Sunday, August 29

Irony

MMOG's I'm looking forward to in order of anticipation:
  1. Star Wars: The Old Republic
  2. Guild Wars 2
  3. The Secret World
  4. Rift
  5. Final Fantasy XIV
MMOG's coming out soon in (likely) order of Launch:
  1. Final Fantasy XIV
  2. Rift
  3. The Secret World
  4. Guild Wars 2
  5. Star Wars: The Old Republic
Of course, only FF-XIV's launch is anywhere near certain (next month). The rest is just guestimate. Also ironic is that while I'm looking forward to SW:TOR more I suspect GW2 to have better longevity of entertainment for me. The irony there being that the latter doesn't have a monthly subscription to take advantage of that.

Friday, August 27

TSW - Starting Out in London

You and three more

I use Google Reader to keep track of all the news feeds I read, from News to ICT stuff and from book reviews to (the majority) MMO and videogaming feeds.
As visitors of The Stuffed Yammob probably know, I 'share' the items I find interesting (note that a shared item doesn't necessarily mean I agree with its content) and when I really feel strongly enough that I have something to say about the article I'll write a post about it here.

For about a year now, Google has an added feature borrowed from social media design that they hope will make ther Search results even better. The "I like" button.
Every once in a while I'm seduced to clicking that button, when I see something funny or such. Then imemdiately afterwards I have to sigh and decide not to use it for a while.

Why? Because this is the result:
4 people liked this - you, and 3 more

I'm *so* happy Google is willing to assist me with that difficult arithmetic chore.
I'd be lost without them turly I would. (especially if trying to use them from a countrty who's language I don't speak/read)

Wednesday, August 25

GW2 - Necromancer Revealed


The class was revealed at gamescom, since then we've seen lots of the class in action from demo videos, sadly the skill videos got leaked before this article was published. Well worth a watch if you haven't already seen them.

Doom
We get to see an Asura in action for the first time and I'm relieved to see it doesn't look too cute.


Bone Minions + Putrid Explosion
My personal favourite, the Charr looks mean in its ornate leather version of the Necromancer blindfold, the minions look as deathly as they should and the way the Necro uses them is pure evil, I almost feel sorry for them.


Grasping Dead
An AoE that has a line of effect, pulling your enemies to the ground and letting the dead at them. I'm not that impressed with the models for the arms.


Locust Swarm
The AoE used directly before Locust swarm has a nice bite animation and the swarms themselves are great, they steal health so this video seems a little misleading


Life Siphon
An oldie but a goody from GW1 given a GW2 update


All in all nice skill videos, got me looking forward to playing my favourite class again.

Well and Minions are back along with Fear and something new called 'Marks', ground targetted spells whose effect is either triggered after a time or triggered by the necromancer, seems like we get our own version of traps

Monday, August 23

RP done right

Last week was a good gaming week for me. On Tuesday Zentia opened its server for the Open Beta test, which actually just means it went live. It is a F2P game and there will be no character wipe when they go officially 'live'. So nothing will change on the that day. But that is all besides the point. On Tuesday I started playing and got pulled in by the charm of the game. It is an MMO since I saw many other players, often looking just like me. But nobody talked. It is still a fun game, but with a non-existing community.



On that same Tuesday something else went live as well: City of Heroes: Going Rogue. It is not a new game. It is an expansion to the existing City of Heroes / City of Villains world. One of the features it is allowing heroes to become villains and vise versa. This means there is no good vs evil anymore. Anybody can play anywhere. I haven't tried out yet what it takes to switch sides. I am not so excited about this actually. It is blurring the lines and makes it all one big mash of uninspired hack-and-slash missions. Badge Hunters and Power Levelers might be excited, but I think it is a bit of a loss. I had actually already gotten closed beta
access a few weeks back, but never found the urge to try it out.

But on Thursday I got an email from one of my usual Sunday Afternoon team members. She was summing up the characters they had made so far. They were still low level, so I would have the change to catch up before our Sunday session. And that was all I needed to get my creative juices going. Even before I got home I had thought up two characters, their looks, and roughly their background story. City of Heroes is for me the most brilliant world for making believable characters with completely different personalities and views on their world. Just thinking about them is already a joy.

