Hellgate Disappointment

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If you have read my blog for any length of time you will know that I have a hot burning and undying love of the game Hellgate London.  I played it originally at launch and was of the few suckers who actually ponied up for the subscription plan as well, with its extra events.  There were a whole slew of us that were playing World of Warcraft at the time, that took a break and started playing Hellgate as effectively our primary game.  There was in fact a House Stalwart guild in game that was pretty damned active for awhile…  but sadly a very short while.  The game released on October 31st or 2007, and in 2008…  Flagship Studios filed for bankrupt protection and all assets including the intellectual property of the games they were working on… were seized by Comerica bank.  Namco Bandai kept the servers going through January 31st of 2009 and after that point it was effectively a single player only game.  The assets were eventually sold to T3Fun/HanbitSoft a South Korean game developer who took the unreleased assets and spun up a few new areas of the game centered around Seoul.

In 2014 the game showed up on Steam as Hellgate Global which was being run by a HanbitSoft Connected company called T3Fun/Redbana Corporation.  Hellgate Global was an MMOized version of the game and featured a number of micro-transactions that added some “pay for qualify of life” type features like an item that would identify all of the items in your inventory instead of having to do them one at a time.  Similarly there was an item that would deconstruct every item in your inventory at the same time.  I actually played this game for a bit, and noticed that the difficulty was massively watered down and these mini bosses were added in every so often that served as a loot pinata.  It was entertaining but also nowhere nears a compelling as the original game, and it eventually shut down in January of 2016.  Recently Hellgate once again showed up on Steam as a game that was coming November 15th… and last night I purchased it for myself and a couple of Aggrochat members.  One to grief him because I sincerely doubt he will like the game, but he also once gifted me a copy of Bad Rats.  The other however because I think she will absolutely like the game…  that is if she can get past the frustrations with this version.

My hope was this would be an easy way to get people in and let them experience Hellgate London.  Previously the best way to play Hellgate London was to either Amazon or Ebay a copy of the old game and then install Hellgate Revival to bring it up to more modern standards.  There is even a side project called London 2038 that acts as a server emulator, allowing you to play online with others and restoring much of the functionality of the game.  My hope was the Steam version would bring a lot of these improvements to the game and make it as easy as purchasing and installing to get in and play.  Unfortunately after last night…  the route I just described is still the best way to play the game.

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First of all we have to talk about how HanbitSoft has seemingly changed the story of Hellgate London, by introducing a some equally questionable animation tacked onto the front of what is still the most epic intro sequence from any game.  The original game is largely the story of Doom… rifts from hell open up and a bunch of demons flow into our world and decimate it.  They however shifted it to be a battle between the light and the dark in ambiguous terms, that maybe work better for a South Korean audience than the biblical hell on earth story of the original.  The other big problem is that seemingly this is a game that was taken from the original English…  localized into Korean…  and then has now been localized back into English.  We’ve all seen the memes of what happens when you pass something through google translate too many times… in fact my favorite is a twitter account called Rosewatta Stone that does that with Magic the Gathering cards.

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There is an awful lot of jank going on with this game, from the completely unskippable tutorial sequence that keeps popping up how to do everything… and then will freeze your character in place until you perform whatever the hell they are asking you to do.  To the fact that the textures are extremely muddy and are way lower resolution in a few of the areas than the base install of the original game.  Hellgate London was a game with a bunch of different tile sets for lack of a better term, and they were constructed out of a series of themed prefabs…  and this one in particular seems to have fared the worst which is the cityscape with rubble strewn through it.  Others like the train station tileset, seem to have gotten a much higher resolution texture treatment and as such look significantly better.  The problem is however that this experience feels extremely uneven…  like they got bored while working on the game and only focused on the areas that they liked the most.

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This is effectively the same version that was released as Hellgate Global from what I can tell, and as such it includes a handful of classes that were not available in the original release.  I am however a creature of habit and wound up rolling a Guardian again… which is the class I always tend to play when I play Hellgate.  I am a sword and shield tank, but again you can see the unbalanced nature of the textures.  That shield looks perfectly fine… the armor however is blurry and washed out.  It also has the weird intro sequence where it places you in what used to be the cash shop hub of the game, before sending you to your first destination.  None of the cash shop vendors still exist, but that was effectively a player lobby that allowed groups to gather up, and it seems like there is no real way to get back there once you have started actually playing the game.  It definitely comes off as them quickly singlerplayer-izing what was designed to be a rudimentary MMO cash grab.

