Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Five: Video Games Of 2010

  • It is that time of year again. It's time to look at the games that I played in 2010 (even if they did not come out in 2010) and decide which were the Top Five of the year. Keep in mind that this list is completely subjective. I'm even listing them in alphabetical order to avoid any problems. Let's see which ones had the biggest impact on me.

  • Borderlands - I don't think there has been another game that I have tried harder to play more than Borderlands. I initially bought the game in a Steam sale. When my video card crashed out and I had to swap in an underpowered substitute, I gave it up for a while. But then the GOTY edition came out on Xbox 360 and I bought it again. And then replaced it when the first didn't come with the DLC codes. The reason I tried so hard is because Borderlands is just fun. That's all it wants to be. The story is not compelling, the gameplay isn't deep. But it's fun as hell and actually got me playing a shooter this year.

  • Dragon Quest IX - As a long time fan of the Dragon Quest series ever since the NES era, I was looking forward to this game for quite some time. I was not disappointed. There is a vast world to explore, crafting and gathering, multiple jobs to level up, and a full endgame in place. But the main story is told almost episodically, so the critical path is not overwhelming. Although I was concerned that the move to the DS would hurt the game, making it portable was a godsend. Dragon Quest has never been about pushing polygons, so they did not lose anything by shrinking it. In fact, I probably played it more because I could play it anywhere.

  • Limbo - When the Xbox Summer of Arcade launched, I didn't have any idea what this game was. But one Giant Bomb Quick Look later convinced me that I had to buy this game. And although it only took me a few hours, it was one of my favorite games of the year. I'm not very good at puzzles, so I did have to hit the FAQ a couple times. Even so, I had a blast figuring out how to navigate Limbo's dark world. But it wasn't the gameplay that won me over. Instead it was the mood and tension that bored into me like one of those disgusting brain worms. Even now I can recall the feels the game gave me, from hopeless despair to moments of triumph. That is why it made this list.

  • Mass Effect 2 - I loved Mass Effect. It was far and away my favorite game Bioware has made (just ahead of Jade Empire). ME2 was the perfect follow up. From the first tense moments through to the harrowing climax, I was hooked by this game and its story. It was great to step into Commander Shepard's shoes again and guide her (oh yes, Shepard is much better as a woman) to victory against the Collectors. If I have anything negative to say about the game, it's that now I can't wait for Mass Effect 3.

  • Red Dead Redemption - I like the idea of Rockstar's games a lot more than I can play them. Usually I run into some wall that I just can't overcome, so I give up in frustration. Which is sad because the stories their game are unusually excellent. Red Dead Redemption has the excellent storyline that I was looking for along with great gameplay and an amazing world to explore. RDR's deconstructionist western hit all of the right notes with an amazing lead character, confident story beats, and a mood that effected me long after I finished the game. And finished and finished because you aren't done playing until the final credits roll, no matter how the story goes. I'm embarassed to say that I put the game down at the wrong point and had to go back later when I realized my mistake. And I'm glad I did go back because RDR has one of the most satisfying endings ever.

  • Although they didn't make the top five, I want to give Sid Meier's Civilization V and Costume Quest some honorable mentions. It's like some people asked themselves "What would Anjin like to play?" and made them just for me. Thanks, everyone.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Random Shots: The Year That Was 2010

  • Last year I was inspired by Blue Kae give some thought to the games I was looking forward to in the coming year. This year I'm going to revisit those expectations and see how they matched up with reality. Tomorrow is my Top Five games of the year. Then Monday I look into the year ahead and think about where my gaming will go from here.

  • World of Warcraft: Cataclysm - I listed Cataclysm and the one MMO I was looking forward to this year, and I was almost right. However, I also expected it to be a "just enough" expansion. And although the high level content seems a little thin, I didn't expect to enjoy the low level content so much. Definitely a win for Blizzard.

  • Diablo III - Torchlight made me look forward to more Diablo-style gaming last year. But I was right: D3 did not come out this year. At least 2011 looks a lot more promising.

  • Mass Effect 2 - I hadn't used my 360 for a while before ME2 came out. After ME2, I went on an Xbox bender. Thank you, ME2, for teaching me to love (consoles) again. Can. Not. Wait. For Mass Effect 3.

  • Red Dead Redemption - At the beginning of the year, I said I was looking forward to a new western game because of how much I enjoy Gun. Heh. Heh heh heh. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Yeah, I think RDR will be my western of choice from now on.

  • Other MMOs. Any of them. - I named six MMOs that I was not looking forward on 2010 for various reasons. Some I just didn't care for, some I knew for a fact wouldn't come out no matter how much I begged, pleaded, bribed, wished on stars, bargained with demons, etc. Of the six, only two did come out: Allods Onlines and Star Trek Online. In both cases, I tried and rejected them. So I was right, 2011 was not a year for new MMOs. What I didn't expect was that EQ2 would add and X and become a game that I was actually interested in. Crazy.

  • Starcraft 2 - I made it almost all the way through 2010 without buying SC2, but I folded in the end. Blizzard put it on sale and I caved. So far, not a bad game. But it's still an RTS, just a really Blizzardy one.

  • How was 2010 for you?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Random Shots: Petty

  • I like World of Warcraft. I mean really like it. They have a whole bunch of my money to prove it. I know it is the cool thing to hate on WoW, but you can't tell me that we (and by we I mean me and 12 million of my closest friends) are not having fun. But there is one thing I would change to make the game better.

  • No, I don't want them to fix the holy trinity. They don't have to add meaningful PvP. I don't need a more hardcore game, more intricate crafting, or forced grouping.

  • I just want them to fix the mother-effing sound effect for Templar's Verdict.

  • Have you heard it? If you haven't, go right now and roll up a paladin, play up to level 10, and pick Retribution as your talent specialization. Really, go ahead. I'll wait. It should take you no more than twenty minutes what with the leveling changes.

  • See what I mean? When I'm swinging a huge two-handed weapon and someone, it shouldn't sound like I'm playing with a Slinky. I'm sure there is a place for that, but Slinkies sound like hunter weapons, not paladins. I want a big, meaty crash, bang, or explosion of steel on flesh. If you can recreate that with something that came in your Christmas stocking, you're doing it wrong.

  • You've done some great work in the past, Blizzard. Don't let me down.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Five: Best Of 2010 Lists

  • If there is anything that Best Of lists are good for, it's starting fights. And the Internet loves a good fight. This may be listed as a Top Five, but it's really just a collection of lists that I've discovered and enjoyed this year.

  • The A.V. Club's Best Games - For straight up best games lists, you can't beat the A.V. Club's. It's simple, straightforward, and well-rounded. Go for it.

  • Giant Bomb's GOTY - There is some crazy stuff going on at Giant Bomb. They've collected the top ten games from several people in and around the games industry, announced their own awards, and released a series of podcasts delibrating the categories. Even better, you can't even count on everything matching up. It's hilarious.

  • Bio Break's Flushies - A lot of bloggers (including myself) like to celebrate the end of the year with a best of list. Although there are any number of good ones, I should point out Syp's 2010 Flushies. He does an excellent job of breaking down what happened during the year and putting a humorous spin on it.

  • AoL Radio Blog's 10 Best Songs - I don't follow music that closely anymore. I wanted to be one of those cool people who enjoys new music late into life, but that's just not going to happen. But amusingly enough, I actually know and like all the songs on this list. Maybe things aren't as bad as I think.

