Flamebending for Fun

Serious Time with Bel

This morning I am going to break from my normally positive fluffy posts to talk about something fairly serious.  Hopefully you will bear with me, because it is a topic I believe strongly about.  A few days ago my good friend Jaedia crafted an excellent post talking about her frustrations and outright anger with sexual objectification especially in video game culture.  This sparked an interesting discussion among both the women and men on my twitter feed, and I personally ended up rebroadcasting it twice for emphasis.  Over the years I have watched as my female friends have had to constantly battle everything from largely harmless statements to the downright creepy and dangerous.  What happens time and time again is there is this thread where folks are discussing a specific topic… and then out of the blue some guy will make a comment inappropriately off topic.  Then almost by queue it happened to this very discussion.

objectivization_youpretty I’ve decided to mosaic the information about the person and the participants in the discussion to attempt their anonymity.  Granted you can scroll through my feed and likely find out who this is about, but in truth I don’t think the guy in question meant any real harm by it.  The problem is it was just tragically timed, and interrupting a conversation about objectification.  Essentially he was being the poster child of this thing that everyone was talking about being frustrated about…  IN the discussion about it.  When I called him out on it, he immediately got defensive which is exactly the wrong action to take.  If someone calls you out on something in regards to something that is making another person uncomfortable…  your reaction should be to re-evaluate this action you just took, not to mount a defense against the “slander”.

objectivization_hisdefense After a mountain of back and forth, of Jae and I trying to explain what exactly the transgression was, we get down to the real root of the problem.  He quite literally did not care what the conversation was about, and instead felt the need to chime in with his comment.  There is this ingrained feeling of the divine right to pass judgment on the appearance of others, made worse by the thought that they should do it against the context of the current conversation.  The comment that was made was completely harmless and in the right context would have been perfectly acceptable.  However I have seen this play out time and time again…  Female friend posts a serious topic, and guys below comment about how pretty she is.  Do you not realize just how creepy that seems?  The guy in question apparently did not, and he spent awhile raging that we were picking on him for having a penis, completely missing the point.  My hope is that by posting about this others might think twice  before they interrupt the context of a conversation to essentially objectify the speaker with something completely off topic.

Flamebending for Fun

WoWScrnShot_021715_201626 Last week was a rough week for our raid.  We had several people out with the death flu and as a result quite literally half of our healing corp was absent.  Early in the day on Thursday it sounded like we were not actually going to raid.  After talking to our raid lead, he told me not to worry about rushing home… and instead went out to eat with my wife and ran a few errands.  When I got home they were knee deep in Highmaul and I am uncertain what the final results of it were.  As a result of not raiding since last Tuesday I was looking forward to hopefully getting back into Blackrock Foundry and making some forward momentum.  We started the evening by taking down Hans and Franz.  There are a lot of moving parts in that fight, and some RNG elements…  but ultimately on our third attempt we got our second kill in the books.  My luck with loot in Blackrock was not going to hold however, as I walked away with double gold.

The rest of the evening we spent working on the boss directly after Hans and Franz…  Flamebender Ka’graz.  She essentially is a blademaster, and as we know blademasters are good at two things…  fire based attacks and spinning weapons.  There are a bunch of things going on in the fight, the first is dealing with the placement of her flame slash attacks, which draw giant lines from the boss to the edge of the room and will target players outside of melee range.  The next problem child is two flame wolves that act much the same as Corehounds in that you have to dps them down within a few minutes of each other, otherwise they will re-ignite the other hound.  The last really frustrating attack is that she does a massive room wide fire AOE that players need to stack up for and heal through.  We managed to make some solid progress on her, but for whatever reason could not seem to get all the moving parts together.  On our best try we managed to get her down to around 30% I believe, but the healing on this fight and the placement of objects ends up with us slowly bleeding players until we simply do not have enough to finish the battle.  My hope is with some more research we can come in Thursday and wreck her.

Attempting Neverwinter

GameClient 2015-02-18 06-31-00-46 If you remember a few days ago I had a post talking about the three games that I would like to revisit.  One of them was Neverwinter by Cryptic now Perfect World, so after the raid I fired it up rather than what has become my more recent winding down game…  Guild Wars 2.  All told I played around 45 minutes of the game, and it was roughly how I remembered it.  There are positives about it and negatives…  the most glaring is this feeling that everything you actually want is somehow locked behind a confusing two tier currency system.  You have Astral Diamonds and you have Zen… and the two do very similar functions.  The problem is it feels absolutely arbitrary which currency is used for which thing.  Since I was a preorder I got a large quantity of Astral Diamonds, but it seems like the main function of them is to speed up tasks like training your companion.  All of the useful unlocks and content walls seem to be purchased with Zen.  That whole mess pretty much guarantees that I would never play this game seriously.

