It is a good day… to game

cheerAs a gamer, I’m pretty psyched about today.  First up on the docket is RIFT: Nightmare Tide, which should be launching after some downtime this afternoon.  Our guild was properly buzzing about it, especially those who have been sitting comfortably at the level cap for some time now.

While I won’t be jumping right into the plane of water, I do have plans to dive right into the minion system and to hunt down some nightmare rifts to test my combat mettle.  I bought one of the collector’s editions for the goodies and unlocks, since I have no desire to be spending weeks at the new cap grinding currency just so that I can wear earrings.

Then there’s the release of the Dreamfall Chapters on GOG (everyone else got it yesterday).  I signed up for the season, since it had both a discount and included the soundtrack.  And, oh yeah, I’m a huge Longest Journey and Ragnar Tornquist fan.  It’ll be great to have a new adventure game to plunder.

In a couple of days Civilization: Beyond Earth comes out, a 4X strategy game that has several of my friends positively jittering in anticipation.  I’m a little more reserved; Alpha Centauri wasn’t that great, in my opinion, and so I’ll see how the reviews shake out here.  I’m sure it’ll be solid, it’s just that a 4X game isn’t what I’m craving these days.

Let me just check my (play) schedge

schedI was strongly toying with the notion of adding SWTOR to my play schedule (curse the allure of expansions!), but I don’t think I can in good conscience try to tackle more than four MMOs at a time.  While mulling over this, I sat down and sketched out a schedule to try out in order to balance the four games I do want to be playing (taking out STO and subbing back in LOTRO), with a play emphasis on WildStar and RIFT.

The idea is that every day I usually get at least two hours of playtime — sometimes a little more, but usually two.  Two divides by two easily, so I’ll focus on giving two games a day one hour apiece, which is my usual play session length anyway.  If I end up with more than two hours, the rest is free for whatever.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Sunday: WildStar / LOTRO
  • Monday: RIFT / TSW* (*weekly play group)
  • Tuesday: WildStar / LOTRO
  • Wednesday: RIFT / TSW
  • Thursday: WildStar / LOTRO
  • Friday: RIFT / TSW
  • Saturday: WildStar / RIFT

RIFT is the quickest game to jump in and out of, and TSW is the longest, so I think that those will balance well.  I do want to get back into LOTRO to go through the Dead Marshes, prepare for central Gondor, and perhaps do a new Beorning class.  Plus, this gives me one fantasy and one scifi/other MMO every night.

Saturday, the “extra” day gives both RIFT and WildStar an equal boost to play time.  Although I’m a little bummed that I’m giving up Star Trek Online for the time being, I feel pretty good about this schedule.  We’ll see how it pans out.

Is offline play the solution for time-starved gamers?

doffLately my wife and I have been enjoying the relatively new Tiny Tower Vegas.  The addition of casino games and theme to the old Tiny Tower formula is mindless fun, and we do like visiting each other’s towers and comparing notes.  For both of us, however, the real attraction is the fact that we can “play” the game even while we’re doing other activities, so that while the game is running in real time, our actual time spent in it is in brief one to two minute spurts.

I’m sure there’s a term for this, but I like to call it “queue and play.”  It’s sort of like being the boss of the video game: Telling it what to do and then leaving it to its task while you go off to other projects.  It’s not a fully engaging experience, but there’s a reason why these time-gated games are pretty popular with the casual set: They offer a way to play and progress on a very limited time budget.

Queue and play is something we’re seeing more of lately in MMOs:

  • Fallen Earth has you queue up crafting recipes that are worked on in real-time, whether or not you’re in the game.
  • In EVE and Glitch (R.I.P.), you would train up and level in real-time instead of through in-game actions.
  • SWTOR allows you to order your crew on missions to retrieve money and crafting mats.
  • Star Trek Online’s duty officer system allows you to collect crew members that you can assign to tasks for XP and other goodies (so much so that you can fully level in this game by doing nothing else if so desired).
  • Neverwinter trains up companions in real time and has an offline Tales of the Sword Coast system to allow you to send them on adventures for profit.
  • Many, many MMOs have gardening and farming which trade real time for results.

And then there’s next week’s RIFT: Nightmare Tide expansion with its Minion system.  Probably more than anything else, that’s what got me playing RIFT again, because I love collections when they have a purpose, and I like the proposed setup for collecting these minion cards and then deploying them on tasks to bring you back rewards.

None of these are defining gameplay systems; they’re minigames with light strategy portions at best.  But they scratch that itch of wanting to gain more loot or benefit your character in exchange for your multitasking patience.

I’m a huge fan of such systems and I’ll tell you why.  It’s that not every gamer has the same amount of time to play MMOs, and developers are finally getting wise that they not only need to make a range of content types to cater to different playstyles, but a range of content that caters to different time budgets.  If I may boil it down into a simple list, going from most time-heavy to least:

  • Raids (1-6 hours)
  • Dungeons (30 min – 1.5 hours)
  • PvP matches (15-30 min)
  • Gathering and crafting
  • Casual questing
  • Offline queue and play

If I only have about a half hour to play an MMO, I won’t be able to do a lot toward the top, but I could pick one or two of the lower things and always squeeze in a minute to queue up my offline progression to keep the ball rolling in my absence.

