Lost in Maguuma

Wanderlust

starwarslego_atap Yesterday was a bit of a busy day for many reasons.  Firstly getting home super late Saturday night, and then recording AggroChat extremely late, meant that more or less I just straight up crashed instead of editing the recording.  This meant first thing yesterday morning I had to edit the podcast and post it.  After that I of course still had a blog to write, and needed to spend some time working on another article as well.  Throughout all of this there were two problems.  Firstly I had a splitting headache the likes of which I have not seen in almost a year.  Secondly it was absolutely gorgeous outside, with the temperatures rising up to roughly 80* F yesterday.  So my wife and I hemmed and hawed as to whether or not we would actually go do anything.  Finally around 3pm yesterday afternoon we decided to get outside and go wandering about.

I’ve talked about the fact that any town of a decent size around me has a Wal-mart.  It has always been this way, because quite honestly I live in the Wal-mart heartland, with Bentonville the home office only about two hours away.  The first first Wal-mart supercenter in existence is about 30 minutes away in the town of Wagoner for example.  Big Wal-mart stores are boring, utilitarian and predictable… but going to smaller less shopped stores often provides this strange melange of products that they still have on the shelf.  Each store has a certain amount of discretion as to what they can clearance, so this means that shopping multiple stores might yield completely different results.  As such a few times of the year it is prime territory for hunting down clearance Legos.

We set forth on an adventure that took us through three very small locations, and while my wife found more interesting stuff than I did, at the second store…  a store I had good luck with last year…  I managed to pick up a couple of really cool Star Wars sets at a deep discount.  First up I found the Lego AT-AP walker which was originally $60 for the much more reasonable price of $30.  Then at a considerably worse deal I picked up the originally $25 General Grievous Wheel Bike set for $19… which admittedly I only jumped at because the General Grievous figure is just so badass looking.  This season honestly has been pretty slim pickings, largely because Wal-mart has started doing this annoying thing.  They will throw something on clearance… and change the sticker color to red…  but have the item marked at its normal price.  Essentially I look up each Lego set and if the savings is not 50% off I generally don’t jump at it.  This has netted me some pretty cool finds like the SWTOR Sith Fury for $60 but in order to find them… you have to be diligent, and for me the fun is more about the hunt than the finding.

Lost In Maguuma

Gw2 2015-02-09 06-06-51-36 One of the other things of note that happened yesterday while watching the return of Walking Dead is that I managed to hit level 60 on my Warrior in Guild Wars 2.  I am still knee deep in the Maguuma jungle region and right now I find myself shifting between Sparkfly Fens and Bloodtide Coast, largely be cause the Fens simply got too “big” for me as I kept wandering into level 62 areas and having to deal with constant glancing blows.  This leaves me 20 levels to go before I hit the Guild Wars 2 endgame, whatever that might be.  One of the things that has always bothered me about this game is that I never managed to max a character out.  Eighty levels is a rather daunting task, especially when you don’t find yourself really enjoying the game play.  That said I am generally known for having multiple max level characters in any game I play, so it felt like a weak spot in my armor that I could not stomach the grind in this one game.

Maguuma region is a bit of a slog, which has me concerned for the Heart of Thorns expansion.  I really do not like Jungle or Swamp regions in video games.  I was having a blast so long as I stuck to the snowy peaks of the Norn regions, but once I wandered into the swampy zombie filled wasteland…  the fun factor of the game went down significantly.  Here is hoping that I can stomach it just enough to graduate into the higher zones.  All of the guides I have read say that I should really be doing dungeons to level…  but I am admittedly scared of them.  The shitty dungeon experience was what ended up killing the game for me the first time.  Right now I am enjoying the soloing over world gameplay style, and I am afraid if I go into the dungeons again… and they end up still being the chaotic and exploitative mess that they were originally… that it will enrage me enough to halt my journey.

The Real Game

Albion-Online 2015-01-29 23-14-44-84 One of the biggest frustrations for me when it comes to online games is when a massive shift in the way the game feels happens.  Most games have this highly tailored starter experience to ease players into the game, and then something happens as though the really polished section of the game flew away.  Sometimes this transition is gradual, and other times it is quite literally like having the bottom dropped out from under you.  I’ve not written much about Albion Online because to some extent I fell off that rather steep cliff.  The first two tiers of content felt really fun and natural as I wandered around the world collecting resources to be able to craft nifty things.  Then I reached tier 3… and the fun drained away quickly.  The game up until that point had been around gathering materials and lugging them back to town so that you could use the crafting machines and fashion them into whatever you might like.  When you hit Tier 3, the crafting machines start charging you a fee to use them.  This is the equivalent of having to pay every time you need to use the anvil in a World of Warcraft town.

The problem with this is that there really aren’t that many gold fountains that I have seen so far, but the machine problem ends up to be a rather massive gold sink.  Granted at this point I don’t even know if there is such a thing as gold in the game… because I have only managed to gather up a few silver to my name.  Admittedly this is their pricing scheme… to get players to purchase gold, to ease the process of playing the game.  According to the pricing listed on the founders pack information, it looks like $20 would get you 4500 gold, and $50 would get you 12,000 gold.  Not that either of these is an absolutely insane price for what seems to be the purchasing power that gets you, but I have essentially stopped playing because I quickly realized this game was unsustainable without either grinding bandits for days…  or plunking down some cold hard cash for a game that was only mildly enjoyable in the first place.  This is a bit of a shame, because really Albion does have some really interesting ideas at work.  I might piddle with it off and on still to see just how deep  the money chasm is, but if nothing else for the time being it has most definitely halted my forward momentum.

A Calling Card

Out of Order

This morning is an odd one for me, in part because there is a natural order to my weekends.  Generally speaking I get up, get dressed, go find some food…  bring it up and spent the next period of time working on my daily blog post.  This morning however things are a bit off, because my mother in law will be coming around noon, and in the week since coming back from Pax South our house has gotten a bit disordered.  So as a result I gobbled my breakfast and set forth to clean on the house.  Generally speaking I do the grunt cleaning, picking things up, straightening, throwing out trash…  and my wife comes back through with more surgical precision considering she sees dirt that I don’t.  Together we can get our house in manageable order in under an hour generally speaking.

