2013 Retrospective

Grand Experiment in Review

2012 was an extremely horrible year for me and at least professionally I would rank it as quite possibly the worst year I have ever had.  I would put it as worse than the year I was out of work for six months after the dotcom crash.  On September 11th 2012 my company suffered what they thought was a network attack, that only later the security guy pulled his head out of his ass and realized it was a regularly scheduled security scan… that he himself authorized.  The results of this was a massive overreaction that caused me and my team to spend the rest of the year and a good chunk of the beginning of this year rebuilding damned near everything that touched the web.  Why did we have to do this?  Because they quite literally pulled the servers out of the racks and sent them to the FBI, leaving us next to nothing to work off of.

So next to that year, this year has seemed like an absolute dream.  However it has been more than that for me.  2013 has been a year of personal growth and exploring new things.  In April when I finally pulled my head above water after the “faux” security incident, I really wanted to make a break back into blogging.  I fell off of the planet shortly after the security event and simply could not bring myself to write about anything.  Coming back I devised what I called a “grand experiment”, namely to blog each and every day even if I didn’t think I had much to write about.  At this point there are 237 posts categorized as “The Grand Experiment”, and without fail I have blogged every day even when it was a struggle to do so.

Has the experiment worked?  Well functionally yes I have managed to blog every day, but more importantly has it provided an interesting stream of content?  Quite honestly I don’t know.  Most of the time I feel like I am a little kid writing to a make believe audience.  When I talk to someone who mentions something I have written… I am always shocked.  I feel like no one actually reads my stuff, that I am mostly just writing it for my own benefit.  People seem to enjoy what I write, and I have a regular stream of readers… but I will never have the type of audience that the bigger bloggers have.  I am just too rough around the edges for that sort of thing.  For the most part I am happy with the results of a year of blogging and my long-term goal is to make it at least one full year of posts without pause.  That of course will be up April 26th of 2014, which seems like it is far in the future right now.  However I don’t see myself losing steam at any point soon.

A Healthier Me

Another big change in my life over the course of 2013 is that I am considerably lighter.  In March my wife and I began to shift the way we relate to food.  I say it in terms like that because really we have completely changed our relationship to food as a whole.  To say we went on a diet doesn’t really encompass the level of change.  Diets are about the short term, but we wanted to make permanent and long-term changes in the way we ate.  Namely we focused on trying to find a new and sustainable way to live.  At this point I am 70 lbs smaller and have hit a bit of a plateau over the last month.  However the fact that I survived both Thanksgiving and Christmas without breaking that plateau makes me happy enough.

My wife on the other hand continues to lose at a steady pace and is now down roughly 60 lbs.  At some point I need to get super serious again, as I have become lax of late.  However the current weight seems to be a place I can comfortable stay without any real intervention.  I have reached my goal and it is time for me in this new year to refocus myself and set a new one.  I will never be a small man, I come from a long line of really big people.  I am however happy enough being able to say I am a “smaller” man.  The thing I was not expecting to be honest were the health benefits.  As a whole I am far healthier than I was a year ago, and the primary benefit is that my Asthma that I have struggled with my entire life… and have even been hospitalized for… is really a mere nuisance these days.  I can go months on a single inhailer, and that is not a thing I have ever been able to do in my life.

Professional Growth

In the last year I have grown more into the role of the manager of my group.  I have learned to delegate more, which is something I have always struggled with in my life.  I was good at accepting assignments, but never very good at passing them on to my troops, instead trying to take them all on myself.  My team is pretty amazing and I would be lost without them.  I guess in some small way I have learned to have more faith in them, and trust that they will do as much diligence with an assignment as I would have.  As a result I have shifted more into the architect role for my group and part-time project manager and full-time traffic cop.  Making sure all of the assignments are going to the right places and all seeing at least some progress.

We usually have 50-60 active projects for a team of three people.  So it involves lots of juggling.  Various forces in my company want me to move up into a permanent management position.  However I simply do not want to distances myself from the “real work” enough to take them.  Additionally right now I am responsible for three extremely highly functional people, and I don’t think I  could cope with being put over less functional people that I would some how have to whip into shape.  I am not really great with confrontations, and as a result I think I would flounder.  Either that or it would be similar to me as a raid leader, and I would turn into a real asshole.  For the time being I think I am happy with where I am and what I am doing.

I Wrote A Novel

One of the things I have always wanted to do in my life was to write a novel.  I made several false attempts at various times over the years but never could seem to push myself to do it.  This November I joined the NaNoWriMo event, and over the course of the month knocked out my first novel.  I have no idea if it is actually any good, because honestly I have not even read it since finishing it up.  I plan in the new year to tear it asunder as I edit it, and fix any issues.  However regardless if it completely sucks, I have accomplished a goal.  I managed to write a novel, and that is a thing most people can’t say about themselves.  I didn’t do it to get famous, or be published, I did it mostly just to prove to myself that I could.

The weird thing about it is, November seems like a lifetime ago.  The whole concept of writing 1500 words per night was just absolutely draining.  My entire life revolved around that novel for those thirty days, which is honestly longer than I have stuck with anything like that in my life.  More than anything I feel like it was a venue of personal growth.  I did a thing I never thought I could, and I did so in a methodical way in which it felt like success was assured from the moment I started.  Sure I faltered a few times along the way, and there were a few days I didn’t write a blessed thing.  However I kept moving forward towards the eventual 50,000 word count goal and I achieved it.  I think more than anything I am proud of this accomplishment from 2013.

A Year of Gaming

This is a gaming blog afterall, so during 2013 I played a lot of games.  I played way more games than I can ever manage to remember, but I will try and run down a few of the big ones.  The list of major titles is as follows.

