Category: Video Games

Dumping lefties from PC games

Flame and the FloodI do love me some PC games. I never quite got into consoles as I was that odd generation where I sort of bypassed the old NES systems and instead was doing PC gaming. By the time consoles were really taking off, I was playing stuff like Wolfenstein 3D, Red Baron, Doom and the like on PCs and never looked back. So over the years I sort of languished with odd keyboard handling as a left handed player.

For a long time it seemed that old trend was dead. Publishers and game developers made sure to add the ability to remap keys as you saw fit. As a left-handed person for PC gaming, this meant I could finally alter basic movement keys away from your customary WASD to something more comfortable for me. Typically that meant using the arrow keys instead. Fast forward almost 20 years and it seems like we’ve gone a complete reversion with efforts of some game designers regarding including key binding customization.

I recently picked up the Flame and the Flood, expecting as a PC title the simple aspect of being able to remap keys would be an included feature. Nope. I am locked into using WASD. While not completely unplayable, I tend to accidentally jump back onto my raft a lot when trying to navigate back and forth from the docks and island screens.

Controlling the raft using the mouse is also a challenge. So I’m trying to use the WASD keys, all the while frantically moving over to also right click any salvage that pops up on passing islands. As for attempting some quick maneuvering to dodge a boar, or a quick swing of a staff to shoo some wolves, good luck with me doing that with deft control using with just a mouse. I purposely play these types of games on a PC over a console for the functionality of being able to use a keyboard and mouse. When I am locked into a right-handed control scheme, it’s disappointing.

There are a surprising number of popular titles popping up lately that don’t bother with the ability to remap keys (or at least include it as a feature at launch). State of Decay seemed like a great little zombie action title, but after playing the demo I waited and was hopeful at launch rebinding of control keys would be implemented. Quick maneuvers, dodges, and attacks are key to that game. Sadly, at launch it didn’t have that feature and I had to wait for nearly a month for that to be finally patched in.

Some games don’t even bother. Telltale Game’s Walking Dead series had limited key mapping. Fortunately movement was both arrow and WASD keys. Unfortunately there were some critical time tasks where you had to quickly mash the E or Q keys. That meant I ended up scrambling to fumble around the keyboard while doing them.
Walking Dead
Bethesda Fallout 4 is another culprit with limited keyboard mapping. Throughout the Fallout games and Skyrim I was happy to see I could alter just about any key wanted. I was expecting the same with Fallout 4. I found lock-picking was locked into using WASD to force the lock left or right (completely different from previous games where they were remapped to whatever movement keys you changed). I also found the settlement portion extremely frustrating.
building-settlement
I never understood how people were able to get all the minute control needed to place and move objects for settlements. After seeing some tutorial videos I realized there was some other keyboard functionality with the settlement workshop screens that I was missing. Sure enough, when I had bound the arrow keys for movement, I ended up disabling them for the workshop menu. My workaround was having to rebind the character movement keys back to WASD so that I could use the arrow keys for settlement construction. Now for working on settlements I end up rebinding keys, and do this…every…single…time. Needless to say, I haven’t bothered getting into the settlement feature much.

I realize that left handed players are a minority, and making games that we can easily enjoy is a low priority for PC video game developers. It just stings some, especially as this trend of not incorporating complete remapping of controls seemed to have been buried in the past. Now it looks like making games more accessible to left handed PC users isn’t a worthwhile endeavor for some game studios anymore and we are dumped to the wayside.

Alleycon 2015 is coming…

I’ve been pretty fortunate over the past few years to get into a circle of local gamers. There seems to be a decent community behind a lot of them too. Alleycon will be running next month and what started out as an afternoon of gaming at a local expat restaurant has slowly morphed into a full fledged con. This year it’ll be 2 full days of gaming and geekery September 19 and 20, with a local meetup the night before for beer and trivia.