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The thing that cracks me up the most is the inclusion of the Korean warnings about play time.  After paying an hour you get the following message to pop up in the chat window “You have been playing for 1hour.  Excessive game play may affect your lifestyle.”  This is one of those loot pinata bosses that I talked about, and when you kill them you get a fountain of loot most of it blue or higher quality to come pouring out.  All of this aside the game was largely playable once you got past that forced intro section.  That is until I started encountering some more serious issues with the game.  Shortly after the hour mark I started encountering some massive slowdowns, and at first I thought maybe there was a memory leak in the client.  However upon restarting the game and getting into a fight the same things started happening again.  I think this might be an issue with one specific spell effect from a specific type of monster, which are the the demons that crawl around and then throw fireballs at you.  The moment one of these sends this spell effect in your direction my framerate bottomed out.  This is coming from me playing on an i7-5820k with a Geforce 1080 ti…  so more processing power than this game ever dreamed about having initially.  I finally had to stop playing last night because it was impossible to do anything…  because I kept hitting these framerate walls.

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Ultimately I still love Hellgate London and I happily played for about two hours until I encountered the issues.  I was hoping that the Steam release would have actually had some effort put into it, but unfortunately that is not the case.  The positive side is that right now it is selling for a little less than $10, so it isn’t like even with the three copies that I bought I am out a significant amount of money.   I am hoping that the modding community decides to fix these issues, because it is probably something as simple as the fact that the game inexplicably dropped Direct X 10 support and is only allowing Direct X 9 for some reason.  If you really want to play Hellgate London, you are still better off digging up an original copy…  installing Hellgate Revival and then using London 2038 to play on the multiplayer servers.  I have a feeling in the coming days I will be doing this thing again just to see how different the experience is.

I hope that HanbitSoft will patch the game to make the experience less frustrating, because I still would love to see the Seoul levels as well as the Hellgate Tokyo content that supposedly was added in to the game as well.  I am not however holding my breath that any of that is going to happen, and more than likely this was just a quick cash grab that I got suckered into by my love of this franchise, and the nostalgia of all that it could have been.  I’ve spent thirty bucks on dumber things, so in the end I will be just fine.

War Against Demons Never Changes

Tales of WoW Tourism

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Once upon a time in another life I was a thoroughly devoted World of Warcraft player.  Thoroughly devoted in that it was my home base of operations, and I would go off on these short jaunts into other titles.  The term “WoW Tourism” was apt because when I ventured out I would often go on these excursions with a large chunk of my House Stalwart friends and raiders.  We would set up temporary bases on the shores of these new game worlds and then within a month or two we were all back thoroughly devoted to Warcraft again.  To be truthful I think this constant flow of games to keep going off and exploring helped keep us planted in Azeroth for as long as we did.  It gave us the opportunity to go out and see what was available, only to fall back into the comfortable rhythm of the familiar.  There were so many different games that fell into this bubble like Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online, Champions Online, Star Trek Online…. I am seeing a pattern here that apparently during the 2000s you could just graft the word Online onto anything and make it sell a couple of million copies.  The jaunt that I was most likely the most devoted to however was Hellgate London.  The story behind the game is something of legend, as a bunch of folks parted ways with the Blizzard mother ship and set out to build a better mousetrap.  It had an awesome storyline, and great futuristic MMO meets Diablo gameplay.  The problem being is it had a bunch of issues at launch.

As was our usual fashion we had like fifty people in the House Stalwart guild at launch, and then a month later only a handful of us were still regularly playing.  I was one of that handful and I actually subscribed to the game for quite a while.  Its key problem however was it had some extremely messy network infrastructure.  At this point I am not sure if it was bad code or lack of servers, but in any case its key promise of massively multiplayer diablo… never really panned out.  In our experience if you grouped with more than one other player, the game started to lag to a point where it was completely unplayable.  Since we were an MMO guild, the fact that we could not regularly group together pretty much killed our experience, and before long everyone was back in World of Warcraft.  The thing is I have always held a torch for this game because you would be hard pressed to find an experience that was more “me”.  Killing random zombies and demons that drop all the colors of the rainbow in loot rarity?  Fuck yes sign me up.  The tragedy of the tale however is that by the time Hellgate launched, Flagship studios was already in trouble and news of that was starting to leak out around the seams.  The studio closed around a year later and with it both Hellgate London and the unreleased game Mythos went up in smokes.  Throughout that year I was still playing my characters on a semi regular basis in single player mode, but I took got pulled back into the draw of World of Warcraft as I started raiding more seriously as a main tank for the group NSR.

