Allow me a little narcissism. It seems a gaming questionnaire has been circulating among my fellow game blogging compatriots lately, started by Jasyla at Cannot Be Tamed (Thanks, Jasyla!). So, why not? A little survey occasionally is good for the soul, and it gives you a little more insight into my particular point of view, if you’re interested. Also, it’s my site and I’ll post whatever I want, whenever I want, thank you very much.
1. When did you start playing video games?
My memory does not extend that far back, to be honest. I want to say… 8 years old? Which would give me gaming cred for about 25 years now. Looking back, my parents were amazing to me growing up. They purchased me an Atari 7800 and I played the heck out of that thing. Still have it in my basement somewhere with a full bin of games. Good ones, too. Saints. My parents are saints.
2. What is the first game you remember playing?
Donkey Kong on an old CalecoVision. Literally. I don’t know how old the CalecoVision console was at the time I was playing on it, maybe 7 years old, but it’s the oldest game that flashes back to me.
Core i7, in case you’re curious.
3. PC or Console?
These days I’m all about the PC. I’m not going to go into the whole “PC master race” nonsense as it’s just that: nonsense. However, my PC is the most versatile piece of technology I own. The choice was either have a game console that is just a game console, or a PC that is a game console plus a million other things. A PC is just more efficient to own, even if it is a little more costly.
4. XBox, PlayStation, or Wii?
To me, it doesn’t matter. I’ve owned a Playstation 2 that I took apart and put back together a hundred times (I use to buy broken ones, fix them, and sell them again at a profit), I own an XBox 360 and a Wii. Now, they all accumulate dust. If I got the latest iteration of any of them, they’d probably do the same. I’ll give the Wii credit for the most versatility with it’s free use of Netflix and capability as a DVD player, though. Wii Sports is still fun, too. :)
The OG of RPG’s, as far as I’m concerned.
5. What’s the best game you’ve ever played?
Ultima 7. Totally rose-colored-glasses here, but at the time, Ultima 7 was a mind-blower. I played it on my parents IBM, and the game took up a whopping 20 MB of space. Comparative to today, that’s like a game taking up about 700 GB. But the experience was amazing. Ultima 7 was one of the first “open world” games I remember. There was a storyline in there somewhere, but every NPC in the entire game had a daily schedule that included their home, their work, lunch breaks, after-work activities, dinner, socializing, etc. You could attend concerts! Mine for ore! Craft swords! Bake bread! Compare this to other games at the time and there was no comparison. Ultima 7 would be similar to Skyrim today, but if Skyrim let you play in more open world.
6. What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?
Crusaders of Might and Magic. I was a big fan of the Might and Magic series, and had just finished one of my favorites of the series, World of Xeen, before playing Crusaders. Boy was I let down. Crusaders was more of a first-person-shooter style, but not, and a very linear gameplay. Totally different than any other Might and Magic title. It was my first real game that I finished and thought “Well, that… was not good.” It may not actually be the worst, I’m sure I’ve played worse, but since it was the first it sticks out the most.
7. Name a game that was popular/critically adored that you just didn’t like.
Any game that has the words “Call of Duty” or “Battlefield” in their title. I gave them a good shake a few times, and though I’m a fan of shooters, I just couldn’t get into the whole realistic military setting. Felt too glorified. War, realistic war, is not a game and what soldiers do is necessary in defense of one’s country. Glorifying realistic modern military in the gaming space is irresponsible, in my opinion.
I am heartbroken that Rusty Hearts is shutting down, I really am.
8. Name a game that was poorly received that you really like.
The one that jumps to mind is the soon to be shut down Rusty Hearts. As a MMO player, it was a refreshing game to play. One of the first MMO action titles, too, it had a silly/serious manga style story with an artistic gothic painting-like atmosphere, a soundtrack mixing light jazz and hard rock, easy to jump into and interesting dungeons, and abilities that made you feel like a badass from the very beginning. It will be shutting down on September 15th, 2014, though, and it never reached any real following. It’s a shame, really. It was a lot of fun.
