Monthly Archives: July 2010

That’s So Professional

Both Nice, and Disappointing...

I’ve begun to realize over the last year or so that I’m moving beyond the desire to participate in any MMO beta programs. This is for several reasons. First and foremost, any of the increasingly limited time I have for playing really should go towards something more “polished” and “permanent”. Two, of the betas that I have participated in, I can honestly say that only a few actually had structures and processes in place that encouraged “beta testers” to provide feedback and bug reports. Three, for the games I already know I’m going to play (The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2), I’ve realized that I’d much rather go into launch day fresh with no previous experience or impressions; and I’d rather do that on the “production” version of the game. Finally, MMO “betas” – both Closed and Open at this point – have actually become an institutionalized version for what most gamers use them – previewing the game to decide if they will buy it (or buy into it for the F2P titles). It’s almost like the developers recognized why most people applied for their beta and threw in the towel. At most, Closed Betas have become load and balance testing for the hardware, software, and game mechanics, and Open Beta has become a preview event.

That doesn’t mean I don’t apply for betas anymore, particularly for titles in which I am keenly interested, or those that are trying something new. For something like Vindictus, which seems to really be trying something new, I was actually interested in testing out their combat system and running it through it’s paces. And, yes, I’d have liked to get an early look! I’m no fool; there’s always a chance.

What most (or any for that matter) MMOs don’t do is ever provide players with feedback about the status of their beta application. Nexon’s email letting me know I hadn’t been selected is the first I can remember. Most times you throw your name into the mix and never hear anything again. You may as well be screaming into the void. I have to say it’s refreshing to have a company actually treat it’s prospective customers with a little respect and professionalism. Most developers seem to consider gamers-as-testers, potential PAYING CUSTOMERS mind you, are a commodity that can be fully taken for granted. They know they’ve probably got you, even before they release their product, based on the fact that you’ve applied to be a “tester”; and if they let you in and you never test anything, or never buy afterwards, what have they really lost? The only thing keeping them from letting everyone in are the limits of their test hardware (and maybe the current version of the software). Oh, and the Marketing Department. Nothing builds hype and a sense of importance like exclusivity. Good hype means unit sales.

On the home front, the camping trip was especially nice this year; good weather, and the kids really loved the beach. And the campfire. Especially the campfires. Like most times I take a vacation that excludes gaming, it made me think about the things I wish could be done in our virtual worlds. Things like campfires. And, no, LotRO’s campfires for cooking and morale don’t count. I mean the social types.

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On the Way Out

Just as we’re preparing to leave for the weekend (family camping trip), I noticed this little announcement from BioWare. Space Combat in The Old Republic!

Not much to say about this, except that it’s not wholly unexpected. And at the same time, it’s great to have it confirmed as a feature at launch. I always thought it ludicrous that SWG launched without space combat. In a lot of ways, space dogfights are more a part of the Star Wars experience than almost anything. Except maybe lightsabers. If you think about it, nearly all of the biggest, most dramatic moments in the movies center around space combat. And lightsabers.

So I guess we get to have both! Cheers BioWare!

Let’s Get Some Perspective

We’re preparing for the annual family camping trip here at home, so not a lot of time for anything else. Also, not a lot of time this weekend, for obvious reasons. I worked my way a bit deeper into Mirkwood, visiting the Haunted Inn. And I drooled over the dev diary and screenshots released this week for Enedwaith. If I could be more excited, I would be. And I’d be pretty useless.

However, a couple of items that I feel are worth discussing:

  • Final Fantasy – This was my first taste (two, actually) with perspective this week. One, Final Fantasy XI: Ultimate Edition was on sale on Steam, for $5. Even though it’s normally $10, at $5 it seemed like a no-brainer. At first glance.

    Considering I’m a sucker for story, and continuity, I generally try to play serialized games in the order in which they are released. Even if the early entries are less than sterling examples of games, I generally try to suffer through. For example, I’ve been playing through the original F.E.A.R games; one, because I’ve always been interested and when they originally came out my machine couldn’t handle them (and I had no time), and, two, because I’m very interested in the upcoming F.3.A.R. (F.E.A.R. 3). The original game and expansion have proven to be great shooter experiences, but I’ve heard that F.E.A.R 2 is a lacking successor.

