Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

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People make me LOL

September 25, 2009
...we hope you will enjoy the show!

...we hope you will enjoy the show!

So I just read what might possibly be one of the most misinformed comments I’ve read in a while. It ranks up there with all of the comments that tell me I’m making wicked mad dough from “selling out” and “being bribed” by developers.

So, on a Beatles: Rock Band review, someone had the audacity/idiocy to state that The Beatles are “a tired old band who would never survive today” and that their music “failed to influence any music in today’s generation.” (Search for MushroomStamp on that link, if you want to see the hilariousness.)

Like I said. People make me LOL.

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Ok, you have no excuse to NOT get PlanetSide

September 22, 2009
MMOs for 5 bucks! SWEET!

MMOs for 5 bucks! SWEET!

So this week is MMO week for Direct2Drive’s anniversary, and they’re offering a selection of games for five bucks.  Now, normally I wouldn’t devote a post to this, but one title kinda stuck out at me on the list (aside from Age of Conan, of course.  Speaking of which, you should buy that if you have 5 bucks.  It’s not an amazing MMO, but it’s damn well worth 5 bucks.  I’d make a mention about EVE being 5 bucks too, but you probably jumped on that like a rabid wolverine.)

You should spend the 5 dollars and pick up PlanetSide.  No, I’m not joking.

PlanetSide is one of the games that has been trucking along quietly in the background for years now.  Not too many websites cover it, there’s not that many updates anymore, and it kinda gets boring after months of gameplay, but if you ever want an amazing game to jump into quickly and enjoy from day 1, then you want PlanetSide.  No questions asked.

For those not in the know, PlanetSide is the first (and pretty much only) MMOFPS.  The game sports multiple continents that can hold 100 players from each of it’s three factions, meaning you get to have 300 person battlefields.  There’s ground vehicles, air vehicles, hot dropping (first game to introduce a orbital drop as part of the action), mechs, battle armor, hacking, command abilities and more.  The action of PlanetSide has the tendency to quickly escalate into feverish firefight fits of action, where you don’t even know who’s shooting you from where.  All you know is that the sky is full of lead, and if you stick your head up it will probably be blown off.

Some of my best stories come from PlanetSide, and I wasn’t even a high level character.  Leveling in PlanetSide (yes, killing people gets you experience) means nothing more than more certification points that you can spend on gun licenses and implant slots for specialized abilities.  There’s no money in the game, just need to be certified for a gun (or vehicle) to use it (or drive it.)

The graphics, even for being a couple years old, still hold up just because the game will drive your computer nuts during intense firefights.  If the graphics were any better, you wouldn’t be enjoying the 200 person sieges.  You’d be watching a slideshow that ends in your character’s painful death.  But, lucky for you, that’s not the case.  Plus, even the smaller skirmishes are something to write home about, because the battlefield is persistent.  Capturing bases gets your side special benefits for battles on that continent, and capturing a continent means that you get to warp to the next continent in the line.  Every week, the map resets to neutral, and it’s once again a furious land grab.

The point of PlanetSide is to just have fun.  It’s like Battlefield 2 meets Team Fortress 2 meets World of Warcraft, except no endgame.  No raids.  No grinding.  Just having fun from day one.  That’s why I recommend this game to you, my readers.

For five bucks, it’s a steal, and now you have no excuse to not get it.  The monthly fee… well… that’s a bit iffy, but if you really enjoy the game, you’ll find the 15 bucks a month is well spent.  Plus, you can always cancel if you don’t want it past the initial month.  But, for five bucks, you have to try it.  Seriously.

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I don’t want to drink the Aion Kool-Aid

September 11, 2009

aionscreen

Recently many of my blogging brethren have talking about Aion, the new title from NCsoft.  Even the commenters on Massively have been saying the game has stunning gameplay, immersive storytelling, bountiful PvP.  Honestly, I don’t see it.  I really don’t.  All I see is a pretty game that has World of Warcraft and Lineage II shoved into it.

That last sentence probably offended some people in the audience, so let me clarify — YOUR GRINDING YOURSELF RETARDED.  CAN YOU HEAR ME?  DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?

