Five Games From the Decade of Excess

That is to say, five games from the 80’s. I was reading Flosch’s influential games post and got to thinking I would like to put a little spin on it. And its been awhile since I’ve gotten a Five for Friday post in, so here it goes!

We got our first household computer in 1987. My Dad was learning the electronic frontier for his job and so we got one to put in the house as well. I learned DOS and all that jazz, and I don’t think any of us regret the early learning curve. I’ve tried to do the same with my kids. But of course, it wasn’t all work. A new era of games was hitting, and it was something we all enjoyed. I didn’t hit Middle School until the 90’s, so these were games that I was playing when I was 8-10 years old. And they were tremendously influential on my joys and hobbies as the years progressed. These five will always have a sort of legendary status in my memory.

1) Might and Magic 2: Gates to Another World

Might and Magic II Coverart.png

The first game I bought with my own money, this was one of my first RPG’s. And it was brutally hard. The randomly generated monsters rarely had any sort of tie with your parties power level, so there was a lot of running away to do. I spend a lot of time in the first town picking the lock on the “Monster Closet” and in an encounter space down one of the alley’s. Mostly I ran, but after awhile I was able to climb on top of the curve. And before long I had decent levels and +10 long swords and the occasional +3 ray gun (Might and Magic was ever crossing fantasy and sci-fi). I never beat the game, but that didn’t bother me any. The world was large enough that adventuring occupied all my time and joy. I think this game set my predilection for Exploration and love of RPG’s and MMO’s in general.

2) Mechwarrior

Mechwarrior BOXCOVER.jpg

While I had played the original BattleTech: Crescent Hawk’s Inception (CHI), it never really gelled with me the way this game did. CHI felt incomplete somehow, and unless you knew the trick to getting lots of credits early, it was an incredibly difficult game. Mechwarrior on the other hand, had a great story and some fantastic gameplay, putting you in the cockpit for the first time. For someone that bought their first Technical Readout at the tender age of 7, this was like the pearly gates of heaven opening up!

While the Battlemaster was the king of the mechs in this game, I often found myself putting the rest of my squad in them while I played around with other options. The sad thing is this: I don’t think, in the multiple sequals (and definitely in this latest, really sad attempt to recreate it with Mechwarrior Online) has any of the games been able to duplicate the game balance or the storyline of the original.

3) Their Finest Hour

Their Finest Hour Coverart.png

Not my first flight sim (F-15 Strike Eagle) but definitely the one that laid the pattern for me, landing today in World of Warplanes. F-15 had me dealing with electronics and chaff and missiles and bleh. This one let me fly and shoot stuff down. I completed both campaigns and hundreds of missions, capped out all the achievements and rank on both the German and British sides of things. I can’t begin to count how many hours I spent on this game.

Which is probably why if you stick me in a Spitfire in World of Warplanes, sometimes this happens:

4) Maniac Mansion

Maniac Mansion.png

My very first Adventure Game. I think I found every possible way to die and lose in this game. And I only remember beating it once. But the quirky humor and slightly tense nature of the game held my attention. Despite this, and my later love for Monkey Island (1990, in case you were wondering), the genre never stuck with me. Outside of those two games, I never really came back to it. I’d rather have my own characters and control.

5) Kampfgruppe

This was *the* WWII strategy game back in the day. Even if you don’t know this one, you know this one. This was Gary Grigsby (Steel Panthers) first baby. And it was magnificent. My Dad and I would play hotseat back in the day. He beat me most of the time, but I didn’t care. Marshalling my forces and playing was fun. Most fun of all was “buying” my battle group with the points at the beginning of the game. Invariably I would pick a core group of tanks with some combat engineers and recon units (I loved the German recon cars). No surprise that my Flames of War miniature army follows the same paradigm!

This kicked off a lifelong love of strategy gaming. These days I mostly play Dominions 4, not having found a WWII one to take Kamfpruppe’s place in a long time (though Blitzkrieg II was the most recent one I enjoyed).


There ya go. Hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane to the era of classic PC gaming.

Five For Friday: ArcheAges, Hexes, and Planes, Oh My!

So, now that Easter and Holy Week are over, I can breathe again and resume some posting. So this is a bit of a catchup post.