What I was surprised by was how fun the actual dungeons were.  Granted I didn’t run a “real” five man dungeon last night, but I did do one of the many lairs that the storyline weaves you in and out of.  The one I completed was some sort of orc barracks, and considerably larger than the ones I remember.  There were no less than three boss fights, and several hidden treasure chests.  The only thing that I really disliked about the gameplay was the fact that health did not regenerate.  It was something that I could get used to, but it is just so against the norm of the games I play normally.  In fact I stood around waiting for awhile waiting before I realized that my health was not coming back at all…  at which point I remembered that I had to use health pots.  Mechanically the game is interesting, but I still have the same opinion.  Elder Scrolls online just does the action combat style better.  That said there is a wealth of player generated content, so more than likely I will be spending my time exploring that.

Games I Want to Revisit

Tomorrow morning is going to be what seems like a frosty one.  So I am once again cheating and writing a blog post the night before I intend on posting it.  I assume in the morning I will need to spend all of my available time scraping windows and warming cars to make sure we can get in safely.  Lately I have been poking my head around Guild Wars 2, a game that I had until Pax South completely written off as “not for me”.  Since then I have reached a point of peace with the game, and actually found that I am enjoying it quite a bit.  So this morning my post will be a revisiting of games that I would like to give a second or third chance.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

swtor 2014-05-05 21-28-00-26 Star Wars: The Old Republic has the dubious honor of being quite possibly the worst possible free to play conversion I have ever experienced.  If I did not know any better, it might be absolutely functional for a new player.  That said having played the game in release and realizing just how gimped the game is without spending a lot of money, infuriates me.  Essentially I cannot bring myself to play this game without actually paying for a subscription.  I have attempted to play this game a few times since release, but never for terribly long.  My last voyage into the game was to try and play a Sith Juggernaut, since I had not really experienced much of the dark side content.  When our guild was actually playing regularly I managed to level a Jedi Guardian, Jedi Shadow, and a Trooper Vanguard…  so yes all three available tanks.  When I finally left the game I was slowly working on leveling my Chiss Smuggler.

Since then they have released several expansions each with their own story extensions.  I feel like maybe I am missing something having not seen any of this content.  That was the one thing above all else that really excelled with The Old Republic, was that the traditional Bioware story was excellent.  This weekend on the podcast we talked a bit about Kodra’s experiences with the smuggler storyline, and I have to say I got those pangs of remorse in my stomach for never having experienced it.  On top of this, there is still so much content Sith side that I have never actually seen.  The problem that I ran into the last time I played was that the questing just felt so repetitive.  These quests are very much World of Warcraft Wrath of the Lich King era in the way they are constructed.  While the storyline itself is excellent, it just felt tiring to keep trying to push through the planets.  Still all of this said… I feel like I should give it another shot.

Lord of the Rings Online

lotro Lord of the Rings Online and I have a strange relationship.  I never actually played this at launch, but during one of my many breaks with World of Warcraft I joined some friends playing it.  There are things I love about this game, and then there are things that frustrate me.  I love the community of this game, almost more than I like the game itself.  Landroval is an amazing place, and there are so many times I find myself wandering around Bree listening to player created concerts rather than actually completing content.  I’ve never been successful at trying to play this game for free, so ultimately I end up subscribing to remove the roadblocks.  There is just so much content that I have yet to experience.  Last time I played I had just made it to the Trollshaws, which I think is in my late 30s.  I greatly enjoy the Champion as far as a class goes, and found it really enjoyable to solo.  Which was super important because I have never really found a stable group playing this game.

I follow so many blog of players devoted to LoTRO and I have to say I feel like somewhat of a failure that I have never had a max level character there.  As such it sits in a unique place as far as regrets go for me.  I am sure I will end up reinstalling this game at some point, and poking my head back there to give it another go.  It has been I think two years since I last tried to play, and since then I am sure quite a bit more content has been released.  The game is full of so many special moments of nostalgia for followers of the book series.  The above picture is from Weathertop, one of these early “oh my god I am actually standing here” moments in these games.  I just wish I could clone myself and play all the games I want to play at the same time.

Neverwinter Online

GameClient 2013-05-07 06-52-12-08 When this game was released I played off and on during the first week… and then never set foot in it again.  The biggest problem I had was that while the game was a good action rpg…  Elder Scrolls Online was simply a better one.  In the weeks since joining open beta for Neverwinter and the ultimate release…  I was let into the double super secret alpha testing program for ESO.  So all of the time and devotion I would have spent playing Neverwinter, I instead poured into the alpha testing program for ESO.  As such I feel like I never really actually gave this game a chance.  I enjoyed the Guardian Fighter quite a bit, and it was an excellent mix of tank and brawler giving me the ability to do damage with my favored sword and shield.  Again the biggest problem is that I was trying to compare it to the Dragonknight Sword and Shield that I was playing in Elder Scrolls Online and Neverwinter just coming up short.

What interests me about potentially going back is the fact that not only is there official content waiting on me, there is an absolutely insane amount of player created content.  My friend Tipa from West Karana blog, has seemingly done an amazing job of recreating some of the nostalgic content from the original Everquest with the Neverwinter foundry toolset.  At some point I really want to go in and experience this first hand.  The biggest thing holding me back is the fact that firstly, I am not really sure if I can remember my account information.  Secondly Perfect World has never given me the warmest of fuzzies, and I’ve always found some of their practices to be a week bit sketchy.  Even taking these into consideration I am sure at some point I will reinstall this game and give it another go.  There is just too much left there to experience that I have not seen at all.

