Thursday, May 27, 2010

Played Lately: Age Of Conan

  • I've been spending a lot of time in Age of Conan. I wasn't kidding when I said I was ready to get back into a fantasy MMO. So, time for more random thoughts.
  • My Priestess of Mitra has reached the lofty heights of level 35, already surmounting the peak my prior character (the ranger) achieved. And all that in just a couple weeks. The rather flat leveling curve, along with plentiful quests, means that I haven't gone a day without achieving a new level.
  • I mentioned before that I chose to play a Priest of Mitra because of the adventures of MMOGamerChick's hungry eyed vixen. As you can see in the screenshot above, my priestess instead looks like she's continually clueless. At the end of some conversations, she even does a little eye roll. Something about her reminds me of Brittany, the blonde cheerleader from Glee. I'm thinking about spending some of my money (which is only good for buying new bags, so far) to switch to a blonde ponytail.
  • There are a lot of breadcrumb quests in this game.

    No, that sentence wasn't effective enough. Let's try this again.

  • The moment you step out of Tortage, you are given quests to visit the other main cities, quests to go into each of the level twenty questing zones (and don't forget that includes Khitai, now), and quests leading to each of the crafting zones. I gained a few levels just running around and talking to people.
  • Not that I should complain too much. Running around and seeing all the sights really was a lot of fun. And it did give me the opportunity to fire a ballista at a rampaging kraken. Kudos to the team that made the caravan missions when traveling to the Gateway to Khitai. Who in their right mind would pay to skip all the fun?
  • While I'm thinking about new stuff in the expansion, I'd like to know who's bright idea it was to unlock the first tier of alternate advancement at level 20, but then hide it behind a one million (MILLION!) experience point threshold to earn your first AA points. At level thirty-five, I've earned about 25,000 mastery experience. I don't remember how to integrate a function to save my life, but I'd estimate I won't have enough mastery experience until I reach level 79. (Editor's Note: Number chosen for effect.)
  • I'm kind of amused by AoC's version of dungeons. I've been trying to catch as many as possible as I level because, hey, why skip extra solo content. But these things aren't even instanced. They're just really dense adventuring zones. That said, I really enjoyed the Border Ranges at the southern edge of the Wild Lands of Zelata. (Oh crap. I just realized the zone is named after that Zelata chick hiding in the cave. I'm so thick.) There are a bunch of quests to complete and some nice boss fights available. I was able to complete almost all of the quests after waiting for respawns to come up. Almost all except for the one where I have to collect three hundred sacks of rice to buy the freedom of a camp girl. I got about halfway (yes, I'm insane) before I turned in for the night.
  • This is part where I complain about the lag. Bad Lag! Bad!
  • I skinned an entire man in that tent. It was not pretty.
  • Actually, that's not true. Dude kept his skin in a large chest. Somehow, that's even more creepy.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Played Lately: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

  • Three years ago, in March of 2007, I first read about Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords on Penny Arcade. Described as an RPG crossed with Bejeweled, it sounded like a great mix of casual and hardcore gaming. Thirty eight months after buying the game for my Nintendo DS, I have finally completed the main campaign.

  • PQ was exactly what I was looking for in a puzzle game: something I could pick up and play for a few minutes, then not look at it again for 45 days. Okay, maybe that's not how it wants you to play, but it worked just fine doing that. With a standard RPG, if you come back after so long a break, you're better off starting over. That was never an issue here.

  • What was an issue was how unfair the puzzle fights felt at times. I would choose my little three gem combo and count myself lucky to have any options at all. Then the opponent would run several four gem combos in a row (since each grants an extra turn) and have several three skull combos drop whole onto the board. I can't accuse the game of cheating per se, because I usually won most battles anyway. It just felt terribly unfair.

  • Just as amusing to me was the hint arrow that comes up. If you take to long to make a move, the arrow pops up to point out an option you not see. Several times, I noticed that making that move would set the AI up to either damage me or get a multiple gem combo again. Again, I can't say that it was cheating, but I learned never to assume the arrow was there to help me.

