Archive for September, 2009

My Mother Said It Wouldn’t End Well

Posted by Stropp on September 29, 2009 The Nine Circles of MMO Hell It looks like I'll only end up on the third level. I though perhaps I might be lucky enough to just be consigned to the first. At least I won't descend any lower. Come to think of it, creating and playing the same character endlessly for all eternity might not be so bad. After all, I'm already there.

Fallen Earth Is Steamed

Posted by Stropp on September 19, 2009 Fallen Earth LLC has just announced that Fallen Earth is now available for preorder on Steam. Here's the press release thingy. Fallen Earth on Steam. If you pre-order through Steam you'll get a special t-shirt which adds some bonuses to your harvesting skills, as well as giving a bonus to the social skill. That will help with getting some discounts by NPC merchants. If you want this bonus, or any of the others for that matter, you'd better hurry. The game officially releases in just 2 days and a half days and the preorder is then gone. For a list of all the ways to buy and preorder Fallen Earth and all the bonuses you can get, see here:  Buy Fallen Earth. BTW, just for disclosure, none of these links are of the affiliate kind if you're wondering.

Is It A Coincidence?

Posted by Stropp on September 18, 2009 Is it a coincidence that nearly all of the MMORPG closures of the last year have been NCSoft properties? Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, and now Dungeon Runners. There was The Matrix Online of course. That's a SOE product. And there was Hellgate London too (I won't count Mythos because it was never officially released.)  I think that's all, if I've missed any, let me know in the comments. You've got to wonder what is happening at a company when it cans three of its games, of which two were major releases in such a short space of time. The fact that they all seem to be associated with the US operation doesn't seem to bode well for continued development at the Austin studio. Of course it just may be that Aion is sapping resources at the moment, and they feel that they need to cut the dead wood. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

