Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Coming Soon to a Galaxy Near You . . . F2P

So the big news today was that SWTOR will be going Free-to-Play in November.  I am withholding judgment until I see more details, but I'm don't think this affects my decision to finish out my Agent's story, as well as Sctrz' BH, before the game bills again in mid-August. I have felt an ennui about the game for a couple months now, between playing the affection and LS/DS meta-games instead of really playing my characters the way I want and the extra-game antics of the EA/BioWare team like poor CS and unjustified bans, etc.

The character stories will still be fully accessible to all players regardless of subscription status. But other features like warzones, flashpoints, and space missions will be limited for F2P players, and operations will be restricted to only subscription players. Bank, inventory, and in-game funds will also be limited.

The real segregation here is between people who wanted and still want KOTOR 3 and those who expected an MMO based on KOTOR. I haven't seen whether the basic game key will need to be purchased, or if a player can simply download the game and start playing, like the current trial. So if you want to play KOTOR 3 without the subscription, this is your big chance.

Monday, July 30, 2012

14K Tweets!

This is a silly little post to mark my Fourteen Thousandth Tweet. What is so significant about this milestone do you ask? It's the first one I have been very careful to monitor so as to commemorate it. Most of the time, as I approach a milestone like this, I get caught up in some thread or another and sail right past the mark. Not Today! Also, according to Blogger, this blog has reached a new monthly peak in page-views, and the month isn't even over yet!

I am sincerely grateful to all the people I communicate with through Twitter, I Have Touched the Sky, and other online venues. You all brighten my day with lively discussion on topics that I am passionate about. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Content? Content!

"I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content."
~ Robert E. Howard, 1933,"Queen of the Black Coast"
Dortmunder the Indomitable
The inimitable MMO Gamer Chick has returned to the question, "What Do You Consider Content?" I participated in a discussion somewhere about this a couple months after Rift came out. I don't think my take on it has changed, though hopefully I've articulated it a little better here.

To me, content is whatever the devs create in an effort to make players want to continue playing the game. From that perspective it is not only objective, but quantifiable. For instance, SWTOR has over 200,000 lines of spoken dialogue, as verified by Guinness World Records. Every MMO has a countable number of zones and quests (or whatever), PvP zones, group oriented dungeons, craftable items, lore objects, "shinies," etc. Players can contribute to the content of an MMO, either through direct interactions, or through content creation tools like the Foundry in STO.

Now what of that content is of value—or rather, what will actually keep your butt in the seat, so to speak—is subjective, and highly so. I think GeeCee is right in discussing content in terms of hours /played. Between people's varied interests and their ability/willingness to "consume" subjectively interesting content at a given rate, we get a wide variety of opinions on whether a given game has "enough" content. Some people will blast through limited portions of the content at ten hours per day and be "done" with the game after a few weeks. Others will mosey through the content until their interest peters out months or years later, never having "finished" the game. Some are willing to repeat content like PvP battles or PvE raids ad nauseum. Others always want to experience fresh content and never do anything twice.

Most players fall somewhere between all these extremes. Where do you stand? How much MMO game content are you content with?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Adventures in Tyria: Guild Wars 2 Impressions

So my lovely bride, Sctrz, and I got into the Beta Weekend for Guild Wars 2 this past weekend. For various reasons we didn't actually start playing until Sunday morning, though I did mess around a little bit with the character creation appearance options on Saturday.

I must say the character creation process is pretty awesome, notwithstanding the naming issue I mentioned in my last post. Tremendous kudos to ArenaNet for enabling the seemingly impossible <space>, so I can finally have a last name for my characters. Sctrz and I both liked the customization process. After picking a race, gender, and profession(class), you start out with some basic body types and faces, which are then further customizable. So your character may resemble others, but will be somewhat unique, depending on the sliders. What we both really liked was the custom dye scheme available. I discovered toward the evening that the dye scheme carries through to new pieces of gear, but is alterable from the Hero(character) screen, so kudos again to ArenaNet.

We played three races: the Sylvari, the Norn, and the Humans. In the same order, Sctrz played a Warrior, a Mesmer, and a Thief. I played a Ranger, a Mesmer(solo), an Elementalist, and an Engineer.

Breaking the Ice

I could get a little facetious here and talk about the Sylvari as Elf stand-ins and the Asura as Dwarf/Gnome expies, but honestly they are well executed—and "Tropes are not bad." I liked that the Sylvari are not portrayed as "all Life is sacred" tree-huggers. One of the first quests we encountered involved killing fireflies simply to collect their glow powder, or some such. I'll admit, I didn't like the Sylvari starting area very much, but this can be attributable the learning curve I encountered at the start of the game. I wasn't that fond of the ranger, either; perhaps for the same reason.

