Saturday, April 7, 2007

I'm going to try something new this time. I'll list a summary of what I'm going to talk about first. Then you can choose whether or not you want to read it. It should keep you from having to wade through my somewhat lengthy posts.

1. EVE Online
2. Closed Beta of the Chronicles of Spellborn
3. Open Beta of Lord of the Rings Online
4. Random personal stuff

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#1.

So, my account for EVE has expired and I kind of forgot it was, so I didn't get a chance to set a month long skill to train. Oh well ... I think I had something like Battlecruiser set to train to level 4, so it's not all bad. I guess it really doesn't matter as I'm not sure if I'll ever go back.

I think this time the combination of knowing that the EVE Devs cheat, and that the saying "the fun is right around the corner" doesn't apply to EVE will keep me from resubscribing. It's /always the same/. The level 1 missions I ran are exactly the same as the level 3's, except they were much faster (lvl 3s take /forever/), there were usually fewer ships and of course, the ships were smaller. I actually think I had /more fun/ doing the low level missions, just cause they required you to pay more attention. My level 3's ended up being: 1) activate shield hardeners, 2) warp to mission, 3) shoot NPCs till they die, and if need be 4) fly to next area of mission, repeat from step 3). I never needed to manage my velocity, or account for transversal velocity/tracking speed, etc. It was almost something you could do semi-AFK. Not my idea of fun.

On another note, there was a big Alliance battle in EVE over a Capital ship class shipyards the other week. The defending alliances were Band of Brothers (BoB) and their hired mercs (called "the Alliance") vs. their enemies, almost /all the other 0.0 space Alliances/ (called "the Coalition").

Anyways, the Coalition was told to take out the shipyard and never turn back, as their was a rumour that a Titan was under construction. Titans are the biggest ships in EVE and insanely hard to kill. There is about 3-4 in the whole game. So the Alliance had a bunch of ships on defence, and the Coalition was ready to attack. So what does a CCP Dev do? He artificially limits the number of ships allowed into the system, in order to keep the sector (server cluster) from crashing. But, what happens is the Coalition capital ships jump in and get pummeled as they have no support. The Coalition did manage to take out the shipyard, but at heavy losses. The Alliance didn't get too badly beaten up.

My gripe is the limit the Dev/GM put on the system. It was artificial, and cost the Coalition a lot of ships. Plus, the fact that apparently the heads of BoB knew about the limit is another biggie. BoB has /always/ been claimed to be the buddies of the Devs, and recent Dev corruption has even proven that. The Devs have characters in the Alliance, and high ranking ones at that. In a game where it's all about competing with the other players (PvP), having people on one side be Devs isn't really fair. They have first hand knowledge of the inner workings of the game, and the power to "cheat". How is that a level playing field?

It just pisses me off to no end. Like hackers in a FPS. At least on a FPS server people can vote kick/ban the cheaters. How do you do that to the person who makes the game?

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#2.

I got an email the other day saying I got into the Closed Beta of the Chronicles of Spellborn (TCoS, or simply Spellborn). It's funny cause I've pretty much ignored the game for months, as there was not much about it for the longest time, and they don't seem any closer to release.

After playing it, I can understand why. And even though my expectations had fallen quite a bit before trying it, it's still disappointed me. I'm not sure if saying that is breaking the NDA, so I won't go into specifics. But I will say this: I doubt I will even give it a second look. It simply not anywhere near what I was expecting. But then again, I don't know what I was really expecting, as they were doing all kinds of new things. Like manual targeting, skill focus vs. items, etc. Maybe that's why it's let me down.

Who knows what will happen to TCoS. It's scheduled for release in Europe this summer, I believe. But they haven't announced a North American release yet. And I can maybe see why. Perhaps they aren't able to find a publisher here that is willing to put up money for such a different MMO. Different is risky, and since MMOs cost so much, publishers are much less likely to agree to pay for something they might lose money on.

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#3.

So I was disappointed with TCoS. Granted it is Closed Beta so things can change, but it didn't look good. Then I tried the Open Beta for Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO). My expectations weren't high, they were actually slightly low, as I had heard mostly bad stuff about it. The screenshots had looked nice, but I thought Vanguard had some nice ones too (not all, but some), and look what a pile of shit that turned out to be.

