Sunday, 30 January 2011

Keeping my feet on the ground for Rift

It's no surprise I'm waiting on Rift being launched however I'm waiting for it with a sense of caution. Not that it's a bad game, I'm sure it will do well but I'm not getting carried away in the hype that's being carried by the players and media. I'm keeping both feet firmly on the ground and even though I'm pre ordered the game, I'm not expecting miracles, I'm not expecting the most fabulous MMO since Sliced Bread Online but what I will do is play it under my own terms. I feel sorry for Trion in some regards, the MMO community have now managed to hype the game up without much poking from Trion themselves and yet should it not turn out to be what the community thinks who will get lambasted for it? Not the players.

I'm already reading and hearing about folks in the guild looking for world firsts (not even server firsts) and I'm sitting here thinking "Y'know.. How about playing the game first?". Obviously my main concern is that I fully intend to take my time and not rush the game but with the risk I'll be left way behind and abandoned for any raids (meh). Added to that I'm very much aware that if people are intending to burn through to level 50 within a couple of weeks or so and then gear up for raids and burn through them could we see people having run through most of the game within the first two months or so? If people have will Trion be able to react to make sure there's content for players or can they slow down progression for the people racing ahead?

Ach, going off on a bit of a tangent there but even though I limited myself to level 20 in beta (I don't want to ruin the game completely) and purposely didn't read the quests so I could enjoy the storyline when I play for real I still found myself sitting a few times going "Meh...." and logging out because there wasn't a whole lot there other than a standard grind to 50. Now this will change when it's live but there's a few things that niggle me about Rift that I can't quite put my finger on. So far we've seen from alpha patch notes that have been leaked that Trion are quick to react and make changes but as I've said in the past this is all fine in a beta development phase, wait until live and it's a whole different kettle of fish (where the hell does that saying come from anyway..seriously.. fish.. kettle... wtf). We also have to keep in mind that as a game matures in time people find more and more potent and the easiest ways forward, see the optimum raid setups in WoW or the bomb squads in WAR, once these things are found the developers have to be very quick to make sure it's well within the balance of the game.

We'll see how things go anyway, though as the title of the post goes I'm going to keep my feet firmly on the ground. Maybe I just have 'experience' in being an MMOldie and seeing a lot of launches and watching as the community over hypes a game only to fall upon it with daggers when it's not living up to the expectations the very same players decided on. Either way, come November when the first batch of 6 month subs run out we'll get a better picture of how the game will be doing. It's wrong to judge a game not only in Beta but the first couple of months of live, but after then the studio needs to be very quick to keep momentum going.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Indie Game of the Week: Desktop Dungeons

Well I decided to start a little column about the indie games I generally find myself burning a few candles down with. I'm not always meaning huge indie games but very often my favourite are much smaller and just flash based or a few megs in size while some can be highly professionally done such as Amnesia or Gratuitous Space Battles.

Desktop Dungeons is a game I've played a lot recently. It's currently completely free while they develop a commercial release. It's a tiny download without any need for an installer and it's setup in a way that you only need to put aside 5-10 minutes at most to run a dungeon - perfect for a coffee break.

The basic premises is similar to the Rogue style games but done in a more graphically appealing way. You start off with one of four classes and one of four races, as you complete a dungeon (not as easy as it may seem) you unlock more items from shops, more classes, more races, more dungeons and more challenges. It has an almost perfect level of "Gah, just one more shot!!!" to get that next class unlocked. It's entirely simple on the outside, kill monsters to level up, get powerful enough to kill boss monster at the end but if you want to spend more time thinking about it or looking deeper into the game it will also reward you and make harder challenges more easy when you figure out certain combinations or actions.

Game play is simple, use the mouse to move to a location by clicking, or use the number pad (you can move at a diagonal), as you uncover new areas you regenerate health and mana as well as discovering monsters, spells, items and shops. Part of the games cunning mechanic though is that you only naturally regain health and mana when you uncover a new area so the unexplored areas are essential to use as a resource to recover from battles, without careful management of your surrounding area you won't get past the difficult challenges. However it's all done in such a way as to become very natural after a few games.

