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Journal: Why I pirate

Journal by SmallFurryCreature
On 9 October 2012, the game XCOM: Enemy launched... launched in the US. Unknown to me, the EU launch date was to several days layer, 12 October 2012. Maybe. Yet, 9 October 2012, I received an SMS from Gamemania.nl a dutch gaming retailer chain, that my copy was ready to be picked up. So I left work early that day to arrive 17:54 in front of the store. Doors pulled almost shut, store had already closed and refused to serve me. Very well, I thought there are other stores in the world, so I bought it the next day at Free Record Shop in Amsterdam. Then when I came home, I tried to install. First I had to install steam, which crashed, crashed and crashed some more but finally I got it working and had to create an account. Then activate my email. Then I installed the game and was told it was not released. What? If the game was not released, what was I holding in my hand? Note the error message mentioned nothing about a region or what would be the release date. Just not released. By google came to my aid and I found that throughout Europe, the game was available for sale but not yet ready for install. I read this from angry users posts. Not a single forum had an official answer yet. Not yet and counting. Even the official release date was less then clear. But I know my Internet, if Steam, Dutch retailing, 2kgames/firaxis couldn't/wouldn't help me, maybe some pirates would? thepiratebay itself is of course famously blocked in holland but there plenty of mirrors around. So I checked and yes, full downloads were available in various flavours for a total cost of ZERO bucks! And if you had issues, then the supplies answered your question in minutes. Not like the hours, days and counting before getting a reply from people I had payed money too. Many a reply to a piracy story has had comments similar to my story, so what is so special about it? Nothing. Just that after years of downloading, I have with MMO's gotten used again to paying and I didn't have any issue with paying for this game, if it had worked. But I do have an issue with paying 50 euro's for a game that can't be played and that now that I have read the forums I have seen is filled with bugs. Bugs the official forums have no answers for but that are fixed on piracy forums. To repeat myself, for this game the people that wanted me to pay did:
  • Act as if my giving them money is a favor they are doing me and only when they feel like it, opening hours be damned.
  • Not reply in a timely manner (or at all) to complaints
  • Treat Europeans as second rate customers for no reason (what are they afraid of, that a world-wide release will overload the servers)
  • Break consumer laws by selling a product not fit for its purpose (a game that can't even be installed is obviously not a fit product)

Meanwhile, the pirates offer:

  • Early access
  • No charge
  • Free, fast useful support by computer experts.
  • Service available any day of the week at any hour.

Sometimes the anti-piracy people complain the content industry can't compete with free. But come ON! I had PAYED already and the companies just said "no". Meanwhile the group that doesn't want money, said "yes". This is like paying a hooker to have an headache while your wife is stuffing your wallet full of money and begging for sex. Something ain't right!

And this is why I pirate. Because how else can I send the signal that I am not a sheep who will just keep turning the other cheek? Sure, there are sheep who advocate just that, just wait 3 days, it is not the developers fault etc etc. FUCK THAT! Nothing is every anybodies fault and I as a consumer should just take it all and keep quiet.

NO! And that is my reason why I post about being a pirate. Because just downloading alone isn't enough. Consumer boycotts don't work, there are to many sheep drowning out the silent protest of people like me who just see no other option but to not pay to make it clear I expect more service for my cash.

Because I see no other option. Mails go unanwered, forum posts get ignored, I can get my money back from the store and the sales clerk don't care, not his problem. How can I HURT that manager who thought it was a good idea to do a staggered release, hurt that Steam admin who didn't just flip a switch to prevent customers getting angry. How can I even get the companies involved to acknowledge my existence?

I can't. But I can keep my money in my pocket. That doesn't solve anything but it is a lot more fun having impotent nerd rage with cash then without.

Anyone want a beer over the backs of game developers who haven't learned that if they want an income, they need to tell their managers to not upset their customers?

User Journal

Journal: A new X-Com, Apocalypse that is.

Journal by SmallFurryCreature

Once there was a game called UFO: Enemy Unknown. A turnbased game that saw you take a small squad of soldiers to battle a host of nasty aliens. It was so good I played just the demo over and over again until finally I could buy the full game.

Brilliant... well up to a point. For all its tactical brilliance, too many battles ended in you having to hunt down a final missing alien all over the place. It also suffered from that typical turnbased syndrome that many real world tactics just don't happen in a turn-based world.

Enemy of the Deep put the action below sea level, and while good was just more of the same.

Then came X-Com: Apocalypse. (It changed the name to appease the unwashed masses in the colonies) and it was good... kinda.

It added a realtime element, rather then each soldier on the field being given their own turn, you would pause the game, give orders to your squad and then resume watching your soldiers carry out your orders, or at least attempt to do so.

