10 Star Trek Episodes to Watch for Agents of Yesterday

Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday, Star Trek

Note: This post first appeared on Sub-Cultured. Check it out and all the other awesome stuff posted on the site, like this review of I Am Setsuna (a game that does look pretty dang good).

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Star Trek Online’s Agents of Yesterday recently released and has been a callback to Star Trek’s origins on the year of Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary.

One of the big reasons I’ve been playing Star Trek Online for years has been for it’s excellent stories. The main reason that I still really enjoy playing video games *at all* is the stories. Fun game mechanics are nice, yes, and the exploration, puzzles, progression, and graphics are also a plus, but for me the story is where it’s at. If a game doesn’t have a decent or even passable story attached to it, you most likely won’t find me playing it. I’ll even forsake a lot of the other qualities just for a better story.

I’ve also been a fan of Star Trek since my father and I use to watch Next Generation together in the early 90’s. The way the episodes would flow, where in the course of 45 minutes the exploration of the deep grey area between good and evil, between right and wrong, was so thorough that it created such a lasting impression on me that I will forever be a ‘Trekkie’. Not all episodes were winners, but when Star Trek got it right, they really got it right.

With Star Trek Online’s latest release of ‘Agents of Yesterday’, the game’s storyline takes many cues and paths from the episodes, and many cues from the original series. Here is a list of the top Star Trek episodes to watch to get the most out of STO’s latest expansion, presented in the best order as they refer in-game.

Obviously, Spoilers Ahead, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.

The Galileo Seven – TOS, Season 1

A new character, created in the new 23rd century Federation faction, will find themselves soon after on the surface of Taurus II. This rocky, inhospitable planet was crash-landed on by Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and four other unlucky individuals. Soon after arrival a yellow-clad crewman (they weren’t always wearing red) takes a spear to the back thrown by a giant caveman-like creature.

Star Trek, Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday, Gorn, Arena

Oh, there *will* be Gorn.

Arena – TOS, Season 1

Arena is one of the most famous of all the original series episodes, so having an original series themed expansion and not including a reference to the episode would’ve been sacrilege. The lizard-like Gorn first appeared during this episode which had a beat-up Kirk hunting the surface of a mineral-rich planet for ways to defeat the rubber-suited menace. In Star Trek Online, the Federation returns once more to study the planet’s bounty.

Cold Front – Enterprise, Season 1

We take a step backwards in time, but forward in the line of show production to Enterprise. Captain Archer is really excited to get to do what Starfleet wanted the Enterprise to do: Explore. A bolt of energy hits the ship, but disaster is stopped by a lucky junction having been disconnected. As it turns out, luck has nothing to do with it. The character known as Daniels is introduced, a time traveling agent from the far-distant future, who informs Archer of the most convoluted storyline in all of Trek, the Temporal Cold War.

Operation: Annihilate! – TOS, Season 1

There are only two episodes in all of Trek that feature an exclamation point in the title, and ‘Operation: Annihilate!’ is one of them. The Deneva Colony has seemed to be taken over by a bout of mass insanity. When they reach the planet, they find saucer-like single-celled organisms have attacked. In Star Trek Online, the player’s ship is called to investigate Deep Space K-13, where a bout of mass insanity has also taken hold.

Star Trek, Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday, Operation Annihilate

By far not the best of episodes. It was still in the age of rubber creatures which, shockingly, audiences didn’t find that scary.

Journey to Babel – TOS, Season 2

Th Enterprise is tasked with transporting a group of Federation diplomats to the Babel Conference, a meeting to determine whether to admit the Coridan system into the Federation. In the first episode of ‘Agents of Yesterday’ which features real time travel shenanigans, the player is taken onto the Enterprise itself.

The Tholian Web – TOS, Season 3

In ‘The Tholian Web’ the crew of the Enterprise are sent to search for their sister-ship, the USS Defiant. They find the ship adrift, with all hands on board deceased. Once more, it appears a bout of madness has caused all aboard to turn on each other, but this time it isn’t due to single-celled frisbees. The episode introduces the xenophobic and crystal spider-like Tholians. In Star Trek Online, the crew of the player’s ship finds the Defiant with all crew still alive as they once more encounter the Tholians.

Captain’s Holiday – Next Generation, Season 3

The entire Star Trek Online story arc ‘Future Proof’ hinges on this one episode. In Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard finds himself so stressed out that not even a cup of hot Earl Grey can help. Picard takes a vacation to the pleasure planet Risa for some much needed R&R. There he encounters a Ferengi, two time traveling aliens, a treasure hunter, and their target: the Tox Uthat, a weapon capable of destroying stars.

Future Tense – Enterprise, Season 2

Captain Archer’s Enterprise comes across a ship very similar to the Doctor’s TARDIS, a ship from the far future that is bigger on the inside. Inside they find a long deceased body, one who’s genetic makeup contains many elements of many different races. None of those races are Time Lord, however. Right when things start getting strange, both the Suliban, a shape-changing race, and the Tholians show up to attempt to recover the ship for themselves.

The Changing Face of Evil – Deep Space Nine, Season 7

In one of the final episodes of Deep Space Nine, at the height of the Dominion War, the Breen, a cold-loving warlike race that has aligned themselves with the Dominion, succeed where many others have failed. They successfully launch an attack on Earth and damage Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco and, just for kicks, wreck the Golden Gate Bridge. It must’ve been for kicks because one would assume bridges have become antiques when flying shuttles and teleportation become the norm for transportation.

Star Trek, Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday, NCC-1701-J, Enterprise J

The NCC-1701-J. Yes, it’s canon.

