Monday, 31 August 2015

Pre-Order Street Fighter V and Enter a World of Mountain Men and Huge Thighs

Chun-Li Pre-Order Costume
I think Chun-Li's been working out since the last game...

With the release of the next major installment in the Street Fighter series approaching, that means hordes of special edition and pre-order bonus announcements. The PS4 version has the typical stuff like an artbook and a big ol' statue, but what caught my eye were the costumes folks will get depending where they pre-order the game from.

First of all, I hate when this happens and stores all wrestle for position with these things. As a consumer, I'd rather just get all of the stuff no problem. It's fine if I have to pay for it, just don't subject me to these shenanigans. In any case, some of these have turned out to be quite the alternate outfits.

Ryu pre-order costume
A newer, more rugged Ryu.
Ryu and Chun-Li are particular standouts. The former is only for those who pre-order from Gamestop, and will have a shirtless Ryu sporting a rather full beard. It's quite the departure from his normally baby faced motif. Then we have Chun-Li, which is for anyone who pre-orders the digital version of the game for the PS4 or PC. Now, I know she's always had huge legs, which presumably comes with the territory given how so much of her move set hinges on kicking people, but oh my have her thighs gotten huge, and this outfit really accentuates it.

By contrast, M. Bison and Cammy's costumes look downright sensible when compared to these two. Hopefully, the other costumes will just get tossed into a DLC pack down the road so people can enjoy what they like, but whatever the case, the Ryu and Chun-Li ones really stood out to me. Guess I'll have to start getting used to giant-thighed Chun-Li since I'll most likely be pre-ordering that version of the game...

M. Bison pre-order costume
M. Bison looks downright sensible in that trench coat.
Cammy pre-order costume
With her arm positioned like that, I'm not sure if Cammy is wearing any pants... 

Cave Shooters Coming to Steam...Finally...

Games from Japanese studios have been getting a lot of love on Steam over the last few years. Sure a lot of them have been frame rate locked or rushed console ports, but for many folks they've been willing to overlook this, and have happily tossed money at these releases. One exception to this gold rush has been Cave, one of the most popular, well-respected bullet hell shooter developers out there. They have a gargantuan library of amazing games in this genre that either stayed in arcades, got limited console releases, or, even more vexing, got ported to mobile phones. Now it looks like the studio has finally decided to bring their games to Steam via publisher Degica.

There isn't a whole lot to go on so far with just a single web page saying this is all happening in the Winter. So, now is the time for speculation. Which games will we see appear on there? I'd assume we'll get Death Smiles, probably a Dodonpachi, maybe a Mushihimesama, and what about Akai Katana? I'm sure a lot of people would kill to see Ketsui come to Steam. On top of this, if the initial batch of games do well, will Cave consider porting some of their older titles? It would be nice to see Espgaluda, Dangun Feveron, or Progear get release, though with some of those games, they had outside publishers like Atlus or Capcom, so I'm not sure who owns the rights to the games and if any sort of legal wrangling would be in order if they were to get ported to PC.

In any case, something shump fans on the PC have wanted for a very long time is finally about to come to fruition. It took a while, but it's better late than never. All we can do now is wait and guess which games will get released first.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Guild Wars 2 Going Free to Play, Kinda

Subscription-based MMORPGs are becoming a very rare breed. Off the top of my head, WoW, Final Fantasy XIV, and EVE Online spring to mind, then it's a laundry list of games that went from subscription to free to play or were the latter from the get go. Guild Wars has been a franchise that up until now has managed to do alright for itself by going its own route: buy to play. Players fork out the cash to actually buy the game, then they can play it as much as they like without having to worry about a subscription.

Now Arena Net are dialing things back a bit. Anyone who is interested in playing Guild Wars 2 will no longer have to buy the core game. You could mosey on down to their site right now, create an account, download and install the game, and you're off to the races. This is probably in no small part because the game is getting a major expansion in the fall, and that players will still need to actually pay for if they want to experience it, but it's not a bad way to generate some hype for the game.

Making the core of GW2 free will in the very least revitalize the low level zones. If there's one thing that bugs me when hopping into an MMO late, it's plowing through all of the early areas and finding them dead. I may see the occasional other player wonder by but on the whole, it's tumbleweeds as I steamroll through content telling myself that things will get better at level cap a month or so later. Of course, that's assuming I make it that far, and don't just say, "Screw it" and stop playing because I've lost interest in the lifeless world sprawled out before me. With what Arena Net is doing here, it'll help alleviate this problem.

