Monday, August 31, 2009

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • Back before the game's launch, I made an epic blunder in reference to the ability to solo in Champions Online. My error got pointed out to me pretty quickly, but that post is still getting hits to this day. Since I have actually played the game now, I thought I should revisit the question. So, Anjin, just how much can you solo Champions?

  • Quite a lot, actually.

  • This is a game that has learned everything World of Warcraft has to teach about solo content. It feels like the best quest design practices from the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. There are multiple quests that all direct you to a well-themed area so that you're finishing multiple goals in the environment. For instance, let's look at Burnside, the ghost town in the Southwestern Desert zone. There are quests to destroy several cursed totems, kill four named ghost cowboys, and collect spirit stones from the various ghosts around time. As well you have to can remove a curse from the town's cemetery and find a treasure map that leads to a lost grave. When all that is done, there is an instance with a major villain inside to finish the story. Such instances are tricky to solo, but can be handled with careful planning and quick thinking. And lets not forget the perks for killing hordes of cowboy spirits and the perk for running in all the campfires around town.

  • So far the only things I haven't been able to solo are the Open Missions (CO's version of WAR's public quests) and a single quest that was marked for three players. Even two player quests, while harder, have been soloable.

  • [Aside: As I'm already on the topic of Open Missions, the implementation here is very similar to that of Warhammer Online. These are multiple step quests that you work on just for hanging out in the quest zone, with later steps requiring greater participation from large groups of people. Where CO has improved on the concept is by clearly marking Open Missions on the map, by placing them close to quest hubs, and by not overloading the game with them. What we haven't got is scalability, the Holy Grail for solo players. Whether or not Open Missions become ghost towns like WAR is yet to be seen. But Cryptic has taken a step in the right direction here.]

  • So that's my verdict on soloing so far. If you enjoy the current WoW quest hub model, you'll find a great version of that here. If you're burned out on that style of PvE, the judicious use of spandex probably doesn't mask it well enough. Personally, I've been enjoying myself quite a bit. If the solo game goes pear shaped at some point in the future, I'll be the first one to complain. (Well maybe not first. Those forum people are scary.) But for the time being, good golly this is fun.

  • As a bonus, I have another character for you, this time modeled on the Kate Kane version of Batwoman, as found in the pages of Detective Comics. It is a stunningly effective costume even with such sparing use of color. This main issue I've had is the cowl. In this first version, I went for the iconic red lipstick which normally pops off the page. But without the proper mask, her forehead blunts the effect.

  • I finally did track down the option to put a half mask on her. (Jeez, those drop-down menus are strange.) But as you can see, you lose the option for lipstick with the mask. I go back and forth about which I prefer, so I'm presenting both for your use. Neither has the red lined cloak, but I image that's due to Cryptic rendering capes as a single cloth texture. Asking for differing internal and external pattern might be too much.

  • Not that anyone at Cryptic is reading this but just in case, might I suggest you add makeup options for partially covered faces? Or at least larger masks in the Eye Accessory slot? And two sided capes while you're at it? Pretty 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.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • The headstart for Champions Online took off with a shot Friday. So far, CO is one of those games I don't have much to blog about because, well, I'm enjoying myself. And you know nothing is worse for a blogger than a good game. With that in mind, here's a little of what I've been doing.

  • As threatened, I rerolled Arcfire as my main character. I was able to tear through the tutorial zone in, if the timestamp on this image was right, just about an hour. I did reread the quest text, which slowed me down a little. Yeah, I'm not sure why. Guess I'm just weird. (Agree or disagree in the comments.) At some point in the future, Cryptic may want to allow for a clearer through-line for the tutorial. Maybe let Socrates (the game's crime computer) give you a hefty fetch and kill quest that leads right to Dr. Silverback with lots of bonus experience points. Really, how many of you will want to do the "block three attacks" quest on your eighth character?

  • The desert crisis mission takes a little longer, but I was able to get through it and the following quests in due time. I really enjoy the crisis zone idea and hope there is more of that in the future. It may not be as elegant as phasing content, but it works well in context of the zone instancing architecture.

  • And as long as I'm mentioning it, the instancing hasn't annoyed me once at all. The game naturally directs you to instances with friends in them. (I've picked up a few random names from groups.) And there are just enough people around to make the worlds come alive. I don't want to see several thousand people zipping over Millennium City. With that many heroes around, there would never be crime in the city.

  • Let me put it to you this way: everyone thinks Batman is such a bad-ass superhero. If he's so amazing, how come there is still crime in Gotham City? The reason is that he's only got himself. And whatever supplemental characters DC needs to push more Batbooks onto the shelves. That's what Champions feels like and what it needs to feel like.

  • Just today, I wandered over to the Canadian zone to see what quests were available and had a good time. I enjoy the fact that both zones have low and high level content in them, so we'll have an excuse to come back and continue exploring.

  • The Qularr invasion is also going on for us headstarters. It's, um, interesting. Bugs show up every hour or so and the stack of heroes at the drop point pound them into paste within minutes. Maybe the developers didn't take into account how popular this would be. More bugs, please. (That feels like a weird thing to ask for in a game.)

  • I've continued to play around in the character creator. I love that I can save a costume without even finishing a character. Then if I do want an alt, I'll have a few ready for me to try out. Here we have the Techno Angel. She's made with bits from the lifetime subscription bonus, so keep that in mind if you download her.