The other awesome and scary thing that is happening this morning is that I will be sitting in on the recording of an episode of battle bards.  I’ve been a long time supporter of the show, having listened to I believe every episode.  I too am a huge fan of game music, and tend to spend most of my days listening to soundtracks looping in the background.  So I am pleased to be able to share some of my favorite tracks along a theme… that I am not going to give away.  As a result of this I ended up spending my normal writing time while eating… going back over my notes about the various tracks we will be reviewing.  I admit now that it is the actual day we are recording I am a bit nervous.  Normally when I guest on a podcast it is no big deal… because I am being myself.  This time it feels like we have a higher purpose, and while I have some formal musical training… that feels like a lifetime ago.  So hopefully I don’t make a complete ass of myself.

A Calling Card

Over the last few weeks I have been working on a little side project.  I originally started thinking about it while at Pax South and it just took a bit to finally pull the technical bits together.  I’ve owned the domain Belghast.com for some time but I never did much with it.  The idea was always to create a site that somewhat combined all of the different things that I do.  At this point I am all over social media, have two podcasts, a daily blog, a youtube channel, and hitbox stream…  in addition to the stuff I am starting to do for MMOGames.com.  When I was having to pull together the information to hand off to the community folks at each of the game companies during pax… I realized just how spread out everything is.  It would be so much more simple if I could just say… go to Belghast.com and that will link you to all of the projects that I do.  So I guess in the idea is part calling card, and part resume.

The hard part was figuring out how to do what I wanted to do.  In the end I found a plug-in that would allow me to syndicate posts from damned near anything with an RSS feed.  Honestly the plug-in is a bit scary, and likely designed for some really nefarious site cloning purposes.  It was however the only thing I could find to do exactly what I wanted it to do.  Thankfully all the functionality I need is in the free version, because the paid version is like $15 a month.  Essentially I am just excerpting my posts on Aggronaut, AggroChat, Bel Folks Stuff and MMOGames but the plug-in was designed to copy the entire post, images and all.  I still plan on writing and podcasting in all the same places…  just plan on having the other site to connect all the dots.  I like the banner, because it finally gives me a reason to use the “real life” chibi that Rae did for me.  Not completely sold on the theme, but for now it works.  I might do something more custom later.

At Peace with GW2

Gw2 2015-02-05 22-35-03-78 I’ve had a very checkered past with the Guild Wars franchise.  I was not a huge fan of the original, largely because I had no ability to jump… and Ruined Ascalon was so damned ugly.  Then you zoom forward and the manifesto trailer was released… and everything it said I thought I wanted.   When I managed to get into the Alpha program through a friend, I was more excited for any Alpha I had been to that point.  When I actually got my hands on it…  I had this overwhelming “I don’t get it” feeling.  In fact there was a three hundred page thread on the forums essentially saying the same thing.  I felt that all criticism of the game approach was being ignored, and as a result it was the only Alpha program I have ever resigned from.  Then we scan forward to launch, and everyone I know is excited about the game.  I obviously lost access to the test servers, but did manage to get into the open beta phase.  I got in and the game was not as bad as I had remembered it, and I had lots of friends playing it with me… so I ended up buying the game.  A few weeks in however I was hit by the same sense of pointlessness, like nothing I was doing in the world mattered.  The final nail in the coffin was how bad the dungeon running experience felt, when that was the majority of what I spent time with friends doing.

belgw2cavern I had not really followed the game from that point on, other than to use it as my whipping boy for what happens when grouping is done badly.  Then we move forward to Pax South.  I had been asked to sit in on the panel to see what they had to say, so I dutifully did so.  Maybe it was the excitement of the crowd, or the well crafted sales pitch… but when I got back to Texas I reinstalled the game and I have been poking around.  I can’t say that the game has changed drastically, but I think maybe I have in the intervening years.  At this point I am 59 on my Warrior, and have been running around aimlessly completing the objectives on the map.  I have to say I am really enjoying myself.  It is a vastly different experience than any of the games I am playing, a much more disposable experience… but that is okay.  There is some serious depth to this game, but it isn’t the same sort of depth that you see in a traditional MMO.  I find myself actually looking forward to the Heart of Thorns expansion.  This game has become my cooling down experience after raid nights.  I pop it open, running around for a bit and finish a few objectives… feeling like i have accomplished something without spending a lot of time.  That seems to be where this game excels, giving you bite sized moment to moment experiences that feel like they are building to something larger.  I have to say… and I realize how much crow I have to eat…  but I am enjoying myself in ways I never expected to.

AggroChat 41 and Pax Day Two

A Tale of Two Days

PaxPlaysPokemonIt was not until today that I realized that yesterday at Pax was a bit of a downer.  I had a lot of fun playing around with various games that I had media appointments with, and I am so happy I caught moments like “Pax South Plays Pokemon” where a guy in a costume was accepting and mimicking commands just like Twitch Plays Pokemon.  The problem is I mostly focused on the four appointments I had, and treated the day like I was working the convention.  In theory I guess I was but the biggest thing that lead to this feeling was the fact that more or less I was completely alone.  Sure there were people at the convention that knew but since I was so focused on making sure I was on time for the four meetings I didn’t really focus on mingling much other than with the random strangers I stood in line with.  That was one of the things I found most interesting is just how comfortable I felt around strangers.  I think part of it is that I knew if conversation did happen… it would at least be about something I was probably knowledgeable.  It was like the entire weekend was this safe little bubble of geeks and dorks… and we all inherently sense we were among our own kind, and somehow safe.

gigantic_aggrochat_trio Today however was a completely different experience.  Upon arriving there I got into the line for the Guild Wars 2 expansion reveal, and immediately after that I met up with Ashgar who was also watching the panel but had arrived late.  Shortly after that we met up with Rae and her brother and from that point on at least two of us were together at all times.  This completely changed the entire dynamic of the show for me.  Instead of being about milling around looking for something interesting… it became about having this grand adventure with friends.  I of course had to sho them everything I thought was cool from day one, which involved trying to get them a play session of Gigantic.  Sure enough the folks were amiable to the idea of having two more members of the podcast playing.  While I wasn’t really expecting to play along as well we all ended up on a team opposite Angry Joe of the Angry Joe Show.  It seems like the Gigantic Live twitter feed caught us playing, and while it was an extremely hard fought match our team pulled ahead in the end and seized the day.  For those playing at home… faces right to left at the machines are Myself, Ashgar, and Rae…  with the every awesome Lonrem beside Rae offering words of advice.

