Northern Beholder

Where history and gaming collide.

Perfect World Drops the Banhammer

Perfect World Entertainment (PWE) is a media conglomerate that owns a number of game studios, prominent among which is Cryptic Studios, makers of MMOs such as Champions Online, Star Trek Online, and Neverwinter.  As with any MMOs, they’ve got problems with gold sellers peddling chunks of in-game currency for real-world cash, upsetting the virtual economies.  They’ve also got some home-brewed problems of their own primarily caused by slipshod coding and QA, such as the recent Neverwinter exploit that allowed players to purchase items from the in-game auction house for negative amounts of currency, which resulted in giving you both the items and however much currency you bid.

In response to these money troubles, PWE is implementing increasingly draconian preventive measures.  Most recently, they’ve introduced scripting that scans the chat channels across all their games for certain keywords typically used by spam accounts that advertise game-currency-for-cash services, and instantly bans any offenders caught uttering the forbidden phrases.

See the problem here? If so, you aren’t in a position to make policy at PWE, because they’ve rolled right on ahead with it.  As anyone with a grain of foresight could have predicted, there’s been a growing flood of legitimate customers who have been kicked from the game and banned without so much as a by-your-leave.  Some of them were grousing about the spam mails with friends. Some of them spoke the forbidden words in an entirely different context.  One person – allegedly – was banned for speaking about his DIY carpentry project, the shorthand measurements evidently too close to monetary amounts for the liking of the banbot.  Their accounts, if they are restored at all, are done so without apology and often days after the fact.

PWE’s representatives have claimed that all bans are preceded by a detailed warning telling the player what they did wrong and not to do it again lest they face dire consequences.  Predictably, the banned persons are, in unison, chorusing that not a single notification was received.  As someone who’s suffered through this myself (I play Star Trek Online, and got banned halfway through a mission for, as far as I can tell, reminding a team-mate to match level with us) I can confirm that I received no messages at any point prior to the banning informing me of my wrongdoing, unless they arrived roughly half a second before their banbot booted me from the server.

If you are among the affected, PWE’s community manager, Branflakes, suggests submitting a ticket and then contacting the GM team directly, ticket number in hand.

UPDATE: Less than 24 hours after referring my issue to PWE’s community manager directly, my ban was lifted.  However, I was given no notification of this, and found out simply by attempting to log in (and succeeding).  There has also been no explanation offered for why their scripting banned me to begin with.

Kudos to PWE for a swift response, but the points are lost again for the utter silence in which they executed it.


The Greatest Game Mod Ever Made

There are, in my mind, two truly landmark first-person shooters.  The first is DOOM, the granddaddy of the genre, the original hyper-fast and hyper-violent demon-slaying simulator that took the world by storm in the early ’90s, setting the tone for years to come.  The second is Half-Life 2, which set the bar for the new generation of more linear, narrative-driven through spectacular environmental storytelling and expertly crafted level design that gave the illusion of player agency while keeping you funneled along what was in truth the only available path, without ever seeming overly forced or contrived (something that’s apparently really hard to do for some developers).

The Greatest Game Mod Ever Made, then, is gmDOOM. The mod, created by one Ghor, adds DOOM resources, including weapons, sound effects and UI, into the Half-Life 2 game engine, via the medium of Garry’s Mod.  The DOOM and Half-Life 2 game elements are fully interactive with each other, as demonstrated by this awesome video, which means this mod lets Gordon Freeman and the Doom Guy fight side-by side.  It also handily demonstrates just how lightning-fast DOOM movement is compared to the relative plodding of more modern games (and Gordon is a world-class sprinter compared to the lumbering pace you get in the morass of military manshoots).

Okay, that’s getting into a tangent. Complaining about the state of the modern FPS is another article.  The point is, gmDOOM is a wonderful callback to the halcyon days and meshes together two of the finest shooters ever made into a wonderful new playground, and I’m superbly pleased it exists.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Public Relations

Just recently I took EA to task over their terrible SimCity release, pointing out that all the money they wasted on server infrastructure and so forth was bringing them no gain and just causing bad press.  Included in that wasted money was the cost of coding the game to run half of it on EA’s servers rather than locally – that being EA’s justification for always-online DRM.

