Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Five: Video Games Of 2009

  • Before anyone blows a gasket, this is my personal top five for the year. I didn't come close to playing enough games for this to be a definitive list. These five games are the ones that shaped the year for me.

  • Champions Online - I've had an interesting relationship with Champions this year. I went from it being totally off my radar, to blasting it because of a misinterpreted developer quote, to falling madly in love with the game, to bearly playing it at all. I like CO a lot more than I ever liked City of Heroes. I like the solo content, I like how grouping works, and I like the feel of the game. But it also has a lot of rough edges that Cryptic have been furiously filing off. Even four months later, CO is a better game than when it launched. Eventually it will mature into an awesome superhero universe. But for now, it's a place I'll only be vacationing in once and a while.

  • Free Realms - Much like with Champions, the excitement curve for Free Realms had a decidedly steep rise and fall. Its a game that does so much right, mostly by remembering that it's a game first and foremost. Instant travel, fun mini-games, and a great mixture of activities mean that you don't have to spend any time bored if you don't want to. Tired of fighting? Teleport to mine and prospect for ore. Or try cooking. Or card duelling. And you don't have to spend ten minutes running across the virtual world to get there. I think SOE has blazed new ground for accessibility here, even more than Blizzard has.

  • Pangya: Fantasy Golf - Pangya was a good game online (as Albatross 18 when I played it) marred by an insidious cash shop. As a single player game, I think it was great. Over 150 hours on the title and counting, I more than got my money's worth out of it. I just hope it sold well enough for them to import a sequel.

  • Phantasy Star Portable - I've had a life long love for the Phantasy Star series and this installment did not let me down. In fact, I think it might be the best addition since Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast. It's still the same basic game. But by focusing on the single player aspect, you don't feel punished for not subscribing to the online version. I imagine that I'll keep leveling and hunting for loot until PSP2 finally comes to the US. After playing around with the Japanese demo for the sequel, I can't wait.

  • Torchlight - There has not been a better Diablo-style game since Diablo II. Instead of adding and adding systems in the hope of differenciating themselves, Runic Games has stripped it down to its basic essences. Torchlight is a pure dungeon delver, where the joy of blowing up enemies and looting their corpses is its own reward. It's nice that a developer remembers that complexity is not the only route to a gratifying experience. Sometimes, it's just better to make a game fun from the roots up.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Random Shots: Our Future Approaches

  • A few thoughts before two-oh-one-oh comes screaming upon us:

  • I was relieved that I did want to play any of Steam's big sale items Tuesday morning. I've alread picked up three in prior days for amazing prices, so I was happy that I wasn't being forced to spend more money. They're practically twisting my arm with those prices.

  • One of the games I did pick up was King's Bounty: Armored Princess. I never played the first game, though all the reviews made it sound interesting. When this hit the bargain price, I had to jump on it. Glad I did too. So far it reminds me of Heroes of Might & Magic, only it hasn't driven me crazy yet. I really, really hated HOMM, so I'm glad this game is so much goofy fun. It makes for a nice break from GTA IV.

  • By the way, don't try the 3D mode. Those trees swinging by the screen made me ill.

  • I'm not buying Borderlands for any more than $25. Not that the game isn't worth more, but that's the price that would push me over the edge into giving it a try. I'm writing this on Tuesday, so if there's a sudden price drop on Wednesday, you know what I'll be playing Wednesday night.

  • MMOs are in a weird place for me right now. I love talking them. I love the variety of them. I love the idea of them. So how come I don't want to play anything other than World of Warcraft and couldn't care less about any new games coming out. Are there any new Triple-A MMOs beyond Star Trek Online on the horizon? I have no idea.

  • Speaking of Triple-A MMOs coming out, if I received an invitation for a closed beta but can't be bothered to download the game client, does that say more about the game or me?

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Played Lately: Grand Theft Auto IV

  • A few days ago, I mentioned that I wanted to play Grand Theft Auto IV again. When it went on sale on Steam recently, I decided this was the perfect time to get back to a game that I enjoyed so much before, but never found my way back to. Having it on my current favorite gaming platform doesn't hurt at all. And I'm hooked.

  • The story of Niko Bellic's crime-ridden journey through Liberty City is enthralling. He starts off grundgingly doing favors to help out his cousin. Then before you know it, Niko has returned to his old ways. Some people have complained that this all seems incongruous with his professed soul-searching, I feel like the transition is gradual enough that it feels natural for him.

  • Some of the missions are as hard as heck, but I keep going back until I beat them. I haven't run into one that made me want to give up entirely. Some, like "Three Leaf Clover," I had to attempt several times. But I kept at it because I wanted to see where the story went.

  • I don't have a lot to say that is new to anyone. GTA IV is a really good game and I'm enjoying it. I can't wait to see how it ends.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Microfiction: A Holiday Wish, MMO Blogger Edition

  • As befits this Christmastime,
    I feel the urge to write in rhyme.
    So I'd best think of something fast,
    Before this need has come and passed.

  • To players wearing hats tinfoil
    who's rantings cause my blood to boil,
    I wish for you serenity
    'Cause hemorrhages don't come free.

  • For the bloggers who fight and fight
    Sure their opinions must be right,
    Humility would be what fits
    Though arguing will grant more hits.

  • For game designers old and new
    I send to you a frosty brew.
    After reading your message board,
    I'd so get drunk out of my gourd.

  • Game reviewers, oh so jaded,
    who's love of games has abated,
    I hope this seas'n returns the joy
    Like when you were a girl-slash-boy.

  • And finally to my readers few
    Who came with hopes of blog posts new,
    I take to heart your fervent plea
    To ne'er again write poetry.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • After reading Tipa's recent exploits in World of Warcraft, I decided take my recently rolled priest and use the Dungeon Finder tool to try out the low level instances. After playing with the new tool for a few day I can safely assert that WoW feels like an entirely different game.

  • You get access to the tool at level 15. If you start immediately, that means you're going to see a lot of Ragefire Chasm. I ended up playing it three times: twice as a shadow specced healer and once as DPS. (No, I couldn't believe I got a DPS slot either.) RFC is kind of a funny place since there are a couple dead end paths you can run down for no apparent reason. Then the first real boss is the final boss for the dungeon, even though there's another guy well past him if you keep going. Thankfully everyone seemed to know about the second guy so (almost) everyone stuck around to finish the run. I leveled up at least twice (thank you, heirloom gear) and saw several others do the same.

  • Once I'd leveled up enough, the dungeon finder threw me into Wailing Caverns. Although I'd found groups in the past for RFC, Wailing Caverns was never an instance I saw at the proper level. I took my level 80 mage through one time to get the achievement, but it's not quite the same. For one thing, playing the instance is freaking slow. That dungeon is huge and kind of confusing. Thankfully someone knew is way around and lead us through. But we had a lot of fun, trashed the giant murloc, and completed the quest.

  • I'm a big fan of the loot bags using the dungeon finder. So far I've pulled a couple of nice random blue items from the bags, as well as the gear I've picked up from the bosses. Along with that and my heirloom shoulders and robe, this is the best geared I've ever had a level 19 character.

  • As much fun as this is, I think using the finder will be even more fun after Cataclysm launches. I really wish that dual talent specializations were available earlier and cheaper. I don't think Shadow healing is going to cut it for very long. None of this is going to stop me, though. There are a lot of original instances that I've seen little of that I'm looking forward to trying now. I look forward to seeing you all in old Azeroth!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Random Shots: Fixing The Holy Trinity

  • Back in October, Green Armadillo from Player Versus Developer tackled the solo vs. group dynamic. While I disagreed with his conclusions, it got me thinking about how to remove the friction from grouping. Others in the MMO blogging community have tackled this as well, so none of this is original thought. But now that Brian "Psychochild" Green has an article up at Gamasutra that does all this better than I ever could, I might as well get this out now. So without further ado, here is my suggestion to fix the MMO trinity:

  • Do away with healing.

  • I know that's going to freak out the dedicated healers in the audience, but hear me out. What I really mean is that healing is propping up an archaic construct in MMO combat: the tank and spank.

  • At its core, the tank, healer, and DPS roles allow for clearly defined encounters to be built. The problem is that it perverts the types of combat the RPGs try to model. Developers have to come up with increasingly unusual designs just to shake up this core mechanic to which they are shackled. In the end, one comes away feeling like they are playing a platforming game instead of participating in a fantastic battle.

  • When healing is done away with, combat can be handled quite differently. Every class should have the ability to hold aggro and survive an attacking boss monster, it least temporarily. They should also have to ability to escape aggro before their defenses are overcome, allowing another character to tank the opponent. In this way, combat becomes more dynamic as every character must attend to offensive and defensive duties. Even better, solo play can train you for group play as the differences are just a matter of scale.