Azati Prime – Enterprise, Season 3

Finally, in the midst of the Temporal Cold War arc of Enterprise, the crew of Archer’s ship finds themselves investigating the multi-species Xindi’s construction of a weapon capable of doing serious damage to Earth. Captain Archer decides to pilot a suicide mission to destroy the weapon, but is suddenly transported 400 years to the future by Temporal Agent Daniels to the final battle of the war against the Sphere Builders in the Temporal Cold War. They arrive on board the Enterprise-J, a much flatter ship than most of the Enterprises that have come before.

But That’s Not All

These ten episodes are far from the only ones referenced in the Agents of Yesterday expansion. More include TOS’s ‘Doomsday Machine’ and ‘Mirror, Mirror’, Next Generation’s ‘The Enemy’, Deep Space Nine’s ‘Once More Unto the Breach’, and Voyager’s ‘Year of Hell’. Also, the entire Temporal Cold War arc certainly wouldn’t hurt: Enterprise’s ‘Broken Bow’, ‘Cold Front’, ‘Detained’, ‘Two Days and Two Nights’, ‘Shockwave Pt 1 and 2’, ‘Future Tense’, ‘The Expanse’, ‘Carpenter Street’, ‘Azati Prime’, ‘Zero Hour’, ‘Storm Front Pt 1 and 2’, and ‘Harbinger’.

Live Long and Prosper.

Developer Appreciation Week 2015 : Giving Thanks

The exceptional Rowan over at his corner of the web, (For the World is Hollow and) I Have Touched The Sky, has declared the week from March 28th till April 4th Developer Appreciation Week! I know I’m a little late to the party, this being April 4th and all, but I still wanted to say my peace before it expired. In this collective hobby of ours, that which we pour a great amount of our free time, that which encompasses a massive portion of our hard drives, and that which takes over our favorite news site preferences, we wouldn’t be where we are and our lives would be totally different were it not for game developers.

Gaming in general has taken over our collective consciousness. There isn’t a single person I know, not a single one, that hasn’t at some time been heavily invested in some video game at some time. This has led to a staggering amount of sales, and made arguably one of the biggest industries in the world, surpassing both the movie and music industry. And, I mean, I work in a pretty large industry myself, but there aren’t fans who consider my every move and what I’m working on to be of newsworthy importance like we do with the developers of the games we play.

Game developers are everyday people like you and me that get paid salaries similar to you and me, and yet they are our celebrities and we hold them to an almost superhuman status. We discuss ad nauseum what they say, hyper analyze every word they say, all because it affects how we spend our free time and how we open our wallets in pursuit of our hobby. And they take on this celebrity status willingly! To be honest, that’s a level of stress on a whole other level that not all of us would be able to handle.

So, to all of the game developers out there, thank you. Thank you for not only producing all of the fantastic games that we use to make our free time a lot less boring, but also for putting up with the height of the pedestal that we put you on. Thank you for producing quality artwork, for spending an unheard of amount of production hours for something that a number of us will skip 90% of just so we can hold it above our peers and berate it for “not having enough content”. Thank you for putting yourself out there, yourself personally, your life, just to develop a connection with us gamers, those that will praise you in one breath and then throw shade the next over some nerf. Thank you for being simultaneously both our superheroes and showing great humility, for putting up with us fans at our best and at our worst.

Thank you to the developers of the Ultima series past and present for starting my love of gaming, Richard Garriott, Warren Spector, Paul Neurath, Starr Long, and many others. Thank you.

To the developers of the fantastic MMO The Secret World past and present, Ragnar Tornquist, Joel Bylos, Joshua “Scrivnomancer” Doetsch, Romain “Tilty” Amiel, Laurie “Sezmra” Payne, and many others. Thank you.

To the developers of Star Trek Online past and present, a game which I have considered my “home MMO” for many years, Daniel Stahl, Craig Zinkievich, Christine Thompson, Al “Captain Gecko” Rivera, Nick “Tacofangs” Duguid, Thomas “The Cryptic Cat” Marrone, and many others. Thank you.

 

To the developers of the multitude of other games that have shaped the way I play and enjoy games over the years, Jane Jensen, Colin Johanson, Ree Soesbee, Chris Roberts, Sid Meier, Jon Van Canegham, and many, many, many, many, many, many others…

Thank you.

//Ocho

The King of the Underworld is Exploration

Ultima Underworld

Chalk another game off my backlog, I just completed Ultima Underworld and I must say it was much more than the game I was expecting. Sometimes when the nostalgia bug bites, you head back to an older game or two, and they just don’t hold up. It’s not as good as you remember it being, the graphics are just too dated to enjoy it, or times have changed so much that the flow of the game is totally opposed to today’s standards. Ultima Underworld, though, was more of a look into the future from the past.

Did I forget to mention that you could also play musical instruments in Underworld? Yup, you totally could. Not only that, but at one point it became integral to the main quest. Fishing, too. The amount of features stuffed into this one game, a game who this month is turning 23 years old, is absolutely staggering. Not only did the game hold up well over time, it held up well enough for me to play a complete runthrough of the game without even wanting to divert my attention elsewhere.

Ultima Underworld

I should… call Origin to receive a personal congratulations?! I wonder if any one of the old Origin employees or anyone at EA would honor this.

The best feature of Underworld, hands down, is it really nailed that feeling of exploration. The storyline was bare at best, and revolved around saving a maiden and finding a handful of particular items, using clues given by the NPCs you met. Finding them is what drove you forward, and every item you needed was just down one more level tucked into a far corner somewhere or held by some unsuspecting NPC, and all you had to do was find it. Around any corner could be a monster that would slap you around, a friendly face, a pile of treasure, a piece of lore, a freaking game of Pac-Man, a talking door, a developer homage, lava and waterfalls, a platform puzzle, etc. In other words, Ultima Underworld rewarded handsomely the person who explored every nook and cranny.

Ultima Underworld, Pac-Man

So I’m to collect these blue orbs as I run around this maze that’s filled with different colored ghosts. Sure, that sounds perfectly reasonable.

