It’s summer-time!

28 06 2012

Real-life really gets in the way of gaming (and writing about gaming) but I still make time for gaming. Here I am trying to make a bit of time to write about it once more. Wedding planning and a promotion have made for a lot of new stresses and adventures, but fear not, gentle reader: our hero still plays games.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Is still really good. The hate train on this has had absolutely no effect on me. What I like about the game can easily be summarized:

  • A really, really cool group of people, Two Percent (which refers to milk and not Wall St.).
  • Lightsabers; no, really, they never get old.
  • There is so much content. It’s ludicrous. I’m starting alts on the Empire side finally, seeing the light-side Sith Warrior I always wanted…only this time alongside some awesome people. The stories have all been very enjoyable. No surprise there, right? That’s like the Bioware schtick.
  • No really…a ton of content. End-game in most games is “repeat the same content”. SWTOR’s not immune to this as it has it’s share of end game raids (which, by the way, have uniformly been fun) but most of the “end-game” is alt’ing…which means, seeing the different stories (and in some cases, the different decisions) that are available to different classes (and in some cases, species and genders).

I get to play two to four nights a week now, depending. It’s rather restricted by real-life (wedding planning, general dates and outings, and also my job) but still a great time.

Diablo 3

This game is precisely what I expected it to be. It’s fun and I can pick it up and put it down very easily; if I have 15-30 minutes to burn, this is a great game to do just that with. If I need to quit immediately, worst case is I eat a repair bill. Jumping into games with others is trivial; I spent much of the initial phase of the game playing exclusively with friends. Barbarian and Monk are my favorites.

I even started a Hardcore character which – I admit – even very early on is extremely exciting.

Warhammer Fantasy and 40k

I finally got my dwarves on the table a few weeks ago and I’m hooked (as I expected)…it’s a lot of fun. They are largely unpainted: one large unit of dwarves is fully detailed and they’re some of my best work…but there’s a lot of ‘only base-coated’ plastic on the table.

The new rule-set for 40k drops on Saturday (at least, that’s when I pick up my pre-order…there are leaks all over the net already, of course) and I’m extremely excited for it.

(Very) long story short, I’ll be playing at least two times a week again. (This will cut into video game time, not only because of the game sessions, but I have a lot of painting to do.

Speaking of painting…

I’m taking a  painting class. No, really. Like, on canvas. It’s a lot of fun, I recommend it. When you have absolutely no skill at something and there’s no pressure…it’s nice to let go of that aspect of myself for a little while.

The Secret World

Was terrible and I won’t be licensing it. Maybe it’ll be awesome in a few years (e.g. the EVE Online growth model) but I’m not about to suffer through that long of a boot-strap. Besides, I’m not lacking for things to do. I am a bit disappointed I won’t live through the ARG…that marketing team is one of the best in the business. I am more disappointed that the gameplay is so dry.





Regarding the Secret World

23 05 2012

I’m in the beta, technically…but I only  logged in a handful of times. On principle I want to play the game because I regretted missing the ARG in Matrix: Online. That’s weird, no? Wanting to play a game “on principle”. It is less weird that principle is insufficient motivation to actually play a game.

I am about to come down on the Secret World rather hard.

The short of it.

The things I really like about the Secret World are:

  • presentation; in particular, how you go about solving quests, looking in real-looking phone books, sitting down to terminals, making your way through mazes, etc.;
  • the idea (not the implementation) of a “classless” system;
  • I guess that’s it.

The things I found disappointing are:

  • early combat is boring…of course I can’t speak for late combat, but if I can’t endure early combat, that’s silly nowadays;
  • the implementation of the classless system (stand by for elucidation);
  • it feels soooooo grindy.
The thing I really hate:
  • utter lack of sufficient social tools.

Classless and No-levels

First of all, “no-levels” is kind of silly; levels exist for a reason; they give the player (and the devs) an indication of what a given character can roughly expect to accomplish; what event(s) that player can expect to deal with. It’s an abstraction; a simplified one. There are games that skip this entirely; EVE Online has no “character level”, for instance…and any EVE regular will be quick (and wise) to tell you that the number of character points a player has accumulated does not necessarily correlate to that player’s level of skill or even that character’s intrinsic level of competence (i.e. what the character can roughly expect to handle). So this isn’t new, but it needs to be done carefully.