  • I'll more than likely keep uploading new characters as I make them, just in case you'd like to use them. Maybe a little practice with the character creator will improve my proficiency with it. We'll see.

  • Again, I'm Arcfire@AnjinM in game. Look me up and we'll smash some bad guys together!

© 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, August 28, 2009

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • It's fifteen minutes to launch as I type these words. I took the day off work today because I wanted to be here for the event. With my lifetime subscription in hand (which I finally told my beautiful and understanding wife about), I am eagerly awaiting the start of Champions Online.

  • This is one of the most magical times in an MMO. I'll be creating a character that I'll journey with for several months or years. I'll be making friends (and enemies) with players from around the world who have all come together for the same experience. I'll get to explore a world that hasn't been documented to death on a wiki or spoiler site. And I'll get to see the game at its start, then experience how it grows over time.

  • I rarely make an event of a new game launch. Waiting in line for The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King stand out. And I was there for the first day of Warhammer Online. Well, two hits out of three isn't bad.

  • I'll be talking a lot about the game, I suspect. Unless I hate it and I sell my account. Like I said earlier, there is too much good stuff to talk about to dwell on the bad. I'd rather be a positive blogger like Yeebo Fernbottom than some others I won't mention.

  • Two minutes now. Can't wait to see you in game!

© 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, August 27, 2009

Random Shots: Why Blog?

  • There is a rash of frustration in the MMO blogging community lately. Tobold is wondering whether his long form posts are worth the effort. Openedge1 from Dichotomy of the Gamers Blogosphere Age of Conan News Source is bummed out that readers haven't welcomed his excitement about Age of Conan. And Pete from Dragonchasers is hanging up his blogger cap because the coarsening of discourse in the community.

  • Occasionally I reevaluate why I spend my time blogging. I don't have a great number of people reading my blog. I rarely get any comments. And I rarely see my posts linked on other sites. If all I was looking for was validation from the community, I'd be dying my hair black and cutting myself by now. That isn't why I'm doing this.

  • I blog because I like to write. I blog because I want to share my interests with people. I blog because I think that the most fascinating conversations about gaming are taking place in the MMO blogging community and I want to take part in that. The second those three things are no longer true, I will shut Bullet Points down. But these are all personal reasons. No one outside the blog will affect that.

  • There is too much good stuff out there to talk about. If one jerky blogger or one bad game makes us reconsider blogging, it's probably a sign of a larger issue. In that case, take a break and enjoy your free time. We'll be here waiting if you have something new to say.

  • I do want to thank all of my readers. I hope I provide at least a couple minutes of entertainment for your day. Thank you to my commenters, especially frequent visitors Yeebo, Ardwulf, and Openedge1, for participating in the conversation. And thanks to everyone who does throw a link my way. Every time I show up on Tipa's Daily Blogroll or Syp's /AFK list, I get a warm fuzzy.

  • I'm not going anywhere any time soon. Any blogging breaks in the near future would only be due to Champions Online taking up all of my free time. However since this blog is more for my benefit than any other, I'm sure I will have lots to say for a long time to come.

© 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, August 25, 2009

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • The end-of-beta event for Champions Online kicked off Monday with Dr. Destroyer's robot minions invading Millennium City. I read enough ahead of time (thanks Ardwulf and Syp) to know about the level boost available, so I ran right over and was granted about ten million experience points. It was amusing to pick up three different leveling perks at once. Powerhouse was my next stop to fill out my hotkey bars. It didn't take all that long to train all my new abilities. And since I had little idea what they all did or how to use them, I left two power points unspent.

  • Outside, I found a Mega-Destroid, a level 40 Cosmic baddie. I'm guessing that Cosmic is CO code for Raid Boss because he killed me in short order. I figured that 18 people in the instance wasn't good enough to get a bunch of people together, so I switched down the line. Lucky for me there was one with 99 people in it so I jumped in and immediately found a huge group sieging one of the monsters.

  • Wow, he's big. It was funny to see all the heroes floating around him and blasting like a fleet of gunships. I guess mobile combat will have to wait for another day.

  • Here we see my Arcfire recovering from a bad lunch. (Come on, like all my jokes can be winners.) Anyway, I took down two of the giant beast just to make sure it counted. Actually there's no way to know if it did until it's too late to change anything, so expect a lot of wailing on the official forums.

  • I logged off soon after since there was no way I was going to use my ill-gotten levels to spoil the endgame experience. I want to look forward to the level 40 content so I said goodbye to Arcfire until Friday. This week is going to drag.

  • I had one final insight to share about the game. It came to me in the shower where I do all my best thinking. I would blog from the shower if I could get a computer in there. Does anyone make waterproof computers? Or keyboards at least? Wow, this tangent isn't going where I expected.

  • Sorry about that.

  • Anyway, I like that this game plays like a console game. That's not a bad thing. Console games require both ease of usability and ease of accessibility. I don't need every game I play to be a deeply tactical and immersive experience. Sometimes (okay, most times) I just want to log in, kick some pixilated booty, and look good doing it. Champions has that in spades so far. Can't wait for launch!

  • P.S. Speaking of wailing on the forums, did you all see that lifetime and six-month subscriptions are now sold out? Hope you jumped in early like Ardwulf did. Thanks for the news!