And not a single drop of procedural generation was used. The only randomness seemed to come from periodic monster spawns. After clearing a level occasionally you would meet a random monster, and these either didn’t happen often, or happened and they mixed in so well that they weren’t that noticeable. They didn’t use random encounters as an experience crutch, though, as is commonly found in a metric ton of other games. Everything was on purpose. But even with those rails, it felt like the rails didn’t exist.

Werit, another Star Trek Online player, makes a couple great points about the topic of exploration. If “exploration” is made procedurally generated, it doesn’t “feel” like you’re really exploring. It instead feels like you’re traveling down the highway and seeing yet another rest stop. A few restaurants, maybe a quirky gift shop, bathrooms, and that’s about it. If all you have to look forward to with more exploration is yet another rest stop, it doesn’t feel that fulfilling. And yet, Star Trek Online players, like many other players, are clamoring for more exploration!

Ultima Underworld really nailed what games today are still having problems trying to emulate. The Elder Scrolls series, I think, has come the closest to that feeling of rewarding exploration, where you could pick any direction and find rewarding adventure. That’s the reason why Skyrim has sold an almost mind-boggling amount of units. Rewarding exploration is what players really want. It is also why The Elder Scrolls Online didn’t fare so hot on release, their rails were showing too much.

Ultima Underworld, Warren Spector

A spectre named Warren, a not-so-subtle nod to Warren Spector. Wonder why he’s upset, though? Maybe the whole ‘ghost’ thing has something to do with it.

Not many younger players these days can stomach a game that has such dated graphics, no matter how good it is. Ultima Underworld, though, felt like listening to good classic rock. Different from today’s music, both in structure and style, but the soul never changes.

Playing Ultima Underworld evoked feelings like listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. You know that what you’re experiencing is from a different time period, but that does nothing to diminish the genius that went into producing it.

//Ocho

P.S. – By the way, mark it down. On March 2nd, 2015 the Internet was won by Ocho.

Ultima Underworld, Richard Garriott, Congratulations

P.S. – Supporting the Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter for me was a no brainer. It’s being produced by the same designer, Paul Neurath, someone who obviously knows what’s up. Their biggest hurdle, I believe, will be in topping what was an industry-changing game. No small feat.

P.P.S.- Here are links to my other two writeups on Underworld: My initial writeup, My mid-game writeup.

Ultima Underworld, Moongate

The whole Pink Floyd analogy was a little more apt, too. The run after the final encounter is a little… trippy.

If You Give Me A Free Option, I’ll Take It

Star Trek Online, Bathroom, Refresher

We are gamers. As gamers, overcoming challenges is kind of our primary thing. Any challenge, especially in the digital space, will be conquered. Speed runs through games where the developers want us to take our time? It’ll be done. Collect every single little collectible? Oh, definitely. Playing every single race/character combination? Of course. Replaying a game multiple time just to see every single possible ending? Par for the course. So if you dangle a carrot in front of us, and then tell us that, oh hey, there’s a way to acquire this carrot just by playing the game? Well bring it on.

The problem is, though, that we are in the Age of Free to Play. On one side you have the staunch Old Guard, banging on their drum of subscription, singing that one monthly fee gives them every single thing in the game and that the only advantage comes from your own drive, the challenges are badges of pride. On the other, you have the New Blood, those born into microtransactions, those that will flit from game to game wherever the crowd of public opinion takes them. “Everyone is playing this latest indie craze?! Then I have to play it, too!” To them, a subscription just doesn’t make sense. Why pay monthly for a game that they’ll be done with in a week? The market is changing to new demands, and so tries to cater to both.  But both sides have heavy influence. The Old Guard brings with it disposable income. The New Blood, their ample numbers and time. Their mixture brought about Free To Play.

Guild Wars 2, Plant Dragons

Dragons, dragons everywhere!

 

Though personally  I will wander from game to game and I do not find value in time-based subscriptions, my playstyle is steadfast that of the Old Guard. As such, I find myself torn whenever these MMOs offer ways of attaining store items through in-game methods. Neverwinter, Guild Wars 2, and Star Trek Online, for example, have ways of exchanging in-game acquired currency for store points. Wildstar and EvE Online have methods of exchanging in-game currency for subscription time. Lord of the Rings Online gives you store currency for performing achievements, and many other examples.

If you give me a method of playing your game for free, well then buy-gum I’m going to do so, not because I’m cheap, but just because the challenge was thrown down. For example, over the past two months, Star Trek Online has given away two Tier 6 ships, the Breen Sarr Theln Carrier and the Kobali Samsar Cruiser, with just quick daily mission requirements to get each, though you could use Lobi, the consolation lockbox credit, to buy them as well. For the Carrier, it was 25 days of the winter event foot race; for the cruiser, the anniversary mission and 15 days of Omega fragment hunting. I have prevailed and have both of the ships in my inventory! Challenge completed! But man, that much logging in, for those quick little events? The fun wore off quickly. So I have the ships, still in their boxes, and no desire to open them. The events burned me out.

If not for STO’s Lifetime subscription, I honestly probably wouldn’t even be playing. I would want to get everything for free by grinding for it, exchanging dilithium for store credits, just because the option is there. But that option is such a long grind that it numbs me to the game itself. It numbs me even with my lifetime!

This is why I haven’t put that much time in Neverwinter. Get a fantastic steed by just exchanging gems for store points, and grind ages for the gems, a never ending grind. Same with Lord of the Rings Online. I found myself in the early levels waiting and fighting other players for mosquito spawns just to complete a slayer challenge for store points. It’s not fun, but give me the option and playing any other way feels like cheating, and I pride myself on not cheating.

Neverwinter, Gelatinous Cube

Come at me, cube!

