Space Engineers and the Joy of Building Stuff

Lighting effects are pretty!

A few weeks ago, I was chatting to a colleague of mine about computer games and that. This, by itself, is not unusual or noteworthy, but after a pleasant period of agreeing that games are pretty great we ran into a sudden difference of opinion.

She asked if I played Minecraft.

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To the Mun: Adventures in KSP

Space is big. Really big.

Kerbal Space Program is… probably best described as a sandbox space program simulator. Except that doesn’t really tell you everything or even anything. Okay, so KSP is a game where you take control of the space program of an amusingly incompetent race called the Kerbals, build spacecraft of various types, try to get them into space and then try and do things with them. Things you can try to do include getting into a stable orbit of Kerbin (the Kerbals’ home planet), visiting the Mun (that’d be the moon), landing on the Mun, getting back to Kerbin and landing without exploding, crashing or crashing and then exploding. This is often rather hard because PHYSICS DAMN IT.

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Crashed in Space: A Sword of the Stars II Diary

I’ve owned Sword of the Stars 2 since it was released about six months ago. I have yet to finish a single game. More than that, I have yet to make contact with another player, even in the smallest size galaxy! The game is incredibly prone to crashing, breaking, not working, working in a way other than intended and closing itself without warning at random intervals. That said, I am very fond of the original Sword of the Stars and the development team have been patching the game an average of two times a week since it was released.

We’re now on Revision 20461c. No, this isn’t a beta, it’s a live game. Yeah, they screwed up quite badly.

I do enjoy giving things a chance though! What follows is my attempt to play a fairly small scale game vs the AI with three players. I shall be the Sol Force, otherwise known as the standard-issue decent at pretty much everything Humans.

Admiral on the Bridge!

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Command and Conquer Alliances

So, Durkonkell’s not about very much at the moment. Fortunately, here’s Semseye! He volunteered to play C&C Alliances so you don’t have to. Truer sacrifice has never before been seen.

Command and Conquer games for me have started to go down hill since Renegade come out. They decided that people didn’t want to play the typical “Command and Conquer” game that they already knew people loved, and headed in the direction on the FPS (First Person Shooter). Although this game did have some fun moments I just couldn’t get into it. I think the main problem was that, because it was running with the C&C title, people expected different things from it. There was no base build mode for one. One of the main things I love about a C&C game is making a base, building walls around it and making it impenetrable. I will add that Red Alert 2 and the Yuri’s Revenge add-on were also good games, and will probably be more then happy to play them today. If we jump ahead a bit it looks like they just couldn’t be asked any more. They decided to take one of the main thing I loved about C&C. Base building was no more! Someone decided that people didn’t like building bases and set the game up so that you have a certain amount of units from the start of the mission and you use these to complete it. But anyway, I am here to talk about the new C&C interweb game that is now on an open beta for everyone to try and is meant to be “Free”… Hmmmm.

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The Custom Scrolls: Skyrim, the Creation Kit and Fear

I’ve been playing with the Creation Kit! I even made something. Here’s me complaining about what a pain it was to implement a simple spell. If you’re wondering when the next Skyrate’s Life is going up… soonish. I haven’t forgotten!

Once again, Skyrim has sunk its bloody great teeth into me, but this time it’s even worse – the Creation Kit is here, and it brings with it the Steam Workshop. The workshop simplifies the process of sharing and downloading mods. This is good, because it means quick, easy access to thousands of mods, and steam-style automatic updates. This is bad, because… I needed this time for doing things! Things other than playing with dozens of mods and mucking about in the creation kit, that is.

Seemingly offtopic tangent: I’ve been following a webcomic-interactive adventure-type thing recently. It’s called Prequel, and features the continuing ‘adventures’ of Katia Managan, a basically inept but immensely likeable Khajiit who arrives in pre-Oblivion Cyrodil to try and make a new start. It’s beautiful, wonderfully written and features lovely animated GIFs and interactive flash bits. Kazerad’s put a lot of effort into this. You should definitely read it! Don’t be put off when things look like they’re spiralling downward though, push on through – he’s got a story to tell here.

Why is this only seemingly offtopic then? Because Katia uses ‘Eye of Fear’ (one of the Khajiit racial powers) on a regular basis and with varying degrees of success. For some reason, Eye of Fear didn’t make it into Skyrim.

The Creation Kit appears.

I decided to add Eye of Fear back into the game as a way of learning a bit about the Creation Kit. It seemed a simple enough task to begin with. Here’s how it went…

Spells, Spell Effects and Sounds: Learning to implement a simple Skyrim racial Power in 30 ‘easy’ steps!

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Let me tell you about Star Trek Online

 

"Captain, why are we standing waist deep in this coolant?" "Stop talking and look heroic."

STO has gone Free to Play for former subscribers, and the rest of the world soonish. What’s it like?

I’ve been playing STO on and off since about half way through the Beta. I was an early adopter, played in the early access bit and have subscribed and unsubscribed about four times now. I feel reasonably qualified to say that it’s really not a bad game, and that actually it does some things very well. With that said, it does some things quite badly, too. First, let’s talk about the three things it gets really, really right.

The first thing that strikes you is that the character customisation is really magnificent, especially if you’re comparing it to WoW or TOR. It doesn’t just put them to shame, it dishonours them in front of their families, challenges them to a duel and then systematically dismantles them leaving them bereft of the smallest accomplishment or worthiness. What’s more, you can completely re-customise your character at any major station and perform the same level of customisation for all of your officers. Unique looking character and bridge crew? Certainly. Distinctive uniform for you and your officers? That’s there, too.