1) ArcheAge is Finally Starting to Appear On the Radar Screen

Some of the fun has gone out of this for me, since I have had an account on the RU server for about a month now. But its hard to play when you don’t know what anyone is saying, so I’m happy to had this game in English finally. I’m not keen on the Founder’s Packs, but I guess that’s how business is handled these days.

The packs themselves are pretty fairly priced, though I am surprised there is not a $20 version (perhaps that will come later?). The $150 version gets you plenty of “credits” ($75), 3 months of subscriber status ($45), a pretty sweet looking glider/flying mount (~$15?), a full armor/cloak wardrobe with options to let you put your own design on them (~$10?), and some random consumables and lockboxes (apparently you don’t need keys to open the boxes?). So there is still no real cost to the testing process (which is good) and if you are willing to plop down the equivalent of a collector’s edition, you get Alpha time as well. If that is too rich for your blood, the cheapest $50 pack is not bad either, though a bit misleading. It says $20 in credit, but the exchange rate on that is lower than the other packs. So really the breakdown is “credits” ($16.67), a month of sub status ($15), and a dumb looking glider/flying mount (~$10). So…yeah, not as good a deal. You are paying a little extra for Beta access in that one I guess.

Which is odd to me – are you trying to push people up the ladder? For a game that has not gotten the reception or hype of other AAA games and has, in addition, the skepticism of being an “eastern mmo” transplant? Wouldn’t you instead want, like $150, $75, and $20 options? For heavy hitters who want to go up, and skeptics who want to taste without getting burned? How is having a $50 minimum package helpful?

In any case, with Zenimax/Bethesda now 11 days into ignoring my support ticket, I am without a staple fantasy MMO. I’m not sure I can swallow another $150 package after TOR, but since I know and enjoy the basic game from the RU server, I could see putting down $100.

2) Hex Digital TCG Enters “Closed Beta”

As of yesterday, Hex is live and rolling. Despite the Closed Beta status, there will be no wipes, and I have 155 regular booster packs and 7 primal packs (all rare/legendary cards) waiting for me. I’m debating how many to open and how many to hold on to for the future. VIP status is not active yet, and none of the PVE game is running, but casual and tournament PvP is live! The game looks and plays great, and even in Alpha was a pretty stable game. Since I am mostly fascinated with the PvE side of the game, I’m still in waiting mode, but its nice to have my for real cards and deck builder rolling, and a chance to play around. I spent $120 on the King status, and unlike TOR, so far I am in the opposite direction – had I the capacity, I would have spent $500 on the Grand King status instead. CZE has really outdone itself with this thing.

3) World of Warplanes Gets Pancakes

Its finally here, along with the P-38 Lightning!

4) Elder Scrolls Was Awesome…for the Five Days I Got To Play It

fern teso

Now its hiding…like a fern I suppose. Anyway, the story behind the story – I ordered the Imperial Edition from Amazon, got my headstart, and then apparently Amazon failed to charge my card and cancelled by order. Without telling me. So now I don’t have the game. And if I buy it now, I don’t have any of the preorder bonuses either. Amazon, which is usually good with these things, has categorically refused to reopen the order, and will not give me any information about which of my credit cards they attempted to charge (or proof that they did so, since I get notified of failed transactions as account protection). Zenimax/Bethesda was originally good, saying they could handle it. I sent them the information they said they needed…and eleven days later, I still stand waiting. I could go ahead and buy it, but its the only real leverage I have to get the preorder bonuses that I wanted. So we are in a standoff to see who is more stubborn. In the interim, they are losing the ~$200 or so from the Imperial Edition and the planned six month sub, and I am without the fantasy MMO that was to be my flagship game this year. So, its a lose lose every day. And yes, I am continuing to contact them, every day. I could call…but its the principle of the thing.

5) EVE Is Apparently Dismantling Hi Sec?

EVE, always good for drama. The key touchstone here for me is that I wanted to start up a small hi-sec industry line (and maybe POS) for income. So now I have to go back to finding something new to do in EVE…or just quit again like I always do.

Five Reasons Wildstar Turned Me Off

ETA: 10/8/15.  Many people are finding their way here as Wildstar goes F2P.  Please know that this was written from my beta experiences in the game and some things will have changed.  If the article is too long and you are just looking for a TL;DR summary:  I don’t like WildStar’s style or mechanics, but its not really a bad game.  Its just a niche MMO that really only appeals to a certain audience.   Now that its F2P (as predicted below) whether or not you fit in that audience is up to you to find out.