© 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, August 24, 2009

Top Five: Things To Do Before The Cataclysm

  • Complete the Explorer achievements in Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms - With the old world about to be remade, these are the last days to see it as originally designed. If you haven't completed your Explorer achievement for old world Azeroth, there may be places you haven't seen before. The cataclysm isn't going to invalidate the achievements, but some sights will be disappearing forever.

  • Complete the Fallen Hero of the Horde quest series - One of the epic quest lines available for level 60s in the old world, the Fallen Hero of the Horde stands at the pass leading to the Blasted Lands, seeking help to free his brethren from the demon Razelikh. There is little reason to do the quest anymore since Outland welcomes everyone starting at level 58, so many players who didn't reach the level cap before the first expansion probably rode swiftly by him on their way to slay demon boars. It is a shame since the Fallen Hero may not survive the cataclysm. A large section of his quest chain takes place in Azshara, a zone destined to be remade in the new expansion. I doubt Blizzard will take the time to rework his quests much as they removed the famous Onyxia confrontation when Varian Wrynn returned to Stormwind. So help the old ghost out before he fades away into history.

  • Complete the Lost In Battle quest - I actually had to look up the name of this quest because, like so many other people, I think of this as Find Mankrik's Wife. When the Barrens is remade and divided into two zones, one of the likely casualties may very well be this infamous quest. It has players run from the quest giver in Crossroads down to the Southern Barrens. Because of its iconic status, Blizzard will likely rework the quest. However there won't be long for players to complete it in its current form. Or at least take one last chance to ask "Where is Mankrik's Wife?"

  • Play through Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep - There is a reason Blizzard chose these two instances for level 85 Heroics. Both are some of the most fun dungeons in the original game. The low level instances aren't going away. But if you haven't experienced them as they were originally designed, either take your low level character and find a group or blast through with your level 80. It will be interesting to compare with the new versions.

  • Stop rolling alts - Seriously. If you're an alt-o-holic, you might think about laying off until the expansion. Why run a new character through the current content when Blizzard is going to prettify everything in a few months. Several? Many months, maybe? Oh what the hell. Just don't come crying to me when you're hit level 58 just as the expansion rolls out.

  • UPDATE: A follow up to this post, Top Five: More Things To Do Before Cataclysm, is now available!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • It has been a couple days since I actually started up Champions Online. Partly because I've been busy. Partly because I got caught up in all the Blizzcon madness. But mostly, I haven't been playing because I've already made the decision to make Champions my next MMO. It does enough right and enough different so that, assuming content doesn't make a weird left turn somewhere, I can see myself playing this for months. No, the game isn't some revolution in MMO design. But, so far as I've seen, Cryptic has made a game that appeals to my gaming tastes.

  • One gaming taste I didn't understand before was the mass hysteria over CoH's character creator. I get it now. Rolling up new characters in CO can be a lot of fun, half of which is just discovering all the options hidden within the menus. I went ahead and created a new character, a British superspy named Agent Raven. I didn't overdo it with her costume since she's supposed to be a spy. I rolled her as a martial artist with the intent to add a few firearms as later options. After perusing the munitions framework, I'm worried that the powers are more Punisher and less Tara Chace. There may be one or two options that fit, so I'll keep you informed.

  • Nevertheless, watching her punch and kick her way through the tutorial missions was quite hilarious. I have to give the animators credit. They really got the comic-booky feel of combat down right. Since the tutorial is pretty straightforward and I'd already read through the quest text once, I was able to tackle it the second time in short order. Except that Foxbat quest. That respawn is a pain in the tuchas.

  • Speaking of which, I actually like all the environmental quests. Eventually the completest in me will want a wiki list to check off. But at the moment, I'm enjoying finding quests in the open without needing an exclamation point to point the way. My only suggestion might be to make the popup a little more obvious when you do find one. I wonder how often I've run or flown by a quest without noticing the quest button.

  • Yeah, she is totally punching that Qularr drone in the crotch. Do I need to mention that you shouldn't piss her off? This is one hero that does not mess around. She kicked a lot of alien butt (and other things) and went off to the Canada Crisis Zone. I stopped playing so much then because that's when I made my decision.

  • So that's my verdict. CO is a WoW-alike, but I mean that in a positive way here. I like that style of play. Champions takes what they need from this MMO generation and has fit them into a superhero game I want to play. While I'm still on the fence about the 6 month and lifetime options, a subscription is guaranteed at this point.

  • I hope you all have fun and I can't wait to see you in Millennium City.

© 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, August 21, 2009

News Filter: World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

  • Now that Blizzcon has started, we finally have the announcement we've all been waiting for. The third expansion for World of Warcraft will be called: Cataclysm. Hmm, that sounds familiar. Of course, many were skeptical or downright hostile about MMO Champion's leaked info. Time to get out that scorecard and see how they did:

  • New races: Goblin and Worgen - Correct - This was the least surprising of the leaks since it's been around so long. Goblins will be joining the Horde and Worgen go to the Alliance. I am so rolling a Worgen just as soon as I can.

  • New classes: Sort of - Correct - Remember the list of new race & class combinations everyone was scoffing at? It was right. Every last one of them. Check out this chart if you're curious.

  • Level cap: 85 - Correct - You know what? I get this idea. By keeping the level cap low, they can get players into the new endgame quicker. 85 levels total is plenty, especially if they are expecting a lot of rerolled characters.

  • Revamping old world Azeroth - Correct - I'm really excited about this idea. I'm going to miss some of the changed zones, but who really loved Darkshore? How about reworking Azshara and the Barrens? The only downside to this change is nostalgia. But if the changes are good enough, I'll be happy to chuck nostalgia out the winder.

