Black Sand Studios

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!)

Half Pregnant

They say you can’t be half pregnant.  This is what slows me down from blogging, the thought that you are either in or out. I’m on the line. It has been awhile since I have posted and like most excuses reasons, they are varied and plentiful. It was partly time, passion, focus, desire and gaming. The Pie chart would look like this:

I know. Fancy. I still read a lot of blogs but I used to dedicate some serious time to reading and writing. Hobbies are fun and all, but I found new ones that also took away my time. At one point I thought I would shutter the blog on my anniversary (August 27th, Happy 7th!) but that felt really melodramatic and over the top. Especially for something that I have loved so long. If I set it free I wasn’t so sure it would come back, and being a nostalgic fool that would be hard to handle.

I have really stepped up being healthy. I get up at 5:00 am everyday, have a coffee, read the news, and then work out. I track my progress and stay focused. I have lost a lot of bad weight and added good muscle weight. I also have been focusing a lot on my diet. I feel happier, healthier, stronger and more satisfied with how I feel. I think it might add years to my life. I still drink beer and eat bad food now and again, but it’s in balance. This does seriously cut into my gaming time as I used to play late night when my wife went to bed. With a 5:00 am wake up time, I know that time is better spent with the sleep I need. C’est la vie, something always has to give!

And yet here I am. A burning desire to belong to Blognation ™ and to write, and to game (and think about gaming). Here I am, half blog-pregnant.

But I have been gaming!

The Everquest TLP servers have been amazing. I finally stepped away after getting multiple toons into the 30s as there is a promise of a bot-free TLP coming around Christmas time. One character logged in at a time would really take away the distractions of having every named camp perma-camped by AFK mages. It is a big problem. Also, the single person running full raid teams. I am looking forward to really playing it again once they launch that server as interdependence and team play was key in the core experience. The best part about EQ TLP is that they did modernize grouping and looting, while retaining a lot of the magic. I just do not want to invest more time in characters that I will be leaving behind, and preserve much more of the core experience when I go back. They haven’t announced whether or not you can transfer there (guessing no) but if that announcement comes that you can I may continue a bit. Either way, strange to believe that my time in Everquest actually isn’t over after all these years – and in many ways it is the only place providing a satisfying MMO experience.

True to my word, I am playing WildStar again! I said I would go back when it went F2P and I am there. I am really enjoying the story line and even the 5 man adventures. I do plan to take one Exile and one Dominion to cap to experience the story. It is a fun, furiously-paced game and in many ways is EQ-opposite but a nice spacey distraction when I have 30 minutes to play. They have fixed a lot of what made that game less fun and it’s worth playing now that  you can do it at your own pace. I will be giving them some money soon, as I do like supporting games that provide me with fair entertainment for my time.

I also downloaded Project Reality 1.3, which is now a standalone product. I am hungry for a FPS experience and this one was the best one out there, so I am going back. The download just finished last night (all 6+ gigs) and really looking forward to carving out some time to play. It is another one of those games that really need you to dedicate distraction free and focused gaming to get the most out of (and give the most in). Project Reality has provided the best platform for  memorable FPS gaming and it’s gritty realistic and rewarding of patient game play (and team play) is completely different from the other options out there.

EQ tore me away from The Secret World and although I am only playing it for the single player experience, there is a lot left to enjoy there and I also recently updated it. I am still at the savage coast and a ton left there to explore as well.

Feels good to write and good to be back to pluck away at things.

Support Project Reality!

I haven’t played PR for a couple of years (I haven’t played any PC FPSs in the same token) but I have written 6 posts that mentioned PR since 2010. I still believe it is the best shooter ever created for in depth realism, tactics, and genuine squad play that is completely absent in pretty much every other available shooter today. It is a community built mod and runs both on ARMA 2 and BF2 (I played the BF2 version) and Project Reality owns pretty much all of my FPS wow moments. I can’t recommend it enough

They are even talking about building a standalone product, of which I am anxiously awaiting. Since the game is mostly a labor of love they haven’t committed to a time frame.

