Posted in Retro Gaming

Dagger of Amon Ra: Act 2, Suspects on Parade

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1992’s The Dagger of Amon Ra. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Now that fledgling journalist Lara Bow has the most important tool in her reporter’s arsenal — a pretty dress — she can attend the museum fundraiser and try to get to the bottom of the burglary of the famous Egyptian dagger.

This being a murder mystery of sorts, it’s important to get to know our cast of suspects, which is why the bulk of Act 2 has Lara hanging out at the party eavesdropping on everyone to see what vital clues they might drop. It also has the effect of making her stand out like the nosiest of all Southern Belles…

See? Even the game knows it and calls Lara out on it. Of course, since there’s no other way to advance the plot, Lara has to keep sneaking up behind people and listening in to conversations. Fourteen of them, to be precise.

So who do we have at the party? There’s the arrogant Dr. Carter who found the dagger, Dr. Carrington who is the new museum president, the French sexpot Yvette, Detective O’Riley from the police station, Dr. Smith who keeps calling down curses for the absconding of the dagger from Egypt to anyone who will hear him, stool pigeon Ziggy, Egyptian accountant Najeer, the stuffy Countess, and death-obsessed Dr. Myklos. Oh, and there’s a Nazi guard named Wolf and some dude named Steve who is a total stalker and shows up at the party in work boots.

Over the 14 conversations, you do learn a lot of backstory and personality traits for each of the characters, even though it is a massive exposition dump. At least it is occasionally amusing and bizarre. Deep Conversation on a Dinosaur is going to be the name of my alt-rock band.

File this under “things that you often hear during polite and civilized discussions.”

Stalker Steve shows up and whisks Lara outside of the museum for a little walk. He comes on way, way too strong, and his voice actor sounds a lot like Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. So I’m going to call this guy as the muderer, because who wears work boots to a formal event, poor or not? And stupid poor Lara ends up kissing him anyway, even though they just met. Her head is going to be in his trophy room by the end of the week, mark my words.

Eventually the game frees me from the nonstop talk talk talk to let Lara do some investigating. She actually finds what looks like the real stolen dagger in the gift shop, although Wolf goosesteps in there to usher her out before she can do anything about it.

I like how cartoonish these two dinos look, especially as they have to stare at each other for all eternity. Meanwhile, Lara steals a bone because… why not? Free bone.

Over in the Egyptian wing, Lara spots a bit of blood in front of a sarcophagus. When she opens it, the game hams things up with dramatic music, the above shot of Lara freaking the heck out, and then…

Snooty Dr. Carter, stabbed in the heart and someone’s to blame because he gave love a bad name. If I was playing this game as a kid, this scene would have totally freaked me out. As it is right now, I’m just impressed that the guy can maintain such a pose and a face after death. He commits to the part!

So now the question is… whodunnit and where’s that dagger?

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons Online

Taking the tiniest taste of permadeath in DDO

While last week I was extoling the virtues of permadeath in Rimworld, I have to admit that this mechanic isn’t really suitable for a lot of games, especially ones in which you sink a whole lot of time, effort, and even money. You know, like MMORPGs. Permadeath has always remained a very fringe ruleset for this genre, popping up most often in online ARPGs more than proper MMOs.

However, from time to time a game experiments with it, and this month we saw Dungeons and Dragons Online actually launch a “hardcore league” server that revolved around permadeath as a core feature. This didn’t come out of nowhere; DDO’s community has long had a reputation for embracing permadeath voluntarily as a sort of roleplay feature, and so I can understand why the devs would want to try this out for realskies.

The question for me was, is it really up my alley? Am I too caring of a carebear to swallow the inevitable bitter pill of death when it comes? At least I thought I’d try.

While some players were theorycrafting all sorts of ultra-survival builds, I just went with a tough race (Warforged) and a class (Artificer) that I knew. I figured that a pet, self-healing, and ranged attacks — plus trap-finding — would help keep me out of trouble for a while. That lasted until my very first dungeon.

