Thursday, June 30, 2011

A funy thing happened on the way to the tank fight

It appears that I have lost my nerve as a tank commander.

When opting to limit my investment of real cash in the game to the relatively small sum of €10 I predicted that I probably wouldn't play for more than a few weeks. That prediction appears to have come through because here I am a few weeks later playing other games (finished Crysis 2 and just started Hydrophobia) and my dedication to tank warfare has shrunk from several battles every day to a few sporadic battles over the course of a week.

While I predicted that I would soon lose interest in the game I am somewhat surprised at the reason why. It is not that I have gotten bored with the game. It is more that as I played more of the game I started to care more about winning and losing battles and that extra seriousness has greatly diminished my pleasure in the game. In a very real sense I have lost my nerve. I am afraid to  start a battle now in case I lose.

I cannot really explain this change of heart because individual battles in WoT are completely throw away affairs. The randomly selected teams pretty much guarantee a 50% win loss ratio and you still earn cash and experience from losses.

I think it all started when I shifted from playing just for the fun of driving a tank to actually trying to pursue some personal goals. WoT is not a traditional mmorpg with linear progression so you pretty much have to plot your own course. Realising that the heavy tank "end game" was far beyond what I would be prepared to grind to I opted for a more realistic goal of trying to get at least one of the signature tanks of WWII: either the Russian T34, The German Panzer IV or the US Sherman. Even without paying for premium status I figured that any one of these level V tanks should be grind-able within a few hundred battles.The Sherman would have been the quickest to reach but the German tech tree offers a lot more diversity so I set my sights on a Panzer.

To match my new goal directed focus I started studying game information and game strategy. Unfortunately my new found knowledge hasn't enhanced my enjoyment of the game and to be honest I am not sure it has improved my game play much either.  Whereas before I would play by instinct now I find myself analysing things based on what I have read.

"Don't go that route, it takes too long", 
"Attack along the Eastern edge", 
"Don't camp the Forest", 
"Be sure and secure the central plateau"

All sound advice that would work well in a game where the entire team communicated and followed an agreed strategy. In the randomly assigned teams it makes almost difference whether you follow a "sound" or an "unsound" strategy. As long as you avoid completely suicidal rushes across open terrain then any move you make is likely to be matched by an equally sensible or equally stupid move on the part of your opponents.  Unfortunately that doesn't stop the tendency to analyse what did and didn't happen and in particular to analyse what I should or shouldn't have done.

The net result of all this is that I find I now care more about winning and losing battles and as a consequence I play less, a lot less. Bizarre.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Do cut price games devalue gaming?

[Cheating a bit here. I originally wrote this in a comment to an RPS article]

Recently I have been doing a bit of soul searching about the personal impact of the ever reducing price of gaming on the PC.

It has gotten to the stage where I have grown used to and in fact come to expect that I can enjoy an endless stream premium quality gaming on my PC for , if not quite free, as close to free as makes no difference.

While this is absolutely terrific on one level I have to wonder whether it actually devalues the experience of gaming in some way. We are strongly conditioned to equate the value of something to the price you pay for it. When you can get a six month old triple A game for less than a tenner, does it still feel like a triple A gaming experience?

One consequence of this is that my expectations of longevity have shrunk. Ten years ago when I payed full price for Deus Ex or Homeworld I was making a major investment in gaming entertainment and I fully expected that game to keep me busy for up to a month. Nowadays when I pick up a title in a Steam sale for €10 I am happy if it lasts me a weekend and then is promptly forgotten.
 
Don’t get me wrong. If you offered me a choice of going back to the bad old days of expensive gaming I would refuse but I am simply wondering if something of the awe and reverence we attached to big name games has dissipated because they have become so cheaply available?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Free is No Longer a Unique Selling Proposition

Some years back I was tempted into playing a fairly crude mmorpg called Minion's of Mirth for the sole reason that it was free to play up to about level 20. This was back before F2P, before free trials, before the digital download revolution and weekend sales. Back then free gaming opportunities were few and far between.

