SkyForge Impressions

Recreating Belghast

SkyForge_BelvsBel Skyforge is one of those games that I have consistently been unable to decide if I am interested in.  There are certain aspects of the game that I really like, but then again there are certain aspects that I am really uncertain of.  [Edit] Having to rewrite a chunk of this real quick because I was under the false impression that this game was from a Korean publisher.  I guess this is primarily a Russian game with the assistance of Obsidian an American company.  I guess this explains why I could easily create a character I liked when I have so much trouble doing this in most Korean MMOs. [UnEdit] So I was pleasantly surprised that I could create “Belghast” or at least a reasonable facsimile.  In the above comparison you can see the traditional old school “WoW Bel” against what I was able to create using Skyforge, and I am pretty happy honestly with the look and feel.

SkyForge_WeirdManTouchingMe Last night I spent some time streaming my first few adventures into the game, and as such did not take a lot of screenshots.  The result is you are going to end up with a lot of screen captures from my stream that include my little chat blocker box thingy.  As the weird little man that is touching my face asked me what I think…  that is ultimately going to be my mission this morning.  I can’t really call it a review, since I have not spent more than a couple of hours playing it.  I can however talk about my thoughts.  There have been so many times I have missed out on a games open beta period only to kick myself later when I start to get interested in the game.  Similarly there have been many games that I bought my way into… only to find out later that I didn’t really care for the game at all.  Even though I am still very much engrossed in Final Fantasy XIV and spent about four hours playing that last night AFTER my foray into Skyforge, I felt I owed it to myself to give the game a test drive.  Similarly if you are on the fence and looking to my article to give you some guidance… I highly suggest you just try the game yourself while it is free.

The Setting

SkyForge_MoreQuestText For those who have been around MMOs for awhile, you will remember a game that was discarded somewhere along the way called Imperator.  Mythic games had originally planned on building its “Rome in Outer Space” title but quickly dropped the title when they got the license for Warhammer Online.  After playing a little Skyforge I seriously wonder if someone from that original Imperator team rebooting this idea over at either Obsidian or Allods.  Imperator_CollesiumThere are only a few screenshots from the original Imperator team around, but to the right is one of the more interesting ones.  From what I have seen of the world of Skyforge, it very much shares the same look and feel of a “Rome in Space” concept.  To carry this even further the enemies and their leaders have a very “ancient egyptian” feel to them, which makes me wonder if we are going to see a lot more of these “high tech ancient  civilizations” concept as we get deeper into the game.

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-07-54-37 The game does a decent job of setting up the story of how you came to have the powers you do and setting up a reason for why you can die multiple times and keep respawning.  Your character is an Immortal, and just like in Highlander your powers do not manifest until you have died the first time.  The introduction to the game is the story of how you died during what turned out to be a suicide mission.  One of the interesting things about the game is that you play a fully armored character during the introduction and then choose your appearance later as you are telling your tale.  While I may have missed it, it did not seem like I had a way to change my gender during this introduction.  So I am wondering if that means that quite literally everyone is “male by default” until you get back to base and choose your gender and appearance.  This did not bother me on a personal level, but I could absolutely see how this would really be a sticking point for some folks and rightly so.  As you can see from the screenshots… the world is absolutely gorgeous and every little aspect of it feels highly detailed.

The Paladin

SkyForge_PaladinShield Since I tend to always play tanks in MMOs… I opted to roll the paladin.  I am not sure if EVERYONE starts as one of three classes, or if this is just limited to the Open Beta, but I was limited to a choice of Paladin, Cryomancer and Lightbinder.  These represent the tank, dps and healer essentially, and this is a game much like Final Fantasy XIV where you can swap your class at any given time.  Unfortunately the Paladin is the only one of the starter classes that I have any interest in…  there are really three classes in this game that interest me and that is the Paladin, Knight and Berserker.  Now we are going to start delving into some of the negatives.  Combat is similar to Neverwinter Nights which in itself is not bad.  Essentially it is a combination of mouse clicks augmented by abilities you cast off keys around your WASD and numeric keys that tend to have long recast times.  It uses a system similar to TERA in that your secondary mouse button is a variable combo ability.

SkyForge_PaladinSpinAttack As a Paladin my combos offered an impressive 360 degree whirl attack that you can see above, a single target lightning bolt, and a frontal cone slash attack.  The problem being is that the combo system seemed to have a mind of its own.  In Tera it related to a certain number of clicks… in Skyforge it seems to be tied somehow to your character animation.  As a result I found it really hard to predict when I could hit a specific attack and always seemed to have the wrong ability available as my combo attack at the wrong time.  Now this combo tree is something you can fiddle with freely and maybe given some time I could sort out how best to use it.  However it gives the combat interaction a bit of a “sloppy” feel to its design.  I find myself greatly preferring the ability to press a unique button for each attack rather than allow the game to sort all of that out for me.  I know at least if I press the button, an ability will fire…  instead here it felt more like the game was playing for me sometimes and I was simply mashing the attack buttons blindly.

SkyForge_PaladinFinisher I feel like all of the attacks were designed to look and feel impressive.  For example the above screenshot is of me executing my finisher, that shows up when the mob is low on heath and there is a pop up window telling me to hit E to use it.  It involves me throwing the mob up into the air and then a bolt of lightning or holy power or whatever it is that Paladins care about striking them back down to the ground.  Again this felt like something I had to freaking mash E for whenever the mob was getting close to being low enough to use it… because my main attack seemed to run away with itself and I would get locked in a combat animation that seemed to be of variable length.  The thing I keep coming back to is that maybe this game feels significantly better when played with a controller than with a mouse and keyboard.  I need to sort through the settings and see if it supports my Xbox 360 controller because this might be an awesome offering to the console market more so than it is to the PC one.

