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Star Citizen Black Hole

Star Citizen – One game to avoid or one to embrace?

…and will Star Citizen ever be delivered?

Ah. Star Citizen.
I avoided posting anything about Star Citizen on my blog for years now.

I’m an original backer since when it first was announced way back in 2012.

I wanted to distance myself from the game before posting on my blog since Star Citizen is (still) in development.
Thoughts about the game’s development tend to be polarized and I did not want my fan enthusiasm to compromise my perception of the game.

I used to stream Star Citizen all the time on Twitch (you will make me smile if you go follow my channel right now!).

Maybe now’s the time to clarify some misconceptions and point some concerns regarding Chris Robert’s massively crowdfunded project.

I won’t hide it.

I am biased in favor of Star Citizen.
The skepticism of some people is understandable, and the wait isn’t for everyone. -Are you one of these people?

Hopefully, you’ll find out after reading this article.

I will try to analyze some of the frustrations, doubts, and expectations that the fans and the haters are experiencing or discussing – hopefully enlightening newcomers to the game.

The aim of this article is to clarify and avoid buyer regrets.

Should you avoid Star Citizen?

A little bit of context first.

What is Star Citizen?

Star Citizen Cockpit
Star Citizen is hard to define, but let’s start by saying that it is one gigantic sandbox for many different types of emergent gameplay. Composed of two parts, it will feature a single-player campaign (Squadron 42) and an online Persistent Universe (MMOG-like).

They create the universe, you make the rules.

As with most 4X space games, FREEDOM is the keyword for the universe. Star Citizen allows you to become a space farmer, a miner, a bounty hunter, an explorer, a smuggler, a racer, a law enforcer and anything in-between.

The Star Citizen team is looking to develop a sandbox universe that provides a fertile ground for emergent gameplay. They are creating the tools for you to become whatever you want to be.
As an example, for a while, I had fancy a ship called Constellation Phoenix, which I planned to rent out to factions interested in using it for important meetings. During their stay, I would provide them with drinks, entertainment, and security.

I eventually traded the Connie for the Endeavour – a sprawling modular ship that will allow me to cultivate plants and make drugs on the same ship (legal …or otherwise) – it even stars a hangar to allow willing traders to dock with my ship!

The game will feature unprecedented sci-fi realism and a ton of complex missions and mini-games that will require learning and skill to master.

Nothing is dull or simple in Star Citizen.

Star Citizen FPS Mining

As an example, mining requires foreplanning and skill – unlike most space games, you actually have to learn how to mine and be very careful when doing it in order to avoid damage to your ship or even loss of life.
Selling your minerals won’t be linear either. Prices fluctuate according to supply and demand in different parts of the Universe, influenced by real-time player and NPC interaction. This was also analyzed in my other post that discusses economics.

This sandbox gameplay leads to many venues of gameplay exploration. This freedom to do whatever you want is the core focus of Star Citizen.

I also expect this game to become a major social hub for me and my friends.

COMPLAINT #1 – The game has no objective.

Objective – Achieve fun (0/100)

There’s no denying it. It’s true.
Is that REALLY a problem though?

Just like Grand Theft Auto online, or Red Dead Redemption 2 online. Star Citizen‘s Persistent Universe won’t hold your hand or set you on a campaign path. You get to choose what to do, where to go, what to see and who to meet.

If you really think you need guidance, then why not set YOUR OWN goals?
Why not set a personal goal to explore every single system?
…or instead to amass wealth and spend it all on a luxury liner like the 890 Jump?

890 Jump
890 Jump

The ghost cruise ship of enjoyment

A long time ago, I used to play a game that had very much the same essence of Star CitizenFreelancer, a game by the same head developer (Chris Roberts) that I mentioned in my previous post.
When playing Freelancer online, you would find yourself cruising the star lanes for long periods of time on your way to make a trade.
One day I was crossing a remote part of the game’s universe when I spotted a massive player ship that was constantly communicating in system chat. Oblivious to my presence, this was his message to his own imaginary crew of tourists:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have now arrived at the Tau-31 system. To our left, you will be able to spot the beautiful semi-desertic landscape of Planet Harris, one of the first terraforming efforts by Planetform, Inc.
Please return to your seats.
We will dock at the Holman Outpost in 5 minutes.”

To think that this player was investing his time roleplaying as a tourist cruise ship really blew my mind. That route was probably not even profitable – but he didn’t care – because having fun was his objective. And whatever he was doing was fun for him.

Oh, by the way, there’s no “endgame” in Star Citizen either. Sandbox.

If you can’t understand the concept of setting your own goals, then please stop reading now. This is NOT the game for you – Abandon ship!

COMPLAINT #2 – The game is pay-to-win.

As I discussed in one of my previous Youtube videos, the concept of Pay-to-Win is that you get an edge in a competitive environment by injecting real money into the game.
Whoever pays the most has the most chances of “winning“.

Star Citizen Pay to Win Youtube Video

Although it is true that you are able, through various means, to buy in-game credits or ships with real money, the real question is WHY would you do it when the game has no end-goal…

Star Citizen is not about genital length comparisons. There’s no point in spending money in this game except for two very honorable reasons:

  1. To support the game development process if you believe in it
  2. To unlock new gameplay layers without having to grind to get there

However, if grinding is made fun (which seems like it will be with so many different things to do), you will actually be LOSING content by skipping gameplay aspects that you would otherwise have to explore and experience to achieve your final objective.

That sense of progression

This is exactly the reason why I’ve considered giving away all my ships – so I could start with the smallest, cheapest one ever and see my own game story grow from there.

If you believe SC is still pay-to-win then embrace it this way – or Abandon ship!

Instead, think of the guy cruising his tourists for fun.
-Does it really matter how he bought his ship?
-How does his enjoyment affect you?
-What are his goals?

Star Citizen Cockpit

COMPLAINT #3 – The game is too expensive!

You’ll often see news titles like “Player X has spent over 15.000$ to play Star Citizen“, or “Star Citizen’s new ship pack costs an absurd amount of money

Today, the cheapest game package costs 50$.

A few years ago you could buy one for 26$…

Sure, there are ships that cost over 400$ and there are ship packages which include a ton of ships (which are actually at a bargain price when you consider each ship’s individual price). But those ships and packages are NOT intended for just one person or a newcomer. They require several people to play.

Think of the Banu Merchantman which has a crew capacity for 8 people and costs 430$. Divide 430$ by 8 people and you get the price of the cheapest game package. Go gather your friends and buy one!

Banu Merchantman

These massive ships are NOT intended for solo play.

People who buy large ships now are simply trying to support the game’s development.

Also: every ship will be available to purchase with in-game money.
GTA V does this well. It gives people a reason to try to make in-game money. Something to strive for. An objective.

COMPLAINT #4 – The game will never be finished

Star Citizen has been in development for 8 years now.
The same amount of time as the sci-fi single-player game Cyberpunk 2077 by CD Projekt Red studios – which is expected to be delivered in 2020.

However, unlike Cyberpunk, Star Citizen is nowhere near completion.
At the same time, and unlike Cyberpunk, it shares its progress with the community regularly, instead of working behind the scenes and ultimately presenting a finished game. The complexity of developing each game is also radically different.

Some claim that the game will never be finished because of the feature-creep-Cthulhu. Others say their plan is actually to never even deliver a finished game. Even more skeptic ones say that Chris Roberts has run away with the crowdfunded money to a tropical island in the Pacific.

Feature Creep

Star Citizen Drake Dragonfly
Drake Dragonfly – hover bike

If you’re one of the investors (a.k.a. players) who feels frustrated by the way that they seem to keep adding new features and delaying the final delivery – then consider accepting it as a requirement or, instead, by blaming it on the idealistic dreams of the community.

