Friday, November 30, 2007

The Caves of Donn

I got another hour or so of TR in last night, and managed to try out another one of their instances. Don't worry, I'll make this one shorter than the last.

The Caves of Donn are located a bit north and west of Memory Tree Hill, which is at the heart of the Concordia Wilderness. I was greeted upon entry with another briefing video which I'll be sure to post here late. It's sitting at home on my hard-drive as I write this. Very cool stuff. Reminds me of the movies during the Book quests in LotRO, a welcome development that both MMOs have wrought on the industry. More story in my MMO = BETTER.

This one was a lot smaller than the Pravus Research Facility. Basically, here's the gist: Reports of distress from the Caves have been coming in from the Foreans. Turns out there are some ruins in the area that the Foreans claim are touched by the Eloh (race of sentient beings whose knowledge and eventual betrayal by the Thrax and their own started this whole mess). There are Eloh artifacts, objects of great power, scattered about the Caves of Donn and comes down to me to get them before the Bane (collective name for the Thrax and all malevolent species that engage in warfare against the AFS) do.

Balls to the wall, a few NPCs and I made my way around the map (at least until the NPC kick the bucket and I'm solo), looking for these artifacts, collecting any Logos I find, and also helping out a group of Foreans who were cornered in one of the caves by the Bane. I escorted them to safety, and then finally my map was lit up with the location of the main artifacts I was looking for.

The Caves had me on a fairly linear path, but it branches and weaves so much that you don't feel like you're being led along. Not until you backtrack when running from a horde of enemies anyway. And run I did. You see the Caves are more on my level than Pravus was. I was 12 and the mobs were all 11 and 12 too. Lots of elites and whatnot to boot. Still, I only died once when I couldn't take out a shield drone fast enough and the Bane hiding under the shields knocked me back and wiped out my health before I could get up.

The second time against this group, I whipped out my EMP rifle, crouched from about 65 meters away and laid into the damned drone. It was down for the count before the group got within reach of me and then it was a simple matter of watching my shields as my shotgun peppered the Bane out of existence. Felt very badass after that. I retrieved all 3 of the Eloh Artifacts, read the records left behind of their betrayal at the hands of their own, and made my way out of the instance.

Another job well done in about an hour's time. Oh yeah, I was solo too. God bless instance-scaling. More please.

Cheers, you lot.

PS- Hit 13 last night too, 2 more levels until this Specialist becomes a Sapper and clones himself off again in case Sapper isn't the way for me. Cloning FTW.

She *CAN* Do It Captain

There was a reason I wasn't reporting the whole STO affair that's going around the interwebs right now. That reason was the "news" reporting the demise of Perpetual was speculative at best, and there was no real official word from the company.

Turns out we all got panicked for no reason, at least for now.

Massively has the story, and here's a snippet:
Star Trek Online's Executive Producer Daron Stinett addressed panicked fans, saying that not all is as it seems. We have the lowdown here for you. The heart of the matter: it appears that STO has not been canceled or nerfed after all --at least not to the degree that we feared. That said, here's the full story so far.

With regards to the SEC report, Stinett said: "That report relates to a transaction that took place a while back. And while I can't get into details right now, I want to assure the community that the entire Star Trek team is still here working hard and eagerly anticipating our chance to finally share our big plans." So, it looks like WarCry's Razor may have been close to the truth.

Stinett also said that the team is "in the process of finding a formal publisher, which involves conversations with a variety of parties." Additionally, he said that the rumors of a paradigm shift in the business model are greatly exaggerated, and that the game is not locked into anything in that area until Perpetual works it out with a publisher (once it finds one).

Stinett is considering business models other than the tradition $15/mo approach, though. "I personally think MMOs need to be a better deal," he said. "We are discussing this issue internally. Unfortunately the discussion leaked and the characterization is incorrect."
Okay, it's more than a snippet, but just in case you want it all head here.

It looks like the dreams of a Star Trek Online that doesn't completely suck are still alive, but I still wouldn't hold my breath until we know more.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Proof Positive that PhotoShop is Cool

It's fun what you can do with PS. It really is. How cool do I look now?

Pirates Pre-Order Attained and Boarding-Party I Be In

I was going to mention this in today's mammoth post, but when it became the monstrosity I decided it'd be better to give it its own place.

I finally found my Pre-Order box for Pirates of the Burning Sea. I had pre-ordered it when I picked up Tabula Rasa Monday, even though they still hadn't received their copies in store. It seems they were just a week behind the curve though, as they got them in Tuesday.

After hearing stories that some boxes were missing Pre-Order keys, or the soundtrack or both, I opened mine right there when they gave it to me to be sure. All systems are go, and all hands are on deck. Come January 7th, it'll be a Pirate's life for me.

Which brings me to the other purpose of this post. A while back, Flying Labs announced a unique approach to community interaction, called the Boarding Party. basically, the BP will serve as the connection between the players and the Devs when the forums themselves just don't cut it. In turn, a lot of BP members may also be the folks you see organizing Real-Life events, spreading the word, and in general making sure the public hears about this wonderful game.

I cannot get into specifics on the game just yet, as the NDA still applies, but I can tell you that I am now officially a member of the Boarding Party, and whether I'm still playing TR or not come January, you can bet I'll be covering Pirates extensively here with my usual fare of impressions, stories, etc. Now, not only because I'll be playing it, but because I have purpose! I am a BPM (Boarding Party Member)!

If anyone around here is looking forward to this game as I am, Theresa Pudenz of Flying Lab would like me to give you all this link...


Head on over there and sign up yourselves if you're looking to be part of something new and different in the MMO-Space!

The Soloability of Instances in Tabula Rasa

Like I was hoping to, I had some time last night to try out my 1st instance in Tabula Rasa. I started writing this a just a general impressions of my time in the first instance of TR, but as I went along it morphed into a near entire play by play of my time spent in the Pravus Research Facility last night. It made that much of an impression on me. It's been a while since I had so much fun running solo in an MMO, and especially in an instance. Not since Van Cleef and the Deadmines have I felt so involved in something "epic". LONG post ahead, so reader beware. :)

Of course I didn't go into said instance until after I had completed some other nagging quests around the Concordia Wilderness. Namely, I was tasked with taking out some named mobs and gunning down some hefty duty Predator-class Bane ships, getting a Forean's codex back from a giant armor-plated Xanx beast, and taking out the Three Devils (3 Bane officers) so I could collect a certain plant from around the lake they patrolled and save the Corman people from a form of Malaria.

All in an evening's work. I did these three quests with the help of some nice folks I met while working my way to each of the quests sites, at least I did the latter two with groups. The big Xanx (sort of spider-like giant monstrosities) wasn't so much a hard hitter as it was a pain in the arse to bring down as a Specialist. You see Specialists are one of the two branches you choose at level 5. The other is Soldier. Both can perform extremely well and last long in combat, but the soldiers have the edge in combat, while we specialists have the edge in survivability and supporting skills.

So anyway the Xanx was a tough mother to take out, due to extremely potent shielding/armor. The best way to drop those down on an "elite" mob like this is to use an EMP chain-gun (soldiers only) or a nice big ol' EMP bomb. The trouble with using a bomb against a Xanx is that they're meant for melee combat. At range or on the move around them, they're harmless, but to use a bomb you need to get in close and personal. Luckily, before I had to take the risk of getting in on the big bastardo a few fellow AFS folks joined me and we took it down with minimal fuss. My radial shield regeneration tool kept my Soldier friends alive, and she was dropped within a minute. We specialists definitely are valuable in that respect. I can dish out the damage and keep myself a live, but it's nice to know that what I lack in pure fire-power I more than make up for in keeping my less resourceful friends alive.

We proceeded to move east across the Wilderness and took out the Three Devils. Again, the strategy was get in drop an EMP bomb where they're huddled firing shots into you, and watch the little f**kers go BOOM! Shields gone, they were ripe for the picking. After this quest, my groupmates went their separate ways, and I went hunting for some Predators.

The night before, I had attempted to take out these buggers. Predators are big roving ships that look like an evil version of Boba Fett's mode of transport. They hunt in packs, are deadly from close range, move quickly, and are extremely potent when they self-destruct near death. My 1st attempt at taking them out was ill-advised. I had read that EMP damage did the best against them, but didn't realize they were so deadly up close, so I ran in with my only EMP gun at the time... a shotgun, thinking if I stayed behind them I'd be fine. Wrong. Within seconds I was dead.

So last night I tried a different tactic. I followed the road I had seen them on last and came across the same group of three harrassing the local Xanx population. From behind a bunch of sandbags, I crouched and whipped out my regular physical damage rifle. Taking them out from range was my only chance, and staying far away at the same time. Waited for my sights to get bead on one of the bastards, and pulled the trigger. 300 points of damage per shot, the shields dropped, then its health dropped... before he could even close in on me he was on the ground in pieces. There were still two more to worry about though. Back-peddling and keeping my range, I took them out bit by bit until they both were huddled messes of refuse on the road. Job well done.

Those more middling tasks complete (albeit exciting as they were, and I did save the Corman people from a plague), I had bigger fish to fry. There was something rotten going on at the Pravus Reasearch Facility, the dead being brought back to life as machines by the Bane... and I needed to check it out.

One of the cool things, and there are many, about TR's instances is that they scale. If you bring one guy in there and then go in later with five, you'll notice a big difference in mob density and strength. This takes a page right out of the old CoH playbook. So as a solo adventurer, I can stand a chance on my own in said instance, so long as I play wisely, take my time, and maybe put a level or two between you and the average mob.

