Thursday, January 28, 2010

News Filter: You Must Be This Tall To Ride Champions Online

  • The wildest roller coaster in MMO gaming nowadays has to be over at Cryptic Studios. They're building a whole park full of them. At least they give us all something to talk about.

  • Bill Roper, the big cheese over Champions Online, has released his latest State of the Game. Along with the new patch notes, he lays out an exciting future for the game. A huge number of fixes, new technologies being added, and an entire new zone are forthcoming.

  • All that sounds nice. But as proof that nothing Cryptic ever does can go right, Seraphina Brennan from Massively reports that none of this has gone right. There are the inevitable technical issues. But there is also word that Vibora Bay, the new high level zone, will not be a free expansion. People, as is their want, have pointed their Self-Entitlement Wagon for nearest cliff and are barreling toward it at full speed.

  • It's not like Cryptic doesn't deserve all the crap it gets. Patches are always a mess. And they haven't done a great job to justify their C Store. But at the same time, settle the eff down people. This isn't the end of the world. Complaining about a C-list MMO just makes you look crazy.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Random Shots: Staring At The Box

  • As I type this post, I'm sitting here at work staring at my copy of Mass Effect 2. It's the Xbox 360 version since that's where I played the first game and I want to transfer my character.

  • I'm looking forward to guiding (shepherding?) my Commander Shepard through the galaxy on her new adventures. I can practically hear the synthesizers in the background. I didn't want to spare any time after work shopping so I ran to the local Best Buy at lunch. But now I'm waiting for the day to end. Time passes so slowing when you really want to game.

  • I probably won't post a lot about ME2 for a while. I want to really kick my Executive Gamer in the head sink into it without a lot of reflection. I have posts in the queue about other recent games like Borderlands and League of Legends. I have been enjoying them both, but they just have to wait until the Alliance is no longer at risk.

  • So if I end up not writing anything for a while, you already know. I'm either playing ME2 or I'm desperately wishing that I was playing ME2.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Played Lately: Everquest 2

  • Back in December, I mentioned that I might check out the most recent goings on in Everquest 2. What I didn't mention was that I actually did log in during the most recent free trial period. Then I logged right back out and did not look back.

  • I'm not sure if this is a problem I have with EQ2 specifically or MMOs in general. When I logged in to my wizard, I found her on the docks in... huh... I'm not sure where it was. It's the zone you fly to after you leave Kunark. You must have a sense of how disoriented I was. I didn't know where I should go or what I should do. I knew a holiday event was going on, but I didn't know how to find that either. So I said good bye to my wizard again and logged out. It's still installed on my desktop, but I might as well uninstall it.

  • As MMOs have shifted over time toward a more Gamist model, following in the footsteps of World of Warcraft, I've found it to be a lot easier to return to some games over others. A game like Champions Online is so straightforward that there is no opportunity to get lost. All you can do is complete missions so you either return to your mission log or check the crime computer for the next available mission vendor.

  • The open world of Everquest 2 and its ilk are well suited for those who want to avoid the rails in the WoW-alikes. You only have to read Stargrace's adventures to see how a self-guided experience can be accomplished. If you have the goals and resources to tackle them, there is obviously a lot you can do.

  • For me, though, I run into something like Analysis Paralysis. With so many choices available, I am immediately overwhelmed by both the wealth of choices as well as the lack of information to help me make a decision. So in the end I do nothing and seek a game that I can stretch my tiny little mind around.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Random Shots: Games I'd Like To Play

  • Living in California, the office where I work does not shut down due to inclement weather. The Midwest and Eastern offices are always going dark because of snow or flooding or whatever. Today, however, something happened to knock out the power so everyone was sent home. Instead of working, I spent the day playing video games. But I also didn't want to neglect you, so thought I'd talk about all the games that have suddenly caught my attention this month. I'll probably wait until I can get most of these cheap, but it seems like there are a lot of interesting games out there now.