A couple of years into development Chris Roberts suggested he could deliver a simplified game in two or three years.
One day a poll showed up on the Star Citizen website. The developer wanted to figure out whether the community would prefer to see a simplified version of Star Citizen within their initially planned timeframe or instead to deliver a more in-depth experience, one which would require a longer development stage.

As I somewhat expected, the community overwhelmingly (I believe almost 70%) asked for the later without knowing exactly what the real timeframe would be.

This meant that Chris Roberts could freely deliver his dream game. One he had been preparing for most of his career as a film director and game developer (Wing Commander, Privateer, Freelancer). Now he had big plans for Star Citizen and hiring the feature expansionist Tony Zuroveck (Ultima series) would only reinforce his interest in developing very in-depth and detailed game mechanics.

Innovation and delay

Even though many of these features or minigames are a gameplay delight, they take time to develop. A very long time for some. They also exponentially increase the number of bugs to tackle and problems to solve.

One of these features is the planetary tech they’ve developed. To render such massive planets and avoid loading screens sure was impressive – but it was also one of the reasons why the so-difficult 64-bit precision had to be accomplished in the engine.

Ships, in order to support the newly added features or concepts also have to be redesigned from scratch, like the Cutlass Red which serves as an ambulance and integrates with the health system, or the Carrack for the exploratory aspects of the game.

As a result, yes, feature creep is real and a real concern. It does divide the community between those who just want to play the game as is but in a more polished state and those who instead want the game to become better, with more content, features, and professions to explore.

star citizen medical

Star Citizen will never be released!

We should consider that the initial team for Star Citizen was rather small (50 employees) and the company had to slowly grow. Now they employ approximately 500 people in 5 studios across the world. This meant that more people had to be introduced, and teams still had to learn to work together on core aspects of the game, which ultimately lead to a slow start.

To support the growing number of employees, the initial record sales of the game wouldn’t suffice.

Looking at their latest financial report, one would quickly realize that what’s keeping this game in active development aren’t the initial sales anymore, but rather the on-going ship purchases, upgrades and merchandising. These sales sustain the whole team throughout the year.

Some people claim that they’re only making ships and concepts for ships to make money.

Well… this is… true.
They need to do so, in order to keep the project alive and proceed with development.

The reality is that the players are frequently buying paper ideas that aren’t yet realized in-game and are likely to change. Understandably, spending a lot of money on something that doesn’t yet exist seems difficult to accept for many outsiders.

Tic Tac Tic Tac

Adding to all this, as time goes by, age takes a toll on the game’s engine and assets, which has to be updated from time to time. Physics-Based Rendering (PBR) wasn’t a common feature in games back in 2012, but as time passes and technology evolves, it had to be introduced to avoid the pitfall of ending up with an already outdated game on release.
This meant refactoring all ships once again.

The same happened when the components feature was introduced. Ship components are parts of the ship that can be handled, fixed or replaced. The ships weren’t prepared for that and had to be refactored one more time.

Due to the live development approach, CIG prefers to deliver functional updates to allow the players to access other features or content.
These features are developed iteratively, being later on optimized, improved or further developed to add new innovations. The fact that they keep revamping the same features over and over is not a pre-planning issue but instead a requirement of the live development process.

Star Citizen Tumbril Ranger Bike
Tumbril Ranger Bike

Drinking Mojitos

I don’t think Chris Roberts is on an island in the Pacific.

This is his dream work. His unique chance to build his masterpiece.

His previous games have revolved around this theme and now he’s finally got a chance to make his vision truly come to fruition on his terms without any form of corporate pressure. Why waste the opportunity?

This is what led me to back this project. I’m a huge fan of his sadly incomplete Freelancer and I really want to see Star Citizen succeed.
I’m usually relaxed and I don’t excited about a game easily. Well maybe except for Red Dead Redemption 2 and Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020!

My concern

The fact that the game development costs are just as high as their regular revenue is a concern as there’s a point when players stop investing in new ships and merchandise. They will constantly need to reach out to new players in order to keep development going.
This could also be seen as financially and strategically sound to work as fast as they can with the assets they have access to.

Apparently, last month was one of the most profitable ones for Star Citizen with many new citizens joining the ranks.

I’m convinced by my peer’s attitudes towards this game that there is a significant amount of people who are actually interested in the game but still patiently waiting for it to release before buying it. Maybe still afraid of it being vaporware.
If true, this should act as a life-saving device as they can “release” the game whenever they want and get a large influx of fresh new money to sustain development for a few more months or years. The truth is that the game is more than playable right now, even if it still lacks content.

Eclipsing thoughts

Star Citizen is said to be being developed to achieve a 10-year longevity goal. This is the main reason why they wish to build a solid core game engine that allows for improvements and extra content over time.

Game development tends to become faster and faster as more of the foundational game mechanics are set in place.
We should see a LOT more content coming in 2020.

What are your thoughts on Star Citizen and this article?
Do you share my view? What are your concerns?

Leave me a comment below, or check one of my other posts!
If you liked this one, you might also like THIS one.

You should also check out my Star Citizen Ship Comparison Tool which is currently on standby waiting for some support from the community. Leave me a comment if you would like to see it shine again!

I just made a new post on the economy of Red Dead Redemption 2 that analyzes Star Citizen’s economy layout. Go check it out!

See you in the ‘verse!
-ViLa4480

A cowboy resting in RDR2

Red Dead Redemption 2 – Fix CPU Lag, Disconnects

Welcome to the Wild […LAG SPIKE…] West!

As you might remember from my previous post I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption 2 recently. Unfortunately, sometimes, as with Grand Theft Auto 5 and The Division 2, I would experience CPU and graphics card usage peaks that caused the game to pause for a few seconds or even disconnect from the online game when the peak was too long. Sometimes I would get stuck in a loading screen for ages until finally, the game’s online status timed out.

The game “loses” connection to the server, not because of an Internet connection problem, but instead due to an extended delay in a response to the server. This is caused by the local CPU/GPU.

Because of this issue, many players get this message when playing Red Dead Redemption 2 online:

ALERT: You have been disconnected from Red Dead Online due to a fault on Rockstar game services (Error: 0x20010006)

ALERT: You have been disconnected from Red Dead Online due to a fault on Rockstar game services (Error: 0x20010006)
This is the error many players are getting because of poor CPU/GPU performance

This was particularly common when Red Dead Redemption 2 got released, but I thought I had fixed it until yesterday (14th November 2019) when the new patch was delivered. Apparently, this affects some CPUs and NVidia graphics cards.

I’ll go over the official and the non-official fixes. I’m currently using both.

How to fix stuttering, disconnects, and performance with Launch Arguments

Before following through this post for more in-depth fixes, check out a tool I developed to help you set up Red Dead Redemption 2 launch arguments. One of the sections on that tool is specific to performance. It also helps with graphics, bugs, stuttering, etc.

Go check it out at this page: PopcornGamer’s Unofficial Red Dead Redemption 2 Launch Argument Composer.

If it helps you, let me know!

Hold your horses! Update your drivers!

Before changing anything, make sure you update your graphics card drivers! I’m pretty sure this is a CPU+graphics card issue and it definitely might help to make sure you’ve got the latest graphics driver – especially for NVidia graphics cards.

The Official Patch

This new official patch actually introduces a CPU load balancing feature – but it has to be enabled manually in the Rockstar Games Launcher. To do this, you should go to your Rockstar Games Launcher and click Settings on the top right corner. Then at the lower-left corner select Red Dead Redemption 2, which will display your options for the game. Scrolling down to the bottom you’ll find a Launch Arguments section, where you should input the newly added argument (on the 14th November 2019 patch):

-cpuLoadRebalancing

Red Dead Redemption 2
Don’t forget the “-“!

