Friday, November 27, 2009

Circumventing the Steam Regional lockin for Europeans

Thiefsie at found a nice way to get the steam games in pounds.

I tested it and it works!

1) Put ?cc=uk after a title. You'll now see the prices in pound.
2) Change your country to United Kingdom.

That's it, you can now buy the game in pounds.

Possible to save quite some money this way. Left 4 dead 2 costs €37.49 compared to the us £22.5(~€24.5). And the THQ complete pack costs €49.99 as compared to £26.49 (~€29.2).

As always with these things: use at your own risk.
It's probably not going to last very long.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

LF1M: healer

A new RPG comes out. Before you can start playing you'll have to decide what class you'll play. For Dragon Age my first choice was to create a DPS warrior. But I refrained from doing so as I had the perfect team in my mind: me tanking, a hot mage to AOE, a sexy nurse to heal and an even sexier rogue to DPS and open chests. Sounds like a good plan, no?

Of course things didn't go as planned. The first character I met was of course a tank which I couldn't replace fast enough. Then I meet misses DPS mage and misses rogue, both of which I'm still happy to have in my main team. I'm now forty hours in the game and my group of NPCs to choose from has tons of warriors. Me, Alistair, a giant with gray hair, the stone golem and a dwarf. Plus two rogues and even a dog who can DPS. And I only have one mage which is best suited for DPS. So I had to let my mage learn the healing skills a few hours into the game to continue playing comfortably. It's possible to play without if you create tons of potions but it doesn't feel like as much fun to me. Crafting one potion after another isn't very good for your wallet either.

Sure, I’ve now found a healer mage in, you’d never guess, the mage tower. But I’m already over forty hours in the game. Adding a healer a lot earlier in the game would have been great. Maybe even create a fourth healer class which is there for buffing, healing and CC.

I can't help but thinking that the game would have been a lot easier if I started at the mage tower first or played as a healer myself. Some people seem to think that the Spirit Healer specialization for mages is the best specialization there is. I'll see for myself now that I've added one to my party. And I've read quite a few posts saying that the mages are quite simply too good compared to the other classes. So in a way it's strange to let the difficulty of your game depend on a free, random choice the player makes at the beginning of the game. Start at the dwarven fortress, the elven forest or help out the humans? Pick well and your game will be easier.

But I admit it, the main reason I miss a healer is because I wanted to create a classic tank, mage dps, rogue dps, healer group. And that’s impossible with only one mage. If I'll one day replay the game on Hard I'll either start as a healer mage myself or start with the mage tower part. Every party needs a motherly healer!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Something for everyone

Expansion packs for mmorpgs often seem to focus on giving a lot of stuff to the end game players. Those players who have one or two maximum level characters can look forward to playing in new zones or new raiding instances. Players who have played the game for a few months and quit the game before they got to the maximum level won't have anything new to do. The World of Warcraft expansions have been a mixed bag for lowbies. Let's take a look at what those expansions offer for low level players.
  • The Burning Crusade. There is very little new content for lowbies. Two new starting zones were added (1-20) and one old zone was revamped (35-40). Blizzard tried to trick people into thinking that there was more content by adding two new races. Don't be fooled, once you got your Draenei warrior out of the starting zones you have to do exactly the same content as someone who leveled a human warrior before the expansion. It really does feel like a cheap option to me. You just have to create a new skin and animations for the new race and there, you're done.

  • Wrath of the Lich King. If you have a level 55 character you can level a deathknight which sure is a lot of fun. Beneath level 55? Nothing new.

  • Cataclysm. So I'm quite pleased to see that the next expansion will give some serious new content. There are two new races again which promise to give two new starting zones. But the highlight of the new expansion is of course the revamping of the old world. This looks like it'll add a lot of fun to lower level characters.

I've finished the old content four times now. A hunter, mage, warrior and warlock have all passed through it. World of Warcraft does offer a lot of variety in the leveling zones. You can level two characters to level 60 without doing the same zone twice. But still, if you leveled a few characters leveling one again looses its fun. You've been there before.

So it's a great idea to redo the old zones. I'll happily level a new character through those new zones. On the alliance side I greatly prefer the cuteness of the female so maybe I'll try a Goblin character. Giving the horde a cute side is surely going to convince a few players to try out their side just like adding a sexy side did in the Burning Crusade expansion. I'll gladly try it out but it only works past the starting zones because all the content is new!

Now there's just the wait until Blizzard gets the game to done. Which will be some time next year. Maybe I'll go back and level one of my level 70 characters before that. World of Warcraft still has that magic pull which makes me replay it regularly. And it holds the promise of great things to come.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hiding from the storm

It's hard not to have noticed. Even the Belgian national news had a five minutes article on it. Infinity Ward has finished Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 right before Christmas, the perfect time to launch a game. Sales always spike during the Christmas period so launching your game then is guaranteed to give you big profits. Even crappy games will sell well during this period. In the past, the rush to Christmas has of course lead to unfinished, buggy games that are launched to hit the shelves in time for the big money. It doesn't always pay to launch before Christmas, your buggy game might bankrupt you.

Quite a few games have been moved to 2010. Only the publishers know if it's to avoid the Call of Duty rush which is currently responsible for 57% of all Xbox 360 game sales. So it's not a big leap to think that Call of Duty has something to do with all the delays. In the first half of 2010 we can expect Aliens vs Predator, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Bioshock 2, Mafia 2, Max Payne 3, Mass Effect 2, Singularity, Splinter Cell: Conviction, STALKER: Call of Pripyat, Starcraft 2, Drakensang: the River of Time and Assasin's Creed 2. Some of those games will probably get pushed back again but it looks like it's going to be a great gaming spring. Personally I'm mostly looking forward to Bioshock 2, Max Payne 3, Mass Effect 2 and on top of my list Starcraft 2. Dragon Age should be finished before those games arrive. And I hope to see at least one new, great franchise pop up.

