Thursday, August 17, 2017

Fifty is Nifty

Hard to believe a little wargamer get together has evolved into this:

From Geekdad.com. And yes, I've been there, just
not on a Thursday right before the opening.
Or this:

From icv2.com. I was in there... somewhere.

But Gen Con turns 50 this year, and the geeks have descended upon Indianapolis.

If you were, like me, hoping to go to Gen Con 50 and you don't have a ticket, you're out of luck. All of the tickets for Gen Con 50 sold out this week, and the tickets for Thursday (the first day) and Sunday (Family Fun Day) sold out well in advance.

I'm reduced to watching livestreams from places such as Boardgame Geek's twitch.tv stream, but I don't mind. I'm just happy that my clan has showed up to game in numbers not seen before at Gen Con.

If you want to see the BGG twitch.tv livestream, here you go:

Watch live video from BoardGameGeekTV on www.twitch.tv

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Just Horsing Around

Yesterday I spent some time hiking at one of the local public parks. This particular park has a riding center attached to it* that the mini-Reds have either volunteered at or attended a week long "horse camp" during the summers, so during my hike I was entertained by the sight of horses out in paddocks or with riders coming back from a supervised trail ride.

I have a love-hate relationship with horses. I love that my kids enjoy spending time with them, and that my in-laws were able to indulge that love by helping them to attend horse camp, but I personally don't see eye to eye with horses. They don't like me very much and I'm happy to return that aloofness. Still, that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate what the horse (and the ox) have done in human history.

You can't talk about a pre-steam engine society without mentioning the horse and the ox. They were the primary means of plowing the fields for millenia, and when there was no access to running water both animals provided the means of powering items such as forge bellows and workshops.

And, of course, there was the transportation provided by these animals, which brings me to MMOs.

***

Horses (and other magical beasts) are kind of glossed over in MMOs. They are a primary means of transportation, yet beyond that they are little more than decorations. This is obviously a design decision, as the effort it would take to model the care and feeding of a horse (or even a drake) would be dwarfed only by the in-game effort needed to keep a horse as viable transportation. Besides, people don't typically play MMOs to simulate equine care and feeding.

But still, items such as understanding language or handling mounts would make for a more realistic MMO.

Back in my high school (and part of my college) days, I DMed a campaign in Iron Crown Enterprise's Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP) system. One of the nice things about MERP was that it was skill based, but on a level basis as well in much the same way as 3.x D&D (and Pathfinder) is today. But one of the biggest quirks/features of MERP was that languages and riding were on a skill system too. For example, skill in a particular language ranked from a 1 to 5: 1 for being able to speak a couple of phrases ("Hello" or "Need to piss"), up to 5 for being able speak like a native.

These skill levels are the equivalent in WoW of the old weapon proficiency skill, where you had to spend time with a weapon to build up enough proficiency to wield the weapon effectively. This went away prior to Cataclysm, but I still remember it fondly as one of the quirks to WoW that made the game more realistic, along with having to train with a trainer to gain new skills.**

How an equine skill system would work in an MMO is something that I would think is similar to the level system for a mount that Archeage has***, but instead of having a mount trailing along behind you in combat like Archeage an MMO could have a player spend time and/or money at a stable to "train" their mount. A reward for this training would be better speed and the occasional bonus of an instant in-game transportation (which would be a real boon to F2P players in games such as LOTRO).

***

Still, this kind of begs the question "Why bother?"

True, if the design goal is to bash in a raid boss' head, then adding mount skills won't add a thing to the game. This is why WoW got rid of weapon proficiency skills and trainer visits in the first place.

But if the design goal of the game is to immerse yourself in a game world, then a mount skillset could be a valuable part of the experience. Of my regular games, I'd say that LOTRO is the game where immersion is a design goal. Sure, SWTOR does a pretty good job of immersion in its own right, but LOTRO is the only MMO I play where you have in game bands that get together and play on a weekly basis. But even LOTRO doesn't have immersion as a primary design goal any more, as players only seem to want to talk about endgame (Mordor) these days.

I consider the concept of mount skill something that would make for an interesting exercise, but given how MMOs are oriented less on the journey and more on the destination I can't really see an MMO actually doing this. A shame, really, because MMOs had the potential to be more than what they have evolved into.




*The riding center is publicly funded, but is also supported by people who pay for riding lessons. The riding center also has programs for the mentally challenged, called the Special Riders Program, and hosts an annual Special Olympics equestrian event. There's also a farm attached to the park, but it is managed separately from the riding center.

**I knew people who deliberately socketed a weapon skill that wasn't their most current weapon skill rank (for example, a Judgement that wasn't the current skill ranking but the one before that one) just so that they wouldn't use up so much mana or rage or whatnot when fighting. Sure, it was gaming the system, but they were deliberately sacrificing DPS for being able to stay in the fight.

***Guess which MMO I'm checking out now?

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Oopsie

I think my last post, the TERA review, broke Blogger.

I was catching up on blogs this afternoon and I happened to notice that my post hasn't been updated on other peoples' blogs, which I found rather odd.

Courtesy of The IT Crowd.