Oddly enough I am beginning this new year not entirely differently than I began the last year.  January 2013 I was still involved in the launch of Mists of Pandaria, and it was not until April that I really began to distance myself from that game entirely.  World of Warcraft and I have this love/hate relationship.  I get frustrated with it so much, because it seems that they always seem to take the most short sighted solutions to problems, and there are so many games that there that do various things it does…. so much better.  However as a total package I feel like the game is unbeatable.  It offers the most good things in one package.  The realization for me however after my 2+ years of absence from being serious about the game is that it is not about the game at all.  World of Warcraft is about the people playing it, and I had missed the ragtag group of people known as House Stalwart immensely.

The game I probably played the most often during the year however was Rift.  I want to love rift so badly, the promise of the game is really great.  The problem is it just lacks something that I can’t quite put my finger on.  It is a technically superior game in every aspect, but it is like it lacks a cohesive narrative that makes me care about the world every single day.  The dragons were a thing I thought I  could get behind.  But now that we have systematically killed each of them off, I cannot say in a single sentence what the world of Rift is.  I think that might be the problem, there is no one clear narrative to the game.  You cannot say “this game is” and have even half of the people agree on it.  I still play it occasionally and there is still an incarnation of House Stalwart there that Psynister and Fynralyl are keeping alive.  I thank them so much for being there, but I just can’t seem to care about the game right now.  I am sure at some point I will again.

Final Fantasy was another major force for the year.  This was a game I never intended to like because really I feel like me and Japanese RPGs had a messy divorce quite some time ago.  I had a group of friends actively wanting to play it, so against my better judgment I went along for the ride.  What I found however was a really well crafted narrative and dungeon experience.  If I could have kept experiencing new bits of immersive content, I would have likely stuck around.  However once you reached the end of the game, it was exactly that…  the end.  All paths lead to massive amount of grinding, and for whatever reason… while I can stomach grinding all day long in World of Warcraft… I could not stomach the particular FFXIV brand of grinding.  Namely I blame this on the overall lack of meaninful drops in the game.  If I have a chance of getting something cool while killing mobes, no matter how remote the chance… it feels exciting to me each time I open a loot window.  There was nothing that could drop from mobs in the world that I would ever care about.  Additionally gearing up to get to a point where we could raid, was just not a bridge I was willing to cross.

Games for 2014

There has been a game I have been in super secret closed door testing since February.  I cannot name the game by name, but I have to say I am still extremely excited about it even after most of a year testing it.  I have watched the game grow from something that felt polished to something that really is amazingly rich and polished.  I don’t think I will quit WoW this time for another game, because I have set down some pretty solid roots there again.  However I know I will also be playing this game, at the very least two to three nights a week.  It is probably the least wow-like game I have played in a long while, and because of that I feel like there is room in my heart for both games to have a unique space.

Past that I am really not certain what 2014 will hold.  I know that I am not really interested enough to purchase a PS4 or an XBox One, so I think I will be exiting the console mainstream once again.  I am mostly a PC gamer to be honest, and since my gameloft has been taken over by my wife I am okay with not having access to the consoles.  More than anything I am looking forward to the various stores beginning to liquidate their stocks of PS3 and XBox 360 games, so I can pick up the titles I always wanted to play but didn’t have the desire to pay for.  Additionally there are still a lot of things on the DS/3DS that I want to play, and I am looking forward to picking up the newest Zelda game.  I am sure there will be a number of surprises along the way, games that catch my fancy enough to deserve lots of blog posts.

I hope that 2014 will be as positive force in my life as 2013 has been.  Additionally I hope each and every one of you out there can say the same.  My friend @AlternativeChat has declared 2014 the “Year of Faff”, and I am down with this notion.  I think we all need to learn how to faff about in the game worlds we are in, because stopping and smelling the roses is the only real way I know to break the cycle of burnout.  I have tried my best to embrace this concept, and hope to continue to do so in the year to come.  More than anything, I feel like I am sick of jumping games every three months, and I get the sense that the gaming world as a whole is somewhat sick of that as well.  I hope we can each embrace our own faff, whatever that might mean.

Defense of Subscriptions

So it is neither morning nor Saturday when I sit down to write this.  I am about to cheat massively at my one post per day thing… primarily because tomorrow is going to be pure hell.  I have to get up and around early because I have a wedding to photograph for a friend.  I am completely terrified at this prospect but I figure I will make it through one way or another.  However with all the mess going on tomorrow I simply will not have time to do my leisurely two hour jaunt through blog post land that I normally do.  As a result I am writing up my post on Friday… and since I am impatient I am going ahead and publishing it today as well.

Defense of Subscriptions

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Over the last few days since the joint announcements that Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online will be subscription based, I have seen a lot of negativity floating around the blogosphere.  You have one camp claiming this is the revival of subscriptions, and a diametrically opposed camp claiming this is a fluke and long live the free to play revolution.  Personally I can see a place for both in the game industry and I feel like we will see lots of both in the future.  Subscriptions are not going anywhere… because quite simply put high quality games have high dollar amounts associated with them.

Most of the games we now think of today as heralds of the free to play “revolutions” started their lifespan as a full functioning subscription based game with a $60 box cost and a $15 a month subscription fee.  This is the case for the Turbine games (Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online), the Cryptic games (Star Trek Online, Champions Online), the Sony Online Entertainment games (Everquest, Everquest 2, Vanguard, etc) and the new darling of the free to play market… Rift.  Each and every one of them experienced a decently long period of selling boxes and racking up monthly service fees before ultimately converting over to some sort of a freemium model.

Purely Free to Play

I was brainstorming with my friends, and quite honestly we had a hard time listing off significant MMOs that have launched as free to play.  There is a whole string of poor quality Asian market games that are too long to ever mention.  The only game I can really think of that does not have a subscription fee or box cost associated with it is Neverwinter.  Dragon’s Prophet to some extent is in the same boat, but it is still technically in open beta… and was also an Asian market transplant with a good deal of the costs simply being regionalization.  Neverwinter is most definitely a sub par gaming experience, with a good deal of incident costs hidden into the system and at least for me… overall forgettable gameplay.

