Star Citizen: cautionary tale in the making

Over at Vox Popoli, Vox Day provides some commentary on the massive Star Citizen game and the troubles it is currently facing. I’ve read the linked article by Derek Smart, which I’ll discuss in a moment, but I wanted to call attention to Vox’s observation here:

But the potential problem, as I see it, is that RSI (Roberts Space Industries) got distracted by the unexpected level of success of their fund-raising efforts, and like many a charity before them, lost sight of their primary objective due to that success.

Vox is absolutely correct. Nothing succeeds quite like success, and even small successes can have an intoxicating effect on a person or an organization that can encourage them to try to go for the whole hog, even when they just needed a morsel. Star Citizen was originally imagined as something of an updated mash up of Wing Commander and Privateer, but with the massive success of the Kickstarter, the game has grown so far out of scope that is probably impossible to deliver.

Read the article Why Star Citizen is Likely Going to be a Complete Disaster for an overview from the man who knows a little bit about overhyped promises and undelivered products. And I say that without any disrespect for the guy – look up Battlecruiser 3000AD if you’re not familiar with his work.  It’s quite long and filled with some technical details, but the gist of it for those who don’t have the time:

The scope of Star Citizen now far surpasses its budget and the technical capability of the project, which means there is virtually no chance of the deliverable game meeting its goals.

The implication for the entire industry, as far as Derek Smart sees it, is that Star Citizen may well be the indie game equivalent of the Titantic hitting an iceberg. Crowdfunding is already coming under increased scrutiny from regulators as backers are tired of being burned time and again by projects that fail to deliver by deadline (or at all). I’ve back a few indie games projects, and only 3 have managed to be delivered so far; and only one of them actually provided the product in the time promised. I discovered Star Citizen about a week after the initial Kickstarter had been completed and signed up for notifications from the website, but to be honest I’ve found the release schedule and business model to be confusing at best. Lack of a straightforward path to the game (Star Citizen, Squadron 42, etc) will only make things worse if none of the core modules can hit the mark they’re aiming for.

Of course, I’m bordering on concern trolling here, so I’ll end by saying this: I very much want Star Citizen to succeed. Wing Commander was one of my favorite games in the early 90s and was a large part of the reason why I’ve stayed involved with the medium and hobby for as long as I have. Chris Roberts should be respected for all of his accomplishments in the industry, but I fear that if Star Citizen goes bust, he and his company may get skewered for the failure, much 38 Studios was in 2012.

The Nintendo Play Station – SNES CD

Previously I wrote a little bit about the Secret of Mana, which was originally planned to be one of the titles available on the planned SNES CD that never materialized. By happy chance, while I was on vacation, apparently a prototype SNES CD unit has been discovered by a relative of one of the major players in that business deal. It’s a fascinating story in its own right and you can learn about some of the history in Game Over [affiliate link]. I also managed to find a few of my very old issues of EGM that covered the SNES CD, so when I have some time I’ll add scans of that coverage to this post. Besides the obvious “What if” scenarios that come to mind had Nintendo continued its relationship with Sony (imagine for a moment, no PlayStation brand as it exists today), from the perspective of the 16 Bit wars it was also a pivotal moment. Sega, of course, was wiping the floor with the SNES in the North American market, and the SEGA CD was itself a hyped piece of equipment that just didn’t pan out for the company, and arguably set the company toward exiting the console business in 2001. But Nintendo would pay a price for pulling out of SNES CD project at the last minute.

It’s been a while since I read Game Over, but if I remember correctly much of the disagreement between the two companies had to do with the complex licensing agreements that would have to exist for the software. The upshot is that those agreements favored Sony considerably in the long run, and this is ultimately why Nintendo chose to abruptly exit the partnership with Sony in dramatic fashion before a CES event. At that event they surprised everyone when they announced they had partnered with Sony’s rival, Phillips, to produce a SNES CD attachment. It was a stinging blow to Sony – a slap in the face – but they had gotten a taste of the business, to speak, and with so much investment made in the original system, so rather than punting the whole thing, they decided to enter the console business alone. I wonder how much they learned from their partnership with Nintendo, because they aggressively pursued both the developer channel and the retailer channel.

The rest is history. PlayStation, released in 1994, became the dominant force of the 90s, and the PlayStation 2, released in 2000, is still the best selling console of all time. As for Nintendo, they would continue to release consoles with the tantalizing “EXT” panel on the bottom of the system, suggesting that future add-ons would be made available. But except for the n64DD (only in Japan) and the GameBoy Advance Player for the GameCube, there would be no further modular developments for any of Nintendo’s systems. After a fashion it became almost a punchline for the games press; one has to wonder, why even bother designing the system with an external port if it was never going to be leveraged? I suspect that Nintendo always had a very good feel for its home market but has always been one step behind in what the rest of the world wanted: no disc-based medium for the Nintendo 64, when it was clear everybody wanted bigger storage for games; no broadband for the GameCube, when it was obvious gaming was going online; low resolution graphics for the Wii; and the WiiU…

Eh, let’s discuss the WiiU catastrophe in a separate post.

