Monday, November 29, 2010

Played Lately: Everquest 2 Extended

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Random Shots: The World (of Warcraft) Is Shattered

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

News Filter: Return to the Fabled Lands

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Unexplored Worlds: The Winds of Chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Read Lately: The Last Run by Greg Rucka

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

News Filter: EQ2X Launches Most Useless Bonus Weekend Ever

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

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

  • I know, right? What the hell?

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Admin: Post Four Hundred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Unexplored Worlds: The Grand Duchy of Perganium

  • The Grand Duchy of Perganium

  • Population: 124,300

  • Size: 13,000 square miles

  • Capital: Perganium

  • Ruler: Reginald Stumpf, Duke Regent

  • Government: Kleptocracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Played Lately: Blood Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Random Shots: A Peek Inside Champions Online F2P

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Random Shots: Another Tale of Dwarves and Ancient Evils

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Read Lately: Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Random Shots: The Rucka/Gagnon Author Signing

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Played Lately: Champions Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Random Shots: Microtransactions Win

  • I'm sure you've seen the news by now; it's everywhere. Warhammer Online is now selling a pack to grant each of your characters a single level for ten dollars. I am speechless.

  • Darren from Common Sense Gamer and the Shut Up We're Talking podcast calls this the third rail of microtransactions: directly paying money for power. It is the MMO Rubicon. Once they cross this point, there is no turning back.

  • We told ourselves for a long time that we would be okay with microtransactions as long as they are for cosmetic or luxury items that don't impact the game. Then we conceded that it would be okay to for them to sell content in small chunks because we're already used to paying for it by the expansion; these would just be little expansions. Then we were bought into buying items that would help up advance, just as long as they don't do the advancement for us.

  • But this is it. Even if it's limited to a single level for now, we have reached the point where you will be able to buy your way through the game. It will come and it will be soon.

  • This is not meant to be doom and gloom. It's a call to arms. We've given up a lot of ground in the subscription vs. microtransaction battle because we've seen the benefits of each. But I think this is too far. I think it violates the principles of fairness that we expect in these games and I do not want to participate in it.

  • If for some reason you haven't read them, check the articles by Ardwulf, Ravious and Darren (linked above) as well as the articles they link to for more commentary and insight.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Played Lately: Costume Quest

  • Playing The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned was a great fit for Halloween. But if you wanted the real deal, Double Fine Productions' Costume Quest was the game to play. The premise of the game is simple. You play as the brother or sister in a pair of siblings on Halloween. When the two of you go trick-or-treating, monsters kidnap your sibling and you and your companions have to rescue them.

  • The art style and the writing are absolutely endearing. I immediately felt nostalgic for a youth that I never actually lived. Double Fine really dug out the fun of being a kid and exloring a world that is a lot more magical than we see as adults.

  • While the game does that in many subtle ways, the RPG system goes for the obvious. Each battle, with the giant robots, knights, unicorns, and assorted baddies, is portrayed how a child would imagine it. The fights are not too taxing, though I did lose a few due to inattention. The choices are simple and very straightforward. You are pretty much going to be making basic attacks until the meter fills and you can use your ultimate ability. But you have to take advantage of the active portions of the combat or you will not succeed. Not that losing a fight is all that bad. You can just try again right about the loss screen fades.

  • There is a lot to collect. You'll be hunting for candy, searching for costume pieces, winning Creepy Candy trading cards, and buying up battle stamps to augment your fighting abilities. And let's not forget the quests. This is an RPG after all so there will be quests. (All of the sudden, I want to make an RPG called "There Will Be Quests.") I did have to hit an FAQ to figure out a couple things, it was only because the completionist in my wanted to see everything this game had. If you are not so afflicted, you should have no trouble finding your way though the game.

  • As an Xbox Live Arcade title, Costume Quest is not an overly long game and the price accurately reflects that. I split it up over three days, one for each act, so that I wouldn't rush through it. But I can highly recommend that anyone try it out. It was a lot of fun and made me smile more than once. I can't wait to see what else Double Fine is brewing in their cauldron.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Played Lately: Borderlands

  • Sometimes, and it's not often but sometimes, you just want to shoot dudes in the face. There is little chance that I will ever buy a Halo or a Call of Duty or a Medal of Honor (yes, I am a game snob), but that doesn't mean I don't like shooting stuff. It's just that you have to trick me into it by making your game about something else. That trick, that hook, is what got me playing Borderlands.

  • I actually played Borderlands before on the PC. I bought it during Steam's Christmas sale and enjoyed it quite a bit. But after my video card melted down and I had to shift to a cheaper backup, my system can't keep up with the game. I put it away for a while, looked at it forlornly on my game list, and wished that I could try it again.

  • When Gearbox recently released their Game of the Year Edition with all of the DLC included (actually we'll get back to that in a moment), I knew it was time to try again. And this time, I would do it on my 360. The game pretty good on the console, too. A lot of the graphics come down to the style and that comes across no matter what system you are playing on. I must admit to being exceptionally pleased whenever I saw the hashed shadows on the terrain. The toon shading is quite mild, but very effective. It gives the game a unique look without going overboard.

  • The heart of the game, though, and the reason I'm playing, is to shoot dudes and take their stuff. As I mentioned in the earlier article, Borderlands borrows the broad outlines of Diablo while going its own way as a game. It is a shooter and a comfortable pretty comfortable one at that. Whether you're shooting from the hip, looking down an iron sight, or aiming with a scope, you can pretty much shoot what you're aiming at. How much damage you're going to do is another matter, though.

  • With a level based system, disparities between you and your opponents makes outleveling your challenges an attractive option. I rarely ended up taking on quests at the appropriate level. (And yes, of course there are quests.) You still get all of the rewards, but the baddies aren't quite as difficult. Still hard mind you. Not of this was a cake walk. But I haven't really faced a huge challenge until I started up one of the DLC packs, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx.

  • I have played all the way through the campaign and I was really happy with how it went. Gearbox hits just the right level of humor mixed with the seriousness of the story. That's a pretty fine tightrope to walk and I think they did an admirable job. Whether that was their intention or they just stumbled into it is a matter for debate, but my hat is off to them. The ending was great, pleasantly taking the story in a direction I didn't expect.

  • During and after completing the campaign, I was eager to try out the DLC. So eager in fact that I jumped into The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned even though I had just crossed into the Dahl Headlands. Shooting zombies was perfect for this Halloween holiday. And it had a great atmosphere. The change from the campaign was night and day. Quite literally in this case because the sun always shines in the campaign but Jacobs Cove is continually shrouded in darkness. But it proved that Gearbox really does know what they are doing.

  • At least they know what they're doing where their art style in concerned. I'm not so sure about packaging GOTY editions. The included DLC amounted to a single sheet of codes that you plug into Xbox Live to download the DLC from the marketplace. (I didn't even get that sheet in the first copy, so imagine my surprise when I couldn't access the DLC on the disk. Many thanks to the Borderlands forum and Best Buy for helping me straighten that out.) You know what? In an online world, that's fine. But one of the reasons you get GOTY versions is so that all that stuff is on the disk. That's enough ranting for now.

  • I don't want to overdo this post, so I'll wrap up by saying Max Moxxi's is a bad as everyone says, but I'm looking forward to finishing Secret Armory and Claptrap's New Robot Revolution. When the guys on the Giant Bomb podcast (Jeff Gerstmann, I think) referred to it as the Best 2009 Game of 2010, I have to agree. And yeah, I'm happy that Gearbox will finally get Duke Nukem Forever out the door (and I'm really going to buy it) but let's not forget Borderlands. I want to see what they do for a sequel.

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.