It's been nominated at the Independent Games Festival so you can see how much it's been looked at and admired by its peers. Though lets be honest, everyone has the time to download a 4meg file and spend 10 minutes on a wonderful wee game which if you let it will quickly become an amazing thing to play. Go out, download it (it's free!) and enjoy a little thing to waste your time with. You won't regret it.

Friday, 28 January 2011

International Appreciate an MMO Dev Day

So I've decided it's about time we say thanks to those MMO Developers who actually spend time making the games we (mostly) love to play. It's a pretty thankless task alongside the community managers and you wonder just how they keep themselves motivated and driven when 95% of posts and comments tend to be bile filled tirades claiming the devs cant do their job. And what better way to do so than have a day where you just say... Well "Thanks", so lets do so... And lets make it.. oooh, the last Friday of January so the devs can go out tonight and have a well deserved drink/sleep/meal/film/otherstuffwewonttalkabouthereinpublic.

Having been lucky enough to get to chat to a few of the Mythic developers over the last few months you get reminded that these folks are humans that are as passionate about the games as we are. I don't even want to think how much personal time gets sunk into the job, how often these folks come home and still work hard and then play the same game to hear folks ripping into it simply because they don't understand the development process... I can sit here and I have loads of ideas on how to improve MMO's and games (and I have in my head a fantastic MMO concept but no actual development skills) but I don't know how things work really, I wouldn't know if my idea of a change to a game or addition would have a hugely unknown impact, not to mention the potential pit traps.

These are the people that work over double the standard working week up to launch and after only to find out that the studio is cutting back on developers after launch and they'll soon find themselves on the redundancy line. Having to jump across country (or countries) to move onto a new development role, or the game studio moves officers. As much as I like the idea of developing a game and being part of a team creating live content the stress of it must be unbelievable.

So here's to all the MMO Developers out there. Thank you for putting up with the crap us players put you through and no matter what may get said, we wouldn't be playing fantastic worlds without you.


Tuesday, 25 January 2011

It's a beta...

So I got back from work, a quick bite to eat and catch up on Keaven and Steven in the Morning and I figured it's time to check what's happening in the world, in particular the Rift beta. The girlfriend let me know she couldn't log in and sent me some links to check out and the number of people that are bitching and complaining that they can't login is unbelievable, add to this a few folks saying the races are completely imbalanced due to broken racials (hmmm, see below post) and I wonder what on earth people actually expect from a beta...

To give the population complainers a bit of credit, Trion have invited the Internet and its dog into the closed beta and while it might be used as a stress test this is the sort of thing that will make 50/50 players actually turn away from the game. It's a double edged sword as you get things smoother for launch but at the potential of losing players who may have otherwise wanted to get a 'free demo' of the game. But lets give Trion something back here and as the title says.. It's a beta. What the heck do people honestly think they are doing? If they think it's a way to give the game a free test then sadly it's not. There is a sense of responsibility to give constructive feedback and if all you can do is bitch about not being able to log into a stress test or complain that shit is imbalanced and then not offer constructive feedback (I know most will though) then please don't bother signing up for a beta.

Is this though what being a beta tester means to folks though? Is it a epeen brag "Oh I beta tested it and it was shit" or a way for people to trial the game first in an untested state. I'd like to know what % of beta testers actually offer constructive feedback in an average game beta. I actually liked the closed beta test in Warhammer Online. We got pop up surveys after some combats and quests and before we logged out and after we had logged in asking us specific questions. Yes we could ignore them but I wonder if people who did would find themselves out the beta... Who knows and I know the Rift Alpha testers are held to much more focused feedback requirements.

Well it all stems back to one thing though.

It's a beta.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Racial discrimination in MMO's

So I've been browsing the Rift forums recently with an eye on what's happening and there's talk about changing the racial abilities of some of the errr.. well races (as a side note, the people already crying that they have been nerfed on a beta is highly amusing). So it got me thinking, why do we have multiple races with abilities in an MMO?