So if you are in Korea and keen to play some games, do some cosplay, or rub elbows with fellow geeks, be sure to check it out. From what they’ve got listed as events there’s lots to do (or plenty of space to run your own thing). Online registration is open now. Scoop up tickets before they sell out!
Alleycon2015

Alleycon 2014 – A local gaming/fandom con in Gwangju

Last year a small geek fandom con dubbed, Alleycon, was run at a local eatery in Gwangju, Korea. This Sept. 27 it’ll be hosted in a larger venue at the Gwangju Women’s University. Last year the event was pretty fun and it looks like it’ll be bigger this year with some more guests and organized events.

Pre-registration I believe is closed, but seems there is still quite a few passes left so registration at the door shouldn’t be an issue. Not certain about the costs, but all day passes should run between 20,000-30,000 kwon. Best of all many con events will have proceeds going to a local orphanage. So you can spend some cash picking up (and playing) some geek-centric items and ease that guilt a little knowing you are doing some good at the same time.

There’ll be a cosplay contest, video games, some Q&A sessions via skype with some sci-fi authors, and a bevy of tabletop gaming. Along with set events, there will also be a room with open tables. So if you are itching to throw down and try out a game in your collection, this might be a great chance to try it out with a few like minded folks.

I’ll be running a Bolt Action demo game and also a Savage Worlds WWII game. Last year I did something similar and had a good time running events as most of my players had not tried RPGs or miniature wargames before. So it’s always a treat to give folks a chance to see what the hubub of gaming is all about.

State of Decay – Screw you lefties on the PC, but thanks for the cash.

For a while now on Steam the zombie survival game, State of Decay, has been out. It was in a ‘early-release’ state with some keyboard support, but mostly an early version of the game for people to tool around with and help find any major bugs. I picked it up and had fun with it, however there wasn’t any functional key binding. As a left-handed person being stuck with the WASD keys is pretty awkward. I dabbled in it for a while but with having to react and move quickly (not to mention long play sessions) it just wasn’t comfortable and downright unplayable for me. I wasn’t too miffed because I knew the game was in early release.

Now the game has rolled out as a full release and key binding is not supported. It’s slated for work to be rolled into another patch at some future date. What I take from this is that for a full feature release of the PC game, key mapping is not a critical aspect of the player experience. It’s window dressing. A nice feature to have but not critical to player enjoyment. I.E. For 10% of the PC users out there, we don’t feel that providing a feature for you to play this PC game is important to our overall market.

It blows my mind that PC games still lack key binding features. Undead Labs isn’t the only one to tell lefties to sit it out with their games. The Walking Dead from Telltale Games had a similar issue. While at least the arrow keys could be used for navigation. Having to rapidly use the Q and E keys for certain parts of the game sucked for lefties. Fortunately it wasn’t quite an action game and the player could make a mad scramble to another part of the keyboard. It wasn’t game breaking, but it sure wasn’t convenient.

Another nightmare was EA’s Dead Space. Somehow the arrow keys for that game were unmappable on the PC. I opted to adopt some weird numberpad layout to use for movement over the typical arrow keys I’d use. So with needing some quick moves and reactions, I’d occasionally goof up and end up munched. Also adopting a different hand posture on the keyboard made longer play sessions uncomfortable.

It’s unfortunate key mapping is still an issue for PC games. I don’t even bother trying to track down if remapping keys is supported. I just assume it’s a feature. But clearly some PC developers still consider it non-essential feature to be pushed off in a later patch (and in some cases never addressed). It sucks. I guess they get the last laugh as they have my money.

Undead Labs, be certain I won’t be buying any DLC until remapping is an option for your PC games. I get that I am a minority of users and it’s just not worth the effort from your company to provide us with tools to enjoy your games. But that doesn’t endear me to your product whatsoever. Hope in the future you consider key mapping a more critical aspect of your games.

I like dumbed down games

So for the past few weeks I’ve been puttering around with Mechwarrior Online. I think there is a great game there, but it has this steep learning curve. So much so I’m not sure if I’ll take the plunge.

