Category Archives: zoso

Eternal Sunlessness of the Crowdsourced Founder

As the gaming industry lurches through the strange new landscape of crowdfunding, early access, paid betas and the like, progress isn’t always smooth, the recent kerfuffle over Peter Molyneux’s Godus being a particularly noteworthy case in point. Going through a bit of a gaming lull, with nothing immediately flinging itself from the ever-lengthening Steam library as a must play, I thought I’d take a bit of a look at a couple of projects I’d backed on Kickstarter that had come to fruition while I was distracted with other stuff.

Sunless Sea from Failbetter Games was released a couple of weeks ago, and has had some glowing reviews; I’ve only set out on the briefest of voyages so far, but it looks very nice, combining the quirky setting of the Fallen London browser game with sort-of-Rogue-ish-with-a-bit-of-Elite-and-other-stuff sailing around. I did enjoy Fallen London for a while, but never found the underlying mechanics of the game as compelling as the setting and writing, so I’m looking forward to some more exploration of the Unterzee. With all the problems elsewhere, it’s nice to see a successful Kickstarter project meeting or even exceeding expectations.

I also got around to installing Jagged Alliance: Flashback. I missed out on the original Jagged Alliance games, but being a big fan of UFO: Enemy Unknown and Silent Storm I thought I’d give Flashback a try. After backing projects I don’t tend to follow them particularly closely, but flipping back through previous Kickstarter updates while installing the game it seems the launch back in October may have been a touch rocky, with the disappointment of some fans reflected in numerous negative Steam reviews. Again I’ve only played a couple of missions so far, it seems solid enough without being exceptional, worthy enough of spending a bit more time with at least; from a brief glance at the comments in Steam a frequent complaint seemed to be that it didn’t feel like a Jagged Alliance game, so perhaps not having those expectations gives a slightly different perspective on things. I gather there’s also been an update or two since launch, which may have helped.

Elsewhere, over on Massively Overpowered (itself a crowdfunded reboot from the ashes of Massively), I spotted a piece about Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade planning on launching early access this Autumn to paid founders. I vaguely remember talk of a 40k MMO years back, I’m not sure if Eternal Crusade is the same project after numerous iterations or something entirely unrelated, but the pitch is a massive online third-person shooter with guns n’ swords n’ tanks n’ stuff. Sounds like fun, and I do have a soft spot for the old Warty Thou universe. The business model is a mix of money and points and packs and items and this and that; standard, isn’t it? Isn’t it though. Slightly more unusual is the idea of “Free to WAAAGH!”; you can pay to unlock Space Marines, Chaos Marines or Eldar, or play Orks for free. Seems like a nice way of representing the “quantity has a quality all of its own” spirit of Ork armies, if the balancing works out. Founders Packs are on sale, starting at a fairly pricey $40 and going up to obligatory eye-watering levels like the $450 (with 15% saving!!1!) Xenos Pack. The lowest price pack comes with 40,000 points (some sort of space currency, I gather), which sounds like a lot, but as Eddie Izzard observed of food labels, really needs a frame of reference (“I see this has 0.02 milligrams of sodium… is that a lot? Too much? Not enough? Am I going to explode in water?”) Talking to Melmoth, I worried that things were headed for the MMO version of Weimar Hyperinflation, where you pitch up to a virtual vendor with an online wheelbarrow loaded with digital banknotes, and, as he put it:
“I’ve got 20 million flingy-bongs, what can I get?!”
“Half an eyepatch.”
“Half an eyepatch?”
“This bit of string here. There you go. Save up, and one day you might be able to afford a gun, yours for only 10.9e1000e000 thrumpty-bings[1]!”
[1] 1 thrumpty-bing = 10e189 flingy-bongs

Anyway, debates over the merits and ethics of pre-orders and founders offers and what-not will doubtless continue to rage as bitterly as ever; there are strong arguments for waiting for official release and reviews (and indeed giving a game a few months after that for the worst of the launch bugs to be patched out; Van Hemlock’s three month rule, as mentioned on some of the earliest posts here from 2008, still holds as true as ever). There are also compelling arguments in favour of early access, when done well (just as with business models, nuclear physics, and so much else, they can be used for both good and evil). With all sorts of tempting booty in pre-launch/Kickstarter packs, from a discounted price to exclusive items, it’s essentially a gamble: for a pre-order/Kickstarter pledge of £x, will you get £x-worth of fun out of a game (itself rather a hard thing to measure, even using the Sherbet Dip-Dab scale)? If “yes”, and said amount of fun would have cost £y (where y>x) or not been possible at all without the pre-order, you win! If “no” (or “yes” where y<x), better luck next time. I don’t usually go in for betting, even random real-money lockboxes in other games, but if a game looks promising I don’t mind taking a punt and rolling the dice of pre-order, so come on Eternal Crusade, come up sixes!

