25 September 2013

Card Hunter

Small Update: Work is crazy busy right now with preparations for the upcoming semester and lots of staff meetings.

In the field of gaming, I have been inspired by Tobold’s numerous positive posts about Card Hunter and I decided to give the game a try. Apparently, so did lots of others which led to the minor inconvenience of log-in queues from time to time. Blue Manchu said they were working on increasing the server capacity. Since Card Hunter is a Flash-based browser game, one can always use the waiting time to catch up on some reading.

The game itself is graphically rather simple but it manages to capture the nostalgia associated with early versions of Dungeons & Dragons quite well. It is free-to-play with an in-game shop and some sort of extra subscription, but up to now I have not felt the need to pay anything. Like Tobold, I might pay something mainly to express my support. Currently, I have three characters in my party – a Dwarf Warrior, an Elf Wizard and a Human Priest – all of them level 8. I do not know whether this is the best combination, but it serves me quite well so far and it seems the most immersive.

All in all, I can highly recommend Card Hunter to anyone who enjoys a tactical, turn-based gameplay experience. It’s simply oodles of fun. I shamelessly stole that last expression from my favourite person on the internet. Now who might that be?

30 August 2013

SW:TOR // World Events

World Events are a common aspect found in many modern MMOs and Star Wars: The Old Republic is no exception. In addition to the Life Day festival, four world events (officially named In-Game Events) have taken place over the course of the game so far: the Rakghoul Pandemic Dynamic Event, the Chevin Grand Acquisitions Race, the Relics of the Gree Event and most recently the Bounty Contract Week. Each world event in SW:TOR may look good in theory and I am sure that a lot of players have greatly enjoyed all of them, but I for one felt that they were all rather boring and poorly implemented – some with very distinct drawbacks.

At the moment the Relics of the Gree and the Bounty Contract Week are considered recurring events, meaning players will be able to participate on a regular basis. It seems that the first week of every month will be a Bounty Contract Week while the Relics of the Gree Event will become available again every other month or so. One can assume that the Chevin Grand Acquisitions Race and the Rakghoul Pandemic Dynamic Event were one time occurrences, even though there is some discussion about whether or not the latter will return. This is one of the reasons why I generally dislike world events: players who are not online when the event takes place are going to miss the experience altogether. A problem that is somewhat mitigated by SW:TOR's recurring events. Another reason is that world events distract from the usual business, the everyday routine so to speak. I value structure and order and dependability extremely high, both in the real world as well as in virtual worlds and therefore do not appreciate distractions very much. I can, of course, fully understand why many people feel the need to mix things up now and then.

It was only after reading Shintar's description of the first Bounty Contract Week that I eventually decided to give it a try. I actually did everything exactly as she described it on my Chiss Bounty Hunter, but alas, I found the experience very unfulfilling, if not to say boring. Suffice to say I have no plans to repeat this event at all, let alone being sucked into the associated reputation grind.

Shintar has already beautifully covered the Relics of the Gree Event and its various iterations. I would like to point out that the major flaw here is inclusion of a PvP component which is also the primary complaint voiced on the official forums. The missions themselves only serve as another reputation and token grind and are not intrinsically fun. Therefore it should not be surprising that many people are only interested in reaching the desired reputation level or token count as soon as possible, thereby feeling forced to complete the two additional missions in the PvP area as well. Bringing two groups with very different tastes (PvE versus PvP) together in the same environment is a surefire recipe for disaster. Apparently the same situation has also happened in another game – with the same results.

Interestingly, even many players actually interested in PvP are ignoring this opportunity and behave in an orderly fashion just to complete their mission without delay rendering the whole “let’s add some PvEers as cannon fodder for the whining PvPers”-point moot. This does, however, not happen everywhere and/or not all the time, so that the individual player may still be faced with the typical PvP ganking.

In a similar vein, the Rakghoul Pandemic Dynamic Event was horribly designed because it consisted of several staged missions that only became available the following day (gated content). This meant that it was not possible to complete the entire event in one playing session. Maybe the developers felt the need to entice players to keep on p(l)aying. One may suggest that if this was the case, the experience could not have been so good to begin with. Moreover, the final reward for completing all related missions was a set of Medium Armor gear and hence only usable for certain classes (Adaptive Armor and Legacy gear were not yet implemented back then). Receiving all related Codex Entries required the defeat of three world bosses (two of them level 50), one of which was conveniently located in the open PvP area on Tatooine – again forcing the two different groups into the same environment.