I used to pooh-pooh simpler computer games. I’d revel in crunchy games with lots of working parts and huge manuals to go through. I mean it. I used to play Falcon on my old DOS 486. The manual was this thick technical bulky thing. Wolfenstein 3D had it’s place on my hard drive, but somehow I found it fun trying not just to master, but learn how to play these other simulation games. Mechwarrior online has a lot of crunchy bits to it. ECM, weapon groups, NARC beacons, it reminds me a lot of the old Mechwarrior computer games of past. Problem is now I’m just not that interested in making the effort to play these games. It’s just too much time to learn all the icons, commands, and understand the principles of the game. It’s just not that much fun any more.

I also regularly delve into World of Tanks. There is some meat with this game. There is a lot of background mechanics with how shell penetration works. Sighting the enemy, radio communication, and camouflage, not to mention how different the various armor plays, all take a bit of time to master. Still the game was very approachable initially with simple arcade controls for moving and shooting. And even if I didn’t do great in a match, I felt like I could contribute to a win.

MWO has a completely different feel. The learning curve for simple operation of your mech is pretty huge. Sadly, if one player is not pulling their weight, it can drag the entire team down. So this compounds the pressure for learning the ropes as quickly as possible. You need to get matches under your belt to learn the game, but at the same time hampering the fun of those that know what the hell they are doing. After scouring through online guides and watching training videos, I began to wonder if it’s worth the effort.

It dawned on me then that I’ve become that guy wanting simple games. I have limited free time and want to spend that having fun and playing, not spending all my time trying to learn new systems. This has also crept into my RPG habits. I used to love trying out all sorts of new systems, but lately I’ve gotten to this saturation point where I want to stick with things I know. I’ll branch out but only if the rules can be printed on a matchbook. Revisiting Champions and the Hero system or GURPS is not something I am so keen on, whereas something new like Dungeon World seems something right up my alley.

For game designers, I think this is a huge obstacle. How do you make a game approachable, as well as have enough meat in the mechanics to keep it interesting. Make it too simple and folks lose interest. Make the game too difficult and folks won’t even bother trying to learn how to play. For MWO, I think they’ve stuck to their guns and made a game for fans which like the crunchy technical stuff, that have the time and desire to learn how things work in the game. It’s not something I’m keen on, but my gaming tastes have changed. I’ve come to realize I’m starting to enjoy the dumbed down version of games more.

Will be busy exploring…

…I wish I could say that. Let’s just say I’ll be out of town and stuck in meetings most of my trip. Still, I do enjoy getting a chance to do some international travel and have a bit of sightseeing time scheduled.

I wish that was my only reason for being away but I’ve been drawn into playing Firefall quite a bit also. Pretty fun game that seems to scratch a lot of FPS itches for me. It’s sparkly too and an interesting theme. I’ll show some of the wonderful concept art and cutscenes from the game.

Borderlands 2 also has been sucking up my free time. Man, I need to get a little more focused how I spend my geek time. So no posts for a couple of weeks. I’ll be traveling and exploring (both real and imagined) for a while.

The problem with using virtual tabletops for D&D

I’m certain that WotC’s virtual table top will be getting released in the near future. I’m also certain you’ll get some interesting products for RPGs on the horizon as certain technologies becomes more attainable for the public. With more people getting regular access to wi-fi and smaller, more portable, computing devices, you’ll likely be seeing a demand for RPGs to work in a digital format. I expect that future incarnations of D&D will be going in that direction.

However my last game session made me realize there is a kink in this future digital format of D&D. As the pic shows, you’ve seen this slow expansion of tokens, cards, and other paraphernalia at the table (not to mention the ever present dice). Long ago I adopted using cards for player powers and magic items. I also started using tokens for action points and a means to mark combat conditions.

I think there has been a general shift in the gaming hobby from having very spartan and abstract way of handling player resources, to utilizing tokens, markers, and other items represented by physical objects. This is seen in other RPGs like the use of bennies in Savage Worlds, or fate points and I’m not surprised that has D&D followed suit.