I check in now and again to see what is new in Project Reality, and was sad to see the following announcement when I visited today.

The Project Reality Team is currently in a financial crisis and needs your support to help keep Project Reality alive!

The Project Reality Team develops modifications and games that are completely free for its community to download and play. The cost of Project Reality’s web server, domain names, code signing certificate, etc. however are not free. On average, it cost the team around $400 a month to keep developing Project Reality! Recently, our Google AdSense account was suspended for violation Google’s very strict content policy. This, along with not meeting our donation goals over the past couple of months, has caused our available funds to become dangerously low. Our dedicated community is still very strong and now more than ever we need your support to keep Project Reality going!

PR has been up and going for 10 years, so to see it in such trouble is disappointing. Still, I know some things have a life cycle and hopefully this isn’t the end for Project Reality.

Besides, what other shooter actually bothers to put in Canadian forces? Not even in snow gear!

So, I ask you to check it out and consider helping out. If you are one of those people who love kickstarting new shiny things, why not spend a little bit to help an older, beautiful thing keep going a while longer? While it is nice to build new skyscrapers keeping old castles around to enjoy is just as important.

Shooters, Consoles and Destiny – Oh My!

2 lions on the savana

I have a long love of First Person Shooters and much like the MMO genre it has pretty much left me behind. The FPS experience wanted today and how they are programmed are very much not the kind of FPS I enjoy. I cut my teeth on shooters with Rainbow Six multi-player ladder. Rainbow Six was a crazy concept in shooters – bullets hurt! So if you got shot, you died. This made you play a certain way that had a lot of sense to it – be careful, check your corners, rely on teammates. There wasn’t even bunny hopping. The cool thing about that time in gaming is that there was no matchmaking so you had to go to a forum to set up your matches, and after both sides would report back the score, and the ladder would move. It was awesome.

From there I did the Battlefield series and spent a LOT of time with Battlefield 2142. The vehicular components and 64 v 64 was just epic and while there were some elements I didn’t enjoy (radar, revive) I spent years playing that game in a clan with our own servers. FLOT (Forward Line of Own Troops) is still on my gamer tag in steam. Near the end of my run with BF2142 I discovered Project Reality and that is the perfect FPS experience for my taste. Strategy, building, one shot deaths – no bunny hopping commandos. No squad? good luck living. Medics were limited (dead you are dead) and they could sometimes stop bleeding, but only in limited amounts. The key in this game was that you never wanted to get shot and you played that way. I still consider it the best First Person Shooter experience on the market – as long as you have the patience to learn the ropes. They are working on a standalone product (it is currently a mod) and I have a few posts tagged with them if you want to read more.

I still enjoyed some parts of the Call of Duty series but it was just the solo experience. The stories were okay to play through. The multi-player I just couldn’t get into – too twitchy and I was really looking for the thrill and experience of surviving a gunfight. It became far too arcade-y for my preference.  Much like my patience for the future MMO that immerses, I am waiting for the day the FPS does as well. They just aren’t my style anymore.

I haven’t jumped into the new console era yet. My X-Box 360 plays all the new titles just fine and besides, I have a PC for “serious” gaming. Consoles are for “social” gaming on premise – to have a bunch of friends over playing Madden, or other games with 2+ people. Of course that is a great way to play on a console. My kid and his friends are not going near my PC, but their grimy little paws can manhandle an X-Box controller all day without  my worry. And have you ever played a FPS on a console? It pales in comparison to PC gaming. I think my principled stance on the new consoles (and much to the failure of the way X-Box One is trending) is the lack of backward compatibility. Surely on a $500 rig based on computer technology they could sort that out. I guarantee I would have bought an X-Box ONE if they could – now I am toying with a PS4. Either way, now I have to have two units hooked up to enjoy my back catalog – something the PC completely avoids. I just don’t see the point of upgrading for better graphics when my computer already outperforms both.

