Retro Gaming: Master of Magic part 3

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Master of Magic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

With the northern town of Cannae under my belt, I have a decision to make: Do I press on my campaign and try to take a major enemy city right to the south, or do I sue for peace and focus on growing my kingdom?

These sorts of nail-biting choices are what make 4X games both maddening and addictive. You’re constantly weighing pros and cons, making educated guesses and playing against an enemy that you can’t fully see.

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Another crucial choice: How do you build up your city? It’s been so long that I don’t have the first clue what’s the most optimal way to grow a city in this game, but I figure you can’t go wrong with more money! Also, walls. Gotta keep dem bears out.

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M-O-O-N, that spells moon!

That’s no moon, it’s a space station!

Take your pick. They’re both on me.

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My northern army finally descends upon Isseme, where a spirited defense pours out to fight off my invaders. It’s a slightly tougher fight than in Cannae; I lose Ocho early on and even one war bear bites it. But in the end, we triumph.

#prayerforOcho

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With that, I turn to proper empire building. I disband one of my war bears and scatter my units to finish exploring this continent and shore up defenses in each of my cities. This game has a disturbing habit of throwing raiders and monsters against my towns randomly.

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Um… so who would like to see a battle to the death between unicorns and war bears? Oh, everybody? Then here we go!

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OK, that is totally not a fair fight. Two packs of unicorns and two ghosties versus one unit of war bears? I hate to say it, but the bears got smoked. Going to have to build back up my war bear army and come back for sweet, sweet revenge.

The great news is that I finish exploring this middle continent and find that I’m the sole occupant now that I’ve conquered those two towns. There’s even a little room to build a couple more cities!

Screenshot Friday bonanza!

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This new ship is all sorts of ominous cool, but I have to admit that I’m starting to miss my old Agent cruiser.

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I like how she’s partially hidden in shadow here — just like a good Operative should be.

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My youngest has this exact same expression and pose when he’s crapping his diaper in the middle of play.

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SCORPIO never stops being kind of terrifying. But I like her anyway.

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Pump those crazy legs, Jem! You are truly outrageous!

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A giant spider! A first for MMOs!

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I love the desolate, wide-open feel this picture captures.

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Chasing my shirt in The Secret World. COME BACK HERE!

So much nudity.

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How you know you’re a blogger: When a ceiling with sharp spikes is lowering, you go, “Oh hey, let’s get the perfect screenshot!” instead of trying to get out of there.

The calm before the baby storm

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You know how sometimes right before a huge storm there’s this eerie calm which seems so unnatural because everyone knows what chaos is about to arrive? That’s my life right now. The calm before the baby storm.

We are on the cusp of having our fourth child, which we were told wasn’t going to arrive until November 12th but looks as though could arrive any moment. Of course, this is one of the horrible aspects of pre-birth: Unless you’re having a C-section or have an induction date, you just don’t know when it’s going to happen. Any sign from her is a possible go/no go for launch. Tons of contractions? Flu-like symptoms? Carrying low? You just don’t know. We’ve done the thing with previous kids where we are faked out and end up going to the hospital too early.

This is not my favorite period, the end of the third trimester. Not knowing is quite stressful, because I have to be ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice and head to the hospital for a few days. So everything has to be ready, including backups of who will come watch the other kids, cleaning the house, prepping all of the various baby things we’ll need, and so on.

If there’s any consolation it’s that the fourth time around, we generally know the procedure. I’m already steeling myself for sleepless nights and making bottles of formula and trying to figure out a new routine that incorporates a small human that you cannot reason with.

I want the baby to be here already and yet I don’t. I wouldn’t mind a few more nights or weeks of sleep. There are always more things that can be done to prepare. It’d be great to be able to take the kids trick-or-treating beforehand.

One cool thing is the palpable excitement on behalf of my other children. They can’t wait to meet the next addition to our family and help a bit with him.

I never really envisioned myself as being a father of four, but then again, back 15 years ago I never thought I’d be married at all, so you just kind of roll with life, ask for God’s grace and protection, and find the joy in all things. Even the storm.

WildStar: Building a river

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So this was my major project last weekend: building a scenic river for the entrance of my housing plot in WildStar. It took a lot longer than you’d think.

