Friday, July 31, 2009

Wargaming weekend

This weekend it is back to some really staunch wargaming titles that I do hope to get some after action reports up for. Hicks may beat me to it with Birth of America, but I do hope that I can nail down the instructions and learn Napoleon’s Campaigns to at least tackle the demo outright by Sunday morning.

While many of the games developed by AGEOD use the same engine as Birth of America and American Civil War, they all add on to one another and introduce little features you will have to put some effort into finding out about.
Despite being over two years old AACW, the second of four games produced so far by AGEOD, (Birth of America™, American Civil War™, Napoleon’s Campaigns™, and Wars in America™) continues to be this young company’s big winner. According to Thibaut, the game is still selling as many units as a year ago and user input is as strong as ever. As long as that continues the game will continue to be improved, and continue to evolve.

Hey speaking of games, if you decide to buy any of these poke around over on my favorite site for war game purchases, NWS Online. Run by a group of wargamers and people dedicated to supporting independent publishers, you will find some REALLY good deals there. I saved over 30 dollars on the purchase of Birth of America 2 and Napoleon’s Campaigns.

I have been on a new turn based wargame hunt lately, to get my fix when RTS games just get on my nerves. I have played a bit of Dawn of War 2 and Company of Heroes but of course most RTS games really skimp on the level of accuracy and simulation that I am looking for. Although I get some really epic battles in Company of Heroes, that is a WW2 game most suited for the ADD generation and really doesn’t suit my wargaming needs (sure is pretty though).

On another scale, I am still trucking away at Spore and recently reinstalled Civilization IV again, with all its expansions, to play on my laptop on the way in and out of work. Who needs sleep anyway? I can do that when I am dead.

I actually have so much on my plate now that I have removed the non expanding metal band that was around my brain put there by MMO’s that I cannot find the time to learn half of what I need to learn.

On the flip side my IQ is going up by the hour as I am forced to read books again to get my brain around things like the Battle of Borodino as well as other fascniating historical things I meant to read up on long ago. I guess that is a good thing right? Although I am sure I ruined a few cells drinking Old Style at the Cubs game yesterday.

Ok more later, once I decide to take up the battle of Guilford Courthouse and can report back!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Borderlands trailer sums up the game

Fun, fast, exciting and full of action.

Everything MMORPG’s don’t have. Notice I added RPG to the end. This is because Borderlands is post apocalyptic action without the RPG drama queen aspect added in. Which means you can have your multiplayer, co op fun and not deal with the emo drama associated with most MMORPG players. You can get in, get your things done, and get out plus invite people to come along for the ride. The combat is fast and the graphics are great. The setting is Pandora, a planet on the edge of the galaxy that people have been sent to to colonize. Problem is the planet sucks, and people leave, putting the poor chaps that have to stay there on a planet of lawless anarchy once the authorities take off.

I like this idea of a game, and I like the direction some of these titles are going. Less DIKU MMO, more combination action and excitement with some RPG elements thrown in there to tide me over. Plus I don’t have to deal with PVP unbalancing the game or the type of people that would play PVP centric MMORPG’s invading the game and acting like morons.

Why am I so excited? Easy really. Randomization and the Road Warrior theme, and a chance to get some action in away from the slower pace of Fallout 3 and take my show on the road with some buddies. ALL WITHOUT A LOADING SCREEN. The game has vehicle combat, minor questing, people can jump in and out of your game as you want them to, and it is by the studs at Gearbox. I bet money this one functions better than Fallen Earth out of the gate and has a larger player base. People don’t want old school boring MMO’s anymore. They want fast games like the way Left 4 Dead, DDO, Conan. Guild Wars 2 and this game are going. Heck I say bring back Tabula Rasa and make it more instanced. Give us guns, fast combat and the ability to jump in and out of groups and I am golden. That game was almost there, but it was just too shallow. What it and most MMO’s are missing are randomization and things being DIFFERENT and fresh when you log in. Also, people are sick of hitting hotbar buttons and waiting for the results on screen. I think that the future of many MMO’s will be fast, teamplay oriented FPS/RPG melded games that allow people to get things done in a short amount of time. Think Guild Wars meets Mad Max.
The features of the maps will also be randomly generated. While towns, and the general paths connecting them will remain the same, Borderlands features a system that randomly instances the surrounding landscape, with randomly placed things such as bunkers, towers, caves, enemies, and exploding cacti.

Gearbox plans that the player should not see a loading screen after they boot up the game, which will be an interesting task since the game is available on the PC, XBOX 360 and the PS3. The PS3 is notorious for its load times, but what console isn’t?
In addition, players have access to customizable vehicles for “vehicular combat” and will also be able to customize their character. Deceased enemies will drop their equipment, which is available for you to pick up. You will be able to choose from 4 different playable characters, who each have their own unique abilities. It is inspired by the Mad Max film series, World of Warcraft and Diablo by Blizzard.