Gamers shocked as Elder Scrolls Online drops subscriptions

ROCKVILLE, MD – The MMORPG industry has been shaken to its very core by the news that The Elder Scrolls Online is dropping its monthly subscription, becoming what experts are now calling “buy-to-play”. The unprecedented move without any precedent, apart from any other game that once charged a subscription but now doesn’t, has plunged gamers into a state of confusion. “Let me get this straight” said Ian Gamer on a fictional gaming forum “I have to… ‘buy’ this game… and then I can play it? No, sorry, I’m not following.” Elder Scrolls spokesman Ian Spokesman tried to explain the change in a press release accompanying the news: “So you know free-to-play, yeah? And how it’s, like, free, except where you want to do stuff that isn’t free and you have to pay money but you don’t have to do that so it’s free as in beer not free as in speech, if it was free beer with optional microtransactions and a premium beer option that wasn’t free as in speech or beer or the French forces under De Gaulle. You know that, yeah? Well buy-to-play is like that, but without the option not to pay.”

When The Elder Scrolls Online launched in 2014 the subscription model for MMORPGs was completely normal, every single other MMORPG requiring the purchase of a box then payment of a monthly subscription except for 99.487% of them; nobody in the industry was at all surprised or commented on the monthly fee at all. Not even the most radical of soothsayers could have predicted that the subscription would be a sort of additional “enthusiasm tax”, making the most out of keen early adopters before dropping the requirement for regular payment once players numbers had slumped after launch as had happened with almost every MMORPG launched in the ten years since WoW. The occasional dissenting voice, who didn’t really exist because there weren’t any but just imagine if there had been, was silenced by the cast iron logic that even if some other MMORPGs had struggled to retain players, which they hadn’t, then a really big franchise with a rock solid history of single player games was a guaranteed sure fire hit when MMOGified, and nobody could think of a single instance of well-regarded single player RPGs set far back in the history of a colossal interstellar franchise that had spawned a MMORPG that had been a perfectly good game but just not retained the sort of subscriber numbers required as a counterexample.

Unable to cope with the radical new gaming landscape that has resulted, several MMORPG industry experts have vowed to move into safer areas of commentary such as the continuing non-Catholicism of the Pope, and absence of bear excrement from wooded areas.

We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not happen

By Jove, Christmas is a busy old time isn’t it? What with all the presents and visits to relatives and turkey and sprouts and Steam sales and tinsel and Steam sort-of-sale-auction-event-trading-card-gem-things and Doctor Who specials and baubles and destroying 40 ground targets with any Ju 87 variant and figgy pudding and winning five matches each day with Rank II-V vehicles and carols and wintery walks along the beach, it’s a wonder there’s any time left to sit back and consider the real meaning of it all, the birthday of a rather special person. But enough about me.

Plenty of games put on events of some sort over Christmas, and the eagle-eyed viewer may just have spotted that some of the items in the previous list have a hint of the War Thunder about them, as Gaijin seen to have gone a bit event mad. One set of tasks allow players to unlock more of the recently added US tanks, another set offer the prospect of a new plane or tank (self-propelled howitzer, if being pedantic) through 19 daily tasks, and the most recent addition rewards first place on a winning team. Coupled with assorted discounts and experience boosts, most of my gaming time between aforementioned festive activities has thus been spent flying and driving around. I picked up Dragon Age: Inquisition on release, and sunk a fair amount of time into it (summary so far: pretty good) before the War Thunder event madness started, and when shooting up endless waves of planes and tanks got a bit much I took some time out to… go and do the Dragon Age weekend multiplayer events!