  • I envision boss encounters like this:

    • Each character has high damage/high threat abilities that can be used to draw aggro from the monster.

    • While the creature is focusing on a particular character, the person tanking would an active defense mode using abilities that have a cooldown period.

    • When those abilities expire, they will have to escape aggro or have another character draw aggro to themselves.

    • The opponent would be occupied by each player in turn while various cooldowns expire and the player can return to the tanking rotation.

  • In this way, encounters are about a group of people not letting the opponent focus their rage on one person for too long, instead of someone showering a tank in magical healing while the others hack, slash, and explode the enemy without reprisal. Even in a scenario like that, there is room for healing to recover from failure to exchange aggro properly.

  • The amazing this is that some games have already swirved close to this idea. In Champions Online, active blocking allow any character to withstand massive damage while enemies are focused up them. And until recently, they did not have overly powerful healing powers in the game. Designed more carefully, I don't think the game needs them. (How often to you seen Batman or Superman catch a heal during one of the Justice League's battles?) Guild Wars, with its open aggro mechanics, expects a certain level of survivability from all its characters. There are dedicated healers in the game, but that's because holding aggro is a lot harder to accomplish. (Essentially, they've tackled the problem from the other side.)

  • I doubt World of Warcraft, et al, will throw out such a fundamental part of their designs now, but I would like to see a future where MMOs feel more like the battles I read about in books or see in the movies.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

News Filter: CO's Attack Of The Misfit Toys

  • Somewhere along the line, Cryptic decided to throw a winter event like every good MMO should. WoW has the Feast of Winter Veil. EQ2 has Frostfell. GW has Wintersday. And now Champions Online has Attack of the Misfit Toys. Only, I'm not sure they have mentioned it to anyone. So I thought I should do it for them.

  • From the website:
    Join the Champions in defending Millennium City from the Attack of the Misfit Toys. Here are some of the new features you will be able to enjoy:

    • A Special Holiday Event! Confront and defeat Black Harlequin to save the holidays for everyone. But beware, where Black Harlequin goes, the dreaded Clarence is sure to follow.

    • New Costume Pieces! New robotic costume pieces, including a steampunk monocle.

    • New Action Figures! Travel around outdoor zones and assemble eight new action figures.

    • New Perks! Complete them all to earn special costume upgrades.

  • The Clarence they mention there? A giant mechanical teddy bear. How is that not awesome? It has to be.

  • I do like a good holiday event when it shakes up the routine a little without devouring your life. MMOs are so static that having a holiday now and then at least gives the illusion of the world marching on. I'm glad to have an excuse to reinstall the game on my recently reformatted hard drive. Now somebody let the gaming news sites know this is happening, okay?

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Played Lately: Pangya: Fantasy Golf

  • It's been five months of off-and-on gaming on my PSP, but after 155 hours of play time I have finally completed all the tournaments available in Pangya: Fantasy Golf. That essentially completes the game. Sure, I can keep grinding experience (it's a offline MMO, remember?) but that's not going to happen. If I play any more, it will be just for the fun of it.

  • That last tournament was a killer. It was 18 holes at the highest difficulty level on the hardest course in the game, Deep Inferno. This place is so insane that you don't avoid water. Instead they have Magma Hazards. Sand traps have been replaced pits of ash. Your shots are obscured by volcanic mountains and the skeletons of dragons. And all of your opponents can shoot a ball something like 300 yards while you are limited to about 260, even with the best gear.

  • It took seven attempts to complete, three of which I gave up half way because of too many bad shots right from the start. You have to play a flawless game to have any chance. On my first full attempt, I placed 13th out of thirty. That's as bad as I've even done in this game. On the second try, I got up to 12th and packed it up in frustration. Yesterday I worked my way to the top score, but lost the tiebreaker based on total Pang (the in-game currency) collected. Today, I gave it one more chance. It wasn't a perfect game. I had one bogey on the 10th hole, but I still made it to the tiebreaker. I ended up winning by a single Pang.

  • Overall, I can't help but think that my initial impressions are still correct. Pangya is a better game offline than it is online. Ntreev, et al, got all of the money out of me they can once I bought the box, so there's no reason to string the game along for extra cash. Unless they decide to release a sequel, in which case the chances of me giving them more money is directly related to how humanely they treat me in the first game. The MMO version feels like a money grab. The PSP version feels like they want me to like it so much I'll by Pangya 2, is such a thing existed.

  • And I would by Pangya 2 if I had the chance. I haven't enjoyed a golf game this much since Links 98. Damn, that's over ten years ago. It's about time someone made golf fun again.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Random Shots: What I Should Be Playing

  • I am a creature of habit. I tend to go with what is comfortable instead of trying something new. This is not because I'm worried I won't like something, but that I know I'll like what I already like. That's why I keep going back to World of Warcraft. That said, I can't help but think about everything else I'm missing out on. In this case, that's the games I'm not playing. Alphabetically, those are:

  • Champions Online - For a game that I have a lifetime subscription for, I don't play it often lately. Since the pressure of the monthly fee is gone, I don't feel the need to get the most out of my time. Of course, I'm not getting anything done at the moment and I have yet to reach level 40.

  • Everquest 2 - I've been reading about EQ2 a lot lately. People are excited about the new expansion and it's hard not to get excited with them. I've always meant to get back to the game. The bug hasn't bit yet, but I suspect I'll be back in Norrath within a few months.

  • Grand Theft Auto IV - One non-MMO that I've been thinking about lately is GTA IV. I really enjoyed the game and the story, though the two didn't always mesh perfectly. But I regret never finishing it. So someday I'd like to try again. Hopefully before GTA V comes out.

  • Lord of the Rings Online - Speaking of exciting expansions, LotRO has every hobbit on the block talking again. I really wish I could figure out what's wrong with my computer because I'd really like to try out those skirmishes.

  • Phantasy Star Portable - What with Phantasy Star Portable 2 already out in Japan, I can't help but think about the first game left unfinished on my PSP. I've tried out the new demo and like how it's been updated (even if it's in Japanese) so I'm really looking forward to that. But I really need do complete this one. Oh, such troubles I have, right?

  • Wizard 101 - Finally, I never game a fair shake to W101. I mentioned in a comment somewhere (if it was your blog, sorry) that the different pay schemes left me paralyzed. I need to get over myself and just play. No one has asked me for money yet, so why worry, right? Someday I would like see a land that's not Wizard City. Someday.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Considering how much I hyped the game in the last post, I thought I'd let you know how patch three-point-three went in the Anjin household. In a word: surprisingly-cool. (It's only one word if there's a hyphen. I swear!)

  • Upon logging in, I was met with a new mail icon so I ran to the nearest mailbox. Inside was the corehound pup. I always feel a little strange receiving pets in the mail. Not that I don't like pets, but poor puppy! What if I didn't pick him up in time? Does the post office send him back? Do they discard him? That was more thought than that deserved, so let's move on.

  • I tried out the Random Dungeon tool and queued up for a Heroic. After what felt like five minutes, I was summoned to the Nexus. Since that's one of the first dungeons available in WotLK, I've run it a few times, both normal and heroic difficulties. As advertised, I was matched with a tank, healer, and two additional DPS, none of whom reside on my home server of Draka. (Why Draka? Um.... because that was the suggested server the day I signed up? Funny how that works.) And let me tell you, this four knew what they were doing and were well geared for the challenge. They must have been either raiders or badge farmers because their gear far outstripped my own. None of these guys had less than twenty thousand health and I barely had fifteen. I'm still dressed in mostly instance blue gear with the random epic I lucked into. And on this Nexus run, I actually picked up a blue offhand item that was an upgrade for me. I tried to be self-deprecating about needing on a blue, but they told me everyone has to start somewhere. Isn't that the truth? We ran through the instance perfectly and very fast. I even picked up one of the weird achievements. I got my first two Emblems of Frost and we headed back to our home servers.

  • When the random heroic was finished, I wasn't ready to stop then. I looked around and found out where the new instance could be found. There was a quest giver in Dalaran, but that didn't help point to the instance portal. (Why are those always so hard to find?) Eventually I found an image on WoWWiki that showed me about where the entrance was (high on the western rampart of the citadel, if you're curious) and I flew to the portal. Or portals because each wing gets a separate instance.

  • However since I wasn't about to try to get a regular group for The Forge Of Souls, I queued up in the Random Dungeon tool and had a group in about five minutes again. This group was just as good and just as geared. We tore through the instance in somewhere around thirty minutes, making Lady Sylvanas proud. It went really fast. What I wasn't aware of was that there is a portal at the end of the wing that leads straight into the second. Although you can play it as separate instances, you can also play it as one massively long one. Awesome idea, Blizzard. We ran the next two as well, picking up some good loot and tweaking the nose of the Lich King in the process. We didn't get to fight him at all (they save all the fun for the raiders) but it was a great time and I look forward to trying again on Heroic.