  • Darksiders - This game was nowhere on my radar until a couple of days ago. Why would I spare any thought on a game called that? But then all the podcasts began talking about how the game was really an homage to the Zelda games, with dashes of God of War and Portal thrown in for seasoning. I haven't played a real Zelda game since Majora's Mask and I'm not about to invest in a new Nintendo console. This game sounds like fun. Sadly, it probably won't be long before it hits the bargain bins, just the right price for me.

  • Bayonetta - Another game that I would not have given an notice to, Bayonetta is suddenly getting a massive amount of critical attention. It sounds like an absolutely insane spectacle. I can't help but be curious. Just not so curious as to drop sixty dollars on it.

  • Mass Effect 2 - There is no debate here. The one new game I'm looking forward to this year more than any other is Mass Effect 2. Come Tuesday I will be purchasing a copy (possibly the collector's edition) and making myself comfortable in front of my 360. My Commander Shepard has been patient for a long time and I don't want to keep her waiting.

  • The Saboteur - I was a huge fan of Pandemic's game for the Xbox called Mercenaries. I enjoyed roaming the war ravaged Korean countryside while tracking down various war criminals. The review warned me away from Mercenaries 2 (though I still want to give it a shot), but they won't deter me from trying The Saboteur. The game sounds like they took the Mercenaries model and applied it to Nazi-occupied Paris, but with a bit more style. Sure, it doesn't sound like an amazing game. But it looks like a lot of fun.

  • Your turn. What are looking forward to?

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Played Lately: King's Bounty: Armored Princess

  • I wonder some times at how my tastes have changed over time. I learned how to like foods other than a burger and fries. I learned how to appreciate movies that didn't involve anything exploding. And apparently I've gotten over my hatred of the Heroes of Might & Magic games. So long as you call them King's Bounty, at least. During the year end Steam sale, I pick up the new version, King's Bounty: Armored Princess, and I'm enjoying it a lot more than I expected.

  • The comparisons with HOMM are completely apt. After all, HOMM was based on the original King's Bounty from 1990. Your hero (in this case, the sub-titular princess) travels over the world, gathering troops, collecting treasures, and defeating enemies. What amuses me about all this is that I hated Heroes when it came out, but I am loving King's Bounty for doing the same thing. Whether it's really a better game or my tastes have changed, I'm not sure.

  • One thing the game has going for it is a lot of personality. The graphics are bright and charming. Everything is hugely over-exaggerated. That makes the world feel smaller, but also more iconic. The quest text is well written for what it's trying to accomplish. It's no Bioware game, but it doesn't want to be. It's fun and it's funny and it doesn't try to be overly serious.

  • I'm still in what I would consider the early game. I've traveled to a couple of the islands and completed the quests available. But I've enjoyed all the ways to upgrade my character. There are very WoW-like talent trees for different specialties. You can find and buy equipment. Some equipment can even be upgraded by fighting the gremlins that live inside them. And finally there is a dragon pet that travels with you. That's dragon is a game changer. I'm not sure I would do nearly as well without his assistance.

  • I never played King's Bounty: The Legend. But by all accounts, Armored Princess is just that game plus more. I would happily recommend this to anyone who's interested in an RPG-like strategy game that just wants you to have a good time.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Random Shots: Still November

    Warning: very personal, non-gaming, non-comic post incoming. I understand if you want to skip this. I'll have something more interesting up tomorrow.

  • My wife and I have counted ourselves lucky this last year or two that the national recession didn't have a devastating effect on our family. We had to tighten the belt a little, but we haven't faced the same problems many have. Then November came.

  • November brought enough health problems to necessitate a few trips to the local emergency room. Nothing life threatening, but bad enough that we couldn't just tough things out. We got through it, but I was very happy to see November in the rear view mirror.

  • Or so I thought. It turns out that the next month was November also. This time, though, was the month of unexpected expenses. Far too many things cropped up that I wasn't ready to deal with. So by Christmas, I was counting pennies along with the rest of the country. But with the new year coming, things had to look up.

