Xbox One Revealed…. Early

Due to a shipping problem it looks like a large number of Xbox One users got their consoles two weeks early… as well as a copy of Call of Duty: Ghosts for the Xbox One.

From his Twitter account one person answered questions people threw forward about the console.  He also put up some Youtube videos of the Xbox One but they were quickly taken down.

Most interesting to me is that the new Killer Instinct is apparently free and less than 2 gigabytes in size.

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Why We Won’t Care About Always on DRM

It always amazes me the difference between the hardcore gamer and the actual gamer.

The hardcore gamer wants new cutting edge shooters… the actual gamer wants a COD clone.

The hardcore gamer wants a giant open world sandbox MMO… the actual gamer wants a linear instanced theme park MMO.

The hardcore gamer is sick of Nintendo recycling the same games every 5 years… the actual gamer is waiting in line for the latest Mario Kart, Smash Bros, Mario Platformer, and Mario Party.

So when all of the hardcore gamers were complaining about XBox One’s Always On DRM and anti-sharing software… well I giggled a little inside.

I giggled because in the end, it won’t matter.  It won’t matter because… actual gamers won’t care.

In reality the actual gamer is going to be more moved by who does the better marketing.  Xbox 360 far out performed PS3 because they made their console appear cooler and Playstation had some early problems (like a full network hacking).

The actual “winner” of the console wars was one people didn’t even see as part of it.  Nintendo Wii was far out selling the competition in every department.

This is because Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 were the consoles that people said they want… that is a more powerful version of the same old thing.

The Nintendo Wii was what they wanted though.  They wanted simple controllers with adjustable elements.  They wanted motion controls that encouraged physical fitness (in a world in which child obesity is a problem).  They wanted simple skill based Mario titles.

When you look at the massive games of the last five years many of them are indie titles like Bastion, LIMBO, and The Cave… not the AAA titles released by major publishers.

Xbox One is actually taking a page from Nintendo’s playbook.  They’re ignoring the hardcore gaming crowd and going after a much larger market.  Who wouldn’t want to watch TV through Xbox instead of having to deal with devilish networks who make you pay for 7 other channels for $25 when you only really wanted to get ESPN.

Basically what Playstation 4 has done (and why they’re being congratulated for it) is made the console that hardcore gamers wanted.. that is roughly the same one as before with minor improvements.

To me that sounds boring.

Somehow it being the exact same thing as before to everyone else is exciting.

Microsoft have done a few things that people ought to be getting excited about but they don’t.

Despite complaints that Kinect never works I’ve never actually had a problem with it on a friend’s Xbox and my own PC version of it.  The fact that every Xbox One comes with a Kinect means that every single game that ever comes out for the Xbox can now be made assuming people will have voice commands and motion commands.

The Kinect 2.0 is an improvement on the Kinect 1.0 because you no longer have to be so far away for it to see you…. that is, it understands what half of a torso is.

But once again this is not something hardcores want.  In fact hardcores really didn’t have patience for the Kinect.  To them it was a gimmick but clearly Microsoft sees it as the future.

If I remember correctly Kinect did somewhere around 3M sales or 1/4 of all Xbox owners picked up this expensive optional attachment.  This makes it one of the most successful attachments in gaming history.

Another example of Xbox ignoring hardcores was their announcement of Always On DRM.

It’s funny because market data always shows that people actually don’t care about this.  The two most recent always on catastrophes were Diablo 3 and SimCity.

Diablo 3 on launch had a massive error that made the game unplayable and after a little under a week it was stable and completely playable.

SimCity was a little bit worse because it took a little over 2 months to fix this game on launch.

These were highlighted because they had Always On DRM.  What people of course didn’t note was these problems exist in games that aren’t always on as well.  As a god example Sword of the Stars 2 still does not work well to this day after almost two years of development.

Despite mass protest and complaint the sales of Diablo 3 and SimCity only continued to grow… yes as it turned out no one card that they had to play Always On.

People often do not note the high success and enjoyability of Always On DRM.  The most famously enjoyable (and thus never mentioned) is World of Warcraft.  Having been around for 10 years now the massively popular MMORPG is addictive, enjoyable, and solo-able despite having Always On DRM.  But if you were to turn off the Internet and suddenly people would complain about how terrible the game was.

Always On DRM is a tool for developers to produce quality titles in which playing with people is enhanced.

Internet high quality is also readily available everywhere these days.  You have to be in the most war torn part of Africa to not have access to cable.  I was surprised upon coming home to my anti-technology province of Newfoundland and Labrador to find that they have Bell Fiber, one of the fastest Internets available in the world.

