Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: FTL

FTL: Faster Than Light
FTL (Faster Than Light) is an indie Sci Fi game available on Steam.  A prototypical kickstarter game, it shows how more and more low budget titles are now successfully making their way to market, completely ignoring the old AAA megapublisher paradigm, and the computer gaming world is better for it, in my opinion.  This game really demonstrates what happens when it all comes together.

The premise of FTL is that you control a ship and crew carrying vital intelligence out of enemy territory back to your fleet, and the enemy "Rebel" fleet is dogging your heels every step of the way.  Over the course of your flight to safety, you must fight, trade, investigate, recruit and befriend your way across the galaxy as the challenges you face grow steadily more difficult. 

This being an indie title, it's not surprising that the graphics are a throwback to earlier times - though for what they are, they are very clean, smooth and well implemented, making it feel more of an artistic choice than a limitation of talent, budget, or tech.  The sound and music is also quite retro-future in feel, reminding me in some ways of Star Control 2.  Again, they add to the experience rather than date it. 

The game really brings together some well thought out ideas and puts them together into a very engaging game.  There's a management sim with RPG elements in that you can purchase upgrades to your ship, and some systems function more effectively with crew manning them, and crew members improve in their ability to run said systems with practice.  For example, having someone man the engineering station makes your ship dodge better and able to FTL jump sooner, and the more practice that crewmember has manning that station, the better those bonuses get.  Most of the time, your wants will naturally far outstrip your limited cash resources, so you'll have to pick and choose what upgrades you take, and even then you might not have the cash to upgrade your reactor to provide power to everything all the time, so you'll have to manage power distribution on the fly in real time (though you can always pause the game with space bar and issue orders while paused).  You also select targets for your weapons and time their firing, and you must send crew to repair hull breaches and damage systems (another thing they get better at with practice!), and you can even send and defend against boarding parties. 

Fighting a slug vessel.  Shields down. Ouchy.
The game might frustrate some people because it is actually very difficult, or gets there very quickly.  There are two game modes, and even on easy mode, winning is difficult.  On normal mode, it's rare I can get past stage 5, much less complete the game successfully.  A complete playthrough, however, only takes an hour or two, so losing is less horrible than one might think.  Personally, I do find it kind of refreshing to play a game you can lose at, in a video game market full of unlimited tries and infinite do-overs.  And the game can be brutal.  Your crew members are individuals with names and talents, but for them, death is permanent - there is no getting "knocked out" to be revived later after combat.  Really, the game is often called a "roguelike" but I find it has very little to do with Rogue style gameplay.   To me, it is much more akin to Oregon Trail - you have to balance risk versus reward in making decisions and overcoming obstacles, you have to manage the individuals in your party and any deaths are permanent, and really you expect to lose more than you win because the journey is that difficult. 

And even all that aside, there are some genuine gripes I have with the game, as no game is perfect.  Frankly, a bit more of the game is subject to simple random chance than I would have liked - the only deciding factor in the success of some endeavors such as navigating an asteroid field is down to the flip of a coin, or in happening to have the right systems equipped - which itself is also a flip of a coin or roll of the dice to determine if the game has even decided to grant you the opportunity to purchase said system.  So there comes a time when you hit the ceiling of what you can accomplish with skill and judgement, and the degree of success or failure of your mission is determined by how kind your computer's random number generator is feeling today.  Indeed, the game gives you the illusion of plotting your own course across each sector, it is merely just that - illusion.  The outcome of any path you choose is largely random, so there's almost no point in there being a choice at all, other than to decide whether or not you go through nebulas.  Also, while the short nature of the game helps soften the blow of losing, and the random nature of events helps replayability, it would have been nice to also have an alternate, longer sandbox or campaign mode to play in - something akin to the old Starflight or Star Control games. 

But, those things notwithstanding, it's still an excellent game and a steal at ten bucks.  I know I often say you could do a lot worse for a lot more money, but it's true - and you also get the bonus of the smug sense of self satisfaction that you are supporting "indie" gaming and sticking it to the big fat cat publishers who continue to rake it in while they ruin games you love (cough*EA*cough) or dispense the same sequelitis year after year. 

Final Verdict: A solid A. Don't miss it.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gas Bandit's Handy Tips for the Technologically Lazy

So your wireless router is starting to flake out on the wireless part, but the computers connected by cables are still able to get their connection perfectly, and you've got a bajillion forwarded ports set up that you're really not looking forward to typing in on the new router you have to get?

