Tag Archives: postaweek2011

‘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.

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*

Rift Panda!

We all went to see Kung Fu Panda 2 last night, and while I definitely liked the first one better, it was great fun. Definitely recommended for the whole family.

As is typical in our household, the introduction of a new movie sparks all kinds of interest from our eldest son; one week he’ll be Thor, swinging his mighty hammer and quoting every line from the previews (we’d never take a six-year-old to that particular show!), the next week its another superhero or the Kung Fu antics of our favorite Fat Panda. One of my favorites was the Inventor phase that came with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs! With that interest also comes a scouring of the Internet, combing through official sites, devouring any and all videos (again, age-appropriate, one must be careful!), and pouring through licensed toy information. LEGO is particularly popular.

Funny thing happened this morning. He was looking through the Kung Fu Panda site, and as is typical he quickly found his way to the games section. The first he chose was the Photo Booth game, which I have to say is very clever and extremely well-built. He started making photos, and you can see the results above. As chance would have it, the last folder Firefox remembered was the folder where I have all of my RIFT screenshots, so he naturally started picking his favorites!

He came and found my wife and I to show of his handiwork, and we all had a good laugh about it. The wonders of the Internet! As far as mashups go, I think this is probably one of the best I’ve seen! I especially like Tigress fighting Ragnoth the Despoiler. Very apropos.

What struck me was how oddly appropriate the setting of RIFT is when joined with the characters of the movie. I’ve always thought that the world of Kung Fu Panda was particularly gorgeous, and would love to see more games with that kind of stylized, highly detailed, magical sensibility to their art. Much like RIFT!

Thoughts for the Day

Gah! Seems like every time Real Life decides to get extraordinarily busy (as if I could post any less recently), the MMO industry decides to throw a party and get the ‘sphere all a-flutter.

Age of Conan

I blame Turbine, really. They made the switch twice – once for a failing game that pulled it back from the brink of closure into a realm of respectably-sized piles of gold coins, and once for a game that wasn’t failing because, well, we-can’t-just-leave-well-enough-alone-can-we-and-look-how-well-it-worked-for-that-other-one-we’ll-be-drowning-in-our-piles-of-money. The thing is, for however I feel about Turbine’s business decisions (take a wild guess), they got the F2P/hybrid model pretty much right. No matter how hard they toe the line between appropriate items in their Store and handicapping non-paying players, they have yet to really push into pay-to-win territory. I don’t like some of their decisions, but I also can’t point at any one item and say, “That’s just wrong.”

However, Unrated is not LotRO, and the model Funcom has chosen is just not good. It’s a sad rehash of Sony’s EQ2X, where the access tiers are just convoluted and too much of the game is walled off from the “freeloaders” (because that’s how you’re treating your potential customers, Funcom). If you look at the breakdown between Free and Premium accounts, it’s a little ridiculous. Two-thirds of the classes (and the most interesting ones at that!) are unavailable and great portions of the group content are walled away. And time-based passes to access dungeons? Really? Wow.

The thing about being Free to Play is that either you really go for it or you forget about it. Going halfway is really just nickel-and-diming your players, and we know it! As much as it pains me to say it sometimes, Turbine really has it right in the Cash Shop model – convenience items, cosmetics, and zones of side-quest content. That’s why the model works for LotRO – there’s always a central storyline to which everyone has access, from The Shire to Moria to Enedwaith. Age of Conan might have that, but I have to agree with Keen – going Free to Play doesn’t necessarily make AoC a game worth playing; I might check it out to get to the areas I never saw, but it’s certainly not worth putting money into. The restrictive model they’ve outlined only accomplishes two things – it alienates the players who might have considered paying for something, and it exploits the players who aren’t educated enough to know better. Neither is good business.

Burglar Changes

Orion posted a list of proposed changes to the Burglar and Warden classes yesterday. I won’t pretend to know enough about Wardens to comment. Burglar, on the other hand, is my one-and-only!

Overall, I like the changes. Here goes:

  • Removing some of our highest tier skills from the critical response chain certainly opens up some moment-to-moment options for us and will help with Power management as we don’t have to burn through a handful of other skills just to get to them.
  • Being able to toggle our “stances” (for lack of a better term) after defeat is HUGE. I understand not wanting Burglars to be able to flip back and forth during combat, but losing your stance after death in a group scenario is a major disadvantage. It means not burning Hide in Plain Sight just on the off chance that I might need it to get back into Mischief. So in reality this change frees up multiple skills, at least when playing in groups.
  • The consolidation for Seize Initiative and Escape Clause is nice, but not particularly thrilling. I don’t use either much. It’ll be nice to have another space on my hotbars, though!
  • Adding a 100% chance to Surprise Strike from stealth is a really nice change. Again, it’s more flexibility as I don’t have to save Aim up “just in case”.
  • Subtle Stab ticking off the cooldown timer for Mischievous Glee is great! It somehow “fits” in my mind with the tone of the class and the lore. I can just imagine my Burglar slipping through an Orc’s defenses, getting in a solid hit, and giggling the whole time! And it will greatly aid in survivability.