  • A couple things came up that I didn't remember or even know about. One of the benefits of running with the random dungeon group was a buff called "Luck of the Draw." It grants 5% bonus to damage, healing, and health (I think). That went a long way toward easing our expedition and I totally didn't know it would be there. The other nice addition I forgot about was the option to roll Disenchant instead of Greed. It's a really nice option and I appreciate not having to volunteer for DE duties and remember to hand out shards. There is going to be a lot of extra dust and essences on the auction house soon. And one odd thing came up: when we left the instance after the run was over, we could still chat with one another even though we all returned to our original servers. I guess cross-server chat is just waiting for them to implement integration.

  • For me, it was a great way to return to WoW. Running one random heroic with a group assembled for me essentially takes away any excuses for not trying an instance. Now to see what all this does for the low level game.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Patch 3.3 landed today for World of Warcraft and I'm feeling the irresistible urge to play again. There is something about a new patch that makes every old feel new again. What's there to look forward to? Let's look at a few patch notes and see. Won't this be fun? (You in the back, shut up. I wasn't talking to you.)

  • Icecrown Citadel: The Frozen Halls - One of the coolest parts of this update (and not just because it's in Icecrown! /rimshot) is these three new five-player instances. I hoping they play out like Magisters' Terrace did for The Burning Crusade. The instance made a nice end cap for non-raiders like myself by allowing us to take down Kael'thas Sunstrider. I don't expect to take out Arthas, but I hope for a major victory to really finish off my personal storyline.

  • Cross-Realm Dungeon Finder - I think this is my favorite update. A cross-realm looking for group tool plus a random dungeon option are going to make finding an instance group so much easier. There are instances in Northrend I still haven't seen because finding PUG groups is so difficult. Considering how much cross-realm battlegrounds helped PvP, I can only imagine this will be a success.

  • Getting Started... - While my recent acquisition of heirlooms already had thinking about running a random alt up a few levels, these changes have put me over the edge. I can't wait to see what all these improvement do for a new character. I'd even like to test the dungeon finder on the low level instances. And yes, I did say rolling an alt before Cataclysm was a bad move. I never said I was that smart, did I? (Did I? Hmm.)

  • ...and Quest Tracking - Of all the new features in this patch, this is that one that I'm most "meh" about. Here's my problem: I really want to run quests the way they are meant to be. I want to explore and discover the world through quests. I'm also very, very lazy. If this is in the game, I will be unable to resist the call of highlighted areas of interesting. I'm weak, I know.

  • So, there is a lot to look forward to this patch cycle. How long it will keep me interested, I'm not sure. Cataclysm still looks a long way off. Blizzard better have something very interesting up its sleeve if they don't want me to take another vacation from Azeroth.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Random Shots: How Do I Turn Off /AFK Again?

  • I'm back. I hope you all forgive my absence. November was a long month and ran a little over. Anyway I'm back now.

  • What have I been up to lately? Good question. A surprising little gaming unfortunately. The main game I've been playing is Clean The Viruses. Unfortunately the viruses won this round and I ended up hitting the reset button on that particular machine. I appreciate that computers have very robust reformatting tools built in. I've become very familiar with them recently. However as a wise man once said, "The only winning move is not to play."

  • I've been doing a lot of reading lately, both my current novel, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, and a new blog I subscribed to, The Border House. I'm loving the book as much as I enjoyed Eco's other books. It's just really dense. The blog, on the other hand, has been a different kind of challenge for me. As a relatively privileged white male, everything about it says "This is not for you." I might not have tried if I hadn't seen Seraphina Brennan sign up to post there. However after reading through the archive, I can't help but think that if I shut up and pay attention, I might actually learn something.

  • Went to visit my parents this weekend as well. They taught me how to play Mahjong and I tried out Tales of the Arabian Nights on them. Much fun was had on both counts, though I'll have more to say about Tales in another post.

  • I'm eager to get back to some real gaming and real blogging. We'll see what the week brings. So, what have you all been up to?

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Played Lately: Left 4 Dead

  • Thank goodness for Steam and their incredible sales. Last week, they had Left 4 Dead on sale for $7.50. At that price even I couldn't avoid it any more. After playing the game several times over the weekend, I can no longer say I don't like first person shooters. I like Left 4 Dead a lot.

  • Of course, whenever I've complained about FPS games in the past, it has been a bit of a lie. It's not like real-time strategy games where I can't get my head around them. There is the occasional FPS that I actually get into. The only two that come to mind are Portal (because it's really a first person puzzle game) and Day of Defeat (both the original and the Source version, because it's practically an arcade game). It's just that I like them in very small doses.

  • I avoided Left 4 Dead for a long time because, well, that's what I do. I don't even look at FPS's. They're all about people sniping and teabagging you online, right? Why would I want to do that to myself? I don't want to hang out online with a bunch of mental 12 year olds. Unfortunately, I lumped L4D into that category without realizing what the game was really like.

  • Were you aware there is a single player mode in L4D? Considering all anyone ever talks about are the Campaign and Versus options, I thought it was a multiplayer only game. For a guy who plays MMOs solo, that wasn't even an option for me. However after hearing a coworker lavish praise on the game (I returned the favor by recommending Torchlight), I downloaded the L4D2 demo, discovered the single player option, and that was enough for me. I just had to wait for a sale. Once again, thanks Steam.

  • I have been spending way too much time killing zombies, almost all in single player. I've dipped my toe in Campaign mode without running into idiots. But I'll be sticking with my CPU buddies as we play through my personal zombie movie. It's way too much fun. So I think it's time to admit that I don't hate first person shooters; I just hate idiots.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Played Lately: Dragon Age: Origins

  • I'm still playing Dragon Age: Origins, amazingly enough. I wouldn't be if I weren't playing on Easy. But I'm not here to complain about that. Once again spoilers lie ahead, this time for those of you who have not experienced the Mage origin.

  • One of the things I've enjoyed about Dragon Age is discovering who my character is. In a prior post, I talked about meeting a game halfway and that's the tack I've taken here. Instead of trying to make decisions around who I think my character is, I'm discovering the type of person she is by the decisions she (yes, of course it's a she) makes.

  • The Mage origin did a great job not so much with the story telling, but by informing me what the life of a mage was like in this world. The first thing you experience is the Harrowing, a trial where a prospective mage is sent to the Fade (don't ask me) to fight a demon on its home territory. Win and you graduate to magehood. Lose and the templars kill you to prevent the demon from possessing your body. This impressed upon me that being a mage was dangerous, both to my character and to those around her.

  • Bioware immediately puts this understanding to a test. When the Harrowing is over, your friend, Jowan, asks you to help him and his lover, an acolyte of the Chantry, to escape from the tower so they can live together. While in another game I might have helped the lovers gain their freedom, my character had other ideas. A mage running free was a danger to everyone, not just because of their destructive potential. My character understood that a rogue mage made the political situation more difficult for mages like herself. So she immediately reported him to the First Enchanter. When Jowan turned out to also be a blood mage (look, I'm not making this up), it only proved my character right.

  • Letting the character take over has opened me up to new possibilities. I'm no longer forcing my character to behave a certain way. She still tries to help the downtrodden like any hero. But whenever the subject of magic comes up, she has a very cold view of those who step out of line.

  • There is a rule of improvisation that says when some one puts an idea forward, you should reply with a "Yes, and...." This allows a scene to build instead of the actors arguing about what is going on. I think we can do this with our video games too. This is what I meant about meeting the game half way. If we take what is offered to us and build on it, we will have a greater experience than if we struggle against it. My experience with Dragon Age has shown me that it can work.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Played Lately: Dragon Age: Origins

  • Warnings first, then we get to the good stuff. The good stuff being my humorous but illuminating bloginations. There be spoilers about Dragon Age ahead, though they're pretty weak ones. Turn away if you've never given serious thought to the title of the game.

  • Were it not for my stringent blog titling constraints, this post would be called "Anjin and the Art of Dragonslaying." I finally got to that point in the game where I'm ready to start hating it. If you remember my previous post about Dragon Age, you won't be surprised.

  • So far I've had the opportunity to take on two dragons and they have each been stupidly annoying fights. I've been playing on easy because I don't want to be frustrated by the game. These fights have tested the bounds of that. I understand wanting to make these key battles challenging, but.... If this was an MMO chat, I'd go with /sigh, /grown, /wrist. Something like that.

