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23

Steam to Approve All The Things

This is going to end well. Steam's Erik Johnson published this article on the Steam Blog today.

In an effort to reduce the frustration and overhead surrounding the approval process of content submitted to the Steam platform, Valve has decided to offload that burden onto the customers.

If you're a player, we shouldn't be choosing for you what content you can or can't buy. If you're a developer, we shouldn't be choosing what content you're allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make.

I completely disagree with the assumptions and mistargeted assertions.

I believe they absolutely should be choosing what content I can or can't buy -- ON STEAM. The choice of what a developer can or can't create has never been a choice of Valve's. What content the developers have been allowed to create and then sell on STEAM, however, has.

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1

Kingdom of Loot Early Access Review

Kingdom of Loot released into early access on Steam today. For only $6.74 I felt like I could abandon my “no more early access” rule. I was really, really looking forward to playing. Unfortunately, I really wish I hadn’t.

I don’t like to trash games. I know a lot of hard work goes into making them, bringing them to market, and supporting them. But I have to say Kingdom of Loot is pretty dang rough, even for early access.

Kingdom of Loot is a 2D modern 16-bit ARPG designed with the idea in mind that it wants to be a Diablo meets Secret of Mana. Unfortunately, it really lacks any coherent gameplay at all.

Kingdom of Loot Overworld

The Bad

Starting with the controls, I think they’re broken. The use of a controller feels mandatory because of how all over the place the Keyboard/Mouse controls are, yet if you use a controller you’re still forced to use the K/M for some things. They feel delayed and wonky too like they don’t quite line up with the actions that happen in game.

Combat is abysmal from the start. Spam a single key in the early levels because you don’t have abilities yet, but it’s just whack-a-mole. And that one key is… spacebar to attack? Yeesh.  I really hate the sounds of combat too. I had to turn them completely off so that my ears would stop bleeding.

Kingdom of Loot Combat

Hitting monsters made no sense. I don’t know if it was a bug or what… but some monsters took no damage at all. I couldn’t even lower their HP. Others of the same level I killed in a few swings. I can’t make any sense of it either way.

The open-world / instanced locations idea of the overworld map is neat, but when you zone into the rooms it’s all the same every time. Mobs are just clustered in little groups and I feel as those the entire thing lacks purpose. It’s nothing more than a mob grinder.

The UI is pretty bad. The menus are access by moving your mouse to the side of the screen where they slide in. It’s tough to navigate since the cursor only works if you line it up with the options at just the right spot.

You can make the screen bigger with Shift+F, but this felt like a crummy scaling and not an actual full screen feature.

Kingdom of Loot

Bugs:

  • Chat: I couldn’t use my spacebar and chat was limited to 12 characters. Relogging a few times fixed it but it broke again.
  • The game glitched out several times sending my system to its knees until I managed to force quit and let me system recover. It even jacked up my sound.
  • Quest board was broken entirely.
  • Tons of latency issues.

Things I DO Like

I love the graphics. I think they are charming. I think they are perfect for a pseudo-retro game and would happily welcome more games with these graphics.

I like how town is represented in side-scrolling vs. the isometric view.

The overworld idea works, but so far they’ve done nothing with it except for navigation. This may change later in the game.

The multiplayer aspect could be lots of fun.

Verdict

Avoid it. I’m really saddened by just how bad it turned out. I might even do my first Steam refund. I don’t know. It was only $6.74, but at the same time I think it sends a message that I’m not okay with early access being this bad.

I only needed 35 minutes of play to form these conclusions, which is really quite sad. I’ll keep playing up until the point of being unable to refund the game. If I still feel the same, I’ll have to refund.

8

Having a Blast in Portal Knights

Portal Knights

Portal Knights is awesome. It’s a sandbox RPG that reminds me a lot of Minecraft meets action RPG. The trailer will do a far better job than I come at showcasing the breadth of the game’s capabilities. Let’s watch and then I’ll fill you in on a bit of what we’ve experienced thus far.

[su_youtube url=”https://youtu.be/yKInhAFkGGM” width=”700″]

Think Minecraft where you can break blocks. The “world” is broken up into fractured islands must be rebuilt with portal blocks. Traveling between them leads to different biomes with different monsters, items, resources, etc.

You can build bases/homes/whatever you want. There’s crafting for weapons, spells, armor, etc., too. Classes are Warrior, Mage, or Ranger with their own abilities and gear. Combat is real time but fairly simple.

