Thursday, August 26, 2010

Random Shots: When You're A Necro, Everybody Looks Like A Potential Corpse

  • Many, many things have been happening and I don't have enough time to write about them all. So pretend you're playing a modern third person shooter and duck behind cover. The bullet points are flying now.

  • The Summer Update for Champions Online came out and there are some things I like. First thing I did was explore the redesigned Renaissance Center and visit the tailor. I really like the new look and I love my new costume. I didn't change it much, but Arcfire deserved a more modern costume. Check the sidebar for my latest creation.

  • Heck, I'm not even going to write that much about Everquest 2 Extended. Go read Yeebo's post for which my response is "Ditto." SOE doesn't get free-to-play at all. Just like with Free Realms, they seem to think this is an extended trial with the goal of getting people to subscribe. But then they've screwed that up my making the subscription a worse deal than in the main game. Such a wasted opportunity. Nonetheless, I'm going to play at the Bronze level as long as I continue to enjoy soloing. Maybe, just maybe, I'll upgrade to Silver just to unlock some bag slots, but I'll have to be really into the game to bother.

  • ArenaNet has released their announcement webpage for the Necromancer. My reaction was a decided "Meh." I never liked necros in Guild Wars and I'm not eager to play one now. However if you are interested in the black arts, head over to Hunter's blog where he has a great breakdown of the profession.

  • Finally, I can't let the "Used Games = Piracy" controversy go without comment. From a purely rhetorical perspective, I understand where Tycho was coming from: a lost sale is a lost sale from the developer's perspective. But while everyone is blowing up, it's important to remember the context from which the observation was made. Players of used and pirated games can access many online features without paying the developers and publishers a cent, and that is idiotic from a business point of view. People should have the option to do what they choose with their possessions, including sell or transfer them. But game companies should not required to support the secondhand market for free.

  • At the same time, though, the level of rhetoric really should be moderated. Accusing people who buy used games of moral equivalency with pirates does not help the conversation. Yes, we need to support the developers who make the games we love. But at the same time, you are not a bad person just because you do your shopping at GameStop.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Played Lately: Dragon Quest IX

  • My school days are long lost to haze of memory now, but there are certain things that are just as vivid now as the day I lived them. One such memory occurred back in 1989. I was hanging out in the band director's office with a couple friends, Jason and Josh, before school started. Although we spent a lot of time talking about video games, this particular morning we we sharing our adventures with the new Nintendo game everyone was excited about, Dragon Warrior. That game was like a bolt out of the blue to me. All of the CRPG I played were archaic in their systems and ugly with their four color palette. DW was bright and beautiful and a lot of fun. It was everything I wanted in a CRPG in an easy to play format. Fast forward a couple decades to where I eagerly awaited the launch of Dragon Quest IX. The wait has been worth it.

  • What I like about the series, and this game especially, is its positive outlook. It is the polar opposite of the grim and gritty fantasy from Dragon Age. The people are cheerful, even against great adversity, the enemies are colorful and playful, and the world is a joy to explore. This is not generic fantasy; it is a world of optimism and hope. It is such a relief to get away from the heavy handed pessimism of mature games sometimes. DQIX might be best described as JRPG comfort food.

  • After telling you how fluffy the game is, I now have to admit how well the title cinematic hit me. I'm not talking about the demo movie that runs over the start menu. This is the film that follows the tutorial sequence and leads into the main title. It was a wonderful cutscene that did a great job of setting up the major conflict in the game. One thing it did that I haven't seen before (probably because I don't look very hard) was the way it used both DS screens to show two different angles on the action when it was appropriate. Even though the game is one of those forever things, I still would be interested in starting over to see it again.

  • One of the stand out parts of the game is the eccentric characterizations on display. In particular, Stella, the faerie pilot of the Starflight Express, is an absolute hoot. The way they mangle her lines makes her come across as earnest instead of an idiot, as she would be played in any other game. You can tell the translators had a lot of fun coming up with all of the hilarious lines. Some people might be put off with how silly some of it is, but it fits the world they have built so well. Bravo to the translation team.