The multiplayer component of Dragon Age: Inquisition is very much like that of Mass Effect 3, and a similarly fun way of spending 10-20 minutes in a quick dungeon romp, gaining XP and loot along the way. Like ME3 you can buy boxes of random loot with either in-game or real currency, though a distinct improvement in DA:I is the ability to break down common tat into components with which you can craft armour to unlock new classes, so at least you’re not entirely at the mercy of the RNG. The weekend events offer the opportunity to earn a bonus box of loot by making 100 kills with a particular weapon, which I haven’t found to be too difficult, though the killing frenzy does mean that tanking and coordinated team play tend to go out the window; fortunately on the lower difficulty settings Plan A (“maximum AoE kill everything as quickly as possible”) tends to work much of the time anyway. One “interesting” design decision was that, initially, voice comms were permanently active (on the PC version, at least, I believe a push-to-talk option has been patched in). The ability to mute other players just about preserved sanity in the face of random background noise, but I couldn’t help listening in to one side of another player’s phonecall (he’d thoroughly enjoyed a Micky Flanagan DVD and was relating bits of it to whoever was on the other end of the call), and another match featured the only stereotypical angry teenager I’ve encountered so far. I’m not sure if he was aware that people could hear him, it sounded like he was muttering away to himself at first, but as the levels went on he got progressively more furious at the terrible performance of the rest of the team (who were doing perfectly well), culminating in the final wave when he buggered off and got himself killed; I was running over and in the process of resurrecting him when the dulcet calls of “GET ME UP YOU RETARDS” started, and blow me if I didn’t entirely accidentally run away and let him die while the rest of us cleared up and successfully finished the mission. Oops.

Apart from that, not much other gaming of note; in the Steam pre-sale-gem-auction-thing I did manage to snag a copy of the HD remake of Speedball 2, which I loved back in the day, but have only had time for a couple of quick matches. I got Race The Sun as a gift, from a brief dabble it plays rather well, but again no time for a proper crack at it; with those plus the usual backlog I didn’t bother picking anything else up in the Steam sale itself. Elite: Dangerous is looking thoroughly interesting, the time murderers are back with an all-new picture-type eye-watchable video-style podcast in glorious technicolour, including a guide to Elite exploration, but with War Thunder thoroughly satisfying my flying itch at the moment I haven’t picked it up yet, and I fear I might end up drifting along somewhat rudderless (metaphorically, and perhaps literally depending on combat damage) in the wide open galaxy. A while back I plunked down a bit of cash for a Star Citizen ship, as much in hope as expectation, and maybe it’ll turn out I backed the right horse after all, because the prospective features look awesome, and the projected full proper release date of 2045 coincides nicely with my planned retirement, when I might finally have some spare time to play it.

Happy Christmas (War Thunder isn’t over)

Just in time for Christmas, Gaijin have unleashed Update 1.45 for War Thunder. The main addition is American tanks, joining their German and Soviet armoured brethren in the Ground Forces part of the game, but there are also a few new aircraft, maps and assorted tweaks; full details in the patch notes. One of the new features is tow ropes for tanks, allowing you to rescue unfortunate team-mates who’ve ended up on their sides; to avoid griefing a tow has to be both offered and accepted, and you can only target friendly vehicles, but there must be potential for some future tug-of-war type game modes…

Oh, and the hangers have been spruced up a little for the festive season as well:

Merry Tankmas

Merry Tankmas

So quick bright things come to confusion

You’ve got to hand it to Valve, and by “it” I mean “lorry loads of small denomination coins”. In much the same way that kids have more fun playing with a big cardboard box than the expensive toy that came in it, they presumably concluded that spending ages on stuff like gameplay was completely wasted in Team Fortress 2 compared to the all-important hat market, and have now abandoned conventional games entirely except as a form of currency to power the Steam Event Metagame. Building on this summer’s Five-Way Increase An Arbitrary Number Decision Theory Paradox Event, Valve have finally caved in to the ceaseless demands to make their sales vastly more confusing by allowing trading cards and emoticons and profile backgrounds to be transformed into Gems, a new form of pseudo-currency to use to bid on auctions or alternatively to transform into booster packs for more trading cards. Gems can also bought and sold for real money, alongside the emoticons and hats and games and trading cards and profile backgrounds, in a strange and confusing swirl of gems and money and games and hats and socks and toasters. Only without the socks and toasters. For now. Those will probably come in the Easter sale.