 

This is where being caught in the middle of the Old Guard and New Blood really sucks.  The Old Guard would just stick with one game, pay their sub and be happy. Grinds don’t bother them so much as it’s like other games don’t even exist, and their sub covers a lot of ground. The New Blood is cool with the little cheats. They get really upset at nerfs, they’re cool with the exploits that allow them to grind experience much faster than they should, the easy build guides, the experience boosters, all because they’re just moving on to another game soon anyway.

It’s a harsh realization when the games you enjoy playing have stopped catering to your specific playstyle. You feel like it’s passing you by. But then they offer another challenge, with a mighty fine carrot dangling on the end of the string again…

They know us so well.

//Ocho

The Star Trek Online Conundrum of Tier 6

Star Trek Online, Pathfinder

I find myself jumping back into Star Trek Online a lot lately, but it hasn’t entirely been for fun. Maintenance gaming, I guess is the best description I can come up with with how I’ve been playing. Gaming for the future, maybe? Chasing carrots, definitely, but the carrots aren’t really leading to meals.

I love STO. Picked it up at release and have played off and on for the full 5 years it’s been out. When the decision came through that they were going to start making “Featured Episodes” and coming out with episodes on a regular basis, this solidified the game for me. As a Star Trek fan, this was about as close as I’d come to seeing new Trek. That day, about a month before my wedding day, I signed up for the lifetime sub (and if my future wife complained, well… it was before the wedding so it didn’t count. She said yes, she knew what she was getting herself into!).

Over the years, I’ve stuck to one character and only a handful of ships. Only with recent changes to the game have they made switching ships a much less painful task, so I only stuck to the Long Range Science Vessel Retrofit, the Solanae Dyson Science Destroyer, and just recently the Pathfinder Long Range Science Vessel. Remember Voyager? Essentially that. What can I say, the Intrepid-based designs are just really sleek, streamlined, and sexy. So sue me.

Star Trek Online, Dyson Science Destroyer

The Dyson Science Destroyer, looking rather epic.

The Retrofit and Dyson are considered Tier 5 and are the ships I spent the most time in. The Retrofit was free for me, but after the Free-To-Play conversion it was considered a pay ship. It was an Endgame ship, though, and held it’s own as more and more Tier 5 ships were released, every new ship bearing a pricetag ranging from $10-$30.

This is how Star Trek Online makes it’s money: ship sales. You want to play the endgame content, buy a ship. Or you could grind for it, but really you’re paying to keep your sanity in this case. Ships, then, differed in your preferred playstyle. Science/DPS/Tank and all the mixtures, Tanky DPS, Sciency DPS, Sciency Tank. Each ship also had some hook that differentiated it. For the Retrofit, it was an Ablative Generator, the future-plating seen during the final episode of Voyager. Tier 5 ships are Admiral Tier, and hundreds of thousands of players supported the game in this way. All Tier 5 ships also are relatively equally balanced. This way worked well, from July of 2010 through October 2014, the release of Delta Rising, when it was announced they would be moving forward to Tier 6.

Tier 6 ships bring along with them a host of fun things. More power, more abilities, more customization, more hit points, leveling up your ship, special earned passives, etc. Fantastic. I went ahead and used my stipend points and bought the first ship I’ve ever used zen to purchase, the Pathfinder. All the fun new stuff, along with an upgraded Intrepid? I can dig it.

Star Trek Online, Long Range Science Vessel Retrofit

The equivalence of walking away from a large explosion.

But this is an MMO.

In MMOs, there is the unspoken rule that any improvements below when the improvements start becoming harder and harder to acquire is not important. Leveling gear is only meant to be held onto until you pick up an upgrade 20 minutes later. The new Tier 6 ships are easy to acquire, all you have to do is bust out the credit card or run one of the latest events. The Tier 6 upgrade, though, effectively makes all the Tier 5 ships, all the ships paid for by players, just another piece of leveling gear.

Tier 5 ships are just fine!‘ they told us. All the story content in Delta Rising can be completed with a Tier 5 (which it can), and you don’t *have* to upgrade to continue enjoying the game. Well, no, of course we don’t *have* to. But this is an MMO! Acquiring the best gear is a huge part of why we all play! They know this, though. They know the psychology of MMO players just as much as we obey it. If there is a huge upgrade to a key piece of gear, and it is within our reach, we will go after it.

Even throwing on the band-aid of a store token that can upgrade all Tier 5 ships to a Tier 5-Upgraded level is just a cover. The Tier 5U ships do not have the ability to add specializations, they do not offer extra passives, all they offer is just a buff to your ship’s hit points for $10. The token just gives your Tier 5 ships the ability to hold you over until you can get the Tier 6 you want.

All of this obviously did not sit well with a lot of players. Expansions in plenty of other games usually turns all your hard-earned gear into leveling gear again, which is fine, but not when you paid $20 for that gear. And then we were supposed to be fine with a $10 band-aid that still did not put us on par with Tier 6?

Star Trek Online, Delta Flyer

The Delta Flyer, flying in a timed race. Original, right?

I’m not going to say that Cryptic dropped the ball on this one, this was obviously a very calculated move for the future of the game. If anything, they’re holding onto the ball real tight. This whole ship upgrade thing, though, put a bad taste in a lot of players mouths. Will Cryptic do this again for the next expansion? If I buy Tier 6, are they just going to make Tier 7 and invalidate another purchase? Hate to say, but I think a lot of trust from a lot of players was lost on this one. Which is a serious shame because the story in Delta Rising is easily some of the best the writers have written yet, a real fine display of Star Trek’s iconic grey storytelling.

Personally, with my lifetime sub, I wasn’t affected much. I just bought the Pathfinder using stipend points. My two longest running ships, though, the T5 Retrofit and the T5-U Dyson, unless they come up with other uses for old ships they can effectively be mothballed. Using them when I have a Tier 6 is kind of pointless.

