount of time each week, for fear of falling behind or getting ahead, a problem further compounded by VIP/Lifetime/Founder XP Bonuses, vs F2P flat rate xp. We’re a widely varying degree of casual player, on the whole.
They force us to break up into groups of precisely five, or four, or six, or whatever arbitrary number has been picked for balancing purposes. I think it’s this last one that irks me the most, making me pick my four most favourite friends, then tell the rest to go sit on the bench. Which is frankly unacceptable, and I wonder sometimes if these games think that they are more important to me than my friends…
All of these are solved problems, by the way. City of Heroes solved levels twice; at launch with Mentoring and Sidekicking. “Have a friend who doesn’t play as much? No problem! Click here to become their level for the day. Or have them click to be your level!” They solved it a second time by extending the hijinks to the entire group. “You know what? Why don’t you just pick a level you want to be? We’re all adults here; it’ll be fine.” Many other MMOs followed suit, even including Everquest 2 of all games, so frankly if your MMO doesn’t also do this, It Is Broken.
Most MMOs have more trouble getting past the Trinity, but Rift has an admirable solution; give each class access to lots of sub-variant classes, which can carry out the different required roles as needed. My Rogue can happy flick between a Melee DPS, Support Buff/Debuff, Tank and Healer. Once I’ve set these up, I can swap them in the field with the press of a hotkey. If the roles have to be there, let anyone who is willing have a go at them, rather than forcing the same well-meaning members of the peer group to ‘take one for the team’ and be a tank or healer all the time, in every game. Dedicated players just end up grinding out one of each anyway, and likely come to resent the game for it. Yay, The Lone Lands, again!
Better yet, just get rid of them entirely. Most of the more modern MMO-ey action shooter type games tend to do this, along with Guild Wars 2. Having someone who can heal nearby is nice, but far from necessary, and other sorts of groupwork can be emphasised instead; positional play, timing, shared combos, overlapping damage types, puzzle bosses, etc. Surely we’re not still at the stage where having two team members distract the enemy while everyone wails on it (but not too much!), is still a Thing? If more than eighty percent of your players can’t get through a groupfinder queue in under two hours, It Is Broken.
But it’s the arbitrary group-sizing that I keep coming back to and swearing at. I’m a big fan of the excellent MMOsketeers Podcast, and over recent months I’ve been listening to the troubles they’ve been having trying to three-man four-man dungeons in The Elder Scolls Online. There are three of them, you see, and rather than grab some silent random Efficiency-Bot 8000 from an LFG tool, they’d rather just play among themselves. Not an unreasonable request – playing with silent random strangers in MMOs generally makes me feel uncomfortable too. But the game is punishing them for nonconformity. Very recently, they’ve found a fourth and by all counts, everything is going swimmingly. Let’s just hope they don’t have another friend turn up, or things will get awkward again!
I listen, and nod and sigh. We’ve always struggled on in a similar spirit, making life difficult for ourselves by shortmanning it, rather than abandon our own social ties in favour of what… artificial ones the game seeks to manufacture expressly for the purpose of pixel bosses and pixel loot? We’re stubborn though, and when faced with six players at a five-man instance, will usually struggle with two groups of three rather than make someone go away.
Perhaps it’s not so sinister. Perhaps making dynamically scaling content is hard. Still, there are solutions; City of Heroes (spotting a pattern here…) solved this in elegant mathematical fashion with its zone events and world bosses; no matter how many people showed up and at what level, the bosses were somehow always ‘just right’, for every participant. Rift and Defiance, with the Rift/Arkfall public quest type mini-events manage to dynamically adjust the challenge on the fly stepping up enemy numbers and stats depending how effective you all were on the preceeding phase or wave. Every now and then it would go spectacularly wrong, but mostly it works well. Lotro’s Skirmishes were cruder; simply offering many different group-sizings to choose from, leaving it to us to find something suitable. Again – the trust; “You choose – you know what you want best.”
Firefall seems to have legs. It doesn’t have mentoring or sidekicking that I’ve seen, but does provide you with five selectable batteframes, (classes), which act as in-game alts, allowing different players to drop back to a lower levelled ‘self’ on the fly, and carry on. Not ideal, but manageable. The Tank, Healer, DPS thing is sort of there, but so lightly applied as to be negligible, so we ignore it entirely! Healing is nice, but anyone can pick fallen comrades up and anyone can stock up with simple crafted health packs. The group size thing is giving us troubles though. Six is a group, and more is a Platoon, which is fine, but the usual multi-group cobblers starts to apply. Kills made by Group A don’t give xp to Group B, etc, etc. Shortsighted! We get by though, and rather than seek out actual Raids, we tend to just Platoon up and go attack the Solo Content for People Who Are Five Levels Higher than us. A compromise, but it mostly works for us.
The ideal Friday Night game is something we’ve almost found, several times, but never quite. Firefall will do for now, but I doubt we’ll stop looking any time soon. I just wished we all lived nearer – could just go down the pub!
It’s another video from us, and this time we’re playing Destiny on the PS4 with a super low level character being played by somebody who can’t remember what’s going on and wishes he had a keyboard and mouse. I call it living the dream.