I’ve been having a grand time playing the Minecraft Feed the Beast Ultimate Pack. It’s a ginormous mod pack for Minecraft throwing together some 45–70 mods to extend Minecraft in various ways. It’s terribly complex, occasionally inconsistent, but surprisingly stable, balanced, and fun. I definitely recommend it if you like Minecraft and want to add more stuff to tinker with. I think it’d be particularly good for kids.
There’s a huge number of mods with varying degrees of documentation; part of the fun of FTB is figuring out how stuff works. The unofficial FTB wiki is a good place to start. Some of the big mods I like… BuildCraft and IndustrialCraft add machines, engines, pipes, pumps, all sorts of automation. Thaumcraft adds a beautifully designed magic system. ComputerCraft embeds a Lua scripting engine, letting you write programs for robots that mine and build structures and stuff. And Forestry adds a bunch of agricultural stuff including a crazy apiculture system of bee genetics.
If you want to play it, get the FTB Launcher and use it to install the Ultimate pack. It’s good about installing stuff in its own directory. Unfortunately Java on the Mac is a total mess; you have to set JAVA_HOME to run Java 6 and also configure the launcher to add the XX:PermSize flag when launching the game.
Proposed: Just Cause 2 is the perfect video game. I finished it soon after release, then played it through again about a year later, and am now playing it again a third time. I almost never replay old games, there’s so many new games to try. But Just Cause 2 is the perfect game when I just want to sit down with a beer for an hour and have fun blowing stuff up.
The game is a great combination of elements that all came together. Open world sandbox, fun blowing stuff up, and an amazing movement mechanic that lets you jump and fly and do all sorts of improbable stunts. The world is incredibly detailed and seamless. The rendering is fantastic, particularly the lighting. So much variety; snowy mountain towns, dense jungles, cities, the desert, it’s quite an impressive world design. And there’s a variety of emergent gameplay, particularly in the way you can make mayhem grappling things together and blowing stuff up creatively. I even like the story and voice acting: it’s not Shakespeare, but it’s certainly James Bond. And the thin veneer that somehow you’re a force for good despite the “we destroyed the village to save it” thing is hilarious. (Seriously; you blow up water towers to help The People.)
Just Cause 2 joins a few other open world games I’ve had serious fun in: Saints Row 3, Spiderman 2 (console), Crackdown 1, and Red Faction: Guerrilla. These games are all way more fun for me than any Grand Theft Auto has ever been. GTA games are amazing, particularly technically, but they are so ponderous. Just Cause 2 gets out of the way and just lets you fuck shit up. So much fun.
Contemporary games are designed so the player can never lose. No matter how badly you play you can always recover or reload and keep going. It’s good design, it encourages players to explore, it avoids frustration. But not being able to fail removes some challenge. If you can’t lose, then is winning really that interesting?
I’m proud because this weekend I got my Hardcore Monk to level 60. Hardcore mode in Diablo 3 is a game you can lose. It’s permadeath; if you screw up your game is done, your character is gone, you have to start over. Most players of Diablo don’t play hardcore; in a normal game if you die you just reload. I played through the game in normal mode first myself. But hardcore is more exciting. And while I didn’t beat the hardest challenge in the game yet, I have played the guy for 45 hours without ever screwing up too badly.
The tension is amazing. For example the boss fights; once you jump into the arena with Diablo you can’t leave. One of you is going to die. But the bosses aren’t the hardest part of the game, the optional champion packs are. And there the anxiety is incredible. I see a group with something hard like molten + frozen + vortex and have to make an instant choice. Do I risk fighting them? Do I avoid them and look for easier targets?
Most of the time I engage because I’m playing for the challenge. And then sometimes things go badly and I’m running for my life, for my 45 hours invested, and those moments of fear and excitement are some of the most visceral experiences I’ve had playing a game in years. Since playing Eve Online, really.
So I’m loving hardcore Diablo. It helps that I’m winning, I imagine I’m going to be pretty angry when I finally screw up. I’m not a very good loser.
