Monday, August 31, 2009

Blizzard: our new MMO is totally different
But what I could tell you is that we’re intending to create a game experience that is unlike anything that has ever been done before. Something that I think takes things far beyond what anyone has imagined and certainly anything anyone has executed. I think a lot of people love this product, WoW, and anticipate that they’ll continue to love it and continue to want to play it.

When you think about another MMO, if you look at it and say, “Well, you have this game and it’s this amount of money, and you have this game and it’s this amount of money and you have this amount of time, how do those co-exist?”

My feeling is, on the business side, there’s always a way to make things co-exist because you know you start looking at, “I want you to be in the Blizzard universe of games.” So you can look at it from the perspective of, “Oh maybe there are different programs where you can have access to all of the things or a certain amount of things.” You just don’t know, and we don’t either.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Birth of America 2: mini review

Back again with another history lesson. The wargame I have been playing the most lately is still Birth of America 2, when I am not “killin’ Nazis” in Company of Heroes.

This game has a very attractive map, easy to learn play system, and really great historical detail that just sucks me in. Plus, while I am reading Almost A Miracle, I am really on a huge Revolutionary War kick.

Birth of America and its sequel at first struck me as odd wargames, but in time I have started to really like them. Despite the fact that the combat is a tad bit too abstract for me, I do like the way the game emphasizes command and structure. These two facets were key back in the day and Ageod, the makers of Birth of America, followed this idea up even better when they released Napoleon’s Campaigns.

When you look at BOA2 you notice that the map is not hexes but provinces. You will also notice that it is designed with great detail and looks great. I don’t want to turn this post into a review, but it is required to explain what you are looking at in terms of the units on the typical BOA2 map. The game harkens to the Stratego love in all of us, only it allows more movement and far greater depth. Each “unit” you see on the map is actually a container, within which are the actual regiments, supply wagons and other combatants. So picture it if you as a board game, on which are Stratego type markers. Each marker can be moved to other provinces, and each represents an army. Pretend if you will that on the side of the game board you have a cardboard mat upon which the contents of the board containers are actually placed.

You are allowed to move the contents of the containers to other contents and change the strength of the on board markers at will. Each container, usually a general, can only command a certain amount of troops. So you have to spend some time in the game shuffling who commands what and trying to avoid command penalties.

That is the most base description I can give about the game, and suffice it to say that is not detailing the little rules you must know to get ahead in the game. I just wanted to point out what the map markers went because when you first look at it all one sees is the images of famous generals and no military units. Luckily, by clicking on a map marker (or Troop Display Marker), you can see all the units attached to it at the bottom of the screen. This took me a while to get used to as I was coming off of being a straight hex warfare guy.

So the battle I picked to do my first learning game of Birth of America 2 was the Pequot Wars of 1638. This is a small 8 turn scenario in a very small section of the map that is fast and simple to play. This scenario centers on a very unknown war that was fought between Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies against the Pequot tribe. The cause of conflict centered around escalating violence between native american tribes and colonist traders who were kidnapping, plundering and basically making a mess of things. The Pequot were attacking other Indian traders who were friendly to the Dutch in 1633 and this only set the stage for later violence. Tensions came to a head on July 20, 1636, when a respected trader named John Oldham was attacked on a trading voyage to Block Island. One thing to remember about Birth of America 2 is its tagline, which is Wars in America. This game covers EVERYTHING that helped shaped this nation, all the way through 1815. Quite an extensive amount of battles and all them are meticulously researched.

BOA2 uses a simple simultaneous turn resolution system, and because of this you have to think ahead since you never know when, during the turn processing, you may bump into the enemy or stumble upon a large force. You plot your moves, and then end the turn and watch the events unfold for 30 days. Each turn is indeed one month, so careful thought about where to move and how to get there comes into play. You can plot the movement of a unit province by province if you want, but each move adds to the amount of time it will take to get to the final destination. All of this makes for a pretty realistic simulation of command and control back in the day, since you never really knew exactly where enemy units were or the size of the combatants. There is a built in detection and hide mechanic in the game too, so it is quite possible that two units can be in the same province and skirt by each other. The Native American units have really good hide values and can even be put in ambush mode in a province to await an enemy force to pass through so they can attack with bonuses.

