Saturday, June 26, 2010

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • After reading Blue Kae's post, I couldn't put off trying out the new adventure pack for Champions Online, The Serpent Lantern. So I loaded up my favorite mini-skirted flamecaster and started off to thwart VIPER's latest scheme.

  • Then I stopped again and read zone chat until I found out where I should actually be going. It turns out that there is a guy on the Millennium City landing port who directs you to the new UNTIL building. A recent addition to Ren Center, it's just south of the Champions headquarters. It's also the new location of UNITY's headquarters, which was quite interesting to me because the entrance buttons are amusingly similar.

  • Once finally inside, I obtained the mission, found the transport, was on my way to Africa. The African jungle to be marginally more precise. You could tell it was a jungle because it looked just like a stripped down version of Monster Island. I wasn't super-impressed with the new outdoor zone, but part of that may be that I have to run the game at low graphic settings.

  • The mission starts with a quick tour of the main zone. For a flier like Arcfire, that primarily means darting around the tree canopy and occasionally dropping down to talk to one of the scouts. Once that is out of the way, it's on to the bunkers.

  • Each of the three bunkers is guarded by various outposts that have to be assaulted and cleared before you can try to shut down the generators. Out of the four defeats I faced during the mission, two of them came clearing these posts. It took me a while to figure out that attacking the commander aggros everything in the outpost. Regeneration is good, but it can't compensate for over a dozen henchmen and villains unloading on me. Add in the pressure of impending air support and each camp becomes a tense situation.

  • Once inside the bunkers, the game actually gets easier. The improved VIPER is a greater threat, but I never found myself overwhelmed like I did in the outposts. But while the guards may not have been a huge challenge, the super villains guarding the generators were. The first, VIPER X, was a most standard fight, but every super villain is a challenge for a solo character. The third super villain, Draconis, was quite tough as well, but primarily because of his Personal Force Field power. Since you end up batter that shield so long, you have to make sure he doesn't wear you down.

  • The second super villain, the infamous Freon, was much more challenging. This was where I was defeated my third time. I suspect I would have been defeated much more often if I had not read the boss strategy ahead of time. (Thanks for the heads up, Blue Kae.) That one defeat came from not managing my resources properly. There is a lot to keep track up between maintaining the electricity buffs, avoiding Freon's blinds, blocking properly, and putting out enough damage when you have the opportunity before he wears you down. It is a lot more complicated than anything else I've soloed in the game. I got through pretty well, but I don't know how much of that comes down to studying the strategy, the strength of my character's build, or how much is just because I'm awesome. That last would probably rank fourth after dumb luck.

  • After clearing the bunkers, it was on to the temple to smash VIPER's plans. Clearing the temple was much more difficult than the bunkers primarily because of the many Serpent Mages to defeat. These master villains have their own Personal Force Fields much like Draconis, which makes them very tough opponents.

  • The final two super villains, Viperia and the Spirit Serpent, were tough, but not overly so. Viperia's fight involves collecting gems and using them to activate four pillars throughout the fight. If she did not have specific caps on how much damage she can take during the fight, I thick I could have easily tank-and-spanked her. The Spirit Serpent and his attendant Serpent Mage dealt me my final defeat because of the sheer amount of damage they were doing. On my second attempt, I decided to play it safe and blast them from long distance. That helped enough to see the battle through to its conclusion.

  • Overall, I was happy with the adventure pack. If I had any complaints, its that the story is not as strong here. (Blue Kae compared is unfavorably with the Vibora Bay Crisis and I think he's right.) As well, it was a nice to have a complete adventure to complete in a night, but adding one day of content every two months might feel a little slow. Finally, as everyone else knows, Freon is overtuned. I enjoyed the fight, but making the gimmick more obvious and tweaking some of his frustrating powers will make the challenge more fun.

  • Lead GM Destra from CO Forums put a report up about the recent Play With The Devs session. There was an interesting note stating that Freon might be a little unbalanced. You think?