So far Graev and I have reached level 5. We’re a couple of hours in and have established a little makeshift workshops/home in a level 3 world. We use that as our home and return after adventuring out through other portals. We gather up all our loot then come back to drop it off.

With the worlds each having different resources, we find ourselves bouncing around to gather up enough copper ore and coal. Certain monsters are only on certain worlds too so things like Scales (which are used in lots of weapons we can currently craft) become a hot commodity.

I’m taking some video that I’ll highlight for you guys. Graev and I are really having a lot of fun playing — it’s up to 4-player co-op Local or steam friends.

Portal Knights is available on Steam in early access. They are patching the game fairly often, including adding controller support and soon larger worlds. Totally worth the $14.99 I paid and really shining as a sleeper hit for me. I’m really looking forward to the bigger worlds and upcoming patches.

4

We tried Warhammer Vermintide

Warhammer Vermintide

Steam had a free weekend for Warhammer Vermintide, so Graev and I gave it a shot. Turned out to be a lot of fun! Vermintide is like Left 4 Dead in a Warhammer setting. In fact… it’s pretty much a straight ripoff with a few added features. That’s not a bad thing, but it gives you an idea of the style of gameplay you can expect. There’s also this weird Warhammer Online vibe to some of the game, but that’s not necessarily founded on anything other than a “woah this feels like L4D meets WAR” feeling which is most likely driven by the setting.

Vermintide co-op

Graev searches the loot chest to decide on a weapon for this Bright Wizard.

Just like L4D, Vermintide is a co-op survival game with five heroes straight from the Warhammer setting, eat with their own unique loot and style of play. One of the key differences I see between the two games is that you can progress your character and obtain loot. Loot can be upgraded, has varying degrees of rarity, and modestly alters the way a character plays. Instead of undead and zombies, you’re escaping from the Skaven.

The Skaven comes in waves and attack you while your team of five tries to get to the objective — again, the more you think L4D the more you’ll completely get what I’m trying to explain. There’s an assassin Skavin who jumps on you and slices at you, pinning you to the ground; a Skaven that ropes you and pulls you toward him incapacitating you until you are freed; a suicidal poison skaven guy who will quickly make seeing impossible… need I go on? They’re cool, though, and they do fit the lore completely.

Vermintide is brutally hard. We struggled to not only find our way a few times, but the waves of Skaven and requirements to play really well as a team made for more than a few game overs. I like that though, and can’t imagine wanting it to be any easier. If it were any easier (even on normal difficulty) then the game would be over quickly and have almost no replay value. I didn’t find much replay value in L4D’s campaign either. In my opinion, that’s the downside of these games. They’re great fun for the first play-through, and maybe a subsequent one or two, but you can quickly find yourself desensitized to the immersion when you’ve been there and done that.

Vermintide Loot

Loot is handled by rolling dice to determine the rarity of your weapon. What you get is random.

They do a great job immersing you, though. The setting is beautifully crafted, the Skaven are seemingly intelligent (most of the time), and I like how the characters all play and feel. Melee and ranged combat both work nicely. I like hewing my axe in different directions and watching the rat pieces fly. Sniping as the Waywatcher was also a ton of fun. Oh, and I do also enjoyed the blocking mechanics and how directional dodging and swinging felt useful. Combat is solid.

One critique Graev and I both share is that we don’t understand why they decided against player-controlled Skaven. That would have been a blast, and helped with replayability. Instead, it’s simply co-op vs. Skaven AI.

All things considered, Vermintide is a fun game. We’re probably going to pick it up now since it’s on a 40% off sale for $17.99 (down from $29.99) on Steam. There are also a few DLC in the $3-$9 range. We think it’s worth the price.

35

Paid Mods

Update: Bethesda/Zenimax has cancelled their paid mods with Steam. Refunds for all according to Valve.

Steam has once again made a move toward monetizing all things games and placing themselves smack dab in the middle to take a cut. Now the Steam Workshop is going to support “paid creations” aka paying for mods.

I’m not going to come right out and say that I am in blanket opposition to all paid mods. There are some mods that end up being better than the original game. In fact, some of the best games we’ve ever seen come straight from studios who started out as being mod developers. I support this 100%. Some mods are good enough that I have and would in the future donate to the creator.

Part of what makes mods so incredible is the that they are largely free. The people who make these mods are downright passionate about what they do, and they are doing so fueled entirely by that passion. What we see from them is a result of their own desire to create the mod, make a name for themselves, or do something fun. When you monetize modding, something special there is lost. Motivations change.