Keep it coming, devs, especially if such systems can be deeper and more strategic than Farmville.

Bummer morning

gtxI’ve had a lot of good things come my way lately, so don’t mistake this as an out-and-out complaining post.  Just that I’m a little bummed this morning.

For starters, I’m pretty sure that my computer’s graphics card has completely crapped out on me.  It was horrible last night — not only were games freezing up, but anything involving video (such as YouTube) caused the screen to melt down.  Had two blue screens of death.  At least when I’m not doing anything graphically related, the computer’s working fine, so I’m praying that it is just the card.

I went ahead and ordered a GeForce GTX 750Ti this morning as a replacement.  I couldn’t afford anything super-expensive, so that was a good balance of price and performance.  Plus, the reviews were pretty glowing.

If the problem is beyond my graphics card, I figure that I can use the new card in a new computer… but I don’t want it to come to that yet.  However, I am doing a full backup just in case, synced up everything I can to the cloud, and have written down all of my programs and related registration info.

I’m also upset for my friend Ambermist over at Tastes Like Battle Chicken.  According to her Twitter feed this morning, she got her WoW account shut down without having done anything wrong:

“I just got an account closure notification for selling in-game items for real-world currency. I have never and would never do that.  I am completely shattered right now. I don’t even know what to do or what to think. I’ve put in a ticket. I don’t know what else to do.  Guys, my heart is actually breaking. Stupid, maybe, but I love this game and the people I play with.”

If anyone has ideas for her to get Blizzard’s attention and restore her account, drop her a line.  Hope you get it back soon, Amber!  I can’t imagine having my accounts yanked away from me like that.

And finally, I’m bummed that Stephen Frost is leaving WildStar.  He seemed like a good guy who was instrumental in the game’s development, but more than that, having another departure so soon after losing the president of the studio does not exude confidence rays to the players.  I’m still playing and still loving this game, and I hope that it gets some good news here to offset the bad press as of late.

Update: Good news on Ambermist’s front — she’s now reporting that her account was restored!

When life conspires against gaming

It’s not been the best week for gaming here at Casa de Syp.  One night I had to go to bed far earlier than normal to catch up on some much-needed sleep.  And last night as it looked as though I’d get even more time than normal to play, my computer started locking up hard every time I’d load a game.

I was getting these checkerboard-like graphic glitches that would freeze the game and — if I didn’t alt-tab out and shut the game down quick — force a reboot.  It was happening across several games (I tested WildStar, RIFT, and TSW).  After about a half-minute in the game, freeze.

That was incredibly disturbing.  I updated my graphics drivers and ran some diagnostics, but while everything looked OK, the game crashes kept happening.  Since it only happened in-game, I deduced it probably had something to do with the graphics card, although I’m not a tech expert by any means.  That was worrying.  I’ve been aware that my computer and card have been aging (I think the computer is four years old and the graphics card three at this point?), but I was hoping to get a couple more years of use out of them.

This morning I did a little poking around, and on a GeForce forum someone mentioned that by switching Windows’ power settings from balanced to high performance would help.  I made the switch, and lo and behold, no more graphic crashes.

Dunno why this happened or why giving it more power is going to help.  I’ve been playing these games just fine for a long time before this happened, so I’m going to be a little more wary than usual.  Anyone else encounter this type of problem?

The Feel (no, not the feels)

hoverI’ve given a disturbing amount of thought into why I primarily play female characters in MMOs (allowing my daughter to dictate my outfits, while applicable, is not a compelling reason as this trend predates her birth by several years).  I don’t secretly wish that I was a girl, nor do I create avatars with shapely posteriors only to ogle them.  I used to believe it was mostly because capable girls who kick butt are cool to watch, but the more I dwelt on it, I realized that was just a side benefit.

What I think it comes down to, really, is that my character has to *feel* right for me.  The feel isn’t just the looks or the animation (although those factor in), but the combination along with the outfit, the skills, and associated movement.  In movie terms, my character has to be the right action hero that suits me — and there is a wider spectrum of action heroes than you might assume from tropes.  There are nimble invincible can-do-everything heroes, although those bore me.  There are the gritty, beat-up heroes who soldier through on sheer grit.  Those interest me more.  And there are the heroes who draw strength from intelligence and wits first, then dexterity and moxie second.  That’s right around where I’d envision myself if I was to be in an action movie.

Most MMO males don’t have the right feel for me.  I don’t relate well to tall, incredibly buff jocks.  Nor do I have a lot in common with slender flawless metrosexuals.  I’m short, and while I’m not weak, I’m not a powerhouse.  I like to think through situations and then hopefully approach them fearlessly and confidently when a conclusion is reached.

