Stropp's World

Games And Gamery

Quiet Times

Posted by Stropp on September 2, 2011

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. — Ecclesiastes 3:1

This happens from time to time. I haven’t been playing too much in the way of MMORPGs lately. I seem to have periods when I pull back from certain games, and do other things. Sometimes not even related to gaming. At the moment my life seems to entail much work as I finally start to pick up new clients. This is one of those times.

Rift has fallen on the backburner, and I’m considering cancelling my sub. This isn’t because I’m unhappy with the game. I reckon Rift is one of the better MMORPGs to have been released for some time. Even so I haven’t dropped the genre entirely. I am getting my very occassional fix from Age of Conan.

But single player is the winner at the moment. I picked up Deus Ex Human Revolution at the store last Sunday, deciding on a physical product rather than a digital download. I’m having a blast, and very consciously keeping myself from playing when I should be working!

The game does have a couple of frustrations though, like not being able to complete a mission in the Hive because I didn’t choose enough hacking upgrades and didn’t have the required software. The first boss was also very frustrating, I couldn’t kill him directly so I hid behind a box like a frightened mouse and let him spam grenades on himself. Once he’d dropped three on himself twice in a row I chucked my last frag at him and he went down.

This isn’t a review, but this is I feel a poor design choice. Players shouldn’t be able to fail or not complete missions or quests because they made choices the game allowed, in a game where the player is encouraged to not make standard choices. If I am allowed to choose combat upgrades over hacking, then hacking upgrades shouldn’t be mandatory to complete quests.

Other than that, Deus Ex HR feels very much like the first two games. As someone who is into technology, and who enjoys Posthuman SciFi, I love the story. Because DEHR is a prequell set at the dawn of the cybernetic age, it has the luxury of exploring the bioethical concerns that don’t exist in the first two games where augmentations are taken for granted. I recognise some of the debate that has taken place in recent years regarding Transhumanism and Bioethics.

I’m hoping Deus Ex will have a rewarding conclusion.

The Lie Of Innovation

Posted by Stropp on July 20, 2011

Innovation is one of the buzzwords we read about all the time, especially in regards to computer games. There is a general idea that in order to keep a game or genre interesting, then we need something new and innovative to generate that interest.

How often do you see development studios touting that their game has a bunch of innovative features that will make it the best thing since sliced bread?

But the concept that developers need to continue to innovate in order to keep the fun factor is a lie.

  • Aside from Star Trek chess, how much innovation has the game of chess undergone in the last x thousand years since its invention? How many millions play it?
  • Cop TV shows, doctor TV shows, lawyer TV shows. Aside from cinematographic changes (Dragnet vs NYPD Blue vs CSI) the basic format of these shows haven’t changed since the first. They don’t make these if noone watches them.
  • Monopoly the board game. No change there except for different cities. It still sells pretty well.

Blizzard didn’t innovate very much at all with WoW. They took a bunch of mechanics from existing MMORPGs, made some improvements and a ton of polish. World of Warcrafts success was entirely due to the fact that the game was fun and easy to get into. How many million subscribers still play WoW?

Rift is not much of a change from WoW. There are some new features, the Rift mechanic in particular, but I find it hard to call that innovative. But Rift is fun to play, and easy to get into. And it is successful, perhaps the most successful MMORPG since WoW was released.

It’s pretty clear that innovation isn’t the key to the MMORPG genre.

Give people a fun, easy to play game with a decent level of polish and you will be successful.

One Thing I’d Like To See In Rift

Posted by Stropp on June 10, 2011

I’m still playing Rift, and enjoying it. My Pyro/Elem Mage, Vroomfondel, is slowly running through the content having just entered the Moonshade Highlands.

The reason my progress has been so slow is that I’m spending a lot of time working on my business these days, and actually feel a little guilty when I put aside any time for gaming. So I tend to limit gaming to the weekend.

Rift tends to lend itself to solo play, even with other players around. I often find myself in a situation where I’ve grouped up and once the goal has been completed, I leave the group and head on to the next challenge. The rift and invasion systems invite this kind of play.

