October, Roman month of the octopus, is usually celebrated in Britain by publically burning an effigy of Johnathan Foreigner, the man who tried to blow up the Queen in seventeen ninety fifteen. We didn’t bother with that this year, and stayed in to write humorous captions underneath pictures of cats that we found on the internet.
RF Online closes – MMO apocalypse begins?
John: If it’s an apocalypse of games as rubbish as RF Online, I’m all for it. This was an horrible thing to play. Perhaps the best example of this would be the XP poaching. If you stood next to a cow-thing and spend three minutes chipping away at its health (all the while consuming twenty or thirty health potions, as this was the only way to survive in the game), and then someone else came along and hit it for the last blip of health, XP and drops go to him. Brilliant! Although for me the highlight of the lowlights was watching literally hundreds of players mining for ore on a hillside in preparation for an oncoming battle, but there were no mining animations. So it was hundreds of people stood frozen, holding inanimate drills in front of them, and somehow this counted as a game. Um, no. However, the epic worldwide battles every 8 hours – that was a splendid idea.
Kieron: I still need to find a proper use for my hellish vision of MMOs as literal Killing fields, the mobs as wheat rising up to be culled back by hordes of workers, MMOs as a voluntary Gulag workers. Even thinking about stuff like RF Online makes me never want to even look at an MMO ever again.
Alec: Oddly, it did have some strong supporters even on our disparaging Western shores. It’s one of those cases where a title seems genuinely objectively rubbish, yet picks up as vehement an audience as any game. Is this simply the nature of game fandom in general, or another facet of the way people really give themselves to an MMO with total abandon because the nature of the thing is ongoing rather than one-shot – because it’s tied that much more to their own daily existence? One day, I’m going to grow and brain cell and do some academic research about the modern-day tribalism MMOs seem to be cultivating. Right after I learn how to play guitar and repair a car, and how to dress myself.
Jim: It’s rather a shame that we still haven’t got our robot MMO. It’s so logical: robots are modular as hell, can be upgraded visually and statistically, can be cute or serious, ranged or close combat. You could practically reskin WoW as a robo-MMO ferchrisakes! Not that I want that, no sir.
John: The Daily Star – the source of all my gaming news! This is the MMO I’m properly excited about. Slightly unnerved by the suggestion of a micro-payments model – doesn’t seem like a sensible plan. I always feel like I’m being screwed over by little dribbly payments, even if they add up to less than a regular monthly sub. But if the story-led online world can work, and the NPC companions are convincing, I’ll be a happy little man.
Kieron: I can’t actually rally my expectations from being so down about MMOs in my last comment. I suspect I’ll play this for a month and then never touch it again. Which is fine – that’s what I’d expect from a Bioware RPG. I’m no use to drip-feed business models, me.
Alec: It’s a whole lot of vague promises at the moment, and I can’t quite get excited just yet because of the twin fears that it’ll cling to the WoW model despite all the fancy talkin’, and that Bioware will once again prove unable or unwilling to break with the tired RPG conventions they rely on. Shopkeeper in the basement of my own ship in Mass Effect, I’m looking at you. Clearly though, it’s the only upcoming
RPG MMO truly worth getting thrilled about at this stage, with the possible exception of Guild Bores 2.
God, I’m a misery.
Jim: All those in favour of making Alec walk the plank, say “aye”. Anyway, there’s also World Of Darkness and Love, two MMOs that are very much worth getting excited about, moreso than this, I’d say.
Alec: And Love. Whoops. I need a memory upgrade.
Kieron: And deservedly so, because King’s Bounty is nifty and Alec is pretty also. Trying to shame Alec into returning to his Zombie Wife was my favourite running gag of October too. For shame, Alec, for shame…
Alec: My game of the year, even though I haven’t quite finished it. Nothing in gamingdom beats being completely blindsided with charm and cleverness by a game you stumbled upon accidentally and entirely expected to be a broken chore. King’s Bounty: thank you so much for existing.
Jim: Thanks, Russians. Thrussians. It makes me quite happy that this game was actually as good as it seemed to be when I saw it unfinished in Russian earlier in the year. Hooray!
