Monday, August 26, 2013

Hanging Out With the Beautiful People

The free weekend for Guild Wars 2 ended, and my Thief* made it to Level 11.

Honestly, there's a lot to like in GW2.  The pay once, play forever idea is a great one.  The players move and attack and interact with the game world much like a standard MMO.**  Also, the graphics engine didn't make my computer grumble, like SWTOR has the occasional tendency to do.

And have I mentioned that this Old School RPGer loves that there's a class called a THIEF?  Takes me back to my AD&D (1st edition) days, it does.

And, thank goodness, the character options don't include those absolutely nutty mushroom heads and paeans to Super Mario that Aion has.

That said, the game is a lot closer to Aion and other Asian RPGs than American/European RPGs than you'd think.

For starters, there's the issue with NPC clothing.

While issues with PC gear --and particularly female PC gear-- have been around for ages, typically in the Western RPG you'd find NPCs wearing appropriate clothing for the task at hand:  armor for guards, work clothes for grunts, dresses and poofy shirts for nobility, etc.  Yes, Alexstrasza and Ysera (and Sylvannas) may wear bikinis, but they've got recognizably Frazetta style armor on.

But GW2 and Aion both have issues where you find female NPCs wearing wildly inappropriate clothing for their work.

So this is appropriate dress for farming?  Who knew?

Now maybe it's just me, but I don't see a lot of people digging in their garden while wearing dresses like that. Hell, even a bikini would be more work appropriate than a short dress like this one, because you can at least work without worrying about getting your dress dirty.  But that's the thing: you see clothing like this on Human farmers at the very beginning of the game.

And pigtails.  These dresses always are worn by women in pigtails.

Just in case you didn't think the visual cues for some of the women were taken from JRPGs, here's the pic when you select a female Necromancer:

Right after raising some zombies,
I'm heading straight to the Dance!

Ironically enough, you can find plenty of NPC women out and about wearing practical clothing --pants, full armor, etc.-- but the "short dress" NPCs (and PCs) were enough to throw you completely out of immersion from time to time.

That leads into another distinction between GW2 and WoW/SWTOR/AoC/LOTRO/etc.:  the toons themselves.

Have you stopped to watch some of the NPCs around a town or village?  I mean not just look at them, but watch their behavior.  Normally, I don't think much of the NPCs in the background --they're the background, right?-- but when I saw a female guard stick her toe in the dirt and twist her leg as if she were talking to a crush, that kind of threw me for a loop.  She was standing at attention in Shaemoor, and then she did that, so it's part of the NPC's standard movement routine.  While it wasn't like the Night Elf's breast bounce, it was so unlike what a guard's behavior --while on the job-- ought to be that it left me scratching my head.

Finally, I noticed that for all toons --NPC and PC-- everybody is perfect.  Smooth, flawless skin, perfect complexion, unchanging and unflappable facial expressions, and immaculate clothing were the hallmarks of all toons.  I thought of the toons as "being on botox for the entire body", and I'd probably not be too far off. The toon graphics were such that even the NPCs stood out as being a little more perfect than the background graphics, so when I passed by a wounded Seraph*** it looked more like he was lying on the ground having a picnic lunch instead of looking, well, hurt.


You'd think I'd not be so enamored of GW2 after all that, but I did like it.  I do like the change from the traditional "kill ten rats" questline.  I also like what I've seen of the main questline so far, and moreover, I really enjoy how they went about customizing the main questline.

When you create your character, after the typical graphical adjustments (which includes a nice height slider) you are then asked a series of questions.  These questions include personal motivations, including things like a regret you have.  The answers to these questions provide the particular path your character will follow in their main/personal storyline.

While to the average player this seems like a need customization option, I saw it in a somewhat different light: as an attempt to bring aspects of pencil-and-paper RPGs into a computer RPG format.

Games that follow the FATE system, such as FATE Core, FATE Accelerated Edition, the Dresden Files RPG****, and Spirit of the Century RPG, have a similar mechanic.  To take the simplest of the bunch, FATE Accelerated (or FAE for short), you start of a character by creating a "high concept" and a "trouble":  two items that you write down to describe some of the motivation your character has.  High concept is pretty straightforward, as it can be anything from "Captain of the last outpost on the edge of the Great Wasteland" to "Mechanical genius who wants to be a superspy".  It's the "trouble" aspect that is what might throw people at first, because it's something that causes issues for your character, such as the following:  "The Necromancer won't leave me alone", "Ooo, will you look at THAT!", or "I will not be outdone by those punks at XXY Corporation!"