So what happens on this server is that when a character dies, there is no resurrection or return — at least not on this shard. A death message for that character is broadcast server-wide and that character remains in limbo until mid-November, when the devs will allow players to transfer those characters and any progress made to the regular servers. So at least there is that safety net keeping you from feeling as though your time is completely wasted. Plus, there are special rewards if you can make it up to certain levels or run a wide enough array of dungeons.

SSG added a truly creepy mascot for this server named Mortality. He’s like a ghost-ram thing? All I know is that if I saw this loom out at me in a dark basement, I’d poop my pantaloons.

I haven’t exactly been the virtue of bravery on this server. I’ve only logged in a couple of nights to play it, although truth be told I’m on a bit of a DDO hiatus right now anyway. The first dungeon I ran on elite and almost got smoked in the boss battle as my health got halved right away. Let me tell you, there’s that instant fear that arises when you realize that a death means forever here, and I backpedaled and tried to heal as if my life depended on it.

I probably won’t even make it off of Korthos, and the fact that this is a class I already have doesn’t make me that attached to him anyway. I might just die to see what it’s like and then proudly wear the t-shirt saying that I rolled on a permadeath server and survived to tell the tale.

Posted in ArcheAge

Did ArcheAge just undo its greatest weakness?

Once upon a time, it seemed as though ArcheAge was going to be the Next Great Coming of the MMO Sandbox. People were salivating and jittering with excitement over the import of this already-proven fantasy title from Korea, especially those who wanted a fuller and more flexible gaming experience. It’s hard to remember this, but for a good couple of years there, ArcheAge was mentioned in hushed tones of reverence as the savior of MMORPGs.

And then it arrived, and while it had the content, it also came with an absolutely horrible business model that greatly segregated the community between subscribers and free players. Trion’s handling of ArcheAge went downhill from there, with horrible decisions and PR blunders coming left and right. The community as a whole became a shouty, frothy mass of humanity and sane people left the game in droves. It became a textbook example of how a bad business model could make a good game terrible.

Last week, new owner Gamigo announced that it was going to try to undo at least some of the big mistakes that ArcheAge experienced in the past by launching a new server type that will be a buy-to-play model with no pay-to-win cash shop or subscription options. Now, I am not as knowledgeable with AA to speak with any great authority on whether or not this will solve the game’s woes and restore its reputation — in fact, I have a feeling that the community will gnash its teeth about this and never allow any chance of redemption.

But for me? It might be a game changer. It might actually make me want to try this game out, especially now that the energy mechanic is normalized and housing is available to all. There’s still PvP and limited housing and other issues… but this has always seemed like a game world worth exploring. I guess it really depends on the price point of the game and any further revelations of this model.

It’s kind of like that scene from Arrested Development, where the Bluth Company is upgraded from a “sell” to a “don’t buy” on a stock advice show and everyone in the family goes nuts over not being the absolute worst any more. “Don’t buy! Don’t buy!” It’s a step up for ArcheAge, at least, and probably a wise move from Gamigo to try to undo some of the damage caused to what is, from all reports, a flexible and captivating game.

What do you think? Is this too little, too late, or did this announcement get you to reconsider ArcheAge as a future play?

Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

The diminishing returns of progression servers

Generally these days I have a pretty set pattern in approaching Lord of the Rings Online. On night one, I’ll play my Lore-master on a regular server in the newest area (Vale of Anduin), and on night two, I’ll jump onto my Minstrel on the progression server in Mirkwood.

A few months back, and most of my enthusiasm was reserved for the Minstrel, but as of late I’ve noticed that my interest has swung in the other direction. I very much enjoy going through the newer content and catching up with the latest while I find that my Minstrel feels more like a chore that must be done and endured.

This gave me serious pause the other night as to my intentions for the progression server. Is it worth the time and effort? It’s no small thing to level a character from one to 120 in LOTRO and through to the end game zones, especially if that journey is artificially gated. For a couple of weeks now I’ve been concerned that the pace of my progress through Mirkwood hasn’t been fast enough to get me to through the zone and Enedwaith before Isengard opened, and I haven’t really enjoyed that pressure bearing down on me. Nothing is particularly wrong with my Minstrel or the journey (and my kinship is still very strong and active), but it certainly isn’t as heady and exciting as it was when Anor opened up last November.