In short, instances in TR aren't built or designed like instances in WoW. They're much more akin to CoH or Auto Assault, and I mean that in a good way. These aren't places you go to farm loot or grind reputation, these are places you go for a more story-oriented experience, and after this 1st one I'm inclined to say they're better because of this simple fact. The instances in WoW, EQ2, or any other game that handles them traditionally are certainly story-oriented, but due to the nature of them, that they're meant to be repeated ad nauseum in order to attain certain loot pieces, they loose their shine for most players rather quickly.

In TR, their function primarily is story 1st, experience for gaining a level 2nd, and private hunting if you want to get away from fellow players 3rd. This is not to say good loot can't be found, but rather that it's not meant to be the draw and instead you're left with a place that's built for the story, for the experience (not xp, but actual experience), and because it doesn't beg to be returned to over and over, the players shouldn't end up dreading the sight of "LFM: Pravus Research" in general chat. I dug the choice in Auto Assault, one of that game's main shining points, and I dig it here.

So anyway, let's get to how it played and how I fared.

As Private Hudson has already mentioned on his blog, the instances are much like mini-zones. The maps (M key) look the same, only smaller, and there's even usually a friendly town where you can buy ammo, medical supplies, and where you'll rez upon death. Very cool. It's private too as I mentioned, so you can feel free to act as dumb as you want inside of them. For some good screens and video, check out Hudson's site linked above, as I once again forgot to make use of FRAPs as I was playing... doh! Also cool to note, is that when entering an instance, a short descriptive cinematic made out to look like a military personnel video plays to give you the run down on the area and what's going on, and why you're there.

The instance starts you off right in a nice cosy, familiar Forean town, where I was tasked with meeting up with one of the Forean women. She told me about how the Bane are using some technology or another to change the bodies of the dead, both Forean and Human, into Machina... reanimated robotic dead. She asked me to find out what the source of this horror was and to destroy it. With that knowledge and goal I set off to see my commanding officer who also tasked me to head up to the front lines and to do what I could to aid the AFS in the fight.'

I grabbed some ammo and made sure my armor and other equipment was in top condition and headed up the hill, out of the Forean village, and into the pits of a hell I had not expected. Gone were the green canopies of the Concordia Wilderness, replaced with the black refuse the Bane leave behind wherever hey go. Red, fleshlike organisms wrapped themselves around what remained of the harborage, and smoke clouded what should have been a clear blue sky. Unnatural is the best word to describe it.

A small contingent of troops stood wary at the edge of the Forean hold, and as I approached Bane dropships hovered into view, dropping soldiers, both alive and machine into the fray. We slaughtered them, leaving no living thing with breath, nor dead thing with unnatural life. It was hectic, but hardly deadly. Definitely the benefit of having more experience under my belt than the average enemy deployed there. On average I was 2 levels higher than them.

I made my wat east and north, following my natural line of sight and coming upon the Captain I was told to aid at the front lines. He thanked me for my work on the earlier fight, and sent me on my way. There was still the matter of these Machina to figure out after all. As I continued my winding path east, to where my radar system told me I'd find some clue as to where these beings were being constructed, dropship after dropship flew in, trying to impede my path, but I was no rube, ripe for the slaughter. My blood and body would not become one of the poor wretches I was forced to mow down to make my mission a success.

Mortars even tried to take me out, but with the aid of an EMP pulse rifle, and the distance of about 60 meters, they were but scrap metal mosquitoes to me. The hard part didn't come until I came over a hill to find a mass of about 20 Bane soldiers, and 10 more Machina horrors. Shotgun time, baby. With crafty use of my shield regeneration tool, and plenty of cartridges pumped into my shotgun, I slowly tore down the shields and eventually the lives of the Bane that assaulted me. As I said... nothing would stop me from seeing my duty done.

In the distance, once the bodies of my foes lay around me, I spied a predator hovering about, hoping to find some reason to engage. I gave it a reason... about 400 damage per shot from my Laser rifle worth of a reason. Death was swift for that one. I then took out a hovering spotlight so as to not set off an alarm, and made my way towards the entrance of the main Bane facility, where I assumed I'd find the source of the Machina. I killed the two door guards, took the one's keypass, and went into the rabbit-hole.

Down dark, shadowed corridors of the facility, I crept as silently as I could. For a moment I wished I was a stealth operative, but only for a moment... the enemy inside this place was much less worrisome than those several dozen outside on guard. One by one, I rifled my way through their ranks, through locked doors thanks to a handy keypass, and all around the facility in search of some clue as to what was making the Machina. Finally I came to a window that looked out upon a massive central chamber, pistons pumped, gasses spewed, wretching noises were echoing throughout... and Machina came out of small portals like toys on an assembly line. Now... how was I supposed to get in there and put an end to the whole thing?

I continued searching around the place, came to a few dead ends with locked chests at their edges. Being a Specialist came in handy here. I whipped out my Cypher tool and unlocked them (think Rogue's lockpicking skill) and made away with some ammo and some crafting schematics. Finally, after a few more hallways explored and more Bane killed, I came to the entrance to that central chamber.

Immediately I was spotted by two Bane guards, and after dispatching them with my laser rifle, I took in the situation. Dozens, if not hundreds of Machina per minute were being produced by this thing, all of them making their way out of the facility via teleporters, presumably off to some war-torn destination or another to reap havoc upon what used to be their people. At the center of the massive machine was a large green fuel-cell. That would be my area of demolition. That was my target.

On the opposite side of the large room, I could see a commanding Bane officer and his cronies, standing vigilant guard at what looked to be the best way out for me after I took out this Machine. So before I started going kablooey on the Machina-maker, I decided to say hello to my Thrax (one species of the Bane) friends. I used my rifle to pull their leader and then worked on the lesser helpers as they rushed to my position. Using a ramp for cover I popped in and out on either side, using my shotgun to work down the remaining lesser soldiers. Then it was just me and the Captain left. One EMP bomb and a few dozen rounds of power cells later El Capitan was down for the count.

I stood atop the ramp I had just used for cover and fired about 10 rounds into the heart of the machine, with a loud fizzle and a lot of pop... the Machina-maker was no more. I'm sure there will be more where it came from, but for now, I'd certainly put a thorn in their side.

Nylla, the Forean with whom I'd spoken before going on my mission came just in time to congratulate me... good thing I didn't need her help. She told me that she was leaving her position in her tribe, and joining the AFS. She said she knows now what drives us Humans, and what we aim to do she wants to be a part of... namely, taking the fight to the Bane and teaching them not to f**k with the wrong kind of people.

I made my way out of the vacant facility, out of the area and went to see Nylla's superior at Memory Tree Hill. He told me he believed that Nylla made a righteous choice. That maybe it was time all Foreans began to place trust and do more to aide the AFS. He also pondered whether or not I and my fellow Humans were the chosen people the Eloh, great givers of knowledge, had spoken of so long ago as the bringers of hope to Foreas.

I hope we are. For our sake, for theirs, for my own... and the rest of all free life's.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Ethical Choices of Tabula Rasa

I managed to sneak in an hour or so of Tabula Rasa late yesterday evening. I was dying all day to play it, always a good sign I guess, but had some things I needed to do around the house before I could get to the fun stuff. But finally around 930pm I was able to log in to Foreas and get to some Bane killing. Little did I know that what awaited me was a question of Johnny Bildo's morals rather than his accuracy with a rifle.

I was stocking up on ammo at the Landing Zone Outpost when I saw a blip on my radar that denoted an eager NPC was nearby, ready to ask me to go whack some foozle no doubt. I did my clickity-click thing to him and lo and behold, this dude wanted me to deliver some drugs to a few of his "clients" across the Concordia Wilderness. Just moments ago the good doctor of LZ Outpost was telling me about some missing medpaks from the lockers there. Her idea was that the base commander was stealing them himself because he seemed paranoid and over-worried about said drugs. Turns out the drug of choice among AFS recruits is a powdered form of the medpak goodies, which the dealer assured me was more safe than trusty old caffeine.

Anyway, for the moment I chose to help the dealer out. He needed money, and with my knowledge of what things were like in WWII and Korea and worse, Vietnam, I figured the soldiers could use a little help relaxing. On my way out of the base towards the first contact, I ran into the base's commander, who of course proceeded to question me about the missing drugs. I gave him no answer then, and talked once more to the dealer. He pleaded for me not to rat him out, that just as the soldiers needed the drugs, he needed the money.

I sauntered back to the Commander, and the choice was mine. Err on the side of the law and hand the stolen goods over to the Outpost Personnel, or err on the side of righteousness and give some roughed-up soldiers a (from what I know) harmless chemical drug?

I gave the Commander some excuse or another, and went on my way to the delivery points. Each soldier was more greatful than the next, and though one seemed more of an addict than I would have expected... I still felt good about my choice. Call me a liberal all you want, but in the war those guys are waging, they need all the chill time they can get.

This is just the 1st example of one of the many quests Garriott and crew claim are present in Tabula Rasa that challenge the player to act on moral grounds, with perhaps some gray area between choices. As far as I know, these quests have no real lasting impression on the story arc you follow or your character, but I'll be damned if they aren't more intriguing than your basic go here and kill this or get that. Totally dig them. Bring on more, please.

Now tonight... tonight I aim to go to my 1st TR instance. I never did one in beta, due to both time and the simple fact that I knew if I got the game, I wouldn't want those spoiled for me. So I'm definitely looking forward to whichever one I go to. Here's hoping I can get it together.

Something Different...

The following conversation took place between my friend Brendon and I via e-mail yesterday afternoon as the work day waned. Minimal editing (mostly to make us look a little less moronic) has taken place. Feel free to chime in if our debate at all sparks a thought in your brains (mmmm, brains).


Brendon: Ugh... it is hot in this room... and I am fading fast...

Bildo: I’m writing a very long post about the faults in gameplay and design of TR that should be ready soon if you want to know the still present “bad sides” of the game.

