Repair-bot, ready for duty!

November 2, 2011

Last night I opted to pick up parts for my Drake in EVE (hey it only took about two hours…) rather than join my buddies for some Dungeon Defenders, which I think says more about Dungeon Defenders than EVE. Actually I know it does. Zubon over at KTR talks about the recent ‘balance’ changes to DD, and to reiterate my comment from over there, the notes just highlight how utterly broken DD is.

What DD should be is a four-player co-op tower defense game where proper usage of all four classes and solid strategy wins.

What DD really plays like: squire sets up towers, everyone else repairs them for 90 minutes.

It’s a really fun game…

Honestly the only difference between the Insane (fitting huh)Halloween map in DD and flying to a dozen stations in EVE is that after I play EVE, I don’t have a kaleidoscope-driven headache. Oh and that once the task is complete, I have something fun to look forward to rather than MORE kaleidoscope-driven headaches.

I only mention this because DD should be a fun game. It’s not hard to see how either. Maybe make all the classes useful? Maybe share XP for monster kills? Maybe make more than one strategy viable? No 90 minute+ maps? Maps that require more thinking than running/repairing?

I don’t know, I’m just a blogger with yet another goal in EVE (epic story arc, hence the Drake for lvl 3 missions to build up rep with the Corp that gives it).


Dungeon Defenders: Flawed fun

October 20, 2011

I played Dungeon Defenders last night, having purchased it as a 4-pack with my regular gaming buddies, for about five hours (casually, yo). I think the fact that we played it for five hours straight says a lot right there, but this being a blog and all let me write a bit more about it. Also see Zubon over at KTR for some more impressions.

For a $10 game, graphically it looks surprisingly good, and the sound is also enjoyable. Controls in-game are mostly solid, although the occasional wonky collision detection is noticeable. The UI on the other hand is clearly console-inspired, and makes simple stuff like inventory management unnecessarily sloppy. As Zubon mentioned, this is very clearly a console-first title.

All of my impressions are based on playing the game with three friends on vent, which is basically the ideal scenario for the game. Even after just five hours, I can’t imagine the game being nearly as fun playing with PUGs (though keep in mind my general tolerance for PUGs is somewhere between zero and none).

I say this because there are some serious game-design issues. The most glaring being that XP gain is based on who kills a mob, which naturally means support classes/tower, while very helpful in winning, don’t earn you the same amount of XP as killing stuff. This encourage bad-tactics stuff like people putting attack towers in front of defense towers to try to get more XP, or people charging into mobs to score more kills. If I saw it playing with three friends, I can’t imagine how this is going to play out in PUG-land. This also naturally makes offensive classes like the Squire ‘better’ than a support class like the Monk in terms of leveling/score. The whole mess could very easily be fixed by making XP gain global.

One concern I had with DD is how it would balance tower defense with the Diablo-monster-bash aspect. On the surface it seems like the Diablo part is dominant, and sometimes it is, but on tougher maps proper use of towers is the key to victory. We lost twice last night, and both times correcting how we place our towers resulted in victory. This was very satisfying, and I think there is a decent amount of strategic depth in terms of tower combos and placement.

While certain areas of DD are rough, I think overall the game does a nice job of mixing genres. Collecting items is fun, and the itemization is on-par with Diablo in terms of random stats and such. Going up levels is also fun, and there seems to be decent depth to the character customization (and no doubt there will soon be ‘best spec’ builds). The tower placement/upgrading part is flexible and interesting, and the monster-bashing is what it is, simple yet enjoyable.


Paying full price

October 12, 2011

As we picked up the 4-pack for Dungeon Defenders last night, our Steam group talked about paying for games, and why anyone would pay full price for a game in the age of $5 Steam sales, Game+DLC bundles, and Sub-to-F2P tactics. Interestingly enough, the best reasons all touched on this week’s general topic; playing with others vs going solo.