My Impressions

SkyForge_PaladinCharge Like I said at the start of this I have really not spent much time playing the game at this point.  I got in yesterday morning and last night, and between those two play sessions I have completed two of the small instanced missions.  After the second mission I went back to the main hub and got yet another one… and then decided that I was not really having enough fun to keep playing that night.  That is a bad sign, for me personally.  I love combat and combat missions, and if a game wants to throw me at kill X things… I generally eat them up like warm cobbler covered in ice cream.  The problem is… I just found the combat boring and repetitive.  I feel like maybe I am not grasping the “master plan” to its design but it really felt like I had to wail away at random with abilities and mash my shield whenever it was up to keep from taking damage.  It really did not feel like there was much structure to the flailing about, and I found this frustrating especially compared to say the Cryomancer that I watched Jabberant play that seemed to have lots of strategy to it.  It could just be a side effect of my being used to Final Fantasy XIV where every single key press feels like it has some importance behind it.

I’ve embedded my play session from last night so that you can see how the game looks and feels while moving through combat.  I am not giving up on this game quite yet, but I will say my first day of play was “strike one”.  Maybe it feels better as I go along, but I have a feeling that pretty much all of this game is going to be a Lobby/Instance approach with no real “open world” to go exploring.  I might be wrong, and maybe I just have not seen “leveling zones” yet but the whole thing feels a lot like the way DDO did content, mixed with the combat styling of Neverwinter Nights.  All of this said, since you can get in now for free and give it a spin… then I suggest you try it out for yourself.  Maybe you will find it a refreshing experience, and not the boring and repetitive one that I found.  Maybe I was simply in the wrong mindset, because yesterday was a really long day.  In any case I am going to give it a few more shots this weekend to see if it does anything for me.  Sometimes games take a bit for me to enjoy, and this might be one of those.  In any case I am happy I gave it a shot before “buying in”.  So far the verdict is pretty mixed, but I wanted to at least put my thoughts to paper for anyone who might be interested in them.

Games I’m Not Playing

Too Many Games

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-26-06-26 Right now I am suffering from a problem, in that there are just too many games that I want to be playing and simply not enough time in any combination of lifetimes to actually play them.  Last night I downloaded and installed Skyforge, and gave it a quick spin this morning… and as interesting as it seems I just don’t know when exactly I am going to fit it in.  For the first time in years I have been relatively monogamistic in my gaming, and with the dropping of World of Warcraft I pretty much have all of my focus on Final Fantasy XIV.  Last night I ran dungeons with the guild and after doing my hunts managed to push my Dragoon to 56.  As a result the desire to get that job to 60 is real, because I desperately want to be able to fill more than one roll when it comes to grouping.

By the same token I really would like to give some time to Skyforge so that I can give it a shot for free, before plunking down any money on it.  I watched a bit of the MMO Show stream the other day as Jabberant played the game and I have to admit it peaked my interests.  Playing this morning it feels like a better version of Neverwinter, because the janky control scheme of that game was always a major detractor.  So now I get to juggle competing desires and figure out how to spend my weekend.  So this morning I thought I would write about the games that I am wanting to play but just can’t seem to find adequate time to devote to them.

Star Wars the Old Republic

swtor 2013-08-13 23-38-38-65 I have this strong desire to go back and experience the storyline that I have not yet.  Essentially I have not really played my main in this game, a Jedi Guardian… since launch.  Each time I go back I always end up playing alts because I am finding it really hard to get back into the swing of playing a level 50 character.  I know there have been numerous expansions since launch, each with their own storyline content… and I am struggling to get back into the swing of doing it.  Instead I mostly spend time playing my Light Side Sith Warrior, who has been stuck in the hell hole of Balmorra for at least two years.  So one of my gaming regrets is that I have not figured out how to make progress on my main and see the Makeb and beyond storyline.  Additionally I have this nasty habit of paying for a month, and then playing one day and never returning to it.  I’ve gone through this sequence at least a half dozen times since we left this game.  The draw of Final Fantasy XIV is always too strong to keep me playing there for long.

Wildstar

WildStar64 2015-06-06 17-47-43-40 On my second attempt at playing this game I reached a point where I really was enjoying what I was doing.  In fact there was a stretch prior to the launch of Heavensward where I was playing this one more than just about any other game.  I have an awesome group of friends in this game and I love the Black Dagger Society guild that I am in.  I had a blast roaming around the zones and taking down world bosses with them on a few occasions.  For whatever reason however I am just not logging in right now.  Once again the draw of Final Fantasy XIV is too strong, and maybe I just love our guild there too much.  This is on the list of games I absolutely want to keep returning to, but I doubt I will until a bit more of the shiny has warn off from Heavensward.  Right now I am in this push to reach a point where I have multiple useful jobs to help people with, and I think until I get there I won’t be happy playing much else.

The Secret World

TheSecretWorld 2012-08-07 20-41-26-17 I am woefully behind in my Secret World content, because the last update I think I played was the whole “Last Train to Cairo” sequence.  I know there have been multiple updates since then but I am just not logging in and playing them.  There are problems I have with this game that preclude me from really digging into the end game content.  However I have loved all of the story mission content that I have played and I keep meaning to poke my head in and do them.  I’m a life time subscriber, and I should have tons of goodies waiting on me… but generally speaking what happens is I log in and buy a nifty new outfit… then log right back out.  Of all of my gaming regrets this is one of the strongest because I really would like to find a way to play this game in addition to whatever game I am “maining”.

ArcheAge

ARCHEAGE 2015-06-14 14-36-32-10 Just prior to the launch of Heavensward there were several of us on the AggroChat cast that had a brief love affair with this game.  I want to find a way to return to playing this game on a regular basis because I don’t feel like I have consumed all of the good that I can get from it.  This is the game that I was told once I reached level 30 I would be in forced pvp areas.  While we are playing on Tahyang the supposed roleplaying server, I am 38 and have yet to encounter even another enemy player.  There is a lot of great PVE content in this game, and we found the dungeons to be among some of the rougher we had experienced since say Dark Age of Camelot.  I’ve logged in a few times since the launch of Heavensward, but never for terribly long because I keep feeling like I really should be in FFXIV gearing or helping other people gear.  I still have things I want to do here, so I need to figure out a way to play it as well.