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

Spartan_shield_wall_300

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.

Open Letter to Neverwinter

Okay today you guys are getting a bonus post, because I am at home waiting on the cable to install internet, and for furniture to be delivered.  I was reading my twitter feed and came across something so absolutely ludicrous that I had to comment about it.

2013-05-23 09_59_20-Twitter _ NeverwinterGame_ .@FightinFins #Neverwinter ...

So this is something I had honestly not realized that apparently Neverwinter claims not to be live yet, and that any mistakes they are making are “necessary changes and improvements” before they go live.  Dear Perfect World, you completely fail at the concept of what is an open beta means.

If you…

  1. Have the servers live 24/7
  2. Have stated that there will be no character wipes from this point out
  3. Are actively taking money hand over fist from customers

Then you have a live game. 

You can call it whatever you like, but you are running a live game.  It is not open beta, it is just half launched.  This whole redefinition of what Alpha and Beta means has stuck in my craw lately.  They have stopped meaning anything at all and just been a way for the marketing department to presell the game and get a steady influx of money from curious gamers.  However launching the game and actively taking money from customers… yet still calling it a beta passes some line that has never been crossed.

Anyways, it is still a decent game, and I still stand by my statement that it is probably the best completely free option.  However Perfect World needs to be honest with its verbiage and quit calling it a beta.  This is in no way an open beta, you just soft launched your game.  All that said, I still have not played it again since that opening weekend.  It just lacks the draw to pull me in and make me care about it.  I wish them the best of luck though, I just want them to be honest.

Hazy Shade of Neverwinter

This morning is an absolute paradox.  For some reason I am more exhausted than normal, even though I went to bed last night at roughly 9:30 rather than my usual midnight timeframe.  I am convinced that my body has a sweet spot of 5-6 hours of sleep, and anything over or under causes me to turn into a slug.  I am hoping that as I digest this coffee that its sweet sweet caffeine lifts me out of this slump.

Hazy Shade of Neverwinter

GameClient 2013-05-07 06-52-12-08Last night I really had nothing much going on, and do not have any real grouping options in Rift until tomorrow night, so with all the recent buzz surrounding it I figured I would fire up Neverwinter.  Quite honestly I had not even booted the game since the day it released to the public, and had not actually played the game since before that.  The game is “fun enough”, but for me at least it has lacked whatever spark makes me want to log in and play it.

I had left the game just long enough for the control scheme to feel awkward, but after a few minutes I was back acclimatized.  Unfortunately it is not the kind of game you can play with a cat draped across your chest, or at least not play it successfully.  As a result I didn’t last all that long in the title, before wandering off into something else.  I have been trying to figure out exactly why this game is so lackluster to me, but others are loving it and consuming it completely.

Subscription is not a Barrier

GameClient 2013-05-07 06-53-16-12I think I finally landed upon a nugget of thought.  A subscription fee for an MMO has never been a barrier, or something that honestly gave me pause.  Sure it did, when I first started playing these titles back with Everquest…  but now that I am used to paying to play it is just one of those things I have come to expect from online gaming.  For a whole segment of the gaming world, the subscription and box fees are real barriers to getting into the game and enjoying it.

As a result I am maybe somewhat falsely comparing Neverwinter to what has now become “premium” subscription games, or even “buy the box” titles.  The real competitors with Neverwinter are the completely free games like Runes of Magic, that you can sign up on a website, download the client and never actually be forced to buy anything.  When you narrow the scope down to only paying attention to the “absolutely free” games… it becomes super impressive.

No Egregious Pay Walls

GameClient 2013-05-07 06-52-35-72What Neverwinter seems to give the player for nothing, is an extremely fluid experience with well crafted storyline, relatively solid classes, and no egregious pay walls restricting your field of play.  You can get in and do essentially everything there is to do right now without obstacles standing in your way.  Basically the game has taken a completely different approach to the free to play genre, in that it gives you a carrot instead of a stick.  Namely that all of the options seem to give you something quicker, better or shinier for your coin rather than locking you out of functionalities.

I think this is the aspect of the game I have been missing all along when I played it or attempted to review it.  I still do not think free to play is the “one true payment model”, but I think what Neverwinter is doing is a more equitable model than we have seen to date.  The only problem is, the game introduces large swaths of “pay to win”, which is a concept that western audiences have claimed they do not want.  But this is exactly what Neverwinter seems to be delivering, the ability to purchase astral diamonds and get nice gear in the process.

To Infinity Steppes and Beyond

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As I said earlier, I really did not spend a lot of time last night in Neverwinter.  I had a cat that was trying to “aggressively snuggle” and quite honestly the game just leaves me nonplussed overall.  I logged back into familiar and happy Rift to work a bit on the Steppes of Infinity.  Earlier in the weekend I had unlocked the daily quest content in Ashora, which is good for at least 10 plat per day for some really easy questing.  I had hoped to do the same out in the Steppes for maybe an easy 20+ plat per day.

