Saturday, February 27, 2010

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!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

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 for a few months. And of course I played way too much WoW, I must have played that game for four years straight. But as for non mmorpgs I usually stick to single player games.

RTS games are especially hard to get into. It will easily take you months to be a competitive player. It's also a completely different experience than the single player game. You have to be way more aggressive. My usual singleplayer playstyle in these games is to build up an army while protecting my base and suddenly send them all in one big wave. That just doesn't work in multiplayer. The first few games that you play will without doubt end in being defeated humiliatingly. Most players will stop playing after these few games, only a few will persist.

And of course being good at starcraft does not mean that you will be good at age of kings. While being good at Quake 3 will make you decent in Unreal Tournament. And even if you suck a lot at a game like Unreal Tournament at least you'll get a few frags at the end of the run. You might be at the bottom of the list but you've killed someone, the end score might be 10-2. The RTS games will just show your score as 5-0.

These games require a serious time investment. Today I'd rather just start a game of TF2 for some quick fun. If you have played any shooter in the last ten years you can go ahead and have a few frags. TF2 is a prototype of a game that's easy to get into and hard to master.

That doesn't mean that I won't play any RTS games online anymore. When Starcraft 2 hits the shelves I'll go and join a few rounds online. And I'll probably get my ass kicked so badly that I'll just stick to playing against the computer opponents again. I'd also love to see more defense oriented games. Tower building games or turtle games such as Stronghold could get me to play them online. It's a niche market which has quite some potential. Whatever the niche, it would be great if a top game like Age of Kings gets me hooked for a few days. We can only hope.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

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:

It seems like Bioware is creating games at an increasingly faster rate while their quality is even improving. I liked both Mass Effect and Jade Empire but they weren't on the same level as SW: KOTOR. I personally didn't like them as much and their metacritic scores are in the 80th percentile. Both Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 have a 90+ score and I love both games.

Reading all this I couldn't help but think about Blizzard. They've been my favourite developer for a long time now. I still remember playing starcraft, diablo 2 and warcraft 3 for the first time. And one day they created WoW. I must have spent more hours in WoW than in all the other games I ever played combined. If I were to create a top 25 of my favorite games it would probably contain four Blizzard games. Sadly, it's been a long time since I had the joy of playing Warcraft for the first time:
Blizzards last game, WoW was released five years ago! They have been creating nothing but creating expansions for WoW since 2004. Blizzards philosophy has always been "done when it's done" so it's no wonder that Starcraft 2 got pushed back to Q2 of this year. I wouldn't be surprised if they pushed it back again. Of course, it's hard to argue with success. Which developer wouldn't wish they spent a decade creating WoW? It's clear however that even Blizzard wants to create more games at a faster rate. Splitting up Starcraft 2 in episodes should have done the trick. But they still take as long to create one episode as most developers take to create one new game. Let's hope that the two sequels in the trilogy will be created faster.

Valve already tried to use episodic gaming for Half Life 2. The episodes would make sure that their development time went down at the cost of games with a smaller duration. It's a great idea but we're still waiting for episode 3 two years after the second instalment. At the other end Valve also released Left 4 Dead 2 this year. Releasing a sequel a year after the original caused quite some outrage but once people got to play the game it all calmed down.

In the end it doesn't really matter how long it took you to develop a game. Create a great game and we'll enjoy playing it. But I sure wish that Blizzard had some of the stuff that the Bioware developers are taking.