  • So if you want to slay dragons the Anjin way, try this:

    1. Everyone rush in.

    2. Stop the mage from rushing in.

    3. The rogue dies from one massive attack. Why is the dragon not attacking the warriors?

    4. First warrior dies while you're group healing. So much for all that armor.

    5. Concentrate on keeping the second warrior on his feet since there are fewer people to heal.

    6. Doesn't matter. Warrior is dead again.

    7. One on one between dragon and mage. Woo hoo!

    8. Heal self after every second hit. Hope you have a stack of lyrium potions.

    9. Wand dragon to death.

  • And that's how I've been playing Dragon Age. By the way, there is no kill shot for wanding a dragon to death. Even Bioware thinks that's lame.

  • P.S. If you haven't read Tipa's review of Dragon Age, you really should check it out. Best overview of the game I've read to date.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • I said in my prior post that I was looking forward to playing Lord of the Rings Online again. So, of course, I find myself resubscribed to World of Warcraft. If that sounds strange to you, imagine how I feel.

  • I'll keep this short: I have a hardware issue where certain games tax my video card in some way so that it essentially shuts the video down. It happened in Free Realms and The Sims 3. And it's started happening in LotRO. However since it doesn't happen in WoW and I'm looking for a fantasy MMO fix, my gaggle of blood elves welcomed me back with open arms. (And yes, gaggle is the proper term for a group of blood elves. I swear.)

  • I've only spent a little time in the game. Let me rephrase that. I've already spend several hours in the game, but only over the weekend and only with one character. I'm hoping to finally finish off all of the Icecrown quests in anticipation of patch 3.3. I'm slowly making progress and I'm trying very hard to ignore all the daily quests that distract me. There will be plenty of time to do that sort of thing later.

  • I got into a Heroic Trial of the Champions group yesterday. That ended up being pretty fun. The last time I was in the coliseum (on normal mode) was a much closer thing. Evidently the quality of player has gone up, the difficult of the instance was nerfed, or the proliferation of gear has trivialized it. Whatever the reason, I ended up with a sweet epic dagger that was better than my two-handed staff all by itself. Very strange. Cool, but very strange.

  • So, yeah. Playing World of Warcraft again. I don't know what's wrong with me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Random Shots: Many, Many Things

  • As I write this, my computer is in the midst of recovering from a reformat-and-reinstall session. I finally got so fed up with the instability that I decided to start over. I guess this is my way of keeping the beast in its place. Unfortunately the joke is on me because getting my MMOs back up to spec has been torture.

  • The one MMO I want to spend a little time with, once this self-inflicted fiasco is over with, is Lord of the Rings Online. LotRO is in the middle of yet another free-to-play weekend. As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm trying to decide whether to resubscribe now that the epic quest line will be made fully soloable. On top of that, there is the deal to get Siege of Mirkwood along with a multi-month subscription. I rolled a new Warden (the best class ever) on the Landroval server named Ashlynh. Look me up if you want to spend time with a perpetual LotRO newbie.

  • On a completely different front, I'm finally approaching the end of Pangya: Fantasy Golf on the PSP. I'm just eighteen holes away from winning every tournament in the game. Of course, those are the hardest, most competitive eighteen holes, but it shouldn't take me more than a couple tries. I rarely finish games, so the fact that something like a golf game has held my attention for so long is amazing to me.

  • I also completed the main story dungeon in Torchlight. It's not a game that's meant to be played over eighty to a hundred hours like some monsters, which makes it perfect for me. The real longevity will come from the alternate dungeon that opens up and from the modding community. I even downloaded a copy of TorchED myself to give it a try. Don't count on anything astonishing from the Bullet Points Mod Department just yet. But I would like to get my own story into the game somehow.

  • Finally, NaNoWriMo has kept me excited and flustered all at once. I'll probably break ten thousand words by the end of the month, which would be great for me. As long as I have a firm foundation, I'll be able to see it through to the end. It may not be the letter of the law in NaNo, but I think the spirit is still there.

  • So enough about me, what have all you been up to while I was away?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Random Shots: Asking Too Much

  • Once again Green Armadillo from Player Versus Developer hits us with an insightful piece on the financial state of the MMO industry. And once again he makes me put on my blogger cap. I can't keep my thoughts to myself. Guess it's a good thing I have a blog.

  • The big news of the day is that Mythic is losing 40% of its staff. Everyone has their theories, but the prevailing one is that Warhammer Online is going on life support and someone signed a DNR. (I've been watching too much Grey's Anatomy, I see.) If true, they might as well turn the servers off the save everyone the heartbreak. I guess EA wouldn't turn down a few more months of subscriptions (even as people stop renewing) as long as there are fewer mouths to feed. But instead of mourning the loss of one MMO, it might be time to look at them all.

  • Everyone agrees that World of Warcraft has set unreal expectations for what an MMO game should be. It's that number: eleven million (however true it may be now). Every developer has to build a game that will compete with that number, even as they tell us in interviews that they are most assuredly not trying to be the next WoW Killer. And the reason they have to do that is because of us. We expect too much from our Triple-A MMOs.

  • The signs are everywhere that fifteen dollars a month is not enough money to compete in this market. With Blizzard finally joining the cash shop movement, every major MMO has additional sources of revenue outside of the subscription and boxed expansion model. I don't think these people are greedy (at least, not all of them). I think that we as consumers ask so much from our games while at the same time balking at the idea of increases subscription costs that developers have to fund their games with alternate sources.

  • You'll notice that it's not just Mythic that got cut. EA slashed employees in several underperforming studios as well as at least twelve unannounced projects. (You'll notice Bioware was never mentioned. However SWTOR better hit it big or their Austin studio will go up in a cloud of smoke like Alderaan.) That means more sequels and less something amazing and new. It's the same with television and movies. If you're not going to produce a blockbuster, you may not get produced at all. As much as I want to blame the studios, it all comes back to the public that only wants to go with the sure thing. Just watch what happens with Modern Warfare 2 over the next week. MMOs are going down that same path. I don't think they have to.

  • Every medium I just listed except for MMOs has an indie scene. They make small products made on a limited budget that don't compete with the blockbusters. And those mediums are flourishing because creativity can trump a huge budget every time. At least for the people that prize quality over spectacle. MMOs are all spectacle now. We need to encourage developers to think smaller and more creatively.

  • We, the MMO players, will be the one who decide if that is what we want. Do we keep asking so much from our MMOs that they have to beat WoW or die trying? Or do we encourage developers to make smaller, more focused games? The masses will flock to the next-big-thing, but we have the power to make sure indie development can flourish. But only if we can change our expectations.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Friday, November 6, 2009

News Filter: Soloing LotRO's Epic Quests

  • By way of Ravious at Kill Ten Rats, we get a blog post from Orion on the Lord Of The Rings Online site announcing that the Volume One epic quests will gain a solo option.

  • I think at some point, I mentioned that this was the very thing that would get me to try out LotRO again. I enjoyed the game, but I was always annoyed that I could not participate in the main story just because I didn't play in a group. Well, it sounds like Turbine feels the same way.

  • So, I may be playing LotRO come December 1. Who would have thought?

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Random Shots: NaNo Ate My Life

  • Only five days into NaNoWriMo, I'm ready to give up. I'm not going to, but I'm ready to. Heck, I just discovered that Ysharros has effectively stopped writing and I only caught up with her word count last night.

  • I am a slow writer. Writing is fairly difficult for me because I think about every word I'm going to write as I write it. And I self-edit as I go. I can't edit after the fact because reading anything I've written is just as painful as having written it. Actually, I can go back and reread something if at least a month has passed. I need a lot of distance.

  • What I'm trying to say is no, I am not quiting NaNo. What I am doing is announcing my true expectations. I'm never going to write fifty thousand words this month. I'm too deliberate (that's my codeword for plodding) and too self-critical to write with such abandon. Instead, my goal is to still be writing come November 30. If I can write regularly for a month, even if its not 1,667 words a day, I'll be able to see the project through to the end.

  • So that's my goal: don't quit. Of course, I also want to play Torchlight and Champions because I miss them.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Random Shots: NaNoWriMo, again

  • I wasn't going to do it again this year. Not writing is so much easier than writing. Plus you get to play cool games like Champions Online and Torchlight. But then I saw a bunch of bloggers going on about joining NaNoWriMo this year and I thought about it. Then I had an idea.

  • I HATE when I get ideas. Now I have to write it. Ugh.

  • So I checked my NaNo website registration and, sure enough, I still have an account there.

  • I'll be writing a fantasy novel, because that's what popped into my head. I hope it won't be just-another-heroic-fantasy. But it may end up as a 50,000 word fight scene, too.

  • Actually, that might be pretty cool, too. See you in a month!