Another Official Update – 14 Nov 2019

On the same day, Rockstar dropped an article on how to fix an issue related to certain NVidia graphics cards. Check it out:

Players with NVIDIA graphics cards and 4-core or 6-core CPUs should install the GeForce Hotfix Driver Version 441.34 from NVIDIA and remove any launch arguments to resolve this issue.ROCKSTAR

This alternative hotfix is available right here by installing the latest GeForce Hotfix Driver Version 441.34.
Apparently, if CPU isn’t your problem, then the graphics card might be the culprit!
Let me know if this solution fixes it for you!

The non-official way to improve system stability

Let’s start by reducing your current CPU load.

By doing so, we’ll be giving more room for the game to function properly without resorting to RAM buildup or disk caching which both may cause bottlenecks and thus stutters, disconnects, and crashes.

CPU, RAM, DISK, how does that even work… and why is that a problem?!

As you know, a processor makes mathematical calculations, but it takes some time to deliver them.
Let’s say you are the CPU and I’m giving you a paper which says 3+5=?. Easy. Right?

Red Dead Redemption 2

Now I’m giving you a sheet of fifty pieces of paper, each one with a different calculation to perform.
Aaaand now I’m giving you one hundred more calculations.


You can’t really hold them all in your hands and you need more time to deliver those results before I give you more calculations to perform!

…This sounds a lot like my old boss.

So you put those sheets of paper on your desk while you make your calculations. That’s your RAM. Once your desk is filled up and there’s nowhere else to put more paper on it you start using your desk’s drawers, which takes a bit longer because now you need to open them up before placing the paper in there. That’s your DISK.

Slowing down to a halt

Okay, so my CPU isn’t the best.
I’ve been using it for a few years now and it is starting to feel the weight of age with heavier processes and games.
GTA V was also very CPU intensive. I also love flight simulators which also consume a TON of CPU capacity. I’m really looking forward to the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. You have got to check it out. It is absgorgeously beautiful.

This has led me to try and find ways to circumvent this issue and get the best performance out of my rig. So let’s get right to it.

Steps to reduce CPU usage

Let’s start by freeing up your CPU from unnecessary calculations and clearing up your RAM usage by turning off stuff that isn’t required to run the game.

Start by closing EVERY browser window, WhatsApp, Spotify, opened Windows folders, etc. also check your tray icons next to your system clock for useless software that might be running in the background. Disable any on-going anti-virus full system scans (no need to turn real-time protection off).

Google Chrome is a heavy CPU load hog – make sure you save this page to your bookmarks and close it now! I mean, later, when you’ve read through this post!

Check your system load by pressing CTRL+SHIFT+ESC to bring up your Windows Task Manager and click on the CPU tab to check which processes are consuming the most out of your processor and make try to turn them off if you can.

Red Dead Redemption 2
The tabs are in Portuguese, but notice how RDR2 chews up so much CPU!
I’ve opened up a folder on Windows Explorer and it consumes 7% CPU just for laying there!

Note: to the right you’ll also see a tab for GPU usage. If you notice that your GPU usage is above 70% then you definitely should consider upgrading your graphics card. Check your graphics card at GPUCheck and see how it performs compared to more recent card models. If instead you wish to see how your CPU compares, check out PassMark.

An alternative to improve CPU usage and reduce stalling

Red Dead Redemption 2 Lasso

I’ve been using Process Lasso recently.

It helps to maintain system stability by adjusting CPU process priorities. This means that it will do its best to make sure that your system keeps running smoothly by prioritizing processes that are critical to System stability. RDR2 likes to peak CPU usage from time to time – to a point where it will make the whole system unresponsive, which leads to a crash to desktop or a BSOD (it did happen to me before using Process Lasso!).

You may also use it to safely free up RAM automagically.

I have to say that I noticed a significant improvement in system stability since I started using Process Lasso.

They have very nice documentation that explains how to use it in detail. Make sure to check them out beforehand!

In conclusion…

Sure, maybe your old machine needs an upgrade – but the truth is that even with new PC builds, you’re prone to encounter issues like these again, as the CPU usage spikes are abnormal and caused by bad programming and rushed software development.

I play RDR2 in an Ultra Wide resolution. See how.

Before spending any more money, follow my tips and see if they solve your problem!

Let me know if they help you play this awesome game!

Stay WANTED for life!
-ViLa4480

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 – Fix Ultra-Wide Resolution

Extend your ride into the sunset!

I just recently decided to hop into Westworld… I mean, Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC knowing that this would be a game I would enjoy.
I’m currently writing a review for it (If only I could stop playing it to write my review…).

Unfortunately, just like its older brother, Grand Theft Auto 5, it doesn’t natively support my NVidia Surround ultra-wide screen resolution for my triple-screen setup.

How to set triple-screen ultra-wide 5760x1080 on Red Dead Redemption 2
Click for a higher resolution.

This fix may not be required for everyone, but for some reason, the resolution simply didn’t show up on the game’s graphical settings. It only went up to 1920×1080.

Just to be clear, I’ve got 3 monitors and I’m also a streamer on Twitch with a streaming computer that uses one of my screens when I stream, which automatically changes my screen resolution to 3840×1080 – I’m using DisplayFusion to achieve this behavior. Plus HDMI routers, DVI adapters, screen recorders… Not even my computer understands what’s going on with my screen resolutions.

In this post, I’ll be going over several ways to fixing your screen resolution.
Please consider this a repository of suggestions. I can’t promise that they’ll all currently fix the issue, but they have worked in the past. Give it a try and let us know which one worked for you!

How to fix ultra-wide surround screen resolutions the easy way with Launch Arguments

Before following through this post for more in-depth fixes, check out a tool I developed to help you set up Red Dead Redemption 2 launch arguments. One of the sections on that tool is specific to screen resolutions. It also helps with performance, bugs, stuttering, etc.

Go check it out at this page: PopcornGamer’s Unofficial Red Dead Redemption 2 Launch Argument Composer.

If it helps you, let me know!

This fix should make the game run in any screen resolution.

UPDATE: As of the last patch, it seems like some of these tricks aren’t working for some users. Check the bottom of this post for alternative ways to make it work! Leave me a comment if it does!

A couple of years ago I posted a video on Youtube explaining how to make GTA V work at 5760×1080. Guessing that the engine was the same I thought about doing the same on my blog, but this time regarding Red Dead Redemption 2.

Apparently, the game engine has progressed quite significantly since GTA V. Back then, I managed to find a work-around for GTA V, but RDR2 seems to accept 5760×1080, much more easily.

To make 5760×1080 work, I had to go through My Documents folder and find the Rockstar Games folder. Within it, the Red Dead Redemption Folder and then the Settings folder. In it, you should find a file called system.xml

How to set triple-screen ultra-wide 5760x1080 on Red Dead Redemption 2

In my computer this is located at:
C:/Users/[windows username]/Rockstar Games/Red Dead Redemption 2/Settings/system.xml

In this file, down at the bottom, you’ll find:

<video>
    <adapterIndex value="0" />
    <outputIndex value="0" />
    <resolutionIndex value="14" />
    <screenWidth value="5760" />
    <screenHeight value="1080" />
    <refreshRateIndex value="0" />
    <refreshRateNumerator value="50000" />
    <refreshRateDenominator value="1000" />
    <windowed value="2" />
    <vSync value="0" />
    <tripleBuffered value="false" />
    <pauseOnFocusLoss value="true" />
    <constrainMousePointer value="false" />
  </video>

Here, you should set the screenWidth and screenHeight to your desired screen resolution.
After this step, you should save and close the file and then right-click on it and go to File Properties and set it to Read-Only. This prevents the game from making any changes to it. Keep in mind that setting this to Read-Only will keep you from saving adjusted game settings from within the game. This means that if you make any changes in-game, the settings will be reset every time you launch the game.

