ArcheAge Noob Closed Beta Impressions   4 comments

ArcheAge, Firran

Recently I have found myself quite interested in the upcoming Trion title ArcheAge. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. ArcheAge is an Asian-inspired fantasy sandbox title where player vs player combat is the norm coupled with a full player-driven crafting economy. MMO purists should be rejoicing, for those that constantly complain about the “downfall” of MMOs and the “dirty casuals” that infect the genre, this is a title that actively promotes their preferred style of play.

Believe it or not, I don’t subscribe to that ancient style of thinking. I take no joy in slaying other live players, or the imaginary competition of loot races, I’m not a fan of PvP. I’m also not a fan of crafting, either, as most crafting systems entail as much entertainment as watching grass grow. I get more enjoyment standing in front of my sink, instead of a crafting station, cleaning dishes for 20 minutes. That at least nets me clean dishes, something a lot more valuable to me than digital ingots.

Yet it’s the pureness of the concept, the overwhelming statement of “this is not the game for you” that is quite tempting. It’s a challenge and feels like the perfect chance to test whether this MMO style really is for me or not. Plus, it’s always good to try new things. So, ArcheAge beckons.

I didn’t pay for it, though. Despite the overwhelming prevalence these days of paid alphas and betas and the ridiculous prices thereof, there were plenty of free beta keys to go around. With that in hand I set the 20+ GB download to start and promptly went and played Marvel Heroes for a while. Don’t look at me like that. Marvel Heroes has come a long way since it started and is really a fun dungeon brawler! Nightcrawler is a freaking blast to play. About 2 hours of downloading ArcheAge later, though, I was able to get in.

ArcheAge, Firran

Sure, this is a “water buffalo”… I guess…

Why is it in Beta, anyway?

First, I get it. This game doesn’t actually need testing. It’s been released in Japan for the past year, and Korea for the past year and a half. So this whole beta is nothing more than a sales ploy. At most, Trion is testing for translation accuracy and different cultural metrics so they can accurately determine prices for cash-shop items for the NA/European audience. That’s cool, though, and they’d be fools to not take advantage of the hype and make boatloads of money while they’re testing. In that effect, charging for alpha/beta makes sense. At least the game is polished and playable, which is a lot more than I can say for most paid betas.

Logging in, I created my first character, a Charr Caitian Firran. As in most fantasy, the choice was elves, humans, other humans, and cat people. Throw in a short race, and you could have the lineup for every other fantasy game. Oh, wait… that’s being planned. I opted for the non-boring race that wasn’t aligned with those dirty elves. Some pretty great cutscenes followed, describing how the Firran were a nomadic race, how they were at war with the “other humans” and beat them but then became lazy and then got beat themselves, and how they were once more on the cultural upswing. Sweet. In fact, all the cutscenes were pretty sweet. Nice art style and good exposition that wasn’t useless or felt out-of-place.

ArcheAge, Firran

Now THAT’s a moon.

We Heard You Liked Punctuation…

I approached my first NPC, I saw it, and I sighed heavily: A giant yellow exclamation point. This again? Could be me, could be that I’m getting old, but the yellow exclamation point has been done to death. They told me some short statement and sent me along the road to the next hub. Here, same, and they sent me to the next hub, and to the next hub, and to the next hub. Go kill 10 rats, then come back here so I can send you to the next hub. This is one of the many reasons I don’t play World of Warcraft anymore. This style of gameplay was popular and novel over a decade ago. It’s lame. We haven’t grown out of it yet? At least cover it up better to make it not FEEL like hub-jumping.

I know, though, that the whole point of ArcheAge isn’t the story. So these hubs just give brief exposition, a little cultural identity and send you forward, ever forward, sometimes without much sense, and very quickly. At the end of my session I was already level 10, and had been through 6 different quest hubs.

This is by far not the meat of ArcheAge. Sad thing was, though, this wasn’t even a real taste. If you want your whole game to be based around crafting, trade and PvP, then, I don’t know, why not have that from the very beginning? Why start with Game A and then slowly merge into Game B? If people are coming for Game B, then give them Game B! Why have them slog through Game A first, especially a really terrible, half-assed Game A?

ArcheAge, Firran

So. Darn. Cute.

But, Wait! It’s not All Question Marks! 

There were some really great novel concepts, though, that were shown in the introductory zone. Use of supplies to help build structures. Nice graphics. Musical instruments used by anybody to give bonuses and help in healing. Getting your first mount and raising it from a cub (alright, it took about a minute to fully grow, but it showed the promise of more). Having your mount fight by your side (couldn’t get this to work initially, my mount wouldn’t get out of follow, but the commands were there, so it’s coming), putting armor on your mount. Housing. Working with a farm.

The jewel, though, is the class system. Fully switchable and seems so deep it makes TESO’s look like child’s play.

I started with an offense “occult” as my first specialization. Next, I chose a physical “defense” style. Not sure if I can make those work, but who knows. Could be fun. Last, I picked a “music” style, because why not? The combination, as random as it is, is called a “Dark Aegis”.

A dark magic slinging, shield bearing, music blasting cat-man riding a huge fanged white lion. I can totally dig it.

ArcheAge, Fiiran

A Dark Aegis and his snowlion, ready to… do something in the next zone, I guess.

More, Please

If I’m allowed in future betas without paying, I’ll definitely keep it up. So far I feel like I truly haven’t experienced ArcheAge. I want to taste more and start getting to the real game before I make any lasting impressions or commitments. The game feels really solid and true to their intent, even if the starting zones may not fully reflect it. From watching ArcheAge streamers on Twitch like Pookahontus, even the PvP looks like a blast to play. Maybe I’ve just taken PvP a little too serious all this time.

But who knows if it will catch on. I’m an anti-social MMO gamer at heart and this is a cooperative game. But even in my casual style, if I can still feel like I make a contribution it may make it into my rotation.