My Fallen Earth Open Beta Thoughts

Posted by Stropp on September 17, 2009 A couple of weeks ago I decided to download the Fallen Earth Open Beta and have a look at the game. I was pretty late in doing so, and ended up trying out several characters over the Friday night, Saturday and Sunday of the final weekend. Fallen Earth is not a game for fast leveling. I managed to get three of my characters to level 3, and one to level 6 before I stopped  early Sunday evening. (I'm not exactly a fast leveler at the best of times anyway.) So, fair warning, this post isn't a review, or even a preview, it's more of my first impressions on the final days of the open beta. Fallen Earth has since gone into pre-release too, and there have been a couple of patches, so some of the things I say might have been changed in the meantime. I reckon it's also fair to say, at the start, that this game will not be for everyone. It's definitely targeting the niche market, and it is not World of Warcraft or Everquest 2 or Champions Online in a post-apocalyptic setting. The developers, Fallen Earth LLC, have only set up for one server for release, so it's probably fair to say they weren't intending to create a WoW-Killer. First, I'll list a few things that I like about Fallen Earth.
  1. The music is awesome. I'm not much of a music person in games. I'll leave it on (I have friends who turn off music as the first thing they do in a game.) but generally lower the volume, and I tend not to actively notice it and it can become repetitive. The music in Fallen Earth struck me the moment it came on. It's very atmospheric and completely appropriate to the genre and setting.
  2. The setting in and around the Grand Canyon. It's an interesting setting that I didn't think much of when I first heard about it. But it's completely appropriate to the way the games feels. The game feels a bit like a Western at times with a bit of that Mad Max 2 and 3 vibe (without Tina Turner thankfully.) It also allows a lot of growth for the game. The Grand Canyon covers a huge area. A lot can happen here.
  3. The combat system. There's no target locking and auto attack here. You have to actively aim and make sure the opponent is in your cross-hairs. This was a bit frustrating at times, I was sure I had the NPC in my sights and still missed, but that might be more lag related on my end. I'm not the twitch gamer I used to be, being a krusty old fart, but I still appreciate the style and quite liked having to line my enemies up.
  4. Crafting, while not really what I'd like to see in a crafting system, is well implemented. It's easy to set a crafting process in motion and go do something else -- either log off and read a book, or go out and explore the canyon. If a developer is going to implement a crafting system where it's a case of hitting the craft button and wait, then it's preferable to be able to do something and not sit staring at a progress bar.
  5. The post-apocalyptic setting. Finally, it seems that the SciFi drought is breaking for the humble MMORPG. There is Eve Online of course, but Fallen Earth looks to be the first of the new batch of MMORPGs that aren't going the tried and true (or should that be tired and true?) route.
  6. There are a few more lesser points, but I'll post about them later, this is becoming a huge article.
A couple of things I'm not sold on:
  1. Only four character slots. For an alt-a-holic like me this could be either a blessing or a curse. It may force me to stick with just a few characters, or I might find myself deleting lower level toons in order to try something new. However, the saving grace might be something else that I'm not sure is a good thing. See the next point...
  2. A minute number of combat skills. There are in fact only three real combat skills. (I'm not counting the whole mutations set because I didn't touch that in the beta.) These are Melee, Pistols, and Rifles. So in fact three alts could cover the entire combat repertoire. I guess I was hoping for more of the range that Fallout provides, Energy Weapons, Heavy Weapons, Demolitions in addition.
  3. No fast travel. I'm not a big fan of having mechanisms in games to draw out the time needed to do things without having a reason for the mechanism in the first place. A good reason for long travel (for me) might be to implement a trading system where goods have to be shipped from one place to another. A not so good reason is to have a mechanism simply because it was once considered hardcore. So far, I haven't seen a good reason to have slow travel in Fallen Earth, and in fact it makes it far harder for guilds to actually do anything together. Who wants to leave a quest and travel for half an hour just to help a guildmate with a ten minute activity, and then have to do the return trip?
Before I popped into the Fallen Earth open beta I had heard the criticisms, and that's been the case since. However, it seems to me that most of the criticisms are more about expectations and gamer choices, fast versus slow travel for example, and that not of the criticisms are particularly deal breaking for me. Perhaps the biggest criticism is that the game is still a bit rough around the edges. I'm in two minds about this. I've been somewhat vocal when MMORPGs have been released in an unpolished and unfinished state, but those have been developed by companies with the funding, resources, and knowledge to do better. Fallen Earth LLC is an indie developer without all that backing so I'm more inclined to give them a bit of slack. From what I've seen on the official forums (which don't seem to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy but a more friendly place at least at this stage) the developers are fairly prompt in getting bugs fixed. I don't doubt that once they start making some real profits from Fallen Earth, the polishing will be kicked up a notch or two. So the outcome? I like the game, and I think it has a bright future. I'd also recommend buying a copy, if for no other reason than to support the developers. It might not be your cup of tea, and if you hate SciFi/Post Apoc by all means stay away, but on the other hand you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by a very different game. In fact, when I logged off on the Sunday evening, I was a hair's breadth away from hitting up the preorder page but didn't. What stopped me? Firstly, I wanted to sleep on it for a week or so to see if I felt the same way after a bit of time had passed. In some ways, I feel more confident about Fallen Earth now than I did on that Sunday night. I also wanted to give Champions Online a go and ended up buying the six month preorder for that one before I committed to Fallen Earth. Well, (there's a first thoughts post coming for Champions btw) I'm glad I did buy Champions Online, it certainly is a lot of fun, especially the character creator, but last night I did buy Fallen Earth. It's a game with a lot to like, and the good points certainly outweigh the bad. Overall, a upcoming great game. I reckon that Fallen Earth is going to be the surprise hit of 2009/10.

Should Videogame Development Be Fun?

Posted by Stropp on September 17, 2009 Tobold has a post up where he discusses the comments made the other day by Bobby Kotick regarding how he brought in people to deliberately drive the fun out of the work environment, and where he applauds a situation where his employees work in fear and depression. Tobold is taking a tangent to what many other commentors, including myself, are saying. He's saying, short version, that a company like Activision-Blizzard is there to make a profit, not to provide a fun workplace. I agree completely. But (you knew that had to be coming, right?) There is absolutely no reason why a workplace cannot be a productive, professional, and enjoyable environment all at the same time. Fun and professionalism are not mutually exclusive. To answer Tobold's first question,

How often you as a player ended up angry with a video game, because the developers had too much fun making that game, and forgot the decidedly unfun activities of quality control and bug fixing?