  • I'm glad I played this on the DS. The portability and persistence helped a lot. I also purchased it through Steam, but lost my save game every time I switched computers. Bah. I found it amusing that Puzzle Quest 2 was recently announced. I finished just in time.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Watched Lately: Lost

  • Well, that's over.

  • Not a lot to say. I enjoyed Lost the last few seasons, although it certainly lost its way there in the middle. And in some ways it never lived up to the promise of the first season.

  • In the finale preshow, Demon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse make the case that Lost was a character drama. If you view it as such, the whole series makes a lot of sense. People go through a bunch of stuff and they grow personally and as a group. Where the problem comes up is trying to make sense of all the stuff.

  • If you came into the finale hoping it would explain all the stuff, you were bound to be disappointed. The only answer we got was about the alternate timeline that just appeared in this final season. And from the producers' point of view, that's all we need to tell the story of these characters.

  • So what about all the unanswered questions? They don't really matter from a character point of view. My issue with the show is that the accumulation of all those questions tended to overshadow the narrative until that's the reason people kept watching and talking and writing about it.

  • I'm not unhappy about how the series ended. The characters matured and, in a way, they got their "happily ever after". I would be more disappointed if I was watching to see all the plot threads come together. Because in the end, that not the show they were writing. Those threads were really strings they could pull and make the characters dance.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Random Shots: Guild Wars 2's Dynamic Events

  • The biggest news on the Guild Wars 2 front is Dynamic Events, ArenaNet's attempt to avoid the Christmas Tree Effect. Everything I've read about it sounds amazing. By turning the world into something you explore and experience instead of running errands in, they seem to have turned the leveling paradigm on its head.

  • Where the GW2 combat article raised only a few questions, ArenaNet has been running double time to explain this system in detail, as well as reassure people that they've really thought it through. Two Q&As have gone up on A.Net's blog as well a great post on Kill Ten Rats. And all those answers have been sorely needed because there is so much about this that we just don't know.

  • If there are any worries on my part, it's that I wonder at the potential for a group of players to lock the events in a zone in place. The example given in the original blog post is about how a dredge army could potentially overrun a large area and how players can stop them even as they begin their march. If all events are triggered like that, there is the possibility at players can stall them at their initial states. It's hard to worry too much because I'm sure ArenaNet has thought of the same thing and will have events branch a different way in such cases. But I'm eager to see first hand how the system works.

  • On the positive side, the thing that excites me the most is that the game might fulfill the promise of Public Quests. I bought into the idea of PQs from the very beginning. I think they are great ways to expand storytelling and gameplay options within the standard questing framework. Giving people a goal that encourages cooperation is quite commendable. Everyone likes to pick up PQs nowadays, but I always thought they were great while they were active.

  • That's the most important part for me. WAR's Public Quests and CO's Open Missions are useless if the critical mass of players is not achieved. If the difficulties really can scale properly, then that solves the primary issue I have with those systems. Of course, playing with other people would be the ideal. But the reality is that you can't ever count on anyone else to even be around. So if I get to play through a scaled-down event even though I can't round up a tank, a healer, and several DPSers, I will call that a good thing.

  • Hmm. I wonder if a plume of smoke on the horizon will become GW2's equivalent to the golden exclamation mark?

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Played Lately: Age of Conan

  • As agreed in my prior post, I have resubscribed to Age of Conan. I bought the digital expansion upgrade so that I wouldn't miss out on all the fun there. I tried to find a box, but not very hard. One less bit of cardboard for me to throw away.

  • So the first thing I did was roll a new Priest of Mitra on the Wiccana server. (What can I say? I was inspired.) I was looking forward to tackling Tortage again with a different character so that I could see another side of the story. So I rolled up a character, tweaked her look (of course it's a her), tried to attack a pirate, and...

  • You can see it coming, I'm sure.

  • computer crashed. And it crashed and it crashed.

  • My promise for this experiment was that I would do whatever it takes to play AoC for the full duration. So I actually bought a new graphic card and installed it myself. This is quite the feat for me since my Geek credentials are written on a 3x5 index card in colored marker and sealed with a sticker of a bug. And now everything is working fine again. I'll even get to play DDO and LotRO again. But not this month.

  • Since I've already written about AoC and Tortage specifically last year, the rest of this post is getting a lot more bullet pointy.