The new way I started using my console this year is for exercise. I have a nice 60″ LED in the basement that the X-Box is hooked up to, and my elliptical just happens to be facing that TV (albeit pretty far back). I have a personal commitment to health and do 3 or 4 nights a week (I said commitment – not crazy passion!) in one hour chunks. Diablo 3 has been a blast to play that way and I think Skyrim is next (I bought it but barely played it).  The controller is a huge help here as mouse and keyboard would be impossible while on the machine and the multitasking is awesome. The X-Eliptical 360 is a great way for combining gaming and health. Anyone out there get current gen with the X-Box ONE or PS4? Was it worth the pickup?

All the above being said I would be lying if I didn’t say I was interested in Destiny, the hot and upcoming shooter from Activision and of course you already know of this. There are some compelling elements – The setting itself looks fantastic and the opportunity for a story play through with MMO elements and persistent character growth is hard to turn down. My main concern when researching the title is the shooter on console experience. I know a ton of people do it and I am sure with practice it is something I can get used to – but that is a big departure from any way I have played FPS’s. Go check out some of their media (if you haven’t) and the character development assets looks like the meld of an FPS with the single player MMO experience of today. And because it is a meld, and not either/or, that seems really attractive to me.

Are you going to Destiny? And if you are, and on the X-Box 360, want to run with me? Literally (elliptical gaming) and figuratively (saving the universe).

My Influential 15

One of my favorite blogs to visit is The Ancient Gaming Noob (TAGN) and he recently posted an Influential 15  list – started by another blogger and other sites are also playing along. The parts I read indicated not too many rules, but just do not overthink it – only take 15 minutes, and list them out.

This sounds like fun. I am going in chronological order!

Mario Bros (arcade) (1985)

I spent most of my allowance money playing this game with two of my best friends at the local bowling alley. It was close enough to our school that we could run there at lunch breaks, and always went right after school as well – but just for 20 minutes before racing home. This introduced me to the side scrolling platform [honorable mentions: Ghost and Goblins, Castlevania, Bionic Commando]

Hardball (c64) (1987)

Two teams – the red, power hitting team and the blue, speedy team. That was it in this baseball game. My brother and I played for hours at home – nice to not have to be at the arcade. (I always got stuck with the blue team). [Honorable mention: Madden (I still buy it every few years]

Police Quest (PC) (1987)

My first foray into the Sierra games series (King’s quest, Space Quest, etc.) and it was always a weekend event at one of my friend’s houses who had it. I think it took us 6 months to complete, since we only had limited weekend time (we mostly played outside – kids those days!)[honorable mention – Maniac Mansion]

Street Fighter (Arcade, SNES) (1987)

Another arcade favorite the one on one bragging rights was a blast. Learning the combos, fighting friends (and arcade enemies) for the right to stay on the machine for the next challenger… flipping a coin for the left or right hand side. All sorts of home field advantages. [Honorable mention: Mortal Combat]

Star control 2 (PC) (1992)

Exploration, adventure, discovery. Space. Has anyone come close since? I am avoiding throwing my money at Star Citizen yet watching it closely. That is a completely separate blog post. [Honorable Mention: Wing Commander. If only for the space.]

Doom (PC) (1993)

We had huge contests at university with Doom – inter dorm rivalries. My philosophy class suffered fiercely. I made a philosophical argument about augmented reality to the prof and he BFG’d me. University was so cool. [Honorable mention: Half Life]

NHL 94 (SEGA) (1993)

Oh Sega hockey, with the one move that would score 100% of the time.. that was up to you do defend properly. Both ends of the rink, there was that ONE move. Yet it was still awesome. Plus bleeding heads.

X com (PC) (1994)

Turn based mastery. This is on many ‘best of ever” lists, so not going to explain its full awesome-ness. Many have explained it better than I ever could. Xcom is the perfect example of a game you loved but refuse to play it again. I have it through steam. It sucked to relive it – but awesome the first time around. We are not conditioned to accept failing the first X missions before we have a chance. (see what I did there?) [Honorable mention – Civ 1 – bit of a stretch, but very turn based]

Baldur’s Gate (PC) (1998)

I had played a lot of Pen and Paper games and this one reminded me the most of them. I hadn’t played a lot of D&D at the time  and this was my first real foray and experience into that. I don’t even remember if I won or what happened in the game – I just remember the hours spent hunched in the darkness… in amazement. Just one more encounter. One more.

