Friday, October 31, 2008

Played Lately: Fable II

  • I've typed these words many times before but it bears repeating here: I rarely finish video games. If I were to review games, I could rate them solely by the percentage of the game I completed and most likely that would match whatever arbitary rating I would give. It's just that most games are too long to fight my way through compared to how much enjoyment I get out of them. The original Fable for the Xbox was one of those games I was able to finish and enjoyed doing so. I seemed to like that game a lot more than other people did, but I had not poisoned by the high expectations everyone else seemed to harbor. Thus then Fable II was announced, I was thrilled to have a favorite game return for a second try.

  • The first thing I thought when I started playing (and I know this is weird, but hear me out) is that this game plays a lot like the first Fable. Considering it had been a couple years since I'd even looked at the prior game, I was amazed that the sequel evoked such strong feelings of familiarity. I was able to jump right in and start playing with very little difficulty.

  • So far, I've been taking my time with the game. I know the main storyline can be run through rather quickly, but there is so much else to do that I was to relish everything instead of rushing to the ending. That means I've been spending a lot of time collecting things, like clothes and weapons and real estate. I never bought that many properties in the first game. Here they make it so easy and rewarding that I can't help myself. My prized purchase so far was the main bookstore in Bowerstone. For all that, the main story is interesting enough that I'm looking forward to seeing how it is resolved.

  • On the combat side, I've been trying to play the hard way. I have focuses almost entirely on leveling my Skill abilities so that I can shoot people head's off. While this is a lot of fun when I get the drop on an opponent, a lot of encounters start as ambushes where I don't have the time to aim and carefully snipe at the baddies. Thus there is no way to neglect my melee or magic abilities. Luckily those are just as much fun, just not what I wanted to focus on.

  • In all, I'm having a great time playing Fable II. I just hope the lure of Fallout 3 doesn't distract me from this great game.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Ever since patch 3.0.2 came out, I'm not really playing Warhammer Online any more. It's not that I don't like WAR, it's just that I don't really have any desire to fire the thing up. My subscription is still active because I will be coming back eventually. It's just that I'm having much more fun in World of Warcraft now.
  • First off, as I mentioned to the sole friend I keep in contact with on my Alliance character, paladins are awesome now. My very first character was a paladin and I got her all the way to level 70 before I stopped having fun with her. Now, they've made paladins play so differently that even with no new content, I'm enjoying going out and taking on challenges I ignored before. Considering the incoming nerfs with the next patch, I'm hoping my enjoyment is not short lived.
  • Also livening things up, Hallow's End started a few days ago. I've taken my newly cool paladin into Scarlet Monastery a couple times and came away with a very nice epic helm and a magic broom I use every chance I get. I also took my blood elf paladin around trick-or-treating since holiday quests a good, easy experience at low levels. I can usually work out an extra level or two just by participating.
  • If that was not enough, Blizzard kicked off the Scourge Invasion again in the midst of the holiday, which was very fitting. So far we've gotten both the return of the original invasion as well as a plague of zombies. I wasn't around for the first invasion as I did not sign up until long after Naxxramas was added to the game. Again, I took my Alliance paladin out to kill lots of undead and scored the long lost Tabard of the Argent Dawn as well as some nice Undead Slaying gear. As if to prove how bad my current gear was, the Undead Slaying gear has been a significant improvement. At least it looks nice, too.
  • So that's why I've been playing WoW instead of WAR. Except until my brother's computer is fixed and I go back to my Archmage a few nights a week. I'm so confused.

