The Syp – Mutant – Cracked connection

Some of you know — and follow — me and my team of crazy movie critics over at Mutant Reviewers From Hell.  One of our long-time writers, Drew Anderson, just got his first article published on Cracked.com today, which is a huge get for him!  Drew’s always been an awesome writer and a terrific guy, and I’m so very psyched for him.  Head on over and give it a read.

Guild Wars 2’s gem of an idea (#gw2 )

Pictured: A Guild Wars 2 Jem

I’m excited about Guild Wars 2 and I love how much passion is surrounding this game, but dang if that community is wound up tighter than Nurse Ratched.   I can’t say whether it’s more or less uptight than what we’ve had for every past major release, but it’s pretty much up there.  Even the slightest bit of controversial news or commentary about the game has a good chance of inciting riots and Chicken Littles, but that’s part of the fun of being slightly on the outside of it all.

So in what had to be the most predictable explosion of indignation and outrage and “didn’t we JUST do this?”, ArenaNet finally came out with its long-awaited news of the game’s microtransactions model and the world ended and yet we are still here.  Maybe controversy isn’t the planet core-rending experience it once was.  Again, it’s not like we didn’t see this coming; several months ago when the studio said that it was thinking about charging for the ability to change your gear’s appearance to another piece of armor you had on hand (and everyone exploded), we knew it was a matter of time before they’d have to reveal the rest and just get the stampede of opinions over with.

OK, so let’s put the outrage aside and look at this calmly.  Even with the up-front cost of the game, we knew — and ArenaNet never hid it — that there would have to be some form of additional income to keep the game running, the devs paid, new content rolling in, etc.  It’s a business as well as a game studio, and if money’s not being made, the game’s not going to be run.  It’s as simple as that.

Guild Wars 1’s model was to roll out new boxed campaigns once or twice a year for the first couple years, coupled with some very light microtransactions (costume pieces, pet unlocks, name changing, etc.).  But the game itself wasn’t a full-blown MMO either, so it was cheaper to run.  Guild Wars 2 is eschewing the campaign model (although who knows about expansions) to focus more heavily on microtransactions (i.e. the cash shop) with — and this is the big surprise — game-supported RMT.

Let’s take a look at a couple things Mike O’Brien wrote:

“Here’s our philosophy on microtransactions: We think players should have the opportunity to spend money on items that provide visual distinction and offer more ways to express themselves. They should also be able to spend money on account services and on time-saving convenience items. But it’s never OK for players to buy a game and not be able to enjoy what they paid for without additional purchases, and it’s never OK for players who spend money to have an unfair advantage over players who spend time.”

There’s a lot of wiggle room there for what ArenaNet can conceivably sell — I mean, almost anything can fall under the umbrella of “time-saving convenience items.”  But overall, I adore this statement and I’m glad he’s putting it right out there.  All studios need to do this (and some have), because players have been fleeced enough with abusive business models to be especially wary about microtransactions, item shops, and RMT.

The “nevers” here are the big reassurers of what won’t be in the store, and those are probably the #1 and #2 biggest fears of most players when dealing with this business model.  It isn’t fun to just see people with more money jump to the head of the line, because it rankles one with the notion of fairness and equality.  We at least want to have an equal chance, that is.

Moving on from here, O’Brien says that the decision to support in-game RMT is practical and pro-player.  It helps to cut out third-party gold farmers/spammers/sellers/hackers, it’s going to happen anyway, and so it might as well be on their terms.  I never really liked the idea of RMT, and part of me still doesn’t — although, full disclosure, I think EQ2 was the only MMO I’ve played that tinkered around with this, and it wasn’t noticeable there at all.  I guess STO does a little bit too with its dilithium/CP exchange, now that I think about it.

What’s cool about this is that they’re taking a cue from EVE and making RMT a two-way street.  Players can buy the special currency — gems — with cash, but they can also use in-game currency to buy gems from other players.  So, yeah, players can buy in-game gold with real-world money, but they can also buy this currency with in-game time as well.  I think this latter part benefits the poorer person who does, as O’Brien says, have more time than money.  It gives us options and flexibility without (hopefully) unbalancing the economy or giving a rich player a major advantage over everyone else (again, going back to his philosophy of microtransactions).