Skyforge

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-07-54-37 I talked about this as the start of the blog post, but I really do want to spend some time getting to know this game.  At face value it didn’t seem like it was going to be anything I would be interested in.  However after playing a brief few minutes this morning I think I might dig it.  It is action combat that still feels like an MMO.  Honestly I put Neverwinter in that same category, however there the combat just felt forced and janky.  The proof will be in the pudding as to how the Paladin feels once I progress it a bit further.  I admit the whole “switch roles at any time” thing is a huge draw for me, after getting used to that in Final Fantasy XIV.  I doubt this would ever be a primary MMO for me, but it might be a fun weekend diversion.  Ultimately I keep looking for a solid secondary game to have the duality that I did with Final  Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft.  I have yet to find the game that seems like the perfect match, but who knows this might be it.

Elder Scrolls Online

eso 2015-03-16 23-59-44-25 The game that I least understand why I am not playing it… is The Elder Scrolls Online.  Everything about this game should be squarely in my wheelhouse considering the number of hours that I have spent playing games in the Elder Scrolls universe.  I have access to it both on PC and on PS4, and I had this idea that the console client would somehow revitalize my interest in the game.  The problem is… it hasn’t at all.  I feel like the problem I have with this game is that even though I have people moving around me… I feel like I am ultimately alone.  The other players are just a backdrop in part because I never see their names.  I think in part I am experiencing Beta regret, because after testing this game for a year there are previous incarnations of the game UI that I just enjoyed more.  If I could go back and play THOSE incarnations… I would probably be enjoying myself still.  When names over the top of mobs went away…  the world felt like it shrunk for me, and the game became more or less a single player experience.  I still would love to find a way to make this game that at one point I was so devoted to still feel enjoyable, but I just have not found it.

Chasing a PVE MOBA

A Meaningless Term

League of Legends 2013-04-30 20-12-49-94 Yesterday I witnessed a conversation unfold that I have had a dozen times myself with various folks.  A friend of mine made the idle comment that they would really like to see a “PVE MOBA”, to which someone else predictably replied that you cannot have a “MOBA” without PVP.  The problem is that there is absolutely no clear definition of what exactly a “MOBA” is.  Additionally each player seems to refer to a slightly different set of mechanics when someone says “MOBA-like”.  So for some people it is all about the match based pvp action, and others it is all about the interesting class design.  If you simply dissect the term “MOBA” you get Multiplayer Online Battle Arena…  which in itself is another absolutely meaningless term.  Multiplayer Online is clear enough but the Battle Arena part is complete nonsense.  What are you battling and what sort of arena are you battling in?

For me personally the key elements of what make a MOBA intriguing have nothing to do with player versus player combat.  I like the different characters and their unique sets of abilities, and the way they interact with other characters and their abilities.  In fact I would be happy spending my time in lane killing creeps because I honestly enjoy doing that way more than engaging with other players.  When I play League of Legends I will almost always play against bots, and have long thought that it would make an interesting game to make it purely co-operative against interesting challenges.  The problem is if you say this.. you get the reaction above that it cannot be done… because MOBAs are PVP games dammit!  But what I am presenting is that folks are assigning a specific mindset to a term that is absolutely meaningless on its own merit.  Multiplayer Online Battle Arena can describe so many games and is likely why the term gets blurred so much to describe games that are absolutely nothing like the original Defense of the Ancients roots.

Keep the Interesting Bits

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2014-12-02 22-35-45-233 For me the interesting bits about what we generally refer to as a MOBA are the Character design that I have talked about before, and ultimately the payment model.  I like this concept of purchasing individual champions, and having a rotation of free champions to play to consistently keep testing the waters and trying to branch out.  The key part as well for me is the way that MOBA titles grow over time.  If you look at the evolution of League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm, in both cases they are constantly releasing new content to satiate the appetites of players.  I think this has been key to the success, that every few weeks there is something new being introduced to the game to shake up players expectations.  League for example has over 120 different unique champions that they are doing a decent job of keeping balanced against each other, and Heroes is adding at least one champion a month it seems to catch up.  So I feel like the big success of this genre has been constant incremental evolution of the product.

This variety helps deal with the “special snowflake” syndrome that happens in MMO design.  Often times there is a demographic of players that wants to play a specific class in a manner that was not intended to be played.  Granted this happens to some extent in build system MMOs like league, but it is always clear that this is not necessarily a “supported” play style.  The champion system instead lets companies roll out lots of hyper focused characters that play to very specific niches.  So in this case what would be a “special snowflake” like the “melee hunter” would simply just be another champion they could build to fill that desire.  So instead the focus becomes on mastery of a specific set of abilities unique to that champion, rather than a much larger set of abilities as seen in most “talent tree” systems.  I feel like this is crucial in allowing someone to adapt to a brand new champion quickly, but at the same time feeling confident enough to branch out into things they have yet to try before.  There are game play modes like ARAM (All Random All Mid) that encourage this branching out because it forces players to play with a random champion.

Chasing a PVE MOBA

Diablo III 2013-08-21 20-12-09-60 So the quandary I am in is that I love the League of Legends lore and champion design, but don’t love the game itself.  I have long thought that it would be awesome to have a PVE centric version of League of Legends where you play the same champions with the same abilities in a Diablo like setting.  Instead of fighting in Summoner’s Rift against five other players in a battle to destroy the opposing teams nexus, it would be a co-operative experience as five players venture into a procedurally generated dungeon with a treasure at the end.  The idea is that each map would be harder than the previous until you reach a boss battle for the final treasure in the dungeon.  You could even keep the build mechanic in the form of at the beginning of each map level you could have the same merchant that exists just outside of your teams Nexus in the Rift.  After venturing a certain way into each map level he could travel to the next level, making it so that players could only buy new items at the beginning of each map.