From what I've read, it might be a side effect of the size of the sucker, given all of the images I used. I just hope it wasn't an unintended side effect of actually using the scheduler for the first time to post when I wasn't around. (Yeah, even after 8 years of PC I've never used the scheduler. I never felt the need to use it, I guess.)


Friday, August 4, 2017

Fun With MMOs: TERA

I first became aware of TERA when reports surfaced about the so-called "panty run". You know, the YouTube videos that showed a female toon half bent over, running in such a way that you could see her panties quite easily. It was designed to titillate, and meant specifically for the male gaze to a degree I'd not seen in an MMO since Age of Conan.

ALL of Age of Conan.

For the longest time, I just simply wrote off TERA because of that video and how much it disturbed me. This was an MMO I'd be embarrassed to have the mini-Reds --or my wife-- find me playing, and if I did play TERA it would be really late at night or early in the morning, like Age of Conan.

So why review TERA at all? Like I said in the previous post, if I'm going to be asked my opinion, I need it to be an honest one, not just a knee jerk reaction to what I've seen via YouTube. And the longer TERA has hung around the MMO field, the longer my curiosity has grown. How has this MMO survived out there? Is it all strictly a young male fantasy, or something about Asian MMOs that I simply don't get? You'd think that if the male fantasy angle were the thing, then Age of Conan wouldn't be on life support. And I'll freely admit that I don't watch anime (at least anime newer than the original Speed Racer and Star Blazers), so there's likely a cultural component I'm missing.

So I decided that the only way to understand TERA was to actually get into the game, so I downloaded TERA, made sure it was late at night, and clicked "play".

The original TERA box cover artwork.
Because of the En Masse logo, this was
for North America consumption.
From Wikipedia.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

I'm FATE-ed to Repeat Things

I've occasionally mentioned the pencil and paper RPG FATE Core, which I really think is a fun and well designed game.

Well, the people over at uptofourplayers.com created a comic describing the basics behind FATE. It's incredibly well done, and worth a look.

***

In other non-video game related news, I've been involved in an AD&D 1e campaign these past few months. The DM had hit his mid-life crisis, and decided that rather than go out and buy and expensive car (or get a new spouse) he'd much rather play D&D again. So, he rounded up some friends who like to play the game --and I in turn rounded up the oldest mini-Red-- and we began playing in late Spring.

What are we playing, you ask? Well, a classic module set:

Against the Slave Lords, Modules A1 - A4.
From greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com.
Wizards of the Coast had re-released the original four modules along with an introductory adventure, calling it Against the Slave Lords:

From dnd.wizards.com.
I've not played these modules since the mid-late 80s, so I was psyched for a trip down memory lane.

The DM did not disappoint, as he kept the action going and the pace fairly brisk. Sure, we players could take a step back and argue about what to do next, but this was light years faster than D&D 3.x and 4e that I'd grown accustomed to.

Who did I play? A cleric, of course.

As for how things will work this Fall while the oldest mini-Red is away at college, I recruited the youngest mini-Red to cover for her for the time being. And really, it's been a blast.


EtA: Corrected a basic spelling error. Sheesh.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Fun With Computers -- College Edition

While I've been working my way through my next MMO, I've been keeping an eye on the oldest mini-Red as she has been getting ready to attend college.

This has been a surreal experience, watching the pile of "things to take to the dorm" grow.

When I left for college, I was the first person in my family to go away to get a bachelor's degree in four years.* As you can imagine, I had no clue what I was getting into when I carried my dorm stuff into my room that first time. Now, however, my oldest has two parents who went through that same experience, so while some things are different --cell phones, laptops, internet, and cable television-- the basic dorm experience is going to be the same as ours.

But that tech thing, that's been gnawing at me.

Her laptop is 3 years old, and while the processor/memory is still pretty good as far as non-gamer specific laptops go, the hard drive that came with the thing is slow as hell and I'm concerned it'll become a problem in the near future.**

With that in mind, I've begun an investigation into solid state drives.

Come to papa.
Image from Amazon.

Having seen the prices for SSDs, all I can think of is what it must have been like a few years ago when they were even more expensive. This actually reminds me of the old days --24 or so years ago-- when a local computer store ran their "Buck a Meg" sale. Yes, a dollar per MB of hard drive space, so a 300 MB drive cost $300.

The prices don't change --the drive pictured about is listed at around $270-280-- but the size and type of the storage does.

All I can think of is that I hope this (or a similar) drive is worth it and will extend the life of the laptop by a few years, or at least last her through her bachelor's degree.





*My father received an Associate's degree (2-year) in engineering, and then went to night school and a decade later finally finished his Bachelor's degree in Economics. My mother took a class or two at a time at a local college and finally received her degree --the only one of her siblings-- a few years after mine.

**That's a big part of the reason why the laptop is a $600 non-gamer laptop. Sure, the screen's resolution isn't full 1080, but the basic 5400 rpm HDD was designed to save energy and cost, not provide performance.