Herein lies the first issue I have with TSW; allow me to grossly simplify it for time. Consider this scenario:

  1. You do the initial quest area and get a bunch of points.
  2. As these points roll in, you pump them into Assault Rifles because you think they’re sweet.
  3. By the end of initial quest area, you hate Assault Rifles.
  4. Now grind the initial quest region again to get enough points to try something else.
  5. Repeat as necessary.

No, just no. We’re past this now. To their credit, this is an admirable attempt, but it is in fact too painful for me to endure. The first few evenings of combat, coupled with this very feeling that it instilled in me, did in fact boil down to “This is too bad to endure to see the ARG out.”

Now we have Diablo 3 where you not only have the level abstraction, but you literally have access to every skill and ability for your class and can – like TSW – pick a small subset of them (your hand from your deck of cards, as it were) but you don’t need to go back and grind hours and hours of content you’ve already seen in order to try a new build. Find a cool new weapon? Change out some abilities, wait like five seconds and go to town. If you hate it, the cost in time is in the order of minutes and not days.

How to actually do “classless”.

You might see Diablo 3 as not being “classless” but consider what the class abstraction is. Let’s take it to a new level of granularity so you might see what I mean. Here are some classes from Diablo 2 (this list is not exhaustive):

  • a sword-and-shield wielding Barbarian, SwordNBoard Barb;
  • a dual-wielding or Frenzy Barb;
  • a Whirlwind Barb;
  • a PoleBarb (or polearm wielding barb) which often was a Whirlwind Barb;
  • a BashBarb (a barbarian that uses the Bash skill).

One needed to specialize in one field to do anything effective late game, making for remarkably little variety. TSW tries to address this giving you the eventual option to slot in new abilities to try…but to get there you need to deny  yourself variety. Diablo 3 does this the right way, making your now “classless Barbarian” highly adaptable. TSW is actually doing this the Diablo 2 way…where if you are a SwordNBoard Barb and you want a Whirlwind Barb, you need to replay levels 1 through 30. Again.

The amount of content they’d need to add to the Secret World to give us sufficient variety for that effective repeat of levels 1 through 30 is unattainable; especially when you consider they could have done a D3-style route and then had plenty of content with what they have now. Maybe they’ll surprise me. I hope they do. But, honestly, my take away is “this shit don’t scale, yo.”

Social Tools

This is by far the biggest failure I’ve seen so far. The chat system is clunky and sucks. There is a guild or friends system, I think, but when you look at how graceful and intuitive the Friends/Grouping mechanics are in Diablo 3, Star Wars: The Old Republic, WoW, hell even EVE Online, you’d think they’d have enough examples to work with. Or, worse still, you’d think they’d have allocated more resources to the social tools as this is a damned MMO. Really. How am I supposed to work together with people to solve these ostensibly awesome and engaging mysteries when I cannot talk to anybody or form a sub-community in your game?

Tragic.

I’m overall disappointed.

It’s still beta, and these games are ever changing. Possibly a year after launch the game will look sufficiently polished, the combat system will be overhauled, and everything will be cool. Which is, I still think, the dumbest release schedule ever. Software is ever changing. I get that. But some of these things are solved problems and the most important ones don’t involve proprietary code bases. It’s a freakin chat system. Make it size-able, make the fonts select-able, I mean isn’t this in Flash? Outsource it! Ug!

The combat, the grind-tasticness, and the fact my characters look like they’re either members of 90s grunge or glam bands really buried this title for me. But, don’t take my word for it. I think you can still sneak into a weekend beta. I encourage you to try it.





O herro, Secret World Closed Beta Key.

7 05 2012

I got a TSW beta key at PAX East. Up until now, I was unclear on what the terms of the beta were. Well, I know now. I know because I logged into my Secret World account today and saw that the account was allowed to download a “Public Beta Weekends” version of the game.

So, that key is for weekends only.

The reason I logged into my account today was not to check the account’s status, however. It was because I received a beta invite in my email this morning. And that invite is not for the public weekends beta.

