2K Games

X-COM 2 Misses

Clever blog title is clever. I am talking about X-COM 2, and 2 misses the game had that should be updated / changed for expansions, or X-COM 3. What is that category called on Wheel of Fortune?

Before and after. Boom.

Now that we are completely off the topic at hand, here are the two biggest misses X-COM 2 had. Hot off the heels of my 40 hour play through (which I loved!)

  1. Environments. The entire world is now woodlands or futuristic city. There were missions in Africa, Canada, Australia, heck, the whole world! Yet, there were no sand dunes. No snowfall. There was also no wind, rain, etc. etc. It was very immersion breaking to play a global game with only two backdrops, and while I appreciated that we only did assaults on sunny, clear days, the likelihood of that happening is extremely low. Also, why no missions at night?
  2. The six soldier limit. There is a huge game opportunity here to expand that to 12, even 18. Imagine how crazy that would have been. Considering how fun and engaging the 6 person teams were, I think that could only have been improved. I am not saying EVERY mission, but I don’t see why you couldn’t have 2 or 3 Skyrangers delivering simultaneous missions.

I am assuming both were a limitation of the engine (which does chug under the current conditions often).. yet, with all the sales the game had it would be a reasonable expectation that improving the game for the next iteration could also increase that number.

Still, a must play in my book and after a short break I’ll be trying Ironman mode to save the planet. On sunny, clear days in two locations near you.

20 Hours of X-COM 2

After 20 hours of X-COM 2 I have emphatically decided it is the best game I have played in five years. I don’t know which exact game it is replacing from 5 years ago as the new best, only that it is so good and so perfect for me right now, that surely it is at least the best in the last 5 years. Maybe the last 10.

There are several things that hits the nail on the head just perfectly for me.

  • It is challenging, but not frustratingly so. I bet if I notched it up a difficulty level or two that it could become that way, but I have a lot of upward movement. I am already dreaming of doing an Ironman campaign (after I complete the experience the first time) at a higher difficult level. It really flows so well right now.
  • Character customization and care is just right. I think there is something to say about games where I control people (the Commander!) instead of being the people/person. When I do something dumb in WoW, I do it to my own character. When I order my sniper to hit a rooftop solo and he walks into a couple aliens and gets killed, I feel like I killed him and feel shame and remorse. I care more about my X-COM team than most of the MMO characters I have played.
  • The Meta Game of research, engineering, scanning and salvage feels way smoother than X-COM of 2012 and is a big improvement.
  • The game completely checks off the box of “just one more day, one more turn”. Which sucks you into a mission. And some new research, that needs some more supplies. Which sucks you into “just one more day, one more turn…”
  • The Avatar program is a nice, threateningly reminder that you can’t just dawdle along (hello, Fallout 4. Lost child where?) and builds tension.

I love the turned based format – it really works. It also makes me dream (again) of what other games could be made that would be perfect in this format. Mechwarrior, I am looking at you.

Still, until then, I have a game to complete, and a new mode to get into right after. Looking forward to expansions already, which is a bit silly (I know) but hey, it’s nice when you hit it off with a game just right.

I Met Bile

Bile

One thing I particularly love about MMOs (well, the old experience for sure) is that you made bonds playing them. Those stopped for me when I stopped playing WoW, but I have several people as Facebook friends that I have never met in real life. There are a few that I can’t wait to, despite us not playing for years together. Those are some pretty solid bonds.

I travel for work so when I end up in a city where I have friends I like to see them. Fate would have it that I would meet my fellow Shadowblade from DAOC (circa early 2000’s) named Bile. Since we have been Facebook friends I had the general gist of his life, what he did, his wife, the things he did for fun – but it was special to sit down face to face, hug it out, and drink some solid and delicious beers together. We didn’t talk a ton about video games (both of us play far less) but when we did it was with a certain fondness and twinkle in the eye. Remember that one six hour session where we fought back and forth with the Hibs, nearly winning that first keep back on early testserver days on Pendragon? Yes. We both did. (I wiped on the keep master, but that is another story.)