  • Another of the great aspect of this game is that there is so much to do. There is a huge world to explore, plenty of adventures to find in an almost episodic manner, any number of quests, mini-medals to collect, equipment to upgrade, new classes to try, alchemy to perform, and on and on. I've heard some people complain that these types of games almost require you to buy the strategy guide to find everything in the game. So far, I have not found that to be the case. The game unfolds at its own pace, introducing new things a bit at a time. I've have never felt overwhelmed or lost. What I have felt is the urge to dig deeper into Dragon Quest and see everything that I can. For instance, my main character has leveled four different classes to twenty just so that I can see what is available, as well as earn extra skill points. If I wanted to, I think DQIX would let me play forever. And I just might.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

News Filter: Champions Online's August State of the Game

  • It's that time of the month again. And like the cycles of the moon, Champions Online has waxed in full, ready to show us this month's State of the Game. This month's update covers a number of topics, including a few new bits of info.

  • First, the Summer Update will be coming August 24. Now that the Pet Update has been stripped out, there isn't much else for them to worry over. The Summer Update page is available, giving a nice breakdown of the patch. Most of it is quality of life upgrades, like supergroup updates, new emotes, and new flyovers for the cutscenes. But they also have updated the Renaissance Center for better functionality. Plus it looks really nice. Funny enough, the thing I'm most looking forward to is the new costume options. Looks like Arcfire will be getting a daring new look.

  • Next, Cryptic reminds us that the games first anniversary is on the horizon. They mention various prizes they will be giving away, but also hint at more events to come. I just hope they have a good lore reason for dropping a huge cake in the middle of Ren Center. (Speaking of which, Guild Wars always has the best themed holidays, doesn't it?)

  • Third comes the reminder that The Demonflame adventure pack is on the horizon, set to launch at the end of September or beginning of October. There isn't a lot more info. Poz does explain that they've designed this pack based on feedback from The Serpent Lantern. But the big info is that Cryptic is also updating the Nemesis options with the pack. New nemesis powers and new henchmen options will help give even more variety. I'm looking forward to this pack since my main hero has a demonic backstory. (So yeah, I'm excited for RP reasons. Crazy.) I'm also impressed with the timeline on this. If they can keep rolling out patches and adventure packs quarterly, I'll be pretty happy.

  • Poz does take the time to rundown what's happening with the pet update again. It would be a nice addition to the adventure pack if they can get it down. He also sneaks in a mention that there will be some limited cosmetic options for pets available, something that wasn't even mentioned before the update got delayed. So a nice little treat for keeping us waiting.

  • Finally, they give us some longer term plans for the game. They want to update the Millennium City Westside zone so that it flows better and is more consistent. And they want to update Lemuria so that it's easier to adventure there. They also mention expanding the use of the difficult slider and instance scaling, which would be great. Not that I think it will happen, but I will do a little dance if instance scaling extends to lairs.

  • All in all, a great SotG from Cryptic. It's always great to see more Champions Online news. I'm excited for the future.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

News Filter: Poz Punts the Pet Pass

  • Over on the Champions Online forums, executive producer Shannon Posniewski announced that they are holding back the update for pet-based powers because they are not happy with how it is going so far. In his own words:
    So, rather than push something that you and we aren't particularly happy with, we've decided to wait. Without a deadline looming, we can go back and take another look at the problem and possibly come up with another approach to it.

  • That means that the pet powers will remain as they are on the live server, though still receiving the UI updates. But the bulk of the power pass will be held over until the Demonflame adventure pack launches.

  • It would be easy to complain that Cryptic is not following through on a promise, but I think that would be shortsighted. Even the forum community agrees (and when does that ever happen) that postponing the pet pass is better than holding the Summer Update hostage until pets work or pushing an update that no one is happy with. Cryptic has my support for making a brave decision. I'd rather they do it right eventually than wrong now and fix it later.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Read Lately: Ghosts of Ascalon by Matt Forbeck and Jeff Grubb

  • Game fiction has a bad reputation that is well and truly earned. For the most part, the books are written without any pretense of art. They are just advertising copy without the benefit of Photoshopped screenshots. There is a reason that they are usually shelved between the D&D and Star Wars books. That was the mindset I had when I walked into my local chain bookstore and picked up a copy of Ghosts of Ascalon by Matt Forbeck and Jeff Grubb.