Older male characters (especially craggy, scarred ones) draw upon this feel.  Adama, Picard, Gandalf, Zed, Mr. Miyagi… these guys might not be as fresh as they once were, but what they’ve given up physically they’ve gained even more with experience and wisdom.

Younger female characters appeal to a different feel for me, that of challenging the Arnold action hero cliché and demonstrating a sleeker inner strength that belies a smaller frame.  Plus, they get better clothes than the guys, and I’m a total virtual clothes horse.

My Engineer in WildStar has a great feel for me.  With a giant gun, bot companions, and agile movement, I love to watch her blast through the world without hestitations or fears.  In contrast, my captain in Star Trek Online has a bullish, brute feel that solves problems by head-butting them straight on.  And I’m still getting the feel for my new RIFT rogue, but I already like her propensity for throwing out a heap of firepower and explosions without regard to collateral damage.

So the feel is important.  It’s hard to connect and stick with a character for a long period when it’s not clicking with me.

Are special editions and expansions getting too pricey?

ceIt’s amazing to me not only how we get used to pretty significant changes in culture but how quickly we do so.  For example, a mere five years ago free-to-play MMOs represented a fringe business model, and we were shocked when DDO made the switch.  Now it’s pretty much the opposite, with subscription-only games being on the outskirts (and new sub games struggling to maintain those models).

This is why I’m not terribly surprised that the sticker shock we experienced just a few years ago regarding the high cost of collector’s editions has receeded to dull acceptance.  Remember when $150 for Star Wars: The Old Republic’s special edition was practically scandal?  (And it still is, considering how little you actually got for it.)  But SWTOR wasn’t alone in pushing the standard CE price, which formally was around $80, up into three digits.

But are all prices shooting up into the $150 range?  Or is this merely the case of selective observation?

Cost comparison

Guild Wars 2 sold its much more impressive CE for $150 as well. The best version of RIFT: Nightmare Tide will set you back $150.  There was a $150 EVE Online collector’s edition that came out in 2013.  The Imperial Edition of ESO was $100 (and slightly controversial as it included an otherwise-locked race).  STO is selling an “operations pack” of the upcoming Delta Rising expansion for $125.  Destiny had a big-box Ghost Edition for $150.  The Secret World had a Grand Master Pack for $200 that included a lifetime sub.  Then we get into pre-orders that allowed you to buy into the alpha testing program, such as Landmark’s $100 trailblazer pack and ArcheAge’s $150 founders pack.

That isn’t to say that $150 is all anyone does any more.  In comparison, the most expensive version of original RIFT’s special editions was just $80.  WildStar’s digital deluxe edition (there was no CE) was $85.  The Warlords of Draenor expansion CE, which is quite loaded, is still a reasonable $90.  The Diablo III CE is merely $50.  The FFXIV CE ranged between $50 and $80 depending on what version and platform you chose.  The DDO: Shadowfell Conspiracy CE was $50.  EQ: Call of the Forsaken CE is $90. as is the new EQII expansion CE.  The most expensive version of LOTRO: Riders of Rohan was $70.  Defiance had a $70 CE.

Of course, all of this is hard to compare because you’ve got so many factors — the base game vs. expansions, physical CEs vs. digital CEs, pre-order bonuses vs. launch editions.  But at a glance, $150 isn’t as “standard” as I thought when I began writing this post.  It’s probably more standard for a big physical box CE (i.e. “the cube”).

Is $150 too much for a collector’s edition?

This is a tricky question to answer, mostly because it boils down to your financial status, how much you have been looking forward to this game, whether it’s on top of a subscription, and what’s being offered for that price.  We also must consider inflation, which has been steadily rising whereas the average MMO sub fee has not.

While I am a complete sucker for CEs, I’ll say that the $150 trend is pushing it for me.  I’ve splurged in the past, to be sure, but thank goodness these don’t come out every other month.  $150 is a grocery store trip for our family.  It’s a really good Kindle plus a couple of ebooks.  And it’s a heap of digital goodies if I take that money directly to games’ cash shops and buy select items that I know I’ll use.

What we get with CEs is exclusivity — physical and digital items that you can’t get anywhere else.  I’m generally pleased with CEs that deliver account-wide beneficial items (such as mounts or increased inventory space) that will benefit my characters for years to come.  If I signed back up for World of Warcraft today, any new character I made would get the same mini panda or diablo pet that the original CE entailed.

I’m losing respect for the feelies of a CE, however.  Soundtracks are a huge draw, but only if you can’t get them elsewhere.  Statues?  Cloth maps?  Keyboard overlays?  Authenticator fobs?  Let’s be honest, most of these will be trash or dusty shelf items before too long.

I guess I can’t blame games like STO and ArcheAge trying to tap whales with their huge up-front pre-orders, since people can more easily justify spending that kind of cash if they’re getting the game or expansion for free anyway.  It doesn’t stop my eyes from bulging and/or rolling, but they gotta pay the bills somehow.

For me, I’d love to see more CEs in the reasonable zone of $60-$80, since it vastly increases the likelihood that I’ll drop cash for them.  $150 still triggers a strong debate in my household.