Sunday, January 21, 2007

Phew ....

I think I dodged a bullet with Vanguard. I'm kind of glad I downloaded the Beta. Gave me some time to see the game with my own two eyes.

And what's more important ... It let me get over that "Wow!/Cool!/" phase and take a hard look at the game.


I know I just posted that I like the game the other day. I know that this will sound ADD-ish of me, and I'm sure there's a certain someone out there that will snicker , but I really can't see myself buying the game.

Sure, I'd give it a go if I didn't have to pay, but that would probably end once I hit the "teaming required" point in the levelling grind.

I think the #1 thing that gave me the goosebumps was the size of the world, and the seemlessness of it all. Thinking about it now, it really reminds me of my time in Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). That was my first true MMO ( I don't count the free month in Earth & Beyond, as it was near it's end), and my first love in an MMO sense. Ever since that point, I've been looking for something that can recreate that style of play, and sadly, there's /absolutely nothing/ out there that does.

The only thing that even comes close is EVE Online. And we all know how much of a love/hate relationship I have with that game.

Anyway, back to SWG. The only reason I left the game was because almost all the people I knew were gone. I still enjoyed the planets, the creatures, the PvP (slightly), and the sandbox nature of it all. There weren't quests like most new MMOs, and somehow, I enjoyed it more. I also liked it more when there were corpse runs, but sadly, they took that out earlier on, due to lag/crashes losing people's corpses (and hence, all their shit).

The first bit of Vanguard, especially after I got the game to a level of actual playability, was awesome. I was truly interested in the world I was playing in. Even last night when I played, I really liked the size of the world. Standing in the Elven city, among the insanely huge trees, with buildings in them, was breathtaking.

But .... that can't overshadow the lacking features I've found in the game. Not at all. Especially when the performance is still not that great (especially in towns. It chugs like shit), and the textures aren't all that great either. Besides, it doesn't have any of that "energy" that I get from other games I like. NWN 2 had it at the beginning (lot it near the end). My FPS games all have it. GTA has it. Old games like Master of Orion 2, X-Com, Aliens vs. Predator 1 & 2, Morrowind, Rune, etc. They all had that little spark, that intangible thing that made me want to play them as much as I could. It can't be good for Vanguard when I lose that feeling (if it was even there to begin with, I don't know), after a /week/. Especially when it has some of the things I really like in a game.

So, without further ado, here are the negatives I've found in Vanguard already: (after a week of playing)

1. The animations are pretty crappy, to say the least.
This might change in the future, I'm not sure. They have adjusted some of them, but for the most part, they look wooden and uninteresting. The Monk ones look cool right now, but try a Fighter and you'll want to hurl. They look like fucking shit. They need to fire their animators and get some real ones. Talk to guys who do movies or something, please.

2. The game still has major performance issues.
I tweaked the game a bunch, editing .ini files and such, but it still lags a lot in cities. Mostly when I'm moving around, as I think it's harddrive lag. Probably from all the loading of textures and such. My harddrive is a top of the line SATA one too, so this shouldn't be an issue.

3. The quests are fairly boring
Like WoW, and most other EQ-clones, the quests are the standard "Kill X of ", or "Collect X of from ". I've yet to see anything that's all that engaging, and personally, I'm hard-pressed to withstand mindless quests anymore. Blame WoW for this. I've had my fill, thanks. No more.

4. The world is MASSIVE (-ly sparsely populated)
This is a double-endged sword, IMO. The game is big, and that adds to the feel of a real world. But, it also has some big spots where there's absolutely /nothing/. There's landmass, trees and rocks, but there's nothing you can interact with. I don't really see the point to all this, unless it's something like a road, where it's free from mobs/harvesting stuff/etc. as it's simply there to guide you from one place to the next. There are some major cities in the game too, but from what I've seen, the NPC counts are freaking small. I saw hardly any NPCs in the Middle-Eastern city. You could walk along the docks and maybe see less than a dozen NPCs. That's more like a hamlet than a city.

Though it's true that if they did populate their towns with enough NPCs, everyone's framerate would be less than 1 fps. I don't think there's a game out there with a decent city-sized NPC population, but after playing NWN 2, I can't see how one zone in NWN can have more NPCs than an entire city in Vanguard.

5. The player characters
I really like how the characters in Vanguard are more realistic than, for example, WoW. The armour and weapons are much more life sized, and not "toony" in appearance. Though the characters are very wooden, and still don't make me feel as if I was looking at anything resembling a living organism. It's not the appearance of them, per se, it's more the animations. Or the lack thereof.

