Go forth and read!

“How the removal of the minuscule cost of repairing your armor, somewhere around 8 silver if you turn up at the repair shop in your underwear at level 80, is supposed to compensate for what might be a heavy nerf to cash income from Champion bags, any one of which can theoretically provide enough silver to pay your repair costs for the whole day, beats me and everyone else.”

~ Inventory Full on Guild Wars 2′s upcoming feature pack


And a few other brilliant blog posts for you to check out:

What is wrong with The Secret World’s combat?

combatThe Secret World’s combat system is often cited as one of the more significant roadblocks for people getting to like the game.  I’ve seen enough comments on Massively and elsewhere to know that either a small group of people really, really hate the combat and mention it any chance they get, or a lot of people feel that there’s something not quite on here.

I wouldn’t argue with the latter crowd.  I don’t hate TSW’s combat, but it’s not great either.  There’s something… off with it that makes it a less satisfactory experience than it should be.

It could be the combination of several factors melding together:

  • A lack of auto-attack (and resulting finger fatigue of always having to mash buttons)
  • The length of combat, as even a standard mob takes longer to kill in TSW than a contemporary MMO would
  • You just don’t feel like you’re really hurting the enemy, even with reaction animations — maybe this goes back to the time-to-kill length
  • Overused and sometimes awkward animations
  • The pattern of combat, which involves spamming a builder and then eventually firing off your two closers without much variation
  • Range combat seems to have an inherent advantage

Little things but significant and ones that add up.  Combat is one of the game’s core systems (happily not the only one, however) and as such it should be fun.  Instead, it’s often a chore.

It’s not all a wash, of course.  Some of the attacks are viscerally enjoyable to use, you can cast on the run, the footwork you have to do for fights certainly keeps you on your toes, and the flexible skill system lets you create the type of attacker that you want.

Seeing as how Funcom’s not going to want to redo the combat system from scratch, I have to be realistic in what recommendations I’d make to improve it.  Off the top of my head:

  • Significantly shorten combat time but perhaps make mobs more challenging in other ways
  • Allow us to put our builder as an auto-attack (have to make a change to how the global cooldown works to allow us to interrupt those to fire off other skills)
  • Add more varieties of animations

I also really like what Guild Wars 2 did a while back, which was to add little symbols by flying damage text to show that this damage came from burning or confusion or whatever.  That would be really excellent to see in TSW.

I’ll admit that while I’m excited about Tokyo, I’m a little nervous about the devs adding another layer of complexity on top of the combat system (the AEGIS shields) without taking time to address some of the complaints people have had about the basic system.  We’ll see.

Gabriel Knight 2: Lilies of the valley

(This is part of my journey playing through Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

So interesting story: This past weekend I was visiting my parents, who are preparing to go on another European trip.  We got on the subject of castles and I mentioned how this video game I was playing had us take a virtual tour of Neuschwanstein.  My parents told me that they visited there on their last trip and we spent 10 minutes comparing notes.  Apparently the game is incredibly faithful to the actual tour and details.  Neat!

w1Grace goes back to her boyfriend, the slightly offputting Georg, who talks about the wolf panels at the castle and mentions that they might be related to the lost Wagner opera.  Georg thinks that Wagner was too egotistical to have worked on a secret opera that he didn’t talk about, but Grace wonders if there was a reason for that secrecy.  A sponsorship deal with Reebok, perhaps?

w2Then it’s back to what this game does best: letter writing!  On typewriters!  What, is this 1972?  Where are the bloomin’ werewolves?  Why does playing Grace’s storyline feel like a developer is farming out his bachelors research project to me?

w3If you wanted to get a character in an adventure game arrested, you would simply have to make everything lootable.  They’d shoplift themselves right into a 20-year sentence by the time they walked down a city block.  So I’m not surprised that Grace is captivated by lillies outside of a church — because they’re clickable.  Dunno why random flowers are such a big deal, but the pastor gives her one.  Maybe he’s putting a curse on her and by accepting the lilly she’ll turn inside-out within the day.

Hey, I need to amuse myself when they’re talking in un-subtitled German.  Give me a break.

So now that Grace has a lilly, what to do with it?  If you answered, “Go to the lake where Ludwig II drowned and throw it in as a tribute,” then you defy video game logic as much as this game does.  Seriously, how was I supposed to know how to do that?

w4Good thing I did, because as Grace puts the lilly in and says a prayer (to whom?  Ludwig?), a face pops out of the water’s reflection.  Guess ol’ Luddie is haunting the riverbanks and makes a rare appearance whenever someone throws a lilly on his watery grave.  Next show at 3pm, kids!

OK, I head back to the museum and see one of the entries mention “by the power of the lily,” so I guess Ludwig had a thing for them.  And swans.  And wolves.  Too much symbolism, perhaps?

w5A stroke of good fortune (and programming) — the son of the guy who got to read and interpret Ludwig’s diary faxes me a copy.  In it, it shows how the guy struggled with his werewolfy nature and how Wagner’s music had an impact on it.  Guess the connection is becoming more clear!

On deck and happy about it

fishingAs with any major MMO launch, there’s a good portion of people out there playing Elder Scrolls Online and seeminly enjoying it.  And I’m happy for them, but I am not part of that crowd.  Even when you don’t have a grudge against a new game, the fact that you’re not playing it can make you feel a bit left out of the experience and conversation.  That’s what leads one to spending $60 on Final Fantasy XIV and playing it for two days.  Not that this comes from personal experience.

