COHO a casualty of bad business model

February 3, 2011
It's over, dawg, over!

It's all going down, down, down.

It’s official. Company of Heroes Online, popularly known as “COHO,” is dead and all servers will cease operating on March 31, 2011. Sadly, all your Commanders, items, records, ranks and so forth shall disappear into the void.

For some reason, the imminent sweeping away of Hosni Mubarak before a tidal wave of wrath from the Egyptian street seemed appropriate to me as supporting imagery (left). I guess it’s time to overhaul the Rifles Ready! banner yet again.

Actual money spent on COHO cash, which were the real meat on the bones of this free-to-play experiment, will usable until March 31. One hopes they will make all the overpowered items and units available now for purchase, to console folks who actually spent real cash on COHO cash.

Don’t kid yourself — COHO really is dead, despite corporate Relic puffery in the form of noises such as “After an exciting period of operating and testing, we will be closing the Open Beta on March 31, 2011 to evaluate the next steps for the Company of Heroes series.” Translation: This shit didn’t make us any fracking money.

Who didn’t see this coming? The free-to-play model is a simple one, built on microtransactions, where gamers would pay tiny amounts of money for non-tangible products that enhance the free experience. Ask yourself, honestly, if you were ever seriously tempted to spend a dime on your COHO experience. The complete rant, plus an update on the future of this blog, may be found below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


COHO patch: Slightly gutless before the holidays

December 16, 2010

Relic plays it safe.Just a few hours after my post showing the Relic mascot (it’s always been a blind cat, by the way) being led by a Nazi lap dog, Relic puts out the biggest patch for COHO in more than a month.

Coinky-dink? I think not, kameraden.

Here’s my two cents in a nutshell: This patch gently tickles some of the outstanding balance issues I highlighted in my earlier post (which by the way, are not somehow unique to me — these were literally the top five COHO balance problems listed on GR.org).

Sadly, where stern and decisive action was required, we got some rather gutless, half-hearted tweaks. Relic admits as much, saying that this update “focuses on bug and balance fixes, with the intention of not introducing high risk changes or features before we all go off to celebrate the holidays.” It’s a beta, if in name only. Risk, gentlemen, is why you’re aboard.

Anyway, check below the fold for the full list of balance changes, with some commentary.

Read the rest of this entry »


“Who have balance this game is a blind?”

December 15, 2010
Who have balance this game is a blind?

There's a Neville Chamberlain joke in here somewhere.

Do you like playing COHO? I’ve got one great question for you: “Who have balance this game is a blind?

This phrase has been seared across my neurons. One instant I was scanning for posts in Relic’s official COHO forums, the next I was rolling on the floor with giddy, joyful mirth.

To me this is on the level of such contemporary classics as “All your base are belong to us,” “I can has cheeseburger?” and the old RTS standby, “He’s in ur base killin ur d00dz.

This is taken from the name of a thread on Relic’s official COHO forums, in which a poster named “Suen” — one hopes desperately he is not a native English speaker — offers no reasons why the game is unbalanced. He got as good as he gave; if you read the thread he gets bashed immediately by Relic, no less.

Relic moderator “Noun” replied in this fashion: “Unlike some more basic games for new gamers where the balance is very easy and simple, because they just mirror units on each side, this is a more advanced game for fans of video games.  If you’d like to spend some time playing the game and learning how it works we’d be happy to accept your constructive feedback.  But if you’re just wanting to point out that this isn’t an easy game that’s not as helpful.”

Well, while Suen offers no more than marvelous grammatical constructs — which are a worthy addition to the enterprise of written English — I will take Noun up on his offer. You want some constructive feedback? Trust me, it’s not for a lack of balance problems with your game. Suck on this bullet-point list, buddy.

Read the rest of this entry »


Uniformed COH booth babe!

December 5, 2010

Is that a salute or are you showing me the bottom of your hand?

She won't give you her number.

This just in: Apparently Company of Heroes has its own booth babe! You know, booth babes — the disarmingly attractive young females sporting “in-universe” costumes from your favorite video games, who stand by the booths of game companies at various events!

While booth babes were popularized by companies like Square Enix (employers of the original Lara Croft booth babe, who got too naked for Playboy and was fired), they were immortalized by the World of Warcraft Elven booth babes. When a game company’s got scratch, the booth babes come more comely, in greater numbers and seem to sport more revealing attire.