Last but not least, leaders are crucial in this game. Many have special abilities, as noted by cool symbols on their markers, and can really help to turn the tide of battle and provide combat bonuses. Since leaders can only control a certain amount of units in there “container” you really have to balance the size of your armies and watch their supply and overall cohesion. Move them too much, leave them in the wilderness and cut off, or make the force so large it has communication break downs and you will take casualties as well as perform horribly in combat.

Provinces in the game are also controlled by one side or the other, and you have to work to flip a territory over. Once you do, supply can pass through there and it makes your advance much easier.

Combat is played out in 6 rounds a day. Since one turn is 30 days, you could imagine that some battles, much like real warfare back then, could extend 7-12 days or more. The initial range is determined by terrain and the type of units involved, and then each round the range decreases by one until the combat turns to hand to hand. You do not actually see this on the screen, and this is where the game may be a let down for some. Instead all the factors are done behind the scenes and a battle wheel is show on the screen to represent the flow of that round. Once the conflict is over a summary screen appears declaring the final victor. This summary screen is the meat and potatoes of the combat system Look it over closely and you can see exactly what happened through the use of symbols, numbers and hovering the mouse over the various parts of the screen. Below is a very small battle fought between two Native forces. All units have stats that determine at what range they opened fire, how much damage they can do if they hit, and how good they are in assault combat. The basic rule of the game is get units that have more range than your opponent, have good leaders, and attack smartly.

That is all for the small overview today. Later on this month I will post a more in depth report of the game as I play it and then hopefully people can see how much this unique strategy game is. The great thing is Ageod has used this engine in their Napoleon game as well as their award winning Civil War game so I know that I have plenty of great wargaming around the bend in the future.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Second Skin: A MOCKumentary

I recently watched Second Skin, a documentary about people that play MMORPG’s. This film had been in production quite a while and was flip flopping around as to when it would be released. The primary amount of footage is from 2006 when Burning Crusade was released. Termed as an “intimate disturbing look” they sure hit the mark. You can watch the whole thing on Hulu, but I am not so sure you want to.

Directed by Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza the film immediately takes a turn for the worse when it decides to focus on how these games pretty much destroy or ruin a person’s life rather than focus on the games and the gamers themselves. What we have here is a film that takes the very stereotypes that we as MMO gamers battle to shrug off and pushes them out to the audience and makes many of us almost ashamed to  be playing MMO’s.

The film doesn’t cover the industry, it doesn’t cover what the games involve, the way people interact in them or how much fun they can be. Instead the film plucks every stereotype of gamer there is (only the worst ones mind you) and then paints all of us gamers in a terribly bad light.

Lets take a look at the type of gamers featured in Second Skin and rattle off a who is who list of what other people believe MMO players to be like:

  • *Lets see… take introverted lady that only finds love on internet in a game and probably owns 8 cats : check

  • *Fat dudes that do nothing but guzzle energy drinks and power level: check

  • *Dude that loses job cause of gaming: check. As a bonus lets have him in a run down house with no carpet and a friend that looks like a meth addict: BONUS CHECK

  • *Creepy guy that preys on women through MMO’s and nerd flirts with them over voice chat: check

  • *Interview mother who parented so poorly kid shot himself. Then show her trying to help other evil gamers and failing OH NOES!: check

  • *Take couple with soon to be dad that doesn’t want to relinquish gaming time to parent: check

  • *Coverage of gamers that live together and forget to buy basic household items, but lets cover them at a grocery store stocking up to power level in WoW the night before expansion comes out: check

What other gamer stereotype did they miss? I am pretty sure they covered them all. Yup, that’s all of us alright! Although I am sure every MMO player has run into those types and that most games do have a ton of those types of people playing, the film does nothing to go out of its way to show them in a good light. The only truly feel good story in the mix is the handicapped gentleman that is just happy to be able to play and gets a sense of freedom when he does so. Thank you for at least shedding light on one positive thing gaming can do to people. The movie also focused on a few couples quickly, but did not go into their normal lives. At least those people look like they had it together. Would like to have seen more of them.