  • Well, that looks like four correct out of four. And I think Blizzard has made the right choices here. Between Age of Conan's expansion announcement and now Cataclysm, horizontal expansion may be the new black this MMO season.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

News Filter: Guild Wars 2 Trailer Arrives

  • I woke up this morning to discover that ArenaNet really did it. The trailer for Guild Wars 2 is now out! (Yes, that deserved an exclamation point.) Get over to the site and check it out. Because this is an MMO blog and I have to keep my pundit credentials up to date, I'll try to comment. The problem is all I want to say is "Squee!"

  • The animated concept art beginning was pretty cool. The first couple shots had me worried, but I really started to get into it as the scenes got more involved. I would have been okay (and that okay is in finger quotes) if that had been the whole trailer.

  • When they actually faded in the gameplay section, I was hooked. There has been a part of me that was worried after reading the fluffy preview bits about the game that A.Net was changing the franchine too dramatically. I shouldn't have worried. Everything here looked like the Guild Wars I remembered, only better. (Did everyone catch the day and night scene? I think that's A.Net proving a point.)

  • GW2 has fallen off my radar in the last year, but this trailer has renewed my faith. Squee!

© 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, August 19, 2009

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • I never liked City of Heroes. Because I started playing with the Guild Wars/World of Warcraft generation of MMOs, I was already used to games that were reacting to Everquest instead of emulating it. Since CoH was firmly in the EQ generation, it felt archaic whenever I tried it. In total, I don't think I spent more than twelve to fifteen hours in Paragon City.

  • Why go into all that? Mostly so you understand how shocked I am that I'm enjoying Champions Online this much. Patcher woes behind us, day two was a much better experience.

  • Here's my first character, Arcfire. She's flame caster modeled after my character from the Champions game I played in back in high school. (Was that 18 years ago? Oh my.) All I need is a massive AoE stun (i.e. a Presence attack in the original game) and she'll be just right. I was happy to find this image in my screenshots folder, evidently saved when I hit the save option on the character creation screen. How cool is that?

  • I had a little trouble getting into the game for the first fifteen or twenty minutes. I only played the tutorial a little bit before shutting it down. After some reflection, I attribute that to my difficulty learning the controls. There are enough things different that I didn't grok it until my second play session. Which lasted until 2 AM. And the only reason I stopped is because I didn't want to sleep through my alarm in the morning.

  • I played through the entirety of the Tutorial zone as well as the Desert crisis zone. At the end of the crisis zone, I teamed up with another flame caster with the moniker of Satan to take down a group quest as well as complete the final instance. His costume was quite impressive by my standards. (I'm just not that good with the character creator, either in this game or CoH.) Think of the devil by way of KISS with a golden halo on top.

  • We talked about what we thought of the game since neither of us played in closed beta. He was enjoying it, but he missed the massive part of the MMO. When I remarked that it reminded me of Guild Wars that way, he said that's why he quit. I don't mind this kind of instancing because I'm sympathetic to what the developers are trying to accomplish. I like the focused storytelling and I like they can change world conditions to fit. The image above is Arcfire hovering over the statue of Grond that had been demolished during the crisis, but rebuilt in the current story. I love that stuff.

  • Here we have a Powerhouse trainer telling my fledgling heroine exactly how bad of a superhero she is. Okay not really. But have you seen the list of available emotes in this game? I'm insanely jealous of Tipa's screenshot comics, so I had to play around a little bit. Not that I will produce anything worth reading, but this does fire the imagination.

  • Back to the game tonight for day three. If you want to look me up, I'm Arcfire@AnjinM. Time to beat on some more bad guys.

© 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.

News Filter: Guild Wars 2 Concept Art

  • Massively has dared to go where I will not (that would be Facebook) to obtain the first four officially released concept images for Guild Wars 2. You can see their gallery here.

  • Yep, that looks like Guild Wars alright. Not sure if it's from Daniel Dociu, but it's certainly from the studio he runs.

  • We're sure to see more of this kind of thing in the coming weeks. So stay tuned and I'll keep you posted. Or at a bare minimum, I'll keep stealing news from Massively.

© 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, August 18, 2009

Played Lately: Dungeons & Dragons Online

  • Welcome to the post I wasn't going to write.

  • I actually started a post about Dungeons & Dragons Online back in June when I got my Eberron Unlimited beta invitation. I was excited for a few reasons. First, I don't get into many betas. This is the only one I can think of at the moment. Hmm. Second, I tried the DDO trial a couple years ago, but my computer at the time couldn't keep up. Now that I've upgraded, I was hoping everything would run better. Third, I was interested, from a MMO pundit/blogging perspective, to see how well Turbine implemented their microtransaction model.

  • But the game started crashing. A lot. So much, in fact, that I stopped playing entirely for over a month. I tried lowering the graphic options. I tried running in windowed mode. I also tried not playing at all, but I could not give up on the game. If anyone else is having similar problems, I've tracked it down to other programs, like Twhirl or Thunderbird, trying to overlay a popup window on the game. After shutting them down, there were no more crashes. And I'm a happy DDO player again.

  • My appraisal so far is that Dungeons & Dragons Online is a lot of fun. I rolled a paladin for my first character. I knew that I would be soloing as much as possible and there is really no downside to the paladin: Lay on Hands, plate armor, big attack bonus. So far, I've been able to solo 95% of everything I've attempted.