Scheduled to release on October 23rd, Borderlands will feature four-player cooperative action where players are free to drop in and out of ongoing games. Less social players have the option to go single player only.

Additionally, the will include a content generation system that allows for a near infinite variety of weapons (87 bazillion guns, to be exact). That should be enough to head out and explore the treacherous alien world and blast away anything that gets in the way.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

MMO's almost rotted my brain

I looked at a stack of games I never finished because I felt the need, or the push, to keep up with friends or constantly level in generic MMO’s. I realized in a few recent betas that I was doing basically the same thing I had done since 2004 and suddenly now I cannot play any of them unless they play like a console game. Hence the only titles that kept me remotely interested were AoC (Age of Conan) and Dungeons and Dragons Online. However, looking at the stack of games I own and the money wasted got me to get off my gaming ass and click other icons on my desktop. Ok well, technically I am still sitting, but I managed to engage my brain a little bit more since many of these games required me to use skills long dead.


That part of my gamer brain that holds RTS strategy, micro management, assigning actual skill and ability points on leveling, and solving puzzles was long dormant thanks to years of blindly accepting quests and killing packs of 10 monsters (or 100+ if you are in a Middle Earth MMO).

I have the following to either complete or master to a level that I consider fully explored:

  • Elder Scrolls Oblivion. That is right, the entire thing including Shivering Isles.

  • Fallout 3. Getting through Megaton and actually finishing it.

  • Dawn of War 2. At least finish the single player campaign. I have already unlocked a good amount of multi player achievements

  • Spore plus all the add ons. This includes unlocking achievements in Galactic Adventures and winning trophies for completing missions in record times.

  • Empire Total War: I want to finish at least one Grand Campaign as a major world power.

  • Company of Heroes plus all the expansion packs

  • Sims 3: get through at least one session and finish a career

  • On the XBOX360 I need to finish Red Faction, Too Human, Saints Row 2, Star Ocean, Mass Effect, Grand Theft Auto IV and look out for Madden 2010.

As you can see, I have been a terrible gamer in ignoring some the best selling titles in 2-3 years in favor of “logging in” and repeating the same process in a MMO over and over again. Add to this the game that my Champions Online money will be going to, Dragon Age: Origins (game has a built in world editor as well), and I have over 120+ hours of gaming to do and less time to do it than when I played MMO’s religiously.

So where to start. Well this week has mostly been devoted to Spore and my attempt to get one race into space so that I can start running Galactic Adventure missions and designing my own. After Spore takes its mits off me I may have to head back over to Sims 3 and at least finish the career of my politician Chester Brock. Looming ever present is Fallout 3 and Oblivion, but I need good chunks of time to play those and prefer at least 3-4 hour blocks.

As for Dragon Age: Origins it is a single player game yes, but with a refined and powerful world editor toolset that will keep my going for ages. I have already sketched out a few modules to be planned out with it so I hope to hop in ASAP and start making content.
Dragon Age: Origins delivers a focused, single-player RPG experience. Since this is the first game set in the world of Dragon Age, the team wanted to concentrate on a single player experience that would allow the players to learn the incredible history, story, and lore in the game.

In Spore, I have given much thought to my Galactic Empire, the Atraxian Enclave. In my mind, I need to make sure all their buildings and vehicles maintain the proper racial appearance and look fluid, so I have spent some time planning out how I want them to look and what type of vehicles they would use. They are primarily a four armed, bi-pedal race with war like tendencies (go figure) but maintain a strong tribal heritage.

I have long ignored my really nerdy side and I think I need to get back to that. I used to spend hours developing a Neverwinter Nights world that had connecting zones and NPC’s and I even had a website describing all that. I need to get back to doing that sort of thing.

Now is the perfect time. It is too bad I am not a good Fallout 3 mod designer or I would be all over that.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pretty soon you won't be able to tell the difference between CoX or CO

After all this, we won’t have to worry about getting Champions Online because City of Heroes will beat them to the punch by adding everything Champions has been splattering all over the media as unique features.

Announced recently for City of Heroes, as of Issue 16:
City of Heroes’ latest offering, Issue 16: Power Spectrum, forever changes the way all super powered beings will look at their powers. Now, changing the colors of your powers is as easy as changing the colors of your cape!

At last, our next free content update unveils the all new, much requested and long awaited Powers Customization system! You wanted more control over what your characters’ powers look like, and you are getting it!

Not only does the newly updated Character Creator allow players to jump directly between Archetype, Powersets, Costumes and Character ID in any order without losing progress, but it also allows you to select your colors and theme for each individual power or apply it to the entire powerset.