  • It wasn't bad. I expected it to be bad because that's what I expect from everything nowadays and it wasn't. I actually quite enjoyed the story. I liked many of the characters. The authors did a good job of giving everyone a personal motivation. And the story ended at just the right point without dragging on endlessly.

  • The biggest surprise for me was that, by the end of the book, I actually liked the charr character. Ever since I started the first game (now called Prophesies), I have hated the charr. I hated what they did to Ascalon, I hated that I had to help the idiots in Eye of the North, and I hated that we never got the opportunity to reclaim the kingdom where most of my characters where born. I was even hoping there would be a Charr Hater background option in GW2 so that I can carry on my charr hating ways. But in the last three pages of the book, Ember Doomforge did something (no spoilers here) that won me over. If the game is that good, I'll be happy to play with the charr. Strange, huh?

  • For nitpicking purposed, "dragon-haunted times" bugged me the third time the phrase came up. Thankfully, I think that was the last time. And some of the comparative storytelling got a little fan-wanky. But I shouldn't complain much. I flew through the book a lot faster than I expected. If you are interesting in Guild Wars lore, Ghosts of Ascalon would be a good choice.

  • For more analysis on the book, go check out Hunter's review. Because dude loves to analyze. I may start calling him The Analyzer.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Played Lately: Tales Of The Arabian Nights

  • When it comes to games, any kind of game, I came become strangely fixated on something new. I read about it, download documents, seek out descriptions of play, things like that. Since I don't have the opportunity to do a lot of gaming that doesn't involve a computer, it's a way for me to partake in that culture without actually playing anything. One such game that I recently obsessed over was Tales Of The Arabian Nights.

  • I first learned about the game on BoardGameGeek, which is a deadly labyrinth that has trapped many a board gamer. The goal of the game is simple: you roam the known world to seek fame and fortune, denoted by story and destiny points. As you wander, you run into various personages, visit foreign cities, and discover wondrous locales like the City of Brass or the Jeweled Fortress. But where the game diverges from the norm is because of the Book of Tales. Much like a choose your own adventure book, each encounter in the game directs you to a paragraph in the book to determine the outcome of your actions.

  • It is not a game in the traditional sense. There are victory conditions and decisions you can make attempt to achieve your goals. But decisions are entirely arbitrary as there is little indication for what a potential outcome might be before you choose what to do. The real joy in the game comes from the group storytelling that happens. You aren't reading these sections to yourself. Instead, another player reads the sections describing how the encounter unfolds. How much the reader gets into the performance is directly responsible for how much fun you have with the game. And there are lots of laughs to be had as any number of unfortunately circumstances can befall the players.

  • I played the game with my parents and my brother while I was visiting for Christmas last year. My father is very competitive player, so I wasn't sure how well he would take to the game. My mother enjoys trying new things (she even has her own Guild Wars account because she likes how the game looks) so I wasn't too worried about her. And my brother is a little like my father, but he's a gamer at heart. We each took a token and set out to explore the world. I had to lead a way, really trying to get into the storytelling role, and the others picked up on it pretty well. Amazingly enough, although my father had the worst things all happen to him, he was still able to win the game. I guess the moral of the story is that adversity really does build character. Best of all, we had a good time, even if it ran long on our first try.

  • Tales Of The Arabian Nights was a very different experience, and one I'm really happy that I got to try. Even though the book is huge, I worry that could become predictable and repeatative after too many plays. And everyone has to be in the mood for a chaotic, story oriented experience. So it will remain a when-the-fancy-strikes game, instead of an every-game-night game.

  • For those of you who like to peek behind the curtain, I started writing this post in January 2010 almost a month after I played the game. I haven't had the chance to play it since. And although it took seven months to finish, this is only the third oldest post in my queue. Have fun, everyone!

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Top Five: EVE Online Stories

  • A word of warning: I don't follow EVE Online all that closely. So these five stories are just the ones that got big enough for me to see them. So if I missed something really cool, it's because I had no idea what I was looking at.

