I Haz a Sad aka Age of Empire II: HD Edition

Unfortunately, I’ve been sick these last few days. I do not enjoy being sick. Not that I think anyone does but I really, really hate being sick. So usually I get better pretty fast, sleeping and taking Airborne and whatever else I can to help get my system in fighting order.

One of the things I like to do aside from sleep and watch some shows and read when I’m sick is play games. And then I remembered that I pre-ordered Age of Empires II: HD Edition… and that it came out while I was out of town! So I jump on Steam, download it, and get ready to play. It goes through the normal setting up process and finally I get in. I see the game and the nostalgia comes back. I loved AoE2 much more than I did the third one and while I still have my copy of it, getting the HD version was a must have.

Unfortunately, after a few moments, I start to notice the game is really laggy. Really, really laggy. That sort of perplexes me because my system easily runs all the other games that came out recently with the bells and whistles turned on, so why was AoE2HD giving it a problem?

Anyways, I try to change my graphics options to see if that would fix it but I couldn’t really change much except the full-screen setting. Figured I’d try that and see if it would miraculously help. But it didn’t. I looked to see if there was anything else I could tweak but couldn’t find a file.

Reading up in the Steam Community, seems like this was a known issue prior to launch and may have to do with Win7 64-bit systems (maybe). And while I understand that PC development can be a PITA to test out on all the different systems that are out there (hardware, drivers, etc, etc) I do keep mine pretty clean and up-to-date. So it first boggles my mind that an “HD” version of a, what, 13 year old game is bogging down my system… and that they released it with this issue (which looks to be fairly prevalent). Now, with the latter point, that it could just be a few vocal people having the issue but, in my experience, for every vocal person there are a good 5 – 10x more people who are not talking about it (when it comes to a bug).

Now, granted, I’m upset about this. I’m sick. I’m running a fever. I’ve literally gone through an entire Kleenex box of tissues, and I just want to play my game without it looking like a screenshot slideshow.

But, as I’m digging around, I see this update for the developers: 4/17 – Dev Update: A note about patches. And one of the first items on the build notes are:

  • Frame rate & performance improvements that increase frame rates up to 50% on low end machines and up to 500% on the high end systems previously experiencing frame rate issues.

Steam being the awesomeness that it is, I go look to see if there is a “Beta” under the Properties tab for the game and there are a few, one labeled “Performance”. So I’m going to go test that out and hopefully I can lose myself in a little AoE2 fun and forget my stupid cold for a bit.

Update: For anyone else running into the same issue, try out the Beta Performance patch. Worked just fine for me. Played for about 30 minutes without any of the frame rate issues.

Diablo 3 Beta: The Crack is Back!

So, over the weekend I got to get in a little time with the Diablo 3 Open Beta. To get to the point quickly… if you loved Diablo 1 and/or Diablo 2, you will definitely love Diablo 3. It is a fun hack’n’slash dungeon crawler with a sprinkling of RPG.

For my first character, I recreated an old Shadowbane character… Spjorn Skullcleaver; also known as Spjorn, Son of Spork (I fear it is an old Jeff Toney joke). Spjorn was a dual-wielding Barbarian in Shadowbane (on the War server) and he kept those attributes in the Diablo 3 beta. I quickly started to fight my way through the various areas and levels, picking up some pieces of armor and weapons here and there. Soon enough, I was dual wielding life draining weapons and carving my way through entire swaths of demonic underlings and the undead.

One of the first differences I noticed between this and Diablo 2 was the character skill customization. I thought I would miss the old system, but I didn’t and found the Rune System to be a good replacement for it. If you’re unsure what this is, you can read the official blog entry, or read Dontinquire’s post, or since we all love video, Hunter Starcraft’s video. End of the day, it gave me some choices and I could specialize but it made me make choices on what abilities I would have accessible during combat (a little bit like Guild Wars).