Friday, October 17, 2008

By Request: The Cancellation of The Inside

  • I'm going to start by saying this post is all for me. I've only seen the search term come up a couple times, but that was enough to pique my interest in the topic. The Inside was a show that I was looking forward to ever since I heard Tim Minear was working on it. I first discovered Tim from his work with Joss Whedon on Angel and the amazing Firefly. When Firefly was unjustly canceled, I followed him the wonderfully quirky Wonderfalls. And when that was canceled, I was going follow him to whatever happened next. Next was The Inside.
  • The Inside started life as a Wiseguy clone of a girl working undercover in high school. When the network demanded that the show be changed to an episodic format (more like 21 Jump Street), the original creators were stuck. The undercover agent angle works well as an initial premise to a season long arc, but how do you find new ways and new reasons to put someone undercover for each of 22 episodes a season? To help fix this network imposed problem, Fox brought in Tim Minear, much as they had for Wonderfalls.
  • The first thing Minear did (well, maybe not chronologically, but by importance) was to chuck out everything except the star and the cop show premise. The Inside became a show about an FBI agent with a unique perspective that allows her to identify with various predators in society and use that knowledge to bring them to justice. She is inducted into a select FBI unit run by a special agent who will do anything or use anyone to solve a case. With this new set up, we get a new monster-of-the-week format, with the difference that the monsters are all human psychopaths. He also, based on prior experiences, created a character arc for the show that would cover the initial 13 episode run if things went down the drain. And down the drain they went, rather quickly.
  • So what happened? For one, the nature of the show was a limiting factor. The lead character starts off in a very dark place and is very stoic. Over the course of the series, she slowly opened up and became more trusting of her fellow agents and, thus, more likeable to the audience. While this storytelling style is very rewarding for the long run (for reference, see just about any show on HBO and newer shows being released on cable networks), network television audiences are very unforgiving if you don't grab them immediately. As well, the subject matter was very dark and morally complex, something you can't expect the average viewer to enjoy.
  • But there is an even easier answer, as to why the show failed: Dancing With The Stars. Fox put The Inside on during the summer because it had taken so long to get on track and they could not hold it until the fall season. While off season launches have become more accepted lately, this was before the practice had caught on. No one really understood that DWTS was poised to grab the same crowd the followed shows like American Idol. In the face of that oncoming juggernaut, The Inside never stood a chance and was cancelled with only six episode airing. To date, no DVD set has been released for anyone to see the unaired episodes, though they have been easy enough to find online if you are willing to look.
  • Although The Inside may not have been the best show on the air, I think its cancellation was unfortunate. Over time, the complexity being built into the narrative would have been quite compelling. Tim Minear once referred to the show as a struggle for the soul of the main character, whether she could be brought into the light and redeemed or dragged into the darkness and devastated. The episodes we got certainly gave us that and we are poorer for not getting to experience more.
  • If you're interested in reading more, Tim Minear gave an interview to iF Magazine (in three parts posted here, here, and here) that was my primary source for this post.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

News Filter: BlizzCon 2008

  • This weekend, I was one of the several thousand people lucky enough to spend a bunch of money to get tickets to BlizzCon in Anaheim, CA. Thankfully the money was well worth it and now I'm going to rub how much fun I had in all your faces.
  • The thing you always read about BlizzCon or any other convention is the panels, so I thought would try to catch as many as possible. What you don't read about is all the other cool stuff that is going on. That's what I really ended up doing. I did sit down and hear the Diablo III Gameplay panel. It was, um, interesting. That's an appropriate descriptor. In retrospect, it's much more interesting to read about the panels on MMO-Champion or the like.
  • Instead of panels, I spent a lot of time waiting in lines. Lines seemed to be the primary attraction at BlizzCon. There were lines to get to the demos, lines to get into the stores, even lines just to get into the building. There were several lines I didn't even have the time to stand in, the place was that crazy. It was almost anticlimactic to reach the end of a line and find myself ushered to sit in front of a computer to play some demo. But since I could spend all my time in lines, I decided to try a few things out.
  • The first demo I got into was for Wrath of the Lich King. What I took away from this is that I need a better computer. It was really beautiful and played really smooth. I started a death knight, hoping to get a sneak peek at the opening zone, but all the characters were autoleveled to 80 and dumped at a random point in Northrend. Since that wasn't how I wanted to spend my time, I rerolled as a mage. Demo time was short, so I didn't have time to do much more than fly around, ooh and aah at the beautiful environment, and kill a few beasts. I did find the mage quest to earn the Portal: Dalaran spell, so that was my demo goal. All the creatures I faced were level 71-73, so I didn't have any problems and was able to complete the quest. Yay, me! If there was any question whether I was coming back to WoW from WAR, this demo definatively answered it.
  • Even better than that, however, was the demo for Diablo III. Again, we only had 15 minutes to play, but there was a set goalline and cooperative multiplayer was encouraged. Three classes were open to play so I took a barbarian (having not played a melee class since the first Diablo), my brother grabbed a wizard (having never played Diablo at all!), and we got matched with a witch doctor, so we had all the bases covered. First and foremost, the game played exactly like a Diablo game should, which is as big of a compliment as I can make. Yes some of the systems have changed and will continue to be tweaked, but it felt just right. I had been worried that going 3D might hurt the visuals, but again they've captured the look of the earlier games and even expanded the possibilities. I particularly enjoyed the destructable environmental bits, and that they didn't skimp on the wooden barrels. The three of us rushed through Tristram and the catacomb below them and finally took down the Skeleton King just before our 15 minutes were up. We had a great time and I'm really looking forward to playing more when the game comes out.
  • Funny enough, the thing I was most looking forward to this weekend was the early preview of the World of Warcraft Miniatures Game. I have a weakness for board games and miniatures, so this seemed like a perfect fit. I bought a starter and a booster as soon as I hit the show floor the first day (without benefit of waiting in a line) and signed up for a starter tournament. Then I walked off for a couple hours and forgot to show up for the tourney. Yeah, I'm not that bright. The Upper Deck folks were cool enough to put me in another round, though they did tease me a little bit. As for the game, it is really cool. The base set seems nicely balanced even with four very different characters, making for a close match. Adding a booster and building a team in the second round was a lot of fun, and that round was just as close. Luckily for me, I was able to win both rounds, so I walked away with an extra figure. They also gave out a vinyl Tanaris map as a door prize, and my partner in the second match and I both won one. It was a great experience all around and well worth the time. Kudos to Upper Deck for a fun game and a great event.
  • As much fun as I had, two days was plenty to see it all and live to tell the tale. I'd definately go back if the oppotunity arose, but my feet are glad it will be a full year before the next one.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

