Star Control 2: Behold the red planet!


(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Control 2. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Behold the Red Planet! Oooh.  Ahhh.

Since you can never have a space sim — online or off — without an unpaid internship in mining, that’s what I’m going to be doing a lot of in this game. Or so I assume. Next up on our solar system tour is Mars, which my son says that one day he and I will visit in a rocket ship of his own design. As he is seven years old, I think it is a safe assumption that the phrase “disintegrated upon reentry; all hands presumed lost” will be used to in association with me in the future.


I’m learning new science facts! Wait a minute, is this a teaching game? Is there a magic school bus around here somewhere? Shut up, Carlos!

From there it’s mining ventures to several gas giant moons, including Io, Europa, and Titan. While the planets don’t have the full compliment of moons, I’m nevertheless impressed that they included some at all. The big name ones, at least.

Kind of very disappointed that Saturn isn’t shown as having rings. Why, Star Control 2 devs? Why?

Mineral-hungry, I went back to Mercury to pick up the rest of those radioactive goodies — and I promptly got my lander fried into oblivion. Well crud, now I have no lander and I have a sads.


They don’t give this guy a name (that I caught), so I’m going to call him Commander Keen. Cmdr. Keen tells me that there’s a phone call coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE… er, a broadcast coming from inside the solar system. Could be a spy. Could be an episode of Friends bouncing off of Jupiter. Gotta go check it out — but before I do so, I equip my ship with two landers, some more thruster and turning jets, a fuel tank, a storage tank, and a whole lotta extra fuel. I’m broke, but at least I feel prepared.


Still grumpy that Pluto isn’t a planet any more? Well then, come on down to Star Control 2, where it is still the ninth recognized planet of the solar system!


Turns out the signal is that of Captain Fwiffo here. His ship cripples my brand-new lander (ARGH) and kills half of its crew. Fwiffo says that it was a mistake — he’s pretty defensive and thinks I’m out to kill and torture him. I got a laugh at how quickly he gave up the coordinates to his homeworld and super-secret device in an attempt to appease me.

Also, this is the Spathi’s theme music, which I totally dig. Such a great soundtrack!

Fwiffo is a hoot, all swagger and vulnerability. He does a great job filling in the rest of the backstory of what happened to Earth, which I’ll summarize as follows:

After the Alliance got demolished by the Ur-Quan and the humans locked behind the red shield, the Ur-Quan left behind the Earthguard — a squadron of ships from two battle thrall races (the Ilwrath and Spathi) — as another deterrent to the human race. After some years, the Ur-Quan left the area to fight some sort of “Ultimate Evil,” taking the Ilwrath with them. The Spathi, which are fearful buggers, started retreating farther and farther away from Earth, leaving the automated moon base so that the space station would still think they were there. Then most of the Spathi left to guard their homeworld and Fwiffo was all that remained.

All alone in his ship, Fwiffo is extremely interested in joining up with my crusade. I guess that’s a good trade for the deaths of five or six crew members (including, the game reminds me, triplets). So now I have two combat ships attached to my flagship. Huzzah!

RIFT: Forward momentum at last


I had a tremendously good night in RIFT lately and I wanted to share it, because I haven’t been in the best of places in this game as of late. I felt stuck, mired down at level 65 without a path forward: My gear wasn’t good enough for Nightmare Tide experts, I couldn’t defeat the quest to get into Planetouched Wilds, and the dungeons I ran kept giving me the same cruddy gear I already had. So I found myself with less and less reason to log in, worried that I might lose interest before Starfall Prophecy hit (and we STILL don’t have a date for that).

Anyway, come trivia night, we tackle the subject of Halloween traditions and superstitions, and I tie for first. Our guild not only comes up with great trivia questions but often has incredible rewards. This week I scored a Nebula mount (above), which I think looks absolutely spectacular. Great fit for my Cleric. I also got some money and started perusing the auction house for gear.

A little forward momentum gained, I asked around in the guild for gear advice, and one guy crafted me a nice earring and some new rings. I looked at the threshold I needed to cross over into NT experts and saw that, for a healer, I was just a couple hundred wisdom points away. Well the earrings, rings, and a new wand did it, and between charity and blowing all but one platinum of my savings, I made it to that tier. I was expert ready, baby!