The Norn are basically giant Vikings, much like the Vrykul in WoW. That is not a mark against them, by any means, just an observation. My Mesmer and Elementalist were both Norn, and I am intrigued by the mechanics of both. The Mesmer was the one I had naming issues with, as I mentioned in my last post. I do wish I could have picked the branch of Elementalism I would focus on right from the beginning. I thought I had done that in the character creation process, but then my first abilities were Fire- and Water-based. (This is assuming "Air" means "Lightning" which may not be the case.) I would play either of those professions again, though.

Overall, and admittedly we didn't not get far into either story, the Norn and the Sylvari were not very engaging. The Sylvari area, in particular, seemed very chaotic. The Norn didn't seem to have anything significant going on.

Picking up Speed

My original intent this weekend was only to play the game for an hour or two, besides character creation; and if that had actually occurred, I would not be writing this much about it. But Sctrz kept wanting to try something different, so we ended up trying the humans. And this is where the fun really began for us. Both of us agree that the professions we picked for our humans were our favorites of the few we'd tried. Sctrz picked Thief, and I decided to try an Engineer. I definitely settled on my main profession after launch. There's just something about the use of firearms that I like. Sctrz seems to have picked hers, as well.

We became much more involved in the story of the Humans right from the beginning, which involves a crisis in the kingdom. I am wondering whether the story, as it progresses, reflects the choices I made at character creation; for instance, whether I am of noble or common birth. Sctrz thinks that it does. That sense of purpose we got from the story quests in Kryta(?) carried us through for most of Sunday evening.
Talking Points

  • Initially, both Sctrz and I both had issues with the process of quest completion. There is simply a bar instead a specified set of tasks.
  • I also did not like that there seemed to be little benefit to grouping. That is to say, we received no group completion on quests that were individualized ("Heart" quests), and Event quests did not require grouping to complete. That left the story quests; which, while achievable together, always left one or the other of us out of the cutscenes and dialogues.
  • As I said earlier, I found the non-story quests in the Sylvari and Norn areas unengaging, and didn't experience very much of the story quests. Looking back, I realize that the different race stories ran in easily identifiable patterns.
  • I wish my character would turn with the right mouse button. While the camera does turn, it is just like turning the camera with the left mouse button. I have to move to reorient my character.
  • Related to the last, the characters refuse to stand still it seems, and that makes for crappy portraits. The above picture of Kerlanda and Hazel was the best one I got. It was like child photography.
     Neutral Observations:
  • I was pleasantly surprised that the content was not as difficult to complete as I had supposed. I was led to believe that soloing "at level" was inadvisable. I found this not to be the case. In fact, grouped with Sctrz, we were able to finish story quests a couple levels above us. Now, some of the event quests might be a problem as a soloist could be quickly overwhelmed, but I personally did not find this an unpleasant situation. I am curious how these events will play out as player populations thin out in some areas.
  • The moment-to-moment combat is interesting, and the skill progression is promising. I put this under neutral because I don't find the system outstanding, but I have no issues with it.
  • The self heal takes some getting used to. I am usually a healing class, and left a tad rudderless by this lack of the unholy trinity, despite having railed against it for so long.
  • I will need to read up on the various cultures in order to come up with fitting names for my characters, as anyone who reads me regularly knows is of utmost importance.
  • Big like for both Sctrz and me is the aforementioned character customization. The clothing/gear system is a little different than TSW's, but the free(?) dying process at the beginning and in the middle of gameplay is phenomenal. I really liked the way my new pieces automatically fit my preferred color scheme. You will only look like a clown in GW2 if you choose to.
  • Sctrz felt that the various worlds were plenty immersive. I was not quite as impressed, but the scenery is very well done.
  • The characters themselves are beautifully rendered.
  • I really liked the Engineer, very steampunk—or maybe clockpunk. I spent some skill points on a machine-gun turret that looked really cool. Sctrz seemed happy with her thief.
  • The way the cutscenes play is an interesting change, though I understand it is inspired by older adventure games.
  • Some of the choices made at character creation play into NPC interactions in a way that I didn't realize it would initially, which is pretty cool.
  • [EDIT] I was just reminded of another like: Groups stay grouped through logouts and even across characters. This meant that Sctrz and I were still grouped even after creating brand new characters. Very nice.

In Sctrz' Words

Paraphrasing where needed, but this is basically Sctrz' personal observation:
Once I got used to the questing, I felt involved in the story more, and understood the "events" and how they worked as opposed to the "heart" quests. I liked that I got mail once something was completed. That was the signal that it was done, and I didn't have to run all over turning stuff in.  Area quests were triggered, that was good. It helped you remain in the "circle of things." And the heart quests were numbered by level. Once I realized that, it helped me plan out our path.