Bethesda claim no DRM in Fallout 3. Later turn out to by lying. Oopsie.
John: This was odd. You have to assume it was confused communications, as it’s in no one’s interests to make the claim deliberately. Either way, it’s a shame, as Bethesda are independent enough that they could have made an intelligent stand about the futility of DRM. Never mind the fact that Fallout 3 leaked on the 360 weeks before release, and not the PC.
Alec: Notably, the variant of Securom the game ultimately employed was zero hassle whatsoever. The emails we got though, and the web-wide outrage at the mere mention of Securom’s name – it was all a bit too much like the Jehovah scene in The Life of Brian. We do need to fight DRM, but simply going nutsoid on instant-o-principle rather than carefully picking targets doesn’t seem like it’s going to help the cause.
John: One day it will be bigger than QT3 and RLMMLLMMKKK combined. And then there will be a war. With robots.
Kieron: Oh, it’s not that bad. It bumbles along cutely enough. If we could get it to integrate with the comments threads, we’d rule the fucking world.
Alec: Mad Kieron briefly thought I’d opened the forum too soon as a revenge attack for not including me in the first podcast. The fucking idiot. I’d already killed his mum in revenge for that – starting a forum without him as well would just have been petty.
John: I’m determined not to create expectations of this. DX2 was a genuinely good game (with a terrible ending), but one that couldn’t live up to following the Best Game Ever. I don’t imagine DX3 will live up to the Best Game Ever either, and I think I’m going to have a much better time playing it if I’m relaxed about that. Still, I expect it to be a great game, and anything short of that will be UNACCEPTABLE.
Kieron:This was an interesting one. With the angry mails I received, I suspected it was going to kick off in a larger way – except it didn’t, as I suspect Edge Online realised I’d done my research on the issue and wasn’t just pulling out my digs at Online Journalism from my special drawer of prejudices. Was a good example of a minor trend this year of online places re-using traditional print writing in a particularly terrible way for cheap content.
I hope Deus Ex 3 is good. It’s a big job, to say the least. I suspect if I were a developer, I’d feel a little as if I was asked to write a sequel to Watchmen, y’know?
Alec: Judgment entirely reserved at this stage, but I’m genuinely glad someone other than Bethesda and 2K are having a crack at this kind of FPS With Knobs On. Yeah, it’s a shame they’re playing with people’s feelings by using a game world they had nothing to do with the creation of, but any other voice tackling this kind of a game is worth paying attention to in these dark, Gears of War-governed times.
Jim: I cannot imagine a more poisonous chalice for game development. There’s no way it can please the fans, so let’s just hope it turns out to be good nonetheless. (A bit like Fallout 3, eh what?)
John: I haven’t seen the film yet. I’ve never been very good with Bond movies. I can never tell why anyone’s good or bad, or how you’re supposed to tell the difference when they’re all murdering each other all the time. Also, if I were Bond I think I’d have learned by now not to drink anything I didn’t prepare for myself. If 90% of the drinks you consumed led to blacking out and waking up on a bench with a laser pointing at your balls, you’d think you’d carry your Martini around in a hip flask. But yeah, the demo for this was amazingly bad.
Kieron: Alec and I were at the PR event for its public unveiling. Just generally soul crushing. Alec’s Eurogamer preview was less a description of the game’s features, and more a cry of despair from the pit of a games journalist’s soul. The worst thing being was that on a basic objective level, it was perfectly functional. The colour grey as the future of games. God, even thinking about it makes me depressed.
Alec: Oh bum – I already said “these dark, Gears of War-governed times” in the last comment. Hmm. Yes, while I’m usually okay to give a game the benefit of the doubt until I’ve had substantial hands-on time, just an hour staring at The Thingy of Wotsit so absolutely proved it to be a passionless, cash-grab horror that I suspect I would have had to refuse to write the preview had I been under orders to stay positive. Still, the game reflected the film – made too quickly, too cynically and using mindless explosions to mask a critical lack of focus beneath.