Now keep in mind my first MMO experience was Ultima Online where (at that time) you could be a human and that was it but as MMO's have progressed there almost seems to  be an arms race where you can have the most number of classes and/or races available.. Hell how difficult is it to try and balance them not only against each other race but then the potential broken class/race combos?  For that matter, why do they even have racial abilities or is it just now so ingrained into the MMO culture that a race must have a special ability and that it's odd not to have one? Do the developers not sit there thinking "Hmmmm, it'd make our lives easier if we didn't have racials."It's probably a marketing thing...

I know if I'd develop an MMO it'd be without racial abilities and potentially even multiple races.. The assets required for changing armour for multiple races must be high, even if it's just sizes you still need people to sit there and change it when the same time could be spent having more uniquely coloured or designed armour to differentiate sides? One pair of boots needs to have its size changed 11 times or add skulls on the toe caps and darken them to indicate an evil version?

OK, so in all fairness variety is the spice of life (or is that just the Indian down the road from me) so different races can be fine, it can add to the lore of the game and give it a more unique feel to other MMO's but the more I think about racial abilities the more I just see them as potential pit falls for MMO's, especially since balance changes later in the game always runs the risk of a broken combo.

So racial abilities and multiple races in MMO's.. Are they a recipe for a developers headache?

(Side note.. Highly amusing to my childish and immature mind, the spell checker recommended I change racials to 'facials'.. it made the following part so much more amusing... "Do the developers not sit there thinking "Hmmmm, it'd make our lives easier if we didn't have facials."It's probably a marketing thing..."")

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Currently playing.... Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening

With my current single player gaming moving forward I decided to put on Dragon Age Origins: Awakening since I'd bought it but never started it. I had actually restarted DAO with a mage after completing it with a Rogue but never managed that, so figured I'd at least move on to make sure it's completed and I can always return to it without feeling too guilty.

Overall so far I'm quite enjoying the game though the number of fantasy cliches is starting to be more amusing now than annoying... Seriously, how many times can you stumble across a person of vital importance who is just about to die... They get to utter a few words of significance and then keel over dead... Another thing is that sometimes choices made seem to bug out or you don't realise that a conversation suddenly ends a path of a quest. I ended up manging to side with both the Guards and the Smugglers in the city before managing to complete both quests then pissing them both off.. Not really sure how I managed that but I did.

I'll warn you in advance though, please if you have the game and haven't played it yet, look up the Silverite Mine bug and make sure you avoid it.. I didn't know about it and subsequently lost all the main characters items and by the time I realised that the quest had ended it had over written all my autosaves so I no longer had one at the start. Pissed me off but at least I had enough backup gear to go forward with anyway but shame my best stuff was lost :( I'll probably get through it over the next couple of days, there's a decent amount of content to play through in it so it keeps you occupied.

Overall though if you have the game I'd go out and get the expansion at least. Dragon Age is a good game and while the AI and path finding can be ropey it has a decent feel to it and there's quite a bit of combat and a just perfect sense of character progression going on.

As for Dragon Age 2 though.. Meh, just can't seem to get excited about that, it just looks more like a console type 3rd person beat em up rather than an RPG, I'll wait to see if it comes out cheap though.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

IP's that could be an MMO

So was thinking as I browsed through lists of MMO's that are out, have been out and are yet to be out and there's some surprising omissions from the IP's that exist. So it got me thinking of some franchises that are out there which you could make a decent MMO out of, it doesn't have to be existing games but in some of them I  listed it they so happened to be games. These are in alphabetical order with an honourable mention at the end.

Dragon Age
The game itself is mechanically a single person MMORPG. The toolbars, talents, crafting etc are all designed to play like an MMO does, just in single player. There is a HUGE background already for it and it could easily follow the basic path of an MMO (which may also be a downside as it is really just generic fantasy). I could see PvP as being a big part of the game as well with the outside world being PvP enabled but safe in the cities. I was expecting this to already have been mentioned as an MMO at some point but with BiowareMythic already with UO, DAoC, WAR and soon the Star Wars one I can't see them having more work to do for something which likely doesn't offer anything too new the genre.