How things have changed. Not a week seems to go by without another major mmorpg announcing that they are transitioning to a free to play model. It's not just mmos that are affected. Digital downloads and their weekly sales now provide gamers with a never ending diet of quality gaming for buttons. The rise of free high quality flash games and mobile apps have lowered price expectations even further. Today's announcement of a major non mmorpg game: Team Fortress 2 transitioning to a free to play model is particularly significant.

Of course all of these games still hope to make money either through sale of stuff in a cash shop or through advertising but the point remains that you could spend every waking minute playing high quality games without spending a penny.

In this new reality free isn't a big deal any more and is not a guarantee of attracting customers.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thank Heaven's for Mom's Basement

Interesting paper from Cunningham, Engelslatter and Ward about the effects of violent video games on violent crime. What stands out in this authoritative looking study is that rather than increasing crime violent games seem to actually decrease it as reported in Slashdot to cheers from the gaming community.

This is not good news for gamers however. If you actually read the study it strongly supports the argument that violent games increase violent tendencies. It is just that people who spend a lot of time playing games don't have time to go out and commit crimes in the real world. In simplistic terms: Violent video games are breeding a nation of psychopaths but as long as they stay in Mom's basement we will be safe.

As a parent who is also a committed gamer I have quite confused emotions about violence in games.  I do want the world to be a safer place and I shun violence in the real world. Yet my gaming is almost entirely based on violence . Indeed I quickly tire of non violent games like Peggle and World of Goo. I have justified my predilection for violent gaming as a safe way of relaxing and a safe outlet for any innate aggression I may have as a result of my cave man ancestory.

I do find there is a level of gratuitous violence that I am not at all comfortable with. I play games to kill the bad guys and rescue the world. I get no extra pleasure from pixelated representations of torture or mutilation. I do not like games that glorify their violence. I generally avoid playing purely evil characters but I have even more difficulty with characters who portray amoral indifference to violence.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Has Eve pulled an Allods?

The latest EVE patch brings with it an item shop full of cosmetic items. It took a little while for folks to work out how much things cost because EVE now has four different "currencies". There is good old cash, then there is ISK, then there are PLEX and now we have Aurums. The conversion rules are complicated but effectively exchange rates exist between every one of these currencies except that the only one who can get cash out is CCP. 

Anyhow items in the cash shop are priced in Aurums and when you acquire those Aurum's for cash (via the intermediate stage of PLEX) it turns out that a shirt costs about €20 while a humble monocle costs almost  €50.Cue nerd rage and when it comes to nerd rage no one does it better than EVE's hardline community.

A couple of years back Allods online was widely praised during beta and had built up a growing cohort of followers who deserted almost overnight when the cash shop was opened and prices were deemed to be a rip off. Many of the complaints have since been addressed but the bad publicity generated still hampers the game.It is hard to believe that any any mmorpg company who adds a cash shop to their game could not be aware of the Allods debacle and the risk of being perceived to "rip off" customers.

EVE is not Allods. The game has a large cohort of loyal players who have stuck with the game through tough times in the past. The vanity items themselves are not required for gameplay.  Given that CCP has always come across as being the most clued in game company when it comes to economic issues (they have an economist who studies their in game market for example) it is hard to believe that they didn't know exactly what they were doing in pricing cash shop items.  Nevertheless I don't profess to understand it myself. EVE's cash shop prices put the items way outside normal "impulse purchase" thresholds which has to severely limit the total revenues.

All I can think of is that the initial high prices are designed to drain the in game economy of a glut of plexes that have been built up by the games wealthiest players. Once this glut has been dealt with then CCP may lower prices to a revenue maximising optimum. The only problem with this strategy, if it is true, is that CCP takes two major publicity hits: one now because of the perceived high price rip off and a second later when they slash the price of items that some folk have paid through the nose for.

Monday, June 20, 2011

World of Tanks: Why Separate US and EU Forums?

Here is the World of Tanks US Forum: http://forum.worldoftanks.com/

Here is the  World of Tanks EU Forum:http://forum.worldoftanks.eu/

Look kind of similar don't they? So similar that I originally assumed that one was a mirror of the other but no they are completely separate forums with different logins that are linked to players game accounts.

 Its the same game and the same topics come up for discussion. Diligent players keep an eye on "the other side" and copy useful posts over but why oh why do we need two sets of forums in the first place? The internet has shrunk the world to make it a smaller place but folks insist on trying to split it up again for entirely artificial reasons. 

