For the last six months I’ve had to suffer with a five year old Radeon graphics card that struggles to run even the most basic of software. Previously my old monster g-card had melted itself into a pile of slag and I’ve not replaced it due to expense, laziness, and the ever-present internal argument – Do I spend a little on a component, or a lot on a badass new rig?
In recent months I’ve completed the all Borderlands 2 DLC, aced Tomb Raider and I’m now starting to work my way through the challenges on Arkham Asylum. Needless to say I’m bored to death with my 360 and the last two Games on Gold freebies I’ve played (Assassins Creed 2 and Crackdown) are so dated and unplayable, that I’ve turned again to my PC for my virtual reality thrills.
Thankfully there are plenty of cheap, undemanding titles out there that I can occupy my time with, and Romnio Games’ 2012 Awesomenauts is no exception.
I picked this up for less than the cost of a porn mag (as if I’d pay for porn...) in the recent Steam sale. Recommended by a buddy of mine, he sold it to me as a 2D Space DOTA. And that’s what it is. You command one of three characters on a team whose objective is to destroy the enemy base. In your way are the other team, sentry towers, and other little minions whom you kill for money (and experience).
It’s fun and cheap and very slick. The animation and design is very cartoonish, but smoothly rendered. It looks great, but is totally lightweight; I reckon you could run this thing on a smart phone no problem.
As a game you have a great variety of characters. It veers away from the whole DOTA/LOL fantasy setting and goes for a Bucky O’Hare style future approach. It’s all very boldly coloured and presented. It also maintains the various classes popularised by DOTA; tank, assassins and support, though none feel too specialized or niche.
Currently I am playing as Derpl Zork, a tank class character whom appears as a weird shrimp riding a big robot. He throws cats at his enemies. Yes you read that correctly. My friend: Voltar the omniscient – a brain in a jar who heals people. Rounding out our trio is my other buddy playing Yuri, an assassin monkey riding a jet pack.
Needless to say this game doesn’t take itself too seriously.
My one regret about the purchase is that I didn’t pick up the complete edition that included the sound track. While it isn’t Hans Zimmer by any stretch of the imagination, it is certainly spunky and reminiscent of old school arcade blasters.
If I was to search for any problems with the game, I’d definitely say the alternative DLC skins are way too overpriced for what you get (the complete pack is actually more expensive than the game itself). Another gripe is the lack of support characters. Voltar is the only pure healer, and there are only two real tanks. The rest are mainly assassins.
However, it’s hardly a complex game like DOTA 2, so you can forgive it.
But it does suffer from another issue that pervades LOL and DOTA too – the total reliance on team work. What vexes me about MOBA’s in general is that you cannot solo these games unless you are playing with pros or against total cretins. There is no middle ground. You log on in the middle of the night for a few quick games and you find yourself getting multi-raped game after game. It’s frustrating. But when you do manage to find yourself with a good team, my God is it fun.
So Awesomenauts is fitting the bill so far. It’s not demanding (performance wise) and each game only takes about 15 minutes, which is perfect for age 30+ gamers with kids and spouses and shit running around interrupting you.
It’s currently on Steam for £6.99, and while that is cheap, I’d still hesitate to pick it up unless a few mates are going to buy it too. Otherwise wait for the next sale.
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Had some good feedback from first episode. This episode features a discussion on favourite video game weapons going from Doom, through to Zork, all the way to Portal and COD. Also includes swearing and much argument.
Me and a couple of mates decided to record our ramblings. We talk about our favourite (and most hated) video game sequels, as well as debate the merits of murder, God and everything in between. And all in our cute English accents.
Please give it a listen, and let us know what you think!
My friends, there is a terrible disease ravaging it’s way across the universe. It is a tragic affliction striking where it is most unwanted.
It sweeps across cities, towns, villages, dungeons, and cool Mos Eisley-themed space cantina night clubs.
The effects of this terrible, terrible malady are felt by all; close friends, loved ones, even perhaps yourself.
I of course speak of the devastating power of Bioware Disease.
What, you may ask, is Bioware Disease? It is simpler to examine the effects than to describe the complex life-cycle of the virus itself.
Imagine, if you will, the setting of the popular 2011 game Dragon Age 2. We are in Kirkwall, described as the “city of chains”, it has been spoken of in hushed whispers by many a world-wearied adventurer. It is apparently, according to the wiki entry, “a major population centre” where “prowling groups of outlaws” hound its lower class denziens.