My Own Conclusions

People talk about The Secret World not holding your hand. Guild Wars 2 holds your hand even less. I don't know if it's because I am a seasoned veteran of MMOs, used to certain methods of questing, but there seems to be a bit of a learning curve on that front, that may be impenetrable to a brand new MMO gamer. Having said that, Sctrz and I had adjusted our expectations of questing and the world within a few hours of play on the first day, so maybe the learning curve is not too steep. The first area we tried seemed very chaotic to me, and the second not enough. The human area seemed just right, but by then we were getting the hang of things, and had roled professions we really enjoyed, so that may have had something to do with it.

While I had fun playing this weekend, and fully intended to play for only a couple hours, just to get a feel for Guild Wars 2, Sctrz really jumped into the game whole hog, very interested in playing all day. She had initially agreed that we would only need to play a couple hours. I'm glad we did play more, because the third and last area we played turned out to be the most fun.

In the end, GW2 did not grab me the way TSW, SWTOR, STO, Rift and WoW all did. I might get GW2 near launch if it were up to me alone. Sctrz, on the other hand, was caught up in it hook, line, and sinker. I have a feeling we'll be playing again as soon as possible, and loving every minute.

The Problem With Offensive Language

I'll give my other impressions of Guild Wars 2 itself in a bit, had to get this off my chest first.

Censoring potentially offensive terms can only stifle the full flower of expression. I am not talking here about allowing people to be potty-mouths. I'm talking about stifling normal language because of the fear of offending someone.

I really wanted to name a character in SWTOR a name containing the German word for "fox." Even though it could have been awesome, and fit my sort-of theme of German words for names on the Empire side, I knew it would never fly, because unfortunately, the German word for "fox" is "fuchs."

Yesterday I was creating a Norn Mesmer in the Guild Wars 2 beta weekend. Since she was dressed in purple, I decided to name her Amethyst. But someone else had already used that name, so I added "Jewel" on to the end (finally a naming system that allows spaces). Unfortunately, "Jewel" triggered an offensive language warning. Now I wish in retrospect I'd had the wherewithal to grab a screenshot of the event in question, but I didn't. It was really more of a surprise and a quick adaptation, then I moved on. It is only beta, after all.

As far as I can tell, the only potentially offensive word contained in my proposed name was "Jew," unless "ewe" is some bizarrely offensive reference I'm not aware of. I was not aware that "Jew" was offensive in and of itself. I do realize that with certain intonation or context, it might be. But I highly doubt anyone in the beta weekend would have been offended to to see "Jewel" floating above my head.

In some internet circles this is referred to as the Scunthorpe Problem, after an issue in the 1990's wherein AOL's language filter did not accept the name of Scunthorpe, a town in England's North Lincolnshire, as a place of residence, because a portion of the name is an extremely offensive word in the United States. Now filters can be programmed to include "clean words," as was done by AOL (and Google) in the case of Scunthorpe. Arenanet could/should do the same thing with their filter. There's no reason to allow "Lovestospooge" for a name. But let a human being decide that (and not an entry-level lackey with no common sense either).

However, going beyond the Scunthorpe problem, I would say it's highly debatable whether the apparently offensive word within my proposed name is really offensive at all. Congratulations, Jews of the world, ArenaNet has determined your ethnonym to be offensive.

Have you ever been prevented from using an innocuous character name because it contained a potentially offensive term?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Developing Character Appearance

Syp, the proprietor of Bio Break, is hosting guest posts this week because he is off doing good in the real world somewhere. This was my contribution, refined:

I once wrote a guest post for Multiplaying about character backstories, developing them as motivation for in-game actions. Having a good idea of where your character comes from goes a long way toward "fleshing them out" in your mind, and even the minds of other people with whom you may share those stories. There are two other aspects of character customization. One is how you combine your character's skills, or talents and abilities, as you progress through the game. The system for this varies for each game that I have played, from the classes and talent trees of World of Warcraft, to the Soul System of Rift and the Ability Wheel of The Secret World. Usually, however, it is a slow progress that occurs throughout the game. The other aspect of character customization takes place within seconds of logging in to the game for the first time, and—depending on the game—is more or less permanent for the "life" of the character. This is character creation.
I am not talking here about choosing a class or even necessarily a faction, though that can impact what I am talking about. To me, the major part of character creation is deciding on the physical appearance of my avatar. Some games have lots of races (species really) to choose from. A fantasy setting will likely have variations on the Tolkien arch-races: crafty dwarves, brutish orcs, stately elves, and, of course, humans. A sci-fi game will probably have aliens of some sort. Choosing a racial appearance may lock in certain racial benefits like extra hit points or expertise with certain weapons, but I find that these tend to be trivial, and moreso the higher the level of your character (assuming there are levels).

