LEGO Hobbit and the Dangerous Trend in Games

Getting a LEGO game based off your franchise is almost a requisite for certain big titles. So it came as no surprise that with the success of LEGO: The Lord Of The Rings, LEGO: The Hobbit was bound to follow.

The game released at an unusual time, right after the second film, and with no subtitles indicating it was based only on specific films (like LEGO: Harry Potter – Years 1-4). I even purchased it with concern it would spoil the last film for me, which was still many months away. I figured I could easily just stop playing after the battle with Smaug, and save the rest of the game for after the movie came out. It was a good plan, in theory.

The gameplay itself is quite similar to every other LEGO game. You explore the world, build sets, collect extra characters and quests. There’s the similar aspects as well how in order to gain 100% you have to go back through the game and play with the new characters you have unlocked. It was fantastic to go back into levels like Rivendell and Dale and fully explore them in depth. The typical LEGO humor was there, and it used the rare act of giving the LEGO characters voices with movie dialogue. The voices did feel rather awkward since, much like the Sims, their lack of regular conversation is rather endearing.

Then came the infamous “I am fire. I am death.” line. I figured I’d save after this and then I can- wait…




Credits? The Credits are rolling? The game is over?

And that is where the game ends. So of course I went on a spree online to find out what had happened. That’s when I found a press release from April where it was stated that Battle of Five Armies would come as DLC. That struck me as a very odd decision, but I had figured if they wanted to strike while the Hobbit fandom was hot, then that probably was a good plan. So i set it aside and waited for the DLC…

And waited…

And waited…

I scoured the internet to discover nothing but other LEGO Hobbit fans like me begging for answers. All inquiring for a release date, or even just confirmation that it was coming, but WB stayed silent. Questions from fans who had already made the financial commitment to this game went purposely ignored. “The Battle of the Five Armies” film came out and still no word. Finally this March we got our answer in a statement to Gamespot:

“The game provides an excellent set-up for the concluding chapter of Peter Jackson’s film, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. There are no plans to develop DLC based on the final film of the trilogy.”

A year of avoiding fans, ignoring questions, and refusing to acknowledge their previous statements lead us to there’s no plans to even develop it. They had not even started on it and have decided to not pursue it at all. This is infuriating and a huge slap in the face to fans. No one wants to pay $50-$60 for 2/3 of a game. Imagine if you played Skyrim for credits to roll after you reached High Hrothgar. Or if when you played Borderlands the credits rolled after arriving in Opportunity. Or if when you played say… Assassin’s Creed Unity… and you know… there simply weren’t faces.

Jesus Christ, Why?

Ok, so that last one actually happened. The fact that this decision about LEGO Hobbit has happened, and that we are supposed to accept it, says something very dangerous about the gaming industry right now. It says that the social contract that we give them our money and we receive a complete game is no longer valid. Not just with LEGO and Assassin’s Creed, many games are rolling out not fully bug checked, with DLC that does come out for long after it’s initial release, or simply not at all. We as gamers are a lovable obsessed lot. We will buy games. Especially games from franchises we love. We have become that teacher that never actually reads the essays, and the gaming industry has become the student who turns in a paper that says ‘turd’ for five pages because they know we won’t read it.
We should not be expected to simply accept that LEGO Hobbit will never be complete and that many people were charged full price for a 2/3 game. We should not be expected to allow gaming companies to lose their ambition to please us and produce, quite frankly, crap. The gaming industry needs to be held accountable for their lackadaisical approach to producing games now, and they need to be brought back into the social contract that we will only pay for games that are complete and ready for consumption.

Ellie Collins is an author, cosplayer and podcaster.
 
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City of Heroes – Gone But Not Forgotten

Like so many other fans, I miss it. I miss Atlas Park. City of Heroes was my home game since the “Going Rogue” expansion in 2009, and I played it until server shutdown in 2012. I had been introduced to it by my boyfriend, who played City of Heroes from day 4 of the first live release in 2004 right through to server shutdown.

On November 30, 2012 NCSoft shut down Paragon Studios. Their official statement regarding why they shuttered the studio was basically that Paragon was unprofitable, the game was not profitable, and NCSoft couldn’t find a buyer that was willing to pay the $80M asking price for the IP.

[image grabbed from www.gamerzines.com]

The servers went down on Nov. 30, 2012, with many players online on their servers to say goodbye to the game, and to each other. Some hung out in Pocket D, the nightclub where social gatherings always seemed to be going on. Many met at the statue of Atlas in Atlas Park and stood around chatting for the game’s last few hours. There were still missions being run and battles being fought, but when server shut-down warnings started flashing and scrolling, people began to congregate in central locations on their servers – many hovering above in the skies looking down on the gatherings going on below.