After a time, I picked up a sidekick – a Templar of all things (funny enough, another class in Shadowbane). I felt a little bad for my sidekick because he seemed to be there more as a distraction than a threat to the evil hordes before us. He would slash and stab and slash and stab and his enemy would be maybe half dead. Meanwhile, I’m next to him and littering the floor with bones and corpses… only to walk up to his enemy and kill him in a single blow. Spjorn the Killstealer!

It took me a few hours to get to the Skeleton King. He gave me a decent fight but I think I had a better one earlier on (or at least a harder one) with the fat spikey demons that can knockback and fear you. The Skeleton King just had too many minions around and Spjorn was stealing the life right out of them while causing massive explosions due to one of the Runes on his powers. It took no time at all for the Skeleton King to explode like a pinata and fill my screen with loot… and the message that I beat the Diablo 3 beta!

At first I thought to try out some of the other character classes (which I did later)… but Spjorn decided to jump into some multiplayer action to see how that was going. Note to everyone since it seems like a common misconception… multiplayer is there for launch; it is PvP that won’t be. While you need multiplayer to have PvP, you don’t need PvP to have multiplayer. Now, I do like some great PvP but I don’t need it to enjoy a hack’n’slash – I have plenty of other games to feed my PvP itch. And for those of us who do enjoy it, it will be there. Just later.

Multiplayer was fun – more of the same but in party-mode. I imagine I’ll enjoy it more when playing with friends and in the harder levels. The fight up to the Skeleton King, while enjoyable, was more like a good job than a hard run. Enough to get your heart pumping and endorphins going… but nothing that you’re sitting at the edge of your seat about.

What didn’t I like about my short time in beta? Believe it or not, I missed not getting scrolls. I probably wouldn’t have but there were always scrolls dropping that you couldn’t pick up when you knocked down shelves that kept on reminding me of the old teleport and identification scrolls! My biggest complaint has been probably my oldest one – always having the internet on to play.

Now, before anyone jumps in to remind me you need it for so many other games and even Steam which I am in love with (and discounting the fact you don’t always need internet on for Steam)… this is, at its heart, a single-player game. It’s great that I can group with friends and I can understand needing a connection for that. But you know what wasn’t fun? I woke up at a decent hour on Saturday and tried to get into Diablo 3. It was down. In fact, it was down for about the next three (3) hours. This was a free beta and that annoyed me. I would be much more annoyed had it been a game I paid for and couldn’t play it solely because the servers were down when I just wanted to get into some single-player mindless slaughterfests. I understand the reasons they have it in there… I just don’t personally like that it is a necessity.

Will it keep me from buying it? Hell no (pun intended)! While it might be RPG-lite when compared to games like The Witcher 2 and Dragon Age, it has enough story to keep me hooked. But the truth is, I don’t play Diablo for the story, that’s just the nice etching on the icing. I play Diablo for the great combat that lets me wade through the blood and guts of hordes of creatures while I look to get that next item. That is what Diablo is for me and Diablo 3 has that in spades. The combat is intensely fun; so much that in my play session there wasn’t really a point where I was bored… I kill a group of monsters and hear a group right off-screen that gets me running, weapons raised and ready to strike!

So yes, I will be playing on Day 1. This is a Blizzard game and it has Blizzard’s attention to detail all over it. Fantastic music and sounds, great combat to include some destructible environment, didn’t have a single bug (not saying they aren’t there, just I didn’t get any), performed well on my PC (with FRAPs running.. y’know, when the game servers were actually up), seemed to have plenty of achievements, and the most important thing… it was just plain ol’ fun.

So, that is my short preview of Diablo 3.

See Also: Diablo 3 Beta (album)

Winter is Coming… in May

I’ve heard bits and pieces about the upcoming Game of Thrones (roleplaying game) over the last year or so. Nothing much but just the topic alone caught my interest; I’m a huge fan of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R.R. Martin (and the HBO series is pretty good, too… though not as good as the books).