As far as buy the box we have Defiance and Guild Wars 2… both of which appear to either be struggling or at least having a good deal of growing pains.  Trion has recently set about a massive restructuring of the company that involved dissolving the offices that supported Defiance and pulling that staff into the main offices in Redwood.  Guild Wars 2 has also going through a series of changes trying to deliver content at a more frenetic pace to try and keep paying customers glued to the screens.  Additionally with each update comes a slew of items that can only be acquired by unlocking the in game loot boxes.

My main issue to date with the Defiance and GW2 experiences is that while they are rolling out regular episodic updates… they are essentially throw away experiences and are only available for a limited time.  Defiance is really too young to fully judge, but they are about to release their first real DLC pack.  It will be interesting to see just how much content that adds to the game.  Guild Wars 2 on the other hand, seems completely tied to the concept of an expiring series of “living story” events.  In neither case are they really expanding the game on a regular and permanent basis to add value to that initial box purchase.

Paying Initial Cost

Rich game worlds with hundreds of hours of content cost an extremely large amount of money to develop, produce, market and ultimately distribute.  While I was disappointed when Wildstar announced its model, because ultimately it meant the cost of entry was just too high for someone like me… that only casually had interest in the game in the first place… I fully understood the decision to have a subscription.  Box costs and subscription costs help pay off the excessive costs of game development.  It has been said multiple times that the average blockbuster game costs far more than the average blockbuster movie.  Additionally the development of the game is a much longer drawn out process that someone has to bankroll until it finally sees a profit.

Lets take Elder Scrolls Online for example and try and work through some hard numbers.  Please understand that I am creating a pure guesstimate based on what I was able to pull together from Google.  Zenimax Online studios is in the Baltimore Maryland area, so there are certain broad assumptions we can make based on average costs in that region.  According to Wikipedia they moved into their current offices in 2008, and based on the E3 PS4 presentation, Elder Scrolls Online is slotted for a first quarter of 2014 launch.  That means that Elder Scrolls Online will have in essence been in development for roughly six years at the time of launch.  Please understand I am trying to just pull together some rough figures, it might have entered development before that and potentially after that.

The Hard Costs

Over the course of those six years, if you figure an average of 100 employees made an average of $45,000 a year… you get $27,000,000 in salaries alone.  Some employees will make more, likely some employees will make less.. and over the course of those six years you would have had significantly fewer than 100 and likely now in pre-launch mode significantly more.  From google we can see that the average price of office space in the Baltimore Maryland area is around $17 a sqft.  For sake of coming up with a figure we are going to say their offices are likely around 30,000 sqft, so taking that over the course of the six years you have $3,060,000 in rent.  Factor in a leased digital internet line ($300/mo), water ($400/mo), electric ($1000/mo), and gas ($400/mo) you have a vague guesstimate of $151,200 in utilities over those six years.  Finally if you figure roughly $3000 in computer equipment for each employee, you are at roughly $300,000 not factoring in ANY servers at all.

So far in things I can quantify you are talking about a guesstimate of over 30 million dollars on only a very few factors.  There are so many factors that we just cannot come up with a number for.  For example it was said that Star Wars the Old Republic took roughly 200 million dollars to develop… and that a majority of that was voice acting time.  This is something I simply cannot come up with anything sort of an estimate on.  All the voice acting rates I found online were so widely varied that they were meaningless especially when you consider the names that folks are getting are the Steve Blum’s of the world that are sought after for damned near every gaming project on the planet.  I don’t really know how detailed the voice acting is for ESO, but every demo I have seen to date gives me the impression that the game is fully voiced… which would lead me to guess bare minimum 100 million on the hundreds of hours of voice talent.

I’ve heard before that it costs roughly 1/3 of the total cost to develop a game… the rest of the costs go into marketing and distribution.  So at this point we are already sitting at around 130 million not factoring any tool licensing costs, or server infrastructure and network costs.  If that represents only a third of the total costs of the project… no wonder games NEED to sell boxes and charge a subscription to break even… let along fund future development efforts.  Essentially a AAA game experience is really damned expensive.  If you figure a company receives at most half of the $60 box cost… it would take selling over 3.5 million boxes just to make up for 100 million of the cost.  The reason why that $15 a month is so important is they are getting the entire portion of it.

Someone Has to Pay

Ultimately if we want nice games… someone has to pay for it.  Either these huge gambles can be paid off in box costs and monthly subscriptions… or they can be financed on the backs of a handful of “whale” players.  But ultimately there is no such thing as a free ride.  Game development and game infrastructure have large fixed costs that simply cannot be justified away by a players desire to not spend a dime.  We have nice free to play experiences in essence because players that came before you… paid for the cost of going there first.  They helped to pay off the loans that these companies I am sure have to take out to bankroll this kind of protracted effort.

AAA game studios simply cannot afford to build games out of the goodness of their hearts.  They have to pay ultimately hundreds of people just like you and me to build and support the games.  These are not nameless faceless corporations… they are businesses just like the one you likely work for… with a human resources department, and social security tax deductions and payrolls to make.  This is a real job for someone, and we can’t expect them to get some beer and pizza and knock out a game in their free time.  Overall the game industry pays some pretty shitty wages as compared to the IT industry as a whole.  I know for a fact that I make well more than any of my friends that currently work in the industry… and have pretty much since my first job out of college.

It is almost expected that part of the benefits package for these folks is the fact that they “get” to make games for a living.  Thing is though… they had to gain their skills the same way all of us did, with lots of hard work and sweat equity and now they work in an industry with next to no job security… because it all hinges upon the whims of whether or not gamers like us ultimately purchase their product.  So ultimately… all of these things factored in… I have ZERO problem with the concept of buying a box and paying a monthly fee when it is something I am committed to.  My friends in the industry need to eat, and pay rent, and survive on a day to day basis just like I do.