Jim: I quite liked the film, but it’s quite clearly not a James Bond film in any real sense. It’s an action movie with a spy and a hot girl. And the game was bum.
Endwar PC delayed blamed on piracy. And Michael de Plater used to seem such a nice man.
John: I think this will count as 2008’s stupidest decision, by every company that’s made it whether they’ve been honest about why or not. Like finding out that Synecdoche, New York isn’t getting a UK cinema release until May 2009, you have to wonder if their plan is to piss people off enough until they want to find a way of getting hold of it ahead of release. I keep coming back to Gabe Newell’s comment: So long as the pirates offer a better service than the publishers, the pirates will win.
Kieron: I don’t think we’re actually being fair here: “Blamed” implies that one thing causes another. This is more an analysis of the facts leading to a decision – as in, we think the amount of PC piracy reduces the sales of other market where there is less piracy. Gamers on PC normally also game on the 360. That there’s some people who would buy the game on the 360 who wouldn’t if there was a PC-for-free option strikes me as a logical enough assumption from even basic economics. Is it right? Fuck knows. But I can totally see why they’d make such a decision. And for an RTS which has been designed from scratch to work on the consoles, I can see it being particularly strong here. Either way, a shame. EndWar, from what I played, is actually pretty neat.
Alec: Yeah, I’ve always found it hard to deny that piracy isn’t some sort of very real, and growing, economic problem for game-makers, even if it perhaps isn’t as serious a one as occasional reckless comments like de Plater’s make out. The real problem is their reaction – blame and petulance, rather than actively addressing the problem. Napster all over again.
Jim: All proper tea is theft.
Portal prelude mod briefly a big deal, until it turns out to be a bit too hard and the devs go nuts on people who criticise it.
John: Everyone has to learn how to be criticised. Learning it in public is never pretty. But be sympathetic to them. Next time their skin will be harder and their responses more calm. Unless they’re complete raving psychos, in which case it’ll be funnier.
Kieron:Yeah, I’ve got some sympathy with these guys. I’ve been insulted for years online, and even with elephantine skin I occasionally bite. It’s just that I’m better at choosing how to bite, y’know?
Alec: It must have hurt – to be suddenly placed on a pedestal for a week or so, only to then be immediately kicked off it by disappointed hype-victims. The mistake was electing to make a prequel rather than a level pack, because it dragged in a completely different audience to those looking for new challenges, which was what the mod was really about.
Jim: One day marketing will be the equivalent of “mm s’okay, spose” so that no one can ever be disappointed.
Kieron: And occasionally the people who go “and what happens when they shut down the servers, eh?” are right. Sad.
Alec: I entirely understand that there comes a point where hosting servers for old games becomes essentially futile, but the problem in this case was that there was a bunch of games in there that surely still had a reasonable multiplayer audience. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for the meetings and conversations that lead for servers being closed down – but I rather fear it’s usually just some just over-paid, uncaring bureaucrat unthinkingly drawing red lines through stuff to quickly balance his books. Also, I am deeply ashamed of how long it just took me to spell ‘bureaucrat’ right.
Boneland: NAUGHTY. Also, kinda racist.
John: Sometimes when working on RPS you find a game to which the only response is to send it to Kieron. This was one of those times.
Kieron: It was deeply within my idiom. I kinda regret being so even handed on the demo, and working out some manner of defence for it, because frankly, when you get into the full game it just goes fucking insanely-off-the-wall offensive. Still… it’s the sort of game I’m glad I played, just because I’ll be spinning anecdotes from it into other features forever. And it’s the biggest budget porn game I’ve ever seen. This says something. What, I’m not quite sure, but it’s certainly part of the future.
Jim: Porn is so hard to find these days, especially on the internet. It’s lucky someone made a game with cartoon bumsex in it.
Alec: Pretty much the definition of a game that’s not for me. Thank Christ Kieron’s such an unrepentant deviant/lech.
Starcraft 2 trifurcated. Internet is made of rage.