There are a lot of videos put up on YouTube by CoH gamers, and many of them are quite poigniant. Farewell cards from a community to each other, all seeming to say “we will never forget.”

During the year following server shut-down, several fans and developers got together to try and bring City of Heroes back. This group eventually split into different groups – all working to give the fans of CoH something to hold on to.

Nate Downes, president of Missing Worlds Media, launched a Kickstarter called “The Phoenix Project – City of Titans” in 2013 to raise funds for a possible successor to City of Heroes called City of Titans. It ultimately raised double its original goal of approximately $320,000. Missing Worlds Media is a community-based media studio. Most of the people who do work for the studio are fans and other volunteers, all working together to help rebuild worlds that will be new, yet familiar. Mr. Downes is engaged in negotioations with NCSoft to either acquire the IP or, to license it in order to possibly bring back CoH in maintenance mode. This is a completely separate project, unrelated to the City of Titans project. He released a statement in the City of Titans forum on Sept. 1, 2014 regarding the progress of negotiations:

“Greetings,
For those unaware, my name is Nate Downes. While I am the President of Missing Worlds Media, Inc, I am also a member of the City of Heroes community, and an advocate. A series of circumstances put me in to a unique position, to reach out to NCSoft, not as the company president, but as a member of a small group with the goal to acquire the older property in some form or another.

Early on, this group, which included a few people from MWM as well as other members of the community, made the intentional choice to not directly involve CoT in the negotiations. There are a few reasons for this. It prevented the discussions from negatively impacting the project should they go wrong. It also prevented them from distracting any development. And, most importantly, if this should work out, it would be incredibly unfair for only one segment of the community to benefit.

How it began.

In September of last year, I had lucked into a chance meeting with a few people who worked for NC Soft, including a manager. They advised me then to come back later on to talk with them. While I’d kept the dialog channel open, the general consensus was that no, the company would never sell City of Heroes complete and intact.

Then IronWolf posted the idea of buying up part of the game, but not the entire thing. This prompted me to ask my contact people, who through several discussions eventually advised me to talk to a single person, NC Soft’s Business Manager Jae Soo Yoon. In addition, we had some other people who were ex-employees and ex-partners suggest the very same person.

For those who do not know Korean business methods, it is considered highly rude to directly email someone, but to instead get an introduction from a third party business associate. This meant we had to find someone who was not part of NC Soft to formally introduce us to Mr. Yoon. Fortunately, we had two people who could do just that, a former NC West employee and a former co-worker of mine who had started a media company which works with NC Soft on developing properties for the Asian market.

Introductions in place, we made the leap from US-bound people to members of the Korean firm. This was very carefully done, very slowly orchestrated. By July, we had gotten to the point that Mr. Yoon had passed us to Sangwon Chung from NC Soft’s Strategic Partnership Development Team.

For those who are unfamiliar, this is the group which handles things such as partnering with an existing studio or the development of new partnerships. This is the group we have been working with since early July. It is a very slow process, and still will take a long time to conclude.

The proposal as it stands right now (this is not a final form, just the current proposal on the table) is this:

The CoH IP would be spun to its own company, to handle licensing. This company would itself license the existing engine from NCSoft for the creation of a maintenance mode, using a binary copy of the i23 server.

The existing user database and characters are not part of this arrangement at this time, nor is the source code.

An arrangement is to be made to license the trademarks to the various Plan Z projects, CoT, Valiance and H&V, to create a family connection, and to allow each to drop the “Spiritual” portion of successor. This means they can make references to the original game if desired, and to enable the expansion of partnerships. This could be expanded for any of them, should the desire be there.

An arrangement is also to be made for the Atlas Park Revival project. As part of the informal agreement we have with them, they would be given an official stamp of approval, and the CoT game build would be licensed to them, to create a kind of “CoH 1.5” and migrate people off of the classic game engine before it finally becomes unsuitable (we expect this to happen around when Windows 9 is released, due to binary compatibility). This can be done because both APR and CoT run on Unreal Engine 4.

By being its own firm, the licensing company can also pursue other avenues which were unavailable before.

Why this group?

Because we approached them like another Korean company. We respected their company culture. And most importantly, we were patient. We had periods where we heard nothing for weeks.
The group itself began as three people. It has grown, some people more connected to the inner workings than others. Some former Cryptic and Paragon employees have given us advise on things ranging from what is needed to run the old server binaries to how the Paragon Market worked.