  • Priest of Mitra is a lot of fun. I really enjoy Smiting the hell out of people, as well as using other spells that I've learned. I wasn't even aware that there were spell fatalities in the game. Dragon Age could have taken some notes.

  • Tortage is still Tortage, so I remember all of the quests. But I completely forgot that playing a different archetype would give you a different slant on the destiny quests. That has been a nice treat.

  • I can't get over how cool the clothing options are. I love scavenging cloths from the pirates so that I don't have to prance through the jungle in my bikini. I love buying a set of burlap bags to wear when I get to Tortage. I love that it's all so earthy. Seriously, there's no sarcasm here. It wouldn't feel like Hyboria if everyone was running around in clown suits. And really, doesn't a skirt made out of ripped alligator skim just scream Conan to you?

  • Hmm. somewhere along the line I'll have to figure out how to turn off the UI when taking screenshots. Don't tell me! I swear I'll work it out myself.

  • Blue Kae was cool enough to induct me into the Hyborian Courier Network. Now I just have see if I'm ever logged on at the same time as anyone else.

  • And one more thing: does anyone else think that it's awesome that the advanced solo enemies are called bosses or mini-bosses? Someone at Funcom has a good sense of humor.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Played Lately: Assassin's Creed II

  • I might have been perfectly happy waiting for Assassin's Creed II to fall into the bargain bins, but my wife was not. One quick trip to Amazon was enough to secure a sale-priced copy and I was headed back into the Animus. The game takes place in fifteenth century Italy. This time, Desmond relives the life of Ezio Auditore, the son of a noble Florentine family. It doesn't take too long before Ezio must take up the assassin's path and take on the Templars.

  • Where AC1 was a freeform game, AC2 follows a more structured narrative. While the underlying mechanics are very similar, how the missions are focused makes the game play very different. There are still side missions to complete and they are much more varied. But at the same time, the impulse is to follow the story through to the end, skipping all the fluff. Since the first game required you to explore the cities, side missions naturally fit into that. They just weren't as interesting as in AC2.

  • I shouldn't skip so quickly over the story. AC2 is quite a step up over the prior game. Assassin's Creed gave just a peek into the overall story. In the sequel, Ubisoft blows the doors off their hinges. There is nothing that I can talk about here that isn't a serious spoiler (and spoilers are easy enough to find on the internet if you care). But if you thought the little bit of sci-fi we've seen so far was it, you haven't seen anything yet.

  • My favorite improvement for the game is that combat never feels unfair. I really doubt it's because I'm any better of a gamer now. I think they just got the balance right. So good on Ubisoft for that.

  • I'm really glad my wife wanted me to play Assassin's Creed 2. I had a lot of fun and it's a really good game and story. I just hope she can handle the wait until AC3 comes out.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Random Shots: Casual Piracy

  • At work the other day, I was killing time with my DS when a coworker asked me what I was playing. Since I'm not ashamed of my gaming habit, I let her know I was playing Puzzle Quest. She obviously didn't know what that was so she asked if I had heard of Animal Crossing. I asked if she was still in debt to Tom Nook which was enough for her open up about how she did tell me that she and her daughter were hooked on the game. Then, as the conversation wound down, she told me she was playing it on some "chip she bought from China" for ten dollars and that you can download all kinds of games from the internet for free. My only answer was "Huh," and I went back to my game.

  • I shouldn't be surprised to hear how pervasive piracy is among people who I would not consider to be hardcore techies. There is a woman in the office who regularly sells copies of movie DVDs soon after they are released. I just shake my head at all the people who end up placing orders with her.

  • In the core gaming community, there is the pervasive complaint about obtrusive DRM and ownership versus licensing the media we consume. We, the people who want to play great games and support the creators, continue to miss the point. If an average mid-30's mother of two doesn't think twice about stealing games or movies, the problem is bigger than we want to admit.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Played Lately: Age of Conan

  • The votes are in and, as you can see from the title, I'm returning to Age of Conan. Between the Rise of the Godslayer expansion and the come hither stare from MMOGamerchick's Priest of Mitra, I was leaning that direction. And since the game is already installed and patched up, it makes the choice that much easier.