Besides cutting the line between good and evil the expansion is also adding an entire new 'City' called Praetoria. It is in an alternate universe where everything is upside down from life in Paragon City. The city is ruled by Emperor Cole who created a wonderful utopia of peace and serenity. But of course all is not well. The resistance is trying to point out the people are being oppressed in a 1984 kind of way. Half way through the tutorial you get to chose to be a Loyalist or Resistance. This much I knew before I started. In picture one are some of the resistance fighters, one of the new groups you get to fight or protect in Praetoria.



My first new character is Julia Blake. She is the sister of two other Blake sisters I had made before. Mandy Blake is a hero against her will thanks to technological implants that were surgically put in her body by Crey Technologies. She was a rebel fighter with Charles Taylor in Liberia originally. Mandy was one of the very first characters I had created 5 years ago now. Sarah Blake is the younger sister that learned dark magic tricks during the days of chaos in Liberia. She had come to the Rogue Islands to gain even more power, then get her sister and return home to get everything the way it was supposed to be. That was her dream when City of Villains got first released. Now in this alternate universe Charles Taylor was successful and became one of the good friends of Emperor Cole. Julia, the older sister of Mandy and Sarah, becomes one of Cole's assassins. She will ruthlessly surpress anybody that threatens the peace. Apart from her personal history she is pretty much like the Operative from Serenity.

So with a great personality is place I/she stepped into the world that makers of COH made for us. And I was not disappointed. The City of Nova Praetoria is done very nice. It looks almost divine. High shiny buildings and immaculate kept parks and squares. Everywhere are I, Robot look-alike cleaners, sweepers, builders. Right from the start you get thrown into a very story driven series of missions. After the first choice between loyalist or resistance you get soon to make another choice. As loyalist I got the choice to either play a power hungry oppertunist or a worker in the shadows that just wants to keep the utopia that Emperor Cole created. Julia is clearly fitting in the second bucket. But I messed up a bit and played through one of the power arcs too. So I know a bit what is about as well. The story telling is so compelling I got completely hooked and played every minute I could.



After I played way too much with my loyalist I had to create a resistant fighter as well. The noble side of the resistance is to free the people from the tyranny of Cole. People should be allowed to life, think and act freely. I haven't completely figured out how she got there, but an alternate alternate universe version Phedre, named Phedre-, is taking up this task. As it turns out just like the loyalists you have to make a decision early on. You can either be working on a peaceful way to overthrow the empire, or just cause chaos and fight for the sake of fighting. Phedre- is of course still full or morals. I didn't get to play too far into the story since I got another update from my Sunday team. We were going to introduce the Carnies to Praetoria. The circus troupe is going to be a chaos loving resistance group. So I went back to the character creation screen to make the charming Director Jones. She is such a doll.



With a six man group we had a blast causing mayhem wherever we stepped. Because the lines between heroes and villains got cut you can be any class. So we had a mix of blaster, brute, tanker, controller and dominator. As always the missions scaled perfectly for the team size, and even for a veteran team like us we had a challenge on our hands. Of course still plenty of time to get into character and make fun of the silly policemen, pretentious resistance leaders, and bow to Vanessa in the resistance bunker. She is the level-up trainer, and only other Carnie in town.

If you managed to read all this you probably figured out I am all hooked on COH again. And probably I am. I think they did an awesome job creating this new world where choices have some impact. The crossing story lines add to the depth of the game. The server load on all servers was red or yellow on Sunday. It has been a long time I have seen even one server go yellow. This means many players have returned or are now signing up. Good news all round. But I think it might be short lived.

There are issues too. The new world ends at level 20, which is normally not much more than two weeks of play. Most players can do that in a day. After you are done in Praetoria you get thrown into the once black and white world of COH/COV. Neither of them really fit the background of the characters I created. I have the feeling I will feel lost once I reach 20. Also, the stories are great. But if you have played through the four arcs once or twice you have seen it all, done it all. They created some excellent new groups, funny NPCs, original missions, and some really nice new styles in the mission maps. But they are all limited to the new zone which you might be done with within a week.

So the euphoria that I have now might die out soon. And as it dies in me it will probably do so in the vast majority of other players as well. But no need to talk doom too much. I am having an amazing fun gaming experience at the moment, and that is what counts. Unlike the very weird and misplaced Roman zone they created last year this is something they can build upon for the next several issues. I'll be around for at least another year.

Wednesday, August 18

GW2: Unofficial gameplay footage



Well, that certainly confirms some of mys supicions...

