Why loving theme parks isn’t a bad thing

disney-world-jungle-cruise-treeOur family is in the midst of planning for our kids’ first-ever trip to Disney, and in my research I found this thought-provoking quote about the Animal Kingdom:

“Rather, the joy of the experience is in the atmosphere, and in discovering little things that make the theme park a place, rather than a collection of rides. To me, the atmosphere and these details are a big part of what separates Disney theme parks from other theme and amusement parks. If all you care about is running from attraction to attraction, why do Disney parks at all? There are better options for that.”

As an MMO player who has *long* loved and generally preferred theme park titles over sandbox ones, this resonated strongly with me. It also illustrated why a theme park isn’t just a theme park, because it’s not merely about the big-ticket rides (dungeons, boss fights, epic quest lines) but the atmosphere, the art, the ambiance, and the details.

I know sandboxes can have those too, but I’ve always felt that theme parks tend to be more coherent and focused in the attention to detail. It’s not a place with a bunch of toys for kids to mess up; it’s a carefully crafted experience that’s designed to make you feel a certain way as you progress through it. Yet even within that guidance, there are personal deviations one can make, particularly to explore the surroundings and investigate the artistry at work.

I was also thinking about how even when you know you’re getting an artificial experience, it can still be fun. I mean, heck, the Jungle Cruise is as phony as all get out, but in a weird and real way, that’s the fun of it. It begs you to use your imagination to get into the moment and unleash your inner child. Even as a kid I knew that I wasn’t seeing real rhinos or elephants, but that it was a play of sorts that was constructed for my amusement. I don’t ever want to lose that entirely.

These days I’m not really in any camp, whether it be sandbox, theme park, or sandpark. I just want good games, period. But I’m also a little tired of the backlash against theme parks that can sometimes overlook some of the genuinely good qualities that they exhibit.

Elder Scrolls Online: Humble beginnings

e1Okay, first of all, someone took the name “Syp” in Elder Scrolls Online, and as Bio Break Law proclaims, that is NOT COOL. Suffice to say that the offender will be tracked down and ambushed by my crack squad of ninja chickens.

I immediately had a fear of cultivating buyer’s remorse when I picked up ESO at the store yesterday. I mean, I know it’s now buy-to-play, but would this be another FF14 fiasco, where I dropped $60 on something that I will get two nights out of? I don’t have the best record with Skyrim, Oblivion, etc. in terms of longevity, but I also am trying to remain open to new experiences. So we’ll see.

I was quite amused that I got freaking carded at Target when I bought this, due to the M rating, Granted, I haven’t purchased a box copy of a video game since the first term of George W. Bush, so maybe this is standard, but it amused me nevertheless. “Yes, I am a 14-year-old boy with a wedding ring and three kids attempting to buy a violent video game. Gimme.”

Speaking of massive games, ESO does not pussyfoot around. It took an hour just to install it from the discs, then several hours past that to patch up with gigs and gigs of downloads. According to what I’ve seen in the game so far, I can only assume that a majority of those patches are to painstakingly cover all of the hues of browns that can and will ever exist.

So it was quite late before I was able to log in, which meant that I only got to go through the tutorial. I decided to eschew my normal female character and make a hulking strongman with a curly moustache because LOOK AT THAT MOUSTACHE. It will strike fear into the hearts of any foe.

As with most other Elder Scrolls games, it’s so obvious that this was designed for the console first and PC second (which is weird because of the reverse order of their release). The minimalistic UI might be nice for screenshots but I’m still struggling to figure out how to do simple things like, oh, drag my pet down into a quickslot or to set up more hotbars. And no on-screen map? Are they mad? Opening up the map screen every minute or so just to figure out where I’m going will get so dang old.

e2The tutorial was neat, I’ll admit. Nice graphics, good atmosphere, John Cleese cameo, etc. I picked the Templar class because the mage outfits are dorky beyond belief and I like the idea of healing myself when need be. I did get one fireball-like spell that looked really cool when I flung it up at Smokey the Bad Guy there.

Actually, I do like the freedom of choice with the skill setup, although it does feel like there’s not as many weapon types or truly interesting picks. But still, the game is letting me assign stat and skill points where I want, and I have to applaud that.