These aspects are used to help drive the RPG's story forward by enabling the GM and the player to use them for both campaign hooks and to add flavor to the campaign itself.  For example, a character with "Ooo, will you look at THAT!" as a trouble has issues with being distracted at inopportune times.  Like, say, when your character is trying to find a bomb hidden in a lab.  A GM can use such an aspect to make things a bit more difficult for a character, but also allow the character to catch little details that other, more focused characters might miss.

When I saw in the Human creation the question "What is your greatest regret?" my first thought was "Hey, they took the Trouble aspect and stuck it in an MMO!"  And, surprise surprise, GW2 actually uses this aspect in the main questline, too.  It's a great idea that somebody finally added into an MMO.


One other item of note that I absolutely wanted to point out was that there was no gen chat spam whatsoever in game.  I see that on SWTOR, but WoW, Age of Conan, and especially Aion have gold spammers in abundance.  Aion is so bad that I felt the need to have to actually turn Gen Chat off, and to be honest contributed to my decision to abandon the game.

But I do have to give kudos to ArenaNet for their job at keeping GW2 spam free.


Now, for the big question:  will I play GW2 again?

Yes, but not immediately.  I've got other things to take care of --outside of gaming-- before I can pick up yet another MMO.

I do like what I see overall.  The story is good and not too cheesy, although Scarlet Briar has the overall feel of a Supervillan from a Superhero comic, but in general there's enough for me to like --and ignore the immersion issues-- for me to want to continue playing.  I don't think I'll proceed at the same pace as I did this past weekend, since I had a limited amount of time to take the game for a test drive, but I can see it filling in some time between other MMOs I play.


If you're curious about FATE but don't want to plunk down any money on it at first, you can visit the publisher of FATE Core and FAE --Evil Hat Productions-- and download the electronic versions of both FATE Core and FAE on a pay what you like basis.  (I helped fund the Kickstarter for FATE Core, so that's how I got my print copies.)  Even if you're an avid roleplayer and don't end up playing FATE, it makes for very good reading.

*So, I created a toon that mimicked my current WoW toon, so I could have a more direct comparison.  Plus, I'm used to playing Thieves these days, and I didn't want to get wrapped up in the whole "YR playin it wrong!" crap that I'd get if I started out as a Guardian like my first impulse.

**Unlike, say, Aion, where the mouse buttons are reversed.  Or Neverwinter, where you use the AWSD keys to move around and the mouse to point and attack.

***I found it interesting that the Seraphs --and even the Ascended in Aion-- have those wings on them that are hallmarks of some JRPGs.  Considering that the Seraphs are an obvious derivation from the Seraphim of Judaic and Christian tradition, I'm still pondering how the angelic imagery managed to sneak into JRPGs (and JRPG inspired RPGs) so much.

****Yes, an RPG based on Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books.  The game allows you to "Dresdenize" your local community, so that you've got a game world that you can work with without having to necessarily play in the world of Harry Dresden's Chicago.  Of course, if you really wanted to play in Harry Dresden's hometown, you can by picking up the companion volume to the RPG.

EtA: Had to change the formal dress from a URL.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Musings

Right before I left for Gen Con, I received a mysterious e-mail from Syl of MMO Gypsy, which contained only a URL and the line "There are no excuses now!! :-D"

The URL pointed to a Guild Wars 2 free trial weekend, which runs from August 23rd through August 25th.

I'd been hemming and hawing over purchasing the game for a while now, and I figured that since Gen Con has come and gone it'd be safe for me to consider purchasing the game this fall.  Well, ArenaNet took that out of my hands by offering me a chance to give the game a spin before purchasing.

As of this moment, GW2's game client is busy being downloaded onto the main PC, so by the time I get done with work for the day it ought to be ready for me to try out.

And to be honest, if I get more game time out of GW2 than I have Skyrim, then the game will be worth a purchase.