Give it a few more months and we can just meld the two games together as one SUPER GAME. Get it? Maybe not. Ok which game wants to have the LESS WoW like features and still add side content? City of Heroes wins. Maybe that is how we will tell them apart in the end. Which one is original? Who knows. I think do.

Ok continue on with your Friday plans.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fallout 3: A short adventure in Bethesda's world

Last night I came home and decided to avoid all MMO’s and immediately fired up Empire Total War. Before I get on to the rest of the post today I just want to say that even though that game is pretty slow to develop, I fought an epic battle against George Washington at the battle of Brandywine Creek. I didn’t want the British but somehow I got forced to play them. I could have won this battle. I was just too slow and did not use my units in a coordinated fashion. I had feints, flanks, and a few moments where I thought I would pull it out but in the end I just wasted too many men.

You can read what actually happened at Brandywine here, but for now that ends today’s history lesson. Empire Total War is an interesting beast because the campaign is basically a built in turn based strategy game and I really have to take the time to learn it.

Ok Fallout 3. I hear many of you groan but deal with it because I have not played this game through yet. I started over, finished the early part, escaped the Vault and headed out into the post apocalyptic nightmare. Usually as far as I had gotten was Megaton. Now though I really wanted to explore the whole game so I went right into that cesspit that I always try to clear out: the Springvale Elementary school.

I always end up in here but never really gave it too much thought. Last night I wanted to clear the whole thing out and I started off by heading around the back and taking out the bandits that live up in the ruined rafters there. The fascinating thing about Fallout 3 is that you can almost do whatever you want. Case in point last night when I spent my entire gaming session in a 3 story instanced building clearing out riff raff and getting involved in their back history. That is what I love about Fallout 3 and at the same time hate about it. There is almost TOO much to do, and unless  you go in set to invest time you will not like the game.

So back to the school. I had done this many times and I knew the exact spot of the bandits so I used crouch and picked them off, still getting used to the combat system I saved my action points better and suffered minor injuries. My problem in the this game is always ammo. I tried to lure many of the bandits around the corners and put them down with a baseball bat to the head.

Inside the school, and I never knew this, there is an entire upper floor, middle floor, a lower floor and tunnels. Yep there are tunnels under there and they are there for a reason. This is why I start over because each time I learn something new about the game. Turns out you will need a key to open a door, and another key to clear past the rubble to get the to tunnels. I don’t want to give out too many spoilers so if you have not played the game (YEAH RIGHT) then stop here. The rest of this post is about what I found. To those of you taking off and surfing on, see ya later!

Ok so once I had figured out that keys drop in this game and there are actually mini quests inside buildings and things to do, I really started to perk up. I grabbed the key off a bandit I killed (and this whole school has been taken over by them) and then unlocked what I needed to get to around on the 3rd floor where I found the leader of the bandits and she was armed with a machine gun. After a nice little gun fight in which I managed to cap her knees, I found a desk with a working computer terminal and a key. Turns out this group of bandits had been tunneling underground to try and break into the vault from underneath. I found this out by reading entries on the computer terminal. However, they dug too deep and awakened a hive of giant mutated ants. Not being one to shirk adventure, off I went to unlock the door that led to the mining tunnels.

I'm not so sure this is a good idea

Once I  got into the tunnels I shot up a few ants and worked my way back into the very dark areas of the mining operation and found clutches of eggs which I could loot for Ant Meat. Not the tastiest of options but if your health is low and you are out of stim paks you take what you can take. If Mel Gibson can eat a can of dog food in the Road Warrior then this is just a slight step down.

I worked my way in among the eggs and started looting them all when this horrible skittering noise started echoing all over the chamber, and I knew I had triggered a huge spawn of ants. Sure enough about 5-7 came streaming at me and I had to use all my ammo just to fend them off and take them down.

While I got XP for this, I ran out of ammo and really got nothing in return other than stacks of ant meat. I wish there had been SOMETHING down there to discover but all tunnels led to a dead end.

With all the bandits dead and nothing to search through, I decided I had had enough of the school and left the place, feeling good that for once I had explored it and finished it to my hearts content. I did come out of there with a lot of gear to sell, but unfortunately I need ammo now so it will be off to Megaton. I will let you all know how that goes later on. I may hit  up Empire Total War once more tonight and dive into that grand campaign as the Russians.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chester Brock: Sims 3

Sims 3. For right now Chester is a wanna be politician. What am I talking about? A Sim has a lifelong goal in Sims 3, a list of the ultimate pinnacle of life that they want to strive for. Based on traits you pick you can manipulate this decision.

This all came about last Sunday night when I got Sims 3 for my better half so that she could experience the next level of complexity up from Farmtown or YoVille on Facebook. I asked her:

“How would you like to do all that stuff but control your entire life and more?”