9. What are your favourite game genres?
MMOs, First Person Shooters, Point-and-click Adventures, Indie Games, Most things Elder Scrolls and Might and Magic, and really anything. I’ll try anything at least once.
10. Who is your favourite game protagonist?
Ooooooo…. it’s a tossup between Guybrush Threepwood or Faith. Mirror’s Edge is one of my favorite games, mostly because Faith is such a badass and for the game’s originality. As for Guybrush, I haven’t seen a character learn to swordfight in a more entertaining way.
One of the first FPS’s I’ve played that didn’t need any S.
11. Describe your perfect video game.
One which will deliver me a beer and pizza while I’m playing it. Make it happen, people.
Really, I have no perfect game. I see video games these days as works of art, meant to be appreciated for what they are, not how they live up to some definition of perfection. I am no artist, so who am I to tell the artists how to make their masterpieces? Imparting expectations on artwork is futile and only leads to disappointment.
12. What video game character do have you have a crush on?
Who is that woman behind the protagonist on the Mass Effect 2 box cover? Yeah. Her. No idea why. Don’t even know her character, haven’t even played Mass Effect 2. Maybe it’s her hair?
13. What game has the best music?
Guild Wars 2. Tough question, though. There is a LOT of really good game music out there. Thankfully, at least MMO music is covered by the Battle Bards Podcast. I still think the best video game music piece going is the Civilization IV intro, though. I even wrote up a post about this once…
14. Most memorable moment in a game:
That I can remember: BioShock, the twist near the end. More recent: pretty much the entirety of To the Moon.
Gah. Goosebumps got me again…
15. Scariest moment in a game:
I have a hard time not saying The Secret World for this one. Too many good ones, but the part that sticks out the most is Issue 7: A Dream to Kill, inside the Nursery. Opening the room with all the dolls for the first time gave me goosebumps on top of goosebumps. Creepy dolls always get me.
Also, the scene in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers when Gabriel attends the lecture and falls asleep. The dream he had made me instantly stop playing the game when I was younger.
16. Most heart-wrenching moment in a game:
The self-sacrifice by Dupre in Ultima 7: Part 2. The first time I played it, I was dumbstruck. I didn’t even know games even had emotional depth until that moment.
17. What are your favourite websites/blogs about games?
Who wants a shoutout?! I can’t list all of them, I’d be here all day. If you’re reading this right now and have a site of your own… it’s you. No, really, it’s you. I’m fascinated about your opinion.
I follow Massively sort of religiously, but I don’t usually agree with most of the GOML commenters who just want the “old days” to come back (“Get Off My Lawn”… I feel #GOML needs to be a thing), but I love reading all the experiences that my fellow bloggers have in every game they play. I’m truly fascinated in how we can each be playing the same thing, and have a multitude of different reactions to it. In my mind, that is what makes video games art.
Uplifting, but overall a very sad tale.
18. What’s the last game you finished?
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood or To The Moon, I can’t remember which I finished last. Both excellent games in their own right, though.
19. What future releases are you most excited about?
Shroud of the Avatar, but that could be because I’ve already invested so much into it.
20. Do you identify as a gamer?
I do, yes. Not 100%, though. I also identify as husband, friend, coworker, disc golf player, techie, and a multitude of other identities. Gaming is just one part of my identity, but I won’t deny it’s existence. I think Mr. Kuchera really hit the nail on the head, and I can’t say it better than he can.
Not really a “game”, but I don’t care. So good. There’s a reason Walking Dead is at the top of most gamer’s lists.
21. Why do you play video games?
I like to be told a good story, be it by book or movie, or any other medium. Books allow a story to be more descriptive where all the action goes on in your head and allows your imagination to run wild. Movies are more about the visual and audio components of a story and hit hard viscerally, but are a lot shorter.
Video games, though, allow you to interact with the story itself. A great mix of other styles, games allow you to be immersed in a world, not just be swept along with the plot. To be able to explore a world’s nooks and crannies as well as the plot. To walk alongside the hero/heroine and feel their accomplishments as your own.