When the films tries to cover something that is controversial such as gold farming it is glossed over. Wait though, they do interview a gold farming company head. Guess what! This is a kinder, gentler gold farming company and he wants to treat his slave labor employees with respect and take them on field trips and have love ins! Wow… maybe gold farming isn’t that bad after all. Hell I’ll go work for him according to what I saw in that film. Doesn’t look so bad to me!

Second Skin is pretty biased toward portraying MMO players as the utmost losers they could possibly find. All that time for this? Are you kidding me? Of all the 50 million gamers out there these people are the best you could find? One guy wouldn’t even keep toilet paper stocked in the house or go get any when his lady friend was calling him FROM the bathroom. Nope, gotta raid! Trust me, even though 90% of my WoW guilds and EQ1 guilds have at least one of those people, we usually find them few and far between. To quote another friend of mine that watched the “film”:
Looking at the stereotypes they portrayed reminds me of the Dark Ages… err… the 70’s and 80’s… when AD&D got such a bad rap for being evil. I used to save the news clippings to share with my groups. The typical story was of a dude that killed someone (or multiples) and/or committed suicide, and how police found “Dungeons and Dragons material in his house.”

Although there are a lot of gamers that fit some of the stereotypes in the film, there’s also a lot of us who don’t. We have jobs, families, stocked shelves, toilet paper, RL friends, other hobbies, etc… and also play MMORPGs. I’d like to see a follow-up story about some of us.

After watching Second Skin I felt dirty and ashamed. I did not feel the film did anything but set all of us gamers back 10 years in how we are portrayed. South park was bad enough, but we all took that one on the chin. This movie is an hour long exploration into a bunch of idiots that are not able to function in real life.

Now, if you all want something better head on over and check out the Discovery Channel HD’s fine mini series about gamers, games and how the effect lives and the economy. This show is called Gamer Generation and you can catch some episodes on You Tube.

I’m done ranting for the day, I got things to conquer. Hudson over and out.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Looking at my wargaming trends

Recently I have been trying to figure out what draws me towards certain wargames as opposed to others. Back when I started wargaming in 1980 or so, I was a young lad that spent hours upon hours with Avalon Hill’s Titans or Afrika Korps, moving chits and studying battles and basically I was a hard core freaking nerd.
Avalon Hills Afrika Korp
Avalon Hill’s Afrika Korps

My love for battles and war history and military conflicts has not changed, and even though I am well versed in WW2 and divisions and leaders and battles and the frontal armor of a Russian T-34, I like to branch out and learn about new conflicts.

Doing so presents a problem however. WW2 is the most over done genre in wargaming, and as such it has a slew of crappy games and some really hard to find jewels. This is not the case for themes like the Civil War or the Napoleonic era. Lately,  great amount of Civil War games have taken front stage and won some awards, from Forge of Freedom to Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States, the Civil War category is “heating up” for us grognards. That is all fine and good, but I am Civil War’d out. If that is even a phrase. Much like WW2 I really just have no interest. In fact the only WW2 topics I like to study to this day are Eastern Front campaigns. I mean honestly do we need ANOTHER damn D-Day game? I do not think so.

So the topic I picked this time around to dive BACK into the genre I so neglected while playing MMO’s is the age of horse and musket and even some time before that. Games covering anything from 1750-1815.  Heck I wouldn’t even mind a little World War One but right now the best game in that category is so complex I would need a PHD in awesomeness to even grasp it. World War One (aptly titled) by AGEOD games is on my radar but not until long after I get my Bunker Hill fix.