Consquently, I’ve found myself outleveling some of the content, and going back later to complete some quests and acheivements. Unfortunately, by the time I do that, the quests and mobs are often gray and provide no experience or challenge.

It occurred to me last weekend when I was in Freemarch, that I’d love to see the mentoring system that Everquest 2 so cleverly implemented.

EQ2 allows players to match a lower level player’s level. This allows the high level player to adventure with lower level players in  a group without simply overwhelming the other players.

Players can also visit a Chronomage and pay some gold to drop their levels for a while to some desired level. The game then scales the players gear and skills down to the appropriate level. Taking into account AA’s and other factors, the character is still pretty powerful, but not massively overpowered.

This is great for exactly the situation I am in with Rift, it allows the player to experience the area as intended, and in the case of Rift some of the daily quests actually require a kill that gives experience. This feature would allow players to go back and build up their reputation after they’ve already grown out of a zone.

 

Making Squirrels Cry

Posted by Stropp on April 27, 2011

It’s been nearly a month since I signed up and bought Trion’s Rift. I’m happy to report that I am still having fun, and despite rumours to the contrary see no sign that Rift is in decline.

This last weekend was pretty special, actually it was literally a once in a lifetime five day long weekend. Easter is normally a four day weekend, with Good Friday and Easter Monday both being federally scheduled public holidays. ANZAC day occurs each year on April 25th, and this year fell on Easter Monday. (ANZAC standing for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the 25th of April 1915 is the day the ANZACs landed on the beach at Gallipoli. ANZAC day is essentially Australia’s veterans day with dawn services, RSL marches, and like activities.) The good people at Public Holidays Limited decided to make Tuesday a public holiday too. Yippee!

As I said, this is once in a lifetime. The next time these public holidays converge is in 2095. I’ll certainly enjoy that when I’m 130 years old, and think back fondly on this particular weekend spent playing copious amounts of Rift, at least when I wasn’t preparing for, and enjoying a BBQ with friends.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been leveling up a mage (yes, another alt) called Vroomfondel and having a blast doing so. I started her off as an ElementalistStormcallerChloromancer combo which did pretty well. Around 20 I changed roles to PyromancerElementalistChloromancer. This works a treat. I worked my way up to level 27 from there.

While the Pyro combo isn’t indestructable, having the Earth elemental pet as a tank and dishing out massive damage with the Pyro abilities makes Vroomfondel a formidable opponent to any NPC monsters in her way. I can generally take down any mob in five shots or less. The only trouble comes if adds join in, and if there is one thing about Rift as opposed to WoW, adds come in to fight far more often. This makes having a good strategy important.

However, I’ve found running to be effectively useless. Where in WoW when you hit 30 percent and ran, you had a good chance of the mob turning back before it brought you down. In Rift, they do a lot more damage. I never ever get far when running, even if I start when I have a lot of health remaining.

Vroomfondel also picked up a new title, The Heartless.

You get this when you collect the tears of 20 squirrels, and of course you make squirrels cry by killing them. Many squirrels sacrificed their tiny squirrelly lives to provide the tears for the Cry Me A River achievement, and for that I thank them. Now I have to collect the tears of many other critters: cats, snakes, and the like to get the major achievement for cruelty. So much fun!

At this one month point I will definitely be resubscribing. I originally signed up with the idea of just checking the game out for a month, but I am having a lot of fun with Rift, and want to see where Trion will be taking this game.

That of course doesn’t mean I’ll be playing Rift forever, or even for the medium term. I’m not much of a Raider, and that still seems to be the emphasis with Rift. Although if they spice up the rifts that might be a motivator for keeping on. But, with both The Secret World, and The Old Republic both looming on the horizon, I have to be realistic. My lifestyle no longer supports the time needed for more than one MMORPG at a time, so choices will have to be made. It’s just great there are plenty of choices to choose from.

Is Rift Starting To Fizzle?

Posted by Stropp on April 23, 2011

Predictions of doom. Every game has them, and bloggers love to give them.

