Pathfinder Online: Everything but the game is looking awesome!

July 16, 2014

I was recently talking to a friend about Pathfinder Online, with the gist of the conversation being that I love everything about the game on paper, from the design docs to what the devs have said, but actually seeing it in video is a complete no-go for me, and what that ultimately means.

On the one hand, ‘gameplay’ is a rather important aspect of any game, if not the most important. If what you are doing in the game isn’t actually fun most of the time, what kind of crazy person must you be to keep playing?

As crazy as most EVE players?

I mean, how much fun gameplay is there in many of EVE’s activities? Is mining ‘fun’? Are missions great gameplay? Even the high-point events like massive battles; for the average F1 pilot, is the gameplay really that great? I think most of the above can be answered with a “no, but…”. And that ‘but’ is huge (rimshot), because while mining is either boring or relaxing depending on perspective, it feeding into the best economy in the genre is a large part of what makes it such a popular activity in the game.

If Pathfinder gets the economy right, if it has interesting/worthwhile crafting, etc, would the fact that it has rather poor mining ‘gameplay’ matter? Because at this point I’d rather take poor gameplay but solid, sustainable systems over the opposite. If I just want great but shallow gameplay, I’ll play something other than an MMO.

Of course some of the gameplay has to be good/great. In EVE PvP can be thrilling, and at the highest levels (Alliance Tourney) it’s as deep and skillful as anything else. Pathfinder is in alpha still, so maybe the combat/gameplay will improve significantly, but even if it doesn’t, I can’t fully rule it out, even in the shape it’s in today.

(That said, please for the love of god improve the gameplay Goblin Works!)

 


Tales from Steam: 90% off

July 14, 2014

So many questions about this.

Like what is the end-game here? Because at 50 cents a copy, no amount of sales is going to amount to anything here, so what’s the point?

90% off is a bit much. This kinda goes into the newish phenom of Steam sales, where 33% off is a pass, 50% is ‘normal’, and 75-80% is ‘a good deal’. For me 90% is too much. It’s kinda like how guys like when girls are a little aggressive, but TOO aggressive and its a turn off? 90% is that girl who you are embarrassed for in her desperation.

Bonus: How about the first review quote for this game huh? Gametunnel (who?) gave it a 73%, lets lead off with that!

Edit: Should have scrolled a little lower; this game is 90% off and now 29 cents.

PS: Considering buying it since it has Steam cards.

PPS: Not really but sorta. Only thing actually holding me back is that if I did, it would be officially admitting I have a problem, and I’m not at rock bottom yet.

 

 

 


The humble bundle that keeps on giving

July 14, 2014

League of Legends has been randomly lag-spiking for us recently, to the point where ranked play is now more frustrating than normal (a game mode that was already borderline more frustrating than it was worth).

The real problem is that when a 51% win rate moves you up, and a 49% win rate moves you down, losing even one in ten games to a bad spike or playing slightly worse due to lag makes all the difference, and losing due to technical reasons is a killer for me. ARAMs don’t matter, so the issue isn’t as big a deal there, but ARAMs I can only really do one or two before having enough.

Moving on, I finished Risen 1, and can now fully say it was a really excellent game start to finish. Final boss was odd and a bit underwhelming, but beyond that an excellent RPG. I started Risen 2, but the controls are so bad I don’t think I can stick with it. The game taking such a major step back from the first title to the second is disappointing (new engine, but still), and hopefully Risen 3 doesn’t have this issue. Also, voice acting with constant swearing gets very old, very fast for me, and at least in the first hour or so, Risen 2 had a LOT of it.

Finally, I loaded up Saints Row 3, and must say I’m really enjoying it. It’s been a while since I’ve played a Grand Theft Auto game (PS2 days I think…), and SR is like an 80s action movie version of that. Just crazy over the top most of the time but not pushing things so far that it’s too silly (a fine line that might be in a different spot for everyone). I have all of the DLC for SR3, although most of THAT is too silly so I just ignore it.

I own SR3+DLC for the same reason I own Risen 1+2; a Humble Bundle that also included Dead Island and DI:Riptide (the reason for the bundle purchase). The last games and ones I might not load up unless someone tells me they are worthwhile are Sacred 2 and Sacred: Citadel. Even if those go unplayed, that bundle was the best $10 spent in a long, long time.