My answer to that. Never. I have been angry at the shoddy workmanship in some of the games I've played. I've been angry because it's been obvious that too little care was taken by the developers. That's not necessarily the result of too much fun.  It's more likely a result of management not implementing appropriate development processes, and/or not enforcing those practices. As a matter of fact, it's been more my experience that work environments that induce the atmosphere that Kotick loves so much tend to produce less favorable results. Demoralised employees are more likely not to care about their work. They have higher rates of absenteeism. And they work slower. BTW, all those whacky studies that researchers love to do? They almost invariably say the same thing. A sad employee is an unproductive employee. Ever been in a Walmart? You'll know what I mean. When people hate their jobs they dread getting up in the morning. When they love their jobs, they can't wait to get to work in the morning, and they stay as late as possible (taking into account non-work commitments) without being forced too. They work harder and better too. I've worked as a software developer in both kinds of places, and I can tell you now that (depending on the circumstances) if a manager brought in people to make the environment miserable I would be looking at the wanted ads like a shot. I didn't always think like that, as I said I have worked in a couple of Kotick paradises early in my career, and was made to feel worthless. That doesn't encourage looking for something else either. I learned a bit later that I am damn good at what I do (a few times when supervisors start looking for reasons and new projects in order to extend a contract tend to help that viewpoint.) Now after 25 years of software development I'm confident enough to refuse to put up with the kind of crap that managers like Kotick are shoveling. As a gamer and a damn fine programmer if I say so myself ;-), there's been not a few times that I haven't considered looking for work in the computer game industry. The one factor that always pulls me up is the amount of exploitation that I see there, especially with the US companies like EA and now Activision. Errm. Sorry, got a little ranty there for a sec. So yeah, Tobold has a great point. The businesses we are employed by are there for the sole reason to make a profit (unless they are specifically non-profit organisations) and not to give their employees the jollies everyday. And perhaps if the employees are having too much fun and not doing their jobs, there should be measures implemented to address that loss of productivity. There's no reason in the world to encourage a dark depressing work environment, but there's every reason to increase productivity by making the environment interesting, challenging, and yes... even fun.

My Heroes

Posted by Stropp on September 17, 2009

One of the coolest features of Champions Online is the character creator. Like City of HeroesVillains, it has an amazing array of costume and body parts that can be arranged to make almost any imaginable hero.

I've put together a few pictures of my heroes, in heroic pose of course, and a bit of back-story for each. Coming up with the back-story can be as much fun as doing the design in the first place. I've found that sometimes I get the story before I start creating, and other times it happens as part of the process.

Bombay Jack


Jack gained his powers as the result of a curry explosion involving a radioactive genetically alter chili pepper.

A regular diner at Curries R Us in Millennium City on the corner of First and Main in the restaurant district, Jack was served a vindaloo made with a specially grown genetically modified chili pepper. This chili was obtained by the Diner's head Curry Chef who was angry at never being able to make a curry hot enough for Jacks taste.

Unfortunately, due to lack of culinary care and personal hygiene there was enough of the radioactive mutating solution left on the chili to react with Jacks latent mutant DNA.

This combination caused an explosion as Jack consumed the vindaloo and infused Jack with the power of the curry. The explosion destroyed the diner in the process.

Bombay Jack now uses this new-found power to fight evil.

However, the curry chef was thrown into a giant vat of the mutant vindaloo in the explosion. At this time his whereabouts are unknown.

Rocket Samurai

The last member of a band of master-less Samurai known as the Jet-Ronin who, in Japan, fought an almost continual war against the giant lizards, mutant moths, and giant mutant space vultures made of anti-matter, along with an endless variety of other kinds of monsters.

Rocket Samurai came to Millennium City in search of the fiends responsible for unleashing these ravening hordes of monsters on an unsuspecting Japan.

His swordsmanship unparalleled anywhere, he charges his powers from the giant nuclear rocket that is strapped to his back.

This aids him in his search, and in which he suspects involvement by the Destroids.

Rocket Samurai will leave no stone unturned, and no villain free in his quest of justice for Japan.



AKA Tina West was a researcher at the Institute of Advanced Cyberneural Research.

Tina's primary project was a prototype military grade roboclone chassis called Cyclotron. It's purpose, to allow military personnel to non-destructively upload their consciousness into this powerful military hardware. The chassis would then take on the users self image and memory shape itself into an exact image of the original person.

One night while Tina was working on the prototype, the Destroids attacked the facility, setting it ablaze.

Trapped, with no escape and the fires bearing down, Tina uploaded her consciousness into the Cyclotron prototype. As her systems came online she glimpsed a human figure cloaked in flame. She quickly realized the fiery figure was her.

Now, trapped in the half finished combat chassis, Cyclotron has vowed revenge on the Destroids and their evil master.


A champion of the last Aztec Empire, this mysterious being was entombed and placed into stasis after conquering the dark and malevolent forces that threatened the people he called friends.