You’ll see your characters quite a bit, while wandering around the stations and planets that form STO’s ‘cities’ and mission backdrops. The best part of the game though involves NOT seeing your character – Spaaace Combaat! The ship-to-ship battles have always been the most consistently playable parts on both factions. Combat is fluid, fun and – most importantly – feels appropriately Star Trek-y. If you’re a veteran of previous Star Trek titles on PC, I think the best way to describe it is as a cross between Bridge Commander and Starfleet Command. The many and varied bridge officer abilities add a tactical aspect – your choice of bridge officer abilities can dramatically alter both your role and effectiveness in combat.

Your choice of ship class also has a significant effect on how you play. The slow, ponderous cruisers sidle up alongside an enemy and pour broadside fire into them. The agile escorts mount absurdly powerful weapons along the front aspect, but have to manoeuvre hard to keep their bow towards the target as long as possible and spread damage out along its weaker shields. The Klingon bird of prey is even more manoeuvrable, but can’t mount as many heavy weapons and is even more fragile. A bird of prey would be at a disadvantage in any fair fight.

A canny BoP captain takes action to ensure he’s never in a fair fight. The BoP is the only ship class that can cloak whilst in combat, meaning you can drop cloak, sneak attack an enemy with a devastating burst of rapid fire cannons, turn hard to stay out of their primary weapon arcs, recloak and come around for another attack. A pair of Birds of Prey working together can take down even superior combatants if they’re competently captained. The space combat game is pretty deep (like space! Eh). I think the best thing I can say is that writing about it makes me want to patch up my STO client and take my Sovereign out for a spin.

The third thing is really important: The foundry. The foundry is Cryptic’s name for their built-in user generated content tools which allow players to author and publish their own missions within the game. You spend all of your levelling time in STO playing through the episodes (STO’s quests or missions). Once you reach the level cap, there aren’t any more missions. You have fleet actions, the 5-man heroic Special Task Force missions aaand… PvP. There are the occasional injections of feature episodes from the developers, but there’s just no way they can continue producing high-quality content at the rate that players consume it.

The foundry is brilliant. It gives players a huge library of user generated missions to play though. Some of them will be poorly written or riddled with errors. Some of them will just be poorly designed, too hard, too easy or openly absurd. But in my experience, there are enough really good missions to keep you entertained in between doing other things in game (and of course doing other things out of the game. When you feel like it, you just drop in and play a couple of foundry missions). Many of these missions are:

  1. Better written and designed than anything Cryptic have put together, and Cryptic have assembled some pretty good missions over the past couple of years.
  2. Much closer to the feel of Star Trek than many of the official missions. There’s a lot of shooting things in this game – it IS an MMO, after all – but many of the foundry missions involve diplomacy, exploration, investigation, time travel, anomalies… and shooting. Some of the foundry missions are the closest thing we’ll ever get to being in a Star Trek episode – one starring OUR captain and crew!

The foundry gives players a way to tell their own stories, and to explore familiar sci-fi situations. Finally, last time I was active on the forums (a couple of months ago), Cryptic were actually recruiting for I think the first time since the game’s release. They wanted to pick up more mission designers and work on releasing more, better content. Their primary source for new mission designers? The top-rated foundry authors. This is a company that really works hard at integrating and working with the community, and that’s something to support.

What else? Ground combat is… improved. It’s much closer to being fun than it was before. Maybe it’s improved even more since I’ve been away from the game, I don’t know. Regardless, you get to look at your wonderful customised captain and crew! Honestly, I’ve spent more time in the character customisation in STO than I have playing some entire games.

STO has a PvE queue, something which is conspicuously absent from TOR. There are potential reasons for this. It still irritates me to stand around doing nothing but spamming “LF Tank for Hammer Station. Just 1 tank! That’s all we need. There must be a tank out there! Please. We’ve been here for hours.” I understand it now has new and improved endgame PvE content, too, along with splendid new STF armor for both Federation and KDF characters.

The new Duty Officer system is pretty neat. I played with it during the F2P beta, and it’s pretty compelling. It’s main objective is for you to have something to do during downtime, like when you’re travelling across the galaxy. The galaxy’s pretty big, and it takes a while…

Alright, so I’ve reached the point where I’m just saying things that won’t make any sense if you haven’t played the game recently. Computer, activate conclusion Durkonkell sierra two seven.

Conclusion!

I think Cryptic are actually very talented MMO developers. I say this despite the disappointing shambles that was STO on day one (it wasn’t even vaguely ready for release). They have been persistently underfunded (The former executive producer Dan Stahl once remarked that his team was smaller than the team at their local Starbucks) and they’ve still managed to innovate in a couple of really interesting ways. TOR might be ten times more polished, fully voice acted and have more content than I can comprehend, but you still can’t re-customise your character after initial creation. Even WoW has this (although it took blizzard five years to actually implement it in game), and it was a day one feature for STO. The foundry is a significant unique proposition, and it’s likely to be expanded – there’s talk of customisable ship interiors and fleet (STO’s guilds) starbases. I would love to have seen what Cryptic could have done with a TOR, Warcraft or Guild Wars size budget.

It has its flaws still (it really does), but it’s not at all the same game as the one that launched a couple of years ago. If you have even the vaguest interest in Star Trek, you should absolutely check it out when it goes free to play for everyone (17th of this month). If you’re not interested in the Star Trek angle, that’ll probably reduce the game’s appeal and enjoyment for you (half the fun is putting yourself in Captain Kirk’s Picard’s chair), but you may still enjoy the excellent character customisation, ship combat or UGC tools.

Questions? Set course for the comment box below. Engage when ready.

Damn it. Now I want to play this again…