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Showing posts from 2010

The Importance of Customer Support

Team Fortress 2 is now close to three years old and it still has tons of players. I got it out of the dust again to "play a few more rounds" only to notice that I've now put in another 20 hours. It's one of those games I reinstall every half year to play some more. And why did I get it out this time? Well, for the engineer update of course. Just like I got it out last time to enjoy the medic or the heavy update. Taking a look at those hilarious introductions is enough to make me want to play. In fact, those introductions together with Valves "introducing the..." videos are the funniest series I've seen on the net.  Since I haven't played the game in a year there's also a lot of new stuff to do. Extra achievements to get, extra items to get and a few new maps. Oh, and best of all you can now get hats! The continous stream of updates is enough to make old timers revisit the game from time to time.

Besides releasing free upgrades Valve has also ju…

Majesty - The Fantasy Kingdom

Majesty breezed a fresh new wind through the RTS genre ten years ago. Here's a game where you do not control your heroes! Instead you can convince them to help your cause by giving out rewards for killing monsters or raiding lairs. While fighting for your heroes slowly gain levels and power. Loosing a high level wizzard will cause you to care! The original majesty was a great game. It's one of the very few games that I replay once a year. Even now it remains fresh which is helped by the randomized mission generation. So I looked forward to its sequel. Having finished Majesty 2 and nearing the finish of its expansion, Kingmaker I can say that it's still a good game but not great.

What is this game missing that the original had? Charm for the most part. The original characters all had their own personalities. You'd have rogues who were the first to go after any bounty... and the first to flee at the first sight of danger. Muscled barbarians ran around the realm in a grea…

Civilization 4

Five years ago I gave the Civilization 4 demo a try. An hour later I gave up on it. Seeing the game with all its expansions packs on Steam for €11 made me give it another try. And 40 hours of playing later I'm glad I did!

These days most strategy games seem to be only about one thing: killing as many enemies as brutal as you can. The trend has been to lower the "strategy" part in favour of more action. Base building? Games like Dawn of War 2 remove it to leave only the fighting.  Dawn of War 2 is a fun on its own but you can hardly call it a strategy game. Dawn of War 2 is more an action/RPG game than a strategy game. So amongst these so called strategy games it's great to see that companies still create more serious games. Civilization V is on the horizon and in the meantime we can still enjoy its predecessor and its many mods.

Civilizations main selling point isn't the fighting. It's even an optional thing to do. Indeed, I won a "culture game" wi…


So my WoW warrior finally dinged 80 yesterday. I started preparing for this great event two weeks ago by buying good blue and epic tanking gear whenever I found some for a reasonable price. If there were none available I gathered the mats and paid someone 30g to craft it. Mind you, this character is on a new server so I didn't have a 50K honeypot to lick out. But I managed to make about 5000 gold on this new server while levelling from level 51 to 80 just by shifting some items. Plenty enough gold to get a nice starting set so I can get started. Before I put on the gear I had 19.311 hp and 508 defense. After I put it all on, gemmed it and gave it some basic enchanments I had 24.000 hp and 540 defense. Just enough to start heroics! And an hour after I dinged I finished my first heroic, The Violet Hold. There's still a lot of improvements to be made to my warriors gear but if there wasn't there wouldn't be any fun in doing heroics!

The last five levels were fun. I start…

A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin

The second book of the "A song of Ice and Fire" series picks up the story where "A Game of Thrones" left it. The first novel divided the kingdom, this second novel leaves those who are left to pick up and mend the pieces. And that's not an easy job. "There are more kings in this kingdom than there are dogs" one poor citizen mentions. Not less than seven self proclaimed kings have a claim at the throne and each one has an army to back it. Some are even looking at more exotic ways to win the iron throne...

The book follows the survivors from the previous novel and adds one new person. Davos is an ex smuggler who is very grateful to his lord, the rightful king of the Seven Kingdoms, Stannis Baratheon. A decade ago he smuggled onions to the besieged castle at Storms End. Stannis gave him a lordship with one hand but took away his left hands fingers with the other one as he believed that everyone must pay for his sins no matter how heroic they act now. Sm…

Eragon - Telling a consistent story

If you want to convince your public that your world is real you have to be consistent. You can't just change the rules in the middle of the story. Let alone doing it multiple times after each other. Case in point? The movie Eragon.

Eragon is about a boy who finds a pretty stone. Not long after the "stone" breaks open a cute, tiny little dragon appears (very similar to the dragon eggs found in A Song of Ice and Fire). I have no problems with fantasy so I'll happily buy dragons, wizards and elves. What I won't buy however is that as soon as the tiny dragon flies ten metres up in the air it suddenly changes into a huge dragon. Seems like some very powerful dragon magic... and a convenient way to prevent us from having to wait twenty years until the dragon is fully grown and the boy no longer a cute movie star.