River decor is one of the newer additions to the vendor, although there are only winding bits — no straightaways or variations. My plan was to have the river cut diagonally in front of the teleportation pad with a bridge to pave an introduction to my plot. Someone said that there was a curved Aurin bridge out there, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere, so in the meanwhile I built my own bridge out of various parts.

So, the river. I started by laying down three segments of the winding river, resizing them until I got a stretch of straightaway in front of the teleportation ramp. Problem #1 came up when I realized that the seams where the river segments connected were very noticeable. I was going to need to do a little visual trickery to cover them up.

Next was to establish the head of the river, which I did with a waterfall and lily pad pool. I used hanging plants to droop over the rocks and cover up the back part of the waterfall somewhat. I think the overall effect worked great. I sprung for buying curved rocks for the pool, but I realized that doing the same for the river banks would get expensive, fast.

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The line of rocks across the pool and a flipped tiki bar that’s now serving as an arch are my tools to cover up the river seams (plus some plants under the arch). I wanted to have river banks the whole way, so I crafted up a bunch of sacks of buckwheat that I made big and flipped over to serve as faux rocks/dirt. I think it worked out fairly well and was a lot cheaper in the end.

I added some stocky trees and plants at the river’s terminus, a few trees along the way, and even a second small waterfall coming out of a sewer grate on a rock.

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Took a few hours to do start to finish, including adding little touches and details, but all in all, I am extremely pleased with the end result. It adds some nice motion right at the entrance and the water effects — while not the best I’ve ever seen in an MMO — are pretty neat.

I don’t know what I’ll be doing for my next building project — probably fleshing out my “fun house” (yes, I broke down and bought one of those haunted house FABkits). I’ve been using the thunderhead sky because it makes the colors of the plot really pop and adds just a touch of weather without getting too oppressive.

The Secret World: Dream therapy

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A bee has done the unthinkable — committed suicide. And no one knows why… or how.

Bees, in The Secret World parlance, are the anima-infused humans who not only have special abilities but cannot die for good. All “bees,” including players, infinitely resurrect upon death. But one such person has figured out how to off herself, which sets the stage for TSW’s newest Halloween mission.

Man, it has been a long, long time since I’ve played through a new TSW quest. I gladly dropped my gaming plans yesterday to go through it as soon as the patch went live. The mission reminded me of how much I love this game for its dark brilliance — and how rage-inducing and frustrating it can be even so.

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The Seven Silences is an investigation mission, which means little hand-holding and a lot more deduction. It’s fortunately not TOO hard, although there were a couple of spots that proved troublesome. Took me about two hours to go through.

The mission had me following the trail of the recently deceased, who apparently was trying to use certain locations in the world to activate dreams that weakened her bee power. So the mission kept going back and forth between finding whatever spot she slept in next — which meant a tour of TSW’s hotels and inns — and then going through a thematic dream sequence.

Some of the dreams were very creative and pretty disturbing, making good use of the various set pieces around the game. In fact, for someone who hadn’t played in a while, it was quite the nostalgic ride, from the Savage Coast to Transylvania.

Probably the two most notable dreams included one where you woke up stark naked (save for cheeky leaves hovering over your privates) and had to chase your clothes while everyone laughed at you, and another one where you had your legs amputated from Lilith and had to drag yourself down a hallway while bleeding out.

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There’s a bit of a tie-in with Funcom’s new game The Park (which exists in the TSW universe). It was pretty interesting, overall. Certainly ended up feeling pretty bad for the dream lady, and marveled a little about how TSW once again tackled a sensitive subject — suicide — without flinching.

So. The Park. Have I gotten it yet? Nope. To be honest, I’m a little squeamish to do so. I mean, I love The Secret World and am dying to know what’s in that game, but I hate, hate being scared by games… and I’m hearing that this is one unnerving title. TSW isn’t as bad — while there are squirmy spots, for the most part it’s not too terrible since you’re a superhero who plays alongside others. But to be a helpless character all alone? That’s another can of worms.

Does anyone really care about MMO titles?

I have to ask this question, because I’m genuinely curious. Are MMO titles really that interesting of a reward? Are there players out there who are gasping with excitement over attaining a new batch of small words to put under/next to their character’s name?

