Thursday, April 30, 2009

Played Lately: Free Realms

  • Once again, I feel must modify the post title in some clever way. If I could break out of the straitjacket I've constructed for my blog, I would have titled this post "Not Able To Play Lately: Free Realms." This is not because I don't have the time. There is plenty of time in the evenings to play and cavort with the fairies and doggies and robgoblins. No, the bane of my gaming is a full system crash.

  • Five full system crashes to be exact. It's not even the very painful, but "I can deal with this crap" crash-to-desktop (CTD). No, this is a full black screen, system locked, power off to reset crash. This is not something I've had to deal with for a year or two thanks to Windows Vista. (Yeah, I know, "Boo, hiss.") So trying to play a game that I'm actually thinking about paying five dollars a month for has been a frustrating experience. I feel so put upon.

  • The bits I have been able to play have been lots of fun. I like the idea of having lots of jobs to jump between. So far, I've only found the Brawler, Chef, and Pet Trainer jobs, though I have the quest to try Kart Racing. I also ran through the Card Game demo and I'm eager to try that. Free Realms has taken the idea of horizontal advancement to very interesting place. Although this is aimed at a younger audience, I think there is something to take away for more serious games.

  • However, what struck me before I'd even pressed the "W" key to start running was the visual style. Evidently, SOE didn't want to make another ugly game. The best way to describe the graphics is WoW 2.0. It looks like all the lessons taught by World of Warcraft and Wizard 101 have been taken to heart here, only expanded to a greater degree. Everything is bright or dark, as appropriate, and colorful. And everything is big and bold. There is not a lot of room for subtlety in a computer game. WoW knows this and went the opposite direction. FR feels larger than life which fits my fantasy mood perfectly.

  • As for the fee model, I can easily see myself paying for a subscription. I was on the hook as soon as I saw a Members Only bonus quest objective. Knowing that i might miss out on something because I didn't sign up is too much for me. The microtransactions are another matter. I have a huge psychological block when it comes to buying "points" just to buy other stuff. Except for Rock Band. That's the bar you have to reach. If your items aren't as cool as Rock Band, you don't get my cash.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Played Lately: Guild Wars

  • Since I don't often play Guild Wars anymore, those times I do are cause to blog. In this case, I was lured into the game to witness the start of the Fourth Anniversay celebration. I logged in Thursday night, initially just to play with my new storage area (which took forever to activate). But I stayed on to look at everything else added to the game.

  • Since GW is my brother's game of choice, I got the inevitable invitation to try one of the new quests. In opposition to my usual inclination, I said yes. No reason not to try, right? The mission quest for that day had us taking on the Blood Washes Blood mission from Eye Of The North. I remember the first time through this mission. It was one of the first I complete with the expansion since I started with the Norn questline. It was (I think) the first time you get access to not-affected-by-the-nerf Ursan Aura. It was fun at the time, but I haven't seen the mission in months. Maybe longer? Probably.

  • The mission was being run with my brother's new guild, who turned out to be a nice group. They, being well experienced and up for a challenge, decided to complete the mission in hard mode. I, being the inevitable dead weight, kept my mouth shut and hoped no one would notice. I noticed, though. When we started the mission, I was using the build suggested by my brother the last time we played together a month or two ago. I didn't even bother to switch it up. This was a pretty bad mistake since it was nowhere near optimized for the types of enemies we were facing. In most battles I didn't get more than one or two shots at an enemy before he was down and I had to scramble to find another target. The mission came to an end successfully without me really knowing what was going on or that we were even done. It was frustrating, even though I enjoyed hanging out.

  • It was then suggested that we help another player with an old Prophecies mission, D'Alessio Seaboard. Once again, in hard mode. (Interesting fact: D'Alessio Seaboard was the mission available from Lion's Arch in the preview weekend I took part in.) I vowed to comport myself better this time, so I switched to a single target build I am partial to. Then my brother asked "Do you have Judge's Insight?" Judge's Insight? I didn't even remember what that is. Sounded like a monk skill. I asked if it was in a Retribution skill and everyone had a giggle at my WoWishness. Smiting Prayers is where I found it, so I slotted the skill and we took off.

  • This was when I remembered that Guild Wars in not like your standard MMO. You don't get maximum effect from a skill just by using it. You also have to allocate Attribute Points to modify it. This is something I've forgotten in years since I played seriously. What this means is Judge's Insight only lasted eight seconds before I had to cast it again. This is not an optimum plan. Once again we were able to finish the mission, bonus and all, despite my noobish error. I wasn't completely dead weight, but I was also not satisfied with my performance.

  • When ask when I would be getting my four year present, I informed the group that my character was 46 months old. It was a figure that surprised and depressed me. I've forgotten so much about Guild Wars that I feel I don't deserve the credit.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Read Lately: The Burglar In The Closet by Lawrence Block

  • You have to be careful what you say around my house. For instance, I told my wife that I enjoyed the first book in Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr series and that it was good enough that I would be interested in reading more. A couple days later, the next book in the series, The Burglar In The Closet, appeared on my desk. While others might think "What a wonderful gift," I knew the truth. Words are dangerous and I would have to guard mine less I end up with too many books to read. Luckily, this was a perfect gift for me.