  • But November had other plans. Do you know how much a blood transfusion for a cat costs? I didn't until yesterday. I'm not going to doom a beloved animal because of some financial squeamishness. We bit the bullet and did what we felt we must. But things haven't let up for a while and I'd really like to have some good news to report.

  • So far, it's still November.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Comic Roundup: Stumptown #2

  • Being a comic fan can be complicated. There is so much that is great about comics and so much that is awful. I want to evangelize about comics like Criminal or Blankets or Glamourpuss or Fun Home. But all most people think about comics are Blackest Night or Civil War or that Superman and Captain America died. And I can talk about them too, but there is so much more out there. That said, the hardest part comes from the comics that fall in between. Comics like Stumptown.

  • Issue two sees Dex (our private detective protagonist) continuing the hunt for the missing girl even after being shot in the first issue. She talks to a couple people, trying to get info about where the girl might be, and eventually (by the end of the issue) figures something out. My description of this comic is hampered for two reasons. First, I don't have the issue with me to reference since I'm writing from work. The second, and greater, reason is that it didn't make that much of an impression on me.

  • The story is fine. I like Greg Rucka's work and I'm sure this will grow on me. The art by Matthew Southworth and Lee Loughridge is serviceable, but it pales when compared to rich work of Sean Phillips and Val Staples on Criminal. The whole thing just lacks the wow that you find in the best books.

  • So I'm not amazed by Stumptown yet. At the same time, I would much rather live in a world where this comic exists than in one that doesn't. I like that Rucka, Southworth, and Loughridge have muscled all the superhero books to find their own place on the new comics rack. But being different is not enough for me. I want it to be great.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • As of Monday night, I completed the current solo end game for Wrath of the Lich King. I finally (Finally!) finished all the quests to reach Crusader status with the Argent Tournament. A quick calculation on WoWWiki tells that this should take about 27 or 28 days. (It depends on whether the aspirant and champions quests overlap. It's been so long I don't remember.) Patch 3.1 launched on April 14, 2009, and I wrapped up the last part on January 11, 2010. That's 272 days ago. If someone used this as evidence that I was a casual player, I would not dare to dispute them.

  • The Argent Tournament seems to be the Wrath of the Lich King version of the Isle of Quel'Danas. Both are daily quest hubs that give soloers something to grind while everyone else enjoys their new raids. There is even the promise of epic weapons without even needing to join a group. However, and I'm well aware that I'm viewing this through Scott Summers-style ruby-lensed glasses, I had more fun doing the Shattered Sun dailies, both around the Sunwell and all over the Outlands. On Quel'Danas, we were participating in a war against Kael'thas and his legions. At the tournament, we're... well.... I'm not sure what we're doing. Proving that we are man/woman/etc. enough to take on the Lich King? Maybe, but what self-respecting soloer is ever going to fight him? Sure, get to run away from him in the Frozen Halls, but Blizzard didn't bother to tie that to the tournament as they did with Magisters' Terrace.

  • While that may all be a matter of perception, I am left with an uncomfortable fact. Since I am never going to see the end of the WotLK story and I have reached the solo achievement threshold, there is nothing more for me to do. I can keep running dailies for money and random dungeons for badges, but that's not much to go on. I've rolled a couple of alts, but I'm finding even that not much of a draw.

  • In essence, I've hit that WoW wall again. It happened a couple times last year, so I recognize it for what it is. Time to unsubscribe.

  • I also know that this is not permenant. Eventually the itch will hit me again and I'll want to spend more time with my mage. It may only be a month or two. But for now, I've got plenty of games to look forward to (especially Mass Effect 2). And who knows? Cataclysm may not be as distant as everyone suspects.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Random Shots: An Observation

  • This is just a quick note while I'm trying to write a real post. This was inspired by the topic-of-the-day by Gorden primarily from We Fly Spitfires.