Here's a handy tip from me - find the setting in your new router that says "DHCP SERVER - ENABLE/DISABLE." Flip it to "Disabled," change it's LAN address to be in the same 192.168.THIS NUMBER.whatever IP range and plug one of the LAN ports (not the WAN port) into one of the LAN ports on the old router. Voila, your new wireless router is just an access point for your existing network and you can put off doing the actual work of setting up your new router until the old one absolutely dies completely, taking its settings with it, making it 10 times as inconvenient to remember and enter in all that information to the new router!

Hrm, I'm starting to think maybe this isn't such a great idea.

Ehhhhhh whatever.

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Monday, August 06, 2012

Rise of the Triad Remake!


I LOVE THAT SONG (It's called "Going down the fast way," incidentally)!





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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Borderlands 2 "Wimoweh" Trailer

It's gonna be fun on th' bun.

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Ultima Forever

So let me get this straight... Ultima meets Baldur's Gate, with some Diablo thrown in? AND it's free to play?

Ultima Forever is a throwback to classic Ultima games, with mechanics grounded in Ultima IV. Starting as either a fighter or a mage (a druid and paladin class are coming later), your hero sets out on a quest to become the Avatar, a person who embodies what are known as the eight Virtues. Using a Baldur's Gate-like isometric perspective, you'll guide your hero either alone or with friends through hours and hours of quests, battling it out with monsters and making hard choices until your character embodies the virtues and reaches the end-game dungeons. Once you beat it, becoming the Avatar, you then start a new game plus, playing through all the content again on an even harder setting.

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Monday, July 09, 2012

Review: DC Universe Online

Really, with it being free to play on Steam, there's no reason NOT to check out DCUO, but in case you were wondering what you're in for while you wait for the 18 whopping gigs of the client to download, here's a heads up.

DC Universe Online is, obviously, a superhero/villain MMORPG. However, unlike Champions Online, it does not feel like a "City of Heroes" clone. It does a good number of things different (some for the better, some not so much). Combat has an entirely different "flow" to it, character building and customization is completely different as is stat and item handling, and of course, it includes years of technological and gaming paradigm advances.

Combat has a much more "actiony" feel to it. The game has been described as very "X-Box controller-friendly" and I'd be inclined to agree. It works fine with mouse and keyboard but several factors indicate a controller might be a more convenient input device. There's no mouse cursor except when you open a menu. Instead there is a targeting reticle, and whatever last was in that reticle is retained as your target until you target something else in the same manner or your target goes offscreen. You can also "lock" your current target to make sure you don't switch or lose it. Attacks feel very diablo-ish in that it's pretty much "one click = 1 attack," as opposed to the old cliche of picking a target and turning on autoattack. Additionally, the types of attacks you do depend upon the "types" of clicks you enter, and often build combos based on successive moves, on top of the more conventional "1-8" ability hotkeys. This does very well at keeping combat fresh and interesting, but it also can lead to sore fingers and perhaps increased button wear. I can't be the only one who's worn out a mouse button here.

DCUO also incorporates a slightly more RPG-standard inventory system. You get money and loot drops from defeated foes and as rewards for completing missions. The gear you wear affects your stats and has a direct effect on your capabilites. Ordinarily I'm not a fan of games that define your effectiveness entirely by what gear you have, but this is mitigated somewhat from the fact that I've very rarely actually felt "underpowered." Oh, I don't agree with every design decision in this - I think it's appalling that they have two different stats for mitigating incoming damage that are separate for NPCs (called "defense") and enemy players (called "toughness"). That's a huge black mark in my opinion, necessitating a "pvp" suit and a "pve" suit of gear with no convenient way to switch back and forth between them with a hotkey.

But let me tell you something they did very right with gear: Styles. Every piece of gear's appearance is called a "style." For instance, you could have a pair of gloves that are "biker" style. You like how that looks? Putting them on unlocks that style for you forever, and setting your appearance with styles is a separate tab from the inventory. Thus, you do not have to give up a "look" you like when you get gear with better stats that doesn't match. I also like that the game only starts you off with a dozen or so basic costume options and then uses finding gear as a way for you to not only increase your character's power but also to build a wardrobe. Sure, there are also even MORE "styles" you can unlock by paying real world money in the game's marketplace, but hey, a free-to-play MMO has to make its money somewhere, and cosmetic upgrades are a good place to do that. Thus, you have a character appearance customization scheme which rivals City of Heroes without the drawback of getting everything at level 1 and having nothing else to strive for aesthetically.

