Monthly Archives: June 2011

‘Welcome Home’ Party

Been a slow couple of weeks for me on every front except work (seems like every time I find a minute to post, I realize it’s been over a week since the last update – for shame!). However, the Summer Festival in LotRO has prompted a return to regular gaming sessions, if for no other reason than to partake of the festivities. Not a whole lot new for this year’s festival, but I’ve always enjoyed the Dwarf and Hobbit races (very apropos), the new mount (obviously my first acquisition) is nice, and some of the cosmetic cloaks are particularly attractive.

A few nights ago, I found myself in a unique position – I had little work needing to be done as of “Yesterday“, and I was wide awake after everyone else had gone to sleep. Naturally I logged in for some quality game time. Now, even as recent as a couple of weeks ago, my destination would have been RIFT, but as I’d been checking in more regularly due to the Festival, I decided to drop in and reconnect with the kinship while I had some primetime availability.

Best decision I’ve made in a long time. I had such a great time that I logged in the next night. And last night. I can’t remember the last time I’ve logged into any game three nights in a row. It’s been so good that, at this point, I’m thinking of letting my subscription to RIFT lapse when it comes due for renewal.

In all the excitement of exploring a new world (and I haven’t even been past Scarwood Reach/Gloamwood) and delving the possibilities of new classes and mechanics, I’d almost forgotten how much of a difference a good social circle makes. My guild in RIFT is very helpful, and there are some great people there, but we are a fairly quiet group that tend towards “playing solo together”. Whether that’s the result of this particular guild, or due to the nature of RIFT itself is debatable (and for another post, I think).

That first night in LotRO, I happened to log in just as the group running Ost Dunhoth (or trying to run it!) was losing a member. I dropped in, and though we didn’t make it very far, it was a blast. Even getting trampled by oliphants multiple times was enjoyable as we all tried to get through the “gate puzzle” (I don’t know the name of the wing in which it’s found, but I think it’s the first challenge of Ost Dunhoth).

After a few attempts, and losing a few raid members to sleep/work/what-have-you, those of us left decided to run through Sammath Gul. Not entirely a challenge, as most of us had already been through it start to finish, but it’s a really fun run, and it let us relax and actually socialize instead of focusing solely on the task at hand. And socialize we did! I haven’t laughed as hard while gaming in probably a year or more! I’m all for the developers providing us with challenging content, but sometimes it’s valuable to just be able to play alongside friends; to share a fun experience that requires teamwork but doesn’t require absolute, laserbeam focus.

So after months of infrequent logins, I’ve come home to the game that has been a second home to me for years.¬† The whole experience has completely renewed my love of LotRO and re-fired my drive to get in and keep playing. Yet, oddly enough, what hasn’t returned was the feeling of grind that was so prevalent in everything I was doing before my hiatus. One might say, “Absence makes the heart blah blah blah”, but I think it has more to do with leaving behind the manic Completionist thinking. I was so focused on “The Endgame” and checking off every task on every list, for just my main, that I think forgot to simply have fun.

Hopefully we’ll have no more of that! I have no doubt that, at some point, I will find myself in the same position of being left with little to do but grind. But after taking some time off, I’ve got a nice chunk of content on which to “catch up”, and it’s likely that Isengard will drop before I’ve even gotten that far. That, and I think I’ve learned my lesson – when the burn of grind starts setting in, don’t try to power through it. Step back and remember the fun.

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Double-Edged Sword

The thing about game trailers is that while they can really sell a game, if your trailers shoot so much farther than your game ever will, you’re probably setting your fans up for some major disappointment. A good trailer can truly make a game, but even an amazing trailer can do more damage if it shows the wrong things.

After the first day of E3, a couple of things have really stood out (Microsoft blew it, Sony on the rebound), but more than anything two trailers caught my attention.

So cool, and yet...

