Banished From MMOs For A Bit

Most of my time lately has been spent playing Banished, which is a city builder game that I picked up on a Steam sale for $6. This might be the best $6 I’ve ever spent on a game.

I love this game. Historically, I am terrible at city builder games and usually give up on them quickly because it’s no fun to watch people starve to death. (That’s how my cities usually end up.) Even going back to the earliest city builder game I can remember, a type-in BASIC program called Hamurabi that I played on a TRS-80 Color Computer, I almost always starved my people.

But for some reason, Banished is simple enough for me to grasp the mechanics of it and actually enjoy playing it. Maybe it’s all of the cool built-in graphs that you can see, which gives you a pretty good idea of where your settlement needs work without having to wait for people to start dying.

This is not good. Time to make some more food.
Not the direction you want your food graph to be trending.

It’s fascinating to watch all the little people milling around like ants as they do their jobs. It’s a little weird that people age at a faster rate than the seasons go by though. It’s sort of like a Game of Thrones world where the winters last 10 years.

Banished also has a time-traveling feature: Somehow time disappears when I’m playing it so I can only assume it’s transporting me into the future somehow.

Here’s one very important tip if you decide to try Banished: Do not build two storage barns next to each other. You do not want to see what happens to your fledgling town if a tornado touches down right on top of them and destroys everything you’ve produced.

Progression Report – February

I think I’ll make this a “thing” and do a monthly progress report of all the MMOs I’m playing. I started running a time tracking program* called ManicTime so I can actually record precisely how much I’ve played every game now.

Games on my desktop

FFXIV (22** hrs). I unlocked most of the new 2.5 dungeons and World of Darkness, however I haven’t actually gone into any of them yet. (To this day I’ve only done one level 50 dungeon–Amdapor Keep for the Relic quest.) In other news I leveled my Rogue class from–you might want to sit down for this epic achievement–10 to 15.

Crazy Pirate Outfit
Got this crazy-looking pirate outfit from Syrcus Tower.

Now that Syrcus Tower no longer has the weekly restrictions, I’ve run it with my Bard to pick up more of the level 100 Amon’s patchwork pirate outfit. I only need the boots to complete the set, which of course never drops no matter how many times I go through there. I’ve also picked up over half of the Atmas I need from FATEs for the next part of the Relic weapon quest, and I’m inching closer to maxing out the Sylph Beast tribe reputation. (The only reason I’m doing that is to get that freaky goobbue mount, which is the only mount I’ve ever wanted in FFXIV.)

Just recently the Manderville Gold Saucer was added. I’ve only played a little bit of cards so far.

Guild Wars 2 (4 hrs). I finished up Dragon’s Reach Part 2, and started Echoes of the Past, so I only have to finish four more Living Story Season 2 episodes to get caught up. At every turn, there’s an annoying boss battle to get through so it’s slow going. I’m starting to see the origins of the Revenant profession now though. I try to log in every day for the login rewards but I only remember to do so every other day or so.

Landmark (2 hrs). I dropped into Landmark once or twice since I re-rolled and at least it seems like they’ve removed the impossible-to-beat monsters from around the starting area. (In fact all monsters now seem to be gone.) I like the big checklist of things-to-do that shows up on the right. I still have no clue how to reach the “underground” layers though. It’s now been, what, a little over a year since it was released to the public and it’s now looking to be about where I thought it would be back then. Onward and upward… hopefully.

The starting point of the new island in Rift 3.1

Rift (2 hrs). I started looking into the new island released in 3.1, but it hasn’t really grabbed me yet. Since my Mage is already 65 it seems a bit pointless to go through another quest chain. If you’re into lore, it seems like this new area is trying to tie the stories of the Storm Legion and Nightmare Tide expansions together somehow. I sort of feel like I can’t progress much further in Rift without joining a guild.

The Repopulation (2 hrs). A $20 edition became available on Steam so I went ahead and took a chance on it. I haven’t played much yet because the game is still pretty rough–I haven’t even left the tutorial area. (Yes, it’s so old school that it actually has a tutorial area!) The animation is a bit janky and the graphics are a bit slow. If you get it, be prepared to jump right on into the deep end with overwhelming amounts of information right at the start. If this is what Star Wars Galaxies was like, it’s no wonder people went for the much simpler WoW instead. :) (Though I don’t know what any of it means, I’m impressed by the amount of stuff in the 15.1.1 patch.)