I still think I need better gear, as I tried that PTW quest again and couldn’t beat the waves of mobs that it threw at me. But I think I got further than before, so that’s good, and hopefully I won’t have a problem finding groups as a healer. The plan is to try to run one or two a day and see how quickly I can polish up my stats. Worst-case, I’ll just have to tread water until the expansion, since I’m sure that will be an across-the-board gear reset.

I did find a group and got into an expert pretty quickly… and for the first time in my dungeon healing career, found myself out of my depth. My Warden healing build could not keep up with the large amounts of damage the tank was taking, and after the first fight the tank chided me for not using a Purifier build. I assume that this is “the” healing build for clerics, and after looking at what it entailed, I wanted no part of it. Oh well. There’s always DPS.

I also have a new build, mostly Inquisitor with a Druid/Cabalist backing it up, and it’s working remarkably well for a questing/DPS role. It’s such a terrific feeling to be moving forward after being stuck for a month or so now. Bring on Starfall Prophecy already!

“MMORPG”: The dirtiest word in the video game industry


Featured: Not an MMORPG. Except it totally is. Just don’t you dare ever call it that.

So something’s been bugging me more and more over the past couple of years, and that’s both the video game industry and game media shying away from labeling games as “MMOs” or “MMORPGs.” From Elder Scrolls Online to Destiny, major budget online games are bending over backwards to avoid this apparent dreaded label, while the only ones embracing it are established games and up-and-coming indie titles.

I’ve read too many interviews in which developers and studios chide the media for daring to use the MMO label on a game. They don’t want it no matter how true it is. ZeniMax can stick its fingers in its ears and go “la la la ESO ISN’T AN MMO I CAN’T HEAR YOU” all it wants, but c’mon, it’s totally one (or else a second-rate Skyrim clone, take your pick).

Sea of Thieves is the latest game I’ve seen try its hardest to distance itself from any connection to pure MMOs, even though a lot of its DNA appears to share plenty of traits with these games we know and love. Oh and the argument over whether or not Star Citizen’s persistent server constitutes an MMO will probably be continuing long after the heat death of the sun.

Destiny went one step further by relabeling everything in the game so that it doesn’t tread on terminology that MMOs use. Light level? That’s gear score. Strikes? Dungeons. It’s deliberate marketing designed to avoid comparisons and, presumably, stigma. (It amuses me that the rumors going on about Destiny 2 this week make mention of creating more of a living world for players to explore and interact with.)

Because that’s where I think a lot of this is coming from. The larger games industry feels as though there’s a stinky stigma attached to the “MMORPG” label and it wants no part of it, even as more and more games adapt wholesale features and systems that used to be the sole domain of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games. We’re seeing more hybrids emerge that are MMOs without calling themselves as such, and it’s weird.

So where did the stigma come from? Everyone loves to point fingers and I probably don’t need to help that along, but mostly it comes from market oversaturation, stagnation, and a backlash that really started emerging around 2008. The novelty of MMOs ceased years ago and the pace of innovation didn’t pick up to keep the excitement train going. World of Warcraft was too successful and other games were either trying too hard to clone it, dying in direct competition, or lacking the skill and resources to pull off a polished end product. I’m not here to say that MMOs are dying — and I truly don’t believe they are — but the genre has been struggling mightily over the last half-decade as it looks in different directions and seeks reinvention.

I can understand why studios might see MMOs as being risky, both in reputation and financially, to the point that they see even the classification of their game as such to be a potential liability.

What also doesn’t help is that the non-MMO gaming media — your general-purpose gaming sites — have long since developed this stick-up, condescending attitude toward MMORPGs. They’re the grindy games that lack originality and only kids play, and we’re way past that in our glorified evolution to play the fifth installment of whatever rehashed FPS or cover-based shooter franchise. I don’t see game studios being nasty to MMOs as a concept, but boy have I seen more than my share of ignorant writers attempt to pull out an MMO to mock it, with a “can you believe people still play this crap?” tone. Rock Paper Shotgun is probably the worst offender here, although Kotaku has had its moments.

Thus we end up with a dirty word that nobody but the small, dedicated studios that aren’t trying to aim for a broad demographic use. To me, it’s silly. If it’s a game that allows a substantial online population to hang out and game together in a persistent world with some sort of progression, then it’s an MMO no matter how you want to label it. Maybe it’s a little less than a pure MMO, but it certainly is invited over to the family dinner come Thanksgiving.