Free to Play

The free to play model seems to work extremely well at financing the daily upkeep and expansion of an existing game.  I think it has been the savior of a lot of games that have filtered their way out of the popular consciousness and were no longer drawing in active subscribers.  It is awesome being able to fire up an account you haven’t played in years, and revisit old characters.  While you are there more than likely you will spend at least a little money on the game.  Essentially it is the model of “some money is better than no money”.  The thing is, like I said above each and every one of these games that we vaunt so highly as free to play successes all had their time of box sales, expansion sales, and monthly subscription fees to pay back the excessively expensive development costs.

Do I get frustrated when a game that I have purchased the box for… and paid multiple months worth of subscription fees goes to free to play?  Hell no… because while I might bitch and moan on a regular basis about various aspects of gaming… I LOVE the games I play.  Whatever helps a game I have cared about succeed is ultimately going to be good for me personally in the long run.  The games that reward me in some way for being there in the early days and helping pay off the huge debt a company brings with them after a game release…  I love those even more.  But I go into their free to play conversion knowing that ultimately they will be better off in the long run with incremental sales.

Additionally players who start at the beginning of an MMO will always have a tangible lead on players that start later, especially if the game converts to free to play.  You have a head start in the economy before it stratifies, likewise you understand the lay of the land and where to acquire the best stuff.  When Rift went free to play my account had so much stuff unlocked thanks to longevity of play that a starting player would not have had.  For the explorers you get the feeling of actually discovering things before they are common place and on every website.  So while you might have had to pay for the box and subscriptions, you are getting something for your trouble that no one will be able to take away from you.

The games that did not have a box fee and a subscription however have to claw their money out of you somehow.  So while I get annoyed at loot boxes and item purchases and artificial gates to my gameplay… they are just trying to survive however they can, because ultimately at launch they were millions and millions of dollars in the hole at day one.  I feel like launching as free to play is going to forever doom a game to jumping through coin slotted hoops as you play the game.  Rift right now is the best player experience but I feel like it is only that way because they had two years and an expansion of relative success to pay off and fund a fully functional staff during all that time.

Wrapping Up

So if in a few years time… The Elder Scrolls online… that I have used as an example all the way through this post… decides it is beneficial to it to go free to play.  I will greet the change with open arms, knowing that ultimately this is going to be the thing that keeps a game I hopefully will love healthy and open to the public.  Going to go ahead and wrap this up, and likely get it posted.  I hope you guys have a great weekend and that I can survive tomorrow.  Sorry for breaking my own rules and cheating a bit by double posting on a Friday… but expect that I will have a normal post on Sunday.

Five Favorite MMOs

Tomorrow is going to end up being a super busy day for me, as I need to run a few errands for work… so I am doing this post a little differently.  I don’t feel like I will have enough time tomorrow to bang out a post like normal, so  I am working on this topic tonight.  I thought it would be interesting to do a post about my top five favorite games and why I like them so much.  I figured i would do this in count down style with fifth leading down to number one…  of course you can just cut ahead but lets pretend it is a surprise!

#5- World of Warcraft

2006-04-20_182329_Resized_pic I went back and forth several times on what should be my 5th spot, but as I thought about it… for sheer longevity of me playing the game, I had to give a nod to World of Warcraft.  I have essentially outgrown the game, but it does a lot of things well.  I feel like WoW is the junkfood of MMOs…  so long as you do not think about what you are doing… it is extremely enjoyable.  I played WoW as my primary game for roughly 8 years, and during most of that was the leader of a large social guild.  I have so many amazing memories and have met so many life long friends out of the game.  All of these reasons are why it at least had to make my list.

Best Features

  • People – WoW is still the game that most of the people you know are playing.
  • Colorful and friendly graphics and a world that matches them.
  • Lots of systems that allow solo players to engage in group content.
  • Game overall is extremely polished, they provide a consistent experience.
  • Roughly a decade of content and a wide variety of activities to do.

#4 – Lord of the Rings Online

ScreenShot00013 Lord of the Rings Online is one of those games that I really enjoy every time I get the bug to play it.  It is extremely immersive and brings the player into the setting surrounding the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I love the way that you are set up in the game as characters that just happen to be in the background of the activities of the fellowship.  Each step of the way you are doing events that are helping out the world, but also keeping tabs on the activity as the fellowship moves through the novels.  They do an amazing job of bringing the world to life and filling it with copious amounts of LOTR lore.

Best Features

  • One of the best communities – Landroval is amazing
  • Music system… you can play instruments in game, and players give performances regularly
  • Simple instanced neighborhood housing system
  • Hands down the best horses in any MMO… they move right
  • Breathtaking landscapes straight out of the novels
  • Intricate system within system… I admit it… I love deeds
  • Subscribing for one month permanently unlocks most features

#3 – The Secret World

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-07 21-28-33-32 The Secret World is such a unique experience that I feel like everyone needs to play it at least once.  Not only it is a unique system, but it also has extremely different game play mechanics.  I have always been a fan of the whole occult and Cthulhu mythos, and this entire game is essentially a love song to H.P. Lovecraft.  It also has some of the best writing and storytelling, and additionally some of the most imaginative quests.  The only negative to me, is that it lends itself to very periodic and episodic gameplay.  Each time new content is released, I run in like a locust and gobble it up.  I believe enough in this game however that before its release I became a lifetime subscriber.