Well, guess what’s not true.  Turns out the servers don’t actually run any of the sim calculations at all, despite what EA said, and only handle cloud saves, region interaction (i.e. trade between cities) and of course regular authentication checks, because god forbid someone pirate this buggy mess of a game.  Even the simulation aspects, which were loudly touted pre-release and initially received praise, don’t hold up to scrutiny.  After several hours of gameplay, it becomes clear that what appears slick and intricate on the surface is only a thin veneer covering up a system of random choices, shortest-route pathfinding with no option for problem-solving (like taking a secondary access road to avoid a traffic jam) and ‘phantom sims’ created to swell the population with movements determined by extrapolation from the tiny pool of actual agents.

EA’s not just shooting themselves in the foot with this fiasco. Lies about core game features, lies about server structure, delivering an unusable product and threatening Origin account bands over refund claims?  They’re pumping out the whole magazine and calling for reloads.   And they’re doing it while standing on poor Maxis.

EA Keeps Digging

Last year I finally got fed up with Electronic Art’s cavalcade of stupid press releases, especially their decision to gut singleplayer in all future releases. I went so far as to predict EA’s death, as their abandoning of single-player was the equivalent of digging their own grave. Now EA has released the latest iteration in the SimCity series, and it seems they’re still shovelling as fast as they can. So fast that I need to talk about it before leaning back towards something vaguely history-related. Vaguely.

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Hot Topic: Hotbars

A friend of mine recently got back into World of Warcraft, and has pulled me along for the (free, thankfully) ride.  I don’t particularly love WoW, but it’s fun enough as an activity with a friend – which is, I suspect, how Blizzard retains the majority of their players.  It has, however, served to re-expose me to the way MMOs used to work, particularly the skillbars (or ‘hotbars’ are they’re sometimes called), and this has been a rather harsh realization after playing more modern offerings.

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On History and Roleplaying

One of my many gaming hobbies is that grand old tradition – the tabletop roleplaying game.  While it may not possess the slick graphics and action-packed combat of Skyrim or The Witcher (I was going to say New Vegas, but the rather silly way that game engine handles its real-time gunfights is actually remarkably like playing a tabletop game), the tabletop RPG is still possessed of drama, rich worlds and tense situations – providing you have the right GM running things, and a decent chemistry between the players.

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Civ IV v. Civ V, III

We’ve covered most of the major issues, but there’s still much to talk about. The Civilization games have always been ones with multiple layers of mechanics, and we’ve barely scratched the surface – so let’s talk about Culture.  Culture, in the Civ games, is a measure of your civilization’s influence, and directly impacts the extent of your borders.  Given that you can only improve and work resources and terrain within your borders, this quickly becomes extremely important.

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Civ IV v. Civ V, II

The fourth and fifth entries in the Civilization series of games are very different beasts.  While the essence of the game remains unchanged – explore, expand, exploit and exterminate – the systems through which the player interacts with the game differ greatly, sometimes radically, from their predecessor.  This was enough to cause furor throughout the Civ community when the game was first released; but what was the shouting really about?

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Civ IV v. Civ V, I

Every once in a while, a segment of the gaming community is rent asunder by conflict.  While from without, the disagreement often seems to be the sort of tempest in a teacup that afflicts any subculture from time to time, to those caught up within it, it can be of dire importance.  Civilization V caused just such a conflict, due to its radical shake-up of the venerable series’ internal mechanics, and hard-liners still hold out to this day.

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The Ships of Star Trek Online

Some friends of mine have gotten into Star Trek Online recently.  Being the only one with experience of it, I’ve unexpectedly found myself in the position of the wise mentor.  Before I get horribly killed to provide dramatic tension, I’m giving them a brief overview of the three types of ships available in the game.

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