Its five for Friday, and while in yonder years I would do a full on write up of a game when the NDA dropped, these days…I’m just not that keen on it. So I’m hijacking my new Friday format to answer the burning question: “Why don’t you like Wildstar?”

Along the way we will answer that secondary question – why its perfectly legitimate to call Wildstar “WoW 2.0 In Space,” despite assertions to the contrary.

1) Turns Out Paths Are Not That Unique

So when I get into the Beta, I start doing some digging and asking around about Paths. I know they are loosely based on Bartle’s dichotomy, and so normally I would pick and Explorer. But the devil is in the details – how exactly do you let one explore? Well, turns out, for Wildstar, at least according to what I’ve read and the players I talked to in game, Exploring involves some wandering, but also a good bit of platforming. I hate platforming. So I decide to pass on exploring. I know its been a big deal (love it or hate it) in GW2 and I’m sure Wilstar wanted to capitalize on some of that as a trend in MMO gaming.

Well, no big deal, I’m also a lore hound, and so I figure Scientist works for me. It requires you to carry around a noncombat pet that can die in combat but can’t fight for you (strike 1), but hey, I play a lot of pet classes, so I can live with that. Somehow, I managed to not complete my first Science mission, in the tutorial arc, which is bad. Because you can’t go back and finish it, and this is a themepark MMO – which means now my science level will now never be as high as it could be. Granted this is Beta, but how often will this happen in the full game? Is it just this one mission I can’t go back to? And with that one miss, we have turned what could be a fun – well, path – into something that feels like a must do (strike 2). And so I dive with enthusiasm into the next couple of missions only to find one that requires me to…wait for it…go platforming to complete it. And sure enough I miss. And miss again. And miss again. But I have to complete it, because if not I’ll be behind! And then I won’t get the rewards and XP that everyone else has and….you know what, forget it (strike 3). Someone tell me why being a lore hound means you have to saddle yourself with a noncombat pet that dies every time you get into combat and platforming?

I guess “loosely” really is the key word here. In reality, its just four bonus rounds to give you a crutch through replayability (and some are not even that – some of the soldier missions basically amount to killing extra waves of the same enemies in the same area – ::yawn::) Because Wildstar is going to be a game that looks to get you to level multiple characters to the top of the charts to keep that sub going, and this is a way to help swallow that bitter pill. Quick, can anyone think of another themepark MMO that has become famous for getting people to level alts all the way to the top?

2) Why Am I Paying For My Abilities?

I’m just not sure I get it. For the most part, developers have figured out that artificially slowing you down and capping your power is a bad thing. Its just not fun to hit that ding finally, be stoked about a new level, and have nothing to show for it. We want those abilities to pop up in the hot bar. We want to see tangibly how we are now more powerful and can kick more but. That we have indeed climbed higher on the curve. But not here. Get your hoverboard ready kiddos, because you are going to need to ride back into town to buy that new sword swing.

That’s just a money sink right? What kinds of games need money sinks? And how many games these days make you buy your abilities when you level up?

3) I Can’t Play What I Want To

Many bloggers have been over this before, but it truly is one of the things that turns me off. I want to play a Mordesh Esper. But space zombies don’t have brains. Or something. Look, to paraphrase legendary game designer Luke Crane, if I as a developer create a game where magic is dead, and I have a player that says, “I want to play the last living mage,” the answer is always and emphatic, resounding “YES.” Particularly in a game like Wildstar where your character is supposed to be a hero. Heroes break the mold, the do the extraordinary. I don’t care that space zombies don’t have the brains to be an Esper in your lore. That is completely irrelevant. The real question is why my extraordinary, heroic Mordesh can’t be an Esper. And the only viable answer to that question is a developer saying “because I don’t want you to.”

This isn’t 2004, and you don’t have an 11 million 9 million person playerbase. Open the options up.