A face that could launch a thousand quests.

Some character creation systems, like WoW, are fairly simple, a few hairstyles and colors, a few faces, skin-tones, maybe facial hair or tusks, and jewelry. The clothes are already set based on your race or class. Despite upgrades in graphics, the most recent games I've played are pretty much the same system. Both Star Wars: the Old Republic and TSW really have only a few options for faces, and SWTOR's costumes are fixed at the beginning based on class. Other games have more elaborate facial customization, like the facial shape triangles of Rift and Age of Conan, which seem to have tons of minute variations, so you can make the perfect face.
In addition to the facial customization, which is frankly only a slight improvement on WoW's, and then mostly in the graphic style, TSW has customizable outfits right from the character creation screen. While the choices are limited, especially compared to what can be purchased later in the game, the mere fact that, regardless of class, you can choose your avatar's clothing is a huge leap forward, in my opinion, though not quite revolutionary, as we shall see. TSW's wardrobe has enough variety that you can decide if your character is businesslike, a working stiff, or funky-punky. The clothes make the man (or woman), so to speak. And since clothes are not tied to player attributes like health and strength, you may become quite the clothes horse before you're through, without worrying about how it affects your gear progression.

The most extensive character creation system I have experienced is Star Trek Online, hands down; though I have heard Champions Online, also by Cryptic, is at least as elaborate. There are reasonable limits to established Star Trek races; but if you choose an "alien," the possibilities are almost endless. I have seen Na'vi from Avatar and Yoda from Star Wars running around in Earth Star Base. While there are a set number of uniforms, all the colors are customizable, plus there are uniform styles available from every canon era of the franchise. And again, none of it is tied to gear progression, so you can change out your outfits whenever you like. Re-customization does come with a fee.

It's all up to you.

Sometimes how your character looks can make or break your enjoyment of the game. Things like scars can give your avatar's face character, and be the launching point of a backstory. (Where did the scar come from?) Hair up, or down, can show a difference in personality. While I liked my priest and paladin characters in WoW (they were twin sisters), as soon as it was possible, I changed their hairstyles at the in-game barbershop to be more businesslike, reflecting their serious outlooks on their jobs/classes. In STO, for the first time, I made a character that actually resembled me, or at least an idealized version of me. In contrast, I couldn't get into Lord of the Rings Online partly because I couldn't get my avatars to look the way I thought they ought to.
I think you can tell a lot about a character by their appearance. Their personality, some of their background. A fat Sith is more about indulgence and study than a well-muscled one, who is probably more action-oriented, or even vain. A scowling character is not likely to be a carebear type. Much like the backstory, appearance can help flesh out your character, make him or her or it more real for you and increase your enjoyment of the game.

Are you the sort of person that takes an hour to get your character's face just right? Or do you just hit the random character generator and go with whatever pops out?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On "The Decline of Hardcore"

My friend River, of High Latency Life, wrote a guest post on Syp's Bio Break about how he worries that there aren't any more hardcore gamers in MMOs. Hopefully mine will be up later this week. This is my response.

You know happened to all the hardcore gamers? They grew up and got adult responsibilities. This is not a rant, just an observation. Hardcore gamers are like "hardcore" high school athletes. You could extend that to college athletes, too, I suppose. When you're young, with little responsibility other than getting through school, you have plenty of time to play games. Maybe you're involved in football, or band, or tabletop roleplaying, or maybe even first person shooters or MMORPGs. Heck, maybe you smoke a lot of weed.(Don't do drugs, kids.)
Only a few very lucky people get to continue that utter devotion into adulthood, after they graduate from high school or college. Maybe they become professional athletes or musicians or gamers. That's hardcore. The rest of us get "real" jobs that restrict us to one degree or another from simply doing what we like. We get a significant other that, more likely than not, does not share our enthusiasm for our hobby. We might have kids or ill parents that demand our attention. There isn't time enough in the day.

We're lucky to get a few hours in the evening to relax and play our games. We may get bored with the same old games, and move on to new ones, forever trying to reclaim that feeling we had when we were young and playing hardcore with our friends.

But our friends have grown up, too. If they haven't or we haven't, then we probably grow apart as our interests and responsibilities evolve.

