Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Played Lately: Portal 2

  • Once again, this post and the following comments is a spoiler-free zone. I may be past the point where spoiler affect me, but I know not everyone has finished the game. So for now, let's keep this a safe place for all readers.

  • Friday night, sometime after midnight, I finally reached the end of Portal 2. Like the first game, it was an amazing, cathartic experience. The ending was wonderful and wonderous. I enjoyed it so much that I immediately went back to the main menu and started again. Only this time I played with the developer commentary on. And now I want to play it again.

  • It took me three days to work through all the puzzles the first time. The second time, even while listening to the commentary, I finished it in a night. Like the first game, it changes the entire tone of the game when you aren't beating your head on your desk working out the puzzles. Subsequent trips are more about technical execution and thoroughly exploring the environment. There is so much to look at and listen too that is easy to overlook the first time. And since you already know the puzzles, you can challenge yourself to finish them better and faster.

  • Quotes keep coming up that Portal 2 makes you feel smart for figuring out the puzzles. I think it is deeper, though. Playing though the game and manipulating the environment gave me a sense of empowerment that few games can match. Usually, the extent of your interactions are shooting dudes and occasionally chasing down a dialogue tree. Here you are changing the world to fit your needs. With your portal gun, you are no longer constrained by the reality as we normally experience it. It really makes you feel like your abilities are only constrained by your imagination.

  • Again, I'm not going to spoil anything, but the end of this game is amazing. From the final boss confrontation to the denouement to the end credits, I love it unreservedly. If you thought the end of Portal was great, play this game. Play the game anyway. It is so worth it.

  • As it stands now, I have already started my Top Five Video Games list for 2011 and Portal 2 is at the top. Everyone else better step up because those last four positions will be going fast.

  • I may have to post some spoiler talk here one of these days. I promise there will be plenty of warning.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 22, 2011

News Filter: Champions Online SotG Is Amazing

  • Once again, right around the time I'm wondering what Champions Online is up to, Cryptic reads my mind and unloads the news. Yesterday, producer Rob Overmeyer posted the State of the Game for April. Please excuse any errors with this post. It's hard to type with all of the drool. I'm really excited with the direction the game is going, so I may need a towel to mop up the mess.

  • Let's start with the stuff we already knew about:

    • The next Adventure Pack, Resistance, will be hitting the PTS this week. I have really enjoyed the challenge posed by the prior two APs, so I'm looking forward to this one. I'll probably avoid testing, just because I want to experience it first on Arcfire. But I really do want to play this.

    • They also just patched in the Heavy Weapons power set and archetype. Considering how much fun the powers are in this game, more can only be better. Since this is only the second new framework added since Celestrial, it is doubly exciting. Time to roll another alt.

    • It sounds like the Comic Series, CO's version of STO's Feature Episodes, are coming along well. Rob says that they will be doing five or six issues per series and that they are working on issue three now. I'm looking forward to the end of May to partake in the same appointment gaming that my starship captain friends have been enjoying.

  • And now, the stuff I didn't know about:

    • I will, nay, I must own the new costume sets. Okay, not the Harajuku set which actually is okay. But I'm in love with the Golden Age and Pulp Comics costumes. If CO ever gets a mission creator like STO's Foundary, I am so doing a time traveling series.

    • Although the new costumes are a great addition, the most shocking news is the addition of Hideouts to the game. There is very little detail other than the four initial options (Mom’s Basement, Cave, Arcane, and Moonbase), each of which you can own simultaneously, and that various amenities will be available. We'll learn more as we get closer to the July update, but I'm hoping there will at least be some sort of customization options. Even if there is not, it will be a nice touch of personalization for the game.

  • With more news like this, it is great to see how committed Cryptic is to Champions. I'm glad they keep giving me reasons to come back to the game.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Played Lately: Portal 2

  • There will be no spoilers in this post and I will not allow them in the comments. I just want to share my impressions so far without spoiling the game for you.

  • Have you played Portal yet? If not, go play Portal. Right now. Don't even read this post. You might have read the memes or heard the song, but that is all nothing without the context. So go and don't come back until you have.

  • I'm assuming the rest of you aren't Cheaty McCheaterpants, so let's talk Portal 2. So far, about halfway through, it is amazing. It is everything you remember from the first game, but with more polish and greater detail than before. It is the iconic form of a game sequel: everything you loved about the prior game, but bigger, better, and with something new that you didn't realize was even missing from the first game. The environments are bigger and more intricate, the characters are more interesting, and the puzzles are move varied.

  • Valve gets a lot of credit for storytelling through environment. I finally, with Portal 2, understand what everyone means. Instead of littering text or audio logs through their levels, the environment itself tell you the story. Sure, there are characters that talk to you (the classic silent protagonist), but if that is all you are paying attention too, you will miss out on some of the most interesting parts of the game.