To make matters even worse the European forums are quite hard to find because Google and other search engines throw up the .com version before they get to the .eu version. Several time I have read an interesting post and wanted to comment before realising that I cannot because it is on the US site. Even Wargaming.net's own website will lead you only to the US version of the game support site. Why?


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cryostasis: More than a game or less than a game?

I have just finished Cryostasis, Sleep of Reason a rather strange game from Ukranian developer Action Forms. It is pegged as survival horror game but I'm not so sure that is should be viewed primarily as a game at all. To my mind Cryostasis is really an interactive novel and quite a complicated one at that. The main plot is a ghostly tale of redemption set on an nuclear icebreaker entombed in the icy grip of a berg. This is overlaid with an ancient folktale  that is seemingly unconnected but parallels the events of the current storyline. As I said it is quite complex and I didn't figure it all out for myself but there is definitely a bit of "literature" going on.

The main protagonist plays a scientist who struggles to survive the bitterly cold conditions. Given that you are no doubt wrapped from head to toe in several inches of thick furs and given that all that stands between you and freezing to death is the meagre heat of a few light bulbs it is hardly surprising that your movements are slow and awkward and that combat plays out as if in slow motion. Appropriate though this may be from a story point of view from a gameplay point of view it is a disaster. The controls feel awkward and unresponsive. With everything happening so slowly the overall difficulty level is generally trivial but there are a few unfair difficfulty spikes particularly at boss fights.

Whether you think this title is to be praised or knocked really depends on how you rate interactive story versus game play. I was sufficiently impressed to stick with it to the end but I have to admit that I feel a little bit like I do after watching an obscure art movie, not really knowing whether I enjoyed it but feeling that it was worth watching none the less.

All in all I am glad stuff like this gets made and it probably makes a much bigger contribution to the  "games are/ are not art" debate than any hundred million dollar blockbuster.   

Friday, June 17, 2011

Game of Thrones

This: http://insidetv.ew.com/2011/06/13/game-of-thrones-reaction/ reminds me of why I love Martin's Song of Ice and Fire so much. I was also as shocked when I read the book. He can't do that can he? He just did.  Welcome to the roller coaster ride that is Ice and Fire.

Thanks to  Wilhelm the Ancient Gaming Noob for pointing this out. Now if only the series would come to a channel I can actually watch on my crappy cable service.




Making the most of the World of Tanks matchmaking chart

I am still a very new player in World of Tanks with  a mere 230 battles to my name but a recent post from Zoso about the vagaries of the matchmaking system caused me to search out the full matchmaking chart. You can see it here.  Be sure to scroll down to the latest version (currently 6.4).

If you locate you current tank in the left hand column and see how far the bar extends you can see the highest level battle that you are likely to be thrown into.

Studying this chart confirms a suspicion I had earlier that there are certain sweet spots on the chart where you can pick a tank that is unlikely to be put up against anything it cannot handle. A level 3 tank destroyer for example will not be put into into any battle above level 5 and I know from experience that a fully equipped level 3 TD can do decent damage to any level 5 tank even heavies. If you upgrade to a level 4 tank destroyer though the level of tanks that you could face jumps by two levels  up to level 7. It seems to me that level 3 is a sweet spot for tank destroyers.

The situation with light tanks is even more dramatic. A level 3 light tank won't see anything above level 5 but a level 4 light tank could be thrown against level 9s and there is basically no limit to what a level 5 light can face! The sweet spot for light tanks is in fact level 2 because a level 2 light will never have to fight anything above level 2.

Of course a level 5 light in a level 10 battle can still be a useful scout and I have no doubt that light tank specialists relish this role. Nevertheless studying the matchmaking chart is great for finding sweet spots where you can enjoy competitive matches without having to grind excessively.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What I'm at in World of Tanks

Playing three tanks at the moment:

A tier 2 Russian AT-1 tank destroyer which I love. Playing a tank destroyer is a bit like fishing - mostly its a waiting game but every so often you get lucky and haul in a bumper catch. One unexpected bonus of playing tank destroyers is that the stealth bonuses mean I am often one of the last tanks left alive. Several battles have come down to just artillery and tank destroyers left on both teams.  If you are only interested in levelling then this longevity is a disadvantage because you get to play fewer matches but I love the intriguing end game as these normally stationary beasts trundle into slow motion battle to try and capture the enemy base or hunt down the remaining defenders.