Tuesday, August 17

Charming


Chennie and her cat are exploring a new world.

SW:TOR - Voice over Choice

I still vividly remember my first time starting up Bioware's Mass Effect, creating a character in less than optimal lighting conditions (a design flaw perpetuated in every Bioware game since) and then launching in what you at first think is a very good cinematic. Only to discover after about 60 seconds that the video graphics are the game engine and you're actually being prompted to say something. The visuals fore the time (and even today) were awesome.

The second incredibly awesome thign was that your character, commander Shepard, was completely voiced as well. In the prior Bioware RPG's Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire your character was regrettably mute while everyone else in the world was full of expositional monologue. The Main Character Voice Over was so great that the lack thereof in Dragon Age: Origins is still one of my pet peeves. In Dragon Age the problem was agravated by the fact it used the same advanced Unreal engine technology that Mass Effect did and this includes a lot of facial animation, triggered through speech. Your main character never bats an eye or cracks a smile in any dialogue but stares ahead like some sufferer of extreme autism. because it has no (audio) lines. This managed to greatly break my immersion just about every conversation. It wasn't nearly so bad in Kotor due to the fact the lip-sync in that game was limited to a bit of head bobbing which your character actually did upon mutely saying a line.

In order to Voice Over a Main Character Bioware typically needs three to four different voicetracks per conversation. Three attitudes (nice, neutral and petty or as Bioware would have it Good, Neutral and Evil, but real Evil is a no-no so it ends up being petty most of the time) and some more-background-questions dialogue. Add this times two for gender choices as Biwoare always allows for male and female protagonists, inadvertently allowing for strong female leads in the process. Something I for one appreciate. As you can imagine, the Voice Over for the main character isn't cheap.

This is the main reason why Dragon Age didn't have a voiced Main Character. With the various different origin backgrounds, nine in total I believe, the amount of voiced dialogue increases nearly tenfold for that sectio of the game. I've noticed that beyond the Origins prologue your dialogue options are identical for each species with a few racial or cultural exceptions and even a rare male/female difference.
Understandable as this is, many people myself included greatly missed the fully voiced aspect of Mass Effect, and later Mass Effect II and Bioware took note.

Dragon Age II (forgot the subtitle) will be the story not of your old character but that of a single human being Hawke (male or female). The comparison to Shepard is quickly and at least on a technical level, correct. Let's hope they don't make it Mass Effect in Fantasy land in other aspects. The pay-off to fully voiced is no more chocie of background origins. You won't be able to play a Dwarven Prince or Elven slummer in Dragon Age II. Voice limits Choice.

Now to the point of this article:
The same applies to SW:TOR. From the moment Bioware announed the MMO would be Fully Voiced I was worried. I kept being worried when they re-affirmed it that yes, every line of dialogue would be voiced over, including your own character. When they then explained that "yes everything will be voiced over, not tjust the main story arc quests. Every line of dialogue" I got really worried. I began expecting lots of unintelligible Alien-speak audio to be re-used in multiple conversations. That's how they did it in Kotor to reasonable effect. This was quickly and proudly debunked though.
Then they said their MMO would contain about 8 times as much content as any Bioware game before and quick math has you understanding that you're going to spend a significant ammount of time either alting or aiding friends through their Missions, kind of like Guild Wars.

On a side note, who really wants the "Kill ten Wompa's" quests to be fully voiced? Unless SW:TOR has no grind whatsoever, I suspect we'll be seeing something along the lines of Mission Terminals with non-verbal quest objective texts. Not sure though. If they don't have something like that, 8 times a Bioware single player game has me leaving in 3 months. A mere 48 hours went between completion of Mass Effect II's installation and completeing my first play through. I slept 6 hours during that time. I did play through the game 2 more times at a more leisurely pace and in all spend a full month of comparable to MMO time play on it. If Bioware's comparison holds through I would play through a given class-content in 2 to 4 weeks depending on how hardcore I am. So, given the lack of any end-game mentioned (I hate the term, with this quick burn through rate, I suspect for once I may be looking for it)

The biggest issue for me though is that this Fully Voiced thing is killing my choices in the game. How? Class and Race choices. Each class will be playable as a human, and one other race. Not the same one each time mind you. In the case of the Sith races you can either pick human or the appropriate Sith race of that caste. In the case of other classes you're stuck with human or whatever Bioware deemed appropriate for that class. This has of course to do with the high cost of voice-over acting. With something as expensive as that you don't want to have to do voice for 5 races per class and find out race X is really unpopular for that class. I understand that.