I was pleased to see that some limitations will be placed on the free version of the game, but not in an annoying, "If you want more, head to our in-game shop!" kind of way. These roadblocks are being implemented to make things difficult for RMT folks from spamming free accounts and bombarding the real player base with tells, as well as making it difficult for assholes to make a slew of smurf accounts then proceeding to troll higher level areas. I guess for the latter, if they're really dedicated dicks they can slog through the levels and do it anyway, but at least they're being slowed down a bit.

On the whole, I think it's not a bad way to go three years into the game. When an expansion comes along in an MMO, the core game's value declines as late comers largely want to get to the most up to date, relevant content as soon as possible. Why not just make the core game free, and charge for the expansion instead? It's taking things to an extreme, but it's perfectly viable. All the while, new players may well spend money at the in-game shop. There is tons of cash to be made from folks buying mounts, pets, cosmetic gear, and the like when it comes to MMORPGs.

Even today Guild Wars 2 is well worth a look. I haven't played it in a few months, but it's a game I do still like to pop into periodically. The sheer amount of exploration in each zone, platform puzzles, and departure from the trinity of tank, healer, and DPS have always appealed to me. If making the core game free will draw in more players, and maybe even retain them, so much the better. I'd like to see this game succeed well into the future.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Putting the Good Old Games Back in GOG

I've always really liked At first it was to indulge myself in all of the retro PC games that they were bringing back for folks to play, and then I started to warm up to the whole DRM-free thing, not to mention it was a great alternative to simply getting everything on Steam.

For a time, though, it felt like GOG was trying to get away from the whole old game reputation that it was becoming known for. There was that whole thing a year or two ago where they decided their name wasn't an acronym for Good Old Games anymore, and started pushing more indie titles and movies through their platform. This is all fine and dandy. It's important to diversify sometimes. I still make a point of getting indie titles from GOG rather than Steam when I have the option, but I have yet to watch any of those moves as I can't be arsed to give them the time of day.

Nonetheless, this shift did get me wondering about how seriously GOG would go after classic games in the future. It is a pretty difficult task having to dig to figure out who owns the rights to what in order to get all of the legal permissions to put a game on their service. Just looks at something like the No One Lives Forever series. People have been clamouring for this to get re-released for years, and eventually the team that was trying to make it happen said it was just too difficult to get through the legal hurdles. So, getting more classic games on GOG could be tough.

At least that's what I told myself. There were already a ton of classics on GOG, so maybe it was just the natural order of things for the number of new entries to slow down. Sure we'd get the occasional niche game to appear there or some such, but not the super, crazy, big name ones that were conspicuously absent from their library. Just looking at all of the Might and Magic, Wing Commander, Ultima, and Infinity Engine games they already have, it would take years to play through all of those.

I was all set to just assume we were in for a slow ride as the well spring of classics was seemingly running dry, but then this year happened and it's as if GOG decided to re-embrace the classics with a rekindled burning passion.

Over the last several months we've seen a deluge of old games appear on the platform. There have been a number of Star Wars games to come along that up to this point haven't seen a re-release, we got the Star Trek adventure games, a number of Warhammer classics, and recently even the Eye of the Beholder and D&D Gold Box series came to GOG, something people had been wanting for ages.

So, it seems like things are getting back on track as far as classic gaming on GOG is concerned, and this makes me happy, as I do quite like these old games. As always, the question remains as to what they'll get a hold of next. Even just the other day a bunch of old Elder Scrolls games (including Red Guard!) as well as classic Doom games were added to their selection. I'm a-okay with the indie games and whatnot that they've been pursuing in recent years, but still it's nice to see GOG going after the classics with renewed vigor of late.B

Monday, 17 August 2015

How Relevant is Raiding in Today's MMOs

There was a point in the evolution of the original Everquest where the idea of raiding became a thing. At least that's the first time I came across the phenomenon while playing a game. Large groups of people would team up to take down super powerful enemies. Depending on what zone I'd be in there'd be people shouting to come help them. The more the merrier. As time passed, we started to see this element appear in other games whether it was high notorious monsters in Final Fantasy XI or World of Warcraft's Molten Core. By the time we hit 2010, it seemed like raiding was an entrenched part of end game in a lot of these titles, and if a game was somehow lacking this there would be a chorus of people complaining about nothing to do. It always left me wondering, though. Was that really the case or just a very vocal minority moaning on message boards? Somehow I was still having a ton of fun exploring, leveling alts, being social, and generally futzing around in these games without ever stepping foot in a raid.