4) The Totally Original Art Style

Its cute, its whimsical, its fun, its like nothing you’ve ever seen before!

wildstar art style

5) I Got Deus Ex‘d Into Playing The Exact Same Area All Over Again

I can’t believe this actually happened, but it did. I completed an sub area, to finish off a greater area. I had succeeded, mission accomplished, well done, good job! Go stand here and watch the victory animation unfold so that you can move to the next area!

But then, the hand of God descending…well, not really, because they hadn’t put in the graphics for it yet…but I gathered from the quest text, that the spaceship I was waiting for had been blasted into oblivion. The NPC I had spent time and effort saving was now dead. The NPC whose gratitude I had for saving said NPC is now pissed. And to make things even worse, to fix things, I have to go back into the same area and do more missions. Why?

Because the developers decided that having the players move to a new area was not as good as reusing space they had already designed for yet another leg of missions.

Really? We are skimping on areas now? We are reusing the same areas over and over again for new quests, just to squeeze some extra time in them and to keep from having to design new areas and new levels? And we’ve done it in such a way as to make you absolutely powerless in the storyline, and to reveal the “do-over” as a result of that, well, it doesn’t come off as anything other than a punishment for a crime you did not commit.

That’s not smart design. Its not good design. Its crappy design, and perhaps even worse, lazy design. If we are going to make a themepark MMO, what is the point of making people ride the same rides over and over again? Isn’t part of the reward the progression of uncovering new rides?

Of all the things I’ve mentioned here, this one took the cake. I still am shaking my head as I write this. Whose idea was it? Did they think it was a good one? I mean isn’t having to double back into areas for quests the epitome of bad quest design? This is basically that, but more.

Bonus) The Silver Lining

Wildstar isn’t all bad. It has its moments. In the good ones, it feels almost like a sort of fantasy version of Firefly/Serenity. A Wild West Fantasy Sci-Fi Pulp Mashup. And I can see the appeal in that, despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of space bunnies and space zombies.

The abilities are fun, despite the generic three tree of skill progression (tank/heal or DPS? Oh, the choices…), and the limited bar is part of that.

This is one of those games, that I could see dipping into from time to for fun. But the sub really does make that an impossibility. Perhaps once the game transitions to F2P – and make no mistake, it will eventually do just that (once they figure out that they are WoW but without millions people willing to sub up) – then I could see giving it a run through.

And one final thing – I have always said Wildstar was “WoW 2.0 in Space.” It is an improvement over WoW, there can be no doubt about it. There are things here that, while not really innovative, are steps forward from where WoW is. In fact, you might say that if Blizzard were to remake WoW today, Wildstar, at least mechanically, is probably what you would expect them to do. In that sense, it is not a bad game. But the comparisons are aboslutely deserved, and nobody can complain that they don’t know what they are getting out of this game. Its all but written on the tagline.

Five For Friday: Favorite Character Mechanics

I thought I might share this series with one of the things that drives interest in a game for me – interesting classes and class mechanics. This is one reason WildStar is not of interest to me while Elder Scrolls Online is – same old classes with same old three part skill trees vs. archetype + weapon + morph builds that change the way the game looks and unfolds in front of your eyes. This may be a reason TERA appeals to me too – the warrior is DPS and one of the healers is a pet class?! Love it! I like for fun little perks, utilities, and options to come into play. I like for norms to be twisted up a bit. I like to have a character that has something interesting or unusual to do in the game, even if that means they are not the best tank or healer or DPS player out there. So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite character mechanics in the MMO field thus far:

1) “Avast matey, lower your flags, this ship be mine!” (‘Take Command of Ship’ Skill; Pirates of the Burning Sea)

My favorite character in PotBS has always been my Pirate – later, after the class break, known as the Cutthroat. And one of his fun abilities is to use this skill on a ship he has just successfully disabled:


Ships are hard to come by in PotBS, and they don’t necessarily need to be easy to come buy. Its like having a car in real life – you only need a new one every so often. But if you could get a new one, say, every year…for free…wouldn’t you want one? And that is the life of the Cutthroat. Eh, I’ve had this ship for a whole level – I want a new one! Of course the captured one only has 1 durability point (if you are defeated in combat, the ship is lost permanently), but if you were like me, you kept a stockpile of more than one on hand. Because some days you feel like a gun shooting frigate, and some days you feel like a boarding galleon.