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Friday, October 30, 2009

News Filter: Free Weekend for Champions Online

  • If you were at all interested in trying Champions Online, this would be the time to do so. Up until 10am PDT, the game is open for everyone to play, free of charge. It might not be a 14 day trial, but hopefully anyone who at least wants to play with the character creator can download and give it a whirl before the weekend is over.

  • And if you find you want to keep playing, Steam seems to be the best place to pick up a copy. The price for the virtual box dropped to $40 sometime recently. But even better, it's ten percent off until November 10, for a total of $36. It's not the bargain basement price I've seen for other MMOs, but it really not that bad, either.

  • So come on in. The zombie superheroes are fine.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • My Wednesday night gaming ended up going to Champions Online solely because of Blood Moon, the superheroic Halloween event. It might have been a coin toss, otherwise, since I want to spend time with both games and neither will be uninstalled any time soon.

  • Upon logging in, I poked around Millennium City to see what was up. The website told us that, in order to unlock the Celestial powerset early, each of the thirteen undead superheroes must be defeated and their souls redeemed. The only issue is that Millennium City is a big place even when you can rocket across the skies in a ball of fire. I found a couple of the crypts on my own, but the pull of the internet was too strong.

  • One of those beautiful people from the CO forums (you know, the ones that actually contribute to the community instead of complain) posted a map of Millennium City showing all the crypt sites. With that at hand (or in browser window, at least), I could fly into action whenever someone called out a new zombie heroes had returned.

  • I told myself I would do half and half: seven the first night and then finish the other six the second night. But after missing the mission on my first hero (since I didn't quite understand what I was doing at that point), I was constantly out of phase between vanquishing perks and crypt missions. I would make up another mission, but then I failed to get the perk for one hero. So I had to keep track separately of which missions and which perks I'd completed. I thought I could leave it and come back. But I was worried I'd lose track, so I pressed on.

  • Then it was 2am. Oops.

  • On the Van Hemlock podcast this week, Tim and John briefly discussed how much they enjoyed drop-in games (games you can pick up and put down easily) and how MMOs don't make that easy. I would argue that Champions is a perfect drop-in game. You can jump in, run a few missions, maybe track down another nemesis clue, then jump out just as easily. As you can see here, it's just as easy to be sucked in and not want to stop playing ever.

  • Here's my new hero, Steel Angel. I wanted to try out the new Celestial powers without resorting to white feather wings and a halo. She might need a few tweaks, but I liked the look at 2am.

  • Okay, I promise never to make a costume at that time of night ever again.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Comic Roundup: Detective Comics #858

  • Since I last reviewed an issue of Detective Comics, several issues have come out. The first storyline, "Elegy," wrapped up with one heck of a climax. This week saw the release of issue 858, the first issue of "Go."

  • I'm about to spoil the surprise ending of the prior issue, so you might want to stop reading now if you're the wait-for-the-trade type. But my verdict, before you leave, is that the book is great and getting better. How often do you get to say that about a comic?

  • Now that they're gone, let's talk about Kate's sister. At the end of the last issue, we discovered that Alice was in fact Kate's sister, Beth. In this issue, we find that not only were they sisters, but that they were identical twins. I guess white makeup hides a lot. JH Williams' art changes styles several times over the course of this issue. It starts simple, almost like an autobio comic, when the opening flashback to they childhood. Then the lush modern style returns as we see Batwoman testing the blood she violently drew from Alice against her own.

  • This next point is a love letter to Greg Rucka. I'm not ashamed. This story chilled me. I was actually concerned for the characters and the events they were meant to endure. I know people were annoyed that the series didn't start out with the original story, but this wouldn't have had the same impact without sufficient context. Seeing the woman Kate Kane has become makes this look into the past all the more poignant. Rucka is exactly the right man to tell this type of story. Everyone is in love with Williams' art, but Greg Rucka is the real start of this book.

  • I can't wait to see more and I'm already dreading the day Batwoman has to leave Detective Comics. I just hope Rucka and DC enjoy this character to see her into her own series.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Played Lately: Torchlight

  • As you might have expected, the first thing I did after getting out of work Tuesday night was to go home and feed and nurture my ailing wife. She caught my plague, so it's only fair I take care of her first, right? What did you think I was going to say?

  • The second thing I did was load up Torchlight and give it a try. It was everything I expected and more. It's pretty funny how going from the livestreams to the real game just felt like a continuation of play. I was able to jump right into familiar environments and take on my enemies without hesitation.

  • But not everything was spoiled for me. The videos don't give the feel for how comfortable and immediate playing the game is. After trying my hand at Titan Quest and Sacred 2, I forgot how right the original Diablo felt. Even Diablo II started to stray from the purity of that experience. Playing Torchlight is like diving into the deep end of the nostalgia pool.

  • The videos also don't do a great job showing off how cool your character's abilities are. My first character was the Vanquisher, of course. And she played exactly like I wanted her to. I could stand off and shoot baddies with impunity. Then when they got close, I could back off and start my fusillade again. Firing those bows and rifles are even more fun with the Ricochet skill you start with. Bouncing shots between enemies never gets old. I was even trying trick shots just to see how well they worked. This from a guy who can't sink a lone ball on a pool table.

  • The game looks great. It's been compared to World of Warcraft because of the exaggerated style and that fits. I love that over-the-top illustrative style because it make the characters and monsters more iconic. Reality in games is highly overrated, I think.

  • I'm going to have a hard time decided where to spend my time over the next several days. I want to get into Champions Online again for the Blood Moon event. But Torchlight has that same jump-in-and-play quality. Such sweet agony deciding between two great games. Now everyone else stop talking about Borderlands so I don't have to make matters worse, please!.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Played Lately: Torchlight

  • Okay, you got me. I haven't really been playing Torchlight. But after watching several hours of video of other people playing, I feel like I've already been in those darkened corridors, slaying ratlins and dragonkin, looting gold unidentified items. I stayed glued to Torchlight Insider's game feed over at for a lot longer than I should have. I think I may have watched him play more than I played any games myself.

  • If you don't happen to know anything about Torchlight, it's a Diablo-esque action RPG by Runic Games. Runic Games was the crew that was making Mythos before Flagship Studios sunk. Since the people making Mythos previously made Diablo, Diablo II, and Fate, they have one heck of a pedigree. I can't help but wonder what it's like to get one game so far along that you're beta testing it, only to lose it and have to start all over again. Did they find themselves halfway down some design idea only to remember that it was too close to Mythos? Did they look at this as a second chance to do everything right from the start?

  • Of the three characters available, you could all guess that I'm going with the Vanquisher. Yes, she's the only female character of the three. That's not what does it though. I always play the ranged character in these games. I started with the Rogue in Diablo and went to the Amazon in Diablo II. They just happened to be women. Right?
    Aside: I'm so glad Diablo III is doing away with gendered character classes. I know it's double the work. But still! Plus one for Blizzard on this one. Of course, that means I will play all the classes as women. Minus one for Anjin.
    I never played Fate, so I'm curious to see how the pet changes up the game. The playthroughs and previews I seen make it sound like a great addition which just make me more anxious to dive in.

  • The game's release is only hours away now and I'm can't wait to get my hands on it. I need to get back to playing it again. For real this time.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Random Shots: Unsubscribed

  • I find myself in the curious position where I'm not paying any active subscriptions for any games at the moment. World of Warcraft expired in September, Warhammer Online's one month is winding down, and an ill-advised (though inexpensive) attempt to get Free Realms running again has met with failure. So while on one hand I feel strange without that ongoing pressure to play, the other hand is happy to be free of the burden.

  • Truth be told, I'm still heavily involved in MMOs. Just not the kind with a recurring ding on the credit card. The lifetime subscription for Champions Online means I can jump in and out of the game at whim without feeling like I have to squeeze out every ounce of joy within a 30 day window. And I'm not without free-to-play choices like Runes of Magic and Dungeons & Dragons Online. (That wouldn't look right without the ampersand, would it?)

  • For the first time in a while, I've also been spending more time with single player games. I'm playing through Mass Effect again in anticipation of the sequel next year. I fired up Sacred 2 for the first time in months, hoping I hadn't forgotten everything about the game. I also preordered Torchlight, the spiritual successor to the illusory Mythos. For $18 on Steam, it feels like theft buying a game so cheaply. Heck, I was so excited about this game, I preordered before this amazing story broke. (I'm still not looking forward to Dragon Age, though.)

  • Of course, writing a post like this is the surest way of making me want to go back to one of those games. (Especially if CO keeps having server issues. Grumble.) I guess we'll all find out soon!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Random Shots: The Players Really Are The Heroes

  • Rant mode is on. You have been warned. And without me cussing, by the way. I'm showing a great deal of restraint all things considered.

