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Statement from EVE Bet regarding rumors of collusion in the upcoming Camel Empire vs Warlords of the Deep ATXIII series
Hi everyone, After some rumors calling the integrity of the upcoming Camel vs. Warlords series into question (notably this post) we have released this statement today to let all of our customers know in advance our position on the series so they may decide what to do accordingly: Statement regarding the Camel Empire vs Warlords of the Deep ATXIII series It has come to our attention that there have been some rumors circulating in the EVE community recently about the potential for match fixing/collusion in the upcoming Camel Empire vs. Warlords of the Deep series (matches #117a, #117b and #117c of Alliance Tournament XIII). After an internal discussion we have decided to keep betting markets for that series open. Matches will be awarded to the team that wins the battle on the field, and our decision will stand regardless of any subsequent revisions to the outcome due to issues concerning the collusion rules. However in the event a team is subsequently disqualified due to a violation of some other rule such as illegal fittings or banned cargo we would cancel the match and refund all bets as per our usual policy. We hope that by providing sufficient notice about our policy regarding this series that any EVE Bet customers who have reservations about the integrity of the match have ample time to withdraw their bets and those that who subsequently choose to bet on this match are aware of EVE Bet's position well in advance. EVE Bet makes no judgment as to the veracity of the rumors and we wish both teams the best and trust that they will compete to their fullest ability in the true spirit of the Alliance Tournament. Thank you and happy betting, EVE Bet staff. The statement is on the EVE Bet site here: https://www.eve-bet.com/LatestNews.aspx
I Want You to Play More Adventure Games (Part II: 1994-2000)
PREVIOUS POST -- PART ONE I wanted to continue my discussion of adventure games considered the greatest of all time. As before, this is not an exhaustive list but I have carefully aggregated reviews from a variety of sources to make my decision. Many wondered why certain titles weren't included on the previous list. This is because the list only went up to 1993! Let us go beyond and discover the later years of the Golden Age of Adventure Games and find out where it all went wrong. First, I want to give props to sites like Adventure Gamers and YouTubers like PushingUpRoses who produce excellent reviews of these games, far better than anything I'm likely to write here. Second, if you don't like adventure games, and don't think you ever will, this list may not be for you. The title of this post is not an imperative, just a hope that you'll find entertainment as I have, and that I can share some of that with you. 1994-1997: The Rise of Pre-Rendered 3D, FMV, and 16 bit graphics By the mid-90’s, we were saying fond farewell to DOS, as Windows and other 16- and 32-bit operating systems took its place. It was a transitional period, some games released had installation options for both DOS and Windows on the same disk. With the rise of improved graphics and commonality of CD-ROM drives, we see larger games with more intensive assets. Pixel graphics gave way to a more cartoony style which would last until the rise of 3D rendered models a few years later.
8 Full Throttle (LucasArts, 1995) Tim Schafer takes the lead on this game along with co-writer Dave Grossman. A romp through a post-apocalyptic future featuring chromed-out motorcycles, hovercars, gangs of technology-worshipping cave dwellers, and demolition derbies. You play as the leader of a bike gang caught up in a world of murder and corporate intrigue. Having said that, the tone of this game is pretty light (I mean, come on, it’s Tim Schafer), emphasis on kicking butt and being a badass over violence and adult themes. There are some action fight scenes which are a bit of a pain but you can skip them with a cheat code. Aside from that, it’s a great game. Only other downsides are how short it is and some complaints about a relatively abrupt ending. I recommend buying the Remastered version from 2017.
7 The Pandora Directive (Access, 1996). High point in the Tex Murphy series, and FMV game with first-person elements. Interface is a little clunky, but basically you’re going around in first person mode looking for clues. When you interact with a character, it turns into FMV. Plenty of puzzles to solve, also tons of moments on unexpected humor. The Tex Murphy universe seems to be some run-down future version of San Francisco with mutants and homeless everywhere (wait, did I say future?). The atmosphere plays like a wacky version of old noir detective films. Your ending depends on how morally forthwright you behave during the game (repaying old debts, not being an asshole to people) and there are several paths and dead ends. Available on GOG.
6 The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery (Sierra, 1995). Maybe the best FMV game ever created, along with the Tex Murphy series and maybe that X-Files game from 1998. Again, you play as Gabriel Knight, now living in Germany, as he investigates a new threat-- werewolf attacks! I had no hopes for this game, but was pleasantly surprised by its execution. The acting is solid, notably Dean Erickson. Like any good mystery game, the focus is on going around and gathering evidence, though there are a few puzzles thrown in. Available on GOG.
5 Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness (Sierra, 1993/1994). QFG is back! After a mediocre romp with Quest for Glory III: Wages of War, the series sees a return to form. Again, you play as the same hero from the previous titles, going around doing side quests and slowly progressing the main plot. And what a plot! The setting is based on Eastern European and the slavic folktales found there, with some Lovecraft elements thrown in. It’s a much darker game than its predecessors, with more mature themes and darker villains and monsters. Expect friendly villagers hiding dark secrets. Voice acting is clutch here-- John Rhys-Davies hams it up as the narrator and Jennifer Hale (Metal Gear Solid, Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect) makes her earliest video game voice over appearance here. Love the dark atmosphere, but there are plenty of silly moments in true QFG fashion. Available on GOG.
4 The Last Express (Brøderbund, 1997). Hey, what happens when you, Jordan Mechner, ambitious game developer responsible for the graphic marvel that is Prince of Persia, spend $5 million making a game for a company that’s about to go bankrupt in a year, and just lost its sales and marketing department? You get a complete and total commercial failure that buries your game for years. And what a shame, because it’s actually extraordinarily good! Compare this to Phantasmagoria which costs $4.5 but grossed $12 million and you’ll see that we don’t live in a fair or just universe. Anyway, this game puts you on the famous Orient Express, immaculately reproduced in pre-rendered 3D, on the eve of World War I. Your character has escaped police aboard the train and is looking for his friend, but finds him unavailable due to a violent death (and now you've got to clean it up, blech). Your job is to solve the mystery of the enigmatic Firebird, uncover a web of conspiracies, and make it to Constantinople. There are over a dozen passengers on the train, each with their own detailed personality and backstory, each with their own time schedule. Timing is important, as certain events only happen at certain times. But don’t worry, you can go back in time as often as you want so that you don’t miss anything. The art style bears mentioning-- everything is rotoscoped. Characters are sometimes fully animated, but usually they are hand-drawn over still photos, giving the game a choppy animation at times. This game is complicated, but really a must-play. The final act loses some steam, but I found the ending satisfactory and often revisit this game. You can find the original version on GOG, or there’s the slightly improved version, The Last Express Gold, available on Steam, with hints and achievements and an improved interface.
3 The Neverhood (The Neverhood Inc, 1996). This game is insane. I have never seen such a labor of love, such intense artistic devotion, to make a game like this. This game is entirely claymation. You move your claymation character around a claymation world and engage in claymation puzzles. The art style reminds me of the TV show “Bump in the Night,” released the same year, as opposed to the cleaner style of Wallace & Gromit or Pingu. There’s not too much plot here, except for a huge amount of expository reading scattered throughout the game. I don't even want to tell you any more-- you're better off going in blind like I did and discovering this gem for yourself! I’m not sure the best way to legally obtain this game (yo ho), but I can tell you it’s playable through SCUMMVM.
2 Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars aka Circle of Blood (Revolution, 1996). A favorite of mine, high water mark for Revolution Software, which created such titles as “Beneath a Steel Sky” and “Lure of the Temptress.” Amazing Disney-quality animation as you guide your character through the streets of Paris and beyond, trying to solve a mystery that spans the globe. Seriously, the plot here is great. There were moments that I found emotionally touching, and moments that made me giggle. The characters were often larger-than-life but I really felt connected to them. Dialogue is quippy and… well, there’s a lot of it. You can ask every single person about every single inventory item you have and there’s a unique dialogue thread for each. I recommend playing the original version of this game. I'm told if you buy the Director's Cut (which abridged much of the dialogue and animation in order to fit it on handheld devices), you'll get the original version as well.
1 The Curse of Monkey Island (LucasArts, 1997). The last of the truly great Monkey Island games (IMO), this game saw a handing of the reins to a younger team of developers at LucasArts, who I feel managed to exceed expectations. This game is extremely quotable. There’s a minor location where your character becomes obsessed with the 1991 movie JFK and starts peppering his dialogue with references (“You can’t be sure of that. That shot may have come from the grassy knoll!”). Murray the talking skull became something of a fan favorite for his combination of evil intent and lack of ability to act on it. The ending is a bit rushed, but I enjoy revisiting this game. Available on GOG and Steam.