But the choices sometimes seem a bit arbitrary. The Miraluki, a race of blind-born force users who have "Jedi Consular' written all over their veils are only allowed to be played as Jedi Knights in stead. Miralans, barely seen in any movie but have a character in George's flailing Clone Wars cartoon get the honour of being Consulars. If you want to play a Twi'Lek you're stuck as a smuggler, no matter that the race would be equally suited to being a jedi, a Sith-Assassin or even a Bounty Hunter. They've not yet been able to come up with an alien race equivalent of the Republic Commando.

Come to think of that, another pet peeve is the lack of a Fringe faction. Both Smugglers and Bounty Hunters should be part of this Fringe, a criminal element prevalent throughout the galaxy, not aligned to either Republic or Sith Empire. But nooo. A Smuggler works for the government apparently and Bounty Hunters are soldiers in the Imperial Army rather than freebooters. Bioware claims in terms of story your smuggler and bounty hunter do start out a little less attached to a cause, but you're still stuck in that one faction. Han Solo and Boba Fett got to choose their sides. You only get to choose between playing a good or a bad Han Solo, but you'll still be fighting on the side of the Republic.

I can live with lineair story based gameplay in single player games like Mass Effect games and Dragon Age II, I can also live with the constraints of playing good/bad cop with a single cop personae (male/female) in a single player game.
But MMO's aren't supposed to be lineair. You're not supposed to be limited to a single character (or a single character and an alien looking duplicate). They're supposed to be about freedom, choice and going your own way. So while I still think SW:TOR is going to be an incredibly good game, the self-imposed limitations Bioware puts in their game, lack of content, the ability to quickly generate more content and the lack of choice of character make me feel it's not something I will be willing to spend more than 2-3 months (including the first free month) on.

Friday, August 13

Soon now

Something stirs. The wind whispers, the ground trembles, the earth dreams, and we will all be invited in. Soon now.
Not sure exactly what will be soon, but it is going to be shit.

Tuesday, August 10

GW2 'Manifesto' video

HD Mov Version



Here begins the true Hype from the mouths of Anet themselves.

I highly recommend you watch it full screen and high resolution, the art is worth it.

Not a lot new in terms of gameplay, a couple of new examples of skill synergy. They've been very careful not to include any new classes, I won't be lying if I say I love the look and going for a stylised world is better for them than aiming for any photo realism. The glimpses of new technology in the world of Tyria has me wanting more. I don't blame them for blowing their own trumpet if all of this manifests as playable your looking at one happy geek :)

Monday, August 9

Waiting for the Crippled God

Savaged by the K’Chain Nah’Ruk, the Bonehunters march for Kolanse, where waits an unknown fate. Tormented by questions, the army totters on the edge of mutiny, but Adjunct Tavore will not relent. One final act remains, if it is in her power, if she can hold her army together, if the shaky allegiances she has forged can survive all that is to come. A woman with no gifts of magic, deemed plain, unprepossessing, displaying nothing to instill loyalty or confidence, Tavore Paran of House Paran means to challenge the gods – if her own troops don’t kill her first.

Awaiting Tavore and her allies are the Forkrul Assail, the final arbiters of humanity. Drawing upon an alien power terrible in its magnitude, they seek to cleanse the world, to annihilate every human, every civilization, in order to begin anew. They welcome the coming conflagration of slaughter, for it shall be of their own devising, and it pleases them to know that, in the midst of the enemies gathering against them, there shall be betrayal.

In the realm of Kurald Galain, home to the long lost city of Kharkanas, a mass of refugees stand upon the First Shore. Commanded by Yedan Derryg, the Watch, they await the breaching of Lightfall, and the coming of the Tiste Liosan. This is a war they cannot win, and they will die in the name of an empty city and a queen with no subjects.

Elsewhere, the three Elder Gods, Kilmandaros, Errastas and Sechul Lath, work to shatter the chains binding Korabas, the Otataral Dragon, from her eternal prison. Once freed, she will rise as a force of devastation, and against her no mortal can stand. At the Gates of Starvald Demelain, the Azath House sealing the portal is dying. Soon will come the Eleint, and once more, there will be dragons in the world.