I certainly like being able to earn Turbine Points while playing LOTRO, so why not earn some gems through in-game methods as well?  Lets me be as frugal as I want while still presenting me with an avenue to get what I want.

While people are on both sides of the aisle on this issue, I’m not that disturbed about it.  I guess I’ve really grown apathetic toward the whole business model debate after going through it for years now, so as long as it doesn’t look game-breaking, I’m not going to throw a hissy fit over it.

A couple final thoughts.  First, knowing now how this business model will be structured, I’m definitely purchasing the standard edition (maaaaaybe the digital deluxe) and using that extra $70 or so to buy gems than to get a statue and some art prints I’ll never really use.  In-game goodies are where it’s at for me, and I’m guessing $70 could buy an awful lot of them.

Second, KIASA has a great reminder that it’s a little pointless to speculate too heavily on this post, since we’re still lacking specifics — and we’ve yet to see it in action.  Quote of the day incoming in three… two… one…:

“So until anyone can accurately tell me the style, colour and condition of my underpants (and whether I’m wearing them on my head or not), they probably can’t tell me how well Guild Wars 2′s complex RMT system is going to interact with an as yet undefined player population, in an unreleased and unknown game system, with an item store that has no items defined for it, for an in-game economy that has yet to be established.”

Play Diary: I’m a MONSTER! (#swtor #lotro #me3 )

SWTOR

I’ll have to admit that finding a good fit for a second character in SWTOR hasn’t been as easy as I first assumed.  While the original plan was just to plow my way through all eight classes, one by one, I think I got completely spoiled by my Agent the first time around.  I liked her voice, her personality, her story, and her mechanics — and I’ve discovered that I need to find that same combination in an alt.  The Counsular, well, I hated his voice and story; the Smuggler’s mechanics were too similar to what I already did as an Agent; and my brief foray into the Trooper taught me that you can like a voice but still dislike the personality.

Another issue I was having is that while my guild has both a Republic and Empire presence, most everyone I had gotten to know was on the Empire side — and playing Republic felt like wading into a pool of strangers.  So I cast everything to the wind this past weekend, headed back to the Empire, and rolled me up some Bounty Hunter.

And boy oh boy, have I found what I was looking for.  The voice: Kind of similar to Jennifer Hale’s, actually, but definitely not irritating.  The personality: Darkly humorous with a merciless streak.  The story: Participating not in the war, but in a Great Hunt that just so happens to take place amidst all the chaos of the war.  The mechanics: Gadgets and blasters and jetpacks and OOH FLAMETHROWERS BURN BABY BURNNNNN.

Thus was born Door, who I tried to make look more visually distinctive than female beauty queen.  I guess she turned out a little goth/raver in the end, but it works for me.  And it’s completely surreal to be back on Hutta, where my Agent started out so very long ago (geez, was that December already?).  It’s never fun to have to give up sprint and mounts for plain… old… jogging… but one sucks it up and takes in the scenery instead.

Door is meant to be the polar opposite of my Agent Yeti, so where Yeti is curvacious and kind, Door is stick-thin and dark to the core.  All Dark Side choices for me, thank you, and no regrets for the WHAT HAVE I DONE?  /curls up in a ball after I kill family members in front of each other like some horrible war criminal

I know it’s a tired observation that BioWare’s moral choices are often less grey than we’d like in a complex RPG, vacillating instead between angelic purity and demonic butchery, but that’s kind of what they do.  For many like myself, it’s hard to initially get into playing a Dark Side character, because we want to see our character do good things, and instead have to contend with commanding him or her to partake in activities that we’d never even consider in real life.  You know, like cutting off heads, backstabbing others (literally), and more or less being the biggest tool on the planet.  I think I was called “MONSTER!” about six different times over the weekend, and that’s just for starters.

Fortunately, the Bounty Hunter does soften the blow of these heinous actions by delivering fairly entertaining quips, so at least I’m laughing through my horrified tears.

I just hit level 10 on Sunday and am mulling over my advanced class.  I’m torn between having the option to heal or tank (with DPS on both sides).  The heal AC has double pistols, so that’s cool, but the tank AC has the bulky awesome armor.  I like the idea of being super-protected.  Hm.