Venture through Kirkwall though, and you experience something totally different to all that you have been told. Vast areas of silent space. Small groups of what we designate as “none-player characters” (Or NPCs) do stand at random points. Sadly Bioware Disease has rendered even these staunch folk most noticeably silent. Most cannot even move, let alone speak.
Positively Teeming with Life. And chains.
There are no prowling groups. Not even much of a population, thanks to Bioware Disease.
Overall it has destroyed, rendered mute and completely nullified the atmospheric impact of any NPC in Bioware’s multiverse.
Scientists believe the viral strain of Bioware Disease, or BD as we like to call it here at the Centre of NPC Rehabilitation and Reintegration, began to take root in critically acclaimed role-play games in the early 2000’s. Neverwinter Nights is often cited as the progenitor of the disease.
Scoring highly in the ratings of popular review hotspots, the Gamespot and PC Gamer[s], few saw the birth of something that would eventually go on to fester, corrupt and ultimately sour Bioware’s entire catalogue of “RPG” games.
Neverwinter Nights featured an OKAY story. Its setting was also pretty good. It had potential. What it also had was totally faceless, dull and annoying NPCs. Sure it was hardly the dawn of the super techno-age where every NPC had a voice and a family and a bank account or anything. But these NPCs didn’t do anything. Most of them just stood around. Most of them didn’t even speak. They just stood (or sat, or lay) where they were in complete other-world absentia.
This killed the atmosphere for many. The game sounded great. It played well. But the nicely designed tavern, the weapon shops, the armed camps, the courtrooms, all of it seemed horribly static, horribly hollow. Why? Because a place is only as lively (or in this case deathly) as it’s inhabitants.
It slowly started to get worse too. NWN became Knights of the Old Republic, another game lauded by the critics and the players. Another game where greatness was within it’s reach, snatched away only by this terrible malady of poorly written, immobile NPCs.
Now in a future setting you’d expect more people, more activity. People coming and going. People leading their lives. Okay we don’t expect to see them go take a dump in a local toilet (we’ll discuss this in a moment). The game doesn’t even need to have a day and night cycle. But any sense of realism is shattered whenever a city or a town is under-attack and Joe Blacksmith/Jenny Lightsaber Crystal Saleswoman are still stood, calm as Hindu cows, doing NOTHING behind their barely decorated store counters.
The typical reflex is “but but but the Mass Effect characters are some of the deepest, most interesting, coolest guys in video game history ever”. We agree. Save for Kanye West in ME2 and the confused Latino in trois, the main crew of the Normandy feature high on the badass rogue’s gallery of rogue badasses.
But it’s at all the other locations with all the other characters that the game is ultimately let down. Mass Effect 3: The Endening – during the time you go to the hospital on a planet with FUCKING HUGE SPIDER ROBOTS WALKING AROUND ON IT do you ever see a doctor run? Do you see one even move? Do you at any point feel a sense of impending doom, or urgency or panic, or any other sensation you’d feel during a potentially species ending war in the middle of an emergency room?
How about the Afterlife Club in Mass Effect 2? Omega looked great. It looked like the kind of shit-hole that the scum and villainy of the galaxy would be attracted to. Didn’t see many of them on the streets…but that’s not the point. As you approach this massive nightclub on this atmospherically lit hive of nastiness, you spot a miniscule line of NPC not doing anything. That’s cool though. You can almost feel the bass of the club’s generic future electro funk. Holy shit, I thought, this reminds me of going out clubbing when I was 16!
My thoughts are confirmed the moment I get inside. It’s like I really was 16, and like when I was 16, this place is eerily similar to all those places that would happily let in a teenager; it’s fucking empty. This isn’t a party. It’s the 5:00 am coked up remnants of a party.
The aforementioned Dragon Age 2 is the worst culprit of all. Dragon Age: Origins had taken a step in the right direction. Most NPCs were triggered the moment you got close to them. Most if not all had some dialogue, even if it was just a line. There were lots of them. They populated the locations and made the locations feel populated. Yeah they didn’t move around much. But it was progress.
Then comes along this shady, “sneak-a-video-camera-into-a movie-theatre-then-sell-it-on-ebay” knockoff, Dragon Age 2. Not only did Dragon Age 2 abandon everything that made Origins so good (the ambiguity, the open world, the difficulty, the tits), it set a new record in completely sparse settings. Kirkwall was meant to be thronged with poor people when you get there. There was barely anyone there. Most of them didn’t say anything now. Most of them didn’t ever move. Most of them were like static blocks. Dogshit, in a word. Solid non-player dogshit.