  • Massively's Top Indie and Free-To-Play Stories - 2010 may not have been a great year for Triple-A MMOs, but Beau reminds us that indie and free-to-play MMOs exploded throughout the year. It's easy to overlook all the news when our particular niche put up a poor showing this year. (I mean, really, Cataclysm is going to be the AAA MMO of the year, folks.) It helps to look outside the bubble and remember that things weren't all the bad, just not what we expected.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Random Shots: Downbeat

  • I wish I had a lot to talk about today, but the truth is I haven't been doing too much gaming lately. Real life intervenes, as it will. So I've had little time to do more than to enjoy myself vicariously through all of your posting and comments. So thank you all for writing and sharing. It has been a great comfort.

  • I woke up early on Wednesday morning so I decided to get a little game time in before work. I logged into WoW only to discover that it was down for maintenance. Okay fine. New expansion and all. So I tried EQ2X. Down for maintenance. LotRO? Just a nice patch to download before I could play. At that point, I figured I might as well just go to work.

  • Although I haven't done much gaming, that doesn't mean I haven't been planning for it. The daily special on ended up being an 250GB Xbox 360 hard drive for only fifty dollars. I've had the same 20GB since the console came out, one I had to buy separately since only the Core package was available when I picked it up after launch. I wasn't about to spend $130 on a stupid hard drive, but this seemed like a perfect deal. It will be nice when I don't have to free up space every time I want to try a new game.

  • So, Angry Birds huh? Downloaded it on my Incredible, showed it to my wife, and she had to download a copy as well. When a game crosses that threshold, I know it's going to be big.

  • And that's it folks. Happy Steam Sale Season.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Played Lately: Sid Meier's Civilization V

  • My good friend, gaming burnout, came to visit the other day. But instead of coming and going, he decided to crash on the couch and eat all my tortilla chips right out of the bag. When he gets comfortable like this, the only way to get out is to change up my routine. So I put WoW on hold for a little bit and fired up Civilization V.

  • I chose Civ V primarily because of the recent patch. I played the heck out of the game when if first came out, but I don't stick with Civ games too long, even when I enjoy them a lot. Happily, I can report that the patch does help with a number of issues that I had with the game. It made this return a great experience.

  • In the first game I played, I was randomly assigned the Chinese. I decided early on that I wanted to try for a Culture victory, a goal that seemed impossible before. I kept my empire small, expanding to only three cities. And I was lucky with my placement since I was the only civilization on my continent, along with a handful of city-states. I spent my very little time fighting. In fact, I ended the game with just three units to my name. I upgraded them as I could, but mostly they stayed garrisoned in my city after the threat of barbarians had passed. Funny enough, everyone else left me alone and I completed the mythical Utopia Project. So yeah, it can be done.

  • My next game also ended up with the Chinese, but on a continent with four neighbors. In spite of the crowding, I tried to keep it peaceful and try for a Science victory. One of the most interesting things about running down the tech tree is that you get access to all of these awesome toys. I mean, if you get the chance to build nuclear missiles, why wouldn't you wipe those smug Ottomans off the map? As you would expect, I ended up in a lot of armed conflicts, including a world war starting around 1700. Since at that point I was rushing toward my favorite unit, Infantry. I took on all comers, even fighting a multi-front war, and took several capitals along the way. By the time the conflict was done, I had pushed all of the other civilizations into tight little pockets where they couldn't damage me anymore. I went back to my research, built my ship and took off for the stars.

  • The afore mentioned nuke was tossed at the Ottomans because they were the only ones on my continent still holding their capital. And thank goodness because the Arabians were on there also and I would feel queasy nuking Mecca. Unfortunately a glitch stopped the mushroom cloud from spawning so all I saw were a couple units collapsing and the terrain burning. Oh well.

  • It's pretty fun how, even after being away from the game for a while, Civilization V can suck me right back in without even trying. Maybe that's why I play only rarely: I need my sleep.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Random Shots: The Expansion After Cataclysm

  • Is it too soon to think about what the next expansion for World of Warcraft will be after Cataclysm? Of course it is. But never let is be said that a little thing like propriety ever got in the way of a good post. Or even a bad one.

  • These last three expansions have been primarily about filling the holes in the world. The Burning Crusade took us through the Dark Portal to experience what was left of Draenor. Wrath of the Lich King wrapped up the story originally laid out in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. And now Cataclysm literally fills in the zones that have long been on the world map, but completely inaccessible. The question becomes "What holes are left?"

  • Of course, Blizzard could take things in an entirely different direction. I'm not equiped to speculate on the posibilities of them following some random plot thread from the lore into some strange corner of Azeroth. Is there some southern continent that I don't know about? A fabulous sky realm that is heretofore unmentioned? Maybe, but my guess springs from the game as is.

  • After the Shattering reshaped the level 1-60 game to match up with where the level 80 characters had left the world, the first two expansions have been orphaned from the story line. Once you step through the Dark Portal, you are stepping back in time. And why are we heading to Northrend at level 70 if characters all across the land talk about recovering from the fight with the Lich King. If there is a hole in the game, it is the loose ends left by these plots being detached.

  • Here is my wild guess two years from when we'll see the next expansion: the next expansion will see the Burning Legion returning in force and we will be using Outland as the staging point to launch an counteroffense. And in order to support the new Outland, Blizzard will take the opportunity to rebuild the 60-70 game to flow quicker, take advantage of the zones everyone skips now, and rewrite the quests so that the story lines match up better.

  • The actual odds of this happening are vanishingly small. Maybe Blizzard will redo those to expansions in their free time and push them out with the patchs during this cycle. And maybe Ghostcrawler will finally give us that pony too.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Random Shots: WoW Versus Everyone Else

  • Since I wrote my recent post about the constant slagging of World of Warcraft, I've received some comments that make me think I need to consider the other side of the coin. No, I'm not taking the "WoW Suxxors" side. Instead, let's talk about everyone who doesn't play WoW and what the expansion onslaught looks to them.

  • If you are not a WoW player, the sudden flood of Cataclysm posts must be overwhelming. Many blogs that cover a wide range of topics are suddenly dominated by this one game. And if you don't care about WoW, your interaction with the community will be dropping considerably.

  • This isn't new for WoW, though. Anytime a new game becomes the flavor of the month, you are going to see a lot of talk about it. And if you are not on that bandwagon, you end up hitting "Mark As Read" in your feedreader a lot. For the last several months, there have been a number of bloggers talking in excitement about Star Wars: The Old Republic. I'm not sure I even want to play it, so I end up skipping a lot of blogs. WoW blogging is an entire magnitute greater than that, so it must seem like the entire community has turn away from you.

  • I think that is part of the reason that there are two MMO communities, there is WoW and then there is everything else. Just look at the split between WoW Insider and Massively. There is no reason that Massively couldn't cover WoW, except that the WoW community is voracious for WoW centric content. That's why there are WoW bloggers, WoW forums, WoW everything. But WoW is still an MMO and even the most game-promiscuous player will return to the mothership from time to time.

  • I think we could all do a better job in remembering that, although there is crossover, not everyone enjoys WoW. There are valid reasons for not enjoying the game. WoW is not a religion and we are not missionaries to the unenlightened. Continue to share your experiences, but remember to be friendly about it.

  • And if you find yourself overwhelmed by all the WoW talk, just remember that it will pass. It always does. Pretty soon another game will comes along and everyone will jump on that bandwagon. And if not, people will burnout sooner or later. It's just a matter of time.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 10, 2010

By Request: So You Want To Be An Archaeologist

  • Congratulations on your decision to explore the fascinating field of Archaeology, the craze that is sweeping the World of Warcraft. Maybe you're wondering if Archaeology is right for you? Well, you've come to the right place. My assistant, Kyralahn, and I are here to explain what this new profession is all about so you can make an informed decision.