It gave turn-based gaming what it never had before, real firefights. For the first time your heavy machine gunner really was laying down a blanket of fire to cover your advancing troops, for the first time your soldiers really dived out of the way of incoming fire rather then just stand there and take it because it wasn't their turn.

The game also added multiple factions, and many other goodies but sadly it was also a game from those days when graphics just did not scale and today the game looks truly horrible.

Cue a void of many years before we got our next change to go kick alien but tactically.

Lots has been tried and it all failed, we had turn-based that seemed to increase the endless waiting of the orignal and real-time that failed to do what Apocalypse did.

To be clear, both turn-based AND realtime have their problems.

  • Turn-based suffers from a lack of realism, machine gunners provide covering fire, they do NOT wait their turn to squeeze of a quick burst. Soldiers react to being shot at and don't just stand there. It quickly becomes micro-management if you have to drag your squad through endless turns just to travel across the map.
  • Realtime needs player AI, your soldiers need to do more then just execute the last command. This means they should be able to engage the enemy on their own, take cover if under fire, switch equipment as needed, switch targets as needed etc etc. Without this it can become even more a case of micro management then the turnbased game.

    Apocalypse did it nearly all right. A soldier on their own would attack any enemy, switch to the most dangerous one, take cover behind anything close if needed. This made for some of the most intresting battles I ever seen in a computer game.

    So what is needed to make a true semi-realtime UFO/X-Com sequel.

    You are the commander, selected from thousands of other ordinary human beings by the X-com project (the original games were just a training program) you have been chosen to be the tactical brain behind a program setup to deal with the increasing numbers of alien sightings.

    The first part of the game functions as the tutorial and sees you being asked to deal with several early missions involving events that may be related to the increased number of sightings, including investigating several human organisations.

    The X-com organisation has you making the tactical decisions with overall strategic orders coming from the various real world organisations, your task is to keep your real agenda (keeping the world out of alien control) with appeasing those who fund your program. Not all of them share the same goal, or even your goal.

    Early on their is also demand that you keep your actions as secretive as possible for risk of finding to many opposed to you.

    In the beginning you find yourselve equipped with real world weapons for your combat missions. Resources are limited but realistic, you are outfitted as a small special forces team could be expected to be. You got high quality equipment, basics in ready supply (No special forces unit in the real world needs to hustle for bullets) but limited in scope. Your currency for improving this is NOT just money but also goodwill with various real world organisations, if the US likes you, expect a carrier force to be assigned to your unit, if the USSR likes you, you may get advanced air transport capabilities, the Israeli's like you, you get advanced intelligence, the arabs supply more money then you could hope to spend, etc etc.

    Offcourse their are counters to this as well, not everyone will like you to be friendly with their enemy, especially if they perceive your actions to harm them.

    Before a mission becomes available your job is to insruct your scientists to research what tech you find most desirable, instruct engineers to use this research to augment your gear and to train your soldiers in prepration for the next mission.

    Your soldiers are an entire segment of management on their own, soldiers who are injured need to heal BUT can also spend time studying during that (slows the healing somewhat but wastes less time) Soldiers on intensive training are not available for combat until finished while on-site study might see them ready in a couple of hours. Ready teams can be instantly deployed, but the constant pressure wears them out.

    Then there is the question of deployment, your main base has the best facilities but makes it hard to respond quickly to events in remote corners of the world.

    When an mission occurs your first decision will be to decide to respond or not. Make an attack to stop an alien take over of the vatican and you might just give youreselve a load of bad press, while a similar assault on the pentagon (if the US is friendly to you) might be far more acceptable. (Hush it up as a terrorist strike)

    Then comes the question of what units will respond and how long you will wait before the attack will commence. Do you take the small elite team and drop them by parachute, use local agents, take the time to get a proper force ready. An option is also to attack with the first squad to arrive, then as combat takes place reinforcements could arrive.

    Further tactical decisions are what back up forces to deploy, Evac choppers, gun-ships, civilian rescue teams.

    The combat area itself is fairly large to accomadate real world tactics and the use of light support vehicles, they should also be random like the original X-com games. Combat starts with you having to insert your forces, this changes by the mode of transportation. Parachute drop, helicopter insertion or just driving in from a corner of the map.

    The insertion is for the first time a real part of the battle, as the parachute drop will see your forces scattered over the map and a helicopter drop gives you the firepower of the chopper to clear the landing area.

    Once your troops are on the ground they form themselves into small squads as dictated by their role, machine gunner team, mortar team, sniper duo etc etc.

    Typically a mission will see you first move your combat units (not individual soldiers) to secure the drop zone, then proceed with the mission objective. Units are given directions of were to go, and how to get there, typically you want to move as fast as possible until combat starts. The units however will use their OWN AI to execute their orders and change them as needed. A soldier being told to run down a corridor will STOP and open fire if an enemy appears. Soldiers receiving fire will not slowly walk to their destination, they will either speed up returning fire on the move if possible, or crouch down and return fire or try to get to their destination under cover.