So, why come forward now?

Back in March, we were advised to wait until after August as a show of good faith. It is now September, so here we are.

Since we could not give full details to anyone without jeopardizing the whole thing before now, a lot of misinformation, rumors, and flat out wrong ideas got out there. To correct them could have broken the request, and therefore the trust, built up. So we had to let them stir, and do minor nudges to fix when we could get away with it.

So where are we now?

Right now, still discussing terms, ideas, limits. The challenges we have been given we stepped up for and handled. Likely there will be discussions and adjustments right up until the moment the deal is signed. The whole thing may fall apart. For all we know, everything done so far has been nothing but a delaying tactic so they can say once again that they tried to work with the community to no avail. But until such time that becomes clear, we will continue forward in good faith.

They could have ignored us from day 1, but they did not. They may not operate at the pace we would like, but they are at the pace they are comfortable with. At this point, the ball is in their court.

Ultimately, it is not the dozen folk here who have been in talks with are important here, but all of you. Those who said what you wanted, what you’d hoped for, who did not give up. We’re still not there, may never make it there, but we are not even close to giving up. And whatever happens, we can do it together.

Thanks to all of you.”

Another project in the works with a similar goal is called Valiance Online. It’s being developed by Silverhelm Studios,and has been running a pre-alpha version on test servers. According to posts on their Facebook page and other forums, development is going well. I looked at the forums on their webpage, but it seems that it’s set up mostly for developers to communicate with each other right now. The ideas and images that are being shared there and on the Facebook page make me think that this is a game that I could get into once it’s in final release.

As much as I miss my City, I am looking forward to seeing how these other games and their communities will compare. Granted, nothing will ever be exactly like it was. Hopefully these new games will at least come close.

Raven is an author and cosplayer who really misses Paragon City.

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Extra-Life: Gaming for Good!

As I stumbled, bleary eyed and blinking, towards the dinner table last Sunday, my mother in law said, “Mike, you look really tired!” Well, yes, other-Mom, I was. I was tired because I had not slept more than forty minutes on Saturday night. And why? Because I was using video and board games to help sick kids.

There’s been a lot of talk over the last few months about the negative aspects of the gaming community. And there certainly have been some really negative aspects in the last few months. But we here at the Ace of Geeks believe in the power of gaming to help people, and Extra Life is one of the best ways to do just that.
Extra Life is a charity event that asks gamers to play games – any kind of game, from board games to pen and paper RPGs to League of Legends – for 24 hours straight. During your playtime, your convince your friends and family to donate money on your team’s page, which then in turn is donated to a Children’s Hospital of your choice. It’s played by people from all walks of life and all over the world. And for the last two years, we’ve participated as well.

Our first year, last year, was the first time we’d ever streamed anything. And while we had a great audience and raised some good money, it definitely all could have improved. This year, our Empress of Events, Stephanie Cala, went all out, contacting our friendly local game shops Gator Games and Hobby, Gamescape San Francisco, Games of Berkeley, and Anime Imports. Together with a few private donors, they donated over 300 items for us to giveaway to donors on the stream.

Over the course of the day, we played Minecraft, Thunderstone, Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons, Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Neverwinter, Aye Dark Overlord, Ticket to Ride, and finally Red Dragon Inn. Every hour we were able to give away four different items to happy viewers, including our grand prize of an Atari 2600.

And in the end, we raised over twelve hundred dollars for the Oakland Children’s Hospital. That’s about ten times what we raised last year.

Overall, Extra Life raised, well, I’ll just show you:

Holy crap, everybody.

That “and counting” is important, because while October 25th was the official streaming day, the event doesn’t actually end until the end of the year. If you want to set up your own fundraiser, head to extra-life.org and set up a team, there’s still time.

There’s a lot of talk out there about the dark side of gaming these days. But for one shining day, gamers rose up and together, did something amazing. When we take stock of our culture, that should come into effect, too.

Mike Fatum is the Editor in Chief of the Ace of Geeks, and one of the hosts of its flagship podcast. He is really, really tired.

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Outside, on Crutches.

I’m writing this article on my phone, in my night dress and back in bed at 12:35pm. I work part time in the afternoons so that my chronic insomnia doesn’t interfere. Well that and the rest of my work is from home. But the reason I’m still under the covers by midday has nothing to do with sleeping late and everything to do with seasonal agoraphobia.

