Tuesday 15 October 2013

In Memoriam Warhammer Online

So. Farewell then
Warhammer Online
They say that in the
of the far future there is only WAR
But it looks like
they were wrong
(unless Keith gets his server
emulation working and it
merges with Shodan or Skyguard or
that one out of Wargames
and wipes out humanity, maybe
that’s what they
were talking about)

E. J. Zoso, age 17½

News of the impending closure of Warhammer Online came as a surprise to some, in much the same way that people are surprised when they read the obituary of a celebrity they thought had died years ago. The last major patch had been game update 1.4.0 in 2010, other than the announcement of an arena-ish Play4Free spin-off, Wrath of Heroes, it had been pottering along quietly for the past few years, so it’s not really surprising it had dropped off the radar.

It was a different story before release, publicity for WAR was swirling around at the time Melmoth & I started this whole blogging business putting it quite firmly on the Anticipated Future MMOG Radar; my fourth ever blog post, from 2006, linked to a Slashdot WAR Q&A. The early buzz was good, but over time there were less positive signs; release date slipping to the right, content being cut from the initial release (four classes, four of the six capital cities), nothing particularly shocking for a game (or indeed most large IT projects) as The Crunch sets in, but not ideal, especially with a World of Warcraft expansion in the offing.

Casting back through the blog I’d forgotten the landscape WAR launched in; around 2005/6 the rising tide of World of Warcraft looked like it might lift all MMOG boats into the mainstream, an enticing prospect for Games Workshop and EA, but by 2008 it seemed fairly clear that wasn’t the case, nothing was getting near WoW, especially in the west. Except in rare cases (like EVE, pre-dating WoW) it didn’t seem possible to gradually build a player base, subscriber numbers for new games peaked at launch then rapidly fell away.

Personally, after drifting away from City of Heroes and WoW, I’d been pinging between newly launching MMOs like DDO, LotRO, Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Hellgate: London, Age of Conan, playing a month or two at most, and had a bit of a breakdown at the prospect of killing 10 more things. Warhammer Online hooked me in for a good old run, though, getting up to the level cap and doing a spot of end-game city raiding on the Order side. There was a lot to like; the visual style, public quests, poking around zones, the Tome of Knowledge, besieging and defending keeps and castles… Course there were rough edges too, some that got ironed out fairly quickly, others that are probably still kicking around in tier 4 public quests. Some elements didn’t quite work out, like those good old Kill Collectors; Barnett really nailed a frustration with a game mechanic (I hadn’t realised quite how much my History Repeating post echoes it until looking at the two together), but there were still plenty of bog standard “Kill 10 Things” quests in the game, available resources couldn’t quite support the ambition (see also: P. Molyneux). A long term PvP-centric endgame is also somewhat problematic for new/more casual players if characters keep getting more powerful with time and success.

Player numbers dropped (not least when Wrath of the Lich King was released shortly after), the inevitable server merges followed, I drifted off myself on another MMO-break. I drifted back a while later and rampaged around on the Destruction side of things with Van Hemlock’s Hipster Battalion, hitting the level cap again, pushing WAR up to second place on both my Total Subscribed Time List and Most Fondly Remembered MMO List after City of Heroes (*sniff*), so far those are the only two games where I’ve hit the level cap with multiple characters.

The 1.4.0 patch hinted at the possibility of a move to a free to play model, with “booster packs” available in the EA store; other major titles like Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online seemed to be doing well after conversion, but it never transpired, though it turns out the work had been done behind the scenes if EA, Bioware, Mythic, Games Workshop or some random combination of the four had wanted to go down that path. Perhaps closure was inevitable from that point; the end of the Games Workshop license deal is being cited as the reason the game is closing in December, with WAR not turning out to be a money-printing bonanza I guess neither side had much appetite to renegotiate the license for a different revenue model, especially as with lawyers involved the costs could easily spiral into the realms of “the price of a couple of Space Marine squads”.

All right, that’s just silly. One Space Marine squad.

Towards the end of last year SEGA and Creative Assembly announced a partnership with Games Workshop for a “multi-title licensing deal” … “to create videogames based in the Warhammer universe of fantasy battles” … “scheduled to launch from beyond 2013”, prompting some speculation over the future of Warhammer Online amongst those who remembered it. Not long after that key WAR figures either jumped or were pushed, including the lead developer and community manager, the Wrath of Heroes beta closed down, and the only news on the WAR homepage was the withdrawal of six month subscriptions. Some speculated that was because the game wouldn’t be around in six months, suspicions confirmed three months later.

So. Farewell then.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

The RAF in World of Warplanes - Textbook

Wargaming have gone some way towards atoning for past transgressions by adding British aircraft in the 0.5.3 update to World of Warplanes, so I thought it would be rude not to take a look at least.

As per most of the other tech trees there’s a decent core of “proper” World War II aircraft in the mid-tiers with more unusual stuff before and after; a good chunk of the the fighter branch is taken up by key Spitfire marks (I, V, IX and XIV) followed by a couple of Supermarine jets, the heavy fighter branch features the Beaufighter (albeit with stupid Mk V Boulton Paul experimental turret option), Mosquito and Hornet before wandering into the realms of prototypes. No sign of the Hurricane, presumably to be part of a future Hawker branch with the Typhoon, Tempest and Sea Fury.

The early part of the fighter tree is padded out with some more unusual stuff like this Tier IV Bristol 146, based on a single prototype. I think the pilot might be David Niven, though he looks a bit grumpy about something; probably being stuck in a plane that even Hurricane pilots think is for remtards on free dinners and having to grind through the rest of Tier IV to get a ruddy Spitfire.

The heavy fighter line starts at Tier II with the Hawker Demon, a fighter version of the Hart inter-war bomber, one of the last RAF biplanes, still in limited service in 1939.

