Skyrim Mods

In the past, for Skyrim and many other computer games, mods were almost universally grafted on by players who loved whatever game they’re working on so much that they were willing to work for free to see their vision through. Just by working on these mods the players who did so were turned into amateur developers, artists, sound designers, level designers, and game designers.

If the mod developer was interested, and had the opportunity, they could use their work as an amateur in a portfolio to use when applying for work as a professional game developer. Most of the people I know who get paid to make video games today got their start over a decade ago making mods for computer games. According to one of Valve’s founders, Gabe Newell, about half of Valve got their start making mods.

Last Thursday Valve and Bethesda added paid mod sales to the Steam Workshop storefront for Skyrim. Mods are any kind of additional items, maps, levels, art, or sounds added to a game. The modifications to Skyrim could range from a new sword or a new companion character to a full, professional quality, series of missions that rival what the professionals who get paid for their work at Bethesda have added on to the game. In this new system it was still possible to distribute a mod for free if the mod developer chose to do so.

There were all kinds of problems with the technical and business implementation for the Skyrim mods being sold through the Steam Workshop. Some level of curation should have been implemented by Valve to monitor the system when people were copying work from other mods and putting it up for sale. The most egregious part of the whole thing was the cut the actual mod developer received, which at 25% of the price charged to the player was completely ludicrous.

I’m writing in the past tense because Valve and Bethesda’s work to reward the people who had spent hours making additional content for Skyrim, a game that had been otherwise abandoned by its developer (Skyrim hasn’t been patched since 2013), when the paid mod sales were killed yesterday after positive feedback from mod developers and almost universally negative feedback from users who seemed to hate it for all of the wrong reasons.

While there were a few well reasoned arguments against paid mod sales, most of the player feedback on public forums consisted of a zero-tolerance policy on paying for anything outside of the original game and whatever horse armor the original developer wanted to sell.

If the only way to distribute mods for Skyrim were for pay and through the Steam Workshop, then the argument against paid mods would make sense. In that scenario you would never have ridiculous licensing nightmares where the dragons are replaced with Thomas the Tank Engine or Macho Man Randy Savage. Instead, all we had was choice. We could have kept downloading most mods for free and paid for the ones we liked. Now the mod developers will continue to get nothing for their labor except pitiful amounts of donations in the few cases where they’re popular enough to receive any at all.

Elite: Dangerous Finally on Steam

Crowdfunded space trucking simulator and long-time hold-out, Elite: Dangerousis now available on Steam

Cashed in the remaining money I’d made from selling trading-cards to get it.

At this time Frontier’s (Elite’s developer) Elite: Dangerous doesn’t have any Steam-specific features, and like some games you’re only downloading the initial launcher through Steam. All updates appear to be through the game-specific launcher.

Because it was previously available only direct from the developer, the Elite: Dangerous players (a comedy troupe touring in your locality!) are rightfully upset that they haven’t received Steam keys for the game. People always want to consolidate their gaming libraries into one place, and a decade in it’s still surprising that some game developers don’t get it.

On the second page of the relevant forum thread, a Frontier community manager had this to say in response to a player’s request:

Hi Macro, thanks for the question. We don’t have any plans to do this at the moment, but we’ll be listening to player feedback and looking to see how much demand there is.

Just an FYI – there’s no functional difference between the Steam and our website version of the game. You can add the game to your existing Steam library. See the instructions below:

We have no plans to do so but we will of course listen to player feedback and assess demand.

Click Games > Add a non-Steam game to my library and add EDLaunch.exe, ordinarily located in C:\Program Files (x86)\Frontier\EDLaunch\ on a PC.

Cue 25 more pages of players demanding their Steam keys.

Valve provides developers as many keys as they would like for their games to be sold on the developers’ own store, so the only cost to Frontier would be in developing the infrastructure to hand out the Steam keys.

Steam Machines Aren’t Here to Challenge Consoles

Valve recently put up an early list of Steam Machines coming this November from various gaming computer makers. Paul Tassi of Forbes is here predicting doom and gloom in an article comparing the chances for Valve’s success against traditional gaming consoles:

So if Steam Machines aren’t for console players, will existing PC gamers bite? I really don’t see a reason for them to do so. PC gamers like their mouse and keyboard, their ability to sit close to their monitor, and the probably multi-thousand-dollar rig they already have. The avid PC gamers I’ve seen look at Steam Machines as “good for people who want to check out PC gaming,” but almost none of them seem to be considering it for themselves. And why would they? It’s just a pre-built gaming rig that hooks up to their TV and runs Steam Big Picture, something all the do-it-yourself-ers out there could have made themselves for years now if they really wanted to. With the release of the new store, many veterans of the scene are looking over some of the machines and laughing about the price, knowing they could get the exact same level of performance for much, much cheaper if they did it on their own. Other than the ability to express their endless love and devotion for Valve’s Gabe Newell, patron saint of PC gaming, I don’t know what PC gamers get out of Steam Machines.

This is but one of the many arguments Paul Tassi has that they won’t find their market.

It’s a bit early to predict the death of Steam Machines, eight months before they ship. Among Paul Tassi’s other arguments is this one:

Why? Before I flood your screen with a deluge of reasons, first and foremost what the new store page shows is a huge range of prices, ranging from slightly above asking price for the PS4 and One ($460 for iBuyPower’s box) to typically absurd gaming PC levels (as high as $5,000 for top-of-the-line units from Falcon Northwest and Origin). Across the fifteen(!) different machines on the page, only two are around the $500 mark, while the rest probably average between $700-$900, if I’m being generous.

There is definitely a large selection and I can see how it might steer some people away and back to their consoles. It makes sense to have a small selection of products that people can choose from. A good machine, a better machine, a best machine.