Skyrim is one of the finest computer games ever made. I was curious how people played through the game, so I set up some scripts to monitor achievement completion on the Xbox and drew graphs of how people progressed through the game.
The graph above shows completion of the main story quests; as a bar chart (on Jan 17) and as a time series in days since release. Unbound is 100% because the statistics only count players who’ve completed one achievement. There’s a big falloff after “The Way of the Voice”; only 57% of players started Act II of the game. And 34% of players finished the game after two months; most players who get as far as Elder Knowledge in Act III complete the whole game.
I’ve made graphs for all 50 achievements. The bar charts show which parts of the game are popular. For instance 74% of players joined the Companions compared to only 45% joining the Dark Brotherhood. I suspect that’s mostly due to game structure; it’s hard to avoid meeting the Companions at Whiterun but the player has to actively seek out the Dark Brotherhood. Faction completion is also interesting; mages complete their faction line the most while precious few people finish the Thieves Guild. Only ⅓ of players got married; I think the option may have been too hidden. I’m impressed 12% of players got Oblivion Walker; it takes a significant commitment to get 15 Daedric Artifacts and if the player screws up they can make it impossible.
Unfortunately the time series graphs don’t give a lot of extra insight. There’s a big dip in completion percentages around Christmas, when a bunch of new players started playing. But the basic velocity of completion, the slope of these graphs, is about the same for all of the achievements. In retrospect that’s not surprising but I was hoping it would be more interesting.
Some caveats about the data. It’s Xbox only, a self-selected subset of players that True Achievements tracks. The data is daily and has a few bad days I fudged out. This graph isn’t really a finished work, but honestly the data didn’t turn out to be very interesting so I’m done with it.
Update: you can see bar charts of PC achievement completion on Steam. To compare to Xbox, normalize PC numbers to who completed Unbound (92.4%) and look at current Xbox data. Fewer people have finished the main quest on PC (31%) vs Xbox (40%). And only 2.5% of PC users have completed Oblivion Walker, compare to 15% on Xbox. Far fewer finished the thieves guild, too (7% vs 21%). Maybe PC players aren't as completionist as Xbox players? It's not just time played; 63% of people hit Level 25 on PC, 68% on Xbox, that's pretty close. Maybe it's the Xbox sample bias; TrueAchievements tends to track players who are worried about completing achievements.
The new Deus Ex game is fantastic. If you like intelligent, complex games run out and buy it right now. I played it on Xbox which was fine, PS3 is about the same and PC may be better.
The new developers absolutely nailed what made the original Deus Ex so great: gameplay options. You can sneak through levels avoiding the bad guys entirely, or go in guns-a-blazin and murder everyone, or hack your way through security, or find the hidden air ducts. It's amazingly fun and they really got the gameplay right. The story's quite good, too, with some good characters. Also some beautiful set design despite some limited graphics capabilities.made by a third party. There's various ways to cheap you way through them, best to just kill the boss quickly and move back to the fun game. And there's a whole lot of fun in the game. May end up being the best game of the year.
It's finally happened: someone's made a World of Warcraft clone that's a credible competitor to Blizzard's megabusiness. A lot of companies have tried the MMO market and failed, most notably Warhammer Online, but Rift is a success. It's as good as WoW. And that's a disappointment.
Rift is a fantasy MMO game by Trion Worlds, a serious new company that's raised $100M in venture capital. It's been pretty successful since their launch two months ago. The buzz is good, a lot of people are enjoying it, and while it's a bit early to tell how big the game will be I think they've got enough momentum to recoup their investment.
I just finished a week free trial, levelling up a Cleric and a Rogue to level 13. It's fun. The graphics, networking, and user interface are all good. Not quite as solid as WoW but close enough. The game offers two big innovations. Rift Events are big impromptu battles against bad guys that pop up, basically Warhammer's public quests but with a dynamic element that means there's more likely to be people nearby to play with. And the flexible class system (souls) allows more choice in play style, although there's already a forming consensus of useful builds.
