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Monthly Archives: March 2016

My gaming PC has served me well, but it’s old and well overdue for upgrades. It plays WoW well enough (well, my toaster can probably run WoW), has no problems with GW2, even Blade & Soul runs just fine – but it doesn’t meet the minimum specs for Black Desert Online (mostly down to the graphics card), for example.

It did play The Elder Scrolls Online just fine until yesterday. I’ve recently re-installed ESO as part of my ongoing reorganisation of hard disk storage, since I’ve found most MMOs will in fact work just fine off an external hard disk drive so the games which had been purged to free up internal drive space are making a comeback. Unfortunately, ESO’s latest update includes a move to requiring a DX11 graphics card. Having logged in for the first time in months over the weekend, I thought I’d spend a bit of time running around and having a look at some of the earlier DLC. Since the update, however, the game won’t even launch.

Sigh. It’s not that a new card is insurmountably expensive (I could have a perfectly suitable one of the price of a new game), nor is it exactly difficult for me to fit the card – I might be a manager and before that a software specialist, but sliding a card into a slot is within even my capabilities. It’s just a hassle. Still, on the upside a DX11 card will let me play the latest incarnation of Tropico as well and that’s definitely cheaper than a Caribbean holiday…

No, I’ve not succumbed to mad cow disease… just a touch of mad galactic emperor disease since Wargaming’s reboot of Master of Orion is now available in an Early Access form on both Steam and GOG.com which is where I got my copy with a small discount for having previously bought MOO1 and 2 from them (the previous incarnations of the game are all bundled in with the ‘collector’s edition’ which is the only one available for early access). I note that this game isn’t called MOO 4 – they seem to be pretending MOO 3 never happened, an impression reinforced by the developer videos on the website where they talk about all the lessons and features carried forward from the first two games and never even mention their disappointing younger sibling.

So what’s it like, and what do the dreaded words ‘early access’ mean in this case? Well, it’s almost feature complete, stable, and pretty. Only about half the races are in the game so far, the espionage system is missing – which means there are a few technologies and colony buildings available in-game that do nothing at the moment – and you can’t score a scientific or diplomatic victory yet. It’s got be dominance via a commanding vote on the galactic council, or bloody conquest. There’s no option to vary the difficulty level yet, but it seems to be in the right sort of zone for me as it stands (probably too easy for hardened players as high settings on these games usually hand me my head). AI needs a bit of a tweak, I would say. As it stands, AI players never invade and conquer planets, they always bomb them clean of life, and the logic they use in diplomatic negotiations is a bit bizarre. Specifically, if you want to offer peace terms, what they ask for is based on how much they hate you and not on the current balance of power. This makes the North Koreans look like the epitome of rational enlightened discourse at times…

ME: Alkari leader, you are on the verge of defeat! All of your colonies are lost, your fleets have been blasted to dust, and your homeworld is orbited by my Doom Star and half a dozen titans, each large and powerful enough to bombard your people to extinction by opening their garbage chutes, never mind actually using antimatter bombs. At this final hour, I offer you my hand in peace. Will you accept?

ALKARI: Featherless scum! We will have peace only if you cede to me eight of your most productive colonies, all of the money in your treasury, backbreaking ongoing tribute and a laundry list of really cool tech!

ME: Fleet commander… set the antimatter bombs to ‘extra crispy’ and fire at will.

Niggles aside though, it really is a fun game that plays well… it plays very much like the classic MOO 2 spruced up for the modern era. One major difference is that tactical ship battles run in real time (with a pause function) which takes a little getting used to but can look truly cool if you zoom into the action. Production standards are high, this is clearly a game that Wargaming have lavished some of their oodles of World of Tanks money on, and in my view it’s money well spent. The voice cast has a string of familiar names including Alan Tudyk, Michael Dorn and Mark Hamill… who has way more lines in Master of Orion than he had in the last Star Wars film.

Belghast has also had a play with this game and seems fairly impressed. I’ll be keeping an eye on it to see how it polishes up for release.

Over at Bio Break, Syp is asking if healers should be pressured into DPSing. At the risk of being monstrously unfair to Syp, I’m going to go with “well, duh!” because you aren’t there to heal, you’re there to help your group complete the dungeon. If you’re playing a specialised healing class then yeah, keeping people alive is the most important part of your contribution, but as long as you’ve got that covered you should always be on the lookout for ways to help out the team. That’s what teamwork is, everyone pulling together (gung ho as the US Marine Corps has it) rather than standing back and going “can’t do that squire. Not in my job description. Union rules, innit?”*

Yeah, I am being unfair to Syp. He doesn’t strike me as the sort of person who would say that, and I’m not a huge fan of the optimisation-mad crowd who harangue their teammates in an attempt to shave eight seconds off the instance run time either. I’m just gobsmacked that this is even a question, and I think it relates to the recent posts by Keen and Bhagpuss about how a lot of MMO gameplay has simplified and streamlined roles (and a lot of other things). Modern games tend to expect you to perform one role, and one role only. The tank tanks, the healer heals, the DPS roll ‘need’ on everything they can. Each is very good at their job and sucks at everybody else’s. Older games were less stratified in roles, had more hybrtidisation and things were more likely to go pear-shaped but be recoverable by prompt action from the group. In DAoC the friar could stop meleeing and throw out some heals long enough to save the group; the mercenary, normally a melee DPS, had the tools to tank for a bit even if it did put a strain on the healers keeping him alive, and the cleric could smite (if he wasn’t 100% focused on saving the bloody merc’s worthless ass). If everyone pulled those trucks out at the right time, you could turn a bad pull into glorious victory. That’s unlikely to happen in WoW because the characters as so good at, and optimised, for their normal roles that assuming they’re doing content tuned for them, that’s all they can do. An enhancement shaman doesn’t bring the healing needed to keep a tank up through more than a light trash pull, and a combat rogue doesn’t have the tools or survivability to cover for a dead tank.

We’ve become very good at what we do, at the price of that being all that we can do. We don’t have to think about what we’re doing so much as focus on performing our assigned task as perfectly as possible. I view that as a loss, personally, and see it as devaluing the game experience… but that’s a whole other blog post.

 

 

 

  • for those younger than I am or from other parts of the world, the above quote  is a caricature of the British work ethic c. 1975.