Rainbow Six (PC) (1998)

The AI could be buggy as hell when you were planning your rescues, but this was an AMAZING shooter – one shot and you are dead, get caught/spotted and the hostages are dead. Great premise and superbly executed at the time. You could do many missions in many different ways and had the choice of your own path. The planning and thinking part was as exciting for me as the executions. And oh yes, permadeath! [Honorable mention: Counter Strike]

Everquest (PC) (1999)

The MMO game changer that has spawned 100 clones, for better or for worse (often better, jaded vets may argue worse. It doesn’t even matter anymore. It was awesome and really kickstarted the genre.) It has ruined MMOs for me since, but that is also because of the testserver play environment (hint: community). The rose colored glasses often adorned!

Sims (PC) (2000)

Sims the original was the first game that I could get my girlfriends to play. And my non-gaming roommates. It was the first time I realized games could be for everyone. Then I invented the Wii. (or should have, at least). All that being said, I am pretty sure the things my girlfriend at the time did to the Sims (or tried to do) made me realize that maybe she wasn’t the one. Sicko. May have saved my life.

Dark Age of Camelot (PC) (2001)

My second MMO I played the heck out of and my first real PVP experience was also amazing. I also played on the testserver (Pendragon) and the strength of the community there really improved the overall experience. Sadly, game developers have learned that test servers make bad for the quick hitting types of testing they want with enough sample size, and they don’t really exist anymore. The lesson they should have learned is that smaller, more dedicated communities make for stronger ties. Another post. DAOC taught me to embrace PVP and how humans always beat AI on experience – always.

World of Warcraft (PC) (2004)

What to say? The most successful MMO ever made took an inaccessible genre and made it easy for everyone to participate. While I have spent my fair share of time arguing WoW has hurt the MMO space in many ways, you cannot argue against its influence. I still go back every expansion, do the theme park rides, /hug and /hi to my friends still playing, and then out again.  I think the next MMO Blizzard makes is going to say a lot about what they have learned from WoW. I’m intrigued.

Battlefield 2142 (PC) (2006)

The multiplayer FPS I judge all other FPSs against. It was great. It was better than great – it was awesome. The kits, the vehicles, everything. COD always felt too twitchy and gamey in comparison (even the DICE successors did) and I started playing more strategic, slower paced shooters afterwards. BF2142 was just the perfect balance for *me*. [Honorable Mention: Project Reality]

That’s It!

There is my list! Crazy, and a *bit* sad that the most recent game launch on my list is 8 years old already, but influence is influence. As I re-read this there were a few I wanted to add (RTS such as Warcraft -or- Command & Conquer) but I decided to keep it pure – the ones that spoke to me first. I’m sure as I read through other’s lists I’ll have many an “aha!” moment. I hope mine brought along some positive smiles and memories!

Hopes and Dreams and Tools

Could EQN:L lead to a full blown platform to make our own games? While I don’t think so, I like to be positive and for a change think “why not”.

Very blue ocean thinking but take Landmark, add in Story Bricks, and an item editor\creator and quest builder and voilà – you have many tools to make custom MMOs. From my understanding not much programming is needed. The world building tools alone in EQN:L have proven that even I could build simple town assets or landscapes that players could traverse. Programmers are making the tools better all the time, lets make them great, add some scripting and unleash the collective MMOspace’s imagination.

I‘d bet we’d finally start seeing the games we want.