But it’s certainly not a terrible time to be a non-ESO MMO player.  I’m actually really excited about several big drops that are happening in the next few weeks.  It makes sense that all of this is happening now, since it’s spring and many MMOs have finally started to churn out the next major releases following the lull of the holidays and winter.

This week we’ll be getting a new mission pack in The Secret World and CAN YOU TELL THAT I AM THRILLED?  Because I am.  Thrilled.  Seriously, it’s been since last July since we’ve had any new missions in TSW (and I’m not counting the scenarios here).  Even though Funcom’s punting Tokyo until next month, as least we’ll be getting four new investigation missions to tide us over.  Man I’ve been so hungry for new content in this game.  I can’t think of another MMO where “new quests” is such a major selling point.

Then there’s the double header of Guild Wars 2′s April Feature Pack and LOTRO’s Update 13 coming out on April 14th and 15th.  I’m going to be in anguish that week trying to play one while wanting to also be in the other.  That’s a good problem to have.

Hearthstone might come out on tablet this month too and I think we’re on the verge of getting The Wolf Among Us episode 3.  My plate is incredibly full, and that’s not including Trove and Landmark which I need to be playing but, really, what time?

Gabriel Knight 2: Castle cruising

(This is part of my journey playing through Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

c1This does not look like a church.  This looks like the portal to the nightmare world.  Well, in you go, Gracie!

Actually, it’s a memorial chapel for Ludwig and Grace doesn’t go in, but heads on by and checks out the lake where Ludwig and the doctor drowned.  There’s a totally cheery black cross in the middle of it:

c2Dallmeier, the Ludwig expert, shows up to talk shop.  Ludwig does sound like an interesting guy, although I am vastly curious how the makers of this game decided to draw him into a werewolf plot.  Dallmeier talks about how Ludwig agreed to let Prussia take over Bavaria and be a vassal king, and how he was both Catholic and a homosexual.  He also tells a bit of Gudden, the Black Wolf, who sat on the Prussian court with a mysterious past.  Dr. Gudden was also the arresting doctor who was found dead with Ludwig in the lake.

c3Grace has one stop left on her Ludwig tour: the Neuschwanstein castle.  I actually know of this castle, because it’s kind of famous for being one of the inspirations for the Cinderella castle at Disney.  Didn’t know that Ludwig II had it made, but I never really knew much about the guy before this game anyway.

c4The game has a cool “tour tape” button for this portion of our museum hopping.  It provides a voice-over tour for the castle, Ludwig’s obsession with building them (werewolf sanctuaries?  Naw…), and his fascination with Richard Wagner.  I learned that Ludwig had a thing for swans, which I guess is why Gabriel was dreaming of one?  Ludwig haunting his dreams or something?  The tour tape said that the swan motif symbolized “majesty and purity.”

c5The tour through the castle is pretty  engaging, especially since I’ll probably never be there in real life.  Ludwig’s bedroom features a host of hand-carved wood that took 4.5 years to create.  Off to the side is a rather sinister little chapel with a “Black Madonna” and other religious paintings.

c6A portrait of the man Ludwig emerges more clearly in this place.  He was obviously discontent with his status as a lesser king and retreated into fantasy as a result.  His castle, his interest in opera, and his love of mythology came out of this.  The castle is kind of a solo playground with themed rooms for his imagination.

c7In his study, the tour tape tells Grace that Ludwig was studying the occult before he died.  There are also a LOT of wolf paintings in the last room.  Should have consulted your local Watcher and Vampire Slayer, man.  Get the Scoobies on this thing!

LOTRO: Where everybody knows your name

spidermoonI have been neglecting LOTRO as of late.  Part of that is the anticipation of Update 13 and going into a “fasting mode” prior to it arriving, and part of it was from just getting too focused on Guild Wars 2 leveling to the exclusion of all else.  So when I had 45 minutes yesterday to play, I logged in to run my Lore-master through a couple of more epic chapters.

When I jumped into the game, one of my kin greeted me and said that he was glad to see me — that it had been a week since I was last there.  And even though that was a small thing, it really made an impact on me.  My kin in LOTRO (Lonely Mountain Band) is fairly big and I’m not necessarily the most vocal or active member, but the kin really prides itself on generating an atmosphere of family.  So people notice people, people talk, and people go out of their way to greet one another.  Even if they hadn’t logged in for a while.

I’ve found that in both games and the real world, feeling as though your presence or absence from a group matters is integral to your interest in that group and related activity.  I’ve been in many guilds where my comings and goings are ignored, where I’m just another face in the crowd.  Sure, that can be influenced by how much I participate in guild events and guild chat, but I’ve also observed that leadership has a huge role in setting the tone and example for the rest of the group to follow.  Those little “hellos,” “nites,” and “grats” add up, especially when coupled with more significant questions and conversations and encounters.

It’s the same example that I try to set in our youth group at church.  When a teen comes, I make a point to personally welcome them and ask them about their week, and when a teen misses a meeting, I give them a call — not to nag, but to let them know that their absence was felt and that they mattered to the group.  We’re always ignored by so many people because paying attention takes effort and selflessness.  It’s good to push back against that.

All I know is that the warm greeting I received yesterday probably contributed greatly to my interest in logging back in today.  There’s a lesson for all of us in that.