Mass Effect
Funnily enough another Bioware game... Again Mass Effect started to become very MMO styled just without crafting in it yet. There's a lot of fantastic background and potential adventures to be had so it's screaming out for an MMO. Not to mention that outside 40k Online, Star Trek and Star Wars there's nothing else really big and sci-fi like out there. The game itself is a lot more twitch so PvP and PvE would come down to good connections and modern PC's but I actually think that Mass Effect Online could be a very strong MMO which would appeal to many folks. Once you include potential console conversions then it could have an absolutely huge potential player base. My only concern would be PvP (you'd need factions of some sort) and crafting hasn't been explored in the single player.

Masters of the Universe 
Ah, my childhoods second favourite cartoon show... Masters of the Universe the original stuff was fantastically crap but amazingly good viewing for a child. But imagine the classic MotU from the comics and cartoon series in MMO form! You could have two sides (really lets not go down the She-Ra and Hordak path) one following the loyal Eternians and one following Skeletors evil. uhm. horde. Just think of the customisation you could have with the characters though... Reptiles and insects on the evil side. Robots and birds on the Eternians for example. Not to mention the horrendous colour schemes you could have "I want a bright orange bug man!". PvP is naturally setup with the two sides but overall once you get past potential character customisation and the fact you can punch Prince Adam in the face I'm not convinced there's a lot of potential to it.. Still, I'd buy a sub.

No really. Go with me on this one. Pokemon, one of the most successful gaming franchises ever doesn't have a true MMO game to go along with it but yet it's setup pretty much perfectly to do so already. Think about it... You start as a new trainer, running around questing and looking for Pokemon which you then take control of when you enter a fight (none of the turn bases stuff,  make it more generic MMO combat with cool downs and power etc). As you progress in level you can capture more and you yourself get talent type trees which affect the Pokemon, so you could be more water based or uhmm... buffing based.. something like that. Raids/end game type stuff could be straight forward to do as well, imagine 10 trainers against a super massive pokemon thingy, players having to swap out the pokemon to do different roles to kill/capture the boss.. Could work I think. Not to mention the PvP would be straight forward with just duelling other players or setting up teams.

Honourable Mention: Transformers
My favourite childhood cartoon now, stuff the live action movies and the crap before hand.. Back to Gen 1 classic Transformers!!! However I remembered that there is already one in development with hardly any info about it other than that it's probably going to be Japanese/Korean only... Sadbot.

But in my head it's a fantastic game. Already setup with classes (Scouts, Tanks (literally), Ranged DPS, Healers/Mechanic), lore, and of course, two sides that hate each others mechanical guts. I mean you could easily end up with end game raids against the combiner robots from each side, not to mention you could upgrade your appearance over time as well or even be re-assembled (cough.. respec). Well no doubt as time goes by we'll hear more about the Transformers Online game and it's probably going to be some crazy mental F2P grindfest which shatters my last remembrances of childhood (almost).

Friday, 21 January 2011

Rift alpha patch notes released/leaked

Some very interesting things in it, I especially like the anti aliasing changes, public groups, premade scenario errr warfront matchmaking and the currency bag. I don't know enough about the classes in my time in beta to understand the changes so I'm making no judgement on that. I also noticed that world events no longer grant experience. This might slow down the rate of XP gain a bit but does seem odd as it promoted being involved in them a bit more, oh well those guys are devs and going on feedback from the beta and alpha teams.

Artifact collections get a reward boost and apothecary gets a total remake. It's quite exciting seeing changes take place for the game even though it's not even released yet, the big thing happens post launch when they have to cut down on the dev and QA team as most studios do, can they keep pace with the changes or will they slow down and be ponderous in reacting to problems.