    Not all units are combat units and for larger missions you mind find medical forces and other support units who need to be escorted and protected.

User Journal

Journal: Good vs Evil

Journal by SmallFurryCreature

Jade Empire for the PC has once again caused me to question the way RPG's handle alignment. In the game you have two path's. Open palm and closed fist, with the ingame explenation being that neither are by themselves good or evil. That is all very nice but during the game itself that is never realized. Open palm is the nice hero, defender of the weak. The closed fist follower is little more then a pathetic jerk.

It is all the sadder because the main antagonist is such a true work of pure evil while he appears to be an open palm character for the main part of the game.

Master li, the grand strategists at first seems to be the one who opposes his evil brothers path, saving your own live and given you a home as well as countless other students, as well as siding with you against the bully Gao the Lesser.

When his true intentions are revealed this show that all his kindness was no more then acts to serve his own goals. True evil, BUT structured, sensible evil. Not the complete and utter madman/jerk/psycho your own closed fist options make you out to be. Follow the closed fist and not once do you even come close to his kind of grand evil. You will just be petty and small minded. Bah.

It ain't much better if you play a good character. You have to be polite! Who says politeness == good?

Actions count, not words.

The problem is with the limited amount of reactions you can show. One quest involves a mother and daughter you first meet leaving a town fallen upon hard times. You can warn them about slavers in the woods but they leave regardless. Later you find them captured, the daughter in the process of being broken for he new master.

What options could there be?

  • NOT MY PROBLEM. Simple, what do I care about these people. Or is it? After all I warned them, told them to stay in town, a town I saved by the way so the problems they were fleeing went away. They not only did not listen to me, but also put no faith in me. So we have two decisions. One is, that I look out for number one and do not involve myself in things that don't affect me. (problem with this path is that it would make an amazingly short game "villain threathens the kindom", "not my problem" THE END). The other is that I did my part, if they will not listen they deserve what they get.
  • The path of greater profit. What decission will gain me the most money. The slaver? The mother and daughter pair? Killing them all?
  • The open palm/good path. Free the slaves, sure they remain weak because of it, because every wich way they turned, someone is willing to get them out of the effects of their own bad choices but hey, that is what being a good guy is all about. NWN2 has this to an extreme were you keep rescuing the same couple. BUT should I just free the slaves OR kill the slaver as well?
  • The closed fist path. Have the slave girl kill her slaver. Freedom comes to those who are willing to fight for it. BUT again this can be deeper, do I step in if the fights goes the wrong way? After all there is a difference between being willing to fight for your freedom and actually being capable to do so. God helps those who help themselves BUT that doesn't mean you can't give a hand. Would letting the fight be fair, in wich case a large adult male slaver would probably win over a small young girl be fair?

Ah decissions. And what of the after effects. Would helping them out now, just lead them to get into yet more trouble later on? What effect has killing her slaver have on a young girl? It could make her strong, tell her that you can affect your own destiny and make into a person who will fight for justice and freedom. It could also tell her that everything can be yours at the point of a sword.

No wonder CRPG's take the easy path of just giving the player two simple choices.

User Journal

Journal: Is twitch needed.

Journal by SmallFurryCreature

A common complaint about current MMORPG's is that they reward time spent in game and not skill. There is an essential truth in this but the question has to be asked what can be done about this.

An often heard suggestion, especially from the online FPS crowd is to raise the amount of twitch so that their FPS skills can finally be used in these types of games.

It sounds sensible but their is a fundemental flaw with this reasoning. Basic online FPS games already have a hell of time of handling a small group of players. Just how are you going to provide a lag free enviroment for thousands of players? Current games already have enoug difficulty with lag and warping, would you really want to play a game like this if twitch type skills were essential?

The problems of twitch gaming are already self evident in current games. The "they are in the walls" bugs from everquest 2 and the "cannot see enemy" bugs from WoW. These are simply the result of trying to create a massive free form 3D world.

What I mean by this is that you and the AI can essentially move anywhere you want except were the collesion detection comes into effect to simulate walls. So, the game frequently gets it wrong because movement code and the collesion code are not always in sync.

So what would happen to a MMORPG that does away with this free form 3D and instead attempts a different approach.

Say a game world that is presented similar to games like Jagged Alliance and X-Com: Apocalypse.

I name the last one especially because it is semi-realtime. Imagine these games but with you in control of a single character.

Rather then directly controling the movement of your avatar you select her destination and the AI then attempts to move there. Just for movement alone this gets rid of a shitload of problems.