Until GW2's trial dropped in my lap, I figured this weekend's MMO playing would consist of chain running Alterac Valley --it's AV Weekend in WoW-- and working on finishing up my Trooper's story in TOR.*

Among other interesting items is that Neverwinter added a mini-expac concerning the Feywild, which I'm curious about.  In D&D 4e cosmology, the Feywild is the home plane where all sorts of Fey creatures live. A PC can only cross into the Feywild at certain locations and/or certain times of day/month/year.  Think of it as the mythical Realm of Faerie placed into D&D.  The Feywild is also home to the three branches of Elves: Eladrin, Elves, and Drow.  The Eladrin still remain (primarily) in the Feywild, the Elves have long ago migrated into the normal world, and the Drow betrayed their brethren and now inhabit the Underdark.**

I'll freely admit that I am more interested in the D&D 4e setting than the 4e game mechanics itself, so the fact that the Neverwinter MMO is moving in this direction is a boon to me.


Since this is a Friday, and Saturday is usually a gaming day around the house, I'll leave you with a link to Wil Wheaton's Tabletop.  In this episode, he and his friends play Settlers of Catan.  You know, that "wood for sheep" game that drew some laughs on an episode of The Big Bang Theory:

You could have been videocapped better, Wil.  /sigh

*She's in Ilum right now, which is "the crystal planet" as my kids so aptly put it.  Yes, they are devoted fans of Star Wars:  The Clone Wars.

**And worship Lolth.  See my last post for a pic of her in her drider form, which is half human, half spider.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Two Sheep, Some Goblins, and a Whole Mess of Whovians

Gen Con 2013 is now in the books.

As we've done the past two years, we made a trek up to Indianapolis for Sunday's Family Fun Day.  For $30, a family of four can get into Gen Con and wander around, the entire area.  If you wanted to play any of the events on Sunday, you have to pay for the tokens, but I've found that you get to run enough demos and talk to the vendors in the dealer hall without needing to join in a scheduled game.*

Two Pirates, a Klingon, a Belly Dancer, and a Wookie
start a band....

Before we even got into the convention center, Mayfair Games was hosting Free Coffee just across the street along with their sheep mascots, Bob and Angus.**  Alas, we just missed the last of the coffee, but since we'd bought our badges online we breezed through Will Call to pick up our badges.  Good thing too, as the line for purchasing badges was incredibly long even early in the day.

We roamed the con with my brother-in-law, who has been coming for years and typically shows up on Wednesday --yes, before the con starts-- just so he can hang out with his friends.  We stopped by the Paizo booth, and the kids got to meet Sean K. Reynolds while he was out and about.  There were goblins everywhere in the Paizo booth, and even goblin masks to wear.  I think if we'd had more time the kids would have probably rummaged through all of the Pathfinder material a bit longer, but Paizo was truly busy the entire day.  Having Ed Greenwood and other authors nearby signing copies of their work certainly didn't hurt either.

Ruling over the D&D Ballroom was Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders (and Drow).
And no, a +5 Roll of Newpaper won't help you much with her.

Other places, such as Mayfair Games and Fantasy Flight Games, were running a lot of demos in their spaces.  My wife and I tried a Eurogame, called Planet Steam, which a very heavy economic game.  Heavy doesn't begin to describe it, really; if you like games that have LOTS of functioning options, and then throw in a few things like an auction or two each turn, then maybe you'll like it.  All I can say is that I don't have an MBA, so this sort of game didn't appeal to me.

While I got a chance to slip out and look around***, the rest of the crew tried out some family oriented games such as Spot It! Party Edition by Blue Orange Games and "Run for Your Life, Candyman!" by Smirk and Dagger Games.  Neither would be confused with a deep boardgame, but they were fun and engaging.  I could easily see the Spot It! games being "modified" for use as a drinking game, which would really cause trouble if you get a few beers in you.

The kids just about went bananas over the Who North America booth, complete with TARDIS and a Dalek.  I was actually quite surprised when they decided not to splurge on the Doctor Who - Adventures in Time and Space RPG by Cubicle Seven, but I was informed that since they could get it at one of our local game stores, that wasn't a high priority for them.  But getting a soundtrack was a bit more important.

What, you were expecting River Song?