  • 2005.04.18 - Guiding Hand Social Club Pulls Off Massive Heist - Probably the first big story I ever saw, it even made the pages of PC Gamer. GHSC was contracted to infiltrate the Ubiqua Seraph corporation, steal its assets, and assassinate its leader. After spending a year on the operation, they carried out the theft and murder, got a writeup in a gaming magazine, and introduced EVE to a whole lot of people who would rather read about it than play it.

  • 2009.02.04 - Band of Brothers Forcefully Disbanded - One of the most epic battles came to a hilarious conclusion when Haargoth Agamar, a director in BoB's Black Nova Corp, defected to the Goonswarm and disbanded Band of Brothers as way of saying goodbye. BoB eventually reformed under a new name, but it was a wake up call for the players to see power shift so dramatically, so quickly.

  • 2009.06.09 - EBANK's CEO Embezzles Over 200 Billion ISK, Is Banned By CCP - For a while there, stealing all of an ingame bank's assets became almost passe. The most notorious heist was perpetrated by Ricdic, CEO of the EBANK. He took over 200 billion ISK and then sold it for real money, earning himself a ban from CCP. Remember, no one cares if you steal fake cash. But if you convert it to real cash, you don't get to play any more.

  • 2010.02.04 - Goonswarm Disintegrates - In the most amazing of coincidences and with a copious serving of schadenfreude, the Goonswarm alliance was disbanded by its CEO exactly a year after it brought down the Band of Brothers alliance. Evidently, internal tensions boiled over when the alliance lost sovereignty in several systems when funds were not transferred properly. The CEO decided to burn down the alliance rather than give it up. And it burned so well.

  • 2010.08.07 - Pirates Destroy Ship Carrying 74 PLEX - When CCP recently allowed players to move PLEX off of a station, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before someone would lose a one in a PVP battle. And although no one is claiming it is the first, the kill on August 7, 2010, that destroyed 74 PLEX (over six years of game time) will go down as its most notorious. Keep in mind that PLEX are only created through a real cash transaction and are used as a way for players to purchase ISK (the in game currency) by selling them to other players. At approximately fifteen dollars a month, that is a loss of over a thousand dollars.

  • Additional EVE stories can be found at my follow up post, Top Five: More EVE Online Stories.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Watched Lately: Movie Weekend

  • Sometimes I forget that I like to watch movies. The inertia of my life leaves me doing the same simple things over and over again. So when I remember that there are other things to do, I jump in with both feet. Like this weekend.

  • Salt - My wife and I like to go to a theater when we can. Some movies just deserve to be watched on a massive screen. Salt almost qualifies as a must-see-big film. It is a big, dumb action movie that isn't a dumb as you might expect. It's almost like the writers put some amount of thought into the story they were telling. It's no Die Hard, but that's a pretty big hurdle to clear for an action flick. As it was, it was fun to watch Angelina Jolie kick dudes in the face. And, amazingly enough, the one time in the film she was less than fully clothed was the least sexy part of the movie. How weird is that?

  • The X Files: I Want To Believe - I really enjoyed The X Files back in the day. At least, I enjoyed it up through when the first movie came out. After that, the series went down hill and I gave up on it. So although we didn't catch the new movie in the theater, we still wanted to see it. I'm glad we did because it was cool to see the old characters investigating another terrible mystery. The downside is that it wasn't a mythology story, so it felt like one of the other episodes. I liked those other episodes a lot so that wasn't a problem for me, but some might think that doesn't make for a good film. If you were an X Files fan, you'll probably enjoy this.

  • Religulous - Not going to carry on about this film; religion is a touchy subject. Let me just say that I'm not a huge fan of people making fun of other people's religious beliefs, even when I don't agree with those beliefs. But at the same time, I think Bill Maher is right. Very interesting documentary.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Random Shots: Surprised By Cryptic

  • Ten Ton Hammer recently posted an interview with CO XP Shannon Posniewski that looked back on The Serpent Lantern and also at what is coming up next. All the chatter about the whys and wherefores of SL were good, but that's not the reason I'm bothering to post this.