My suggestion to you, dear reader, is that if you can snag a beta key you should at least give the game a shot. Like anything else, you never know if you’ll like it until you try it.

// Ocho

Spoilers, and Why They Affect Us The Way They Do   18 comments

spoiler_alert_original

Spoilers. They’re everywhere. It feels like you can’t avoid them, and society won’t really let you. Not unless you want to remove yourself from society. Is that right, though? I mean, why do we care so much about a simple TV show’s plot, and how did we get to the point where they have become such a polarizing issue? Some people will defend their want to post spoilers till the end, saying stuff like “Well, it’s been long enough. I shouldn’t have to wait to post spoilers!” and “Well, if you don’t like it, maybe you shouldn’t read it.” I think it’s larger that that, though, an issue that delves into how society has evolved and adapted with changes in media and social media, and how we’re still clinging onto the past.

How It Use To Be

The want to schedule my time around the airing of a TV show always felt alien. I grew up without TV being a central focus in our household. I did have a few favorites, though, like Friends or The Simpsons. When it was on, though, if you missed an episode, you were out of luck. Reading about it and discussing it with friends was pretty much the only way to catch up. It was that or wait months for re-runs. If someone told you about what went on that you missed, they were being helpful and doing you a service.

Today is a whole different story, though. The internet and video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. make it so that it’s not possible to miss anything unless you want to. If you miss a show, if you miss an episode, it’s remarkably easy to catch up on your own time. Even if that time is a couple months later with the DVD releases, or catching up on an entire show after it has long been off the air (I’m looking at you Twin Peaks… I will watch you yet).

That want to discuss it, though, that want to share the experience is still there. It always will be. It’s human nature to want to belong to social groups and prove we are members of said group by adhering to the social mores, in this case sharing plot points of TV shows and movies. We think it helps the person we are telling, and it makes us look good. If we hold TV and these programs as a part of our cultural identity, then we will discuss it with anyone who we thought was interested.

It’s Not How It Use To Be

Social media is the equivalence of standing on a soapbox, shouting to yourself, and hoping other people join in.

Times have changed. Communication has changed. Social media has exploded, and so instead of telling one person, we can tell everyone simultaneously. Multiple birds, one stone. It’s efficient, which is why people have flocked to it. You can send a message out to hundreds or thousands of people with a single click. But as the hackneyed saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

It’s too easy to make it known to all that we are huge fans of the latest TV shows, that we follow the zeitgeist, that we should be admired because after watching an episode we now know information that is socially valuable. However, it is only valuable for a limited time. So therefore, in order to prove our social worth, we must share that information to all as soon as possible! This drive to prove we belong is very strong. Our social circles are a significant part of our identities, after all.

But that information isn’t really that valuable anymore. As I explained above, it use to be before digital media. How we digest entertainment has changed from being communal to being personal. If I miss an episode, due to life, I can catch up at any time. I didn’t really miss anything. Those plot twists the latest show held is only truly valuable, then, to the person holding it. Those who want to be vested in a show or movie simply will be. Those who don’t, they don’t really care that you happen to love, say, Big Bang Theory, and want to tell of the latest “geeky” thing Sheldon did. But that doesn’t mean they won’t care in the future. Information these days is sought out personally. If I wanted to know what happened on the last episode of Walking Dead, I can find out very easily on my own. Review sites exist for a reason.

Social Belonging

That drive to prove social belonging, though, still very much exists. And mixed with social media just makes it too tempting to restrain oneself. People who are more susceptible to prove their value, then, won’t think twice and will shout spoilers from the rooftops, to inform the world. Only now it’s to an audience that doesn’t really want to hear it, and might feel angered that these spoilers are being forced upon them.

It’s turned 100% around from being a valuable service to being a selfish one. Who really enjoys these spoilers? The person saying them obviously doesn’t mind them, but their target audience is for those that most likely already know it. Other members of the TV show’s social group, they’re trying to preach to the choir. They’re saying it to prove that they are followers, too.  However, they’re simultaneously telling those who don’t care or really don’t want to hear it. To those outside their social group, well, who cares about them?

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Those Who Don’t Want To Be Spoiled

And so what of the feelings of others? So what if someone who may want to watch this show on their own time and schedule, as modern technology now allows, so what if I tell them everything that happens in the show ahead of time? These people are not part of the social group. Who cares what they think? They shouldn’t care in the first place.

These people are the people we call friends any other day of the week. These are the people we allow into our private lives, and then, what, we disrespect them? That is how it feels. Posting spoilers shows someone’s colors, that they care so much about their social standing they don’t really care who is affected, which then forces the spoiler’s followers to make a choice. Do we keep listening to this person, whom we call friend, despite the affront, or do we stop listening to prevent the possible spoiling of something we may want to enjoy? It’s terrible we even have to make the choice at all.

However, We Might Enjoy Being Spoiled

This is a valid point. Why do we care or not if our entertainment is spoiled ahead of time? In the long run, it’s not that important. Aren’t there plenty of people who turn to the last page in a novel first? Heck, one of the big issues I have with MMOs nowadays is just this. In order to be a “good group member”, you must have already read up and watched the videos on every fight and encounter ahead of time. It’s expected.

A study conducted by the University of California, San Diego suggests that we do indeed enjoy a story more when the twists are revealed to us ahead of time. According to their studies, which took 30 people and measured their enjoyment after reading 12 spoiled/unspoiled short stories, it was found that participants across the board enjoyed a story more when the ending was told to them first, whether mystery, “ironic-twist”, or literary stories.

Their conclusion was that the plot of a story is, simply, overrated. That we read stories for a lot more than just what happens. Also, it’s just mentally easier to process.