Sadly from there on it only gets worse and worse. At one moment the protagonist decides to go rescue the girl even though his mentor tells him it's a foo…

Hybrid Power

At the start of WoW warriors tanked and all other hybrids healed. The damage dealing was left for the pure DPS classes and I was happy to do so with my mage. Sure, our guild had a warrior and maybe a kitten damage dealer but druids or paladins weren't good enough to tank an end-game raid instance. And back then that worked fine. A raid needed 40 players and there were 8 classes. So you'd have about 5 warriors in your raid, enough to tank every instance. Perfect for raids but it caused a problem for dungeons. There you need one tank, one healer and three DPS classes. If only one in eight can tank then there just aren't enough tanks.

In the Outland expansion every hybrid could tank as good as a warrior or heal as well as a priest while doing similar DPS to a pure DPS class. This was a great step to fix the shortage of tanks as suddenly three classes could tank. Of course this didn't completely solve the problem as most people are afraid of the responsibility to tank o…

A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin

Five years ago I joined my first raiding guild in WoW. It was named "Fire and Blood" and its leaders were named Rhaegar and Lyanna. When I asked them where their beautiful names came from they told me they were from the "A song of Ice and Fire" series. Now, years later, I've picked up a copy of the first book in the series. The cover has great quotes from some of my favourite fantasy writers such as Feist, Wurts and Hobb. I was very curious to find out if the book really is the best fantasy series created this decade.

The story takes place in the fictional Seven Kingdoms. These kingdoms have been reigned by the Targaryen family for centuries. Their reign ended fifteen years ago when they were overthrown and the throne was claimed by the new, current king, Robert Baratheon. The kingdom remains united but there's a frail peace. The alliances formed in the war aren't forgotten so easily and it will take only a small fire to set the kingdom ablaze. The bo…

Eighteen months of changes

It's been a year and a half since the last WoW expansion. Back then I levelled my DPS deathknight from level 55 to 80. For these past few months the WoW microbe has been tickling again so it was time to start levelling a new character. I've still got a stabled level 70 mage, hunter and warlock but I decided to go and level my lvl 51 warrior as I want to try out a new play style, tanking. And it's surprising how much has changed in these past eighteen months.

The first thing I noticed is the big improvement in levelling speed. The levels seemed to fly past as I rushed to level 60. But not only those levels went by fast, the 60-70 range also goes by a lot faster. I still followed James Levelling Guide but I could skip entire zones. It only took me Hellfire Peninsula, Zangarmarsh, Nagrand and part of Blade's Edge to get to level 70. When the guide told me that I'd now ding level 62 I was already level 63. And the biggest change to this range is of course that I could…

Digital Ferraris

Tobold touched the subject of price differentiation this week. He notices that games are still priced so children can afford to buy them. Working people can spend more on their hobbies yet they only pay the same as children. More and more marketeers are giving us ways to spend some extra money on our gaming hobby.

Price differentiation can already be seen in the other entertainment industries. If you want to buy a book you have the choice between a paperback and a hardcover version. The hardcover version costs slightly more to make but costs about twice as much to the customer. To me it doesn't matter if it's a paperback version, I just want to read the book. But there's obviously a big market who doesn't mind paying more in order to make their bookshelves shinier. The movie industry also allows us to spend more money on the same items. Sitting three metres from my TV I can hardly see the difference between a Blu-Ray and a DVD disc but if you can spend a bit more you&#…

Seperating the men from the boys

Returning from a long WoW break always brings some novelties. I can now buy a flying mount for my level 60 warrior!  My warrior gets Shield Slam for free! And everywhere I look I see "Need one member for instance X, minimum gearscore 2800, link achievement". It seems like everyone has been brought back to a single number. The e-peen meter promised by Blizzard two weeks ago doesn't seem so funny any more.

Out of curiosity I checked the gearscore meter of my stabled Death Knight. She ran Naxxramas until she had everything she needed. Yet I saw people looking for members for their Naxx run with a gear score above mine. Why would someone who doesn't need a single item from Naxx anymore still want to run it? The people who do want to raid Naxx will be those who have gear from heroics, not people who are doing Icecrown Citadel.