Blizzard sort of removed the veil of mystery when they started to explain why they were trying to make raiding more accessible. They did view it as an important part of the end game experience, but also felt that they had to make sure it was something that a reasonable portion of the community would want to participate in. The company brought up the original Naxxramus raid as an example of why things needed to change, as they had spent a fair chunk of change developing the thing but the number of people who could actually be bothered to do it was minuscule. There comes a point where companies have to justify expenditures to shareholders, and the return on investment for places like Naxxramus and The Temple of Ahn'Qiraj was becoming a pretty tough sell.

So, right from the get go one has to wonder just how vital raiding was to the game, and arguably to the genre as a whole. Even with the activity gaining increased popularity in subsequent years, especially during Wrath of the Lich King when accessibility was getting pushed hard, there were no lack of people quietly running around leveling alts, doing PvP, and generally not lining up to learn a dance to explode a loot pinata. There's an appeal to it, for sure, but I have to wonder just how skewed the online conversation was and is with regards to how integral raiding is to the MMORPG genre. It's hard not to come to the conclusion that proponents of it have been by and large part of a rather vocal minority.

Nowadays we are seeing games try to find other stuff for people to do besides raids. World of Warcraft has been fiddling around with it for a while introducing things like pet battles, world bosses, and garrisons, not to mention the ever present PvP modes which have long served as one of the biggest alternatives to raiding. On top of this, we have games like Final Fantasy XIV which sometimes feels like a bottomless pit of things to do, the vast majority of which doesn't involve raids. In that game we have several story-intensive side quests (Hildebrand and the postal moogle), the Golden Saucer, Triple Triad, sightseeing logs, and crafting is pretty much a mini-game unto itself. Meanwhile, there is The Secret World which largely eschews many MMO conventions and has an extremely narrative-heavy mindset. So, the feelers are out there and companies are finding alternatives to raiding with varying degrees of success.

It seems like a logical path to take as well, as I have to wonder to what extent folks will want to embrace raids in the future.  Ten or fifteen years ago, when MMORPGs were largely in their infancy the player-base was a fair bit younger with quite a few more people in their 20s, single, with all of the free time in the world. Now, looking at the present, while there are still plenty of young people in their teens and 20s playing these games, I'm also noticing a considerable number of players who are in their late 30s to early 40s. They're often times the same people who were playing these games back when Everquest and WoW first came out, enjoy them still, but don't necessarily have the time to set aside each week for raiding, or have simply burned out on it after doing raids for years and years. There's something about the genre that they still enjoy which keeps them coming back, however they are at a different point in their lives now and for whatever reason raids just don't appeal to them anymore.

With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense to find ways to keep these people entertained. While raiding is likely here to stay, one does need to question just how integral it is to the whole "MMO experience". If people want to do it great, but the question still remains as to whether there are enough to warrant such large development costs on these dungeons instead of directing the money toward other avenues, whether it's making the leveling experience more rewarding in and of itself, mini-games, or something entirely new as an alternate focus of endgame for some people. In any case, I do question just how relevant raiding is to today's MMO. There'll be people shouting on forums and whatnot that it's the biggest, bestest, most important thing ever, but for all of their bluster I'm not convinced that they're representative of the majority of people who play these games.

Monday, 10 August 2015

So, WoW's Next Expansion is Bringing Back the Burning Legion

Looking back, Warlords of Draenor really wasn't a bright spot in the history of World of Warcraft. From the standpoint of subscription numbers alone, the game certainly took a pounding. When it launched, things were looking rosy, but only recently we've learned that those numbers have tanked, and are only a bit over 5 million now. To put that in perspective, WoW hasn't seen its subscriber rate that low since Vanilla. That's eight years ago.

The lore looked alright from my perspective, as I've always been a fan of the Outlands. It was basically an alternate timeline remake of a lot of people's favorite zones from the Burning Crusade. What's not to like about that? Just about every other aspect of the game, it would seem. Lots of dungeons with baddies many didn't seem to care about, the orc leaders didn't impress as much as was hoped, and the whole garrison system did tend to trivialize aspects of the game to the point where people had to ask themselves why they were playing, and it would seem many found the answer to said question given the drop in subs.

Demon Hunter hero class announced
So here we are now with the newest expansion announced, and very quickly at that with Legion. By the looks of things, Blizzard took note of a lot of what they did wrong with WoD and are trying to steer the game away from that. Firstly, they're bringing the biggest of the big bad in the Warcraft universe back with the Burning Legion. I don't think we'll see Sargeras or anything. That would be like fighting the devil, and as strong as characters are made out to be in this game, it's always felt like Blizzard has wanted to keep him just out of reach of players. That doesn't mean we can't smack his armies and lieutenants around, though.