  • The highlight of the game, the dungeon adventures, are entertaining. There is just enough variety at these lower levels to keep everything from feeling the same. Even the long miles of sewers avoid getting overly repetitive by mixing up the opponents and including many special rooms. I may be happiest with the wilderness areas, though. It's nice to head out into the world with a little less structure to the adventure.

  • I'm a fan of the action-style combat. Yes, it comes to little more than holding down the mouse buttons and wildly flailing with my sword. But it is different enough from the auto-attack and cool-down based combat that I'm enjoying the change.

  • I especially loved discovering that I could swim underwater longer when I took off my plate armor. That makes no sense in an MMO. Thinking the problem through as a D&D player led me to experiment, though, and it worked. Nice touch, Turbine.

  • I stopped playing for the time being since I don't want to get too attached to my paladin before the wipe. I will be playing again when it launches in September, though, and I'm looking forward to really digging into the game.

© 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, August 17, 2009

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • I'm so excited about finally getting to play Champions Online. I don't do this often, but I've decided to chronicle my play time with a few screenshots. Here's how day one went for me:

  • I came home to find that Fileplanet's Download Manager had finally unlocked the CO installer. I had clicked the button to check it dozens of times before I left for work in the hope I could start installing while I was away. Turns out it didn't matter too much because the damn thing wasn't running.

  • I ran to the CO forums to see what was the matter. It turns out the installer was completely borked. Hmm. I thought about trying to download the new installer while still working on the old. Eventually the old one stopped fighting me which is good since I was still two hours away from a new download from Fileplanet.

  • Here's where I sat and watch the game try to patch. This image is my latest attempt. I've run it a few times thinking it's lack of download speed was due to software failure. Turns out Cryptic's patch hardware wasn't ready for people to actually play the game. That screenshot was taken at 0.7% progress. In the half hour it has taken to write this I'm up to 0.9%. At this rate, I'll probably be able to play the actual game by 6 o'clock AM on August 28! Can't wait to see you all in game!

© 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.

News Filter: Teasing Guild Wars 2

  • By way from Massively, we have another teaser about Guild Wars 2. Mike O'Brien (who last used his wiki page to talk about Jeff Strain's departure) reminds us that things are afoot at ArenaNet, lest we all fall into despair that GW2 might never be released. Evidently they will be actually talking about the game. That would be a nice change from the polite smiles and averted eyes we've gotten so far.

  • My take: it's about damn time. Now that Aion is getting out of the way, I hope NCsoft loosens the muzzle a little.

  • Further teasing can be found at the Guild Wars 2 site. All that missing is a countdown timer and that page would be complete.

© 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, August 14, 2009

News Filter: WoW Speculation from MMO-Champion

  • Boubouille, the World of Warcraft newsman extraordinaire from MMO-Champion, has released speculation he's gathered about the next WoW expansion, currently referred to as Cataclysm. Since I'm going to comment on this stuff, you might want to look away if you are spoiler-phobic. Since I hate television show spoilers, I will understand.

  • New races: Goblin and Worgen - This is not exactly news, but we do get narratives about why they're joining the Horde and Alliance, respectively. I don't know about you, but I am damn well going to roll up a Worgen if they become available.

  • New classes: Sort of - Instead of adding any new classes, Blizzard will instead open up more classes choices for various races. While some players will see this as the continued dumbing down of the game, I think this is just Blizzard saying "Okay, we know you want more options. So here you go."

  • Level cap: 85 - This would be an interesting move. The idea of making five hell levels instead of the standard ten would allow content to be turned differently than they have in the past. Although the assumption is that Blizzard is fixated on certain things, I can see this being something they decide to experiment with, just like they have with raid sizes.

  • Revamping old world Azeroth - Oh really? I'm fascinated by the implications of this. Will they update the old quests along with the zones? Will there be massive phasing? No one knows, but I look forward to seeing how Blizzard handles this.

  • With Blizzcon only a week away, I'll have my scorecard out to see how this stacks up. If half of this is true, I'm interested to see how it turns out. So, what do you think?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Read Lately: Casino Moon by Peter Blauner

  • I think some books are too long. I don't mean those authors that fall in love with their words and forget to edit themselves. I'm referring to this requirement to put out a three hundred page novel even with a story that would be better paced at two hundred. Casino Moon is one of those books.

  • The main character, Anthony Russo, is the son of New Jersey mafioso. Vincent, his adoptive father, wants Anthony to get into the family business, but Anthony would do anything to get away from that life. His ticket out comes in the form of a retired boxer who it looking to make a comeback. But his mafia ties and his family problems keep getting in Anthony's way.

  • It's obvious to me that Peter Blauner can write. My problem is that, even though the final fifty pages really picked up some steam, it is not enough to redeem the novel. Cutting about a hundred pages could have turned it into a lean, tightly paced story. As it was, I had trouble staying interested until the end. That said, I finally got into it once I hit the last few chapters. In fact, I read the last two pages twice because they were so well written.

  • My assumption here is that, since this is only his second book and the only one I've read, Blauner has grown as a writer in the intervening years. This is not a book I would recommend to a casual reader. However there is a promise in these pages that he's got better books out there if you look.

© 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, August 12, 2009

Random Shots: Epic Blogging Fail

  • The bullet points are going to fly today, so keep your head down and stay behind cover.

