Tales from The Secret World’s cutscenes

I was going through my (many) Secret World screenshot folders the other day and realized just how much I screenshot the heck out of the game’s story cutscenes.  Here are a few of my favorites that illustrate a small slice of TSW’s narrative talent:

f1The Boogeyman gets one of the best lines in the game.  Also, that hand.

f2Several of the cutscenes have action going on in the background (which is a rarity in gaming cutscenes, I’ve found).  Here, Nassir does his rifle-pony dance for my endless amusement.

f3Maytag drops a bit of his tragic backstory, oh-so-matter-of-factly.  It’s chilling.

f4The Hell storylines have a weird twist to them.  I still don’t feel bad for the demons, though.

f5Another background action bit — this girl is hacking up a werewolf with a chainsaw while me and this other lady are chatting.  Kind of amusing to me.

f6Nassir and Said so need their own spin-off TV series.  It would be the best thing ever: a movie-quoting freedom fighter and a 1500-year-old sarcastic mummy.

f7Part of what makes this all work is that each character — as weird as they are — have such distinct personalities, perspectives, and speech inflections.  Makes each very memorable.

f8I really liked this story.  Very touching.

f9In this universe?  Nothing.  Nothing is weird about it.

f10The player character never speaks in cutscenes — which is sort of a running gag in the game — but he/she does get to have physical reactions to what’s going on or being said.  I can think of only two times in the game when my character started revving up for some imminent action, and this is one of them: when a girl was being verbally and physically abused by a Morninglight cultist.

Month of Trove: This game is trolling me

t1Love this splash screen.

So here we are at the end of my month adventures into the sandvox Trove!  I wanted to finish out by trying out the last (for now) class, the Ice Sage.

t2Where are my legs?  HOW AM I FLOATING?  WHEEEERE ARE MY LEEEEEGS?  I guess I traded them up for wings.

From the initial look of the class, the Sage is primarily a long-distance damage dealer with a cold theme.  Nothing super exciting, but I do prefer ranged classes in Trove over melee, so I’m sure I won’t mind.

t3“Oh hai.  Don’t mind me, I’m just a blogger who’s going to stand in the corner of your house to take screenshots and then not move for five minutes while I add this to my blog.  Nice mount, by the way.”

t4Not too far away, I found “Journey’s End,” a dungeon of sorts.  I heard that Trove lets — or will let — players design dungeons for others, and this definitely had a feel of one of those.  Very big on environmental hazards and platforming, while extremely light on mobs to fight.  Not my cup of tea, especially when I couldn’t find the end or go back to the beginning.  Death port time!

t5Maybe this was my punishment for taking the easy way out, but there was a HUGE mob sitting on top of the graveyard, just waiting to hew any rezzed characters in half.  Seriously, he barely moved from the place and killed me four times when I came back.  I couldn’t beat him, so I had to run like the dickens.  Was Trove deliberately trolling me?

t6You’ve probably noticed that in my Trove adventures hasn’t included an awful lot — or really, any — crafting.  It’s not that it’s inaccessible, but that I couldn’t be bothered with it knowing that I was going to be heading out in a few weeks.  I wanted to see the world, not a recipe screen.  That said, it does look as though there are some pretty nifty things to craft, including many interactive stations.

So I decided to finish up my tour by checking out the featured club worlds of the day.  This one had a gigantic Roman temple.  I can’t imagine the patience it took to make it.

t7This world spawned me inside of an inescapable prison cell.  That was definitely interesting.  Maybe they didn’t appreciate visitors?

t8USE ALL THE COLORS.  Argh.  My retinas.

t9My jaw just dropped at the detail and work that went in to this world — but that was nothing compared to its creativity.  Apparently I stumbled upon a whole new side of Trove that I was ignorant of, the music ride scene.  Trove has these cool vehicles called Mag Riders that can only be used on set tracks, and I guess the tracks can play musical notes when traversed.  So players craft whole songs out of rides and HOW COOL IS THAT.

Also, how sad was I that I didn’t have a Mag Rider?  I was short a number of items to craft it and didn’t know where to go to find them.  That really, truly bummed me out.  I would have loved to have gone on these rides.  Oh well — next time!

H1Z1: The new fantasy hero

survivorDespite having been underwhelmed with my first serious dip into H1Z1 — it is early-squirrelly alpha access, after all — it’s not going to leave my desktop any time soon.  I think it has some great potential as an MMO version of the increasingly popular survival game genre.

Why are these games grabbing our attention and spawning a legion of wannabes?  I think a lot of it has to do with the opporunity to be a different type of hero than we’re usually offered in online games.

