Watching THQ

Gaming companies are definitely losing steam. In particular, Radical Entertainment has lost out on what it once was. And Kaos Studios closed its doors. Ben Kuchera over at The PA Report covered this with more detail. While I’m not about to make claims about doom and gloom, the fact is that something is wrong when companies are folding.

In my mind, I can see a good half a dozen reasons why games are suffering.

First, there’s the ongoing economic situation. There seems to be some remaining back-and-forthery about whether or not it’s still a recession. But while people can drown their sorrows in games for a while (better than booze), they cannot continue to shell out $50 to $60 for every great title that comes along.

The second aspect that is changing this is the available of SmartPhone and indie games. Most of these games are free or very cheap, and although aren’t as hardcore as console/PC games, are still quite fun especially among friends.

A third thing to consider is the ease of DRM software like Steam, which allows players to purchase old, classic titles for extremely low prices. Why play new games when you have a catalogue of older classics you need to catch up on? I know this very well as I have been downloading games I never got around to trying, like Bioshock.

Then there are the usual factors. A dash of piracy, people can’t afford to be shelling out money, so on. Perhaps the thing to consider here is that the gaming industry isn’t as immune to the recession as we were first led to believe. It certainly lasted far longer than most industries in the midst of rough economic times, but sooner or later you have to pay the piper. The field is shrinking.

Which brings us to the central focus of this blog. THQ.

THQ Inc. has actually been around since 1989. When I was a kid, I played their interesting Home Alone games back on the old 8-bit NES. Today, they’re responsible for the Red Faction series, Saints Row and especially the Warhammer 40,000 line up of games. Recently, THQ made news twice over, first by turning their UFC series to EA. And then a strange, reverse split restructuring of their stocks, consolidating shares at a rate of 10 to 1.

As an owner of some of THQ’s stock, I take considerable interest in this turn of events.

And as a guy who someday would like to make games, I find the whole set of news troubling. It is not an immediate dream I’d like to realize, but something I’d like to do in a few years. And I am working in that direction, bit by bit. But right now the industry is changing, adapting to a combination of new markets, fighting the effects of the recession and taking on riskier projections.

Times a changin’. Keep watching the future, folks.

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Exterminatus Review

Trained in battle, but also a master of dance fighting. With an axe.

Also a master of dance fighting. With an axe.

Exterminatus. Mmmm good.

Among the earliest complaints I agreed with on Space Marine was the lack of content. THQ however, worked quickly to fix this, coming out with a new coop mode only a couple of months after the release. When it came out, I was frustrated because a bug wouldn’t let me play, but THQ worked fast to fix that. Now I enjoy Exterminatus whenever I need something new.

But depending on who you ask, their timing was anywhere from good to poor.

You see, in Exterminatus you can only earn experience. You cannot earn perks or armor. So for those players who already earned level 41, their incentive to play Exterminatus is effectively nil. But for those who have not yet earned the highest tier, it’s a fun change of pace.

Hopefully, since THQ is coming out with another version of Exterminatus called “Chaos Unleashed” for the Chaos faction, they’ll add some new armor or perks to earn. In CU, Chaos Marine teams will fight not only Orks but Imperial Guard too, with new boss and units like the Sanctioned Psyker. The DLC comes with new maps and a new game mode. Check it out here.

One of the things that shakes up coop against competitive is the fact that in competitive, the best perks tend to focus more on anything that boosts offense and defense enough in the face of short, brutally intense fights against other players. So perks like Serrated Combat Blade, or Iron Halo tend to be really useful.

But in the coop, the fight is long, ongoing and full of attrition. The Orks are weak, but keep coming after you with their hordes. They grind you down, wear you out and eventually overwhelm you. So perks that focus more on recovering and sustainability tend to be more useful. Final Vengeance for example is a wasted perk, since your team only gets a very finite number of lives and you do more damage staying alive than blowing up on the Orks. In competitive play, I wouldn’t have bothered with Ammunition Stores because I can recover ammo by killing or respawning. I just never really ran out. But in coop, Tactical and other Devastators need ammo too, so we tend to compete for the ammo drops the Orks rarely leave behind.

So here’s a short list of perks I believe are more useful for Exterminatus:

Tactical:
Typically, you want to avoid any perk that is more about respawning. Rapid Deployment and Teleport Homer aren’t terribly useful because you and your allies should work very hard to avoid death. You maybe tempted towards Master-Crafted Wargear and Favor of the Armory because grenades do well with managing Ork groups, but the occasional difficulty in replenishing grenades will quickly take away from the benefits of these perks.

