Game Review – Valheim is Wurm Online on easy mode: and that’s a good thing

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Wait, you’ve never heard of Wurm Online?? Shame on you.

You may be more familiar with its moddable offline-ish baby, Wurm Unlimited, which is available on Steam. It’s a standalone version of the MMO, giving players freedom to manipulate the game client and host private servers.

So what is Wurm, and what does it have to do with this early access Viking game that everyone keeps comparing to Minecraft and Rust? A lot, actually.

It all started with a game studio called Mojang Specifications AB, co-founded by the one and only Notch. Oh, the guy who who made Minecraft, you mean? Yeah, that guy.

Microsoft/Mojang has since removed all mention of Notch/Persson from Minecraft

Wurm Online was the brainchild of then colleagues, Rofl Janssen and Markus Persson. It can only be described as a blend of the classic MMORPGs like EverQuest and Ultima Online, and a clear technical predecessor to the formula we recognize from Minecraft. The landscape is fully shapeable, and ever changing. Trees grow back, and eventually take over unclaimed land. Monsters roam randomly around the map, freely challenging anything and anyone in their path. Crafting is mind-bendingly complex, and allows you to build a variety of tools, weapons, vehicles and structures out of many different materials with curious and even creative results. You can sail vast bodies of hostile waters, and navigate between continents. It might even have the most interesting, and dynamic skybox ever made, displaying evolving weather patterns, including wind, rain, snow, storms, rainbows, as well as an elaborate star map with a constant cycle of celestial bodies and even occasional eclipses. Both world and sky are truly open.

Snow rainbow? S’no problem.


All that said, it’s also the heaviest grind of any game I’ve ever played. Putting up a building requires an extraordinary amount of time and effort involving cutting down swaths of forest, and digging up many actual boatloads of clay, iron, stone and whatever other building materials you can think up. It’s an immense timesink just to feel like you’ve made any progress. There is a sense of accomplishment from putting in so much work, but it’s hard to justify the amount of time it takes just to get resources.

The combat is also… wonky, and dated. It has a lot of the classics of RPGs like swordplay, bows, magic, etc, but it’s not exactly “action” based. It’s almost like real-time turn-based, if that makes any sense. It feels more like you’re rolling dice than swinging a sword.

Nothing says “exciting combat” like clicking through menus and pointing directional arrows.


So again, wtf does any of this have to do with Valheim? Well, it has most of those things I described, but without the ruinous grind. Building is easy, and fun. Combat is exciting and satisfying. It’s so many of the things that made Wurm interesting, but better.

It has a marvelous and beautiful skybox, with dynamic weather patterns and great wind effects. It has an easily moldable landscape, allowing you to sculpt the terrain to your will and build to your heart’s content. The sailing is spectacular, challenging, dangerous, and an absolute adventure all on its own. Combat is simple, yet fluid and rewards skill without overtly punishing casual players. There is an endless spree of dungeons, dangerous monster spawns, and even a story to follow if you so wish.

Dungeon diving with friends? Check.


Although, if you don’t wish, you don’t have to. You can just have fun with your friends, trying not to die to falling trees and screaming boars. Yes, just falling trees are dangerous. Hell, you can even sail off the edge of the world. When in Norse Mythology, do as the Nords.

…and I feel fine.


Many of these things seem eerily similar to what Wurm was trying to accomplish when development started nearly two decades ago, but Valheim did the thing Wurm couldn’t do: make it fun and accessible. Which I suppose is also where Mojang was able to succeed with Minecraft.

While it’s certainly easy to compare Valheim to Minecraft for its sprawling open world and ability to win hearts so easily, it takes existing in your little Viking world to the next levelit’s a brilliantly refreshed formula in a genre that has been beaten into the ground. Minecraft was a unique revelation when it gained popularity. By comparison, Valheim is like a diamond standing out in a sea of broken glass.

Realistic waves, wind and weather physics, while being hunted by giant sea monsters? Check.


Let me be clear: I am beyond bored with “survival” games. I can’t stay interested in games like The Forest, or Rust, or Ark, or Conan Exiles, or 7 Days to Die, or Terraria, or, or, or… unless I have peers pressuring me to play with them. While it’s a great co-op experience, I can play Valheim solo and do so confidently, without feeling like the constant monitoring of food and other resources is just an arbitrary chorewhich often ruins experience for me in other games.