  • I had forgotten how much the puzzles drive me crazy. Since the environments here can be so much bigger, it is harder to get my head around them. So many times it helps to step away for a while (to change a diaper, for instance) and come back more rested. But when you do figure out the trick, it feels so great, and so insane, that it all worked.

  • I'm done. At this point, anything I could talk about is a spoiler. Instead of writing this, I want to get back to the game and finish it. And you should too, Cheaty McCheaterpants.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Played Lately: Rift

  • I am still playing Rift every chance I get. Those chances are few and far between, so I scramble for play time like a crack addict looking for that last rock lost in the carpet. Here are a few more random thoughts because there is too much to say and I don't want to dedicate a full week of posts to the game.

  • Resubscribed anyway - I fully intended when I first bought the game to cancel my subscription after the first month. I figured that was enough time to experience what I wanted about the game and move on. So when I was balancing my bank account and noticed that my three month subscription was charged, I was a little surprised. Not that I had missed the date, but that cancelling didn't cross my mind at anytime in that first month. Looks like I'm in for the long haul.

  • The roads are not safe - One of the things that alternately surprises me and freaks me out is when I find myself attacked even though I'm following the roads. WoW has trained me that if I stay on the road that I can run across a zone with impunity. Not so in Rift. Mobs have no problem wandering right up into aggro range of the roads, almost like they are daring you to ride by. And of course there are the invaders who happily jog right down the road toward you if you're not paying attention. It certainly makes the world more exciting. But it also makes finding a refuge so that you can take a bio break that much harder.

  • Personal shiny farm - I found the perfect place in Gloamwood to farm shinnies. (No, I'm not telling you where because I'm not sharing.) I'm so hooked on this mini-game that I actively look for out-of-the-way places were people rarely go so that I can pick up all the artifacts that spawn there. Every night when I log in I head out to my farm and check all of the usual spots. One night I only found one and I was so furious. I knew someone else had been there before me. How dare them! Never did find such a place in Silverwood, but that zone was always swarming with people. I wonder if there any likely farms in Scarlet Gorge.

    While I'm at it, I must suggest trying to log in right after a server reset. I have been their twice after a reboot and I ended up with about ten or twelve shinnies within a half hour of starting each time.

  • More about the quests - I promise that I'm not going to go into this again, but Tipa brought it up in her one month report over at West Karana. It is well worth the read.

  • Can I cap my crafting before level 30? - With help from my brother, I hit the cap of 300 in Runecrafting for my level 27 mage. I'm suitably impressed that Trion lets you get away with that. Almost as though they are encouraging crafting alts. One thing to keep in mind before you do it yourself, though. While I was leveling up that fast I ended up outleveling a bunch of crafting daily quests, so I am way behind on collecting Artisan's Marks. I'm sure that once I get to max level, I'll be able to run those high reward quests to my heart's content. But in the mean time, I'm missing out on a few interesting recipes.

  • The (non-) event - The final two phases of Grim Harvest came and went with more drama that it was really worth. I did get to experience phase two in Gloamwood, taking part in killing all three of the invaders. (No queue because I rolled on Dimroot at launch. I didn't want to be on 1) an RP shard, and 2) put up with the queues on the launch servers.) Phase three might as well be a myth as far as I'm concerned since there was no way I was hauling my level 27 backside to Stillmoor. Heck, I'm not even sure where Stillmoor is. I suspect that making that part an entire separate phase made it seem like more than it was worth. I think it is funny that, even though I got bored with it pretty quick, I think that Phase one was the best handled of the three. Although it didn't come off perfect, I have actually enjoyed the event and I'd like to see what they do in the future.

    If that's not enough, SynCaine has a great wrap up of the event, what went well, and what went wrong. (Has everyone else noticed that SynCaine has become readable again? It's about time.) Also, Scott Hartsman's post talks about this learning experience and gives us hope about future events.

  • Now excuse me while I go play Portal 2.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Read Lately: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

  • I don't get in a fantasy mood much anymore. Although at one time it was all I ever read, I burned out on the genre long ago when I could no longer stand the poor quality of writing in most fantasy schlock. So when I do find an author who infuses fantasy with actual decent writing, I take notice. One such author is Joe Abercrombie and I have long been interested in reading his The First Law trilogy. So when I finally had the opportunity, I plucked the first book off the shelf and dove in.

  • The Blade Itself was not a book that I could read quickly. Abercrombie writes well and he evokes the action and emotions of his character in a grounded, believeable way. But the book is very deliberately paced, so I read it a chapter at a time over the course of a few weeks.