  • I recently read an excellent post over at Wolfshead Online where he sounded the call to arms over scaling MMO content. It's a cause I can very much support. Scaling content would do so much to prevent the endgame from splintering into the weird permutations we see today. It's not so easy as he seems to imply, but it's not the insurmountable challenge so many developers make it out to be. Some future game will get the idea right, then someone else will steal the idea and put it in a better game, and everyone will argue about whether it matter who was first, but eventually we'll have an endgame for everyone from soloers to large guilds.

  • All this was going along well until I saw this:
    To further illustrate the epic villain problem I present to you Arthas. When the dastardly Lich King is defeated by the first guild sometime in 2010, only 25 players will be required. Just think about how preposterous that reality will be: a mere 25 players will be able to vanquish the Lich King — up till now the most powerful being in the Warcraft universe.

  • I'm picking on Wolfshead here because this is the most recent example, but this is a sentiment that has been shared across the MMO blogging community. But the problem is that this idea is idiotic. Let's take a look at what the players who will be vanquishing the Lich King will have accomplished before setting their purple named boots into Icecrown Citadel. Such a player will have:
    • defeated the children of Deathwing: Onyxia and Nefarian;
    • banished Ragnaros, the Firelord;
    • overcome Illidan as well as his lieutenants, Lady Vashj and Kael'thas Sunstrider;
    • laid the smackdown on Malygos, the leader of the Blue Dragonflight;
    • completely wasted two of the Old Gods, C'Thun and Yogg-Saron;
    • knocked the heck out of Kel'Thuzad (potentially twice);
    • thwarted the summoning of Kil'jaeden, the leader of the Burning Legion;
    • as well as obliterated so many trolls that I have trouble believing there are any trolls left in the world.

  • So, yeah, I'd love to take part in a 200-man raid to take down Arthas. However, 25 heroes of World of Warcraft caliber should be plenty for the task.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • I apologize about the lateness of this post. I went and caught myself one of those fashionable death virus thingies, which hasn't been nearly as fun as everyone makes it out to be. If there is one upside to being a shut-in MMO-playing troll with no social life outside of role playing with a Blood Elf it's that you're a lot less likely to deal with other people and their germs.

  • Over the last couple weeks, I've been able to very easily get into groups for Dr. Destroyer's Robot Factory, Teleios' Tower, the Burial Cave, and Dr. Moreau's Lab. They have all been fun, but I'd still rather blog about what's happening with my nemesis. That dude annoys me so much! Well, Arcfire had enough of him also and it's time to end the big blue demon's reign of rank smelliocity. (Nyah, nyah.)

  • As always happens with things like this, Necrosis' minions decided to jump me at an inopportune moment only to leave behind a clue about their boss's latest scheme. This time, they left behind the residue of a fuel Necrosis intends to steal. (How did that demon get residue if they hadn't stolen it yet? Those wacky demons!) So I flew off to National Bank in Millennium City where the fuel is being stored.

  • I'd like to take a moment to make a suggestion to PRIMUS: if you have some kind of high yield experimental fuel source, maybe storing it in a bank vault in the middle of the most villain infested city in the world may not be a great idea. Of course, maybe you've given up on the idea that you can stop anyone from stealing this stuff so it doesn't matter where you stick it. In that case, you might as well just stick it in a box on the sidewalk outside so that I don't have to blow up the vault door! For that matter, why do I have to blow open the vault door just to get at the bad guys. Those wacky villains!

  • As you might expect, I didn't make it into the vault in time, so the baddies got away. I followed them through the portal, but only ended up outside again. Oh well. Necrosis was kind enough to leave a trail to his volcanic lair on Monster Island. Actually, you know his lair is in a volcano, but you have to figure out where that might be. Luckily, villains are drawn to Monster Island like Wolverine is drawn to beer.

  • Inside his lair, I found Necrosis had used the plan he stole in an earlier mission to build his death ray.
    Aside: What the heck was he expecting to shoot with that thing? It's a cannon built on the ground, aiming out into space. Maybe he's expecting a Martian invasion? Come on, Necrosis. Next time build your death ray somewhere you can actually threaten people with it.
    Blowing up the death ray wasn't all I had to do. Necrosis went crazy and summoned a lava monster to take me out. The girl that blows things up with fire. That was a great move. When that didn't work, he spawned a couple clones and the three of them tried to take me out. Supervillains are getting so desperate for tricks nowadays. So I took him out, blew up a very cool flood of minions, and tossed the jerk back in jail. Phew! One nemesis down, 17 to go! I'm not going to spoil it, but the surprise epilogue was very cool and I look forward to what that means for the game.

  • I've said it time and again. The Nemesis system is the best part of this game. If there was any way to get people involved in with Nemesis earlier, it would get people involved in the game much better.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Random Shots: The Cryptic Store, Untangled

  • The time has come and microtransactions have arrived in Champions Online in a big way. When Bill Roper said (somewhere) that they weren't going to launch the store until they had enough content to offer, he wasn't kidding. So let's take a look at what's available and whether it might even be worth it.

  • First off, we need to discuss conversion factors. Cryptic is following the Microsoft model by making one dollar worth 80 points. The hilarious thing is that they also followed the Microsoft model by pricing just about everything in multiples of 80. Do that many people (especially MMO players) really have trouble doing that kind of math in their head? I don't get the point.

  • The first (and, by far, the largest) section of the Cryptic Store is called Costume Enhancements. Here we get the much anticipated additional costume sets. As is fitting the season, the primary offering is Halloween themed. There are a few other options available, though. Cryptic seem to have settled on three dollars per costume pack and one dollar per emblem pack. And as you can see, buying the three Holloween costumes together will save you a dollar.
    Halloween Costume Set 640 CP/$8.00 comprised of:
    • Skeleton Set: 240 CP/$3.00
    • Web Set: 240 CP/$3.00
    • Head Set: 240 CP/$3.00

    Cyborg Beast Costume Set: 240 CP/$3.00
    Epic Samurai Costume Set: 240 CP/$3.00
    Bestial Emblem Pack: 80 CP/$1.00
    Sci-Fi Emblem Pack: 80 CP/$1.00
    Weapons Emblem Pack: 80 CP/$1.00

  • The second section of the store is Character Enhancements. Here we get the account service options that other companies also offer. I'll throw in some comparisons where I have data.

    • Additional Character Slots: 1200 CP for 4 slots/$3.75 per slot
      (Guild Wars: $9.99)

    • Full Retcon: 1000 CP/$12.50

    • Character ReName: 280 CP/$3.50
      (Guild Wars: $12.50)
      (World of Warcraft: $10.00)

    • Additional Costume Slots: 400 CP for 2 slots for all characters/$5.00

  • Looking over all these prices, I believe they are all quite resonable. I wonder what it is about Champions that they can offer such character services so cheaply in comparison. (I'd love to know what other games charge for similar services. List them in the comments and I'll add them to my post.) The only price I have any issue with is the Full Retcon token. $12.50 is so out of line with everything else, I don't know what to make of it. As Blue Kae mentioned in the game last night, it will make for great nerdrage on the CO forums.

  • For me, I can see myself buying some of those costume sets. I'd hate to miss that sale and be out a dollar. At the least, they'll make for great nemeses.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Random Shots: Link Of The Day

  • The big link that's making its way around the MMO blogging community today comes from Eric from Elder Game. This month's post (I kid!) takes a poke at the oddities in Champions Online's profanity filter. Very funny stuff. But like his prior post about the game, a little disturbing as well.

  • In his post, he posits a chain of events that might lead to the hilarious implementation of a profanity filter that is so far reaching that it even standard game text is expurgated. That's the funny part. What follows, though, is his theory that this is another sign of an MMO launch failing to achieve orbit. Essentially, such shoddy work is a sure sign that Cryptic has already washed its hands at CO and has moved its primary developers over to finish off Star Trek Online.

  • Eric already raised everyone's hackles once (What the %&@! is a hackle anyway?) with his post about WoW's live production going over to the second string. He's obviously not a man afraid to talk with authority about things into which he has no direct insight. However, he has a lot more MMO production experience than most and that gives his presumptions a lot more heft.

  • Like Scott Summers, I'm still wearing the ruby quartz sunglasses about this game. I can tell there are problems, but it's pretty easy for me to overlook them when I'm having fun. That is very much not the case for everyone if instance numbers are any indication. Champions still has a chance to right its course before it founders on the shoals of apathy. But they had better move fast and move decisively. Otherwise this kind of statement will be accepted as fact instead of the fable Eric intended it to be.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Random Shots: One Last Attempt

  • I'm officially done trying to get anyone to play Champions Online. I know when I've met my match. Blog posts about the game have all but dried up. Game instances have dwindled dramatically. And when I log into the game, the only other person online in my super group is the guy who idled offline a month ago, so a bug keeps his name illuminated. Not that I'm going to stop writing about the game. It's just that from here on out, I'll just be writing for the fun of it. So now, one last attempt to get you to play Champions.