Keen just asked:

I’m anticipating the game to start fizzling out sometime in the next few weeks.  Friends of mine and some people whose blogs/websites I follow have already reported a decline in the overall number of people on servers and actively doing things.  Anyone else notice this?

The short answer is no.

The longer answer is that any noticable differences in population is more likely to be due to players spreading out across zones rather than deserting the game.

Consider that at this stage (6 to 8 weeks) with Warhammer Online, during Australian primetime, I could run across some of the lower level zones and not see a single player. In Rift at 6 to 8 weeks, it’s rare not to see other players. Meridian always has players, and yesterday in Stonefield there had to be at least 30 players battling a major rift invasion.

Sure, Rift will have lost some players. There will always be new players who try out the game, not like it, and leave. That’s not fizzle, that’s just the way it works.

Aside from the fuss over the World Event, it looks like Rift is doing just fine.

It is certainly doing better than Warhammer Online, and that game is still running and under active development.

In Defence Of Themepark MMORPGs

Posted by Stropp on April 11, 2011

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… oh wait. Let me begin again. A long time ago, early in my gaming career, I bought a little game called Warcraft 2. It was my first Real Time Strategy game. I played through both campaigns, then went out and bought the expansion pack. After that I looked around for other RTS games, and over time found and played Command and Conquer, Red Alert, Starcraft, and other several other RTSes. I simply loved the whole resource gathering, base building gameplay style. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Then one day I went out and bought another Real Time Strategy game, I can’t remember what it was called, but it thoroughly disgusted me. There was no resource gathering. There was no base building. The player was provided with a fixed number of units and had to complete the mission with just those. I didn’t complete the first mission. I felt conned because I didn’t get what I expected to get.

All of a sudden, there were heaps of these kinds of games on the market, and they were replacing the old-style RTS. At least it seemed that way. The commentators were proclaiming that these games improved the RTS concept by getting rid of the resource gathering design. I didn’t feel that way. In my mind, these games weren’t Real Time Strategy games because they lacked the basic functionality. Namely, resource gathering and base building.

Now I see it a little differently.

These two styles of RTS are completely different. The only real similarity between them is that the player controls units on a map and sends them against an opponent. But the basic style is that of a strategy game, and since the action occurs in ‘real time’ rather than turn based, it’s appropriate to consider both styles as sub-genres of Real Time Strategy.

So these days when I hear criticism that the MMORPG genre is stagnant and how games like Rift aren’t different enough from WoW I find myself wondering if many of these commentators aren’t missing a fundamental point.

 

Games like World of Warcraft, Rift, Everquest 2, Aion, and others that many disparagingly refer to as ‘Theme Parks’ are a single variety of MMORPG. Others like Eve, Perpetuum, and Darkfall fall into a second variety of MMORPG, mostly refered to as ‘Sandbox’ games. Simply put, the MMORPG genre has at least two sub-genres: themepark and sandbox.

Some players will prefer one type of game over another. Just as I prefered base building resource gathering RTSes and couldn’t stand the other kind, (I even hated those types of missions in WarcraftC&CRed Alert) there will be people who prefer themepark over sandbox, or vice versa. Some players will enjoy both styles of gameplay. However, most people will prefer one over the other, even if they enjoy both.

To state that Rift doesn’t change the style of gameplay that was developed in WoW sufficiently enough and then complain about it, is akin to complaining that Starcraft is not sufficiently different from Command and Conquer. Both games are themepark style MMOs with no real sandbox elements, to get upset about that doesn’t make sense. What is being suggested, by these complaints, is that developers should not be making new themepark games.

The simple fact of the matter is that Rift, Aion, and World of Warcraft all implement a style of game that people want to play. Complaining about it doesn’t change that fact that if a themepark MMORPG is made and doesn’t botch up the launch, then people will want to play it. It also appears that more people want to play a themepark MMO, than a sandbox MMO.

Unfortunately, big companies are only interested in developing MMORPGs that will provide a decent return on investment. Coupled with the huge investment required to develop a AAA MMORPG, these companies are only willing to invest in gameplay styles proven to generate that ROI. That means, for the foreseeable future, the predominant development of MMORPGs will be of the Themepark variety.