Source
I just finished book 9, Dust of Dreams so the cliffhanger ending is still fresh in my mind and I wish I could continue reading tomorrow. I guess I'll have to try to read 1-8 all over again and then number 9 once more before The Crippled God arrives.
10 Books, averaging at 1000+ pages per book. The Malazan Tales of the Fallen is such a mind boggling experience. So many story lines that are converging, you just know some questions will not be answered even though Erikson's brilliance lies with the revealing of secrets rather than the keeping of them. There's so much history, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word, in the books to puzzle over, I think this may be most alive pieces of fictional IP ever created. Certainly at a level with Tolkien and 50 years of finding "previosuly undiscovered" manuscripts and notes by J.R.R's sons and beneficiairies.

Zentia



I saw this one thanks to Lani's reader page. A new F2P game called Zentia. Obviously Lani already knows about this game, but I don't know if our beta junkie does :) The reader linked to this Massively.com article. But what really did it for me was an older article it linked to. Free for All: Charmed, Zentia, I'm sure. Since I only read about it this morning I haven't actually tried out or downloaded anything. But a charming game sounds quite, well, charming. I will be downloading it tonight.

Hopefully it will last a bit longer than the 15 minutes I played League of Legends over the weekend. Nothing wrong with LoL, but I just don't want to get into an RTS. Which is a good thing a bit, since it only makes my stand to skip StarCraft II stronger. And with Torchlight II overshadowing Diablo III I won't have any temptations to fill Blizzard's pockets. But that is all besides the point. Zentia, COH-GR, FE and GW first.



Geek's bit :)

I rolled myself a Master Summoner in the form of this cute chimp. In this screen he has the first pet (you get a choice of cat or dog), that pet was soon replaced once I learned how to capture my own. To capture a pet you need to engage a mob in combat, get its health down then use your skill. You get an egg from the mob which you need to get identified (most merchants and the pet trainer will do this), I got into filling my bag with eggs, getting them all identified then choosing the best one. You can have two pets (not sure if this increases later in the game). That stick thing is my summoned soldier.

This is 'Weasel Boy' (I kid you not) a later pet. Pets are important, they are your guide to the world, like a guide dog, tell them where you want to go or who you want to see and they take you there.

This is me trying to capture a new pet and yes I was armed! You can see another pet watching me from behind.

The game has gathering and crafting, I didn't realise you can only have 2 'life' skills so I ended up with 2 gathering skills, it is set up so you must rely on other players to be an effective crafter. Gathering is not something you'll want to do unless you're happy to go AFK and let your charcter get on with it, it didnt look like nodes had a limit, just park yourself, start gathering and go do something else until you have enough.

The graphics are very simple, the overall effect is definately charming. Here's a nice waterfall discovered before I knew how to hide the interface.

I'll be playing it again when OB starts so perhaps we can join up and do some group quests together, that Crab King was making mince meat of me way too often...

Wednesday, August 4

Getting personal



My view on Guild Wars might be a bit tainted. It is mostly based on what I have seen and read on gameamp. I think of it as a nice fantasy game with tough six-packed body builders and scanty clothed babes operated mostly by younger players that enjoy chasing up titles and armor pieces in an almost obsessive compulsive manner. It is a great game for achievers and with the PvP addition a great game for killers as well.

My three fellow authors here were all three GW junkies in their past. And all three value exploring, socializing and immersing themselves in the world of the game above all else. So I should know better than to think GW is just about titles and armor. But several years of gameamp drama, and even being part of the MuTants for a while now, I just can't see Guild Wars as a role playing game.

So I was pretty pleased, and rather surprised when I was reading this post over at killtenrats.com. The post is an analysis of Personality In Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet is implementing a role playing mechanism that really is putting consequences to your behavior in the game. Your interactions with the NPCs can change as you move about. Of course you can all ignore it, and I suspect most players will, but I will enjoy it. A perfect reason to play through the game with several characters and enjoy the world from every angle.

Just imagine grumpy Lani and me walking up to an NPC trader and I can genuinely tell Lani to leave this one to me, because I can smooth talk the trader out of a bargain. Then head to the alchemist and Lani will give one of those rock solid speeches that the alchemist will just give the chemicals we need out of sheer bewilderment.

Of course the impact of the NPC dialog and item pricing/availability will not be that elaborate. But it will really help getting immersed into the character. Much more than the contra productive dialog options in AOC.