  • Finally last night, I made my first foray into Lemuria, the Champions equivalent of Atlantis. It is the current high end zone, so most people don't get here until level 33 or 34. It takes place entirely underwater, which is always strange in an MMO. Enemies can come upon you from every direction, so it's not easy to tell who you're fighting. But then I saw these guys and, suddenly, all with right in the world.

  • Just take a look at this screen shot.

  • That is a shark.

  • A shark with a laser beam on its head.

  • Sharks! With laser beams on their heads! If that doesn't make you want to play Champions, then good riddance. I want nothing to do with you.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Top Five: Champions Online Plot Suggestions

  • Death and Rebirth - One of the biggest recurring plots devices in comics is the death and eventual return of the main character. I would love to see a Nemesis mission or Lair that you can be complete with three to five players, but that also allows you to solo with a super-buffed character. At the end of this mission, the only way to overcome the final villain would be to sacrifice your character. There should be a cutscene funeral attended by all of your other NPCs (from the rest of these suggestions) and the Champions. Then you should be locked out of your character for 30 days! That pill would go down better if you have other alts to play or a protege (again, see below).

    But then you would be rewarded with a resurrection. Hopefully this could be tied in with your crafting profession. For instance Mysticism has an magical resurrection, Science has your character emerging from a superhealing medical tank, and Arms has the character return from hiding since they faked their death. Non-crafters would get a standard resurrection sequence.

    If the rewards are good enough, you would have players looking forward to their characters dying.

  • Love Interests - Where would Spider-Man be without Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy? How about Superman and Lois Lane? Kitty Pride and Colossus? Green Arrow and Black Canary? Do you get where I'm going with this? I can't think of an MMO that has trod this territory outside of the RP community. We're talking Bioware stuff here.
    Aside: Speaking of Bioware, I wonder if SWTOR will have a romance subplot. You know they love doing that sort of thing.
    Anyway, I'd love to see options for love interests: a regular person, a heroic contemporary, or (see the next point) a reformed nemesis. Maybe the person is in love with your character or their secret identity? You know your nemesis has to get involved. Every love interest needs to be kidnapped sometime.

    And what's even better than a love interest? Any fan of Janet Evanovich or Stephanie Meyer can tell you the answer. A love triangle. Aw, yeah!

  • Nemeses Today, Friends Tomorrow - Black Cat, Catwoman, Emma Frost, the list goes on. There are any number of villains who have become the friends and confidants of their heroic opponents. How about this for a story arc: you are fighting your current nemesis in their lair when another prior nemesis another show up to fight them as well. You grudgingly work together to take down the villain as neither of you can do it alone. Eventually, your hero either comes to a truce with this nemesis (so long as they give up true villainy) or you have them come over to the side of justice fully. Redemption can make a great story. And the occasional lapse would be fun as well.

  • Protege - I originally typed sidekick there. But since Champions already uses the term, I thought I should find a good alternative. It's not appropriate for every superhero, but there is a strong tradition of characters either mimicking or wanting to help a main character. Like Batman and Robin or Captain America and Bucky, having a protege can bring something to a character. Of course, when a potential protege shows up, you should get to option to say "Buzz off, kid. This isn't a game." (Of course if you choose to do so, I'd love to see the rejected one come back as a nemesis.)

    If they also use the character death idea above, you would get to take direct control of your protege as they step into the shoes of their mentor. Heck, some people might even enjoy using the protege so much that they put off the resurrection plot indefinitely.

    Like many of these ideas, any reason to use the character creator again (especially with all of your unlocked costumer pieces) is a good thing.

  • Secret Identities - Of all the suggestions I'm making here, this is the one that, although it's the strangest, may be the most comic booky (and therefore most important) of them all. If Cryptic can step up and give our characters the options of having secret identities with plotlines to match, it might take the game into the realm of actual role playing games. How can you not want to weight the difficulty of maintaining a private life while fighting crime on the side? Who won't feel the tension over who to tell and who to keep your secret from? If the developers can give our superheroes something else to worry about beyond which villain to thwart next, then it could elevate Champions Online to a height greater than the MMOs that preceded it.

  • Agree, disagree, or make your own suggestions in the comments.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Random Shots: Preparing To Hate Dragon Age

  • The mo-blogger-verse is all a-twitter (damn, that word is dead now) about the impending release of Dragon Age. Tipa from West Karana, Pete from Dragonchasers, Syp from Bio Break, and Spinks from Welcome to Spinksville have all posted their thought about Bioware's upcoming game. I even downloaded the character creator and watched Giant Bomb's Quick Look video in preparation.

  • I believe, at this point, that I am well equipped to go ahead and hate the game.

  • I have mentioned on this blog a few times before (though I'm too lazy to find any links for you) that I never liked Baldur's Gate or any of the Infinity Engine games. I couldn't stand Neverwinter Nights either, for that matter. Knights of the Old Republic? Forget it. I didn't enjoy a Bioware game until Jade Empire and Mass Effect.

  • This issue I have with these games is that I want to be in direct control of my characters. I don't want to just point them in a directed and say "Go." That's why I hate RTS games (real time strategy games, for the uninitiated). I want to make decisions for my characters in a moment to moment basis, without fear that the AI will stumble while I'm unable to make choices quickly enough. I want to be the character, not the guiding hand on that character's shoulder.

  • This is why, time and again, I've lauded Fallout on the site. I miss the hex grid and the action points. I loved X-Com: UFO Defense and its tactical scenarios. At the same time, I love the action afforded by Bioware's more recent games. However from everything I've seen about Dragon Age, it feels like a real step backward from the type of game I've come to enjoy from them.

  • It's too bad Bioware isn't famous for releasing demos. This is a game I really need to get my hands on before making a decision.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Read Lately: Grifter's Game by Lawrence Block

  • I was looking over my stack of unread books the other day after finishing Gun Work. Quite a tall stack due to my overindulgence at the LA Times Festival of Books. I read over all the titles, trying to decide on how to decide what I should read next. After a couple minutes of that, I said, "Screw this. I just need some Lawrence Block." So I pulled Hard Case Crime release number one from the pile, Grifter's Game.

  • The novel starts as con man Joe Marlin finds he has to run out on his most recent con. Things haven't gone as he expected, so he takes off to Atlantic City for a new start. He skips out on a hotel bill, purloins a suitcase, is ready to take some time off when he runs into Mona. They instantly fall for each other which would be perfect if she we're already married. What follows is a tale of crime, lust, and greed.

  • As I suspected, I was not disappointed with the book. It's a fun story, though it is not one of Block's best. The ending in particular takes a strange turn I would not have expected, but it doesn't detract from the story. If you're a fan of Lawrence Block or crime fiction in general, Grifter's Game is not a bad choice.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Random Shots: Crime Computer 2.0 for CO

  • I love the ingenuity of MMO fans. From GuildWiki to Thottbot to Be Imba, some of the best game resources are those developed to fill a void that the game itself doesn't cover. While these resources are already starting to show up for Champions Online, the best of them (as we were reminded by commenter Bronte yesterday), is Crime Computer 2.0.

  • Crime Computer 2.0 makes rather ingenious use of the quest data provided on the Champions Online website. By providing the URL location of your character, CC 2.0 gives you a list of all the quests that you seem to have missed. I was astonished about all the low level quests I never found.
    Aside: I can't help but wonder how I could miss all these quests. Many are from item drops or are location based. But some (like one from Snake Gulch) I could not even find. Maybe there is enough content to level appropriately, but only if you scour the landscape for every last potential quest. I like the idea of found quests, but they should be a bonus, not mandatory.

  • The site's creator, Lord Damax, reminds us this is a work in progress. As such, the list can only be compared to quests people have actually found and documented. There also seems to be some problem with the Champions website not listing all of the quests a character has completed. Nonetheless, this is an astonishing resource for completionists.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • I got back into Champions Online again last night, intent on exploring more of Monster Island. The quests in Wells Pass at the southern end of the island were quite dense with some difficult quests among the Manimals and VIPER troops. There were a few cave instances to really up the challenge. Then I ran into the biggest obstacle in the game: the content gap.

  • At level 32, there were no longer any quests I could find lower than level 35, except "Crisis in Lemuria" at level 34. Considering how challenging others had found that, I wasn't eager to try until I was at least level 33. (Heh.) So what did I do instead? I grinded mobs.

