Runegate – When Sales Beats Common Sense

Riot Games finally released a feature for League of Legends that has been begged for since the game’s inception: additional rune pages. For those of you who aren’t familiar, runes are one of the metagame features in League of Legends that allows you to customize your gameplay. You get a series of different slots, and can purchase runes that buff various attributes of your character: movespeed, damage, mana, health, etc. This enables additional strategy for the game, and runes can only be purchased via “Influence Points,” a currency that is only earned by playing the game (win or loss), as opposed to “Riot Points” which are only gained through real money transactions.

Up until yesterday, players only got two pre-set rune pages to choose from in a match. This is quite limiting, as many runes are only useful on certain archetypes: for example, mage oriented ability power runes vs. →  Read the rest

Review – League of Legends: Season One

Following many months of “live,” but not “ranked” gameplay, League of Legends, published by Riot Games, has gone pro, launching their competitive Season One. Featuring several ranked ladder modes: “solo” (actually solo or duo play) 5v5, full premade 5v5 and full premade 3v3, the ladders will culminate with tournament play and $100,000 of cash and prizes. Although Riot will not release simultaneous usage numbers, they have confirmed through various online sources they have over 3 million registered accounts. With the DOTA community estimated at 7-9 million players built over a decade, Riot should be proud of how quickly their game has caught on and distinguished itself in broad field of incumbents and competitors.

Unsurprisingly, Season One is mostly more of the same. On the cosmetic side, both the website and the game’s launcher UI received new snazzy themes and sound track. →  Read the rest

Nuggets of Wisdom – Slime that Designer!

As a gamer, I’m often puzzled by decisions game designers make. This most often occurs with MMOs, where the eternal question of “poor decision or lack of resources?” seems to apply, but many console games come to mind, like the Gears of War magic chainsaw. Of course, as a gaming consumer, I am simply the target of disdain, condescension, and of course greed of the gaming industry. I sat pondering my frustration with the lack of two-way communication about design decisions in an era where second guessing the experts is the norm: we can go on WebMD and diagnose ourselves, yet I can’t get a straight answer out of a game designer. I’ve often wondered what it’d be like to sit down with a game designer and get the real scoop on why they did something in their game that makes absolutely no sense. →  Read the rest

Review – Children of the Nile / Alexandria

Children of the Nile is a continuation, and possibly the final installment of the fairly successful Pharaoh series, taking advantage of the excellent setting of ancient Egypt as a basis for a robust city builder. The people of ancient Egypt are civilized enough to be needy bastards– a prerequisite for any builder, and in an era filled with war and great deeds, we’re off to the races of conquest and glory.

COTN’s greatest strength, without a doubt, is the ecosystem of its city. Your people have multiple “tiers” of social standing, with each level having its own behavior and needs. Your job, of course, is to keep those needs satisfied so their efforts can be directed towards doing useful things for you: killing your enemies and building great works in your name. →  Read the rest

Building a Mystery… I mean a City Builder

Growing up, I was a huge fan of Legos. Loved the damn things–I think I spent time after grade school every day building Legos and watching old Batman reruns (POW!). Now that I’m an adult, it’s not really appropriate for me to build Legos, but it is OK for me to play video games. This is probably why I gravitate towards city building games: I like the act of creation, and seeing the fruits of my labor, even if not a damn street in the city goes in a straight line because I am a creature of impulse.

While recently lamenting the lack of new city builders (triggered by playing Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 and associated expansions yet again), I decided to dig around for some of the “golden oldie” city builders. →  Read the rest

Review – Eve Online Dominion

Being primarily an MMO gamer for the past decade, I am continually amazed at my ability to be angry when developers release an untested pile of crap and demand you pay for it–which of course a gamer will. However, much as an old faithful geyser, my naiveté and then resulting hatred spring eternal. The latest source of my ire is none other than my mistress Eve’s latest expansion: Dominion.

Eve has continued to capture my attention for a variety of reasons. It remains an incomparable sandbox of player driven activity, a unique novelty amongst the “theme park” style that dominates MMOs today. The fact that it is a single server, one giant, interrelated universe also adds to its charm. And finally, the fact that their expansion packs, as a result of the other two reasons, are always free works to developer’s CCP’s favor. →  Read the rest

Review – League of Legends

League of Legends, the stand alone Defense Of The Ancients clone released by Riot Games, bills itself as better than DOTA. The good news: it lives up to its billing. Without a doubt, LoL is a superior product to DOTA. This should not be surprising. Being able to draw from established source material, recruit one of the recent caretakers of the map (Pendragon) and build a real, non-volunteer design team, made the first part of Riot Games’ job easy. But credit should be given where credit is due: these ingredients do not automatically make a good game, but Riot has ensured that they have taken the best of DOTA and added much more.