LOTRO

More Enedwaith questing for me these past few days, I’m afraid.  Nothing super-exciting, but it’s definitely been relaxing and enjoyable even so.  I’ve slipped back into the my Captain’s loafers with ease and am slicing my way through hordes of nasties without a second thought.  At this rate I’m going to be level 75 before I’m halfway through Dunland, but that’s okay.  It’ll be nice to not die all the time after struggling through that content with my Lore-master.

MASS EFFECT 3

Unlike some, I’m really in no rush to finish this, but I am having fun in it when I do get a slice of time here or there to partake.  Putting aside my dislike of the new human female models, Mass Effect 3 does excel in making every mission feel like an exciting action movie — or perhaps the latest episode of a TV show.

Mass Effect is one of those games where I enjoy the story and setting far more than I like the actual game mechanics.  It’s pretty much a shooter with light RPG elements tacked on, and I really dislike how much BioWare’s watered down the character creation/building/gear mechanics to their Fisher Price basics.  Wouldn’t want those Xbox kiddies to get confused, I guess.  Maybe I should’ve just chosen the “narrative” option for the game, but whatever.  Sometimes shooting stuff in the face is fun too.

I still am in awe of just how unique and well thought-out all of the alien races are, however.  They have so many layers to them — their looks, their personalities, their relationships with each other, their abilities — and most all of them are interesting.  So much so that the humans end up coming off as the most boring sometimes.

Last night’s adventure involved me meeting up with one of my all-time favorite ME2 characters, Mordin, as we rescued a female Krogan from the labs.  Oh Mordin, how I did miss you and your quirky wit.  He’s an unflappable guy, that one.

It’s the little things

You know that general maxim where if you pass by something three or more times, you’ll simply stop seeing it?  We don’t look at everything around us every day because a large percentage of it is so familiar.  Even if it’s wondrous and magical, chances are we’ll grow so complacent with it in our midst that it eventually becomes invisible.

I lived in Colorado Springs for a year way back when, and my job was on a street that led right up to Pike’s Peak, the majestic mountain that towers over the town.  The house I was staying at was at the base of Cheyenne Mountain.  Moving there from the midwest, I remember arriving that first day and walking around with my jaw hanging open.  It was simply incredible.

A year later, I didn’t even see the mountains anymore.  They faded into the background.

I’ve learned that unless you either make a concerted effort to see the details in the world around you or change your perspective every now and then, everything fades.  So it’s a good exercise for me to shake things up once in a while, and that includes gaming.

One of the reasons why shorter single-player games often capture MMO gamers’ attention through being vivid is that we’re not expected to stay in those worlds for long periods of time.  We probably won’t grow overly familiar to the point where it becomes ignored.  Yet in MMOs, it’s the opposite, isn’t it?

The first day in an MMO is a day of wonder — especially if it’s your first.  Everything is new.  Every detail is noticed.  Every neat touch is ooh’d and ahh’d over.  It arrests our attention and we are quick to turn our backs on our old mainstays.

Of course, that doesn’t last for long, and it can’t.  The problem is when get so familiar with these games that we not only stop seeing everything we already have, but have developed such a tunnel vision that we don’t even notice the new stuff.  A new model for a mob is ignored, because we’re focused on how many hit points it has left and whether or not it interrupts our skills.  Landscape that developers took months to create is quickly deemed “more of the same”.

So in MMOs I try to see the little things now and then.  I force myself to stop playing in my routine and to start playing outside of it.  Maybe I switch to first-person mode — it’s generally sucky to play from that perspective, but I’ll tell you one thing, it really makes you notice the details and animations on the mobs you’re fighting.  So many of these monsters are really cool, and yet we’re so used to seeing them from the vantage point of our camera 25 feet away.

Do you ever look up in buildings in MMOs?  Probably not, but start getting in that habit.  I’ve seen some awesome sights just by looking up at the ceiling — or lack of.

Take a moment to poke around structures and landmarks, even if there’s no direct XP or loot benefit in it.  Look for the small touches a dev put into the world that tell a wordless story.  Trust me, they’re out there.

