Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling reports from the front lines* of the Massively Multiplayer Multiverse.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Adventures in Telara: Rift Impressions

I am a new Rift convert. I have decided that I will purchase and subscribe to the game when it comes out in March. DGF ended up playing for about 9 hours on her day off and loved it, so it'll probably be both of us on there in March.
I got to be part of the beta 5 event over the past couple days and wanted to get my impressions all in one spot. I discussed some of the following on Twitter on Wednesday. I was chided for comparing Rift to The One True Game, because that would give some people the wrong impression of the game. I feel, however, that comparing the new with the known helps people who have not experienced the game to understand in a limited way what it is like. Most MMORPGs are based on the DIKU system developed for MUDs in the 1990s. Therefore, there will be similarities for better or worse. You, Dear Reader, may have strong opinions one way or the other about TOTG. I would hope that you'd give Rift a chance, when it comes out in March, to see if it is worth your game-playing time.

Technical
I encountered some technical bugs mostly having to do with the huge number of players on the same shard I was on. This is not the appropriate forum for those, as I believe they were part of the beta test and will be corrected by the release date. I played again Wednesday evening, and the game ran beautifully. From what I gather, this game has been the most polished during beta of any MMORPG that has come out in the past few years. It certainly seems very well done; Trion Worlds has put a ton of effort into making Rift a success.

Gameplay 
The gameplay is very like TOTG, the basic user interface being virtually identical in function and placement of elements. This is a good thing. Most MMO UIs are laid out the similarly, easing the switch between games. I missed some of the addons I have in TOTG, but Rift's UI serves my needs. I didn't even have to remap my hotkeys like I did for STO; B=Bags, C=Character Window, etc. There are a couple minor differences in hotkeys, like how to remove the UI from the screen for a screenshot, but they are easily discovered and/or changed if you desire. Essentially, the moment-to-moment use of the interface is comfortably familiar.

By the same token, the Damage systems are much the same, though I suppose this can be said of all DIKU systems. You swing your weapon or cast a spell from the action bar, and eventually stuff dies. You run around talking to various Quest Givers that give you things to do; in the tutorial area, they help you learn about the game world and how to operate within it.

Art/Animation
If you are looking for a more realistic art style, with a natural color palette, this is your game. I know many people dislike the cartoonish style of TOTG, with its often garish palette. This was an artistic choice by the Snowstorm folks; I don't think it makes a substantial difference between the games. Much like Neo, I know that it is really all just ones and zeros. One caveat to that: I have been put off in the past by the avatars in a game. I like the toons in TOTG, but the ones in the Game of Ages Past moved strangely, IMHO, and the faces of the toons in the Ring Saga were just not right. I do like the avatars in Rift. Again there are others who have complained on the forums, but I've been able to make my toons look the way I want them to. DGF made a comment yesterday about her toon moving funny, her shoulders swayed more than her hips.

Storyline/Lore
Unlike someone I read in comments today, I think the story/lore of Rift is fantastic. Seriously, this clown said the story was lame and he hadn't bothered to read any of the quests as he picked them up. Hey, Tool, how do you know the story sucks if you don't read it? Seriously, this sort of attitude torques me to no end. Go play Madden, and leave the lore-based game to the people who care!! I carefully read the quests; plus, many of the NPCs have backstories they will share if you ask. The story seems fairly well developed. I am wondering about the PvP balance, though, given the stories of the two factions. Game it may be, but the Guardians come across as a playable version of the Crimson Cabal, zealously sure they are right and fanatically willing to slaughter those they perceive to be impure. The Defiants are a put-upon underdog faction. They seem far more popular at among the people I have communicated with. Compare this to the Cold War-ish conflict between the Coalition and the Motley Host in TOTG, a situation that seems like it could possibly be resolved if the two current leaders weren't butt-heads. The population is somewhat more balanced there, the pretty Coalition "good guys" are much more appealing to many, though. So how did they manage to make the "Good Guys" in Rift seem like the bad guys to so many, including me?

{EDIT} Having gotten through the tutorial of both factions, I see that the Guardians tutorial is 20 years in the past of the main game timeline. Meanwhile, the tutorial of the Defiants is set in the future. I have to assume that in the first few areas the two PC factions do not mix, but eventually they must, of course.