If I were picking a new MMO solely on the basis of gameplay I'd probably choose Rift over WoW. Unfortunately, Rift is so like WoW that there's nothing to distinguish it. Gameplay still boils down to pressing a button once a second to activate one of your forty abilities in the right order. Group play still is the basic tank/healer/DPS trinity. It's yet another bucket of gaming from the DikuMUD well and it's getting stale. I question whether the world really needs a WoW clone when WoW is still good enough.
$100M is a lot of investment and congratulations to Trion for producing an excellent product. But it's so expensive to make an MMO now, it's hard to see how a trully innovative and risky game can get funded. We need more odd innovative designs like Eve Online. I'll be curious to see how Glitch evolves.
I continue to look for one great iPhone game. But there's a a big market now and Apple's Game Center gives us data on sales. Some notable iOS games:
It's hard to compare more generally; iOS games tend to be platform exclusives unlike big PC and console games. Here's sales stats for Xbox 360 games with a whole bunch of 1 million+ games. Even modestly successful AAA games like skate sell 500,000+ copies. Then again they need to, the budgets are well over $10 million.
What I love about the iOS game market is the long tail, all the weird little innovative games. Like Canabalt, a marvelously perfect mobile game. 78,000 sales isn't bad for a small game, particularly at $3 a sale. (Related: I wish Apple had set the floor on prices at $2 or $3.) 100 Rogues is a great example of a gamer's game, intricate and clever and beautifully designed. It deserves more sales, but I'm glad it at least has some. Forget-me-Not is tiny at 1100 sales but it's brand new and has sharp corners, I'm curious to see how it fares.
Caveat: the data above undercounts. It leaves out people who've opted out of Game Center as well as people who haven't played the game since Game Center support was added. Angry Birds claims 100 million downloads, but I'm not sure how much of that is iPhone sales.
But the big news is the last item, Titan, releasing Q4 2013. Could this be Blizzard's long-rumoured secret new MMO? We know they've been hiring for it, we know many of the original WoW developers were pulled off of Warcraft right after the Burning Crusade lanuch to work on something secret and new. But that's all we know.
But now we have a name. Project Titan. I've found a possible confirmation: Google delving turns up a guy named theNoid who claims to have an inside source at Blizzard. He's been talking about "Project Titan" at Blizzard for the last 18 months.
I also found another mention of the "Project Titan" name in September 2010 from a different source, but no idea if he's independent:
Taken separately, both the leaked product roadmap and the forum posts from "theNoid" are plausible but not particularly trustable. But the fact these two independent rumours confirm each other is quite interesting.
The name "Titan" for a Blizzard MMO is rich irony, btw, since Titan was also the name of the cancelled Halo MMO. Particularly if Blizzard's new thing ends up being an MMOFPS, as is rumoured. Who knows, maybe someone worked a deal and it's actually some of the same people? It seems very unlikely Blizzard would release a game based on the Halo IP.
I love my iPhone. I love games. I play games on my iPhone. But where are the really good iPhone games? Where's the platform defining game? Where's the game that makes someone say "I need to buy an iPod Touch just so I can play that game?"
A lot has been written recently about the size of the iPhone gaming market: TUAW comments on the staggering size of the market, RPS counters that Flash is bigger. Either way there's a lot of iPhone games being sold. But most of them suck. That's OK, we all love our long-tail media. The incredibly low cost of iOS games combined with iOS' relatively low barrier to entry has made for a lot of games.
But where's the great iPhone game? My candidate for best-ever iPhone game is Canabalt because it's beautiful, simple, well tuned, and quick to play. Perfect mobile game, but it's way too simple to be a Great Game. Angry Birds is the iPhone hit with legs, and it's pretty good, but it's derivative and not very compelling. There's nothing like Halo or Final Fantasy or Super Mario to define the iPhone gaming experience.
Maybe there never will be. Maybe iOS will always be an adjunct gaming platform, a device we play games on incidentally rather than something we seek out to game. But I don't think so. Between the touch interface, the environmental sensors, the mobile ubiquity.. there's got to be something there.