News Filter: Bloggers Lose Their Cool Over Blizzard Making Money

  • Thank goodness for Blizzard because the MMO blogging illuminati have been way too civil lately. Syncaine (of Hardcore Casual) and Keen (of Keen and Graev) have decided to lay into the company for their intention to open some form of microtransactions in World of Warcraft. As this announcement falls hard of the heels of for-pay downloadable content for Diablo III and the trifurcating of Starcraft II, you'd think the effing sky was falling and Blizzard was going to mop it up with piles of cash.
  • First, can we please get over blaming Activision for everything that Blizzard decides? Mike Morhaime is a big boy; he can take it. Also, people have been complaining about their decisions since before Activision came into the picture. It's not like Blizzard has gone all Edward Hyde on us.
  • Second, you people don't even know what you're talking about. I know irrational ranting is the foundation our community is based on, but this is downright strange. If Blizzard does end up selling gear or attunements or anything outside of cosmetic changes, go ahead and turn on the flamethrowers. If they decide to offer the equivalent of horse armor in Diablo, blast away. If Blizzard delivers any less than than three full games of content of Starcraft, you might have something to complain about. Until then you all look just a little silly.
  • Third, thanks for giving me an easy blog topic today. Ranting about ranters ranting is about as Ouroboros as you can get, but what can you do. That tail is yummy.
  • If anyone wants a real rant, go check out Scott "Lum the Mad" Jennings's posts about Warhammer, both the good and the bad. The man is an OG of MMO ranting and he knows how to do it right.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Played Lately: Lord of the Rings Online