She was sold pretty easily and unfortunately I had promised myself never to get sucked into another Sims title but yet here I went installing it on both machines and messing around with the game myself.

Originally my plan had been to create a sim that had the aspiration to become a published author. Before that my idea was to have a professional athlete so I could see how in depth the engine got with him becoming a star and having a lot of money and getting into trouble. I decided that I did not want to go that route and would pursue it later and made my first Sim a loner that wrote well and disliked large crowds and kids.

I started with a purchased furnished house and realized soon that that took way too much money out of my pocket and I should have gone with no furnishings and simply added to the home as I went along. The furnishings I started out with were a little lame and for the most part unnecessary. For example, in my main room I had a book case, a single seat chair, a two seat sofa, a kitchen table and two chairs. No TV, no computer and no means to write anything and actually contact the outside world. If I was going to be a shut in recluse I needed more access to the world outside digitally. My bedroom had two end tables and two lamps, way more than a single Sim needed. I started to sell off many objects to afford a computer and television and make room for a coffee table, where I would simply eat while watching TV.

This was all well and good except that I started to fall victim to the wrong traits I had picked. About half way in it dawned on me that I could in fact take a career as a politician then I started wondering if I could actually become mayor of the town my sim lived in. Well my traits were set up all wrong since he had been designed as an anti social grumpy puss it would not work for him to be a super smiley schmoozer like I would need to be if I were in politics.

In fact, my Sim hated kids so much that he actually would yell at the paper boy on a daily business. This in turn would cause the would be print hurler to run screaming away from my yard in terror but still give me a good chuckle on the inside. My Sim also had the nasty habit of going off on one particular Sim at the library that always let her screaming brat run around unattended. Needless to say on the friendship scale of things they did not get along.

With my sails down my idea boat started to run adrift and soon I found myself not focused on one career path and near broke. In the span of one week my stove caught fire and burned down during a waffle making fiasco, and then I was robbed of my shower one night by a thief that broke into my house. I called the police but in typical fashion they showed up late and before I knew it I was down a stove and shower. My hygeine score was plummeting so I had to replace the shower and I needed to eat so instead of resorting to quick meals from the fridge I got a new stove.

I honestly tried to become a writer I promise. I had increased my writing skill to 4 by hitting the library and using  my computer to practice, and was at the point that new options opened up when I selected my PC. I could now start a romance novel or a action book, but I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I landed a job at the capital building as a podium scrubber and my career in politics had begun.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

DDO: Questions a noob would ask

Ok, so after playing the game for about one week solid and not really advancing too fast, I had to hit up the newbie forums and ask a plethora of really dumb questions for things I just did not understand.

When I start a game I tend to look at the features and figure out if they actually work or if they are gimmicks. The more I learn about this game the more in depth I realize it is, and when I start a game I like to dig under the hood and see what makes it tick (just ask Hicks who I spam all day long in email).

This bag is not loaded with tricks

First issue I ran into was this “Bounty Bag” quest thing you can do. Basically, this is DDO’s answer to the daily quests that are popping up in MMO’s all over the web now.  What this is is a quest that will ask you to go talk to a particular NPC and then he will ask you to enter a dungeon that he is normally associated with. Very clever tactic actually by Turbine here. They added new content without actually having to make new dungeons. You run the same dungeon but have a chance to get a named NPC spawn and when you kill it or perform the daily task you return the bag for XP. Catch is: the named NPC does not always spawn. With no XP per kill in the game this makes it a hard sell, because some of these dungeons can be long and to not have the item drop means more grinding in a place you may hate. I tried one and my NPC did not drop, but at least I got good XP because you can repeat quests again in DDO. So while grindy, I do not mind this it beats grinding faction or some crap like that. Just be warned it is not bugged if you do not get your item.

Then I learned that the y were going away in Module 9. Ah well…

What is the deal with Tumbling?

Ever watch the neat trailers for DDO where all the people playing are somersaulting and rolling all over like a bad Power Rangers episode? I have and I wondered to myself: WHY? Does the game REALLY take that into account? Well yes and no. There is a difference between TUMBLING and moving out of the way it turns out and to test this I watched my nifty NERD O MATIC die roller that I have displayed on my screen when I play.

Sure enough, when I moved and attacked 3rd person shooter style I lost my +4 to hit and missed a lot more. When I sidestepped, or as I have it mapped, held SHIFT and moved side to side, I kept a +3 or sometimes +4 to hit on my die rolls. So yes the game DOES account for movement. Pretty slick engine. now as for tumbling and putting points into it, the most definitive answers I got were these (I am no expert so I will leave it for them to decide if this is right or not):
I have seen people TUMBLE over water, you do go faster. You only need TUMBLE for doing the Reaver Raid.  My advice, make sure your tumble skill is anything BUT not NA.  That way, if people cast tumble on you or you buy the tumble buff for 100 GP, you will minimize your damage in the Reaver Raid. If you truly want to role play a rogue then put points into tumble.