For the hyper competitive players, you could still keep all manner of stats from number of monsters killed, their average difficulty rating, how fast it takes your team to clear a map, and of course how many times you have died during a specific encounter.  Personally I would go with a counter strike approach where each player gets a single life per map, making it progressively harder the more players that you have lost.  I would introduce the ability to purchase resurrection potions, but again that is an opportunity cost… since you have limited item inventory slots and limited gold to keep purchasing items with.  Similarly I would introduce a “lives” mechanic in the number of times your team can retry during a specific dungeon crawl sequence.  This would encourage the team to stick together and work on group tactics rather than going off on their own and risking getting overwhelmed.  The thing is… I would absolutely pay to play a game like that, and would probably rope my friends into playing it to.  The key impediment however is that folks seem to keep thinking that “MOBA” style mechanics cannot also apply to PVE game design.  Someone make this game happen…  I am looking at you Riot.

Tidy Whitey Man

Commoditization of Music

A few days ago I wrote a piece talking at least in part about how the prevalence of steam sales has lowered my valuation of games in general.  Yesterday while running errands at lunch I happened to catch a piece on NPR talking about how Audio Streaming is both the salvation and the curse of the record industry.  I did not catch the name of the show but they brought on several points of view, talking about how it is both creating new artists, and giving folks a steady trickle of income…  but making it extremely hard for said new artists to actually work on music as their fulltime job.  While I sympathize with this point of view, I have to say that I am absolutely one of the people who is no longer buying music.  There is the rare occasion when I buy an album that does not yet exist on a streaming service, for example I have purchased the two  Final Fantasy XIV soundtracks, and have the third on preorder.  However once I get them, I rip them and upload them to my Google Music account so I can listen to all of the music I care about through that one interface.

I guess the strange thing for me… is that I want to pay something for music but that I ultimately just want to pay a single monthly fee for “all you can eat” access.  While I absolutely love music on one level, on another level it has become commoditized for me.  There was something about going to the record shop, buying a CD, opening the package…  getting that new CD smell…  and then consuming it.  With the digital age that experience is all gone… and it makes me hard to care about it on any level deeper than what I happen to be hearing.  Also I feel like along the way my listening patterns changed. Music to me is a background soundtrack to my work day and my commute, and my attention is always somewhere else and not fully on the music.  Before the advent of streaming music, I had already pretty much stopped purchasing music… except for on very odd occasions.  As soon as I could pay one price to get full access to an existing library however… I was on board with that and after trying all of the current services I finally landed on Google Music being the best option for me.  There was a point where I realized that I no longer care about “owning” music and simply want to “lease” access to it, and I figure my monthly fee from streaming is giving the music industry more money than the “zero” they were getting from me before.

Tidy Whitey Man

ShooterGame 2015-07-14 21-23-40-70 Yesterday I had all of these plans to help shuttle a group of sub 170 players through a bunch of expert dungeons for tomestones of law and great freedom.  The problem is the game conspired against me, and at 9pm my time the servers went down for emergency maintenance.  Generally speaking when the servers go down with such short notice there is some sort of exploit at play, namely one that has “game breaking” ramifications.  So instead of doing the thing that I had intended to do… I was left with a plethora of other options.  The problem being… the only thing I really wanted to be doing was playing more Heavensward.  So I popped out of game and out of teamspeak and booted up the wildly popular survival game Ark for the first time.  I have a couple of groups of friends playing on various servers, but I wanted to at least get a feel for the game before I dove into having other people around me.  The game has a nifty local only mode that I decided to spin up a map in.

First off…  I had no clue what I was doing.  I could see a beacon off in the distance so I thought well…  maybe the game is intending me to run in that direction.   Along the way I figured out a few things… that I could punch trees to get materials, and I could pick up rocks with my bare hands.  The problem being that punching trees is apparently bad for my health.  Like when you are doing it.. the game messages quite clearing that you are hurting yourself.  After a bit of running around and collecting beach debris I figured out how to craft something.  I managed to punch a tree long enough for it to provide some wood, which allowed me to fashion a crude pick… and I was off to the races.  From there I leveled up and learned how to make an axe and a fire pit, and seemingly life was going pretty well.  That is until I continued down the path of madness that was finding the beacon.  At which point I stumbled across a level 26 spitter, that killed me rather quickly… and the controller that I was not using vibrated madly as I died.  So next time I maybe have a better idea on how to go about this process, and I am also going to try playing it with my xbox 360 controller since the game apparently supports it.

Final Coil of Bahamut

Missing Tank

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-13 20-49-19-35 Last night was our raid night for the group that meets on Mondays in Final Fantasy XIV.  Initially there was talk of working on Bismarck Ex but since we only have one geared tank in that team, that was out of the question.  Ashgar decided to level his monk first, and is now working on bringing the Paladin online once more.  The amount of time he has had to work over the last few weeks has slowed down his leveling process, and you can tell he is more than a bit frustrated by it.  In any case that left us with one max level geared tank  and one partially leveled tank to play with.  Since the elemental snakes will one shot the tank if he has the wrong buff color…  that took Bismarck Ex completely off the table.  So as a result we opted to venture forth into the Final Coil of Bahamut, an area that we unlocked last week but had yet to attempt.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-13 21-28-28-83 One of the constant themes of the Heavensward expansion is the fact that the Allagan’s are jerks and seem to like playing god.  The story behind the Final Coil of Bahamut seems to reflect this.  Not going to go into any massive spoilers, but I highly suggest you run through this content at some point so you can see the story bits yourself.  The other big surprise is the fact that we did in fact have to deal with a lot of mechanics.  We went into this place as a “undersized party” which is the lamest way of saying “let me go into it without level syncing me down”.  This is a great option for farming older content by yourself, for example I have been slowly working on getting the rest of my Brayflox Infantry set for example doing this.  For the older raids this means you can go in and have a bit more padding to deal with the damage these deal.  We pulled turn 10 completely blind, and managed to make some significant progress before ultimately wiping… and having to learn the mechanics of the fight.