  • Back in my post about The Oculus, I casually noted that when someone dropped out of the group, it was the tank both times. This is not an isolated incident. Whenever someone drops early from a dungeon run, nine times out of ten it will be the tank. It has happened in Ahn-Kahet. It's happened in Violet Hold, for goodness' sake.

  • Can anyone tell me what that is about?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Microfiction: The Nearly Departed

  • When actor Brian Denton awoke Saturday morning not to the sound of his alarm clock, but to the constant chirping of new e-mails and Tweets flooding his phone. He picked it up, drug it over to his face since his contacts weren't in, and read his own obituary on CNN. It was disconcerting to learn that he had supposedly died in the night. Even worse was the fact that the news could find no worthwhile accomplishments to mention outside of the moderate success of his films.

  • CNN apologized for the error. Something about a file copy of his eventual obituary accidentally being posted by an untrained assistant. At least it had people talking about him again throughout the weekend. But the damage had been done. Brian was a failure, no matter how much money he made in the movies. And he had made a lot of money.

  • On Monday, he called his third ex-wife to ask for advice. She told him to get back to work and cash in on his fame while he still had a chance. His second ex-wife told him that she did a little dance when she heard he was dead and was not happy to hear him alive on the phone now. His first ex-wife, though, took him seriously and told him that charity work was the only way to redeem himself. She also told him never to call her again.

  • He thought about African charities, but everyone was working Africa now. You can't through a stone anywhere in the continent without hitting a concerned rich, white person. And he wasn't about to do anything with the poor or homeless in the United States. They would want to take pictures of him helping out and those people are dirty.

  • Finally he settled on fighting breast cancer. There was a charity he could get behind. Money would go toward people who actually deserved help. And best of all, what better way to meet needy women than through a charity for needy women, right?

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Read Lately: Bone by Jeff Smith

  • It pains me to admit that this is the very first time that I've read Jeff Smith's Bone from beginning to end. I collected single issues for awhile and bought a few of the trades, but my interest just died away at some point. It might have been during the annual culling of the comic pull list. Eventually when the series came out in the one volume edition I knew it was time to read. Several months later I overcame the sticker shock and bought a copy for myself.

  • Bone is the story of three Bones (short, white cartoony creatures with large noses and no hair), Fone Bone, Smiley Bone, and Phoney Bone. They've been run out of Boneville because of Phoney's latest failed scheme and they find themselves crossing a vast desert. Within moments of the story's opening, the trio are separated because of a plague of locusts, but each eventually find their way into a forested valley right out of a fantasy novel. Fone Bone, the main character in the novel, soon runs into Thorn and her Gran'ma Ben. And through them the main story of the book arrives. Rat creatures are threatening to overrun the valley and the Bones will have to aid the inhabitants as they fight against the tide of destruction.

  • What starts as a light-hearted tale turns darker and darker as the story progresses, much like the fantasy epic. The villains are dastardly, the heroes brave, and their obstacles seem overwhelming. When the book starts, you might not be aware of what you're getting into. But neither are the Bones, so you end up experiencing the same growing sense of dread that they do.

  • Jeff Smith is a master cartoonist and rarely hits a false note here. As a matter of fact even though I've left myself a little wiggle room with that statement, I can't think of a single instance where I thought there was any flaw in the art. The black and white is handled perfectly. (You can find colorized versions of the individual books released by Scholastic that is still great.) The Bones are very cartoony, but eminently believable in the world they inhabit. And each of the human characters is easily distinguish able. You won't mistake one for another, a failing I've found in lesser cartoonists.

  • Although Bone might not be the first book I recommend to someone first exploring graphic novels, it might well be a good second. Anyone who enjoyed fantasy even a little will enjoy this story.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • I originally wrote this as a comment on Righteous Orbs, a blog I only discovered today. Good stuff if you like WoW-centric blogs. Anyway, I thought this was too good not to share with the three of you who read my blog. Enjoy.