  • It looks like Kyra is ready to go, so let's get moving.

  • When you decide to take up Archaeology, it pays to learn from the best. That's why the University of Stormwind employs only the best professors in the field. Here we see Professor Harrison Jones, back from his recent expedition to Grizzly Hills, speaking with his students. Due to his affiliation with the university, only Alliance students will be accepted. Members of the Horde may have to resort to less reputable instructors.

  • Once you've been instructed in the basics of the profession, you are ready for adventure. There is nothing else to buy. All of your surveying equipment is provided as a part of your education.

  • To find various artifact sites, check your continental map. On each continent (based on your skill level), you will find four shovel icons showing where artifact fragments can be found. There are several possibilities all over the world. Find the one best suited for you (I like to start close by and move farther afield as I go) and set off. Flight Master transportation can add up over time, so get used to flying yourself.

  • When you enter a zone where the dig sites are found, the zone map will display red rings showing exactly where you should be searching. Pick a spot and get started.

  • Why did it have to be drakes?

  • Maybe we'll try somewhere else first.

  • Now that we've chosen our site, let's explain how your new survey equipment works. When you use your Survey ability, your equipment will scan the area for artifacts. Here you can see that the red indicator has been illuminated. This lets us know that we are nowhere close to an artifact. Don't let that discourage you. Think of that red light as a check mark on your list of potential locations. That's one less area you need to search!

  • The yellow indicator here tells us that we are getting closer. While the equipment only gives a vague direction under a red light, when you are in the yellow band the direction is much more clear. When I see a yellow light, I know that I'm closing in.

  • Helpful Hint Number One: When the yellow light comes up, run straight in the direction that equipment points for as long as it takes for the cooldown on your Survey ability to expire. Very often, the five seconds of running you do will put you within range of your quarry.

  • And finally we see the green indicator. Your instrument is calibrated to light the green lamp when you are within forty yards of the artifact. For reference, forty yards is the distance that a first level mage can throw a fireball or a first level tauren can kick a gnome.

  • Ah, we see here that Kyra has gotten herself in a little trouble. It is important to keep in mind that the dig sites we will be exploring will be inhabited by potentially hostile forces. It's a dangerous world out there, so don't get caught unaware.

  • Don't be afraid to loot those bodies. Just think if it as archaeology at a very early stage.

  • Now that Kyra is in the clear, we will demonstrate how to triangulate your artifact. Here Kyra demonstrates taking the first reading. Memorize the direction your instrument is pointing because you will be moving it in a moment.

  • Next, Kyra moves several paces off to the side of the first sighting to take a second reading.

  • When the second reading is made, run in the direction the instrument points until you reach the line from the first reading. Kyra thinks she's found the spot, so let's take another reading and see how well we did.

  • Perfect! It doesn't always work that well, so you may need to take additional readings before you hit your target. Don't forget to loot your fragments.

  • Helpful Hint Number Two: After you loot the fragment, make your next survey from the very same spot. You would be surprised how many times multiple artifacts can be found together.

  • As you find fragments, they will be listed in your archaeology journal. In Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, you will find artifacts relating to the Dwarf, Troll, and Night Elf peoples as well as fossils from prehistoric times.

  • Since you will tracking down various different types of fragments, your journal will keep track of what artifact of each type you are trying to piece together. Once you have enough fragments, you can "solve" the artifact. Once the artifact is whole, it is placed in your inventory. Since most artifacts are particularly common, you can then sell them to any interested party. This helps fund further expeditions and passes your findings on to the world. Remember, archaeology is about the acquisition of knowledge, not things. Although, there are rumors of exceptional artifacts to be found.

  • Helpful Hint Number Three: Don't actually solve any of your artifacts until you have at least 75 (if not 100) skill points in Archaeology. Up until you reach that point, you earn skill points by collecting fragments. Once you pass 100, you will only earn points by completing artifacts. And you can collect many more fragments than the artifacts require, so you won't lose any by waiting.

  • Completed artifacts will be recorded in your journal. Here you will find the list of all your accomplishments.

  • Each artifact also has a description when you hold your cursor over it. Some are quite interesting to the knowledge hungry adventurer.

  • And now that we're finished with the lesson, it's time to ride off into the sunset. Kyra and I hope this was helpful to you. Now get out there and see what treasures the world holds!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Since the new guild I joined was on the Alliance, I knew that I would be putting my blood elves on the back burner for a while. That is honestly okay because I've enjoyed bringing my original character out of mothballs. Also, I just prefer the Alliance more. The Horde (especially the Forsaken) still feel like the bad guys, no matter how you dress it up.

  • The only issue I had that since I didn't play her that much in the last couple years, my paladin only got to level 73. That would have to be rectified. I went on a questing sprint through Northrend, trying to reach 80 before the expansion. Last night, with only three hours to spare, I made it. I'm kind of shocked myself. It helps that Blizzard pushed the leveling curve between level 70 and 80 down by twenty percent.

  • So you might be asking how I spend my first minutes in the new expansion? Did I run off to Vashj'ir or Mount Hyjal to explore the new content? Did I join the masses and roll a new worgen or goblin? None of the above actually.

  • Instead I ran off for a meeting with Harrison Jones, the Archaeology trainer in Stormwind. Ever since the expansion was launched, I've been interested in this new profession. And even after The Path of the Titans was removed, I wanted to see what had become of Archaeology.

  • So far, I'm enjoying myself. The new dig sites show up right on your world map. You just ride (or fly!) up to the sight and start surveying the area. It is a little maddening when the artifact is right along the edge of the dig site because it make triangulation more difficult, but I didn't have to give up on any of the sites. In fact, I was pretty proficient at hitting the right spot with a minimum of surveys.

  • That went on for a couple hours. I flew all around the Eastern Kingdoms, hitting every dig site I could find, until I hit 75 in my Archaeology skill. No acheivement for that (you need 150 for the first) but I needed to go train anyway and call it a night. I ended up completely three artifacts (all gray quality) which I sold to the Stormwind innkeeper in trade for logging for the night.

  • Now that the rush has passed, I'll be heading out to Hyjal today. But you know I'll be back to digging soon. I think I'm hooked.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Random Shots: You Are Not Required To Play WoW

  • On the verge of the new expansion, I am compelled to point out that no one will be forced to play World of Warcraft. No one will think less of you for not renewing your subscription. Your paladin and druid won't be moping around Dalaran wishing you would come back and play with them. Blizzard won't be sending the Brute Squad around to collect the non-WoW-ites and put them into Cataclysm Indoctrination Centers.

  • I feel like the point needs to be made because people are already defensive about all the WoW talk going on. And by defensive, I mean actively offensive about the game. Whenever talk comes around of WoW, all the usual suspects talk about how dumbed down it is, how real gamers play real games instead of baby games like WoW, and, of course, how they don't like playing on rails.

  • Fine. Don't play. My enjoyment of the game is not contingent on your approval. The WoW you enjoyed before is gone, if it ever was the game you remember at all. There are hundreds of other games out there to champion. (Like Champions, for instance, which is my personal underdog.) I'd much rather see you write about the games you love than the games you hate.

  • Anyway, you're all just jealous. Nyah, nyah, nyah.