  • In light of my impending return to the Hyborean age, I will be starting a new character, either on the Set or Wiccana servers. (Let me know where you all are!) And most likely I will play a spellcaster type like the Priest of Mitra or Herald of Xotli. I enjoy my Ranger (currently level 31, the game tells me), but I'm eager to try something else.

  • So keep a look out here for my adventures in Tortage and beyond. I'll try to have something up at least weekly to inform you about my progress.

  • For those of you who are curious where the votes fell:

    1. Age of Conan: 2 5/6 votes

    2. Allods Online: 2 1/2 votes

    3. World of Warcraft and Guild Wars: 1/3 votes each

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Unexplored Worlds: Malis Ebonsky's Siphon

  • When approaching this dungeon room, all the doors will be closed. Upon entering, the party will immediately notice a change in the climate. The walls and floor are completely dry and no moss or any other vegetation grows inside. The only feature of the room is the siphon and the well it stands over.

  • The siphon closely resembles a common water pump made of polished brass. It stands four feet off the ground with a curved, twelve-inch nozzle that drains directly into the well. The handle is eighteen inches long, also of spotless brass. It rattles when touched or grasped as the mechanism has loosened over the years. As there is no longer a complete seal on the siphon, a steady drip of water falls from the nozzle. The well into which the water drain is a simple hole in the ground two feet in diameter.

  • Within five to ten minutes of entering the room, the characters will experience dry skin and chapped lips as though they had been traveling through the desert. Anyone who checks their canteens or other liquid supplies will discover that they have been drained. If the party is carrying wine, ale, or other colored liquids, there is a moderate chance that they will notice that the fluids are passing through the siphon.

  • If the party lingers in the room for an additional five minutes, each player takes one point of damage as the siphon starts to drain their blood. Once this begins, the players take three points of damage every five minutes and the flow of blood from the siphon will be obvious to everyone in the room.

  • If anyone pumps the siphon, everyone in the room takes either five points of damage or damage equal to five percent of their health, whichever is greater, each round that the siphon is pumped. For a cruel version of this trap, all doors close and lock magically after the party enters while an invisible construct works the siphon with the intention of completely draining the characters.

  • 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.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

News Filter: The Cataclysm Leak Parade Starts Here

  • I'm usually not a huge fan of spoilers. I don't want to know how the movie is going to end before I've bought my ticket and I don't read the last page of a book before I reach it normally. There is something about World of Warcraft leaks, though, that makes me throw all of the self-righteousness out the window.
    I hope you like spoilers! Because here they come!

  • The inimitable (yes, I had to look that up) MMO-Champion has launched its initial fusillade (that one I knew) of Cataclysm spoilers. And I cannot look away.

  • When it comes to leaks, MMO-Champion is hitting all the usual buttons: new models, screenshots, crafting recipes, and (favorite of all) the new zone maps. There is something about map that hooks my imagination. I love searching over each of the zones, new and old, and wonder at what I'll discover there. Actually, I didn't spend too much time looking at Gilneas because I really want to discover what's going on there in person/character.

  • The screenshots are just incredible. I love how much effort Blizzard puts into their virtual worlds. For me, looking at spoiler screens doesn't take away the effect of seeing them in game. I still remember the first time I traveled through the Dark Portal, running through the mushrooms in Zangarmarsh, stepping off the zeppelin in Howling Fjord, and teleporting to Dalaran for the first time. It's a shame that feeling of discovery fades so quickly, so I'm looking forward to visiting new zones and revisiting new old zones. (I'm particularly taken by the Skywall images. Seeing the zone in a semi-finished state is so cool to me. Yes, I know. I'm a big nerd.)

  • Haven't got much to say about the other data-mining bits. Crafting recipes, titles, and updates are all interesting enough, but that's all the stuff I just do in the game. They're all nice enough to discover in game, so that's not much for me to care about here. Well, I do have one more thing to say: those anglerfish murlocs look scary. Damn murlocs!

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Random Shots: Resubscribing Somewhere

  • A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I was thinking about resubscribing to World of Warcraft. Of course, things aren't as simple as that. I have any number of choices available. As the bullet points lend themselves to it, I'm going to make a list of all the games I'm considering. (Oh, I do so love the lists.)