Best Features

  • Unique setting and amazing storytelling
  • Unique classless game play
  • All players can learn all abilities in the game
  • Nightmare modes are some of the most challenging content I have experienced in an MMO
  • Does not hold your hand… almost to a cruel end.  Very difficult quests.
  • No Subscription Fee – buy the box play forever
  • Single Server Infrastructure – play with anyone on any dimension freely

#2 – Rift

rift 2013-06-19 20-07-48-28 Rift is likely going to be one of those games I always cycle back to playing.  Essentially it is WoW, but improved in every conceivable way.  That is probably a massive disservice to the game to say that… but unfortunately that is usually what I think of in my mind.  Since the release on a monthly basis they have improved the gameplay so that it includes some extremely innovative features.  It has really engaging content that varies from epic quests to quick fast food push a button and get into the action features.  Additionally it just went free to play, and it feels like one of the better implementations.  The cash shop has a truly staggering number of things to purchase, but all of it is completely optional.  You can pretty much experience every bit of the content apart from the Storm Legion expansion… completely free.

Best Features

  • Most customizable out of the box UI that I have seen
  • Awesome non-intrusive add-on support
  • Awesome passive grouping content like Rifts and Instant Adventures
  • Most detailed housing system – you can literally build anything
  • Extremely flexible class system with ability to have more than 6 different specs
  • Great Wardrobe system allowing for tons of custom outfits
  • Extremely interesting and challenging raid encounters
  • Really fun holidays and in game events

#1 – Everquest II

EQ2_000020 The world I will always be the most nostalgic about is Norrath.  Everquest was my first real MMO experience, and it bit me hard with a vengeance.  The big negative however is it was very unfriendly to players, and caused a massive commitment of time to get anywhere.  However with the release of Everquest II, it took the world I loved and brought it into a much more player friendly frame of mind.  This is one of those games that I have played off and on since release.. and no matter where I am mentally… this is the one game I can always play even when I don’t really feel like playing anything.  I feel like EQ2 is the most underappreciated game on the market and has so much to offer players.  It just doesn’t look as shiny as other games, and the engine definitely feels dated at times.  The game takes of commitment to understand its systems, but you will not find a more intricate and rewarding game on the market (except maybe Wurm Online).

Best Features

  • 25 unique classes
  • 20 unique races
  • Massive scale zones, dungeons, and raids
  • More content than I have seen in any other game period
  • Massive epic quest lines…  one I worked on off and on for 6 months
  • Extremely detailed housing system with the ability to have 10 per player
  • Extremely unique crafting system
  • Guild housing that actually supports guild activities
  • Antonia Bayle is one of the best RP communities – Tons of Live Events

The Runners Up

There were several games that almost made the list.  I contemplated Star Wars: The Old Republic… because quite honestly it had some really engaging content.  It however has probably the most egregious free to play conversion I have seen, so its exploitive nature knocked it off the list.  I thought about Guild Wars 2, because there is something undeniably enjoying about the game.  However there are an equal number of issues I just cannot get past to really find it something I want to play on a regular basis.  Dragon’s Prophet is a game I am really enjoying these days, but I don’t feel like I have played it long enough to really give it a spot on the top five list.  Additionally Vanguard is a pretty amazing game, but I just have not played it enough to really know its ins and outs.

Essentially I picked the five games that have shaped me the most as a player.  I hope you enjoyed my little rundown and even more so I hope it inspires someone to give one of them a shot.  Of my list only World of Warcraft lacks a free to play option.  So I guess this is really telling about where we are currently in what is a viable payment model.  I find myself cycling between the two four on a regular basis.  Right now I am mostly in a Rift mode… but I am sure I will cycle back to the others before too much longer.

I hope you have a great day, and I hope you don’t mind the change in format.  I wanted to create this post, and I knew I would not have enough time tomorrow morning to complete it all.  Additionally I am busy tonight downloading things to load up my new laptop full of games.  So essentially I had time to kill and devote to this.  I hope I get all my errands in the morning done, and get to work on time.

Return of the Queen

Good morning you happy people…  this is my first post without the aid of coffee.  I am trying to taper back my caffeine intake because the whole heart fluttering/palpitations thing has been back with a vengeance over the last few days.  I honestly figure it is mostly stress induced, but I am willing to cut back on a few things to help the process along.  It is not exactly an enjoyable feeling, so if I can stop it from happening…  I will be happier.  As a result without aid of coffee, I may not be entirely cogent at 6 am.

Return of the Queen

So yesterday was my birthday, and I have to say I was overwhelmed by the birthday messages I go from all sources.  Logging into twitter of G+ was like hitting a wall of happy birthday… it was pretty awesome.  You guys made what would have been a pretty crappy day not one.  Essentially my birthday was slotted to be pretty awesome.  I had a replacement laptop arriving sometime midday, and my wife would be flying in at noonish and I would get the spend at least half the day chilling out with her.

I got up pretty early yesterday, and when I got upstairs to catch up with the world my wife had messaged me telling me that her flight had been cancelled.  Apparently there was “weather” in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and they were re-routing all flights.  So instead of her 7 am flight…  she was being placed on a 3:30 flight… on standby.  At this point she was not slotted to actually get back to Tulsa until 9:30 that evening.  So that left her having to do the awkward chilling out at the airport thing, and me to be alone on my birthday.

I would have driven up to get her, since she was in Kansas City, and it is a roughly four hour drive from where we live to the airport…  but with the laptop coming, neither of us wanted to leave that out on the porch.  We have a little pack of hoodlums in the neighborhood, that have been suspected for the flurry of car break-ins that I wrote about awhile back.  Mostly they are bored teenagers with no real parental guidance to give them a moral compass, but they have been known to have sticky fingers.

So it became a waiting game… if the package arrived quickly enough it would be possible to run up and back and get home before the flights would have.  However since my laptop arrived at 1 pm, that slotted her still getting home around 9 after you factored in both directions of the drive… and a lot of unnecessary stress in the process.  Somehow along the process she managed to get juggled to an earlier flight, and in the grand scheme of things landed last night in Tulsa around 8 pm.  It is really awesome to have my wife back, but honestly the impact has not quite hit me yet.  We got home in time for her to unpack and pretty much go to sleep, since she had been up since the crack of dawn.