There seems to be a minimal amount of idle animations, and the character's gear, hair, etc, doesn't move when they run. WoW was good for this, though. A ponytail on a character would flop about. The braided beard and tail of a Tauren would move. The character's cloak. They still had some fairly basic animations, and didn't really respond accordingly sometimes, but it was there. I'm thinking more of the capes in City of Heroes/Villains (CoX) for this. The wind would move them. If you fell they flew up, if you stopped, they hit your body and flowed around. Real physics to the characters is what I would like to see. As well, the characters don't really seem alive, even as much as NWN 2. In that, they even blink, look around, and stuff. In Vanguard, they might stare off one way, but their faces and eyes don't animate at all.

Also, the characters aren't all that customizable ATM. Even less so than WoW. Sure, there are facial sliders, but for the most part, they are restricted in scope. They actually have full sliders for facial features, but restrict certain ways for each race. So that they aren't used to make monstrous looking characters. I managed to make slightly different faces from the same race, but right now there are only 4 different hairstyles. And there are 4 different faces. They aren't different faces in that they are fundamentally different shaped. More like, what kind of wrinkles do you want on your character. No one, besides yourself can even see them to make a difference.

For the most part, there are 4 different types for each feature. There are sliders for hair colour, nose length, eye slant, etc. But when the basic facial structure is the same for everyone of that race, it doesn't make that much difference. Hell, even NWN 2 had better options than Vanguard. Though it had no ability to modify the face's features, it still had completely different heads. Not just a slightly slimmer nose, and higher cheeks on one face compared to another. Makes everyone of the same race look like they are related.

Basically, it's a /major letdown/ for a game that's supposed to be "next-gen".

6. Forced grouping/Raiding
I don't mind grouping in MMOs, as long as the people aren't assholes or idiots. But I do like the ability to be able to go do something if I'm on my own. And the fact that I work the screwiest shifts possible, hence my gametime is equally screwy, makes soloing a major part of what I do.

But, Vanguard is designed with teaming and raiding in mind. Much moreso on the teaming aspect, but it's still not very solo-friendly. Their breakdown of the content is supposedly something along the lines of: 20% solo, 20% raiding, 60% group. That means I have maybe 50% percent of the content to look forward to, if I get split between soloing and grouping. That's fucking waaay too little for me to play the game. Half of the content is unavailable to me? That's crap.

Going back to SWG (cause I just love comparing all MMOs to it for some reason ), there was a lot of content that was group and raid only. Except the one major difference was that I was able to do whatever I wanted, at any time. If all the quests I have require a group or a raid, and not enough people are available, I'm most likely going to get stuck grinding crappy mobs for crappy loot and little to no XP. I'm betting a lot of downtime will be involved with that too, as I'll have to sit and regen my HPs and stuff. That doesn't sound like "content" to me. It just sounds like tedium. At least in SWG I could go do some easier missions (randomly generated from the terminals) for XP and credits. You never got XP from finishing the mission, only for using your abilities. And the XP was in only for that ability line. Or I could go wander around and see the sights. Areas in SWG were never level restricted, it was just much more dangerous in some spots. I really don't like levels at all, and I find the whole idea that all the tougher monsters, etc. stay in one area. It makes no sense, especially compared to RL. But I digress.

Simply put, soling tends to be the thing I do the most, and being restricted to only 20% of the content in that department isn't going to cut it. I doubt the hordes of WoW players will be interested in that either.

7. Crafting is sub-par to loot
I hate this actually. Gear based games don't bug me at all, it's only when the best gear is only loot based. WoW is the shittiest for this, as I played as a Blacksmith, and I know first-hand. For the vast majority of stuff a Blacksmith can make, it's not fucking useful in the slightest. I think after almost maxing my skills, there were maybe a handful (like 6) things I could make that someone might actually want to buy. Unless you did all the epic stuff (and farmed for ages to collect all the materials), you couldn't make money, /at all/. It was actually a money-sink. Fucking stupid.

Anyway, in Vanguard, there's a insanely complex crafting system. I tried to learn it the other day but got so confused I gave up. All I wanted to do was make some arrows for my Ranger, with the items I foraged in the wild. But I couldn't figure out how the hell it all worked. Regardless, the stuff a crafter can make pales to what you might find from some random mob. Group mobs and raid mobs have even better stuff. So why would someone want crafted items? I'm not sure, but it didn't seem all that useful to me, especially when you get gear for completing quests.

Crafting in my mind, should be #1 for items. Tough mobs should maybe drop items comparable to crafted ones, but if the crafters have superior materials to make them, the crafted ones are better. Mobs could also drop crafting materials, rather than gear itself, so that they could be used to make items. Ryzom has this, but doesn't have the regular loot at all.