  • UPDATE: For a follow-up to this post, check out Random Shots: WoW Versus Everyone Else.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • I'm trying something a little different in World of Warcraft this time around. I've decided to try playing with other people.

  • Feel free to get all of the snarky comments out of your system now before we move on.

  • A few weeks ago, I got an email from an old high school friend I haven't heard from in years. He knew that I was a WoW player and wondered if I wanted to level up a new character with him so that we could experience The Shattering from a level appropriate perspective. Plus, and this may just be me, leveling up is fun. I'm an achiever type through and through and there is nothing I like more than watching my character grow in power.

  • The first night we got together, we all rolled new characters and leveled through our own starting zone until 10. Although I had planned on waiting until I could trip with a worgen, I rolled a night elf druid. It's a very different experience for me. I've never played a druid before and I deleted every one of my night elves. None of them stuck for some reason.

  • Those first ten levels were, unsurprisingly, a breeze. Teldrassil was always a pain previously. But the new story flow, and the redesigned quests, made it much less annoying than before. In a couple of quests, I was joined by an NPC who helped me through a particularly tough events. It was a nice touch to allow you to take on greater challenges while giving you the feel of adventuring with another player. I'm also liking the new quest-level enemies, as Rohan calls them. Having hard enemies to take on that are still soloable is a great boon.

  • Unfortunately, I hit level 10 before I finished out the zone, so I don't know if there was a big event at the end. Instead, we ended the night by gathering in Stormwind to take on the great terror of Elwynn Forest, Hogger. Blizzard turned taking on Hogger into an huge event. Taking down the renowned villain was a great way to end our first night.

  • The second day, our party journeyed into Westfall. I couldn't believe how much the zone has been redesigned. The main quest line has you investigating a murder as you travel across the zone. Like Teldrassil, you move pretty quickly from quest hub to quest hub. Most of the time, I felt like I got everything out of a location before moving on so it did not feel too rushed. Westfall has an amazing storyline, one that I'm looking forward to coming back to from time to time. Blizzard's use of phasing in the zone was phenomenal, really allowing the story to move forward without relying on an overabundance of quest text. But if you are a conscientious reader like me, you will be rewarded by reading the quest items you pick up along the way.

  • As much as I loved the main quest line, I did appreciate that they left two of the off-the-beaten-path quest series in the game. So you can still wander the zone is search of the pirate's treasure. And the lighthouse ghost is still around to give you a tour of the coast. As much as I like the heavy story approach Blizzard took with the zone, I'm glad they gave us reasons to explore on our own.

  • This was also the first night we tried the new Deadmines. The quest giver was right inside the zone, just as we'd heard, and it was a great addition. The only issue we ran into was that we had to run back to the entrance every time we needed to pick up the next quest, except for the very last one. But the instance itself was great. Blizzard did an excellent job updating the zone so that it fell new again. And the boss encounters felt like something out of a Northrend dungeon. I couldn't believe how involved the encounters were. No more tank-and-spank for the low level newbies anymore. The final two battles were a lot of fun, if completely chaotic. I look forward to trying Deadmines again on heroic difficulty.

  • The third night we got together, we journeyed to Redridge Mountains. However, we did run into the issue of overleveling the zone. You might have read that dungeon quests were giving too much experience. Well, it was true. We started Redridge at levels 17 and 18, quite a bit higher than the 15 expected. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the new zone just fine. Like Westfall, Redridge was overhauled and its story advanced nicely. There were some great sights for long time players like ourselves. Were once a lonely guard patrolled Three Corners, there is now a guard tower dominating the region. Darcy, the waitress in Lakeshire who sent you out with a lunch for the guard, Parker, is now Darcy Parker who, along with their daughter, Libby, resides in the tower. And the infamous unfinished bridge has finally been completed. Blizzard even teases you that they might destroy the bridge, but you are able to nearly avoid that fate.

  • The main quest line sees you assembling a strike force to take on an Orcish incursion. My friend immediately identified the story as an homage to First Blood. Like Westfall and its nod to CSI, Blizzard likes it's pop culture references. But they always to a great job to make the story compelling anyway, so you can chuckle at the references even while enjoying the adventure. One funny thing to note. There are several quests where you are joined by NPCs. But even though we are in a group, each player is assigned their own copy of the NPC. So at some points the three of us had five NPCs each, making our party into a raid force instead. But again, we really enjoyed the action movie story that we played. We ended the night when we completed the main quest and headed back to Lakeshire, having saved the town from the orcs.

  • So far, Blizzard has done an amazing job of using each zone to tell a full and complete story, something I have been wanting for a long time. My favorite original WoW zone has always been Duskwood and that is where we are headed to next. I'm greatly looking forward to what Blizzard has in store for us, both in Duskwood and the rest of our journey.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Played Lately: Everquest 2 Extended

  • Even in the face of the WoW craziness, I would be remiss if I did not give Everquest 2 Extended its due. There is a lot more to the game than I ever give it credit for. And SOE has been working hard to pull out some of the deliberate obfuscation. So with some extra time on my hands, I headed back to EQ2X to get reacquainted with my inquisitor.

  • Did you know there is crafting in this game? Okay, that is a deliberately stupid question, but I have a point. Each time I've tried to play EQ2 (and I have tried several times over the years) I have always run into some boundary that I could not surmount, only to have better luck the next time I signed up. Whether it has been a professional breakthrough or SOE polishing the game, I cannot say. But the big stumbling block I finally overcame this time was to play the tradeskill game.

  • Oh, I've tried it before, but it has always been a pain in the ass for me. All of the various harvesting skills, all myriad professional options, and the stacks of mostly useless gear you craft to level. It never clicked for me before. But this time for some reason, I dove into leveling my tradeskill alongside my adventuring profession.

  • I have a theory about why it worked for me this time: the quests. Right from the start in New Halas, I was given quests to gather resources and take up crafting. They gave me a goal and I went for it like a rat after the cheese. And then there were the crafting questlines in New Halas itself as well as those in Butcherblock Mountains that actually tell a story, only you solve the problems with a workbench and some tools instead of swords and spells. Someone put a lot of effort into giving people who love to craft a reason to go out into the world other than resource gathering. And I am hooked. I've even fallen into the trap of completing the daily tasks and work orders for bonus experience and faction.

  • In fact, I was so hooked on crafting that my tradeskill level has outstripped my adventure level. And although I loved the look of my New Halas armor, I put it all in the bank so that I could show off my crafted steel armor set. I find myself in the position have having to catch up with my adventuring so that I can gather more resources to feed the tradeskill machine.

  • Crafting in most games is something I do so that I can have an advantage of some sort. In EQ2, I'm doing it because it is fun. You win this round, EQ2.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Since Stargrace is expecting a bunch of WoW Shattering posts, I thought I should oblige her. Here are a few thoughts about logging back into World of Warcraft. For the first time!

  • Plight of the Low Level Mage - Although many people logged onto the their level eighty mains for their tour of New Azeroth, that is not what I wanted from the new patch. I wanted to see the world as Blizzard designed it: for a low level character. So my first step was to roll up a new human mage. I made her human in honor of my first character. I made her a mage to see how my main would play if I rolled her today. And I made her female because I'm a weird dude. It turns out the first level mages are cool. You start out with Fireball on your skill bar and get Arcane Missiles and Fire Blast soon after. You actually feel like a mage very quickly. The only time I used my wand or staff was when I wanted to mix it up a little. So cool!