The best FPS I have played was community created with Project Reality (by Black Sand Studios) who have literally spent YEARS working for free, in a community across the globe in partnership. Graphics, scripting, game modes – everything!They have produced the best paced, most realistic shooter on a 10 year old engine. Rumor has it this effort will lead to a standalone title – I wish them the best and hope it happens. It has won many modding awards. Imagine if they had even better tools than were available for that old game (Battlefield 2)

Take MMO/World Building tools, and unleash them to the world. You know collectively gamers would come up with something incredible. The landscapes some alpha players have created in EQN:L rival those in published games I have played. Human beings have a desire for art, sharing, and collaboration – all things needed to create a true next gen MMO. Many would share their talents just to get creative license and experience on a project – which could lead to bigger and better things.

We crowdsource funding, why not crowdsource talent? Zooppa does this for companies. Instead of getting one solid idea from an advertising company that has been institutionalized, throw it out to the passionate creators on the planet. Put in an incentive, and watch the magic unleash. The proliferation of cheap HD cameras, computers, and editing software has pushed this renaissance – the tools. Are we really that far off?

Heck, we can build immersive, amazing games on 24 hour contests imagine what we could do with months or years. I believe all of us have a game – or part of a game – to share. Together we could make that a reality – if we only had the tools.

How could a publisher benefit? Many ways. Way back in 2008 I was arguing for different revenue models that could be beneficial for both player and developer. Licensing, % of sales, buying and selling of the creative content itself – EQN:L is building a model to support this already. Picture it on a bigger, grander scale.

Having a glass is half full kind of thought train here. I’ll return to regularly scheduled pessimism shortly.

 

The Sandbox Knows No Bounds

Interesting thread over on the Project Reality forums about putting together a Minecraft Tournament.

The PR community is a war inspired bunch, their hobby being tactical shooter games. A lot of the forum members are members of the military as well (although not exclusively) and in the Politics sub forum there is a lot of chatter on engagements around the world, discussions of various armies, etc.

With that in mind, I was a bit surprised to see the Minecraft tournament suggestion (yet equally delighted). The short premise being discussed: Two teams on a big Minecraft map, both sides get two hours to build whatever they want, and then they go to war. No respawns, either. One side wins, one is decimated.

I didn’t expect MC to be a hit with the gamers in that community, and here is yet another way to enjoy the game in a manner I didn’t think it would be used for. I am definitely signing up and I’ll let you know how it goes (if it goes down).

Goes to show, if you (let them) build it, they will come.

Avoiding Disasters

Including Cataclysm.

A part of me was actually hoping I would have interest to buy the expansion, and based off the generaly quietness of blognation I may be in the minority. Although, the things the bloggers have turned out seem to be a lot of ‘content is almost done, when is the next expansion’ fun little remarks.

Quoting our good friend Syp here, when talking about a game that has all the things our MMO’s don’t:

One Chance made me think a lot about the choices we make in MMOs, and how few of them are (a) permanent, (b) impactful, and (c) meaningful

Will change ‘few’ to ‘none’ (in game decisions, anyway. I suppose our choice of guild can contain all three).

I’ve been only playing Project Reality. It’s pure awesome.

Project Reality 0.95

I wrote a bit about Project Reality when 0.8 was released as it was my first experience with it. After my gaming break I recently rebooted up the franchise in it’s 0.95 version. This Battlefield 2 mod does so much right for my gaming style and in general, that I want to share, promote, hug it, and force all of my Call of Duty/bunny hopping/Medal of Honor/dolphin diving friends to play it. And appreciate it.

You won't survive long without friends.

A bit of history – the mod is created by Black Sand Studios, which is a group of FPS enthusiasts who decided to improve the realism level of  Battlefield 2 way back in 2004. They do a lot of modding of various titles but Project Reality is their flagship. It is one of those ‘labour of love’ projects, as the mod is free to the community.

In the most simplest of comparisons, PR is EQ if Call Of Duty is WoW. That’s not meant to scare you off – there isn’t progression in PR (it’s a 64 multiplayer map game) but strip down all the silly from what we get in new FPS titles, and all the fluff that detracts from the experience, and you have the most solid core gameplay for any FPS out there with depth, consequence, reward and decision making that is sadly absent in the FPS of 2010.

More PR goodness after the break.

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