Some people might think I'm crazy for saying that, but to me, that's the whole point of an MMO - you want to work to make your character better. To me, starting with every costume option now seems like starting at the max level. Sure it's fun right away, but it has no staying power, no accomplishment. Unlocking costume pieces also distinguishes players from each other - fancier costumes show more advanced characters at a glance, usually... though the game has the same problem COH and the like suffered, with plenty of "hero" types running around in black-on-black color schemes with spikes and chains and batwings and such with names like "DarkLordMurderDeathDemonGuy." Yeah, I'm sure the Justice League would love to have THAT hero on the watchtower. WHY didn't you roll villain again? I mean, you'd fit in there.

Another innovative concept the game adds is that the game lets you switch in and out of your archetype's "role" starting at level 10. Everybody starts off a DPS class, but at level 10, your power type gives you a roll you can switch into at any time - Tank, Healer, Controller. These roles don't do as much damage as your default "Damage" mode, but your abilities get extra effects that make you more group friendly (such as healing/ability power regeneration, better CC, better damage mitigation, etc). Thus, every character both has the ability to solo and the ability to contribute meaningfully to a group.

There are some parts that rub me the wrong way, however.

First off, you start off by making a character and picking a "power" and a "weapon." These two aspects are completely independent of each other. The first character I rolled had "mind" powers and dual pistols for weapons. It just struck me when I was rolling... why does a mind controlling telekinetic need guns? It may have no "story" reason but the pragmatic, in-game reason is that your "powers" chew up your blue bar really fast. You'll get 4, maaaybe 5 powers off before you're completely empty. That's enough to take out 2 or so common mook level adversaries, or perhaps bring a same-level player to half (if he doesn't drink a health potion). So, you will rely on your weapons for a great deal of your damage. That aforementioned TK/guns villain I made had his best results by using his "powers" sparingly as interrupts and crowd control while doing most of his attacking with his guns. Yank a guy in the air, shoot him a few times, repeat.

Which brings me to another part of the game I can't decide if I like or not - everything is all about stunlocking. Almost every attack, in every power line and every weapon specialization, comes with some kind of stun, or knockdown, or sleep effect, or entrapment of some kind. If you don't screw up the button mashing, you can potentially keep a target from being able to fight back at all, which in PVP (at least at the lower levels) often leads to whoever attacks first winning. But you can "break" out of being stunned and whatnot by hitting shift, the block key. If you release it and press it, you can shake off the effect, and have a chance to counterattack and turn the tables so the OTHER guy is now being juggled, but this doesn't have the best success rate. Most often it's somebody flubbing a mouseclick combination that changes the momentum of the fight, in my experience. There's also a dynamic having to do with blocking - some attacks will be blocked, other attacks break block but are interruptible. It feeds into the "actiony" combat I was talking about earlier. That's all very well and good but let's remember we're playing an MMO here - high latency is the rule rather than the exception. There may not be time to react to what's going on in a fight in that matter. It's less the case in PvE fights against bosses who tend to telegraph their attacks, but in PVP it adds a great deal of randomness.

The game uses the Unreal 3 engine, with all the good and bad that entails. That means the models are detailed and framerate performance is pretty darn good (I get better framerates in DCUO than I do in City of Heroes on the same rig, despite DCUO being much more detailed/higher polygon count). However, the game suffers the texture problems most Unreal 3 games suffer - blurry, low res smudges in place of textures for 5 seconds, replaced by slightly less blurry textures for 5 seconds thereafter, until finally the proper high res texture loads in. I think the "level of detail" threshold (how far an object has to be from you before it is replaced by a lower polygon version, or disappears entirely) is a smidge on the close side, and unfortunately there is no slider to adjust this in the options.

The game uses built in VOIP in groups but only once have I ever had somebody besides me use it. But it's saved my bacon to be able to say "incoming hero behind!" while fighting instead of having to type it, and have the others in my group hear me.

The game also goes heavy on the polish. There's a lot of voice acting, your mentors and questgivers' faces appear and animate on your screen's "communicator" to talk to you, effects are neat, the sound is good, and the soundtrack is very well done as well. My one nitpick is they got the wrong person (in Gina Torres, of Firefly) to voice Wonder Woman. It sounds more like Amanda Waller (the big mean government lady from Cadmus in the DCAU, remember?) attempting to do a humorous impression of wonder woman. But they got Kevin Conroy to voice Batman and Mark Hamill to voice Joker (and Arleen Sorkin to be Harley Quinn!), so even though they got a Baldwin to be Superman, we can let all that slide.