While I perused the RPG areas****, I discovered that the gaming community has changed.  Even in the past three years, the number of women and families attending Gen Con have gone up.  Yes, I realize that with a name like Family Fun Day you'd expect to see families there, but the sheer number of families keeps on an upward trend.  Just like how the old myth that only teenage boys swilling Monster and Red Bull play MMOs has been pretty much busted, the belief that only nerdy guys who live in their parents' basement play RPGs (and boardgames) has been shattered by the attendees at Gen Con.  

This is a good thing.

There are a lot of fun games out there that people can get together with friends and spend an evening playing, but the stigma of who and what are gamers can turn some people away.  Just like how we MMO bloggers by our mere presence fight the stereotypes that you see splashed all over the media, pencil-and-paper gamers can fight their own stereotypes by welcoming the next generation into the fold.

Besides, these games are a lot of fun, and it's a shame to keep them to yourself.

*That said, the Sagamore Ballroom was filled with people playing Paizo's Pathfinder RPG, and the D&D Hall had a lot of gamers trying out D&D Next as well.  We didn't make it up to the Games on Demand area, but I was told that the place was packed all weekend long with gamers trying out all sorts of different RPGs.

**Never played Settlers of Catan?  Go hence and track down a copy.  You can find them all over, and even in discount stores in the U.S. (such as Target).

***And meet up with an author friend of mine who was in for the Writer's Symposium.  After having talked with him over the past several years, it was good to finally meet up with him in person, if only for about 15 minutes before he had to leave for home.

****Some of the RPG vendors I checked out and talked to included Troll Lord Games (Castles and Crusades), Catalyst (Shadowrun), the Indie Press Revolution booth (including FATE Core and Dresden Files from Evil Hat Games and Dungeon World from Sage Kobold Productions), and Green Ronin (both the Dragon Age and the Champions RPGs). Wizards of the Coast didn't have a vendor area, but had their own section near the main exhibit hall where they were running massive playtest games of D&D Next.  The so-called "grumpy game owner" of years past has begun to give way to a more business savvy and customer friendly version.  Really, you pretty much have to be friendly if you want to stay in business for any length of time. About the only exception to that rule was Steve Jobs, and he could get away with being obnoxious because he was Steve Jobs.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Don't Mind Red, He's Got a Headache

I finally started group content with the kids.

Since they only have one account that they share* between them, the best we could do alone was a 2-man instance.  Luckily for us, The Old Republic has a perfect introduction to an instance with The Esseles, a 2-person Flashpoint designed for L10-12.  No other players in the area, no competition to complete a Heroic 2+ first, and we've got plenty of time to finish without rushing.

The Esseles has the bonus of being one of the best of The Old Republic flashpoints for story, so I knew that'd keep them attracted as well.

So, I pulled out the Old Man, reacquainted myself with how to play a Scoundrel (aka "get up in people's grill and blast them from behind with a shotgun scattergun), and sauntered off to take a trip to Coruscant aboard the Esseles.

My oldest had the first run, and to be honest, that was the smoothest of the bunch.  I told her straight up to let me maneuver into position first, and then backblast to start the fight.  Typically I'd end up taking out a regular enemy, leaving Corso to round up the Strong and/or Elites for us to attack afterward.  While the fighting went well enough, I had to explain the TOR method of choosing who gets to speak in a cutscene**. There was also the little matter of me playing the Old Man as more a devil-may-care type than my original Gunslinger, so I got to see some wording out of him that I ordinarily wouldn't ever see out of Dalaak.***
I heard a "Daa-aad!!" from upstairs more than once, but I shrugged it off.

But there was one problem:  the Esseles crashes at the end on our desktop computer.  Ironically enough, not the laptop, so I was able to restart SWTOR and get back into the Flashpoint before it ended, but still it was quite annoying.

Next came my son, and he was just as wisecracking as I was, but he reserved it more for the group chat. He was a bit overeager at times, but luckily it wasn't too big of a problem.

But my youngest....

I told her at the beginning to let me lead.  I told her that during the flashpoint, too.  Several times, in fact.  She's ten, and I know she can read.  But she still kept running ahead, running the wrong way, running into a boss fight before we cleared out the trash, and in general acting more like someone half her age.