Riven: The Sequel to Myst (Cyan, 1997). To start out, this game is dated. It and its predecessor use prerendered 3D environments that you walk around in a sort of PowerPoint slide system. When you perform an action, like pulling a lever, a Quicktime animation plays. It’s actually quite well done and the environment, while dated in presentation, is still lovely to explore to this day. There’s very little here to worry about, no one’s shooting at you, in fact most people you find run away from you, leaving you to explore on your own. The framing device is that you’re trying to rescue Atrus’s wife Catherine from her home world where she is held captive by Atrus’s father Gehn. Essentially, you need to find a way to transport yourself to Gehn’s world via these magic books the three of them can write to teleport to, and alter, worlds. Gehn’s not very good at it, apparently, and so he’s been isolated from his home planet for years so it’s up to you to go in and save Catherine. It is truly amazing to me how the puzzles all fit together, you’re solving little puzzles but really you’re learning how everything on the planet fits together-- the numbering system, the animals and their noises, where the books are located and their designated color so you can solve the infamous marble puzzle. Since this game is not in realtime 3D, it may turn off players, and every time I play it I tell myself it’ll be the last time, but I keep going back. A real work of art.
Under a Killing Moon (Access, 1994) Predecessor to “Pandora Directive,” I actually recommend playing this AND its above sequel, though PD is definitely the better game. Clunky interface as always but a great story, characters, and dialogue. Minimal puzzle solving.
The Dig (LucasArts, 1995). Critics were lukewarm about this game when it came out, and fans to this day say it doesn't compare to other LucasArts outings. I, however, strongly enjoy it. You play as an astronaut stranded on an alien world. Spoiler! You do not zoom around in a space suit all game. You must reactivate alien technology, which can be difficult since your monkey brain is primitive and doesn't comprehend foreign tech. The music is phenomenal. Yes, the puzzles are often obtuse. After all, you're exploring an alien world. But it's no Rama, I can tell you that! If I were you, I'd play this game without hesitation (but with a guide) to enjoy the amazing visuals. I was reading critic reviews of this game, and they were already starting to grumble about the low-res quality that 2D games still had. No wonder studios seemed desperate to move to 3D graphics. Dialogue is by Orson Scott Card, and People. Are. Talking. All. The Time. Quip quippy quip quip. Less is more, Orson.
Soft recommends: (ie, if I don't include these, people will talk)
1998-2000: Hardware-rendered 3D and the death of the classic adventure game Some blame Myst. Some blame Quake, Doom, and Unreal. Whoever is to blame, but the late 80's, everyone knew 3D gaming was the future. They knew it! I mean, why have lush 2D backgrounds and characters when you could have clunky, boxy models in a pre-rendered space? This spelled the end of the classic adventure, as sales during this time period were lackluster and the cost of making these games increased due to the new 3D mandate. Isn't it weird how obsessed with 3D models we became? Pixar comes out with a few movies, a few years later, Disney decides all animated movies have to be computer generated from then on. Maybe it was cheaper, I'm just impressed by how quickly they went from The Lion King to "Home on the Range sucked, only CGI from now on." And don't try to tell me that the models looked good; "Chicken Little" looks dreadful compared to "Lilo & Stitch." Anyway, around this time, we also started getting more story-heavy games in previously shallow genres: RPGs, long noted for their storyline, were gaining mainstream appeal thanks to Final Fantasy VII and its ilk. Action/shooter games like Half-Life and Metal Gear Solid and Deus Ex showed that games can have good storytelling and narrative. Even when adventure games stopped being produced by major studios, it's not like I suddenly stopped playing games. Post-2000, I could still get my story fix in games like Silent Hill 1 & 2, Halo, Kingdom Hearts, Baldur's Gate, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, not to mention all the Zeldas, Fallouts, and Resident Evils of that time. Let's look at some of the games that helped usher out the era:
6 Zork: Grand Inquisitor (Activision, 1997). The last in a long line of Zork games. This game has a marvelous art style, the bizarro humor the series is known for, plus well-acted characters, fun gameplay, and plenty of puzzles. You progress first-person style ala Myst, but with 360 field of vision. I don’t want to say too much about this game, as I’d rather you discover it for yourself. Available on Steam and GOG.
5 Journeyman Project 3 (Presto Studios, 1998). The best of the Journeyman series, this sci-fi game reminds me of 1990’s shows like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Babylon Five, and Stargate SG-1, only you can interact with it! The game stands on its own so you don’t need to play the other two. I’d recommend this for anyone who has an appreciation of the 90’s sci fi shows. Available on GOG.
4 Sanitarium (Dreamforge, 1998). A dark and manic title with good intentions, you play as an amnesiac inmate in an insane asylum who must discover his identity by plumbing the dark depths of his mind. The art style kind of reminds me of Grant Morrison/Dave McKean’s “Arkham Asylum” graphic novel which also takes place in an insane asylum and features dark, disturbing imagery. You travel to several different fantasy worlds but the first two are probably the best, along with the scenes in the asylum itself. Not a perfect game, but well worth playing for its depiction of psychosis and psychedelia. Available on GOG and Steam.
3 Blade Runner (Westwood, 1997). Ah, Westwood. We hardly knew ye. A cult classic game based on the cult classic movie, you control one of the titular replicant hunters as he uncracks a series of murders. A technically impressive game with beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds, all 3D modeling is based on voxels so you didn’t need a 3D accelerator. [Edit]: I recently had a chance to replay this game in its ScummVM form. I used to think this was a flawed masterpiece, marred by bugs and poor compatibility. Now I think it's absolutely brilliant. The backgrounds are still stunning after all these years, maybe some of the best pre-rendered visuals outside of a Myst game, and the attention to detail is amazing as is the pure "cyberpunk"-ness of it all. Very accurate to both the movie with some notes taken from the original Phillip K Dick book and some original world-building. The story is not the same as the movie, but has many parallels and similar beats. You're a Blade Runner chasing a group of renegade replicants-- who is and is not a replicant is changed randomly at the start of each game (some will always be replicants, some never). You interview witnesses and suspects and get to use the Voight-Kampff test at some points, but it's mostly there for decoration. Like in the movie, you can use the ESPER system to analyze photographs, which I love. Gather clues, follow up on leads. The ending changes depending on whether you want to sympathize with the replicants, kill them off (it's your job!) or just get the hell out of town. It's not terribly difficult now that most of the bugs are sorted. A MUST PLAY.
2 The Longest Journey (1999/2000, Funcom). I’m off again/on again with this one. I shouldn’t like this game, the 3D models are blocky, the main character is a painfully ordinary self-doubting art student who keeps a diary and finds out she has strange powers (Life is Strange, is it not?), the ending is bittersweet, and yet the setpieces and dialogue and quirky moments keep drawing me back. You are responsible for the fate of two worlds that hang in the balance, a world of science, and one of magic. Great lore here and rich characters. The puzzles are very solvable without a guide (thankfully). Dialogue can be a little off, which I blame on the localization from Norweigian, but it’s still very entertaining. You can buy this game on GOG, but I recommend adding an HD texture and movie pack to greatly improve the graphics. I played it recently and it really added a lot.
1 Grim Fandango (LucasArts, 1998). Everyone’s clamoring for it already, you’ve all heard of it, it’s the Dia de los Muertos / Neo Noir / Grim Reaper fan favorite, Grim Fandango! This game, a commercial failure at the time, became such a classic in later years and is often considered one of the finest examples of the genre. You play as Manny Calavera, a down-on-his-luck travel agent (aka “The Grim Reaper, baby!”) who uncovers a conspiracy in the Land of the Dead (based on Mexican folklore and some Aztec influences). You’ll encounter monsters, beatniks, demons, communists, lawyers (the usual cast of hell), but everything is in this 1940’s and 50’s style of sets and costuming that lovingly rips off many of the classic movies of that era (Casablanca, Passage to Marseille, The Big Sleep, Out of the Past, The Third Man, Rififi). Made long before Coco, it lacks the latter’s vibrancy and colors but you’ll see a lot of the same character styles-- every human character looks like a skeletal calaca. And it’s funny, this is Tim Schafer’s finest work, the script is so quotable, the puzzles are fun but no too difficult (except maybe the puzzle with the betting stub), it’s a total blast to play. I recommend the remastered version from 2015.
Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned (Sierra, 1999). Lambasted on Old Man Murray for its cat/syrup/mustache puzzle, I actually enjoyed this game. Like the other two, you learn a lot about the history of whatever paranormal thing you’re investigating (in this case, the Holy Grail). The ending is extremely rushed so I can’t fully recommend it, but while some of the puzzles are flipping insane, you have some incredible ones (Le Serpent Rouge!) as well.
Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire (Sierra, 1998). Last of the QFG series, and we’re lucky to have it at all, even if it’s suddenly in 3D and more of an action RPG than adventure game. I’ve included it here for sake of completion. Mediocre graphics and action aside, if you’ve played the other games, definitely play this one to get closure on the story and for pure fanservice. Available on GOG.