Souls
The Soul system is a great way of customizing game playstyles. When I first looked at it, I was thought to myself, "Yep, here are the Talent Trees." However, after a few minutes messing with it, I decided the Soul system is a much richer system. The Soul system allows for much more variety in gameplay than having 8 or more classes, with talent specializations. Within four archetypes--Warrior, Cleric, Mage, and Rogue--player get to choose a number of "souls' of past heroes(?-I wasn't clear on this) gaining their abilities to use against hostiles, or heal and protect friendlies. I followed the recommended combinations given in-game for my rogue, but switched it up for my cleric by picking my own combination, and thoroughly enjoyed playing both. Unlike the current iteration of TOTG's talent system, which requires you to devote so many points to your primary tree before you can dump some in another, Rift's Soul system limits the number of points you can distribute to a single soul-tree at any particular level, and you will always have points to spend on another soul.

This trailer does a great job of explaining the lore of the souls, at least from the Bahmi perspective, as being ancestors of the Player Character.

Much like dual talent specs, you can swap out souls for different situations, gaining solo specs and grouping specs. Some poster on the forums complained that the system allowed for too much flip-flopping in specialties. Others shot him down, saying this meant that a raid group could recruit players rather than basing group composition decisions on classes needed. I agree. With only four archetypes, but a wide variety of souls within each and the ability to swap out souls fairly easily, I think the devs will have more freedom to design challenging encounters rather than be restricted by classes and the unique abilities they might bring to the table. PvP balancing may be easier, as well, and not interfere with PvE balancing as much. I sincerely hope the min-maxing munchkins don't figure out One True Build that will become required by the raid leaders of Telara. It is a false hope, but I have it nonetheless.
Rifts
The Rifts themselves are an interesting facet of the game. I kinda like the concept, but am concerned about the ramifications of random invasions destroying villages where I am trying to turn in or pick quests. This is really annoying when it happens in TOTG as a result of high-level PvPers with nothing better to do than grief the lowbies, for instance at the Intersection in the Savannah of TOTG. To have a designed mechanic that does this with hostile mobs. Hmm. I really don't know, guys. how do you balance the feeling of "No Place is Safe" with the need to have certain place actually be safe? Because you never know when the kids or the dogs are going to get into trouble. I shouldn't have to worry about a RL minor emergency causing my death in the game. The munchkins will probably say, "TOO BAD GRAMPA, STFU NUB GO PLAY BEJOOLD!!1!!!eleventyone!" After which I will ignore/block them, because Bejeweled has time limits, too.

Crafting
Oh, and crafting. Stargrace may actually reach through the interchoobs and strangle me for this. I know EVERY MMORPG has to have them. But I can't see how they really fit into this one from a lore standpoint. If I am supposed to be this great Hero with divine/ancient power to draw upon in order to save the world from destruction, why would I be wasting time making trousers or picking flowers? As a common adventurer fending for myself in the wilderness, this makes perfect sense. For the Ascended of Telara, not so much. This is not a critique of crafting itself. I am sure given the polish of everything else in Rift, the crafting itself is well-developed. I just see it as a disconnect within the lore. Cryptic ran into the same problem with STO. Crafting is not really part of the Star Trek Universe, at least as seen on TV and the movies. The tech innovations we see in Trek are done offscreen and not by Captains Kirk and Picard.

What is my place in this world?
Somebody point me toward an MMO (not AoC or LOTRO) where the adventurers are simply adventurers, or develop that Firefly MMO we've been told is a possibility. (And don't tell me EVE; I already have a job.) The folks over at Snowstorm have become obsessed with making each player feel like the HERO of the World, able to kill Corpse Monarchs and Evil Twins (with the help of 10 or 25 friends). I don't remember this from Vanilla TOTG. We were just adventurers--that occasionally slew dragons. With Rift, right from the very beginning, each player is heralded as Obiwan Kenobi, the last and only hope (along with a few thousand other players) for preventing the coming ragnarok. Maybe it's my background as a soldier, but I don't need to feel like the hero of the world, I am content to be hero of a village or two, as I pass through on my way to another adventure.

There has been a lot of discussion in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere about "theme park" MMOs (most pointedly TOTG) vs. some other form of game that I have yet to see in the wild, but is supposedly better. Then there are "sandbox" games, of which Minecraft is the only one that I can positively identify as such by its description. Someone needs to spell this out for me, because I fail to see what is wrong with "theme parks," or what the alternative is exactly. We are talking about worlds where magic is real and Dwarves and Elves walk the land. Besides I like Theme Parks.
Conclusions
So what do I say to my fellow Rift enthusiasts concerned about the comparison of Rift to TOTG? I think it is a valid comparison, but they are worried that saying it is like something else will color other potential players' views of Rift by their opinions of the other game. That may be, but then I am not sure I want those people playing, if they cannot think past the comparison itself. So, if you hate TOTG, try Rift when it comes out. You may find that you enjoy the graphics, game mechanics, and story. If you love TOTG as I do, but maybe are a little bored or tired of it, try Rift. You'll be comfortable with the controls, and there is a new story and world to explore, and bad guys to fight. Or to put it another way, if you are a mature, positive, community-building player who loves a good story and are not worried too much about the math, come play Rift with me when it comes out in March. If you are a selfish, min-maxing, über1337 munchkin who does not give a fig about storyline or the players around you, run as far as you can in the other direction, because you're not wanted here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Poll: IHTtS Office-Friendly Blog Layout