The quest chain overall was far harder to solo than the one in Ashora, and involved a relatively difficult boss fight.  I truly do mean a boss, because it uses all the same kind of tactics that the bosses do in dungeons.  While this was nowhere near the difficulty of the Gatekeeper fight in The Secret World, I feel like it would definitely give a similar “right of passage” feel for Rift, based on the level 60 boss encounters I have experiences in dungeons.  The quest chain as a whole sets the player up for what to expect from later game content in general.

All this while I am struggling to stay awake, because after the weekend we had I was just exhausted all day yesterday.  Before I gave in to sleep however, I was able to finish out gathering the 300 plat for my 130% speed mount.  I wound up getting the Grey Ursin, because of the non-armored varieties I felt that was the nicest.  Above is a quick picture I snapped before finally falling asleep of me on the new mount.  Unfortunately I mostly purchased the mount for the overall mount speed boost… and am likely to never ride it.  I like my Hellbug, White Tiger and Flaming Horse far too much to ride the angry looking bear.

Needing to wrap up once again, as I am out of coffee and need to consider moving onwards to work.  I will be in training all day which will be the opposite of fun.  I hope you all have an amazing day out there.  I am going to work on not falling asleep in a boring training presentation.

Wukong is super annoying

Yesterday more than mildly sucked.  While I was blogging in the morning, just after posting it… I managed to stub my toe hard enough on something sharp under my desk… that it caused a chunk of my toenail to chip off and a little bout of excessive bleeding.  After that my stomach pretty much bothered me all day long, and I tagged out of work around noon.  I worked remotely the rest of the day trying to catch up and prepare for big releases on Thursday and Saturday.

Escapist Thwarted

All of this, combined with trying to come up with a new way to circumvent my ninja ferret caused me to get a later than normal start on evening relaxation time.  On the ferret note, our current solution seems to be working… and I am breathing at least a minor sigh of relief.  We have a drop ceiling in our kitchen, circa 1980, with those massive semi-opaque sheets of plastic covering fluorescent lighting.  Over the years the 1980s plastic has fallen apart, and we have had to replace them on a piecemeal basis.

We had just finished doing this, and still had the leftover bits in the kitchen when a stroke of brilliance hit.  Basically Miss Bellatrix is getting out by climbing the corner with the litter box.  We surmised that if she did not have a foothold, she couldn’t get out.  So essentially we have taken two sheets of this plastic covering and clipped it onto the wire with binder clips from the backside, so that it presents a sheer face for her to try and climb.

Based on last night, and the fact we left her out over night as an experiment…  and she is still pouncing around the playpen this morning…  I would say the experiment worked.  The funny thing is, I think she just tries to escape out of boredom.  She sleeps far less than the other two ferrets, and when she has gotten out she tried to crawl up into bed with us. 

My theory was that she was bored and looking for someone to play with… she often tries to wake the other two ferrets up to play.  So the whole escape thing is kind of adorable… but something we had to nip in the bud, because our house is just too dangerous for her.  We have an open living room, that spans 2 stories, and a second floor balcony that overlooks it.  It is just too likely that she will wander up there and try and take a swan dive off.

Freljord Rising

 

Yesterday was a big day for new content releases.  In Everquest 2 you had the Game Update 66 launch, and with it the launch of the Cobalt Scar area.  Neverwinter Online of course launched to the public, and has been riddled with issues at least with the patcher.  Early in the evening I decided to fire up the client and log in, and was greeted by a roughly 8000 player queue.  So it appears that the launch is at least popular, but then again most MMO launches are. 

The content launch I ended up playing last night however is League of Legends and its patch 3.6.  The big event with the patch is a massive re-ordering of the champion lore in Freljord and the release of a brand new champion…  Lissandra The Ice Witch.  I would highly suggest watching the above video if you are interested, but the basics are that the Freljord is now divided into three warring clans:  The Avarosans lead by Ashe, The Winter’s Claw lead by Sejuani and the Frostguard lead by Lissandra.

With the focus on Freljord and its lore, this week all of the free rotation champions are somehow connected to this effort.  With it, there is a much more sweeping sale going on in the store, with ALL Freljord champions costing both reduced RP and IP.  Additionally there are some nifty new skins available, my personal favorite is Runeguard Volibear.  I already really liked playing Voli, but this skin just makes him look even more badass.

Sucking Less

It was pretty late by the time I had gotten around to actually doing much of anything, and since I had not played League for roughly a week… I decided to join in the festivities there.  While waiting on our group to filter into mumble, we decided to do a little 2 v 2 “Murder Bridge” aka Howling Abyss.  To be extra griefy…  Tam decided to set us up for a random champions match.  By the artwork above you can see that I got stuck with NuNu.  What essentially happened is two players got champions they were familiar and decent with, and two completely random picks they had never played.

Making it even more hilarious was the fact that we ended up with four melee champions.  The teams broke down like this:  Myself playing Nunu and Drathis playing Tryndamere against Tam playing Warwick and Ashgar playing Udyr.  My big takeaway from playing Nunu is that his frostbolt is without a doubt one of the most griefy pokes I have seen in the game, especially on a map that includes nothing but melee that have no solid ways of closing the gap. 