Also note that, for even more exotic users, if you’re using several screens but only wish to use one set of them, then you should change the outputIndex and/or the adapterIndex value. This may only be required if you’re using more than 3 screens, or when you’re having trouble with stretching or positioning on 2 screens.

How to set triple-screen ultra-wide 5760x1080 on Red Dead Redemption 2
The cowboy rests.

Alternatively, if this change fails to set your resolution correctly, try following my GTA V video which uses windowed mode and a piece of software called ResizeEnable.

An updated method to get 5760×1080 in RDR2!

As of the last update, it seems like some of these tricks aren’t working for some users. Instead, try using the command line.

Go to your Rockstar Games Launcher -> Settings -> Red Dead Redemption 2 (on the left sidebar) -> search for the launch arguments text field
Then type the following:

-width 5760 -height 1080 -borderless

You may also replace borderless with “-windowed“.
Alternatively, try using

-allowResizeWindow

…and then try to stretch the frame of the window to your screen resolution (can’t do this in borderless mode)

The reason why you’re not usually able to go full resolution is that when not in surround mode, the game knows you have 3 screens but thinks that you only play in one of them so it sets itself to 1920×1080.

How to fix the UI being displaced or stretched

Some players might be able to set their screen resolution correctly, but the UI elements (the map, the menus) might show off-center, displaced or distorted. To fix this, you may want to try using -noDPIAdjust in your command line arguments list.
A special thank you to one of our users, Jon, who shared this solution by another player who helped him, NorbzFR.

You’re done!

Now bask in the glorious landscapes that this game has to offer.
They look absurdly beautiful at a 3840×1080 or even 5760×1080 resolution.

Next step: VR.

If this guide helped you, send me your best Ultra Wide Wide West Screen Shots!
Too many puns. Bang!

Stay WANTED for life,
-ViLa4480

GTA-Online-Casino-Exterior

Not everyone is allowed to play at the new GTA Online Casino

GTA Online – Your account does not have permission to complete this purchase.

ALERT: Your account does not have permission to complete this purchase. For further help, go to:

This is the message that a bunch of players are seeing when they try buying chips from the cashier at the newly established GTA Online Diamond Casino Spa & Resort in bloody Los Santos.

The very anticipated Casino has just opened today – but gambling is not for everyone. Killing, stealing, trafficking is all well and good in GTA Online but DON’T YOU DARE GAMBLE!

Apparently, people from at least 50 countries, including Portugal, Hungary, Israel and Argentina have been prevented from trading in any chips.

These left-out players aren’t able to access the free daily bonuses at the cashier, or the wheel spin at all. It may also affect bonuses from the Penthouse, missions, world collectibles, and unique clothing and items.

GTA Online Casino
GTA Online Casino

Apparently, there’s a region lock to access the Casino’s features. This includes buying chips and playing with them – effectively limiting all gambling activity for some players.

We’re talking funny money here. In-game cash translates to the same amount of in-game casino chips which can only be refunded to in-game cash.

If there’s one thing Rockstar is used to deal with …is lawsuits.

Apparently, the reason for this region lock is that Rockstar does not want to register as a gambling entity (such as with other online gambling websites). Even if you now have to accept a new EULA, this effectively means that they’re not able to deliver this type of content to a large number of countries.

As far as I understand the law (and other games that do this), the real problem here is the fact that players are able to buy in-game currency with real money and then spend it all gambling (instead of buying new in-game cars).
Well, if that’s the problem, then the already present chip currency could be used to *legally* buy stuff without having to convert it to the real-cash-connected GTA bucks – that wouldn’t be gambling and that would solve the legal conundrum. Think about it Rockstar!

Make sure you follow me on Twitch if you wish to stay up to date about when these things change or a legal alternative has been found!

Most countries have grey-area laws on online gambling.
Most regulate physical gambling effectively but lack online regulation.

Here in the EU, only a few players in Germany seem to be able to access the Casino features. This has sparked a rush to VPN services. Players are trying to connect via VPN to get a German or American IP address in order to play at the Diamond Casino. Note: Some people argue that this practice may get your account banned for trying to bypass common online identity checks.

ALERT: Your account does not have permission to complete this purchase. For further help, go to:

Rockstar support is inefficient

Rockstar support is completely inefficient at informing players why they’re unable to use the Casino. There’s not a single official reply to queries regarding this situation and the players were left to figure it out for themselves.

I’m hoping that they eventually revise their region-lock limitations or that, at the very least, they inform players that they won’t be able to access this content beforehand. Some people are complaining that they bought Twitch Prime to access the “free” content and Penthouse at the now pointless Casino.

Players will eventually find a way around this issue. They’ve done that before with private servers, hacks and the RP server boom in the past couple of years.

They will find a way to make it work – legally, or otherwise.

Nope. She ain’t givin’ you no moneys.

In any case, it feels lame that the largest GTA Online update in years is locked to so many players around the world.

And there I was. Looking at the shiny new slot machine.
Press E to interact.
ALERT: Your account does not have permission to complete this purchase. For further help, go to: www.rockstargames.com/support

So frustrating!

This update should never have been developed in the first place. Their energy should have been spent on new content that everyone would be able to enjoy. Besides the Casino and the Penthouse, the remaining content is just a couple of missions, a few new unremarkable vehicles, and a pair of easily-outdated cosmetics.

Heists is where GTA Online truly shines – co-op missions with cinematics and a story to play with your friends. Yet, no new heists have been released in a VERY long time. Instead, we’ve been stuck with mostly cosmetic updates that don’t effectively expand the story or the replayability of the game.

GTA-Online-Casino-Exterior

The truth is that the game is still fun.

Rockstar-outlawed private servers and RP have given it a boost recently. But the updates have mostly been delivering content that is both very expensive and insubstantial.

I live in Portugal. I’ve got a casino across the street from my home and I’m not able to play on GTA Online with funny money. *shrug*

If, like me, you’re not able to play at the Casino, check out my post on How I became an Undead Pirate in Sea of Thieves. A fun read. I promise. And you won’t lose any chips.

Alternatively, you may also want to check out my Twitch channel and join me playing this and other games!

I’ll see you in Los Santos (but not at the Casino),
-ViLa4480

Microsoft Flight Simulator Screenshot

What to expect of Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020)

A long, long time ago (back in 1982), Microsoft came up with the first iteration for Microsoft Flight Simulator. It looked amazing for that era and featured unrivaled 3D graphics!
It was the start of a whole lineage of popular flight sims.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 1982

As I mentioned in my previous post, I did not get to experience the joy in flight sims until very recently.
However, even if things look different nowadays, I’m 100% sure that the feeling of accomplishment for taking off the runway was the same as today’s.

Sure, the game grew over time. Immensely.
Better graphics, more planes, more buildings, better flight mechanics, multiplayer.

But at its core, the fun of the hobbyist flight sim experience is definitely the sense of achievement you get for taking off, landing and the idea of freedom, movement, and control (or lack thereof).

I won’t lie. To me, that’s not enough to truly enjoy flight simming. I love the notion of purpose in a sim.

I decided to turn the sim into a game – by adding an objective!

Microsoft Flight Simulator Screenshot

Make it a game!

During my streams on Twitch and Youtube, I did a trip around the world using Microsoft Flight Simulator X and FSEconomy.

FSE allows you to rent planes and do cargo runs. What usually happened was that I would rent a plane and do short cargo runs from one place to another. I started back in Iceland with a small Cessna 172 hauling mail.