The irony at the end of this post is that I probably won’t purchase an Xbox One either.

The irony is that the Wii-U offers more to my household than either of the two “hardcore gamer” consoles.

Age of Empires Online Closes Servers

In a pretty normal decision Microsoft is closing down six of their Age of Empires Online servers.  These servers include:

  • Corinth,
  • Heraclion
  • Arcadia
  • Ithaca
  • Argos
  • Khnum

After the initial success of their free to play launch and their Steam launch they were forced to open up more servers to deal with high stress loads.  But as the casual crowd has left and they have their own crowd they’re now closing down servers.

All for the best, queue times were getting terrible everywhere.

Review: Age of Empires Online

Upon hearing about an Age of Empires Online I was most definitely skeptical about buying it.  But now that it is free to play, there is no reason at all not to try it out. I will say that I found a little bit of a bug.  If you try to get into the game you need to do so using your Windows Live ID.  After doing this it asks you for an activation key.  I just put in the same letter in every space and it accepted the key.  It doesn’t require a real key… but it still requires the spaces to be filled out (how odd).

The Brief: Robot Entertainment

Ensemble Studios is responsible for making the hit game Age of Empires as well as creating the gaming engine used in the vast majority of 90s and 2000s RTS games.  However after many years of success Microsoft finally decided to shut down Ensemble Studios.  Their last game would be Age of Empires 3, of which the final expansion for it was done by a different studio. Upon closing the doors of Ensemble Studios, the founders decided to make their own studio separate from Microsoft, Robot Entertainment.

Upon creating this studio they announced they wanted to create a new intellectual property and expand. Robot Entertainment was contracted by Microsoft to do the beginning work on Age of Empires Online, an attempt at an MMORTS.  About a year before it was finished they handed the project off to another studio.  This seemed kind of odd.  They once again announced that they wanted to work on their own projects.  Age of Empires Online would go on to be a pretty massive flop and exists in the free to play market. Robot Entertainment would add a new cartoony style to Age of Empires Online that has not been seen in any AoE titles to this point.  They also made sure to keep the feel of an Age of Empires game in tact before handing this IP off to someone else.

Robot Entertainment released their big title, Orcs Must Die.  The game was selling for about $19.99 and often went on sale to the sub $5 marker.  However the game was a massive success. They developed DLC for the game and just released a brand new game, Orcs Must Die 2. Robot Entertainment’s success is based on their pricing model.  They sold Orcs Must Die relatively cheaply, but gave you a fairly short game.  Then they sold the DLC and made up the full price of a game.  This successful model will no doubt be used by many future developers.

Synopsis

The depth of this game is great and so to cover what Age of Empires Online is… will take some time.

The first tier of it is a single player game.  You pick up quests from various figures of ancient society and they will give you rewards of gear, resources, or consumables.  There is a full world that you can explore while picking up quests and you can even enter the city of friends.

After accepting a quest you will enter a second RTS style mode in which you have to complete objectives, much like a single player RTS game.  You will have objectives that you have to complete.  Upon finishing them you can continue exploring the map for loot drops or you can just head out and collect your quest rewards. These missions can be done as part of a co-op group of individually.

The second tier of the game is a PvP game.  You will unlock units over time that you can use in PvP.  You will be matched up with an opponent and only be allowed to use the units you unlock. The leveling system makes this frustrating.  In one game I played I was against a Level 27 and I was a meager Level 5.  I had total map control, I killed most of his workers, I stopped him from mining gold (beyond what was at his base) and I had enough of production to re-max within seconds.  Despite all of this he still won.  His superior level gave him better defensive structures which allowed him to turtle heavily and gain enough Age 4 units (I could only use Age 2 units) to right click on my base and destroy it.

The limitations in PvP draw you to do more of the single player stuff and less of the multiplayer stuff.  For $20 per civilization you can purchase everything outright.  As well there are other trappings.  If you get a blue or epic piece of gear (which you equip to your units to make them better) you need to be a premium civilization to get it.  If this is not frustrating enough you often will run into people draped purely in purple gear stomping you with inferior numbers and inferior play. To say this game is balanced is laugh worthy.  It is balanced presuming everyone pays the $20 for their premium civilization… but honestly by this point it might be cheaper to just buy the game out right.

As far as gameplay goes the numbers of units are variant and the number of unit producing structures are high. The game has four Ages.  Ages are tiers that unlock new units and new buildings.  This is a way of making sure that people don’t just rush out some super powerful unit to win.

