The Internet had a tantrum, Valve and Bethesda gave in

Steam is a program made by Valve, the maker of Team Fortress 2, Half-Life, Left 4 Dead, and Portal. It’s a place to buy and download PC games into a library where you can play with friends, stream your games to them, unlock achievements, and even gift a game to a friend. It has become a Mecca for PC gaming. Before Steam, I wasn’t much of a PC gamer. Nintendo was all I knew. But then the infamous Steam Summer Sale happened, when games can be sold for 75% off or more. Like this past summer, I already had Skyrim for Xbox 360. But I wanted to be able to play the game with all of the cool mods and get a chance to play Skywind. Morrowind and Skyrim are both needed to play it and it just so happened both games were on sale at once.

Then I discovered the power of having mods for Skyrim. You can make this game look absolutely beautiful and have so much more depth in gear, weapons, quests, and more. If you can think of it, it’s probably a mod for Skyrim.

DBZ Overhaul Mod by Redman and Rigormortician

DBZ Overhaul Mod by Redman and Rigormortician

On April 23, Valve implemented a system to allow mod creators to charge money for their work. That sounds reasonable, right? Modders put a lot of hard work into their craft and never get any monetary compensation for it. As a consumer, I was bummed about it because I don’t like to pay for things that just yesterday, I didn’t have to pay for. The modders would only receive 25% of the revenue from the content sold. The Internet lost its collective mind.

Protest sign mod in Skyrim

Protest sign mod in Skyrim

On April 25, Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve, hosted a Reddit AMA to answer questions and listen to concerns. Two days later, on April 27, Valve removed the pay feature from Skyrim mods on Steam. Well, that didn’t last long, now did it? So, what happened? Why didn’t this work? I can point to three things. People hate paying for things, especially after getting it for free for so long. Why all of a sudden can I not go to the well and get a bucket of water? Now I can only buy bottled water from this vending machine? The profit split with modders only getting 25% of the share and DRM or digital rights management concerns are the other two, which are more clearly explained here.

There were supporters of the paid mod system. Although the implementation was shaky, there were good ideas behind it. Some say there should simply be donations for mods if you wish to tip a modder for their hard work. But as one modder says, out of 200,000 downloads for a mod, he only received two donations, which means 0.001% of users donated. Valve claims it wanted to test this system out with Skyrim, but maybe such an old, more established mod community wasn’t the way to go. I hope they find a way to make this work, because I really feel like it could lead to some pretty fantastic mods that we as gamers would love to throw all our money at. Maybe we just needed to be dragged into it, kicking and screaming.

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Female characters in Nintendo: The effort is there, but it has room to grow

Female characters in video games has been a hot button issue this past year. I won’t get into what female characters are tropes, which are great, and on and on and on. What I want to focus on is the changing culture of playable female characters, namely in recent Nintendo franchises Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. These franchises are two of Nintendo’s most beloved multiplayer games. These games have both gone through an evolution of playable female characters.

Nintendo_Womens_History_Month_001

Nintendo Women’s History Month posters

For Women’s History Month in March, Nintendo celebrated with a poster campaign featuring female characters from their games. They were met with criticism from feminists arguing that these characters are “Ms. Male Characters” who lack depth of personality because they are simply female versions like Toadette (think Ms. Pacman). The other gripe is that characters are over-sexualized which can have a negative impact on the perception of women in society.

Okay. I’ve heard it.

Nintendo is trying. I look at these posters and I see a positive message. Maybe I am a male with more body hair than intelligence, but I see this as a good thing. It was meant as a celebration of women. Accept it graciously. I give Nintendo praise for what they have done with their games to open them up to women. There are more adult women who play video games than boys ages 10-20. Forty-eight-percent of all gamers are women. These number may take some people by surprise given the stereotype that gamers are mostly young males.

However, in comparison to male characters available for play in Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros., there are significantly less female characters. An effort has been made to add more over time, but some of the techniques to accomplish that are a little bit questionable. Let’s break it down:

Mario Kart

Princess Peach was the only female character available in Mario Kart for over ten years. It wasn’t until Mario Kart Wii when we saw a significant number come up. The goal isn’t so much as to “catch up” with the boys as it is to just get a higher number for the girls. What I don’t like about the creation of characters for Mario Kart is that you end up with more female characters, but many of them like Peach and Rosalina simply have baby versions to add to the numbers. You can see the whole list here.