Yeah you can say Bioware isn’t squarely to blame. Some of the other giants are pretty shoddy motherfuckers too. Yet Skyrim is forgivable for having utterly forgettable retard NPCs because there is so much other forgettable stuff to do in the game. So when you look back on the 100+ hours you spent playing you can only really remember the inventory screen (which is where 20 of those hours went). Oh maybe that spazzy guy who saves you at the beginning. Maybe, MAYBE one of the lizard men. Fuck anyone else.
World of Warcraft has equally stationary drones. But they are merely the mise en scene of a grand, rich world that you can forgive it. Wow’s environments are so huge, so vibrant, so absurd, and so colourful, that it makes the flat rigidity of Old Republic all the more apparent. Yeah it had the biggest voice cast ever doing the most lines ever. I don’t give a damn if those lines are being read out of a robot that looks and acts like Ferris Bueller’s teacher.
Skyrim and WoW do some things well, some fantastically. Bioware’s RPG titles push themselves on immersive worlds and stories. I mean, let’s face it, their mechanics are hardly anything special. So I do not understand why they scupper themselves by completely neglecting the “other” people in their worlds. It can be done right as these great titles display:
Metal Gear Toilet Man Okay so I said I didn’t want to see anyone go to the toilet. I lied. MGS may have lots of simple guards wandering around doing simple guard stuff, and are all voiced by one guy. Sue me. They also get spooked, radio in, follow tracks and become significantly more advanced with each and every game. And these are guards. JUST THE GUARDS. Lets not speak of the awesome cast of EVERYONE else, all of whom seem like ACTUAL characters where ACTUAL thought has gone into how they are portrayed and what their purpose is.
Biggs, Wedge and Jesse
You will care…you will…
SPOILER ALERT they all die. About 5 hours in they die. Yet these three are cool as fuck and you are legitimately sad when they are smashed by the floaty city block. Every location in FF7 is filled with movement and life. Whether it’s bikini clad blocks/babes lounging around in the Costa Del Sol, to the skittering patrons of the Gold Saucer. For such an old game it’s replete with character and atmosphere.
Shen Mue The Godfather of the immersive world. One of the first games where you truly think that each and every character had a place, a role and a life within the world itself.
Assassins Creed THE CROWDS. Oh my God the crowds. This is how cities should look and feel.
Red Dead/GTA Again, like Shen Mue, everyone seemed to have a place. Even the crazy little side missions, everyone looked the part, sounded the part. People lived. They gambled, drank, slept, danced and shot through their lives.
No it’s not a roleplay game. It is so utterly thematic though. It nails the mechanics, but also completely nails every other element of gameplay, including the locations, the set pieces and the NPCs. Squads in the distance advance, retreat, fire, flee, and do shit in such a realistic way that you feel part of the action. They are not marching forward in binary derived precision formations. They scramble like real people in a real situation.
So it is possible. Bioware Disease doesn’t have to ethnically cleanse the galaxy of realistic, energetic, and atmosphere-building support characters. I fucking loved Mass Effect and Dragon Age. I’m fond of KotoR. But they could have been better. And the above is just one way how.
In my last Monthly Musings blog I discussed how sex was used as an offensive and profitable tool in early online games. While the decreased cost of webcams and digital media has nullified some of the more opportunistic and shady online transgender pretenders, another practise has risen to proliferation in its place.
I speak of the heinous cash for gold/silvers/platinum/credits/ISK/characters/ratings/achievement points/ et al. phenomenon.
Harking back again to my Gemstone IV days I recall the very first inkling of $$ 4 Cyber Goods. Rumours were rampant at the time (1997?) that a particularly powerful sorcerer had tired of the game and literally “sold out”. Via a couriered cheque the player had sold his account with all his items for approximately $3,000. Not an inconsiderable chunk of change for lines of text and code.
Soon more characters were being traded for cash or in-game wealth. Something was bound to go wrong. Which it did when a GM also decided to quit, selling his account with various GM related items (such as one that granted infinite silvers and exp) still in his possession. Simutronics, the parent company, caught on to this growing trend, and imposed a $15 surcharge for each character trade.
Soon everything was for sale: silvers, items, characters, even in game-real estate. With the birth of PayPal even international movers and shakers such as myself could get in on the fun.
That’s right, I’ll admit it, I bought and sold various things for cash in the game.