We lost rather spectacularly in part because Drathis ended up spending most of the map pretty underfed, which as a carry caused him never quite to reach his potential.  Also…  Ashgar is really really good at Udyr, a champion he was super familiar with and rather skilled.  It was hilarious for Tam and I however, because really Nunu and Warwick are much much not our kind of champions… much laughing ensued.

Wukong is super annoying

After our quick murder bridge, we somehow jumped from four players online to eight and decided to do a 4v4 Summoners Rift.  After the ickyness of playing Nunu, a champion that I absolutely hate when playing against him… I decided to climb back into the warmth of what has become my favorite champion…  Wukong.  When playing against each other, it is always interesting.  Some of us, Rae especially, seem to have a problem killing friends, and you can almost hear her audibly cringe each time she does it.  Others like Ashgar and I seem to set up and develop a friendly rivalry, which unfortunately causes us to deathmatch more than we should.

Another thing I am learning, is that apparently I am super annoying playing Wukong.  Ashgar and I both ended up as solo tops, which pitted Wukong against Fizz…  both of which are super bursty and super pouncy champions.  For the most part we traded blows back and forth, but once I had gotten fed I seemed to start winning these little battles.  Apparently my Ultimate ability is super overpowered, and after a few interludes where I went through the jungle to help out in another lane…  it seemed my dear friends started hunting for me.

At one point they boxed me in, as two came down from base and the other two came from the river and completely wrecked me.  It is funny to listen to your friends reacting to the decoy ability, and finding out that it is not the real you they just killed.  I have to say if I were up against Wukong I would probably focus fire him as well.  The game felt like a tale of two games, the first when I was super fed and able to pick off players with impunity, and the second when said players realized what was going on and started gunning for me.

Champion Testing

After the mega 4v4 battle, we had a few more players filter off and we fired up a Summoner’s Rift vs bots to test out various champions folks had wanted to play.  I got to play Olaf, which I played extremely differently than I expected…  but was really enjoyable nonetheless.  In addition, I finally got to play Mordekaiser, which is NOT as fun as he looks… and most definitely not a “Belghast” champion.  I think I could get used to him, but I feel like I need to do a lot of reading first.

Was a fun evening all around, and I got to play several characters that I had never played before.  I am of mixed opinions on my Nunu experience, I was told by my friends that I played him pretty effectively, but overall it just felt so odd to me.  He also feels like one of the most griefy champions I have seen, with the frost ball and his ultimate…  so many ways to slow the player and do large amounts of damage to them in the process.  I could see maybe picking him up and trying him again.

If you aren’t regularly playing, I highly suggest you hop in during the Freljord launch event.  There is a much better assortment of killer champions in the free rotation this week than normal.  Or at least, there are more champions I was wanting to play, and most of them on a significant sale.  If you’ve made it this far in the post, I hope you guys continue having an awesome week.  Today is a super stressful day for me, delivering my mobile web roadmap, so hopefully that will go well.  More than anything, I think the document is designed to be big, and sit on a table during the meeting saying “look we thought about this shit”.

Loot Box Strikes Back

Here we go with day three of the experiment.  I just got out of the house, picked up breakfast and now I am settling in to a blog post.  Yesterday was pretty pitiful as days go, in that it either rained or was dreary all day.  Was the type of day that just makes you want to lay down on the couch and take a nap…  which my wife did in fact do at one point.  I on the other hand rotated between my laptop downstairs and my gaming rig upstairs playing pretty much non-stop games.

The Waiting Game

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If you read my posts yesterday, you will at least know that I played a good deal of Neverwinter.  However the game did not open up to us folks unwilling to pay the “Drizzt Tax” until later in the day.  So for a good couple hours in the morning I was back in Rift smashing through baddies.  I am still completely taken aback by how big of a difference the spec change made.  Previously I was a Paladin/Warlord/Paragon spec weighted in that order, and the PkuDude99 spec is mostly Warlord with some Champion and Paragon as a zero point tree.

I have always leaned on Paladin like a crutch, because it offered so many cool things… like some measure of healing and stuns.  However it seems like Paladin has either been nerfed into oblivion since I last played… or is not working as intended.  I had a lot of the same talents already in Warlord, so in essence all the spec does is drop paladin and swap in the Champion DPS tree.  That change basically took the game from borderline unplayable, to extremely fun.

I’ve always loved Trion, and to some extent I have kept my account open as a way of supporting the company.  Since release two years ago, there has maybe been a 3 month stretch where I did not have an active account.  I really believe in them as a company, because they have done some truly amazing things.  However showing up and playing every now and then, without following every single patch note leads to the ability to create some potentially broken characters. 

I almost feel like the spec system is too complicated, but in the end right now for this very moment, and for as long as PkuDude99 keeps the forum thread updated…  I am happy.  I’m roughly halfway through 58 now, so at some point on the horizon I will have to begin shopping for a dps spec as well.  As much as I love to tank, I really don’t like doing so for pugs.  So I am resigned to play DPS roles at least until Alea Iacta Est picks up again, and we can get some guild groups going.