  • I wrote a 450 word blog post last night about the art/product/service nature of MMOs. Then I read it, decided it was horrid, and deleted it so you wouldn't have to read it. You are welcome.

  • The news is out that Jeff Strain has left NCsoft. That doesn't mean anything bad for Guild Wars 2 but I occasionally have trouble quelling my skeptical nature. Just last September, he was promoted to president of product development. What the hell happened with NCsoft in ten months? Whatever the case, Jeff helped make the first online game I fell in love with. Best of luck to you, sir.

  • By way of Massively, details of the Champions Online early start are emerging. Looks like GameStop and Best Buy customers will get into the game starting August 28. I wonder if it's too late to request some vacation time.

  • It took me four weeks to read Casino Moon by Peter Blauner. I'm now thirty pages from the end of Jason Starr's Fake I.D. after only a week. I don't think I can blame myself for the difference. Reviews to come.

  • Been chatting with someone about making a podcast. Am I crazy?

  • Here's a pet peeve for you: I hate the rhetorical style of asking and answering your own questions. It feels to me like the speaker is controlling both sides of a conversation. In the prior bullet point, I had to stop myself from adding my own response because I really do want to hear an answer. Otherwise, you would assume the question was rhetorical and never respond.

  • That was a subtle hint to leave a comment.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Random Shots: Anticipation

  • As Keen rightly points out, we are in a gaming slump at the moment. This isn't surprising since it happens every year at around this time. Why release a new game now when you can sell it in during the Christmas season? Of course with all the delays we've seen recently, even Christmas seems like a bad idea.

  • Doom and gloom aside, the MMO community has a couple games to look forward to. Both Champions Online and Aion will be released (knock on particle board) next month. As well, Dungeons and Dragons Online's free-to-play option will finally come out of beta. With all of this action, September should be a great month for MMO blogging. Hopefully we'll see a lot few MMO burnout posts and more excitement and debate about the new games.

  • Of the games coming out, the one I'm looking forward to most is Champions. I could not get into City of Heroes because, even under the spandex exterior, it was still an old school MMO that hadn't benefited from the lessons World of Warcraft taught. Rumors are the CO has maybe taken WoW a little too close to heart. Personally, I don't find the gold exclamation mark style of questing as repugnant as many. At least the long wait is coming to an end and I'll be able to try it for myself.

  • DDO is going to get a separate write up, but I'm wondering how the community at large will react to this relaunch. What I've played (now that I can play) has me fairly hooked. I haven't spend much funny-money in the cash shop, other than a leveling sigil and access to one quest series, but I haven't felt like Turbine is trying to take advantage of me yet. And I'm having fun! Even soloing these lower levels has been a good time. Whether that holds out is still to be seen. I can see myself splurging on hordes of henchmen to get through later quests. Of course if I get to that point, I'll be well and completely hooked.

  • Of these three, I'm least interested in Aion. It doesn't have anything to do with the game itself. It looks beautiful and sounds like fun. I just don't need another fantasy game yet. Admittedly, the grouping roadblocks sound frustrating and I've never sought out PvP for more than a lark. It doesn't sound like a game you would dabble with. If pick up groups become the norm and raids are more forgiving of newbs like myself, I might be interested. But if I'm going to invest in a game to see endgame content, I'm more likely at the moment to do so in Champions than anything else.

  • Lest we forget, Syp reminds us that the next MMO juggernaut on the horizon is Bioware's attempt to resuscitate George Lucas' franchise again. He compares the burgeoning SWTOR blog community to the one that sprung up around Warhammer Online. Ouch. It does sound like EA's marketing department is moderating itself better this time around. But unless this game launches straight into the stratosphere, I'm afraid we'll see the same attrition WAR has faced. And by the way, I care at all. A Mass Effect MMO might be a different story, but SWTOR? Ugh.

  • So, everyone, don't worry. There is going to be plenty to blog about in the foreseeable future. I can't wait to read all the raves and rants that are sure to come!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Top Five: Podcasts

  • A Life Well Wasted - Robert Ashley's labor of love is unique in the gaming podcast community. Deliberately drawing inspiration from shows like This American Life, Ashley eschews the standard game news chatter for an in-depth view of gaming culture. Only three episodes have been released so far, but each one has been worth the wait.

  • Downloadable Content - While I would only suggest this podcast for fans of Penny Arcade, it is a fascinating glimpse into the creative process behind the webcomic. Their schedule is erratic, somewhere near "whenever we feel like it." But I love hearing how they sift through the news to find their comic for the day.

  • Gamers With Jobs Conference Call - There are a lot of podcasts that follow the group-of-guys-chatting-about-what-they-are-playing format. A lot. Standing head and shoulders over them all is the Gamers With Jobs Conference Call. It is the one gaming podcast that doesn't aim for the lowest common denominator. They discuss their topics intelligently, argue with passion without insulting one another, and entertain at the same time. I don't want to scare anyone off, because the GWJCC is genuinely funny. But you'll be laughing because they are having a good time, not because they said a naughty word.

  • Shut Up. We're Talking. - Of all the podcasts on this list, SUWT is podcast the most matches my interests. The best and most interesting discussions in gaming are taking place about MMORPGs now. That's why I spend so much time reading and blogging about it. And that's why I listen to Darren and Karen and their various guests. If you are at all interested in MMOs and MMO blogging, SUWT is the best podcast for you.