For those who missed it in past articles, I’m bipolar. And during the fall, I go through a process that is nothing short of mental decay. Whatever I have built up over the other three seasons is put to the challenge as the goal posts shift. Forget building a future, how about we celebrate just leaving the house?

Every year I go through this, but I didn’t recognize the pattern clearly until recently. And this is the first I had built so much before hand. I have a new partner, a new job, an apartment we need me to help pay for, new friends who want to see me. I went from nearly being cared for entirely, to being the only one in the house who can drive. So I have to be involved in the upkeep of life and toilet paper, at least a little.

Plus the cats. I have fuzzy children that depend upon me. I can’t sink now. Not now bipolar, you can’t steal all this away from me now.

The truth is, it could.

I’m fighting it. I’m going to work, and in three weeks classes ends and all my other work is from home. Meanwhile my partner helps by walking me through the millions of things we need to do to care for our environment. I’m still picking up my friends to join us at our house. My partner still has appointments they need a ride for. I’m going through the motions but every action is now fueled by panic. I’m terrified that one day it won’t be enough.

But if I fail, we both fail. We depend on my income and my ability to get in a car. Does the pressure help? I think so. I might have given up by now. I’ve never made it through to the other end before without a total collapse. And this is clockwork for me. Fall equinox I go down the tube, Winter Solstice I start to recover. If I can make it to December 21st, I can start to rebuild.

Life, death, rebirth. It’s no wonder I’m particularly drawn to a spiritual practice that includes these ideas. So as an aside let me offer a rebuke to a famous atheist argument.

“Faith is a crutch.”

My friend, can you not see that I can not walk on my own? So many people in my position would drown. I’ve gone under in the past. I need to pray for the strength to endure. And I find it. You might be right, but how rude to point it out.

Sure I’m not out there running marathons. I’m still struggling to leave the house. And the closer my difficult class looms the more I dread it – the more I want to stick to the blankets despite promising to put them in the wash. But right now the only thing getting me through is the faith it will get better.

Not everyone has that spark of hope. So here is the PSA for you. Agoraphobia is a dangerous condition that can lead to someone being entirely housebound. I know because I’ve had a car battery go dead from not using it. Twice. It can be crippling, and it’s hard on loved ones.

If you encounter someone with agoraphobia please be patient with them. Try to coax them out of the house for simple things, like one on one coffee, and promise you will help keep them safe. Somehow convince them to seek professional help. Be gentle and encouraging. And remember, no one chooses to be afraid of leaving the house. It can’t really be reasoned with. But with intervention and practice it can be managed or even go into remission. I don’t know if it can be cured in patients without other illness. But remission is a wonderful thing.

And here is why this belongs in a geek blog. A lot of what looks like game addiction is agoraphobia in disguise. Before you write off your friend for being addicted to World of Warcraft, consider if the real reason she won’t go to the movies is that means having a bath, getting dressed, and actually leaving the house. Is she obsessed, or is she depressed, and masking it with games?

As for me, here’s waiting for the solstice and my brain chemistry to shift again, and yes, praying I make it through.

Melissa Devlin is a professional writer and teacher who resides in Alameda, California, with her partner and multiple furry babies. She can also be frequently heard laughing – and occasionally even talking – on the Ace of Geeks Podcast.

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Extra Life 2014 Live Stream Marathon!

The Ace of Geeks is proud to, for the second year in a row, be hosting a 24 hour live stream event for Extra Life. Extra Life is an organization that, through the magic of gaming, raises money for Children’s Hospitals around the country. Just like last year, we’re going to be raising money for the Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland – they received $300k in donations last year, but we’re looking to try and blast that number out of the water. Want to join us? Want more details? Check out this lovely video, and then hit the jump for the full schedule and a live feed of our Twitch stream!


In addition to the crowd of hilarious Ace of Geeks staffers entertaining you all twenty four hours, we will be raffling off over $2000 worth of prizes excellent prizes from Gator Games and Hobby in San Mateo, California, Anime Imports in Pacifica, California, and Gamescape in San Francisco, California. The only way to win them is to tune in to the stream and donate! Here’s how:


Here’s the full schedule of our time on the stream on October 25th:

GAMING SCHEDULE:
(subject to change)
10am-1pm Minecraft Contest
1pm-3pm Thunderstone
3pm-7pm Firefly (Blue Sun expansion)
7pm-11pm D&D 5th ed
11pm-3am Betrayal at the House on the Hill
3am-6am Neverwinter D&D MMO
6am-7am Aye, Dark Overlord!
7am-8am Ticket to Ride
8am-9am King of Tokyo/Fluxx
9am-10am Red Dragon Inn

If you want to help, please go to our donation page, come RSVP on our Facebook Event, and make sure to tune in to our Twitch stream on October 25th! Where do I find that stream, you ask? Why….right here:

Watch live video from AceofGeeksPodcast on www.twitch.tv

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Gaming Convention How-To: Theming Your Game by Justin Rhodes

Gaming conventions are ultimate meccas of nerdery, replete with so many wonderful distractions and remarkable pastimes. Previously, I wrote about making a memorable con-game and one of the nuggets of wisdom included theming your game. How can you do that? Here are some ideas:

1) Determine what your source material will be.