Now, obviously I am a huge proponent of progression servers. I’ve spoken up in support of them many times and it’s a personal hope that Blizzard decides to go this route with WoW Classic. It’s a whole lot of fun to progress with a community and re-explore old stomping grounds. But even I have to admit that there are diminishing returns for this content. New server types — progression or otherwise — get massive loads of attention from the start and in those early months, but after a couple of years, the next progression unlock or development gets buried in the news and the community has shrunk to a stable, core group that isn’t quite as vocal as it once was.

For LOTRO, I think many of us were greatly excited to see Eriador populated once more. We were given the experience to revisit these zones without the mentality of zipping through them on the way to somewhere else. We had the population to run instances and see others around us, and that still is a great thing. But the new server excitement certainly has died down as we turn the corner toward the legendary shards’ first anniversary. Progression is coming slower. Isengard isn’t that huge of a draw. Outfits and houses have been established. It is what it is. A cool experience, but one that is diminished from late last year.

So I’ve been evaluating plans going forward. Option one would be to stick it out, keep trucking on my Minstrel for the sake of completing this journey and seeing old lands once more. Option two, which I have been giving more serious contemplation toward, is to ditch my Minstrel and work on bringing my level 110 Captain through Mordor and beyond. I’ve missed playing the Cappy, and now with the recent patch, it’s looking better and I like the idea of having a self-healing tank for this tougher content rather than only my problematic Lore-master.

Yet I hate to be so cavalier about ditching the legendary server. A choice must be made, however, because those expansion unlocks are coming, and if I don’t keep up, then there’s even less of a point to playing than there was before.

Posted in World of Warcraft

Absurdly happy in World of Warcraft Classic

A rational part of my mind kept lecturing me that this was all folly, that I had done this a million times before, that it was just first night excitement, that it would all wear off and leave me feeling like a hollow shell of a gamer soon enough. I think that part of my mind is a party pooper, because I had a blast last evening in WoW Classic — even if I did spend half of my time waiting in lines.

I couldn’t help but get caught up in the hype as the day progressed. I was listening to the vanilla Warcraft soundtrack, rewatched the WoW Classic announcement trailer a few (dozen) times, and arranged everything around the house so that when 6:00 pm rolled around, I might have a chance at playing.

A couple of minutes before the hour, the server button lit up, I clicked, and I was in with no waiting whatsoever. Of course, I was immediately thrust into a seething mass of Gnomes and Dwarves. It was ridiculously comical, the likes I have rarely seen in the game (and recalling faint memories of 2004’s launch). My attitude was relaxed and touristy, more focused on experiencing than progressing. Probably a good thing, too, because trying to complete quests in those first few minutes was an exercise in racing against a barbarian horde, all crushing down on bewildered wolves who lived about 0.1 seconds before they met their doom.

Gradually it got better. I had Questie installed as my sole mod to help with minimap cues, and with that assistance I retraced my steps from long ago. I rejoiced when a six-slot bag dropped, equipped grey gear, and got into absurdly long lines of players to patiently wait to click on slowly regenerating quest items.

It was also a lesson in adjusting to how things used to work in the game. I was perpetually broke trying to afford new spells and pet abilities. I made the solemn journey from Ironforge to Stormwind via the tram to get the flight path. I picked up mining and spent 45 minutes or so puttering around grabbing copper.

And then as the clock neared 10:00 pm, I saw on Twitter that Belghast had formed a Horde guild and I was like… well crud. I hadn’t really connected with anyone over on Alliance, so I bit the bullet and rerolled as an Undead Warlock. I figured I wasn’t in much of a rush anyway, so I’d rather take the time hit and be with people that I like than continue on alone.

Of course, there went my six-slot bag. And my copper. And seven levels. But I consoled myself by reminding myself how much I liked the Forsaken areas back in the day, so it’s not torture or anything to return to this.