Instead of hewing to a gamer’s fantasy of being an altruistic hero or an ultimate fighter (or even a wealthy merchant), these types of games strike right into the heart of the fantasy of the survivor.  Instead of beginning as a powerful, self-sustaining warrior, we are instead thrown to the other side of the spectrum and start out as a fragile, defenseless soul who has the odds pitted against him or her.

And then we’re told to use our wits and skills to survive.

The post-apocalypse is a natural setting for this but not a necessary one.  All you need is an environment that is naturally hostile, some form of aggressive enemy (either player or computer-controlled), and enough things that can be made into other things that can help one survive if used properly.

Maybe we really love a rags-to-sewn-together-rags story.  Maybe the popularity of these games is connected with our love affair of the zombie genre and how we constantly test our imagination with how we ourselves would survive and thrive in a harsh world.  Me?  I’d probably die quick and leave a weird-looking corpse, but in a computer game, why, I might have the satisfaction of building a teepee, skinning a deer, and then die to a rampaging bear.

It certainly explains why television audiences loved Survivorman and Man vs. Wild.  We live in comfy worlds where we don’t necessarily have to think about survival the way our ancestors once did, and we lament the loss of those skills and talents.  Plus, we kind of worry how quickly we’d die if we did get stranded in the woods some day.  While survivor games don’t really teach us practical tips, they do a good job simulating the techniques to carving out a living.  The feel of it.  Kind of like how Guitar Hero simulated the feeling of being a rock star while doing nothing to teach fans how to play a real instrument.

WURM Online should get a lot more credit than it does for having the foresight to jump on this bandwagon, even if it was ugly as sin and not the most user friendly.  But we’ve seen single-player and limited multiplayer survivor games have much more success with better graphics and a refinement of these ideas, notably DayZ, Rust, and Don’t Starve.

That’s why I think that H1Z1 is on to something.  Zombies and psychopathic players aside, it’s a sandbox where a personal survival narrative can be told, over and over, each time with different results.  We’re sick of being coddled in fantasy worlds; we want to be thrown into the deep water and told to suck it up and swim (or at least to craft flippers and a snorkel on the fly).  If it can nail the feel and fuel the survivor fantasy without being too difficult or too easy, then it’ll grab hold to a segment that has a lot of potential and audience left to tap.

P.S. — I’m on Team Survivorman, if I had to choose.  At least he did all of his own camera work and actual surviving without off-screen hotel stays.

5 features I’m glad we no longer suffer in LOTRO

old1Time marches on, and with it, progress.  Sure, we can get cynical in MMOs and say that everything’s gone downhill since “the good ol’ days,” but past that sophmoric statement is the truth that these games do improve and we become accustomed to these improvements to the point where we don’t even remember how it used to be.

The other day I was thinking of how far Lord of the Rings Online has come and how I’m really glad that we’ve gotten rid of some of the older systems and features to make gameplay more enjoyable.  So here are five featues that I’m glad we no longer suffer in LOTRO!

1. Manual looting

One of the best and most recent changes to the game (well, recent as of a year ago?) is that all defeated mob loot goes straight into our backpack without needing to manually loot it.  It wasn’t that this was a huge pain to do, but sometimes the subtle sparkles of a lootable corpse got lost amid the clutter, not to mention that you would always have to go to that corpse if you were a long-range DPS class.

I love this now; it’s better than even AOE looting, which is the norm in most MMOs now.  I love it so much that playing other MMOs annoys me when it comes time to loot, because I keep thinking of how LOTRO does it and realizing how little manually clicking for loot adds to the experience.

2. Radiance gear

How quickly we forget the travesty of radiance gear, one of Turbine’s most ill-thought-out notions.  Having to gun for specific gear just to allow us to enjoy dungeons was remarkably dumb and not popular in the least, and there was much rejoicing when that whole system was trashed.

3. No cosmetic outfits

For about a year following the launch of the game, players did not have any choice regarding their appearance.  And because LOTRO’s gear could look — how do I put this? — super-duper goofy, it made for a lot of super-duper goofy people running around Middle-earth.

That all changed on February 13th, 2008, with the addition of the cosmetic system, which was subsequently expanded with a wardrobe later on.  I truly believe we take for granted now the ability to not look like some court jester reject unless we choose to be that.

old24. Group-mandatory epic quests

Some day we will tell our astounded children of an era where we couldn’t actually get through the entire epic storyline without hitting hard walls requiring a group of other players to overcome.  While it may have been social and befitting the genre to have such moments in the game, in practice it made it nearly impossible to progress unless you could find a bunch of other people who were at the exact same stage of the quest chain — or who took pity on you.  So glad that this was revamped to make the epic story soloable.