“that once you know how it turns out, it’s cognitively easier – you’re more comfortable processing the information – and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story.”

So, easier to process, and we get to enjoy other aspects besides the plot. I can see this. It’s like if you go to the latest Marvel movies. Do you really expect the bad guys to win and Iron Man to lose? No, of course not. You already know what is going to happen, the experience is in how Stark wins. It also explains why book-to-movie conversions are so successful. A lot of people have already read the books, they want to see the visual translation on the big screen.

Or… Maybe Not. Anticipation and Suspension of Disbelief Count, Too.

But others have pointed out some major flaws in the study. Namely, that these weren’t stories that anyone was particularly vested in in the first place. They had just been told that they would be reading these short stories that day. If anything, the study just proves that this is the case with only short stories you didn’t know you were reading ahead of time.

Other avenues suggest to going to the root of why we enjoy stories in the first place. As this Atlantic article suggests, it basically comes down to the suspension of disbelief and how much we enjoy suspending it. We want to feel like we are with those characters, like we are a part of that world, and a part of us is viscerally there. So spoilers really kill our buzz, then. They remind us that a story really is just a story.

Also, it kills the anticipation of enjoyment. And don’t tell me that you don’t like anticipation. Don’t tell me that you’ll make months worth of plans for your vacation, and then literally count down the days or hours until it happens. That you’ll make reservations long in advance to a fantastic restaurant an then pour over the menu online. Of course we like anticipation! That’s why the first kiss means something. Sure, the 200th kiss means something, too, but it’s not held on such a high pedestal as the first. If someone comes along and spoils our anticipation, we feel cheated!

A Statute of Limitations on Spoilers

So how long does one have to wait, then, to post spoilers? What is socially acceptable? This post suggests that they can start being discussed almost immediately after. However, the post seems to be aimed specifically at authors writing articles and headlines, not to individual conversations or mass posts. I can see that. It’s really easy to ignore an article spoiling a show if you don’t want to be spoiled. Simply, don’t read it. They are considerate enough to give you that choice, so the time period doesn’t have to be that long.

But what about a movie like Citizen Kane? *SPOILER ALERT* The sled is named Rosebud. I’ve never seen the movie, though, but I know this. That plot twist is a part of our collective consciousness over time and has been rehashed time and again. The Titanic? It sinks. Darth Vader? Luke’s father. I can go on. These aren’t spoilers anymore… or are they?

How much do I want to watch Citizen Kane now? Well, it’s Orson Welles first feature film and is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time. I would absolutely still watch it, even knowing the twist. But, I won’t lie, still knowing it possibly kills some of the potential enjoyment, and I can’t say how much enjoyment was lost. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. Either way, knowing some enjoyment was lost makes me less likely to pick it up. I’d pick it up for every other reason than the plot, but I like plot. Plot is one of my favorite things!

Another article a friend of mine wrote posits simply, there is no statute of limitations. None, and I happen to agree with a lot of his points. Who is it that determines, about someone else’s personal entertainment, when it is finally okay to ruin a story for them? Game of Thrones is going to be around for a LONG time, both the books and the TV shows. What, really, is the rush? Why is it so important to watch it the second that it airs, and why am I then considered deserving of spoilers if I don’t? People work. We have lives. Commitments. Other hobbies. If I want to watch it 10 years from now, who are you to make the choice to spoil any of it for me? Whether to spoil or not should be a personal choice and not be forced upon you.

Spoiler Alert Banner

Avoiding All Media

I hear one of the greatest arguments for pro-spoiling is simply that if you don’t want to be spoiled, just avoid social media. Really. That’s the best argument? In this age of social media, the main argument to avoid spoilers is to avoid social media completely. Can we talk about how lame of a sentiment that is?

If you don’t want to hear me, maybe you should stop listening. … Right.

Maybe you should care less about what I have to say. … Really?

By coming on social media, you’re just asking to be spoiled. … Wow.

I was even told something like this a few days ago in a discussion I was having about spoilers. It was a group of friends who always change their profile picture to the latest character who died on Game of Thrones. I called them out on it, and got the reply:

“Mike, you have to have been paying attention to my profile pictures and the show to be spoilered…” 

This harkens back to my main points above. Why do I have to be paying attention to the show? I may in the future decide that I really want to watch it. The media isn’t going anywhere and I’m not actively searching out sites that tell me anything about the latest storylines, just in case I may want to.

Then paying attention to my friends profile pictures? That’s one of the major parts of social media! The images that you use to represent yourself digitally to the world. You post it to your social media, and then expect those who are your friends… to just not pay attention? To just un-see what you’ve already shown them?

As I said, I grew up without cable television and I’ve lived my whole life without it, but I am definitely a creature of the computer age. As such, social media is important to me. I have embraced it fully, having a Facebook account, Twitter, and many other smaller networks and online social groups. So, if I want to avoid being spoiled, I should give up a large part of my own social identity? Sacrifice my own life on the off chance you feel like talking about your favorite shows? Not happening. If social media was such a fringe element to the social spectrum, it might be easy to avoid, but this is a new age and it’s not a small part anymore.

No, I’m sorry. The answer isn’t to avoid social media entirely. It’s sadly to hide or unfollow those individuals who feel the need to spoil. As I said above, it’s terrible that this choice would have to be made at all, as these are our friends, but it’s much easier to avoid one person than avoid social media entirely.

Spoiler Alert!

But what else can someone wanting to post spoilers really do? How about, simply, think before you post! Think about what effect your post may have on others, and if you think it may possibly affect them negatively, either post a warning or maybe not post it at all. I have seen plenty of people posting their “reviews” of just-seen movies, but most are generally very aware of the possible spoilings and make a note of that. It helps them look good as they can still show belonging to the social group, but then it also shows that they care about those around them and know that not everyone wants to see it. Best of both worlds, really.  I have skipped many a post or article due to these warnings, and I’m appreciative that they’re there.