2) “Whatya need? Supplies? Gear? Fireball tossing gems? Lemme summon one for you…” (Magician Class, Everquest/EQOA)

Take a gander at the base spell list, levels 1-65, for the Everquest magician. Notice anything? At level one, three spells, not to hurt things, but to get you food, water, and weapons. Level two: armor and bandages. Level six? A backpack. It gets better: arrows, spears, staves, armor for your mates, armor for you, jewelry, resistance items, mana to hp conversion rods, breathe underwater items, click-to-nuke charged items, weapons/armor/gear for pets. Hell, you can even summon your friends – poof! – to right in front of you. A walking, talking, one man fixer for the masses. The ultimate utility kit.

Everything you see here came from my magic.
Everything you see here came from my magic.

Of course, what killed the class, and the idea it brings to the table, was the move to bring characters home at the end of each night. When your group is logging off in the wilderness at their favorite mob spawn and grinding location, characters like the Magician are a godsend. They help you make camp and bring those basic supplies to keep you rolling longer. But none of those can compare to the rest xp that you get when you port back to town each night. After all, the real reason to camp in the wilderness is to be close to the action and cut down on down time. But double xp more than covers the transit time to your favorite spawn camp – particularly in MMO’s dominated with fast transit.

3) “If you build it, they will come.” (Necromancer Class, Vanguard)

Vanguard was the first MMO to move away from the idea of a simple summoned pet for a pet class. While you could certainly raise the dead in the traditional manner, Vanguard went beyond. You built your own Frankenstein. Dead bodies could be scavenged for parts, constructed and given to your persistent pet, turning it into a powerhouse that grew right along side of you. It dealt with a part of the lore of necromancers that other games had not touched on – that of true grave robber, visionary of giving life to the dead. It was an interesting take and a fun little side quest within the group. After all, what could be more character enriching than the experience of a group pulling down their new loot – sword, staff, or what have you, wild the mad necromancer just smiles and pillages the claws off the dead body, excited not for the gold and silver but the knicknack nobody else even noticed, that will make him that much more powerful.

4) “Dual wielding, healing, teleporting, pet class? Yeah, we got those.” (Disciplines, Shadowbane)

While some fun has been had with Wildstar’s system allowing you to chose a sort of subclass that unlocks new area quests, they don’t change the way your class is played, as Shadowbane’s original discipline system did. You had a base class, and advanced class, and then up to three disciplines you could stack on top of that. The end result was that you could build characters that might both be wizards, but with wildly varying skill rotations, abilities, and out of combat utilities. Both could hit you with a lightning bolt, but one might summon dark lords and dual wield swords, the other might run around healing and buffing his group. And the disciplines ranged from the ho-hum (Enchanter, Archmage) to the interesting (Bladeweaver, Traveler) to the WTF (Ratcatcher, Sundancer, Gorgoi). It was a lesson lost on PvP developers everywhere, who now seem to think that PvP can only be good and balanced if every character can be summed up in a class word and its abilities and strengths and weaknesses determined at a glance. In Shadowbane, those kinds of assumptions got you killed. Fast.

5) Attention! Party on deck! (Crews and Duty Officers, Star Trek Online)

Growing up, my favorite RPG series was Might and Magic. I loved rolling a party (sometimes naming characters after my buds) and having a grand adventure through fantasy, not to mention time and space (because Might and Magic wasn’t complete without laser guns appearing at some point). Later on RPG’s evolved, and you had only one character. And so when MMO’s hit, the same followed. But I miss the party system and the fun that could be had with some…well, what I will call “internal roleplaying” – fan fiction, having the universe personalized and come alive in your own head a little more.

And you know, there is only one MMO right now where you can play a fully fleshed out party of five, and where their skills and yours are usable, and where you can pick their race, class, and personality. And that is Star Trek Online. I mean, if you want to play a classic RPG, STO is sitting right there waiting for you, with fleshed out, well written, hour long quests (er, “episodes”) covering multiple story arcs. And if you want to play with a buddy, like I wanted badly to do with Might and Magic back in the day – team up, and you can each bring half your party (on the ground) or all of it (in space).

Truly, this is one of the under-appreciated aspects of STO. One that is not noticed, much less lauded, often enough.

We come in peace (Shoot  to kill)
We come in peace (Shoot to kill)