Q: What do you call a website with a shovel and the base of the natural logarithm and a red-coloured soft drink? A: Dig-e-tizer (Digitiser)!

Many years ago, in the dark ages of the last years of the twentieth century, this “internet” thing was starting to catch on but was still largely the domain of tech-enthusiasts navigating a sea of “Under Construction” messages via primitive search engines, not the first port of call if you were after up-to-date news, weather, live sports scores, share prices, TV schedules or recipes to accompany cookery programmes. For those, we had Ceefax and Teletext. Imagine a World Wide Web of 999 pages, squished onto screens of 40×24 characters, accessed by typing in a three digit number and watching the page counter tick, tick, ticking along… A smidge primitive compared to almost instant access to the sum total of all human knowledge (or as close as the ‘net gets to it), but a fine and useful service, and free (as long as your television could display it), an important consideration when ISPs had a monthly fee on top of the cost of phone calls (for you crazy kids who don’t remember the olden days: you used to have to “dial” “up” by getting a lengthy bit of cable and running it from the computer to the telephone socket in the hallway, then you shouted “cssswwsswwswswwwwww WEEEEEEoooooWWEEEEEooooooWEEE ccsssssswwwwwsswwswww”, and hoped nobody would trip over the cable or want to use the phone until you’d finished downloading a Metallica song from Napster).

As well as the aforementioned news, weather etc., there were subtitles on page 888 (turning Top of the Pops into instant karaoke), quizzes like the classic Bamboozle!, even a textual soap opera. Most pertinently, though, there were pages about games. On the BBC, as I recall, rather staid reviews, infrequently updated. On Channel 4, Digitiser, a magnificently anarchic array of madness that was only about games as much as Jaws was a book about a shark. Accompanying the previews, reviews, and hints and tips were a whole cast of regular characters, spoof adverts for German metal albums, Mr T admonishing kids to stay away from his bins and, best of all, nonsensical anti-jokes (Q: What do you call a man with bread and butter pudding on his head? A: Pudding Gentleman Type B!) and incredibly laboured sort-of-puns (Q: What do you call an android adjudicating officer who decorates the sycamores in his garden with girls’ toys? A: Ro-Judge Doll-Tree (Roger Daltrey)!) I had no idea of the ructions behind the scenes, I think I’d drifted away from Teletext in general by the time it finished, but have retained a fondness for blocky cartoon snakes ever since.

Good news, though! Mr Biffo’s back with a whole Twitter of words including Man-tastic jokes, and Digitiser rides again as one of those ocelot-come-lately “pages” on the “web”. The future is uncertain as Biffo & Hairs grapple with both the issues of sustaining a site in an atemporal zone of content production and a greased tramp riding an elk (the elk isn’t really an elk it’s a metaphor for a moose), but even if it’s only a fleeting return of Insincere Dave it’s good to see him back again!!?!?!?!!!!!!!!!

Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television

Van Hemlock tweeted:

prompting happy reminiscences of playing at least three of those on an 8086 PC with 640k of RAM (upgraded from 512k) and a mono CGA screen capable of four amazing shades of grey, while being slightly jealous of the staggering nigh-photorealistic (in comparison) graphics of Shadow of the Beast on the Amiga. Ah, happy times. It wasn’t all fun and games, though; the evil menace of “space invaders” had already been recognised in The House of Commons as far back as 1981 as causing young people to resort to theft, blackmail and vice to satisfy their addiction, and this new generation of increasingly sophisticated games prompted further worries, as we can see from this editorial from the September 19th 1989 issue of The Daily Comet:

Video “Games” Spark Copycat Fears

For too long has the youth of our nation been bewitched by the malevolent glowing screen of “television”, breeding a generation of stoop-shouldered square-eyed troglodytes unsuited to healthy British pursuits such as hiking, taking cold showers and planting flags in random bits of the world claiming them for the Queen.  Society must now take action against a yet more insidious threat presented upon those screens, so-called video “games”. Of course televisual and cinematic entertainments have, in the past, prompted some to emulate the activities they see, but where’s the harm in a child dressing as a penguin and trying to carry a bucket of water over a slippery roundabout? Indeed beneficial role models can be presented to instil advantageous values, such as machine-gunning Huns by the score. The interactive nature of these new “games”, though, blur the lines between reality and the wicked depravities depicted therein such that a naive and vulnerable youth can barely tell the difference. Teacher Clem Fandango relates a cautionary tale of Form 3b, carefree children like any other until they came under the sway of a new game called Populous. “They got hold of a load of shovels and started digging up parts of the playground, using the earth to fill in and raise up other sections, completely flattening it on top”, said Fandango. “Apparently it was something to do with being ready in case someone sent a flood upon them; I think they might have been paying a bit too much attention to Michael Fish.”

Parent Ken Suggestion is also worried for his son Neville. “He used to be such a normal boy, hanging around street corners and beating up younger children to steal their lunch money, then he started playing this Sim City. Now all he does is sketch outlines for ideal town layouts with a balance of residential, commercial and industrial zones, and grapples with setting a tax rate low enough to stimulate growth while still raising enough money to fund pubic improvement works. I’m worried that we’re raising a generation of… urban planners.”

Most dangerous of all, though, is a part of the newfangled Microsoft Windows 3, which is going to be released next year but we’ll just ignore that inconvenient bit of chronology. Minesweeper may seem like an innocent puzzle game, but for quantity surveyor Duncan Clench it proved anything but. “My wife Jane just kept playing” said Clench, “hours every day, increasing the difficulty level, until it simply wasn’t enough. One night I woke up and went to get a glass of water only to discover the kitchen had been flooded, and an irregular pattern of Type H Mark II mines had been laid. Of course it was quite straightforward to negotiate those, being simple contact mines, but I was woken the next day by the drone of a Heinkel He 111 dropping a Luftmine B fitted with combination magnetic/acoustic detonator, a much more difficult prospect.”

“Honestly” he continued “it hasn’t been this difficult getting to work since she watched Knightmare, installed those giant circular saw blades in the hall and made me wear that stupid helmet…”

My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate

Gosh, time flies by, doesn’t it? And not just when you’re the driver of a train, though I’ve just been watching quite a lot of Chigley and listening to Half Man Half Biscuit, sometimes both at the same time. Why aren’t there any computer games set in Camberwick Green, eh? You could play Mickey Murphy the baker, quietly getting along and baking cakes, no nasty old monsters or anything, just the dramatic tension of running out of flour and having to rouse that old drunkard Windy Miller to make some more… Actually you could probably do that with the Advanced Bakery Simulator 2013 expansion pack for Farming Simulator

Anyway! Time. Summer is gone, the nights are drawing in, Steam Sale Season is just around the corner and it’s time to start selling perfume, books and blockbuster games, like Dragon Age: Inquisition. I recently wrapped up a second play-through of Dragon Age 2 so was all ready for Dragon Age Keep, a rather nifty site that allows you to see and tinker with various events from the first two games, then gives a quick potted history of The Story So Far narrated by Varric’s lightly buttered tones. That was particularly useful for the first game, the events of which were rather hazy, so I’m all ready to delve back into the world of Dragons and Ages, just as soon as I work out what class to make my Inquisitor; after playing through the first two games as a Rogue, then a Warrior for the second run-through of DA2, I can’t decide between a Mage to complete the set, or to reincarnate my original Rogue a third time for The Saga of the Suspiciously Similar Sisters (“Greetings, Inquisitor! Has anyone ever mentioned you bear a striking resemblance to the Champion of Kirkwall? Who, now I come to think of it, was as close in appearance to the Hero of Ferelden as the game engine allowed…”) Or maybe a Warrior… And then there’s race. And which hairstyle to pick. And eye colour. And perhaps most importantly, which companion to become most companionable with. Now one school of thought suggests playing the game, experiencing the story, selecting the dialogue options that seem most in keeping with your idea of your character, and seeing what develops. This is madness, because Dragon Age is a Game, and the idea of a Game is to Make Numbers Go Up, so the proper way to do it is to check if romance with NPCs offers some sort of benefit to your character, determine the optimal benefit for your specific build, then find a spoiler-packed guide that details the precise choices to make to get that benefit. Just like real life.