I wonder if today’s gamer makes those bonds. I’d suggest no, since there is less time and human commitment with LFG’s, etc. But that isn’t fair for me to say since I barely play MMOs anymore – and the ones I do offer fantastic single player experiences.

X-Com 2

I bought it last night, but haven’t fired it up yet. I loved the original (the real original) and even played through the expansions. X-Com circa 2012 was a fantastic, friendly remake and I look forward to all I have read about the good of X-Com 2. Except the fast paced missions. I am such a planner and safe player that that will definitely be out of my element. I’m sure I will grow to appreciate it. Look at me, always on the cutting edge of new games!

Diablo III

I finally hit 70 in Diablo III and now have 15 Paragon levels. It’s been an easy to jump in and grind game with my son, and we have put in an hour a night several times the past week. I own both the PC and Console version but played it on the Console only – 60″ TVs and company is better on the big screen. I am regretting that now because there is no season play on consoles. Also, with all of the poor doom and gloom with Blizzard right now, why aren’t they making an expansion for this game? New class, new scenes, new money. I am sure people would pay for it!

I have a new blog being launched soon, but not about gaming. A new passion I have picked up! I’ll be announcing and releasing soon!

Birthdays and Forums

My birthday was yesterday!

I was reminded of such while driving home from a hockey game at 12:04 am by 2K forums. While I was appreciative of the well wishes I did have to chuckle a bit. The last time I posted or visited those forums was in 2008.

We at 2K Forums would like to wish you a happy birthday today!

Thank you 2K Forums. I did only sign up there to deal with a game breaking issue for me with Bioshock. Still, it’s the thought that counts! A good opportunity here would have been to say “we haven’t seen you in a long time, maybe some of these posts will interest you?”, or even “here is $10 off one of our games at Steam in celebration!”. A little silly to send me a one-liner during a marketing opportunity.

They weren’t the only ones – thank you Dungeon and Dragons Online!

We at Dungeons & Dragons Online Forums would like to wish you a happy birthday today!

Wait.. that looks awfully familiar. Are they sharing boards? Maybe using the same software? Aren’t you free to play now – why not give me a message to entice me to maybe download and try the game out again! Maybe some free currency to get me started! (I did really enjoy it at beta test and launch.) I don’t think I have played since then either.

Not to be outdone, a game that I played more than the others (and have tried to promote on this site often, even though I haven’t played in a while) was the good folks at the Project Reality Forums.

We at Project Reality Forums would like to wish you a happy birthday today!

I don’t remember the last time I posted there either, it has been so long. Although I did re-download the game recently. That message (besides being identical to the other two) could have been so much better with a “check out our latest patch / video / update” message as well.

Finally, I did get one from a board I have checked recently!

Happy Birthday from your friends at Cruisers Forum; we wish you all the best in the year to come.
May your boat be leak free.
May your sails be in good repair.
May the winds be fair, the weather kind and
May your days be filled with the exquisite pleasure of new adventures, fabulous destinations and excellent friendship.

Happy Birthday!

If they were selling anything, I’d probably buy it. Look, a modicum of effort was given. It probably took them 5 minutes to set that up. I have been toying with the idea of buying a sailboat so have been reading a lot there to understand what I would be getting myself into.

If a general interest forum can do that, companies that live or die off of sales probably could too. The constant reminder that for digitally native companies they leave a lot to be desired in terms of customer engagement. These are easy misses, low hanging fruit, and entry level marketing think.

My other takeaway here is how few forums I actually sign up for now (well, since 2008, apparently) since most information is more readily available elsewhere. Also, that a whole slew of other forums didn’t bother to wish me a happy birthday – probably because they sorted that I stopped visiting there at some point. In 2009 when I brought this up I had received birthday wishes from Pirates of the Burning Seas and Warhammer Online as well – but they have a fair excuse for missing it this year (and all years upcoming!)

I Win X-Com

Lovely game.