Mainly it was silvers. A character to trade here and there. Even some armour on eBay for $50. Laugh all you want. Call me a nerd who wasted my money. Perhaps I was. But on the flip side I once sold a sword I had acquired for $1000. Your cat-calls of dweeb don’t sound so hilarious now do they?
Gemstone being a small MUD only saw the beginning of this phenomenon. Virtual items have gone under the hammer in nearly every MMO and online game since. In WoW we have gold sellers, levelling services. Eve has its ISK farmers. Even XboX Live has drones offering their services (for a premium) for accomplishing those annoying achievements. Effectively every sand-box world has people willing to grind or develop scripts to grind in order to sell in-game services or currency for real world cash.
Many games, including most browser-based free-to-play games, offer extra items, perks or bonuses via micro-transactions conducted with real life money. Maple Story (the 3rd most successful MMO of 2008), Shanda and Dungeon & Dragons Online all feature this system.
Comparably the paradigm (in PC retail, at least) has shifted now from real life media to virtual data. Is spending your hard earned pennies on an intangible game on Steam any different from buying a flashy new intangible mount for your level 80 in Warcraft?
Consider also how many of the top-end MMOs are pay-to-play. Is buying in-game resources any less peculiar than paying to access a virtual world in the first place?
So is this practise right, wrong, stupid, genius, geeky, cutting-edge?
The typical argument against is that you’d be foolish, nay retarded, to not only risk your credit card details, your account (in games where it is illegal), and your money for items that do not exist in a physical sense. Opposing this philosophy are gamers who insist that they save valuable in-game time, have more fun because of the enhanced options their cash buys, and that, fundamentally, it’s their money to spend on what they want at the end of the day.
Regardless of the argument it all comes down to a simple question that each gamer much consider: does the effort equal the reward?
Does the time it takes to make the money in real life equate to more or less the amount of fun or time-saved in the game you’ll be spending it?
I’ll explain: I’m playing World of Warcraft. It takes me say three hours to grind one thousand gold. That is three hours of mind-numbing questing, ore-node farming, auction-house hugging etc. Also bear in mind that is a best-case scenario. No annoying PKers, no inflated AH etc.
Now consider that it costs me around 12 euros to buy that 1k from a shady gold-seller. Theoretically, even at minimum wage I can spend two hours at work and then purchase my gold with my money.
So the choice: spend time out of game to spend time in the game doing more fun, useful things. Or spend my money on real life things, and then spend an extra three hours in the game earning money to buy in-game things.
There is of course risk. You could get your account banned. You could get scammed.
In that instance it is basic risk versus reward.
Otherwise you must judge whether or not the effort, in & out of the game, is worth the reward in the game.
Is the effort worth the reward?
Like it or hate it, it’s clear that many think the effort of spending a little cash to enhance their gameplay is reward enough for their hard work. They argue that it is no different from spending your money on say a gaming mouse, or a strategy guide, or indeed any hobby that you enjoy.
Regardless or your preference though, it often comes down to whether or not whomever runs the games wish to keep micro-transactions illegal for the most part (such as Blizzard), or support it and gain from it in the style of Gemstone’s $15 character transfer fee.
Blizzard itself has a no-holds-barred policy in regards to such people infringing on their turf, often banning slews of gold-farmers, levellers as well as the people who happen to use their services. Famously their most prominent victory in this arena was against the website Peons4Hire in 2008.
Previously eBay had also put a stop to virtual items sales with a change of policy, but did that or Blizzard’s successful lawsuit diminish the amount of spamming, usage of, or demand for such services?
One could also find incredible irony in the fact that while Blizzard so staunchly rails against third-party micro-transactions, it is all for players spending “extra-curricular” cash on in-game items from its own store. The success of the celestial steed can only herald more similar developer supported DLC.
With Paypal and psychotic Chinese Gold-Farm operations becoming far more accessible and far more lucrative, there is no easy solution to this situation. It is going to continue. Which companies maintain a hardline policy against such activities as apposed to those who will capitulate or soften their approach will be interesting to see in the coming years.
The giants (Blizzard, Activision etc) can afford to be stubborn. But what of the developers of
smaller-scale “freebie” games? Revenue of any type (subscription, advertising, micro-transaction) is crucial in remaining both prominent and afloat, let alone successful.
But ultimately the choice will be ours. It’s our dollar, our cash. And while many will whine and complain that those with the extra money will be getting an “unfair advantage”, isn’t it just as easy to say “life is unfair”? Should the game world be exempt from economic circumstance? That’s a discussion for another time, I suspect.