I’m deeply curious what the next few years will bring to games and MMOs. We have a small army of indie MMOs in the making, and if even a small handful end up breaking out and garnering a good playerbase and reputation, perhaps bigger studios might start to get over their collective fear of this area of gaming. And those bigger games that avoid the MMO label, frankly, I don’t care about their attitude so much as what they put out in the end.

At least Amazon Game Studios is showing some guts in tackling a genuine big-budget MMORPG in this day and age, even if it’s not technically calling itself one (“massively multiplayer open world sandbox” is the unwieldy title, or I guess, MMOWS).

Retro Reprise Episode 4: Chrono Trigger


One of the most beloved video game soundtracks of all time gets a capital treatment in this episode, thanks to special guest star Syl of Battle Bards. Syl and Syp talk about their memories of the game, favorite picks, and the legacy that this score produced in the 20-odd years since Chrono Trigger’s release.

Episode 3: Chrono Trigger (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Title Screen” and “Gato’s Song”)
  • “Battle Theme”
  • “Frog’s Theme”
  • “Robo’s Theme”
  • “Kingdom Trial”
  • “To Far Away Times”
  • “Memories of Green”
  • “Corridors of Time/Shala’s Time”
  • “Guardia Castle”
  • “Delightful Spekkio”
  • “Fanfare”
  • “Brink of Time”
  • “At the Bottom of the Night”
  • “Millenial Fair”
  • “Yearnings of the Wind”
  • Outro (feat. “Yearnings of the Wind” by Blake Robinson)

Try-It Tuesday: Firefall


If I asked for a hand count out there of people who had high confidence that Firefall will live to see 2017 as a live operating game, I have a feeling it would be pretty sparse. It’s been a dour year for this sci-fi shooter MMO, and so I thought it might be a good idea to check it out now… before it was too late.

Welcome to Try-It Tuesday, Firefall!


Installation and account setup went very smoothly, and we were into character creation before we knew it. “We” being me and my son, who called the shots on what my character would look like. Dark skin and a turquoise mustache? Done! I thought it was a nice touch to allow a choice of voice types, something not many MMOs do at all.

When Corporal Blue Hair phased in to the tutorial zone, I got a mail message saying that the studio was sorry for some foul-up or another and why don’t I accept these half-dozen free items? Being sorely inconvenienced ever since starting my Firefall career six minutes prior, I accepted them gladly.

The tutorial is brief and probably necessary to quickly lay out Firefall’s controls. It’s a much more mobile game than your traditional tab-target MMO, with a character that has rocket boots and a cyborg frame fused with his spine.


I had just NO idea what was going on, story-wise, when I got into the first zone, but I think it boiled down to “follow the waypoints and shoot the bad guys.” Sure. Fine. I can do that.

While I wasn’t surprised by Firefall’s lush, bright visuals (although they were certainly delightful and a welcome change to most gritty metal grey sci-fi games, I wasn’t quite expecting the character to handle as nicely as he did. There’s a great sense of movement and response as you dash about, jumping incredible distances with the rocket boots, and attacking on the fly. Felt like I was a frantic, skilled soldier at some points, and the momentum of that first mission was thrilling. Thrillhouse, even.

I might not have been tracking the story, but I certainly didn’t feel lost or clueless about what to do. Firefall’s very good at keeping you pointed in the right direction and helping you figure out its interface in this opening hour.


As my class, I went with an Engineer — which is video game lingo for “likes to throw down turrets.” And so it was here. Loved my heavy turret, which I nicknamed “Bob.” Go get ’em, Bob!


If jump jets weren’t fun enough, Firefall also has long-distance gliding. I don’t glide a lot in MMOs, so I can’t say with authority that this is the most enjoyable gliding system out there, but it is (again) very smooth, responsive, and a blast to experience. Go through the rings, Superman!


The opening area, if not the entire planet, has a warm tropical resort feel, which I have to put as one of my all-time favorite biomes. This atmosphere was helped by part of the first area actually being some sort of resort town with people in hawaiian shirts wandering around, sipping on drinks while this battle-suited maniac came barreling through at 75 mph.


“So… uh… coffee, huh? You… like it hot? With artificial sweeteners? Me too!”


Dang, this is one pretty game. Those beach water effects emit a real vibe, stylized though they are.


Bored already with running, superjumping, gliding, and blasting bad guys? Here’s a jet motorcycle. VROOOOOOOOM.