As you know, Dear Reader, I currently have an orange-on-black layout for this blog. Scary Booster recently did an interview with the legendary Tobold, wherein Tobold told him many people may not read his blog from their workplace because his blog layout screamed "NOT WORK RELATED." I am wondering the same thing now about my own layout. I have my reasons for creating the current layout, but I am not married to it.
What do you think? Should I change it to a more neutral color scheme so as be more office-friendly? Please take the time to vote in the poll at the top right. It will close on Saturday.

Thanks.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Waiting for Star Wars: The Old Republic

So Adventure Historian has weighed in on the churnings and rumblings over at SWTOR's community pages over BioWare's apparent shroud of secrecy surrounding the game. The bulk of this post was a comment I left on his blog.
I guess some fans over at the SWTOR forums are not happy with BioWare's progress, or lack thereof, in getting the game ready for release; this compounded by a perceived lack of information flowing out of BioWare's Austin studios. They say the game will inevitably fail because of the opacity of the development process.

All I can say is look at Blizzard, a company not exactly known for being open about its projects and that often famously says, “We’ll release it when it’s ready.” The same company whose MMO success all others would sell their kidneys to approach.

Is Google languishing because we don't know what their search algorithms are? How they seem to know instinctually exactly what I am looking for? Of course not.

Soliciting feedback is not submitting to the whims of a few overzealous fanbois. Just because a developer opens up a bulletin board forum for interested people to join in chats about a game does not mean the developer has to acquiesce to everything or anything the people who post on those forums dictate; some of which would probably be impossible to do anyway because of mutually conflicting ideas.

BioWare has a reputation for quality, entertaining games. I, for one am willing to give them benefit of the doubt. They will release TOR when it is ready. Better that than a rushed-to-market, half-finished PoS that nobody will want to play past the included first month. If SWTOR is good, people will stay with it, if not people will drift away.  The same fanbois crying now on the forums will be there at the Midnight Release Parties, dressed up like Jedi and squeeing like their Twilight-addled female counterparts.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Happy Blogoversary to Me!!

So it has been a whole year since I first started documenting my thoughts and opinions about the world of MMORPGs. 2010 was the year I branched off from being a WoW player to being a multi-MMO gamer. I have tried Star Trek Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and Age of Conan--sticking with STO and WoW. I also feel I have become part of a larger gaming/blogging community; a thriving, usually courteous, group of friends that love games and the ideas and inspiration they can provide.

At first, blogging was an outlet for my World of Warcraft stories; but my WoW account got hacked three days after starting the blog, and I did very little other than bitch about it those first couple months. Then in March 2010,after subscribing to play Star Trek Online, I started reading the blogs of people like MMO Gamer Chick, and Adventure Historian. As I wrote in the first post of "I Have Touched the Sky" CeeGee inspired me to write stuff about my STO characters.

I soon joined the Federation News Service a STO fleet consisting (mostly) of bloggers and Twitterers founded by Tipa, BlueKae, and others. Around the same time, I became more active on Twitter and made even more friends, like Pete and Gordon. I spend a lot of time on Twitter and conversations I have there often inspire new blog posts. While not mentioning everyone I enjoy talking to online, I encourage you to check out my blogroll in the right-hand column of this and all my pages.
As of today, my most popular posts (see the bottom of the right column) were about the RealID controversy and the potential (but unfulfilled) changes to the player avatars in Cataclysm. Just looking at themes/labels I put on the blog, STO has taken up most of my thoughts, with WoW a distant second. RP, or Roleplaying, is also prominent. I have been able to articulate, mostly to myself, the things that I like and dislike about gaming--the kind of gameplay style I prefer. I used to call myself "hardcore casual," though much like "Mary Sue," I have found that both terms have come to include connotations beyond their original definitions, often completely depending on the individual using the terms. My stories are not quite as common as I originally intended, maybe that will be my resolution for this coming year in blogging. I am also eagerly awaiting the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic with the stories it will inspire, and the blogosphere/Twitterverse is tempting me with Rift.