My dude in The Shadowy Forest

The Secret World (19 hrs). My most exciting MMO development of the month was finally getting past a TSW mission that had me stuck in the Besieged Farmlands for, oh, I don’t know, the past year or so? It was the main story Mortal Sins, Tier 4–the one where you had to find a woman spying from a hilltop or something, but there was no mark for it on the map. After getting past that, I pushed on through to the end of the Mortal Sins quest line which presumably was the end of the main story at the original launch. It’s hard to quantify my progress since there aren’t any levels in TSW, but everything in Transylvania now ranges from “Normal” to “Hard.” I tried some Scenarios but I have yet to come anywhere close to succeeding at one, even on Novice level.

On a technical note, I had a major problem with frame rate hiccups in TSW, especially during combat. I thought it might have been Verizon screwing around with traffic shaping again but using Battleping didn’t help. However, when I switched from DirectX 11 to DirectX 9 the problem entirely vanished. (This was on a GeForce GTX 770.)

SWTOR (12 hrs). Last time, I reported that I had gotten back into SWTOR and re-subscribed. Well, that didn’t last long. My interest faded toward the end of January and I only logged in a couple of times a week. Not that there’s anything wrong with SWTOR. I enjoy it when I play it. But, you know, the quests are all pretty much the same, and the leveling progress is a bit slow. Kira Carsen’s witty banter can only entertain a person for so long.

Then, luckily for me, there was a double-XP weekend from Feb 13-17 so I played a lot more during that time. I usually miss promotional events so it was pretty exciting that one of my game-du-jours actually aligned with a “bonus stuff” weekend. Since my last update I leveled my Jedi Guardian from 22 to 32 and finished Tatooine, Alderaan and all of Chapter One, surpassing the progress I made with my original 28 Scoundrel who hit a brick wall in Alderaan.

Trove (1 hr). I popped into Trove now and then but I can never figure out where to find all the cool stuff they keep advertising. Still, I get a bunch of… I dunno, some kind of yellow coin thingy… every time I log in, so it’s fine.

ArcheAge was not on the above list because my patron status has run out and I don’t particularly want to log in anymore to see what abominable thing has happened to my house and farm.

And that’s pretty much all of the MMORPGs I’ve been playing. With my recent forays into survival games I’ve been thinking of re-installing Fallen Earth. And next month I predict I’ll be playing some ESO again.

P.S. My biggest time-sink was Google Chrome at 32 hours, 12 of which were spent writing and editing blog posts. :)

* I only started ManicTime on February 13. Next month I’ll get a much better sample.

** I don’t believe ManicTime on this. There’s no way I played more FFXIV than TSW since February 13.

Crowfall And Much Rambling On Game Types

A number of people are questioning whether Crowfall is asking for enough money to make their game. I don’t really care about that. (But I think they know what they’re doing.)

My main worry is that they’re making an MMO that I won’t like. And they know it. I suspect that’s why they are crowdfunding like this: Real investors wouldn’t support making a game intentionally targeted at a small niche market that doesn’t include mostly-casual PvE players.

But let’s get this out of the way first: I love that somebody is making a new MMO. Even if it isn’t made for me. I hope Crowfall gets made and it’s successful. (Let’s face it–it will get made, even if the Kickstarter fails, which it won’t, because they’ve almost made their goal already they easily made their goal, which I’m sure they knew they would.)

We Need A New Acronym

Why won’t I like it? Crowfall doesn’t sound like the kind of game that I think of when I think of an MMO. It sounds like another game that’s trying to redefine MMO as “any multiplayer game that saves your progress on cloud servers.”

I will now commence some tangential rambling unrelated to Crowfall.

Maybe MMO has always been defined like that. But I wish we could settle on a word or acronym to describe what used to be an MMO–i.e. the big three of EverQuest, Asheron’s Call, and Ultima Online back in 1999. Otherwise known as the games that created the genre.

For me, those kinds of games were built around concepts like exploration and imagination and adventure and story. So when I hear someone say they are making a new “MMO,” that is what I think–that they will be providing something that will spark my imagination and give me a place to explore. (Yes, I score high on the Bartle “exploration” scale.) To me, the lineage of such games goes back to the likes of Dungeons of Daggorath, Dungeon Master, Bard’s Tale, and the Ultima series. (And of course, every pen and paper role-playing game ever.)