TO BE CONTINUED So that's it, the end of the Golden Age. What came next? I will be back, talking about Syberia, some releases for Nintendo DS, and maybe pointing out a few visual novels that cross the line into adventure game territory (yes, that means Phoenix Wright), before getting into the modern era of the last 8 years. Edit: Altered the list to move Quest for Glory V out of top spot. How'd it get there? Edit 2: Added links to all titles I could find for sale online.
Why We Build Things: An Observation From My Personal MVIS Journey
America has always been about building things. If it didn't exist, we imagined it. If we imagined it, we could build it. We could execute. Building things is our cultural purpose. In reality though, we've created a culture with an underlying mentality that promotes the opposite of building things... I discovered MicroVision in the early aughts. I had friends pounding the table. I got hooked. 'A significant breakthrough that is expected to enable the development of microminiature displays...' http://www.microvision.com/nasdaq/microvision-achieves-breakthrough-for-size-cost-and-power-consumption-of-miniature-displays-and-imaging-systems-2/ The difference between the verticals of 2003 and now: light years. MicroVision has built incredible pieces of technology in its evolution. Yet there's intense dissatisfaction - with the 'ripening' speed, communication, adoption process, the share price, et al. If we were a full on 'build things' America, we'd easily be able to frame those with context and perspective. However... There's been a cultural shift in investing that is the antitheses of building things: Short Selling. The betting on failure - in the name of a buck. We root for it on boards like Reddit or Stocktwits. We urge it on under the guise of credibility in places like Seeking Alpha. Or on pop up, fake news sites. Even worse, we can prop up the promise of success in order to make a failure along the way seem even more dramatic - in the name of a buck. In this churn of personal profit or loss, instead of maintaining a sharp focus on what is being built and its ultimate value, we've drifted into a predominantly win-or-lose casino mentality. We've turned a lot of innovation's processes into a casino operation. What does it mean to build things? How do we support it? A good part of that relies on our understanding of how failure forwards the process of achieving success... My entire career has been about building things. A third of the ventures were successful. The other two thirds? High magnitude failure. Statistically though, that would be considered a highly successful ratio. Nine out of ten start ups fail. Most in the first few years. While it's easy to look at the public face of successes & failures and tag it with a quick label, most people don't understand the process of success. And they don't understand the aspects of failure that allow greater success to happen. With previous teams on previous projects, I always set aside collective think tank time. Its main goal: embracing failure as a means to succeed. These sessions were a fun, open environment that allowed people to present their 'craziest' ideas. Nine out of ten ideas, like start ups, fail to stand up. Even the one interesting idea usually had a universe to travel to become something useful. But one thing the nine 'going nowhere' ideas always accomplished - they created the permission to accept failure along the way and helped put the journey to success in context. As someone steeped in the culture of building things, I've always been able to apply my own view of success and failure to the MicroVision journey and maintain a balanced perspective - that worked in tandem with my own investment philosophy of supporting people who build things. It's not propped up with unchecked exuberance either. Along the way, when it was appropriate to trim my position or trade into events, I did so. I'm still doing so. That's called being a smart trader and investor. There's no denying MVIS has had big failures. But how they recognized those, then found a way to pivot and keep going has always impressed me as a builder of things. The determination that paves the way for that to happen is insane. The average investor often doesn't recognize it because 'they want it now.' Like a cheeseburger. It is however, a process... the way raising a child is a process. My respect and support for what MicroVision is building has not dwindled throughout my journey as an investor. I've tempered it as needed, but I look at what they've created now and my enthusiasm is at its height. If this were a soap opera you'd title it, The Edge of Ripeness. But on the eve of maximizing the value of this long journey, I'm disheartened by the amount of people focused on the most negative aspects of the journey's failures - while missing the beauty of what they've actually built... fully evolved verticals on the verge of achieving their ultimate goals. IDM/Internet of Things, AMixed Reality, Solid-State LiDar and the immense IP behind all these are finally at the inflection point - ready to bear fruit. And fruit is already being harvested on the near eye display vertical. MicroVision is not without responsibility in the less than ideal fundamental aspects of where we find ourselves today though. While the 'cultural betting on failure' is a big culprit in this equation, to me, the company's biggest failure of imagination is in how they've communicated and generated excitement about what they're creating. It's missing that Steve Jobsian element of being able to show people the beauty in what you've built - and what we all can do and accomplish with it. That aside, those of us who could see it clearly have never lost sight of that beauty - separate from however the stock trades at any given time. The 'fireside session' addressed something that's long been absent. Clear, open dialogue with the investors who support what they're building. It wasn't perfect, but it was highly meaningful. I specifically used the phrase 'investors who support what they're building' because if you don't support it, why are you even here? So as we move into what appears to be the homestretch of acquisition, how much we each support what MicroVision has built is something we all should personally look at. I have. It's why I am voting YES/FOR to all the proposals, with the exception of one no for a single board member. It's a matter of acknowledging my own long standing belief in what they have built - and the historic step they took on Friday to reach out to shareholders in a way that up until now has been lacking. I have confidence in what Geo, KY and Sig have conveyed, based on their long standing commitment as shareholders and the unfettered critical thinking they've applied as a part of the process. I expect this post to be a target for negativity and criticism. I'd like to issue a challenge to you though... rather than go on the attack yet again, 'think like a builder of things.' Imagine what you would build with what MicroVision has created. What do you think should be built? Building things has been our real national pastime since Day 1. We built a country, transportation to criss cross it, factories and technologies, endless things that most of us take for granted - especially when we're consumed with the buying and selling of equity. If you can imagine what can be built with the technology MVIS has created, you can step into the shoes of someone looking to acquire this fully evolved technology and see its value.
I'm hoping history doesn't repeat itself, as it often does with MMOs
Preamble I don't currently have Alpha access to New World, though did participate in a very early Alpha session some time ago where it was open world player versus player. My insight into the current state of the game only extends as far as what is publicly published on the official site and other platforms. I'm a fan of both player versus environment and player versus player, experiencing a variety of systems over the years in MMOs. There's been a number of disappointments over the years in both categories. I'm sure there's enough players out there that have their own war stories to tell of MMOs that looked like it would be that fresh new thing, but turned out to not be. Most of these disappointments for me have been games that make attempts at being those sandbox games with some kind of player versus player dynamic. This isn't going to be a "New World needs open world PvP back," post, but rather a list of concerns from an individual that is nearing exhaustion on the MMO market altogether. This particular subreddit may not be the best place for this, but I know not another forum for which to make this New World specific post. I'm a lurker that did emerge to make an account to make this post, as there are thoughts on New World that I wanted to share. Anyone with additional insight, without breaking any NDA they may have if in Alpha, would be appreciated. TL;DR - I'm seeing the mistakes of the past coming back. Incoming wall of text. The Hook New World is enticing for me. The Age of Discovery aesthetics have always been appealing to me. There aren't many RPGs that take place in that era, with GreedFall being a recent entry into the time period that I enjoyed playing, despite it's fantasy setting. Having that kind of experience on the scale of a MMO just sounded too good to be true, and I was elated when New World came to my attention. The aesthetics already had me, but the additional features that included open world player versus player which had territory and pseudo-resource control as a focal point of that really made me even more excited about the game. A familiar cycle of discovery and internal hype kicked off. I managed to score an invite to participate in the Alpha last year (June 2019). My personal experience of it consisted of learning the systems, followed by a cat and mouse game with a few players tagged as murderers. It didn't take long for the players around the settlement to band together and go vigilante on the murderers, of which I eagerly participated. My particular stint didn't extend much past that, but I'd gotten a taste of what was to come. Having friends, or at the very least some fellow concerned citizens in the area, was going to be crucial to ensuring that I was having fun in this game. It sparked a surge of excitement for me, as I feel as though the MMO part of MMORPG has lost some of it's meaning over time. There's already plenty of conversations on why this has become the case, so I won't try to rehash all that here. It was a great feeling that a newer MMO was being developed to push social interaction due to being in a lawless wilderness. Having a whole territory control system that revolved around player groups further made me excited for what was to come. The Shift After the Alpha I participated in ended, it seemed as though Amazon got back in their huddle and had a conversation about what they had created. At some point, there was clearly a decision made to back off the always on open world player versus player, and opt for a toggle system instead. This wasn't necessarily a deal breaker for me, but I was curious as to how the game would evolve given the territory control system that I was eager to be a participant in. Fast forward to our more recent COVID-19 season, and I've had a lot more time to read up on what's been going on with New World's development. The biggest things to me were what I mentioned above about player versus player now being a toggle, and that territory combat was a scheduled affair. New World article about player wars. It's not all bad Before going into why this doesn't sound all that great, there are some things I do like. Requiring that a territory be weakened through faction missions sounds great. That gives a sense that there is an ongoing war effort happening between these three powers on the island, and it's not just a straightforward clashing of steel out of nowhere. This also gives opportunities for participation to all strata of groups, from duos to the larger companies that I'm sure will be rolling around. At least that's the impression that I'm left with. No contribution is too small, which is exactly what a territory control system needs in order for players to be engaged with it. There are some concerns I have about the Vanguard system, but the positive take away that I have is that it encourages groups to talk to each other. At least assuming a smaller company is selected as Vanguard, they'll need to form up the team by picking those that are deemed the best for the battle ahead. That selection process might involve some politics, money, nepotism, or other form of diplomacy. However that shakes out, I'm eager to see it in action. Factions in general also sound like it was a good addition, as it focuses the territory game for players. There will still be player group identities with companies, which isn't all that different from what we see in other games where players choose a faction then can form a guild. There aren't many successful games out there in recent memory that have managed to pull off a totally open environment where it's truly player groups running the show. It makes sense to rein that ambition in a bit and let it be a sort of vassal relationship between factions and companies. Think it will also aid with getting players to rally around common causes. Having the player versus environment dynamic in there is also great, where the world will throw invasions at us that can have some legit consequences if the defense fails. As the war system stands, it doesn't sound like the individual player will see a lasting consequence of their faction not being in charge of a settlement. But a horde of corrupted lead by a flying death skull that straight up wrecks your home is a fantastic element to add in that binds together both the player versus player and player versus environment types into a common fate. The arena sounds really fun, and does require time and effort to get into as I understand it. Some concerns I think have been raised on players that don't participate in player versus player getting awesome gear and then suddenly wrecking other players. If Amazon's ambition to have a player skill driven comes to fruition, this shouldn't be an issue. Alpha players may know more, but that NDA is still in effect to the best of my knowledge, and the current state of things is of course subject to change. I'd be willing to bet that the player versus player experience won't be all that affected by this arena mechanic. But...