Brendon: I was wondering when you were going to get to that. You think you will continue playing after your trial is up?

Bildo: Very likely, right now. We’ll see how the game goes in the later levels. That’s the question mark right now. I can see myself playing for a few months or more if the soloability holds up. It’s really quite fun.

Brendon: You need some good old fashioned single player games. I am surprised that you aren’t burned out of the MMO thing yet. It doesn’t matter which one you play, the ultimate goal is to grind 70 or 80 levels to get to the level cap and then “brag” about how leet your character looks.

Bildo: Not for me. Not for many. For me, I just like being part of a “world”, having people to chat with or play with while playing, and having huge open places to explore. It’s not about the levels, the gear, or the destination, it’s about the adventure, the exploration, the quests, and the good people you can meet.

Perhaps we look at them differently. I’m more MMO-minded than single-player minded, though I still relish a really solid single-player game. I have 37 more stars to get in Mario still, and a butt load of the Witcher to finish. Finding time outside of the weekend is hard though, and even then it can be.

Brendon: If I had a close group of friends to play an MMO I might feel differently, but at the moment I don’t so I don’t enjoy partying with complete strangers online. I don’t like strangers in real life so why would I like them online?

For me, the idea that the single player game (KOTOR, Mass Effect, Final Fantasies) are made specifically for the enjoyment of that single person playing the game. I don’t have to worry about a company making my game easier because little Bobby has a problem with the 5th boss in the game. Or I don’t have to worry about a gay/lesbian guild in my game and whether or not that offends anyone (doesn’t offend me, actually I think it was kind of funny). Point is the game is tailored for my enjoyment and my enjoyment only.

I like awesome looking gear and all that but at the expense of 7 or 8 days in real time. That is a freakin' long time to sit at a computer. On top of it you have to pay a fee every month. I don’t really care about the money part, it's just the time sink. I haven’t had a Saturday that I just wanted to sit down and play an MMO for 4 or 5 hours. Maybe I have grown out of MMO’s, I don’t know...

Bildo: I don’t think it’s “grown out” of MMOs, as that implies you’re “better than MMO fans” like myself. I know you didn’t mean that, but you see my point. Pick words wisely.

A better way to put it maybe is that you don’t get the most for you money out of them. You prefer offline games. Nothing wrong with that. I love MMOs, and could honestly not imagine only doing offline ones now that I’ve gotten hooked. There’s more for ME personally in MMO than what I can get from an offline game, just as you see the things you mentioned as faults, I see them as strengths oddly.

For instance when you say, "I don’t have to worry about a company making my game easier because little Bobby has a problem with the 5th boss in the game..." I like this dynamic. Not the easy boss or little Bobby thing, but the idea that the game’s always being changed. I love it. WoW today is a far different and better beast than WoW of 2004.

When you say, "Or I don’t have to worry about a gay/lesbian guild in my game and if it offends anyone (doesn’t offend me, actually I think it was kind of funny)." I like this too. I love the people aspect of MMOs. In general I’m a solo-er. But I love watching people. People, not persons, fascinate me. Their actions, the mob mentality. MMOs really are like little worlds because of this.

When you say, "I like awesome looking gear and all that but at the expense of 7 or 8 days in real time. That is a freakin long time to sit at a computer. On top of it you have to pay a fee every month. Funny thing is that I don’t care about the money part, its just the time sink."

Really, It’s all in the way you play. If you’re playing to “get to the end” or to “get the best gear because I have to”, that’s what you’ll feel like. That’s the main gamer mentality, because that’s what we’re told about games since Mario. The goal is the end, the best, the highest score. Once you can see past this, and see that it’s not what the game’s about, then you’ll likely enjoy MMOs more.

Of course, there are those who define themselves by their online accomplishments, and to them games become jobs. I did that when I started WoW, I got caught up in the loot-wars. Never again. It made me someone I didn’t like, caring only about the game and not really about anything else. Much prefer playing for fun 1st, for rewards later. The gameplay should be fun, not just the loot aspect. If it’s not fun to you, then definitely get out while you can.

LotRO was boring after a while, AA was too, WoW can be though it seems to last longer in spurts than most for me. EQ2 gets boring to me as it loses focus between 20 and 50, and so on and so forth. But with each MMO I’ve played, even SWG's NGE I’ve had enough fun that I can say I’d justify their purchase. But I’ve never been one to play a game I don’t think is fun, so when it loses that part I stop, take a break or whatever and come back if the curiosity ever rises. I like game-hopping really.

Different breeds you and I.

Brendon: Actually... I did pick my words wisely... I meant what I said. I don’t see myself as “better”, but I do have other things taking up my life (not that I want them to take up my time). Spending that much time on a game is impossible for me.

I did it before and it caused a lot of tension between me and the wifey and to put it simply, a game isn’t worth it. Not FFXI, not WoW, and not any new game that has come out. Please be level headed and tell me with a straight face what your level 70character is worth in reality... Does it matter to me as a friend that you have a level 70 character? Nope. My respect and admiration for you comes from the things that you do in real life.

I am not putting down anyone that plays MMO’s (although it's fun putting you down, kidding). I am just at a time in my life that I can't play games for those long spurts anymore. I do miss my FFXI for (gasp) my friends and guild there but I will be damned if I waste weeks of my life just to say I made it to level 40.

Dammit, I’m a geek too I just have to take care of my family... ugh.

Bildo: Begud the wonder Hunter? (Referring to the what's a 70 worth question.) Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Again, I didn’t play him to 70 in a day. In fact it took me quite a few months to get him to 60, and then even more months, and some unsubscribing and resubbing to get him to 70. I don’t play hardcore. I think hardcore. I talk about them, blog about them, etc. Because I love it. Like some sports geeks, they’re my main hobby. But I have school, a wife, family, a house to take care of, and work 40 hours a week. 1-2 hours of gaming is my average, and very rarely 4 on the weekends. There’s virtually no difference in our playtimes. Just I can get mine in one set chunk while you have to touch and go or grab early before the evening sets in and dinner comes.

If you think that I, who currently spend 10 hours on school a week, 40 at work, another 5 to 10 on projects for design, and more time still (weekends included) spending time with my wife, if you think I spend tons of time playing MMOs these days I’ve mislead you. They’re my main game, yes. I honestly spend more time writing about them and talking about them on blogs than I do playing them, and that’s because I’m here (work) when I do that.

Though like you, my 1st real cross into MMO world was an addiction. Lasted all of 6 months when I realized that I was scheduling raids and dungeons… ick.

Brendon: I guess I was a bit mislead then. I thought you played more. It must have been your non-stop talk of MMO’s that fooled me. LOL

To be honest Bill, I am a bit “jealous” that I don’t have a high level character in WoW. I really do want to get that high but for some reason I just can’t sit down and do it. I want the kick ass armor for my Pallie and a cool weapon and shield but in the end I just start thinking, god…I need more bite size chunks of play time and an MMO usually doesn’t allow for that. Maybe I need to level my Pallie some more since this patch went in.

Another problem that I have is that I feel alone. The only time I really have fun is when I play with friends. Even if I am in a guild full of people, we rarely do anything as a group.

Bildo: Hmm… what you need is either an MMO that plays like GW in terms of time investment (low), but plays like wow in gameplay (awesome), but has an easier identifiable group of people for you to play with. You need, in other words, the perfect working man’s MMO. LOL. WoW is close, and honestly you’d like it more if we could find a guild that had more people on and focused on grouping, but you ARE behind the curve. So finding people to play with won’t happen easily now until you’re closer to 70. That’s the fault of leaving before capping, I guess, in any MMO. Hard to "catch up".

Which was also led to be the initial level grind being a pain in the 40s (where you’re stuck), and then the end-game being far less than attractive back in Vanilla WoW. Sadly, I don’t think our playtimes gel enough to get you to 70 before something like Conan comes out and makes us both get it. Maybe we’ll be better when we can both start fresh on a launch day for some new game. Maybe then you’ll see that you can play casually like any other game and still get satisfied by the experience. It's not about the desination, so much as the journey.

Oh, and by the way I might be publishing this discussion on my blog, as it’s a good view point from two similar people on opposite sides of the fence.

Brendon: That’s cool. I hope people don’t think I am an ass... I am a hardcore gamer through and through but as I am getting older my thoughts are changing on my gaming habits.

Bildo: I’m not sure it’s even your thoughts, so much as it’s a matter of the time you have. You’re right when you say that for your grouping-oriented playstyle it’s hard to find an MMO that’s casual enough to let you progress in the fashion you want. Here’s hoping War or Conan or SOMETHING is shiny enough to get us both at the same time and then we really can keep playing with static characters even if it's only once or twice a week with them.

See, we’re not different as you think. I like to solo more than group, and you have more fun grouping over solo-ing. Fair enough. I’ll always group with you on static characters... but that doesn’t change the fact we can’t really get on the same page schedule-wise and game wise. But at least you can see that just because I spend a lot of time talking MMO, doesn't mean I get to spend a lot of time playing. We're all busy, we just have to pick the leisure that's right for us. Maybe my approach allows that, and yours doesn't.


And that concludes this round of Bildo & Brendon: The Debates. Chime in if it pleases you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Faults of Tabula Rasa Thus Far

I know over the past two days I've been nothing but optimistic for TR. It really is a lot of fun. But let's do something I don't always do here, let's list the faults I find in the game, and address the ones I see around the internet.

-My Own Personal Nitpicks-
These are ones that matter to me. The others that some fellow players have an issue with like the UI or crafting are listed below. In no particular order...

1.) No Screenshot Tool/Hotkey - What the hell? Really? No screen capture ability? Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it in the beta? When did this get removed and why? Pvt. Hudson was telling me it's due back soon, but I wonder why it's not in. I'd love to give you guys a nice shot of Johnny Bildo, but until this goes in I cannot.