I was in the Army for about four years, and then was lucky to get a job where I knew a lot of the people from my tour of duty. However, the further I get from my time of service, the fewer new people in the office are friends I knew. That doesn't mean that people aren't enlisting and then getting out when their tours are done. I am simply ever more removed from that time myself.
I am sure there are just as many hardcore gamers out there as before, River. You are just no longer moving in those circles, and neither are your friends. There is also the dilution aspect. There may be just as many hardcore players. But as the genre becomes ever more mainstream, they become ever less prominent in the sea of casual gamers who only need a few hours of relaxation after work is over and the kids have gone to bed.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Strafe-Turning in Combat: TSW

I'm also practicing my strafe-turning: using "E" or "Q", while using my mouse to keep my avatar facing the hostile. Since I can cast (this includes guns and melee) while moving, all I need to do is keep my target within my range fan to do damage while avoiding incoming damage as best I can. It takes some doing, at least for me. But I am able to defeat mobs that were troublesome before (on alts the same "level").

[EDIT 2012-0718] Just so people know what I'm normally using to navigate in games, here is a picture of my mouse:
Fairly simple, only two extra buttons, and the forward of those two doesn't work because I dropped it one too many times. I've used this style mouse for almost seven years. The only time I've really used those extra buttons was for the Healbot interface while raiding in WoW.[/EDIT]

[EDIT 2012-07-19] And a pic of the built-in keyboard of my Asus G73 courtesy of Republic of Gaming:

PvPers are probably laughing at me right about now.

Quick ProTip: TSW Abilities

I just wanted to get this out quick before I forget: I strongly recommend filling out both weapons ability sets as early as is feasible. My original thought was to fill out the abilities for one weapon completely, with only minimal AP spent on the other until later. But then playing my Dragon, I decided to try it the other way, to get more variety. I managed to get a very strong single-target "deck" as well as a very strong multi-target/AoE "deck" relatively early, and am mowing down mobs. The trick is knowing which load-out I'll need for the next fight.

Also, you get an achievement and a cool jacket for each school of combat you complete on the inner wheel.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Foolish Consistency

Emerson once said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." He wasn't ranting about consistency, per se, but about being consistent simply for consistency's sake.

I was reading Syp's post about being excited about new games as they come out, and many in the blogosphere seem to think it's their job to fight the hype surrounding every new MMO that comes on the market. It leads many others, myself included, to tamp down their enthusiasm for the latest thing, to hedge positive reviews with at least a little bit of skepticism.
I think there is a fear of looking like a fool for "falling" for the hype of a new title. A fear that the naysayers may have been right. I was very enthusiastic about SWTOR when it came out, and incidentally had a peak of readers during December that has led to a readership plateau much higher than I enjoyed most of 2011. Six or seven months later, the luster has worn off and I'm feeling a little sheepish. It's colored my reviews of TSW. But I honestly really like the game, for all the reasons I have detailed in my last few posts. (I probably have not hidden my enthusiasm very well.)

I also tend to blog about what I am playing, what I am enthusiastic about. I'm not consistent, and my readership levels may suffer. Being the egotist I am, I would love to be more widely read. But if it requires being more consistent about the topic, I guess I'll have to be content with the people that have stuck with me so far. If I have any consistency, it's that I write about what is on my mind. (BTW, Daniel Tosh is a turd, but raging against him on Twitter will do nothing to change him.)

Will I still be playing TSW in six months? I don't know. I thought I would be play Rift far longer than I did. I thought I would play SWTOR longer than I am apparently going to. Back in February of last year, when Rift was almost ready for release, I wrote about wanting to be a part of a virtual world for long stretches, much like I played WoW for years. Now, I've ended up playing my last two major titles for about as long as the person who inspired that post suggested: six months.

I've become the guy I told it was OK to play a title for only as long as it is fun to play. If, like Baybdoll, for you that game is WoW, great. If it is something else, enjoy it for as long or as short as you want. Don't worry about whether others approve. And don't be foolishly consistent. Hey, GW2 is on the horizon.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Bugs, Glitches, and Misunderstandings

I was reading MMOGC's post this morning about past and current issues she's had with Funcom's Age of Conan and The Secret World. It's actually a positive post overall, more about not letting problems with prior games deter you from trying new ones from the same company. I tend to agree overall. While I didn't have the same technical issues with AoC that GeeCee did, I couldn't get into the game the way some have. It never really clicked for me, even though I found the original Conan short stories entertaining.
So along comes The Secret World, a game I didn't really intend to play. Even now, with it being the current shiny, I'm trying my best not to jump on the hype train. But I gotta say, I haven't had this much fun playing a game since my first couple years of WoW. SWTOR was exciting to start. The opening crawl of "my" story really revved up my excitement, the first time I saw it. I quickly lost that rush with each succeeding character.