Kieron: I suspect they may actually deserve credit for even announcing it in advance. The non-ending campaign mode is increasingly standard in many major games. If you bought Halo 2 on launch-day, you probably didn’t know the story just stopped either. At least with Star Craft 2, you do. And assuming the actual campaigns are any good and aren’t actually one normal sized game split into three, you can hardly say you’re being ripped off in terms of actual gameplay content. But that aside… Christ! If you can’t tell your story in the length of time you’ve decided to tell your story in, the story you want to tell is fundamentally wrong for the medium. The only way to pull it off is if they manage to reach an actual conclusion rather than just stopping at the end of each part.
Alec: My take is that announcing expansion packs in advance, and stating that you’re gonna give ‘em the utmost care and attention, is infinitely better than the usual approach of churning something out quickly and on spec depending on how successful the parent game was. We really don’t need more Kane’s Wraths clogging up our shelves, after all.
Jim: I predict 99% of gamers thinking this was an awesome idea after it is released.
The RPS Thinkosium! That sure was a dark room.
Kieron: This was a fun time. Enormously stressful and almost a complete disaster – a round of applause to the immortal Ste Curran for bringing mikes – but it came together in a lovely celebratory evening of PC gaming nonsense. We must do it again.
Alec: I didn’t talk to anywhere near enough people, because I’m painfully shy. The sheer amount of unfamiliar faces when I walked into that room scared the living poo out of me. So, sorry about that, and hopefully it didn’t come off as stand-offish. Next time, I’ll get crazy-drunk beforehand, and maybe bring the cat with me for reassurance. Definitely a fine gathering o’folk though, and the people I did have the nerve to talk to seemed absolutely lovely.
Jim: Hello everyone! *waves*
HL1 vs HL2: Alec can’t get over the past
John: In the thirty-seven years since the release of Half-Life, nothing has come close to understanding why its opening was so brilliant. Which is depressing. The game that came the closest was Unreal, oddly enough.
Kieron: Which came out before Half-life. Are you sure, man?
Alec: Inevitable confusion/accusation in Comments on this, which I guess is the case of anything that goes against the general feeling. It wasn’t meant to slam Valve’s following games at all, but too many folk presumed me saying I preferred HL1 meant I thought HL2 was rubbish, and too many folk dismissing the sentiment by saying “it’s just nostalgia” rather than formulating an actual argument. Valve making a hybrid of HL1 and HL2 for their next singleplayer game would make me a very happy bunny, but I suspect we’re so far down HL2’s path for that to happen. Sadface.
Jim: Games are ace. The Half-Life games particularly so. The reason is because you get to shoot stuff real good. Man, I love that.
Kieron: Fuck yeah!
Alec: Kieron often professes to have little time for sequels and remakes. Can you tell, readers?
Jim: Whee! I completed the original game in about four hours, so I hope this one is longer. (Also that images we did was really good. More people should be really good at stuff, it’s ace.)
Kieron: Commercially successful game to receive sequel. Actually, I’ve a lot of hope for this – the 2K Marin guys have some really smart people there. And on a personal level, I’m going to be interested to see what Jordan “The Cradle/Fort Frolic” Thomas does with a whole game, given his Creative Director role. I also have a theory that a certain sort of game only really ever happens when a lead developer just goes proper mental – like Chris Avellone deciding he should write 400,000 words by himself in Planescape Torment. C’mon, Jordan. You have nothing to lose but your mind.
Alec: Kenny L not being on this strikes me as the right move, much as I generally feel sequels should be handled by their precursors’ creators. He needs to go off and live up to all his Big Talk about narrative by working on something completely new and that isn’t bound to the inevitable necessities of sequel-making, and conversely I suspect this will benefit from being freed from a mind that came up with so many baffling storytelling inconsistencies.
Kieron: Sad – especially for the fans and the people who worked there. But I can’t help but think its failure was a good thing for the industry as a whole. In a real way, the commercial model was taking the piss. Any model which removes what was previously free and tries to charge you for it is something which we should be very wary of. Adding stuff on top of what we expect? Sure. But the route Hellgate was heading down was a bad one for consumers. So, perhaps, we’re lucky that Hellgate wasn’t a better game.