We’ll see how it goes from here. I did go around the intro town and pick up a few quests while trying to get my bearings. Oddly enough, it’s kind of hard to tell apart NPCs from player characters (my kingdom for name plates!), and I got frustrated just trying to find a vendor to sell all of my prison trash to. I also pickpocketed a guy just to do it, which started me down a nefarious path and earned me a bounty that I can ill afford.

Honestly, I feel like ESO is a little outside of my normal MMO boundaries and I’m going to have to give it some time to get past these feelings of unease. I also have just no idea what I’m doing, but aren’t we all that way at first?

The Secret Adventures: Matriculating to terror (Savage Coast #6)

(You can follow my playthrough of The Secret World on Bio Break’s projects page! WARNING: This post comes with lots of story and mission spoilers.)

inn1The Breakfast Cult (action mission)

  • That mission title always gets a chuckle out of me.
  • So here we are at Innsmouth Academy, the least-secretive Illuminati front in the world. It’s rich with missions and just so happens to be one of my all-time favorite locations in the game if you include the NPCs. The place was an X-Men mansion of sorts, training specials to be part of the Illuminati effort, but it got overrun by the fog just the same as anywhere else on the island. Even worse, many of the students’ familiars (animated fabric golems) have now turned on us because of course they have.
  • Even better, let’s meet one of the three survivors: headmaster Hayden Montag. Voiced by horror veteran Jeffrey Combs, he’s academic to the extreme with no sense of humor or sarcasm. He hints at a terrible backstory (he accidentally issued a death curse when he was younger which killed his mom and others) and he always wears blue gloves for reasons not explained. But hey, Firefly reference.
  • Montag says that the wards that normally protected the school have been violated, and guess who’s the repairman? Not him; he’s going to stay in one of the few truly safe areas on the island (the office is warded so that anything non-human dies at the door).
  • Going to run this mission with yet another new build, this one pistol/elem. I had to do a little creative structuring to get some heals in there, so for circulation to work I have to bump up my crit chance, then critically hit, which triggers affliction, which then triggers a heal over time. We’ll see how that works.
  • Very straightfoward action mission — set up wards, defend one spot for a long while. It’s a perfect mission to test a new build, and I am pleased to say that what I came up with is performing admirably. Lots of single-target DPS, lots of crit bumps, lots of self-heals, and even two AoE “grenades” to throw down for crowds. Plus, it’s very satisfying running around with dual pistols after playing so long with a shotgun/hammer.

inn2Science and the Arts (action mission)

  • Montag begins with a pseudo-lecture to Annabel and Carter about how high he holds the sciences and how, yup, bodies were bricked into the foundations of the school to help harness anima or somesuch. Well, now that’s backfiring (surprised?), so I need to head out and seal the breeches.
  • “You’re like the world’s revenge on sarcasm, do you know that?” heh.
  • Another straight-forward mission with lots and lots of spook killing (and anima leak repairing… which I do with, what? Spackle?). So happy with my build — and the recent mob nerf. Fighting’s actually fun now.
  • The mission does give hints to a much darker backstory of the academy, what with drownings in pools and an official “Academy Wraith” that I fight at the end. I’d love to read a novel set in this place, like a sinister Hogwarts.

inn3The Faculty (action mission)

  • Next up on Montag’s to do list is to figure out who is reanimating the ex-faculty corpses and to what purposes. A war golem from the 1600s is mentioned.
  • “So… you’re saying that this could get worse before it gets better?” “Oh no, I shouldn’t think it’s going to get better.” WHY IS THIS GUY NOT IN EVERY MISSION OF THIS GAME?
  • Hey, that ghost lady’s head is on upside-down! Thought her mouth looked particularly freaky.
  • This time around, I’m clearing out classrooms full of spectral professors. Eventually, it leads me to the summoning lab, where the war golem appears to have escaped. I follow his tracks up into the attic, past “Byblos, the Zombie Janitor,” and out onto the roof.
  • Actually, that’s not what happened, because I tabbed out to write the above, and as I was doing that, another player went out onto the roof and apparently killed the golem. Even though I was inside, I still got credit and as a result the mission ended, I couldn’t go onto the roof, and no golem.
  • Well, poo.

inn4To Sir, With Love (action mission)

  • We’re on to the last Montag mission, this one bouncing off a previous mission in which I discovered the wraith haunting the academy. This troubles Montag deeply, for he sees it as his responsibility — and he’s willing to die as part of a ritual to exorcise it. Annabel and Carter aren’t as keen on the idea, so I guess it’s up to me to find another way.
  • “Another way” involves taking some of Montag’s blood, then performing a ritual involving said wraith and a whole lot of mirrors. Seems the goober likes to jump back into a mirror when it’s near death, so I have to smash the mirrors afterward and slowly but surely cut off its avenues of escape.
  • Eventually I trick it into jumping into a slide projector instead of a mirror, trapping it. Good for me, good for Montag.