The Tier III Blackburn Skua, an early war carrier aircraft somewhat hamstrung by having to fulfil both fighter and dive bomber roles.  The model includes the swing bomb-crutch designed to throw the bomb clear of the propeller, though unfortunately it doesn’t animate on bomb release.

There’ve been a few other changes since I last tried the World of Warplanes beta. Aircraft handling in general seems a bit smoother; aircraft camouflage now works in the same way as World of Tanks, with separate summer/winter/desert/marine paint schemes offering slight concealment benefits; crew skills have been implemented, again very similar to World of Tanks. Overall, though, despite the improvements the general conclusions of my War Thunder vs World of Warplanes post still hold, I prefer the flying and damage modelling in War Thunder, and the different modes and battle types keep things fresh; War Thunder events even offer no-respawn Arcade action, if garage battles were a complete dealbreaker. World of Warplanes is fun for a drop-in blast, though, and at least you can fly Spitfires now.

Sunday 6 October 2013

War Thunder - Tanks in Advance

There hasn’t been much concrete information on ground forces in War Thunder; the odd tank-y screenshot, assorted rumours about how game modes might work… until now. At the Russian IgroMir gaming exhibition people can play a build of the game including tanks, and Gaijin streamed 20 minutes of gameplay, captured by a YouTuber:

As a game expo demo with limited time and random visitors in control it shouldn’t be taken too definitively, but it’s rather interesting. The commentary is in Russian, but a a helpful Redditor has translated the salient points.

Some bits that stood out for me:

1m00s: a combined hanger/garage, with both tanks and planes. As far as I know, Wargaming are keeping World of Tanks and World of Warplanes (and presumably World of Warships) as entirely separate games, albeit with a combined account for access; War Thunder chucks everybody in together (or at least gives the option to; they’re saying there will also be tank-only and plane-only modes).

2m54s: KV-1 on the move. War Thunder looks good in the air, and allowing for the low graphical settings and streaming limitations it looks good on the ground as well, nice detail on the tank and scenic landscapes.

4m20s: Tank on Tank. World of Tanks/Warplanes have hybrid damage systems, with some locational damage but fundamentally a “health bar” that has to be knocked down, tanks in War Thunder will have a similar system to the planes, completely locational damage. Couple of impressive explosions, especially at 5m00s.

9m27s: Artillery strike. It seems like some tanks will be able to call artillery strikes, perhaps a way of giving lighter tanks something to do against heavy tanks apart from ping shells off their armour. In this instance the driver, perhaps somewhat unwisely, drives straight through the barrage he just called in, but without fatal damage.

10m23s: Achtung – Panzer! A second round, this time selecting the German garage, and a brief glimpse of a combined tech tree (somewhat truncated for the demo, presumably).

11m57s: Stuka? I hardly know ‘er! Flying a Ju 87 looks familiar for current players. An enemy plane is clearly marked, as are friendly tanks, but enemy tanks aren’t highlighted so won’t be easy to spot, especially from high altitude.

13m16s: Bombs away! A tank kill from the air. One of the question marks over combined arms gameplay; getting hit with a 250kg bomb without warning won’t be much fun for a tank, but friendly air cover, and possibly player controlled anti-aircraft guns, should make it more of a challenge. Also, in Arcade mode at least, the ability to grab another vehicle from your garage will lessen the sting, especially if it’s a fighter and you can find your aerial nemesis.

14m31s: Wicked air, man. A StuG hits a rock at speed and flips; not sure if that’s early build issues, or a more lackadaisical approach to physics in Arcade mode.

15m40s: Careful with that barrage, Eugene. Another artillery strike, this time successfully taking out an enemy tank… and a friendly as well.

There’s no firm word of timescales yet (just the obligatory Soon™). With War Thunder being a launch title for the Playstation 4 perhaps that’ll be their target, either way my interest has certainly been piqued for ground forces.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Spaceteam review: Dilate Eigengeode!

Spaceteam, as the app description goes, is a cooperative iOS/Android party game for 2 to 4 players who shout technobabble at each other until their ship explodes. Alerted by tweet it sounded rather fun, so when we found ourselves with four people, two Android tablets, an iPad and a phone, we gave it a go.

It’s dead easy to pick up. Each player has an assortment of buttons, switches and dials with random techno-labels, and an instruction (such as the titular “Dilate Eigengeode!”) that corresponds to a control on somebody’s console, so you have to listen out for anything relating to your knobs (matron) while shouting at everyone else. It’s a bit like Simon Says, except you’re all Simon. On a spaceship. Shouting strange nonsense.


If you’re being serious about the whole thing you should probably take it in turns to calmly call out orders and get acknowledgement, but it’s a lot more fun if everyone just bellows at increasing levels of excitement and volume, which the game helps with various events like incoming asteroids, requiring all players to simultaneously shake their device, and control malfunctions obscuring labels or causing bits of your panel to fall off.

What really makes Spaceteam, both for those participating and as a spectator sport, is the control names. Some are plausible techno-babble, others have a hint of flushed grolling-esque innuendo, some are just funny. The overall effect is something approaching The Doctor playing Mornington Crescent with his companions while trying to pilot the TARDIS out of a particularly sticky situation.

The basic game is splendidly free from Google Play or the iTunes store, there are some in-game options you can purchase such as different visuals for the controls if you’d like to support the (Space)team; here’s the Steampunk version:


It’s incredibly easy to get running, we sometimes had a little bit of trouble getting four players simultaneously connected but retrying a couple of times seemed to do the trick, with Android and iOS devices working side-by-side in perfect harmony. The controls are a bit more fiddly on a phone than a tablet, but still entirely usable. Two space-thumbs up!