  • Funny story (I hope). On a recent trip to Shadowfang Keep with my new priest alt, the PUG was running with a very new Hunter. He told us this was his first time in SFK. We all reassured him that everything would be okay. That was not correct. Just past the locked door leading to the courtyard, he and his pet started chain pulling mobs. It was not pretty. We ran back, told the hunter to take it slower, and tried again. Amazingly, we got through without incident. Right up until he pulled Arugal from across the room.

  • The paladin tank ran in and the other DPSers tried to do their best against the Sons down below, but I didn't have enough mana to keep everyone alive. And during the whole short fight, the hunter is asking for a rez. After the inevitable wipe, everyone started to run back accept the hunter.

  • I asked him, "You wiped our group and you want a rez?"

  • He called me a jerk and quit. The rest of us four-personned Arugal. I don't think I was wrong.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Syp, that rabble rouser from Bio Break, decided to ask his many, many readers what we thought about the recently added incentive loot bags for World of Warcraft's The Oculus. Although I commented on his post, I wanted to tell a little story of my relationship with The Oculus. I like to call it "A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy."

  • As I leveled up during Wrath of the Lich King, I rode the wave of players tackling the leveling instances. There were several people available to take on Utgarde Keep, The Nexus, Azjol-Nerub, Ahn-Kahet, Drak'Tharon Keep, Violet Hold.... you get the picture. I never had to wait long to get an invite, even though I was leveling my mage. But then I burned out and the wave passed me by.

  • When I came back, I was surprised that it wasn't impossible to find groups for the level 80 dungeons. And the daily heroic quests always gave me a way into the instances. All except The Oculus. No one, even when the daily heroic quest was available, ran The Oculus. I heard all the horror stories about how terrible it was, but I just wrote the place off.

  • Then Patch 3.3 hit and the Dungeon Finder had everyone running instances like crazy. After a very successful first run (I think it was ToC), I queued up a second instance. At this point, you can tell where the story is going. When we first zoned in, there was some grumbling. "Oh no, not Oculus." But one of the players (a blood elf paladin) explained that they recent nerfs to the instance had made the place super easy.

  • And you know what? He was right. The Oculus is not all that hard. The worst part is learning your way around, dealing with the vertical space, and learning how to control the dragons. Heck, since I didn't know exactly what I was doing, grabbed the wrong dragon. We had three tanks, one healer, and one DPS and we still beat the final boss.

  • On my most recent trip, the random tank left the group as soon as we zoned in. We requeue and the second tank left as soon as he showed up too. Wanting to get the thing over with, the druid in the group decided to switch to bear form and tank the instance himself while we searched for a DPSer instead. And he did a great job, even with the wrong spec.

  • The Oculus is not hard. It's not even that long of an instance. People have just bought into the fact that the place is terrible without applying any thought to issue. If an extra loot bag convinces people to overcome their prejudice, I would consider their quick fix a success.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Random Shots: The Trinity, Revisited

  • Were I any more of a narcissist, I would suspect that Damion Shubert's recent post at his excellent Zen of Design blog was aimed directly at me. It wasn't, of course. He's actually taking on Brian "Psychochild" Green's Trinity article which you really should read if you haven't. But no one minds if I stick my nose in, do they?

  • The reason I want to dive back into this is because of Damion's contention that breaking up the trinity means homogenizing character classes. I call that a failure of imagination. But let's explain my personal feelings about the trinity before we try to fix it.

  • I don't have trouble with healers, personally. My most recent WoW alt is a recently-respecked Holy Priest just so I can heal more effectively for random dungeons. And I really enjoyed playing a Monk during my Guild Wars days, back when the Prot Boon Healer was a decent build. My problem is that, of all gaming tropes, healing has the least fidelity to the fantasy genre. Or to any genre, really. How many movies have you seen where someone spends the entire time bandaging people up in the middle of a fight? How many books have you read where one person's entire job is to make holy light rain on people? Not very many, I'm sure.

  • Healing is required in video games because developers have been doing it wrong for a long, long time.
    This is where I go down the rabbit hole. If you can't follow me, I don't blame you. It's filthy down here.