Ok, ok, so offensive jokes and nasty tones aside, Aion‘s not that bad.  It’s just not that good, and that’s where my problem lies.  I’m afraid too many people are booting the game up, staring at the graphics (which are gorgeous, btw, don’t get me wrong) and immediately heaping all sorts of praise upon the game simply because it has some glitter and glam.  I’m one of those people who insists that graphics never make the game, and I’d like to keep those thoughts alive.

Before I go any further, let me say what I like about the game so everyone here knows I’m not just an insane Aion hater.  I like the graphics, they are very pretty and the CryEngine stands out wonderfully.  The customization options on the game are really great, and I feel like I have my own personal daeva, not a simple “choose what avatar may or may not represent you” list.  Also, third, the dialogue in the quest and NPC speech boxes.  This game has lots of writing and the translations are not half-assed.  Major props to the localization teams because they deserve them.  The storyline, for the most part when it’s presented, is interesting.

So, with all of the nice things now said, let’s go to the not so nice things.  Be prepared to grind yourself retarded on this game.  The experience does come slowly, and the quests, while they have great writing, just don’t provide that much incentive.  Take, for example, one of the Elyos starting missions.  You have to destroy these little furry creatures that are ripping apart this guy’s farm.  Why are they ripping apart his farm?  Who knows, they just are.  Now you get to deal with it.  Kill 5 of them and that will make it all better.  For all of this good lore and nice writing, sometimes the incentive just isn’t provided, and that sucks.

It makes things feel grindier when other games use this formula and can escape it.  Champions Online does this nicely via evidence collection, doing favors for public officials, or just stopping bad guys from doing something bad.  Why do I have to take out 10 of these prison guys?  Well because they just broke out of prison and they’re destroying local property.  Why do I have to take 5 pieces of rubble off of citizens in this hotel?  Because rubble KILLS PEOPLE.  So… Aion… Why should I kill 5 of these creatures to save this guy’s farm?  How about because he’s growing food for the local village?  How about because these furry animals are being driven insane by an Asmodian plot to destroy the Elyos food supplies?  How about that?  Just give me something.

Furthermore, at low levels, the game relies heavily on the auto-attack and doesn’t let you get through battles easily.  Even by my 10th level, battles were still being sustained for a while and just not going anywhere.  Granted I was playing a warrior, so my attack power wasn’t the best, but battles dragged.  Even when I was using my abilities, their cooldowns were so long I’d use them once per battle.  This slowly begins to change later, but it doesn’t do it as quick as you’d like it to.

So, my final beef — my biggest beef — comes from grouping with my roommate.  He’s a mage, I’m a warrior.  Together, we finally solved that whole issue of “slow battles.”  We started wailing through content left and right, destroying enemies while barely taking damage.  And even together, for all of our awesome, it still took us 4 hours to get to level 10 and reach our ascension.  Afterwards, what changed?  Nothing, really.  Now we had wings and we went back to doing the exact same crap we were just doing.

Now picture doing all of the stuff we did alone.  By yourself.  Without the benefit of the damage boost from the mage or the taunts from the warrior.  It would be painful… and, trust us, we killed lots of mobs to get to where we were with very little questing fun.

I guess that’s my problem with Aion.  It’s slow.  It’s Lineage.  You can see it pretty clearly in the design.  It’s Lineage II with World of Warcraft sprinkled atop.  It’s not new, it’s not amazing.  It’s the same old stuff we’ve been getting, just with a shiny coating and half-assed flight.  Oh, I guess it’s also worth mentioning that flight is not the game changer I thought it would be.  You get to fly for a minute at start (this goes up later when you get better pairs of wings) and you can use flight potions to stay up in the air.  They wanted to make flight tactical, but in doing so they killed it for PvE use.  Also, many areas disallow flight, so it kinda negates out the whole idea of flying combat to change up the game.

In short, this isn’t a bad game.  It’s just not the amazing superawesome engine that people are making it out to be.  Just like Champions Online isn’t the superdevil people were making that out to be.  Perhaps this is because I’m not in the Abyss yet, where Aion‘s focus lies, but I just don’t see this shocking change coming to the game.  It’s just nothing new here.  At least Champions brings some innovation to the table.