Don't get me wrong, SWTOR has been a lot of fun. However, I haven't even logged in at least two weeks. Battlechicken's issues, even though they were resolved, still soured me on BioWare's game. It may seem silly to stop playing a game because of something outside the game itself that didn't even happen to me, but there it is. I haven't even gotten my main, Versteckt, up to max level or finish his story. My other characters languish at various stages of the game, and on my SWTOR character page. Mostly, it feels like an effort, a chore, to log in and play. I'd probably enjoy it if I do, but the incentive to is gone. CORRECTION: My lovely bride wants to finish the stories of Versteckt and Chic(c)o, so we'll be doing that.

On the other hand, TSW has drawn me in, in a big way. I encountered my first major bugs yesterday, with the chat going haywire (which happened to everyone) and a major quest, "Something Wicked," bugging out at the worst possible time, making it unfinishable. Hopefully, both will be fixed quickly. I did manage to finish that quest on another character the night before, but did have some trouble deciding what to do to solve the puzzle. And trying to figure out if I was doing it wrong or it was bugged. So I can understand the frustration of GeeCee and others.

None of that is game breaking, though the chat problem made it difficult to resolve the quest bug.

I wonder if some of the "bugs" people encountered during beta were misunderstandings of the game mechanics or even game terminology. For instance, the mechanic called "Dodge" in many other games—like WoW—avoidance of an incoming attack, is called "Evade" in TSW. The thing is, "Evade" in WoW means a mob has stopped attacking and is returning to its default position. This sometimes happens if the mob is bugged for whatever reason. So there I am, swinging at a zombie, and I see the word "Evade" fly above its head where damage numbers should be. "It's bugged, dammit!" No, the mob merely avoided my swing.
The "clunky" combat, turns out to be fairly subtle. With the possible exception of the "hearth" spell to Agartha, which I have not tested, every spell in the game is castable on the fly. Which means I can be moving to avoid an attack at the same time I am setting up my own. This makes the battles more dynamic than I realized at first. Also, each school of combat has things that make it unique, beyond the superficial animations. For instance, Blood Magic allows you to sacrifice some health in order to cast a power-consuming spell; something that is impossible for the other two schools of magic. Unless I am mistaken, melee consumers hit the same whether you have one power or five. (Please forgive my inexact terminology)  Ranged (gun) consumers are more powerful the more combo points you have on the target. Those subtle differences change the way each school plays; on top of which, you may (should?) have abilities from two different schools of combat, further changing how you approach combat. It's not simply a choice of guns, magic, or melee.

I have never gotten this much into the combat theory of a game. Most of the time, I'm either just taking what looks good, or following the advice of someone else far more interested in theorycraft. And that says a lot to me about The Secret World.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Brooklyn in The (Real) Secret World

Just a comparison of the Illuminati stronghold in The Secret World's Brooklyn and the real world neighborhood, as near as I can figure. NOTE: The map for the Secret World is upside-down. Running toward the river is approximately running north, not south, and Manhattan is across the river.
Makes me think that the neighborhoods in Seoul and London are likely based on real places, too.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Be All You Can Be: Protips for The Secret World

In my main post yesterday, I described some things that make The Secret World different from other MMOs. My fellow bloggers continue to elaborate their views on the subject, as well. It's not all sunshine and roses for TSW, but it seems people are enjoying themselves. (Seriously, follow those links. I'll wait here.)
I don't want to sound superior here, and I am certainly no expert on TSW. But I wanted to clear up some confusion I have heard people discussing about various aspects of the game. I guess I "get" the playstyle of TSW more than some people I've spoken with. Others have no problem with the game, but may benefit. I promised a guide, it's more of a set of protips, I suppose. There will certainly be more thorough guides out there.

NOTE: When referring to weapons, I include magic abilities, because they require a "focus" which occupies a weapon slot in your gear.

The Ability Wheel:
I had a friend concerned about the number of choices available on the ability wheel. He was concerned that too much choice would lead to vaporlock as to what abilities he should use in practice. This was based partly on the notion that all the abilities would be conceivably available if you have enough Ability Points (AP) to spend. This is not the case, as you should have gathered if you've tried spending AP at all. The various Abilities build on each other. For example, Dancing Blade, a 3AP ability, will require you to have purchased (with AP) one 2AP ability and three 1AP abilities. Furthermore, the abilities seem to alternate between active abilities and passive abilities. You learn an active ability and the next ability to learn will likely be some sort of passive improvement on its predecessor. The passive abilities also affect the damage/healing/survivability of abilities in other schools of combat. That is, magic passives are likely to affect gun/melee actives as well as spells.

Borrowing from card games like Magic: The Gathering and computer games like the original Guild Wars, The Secret World only allows you to have up to seven active abilities and seven passive abilities in play at any given time. As you're learning new abilities, those slots fill up. So once you have more than seven abilities of either type, you have to start making decisions.