Posted in World of Warcraft

Why World of Warcraft was a revolution (for me) in 2004

While Bio Break didn’t come around until 2008, I wish that I had been documenting my first steps toward MMORPGs in the early 2000s. If I had been, I’d probably would have written posts on this attraction-repulsion sensation I got from those games back then. I couldn’t tell you how many times I looked at the boxes for EverQuest, Asheron’s Call, or Star Wars Galaxies when I made the trip to Media Play and Best Buy. But for every pro I could think of, there seemed to be enough negatives to ward me off.

Bad graphics and poor internet connections were issues, sure, but probably the number one detractor for MMOs was their seeming lack of usability. They didn’t look intuitive; they all came off as boasting obscure and obtuse mechanics that made me flee toward the user friendliness of CRPGs and the like. It felt like the attitude of many devs back then was that the sheer novelty of massively online gaming would encourage people to stick them out and figure out these systems rather than the devs making the effort to teach the game and create intuitive interfaces and progression.

It wasn’t all horrible prior to WoW, of course. City of Heroes became my first “real” MMO because it was more accessible than not (although it did have some weird hangups). But if I was to point to one thing that got me the most excited about World of Warcraft in 2004, it was the fact that it looked extremely accessible to the average player. You’d think that would be a no-brainer, but look at the MMO history as a whole. WoW was the exception for a long time rather than the norm. Even post-WoW there have been some games that required the player to relearn approaches rather than making the journey to the player.

In specific, I think that the user interface of WoW was one of its greatest assets. Everything just “snapped” when you clicked it, the icons were big and expressive, the layout easy to understand, and the questing interface left no doubts as to what to do and what rewards would come your way (oooh, one silver and 16 experience points!).

There were still plenty of systems to learn in World of Warcraft, of course, but the barrier to entry was fairly minimal. As tired as that expression is, the game really was “easy to pick up and hard to master.” From the first moments after the MMO went live, I felt like I had a handle on moving, questing, and fighting. Sparkles meant loot. Exclamation points meant quests. Gnomes meant awesomeness in a compact form. The talent tree was simple to intuit. And while these may not be banner-worthy headlines, they were a revolution to me and probably to many other players who had struggled with other games that boasted ugly, unfriendly interfaces and weird progression mechanics.

Posted in Music

Sunday Serenade: Sam & Max, Bloodstained, Ori and the Blind Forest

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with…

“Pancake Rocking” by Parry Gripp — Our household is a Parry Gripp household. There is no finer musician who deals with the subject of tasty  food.

“Useful to Boot” from Sam & Max — Such an odd song. So odd. So… listenable? It’s not very catchy but still… there’s something that made me listen through to the end and then hit up a replay right away.

“Interred Glory” from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night — Super-heavy Castlevania: Symphony of the Night callbacks with this soundtrack, but I’m not complaining. I’m always up for another dose of rock/gothic to slay by.

“Riding the Wind” from Ori and the Blind Forest — This was one of those tracks I had to listen to a half-dozen times to figure out if I liked it or if I liked-liked it. If it kept me coming back, it was probably the latter, and so I wanted to mention this lovely melody here.

“Area 1” from Contra ReBirth — This is a jacked-up version of the famous Jungle theme, and what can you really say about that? It’s awesome, and giving it extra flourishes helps modernize it without taking away from the classic theme.

“Grown-Up World” from Cool Cool Toon — Not familiar with this game in the least, but I thought this track had a great retro-80s rock vibe.

Posted in Retro Gaming

Dagger of Amon Ra: Act 1, A Nose for News

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1992’s The Dagger of Amon Ra. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Among the pantheon of Sierra’s adventure game series, Lara Bow is much less recognizable than King’s Quest and Space Quest. She only appeared in two titles, 1989’s The Colonel’s Bequest and 1992’s The Dagger of Amon Ra, before disappearing forever. Yet Lara Bow remains an interesting engima in Sierra’s catalog, a series that primarily focused on character-based murder mysteries with a female protagonist (thanks in large part to creator Roberta Williams).

I’ve heard that Amon Ra is an underrated classic, and so I snapped it up on GOG a while back when it went on sale. Let’s see what Ms. Bow is up to in this title and how we might help her make her way as a journalist in the big city.

What’s truly bizarre about the start of this game is that if you click “play new game,” then you’ll miss the very informative introduction. Instead, you have to deliberately choose “introduction” from the menu to get the setting and backstory.