5. A mapless Old Forest

Getting completely lost in the maze of the mapless Old Forest was a genuine LOTRO rite of passage, and the only entry on this list that makes me a little sad to see gone.  Oh, I’m glad it’s gone nonetheless, because that area was stupid hard without printing off a map to use (and you’d have to go in the Old Forest for several deeds).  But… yeah, it made for one of those memories that’s fun to talk about how much we hated it years later.

Happy Community Manager Appreciation Day

The internet would like to inform all community managers everywhere that there will be a union-mandated one-day reprieve on:

  • All snarky remarks
  • Wall-of-text whining
  • Unnecessary aggression
  • Flagrant violations of codes of conduct
  • Meme blitzing
  • Reading incomprehension
  • Sexual harassment
  • Run-on sentences
  • Newbie shaming
  • Flame wars
  • Gleeful shadenfreude
  • Ad hominem arguements
  • Logical fallacies
  • Fart jokes
  • Ad spamming
  • Accusations about questionable ancestral genetics
  • Moaning about how unfair it was that Firefly got cancelled
  • Badly spelled curse words, either to get around the filters or because the public school system truly neglected our up-and-coming community leaders
  • and all “first!” posts

Enjoy your day, CMs.  Tomorrow, it will be back to normal.

RIFT: Serving a life sentence on Goboro Reef

reef1Do you ever get bogged down in a zone and feel like you’ve been there forever and will probably never leave?  When every log in feels like a reminder that you’re stuck in a prison of developer design?

That’s pretty much where I’m at in RIFT’s Goboro Reef and why I haven’t talked about this game in a while.  Somewhere along the way, the unrelenting pink-and-purple landscape got to me, the quests took too long to do, and my progression’s slowed to a crawl.  I’ve had many days where I only log in to do dailies and then zip back out of there lest I be reminded of my incarceration.

So why has this happened?  The story is actually not half bad, especially with the amusing and somewhat terrifying story of Finric and his alternate realities.  And then there’s the above winged lady who’s leading a burning invasion into the place, because that’s what you do when you see a waterworld: You try to burn it up.  Makes sense.

If not the story, then what?  First, I am not a fan of this landscape.  Oh, the “former wet reef is now exposed to the dry air” was a neat twist, but now that I’ve had to weave my way through the valleys and crags for days on end, I’ve grown weary of it and missing the early portion when I could swim over and under it all.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish that there was more underwater adventures in this zone, not less.

Second, my build just isn’t working any more.  I thought that once I geared up with new Nightmare Tide quest rewards that my relative DPS output would get back to where it was with Storm Legion, but nope, it’s far weaker than it’s ever been.  Standard mobs have a much higher health pool then before and I’m going through too many rotations trying to burn them down.  I’ve even found myself dying to stupid stuff that shouldn’t have even touched me before.

reef2I know that sounds like whining, and I guess it is, but there’s a combat sweet spot between things being too easy and too hard or aggrivating.  I feel like I’ve wandered into the latter territory and it’s not made for fun fights.

So I might be abandoning my trusty Bladedancer build.  I’m going back to a Saboteur/Ranger setup to have a pet take the damage while I build up charges and get some heavy DoTs ticking down.  It works, although it too is much slower to kill than what I’ve seen in the past.

Really, I just want to be done with this area and experience something new.  I not only have two more Nightmare Tide zones after this, but I think they’re adding a fourth area this week with 3.1.  Gotta get a move on, little doggy!

Digesting the Guild Wars 2 expansion announcement

babeSo no big surprise — Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns is an expansion — but good news nonetheless.  As a mostly lapsed GW2 player right now, I’m mostly on the fringes of the excitement hurricane going on.  I mean, I’m terribly happy for those for whom GW2 is their only game and this is major.  But I’m evaluating the news from the perspective of a former regular player who is asking the question, “What is in here that is worth returning for?”

For the record, I think that there is enough here to prompt that renaissance (and perhaps get me to actually finish Season 2), but it isn’t all sunshine and deadly flowers.  Here are a few thoughts sorted from thumbs up, neutral, and thumbs down.

Thumbs Up

  • New Revenant class looks somewhat awesome, although with heavy armor, the only new class in the xpack, and summoning components, it will definitely be in danger of being overplayed and perhaps overpowered.
  • Guild Halls.  That will certainly be a welcome feature to get together with guildies for fun and mutual projects.  It also addresses a huge oversight going from GW1 to GW2.
  • Profession specializations.  I think this alone has me the most excited, especially for people who want to stick with their class but also desire additional progression or variety.  Not entirely sure if each class will have just one specialization or more than one from which to choose.  In any case, it’d be cool to see my Engineer or Necro change it up somewhat.
  • More open world zones to explore.  The world should be constantly expanding, as Tyria is such a huge place and we’ve been confined to a relatively small portion of it in GW2 so far.
  • Hang gliding.  I’m down with this.  The mastery system does sound intriguing as a way to gain new abilities, although it sounds as though these abilities will be used to overcome new obstacles.  So it’s a zero sum system?  Maybe I’m misunderstanding it.