It sounds like there's too much initiative being given to the defenders of a territory war, which I base solely on the statement that defenders can schedule when engagements can happen. I'm a fan of territory control, but I'm not going to rearrange my entire schedule just so I can try to fight during another time zone's prime time. Limiting the number of players as described by Amazon may be the counterbalance to this advantage to the defender, but it's still not all that great of a system. Perhaps it's an engine limitation that prevents bigger battles, or an attempt to ensure that battles involve only the two factions involved and exclude the third. Whatever the reason, my expectation for territory control today would be that I could roll up on the siege taking place and organically start to participate. EVE Online does feature massive player battles, but the servers do slow down time to ensure that everything gets processed across all connections, and we of course see player limits in other territory control modes in Elder Scrolls Online and Guild Wars 2. The late Warhammer Age of Reckoning had some pretty massive battles go on from what I recall. It may sound like a whataboutism to mention other titles, but how it's currently setup doesn't make me feel inspired to try and participate in the system if the main event will be a closed arena. A conversation to have about that would be faction balance, to ensure that a faction that has many more players doesn't steamroll the other factions by virtue of just having more bodies. This argument does make sense, and introduces a mechanism to prevent the zerg from just steamrolling everything. However, that doesn't make me feel better about being that lone rifleman happening upon a massive battle. The player versus environment invasions could be leveraged in a manner to be harsher towards the more populous faction as well, putting more pressure on what would be a bloated island empire. There would certainly then be a need to have companies 'hold down their sectors' as it were, to ensure that both rival factions and the corrupted don't breach the walls. As for scheduled defense, the alternative I would offer is making the settlement vulnerable for some period of time once enough faction missions have been completed in the target area. Could be for twenty four hours, perhaps it could be a week. The length of time can be experimented with, but I'd really rather have a
I don't think the Vanguard system has been fully explained yet, which I sincerely hope is the case. At the moment, all that's been mentioned is that a lottery determines the company that will be the Vanguard. I'm not sure what the barrier to entry is for the lottery, but I do hope there is one. It might sound elitist, but I'd prefer companies that are actually 'in it to win it' be the ones put into the lottery. How that's determined in the game I don't know. Some kind of faction or territory influence mechanic, or perhaps a straight buy in with game cash or resources where the bigger your company's contribution is more likely it will be the vanguard. Being the Vanguard should have some basis on standing, not just random number generation.
Open World Player versus Player
The idea of having rogue, murderous players in the world is an appealing idea to me. It gives incentive to find other players in town and band together for mutual protection. Or perhaps it creates opportunities for players to be hired on as security while others harvest resources in the world. It could be that there are reports of a company warband nearby that's eyeing the settlement, making it unsafe for residents to leave. Residents in the immediate may catch a scout in the area, and subsequently cut them down before they can make a proper reconnoiter of the area. These social dynamics are exciting to me, but I understand that open world player versus player is not everyone's cup of tea. It can be exhausting to get a group together just so a player can go pick flowers for twenty minutes. MMOs should have avenues of progression available that are palatable for a solo experience. I don't think it should be that way in a game that is putting forth territory control as one of it's primary features. Which is why, assuming a de facto state of war exists between these three factions as is alluded to by the presence of the territory control system, I'd prefer to at least have open world player versus player between rival faction players. If there is to be a vassal type relationship between factions and companies, then I'd like to see the meaning of those factions extended beyond just the territory control system. There should be an element of risk if players are operating on the border of a rival faction's territory. There could still be an optional component, such as not being able to gather resources or perhaps just not being able to enter rival territory at all. I do realize that there's complications with that particular suggestion due to how some other systems work, such as housing. I don't have a good suggestion for making some of these other systems work with what I've mentioned. But I do feel as though the territory control system would mean something if the fate of all players residing within that settlement hung in the balance depending on how active they were in defending it. Both from rival factions and corrupted invasions. Another alternative would be to have different server types. The current iteration, as I understand it from the reading and watching I've done, sounds like a good player versus environment mode, where the player versus player element of everything is purely opting in on the part of the player. Is it a grim fate for New World? I certainly hope not. I'm still interested in playing an Age of Discovery MMO, even if it won't be a player versus player driven affair. The longevity of the game is in jeopardy I fear, as a radical design change has happened over the past year. Current incarnations of these systems as described are familiar from MMOs of the past, with my concern being that MMOs I had wished success for ended up failing due to these same kinds of systems not garnering the lasting attention of the players. Two months to go, with a little less than a month to closed beta where selected and pre-order players will be flooding in to see what's up with New World. A flood of information across Reddit and YouTube will likely occur, and we'll get a clearer picture of what's going on. Until then, I'll be dreaming of my perfect Age of Discovery adventure.