Anyway, the tale begins on a passenger ship in the 1920s as a shadowy figure skulks inside of a cabin and then strangles its occupant to death. That accomplished, the body is tucked inside a steamer trunk and the ship disembarks in New York City.

One of the first things that I noticed about this game is that it has an absolutely striking art deco style with its layout. Certain scenes are framed like comic book panels with inserts and talking heads and pretty bad voice acting (more on that later).

Outside on the gangplank, an Egyptian guy is having an argument with the museum curator over the latter taking the Dagger of Amon Ra out of its native country. Snooty rejoinders abound and an ominous feeling is felt.

Meanwhile in New Orleans, aspiring journalist Lara Bow leaves her father to take a train to NYC for a job that he got for her at the Tribune. Lara’s voice is trying so hard to be that Southern drawl that we all know well, yet the actress lays it on too thick and she often comes across sounding like a parody than a person. This is a problem that much of the game’s voice acting has, and I won’t belabor that. Anyway, Lara is promptly mugged the second she steps off the train — like, that very second — and is made fun of for being really short (even though she isn’t):

Lara’s first assignment at the paper is to investigate a burglary that happened at the museum, as the Dagger was apparently stolen. Right away the game establishes how this is a very unfriendly time for professional women, as Lara is discriminated against left and right and can’t even pee in her own building. Seriously. It’s established that there’s only a men’s bathroom on the news floor. So this game is really sexist but it’s in a historical sense so it’s hard to tell if you’re supposed to be offended or if it’s parody or if it’s just part of the setting. I’m rolling with it.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because Lara dies:

Oh yeah, this is a Sierra adventure game, and that means one thing: random acts of death lurk EVERYWHERE. In this instance, Lara is killed crossing the street if she doesn’t look both ways. And I found that I had to do this every dang time I crossed certain streets. It’s not being realistic, it’s just being punitive.

The main goal of the first act of the game is to get ready for an evening reception at the museum. Since Lara had all her stuff stolen (which she is quite chipper about, by the way), this makes her primary mission to get a dress to wear. And that means solving a whole bunch of chain-reaction needs from various NPCs. Stereotypically Irish cop is hungry? I have to annoy a bum to get his newspaper to get a coupon to cross the street and not die and get a free sandwich. That sort of thing.

Yay, I got hit by the car again! I’m convinced that this city is out to kill Lara Bow by any means possible.

One slightly interesting twist on the adventure game format is that occasionally this title will let you select dialogue options to see how they play out. It’s nothing super-significant but it is kind of fun to roleplay these situations.

While we can at least explain the sexism that runs through this game, the racism present is harder to pass off. Everyone is so strongly stereotypical that it’s very hard to know if the writers were being offensive or tongue-in-cheek, as with this Chinese guy that operates (of course) a dry cleaning service. Also, he’s extremely promiscuous and mentions something along those lines every other second despite being about 79 years old.

And sometimes this game is just flat-out impossible to interpret. Lara finally gets a dress (thanks to a long-abandoned dry cleaning ticket buried under trash in the cab above), but when she finds the sole women’s bathroom in this entire city, it’s occupied by what seems to be a flapper on drugs who won’t stop making really inappropriate remarks while Lara is undressing. I am starting to suspect that she took off the doors to those toilet stalls back there and just sits in this bathroom all the time.

At least Lara gets dudded up for the museum event and is ready to crack this story wide open!

One amusing bit of design is this screen when you go to quit the game. Oh Lara, I can’t quit you!

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW Classic plans

With WoW Classic coming out next week, last-minute preparations are in effect all across the globe. It’s kind of silly and kind of exciting at the same time, and while I’m not deep in the current of this all, I’m at least floating downstream at a nice clip.

So what are my plans? I haven’t laid out everything to the last iota, but I have a general outline. I’m rolling on Bloodsail Buccaneers because RP realms generally sport a friendlier community and guilds. I have no guild at present, but I’ll probably shop for one over the weekend — or just keep an eye on the newbie zone chat.