First there is lag affecting rendering. Your computer can easily compute the path and then execute it, it would only have to send the requested destination to the server. The server offcourse performs the same calculations and updates it world data accordingly. ONLY if an error is detected, because the client has made an error in its calculations for whatever reason, does the server need to send the proper path calculation to the client. In theory, this would save a shitload of data transmission and in high lag situation still allow the player to move smoothly as long as nothing is in his path.

There is another advantage, with no need to hold down the walk key AND steer with the mouse at the same time, the player is free to do other things, like type in the chatbox.

But an even simpler result is this. All of sudden Jagged Alliance style interactions with the enviroment become possible. Players leap or climb over fences, pull themselves up ledges or swing down from lampposts.

In combat this too has an advantege. Gone would be the days of two 3D characters standing meters apart going through their unconncected animations. Instead you would finally be able to line the avatars up and have proper interaction going on. No more standing in the middle of that huge dragon, no more swinging widely over the head of a dwarf yet still doing damage.

User Journal

Journal: Flux, death and the avatar.

Journal by SmallFurryCreature

What current MMORPG's share is that you start the game as a low level player, gain XP, level up and reach the top. Getting there is a long trek, wich some may never complete but when you arrive then that is it. Just sit there, re-do the same grind over and over with only the top level content offering any kind of challenge and wait for an expansion to raise the level limit.

So what could change this, and why should it be changed?

Death could change it and for the same reasons it exists in real life, to kill of the grumpie oldies and make room for a fresh new generation.

User Journal

Journal: MMORPG a different approach

Journal by SmallFurryCreature
This is just a place for me to note down some ideas I have about the kind of MMORPG I want to play. I have been writing comments and now want to try to collect the ideas I seen and thought of in one place. This is just a short note and a bit rambling so if you read this don't take it as an attempt to design the ultimate MMORPG. Yet.
  • The end of direct control

    There seems to be a move towards more twitch. Gamers are using macro's to fight enemies so we force them to twitch to grind their XP. Eh, no. If players can come up with 1 macro to fight all your enemies then there is something wrong with your enemies. Create better AI and more diverse fighting styles. Current twitch reasoning seems to follow advertisers reasoning. People are going to the toilet during the ads. Make ads longer so people will still get ads when they return from the toilet.

    I am proposin a system closer to that found in games like Jagged Alliance. Your avatar in real time will find her way to the clicked destination based on skills, stance settings, enviroment and enemy presence. Leap/climb, sneak/run etc etc.

    Direct control has problems:

    1. High bandwidth, every twitch has to be send to the server and all the clients in the same area.
    2. Low predictability in low bandwidth enviroments.
    3. Bad animation match up. If I hit you with my sword and you block that is just statistics. The changes of the animation involved reflecting the numbers is zero. Because your position and mine ain't fixed on a grid the animator can't line them up.
    4. Low enviroment interaction. Check the animation for leaping over a fence in Jagged Alliance vs ANY free 3D game. Tomb Raider can only pull the really nice moves when the animator knows where she is going to be. How many MMORPGS with melee combat have anything like the melee combat we so love in Martial Arts movies? Leaping over the heads of enemies? Let alone actuall wrestling. Not even Oni style body on body interaction is possible.
    5. Low interaction between player and game. Because you have to control every twitch of your avatar you can't chat or control other elements of your game.
    6. Low strategic awareness. You can't look behind your avatar.
    7. Some stats don't make sense. Intelligence. If your avatar is not in some control then their intelligence is never tested. Intelligence would allow an avatar to determine how save a move is. Low intellgence avatars would make more stupid moves. Effects as fear become far more realistic.
    8. Easier to deal with connection losses. Your avatar would keep fighting according to your preset orders.

    There are offcourse disadvantages as well. The most obvious is the need for really good AI. Enemy AI is meant to be defeated. If they pull an amazing stupid move then that is okay. They are meant to die. It would be far less fun if your own AI avatar blows themselves up.

    Another problem is that by definition twitch has a more instant appeal. The only reason to go for less direct control is to increase the weight of tactics and that means a steeper learning curve.

    MMORPG's on the other hand are supposed to have long lasting appeal. My belief is that a strong tactical element lasts longer. Proof? The lifespan of Counter Strike vs Quake.

    • Adjusting world areas

      A MMORPG needs to be massive. A true RPG that allows you play a wide range of roles needs to have a truly gigantic space in wich the players move. To be a lone scout you need an area that is truly remote. To be a trader you need to have multiple areas worthy to trade between.

      To create this you would need to create several areas. At start of the game some of them will designated as developed and some as undeveloped. Developed areas are were the player starts live, these areas are well patrolled. Undeveloped areas are barren and extremely dangerous. Other areas are in between. As the game develops some developed areas will become more popular this can be offset by increasing taxation. In response some underdeveloped areas will further develop.

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