And, in a related follow-up question, do people even read the titles that others have? Because I know I do not.

I’ve only rarely been interested in getting titles. It used to be a Big Deal in World of Warcraft, but I never pursued them. While LOTRO gave out thousands of titles, most of which no one would care to ever use, the only one that interested me was getting “Wanderer” from that weird hidden deed quest. Warhammer Online made titles out to be a major reward type (the “AHHHHH” title for falling was of momentary amusement).

But overall, I don’t see the appeal, both in wearing one and populating a game with avatars that have a name (sometimes with a last name as well), a guild tag, and then a title on top of that. Do we really need paragraphs running around in the world? Has anyone ever looked at another player, taken the time to read a title, and then become green with envy?

Or are titles outdated, non-useful rewards that developers are in love with because they’re easy to program and have tricked players into thinking that attaining them is somehow an important carrot on that stick?

SWTOR: I have a good feeling about this

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Is anyone else wearing out their screenshot key with the new SWTOR expansion? Because I can’t stop hitting mine.

About the only bad thing of Knights of the Fallen Empire is my worry that I’m going through it too fast. I’m already in Chapter 6, and that’s taking it the Syp pokey route. And it is so good that I do not want these adventures to end. It really feels like a return to BioWare’s top storytelling form, with humor, surprises, goosebump moments, interesting new characters, and a gripping narrative.

Fortunately, I was told by my friend Larry that the end of Chapter 9 doesn’t mean that we will be spinning our wheels until Chapter 10 comes out in January. Apparently there’s a whole bunch of new endgame activities to do, including revamped and additional dungeons and a companion collecting system. I’m down with that. I would hate to pick back up my Agent only to abandon her to the void a couple of weeks later.

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I have had to shut off general chat because people can be so spoiler-happy in there. And I won’t be dropping any major story beats here, as much as I’m really dying to talk about a few things.

But in general, I’m really liking how the expansion is taking us out of our comfort zones and giving us a different type of experience altogether. I haven’t seen my ship in a week. I’m much more aware of the key villains and am getting to know them more from a variety of perspectives.

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And one of my most requested features of SWTOR for ages now has been kinda answered — my companions are having a lot more interaction with each other. I still can’t take more than one out at a time and listen to them talk/argue (or as HK calls it, “meatbag bickering), but there are scads of cutscenes in which dialogue reigns supreme.

BioWare really touted how choices will have more of an impact this time around and I’m still waiting to see how that plays out. I think the reason that I choose things isn’t necessarily what the devs/game figured are the important factors (no, BioWare, I do not like Lana and am never, ever going to be nice to and/or save her).

So hopefully I’ll finish up the current storyline within the next week and see what’s next for my Agent. It’ll be really interesting to go back through this expansion with a different character, I think.

How Syp got his WildStar groove back

It wasn’t that long ago that I was grousing here about how frustrated I was with my Engineer — my sole level 50 in WildStar — and ready to toss her in the dump heap to focus on my Medic for good. But time has a way of taking something bad and gradually turning it around, and in the intervening week or two, I’ve not only found my footing with the class, but also with the endgame in general.

So what happened?

First up was tackling the issue of my build. I don’t know about you, but if I’m not happy with my battle rotation and skills I’m using, then I’m not happy at all in these combat-centric games. RIFT was great in that it allowed me to really whip up a huge variety of builds from scratch, but there is an echo of that choice in WildStar too.

So I sat down and decided to work with the tools that I was given to make the type of character that I wanted to play — not one that was necessarily the most DPS-optimized, but suited to me. And right off the bat I wanted to shy away from the annoying “in the zone” mechanic with volatility and using bio shell. Instead, I decided to make a build that was incredibly simple that I could sum it up in two steps:

  1. Constantly be firing a tier-8 pulse blast in combat
  2. Using any instant-cast skill that did damage or utility without interrupting pulse blast

It’s a weird build. I don’t have any volatility spenders AT ALL. I use energy auger, zap, assault bot, obstruct vision, repair bot, quick blast, and volatile injection (and my +assault gadget as well as my exosuit). There are interrupts in there. The repair bot really helps keep shields up. Couple of nice boosters as well.