 


Please exit to your left, the ride has now ended

July 10, 2014

So this post happened, along with 40+ comments. Give it all a read.

Easy multiple choice question time: When you run out of ‘stuff to do’ in a game, what do you normally do?

A: Keep playing/paying for the lulz

B: Stop playing/paying

The correct and only answer is B.

Now sometimes you quit even when you still have ‘stuff to do’, but that’s better than the game basically ending for you due to the content running out, right?

Raids you might never see, for most players, count as ‘stuff to do’ in MMOs where raiding is ‘the point’. WoW in its prime was very much a ‘raiding is the point’ game. Yes, it had a nice leveling curve and a pretty decent PvP game (especially in retrospect and seeing what we have now in themeparks), but let’s not kid ourselves, raiding was ‘the point’ in WoW vanilla/TBC (you know, those years when the game was still growing).

Now whether it was realistic for the average player to get deep into raiding or not (it was because in a 40 man raid, 10-15 people carried the rest), that content was still stuff to do, with unique bosses, unique loot, and unique locations they had not seen that were ‘important’ to see. That keeps people playing/paying. It’s also far less effective to expect the average player to grind away in a brutal ‘hard mode’ to see the same boss again just with a gimmicky twist. Challenging content is PART of raiding, yes, but it’s not THE only reason, and when that’s all there really is to your true ‘end game’, you are going to lose people (like, you know, the millions WoW has lost since the TBC days).

What’s funny about today’s themepark MMOs is that they took all of the established lessons from earlier games, forgot them, and are doing everything they possibly can to lose people after 1-3 months. As I said in the comments over at TAGN, unless you are in the charity MMO business, giving people a reason to keep playing/paying is a pretty solid strategy IMO.

I also think this topic confuses people a bit with some of its history. For instance, Nax40 in WoW was indeed poorly used content. It was AWESOME content, but it came out way too close to TBC ‘resetting’ the game, so outside of world/server first guilds, it wasn’t viable content for most people. Had it been released 6 months earlier, or TBC was delayed for 6 months, those Nax40 usage numbers would have greatly increased, and it would have accomplished what AQ40 and BWL did before it; kept people playing/paying.

To bring this topic into 2014, myself and 99.99% of all League of Legend players will never see/experience Challenger-level ‘content’ like tournaments, streams, and the balance/meta game that exists at that level. And it’s a level that Riot spends a serious amount of time, effort, and money on. So while it’s not exactly apples to apples, just like the pro level of LoL helps bring in new players and keep existing players interested/involved, those 5-10% raids do something similar for your MMO, especially now with Twitch being so popular. People can watch those at a higher level, and because they are watching a video game vs something like professional basketball (where no matter how hard you try, you just won’t grow tall enough to dunk the ball), they actually CAN work to get better and get closer to that level.

And closer, rather than actually reaching it, is really the key here. So long as you can improve, and so long as you still have a reason (content) to keep improving, you will keep playing/paying. That is the model right? At least at the major league level of the MMO genre?

(And just to clarify, the ‘more content’ doesn’t 100% have to be raiding. Raiding works however because the dev-time to player-consumption ratio is reasonably sustainable, unlike questing or new zones. Now maybe when someone finally figures it out and makes a PvE sandbox MMO :cough: we’ll have a different example of sustainable, worthwhile PvE content, but until that day raiding is it.)

#WoW #MMODesign #LoL


Re-confirmed: I’m kind of a big deal

July 9, 2014

Knowing how many ‘real people’ readers a blog has, much less how much influence a writer has on his readers, is almost impossible to tell. WordPress provides view/visitor statistics of course, but based on personal experience those numbers aren’t 100% accurate (or even close, really). Not only that, but at this point I’m not even sure if they are inaccurately inflated or under-reported for this blog, as a few recent events have hinted at.

Let’s take a step back; as anyone who reads this blog has noticed, post volume is down, mostly because the MMO genre is in the toilet right now and this being an MMO blog, that has an impact. And it goes deeper than just the current crop of MMOs being meh-to-terrible; they also bring nothing new to the table, which further makes it difficult to break things down and write a blog post. For all its failings, at least Warhammer Online brought new ideas, and had a dev team behind it giving us plenty of fodder. It ultimately didn’t work out for Mythic, but it was blogging gold.