Walk instead of running.  Don’t just pass through areas but explore them.  Notice how your own character moves and fights and rides.  Listen to the ambient noises.

Look.  Listen.  Experience.

See the little things before they disappear forever.

Play Diary: Running out of juice (#lotro #swtor )

So last night something interesting happened that effectively froze my gameplay session: My keyboard stopped working.

It’s a weird story.

You see, last Christmas I asked for and received a Logitech wireless keyboard that was, among other things, solar powered.  It’s got a pair of panels at the top that recharge the batteries from sunlight and room lights, and generally it’s worked just great for me over the past three months.  What I didn’t realize until just lately, however, is that the amount of power that it was gaining every day was being outdone by how much I was draining it, causing a very slow but steady decrease in the overall battery level.  And last night it went kaput.

So I’ve either got to get a desk lamp or put this keyboard in a sunny place during the day, or else just get a new keyboard.  Because having it go out on me like this isn’t an option, and it kind of sucked to be in the middle of a game and suddenly have nothing but the mouse available.

As a result, I didn’t get much done:

LOTRO

My Captain is still in the midst of Enedwaith, and I don’t feel rushed to get her to Dunland before exhausting the main content.  She’s 66.5, so already I’m going to be going into Rise of Isengard at a higher level than my LM did, and that makes me happy.

Once again, I finished up the not-so-hidden Hobbit village area, and this time around I completed the deed that got me a pair of Stoor boots for my house.  I really like the idea for this village — and the music that plays in town is fantastic — but both times I’ve done this content I’ve come away underwhelmed.  You’re really not there long enough to get much of an impression from the inhabitants, and after the initial handful of quests there’s no reason to stay other than to do repeatables for XP.  Characters from the Shire stand out to me much more than any of the Hobbits here, and that’s a shame.

I also did finish up Volume III Book 2, although it was a lot less interesting the second time around.  I think I have about one quest hub and epic book left before I head to Dunland, so go me.

SWTOR

Before my keyboard cut out, I was having some fun on my Trooper.  I like how straight-forward the class mechanics are — just a lot of heavy firepower, explosions, and watching things die.  I’m still not sure if I’m going to stick with her or go back to my poor Smuggler, but I’ll at least get her to level 10 before going back and forth.

I do like playing her as nasty and evil as the game allows, which is kind of shockingly evil right off the bat.  That’s BioWare for you, though; sometimes shades of gray are but a fleeting thought.  Like many others I’ve read, I’m still puzzled over why some actions — like returning stolen medicine for hurt soldiers — are deemed dark side choices.  It seems that these sorts of weird counter-intuitive choices exist mostly at the beginning of the game, perhaps for early testers to get a deep impression of the system, but in my Agent’s experience, it mostly became common sense from the second planet onward.

My new house (#lotro )

 

Just in case you wanted to see pics:

My front yard -- the all-wise beaver watches over the land
I love this scarecrow design, it's so Hobbitsy!
The main room. It's definitely smaller than the deluxe Hobbit main room, and I like it for that. I wish I could find more special furniture for that center spot, though.
Side room 1, work in progress. I'm trying to put things more at an angle to take up space, and I like how the table/chair work here.
The Christmas room
Another view of the Christmas room. I may replace the green wall paint with red, since the floor is green anyway. Could use more light, too.

Play Diary: Moving house (#lotro #swtor #me3 )

LOTRO

Moving sucks.  It’s one of those activities that gets worse the older you get, because you end up accumulating more and more stuff.  When I first went to college, I had maybe four crates of junk and a bag of clothes.  Now?  Now I shudder at the notion of ever having to move house.  I think we’d need a semi just for the kids’ toys alone.

It’s not that much more fun in LOTRO, mind you.  I’ve been wanting to move house for a long time in that game, but have been putting it off due to the fact that it would be a lot of annoying shuffling and inventory transfers.  However, I wanted to do it for three reasons:

1. My house decorations were owned by three different characters, which meant that if they were bound to one, I had to figure out which character owned it and log onto them in order to redo things.  I just wanted the entire house to be under one character’s purview.

2. While I liked the standard Hobbit house, the deluxe is way, waaaaay too big in the main hall and I very much wanted to move everything to a Man home.  MAN HOME, y’all!