A Tier 2 PzKpfw 35 (t) light tank. WoTs rating system ranks this tier 2 as less valuable than the AT-1 so I usually find myself thrown into low level matches with tiers 1 and 2 only. It is nice to be a big fish even if it is a small pool but somehow I doubt this is teaching me any valuable lessons about how to drive a light tank at higher tiers.

A Tier 1 Leichte Traktor. This is a weak tank equipped with a pea-shooter gun. I ignored this ungainly tank initially because its weak gun struggles to penetrate even tier 1 armour but recently I have come back to it as a kind of challenge. I have found some success driving it aggressively close to an enemy and using the rapid fire of the auto-cannon to keep them distracted while the tiny increments of damage add up.

Currently saving up for a Marder II tier 3 Tank Destroyer. This is actually a sideways move from the Russian AT-1 but I the Marder seems to have better gun options than the Russian tier 3 TD plus it is a lot cheaper to buy. Happily I have enough "free experience" accumulated to allow me to bypass the German tier 2 tank destroyer so it shouldn't take too long to get there. This strikes me as a very good use of free XP.

World of Tanks: Making it easy to spend real money

147 battles in and I am still having lots of fun without spending real money in World of Tanks but I decide to buy some gold anyway. Given my track record with games I am unlikely to stick with it for more than a few weeks so I decided to start small and only spend €9.99 for 2,500 Gold. I will probably spend this on crew training mostly but I may also spend a few gold rescuing some trapped experience from capped "Elite Tanks". 

Of course spending such a small amount means I had to put up with a poor exchange rate. While volume discounts are understandable they are a sore point if you have already decided for very good reasons not to buy big. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that the hit was not so severe. The best rate you can get is 0.33c per gold for spending €99.99 but I still managed a respectable 0.4c per gold for only spending €9.99.

To be honest this makes me much more comfortable buying a small amount of gold. I don't feel ripped off and it makes it much more likely that I will buy another small amount of gold later. There is a school of though that having big discounts on block purchases encourages people to spend more but in my case at any rate it would probably scare me off and make me spend less.

The other way WoT makes it easy to spend money is by having a very wide choice of methods of putting money into the game. I could choose between two billing partners and a multiplicity of payment methods. In the end I opted for Paypal because the current spate of hacking into game companies makes me think that the fewer service have my credit card details the better.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Codemasters Hacked

Less than a week after European Lotro transferred back to Turbine Codemaster's servers were hacked. Although I had already moved all of my details are still on Codemaster's servers. Here is the email I received from them about this.

Dear valued Codemasters customer,

On Friday 3rd June, unauthorised entry was gained to our Codemasters.com

website. As soon as the intrusion was detected, we immediately took
codemasters.com and associated web services offline in order to prevent
any further intrusion.

During the days since the attack we have conducted a thorough

investigation in order to ascertain the extent and scope of the breach
and have regrettably discovered that the intruder was able to gain
access to the following:

Codemasters.com website


Access to the Codemasters corporate website and sub-domains.


DiRT 3 VIP code redemption page


Access to the DiRT 3 VIP code redemption page.


The Codemasters EStore


We believe the following have been compromised: Customer names and

addresses, email addresses, telephone numbers, encrypted passwords and
order history. Please note that no personal payment information was
stored with Codemasters as we use external payment providers, meaning
your payment details were not at risk from this intrusion.

Codemasters CodeM database


Members' names, usernames, screen names, email addresses, date of birth,

encrypted passwords, newsletter preferences, any biographies entered by
users, details of last site activity, IP addresses and Xbox Live
Gamertags are all believed to have been compromised.

Whilst we do not have confirmation that any of this data was actually

downloaded onto an external device, we have to assume that, as access
was gained, all of these details were compromised and/or stolen.

The Codemasters.com website will remain offline for the foreseeable

future with all Codemasters.com traffic re-directed to the Codemasters
Facebook page instead. A new website will launch later in the year.