Final Coil of Bahamut

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-13 21-33-17-05 Throughout the course of the night we managed to take down turn 10, and after a bit of futzing turn 11 as well.  We entered turn 12…  mainly because there is a huge amount of story content at the beginning of it.  We made a couple of attempts and agreed that we would simply return next week after doing a bit of studying.  I realize we are not doing this content “for real” by any stretch of the imagination… but it still feels very epic.  Everything about these zones and fights are just amazing to behold.  There is an awesome jumping sequence where you go flying through the air… and I am sure it is enough to make anyone with either motion sickness or a fear of heights squeamish.  I sometimes suffer from vertigo in games, but this actually didn’t seem to bother me too much, at least not in the same way that Razor’s Edge did.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-13 21-36-34-17 Ultimately what I want to try and focus on instead however is gearing the folks that are sub 170.  I want to do Alexander with my normal raid group, and I want to also tackle the two extreme fights.  Unfortunately I am one of the few people on our team that I think is geared to that point.  So that means I need to start grabbing folks and dragging them into dungeon runs for tomestones of law over the coming weeks.  Basically I need to start seeing if people are already at 170 before running a dungeon… and then trying to grab folks that aren’t instead.  Over the last few days I was in my own mad push for that gear level and kind of ignored everything but doing that.  Now I feel like I need to take a much more structured approach in an attempt to get folks the gear they need to do the bigger and more exciting things.

Alexander Ready

Assorted Updates

TardisShowerCurtain First up I want to thank everyone for checking in on me after my Saturday post.  I am doing largely okay myself, but I wanted to talk about my own struggles in the hopes that it might bring someone out of the woodwork and let them know that they really aren’t as alone as they might think.  I am still processing the information about my friend, but again I am more concerned about another one of my friends for whom the news is much closer.  I was absolutely overwhelmed by the support you all gave me though, and I am consistently amazed at just how loving a community the twitter and blogosphere communities can be.  Sure there are people out there that make these places toxic environments, but I seem to have filtered out any possible negative elements from my own feed so that all I really see is positive people who have always been willing to embrace me when I needed it.  In part I am hoping that if someone is struggling…  they also see the overwhelming response I got… and maybe it convinces them that it is worth reaching out and talking to someone.

This weekend was very much the “last call” for the dumpster, as it should get picked up today.  The weekend before we tackled both of our offices, and Saturday we tore into the upstairs bathroom.  For several years now it had gone neglected, and the upstairs shower room was essentially a catch all of big things that we “intended” to take to good will but never actually got there.  As a result that room had probably not been opened for roughly a decade.  We fixed that… and did a bunch of little things throughout the weekend as well.  This is also seemingly the weekend of finally taking care of things we intended to do.  Over the course of Saturday I took three full loads to goodwill, and at the end of the day we were finally able to deploy this amazing Tardis shower curtain that I have had for a few years, with the intention of going in that bathroom.  The cats are confused as hell with the constant changes in their world.  The upstairs bathroom also serves as the littlebox room… and our eldest cat just sat in there Saturday evening confusedly meowing… because she didn’t recognize the place.

Office Improvements

mynewsetup A week ago I posted an “in progress” shot of my office and this weekend I continued to refine it.  One of the side benefits of Saturday was getting a cabinet that would fit under the printer table, that now serves as my toolbox.  This allowed me to sort the various tools that I found while cleaning and organize them in one place.  Sunday however became the day I tackled hooking up the consoles again.  Below the television that is proudly displaying Street Fighter Alpha 3 (we will get to that in a bit) is a cabinet that contains my PS3, PS4 and Xbox 360.  I had to cut holes in the backing board of the cabinet to fish the cords through but in the end in works pretty well.  While I had my PS4 torn apart I also performed the upgrade from the stock 500 GB hard drive to a new Samsung 2 TB one…  and the nice thing about this setup is that it is close enough to the router that I can actually hard wire the network instead of relying on wireless for everything.  My hope is that this improves the performance of remote play through both the Vita and the PSTV.

All of these are hooked into an HDMI switch box that then goes through my Elgato capture card into my PC, allowing me to capture video from any of the devices.  The new device that is playing SF Alpha 3 however is a side project that I started a couple of years ago.  I had purchased a Foxconn Netbox PC some time ago for the purpose of turning it into an emulator machine.  Problem being in my old setup there was never really a good place to hook it up, and while I managed to get an operating system loaded on it…  I never did the required fiddling to make it all work.  In the meantime I had been searching for a more turnkey solution and finally landed upon Lakka, which is a custom Linux distribution designed entirely around running the RetroArch emulator platform.  The awesome thing about it is that it also has Samba set up so it mounts each of the required directories as windows shares so you can simply copy files to it over the network.  So as of yesterday I got it up and running and have NES, SNES, GB, GBA, DS, Genesis, Master System, Game Gear and a few Arcade games running on it.  Really happy with the way it is working, the only negative is that apparently the N64 emulator will not run at all on 32 bit hardware…  so I can live without that.

Alexander Ready

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-12 14-55-34-01 From a gaming perspective my world has revolved around getting to item level 170 in Final Fantasy XIV.  This is the magical breaking point that allows you access to the new Alexander raid, and can be attained through a combination of law gear and clan hunt based upgrades.  As of last night I am sitting at 173 with every item upgraded to 170 or better except for one of my rings.  Yesterday afternoon I managed to get into turn one of Alexander with Wulf and Grace and on our second attempted pushed through the encounter.  It was a really fun fight to tank along side Wulf, and while he continued on into the progression… I dropped out to help folks with dungeons.  My hope is that maybe tonight I can get in some more of Alexander because supposedly at the end of the quest chain, you end up getting a “Bolt” the item that can be exchanged for an accessory slot.  This would ultimately make it so that I didn’t need to somehow purchase a second tomestone of law ring, but instead jump straight to the 190 equivalent.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-12 21-45-55-08 I am really happy that in theory my gear grind is coming to a close at least on the Warrior.  This is largely because I really want to start pushing my focus to the Dragoon so I can get it up to level as well.  Right now I am roughly half way to 55, and honestly a few more dungeon runs would get me there quickly.  Right now however every waking moment in game has been spent making sure I do all of my duty roulettes so that I can get all the bonus law I can manage.  Even with a shift in focus to the Dragoon I will still probably end up getting a bunch of law, simply because I get called on by my friends in the free company to tank random stuff.  I quite literally could be happy if I did nothing but run dungeons, because this set of dungeons is freaking amazing.  The last few days I have managed to get The Vault as my low level roulette, and I am perfectly fine with this because that place is so much more enjoyable than doing another Brayflox or god forbid Aurum Vale.  While I am still struggling inside with the news I got on Friday, the weekend as a whole was pretty successful in at least taking my mind off of it for large blocks of time.