Because really, what MMO player is fine with just using leveling gear?

//Ocho

Too Many Options

Currently I’m going through my gaming transition, as I usually do around this time of year. As soon as Spring hits, I crave the outdoors. My gaming time and interest tends to take a nosedive, and then come Fall, like clockwork, my want to play games increases again. I find myself usually returning to games around the time that all MMOs are starting to celebrate their Halloween shenanigans.

I may be a bit early, but a foot injury has sidelined me a good amount this season, and so my Ultimate playing for the season is essentially over. My injury will hopefully heal over the winter and I’ll be good to come back into next season’s Ultimate ready to go. Still won’t stop playing Disc Golf, though. I’ll try to keep that up until the ground is covered in deep piles of snow, like last season. I am hoping to be a little more active this winter to stave off the holiday weight gain and I’m hoping to get into a friend’s softball league next Spring. We’ll see how that goes, “best laid plans” and whatnot. <ahem> Sorry about that tangent…

But gaming wise, my mind is filled with cravings to play all kinds of different games and it’s causing me a bit of indecision. Here’s a quick list of the ones that are currently jockeying for position:

Guild Wars 2

Vines and plants. Eating salad feels like revenge against these things now.

 

Guild Wars 2

I recently finished the main story and have started in on Season 2. I really love how they’ve set up Season 2 so that it can be played at an easier pace, and how they’ve integrated it into the world. We have instancing in these games for a reason, and that reason is story. Keep it up, ANet! I’ve finished all the story up to Dragon’s Reach: Part 2, and am really liking the story. They’ve really kicked the story up a notch on this one, although making your character the main figurehead and putting all kinds of words into our mouths, it’s offset by the fantastic characterization of your companions and surrounding characters.

Now I just have to… figure out what else there is to do at level 80. Having done zero research about GW2’s “endgame”, the top level items/weapons and what it would take to get them, it’s a bit of a mystery… they don’t make it that obvious in-game. But these boss battles are something else. If I can get through one and not die 100 times, I’m happy. So maybe a little grinding is in order to get some better or more synced equipment… I’m not a fan of using guides, but I may have to.

Star Trek Online

The next season and the latest expansion Delta Rising are quickly on their way, and the last content I did was against the Voth inside the Solanae Dyson Sphere. Good content, I really enjoyed it, I like how the STO devs are creating content that can’t just be gobbled up and moved on from. They use Reputation grinds, but Rep grinds feel alright for end-game content. My only issue with STO, ironically, is their propensity for long grinds, but I have to come back for Star Trek. I feel compelled. Also, the mountains of zen I have from my Lifetime account don’t hurt (4 years worth of a lifetime sub mixed with a propensity to only buy storage upgrades and costumes).

Since I’ve last played, though, the amount of changes is extensive, and is a hill to come back in. Specifically, the changes in how kit powers work. Knowing STO’s history, it may not be that intuitive. Also, how it looks like they’re handling Tier 6 ships is… interesting. Making them not necessary but obviously more powerful? So… making them necessary?

Rusty Hearts

Love the art style.

Rusty Hearts

As of this post, Rusty Hearts is shutting down in about a week. This makes me sad as it’s the first MMO that I’ve ever played that is shutting down. It won’t be missed by many, but it will be missed by me. I want to give it one final play session before the servers shut down, and I should be able to as my account should still be active.

Old School D&D Games

And I mean OLD SCHOOL. No, really, I’m talking like 24 year old, can buy itself a drink, Champions of Krynn old school. Either that or Neverwinter Nights, or Baldur’s Gate. I remember playing the old school Krynn series a LONG time ago, and I played a bit of NWN and BG, but never completed them or made any headway. I’m in a when-we-can-get-together Pathfinder group, you see, and I completely suck at it, but the D&D bug still bites pretty hard, and I do love me some old school.

Alpha Centauri

I know, Civilization: Beyond Earth is coming out near the end of October. It looks awesome, but it gives that nostalgia hit to play me some Alpha Centauri, Sid Meier’s last attempt at a Civilization game on a world besides Earth. Dealing with other ideologies while at the same time trying not to be horrifically hurt by aliens? Good stuff.

You see, Beyond Earth is coming out a good time. The premise, if it’s anything like Alpha Centauri, is one of living with the planet, not against it. Using methods of living that don’t harm the ecosystem. In AC, if you don’t learn to live with the ecosystem, it will fight back. Hard. Parallels with current day issues? You betcha. Art imitates life, after all.

Neverwinter

Gelatinous Cubes, what jellyfish would be if they were found on land.

Neverwinter Online

I like Neverwinter. It’s a lot of fun, even if it doesn’t hit all the D&D notes that the old school D&D games I mentioned above do. And they just released their latest expansion, Tyranny of Dragons, so… Dragons! Dragons everywhere! As I said, I like Neverwinter, it just never makes the top of my MMOs to play list.

The Sims: Medieval

With the release of Sims 4, the Sims bug is also itching. But for me, I always wanted a little more out of the Sims. It seems like a great base to tell a whole bunch of stories, but stories that don’t just revolve around relationships and remodeling ones bathroom. But there is a great Sims title that does go a lot further… The Sims: Medieval. You play multiple people in the standard fantasy medieval community. Say you decide to play the king/queen and go through their story, then when you next play the blacksmith story, you get the benefits of the world changing from the royal’s story. The caveat is there isn’t much in the way of house-building, but to me the quests more than make up for it.

Guild Wars

Did anyone else feel that wind?

Guild Wars 1

Playing through the story of Guild Wars 2 has made me want to go back in time and play through Guild Wars 1! Prophecies! Factions! Nightfall! Eye of the North! Plus, this would give me the ability to get all the fun Hall of Monuments stuff that I don’t have from not really playing GW1. And with Rusty Hearts closing, it just makes you think that an old game, like GW1, could shut down at any time. All it takes is for ANet to turn around and say “Well, it’s not making us any more money. Shut it off.” and that’s it, it’s done.