  • In this second novel, Bernie is in the worst situation that anyone can find themselves: in a dentist's chair. When this dentist proposes Bernie commit a very specific burglary, well, would you argue with a man holding a drill to your teeth? As in the first novel people end up dead fast and Bernie has to clear his name.

  • Once again, Lawrence Block has produced a fun and fast mystery. This time, The Burglar In The Closet benefits from its second in the series position. It's both better written and much funnier. The ending, while still convoluted, is nowhere near as silly as the first book.

  • Anyone who likes crime or mystery fiction would find something to enjoy here.

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • As any good World of Warcraft player knows, Blizzard recently dropped patch 3.1 on a very expectant game community. After the patch came out, I was unable to play WoW for a few days since there were some kinks that needed to be worked out. Now that things have calmed down a little, I've poked my head into the game to see what has changed. Green Armadillo already has a good post about the new Argent Tournament quests over at Player Versus Developer, but that can't stop me from tossing my thoughts around.

  • Since I have very little chance of ever seeing Ulduar, I haven't given that rather massive part of the patch much thought. Instead, Blizzard gave us solo players the Argent Tournament. Along the northern coast of Icecrown, the Argent Crusade has set up a tournament to rouse all the world's would-be champions before the final battle with Arthas. What this means for us is new daily quests and lots of nice rewards. It reminds me of the patch 2.4 update. Unfortunately, this initial set of dailies resemble the Shattrath quests that sent you to the far reaches of Outland instead of the far more condensed Isle of Quel'Danas. I'm hoping as things open up, we see more Quel'Danas style quests, but I'm not that far into this event.

  • By that, I mean I've just collected the 15 Aspirant's Seals needed to move onto the Valiant level. From there, I'll have to move to Champion level, but that still several days away. Likely there is a lot more I haven't seen yet. So far I've been enjoying the quests. And I like the potential rewards, though I have a long way to go before that beloved Enchanted Broom will be mine.

  • With just a few days played, I am declaring the Argent Tournament a success. I love the look of the place and all the resources set around the tournament grounds. Mostly though, I look forward to seeing how it expands over time.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Played Lately: Everquest 2

  • I took it as a personal challenge when Exeter from LootBot3000 said I should say "Hi" to him in Everquest 2 the next time I was in the game. How rude!, I thought. Doesn't he know how many alts I have to level in WoW ? Or how about my warden in LotRO, languishing at level 40? I'm supposed to abandon them for a third game? I was so affronted that I promptly reactivated my account, rolled a new Wizard on the Antonia Bayle server, and set out to give him a piece of my mind.

  • Why a wizard? Though this may seem obvious, but I really like playing spellcasters in these games. That has not always been the case. When I play the two times prior, I tried a swashbuckler and a warden. Neither of those, you can guess, are magicians. Since my main in WoW is a mage, I thought I should see how EQ2 handles a similar class. And thus, I have a wizard.

  • Since you get a choice of starting areas, I chose Gorowyn. I started a character there previously and knew it was a smooth and fun experience. Sure enough, it was just as easy to jump into as I remembered. Timorous Deep is so streamlined that those first twenty level absolutely flew by. Actually with all the bonus experience I got, I ended up at level twenty-four before I exhausted every quest I could find.

  • From Gorowyn, I followed the breadcrumb trail to the Butcherblock Mountains. I jumped on the back of a griffon and flew off, even though that zone is on an entirely different land mass. I bet that bird-thing was tired afterward. Butcherblock was the zone I floundered in during my prior attempt to play. Part of that is my general unfamiliarity with EQ2. Part is that while Timorous Deep is solo-only, but Butcherblock is based on the older EQ2 model of group-friendly content. Part is that the mobs are so tightly packed in most cases that I end up in some neverending battle as mobs stream into my fights. And part is that wizards are the very definition of squishy.

  • At this point, as much as I enjoy that start, I'm at the gritting my teeth and pushing through for newer content. Or at least something that recaptures the feel of those first levels.

  • As for Exeter, I waited till I hit level 15 before saying anything. I didn't want to roll a level 1 alt and leave it at that. I have some pride, you know.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Read Lately: The Cutie by Donald E. Westlake

  • When I recently posted a comment about Hard Case Crime to the Fly From Evil group, game designer S. John Ross responded with "I believe they've published at least one Donald Westlake, so that makes 'em okay in my book." After reading The Cutie, I understand where he's coming from.

  • The Cutie introduces us to Clay, a hitman tasked to track down a murderer, the afore mentioned cutie. When a drug addict with very high connections is set up with that murder, Clay needs to find out who really did it and take the heat off his mafia bosses. Of course, no self respecting murderer is going to go down without a fight, so action and suspense follow.