Heart of Thorns

This morning of course was the big announcement of the Guild Wars 2 expansion pack.  The fact that it was happening was of no real surprise because apparently the ending of this most recently living story episode concluded with some heavy hints about the expansion.  What was a surprise to me at least is that Arena Net seems to be shoving aside the MMO tradition of releasing an expansion and raising the level cap.  Instead they are introducing an alternate progression path called Masteries.  This system will apparently be account based so once something is unlocked it is available to all of your characters.  Some of the unlocks will be quality of life things like a new hang gliding skill, and others will be as game changing as brand new specializations.  The only one that they gave examples of is that the Ranger will apparently be able to specialize into a Druid giving them access to staff weapon type and brand new druid abilities.

gw2boomstickhype The other big announcement for me at least is that they are adding a third heavy armor class to the game.  It seems their flagship character Rytlock has gone through a transformation turning him a warrior to the brand new revenant class.  It seems the revenant focuses on channeling the mist and gives access to retelling certain legends that give it special abilities.  In the video above it shows him summoning a giant dragon spirit, or dashing around the battlefield striking all targets.  I have to say both the trailer and the expansion content sounded cool, but at the same time I know my history with Guild Wars 2 in general.  I am not sure if the revenant is enough to make me care about the game, but it is at least a step in the right direction since I love me some “shadowknight” style classes.  They plan on trickling out information between now and the expansion about what will await players in Maguuma.  I had to share the above photo because people were pumped for the show… they gave us these boom stick things and folks were putting them to good use.

AggroChat 41 – AggroChat Game Club

Since we will be on the road super early in the morning I am writing this post after coming home from my last day at Pax South.  I had a phenomenal time and spent the day hanging out with some of my favorite people on the planet.  However since myself, Ashgar and Rae were all at Pax this weekend… we were unable to do our normal aggrochat recording thing.  We actually got our shit together and planned ahead for this eventuality and recorded double episodes last saturday night releasing the first as AggroChat 40, and then I have just published the second episode tonight through the magic of “publish on date” functionality.  With the second part we are announcing a new idea we had.  The idea is relatively simple… we have a book club but with games.  We will pick a game, play it through a given month and then record a show where we spoil everything allowing us to tear into the game completely.  We did this some time ago for Transistor, where we recorded a very non-spoiler show first… and later recorded a deep dive show about the plotline.

Leading up to this show we each compiled a list of games we wanted to nominate for the inaugural game club game.  During the course of this show I made the folks who posted each game defend their title, explaining why they thought it would be a good pick.  At the end of the show we arrive at title, but I am not going to spoil what our pick is just quite yet.  You can of course skip to the tail end of the show and find out for yourself really quickly, but where would the fun be in that?  In any case whatever game we chose… on Saturday February 28th we will record a game descending into the title and picking it clean.  From this point on we will figure out a more equitable scheme for picking games, to make sure we also get some “non-consensus” titles but I figured for the first pick it was probably good to grab a game we were all wanting to play.  As we play the game I encourage our listeners to play along and then share your comments about the game, but I will give more details on that later.  In any case… I am going to close down this evenings post and start packing up.  It was a great weekend at pax, but I am amped for life to return to normal, so see you all soon in the regularly scheduled social channels!

World Without Levels

Holiday Hassles

ffxiv 2014-12-16 06-39-37-31 Today is going to be an extremely quick blogpost because I am pretty much under the gun.  Were I a proper and responsible adult I would have posted something last night.  However when I got home from work I was completely drained and while I hung out and played games for a bit… I also crashed significantly earlier than even my wife did.  Today is going to be an extremely day as we are officially beginning our Christmas shopping.  This is actually pretty good for us because in general we are those folks wandering around on Christmas Eve trying to find those last few gifts.  I like getting stuff just as much as the next person, but I really wish there was a way to turn Christmas into Thanksgiving 2.0.  The gift giving just seems to get in the way of what should be an otherwise amazing holiday.

There is the pressure to get something awesome for people who have literally not seen since last Christmas.  Then you end up with the gift of shame…  the gift card because really you have no clue at all what this person might want.  Instead if it were just Thanksgiving 2.0… we would share a meal together, and a conversation and not be constantly dreading the impending gift exchange awkwardness.  Personally I am one of those people that if I wanted it at all, I probably already bought it, and my wife is the same way.  So I feel like we are both exceptionally hard to buy for…  so mostly people just don’t try and we ultimately end up exchanging cash, either in gift card form or actual crisp bills.  Which brings me back to…  what exactly was the point?  A nice meal, a conversation…  those are the things that are really valuable.\

World Without Levels

Wow-64 2014-12-09 23-04-17-285 Yesterday a couple of my friends spun topics off of yesterdays post.  Lord Tridus commented that games should “Flatten or wipe out the level curve entirely and content now becomes scaled on gear”.  As Rowan stated in his follow up post, this system already exists and is alive and well in The Secret World.  The problem that I see with that system however is that you still have leveling in the form of total Ability Points gained, which are then used to purchase ability unlocks.  In theory it works, but the problem with the system is it becomes increasingly difficult to “restart” and try and go down a completely different path.  Ultimately this became a wall for many of my friends because the classes we wanted to play…  ended up being ultimately completely unviable when we reached the endgame aka “Nightmare” content.

Without a way to completely reset your character we had no way of really retooling after spending all of this time leveling ourselves into a corner.  Actually I experienced the same problem with playing Champions Online.  If you failed to follow the magical golden functional path, that game became an unplayable mess with you reaching a point very early on when you simply could not do the content you needed to.  The part of this equation that I feel has not been solved is how to grant abilities in a way that is not grindy.  I personally find The Secret World somewhat frustrating when I think about grinding out enough ability points to earn all of the abilities.  I spent probably hundreds of hours killing vampires in one of the higher level zones doing essentially just this…  that and farming gear to be broken down into crafting materials.  I just don’t see that as being the answer to the level problem either.

New Ability Gains

Gw2 2012-09-16 16-09-42-21 Ultimately the problem that remains is we need a new an interesting way of gaining abilities.  I think maybe Guild Wars 2 at least had part of this equation right, in that the equipping of gear SHOULD be what unlocks your abilities.  The component I would change to this equation however is that they “Teach” you abilities instead of only give you abilities while the item is equipped.  This completely changes what is considered a valuable item.  Sure a sword might not have as good of stats as the one you are currently wielding but if it gives you a new “Life Drain” ability that can be learned while completing content with it equipped…  that would make it worth keeping until at least you had learned that ability.  Random loot becomes interesting again because it might have an ability that you have not yet unlocked.