In addition to needing a good MMO to play, I’d also like another WAR in terms of blog fodder please.

From a pure “looking at my numbers” perspective, the shutting down of Google reader was noticeable, and my WordPress stats page reflects this. To a lesser extent, VirginWorlds no longer picking up my blog (along with no longer really working overall) hurt. Jester not blogging has an impact as well. But again, while the raw numbers are down, how many ‘real people’ readers have stopped coming here is tough to tell. I’d like to think that if you are a real person, and you enjoy reading this blog, the shutting down of a reader, or another blog no longer updating, isn’t going to instantly stop you from figuring out how to keep reading this blog, right?

Number of comments is another indicator, but again it gets tricky. I mean, I’m pretty sure I could write a comment-bait post tomorrow (spoiler-alert) and get north of 30 comments. If the comment-bait is really good, and gets picked up by some larger sites, 50+ comments would happen. Get a good comment-section flame-war going, and 100+ is ‘achieved’. But what does 30, 50, or even 100 comments mean, especially when they were somewhat baited or 80% of them are off-topic flames? Does a post getting one person to comment mean that post sucked and this blog is dead/dying, or did thousands of people read it, enjoy it, and just have nothing to add so they didn’t comment? These are the kinds of questions that keep me up at night (not really).

Let’s return to those recent events I mentioned in the first paragraph. The first is my Clash of Clans… clan. Those posts didn’t get a lot of comments, and traffic was normal, so it would be easy to assume not many found them all that interesting or were ‘influenced’ by them. Yet today, I think I’ve had 10+ people join the clan (“Supreme Cream!”, still time to join and we are building something pretty solid), many of them new players to the game who picked it up due to this blog. How many others at least tried the game due to those posts and just didn’t enjoy it? How many are playing, just slowly, so they haven’t joined the clan yet (or joined someone else because they are jerks like that)?

The second example is Risen, another post with very few comments, and Steam. On Steam my friends list has grown tremendously due to mentioning my screen name (Syncaine) on this blog and asking people for Steam cards (feel free to send some), which has resulted in getting a better feel for what “the people” are doing on Steam thanks to the “Activity” section.

As mentioned Risen was on sale recently due to the pre-order coming up for Risen 3, and thanks to the “Activity” tab I noticed a bunch of people picked the Risen 1+2 bundle up. Now I don’t know how many of those buys are due to this blog and how many of them would have happened anyway, but I’d bet at least SOME are blog-based, which is pretty cool and says something about influence.

Lastly, and the example with by far the most data, was my time blogging about Darkfall 1 and including the Community Publishing Program link/mention in every post. The CPP was basically a referral system that paid me 20% (I think?) of the initial purchase made using my link, so when AV was running a promo for the game+6months for $100, I got $20 per person who bought that bundle. I wish I had gotten 20% of all future sub fees, if only to track how long people stuck with the game, but sadly it didn’t work that way.

Through the CPP I got credited with hundreds of purchases (and I know for a fact I didn’t get credit with all purchases made due to technical issues sometimes), and AV would later confirm that I was by far the most successful CPP user. This blog, literally, made AV thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars, and unlike Clash of Clans that rakes in millions daily, for AV my contribution was actually very noticeable to the company overall. More importantly to me however was seeing confirmation that this blog was influencing people to the point of spending real money on something they would have otherwise passed on.

Examples like the above making writing the blog easier, because it confirms ‘real people’ are reading and not every view is some spam-bot finding its way here thanks to Google. This blog’s main purpose is to entertain #1 (me), but that can’t happen without all of the little people (you) showing up, so thank you dear reader, and keep dancing on those strings (and sending Steam cards).


Risen related: Well that’s good timing

July 7, 2014

Not only is Risen 1 and 2 on Steam sale today, but Risen 3 is coming out in August. Didn’t know any of that when I wrote my post below.


Risen is a surprisingly great open-world RPG you should play

July 7, 2014

I’ve been playing Risen since returning from vacation (picked up in a Humble Bundle pack a while back), and I’m very pleasantly surprised by the game. I went into it expecting/hoping for an “80% of Skyrim” type of experience, and while in some ways this is true, in a few key areas I think it trumps even that masterpiece.