So, What Are We To Do About Spoilers?

I try to be happy person, I really do. In the end, it’s never about the individual spoil itself. It could be a character death, it could be a huge plot twist, the ending of Lost, or the Sopranos, a Harry Potter book, or even your favorite Broadway play.

But I’m just going to come out and say this: If you post spoilers, without giving others the option to avoid them, if you essentially force them upon others, with the only choice being to avoid you entirely… Stop.

It’s inconsiderate, socially unacceptable, and just rude.

The age old saying truly comes into play. Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. If you don’t want to have your favorite shows, movies, or games ruined, then maybe you shouldn’t ruin them for others.

But hey, we all aren’t perfect. I use to *be* a spoiler, and didn’t realize the damage I was doing until *I* was called out on it. Posting spoilers, unless it’s purposeful and malicious, is a minor offense at best. If these people are truly your friends, it’s very easy to forgive and forget. Live and learn.

As always, thank you for reading.

// Ocho

Summer Gaming Patterns and Outside MMO Impressions   8 comments

 

Assassins Creed

I am a creature of habit.

Sometimes those habits don’t quite mesh well with my hobbies, but that’s just the way it goes. Specifically, my gaming habits change dramatically with the changes of the seasons. I’ve found that during the fall and winter (last winter we got 68 inches of snow) I tend to stay indoors and will start picking up and playing more long-term games like MMOs a lot more seriously. During the summer, though, I head outdoors. BBQ’s, bars, camping, going down the shore, baseball games, disc golf, weekly Ultimate, you name it. So in the summer, gaming takes the far backseat. Sadly, writing about gaming goes with it. When I don’t play, I don’t have a lot to say (unless you want to hear about my Ultimate and disc golf exploits? Maybe?).

Walking Dead, Season 1

Walking Dead, Season 1. Complete. Damn, Telltale really is doing a fantastic job.

I realized I had a pattern to the way I play games way back during my young days of playing World of Warcraft. Back when I kept the subscription going year round on the “hope” that I would find time to play, but never did (what a fool I was). I found, though, that I kept coming back at the same time every year. Right in the middle of the Halloween festivities.

So from October to March, I’m all about gaming. From April to September, not so much.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped playing entirely. Quite to the contrary, I’ve found my tastes shift. I’ve really started getting into single player and indie games, finishing up games like Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2. Also playing a lot more mobile games like Tiny Tower, games that I can pick up on the go (Note: I use the phrase “mobile” and “games” in the same sentence very loosely, these mobile things are more like psychological traps).

Tiny Tower

Tiny Tower. Seriously, this game should come with a Surgeon Generals warning.

The latest MMO offerings this Spring really haven’t been enough to draw me away from this pattern, either. Here are a few very off-the-cuff thoughts:

Landmark – A Minecraft clone with better graphics. Pass. Sidenote: Why did they remove the Everquest title from Landmark? Are they now backpedaling, and cutting any possible link that would have existed between the two games? Sorry, just seems a little shady.

Elder Scrolls Online – Yet another fantasy hack and slash themepark MMO, wearing the trappings of Elder Scrolls, one of my favorite series. I won’t lie, the setting of a game means a lot to me. It’s why I’m still such a big fan of Star Trek Online after all this time. But when they remove the soul of the series, TESO doesn’t have much left that hasn’t been done before. The title may say Elder Scrolls, but it just doesn’t have the *soul* of Elder Scrolls and that’s a major turn-off for me. If it had been the same engine, but any other IP, I might have been more interested.

Wildstar – Looks a lot better than the others, I’ll give it that, but even the premise of Open Beta didn’t entice me. The telegraphing system looks to be just an evolution of The Secret World’s style, which is fine, but nothing drastic. The art style, though gorgeous in it’s bright colors is too reminiscent of World of Warcraft’s cartoon styling for me to not be reminded of it at every turn. Finally, the “elder game” looks to also be trying to grab that piece of the Warcraft pie, using the same raid-or-die approach. What this all says is that the game simply isn’t for me. I’ll leave all the real time-investment-heavy stuff to those of you with more time and interest.

ArcheAge – This may be the only title that has really piqued my curiosity as of late, but I’m not sure why. I don’t think sandboxes and I make a good fit. I don’t have the time to invest or the inclination to use others pre-made efficient builds, which most sandboxes require. But the whole “paying for alphas and betas” thing seems too sketchy. Pay a lot of money to be a part of a buggy experience and the chance you might get really tired of the game before it even launches? Ha! No thanks. If anything, the cost to be a part of alphas and betas should be LESS than the cost of the game when it launches. Stop this enticing with items nonsense and entice with price. I’ll wait for release, whenever that will be, to see if I’m still interested.

Octodad, Dadliest Catch

Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Not a long game, but frustratingly fantastic. Not to mention some of the awesome one-liners.

But in the meantime, I’ve heard that The Secret World’s Tokyo is right around the corner. Even though the hype of it has long since faded, I’ve read that it is still very much worth the wait. Star Trek Online has released Season 9, and has a new Featured Episode, which I hear is one of their best ones yet. My backlog is still plenty full and needs trimming, and then I’m still working on that old resolution list.

In other words, don’t mind me. I’m still here, just more in the background, getting as much out of summer as I can. Even if that means less gaming.

// Ocho

Leveling Up the Hardware: 5 Recent Tech Upgrades Worth Every Penny   4 comments

Intel Core i5

So, yeah, I’m a player of free-to-play titles, and I’m not ashamed of that. I won’t go out and buy the latest, got-to-have games, either. My brain just isn’t wired like that. I don’t feel any need to jump in to any first generation product without intense scrutiny and research first. This includes Elder Scrolls Online and upcoming Wildstar. I just don’t get the same thrill that others get from the hivemind, and I’m more apt to notice more flaws when I’m paying a premium price for the experience.