And, unlike previous games which, due to not being licensed or paying royalties, discouraged you from making your own lookalike of an established DC comic hero, this game not only makes it possible, not only encourages it, but some of the best loot is directly labeled as "Supergirl's Boots" and such and give you the style option to look exactly like them. There are plenty of Superman, Batman and Joker-alikes out there doing their things. So, if that's a plus for you, go for it.

There's also an option I find humorous - an option to not display all other non-hostile players. I haven't turned it on, myself, but I find it amusing that they thought to give you a box to check in your MMO when you want everybody else to go away. I wonder if you just see NPCs falling over for no reason. They should call it "Solipsistic mode."

So what's my final verdict? It's free to play, as I said, so there's nothing to lose in trying it out, and I dare say a lot of people (if they haven't already, I know it's almost 2 years old) already have. But even at this late stage, I'm sure many like me didn't bother to give it a look until it hit steam for free, and I'd bet a good number will find it worth paying money for - maybe not the full $15 subscription, but maybe a buck or two here and there for costume pieces and such. I've played many worse MMOs, and paid way more for the privilege. That said, I've also played better and it seems to lack content in the endgame so it won't be one of those games you play for years, and it won't be EVERYBODY's cup of tea to begin with.

Grade: B+ for a free to play, C as a subscription model.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: Moon Breakers

So I tried playing Moon Breakers, which is free on steam. I dusted off (literally, it was covered in dust from disuse since I stopped playing Wings of Prey) my joystick and plugged it in, then fired it up. Well, I should have saved myself the trouble. It doesn't use joystick.

A flight simulator, that tries to insinuate itself as the spiritual successor to Wing Commander... has no joystick support.

Ok, leaving that aside... there are further annoyances. It is 100% online, but you can't arrange games with friends or even control the game type with your own lobby. The game shoves you into a lobby and picks your side and the type of game at random. There's no way to arrange to play as a team with friends, you're just stuck with 29 or so random internet asswipes every time. There's no single player, either, so there's no plot. The game is "There's the Government and the Pirates and they fight over H3! FIGHT!!"

There are basically 3 kinds of game: Team deathmatch, destroy the enemy carrier, or capture the flag. The game type is chosen at random or perhaps on a rotation, and if enough players click "veto" on it in the scant few seconds between the start of the lobby and the start of the game, it will change, but I never saw enough vetoes for it to happen. Then you pick your craft, and you're launched. Every game has a 15 minute time limit, so often the game will end just as things are really starting to get good.

There are many craft available to fly, and by available to fly, I mean available for purchase. Oh sure, you can earn enough points eventually to unlock a ship without paying for it, but... well, the cheapest ship I saw was 160,000 points (or "cred" as they call it)... and on average I'd say I got about 2-4 thousand points per match (and I saw plenty of poor suckers who made less than a thousand every round). I don't see how I could possibly ever play 40-80 or more rounds of this game without going insane. And that's for one of the more modestly priced fighters - I saw some big badass ones for over a million cred. Compare that to League of Legends, a true free-to-play success story, where you could conceivably unlock a new character (granted, a cheap one) after 5 or so games, depending on performance.

Anyway, the ships are separated into light, medium, heavy fighers and bombers. Light fighters are agile and fast, but lightly armed and armored. They don't do a lot of damage and can't take a lot of damage, but in the hands of a skilled player can jink enough to survive. Medium and heavy fighters trade maneuverability for firepower and armor. You can take more hits but it's harder to dodge... and dodging is often a better defense if you've got more than one attacker on you. Bombers are the slowest of the bunch, and only have moderate offensive capability versus fighters, but they carry torpedoes which are the only weapons that can do damage to enemy carriers. The torpedoes require time to arm after firing, so you can't fire point blank, and travel slow enough to be shot down by fighters and/or turrets on the carrier itself.