Northern Thanalan Problem

Button Mash Bard

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-11 22-16-35-69 Last night during the podcast I piddled around in Final Fantasy XIV as I often do.  The fact that I had to edit a section of the podcast out because of my rapid fire keyboard mashing… means I was piddling around on my bard.  Of all of my classes… this is the one that I seem to give the least shits about actually playing correctly.  I will leave good barding up to Shiana, Warenwolf and Thalen…  me I just mash buttons and pray.  One of the problems is that I have all of these characters currently sitting at level 50 that I got to cap last expansion.  The bard, the white mage and the paladin among them.  The problem being right now without quest support there is no real handy way to get to level 51, which is the level you need to be to hit the first dungeon.  On my dragoon I have been pretty much living in dungeons, and as a result I have managed to make a significant push in level, as he is roughly half way to 55.

So last night I struggled to figure out just how to get my bard over the hump, so I could start doing the same with him.  I wandered around a bit in Western Coethas only to remember that even with the armory bonus…  FATEs in Heavensward are still pretty terrible.  Then Ashgar mentioned that I should do what I did at 49… and just go to Northern Thanalan.  So I zoned into that area and it took longer to load than either Ishgard, Mor Dhona or Idyllshire.  It turns out that pretty much everyone is living in this zone, and I guess it makes sense.  On average FATEs in Western Coerthas rewarded my bard 28,000 experience.  On average FATEs in Northern Thanalan rewarded around 21,000 experience… and the zone is about a fourth of the size of Western Coerthas… and has just as many FATEs.  This means that there is a constant train of pink marks showing up all over your map.

Northern Thanalan Problem

Screenshot (15) On the live letter this week they mentioned that they would be tweaking FATEs to make them a better value proposition for players, and I think this is a bit of an understatement in the level of the issue that is happening.  One of the interesting things about the internet and mmos is that players will figure out the shortest route to solving a problem and abuse the hell out of it.  Quickly players realized that they could simply level faster by living in Northern Thanalan… and that is quite literally what is happening.  I would estimate last night during the podcast there were somewhere close to 200 players in zone fighting over the FATEs that spawned, and in a crazy game of whack-a-mole as soon as one dropped the next one would be up and the rush would begin across zone to get the first hits in on it.  We experienced these same problems at release with the abuse of a very specific FATE in Northern Thanalan called “Dark Devices” and it seems like once again this zone is the king of the fast leveling curve.

The problem with this is that it makes the game boring.  You stand in zone and hang out there until you are 60… and quite literally players are doing this on their alternate classes, riding this elevator to the top floor and then getting off just in time to gear for Alexander.  The end result is that we are starting to see level 60 players who have not done a single class quest and as a result have NONE of their new class abilities.  Time doing class quests is time taken away from the “super efficient” level mill of Northern Thanalan.  Here in lies problem two…  this zone is a fun zone to run FATEs in… and absolutely worth while for players post 45 when Central Coerthas starts to slow down.  My biggest fear is that we are going to see a bit of an overcorrection that leads to Square nerfing the FATEs in this zone once again to try and prod players to leave it.  What I want to see instead is that they incentivize the content in the new areas… to make it worth spending time there and doing the FATEs.

More Carrot to the Stick

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-19 23-50-32-16 Those first days after launch, the FATEs were getting run and every single major boss fate was dropping all sorts of awesome items.  Then players realized, or at least Reddit realized that mathematically the FATE grinding experience was shit.  I want to see players in the zones doing the content the zones have to offer.  We long speculated that they purposefully under-incentivized the FATEs to get players to actually do quest content, because at the launch of A Realm Reborn… it was absolutely a problem with players completely ignoring quests until they hit the level cap.  The issue here is that dungeons are gated through the storyline… and without players entering the dungeon system… the queues got more than a little out of whack.  So I guess I support the notion of nerfing FATEs temporarily… but at this point something needs to be done to derail the Northern Thanalan train once again.  I don’t think we can probably afford to wait until 3.1, so I am hoping that we see a minor patch that introduces a series of tweaks that right this ships course.

In the meantime I am guessing I will start running Levequests to get over that 50 to 51 hump, because after the madness of last night…  I really did not find the Northern Thanalan experience enjoyable.  I had way too many flashbacks of the way the dark devices grind felt.  I absolutely rode that up on my Bard and then never touched it on another character again.  The game has some really awesome FATEs in the new areas that each tell a story…  some of which we ended up talking about last night.  I want Square to find a way to add enough carrot to their stick, in order to convince players that staying in the zone they are currently in and running FATEs is a valuable option.  Mostly I want to be able to knock out all of the different zone boss fates because there are interesting things sitting on their loot table if you manage to get to gold contribution.  Two weeks into the expansion though I am still loving it in spite of all the minor problems we have complained about.  We talked about this last night in the podcast, that it seems like we complain a lot…  but it is more a case of us wanting them  to iron out the rest of the wrinkles… because the game is really damned polished already.

Be Stronger Than Me

Horrible Events

Yesterday was a phenomenally bad day, but not for any of the normal reasons.  My wrist is doing mostly better, and my knee while swelling a lot more is also starting still progressively healing.  My day was horrible for a bit of news I received.  When I got out of a meeting yesterday morning I had two missed  calls from friends in the Little Rock area.  My mind immediately jumped to something having happened to a third friend and member of our AggroChat podcast Thalen.  It turns out Thalen is fine, but the news I received was so much worse.  I don’t want to go into a lot of detail but one of my friends and sometimes guild members took her own life.  I don’t know the specifics, but having had a suicide in my life before…  you never really do know the specifics.  All we really do know is that she is gone.