EVE is the best for this IMO. Almost all the stuff you can loot, you can buy. There are a lot of faction loots that you can't, unless someone is selling the ones they got, but with PvP being so harsh, risking the loss of a ship module worth /millions of credits/ becomes a big deal. It's better to use the regular stuff to PvP, and keep the faction mods for times when you simply killing NPCs. Unless you've got the credits to burn.

8. Etc., etc., etc.
I could think of more, I'm sure, but I want to finish this while I'm still kind of young.


So that's it. Vanguard is a big letdown. I was so hyped up after the first day or so of playing. It seemed like I had found a successor to what I'd lost in SWG. But after a while, I could see that I was wrong.

Oh well. At least it didn't cost me any money, and not very much time either.


As a closer, I wanted to mention that I /finally/ finished NWN 2. I would have done it a bit earlier, but I was trying to download the Vanguard client while I was playing, and after a major fight the game crashed to desktop. I didn't have the option of saving the game during the breaks between the fight sequences, so I had to reload my last savegame the other day. It only took me an hour tops, to get beck to where I was, and another two to finish the entire game, so no big deal. Plus I did much better the 2nd time around than the first.

But, (cause there's always a "but") I was pretty let down by the seemingly "forced" ending of the game. I'm fine with games that don't really tell you what happened, but NWN 2 just sort of "decided" everything for me. And not in good ways either. You don't get to return as the conquering hero, etc., or any of that. The ending isn't happy, nor really sad. It just seems like it is thrust upon you, and you have to like it whether you want to or not.

Maybe cause it's basically a tabletop conversion that I didn't like the ending. If I had a GM who did that at the end of a major campaign, I'd probably ring his neck. And I doubt I'd play any of his adventures anymore.

You can draw your own conclusions from there.


Other than that, nothing is new. I /might/ give EVE an "honest try" here soon (ie. actually joining a player corporation, and doing stuff with people), as it has the potential to be really good. It's just I don't really give it the effort it should, and then write it off on a whim. We'll see how that goes though.

And Smallville and Heroes should be new this week. I can't wait. Smallville was new last week, but this week's episode sound promising. Last week they had Tori Spelling as a guest. Fucking idiots!

I'm out.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I feel kind of dirty all of a sudden. I don't really want to admit this, but ...

I downloaded the Vanguard beta client the other day. And what's worse ...
I kinda like it.


I didn't think I was going to like it at all, based on all the hate threads I read on the forums. People sure do feel the game is "utter shit" and "total crap". I don't know if those are actual quotes, but I'm sure someone out there has said it once or twice.

I'm betting the /vast majority/ of the hate for Vanguard is because it's laggy, not that great performance wise (I'm being modest, it runs, or "chops" all to hell), and not all too different than EQ/EQ2/WoW in gameplay.

The performance has got to be the #1 gripe of all the people. It's because the idiots over at Sigil did the same boneheaded thing the SOE devs did with EQ2: they "futureproofed" their graphics engine.

In case you don't have a flying fuck of a clue what that means, I'll break it down for you:
1) They make the graphics engine so demanding, no computer currently built, no matter how "bleeding-edge" it is, can run it at max settings
2) They hope it runs better on future hardware, and also hope that the same hardware can crank up the GFX to max

Now the problem is, they don't have one of these "future computers" to test it on, to make sure it will run better. They just "assume" that it will. They don't really optimize the engine, nor do they make the GFX all that scaleable so that current computers can run it with little difficulty. They just hope.

And that's the fatal flaw. Cause if you look at EQ2, a similar game designed the same way, it still runs like shit, on the best computer you can get. Only with a lot of fiddling can you get the GFX settings to High and keep the game playable. And when I mean fiddling, I mean tweaking the .ini files, using 3rd party graphics drivers, etc. It's a stupid amount of work to get a game to run better.

And that's my bet on why WoW is the #1 MMO out there. Basically, it will actually run on most computers, and it doesn't require much tweaking, if any, at all. There are other major factors to WoW's success, like solo play, casual orientated gameplay, etc. But GFX wise, WoW is killer cause it runs on a wide range of machines. Hence it's mass market appeal.


So, back to Vanguard.

I wanted to see what the hate was about. When something has this much hate, yet manages to keep the so-called "fanbois" around (pronounced "fan-boys"), you have to wonder. Plus, I saw the screenshots and read up on the news articles, it simply /could not/ be that horrifically bad.