Still, it’s fun to speculate what would have come to pass if Sony and Nintendo had released the Play Station in 1993.

Where did two months go?

This is not a gaming related post; rather a state of the blog report after two months. I’ll be taking a short holiday so for the remainder of the week there will be no daily posts. Daily blogging has proven to be more difficult that I originally had anticipated, especially for a narrow topic such as gaming.  That said, when I return on July 6, I will be recharged enough to continue the daily post trend.

In terms of raw data, there have been about 300 unique visitors to the site since April 29, though I suspect that many of them are probably bot traffic from Referral Site spam that seems endemic these days. The most popular search terms have been “Grand Strategy” and OODA Loop, which just goes to show you how hard it is to generate relevant traffic in this sector (if you’re trying to blog about gaming, that is). People like reading the blog at 2AM EST on Sundays.  As this is a personal website I’m not too stressed out about the low traffic. In fact I’d be more worried if I had some kind of spike in traffic: my shared hosting couldn’t handle the load!

Following that line of thinking, I’ve had a few people suggest that I optimize my SEO. SEO is largely an inexact science at best. This has been my opinion on the topic since around 2006 when I was making websites both personally and professionally. To sum up SEO:  make lists, write 1500 words, use headers with keywords, hit an outbound link or two, and everything else is whatever is in fashion as guessed at by the SEO gurus. As you may have noticed I don’t actually follow many of those suggestions too often. I find them to be somewhat stifling.

Two months ultimately adds up to a very small sample size. I’ll provide a quarterly review when there is more data, but if you’re a blogger or webmaster who’s interested in the behind-the-scenes metrics, I’m happy to discuss the numbers privately. In general, the traffic is trending upward, albeit at a slow pace. Thank you to those of you who have visited so far. I hope this site has proven to be entertaining and informative.

Decisions at Gettysburg

Earlier I spent a few posts talking about Waterloo and Fields of Glory, an old PC-DOS game based on the said battle. With the uproar over the Confederate battle flag and calls for its censorship and wholesale removal, I felt compelled to support a developer and bought Ultimate General Gettysburg.

As a result, I’ve had a full on revival of interest in the subject of the American Civil War, and in particular the events leading up to the war in the antebellum US South. I’ve enjoyed playing Ultimate General for the nostalgia, but now I’m starting to dig into the design of the game The decision branch that happens at the conclusion of the day’s battle is a nice touch. When playing as the Confederates, for instance, if you managed to take Major Victories during the previous phases of the day one battle, you’re given a choice: attack the Union army immediately or wait for the rest of the army. Twice now I’ve opted to attack the Federals without waiting for Longstreet’s I Corps. My first try I ended up with a major tactical victory, but all I had done was to push the Army of the Potomac back. On the second play, I essentially won the Civil War for the South by inflicting such heavy losses on the Federals that they had no choice but to flee north, thus opening the way up to Washington for me.

In both cases, I had routed my opponent’s forces. The poor Union I Corps was mauled so badly it ceased to exist before the second day was even over. But the problem was that I did actually put myself in a position to force Meade to withdraw north. This leads me to conclude that the battle results may be based on casualty ratios.  In the first battle I “won” the Army of Northern Virginia had suffered around 23,000 losses vs. 29,000 for the Army of the Potomac. Mostly close to the butcher’s bill for Gettysburg in real life.  This is basically a Pyrrhic victory, ANV would have been too wrecked to do anything else with those kind of losses. I did much better in the second battle, some 15,000 casualties to 27,000 for the Federals.

A few more playthroughs and once I can get some captures, I’ll post up a deeper analysis of the game’s decision branches.

Ultimate General Restored

Earlier today, an update from Game-Labs about the AppStore version of Ultimate General: Gettysburg:

Ultimate General is back! Unchanged.
After several late night phone calls with Apple yesterday and today the game has returned to AppStore the way it was… in 1863.

Congratulations to the developer for sticking to their guns and not compromising the historical integrity of their game. Kudos to Apple for displaying some common sense that’s rare for today’s large corporations.


Ultimate General: Gettysburg

The horrific massacre that took place in Charleston, South Carolina has had ramifications beyond the brutal murders perpetuated by a deranged young man. The Confederate battle flag is now in the process of being purged from mainstream US culture – if it could be said to have ever occupied such a place – with sadly predictable results. Major retailers have been removing any and all products that bear the flag, and today Apple removed all Civil War video games from the AppStore. The company cited the controversial nature of the flag as the reason why these games were removed; a heavy handed spasm of corporate PC censorship that has undoubtedly made several developers question the wisdom of artistic and historical authenticity in the face of modern day commercial pressure. One such developer, Game-Labs, has refused to bow to this strong arming and will not update the content of its game, Ultimate General: Gettysburg. If you read the link you will see they have taken a reasonable and highly respectable position on this matter. Whatever your feelings are about the CSA battle flag and what it represents, I cannot stress enough that it is wrong for Apple to punish developers for accurately representing history. This is simply not a road we should be contemplating setting one foot on.