    It doesn't hurt that they invited me on for an episode. Squee!

  • The Instance - If a World of Warcraft fan asked me about a podcast to listen to, I would point them to The Instance. Scott Johnson and his co-host Randy Jordan are well practiced at this point. With over 150 episodes in the can, this is the cast I think any WoW player would be interested in.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Read Lately: Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke

  • I didn't even know about Darwyn Cooke's version of The Hunter until I saw Don MacPherson's preview of the book. Even then, as much as I was interested in reading it, I lost track of the book until it showed up in my local comic shop a couple weeks ago. It's a good thing I did not accidently overlook it because this really is a good book.

  • The Hunter is the story of Parker, an amoral criminal, who is on the path of vengeance after he is shot and left for dead after one of this enterprises went wrong. Parker is a strange character for a protagonist because he is a bad guy. He's not one of those sympathetic thieves with a heart of gold like Jean Valjean. If this was a western, he'd wear a black hat. The ingenious thing, as was Westlake's goal with the book, is that you end up rooting for the character, even if he's a jerk. It helps that even though he's bad, his opponents are worse and deserve what's coming.

  • The story is told in graphic form by Cooke, based on the first Parker novel published in 1963, though the words are all Donald Westlake (writing under the psuedonym Richard Stark). I have enjoyed Cooke's work since I first saw his DC: The New Frontier as well as his work on The Spirit. This novel is a perfect match for his artistic talents.

  • IDW did something ingenious with this book that I hope other publishers copy. It's actually bound like a standard hardcover book. The beautiful design of the dustjacket would make this a perfect fit with my other mystery novels. True, the interior art is scaled more like manga than an American comic book, but I think that is my preferred format for long form graphic fiction.

  • If you like crime fiction, this is great graphic novel for you to try. It's the best of Darwyn Cooke and Donald Westlake all in one. Heck, writing this now makes me want to go back and read it again. Maybe I will.

© 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, August 5, 2009

Random Shots: MM-Offline-RPGs Revisited

  • I wrote a post a few days ago that I was particularly proud of about offline versions of MMO-style games that I felt were better products than the original. In it, I reached a rhetorical conclusion that more MMOs should give this a try. There was something else I should have considered. However I did not realize I missed it until the post was already out.

  • I don't really mean that MMOs like World of Warcraft should go single-player, though I would play such a game. What I really want is for developers to be aware of how their revenue models effect the game they are making. Everyone who plays a game like this knows (or should know) what it is costing them. We don't want to be manipulated to pay more for less game.

  • There are two ways developers can break MMOs to produce revenue:

    • Subscription Games - Subscription MMOs treat players like subjects of a study on operant conditioning. At first players are given small, but consistent rewards as they learn the game. Over time, rewards become randomized and occur at unknown intervals. This partial reinforcement leads players to work just as hard or harder for rewards because they are uncertain about how they are rewarded. Some players even develop superstitions and rituals in the belief that they can effect random outcomes. Does this sound familiar to you? It should if you've ever been in a casino.

    • Microtransaction Games - While subscription games work on positive reinforcement of behaviors, microtransaction games try negative reinforcement on its willing fan base. This is actually easier to spot and more insidious. At it's core, the game is made just good enough to get you started. But as the player progresses, they run into greater and greater roadblocks that prevent their advancement. While some players can persevere against such difficulties, the game allows players the option to purchase items to overcome these obstacles from the cash shop. A cash shop where you spend a virtual currency you bought outside the game. And since you already spent the money, you might as well spend the points. Even if it doesn't come out even.

  • These are worst case scenarios, so I'm not condemning every game out there. But we are mindful of what depths you might descend to. If you are honest that in your desire to serve your customers, you will design your games in an honest and fair way.

  • If you don't believe me, peruse this article (by way of Raph Koster) called Game design as marketing: How game mechanics create demand for virtual goods. Vote with your wallets, folks. That's the only language these people understand.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Random Shots: What I Mean By Endgame

  • While I was thumbing through Orion's My LotRO blog, I ran across this post where he completely misses the point about why we use the term endgame. Before I take him to task, I should explain where he's coming from.

  • Orion professes a preference for the term "elder game." He sees the MMO experience as a learning curve where the player starts as a noob, grows through a learning phase, then reaches the elder game where a player is challenged to use the knowledge they have accumulated. Content is developed to match these phases and everyone is happy, assuming player capability improves at the correct intervals. The elder game, then, is the part where you assume the player has learned everything they need to play the game. Challenges can then be created to test the player's skill instead of the character's.

  • What's wrong with that? Nothing! That is the gold standard for game development as far as I can tell. If you think of all the best games you've ever played, you will see this learning curve. The problem arises because level-based MMOs aren't really designed like this.

  • Here are the three stages of MMO content:

    • The starter zone - The first act of any MMO is the starter zone. This is where players are taught how to play the game. At least, it teaches you how to play the leveling game. The first levels generally come quickly, new abilities are granted, and quests are relatively easy to overcome. For many games, the starter zones are the most polished portion of the game experience specifically because this is the one place that every player is guaranteed to pass through. The decision whether or not a player is going to stick with a game is usually made based on this experience.

    • The leveling game - The second act in MMOs is the leveling game. This is were the bulk of content is directed. Players complete new quests, find new gear, and gain character levels to they can move on to greater challenges. Assuming a infinite amount of content, the leveling game could go on forever. However since developers only have so many resources, the leveling game comes to its eventual conclusion. At that point, we shift to...