  • I can't even believe I have to type that. I ran out of quests (the mythical Dr. Silverback repeatable quests never having appeared) so I had to grind for experience. I started off on the level 32 Manimals along the eastern coast and got some experience there, but not nearly what I was hoping for. So I tried a different tack. I went off the Millennium City and grinded gray level mobs.

  • That may sound crazy since gray mobs don't give any experience points. That's what this game has driven me to. But there is a method to my madness, you see. By killing hordes of low level mobs (I refuse to call them enemies or villains while I'm forced to grind), I'm much more likely to gain the attention of my nemesis. And it worked! After only a few minutes, Necrosis' infernals started popping out of the woodwork. And one of them finally left behind a clue as to what the villain was up to.

  • It seems that all of his attentions in the Atomic Wastelands were leading to some advances in cloning. His goal: to clone the mayor of Millennium City and replace the original. Well, Arcfire and I put a quick stop to that by shutting down his cloning operation and foiling his plot at city hall. I have to give the guy credit, though. He's got a much higher quality of minion working for him now. I had to take out three additional supervillains helping the big blue villain out.

  • Most importantly, Necrosis helped push me to level 33. So I stopped grinding and, figuring a one level difference wasn't too bad, headed off to Lemuria. The content gap is still alive and well in Champions and Cryptic will have to work harder to bridge it. I'm sure that will come in time, so I'm not whining just yet. But it had better come before I take too many alts to level 30.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Comic Roundup: October 7, 2009

  • I haven't felt like writing about comics a lot recently, especially since I've cut way back on my reading list. This week's was especially strong though, so I had to get out the capsule reviews again. Just remember, I warned you about this sort of thing happening.

  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Eight issue 29 - My ardor for this series has waned over the last couple years, but I always find something to like about Buffy Season Eight. Here in part four of Jane Espenson's "Retreat," the army has arrived at the Slayers' hideaway and Buffy figures out what has really been happening with their magic. If I'm following this right, Season Eight will be wrapping up soon and it really needs to. I'm looking forward to the end of the series because prolonging the story is only going to wear it out.

  • Criminal: The Sinners issue 1 - After the long sojourn while Incognito was published, Criminal returns to life under the amazing talents of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. This issue feels a lot like a homecoming, not just because the series has returned, but we also see the return of Tracy Lawless. It's been a year since the end of Lawless and Tracy finds himself still in the employ of Sebastian Hyde. But only just barely since he's not particularly good at his job. So instead of working as a hitman, Hyde wants him to investigate a string of gangland murders. Although I enjoyed Incognito, this issue reminds me why I missed Criminal so much. It's still my favorite comic currently published.

  • Planetary issue 27 - The guy at the cash register remarked that this was the year for all the late series to finally finish up. And true to form, the final issue of Planetary has arrived. As Warren Ellis remarked, issue 27 is an epilogue to the story. Since the climax occurred last issue (Heck, I don't even remember when that came out), this issue is about tying up loose ends. Thankfully, Ellis and John Cassaday make this finale as strong as every other issue in the series and a fitting conclusion. Planetary has finally come to its end and it went out as crazy and amazing as it started. If only comics could all be this good.

  • X-Men Vs. Agents Of Atlas issue 1 - The only reason this isn't called Agents Of Atlas issue 12 is because the X-Men sell more comics. I would complain about crass commercialism, but anything that sells more AoA is fine by me. Jeff Parker is still writing superheroes on par with Robert Kirkman. Art is still a little weird with all constant shifts, but it doesn't detract too badly. So if you like superheroes and you're overlooking this because it's a strange title on the rack, give it a try. It's really fun.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Random Shots: Bouncing Around My Head

  • I've got too many things to write about and not enough time to do it. So we're putting the random in Random Shots today. Because they're not always so random, are they?

  • I am so happy to have my nemesis back in Champions Online. The Jailbreak mission where he escapes was a lot of fun and I've already got my first Nemesis Clue. I know there is only so much you can do, but giving even this much freedom to customize your play experience is a huge step forward, I think. I'll be posting other wish list for the game with other customizations I'd like to see. If any game could pull it off, Champions could be the one. I also discovered I never did the Stronghold quests in the Desert. I guess I should take my own advice and spend more time with the Crime Computer.

  • In Warhammer Online, I'm trying an experiment the sole goal of which is to drive myself away from the game and save myself another subscription. Actually if it works, that would be great, but I'm a pessimist at heart. My experiment is this: since I've been having so much fun mixing PvP and PvE on my new Witch Hunter, I want to try leveling solely through PvP. Whether or not this succeed will be based pretty much on the server I try this on. My home server (which you'd think I could remember since there are only six) has great PvP in both tier one and tier two, so I'm hoping this isn't a fluke.

  • Until the day that I get to play MMOs during business hours, I resign myself to what I can play on my PSP. That is almost exclusively Pangya: Fantasy Golf. I wrote about it previously when I was complaining about the business of MMOs. I still think Pangya is a better game offline than it ever was online. So much so in fact that I'm nearing the 100% completion goal of the game. Scary thought: what am I going to do at work when I finish the game? Work? Ugh.

  • In my non-blogging, non-gaming time, I've been doing a lot of reading. I have two reviews in the queue, Grifter's Game by Lawrence Block and Bone by Jeff Smith. Currently I'm reading The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco. I've had this book laying around since college, so it's about time I got to it. I'm not sure if I'm going to keep up my "review every book" policy next year. But I'll keep it up for now.

  • In my non-blogging, non-gaming, non-reading time, the new television season has started and so has my DVR. So far, my favorite new show is Glee, though my beautiful wife and I are also enjoying FlashForward. Of course with any new show, I worry whether they can keep their quality over the long run. So far Dollhouse has proven itself in its second season. With a couple more shows on the DVR and a couple more to come, we're right on the edge where we're worried about spending too much time in front of the TV. So far, so good though.

  • So enough about me. What are you up to?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Top Five: Computer Role-Playing Games, Single Player Edition

  • Betrayal At Krondor - Once upon a time in the early '90s, before Baldur's Gate and Fallout redeemed the computer role-playing game, there was the slump. Few RPGs of note were released and it seemed like the genre was destined to disappear entirely. In this dreary time for RPG fans was released Betrayal At Krondor. Based on the books of Raymond Feist, Krondor gave us an interesting story, fun tactical game play, and an expansive land to explore. It was no slouch either. Errors in one battle were not easily recovered before you found yourself in peril again. I was unable to finish the game due to the ramp up in difficulty near the end, but Krondor was a bright light in a dark time for gaming.

  • Daggerfall - Everyone goes on and on about Morrowind and Oblivion, and for good reason. My favorite of the series, though, is Daggerfall, the second in the Elder Scrolls series. I see this game through nostalgia's lens, but had never before been so lost in a fantasy game world. The kingdoms were so vast that you could pick a direction and just ride, sure to find a new town, a new dungeon, and new adventure. Since so much was randomly generated, I actually set up housekeeping in an out of the way city with a good tailor's shop (I was really into Daggerfall's clothing options for some reason) and ignored the main storyline for weeks. Developers can't get away with that kind of content anymore, so it's a gaming moment lost in time.

  • Fallout - With the franchise so much in the public consciousness recently, it would be a crime if this game failed to make the list. Fallout was a breath of fresh, if irradiated, air to me and the RPG genre when it was released. I often talk about how hard it is for me to finish games. Fallout is one of those rarest of games that I have played to completion multiple times. Even today I miss the tactical, thoughtful pace of combat and the open solutions to every problem. That it wasn't yet another fantasy RPG made the game stand out. I think I need to reinstall this now.

  • Pool Of Radiance - Like first loves, the first game you play will always stand out for you. For me, that game was Pool of Radiance. I played it on an ancient IBM-compatible computer in all its CGA glory. While the 3D view was interesting, what sold the game for me was the tactical combat engine. Each character was controlled individually, in initiative order, to perform at maximum efficiency. You had to carefully target your fireball spells to avoid killing your own party. And in close quarters, you could place your melee characters up front to physically block monsters from attacking your magic user. It was not the best of the Gold Box series, but it was the game that gave me a taste for what computer role-playing could achieve. And yes, I prefer the combat in this game to real-time chaos of Baldur's Gate.

  • Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines - Made by the big name designers from Fallout, Bloodlines is probably the best role-playing game I never finished. And it wasn't for lack of trying. Troika just had the worst luck getting a game out the door in a polished state. In this case, they tried to wrangle a nascent Source Engine to their needs while Valve was still working on it. The result was a buggy mess, but also a brilliant game. Troika captured the feel of the World of Darkness perfectly, giving a fun environment to indulge in the taste of blood. I still go back to this game from time to time if only to bite someone in a darkened alley.

  • Agree, disagree, or make your own suggestions in the comments.