Now, after many centuries, he has been raised to help deal with the returning forces that are bent on the destruction of humanity.

Weakened by his long stasis, the being now known as Aztec has traded in his ancient Mayan armor for a brand new set of power armor.

As he slowly rediscovers his powers, he is certain to be a thorn in the side of the dark forces that aim to overthrow the Earth.

He Didn’t Just Say That?

Posted by Stropp on September 15, 2009 Slavemaster Kotick Via Broken Toys, Gamespot is reporting on an interview with Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision-Blizzard where he makes the following two comments.

We have a real culture of thrift. The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.

Gamespot added:

If that sounds like it would create a corporate culture that isn't all sunshine and hugs, then it's "mission accomplished" for Kotick. The executive said that he has tried to instill into the company culture "skepticism, pessimism, and fear" of the global economic downturn, adding, "We are very good at keeping people focused on the deep depression.

Well. I'm almost speechless... Almost. This attitude isn't just confined to the computer game industry or the US. I've encountered it before in a place where I've worked, and it isn't nice. Not only does the climate of fear in a company like that make effective slaves of the employees -- at least the ones who haven't been demoralised enough to escape -- it also reduces productivity a tremendous amount. The thing that surprises me is that Kotick openly states that he set out to create a dark and dismal environment for his workers. Normally folks keep those sort of things to themselves. It's not a great way to be recognised as an employer of choice. I wonder if Pharoah Kotick intends to entomb his employees with him when he passes to the afterlife.

Stropp’s World Is Three Years Old

Posted by Stropp on September 15, 2009 Three years ago on the 11th of September, 2006, I made the first post here on Stropp's World. In fact it was pretty much the first post I'd made anywhere. I did attempt to create a site for programmers a few years earlier on the now defunct Geocities, but got didn't really get too far with it since I didn't have a handle on the tools and techniques that go with building a website. I ended up getting hung up on details like page formatting rather than the content. That's where Wordpress made life much much easier. I could work on the content and fiddle with the details on the side. (A tip to anyone who wants to start blogging on whatever topic. Install Wordpress and start writing. Worry about themes and blogrolls and getting links later. You'll make progress that way and there's less chance of a false start.) Back in July 2006 I had started thinking about blogging but I really didn't know where to start. I found a few blogs about blogging including Darren Rowse's Problogger, and one of the first tips there was to blog about a personal passion. The problem with that is that I have a lot of interests, but since I was playing World of Warcraft at the time (and had been a gamer for years) I decided to start a World of Warcraft blog. The fact that WoW had so many subscribers made it a logical choice too. More people to read my insane ramblings. At the same time I read an article on Steve Pavlina's blog. Now me, I'm not so much into all that personal development stuff, but Steve once was a independant game developer (another interest, sigh) and had written some excellent article on the subject so I was reading his other stuff. He suggested a technique for people (like me) who often had trouble following through on things they started. Steve suggested using a trial period method. Often people procrastinate or don't follow through because the task seems terribly daunting. Start a blog and thinking you have to keep it running forever can be a real impediment to starting in the first place. So the trial period method says that you make a deal with yourself to do this new thing for a short period of time, between 30 and 90 days. At the end of that time, you decide what to do next. So I decided to make Stropp's World a 90 day experiment. Three years later that experiment is still going. It hasn't been all roses  though. I've had a few periods where I've had blog burnout, game burnout, or both, and that has affected my posting schedule. I've also had times where my interests have turned to other things for a short time, like reading. (I sometimes buy a bunch of books and basically then just read them all through until finished without participating in other hobbies.) At the moment, with my off-again-on-again contract extensions I'm in a sort of crunch mode at work where I'm not sure if I'll have a job in two weeks. It's stressful and not a little bit drainig, so I've just been reading and playing a bit of whatever - Champions, DDO, whatever I feel like when I go to the game folder. And consequently not writing as much as I'd like. That's the one downside of blogging about games  as I see it. When you're writing, you're not playing, and vice versa. Good thing I enjoy both activities eh? Over the last three years I've made a few friends in the MMORPG blogger community as well as the general MMORPG community, learned a bunch about how the Internet really works, developed my writing skills (still got a long way to go there,) and have learned more about the games I play. It's amazing how much extra there is to know about the MMORPG genre when you're motivated to look beyond day to day play. So what does the future hold? No one can really answer that question. Games come and go. Anticipated developments get cancelled or end up different from expectations. All I can say is that I'm intending to write a similar post 12 months from now. In the immediate future I'll be writing up my impressions of Champions Online, Fallen Earth, the new DDO release, and working on a series for the Asheron's Call tenth anniversary. If I end up out of work in October, there may be much much more! And after that? I'll be playing as much as I can find the time to do so, writing about it, and possibly running up and giving a few dragons a bit of a slap. Cheers