This is why I play games. Simply, I feel they are one of the best ways to interact with a good story.
Thank you for reading, folks. If you want, take the survey yourself! As I said, I’m always curious to hear your thoughts, too.
If you haven’t noticed, I like like to draw a lot of parallels between gaming and real life. This is because the two are intrinsically linked, in my opinion, life being full of challenges, games being all about challenges, and we tend to recognize these patterns when we see them. The thought crossed my mind today about ‘instancing’ in MMOs and how I’m about to enter a real life “instance”.
Now an ‘instance’ in an MMO, to the uninitiated, is a part of the game world that is created only for you or your group. They are separated from the main game world by a portal of some kind, and have challenges placed within them in a confined area. These challenges cause the reward to be better than the outside world. Dungeons with a cap on participants and bosses that require multiple players, controlled story content designed to push the narrative further, a field meant for player vs player battles that can’t be affected or affect the larger game, instances come in many shapes and sizes and I can’t think of a single game that doesn’t have instancing to some effect.
So soon my friends and I are heading out on a vacation together to see two of our good friends get married, and my gaming mind can’t help but draw a parallel to an instance. The flight leaves around the time this is set to post and we will spend the next few glorious days in the sun-and-sin-soaked city of Las Vegas getting into as many shenanigans and malarkey as the city and our bank accounts will allow. Expectations are for copious amounts of potent potables to flow, culinary masterpieces to be ingested, and many a high and low strike at the chances of fate. It. Will. Be. Amazing.
This is not something we do all the time. For any of us, this is the first real major trip we’ve gone on as a group of friends, so it’s definitely outside of the main “world” that we know, namely New Jersey. We leave by airplane into the world we’re not use to, and we come back by plane to the world we normally frequent. Lots of space has been made in our bags for the loot that we will inevitably pick up while we are there, and we know the experience will cause our two good friends to “level up” in their relationship, and will increase our own life experiences as well. We will all come back better than we left.
I’d definitely take this ride over US Airways, though.
- The instance “portal” –> The plane ride.
- The space confines –> Las Vegas, primarily the Las Vegas strip.
- The “challenge” –> To see our good friends married and to send them into their married life together in as epic a way as possible.
- The “reward” –> The stories that will come from the epicness, among other souvenirs.
So this may be a roundabout way of saying this, but get out there and travel! See the world, see the sites! Get into trouble! Get a ton of great stories in the process and take those doors when they open.
You never know when these experiences are going to add up enough to take your life to the next level.
A big warning to all of you out there: MMO Free-To-Play monetary tactics have left the gaming space.
“Well, duh,” I hear a few of you saying (those of you who still say ‘duh‘… people still say ‘duh‘, right?). New psychological tactics to separate people from their money are being developed all the time. When one part of the business world happens upon a strategy that works it’s only natural that it will be picked up and modified for others. Very true, but rarely do you see it done in so spectacular a fashion as happened recently on the Atlantic City beach.
On July 31st, 2014, Blake Shelton, one of the reality-show judges on “The Voice” and a decorated country music singer, performed a concert in Atlantic City, New Jersey free to any passer-by and those lucky enough to grab complimentary passes. The concert was held on the beach near the The Piers at Caesars, a large shopping complex on a pier extending out into the Atlantic Ocean, and presented by the Atlantic City Alliance and it’s “Do AC” promotional campaign. In other words, free concerts with big names to draw people to come down to Atlantic City. Jimmy Buffet had a concert last year and Lady Antebellum just performed this past Sunday. Good music, ocean backdrop, a cool drink. Good stuff.
For the 60,000 attending, though, good luck on the “free” part. This show was far from “free”. In fact, it very heavily resembles the “free” we see in Free-To-Play games. Sure, listening to the music is free, but if you want anything else, and we mean anything, you will pay for it and at levels taking your “free” music price tag into account.