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Random Shots: Quote of the Day for June 25, 2010

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Random Shots: A Weekend Without Internet

  • Just got back from vacation, which is why I have not posted in a few days. Not that I planned to be AFK for so long. My in-laws wireless router wouldn't accept the passkey, so I could only sneak a little time on their PC. Just enough to clear up my junk mail folder really. But going without internet did let me focus on other things.

  • Since my beautiful bride and I were out of town for a wedding, it was the perfect time to road test my new laptop. It works like a charm, has a great battery life with the economy options set, and did everything I asked of it. Including a game of Master of Magic. It is amazing how hard it is to stop hitting that Next Turn button. Thank goodness for Good Old Games for keeping these older games available and running. They're perfect for my little laptop.

  • Going without an internet connection also let me focus on my gamebook. The full skeleton is laid out at exactly one hundred sections. I actually came up a little short, but then used the extra sections to flesh out one rather short encounter. I'm working on writing up the rules now. I may post them early so that people can give them a read over while I'm doing the actually writing. Oh, and I need to flowchart my encounters as well. I'd hate to discover that I have some weird recursion or stranded sections that you can't actually get to.

  • On the blog, I'm hoping to get posts up about The Serpent Lantern and Red Dead Redemption. Of course, I need to finish the first and collect all my thoughts about the second. Even though it has been over a week, the ending of RDR still stays with me. Mass Effect 2 has a serious contender for game-of-the-year, now.

  • Now that I'm back in front of my home computer, I have a lot of catching up to do. So many blogs and podcasts and writing and gaming to accomplish. Have fun, everyone!

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

News Filter; The Serpent Lantern Rises Over Champions Online

  • Yes, yes. It took me a couple days to get this news up, but I have an excuse. Whether you find Red Dead Redemption to be a proper excuse is up to you. Nevertheless, I really am excited about this update. What update, you say? Excellent question!

  • The Serpent Lantern recently launched for Champions Online. As the first of Cryptic's Adventure Packs, The Serpent Lantern will scale to your level with an optional difficulty slider if you want to face tougher foes for greater rewards.

  • Because superhero games can't hook you by making you chase gear upgrades (at least, not much), I think Champions has to compete by telling great stories. Regular story updates like this that anyone can play will keep me, and I hope others, coming back to the game.

  • I haven't played the update yet, but you can be sure that I'll be taking on those VIPER goons soon enough.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Random Shots: Player Housing Is A Square Peg

  • I've been waiting for someone to give me an excuse to write about this subject, and finally someone has stepped up to the plate. Ravious from Kill Ten Rats has a post up about player housing and the lack thereof in World of Warcraft. His question is why has Blizzard failed to implement player housing when other MMOs, before and since, found it important to do so? To answer the question, you only have to look as far as WoW's big competitors, Everquest 2 and Lord of the Rings Online.

  • On one side of the equation, you have EQ2's guild halls. From all accounts, they can be filled with several amenities that make them the most convenient option for many of your non-adventuring needs. So convenient in fact that many people complain that the main cities are ghost towns.

  • On the opposite side, LotRO tried to avoid some of the pitfalls of player housing with neighborhood instances. Unfortunately, those instances are almost entirely devoid of other players. So the houses end up as personal trophy rooms that very few, if any, other people will see. Neighborhoods seem like an interesting idea, but they have not ended up fostering a micro-community.

  • Of course, none of this takes into account non-instanced housing like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. In both cases you end up with vast wastelands of empty buildings that no one cares about anymore. It is urban blight at its worst.

  • In the face of all of that, what should World of Warcraft do? Blizzard have made it clear that they want people to congregate in their major cities. To this day, there are still large populations in Orgrimmar, Stormwind, and Ironforge, as well as Shattrath and Dalaran during their expansion cycles. And they don't need a personal trophy space because your character is the main trophy. And what is the point of having a museum if no one will see it. Your character is a walking record of your achievements and you need people around you so you can show off.

  • Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic offer player housing because they don't have the same design goals as WoW. In both cases, they involve heavily instanced personal storylines. Instanced housing will fit well with how they want you to play. Because the housing will be intertwined with the game systems, I'm sure they will be well received. In both games, there is multiplayer gaming involved, but only as one component of a large game.

  • Not every game requires player housing. Housing must fill a need in the game design. Otherwise, at best, it becomes a minor diversion or, at worst, it destroys your community. Unless Blizzard finds the right reason to add it to the game, it would be like hammering a square peg into the round hole that is World of Warcraft.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

News Filter: Cataclysm Downgraded To Catastrophe

  • I should know better than to post on the same subject as Green Armadillo. Nonetheless, I can't help but weigh in on the recent press deluge about the Cataclysm expansion for World of Warcraft. Or at least one bit specifically.

  • MMO-Champion, as always, has a good round-up of the particulars. Many of the announcements are Blizzard hyping the instanced content and nailing down more information about rated battlegrounds. And they also informed us the Path of the Titans and Guild Talents had been one-shotted, so they would not appear in the expansion. I mention guild talents for the sake of completism, but I was never that excited about the system. It seemed like a neat idea, but the objections were valid.

  • No, the one new thing in the new expansion I was most interested in was the Path of the Titans. (Not that I was terribly excited. More WoW is more WoW. For good or ill.) I know that I'll be leveling a new character. I'll take my mage to the new level cap and maybe see a few dungeons. But I'm not going to raid (unless random raiding really does come true). I don't like to PvP. And daily questing is a horrible grind. So I was looking forward to something that was at least a little else to occupy my time.

  • I was a little interested to see how Blizzard would handle alternate advancement. Like anything you tack onto an MMO, it has the possibility to unbalance the game. I have more than once heard complains from podcasters how you can level to the cap in EQ2, but be terribly behind in AAs, therefore useless in endgame content. That's not something I want to see in WoW, but I'm sure Blizzard could have figured out how to hit the right balance.

  • But more than that, Path of the Titans would have been an additional goal for those of us who don't buy into the raid endgame. Maybe that too much to ask for from an MMO. Or at least too much to ask from from WoW. But it's unfortunate to see that glimmer of hope dashed so quickly.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Random Shots: The Skeleton Of A Plot

  • I like to think of myself as a writer. It's my standard answer to my "What do you want to do when you grow up?" Of course, I should just admit that I am grown up and that if I want to be a writer, I really should try to write. That's part of the reason why I maintain this blog, especially my Unexplored Worlds and Microfiction posts.

  • That's also why I occasionally dive into a larger project like writing a gamebook. I was initially inspired to try actually finishing one after finding out about the Windhammer Prize. A one-hundred section book sounds reasonable to me. If anything, I'm more worried about running out of room instead of running out of ideas.

  • If you've never written a gamebook yourself, you might find this article by Steve Jackson to be a good starting place. (That's this Steve Jackson, not this Steve Jackson.) Of course, there are a bunch of gamebook creator tools to help you do the same thing. But I still hand-code the HTML in my blog posts, so I'm not going to shirk from hand-numbering and organizing a few sections.

  • So far, I've developed the rule system (another iteration on a ruleset I've been tinkering with for years). I have the main plot and individual encounters outlined. Now I'm at the stage where I'm building the skeleton of each section within the encounters. They are simple one line descriptions of what has to happen in the second, skill test required, what decisions the player can make, and what sections they lead to. I actually think this is the hardest part because this is where I make the book fun or not. All the writing that comes after is just adding context and making the game more presentable.

  • I don't have that much farther to go, though. The last encounter should just about write itself. I'm saving it for last, though, because I need to focus on the hard bits first. Anyway, progress is being made. I will keep you all up to date.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

News Filter: GW2 Announces The Warrior (On Purpose This Time)

  • After leaving us hanging for at least six whole days, ArenaNet has released its next round of previews for Guild Wars 2. This release sees the formal announcement of the Warrior profession (previously mentioned in the Elementalist preview). As well, game designer Ben Miller explains the trait system, something that I wasn't even aware of before. For more info, Ravious has posted his typically insightful thoughts at Kill Ten Rats.