  • Northshire Reborn! - Northshire was always a little goofy. It was this weirdly idyllic setting that just happened to have some kobold and bandit troubles. You ran around pastoral field skinning wolves, bashing kobolds, and driving the Defias out of a vineyard. No more! Northshire is a war zone when you show up. The Blackrock Orcs have invaded and you have to help the army drive them out. That mean killing wargs and orc spies, healing the wounded with the power of the Holy Light (and that's for every class), as well as putting out fires and killing the orcs' leader. There is something to be said for turning up the tension so fast. It fits the tenor of the humans much better. I'm looking forward to seeing the changes in the other starter zones now.

  • A Little Help From My Friends - While I was playing last night, my brother logged in to say Hi. He got back in the game recently and he was interested in how the world was changing. And we'd been talking about starting a static group to level new characters, so we wanted to do a little planning. Needless to say there was a lot of "You need to check this out" and "You should really try this" going on. And while that was all going on, I sent a random tell to GeeCee to find out if she really did play on that server. Amazingly enough, she didn't put me on ignore and we chatted about everything we saw most of the night. She was also kind enough to get my brother and I invited to her guild. It has been a long while since I played in a guild, so this will be quite the change. There was one other person I asked to play, but my wife said she had other priorities. I'll get her some day.

  • Stormwind, OMG - Speaking of changes, Stormwind looks amazing. It still feels like Stormwind, but it's almost like there was this great city that was always hiding behind the old one. It really feels like this city is more open and natural. The open area behind the city, along with the wedding gazebo and the cemetary are amazing additions to the flavor. I know the park had been destroyed, but I only wandered in there by accident one time. I bearly remembered it was there. The city was so overwhelming that I forgot to continue questing and I fished with my new character up to 75. Yes, I understand that I am strange, but I can't help myself. It was just so fun to fish and watch everyone walk by.

  • New Daily Quests? Of Course There Are - When I woke up this morning, I just had to log in again and to look around some more. This time, it was with very first character, the paladin. If I was returning to the Alliance, it wouldn't be fair not to get her into the action. Funny enough, I logged in standing right outside the Stockades portal. Right outside was a blue exclamation point I didn't remember seeing the night before. And sure enough, there is a daily cooking quest available. But instead of just gold and a token, the quest also rewarded two skill points. What a great idea! I also found the daily fishing quest which gave one skill point. Bravo to Blizzard for that update.

  • Blizzard Makes Breadcrumbs - Just before I logged of I made my way over to the front entrance of Stormwind where I discovered the The Hero's Call Board. Evidently, this board will provide a breadcrumb quest that will tell you which zone you are expected in and why you are going. It's a simple and elegent solution. I've always been annoyed with most MMOs that expect you to intuit where you are expected to go next. Sure, you could explore your way through the game, but that isn't for everyone. So Blizzard has added its own Golden Path, several even since different capitols have different zone progressions, and I think it is a great idea.

  • Enough from me. What do you think about the Shattering?

  • Have a great holiday, everyone, in game or out.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Random Shots: The World (of Warcraft) Is Shattered

  • Today is the day the world goes boom. Azeroth, at least. I loaded the update and watched the new cinematic before I left for work. The movie was beautiful, of course, probably their best yet. I left me ready to log in and forget work if only the servers had been up. You know what I'll be up to tonight.

  • Speaking of the cinematic, this quote from Tom Chilton (found at MMO Champion) is very interesting.
    The final "event" is the in-game cinematic. And that's really what the transition is for players.... That's suppose to be what happened while you were asleep. Conceptually, this is what just happened while you weren't controlling your character.
    I'm sure this was the intent with Wrath of the Lich King, though it didn't succeed nearly as well. But the idea that the cinematic could be used to move the story forward is excellent. Single player games have been doing it for years, but doing it in WoW is a great idea.

  • Of course, there is more than WoW news today. Poker Night At The Inventory was finally released yesterday. Yes, I've been waiting and checking every day to see if a Texas Hold-Em computer game that preordered for $4.50 was out. Somewhere between the premise for the game and the participation of two Idle Thumbs alums, I've been eagerly looking forward to this for a while. Only, I'm really bad at poker. Really bad. Bad enough that I haven't won a full game yet. So bad in fact that I called my brother on the phone, he bought the game, downloaded it, and won a game before I could. Nine times I've tried. That's $90,000 in the hole. I hope I'm getting better, but mostly I'm just happy to see Tycho ask Max about his pockets.

  • Double Fine announced their new game, a puzzle adventure game called Stacker. I enjoyed the heck out of Costume Quest (and I'm looking forward to the DLC) so I'm interested to see how this new game turns out.

  • Also, it looks like I'll be playing Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood at some point. I was going to happily write it off as just another cash-in franchise game or, even worse, that multiplayer game I wouldn't care about. But all the rave reviews and Giant Bomb's Quick Look convinced me otherwise. A full continuation of AC2's story with improved and added gameplay? So, I'll never play the multiplayer, but the game still sounds like it's worth it. Maybe I should put that on my Christmas list.

Monday, November 22, 2010

News Filter: Return to the Fabled Lands

  • One of the most fascinating gamebook series is returning this Christmas. Fabled Lands, by Dave Morris and Jamie Thompson, has been out of print for years. Through the wonders of eBay, I was able to pick up the full series that was originally released between 1995 and 1996. But picking up the series now involves a little luck and a lot of money. At least, it did.

  • Fabled Lands is not your typical gamebook series. Instead of telling a branching path narrative like the Fighting Fantasy or Lone Wolf, Fabled Lands presents the reader with a world to explore and sets you out to find fame and fortune on your own. In a way, it feels like playing a Bethesda CRPG or an MMO. You wander the world, find quests, and perform heroic deeds. Through the clever use of check boxes and keywords, the book reacts to the actions you have taken. So, for instance, if you assassinate the king, you are given a keyword that allows you to accept the reward for that quest as well as prevents you from finding the king if you return to his stronghold. This style had a effect on my own gamebook with its hub-and-spoke design. (You'll see pretty soon.)

  • Each of the six books in the series details a different land in the world. There are hooks between each book that allow you to travel between them, so your character carries over from story to story assuming you survive. If you are not inquisitive, it is easy to tour the world and not see much action. But if you are bold, there is something to do almost everywhere. You just have to look.

  • The authors usually suggest starting with book three, Over the Blood-Dark Sea, since you start with a third level character and have access to all of the other books quickly. On the other hand, I prefer to start with the first, The War-Torn Kingdom. That book has more of a classic setting and feels a little more forgiving than some of the others. Plus, I like the idea of starting small and building from there.

  • One of the most exciting things about the books returning to print is that, depending on sales, there is a chance they may be able to finish the series. There were a total of twelve books planned, with some keywords and hooks in place to travel between them, but only six were produced. I'm looking forward to seeing the new editions, as well as the new supplemental books. And I'm dreaming of traveling to distant lands that have only been hinted at so far.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Unexplored Worlds: The Winds of Chaos

  • In Unexplored Worlds, magic is not some scientific principle that is easily codified and manipulated. Magic is weird. Magic is mysterious. Magic is more dream than reality, more nightmare than enlightenment. But people will seek power wherever they can and they must face the consequences of their decisions.

  • This table shows how a magician is affected by the forces they seek to control. The wizard's player must keep a tally of the total spell level cast by the character over the course of his or her career. As the total reaches the milestones below, the magician is effected in various ways. These effects do not expire as new effects are accrued. If they game system you use does not use spell levels, tally whatever resource is used for that system and scale the milestones accordingly.