Ultimately this sort of system only works if you also have a limited amount of slots for you to put abilities in.  I think this is pretty much going to be the rule going forward that you should have no more than one hotbar worth of abilities at any given time.  This does two things for your game… firstly it makes it significantly easier for a new player to get into the game because they only have to learn so many keys to press at a given time.  Secondly it allows your game to be ported to a console significantly easier due to the limited number of button press combinations available.  The importance of making abilities in such a way so that no one ability is that much better than everything else is also key, that way there is a significant opportunity cost to each choice.  In any case…  I feel like a game without levels can work, but you also have to take away the ability grinds.  To me at least, learning a new ability from an item, feels significantly less grindy than simply racking up a currency that you then spend to unlock things.  I would love to hear other players thoughts on this concept as well.

Blood of the Werewolf

AggroChat Episode #26


I feel like last night was a really good episode, or at least I hope it is.  It is one of those nights where the conversation flowed freely and we had way more topics to talk about than we realistically had time to do so.  Even at that we still recorded for roughly an hour and a half and it is completely packed full of stuff.  The title of the show is the “Gospel of Galaxy Trucker” and that is because Kodra has become an evangelist for the power of that game.  He has always been a big fan of the board game, and has latched onto the iOS port with both hands trying to get as many people to play with him as possible.  Problem is for me at least I don’t have any iOS devices, and I sadly doubt that android and iOS users will be able to play together….  although in Carcassonne you could play across platforms so here is hoping.

Other than that we talked at length about Dragon Age: Origin and mostly how Kodra has been getting along in the game.  He had tried to play it before in the past but was unable to get into it, so it seems as though he is at least over the hurdle.  As we refer to it “Getting Off Citadel” because that was the big hurdle of when Mass Effect 1 started to become interesting, and getting past Lothering in Dragon Age is a similar journey.  I talk at length about my issues with Destiny right now and the mindless grinding that is required to keep progressing.  I am far more grind friendly than the rest of my cast mates but even I am starting to hit my limit.  Finally we talk about the tell tale blank spots in the Blizzcon lineup and contemplate what they might be announcing.  We throw out a bunch of ideas for a new game genre for them to polish to a mirror shine.

Blood of the Werewolf

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-11-13-894 I picked this up some time ago on a Steam sale because it had two things that greatly interested me.  Firstly the fact that you were playing as a female werewolf looking for revenge for her slain husband was an interesting spin on the genre.  Secondly it looked in many ways similar to the original Castlevania with a series of levels that show your progression in form of a minimap.  The dual mechanics of “human” and “werewolf” modes seemed interesting as well.  So for this mornings Steampowered Sunday I decided to give it a spin and play it for a bit.  I was not really feeling up to interacting with the world so I opted not to stream it, however I did take lots of screenshots along the way.  This however is a review that almost didn’t happen because apparently this game is essentially broken without massive intervention.  When I launched it the first time I started getting C++ debug errors, and since I am programmer by trade and have visual studio installed… it kept asking me if I wanted to launch a debugger to step through the code.

It turns out this is a “known issue” and simply has not been patched.  In fact there is a “helpful” thread on the steam forums on how to fix it.  I put helpful in quotes because the “fix” requires you to edit your registry and hard code the resolution you want to run the game at.  This is a horrible horrible decision, and I damned near stopped playing the game at this point.  If you put a game on steam you should at least have a way to configure your games resolution without resorting to the registry.  Quite honestly this right along makes me not recommend this game for anyone at this point.  I feel like more than likely the current $1.04 pricetag and the regular $7.00 pricetag maybe reflects the fact that this game has some shitty development behind it.  All of this said…  the registry hack seemed to clear up my problems.

Charming Narrative

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-11-19-648 The art style and voice acting are really nicely done.  I maybe should have used charming in quotes… since in reality you are going across the country side on a revenge fueled murder spree.  But I guess in reality the original Castlevania didn’t give you much of a reason why you were going after Dracula…  so it works here as well.  The game is told from the perspective of the mother telling her son what she had to do to seek revenge for the killing of his father.  I am not sure if this is like a journal that the son is reading, but it seems likely.  Which makes me wonder does your character simply not survive in the end.  I have not played enough yet to really be able to determine that, nor do I know if I will play enough, but I can get into the reasons behind that later.

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-10-01-407 The only problem I have is that the enemies you face are mostly random monsters…  and while the rats and crocodiles and even other wolves make sense… I have no clue why there are giant fireball belching deep ones in the sewer system as well other than a faint nod to Castlevania.  I feel like the game didn’t really explain who I was fighting against other than someone killed my husband and the father of the person reading the narration.  What helps me care less about all of this is just how nice the characters and background end up looking.  It is very stylistic but at the same time still richly detailed without going overly minimalistic.

Interesting Mechanics

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-08-56-566 The gameplay is split into two different kinds of mechanics.  The first is that of your character as a human.  She is equipped with a crossbow and here is where things get a little wonky.  You aim your crossbow with your right thumb stick and fire it with your right trigger.  Now if you fire your cross bow without touching your thumb stick it shoots straight at, but there are many times where you will need to angle a shot.  The ability to fire directed arrows allows you to hit switches and trigger traps and angle shots just right to be able to shoot from relative safety.  All of this however in practice feels like a lot to do as something is rushing at you.  I got the hang of it as my play test went on, but it did not feel exactly intuitive at first.

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-24-52-241 Whenever your character goes out into the moonlight, you change immediately into your werewolf form which has a completely different set of attacks but maintains the same basic control scheme.  Right trigger to attack, right shoulder to perform special ability.  In werewolf form you get the ability to double jump, so a lot of the puzzles involve you jumping just at the right time in the middle of the air.  One of the things they carried over from Castlevania is the constant cavalcade of bats timed at just the right spacing as to make it damned near impossible to ignore them, but futile to actually try and destroy them.  Later the bats develop the same kind of loping movement as the medusa heads from Castlevania which makes them even more frustrating.