Sadly, as THQ/Relic doesn’t have that kind of scratch. At this year’s E3 in Los Angeles, which ran from June 15-17, there was only one COHO babe and she wore a faux U.S. Army uniform (you can see more Relic photos from E3 on their COHO Facebook page).

Booth babe reporting for duty!

Join the war effort!

As you may infer from these photos, the babe — one Anna Panici, according to her name tag — was tasked with standing in the vicinity of the COHO booth and snapping off salutes, most likely to male passersby.

I couldn’t resist Googling her. She speaks five languages and likes to be shown a good time by RTS players who know how to mold magic with their fingers — around a G3 laser mouse, that is. If you must, click here to view Anna’s Picasa web album, you salacious bastard. I know you would’ve Googled her anyway if I hadn’t provided the link.

That other chick actually just works here.

She'll make that face for for the next guy, too.

All kidding aside: I honestly don’t see the point. COHO is a marketing experiment by a company that obviously doesn’t have the resources to do a proper sequel to one of the best RTS games of all time. It’s also one of the best World War II games of all time. I don’t know what happened after the original COH came out, but it left Relic fielding one lonely booth babe, who had to put up with pick-up lines from gamers all by herself. Imagine the army of Allied and Wehrmacht babes — and the sorts of garments that leave little to the imagination — Relic could have afforded.


Hero Units: Durable M10 Tank Destroyer

December 1, 2010
Low-level Hero Units

Hero Units are a very mixed bag.

I’ll be starting a few initiatives here to cover the differences between COHO and the original game, expansions and all. First up are Hero Units, starting with the ones I’ve found most useful. Later this week, there will be a broad concept article on how Hero Units alter the game — the thesis will be that Heroes are NOT always preferable to non-persistent regular units, rather they are situational.

What’s more, Hero Units are a very mixed bag. Some Hero Units are tremendously useful, while others suffer significant disadvantages that make their vanilla counterpart a much better choice (the Skilled M8 comes to mind). Relic has adopted a semi-standardized prefix system for low-level Hero Units, which have a green border on their unit icons. A Skilled Tank Destroyer gets the same bonuses as a Skilled Sherman, but the bonuses for “Skilled” armor are slightly different than for “Skilled” infantry. These changes are context-sensitive, e.g. it makes sense for “Skilled” tanks to benefit from 10% faster speed and acceleration but “Skilled” infantry get 25% less received suppression instead at the same level.

For now, let’s talk about the Durable Tank Destroyer, a mid-level Hero Unit and one of a few that can be purchased from the COHO Store (2,7500 supply or 100 COHO cash). Here’s the official Rifles Ready! straight-to-the-chase summary card for the Durable Tank Destroyer.

Finally, the Americans get cheap, fast AT armor with reasonable staying power

Just what the doctor ordered.

This is a unit that is undeniably superior to the vanilla M10 in every respect once fully leveled, suffering no disadvantages (e.g., Skilled Riflemen can’t pick up weapons). You can’t say the same for the Durable Sherman, which gets the exact same bonuses as the Durable Tank Destroyer but winds up being far less useful. The M10 was a highly situational unit in COH because of its paper-thin armor, tendency to “blank-fire” (a bug where it would animate and the cannon sound effect would go off, but no round was fired) and overall inability to survive long enough to gain the veterancy it desperately needed. The Durable version of the M10 solves all these problems, particularly for Armor Commanders.

Read the rest of this entry »


The return of Rifles Ready

November 26, 2010
Do I got a deal for you.

The dollar is on the decline.

It’s been more than one-and-a-half years since my last post on this blog, yet the supportive comments and demands for more content keep trickling in. I’m immensely appreciative of all this support, and humbled. I have done little to deserve it.

But with Company of Heroes Online (COHO) poised to hit the big time, I’ve decided its time for Rifles Ready to make a triumphant return. I’m not sure whether Battle Reports will return in their present form, or whether an MP3 shoutcast would be better.

But given their immense popularity, they will come back, along with:

  • Analysis and breakdown of Hero Units and Army Items
  • Analysis of revised doctrine abilities and skill trees
  • Strategy tips from Surprise, who’s also getting a kick out of COHO

Why the long silence? Well, real life got in the way, with job-related duties intensifying and the fact that I bought a house and have to fill it with renters to cover the mortgage. You’d be surprised how much routine work goes into maintaining a house. It feels like everything breaks once a year. Also, let’s be honest: Relic gave up on this game as of patch 2.602. Balance between the four factions is, if not broken, seriously undermined by the way the Panzer Elite and British work. And when COHO went into public beta a few months ago, I was dubious. A cheap way for Relic to leverage existing assets and scare up some quick cash? Check. A fun game that is more balanced than the final, woefully neglected incarnation of COH/Opposing Fronts/Tales of Valor? Actually… check.