Maybe “CRPG” is the word I need to adopt instead of “MMO,” although that implies old single-player games to me. Maybe “MMCRPG.” Ha! That’s better. (I just found a reference to “MMCRPG” in a 1999 Usenet post talking about Asheron’s Call.) Or maybe something totally weird like… ACEQUO! In honor of “the founding fathers.” (Pronounced ACE-Kwo.)

Crowfall Is Not For Explorers

Anyway, back to the point, Crowfall may be an MMO but it isn’t an “ACEQUO.”

Crowfall is being built around (in the words of the Kickstarter) “allies, enemies, empires, betrayal, risk, and conquest.” This is my main problem with Crowfall. I would enjoy a good story that includes those things, but I don’t particularly want to actually experience them. (That’s what “real life” is for.) Crowfall wants to be a Game of Thrones simulator, which I suppose is why people are also calling it a fantasy version of EVE–I don’t know much about the EVE “endgame,” but I gather that competition between corporations is a big thing there. (Possibly the only thing.)

Whatever the case, it’s pretty clear that attacking others and/or defending against attacks is the primary gameplay of Crowfall, and while I can enjoy that in short bursts or “matches,” it doesn’t appeal to me in a long-form “trench warfare” campaign that lasts for months.

Is Crowfall Going To Be Like Planetside 2??

Something else struck me when thinking about Crowfall. They use the tag line, “Eternal Heroes, Dying Worlds.” That idea seems fundamentally similar to modern progression shooters that I most recently experienced in Planetside 2. In modern shooters, you play in “campaigns” to gain experience and unlock more powerful weapons and stuff. The only difference between a shooter and what Crowfall is describing is that they are using fantasy weapons (and a third-person view) instead of guns.

One last thought I had about Crowfall is this: Why are they putting in character progression at all? They compare the game to Risk a lot in their pitch, but a strategy game like Risk requires no characters whatsoever. Why not make everyone equal so the game is actually about the strategy and not about who has the best character? (A question I ask myself quite a lot in MMO PvP games.)

Anyway those are some of the reasons why I’m not donating to Crowfall and it probably won’t be my main game if it ever comes out. It’s the kind of game that I might play for a couple of weeks just to see what everyone is talking about, then never play it again. (Like, say, Planetside 2, and also the vast majority of the games on my Steam list.)

But who knows. It’s still early. If they ever release a free demo or somebody starts streaming it I will definitely check it out to see if there’s anything in it for me. I do like the art style.

P.S. I wonder if playing Crowfall will be similar to WvW in GW2, or Cyrodiil in ESO.

Storybricks and The Nature Of The Internet

More alarming news about SOE/Daybreak/EQNext.

Speaking as a gamer, even if EQNext had launched with the Storybricks AI (and I use the term “AI” loosely) included, it almost certainly wouldn’t have been as impressive as it sounded (see this demo), and it probably would have ended up being a non-factor in the game like that UO “artificial life” thingy. I’ve been very skeptical of SOE’s claims of “emergent behavior” ever since they first started talking about it.

Speaker as a software developer, my guess is that they jettisoned Storybricks because it wasn’t working right, and it was creating a roadblock for getting the game released. There is nothing more annoying than problems in third-party software that you have no control over. By removing that dependency, Daybreak can probably move forward with a lot more speed and confidence.

Speaking as an alarmist, it could be that Daybreak is imploding and we’re all doomed and we might as well just reformat our hard drives and forget about playing PC games ever again.

In any case, there is basically no chance that EQNext won’t get hammered as a bad game now, regardless of what they actually do. They’ve been pre-judged and anything short of the best game of our lives will be viewed as a failure by the gaming literati. (I know, I’ve pre-judged it too, but it’s because of actual evidence… i.e. Landmark.)

Three Times The Controversy

There have been three controversies in the blogosphere lately that I haven’t had a chance to comment on. (Well, three that I know of, at least–I’m sure there are more floating around.) I don’t particularly like to be controversial on this blog but I did want to at least voice my opinions.