Tumble has 3 true levels of ability:
- You don’t have it, you make useless Bunnyhops
- You have invested 1 rank and make tumbles. Need a armor which doesn’t hinder you too much for that.
- You reach a 35+ total tumble modifier and make cool somersaults who cover a wide area of space to get away asap.

and one last mention
Tumble is one of those skills that didn’t really make a good translation to ddo. If you have the Feat: Moblity or a Mobility item on, tumbling is a more defensive way to get out of combat (While tumbling you have +4 AC)

So in short, do not worry too much about it but use tumbling to move fast and take a swing without a penalty. As far as I can tell it is not required to roll all around but it sure does look cool. The key thing about DDO in dungeons is not to get left behind or split up. Bad things can happen much like in pen and paper D&D. As a GM, I used to love picking off characters that split up from the main party. That was a sadistic pleasure of mine. Especially when you can make it creepy and tell the other players they can hear their buddy screaming in pain. Oh, umm, where was I? Ah yes.

What if I make bad design choices while leveling up

The next question I brought up was how do I know if I am not making a totally worthless character when I choose my stats and where to use my ability points. This is usually a worry for many online games that feature achievements, talent points, trees, traits and all that gimmicky stuff. In DDO, you need to watch where you put your stat points and how you spend things because it does follow D&D quite a bit in terms of what you can do at higher levels. Syp over at Bio Break covered the great 28 point or 32 point build in a blog post already, so I won’t go over that here. Instead I asked about this from a straight new player perspective and got some answers that made me feel ok about my barbarian thus far. Now if you are a cleric or a rogue, have fun. Your choices seem diverse and confusing at the same time.


Some responses I got to this were the following:
The only thing you can’t respec are your levels chosen and skill points. And the 1 ability point (str, dex etc) you get to add to your stats every 4 levels. You can reset your enhancements every 3 days at the class trainer…and you can switch feats at fred the mind flayer.

You can respec feats and enhancements, just not stat scores and class choices..You can gimp yourself by multi-classing poorly… One should understand the game fairly well before attempting a multi-class character…

I’ve made several 28-point builds that I am not going to delete.  I have fun playing and that is the most important part.  The more you dwell in the details of squeaking out every point of AC or damage, the more it becomes a “job” rather than a game.

My original 28pt char, made with no DDO experience, and faced with three years of nerfs, does just fine. Might not be up to some people’s standards, but I wouldn’t worry to much if I were you.

The responses were generally that if you pick a basic build template or at least read over your class forum, you should be ok.

Turn undead is awesome!

It works, you may fail at first but man when it works it is sweet. I won’t type it up, just watch my cleric in this video:

What does a guild do?

Well, fairly obvious but I noticed in DDO there is really nothing to making a guild. Then I noticed there was NOTHING TO A GUILD. Ugh. The only downfall about the community I have found so far is that guild’s are more or less not supported. The final analysis? Summed up well by a PM I got on the boards:
There are no guild vaults or really anything else that tends to tie anyone to a particular guild except the relationship with members. In fact, guilds in DDO are basically just a way to find groups more easily. Also guild chat can be entertaining… And for new players, they are usually a source of lots of free stuff. (As I’m sure you’re familiar with from other games, stuff that is awesome to a new player is completely useless junk to a veteran, so these gifts are win-win.)

I can do that again? OOPS!

I knew you could run quests over and over again, but I did not look into the deeper picture. This is a very instanced game, as it should be since it has DUNGEONS in the title, but I really didn’t understand why you would run the same thing over and over until I got my cleric to level 2 in about one hour. My barbarian took me two days. Why is this? Simple, I did not try the same quests over again on higher difficulty. So with my cleric (yes she is a female sue me) I decided to try this and good golly it worked. I got massive amounts of fast XP by doing each mission on solo, regular and then hard. I did try elite once. Once. I got the end and the boss mob was 3 levels above me (I was level one) and I just got destroyed.

Not only is this a good way to get XP you also can choose the rewards again. In many cases I didn’t not realize that there were say two different rings offered and especially for casters these work out well. So I would take one ring, then go back and take the second ring. I also had some mastercrafted plate mail drop for her which she put on to look pretty bad ass. So really, I actually skipped a lot of experience the first time through Korthos with my barbarian. The neat thing is I can go back if I want to but I think that perk ends at level 3.