2.) Thumbnail Images for Items - Very vague and misleading. Not unlike LotRO when it launched a lot of the thumbs for items in your inventory are the same across several different items. One look at an ammo vendor in an outpost will make this readily apparent. All grades of ammo of any one type look the same. The only way to tell the difference between lower level ammo and higher level ammo is by the name and description. There really should be a visual distinction in my book, though I know that would mean a hell of a lot of artwork... still, these are nitpicks so let me be.

3.) Lack of Information on Systems - One thing that troubled me in beta, and is still present here but I've grown accustomed to it through experience, is that there's a general lack of info concerning weapons and skills. To a complete new person, the stuff you're presented with within minutes of killing your first few Bane must seem mind boggling. EMP Damage weapons, melee damage and ranged physical damage on a rifle at the same time, medpaks, dye kits, shotguns, rifles, lightning skills, spirnt skills... and on and on and on.

The game's tutorial mission does a good job of showing a player to work in the world and how to level up, and do missions, but there's little in the game to denote the weapon types, and how they work, what they're good against, etc. To be fair this info can be found on forums, in the game's guide, from other players, and more importantly the manual (RTFM!), but in today's age of gamers it should be IN the game itself and clearly presented. To be fair once more, it's not the typical sword/gun does X amount of damage in TR either... it's much more complicated than that, and it shows. There's a learning curve not really to the gameplay, but to the numbers-game within TR.

I really dig it, but I can easily see it throwing a lot of folks for a loop, and I also wish I didn't have to work so hard to learn the systems. That's the source of my claim here. It shouldn't be hard to find the info.

4.) Higher Level Folks One-Shotting During Outpost Captures... - At first, I didn't mind this so much. But soon, I realized how cool the Freezing Modification and Incendiary Modification upgrades that you get as rewards for completing the Outpost Capture missions are. Now, when an OP goes into contention and I rush to its area to help the fight, I get a just a tiny bit ticked when I see level 30-something players taking out all the Bane to claim the tokens needed for the quests themselves.

They have every right to, sure. But I think there's room for better design here. make it so that anyone who damages an enemy in an capture can get a token from said enemy for example and increase the number needed if you must. Or make it so that higher level players get something else entirely so we aren't forced to fight over targets for tokens. It's not a huge problem, and that it's one of the only major gameplay issues I have tells me that I haven't found too many gameplay faults that bug me a lot in TR yet. Maybe I won't for a while. That's certainly refreshing.

-The Nitpicks of Others -
These are the issues others might be having with TR, and I'd like to address them. My comments here might be either in aggreement or rebuttal, so ye be warned.

1.) Control-Scheme - A lot of your MMO vets hate the Pseudo-FPS controls with a passion. I've grown quite fond of it, but many haven't and likely never will. It's not favored by everyone, that's for sure. But, as fate would have it, the Devs have listened to this common complaint from beta... it just seems few folks bother to notice it. Under the options/controls area of your UI you can clearly see a place that's labeled "Style: FPS" (or something of that nature).

Here you can switch to "Style: MMO", and suddenly the need to cycle through skills and weapons using the Q and E keys or pressing a number and then right-clicking to activate the skills is gone. In place of this method is a much more familiar set-up. Press 1-5 to pick your weapon, and left click as normal. Pick 6 - 0 to use whichever skill is tied to whichever weapon... no right-clicking necessary.

As Hudson about this, and he'll tell you. If you simply cannot stand or cannot get used to the FPS style, just switch it. Makes a world of difference.

2.) -The Overall UI Setup- This one I'm going to partly agree with and partly disagree. The UI in TR is a very unique bird. Minimalist is the best way to put it. Health, Shields, Level, and Power are all on the lower left corner of the screen, while the radar is on the lower right, and your skill/weapon bars are in the middle. There's a yellow XP Bar scrolling across the screen just above these as well. In the top right the quest-tracker does it thing, while in the top left the chat window scrolls on and on with the rambling of the populace.

It works, it's functional. The graphics on the UI, while nothing to write home about, are very fitting for the Sci-Fi feel of the game, and the Radial Menu (reached by holding down CTRL) is a nice little feature to stay away from taking up more screen space by using static buttons somewhere along the bottom.

But this set up is far from ordinary isn't it? As MMO vets, we're used to by now having the radar on the top right, our health on the top left (by default), and chat and experience along with skill bars along the bottom. Certainly, getting used to the chat on the top left is a task in and of itself. It just doesn't feel right. All of this could be alleviated by letting the community create mods, or by freeing up the sections of the UI to be scaled and moved around by the players.

3.) -The Maps- The Maps in TR are awesome, I'll go on record as saying. I really do like the way they're done. They're presented as images taken from a sattelite and presumable published to your Soldier PDA or summat. They're not the hand-crafted drawings you'll find in most Fantasy fare, but all the info you need can be found on them. Blue areas with Medical Crosses, and Portal Tooltips are more often than not your quest hubs and outposts. When said blue spots become red, they're under contention and it's time to kick Bane ass. Little white stars denote different areas of the map, such as Memory Tree Hill, Corman Lake, etc.

When you highlight a quest in your quest log to be tracked, a little orange walkie-talkie shows up both on your map and as a directional arrow around the radius of your radar. It's not quite a giant point arrow and beam of light that Auto Assault vets will remember, which is nice as the orange indicator shows you the general area of the quest, but leaves the exploration of said area still in tact. Another thing about TR, at least in the Concordia Wilderness (1st area) is that the zones are memorable enough that once you traverse a patch a few times, or even once, you know it. If you're good with directions. And if you're not. You have a compass, a radar, quest indicators, and even signs along the main "roads" pointing you all over the place. If you get lost in TR, it's your fault not Destination Games'.

4.) -Crafting and Economy- Crafting was added late in the beta. Simply put, it doesn't have the polish to be anything more than a nice little bonus right now. The Devs know this, and are feverishly working to make it something worth the points you must spend to excel at it. You have to spend skill points on crafting, as it's designed at the moment, and this might be part of its current lackluster appeal. In a game all about war, who wants to be the guy in a tent making ammo and modifications for weapons, then finding it hard to fight because he/she has spent several skill points on crafting

I'm glad I dislike crafting in most games, else I'd be more miffed. I hope it gets righted into something more useful and interesting over the coming months. The Auction House that's coming in the 1st big update (on PTS now) should help to start revealing whether or not there's going to be a real economy in TR or not. At least we're getting these things sooner than CoH for a game focused on fighting and missions.


I'm sure I didn't touch on all the complaints out there, but I believe I touched on the majors, and of course my own tiny nitpicks. But by and large, after about 10 hours played in the retail version of TR, I'd say for someone looking for a change of MMO-Pace, you could a whole do lot worse than playing TR. Its long-term appeal is still up in the air for me, but if they keep it updated, fix some of the major issues (crafting namely for those folks), I can see TR lasting a long and healthy Sci-Fi life, and I can see myself playing it often over the coming years.

It deserves a place in the market, that's for sure. So get out there and try it. Crusty (The Bane) needs killing.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Traded Games for Pirates, Left Store with Tabula Rasa.

When the NDA for TR dropped, I was not very kind. If you'll recall, I said Garriott had lost his touch, and I even said he was full of shite when he claimed TR was going to revolutionize the MMORPG.

Now, to be fair, I still think that the comment about a revolution is shite. It's PR spin. It was said to make the game sound more attractive to people looking for something outside the norm. Because TR, aside from a few innovations (cloning system, pseudo-FPS combat, and the Logos system, etc.) is by and large a traditional MMO.

The Bane dropships are fancy ways of displaying enemies that pop into an environment. Quests are more often than not, collect this, or kill that, or deliver this. The skills range from healing to DoTs and even stealth and melee options are available. But while the way these things are done is not a giant leap forward, they're steps in the right direction.

The combat, which as I stated in my Beta review is the most intriguing aspect has only gotten better. Cover and movement now matter when fighting your opponent. And while it's not the skill-clicking fest we're used to in our MMOs, there's hardly any way of denying that it works well and offers something far more visceral than combat in WoW or LotRO. There are still dice rolls going on, your level and gear still factors in, as does your class skills, but far more important is your ability to recognize weakness in an enemy and exploit it. Said weakness range from certain damage types (incendiary, EMP, virulent DOTs), to the mobility of a target, staying out of range, etc. And the ability a player has to find these weaknesses, exploit them, and reap the rewards is what makes combat so intriguing.

All of the above were things that were either not present in my beta experience, or if they were it was poorly balanced. I remember a time in beta when just surviving a run-in with a few Bane soldiers was a feat, now I find myself taking on 10 at a time with the right weapons and use of my head. I've died about 3 times in 9 levels, compared to at least 3 times a level from the same time in beta's worst stages.

Also, as Hudson stated on his blog, the game's largely solo-friendly. And where it's not, there's more than enough folks willing to lend a hand if you ask. Or at least offer advice. For game that takes so much attention to playing, people sure are chatty. The general and newbie channels are always flowing with conversation, much akin to CoH. I haven't joined a Clan yet, but I think I might after I've made my 3rd tier choice at level 15. I can see partying being a hectic bunch of fun and I'd like to try the Clan Warfare, TR's current form of PvP, where Clans can declare open war on each other and members of each clan can then kill the opposing clan members on sight. A little against the idea of "Allied Free Sentients", but hey everyone has someone they don't get along with right? Why not kill them? :)

I haven't played too much with crafting, so I have no thoughts to exercise there. I'm rarely one who enjoys it, but it seems like more of a way to avoid spending money on ammo and consumables than anything else. Lastly, the Outpost battles that take place randomly between the AFS and the Bane are a riot.