  • Larraman’s Blessing – You will sometimes have to run away from the hordes to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed. But this perks lets you recover more rapidly and get back into the fight.
  • Weapon Versatility – The beauty of this perk is that you take two guns and not just one with you. By doing so, you also increase the amount of ammunition you take with you as well as the amount of ammo you recover when you get an ammo drop. You can also better react to the kinds of Orks you’ll be facing.
  • Additional Melta Fuel – This perk as well as any that let you take additional ammo is recommended. Given the slow recharge time of a Melta however, you may also consider the Improved Melta Charge perk with this.

Devastator:
The Devastator’s defensive perks work well in Exterminatus. So it really boils down to the weapon choices. As such, I cannot recommend the Lascannon because of the sheer number of targets and their preference towards close combat. The Plasma Cannon is decent, but one must be mindful of the fact that the Orks are desperately trying to get close, making it personally dangerous. This means that the Heavy Bolter is probably the most reliable choice for Exterminatus. Surprisingly, while Heavy Bolter Expertise is a make-or-break perk in competitive, it’s not that big a deal in coop.

  • Heavy Bolter Coolant – Given the sheer number of Orks, overheating is a huge problem for the Heavy Bolter. This perk goes far to counter it, letting you keep up the barrage of firepower to take them down.
  • Ammunition Stores – When you have one other Devastator or Tactical Marine on the team, getting ammo usually isn’t too bad. But if you have three or more, it becomes very difficult. But Ammunition Stores lets you keep going where as others are down to pistols.
  • Artificer Armor – In truth, almost any of the defensive perks are great for survivability. Artificer Armor however lets you recover from battle damage much more quickly. Just disengage and run until it replenishes your armor.

Assault Marine:
Assault Marines don’t suffer from the necessity of ammunition quite like the other two classes. This is not to say that the pistols aren’t useful, but they should be at the front fighting the hordes face to face. They also have the joy of health replenishing perks, which let them continue to fight where as others have to back off in order to survive.  The one change up is that Assault Marines should not be afraid to leap away if they’re getting overwhelmed. Orks prefer numbers and melee combat and sometimes, and that’s too much for a lone Assault Marine to deal with. The jump pack should be used defensively as well as offensively. Perhaps the worst thing about Assault Marines is when they have to take a control point, as they cannot use their best features as offensively as they are intended too.

  • Swordsman’s Zeal – This perk lets you keep going even when your armor is gone. It’s easy to have too much faith in this perk, however, and believe you can stand up to a horde. Fight as hard as you can, then jump away and kill a lone Ork to replenish your life rapidly. Then rejoin the fray. The same applies to the Axeman’s Zeal.
  • Air-Cooled Thrusters – Leaping away from a horde can sometimes spell the difference between life and death. The jump pack stores up to two jumps, so exhausting your supply when you land is risky business. Blast Off and Death From Above pair well with this, so long as you jump as often as you can.
  • True Grit – I’ve seen Assault Marines use this in Exterminatus and it is surprisingly effective. It gives them a very valid ranged option when the Assault Marine must pull away from a horde (the pistol isn’t bad, but a bolter is still better). When the Assault Marine has to take a control point, it also gives him a better weapon for fending off Shoota Nobz and Rokkit Boyz. The only downside is that it makes the Assault Marine more ammo dependent, to the detriment of any Devastators or Tactical Marines.

Tau Commander Wha?

Hey baby, wanna get together and kill all humans?

Hey baby, wanna get together and kill all humans?

Yep. Strange no?

Although I thought that Dawn of War II had for the most part run its course, it seems that THQ is getting into some serious purchasable DLC habits. And I don’t mean just the cosmetic ones we’ve seen in chapter specific DLCs. Specifically, they’re giving players a brand new hero for the Last Stand.

The Tau Commander.

You can check out the impressive new hero character at Shack News. However, I think there’s little doubt that this is the kind of set up that the upcoming Dawn of War III game will probably focus on. A core game with lots of purchasable elements to it.

Keep you posted.

Angry Marine RAAAAAAGE

Having to fight the Emperor MAKES ME SO ANGRY!

Having to fight the Emperor MAKES ME SO ANGRY!

  1. Boot up Space Marine.
  2. Go to the Customizer.
  3. Select Chaos. Go to the armour selection screen.
  4. Check out the ‘Rage’ helmet. You don’t have to own it, just hover over the option to see what it looks like.