GW2: A feather in my hair

outfitMy Guild Wars 2 focus has shifted back to my Ranger — I think it’s the thought of having a staff-fighting druid in the expansion that’s the big appeal, as well as my fondness for my pet pig named Monkey. Unfortunately, Dawnbreak Wild needs some work; she didn’t have her ascended trinkets/necklace yet, so that was a trip to the laurel vendor to spend my growing horde of tokens.

One of the things that bugs me about medium armor-wearing classes in GW2 is the weird trenchcoat fetish that ArenaNet has. Practically every chest piece is a coat of some kind, and frankly I wanted just a normal shirt/pants combo. The above was the closest I could get, which actually ended up pretty cool since I could show off my bodacious tattoos.

She has a bunch of world exploration left to do, but that’s on the backburner until I can get her through season 2. I’ve been trying to make it a priority to at least get her through a single mission every day as of late, trying to catch her up to and then surprass my Necro’s progress. This is hampered by my growing weariness of the season 2 storyline, but oh well, this too shall pass.

Yesterday’s patch was a pleasant quality-of-life update. Yay for the first-person camera view for screenshots, although why ArenaNet still felt it was necessary to only make it accessible via a checkable option (that comes with a dire tooltip warning, natch) instead of just putting it in the game like every other MMO out there, I have no idea. It kind of feels like they put it into the game grudgingly instead of happily, but that’s probably reading into it a little much.

I was disappointed to see that my Engineer didn’t end up with 100% world completion after the patch, even with the change to WvW. I was sure I had completed every zone (and had received rewards as such), but my progress in a few of them has been dinged down to 99% or 98% as new points of interest or hearts have popped up. Don’t know what that’s about, but I guess it’s not too much of a hassle.

It IS super-nice that now you can hover your cursor over the map icons to see where all of the unexplored/unfinished objectives are — that helps tremendously, and will be a great boon when my Ranger gets back to world exploration. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be perfectly working; sometimes it’ll flash unexplored ones, sometimes it tells you to go talk to a scout, sometimes… nothing.

worldFinally. You can’t make me do WvW, not now, not ever.

Battle Bards Episode 47: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

FFXIV_A_Realm_Reborn_OSTWhen Steff’s away, the Bards will play… Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, that is! The current beloved MMO of bloggers and gamers alike, FFXIV’s rebooted soundtrack has made us take notice. With the help of guest host Scott (Ramblings of a MMO Gamer Guy), we tackle the highlights of this impressive score while trying to ignore the smell of chocobo poo.

Episode 47 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Prelude — Rebirth” and “A World Apart”)
  • “Guildleve Theme/Tenacity”
  • “Ramuh Theme/Thunder Rolls”
  • “Defender of the Realm”
  • “La Noscea Field Theme/On Westerly Winds”
  • “Gridania Night Theme/Dance of the Fireflies”
  • “Ultima”
  • “Thanalan Field Theme/To The Sun”
  • What did we like the best?
  • Mail From Zulika Mi-Nam
  • Outro (featuring “A Victory Fanfare Reborn”)

Listen to episode 47 now!

3 new iPhone games I’m playing

I’m always a little excited for Wednesday night, as that’s when Apple releases its new apps and games onto the store. Around 11pm, I’ll check Touch Arcade to see the full list of notable new games and pick up one or two if the price is right and it looks up my alley. Some weeks, I pass on the new offerings until I see reviews.

I did grab an astounding three games this past week and have quick impressions on each:

protoProto Raider

Wow, talk about induced nostalgia… I don’t think any PC gamer who grew up in the ASCII-riddled landscape of the 80s can look at the above picture and not get a weird dose of the feels. And yet it’s a competely new creation that cleverly uses a retro look.

Your character will run continuously in one direction and you can only make him jump. The goal is to get the key, get the three chests on each level, and get to the exit without dying. That requires you to figure out the platforming puzzle elements of the room and what all of the symbols mean (at first my eyes went cross-eyed, but it’s easy enough to suss out). Great soundtrack and a charming approach — not to mention devilish difficulty — make it a fun, if temporary, fling.