I ended up transporting tourists in Brazil, by going through the eastern coasts of Canada, the US, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panamá, Colombia, Venezuela and, finally, Brazil. My plan was to make the cross to Africa, but I couldn’t yet afford a plane large enough to cross the Atlantic. What an adventure!

FSEconomy changed the way I saw flight simulation forever.

Beauty matters.

Over time, graphics have improved drastically. They went from being an IFR flight mechanics simulation to becoming a true world representation simulator which featured accurate flight mechanics.

The new Microsoft Flight Simulator trailer seems to showcase just that.

Microsoft Flight Simulator Screenshot

I’m sure that there’s a lot more to the whole.
But the graphics engine and the weather effects are the real stars in this E3 trailer.

I usually don’t fly large planes.
I get excited by the beautiful landscape and the prospect of doing short hops towards a far-away destination.
The detailed scenery is vital for VFR (low-altitude visual) flights.

Microsoft Flight Simulator Screenshot

Microsoft seems to have nailed this in the previous trailer, by showcasing VERY detailed scenery.
The pyramids in Egipt, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or the Seattle Space Needle are rendered in very high detail.

More than that, it features outstanding (and massive) cloud formations and weather effects. It also shows detailed traffic that is sure to melt CPUs and GPUs everywhere.

Microsoft Flight Simulator Screenshot

To me, however, it is the dynamic details that tease me the most. The pink flamingos flying over the coral area or the giraffes on the plateau demonstrate unprecedented attention to detail towards fauna and flora in different regions of the world.

I’m also expecting Virtual Reality and Multiplayer to be included by default. One can also hope for some degree of mod compatibility with previous releases.

The eternal wait

Microsoft took too long between Flight Simulator versions. The last one, Flight Simulator X was released back in 2006. It was effectively being laid as an improvement to its predecessor, Flight Simulator 2004.

This 13-year hiatus has led to Microsoft losing its unbeaten lead in the world of flight sims.
Nowadays, X-Plane, P3D (a third-party updated FSX version) and AeroflyFS2 are major contenders for the title (Dovetail’s Flight Sim World now excluded!). In the past few years, combat flight sims have also resurged with games like DCS, War Thunder or World of Warplanes.

Microsoft Flight Simulator Screenshot

Nevertheless, the impact of FSX in the flight sim universe was huge – and any new version that Microsoft puts forward will be regarded with hope and expectation.

It will be a few more years until the mod community catches up to the new flight sim. But the prospect of having a brand new engine capable of doing new things is very enticing for every flight sim enthusiast.

Now that we finally have some serious competition from other contenders, it should also spark innovation in the coming years.

Microsoft Flight Simulator Screenshot

Looking forward to the future!

What are your thoughts on this?
-How will Microsoft Flight Simulator succeed in the current Flight Simming scene?
-Do you think that the focus on low-altitude visuals will affect the jetliner flight experience?

I will be sharing more details on this title as they become available.
Subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitch or Twitter to be notified when a new post is published!

Answer in the comments below!

Oh! And make sure you check out my previous post on Microsoft Flight Simulator and how flight sims landed on me!

Clear skies everyone!
-ViLa4480

Microsoft Flight Simulator Screenshot

Microsoft Flight Simulator and how Flight Sims landed on me

It flew under the radar – Microsoft Flight Simulator was “quietly” announced at E3 this year to be released in 2020.
It reminded me of how I forced myself to learn to enjoy flight sims.
Here’s a story for you:

In the beginning…

I didn’t enjoy flight sims until very recently.
In fact, I couldn’t figure out why people would spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on hardware to be able to fly virtually.

This topic first came to me quite a few years ago. An old gentleman at the local electronics store prompted my colleague about his newly-bought computer hardware. He was unsure whether his graphics card was good enough when compared to whatever was out there on the market.

Now, I don’t really keep up to date with hardware parts and their specs – but my friend does – and he was baffled.

Apparently, he had bought THE most expensive graphics card at the time. That graphics card wasn’t even being sold in my country yet.
He was asking my friend on how to “assemble” it. He clearly had no idea what he was doing.
-But something drove that old man to spend that much money on a piece of hardware. We talked for a little longer and eventually found out he was a flight sim enthusiast.
It all sounded very alien – and outrageous to us – poor Medal of Honor (1999) players. To spend that much and waste it on a flight sim? Pffft!

It hurts to look at… Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004

He certainly did not look like a gamer… But flight sims aren’t games… are they? How can you enjoy spending time on them?
I’ll admit it, I had a certain prejudice and naivety towards flight sims. Back then flight sims looked ugly, boring, complex and geeky.
I was young and unprepared.

But that encounter really stuck with me for quite a few more years and it gently brewed questions in my mind.

It triggered my need to understand flight sims and their appeal.

It took me on the most unexpected voyage in my whole gaming life. One that would consume a few thousand hours and a few hundred bucks.

Surprisingly, the real turning point was Star Citizen.
And Freelancer (2003).
And Freespace (1999).

X-Plane Orbx
When you can’t afford a passenger seat – X-Plane 11 + Orbx

I’ve talked about Freespace in this blog before. A space fighter game which truly opened my eyes to the beauty of sci-fi themes. Then Freelancer, another space sim, came along and it blew my mind with its unprecedented freedom of exploration and trading.
One day I was casually going through Kickstarter titles and I noticed Star Citizen a space sim from the creator of Freelancer.
That description was all it took to get me hooked.

Star Citizen was the game that Chris Roberts dreamed of making all along. With the massive support from the fans, he now had the chance to make the “Best Damn Space Sim Ever“. His vision was so expansive and focused so much on immersion that it triggered in me a need to become one with the game.
So… I bought a joystick!
…A HOTAS actually (it has the thrust control)!

One day I was casually setting up my joystick to try out the WW2 flight sim War Thunder, (in “Realistic” mode). I was having some trouble figuring out how to take off from the runway… and then it clicked.

The large hunk of scrap slowly started to move. It made a lot of noise, the plane jiggled, the aluminum frame clanked… and then… I was flying.

War Thunder – Those trees are moving way too fast!

Fighting was awful with a joystick in War Thunder

…But the views were absurdly beautiful. The sunlight bouncing off the wings and the cockpit. The dials, knobs, and buttons begging to be read and squeezed.
That’s when flight Simming started to make sense to me.

Sure, I had flown planes in the past: Grand Theft Auto, Battlefield, Arma. None had the unavoidable and demanding level of detail you’d find in War Thunder.

I accepted the challenge.
If I was able to appreciate the non-combat aspects of War Thunder or World of Warplanes, maybe I was now able to put prejudice aside and try a real flight sim.

DCS
DCS

It was the 25th of January of 2015 and I had just bought the oldie Microsoft’s Flight Simulator: X (FSX, 2006).

That horrible AND EXTREMELY LOUD music played.
The dark omen for all the pain and pleasure I would endure in the upcoming months.

It took me hours of reading tutorials on how to start a plane. You need to check the levels, man the radios, get the injectors flowing, magnetos, batteries, fuel, parking brakes… -> or instead just press Ctrl+E and it does all of that for you – and off you go!

WEEEEEEE!
In a couple of minutes,
I was flying over my small town.
-It looked terrible.

But there was potential there!

So I decided to install a couple of free HD textures mods to update the old graphics engine.

I live in a very dense, steep-mountainous wine region.
The birds-eye view of the Douro valley near Porto, in Portugal, was absurd.

A photo of the Douro Valley – I’ll take a screenie later on!