Thank you, Dear Reader, for staying with me throughout this year. And here's hoping for many more to come. Now, seeing as it's also my 4th monthiversary with DGF and she is playing WoW without me: Happy Questing, and I'll catch you on the flip-side.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Little Player in a Very Big MMORPG

So, on Friday @petterm of Don't Fear the Mutant, talking on Twitter, began what turned to out to be a somewhat lively conversation about the role of the player characters (PCs) in an MMORPG. Many other Tweeps/Bloggers chimed in. It ended up being more about something a little closer to my heart as a player.

Petter opened with this volley, "If you're going to do a lot of heavy storytelling, please look at Blizzard's phasing. Looking at you, Rift, but certainly SWTOR."

This led to a brief discussion between Petter, myself, plus @pasmith if Dragonchasers and @Siberwulf of Going Rancid, about the pros and cons of Blizzard's method of "phasing" to give the impression that a PC has made an impact in the World of Warcraft. I say "impression" because, of course, the phasing only affects each character individually. Overall, the world has not changed at all. In many ways this is OK, and I agree with Petter that Blizz implements the phasing very well. Petter eventually said, "I find it much more immersive than instancing." To which I replied in part, "I guess I kinda like the really old nothing-ever-changes. Because it's a little like the real world." Others began to chime in about my sentiment, indicating it was not unique or original.
Petter quoted @RagnarTornquist saying that The Secret World will treat the PC like "one of many."  @TishToshTesh of Tish Tosh Tesh said "I believe that MMOs should be about the player's story in a vital virtual world that's indifferent to them." Petter answered Tesh, "I'm not 100% certain I understand what you mean, but I agree."

While I cannot speak for Tesh, I agree with him and this is my attempt to clarify, in a way that may be impossible on Twitter.

When I started playing World of Warcraft in June of 2006, I had no illusions about my importance--or lack thereof--in the course of the game. I had started a Dwarf Hunter, Oakheart, and there was a big wide World out there to explore. There were fun little quests to complete in Coldridge Valley. Then, when I was ready, I was instructed to report to Kharanos, the first real town in my journey. The run to Kharanos was fraught with danger, OK really only some troggs, plus I passed a Dwarven Mortar Team that did the same thing over and over again, practicing their "craft" of destruction. I would later learn that this was one of many in-game references to the Warcraft RTS series. (Of course, the entire game is but ja, anyway. . .) In Kharanos, there was more stuff to do, none of it major: collect some boar ribs to get a recipe, kill some Wendigos, and recover stolen goods, that sort of thing. Through this and other experiences on other toons, I developed a feel for the World. I was an adventurer helping the locals out where I could. The world went largely unchanged by my passing, and I was OK with that. Azeroth did not revolve around me.
In Single Player RPGs, like KOTOR, for example. the PC is integral to the story and rightfully so. You are "reliving" the history of a major hero in the game world. I expect to be at the center of world changing events in an SPRPG. On the other hand, in a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, why should I expect the same? The world is big, and I am small. This is how Vanilla WoW was, and how I felt The Burning Crusade started out. Star Trek Online follows this model somewhat, though Cryptic's approach is different. I am one of many Starship Captains, taking my crew on many adventures, even even as other starship captains in a vast Starfleet implement the policy of an even larger United Federation of Planets, each one a Hero of Another Story.

Then, with Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard introduced Phasing. Note: I like the storytelling possibilities of phasing, and Blizzard does it very well. But no longer is my character a small fish in a big pond, now I am the center of the story. Things happen, because I am there; and stay that way, at least for my current PC.

HERE THAR BE SPOILERS (skip to below Captain Kirk):

My DGF and I recently went through Westfall, which introduced a bit of phasing in the course of our questing there. With the death of Edwin VanCleef, the leader of the Defias Brotherhood, things seem to be changing somewhat for the area, especially around Sentinel Hill. The homeless problem seems to have increased, though (and a thoroughly modern First World problem by the way, not realistic in this context IMHO.) Through some clever phasing, we witnessed the rise of the Defias under the leadership of VanCleef's daughter, Vanessa. Meanwhile, I visited Sentinel Hill on my Main, the level-80 Rowanblaze and Sentinel Hill is unaffected. No sign of the Defias, or the beleaguered state of the regional capital, which is surely the lore.