Another interesting thing is the more you look at it, the more aspects of Warhammer Online you see in Rift. Public Quests and Public Groups seem to be the two lasting legacies on the genre that WAR has made, I'll be waiting to see Blizzard implement the same sort of thing soon then!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Salem - A permadeath MMO with PvP

Noticed over at Blues News and PC Gamer that Paradox Interactive have announced an F2P MMORPG (yes, emphasis on the RPG part now). Sounds quite interesting and I'll follow it just to see how it develops. Permadeath is one of these things that I like the idea of though I'd always be worried about a most unfortunately timed LD or lag spike.

Some key quotes as follows:

From PC Gamer:
"Early in development but they say it’s out in 2011. It’s set in a mythical version of New England. “We have you stepping off the boat in Boston and then you have to fend for yourself in the New World.” It’s a crafting MMORPG. Player-driven world."

From Blues News:
"Salem, a newly announced free-to-play MMORPG set in New England during the colonial era when suspected witches were used as firewood. They say the game is due sometime this year, and they make note of a fascinating aspect of the game's concept, permadeath: "The game puts emphasis on a player-driven world that promotes crafting skills. Even more interesting, when your character dies he’s gone forever, leaving all your creations to be pillaged by other players."

Hey, I'm no longer an MMO player...

Well my Warhammer subscription ran out yesterday and for the first time in.. Oooh around 11 years or so I'm without a paid MMO account. It feels sorta weird now but at the same time with my diminishing time in WAR over December and combined with the Xmas business I had gotten used to single player games for a quick hit of gaming which made my sudden realisation I was no longer an MMO player a bit easier to take :P I even got bored enough this morning to chart my MMO history (paler colours means only semi playing, not taken seriously). It's interesting to see that since UO nothing has lasted more than three years but then that still accounts for a fair chunk of my time. These don't include MMO's that I played very briefly, as in once a week or less, are F2P that I don't log onto that much (lotro, ddo mainly) and trial months of games.

The good news though is that it won't stop me from passing judgement on MMO's and talking about them for the simple fact I'm in transition between MMO's and it just so happens that my sub to WAR ended before Rift came out, so as said above, it's giving me time to catch up on single player games. The problem now though... Is what to play.

Civ 5 is on my list but I've now managed a couple more play throughs (damn you United Nations getting me beat) so I feel I've at least played it some. Checking through my Steam games I've still got Amnesia, The Monkey Island remakes, Deathspank, Mount and Blade: Warband, World of Goo, VVVVVV, Super Meatboy, Puzzle Quest, Star Wars: Force Unleashed... and I'll stop there as still a few other random games on the list.... In hard copy I can see close to hand Dragon Age Origins: Awakening (and some DLC) and Blood Bowl: Legendary Edition... So I have a decent collection to work my way through between now and the end of next month. A few of them I doubt I'll play further or even start as you have to be in the right mood for them, some of them are fine for instant blasts such as a level of Goo/Meatboy or a game of Blood Bowl.

So I get the feeling that I'll finally get round to finishing off Dragon Age.. Assuming the Bioware thing still doesn't hate me and 50% of the time doesn't let me use my DLC.. Bah. If anything, being MMO'less right now at least lets me spend time with my other games without breaking the outside life/relationship/work balance  :)

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A guide to raiding

Quite amusing. I've said for a while now that the vast majority of raid/dungeons encounters can be simplified down to four things.

  1. Tank the Boss
  2. Stay out the fire
  3. Kill the adds
  4. Nuke the Boss

(click for bigger picture, credits go to Aear on WoW server Bloodhoof)

Sayonara Shogun 2

Had a chance to watch the recent Total War: Shogun 2 trailer that is out and I have to admit it looks good but I won't be buying it... Why? Read on young Samurai!

I've loved the Total War games since I first picked up Medieval 1 many years ago, I skipped Shogun the first one because I have no interest in Japanese history, it's not that I don't care about it, but simply I have too much other historical interests to keep myself occupied with. M1 and Rome were amazing games, loved them to bits and played the crap out of them. Hell I was playing Rome as recently as early last year and enjoyed it, but then I'm a Roman military fanatic so  I have a natural bias towards it. But apart from the setting of Shogun which I could get around why wont I bother? Well to be brutally honest it just looks over complicated from what is supposed to be a battle simulator. From talent trees for your agents to trade routes and research it just adds more and more to the game. I thought Medieval 2 had the perfect balance of depth and warfare without getting overly bogged down in micro management, hopefully you can set the PC to intelligently manage a lot of those in Shogun whicih may change my mind.