At any given time the Bane may attack an AFS controlled Outpost (think town or city, where players go to recharge, get supplies, quests etc), and if they succeed all quests, supplies, travel portals are cut off for players until they retake the Outpost. On top of the fun of this sort of ongoing battle, there are rewards to be had for lending a hand. As Hudson said, higher level players often come down to one-shot some of the enemies in order to get the tokens needed for said rewards, but it's not too big of an issue that I can't get my own. Looking forward to logging in tonight to see if Landing Zone OP was taken while I was away.

I guess what I'm getting at is that a lot of the things that I found wrong with beta at the time of the NDA being lifted have been fixed or at least partially so, and now I find that the game is quite enjoyable. Is it the best MMO on the market? Probably not. Is it the best sci-fi MMO? I'd have to say yes, for my tastes. I never got into EVE, Planetside, or SWG. But this little cross-breed between RPG and FPS has me very enticed to play right now. How long will it last? I have no idea.

But since getting into the free-trial on Saturday night I can't bring myself to play my druid in WoW, I don't care about Hellgate, and even Mario is taking a slower pace towards saving the Princess. So last night, around 6pm I went to trade in some games and put money down on Pirates of the Burning Sea (my store still doesn't have their pre-order boxes). I got 30% extra on my trade for trading in 4 games, and an extra 10% for being an "Edge" member. My total in trade for 4 games I haven't touched in months came to $65. $15 or so went to Pirates, the rest got me TR. I'm a weak, weak man. But when something's fun, I find it hard to ignore.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tabula Rasa... dammit.

So I just spent some time in Tabula Rasa for the first time since late in beta, and dammit... I actually like it. Not sure what's changed, as before I just wasn't feeling it, but when I logged in tonight, expecting to be bored within a half-hour, I found myself instead plowing through quests and taking on hordes of Bane and Miasma tentacle thingies, and reveling in it.

What was a decent but not too attention-grabbing game before, has suddenly become a game I want to own and make part of my stable of MMOs. I still stand by my review from earlier about the beta. But with one key change... I think I could see myself paying a subscription for this. At least for a month or two at a time. Not sure how long the fun will last, and the free trial Private Hudson sent me only lasts 3 days, so I won't get a chance to really find out.

But I've put the game on my "Dear Santa" lists, so maybe someone in my family will pick it up for me if they read this. I really shouldn't be shelling out 50 bucks of my own on games right now when I need to think about gifts for the Missus, but I'll be damned if it isn't tempting.

I'm not even sure what exactly has changed since I played last, but the experience is far more enjoyable. It's something intangible, or maybe not. Maybe it's just that the game's much more complete now. It feels better, you know? I don't think TR is going to have the lasting impression Ultima did on the genre, but I think Garriott should be proud once more. TR's a winner, even if not the best of the best, in my book.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Warhammer's Beta Update Number 4

Over at the War-Europe site, the developers of Warhammer Online have let us prospective players in on what's been going on as we near the re-opening of the beta. Here's some bullet points...
- City Team is fleshing out the cities with explorable landmarks and whatnot. WAR's version of Big Ben, etc.

- Items Team is fleshing out the dying system. The trophy system was talked about last week, too. Both further extend the ability to visually differ your characters. Dying by, well, dying your armor, and the trophies act as little doodads and pieces of flare one can add to their avatar after earning them in-game through various means.

- Animation Team is working on the Elves, yada yada yada. Nothing too exciting here.

- UI Team is in the process of COMPLETELY overhauling the UI to be more interesting aesthetically and generally more pleasing.
But now, the meaty stuff. The Careers and Combat Team let loose a lot of information on how the classes in WAR will be able to distinguish themselves from each other, namely how one Orc Choppa will make himself stand out from another. Here's the full write up on that:
Career Mastery will allow players focus on different facets of their career giving them the opportunity to differentiate themselves from others, while still making sure that every character, no matter how they're specialized, can still perform the basic and fundamental purpose of their career. For example, every Sword Master will be an able tank, capable of absorbing much more damage then a lighter fighter. However someone who specializes in the Sword Master’s defensive path will find that they are generally more durable, able to hold aggro better in PvE and able to defend their friends more efficiently in an RvR scenario. Meanwhile a Sword Master who chooses to go a more offensive route will still be able to take a hit, but may find themselves hard pressed to defend & protect as well as their counterpart, admittedly they will be hitting quite a bit harder as a trade off.

To begin at the most basic layer, every player will have four grouping of skills: Core skills and skills that fall under one of three different Paths of Mastery. The Core skills include a small handful of abilities which are simply critical to the career (to continue the example above, a Swordmaster would find that their Taunt and Guard abilities are Core). These Core skills automatically improve as you gain ranks; once you learn them, they won't require any further investments. Moving beyond that, each career will have three paths available to Master, each of which emphasizes one specific facet of the career's abilities. While the Core skills represent a more automatic progress, the pathed skills are heavily player-controlled.

Each Mastery contains Base skills, Supplemental skills, and also has its own Mastery level. Base skills are the Actions, Tactics & Morale a player is granted as a reward for achieving a specific level, every character of that Career will always be able to purchase these skills, however their total effectiveness is intimately tied to the player’s level of Mastery. Supplemental Skills are the Actions, Tactics, and Morale that a player can only unlock by increasing their Mastery of a given path, like Base skills Supplemental skills continue to increase in effectiveness as you’re Mastery level increases. The Mastery level itself is the current amount of Mastery a player has in a particular path, players will be able to choose just how much Mastery they desire in each of the three paths available to them.

Earning Skills & Increasing Mastery

Skills can be earned in one of two ways Base skills are unlocked when you achieve a specific rank then purchased at you’re trainer, players can choose to skip a Base skill if they desire but there is no good reason not to. Supplemental skills however are only unlocked once you reach a certain Mastery level, once unlocked a player has to choose to spend points to purchase these skills. This is a difficult choice b/c the same points used to purchase Supplemental skills are used to increase Mastery level. These points are referred to as specialization points, and are earned every rank, a player will never have enough Specialization points to completely Master multiple paths while purchasing Supplemental skills. It is a tough choice b/c every point of Mastery earned improves EVERY action in that mastery line by a small amount this includes the Base Skills you automatically get. One level of Mastery can seem trivial however they add up and 5 or 10 points of Mastery makes a significant difference!

There is some amount of automatic leveling of power for skills in the paths outside of their Mastery. This is done to make sure the ability is not completely useless to the player, in fact many abilities may still be useful for secondary effects such as Stun even if they have horrible damage/healing values b/c their Mastery level is lower. When comparing the general power of an ability of a path with 100% Mastery and one with 0% Mastery you will see around a 30 – 35% difference in power. Remember this number can be improved (or widened) further depending on which Tactics and Stats you focus on as well.

Simple Examples

Example #1 - How a Base Ability improves with Mastery

Graceful Strike, a melee attack which causes monsters to hate you more than normal would be a base ability that falls into the Path of Vaul, which is the Sword Master's defensive-oriented Mastery. Every Swordmaster, whether or not they've specialized in that path, would have access to that ability. However, after a certain point, the damage and additional hatred will have reached their full potential, and will stop increasing. If the player then decides to use part of their specialization to increase their Mastery in the Path of Vaul the damage and extra hate will increase above that cap - and the further they specialize into that Mastery, the greater and greater the effectiveness becomes, however this ability still retains some use to players of other Paths who will find it useful for it’s additional Hatred generated since it is still better then many of the standard Melee attacks.

Example #2 - Purchasing additional Supplemental Skills

To stick with our hypothetical Swordmaster, for example, let's rejoin him after he's spent several of his specialization points to gain further Mastery of his defensive path (Path of Vaul). Once his Mastery increases sufficiently, he'll see that a new attack has become unlocked called Crushing Advance. This ability is a shield slam that not only does damage and interrupts casting but also briefly increases his chance to block attacks further bolstering his defense. In order to purchase it, he'll need to divert his next point away from increasing his Mastery further, and spend it to gain the attack instead. This is only one such example of an additional supplemential Skill, players will also have access to improved tactics and a powerful Level 4 Morale in their Mastery

For the astute you’ll have also noticed that the Path of Vaul seems to have a focus on using a “Sheild” instead of a “Greatsword” tricky eh?


In the end every player can decide not only how deeply to Master each path, but also which additional skills they might want to purchase from that specialization choice. You may choose to go full-bore down one path, max out its Mastery and purchase every supplemental skill, making your character outstandingly good at that aspect...but you'll only have enough points remaining to Master another path halfway at the most. Do you go as far as you can in a second path? or do you split your other points between multiple paths? Do you purchase the supplemental skills in those other paths, or do you decide to push your Mastery as high as you can? Maybe you decide not to push one path to its limit, and instead purchase several supplemental skills from multiple paths - but remember, you need Masteries to make those skills more powerful, too! Our specialization system will be a rich and flexible tool to customize your character exactly the way you want them!

We hope you enjoyed the sneak preview of the Career Mastery system, we have high hopes that these improvements will further enrich our character systems. We’ll be listening closely for additional questions and feedback and answering them as we can over the next couple of Beta update letters.

-Combat & Career Team
And lastly, the devs finally let loose on some details as to how they're refocusing on the RVR Open World portion of PVP...
The first stage of changes and additions to open world RvR is under way and I’ve been cleared to share with you a glimpse of the details. We received a lot of feedback regarding warcamp camping, the battlefield objectives, and the feeling of the RvR area as a whole and we have been listening. We have begun making changes to the battlefield objectives to provide more incentives to players to capture them, as well as making them more dynamic and interesting.