She struggled with a lot of things, a toxic work environment, a family that was largely unsupportive… and the lack of a support network in her area.  I talked over the years with her about these things and more, as I tried to just be someone who would listen.  The problem with gaming friends however is that if you don’t happen to be playing the same game…  it is extremely easy to fall out of touch with each other.  It had been at least six months since I last talked to her, and now I am kicking myself for not reaching out and making more of an effort.  I saw her pop on steam a few weeks ago, but I myself was going through a “speak when spoken to” only mode…  but now I am agonizing over not saying anything.  This is the problem with a suicide, there are so many unanswered questions… and the ones that get left behind feel guilty for not doing more.

My Own Struggles

This morning I am going to be far more candid than I normally am.  I have struggled with these suicidal  thoughts my entire life.  Right now I am taking something that helps, for pretty much the first time in my life.  I’ve always been afraid to seek help, and even now I am largely self medicating with a holistic remedy instead of actually seeking treatment.  There is something terrifying about talking to someone and unpacking your soul.  I know personally I just keep ramming things down on this pile of frustration and shame until it overwhelms me.  I was actually scaring myself a lot lately… which is why I am trying to do something about it.  There are moments where I catch myself running down these scenarios in my head about how I would do it… and what planning would need to go into it.  The fact that my brain can run down those pathways terrifies me.

The thing is…  I know these are not “right” thoughts, and as a result I have always been able to bring myself back from that line of thinking.  I’ve always had a friend to talk to, or someone to cheer me up.  Last night a few moments in Free Company chat and watching the friendly green text wash over me…  erased so much of the days frustrations.  On top of that the remedy that I am taking really does seem to be working for me.  I’ve felt so much more balanced over the last few weeks since I started taking it.  I can get “bummed” but it never really reaches the point of turning into that crippling morass of depression that just paralyzes you.  I guess my problem has always been that I never really even know how to start a conversation with a medical professional about my inclinations.  Here in the bible belt, we are taught to keep up a good appearance no matter how fucked up your own life is…  that folks want you to smile and nod and be sociable… and I am absolutely a product of my upbringing.  I could be dying inside… but I would still try my damnedest to be kind and courteous to the people around me.

Be Stronger Than Me

Basically this morning I am unpacking my soul, because I am begging you to be stronger than me.  If the world is threatening to take you down with it… please go find some help.  I don’t care if that is a professional that can prescribe some good drugs, or just someone you can talk out your problems with.  You are never as alone as you might feel because there is always someone who cares… even if that someone is a person you have not even met yet.  I had a really bad experience with a psychiatrist in college, and it has kept me from ever trying to find another one.  Please be less proud than I am and go find some help.  There is literally nothing in the world worse than a suicide.  In 2004 my nephew committed suicide and even a decade later there are still times where it all comes back to me and I keep grasping for the answer “why”. I’ve had so many deaths in my own family, but nothing is worse than a suicide because at least when cancer takes a life you understand it.  You know what lead to the chain of events that caused you to lose someone you love…  suicide makes no sense.

I realize that might come as counter intuitive for m to say that, considering that my brain naturally keeps trying to end itself…  but in part it is because I have lived through it…  that I am steadfastly pulling myself down from the brink.  I know just how truly devastating it is to anyone who ever cared about you.  Every one of you out there reading this matters, and more so than that… you are important to someone.  There is no life that can leave this world that does not cause a hollow void to form.  So please if you are struggling reach out to someone.  I’ve not met a single person who struggled with this that was not also uniquely beautiful in some way.  This curse, often times comes with its own blessings.  I care deeply about the pain others, even when it is really not healthy for me to try and take that sort of thing upon myself.  So while you may not be able to see it yourself… there is something special about you that would be a travesty to destroy.  So please…  if you are struggling find someone to help you through it.

Steam Devaluation

Short, Linear and Lacks Replayability

Yesterday I stumbled across a good video from Jasyla of Cannot be Tamed.  In it she questioned exactly when the terms “Short”, “Linear” and “Lacks Replaybility” became negative monikers for games.  It all stems back to her looking up a review of Parasite Eve from when the game was actually released and expands out from there.  She makes the point that games that have a tight and direct narrative are often preferable to long messy open world games for her.  She makes some really excellent points, but the main point  I was reminded of is the fact that “game reviews” are only really useful if it is a person very much like yourself that is reviewing the game.  There are no objective measurements for a video game, or quite frankly any other piece of entertainment.  What is a negative to one person is a positive to another person.  When I review something I try and touch on a bunch of the points because I realize not everyone is wired quite the same way I am.

Personally I tend to favor those long rambly open world games, and do pretty much everything I can do to avoid actually progressing the storyline.  In the video she mentioned Witcher 3 which turns out is a game very much in my wheelhouse, in that it has allowed me to pretty effectively ignore the narrative of the game and revert back to my base state of wandering around aimlessly and enjoying the world.  I’ve put in around twenty hours and I just now moved to the next zone.  I prefer games that I can lose myself in the random bits of neatness that the game has to offer, and if you allow me to jump off the path…  chances are I am going to do it as soon as possible.  My first playing of Skyrim for example…  I had to back track later to find the stones that allowed you to choose your “path” because from the moment I got control of my mouse I was off on my own ignoring what the NPCs were telling me to do.

Steam Devaluation

2011-10-05_00002 All of this said I am coming to appreciate more narrative “ride” games that present a clear concise “movie like” experience.  It is not the sort of thing I want to play on a regular basis, but if a game is elevated to a point where everyone seems to be playing it I will give it a go.  The irony is one of my biggest praises of Final Fantasy XIV is for its clear and concise storytelling.  The difference there is that this main storyline is a “feature” of the game and not the entirety of the game itself.  There are absolutely times I want to sit back and be told a story, but there are other times when I want to be out in the world making my own… and I guess in part I expect a game to give me both experiences, at the very least if they are going to earn my $60.  So while “short”, “linear” and “lacks replayability” seems like an odd admonishment … I do find myself paying attention to it, simply because it helps me file a game into one of several bins.