Tiers are also production minded.  First tier units are not as powerful but cost less resources, higher tier units cost more resources. It is presumed your economy will go up as you advance through tiers by creating villagers. One structure produces melee centered units.  One structure produced ranged units.  One structure produces healer units.  One structure produces artillery units.  One structure produces cavalry.  Each unit is balanced to beat another group of units.  Some units (such as shield bearing ones) are designed to tank.  Other units (such as Augurs) are designed to convert enemy units to your side.  Choosing what balance you want in your army will be important.

Every match starts off with a scouting unit who can build watch posts.  This is important because it means you will find each other very fast and be able to limit the enemy from any sneaky cheesie activities seen in other RTS games.

Another RTS element that is important involves your Town Center also being a turret.  This makes it so that players are less likely to all in rush each other and the game can be brought to massive battles in the end.  This solves a classic problem of RTS games where some people who are really good at unit control win within minutes of the match starting. Beyond this there is a leveling system mentioned already.  With this you do quests and you gain experience and bonus items for the quest.

As well every unit you kill and every structure has a set XP gain for it. As you level up you can fill out a talent tree.  The talent tree offers bonuses to certain units, resource gathering, or buildings.  This once again makes firm the concept that if someone is higher level it will be harder to overcome them.

At end game you randomly choose one of three alliances.  Each alliance gives you a specific bonus.  Everything you do will gain alliance points.  Alliance points are used towards a large scale battle.  The winner of the battle gains EP (Empire Points).  EP is used to purchase quest packs and premium civilizations.  It takes about 30 hours of play to earn a premium civilization.

Strengths

  • Classic RTS
  • Strong Tutorial
  • Great Pathing

I think a lot of newer RTS games coming out (A Game of Thrones: Genesis as an example) are trying to mix up the RTS genre by adding in a lot of newer systems that complicate the game and make them less fun.  Age of Empires Online is a classic RTS game in which you are responsible for building a macro economy and creating armies.  No one will look at this game and find anything complex or hard to understand.  The game’s caster units have automatic spells that they cast, lowering the complexity further. When you start the game you are put into a forced introduction that will teach you slowly about all of the units, buildings, and abilities and slowly bring you to the point where you will become a master in the game.

As you go through the tutorial it is explaining the entire game, including managing your upgrades.  This was a pleasant process that kept me addicted and wanting to continue the tutorial.

A weakness in a lot of RTS games is bad pathing.  Even Starcraft 2 has a problems with pathing that are constantly being patched.  AoE Online has insanely good pathing.  The units will line up according to unit type and are not clumsy about it.  Melee are out front, healers are in the middle, ranged are in the back.  Units will generally not block each other.  This means you’ll spend less time trying to organize arcs and more time controlling back weakened units.

Weaknesses

  • Buy to Win Model
  • Level Dependent
  • Bad Mix

The weaknesses of the game have little or nothing to do with the quality of the game but instead how they intend to make profit.  If you decide to spend $20 to buy a premium civilization (of which there are six) the game will be fine.  However if you choose to play for free it will be a struggle. Premium civilizations get some insane bonuses.  The gear they wear is actually better.  They are allowed to do more quests and events and thus level up faster.  They start at a higher level.  The game is sort of designed so that you slog so long before you are forced into buying a premium civilization.

The leveling system in PvP is really brutal.  It does not matter how hard you play, if you are too many levels below someone, you lose.  Gear also has a big outcome on the match.  Simply put a civilization that can make artillery can just turtle up and win through pure artillery. A good online game is going to connect people together and build friendships.

There is a sort of design disconnect between what the game is.  Robot Entertainment started this game off as a social RTS game.  When Microsoft gave this project to another developer it started taking shape as an MMO RTS.  But after this flopped it went back to just being a social RTS game with it now having free to play trappings.

The problem with this MMORTS format is the attempt to have “Player versus Environment” RTS and “Player versus Player” RTS.  In any MMO people are morel likely to do Player versus Environment than Player versus Player.  Blizzard reported that less than 5% of its population plays in their PvP elements as of Wrath of the Lich King.

This creates a problem for a genre (RTS) that is largely designed around playing against people.  By having 95% of your player base engaged in PvE content (of which there is tones) it means that you will have insanely long queue times in your PvP environment.  This is not good considering that the RTS community by and large like to play online against people.

When Age of Empires 1 was out comp stomp was common because… well there really wasn’t much of an Internet floating around.  Now comp stomp is largely gone.  In fact the only real ‘comp stomp’ part of SC2 is in their User Maps Settings (Arcade) games.