Uneven Difficulty

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-19-30-539  Other than the fact that the game does not actually run when you install it through steam without registry hack intervention… my number one complaint about the game is that it seems to have very uneven difficulty design in the levels.  Granted the original Castlevania had this going on as well, but it was very much not a good feature.  I feel like this game as a whole is a nostalgic nod to Castlevania in so many ways, and it even managed to carry over the same brutal and frustrating bits that quite frankly were just the product of poor level design rather than actual planning I feel.  I played the first two levels this morning, and in each of them the bulk of the level was rather sedate with logical progression gradually ramping up as you went through the play field.

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-18-22-570 Then they would throw you at a bullet hell section, where for the course of a single area you would have to avoid three projectiles at a time from an enemy on the far side of the room, while avoiding environmental damage form above, bats flying in from the side, crumbling tiles beneath your feet and still having to make perfectly timed jumps between ladders and platforms.  These sections are maddening but not in a good way.  They feel completely misplaced when compared to the rest of the level design.  Why should this one room be that much harder than the others, and why did none of the rest of the level really prepare you for it?  The first time you really encounter the crumbling tiles… is during one of these sections so you really have no clue what that block does until you have already failed at doing so.

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-34-13-316

The above section is what finally made me decide I was done for the morning.  YOu have a series of crushers that are a one shot kill.  They move in all sorts of directions, and extremely quickly.  There are status indicators above or to the side of them that show you how long before the piston fires.  They require perfecting timing to get through.  There is a moment where at two lights, you have to wait a split second before jumping.  If you jump immediately after the second light you jumped too soon and die.  If you jump as the third light is coming on, you jumped too late and die.  I could have handled one sequence of these pistons but after doing three in a row… and having a fourth one at the top of the ladder in the above screenshot…  I just said fuck it and killed the game.  I was not in the mood for that, especially when the rest of the game was actually rather enjoyable.

Rhinestone in the Rough

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-08-44-846

Given that it is the season of monster themed games, I figured playing Blood of the Werewolf was a good pick this week.  Now comes the hard part… do I suggest this game to others.  I can’t really say this game is a diamond in the rough, because there is quite a bit of rough that you have to deal with to get to where you can play it.  The steam forums are full of issues folks have had with this game, and apparently if you are not using an  xbox 360 controller…  you are likely going to have issues with controller support as well.  Like the subheading says this is more a Rhinestone in the Rough.  There are definitely some shiny bits that are fun, but the thing that got me was the uneven progression of difficulty.  If you really like Metroidvania style games, and there is an aspect of collecting bits that make you more powerful… and you don’t mind frustration games that can be down right unfair like say the Mega Man series…  this might be a game for you.

If you wanted a game that you could install, boot up without issue and play through without the feeling of wanting to throw your controller… this is very much not a game for you.  Thankfully like I said earlier the game right now is super cheap on Steam through the 15th for only $1.04.  At that price, even dealing with the bullshit it is probably worth it if you are at all curious.  Sadly despite its charm I will likely never boot this game up again.  I feel like Outland is better at doing the things I like about Metroidvania in every single way, so in truth you would probably be better playing it or Guacamelee.  If however you have massive amounts of nostalgia over the original Castlevania… this might be just the game you were looking for.

#BloodoftheWerewolf #AggroChat

Savior of the Heavens

War of Guilds


A few days ago on a whim I decided to reinstall Guild Wars 2 and patch it up, which is not an insignificant process at this point.  Last night before getting into anything else I decided to give it a spin.  I have done this a number of times since launch, with essentially the same results.  After a few minutes of running around I decided that I still don’t like the game.  I figured this post is relevant with all of my recent Elder Scrolls fanboyism…  that yes it is perfectly okay for you not to like a game.  Guild Wars 2 is one of those titles that I want to like, because so many people have so many great moments with the game.  However for whatever reason I just cannot see the magic in it that others can.

Guild Wars 2 stands alone as the only alpha program I have ever resigned from.  I just did not like what the game was, and how it deviated from all of things I had read into their manifesto about the game.  When it came close to release I got into beta and had a marginal amount of fun, and with it launching in a relative dead spot I decided to take the plunge and try it.  On the initial play through I managed to make it through to about level 40 before running out of care to continue pushing forward.  This is round and about the place most of us dropped out of it.  Largely it was the chaos that is GW2 group combat that soured the milk for me.

All of that said… I want to see the magic that others see in this game.  So every few months I patch it up and give it another try.  I have always prided myself in being able to see the good in something despite its flaws, and as a result it drives me absolutely insane that I cannot grasp why people love this game.  I don’t want the game to change to fit my desires, so after a bit of playtime every few months we agree to disagree and I end up uninstalling it again.  Other than the chaotic game play, there is just something about the game that feels largely pointless… and I can’t quite put my finger on it.  I love faffing about as much as the next person, and I do so happily in many other games…  but there is just something about this games style of faffing that seems hollow.

I am not going to rage against this game and bash it for being bad… because it very obviously is NOT bad if so many people seem to be enjoying themselves.  It is just not a game for me.  I don’t pretend to believe that I could have built it better, nor would I even know where to start to make it feel more like a game I would want to play.  So I guess in writing this… I want to show that it is perfectly okay to not like the game that everyone else likes.  In doing so you can not like it, but also not seek to spoil the fun of those who really do enjoy it.  There are a long list of games that I just don’t “grok” for one reason or another, but it is okay.  They exist, and people like them… and it is just fine for me not to.

Savior of the Heavens

Diablo III 2014-03-06 22-18-57-78 Last night I finished my play through of Diablo 3 this time on Hard mode.  I am not sure why, but for whatever reason I prefer to level my characters linearly.  I know I can jump around a bit after beating the game ages ago on my Monk, but it seems pleasing to see the story play out in front of me as I trudge through it.  Last night I played with a handful of friends, and managed to get a few nice legendary drops.  Traditionally I have stuck with dual wield, because in general I prefer that in most games.  However last night I managed to get an early 50s version of the Zweihander and it good enough to get me to abandon my dual wielding ways…  at least temporarily.

Diablo III 2014-03-06 22-41-41-28 I am pretty sure at some point I flipped a slider and the game decided I needed “more spikey bits”, as I now am this bladed lord of death.  The appearance is growing on me, and when you see it in small form on screen I look a bit like I imagined the Shrike looking from the Hyperion series.  Upon defeating Diablo I promptly restarted the game, this time bumping the difficulty up to expert.  As a result I have had to tweak my build a bit to add in a bit more survival.  It is not quite as faceroll as it was during my run through Hard.  Mostly I am noticing that my healbot spec Templar is starting to struggle to keep up, or at least allowing me to drop quite a bit before topping me back off.  Wondering if this will change as I upgrade his gear a bit.  I have been trying to keep it upgraded, mostly with my handmedowns.