Well done THQ. You made the right helmet for the wrong race. How am I suppose to fight without my mmmngry game face?

Gosh!

Anyway, I’m going one and done for the Black Library September submission window. It has been sent. I poured tremendous work into that one story and I like how it came together.

Had a friend who is a professional editor and proof reader gloss over it and give me the a-ok stamp. Sent it in. So if they don’t like it, then I’m not ready to join them. There’s always next year. The only way a writer can fail is if he gives up.

In the mean time, I made a promise to myself to try and work on submitting to a few fictional magazines. I actually already have a listing available. Later, I’ll put together a spreadsheet to track who gets what stories.

SPEAKING IN CAPS MAKES ME SO ANGRY

CHAOS GETS A RAGE FACE AND WE DO NOT?! HERESY!

I’m also going to consider putting some art, such as either my models or sketches, on the blog. Although DeviantArt is quite cool, I’ve heard (though have not confirmed) unsavory things about the nature of how DeviantArt’s respect for IP works. True or not, I’d rather just do my own thing like Forjador or Jeff Preston.

Normally, I try to stay away from taking art. There are times I’ve considered whether or not to use a picture for my blog (that one time with Forjador’s work was with his permission and for his promotion). And often, I decide not too for that reason.

When I do post art, it’s usually book or movie covers who benefit more from exposure than not. If asked, I’d take it down. But it has not happened yet. Had an idea for an interesting story this morning. Post about it later.

Space Marine

Expect a few oil tankers worth of blood.

Expect a few oil tankers worth of blood.

For some time now, THQ has been teasing and teasing Warhammer fans with the chance to step into the shoes of a Space Marine. We’ve seen all manner of trailers, talk and ideas spun about what we’re going to get. But this month, Games Workshop fans finally got a reward for their faith.

The game is good. Not perfect, but damn good.

Let’s start with what we see. The game is a marvel, the characters detailed and amazing to behold. There are these tiny details, ranging from the streaming purity seals to the variety of armor components. The scars across their faces and especially Captain Titus, whose hair is parted by a nice scalp wound. Part of me wants to point out that there seem to be a general lack of facial expressions before I remind myself that Space Marines, being the perfect soldiers, are effectively psychopaths. Why they would need to smile is not even worth asking.

The levels are huge, but are completely dominated with Imperial iconography. THQ has gone above and beyond to truly and fully bring the intellectual property of Games Workshop to the home screen. They’ve done this very well before in the Dawn of War series and even when viewing the world from the eyes of a single Astartes, they do not stop.

Speaking of levels, I noticed two flaws. The first is technical and the problem is probably unique only to my situation. My experience with the game comes from Windows XP SP3 on a solid machine. Compared to the other platform options, which include XBox 360, Playstation 3 and Windows 7 PCs, this is well on the lower end. Every time the screen shakes considerably, a black skeleton of the architecture can be seen. I doubt others will experience this.

The second problem is the lack of choices. I am a PC gamer, my time on the console is behind me. Many of the games I play, like Fallout, tend to spoil me with the options and choices of destinations being at my discretion. To its credit, Space Marine does a bang up job of guiding the player to the next objective by pointing them out. You do not spend an hour looking for some switch to activate a bridge, like you did in the second stage of the original Halo. Yes, I still remember that. But it doesn’t give you any paths to choose from. I’m sure fans will rise to Space Marine‘s defense regarding this, but I think even they will agree they would like to see such choices in future installments.

"Come, join us. We have tacos." ... My, only weakness...

"Come, join Chaos. We have tacos."

The game play is solid, successfully combining hack and slash melee action with cool and composed gun battles. Many a times I’ve charged into the fray, before pulling back to pop the heads of a few Ork Shoota Boyz with my Stalker pattern Bolter. I was very worried about the game folding into a pattern of wash, rinse and repeat, but the weapon and enemy varieties have avoided that boring problem. Though I was glad to finally see Chaos when they popped up.

Speaking of Chaos, I have to apologize to my readers. My earlier insinuation of Chaos being the Iron Warriors was wrong. I was misled by the color scheme and emblem designs, but the Chaos Space Marines belong to some unusual chapter called the Chosen of Nemeroth. It was my fault for spreading misinformation.

Anyway, besides fighting the other object is simply staying alive. The first survival metric is against your armor’s power rating, and the second is your health. Armor recovers on its own if you stay out of combat. Health doesn’t in single player. Captain Titus recovers health by either unleashing fury or delivering executions. Executions are amazing to watch, but you’re very vulnerable while performing them. In multiplayer, players recover their health as they do their shields, but it takes a little longer.