  • Guild Wars - Not so much resubscribing here as returning, I burned out on GW a couple of years ago. I loved the game and played through each campaign as it was released. But that is the problem. I'm so familiar with the game that there is not much to go back to. I should investigate the War In Kryta, but I'm not sure how long that will hold my attention.

  • Allods Online - Ah, the $20 bag. The cash shop fiasco left a bitter taste in my mouth. And the eventuality of PvP might drive me away later in the game. However I really enjoyed the questing and the art style in that game. I did not give it a fair shake before, so I really should look into this game again some day.

  • Aion - Want to hear a secret? (If the answer is no, just play along. Okay?) I have been waiting for months for the price of Aion to drop. I'm never going to pay $50 for a box and 30 days for a game that I may or may not like. The price has never dropped. Honestly, it's only the art style that caught my eye. I've tried worse games for less. But with free to play games like Allods available, I can't see dropping that much money just to try it out.

  • World of Warcraft - As much as I'm just waiting for Cataclysm at this moment, there is a lot I can be doing in Azeroth. I have a paladin or three that I'd like to get back to some day, so it's not like I'd end up grinding daily quests and instances every day. Not much to say other than WoW may be an obvious choice, but it's obvious for a reason.

  • Age of Conan - I really enjoyed my time in AoC right up until my first subscription expired and then I never resubscribed again. I'm pretty sure my ranger was level 40 when I logged off last and I'd be interested in seeing more of Howard's world. It's been long enough that I have the itch to go back. Plus, new expansion, right?

  • Everquest 2 - Much like WoW, I'm waiting on various updates before I return to EQ2. The fabled Golden Path is already in the game and it would do what I need to progress in the game. But the Storyteller system sounds so cool that I'd hate to outlevel it before it launches. When it launches. When does it even launch? Soon, I'm sure.

  • Lord of the Rings Online - Oh, man, I really wish I could play this game again. I don't know what's wrong with my computer that it constantly pukes whenever I try to run it. I should probably turn in my geek card. Oh well. My poor warden must be so lonely waiting for me to come back.

  • Champions Online - Or specifically, "Why is CO not on the list?" Well, I am looking for a fantasy MMO. Plus, I don't need any special encouragement to go back to Champions. Other than the time, maybe.

  • So there's my completely random list. I was going to leave it at that. But instead I'm going to do it. I'm going to dive into one of those games. Only I'm crowd-sourcing my decision. Make your vote in the comment section, anytime up through May 14, about what game you think I should play. I will subscribe and play the winning game for a full thirty days, with status updates as I go along, even if that means I have to buy a new game. Since I'm expecting to get all of two votes, I'll randomly select a winner of the votes cast. Write ins are accepted, but only for fantasy games.

  • So, what do you say?

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Random Shots: Working Within The Story

  • I don't always put a lot of thought into the characters I play in most video games. Most games are so linear that there does not seem to be much point in creating a story that's going to be contradicted within five minutes. But I'm glad there are other people who still bother.

  • One excellent example is Blue Kae's recent biography of his Champions Online superhero, Silver Hunter. Between the bio and the story of how his character evolved of City of Heroes to Champions, he demonstrates the right way to weave your character into a game's story.

  • The wrong way? I remember listening to an episode of The Instance where Randy Jordan was complaining about the Death Knight starter zone. That zone is widely hailed as one of the best stories in any MMO available. Randy's complain was that, because his character's story was that he was rebelling against the Lich King, he refused to do anything for him. Since he would not even talk to him, he literally could not do anything. His role-playing choice broke his enjoyment of the game. What makes this sad is that the death knight storyline is even better than the story he was trying to force. If he had just played along, he would have ended up it the same place but with greater depth for his character.

  • It's the same thing I wrote about when I was playing Dragon Age: Origins. You can easily sabotage the game if you aren't willing to work along with the story you are offered. The game can only bend so much. We, as human beings, have much more capacity for flexibility. But even in the most constraining game, our flexibility can allow to find a story we want to tell.

  • So be like Blue Kae. Find your story and build on that. Don't try to hammer one where it doesn't belong.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.