  • Like with the elementalist, ArenaNet is preserving the flavor of the warrior with mechanics like building adrenaline and having different play styles for different weapon types. At the same time, shouts (like the current paragon), chain skills, and the soon-to-be-iconic Battle Standard give it a unique feel. Not that I'll be playing a warrior in this game either, but it sounds interesting so far.

  • While it was in the warrior preview, we also get a closer look at how tying skills to weapon will work. The ability to swap skills just my changing weapon set sounds really powerful, essentially allowing you to update your skill bar in the middle of the battle. I'll be very interested to see how that plays out with other professions as well.

  • Somehow I did not notice any mention of traits prior to this overview article, even though it reference conversations going on in the forums. It sounds like a cool mix of perks, talents, and deeds from other games. And the fact that they can be swapped out anytime outside of combat reinforces that ArenaNet is committed to allowing experimentation and flexibility for characters. Not that I ever doubted, but it's not to have more confirmation.

  • If there is one thing that bugs me, it's that we only know about two of the professions so far. I don't want to wait to get them all!

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Top Five: Gamebooks

  • As with every Top Five on the blog, this is a list of my five personal favorites. This is not intended to be objective or exhaustive. If I happened to run across it and I liked it, that's how it gets on the list.

  • Fabled Lands: The War-Torn Kingdom - Probably the last great gamebooks, the Fabled Lands series eschews the mediums Choose Your Own Adventure guided storyline roots in favor of an open world to explore. The ingenious use of check boxes in the text and codewords act as the variable flag that guide you through the various encounters. Removing the strong narrative does leave you without much motivation. But if you have a healthy curiosity, there are a lot adventures to be had and stories to find. And if you run out of things to do, all you have to walk to the edge of the map and you can move on to the next book. The War-Torn Kingdom is the book I've spent the most time in because it was the first released. But it is well balanced with big quests to follow as well as an interesting land to journey through.

  • Fighting Fantasy: Deathtrap Dungeon - The fact that it was the very first gamebook I ever owned may cloud my judgment. However Deathtrap Dungeon is, appropriately, one of the most famous Fighting Fantasy books ever published. Devilishly difficult, with wrong turns aplenty that make it easy to miss something you will need several encounters later. But the atmosphere made this a story that captured my imagination. I never did get all the way through the book, but I enjoyed my many, many deaths just the same.

  • Fighting Fantasy: Space Assassin - On the opposite side of the Fighting Fantasy spectrum is this sci-fi. The additional rules make the book a lot easier to get through, which makes Space Assassin one of the few that I successfully completed. Funny enough, the one part that sticks out most in my mind is the impromptu tank simulation that occurs partway through the book. It's a neat little minigame that does something different with the medium.

  • Lone Wolf: Fire On The Water - The Lone Wolf series was a serious departure in gamebooks for me. A much great storytelling experience, the series felt more epic than the down-in-the-dirt fantasy of the FF books. While the first book was good introduction to the series, Fire On The Water sees your character (the Lone Wolf) traveling to a neighboring kingdom to procure a magic sword with which you can thwart the invasion of your homeland. It took me a couple of attempts to make it through this book, but the massive battle at the end was well worth the effort.

  • Steve Jackson's Sorcery: The Shamutanti Hills - Based on the Fighting Fantasy rules, the Sorcery series was goodbooks for grown-ups. At least that's the impression I got. In actuality, the book was a pretty traditional start to the series. It's also the only one I was able to finish with any sense of accomplishment. I stumbled through the second on accident, I think, and never found more than two of the serpents. Don't even ask about my time in Mampang Fortress. But the mad imagination at work in The Shamutanti Hills drove me to try that book time and again. Someday I'll try the whole series again, but I'll have to find them first.