Naturally, the new CG trailer from The Old Republic looks amazing and, as a device for storytelling, is beyond compare. Like Brian, I liked it more than the prequel movies and I sincerely hope that they include HD versions of these trailers in one form or another when they actually get around to selling the game. But I have developed a serious problem with the trailers, especially as more details and video of the actual game are released. As nice as they are, they’re just too much smoke and mirrors (I know, shocker!). The combat will NEVER be like what we see in those trailers. Which is what we all really want, and which BioWare is selling us, and which they will never be able to deliver. Massive disenchantment ensues.

And after seeing the new information on the Advanced Classes page, it’s becoming clear that while BioWare may be forging new ground in terms of a story-driven experience, they aren’t exactly pushing any envelopes when it comes to combat. Which feels like another wasted opportunity, especially considering that games such as Vindictus have already proven that the “tried-and-true” mechanics of MMO combat don’t need to be assumed. And, honestly, if I’m standing in front of an enemy and it takes more than a single hit with a lightsaber to take them down, you’re not really providing me with the “Jedi Experience”, are you?

So, while I loved it as a Star Wars short film and as an “artifact” of lore for BioWare’s efforts, I’m really disappointed in what I’m seeing (or more accurately, not seeing) about the game.

Just plain cool.

On the other end of the spectrum was the released trailer for Kingdoms of Amalur: the Reckoning. I realize that the game on display in the video is not an MMO, but it is the precursor to 38 Studio’s upcoming MMO project, codenamed Copernicus. I think it’s safe to say that Reckoning is basically a testbed for the MMO version – build the engine, refine the gameplay, and set the stage for the world and story of Copernicus. So while the actual combat of Copernicus may not look exactly like Reckoning, I think it provides us with a safe, educated guess.

The difference between my reactions to the two trailers couldn’t be much different. While I shrugged with a “Meh.” at the TOR trailer (I don’t care how nice your CG trailer looks…SHOW ME THE GAME!), the trailer for Reckoning got me crazy-excited to get my hands on it. I’m sure that not all of what was shown was actual gameplay footage (some of it was clearly cutscenes), but enough of it was obviously showing how the actual game will play. It showed the engine at work (beautiful!) and a handful of powers/skills/manuevers from a sample of classes (the “Rogue” backstab-palm-strike at 0:55 was insane!). That is the combat I want to be playing – active and dynamic, where position, timing and choices make a difference. Something where I’m not standing still, trading two dozen blows back and forth in a race to see who falls over first. Where fighting a giant involves getting thrown around and doesn’t involve stabbing it in the toes until it dies.

Okay, so I made that last part up – so far we haven’t seen any giant fights from Reckoning. But it certainly can’t get any worse than what we’ve already been subject to from the likes of EverQuest 2, LotRO, and RIFT when it comes to battling the gigantism-inclined.

The point being, the Reckoning trailer did everything right that the TOR trailer didn’t. Don’t show me what you know I wish the game would be like, show me how it will be when I start playing! Sadly, what we’re seeing is not what we’ll get when it comes to The Old Republic. In their defense, BioWare isn’t exactly known for blazing a trail when it comes to gameplay mechanics. But you’re playing with a very dangerous crowd when you start working with the Star Wars franchise; I don’t think there is a more rabid fanbase out there. CG trailers are nice, and they might help you sell a game, but they will cut you badly when it’s apparent that you can’t deliver on the experience you set up in people’s heads!

Kingdoms of Amalur? Absolutely YES! The Old Republic? Meh.

All Aboard

If you’re reading this, I probably don’t need to tell you that this week is the E3 Expo in Los Angeles (probably video gaming’s biggest convention in terms of developer participation and announcements). Appropriate then, that I’m starting the week off talking about hype…begin Hype Week!

The greatest hype train of all...