Turn on the class loot option

Amazingly, I did not even know about this. In the options, under gameplay, you can toggle off or on the games smart loot system. Turn it on, and quest rewards are tailored to your character. Turn it off and you can get other items for other classes. What a great idea! I think it is on by default so I didn’t have to worry about it too much, but keep in mind this does not effect chest loot.

Well, those are some of the things I learned in just ONE day of research. If anything new comes up I will post it here next week. For now, I have some Dawn of War 2 to play.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons Online finally clicks with me

So over the course of last weekend when I was supposed to be playing the Aion beta I was not. Well, I did play Aion to be fair, however I stopped short Saturday and never logged back in after playing Thursday night all night. Due to the holiday and a busy schedule, I just did not feel like sitting there spamming hotbar icons and taking quest after quest in an effort to level up and have my character erased. This is called burn out guys and gals, and it has hit me hard. I am tired of MMO’s and if I sit at my computer, you had better keep me entertained and keep me involved or within 10 minutes I am off and back to the XBOX 360.

My love for MMO’s, the traditional kind,  has worn off and now in my gaming twilight I am looking for instant gratification and ACTION. I know I was coming down hard on the Champions Online beta and the first 10 levels of Aion but guess what: I was coming down hard on them because they offer nothing different! Hence, I was getting bored.

So imagine my surprise when Hicks, an occasional writer here, went back to Dungeons and Dragons Online and let me know how cool the beta was for the free client. I actually managed to install the beta client and test it out and the game seemed different. I don’t know how to put my finger on it but the game seemed to work better, it was brighter, more responsive and FUN. The store was dead on in it what it offered and it FELT like a good action oriented MMO the type of which we hadn’t seen since Tabula Rasa shut down.

Since that night I have not been able to log into the beta server to test it again (some account issue I think) but I did resubscribe to DDO to get in there and test out the new player experience and by GOD I LIKED IT. I actually liked it so much that any free time I had MMO wise was spent in DDO this past holiday weekend.

Now I am not going to go into a review or any of that stuff. If you want that other bloggers beat me to the punch already. Take a read over at Bio Break and look at Pumping Irony’s AWESOME newbie island write ups from back in November of 2008 (yeah, I am late on the DDO train).

Now DDO is a game that I bought when it launched and spent about 4 days in before trashing it. The reasons were the controls, the style of fighting and it wasn’t World of Warcraft. Common little issues that we have all been guilty of yes? At the time of release I was a WoW Head I admit it. The thought of mana and hit points not returning to me and having to actually click to SWING my weapons was foreign and frightful. Now however I love it. I am involved, I have to plan ahead for my rest breaks to get HP back, and the combat seems so much more visceral.

The primary issue I always had with the game were its really dumb controls. I come from the old school mouse control world where right click mouse button hold moves your freaking camera, and left click selects a target. Not in default DDO. For some reason they made right click swing a weapon, exactly like if you play Oblivion and walk around and swing but imagine it mapped to the wrong damn mouse button.

Whenever I would try to right click to talk to someone, or pick something up I would swing my weapon and my character would enter that dumb battle stance. I was so frustrated that I just could NOT rewire my brain to comprehend this new control scheme that I actually stopped playing.

I didn’t do the research on the game, I didn’t understand the leveling, I didn’t even get why I got no XP for killing monsters. I just flat gave up, wiped the drool off my desk and jacked back into the Matrix that was World of Warcraft and it’s shiny colors.

So I have no idea what clicked or what happened this time around but I am fairly sure it had 80% to do with Oblivion for the PC and the fact that it was on sale this weekend. You see, I always wanted to like Oblivion but despite the fact it had great content and really neat side stories I was bored to fucking tears with it. I always wanted Oblivion to be online because I liked the combat and how involved you were with fighting.

After I went in and REMAPPED my DDO controls the entire game just clicked and I became instantly addicted to it. Much like Guild Wars I liked that it was heavily instanced but since it was D&D it had flavor, it had some spice to the dungeons and it was heavily reliant on atmosphere and not geared toward PVP at the end game. DDO just felt “homey” to me where I always felt like a tourist in Guild Wars because I knew if I maxed out in that game I would just quit because I super SUCK ASS at PVP.

So DDO had a great new starter island added that when I tried it last year I really did not explore completely. I know most of you are thinking “but the game is so weird” but it really is not. Think of DDO as Oblivion online and you will go in and understand the game. Think of it as “I am going to DDO from WoW” and you will hate it. For me, along with the fact that it allows me to play in chunks of time, the atmosphere and the ability to get into dungeons after all this solo content they added has really picked the game up a notch.

Now since Aion has a limited beta schedule and I had pre ordered it already, I have a lot of time to get back into gaming and see all these things I have missed and I have to say I am having a blast. Not with just XBOX 360 titles but also with free to play games like Requiem or Jade Dragon. The problem is though that even these games are technically WoW clones. After a bit, I start to zone out and I lose interest because lets face it we all know where this is going.