To help you, the developers in Oslo have come up with some ability combos they think are effective to fill a role in the Unholy Trinity. One of the tabs on the Ability Wheel interface is Decks, on the far left of the screen. I'll go with the devs' advice, since completing a deck will give me extra buffs, and apparently a cool outfit to boot. Having pointed that out, the decks will take quite a bit of time to complete, since every deck has at least one 50AP ability. This translates into several hundred AP. (The Ninja deck that I am working for Poppyshock, pictured, is 856 AP.) So in the early game, the decks are more a goal to work for rather than an instant win scenario.

Character Skills:
Skills are all passive as far as I can tell. Each skill level costs a corresponding amount of Skill Points (SP) beyond what you have already spent on previous levels (i.e., Skill Level 3 costs 3 AP, and a cumulative 6 AP). Each weapon has two Skills, a personal DPS buff and a support buff (survivability, healing, DPS of another player). But don't forget the Talisman Skills at the bottom. To equip a higher quality item, you must have a skill level to match the item. My understanding is that you only need to build up one of the two weapon skills (DPS or support) to qualify for a given quality level (QL).

My advice is one of balance, with the Talisman Skills built up first, just so you don't forget them. Spend one point each in the Talisman Skills, then one point in each Skill for the Weapon(s) that you are currently using. Then build the second tier of skills.

NOTE: AP and SP cannot be refunded. Stop asking. The choices you make, make you. If you want to change to a different school of combat, start spending points in that school. I've put points in the wrong school myself. You can slowly but surely built up your new abilities and skills, integrating them into your combat rotation as they become powerful enough to fit the area you're in. You only have to repeat missions if you want to. Your choices matter in the short run, but given enough time you'll be able to master all 525 abilities.

"Dual Wielding" Weapons:

Yes, yes, YES! you can carry two weapons and use them! Do it! Do it NAO! There are no two-handed weapons in the traditional sense, only in the animation of your avatar. The assault rifle, for example, only occupies one slot on your gear, as do the pistols (which you appear to dual wield). So you could conceivably have a slot each of a rifle and pistols, or pistols and a sword, or a sword and a chaos focus, etc. As Syp pointed out, having two weapons means you can have two "finishing" moves where you can do big damage or healing. I've decided the best strategy is to settle on two weapons before I train during the tutorial, based on the deck I chose, then pick my secondary weapon in the training chamber, and get my primary weapon from the first QL1 green weapon mission reward. This will require spending at least 1 SP in the primary weapon right off the bat.

A couple of points to consider regarding weapons abilities:
  • Some abilities build power, others spend it.
  • Abilities that build power do it for both weapons.
  • Guns build "combo points" power on the target.
  • Melee power starts full, then drops.
  • Magic power starts empty, then builds.
So other than pulling mobs to you, if you have an ability that spends all your melee power, use it as soon as possible. Then lay enough power-building abilities to pop off a major magic or gun ability. Then pop the melee "finisher" again. If you don't have a melee weapon, I would prioritize building the combo points, then spending the gun finishers before the magic, since the magic finishers can be used on new targets, where the gun finishers cannot. These are general guidelines and I could be totally mistaken.
You can only have one Main Mission (the red, green, or yellow ones) at a time. If you accept a new main mission when already on one, the first will pause at the current tier of the mission (i.e., 3/5). You'll have to return to the original mission giver (e.g., Sheriff Bannerman) to pick it back up, but you'll be at the same tier.

Research may be required on your mission, there is a built-in internet browser for a reason. You can search Google. Also, there are sites (set up by Funcom) representing many of the organizations found in the game that may be of information value. While there are plenty of kill-ten-rats type quests, this is not a mindless hack-and-slash. You will need your thinking cap. It's one reason I really like this game.

Yokai and Sarcan have an incredibly thorough set of guides that I am only beginning to scratch the surface of. If you are interested in indepth theory-crafting, I recommend you check in with them. If anyone has any more protips to share or wants to clear up confusions they've heard, feel free to leave a comment or question.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Quote of the Day: Antisocial? No, Just Immersed

OK, it's the second QOTD, sue me. Here's MMO Gamerchick on The Secret World:
Playing in a dim environment with headphones on, it’s easy to become entirely immersed in the world without realizing that you’ve unwittingly ignored general and cabal chat for the last half hour (so I hope my guildies will forgive me for being anti-social).
MaeveMP, GeeCee, and I were discussing the value of a darkened room on Twitter, not only for The Secret World, but in my opinion all computer games. Much like the 1979 penny in Somewhere in Time, any distraction in the Real World will pull me out of immersion faster than any in-game glitches or flaws.

As far as being anti-social, I have a tendency to ignore general chat and have to consciously pay attention to guild-chat. In WoW, I would start chatting during idle times like the taxi flights. I haven't seen much downtime like that in The Secret World.