Looking at the past, the gearscore does feel like a natural evolution. Everyone wants to run a fast instance without wipes. If you only instance wi…

Stanislav Lem - Solaris

Few people can sing "Non non, je ne regrette rien" on their deathbeds. Most will regret a few things they have or haven't done during their lifetimes. Kris, the protagonist of Solaris is no exception. When he was young he wanted to split with his girlfriend, Rheya. She threatened to kill herself if he moved out. He didn't believe she would do it and left. Sadly, she did do it. Ten years later he's sent to the Solaris station hovering above the planet Solaris to investigate what happened to it's crew. He's still having troubles with himself. I couldn't know that she would really do it, right? Should I have gone back and removed the pills she used to commit suicide? Questions we would all ask ourselves in a similar situation yet noone ever gets answers. Kris is lucky however as he gets a second chance. One day after his arrival at the station he meets Rheya.

He's well aware that she can not be real, she died after all. And some things point out that…

Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke

In the future we'll work less and less thanks to automation which will leave us more and more time for entertainment. Most of the routine jobs will be done by machines which leaves us to do the thinking. Thanks to the machines we'll have more time to sport and we'll manage to watch three hours of TV a day. Factories will produce enough goods so that the basic necessities of life are cheap. We'll all be able to travel to any other place in the world in less than one day. It's the golden age of mankind and also the start of our childhood as we spend more and more time playing and watching games.

Arthur C. Clarke's vision from 1953 seems prophetic today. Sadly, we now watch an average of four hours of TV a day while most people don't do any sport at all. And not everyone is at our western level of prosperity. Most people can hardly pay their rent.

In Clarke's book this golden age of mankind is delivered by a species called the Overlords. One day they came…

Dragon Age: The Failure

Exciting! The new Dragon Age expansion has arrived. So I quickly went ahead and clicked install. Half a minute later I'm sitting before an "Installation Failure" screen. Five attempts later the game still isn't installed. Luckily there's Google. Apparently the game doesn't properly install on Vista Ultimate 64 bit. There's a quick fix: install it using the Windows 2000 compatibility mode. Five minutes later the game is installed. How many people will return their games to the store because it doesn't work? It's an unacceptable bug.

After installing Mass Effect 2 I spent two hours in vain trying to find my old save game. I didn't have any luck and used a pre-made character from another player. But I felt bad about loosing my character. I made sure I wouldn't have the same problem with Dragon Age. I left the game installed after finishing it because the expansion was just around the corner. And indeed, the old save-game loads flawlessly. The…

Ubik - Philip K. Dick

Ubik - Ubiquitous - Everywhere

Joe Chip works as a technician for a "prudence company". The company employs anti-psych people. One such talent might be the ability to block a telepathic. If you're sceptic about paranormal talents you're not the only one. At least one of the company's customers doubts their claims. Do they really do something or are they just drinking up our coffee while burning a whole in my pocket? But he's rather safe than sorry and just coughs up the money.

The book starts when the company receives a big order in times of crises. Safety bells should ring in their heads but they go ahead anyway. Arriving at the scene an explosion happens. Apparently their boss Runciter is killed. They immediately go off and bring their boss to the mortuary where he can be kept in a state of half life for a few more years. In half life he can still be asked some questions once every few years.

In a lot of books this prologue would be the offset for an action…

Now available in Euros!

My favourite PC magazine was happy to see that Direct2Drive now offers their games in euros! My first thought was "right, now they can ask double the price to us Europeans".  I wish it was true, we pay four times the price (in the bargain bucket for €20 vs £5):

Great way to advertise your new website!

Rapidly Trashed Town

Rockpapershotgun asked an interesting question last week: do you play RTS games online? The online part of RTS games is often the most important part from a developers side. Quite a few games only offer multiplayer, they can often be played singleplayer but it's really just multiplayer with bots. Demigod is a nice example. Yet only 23% of all gamers even tried to play online. A lot of people seemed to be surprised by these numbers but it didn't really surprised me. Personally, I only played a game or three of Demigod online and then went back to playing against bots.

Once upon a time things were different. Ten years ago I played nothing but Age of Empires 2 online for a year. It was great fun to match your own strategies with your opponents. I never got to be a good player but I did get better. Since then I haven't played that many online games. A game of shooty fun like Team Fortress 2 or Return to Castle Wolfenstein comes along now and then and keeps me playing online fo…

A game a decade

It's only been a month since I finished Dragon Age. I've still got some DLC left to play but currently I'm first playing through Mass Effect 2. What a luxury problem! Two instant classic games were released by Bioware less than two months apart. And now Bioware announces that they will release Dragon Age 2 by march next year. All this while developing the Dragon Age expansion planned for march this year and creating more DLC for Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2. They're doing all this while creating the next big mmorpg, SW:TOR! The quick expansion pack release for Dragon Age already had me worried. How can they create all this in such a short time frame?  We know that the EA programmers all work 72 hours a week but even then, how do they pull this off?