The news reports for this show are extensive, but lets be real. Blake wasn’t doing this out of the kindness of his heart, he was being paid. Well. Without ticket sales to back up the initial cost, how did they make the money? Why, on literally everything else they could.
A coworker of mine whose relative attended the concert came back and told her all about it. When she relayed the story onto us, I asked her to clarify some specific details on what some of these other prices were.
- Parking: Anywhere from $50 per car to as high as $75 were seen.
- A 10 oz bottle of water: $8.
- 10 hot chicken wings: $22.
Parking usually: $5-$10 at most during peak season, off times you can find it free. I was also told that the vendors that were selling these high-price wares were vendors specifically brought in by Atlantic City and they positioned themselves between the huge crowd and the struggling Atlantic City Boardwalk vendors. This is just an example of some of the prices, but I heard they all were around the same level of up-charge.
Lockboxes. One of the biggest money makers for Free-To-Play MMOs… similar to gambling.
Now before you get all huffy and throw around the word “entitlement”, yes, we all get it. Nothing in this world is free. Everything comes at a cost. And there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s the backbone of a mixed market capitalist economy. Believe me, Blake Shelton got paid, Atlantic City got paid, Live Nation got paid, and at the expense of the audience, as it’s supposed to be. Sidenote: If anything, Atlantic City is the real jerk here in bringing in their own vendors instead of helping the struggling boardwalk vendors…. but that’s beside the point.
MMO Gamers, though, we’ve seen this for years. The Free-To-Play vs. Subscription vs. Buy-To-Play fight is everlasting. Is it better to be let into a game for free only to then be subjected to a possibly exploitative cash shop, or to pay a blind up-front cost and recurring fee to enjoy a “buffet” style of game, or a combination of both? They all make money and have their good and bad points, certainly.
Just like in gaming, though, the only person seeing this concert for “free” is the person who really went out of their way and inconvenienced themselves to do so. They parked really far away, probably in one of the not-so-safe areas of AC and they didn’t partake of any refreshments while they viewed the concert. In other words, they paid for their convenience in other ways. The same exact way FTP games will often trade convenience for real money, after letting you in for free.
On the other side, here’s a concert *inside* an MMO.
In my opinion, the best Free-To-Play games are the ones that will offer a fun experience and entice you to open your wallet for fun extras, instead of hinder you by putting up pay walls. It’s a fine tightrope, though, between entice and force, and I’m not sure we’ve seen it walked perfectly yet. It’s certainly a slippery slope leading down into exploitative territory.
So $22 for hot wings and $50-$75 for parking? I’m sorry, Atlantic City. If you were a Free-To-Play game, I’d consider you leaning heavily on the exploitative side of the equation.
P.S. – I do find it funny, though, that not long ago I posted about the tricks casinos use to get your money and Free-To-Play MMOs using very similar tactics. It was only a matter of time before the tricks came back around.
My tickets have been purchased and I’ll be seeing Guardians of the Galaxy tonight, and I’m really excited about it.
I know I’ve said it before, but I am very eclectic in my nerd tastes. I like Star Trek, but I’m not the biggest fan of Star Wars. I’m part of a periodic Pathfinder group, but never really got into D&D. I love attending Renaissance Faires, but you will not find me dressing up in costume for it. My tastes vary greatly from topic to topic. I love a good medieval style fantasy, but I can’t stand Game of Thrones. I’ll love one thing, but hate something very similarly related. Heck, I don’t have the faintest hint if I’ll like something until I really give it a shot, hence why I try a lot of different things.
So comic books and the whole superhero genre? Meh. Never been into it. The plots are usually as deep as a puddle, the characters cliche, the worlds need quite a healthy suspension of disbelief, and the whole concept of a single “hero” being effective where entire hard-working police/fire/government agencies are useless is a fallacy that I don’t think should be promoted. They say fiction follows societal trends, though, and so superheros come into prevalence when overall faith drops in the agencies designed to protect us. So, is it surprising superheros are peaking right now? Yeah. Superheroes have always been one of those nerd pursuits that I never looked down on, but I just never *got*. Spandex, muscles everywhere, destruction that magically fixes itself, scantily clad… everyone. Bleh.