(Also, before the fanboi whining starts that Aion‘s innovation lies in the “new” PvPvE content in the Abyss, let me point you to the fallen Matrix Online, which included raid bosses in PvP areas.  Whoops.)

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Recovering from Dragon*Con

September 11, 2009

Hey everyone, I’m back from D*C and it was insane this year.  I had a great time meeting so many people, running my fan panels, and really getting out there this year.  Thanks to everyone for making it happen, thanks to the people who came to all of my panels (and some who probably got sick of seeing me :3), and thanks to track director Kevin “Grimthorn” Stallard for making all of this happen.  If you guys can, surf on over to DC-MMO.org and let this man and his great staff know how well they did this year.

If I could give any one panel a special shout out, it would have to be the City of Heroes panel.  Holy. Hell.  That’s all I have to say about that, really.  The COH community has proven, very strongly, that it is one vibrant, friendly, and amazing community.  I can’t remember the last time I have ever heard of a community coming up with ways to make the game more money.  Yes, that’s right, you read that correctly, the community was coming up with more ways for the game to make money.  That’s how much they love this game.  It’s one thing to say you want more content, but it’s entirely another to say you want more content and you want to come up with ways to fund that content.

Also, special thanks to Chooch and Viv from the COH Podcast for recording the panel, and thanks to Omnitron from the Central Nexus Blog for helping me out with the panel.  Without him and his friend, I would have been so far up the creek, but luckily they were willing to help and lend their expertise.  I haven’t played COH since Architect. >.<

Past that, I want to give a shout out to the SOE Community Team.  Those guys put on a great party on Sunday night, and it was a great way to really end the convention.  Making fun of the WoW Players was AMAZING. 😀  (Y’all can blame Kevin Stallard for that, as he’s the one who pointed out the guy in the WoW shirt to Brenlo.)

I’m sad that I missed the insanity that turned out to be the Funcom party.  Apparently when I was there the party was lame, but then after I left it got all rocking at around midnight.  Figures.

I didn’t miss the insanity that was the Kingdom of Loathing party, however.  Those guys put on one hell of a good time — food and booze!  I’m looking forward to their stuff next year (plus it was all done with the hilarity of Kingdom of Loathing, which made it 10x better.)

Past all of this, however, I’ll be putting up my Dragon*Con impressions onto Massively… and telling a few more stories about the con in later posts.  For now, I need sleepies.  Glad to be back!

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I bought Darkfall

July 14, 2009

Like I said yesterday… I’m sorry.

I’m on the North American server. I like to think that it makes a world of difference.

Will be posting up impressions when I have them.

So far all I can say is that I got called “a dumb cunt” in the first two minutes of gameplay. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

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All hail the modern MMO gamer — a twitchy, frothy mess

April 14, 2009

A brand new post over at Tobold’s place got me thinking today.  I’m one of those people who harp on how the letters RP are being forsaken in the acronym MMORPG, but I mostly focus on story and improvisational acting.  I’m more about the situation and the experience than I am the fat loot or the power.  But I realized something else in that post that Tobold put up — RPGs are losing their tactical background as well.

WoW, LotRO, and the other games just like it are all fine and dandy, but they are missing that element of tactical thinking.  Standing around and doing a gimmick is not tactical combat at its finest, nor is calculating the arc of the next arrow you’re about to fire from 50 feet.  There is a happy medium somewhere in there, but that’s still not the point.  The point is that our games are losing that tactical edge.

Tobold is right — take the gimmicks away from the boss fights in WoW and your skills don’t matter.  You end up with a whole UI loaded with junk and crazy people attempting to theorycraft their way out of a virtual paper bag.  It all comes down to what armor your wearing at the time, because that’s what WoW does to make sure people don’t get ahead of themselves.  (Because content lockdown via random item drops is the best thing a game designer can make.)