Let me tell you, some of these battles can get pretty crazy pretty fast. Making sure you resupply with health and ammo via drops and conveniently located pads makes the difference between winning and looking like a chump. I looked like a chump in the middle of this fight but eventually persevered.

All in all from what I saw, Firefall is actually a pretty fun game. Maybe it has larger issues with content offering, the business model, and a lack of population, but the core gameplay is fairly solid and a lot more intuitive than some other games I could mention. I might just keep this game around on my hard drive for a little while… while it lasts, at least.

World of Warcraft: A drood’s life


With my Death Knight making fairly good progress in the early stages of Legion’s endgame, I felt like taking a small break to accomplish a goal over the weekend: To get my Druid through her artifact quest.

I think I’ve come to the conclusion that as it stands, two characters will probably be the most I’ll ever be able to sustain in this expansion, and even that might be stretching it. If I do go with two, I’d like to have a healer for variety’s sake, and I’ve always been partial to Druids in WoW. Maybe I won’t have her raid-ready in two weeks (or even level 110 in two months), but it’s a long-term project with a potential to help stave off burnout if I start to tire of the DK at some point.

The quest started off with a trip to the Moonglade and then some sort of supernatural highway that connects realms together. The Emerald Dreamway, I think? Very convenient area with lots of portals to places all around World of Warcraft. One never has a hard time getting around on a Druid.

From there it led into the quest to get my resto staff, G’Hardeeharhar. I don’t really pay attention to names with apostrophes in them, to be honest. But this portion did really shake me up, not as much for the narrative angle but for the fact that it was all tailored around me being a healer instead of a fighter. I wasn’t expecting that, but once I got into the groove of healing and saving things, it got pretty fun.


I’m putting Dryads on the short list of races in WoW that I wish were playable. Armor design would be a bear, I’m sure. BOW BEFORE HER, BUNNIES!


I got totally dozed in the final fight because I went into it in Moonkin form, trying to moonfire the boss into oblivion. It was after I faceplanted that I realized that the game had given me a druid party and that my role was to, duh, heal them. Was still a somewhat challenging fight, moreso because I haven’t played this character and healed on her for a good month or so now.

After getting the Staff of Ra and admiring all of the Pretty Nature(tm) of the class hall, I jetted over to Dalaran to pick up mining and herbalism. I don’t know why I failed to have any professions on this character, but I guess I was too busy leveling to worry about it. At least you can pick herbs and mine stuff at level 1 in the Broken Isles and get the stuff. That’s a great quality-of-life feature that I think needs to be applauded.

I also realized that I was a hearthstone short on my Druid — and it took me a few seconds to put two and two together to figure out that I had never taken her to Draenor at all, so she had no garrison whatsoever. Just a lot of dungeons and the Legion leveling event, that’s it. This expansion is really her first time questing for real — and I’m looking forward to it.

Syp’s Gaming Goals: October 2016


September in review

A majority of my gaming time in September was predictably split between RIFT and World of Warcraft. In WoW, I finally got my Death Knight to 110 and started her on world quests, gearing, and other paths of endgame progression. Meanwhile, I’ve been floundering in RIFT, dealing with a lack of purpose to my level 65 (who can’t seem to get the gear for Planetouched Wilds) and not fully wanting to commit to a new character.

I booted back up my Try-It Tuesdays series with a foray into World of Fishing, finished up a Chrono Trigger playthrough, and put a cap on my Quest for Glory 3 retro gaming series. Wasn’t the most boring month but wasn’t the most diverse either.

October goals

Without much new on the horizon for The Secret World, I’m on the fence whether or not to resume my Secret Adventures series with my mid-range character (let me know in the comments if you enjoy these). Star Trek Online might pull me back with the news of more Agents of Yesterday missions, but I might need to ditch Delta Rising altogether. However, I expect a lot more World of Warcraft with a side dish of RIFT.

If AdventureQuest 3D launches on the app store, I’ll be sure to pick it up, although I’m not building up huge expectations for a deep content well during this “open beta” period.

I’m pretty excited about the Try-It Tuesday series and have a huge list of potential games (some MMOs, some not) to explore. I am mulling over a new game to replace Chrono Trigger for my iPad exercise bike time — another Telltale Game series? Final Fantasy VI? Banner Saga? Secret of Mana?

I’ll also be continuing my retro game series through Star Control 2, which honestly has me more excited about doing a retro game than any title in recent memory. So much fun so far!