  • As slow as the book unfolded, it always had me coming back to read more. I was hooked on the adventures of the barbarian warrior Logen Ninefingers, the roguish army captain Jezal dan Luthar, and inquisitor Sand dan Glokta. Each of the characters is fascinating in their own ways, both in their achievements and in the failings that they must overcome.

  • While I would normally spend time setting up the plot of the book, but The Blade Itself defies that. There are plans and dangers to be overcome, but that does not seem to be the point of the story. It is very much a character driven book. But at the same time, it is just the first third of a trilogy and the story stops cold at the end.

  • At the end, I am conflicted about the book. On one side, I am really loved the writing and the characters. On the other, reading the book was work, which is not something I'm used to in my fantasy fiction. I know that is more a statement about me than about the book. But if the rest of the series follows suit, it may be a while before I'm ready to tackle them.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Comic Roundup: March 30 and April 6, 2011

  • It has been too long since I've done one of these. Since I miss writing about comics, it's time to get back. I don't buy enough comics to for a weekly thing, so I've throwing a couple weeks together to bulk it up. You are welcome.

  • Axe Cop volume 1 - As I grow older, I think back at some of the things I created as a child and wonder what I was thinking. Through the haze of years and maturity, I've lost touch with self that could be that wildly inventive. Axe Cop broke through all that and reminded me what it was like to be a child again. The comic is mad crazy, but it's also inventive and hilarious. And let's not forget the art. Malachai and Ethan Nicolle have created something unique and I am a happier person for having read it.

  • Blue Estate issue 1 - I probably would have passed right by this book without thinking twice if not for the beautiful cover. Blue Estate seems to be a mystery/crime comic. It's really interesting. I know that is damning with faint praise, but it is the best I can do. The entire issue is told in caption boxes over the panels with very little dialogue, setting up the premise of the story. But that is the problem; it is all set up. Maybe it reads better in the trade, but it's not the strongest start for a monthly periodical. Nonetheless, I'm curious enough to pick up issue two.

  • Glamourpuss issue 18 - There is no way I'm going to sell anyone on this comic by now. If you really are interested in seeing Dave Sim hold forth on women's fashion magazines, the cartooning styles of Alex Raymond and Stan Drake, or pretty much anything else that comes to his mind, you probably want to read this. I suspect the audience for such a product is vanishingly small, but I happen to fall on the Venn diagram so I enjoyed it.

  • Incognito: Bad Influences issue 5 - Incognito has always felt like the poor second cousin to Brubaker and Phillips' Criminal. But since anything by them is an order of magnitute more awesome than most other comics, that is not such a bad thing. This final issue of the arc takes some nice twists and turns, leaving the series in a much darker place. While my reaction to the first arc wasn't as positive, I think Bad Influences actually makes the series as a whole that much stronger.

  • Ruse issue 1 & Sigil issue 1 - I'm just going to do these together because this is already getting old. I was a fan of CrossGen back in the day and I was disappointed when it crashed and burned. Ruse in particular had a lot of potential. Yes, it was one of the recent fad of "he's just like BLANK, only now he's an asshole" (in this case BLANK is Sherlock Holmes), but the writing and art really rose above that premise. Both of these issues were a lot of fun and I'm glad that Marvel is giving them a chance to fly again.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Random Shots: Making WoW More Like Rift

  • I just left this as a reply to a comment from MMO Gamer Chick on my prior post, but I'm so enamored with it that I wanted to bring it to the fore. I'm curious what you think.
    Of course, I'd also like to see Beast Mastery Hunters, Frost Mages, Combat Rogues, and Demonology Warlocks converted to tanks to give more options.

  • One of the things that Rift gets right is that every class has option to fill multiple roles: warriors can tank, mages can heal, rogues and clerics can both tank and heal, and everyone can DPS. Not everyone takes advantage of it, but enough do that the tanking and healing population is much more healthy in the game.

  • What if World of Warcraft did the same thing? Tanks are in such short supply partly because only four of the game's thirty specializations can even do it. If you bump that up to eight, I suspect that the tanking shortage goes away immediately. There will be some players who will dislike the change to their preferred specialization. But I think that an equal or greater number of players would love the new options. I know that if I could mage tank, I'd at least want to try it from time to time.

  • It's never going to happen, but I wonder what you all think about the idea.

  • Also, there are no original ideas. I'm willing to bet that this very idea has been posted somewhere before. If you blogged this sometime in the past, throw a link in the comments section. I'd love to see it.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Random Shots: And You Don't See This As A Problem?

  • Blizzard today announced a solution to the long Dungeon Finder queue times in World of Warcraft. Called Dungeon Finder: Call to Arms, the system will provide an incentive for whichever role is least represented (and let's be honest, it's for the tanks) to queue up for random dungeons more often. As a reward for completing the instance, the Call to Arms awards an extra loot bag with gold and the possibility of drawing an epic gem, flask or elixer, pet, or a rare mount.