I think that’s what makes the game so compelling in the first place. It’s not really doing anything new at all. It’s so easy to compare it to a lot of other popular titles. I like to be a pedantic hipster relating to Wurm instead of Minecraft, but there’s no question that it borrows from more popular and similar games. Yet, it still stands out. Even with chunky pixel art graphics, it has a gorgeous aesthetic, and an extraordinarily immersive environment. Even with familiar cooking and crafting progression, it still feels fresh and creative. Even with simple combat mechanics, it’s still fun and engaging.

Giant deer that shoots lightning? Check.


It’s hard to describe how well this game rides the line between fresh and familiar.

Big studios wish they could crack the secret to selling a million copies of a new IP that isn’t pushing the boundaries of game design itself like Death Stranding, or reaching out to the broadest of demographics like Among Us.

Valheim is a beautiful reminder that a game doesn’t need brutal originality to feel fresh, inviting and completely new.

/gameon

P.S. Can someone tell me why people compare it to Dark Souls? I don’t see it.

Something, Something Game News – Stop being impressed by 1st Gen VR

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3dpron
You know what they say, porn has driven the progress of all media. (Really)

Since the launch of the Vive and the Rift, I can’t help but be completely, and utterly unimpressed by the first generation of VR titles. I keep hearing words like “revolutionary” and “immersive” but most of the apps I’ve seen so far are either gimmicky, overly simple non-games, or virtual desktops which merely allow you to look at a screen or screens while sitting in a blandly textured environment. If this is what’s going to pass for quality immersion, we might as well cancel any progress we’re making towards Total Recall or The Matrix-like detail: all we needed was a fucking virtual couch.

lolvr
Check it out, bro! I'm sitting on a couch while I'm sitting on a couch!

Seriously. Take off the $600 goggles and think clearly for a second about the quality of these titles: If they weren’t VR games, would they be any good? It’s a question I’ve posed since the inception of this new gear, and every time I ask it of myself, the resounding answer is always, “Dear fuck, no.”

let’s start with the number one most obvious problem with many of these new apps:

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Better hope this VR thing isn't just a fad, then...

If a PC game requires exclusive hardware to run, it is automatically breaking the cardinal rule of PC gaming: everyone plays.

You think League of Legends and Counter-Strike:GO are the most played games in the world because they caters only to the snobby #PCmasterrace crowd? (Of which I often declare myself a member, but that’s not the point) No. You can play these titles on a toaster. Smart developers make games which can run on a wide variety of hardware.

Next, let’s talk about how many of these VR exclusive titles aren’t even games.

It must be a good VR game! VR is in the title!

It’s mostly environmental emulators, and virtual desktops which all do the same thing. Is it possible to die from yawning? A game where you drift about waving at things and counting them is not a game worth buying, but they sell it to you as one because it’s all, OOH! LOOK IT’S IN 3D CUZ YOU’RE WEARING FACE SCREENS! They all just feel like lazy attempts to quickly enter a burgeoning market. This is not even remotely what we should be expecting. Pokemon Snap was more interesting than this, and it still didn’t need awkward face screens.

Even a game like Star Citizen, which is definitely designed as an exclusive PC game for those who are more inclined to use high end hardware… still has no exclusive hardware. It won’t run very well on slower computers, but having a slow computer doesn’t exempt you from installing it. You may need a better computer to play it, but you won’t need an entirely new and separate piece of technology to do so. See the difference?

A VR game that can’t be played not in VR, and doesn’t have anything which requires VR (like room mapping mechanics) is a game which should not only not exist, but should be shunned from the likes of the Steam store. (I know, that sentence was just as painful to write). Make an immersive game, then build VR into it. Don’t pigeonhole your potential audience just to be the first through the door with a new gimmick. What if not as many people are rushing out to buy headsets as you thought? You’ve now forfeited a major share of your own market potential. It isn’t just bad development, it’s bad business. There are far more games out there right now which could lend themselves to VR better than many of the new VR exclusives popping up left and right.

Seriously. Why does this require VR hardware? Why don't I ever have hands?

Take Elite Dangerous for example. It was one of the most played games in the earlier testing phases of the Rift (and likely still is) because it is a visceral, first person game with immersive qualities. It lends itself perfectly to a VR experience, yet doesn’t require face screens. It looks good, feels good, sounds good and does immersion well without pandering to gimmicks. VR fits naturally into a game like this because the game itself is immersive.