But, overall, I’m not cheap. Far from it. Gaming is a great hobby, but the software is only the surface of the experience. The only reason we enjoy the experience at all is because of the hardware we have backing it up. And when you upgrade your hardware, your gaming experience improves across every game you play, not just the latest shiny. For this reason, I’ll spend a lot more on hardware than I ever will on games. Go check out the MMO Juggler’s latest post on upgrading to a new sick 27″ Quad HD (1440p) monitor and try not to be jealous, I dare you. I mean just look at that Guild Wars 2 shot!

Look at it! It’s 1440 lines of awesome. Credit to the awesome MMO Juggler. Click on it to see the full size.

So lately instead of playing games, I’ve been researching and upgrading my hardware and tech and wanted to share the fruits of my labor with you. If you’re looking for great upgrades that are a great bang for your buck, check out this quick list.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke

5) Seagate 1 TB Solid State Hybrid Drive

The standard hard disk drive, a stack of magnetic spinning platters, has been around since the 1950′s and has been the defacto storage for computers today. Over time the platters have been able to hold more, the data transfer speeds have improved, but hard drives have hit a limit on how fast they can be. The physical and mechanical constraints of how fast the plates can spin can only go so high.

The latest storage technology, though, is Solid State, and is found in flash drives, cell phones, and other small devices. Instead of spinning platters, Solid State uses a solid block of material, usually a crystalline semiconductor, and uses electromagnetism and quantum mechanics to store and dispense information. Woah. However, Solid State drives are still relatively small, and still way out of the price range of the average consumer.

But the Seagate Hybrid Drives are well within budget. Seagate has combined the speed of Solid State with the storage capacity and price of HDD. For maybe a modest 20% increase in price, A SSHD gives up to 4 times the speed and a 20% increase in overall responsiveness than a standard HDD. During the sale, I paid $75 for a 1 TB SSHD, which is less than what the standard cost of a 1 TB HDD normally costs! Until SSD’s drop in price, a SSHD is the best value going.

And installation? Couldn’t have been easier. Installing the drive into your case is just plugging the drive into the board, making sure it’s getting power from the PSU, tightening a few screws, then formatting the drive,  cloning it with your current HDD, and finally setting the new drive as the main bootable from BIOS. That’s it. Trust me, you can do it.

So tiny, but it has breathed new life into my TV.

4) Chromecast

Without cable growing up and without cable now, we don’t watch much TV. However, that doesn’t mean we still don’t enjoy streaming video. We currently subscribe to Netflix, love Hulu, and are flirting with the idea of Amazon Instant Video. We also see nothing wrong with dropping a few bucks to stream movies or TV shows we want to see. It’s a new age.

Chromecast, at it’s basic premise, allows you to take any tab in Chrome and stream it directly to any TV with the device attached. On top of that, the Chromecast also has apps for popular services, so it doesn’t even run Netflix from your PC, it picks it up itself.

With this device, my TV is finally getting some use again, and it’s only $35, which is a lot cheaper than my XBox Gold sub was, and a lot less complicated.

Don’t give them more than you have to, especially for the “rented box”.

3) Motorola Surfboard Docsis 3.0 Cable Modem

Do you know the difference between Docsis 2.0 and Docsis 3.0? Do you know which standard your cable modem is using? Do you know what your current Internet plan is capable of? If not, you may want to do some research.

By any stretch, Docsis 3.0 is not a new thing. Over 7 years old, Docsis 3.0 is a telecommunications standard that offers significant transmission speeds and quality over previous generations. However, due to lack of consumer knowledge, it is still not widely in use, even by those who are paying for the tiers to use it. Essentially, if you’re renting your cable modem box from your provider, you’re most likely still using 2.0 and paying them a monthly fee to do so.

This modem not only gives you a significant boost in speed and quality, if your service allows it, but it also frees you from that monthly rental fee! Faster speeds and it will pay for itself over time, this one is really a must-have for any serious internet user. This has gone up in price, too. It use to be $50 when it was a lot less known, but over time it’s gone up to where it is now at $70. Still a solid deal.

Installation might require a technician to come out and install it, and probably the safest way to do so to make sure it’s set up properly, but it can be self-installed. If you self-install, talking to support might still be necessary, though.

Doesn’t take up a lot of room, but boy does it fill up a space.

2) RCA Home Theatre Sound Bar with Bluetooth

This came up on Woot for $40. I picked it up, and have been in love with it ever since. Heck, I didn’t even connect this to my TV for the first couple months I had it and it was still worth it!

Essentially, this speaker bar has multiple speakers, a subwoofer, and pairs smoothly with any bluetooth device, like every smartphone. Having podcasts playing or music around the house became a whole lot easier. Just pair the speaker with your phone, then start playing music. Done.

I then took it a step further and attached it to my TV and suddenly instead of the tinny embedded TV speakers, a much more rich full sound emerged. I watched The Avengers (not usually a superhero fan, but the speaker needed a good test… good movie, though) and the sound alone blew my mind. Paired with the Chromecast from above, I don’t think I’ll ever stream to my computer again. The difference in quality is that substantial.

If you see it again for $40, it’s a must buy, but that price is ridiculously low for a sound bar. Lowest price for a new one is looking around $80, which would cause me to balk. However, if you catch one on a decent sale, it’s well worth the price.

Small, but more than enough to do the job.

1) EVGA GeForce GTX 750

My old card, a PNY GeForce GTX 460, has been showing signs of aging and it has come time to replace it. A video card upgrade always rocks, but the EVGA GeForce GTX 750 is a solid card that can work in a much wider range of systems.