Maybe I’m not hitting all of the best DPS skills, but it really works for me. It’s low-stress in combat and allows me a massive alpha strike (hitting all seven, eight abilities rapidly in a row is a blast). And I actually have been doing all right for myself, often getting #1 in damage in vet expeditions. I find that pulse blast, while fairly boring, has that great cone range to hit many targets in a chaotic situation. Not having to worry about volatility allows me to just focus on the fight and positioning.

OK, so that was the issue with my build, solved. What else changed?

The second factor was finally getting a handle on what I was supposed to/wanted to do as a level 50. I think we all experience that endgame shock to varying degrees when we ding that last level, and I had been wallowing about without much purpose as a fresh 50 for a while now (well, not so fresh…).

Over the past week several little things started to click and I began to see the picture of what I wanted to do at 50. The first was to continue to run veteran expeditions — I really love these and they are so much less stressful than full-on dungeons. I used my renown from several runs to buy a full set of I60 gear (no more greens for me!) and have been eyeing the more expensive set of I68 (I think) that’s sold by the veteran adventure vendor.

I started doing contracts. I went through the Crimson Badlands and Northern Wastes dailies zones and loved both. For the first time, I fully capped my weekly elder gem count and started raking in so much money past that. I even got enough to buy a month of CREDD if I wanted (I didn’t). I’m looking at veteran adventures more now that I have better gear and feel more confidant in my build.

And I’m finally getting to do what I’ve wanted to for a while now, which is to concentrate on my house and the architect tradeskill. More on that in another post, but it’s coming along!

Having money feels great. Having things to do is even better. I can’t wait until I max out my contracts reward track and get that purple chest at the end. I even enjoyed a week’s worth of dual events, although I might be done with Shade’s Eve (there are no more rewards I really want).

And I might even be getting settled enough to start taking an Esper up through the ranks as well…

Retro Gaming: Master of Magic part 2

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Master of Magic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

No matter what 4X game I’m playing or when, I always assume the same strategy. I play defensively as long as possible — growing cities, expanding, researching, building a money and power base — and hopefully by the time the computer decides to start getting aggressive, I have enough warning and foresight to build up a defensive army while I gradually accumulate a massive invasion force and win in one long battle campaign.

So no change here. I’ve already bumped into two of the four enemy factions in my searches and am trying to figure out the best way to expand my nation.

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Despite doing nothing but sitting on his lazy posterior, Ocho gained a level. Maybe it’s a mail order-type situation.

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Speaking of Twitter friends, a Dwarf named Brax pops up and asks to join my team. Welcome aboard, Braxwolf!

I also found a fourth town, Werit, to hem in an enemy in the northern peninsula that will now have nowhere to go. To keep Werit safe, I station my sole halfling army in its dirt walls.

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A small raider army sweeps up and crushes my capital. Well, this will not do. I’m not about save scumming in 4X games — except in the first 100 turns or so. I like to get off to a good start. Plus, when you lose your capital you lose the game. So let’s rewind time and see if we can’t bolster up my defenses a little!

I order up a unit of spearmen for each city. They have weaker melee strength but less upkeep as well. I speed up the process a tad by using some of my gold to buy them instantly.

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In this alternate universe from Timeline A, Ranni withstands the raider attack while I cast my first summons. I AM UNSTOPPABLE AHAHAHAHA. Seriously, how awesome is that graphic above? I wonder what the wizard does next. Maybe shoo the bear downstairs. “Go on, now. Git!”

Oh, and in Timeline B here, Brax never approached me, so he doesn’t exist. So sorry man!

You know how I said that I like to turtle and play defensively? Well, there’s an exception to that, and that’s if I sense a good opportunity. I think I have one here, as that lone enemy city up north could be prime for the taking if I strike fast with all of the units in my possession. I quickly start on a second war bear spell and begin sending my spearmen up north.

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I’ve got to do this fast. I’m running a mana deficit, at the end of which I assume my war bears will disappear. Plus, I’m leaving the rest of my kingdom horribly exposed, and raiders are coming back up from the south.