Neverwinter is coming

2013-04-27 22_40_14-GreenshotSo yesterday I broke the pattern and posted a big massive review post about Neverwinter Online.  I had a few friends asking me my take on the game, so I spent a few hours compiling the post and threw it up there.  As a result I have robbed myself of a lot of what I had to say about the game for todays post.  I am still apparently enjoying myself since I pretty much played the game from noon yesterday till around midnight.  I can’t remember if I managed to ding 16 before I logged last night, but if not I am pretty close.

I managed to find my happy slaughtery spot last night in the tower district.  I wandered around there aimlessly not paying attention to my quests, charging into packs of orcs and ogres with glee.  When I can ignore the objectives of a game, and just play it… this tells me it is succeeding at bringing me into its mechanics.  From my level I would say it has succeeded… since my friends who were doing the same content are only 12.  That accounts for a large number of ogre kills along the way.

Loot Box Strikes Back

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Yesterday in my review I talked about the cash shop system, and the loot boxes.  By level 9 I had seen my very first one, and when they drop they are rather hard to miss… as a huge glitzy gold treasure chest appears on the ground.  By the time I had hit 15, I had gotten 13 of these loot boxes.  So like I always do, I bent under the curiosity of what magical stuff might be in them.  The above image is of an epic quality companion that I was able to pull from the boxes.  So far it is pretty awesome, and does this fire AOE dive bomb attack on the mobs.

The other ones I have opened have mostly just had runestone/enchantment bundles, so that appears to be the common loot.  Like I said yesterday, the system is pretty nice in that you are always going to be getting 10 trade bars regardless that can eventually be saved up for the more desirable items.  I want to say the cheapest of these items was around 150 bars, so in opening 15 boxes you would at least be guaranteed the ability to purchase that.

Farmville with Swords

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So while the lockbox system does not seem terribly egregious yet, the crafting system more than makes up for it.  They apparently expect us to be crafting while at the grocery store, shopping mall and work, since they have given us a web interface, and no actual way to craft while in game.  This would be great other than the fact that it completely relies on materials you acquire as drops, or purchase from an in game reagent vendor.  The first thing I had to do, upon connecting to the web interface was to log in and immediately stock up on the various vendor bought reagents.

Basically the system revolves around training hirelings to do your work for you.  You have miners and various sundry artisans that will toil away on items for your needs.  The biggest problem I saw, was that nothing they could actually make was of any use to me.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine with crafting systems in general, I should be able to craft gear for myself as I level through them.  This one appears to be exclusively relegated to something you will use to make gear for your alts later on, because even if I had started doing this immediately… the “white” gear that you can make would be useless next to the “green” drops I was getting.

Time Sinks

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2013-04-27 15_41_39-GreenshotThe other component that is fairly egregious to me, is the fact that it is ungodly time consuming.  Not as in you sitting at the keyboard mashing buttons, but you setting something up to go and it literally taking several hours to complete.  This is going to be how they get us to buy lots and lots of Astral Diamonds.  You will be seeing the window above a lot if you intend to craft much.  Last night before going to bed, I had set the system to hire an additional miner.  The game UI said it would take 17 hours to finish, yes that is in fact seventeen real hours.  This morning when taking these screenshots, I still had over 7 hours left, but could rush the order for only 39,691 Astral Diamonds.

This logic permeates the game as a whole, with so many functions like leveling up your companions, tied to real world timers.  I believe there is also a timer associated with instance queues, that can be bypassed by just spending some astral diamonds.  I am not 100% certain about this, but I do know on my map there are several timers constantly in motion.  Every time I have seen a timer in the game so far there has been some way to speed it up by spending Astral Diamonds.  Usually the timers start out minimal, like the first time I leveled one of my companions it was only a couple of minutes.  Now it is 15-20 minutes each time I need to send my companion off to train.

I realize that the game needs to make money in order to support itself.  I have ranted at length before about “digital freeloaders” expecting to be able to play these games without ever dropping a dime on them.  However I just wish they would disguise it a bit more.  Playing Neverwinter at times, feels like a trip to Disney World, where everything is happy and shiny… but has a hidden price associated with it.  I guess this is the ultimate evolution of the term “Amusement Park” gaming.  I just wish the entire process didn’t have to feel quite so dirty.

The Sun is Coming Out

I’m hoping as the day goes on it will warm up outside.  Right now as I have just spent an hour and a half writing this up, it feels like it is starting to.  When I went out to get breakfast it was nice and sunny out already, but still 50 degrees.  It is my hope that we can get out and around today, maybe take some photos but at the very least go do something.  I never thought I would said that I want to do something other than gaming, but since becoming more active… I start to get twitchy when I sit in one spot too long.

If you’ve managed to make it this far in the post… I wish you the best of days, and hopefully you can get whatever you intended to get done this weekend.  My hope is that we go wandering and find something interesting to look at in the process.  Have a great day.

The Neverwinter Edition

Neverwinter nights is a game that I have been watching off and on since I first heard it announced.  It has kinda just existed out there in the ether, as something I knew was on the horizon, but not necessarily something that I was overly hyped with.  I think to some extent, a part of me has decided that while Dungeons and Dragons is an amazing pen and paper game system…  that something is lost in translation when it is “mmo-ified”.