As one would expect, there is much to love about LoL. The evolution of the DOTA concept can be extended to two distinct aspects: the community interface, and the game itself. →  Read the rest

Leveling up the Experience System

Over the past twenty-five years of the “modern” RPG era in gaming, we’ve seen the genre advance tremendously. Rendered graphics, advanced skill systems, voice acting and ever more colors of chocobos are in the vanguard of innovation. But one thing we have not seen advance in any particularly cogent fashion is the experience system.

On the surface, the experience system is relatively straight forward. You kill monsters, you get stronger. This can take a variety of formats: from the basic experience system that leads to levels which grant automatic stat and ability increases, to systems where experience or a similar credit system are spent on customizable skills, to hybrid systems which do both. Gaining levels serves to complement the plot at a tactical level: as the story progresses, inevitably the farmer-turned-hero, imaginary-underwater-volleyball-player-turned-hero, or emo-sixteen-year-old-turned-hero will grow more powerful from a plot context. →  Read the rest

Are you Smarter than 100 other Xbox Live douchebags?

Reading even a few game sites is guaranteed to expose you to a certain amount of PR jizz: with machines like Microsoft, EA, Activision and others, it is inevitable you will be exposed to their products through the usual gaming channels. So it was with 1 vs 100 for me. By way of Penny Arcade, I was subjected to a face full of “OMG this game is awesome” jizz. But it was free, so I figured I’d check it out.

For those of you who have been held hostage in a shed for 18 years and were only recently freed, 1v100 is a gameshow that originated in the Netherlands and was hosted by Bob Sagat in the US. 1v100 pits the “one” against the “mob” in a series of trivia questions. →  Read the rest

Golden Jew’s Nuggets of Wisdom #5

My initial thoughts of the DS, complete with its Nintendo Gimmick Stylus, was that it was a Junior Pokemon Power Ranger Machine (my affectionate nickname for the Wii that drives Jay up the wall). I had no desire to draw rainbows (for fear of pissing off these people) or successfully masturbate a virtual cat into ejaculation with a stylus, so the DS didn’t seem right for me. Of course, with a $200-ish pricetag and no games I like I didn’t seem like a PSP person either. I thought that my next generation future was the same as my high school prom future: bathroom abortion baby. Or more accurately, being date-less.

Then I started finding good RPG games on the DS. Etrian Odyssey (1 and 2), Chrono Trigger, Magical Starsign, Final Fantasy Tactics A2, Dragon Quest 4 (it gets a grudging “good” vote) and now Devil Survivor have all sucked me in. →  Read the rest

Giving the Right Idiots Power – The Rock Band Network

When Activision announced GH:WT would have authoring tools when Rock Band 2 would not, many reviewers and other industry sounding boards thought this was a critical error on the part of Harmonix. My reaction was “so what” – most gamers are idiots. Therefore I was uninterested in downloading their at best mediocre, but more likely putrid attempts to create music. Three hundred real songs (for Rock Band 2, which continues to focus on professional DLC) and 5,000 removed user made remixes of Zelda and Mario music (for GH:WT) later, it appears I was correct. Authoring tools for the common man are useless, particularly when the item authored is as complex as a four instrument track song.

Harmonix announced earlier this week they would be going in a different direction. Instead of catering to the casual gamer, who is likely an idiot, Harmonix is releasing an authoring tool system for small labels and musicians. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Dungeon Keeper 2

One of the critical problems of the gaming industry today is that nearly every game is an adaption of a successfully proven concept. This is probably why there is a lot of hullabaloo (scrabble bonus points) whenever an interesting new concept game comes out, even if the concept and execution are flawed. But at the end of the day 95% of the time we’ve done it all before: whether we’re shooting aliens with force shields that are oddly susceptible to melee attacks (Halo), humans who have developed chainsaws with invulnerability shields (Gears of War), any civilization game, etc–despite minor variations, games are typically incremental improvements of a proven formula.

That is why I gave an exclamation of glee when I recently re-dug up Dungeon Keeper 2 (now classified as Abandonware, woohoo), a game with a refreshing concept that seems so simple yet has never been followed up on. →  Read the rest

Thoughts on League of Legends

For various reasons, many social, others masochistic, Defense of the Ancients (DOTA), the Warcraft 3 custom map, remains something I play frequently. All is not well in DOTA land, however, and I’m not talking about the fact that my friend Jimmy who I play with is a KSing coward. No, the bigger issue is that half of the DOTA managing community (functionally one guy) has split from the other half (another guy who does most of the programming) over a new game called League of Legends. I don’t really care about their breakup but it made for a catchy introduction to my League of Legends first thoughts.

League of Legends is the latest attempt by a stale gaming industry to build upon someone else’s idea, rather than come up with their own. →  Read the rest

Review – Avalon Code

Video games have made me weep for a variety reasons. Terrible voiceovers, crappy graphics, mind numbing gameplay, irritating music – if it is horrible I’ve probably suffered through it. But I’ve never experienced anything like Avalon Code before. Not for any of the above reasons – to the contrary, Avalon Code has superb presentation, surprisingly good voice acting (on a DS game, no less!), and an intriguing plot with an excellent premise. What makes me weep is that Avalon Code is a game that is so close to being one of the greatest action RPGs I’ve ever played, but falls short for the dumbest of reasons that indicate – yet again – a developer did a piss poor job of seeing if their game was actually fun to play.