Anyways, I was perusing the “Specials” and “Coming Soon” tabs of Steam as I like to do on the weekends to see if there is anything on sale that I didn’t get for one reason or another… or if I needed to set something aside for some new games coming out soon. And I saw that a “Game of Thrones” is currently scheduled to come out in May 2012 (and the imagine on the website says May 15th). I say “currently scheduled” because I’ve been a gamer (and worked in the industry) long enough to know that dates slip. But this close to the date… pretty safe to assume it will be May (although it may be late May) since you have to have your gold master in usually 30 days before your ship date (and some other fun stuff).

I was never quite sure what the game would be about. The official website isn’t too helpful in that and this is all Steam has to say about the plot:

Experience an amazing adventure in one of the most complete and fascinating universes in medieval-fantasy literature. Game of Thrones is a great Role Playing Game that puts you at the core of a thrilling plot, where your fate will be guided by vengeance, allegiance and honor.

I was wondering if it would be a game about the past – around the time as the short-stories of “Ser Duncan the Tall” but, after looking at Cyanide Studio’s website, this looks to do more like LOTRO did – you’re playing during the book series:

We didn’t really want to adapt the novels, it would have break the tension for the fans of the original saga. We wished for the players to discover Westeros for the first time or from another point of view. To make sure that this universe would be respected, we did the simplest thing : we associated ourselves with the author.

A Game of Thrones (AGOT), the roleplaying game, brings you into a grown-up adventure parallel to the original piece. You will take part into a whole new story full of plots. We didn’t planned on a time shift to put our story back or forward in the original timeline. On the contrary, we adapted our story to the original events so that the player could meet the main characters of the saga in these new chapters.

This whole new adventure will offer to alternatively play two brand new characters: Allester, the red priest and Mors, the night watchman. They will be brought into the vile plots of the noble houses. Will you be able to see clear through the game of thrones ? Beware though, since in this game, one wins or dies.

There are also some more details in the description section of the video (below). Unless it gets a horrible Metacritic rating, I will probably but it just for the sake of it having to do with A Song of Ice and Fire… and my hope is Georges R.R. Martin gave them a few clues or lore tidbits to put into the game that you might not get elsewhere. So while it will be heating up here in Texas (probably in the 90s+ by then); Winter is coming… in May!

Kickstart The Banner Saga

About a month ago, I posted about a new Austin-based studio called Stoic Studio which is making a game called The Banner Saga. As is all the rage as of late, they started a Kickstarter for this project and added a video to it:

[tbsksvid][/tbsksvid]

Granted, I’m being a little sarcastic about “all the rage” because it seems more than a few games have popped up using Kickstarters lately; most notably Double Fine Adventure and Wasteland 2. That said, I think all three of them are worthy causes or I wouldn’t point them out. The latter have already reached their pledge goals but now you can help Stoic reach theirs (which is a lot less than the other two).

The pledge levels go from $5 to $5,000. I wish I had the latter to spare because I’d love to see “Ashen Temper” in a Viking-based game since the whole Temper saga had a lot of Viking-esque theme to it (back in the day). But, if you like the project, there are a lot of low-level pledges – $5, $10, & $25. These are cheaper than going out to eat (from McDonald’s at the low-end to something like Chili’s or Olive Garden at the “high” of the low end). While I do like me some food from time to time, a good game usually lasts me a lot longer.

Something to note if you do pledge, you only pay if the end goal is met:

If I make a pledge, when is my card charged?
If the project you’re backing is successfully funded, your card will be charged when the project reaches its funding deadline. If the project does not reach its funding goal, your card is never charged. That’s why we call them pledges.