  • All of this thinking about gamebooks has reminded me that I've been meaning to write a gamebook of my own. Maybe I'll even share if I get something done. What do you think?

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Random Shots: Quote of the Day for June 7, 2010

    WoW is like the ring in Lord of the Rings, dude. And all the [other] developers are like fucking Gollum.

  • Tyler Barber, Rebel FM Episode 64

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Played Lately: Master Of Orion

  • Master of Orion is one of those games that defined the gamer that I am today. Back in 2007 when I began this blog, I listed it as one of my Top Five PC Games. It has been thirteen years since the game came out. But if I were to remake that list today, it would still hold a position.

  • I recently bought a second copy of MoO from Good Old Games. Since my first copy is on 3 1/2 inch floppies and I haven't owned a drive for years, I was overjoyed to see it released on GOG. $5.99 is a perfect price for up-to-date and easy access to this game (bundled with MoO2).

  • So, how does the game hold up? The best review I can give you is that I did not get to sleep until 3 AM this morning. I had to check the clock twice to make sure I wasn't seeing things. I remember playing so long in my younger years that some days I would not stop playing until the singing birds would tell me that I has stayed up all night. It obviously hasn't lost its "Just One More Turn" hook.

  • I decided to start on easy just to get my feet underneath me. I rolled the humans because their diplomacy bonus is a big help. And I chose the green flag because I love those ship designs.

  • So far, it's exactly the game I remember. Exactly the game I lost so many nights to. Now I just have to keep my willpower strong because I can't afford to miss any work.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Unexplored Worlds: Edwin Tamelas, Purveyor of Fine Toys

  • Found on the road a couple miles outside of the nearby town and heading the opposite direction, the adventurers find a man with wild charcoal hair with a dark, bushy beard. He is dressed all in rags hanging loosely from his wiry frame. On his back he carries a backpack twice the width of his shoulders.

  • If the party approaches him, he will wave and greet them warmly. He introduces himself as Edwin Tamelas. A toy maker by trade, he travels around the countryside, visiting small villages and towns, selling his wares to parents and children everywhere. He will readily tell the party that he has just left the nearby town as the people there were quite disagreeable. Also states that his next destination is several days distant and that he would enjoy the company of others on the road. If they agree and so long as the party does not intend to travel to the town, Edwin will accompany them for a few days. He is happy to share an local lore (65% chance to answer questions about local geography or legends) due to his extensive travels.

  • One thing Edwin doesn't talk about or show off is his backpack. If asked, he refers to his toys as trifles. His profession is just a way to get bye and an excuse to travel the world. But if an adventurer gets curious enough to search the bag during the night, they will discover something quite different.

  • Edwin's toys are small rag dolls only six inches tall. Each is magically animated and will run, play, and talk, though in a tiny, unintelligible manner. Edwin will not share his method of making the dolls, though he will vaguely refer to long lost mystical arts. Further investigation will be cut off by the toy maker swiftly.

  • If no one has discovered Edwin's secret by the third night, one of his toys will escape from his pack and try to make a break for it. As the toys are very small, it will not get far before Edwin catches it. Instead of putting it back in his pack, the toy maker burns the toy in the fire. It pitiful screams will last for half a minute before dying away. If asked, the toy maker will only say that the toy was not a good one.

  • After being discovered either way, Edwin will disappear on the fourth morning without a trace. He does not take anything from the players and leaves them nothing either. If the players ever backtrack to the town from which Edwin has traveling from, they will hear rumors of multiple disappearance from the townsfolk, though no one has any idea where they have gone or who might be responsible.