John: If you make an offline game that turns out to not quite work, and doesn’t sell as you’d hoped, then it fades into obscurity. If you make an online game and it bombs, there later comes the humiliation of switching it off, and a great deal of attention. In Flagship’s case, this couldn’t have been much worse. Curse of Diablo, I’m telling you.
Alec: MMore MMO apocalypse. The online bubble burst this year, and I imagine the eventual repercussions for PC gaming may be bigger than we can imagine. When every publisher is shit-scared of piracy (irrationally so or otherwise), MMOs have been the one PC-only area they’ve gladly pumped vast amounts of money into. Now that’s likely to be seen as a huge risk, what happens? Sorry to be a doomsayer, but I’m getting quite worried about this.
Kieron: Commercially successful game to receive… oh, nevermind.
Alec: I don’t know who I have more contempt for – Oblivion-bashers or Spore-bashers. They’re probably the same people. Embrace the middleground of opinion you hot-tempered snobs, you. I’m looking forward to Elder Scrolls V, despite Fallout 3 annoying the holy hell out of me in some ways – there’s potential for a new engine, a huge cash infusion, plenty of time and hopefully a bit more boldness now Bethesda are bona fide elder statesmen. Also, Morrowind is still awesome – if they can bring back some of its wonderful weirdness TES5 could be incredible. They need to fire/kill their voice director and every one of their current actors, however.
- NOTABLE GAMES!
Jim: Part clunky Diablo game, part village-building game. Quite the oddity, but excellent fun while it lasted. (Which was about two afternoons for me.)
Kieron: Indie action-RPG success story. It’s great to see something grow across the years and then finally find itself on shop shelves. And the recipient of reviews from people who don’t quite get it. Man!
Alec: I have betrayed myself by not yet playing this. I’m going to be alone from Boxing Day till New Year’s Eve, so hopefully I’ll catch up then.
Kieron: I’m not sure whether this was Positech’s best game – it’s a toss up between this and Democracy 2 – but it’s certainly the most attractive. Jamie McKelvie brings his own patented brand of hot punk girls to videogames. He does a comic too, you know. It’s… oh, never mind.
Alec: See my last comment, basically. Isn’t that comic the artist draws supposed to be about Kula Shaker and The Coldplays?
Kieron: I liked this a lot and hope it finds an audience on the 360. For what was meant as Introversion’s commercial game, its relative lack of success must have been disheartening for the them. Are Darwinians just too strange for the average consumer? Maybe. It’s telling their biggest commercial successes have been built around something that’s intrinsically graspable – hacking and nuclear war. Still, well worth playing.
Alec: Just a little bit too hardcore and with a name that would instantly turn off a casual audience, but I really did enjoy it. I’m far too cowardly to play it online because I know I’ll get my arse kicked within 30 seconds, but against AI and chums it’s a super fun time, and far more difstinct from Darwinia that you might suspect from the screenshots and core concept.
Kieron: I’m still only an hour into this. Bloody November/December. Can’t wait to push on into it, and that it’s managed to be actually popular in conversation in a way Oblivion never was (As in, debates online were always poisoned by people playing the hate card too much). I’m looking forward to discovering why.
Alec: My advice to anyone is to stay the hell away from the main quest. There’s some lovely setpieces in it, but it’s hamstrung by some hideously ill-considered mandatory events and Liam bloody Neeson snoozing his way through far too much over-earnest exposition. It’s twice the game if you up and do your own thing.
Jim: Once I’d learned to avoid the main quest and to beat to death anyone who tried to treat me like an RPG protagonist (“Need some arbitrary gameworld currency? Rescue my hat from the goblins!”) this became quite the game. Killing dogs with a baseball bat and then sleeping under a bridge is a dream made real for young Jim Rossignol.
John: I’d love to have an opinion on this game, but it doesn’t play for more than ten minutes without crashing. Which is pissing me off about as much as you could imagine, since I had intended to spend my Christmas holidays playing this.
And all the games in the world
Alec: I’ve played them all, and am entirely right in saying that they’re all rubbish, except King’s Bounty.
John: I don’t play games. They’re corruptive to the mind and encourage violence. And cause piracy.