Now for the part that has been the top-secret project the RvR team has been hard at work on: Keeps. Yes, you read that right – we are adding Keeps. Keep warfare, namely protecting your keep and capturing your enemy’s, will play a significant role in open world RvR and the campaign.

The first pairing to have keeps on Beta will be Empire and Chaos. The art for the keeps will not be polished when Beta reopens, but this is very intentional. Our primary goal at this stage is to make sure the game play and functionality of the keeps are very solid and you can expect to see a lot of “focus discussion” posts from members of the RvR Team as we request targeted feedback.

What about Siege? There will indeed be siege in WAR. However, siege will not be ready when Beta reopens. I will have more information for you as we get closer to having it ready for release to Beta.
I was kind of expecting Keeps, but still, I'm very excited to hear that they're back to focusing on open-world PvP instead of so heavily on the BGs, er, I mean Scenarios. Open World PvP, while harder to balance is always much more interesting.

Here's hoping I get myself an invite when beta re-opens in December. I'd really like to see this game for myself, as I'm sure many of us would. Been a long time coming, and there's lots of hype, but I wonder how it stacks up to it all. I pray it manages to hold its head high. Because the ideas are solid.

Cheers again!

Shipping Goods as a Pirate in PotBS

So I've been starting to think more and more about Pirates of the Burning Sea, as natural since the game launches in less than two months. I'm surprised I haven't been obsessing before. Thank Jeebus I was able to keep my mind off of it this long.

Anyway, I'm thinking that I'll be a Pirate come launch. I know everyone and their mother will be rolling them, but I can't help it. They fit me, a highly liberal vegan, far more than working for the stuffy Nations. So now that I've decided on my creed, I've been thinking about how I'm going to accomplish certain goals.

One of said goals is becoming wealthy as a Pirate through the economy. That's going to be easier said than done, I'm betting. We're going to be the universally hated denizens of the Sea. Couple this with the fact that the best selling chances will be in more-often-than-not contended ports, and I've got to factor in the risk with my potential reward.

Say I find out through the grapevine that saltpeter is going for oodles down in in Key West. But, it just so happens that Key West is under heavy combat already, as the 4 nations vie for domination of the port. Do I take all of my stock and make the gauntlet run to try and come out on top, or do I take only a wee small portion and make runs back and forth until I have a lot on the market there?

What's more, do I take a heavy fighting ship I captured from a British dog, or do I take some cheap, small, and fast sloop I got off of the deed seller in one of the starter ports? Because if I lose it, at least I'm not losing much.

I'm inclined to think that taking the crap-ship with a smaller load of goods would be my safest bet. If I'm running solo and I have to dive through the hell that's going on around Key West, it's highly likely that I'll be sunk by a part of 2 or more, regardless of my ship (unless I've somehow managed to snag a 100-Gun ship of the line and even that's no guarantee to victory due to their less than wonderful agility). So if I take a small speedy ship, pack in it just a bit of my stored saltpeter, and make a mad dash for Key West, at least I'm not going to be risking anything of any real value. The downside is that it'll take me longer to shovel my goods to the marketplace. I'll need to have time on my side in real life if I go that route.

Now, if I have some fellow piratical folks at my side helping me make this voyage, then that changes everything. Oh, the beauty of the many choices available in PotBS. Very much looking forward to all the fighting, drinking, and whatnot. Very much, indeed.

Hellgate Beaten... Sort of Bummed

So I beat Hellgate. I trudged through 2 annoyingly bad RTS mini-games they threw in for seemingly no reason, and lots of other bugs. For the most part, I really enjoyed the ride, and I do plan on doing it again with all the classes over the next few months since it's a great jump in and get to the action game.

But, over all the bugs, aside from all the glitches... what bugs me most? There was no real ending. Being that the game is set on a paid subscription model I should have seen this coming. Oh, there's a cinematic alright, and it's really well done. My earlier thoughts on Murmur were correct for those who read that post. But, once beating the final boss and collecting the last of the loot, you don't feel like you've "won" and defeated the minions of Hell for this moment in time. You don't even get to see a cinematic where the heroes of Mankind rejoice in their victory for the day. Nope. You just collect your loot, go into a portal, and the credits run. Then you can do it all again in Nightmare mode which is apparently such a boring grind most won't touch it yet.

I guess, if I want to see what happens next, I'm bound to subscribe come December's content patch. Well played, Flagship. Bugs aside, you've hooked me for a while to come.

Hope everyone had a safe and filling Tofurky Day. I know I did. I'm chowing on leftovers today, of course while stuck at work. Can't wait to go home and just chill though. Really wishing I would have put in for leave. Stupid Bildo...


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More Nintendo Love and Happy Tofurky Day!

My office was let out an hour early today, and yet I sit here at my desk waiting for a ride. Bad, bad day to carpool. But this article, spewed into my brain out of sheer boredom, might be worth it to a Nintendo geek like me.

How The VideoGame Industry Shot Itself in the Joystick... and Why the Wii has Stopped the Bleeding.

The faithfully hardcore gamers, the ones who shrug off the Wii as a fad, or those who just plainly prefer the old method of 20-input controllers because that's what they know and are comfortable with, can't see what Bill Harris is talking about here. Or rather they might, but they are still fuming about it. The latter is the more admirable reasoning. Regardless, be you a Halo Tournament Champion, a level 70 Tier 6 Shaman, or a simple breeder of Nintendogs you have to admit that "PLAY IS FUN."

Said play, with videogames on the Gamecube, PS2, Xbox360 and PS3 is more often than not too complicated in terms of control for anyone who has long been outside of the gaming trends. Give someone who was a master at Pitfall a PS3 controller and tell them to play Uncharted on the Blu-Ray system and they'll look at you like you just asked them to translate a dusty tome of Latin.

Videogames, in just over a quarter century had become too complicated for all but the willing to learn. The market was closed in this manner. There was no real growth to be had. The advent of shoulder buttons, dual analog sticks, and so on and so forth had created a significant entry barrier for someone who wanted to get into gaming. Couple that with a fickle industry trend to stagnate on old formulae (even Nintendo can be bundled into this category), and you have a world of gamers that was totally separate from the rest of the people of the world.

Enter the Wii-Mote.

Now, instead of me rambling on, go read the above article. If you disagree with his points, you're fooling yourself. If you still hate the idea that our past-time is getting back to basics, this I can understand. But you'd better become accustomed to seeing casual games. You'd better be prepared for things to get easier. Because the industry is changing. For the 1st time since the NES brought it back to life 80's, it's showing significant signs of growth. We may see more party games than we want to, but really it's best to look at the big picture. More people, equals more games, equals more fun. Even if there's more crap to wade through.

Mario "WTFPWNS" the Critics' Hearts and the Wii Reigns Supreme

According to Next-Gen, the wee little plumber is now firmly straddling the 9 year old cartridge that is The Ocarina of Time as the now highest rated game ever. The story for that can be found here. What's interesting to note is that the top 3 rated games of all time are each Nintendo titles, one for each of the last 3 generations. Number 1 is now Super Mario Galaxy (98% average score), followed by Zelda: OoT at number 2 (97%), and Metroid Prime (96.5%). That's Does this mean that on the Wii2, we'll see a 99% rated Kirby game? :)

I'm going to go off on a fanboy tangent here, so consider yourself warned. Typos be damned.

Really it's just a numerical testament to how loved these Nintendo franchises are. They could be the only games to hit a Nintendo system (indeed on the Gamecube, they may have been close to it), and people would still buy said system just to play Zelda, Mario, and Metroid. The 1st two of those 3 franchises sell systems, and the latter is quickly become a hardcore favorite.

Third parties, due to the sheer dominance of Nintendo's first party offerings, have been known to say that they'd be stupid to release a game anywhere near the Big N's software. Luckily this is becoming an industry myth as of late as EA, Ubisoft, and Activision are all experiencing success. Nintendo's games still hold the top spot, and likely always will as long as they're created with such love and care, but being on a Nintendo system is no longer the kiss of death for a software title.

The Wii is consistently outselling its heftier competition from month to month, selling over 500,000 units in the US during the month of October, according to the NPD. One wonders how hard the little white box will be to find this year. And while the Xbox 360 dominates the hardcore market, the price of the Wii seems to bring more and more core gamers into the "Wii60" club, where owning both is the way to go. Meanwhile, last generation's Goliath, Sony, is getting pummeled in sales in the US and abroad. Only in Japan is the 360 doing poorer than Sony's PS3. But everywhere, no matter the nationality, Nintendo's motion-controlled little gadget is winning people over.

I'll be the 1st to admit that it needs more core gaming titles, and we're starting to see the the influx of those with Medal of Honor Heroes 2, Guitar Hero III, Metroid Prime, and others releasing in the past few months. Final Fantasy spin-offs are coming next year, Smash Brothers hits in February, a new true Wii Zelda is being made, and even Rockstar is on board with titles like Manhunt 2 and Bully being tailored for the system. Developers cannot ignore Nintendo like they have in the past, because guess where the market is?

For the first time in over 10 years, Nintendo's on top of the console hill again. Through failure they learned what not to do, and they've certainly capitalized on their opponent's more conservative hardware views. The little guy is winning this time around, and I really never thought I'd see the day where my favorite game maker was numero uno again. I was prepared to support them as the underdog for years to come... and yet, here we are. 1 year and nearing 20 million consoles sold worldwide later. What a weird turn of events. The e3 convention where people lined up for hours to try the WiiMote was definitely an indicator... I just don't think we all thought it'd still be going strong a year later.