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At the close of the night I managed to ding 56, so hopefully tonight I should be able to finish off my push to get this character to 60.  At this point, I can’t really see playing up another character until the crusader.  I am sure the Witchdoctor, Demon Hunter and Wizard are cool in their own way… but each of them is very much a ranged/finger wiggler class.  They are just not the type of character I enjoy playing.  I realize you can tweak them a bit to make them play in different ways, but at the core they will still be more glass cannonish than I care to play.  I enjoy tanks and tanky dps…  and I feel like the Barbarian, Monk and Crusader fit that bill just fine.  If I continue to struggle a bit I might switch to a sword/board build on my Barbarian as I have done in the past.  For the time being it is working, but I am having to finally start using my heal pots on elites and champions.

Steampowered Sunday Bioshock Contest

Just a quick reminder that I am running a contest of sorts to let you guys pick what I will be playing this Sunday for my Steampowered Sunday feature.  The idea behind Steampowered Sunday is to get me to install and play a game from my steam backlog.  Then I will write about the game play experience.  Sometimes it is extremely glowing, other times not so much.  This week I decided to mix things up a bit and post a google form that allows you guys to vote on which title I will be playing the following week.  I have had a handful of votes to date, but I am really hoping for more.  As of this morning it looks like if nothing changes I will be playing Alan Wake.  Tomorrow when I blog I will be tabulating the results and declaring a winning game.

Additionally to make this more interesting, I have decided to use this as a way to get rid of some of the duplicates I have in steam and have gotten through the various indie bundles.  This week I will be giving away a copy of the original Bioshock for Steam.  So when you vote, make sure you let me know if you want to be entered in the running for the copy of Bioshock.  If so make sure you include your steam id in the form.  Saturday morning when I blog I will be picking a winner for this as well and sending off the free game.  So get out there and vote… and decide my Steampowered Sunday Fate.

Vote Here!

Halloween 2013

Spooky Pasta!

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One of the things I love in the various MMOs I play or have played… are the varried Holiday events.  Some of them make an extreme effort to fit them into the lore of their world, and others just cut and paste a real world tradition onto their land.  Both have their merits and both are enjoyable so long as they don’t involve too much grinding.  Each game seems to pick and choose holidays, but there are two that every game seems to have…  Christmas and of course Halloween.

Halloween time is generally my favorite holiday because the traditions itself usually involve killing lots of dark denizens of the night.  Additionally the playing dress up theme usually means some cool weapon and armor skins that you can use throughout the rest of the year.  Currently we are in the run up to Halloween itself, and as a result pretty much every MMO has some form of event going on marking the holiday.  Going to take a few minutes this morning to talk about some of the cooler ones.

Nights of the Dead

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This event runs in Everquest 2 from 10/15 through 11/11 and is probably the grand daddy of all Halloween events.  Each year they keep adding new content, but still leaving all of the old content in place.  Zam has a really great guide to the various quests and events.  If you are one of the new to EQ2 folks who just partook of the free level 85 event… I highly suggest checking it out.  However even with a brand new account you can still participate in most of the fun.  My personal favorite event is the hedge maze that drops lots of nifty cosmetic gear.

Blood and Madness

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Guild Wars 2 supposedly has a really amazing event called Blood and Madness that kicked off on October 15th that involved a series of limited time events (one day only) finally culminating in a big event that only exists Halloween night.  Dulfy has a pretty comprehensive guild to the events, but for the most part if you are not already doing this series you have missed out this year.  This has been my key bitch about Guild Wars 2 to date… I hate the concept of short run limited time events.  The amount of busy work needed really only allows someone who ONLY plays GW2 to keep up… and because of this I just can’t be bothered to attempt it.  I would love to see this as a long term event that ran the entire length of the holiday, but until then it will be out of my reach.

Autumn Harvest

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Rift has an event called Autumn Harvest that starts on October 17th and runs through Halloween and potentially a little bit past.  They have chosen to focus on the harvest aspect of the holiday and as such have sent you to a special version of the Realm of the Fae where you help Atrophinius and his minions bring in the amber sap harvest.  There are a ton of cool things you can get, including a phantom version of several popular mounts.  The coolest feature of the event however is that you can get these short time use potions that make tons of artifacts show up on the ground in the realm of the fae.  This is a huge catch up on collections event.  This year around there are a ton of new items to be gotten and you can check out this preview guide on Rift Junkies.

Hallow’s End

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Hallow’s End is an event that occurs in World of Warcraft from October 18th through November 1st.  There are tons of nifty things going on like trick or treating, but the meat and potatoes of the event is the Scarlet Monastery Headless Horseman instance.  I have a love/hate relationship with this holiday.  Every year it has been available (and that I have been playing wow) I have participated in the event… all for a shot at the extremely awesome flying headless horseman mount.  Every single year I have come up empty handed.  When a game company places an item in an event, like a mount… that is usable every day… and makes it a super rare random drop… I want to stab them.

All Saints’ Wake

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Currently there is an event going on over in FFXIV that is completely new to me.  All Saints’ Wake started a little early, but was intended to run from October 18th through November 1st.  All of the time zones get a little discombobulated in the translation.  While I am not partaken in the event yet, so far the other one I have seen has been what I would call “Holiday-Lite” in that there is a FATE going on that awards some sort of currency that you then use to purchase things off a vendor.  Since the vanity gear system is not in place yet, this makes the things you can acquire super limited, but I plan on gathering them up just in case.  One of the most humorous observations from last night is that apparently the Pumpkin helms… are repaired by Cullinarians.

The Rundown

That is the rundown of the big ones I know of that are going on, but like I said in the first part of the post… this is the one holiday that pretty much EVERY MMO celebrates.  I can even remember in Hellgate: London there being a Halloween event of sorts that took its form in a Guy Fawkes day celebration… that happened to have a lot of Halloween themed stuff.  I would be curious to hear about any events that are your favorite that I missed.

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.

Evergreen Content

After some technical difficulties caused by the fact that my upstairs computer appeared to have come back in a half alive state after what I can only assume was a power blink caused by last nights storms…  aren’t run-on sentences awesome?  I am finally sitting down at the computer to write this mornings post.  Additionally I am drinking the sweetest cup of coffee ever… because in my half awake state… I dumped the Splenda designated for my wife’s cup into mine.  The end result is a cup of coffee with like six packets of sugar in it.