I think there were some great opportunities to flesh out the plot and story much deeper but perhaps that wasn’t core to the tactical “sim” from the outset. The production quality, gameplay, and spirit to the original was kept well in tact and exceeded my expectations. I wasn’t sure if it would live up to my high expectations – but it did. Ultimately a satisfying gaming experience.

My favorite squaddie “Pitbull” didn’t end up the sacrificial lamb at the end of story which would have been very fitting but there was no way for X-Com to know she was my favorite. Would have been a nice death to end the story and plot elements but not that big of a deal. I immediately jumped into the expansion and playing through again – will be interesting to see the improvements.

I am most excited for The Long War mod to the game – it feels like it would be the better game of the three (counting it as it’s own) but I really want to get through the expansion first that introduces new elements. It is like playing in the minor leagues. I was in AA with the original and now I’m in AAA now but gunning for the big leagues. I upped the difficulty this time around (the first was rarely a challenge) and I am excited to move up. Have a couple weeks ahead of me to get there on my current gaming schedule. It plays on my Surface Pro 2 so bonus that I can play off my main gaming rig.

My first few thoughts on suggested improvements still stand (reprinting them below for ease of reading) plus some more:

  • Squad facing – I loved this in the original game as placement and cover for your squaddies was paramount. Avoiding flanks, coverage, safety, etc.
  • Challenge – yes, I am on Normal, but it is pretty easy (so far). I’m glad it is not as punishing as the original and I can always up the difficulty on a new campaign but not really interested in restarting. This isn’t surprising of course.
  • Base placement – you pick a continent but not an exact place. I was always a fan of Northern continental bases. What other game let’s you make Canada a focus, where you can save the world and eat a lot of Maple Syrup?
  • Squad armor graphics – little too much I think. I wish they started off more like soliders and less like Mechs.
  • Squad size limit – give me 8! Why not 10?
  • Map sizes – Maybe it is just because it is early for me (15 hours in) but all the maps seem really thin. Not much to explore. Go forward in the way you are facing and you will find the bad guys. In the original I loved having to cover all sides of the ship.
  • Map flavor – need more interesting backdrops. Every UFO I have shot down lands in the woods. I want it to crash into a football stadium
  • Choice of Nations – this is nitpicky – but I want some Canadian troops! Didn’t get one. Maybe that is editable with a mod, but I kept waiting for my own, personal, Captain Canuck.

I know you are thinking “Thanks Isey! Thanks for looking at a game well over 2 years old” but thanks to our good friends at steam they are giving away this awesome series (both the original and the expansion for $16 CDN). Or they were rather, last week. (it will probably be on sale for $6 bucks in another month or so). If you haven’t played this game now is the time. Even if you never played the original this title does enough to show you what all the hubbub was all about. Tactical glory!

I’ll report back after the Long War Mod and all the difficulties and challenges that represents as that will be truer to the original X-Com experience.

Confusing Sales

I understand the mindset behind the Steam sales – a lot of times they are games that have been out for months – if not years, so getting $1.99 for a $19.99 game past it’s prime has some sense behind it – because normally, you would just get zero.

Regardless of what customers you piss off.

What I don’t understand as much is why prime games are discounting before they even launch. It is creating a culture (that is probably already created) of discounting that once you go down, you can’t get away from. This is why Subway now sells $3 meal deals where once they were $10. They discounted to $8, then to $6, then to $5, and now $3. Soon they will have to give you money for you to eat their “food”.

This first happened when Green Man Gaming discounted WildStar, arguably one of the biggest MMO launches this year (or even the past two years) offered me a 25% discount. Now they are at it again, with 25% off Civilization: Beyond Earth. A game I was happily going to pay full price for.

Yes, sure, perhaps the only thing getting hurt is the retail price of new games but all this is proving is that the base price of new releases is based on nothing anyway, and that we are just getting fleeced from the get go. As an industry this launch discount is a bad practice and hurts the industry overall.

