Thursday, January 29, 2009

Played Lately: Warhammer Online

  • I like to pretend that I'm a smart guy, but it's just an act. If you were under any misconception that I know what I'm doing, I offer this story to dispel any delusions you might have.

  • The folks at Mythic have been doing an amazing job of community outreach with Warhammer Online. From Keen and Graev's Dwarf Slayer and The Greenskins's Orc Choppa packages to the various Witch Elf valentines, they managed to interest me in the game in a way I haven't felt since the launch. Tuesday night, the hype machine got a hold of me and I resubscribed to the game. The patch process wasn't long, so I was in the game in less than ten minutes. Fifteen minutes after that, I logged off and cancelled my subscription again.

  • It's not that the game bored me that fast. I was always able to enjoy my time in the game to some extent. The reason I cancelled was because even at the minimum settings, the game runs so slow on my computer as to be unplayable. Somehow, I'd forgotten that was a problem. WoW and LotRO, both of which I run at reduced graphic settings, have spoiled me. Of course, I've learned to be happy playing games at 15 FPS, a speed that would make most hardcore gamers ill. I didn't have the meter running, but WAR had to be in the 2-3 FPS range.

  • I have to wonder how prevalent my circumstances are. Casual games have been extremely popular in the last few years. I wonder if that's because the baseline system can't handle a triple-A game anymore. The last time ran against the technical limitations of my computer, I abandoned my PC to become a console gamer. And with great looking games like Fallout 3, Fable 2, and Prince of Persia waiting to be played, I have plenty of reasons to cozy up to my much less expensive Xbox 360. If someone developed a good console MMO, I might not need my PC for much more than blogging.

  • So until I get a better computer, I will be uninstalling WAR from my system, just to prevent further stupidity. I really want to like the game, but it does not like me. The question is will there still be a Warhammer Online by the time I finally upgrade?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Listened Lately: Shut Up, We're Talking #41

  • I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to participate in a podcast as I listen to them. One of my favorites, and the one I want to talk back to most, is Shut Up, We're Talking. So instead of hacking into the podcast to insert my own views, I'm going to say my peace here in warm, inviting text. This is something I've wanted to do for a while, but I never get around to it before the idea gets stale. Plus, then you don't have to put up with my annoying voice.

  • The topic that stuck me the greatest during podcast #41 was their discussion about breaking away from the executive gamer mentality. It was interesting to hear all of their views, but I think they only acknowledged my thoughts on the subject tangentially to their own thoughts.

  • The "Executive Gamer" was posited by Tim Schafer of Grim Fandango and Psychonauts fame. In the Gamers With Jobs podcast, he defined it as someone plays games as a means to another end, thereby missing the joy of playing the game as its own end. In the gaming community, the term has taken on the broader meaning as a gamer who plays games with any critical viewpoint. While I think this definition is more of a broad brushing than Mr. Schafer intended, it's close enough and resonates with gamers enough to be worthy of discussion. This is especially true as many gamers, like Darren and, well, someone from GWJ, want to shake off this mentality that they think is ruining their fun. While I applaud the sentiment, I wonder if it can be done through any means short of a lobotomy.

  • From my perspective, playing games from an Executive Gamer viewpoint is not about criticism for its own sake. Everyone has likes and dislikes in the games they play. And they will take those experiences into every new game they play. No gamer is a blank slate. To me, the executive gamer is someone who has the ability to formalize those feelings coherently, either vocally, in writing, or just to themselves. Where the average gamer will perceive a flaw in a game, the executive gamer will articulate exactly what that flaw is and may know examples of games which have duplicated or avoided the same problem. I don't think that is something you can make go away by trying hard enough. You might be able to avoid strict analysis, but you can't take away the feeling that something is wrong.

