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.