Walking Dead: Season 2

As far as my current TV watching, I’ve been into The Walking Dead. I like it, but what made me start watching it was playing through The Walking Dead: Season 1. Amazing. That game is amazing, but I’ve only done a few chapters of Season 2, and I should really finish it up, because I’m sure I’m going to love it.

Those Other Games I Have Half-Finished

Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall, Half-Life, and Gabriel Knight, specifically. I stopped playing all of them for pretty good reasons, but they’re still nagging me being unfinished. I think my want to “explore” in these games is too much and is getting in the way. I don’t like just rushing to the next plot point, but at this rate I’ll never finish anything! Argh!

So I don’t know. What do you think? Maybe I’ll just keep driving my truck. This ore isn’t going to deliver itself, you know…

// Ocho

Euro Truck Simulator 2

On the road again. I can’t wait to get on the road again…

Listmas 2013: 5 Similarities between Star Trek Online and The Secret World #TSW #STO

The Secret World, Tyler Freeborn

I know what you’re thinking: What? Similarities between Star Trek Online and The Secret World? Hey, they’re both fiction, and you’ll find element of everything in everything else if you look hard enough. What, truly, in this world is original? It’s not so much that we use these assets, it’s how we use them that make these stories great.

So, as Richard Sonnac would say when imitating his (probably) favorite British actor, “Engage!”

Star Trek Online, Secret World, Sword, Dual Pistols, Flamethrowers

5) The Weapons: Swords, Dual Pistols, and Flamethrowers

I feel like some of these really shouldn’t be in these games. Star Trek has a flamethrower?! The Secret World, with it’s shotguns and assault rifles has swords?! And dual pistol wielding classes are everywhere these days, so why not, I guess.

Star Trek Online, Secret World, Androids

4) Androids

Human-like machines capable of performing tasks. In Star Trek, they’ve been given quite a few more personal rights than we see in The Secret World, but in Star Trek mythos, the advanced programming of Androids borders on conscious thought, and in one of the greatest episodes of Star Trek, Next Generation: The Measure of a Man, the court rules in favor that Data, an Android, does indeed have rights and benefits of any other sentient being. If there’s one great takeaway from Star Trek, it’s that you should fight for your rights, and fighting is the right thing to do, be it Android, Hologram, or Klingon, our rights are one of the greatest gifts we hold dear.

Star Trek Online, Secret World, Agartha, Wormholes

3) Portal Transportation

Entering a portal on one side of the world and suddenly being thousands of miles away. There isn’t any teleporting in The Secret World yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it made an appearance at some point (that Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is rather tricky). On the Star Trek side, we have wormholes. Stellar phenomena that link two points in space over vast distances. In The Secret World, we have the portals, linking many different points in the world to the mythical Agartha.

Star Trek Online, Secret World, Time Travel

2) Time Travel

It wouldn’t be Star Trek without some time travel. Though the Department of Temporal Investigations tries to keep all altering of the timeline to a minimum, shenanigans still happen. My favorite Star Trek time travel episode: Deep Space 9’s Trials and Tribble-ations. Hands down. Not a lot of gravitas, and the episode leans on the side of humor, but boy is that episode candy to a Star Trek fan. In STO, time travel also occurs quite frequently. One of my favorites is the mission Everything Old is New, part of the Devidian Featured Episode series. In Secret World, time travel happens quite a lot less, except in the Last Train to Cairo, Indiana Jones styled missions. The mission A Time To Every Purpose sends the player back in time to recover an artifact for the ever stylish Said, and starts the player on a pretty kick-ass journey through time to prevent another Tokyo disaster.

Star Trek Online, Secret World, Holodeck

1) Holodecks

I thought I would never see this in The Secret World, but again taking a page from Star Trek’s futuristic books, the Council of Venice creates a series of, well, Holodecks. You use them in the game’s latest Scenarios to provide extra training and ways to augment your own abilities. So in TSW, they’re not used as a way of relaxing, but I’m sure the Council, when they have a few minutes, might program in a Jamaican vacation or two when the boss isn’t looking. I know I would.

In the realm of fantasy, nothing is absurd. Sometimes, it’s great to let our willing suspension of disbelief have free reign.

Do you think I missed any? I’m sure I did.

// Ocho

P.S. – Whoops, I missed a day of Listmas. Bah humbug.

Listmas 2013: For My 100th Post, My Top 10 Favorite Posts on Casual Aggro

Today’s list, in celebration of Listmas, is going to be one that is a little self-aggrandizing. Forgive me, but I think I have a little reason to celebrate: This, right here, is my 100th post!!

Alright, 100 posts is not a big deal to some people who post daily, who can make that number in a couple months. But that’s not how I roll, I’m certainly not as prolific, and writing was by-far not my best subject in school. In fact, I’d still find more pleasure in working on a math problem that takes up three pages than write a three page paper. I think I spend way too much time fiddling with my text, making sure it’s as error-free as possible, and overall I’m still pretty hard on myself.

Yet, I’m still here and still posting, because deep down I feel like I am making a positive contribution to this hobby. I feel like I am making a difference, no matter how small, to this burgeoning industry, and I’m glad to be a part of such a huge, positive community.

So, for your enjoyment, here are what I consider to be my top 10 favorite posts of what I’ve written so far.