I’ve skinned both Avatar: The Last Airbender and Mass Effect  themes over the Savage Worlds system. Both times, I chose the themes because those worlds are ones that I love. Avatar is, in my opinion, one of the greatest animated shows to exist to date. I could think of no better way to honor it than by allowing my fellow gamers to roam around in its world. When you pick your source material, pick something you are knowledgeable and passionate about. I rewatched the entire series before working on my game because I wanted to make sure that I knew my s*** and could make the experience as immersive as possible.

2) Determine where and when your game will take place in the world.


Timelines are important for the sake of games like this, because they effect things like character power level. Stating a fledgling Aang, fresh from the iceberg, is much different than stating Aang after he’s learned to bend all of the elements. I wanted my characters to feel heroic, so I chose to set my adventure after the series ended. That gave me (and my players) a lot more to work with.

As for picking a location, it comes easily if you already have a plot in mind. If you don’t, scouting locations just might inform your idea of what your adventure’s plot might be.

3) Pick a system that compliments the feel of your theme.

Savage Worlds’ tagline is “Fast, Furious, Fun!” It seemed like the perfect fit for a show like Avatar, which at its core was light-hearted and fun, while still dealing with some serious subject matter. I felt it would benefit from being paired with a fairly rules-lite system.

When in doubt, run it in Savage Worlds.

Once I decided on it, I immediately began thinking of the characters in terms of hindrances and edges, which made the character creation process flow nicely. Not all themes would be well-suited in a single system though, so think about which one would work well with your theme. A Sword of Truth game might work well in the D&D world, for instance. I’ve also been pondering running a Locke & Key game using the Dread system. Find the perfect match for what you plan on running, and it will have an authentic feel.

4) Add your home-brewed setting rules.


 I did this before character creation, because I knew it would affect how the character stats played out. I streamlined bending, causing it to function like a Blessed’s Faith skill in Deadlands: Reloaded instead of muddling around with Power Points. I felt it much more in the spirit of the show, as bending was seldom limited. I also had to think about natural stat boosts based on what nation my characters came from. Water Tribe characters, for example, were provided with either a swimming or boating skill point for free at creation. This part requires a bit of legwork, but take some time, think about it, and maybe even have a discussion with friends who are also interested in your source material about rules that would make sense in the world.

5) Choose & Stat Your Characters.


Determine which characters you want to include in your game. Given the chance, most players would prefer to play main characters, the ones that they already know and love. It’s not always necessary, or possible, but I think you can tell that being a member of Team Avatar is far more exciting than playing as generic characters the DM created. As I mentioned, I chose to set my game after the series which meant I had to make Heroic level Savage Worlds characters, not Novice ones. This is where knowledge of your material comes in because you need to think about things like how many skill points you need to allocate to, let’s say, Sokka’s climbing skill.

He is a self-proclaimed “Great climber!” after all.
 Take your time. Think it through logically. Make the stats true to the characters and your players will be amazed by your forethought.
6) Write your adventure.

For some, DMing without a pre-written adventure is uncharted territory they’d rather not traverse. It’s easy to grab something ready-made and go, but if you want to wow your players with a themed game you will have to flex your writing muscle. If it helps, think of it like an episode and start mapping it out with varying bits of combat, dialogue, and read-aloud text. I can’t tell you what to write, but I can tell you that you should write the game that you would want to be in as a player.
7) Playtest!

No snark from me here. Just ponies playing D&D.
Playtest your game so that you get out all of your performance anxiety and your jitters. I ran my game twice before taking it to con because I wanted to make sure I got the timing and pacing right, and worked out all of the bugs. Plus, I got to show my friends the cool thing I made, which is always a nice feeling. Playtest. Get feedback (remember to disconnect your ego from the project) and make the changes necessary for an amazing con debut. Good luck, fellow DMs. Hopefully this helps you make something awesome.
Justin Rhodes DMs frequently.

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