People don’t want to take the time anymore to actually deal with tactics and calm gameplay — one of the reasons of the death of the turn-based RPG system.  But I hate the assumption made amongst people that real time combat is somehow “better” than turn-based tactical combat.  They’re two very different flavors of gaming ice cream.  Some people prefer one, other people prefer both, but it never means that one is greater than the other.  They both offer two different experiences.

I would, however, like to see a return of a turn-based system.  It allows developers to control where the characters are during battles, allowing for some really cinematic fights and amazing magical effects.  It also allows developers to get back to challenging gamers logic senses rather than how many times they can faceroll on their keyboard.  You can also put skills inside menus, dropping the compulsive need to have an entire screen filled with buttons, charts, and whistles with a small little window to see where your character is standing.  (The main reason I don’t go grabbing random mods and rely on intuition during raids.  I like to actually SEE my game.)

Right now, all I have left to hold is basically Final Fantasy XI and EVE Online.  Both feature slower battle systems that allow players to make tactical maneuvers regarding combat, rather than being based on who can press “1” faster than the other.   FFXI even has the skillchain system, which triggers bursts of elemental damage when players use weapon skills one after another that match certain combinations of elements.  It requires some coordination and thinking on behalf of the party, but it’s 10x of fun when you get one to go off and completely wreck your enemy.

I look forward to the day where I can engage in a game with a great story that me and my friends can get into, paired with exciting, dramatic turn-based combat that is worthy of a cinematic movie.  That’s what I originally thought MMORPGs were going to become… but I guess I was very wrong.

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I can’t say I agree with you, Mr. Kaplan

April 11, 2009

So, for those of you who may not know, Jeff Kaplan did this big panel at the Game Developers Conference that was all about quest design relating to World of Warcraft.  While the talk was, as a whole, really awesome, there was one part specifically where I found myself disagreeing strongly with Jeff.  That part was video games as a medium for story.

As a person who absolutely adores story in video games, I found that whole section to be really off.  I can get what he’s saying — people need to calm themselves down and just not write as much in those little quest boxes — but it didn’t come off like that.  Especially the line, “Don’t be Shakespeare in video games.”

Being a good story writer in video games means being sometimes brief, but always being inventive.  You need to capture the player with your writing, not overload them with meaningless drivel and huge word counts.  And, above all, the design itself needs to nurture the writing, otherwise people are just going to skip right over it because you’re not sending them the right message.

Take, for example, the standard “Kill 10 rats” quest.  In original World of Warcraft, we saw a heavy usage of attempting to wrap story around these horrible, horrible quests.  “I got chased out of my home by some kobolds, so I need you, the hero, to kill 10 of them so I can go back into my house.”  It doesn’t matter how good the storyline is with that quest… it’s still a shitty kill 10 rats quest.

Story and design need to go hand in hand.  If it’s an epic story, then it better have some epic design to it.  I better feel that I am truly following some grand path when I’m doing that quest, otherwise your writing comes off really overblown and unnecessary.

Jeff, later in his panel, pointed to the success of the Death Knight questline.  His reasons for it being a better string of quests was because of better design — and he’s right to a point.  But what also helps that questline be so absolutely amazing is the writing and overall plot arc that went into it.  Sure, some of the quests in that long chain have the standard “grab X of this”, “kill X of that” but they’re all enveloped in this wide goal of completely destroying the Scarlet Crusade.  Phasing goes a long way in making these types of quests “feel” amazing for the player, because they can see how their actions are affecting the story.  The player now has an impact and can see the story unraveling before them in more ways than just a stupid quest box.

I think that’s the overall goal of storytelling in interactive spaces — make the player feel it.  Books have stories that come off of the page and envelop the reader, why can’t we do the same thing in video games and do it 10x better?  We let the player play in a beautiful imaginative space.  We have more ways of relating story besides 511 characters in the quest pane.  Why don’t we actually go out and embrace them, rather than just throwing players into meaningless encounters just so they can get that special piece of equipment.

When we stop using the carrot on a stick motivation and start using actual emotional motivations for players, then we’ll be our own modern day Shakespeares.  Don’t say something is bad just because your game sucked at it for 2 expansions.