This past weekend was a long one for me; we had a significant software update to the system for which I share responsibility; upgrades of this nature typically involve long hours as we try to get a lot of things done during a very short windows that our users have agreed is an acceptable downtime. The last two days were no exception. After putting in nearly a normal work week (for us 37.5 hour-a-week “drones”) over two days, I’m tired but sufficiently pleased at what we got done. Higher education might not be the most exciting or “forward thinking” in terms of technology, but you really can’t complain about the schedule – one weekend a year is well worth it. Mission accomplished.

What this weekend did allow me to do is catch up on some reading. The silver lining to doing major BI system upgrades is that most of the steps entail a nice chunk of work followed by a lengthy downtime as the systems crunch through their processes. So I caught up on some GW2 reading.

Basically, I stopped paying much attention to Guild Wars 2 after they announced the Ranger. By that time I was sufficiently sold that the game was going to be well worth the investment; ArenaNet could have stopped there and already guaranteed my pre-order for the Collector’s Edition. Plus, I’ve had a really averse reaction to The Hype recently and, honestly, I don’t follow the MMOs or games I’m most looking forward to anymore. At least, not through official channels. Basically, if I want to know about TOR I read MMOGamerChick and if I want to know about Guild Wars 2 I read Kill Ten Rats (I actually read many others, but I find their thoughts and opinions have really meshed with mine in the past).

With all that “downtime” staring me in the face in 20 to 30 minute chunks, and no energy to muster for other projects, I figured I would bite the bullet, dive in, and really catch up on the GW2 information I’d intentionally tried to ignore.

Now I’m excited.

I blame the reveal of the Engineer. I managed to hold out through Norn Week and even through the reveal of The Thief. But the Engineer broke me. Not that I’m interested so much in the class as much as that the Engineer is such a divergence from what I expected. The first hard evidence of exactly how much the world of Tyria has changed since the first game. And it’s the most striking evidence (in my mind) of how much the developers have changed, and are hoping to change, about the way we play.

Some quick thoughts:

  • It’s not about solo or group play, it’s just about playing. Between the already-stated flat leveling curve (can it really be called a curve?) and the obvious self-sufficient nature of all the classes, it’s clear that ArenaNet has kept the solo player in mind. However, from what I’ve seen so far the classes complement each other so well that seeing what’s possible when working together is reason enough to group up. If the “dynamic content” can truly scale up and down, effectively and seamlessly, so as to always keep things challenging then ArenaNet has something truly game changing.Most times I log in to an MMO, I’ve already determined what my focus will be for that session – solo questing, group content, crafting, reputation, etc. It takes the adventure out of it a little bit. Why can’t I just log in and “see what happens”? RIFT does this somewhat, and GW2 seems to be going that route too.
  • The combat looks terrific. I always liked the combat in Guild Wars because it was a lot more fast-paced and strategic than many of its brethren. When you can only bring 8 skills into play at once, combat becomes more about position, prioritizing targets, and superior strategy. Combat just seems a lot more active; hopefully Guild Wars 2 (and the crop of action-oriented MMOs that are approaching) have brought an end to the era of toe-to-toe, ‘mano-a-monster’ fighting that’s really just about clicking the right button out of 40 or more, at the right time. Add to this the skill-swapping that occurs with changing weapons and players can still adapt on the fly.
  • This looks like the game I wanted Guild Wars to be. There have always been things about Guild Wars that I’ve absolutely loved – in particular, the lore, the class system, and especially the visuals. But the game could never really hook me like other MMOs and I’ve always ended up playing in small chunks of time (I’ve never even finished Nightfall or even purchased Eye of the North. Mostly it’s because of the highly instanced nature of the game. While instancing the adventure areas makes possible some of what Guild Wars does best, it’s hard to complain. But being separated from the population at large just kept it from clicking. Guild Wars 2 is looking like it has the best of both – everything I loved about the original with a more open world that still allows ArenaNet to create the experiences they want.

As you can tell, ArenaNet has me. I was excited for Guild Wars 2 and there was never any doubt about playing it. But now I am well and truly slavering at the bit to get my hands on this game. *sigh*