Super Smash

The Super Smash Bros. started off with Samus and Jigglypuff as female characters in 1999. When I first played this game at the age of eleven, I didn’t even realize Samus was female as I never played any Metroid games. We finally got a spike in female characters in the latest rendition of the game, but again, not a lot of original characters. Zelda and Sheik were separated into two characters. Samus was split between her armored version and “Zero Suit” version. Other characters are unisex like Wii Fit Trainer and Robin, where their sex can be chosen at the character selection screen.

Is it ideal representation? No, I don’t think so. But Nintendo is working with what it has. These games have characters based on the the ones pulled from their classic lineup. It’s progress. In the continuation of these franchises, we should see even more female characters join in.

If House of Wolves had a raid, most people wouldn’t make it there, anyways.

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about Destiny. Once you’ve hit level 32, your gear is all maxed out and you have plenty of cool weapons, you don’t really have much to complete. Crota has been slain dozens of times, with cheese shortcuts or not. The game has been patched repeatedly and now here we are, awaiting the second DLC, “House of Wolves,” set for release on May 19.

As far as the story goes (hahaha, I’m talking about the story of Destiny), There was one cutscene in the vanilla game that shed light on the “Queen of the Reef.” It’s assumed The Reef is just kinda…out there in the asteroid belt somewhere. You’ll even get to just hang out there! This is alright, as long as it doesn’t completely replace The Tower.

bridge keeperI know this reference is going to be very old and obscure, but indulge me. In Everquest, there was a zone outside the human city, Freeport, called East Commonlands. You remember now? There was a cave where everyone would do their trading, buying, and selling. But then a new expansion came out which included “The Bazaar” and East Commonlands became totally barren. I’d just hate to see The Tower suffer the same fate. Bungie wouldn’t do that, right?

When “The Dark Below” was released, we got a new raid, “Crota’s End.” This time around, we won’t get a new raid. But you already paid your $35 for both expansions, right? I did. I guess I don’t regret it, even without a new raid for “House of Wolves.” It still comes with a lot of new content. Instead, there is a mode called “The Prison of Elders” which is a new cooperative kind of mode. People might be upset with this because the endgame has always been get geared up, go do the raid, get sweet loot.

In this article from Forbes, it says only 19% of players have ever completed a raid. That is mind-blowing. That means only 19% of players have reached the main content put out in the game. If you don’t get to that point, you’re missing out on a lot and not getting your money’s worth. Granted, it does take a large time investment to get to that point. Getting to the near-max level and finding enough people (you need six) to form a raid group can be too much for players.

What I see this expansion doing, is opening up more content to the average player. I expect it will be easier for lower level players to get into and it will give these players more opportunity to get the gear they need to compete at a higher level. What it’s looking like is a horde mode which you fight against wave after wave of enemies, trying to survive. But that sounds a lot like what you do in a lot of the story missions, waiting for Peter Dinklage (your Ghost) to hack into whatever device while you fend off the enemies from him.

If you want the whole skinny on the upcoming content, Redditors have already taken care of that for you in a megathread. I’ll be picking up the Xbox One controller once again to battle the Fallen in a month. I’ll see you there.

Bread is love. Bread is life.

The game we have all been waiting for has become fully toasted and edible. I Am Bread, from the creators of the nonsensical Surgeon Simulator 2013, Bossa Studios, has come out of “early access” on Steam for PC and Mac. For launch week only, you can own it today for the low, low price of $9.74 and begin your journey as a slice of bread who only wants to be toast. I’ll let the gameplay speak for itself.

Powdered Toast Man

Powdered Toast Man

It will probably be the most famous bread since Powdered Toast Man. From what I’ve seen from the gameplay, flipping around a room to find a way to toast yourself can be very perilous as you need to maintain edibility. No one wants to eat bread that’s been on the floor, soaked in water, or covered in pencil shavings. This is a very hard, unforgiving game with limitless possibilities because of the open world. You might find it makes you rage a little bit.