The best reason to buy on day one, and pay full price, is because you want to play with your guild/friends, who are going to be playing right at the beginning. If you opt to join late, they will either already be ahead or have moved on from the game. Obviously, if you don’t play with a steady group, and just join groups from game to game, this is not a huge factor. If the game in question is a single-player game (either because it is in fact a single player game, or because it’s something like SW:TOR), that’s one less reason to shell out $50-$60.

The next reason, and this is somewhat related to the first point, is in a game where the first month plays differently than the next. An real MMO generally changes as time goes on, players do things month one that they don’t month two, and in a social environment being part of the buzz/wave is fun. The more single-player focused the title, the less this is a factor. Battlefield 3 is a title I’m not picking up day-one, and while the matches will mostly be the same in six months, the fact that players will be higher ranked with different guns is something to consider. For me it’s not enough to pay $60 for the title, but it was a consideration.

Finally, and this is certainly the weakest reason, is to show support for a title or genre. I pre-ordered Heroes of Might and Magic 6 not just because I want to play it day one (I honestly could wait), but because I want more TBS titles made, and I want HoMM6 to do well and get future support. Going back to Battlefield, I honestly could care less about EA, or to support ‘yet another shooter’. It’s also why I still have an active Darkfall account, despite the fact that I only play it sparingly (once a week for an hour or so). In the grand scheme of things, gaming is a fairly cheap hobby for me, but I fully understand for others money might be tight and you simply can’t spend as much as you’d like, so how often you can afford to ‘vote’ like this is going to vary.

I’m not sure we are really seeing the effects of this yet. Modern Warfare 3 sold like crazy in the first week, but consoles are somewhat different, and game prices rarely drop to PC/Steam levels. Duke Nukem Forever is on sale right now for $10. If you paid $50 for it at release (which was like a week ago, right?), how’s that working out for ya? Again I’m not putting money down that the average gamer is going to start shopping smart tomorrow and only paying full price when they strongly support a developer/genre, but I’d like to think at some point it’s going to matter, and if so, that’s good news for those of us who enjoy games with strong social (real social, not Sims Social) mechanics and true community-first design.


Forbes hates accessibility

October 11, 2011

Not that this Forbes article is saying anything we don’t already know, but I find it somewhat funny to read about anti-accessibility from such a source. It’s also amusing how close the issues in FPS-land mirror those of the MMO genre. A game is better when it’s based on working with others for bigger goals, yet what sells is solo-hero, simple, short-term objectives that appeal to Xbox kids.

Now one might ask “what happens when the Xbox kids grow up?”

I don’t think they will. I think a lot of those ‘kids’ are middle-aged right now. They just prefer games at a mental level somewhere around grade school. Maybe it’s because they are just that casual. Maybe gaming is ‘brain off’ time for them. Or maybe the difference between ‘brain off’ and ‘brain on’ is negligible. Whatever the reason, I don’t see the average gamer ‘growing up’ and flooding smarter, more niche titles, be they FPS’ers or MMOs.

In other ‘brain off’ news, you know Blizzard has stopped monitoring the interns running WoW when they can’t even copy/paste PLEX correctly into their game. I get that most of the stuff CCP is doing is “impossible” for Blizzard, but PLEX? One would think allowing one group of players to fund the subs of another group would be of interest to a game bleeding so rapidly.


Final Fantasy Tactics on the iPhone

August 15, 2011

Square Enix has been releasing older Final Fantasy games for the iPhone for a while now. FF1 and FF2 were released for $8.99. FF3, which got a pretty heavy overhaul when it was released for the PSP (I believe), was released for $16.99. For those counting at home, that’s about $16 more than most iPhone games, give or take a penny. I passed on FF3, but I’m just waiting for it to go on sale or have a price drop.

Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT) was released recently for $16.99 (also an updated PSP version).

I picked it up.