While you can certainly keep track of everything on a sheet of paper, I think there is a stronger impulse to have some type of physical marker. There is something about having that visual and tactile representation of a game resource that seems more pleasing to players. It’s like a way of reminding the player, ‘Hey, don’t forget about me. You’ve got this handy tool to help out with this obstacle.’ Likewise, for D&D it can be a reminder that something bad is currently happening to your player that you need to shake off. You can record all of this on your character sheet, but I think we prefer having some other way to keeping track of this stuff.

This is something that the board game industry has definitely picked up over the years and have implemented in their game design. I expect that improvement and reduction of costs in manufacturing of plastics, distribution, and online marketing has a lot to do with it. However, I’ve noticed a trend in many games getting more physical bits and pieces in games. Sure you could keep track of victory points on a sheet of paper, however I’ve noticed a trend that most games implement some kind of marker or token instead. While I think years ago this might have been a feature for board games, it seems that now this is something that is required. I really feel that customers have grown to expect something like this when they purchase a game.

Where does that leave this with digital versions of RPGs? I dare say that is going to be a problem. Virtual tabletop RPGs are going to need to include features that allows players to manipulate some type of tokens. While you won’t be physically handling a bloodied marker, I can see a DM pulling a bloodied marker out of a menu and dragging it to a PC’s icon. In turn that player might see a new ‘token’ on their character sheet in their iPad. Removing the bloodied condition might mean the character passes that token icon back to the DM, simply dragging it off their sheet. Likewise, I can see player powers and abilities working like virtual cards, that ‘flip’ when used.

There is an alternative to this. That is to simply keep everything automated with minimal record keeping. A player might just click on their virtual miniature and see the range in squares they can move. Click on a power, click on a monster to attack, hit a button and all the damage and status effects are kept track of automatically. The new facebook game Heroes of Neverwinter looks like it might be going that route.

However, managing some game mechanics manually is needed to help reinforce that interaction around the table (subtracting hit points might be the exception). Otherwise I think games will slip into being too passive. I feel you’ll likely end up with people shutting down during fights, slipping into some automated mode where you click a few menu options and crank through combat.

So I believe that will be the challenge for D&D as it becomes a virtual product. Programmers and game designers likely will have to figure a way out to keep resource management that is handled through some type of ‘tokens’ that pass between players. Sure you could bypass it all and keep track of everything automatically, but you risk making the play experience too much of a passive experience, or at the very least reducing that interaction you get sitting around the table.

A new dev studio for Neverwinter Online?

News has leaked out that Atari is looking to sell of Cryptic Studios, the main dev studio for some MMOs (Champions Online and Star Trek Online) and the upcoming 4E version of the D&D Neverwinter series. This makes the fate of the online game a little questionable. In their earnings report, Atari’s business plan seems to be releasing less but more polished games, including moving into the mobile market. However they’re also determined to hang onto their signature licensed stuff including Dungeons and Dragons.

So what is the future for Neverwinter Online? If Cryptic is sold off, will they still be outsourced to develop the game? I wonder if another studio might be the ones to step up and finish off the project. I was mildly interested in the Neverwinter game. It sounded not quite like a full blown open MMO, but a more persistent instanced-based coop game. I have to admit I really would like to see video game treatment of 4E D&D. But it looks a little questionable how Neverwinter will proceed now.

Why I don’t do betas any more

So my geekness knows no bounds. I’ve put in several years playing different MMOS. A lot of fantasy games, a few super hero games, and some sci fi ones too. Over the years, I’ve gotten into a few betas and usually was pretty excited about it. It is great being one of the few folks to see a brand new game, and help in making it a polished product for the final launch.

Two big MMOs on the horizon, Star Wars: the old republic and DC online, have announced they are taking beta applications. All though I’m excited about both of those games. I have no desire to throw my hat in with the other beta testers.