It’s to closed beta. I will have access starting tomorrow at 5pm (EST I believe).

So, when I get home this evening I will start the download (and for the D3 installer as well, as it turns out) and I will begin experiencing the beta tomorrow. It’s closed, so you know. I can’t talk about Fight Club. But if I post something like this, you may get the idea.





Investing in entertainment.

30 04 2012

Guild Wars 2

I couldn’t be less impressed or less excited for this waste of resources.

That’s a little harsh, even for me. Let me ease up a bit.

I saw some videos and was disappointed. No mind-blowingly cool tricks or new mechanics presented. Maybe they’ll come up later. Syncaine is presenting it as the game that Mythic tried to make. It’s funny because GW2 seems to me like Wrath of Heroes with a bit more polish and some grinding elements. (What, other people can make baseless, offhand comparisons and I can’t?)

Joking aside, I don’t see the appeal. To be fair, I missed out on the whole Guild Wars scene when it launched; I heard bad things about it early on (which were valid, by all reports) and by the time all of that was cleaned up I was deeply entrenched in other games with no desire or reason to seek out others. Possibly you were a huge GW fan and you’re all sorts of excited about the Mesmer. I wanted to be excited about this caster everybody wanted; I mean, casting gameplay is what MMOs really do well, as – up until Majicka – no other gaming genre really hit it (Arx Fatalis and Master of Magic being the only real exceptions). I’m not writing this title off just  yet, but I’ll let it cook a few months and see how the community is taking it. (Also known as: my original plan for Diablo 3.)

The Secret World

The Secret World’s beta starts on May 11 and I have a key that I got at PAX. I don’t know what the limits on the key are (if it’s only for the weekend, or for the run until June,  for multiple weekends, or as much up-time as they can get out of their fledgling servers, I’m not sure) but I think it’s safe to assume I’ll get to try it at least for a few hours. The goal here for me is to see if the game play is so terrible that is trashes my morbid curiosity with regards to the alternate reality game play. The idea of learning  real-world history and myth in order to conquer a video game is very appealing me. Also, let’s face it: Matrix: Online reportedly had tragically bad game-play and control issues, but it was a cult-hit due to its alternate reality game. I really don’t want to miss this…unless I can’t stand the game play, in which case I’ll just follow along as best I can via the blog-o-sphere. I am giving you a try, Funcom. I gave EVE a try. HOW COULD YOU DO WORSE?

(You are allowed to quote that line and force-feed it to me in the event that it does far, far, far worse than EVE in every measurable way.)

Diablo 3

Oh, Diablo 3. Should you fail, there will be no reason for me to follow you on the blog-o-sphere.

Initially I wanted to wait and see if it survived the first two months before diving in…but but so many of my friends pre-ordered and I honestly did enjoy what little of the beta I saw, so it seemed a small risk.

Unlike GW2, I 1. was part of the Diablo and Diablo 2 experience, from launch to vapors, and 2. see some remarkable new tricks and game play mechanics. Also, this right here is reason enough.

Where I discuss value for money, or

Where I title a section after the stylings of Spinks and other legendary authors.

$15/month for SW:TOR. $60 up front for Diablo 3. I may license Secret World and play it for a month or two before my interest in it buckles…or I may stick it out. I’m sure that’ll be like, $60 plus the expected monthly account leech.

By my reckoning, a night at a bar costs between $15 to $30, depending on whether I buy the lady and/or a friend drinks, or if dinner is involved. I do not go out to a bar often, but when I do, that’s a night of fun. $15 for a single night is now our model.

Choose your MMO. If you log in once a week, that $15 gets you four nights of fun after which you can legally drive at need and probably won’t wake up next to somebody strange. $60 will license Diablo, and if I  play that for four nights, it meets the model. If I play it further, I’m getting effectively free entertainment. If I play an MMO more than four nights a month, the same thing is happening.

Software-as-a-service is very common in the industry now, as including support, updates, and a finite time that the software you purchased will function is how virtually all business-to-business licensing transacations are making money nowadays. We’re now seeing this trend in the small-time (that’s us) with video games.

More to the point, paying for entertainment is not weird.

Maybe I should say that again.