It does open the door for some fun lore with these guys on the scene, and to thicken the plot a bit more we still have Gul'dan running around and we're in a universe where Illidan is still alive, so we'll get to kill him again by the looks of things. So, we'll have some exciting bosses to actually look forward to here. I don't know if Illidan will have a new Black Temple, but it's just nice to see everyone's favorite demon hunter make a return. It does make me wonder if they can find a way to bring back Kael'thas once more just so we can kill him once more for old time's sake. Whatever the case, we're getting a central figure from Warcraft lore once again with Illidan, and even some yet untouched folks like Azshara making an appearance. So, Blizzard seems to be trying to go back to really big name characters that the fanbase cares about.

In terms of gameplay, it looks like the game is trying to make classes feel unique again, at least to some extent. For years, now, there has been a gradual homogenization of the classes in WoW. From giving more and more healers a battle rez, to making tanks feel more and more alike, to giving mages their own Bloodlust there has been a steady shift in classes to make them feel more and more alike. Blizzard's mantra during this time was to, "Bring the player, not the class" which was largely to help prevent certain classes from being sidelined as the meta shifted, but at the same time it also made them feel a lot less special. With the introduction of class halls and artifact weapons, it seems as though they're trying to make classes at least somewhat unique again. I don't know to what extent this will be, and how much players will go along with it (for all we know, everyone may just check online for what the "best" builds are and copy them anyway, eliminating much of the potential uniqueness), but at least it's a step away from the rampant homogeneity that has become prevalent in the game.

Illidan is back!
While we're on the topic of classes, we'll also be seeing the introduction of a new hero class, the demon hunter. So, just as the death knight allowed us to run around and be little Arthuses, now we can run around and be little Illidans. The class will be limited to night and blood elves, so it won't be like so many other classes where just about anyone can do it. There'll also be a number of special aesthetic choices for them like having horns and tattoos, or none if you prefer. It will have two specs to choose from where one is DPS and the other is tank. You'll even be able to double jump with the class, which could be interesting. I'm curious how they can make this meaningful while playing, and not just something for billy goating while exploring areas. In any case, demon hunter actually strikes me as an exciting class to play as.

There's other stuff getting tossed in as well, like a new zone (with Dalaran as a neutral central hub!), increased level cap, and a change to the honor system, but really, the big selling points are the return of the Burning Legion, Illidan, demon hunter class, and the possibility of classes becoming somewhat unique again. Will this be enough to repair any of the losses that WoD suffered? I don't know, but I do think it will certainly get fans to keep an eye on things rather than simply dismiss the expansion out of hand.

Monday, 3 August 2015

In No Rush for Windows 10

With the launch of the Windows 10 beta last week, people have been a buzz about the newest iteration of the operating system. There are plenty of folks that make a bee line for the latest, greatest shiny thing the moment it comes out. So far, the benchmarks have been quite favorable with some of the more well-known tech sights recommending upgrading sooner rather than later. Nonetheless, I just can't bring myself to do so any time soon.

For a while now, I've been losing interest in Microsoft and their omnipresence on my desktop. Outside of a brief fling with a Mac, I've always had one form of Windows or another. However, it's getting to the point where I'd rather see more competition and have begun to explore the world of Linux more. Gabe Newell raised concerns about the borderline monopoly MS has a couple of years ago, and has since been pushing for Valve's own variant of Linux, so there are already quite a lot of games supported on the OS (a good 1500-2000 last I checked).

A little while back I actually went and tossed Ubuntu on my desktop and have been fiddling around, getting a feel for it. I'm by no means a guru at using Linux, but for what I want to do with my computer, basically use the internet, write stuff in a word processor, use spreadsheets, and play games, the thing works fine. It took some doing to get Steam working properly but now that it does, it's pretty neat to have an alternative to Windows in my house that doesn't necessitate me tossing money at some mega corporation.

Looking at Windows 10, as much as it may be getting glowing reviews for how it performs thus far, I'm also concerned with the apparent privacy issues that have been coming up. I don't fancy sharing all sorts of information with Microsoft and don't trust them with it anyway. It may be as simple as seeing what programs I have open at a given time, but it's the principle of it all.

I'm sure I'll wind up with it anyway, probably when the time comes to get a new laptop, but for now I really don't want to bother with Windows 10. Between my growing dislike for MS market share, and growing interest in Linux it just doesn't feel like there's a huge rush to embrace the new OS.