Laptop Resolution

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Yesterday I had regaled you with the tale of the guy flaking out on me yet again, and me giving up and just ordering online.  As I said above, yesterday around 1 pm I had a doorbell ring and my laptop was there on the threshold.  Since it was too late to try and drive to pick up my wife, I decided to unbox it and play with my new toy.  First off, for having dual SLI cards the laptop is remarkably quiet and cool.  There is heat emanating from the heat sinks on either side but it is no way as hot as previous laptops have been.  I am guessing this is the massive air intake on the bottom of the laptop causing the thing to stay cool.

I have not honestly had much time to really game on the laptop, I spent most of yesterday downloading stuff.  I got in and played a little Dragon’s Prophet and it looked gorgeous.  My previous laptop did not like that game at all, and this one funs it pretty much on high settings fluidly.  Additionally I played a little Rift as it was patching and it also looked gorgeous and ran well on ultra settings.  The sad thing about the digital age however is it still takes a long while to download multiple 16 gig game installations.  For whatever reason League of Legends was taking the longest… which seems insane considering how simple a game it is… and how low tech the graphics are.

The keyboard is going to take some getting used to, but so far I really like it.  Keyboards are a huge thing for me… and this is as best as I can describe it a mechanical chicklet keypad.  It has the low key height of a chicklet style laptop keyboard, but you have the satisfying mechanical feedback of an old school keyboard.  It reminds me a lot of a half height version of my Microsoft sidewinder keyboard that I use on my desktop.  The important thing is it feels extremely responsive but like I said it will take some getting used to.

The biggest feature that is going to take awhile for me to adapt to is the fact that this laptop is Windows 8.  I have to say, I still have no idea what Microsoft was thinking by defaulting a desktop operating system to the Metro interface.  I realize that I likely use my computer differently than most people…  I tend to do everything through the run prompt…  but even for day to day use… the Metro interface seems worse than useless.  The very first thing I did was download Stardock’s Start8 giving me back my start menu and run prompt.  After that it feels much like using Windows 7 with a strange skin on it. 

I will slowly get used to the forced minimalist interface elements…  but I find the whole “we only use solid colors” movement of recent years a bit chafing.  Our graphical designer at work seems to have been bitten by the same bug… and white frankly this whole only using bright solid colors thing looks a little “Fisher price” to me at times.  All in all I am very happy however, I like the feel and form factor of the laptop, and what I have seen of its graphical powers are excellent as well. 

Downtime Fiesta

FFVmap-world2While I was installing software yesterday, I had my PSP going and was playing through Final Fantasy 5.  So far my biggest problem with this game is that it does a fairly poor job messaging what you are supposed to do next.  There is always a certain element of roam around until you figure it out to every mission.  Now that I am well past the point at which I had played previously… I am in virgin territory and often times struggle to follow the logic behind the game.  Luckily I have veteran resources to rely upon if I get stuck, but for the most part I have figured out things.

I believe previously I had been just about to enter the moogle village after arriving at the second world.  Yesterday I managed to play through Castle Bal, Quelb, Drakenvale, Ghido’s Island, Surgate Castle, Xezat’s Ship, the Barrier Tower thing, Forest of Moore, and am now just about to storm Exdeath’s castle.  There were numerous difficult encounters along the way, but I managed through them and did not hit any major roadblocks like Soul Cannon was.  Atomos was definitely a pain in the arse with his huge hitpoint pool, but I managed through it.

I feel like I have a super low maintenance party with Black Mage, Red Mage, Ranger and Samurai.  My good friend Ash that talked me into this madness has a Blue Mage… so it seems like his entire play through is dictated by trying to get the right abilities off the right mobs.  There was some madness last night about needing to have a level divisible by 3 to get some ability off some boss encounter.  Right now the biggest thing I need to worry about is keeping my characters in the best gear (which I would have done already) and grinding mobs to get job levels ((which I would have done already).  After making the swaps this party feels like my kind of party…  simple and effective.

Wrapping Up

Well it is that time again, I need to wrap this up so I can finish getting ready and head on in to work.  Going to pack up the laptop this morning and bring it for our noontime gaming excursions.  It should be considerably lighter since it only weights 6 lbs.  I hope you all have a great day, and I want to say again how much I appreciated getting all those birthday wishes yesterday.  Now time to return to the real world and try and finish out this week.

The Rat Trap

By necessity this is going to be one of my shorter early morning posts.  I am in process of drinking some coffee, and before much longer I will need to run my wife to the airport.  I’m awake roughly 30 minutes ahead of when I normally wake up… but for whatever reason it feels like I am missing 3 or 4 hours of sleep.  I always find it extremely hard to shut my brain off when I know I NEED to be sleeping… and last night was no exception to this rule.

The Prophecy

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I am still finding myself very much inexplicably drawn to this game.  The more I play it, the more nuanced the combat becomes…  but at the same time everything about it is deceptively simple.  It is essentially all the same clicks and key presses, but when you do them in timing with what other abilities produces entirely new results.  This feels extremely liberating in that I can get all the same warrior like abilities that I enjoy in other games with a handful of key presses just varying my timing for different results.  This guy feels like I have always wanted a warrior to feel… brutal and imposing but also controlling the battlefield.

My biggest problem so far is the fact that I seem to always receive the quest to do something… moments after I have done it.  The game has these public quest areas that are very reminiscent of Warhammer Online.  They involve killing a bunch of things, and then finally an insanely difficult boss spawns and taking it down rewards treasure and completion of the public quest.  In every single instance of a public quest in game… I have completed it, and then shortly thereafter gotten a quest to kill the final guy in the public quest.

Some of these were extremely difficult to solo… like the Subject 18 public quest area, and I have not been amped to try and do it again.  So as a result these public quests kill tasks sit in my task list undone until I finally get frustrated enough to go over and repeat the process.  This is the one thing I really wish they would change… instead of unlocking the public quest kill task at the end of a chain… just give it to players up front similar to the wanted posters were in World of Warcraft.  That way if you are already in the area and are feeling your wheaties you can make a stab at the big boss.

