The Sky Is Falling

Posted by on Oct 18, 2017 in General

The sky is falling. Again. For, like, the third time this week, probably. Want proof? Here you go .

It seems that single player games are, once again, doomed. This makes, what? Seven? Eight times that single player was declared dead? According to the article above, EA has single-handedly decided by fiat that the decades-long ascension of single player games must come to an end, and has brought swift justice to the delight of the beleaguered multiplayer game segment and it’s underserved fans by shitcanning a studio working on a single, linear, single player game. Oh, to have the kind of power to re-route an entire industry on such a whim!

OK, look. I’m 43 years old, and for a while there I was kind of happy that games were getting better in terms of visual fidelity. Then the whole 8-bit revolution happened, and we’re now awash with the kinds of visuals I had hoped were left behind for good in 1992. Remember Diablo, Blizzard’s AHDH clickfest whose sole mechanic was to see how fast you can get loot to spew across your screen in the shortest amount of time? That’s credited with helping to put the nail in the coffin of computer RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, but which doesn’t help explain the sudden and incontrovertible success of Divinity: Original Sin II.

The video game industry hasn’t been around for that long, but even the most myopic of us can see that it runs in cycles, like fashion, music, and (sadly) politics. Nothing is ever truly “dead” when it can be repurposed in a few years for a whole new generation who wishes they were participating in the heyday of a particular style. Believe me, I wish side-scrollers would DIAF, but here we are, and people are apparently enjoying them, so who am I to judge?

As massive as they are, EA is not the games industry, and a single game is not any kind of lynchpin. EA has a lot of latitude to make bold moves that would sink smaller companies, and although they seem to be as risk-averse as any other, they’re not above making changes that benefit themselves. If they believe that the most self-serving move they can make is to ape their cousin Activision’s success with Destiny, why wouldn’t they? They have the power, the knowledge, and the maneuvering room fueled by many different sub-studios to be able to do that. But let’s not forget when the games industry flocked to mobile and console and PC gamers bit their nails at the thought that we’d be getting no more Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed games (oh the humanity!). How’d that work out for us?

Big ticket AAA single player games take money, and if EA’s closing of Visceral and the repurposing of their single player Star Wars game is viewed as a vote of no confidence in that direction, then we have a few options as a community.

1. Bitch and moan about the future of the games industry like it’s totally not the 9th time the industry has been declared to be headed for a fiery demise.
2. Realize that other seismic shifts that have occurred throughout the (relatively few) years that have basically left us with…a continuingly functional games industry which produces all kinds of games we enjoy in all kinds of formats and all kinds of genres, including resurgence in roleplaying, single player, strategy, and — yes — obnoxious 8-bit side-scrollers.

The interesting thing about the games industry, unlike, say, the pharmaceutical industry or the auto industry, is that every vacuum left in the wake of a decision is an opportunity for someone else to fill the void. Games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and the Uncharted series are not cheap to make, so I’ve been told. As sexy as both of those are, visually, would people be willing to accept something just as good story wise and gameplay wise if it were at a lower fidelity and made for a lesser budget? Do we NOW decide which games are worth our time strictly by accounting methods? Do we care that HZD was pretty while we ignore the writing, the gameplay, and the ramifications of the experience? Just as Larian and Paradox have stepped in to fill the shoes of other giants in their genres, so will other companies do the same for genres that larger companies vacate as they use their wealth to chase the safe-bet-of-the-hour. If it comes to pass that companies like EA, Activision, and their wards opt to spend their money chasing phantoms of each other’s successes, it’s not going to close the door on other studios. Far from it; it’ll take the corporateness out of the decision making and inject new blood into those genres.

I really don’t see this as a problem. Sure, we are loosing what sounds like would have been a really cool single player Star Wars game. I’d have loved to have had a “Force Uncharted” game. Like, really loved it. But lots of games are canceled or don’t pan out, and we still manage to find new games to get all hyped about. We spend our money where we think it matters, and if we decide that microtransactions in multiplayer games aren’t that place, then we save our pennies and give them to the smaller studios who ARE making the games we want to play. EA doesn’t speak for the consumer; they can only make what they think will sell, and it’s up to us to tell them whether they made the right decision or not.

Read More »

For Your Consideration – Power VTT

Posted by on Oct 16, 2017 in Software, Tabletop and Board

I’ve been following the progress of another virtual tabletop app, this one called Power VTT, and wanted to bring it to the attention of those for whom these things have merit.

I haven’t actually tried the app in earnest, so I can’t provide a review; even if I owned it I couldn’t review it in full because I’m not playing nor am I running anything at this time. But from the looks of things, it’s shaping up to be a decent entry in the increasing pool of VTTs solutions for your remote RPG needs. It can be downloaded as a desktop app, or used through a compatible web browser for on-the-go access.