Art of the Catch taken down for using someone else's work for profit.

Art of the Catch taken down for using someone else’s work for profit.

Modding in general has often been what feels like an open-source community. People take mods and combine them with other mods to create the perfect modding packages. Sometimes mod devs would tweak someone else’s mod and create something new. Paid mods have only been available for like 24 hours and Steam has already taken down a mod for “using the work of other modders.” This is just the beginning.

Part of what feels so slimy here is Steam. I don’t like Greenlight, I don’t like their early access stuff, and I don’t like the idea of them creating a marketplace for mods. I don’t like the precedent. Personally, I hope it doesn’t take off. I hope most game studios will not allow their games or brands to be monetized in this fashion.

Good mods do not go unrewarded or unnoticed. There are many examples where mod devs actually get recruited to work at the company that made the game they modded. I’m torn between this feeling that mod devs should be compensated for their work, and a desire to never have to pay $5 to download a map mod for Skyrim. I can’t shake my gut feeling that says, “Keen, this doesn’t seem right.”

Update: Steam is also now removing links to off-site donations. You know those “If you like this mod consider donating to the creator” solicitations? Yep, gone. Looks like Steam wants their cut.

14

Steam Summer Sale Psychology

Every year the Steam Summer Sale brings in to question a handful of troubling ideas:

  • Do I want to spend money on a bunch of games I might not play simply because I like to buy games on sale?
  • Why do I ever pay full price for a PC game?
  • What type of games do I really enjoy?

The first one is something I know many of you share. I think we can all identify with buying several games during a Steam Sale thinking, “aw heck yeah I’m going to play this one finally!” … then we never even remember we bought it.  Happens to me every year.  Not this time!  Not 2014! This year I proudly declared:

scrooge

That lasted until 20 minutes after the sale began.

I bought Game Dev Tycoon and Don’t Starve + DLC 2 pack (me and Graev).  But that’s it! I swear! I’m not spending … who am I kidding?

Game Dev Tycoon seems pretty fun so far.  I’m currently in the 3rd building you can get with about 5 million in cash.  I don’t know what I’m doing wrong because sometimes I’ll make a game and get a great review, but I make it again (not twice in a row) and critics hate the game.  I think this whole experience is some kind of message from an indie dev studio on the state of the gaming industry.  It’s like one big documentary on the sad state of affairs.  Regardless, it’s addicting and I find myself wanting to start over with the hoe that I do better each time.  I’m still proud of making WarCraft 2 in my garage and making 2 million on it.

Don’t Starve has to be one of my favorite types of games ever.  I can’t believe I went this long without playing.  It’s like Island Troll Tribes, the custom map from WarCraft 3.  I love these survival games! Something about getting wood to make a fire and having to eat before you die; So pure.  Add the depth that Don’t Starve has and suddenly this is a game I can lose hours to in tiny sittings.  Graev and I are REALLY looking forward to ‘Don’t Starve Together’ which is the co-op experience coming this summer free to those who own the game.

The second point is just life.  Things drop in price.  Understanding that point doesn’t make it any less bitter.

The third point is really what brought me to the blog this evening.  I think I have more ‘fun’ playing little games in bursts.  Games like Don’t Starve, Game Dev Tycoon, etc., are starting to be more fun than these massive games like MMOs.  That’s not because I’m changing, etc., etc.  turning into a filthy casual blah blah.  I truly believe game developers are forgetting what it means to make fun games.  It’s not just MMOs either.  A lot of “AAA” games just aren’t fun.  They aren’t games.  They feel more like “projects” or “work.”  Some also like to hide the fun and make the player hunt for it or wait until later.  HORRIBLE IDEA! I should be having fun the second I boot up the game or else I already have one foot out the door.

11

Why Greenlight AAA titles?

When I see a decade old game at one point published/owned by one of the largest gaming companies on the planet trying to Greenlight a game on Steam, I can’t help but feel perturbed.  Perhaps I don’t understand Greenlighting a game.  I thought this was a chance for games that otherwise stood no chance of ever ‘making it’ to be voted on by the Steam community.  I thought Greenlight was a platform to encourage upcoming designers and developers to have a means of getting their games out to the masses — it’s about the players getting they games they actually want on Steam.

I have nothing personal against EA.  I love most of their games.  Heck, DAoC?  You guys know I’m a fan of Dark Age and UO as well.  I just don’t think it’s fair for them to be on Greenlight. Aren’t these games on Origin?