[First] [Previous] [Next] ----- Arnd stretched her legs in the back of T'aro's extravagantly roomy limousine, triple-checking her bag to make sure she had everything she needed. T'aro sat opposite her, indulging his appetite for top shelf lija sourced from orchards in the verdant highlands beyond the great plains of X'rtan. At the wheel was K'ul, deftly navigating the air far above the asphalt roads of Ta'X'rtana. The dense throng of the city's center was not long behind them when the sun glowed golden as it began its afternoon descent toward the sparkling sea, and towering pillars of stone, glass, and metal let scant views of the vessel-thick waters beyond peek between them. Finally, at what many consider the beginning of Ta'X'rtana's outskirts, Arnd asked K'ul to stop by a homely, if modern abode sandwiched between an apartment complex and a corner store frequented by youths on their way to school. Arnd stepped out of the vehicle and onto the familiar pavement, her eyes tracing along every familiar crack in the stone beneath her feet. She stepped past the thin front garden, populated by low-maintenance plants, and made her way up the smooth wooden steps onto the deck. She shortly produced her key from her bag and entered her house, harshly, but not too harshly reminding herself not to linger. The door opened to a wide lounge room furnished with a pair of large plush sofas, a short table housing many unread magazines, and a television that Arnd had meant to replace for months now, but worked wonders as a conversation piece for the rare occasions where guests were over. An orderly, if rarely used kitchen lay past the living room, separated by an artistic wooden partition. Over on the right wall was a sliding glass door to the miniscule paved space wrapping around the house that she hesitantly called a backyard, situated close by a staircase, which Arnd immediately made for, trying to keep her mind focused on the task at hand. Once on the landing, Arnd looked directly ahead to a door whose handle was worn with heavy use. With reluctance, she afforded herself a look inside. What was once a guest bedroom had been converted into a miniature cinema, decorated in all the paraphernalia to set the mood, and complete with sound system; a top-of-the-line television; plush velvety seating; and even a mini fridge. Immediately upon looking into the room, memories of decades past flooded her head, and she took a moment to bask in the past. She continued on, passing a broom closet and the upstairs bathroom until finally she came upon the upstairs master bedroom. Her bedroom. The blinds covering the glass wall leading out to a small balcony softened the ever-reddening sunlight into a warm glow that bathed the room in a rich orange. A bed large enough to accommodate Arnd's frequent tossings and turnings sat as the center of the right wall, directly in front of the door, and beside it was a dresser with an in-built lamp that was just strong enough not to hurt the eyes at night. A family portrait was hung on the opposite wall, next to a large mirror on a desk that Arnd used every day to double check she looked okay one last time before leaving for work. Finally, opposite the window, was a double wide wardrobe; Arnd opened it to see clothing dating from last week all the way back to her childhood, she never had the motivation to throw anything away unless it was sufficiently ripped. On the floor of the wardrobe sat a filing cabinet that was far too large for the amount of paperwork that Arnd actually brought home with her. She quickly flipped through the sheafs of paper until she came across a thick document in a folder emblazoned with the X'rtan Freight logo. She stared at the contract a few long seconds before leaving; she knew that the longer she stuck around, the harder it would be to leave. From the well-lit tunnel running through the base of Ta'X'rtana, the limousine emerged into the mountain's shadow, and closed in on X'rtan Freight's regional hangar standing strong against the emptiness of the land around it. Past the local shipping vehicles parked in front of the building and under the shade of the parking lot, K'ul found a prime parking spot on the third floor. Arnd began climbing out. <"Remember,"> began T'aro. <"Keep it quick, I know."> replied Arnd exasperatedly. She shut the door and stepped into a nearby elevator to the ground floor; she shut her eyes and tried not to shake. The elevator opened to the wide foyer. Afternoon sunlight played off the glass bannisters of the walkways above, and the sound of subdued chatter and footsteps filled the air with a relaxed, if formal atmosphere. Looking about at the walls decorated in company slogans and framed awards, Arnd felt herself growing ever more nostalgic in the knowledge that her time here was about to come to an end. She walked along the smooth floor, feeling the ever-polished stone floor beneath her feet as she did at the age of 24, and her grip on her bag tightened. The front desk was staffed by a chipper young woman, typing away at her computer; she looked happy to be there. Arnd approached and got her attention. <"Welcome to X'rtan Freight! How may I help you?"> She sounded as young as she looked. <"I'm here for a formal dismissal."> Arnd replied, showing the girl her captain's badge. Immediately the girl's tone darkened, taken aback somewhat. <"Oh, okay. Please take a seat and someone will be with you shortly."> Arnd took her seat at a bench near the desk, and closed her eyes to try and tried to tune out the environment around her. She could remember the first time she walked up to that counter; she was shorter then, more starry-eyed, she didn't know what her decision to sign up would lead her to or how it would all end. Those days weren't much simpler, but they were simpler, when she was young and dumb and didn't know what life was really like. Looking back, she would have done a lot of things differently if she could: try and convince her uncle and father to stay, focus more on her studies, find a better boyfriend, but signing up for X'rtan Freight? She would never regret that, even for all the hardship it brought her. She shook, reminiscing on her centrifuge training and the acquaintances she made in the academy; she recalled her first takeoff, and the first time she looked out to see Kerc-en glowing beneath her; she looked back on all the countless hours she spent fixing damage to the ship both inside and out, and the workings of the machines she used to do it; she remembered climbing the ranks to captain, proud of every step she took, and bathing in the praise of her superiors and juniors alike. Her eyes began to dampen, and she realized that there was no escaping how she felt about this. <"Captain Kolr."> spoke a familiar, commanding voice. The voice snapped Arnd out of her trance, and she looked up. A short, solidly-built man stood beside the desk with a presence that demanded attention and respect in spite of the ease with which he exuded it; he was dressed in garb befitting his position, with a column of badges denoting the positions he earned on his way to the top. He looked on Arnd with a somber fondness. <"Chief Urtakr!"> Arnd exclaimed, standing to attention and saluting. <"At ease, Captain."> Arnd complied. <"With me, please."> Up a lift to the top floor of the facility, and past hallways warmly lit with orange sunlight, Arnd and Urtakr arrived in his formally decorated office, and the pair sat down at the Chief's desk. The two looked at each other for a long and silent while, taking in the moment. Urtakr sighed deeply. <"I couldn't believe it when I got the message from the higher ups either. After all you've done, this is how it ends. I wish that this could have gone down differently, Captain."> <"Um, with all due respect, Chief, I'm not a captain anymore."> <"Until I dismiss you, you are a captain; and I won't hear anyone, not even you, saying otherwise."> Arnd gave a weak smile before Urtakr continued. <"I don't know what they think they're doing firing you, you've been a fantastic employee, ever since you signed up. I would be offering to take you back right now if it weren't for a company mandated grace period, but trust me when I say that the offer remains open, if slim after this whole debacle."> <"Thank you, Chief."> Urtakr breathed heavily, and his expression darkened. <"Captain, your contract, please."> <"N-"> Arnd caught herself before she made a fool of herself, and slid her contract across the desk. Urtakr opened the file and slowly leafed through the file. He pulled out a stamp, and hesitantly scorched a seal onto the final page, officially ending Arnd's employment at X'rtan Freight. The pair let the moment sink in with no shortage of subdued anguish. Finally, Urtakr stood up. <"Stand up, Captain."> Biting back every rebuttal that came to mind, Arnd complied. The pair faced each other, and Urtakr began. <"Captain Arnd Kolr, it brings me no shortage of pain to perform this duty. Your time with this company has been one of note, with not a single mark against your work for the past thirty two years. In training and cadetship, your eagerness to learn was showcased in your impressive growth and quality of both procedure and results. You bounced between positions, slowly making your way to the top with distinction, professionalism, and exemplary work ethic. As captain, though it was your first and thus far only assignment in the position, you not only directed your crew through a deadly threat, you completed your assignment and, by bringing home an extraterrestrial visitor, benefited the entirety of x'errenkind. There is not a single other employee in the history of this company with a record like yours, Captain. And that is why it pains me to ask for your badge."> Arnd produced her badge from her bag, gripping it tightly enough to cause her pain. She took one last look at it, its bronzen form engraved with her name and rank stared back at her, and Arnd wanted to hold onto it forever. But she finally relinquished it, and knew that by doing so, she insulted thirty two years of blood and tears. Urtakr held the badge with reverence, gingerly placing it in his breast pocket. One final deep breath. <"As of this instant, you are hereby dismissed. Your due compensation will be sent to you within the san'lo."> Both he and Arnd felt the sting of the moment, and shared an empathic salute. <"Now please, if you would allow me the privilege to personally escort you from the building."> Arnd nodded. The foyer was oddly quiet, with little but the tapping of the receptionist typing at her computer to fill the void. The pair stood by the elevator as it arrived on the ground floor, a young man in an engineer's uniform rushed out and across the floor to clock in for an off-world assignment; Arnd watched him go with nostalgia before stepping in. Urtakr cleared his throat. <"It was a pleasure having you on our team. I wish that fortune favours you in your future endeavours, Miss Kolr."> And the elevator doors closed as he saluted one final time, and Arnd was taken back up to the parking lot. She resisted the urge to punch the wall. After a short walk, Arnd reached the limousine, whose door was ajar, revealing T'aro sat waiting with an aura of impatience and displeasure. She climbed in, closing the door behind her. Immediately after she took her seat, K'ul set off at a pace that felt to Arnd just a bit too hasty to mean anything good. T'aro leant toward the dividing window. <"K'ul, make it quick and take the skies when possible. I'll take care of any speeding fines."> <"Yes sir."> the man replied, deadpan. He turned to Arnd. <"You took a bit longer than I expected, is there a problem?"> <"No."> <"Good; if we're out for much longer, there may be cause to investigate your absence from X'rtani House. However, there is another issue at hand."