Save the discounts for Steam sales after the game has had it’s run, not at the point where there should be the most excitement and most willingness to pay full price and support the game. I have zero loyalty to GMG for this and if the only reason why you are buying from a company is because of price discounting that company probably won’t have a long run at things – if pricing is your only advantage, anyone can easily copy that.

For an industry that has been around for so long, it still feels like it is making young industry mistakes.

Customer Service Win

After reading this great customer service example over at World of Shadow, I’m back thinking of my own CS purchase experiences in the gaming world. Of course, from there, I can’t help but continue to think, and discuss, why customer service basics don’t flow over into the gaming sphere.

In my first link above, the author purchased from Riot (a la League of Legends fame) and their internal records notified him that within the preset 2 week time frame of his purchase, the item he bought had a price reduction. They credited his account the difference.

In my second link, I bought a game off of Steam for $19.99, only to have it go on sale the next day for $1.99. I was politely told “too bad, so sad” (aka – pound salt) when I asked if it was possible to get a credit for the difference.

The author from the first link is already planning a second purchase from Riot for their good customer service. I haven’t bought anything from Steam since ( and almost a full year) and probably won’t again. Not because I’m that jaded of a buyer, but because there are other means to buy games, and I’d prefer to purchase through services that value me as a client.

Not that I’ll have much luck finding a retailer that rewards customer satisfaction. In the most basic of terms, customer satisfaction is the best predictor of future purchases. You would think the gaming world would get that by now – instead they seem intent that it is better to not get some money from many people, and get full price from people who do buy.

Some quick and easy ideas on how to retain customer satisfaction in gaming after the jump.

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Steam Sale Stings! (also – my Baseball Game is now a RPG)

I picked up MLB 2k10 from 2k sports over the weekend. I enjoyed 2k9, and the $20 price tag is a nice entry level. Today I check out steam, and that same title is now on sale for $1.99. 90% off! While that is indeed impressive, now my valued purchase makes me feel like I was bent over the virtual counter. I emailed them to see if I can get credit (which I’ll promptly turn around and buy a different title with anyway).

I’ve always been a proponent of the Steam sales strategy and this is the first time it has bitten me in the bottom. I’ll update you if they do the right thing. If not, of course, then I suppose I’ll never buy anything off Steam again that ISN’T on sale. Should be a no brainer that due to the proximity of the sale I should get credit. We’ll see.

MLB 2k10 has ‘My Player’ mode, and it is a nice marriage of sports and rpg. You make a player, customize looks, etc and then go into the MLB draft. You can choose the team you want to play for or randomize it. I was drafted by the Giants.

What happens next is hella fun. You only play your role. I picked a starting pitcher, so I just pitch. That’s it. The games go by quickly (well, except for that nasty game where I earned a 7.45 ERA) and the pitcher/hitter interface is really well done.

The interesting part is how you improve your player. There are mini goals in real time (ie: do not allow baserunner to advance into scoring position, do not walk batter, strike out the side, etc) and successfully achieving them gives you points, which you can then spend to upgrade your abilities. You also get points for baseball worthy things (strikeouts, flyouts, groundouts, inning with no runs, innings with no hits, etc). Pitching, fielding, and batting all have separate point pools you earn for achieving things in game. Bonus idea is that you get 2x the points if it’s a key matchup – either a division/geographical rival (this happened when I got the start against the Oakland A’s) or if it’s a key positional matchup (this happened when I pitched against a star pitcher as a rookie). It’s pretty well thought out.

I’m playing above Pro level and getting a feel for how the game plays – spent the whole first season in the minors, midway year two called up to the bigs. Added a pitch type (Screwball) and working on my stats along the way. Winning and losing, but having fun. Supposedly you can also get traded to other teams if the GM deems it necessary.

Nice to see the RPG elements introduced into the PC sports game genre, although I suppose there aren’t a ton of players who swap their playtime between Fallout : NV and Sports.

(PS – I still hate you EA sports for stopping game development for the PC! I miss you football!!)