  • 100 - The magician's skin becomes magically charged, heightening all tactile sensations. In addition, when touching a person or object the magician will be able to feel any enchantments laid upon them, though he or she will not be able to identify the magic other than through normal means.

  • 300 - The magician's body becomes extremely sensitive to temperature, pressure, and the like. As such, he or she will feel uncomfortable in any clothing other than loose fitting garments like a robe.

  • 500 - The magician begins to exude an odor that is reminiscent of the spells he or she has recently cast. Fire spells will cause a smell of brimstone, light and lightning spells the smell of ozone, and so forth. The odors are strongest just after casting any magic, but tapers off to just a hint within one day.

  • 800 - The magician's eyes will glow slightly in low light conditions. This does not grant the magician any sight-based abilities. However if the magician stares at someone from the darkness, the person will feel vaguely uneasy as if something malicious was watching them out of the corner of their eye.

  • 1300 - The magician's hair bleaches white over the course of a fortnight. No natural dyes will hold in the bleached hair, though magical disguises will still function.

  • 2000 - People will now feel uncomfortable around the magician and seek to avoid them. With a little effort, the magician can take advantage of this aversion when dominating or interrogating another person.

  • 3000 - The magician begins to feel an otherworldly presence observing them at all times. There is no way to divine or communicate with this presence, but it is always felt.

  • 4500 - The magician will now see the world as though a kaleidoscope of all possibility states. People will be viewed in idealized, deformed, and decayed states. Buildings will be seen as newly build, well worn, and long abandoned. Plants will appear as saplings, fully flowered, and withered all at once. The magician can still function with this vision of the world, but it can be disorienting to a unfocused or unstable mind.

  • 7000 - The otherworldly presence that the magician previously felt will now begin whispering to the magician in an unintelligible tongue. The only time the whispers stop is when the wizard is within a stone structure, such as a castle or a tower, on in an underground dungeon complex.

  • 10000 - At this point in the magician's life, he or she has been exposed to so much magic that he or she experiences the raw winds of chaos as a physical presence in their lives. The magician can see the swirls, eddies, and currents of magic as it flows around him or her. Normally the magician is driven mad by the experience. However if the magician has a particularly strong mind, he or she can make a study of the chaos to read the historical record of magics as they have been practiced wherever the magician looks.

  • Unexplored Worlds is my attempt to design an RPG campaign in the open. Since I have not rolled a d20 in anger in many years, this is my way to keep playing without actually playing. All posts are written to be system-agnostic, so please use whatever keeps your interest in your own games. Just let me know how it goes!

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Read Lately: The Last Run by Greg Rucka

  • I try not to be that guy. You know who I mean. "That Guy." The one that always tells you what it is you should like and what you shouldn't like. The one who is so intensely into his stuff that it borders on psychotic. The one who's self-esteem is entirely wrapped up in whether everyone likes the same things they like. That Guy drives me crazy, so I do not want to do that to someone else. So when I tell you that Greg Rucka and Queen & Country are completely awesome and you should read everything you can get your hands on, be aware that I don't do so lightly.

  • After the author signing a couple weeks ago, I tore straight into his latest Queen & Country book, The Last Run. Set a few years after the prior novel, Private Wars, the book starts off in Iran after the expulsion of of several personnel from the British Embassy. Iranian counterintelligence has decided that they need to make a bigger statement by capturing a British spy, most notably Q&C protagonist Tara Chase. Tara, who has been a Minder (the codename for SIS special operatives) for eleven years now, already knows she's been doing the job too long. But when the political forces make it impossible for her boss, Paul Crocker, to keep her out of Iran, Tara does her best to see the mission through.

  • The novel grabbed me right from the beginning. Rucka knows exactly how to hook a reader and he uses all of his tricks here. His prose is pared down to a knife's edge, cutting right to the chase, no matter whether it is politics, espionage, or run-and-gun action. He makes the political maneuverings feel as deadly as the chases or the fights. (Okay, so the ending felt a little abrupt, but that's the only nitpicking I'm going to do.)

  • If you are in the mood for international espionage, and if you prefer it with the hard edge of realism, I have to recommend The Last Run. Actually, read A Gentleman's Game and Private Wars first, then read The Last Run. You won't be sorry.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

News Filter: EQ2X Launches Most Useless Bonus Weekend Ever

  • I've been desperately typing away at my review of The Last Run all day (Book reviews are hard!) with the hope that I could have something up for you tonight. But SOE has come to my rescue with what has to be the silliest thing I've seen in a while.

  • This coming weekend from November 19 through November 21, Everquest 2 Extended is having a Free Gold Membership Weekend.

  • I know, right? What the hell?

  • I'm going to copy and paste the rest of this because I can't believe it myself.
    More features, more content and more fun! Free, for this weekend only (11/19/10-11/21/10), all EverQuest II Extended accounts will be entitled to all the perks of the $14.99 Gold Membership. That’s full access to seven character slots, spell tiers, equipment grades, six bag slots, unlimited coin limitations, eight shared bank slots, 75 journal quests and more!

  • Seriously, what the hell? They are letting you use more character slots so that you can roll up new alts all of the sudden? Or you can use all of that Legendary or Fabled gear and high level spells that you've been storing up? You get access to all the bag slots for one weekend only? Where do I sign up?

  • Actually there are two things on the matrix that might be worth it. If you are having technical issues, gold members get full customer service support. Even better, gold members don't get the pop-ups.

  • Actually, those popups are pretty annoying. Maybe this weekend won't be so bad after all.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Admin: Post Four Hundred

  • As I guessed in my prior milestone post, it took about seven months to reach post four hundred. Even though I've had great months and bad months posting-wise, my output is pretty regular over the long haul. Look forward to the next milestone this coming June.

  • Four of my prior top five posts held onto their rankings. Far and away, my most popular post is Five Things To Do Before The Cataclysm. It is so popular in fact that beginning September 1, it started receiving more hits than my front page. I suspect that once December 7 rolls around, my pages views are going to crash. Good thing I blog just for fun.

  • Also holding onto the top five are two of my classic (read: old) posts about Free Realms, a game I haven't seriously played or blogged about in over a year. My news post about LotRO updating the epic quest line with a solo option is coming in fourth. I guess people are still finding out about it, even though the news is a year old. Finally my Top Five: MMO Classes post made it to the top five, mostly because my Champions Online Q&A is not drawing nearly as much attention as before.

  • Lest I complain about all the the old posts stealing the spot light, there were two more recent post that climbed into the top ten. My write-up about the Serpent Lantern adventure pack for Champions Online got a lot of attention. There aren't many blogger who regularly write about CO, so I don't have a lot of competition. (Hey, Blue! /wave) The other post was my sort-of review of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role Playing game. I can attribute many of those hits to James Raggi linking it from his LotFP blog. Since Bullet Points isn't an RPG blog, I doubt there was much to keep anyone coming back, but it was nice to see one of my posts generate attention outside my regular community.

  • My gaming over the last seven months can best be described as scatter shot. I continued my trend of playing single player games primarily on the Xbox 360, moving from disk-based games to Xbox Live Arcade games over time. I dabbled here and there with various games and MMOs. But the only game and really sucked me in was Dragon Quest IX. I haven't picked up my DS in a while and I still need to finish the game. Some day soon, I'm sure.

  • Blogging about books and writing microfiction has trickled to almost non-existence over the last hundred posts. Instead, all of my creative output has gone into my Unexplored Worlds series. They may not draw the hits (that link to the Unexplored Worlds category is the highest at #49 overall) but they are some of my most satisfying posts on the blog. And based on the comments those posts received, it sounds like you enjoy them too. I don't see me ending that series anytime soon.