  • Damage should be a pressure mechanic in the game. It should be there to tell you that you're doing something wrong. If you're doing everything right and luck goes your way, your character should not be in jeopardy of dying. You should only take damage if you are going too slow or you make a mistake. That's why games like Mirror's Edge feel so weird. Your character is a bullet sponge. What should be happening is that your opponents attacks only hit if you're not doing what you should be.

  • For all the crap that it was given, the morale system from Lord of the Rings Online actually fits better than health and healing. Having the characters' spirits bolstered during the battle makes sense. Having characters beat up and magically healed? Not so much. Of course, if you go back to the grandfather of RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons, hit points were about more than just how much punishment your character takes before they die. But healing was also not something the cleric spent every turn focused on. They were there to save your ass when something went very wrong, not because you were expected to expend five times your total hit points every battle.

  • All that said, it's safe to say now that World of Warcraft has made the entire argument moot with its Dungeon Finder. As Darren from Common Sense Gamer (Welcome back! Now start podcasting again!) says, Blizzard has changed the MMO genre again. The trinity works when it's not getting in the way of grouping. By taking all of the friction of the system, grouping is fun and you can toss out all of my complaints and suggestions. I'm not disappointed about that. The beauty of game development (and MMO development in particular) is that there are so many ways to tackle a problem. This is why I love the genre so much. There is so much innovation still going on. It's just very easier to get jaded and forget how much fun there is to be had.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Random Shots: Things To Look Forward To In 2010

  • Inspired by Blue Kae (that man has a lot to say all of the sudden), I thought I'd take a look at what's coming in the year ahead and tell you what you should be excited about. If you weren't aware that I had that much control over your emotional states, you should have read the fine print on this blog. Suckers.

  • World of Warcraft: Cataclysm - The only thing on the MMO scene I'm excited about is "Yet Another WoW Expansion." No one expects this to set the world on fire. (Wait, that's exactly what the expansion is about, right? Anyway, I'm sticking with the metaphor.) But Blizzard knows how to release good, polished content with just enough of a new spin to keep things interesting.

  • Diablo III - After enjoying the heck our of Torchlight, I'm really interested to see how Diablo looks. Okay, this won't be coming out in 2010. But I'm allowed to hope Blizzard gets it out early, right? No? Okay. See you in 2011, D3.

  • Mass Effect 2 - If there is one game that will drive me back to my 360, it will be ME2. And for no other reason than so I can carry forward my ME1 save game. I liked my Shepard and I can't wait to see what more the universe has in store for her.

  • Red Dead Redemption - I'm one of the few people who enjoyed Neversoft's Gun and wished that they would make a sequel. Since that's not likely to happen, who better to make a new Western than the company they were emulating in the first place: Rockstar.

  • And because I like to act the contrarian sometimes, here are a few game I'm not looking forward to at all.

  • Other MMOs. Any of them. - You name it, I having trouble getting interested about it. SWTOR? STO? DUCO? Not a one. Maybe something will come out of left field and blow everyone away, but I would be surprised based on the current crop of games on the horizon. (Allods Online is getting a lot of beta love, but I maintain a healthy detachment.) The only possible MMO I would look forward to is Guild Wars 2 and no one expects that until the following year. Okay, that and the forthcoming Torchlight MMO. Gee, can we just skip ahead to 2011?

  • Starcraft 2 - I don't have anything against SC2, per se. It's just another RTS that I'm never going to play. But there's a part of me, deep down in a place I don't want to admit to, that blames this for delaying everything else Blizzard has coming out. Completely untrue, but there you go. I hope all the rest of you enjoy it for me.

  • Not a huge list on either side. It's hard for me to get worked up for anything at all this year. I promise to focus more on the positive list than on the negative one, however. I'm in full support of Yeebo Fernbottom's blogging philosophy: there is too much good stuff out there to dwell on the negative. So I'm dumping negative blogs and I'll try to set a good example for 2010. Unless it's really, really funny.