Guild Wars 2

10) Really, Why Are There Levels in Guild Wars 2

To this day, I’m still not positive why there are levels in GW2. As a form of measure of character improvement, I know it’s been around for ages, but I still believe there are better measures. Abilities, Gear, etc. I had the thought a while ago, that the whole reason why we go through the gear grind is simply to make content easier for us. That those who want difficulty truly don’t really want it. A leveling curve, if you keep up with it, just makes all content feel like the same difficulty. I’ll have to write more on this later…

9) NBI: List of Blogging Do’s and Don’ts

I started blogging during the first Newbie Blogger Initiative back in May of 2012. Alright, 100 posts in 20 months, that’s still 5 posts per month, which is still pretty good. But when the second Newbie Blogger Initiative came around this past October, I was a veteran. I had seen the horrors of blogging, and came back with stories and advice to give. This was not only a post to help the New Newbie Bloggers, but an acknowledgment of how far I have come.

Star Trek Online, Vault, Shuttle

8) Time Gates and MMOs Don’t Mix

Star Trek Online, for a while, had the brilliant idea to make some content only available during a small period of time. This made no sense, especially for those of us who don’t play a game all the time, or play casually. Keeping players away from playing content is just a terrible idea. Thankfully, they came to their senses. The content now can be played at anytime, with benefits for playing at specific times. Much better.

7) A Personal Argument Against the Always-On Trend

 I love MMO’s, but one of the key features of MMOs is that you’re online while you play them. But for single player games demanding that you always have an internet connection just to play them, under the guise of DRM, where you get no benefits from the internet connection, doesn’t make much sense. If I need to be connected, give me a good reason to be.

Battle Bards

6) Top 5 Favorite Video Game Music Compositions, A BattleBards Inspiration

Confession: Music was a big part of my life for a long time. In high school, I sang in the choir, was a member of the select choir, was a part of the band, and was a part of every musical production. Out of high school, I initially went to a big music school, was a part of a prestigious choir, and learned a lot about musical composition. Then, I was a part of student-run theatre organizations, starred in more musical productions, and then got offers to start working in New York theatre off Broadway, which I did for a couple minor productions.

Nowadays, music is not so big on my list of hobbies, but I still have a deep appreciation for it. So, combining music and gaming in a podcast is like combining chocolate and peanut butter. It’s perfect. Syp, Syl, and Mogsy do the honors in the BattleBards podcast, and I haven’t missed an episode yet. One of these days, I’m going to write in and tell them my appreciation, but I think telling all of you fine readers and passing along their work is worth a lot more. So, if you enjoy podcasts, and you enjoy video game music, check them out.

5) Master of Orion and Syp: A Tale of Humanity

I do mention Syp a lot on this blog, but he was the one that initiated the Newbie Blogger Initiative, and so is a big inspiration for me. Syp was playing the game Master of Orion, and blogging about all the details of the epic battles along the way. I’ve never played Master of Orion, but during this series of posts, I was really drawn in. Mostly because he was using other bloggers names as the names for planets, and this added a fun depth of community. But, really, it showed why we love games that let us forge our own path, and that is that we can create our own stories.

Also, Mr. Joseph Skyrim over at his JVT Workshop is doing the same, but playing the awesome old-school game Darklands. Give it a read.

Shroud of the Avatar

4) Shroud of the Avatar, DRM, and Why The Gaming Industry Should Take Notice

Shroud is going to have a very open-ended way of playing their game. First and foremost, though, is exactly what the game is. Is it a single player game? Is it an MMO? What is it? The answer is a combination of both, but I think it’ll lean more toward the single-player. If you want to play Shroud, you can play without an internet connection single-player, you can play with a connection and still play single player, you can play solo where other community members affect your game, and finally you can play and have other players play alongside you. So, an MMO? Not really, but it’s a lot more than just your average single-player game.

3) The Best MMO Payment Model Ever

In this post, I take a hard look at payment models, and why there is such a passionate fight behind them. I weigh the positives and negatives of each model, and reason what would be the best theoretical payment model. Hint: It’s Buy-To-Play.

Perfect World, Neverwinter, Star Trek Online

2) For Love of the Grind: 5 Reasons Why We Grind

Grind. Even though it has 5 letters, it feels like a 4 letter word. Many people rail against it, and burnout of playing a game is largely due to how much grind that game makes you go through. However, if our games didn’t have grind, they wouldn’t be MMOs. Grind is a necessity in our games, but is also one of the worst forms of content. In this post, I go over reasons why we still grind, despite our passionate fights against it.

1) How MMOs Are Adapting the Psychology of Casinos 

Yesterday my wife and I drove down to Atlantic City to attend a timeshare presentation. They were very accommodating, but we didn’t fall for their tactics, which included loud music to prevent overhearing others, making a big deal when somebody signed up for one of the timeshares, trying to drive a wedge between my wife and myself so we would fight each other, and playing very specific music guised as background music. I think I heard “Let’s Hear it For The Boy” from Footloose multiple times. Dance music from 1984? Fascinating.

I’ve lived a short distance from one of the USA’s gambling meccas for my entire life, and they’ve just built a few casinos across the river from us in Philadelphia as well. So, when entrenched with the psychological tactics that the casinos use to try separating one from their hard-earned money, you tend to understand the tactics, see them for what they are, and either go along with them, or fight them. However, the same tactics these casino use work so well that MMO’s have picked them up as well. This post details a few tactics that both MMOs and Casinos use, and they may not be exactly what you think they are.

Star Trek Online

So, there you go. 100 posts. It’s been a fun journey so far, and one that I will keep up with for as long as I feel like I’m making a difference. Hopefully, I’ll see you at 200.

// Ocho

MANOS: The Hands of Fate, The Secret World, Final Fantasy VII, Star Trek Online, Lineage, and Other Ramblings

MANOS: The Hands of Fate, Freakzone

I am not interested in playing ANYTHING!

That’s an exaggeration, of course, but it’s not that far off. Over the past week, I’ve had some rough days at work. So, I’ve come home feeling like relaxing, I sit down at my PC, fire it up, and then I do…nothing. I check the Book of Face or Twitter or some random article that catches my attention. The last thing I’ve wanted to do is game. This is not like me, but then, we all go through these downtimes.