If The Banner Saga looks like a game you’d enjoy and you have a few extra dollars laying around, help out a worthy cause (and studio) by donating (or if you just want to learn more about it):

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stoic/the-banner-saga

Vengeance Must Be Served

[imgright]http://www.seandahlberg.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/ghost_rider_150x109.jpg[/imgright]I can’t say I’m a hardcore comic book collector, because I’m not. But, while growing up, there were a few titles that I thoroughly enjoyed. I think it all started with the Uncanny X-Men 138 and then I added a few others over the years. I was always into the dark and anti-heroes so when I saw issue #5 of Ghost Rider (the Dan Ketch version), I was hooked. Granted, the title took some twists and turns over the years that I didn’t like… but I think most every comic goes through that.

When I saw there was a movie being made for it, I had a glimmer of hope. Some of the Marvel movies… well, sucked. But the latest ones seemed to be getting better and better. Then I learned Nicholas Cage was in it. And my hope went away. Not that I dislike him as an actor; I actually like quite a few of his movies. But Ghost Rider, whether the original Johnny Blaze or Dan Ketch version, was never a personality type that I’ve seen Cage successfully pull off. They are dark heroes with tortured souls and I just don’t think that type of character is in Cage’s repertoire. But, being the fan I am, I not only saw the movie, I bought it. And I’ll probably see the new one coming out today (with very low expectations).

But that isn’t what I’m writing about right now. In looking up the new movie, I saw that Gary Friedrich tried to sue Marvel for the first movie since he believed the rights to the character reverted back to him (and come one, someone should of sued Marvel over that movie!). Unfortunately, Gary was unsuccessful and Marvel counter-sued, demanding $17,000 in compensation for his sale of non-licensed merchandise at conventions. Marvel has agreed to drop the counter-suit if Gary pays the $17,000 and discontinues selling unlicensed Ghost Rider paraphernalia (or anything that financially profits him using the status as the character’s creator). My personal feelings is that it’s crap and Marvel should just drop the counter-suit. As much as I could pick apart the Ghost Rider movie, it grossed $237m at the box office worldwide. But business is what business does and this is nothing new.

There is a movement by fans to raise the money for Gary to pay this (he isn’t necessarily rolling in dough). Steven Niles, the writer of 30 Days of Night which was also turned into a movie, has set up a page for donations simply called “Donate to Gary Friedrich“. The page includes a letter from Gary and his wife about the feedback they have been receiving.

While I understand there are a lot of factors with something like this, if you were ever a fan of the comic, I recommend at least checking out the story below…

Read more about this at Forbes: As We Watch the Watchmen, Ghost Rider’s Creator Faces Ruin

Least I Could Do

I have found one of my new favorite webcomics: Least I Can Do. While it does have somewhat of a geeky vibe, it is unlike most of the other ones on my list and doesn’t directly relate to gaming. The primary theme of the strip is sexuality, especially the promiscuity of the primary character, Rayne Summers, a modern-day Casanova (thank you Wikipedia!). But, for the most part, its really funny and done by the same people who do Looking For Group (no relation to my website).

I’d recommend starting with issue #1 but note that the art style does change after a while. The content remains consistently great, though. So definitely check it out!

Speaking of webcomics, make sure you check out Zero Punctuation‘s latest video here.

And the next chapter begins

Last week it was announced that I no longer work for Stray Bullet Games. At that point, I wasn’t sure if I could announce where I’d be working next and figured it would be better to err on the side of caution.

Well, today was my first day and it was confirmed that I could spill the beans. My current position is as the Community Manager at BioWare Austin. Yes, the very same BioWare Austin that was announced to be working on an MMO some time back.

What exactly is the MMO? Obviously, until an official announcement is released, I can’t say. So don’t ask. And yes, even those of you who have already asked via private messages, emails, and IMs… no, I won’t tell you on there either. Sooner or later, the official announcement will be made but in the meanwhile, I’m not even going to attempt to drop any hints. I will say that I am very excited about this and it is one of the very few opportunities that would even have me consider (much less follow through on) leaving Stray Bullet Games.

That’s all folks.

The Death of Ashen Temper

For those of you just tuning it, today it was announced that I have left Stray Bullet Games, LLC. Also, if you’re into Shadowbane lore or even just a good story, Sam aka Meridian published the first part of the Death of Ashen Temper.