Advice


For your security, in the first instance we advise you to change any

passwords you have associated with other Codemasters accounts. If you
use the same login information for other sites, you should change that
information too. Furthermore, be extra cautious of potential scams, via
email, phone, or post that ask you for personal or sensitive
information. Please note that Codemasters will never ask you for any
payment data such as credit card numbers or bank account details, nor
will Codemasters ask you for passwords or other personal identifying
data. Be aware too of fraudulent emails that may outwardly appear to be
from Codemasters with links inviting you to visit websites. The safest
way to visit your favourite websites is always by typing in the address
manually into the address bar of your browser.

Unfortunately, Codemasters is the latest victim in on-going targeted

attacks against numerous game companies. We assure you that we are doing
everything within our legal means to track down the perpetrators and
take action to the full extent of the law.

We apologise for this incident and regret any inconvenience caused.


We are contacting all customers who may have been affected directly.


Should you have any concerns or wish to speak to a member of our

Customer Services team, please email them at
custservice@codemasters.com.

You have been sent this email as part of your Codemasters Code M

membership. If you have any questions or queries about this email or
your CodeM account, please email CodeM@codemasters.com. The Codemasters
Software Company Limited, registered in England (Company No. 2044132)
whose registered office is at Codemasters Campus, Southam, Warwickshire,
CV47 2DL, England. For more Privacy information, please read the
Codemasters Privacy Policy : http://www.codemasters.co.uk/privacy/


I don't really know whether to be worried about this or not. In recent years I have gotten pretty diligent about using different log in details for different systems but there was a time when I was not so vigilant and of course I still live in the same house with the same telephone number.

World of Tanks: Tank Killer fun

After spending some time in light tanks (mostly a Tier 2 PzKpfw 35) I decided to try something completely different so I got me an entry level tank destroyer the Russian AT-1.

Bit of a shock to the system at first. Coming from the relative nippiness of light tanks the AT-1 moves and turns like molasses. The lack of  turret is frustrating forcing you into an awkward cycle of zoom in to shoot zoom out to turn the tank, zoom in again to shoot etc. Also despite the fact that it is also a tier 2 tank it seems to rank a grade higher than the PzKpfw 35 and gets put into matches with tiers 3 and 4 so you find yourself in matches where just about every other tank on the field is faster than you are, more manoeuvrable than you are and can kill you in an instant. 

There is an up side. It wouldn't be a tank killer if it didn't have a big gun. It comes with a tier 2 gun but after a few matches you should be able to upgrade to a tier 3 76mm or even a tier 4  57 mm. These big guns turn your little AT-1 into a glass cannon - able to kill much bigger tanks from long range as long as long as they don't see you first.

Of course the "as long as they don't see you first" is the hard bit especially given how slow the AT-1 is to move around. In my noobness I generally just look around for a bush that is close to the starting zone where I can hide and provide cover to the base and our artillery units. To date I have had mixed success with this. The long range kills are very satisfying when I pull them off and I have saved the day  a couple of times by killing raiders who made a cheeky run for our base. More often however I am outflanked and killed especially when I am zoomed in and not paying attention to my immediate surroundings.








Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Things I have learned from World of Tanks #1

Everything every strategy game I have ever played has taught me about the advantages of "holding the high ground" is bullshit. You are far better off in a hole with your gun barrel peeping out than you are sitting pretty on top of a hill. Better yet stay on the down slope of a hill and just edge forward till you can take a shot at the guy over the crest and then reverse back down again.

Monday, June 06, 2011

World of Tanks versus Call of Duty Elite?

World of tanks is an online multiplayer first person shooter, make no mistake about it. WASD controls, mouse aiming, left mouse button to shoot,  scroll wheel to zoom, small closed maps, Two teams of 15  players each. Sure it has vehicles and sure those vehicles just happen to be tanks but this game firmly belong to the FPS school and bears relatively little relation to the click to target open world model of mmorpgs ...except that it has a cash shop ... and serious players can pay a monthly sub for premium access ...  and shock horror, people who pay more money get game changing perks like better ammo and heals as well as the ability to progress much faster.

So why is World of Tanks getting so much love when Activision's proposed addition of a subscription service to Call of Duty is getting so much abuse?