  • To anyone who wants to enjoy gaming without this burden, I wish you luck. But like Adam and Eve before you, you've eaten the forbidden fruit. This time the fruit is from the more specific Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad Games. Once you've learned to tell the difference, there is no return to a state of ignorant grace.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Read Lately: Burglars Can't Be Choosers by Lawrence Block

  • One of the best things about reading the entire publishing library from Hard Case Crime is discovering old and new authors that I might not have read otherwise, such as Lawrence Block. One of the best things about marrying my beautiful and intelligent wife is that she's smart enough to search the Internet and find out what else Mr. Block has written. For Christmas, I was surprised to recieve the first Bernie Rhodenbarr novel, Burglars Can't Be Choosers.
  • Bernie Rhodenbarr, as the title suggests, is a burglar. He only works a few nights a year, stealing from the rich and giving to himself. It sounds like an easy life. When he's approached by a strangely familiar man to perform a theft for hire, his life as a gentleman burglar is upended. All it takes is a surprise police intrusion and a recently deceased corpse to get Bernie on the run.
  • Block has an easy style to read, but does not devolve into a faux noir patois that can hobble other writers. Instead, he infuses the book with a mild humor that offsets what could otherwise be a grim tale. Bernie Rhodenbarr may be in a difficult spot, but he does not let the gravity of his circumstances overwhelm him.
  • Instead of the crime novel I was expecting, Burglars Can't Be Choosers is very much a mystery. Throughout the book, Bernie goes about collecting clues as to who committed the murder and why he was involved in it. While everything flows well, If there is a problem with the book it would be the overly convoluted solution. I was shaking my head by the time I turned the last page. It was not bad ending by any measure, but it was unnecessary.
  • Nonetheless, Lawrence Block is still a great find. Since he has been writing so long, I can look forward to reading many more by him. I'm very interested to know where Bernie Rhodenbarr goes from here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Played Lately: Fly From Evil

  • The title of this post is blatant misdirection. I make no apologies, though, because I am playing Fly From Evil in a way. It's the Waiting For The Next Big Thing, FFE Edition. And I've been playing since, according to the Fly From Evil Yahoo group, November of 2002. It feels kind of strange to maintain interest in a product for over six years.
  • I first fell in love with detective fiction through Sue Grafton, which eventually lead me to Raymond Chandler. It was around that time that I found out one of my favorite game authors, S. John Ross, was working on his role playing magnum opus, a hardboiled crime game. And since I've enjoyed a lot of what SJR has produced, I eagerly awaited the new release. Now, at the start of 2009, I'm still waiting.
  • While it's played in many communities, Waiting For The Next Big Thing is quite popular among Massively Multiplayer Online Gamers. Just last year, Warhammer Online was all anyone could talk about and even got a two month honeymoon of good will upon release. Then reality finally encroached and many people realized Waiting for Warhammer was more fun than playing Warhammer. Luckily, the game is good enough to survive and will grow over time now that the burden of expectation has passed. Now Darkfall seems to be the Next Big Thing but I not playing.
  • I don't hold anything against, S. John. I'm not privy to his personal situation, but I do know he's trying to write a full, WotC/White Wolf-class game all on his own. The frustrating part is I know it will be brilliant when I finally get to see it. But I hope a Next Big Thing.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Played Lately: Lord of the Rings Online

  • Syncaine at Hardcore Casual recently put up a post suggesting WoW abandon its endgame for a perpetual leveling game. While I'm not sure how feasible this is, there is something to his statement. Designing a game with separate leveling and endgame systems seems archaic now, but few developers have conquered the problem. Players are doing something, though. They're switching games.
  • You can find posts and podcasts at Massively, Kill Ten Rats, Gamers With Jobs, Van Hemlock, and others who have found that spark of excitement in Lord of the Rings Online. Even I am finding that leveling up in LotRO is giving me the adventure that I'm missing in WoW.
  • Thursday morning, I was sitting at my desk at home, playing LotRO, telling myself "No, working on deeds is not the same as going to work." As opposed to the not-so-revolutionary Tome of Knowledge in WAR, the Deed Logs gives a clear, clean listing of what deeds can be accomplished in a zone and what you'll be awarded with. And while they start hidden, as soon as you take the first step (by killing the right type of monster, finding a landmark, or completing a quest), the game announces that you've discovered a new deed. And once you've discovered a deed, there is nothing mysterious about it. You're presented with the details of what is expected of you and lets you get to it when you're ready.
  • What I like about it is that you can tackle deeds in a manner you'd like. If you want to grind out 180 orcs in the Lone-lands, there is nothing to stop you. At the same time, there are many quests where you have to kill orcs or perform other feats in orc-infested areas. So why not just let the deed accrue naturally. By taking the grind out of the quests and moving it to the deed system means that quests can be more story focus while keeping the old school charm intact.
  • And the rewards for completing deeds are worthwhile without feeling mandatory. The title are nice, but the virtue traits are as powerful as an additional equipment slot. They serve a similar purpose to the AA system in Everquest 2. You don't need them, but it would be like going into combat without your shoes on.
  • If you told me last year that I would enjoy tracking through low level zones to explore and kill hundreds of creatures, I would have thought you were mad. Today, I can say that it is all in the presentation.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Random Shots: 2008 In The Rear View Mirror