> he stated angrily, bringing up a display in the center of the space. It was a video on Ta'X'rtana News's Flow page. Mark sits on a sofa, looking at something offscreen. What stands out is the window behind him; it looks almost fractured, as though it was carved to replicate stone. Beyond the window is a view of Ta'X'rtana's monolithic buildings. The camera slowly sweeps behind the human to show the film he is watching. The video is of the interior of Arnd's room. Arnd stared, teeth visible as a thin white line. <"What. The. Fuck?"> T'aro shifted, yet his displeasure remained. <"I take it you were not aware of this?"> <"Of course not! If I was, I would be beating Mark bloo- trying to beat Mark bloody!"> T'aro looked to her quizzically, but kept his questions to himself. <"I'd advise against that, Mister Stevens likely has nothing to do with this; he was alone the entire time, and quite engrossed if him not moving from his seat is anything to go off."> Arnd's initial assumption dashed, she thought further. <"Maybe someone leaked security footage?"> She already had a culprit in mind, as guilty as her first thought made her feel. <"Likely, but none of the cameras installed in your rooms capture that angle, let alone move like that."> Arnd stammered in disbelief. <"S-so what is this?"> <"We're considering two options, both equally unsettling: they either managed to sneak in a camera without our cameras picking it up, which is quite unlikely; or this video is a digital recreation based on the security footage, which has all manner of implications I don't want to think about."> Arnd knew exactly what he was talking about. Somebody with a model of Mark that convincing could easily fabricate any number of stories happening behind closed doors, should they prove willing to go beyond a simple recreation. And as tenuous as Arnd's view on Mark was, she knew how closely she was associated with him in the public eye, and how much damage false stories such as those would do to her reputation. <"So what are our options?"> she asked. <"Right now, all we can do is ask Mister Stevens about yesterday and extrapolate from there."> Shade encapsulated the vehicle as K'ul pulled into a small porte-cochère carved from the sheer mountainside beside the main entrance to X'rtani House. <"We have arrived, sir."> spoke K'ul through a hidden speaker. The display was cut as the door opened. T'aro quickly stepped out onto the pavement and looked back to Arnd expectantly. This was needless, as Arnd hopped out right behind him and lead the way into X'rtani House, eager for answers. Not too proud to admit that he had hit a wall when it came to the topic of pre-revolution X'rtan, Mark decided to close the Flow page he was on, put his data pad down, and perform a short exercise routine in the hopes that increased blood flow would help him think his way through the barrier. Not long after he had began, his doorbell rang. He rose from his sit-ups, quickly wiped off the sweat on his brow, and answered the door, to greet T'aro and Arnd, the latter of whom slipped past the human without a word. Mark didn't like the feeling he got from Arnd as he turned to listen to T'aro, still in the doorway. <"Mister Stevens, may I enter? We have an issue to discuss."> "Of course." he replied, not about to deny the man who held the reins on the power dynamic. T'aro made himself comfortable at the kitchen table, begging Mark and Arnd to take a seat, which they did. T'aro then handed his data pad to Mark, the offending video onscreen. The video and an explanation of the situation commenced and soon concluded, T'aro taking back his data pad from the human. <"So,"> the man asked. <"What can you tell us about this?"> "Nothing." Mark replied, terrified but outwardly calm. "I didn't notice anyone else enter or leave other than Arnd. I think I felt that something was off, but I'd attribute that to the film more than anything; those Hu'wari are freaky." he prayed silently that T'aro would believe the truth. In the time before the man answered, Mark took a brief glance at Arnd, and saw the ghost of a scowl he knew he could neither face nor challenge. T'aro considered his words for a long and quiet moment. <"I agree; those things are terrifying. Well, that leads me to believe that someone is giving away security footage. We can only hope that nobody in this chain is the vindictive sort, I don't want to think about what they could do with digital models of that quality when they're found out."> He stood from the chair, much to Arnd's confusion. <"I will be making my demands for an investigation immediately, and hopefully we can weed out the conspirators before long. I thank you for your cooperation, Mister Stevens, and I wish you a good day."> And with that, he left, typing a message as he went. Mark and Arnd sat in the wake of T'aro's leaving, each too stunned by the stiff awkwardness to move or speak. Slowly, as the quiet seconds wore on, Arnd's scowl deepened in the face of the being that seemed preternaturally adept at attracting trouble for both him and those around him. Abruptly, she stood up and made for the door, knowing that staying for much longer would lead to nothing good. "Arnd." said Mark as the woman in question reached the door. She paused, entertaining the thought of finally making her feelings known even beyond the kind explanation she gave to the human days prior. But, with what respect she had for the dynamic they shared, and her own want for peace, she remained silent. Still, she remained to listen. Mark understood immediately. "I'm sorry for dragging you into all of this; I wish our plan worked out." <"So do I."> Arnd replied, and left. Moments later, Mark heard a frustrated yell from down the corridor. ~~~
Blood: Chapter 3. Verse 2. And from the prisons dug from the earth arose Wey'sai, haggard and weary. He stood tall before the blades of judgement, smiling peacefully despite his torment. The lawman asked him, his tongue thick with lies: <"Why do you smile in the reflection of your doom, blasphemer?"> Wey'sai replied: <"Your judgement is not my doom, but salvation for all."> It was with those words that Wey'sai's head was hewn from his neck, and it crashed to the ground with peace on its face.
The line was slow and long, stretching well into the mess hall as most all prisoners waited for their turn to contact the outside world. As a correctional facility, it wouldn't do for Holy Krek'ka Correctional Facility to deny its wards the option of bi-weekly access to the world at large for good behaviour, even if limited by a brief video call. Friends and families broken by an individual's choices and the subsequent consequences were given the chance to reconnect and heal together; convicts were given the motivation to examine and better themselves for the sake of themselves and their loved ones; and rarely, ever so rarely, people were given the chance to find their faith, and a new path in life. Ledrn finally passed into the call room; closed off and soundproofed chambers - each monitored appropriately - lined the outer walls, the door to each occupied by a prisoner waiting their turn. Before long, Ledrn took his place by a door, and waited under the watchful eye of armed guard and increasingly impatient prisoner alike. Finally, the chamber Ledrn stood by was vacated, the convict in question wiping his eyes as he left. The chamber was simple: a table, a chair, and a large touchscreen with a dial pad ready on the display. Ledrn sat down, already knowing who he was going to contact, and input the appropriate number. The central hall of the Greater Kurj'al Kerc-Wey'sai Temple was quiet and dark, bereft of all occupants but one: an old soul dressed in the same robes she had donned for decades, sprinkling consecrated herbs and offering prayer over the smouldering remains of a raised bonfire whose ashes lay surrounding a rough hewn central stone column reaching to the artistically carved ceiling. Pews were arranged in concentric circles stretching to the far walls, facing the central column. The walls were adorned by statues of saints, prophets, and history makers of Kerc-Wey'sai's past, each with a pair of coloured flames in their chests dimly lighting the chamber; yellow in their right, caged by ribs of metal, representative of the blood that tied them to the mortal plane; and a brilliant green in the left, free of any constraints, signifying the ascended spirits that guided the faithful in times of crisis. Her wrist-pad rang, a notification telling her that her office's computer has received an incoming call. She quickly said the appropriate prayer, set down the herbs, and went to answer it. Her office chair creaked as she sat, surrounded by ceremonial scrolls and bookshelves filled with ledgers pertaining to the temple's administration. The message window sat visible in the corner of her screen, telling her that the message was from Holy Krek'ka orbiting the planet. Curious, but with the demeanour befitting her position, she answered. And upon her screen, sat calmly with arms on the table in front of him, was Ledrn. <"Blooded Daughter Quaye't, it has been too long."> he said calmly. Quaye't stared in shock. <"L-Ledrn! Why are you in prison? And what happened to your hand?!"> she asked, staring at the stump onscreen. Beside it, Ledrn's remaining hand was twitching slowly, making Quaye't no shortage of nervous. <"I... was too eager to protect the crew I was assigned to. But that's not important; how have things been since I last visited the temple?"> <"Uh-"> Quaye't began, flustered at Ledrn's nonchalance. <"Fine enough. We've hosted some charity events; had some slight remodeling done to the temple; and the High Son has recently ordained a young faithful into the order, so we're hopeful on that front."> <"Ah. It's good to hear that you and the order have been well. But now that you mention charity events, I can't help but remember that you have an upcoming event for the Eve of Star's Exodus, correct?"> <"Yes, we do. Why?"> <"I'm not sure if you're aware, but it's about election season."> Of course, the woman's face conveyed confusion at this statement. Ledrn continued, unconcerned. <"Knowing this, hopeful politicians looking to boost their ratings wouldn't mind pitching in for the sake of good PR, and I think that their patronage would draw quite a few eyes your way."> <"I see. I've not thought of that before, I'll have to consider that. But... why are you worried about something as comparatively mundane as this when you're in prison?!"> <"Because the order has done immense good. Good by the community, and good by me. This right here is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on that good. And besides, there's not much I can do here but be on my best behaviour and hope for a reduced sentence."> A light and alarm then blared in Ledrn's room; his time was up. His twitching in his remaining hand became immediately more severe, sparking concern in Quaye't, but Ledrn himself seemed unfazed, simply keeping his gaze locked to the screen. <"Well, that's my time. I wish you all the best, and please, be sure to forward this to Elder Son Duvem."> And in that moment, the feed cut. Quaye't sat staring blankly at the screen, worried as to the events leading to Ledrn's incarceration. She concluded though, that there was little use in sitting by and fretting about that when not only did she still have her afternoon duties to perform, but that she would be doing more for him in the moment by honouring his request and informing Elder Son Duvem. As such, she did just that, and then left to pick up where she left off. The sun dipped below Ta'X'rtana's skyline, and it was time for Quaye't to hang up her robes for the day and return to the altogether different comfort of her home. She muttered one final prayer at the foot of the bonfire as the night's temple keepers filtered in, and slung up her bag, ready to leave. As she reached halfway to the temple's entrance, however, she was interrupted by the clapping of a coarse palm on her shoulder. Spinning on her toes, Quaye't came face to face with the balding, time-weary visage of Duvem. He stood, bent by age and injury but steady with the aid of a cane, looking up to his junior with urgency in his eyes. <"With me a moment, child."