ESO Unlimited Arrives

ESO Unchained or Unlimited or whatever looks pretty good to me. I patched up and logged in for a few minutes to check it out.

ESO Crown Store
Six pets seems like a rather small selection.

The cash shop is very unobtrusive–about the same as GW2–but it’s also very empty… I didn’t see anything I might be tempted to buy, like for example, the only thing I really wanted–more inventory space. Also, the 800 crowns I was given wasn’t enough to buy much of anything but health potions or maybe a pet.

Overall the game looks nearly identical to when I left, which I consider to be a good thing. (I wasn’t enticed enough to actually play, but I probably will this weekend when I have more time.)

Low-Energy Gaming

Real life’s been kicking me in the teeth lately–I’m adjusting to a new work role/schedule and of course there was the annoying end of Daylight Savings. So my MMO gaming (and writing, and overall mental attitude, and almost everything else) has suffered.

Oddly enough I’ve landed on Path of Exile as a mental tonic, a game which I had previously rejected as uninteresting all the way back in its nearly-perpetual beta. Now I see that it has one very compelling feature: You can play it one-handed.

That probably sounds weird, but if a game can be played with just the mouse, it’s perfect for my super low-energy playing moods. In Path of Exile, I can run around bashing things with a club and only occasionally reach for the keyboard to drink a potion. Meanwhile I can sip my coffee or munch on whatever junk food happens to be nearby, further enhancing my stupor.

PoE is a great game for what it is, although I find the loot kind of annoying. It seems that roughly 95% of it is trash and not even worth picking up, particularly since your inventory space is very limited. So far I haven’t felt any need to buy anything from the cash shop, so it’s a pretty good free-to-play model from what I can tell.

So much loot to avoid clicking on.
So much loot to avoid clicking on.

As for more traditional MMOs (sort of), the most complicated one I’ve managed lately is Trove. I figured out how to disable the recently-added “Rally” feature so that random strangers will stop appearing next to me out in the wild when I want to be left alone. (Hold down your Use button on the Rally statue at the beginning and it toggles the feature on and off. Super intuitive, right? Not.)

The Line Between Hand-Crafted And Random

Syp generated some conversation and controversy by posting a somewhat strongly-worded post against procedurally-generated worlds, but I think he’s absolutely correct: If a developer tries to cut corners by substituting a computer-generated world in place of what should have been a hand-crafted world, it probably won’t be fun. I’m not sure which game he was talking about, but it might have been Crowfall or H1Z1, both of which embrace procedurally-generated worlds and claim to be MMORPGs.

He might also have been thinking of Trove which creates random worlds when you go through those Adventure gates. Those worlds aren’t terrible, but they don’t have any depth or personality. It’s obvious that they are computer-generated. When you leave, there is no reason to remember any part of it. But I don’t think they’re intended to be remembered. They’re just 3D spaces for you to run through and gather materials and kill stuff. You then use those materials to build your club world any way you want. (Or something like that.)

It’s basically the same in Landmark, the only other procedurally-generated MMORPG-like game that I have any experience with. The worlds themselves are forgettable–what you’re supposed to remember is the player-built constructions. You can always move to another world if you don’t like it.

I suppose that’s the demarcation line: Whether the world is supposed to be temporary or not. It’s okay and probably even desirable to create temporary worlds procedurally, but if the world is supposed to be permanent and especially if it’s supposed to be part of a story (like most “traditional” MMORPGs are supposed to be), it’s going to come out better when it’s hand-crafted, and savvy consumers will be able to tell the difference.

I think that Crowfall will be able to get away with procedurally-generated worlds because of the nature of their campaign system (and the fact that it’s not really an MMORPG like we’re used to). I imagine that starting a campaign will be somewhat similar to starting a game of Civilization. As you discover the landscape around you, you’ll be able to use it strategically as you place your forts or ganking chokepoints or whatever. And to maintain freshness, each new campaign world should be different from the last.

I haven’t played it yet, but I imagine it should work for H1Z1 because those worlds are mostly intended as a stage upon which to hit other people over the head and take their stuff. People probably aren’t going to be looking to discover any ancient civilizations in cryptic ruins.

Liebster Award Saga Continues

Thanks for the nomination j3w3l! I find these things kind of silly, but I guess it would be rude not to participate in the phenomenon that has taken over the MMO blogosphere lately. I’m such a perfectionist though it’s taken forever to put this together. :)

Eleven quick facts about me:

  1. I’ve self-published a book on Amazon and sold over three copies.
  2. I used to write music and record songs in a home studio.
  3. I’ve had tons of dental work done.
  4. I secretly wish I could do slight-of-hand magic.
  5. My perfectly sane retirement plan is to become a best-selling author.
  6. This year I’m hoping to buy a house; I’ve been renting for three years.
  7. I hate talking about myself which makes job interviews painful.
  8. I used to have really long hair but I cut it short on my 40th birthday.
  9. My favorite pickle is the Mt. Olive Kosher Dill pickle.
  10. I don’t talk much but sometimes I can be annoyingly verbose.
  11. I can juggle up to four balls.