The Rat Trap

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The other aspect of the game that is quite literally killing me… is the fact that killing rats of ANY kind is a trap.  Basically when I play any game I thoroughly believe in a scorched earth policy.  If it is killable… it should probably die and die often to give me tasty tasty loot.  I find myself ping ponging across most maps killing everything in my wake.  The problem is… in Dragon’s Prophecy this is a brutal trap.  Rats are generally non-aggro neutral mobs, that have a nasty habit of wandering into AOE attacks and adding onto whatever you happen to be fighting.  They rarely have much hit points so the immediate thought is… this is no big deal.

The initial thought process… is so deadly wrong.  While rats don’t do much attack damage and are fairly week… they pack the single strongest attack I have encountered in this game…  Bacterial Infection.  This appears to be a percentage based damage over time ability… that can take me from alive to dead in like 10 seconds.  I have yet to really find a good way to counter this.  Right now I take on of the strongest potions I have and pray I will survive.  I would say that 90% of my deaths so far… have been to a damned stray rat.

This has lead me to play the game completely different than I normally would.  I end up carefully picking my way through packs of mobs… drawing them around corners to try and fight in areas that are not so rat infested.  It is so difficult for me to quell my “kill all the things” instinct and carefully pull my way through content.  This basically has flipped me into dungeon tank mode…  tanking an instance is the one time I am super cautious about my pulls.  Everything about the guardian feels like the WoW Warrior on steroids, with more nuanced controls.

I am still not 100% sure why I am enjoying the game so much.  It just feels like it is perfect for whatever state of mind I have been in.  I am sure my enjoyment will fade over time, but right now the dragon taming aspect with some really amazing tanky gameplay has made this a real win for me.  I always find it interesting when a game like this completely takes me by surprise.  Everything about the setup for this game, sounds like something that would annoy me.  I never really cared for runes of magic so the constant assertion that this was developed by the same people… was only taken as a negative by me.  What we have instead is an extremely deep and subtle game, that I feel like I have just barely scratched the surface of its systems.

PK Comes through Again

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Last week in response to a post talking about playing a Ranger again in Rift and farming cloth, PKDude99 the guy behind my favorite warrior solo build… posted a link to his favorite rogue build.  This one is called the “Granpa said knock you out” build and is comprised of 41 Nightblade, 21 Riftstalker, and 4 Tactician.  I have to say once again PK is completely right.  The build works amazingly well, has extremely high damage output and next to no downtime.  I can routinely take mobs 2 or more levels than me without any issue or added difficulty.  I played with it quite a bit this weekend and was burning through the quests I worked on.

The funny thing is… as melee centric as I tend to be.  This is the first time I have ever really seriously played a melee rogue in Rift.  For whatever reason I was always drawn to the ranger/marksman builds that mimicked the WoW Hunter.  I think it is mostly that traditionally I do not get along well with stealth classes.  It always feels so tedious stealthing around and setting up the perfect moment to attack…  then the combat itself is usually over in seconds.  If you do not stealth around, usually you die horribly for your poor life choices.

Fortunately stealthing in Rift is completely different than my experience playing stealthers in the past.  Stealth is a 30 second buff that you use only as a setup immediately before combat.  Additionally you do not slow your movement speed, so combat still feels fast paced.  Additionally it seems to not really matter if I open with a stealth attack or not… I can still chew through mobs just as effectively without a big opener.  I feel like the Rift rogue is the “warriors” rogue…  for someone who prefers fast paced combat to fiddly stealthy nonsense.  I am sure most rogue types are ready to throttle me at this point… but I am enjoying it.

Wrapping Up

I need to wrap this up so we can get on the road.  We need to get to the airport, and then me on to work.  I hope you all have a great day, and hope that you all go as much sleep as needed…  unlike me.  Not really sure what this week will bring, I tend to completely vege out on video games during these periods.  I am sure I will play a good deal more Rift and Dragon’s Prophet…  and I would like to get back in to some more SWTOR as well.  Hopefully the week goes quickly.

The Dragod Comes

The bed felt extremely good this morning… and it took just about all effort I could muster to leave it, shower and go fetch some breakfast.  As a result it is after 10 am and I am finally sitting down to blog.  This morning I am listening to Red Hot Chilli Peppers as an attempt to block out the world and focus on my writing.  So far it is having mixed results because at the same time I am downloading Dragons Prophet to my laptop… and I am getting the occasional cut out, as I am streaming the music from my network attached storage.  Apparently I am flooding my wireless cards capacity with that 8 gig download.

The Dragod Comes

 

Last week this video was released about the new SOE game Dragon’s Prophet, and as silly as it sounds… this prompted me to download the game.  Anyone who could  create a video this awesome… had to be up to some good.  I am a rather simple monkey, and if you give me a big dude in armor with an even bigger sword… and I am generally pretty happy.  I figured this would be the kind of game that I play for a few hours and forget about forever.  Funny thing is… the game is really good and is extremely fun to play.  I expected the game to be a big dumb beat-em-up and what I found instead was a strangely nuanced game.

Belghast the Dragon Tamer

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Belghast lives again as a Guardian… which is essentially the big heavy armored warrior type.  My first issue with the game was the character creator.  This is another one of those games that for whatever stupid reason links hair style with facial hair style.  So essentially I got to choose between guy with mutton chops and handlebar moustache… or member of the duck dynasty cast with dreadlocks.  I thought it was kind of bullshit that there was not an option for a nice clean goatee and moustache.  Stupid as it might sound… this is almost always my major issue with Asian MMOs… they seem to have nothing but clean shaven options. 