Isn’t Greenlight the only way to get new games on Steam?  They say so themselves.

Nah that’s total crap.  Games get added all the time and never appear in Greenlight.  It replaced the submission form, the form people who don’t ‘know people’ use.  In other words, if you aren’t a publisher you had to fill out a detailed form to get Steam to even care about you.

Does it matter as long as gamers get the games they want?

I guess not.  To me it just clutters and tarnishes what I thought Greenlight was all about.

WTF do you care, Keen?

I feel like fighting for the little guy.  I have lots of friends who are fighting or did fight hard to get their games on Steam.  Some got there and others did not.  Seeing Dark Age of Camelot just truck on in kinda sucks.  We love indie game devs here, and we try hard to write about any great indie games we find.  Send us your indie games for us to try and if we think our readers will find interest in what you’ve made we will definitely share it with them in one way or another.

Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine

Monaco Whats Your Is Mine

The Lookout shows enemies on the map while holding still or sneaking.

Monaco is a single-player and co-op 2D game about building a team of thieves and pulling off the perfect heist.  We bought Monaco on Steam this afternoon, and we’ve already had a ton of hilarious experiences and memorable/catastrophic heists.

Following a loose story, the gameplay moves from location to location introducing and unlocking new characters as you go. The Cleaner, Lookout, Pickpocket, Gentleman, Hacker, Mole, etc., each provide a unique skill-set (as you’d imagine) to help sneak around and complete objectives.

Hacking computers, picking locks, disabling alarms, and collecting coins (which refill ammo and provide a score/additional objective) are just a few things you’ll be doing.  Sneaking, jumping into bushes, putting on disguises, and even blowing away guards with a shotgun are just a few more.

While I’m sure it’s fun solo, Monaco really shines as a co-op experience.  Graev and I are constantly regretting going too fast or not fast enough.  We try to combine different characters to see if they perform better together (example: The Cleaner and The Lookout are a great combo).  I can only imagine what a group of four would be like.

If you’re looking for a well-deigned and relatively cheap game that feels quite unique, Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine is proving to be a lot of fun.

18

Adventure Log: GW2 Weekend, Kingdom Hearts, Skylanders, and more

Keen – GW2 ramblings and Steam Sale backlog

Sylvari jump puzzle

Sylvari jump puzzle

I thought I was sure about playing a Ranger when GW2 launches, but this weekend has thrown a wrench in my plans.  I blame the structure PvP — battlegrounds — for my flip-flopping.  Classes behave so different when put in an isolated frag box.  There is a ‘best spec’ and a ‘best team comp’ for winning tournaments.  I’m told it’s just like the original Guild Wars, and I can say from experience it’s similar if not worse than WoW’s Arena min-maxing.

I think what I’m going to do is forget I ever played in battlegrounds.  I had fun — lots of fun — but there was another side to it of frustration thinking about how it’s unfortunate you can’t win a tournament without a a particular class in your group or even being in your group can be a detriment.  I love the Ranger in PvE and in WvW.  Maybe I’ll just leave it at that and have fun.

The Steam sale has decimated my funds.  I bought the Batman Franchise 88% off then picked up the Fallout New Vegas pack that came with all the DLC and saving a fortune.  I also bought Arma 2: Combined Ops because it was 40% off and I want to give DayZ a try.  This has officially created the biggest backlog I’ve ever had, and ensures I will not be bored one minute until GW2 launches.

Graev – Skylanders, Kingdom Hearts, and adventure games

Kingdom Hearts 3D Dream Drop Distance MusketeersI played Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep and prepared myself for Kingdom Hearts 3D Dream Drop Distance by finishing off loose ends with the Kingdom Hearts franchise.  I put in about 15 hours getting ready this week.

I’m still on my adventure game kick.  I played and beat Back to the Future, and I’m working through Sam and Max seasons 1 and 2 (which I’ve already played in the past) as a refresher so that I can play season 3 for the first time.

Keen and I also played Skylanders a bit this week prepping for Skylanders Giants in the Fall.  I’m leveling up some Skylanders that I want at max level for Giants, and finishing up some expansion pack content.

Last but not least, I just started playing Final Fantasy Theatrhythm.  It’s a lot of fun and very nostalgic.  It has music from the first 13 FF games and, like the title alludes, it’s a rhythm game.  It’s the first 3DS game to have paid DLC.

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