Let's get some praise out of the way - the game looks sharp, and it can be pretty entertaining. While I lament lack of joystick support, flying by mouse is pretty easy and intuitive. Ships are good looking, and asteroids and broken moons are both pretty and functional as there were many times I shook an attacker by darting around a huge chunk of rock or zipping through a tunnel. There are some definite echoes of Crimson Skies here.  I especially liked the torpedo paradigm - them being able to be shot down and relatively slow moving definitely adds to the experience because it gives light fighters a defensive role and means teamwork is still essential to attack a carrier because the turrets need to be destroyed or at least distracted by other targets, as do any fighters on defense. I also have to say the game had pretty much no latency-based problems that I could tell, and I ran into no bugs at all while playing it. That's impressive. And the voice acting in the background is a nice touch and actually sounds natural and in context - something else you don't always get these days.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned lack of control over game lobbies is not my only gripe with the game. And the lack of joystick support. The instrument panel is nice and easy to read, but it needs a radar. Little arrows with names around the edge of the screen do not suffice - I need operational awareness in under 9 square inches. Also, more cues about things like torpedoes headed for your carrier would be nice - for instance, it could be a feature of light fighters that they automatically track and draw attention to enemy torpedoes in the HUD. The missiles carried by fighters always seem to dumbfire no matter what I do (I don't even know if they are SUPPOSED to lock on and track, there's practically no documentation on this at all). The afterburner reservoir seems to be a little on the small side... and yes, I know SPACE FLIGHT DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY but it's a game mechanic I can respect - a limited burst of speed to be used sparingly. But I still think it could be a little less miserly with the boost juice. I am highly aggravated that the targeting reticle for anyone I do damage too changes from red (enemy) to grey. I realize they're trying to go for a way to differentiate who you're attacking with a kind of automatic target flagging, but white/grey is the WRONG COLOR for that. Maybe a brighter shade of red or flashing red and orange or something... other games have hardwired my brain to equate a grey target with one that can be ignored... and indeed, against all that space-rock backdrop, sometimes it's all too easy to lose track of grey text. Most of all, I find myself irritated by the blatant "pay to win" business model the game employs - people who spend real money to buy the better fighters are at a distinct and immense advantage over those who stay free to play - to the point where really, the only pragmatic purpose the "free to play" players have is to be the legion of mooks the paying customers blow out of the stars by the dozen. Other free to play games (such as League of Legends or Team Fortress 2) take special care to balance what you can buy against the default, but this game clearly does not.

All in all, I don't find this game to be worth my time. Sure, it's free to play, but that comes off as an excuse for shortcomings rather than a genuine selling point. The gaming experience is shallow, the interface doesn't have a lot of thought behind it (indeed, some of the menus look like a website from the 90s... I AM AWARE OF WHAT MY WEBSITE LOOKS LIKE SPARE ME THE COMMENTS, PEANUT GALLERY). The inability to control your gaming experience with personalized lobbies and setup controls is a big minus (and of course, such lobbies would require bot support if you wanted to just play with a few friends).

Oh, and it needs joystick support, of course.

Grade: C minus. And that's the word from Bandit Camp.


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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Warhammer 40K MMO no mo'.


THQ Inc. (NASDAQ:THQI) today announced that it has refocused Warhammer® 40,000®: Dark Millennium™ from a Massively Multiplayer Online game to an immersive single player and online multiplayer experience with robust digital content, and engaging community features. Further product details, platforms and release timing will be announced at a later date.

As a result of this change, team sizes at two THQ internal studios will be reduced by 79 full-time employees at Vigil Games in Austin, Texas, and 39 employees at Relic Entertainment in Vancouver, B.C.

The future just got a little more grim and dark.


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Friday, February 17, 2012

Guild Wars 2: They understand RvR, er, I mean PVP, and what it is supposed to be


From the earliest days of development, we knew that we wanted to include some form of large-scale PvP combat in Guild Wars 2, but how would it work? We knew right away that we wanted three teams fighting against one another on a series of huge maps in the Mists (our world vs. world battleground) and that each team would be composed of an entire server full of players. Including three forces in world vs. world acts as an excellent balancing factor, preventing one team from growing too powerful and ruining the competitive balance of the game. Two teams can gang up to counter a more dominant third team, a dynamic that simply isn’t possible with only two opposing factions.

Welp, I think I'm sold.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

A lot of new bots for League of Legends

More bots is good... can't play against the Catass brigade ALL the time.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Finally, You Will Get Your Chance To Kill Fippy Darkpaw

Finally, You Will Get Your Chance To Kill Fippy Darkpaw:

I claim EQ in the name of the GNOLLS

Everquest 1 going free-to-play.

With the announcement, the frozen-in-amber separate EQMac server is also going away, which disappointed the people who preferred EQ frozen in amber.



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