  • Evidently, this was the book published by Westlake, which is amazing to me. I can only assume that he did a lot of polishing of his prose before this first book. I hope so because this book is already vintage Donald Westlake, hitting all the right notes, smoothly and cleanly written. Anyone interested in the crime genre will find great addition to their reading list here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Tobold has an interesting blog post up about the hardcore/casual split and how it relates to Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Design. His contention is that the hardcore crowd is short-circuiting the casual learning experience by forcing their proven solutions onto everyone else. Is the casual experience being ruined because they aren't allowed to find their own way though the game?

  • Although I understand and empathize with the plight of the casual player in a hardcore landscape, I have to lay the blame at the foot of the casual here. If you dabble with the hardcore, you have to accept the rules of your new playing field. It would be like playing Major League Baseball, but demand the opposing team pitch to you underhand. You can't force an established community to change to suit your singular needs.

  • Where I think Tobold is right, however, is that casuals accepting the hardcore playstyle are doing the damage to themselves. Because I love personal anecdotes, here's another story about my solo time in Blackrock Depths.

  • Since I had a couple quests that took me to the Grim Guzzler, I was eager to find the path to the northern side of Shadowforge city. It took me forever to find my way since the maps weren't very helpful. But I eventually ran across the Shadowforge Lock (which seemed appropriate) and made my way across the now open bridge. There in the new section, I found the Manufactory, the area I knew lead to the Grim Guzzler, and another boss, Golem Lord Argelmach. Since I had a quest for him too, I set to bringing about his demise.

  • By the time I initiated my first attempt, I had only killed a couple of patrolling gnomes in the Manufactory if they so happened to attack me. Since I wasn't getting experience, I had taken to skipping as many trash mobs as possible because they were just as deadly. If you've been in BRD, you probably know what's coming next. I engaged Argelmach and his two golems, but he immediately charged out of the room to gather the various minions I had left alive. Pretty soon I was drowning in golems and gnomes and I had a long run from Thorium Point ahead of me.

  • I was shocked and amazed. Almost every other boss I'd run across was a straightforward fight with maybe a few adds. This one took me completely by surprise. So for my second attempt, I dutifully cleared the room and had a much simpler (though still hard) fight ahead of me. If I had read a strategy guide (which I do own) or checked WoWWiki, I would have robbed myself of this discovery. It was one of the most fun deaths I've had in the game.

  • My advice to everyone out there is this: use the tools you have at your disposal if you need them. But don't let those tools get in the way of you having fun. I've read Elitist Jerks and I've studied boss kills in YouTube, and I got a lot out of them. But I won't let that define or limit my experiences in the game.

  • On a side note, if you want to watch someone beat the hell out of Koster's Theory and receive some very interesting responses in return, check out this post from Eric at Elder Game.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • I'm trying to remember if I mentioned this before. I'm way too lazy to look through my own archives so I'll just explain.

  • Since I have a number of alts in World of Warcraft (and yes, almost all of them are blood elves), I've had to figure out creative ways to change up my leveling experience. I've heard other gamers do it, but WoW is the first game where I've set personal goals outside the game mechanics. My most recent challenge was to level two characters on entirely separate continents. My warlock completed the challenge sometime last year, leveling exclusively in the Eastern Kingdoms. Last week, my paladin did the same, hitting my goal level of 58 in Kalimdor.

  • This put me in the awkward situation of setting new goals. The natural progression of the game would have me gallivanting eagerly toward Hellfire Peninsula. The problem with that is I've been through That Damn Zone™ five full times since the expansion launched and I'm a little tired of it. Blizzard learned its lesson with Wrath, allowing for two separate starting zones, but this roadblock is still here.

  • One part of the game I haven't seen a lot of is the old world instances. So instead of following the traditional path, my paladin will be touring places I've seen little of before, like Blackrock Mountain, Scholomance, and Stratholme. First I leveled as high as I could through quests in Eastern Plaguelands and Silithus, zones that were mostly deserted after The Burning Crusade made them obsolete. So far I've hit the lofty height of level 64.

  • This weekend, I took my first tentative steps into Blackrock Depths. Amazingly enough, I had never set foot into this classic instance before. It's of the sprawling, old school style with a dozen bosses, multiple pathways, and thousands (maybe) of trash mobs. At level 64, the trash mobs mostly ignore me unless I come within melee range of them. Over the course of a few days, I was able to take down all but the final boss in the instance. This was not an easy feat. Since I'm avoiding gear that can't be found in the old world, I'm relying on overleveling and patch 3.0 talents to see me through. I'm also using the most up-to-date enchantments from my mage. Even with that little edge, I have driven up some impressive repair bills. But I've also been having a lot of fun. I am very used to the run from the Thorium Point graveyard to the BRD entrance now, but I haven't stopped enjoying the sights and the challenge.

  • My next step is to try Dire Maul, an instance I've only explored long enough to get my first paladin her epic mount. Hopefully I'll start finding some better gear to help with all this soloing. If it gets too hard, I plan on leveling by slaughtering the ghosts around Karazhan. Since, at level 70, they are the highest level mobs in the old world, I could level as high as 73 or 74 if I really want to grind it out. We'll see.

  • And that's the long way of explaining why I haven't been blogging lately. Have a great day!