Finally, her behavior caught up with her.  She ran off the edge of a platform and disappeared into space.

I said a silent prayer of thanks that SWTOR flashpoints still let you do that, whereas you're hard pressed to do that in a WoW instance.

"Now," I said as she respawned, "Will you cut it out?"

"Oops," she replied.

"If you pull stuff like this in a regular instance, people will let you die to teach you a lesson.  It's called 'You yank it, you tank it,' and the real tank would get really pissed off at you for this.  Behave better, and let the person who has been here before do the leading."

After the lecture, she shaped up.  I'd rather she get the lesson from me than finding herself vote kicked or being the reason for a wipe.

She also learned that --as a Gunslinger-- her abilities are best when behind cover, whereas my Scoundrel is built to get in the baddies' faces.  She saw me at work and tried to imitate it, but I explained that her best abilities, like the Charged Bolts' bonuses and other assorted goodies she gets in her talent tree, are made for long distance.

By comparison, these runs ended better than the Hammer Station run I had the other day, where the Commando Healer didn't heal and the tank would rush in before I could CC a droid.  By the time the Healer began to get the hang of things, the tank decided we weren't going to live through the first boss**** and dropped group.  In spite of my encouragement, the Healer dropped too, and then after that so did the other DPS.  These people were too willing to throw in the towel rather than try the hard work of actually making it through an instance slowly, grinding out a victory.

Maybe they could have taken a few lessons from some kids.

*My rules.  I get to control the MMO accounts --LOTRO and TOR-- that way, and I also keep track of any activity within the toons.

**TOR has each person select an action and then a random (virtual) dice roll determines who gets to speak.

***I decided to have the Old Man play dumb with Beryl toward the end of the class questline on Taris. Kind of unusual for a guy who flirted with Grand Master Satele Shan in the closing cutscene to the Athiss Flashpoint, but I've decided that I want him to pursue a romance with one of the female companions later, so I want to minimize any repercussions later.  Sometimes it helps having done the Smuggler class story before.

****Nobody had the ability to pick up the canisters, so he decided he'd rather drop instead of actually, you know, TRYING.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Blizzard Announces More Info on "Connected Realms"

...which are sounding exactly like server merges.  They're just not saying that because, well, saying "World of Warcraft to Perform Server Merges" is a way of getting a LOT of negative press.

Patch 5.4 Feature Preview: Connected Realms

To be honest, it sounds more like what has been implemented for The Secret World and is being implemented for Age of Conan than anything else.

Still, they're server merges.  No way around it.  I've been perusing some online listings of active accounts on servers --I still wonder how they manage that-- and I've found that Ysera has dropped quite a bit over the past few years (down to something like 1/4 the size of Area 52), matching what I've noticed in game.  I do wonder how this is going to work long term, and whether a Horde-heavy realm will be matched up with an Alliance-heavy realm to balance things out.

But the merges have begun.  (Just don't call them that.)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Like the Corners of My Mind

I was doing a little cleanup on the blog tonight when I came across a couple of things I knew were coming but still were a punch in the gut:  the domains for The Pink Pigtail Inn and were gone.*

Going through the list, Voss' Sword and Board and Cynwise's Posterous Field Notes have also vanished into the same ether that claimed Tam's Righteous Orbs and Lara's Root and Branch.  Still, the PPI especially was the great watering hole that not only had Larisa's posts, but also had the monster mess of a blogroll that people could use as a master reading list.  I know I used to use PPI to find new blogs to read, and I could trace a big spike in PC's readership to the week when Larisa added us to her blogroll.  Even up to a year after Larisa stopped posting at PPI, we'd see more people following a link from there to our blog than just about anywhere else.

Now, outside of Rades' huge blogroll, there's pretty much Hugh at the MMO Melting Pot keeping the blogroll flame alive.  WoW Insider doesn't bother with posting interesting blog links anymore, and truth be told I've not really ventured over to WI in quite a while.