Skills Baby

Suzina over at KTR posts about a couple recent gaming experiences in LOTRO. It’s a good read for several reasons, but mostly because it captures the essence of what is great about MMO’s – success and failure. I shared a snazzy yet true golf analogy in the comments section about “hooks”. MMO’s live on hooks. 

Psychochild made a comment in the thread about the beauty of Suz’s post (we are tight like that where I can nickname her unashamedly.) and that those are experiences you can’t have in single player games – and my first reaction was that he was right, followed up with a “wait, is he?” The answer is yes and no. Suspense suspended after the cut.

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Missed Marketing Opportunity – Take 2

I had a birthday over the weekend. Actually scaled back working a bit to enjoy it, and what was planned as a nice quiet dinner out with my wife, followed by some quality couch time (with our little one spending the night at Nana’s) turned out to be a full blown surprise party. It was a ton of fun and I have no clue how my wife managed to organize the party without me finding out! Thanks to everyone who attended (both in person, and in spirit).

On my birthday my peripheral email address started pumping out some neat emails. I use an old email address for all my forums and MMO access to keep my other email addresses spam free. I am not sure how new of a thing this is, but I was pleasantly surprised to see several “happy birthday” notices from forums I am a member of. Warhammer Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and the 2K9 forums especially – as they are all people I wasn’t always the “nicest” to – both on the forums and here. Also, I don’t support WAR or POTBS through subscriptions, to be clear.

So it was nice to get the form email from them regardless. Birthday’s get a special emotional response from people. I thought about those emails, and immediately concluded how cool it would have been if they had given me a little present to boot. Hence the title of this post. More after the break.

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Customer Support 2K9 – Updated

*I noticed some Google searches pushing people to this blog post. I DID find a solution (all on my own) and I posted it in my 2k9 forums thread – linked in the article below. GOOD LUCK if you are having the same problems!*

Customers suck, right?

We bitch and moan about EVERYTHING! Go read technical support forums. Whine whine whine. Threats – both against the company, and the people who are trying to help. Customers are impossible to please – so it is understandable that companies have varying degrees of how they do – and don’t – attempt to. I consider myself an “ideal” customer. I know things take time to remedy, and besides essential living services I give that time to be fair. I don’t make unrealistic or false threats. I know the people who are helping me are paid poorly, and have a specific job to do, in a manner that is typically scripted and must be followed. (“Is it plugged in?” = le sigh). I am also competent enough with a PC that I generally just find my own fixes on the internet and make it work. I rarely contact customer support unless it is the last beacon of hope for me. The past three months I have contacted four different companies regarding software/hardware questions and problems and I am going to share my results with you – ranked from worst to best. There is a bit of a surprise here. After the break.

The absolute worst ranking company isn’t one company but a handfull, all lumped together. Boutique laptop companies. I talked about my search for a kickass portable gaming rig here. I still haven’t received contact from any of them after I even wrote FOLLOW up emails. The crux was this: I have $3000 burning a hole in my pocket and I want to give it to you. I want to give it to you BADLY. You have competitors with the same product, so I am going to choose the company that gives me the best time frame to build in. Just send me an email with an expected ship date and my money is yours. ALL yours. Zero replies. Astonishing, really. If I sent YOU an email, saying here, take $3000 just tell me how long it will take you to deliver on your chosen profession on my chosen product, I am pretty sure you would hit “reply” to that email. If not the first one, than the second. Sad. Good news is I learned an online friend of mine builds laptops with similar specs and can get wholesale prices on parts, so now he gets my business. Shocking though, right? Lumps of Coal.