The last details – Riddle not breaking stealth and it working on all creatures – are the most jarring, and disappointing, changes proposed. I don’t PvMP much, but this could be a huge change to the battlefield in the Moors. More than anything, however, the proposed changes are just too drastic for an aspect of the class that I consider to be fundamental, both in how it plays and in how it fits into the lore. I’ve always thought that Turbine did a great job of building a familiar yet unique set of classes that fit well with the lore (every class being inspired by one of the key characters of the stories), and thought that they really hit the ball out of the park with the Burglar.

But making Riddle so much more…generic…just hurts. It’s a big stretch to the lore, which is important to me. And it robs us of the need to be more strategic in our solo and group play. Sure, many other players don’t understand or appreciate the Burglar, or see it’s usefulness in a group setting. But those that do understand all too well how much of a difference a good Burglar can make.I guess I understand Turbine’s motivation – making it more generally useful and desirable as a member of Fellowships – but it’s just not going in the right direction. If there is a need to expand the Crowd Control functions of the Burglar, at least find a way to do it that makes sense in the lore, instead of just stating “it works on everything now…have fun!”.

It’s almost entirely personal, but these last changes are, in my opinion, quite horrible. These kinds of changes reek of the WoW approach, where the developers start overreacting to a perceived deficiency (often perpetrated by the vocal minority) and don’t stay true to the theme, and vision, behind the design of a class. Then we end up with major overhauls every few months and every new expansion, and no one knows how to play their class or even cares to learn because “it’s just going to change in the next patch anyway”. There should be some aspects of every class that are sacrosanct, and for me the strategy involved in playing a Burglar is one of those.

It does say ‘Advanced Class’ when you create a Burglar. Leave it that way, please.

Free Server Transfers

The timing of the announcement was either sheer luck for Trion, or pure genius; either they stumbled into a pretty nice PR win or they’ve got people inside Blizzard feeding them info. Either way, I hope someone got paid a little extra. Kudos for that.

As a player, being able to move around for free is nice. I’ve been bitten by this before, and being charged anything, especially per character, stinks of a simple cash grab. If it’s meant to be a deterrent, just don’t allow them because otherwise it’s just insulting. I work with databases for a living, and I don’t care what anyone says – moving a set of rows from one database to another is a simple thing. If you can’t do that easily, then your system is designed VERY poorly. Legacy code is no excuse; how can you expect to run an ongoing service if your not willing to clean up your past mistakes?

And if you don’t think that Blizzard or Trion or Sony or whomever can’t pull up anything and everything about your characters, all in a few seconds, you are mistaken. What Trion has introduced is a completely automated system that costs them next to nothing and wins them huge points with their customers, especially in the context of what others charge.

I do agree with others, however, that it’s not entirely magnanimous nor is it as clear cut as the PR announcement. It’s not a free-for-all where anyone can go anywhere. This probably is a way to deal with population imbalances. But you know what? It’s FREE. And it shows that Trion values its customers by giving them the choice, well in advance of server merges, and it will continue to be an option. Every week. FOR FREE.

They’re not saints and its not driven by charity; I don’t expect them to be. But it’s a valuable service that they’re providing free of charge. So, overall, it’s a win for Trion.

That’s it for now!

Awfully Quiet

This post by Wolfshead pretty much sums up (nicely, as usual!) where I’ve found myself the last few weeks when it comes to MMOs. I’m just feeling a little…blah. Maybe “bored”, but that’s not really the word. Malaise? Ennui? Apathy? Maybe. I’m still playing (mostly RIFT), and I want to log in but not for the reasons I usually do.

Seems like a one week vacation has turned into a four week break from almost all gaming. I’m still logging in when I can, but I find that I’m feeling a lot less of the urge to find time for MMOs. RIFT still has the lion’s share of my MMO attention these days; I haven’t logged into LotRO for more than ten minutes in the last two weeks, which makes me kind of sad. There are people in there that I miss (no, not you, Gimli).

And I think the issue is as Wolfshead describes it – I’m a little tired of doing the same mundane tasks over and over again, just in a new locale, under the guise of some kind of grand Quest To Save The World. Just like the three people standing next to me at an NPC. Just like everyone else.