  • In response to the question about how long it took at make The Serpent Lantern, Poz explained that it took about two months to make the content, a few weeks for testing, and then a few weeks for Test server feedback and tweaking. Since that comes out to four months and they want to put these out quarterly, I'm sure you can see the problem. How do they get around that? I'd better quote this verbatum:
    We handle this by having two teams working at the same time on different packs. This also explains why we know a lot about the next one coming up in a couple months even though we just launched Serpent Lantern.

  • Huh. Cryptic have enough people working on Champions that they can have two teams working on content? I know that it's probably just a few people one each team and there is a lot of overlap in art and programming resources, but it has to give you pause. There is a lot of unfortunate talk that Cryptic is circling the drain. But if they can have parallel teams working on adventure packs as well as constantly review and update the game, that has to be a good sign. Cryptic obviously hasn't given up and CO and I'm not ready to either.

  • On a side note, I initially dismissed a comment about the interview that I read over at Massively wherein the commentor regretted resubcribing to CO since the adventure pack was so small. Now that I've thought about it, I have to agree. It's definitely good content, but it's not enough to overcome the activation energy required to sign up again. It's good to know that Cryptic is committed to making adventure packs work. But if you are a lapsed subscriber seeking more content, you might wait for a few packs to accumulate before returning to the game.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Played Lately: NCAA Football 11

  • Since I don't have a lot of gaming friends, I rely pretty heavily on the online community (especially this blog) to share my enthusiasm. But year in and year out, my one constant gaming companion has been my brother. Our tasted don't always mesh (he's a fan of Halo and various sports games), but I always enjoy sharing stories and talking about our latest exploits in our virtual worlds. Every year around this time, he tells me about who he's taking some midlevel college's football team to the national championship. They are intriguing tales, about taking a ragtag group of players, showing their potential, and turning the school into a football powerhouse. It's been a similar story for years now, renewed with each iteration of the franchise. But he still enjoys it and that joy is infectious.

  • This year is decided that I wanted to join in the fun, so I picked up a copy of NCAA Football 11 so that I could see what it is he's been talking about all these years. The results, so far, have been mixed.

  • My brother's Online Dynasty is running at All-American level which, because they have to use fancy themed difficulty terms, is equivalent to a Hard setting. This is perfectly tuned for my brother and his friend. But it is not conducive to someone who hasn't played a football game seriously since Tecmo Bowl. I was doing so bad during my most recent game that I simmed the last quarters and my team gave up two touchdowns just like I would have. So that's something. In essence, the game has handled me roughly, like an inexperienced lover how keeps putting his hands in the wrong god-damned places.

  • I did try a game on easy mode like any sportaphobe should. They call it Freshman just to drive home how worthless I am. I actually won the game and thought I was doing good. That was not correct. I might as well have been playing against a quadruple amputee. Hell, I shouldn't say that. With the right controller, one of those guys would work me over.

  • Most damning, though, is that the game expects you to already know what you're doing. I know it seems silly, but I'd actually like to learn how to play the game. Where is the tutorial? Where are the pop-up hints? Where is the condescending narrator to tell me what the hell I'm doing wrong? I thought this was 2010. Aren't we in the fucking future yet?

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

News Filter: Torchlight II Announced, Not An MMO

  • Discovered via Kotaku, we get the awesome news that Runic Games is releasing a new game, Torchlight II. I'm having trouble deciding if this is good news or the best news. I wouldn't even care if this launched the same day as Diablo III. I'd still buy it.

  • I played the heck out of Torchlight when it came out, getting all the way through to the end. But after a harddrive wipe destroyed my save game (long before Steam Cloud support went in), I've only dabbled in the game when the mood strikes. Nevertheless, I loved the look and feel of the game. I enjoyed shooting dudes and taking their loot. And the loot was a lot of fun. I admit to enjoying playing dress up with my vanquisher.

  • From reading about the game, it sounds like TL2 will do the same thing for Torchlight as Diablo II did for its predecessor. They're adding cooperative play, new character classes, an open world to explore, and a lot more. It all sounds like what they were holding over for the MMO but now released in a standalone product.

  • That leaves the question open as: what about the MMO? TL2 looks like an extra iterative step toward that product. And I feel exceptionally lucky that they're using that work to release another game.

  • PC Gamer already has an interview and some concept art up that are worth a look.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.