Equally as bad is 2K games. My first (and possibly last) 2K games title was Bioshock off of steam. I didn’t check beforehand, but there are major, major problems with Bioshock and their audio system (FMOD) in Vista 64. One thread alone with Vista troubleshooting has 3000 replies. That is just one thread, dating back to 2007. There are hundreds of others. I made my own thread 6 days ago. I still haven’t received a reply from anyone there, except for one other person with the same problem as mine saying “good luck getting a response”. My first post listed my specs, my issues, and all the workarounds I have tried (none work). I made it half joking but I had already spent ~15 hours at that point trying their “fixes”. 15 hours is a lot of self customer service, so figured it was time to ask the pros. I made the post a bit funny to show I wasn’t angry but really needed help. The following day from that post, I realized I forgot to add other pertinent information, so I made a second post. I had also learned at the FMOD boards they had a fix done – but it had to be coded into the game for a patch – and of course the FMOD folks encouraged everyone to speak to the developer as it couldn’t be fixed on their end. I added that tidbit in. I also added in at this point that there is no way I am buying Bioshock 2 if they can’t get Bioshock 1 to work after being out a full year, and FULLY AWARE of the problems. That is not a “threat”, it is an honest observation. After spending 24 realtime hours at this point to get their product working on a completely up to date, great gaming rig, the cracks in the quality of programming at 2K games is really showing. The fact they hadn’t solved this problem (a year later) shows they don’t care for their own titles – or customers. 3 full days later I realized I hadn’t received a response yet, so I asked a fair question – whether or not Bioshock has been abandoned by 2K games (they are working on the sequel) and whether they planned on patching or fixing the code. It is a fair question. Yesterday I found out there may be a problem (*I* found it out – no one told me from 2K games. I had to keep searching and working on it by myself) with my audio drivers (which I had previously thought fully updated) so I patched them – and got brand new errors. So I posted those errors and also asked if the 2K technical support forums were the correct avenue for me to be searching for my answers to my technical problems with a 2K product (should be a rhetorical question, I know, but I just wanted to make sure). So, after almost a full week, ZERO responses. Sad, right? Dead kittens in a sack.

Now we tip the scales on the good. I had an issue with a Steam purchased game so I set up a ticket (it was Bioshock, btw. HAHA!) I immediately received a response saying my email would be read within 24 hours. Thank you. A response – I don’t care that it was automatically generated, but I received a response nonetheless. Three days later I had my answer. Three days isn’t perfect of course, but Three days for a definitive answer to my question is very well acceptable by me, and fair for a company that probably receives 1000’s of inquiries. Silver star to you, Steam!

Gold Star? You will never guess it, because they are the most evilest and terrible gaming company on the planet – EA games. I had two tickets with them this year, one for BF2142, and a second for Warhammer Online. I get the immediate auto-generated response – again, I am fine with this as at least I know my submission got through. My BF2142 issue was responded to, and solved, within 24 hours. My Warhammer Online problem was responded to the SAME DAY. So, all evil aside (I am pretty sure reading blogs and whatnot they actually hate their customers – right?) at least I know that they support their products and respond to me as a customer.

As an online customer living in an online world I do not have the time to sit on hold on a phone line. It has to be far cheaper and more effective for them to hire a person to read forums and emails anyway. That is why I give ample time, knowing other customers were there before me. I can see it. As a customer, all I really want is a fair and honest response so I can meter my expectations. “Yes, we are working on a fix, but it is 2 months away” would actually satsify me – I have a lot of other games I can play in the meantime, and I can quit trying to juryrig the title and wait for the definitive fix. “No, we are not going to patch that title anymore, we have all of our resources focused on new and exciting titles to make sure the same problems do not occur in our future games” – I would accept that too – and MAYBE would even try Bioshock 2. I will just return BS (haha, funny acronym considering the circumstances) and put those funds towards their newer, better, actually functioning title. “Thank you for taking the time to contact 2K games. We have a high volume of customer service requests at this time, and will get to yours as soon as possible.” I may even still like 2K games with that response. Why? Because it is a response. Any response shows they actually have an inkling of care for their customers.

Do you know of a company that has great customer service? What companies do you know of that have terrible CS? Are the companies consistent, or does it vary from person to person? I would like to make a list of companies I know who are servicing their customers and stick to them to avoid future bad experiences.