  • Speaking of comments, I want to take the time to thank everyone who stops by and leaves a kind word for me. From old friends like Blue Kae, Jayedub, and Yeebo to relatively new faces like MMO Gamer Chick and Hunter as well as everyone else who I'm forgetting, you are the ones who make this blog thing all worthwhile.

  • And now I'm going to switch gears a little bit. I announced back in June that I was working on a gamebook. Well, after a little prodding I have finally finished it. It is called Academy Of Magic: The First Term and it is ready for playtesting. It is no work of art, but I'm happy with the results. If you are interested in testing this thing before I post it for general consumption, send me an e-mail at the address listed over in the sidebar. I look forward to seeing what everyone thinks about it.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Unexplored Worlds: The Grand Duchy of Perganium

  • The Grand Duchy of Perganium

  • Population: 124,300

  • Size: 13,000 square miles

  • Capital: Perganium

  • Ruler: Reginald Stumpf, Duke Regent

  • Government: Kleptocracy

  • Originally a province of the Ataliesh Empire, the Grand Duchy of Perganium was formed after the Atalieshi withdrew from the region during the Successor Wars. Various local noblemen continued to govern on their own behalves until the duchy was consolidated under the banner of Perganium in AE 364.

  • From AE 371 to 390, the Perganese fought several wars and smaller skirmishes with expansionist neighbors who sought to add the duchy to their growing empires. Although borders shifted over time, no one was able to conquer and hold Perganese land for more than a year. Disputes would continue for several years afterward, but duchy was never seriously threatened from the outside again.

  • Internal threats were a different story. Perganium grew in power and wealth over time, becoming one of the great trading powers in the region. While this lead to improvements in the quality of life for the people, it also caused corruption and greed to fester in the upper classes. This disease rotted away at the country, allowing a large criminal class to grow and flourish.

  • In AE 466, the ducal family was kidnapped by Clan Dorsey, a criminal organization. The head of the clan, Timothy Dorsey, assumed the title Duke Regent and took control of the duchy. Although there was grumbling about the seizure of power, very little opposition rose against the new regent. Those that did speak out where quickly and violently silenced.

  • Life continued as it had before, though with corruption rampant and limited liberties. But the system has maintained stability in the duchy and the people have come to accept it. Occasionally there is a shift in power and one clan deposes another. but order is always restored quickly so as not to upset the people.

  • Perganium does not maintain any strong alliances. But due to general stability in the region, they also face no immediate threats. In the past, the Perganese royal family had ties to the Foucault family in Eco, but relations have been strained since ducal authority was overthrown.

  • Unexplored Worlds is my attempt to design an RPG campaign in the open. Since I have not rolled a d20 in anger in many years, this is my way to keep playing without actually playing. All posts are written to be system-agnostic, so please use whatever keeps your interest in your own games. Just let me know how it goes!

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Played Lately: Blood Bowl

  • I'm a big fan of games played with miniatures. I've bought countless rulebooks, stacks of minis, and enough paint to, well, maybe fill a coffee mug. Those bottles are pretty small. But I don't play any of them. I have a nice shot glass rack to display my painted minis, but that's as far as they go. Except in one case. I have always been a fan of Blood Bowl from Games Workshop. My brother and I have played off and on ever since the second edition. And since we live several hours apart, it tends to be a while, maybe years, between matches.

  • When Cyanide Studios released the video game version of Blood Bowl in 2009, I picked up a copy as soon as it became available on Steam. I didn't play it for very long, but I did enjoy it. But now that the Blood Bowl: Legendary Edition is out, it is all I want to play.

  • For those of you who don't know, Blood Bowl is a fantasy version of American Football, played between teams of different races drawn from the Warhammer universe. They are not the same universe, so you'll never see Blood Bowl in the lore or implemented in WAR, but they are mirrors of one another. The game is styled like football, it plays like a tactical battle. The goal is still the same, though. You only win by scoring touchdowns.

  • When I started the new game, I went right for the campaign option and bought a human team. As you would expect, the humans are pretty boring. But they are also quite versatile. Here are a few highlights from the games I've played so far:

    • The first tournament, The Clean Cup, I faced a Vampire team, a Khemri team, and an Elf team in the group round. I was able to squeak by the Vampires and Elves, but the Khemri had my number. I ended up taking second place in the tournament, the only one I haven't won so far.

    • The second tournament was stranger for me. Between losses and ties, I ended up last place after the group round. But my team recovered and I actually won first place in the tournament. Crazy.

    • One of my most memorable games was against an Undead team during a rainstorm. The entire game was a comedy of errors. Rain makes the ball harder to pick up, throw, or catch, so neither team was able to hold on to it for very long. I ended up winning 1-0 by scoring on the last turn, but that was just because of luck.

    • I've had a couple games against weakly armored teams like the Elves and the Halflings where I have almost completely cleared the pitch of opponents. I kind of feel bad about it. At least, I did until one Halfling team ran a ball for a touchdown against me due to bad rolls and bad strategy.

    • I've had my fair share of casualties in the game. At least one blitzer, one lineman, and one thrower have all been killed in action. On the other hand, I still have both of my starting catchers and they have scored so many touchdowns that they're almost star players themselves. And one of my best blitzers got that way even through he sat out two games due to injuries.

    • I have only fielded one Star Player so far. I took Griff Oberwald in a match against the Dwarf Giants. (I love getting to play against famous teams from the lore.) Those stunties were hard, but Griff took me to a win anyway.

    • And although I've won plenty of games and built up quite a team, I just lost the most recent match I played against a Necromantic team. They wiped me out 3-0. As I tweeted recently, you have to embrace the randomness or you won't enjoy yourself.

  • I can't say enough about how much fun I've been having with this game. Sure, the commentary can get repetitive. (It's keyed off the races playing the match. Since your race is always the same, half of all the comments recycle every match.) And the AI may not be the best. But this is a great and colorful implementation of a game that I have loved for years. Although the prior edition did not catch me quite the same, I can't imagine that I will stop playing this time until I've won the Blood Bowl itself.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Random Shots: A Peek Inside Champions Online F2P

  • So, it turns out that there's a closed beta test going on for Champions Online. That's all I have to say about that. /wink /nod

  • What I can talk about, and what I'm excited to talk about, are all the updates coming out of the beta. The Archetype preview came up recently in two parts: an overview of the system and a breakdown of the various archetypes available. I actually think that this is an interesting idea. The open power framework can be quite intimidating if you're not comfortable with all the powers available. Learning the game with the archetypes should give players the knowledge they need if they decide to subscribe (as well as the hunger to do so).

  • Beyond that, though, you can see that Cryptic is putting a lot of effort into the relaunch of the game. Just check out these power changes that are scheduled to go through. And beyond that are new powers coming to the game to flesh out the archetypes properly. I'm amazed by the amount that Cryptic is investing into Champions to make sure the F2P launch will work.

  • John Smedley said something about the possibility of Vanguard going free to play that I apropos here. He said that they wouldn't go free to play unless they were ready to add the content to support it. All of these changes aren't content, per se, but I think it's a very good sign the Cryptic thinks the game is worth the effort.

  • Oh, and would you look at that: lifetime subscriptions are available again. Lots of new green names on the CO forums all of the sudden.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Random Shots: Another Tale of Dwarves and Ancient Evils

  • In my previous post, I talked about how Dwarf Fortress is one of those games that in be more interesting to read about than to play. The creator of one of those stories, Tim Denee, has done it again, and in greater detail this time. Found by way of PC Gamer magazine, here is the link to Oilfurnace.