“…underneath that buttery rage layer was something else. Something I didn’t expect. There was a really fun and well made game. It’s hard to explain the joy of flipping your toast and seeing it fly through the air and land that jump just right. It’s insane. It’s fun. It’s insanely fun.” – MartyrA2J’s review on Steam

Not only does it look like a fun game to play, but a fun game to watch. Today, games are watched more than ever with live streams on Twitch and “let’s plays” on YouTube. When marketing a game, you need to think about how fun your game is for an audience. I Am Bread does that. There’s action, suspense, drama, and character development. As Martyr mentioned, when you see that slice of bread flying through the air, your heart stops.

Oh, and there’s bread puns, so many bread puns.

A lot of commenters on Reddit suggest playing the game with two players even though there’s only a one player mode. Much like the Roosterteeth let’s play, have one player control the mouse and the other player control the keyboard for the ultimate teamwork exercise. I’ll have to check the game out, grab a friend and try it out. I’d love to stay and talk about bread some more, but for now, I’m off to Las Vegas for the NAB Show. See you there.

Nintendo hasn’t been itself, adding more DLC

I thought they were joking on April Fools’ Day. Lucas and Mewtwo becoming playable characters again in Super Smash Bros. Wii U/3DS, being able to vote for a new character in Smash (Go Team Skull Kid), and 200cc in Mario Kart 8 seem outlandish to me. Hahaha that’s a pretty good prank, Nintendo. Whew, you really had me yesterday.

But it’s totally real. You can get both new characters for $5 on April 28. And 200cc in Mario Kart 8? That’s never happened in the history of Mario Kart! It sounds dangerous and I’m genuinely excited for the new challenge. There’s already one DLC pack put out for Mario Kart 8. You get new maps, new cups, new characters, and that’s something you would never see in a Nintendo game. Usually when they release the game, that’s the game, forever. To me, there are some positives and negatives.

Dry-bones

R.I.P. Dry Bones

The new courses, karts, and more challenging game modes are great! But what is Link doing in a Mario Kart game? I realize these characters meet in Smash, but this isn’t Nintendo Kart or Super Smash Kart. It’s Mario Kart. I’m probably going to get the MK8 DLC 2-pack bunduru when it becomes available, but it kind of breaks the game universe, you know? We got all these cartoon-looking characters and then this…strangely realistic looking guy with a sword. And now they’re adding Animal Crossing characters. *Sigh* I don’t know, man. All my friend wanted was Dry Bones, but he’s have to settle for Dry Bowser.

The Nintendo Direct channel is actually a really effective way to give players news about upcoming content. People really eat that up. I could do without the Japanese man who speaks English poorly, but I guess that’s part of the Nintendo charm. They’re also trying to get into mobile games. No, not the 3DS, the iPhone. Nintendo games on a non-Nintendo device seems very…unNintendo. This whole DLC thing is pretty new to Nintendo and some were worried they were going to get left in the dust. But things are changing at Nintendo, and that’s just fine.

Xbox One squeaks, probably running off hamster wheel

When you turn on your Xbox One, you probably don’t hear much–a little beep chorus, a boot-up sound, the TV turning on, and not much else. But you might catch something else. In the silence of a surprisingly quiet machine (especially compared to the roar of the original rendition of the Xbox 360), I heard a squeak, like a little mouse gnawing at the wires inside or a tiny hamster intermittently running on a wheel.

This was the sound I could not handle. All I wanted to do was watch TV, and although the sound is not that loud, it is unbearable. Am I stuck with this forever? No, as long as you’re willing to put in the effort to get it corrected. You can find “do it yourself” solutions but those could harm your Xbox and I won’t get into that. But there is something you can do, which I’m considering doing myself if the problem persists. Other Xbox One customers have had to send their console in to get it fixed, but it’s not too much hassle.

“I’ve had to replace mine already and it was super simple. Just go to that page and follow the directions. Don’t even need to talk to anyone (I chose the advanced repair and got system within a few days).” – /u/JohnDargo

Although it’s not as serious as the red ring of death, it’s a little disappointing to see such a new piece of equipment (under a year old for me) already have issues. Granted, the Xbox One is a little more complicated of a machine than the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, that baby is still running as well as it did in 1993.

Building with height maps in Cities: Skylines

This week, I really wanted to write about something different, a game I’ve never played, maybe something new. It’s always tough to come up with new ideas, especially a couple times a week. But there is only one thing on my mind, and that’s Cities: Skylines. All I want is to build my city, solve traffic problems, manage utilities, and watch it grow.