Going from the 460, though, I didn’t know how much of an increase I was going to get. The 460 is twice the size, took up it’s own rails from the power supply, and was a solid workhorse. In comparison, the 750 uses 60% less power, is tiny, and doesn’t need to be plugged into anything but the board. It is a few generations newer, though.

So, for the budget $105 I paid for the card, I wasn’t expecting a significant upgrade. What I got, though, was a significant upgrade. Before installation, I took the time and performed a few benchmarks to see exactly how much of an upgrade I would get, using the 3DMark11 software, which is conveniently available through Steam.

Aside from the Physics scores, which are taking a small hit, I found an across the board 35%-47% increase in graphics processing! So anything having to do with lights, shadows, surfaces, and textures are all getting a serious bump. Not bad. The increase in airflow and power savings would be worth it alone, but the performance increase makes it a solid upgrade.

My system before was no slouch, either. I could play almost any game on full settings easily. Now, though, it’s even easier to do so, and this card should last me a good long time.

Intel Core i7, GeForce GTX 460

Okay, so I’m not the best at cable management. So sue me.

So, overall, the next time you think of dropping a huge sum on the latest and greatest game that’ll cost you $60 for a few weeks play, think about possibly using that for a tech upgrade instead.

You might miss out on one game, but it’ll make the rest of your games a lot more fun.

// Ocho

P.S. – And trust me, if you miss the latest game that everyone’s playing just this once, you’ll live.

As a Gamer, Do You Really Want Difficulty?   11 comments

Skyrim, Difficulty

This thought has come to mind a little too often for me, lately. Do we enjoy difficulty? If we claim a game we are playing to be difficult, is this a good thing, or a bad thing? On the surface, I would say my individual answer is yes. I know I personally enjoy a game that is more challenging, one that takes a bit of thought process or learned skill to get through. But are the games we are playing really difficult, do we just convince ourselves that they are, and do gamers today really want difficulty?

This topic is a lot more complex than the surface belies. As so happens, one of the myriad podcasts that I listen to, How To Murder Time (which I highly suggest you listen to as well), recently delved into the topic of difficulty, covered it pretty extensively, and led me to this post.

Super Meat Boy, Difficulty in Games

Huh? Wha?!

MMO Skill is an Illusion

What is difficulty, anyway? I think this is where the root of the issue lies. Difficulty can have a whole plethora of different meanings. The first one that jumps to mind, and the first one the podcast brings up, is “twitch” skill. It’s found in it’s purest form in games that don’t offer many character development options and has level design that keeps getting more and more challenging, like Super Meat Boy. The Super Mario games are a great example, too. Sure, Mario can get larger by ingesting fungus but overall it’s the levels that increase in difficulty. Completing the game becomes the accomplishment. It pits a specific level of skill that, if yours is too low, you’ll never beat the game.

But what game nowadays has that kind of challenge? Even FPS multiplayer shooter games like Titanfall, which just released, has leveling progression in which you gain experience to attain access to better weapons and a bigger toolset to use against your foes. If you’re then faced against a new, lower level player, sure, the lower level has a chance to use their skill to beat you, but the higher level players still have a decided edge. In this sense, are we leveling just to make content easier? Do we even want difficulty at all, if we work hard to nullify it?

You’ve seen the roosters strutting around in whatever MMO you’re playing these days. Those peacocks of the gaming world, strutting around in all the best and shiniest gear. And good for them, it shows their dedication to the game that they were able to get their hands on said loot. But was it really difficult to do so?

Guild Wars 2, Halloween, Difficulty in Games

I call this place… Pain in the Ass Tower.

In the grand scheme of things, here is the defacto MMO progression:

  • Do content, get loot, level up.
  • Use levels and loot to do higher level content, get better loot, level up.
  • Repeat until max level.
  • Continue to run content and get more loot (or just take the shortcut and buy it from other players on the auction house), which makes top level content easier.
  • Keep running content until maximum loot power is achieved and game becomes too easy.
  • Leave game out of boredom/complain about not having enough content on forums.

At that point, even the most difficult content becomes a cakewalk, but we’ve earned that through the time we put in to get that loot. Reward is good. But the entire time during this progression, the difficulty really hasn’t changed. We level up, our gear levels up, and the content matches difficulty stride for stride. It’s a linear progression. We do normal dungeons until they get too easy, then we do elite dungeons until they get too easy, then we do nightmare dungeons until we gear up to maximum and stop running them as they become too easy.

Our reward for running content is just to make content easier.

I’ve even heard content in The Elder Scrolls Online becomes trivial if you come back to it overleveled. A boss that gave you a hard time in the past suddenly is not so tough when you’re 10 levels higher, are they? The difficulty in TESO, then, just comes in rushing forward too fast. I am starting to hear more and more good things about the “exploration” aspect of TESO, but have yet to be convinced that it’s more than an illusion buried in the willing suspension (which relates to the next section).

The Walking Dead, Difficulty in Gaming

The Walking Dead isn’t a difficult game to play, it’s a difficult game to *watch*.

Puzzle Solving is Entirely Optional

But difficulty through skill is not the only level of difficulty. As Jon and Tim go on to discuss, it could also be about puzzle-solving. This is my favorite, by far, and one of the reasons I love The Secret World. As a content filler gap they recently just added four new investigation missions to the game, which I consider to be the real meat and potatoes of TSW. I’ve already completed one, and without giving away any details, I had to pull some real mind-bending out-of-game stuff to figure it out (keep a smartphone handy).

But this kind of difficulty is only challenging to the player that wants to do it in the first place. Puzzle difficulty is entirely by choice if the player wants to challenge themselves or not. I’m not one to cheat, but sites like Youtube, Dulfy.net, TSWDB.com, Star Trek Online wiki, and a plethora of others just hand out the answers to anyone willing to search. I even had a search term today that led someone to this site where they were looking for the answers to one of the new TSW missions! They just came out on Tuesday! They didn’t find it here, of course, but that they even were looking in the first place means something.