Not DDO though. DDO is a WEIRD game and it is weird because it has mechanics we as MMO players are not used to. Some basic facts follow.

Yes, you do not get XP per monster kill. You get it for finishing an adventure.

Yes you do not regenerate health and mana during an adventure. You need to watch it and time how you use the rest shrines.

NO you will not get uber weapons and armor drops, you must get to the chest at the end of a mission and see what is there.

YES rogues have a purpose other than to get owned by AOE in raid groups like in World of Warcraft.

No you cannot charge forward in a dungeon and expect to live.

Yes there are traps and puzzles to think about.

No you do not level fast and leveling is very odd since you have ranks within levels to clear before you actually level (think of them as EQ2 mini dings and that will help many).

Yes the game does encourage people hanging out in taverns.

Yes the class builds are odd and you can multi class.

Yes combat is twitchy but not to the point that you have to have a Street Fighter type combo menu memorized.

All these things that scared me off before are now a breath of fresh air and I wonder if Turbine is really marketing this game wrong. I think they went after a DIKU loving crowd and failed miserably to meet their target audience. Oh sure, there is an action bar and some hot keys on it. You WILL use them eventually (the first few levels on the newbie island are LAUGHABLY easy don’t let that fool you) but the core system of the combat is not a “push it and wait for it to refresh” type of combat system. You need to attack by swinging your weapon, try to trip your opponent, watch your facing, target mobs and actually AIM a bow to hit something. The game’s combat sounds lack some UMPH but it is still satisfying for me to swing a huge two handed axe and know that as long as the monsters are in front of me I will hit them in a big arc of damage. No AOE attack hotkey needed, no waiting for a cool down, no targeting. Just plain combat common sense. If many opponents are in front of you and you swing a huge axe sideways, you will clip some if not all of them. One drawback is you will click the mouse a lot if you are melee. I mean A LOT. However this is not much different than “A” button spam in a console title.

Archery is a little different. You need to target and aim and then shoot to really hit the enemy. This also makes it very satisfying when you line up a shot from far off and hear the nice THUNK when the arrow hits the mark and you see a damage number go up. Want extra fun? Turn on die rolling and watch and see what you roll when you shoot. Roll a natural 20 and sure enough you will crit on screen. This is a lovely nerdgasm moment that has to be seen and felt to understand.

Here are some combat videos I uploaded to my You Tube account over the weekend. Think of this as a short intermission before my rambling continues:

Watch for spoilers here but this video shows the dragon and final quest on Korthos Island:

I like this one because it really shows how archers can be great in this game. Far off shots and then as the mobs come in close arm your weapon and crush some skulls!

Abilities are sometimes only usable a few times per dungeon run, and expending them will mean that you need to rest before getting them back. You need to plan ahead and equip what spells you want to bring in as a caster, and not having the right ones can be embarrassing and detrimental to the party. You need to think on your toes and examine everything since there may be secret doors and areas of a dungeon that if found will give you more XP upon completion.

Best of all you can BREAK things. Crates, barrels, altars, coffins you name it you can smash it (unless it is part of the artwork). In these things may be cash, potions or other items just like Oblivion. In short DDO plays like an XBOX 360 role playing game and you can even use a gamepad with it. I like this system now and it has me hooked. Another great thing is the ability to run dungeons over again even after you have finished the initial quest. I can hop online, do something for 20 minutes and get out without wasting my entire night. Sure, there are longer dungeons that require more people but the solo content is right on par with my experience in a console title that lets me save the game. I have the added bonus with DDO though of meeting up with my friends (if I can get them to play) and adventuring.

Overall I have been pleasantly surprised in the changes in the game (especially the hirelings which saved Hicks and I during one mission where we were rushed by 200 kobolds) and look forward to unlocking and purchasing extra adventures when the free to play RMT model goes live.

The newbie island of Korthos had enough content to easily get me to level 2 if you READ and do not blow through it. Many people do one or two quests and don’t look around and realize that after a bit you unlock the gate that goes out to the rest of the outdoor area: the huge island itself wherein lies many other dungeons and kill tasks and some great long distance archery combat.

There are issues with the game sure, but honestly I just wanted to blog about my experiences I am not a person paid to review games. A blog is for what you do and to talk about adventures to me so that is what I have done here.

I guess the best thing about DDO going free is that people no longer have an excuse to ignore it. I agree that the monthly price when it launched was a bit of a joke, but now there is a ton of content and some good perks to think about maybe subscribing when the F2P model goes live.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Favorite game arguments transcend hobbies

For miniature gaming clubs in Chicago we have Adeptus Windy City. That is the big Games Workshop “fan club” at our local GW store. They have a reputation for being Warhammer 40K elitists and quite uptight about their gaming. Compare them to say the Elitist Jerks or EQ2 Flames forums and you get the idea of what it is like to play a game of Warhammer 40K Miniatures against one these guys.