$15 at a bar is paying for entertainment. $20 for a movie,  $60 for a concert, paying for entertainment. $15 to $60 to buy a video game license, you’re paying for entertainment. Paying for entertainment is not weird.

Changes coming to my rotation.

LoL is on the bench, though it’s still on the list. I like it but I needed a break. I’ll go into details in an upcoming post.

Minecraft is the best loading-screen game of all time. My friend and I are doing an improvisational collaborative structure, where each of us logs in, goes to the site alone, adds something, then waits for the other to do the same before returning. Also, I have built six stylized towers and am planning out two more.

I’m having a lot of fun with SW:TOR. Good people and the pinnacle of the theme-park genre makes for a nice time. Doesn’t hurt that a recent parsing of my combat logs shows me I do about 30% of the damage in a boss fight. (Please don’t nerf me.)

LoL will probably get bumped when TSW and D3 drop. I could easily reduce SW:TOR to a three to four night a week event and still have a spectacular time with it; really I have room in my rotation for one or two more games. The trick here is that D3 will fit that slot very well (easy to play solo and dynamically) while TSW by its very nature may be more EVE-like in it’s demand for my attention and time.

Remember my metric, however. If I play  Diablo 3 for four nights it’s already met the metric in terms of fun/dollar. Any more than that and it begins to exceed bar-night fun time in cost-effectiveness.

So will I lose anything by trying both titles? No.

Are you still listening to that guitar?

Because if you are, you know exactly what I’m feeling.

I can’t wait.





What EVE, SW:TOR, and The Secret World share in common.

19 04 2012

Yet another attempt at a sensationalist title. (How’d I do?) It comes today in the form of a weird thought I had on this morning’s train ride, dating back to a very old gamedev.net thread. That thread made a call to the community of game developers at large. A request.

End goblin genocide.

“When it gets to that point, it’s a little irresponsible when we fail to consider the ecology or culture of the creatures we mindlessly slay. Don’t these goblins have families? They tend to have money of some kind, does that mean they have a culture? An economy? Ever stop to think about *why* it is they attack our towns?”

There have been other threads (on gamedev and elsewhere) over the years that either hit the same riffs or directly cite that very post. (The thread was removed by some dev on the site – bit of a conspiracy there – so it’s only accessible via web archives now.) There was also this epic Gamasutra article in a very similar vein…hitting Diablo and it’s entire progeny pretty hard:

“The beings who live here… what shall I say of them? Firstly, that they are uniformly hostile. We have released a few prisoners, who always flee without offering to assist us… a shabby, ungracious way to treat one’s benefactors. Yet apart from these churlish wretches, all others that we have encountered have attacked without challenge or parley of any kind. And so we kill them.

Oh, God, how we kill them.”

Experience systems which are based on unjustified murder have been around a very, very long time. Violence made it to video games early as it was the easiest part of exciting stories to model, at least in the beginning. Reading reams of text on an amber monitor isn’t always what you’re in for (Zork was great but it wasn’t for everybody) and so games like Nethack/Moria were much more popular.

But what about now? I see Diablo 3, TERA, and Modern Call of Wuty coming out with some  new mechanics and textures, but the same basic mechanic at play.

Violence as a mechanic.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times in life where lines are drawn and violence becomes necessary; in the defense of one self or one another; this isn’t a post on ethics anyway. Violence is a scary resort; it’s the point in a story when two sides are pushed to their limits, with somebody’s survival often in the balance. This is exciting stuff and the easier stuff to model in a game. Easier than negotiation (which is better modeled in a book or on screen).

But that’s no longer true, is it? We now have the means and the experience to add new dimensions to our games, and a lot of people are already doing it.

SW:TOR

Cinematic presentation as a precursor to violence is one thing (and a good thing) which Bioware has been excelling at of late…but what it also does is that it allows you to talk your way out of fights. You can’t talk your way out of every fight, but it’s not an impossibility in all cases. How many cases wasn’t clear to me until now as I’m leveling a second consular as pure Dark Side…and she’s fighting a LOT more during dialog sequences. Not only can you talk your way out of fights, but you can pick them. This is a good start, in my mind. I want to see more.