    • The endgame - For current level-based MMOs the endgame is the point where leveling content expires. There is usually a shift from exhaustable content used for leveling to repeatable content, like group instances and raid or high-end PvP games.

  • Does that last description line up with Orion's elder game? I don't believe so, although there is an overlap. What he describes is a design goal. Instead what we have is the reality of limited resources for content creation and the need to keep subscription players paying by repetition of content. I know that sounds bad, but a great many people view the leveling game as the grind they have to endure to reach that endgame. So, who is right? Not sure.

  • I've spent some time hammering on the current MMO endgame for a reason. Most media follows a three act structure. There is an introduction, a building action, and a climax. MMOs subvert that structure by never reaching a conclusion. The endgame, as I'm describing it here, is a perpetual build toward a resolution that never comes. The closest equivalent I can think of are soap operas. There is rising action, setbacks, some character growth, but no resolution. The story never ends. And it can't end as long as the companies involved need it make money.

  • The word itself betrays a desire to see some sort of conclusion to their personal stories. But until MMO developers can design a game that is a unified experience clear through with a definite endpoint, we are never going to see Orion's elder game. It will always be an endgame.

© 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, August 3, 2009

News Filter: Champions Online Offers Lifetime Subscriptions

  • By way of Syp from Bio Break, we get news that Champions Online is now offering a lifetime subscription to their game. The catch?

  • Come on, you knew there would be a catch.

  • The catch is you have to purchase the lifetime subscription by September 1. How is that a catch, you might ask, unaware that I'm going to type all of this whether you do or not? The game is scheduled for release on September 1, so only people in the beta will know whether or not they want to pay for the game at all, much less two hundred dollars for the lifetime deal. (Okay, yes, there is the $60 for six months deal but that's boring!)

  • I'm in a dilemma about this. Time to break out the numbered list:

    1. I know so little about this game that I made a huge blogging faux pas recently. I want to make an informed decision and I don't know enough to do so.

    2. I've been waiting for a Champions game since April 1992. I'm not kidding about this.

    3. Two hundred dollars is a lot of money. A lot of money. Can I afford to pay that much in this economy? Would my wife let me pay that much in this economy?

    4. If I'd have known back then what I know now, I would have signed up for the Lord of the Rings Online lifetime subscription. I don't know if I've paid $200 in subscription fees for that game, but I would have played a lot more if I took the lifetime option.

    5. The NDA still hasn't been lifted on the beta and we are less than a month away from release. That is never a good sign.

    6. Even worse, the NDA is keeping the good stuff from coming out as much as hiding the bad. No one can get enthusiastic online if they can't talk about the game.

    7. Still, it's Champions, man. Champions!

  • For now, my credit card is firmly stuck in my wallet which I don't keep in my computer room for a reason. I just don't know enough to make that kind of commitment to one game. My taste in games has been so flighty lately, I'm not sure I'd make it past thirty days. Oh well, I still have a few weeks to decide, right?

  • Good thing I haven't memorized my credit card number.

  • For more insight, make sure you read Green Armadillo's thoughts over at Player Versus Developer where he ponders the why and wherefores of lifetime subscriptions in general and for Champions in particular.

© 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, August 1, 2009

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • And just like that, I'm done playing World of Warcraft. At least for now. My three month subscription does not run out until September, but it would take a lot to get me back before the next expansion.

  • It's a decision I've been edging toward by inches over the last couple months. First I jumped into Age of Conan and had a lot of fun there. More recently I restarted Everquest 2 to try something different. As well, I've been playing a lot more single player games like Fallout 3 on PC and Pangya on the PSP. What I haven't done is play WoW for any appreciable length of time.

  • Green Armadillo from Player Vs. Developer calls it endgame fatigue. That is exactly what I have been feeling. I've been through it one time before with Guild Wars. Soon after Nightfall was released, I got burned out and stopped wanting to log in. As a matter of fact, where I took five characters to the end of Prophecies and six characters through Factions, only one character finished Nightfall. Then when Eye of the North came out, I only played long enough to take one character through that as well. Now I rarely even think to play Guild Wars instead of another game.

  • I'm at that point with World of Warcraft.

  • I logged in a couple days ago and found my main character, Ashlynh, at the Argent Tournament. I immediately sighed because I knew a bunch of daily quests were coming. Because I was only a couple tokens away from completing the valiant's quest, I decided not to log back out again. I did the jousting, which I hate. I flew out to kill some undead in Icecrown. Then I turned those in and turned in my valiant tokens. My reward was to open up a bunch more daily quests. That was when I logged out.

  • Looking forward to the next patch, there is nothing for me to get excited about. I'm never going to get into the new raid since I haven't even completed the lowest tier of level 80 raids, much less Ulduar. I'm not excited about another group instance. There are instances from the expansion's launch I haven't completed. And I haven't grinded out enough reputation to do the new daily quests. Literally there will be nothing in patch 3.2 for me to do, so why should I keep playing now.

  • I still need to finish the Icecrown quests sometime. I'm not very eager about this since I know I'll still run up against the group/raid wall in the story. Why should I care about helping the Argent Crusade advance against Arthas if I'm never going to fight him myself?

  • I know. MMOs are not single-player games. They've hit me over the head with that time and again. But that doesn't mean I have to keep paying for Blizzard's continuous second act.