FFT might be my all-time favorite Playstation game, and it’s certainly one of the greatest TBS games of all time. That it’s now available for the iPhone and looks/sounds/plays as amazing as it does, is, well, pure awesome. The only technical issue I’ve seen on my iPhone4 is odd slowdown when you go to select/confirm an attack (literally the menu option showing up seems to slow the game down, but all the attack animations, the camera spinning, effects going off; all of that runs just fine. Really odd, and hopefully something that gets fixed in an update).The game being available on the iPhone is especially great since it’s the PSP version, which has had its translation cleaned up (not perfected though, but eh) and some new movies added.

At $16.99 it’s tough to recommend the game blindly, but if you enjoy TBS games, or wish to relive the greatness of FFT, I’d say it’s well worth the price.

Note: I’m not sure how the game runs on older iPhones, but I’d guess some slowdown would be expected.


Innovation = Lowered Expectations

July 18, 2011

This article is making the blog rounds today. It’s interesting enough, and also a little comical (count how many people complain about innovation, and then count how many of them are “Currently know for” a sequel).

While mostly console-focused, the main theme is that innovation is lacking and that costs are too high to attempt a AAA product that’s not a “sure thing”. This is nothing new to the industry of course (and one could argue, especially on the PC, that things are better today than they were five years ago thanks to digital distribution), but nothing new has never stopped bloggers before, and it won’t stop me today.

IMO the innovation issue is pretty simple: if you want to try something new but not bank your entire company on it, don’t spend $100m on the gamble, spend $5m. Yes, a $5m title won’t have cutting-edge GCI, Hollywood voice acting, or an art team the size of a small country, but when have any of those ever REALLY factored into a game being great? (Hi SW:TOR). Gameplay is king, it always has been. Flashy games that have trash gameplay are still bad games (that unfortunately sometimes still sell because too many gamers are lemmings, but that’s another issue that, as things like Steam friends and blogs get more common, will decrease).

Look at the iPhone market: how many top gamers continue to sell because a big-name publisher continues to hype them, and how many are there because of superior gameplay? Angry Birds is raking it in because of its fundamental design, as did Field Runners, Pocket God, and the rest (slightly outdate list mind you, but still). (side note: Tap Tap is basically a Guitar Hero clone, but the gameplay does translate well to the iPhone)

Now gaming fans have to be honest with themselves here as well. If someone is going to take a risk, you can’t go into it expecting that not only is the gameplay truly something new, but it’s also polished like WoW after years of patching AND has the production value of a CoD rehash. A lot of gamers do, which is a problem, but the sooner people stop and just appreciate what the games are, the sooner we will see more of them.

A somewhat recent example is the first Witcher title. The devs went for something different in the PC RPG genre (a genre that is itself not exactly a breeding ground for mega-hit sales), brought a lot of good innovation, and were rewarded with success. Yet we still saw people complaining about reused NPC models, bugs (the 1.0 version had some serious issues), and how the voice acting was not perfect in spots. EA just recently released Dragon Age 2, how’s that working out for us?

In the MMO genre we see this all the time, and we might have the best example of all. If you were totally clueless about the whole genre, and just based your knowledge off reading random forums, you would come away thinking the absolute worst idea would be to release anything resembling WoW. Every single post claims to want innovation, for devs to try something new, and for ‘not another WoW-clone’. Now look at the sales charts, or what games remain popular. Look at the player expectations for small studios and their niche games. It’s crazy.

It’s even worse in the MMO genre because it’s so difficult to predict how anything new will actually work. Players do some very, very strange things, and the best system on paper might be a total disaster thanks to ‘creative gameplay’ by the players. And even when a title does release with some new ideas, what’s the reaction? Why is this not polished like WoW. Or even worse, why is the UI not exactly like WoW. Again, crazy.

But like I said earlier, I feel that today’s market is better than it has been before. Steam allows older titles to still be sold (encouraging devs to patch up mistakes), it does not have ‘shelf space’ issues like brick-and-mortar stores (letting the little guy be seen/sold), and it connects gamers to sites like meta-critic to at least help separate bad games (though in no way is meta-critic perfect).