> he said, and led her over to an empty pew. There, he pulled out his device, a recording of the video call on screen. <"When you sent me this video, I was glad to know that the young man was safe, despite how clearly disastrous his most recent assignment was."> —He shook, and lovingly brushed the back of his hand— <"As I watched though, I noticed something. So I rewatched it, and I saw this."> He then played the video, letting it run for a while. <"Can you see it?"> he asked, a twinge frantic. <"See what?"> <"Thehand*, child! The hand!">* he exclaimed, pointing a wrinkled finger at the twitching appendage on screen. <"I noticed that. Whatever took the other must have given him a nervous tic or something."> she conjectured with pity. <"It's no tic, child; it's all ordered."> he stated. Quaye't did naught but stare confusedly. Duvem continued, annoyed but unsurprised. <"It's all faint, very faint. He doesn't want the guards to see it."> When Quaye't continued to visibly express her confusion, Duvem sighed and rewound the video. Then, following along with Ledrn and performing the motions as they were meant to, he began. A rubbing of the thumb and forefinger together, with a bent ring finger, a traditional prayer gesture said to ward against evil. A balled and rotating hand, mimicking a spinning planet. Clawed, and tightening its grip. A cupped hand, palm down, the thumb laying parallel to the ground. <"Unholy Foreign Enemy in Home base."> Extended thumb and pinky in the shape of an ancient communicator. Then, upturned fingers rolling up and down, like an approaching army. <"Call Reinforcements."> It was this demonstration that made everything click in Quaye't's mind. <"Military signals."> <"Exactly. And I'd bet you my good eye that it has something to do with whatever took his hand."> He scratched one of his remaining teeth in thought. <"Did he tell you anything about his assignment before he left?"> Quaye't combed her memory for anything of note. <"I think he mentioned something a week before he left: something about stars..."> Duvem's scratching intensified as vague yet recent memories began to clarify in his mind. <"Stars... stars... star... hunter? Star, Chaser."> Frantically, he put the term into a Flow search. Links to article after article appeared on the screen, each one mentioning the vessel, its crew, and their monumental journey. Eventually, the search led them to a recent police report, aired on the Ta'X'rtana News network. An officer stood at a podium before a crowd of the press.<"As for the matter of the X'rtan Freight employee, we have video confirmation of what appears to be an attempted mutiny that the Star Chaser's captain immediately put to a stop."> What sounded to be a middle-aged man shouted from the crowd of press.<"Sir, have you determined a motive for this betrayal?"> <"From what we have gathered, the man in question revolted in response to a so-called 'alien' on board the ship. After talking to officers on-site, we have determined that this 'alien' in question is nothing more than an advanced animatronic for a movie being shot on Men-te.">At his words, body cam video of the Star Chaser's cargo bay filled the screen. A short, pale, hairless biped stood its ground, looking away from the camera, at the officer's face. The pair looked at their findings in horrified realization. Quaye't was the first to regain composure. <"The unholy, foreign enemy."> <"And the warped thralls deathly pale shall splinter the world at the Adversary's will. And so shall the world return to fire as it was forged, and the sins of the living light doom's blade ablaze."> recited Duvem in abject terror. <"Lords protect us... even looking at it gives me chills, knowing what I do now. To think, my first assumption was that one of those X'olandi on the crew was responsible."> In the face of a revelation as world-shattering as the one she just experienced, Quaye't was more than willing to overlook her elder's unsavoury assumption. <"But what about the reinf- the faithful! This clearly isn't something the law is going to help with, so it falls to us! We'll have to be careful though; if this is something the law shouldn't know, then we will have to be discreet in informing our followers."> <"Yes. If that thing is here, then it's allowed to be by the law. If that's going to change, we're going to need a mass petition and aid from... politicians. Ledrn, you clever grub, you thought of everything!"> He spoke with equal parts fear and relief. He gripped his cane with fervor and rose from his seat, caring little that his back objected to this display of almost youthful vigor. Both he and Quaye't made for the main office and the night's acting Blooded Child, the end of their daily tenures be damned; a holy war was brewing, and they must be ready. ----- [Next]
This is a follow up post to my previous analysis of BBSI prior to the release of their Q1’20 Earnings. As previously stated, we are living in a time of great uncertainty, which is reflected in any projections/modeling presented in this post. Note: All price information is as of 5/28/20. Any links are to images that will provide additional color to the section they're located in.
Disclaimer: This is not investment or financial advice and the above thesis is predicated on my opinion & interpretation of the facts mentioned. I am currently long BBSI in my personal portfolio.
Barrett Overview Barrett Business Services, Inc. (BBSI) is a PEO firm offering management solutions to small business across the country. They enter co-employment contracts with their clients and manage their payroll and workers compensation claims businesses, saving them money and saving management time. Barrett utilizes a professional referral network that they develop geographically to source new clients cheaply. Upwards of 90% of their new clients are from their professional referral network, with many of them being converted from in-house HR management teams. Barrett is often the first PEO firm that many of their clients have worked with, allowing them to not sacrifice on pricing through fierce competition with other firms. Their clients are typically small blue and gray collar business, averaging just 30 employees per client. When looking at their financials, the first thing that seems off is their PNL appears to be a very low margin business. Operating margins in 2019 were just 5.8%, but the numbers can be deceiving. BBSI bills their clients every pay cycle, and within their billing are included some of their major expenses that show up on their own PNL. Accounting rules stipulate that even though some of the expenses, such as Payroll taxes and benefits and Workers’ compensation, are billed directly to the clients for 100% of the expense, BBSI must still show this on their own PNL with top line revenue gross of these costs. Barrett’s operating income can be boiled down to the service fee they charge less their own corporate SG&A expenses. BBSI EBITDA and Operating Margins Working with insurance requires that Barrett hold a significant amount of cash on their balance sheet. They keep reserves of restricted cash and investments which are used to fund future workers’ compensation claims as they arise. The net debt position when only considering the unrestricted cash is still negative, showing Barrett’s strong current financial strength. Unfortunately, being in a low interest rate environment typically hurts insurers like Barrett, where investment income can make up a significant portion of net income. Their average yield on investments in the past has been above 2%, but with the recent market turbulence it is expected to be just 1.5% for the full year 2020. For the modeling done for this report, EBITDA or FCFF have been used as the cash flow figure of choice. Both metrics exclude investment income, as modeling out the values and returns of their investment portfolios would be done with too much uncertainty to have significant value. One of the main differentiating factors for Barrett from other PEO servicers are their focus on branch strategy. Many of the other PEO firms opt to use a SaaS model, which does not require the same type of geographic footprint that a branch strategy does. They have created a strong professional referral network which allows them to source new clients from in-house HR systems more cheaply than having to lure clients away from other PEO servicers. Barrett can then utilize more aggressive pricing practices as their retention stays high and most of their clients have never used a PEO firm before. While this would indicate a negative effect on client attrition, they have quarterly net new clients going back over 5 years running. Pricing can be one of the main factors that client’s site when they leave Barrett, but their retention rate remains above 97%. By keeping branch growth in geographic locations with an existing referral network they can leverage business connections with each new branch opening. Barrett currently has 57 branches open, and sees branches mature to profit margins in the ~60% range after roughly 5 years. This type of growth with the small investment it requires to get a branch started creates impressive operating leverage down the stretch. The branch model has another attribute, in that it focuses on small businesses. Relative to some of the other major PEO firms, Barrett’s average client size is on the small side at just 30 employees per client.
Number of Branches
Average Profit Margin
PEO Industry While the PEO industry has a couple major players with significant market shares (ADP and PAYX), the overall market is quite fragmented. The entire PEO industry serves roughly 4 million employees in the country, with about 35-40 million estimated to have use for a PEO plan. This leads to significant market fragmentation with the substitute good for PEO services (in-house HR and insurance) as one of the largest holders of market share. Firms like ADP and PAYX are mostly non-PEO services, but they still compete directly in the same markets. Typically, clients will use all of a single servicers’ offerings. For example, rather than using ADP’s Payroll services and Barrett’s PEO services, firms will typically opt to use a single servicer for all related functions. The high degree of market fragmentation has not significantly hurt the retention rates of PEO firms, often averaging above 95%. Switching costs are apparent even in systems like these, which companies can be weary of changing due to the time it takes to learn new services and programs. The stickiness of customers alone is not enough for most firms to have any level of sustainable competitive advantage, however ADP and PAYX have been able to achieve some level of economies of scale through their sheer size. Spreading out their fixed cost investments across a higher number of Worksite Employees/Sales allows them to generally outperform their peers, explaining their much larger multiples relative to the rest of the peer group. The PNL of firms that are predominantly PEO can be tricky as their revenues include costs that are directly billed to their clients under their co-employment arrangement. The main financial outcomes of the industry are low capital investments and high cash returns on those investments. Insurance is a cash heavy business, leading to significant levels of excess cash on all of their balance sheets, lowering their overall capital investment. Relative to income metrics such as EBIT, EBITDA, and FCFF, the return on invested capital metrics generally look very strong.