Neutral

  • Guild Wars 2 has failed to blow up my skirt with its story, either from the base game or the first two seasons.  No reason to expect that the expansion will actually get interesting, but I’m always willing to be proven wrong!
  • It’s not free.  That’s fair, but I know some people were hoping that Anet would be pumping out a free expansion for whatever reason.
  • No mounts.  I do NOT get why this is one of those weird design decisions that Anet has decided to die on a hill for.  Not having them in this world is bizarre, and including them would make a lot of people happy.  It should’ve happened.  So, you have high-tech airships and add hang gliders… but no horses?
  • More ways to get precursor weapons via questing.  I’ve long since given up on chasing the legendary weapon pony, so this is a non-feature for me, but it’s not a bad thing for those who care about it.
  • More PvP and WvW stuff.  Totally outside of my sphere of interest, and therefore completely neutral additions.
  • ArenaNet was hyping this announcement as something more than an expansion, as something that would go beyond the living story and be… I dunno, revolutionary?  I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but that was the general angle.  And the reveal, while nice, is merely an expansion — nothing more and nothing less.
  • My biggest wish list item — being able to get to 100% world exploration by not having to go into WvW — wasn’t addressed anywhere that I saw.  Shame, especially with new zones.

Thumbs Down

  • No new races.  This was a surprising disappointment, especially considering just how many potential races there are in the game and how much time has been spent between the community and the devs on it.
  • Guilds get housing, but players are still saddled with these pathetic home instances that have zero customization?  I’m happy for guilds and all, but if I had my druthers, I would have prioritized player housing (plus, what if a player doesn’t want to be in a guild?).
  • More jungle zones.  Not… my favorite biome, as they’re usually confusing to navigate and busy on the eyes.  Only slightly above lava and desert zones in my opinion.  Also, at least one of these zones is “more vertical” than normal, which means lots more annoying GW2 platforming.

Of course, there’s a lot we don’t know and I’m sure Anet is holding back so it has something to talk about in the coming months.  But as it stands, I’m interested if not overwhelmed.

LOTRO: Reading the books through the lens of the game

lo1This is your weekly public service announcement to remind you that even for a game that was made in 2007, LOTRO still has the ability to be quite beautiful.  Been screenshotting the heck out of it lately, including the above early-morning pic of the silhouette of a statue against the sky.

Anyway, lately I’ve been indulging this return-to-LOTRO streak that I’ve had going on by re-reading the Lord of the Rings.  It’s been a while; I think the last time I went through it was back in my fantasy lit class in college, and that was… 1998?  Since then I’ve seen the movies, played LOTRO extensively, and listened to the illuminating Tolkien Professor podcast.  I like to think that my understanding of this world and the books has grown.

But as I’ve been reading the story, I’ve realized that I can’t help but to do so from the vantage point of a LOTRO gamer.  I know that probably many fans of the game had extensive knowledge of the books first and went into LOTRO that way, but I’m coming at it almost the other way around.  Everything I read in the book, I’m thinking of where I might have seen it or heard about it in the game.

lo2While that might be a horrific thought to novel lore purists, it’s actually really neat.  When I was younger, I always felt a little lost in Lord of the Rings, especially with the weird names, barrage of locations, and extensive fictional world history.  But now I realize that the game has provided me with a solid education on all of these things and more besides, so not only am I constantly making connections between the two, but it’s deepened my enjoyment of the book.

Turbine’s always said that LOTRO was the “game of the books” (as opposed to the “game of the Peter Jackson/Ralph Bakshi films,” I suppose), and while some have taken the studio to task for liberties with the lore, I think that the attention to detail and the relative accuracy bears out.  I didn’t realize before how the LOTRO Hobbit racial skill “stoop for a stone” actually comes from a phrase from the “Concerning Hobbits” prologue, and that was a neat moment when I read that and went, “aha!”

lo3One other thing that I’ve come to realize — although it’s not so much of a shocker — is how much the LOTRO game world presents a condensed, not-to-scale version of what’s in the book.  I’m only in the first part of the Fellowship of the Rings, but I keep noting how very big the Shire is and how long it takes the Hobbits to traverse it in their journey to Buckland.  For a player, it’s a mere handful of minutes to run border-to-border in the Shire, although there seems to be most (but not all) of the main settlements and attractions from the book.

I think I’m really going to enjoy reading the book from the vantage point of a LOTRO veteran, and I definitely want to see what the Tolkien Professor does with his LOTRO world tour, whenever he gets that done.