I’ve been playing the COHO beta for a couple months and it’s a lot of fun. The balance is a mixed bag, with variations in Hero Units, Army Items and Commander levels inevitably setting the stage for unfair matches. But the game has been reinvigorated by the expansion of the doctrine trees and all sorts of new abilities for the Americans and Wehrmacht.

I’m far less sanguine on the micro-payment model offered by Relic, which includes the sale of physical “COHO cash” cards for real American greenbacks. At the moment, you can play enough games to resupply all your top-end Hero Units and Army Items without COHO cash, but if this changes and it becomes impractical to do so, that’s a wrap.

That being said: Let’s hope for the best, because COHO is a reminder of just how good the original game was. Just stop yourself from asking the obvious questions (where the hell is COH 2, why the hell is there no support for the expanded COH beyond 2.602, etc.) and you’ll be best posed to enjoy the ride.


On Balance: 2.600 brings balance to the Force

June 12, 2009

relic_logo2As promised, I’ve given some thought to Relic’s patch 2.600 after a few games and some perusing of GR.org‘s balance forums. Overall, this is finally a return to form for Relic. Almost all of the balance changes reflect issues that were raised by the community based on high-level games and, in the case of bugs, repeatable evidence. The feedback on GR.org has mainly been positive, albeit with some sarcasm (see certificate I reposted from one GR.org forumer below). To me, the big issues in 2.502 were the Pak bug, the T17 being silly, Schimmwagen’s Scorch ability being absurd and the Infantry Halftrack’s wholly unnecessary suppression boost. All of these were fixed in 2.600.

This alone merits this certificate, which conveys pretty exactly my general feeling to Relic:

Competence is good.

Competence is good.

That being said, here’s a more detailed breakdown of my reflections. As usual, I’ve listed only the most significant changes (in my opinion). Please visit www.gamereplays.org for a full list of patch notes.

Patch 2.600
Bug Fixes

  • Cool-downs are now working properly for all weapons.

Always a good thing. I’m not 100% on which exact weapons weren’t cooling down properly, but I’d say the T17’s bizarre rate of fire is a good example.

  • HMGs in buildings will now switch targets as intended; there is a 3.5 second delay before the hmg will fire at another target.

In my experience this is somewhat similar to how MGs worked before, they would suppress one squad, then target a second new squad and suppress it as well. However, this behavior was limited to squads within the same cone o fire, now this applies to squads moving to flank from another direction. The 3.5 second forces you to be tighter but I’m agnostic on whether this was needed. At least it works.

  • Fixed an issue where Pak38s could stack their first-strike modifiers.

An outrageous, game-breaking bug that should never have happened. It better be fixed.

  • Raised Panzerschreck squads preference to target Light Vehicles while garrisoned in buildings.

Makes sense in theory. I never noticed shrecks not targeting light vehicles; in any case you could tell the garrisoned squad what to target before 2.600 anyway.

Gameplay

  • Improved the reliability and effectiveness of the American’s Strafing Run.

It feels pretty much the same to me, to be honest. I haven’t seen any incident where the P-47 would fully strike a squad but do no damage. Some amount of damage and suppression has always been inflicted in 2.600. But I’ve only had occasion to Strafe a few times so far. Need more time to wait and see.

  • The T17 armored car’s damage output has been reduced.

It was silly before. Good job listening and watching the replays, Relic.

  • Penetration of the T17 armored car has been reduced.

Unnecessary in my opinion. It still misses light vehicles more often than the M8, and against armored units like Ostwinds and Wirblewinds, a penetration nerf was unnecessary.

  • The Panzer Elite’s Schwimmwagen Scorched Earth ability has been replaced with an “Incendiary Trap” ability.

Thanks be to God. As demonstrated in the most recent Battle Report, this is nigh-unstoppable. Malivos just got lazy and CharlesDarwin got focused.

  • Infantry sections with Bren upgrades can now use ‘Button Enemy Vehicle’ when garrisoned inside a building.

I’m all in favor of consistency.

  • Panzer Elite Infantry Halftrack suppression lowered.

This was the result of a bug, in my understanding. Not sure why it was placed under “Gameplay” issues by Relic. But it’s a good change.