Friday, December 28, 2012

The Batmen of Star Wars

I've been operating at a sleep debt all week and keep meaning to catch up, but I seem to be stuck in a bit of an MMO... thing, which is causing me to lose track of the time at night.

I bought the Grade 7 spaceship upgrades so I could do the new missions without my ship melting, but god damn those things are a step up in difficulty. I actually had to learn how to fly defensively [power to shields, move your ship in a square-ish circle around the edge of your screen while spamming barrel roll; makes you practically invincible], and found myself compelled to look up more information online. Apparently you can steer your ship with the movement keys while keeping your targeting reticle in the same place. Mind=blown. Did the game provide this information to me somewhere and I just missed it? Because that seems pretty significant. I just assumed it was like Starfox, that you can only ever shoot straight ahead and that's just how the game works. I've been getting torn up by laser fire this whole time, assuming that the best way to avoid damage is to kill the thing which is killing you, and now I find out I never needed to stay perfectly still just to shoot straight.

I also had a look at a couple of videos and now have to wonder if the size of the Bounty Hunter ship actually translates to a bigger hitbox in the game. I do love Robe's ship... though I didn't at first. It's a pretty retarded design you have to admit, but it grew on me with its very Bounty Hunter-appropriate lack of giving a toss; "Yeah, I'm totally impractical but fuck you." I guess even if it was easier to hit, I'm okay with that, because that's just part of being a god damn Bounty Hunter. If you can't outsmart them, at least you know you out-gun them.

It suddenly occurs to me that Bounty Hunters are like the Batmen of the Star Wars universe.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Return of the Jedi

As much as I dislike the the implementation of "Free to play" that Star Wars has gone with, I now have to concede that it was 100% successful in getting me to resubscribe to the game. Over Christmas I had two days of absolutely nothing to do and the game took that opportunity to sink its hooks into me again.

I spent most of my time on my lowbie Jedi Knight, but when I logged onto my Bounty Hunter, Robe, I ended up getting pulled into a Operation with my guild, along with a few other relative newbies. It's a bit of a remarkable co-incidence that whatever random time I log on to Robe, it always seems to be Wednesday night, my guild's Ops night.

I think I'm going to delete my Sith Warrior. Playing that story as light side makes no sense and it's a bit excruciating watching the dialogue after I report back to my master after making some huge lightside choice  and he can only talk in the vaguest terms about that thing which transpired, and how surprised he was that that would happen, and he probably would never have sent me on that assignment if I had known it would transpire that way. I may come back to that story later, probably with a Marauder, and play darkside as was obviously intended. Will need to brainstorm character ideas...

Apart from that I'm really happy with my other characters. Robe I've talked about before. Acherel, my "pretty boy" Pureblood Sith Assassin is great fun as the slimy, conniving, power-mongerer. And Dreyd, my "pretty boy" Zabrak Jedi Guardian has a bit too much passion than his calling should allow for, too easily caught up in conflict and losing his true perspective.

Friday, December 21, 2012

On cartels

I'm tired of being overly cynical in this blog, but when Star Wars names its expansion "Rise of the Cartel Coins" or something like that I have to wonder if they're just trolling us now.

Just playing the game I get the overwhelming feeling that they are deliberately trying to make free players feel as bad as possible. Because I know when I play a game for free the only thing stopping me from wanting to spend money on it is the lack of the game guilting me into doing so, or perhaps not doing enough to punish me for playing for free.

Weird business models have always existed. A fancy restaurant will charge more for its food and drink, when what you're really buying is the location and the service. A contractor may offer you a free quotation in the hope of winning further business. Even in the simple transaction of paying a set amount for a physical product, you are usually paying for the advertising that informed you that the product existed in the first place.

Free game demos were very popular for a couple of decades, until publishers realised that they were actually discouraging people from buying bad games.

I guess it's going to be like this for a while now, as companies try to figure out what people are willing to pay for that isn't the game itself. To be honest I really don't like this direction. No matter what the business model, someone is paying for the game, the only difference "Free" makes is how obfuscated the payment process is. Trying a game and then deciding it's worth paying for is a great concept, but these days it all seems very duplicitous.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Buy to play

Apparently "BTP" is a thing now, with the term being used to describe Guild Wars 2 and now The Secret World's lack of a regular subscription cost.

I have to say I like it. You buy a game... to be able to play it. Sweet deal!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Flow in WoW

Thinking about what kind of content I personally want to see more of in WoW had me lamenting once again how undertuned our current tier of "Heroic" 5-man dungeons are.

But then I feel compelled to ask myself why I don't just do Challenge modes? I mean, that's the answer for people at my skill level, right?

Challenge modes are too hard though, is my [whining] response. And putting together a group of similarly skilled players is not something I'm able to do easily. Which is fair enough I guess. In the last two months, the only really successful challenge group I've been in was both organised by, and comprised mainly of, some friends of mine on the Nagrand realm.

[As an aside, that run was one of the most fun things I have ever done in WoW. Ever. And I have to admit I'm proud to still have my name at the top of the Feathermoon leaderboard for Mogu'shan Palace.]

So I appear to be one of those entitled people who expects all content to be made for precisely the difficulty level that I play at, which in different ways both an unreasonable and completely justified expectation.

The reason difficulty matters is flow. Flow basically requires that the game be matched to the player's skill level, so that their gameplay input is what determines the outcome.