Dungeon Hunter 5

I’m still only in the early fiddling-around-with-it stage on this, but I think it’s a solid title so far. Dungeon Hunter is the mobile market’s answer to Diablo — a bit simpler and on a smaller screen, but satisfying if you like action RPGs with lots of loot explosions and button mashing. This title appears to have some multiplayer component and free-to-play trappings (for good and ill). I’m impressed with the visuals if nothing else.

Card Crawl

Since getting Card Crawl, I probably have played about 50 or so rounds of this dungeon-themed solitaire card game. It hits the right spot of being both tough but not too tough and valuing both strategy and luck.

The goal is to burn through all 54 cards that the dealer is throwing at you, some of which are beneficial (swords, shields, potions) and some are harmful (enemies). You can only hold three items at a time (one in each hand and one in reserve) and you have to deal with three of the four cards a dealer throws down before he deals more. So there’s a lot of decision making going on — what cards to keep, what to trade for coins, and how to deal with the onslaught of monsters without dying. The goal is twofold: to get to the end of the game without dying and to take as many coins with you as possible when you do. Coins can then be spent to buy special ability cards for future games.

It’s just really well-done — nothing deep, but challenging. I think this could be the type of game that will stay on my phone for random odd play sessions for a long time to come.

SWTOR: Shadow of Revan complete!

rev1In the scheme of things, if I had to choose between long and dull or short and awesome, I’d go the latter — especially in MMO expansion packs and content updates. Don’t give me busy work; give me high adventure and memorable experiences. And while SWTOR’s Shadow of Revan was definitely short, it was a thrilling ride for most of its duration.

So yeah, I finished up the expansion, having just started it around the start of the month. Considering that I play other MMOs and have a notoriously slow pace of progression, that surprised me. It’s over? Already? OK, so when’s the next expansion coming out? Darn it, I want the story to continue.

While I’m a little bummed that the narrative portion is over, at least I can look back and say that Shadow of Revan hit all of the right spots that it missed with Rise of the Hutt Cartel. It’s NPC cast was far more memorable, for starters; C2-D4 became my second-favorite Star Wars droid of all-time, second only to HK-47/51. He cracked me up consistently, and the banter between the cast was interesting and made them relatable. It was genuinely heartbreaking to see the crew go their separate ways at the end because I didn’t want the journey to be over. They were the BioWare companion experience that I don’t always get with my own crew (probably because I can only take one with me at a time and the rest don’t interact on my ship).

rev2It helped that Rishi and Yavin were both attractive, fun planets to visit. No lava zones or dull battlefields here. And the expansion played heavily upon nostalgia and past experiences, both from the class storyline (as there’s a new mission tucked in here) and KOTOR. It really was a coda on the whole KOTOR storyline and I’m glad we got it. I don’t think I had to figure out what was going on with Revan post-KOTOR, but it was neat to find out.

From a design perspective, BioWare did a good job figuring out an economical way of presenting pretty much the same story and areas to both factions due to a “temporary truce,” although one wonders if this trick will come out in future updates as well. More expensive to make twice the content than to funnel everyone together into the same portion.

I’m not entirely satisfied, however. While Rishi felt like a decently paced, fleshed-out planet, Yavin 4 felt incredibly rushed and short in comparison. I barely arrived before I was thrown into the final fight, with little story to build up to that moment. In fact, I’m still a little underwhelmed at the reasoning of the primary villain and the supposed threat (that is never visually portrayed, even so). And it was a kick right after that final fight to have my newfound NPC friends go away, my new NPC girlfriend break up with me after three chaste kisses, and a heapload of dailies dumped into my lap. Welcome to the endgame, pal!

rev3It felt a little like having my excitement balloon deflate. I was having such a great time with the expansion… and then it was over, leaving me with chores and memories of a better time. I understand the decision to go the daily route and I appreciate the path to gearing up a bit by doing solo stuff, but it’s not going to blow my skirt up, either.

At least I have a character all the way through the end of the game, ready for what’s next. And I always have the option of tackling a new character, not to mention that Elder Scrolls Online is going buy-to-play this week and I’m planning on giving that a try.

So no regrets for a good ride. Here’s hoping that we’ll see more of it in SWTOR in the future.