My mission has changed from simply trying to build the biggest city and keep it afloat, to replicating and simulating my hometown, Morgantown, West Virginia. The in-game map editor gives you the tools to do such a thing. You start out with a massive flat green surface, like a giant square golf course. At first I thought I might have to shape the terrain and manually carve out the Monongahela River and Cheat Lake myself. But Cities: Skylines uses height map technology where you can take a satellite image and the game will render the terrain for you. Brilliant!

I found the site terrain.party which has a map of the world and an itty-bitty blue square that covers an 18km by 18km surface (which is a one-to-one scale in the game).

Morgantown area highlighted in terrain.party

Morgantown area highlighted in terrain.party

You can then drag that square over to any part of the world and save the highlighted area as a .png image. It gives you multiple height maps from different sources, but I chose to go with the USGS version.

Height map result of Morgantown area

Height map result of Morgantown area

This is what terrain.party gives you. A simple black and white map that shows elevation. You can see in the bottom-right corner how it gets lighter, which is the higher elevation towards Preston County. And there’s the exact curvature of the Monongahela River, along with Cheat Lake in the top-right corner. This is too cool.

Once you import your map, the map editor immediately changes your golf course into the terrain from your real life area. The transition is a little rough, however. It’s far from a workable city at this point. I used the hell out of the soften tool to smooth out some rocky-looking mountains into the rolling hills of West Virginia. I also lowered the elevation of the bodies of water, otherwise a lot of what is supposed to be dry land would get flooded. The water tool is pretty sensitive (Yes, I made sure that the river flows north.) Then it’s up to you to add trees (you have a budget of 250,000), wildlife, train and plane routes, and highways leading into the playable area.

This game was set up for the community to take it and run with it. The subreddit /r/CitiesSkylines has already surpassed /r/SimCity in subscribers. There’s even a /r/CitiesSkylinesModding subreddit where you can post a request for a mod or release a mod for the game you’ve made yourself. I made a post myself requesting a PRT mod as a public transit option. That’s when I discovered I’m not the only one hoping to make a realistic model of Morgantown.

“Also living in Morgantown. I was thinking about putting together a heightmap myself just so I could make my own Westrun. My guess is the engine won’t support building a road that poorly done. But first I’ll need to create a pothole mod. Luckily there’s already the ‘allow heavy trucks in your downtown’ option built in to really simulate the horrible traffic planning.” – /u/enkafen

That’s where the true enjoyment of this game comes from. I have a passion for this city and I want to build it, but I can make it better. I want lay down the roads and see what the traffic does. Then with a wave of the mouse, I can fix the problems that I live through every day. I can claim omnipotent domain and bulldoze through property to make much needed new roads. This took a dark turn into my own deep conscience. Anyways, later this week I’ll be doing a video blog of Morgantown in Cities: Skylines. I hope to see you there!

The game SimCity should have been

This month, small developer Colossal Order released their city-building game Cities: Skylines for PC, Mac and Linux. About this time in 2013, EA Games, a very larger game developer, released SimCity, a different city-building game. What’s fascinating, and really, refreshing, is that we have two very different receptions from each of these games. You have a big developer with a lot of money and plenty of manpower working on a game that was $60 at release. Two years later, you have a very similar game from a significantly smaller developer for $30 at release. And city-builder gamers love it.

SimCity 2000

SimCity 2000

Game developer Will Wright with Maxis started it all in 1989 with the original SimCity for the Macintosh computer. The first SimCity game I played was SimCity 2000 for PC. I picked it up at the book fair at my elementary school, because what 7-year-old wants to read books? I just want to play SimCity! The series has been incredibly popular with many simulation games taking inspiration from it. Would we have The Sims if not for SimCity?

In 1999, EA Games brought Maxis under its wing and that’s when things started getting…complicated. Just this month EA announced that they would be shutting down the Maxis developer offices in Emeryville, CA. Did EA see Cities: Skylines and the glowing reviews it got with half the production and half the cost?

SimCity (2013) had a few key issues that drove gamers crazy. At launch, players were required to sign-in on an online server (for a single-player game, what?!) in order to play the game. So if your internet connection is down or the EA server is down, no SimCity. The people in the game (sims) didn’t really act how people act. The city space in which to build was a quarter of the size of previous SimCity games. People got really angry. Especially because when the game was released, the most critical point where everyone spent a lot of money on this game, it did not work. I wouldn’t have a blog without flubs like this.