    What does F.E.A.R have to do with Final Fantasy? Nothing. Final Fantasy XI with Final Fantasy XIV? Very little. Even with little continuity or connection between version eleven and the upcoming fourteen, I came very close to purchasing FFXI. One click away; I had it in my cart and everything.

    Then I realized that I had little interest in grinding my way through FFXI. My interest in FFXI stems purely from seeing Final Fantasy XIV; it’s a pretty game and one that I will probably check out. I do, however, recognize that it probably has a shelf-life of about 3 months (max) on my hard drive. Still, I’d been planning on checking it out. It’s very pretty, and any game that purports to make crafting a viable class choice is good in my book.

    Until now. At this point, I’m not so sure. The minimum system requirements seem reasonable, but for a game that boasts such impressive graphics, the minimums aren’t going to cut it for most players. The recommended specs for XIV stink of another “Age of Conan” debacle. Square Enix needs a serious dose of perspective here; the recommended system is not what your typical gamer has, and represents a seriously unreasonable investment. Not good, folks, and certainly not the way to attract a sizable customer base.

  • Instance Scaling in LotRO – I’ve liked this idea since it was first announced, primarily because of the accessibility it represents. One, it makes it that much easier for me to play through certain content with my alts. Two, it means that I can visit (or revisit) certain parts of the story again and be rewarded for it. The mention of new rewards for higher-level players particularly intrigues me.

  • Kingdoms of Amalur – 38 Studios announced their single-player RPG Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Not only am I interested in this game on its own merits, but also because it would seem to be the precursor to Project Copernicus, the MMO currently in development. I haven’t bought into their hype so far (though I’m generally a sucker for good hype), because they haven’t had anything to show. Though I am interested because I’m a huge fan of R.A. Salvatore. And, to a slightly lesser degree, Todd McFarlane. And Ken Rolston (designer of Oblivion). Talk about a dream team. Just about the only person on the team I’m not truly excited about is Curt Schilling, though I dig that he’s making the whole thing happen. Almost single-handedly.

    The site for Reckoning has  some nice information on the game. The screenshots are gorgeous, and look exactly like what I would expect from Todd McFarlane. I also, surprisingly, loved the audio on the site; clicking the Mute button on sites like this is usually the very first thing I do, but I found myself listening closely, and I left it on. Great stuff.

    There’s also a really nice cinematic trailer, and though I don’t expect the game to look like the trailer, I’m hoping that the combat plays out close to what they show. Definitely action-oriented. I could have done without the huge hammer, though. That’s just silly.

This is Why I Love Having Kids

Okay, so it’s not the reason. This, however, is one of the great side-effects of having children, which results in limited playing time.

It means I can get excited about Enedwaith, and yet I don’t have to wait around for it. (See how I did that? I took a common issue of many gamers, and I turned it around. Made it a positive.) I still have so much left to do in Mirkwood, not to mention a few items on my personal checklists for Lothlorien and Moria. Heck, I’ve still got a few deeds left in Eriador. In other words, I’m not lacking for things to do.

A few things I’m really excited about for Enedwaith:

  • Dunland – or at least the first parts of Dunland. This has always been a people and realm in which I’ve been keenly interested, and yet it is not covered much by Tolkien (at least, not as far as my fairly extensive reading).
  • Welsh Themes – aside from the “distinct biomes” and “new art”, the new architecture and mob themes are looking great. The Dunlending mobs and NPCs look particularly good.
  • Lich Bluffs – of all the areas of Enedwaith that the Developer Diary detailed, this one is the most intriguing. I loved the Barrow-Downs, Great Barrows, and Haudh Iarchith. This promises more of that type of adventure.
  • Exploration – for someone who loves exploration, the addition of a new zone is only a good thing. Having a zone that covers so many distinct and differentiated areas so close together? Wow.
  • SHADOW-GOATS!
Enough said...

Enough said...

Add into this the revised instances from the original areas, including “new rewards available at higher levels”, an Instance Join mechanic that would seem to work like Skirmish Join (immediate and from anywhere!), and a new Epic Book and you’ve got an update that brings us back to the glory of Evendim and Forochel. I don’t know if it’s the merger with Warner Brothers, or just the fact that it’s been so long since a major update, but Turbine seems to be hitting their stride again.