Barrett Business Services Inc (BBSI)
TriNet Group Inc (TNET)*
Insperity Inc (NSP)*
Automatic Data Processing (ADP)
Paychex Inc (PAYX)
With the current COVID pandemic, the labor market shock has been significant and hit PEO firms particularly hard. PEO’s charge a service fee based on the amount of wages billed for. A decrease in workers or a decrease in wages would lead to lower revenues for the industry. Such a strong tie to labor market health will inevitably see their valuations hurt as they see revenues and profits fall for the whole year 2020. A slower recovery will also lead to these effects bleeding into 2021. With such low multiples relative to historical averages, the industry poses some opportunities for investors with a longer time horizon who will hold through the recovery.
Thesis for Barrett I laid out my thesis in my previous post, and after an additional month of research it has been cemented. One additional point as been added to my original thesis. My thesis points have been recreated below. • Barrett is trading at a significant discount to their historical trading valuations, as well as at discounts relative to their PEO peers. After Q4’19, they reduced 2020 guidance on the eve of the full COVID pandemic, leading to a cool reception from the street. Alone, this would not be enough to feel it as a discount considering the significant impact COVID will have on their business. However, they also trade at a significant discount to their PEO peers while simultaneously leading their PEO peer group along metrics such as FCF yield and EV/EBITDA. They currently trade 2.1 standard deviations below their 3-year average EV/EBITDA ratio, a greater discount than any of their peers in PEO peer group. • Barrett has a strong balance sheet consisting of a negative net debt position, giving them significant leeway in weathering the COVID pandemic storm. Less than 10% of their TEV being made up of interest-bearing debt, they are sitting pretty when it comes to weathering this storm. At some points during the business cycle it feels silly to start financial analysis at the balance sheet, but during a recession is not one of those times. With so few financial obligations, they are expected to trim corporate SG&A and investment in their new technology platform to keep more cash within the firm. Barrett stands a high chance of making it out the other side with a low chance of bankruptcy. • The PEO industry is currently trading at a discount to mid-business cycle values, leading to investors with a longer time horizon an attractive return potential. Barrett is not the only PEO firm trading at a significant discount to their historical values. The entire PEO industry is being hit hard by this pandemic, but it creates an attractive bet as the industry takes advantage of the fall in unemployment. Across the major PEO players, April was viewed as the low point in employment data, leading to a rough Q2’20, but strong financials in the quarters following. • Focusing on growth from a geographical perspective, Barrett’s management has carved out a small business niche that has seen success in their ability to open new branches. Focusing on small businesses (average client firm size is ~30 employees) gives them an edge over some of the larger payroll companies in the market. Clients typically find BBSI through a strong referral network of both existing clients and external referral partners. Most of BBSI’s new clients are converting from internal Hadmin staff, which allows BBSI to provide a powerful value proposition. They turn small businesses’ fixed cost employee salaries into a variable cost based on total employee wages. • Quality branch economics shows a model with strong operating leverage and marginal ROIC. New branches take roughly a 500k investment and take about 5 years to become a mature branch. To be expected, more mature branches have more billing generation and more profit margin contribution. Barrett grows new branches geographically, allowing it to maintain high concentrations in local markets, ramp up the speeds of growth, and reduce fixed costs associated with new regions. Their strategies in opening new branches culminate in an ROIC in 2019 of 30.6%. The IRR on new branches that take 7 years to reach maturity is still more than 150%.
Base Case Model Management had conviction that April was the bottom of their gross billing cycle based on the entire month of April’s billing and the first week of May’s. This view was further supported by other PEO management teams indicating April as their bottom. My model includes all of the cost savings metrics announced thus far in the Q1’20 earnings call and includes projections they made for full year 2020 as well as projecting April as the low point. Management has projected that even in their most pessimistic scenarios that they will see positive net income in 2020. I have 2020 sales projected to be 11% below 2019, with a full year EBIT margin of 0.3%. Overall, my projections for 2020 are more conservative than the average of the 3 coverage analysts following BBSI. 2021 follows many of the similar patterns set in 2020, with a slow recovery to get back to normal. While sales growth looks big, the 2021 sales I have projected are still less than 2019 by 1.4%. Margins are beginning to normalize, but without the same scale and deferred branch openings, the operating margins will not fully come back until 2024. I view this assumption as conservative as their new technology platform should see increases SG&A efficiency once it is fully implemented as soon as Q3’20. The model ends by applying a multiple to terminal value based on their historical trading multiples as well as multiples from their small cap PEO peer group. While currently in the trough of their business cycle, BBSI will see multiple expansion as PEO becomes a higher demand service during and after the recovery. My time horizon on this investment is in the 3-5-year range as this will give enough time for the recovery efforts to take place allowing for proper multiple expansion towards their mid-business cycle levels. Rather than depending on an individual point estimate of BBSI’s intrinsic value, I have decided to provide a two-way data table based on forward 5-year growth rates and ending multiples. The cross in the table corresponds to multiples not expanding and trailing 5-year revenue growth being applied to my model. While I believe this is generally conservative, it still provides a 58% upside over current prices. Seeing that we are in the trough of the PEO business cycle, I do expect multiples to expand from their current lows, leading to the base case having significantly more upside than the above PT implies. Overall, this provides BBSI with a strong upside opportunity for those who have the time horizon to take advantage. Base Case Data Table The core of any DCF performed during this crisis is that there is too much uncertainty to truly know what any stock should be “valued” at. I certainly do not know how the recovery will look, and it could vary greatly from the way I have laid it out in my current model. Rather than providing a point estimate of intrinsic value, I will provide two-way data tables showing ending multiples and forward 5-year growth rates. If you believe some of my assumptions are either too verbose or too conservative, the data table should provide you with enough of an idea of what other outcomes could look like.
Bear Case I have provided a bear case model as well, predicting slower growth rates coming out of recovery, as well as slower margin expansion across the entire 5-year period. This would imply a more structural shift away from small businesses that would be significant enough to harm the future of Barrett’s new business even beyond the COVID pandemic itself. Revenue would not surpass 2019 levels until Q4’22, and EBITDA would not get back to pre COVID levels within the 5-year projection horizon. With the shift away from branches as a source of unit economics, Barrett’s margins will be lower and take longer than my forecast period to return to pre-COVID levels. The 2020E financials would be worse than management predicts in their pessimistic scenarios, predicting negative income for 2020, which management has said would not occur even in their worst situations. I believe the probability of the base case is much higher than the bear case, but felt it was worth including to help frame some of the modeling assumptions I had to make in my base case model.
Why does this opportunity exist? There are 3 primary reasons why this opportunity exists for us as investors, but only time will tell how long it will last before the margin of safety shrinks too much. BBSI has risen 16% since my original write up on 5/6, slowly eroding the long-term margin of safety this investment has. • The COVID pandemic has caused a major disruption in labor markets across the world, including the US. With unemployment skyrocketing to nearly 20%, the PEO firms will see significant hits in their billing due to fewer workers and fewer hours worked. The combination of these two factors will lead to decreased revenues, which has also kept the stock prices low. • An unemployment shock is the trough of the business cycle for the PEO industry. With sales declining as the base case expectation, they face headwinds in the short term, but tail winds in the longer term. The recovery will see the firms begin to build their businesses again as unemployment falls and the economy opens more. More services will be in demand, such as staffing, allowing some of the ancillary offerings to provide additional revenue support. • Many investors do not have the time horizon to buy at this point, as there is significant uncertainty regarding when the trough would end. The shape of the recovery and the length of this period are heavy factors in the ability for investors to see BBSI as an advantageous long position. • This is a small cap company with little analyst coverage. Trading at below $500mil market cap since February has knocked many investors off the trail of this company as it is below their mandates. There are typically only 3-4 analysts asking questions on each call, with only 3 sell side analysts publishing opinions.
Sources: SEC Edgar 10-k’s and 10-Q’s [Tikr.com's](Tikr.com) Earnings Call Transcripts Price and share data from TIKR and Excel add-in feed “Competition Demystified” by Bruce Greenald & Judd Kahn for ROIC formula/concepts Numerous white papers and research from NAPEO
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