Answers to j3w3l’s questions:

If you were to be an expert in a singular subject (anything not just regular school stuffz) what would that be.

I wish I was better at simple mechanical things like home repairs, but I’m just too lazy. In a less practical area I’d love to be an expert swordfighter–I just recently discovered that German longsword fighting is a real thing. If I were 20 years younger I’d be all over that. I still might try it just for the exercise, but I’ll probably embarrass myself.

Your favourite tv show or cartoon when growing up.

This led me to a giant rabbit hole of looking through old Saturday morning cartoon lineups and prime time schedules from the 1980s to find the exact shows that I watched. But then I started to wonder, “What exactly is the age range where one grows up?” Then my precise scientific research went off the rails into some weird philosophical area.

So here are some shows I remember watching religiously from the late 70s through the mid 80s: Quark (briefly), Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, The Dukes of Hazzard (obviously!), Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner, Superfriends, The A-Team, MacGyver, Remington Steele (I had a huge crush on Laura Holt), and pretty much every sitcom that ever came on NBC Thursday nights (Cosby, Cheers, Night Court, etc.)

If you were to be turned into a monster, from any medium or even your imagination what would that be.

Probably a plain old vampire. Eternal life and all that. I’ve never thought about it much though.

Favourite mode of transportation in games.

I’m not much of a mount collector but the horses in Age of Conan are the best ones I can remember. I also like the animation of dwarves bobbing back and forth on yarnosaurs in Rift. I remember loving the flying griffons in WoW way back when I first started playing.

Your favourite piece of merchandise, gaming or non-gaming.

If this means action figures or posters or figurines or the like, I honestly don’t think I own any. I have a problem spending money on things that have no practical use. My house has virtually no decorations in it. Weird but true.

The music that gets you moving, genre and artist.

I don’t dance but anything with a good drum beat will get me playing air drums, usually in the Rock genre. Here is a tiny random selection of songs on my Android car playlist: Bon Jovi Livin’ on a Prayer, Breaking Benjamin Breath, Chevelle I Get It, Extreme Slide, Huey Lewis Couple Days Off, Linkin Park Given Up, Motley Crue Kickstart My Heart, Rush Tom Sawyer, Seether Gasoline, Stone Temple Pilots Unglued, Van Halen Man on a Mission, ZZ Top Sleeping Bag.

If you were to punch a historical figure who would that be.

Whoever invented the 40-hour work week.

If there was one law you were able to break with impunity which would it be.

Ha! Tax evasion? Then I might feel better about splurging more on merchandise. :)

If you could bring one mechanic from games into the real world what would it be.

At first I thought this meant a literal mechanic, as in a person who fixes things. I was imagining some gnomes from World of Warcraft running around fixing my water heater, which might be kind of cool actually, unless I had to listen to their terrible jokes all day long.

As for game mechanics I think it would be cool if people had health bars on them. :) And I wish you could rate people in real life based on your interactions with them, and have that number floating over their heads when you see them. Sort of like the recommendations in FFXIV but mostly I remember it from the book Daemon by Daniel Suarez. It would probably end up destroying society though.

Draw me personal portrait, and yes paint is acceptable.

This was the hardest one of all! Draw something? Are you kidding?? :) Anyway it’s pretty awful but here it is.

20150307_205041_small

Now for the even-more-hardest part: Thinking up new questions that aren’t too dumb but also don’t sound like essay questions.*

  1. What was the last animated series you watched?
  2. How many mobile devices do you own (choose your own definition)?
  3. Are your right- or left-handed? Do you wish you were the other?
  4. At what point in your life did you give up on the political system (an intentionally loaded question)?
  5. Is it weird to peel a banana from the bottom?
  6. What is your favorite season (ie. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) and why?
  7. What kind of coffee or tea or orange juice do you drink?
  8. How many games are on your desktop right now?
  9. How many musical instruments do you play? Are you out of practice?
  10. What kind of car do you drive? What would you rather drive?
  11. Are you more of a Mulder/believer or a Scully/skeptic (of whatever subject you care to fill in)?

It’s also been hard finding blogs that a) haven’t already responded, b) haven’t already been nominated, and c) have a known Twitter handle so you can actually notify them of their nomination, but here are a few. I think some of these have already been tagged but they haven’t posted yet so get writing! Or feel free to totally ignore me if you want, and if anyone else wants to chime in, go for it.

* In case anyone cares, my answers would be: American Dad, 5+, right/no, around age 35, only if it’s too ripe, Spring, Folgers, like a hundred, 4/holy god yes, Honda Accord/Porsche, mostly skeptic.

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.)