To be honest, I have felt a bit burned out. Take The Secret World’s augment grind as a reason for burning out, for example. Those scenarios are just brimming with decent loot and ability points, but they do get old quick. I mean, as Joel Bylos said in the latest November 2013 Game Director’s letter, Scenarios are really tuned to be an epic end game grind. I haven’t done all the full calculations yet, but my preliminary calculations are showing me that, oh dear lord, a grind is an understatement. And there is nothing wrong with that. A grind really works for MMOs. Games that theoretically never end should really never have an ending. So if you do every quest, every dungeon, and explore every corner, there should still be something there to strive for. Plus, I think people secretly really like the grind.

But not me. I’ll generally grind if there is a specific item to grind for, and then once that item is attained, I’ve always found my desire to play satiated. For example, last year I was all about playing the Winter content in Star Trek Online. I even got the big fantastic Breen ship that you acquired after running the same daily mission 25 times! And you know what I did with my new ship? Absolutely nothing. It’s still sitting there unopened in my bank. So this year, Star Trek Online brought back the Winter zone, with all kinds of fun new extra things, and my want to play it is nonexistant. Not to say it wasn’t fun last year. It was a good time. But I know I’ll put in all that effort, get the ship… and then it, too, will languish in my bank. I might log back in to check it out, check out the new Dyson Sphere, the dinosaurs with fricking laser beams, the new Worf mission, etc… just as soon as the mood strikes. … Anyday now… Whenever you’re ready mood…

Final Fantasy 7, Square Enix, Steam

So what else is there? I’ve been checking out a bit of my other purchases, like Final Fantasy VII, picked up in Steam’s latest Autumn Sale (Oh yea, I haven’t been in the mood to play anything, but yet, that hasn’t stopped me from buying more games… I really do have a problem, don’t I…). I never played it the first time around, and it’s been fun so far. Also, Humble’s Weekly Sale had a title that I couldn’t resist dropping a few bucks for: Manos: The Hands of Fate.

MANOS: The Hands of Fate, Freakzone, Humble, MST3K

Yes, based on THE Manos: The Hands of Fate. If you don’t know it, the good people have given the IMDB’s rating of the movie a more than generous 1.8 out of 10. It’s not just bad, it is phenomenally bad. The movie is so bad, it TRANSCENDS it’s badness. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fans will look back on it fondly, though. The MST3K riffing of Manos: The Hands of Fate on IMDB has an 8.8 out of 10 rating. Freakzone, the developer, decided to use the awesome source material and turn it into a pretty awesome old-school platformer. For the low price of “whatever the heck you want to give them”, it’s a decent platformer. So far, I’ve found it challenging, easy to play with a controller, and bug-free. A total win. Available for the next 4 days and change, check it out.

Also, although I’m not as prolific a reader as say, Mogsy, I have also delved back into B.J. Keeton‘s NIMBUS. Also the author of Birthright, 1st of his trilogy mixing sci-fi and fantasy elements, B.J. just released yesterday the 2nd installment, Lineage! Do me a solid and check it out. And oh, seeing as how B.J. is an avid MMO player, you might see a heavy helping of MMO influence in there, too.

Final Fantasy 7, Square Enix, Steam

Alright… enough rambling. Game on, my friends.

// Ocho

Events Everywhere! #STO #GW2 #TSW

Star Trek Online, Crystalline Entity

This is why Free-To-Play is my model of choice. It’s not because I can’t afford to pay a subscription, it’s simply because, when not confined by a subscription, the onus of quality and pulling players in falls onto the developers. This leads to events, and lots of them.

For the past month I’ve been ping-ponging between The Secret World, Guild Wars 2, and Star Trek Online because of these events. Guild Wars 2, of course, has it’s content flowing continuously with something new every 2 weeks. However, not being max level, most of the new content is not aimed at me. So Guild Wars 2 has fallen by the wayside to make way for the following:

The Secret World’s Whispering Tide – The path to Issue #8, The Venetian Agenda, and the prelude to the opening of the new Tokyo region. It looks like Phase 3 is ramping up TODAY as per tweets from Richard Sonnac seem to imply.

Star Trek Online’s Crystalline Cataclysm Event – Our favorite giant, destructive snowflake is back and asking for a beating. In this 10-man instance, the Tholians have suddenly showed an interest in the Crystalline Entity, possibly being due to their species being of similar composition. The Tholians, though, are bad news, and as such, they all need a good whooping. Until October 21st (according to the game launcher), a daily beating of the entity gives a metric ton of Tholian marks, and a 50,000 dilithium pot.

StarbaseUGC’s Purity Foundry Series – Part Two of the Purity Series, Purity: Of Thought by Bazag, has already been released, and it adds a decent amount of back-story to the Obani, Federation, and Sajan people.

The Secret World, Filth, Whispering Tide

And then you know what’s coming up, don’t you? The Superbowl of MMO Events: Halloween.

Guild Wars 2 is looking like it’s kicking it’s usual Halloween event up a notch, which seems impossible as it was already at 11. This year, instead of the event simply focused around the Mad King, instead we will be seeing Prince Edrick take center stage in the “Blood and Madness” event. I’m seriously excited to try the Clocktower jumping puzzle, and even if you’re not max level, it sounds like there will still be plenty to do.

The Secret World is also kicking their Halloween celebration up a notch by bringing back the Cat God event from last year, which is going to be new to me, but then adding on something that sounds amazing: Stories from Soloman Island. Soloman Island is one of my favorite MMO locations ever, competing with LotRO’s The Shire for top spot, so I CAN NOT WAIT to check this out.

I like to try new games, but I don’t think I’ll be able to leave the grasp of these events for quite a while.

// Ocho