It felt great to be able to go anywhere in the world and see the landmarks, the rivers, the cities, and the mountain tops. Feeling the old C172 (small plane) engine growling to my command was awesome.
Preparing to land is surprisingly tense – your attention levels skyrocket!

My perception of what flight simming was had changed dramatically.

Some people care about all the engineering parts of a plane or the technical aspects of flight – I don’t.
What I love is that each trip feels like a long cargo run in Freelancer, where, if you’re not careful, you might lose your cargo, your plane, your life! I also only do low-altitude flights as I love watching the views in my tiny paper planes.

Over time I realized that flight simming represents freedom. Freedom to go anywhere and to decide what to do next.

X-Plane Photorealistic
X-Plane + Orbx

Flight simming is made of layers.

If you truly enjoy flight simulators, then you’ll be spending quite a lot of money on hardware and software. Here’s some of the stuff I bought (I get no commission!):

  • If you follow this blog or my Twitch stream, I’m sure you’ve noticed how I love management games.
    I found out that by using AirHauler you can turn flight sims into an amazing online management game. You’re able to build airports, buy planes, do cargo runs, manage other pilots, build a fleet!
  • By using Flyinside to add Virtual Reality to the simulation, you’ll be blown away by the realism you get – and the real fear of heights when you open the plane’s door mid-flight (I almost fell off my chair…).
  • If immersion is your thing, the Buttkicker bass shaker makes your chair rumble to the plane’s engine and the wind and rain effects on your plane! Hands-down the most surprising piece of hardware I ever bought!
  • Also check out the really cool custom button boxes out there!

Add to that the mandatory joystick and the processor and graphics card upgrades – and now your wallet cries.

BBJSimRacing Buttonbox

It took me years to understand the hobby.

Flight Sims truly push the limits of your hardware in exchange for immersion and fun.

I can FINALLY relate to that old man, who spent that much money on a graphics card that he wasn’t even sure how to install.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

We’ll celebrate 14 years between Microsoft’s Flight Simulator: X (2006) and Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020).
I will be reviewing this on my following post – next week!
Subscribe to the blog and stay tuned!

Clear skies!
-ViLa4480

Thank you DCS, X-Plane, War Thunder, Prepar3D, FSX, Microsoft Flight Simulator – and the amazing Pickinthatbanjo!

Steel Division 2

Steel Division 2 – A battle too far

I got the chance to try out the new Steel Division 2!

Before we start dissecting Steel Division 2, let me clarify that most official screenshots suck.
They’re done at a very high zoom level to showcase the 3D unit model details.
The game isn’t played like that so let’s cut the crap.
Every screenshot I will add to this post will feature the average camera angle and zoom for most players.
Sorry if it doesn’t look as pretty as those incredibly detailed tanks and planes – but that’s the reality of how the game looks because that’s how you will play it.
The game is beautiful in its own way, but the screenie close-ups aren’t fair to what the game truly plays like.
This bad habit of showcasing aspects of games that aren’t relevant really upsets me as it tricks players into buying something that doesn’t look like what is shown. I also hate cinematic trailers btw. So this will be the first and last close-up you’ll see in this post:

Steel Division 2 – I was excited but slightly skeptic at the same time.
There were a few good reasons for that.

Steel Division 2 picks up where Steel Division: Normandy 44 left off. Instead of hitting the beaches of Normandy in operation Overlord, this time you’ll be fighting its eastern counterpart, Operation Bagration.

Eugen Systems has been developing this engine for quite some time now. The game shares similarities with one of my favorite games of all time:
A magnificent war tabletop-like game called R.U.S.E.
Man, I wish I had this blog when R.U.S.E. first came out back in 2010!

I promise I won’t spend this article talking about the oldie.
The truth is that most of the game mechanics present in 2019’s Steel Division 2 were already present in 2010’s R.U.S.E…. as well as every game in the Wargame series.

The 3 rules of war: location, location, location.

Steel Division 2 features a GIGANTIC war map where you’re able to scheme, plot and outthink your opponent using clever unit maneuvers and critical timing for moving your troops. 

The game demands that you think in advance, that you prepare for all possible attacks and counter-attacks. It demands concealment, ambushes, suppression and quick battle-critical decisions.

As a general, you focus on securing key locations on the map. It’s simple: the more you have, the more likely you are to win the battle. To achieve that you need to put boots on the ground.

Occupy and fortify villages with your infantry units. Place anti-tank guns at the main roads and anti-air units in the forest. Support with long-range artillery and have a couple of big, heavy tanks ready to flank any attacking force. Fuel and repair your planes to help push back the enemy.

Yet, you’re going to lose this fight. Sorry.

You forgot to place your recon units where they can spot the enemy at a distance. 

The enemy force advances towards the town.
You know they’re advancing as they slowly push the red line that splits the map between your sector and the enemy’s.

You don’t know what’s coming your way so you move your tanks towards the enemy. BAM! They’re blown into tiny pieces by the enemy tank destroyer. You can’t even see it as it is too far away and your recon units are nowhere to be seen. The enemy rushes towards your position. Once they’re in sight of your anti-tank gun you realize they actually have no tanks and your gun is useless at this point. 

Too late to fall back.
A number of storm infantry rushes towards your anti-tank gun and quickly take care of it. Your infantry units are holed up inside the village houses and are able to effectively suppress the enemy infantry. Enemy artillery falls on your units and it completely destroys their hideout. As a final act of despair you send your planes to destroy the enemy artillery. Unfortunately, they’re shot down by a couple of enemy anti-air units hiding in the woods.

The inevitability of war

The truth is that Steel Division 2 feels a bit pre-scripted in the sense that it is hard to bounce-back once you’re losing a match. The story of the match is mostly written during the first 15 minutes of it.
Efforts to change that are often met with resistance. It is pointless to throw new units to lock your position as they will take too long to get there. 

Your allies won’t help you. They’ve got problems of their own – and due to the size of the map they’re too far away to be of any help. In fact, it kind of feels like your allies are mostly just cosmetic.
Fortifying and defending a position tends to be easier than to attack an enemy outpost, but you can’t defend forever. The enemy will eventually score.
This inevitability of battle actually forces you to keep adjusting your tactics. You will now need to use choke-points for ambushes and to support your troops with a different mix of units. Hopefully, the enemy won’t be prepared for those.

Good timing and a plan for falling back is most times a requirement and a prelude to a successful counterattack. A counterattack victory is glorious but oftentimes happens due to the enemy spending all of their units before the battle timer runs out.

Fighting time

The Phase system splits the match into three timed phases where you’re able to deploy different types of units. It allows you to set up your forces in any way you like during each phase, allowing you to carry more units and more experienced ones as time progresses. You lay out your own strategy as a tabletop card game.

You will decide how many tanks you’re carrying into battle, how many artillery pieces, planes, snipers, but also which vehicle is transporting them and which weapons are they carrying.

This breathes new life into any stagnant fight. It ultimately forces players to re-adjust their tactics to fight the new enemy units.
Even if daunting at first (when you just want to rush and play the game), it becomes the key to your strategy. Something uniquely yours to surprise your enemy with.

One-man army

The game truly shines in multiplayer, where battles are dynamic and unpredictable. Even though communication is lacking and, in most public games, pointless.

Singleplayer, however, lacks that.
The AI is very slow and very predictable.

Matches seem to last for hours. It seems like both AI sides are just too polite to hurt each other. 

The most exciting single-player feature is the Army General maps. In this game mode, Real-time battles are just a fraction of a much larger turn-based conflict. Akin to the likes of a Total War campaign map, you’re able to move your armies in a large conflict map and fight the battles in real time. This however is a brand new feature that still requires some polishing. 

The UI lacks context information and it is unclear how units move and which units will fight in a battle. The missing tutorial is also a major downside. The fact that real-time maps are always the same (instead of being dynamically generated based on the campaign map) is also a downside.