Oh, and here’s another reason to love having kids:

Drooling, While Stabbing My Ears Out

AHHHHH! The pain...

ArenaNet posted new information for Guild Wars 2 today; it covers the third class revealed so far – the Ranger.

Looks like I’ll be wanting to play a Ranger in Guild Wars 2 even more than I like playing them now in the original. My main avatar in Guild Wars is a Ranger/Elementalist (though I’ve thought about switching up the secondary once that becomes available). “Main” is a bit misleading here, as I abandoned all of what I started when I first purchased Guild Wars so many years ago.

I have to say, the Ranger looks even more enticing after watching the videos. They didn’t need to convince me, but check out the video for Serpent Strike. The picture below just doesn’t do it justice.

Ranger's Skill: Serpent Strike

That green trail? Pure Awesomeness.

Man, that skill is just cool looking, especially followed up with that knife-throwing trick. And the rest of the videos are just as good.  Just about the only thing ArenaNet could do to make me want to play Guild Wars 2 even more is introduce a class that actually, fully uses stealth (like Burglars in LotRO or Rogues in WoW). And the only thing they could do to make me want to play Guild Wars 2 even less is to have those voice-overs as a part of the game. Seriously? If those are in the game, I need a way to mute myself. (Note to ArenaNet: These videos are already Pure Internet Joyfullness™ in video format. They stand on their own, you don’t need “witty banter”.)

I never played the Assassin class in Factions (mostly never found the time to play through Prophesies so I would feel “okay” about starting a new character in Factions – I know, I’m weird like that…). So I don’t know if stealth is an option for me now. If it becomes a class in GW2, I’m going to…well, I don’t honestly know what I’m going to do. I better figure out how to get paid for playing these games!

There’s a lot of great information about the class in the reveal, and a really nice summary and discussion over at Massively; there’s not much more I could say that isn’t already pointed out there.

I will say this: I’m beginning to agree with Syp that Guild Wars 2 could be the game that completely dominates the next round of MMOs.

The Death of My Alts

Alternates

Minstrel, Hunter, Captain...

I don’t generally consider myself to be an altoholic. I maintain a healthy number of alternate characters, but mostly for the purpose of crafting cross-dependencies. For many games, LotRO included, this still is somewhat limited due to the need to level a character past a certain point in order to achieve the higher levels of crafting ability; crafting proficiency and character level are tied together, as access to higher tiers of materials often necessitates a higher level character. For LotRO, there is the added gateway of crafting quests that unlock the higher tiers, and these quests are meant for certain level characters (and often involve claiming items from specific level monsters).

Still, I keep a good number of alts fairly active; at least, as much as time permits (which isn’t nearly as much as I’d like!). Sometimes I just want a change of pace. I tend to try every class to at least level 10 or 20, and those I stick with tend to be on farther ends of the spectrum; my main is a Burglar (melee and debuff) so my primary alts are a Minstrel (healing/support) and a Hunter (ranged damage). This way I get a good feel for many of the ways the game can play. However, I almost always stay away from caster classes. They just aren’t my style.

Over the last few months I’ve had a growing sense of ennui with my alts. I still log in from time to time, and try to knock out a set of quests or a few levels. Especially on alts that have supporting crafting professions – my Minstrel is my highest level alt that can mine the ore needed by my main, a Historian. But it’s gotten harder and harder to find the motivation. There are a few tricks I’ve picked up recently that help somewhat, such as Syp’s planning out his progression specific to his build. As a Completionist, it really never occurred to me to only target specific Deeds that would further my chosen Traits.

Burglar Extraordinaire!

However, as the list of things I want to accomplish grows, and as my interest in other games increases, I’ve begun to come to the conclusion that my Burglar will be the only avatar with which I complete certain achievements. For example, I finished Helegrod for the first time two nights ago (a great time with the kin!). Let me say, killing that dragon was one of the best times I’ve had in LotRO. But I’ll probably only ever do that with my main, which also means that that avatar will be the only one to complete the meta-deed for Eriador. It will likely be the only avatar which I keep at the level cap; maybe the only one to ever reach the level cap.