Oh, and on a less rambling note. Mario sold over 500,000 copies in the US in its 1st week, no doubt on the back of glowing reviews. It seems there's still room in gaming for something bright and colorful after all. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go do about 5 more hours of work before I can go home and hunt down Bowser.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

90 Minutes, Another Level.

Sweet jumping crapola the leveling changes in WoW are much more impacting than I anticipated. I already told you all how I hit 37 in just a few hours of playing on Sunday, but I spent 90 minutes last night in Dustwallow Marsh, an area I'm not familiar with questing in, and I hit level 38 in just under that time. I had rest experience, like before, so that helped a lot I know, but I doubt without it it would have taken much more time. You only get the rest experience when killing things, and most of my quests involved actions like burning things down or killing a named mob, and being a druid I snuck my way around most of it.

So already, in 2 days back to alt-ing it up, I've gained 4 levels. If ever there was a hook to get me back to playing my alts in WoW this speed change was it. They're not handing the levels to you via a slash command, you still earn them, but they're taking a lot less time to grind than they used to. And it does feel nice. Yes, yes it does.

Anyone else spending time with an underloved alt character these days?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Exteel : Not Horrible, But Not Me...

I spent a little time last night in the Open Beta of NCSoft's next Free MMO, Exteel. Basically, the game's something akin to playing Battlefied 2142 or Call of Duty online. It's a FPS game, but your "character" (a giant mech robot) has levels and can even choose what weapons it wears if you have enough points (earned through fighting) to buy more than your starter ones. I didn't get too deep into it, as I only had time for one deathmatch.

But really, the game's action was so faced paced, so crazy hectic, that it threw me for a loop. I started off well, holding at second place out of 12 players for a while, but quickly fell to number 11. I'm not sure if it was my lack of skill or my crappy starter weapons, or both, but ultimately it was just... not fun. But then, when is losing so harshly ever fun?

It's a free game though, and will be free to play, similar to the cult-hit "Gunz: The Duel". So really I guess you get what you pay for. You log in, you create a "handle", you're given a basic robot, and you start joining matches from the lobby. Deathmatches, team deathmatches, and last standing, they're all here. I suppose if you want a free player versus player shooter, this one's the way to go... but not me. Not my cup of tea.

The beta is now open to all, so if it sounds like something you might like, check it out here. It's not bad, just not for me. Were I less craptastic at FPS games (I suppose it's more 3PS though, as the view is from behind your mech), I'd probably get into it. Give it a go, if you're bored with Gunz or can't afford Call of Duty 4 or the Orange Box. I'll be trying it out some more over the next few weeks, but my initial impressions are that it's just not my cup of tea.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Leveling I Shall Go

I just spent some time with WoW's 2.3 Patch. Zul'Aman, while very cool looking, I will never see. I'll likely never do a Heroic 5-Man as PUGs sicken me and I'm not part of any real organized guild. Season 1's Honor Rewards aren't in until the 27th, so my dwarf is still sitting on his arse waiting for that to happen. Guild banks, again not a necessity for my playing these days.

But there is one big feature in 2.3 that makes me very, very pleased. The super-charged 20-60 leveling experience. From 20-30 the amount of XP needed to level has been decreased by 15%. This, I'm not sure was needed, but I welcome it all the same. The real speed boost kicks in at 30 however, where every quest outside of "breadcrumb" quests have been given a 15% increase in XP awarded in tandem with the 15% decrease in XP needed to level. Essentially, they've decreased the time it takes to level from 30-60 by about 30%. Case in point? I just leveled from 35 to 36 in 1 hour and 45 minutes. I had rest experience, as any good altaholic will practice, and that makes 2 full levels in less than 3 hours.

I'm sure some folks will claim they're dumbing down WoW, or making it too easy, but I think Blizzard knows that when the next expansion hits in 2008, the daunting task of leveling to 80 will be too much for some. People will drop off who start the game and see all of Azeroth eons away from them. More than anything, this leveling change is about making that trip to 80 take about the same time it would take someone to reach 60. That's the way I see it.

Of course, they could just stop raising levels and it wouldn't be such a big deal, but who are we kidding. In a level based game with only the path of Gear-Grinding to make progress at the level cap is a disaster. Most people will get bored and leave. We all like to progress, and most can't/don't/won't raid or even PvP. My family that plays WoW play to level. When they hit the cap, they usually stop playing that character altogether and work on another, and they're not alone.

More people from my experience prefer the leveling game of WoW than they do the rep-grind/honor grind at the top level. Why? Because it's the most suited to the casual player. I don't mean those that say they're casual because they don't raid, but rather those that don't visit websites, don't check blogs, don't read forums, those that barely know when a patch is being implemented until the day it happens. These are your casual players, and they are many. Blizzard knows it. They know we hardcore players are the most vocal, but they know we're the minority as well.

And hell, I'll admit it, I'd even quit WoW if the game never offered me more adventuring and level-gaining to achieve. In a game that's progression is centered around 1 of 2 things, leveling or gear-gaining, I'll take leveling every time. Now if only, they'd close that 45-50 gap, though perhaps the new XP boost has done just that. My Druid Lobes will find out soon enough at this rate.

Oh, and Theramore finally has some merit as a place to quest, though from what I've seen it's more of a level 34-40 area, than 30-40. I wouldn't recommend heading there right at level 30, to be blunt. You'll likely get your butt handed to you at 1st. Oh, and when taking on Tethyr using the artillery cannons, do listen to the quest and move about between shots. You'll do much better than if you stand still.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Busy, Busy, Busy...

Sorry for the lack of posting so far this week folks. Between the long weekend, getting sick over said weekend, and trying to get a grip on my homework for this week (my first dabblings in Flash) I've been a wee bit busy. Add into that an unquenchable desire to bounce around the galaxy as a certain Italian plumber, and you have me neglecting this webspace.

But today I'm feeling much better, homework is calmed, and I'm stuck at work away from my Wii so hey, let's talk about something.

As Darren already reported on his site, 1up is reporting that Cryptic's Marvel Universe MMO might be the game that Microsoft is cancelling. Recently it was reported that one high profile MSft game will be cancelled, but no one's sure which one it is. Devs on Alan Wake, Fable 2, Banjo Kazooie, and I think Too Human have all come out and said their games are still alive and kicking. There's been no real confirmation from Cryptic that theirs is, and it's leaving many to wonder about the fate of their new comic book MMO.

Devs at Cryptic have even gone on record saying that they're happy to unleash City of Heroes to NCsoft so that they can work on new games and new IPs. Nothing specifically about Marvel Universe in their statements. Whatever the case may be, we should be hearing, according to 1up, what the mystery cancellation is in the next 2 weeks or so. Any bets? If Marvel Universe is cancelled... you can bet NCsoft will be happy. How long until we see a revisioned COH? COH Part Deux?

Also this week, the Everquest brand got a double-shot of invigorating expansion juice. Both EQ and EQ2 saw expansions this week, with the fabled Sarnak and Kunark making a return to Norrath in the latter. Meanwhile in Azeroth patch 2.3 "The Gods of Zul'Aman" went live, bringing with it doses of leveling goodness, a new 10-man dungeon, amazing changes to AV that actually make it PvP instead of a PvE race, and of course, Guild Banks and Engineered Flying mounts among many many other things.

Season 3, the highlight for me, has been delayed until the 27th of November, so my Hunter remains parked until we near that date. Can't wait to get my hands on that crossbow... and is it odd that I'm thinking with these leveling changes it's finally time to level a Horde? I think I'm sick of losing with my fellow Alliance folks. I'd like to see the other side of the fence. We shall see.

But oh, I only have a few months to try this, for Pirates draws ever nearer. We're less than 2 months from pre-order launch on the Burning Sea, and I can't wait. There's another stress-test for the game this weekend, hosted by Fileplanet for all users, so be sure to sign up if you'd like to see this gem in action.

Let's see, what else... oh yeah, did I mention Super Mario Galaxy rules? It does. And more. Best gaming experience I've had in ages. Just an absolute joy to play.

More later perhaps, time to get some work done.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Home Sick...

And playing Super Mario Galaxy. Short impressions?

The Best Game on the Wii, and easily the best Mario game I've played since the Super Nintendo Days. It makes the delay of Smash Brothers easy to swallow.

Long impressions? Coming later this week.

Hope you all are having a nice start to the week, only 3 days left until another weekend, thank Jeebus.


Friday, November 9, 2007

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Pirate for a Lifetime?

Found this nugget of info on PotBS thanks to PirateSpyglass...
It's under consideration, but by no means an easy decision either way. There are a lot of weird effects to consider, and questions best answered by actuaries and statistitians.

1. What percentage of the user base would do a lifetime subscription?
2. What does the attrition curve look like for those players? Since they're likely to be the most fanatical fans anyway, it's not going to be the typical dropoff Raph has written about.
3. Of those, what percentage would stay beyond the breakeven point if they were playing monthly? Or more generally, if you integrate the extra money you get from people who would have left before break even vs the money you don't get from those who would have paid after break even, do you come out ahead?
4. How good do you feel about your end game being able to keep players interested in staying after they've burned through your 1-50 content?
5. How important is an early influx of cash to pay back debt, and is it worth giving up potential earnings later to reduce short term risk?

And of course, many of these questions are very hand wavy sorts of things, so nailing down an answer you can use for financial projections is difficult.

In short, we're thinking about it and will discuss it with Sony, but at the moment we have no answer.
Now, I'm not sure how well this option worked our for LotRO or HG:L, but from forum posts on both games, it seems to have netted at least a decent amount of purchases, so I don't see why it couldn't work for PotBS, a game that many a geek like me are looking forward to. It's one, for reasons I can't disclose, I'd put my money down on if it were around $150. My only trouble would be coming up with said money. But that's besides the point.

I really dig that since LotRO came out more companies are going to try this. I'd much prefer to see more unique styles of pay-to-play, like hourly purchases or tiered subscription models, but a lifetime subscription can make these smaller MMO development studios a significant chunk of money right off the bat and help them see profit immediately, which I think any fan should be for. We want all these games to succeed so that we can keep seeing more of them, no?