Evergreen Content

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One of the things that has always frustrated me with MMO design is the fact that the higher up in level you are, essentially the fewer options you have for where to spend your in game time.  What I mean is that usually games spend a good amount of time to provide alternate starter zone experiences, and then those usually funnel into shared zones for your faction before dumping you out into a ladder of zone progression towards the “end game”.  Once you arrive at the end content you experience the same thing… everyone is pushed towards the same few content items.

When an expansion is released the same thing happens again but even more limiting.  You are pushed out of the “old world” content and into a much smaller new world with the same very vertical progression path.  Everything about the old content becomes completely disposable as it is immediately replaced by the shiny new things from the expansion areas.  Not only is the new content separated by distance usually, but it gives players absolutely no incentive to ever return and revisit the older content.  As a result each time an expansion is released the players are ultimately throwing more and more content in the dustbin.

A Better Way

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Granted some games do a much better job at addressing this problem than others.  In Rift when mentoring down you receive xp and rewards as though you were doing content at your level.  The same is more or less true with Guild Wars 2 and its always mentored system of scaling the player down to the content level at all times.  But in neither system do you really address the problem of lost dungeon and raid content.  Ultimately you can get rewards similar to what you could earn at level, but you will never actually be able to progress your characters in the same way unless you are always doing the latest and greatest content.

With the advent of systems like StoryBricks that allow for smarter AI encounters, I keep wondering if this is now the time to have a much better system.  Ideally this would work better in a system without hard level ranges, and more a “tiers of gear” approach like The Secret World has in place.  What if a mob could perceive you as a greater threat based on your “tier” and ultimately fight “smarter”.  This would make the old content scale to whatever level you happen to be at the time.  The old encounters would be evergreen in that beating them at Tier 1 would be significantly easier than beating them at Tier 4.

Horizontal Progression

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As a result you could continue to “pay out” the best tiers of gear, because all content would essentially scale up to meet the level of the players taking it on.  In a mixed level group it would get far more tricky.  You would have to do some sort of an average level for the encounter, but ultimately the base idea is that as you level your character you continue opening new doors to experience, rather than constantly closing permanently the doors behind you.  I feel in part that this is so enticing as no amount of hard worked content provided by the designers would ever be considered “throw away” or “leveling” content again.

This of course is a massive pipe dream, and I am sure there are all measure of technically limitations to what I propose, but I have always wanted a world that scaled to me that I never outgrew.  We can have this concept in single player games like Oblivion, I just think its time that we see a proper implementation in the MMO world.  One added benefit is that being able to progress regardless of the content you are doing… incentivizes players to do the right thing socially… and assign their friends and guild members through that “old world” content.

Socially Beneficial

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Being one of those players that regularly helps out the “young-ins”, it can be frustrating knowing that you will not actually progress your character while doing this thing that was “socially” the right thing to do.  Games like Rift or EQ2 provide alternate advancement paths that make it much more enjoyable, since you know you are ultimately still making your character better in the process.  However… would it not be that much cooler if you could provide a system that allowed for both the low tier player and the high tier player to receive the best type of rewards they could get… together in the same group?

It is always awesome watching a new player get their first really awesome item, because you grouped up with them to help them through a challenge.  Would it not be equally exciting for them to watch you getting the same because you chose to help them?  I have had a mantra for awhile… “anything that prevents me from playing with my friends is bad” and this is exactly the opposite of that.  It makes sure that playing with my friends will always benefit me in the same ways it benefits them.  Sure the content might be ultimately more difficult when you have 3 tier 1 players and 2 tier 4 and the end difficulty level is something in the middle…  but as group you will be able to work through the challenges.

The Problem

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As I sit here to write this post, it feels like it is coming out super esoteric… and as a result I am hoping to place it more firmly on the ground.  In my office on the wall are lots and lots of maps, and many of them are from MMOs.  There is one above my monitor that came from the Kunark expansion to the original Everquest for example.  As I look at the glorious landmasses that are all these games… I am bit sad thinking that so many of those zones I will never have a valid reason to return to.  They will never again be truly important to me, the same way they were when I was first leveling through them.

I would just like to see a design scheme that makes it always valid for us to return to the content we know and love and have conquered and find completely new challenges.  This goes double for dungeon and raid content.  Wouldn’t it be cool if you could zone into Blackwing Lair in WoW with a group of friends… and get an encounter tailored to fit YOUR level… and not a “roflstomp” soloable mess?  The worst part about the “e-sport-ification” of raid content, is that we are constantly having to throw away fun experiences for whatever the newest tier happens to be.  Sure you can always return to the older stuff, but it has been trivialized by the progression you have made since then.

I would just like to see something that fixes this.  So that a zone stays epic regardless of when you tackle it, and that there will always be new and more exciting challenges and rewards to be found there.  With the construct of scalable AI and encounters…  I think that maybe finally this concept is ready to be explored.  I have no desire to stay in the starter zone, grind boars, and become amazing like they did in the South Park spoof… but it would be awesome to be able to go back to that low level content and have a reason to be there.

Wrapping Up

Well I need to wrap up and get on the road.  I feel as though I have laid out a huge rambling mess.  Hopefully this will make sense to someone.  It has been a concept bouncing around in my head for awhile and all the talk of Storybricks and EQ Next and Scaling Mob intelligence has dislodged it enough that I wanted to try and put it down into words.  I feel like I am fairly grossly unsuccessful at doing so.  I hope you all have a great day, and I hope you can grasp the crux of what I was trying to say.

Story Problems

Good morning cadets… welcome to the flight deck… err I mean… never mind.  It is in fact another morning, and I may or may not have actually gotten some sleep last night.  Enough that I was able to wake up ahead of the alarm clock and get a minor head start on the day… that I have gloriously squandered.  I have a huge day ahead of me, namely that I have to fix an issue that I did not realize was broken until yesterday.  The old process is a rats nest of ancient visual basic… so here’s hoping I can gut it and replace it with something that works better.

Story Problems

gw047

Yesterday Syp from Bio Break posted an article that rang true for me, called Living Story, Dead Interest.  In the article he talks about how the whole “living story” construct in Guild Wars 2 seems to be lacking any real traction for him.  That the rapid fire biweekly story changes are happening too fast for him to really know what is going on in that world.  Based on the comments to the post including one from me… it seems like there is a wide variety of players that just are not getting into the direction that Arena Net has taken the game.