So I loaded up LotRO, and tried it out. What did I find?
Polish. Lots of polish.

I haven't been so amazed at the amount of polish in an MMO since I played WoW way back when. And that was 6 months after WoW launched, so the servers were stable. LotRO is very well done, and has a lot of nice features that I've seen so far. Most MMOs are usually bug ridden messes on release, and take a couple months to get fixed.

There are a few things that I don't like, and it's /very obvious/ that Turbine simply used the Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) engine. It's not that using DDO's engine is inherently bad. It's just that the graphics aren't crazy good either. But the art direction is very well done. It's like night and day compared to Vanguard. I've found myself standing around looking at the world more than a couple times. Sure, it doesn't have near the draw distance as Vanguard, but it's also not all fucking bumpmaps like Vanguard. I /hated/ that. /Everything/ in Vanguard is reflective because of all the bumpmapping. People, armour, the ground, rocks, etc. It's fucking ridiculous.

But anyways, back to LotRO. I really like a lot of things. I think they have the right amount of style, and realism in the game. Stuff like the animations, while not "over the top" are still very fluid, and light years ahead of the shit I saw in Vanguard. Some people said that WoW's animations are better than LotRO, but I'd have to disagree. WoW's are "over the top", but it works with their cartoony art style. LotRO is much more a balance of cinematic and realistic.

The world also feels a lot more alive, at least in the cities, as the NPCs are animated, and some of them move around. Others have little lines they say if a player is near. It makes the world that much more immersive, and engaging. Comparing it with Vanguard again, it's night and day.

Other things I like are the combat. It's very easy to grasp, and has a nice learning curve. The classes are kind of nice too, as they are fairly simplified, and have roles that are easy to define. They even say in the description when you pick your class what they do, ie. Tank, Melee DPS, Nuker, Crowd Control, Healing, Debuffing. And they are slightly different than most MMOs. In a regular MMO the roles are usually the same:

Warrior = Tank
Mage = Nuker
Priest = Healing
Thief = Melee DPS
Ranger = Ranged DPS

They usually mix some hybrid classes in there, but they do the same kinds of stuff. In LotRO, the roles are slightly different. I put the recognizable type of class in brackets.

Burglar (thief) = Debuffer
Captain (warrior) = Buffer/Pets
Champion (warrior) = Melee DPS/AoE
Guardian (warrior) = Tank
Hunter (ranger) = Nuker
Lore-master (??, mage maybe) = Crowd Control/Pets
Minstrel (bard, maybe) = Healing

For starters, the biggest differences I noticed is the lack of a true "Mage" class, and the fact that the thief style class isn't the Melee DPS role. The Burglar still gets the usual "bonus dmg while in stealth or from behind", but they actually have abilities that are group related. Like openings that allow his teammates to do more dmg, or activate specials. As for the Mage issue, the Lore-master and Minstrel aren't really using Magic, per se. The whole idea for the healing aspect of a Minstrel is that your character doesn't have Hit Points, but instead Morale. So the minstrel basically keeps up people's morale so they can fight longer.

I think it's a cool idea, as I've always hated the Hit Point aspect of games like DnD, where a high level fighter can just "stand there and take it" when someone hits them with a sword/axe. Even wearing no armour. It's pretty stupid. At least the Star Wars tabletop game (based on D20, same as DnD 3.5) had Vitality points and Wound Points. Vitality was your character's ability to "roll with the punches" or "duck just enough to dodge that blaster bolt". But once Vitality was out your character was tired and it went to Wound points. Which was actual injury. Plus, critical hits always went straight to Wound points, so it made crits /exceedingly nasty/. Kind of like GURPS critical hits.

Back to LotRO again. So the Minstrel uses something different, yet they still have "Light attacks" or something like that. It's weird. As for the Lore-master, they use bits of knowledge to confound their foes and such. But basically, they still use Magic in a sense. Just not the overt stuff like throwing a fireball. Besides, they aren't Nukers, and Fireballs tend to fall into that category.