After a whole lot of pondering (and watching videos reminding me on how it used to be), I’m going to whip up a Gnome Warlock for my run. There’s a few reasons for this, the first being that this was the “original” Syp that I played through a large chunk of vanilla. If we’re going back, I might as well REALLY go back. Also, I’m all about pets and dots and utility and survival. This one has the full package. And a free level 40 mount to boot!

Professions? There’s two ways I might go on this. The first is mining/engineering, because I loved my toys and WoW Classic won’t have a lot of extras like this. But that’s expensive and hard, so I dunno. The second way is the money making route: skinning and herbs. I do need to pick one or the other path from the first day, or else I’m going to be doing a lot of backtracking.

As for a leveling plan, I’m not going to be in a rush here — nor am I going to be playing WoW Classic exclusively. It’s just going to be added to the rotation. I’ll probably use one of those tried-and-true leveling guides from the days of yore, since otherwise it gets too frustrating trying to find on-level quests. But from my perspective, it’s all about the journey, since I won’t be doing much (if anything) in the way of endgame dungeoning or raiding. I guess I’m kind of hoping that this character will be able to continue on to a progression shard or a Burning Crusade server one day. At the very least, I’ll get a fun experience and some blog posts out of it before the end.

What about you? You playing? You have plans?

Posted in World of Warcraft

Unpopular opinion: I liked World of Warcraft’s garrisons

I don’t think a lot of World of Warcraft players look back at Warlords of Draenor with fondness. I get that. It introduced a storyline and continent that was at best a fantasy cul-de-sac, it suffered from some of the worst content drought that WoW ever had, and it had too little to do at the endgame. But the thing you’ll hear players cursing the most, oddly enough, are garrisons.

What’s weird is that, at the start of Draenor, everyone loved garrisons. Loved loved loved them. It’s hard to remember that now, but back in November 2014, it’s all anyone wanted to talk about. Finally, players had a spot of their own in the game and some sort of weird hybrid functional housing-base-thing. There was a lot of carrots to chase with this system, a lot of potential rewards, and plenty of choices to be made. There was even a light degree of customization, as players could pick up music scrolls and holiday overlays to change it up from the default.

They were also really useful, both as a home base and as a generator of resources. Players could work on professions, gather mats, train up battle pets, and so on. Really, other than offering portals, your garrison could perform pretty much every city service need.

But what happened? There are two main complaints that seem to get circulated enough these days to be the “reality” of the garrison fallout, although I personally think that it was more complicated than that (and I hold to the opinion that there were a lot of folks like me that never *disliked* their garrisons and would have liked to see the system continue). The first is that garrisons encouraged the community to be too insular and isolated, which is something I don’t buy that much; people are as social or not as they want to be, even if they’re standing in the middle of a city square. The second is that constantly logging in to run follower missions became a tedious, frequent chore that you couldn’t escape due to the huge gold generation that it produced.

Blizzard’s solution at the end of Draenor was planned obsolescence for garrisons. Gold missions were nixed, the garrison system wasn’t supported past the expansion, and there were new systems designed to try to replace that role. Order halls were supposed to be kind of the Garrisons 2.0, just less personal and more social but with a lot of functionality. I found them to be a waste of space and definitely not as enjoyable as operating my own garrison — because it wasn’t mine. It was communal space in a game full of communal spaces.

I think that Blizzard could have produced a far more elegant solution to continuing with garrisons while making changes to address those two common points of complaint. Adding a lot more customization in terms of decoration and personal expression could have driven players to visit each other, especially if there was a rating system or the like in place. Mission frequency could have been tuned way down — which is, in fact, what Blizzard has done with mission tables elsewhere.

Whether the garrison would have stayed put in Draenor or moved shop (via magic?) to the newer expansions, I don’t know, but there could have continued to be ways to tie it into the latest storylines. And if Blizzard wanted more carrots to keep players motivated, well, then there was always ways to continually upgrade buildings to feature the current expansion’s mats and focus.

I guess I wanted to say that I kind of liked garrisons and I miss them now that they’re defunct. Looking over the last several years, there was no content system in the game that excited me as much as this one did. Here’s hoping that Blizz can whip up something as or even more interesting for the next expansion foray.