Perhaps, the most egregious example of the PC being too important to the story is the opening questline of the Goblins. Amuntoth of Manifest Pixel highlights this in a recent post. The PC (everyone who plays a Goblin) is an up-and-coming citizen of Kezan, about to be promoted to the position(rank?) of Trade Prince, rivaling the tool who currently holds that position of authority over the Goblins. (Mind you, this is not the neutral Goblin faction of the Steamwheedle Cartel, but the rival Bilgewater Cartel.) The Cataclysm accompanying Deathwing's prison break destroys the island and the player repeatedly saves the entire passel of survivors, only to be double-crossed by Gallywix in a series of betrayals of the entire remnant of Goblins. The PC even personally rescues Thrall from the Alliance. Yet Thrall still--inexplicably--appoints the bastard Gallywix to be Trade Prince of the Cartel as part of the Horde. By rights, it should be the PC who gets that honor, but that makes no sense in the lore. Of course, neither does the current situation. All this could have played out differently if the Goblin PC were a nobody instead of the rival of the faction leader who therefore has a personal vendetta against the PC.
In real life, we affect things and people around us in little ways, but most of us honestly have little impact on the course of history or the shaping of the world. We are soldiers, not Generals--or World Leaders. I expect, even prefer to feel this way in a massive game world filled with numerous people. I don't need to be the hero of the Rebellion, or the savior of the Nation.

Does that help, Petter? :)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Endgame?

Why, oh why, do certain gamers (and devs) think that “The game doesn’t even start until the end-game content”?

I had a friend and coworker say this to me back in 2007. He played Vanilla WoW through the Naxx runs. Twenty hours (plus) per week spent raiding he said, and this back in the days before tokens meant steady gear progression. You had to hope the piece you needed dropped AND that you had enough luck or DKP to actually get it instead of that stupid hunter. Much of that time in the raid was spent waiting around for someone to repair, eat, pee, something besides actually playing the game. But the fights were EPIC!! Doing the Heigen Dance with 40 peeps, someone was sure to die. But then he was finally brought down. After 40 (50?) attempts. Then on to the next boss.
Oh, and every week they got to start over again, killing Heigen and all his friends. Whheee! Isn't Endgame fun? This was WAY better than the varying interweaving stories and quests--some monumental, some mundane--where the devs had spent 98 percent of their time--leading up to this Legendary Epicness.  All you people who came afterward can never be as über 733T as those few who were level-capped at 60 for nearly three years. My friend quit the day The Burning Crusade was released, because he couldn't keep up with his own addictive tendencies. We've lost touch; I wonder if he ever came back.

How is doing the same content over and over (only a bit harder these next 100 times) better than seeing new stuff you’ve not experienced before, learning new abilities, and generally becoming more badass? And no, getting that über helmet or sword doesn’t make you or your toon more badass, especially in the not-so-old days when getting THE BEST gear was essentially a slot-machine style game of chance.

What happened to the RPG in MMORPG? You know, Dear Reader, that I am not an avid in-game role-player. But I do play for story. The fall of the Lich King was an epic event--that occurred 1000s of times behind the closed walls of an instanced dungeon that many players never saw in person because they didn't want to or couldn't take the time to do THE SAME FIGHTS OVER AND OVER, to get a little better than last time so they could move on to the next boss and start the process all over again. That is not story, that is tedium. We were (yes, I did raid, got to Professor Putricide) doing the fantasy equivalent of playing Madden 20XX. Repetitive, story-less, soulless.
Gordon, over at We Fly Spitfires, feels almost as strongly as I do about endgame item progression. Actually, I think he is a little more articulate about it. Also, a chunk of this post was a comment on someone else's blog on this topic on 28 December. But I can't remember whose. : / If it was yours let me know and I'll cross link.

Should I Even Do an Annual Review?

This is going to be a short post, maybe. I am coming up on the first anniversary of my original blog, which I rolled into this one, so I think I will save the retrospective for then. But 2010 was a good year for me. It started out kinda low, but got better pretty quick, with a rekindled, soon-fizzled romance that left both of us in a better place, and friends afterward. I also got to spend extended periods of time in Hawaii and Europe (and other places), thanks to my job.
Meanwhile, a new romance has blossomed, and I am happier than ever. If you have followed this blog at all, you know she likes WoW, having expressed interest on her own with little to no encouragement from me. She is learning and getting better every time we play. We laughed at our first time through the new(ish) Deadmines and came realize she had misunderstood the way the talent system works, prompting an early respec. I am having fun with the game for the first time in a long time. Rowanblaze and Hazel Wingnut are languishing at 80, while DGF and I level lowbie toons. But there will be plenty of time to explore the high level stuff.

I am still subscribed to STO, though finding the time to play is difficult. I also have a couple vignettes in the works, but I need to find the time and energy to write and/or polish them for posting. I just hope you don't abandon me in the meantime, Dear Reader.