August 09 Gaming

Posted by Stropp on September 2, 2009 My gaming time has been somewhat erratic over the last few weeks. Despite my intention to structure my time better between games I still manage to find myself distracted or engrossed in one game to the detriment of the others. And August really did have a few major distractions, even for those games I had originally decided against getting involved with at this point. Along with all that, the biggest influence of all last week was that my long time healthy cat lost his appetite and developed a fever spending a week in the vet hospital. Unfrotunately, nothing they did worked to restore his appetite or reduce the fever, and they eventually determined that a cancer was behind it. The prognosis, even with hugely expensive treatment wasn't good, so I ended up saying my goodbyes. But still, there are a few things I did, including working on a plan for a series of posts that I've been considering for some time. I'll get to that shortly.

Everquest 2

I haven't spent as much time in EQ 2 over the last month or so as I would have liked. My main character, the Troll Shadowknight Bargears is sitting pretty on level 25 with around 40 AA points. The goal with this guy and perhaps all my other EQ 2 characters is to level slowly but accumulating the maximum number of AAs as early as possible. I'm finding it a fun alternative to rushing to the level cap. 

Fallen Earth

I spent this last weekend prowling the wastelands of Sector One in the Fallen Earth open beta. After having some initial troubles installing the client (it turned out that the FP download wasn't corrupt, just that the standard Windows zip utility doesn't like files over 4GB) I managed to install and patch the game in order to start playing Friday evening. I tried a number of different locations and a ranged build and a melee build, getting four characters to level 3 and one to level 6. Fallen Earth only allows four character slots, so it's not terribly alt friendly, but there are only three major combat skills -- Melee, Pistols, and Rifles so there's three build there and one left over for a crafting alt. Speaking of which, a dedicated crafter alt can craft everything there is to craft. Overall, I actually really like Fallen Earth. There are a few extra's I would have liked to have seen of course, but that's always the case isn't it. I was a hairs breadth away from buying this on Sunday evening, but decided against it for a couple of reasons. I'm going to wait for a while though. And I'll write something a bit more detailed up later. I'll explain then.

Champions Online

On Monday evening I ended up buying the sixty day preorder special. (I'll buy the D2D 'box' for the key tonight.) Yes. I know I said I was going to wait. I have no resistance to teh shinee, okay? I ended up creating Bombay Jack @ Stropp. An ordinary man who had an unfortunate incident with a Vindaloo and a genetically mutated chilli pepper who now fights evil with his flaming power of the curry. That all happened last night and I took Jack through the tutorial and into the Canadian Wilderness zone. I'm still getting used to the controls, which feel a little sluggish to me, but overall the game has a fun and fast feel, and it's pretty cool getting my fire flight travel power. Zipping around like Johnny Storm from Fantastic Four is great, and I got Jack to level 7. Again, more on this later. Now where's my burn cream?

Asheron's Call

Yep. You read that right. I subscribed once again to the first MMORPG I ever played, Asheron's Call. A while ago now, Tipa, Stargrace, and some others created a guild on Everquest called Nostalgia. It was designed for old EQ players to run through and enjoy the original Everquest content. At the time I thought about doing a similar thing with AC, but never really got around to it. With the upcoming 10th anniversary of Asheron's Call, I figured it was time to just do it, and that it would be a good opportunity to do a series of blog posts about the game, what has changed, and a nostalgic look at some of the areas. So over the last few weeks I have spent a bit of time exploring with some low level characters (low level is under 50 these days btw, since the level cap is now 275) and coming up with ideas for the series. This was also a part of my resolution to get a bit more variety in my gaming. Didn't work since I spent a good couple of weeks just playing these characters. Hopefully now that I've got back in, I can adjust this to a night or two a week.

Coming Up

That's pretty much for last month. I figure now that I've decided on Champions Online as the release of choice, I'll be concentrating on that over the coming month. With AC being a focus at least until the anniversary, I figure EQ2 might take a back seat too. Having said that, the news coming out about the next GU is kinda exciting and might make for more EQ2 time. As always, it will be as it happens.