Let's take a look at Biowares archive:
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000)Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal (2001)Neverwinter Nights (2002)Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide (2003)Neverwinter Nights: Ho…

A new decade, new DRM

Activation limits for games caused a lot of negative feedback from the gamer community. People felt that their games went from an ownership model to a more limited, renting model. The obvious thing to do for a publisher after all this backlash  would be to ease their DRM measures. So what does Ubisoft decide to do? Introduce a new, draconian DRM scheme of course!

So, what does their new baby do? Each Ubisoft game will regularly connect to one of their back-end servers. In other words, you have to be on-line all the time, even when playing a single player game. They're trying to put it in a nice spotlight: you don't need your CD in the drive any more! And your game saves are stored on their servers! A very useful feature promised by Valve years ago but it doesn't change the fact that you have to be on-line all the time. At least with Valves Steam I still have the option to use my off-line mode

This does mean that you won't be able to play on your laptop. Want to play h…

Rent a byte

On-line multimedia distribution is growing at a steady pace. Amazon is renting out books for its Kindle device. Game distributors such as Steam are generating more and more income. At the other side of the ocean movie providers like Netflix and Hulu are popular. And today there are two big announcements. Youtube will offer full movies for rent. And today Greenmangaming wants to offer second hand games... digital games.

An interesting idea but I can't see how they will manage to pull it off. Publishers seem to have put second hand sales into the same category as piracy. DRM schemes such as the infamous "three installs and you're out" are there to stop second hand sales. Stopping pirates will be the official version but it doesn't stop a single pirate as they never even see those installation limits. A sad case where the pirate is better of then the buyer. From a publishers side it's simple. If they sell their game for a third of the price to you they still get…

Pay now or pay even more later

This week I got this e-mail from Funcom:

Character Deletion Alert

Thank you for playing Age of Conan.

As part of our maintenance your account is now flagged to have your characters below level 20 deleted as part of maintenance. Please re-activate your account now to ensure that your characters progress and names stay intact.

After seeing last weeks phishing mail I had to take a look at the source of the e-mail as I suspected that this was just another scam. After all, why would any company want to destroy their customers property? But no, it's not a scam, the e-mail does come from Funcom.

Two years ago, I've bought Age of Conan as a pre-order. And I stopped playing after only a few days as it quickly became clear to me that this game wasn't my thing. Having my ass kicked time after time by two mobs of my own level got frustrating really fast. Frustrating enough to go play something else. Interestingly, when I shared this experience months after my Conan adventures with my W…

Please give us your WoW account

This week I found this in my mailbox:

At first glance it looks like a genuine e-mail from Blizzard, it even passed Hotmails spam filter. But I quickly remembered that I didn't get this kind of e-mail when someone changed my password and actually hacked my account two months ago.

Giving this message a closer look quickly gives more hints to show us that it's a fake:
"you Login verify your password" - Bad English in an automatically generated mail? No professional company would send this mail let alone one based in the United States;
"If you are unable to successfully verify your password . using the automated system" - That's not even a proper sentence.As every WoW player should know, Blizzard will never ask you to enter your password. The link of course: "" - Battlu sure isn't …

DLC - Directly Lost Cash?

The prices of games have been more or less steady the last decade. Now and then a game such as Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2 comes along and causes a fuzz by raising the price but overall prices don't change much. The development costs of games keep on going though while the player numbers don't increase by that much. So publishers have to keep on trying to find more ways to get the money from our pockets without raising the retail prices of their games. DLC seems to be the newest card they've pulled out of their bags and it's quickly gaining more and more popularity.

At it's base, it's a nice idea. Instead of spending four years creating one big hit-or-miss blockbuster you can spend some time to create smaller pieces of content. If you can add a few hours of gameplay for $5 everyone will be happy. The customers will have a reason to keep on playing your game and the waiting time between content will be reduced. For the publishers, it's pure profit, there…

Mirrors Edge - Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fastest of them all?

In the near future all of our networks are monitored by a totalitarian government. I'd personally start encrypting all my traffic with 512 bit protocols. Others might start using carrier pigeons. Apparently the men of the future opt to use runners to distribute information. Probably because DICE didn't feel like making pigeon game. 

You are playing Faith, a runner who is discovering the secrets of the regime and is getting high on their Top Ten most wanted list. She'll run from the cops, save her sister, run even more and of course, save the world. The story is told with nicely animated cutscenes but it failed however to keep me really interested. It all felt like something that's just there to sew all the levels together.

The designers opted to choose for a first person experience. This is a bold decision as most platform games are played in third person (think Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider). Melee fighting is also difficult to pull of in first person.  It took me a …