I also like the instanced quests, that are completely designed around your character. It makes you feel like you are actually important in the game. A nice change of pace every once and a while to separate the quest grinding with all the other players. One of the other things I love are the emotes. The /smoke emote is very nice as it's looping, so your character stands there, a pipe in hand, smoke rising from it, and puffs on it once and while. The /drink and /eat also have little props too. The mood emotes even change your character's facial expression, until you set it to another mood. With the emotes, I could actually see myself RPing in LotRO. It's a little better than WoW in that department.

There are a lot of other cool features. Like the fear effects when you see scary things like Snow Trolls and Black Riders. The voice overs are well done too. The fact that you /start/ with 5 bags of inventory space, something I hated about WoW (always running out of room in my pack). Other neat things are: Traits, Deeds, Titles, Crafting, Monster Play, the UI, etc. There are a lot of things I could list.

I know it sounds like there isn't anything wrong with LotRO, at least as I've described it. But there is. The quests are pretty generic, but they do seem (at least at the low levels) to be somewhat tied into a ongoing story. A story that seems to unfold as you level up and go to new areas. The sounds are also on the weak side, especially the music. They don't have the rights to use the music from the movies (as they only have the rights to what's in the books), so there isn't any really grand music in different areas. As well, the combat sounds are a little weak, like the DDO ones were. I'm figuring that they re-used a bunch of them. The class abilities seem to be a bit on the low side as well. Unlike WoW which gives most classes a /lot/ of abilities/spells. But still more than say CoX, where you have almost none until the much later levels.

I think my biggest worry with LotRO right now is the levelling speed. And the amount of content. After seeing what Turbine did with DDO, I'm not sure what's in store for LotRO. It seems quite packed with content right now, but I played a Champion to almost level 9 in a few hours. The Open Beta cap is level 15. The total game cap is 50, I think. Is it going to be like DDO, where people hit the cap within /one week/? Or a month? I don't really want to get a MMO if it's only going to entertain me for one month. Even WoW, with it's easy levelling, took me a few months to get bored of. And I never even got to level 60 in it. Another thing is the crafting. I'm not sure how useful it is, and aside from combat, it's the only thing to do.

Guess I'm going to have to give it some more time, and see how the levelling is in the early teens. Perhaps it levels off from there, and is slower. Seems kind of odd that I'm advocating a slower levelling pace, but it's simply cause I want it to feel like I actually accomplished something when I level. If it's so easy it takes an hour, it cheapens the whole experience.

But enough of LotRO. I still have another point to talk about.

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#4.

My day shifts start on Monday, so I'm a bit freaked out by that. Haven't had to work days in like 2 years, and thus my customer service skills are a bit rusty. I also need to watch my language. I'm so used to being able to curse all the time, I end up doing it and not even noticing. Luckily I'm not around kids.

Since my tabletop group is back to DnD 3.5, I've made it my mission to get more involved with my character, start speaking in the "active voice", not the passive, and try and get the guys more into a ongoing plot of some kind, and away from these one-shot, completely random adventures. The current GM, a guy I've played GURPS with for a while now, is trying to get the guys more into a storyline. But the one guy is very much a "Kick in the Door" type of player. All he wants is combat, and looting the enemies. Character development is something he seems to either be not used to, or perhaps he really doesn't like it. It was good this week though as the one guy, who's been missing for a couple months at least cause of work and his kids, was there. He's very good at using the "active voice", ie. speaking in character. The GM does it most of the time, but not always.

It's funny cause my friend (the current GM) said that my Aliens/Post Apocalyptic/Horror game has been the best blended game we've played. As it's had an engaging ongoing story, character development, but has yet still retained the cinematic action scenes (ie. Kick in the Door style combat). I'm pretty good at using the active voice too. Looking back, I don't think I used the passive voice much at all. It just comes natural when I GM it, I guess.

Kind of cool to be complimented on it, actually. My first time GMing was soooo bad, that it made me really want to get better at it. I also remember one game where I made tons of notes and figured out a bunch of ways the players could complete the adventure, along with what would happen, etc. And then they completely took a different path and I was fucked. It really made me better at coming up with stuff on the spot. Simply because I had to.

Anyways enough of tabletop talk. I think I've rambled on far too long this time.
Sorry about that. I hope the summary at the top helped you skip over any parts that you'd normally not want to read.

Later,
The Rev.

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