Conclusion

It’s not the game of the year and it is not even the game of the moment.  It is an average RTS game that really does nothing amazing.  I would say the game is slightly better than Command and Conquer Red Alert 3 but not as good as Starcraft 2.  Having said that do not treat this as a free game. If you want to enjoy your time, pay the $20 and buy a premium civilization.  If you are looking to slog your way through a grind, then free to play might be for you.

The Steam started pack is priced at $20 and is a worthwhile buy.

HOW TO: Age of Empires 3 Hard Difficulty – Act 3 Mission #4: The Lost Spanish Gold

In this mission there are no gold mines.  Instead there are lost spanish gold ships which you can mine.  These mine at the same rate a normal gold mine would if you had all  gold mining upgrades.  Because of this gold based units (like musketeers) will be key to beating this.

The initial goal is to defeat three towers.  The first tower you should hit is in the southeast.  After destroying this tower you will open up more gold paths and the ability to get aboriginal units from a trading post.

I would suggest only getting trading post units for the majority of this mission.

You will get a side quest to bring Kanyenkay to a point on the map.  After defeating a few white cats you will gain access to the Fixed Gun from the first campaign with Morgan Black.  The fixed gun should first be used to target down the fort to the west so that you can easily get this secondary objective (and get more aboriginal units).

Second you can use the fixed gun to wipe out the enemy’s tower in the south.

The final tower will have a fairly large army waiting there.  I would suggest wiping out the army first and then worrying about the tower.

Once you have all three towers down the final objective will appear, destroy the enemy’s town center.  By this point you should have enough units to storm the front.  For a quick win bust down his gates (right click on the gate) and destroy the town center (right click on the town center).  After doing this all or nothing tactic the mission will end.  If you lose your entire army, no worries, just build up another army.

HOW TO: Age of Empires 3 Hard Difficulty – Act 3 Mission #3: The Boneguard’s Lair

This mission is a momentum based mission.  If you have gathered enough forces you can crush Beaumont’s army.  If you do not you will have enough forces you will just lose.

IF you are ever facing a melee unit make sure to kite them.  To do this move away from them and then right click on one of the enemy units.  Follow this up by moving away again and attacking again.  The idea is to make sure the melee units get as little time attacking you as humanly possible.  For this reason it is recommended you not get melee units until later.

On hard difficulty you will want to clear out every single enemy units and cash in every single Food Convoy.

Food Convoy’s can be turned in for two types of aboriginal units, Ranged and Melee.  You will favor ranged initially and near the end you will want to stock up on melee units.  The melee units have more armor and more damage but are also more exposed and more likely to die.  In most engagements you will want to lead with your ranged units and move your melee units in after.

You should also make sure to use Amelia and Kanyenkay’s abilities almost on cooldown.  Kayenkay’s shot has an insanely high range and can be used for softening up enemies without having to engage.  Amelia has a big AoE attack and a one-shot kill attack.  Using them on cooldown might be a win for you.

Beyond that make sure to explore the entire cave to max out your win.  The mission ends when you get to a map.

HOW TO: Age of Empires 3 Hard Difficulty – Act 3 Mission #2: Hold the Fort

This guide is less about how to beat the level on hard difficulty and more on how to beat it quickly on hard difficulty.

Start off by taking your small army of a few musketeers and Amelia to build trading posts at every single trading post.  Also make sure to maximum upgrade these bad boys for maximum goodiness.  Rarely will enemies attack these but if they do, just rebuild.

Leave all of your cannons setup in attack position in your base at all times.  They will be very effective against the armies coming at you.

Make sure to upgrade stationary towers to maximum as well.  This will assure the enemy will never want to engage them and your trading posts will always be well protected.

After getting all of your trading posts up make sure you have them set to whatever resources you will need, this will mostly be gold and food.  The base of your army will be musketeers.  Build musketeers nonstop.  Do not get any upgrades.

There is a timer that tells you when an army will come to support you.  Just keep defending losing as little artillery as possible while this is happening.

While doing this do not build any extra workers, they will not pay off all that fast, plus there is no real sources of food on the map so macroing will be tough anyway.

Once you have a few seconds left on the clock gathering up your artillery and army and march them all north.  ‘Gun it’ for his town hall.

In the southeast an army will appear that is made of skirmishers, hussers, and mortars.  Mortars can be targeted on buildings while your hussers and skirmishers peel units off of them.  There are two town halls in the south and one in the north.

If you do this timing you can avoid having to march your army around the map.

Since the objective is to destroy town halls you can really avoid having to attack any other structures.  Your army should be big enough that even with some losses you should be able to take them on.