Watch your step.
The emails that I keep getting from Gazillion are *very* tempting, though. Filled with goodies, and the truth is that when Marvel Heroes released, it’s word-of-mouth wasn’t that complementary. Having three or four of the same superhero running around, not a ton of content, very bland gameplay, and if you want another character, the only way to get it was to open your wallet. It just didn’t *feel* right, a cash grab, and it was hard to get excited about your own character. But I gave it another shot recently, as it’s free and the waves of emails are tempting, and it is by far not the same game that it use to be.
Now, finding the same character as yourself running around is infrequent. Your starting character can be one of 10 different heroes, so you’re not seeing copies of yourself everywhere. Gameplay itself is a ridiculously fun experience, explosions everywhere and giving a very epic feel to your hero and their incredible abilities. Heroes can be earned in-game, and the roster of heroes is up to 37 now with the recent inclusion of Star-Lord to the roster, thanks to quick development and movie tie-ins. Each hero plays a completely different style than the others, too.
When I came back to the game, I started playing as Daredevil, a character whose movie wasn’t something I was terribly impressed with, but he was one of the free ones and seemed like a very quick and versatile fighter. And he blew me away. DD was a powerhouse, from swinging around his nunchucks to jumping around like a maniac. But he isn’t my favorite superhero. Even though I’m not a big fan, remember that old 1992 X-Men Arcade game? Damn did I drop a lot of quarters into that when I was younger, and my favorite was, hands-down, Nightcrawler. He flashed all around the screen, hitting everyone, and his teleport powers were just badass.
So I dropped a few bucks on Marvel Heroes as I was really enjoying the game, and picked up Nightcrawler. This has been, in retrospect, one of the best MMO purchases I can think of in recent memory. As a playable hero, he does NOT disappoint. He slices his dual rapiers around while teleporting all over the place like a madman. As a hero, he seems best played by using his teleport and sword abilities to great effect. Boss about to smash you? Just teleport behind them and keep on beating. Bunch of bad guys out of range? Teleport to them, grab them en mass and bring them right next to where you were, then slice away.
The only downside I can see about the game so far is that the story isn’t big enough. By the time you hit level 30, the story is done, but the level cap is 60. In order to hit 60, you start farming the social zones, play challenges, or replay the story again but at a higher difficulty. And so if someone wants to max out all 37 heroes, that’s playing through the whole story 111 times! So, if you’re reading this, Gazillion, you have a seriously fun game, but make more story content!
This whole Rainbow Bridge thing still doesn’t make a whole ton of sense, but sure, I can roll with it. Rainbows are awesome.
But the real side effect of playing? I’m starting to get into the whole superhero thing. I think I get it now. I still don’t think the characters are all that deep, but huge explosions? Sciency-tech? Being badass? It’s a lot of fun. I’ve rented all the movies that have been out and I’m almost fully caught up. Still have a few to go, and I still think they’re far from being cerebral academy-award winning flicks, but for an awesome romp, they’re hard to beat.
So I’m seeing Guardians of the Galaxy tonight, and thanks to Marvel Heroes, I’m *really* looking forward to it. If that doesn’t say a lot about the game, I don’t know what does.
P.S. – One of the streamers I’ve been watching on Twitch lately, is a huge Marvel Heroes fan, and he seems like a great guy. Give him a follow if you’re looking for a fun stream: CritDamageCrazy.
P.P.S. – Short review of Guardians of the Galaxy: Totally worth it. Awesome. See it. In 3D. Maybe not IMAX, unless it’s true IMAX, but definitely in 3D if you can.
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.
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.
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?
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.
A Dark Aegis and his snowlion, ready to… do something in the next zone, I guess.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
P.S. – And trust me, if you miss the latest game that everyone’s playing just this once, you’ll live.
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.
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?
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 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.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.