Twitter and MMO Gypsy made me aware of a Rock, Paper, Shotgun interview with Peter Molyneux that made the rounds of the blogosphere. Regardless of what I think of Molyneux and Godus, I personally found it an appalling example of tabloid journalism if not an outright abuse of press credentials. Hard questions do not need to be openly belligerent. I really hope that’s not the direction that games journalism is heading. (Interestingly, or perhaps shockingly, that style of interview turns out to be fairly normal overseas.) I wrote a big long post about this but honestly I don’t want to dwell on it that much.

Jaedia over at Dragons and Whimsy wrote an excellent article about sexual objectification that I highly recommend reading. (There are many excellent articles on this topic actually, this is just the latest.) I’m not super comfortable commenting on this, because, being a plain old WASP, I tend to be the demographic that is the source of all the cultural problems in the world, so I find that it’s usually better to just keep my mouth shut. But I agree that it’s a problem and it was extremely brave of her to post that article especially in a post-Gamergate world.

Lastly, Belghast summarized a kerfuffle that resulted from Jaeda’s post. I missed it because I can’t keep up with Twitter conversations very well, and it’s been a rough week for keeping up with anything online anyway. But I wanted to chime in that I also strongly disagree with the idea of freedom of speech being used as a club to force unpleasant opinions on people. I’ve seen this shield brought up especially about blog comments for years. Freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily give you the right to be heard, particularly over a commercial medium like blogs or Twitter or in a game chat. It’s to protect you from being arrested for criticizing your government.

WoW – My Favorite Addons

I started this post in November 2014, and TAGN’s recent post on addons reminded me that it was still sitting in Drafts. So I thought I would finally post it.

Addons are a fact of life when you play World of Warcraft. You can play without them (I’ve done it), and most of the gameplay basics are there, but Blizzard has consistently refused to put in any of the quality-of-life enhancements that we are all used to from every single other MMO released in the past ten years. (I’m thinking of Rift in particular here, which put in just about every quality-of-life improvement you could have ever wanted in an MMO UI.) Thus you’ll probably want some addons for WoW. Here are my favorites, not so much to recommend them but more as a handy index for later when I inevitably lose them all after a reformat.

I typically don’t do much to change the visuals of the game, I mainly concentrate on quality-of-life enhancements and things that other games have that WoW doesn’t.

Altoholic. I don’t really do much with this addon, but it’s very handy to display informative lists of all your alts on one screen, because numbers and statistics are awesome.

Deadly Boss Mods. Honestly I don’t even know what this mod is doing for me, but I assume it’s helping me in dungeons somehow. Anyway I’m sure everyone in PUGs would yell at me if I wasn’t using it.

Gatherer. Keeps records and statistics on every gathering node you come across. There’s also a neat radar thingy that you can enable if you just want to run around farming while watching Netflix. (I rarely do that, but when I do, it’s very cool.)

LiteBag Bagnon. Merges all your bags into one. I mainly like it because it makes your inventory take up less space on the screen, because otherwise WoW covers up your minimap with your bags, which I hate. LiteBag is much more consistent with the WoW 6.0 bag interface, unlike Bagnon.

Moncai Compare. It boggles my mind that WoW still does not automatically compare items in your inventory to your equipped items when you hover over them. (I know you can hold shift, but come on, this is 2015. Nobody else does it like that.)

Multishot. I recently installed this to take screenshots of significant events like levelups and achievements. I suddenly got it into my head that I wanted an automatic screenshot every time I leveled a character. That way, I can track how long it takes me (in real-time days) to advance my characters. Not that I need to know that, but metrics are fun.

Omen Threat Meter. I very rarely need a threat meter, so I’ve struck it from my list. Usually the default threat display stuff in the UI is enough for me. (But if I did need one, this is the one I’d use.)

OmniCC. A recent addition, this addon displays remaining time on cooldowns numerically over your ability icons, as opposed to the radial spinning-clock countdown display. The radial thing is great for very short cooldowns but I like numbers when the cooldown is more than, say, 5 seconds.

PetTracker. Another recent addition, this very handy addon provides tons of useful helpers if you do anything with Battle Pets. The main thing I like is the ability to display Stable Masters on the map, because I always forget where they are. (This addon seems to have some issues with 6.0, though, as I see occasional debug reports from Swatter.)

Recount. Your basic DPS meter. I don’t know why I bother, though, because I feel like DPS is radically unbalanced between classes in normal dungeons from 15-70, which is where most of my group experience is. I mean, seriously, the tank is often the DPS leader. What’s up with that? At least in 6.0 it seems they fixed the ridiculously overpowered Shield Slam that practically one-shotted every mob below level 30.