  • 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, June 3, 2010

Played Lately: Dawn of War II

  • With so much chaos in the universe, it's easy to fall into the logical fallacy that one's thoughts can shape the world around them. For instance, I was in the shower the other day (where I do my best thinking) wondering about why I never got around to trying Dawn of War II. I have a long running dislike of RTS games, but everything I'd heard about the game (especially on Idle Thumbs) made me think that I might actually enjoy this one. Then this weekend, Steam put the DoW II Gold Edition (the original game plus the Chaos Rising expansion) on sale for twenty dollars. I don't really believe that I caused an amazing game sale to show up, but coincidence is kind of hilarios sometimes.

  • Instead of the standard base and army building paradigm traditional to RTS games, DoW II's campaign gives you control of only four units, all spawned at the beginning of the level. Your goal is to shephard your forces through various conflicts, assaulting enemy positions, and holding strategic objectives. As your units fight and achieve their goals, they earn experience and find gear, both of which can be used to improve their abilities. In its way, DoW II feels more like a real-time RPG. And with the interesting storyline, optional missions, and bonus objectives, there is a lot to enjoy.

  • My main complaint with RTS games still holds here. There is too much going on too fast for me to feel like I have enough time to act or react with any precision. However, the Recruit difficulty setting is forgiving enough that I don't feel like I have to micromanage my units. I do what I can and use what special abilities I can remember. But if I don't always remember to find the best cover or use the perfect tactics, the setting is forgiving enough that I haven't yet felt frustrated by the game.

  • I've already finished the Dawn of War II campaign and I'm just starting Chaos Rising. Relic did a great job telling the story of the Blood Ravens' multi-front battle against the Orks, Eldar, and Tyranid. I was amazed by how interested I got in the characters, especially since they are less than an inch tall on my monitor. The final battle had some great lows and highs with the last boss being a suitably epic confrontation. I was genuinely excited to see my men triumph against such tremendous odds.

  • I was also amazed to find out how much fun I've been having with The Last Stand online mode. Instead of a pitched battle against random people (a mode I may never launch), The Last Stand gives you a single hero unit and places you in an arena to fight off waves of opponents alongside two other players. I generally prefer single-player gaming, but this drop-in co-op is a lot of fun. I look forward to seeing how far I can go in that mode.

  • Considering how much time I drilled into the game over the weekend, it is safe to assume I found the right RTS for me. Now I just have to hope they keep making expansions because I don't want it to end so soon!

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Random Shots: The Other Side Of The Coin

  • First, a game where you, playing as a woman, can shoot all the jerks harassing solely due to your sex can be found here.

  • Second, an article explaining why the game resonated with her can be found here.

  • Third, a blogger feeling vaguely guilty about any contribution he makes to all this can be found right here. No link required.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Random Shots: There Is No Story, Only Zuul

  • I was not going to write anything in response to Darren's post over at The Common Sense Gamer because I figured he was just being his curmudgeonly self. But then when Tobold took up the same topic, I could not just let the thing lie.

  • Way to miss the point, guys.

  • You and your ilk are so set in your MMOing ways that you genuinely accept that there is no solution to the quest problem. The fact that people are clicking through quests is not a sign that no one wants stories in their MMOs. Blocks of text are just archaic ways to tell stories in a video game.

  • I remember back when Wrath of the Lich King came out. Various bloggers declared that they would turn the Instant Quest Text option off so that they would take the time to savor the stories the game wanted to tell. And yet now we're cynically proclaiming that story is so inconsequential that we may as well skip the text altogether and just hand out quest blurbs that say "Kill ten rats", "Collect ten rat tails", or "Click the Glowing Thing" and that's all gamers need to keep grinding away.

  • Games like The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 are banking on the fact that people really will play for the story if you tell it the right way. And I think we should applaud them for the effort, not complain about how they are missing the point. Year in and year out, we complain about how there is not innovation in MMOs. Everyone is making a WoW clone and we're bored before we've even played it. But as soon as a developer puts one foot outside of our comfortable bounds, we tell them that they don't understand MMOs and it will never work. Shame on us.

  • By the way, Zubon has already said all this much better and more succinctly over at Kill Ten Rats. I just want you to hide the link way down here at the bottom so you'd have to read everything before clicking away.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.