3. I just wanted to start fresh and do things differently.  Can’t blame me for that, right?

Thus ensued several hours of annoying packing — logging on to each of the characters, figuring out what was bound, throwing stuff in shared storage, trying to get as much sent to my main character as possible, etc.  I sold the house (I do like that you get your unused deposits back) and traveled to Bree-land homesteads to get a deluxe house there.

Then came the fun part.  I really do like the new house very much — the layout is tighter with the same number of hooks — and I had fun pulling out decorations I’ve never used and using them in different combinations.  It’s all very much a work in progress, but the yard is already done (gotta love my hammock!) and the interior looks cozy.

Since the deluxe house comes with the option to do one of the side rooms in a different style (a separate wall covering/paint and floor covering/paint) than the rest of the house, I decided to make a Christmas room.  This actually ended up looking terrific, although I need a few more thematic wall hangings to finish it off.  I used the Hobbit wall decorations, green floor and wall paint, a Hobbit snow globe, a snowman, a bear-skin rug, and a picture of a snowy landscape to give it that December 25th vibe.

I also used the moving as an excuse to sort out all my housing decorations and get rid of the several redundant items I had lying around.  I’ve since freed up a lot of housing storage space, so I’m going to be shopping around to see what I can find to fill in those gaps.  I also wouldn’t mind the treasure hunt coming back soon, because I’d love to buy a trained cage-claw for this house.

SWTOR

I’ll admit it, I’m feeling a little listless in SWTOR as of late.  While the new patch looks interesting, my journey with the Smuggler is starting to drag.  I blame a lot of that on Taris — not one of the better planets in terms of design — but also just the fact that I haven’t found a build that works for me yet.  I’m still fiddling around with the skill trees.

It could just be that the Smuggler is too similar to the Agent, which is why I also rolled a sassy redheaded Trooper named Cinder last night with the FemShep voice module installed.  I’ll admit that I do like the notion of heavy armor plus heavy firepower, but starting over on the Republic side for the third time does get me itchy for seeing what’s up in the higher levels.  I’m going to give this character some attention this week and see if it sticks.

BioWare, get 1.2 out already, will ya?  You guys are being so gun shy on updates when you should be shoving them down our throats in glee.

MASS EFFECT 3

More diddling around on the Normandy.  I’ve got a bunch of missions to do, but I’ve been enjoying talking with the crew and catching up with the new and improved EDI (her and Joker are my favorite scifi couple, I’ve got to say — and most unexpected).

[Spoiler warning about spoilers]

I’m not very happy with the internet right now, because it seems like everyone is just hellbent on spoiling the ending because they’re upset with it or whatever.  Which is fine for them, but guess what?  Not everyone’s finished it.  And even saying that “oh the ending sucks” is a spoiler, because for those of us still playing it’s something that’ll be in the back of our mind for the entire game.  So thanks for that.  Couldn’t wait at least a month before being all public-y about it?

Man I hate spoilers.  I hate how many have slipped through about SWTOR’s class stories at this point, even though I try my hardest to ignore them.  At worst, it’s a form of griefing, and at best, it’s someone being inconsiderate not to at least put a spoiler warning on something.

Eh.  So now I’m just picking away at this game when I should be diving right through it.  I don’t remember people being this bad when ME1 or 2 came out.

Play Diary: Skirmish soldier boot camp (#LOTRO )

So a day after the fact, I was finally able to sit down with LOTRO’s Update 6 and start wiggling my way through the changes and additions.  A lot of this will go into my weekly column for Massively, so I’m going to just share with you today one aspect of my adventures.

Now with Update 6 came the expansion of the skirmish soldier system, in which the game will let you take your soldier (read: companion/minion/hero-type assistant) out of its former confines of skirmishes and assist you in the world.  It sounds pretty cool, but this is Turbine we’re talking about, so it’s also needlessly complex as well.  You not only have to pony up the cost (either in real-world money or through skirmish currency) to buy a one-hour token, but as I discovered, it’s kind of useless if your skirmish soldier isn’t trained up all the way.