TradeSkillInfo. Adds tradeskill information to item tooltips. I got this because I wanted something that would tell me what in the heck to do with the stuff that kept filling up my bags, as it’s not at all clear if you’re a relative WoW newbie (This particular addon isn’t quite as good as I’d like, though.)

XToLevel. A very cool addon that displays information about how long it will take you to get to the next level. A variation of this addon was one of the very first addons I ever installed for WoW, way back in the dark ages. It tells you how many mobs you need to kill, or how many dungeons you need to complete, or how many mining nodes you need to harvest, or any number of other things, because numbers and statistics are awesome.

Zoomout. Allows you to zoom out much farther than the default UI lets you. Absolutely essential. I love to zoom way out so that my character is like 10 pixels tall while fighting bosses. I wish more games allowed you to do that, but most don’t. I can’t stand it when the boss is so big that it doesn’t fit on the screen.

I think I might have had another post floating around somewhere in which I griped about the most common problem with WoW Addons: Too many options. Yes, I said too many. Perhaps six months from now I will have a post to followup on that.

State of Decay Is A-OK

In January, I went through a phase where I wanted to play some survival-type games. The first game I pulled out was State of Decay, which I already had on Steam.

I’m probably the last person to discover this, but State of Decay is pretty cool. I had played it before, somewhere back when it first came to the PC I think, but it didn’t really “click” with me the first time. This time, I got into it and spent some 40+ hours playing it. I kept thinking it would make a great MMORPG (minus the permadeath). If H1Z1 turns out to be anything like a multiplayer State of Decay, then that would be very cool. (From what I’ve seen, though, it doesn’t look like it’s going that way.)

The biggest problem I have with State of Decay is that traveling from place to place takes a long time. It takes a long time to run from place to place, sometimes it takes a long time to drive from place to place. I ran into a problem where too many new missions would pop up before I could complete old missions. I’d journey toward one mission, get sidetracked, or get injured, and then have to return to home base to heal or something, and by the time I got back to that mission, two new ones had popped up. And some of them disappear if you don’t complete them fast enough.

The other problem I had was that the game ended! I escaped the valley or whatever and won. I wanted to play more and take over everything! I suppose I could have kept going, but it felt somewhat pointless after “winning.”

Improving Screenshot Technology

Dear MMO Developers: Sometimes I want to take screenshots. Almost all of you are really great at providing a “take screenshot” key. Most of you even put it in the proper place, which is the “Print Screen” key if you don’t know. (Why some of you still insist on forcing us to use F12 or F9 or F10 or even F11 still boggles my mind, but I can let that slide. And there are even a few of you who think that saving your screenshots in a format other than JPEG is okay, but I won’t name names here.)

Isn’t it about time that we take the screenshot concept to the next level? I read that WoW just added a “selfie” thing, which I suppose in some way could be considered an advancement in the evolution of taking screenshots, but I’m looking for something a little more dramatic. And less dumb.

I want more control over the camera. I want to be able to control the composition of my screenshots. I realize I can do most of this by zooming into first person view, but I want to see my avatar, too.

There is really just one thing I need in order to make this happen: I want to be able to point the camera somewhere other than my avatar. Basically I would like a key that will put me into “mouselook”* mode when I’m not in first person view. It can be a toggle key or just to hold down. Then I can make a screenshot where my avatar is down in the lower left. Or perhaps I want to move him so that he/she is closer to the bottom of the screen. Being able to position my avatar anywhere but the exact center of the screen would be the most awesome thing ever.

So that’s it. A third-person mouselook key. Please add this in all current and future MMOs. (Or tell me how to do it if it’s already there.)

If you really, really want extra bonus points, you can also give us a way to change the focal point. I don’t know if 3D engines are capable of doing that yet, though. Something like that in, say, ESO, would provide some of us with hours and hours of entertainment from just running around taking pictures of your beautiful game world.

If you’re a free-to-play game (and you’re worthy of screenshots), I might even pay to enable this feature. Not much, though. Let’s not get crazy.

* The term mouselook originated, as with almost everything in 3D gaming, with Quake. (I think.) It means being able to move the camera around by moving your mouse, or being able to “look” with your mouse.