Merric recently posted his thoughts on why we need zone revamps; I couldn’t agree more. But his argument also brings up another reason I find it so hard to advance my alts – there are just a few too many parts of the game I don’t want to play through again. And hanging over every moment I play an alt is perhaps the biggest hurdle in my mind – Moria. As much as I loved the Moria environments, and many of the mechanics it introduced (Legendary Items in particular, though they could use a revamp of their own), I just find it soul-crushing to think about slogging through that content again. Moria was a grind. It really wore me down. Which is oddly fitting, considering the role it plays in the lore; that of an dreary, oppressive, haunted kingdom of lost and fallen glory. But I really don’t think I can do it again.

None of this is to say that my love of the game is diminished, nor that I will spend any less time playing. I love my Burglar. I love everything about him; the skills, the animations, and my most favorite – the audio. I hear those sounds in my dreams, and even three years later, the sounds of dropping into stealth still bring me a smile. But unless I become independently wealthy in the near future, or someone invents a way to play in my sleep, my main will be about it. There just aren’t enough hours.

Which is a bit of a shame. There are definitely some parts of the game I would love to revisit as a different class. So it goes.

Why Can’t Fun Be Tense?

Overall, I’ve been pretty excited about all of the news that has been releasing thus far on Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet has a well-deserved reputation for taking mechanics considered “standard” and turning them on their head – in a very good way.

I’m even pretty pleased with the recent article about Healing (sorry, Support!) and Death in the game. As a player with limited time, taking some of the “punishment” out of death, and rethinking the holy trinity of Tank/Healer/DPS, can only be good. Greater flexibility in character classes and skills, a little more self-reliance within each class, and some streamlining of grouping and questing means that I spend more of my limited gaming time having fun. Not “preparing to have fun” as the article puts it; waiting for the right combination can be a hassle.

This is one thing that’s never made sense to me: when building the “holy trinity”, why is there only one class that can fill such a critical role? Granted, in LotRO there is more than one class that can heal, but out of nine total classes, only one is a true healer. WoW has one class (maybe two) out of ten. The Old Republic presumably has two out of eight (or sixteen). The list goes on. For a role that is so critical, you’d think developers would create more options.

I loved the “last stand” mechanic of Borderlands (and the Left 4 Dead games); when you’re reduced to near-death, the game gives you a few moments to rally. In Borderlands, if you can defeat any enemy within that half-minute-or-so, you’re restored to working health and can continue fighting. In Left 4 Dead, it’s up to your teammates to help you out, but you can still fire your pistols when downed, contributing something to the fight. Guild Wars 2 will apparently take a similar approach, and I’m all for this. A dynamic scale of effectiveness, as in decreased ability when one’s health/morale approaches zero, is a great idea. I can definitely see how it will add a new layer to combat. Rubi Bayer puts it perfectly in her article on Massively: “If you’ve got an enemy at 10% HP, why is he still fighting and casting at full strength?”.

However, Mr. Peter’s (or maybe I should say the game’s) attitude towards death doesn’t sit quite right with me. One particular statement really stuck with me (emphasis added): “Death penalties make death in-game a more tense experience. It just isn’t fun. We want to get you back into the action (fun) as quickly as possible.” The association seems to be that Tension = Not Fun.

While I’m all for maximizing fun, it seems like ArenaNet has missed the point here. At the least, I think they’ve taken their philosophy of “no mechanic is sacred” a bit too far. A death penalty isn’t just a way for the developers to slap a “Suck” sticker on our foreheads. It’s a part of the Risk-Reward game lends meaning to our actions, and pretty much sits at the core of all gaming. Sure, combat is fun (it better be for how much time we spend fighting!), but being in combat for the sake of combat is just shallow. The possibility of failure, even when the penalty is relatively mild, lends some depth and challenge to combat. And yes, some tension. Why can’t fun be tense? Why is tension anathema to enjoyment? I think many fans of horror movies would have something to say here.

It’s not a huge thing. Considering that we’ve yet to learn all there is to Guild Wars 2, it could be a very small thing. But it’s indiciative of ArenaNet’s thinking. And it’s the first thing I’ve learned about Guild Wars 2 that’s given me a moment of pause, and doubt.