But then…

Cities: Skylines

Cities: Skylines

I’ve played a little bit of this game and watched others play it even more. The overwhelming response to this: This game is everything SimCity was not. You don’t have to be online. People have individual jobs assigned. You can follow every little person! I bought the game on day one and it worked. The space you have to build a city is huge. Steam Workshop is integrated right into the main menu, so all sorts of cool mods will come in the In this short playthrough, Polygon takes some shots at SimCityIf you want to see how it’s done, see how Sips is redesigning Donutsville, Bagelsville and Pretzelballs Junction. It’s actually therapeutic watching someone play Cities: Skylines.

It’s a very tame city-builder without too much trouble except for the occasional fire–no tornadoes, floods, or giant aliens to destroy your buildings or abduct your citizens. I’m okay with this. It’s not a game without drama, however. Christopher Livingston at PCGamer.com put the cheat codes on and made a city with one residential square. Hilarity ensues. We’re in the first week and so much fun has already been had. If you’re bummed out about SimCity and want to play the functional version, hit up Cities: Skylines. For $30, it’s at least twice the value of SimCity (2013).

Civilization should stick with the past

Steam is a place where PC gamers can buy and download games. They can also build a friends list and play many of those games online with those people. The library of games is so huge, you could spend many lifetimes getting through all of it. I like to think it is the Netflix of video games (Sorry GameFly).

Kyle Orland came out with this mega-post about the most popular games on Steam in 2014. The data is fascinating. I don’t want to pull too much from it, but the one thing that stuck out to me (which Kyle did not touch on) was Civilization: Beyond Earth. It’s a turn-based strategy game that takes place in the distant future when humanity is looking to settle new planets. Other Civilization games start off at the beginning of mankind. You pick a civilization and build it from the ground up, from inventing the wheel to nuclear weapons. Civ: BE took things in a little bit of a different direction. This is the chart that blew my mind:

arstechnica.com

arstechnica.com

What jumps out to you on this chart? You’re telling me that 2.1 million people bought Civilization: Beyond Earth and over half of those people didn’t play it? 1.3 million people spent $50 each on this game and have not played it. Kyle, my friend, how could you not pick up on this and run with it? Don’t worry, Reddit is on it. On the subreddit /r/civ, which encompasses all Civilization games, Civ players discussed why they just don’t play Civilization: Beyond Earth all that much.

“I got 53 hours out of BE and I felt I had done everything the game had to offer. I have 1200 hours in Civ V and there is still so much more fun to be had. I don’t even think I’ll bother buying the BE DLC unless it drastically changes the game.” – /u/Chuck_Morris_CE

Um, sir, that is a lot of hours to put into one game. (That’s exactly 50 days of gameplay for those keeping score at home.)

“Unlike Civ V, Beyond Earth lacks personality. Leaders are boring, Civs are almost all the same. Made up tech feels forced and quotes we all love civ series for are cringeworthy at best. UI also looks unpolished and ugly. BE isn’t bad game, it’s just bad Civilization game. I played it for 15 hours and have no desire to come back as for now. For comparison, I spent 230 hours with Civ V and It’s still one of most played games in my library.” – /u/Boland

Interesting, anecdotal, but interesting. And the top comment with over 1,100 upvotes?

“I bought it, played for a couple hours, then went back to civ V. This makes sense.” – /u/LRW22

Okay I think that settles it. It’s not that Civ: BE is a bad game. It’s a very different take on what makes Civ fun. Instead of a tech tree where you have to discover technology in a particular order, there is a tech web that allows you to go through it haphazardly. That’s one thing that turned a lot of players off according the the rest of the discussion. What is very clear is that people love Civilization V that hard. Like, 1,200 hours hard.

I’ve been playing Civ since Civilization II and I can say that I’ve loved every one of them up until Civ: BE. According to Steam, I’ve played 302 hours of Civ V, making it by far the most played game in my library. And Civ: BE? Seven hours. Like a lot of Civ fanatics, I was really pumped for Beyond Earth. After winning a Space Victory in other Civ games and watching your completed space colony launch to Alpha Centauri, I would always wonder what was next for my civilization. I really hope it was never what I found in Civilization: Beyond Earth.