Or possibly not. I never really intended things to turn out quite as they did in the first game, and I’m trying to avoid spoilers for Inquisition to let things play out naturally there, but I had seen a preview that mentioned that some romantic options were limited to specific Inquisitor sex/race choices, so I’ve had a quick peek at the art of the possible, as it were. I imagine some people might be a little bothered by companions in DA:I who are only interested in a relationship with an Inquisitor of the same sex, but not the the GamerGrot crowd of course, as it’s unrelated to the concerns about ethics in journalism that are as central to The Cause as the unethical treatment of elephants is to the robot uprising. Although same sex relationships do sound suspiciously Socially Just, and everyone knows that sort of thing is only ever put in games because of unreasonable and probably illegal harassment of game developers by evil Social Justice Warriors, which is definitely the same thing as ethical journalism, so everyone should probably boycott the game anyway as part of Operation If We Put The Word “Operation” In Front Of Something We Can Pretend We’re Like All In The Proper Army And This And That And Not Just The Lunatic Fringe Of The Green Ink Brigade

I dunno, though. A Social Justice Warrior does sound pretty cool, maybe I’ll roll one. Or a Social Justice Rogue. Tell you what, Social Justice Bard-Sorcerer, with a splash level of Paladin, final answer…

War Thunder Update 1.43

War. War never changes. War Thunder, on the other hand, changes quite a lot when major patches are released, such as the 7GB of Update 1.43 ready to descend upon your intertubes like a Lancaster loaded with Small Bomb Containers, only packed with shiny new game features instead of 20lb Mk IV fragmentation bombs. Update 1.43 brings new aircraft, new armoured vehicles, new game modes, new decals and camouflage, new sounds and new maps, the latter sadly not including New South Wales, New York New York (so good they named it New York) or Newton Abbot to really emphasise the newness.

With tanks being a relatively recent addition, some of the more major changes are around ground forces. Combined arms battles featuring both tanks and aircraft have great potential, but striking a balance between the iron ground beasts and their airborne bombing predators (and the fighters that prey upon those bombers in turn, and self-propelled anti-aircraft units) is quite a challenge. Until this patch, Arcade tank battles didn’t include aircraft at all. In the new mode everyone starts in tanks, and if you earn enough points you get the chance to spawn an attack aircraft or bomber for a very limited time (not one of your own aircraft, from a pre-selected list, with experience you earn on it going towards your tanks). When one player activates that ability there’s a global notification, and other players get the chance to spawn fighters to either escort or attack the bomber.

Let's go fly a bomber, up to the highest... what rhymes with bomber?

Let’s go fly a bomber, up to the highest… what rhymes with bomber?

It’s an interesting tweak, and certainly gets around one of the main issues with a mixed Arcade mode, the fact that aircraft get to reload bombs in mid-air.

Realistic Battles also now use a points-based system for selecting vehicles. You’re placed in a match depending on the highest Battle Rating (BR) of anything in your garage/hanger, then each vehicle has a cost to spawn with some scaling based on BR (within limits, you can’t get into a match based on a late war King Tiger, then zerg rush a bunch of incredibly cheap tankettes).

What do points make?  Il-2 Sturmoviks!

What do points make? Il-2M Sturmoviks!

Aircraft are more expensive, I believe nobody starts with enough resources to fly, so again you have to earn enough points with your tanks before you can unleash a r(ai/eig)n of aerial terror.

I worry a little that in both cases the team doing well are further rewarded, but the few matches I’ve played so far have worked out fairly well so it should be fun to see how the modes bed in.

Tankers also have a couple of other new toys to play with in this update. When viewing vehicles in the garage you can switch to an armour inspection view, showing the thickness of your protection (matron), or an X-ray mode demonstrating just how exciting it was to be a tank crewman sitting on top of a tank filled with flammable fuel, next to a pile of explosive ammunition:

Rock and Roll(ed homogeneous armour)

Rock and Roll(ed homogeneous armour)

The X-ray view is also used in a new post-destruction replay screen that might forestall a little of the “how on earth did I die then?”, showing the path of the shell that finished you off and the resultant havoc it wreaked, a bit like the slightly gruesome Sniper Elite X-Ray Kill Cam:

At this point, Driver Geoff began to think it might have been a mistake to mount an anti-aircraft gun on the back of his minicab