I would love to see Hearts of Iron sized maps of the whole conflict and being able to truly wage war at a continental scale. However, these maps only represent a few hundred square kilometers. Due to the scale of the units on the map and how fast they reinforce, you’re not really able to plot a major flanking or bubble maneuver with your units. Instead you’ll see a blob of units spread along a slowly-moving borderline. The fact that you’re forced to reach a destination within a limited number of turns also prevents you from planning a massive invasion.

Afterwind

This game tires your brain. In a good, albeit costly way.
I really enjoy playing just a single match per day. 

The constant need for micro-management at a massive scale and battles taking longer than 30 minutes (up to 2h in single-player AG) really tire your brain and I usually turn to a brainless shooter like Battlefield V afterwards.

To be fair, Steel Division 2 doesn’t feel like a brand new game. It is very similar to other games being developed for the past 10 years by the same company. However, its game mechanics are solid and it feels like there’s plenty of different battle strategies to explore. The complexity of war and the tiny victories you get in each battle makes it very enjoyable. You’ll feel that losing a match can be very enjoyable if the battle was fair.

Steel Division 2 is a realistic and complex combat representation that really forces you to think ahead. 

The learning curve is steep.
Especially if you’ve never played any previous games of the series – or if you wish to become an expert and keep track of all the stats and micro-manage each unit. 

However, the massive scale, beautiful graphics, detailed and accurate combat systems and the dynamic multiplayer, make it one of the best and most realistic games of its kind. 

Just don’t expect to have your hand held in war.

I would value this game at 60€ if you’re a war enthusiast, 25€ if you’re a Tropico 6 player and 15€ if you prefer non-RTS games. 

Popcorn Score:

I’ll see you on the battlefield!
-ViLa4480


Tropico 6

Tropico 6 – Guess Who’s Back!

The red carpet is set, the people have been groomed, the rebels silenced.
All is ready for your speech, El Presidente!

With Anno 1800 on the very near horizon, Tropico 6 has just released.

With its unique serious-but-silly tone, Tropico 6 sets itself apart from other city-building and management games.

Take a vacation from the polluted, traffic-ridden, industrial metropolises in Simcity or the cold and way-too-clean streets of Cities: Skylines.

Come to Tropico.
Now! -Or else.

Welcome to Tropico!

Eyes in the skies to “protect” your people!

If you’re new to Tropico, let me explain why you need to try it out:
‘Dictatorship is just a rude label.
You have been divinely appointed to guide your people… but now you need to stay in power. By any means necessary.

Things get trickier over time, as each and every decision you make tips the 8-sided scale of your people’s support towards a certain faction. If you appease the communists with a shiny new school, the capitalists will surely dislike the costs it imposes on your budget and might even rebel.
Ah… do not worry Mr. El Presidente, bribery is still an option, and there’s plenty of jail cells available in your island!

Draw tourists to your beautiful nuclear powerplant!

The game becomes more and more complex as you play it. It steadily grows the number of actions you’re able to perform, the number of buildings available to build, and the number of factions present. This level-up scalability keeps things fresh and interesting, even for experienced players.

Shiny, sweaty engines & bananas

The landmark game in the city-building genre has a brand new game engine – and it looks amazing. It allows for even prettier graphics, which have always been key to the Tropico series.

This is Tropico 6 – the banana-republic simulator!

One of its major improvements is the new archipelagoes system.
El Presidente is now able to expand his godly benevolence to nearby islands.
This new iteration also adds true multiplayer features. There might be some concerns over saving 4h-long multiplayer games. However, the prospect of having an archipelago run by several dictators with different ideologies is quite thrilling.

A lot of the game has changed but the essence is still there. You get to run a beautiful Caribbean island whilst struggling with famine, poverty, explosive cigars, religion, rebellions, allegiance to foreign superpowers and rivalry with Caribbean neighbors. You are still able to turn your island into a religious commune or a capitalistic intellectual haven.

Why bother making new landmarks when you can steal them instead?

The introduction of world landmarks (that actually serve a purpose), raids, and the expanded trade options feel like all previous Tropico DLCs have been added to this new game for free. It also seems like it has plenty of room for new, solid, expansions.

The combat system is still bad, as it has always been in the series, but they’ve added plenty of new buildings, factions, and abilities, which keeps things interesting.

Final speech

Tropico 6 does not set itself apart from the series.
We wouldn’t want that anyway – but it does a few things very well.

The game is really fun to play and explore. New and experienced players will enjoy the type of complexity and progression it provides – and it feels like a substantial upgrade to previous iterations of the Tropico series, without changing its core concepts. Even though it seems like there’s a bit of “soul” missing to the game, it still gets my vote and I can’t wait to play more.

Popcorn Score:

5/5 Pops – a solid score for a solid game that orders you to go play it. Now.

If you enjoy this soviet-era funny-but-not-so-funny approach, you might be interested in checking Papers, Please: The Short Film! Go check it out now!

If instead you would prefer to support this blog and get Tropico 6 at a discount price, buy it through here!

I’ll see you at my speech,
-ViLa “El Prez” 4480

Between The Stars – A Space Oddity

Between the Stars is an odd game. In a good way!

We’re talking about a new successful Kickstarter campaign. It raised almost 38.000$ for the indie game dev studio Isolated Games in Barcelona. It is scheduled to be released in Q1 (maybe Q2) 2019.

This game set in space is actually an RPG hybrid with roguelike, management and shooter aspects.

Following the story of an experienced captain who just lost his/her ship, your objective is to upgrade your ship and crew, make decisions, convince others to join your cause and, obviously, fight the baddies.

The RPG aspects of the game have been reinforced with dialogue choices that actually matter and …dice throwing. -I know. Throwing dice in space is funny.

A space oddity

To be honest, I had a hard time figuring out where to start my analysis for this game. It is so different from other games that it becomes hard to pick a corner to start unveiling it.
At the same time, it shares similarities with so many “very” different space games like Star Citizen, Freelancer, X4: Foundations, Fractured Space, Avorion or FTL.

Your path through the stars

Something I love about space games is the inevitability of movement. You’re always going somewhere doing some thing – and the way game devs mimic the movement of a large ship truly enthuses me. I love feeling the (weightless) weight of a large ship moving slowly and sometimes carelessly through an asteroid field.

Oh, by the way check out my post on Sea of Thieves! You’ll understand where my poor space sailing skills come from!

Even though Between the Stars focuses on combat between medium-sized ships, it does that very well. It is not that easy to fight in an asteroid field and you’ll notice that it almost feels like you’re commandeering a real sea ship instead of a space combat fighter.

This somehow adds glimmer to that special Enterprise feel of exploring space and interacting with other crews – which happens often. Combat can be dangerous and …unnecessary.

As expected, they’ve added space stations and planets where you’re able to dock, trade, repair and interact with quest givers. Crew combat is also possible against other ships and it relies strongly on dice throws and crew experience.

To boldly go somewhere

You never really know where the game will lead you to next – you get to interact with other ship crews, explore abandoned shipwrecks or delve into dangerous uncharted territory. Your choices on how to approach these events are critical as they will affect the outcome of the situation.

When exploring an abandoned ship stranded in space I came face to face with a beserk A.I. in critical defense mode. It was trying to protect the ship’s components from intruders.

I felt like my poor choice of words mattered. Even though I knew the final outcome was likely going to be similar since it was still an early mission.

The fact that the game tries to present itself as unique in each playthrough is very refreshing as it does so gracefully.

Procedurally generated space, crews and events work well with the space theme, since you truly feel like an explorer in an unscripted universe.