If you have been following me for long, you will notice that almost every single character I make in any game looks the same.  Ultimately Belghast is an idealized version of myself with black hair, goatee and Adrian Paul ponytail if the game supports it.  I get grumpy when I cannot look the way I want to look, so this was an initial major strike against the game.  Luckily as I got into the  game itself I quickly forgot about this woe…  and after spending some of my stockpiled station cash on cosmetic armor… you can no longer see the lower part of my face anyway.

Smashing Things

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The game itself reminds me of a mash-up of TERA, Neverwinter and Guild Wars 2, as it has  aspects of all of the above with its own spin on each.  Combat is pretty much controlled with left and mouse clicks and various combo abilities on Q, W, and Number keys.  Your second mouse button varies based on how many times you have swung your main weapon.  This produces some pretty interesting gameplay and offers a lot of variance of abilities without having to hit a lot of different buttons.  For the guardian parry is R and charge is V… but I am sure some of these abilities change greatly based on your class.

There are various bugs with combat, namely the charge has a lot of issues.  Sometimes you will charge directly to the mob you are wanting to attack, but other times you teleport across the screen… the screen freezes and when you get control again you have a bunch of friends on you.  Essentially I have learned not to really rely on charging… and unfortunately that takes away some of my enjoyment.  Instead of I have started using my Q ability which is a Guile like sonic boom attack.  It travels a short distance and hits any mobs in the path, which I can then pull back and fight safely without aggroing other things.

The zone design reminds me a lot of Everquest 1.  In that you have town hubs, with a ring of lower level mobs around it… but as you get further away from a town the mob levels increase.  It is interesting to see zones designed specifically for early flying mounts, in that these mob level radius extend out from each little hub town.  If you travel the path between towns you will see a progression of mobs that looks something like this… town 1, level 5, level 6, level 7, level 8, level 15, level 14, level 13, level 12, level 11 town 2.  Essentially it seems like from ground up they are expecting players to charm a flying dragon and use it to hop back and forth between towns.

Poke-dragon

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Another interesting concept with the game is the fact that you can charm a mount extremely early.  I managed to get a flying mount at around level seven, pretty much as soon as I found a dragon out in the landscape.  Essentially as soon as you get the “capture” ability unlocked you can whittle down a dragon in health and attempt to capture them.  It might just be my imagination but it seems to get easier to capture them the more damage you have dealt to them before firing the command.  At that point you mount the back of your dragon and have to play a mini-game in order to complete the capture.  Essentially you have two bars… red meter that starts empty and fills, and a yellow meter that starts full.  The goal of the mini-game is to keep your reins icon in the center of a circle on screen.  If you get out of the circle, the yellow meter goes down rapidly… if it empties before the red bar fills you fail at the capture.

So the simple fact that you can capture a dragon is not as far as the Pokémon metaphor goes…  you also inherit new abilities from the various dragons you capture.  I am not 100% sure if I understand this all yet, there is a lot to figure out and not a ton of tutorial to do so.  However it seems like every dragon you tame has new abilities, these range from attacks, to harvesting and crafting abilities.  Eventually it seems like your dragon dictates whatever ability you have on the 1 key.  My current dragon has this lightning leap attack which is extremely powerful.  Additionally you seem to be able to stable your dragons and get them to learn new abilities.  Obviously I need to figure more of this out… but the takeaway is… there is a lot of hidden depth in the game.

I seem to have won the lottery when I picked starting in Sibernia.  I have been watching my friends talk about getting their first flying mount for a few weeks now… and the very first dragon I tamed had full flight.  In fact it was not until I got into the level 12ish area that I found a pure ground mount.  Having a wide array of flyers definitely has helped the enjoyment of this game, because seriously who doesn’t love riding a dragon?  Two of the dragons I captured came from a dungeon and were somewhat akward to get to… so it seems like there are common and less common versions of the various dragons.  My “emerald purple dragon”, definitely came with more abilities than any I had seen to that point…  we will just ignore the fact that it has emerald in the name but has absolutely no green or yellow on it.

Station Cash Drain

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One of the good things about this game is that it is by SOE, and uses the standard Station Cash system for micro transactions.  As a result, I have a Station Access account, and have been accruing station cash for some time.  The bad is that almost everything in this game has the option to spend SC in place of game money.  This means not only cosmetic stuff, and stat boosts, but enchanting items, crafting etc.  Everything has a slow money drain factored into it… but honestly I was expecting this from the company that brought us Runes of Magic.  Most of my SC expenditures have been what I term quality of life.  Essentially you can increase your bag and bank and stable space with station cash… all of which have made the game more enjoyable for me and less about micromanaging my inventory.  The negative is I had about 7500 sc going into this and am sitting right at 3000 now.

The one thing I am surprised about is that so far I have not encountered the ubiquitous cash box, or anything even vaguely similar.  Right now all of the station cash outlay seem to be on speeding up gameplay and buffing your character… but not necessarily direct money for items transactions.  Those might be there… I may just not have encountered them.  Additionally I have seemed to be able to live just fine off vendor and dropped gear, without need for anything more.  I’ve decided that once again I prefer sword and board to two hander… but this is probably not a shocker to anyone.  I look badass in my frosty/deathknighty armor… so I am completely happy running around and beating things down like a proper tank.

The Takeaway

Essentially my takeaway at the end of the day, is this is a game that I had essentially written off as something that I was not likely to enjoy.  However upon playing it, I am really having a blast doing so.  Basically if you liked TERA, but were turned off by just how horrible the questing experience was… then this is the game for you.  The combat is fun and strangely nuanced… and the dragon taming aspect throws something fresh into the mix.  This is definitely gaming junk food, but the experience is so worth the calories.  The game reminds me of so many other games, that combined it becomes its own very unique experience.  The game is pretty brutal at times as well… I have died an innumerable amount of times… but there seems to be no punishing effect of it other than the slow bleed of repair costs.  Download the game and give it a try, I figure you will find something in it you like.