Today has been very surreal so far. Many of the people at Stray Bullet Games I’ve known for years and years and they are so much more than co-workers but all also my friends. Shadowbane itself has been in my life for over eight years and its funny to think back of when I was playing Ultima Online (Pacific Shard) and Everquest (Rallos Zek) and heard of this crazy game called Carnage.net that morphed into Shadowbane. I was so intrigued by the game that I helped moderate the unofficial Shadowbane Forums on Stratics and then later ran the Shadowbane Vault on the IGN Network. Since then, I’ve been the Community Manager, Event Team Lead, and even headed up design on this immense labor of love. I have shed a lot of sweat, tears, and blood over this game. Granted, I’ll still be playing the game, much more openly even, but it won’t be the same.

Monday will start a new chapter in my life. But before moving ahead, I want to take a moment to thank the people who have helped me get here. First and foremost would actually have to be Todd “Warden” Coleman who, for some crazy reason, took in a U.S. Marine and let him (aka me) run the community for the Shadowbane. Also Frank “Kellion” Lucero, Mike “Ramsie” Madden, and Damion “Ubiq” Schubert for seeing the potential within me and taking a chance at directing the future of Shadowbane. There are a a plethora of people I’d love to thank that I’ve met over the years. Chris “Vosx” Mancil, Danielle “Sachant” Vanderlip, Brian “Xanther” Lucas, Jeff “Ashton Kai” Tony, and soooo many others. And of course, if I don’t mention Morigor, she might actually “PK me IRL”. I could easily turn this post into a CD cover (y’know, the music ones that people use to buy back in the day where the artists would thank EVERYONE). But I won’t. I will say that there isn’t a single person I have had the pleasure of working with that I haven’t taken something away from.

Where am I going? I’m not really at liberty to say quite yet. I will say that I am remaining in the Austin area, though. I love this city and not much will tear me away from it in the near future.

Why? Let me clear up any rumors before they start; I am a firm supporter and believer of not only Stray Bullet Games but also the product they are creating. It is a fantastic company and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I hold no ill will whatsoever and, truth be told, everyone there I consider a good friend. No, this is about me and my growth in the profession I have chosen.

I was presented with a fantastic opportunity that would take my career to the next level. The easy road would be for me to stay at Stray Bullet Games but I’m not the kind of person who takes the easy road; I’m the kind that will take a challenge if it will help me grow.

I truly wish the best to everyone at Stray Bullet Games; not that they need it. They are not only a company with a wealth of knowledge, talent, and skill but also are also thinking of games as they should be done… They want to make games that are fun to play, first and foremost. Some would say that is obvious but I would disagree.

Well, its time for this to go live; the announcements are about to go up. And maybe its because I’m biased, but if you haven’t read Meridian’s post on the “Death of Ashen Temper“, you really should.

So You Read Message Boards For a Living?

Kill Ten Rats posted this on their site so I am just going to give you a snippet of it then have you go read it. It’s a good read:

MMO community managers have an ugly job. Public relations is never the cakewalk that it seems from the outside, but dealing with the teeming internet hordes is not always as pleasant as eating bees.

I have never had the job, but let us pause a moment to consider some of the things we put our poor community managers, board mods, and developers through. Anyone can feel free to add horrors that I have missed in the comments (or via e-mail). (If this is your job, we understand if you feel the need to use a pseudonym and censor specifics, but we will not be releasing IP addresses and we understand that any example does not relate to specific people, but rather is a statement of general tendencies or extreme cases, probably exaggerated for effect. Or maybe you want to make an example of someone.)

Read the whole thing here: So You Read Message Boards For a Living?

Ashen On Vacation

Due to the fact that my last official work day was May 15th and the next one isn’t until June 1st, I decided to take advantage of the “free” time and I am out-of-state for a bit. I’ll be back soon but I doubt I’ll be checking the forums or my email or things much until I get back.