Here’s a notice to the general public: please stop comparing procedural games to No Man’s Sky. Don’t take one bad marketing example to kill a dev technique that can be incredibly fruitful.

Sound in space

The audio experience is great, except for certain dialogues that seem poorly recorded and an average voice acting.

This is not yet the final release version of the game, but it feels a bit sad that the game lacks characters with a strong… character… and an enticing voice to go along.

The audio graphic representation is incredibly accurate though! It feels like they’ve spent more time coding the audio bars than actually recording the audio!

In the absence of physical characters and advanced facial expressions, the sound is critical to convey strong emotions that will drive the narrative! I know we’re in space but… sound matters!

The color of a black hole

The graphics are incredibly sharp and colorful.

Even though the UI, space stations and asteroids lack some style and sophistication, the ships planets and backdrops look amazing and combat and special effects are a delight to the eye. 5760×1080 resolution is supported, but the UI does not adapt well.

The game also lacks the complexity of trade lanes that Elite Dangerous or X4: Foundations sport, but we must keep in mind that this is not really a trading game.

Trading is somewhat present, but this is more like a shooter action-based game where trade lanes are, for the most part, purely cosmetic.

Overall I did enjoy this fresh new take on Space RPGs. I tend to prefer longer campaign-based games, but it felt fresh and I’m curious to explore the release version which will feature more content, stories and new gameplay mechanics.

It is not a triple-A game, but considering the budget for the game it truly is fantastic.

Development is still unfinished and unpolished. I will refrain from rating it. But I will point out that it looks gorgeous, has great potential for an enticing storyline and I’m looking forward to playing the final version.

I will add this game to my “Best Upcoming Games 2019” list. Go check it out!

I will see you in my ship,
-Capt. ViLa4480

Oh and by the way – do you enjoy refreshing indie games? Check out my post on Volcanoids – A steampunk survival-management game!

The Division 2

The Division 2 – The Revolution Continues

I just got my hands on Division 2!
It was okay, as expected. I was happy enough.

There’s a reason why The Division 2 is called “The Division 2”.
It is not an army reference as one might think at first glance. It instead reflects on the game’s premise: the United States of America are divided into two factions (…and a half – I’ll explain later on).

Good on one side, Evil on the other. Classic.

The Division 2 takes place 7 months after Ubisoft’s 2016’s controversial success The Division. Unlike the original title which was set in a very snowy New York, this one is set in Washington D.C.

The Division 2
There are terrible drivers in this city

The reason for this change, according to the developers, is that, besides the political aspects – that the franchise seems to enjoy tackling – the city of Washington allows them to expand the playable map into new types of areas.

Green spaces, wide open regions, open rooftops and suburban zones that are harder to depict in the much more urban New York. Wider roads also allow for much more interesting combat with more room for flanking maneuvres.

What has changed?

Not that much! Is it a better game than its predecessor? Sure is. Here’s why:

The Division 2
Really, Ubisoft?

Gaming development cycles dictate when you’re getting a sequel and whether it is going to be good or bad, innovative or unsurprising.
With a bunch of new releases and solid sequels, 2019 is expected to be a good year for the gaming industry.

When a new franchise pops up, it usually delivers a brand new game engine. That was the case with The Division.
It had a rough start – it was riddled with bugs and people were complaining about everything from server instability, bugs, weapons getting stuck all the way down to violence and political concerns.

Technical issues tend to occur more often with new game engines. These obstacles take time to fix, rebalance and adjust. When a developer starts working on a sequel, they don’t design a whole new engine from scratch. Instead, they upgrade the one they’ve got from the previous game, which makes it sturdier and feature-rich. It is also much more cost-effective to build and market.

The Division 2
Resilient Christmas decorations are still on after 7 months

That is why the first sequel to a successful game tends to be technically better than the original (even though narratives are likely to be worse as they’re harder to connect with the previous one).
Check out my previous post on Warhammer: Vermintide 2 and how it improved upon its predecessor.

This is the case with The Division 2. It is a solid, expanded and well-polished game, but kind of …unsurprising.

The biggest changes

The game seems like a meatier, tougher, more solid version of the original rather than a brand new sequel – but it introduces a series of small but rather interesting changes.

The Division 2
Nature quickly finds its way to claim the land
  • Scenery: the most obvious change. It has moved from snowy New York to summer Washington D.C. It is still an American urban region that looks somewhat similar to its predecessor. There’s so much more garbage on the streets now!
  • Lighting has been improved with more detailed light sources and reflections. It also feels less saturated and dramatic when compared to its predecessor. Water effects and glass reflections look brilliant.
  • Specializations have been added to the game. Three skill trees are now able to be unlocked once you reach the level cap.
  • Photo mode is a new feature with which you’re able to take the prettiest selfies – it even includes filters that make your eyes pop!
  • New gadgets available, namely barricade-standing turrets and rolling seeking mines, among others.
  • Spongier enemies: They seem to absorb bullets! Low-level enemies seem to require a huge amount of bullets to die. It doesn’t really break the game, but it affects immersion and realism and drives the player into much longer (often slightly boring) fights.
A simple “NO TRESPASSING” sign would do it. Right?
  • Smarter enemies – with the new wider combat zones, you’ll see them perform flanking and cover maneuvres as a group. This makes combat much more interesting as it forces you to retreat and move to cover more often.
  • NPC settlements form in newly liberated areas. It is actually pretty cool to see them go out and fetch supplies, food, etc. Adds immersion.
  • NPC Backup – they seem to request and offer backup in sporadic fights across town.
  • “Free” DLCs for a year. No further comments.
  • GUI is definitely different, but the changes are mostly cosmetic as the core features are all there from the previous game.
  • New faction. Once you finish the campaign the game will reshuffle and redraw by introducing a whole new faction called the Black Tusk. They will occupy previously liberated areas with their drones and robotic dogs and gadgets. Exciting!

Got issues?

It is worth mentioning that the character creator was awful in the public beta, only allowing you to pick randomly generated characters.

All of them looked like hillbillies…
And they’ve occupied the White house
Hmm…

The Division 2
The new Photo mode allows you to take photos of you taking selfies in front of the White house

Sure. There are still problems to be fixed – as expected – but in terms of core gameplay, The Division 2 sure is well-built.

A couple of issues stand out from my (limited) experience in the public beta:

  • Enemies seem to suddenly spawn right in front of the player, preventing a stealth approach on occasion.
  • All melee enemies are female – why not add more variety?
  • The yelling sounds by the enemy faction seem repetitive and very limited
  • Game crashes every hour – apparently due to desynch between the server and the client

I’m pretty confident that all of these issues will be fixed before the release on March 15th.

The Division 2
New safezones now even have rooftop barbeques!

Should I get it?

Here are some more bullets for you:

  • Did you enjoy The Division and want some more of that? Then yes – definitely. Get it now with my referral link!
  • Have you never played The Division? Then get it at a cheaper price and with a Season Pass discount here! It is still well worth playing the first one before The Division 2 is released!
  • Did you not enjoy The Division at all? Then this might not be the game for you as it only feels like an improvement to the first one! Or instead… try playing it with friends… They make everything more fun!
The Division 2
So much filth. Everywhere!

In the end, I have to admit that I had a lot of fun with the private beta and I can’t wait to play with my friends tonight! The game is fun and it is actually pretty cool to see all the little details that set it apart from the 2016 title.

I’m curious about the story behind it, but I’m sure it won’t be the main reason why I’ll be playing this game. Guaranteed buy though.

I look forward to publishing a lengthier and updated review once the game is finally released! Stay tuned (subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter for updates)!

I’ll see you in my squad,
-ViLa4480

The Division 2
Life is (almost) back to normal.