This sort of thing exists in every hobby I guess, MMO’s notwithstanding. Since miniature gaming is considered to be even more of a nerd endeavor than computer game playing they often tend to keep to themselves yet still maintain the ability to be social. Social but still sometimes rather off putting.

When I played Warhammer 40K I actually helped found a local gaming club of about 13 members and we had weekly meetings at the Bunker, a place that was a huge GW store with gaming tables. We weren’t exclusive but we did have a “get to know you” period and after a few games we would vote on whether or not to get you into the club and what not. We have tournaments, prizes, get togethers and even outings to local GW events.

After time people ran into real life, job issues and other things and the club died off or we all went our seperate ways. There were often quibbles and arguments over what games people were playing and straying from the “mother of all games” Warhammer 40K was very looked down upon. People that played Warmachine, Flames of War (WW2 miniatures) or say some obscure GW title like Lord of the Rings were often given a lot of flack.

I guess over time the miniature game playing hobby wore me down much like playing MMO’s has. I would love to go back to it, but finding people that want to play and have fun and not power game or get too upset about losing is a lot like trying to find a guild in World of Warcraft. You have to fit in. Playing miniature games can be a frustrating affair and drive you right out of the hobby if you get one or two bad pick up games at the local hobby store. There are some real snobs out there. When I was in the wargaming club I had some of the best times in a while. I had unplugged from my PC and was meeting people (granted more nerds but oh well) and getting out of the house and expressing creativity through assembling and painting armies.

Now I notice a pattern developing in my MMO play that follows what transpired for me in the minature gaming hobby as well. No matter what you do people will pick a side and argue over it. Whether it be remote control model plane flying, paintball (another fierce hobby I used to play) or even movies (DVD or Blu ray) you will find these arguments running rampant.

I think that among hardcore nerds like myself and my friends (or in some cases ex-friends) the arguments can get personal and downright ugly. They have on many occasions. Miniature gaming brought out the worst in people, I saw it first hand. At tournaments, at games, even at casual play. Once it started getting so expensive though I had to weigh my stress level with my fun factor. Dropping 100-200 dollars easily some weekends for the chance to play once a month was just not economical, so back to computer games I went.

After a while I switched to Warmachine (a miniature game by a great company called Privateer Press) and much like WoW to Aion I caught some flack. I had to sever some friendships over it and it was all quite ridiculous. However I generally do not like to hang out with people that are not open minded to new things. Sure, Warhammer 40K is great and all (well sorta the 4th edition rules were stupid) but you know what? There are other titles out there with great systems. Just like World of Warcraft is great, there are other games out there with great systems and  lot of offer. Now lately, some of these games HAVE NOT lived up to that hype. I can understand that.

So why do we care so much about all this? What drives us to be consumed by keeping up with what people are playing or why we have to play one game over another? I have about 2 friends I can count that are willing to try any game at any time. Other than that it is like PULLING TEETH to get people to try something new. I can understand that from a monetary point of view but FREE TO PLAY GAMES? C’mon. It is not hard to download a client and jump in for a night of fun no matter how bad it might turn out to be.

Nope. Some of my friends will just NOT do it. They feel brand loyalty betrayal if they so much as even look at another title and then start slinging insults at me. All of this reminds me of my time in miniature gaming.

As much as I loved it, I sure as hell would not go back to tournament play or anything like that. Now you ask me to come over and play a friendly 1000 point game on your pool table in the basement I will do it. However once it starts getting beyond that you can count me out. Too many people in MMO’s get like that way too early before they see the product. We have TWO major launches coming up and the blog-o-sphere will be rife with judgments and accusations and “I told you so” type comments.

Let it roll. This is exactly why I dumped WoW end game and will NOT get caught up in anything like that again. However I also do not want to be surrounded by really bad players. This is why we form guilds. However it is important to remember to form guilds not be elitist but to surround yourself with fun like minded people. Same reason we had a miniature gaming club.

Readers of my blog know that everytime in WoW I got back and started raiding that it RUINED my life as far as my free time. It pissed me off, it made me angry and it made me snarky. Just like miniature gaming it was fun until you had to take it seriously. I got so jaded by the community and by the experts that it backlashed and made me physically ill when I logged in. To this day looking at my unassembled Eldar army for Warhammer 40K makes me a little queasy. I want to love it again, but I know I will get stabbed in the heart.

So as these new games come out just remember that although it looks awesome at first, you never know what lurks around the corner. People will pick sides, people will fight and people will argue. You are just going to have to wade through it and find your own peace.