As gamers get more educated about their hobby, and as everyone ‘matures’ as a gamer, I’d like to think the whole “buy Madden early” thing will stop.

Although I’ve been thinking that for years now…


Bobby Kotick knows gaming!

February 10, 2011

Bobby Kotick is amazing.

Every single time he is quoted, I hate him just a little bit more, and at current hate levels, that’s impressive. Not only is he hell-bend on bleeding franchises dry, but it’s going to be a cold day in hell before he is responsible for bringing us anything like Minecraft, UO, Myst, or anything remotely creative and new. You will not only buy his sequels, but damn it, you are going to pay $15 a month/level for them as well! How can a man feed his children on just $60 up front

I like how they explain that the music genre died because of the need to buy instruments (which were massive profit machines), rather than, oh I don’t know, the genre being worked like a mule with rushed sequel after rushed sequel to cash in on the fad. Fast forward a few years, Call of Duty is being retired because shooting people is bad, and Bobby is now focused on bringing more “insert 2013 buzz word” to Farm-Blizzard-Ville.

Of course my favorite part was this:

Kotick emphasized that its current assets, like “World of Warcraft: Cataclysm” are inherently social.

Bahahaha. “Looking for silence random PUG, no talking, just mashing!” Oh yes, so inherently social, and getting more-so daily (get it).

(Yes, I know WoW is actually more social than Mario on the Wii, but facts and logic ruin good snark)


Crafting sucks

January 28, 2011

I think I spend a good hour or more last night getting the water entrance to my new structure in Minecraft ‘just right’. That activity involved placing and deleting dirt squares repeatedly. Finally it’s now a waterfall that only has water falling down, rather than down and under into the ‘secret’ passageway behind it. :Achievement!:

This was, of course, after I cleared half the Sahara digging up sand to turn into sandstone for the middle layer. Plus I needed to bake lots of cobblestone into stone, because, well, you can’t have things not looking right, right? Sure cobblestone and stone do the same thing, and the only real difference is that cobblestone is more white/gray/black specs while stone is just mostly gray, but listen, the gray looks better, so that’s how it was built!

Which brings me to the point of today’s posts: ‘fun’ crafting has nothing to do with the actual activity required to craft something, but is all about the WHAT and WHY of crafting. That’s why 99% of MMO crafting sucks. The ‘what’ is my 1000th pair of chain pants to grind up smithing, and the ‘why’ is because I need the skill at the cap to make that one epic I’ll actually find useful (until the next raid that replaces it, if not the raid last week that already replaced it, oops). No amount of ‘mini-games’ is going to make that fun, because if I actually want to play a mini-game, I’ve got a Wii, and it does that type of gameplay far better than an MMO. And no Wii mini-game is fun after the 1000th time anyway, so yea.

And it’s not like WHAT and WHY has never been done well in an MMO. Crafting the 1000th pair of chain pants in UO was fun. Why? Because I had a vendor to sell them on, and by keeping my vendor well stocked and with reasonable (but still very profitable) prices, I developed a reputation and had repeat customers. A few of those repeat customers then became friends through the somewhat ‘natural’ interaction of me being around the house and them visiting it. My characters FULL TIME activity in UO was crafting and gathering at one point, and it was thrilling. UO had click and wait crafting.

Minecraft is much the same, although less ‘massive’. The crafting is still very simple ‘drop it into this, pull out that’ stuff, and the gathering is ‘mash left-click x1000000’. Yet the gathering is fun thanks to the huge random world, and the crafting works because you not only set the purpose, but also directly see the results. I don’t start by baking sand to allow myself to finally reach gold-smelting. If Minecraft was a ‘tradition’ MMO, $10 says smelting iron/gold would be an ‘end-game’ activity you skilled-up to reach. That sounds incredibly stupid, but that’s how a lot of MMO design works, and that’s why 99% of crafting sucks.


Deliciously Random

January 14, 2011

Some Friday randomness to finish off the week.