So when someone complains that Rift is too much like WoW (for example) they are simply saying that they would have prefered the developer create their MMORPG under a different sub-genre. That’s like suggesting that “When Harry Met Sally” should have been a wartime action movie, rather than a romantic comedy. (Although, I suggest any romantic comedy would be better as any other type of movie genre!)

Tell me what you think.

A Touch Of Cthulu In Rift

Posted by Stropp on April 7, 2011

A few months ago I decided to buy some Lovecraft, and bought a collection of stories based on the Cthulu mythos. In reading those stories there was a common thread that ran through them; mankind was completely utterly unable to comprehend the elder mysteries and those who faced them were driven insane.

So while playing Rift tonight, I was sent to a little place called Lakeside to meet with someone on a mission there.

When I arrived, I was told that the inhabitants were behaving strangely, and that the quest giver felt she was being watched. She was also having visions.

Of course when I sent to find out the details, and then to knock off the cultists I discovered, the citizens morphed into eldritch beasts called the Deep Ones. Upon returning to the quest giver wasn’t feeling better, in fact her headaches were getting worse. It looks like something is building.

I received the distinct impression that some in Trion are fans of Lovecraft. I love these little touches in Rift.

 

Rift Progress – Leveling, Alts, and Invasions

Posted by Stropp on April 7, 2011

I spent a good portion of last weekend playing Rift.

You might remember that I created a Guardian Cleric in order to check out the start of the Guardian story. Once I completed that, and found myself in the main starting area, I logged that character and loaded up my Defiant Warrior, Stropp. I proceeded to level him up to 16, and then, as is typical for me, I decided to create another Defiant alt.

The problem was, I found the Guardian Cleric playstyle more enjoyable than the Warrior. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the Warrior, I did, but that ended up nagging on me. So Boneshaker was born.

After running her through the tutorial area, I did some of the starter area quests and, being late on Sunday, logged off for the evening having reached level 8.

Last night I logged back in and proceeded to work through the quests. I find now that I’m getting used to the way things work in Rift, that I’m a lot more efficient. Rift seems to reward players with an easy learning curve. It doesn’t take long to figure out the best way to do things. So much so, that after only a couple of hours, I dinged level 13.

One of the coolest things about Rift, has to be the invasions.

On Sunday during the day, the area in which I was questing attracted the attention of a large number of werewolves, undead, Guardians, and other assorted invaders.

My first experience with this, at level 11, was to see a bunch of level 8 baddies approaching, and in noting the level difference proceed to engage… and get thoroughly womped. Fortunately, there were a lot of players around during these events including a bunch of fairly high level players. Still, protecting the wardstones turned in a bit of a hairball, and was chaotic, and fun.

At one point, I opened up the map and saw about ten invasion forces all headed to my location. Very cool.

More and more it looks like Trion have a real winner with Rift.

 

Rift: The Defiant Are The Good Guys

Posted by Stropp on April 2, 2011

Warning: There are some early Rift story spoilers in this post.

I mentioned last night that I had selected the Defiant faction in Rift, and that the opening story line painted the Defiant as the put upon in the Rift universe. I also mentioned that there were two sides to every story, and so I decided to put that to the test and created a Guardian Cleric called Majikthise.

Having just played through the starting zone I didn’t see anything to change my view that the Defiant are the good guys.

In the Defiant story, many of the NPCs had suffered great personal losses to the Guardians, and indeed, it was the Guardian faction that opened the rift that let loose Regulos.

In the Guardian story, the Defiants were simply the bad guys and had to be stopped at all costs. Their crime? Attempting to replicate Ascension using technology. Something the Guardian faction took as a great afront to themselves and their gods.

So. In essence the Guardians started the war in an attempt to crush what they saw as heresy.

I was kind of expecting some kind of reasoning by the Guardians to justify that position, but it simply seemed to be simple zealotry.

Not that that’s bad. I find it refreshing that the bright and shiny guys are cast as the villains. Too often we see stories (and real life) where awful acts are justified by the excuse that it’s the ‘good guys’ doing the acts.