Putting aside emotional arguments based on a dislike of "Big Gaming" in general and Bobby Kotick in particular  I can think of a couple of key differences:

1. The $60 entry price for a Call of Duty / Modern Warfare game. In World of tanks you can start to play for free and then if you like the game you can pay more to get more. There is absolutely no suggestion (and no likelihood) that Activision will lower the box price of their game once they bring in the subscription service so there is the feeling that Activision are just double dipping. Activision however have taken pains to point out that you will still be able to do lots without paying a subscription. Indeed it is very hard to find out what a subscription will actually add. Informed opinion is that this is just a toe in the water and that the initial subscription offer will only tempt the hardcore.

2. The E-sports mentality. FPS games have traditionally been ruthlessly balanced games where skill triumphs over luck and quick fingered adolescents get to humiliate grown men with fatter wallets.  Call of Duty comes from that heritage and any move towards a system where someone who pays more gets an advantage would be seen as a betrayal of the spirit of such a game. Because World of Tanks doesn't come from that heritage it isn't subject to the same constraints and people seem to just accept the fact that money can buy you power.  To be fair to Wargaming.net  they do seem to have good balancing routines which balance the teams overall even if individual members of any team have widely differing capabilities. Even if you are in the weakest tank on your team the chances are there is someone on the other side just as weak as you.
 
Putting the comparison aside one of the most interesting analyses of Activision's move that I have read was made by Bill Harris: He suggests that the whole point of  "Call of Duty Elite" is to lock customer's in to a social network infrastructure based on their games. Certainly sounds like a good (if scary move) but why charge for it? The message of social networking surely is that it has to be free.




Friday, June 03, 2011

First Post Brilliance

Top Marks to a poster called Simon for nailing GOG's mini review competition on Rock Paper Shotgun in the very first post. 

The competition requires a short (<100 words) witty review of any game. Simon's contribution:

Half Life - Its quite slow, you start on a train and nothing much happens. I played it for 3 minutes then uninstalled it, Probably the best train passenger simulator out there but its a bit of a niche market. Two stars.

Well played sir. Well played. 
 


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Is grown up fantasy and science fiction making a comeback?

Another interesting observation from my visit to the local library last night is that the shelf space dedicated to fantasy and science fiction is growing. I have also noticed the same thing happening in my local bookshops.

A few years back I was concerned to see that  my favourite genre seemd to have fallen out of favour and what little shelf space was dedicated to fantasy was given over almost entirely to Harry Potter and the deluge of Teenage Vampire novels. While some of the young adult stuff is very good I don't want to spend the rest of my life reading about teenagers so it is very refreshing to see George Martin, Ian Banks, Alastair Reynolds and their ilk being displayed prominently again and pushed heavily. Patrick Rothfuss appears to be the current ascending star and I am half way through "The Name of The Wind" myself.

Perhaps the millions who grew up on Harry Potter have grown up and are looking for more mature fantasy?

PS. Originally the post title referred to "Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction" except it sounded like I am talking about elf porn. Is there a better term to describe F&SF written for an adult audience?

Thoughts on visiting a lending library

I brought my kids to the local lending library last night and I was struck by how wonderful it is to stroll through aisles of books. Seeing them, touching them, smelling them and browsing through them. I have been something of an e-book evangelist for the last few months so it was a grounding experience to be reminded just how much pleasure can be got from physical books.

Apart from the tactile sensuality of it all I was also struck by how much better the browsing and selection process is with physical books than with the crude tools that online booksellers have managed to come up with to date. Choosing books online is a narrowly focussed activity. I tend to know exactly what I want before I start and the search tools quickly (or not so quickly in some cases) bring me to it. Browsing physical books on shelves is a much more open experience tempting one to pick up and read the most unlikely titles. Last night for example, among my usual selection of Fantasy and SF novels I also borrowed a book on soap making for no better reason than it caught my eye.

None of this changes my opinion that paper books are on their way. I still believe the vastly superior economic efficiency of e-books means that their rise to dominance is inevitable. I am sure that scribes of yore lamented the dying artistry of hand scripted manuscripts when the printing press and its ugly mass produced volumes made them redundant but it happened none the less.