I actually loaded up Risen somewhat on a whim, as I was looking over my Steam collection and noticed that over 40 people I’m friends with own Skyrim, which is far more than just about any other game (only Civ V comes close). Needing a little break from TBS titles like Eador, and having done just about everything in Skyrim itself, I figured I’d give Risen a shot.

This won’t be a full review (here is an excellent one that says a lot of what I would), but rather just some observations, mostly around how this game is and isn’t like Skyrim.

Graphically Skyrim is far superior, but then again it’s also the newer game (Risen came out in 2009) with a lot of mod support focused around making it look even better. That said maxed out Risen doesn’t look bad, and I think it’s graphic style has aged better than say ES:Oblivion, particularly character faces. Even a bit dated, Risen will sometimes surprise with a great looking vista or atmospheric cave/tomb.

I have a same-but-different love/hate relationship with the combat, similar to Skyrim. Initially I thought Risen combat was clunky and frustrating, especially because the game can be so difficult (more on that later), but the more I play the more I appreciate fighting different monsters, using different weapons, and getting a ‘feel’ for things. Killing a tougher monster through successful use of combos, blocks, and dodging can be a fist-pump moment, which I think says a lot about the game overall but specifically about the enjoyment of combat.

The biggest difference between Risen and Skyrim to me is the setup of the world you play in. While Skyrim is almost too open-world, Risen jumps between keeping you restricted to one area for a bit of time to letting you run free around the island (though highly limited based on monster difficulty).

I think my favorite example of this is design in Risen is the placement of monsters. Just outside a cave you will find easier monsters like wolves, and if you kill them you can loot a chest they were near. If you go into the cave you might encounter a ‘higher tier’ of monster, and if you manage to kill them and go a bit deeper, you might find an even tougher challenge. The important part here is that unlike many other games, the ‘monster tiers’ in Risen are pretty harsh. An easier monster might need to hit you 10 times to kill you, while you only need to hit it 2-3 times. A ‘normal’ monster might take 5-6 hits, killing you in about that many, while a tough mob will drop you in 2-3 hits, and will require 15+ hits to kill. So while a tough monster isn’t impossible to take down, it sure is damn hard, and when you come across a location with 3-4 of them, you know this is a location you should come back to later.

What I love about this design is that the game doesn’t force you to stop. You can try and power through that tough monster (or have its AI bug out for a cheap kill, which occasionally happens), and if they are related to some future quest, you will actually get credit. More than once I’ve gotten a “quest complete” message while randomly exploring and killing/collecting stuff, and to my surprise, Risen is smart enough to not only give you credit, but also have the related quest NPC dialog handle this situation (“I want you to go kill X” “I’ve already done it, here is the proof” “Well, you work fast don’t you” is dialog that happens in Risen).

Speaking of characters and dialog, I must say I like them more in Risen than I did in Skyrim. Skyrim too often wanted to be epic about something, but came of kinda silly (a lot of the main quest, IMO). Risen feel authentic to me. Everyone is stuck on this island due to the storms, they are all bothered in one way or another by the monsters, and the two major factions dislike each other for solid reasons. Some character are smart about what they want, others are selfish, but I’ve yet to come across anything that feels majorly out of place or disconnected from the game. The voice acting and writing is also top-notch and pulls you into the game, rather than shaking you out of it.

Finally, while Skyrim never felt exceptionally difficult due to its world scaling with you, Risen is one of those “save before every fight, reload a bunch on anything tough” type of games. You will die, a lot, but that also makes finally beating something tough so much more rewarding. I also like that failure isn’t always ‘game over’. For example, I upset a local leader in one location, and to teach me a lesson he had all his goons attack me. Anytime I got close to one of them, they would agro, and most of them were too tough for me to beat at the time. They would beat me in combat, knock me down, take some gold, and walk away with an insult. Once all his goons got me once, the local leader’s dialog reflected this, which was not only excellent but made me really want to get at the bastard when I got stronger.

To tie this all together, I went in just hoping for a budget Skyrim, but instead found a different, and at times better version of the open-world RPG that Elder Scrolls is famous for. Risen isn’t an outright better game overall (Skyrim’s giant pile of content, and just overall polish, are very tough to beat), but for anyone who enjoyed Skyrim, I would say it’s very well worth your time.


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