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I missed out on getting my invite to beta testing through the Torchlight II preorder program.  So when they started offering the various flavors of founders packs I decided that I would go ahead and pick up the $60 Guardian of Neverwinter pack.  At the time I felt like a bit of a sucker, but at least it was nowhere near the “I want to play as Drizzt” pack for $200.  Since god is cruel, I had a friend offer me an alpha invite a few weeks later.

Alpha, Beta and Pre-Release

2013-04-27 18_14_24-GreenshotFirstly let me take this moment to complain a little bit about how absolutely silly it is to be inviting players to an “Alpha” when there are some pretty public “Beta” events going on.  I could almost see calling something an Alpha, if it was an always on “test our broke shit” version of the game.  However for the most part the Alpha server was sitting at the exact same version as the public beta weekends.  But semantics aside, it did let me play a lot of this game prior to the current wind up to the public free to play release.

The game is this weird dichotomy.  It is enjoyable, and does a much better version of “making D&D fun as a video game” than Dungeons and Dragons Online did.  Being an “Action MMO”, it does a really good job of giving you the abilities that you actually need at your fingertips without having to stray too far off the WASD.  Your primary and secondary attacks are bound to your left and right mouse buttons. Your key class special abilities are bound to Q and E with looting/interaction bound to F. 

Essentially this makes combat feel extremely fluid as you aren’t really having to think much about the abilities you are hitting.  As always I have been playing the “Tank” character, in the Guardian Warrior.  Shift becomes your way to block incoming attacks and reduce your damage.  Playing the character, feels a lot like playing a WoW Warrior with much more predictable and intuitive combat.  I still ping pong around the map like I do in WoW or Rift, but I am also swinging my sword instead of watching ability timers.

Savior of Sleeping Dragon Bridge

2013-04-27 13_15_20-GreenshotThe storyline is very much what you would expect from a Neverwinter game.  Some big bad person is trying to lay waste to the city, and all of the internal factions are fighting over the rubble.  This has been pretty much the base storyline of every Neverwinter game so far save for maybe the AOL original…  quite honestly I can’t remember much about that game rather than being amazed I could play it online!  The questing system works extremely well, you use your interact key to talk to NPCs, open boxes, flip levers and generally move through the process.  All of the NPCs are voiced, and while the dialog comes off as stilted at times it is definitely better than most free to play titles.

One off the things I really like is just how streamlined the questing is, and how you do not have to use your mouse at all of you do not want to.  To interact with an NPC, you hold the F key, then every option on the screen has a clearly labeled number associated with it.  If you REALLY want to skip through the dialog, most of the times you can just press 1, 1, 1, 1 until you are out of the options.  Another thing I kinda dig is the fact that the speech continues even if you are out of range with the NPC.  I know that might sound a little odd, but you can accept a quest and move along your way and still be listening to the quest intro.

Cash Box Rising

nightmare_boxI’ve played roughly as far as I have gotten during testing.  I’ve put in a couple of hours playing the Guardian, and now sit at level 10.  It was about level 9 when my old foe raised its ugly head.  For those who are not familiar with the term “Cash Box”, it essentially a way of gambling in an MMO.  You are given a box in lieu of loot that cannot be opened unless you purchase a special key from the in game store.  This concept is massively popular in the various Asian Free to Play MMOs, and with Guild Wars 2 and SWTOR has been invading the more mainstream MMOs.

They can be pretty banal like the three free game tickets you get a month in Everquest 2, to extremely heinous like the hundreds and hundreds of items that can only be gotten through the 5 and 10 dollar cash boxes in SWTOR.  Overall I have to say the ones in Neverwinter seem to be some of the most equitable.  They do something that I first saw in EQ2, essentially every box contains an amount of currency, in this case Tarmalune bars.  This currency can be then saved up and turned in to buy outright the various items contained in the box including the signature Armored Nightmare mount.

Currency System

You can purchase one of the keys for 125 Zen, which appears to be the universal currency for all Perfect World games.  However it was super unclear exactly what one of these keys cost me in actual money.  Neverwinter has a dual currency system, that I do not fully understand, but essentially you have Zen the Perfect World universal currency and Astral Diamonds which appears to be a game specific currency.  After looking up conversion rates, it appears that 1 Zen directly equals 1 Cent.  So the 125 Zen key is $1.25, which places it considerably cheaper than the loot boxes from Guild Wars 2, SWTOR, and I believe LOTRO as well.

It seems like you can purchase the cash boxes themselves from the Astral Diamond vendor for 200 diamonds.  There appears to be some sort of exchange rate letting you trade Diamonds for Zen and Zen for Diamonds.  But honestly I suck at markets in general and have not been able to figure this one out.  From what I understand, the Astral Diamonds are essentially the same thing as Dilithium is in Star Trek Online, so potentially the folks that play that will immediately “grok” what all this means.  Needless to say I find the whole process extremely confusing, and I have 600,000 Astral Diamonds that came with the starter pack that I have no clue what I can actually do with them.