Ultimately for me my malaise with Guild Wars 2 goes a little bit deeper than this.  There are so many things I like about this game.  I think the world is gorgeous and does an amazing job of disguising that it is running on a relatively primate graphics engine compared to its peers.  I think the combat is fun and easy to get into and gives an almost arcade quality to the experience.  I love the changes they made to inventory management, and I love the ability to dump your crafting materials in the bank wherever you happen to be… and then later access your bank from every crafting machine in the world.

The problem is… even with all this good.. I just simply do not care about the world.  It is wild and expansive… and feels completely dead to me.  There are interesting races and locations, but I don’t feel like I know anything about them.  The game chose to abolish two things… roles and quests, but the problem I have is that in neither case did they really replace them with something anywhere near as engaging.  I am one of those people who actually does at least skim through quests as I am doing them.  I feel they give me a sense of purpose out in the world.

In the world of Guild Wars 2… I can’t even recall the name of the world mind you…  I feel like I have no purpose at all.  My entire gaming experience is about popping around the world and performing whatever task is needed to check off various flavored dingbats on my map.  The story just is not there for me, and the class quest line story is too few and far between to really matter.  I don’t really feel like I care about any of the cast of characters I am supposed to.  I don’t like the characters, I occasionally like that I recognize the person doing the voice acting.

Back to the problem at hand…  the Living Story.  My big issue is that Arena Net has chosen to create a series of disposable content, rather than fleshing out the world over time and making the entire experience permanently richer for it.  Additionally I hate all content that expires.. I hate feeling like I am in a rush to experience it.  The end result is not me being pulled into the content and running around in a mad dash to try and experience everything… but instead me simply giving up on the game entirely.  Right now I end up logging in roughly once a month when the whim hits me… I kill a few things and log out, never really finding a purpose for playing.

Battle Bards

I tweeted about this yesterday, and often times retweet each time a new Battle Bards post is made, but I feel like this does not give enough credit to just how amazing this podcast is.  One of my vices is gaming music, namely the grand sweeping tracks that are usually associated with massively multiplayer online games.  Twice a month the Battle Bards…  Syp, MMOGC, and Syl bring you a themed show delving into the truly excellent music that accompanies your gaming experience.  If you are not listening to each new show you are really missing out because this is one of the best podcasts out there.

This latest post was especially nostalgic for me in that they chose to focus on the music of Everquest 2.  I have so much love for the world of Norrath, and a good part of this is wrapped up in the music that has always been associated with it.  I fell in love with Everquest the first time I heard the opening theme…  it was so grand and sweeping and did not feel like any other game music I had experienced.  Sure it sounds dated now but at the time it was a midi masterpiece, and I love the way that Everquest 2 drew upon this same musical style for its opening theme.

One of the interesting side commentary I had while listening to this podcast surrounds their feeling about the theme for Antonica.  While everyone seemed to like the track, they did not feel that it sounded like an outdoor zone theme.  It was commented that it sounded like something from a movie soundtrack and not that of a video game.  While I agree with the last statement, I feel that EQ2 outdoor zones have a very movie aspect to them.

It would not be a fitting track for the scale of say a World of Warcraft zone, but for Everquest 2 it works well.  Essentially all of these outdoor zones are on a scale that just isn’t seen in other games.  Antonica for example is roughly 5-6 times the size of Elwynn Forest in World of Warcraft.  It encompasses numerous distinct biomes, is the entry way to half a dozen dungeons and instanced zones.  The sheer scale is very movie like and dramatic, so as you are roaming around it… this jaunty theatrical music seems to fit.

Ultimately this has always been the overwhelming thing that I loved about Everquest 2.  Everything about the world feels epic in proportions.  There is a dungeon out in in the Jarsath Wastes on Kunark called Chelsith that you have to approach by water.  As you are swimming out you approach what appears to be a rock partially submerged, but as you dip under the water you see that this is the tip of the head of an ancient Iksar statue that has been long submerged… and that the entrance to Chelsith is t the base of its feet.  There are so many moments like that, that just say over and over again… this world is massive.

Stalwart Online

Yesterday we soft launched our new guild website, and are super pumped that it is starting to get some traction among our users.  It is still very much a work in progress and there are various bits and pieces that we want to do to expand it.  The graphical style and skin work is 100% the product of my co-worker and our master guild hall decorator… Audrae.  I know she has some future plans like to make the background swap each time the page loads, and have it pull from a pool of user submitted scenic shots.  Right now we have a promotional shot from Elder Scrolls Online as a static background, but that should change before long.

Essentially to move to a more living and easier to use website, we needed to completely abandon our previous site.  As a result we are soft launching this site and will eventually set the old forums into a read-only mode.  They will always be accessible off the archives link in the menu, but this is only to keep from losing almost a decade worth of posts and material.  Once we have made this shift we will redirect housestalwart.com to point to the new site as well as stalwartonline.com.

Essentially this is a revision in a long line of attempts to move Stalwart from being a game centric community to a larger multi-gaming community.  We have had a presence in almost every game released in recent years, but the previous forums were extremely World of Warcraft focused.  Despite my efforts to juggle the content in a way to keep them from being that… the old format just did not work that well.  Now we are switching to a more discussion and category based system that lists all the new content equally without burying it under a series of folders.

Here is hoping that our members will like the switch and that the new forums will revitalize our community.  Over the last year or so the old forums have been completely dead.  As a result users have just stopped checking in over time.  Here is hoping that the new content and new approach can draw them back out of the shadows and participating again.  Our Rift guild has been wildly successful, and my hope is to harness this new energy to do some really cool stuff.  In the past two week we went from 5 members and questioning if this was actually a good idea… to over 40 members and wondering what exactly we are going to do with everyone.  It is definitely a good thing.

Wrapping Up

Well I have rattled on again and squandered whatever time I gained by getting up before the alarm.  I need to get off here and  finish getting ready.  This morning I need to wake my wife up and make sure she is getting ready because she has a few things that she needs to get done today.  I have a mountain of work awaiting me when I get to the office, and I feel like it is going to take every last bit of it to get through the day.  I hope you all have great days… and feel free to check out our new website.  I feel like the majority of my readers are guild members already.