I have talked about this in the past, but for me to be willing to plunk down $60 and pre-order a title when it comes out… it has to be offering pretty much the total package.  Jasyla has this great series of videos called “Short Games for Busy People” but they also all have one thing in common other than the duration.  They are all relatively cheap titles, and I am more than willing to spend $5 for a four hour game experience, but I may not be willing to pay $60 or even $30 for that same experience.  One of the biggest disappointments over the last several years was in the ID Software game Rage… not because the game did not provide me a very interesting experience, but instead that it was too short of one.  Granted I went into the game mostly expecting “Fallout” by ID, so that was strike one… but the game itself provided this really interesting game world that I wanted to roam around in…  but trapped me in a super short story arc that felt abruptly ended.  Had I spent even $10 on that game… I would have been completely happy with my experience, but I was frustrated that I spent that $60 preorder on it.

Value Proposal

ScreenShot37 In order for me to be happy with spending full price on a game I need to be able to milk at least  30 hours out of it, and that is actual content…  not just chasing achievements.  This means I tend to lean towards big open world “exploration porn” type game experiences.  My favorite “modern” games are those of the Fallout Series because they let me wander around aimlessly and explore the world at my own pace.  While I am getting used to the narrative train ride, I still have this instinctual frustration anytime I am locked into a length intro story cut scene.  I remember the first time I played God of War III I kept thinking to myself “why won’t they just let me play the damned game?”.  There are times I need to temper this instinct, when I know if I allow myself the time I will enjoy the story.  For example I am trying to go back and play the modern Batman games because I think I will ultimately like the story arc.  Similarly I really want to play the Uncharted games, but I struggle with their “on rails” sequence of event based game play.

Ultimately all of this said… I will never damn a game and treat it as worthless just because it does not align to my personal preferences.  This is why I guess I struggle with writing “game reviews” because really I tend to focus on the positive aspects of most games because I know going into it… that my particular preference in gaming, does not necessarily represent anyone other than myself.  In truth the fact that I surround myself with a group of fairly diverse gaming tastes in the form of AggroChat on a weekly basis drives this home regularly.  All of this said I still do find reviews like this valuable in that they help me decide if I am willing to plunk down my dollar at release, or instead wait until the first, second or third steam sale to offer the game.  The Steam Devaluation is a real thing, in part because at this point we all have such a back log of games that we are NOT playing.  Then again the ability to actually “beat” a game has never ranked very hire on my meters.  What I look for is a bit of escapism and the ability to wallow around in a world that is not my own for awhile.  For me personally nothing beats an experience that lets me explore new places while harmlessly venting my bloodlust.

Extreme Whales

Last night I got a little piece of advice from Syp, who said that I should take care of myself and that no one would care if I took a few days off.  I greatly appreciate the sentiment, and while I feel like this is probably the most brilliant idea…  I am not likely to do it.  In part this “every morning” thing is a much needed routine in my life.  Much like dreams are a way for us to sort through the days events, in many ways this morning blog post is a way to reorder my thoughts before I start a new day.  While it started with the goal of “write more content” It has wound up somewhere in a therapeutic space.  Getting up every morning and writing something…  is important to me in ways I don’t fully grasp.  Additionally I have now done this two and a half years roughly, so another part of me simply does not want to “break the chain”.  I am however likely to fiddle with my format a bit until my wrist is fully healed.

Extreme Whales

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-02 19-43-23-05 Right now we are in this limbo area where people are still in the process of gearing in order to be able to do higher level content.  To do Alexander the first raid you must be ilevel 170, which means you need to have a full set of Tomestone of Law gear with at least one upgraded item.  Since I only hit 60 a few days ago I am not quite there yet.  As of last night I managed to hit ilvl 166 and in theory should be able to upgrade another piece of gear tonight if I manage to get any play time.  For awhile now I have filled in for the Wednesday night raid group, which was admittedly a bit of an imposition when I was still raiding in World of Warcraft…  but now is not so much.  Wednesday night is generally speaking a pretty good night for me to raid considering that my wife is off at church for a large chunk of it.  So as we move forward into Heavensward I am probably going to offer myself as a more permanent part of that group.  Since we could not do Alexander we set our sights last night on Bismarck Extreme, which only has a requirement that individuals be level 60.

The fight is in essence a series of dps checks, because apparently the island we are standing on gets more and more battered as the fight goes on.  At a base level the fight works pretty much the same as it does on hard, except for the fact that you realistically need to get down the back scale during the first chain phase.  I feel like Wulf and I made a lot of progress on learning this fight as tanks, with the hardest part being the elemental snake swap.  The snakes send out a debuff that makes it so that players need to be dpsing the snake of the opposite color of the buff they currently have.  This means tanks also need to swap targets, and at first we were trying to meet in the middle and trade off, but it seems that quite honestly this is a job for provoke.  Right before a potential swap Wulf and I would target each others snakes and then hit the taunt if we saw that we needed to.  Thankfully it seems to work magically, because normally speaking “just taunting” has minimal effect in this game when it comes to swapping targets.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-07-07 17-46-06-52 While we beat the first dps check, we consistently failed at the second one… which is burning down the elemental snakes before hitting the point of no return where the skies to dark… and Bismarck nukes us into oblivion.  Thankfully each of us still has a lot more gear we can get so we are simply hitting a gear wall.  I think if we get enough upgrade pieces in the next week we will totally rock this fight and down us the first extreme primal of the expansion.  Then we will move on to Ravana Extreme… that happens to drop the best weapons in the game currently.  I have to say I had a blast with the fight, and it was awesome working with Wulf.  The few times I had tanked for the WoW raid, it was when he happened to be out for the night, so I think this might be the first time we have actually worked together in progression content.  In part I somewhat hope we have the people to pull this together for an attempt on Saturday during the pre-podcast raid block.