The Drizzt Tax

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Today was really the true head start for the game.  Sure the folks that played the “Drizzt Tax” have been able to play for some time now, and I promise I am not trying to be excessively cute because if you look at the above image.. we have a Drizzt sighting already.  So far the servers are doing fairly well for the increased load.  I’ve rolled on the Mindflayer server, because seriously… Ithilids are hands down the coolest thing to ever come out of the D&D Monsters Manual.  While there are pockets of lag and rubber banding (classic cryptic network code issue), it has been fairly stable.

I’ve not experienced any rollback, or loot issues and for the most part I have been able to quest my way through the game smoothly.  This was definitely not the case at times in alpha/beta testing, so it appears they have reworked whatever was causing the instabilities.  My only fear is that since we are already seeing lag and rubber banding before the official launch, will it actually be playable on the 30th?  I am hoping they have ordered up additional hardware for the launch that will stabilize some of these issues.

The Not so Shining

This will not be one of my “Best Game Ever” posts as Kadomi likes to call them, but all in all the game is not bad.  There are definitely some less than stellar moments with the game.  The graphics overall are nothing to write home about.  The models while a massive upgrade from the WoW generation, still fall down when compared to the current crop of MMOs.  This gives the game an almost retro feel at times, and there are certain moments where it reminds me of Lord of the Rings Online.  There are definitely moments where the game looks great, but most of those moments are deeply augmented by a lot of post-fx and bloom going on behind the scenes.

The biggest issues I have noticed so far however are with the sound system.  There will be times where I go through an entire fight without hearing any fight sound effects.  Other times they will come through far louder than they should, and slightly offset from the action.  I’ve also experienced dead spots in the ambient soundtrack that seem to come and go without explanation.  Hopefully these are lag caused, and over time they will go away, but they can lead to a fairly disjointed experience at times.  They are nothing that cannot be looked past, but definitely not what I expect from a game that went through as long of a alpha/beta process as this one has.

Was it Worth It?

gear_itemsSo since I have paid 60 bucks for the privilege of being able to play the game early, ultimately you have to ask yourself whether or not it was worth it.  Had you asked me that question last week, I would have said no, and that had I been able to get a refund I would have.  I was basically at the same place with Neverwinter that I have been with Defiance.  I had played enough of the game in testing, to decide that the game really wasn’t worth spending much money on.

However after the head start today, and seeing all the doodads and widgets I got…  I am starting to turn the corner to feeling that the whole process is worth it.  Essentially for my 60 dollars I got two extremely powerful items that have made the leveling process go extremely smoothly.  Having not played the game, it would be hard to look at the items on the right hand side and glean just what that means.  Basically those two items, can be used at level 1, and are essentially equivalent to level 15 or higher blues.

I went from taking 3 hits to bring down a minion type mob, to being able to one-shot them upon just equipping them.  Sure this is essentially play to win, which gets into all sorts of ramifications.  But when you play a game with a cash shop, you are ultimately going to get into pay to win territory.  I am sure by level 20, that both items will be completely useless, but starting out they are an amazing boost in damage and survivability.

horse_wolfIn addition to these you get a really cool dire wolf companion at level one.  I was totally expecting this to be a cosmetic pet that followed me around, like every other game preorder.  In essence, what this really is is a mercenary that follows you around and fights for you.  Granted it has without a doubt some of the worst pathing I have ever seen in any game, but just having an extra set of attacks lets you breeze through most elite type mobs.  Combine this with getting a nice looking horse as soon as you ding 20, I definitely think it was worth the purchase.

Not Amazing, But Still Fun

This game is not going to inspire epic ballads, or be the catalyst of a social revolution, but it is fairly fun to play.  While it has some definite rough spots, the more I play it the more I enjoy it.  The combat is fun, and fluid enough to let you move through the game without really thinking bout what you are doing.  In an action game, this is what I look for, the ability to just zone out and kill lots of things along the way.  The game doesn’t feel as polished as say Skyrim, but the game doesn’t really get in the way of the combat fun.

For me it fills the same place that Guild Wars 2 does.  It will never be my primary MMO, but it is a fun change from one of the more traditional experiences.  Since there is no monthly subscription, it should support a nomadic play style like mine.  Launching with foundry content, basically means that there will always be a fresh flow of user generated dungeons to keep players busy.  The real challenge will be whether or not that is enough to hold players attention once they have maxed out.

Since they have a class marked as “coming soon”, it is my hope that they will release a fairly regular flow of new races and classes as DLC to keep the game fresh.  It is also my hope that they will sell the Drow ouside of the founders pack.  Drow/Dunmer are literally the only Elves I like, but there is no way in hell they are worth $200 to me to be able to play one. 

For now, it will definitely be something I put in my regular rotation of games.  I personally think that it is worth it to go ahead and purchase the 60 dollar pack and get access before the 30th.  It is definitely worth playing once it goes fully free to play.  I realize this is not the most glowing review I have ever given a game, but I feel that in spite of its short comings here and there it is a good experience overall.

If you’ve made it this far in the post, you can find me over on the Mindflayer server.  Add @BelghastStern to your friends list and say hi.  I don’t have a guild up and running, since this is another system where you have to gather up a full party of people and all go to the guild vendor at the same time.  But hopefully in the coming weeks I will have a version of House Stalwart going.  I am sure the Stalwarts will be giving this one a spin, since the cost of entry is next to nothing.