So that’s it. Make an immersive game. Implement VR. In that order. If you do it the other way around, you are just ruining market expectations for everyone else. At the price of entry, you’re target audience is people like me who are willing to spend a little extra on their hardware. It doesn’t matter how you price the game, because they had to buy that hardware first. I feel like no consideration is made for that. Your cheap, rushed “game” doesn’t sit right on exclusive, expensive hardware.

Plus, here’s another thing: I already have multiple screens in front of me. I don’t need a $600 device to emulate those screens. If I get a VR headset it’s because I want to feel like I’m IN THE GAME. It could be way more than just a pricey gimmick if developers would hold up on trying to be the first across the line.

/gameon

south-park-oculus-rift-episode
Obligatory South Park reference.

Something, Something Game News – Pay2Mod: Why Steam’s paid workshop failed so hard so quickly

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prison02Off with their heads!

Over the past few days, the PC gaming community has been up in arms over the new paid modding system Valve implemented into its flagship Steam Community Workshop. Almost as quickly as it arrived, it was shunned and then shuttered only days later. It’s a rare occasion for Valve to blunder so violently in such a short time, however I will give them credit for responding as quickly as they did. So what happened?

The majority of the backlash started with one mod which was removed within hours of the paid program’s launch. The controversy began due to the mod’s creator having used assets from another mod by another creator. As should be expected, using another’s content to get paid is rather frowned upon.

permissiontomakemoneyWell that escalated quickly.

However, Steam Workshop was never set up to have the kind of regulation you might expect from a paying service. The mod mentioned above wasn’t even removed by Steam, but by the developer for having received so much negative press. Yet, with Valve offering paid options for modders, not only does it infringe on some of the communities’ ideologies, but potentially creates an atmosphere where mods might become exclusive to Steam due to a developer’s interest in profits. The proprietor of the Nexus modding community Robin Scott weighed in on Reddit asking:

“Can you make a pledge that Valve are going to do everything to prevent, and never allow, the “DRMification” of modding, either by Valve or developers using Steam’s tools, and prevent the concept of mods ONLY being allowed to be uploaded to Steam Workshop and no where else, like ModDB, Nexus, etc.?”

It’s fair question considering what a mod actually is: a contribution to an already finished product. It’s kinda like if you took a painting, added your own character to it, then asked to be paid for your work. While you may have legitimately improved upon the artwork, and perhaps put in nearly as many hours as the original artist, the fact remains that it was never yours to begin with. So the question stands: does a modder deserve to be paid at all?

10845818_10155497807325603_7012942427859232575_o"I call it: 'Dog Bridge' by Monet and Carol. Isn't it better?!"

It’s a tricky question. While the point still remains that mods are not original contributions, there’s no arguing that some mods have evolved into highly successful standalone games on their own merit. DayZ for example, was a mod to the ARMA 2 engine by a single developer (who did happen to work for Bohemia Interactive before it was appropriated by them, however), and is now one of the highest selling games on PC. Counter-Strike and Team Fortress Classic began as mere mods to the Half Life engine as well, and have also gone on to become two of the most highly celebrated and influential games in the industry. Not to mention the original DOTA having been a Warcraft 3 mod.

Successful mod developers have come forward, unsurprisingly, in favour of the paid system. Garry’s Mod creator Garry Newman suggests that the market would balance itself, rewarding quality over quantity. He is convinced that people won’t pay for unimpressive mods, while the better ones will shine through and receive the funding they deserve. Shawn Snelling, a prominent modder and map designer for CS:GO also believes modders should be compensated for their time.

exposureA lovely satire piece from The Beaverton.

I just want to be clear in my position that I do not disagree with their sentiment. Of course hard-working modders deserve compensation, and many of them have already been rewarded. Again, some of the most successful titles we know today began as mods, and wouldn’t be as such if not for their developers having made the decision to monetize their efforts. But mods like DayZ didn’t become paid, standalone versions overnight. The decision to sell was almost always after they had become celebrated, and provided enough content to be sold as complete games. Even still, the original DayZ mod for ARMA 2 can be had entirely for free.

The issue here was strictly implementation.

With almost no warning or advisement from the community, Valve issued an option to allow the content creators to decided whether or not their work had value, when point of fact, it should have been at the discretion of the community itself. Right out of the gate, there were already mods with little effort done by the developer, and/or stolen assets, wrongly asking for payment with absolutely no regulation nor communication from Steam. Anyone could put in as little effort as they liked, and still demand payment just for you to download it. As one can imagine, this kind of honour system doesn’t work on the internet without oversight. “Protest mods” even appeared, some asking for $hundreds to provide a single, worthless asset, just to prove how ridiculous the new system was.