I also found interesting the two elements of the time travel aspects of the Defiant/Guardian story.

The Defiant story started at the end of the world. Regulos had effectively won and had destroyed everything, conforming all souls to his purpose. The goal of the player in that story was to fix the machine that would send him back in time to the current game time period.

The Guardian story was more like a prologue. It starts twenty years before the events of the main game story where the Guardian king has just done the dirty and has released Regulos using Defiant technology. The player in this quest chain effectively puts paid to the plans of Regulos and smacks him with a dirty great hammer, shattering him and putting him into statis for a time. The player is then sent forward in time twenty years by the gods of the Guardians.

I’m sure that I’ll end up playing more Guardian at some point, but for now I’m happy to have picked the good guys.

My First Few Hours In Rift

Posted by Stropp on April 2, 2011

The Rift patching took a little longer than the initial time suggested, but around 9:30pm last night I was able to log in to the game.

A month after the release the notable thing was that there were no queues, but quite a few servers did have a medium population. I picked one of the busier servers, as that is where the Casualties of War have set up. Considering that I play during the US offpeak period having servers with medium pop is not a bad thing. When I finish this post, I’ll be logging in again, and since it’s mid Saturday morning here I expect the number of players online to be much greater.

Anyway after creating my Defiant Warrior I logged in to the newby area. I’m quite glad I went Defiant as the story line paints the Guardians pretty much as zealots who want to control everyone’s beliefs and are willing to kill them if they don’t conform. Very much like the inquisiton period in Europe. Of course there are two sides to every story, so I’ll definitely need to create a Guardian and play through that intro. However, since the guild is Defiant I’ll be spending most of my time there.

Oh, BTW my characters name is Stropp of course. I chose the Bahmi, mostly for aesthetic reasons.

Rift Defiant Bahmi

The first thing I noticed after logging in is what others have commented on. Rift is graphically a very nice looking game. The Defiant starting zone is very foreboding.

Rift starter area

The starter area took me along a fixed path, progressing the Defiant story in a fairly standard way. For the most part it was kill x of something and collect y items. There weren’t any other players in the area, so I figure it was instanced as is the way of starter areas these days. At the end however, as I was about to go through the time portal, a rift formed, and I was given a taste of how the public quest system worked. A few shades of Warhammer there.

Once through the portal I was in the world. It was fun to see a few characters react to my presence, one fainted as a I walked past. These are the little things that make a game great.

At that point it was running quests.

I haven’t yet explored much. I want to get a handle on the systems first, but I fall into the explorer archetype of gamer so at some point I’ll be wandering around looking for things to see.

I ended up playing the game until 1am. It’s plain to say that I quite enjoyed the game, but there are a couple of things to mention.

The controls feel a little clunky. Once I got more than one Soul, and a few actions on the hotbar, I noticed that my keypressesclicks on the buttons had to be timed exactly to be effective. If I clicked on a button a little early, the action didn’t register. No biggie there, that simply means that Rift doesn’t queue actions and that I have to be a little more involved in the combat; that’s something that some players have been calling for a while now.

However one thing I’d like to see. If I don’t meet the criteria for a combat action, dual wielding a couple of weapons for instance, then the button should be disabled. That’s good GUI design practice.

I’ll end up here saying that the other thing to mention is that I ended up last night with some measure of confusion about the systems. Certainly the Soul system seems powerful; I chose Riftblade as my first Soul, and from the recommendation the game gave chose Champion and Paragon as my second and third Souls. This system has similarities to World of Warcraft talents, but adds extra dimensions to that system. Being a noob to Rift I find myself a bit unsure about where best to spend the points I get when leveling. So far I’ve only dumped points into Riftblade.

I figure that as I continue I’ll work these concerns out. Of course, a bit of forum research might be in order to figure out the best way to go.

My verdict then. It’s still a little early to say I love it and will continue playing after the free months, but I’m enjoying Rift so far and have hopes that once I get used to the systems will stick with it for a while at least.

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