So, after trying to download the 6.6GB installer from Fileplanet, which so-happens to be the only place you can get it, aside from Sony, if you bought the Pre-Order, I finally got it downloaded, after the /fourth try/. It was something like 30 hours wasted downloading, trying to get it. Most of this was while I was asleep, so it wasn't that big of a deal, but the stupid thing was, if I had simply used the Fileplanet Download Manager, I could have got it the first time.

And furthermore, you /require/ the Fileplanet DM just to open the Zip file, cause WinZip/WinRAR/Windows Zip/etc. won't work. They all give errors.

So ....

It took 15+hours to download, ~10 mins to decompress, 20 mins to install, then about 30 mins to defrag the harddrive as it was fragged to hell. A quick 5 min patch and the game was good to go.

But that's when I had the GFX issues.


So, after playing the game and enduring the shit framerates, and what seemed like constant loading studders, I started looking for performance tweaks on the Net. The forums had a sticky with some, so I tried them. Some worked, some didn't.

Flash forward to today, where after talking to Satan, my co-worker who is interested in Vanguard (So , no .. I didn't speak to the Prince of Darkness, and no ... I'm not insane ), I managed to try some different tweaks. And viola! The game runs great. At settings I didn't think I could run it at.

And what's more interesting, I'm actually enjoying it. I thought the player models were going to look like shit, as the screenshots never impressed me. I thought they were going to have the worst animations (they are bad, but not that bad), but they aren't too bad, and some are just placeholder ones for now. I thought the areas were going to be boring and bland (a la EQ2), but surprise, surprise, I like the one area I started in. It's an Oriental-style island, and the area is really nice. I'm thinking about swimming to the island I can see waaaay out there, just to see if I can do it.


But I think the #1 thing that I'm liking so far: The size of the world, and the fact that it's SEEMLESS.

That's probably what kept me in WoW so long. A seemless world is just that much more interesting, immersive, and engaging than one with constant loading screens and invisible barriers. Hell, that's one of the things I love about GTA San Andreas. It's a big ass city (or 3, in fact) with tons of areas to explore. I love exploring, and as I'm sure I've stated before, it was like 86% on my "What kind of MMO gamer are you?" quiz score. Had the levelled enemies been fixed in Oblivion, and I'm sure I would still be playing it, as it had tons of places to explore. And what's better, they were all hidden until an NPC told you about them, or you found them while raming the countryside.

I /love/ shit like that. If only more games broke the "rides on rails" mode of gameplay and gave people a virtual world to explore instead.


Okay, enough ranting for now. Let me sum this up, in case you forgot my points (if I had any) or just skipped to the bottom (cheater! ):

1. Vanguard isn't as bad as they say it is.
2. It's full of bugs. It's also Beta right now, /and/ what MMO hasn't had bugs on release? Really?
3. It's graphically very nice. Most of the screenies you see on gamesites are bad cause the bump mapping is jacked through the roof, and as a result, /everything/ is shiny. Makes it all look "plastic-y".
4. The world is HUGE. It's also seemless. Both great points.
5. It runs like shit on most machines, unless you do some major tweaking. Again, Beta. They have monitor tools running and stuff, but it's still a graphics whore. Only for beast machines. Like EQ2 at release.
6. Gameplay and the UI is like almost every other fantasy MMO. So far, it doesn't seem all that different than WoW (for example).
7. I like to rant. I also like booze.

That's it. Basically, draw your own conclusions about the game. Don't /ever/ listen to the people on a forum/site/whatnot. Only believe the opinions of those you deem trustworthy, and who share your views on games.

Lastly, don't get the Rev going when he's had a few Rye 'n Cokes. He types like a madman!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Well, not much happened since my last entry.

Xmas, New Years and such. But they were all just "meh" as usual. I don't get excited about holidays anymore. It's always the same old shit.

About the only thing that was of any interest was my cousin's wedding, just before New Years. I got to see almost all of my relatives, and had a bit of fun. I should have stayed over at my aunt's instead of heading back home, cause I only ended up falling asleep once I got home. I was planning to go do something interesting. Oh well ...


Work has been the usual crap. What's new there?


I'm almost done NWN 2, and I have to say, I'm really getting bored of it, and I just want to finish it. The later stages might actually be fun, if I wasn't almost max level, and hadn't amassed a fortune, and found almost the best weapons I could get. There's really nothing to look forward to from here to the end. I've got all the feats I wanted, all the gear I could imagine. The last few levels will just be +hitpoints and +base attack bonus. Yippee ....

And the camera has been pissing me off tremendously as of late. The inability of Obsidian to make blocking buildings/trees/etc. transparent or somesuch is fucking stupid. They had it in the first NWN. Why not this one?