  • Both Tobold and Rohan refer to it as bribery, and that's what it has come to. Tanking and, to a lesser extent, healing are so unpopular (at least in a random setting) that people would rather play a wildly overrepresented role than deal with the pressure of that kind of responsibility. There would be two ways to deal with the issue: make tanking easier (negative reinforcement) or increasing the rewards (positive reinforcement). Blizzard stated that they like how tanking plays, so they are left handing out big bags of loot.

  • I hate to beat a dead horse here (Oh, who am I kidding? Give me an expired equine and I'll beat it all day long.) but once again we have a demonstration of why the MMO Trinity fails as a system. The trinity was an abberation anyway, an artifact of the MUD days where players exploited the threat rules to control enemies. That this exploit was codified in MMOs and made the default combat paradigm in WoW and its successors is a tragedy. I blows my mind that ArenaNet seems to be the only high profile company to figure this out.

  • Blizzard thinks that tanking should be a challenge. Back when it was an exploit, I could understand that. But now that every group is required to have a tank, it needs to be easy enough 16-20% of the population can do it. Tanking in Rift is not easy, but it's not a tightrope either. And three quarters of the classes can tank if they want. So either make it easier or change the fundamentals of your game so that tanking is not the correct way to manage an encounter.

  • Yes, I'm asking for a lot. But if you are in the position where you have to bribe your customers to play the game right, do you not see that as a problem?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

News Filter: Trion Desperately Wants Yeebo To Play Rift

  • Check out what I got in the mail today.
    RIFT is holding a special Allies of the Ascended event. As my chosen ally, you can use this code to join me during the dates below, free of charge! Heed my call, and together we shall battle the Blood Storm!

    Event Dates
    10am PDT April 8, 2011 through 10am PDT April 11, 2011

    Ally Code

    Visit instructions on how to apply your Ally Code and to download the RIFT patcher.

  • If you missed last weekend (or if last weekend didn't push you to subscribe), here is your second chance.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Played Lately: DestinyQuest Book 1: The Legion Of Shadow by Michael J. Ward

  • I never got over gamebooks. From the time I found the Choose Your Own Adventure and Time Machine books, through the Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf series, I have long been a fan of the genre. When I discovered Fabled Lands a few years ago, I was amazed that people had advanced the form long after I lost track of it. But that seemed like the last gasp of a dying genre. Gamebooks went underground, becoming amateur downloads or iPhone apps. So when Dave Morris pointed out that a new honest-to-goodness, printed on paper, gamebook was being released, I knew that I had to see it for myself.

  • DestinyQuest Book 1: The Legion Of Shadow is the new gamebook by Michael J. Ward. Like me, Ward was long time fan of the gamebook genre. But instead of lamenting its decline, he decided to put forth a massive work that celebrates everything that is great about it while taking advantage of the advanced in gaming that have occured over the last few years.

  • For those of you familiar with normal gamebooks, DQ works on a paragraph system (in this case, about 750 in total). But instead of encounters leading one to another directly, each act of the story has a map with color-coded encounters labeled on it. If you want to go to town, you turn to the paragraph for the town marked on the map. There are green, orange, blue, and red difficulty quests, as well as legendary monsters to slay and end of act boss encounter. And if that's not enough, the author is releasing additional quests on his website.

  • The combat system is a little more complicated than your standard Fighting Fantasy. From the website:
    Rolling for attack speed - Both opponents roll two dice and add their speed to the total. The winner is the combatant with the highest score.

    Rolling for damage - The winner rolls one dice and adds their brawn or magic to the total (whichever is highest). This gives them a damage score.

    Applying damage - The loser of the round deducts their armour value from the damage score. Any remaining damage is then deducted from their health.

    Applying passive damage - Some abilities inflict damage at the end of a combat round. Both combatants should update their health before starting a new combat round.

  • Your statistic scores come from the gear that you find during your quests. As well, your gear also provides abilities like blood rage, dark pact, and might of stone. With about 140 abilities in the game (link is to the ability glossary PDF), there are a lot of strategic choices to make about building your character and winning battles.

  • If gamebooks could be plotted on an axis where one end is the highly linear Fighting Fantasy books and the other is the openly structured Fabled Lands books, DestinyQuest falls firmly in the middle. The quest structure give you a high degree of control as to how you experience the game. But the color coded quests as well as the act structure give him a lot of control over the narrative. The Legion Of Shadow, so far, is one of the best written, best plotted gamebooks I have read. Although I have just started the second act, I'm am already engrossed with the story. And the writing is far better than some fantasy fiction I've endured in the past.

  • If I was rewriting my Top Five: Gamebooks post, The Legion Of Shadow would earn a spot easily. I can't wait to finish the book and see what else Michael Ward plans in the future.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.