EVE

EVE has a special place in this line up as the content is people. Numeric experience gain is a non-issue here as your skills train over time and not only by doing or killing. (I specify “numeric experience” because real in-game combat experience is universal across these titles, so I’m eschewing it for this discussion.) And because much of the content is other people, your ability to talk your way out of a fight is as good as your real-life negotiating skills. And also, how scary your ship and/or your friends appear.

I’m not a fan of experience gain that’s effectively not interactive. (Training Rank X of Skill That Adds No More Than 5% to This Confusing Characteristic does not appeal to me.) However, violence is not a prerequisite to advancing in EVE: that’s my point.

The Secret World

TSW is half going the Bioware route in that you’ll be given lots of narrative justification for violent conflict, and there may be alternate reality game stuff that involves rather EVE-like negotiation between factions…but the real new thing here are the so-called Investigation Missions. There are quests in this game that require you to use real world information sources (like actually do some real world research) and learn about ancient history, folklore, and myth to solve a  puzzle in the game. Follow a trail of clues in the game with no Map Markers to guide you. It’s a bold move and I hope that it’s both 1. as good in practice as it’s been presented and 2. as fun as it seems.

Honorable Mention that I snuck in: Minecraft

That’s right. Minecraft. Gather your resources, build  your shelters, and survive. This game is a lot of fun co-op and – given how trivial it is to punch through structures as a player  – PVP is kind of silly. But it’s a game where there is no real “experience” (your “levels” are little green balls gained from killing monsters that you use to enchant weapons and tools…while this is nice, it’s not a requirement). Your skill with the game is what counts here; there’s really no number attached to it at all.

In Conclusion

I’m not saying that I want the removal of violence from video games; far from it. I enjoy digital combat and I really appreciate how far it’s come. Consider fighting the dragon in Adventure, running and gunning through Contra or Doom, and fighting through God of War. What I am saying is that I want to see more alternative paths presented for advancement. We have the means now. Let’s see it.





Kidnapped by character creation in the Secret World.

11 04 2012

I’m intrigued.

I’ll grant you that any game which requires you to leverage Google, Wikipedia, and other sources to learn about ancient world history and folklore in order to advance in the game…any game that does that is one I want to see succeed.

It definitely seems like a niche game. I hope very strongly that they spike with users early (to recoup most of their R&D) then stabilize at a small, respectable number of accounts. I hope that happens. Maybe I’ll even be one of those accounts.

If this is an accurate preview of the game experience, I may be. Again, I have a beta key (from PAX when I told them my chosen faction was “Paladin”…which they did NOT find funny) so I’ll be trying it out come May.





Not really a post.

10 04 2012

It’s release week, so I don’t really have time for more than an obligatory “I’m not dead” post. Here’s a stream of thought with little to no elucidation (except that which you might infer):

  • I am honestly disappointed I missed this; it’s reminiscent of Matrix Online’s alternate reality game, but on a much grander scale. The game will likely draw a small audience…but what would an MMO community with a massive chunk of puzzle solvers and aficionados be like? Will it be predominantly puzzle solvers, as their forums seem to imply? Why wouldn’t the more game-play focused peeps stick to other games, with their maps that show you quest locations and objectives? Well, I’ll see for myself, as I got a beta key at PAX.
  • No, really. I’m reading through this and I’m totally blown away by the puzzles and the community-based effort to solve them each. Blown away.
  • Free copy of Dungeon Defender at PAX. It’s okay.
  • I hit lv50 in SWTOR with my Sentinel; joining the guild for my sentinel’s first (and my second) foray into Karaga’s Palace.
  • I talked to an inebriated (slightly so, anyway) developer at PAX; learned the release window for 1.2 (which we all know now), that apparently Dirty Fighting scoundrels are the game’s best-kept secret, and I’m still excited for UI editing.
  • League of Legends is going to ostensibly nerf snowballing; higher level characters gaining less and less experience the larger the level disparity is means slower progress for eating noobs and unfortunates. It also means it’ll be more possible to catch up after falling behind (but still not easy). Also, they’re buffing my Kayle’s support potential. <3
  • There is a ridiculous number of mind-blowingly attractive women that enjoy League of Legends.
  • Seriously, have you seen this? I feel very left out. I’m actively catching up now.







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