Change is the only constant in the blogging world.  Keeping up a blogging schedule is not an easy task, and real life has a way of interfering with both blogging and game playing.  When we started PC almost four years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into.  If I did, I might not have committed to it.  Yet at the same time, I'd not have traded the experience for the world.  I've met fellow bloggers around the world whom I'm happy to call friend, and the schedule of writing a blog has pushed me (and my writing) in directions I didn't think I could go.**  the MMO blogosphere can be sniping and backbiting at times, but we all have the same interest at heart:  a love of the weird wonderful worlds that inhabit a Massively Multiplayer Online RPG.

This blog, while ostensibly about "all sorts of games", really began as a WoW blog.  And it remained that way for well over two years, with occasional forays into other MMOs.  However, as I've moved from one dominant MMO (WoW) to several MMOs, the blog's feel has changed to reflect that.  I suppose that going forward you can expect more change, but what it will entail I don't really know.

I'm not the gamer that some people are; I don't have the experience in electronic gaming that Spinks has, for example, or the endgame experience that many other MMO bloggers have.  While I realize his hiatus was for medical reasons I still miss Cynwise's PvP posts, because compared to the master I'm merely playing at PvP. There are others who write great fiction, like Rades or Akabeko (The Red Cow), and many others whose humor and wit bring cheer to an otherwise dreary morning reading work e-mail.  However, it is the thoughtful blog posts, the ones where people bare a little of their souls, that I cherish the most.  It's the equivalent of sitting out on a porch with a beer or two, shooting the bull, while the sun goes down and the fireflies dance in the yard.

But I hope that as the blogosphere changes, one thing remains constant:  the camaraderie of the bloggers themselves.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a beer that's getting warm.

*The Pink Pigtail Inn goes to another blog entirely now, and the domain for has completely vanished.

**Now, if that will only translate into getting a novel written to completion....

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Stuff of Nightmares

Have you ever had the dream where you're trying to outrun something --a train, a car, or Usain Bolt-- but you feel like your feet are made of lead?  You're trying desperately to get around a corner before you get run over, and you can feel the rumble of the steam engine in your bones as that train gets closer....



And then you wake up, your heart pounding in your chest.

Yeah, I've had that dream a lot recently, and it involves Deepwind Gorge.

On the face of it, Deepwind Gorge is a lot like Arathi Basin and Battle of Gilneas, with the additional part of having to capture the other faction's gold.  The BG is more compact than either AB (by a lot) or BoG (marginally so), but the line of sight issues make it seem larger than it is.  But the biggest differences between the prior two and DG are the locations of the respawning points:  each faction's home base.

That alone changes the dynamics of the BG, because if you're assaulting a mine and you can kill off another faction's toon, that pretty much guarantees that toon will be gone for more than twice the normal amount of time it would take to run back from a localized spawning point.  We've all been in the situation where you're in AB assaulting the Gold Mine, and you kill off a toon just to see it make a reappearance from the GM spawning point 10 seconds later.  That won't happen in DG.

But what the respawn points also do is make Rogues' biggest advantage --stealth-- their biggest weakness.

No matter how fast a Rogue can run while stealthed, except for a few short bursts they can't move fast enough to get back to a base in peril.  You are trying to get back as quickly as you can, or to get anywhere as quickly as you can, and you feel like your feet are in mud.

There is an option, of course, which is to summon your mount and ride back, but for a class that's bringing up the bottom in terms of survivability in BGs, that's akin to jumping up and down and yelling "Free HKs!!" To ensure survivability you have to ride in a pack, and that isn't playing to a Rogue's strength either.

Rogues are at their best when they can strike when you least expect it.  They don't have the plate (or even the mail) of other melee classes, and they don't have either tanking or healing capabilities.  They also don't have a (seemingly) neverending font of mana, either.*

What all this means is that a Rogue's best bet while playing Deepwind Gorge is to either play close to your home base --defending the gold-- or spending time as part of a bigger effort.  Solo work is a risky business for a Rogue in general, and solo work in DG is potentially very nasty indeed.

Oh, and try not to have too many nightmares.

*I once hid in Icewing Bunker with another Rogue, watching a Mage spam Arcane Explosion and seeing the Mage's supply of mana creep downward like a snail.  "They need to nerf that," I whispered.  "There's absolutely no downside to spamming that for minutes at a time."

"Yeah," the other Rogue replied.  "That and a Lock's Hellfire and Rain of Fire.  When a Lock can dump Rain of Fire on the run...."