If Pirates does swing this, I might have to try and see if I can afford it. It's the kind of game I can see myself going to and from for a long time, and the hassle of subscribing and unsubscribing can be a pain in the ass when doing so. Now... who wants to loan me 150-200 bucks just in case?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Didn't (But should have) see this one coming...

NCsoft announced today that they've bought City of Heroes and Villains from Cryptic Studios, in a move beneficial to both parties no doubt, as Cryptic's got enough on their plate with the Marvel Universe game to be developed.

Here's the email announcement...

To all current and former City of Heroes players,

Today we announced the acquisition of City of Heroes from Cryptic Studios™ and the formation of our new Northern California studio which we are informally calling NCsoft® NorCal (click here to read the press release). Nearly the entire City of Heroes team from Cryptic Studios has joined the NCsoft team and together we have formed the core of our new studio.

The City of Heroes franchise has been a tremendous success for both NCsoft and Cryptic. More than three years after the City of Heroes launch, our community is strong and thriving. There are so many great ideas and plans, both from our development team and from the players, and we can’t wait to make them a reality. Our team is 100% dedicated to City of Heroes and we are extremely excited about the present and the future!

Click here to read the Dev Corner chat with General Manager Brian Clayton and learn more details.

Now back to you, the players. You are the lifeblood of our game. In celebration of our new studio and our exciting plans, and in order to thank you for the fantastic community that you have built, we are pleased to announce the following.

Full Access to City of Heroes and City of Villains®
All players with City of Heroes retail* accounts will now have access to City of Villains, and all City of Villains retail* accounts will now have access to City of Heroes. Players that didn't previously have access to "the other side" will find that they do now. Just log in to check it out!

Debt Wipe
After the launch of Issue 11: A Stitch in Time this Fall, we are removing Debt from all characters and giving you a fresh start. Actual date will be announced shortly. Have fun in the mean time.

20,000 Prestige
Also after the launch of Issue 11, all Supergroups will receive an additional 20,000 Prestige per Supergroup member, meaning SGs could acquire up to 3 million Prestige based upon their Supergroup membership roster! Actual date will be announced shortly.

In the near future we will begin to share more information about our development plans. With this major reinvestment and effort ahead of us, we will take City of Heroes to new heights!


The City of Heroes Team
The good part for NCsoft is that all revenue from the game for as long as it remains will go to them, they just have to keep people playing it... which is part of the bad news. Many, MANY players will likely jump ship to Marvel Universe when it comes out if it's anywhere near as fun as CoX (which I'm betting it will be and then some). I'm sure NCsoft will squeeze every last dime out of it though, in a good way. Say what you will about NCsoft's games, at least they strive to help unique ideas thrive.

And obviously this is the bitter kind of good news for Cryptic. They're now able to fully focus on Marvel Universe (MUni as I'm calling it), but they also just let go of their baby. Let it go off to college, or more so go off into the real world a fully grown adult, and now all they can do is offer advice it won't listen to and spend countless Sundays hoping it calls them, just to say "Hi."

Cheers to both parties.

The times they are a'changin.

Topic of Discussion: Should Level Matter in PvP?

I was scouring the VN boards this afternoon at work for something to read, instead of the worklist in front of me, and I stumbled across some fortnight old posts from Rick Saada of Flying Labs Sofware at the Pirates of the Burning Sea board. My good friend Trinity has recently become their SM by the way, but that's neither here nor there.

In the discussion, Rick had this to say...
"But perhaps the main thing that is different from us versus the WoW/EQ level model is that your level doesn't appear anywhere in the combat equations. A level 50 in the same ship at the same range with the same ammo has the same chance to hit as a level 10. Now they may have some skills that they can call upon to improve their chances, but the fact is that a level 10 can *hit* a level 50, and even defeat them. Try that in WoW and see how far it gets you."
Tell me you wouldn't like to be able to hop right into massive battles in WoW at level 5 and stand a chance against a level 70 and I'll call you a liar. One of the biggest things going against open player versus player competition in WoW is its high dependency on gear and player level. it segregates players immensely.

And while PotBS has levels, said levels don't factor as much into the combat between players as they have in games like WoW, DAoC, or other games of that ilk. Instead, the main advantage of a level 50 player over a level 10 player in PotBS will be the level 50 player's hotbar skills and likely the ships he has access to, neither of which spell "win" for the level 50 accoding to Rick. The devs at FLS still are of the mind that a skilled level 10 player could easily take out a level 50 player with less skill on the open sea or in avatar combat.

I know, I know, I said I'd not hype too much about games still more than three months away, but Pirates opens for pre-orders in just over two months, so I'm still keeping my side of the deal. So, given this design decision, does it seem that other games could just as easily implement it? Maybe not NOW, 3 years into Azeroth's gait, but the games of the future. If PotBS' PvP (or NvN) is generally given praise when the NDA drops and the game is released, do you think any other game makers will take notice and stop limiting the interactions between players on the competitive level?

Time will tell. But until it does, I'll be practicing my broadside dodging on the open seas.

Slightly OT

I've been following NBC's Heroes since Episode I, as if that comes as a shock to anyone here. I'm a geek, I fly my flag high. This is a blog consisting almost entirely of videogame related rambles, after all.

Anyway, so far this season has been pretty lackluster... that is until last night's episode. I don't want to go into any specifics for fear of spoilers for those who haven't seen it, but suffice to say things are finally happening this season. It took 6.5 episodes, but things are moving. There's some re-used plot devices, which doesn't surprise me, but by and large I actually can feel the tension building again after what was somewhat of a dud of a Season 1 finale.

The two "sides" of the conflict seem to be in the gray, and I can't really say how the outcome will work, unlike last year's "coming from a mile away" ending. The only character I can say has truly evil motives is Sylar... and while Alejandro and Maya are boring, he's anything but. Cannot wait to see that guy as Spock.

I just wanted to hammer this out, because I don't have much to chat about today. Slow beginning of the week. Hellgate goes well, despite the occasional bug, and I'm nearing the end of the campaign on my first character, the Engineer in my previous videos. And other than these two things, there's not much to talk about unless you want to hear about work and school. Which, seriously... don't we read and write these blogs to escape those last two?

Cheers, peoples.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Rambling for Monday the 5th of November

Time to go off on a few different subjects here, gaming and otherwise, so dig in.

As you can very likely tell by the videos, my gaming time this weekend was spent playing Hellgate: London. As I read more and more reviews of the game, the more I am boggled. Has the Action-RPG really gotten so stale? Is HG:L such a new blend of the genre that people really don't see that it's basically Diablo with a new view-point? I see some reviews get the concept, and give the gameplay great praise but the bugs bring down the score. To me, these reviews hit the target. They're well written, and touch on the major problems of bugs and whatnot that plague the game, while still maintaining that at the core is a very fun Action-RPG that fans of the genre won't want to miss.

On the other end of the spectrum are reviewers who seem to think the game was meant to be WoW with a new setting, or Gears of War with RPG elements. From these reviews one gets the notion that maybe the critics just plain old did not do their homework, and very likely didn't play the game much... or perhaps they're just not fans of the genre. A-RPGs are certainly meant for the player who doesn't mind repetition and for the game that relishes in loot-hoarding. Make no bones about it.

I suppose, though I'm content with the game, the bad reviews of some bug me because I know many folks won't even give the game a try and I feel they'd be missing out. It's Holiday season, the shelves will be filled with great AAA titles, and I worry HG:L will get overlooked, and those of us who are fans won't have the support we're hoping the game receives to take it from bugged launch product to absolute classic. Time will tell I suppose. I do see at least 15,000 people on most of the weekend when I do a "/who" in chat though, so that's a good sign.

I hope the game's selling well both here and in the EU, as it's apparently doing well in Asian territories already. I'd love to be constantly going back to this game for new adventutres of the next few years, so I hope it gets the love it deserves. I'll definitely be subscribing soon to take advantage of the new content in December, that's for sure. I won't be missing out on Stonehenge plagued by demons. Heck, I might even dump 10 bucks tonight if the lure of the Guy Fawkes event pulls my geek-strings too hard.

Moving on, let's talk about Jonathan Coulton. Where the hell has this guy been hiding from me? I found his name via everyone's clamoring for the Portal Finale theme song, and I spared as much cash as I could to download 9 of his songs last night via iTunes. I'm hooked. Think Weird Al or Tenacious D with more subtlety and, in my opinion, more talent and you've got Jonathan Coulton. Humorous, poignant, and absolutely ear-catching, I've got to find a way to get more money to get more of his stuff. Definitely an Indie artist to support if ever there was one.

Lastly, back to the all-important addiction that is gaming, a week from today Super Mario Galaxy ships. Metacritic is already tracking reviews, and they're coming in exceptional. If their words can be trusted at all, we might actually have a Mario that can compare to Mario 64. These days I feel the wear of Zelda's formula. I'm starting to get pretty bored by Link's same old, same old adventures. The DS version is a change in control, and a streamline of features... but it's still the same old dungeon/puzzles that you've played with since the original. I love it, but it is getting old.

On the other hand, Mario doesn't fail to entertain me. The NES pack-in was my 1st game, and I've played every single one since it to death. Super Mario World was the best in its day, then 64 took reign, Sunshine was good but not a "true" Mario game in my book, and from the looks of it Galaxy sets a new bench mark with its gravity tricks and ingenious puzzle design. Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats a good solid platformer.

US Guvmint employees get the 12th off for Veteran's Day, and I've decided to take the 13th off as well to "celebrate" Mario's return to perfection. Here's hoping I'm not too hyped. I doubt I will be.

Cheers you lot.