That is the one valid criticism in Paul Tassi’s article. The others are ridiculous. PC gamers aren’t going to buy these? If some weren’t already buying pre-built gaming machines these companies wouldn’t be in business to now sell Steam Machines.

There are other, more valid, criticisms that Paul Tassi misses.

These machines run Steam OS, and although you could replace that and install Windows at your own expense there will be a more limited selection of games available for the default Linux-based operating system.

Though he does point out that they’re more expensive than consoles, the reason why is extremely important. Consoles are subsidized and initially sold at a loss to be later offset by software sales with a cut going back to the manufacturer. Valve isn’t selling these directly and can’t do that. Subsidies are the one way that Valve could really improve the initial turnout on Steam Machines but then they would have to produce their own and be competing with these third parties.

The advantage to Valve in the current Steam Machine situation is that they lose almost nothing if Steam Machines fail to find users.

The one thing Valve loses if Steam Machines fail is their edge against Microsoft. Steam Machines (and SteamOS) exist as a hedge against the possibility of a strong Windows App Store in future versions of Windows where customers won’t or can’t choose Valve’s Steam marketplace.

The computer manufactures have something to lose too. With Steam Machines they don’t have to deal with Microsoft and pay for copies of Windows. As far as we know, Valve charges them nothing to include SteamOS.

This is the reason why Steam Machines aren’t really here to challenge consoles. They’re here to take on Windows.

Dear Esther Review (PC)

Photo Credit: Dear Esther
Photo Credit: Dear Esther

In 2009 I reviewed Dear Esther, the free modification for Half-Life 2.

It’s 2013 and I’ve finally played the commercial version available on Steam released in 2012.

Both versions are a first person walking tour of an island where the player listens to narration of letters written to Esther.

2012’s Esther is fairly similar to the mod. So lets quote the TimeDoctor of 2009 and remove anything that isn’t relevant to this 2012 commercial release:

I just finished my first walk-through of Dear Esther.

When I say “walk-through” I mean, walking through the narrative of this incredible mod on top of Half Life 2‘s Source Engine by Dan Pinchbeck.

You’re guided through it by a narrator who tells you about an island, its inhabitants, and a few events in their lives.

The narration is randomized, so each play through may tell a different story.

It might be a bit pretentious, but that is OK. If you give it a shot, I think you will like it. It is about the closest I’ve ever seen a game come to approaching the narrative elements of interactive fiction. Unfortunately this is mostly at the expense of the interaction. You walk through the island on foot at a snail’s pace and gain some knowledge of the story through a beautifully perfect vocal narration.

Games as art? Fuck that. Games as narrative. We’re half way to the finish line, and Dear Esther is the best runner in that race. I hope that the confines of an engine and resources of a mod will not hold back the next narrative from thechineseroom.

So now we’re in 2013 again – hello there! – and Dear Esther is a mod no-longer. They’ve cleaned up just about everything that was unpolished in the original and this is almost perfect.

I say almost because as a game released in 2012 it still doesn’t look right for the modern era. The vegetation in particular is unappealing and at worst takes you out of the experience as you see 2D sprites always turn to face you at the edge of your view. You’ll still see the occasionally strangely polygonal natural feature. Otherwise, Esther is a pretty game featuring some stunning scenes as you navigate the island. To say too much about them might spoil your enjoyment.

The narrative as read to you and soundtrack are still amazing. What other game is excellent at a walking pace? Your view of it and the way the narrative unfolds through the changing aspects of the island are unique. Nobody else has made anything like it and I doubt anyone ever will.

We are spoiled beasts by some great narratives with games attached; Dear Esther, Digital: A Love Story, and The Walking Dead. Two of which were released commercially in 2012. Though Esther is the least game-like of any I’ve experienced, I can’t recommend it enough. There are no puzzles or action sequences. Your only input is to move around in the world. Your only objective is to look and listen until you can’t anymore. You’ve never played anything like it.

Dear Esther is a bargain at $10 USD on Steam.

5 out of 5 Narratives

5 Dollar Defense Grid: The Awakening

5-dollar-defense-grid

Defense Grid: The Awakening is on sale for $5. Stop reading now and click the damn link if you enjoy tower defense. This game was, from what I could tell during the demo, not worth $20 or $15. But 5? That, my friends, is the price of a 5 dollar foot long at your local subway.

So instead of shoveling more cheap swine-flu-laced lettuce and the best horse snouts which can be placed on a cheap roll baked fresh from organisms (Subway’s Fred De Luca found in a neighboring galaxy but that was actually too expensive so he had to just use recycled sporks as filler instead)  into your pie-hole, go down to your local Steam retailer and buy this tower defense game.

A new blogger and an indie game sale!

Indie games are cool and fun

Ahoy folks! I’m fydo and apparently zakk wants me to write some stuff on this silly blog. I like to hang out in the indie games / opensource games crowd, so I’ll try to share any interesting tidbits I pick up on. Meow?

For instance, I might mention that this weekend there is a weekend sale going on at Steam, featuring 5 pretty awesome indie games. These games are:

  • Eets
  • Gravitron 2
  • I-Fluid
  • Multiwinia
  • Trials 2

I personally know the developer of Gravitron 2 and he’s a great guy too.

So I’ll talk a little bit about Gravitron 2. It’s got a really retro look and feel to it, tight controls and a difficulty ramp that reminds me of the NES days. There are over 40 levels in the original game and the game author just recently released a map pack which adds even more. There is another update in the works involving the map editor, but I probably shouldn’t reveal too much about that. Suffice to say, Gravitron 2 is more than worth the $5, and within this indie pack, it’s a steal! (figuratively speaking, of course)

I’d love to hear your opinions about any of these games in the comments, so flame away, dear readers.

(Note that I’ll try to avoid turning my posts into advertisements in the future. Hardy har.)