I have no idea what most people in LOTRO do with skirmishes.  Some dedicated souls probably skirmish quite a bit, but I’m going to assume a lot of people are like me: We tried it at first, occasionally pop into one, and did them for the epic storyline.  It’s a side system that usually takes a backseat to questing, is what I’m saying.  And as such, there’s a good chance that (like me) players may not have been gathering up enough skirmish marks to train their soldiers up to level.

See, this is where Turbine’s “needlessly complex” attitude comes into play.  Yes, it’s cool that we can customize soldiers and make them fit our needs and play style, but the method in which it’s done is very non-intuitive at the start and is messy all around.  Instead of being an elegant talent tree system, you have to buy skills (with skirmish marks) from one vendor, personal traits (such as looks and race) from another vendor, then slot them on a third vendor.  There are four sections that all beg for your attention, and they are all very, very hungry for skirmish marks.

Back to my adventures!  So I logged in with the intent of bringing up my soldier to par, and after looking at her, I realized she needed a lot of work — which meant a lot of skirmishing.  And since I was using the skirmish marks to bring her up to level 66 (where my Captain is), I couldn’t be wasting them on the landscape soldier tokens to take her out into the world.  It felt like a little bit of a Catch-22 circle, in a way.

I guess that when she’s at level across the board, I’m going to need to remain vigilant and keep leveling her up every time I do.  Will it be worth it for the extra assistance here and there?  Probably not, but I’m always interested in gaining an edge when I can get it.

Play Diary: Walking on sunshine and vacuum (#STO )

As Garfield and the Aztecs predicted, Mondays are there to conspire against me.  I was really hoping to get a good chunk of game time on my day off, but a hundred more “responsible” things clamored for my attention to the point where I only really had time to finish up the latest Star Trek Online featured series.

I’ve held off talking about this series — The 2800 — until I was done with it, but now that it’s over I’ve got a bunch of thoughts.  It’s the first STO featured series I’ve ever experienced, and overall, I liked it quite a lot.  Believe it or not, STO has some of the most interesting mission designs I’ve seen in MMOs, and if you stick to the featured episodes and series, it almost never feels like you’re grinding out FedEx/Kill 10 Rats tasks.  The writers come up with a lot of variety within these missions, and The 2800 exemplified this.

The story takes a hanging thread from Deep Space 9 and runs with it: What if the giant Dominion fleet that got detained in the wormhole by the wormhole peeps was allowed to continue on to the Alpha quadrant, many years after the war was over?  The answer would be: Chaos and the rebirth of a war that nobody really wants to fight.  As the Federation’s forces are spread thin on multiple fronts, they’re powerless to stop the takeover of DS9, and only one person — and one ship — can make wrong things right.  Unfortunately that ship is off on another mission, so it’s up to you.

Speaking of variety, during this series the game had me:

  • Pandering to diplomats by making them happy
  • Fighting through a jailbreak
  • Going on a spacewalk across DS9’s hull in a suit
  • Going into the Gamma quadrant in a shuttle
  • Flying into the interior of an asteroid
  • Getting to know the life and times of Bajor’s people
  • Fighting a Changling in hand-to-hand combat
  • Engaging in an epic space battle that was pretty tough at times

Apparently the fate of future Featured Series development is up in the air at this point, and that’s a shame because the team did such a great job with this that I was literally looking forward to the next installment each and every week this ran.  It had a great Star Trek feel that wasn’t just about mindless combat, but it had you thinking through situations, solving puzzles, and approaching problems through a variety of means.

My one big complaint, however, is the voice acting.  Now, I know people defend STO’s voice acting (such as it is) by saying that it’s probably done in-house, but whether it is or not, it’s almost uniformly awful.  Overacting and hammy deliveries with Shatner-worthy pauses all over the place coupled with disjointed lip synching awful.  I mean, I’m glad they made the effort — voice is much more involving than just text — but it was a weak spot in an otherwise strong series.

I won’t complain about the rewards, however.  We got lots of purples for the chain, including ship items and weapons.  Probably the two best rewards were a purple Jem’Hadar bridge officer and an item that lets you project two holographic copies of yourself to confuse enemies in combat.

Star Trek Online remains a casual MMO for me, but I’m almost always glad to go back to it when I do.  I’m looking forward to trying out some of the other featured series when they come back up on the rotation so see what I’ve missed.