A Different World: The Secret World

Partly because I am not easily scared by horror movies (honestly can't remember the last time I was more than startled in a movie), I don't really find The Secret World scary, and don't think I ever will. However, the atmosphere is fantastic. I've only been a little past Kingsmouth (the first real adventure zone), having spent so much time creating my characters, and looking for lore entries in the hubs. But goodness gracious! The town is literally steeped in mood. The mix of zombies and Lovecraftian abominations—with a touch of X-Files conspiracies thrown in for good measure—is phenomenal. Notice the sunlight in the screen shot. As Ysharros pointed out, the mood is dark, the environment is not necessarily.

That is the first thing that is awesome about this game. Yes, this is a cheerleading post for The Secret World. Sorry, I'm not as cynical about the games I play as some are. I realize I do get ranty and can aften digress. But you can keep up. Right, Dear Reader?

The Community. According to MMO Compendium, even during downtimes, the forums have not blown up in nerd-rage. I haven't investigated this myself, but the chat in game seems reasonably helpful and not full of Chuck Norris facts, etc. Is this a result of the Mature Rating? I don't know, but it's a pleasant change. It helps that I am for the third game in a row on an RP server—oops, "dimension." To think I used to shy away from these types servers because the people were "weird." Turns out weird means not 13.

With the game server down for maintenance this morning, I took the opportunity to organize this post and watch Gamebreaker's blurb on the subject. I'm going to borrow liberally from them for my outline, but the comments are my own.
Set aside your differences. OK, remember how when you played WoW and you wanted to be a an Orc or Tauren, but all your friends were rolling dwarves and gnomes? So you had to roll Alliance, or you wouldn't be able to play. It sucked. Not so with The Secret World. Feel free to group up with those of opposing factions for PvE content, dungeons, etc. After all, some serious shit is goin' down, and unlike Telara or Azeroth, we need to stick together to tsake care of it. Then, when the pressure's off, we can fight amongst ourselves again in the PvP areas. Yes, I say again cross-faction PvE. Hopefully soon we make form cross-faction cabals (guilds), wheels-within-wheels.

One world, different dimensions. Oh and remember how you would meet someone who played WoW like you; what's the second thing you'd ask (after Alliance or Horde)? "What Realm are you on?" Inevitably, because there are a gajillion people playing WoW your new friend played on a different server. It would be costly to transfer, and you'd have to leave all your guildies and other friends behind, so you stay put. With TSW, you can reach out across dimensions (sort of like instances of the game, but more massively multi-player) to talk to friends group up, even join same faction cabals. (I dunno if you can be in more than one cabal.) Your "nickname" is unique across the entire server. As I discussed on Twitter earlier today, there are other games that have similar population strategies, like STO, EVE, Champions Online, and more. Even Rift makes it easy to jump servers. The thing is, more games should have this feature or something like it. Otherwise, when you have the inevitable contraction of player population, you force server mergers. And some unlucky players lose all their character names, which can be gamebreaking for many.

No elves here. Rather than a fantasy or Sci-Fi setting, this is our world, tweaked a little. All the myths and legends of old are true—all the conspiracy theories, all the political machinations. This makes it very immersive, in my opinion. I knew this was gonna be cool when one of the NPCs told me this wasn't some "Dan Brown paperback". Heck, I got a kick out of the details like the road signs in Kingsmouth. The references to New England horror/mystery pop culture are great, too.

Leave no stone un-turned. Along those lines, everything in the world could be important. The shops around town aren't just decoration; they have meaning, they could be part of the mystery, part of a puzzle to solve. There's a built-in web browser with Google as its homepage. You're gonna need it. Not to get the boss fight guide, but to find out who that 18th-century composer was, to find out what that one guy looked like. You may know some of the answers, but you won't know them all. And hey, this is the 21st century, FunCom knows you're gonna be looking stuff up. Just like that open-book test in school, this game's just that more challenging because the answers are readily available.
This next item is going to lead into my next post, one of the few advice posts I've ever done. I think maybe the first for a game itself. But there seems to be some confusion about gameplay that is dissuading some people from appreciating the game fully. Or turning them off completely.

More abilities than you can shake a stick at. Because the game is classless, eventually every weapon and ability in the game will be available to every character. You can be that shotgun-wielding healer. Or the fireball-throwing tank. Or the whatever-shooting/swinging/casting DPSer. But only seven active and seven passive abilities at a time. The freedom of choice can admittedly seem overwhelming, but that is an item for the next post.

QOTD: Hooray for Colorful Metaphors

From Ysharros:
Our internet has been up and down like a tart’s knickers for the last 2 days. More off than on.
I know it's a little old, but it had me rolling.