While I don’t see this as the last we’ve heard from this kind of program, my hope is that it comes back in the form of a “tip” system, where customers can chose to donate to mods deemed worthy of compensation and recognition. This way, both the consumers and the developers can get a more realistic idea as to whether or not a mod should be monetized or perhaps made into its own game.

Feel free to weigh in yourselves. Do you think it’s fair to charge for mods before they’ve had any recognition?

/gameon

10523309_10155498371360603_2318789489273724365_o"From one Redskin to another... Go fuck yourself."

Game Review – Planetary Annihilation

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Game review – Planetary Annihilation
Platform – PC (exclusive)
Developer – Uber Entertainment

Released: Sept 5, 2014

Rating – 6.5/10

PAsouthpark

Get ready to spam.

Planetary Annihilation is among the first and second generation of highly successful Kickstarter games to achieve official release status. Unfortunately, unlike it’s generational peer Divinity: Original Sin, I find myself wishing they didn’t release yet. This game does a lot of things incredibly right, but requires more foundation and less superficial to be truly deserving of its early adopters’ expectations. (and money)

PAwinskick

248% extra win.

Let’s start with the price of entry as an early adopter. Those who supported the kickstarter were able to get beta access for $40, but when the game first appeared for pre-release on Steam, it was $90. That’s a steep point of entry for any game. Eventually it was whittled down to $50, but we’re still in the realm of “AAA” prices. If I’m paying that kind of money on a new game for PC, it better be loaded with content. Luckily, I was able to get in several months ago when a bundle site (I believe it was BundleStars) was offering it at $25.

For a beta, I was actually quite impressed. Single player was a bit empty, and there were certainly some features in need of polish, but the core game was there, and multiplayer worked surprisingly well. For $25, I couldn’t complain, especially not for a beta. However, we’ve now passed release day, and I don’t feel like much has changed — except for my opinion of Uber Entertainment.

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Yes. That's $10 for a single item in a game that may have cost you $90.

Where the hell do these people get off having a cash shop in a game for which some paid $90?  A game by the way that has barely changed since I first started playing the early release. It really sickens me when games reduce themselves to this if they aren’t running a free2play model. I paid for the game. Give me all of the features of the game. Maybe bundle them all as one DLC, for $15-20… but cash shops in paid titles feel sincerely cheap to me. You already got my money. Stop asking me for more while I’m playing.

Did I also mention that there’s no way to play this game offline? Yeah, it’s one of those “always online” lobbies, even though you can play through a whole single-player campaign without ever talking to anyone. Anyone else understand why new games are doing this? Me neither.

planetcrasher

But seriously, planets are weapons in this game.

Don’t get me wrong, this game is amazing. There’s no other RTS quite like it once you experience the immense scale of planet smashing.

Many will compare it to old titles like Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander, and it does share similarities in it’s style of “spam warfare.” Honestly, its similarity to them is what I consider a bit of a detriment, because it tends to become less about tactics and more about speed and efficiency. I wish base building were a little slower and perhaps required a few more steps in between building super structures.

planetary-annihilation

Everything burns. Everything.

However, all that is left behind when you have multiple planets in a system buzzing with activity. You get a pretty wide array of units at your command able to traverse the varying terrains of each planet. You’ll be building factories, wiping out enemy units, moving around satellites and resources, all while feeling rather omnipotent. Especially when you unlock the deathstar-esque super weapons. If nothing else, this game effectively provides the sense of grandeur you might expect from using celestial bodies as target practice.

bigboom

It was blocking my view.

My biggest problem with this game is how vacant the single player campaign feels after having higher expectations during the beta. At the heart of any good strategy should be a deep, involving single player campaign. Multiplayer works fine in this game, but it gets repetitive and it felt finished a long time ago. When the biggest addition to the official release was a cash shop and a map editor, I was unimpressed.

As a whole, this title gets big points for style. I wouldn’t even say that the game suffers particularly in any area of execution. But it needs tweaking, and it plainly lacks content for how much hype it was getting. Get rid of the cash shop, give me more single player, and let me play offline for fuck sakes. With some significant improvements, (but mostly simple changes) this game could easily be an 8 or a 9.

I like it, but I think it could be much better.

/gameon

buildfactories

P.S. You always should have built more factories.