At this point, Driver Geoff began to think it might have been a mistake to mount an anti-aircraft gun on the back of his minicab

An ongoing bone of contention for some players is the matchmaking system, where each plane is assigned a Battle Rating (BR) for matchmaking purposes. These Battle Ratings are adjusted based on player performance, which can result in situations where the aircraft of countries that attract a smaller pool of more dedicated pilots (primarily Germany) receive less favourable matchmaking than the more popular countries (the USA & USSR). It’s not really an issue in the mixed Arcade Battles, but comes to the fore in nation vs nation Historical Battles where the relative popularity and strengths of different types of aircraft are much more of a factor. Historical matchmaking, based on the actual service dates of aircraft, is frequently suggested, but I’m not sure that’s a terribly good idea, what with every country always frantically working to make aerial combat as unfair and unbalanced as they possibly can, with varying degrees of success over the course of the war. Gaijin have acknowledged the issue and announced plans for a fundamental overhaul in the future that will do away with Battle Ratings in Historical Battles, so there aren’t any major changes to that in Update 1.43.

The aerial side of things hasn’t been neglected, though, with every country getting four or five new aircraft (plus eight for Japan, whose tree was a little on the sparse side), and assorted tweaks, updates and corrections to flight models, bomb loads and such.

English Electric Canberra, one of the new aircraft

Together in (English) Electric (Canberra) dreams

There’s a new aerial mode as well, Air Races, if you’re tired of endless destruction; a nice scenic tropical island with a bountiful local harvest of floating yellow rings to fly through:

FIIIIIIVVVVEEEE GOOOOOLLLDDDD RIIIIINNNGGGGSS

FIIIIIIVVVVEEEE GOOOOOLLLDDDD RIIIIINNNGGGGSS

Automatic squads are another innovation. If you join a battle on your own you’ll be grouped up with another random pilot or (unless you disable the feature in the game options). With some minor additional rewards for scoring kills in the vicinity of squadmates it’s a nice nudge to try and encourage a little more teamwork, though unlikely to have a particularly dramatic effect in general.

All in all, plenty of good stuff to get your teeth into!

Fifty Ways to Gimp Your Healer

ArcheAge recently launched in the West, and I have to confess that I hadn’t been paying much attention to it until hearing there were colossal queues to get into the servers on launch day. Queues, you say? A feature guaranteed to appeal to a British audience! I downloaded the client forthwith and was soon enjoying some exceptional queueing, hundreds of people with estimated wait times in tens of hours. The addition of new servers a few days ago slightly spoiled things to the point that I found myself actually in the game. Still, there’s plenty of interesting stuff in prospect apart from the queues like the deep crafting and housing driven economy, a player-run judicial system, and a class system with 120 skill choice permutations with intriguing names like “Ebonhawk”, “Reaper”, “Blade Dancer” and “Senior Systems, Applications and Telephony Engineer” (one of those may be made up).

It’s always interesting to see whether flexible class systems promote a variety of interesting and viable hybrids, or if everyone falls back into traditional specialised roles; whether you can take a number of different approaches to your build, or if there’s but one Proper Way To Do It and (with apologies to Paul Simon), fifty ways to gimp your healer…

The problem is all inside your build she said to me
The answer is easy if you take it logically
I’d like to help you to heal the whole of your party
There must be fifty ways to gimp your healer

She said it’s really not my habit to intrude
But guides from old patches, they can be misconstrued
Because they changed the healing stats in one point two
There must be fifty ways to gimp your healer

Pick up Healing Hymn, Kim
Check your mana regen, Jen
You don’t need that Int, Clint
Just heal your party
Try out Auramancy, Nancy
It don’t have to be fancy
A good club is key, Lee
To heal that party

She said it grieves me so to see you in such pain
When your healing efforts are met with much disdain
I said I appreciate that and would you please explain
About the fifty ways

She said why don’t we respec your character tonight
And I believe with the right gear you will begin to see the light
And then she buffed me and I realised she probably was right
There must be fifty ways to gimp your healer

Pick up Healing Hymn, Kim
Check your mana regen, Jen
You don’t need that Int, Clint
Just heal your party
Try out Auramancy, Nancy
It don’t have to be fancy
A good club is key, Lee
To heal that party