Travelling Through Time

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Over the last few days I have felt that itch of nostalgia about this game, and I had known for awhile that the original was purchased by the Korean developer HanbitSoft that later got gobbled up by T3 Entertainment.  I had also heard that they released an expansion of sorts for the game called Hellgate Tokyo, and that more or less the game was playable for free.  I’ve known for a bit that there was a Steam Greenlight page for Hellgate but to the best of my knowledge that has gone no further in actually getting it onto steam and making it a viable modern experience.  Instead I found my way out to the T3 Fun Hellgate download page, where you are given a selection of awkward methods to get the client.  The first option was one of two torrent links, that no one seemed to be seeding.  The second option was the download of four RAR files directly from T3, or a series of mirror sites…. none of which seemed to actually work.  The only real option seemed to be to download the RAR files and hope everything completed successfully as they were each roughly 2 gig in size.  The first archive was a self executable but there was no way in hell I was going to run that, so thankfully 7zip was able to extract the whole package safely to a sub directory.  From there we get to the client install which took a truly excessive amount of time for a roughly 6.5 gig game.  From there I started running into problems with the game launcher itself, which had some of the most curious engrish I have seen in awhile.  You run again little patcher, you run to your heart is content!  I am still thinking we need to make the above statement into an inspirational poster.  After letting it close and reopen a few times it finished patching up and I was able to get into the game.

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I have to say if I did not know that this was in fact a legitimate version of the game I would assume I was running on some sort of emulator server.  When the game first loads you are thrown into a sort of tutorial room that has vendors allowing you to use TCOINS the cash shop currency to pay your way past some of the obstacles.  You are given an assortment of freemium items to try out, which mostly is an assortment of boosts and convenience items that you don’t really need.  Once I got through the awkward lobby it joined the game proper that I was most familiar with, and started questing through the first few areas.  It seems like some of the scripting is broken, in that I got a series of quests that rewarded me the exact same item over and over which was the equivalent of “Wirt’s Leg” from Diablo.  There is also a strange amount of Engrish going on in some of the messages, largely strange because it seems like this game was translated from English to Korean… and then back to English when they launched the client here.  I mean all of the quest dialog was originally in English, so it makes me wonder if no one actually saved a backup of that dialog when localizing it?  All of the awkward patches aside the game runs remarkably well, and while it is a decade old it still looks passable.  I am notorious for not really reading dialog messages, and apparently one of them told me that none of the changes I made would take effect until I restarted the client.  As a result most of the screenshots that I took have exceptionally muddy textures, and for the most part that was my big complaint.  However it seems that after restarting the client as the game suggested the textures don’t look half bad…  once again considering the ages of the client.  The above screenshot is with all of the sliders set to max, and I can accept the way that looks.

War Against Demons Never Changes

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The game for the most part plays just like I remember it playing.  I started a Templar Guardian which is their tanky class and proceeded to wander around killing demons and getting a silly amount of loot.  The primary difference that I remember from the original is that HanbitSoft seems to have inexplicably decided to code it so that these insane named epic spawns happy called “Messengers of Hell”.  You get a broadcast when it happens and more often than not they spawn in right beside you and proceed to start wrecking you.  The very first one of these that I fought I barely survived, and there have been a few other close calls.  The positive however is that they are essentially giant loot bags.  When you kill one they erupt into a shower of gear and I have managed to pick up several orange quality upgrades off of them.  At any given point they are dropping several tiers higher gear than is available from the surrounding mobs, so I make a beeline to get to them and take them out as quickly as possible.  The other thing that I had forgotten was the mingame.  If you look in the screenshot above there are three icons hovering above my secondary weapon attack.  I never quite figured out how they worked back when we were originally playing, but if you get a certain combination a random shower of loot spawns and places a nifty sound effect.  There was apparently a guide on Massively that is still available through the Engadget site that does a pretty good job of explaining how it works.  If nothing else it adds for momentary excitement when the loot explosion happens.

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The funny thing is… the game still does it for me.  It triggers all the happy endorphin releases that a video game should, and it has made me lament what might have been.  Hellgate London was just such a cool franchise, and with it spawned a series of novels that were actually enjoyable reads.  Really it was like roaming around in a MMO Doom universe where the world has been sacked by demons and the survivors all struggle to exist in the remnants of the abandoned subway system much like the Metro series of games.  It scratches all of the right itches as far as an post apocalyptic game goes, and I would love to see what Hellgate would be like in a modern context.  The problem being…  that is never going to happen.  It seems as though HanbitSoft/T3/Redbana don’t really care much about this game.  From reading on the forums it seems like exploits are common and widely used, and they don’t much care one way or another about it.  I had a lot of fun playing however and I managed to spend roughly three hours in the game last night.  I know this because there is a little warning  that kept popping up explaining each time another hour had passed that “Excessive game play may affect your lifestyle.”  The other glimmer of hope is that there is apparently something called the Hellgate Revival project, which attempts to take the original Single Player mode and decouple it from needing a server and update it.  I am going to try and apply all the necessary patches to the original game to get it to a state where I can test out the revival mod and see how well it works.  Hellgate really was a damned fun experience, and I am happy that I am able to play it in any form.  Excuse me while I continue to wallow around in nostalgia for a bit longer.