This isn’t a recent issue, though. I remember buying games at Gamestop and part of the salesperson’s spiel was to try to sell the guide to go along with it. Nothing has really changed, except it now costs a lot less effort and money to find the answers to these puzzles and quest guides.

Gabriel Knight, Difficulty in Games

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

/rant start

And find those answers gamers do in droves. So much that it’s even demanded by the community in some situations:

Oh, going into a dungeon you’ve never been in before and you haven’t researched it? What a scrub. What, do you just want to be carried by everyone else? You want to waste everyone else’s time? How lazy and selfish!

Seriously, this is why I don’t PUG or have any want to run group content at all. The communal expectation to be professionally knowledgeable about dungeons you’ve never set foot in are too high. There is no such thing as a noob the second those guides hit the internet, only “selfish” gamers.

Then it comes back to the skill to perform the guides steps, but “skill” in MMOs is really intrinsically linked to one’s Gearscore (read: random loot tables over time). That’s why the demands you see from the community for running PUGs keeps getting more and more ridiculous. These elitists don’t want a challenge! They don’t want to enjoy content with strangers! They’re lazy and want the most reward given for the least amount of effort, and so demand that from others, unceremoniously booting those who don’t live up to their demanding standards. Only those on the right side of the bell-curve may apply.

Can you tell I’m a little burnt out and jaded?

/rant end

The Secret World, Difficulty in Gaming

Still one of my favorite moments all-time from MMO gaming.

Wrangling Herds of Cats, Though

Finally, there is, arguably, the only real true form of challenge left posed by MMOs today: dealing with each other. Kind of the point of MMOs right? Playing with others? But the highest level raid content, or just content made too difficult to solo is in these games for a reason. And that is the challenge of working with and coordinating a group of people who are all only looking out for their own self interests. The content itself may not even really be that difficult (of course it’s not, “correctly” geared players mitigate the risk of failure), but organizing a group of 10-15 people to all do the same thing at the same time, with no real guarantee of reward, is impressive as hell!

The amount of time and energy driven to herding players to a single goal is outstanding. I know. Not from gaming, mind you, but I was a higher-up in a student run theatre company, and the experience is very similar. In the professional world, at least employees are being paid, but getting people to be dedicated to a common goal when it won’t put food on their table is not exactly easy. It’s why I put my time in theatre on my CV. It shows the skill of leadership when your charges are only present of their own whims. Having formal education in human psychology and group dynamics, though, doesn’t hurt.

However, I’d still caution against putting “Raid Leader” on a resume, if only because the social stigma against gamers is still heavily present in society. The skill, though, the pure skill of human wrangling, is universal and still quite impressive.

Guild Wars 2, Difficulty in Gaming

I’ve never wanted to punch a cloud in the face so much.

More Than A Struggle

Aside from having to deal with each other, we’ve gone from the days of a game’s content becoming easier with actual time, practice, and mental gymnastics, to becoming easier through in-game power ups and cheats. Do we get the same amount of accomplishment, though? I think what we gain is a lot more tangible.

We get great stories, we get great visuals, we get a sense of accomplishment not only at the end, but all the way through. We get lost in a great world. We get shared achievement. We get a thriving community that we can gladly raise our hand and claim to be a part of. We get a sense of belonging.

We get everything but difficulty.

// Ocho

 

 

Daggerfall: Werewolves and Scorpions   4 comments

Daggerfall

I’ve finally built a character I think I’ll like. Like my original plan, my character is focusing on Blunt Weapons, Restoration Magic, and Dodge, and lesser skills Medical, Illusion Magic, and Critical Strike. On top of that, I gave my Argonian a boost of magic points, rapid healing, and a bonus to hit humanoids and then to balance out the good stuff, forbade the use of plate armor, long blades, and axes. This seems good, and I get out of the tutorial dungeon relatively easy.

Daggerfall

Bears. Sure. Easy.

After making my way out, the tutorial post congratulated me, and then said it would contact me in 7 days and suggested I start making my way toward the town of Daggerfall. Sounds reasonable. However, opening the travel map, it says Daggerfall is *8* days out. Well, I don’t want to miss what’s going to happen, so I instead opt to travel to the closest town, Gathway Gardens, which appears to be only one pixel on the map away. Sweet. I turn south and start running.

Daggerfall

In a straight line, too.

TEN MINUTES LATER I finally arrive at the town. Ten minutes? Seriously?! I’m going to need to get around faster than this. Since my bags are brimming with loot, I find a general store and sell off a few things, and go broke buying a horse. Well, at least the horse will improve travel times significantly.

With that I auto-travel the rest of the way to Daggerfall quickly enough, and since I’m broke, start asking around for work. NPCs are really here in the game as fodder. They point you from one location to the next, dispense information, and that’s it. Ask them more than one question, and they also start giving a bit of attitude.

In the meantime, I pick up a quick delivery job. Doesn’t pay significantly, and is a simple delivery quest, but whatever. A job is a job. I’m to deliver a strapless wedding gown to this General Store’s customer in town. … it ends up being this guy.

Daggerfall

I have your strapless wedding gown for you… sir?

Gotta love procedural generation.

I pick up another job, but this one is of a little more importance. The rescuing of a shopkeeper’s young cousin. Now we’re getting somewhere. He tells me she’s being held at the Citadel of Gaersley and that it’s filled with orcs. I killed one of them in the tutorial dungeon, so no problem. This is going to be cake. I make my way there, enter the citadel, and the bastard lied to me. Orcs? ORCS?! Not an orc in sight. Werewolves and giant scorpions, though, this place has in spades and both can one shot me.

Daggerfall

Running. Running is good.