Honestly, what keeps me logging into RIFT, and keeps me out of LotRO, is the prospect of seeing new sights and finding new places to explore. Yes, I’m still doing quests in RIFT, but it’s more a matter of convenience than anything else. “Sure, I’m headed out that way anyway, and I know I’ll have to wade through at least ten orcs, so…yeah…I can help out!” The experience is a nice bonus, and since I’m poking my head into every corner, I figure I can do a few “favors” at the same time.

But the utter helplessness of all these “people” standing around their outposts and villages, doling out mundane tasks that they should be doing for themselves – it wears on me. Last night I ran a task for a Defiant NPC that involved walking twenty meters from the camp. Literally – TWENTY meters. I killed two low-level mobs before I could reach the device that would magically complete some other device, that I would then be able to use on a rift not 100 meters from the camp.

I mean, c’mon people. Let’s get motivated here. The Defiants are supposed to be “The Vigil Helps Those Who Help Themselves” types. I believe a little initiative is warranted!

So that’s where I find myself. A lot of single-player excursions into games where I can explore a world  (Oblivion, The Witcher, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.) and feel like I’m making a difference. Because that’s what I really feel the drive to do recently – explore. I want to see new spaces and discover all the secret little details; which is why RIFT has been so appealing while LotRO lingers unloved. But I don’t want to wade through shambling hordes of monsters and countless franchises of vending machine NPCs (McQuestGivers? Barter Kings?) to get there.

Ah, well. I’m still having fun, and that’s what really counts, right?

(Anyone know a good exploration-based, sandbox game out there? Doesn’t have to be an MMO…)

Winner Winner

Just screams "WINNER", doesn't it?

The issue of equal opportunity in the games I play (or “Return on Investment”) is one that I struggle with constantly; I agree with SynCaine that the Everybody Wins philosophy is a short-term cheat with seriously detrimental long-term implications.  If we don’t know how to lose, and lose graciously, not only are we are handicapping ourselves for the realities all around us, but we rob ourselves of any real value achieved in winning when we actually manage it. However, as an adult with a handful (admittedly small-ish) of actual responsibilities and limited free time, I feel the pull of maximized return on my effort. Time is, after all, the most precious of commodities; disposable cash I’ve got (somewhat), free time for gaming, not so much.

As the father of two young boys, the whole subject is very real for me – team sports are looming on the horizon. And while I want my boys to succeed, it’s more important to me that they learn the nature, and true value, of competition. It’s not about the winning or receiving praise and recognition. It’s about striving to be the best that you can. The outcome, win or lose, should be secondary, at best, to the real purpose at hand; winning should be the bonus, not the goal (or worse, the expectation). This is a lesson I very much want my kids to learn, and if they don’t take to it in team sports, well, there’s always activities that are more individual or less competitive. I’ve had a very recent, personal experience with this; an organization with whom I’ve worked and learned for several years has decided to elevate me to the “next level”. It was an extraordinary feeling, having years of work recognized by those you respect, and I want them to feel that same sense of pride. But they have to earn it.

However, the lessons of competition are never something I would expect them to learn from MMOs; at least, not any of the current crop that are finding mass appeal. Because Syn is right – WoW and its brethren don’t really encourage players to improve. Not in a competitive, “top of the heap” sense. For that I might (someday) point them to strategy games or shooters or…*gasp*… Real World team sports!

Case in Point

But there are lessons to be learned, even in the themeparks as they stand today. Lessons such as cooperation, teamwork, and courtesy to others (okay, maybe not in WoW); social skills like leadership, coordinating groups, and listening. I guess it really depends on what you seek going into these games. If you’re looking for skill-based, sink-or-swim game design maybe the themeparks aren’t for you. Which begs the question – why are you playing RIFT (or WoW, or LotRO, or whatever)?

I know my personal answer (story, story, STORY!). Which always leads me to my constant conundrum – paying the price to see the sights. I love a great challenge, but don’t have the availability to tackle the current design for “challenge” in MMOs (a.k.a. “the grind”). And while I wouldn’t want any game I play to go down the Path of Ultimate Accessibility a la WoW, I don’t really have the time to burn playing the truly challenging alternatives. My drive is always to experience the content – all of it – whether it’s in the form of stories/quests or simply exploration.

Like I said, I’ve got more disposable money than free time, which is convenient for the corporate “sponsors” of our favorite pastime! To whom do you think they’re going to cater – the competitive-but-nonetheless-niche-audience cyberathlete or the time-starved-wallet-heavy buttonmasher?

Sorry, Syn.