The current tier of ten-man raiding hits this spot for me. The Cata Heroic dungeons [at launch] hit this spot for me. Soloing Stonecore and Vortex Pinnacle at L85 hit this spot for me. PvP pet battles consistently hit this spot. Even tanking the current tier of undertuned five-man dungeons often hits this spot, because I can put my focus into playing better; designing and executing more elaborate pulls, controlling casters, maximising my damage...

[It's a bit funny to realise, but writing this blog post hit this flow spot for me. A moment ago I suddenly snapped out of it and realised I'm at work.]

And you better believe Challenge dungeons hit this spot for me. They just require more skilled party members that I'm usually capable of mustering.

What WoW has historically been very good at is allowing players to choose their own difficulty by the way they approach the game. Obstacles can be overcome by charging in with skilled play, through patience and tactics, by seeking friends to help, by working to improve your level or gear, crafting or buying potions or devices to assist...

Unfortunately so much of the game these days is so heavily structured, not to mention designed with the "majority" of players in mind, that allowing for emergent gameplay options is something which is often completely overlooked.

It's still there in places if you look for it though. I enjoy those Klaxxi dailies around the Heart of Fear, where the mob density is high enough that I can charge headfirst into a group of mobs, with the strong likelyhood of picking up two waves of patrolling adds while fighting, because I enjoy needing to play well to survive and the genuine thrill of not knowing whether I'll be overwhelmed or scrape by.

For Warriors, there's this moment that happens when you're fighting a group of mobs when you realise that you need to stop your AoE right the fuck now and dump all your rage into one mob because if you don't proc a Victory Rush in the next few seconds you're toast.

That's the WoW I love.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Subscription No Longer Required" play The Secret World, according to an email I received earlier this morning. My cynical self loves the choice of wording. Because "free to play" has indeed become a bit of a dirty word in the MMO community of late.

I have yet to look into it, but I'm guessing that what it actually means is that an initial game purchase is still necessary at this point [ie Guild Wars]. So perhaps it's not quite free. Yet.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


In the same day I received emails from two separate MMO developers encouraging me to come back to their respective games.

Funcom is promoting some kind of AR game around The Secret World, an ambitious concept for sure, and strikes me as a gamble which probably would not have been taken had the game met performance expectations. Of course, providing any actual details on what they plan to do would spoil it, but my mind goes to the 2001 game Majestic. So presumably they'll start by revealing that all those reports of poor subscriber numbers were actually a giant conspiracy. Interestingly, no active TSW subscription is required to sign up for the AR game, which cements it in my mind as less of a value-add than an advertisement.

EA Bioware has of course been laying on the spam fairly thick recently to promote The Old Republic's new "not worth paying for" tier of access. I guess if it helps the game it's probably a good thing. The good bits in that game; art design, atmosphere, many storylines, space battles, interesting combat mechanics, a solo game which doesn't bend over backwards to ensure the player is never ever challenged, are well worth saving. Also, they have true blue actual Australian servers located in Australia. -sigh- I would be so all over that shit if I didn't already play WoW.

It's a bit funny to think back on all that speculation that every MMO released in the past two years might "kill" WoW. Yeah. Those was some good times.

Eight years. WoW has been running for eight god damn years. Video games have only really been a thing for around forty years. MMOs have only really been a thing for around fifteen years.

What I find interesting to think about is how historically significant World of Warcraft will be, no matter how long it runs past this point... and ten million players is a hell of a lot of momentum.

Monday, December 3, 2012

More on 5.1

I had a reaction which surprised me the first time I saw the 5.1 updated map for Krasarang Wilds, with the Alliance and Horde each having taken over a chunk of the area-- it gave me a feeling of sudden loss. In pure gameplay terms, these areas have been changed forever and there is no going back. I barely got to know this area in its natural state, and now it's gone overnight [literally, heh]. This really impressed me because that seems to be exactly what the devs are going for in story terms too. We did this. We came to Pandaria and decided we knew better than the locals, and changed the face of their country forever in the name of the greater good.

So despite my last post, I'm not that cynical about the game. I went back to Klaxxi'vess and [with after purchasing my double XP] helped free the last of the Klaxxi Paragons from his amber prison. I walked into Karazhan [without a raid group] to once again kill Attumen. I look forward to going back into other classic raids to collect the new pets.

I want to talk about upgradable gear. This must be the stupidest and most brilliant addition to the game I never saw coming. Stupid because systems don't come much more shallow-- you spent points to buy item levels. No lore justification, just very simple, very game-y progression. It just seems very, very tacked on.

But brilliant because it actually creates gameplay through adding complexity to your gearing strategy. You need to consider not just how much of a bonus you will get for upgrading a certain piece of armour, but how likely you are to replace it. The price is identical regardless of slot, so you'll need to weigh up whether you spend it on a high stat-budget slot like helm, chest or legs, or on that primary stat-only trinket you're probably going to use well into the next tier. It also means that you are not Best-in-Slot until you spend 1500 Valor points on every single piece of gear you're wearing, adding a new step to progression which previously did not exist.

I love the Brawler's Guild. This is how you foster realm communities. Players from the same server standing around spectating other players from that same server as they demonstrate for all to see just how good [or bad] they are at the game. It's like standing around in SW but instead of recognising the names of all the people who by definition have nothing better to do than talk in trade chat for hours at a time, you'll end up recognising the names of people who achieve actual gameplay feats.