  • It's hard to see the end of the year approach without taking some stock of what you've done over the last 366 days. What I've done is play video games, watch TV and movies, and read a few books so that's all I have to write about.

  • Any review of the year would be lacking without talking about the One True Game, World of Warcraft. I started the year in a small guild raiding the most junior of Burning Crusade instances, Karazhan. By midyear, I'd switched to a larger guild raiding the higher level instances and rushing toward a giant case of burnout. Then as the end of the year neared, Blizzard released Wrath of the Lich King. Suddenly I was back in the game and having fun. My ardor for WoW has subsided recently. I don't have the grand desire to raid anymore, but there is plenty to still see in the game. I will enjoy my time in Northrend for a long time to come, though in greater moderation.

  • Just as I was burning out on WoW, the MMO blogsphere was reaching a fever pitch in anticipation of Warhammer Online. On paper it sounded like a great game. I was even lured to buying the gorgeous collector's edition of the game. But the more I played, the less I enjoyed myself. There was a lot to enjoy about the game and I'm sure it will get better over time. But they definitely designed it to be a next-gen MMO and I don't have a next-gen computer. On the other hand, the release of Mines of Moria recently drew me to try Lord of the Rings Online for a third time. So far, the third time is the charm. I don't know if Turbine has made the game that much better (though the Warden is awesome), but somehow LotRO is scratching the same itch WoW did, and Guild Wars did before it.

  • On the Xbox 360, it was not a huge year. But what I did play was amazing. At the beginning of the year, I was able to finish Bioware's amazing Mass Effect. It would be difficult for me to recommend this game even more. Any fan of role playing games or science fiction would be in for a treat with this game. Writing about it now makes me want to go back and experience the story again. When I wasn't saving the galaxy, I often found myself rocking the world with my plastic guitar skills in Rock Band. Although I had always wondered about the Guitar Hero games, I could not bring myself to spend the money to try it. Lucky for me, a borrowed guitar controller was all I need to find out how much fun it could be. And no matter how silly it might look from the outside, it is a lot of fun.

  • Outside of gaming, there was a lot more to keep me occupied. The two movies that I enjoyed most this year were, strangely enough, superhero films. First came Iron Man with a canny mix of humor, fun, and action. For a while, I thought it was the best superhero movie I'd seen. That was until The Dark Knight came out. This movie transgresses the boundaries of its genre so flagrantly that it deserves to be held up with the best of all film, not just locked in the spandex ghetto. It was a towering accomplishment and will not be soon surmounted.

  • On television, my tastes have narrowed considerably. Luckily for me, this was the year that The Wire wrapped up its five season journey. Though we followed the show primarily on DVD, my wife and I will always rate the show as one of television's best. We also discovered the BBC's new version of Doctor Who this year. Bringing modern sensibilities and production values to the series has made it a great find. And then HBO once again rescued us with True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books. While vampire fans were falling all over themselves over the chaste vampirics of Twilight, True Blood was where the blood was really pumping.

  • Even with all this, I was able to find the time to do a little reading. My favorite book this year was the creepy T Is For Trespass by Sue Grafton. Grafton is one of the best mystery writers still working and every new book is an event. Because of The Wire, I was inspired to pick up David Chase's Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets. Anyone who thinks they know all about the police from Law and Order or CSI would be well served to read this excellent work. 2008 was the year that I discovered Neal Stephenson. Early in the year I read his classic, Snow Crash and was blown away. When he released his newest work, the intricate and dense Anathem, I knew I had to try it out. This was also the year I fell in love with pulp works published by Hard Case Crime. I signed up for the monthly book club and have already read eleven of their books. They are decadent little books that don't waste any time getting to the action and I love them for it.

  • I hope 2008 was a good to you and that 2009 is better. At least we won't have to put up with the presidential election this year.