I become REALLY familiar with the Save/Load functions, but I do find enemies I can still dispatch. Burglars, thieves, archers, giant bats, they fall before me. But the giant scorpions paralyze me, which is a quick death, and the werewolves just maul me to pieces. For a brief second, I even saw an ancient lich. This is NOT a level 2 dungeon! After about 50 or 60 deaths, probably more, inexplicably, I stumble across my charge. I pick her up, and we make a beeline for the door.

Back in Daggerfall, with the whole mission taking a total of 5 days, we return to a snow filled scene on the day of a holiday. A holiday? This game has holidays, too?! Even better, each province celebrates their own holidays! So a holiday that is celebrated in the Alik’r Desert may not be celebrated in Wayrest.

It’s the day of South Wind’s Prayer, the 15th of Morning Star (January), where all religions give a prayer on the hope of a good planting season (hopefully they’re not planting in the snow, though). Not long after entering the gates, a courier approaches and delivers a note. It’s from Lady Magnessen of Daggerfall and tells me to meet her at an inn where she is staying to discuss my mission. I also get a note from Princess Morgiah of Wayrest saying she knows of this note, and to come to Wayrest to speak to her, too.

Daggerfall

An Argonian named Ocho… that should be your first clue something isn’t right.

 

Plot! Wait… what IS my mission? Oh, right, according to the log, it’s to find out why King Lysandus’s spirit is haunting Daggerfall and to find some letter sent to the Queen of Daggerfall.

So far Daggerfall is turning out to be better than I expected. Procedural generation out the wazoo but what it lacks in depth it makes up in size, like a humongous puddle… in a good way. This isn’t some remote province, this is a HUGE world and it really feels huge, too! Also, it isn’t about hand-holding either. You’re not some fortold savior like in Skyrim or Morrowind, you’re an average joe-shmoe, and boy does the game let you know that, too.

Well let’s go see what the Lady Magnessen has to say.

// Ocho

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Neverwinter Does April Fool’s Day Right   5 comments

screenshot_2014-04-02-20-19-45

I always say that you have to take everything you read on the Internet with a pound of salt, and April Fool’s Day is no exception. At least on April 1st, though, the posts are a lot more funny.

I took that pound of salt when I logged on and saw that Neverwinter was releasing a few new things. “Sure”, I thought. “What awesomeness is it going to be that won’t be real and I’ll be disappointed that it’s not real?” They had three things on the April Fool’s docket: A new Dragon class, a Gelatinous Cube mount, and a new skirmish where your characters are pieces on a D&D board. Ha ha, Cryptic. Very funny. The dragon class is obviously a prank, but the other two just sound really awesome, so it’s too bad it’s April Fool’s…

But lo and behold, Cryptic wasn’t joking. Yes, the dragon class is fake, but the Cube mount and the skirmish are totally real! And they are both a thing of nerdy goodness.

Neverwinter, Gelatinous Cube

My companion does not look that impressed with my new mount. She also doesn’t seem worried that I’m surrounded by acidic ooze.

I logged on last night and gladly forked over 800 zen for the mount. It hits all the right receptors as it bounces and slimes around town, wobbling just as one would expect a jelly cube to bounce. I love it. If a lime green jello mold could be adorable, this one definitely is.

Up for offer, too, was “Respen’s Marvelous Game” which completing 15 times netted a new Green Slime Companion! Since all of my companions are basic (get it? GET IT?!), and the next time I see 300,000 AD to upgrade them may be never (but then it may happen if I keep using Bing), the Slime would only take one night of grinding the skirmish. Cake.

Neverwinter, Raspen's Marvelous Game

This makes my Pathfinder playin’ self so happy.

However, Respen’s Marvelous Game truly shined and delivered a heavy dose of geekery. Designed for characters from level 6-60, your character becomes a miniature on a D&D map, on it’s own little base  in an epic pose. You then make your way through two different randomized dungeons. The first, the one I encountered more often, is a stereotypical dungeon filled with baddies, all the while the DM Respen is narrating as you go, fantastically using different voices for all the characters you encounter.

The second adventure is a search for an elven princess who has been kidnapped and involves going through the woods from place to place trying to find her, with events randomized. I loved near the end, after defeating an orc summoner, he says “With his dying breath the orc finishes the ritual and summons <audible dice roll> a pit fiend!” and a huge winged demon bursts from the ground.

Neverwinter, Raspen's Marvelous Game

Yes, we’re beating on a 20-sided die. Respen ran out of miniatures for orcs and goblins and used dice.

In order to get the companion, I had to complete the run 15 times, but since each run only took about 5-10 minutes, it wasn’t that bad. I got kicked out of a few groups for being too low level (elitists <shakes head>… damage was scaled so that we were all on equal footing, but my being level 35 still somehow annoyed the 60s that they couldn’t cope for 5 minutes). Sometimes I ended up on the top of the charts, other times near the bottom. Standard stuff. There wasn’t a time, though, when a dungeon was too hard to beat.

All in all, Cryptic showed what it does best. Quick, easy to group content that felt a lot more epic than it had any reason to be, lots of fun, and coupled with nice rewards for a decent effort. Well played, Cryptic.

Neverwinter, Raspen's Marvelous Game

The awesomeness is too much to take.

I always thought ArenaNet were the masters of MMO April Fool’s, but it seems there’s a new contender in town.

// Ocho

P.S. – I recently updated my Characters page to show all of the different MMO characters I play. Feel free to add me as a friend and send a message if you see me in game. :)

Neverwinter, Raspen's Marvelous Game

An oozing ball of green slime that I could call my very own.

P.P.S. – Sadly, I realized that as this is about to post that it will be too late to head into Neverwinter if you wanted to try the April Fool’s content. My hope is that this awesomeness is too good for a one-off event, and they’ll periodically be bringing this back. It’s too much fun not to.

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