First up, I installed the new 2.3 version of the Floris mod pack, and so far it’s working perfectly. I did a full reinstall of both M&B:W and the full 2.3 download though, which likely helped keep things clean. It’s absolutely crazy how different yet similar the game feels with this mod pack. Aside from the graphic overhauls, there are just tons of little and not-so-little tweaks that really improve the game overall. So far I highly recommend it, though I am still planning a more in-depth post about the pack once I’ve had more time with it.

Kotaku has a preview of Riot Games new League of Legends community moderation system. It sounds interesting, and hopefully it helps clean up the cesspool that has developed. It very much sounds like something players will be able to contribute to and review while waiting for a game, or while waiting for friends to finish theirs.

Speaking of League of Legends, Aria recently hit level 30, and we have been playing some duo-queue ranked games. Aside from the above-mentioned community aspect, so far things have been very up/down. We will win two decisively, then lose two in horrible fashion. I think the primary reason is that we are still around the 1200 ELO range, which is the starter ELO for fresh 30s, and so it’s before the ranking system has ‘sunk in’ and placed people accordingly. Hopefully we hit 1300+ soon, as at that level you don’t get the newer players and games are a bit more stable and evenly matched. That or we drop into sub-1200 ELO hell…

Finally, Tipa over at West Karana is at it again with her MMO challenge, something I fully support. I think there is a rather sizable population of MMO players who have never really gone ‘all in’ on a game, and hence have never experienced what it’s like to be a full-time player of just one game. It’s a very different experience, and a very rewarding one at that.

Her challenge also makes me consider the current state of the whole genre, as today players can have multiple game icons on their desktop, and can easily bounce around between games thanks to things like the F2P model. Toss in that Steam or other sites frequently discount games to silly levels, and that’s just another source of ‘distractions’.

I remember WAY BACK when I was young and gaming on a Commodore 64 or the Sega Genesis, I would only get games for holidays or my birthday, and that meant playing the games I had until I got something new. Because of this, I played the hell out of games like Shining Force or Ultima, beating them multiple times and playing them until I’ve seen every last bit of dialog and every last animation (and this was pre-internet, so I could not just access something like GameFAQs and get a step-by-step guide. You had to buy a real book to get that!).

When you spend that kind of time with a game, you really get a feel for what the devs were trying to do, rather than just quickly checking in to see the big flashing lights and moving on. Now if a game was poor (curse you Kid Chameleon, Sword of Vermilion, etc) you got screwed, but if it was good, you really got to full experience a classic.

Today I think a lot of people, even when playing something great, get pulled in too many directions, and never get the full experience out of anything. This is especially true and important for a good MMO, because they not only require more time/focus, but also reward it. Being part of a great clan only happens when you put in the time to meet people and get to know them. It’s only really rewarding when you are active enough to be consistently part of something, and a well-built MMO will reward time invested with better and more engaging experiences.

So again, I fully recommend people take Tipa up on her challenge, be it with one of the new MMOs coming in 2011, or with one that is already out. If you have never really done so, you are in for a treat.


Dragon Age 2 slipping off my radar

December 21, 2010

I think I’ve mentioned before that I definitely looking forward to The Witcher 2 way more than Dragon Age 2, but this preview from Warcry just tipped the scale even more in favor of Witcher. Anyone else read the preview and walk away feeling… WoW-ed?

It just sounds like every ‘improvement’ is aimed at making the whole thing easier, and I never found Dragon Age to be impossibly difficult to begin with. Rather it was a solid challenge in a genre that too often provides you with interactive cakewalks, and it was that challenge that masked a lot of the combat systems shortfalls (that became very apparent once things got easy towards the end). I doubt making an RPG’s combat more ‘actiony’ is really going to impress me either, especially since originally Dragon Age was intended as the spiritual successor to Balders Gate, a game certainly NOT about bash-em action.

Perhaps I’m just being glass-half-empty here (which would be a first), but right now DA2 is looking very much like a pass.


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