The other reason I'll be skipping Shogun 2 is bugs... After picking up Empire and playing it I honestly just got grinded into despair with the game due to the bugs and some of the 'realistic' effects (troops hiding behind flimsy stone field boundary, cannon balls bouncing off it repeatedly and it doesn't even crack), add this to the sluggish nature of the game and the micro management that was needed and I never got far on it before turning it off.

I'll wait and see how people react to Shogun 2 before making my final decision but I feel I'll be waiting for Rome 2 or another ancient themed (gimme Mesopotamia) before making a Total War purchase again. I wont jump to buy it like I did with Empire as the subsequent re-reviews noted that the game wasn't all they believed at the time and I'll hold off until at least 3-4 months after release.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Currently playing.... Civilization V

I recently bought Sid Meier's Civilization V and have been trying to sit down to give it a run through. I'm an avid Civ fan, I've bought every one since Civ1 on my Amiga where I spent far too long building up my little Roman empire all the way into 2200+ to finally get battleships.. Ok, I was rubbish on my first shot but it just clicked and I loved it. Being a keen history fan it was fascinating to play through, to go against other cultures and to reach the end.

So it was on Saturday and Sunday that I had my first game of Civ 5 which was a fun time, I picked the Egyptians and knowing about the new single stack and impassable mountains I found myself on a nice corner of a continent and just turtled up in there. No-one attacked me, I went through 6,050 years of peace barring the barbarians in the first thousand years which I wiped out and so I learnt the new civ quite peacefully. I ended up with a win in 2040 ish through culture which was satisfying, even on chieftain level and so I sat down to try something different.

Civ has the 'free' DLC of the Mongols and I just failed completely to get to grips with it and started again (I messed up wondering why I had horses but couldn't build horseman.... I needed a pasture). I then tried a Roman game and found myself feeling too militaristic.. It's odd that I've always played Civ passively, much preferring to win through science and culture but on the odd occasion I've gone for all out war.

There's just something not quite clicking with me though in Civ5.. I've not been able to recreate that sit down and "just one more turn" yet but from what I've read a lot of people are like that but persevere and you get there... So time for me to head down to the bank and do some shopping (yay for being on holiday this week) and then I'll sit down and start on a new game.. Unless Mount and Blade Warband peels me away.....

Monday, 17 January 2011


Welcome to /BRB (aka 'slash be-are-be') a blog dedicated to PC gaming from my own perspective. I've recently called a break on my Warhammer Online career and subsequently my semi popular blog (Mmmmm Gud) I wrote has now gone on hiatus as well. I still have a requirement for a creative outlet and until I get round to starting my planned novel I need to find a way to keep writing and thus /BRB was born.

To give some background on me, I'm an early thirties male living in Scotland, I've been a desktop gamer since the mid eighties when the family got a Spectrum 48k and I promptly lost my way down the path of text adventures, monochrome graphics and screeching loading noises. I then moved onto the Amiga 500 and then the PC where I ended up playing MMO's since the 90's. My MMO history includes Ultima Online, DAoC, SWG, Warcraft and Warhammer and I'm about to embark on a trip to Rift in March. But I also like to spend time playing other games, primarily strategy and RPG games. I've also done background development and writing for a famous UK based fantasy wargame company (guess who) and as mentioned above I've got a plan to write my first novel which isn't fantasy at all but historical fiction (strictly speaking isn't that still the same thing?).

So onto the future and I'll be blogging about Rift, other MMO's, single player games I happen to find or play and other random bits and pieces that is relevant to the general culture that surrounds gaming and my life in it.

So that's the introduction post down, now I just need to find some rubbish to write about!