I'd also like to finish NWN 2 so I can get on with my other SP games. I still have GTA San Andreas to finish. Luckily my friend brought me the cracked copy again, so I can continue my previous game. I really didn't want to play those 30+ hours all over again.

I also have NFS Most Wanted to play, though it's a lot easier for casual play than anything. I can simply load it up, play for 30mins to an hour and actually get a lot accomplished. I like that. No wasted playtime. NWN 2 has a bunch of fucking running around that I hate. And the inability to have permanent Haste boots makes it that much more annoying.


As for online games, Kofi and I haven't had any time to team up in BF2142 since just before Xmas. He's played a few more matches than me, and luckily he's got better, so he's actually a little higher up than me. We're both still ranked "Gunner Gold", but he's got 30-40 pts on me. I didn't want to play a lot at first, cause I had a rank or two on him, and if we hit a Rank restricted server, we might not be able to play together.

He's also picked up a few tricks and tips along the way, so that's good too.

As well, for some /stupid reason/ I thought I should re-activate my EVE Online subscription a day or so after New Years. I honestly can't tell you why I did it, especially since I haven't actually played since I re-activated it. I've logged in, looked at a few things on the Market, checked out some new Skills, and popped over to another system to pick up a couple purchases. But other than that, I've simply been logging in at set times to change my skill training.

I think my initial reason for re-subbing was to see the new Exploration content. But after looking at a helpful guide on the forums, then checking things out in-game, I found out that I was several days, to /a week or two away/ from even being able to do anything. Great. So I've been training up my skills so I can simply use the equipment needed to go exploring (ie. finding hidden content in a system, via probes and a scanner). And what's even better, the probes are freaking expensive.

But at least they aren't as pricey as the skill my one co-worker would need to get to try out the new Invention system. He needs some named skill, that's drop only (via a random NPC). Currently it's something like 400 million ISK (credits). He's better off just buying the Tech II ships/modules at market price, than trying to Invent limited run blueprints to make them himself.

It's really kind of stupid actually. At least I was smart and already de-activated my subscription. I won't get billed next month. I even left a funny remark in the "Other comments" field in the form. I told the guys at CCP to enjoy my 15 bucks. Said that they should use it to get some beer. At least one of us should get some fun out of it.


Speaking of my co-worker, whom I'll call Satan from now on (cause that's what we call him at work. Don't ask ), he has been talking a lot about Vanguard: Saga of Heroes (an soon released MMO from the guys who designed the original EQ) recently. His expectations have been high, cause he's hoping that it'll capture what EQ was, minus all the annoyances, plus some new goodies.

I was sorry to tell him about all the comments I read on the forums about the game, now that it's in an Open Beta. Well, technically it's not "open" yet, as only pre-order customers and Fileplanet subscribers can play or even download the client. Anyway, all the rabble I've been hearing is /not good in the least/, and it's seems only the die-hard fanboys (or "vanbois" as someone called them) are praising the game. Everyone else says the game is nowhere near ready to release, and it suffers from massive performance issues, a complete lack of fun (yikes!), and an overall feeling of being stitched together like Frankenstein's monster.

He says that he's still going to try the open beta, but I hope he doesn't get the game. I know he's been kind of bored at the moment (like me), and has been looking for a good MMO to keep him occupied for a while. It seems like he might get the game just for something new to play, even if it's not a good game. Luckily for me, it seems like my MMO addiction (or whatever it was) has passed, and I can see the games for what they really are. There's no blinders anymore. I can't plop down good money for unfinished games, mindless grinds, and lack of interesting plots anymore. (NWN 2 doesn't count, even though it has some annoying glitches. I'm not paying a monthly fee for it)

I still might try the open beta for Vanguard though, just so I can see how bad it is with my own eyes. Plus, I want to see their seemless world and how massive it is. Just cause I like exploring things.


Other than possibly fiddling with the Vanguard beta, there's no MMO out there now that could make me play it. The only one that seems to get me at all interested is Tabula Rasa. But there's so little information about the game, I can't really make any decisions on it yet. I signed up for the closed beta, as they posted about it on the forums. Hopefully, my former status as a CoX subscriber gets me some kind of preferential treatment (even a little), so I can see how the game is, and possibly help them turn it into a quality MMO. The MMO market is getting so saturated with crap now, I can barely stand it.

I really wish there was some editor program that let me make a giant, seemless gameworld people could explore. Even if it was only so that they could walk around in it, and see the sights. That would be awesome. I might fiddle around with the NWN 2 editor after I finish the game, and see if I can make some interesting areas to explore. But unless they fix the damn camera, I doubt I could actually turn it into something people could play.


Enough ranting for now.
Gotta save some of it for next time.