These days there only seems to be one huge spotlight and it's shining on Call of Duty. Call of Duty is topping all the charts. I missed most of the Call of Duty buzz as I'm mostly interested in PC Gaming. I didn't even know the game came out last week until the day before launch. So it doesn't surprise me that this game doesn't do very well on PC, the media I read didn't pay much attention to it. And of course there has been quite some controversy about the PC release. No dedicated servers is upsetting a lot of players.

Personally I enjoyed playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. It's a very intense shooter but also way too short. I finished that game in maybe five hours. Seeing how the sequel only offers four and a half hour of singe player fun I will not spend the full €60 (a new price record for pc games?) on it. Especially since I'm not that interested in the multiplayer. I'll pick it up if I see it at a bargain price and play it then.

One thing is painfully obvious from the sales list. Only one game, Pure in the top 10 is not a sequel. People keep complaining about the lack of originality in games yet they keep buying sequels. If you vote with your wallet you'll get what you ask for.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Key Bindings

Nothing is more frustrating than being unable to set the controls of your newly bought game to your liking. I tried out Dead Space two weeks ago. The first thing I always do in a 3D game is rebinding all my actions to the numpad. I've played like that for over ten years. So it annoyed me greatly that I can not rebind any key to the numpad. Bloody hell!

No problem I thought I'll plug in my gamepad and play with that. Only to see that my character keeps on turning. The same problem occurred with the new Batman game. Looks like these games only work with an Xbox 360 controller. No, I'm not gonna spend €30 on a controller for a game I spent €5 on. At least Batman: Arkham Asylum worked flawlessly with the mouse & keyboard. But too often console games are ported in a hurry. Sometimes the port is done so lazily that even the on screen commands aren't changed. If you're playing with a keyboard you'll see "Press x on your controller".

I could use an external interface program that catches the keys and sends them to the game as a different key. But I really can't be arsed to spend an hour rebinding my keys while I could use that time to play a game that does allow me to bind my keys wherever I want.

Some games set a nice example. I could bind all my actions to the numpad in World of Warcraft. I could even bind my actions to a combination of alt/ctrl and numpad. Binding control to my mouse thumb button gives me easy access to 36 actions. More then enough for any game. If your game needs more then you should take a good look at your interface.

Developers often seem to forget that not everyone plays like they play. Not everyone will play with an Xbox 360 controller or use the WASD key combos. Some people are used to play with an inverted Y-axis and have been playing that way since the nineties. And other gamers want to have a mouselook.

So please give the players the option to play how they like. A lot of people, including me, will not throw a decade of muscle reflexes overboard just to play your ten hour game. After all, is it really that hard to give us the option to bind actions to the numpad?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hello Goodbye

These days half the gaming world is playing Call of Duty 5 and the other half is playing Dragon Age. Eighty hours of entertainment for my €35 seems like a much better deal than €45 (€60 in a Belgian retail store...) for the four hours CoD promises so my choice is obvious. So far I've put about fifteen hours in the game and I'm greatly enjoying the experience. There are of course always some complaints...

After a few hours of playing I am finding it strange how Bioware manages to disconnect me from the worlds characters. After a few minutes of playing I got my first companion. One hour later the poor guy is being thrown in the towns deepest dungeon. No problem I thought, I'll just go ahead and slaughter the entire prison guard staff to rescue him! Nobody messes with me. Alas no such options pops up. Hopefully I can go back and save him later on in the game.

Instead of saving my buddy I went off to become a Grey Warden! And hey, I get three new companions so we can together prove our worth. I start to ask them some questions and get to know them better. One guy is missing his girlfriend back home. The poor fella, we'll get you home soon. Of course thirty minutes later he's laying before my feet with a sword in his heart...

Next I'm traveling with "Tower Guard" and "Circle Mage". I didn't really expect them to stay with me throughout the game. Having one of those names would mean they'd get bullied by my companions with real names for the rest of the game. So it didn't come as a surprise that thirty minutes later both of them got an arrow through their hearts. For some reason I'm spared. I bet Tower Guard and Circle Mage now wished they had chosen a proper name.

My character seems to be cursed! Everyone I meet dies less then hour later. Maybe it's best not take any companions just to be safe?

Link to the brilliant Hello Goodbye song:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Seeing the trees through the forest

Tropico 3 offers a ton of information. You can click on every citizen of your city and see their thoughts. You can see who they're married to and if they have any children. There's information on what political party they belong to or even on how much money they make. A lot of the statistics are presented in fancy graphs. How did the average wages or age of your citizens change since you started? It's all available in a fancy graphs. And it's all useless information which is just there for their fun factor.

It's ironic that in so much information you can not find the information that you really need. I want to know if my citizens are being well fed and how many farms I should build. The only way you can see if you should build more farms or clinics is if you start seeing "3 people have starved/died of poor health care this year". I'd rather see the big starvation coming so I can save my people. There's also no way of knowing in which buildings your people live. How many are living in shacks? How many can afford better homes?

The developers could have done a much better job of providing information. Pie diagrams would be a great solution. Offer a pie diagram with the housing types your citizen live in and one with their education level. That way you can see in no time if you have a housing problem. The food problem could be solved even simpler. Just show "meals/medicines created this year" and "meals/medicines consumed this year" and you can quickly see if you need to build new farms or clinics.

It's fun to browse through your city and click on random people to see that they are happy because you gave them a pay raise. But it's a lot more important to be able to see that you have to create more farms to prevent a starvation! The developers forgot to set their priorities. First add the must have statistics and then think of adding the statistics which are there just for fun. There's little use in knowing that your citizen is happy visiting the church if you cannot see that he's dieing because he can not find food.