  • Once upon a time, I got bored with World of Warcraft and looked for a new game to occupy my time. This happens a lot since I can only start so many alts before the novelty of playing a new class through the old content wears off. This is not a story about me moving to Warhammer Online, though. Instead, this once upon a time is about me joining Lord of the Rings Online. It's also about me canceling LotRO.
  • In one of my gaming lulls about five months ago, I decided to give Middle Earth a second try. I had played a little on a free trial account, but didn't connect with the game well enough to subscribe at that time. This time, though, Turbine was offering a 6 month subscription price for $10 a month, so I jumped back into the game to see if I enjoyed it any more.
  • I decided to try a Human Champion because I usually play caster classes in games and I wanted to see how a melee heavy class would play. It turned out I had a lot of fun in those opening levels. There were a lot of quests to follow and leveling did not feel like a massive chore. I liked the opening solo instance that introduces you to the world without resorting to teaching you how to play by killing the local wildlife. I ended up spending a fair amount of time working through the opening zone (Bree-land) and had a good time doing it.
  • I also enjoyed the crafting system. The recipe rarities and critical successes was a system that I would love to see used in other games. I would have liked to have move flexibility in choosing professions instead of getting two I liked and one I ignored.
  • Eventually though, as fun and friendly as that first zone was, it was time to move into the Lone-lands. It was here that my interest in the game died. A combination of unfocused quests along with group quests in a nearly empty zone frustrated me enough to keep me from playing. I eventually completed all the quests at the Forsaken Inn (an awesomely dense quest hub, I will admit) and moved on to the next hub. But as I ran around collecting quests, I found that I wasn't even reading them. I just stacked them up to go over later. I knew then my heart wasn't in it.
  • So I've canceled my subscription, even though there's another month left on it. I might poke my head in again to say goodbye to my character, but I doubt I'll stay much longer. There are better games to hold my attention. Turbine, your stupid exit survey was no help in detailing why I was leaving your game so I'm going to spell in out here. I was bored. I'm glad other people are having fun with the game, though. You just didn't fit my needs very well.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • I fired up World of Warcraft this morning with the intention of doing something Warcrafty. My human paladin (former main, long abandoned) has been looking more interesting as the expansion looms. So I loaded the game, loaded up on daily quests, and flew off toward adventure! I got through one and a half of those quests before I shut everything down and walked away.
  • This is not the first time a long beloved game has left me cold and it will not be the last. Over at Random Battle (one of my favorite gaming blogs), Cameron Sorden is feeling a similar ennui about Warhammer Online and MMO gaming in general.
  • As early as 2004, World of Warcraft was described as a theme park as opposed to Everquest's or Ultima Online's playground-style game. At the time, this seemed like a huge advance and it absolutely helped make a game that was more accessible to a greater number of people. Now it is time to strain and mangle that metaphor well beyond its original bounds.
  • World of Warcraft, as a theme park, is the Disneyland of MMOs. Perfectly polished, it is the destination of choice for many and the standard against which all others are measured. But like any theme park, you can only explore it so many times and in so many ways before you've wrung all potential enjoyment out of the experience. Disneyland has combated this over the years either by tearing out the old rides and replacing them or my opening a second park in close proximity to the first. WoW did the same with content patches and boxed expansions. However no matter what you add, you still get the same fundamental experience.
  • Sometimes a new park opens up (like Warhammer) and people get excited again. Connoisseurs of theme parks may savor it for its differences. People who had their fill of the first park will think it is more of the same and seek an entirely new adventure.
  • The problem with WoW and its descendants is that everyone is in the theme park business now. The more theme parks they build, the less they remember what it was they loved about that original playground and why their designs turned away from it in the first place. I would have to put a lot more effort than just this blog post into fully exploring what could be done. But there has to be more possible solutions to the problems everyone had with UO and EQ than the one we've settled on so far. It's time to build a new metaphor.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Played Lately: Warhammer Online

  • Zubon over at Kill Ten Rats has been driven from the fold like the infirm gazelle is culled by ravening hyenas on the African savanna. (Please don't fact check that.) It seems that a perfect storm of gold spammers and lingering bugs have forced him to cancel his Wahammer account. As much as I'm enjoying the game, I can't entirely blame him.
  • His story reminds me of something I haven't thought of in quite a while. When I was in high school, I played in the marching band. Saxophone to be precise. We traveled to many places in the state to compete, usually with one long trip to avoid all the same local bands. I always sat in the stands after we had competed to watch some of the other performances. This is always an odd thing since the free seats are on the opposite side of the field, so listening to the music is strange. but there is not much else to do.
  • On one such occasion, I was sitting with a bunch of my friends as one rather ambitious band played. All along the back of the field, cages of doves were placed in preparation of the big finale. This is not a usual occurance in the small town I grew up in, so we were all fascinated that anyone would go to all the trouble. As expected, the cages were opened at the end of performance and a few bird flew out. It was not the most impressive display, but we all agreed that it was pretty cool.
  • All except my friend, Tim. The birds, positioned along the back of the field near us, flew up over our stands as they fled the stadium. As they rose, they dropped balast like a rising hot air balloon and some of that balast splattered on Tim. He was a pretty laid back character, so he didn't blow up. But whatever enjoyment the rest of us were having was no longer shared by him.
  • Zubon just got shit on by his game, so I don't blame for not wanting to play anymore.