  • Like all good DF stories, it ends up with the fortress brought down by its own hubris. But the method of its telling is sumptuous here. If you have a moment, pull up a chair and read the story of the poor, doomed Oilfurnace.

  • As an aside, I coincidentally downloaded the most recent Dwarf Fortress Talk podcast wherein a question comes up about tile sets in the game. After reading this story, I couldn't think of a better collaborator than Tim to bring the game to vivid life.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Read Lately: Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw

  • When Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, of Zero Punctuation fame, announced last year that he was writing a book, I was intrigued. I know he's done other creative work, but I never took the time to investigate it. But if somebody thought his novel was good enough to publish, I had to give it a try.

  • That novel is Mogworld, the tale of a fledgling wizard named Jim who's life is cut tragically short before the first chapter even begins only to return to unlife in a world were no one can die anymore. (If you think that's a spoiler, go look at the cover. Dude is a corpse.) The book follows his journey through the world to discover why no one (and especially himself) can die, no matter how hard they try.

  • As much as I'd like to talk about the mystery (which is right there in the title and has been spoiled elsewhere), I don't want to spoil it for anyone going in cold. But I will say that Croshaw's handling of the story is a lot more thoughtful than I expected. The book is funny and I quite enjoyed it on that level. But at the same time, the issues raised are serious and treated with the seriousness they deserve. It would have been easy to bounce jokes off the premise and leave it at that. More than few webcomics have tread similar ground without really exploring deeper. Mogworld tackles them head on in a way that is both entertaining and emotionally satisfying.

  • From a technical point of view, Yahtzee writes well and is easy to read. You can tell he put the effort in his first novel. Since Mogworld is a one and done (by the end, you'll agree with me that a sequel would spoil the story), I eager to see what he comes up with next.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Random Shots: The Rucka/Gagnon Author Signing

  • Greg Rucka is one of my favorite authors. That's why he has his own tag on my blog. So when his latest Queen & Country novel, The Last Run, was released, I had to run out that day and pick it up. But I should have remembered the trouble I had trying to find the prior book, Private Wars, on release day because it also was nowhere to be found. I gave up, whined a little on Twitter, and told myself that at least I knew one way I could pick up the novel. I just had to wait a couple weeks.

  • This Saturday was the day I was looking forward to. My wife asked me if I was excited and I had to admit that I was not, but not for the reason you might think. I hate driving into Los Angeles for even the best of reasons, so I was again dreading this trip. Once the drive was made, though, that excitement built quickly. Greg Rucka! One of my favorite authors! All the way down for a signing just for me! Okay, maybe not just for me. But it was so worth it.

  • Along with Greg was Michelle Gagnon, author of The Tunnels (which my wife picked up that night), Boneyard, The Gatekeeper, and her newest, Kidnap & Ransom. I've never read any of her books, but hearing her speak made me quite interested. And she sounds exactly like an author my wife would love to follow.

  • The two authors were really great together. I suppose doing a number of signings must train you to speak in front of people. And since authors are storytellers by nature, they must like sharing their tales with an audience. I enjoyed hearing their tales of digging deep into their research and the stories about irate readers nitpicking with their books.

  • I brought two books along with me, the Batwoman: Elegy hardcover and the Queen & Country Scriptbook, the latter of which I think caught him by surprise. As well, I finally got my copy of The Last Run, now signed and bookplated. I'm already halfway through the book and you don't know how hard it is for me to stop writing this and jumping right back in. Actually, I'll do that right now.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • It took me a while, but I finally got back into Champions Online to try out the new adventure pack, Demonflame. Since those of you contemplating a silver membership would have to pay for access to this content, you might be interested to hear what it's like. I wish I had read about it ahead of time. I usually like to go into a new challenge cold, but I might have saved myself a lot of frustration.

  • And when I say frustration, I mean the PC equivalent of throwing your controller: I punched my keyboard. But let's get ahead of ourselves. There is a story to tell and a proper way to tell it.

  • The adventure pack begins, just like the previous one, in UNTIL Headquarters. Standing off to the right side of the base is Major Violette Boudreau. Like her colleague from Project Snakecharmer, Major Kwame, Boudreau has a single mission for you: stop Luther Black from completing the Demonflame ritual and assuming the powers of the Kings of Edom. Of course it doesn't start out that way. Like any good mission in Champions, you are first tasked to investigate supernatural occurrences in a warehouse. Ah warehouses, the staple of any good superhero adventure.

  • Luckily (maybe not for the world, but definitely for the spirit of drama) you discover that DEMON (the organization, not an abbreviation) is invading the Qliphothic Realm. You fight your way to the portal in the Magic Lantern Bookstore and enter the realm along with Witchcraft and a squad of UNTIL soldiers. That mission is at least a little more interesting than the first, but now is when the adventure pack really takes off.

  • When you arrive in the demonic world, you discover that Black has captured the avatars of the Kings of Edom and is siphoning off their power. It release them, Witchcraft conjures a quite sarcastic Demon Key (who is probably one of the best parts of the adventure park) to aid you. You travel to the various towers (actually you teleport between them, you don't really see a lot of the zone), fight the guardians, and free the imprisoned beings.

  • A lot of the battles have some very different mechanics that I'm not used to in Champions. In the first tower, the enemy constantly transports you into what seems to be an asylum where the mind of the insane attack you. In another, you are constantly attacked by the super villain Jack Fool before he finally takes you on. In another, the villains cast a spell that puts everything in slow motion. The picture above is of my fight with the Left Hand, a towering super villain with nasty powerful attacks.

  • Jack Fool took me out a couple times, but I was able to survive most of the other fights. But even though I didn't die too often, I thought the difficulty was just right. I was constantly under pressure and felt like I had to perform well to succeed. At least that's how I felt until I reached the final battle.

  • This is were the previously mentioned keyboard punching occurred. The Luther Black fight is not about killing the bad guy, per se. Instead, you must keep his and his minions attentions focused on you while the Demon Key releases the avatars' powers from five chests scattered around the room. On the forums, they refer to it as an aggro fight which is quite accurate. You need to put out threat, not damage to win the fight. Only, it seemed to me that this was impossible. I tried the fight five times but couldn't complete it before the timer ran out. I couldn't keep the bad guys' attention so they constantly attacked the Key who always turns to defend himself instead opening chests. I was so frustrated that I took it out on my keyboard.

  • I went away for a day to cool down and think about what I could do different. I know very little about the aggro mechanics because I'm pretty much a solo player. But one thing came to mind: the roles. I usually stay in Guardian role because it is standard all around. But there is a dedicated tanking role, the Protector. When I logged into the game again switched to Protector and tried again. This time I completed the fight with over a minute to spare. I was able to keep aggro almost constantly and the Key could run around and open chests freely. The reason is that since Arcfire has 200 Presence, her threat was minus forty percent in Guardian. When she switched to Protector, she had plus twenty percent threat. That's a swing of sixty percent between the two roles. No wonder I was having so much trouble. All the Presence was actively pushing the villains away!

  • So after a little frustration, I won the adventure and saved the world. Again. Demonflame was definitely a better pack than The Serpent Lantern. Primarily it comes down to the story and how it was told through the game. I'm looking forward to trying it again as well as seeing what else Cryptic has up their sleeves. Just keep the aggro mechanics in mind when you try it yourself.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.