The single player game has enough content to merit at least a replay. Beside the list of achievements and challenges to attempt, there are also servo-skulls scattered through the stages to find and collect. The medium difficult has thus far proven challenging enough, but I will want to try my hand at the hard setting.

But the multiplayer is where it’s at. THQ knew exactly how to rope players in with an addictive, reward based leveling system. There are 41 levels to earn, and perks and equipment are unlocked as you do so. These perks can start to give significant benefits to players. For new guys, this can be discouraging, but THQ thought ahead. When you die, you can “copy the loadout” of the guy who killed you for a single life when you respawn. This lets you fight on equal terms for much of the game if you desire.

Overall, Space Marine is a great game for the casual player or violent action junkie, but more importantly is what the fans have been waiting for. It may seem greedy to ask for more but if I didn’t, THQ could very well rest their laurels. Still, the game is an evolutionary step of what I’ve been wanting to see for a very, very long time…

Fulgrim

Not enough coffee for a witty remark this morning...

Not enough coffee for witty remarks just yet.

I’m not going to lie. I was a little adverse to reading this book for a short while. Let’s just say it’s an American thing many of us picked up in the 80s and 90s, when our heroes weren’t supposed to be beautiful. Guys like Bruce Willis and Kurt Russell played these bad ass roles where their characters were injured and made unattractive in the course of their conflict.

Oddly, if this book had come to me about 10 years ago and I had been into Warhammer 40k back then, I would have been all over it. In the past I was more into Japanese animation with heroes so gorgeous, the line between masculine and feminine disappears. I’m long over my pretty boy phase.

Another thing to discuss came up when I was talking to a friend. Also a Warhammer fan, he asked me what the real danger of Slaanesh was. The problems of Nurgle and Khorne were obvious, the threat of Tzeentch was more subtle but still there.

What is the threat Slaanesh really imposes? It’s a problem every parent faces for their pubescent teenage children. There is the threat of STDs and pregnancy. Obsessions too are an aspect, like a relationship where one side is far more possessive than what is reasonable. And then there are those whose limitations are so small, it’s dangerous. Like David Carradine.

And not just sex, since he is the lord of excess. It’s an issue when someone drinks themselves to death on alcohol, or eats their way to a heart attack. And I think anyone who has met a serious artist has seen some antics that worry them, such as the artist not eating or sleeping to finish their workload. There are drug users as well, some of whom push themselves into over dosing at times. Slaanesh is a god you don’t see coming because he is in the most mundane of activities we take for granted as being human.

I write all this because it’s what I gathered from reading Fulgrim by Graham McNeill. It’s a perspective changer. My rantings above were not a digression from the review. They are the point. McNeill takes the reader on a wild ride that blows several stereotypes and misconceptions out of the water. And the story that unfolds from the pages is disturbing and sobering enough that even non-Warhammer 40k fans will find something of value here, as McNeill succeeds in making the line between fan and casual book reader thinner than ever before.

Gaming

Just a fast update. A new trailer for Space Marine is out, which seems to confirm that the Chaos Legion will be the Iron Warriors. Eight pointed star, representin’!

Not much game play footage here, but it’s nice to see some jet pack action. I’m actually a little surprised at how many trailers there have been. THQ has done a great job generating buzz about this title. A few years back, fights would probably break out in front of game stores as fans rush to get a copy. Now thanks to Steam, the chances of that are probably reduced.

Also, in case you haven’t seen it, THQ unveiled a new trailer for Dark Millennium Online last month.

This trailer doesn’t mention anything new or any details of the game. Basically just takes some new game play footage and scratches it around with a sepia background to give it a horror film look. THQ is just stoking fan interest for a game that’s not due until 2013 at the earliest. But thus far, it looks like they’ve got a good amount of the game built while still trying to figure out some of the “game rules” and structure.

It’s way too early to claim with any certainty, but DMO could be the World of Warcraft game killer that has been due for sometime. Warhammer Online tried and made Blizzard push out the WoW expansion Wrath of the Lich King. But WAR ultimately sank back into a niche market of realm versus realm combat.

Still, given Warhammer 40,000’s huge fan following and the fact that WoW will be nearly 10 years old by the time DMO comes out, I suspect Blizzard will try countering with a new MMORPG. A Diablo one, maybe. Usurping WoW‘s throne is going to happen sometime!