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Oof, this will be an ugly fight. The game limits how many units you can have in your army — nine in all — so I have to split my army into two parts. I send in my war bear contingent first, partially because I’m curious how they’ll fare, and partially because the bears don’t cost me gold. Might as well use them up first.

I don’t know what I was worried about — the bears frickin’ MAUL the enemy to shreds. We plow through the defensive army like butter, conquering the city in no time. The city and resources of Cannae is mine!

Retro Gaming: Master of Magic part 1

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Master of Magic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

In doing retro gaming playthroughs on this site, I encounter three types of experiences. The first is the retro game I never played before and am experiencing in the here-and-now for the first time. The second is a game that I might have lightly played but I didn’t get far and/or don’t remember much at all. And the third is when I revisit an old favorite of mine to see how it holds up today.

Playing Master of Magic will definitely reside in the third category for me. During college, my friends and I were hooked on all sorts of city- and empire-builders such as Colonization, Caesar III, and Master of Orion. A computer center colleague of mine gave me a copy of Master of Magic one day, and I got totally hooked for months afterward.

It was a really interesting twist on the 4X formula that traded in a historical or space opera setting for one of high fantasy and magic. The choice of which wizard you played had an immense impact on how you went about the game and lended a different feel than a traditional 4X. Plus, it was a Microprose game, and those people were my heroes back in the day.

So with great excitement I’m heading back into Master of Magic nearly 20 years later to see if I still have the Gandalf stuff to rule a magical empire!

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Skipping the badly voiced intro cutscene, I go into choosing my game conditions. Normal difficulty, four opponents, normal-sized map, normal-strength magic. Call me Norm.

Past that is the choice of wizard. No Harry Potter or Dumbledore on here? Oh, this is 1995. My bad. Anyway, there’s a pick of preset wizards (each with a specialty or a mix of magic schools) as well as the ability to create your own character from scratch.

I don’t remember what any of these are, of course, so I go with the default option to play Merlin. Why not, the dude lives backward in time. Maybe he’ll start out at the end of the game and you play back to the beginning!

Following that is a choice of races and banner color. I pick “halfling” although I’m charmed to see Master of Orion’s Klackons in the mix too. Less charmed to see elves. Will this game let me kill elves? Let us hope!

Two quick annoyances during this process: One, the music is atrocious and I can’t seem to shut it off yet. Two, there’s no visible way to go back a step if you mis-click something.

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As is my tradition with these sorts of games, I’m going to be pulling city names from whoever is yakking up my Twitter feed at the moment. Thus my hometown of Ranni is founded. Aw, isn’t that screen so downright charming?

Went into the settings and turned the sound off. Ahh. This game is not winning any soundtrack awards.

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I spend the first turn poking around the various menu options, trying to get my footing. The spellbook has several available abilities I can cast, although I don’t have any mana points at the moment. But you can be assured that when the time comes, I will be casting lots of war bears. War bears up the wazoo. This may be the only spell I ever cast, in fact. I will rule the planet with nothing but BEARS.

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Speaking of bears, my small surveying army stumbles into a fortress teeming with them. Bears, get on my side already!

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Here’s the battle screen, which can be tackled manually or on auto. Either way, my halflings are toast. Because war bears obviously > halflings. Reload!

As I learned the hard way (several times), my meager starting army is good for exploring and not so much fighting. As standard 4X strategy, I need to scout the surrounding area to suss out where the other factions are and where might be a good place to establish a second city.

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As I’m exploring, I’m also pursuing two other goals: researching new spells and building a settler. Here Merlin and his pet snake (Snakey?) revel in the discovery of a healing spell. Huzzah! Also, that snake is totally gonna bite that wizard.

Oh, random nice detail: Since this is a mid-90s era game, it’s entirely mouse-driven. That’s a nice change of pace from my recent stint in Pool of Radiance.

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Soon enough, my empire doubles in size as I found the town of Weakness. Hm. Probably not the best name for a future metropolis but MOVING ON.

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Hero for hire? I totally do not remember this, but I’m not about to turn him down, either. I need a bit more firepower on my side, especially as a raider attack left my one and only army weak as kittens.

One more town is founded before I save and log out: Whiteberry. I send my hero down there to protect this hamlet since an enemy city is nearby. Long live Merlintopia!