So with that in mind, I purchased a copy of Ultimate General: Gettysburg today from GOG as a show of support for Game-Labs and I encourage anyone reading this blog to do the same. The game itself is well done; I spent the better part of the afternoon replaying the First day of Gettysburg from both the Confederate and Union sides. The AI is a bit wonky and the controls can be frustrating, but for me it’s a nice call back to the ancient Fields of Glory I game I talked about previously. I’ve long been fascinated by Civil War history.  I’ve been to the Gettysburg battlefield several times in the last two decades and have read many books on the topic so playing any modern game activates my inner history geek.

Back Catalog Project: Paper Mario

After yesterday’s post I committed to start chipping away at the Back Catalog list. The first game is Paper Mario, which began life in the late 90s as a sequel to Super Mario RPG on the SNES, a quirky Nintendo-Squaresoft collaboration. Since Square had left Camp Nintendo for the greener PlayStation pastures they obviously were not available to work on a follow up game. So it fell to Intelligent Designs.

The game was released in February 2001 in North America, and was one of the final Nintendo 64 games. I ended up picking it up mainly out of nostalgia; I had missed out on the the Mario RPG and had recently gotten a copy so I wanted to make sure I got the most out of the series. I also wanted to complete the cycle: I had supported the n64 since launch day and wanted to close out with the system. As it turned out though this was a particularly difficult time for me in college so I didn’t have the time to play any video games, and by the time I started paying attention to the scene again most of my attention was on the pending release of Metal Gear Solid 2.

I didn’t remain obsessed with that game or anything…

So here it is, working on scratching off the first game on my Back Catalog. I’ll be recording the gameplay as soon as I can get a decent recorder, and posting some sort of video review on YouTube once I complete it. I did in fact get the Wii U virtual console version of the game at a nice discount ($2.00 total) probably since I already own the Wii virtual console version.

Wish me luck.

Another look at the back catalog

I’ve been spending some time organizing and storing a lot of the video game collection of late. So I decided it was time to give another look at the back catalog. I started compiling my games from 2011 and 2012, which incredibly has added another 25 games to my list. There have been a few additional titles for previous years, which I’ll get to when I update the page. And of course there’s still 2013, 2014, and 2015 to get on the list too.

I might have a collector’s mania.

I’ve been looking for a new capture card, along with some old equipment for the youtube channel (launching in the future). I prefer to play the authentic games rather than emulated copies but in the interest of video quality this may be unavoidable. I’m not that comfortable opening up and soldering an RGB connector for my venerable n64. It’s probably a better idea to get the Virtual Console version of it and record that.

A bigger problem is acquiring the ridiculously expensive GameCube component cable, which on Amazon is going over $300 from some sellers at the time of this writing. One of the enduring mysteries for me from the last 7 years has been the disappearance of this cable. Well over 10 years ago I did buy one from Lik-sang when they were still reasonably priced (around $85 IIRC), but in the course of several moves it’s become lost. Nintendo – in its infinite wisdom – decided to remove the progressive scan capability of the GameCube relatively early in it’s life cycle. To make matters worse, the cable itself contains a proprietary chip and was produced in relatively limited quantities. Scarcity of the product and the fact that it’s not an easy hack has made for quite a nice profit margin for those who had the foresight to buy these cables when they were readily available.  Long story short, if I want to get high quality captures for the GameCube games and by extension all the GBA games via the GBA Player, I’m going to have to cough up the cash for this cable or miraculously find my original cable.

It’s tough being a retrogamer some times.

Back to Metal Gear Solid 2 VR

After a lengthy hiatus from the “Virtually Impossible” achievement quest I went back in to get some work done in Metal Gear Solid 2. I may have finally learned my lesson with these alternate missions: sometimes, there just can be no rushing it. I avoided going back to Snake’s variety level 4 (sniping) and instead focused again on Plisken. Previously I had been stuck on Weapons Mode Grenades Level 5 and complained loudly about the hail Mary nature of the grenade launcher. You’re effectively asked to snipe direct hits on targets that fade in and out periodically (I’m sticking with my charge of masochism here).  I knew I was having a better time of it today though, and after a few tries I finally managed to clear the level.

If you’re wondering what the stage is like, witness this guy clear it in around 30 seconds – which is insanely good, in case you want to know.

Afterward I cleared the Stinger levels and made it to level 5 on the Nikita launcher, which is another exercise in frustration. I’m confident though that I will be able to get past it and on to the last Weapons mode for Plisken: no weapon at all (hand to hand).

Snake’s variety level is a different story. I simply have to get better at sniping before I have a shot at clearing it. But the quest must go on and I’m conscious of the fact that I’m quickly running out of time before the Phantom Pain is released.