First and foremost, PVTT’s strongest suit seems to be its map builder functionality. Using a provided set of 200 assets, with more available in packs through their marketplace, a GM can construct a custom map to suit the needs of the adventure at hand. Map making is something that a lot of VTT’s aim for because it’s probably one of the most crucial tools for a GM when not dealing with pre-published materials, or when the GM doesn’t have or doesn’t want to deal with other tools such as Campaign Cartographer or Fractal Mapper. However, not all VTTs excel in this arena, as they tend to focus more on the sharing of assets, real-time gameplay, and sometimes ruleset integrations. Focusing on the map making aspect first seems to give PVTT a leg-up on other tools, but is a far more “sellable” tool than “yet another online tabletop”. Even if you have another preferred VTT, PVTT allows you to export your maps for use in those other applications, which is a nice community-centric option.

Should you be looking for a way to play with your group, PVTT can apparently handle that as well as a work in progress. It comes with an implementation of the D&D 5E character sheet, although the application does not yet have 5E rules automation. However, it looks like 5E is the only supported character sheet at the moment. Still, well-oiled teams can find ways to play with a combo of online and offline, and PVTT allows for live sharing of maps, token movement, and even real-time weather effects and FoW/LoS dynamic lighting, something you don’t yet find in many other VTTs.

As far as cost is concerned, it looks like everyone can register and use the map editor for free, as well as create and manage characters. It has a 25MB storage limit, however, which probably applies more to the maps you create than anything else. At this tier, you cannot host games online (though not sure if you can participate in other hosted games). After that, the PVTT is offered as a service, starting at $2.99 a month, or pre-paid for a year starting at $29.99. It looks like the major difference between the paid tiers is the number of concurrent online games you can host (up from zero), and the amount of online space you are granted to store your materials.

Right now, I think the price of free for the map editor and 200 basic assets is a great reason to take a look at PVTT. While the dynamic weather and LoS tools are cool and unique, the bare-bones character sheet (for a single system) and lack of rules automation currently puts online features one step above a whiteboard. While that may sound like a slight, I believe this project is a one- or two-man development effort, which should make the whole project seem that much more impressive for everything it does offer. However, I’m personally put off by the subtle marketing digs at other VTTs; I find the map editor and asset market, as well as the LoS and weather tools, to be powerful enough to differentiate this project from others, and punching up as a sales tactic cheapens the impact of the feature set.

Power VTT is going to be launching a Kickstarter soon no doubt so the developer(s) can focus on pushing ahead with the features that are on their to-do list. Already, though, it seems that the tool might be great for creating maps for whatever online tool you use, and I’ll be looking at generating some for testing purposes in the near future. I’m not quite sold on the subscription model for what’s beyond the map editor currently, but the team seems dedicated to making a tool that can fill in a niche between online only and high-end power-VTTs that I think a lot of people might be interested in.

Read More »

Player.me Create; Sammy HMD; LAN Party

Posted by on Oct 12, 2017 in Hardware, Software

Player.me Create

So, Player.me is a thing that exists. It’s another social posting place for gamers, like Anook and…eh…probably others. Whenever we (the Combat Wombat We) hear about these things we tend to sign up if for nothing else than to reserve our names, although we do tend to give the services a once-over to evaluate if the service has any benefit for us. We’re a flighty group, always looking for a Service of Best Fit, and at one point Player.me was a contender. We opted not to park there mainly because of…let’s call them “differences of attitude” with the kinds of clients the service was attracting.

Recently, though, there were rumblings from streaming powerhouse SplitMedia Labs, makers of XSplit streaming software, about Player.me. Turns out SML acquired the service and had an ace up its sleeve: the service was creating an online stream overlay creator, creatively called Create. Using entirely web-based tools, streamers can upload images, videos, and audio to create the sexy overlays that all the serious streamers use. Because Player.me is service agnostic, it can pull data from Twitch, Mixer, and possibly others now and over time. And because Player.me is now owned by SML, there’s a hint of XSplit integration in the way PME Create can help manage your video feeds from XSplit. Once the overlay has been created, you add it as a source in your streaming app (XSplit or OBS) as a web source, and away you go!

The Wombats have been working with Create since yesterday, and we’ve discovered a lot of features beyond what’s available in the tutorial, so I might do a stream this afternoon to talk about the service. I’ll probably re-create my XSplit-based overlay in Create, just so we can test how the service works and what it can do for us.

Sammy HMD

The event that no one has been waiting for: I pulled the trigger on the Samsung Odyssey head mounted display this morning. So far it’s the best spec’d HMD on the market, despite not being on the market until November 6th (planned, at least, barring unforeseen Samsung-specific debacles), so I pumped up the shipping to Superman Delivery, because…

LAN Party

Yes, we’re hosting another LAN Party, LANronomicon 2017, on November 11th. After the last event I swore I wouldn’t host another. I don’t mind doing the work of cleaning the house, washing the floors, and so on; that stuff doesn’t get done enough in my house, to be honest, and this is a great excuse. I’m not sure why I didn’t want to host another event because I enjoy them and the company. Maybe it’s because we also drink a lot and at my age, that’s not as satisfying as it used to be, but it doesn’t stop me from doing it.

I hope to have the HMD in time for the party, but knowing how these things work I wouldn’t be surprised if the delivery was delayed, or if the “shipping date” is when they optimistically start but isn’t when they get around to boxing and shipping mine.

Read More »