The game begins with your happy go lucky hero (or heroine, you pick, just remember Jesus hates gender benders) being informed that the world is going to end in a horrific cataclysm in the rather near future. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever – Shadowrun

One of the hardest challenges of making an RPG is finding a way to integrate plot, setting and gameplay into something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Some games, like the Final Fantasy franchise, are surprisingly good at all three. Others unapologetically settle for one or two–Fire Emblem being an example of one that eschews plot and world for superior gameplay. But wrapping all three together, and doing so in an innovative way is a rare treat.

Finding a game like this in 1994 is even more amazing, but Shadowrun for the Genesis managed to pull it off when Square was trying to figure out how they could make the most complicated Final Fantasy plot ever–a feat that would take them nearly another decade to achieve, in 2001, with Final Fantasy X. →  Read the rest

Review – Space War Commander

As many of you know, I am the Master of the 4X Universe here at videolamer (self proclaimed, patent pending). The echoing of these proclamations is so great, it reverberated from my mom’s basement where I live and into Dreamspike Studios and so they sent over a copy of Space War Commander to review.

Poking around the manual and the website, I was intrigued by the presence of starports, cruisers, interceptors and destroyers, along with asteroids to capture and harvest, and began eagerly looking forward to a sort of Spaceward Ho-esque game. I began to get excited, but I also had this vague nagging feeling in the back of my head that something wasn’t quite right.

You sunk my battle ship.

This feeling was correctly placed: although you have the usual things to expect in a game titled Space War Commander, including seven different ship types to build, asteroids and planets to control and enemies to slaughter, Space War Commander is not actually a 4X game. →  Read the rest

Best Game Ever: Star Control II

This Best Game Ever is brought to you by developers making their old games open source, which is a wonderful thing. Toys for Bob, the developer of Star Control I and II, released the game as open source in 2002 under the “Ur Quan Masters” title, since the name Star Control remains a copyright of Atari. The game is now up to version 0.6.2, giving an incredibly robust, bug free experience that surpasses the original 3DO version. I played the 3DO version back in the early 90’s, and I was overjoyed to find the Ur Quan Masters project and replay Star Control II. It’s free and fun – who could ask for more?

Star Control I set the stage for the franchise. The concept was fairly simple: a galactic strategy game with ship vs. →  Read the rest

EVE Online – Patching Backward, not Forward

In the dawn of a new Era of Eve, as the Apocrypha Expansion delivers what can only be described as a fantastic experience, those of us grizzled Eve veterans can’t help but wonder: what about the old stuff? CCP, Eve’s developer, has long trumpeted their free expansions as one of the strongest points of Eve. And they should.

Despite Eve’s incredible learning curve, the game’s population has grown substantially over the past two years. When I first started playing Eve, the server typically had a population peak of around 30,000 concurrent users; this weekend, it was over 52,000. Eve, unlike other MMOs, is a single server, a single universe, which makes this all the more relevant: it’s clear that Eve is continues to control a niche in the MMO market.

Having played for so long I’ve noticed, as has CCP, that the biggest membership growths come on the heels of a new expansion. →  Read the rest

Review – EVE Online: Apocrypha

Apocrypha, the latest expansion of Eve Online – my gaming mistress with whom I continually flirt, tease, and occasionally enjoy for hours on end to the exclusion of all else – was recently released. Unlike many other MMOs, Eve expansions are free, with typically 2-3 major expansions released a year. Apocrypha is the latest, and perhaps one of the most ambitious expansions produced yet, with a variety of features for new and old players alike.

Most notable for new players is a revamping of the Eve character creation experience. In earlier versions, the character creation experience involved choosing a variety of broad traits for your character which would translate into attributes and starting skills. This process was extremely opaque, particularly for a new player, resulting in many players being confused with their starting attributes, often with a variety of worthless skills that prevented them from enjoying the game immediately. →  Read the rest

Counting the Game Industry’s Gold

Like most industries, the gaming industry is bound by the conventional economic wisdom that you must spend money to make money. Historically, that’s meant taking a loss on every game system sold (with the notable exception being most Nintendo consoles) in order to tap into selling game after game to console owners. This measure of success is known as the “attachment rate” or “tie ratio.” A somewhat (November 2008) dated Gamasutra chart shows that the Xbox was in the lead, with 6.6 games/system sold, followed by the Wii at 5.5 and the PS3 at 5.3.

This statistic has historically been a powerful metric for measuring market penetration and overall success for a console. After all, what’s the point of selling a console if you can’t sell game after game? But as with many things in today’s integrated media world, the lines have blurred and traditional metrics don’t necessarily tell the whole story. →  Read the rest