***I also looked at the performance hard drives, but since there's really space for one drive in the laptop if I want to make a real difference I need to go in the direction of solid state drives.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Chrysler Effect and Gaming

For those of you outside the US, there is a consumer publication called Consumer Reports that tests and evaluates products. They do not accept advertising dollars, and the entire enterprise is funded by their subscriber base. Their testing is considered top notch, particularly with household appliances and cars.* If you end up looking for a new (or used) car in the US, odds are very good that you'll have at least one Consumer Reports magazine with you as part of the process.

As part of the review process, Consumers Union (the entity that publishes CR) not only covers the specifics of how an item behaves, but also provides clues on how well an item will last. They send out annual surveys to their subscribers to provide input on items they own, as well as whether they would purchase that item again. This last one gives CU a decent idea as to whether people are happy with their purchase decision, which when we're talking about cars is a multi-thousand dollar purchase that people may own for over a decade.

This brings me to Chrysler.

Chrysler, the US manufacturer now owned by Fiat, has had a checkered history. Chrysler created the minivan**, and were among the first car manufacturers to add standard airbags. At the same time, Chrysler has been in bankruptcy more than once, and that last bout of bankruptcy ending in the purchase of Chrysler by Fiat.

Why, you may ask? Partially it is due to the economic meltdown of the late 2000s, but also because Chrysler cars have a reputation for poor quality.

Both word of mouth and data acquired by CU point to Chrysler having --by far-- the worst quality results of all US domestic automakers. Even when Chrysler makes a well received vehicle, such as the newly released Chrysler Pacifica minivan, in the new car issue of Consumer Reports CU hedges their bets on the quality of the new vehicle, saying they expect it to have poorer than average quality. Essentially, it's a "until you prove to me otherwise, we'll assume that this is going to be a car that will be in the repair shop a lot."

***

When I posted my review of Rift the other day, I knew peripherally about how Rift had gone F2P and how it had burned through its fanbase's support by moving in the direction of a more "pay to win" cash shop. Still, I decided to post without dredging that up. However, Shintar's comments about how she felt that Trion had turned Rift into a cautionary tale about how to destroy a fanbase's goodwill, I felt that it is important to address the elephant in the room.

Should a development house's or game's reputation/behavior have an impact on game reviews? I'm not talking about specific posts about a company, because I've got tons of those over the years that are critical of development houses, but rather a review of the game itself. In other words, should the previous actions/reputation of a development house be reason to dismiss a game, or at the very least give the player pause before deciding to play?

In a way, this is the Playstation/XBox debate in a nutshell, where people take sides and sit in their glass houses, lobbing grenades at each other. This could also describe how people respond to EA or Ubisoft games*** with the "burn it all down!!" or worse. (Much much worse.)

But at the same time, a development house's reputation can't be ignored, because there's frequently a reason why a company/dev house has that reputation. If a coworker has a great reputation, you're likely to cut that employee some slack if they screw up. And on the flip side, if you've a coworker with a reputation as being a screw-up, you're thinking "yep, expected that" when things don't go well.

Look at Blizzard. When Cataclysm launched, it got a lot of nice reviews. I distinctly remember one review saying that the only real drawback to Cata was that you had to subscribe and have the previous expacs. But now, looking back on it from a 5+ year distance, Cataclysm was the expac that began the slow descent of WoW.**** It broke the story continuity, it had several meh major content patches that didn't excite the base, and the changes to the guts of WoW disappointed many who complained that WoW was being "dumbed down." Blizzard's reputation was such that it took a long time to admit that Blizzard could still lay an egg.

***

So what to do about Trion, and these reviews in general?

In this case I believe it is best to separate the game from the development house, and examine the game on its own terms. I can't control what Trion does and how the community reacts, but I can report on what I find in the game. If the game feels empty, I'll report that. If the community is toxic, I'll report that. And if I find bugs and crashes in what ought to be basic stuff, I'll report that too.

But I shouldn't let dev companies off the hook for their product, either. So another series, examining the dev houses behind the games, would be a good idea.

As for my statement about Rift being a survivor, I still stand by that statement. A six year old game still getting expac releases is not a small feat. I work in an industry that considers three year old equipment "ancient" and "in need of replacement", so anything that lasts six years is an impressive achievement.

Shintar, however, is also right in that Trion Worlds made some bad decisions that will likely jeopardize Rift's ability to be around another six years, which is a shame because the game right now is pretty darn good.

The review of the game still stands, but a study of the dev house... That still needs to happen.




*Back in 1988, it was their review of the Suzuki Samurai that exposed the rollover problem of the Samurai during certain avoidance maneuvers, and their "not acceptable" rating of the car helped kill the Samurai in the NA market.

**I know that minivans are not well liked, but I like them. They work and they get the job done. When our old minivan died last year, I missed it.

***Think of the reaction to the buggy Mass Effect: Andromeda or Assassin's Creed Unity (or Syndicate).

****To borrow a Boromir quote in Fellowship of the Ring, "WoW wanes, you say. But WoW stands, and even at the end of its strength it is still very strong." WoW still likely has more regular players than the #2-#10 MMOs put together. MOBAs, on the other hand, are a completely different thing.