A couple of things have stuck with me in my past experiences with betas. One thing I’ve experienced is that the game is typically done by the time I am testing it. Most companies have all ready gotten the big game design philosophies locked in. I’m always excited about possible features and new tweaks to the MMO genre, but have been at times disappointed once the game rolls out.

I’ve found that most MMOs have locked onto standards of game play, required features if you will of just about every other MMO out there. I guess it speaks more to the people that regularly play them. People want crafting. People want loot. People want the instant gratification of killing 10 rats, speaking with a robotic NPC, and seeing their little xp bar move up 3 pixels. It’s like a check list that every MMO must have.

And while the initial boards might have some interesting ideas floating around from the beta community, typically I think this viewpoint is ignored by the game devs. After all, they have a firm grip on the algorithms and nuts and bolts of the game. And finding that sweet spot of something engaging for the masses, while still being fun, is very elusive for them. I’ve come to realize once I’m beta testing, the game is done. What I am playing is pretty much what will be released. I’m just tweaking game play and squashing bugs.

This leads me to my main reason, if the game is not going to change much by launch then I’m just replaying content. Yeah, it’s pretty exciting to work on a game before it is released. It is neat to test out powers and abilities and get a grasp of the mechanics of the game. Once it’s released though, I’ve gone through certain content so many times, trying to squeeze out the fun is difficult. To be able to keep up that experience of wonder and enjoyment exploring a game I’ve all ready been playing for 6 months is pretty hard to do.

So while I’m tempted on applying for these betas, I’m going to pass. I’ll wait for release, and savor that new experience along with most other players. Maybe I’ve gotten burned out on MMOs. Maybe the repetitive gameplay they all have is starting to show through for me. Yet, I find that being in a beta diminishes that excitement I have for a game, it doesn’t enhance it. I’m selfish. I want to hold onto that enjoyment as long as I can.

What MMOs have taken from D&D – Interaction

Throughout this week I’ve been posting a bit about key concepts of MMOs which I think they’ve picked up from D&D. I think the last characteristic of MMOs is almost more influenced by the players themselves than with the game, but certain game elements can definitely either reinforce this or make it a minor aspect of play. Another key aspect of MMOs is social interaction and is something that helps define MMOs from single player video RPGs.

I am utterly convinced that while an engaging MMO, with lots of variety and interesting content, can keep a player’s interest for some time, it is the community and social interaction with others that helps keep that player in for the long term. Being able to explore and play an MMO with others can add to a player’s enjoyment. While the novelty of playing sections of a game can wear off, experiencing the same content with others can make for more rewarding play. It’s the witty banter, failures and triumphs, and in general sharing the experience with others that adds to the appeal.

Granted the importance of this characteristic is something I feel in flux with MMOs. While having a requirement to play much of the content with a group is not ideal, I also think having most content geared to the solo player is not a solid choice. Having a relationship with others in an MMO, whether being in a huge guild, or with a fellowship of 2 other people, keeps players into a game. That quality of social interaction holds an important role in maintaining a player’s interest. It is a slight balancing act to reinforce group play, while at the same time not sacrificing the experience of the lone player. However, a good MMO will foster player interaction.

So this last characteristic of MMOs might be a stretch saying it’s influenced by D&D. In reality, I think you could say just about the same for any game and the people that play them. Participating in the joint experience of a game and enjoying each other’s company, that makes for a fun game. I’m a firm believer you can have the most astounding RPG system at your fingertips, but with crappy people having a crappy time, the end result will be an unpleasant evening for most.

So yeah, it is a bit of a wash. For the sake of completeness I’ll bring up interaction. To claim that MMOs have taken this from D&D is a false statement. However I do think that both types of games get so much more out having a joint play experience with others. The enjoyment people have with adventure, exploration and character progression is muted in D&D when not sharing it with others around the same table. That key factor of social interaction is what makes D&D shine, something good MMOs can (and should) pick up on.6d965-adventurers-dungeon-door