Revolutionary War here I come, but where to start? Options are limited. Aside from finding games you have to think about how in depth you want to get. Sure, there are several RTS games out there that cover this time period, but those are not WARGAMES. They are “lite” strategy games that are heavy on looks as opposed to being realistic. However, some gems do stand out. Rise of Nations is good for that aspect, if you lock down the years of gameplay and do not progress. Age of Empires 3 works, as does Empire: Total War. Of those 3, Empire Total War is the best “mainstream” thing us wargamers have for that time period.

That is not good enough for me. When I talk wargames I mean hexes, unit facing, supply, morale, leader values, replacements, sieges, turn based stuff that will take hours to complete a couple of turns in. So that narrows my options to hex based or provincial map based titles. From there we have some things to consider. I myself am not the biggest fan of this latest trend to veer the industry toward provincial areas on a map as opposed to hexes. That is just me being old school however. Every new game coming out seems to be province based as opposed to hexes so that is something I will have to get used to. While not many new games in that time period have been released recently, the ones that have come out in the middle of the decade prove to be very well done. The titles I have looked at are For Liberty! and Birth of America 2. Going WAAAY back to 2000 would net me the chance to gloss over 1776, a John Tiller game. However this game is so old and just so unattractive that I cannot bring myself to play it, and I am a veteran of 1995-2000 Tiller games trust me. I have just advanced beyond that look and those games have not changed at all. I need something a bit more substantial to look at. While most Tiller games are ok, he basically charges 50 bucks for databases. I do like a little production value in my titles. While this is a hotbed of controversy in the grognard circle I do have to say he produces very in depth sims. Heck I am not even sure half his titles will work on 64 bit Vista, but thats why they created compatibility mode.

To this day I still play his Campaign series set in the WW2 era. When the time comes I am sure I will give in to purchasing the re-release of his Napoleon and Civil War titles at Matrix Games.
For Liberty!For Liberty!

Birth of America 2 so far is a great game, however a bit abstract in terms of combat resolution. The engine is well hidden as to what exactly is going on, but the game is a blast to play so far. For Liberty! is a way more in depth combat game. If you do not resolve the battles in quick play format, you will be taken to the tacitcal battle screen and have a chance to move every unit, adjust facing, attack, retreat, supply, and take charge of the battle.

As I get more into detail with these games I will report back on what I find. However right now Birth of America 2 is taking most my wargaming time as I try to nail that system down. Luckily for me BOA2 has a system that is the basis for most AGEOD games, and that runs the gamut of Napoleon to Civil War. Once you learn one AGEOD system you can pick up all their games quickly.

The Napoleon era of gaming is quite alive and well in the wargame department, and my options are really open there, but for right now I want to focus on America’s war for Independence. After that I will hit up 1805-1815 then go from there to the Civil War.

Other things to take into consideration are game support, community and updates. AGEOD excels at this, as their designers and developers are readily available on the message boards. For Liberty! not so much. Hussar Games is a small outfit and has only 2 games under their belt and one is free and included with a For Liberty! purchase. Also they have relatively little contact with their playerbase which really turns me off from actually buying it.You need to also see if a demo is available and if there is a demo it usually includes a PDF manual so study that up and see if you grasp the game. Also check the forums for mods and see if there is still a buzz around the game. For instance, For Liberty! is really dead while BOA2 and all AGEOD games still have a very active community. Sometimes you can find fan sites, much like MMO’s have, that have mods and extend the life of these games (like the Colonial Campaigns Club).

Since I am relatively new at coming back to the genre in this time period, I would be more than open to other suggestions from other wargamers out there to other games that meet my criteria. I am not HUGE into grand strategy games. I don’t really want to play a nation and conquer the world, I want to focus on a specific conflict. One of the things I like to do the most is fight the battles and write about the outcome, like I did HERE with Korsun Pocket and HERE with Empire: Total War. Writing After Action Reports not only helps you understand the game, it makes it understandable to the reader.

Well I have babbled enough and I am sure my MMO reading crowd tuned out a while back. Those of you that remained thanks for your time!