Generally, I find the world events in SW:TOR to be utterly boring and badly designed and implemented. It is never a good idea to combine PvE and PvP aspects and, in fact, one should never, ever listen to PvP players in a PvE game in the first place. Make no mistake here: most theme park MMOs like SW:TOR, WoW, RIFT are actually PvE games first and foremost, with a poorly designed PvP component added on top. If someone truly desires an awesome PvP experience, then maybe, just maybe games like EVE Online or Darkfall Unholy Wars match their profile better.

26 August 2013

Personal MMO History

One of the hot topics in the recent past was the announcement that both WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online will be employing a business model based on subscriptions. The former also offers an alternative payment method similar to PLEX in EVE Online. Bhagpuss has a very good post about how payment models generally do not matter all that much.

I'm a member of the apparently increasingly rare breed of gamers that likes to devote all their gaming time to one game, so a subscription is great in terms of value for money. -- Shintar

Since I agree with this statement entirely, I am more than pleased by this shift away from a misleadingly named F2P model. While I am not that interested in TESO, WildStar on the other hand leaves me hopefully optimistic – at least judging by what has been revealed so far about both games.

Considering the commitment and devotion I deem necessary for real MMO gaming, it should not come as a surprise that I have not played that many MMOs up to now. I am not a very creative person and I find describing aesthetics and art design (in video games) rather difficult. The following is a chronological overview of my experiences with different MMOs.

This was the first ever MMO I played and the one I played the longest. I was deeply invested and the decision to abandon ship so to speak did not come easily. I still think that WoW is the most polished MMO where everything feels natural and in place. Some people are pondering a return, but I am not one of them – even if Blizzard were to revert the game back to a state that I would enjoy. To quote Shintar yet another time: “I think I hit a "point of no return" in WoW, having been disappointed too many times... even if Blizzard changed it into the perfect game for me tomorrow, I'd still be suspicious of it”. Maybe I will revisit my old characters when WoW goes F2P at some point in the future.

It must have been about a year after LotRO launched that a friend gave me a trial pass to test the game. The world Tolkien created has shaped the fantasy genre in numerous ways and the opportunity to enter that world, to be part of that gaming experience – developed with adherence to the lore – was a dream come true. The brutal reality, however, was that I felt almost immediately repulsed by the game. There was no sense of awe or wonder upon entering and I cannot quite point my finger as to why that was. It might have had something to do with the character models, particularly with their movement and with the UI. Everything just felt clunky and out of place. I wanted to give the game a chance so badly that I pushed on until I simply could not take it any more. The level of polish was miles behind what I came to expect. WoW had certainly spoiled me. My wife and I tried again some time ago (long after LotRO went F2P), but we could not force ourselves to like it. My wife is usually very calm and thoughtful, but she ranted on for quite some time about how unfathomably bad that game was and how she was at a loss for words that our friend actually bought a Lifetime subscription.

This is my current MMO and I have been playing it pretty much since launch. The game feels very clean and everything falls into place quite neatly. The level of polish is second only to that of WoW – just ignore the many, many, many bugs. Despite what the haters claim, this game does not suck and its drawbacks are primarily rooted in the limitations of the Hero Engine and certainly do not lie in voice acting or in story-driven content. In fact, it is voice-acting more than anything that has spoiled me yet again for future MMOs. I do not even want to imagine reading quest texts again. Nevertheless, the transition to F2P has hit my commitment and my dedication to SW:TOR very hard and I seriously dislike the direction the game is heading in: more and more daily hubs and an overemphasis on the Cartel Market. I do not know how long I will keep on p(l)aying.

TERA prides itself on introducing action combat to the MMO genre and I felt like giving this idea a try after the game went F2P mainly due to Liore’s positive comments. I have about 14 hours of played-time over the course of a weekend and I can safely say that this is not the game for me as I have come to realize that I genuinely dislike action combat in MMOs. More importantly, however, I simply do not care one bit about the world. I have no prior relationship with the IP and the whole setting feels very generic and exchangeable. This post offers some reasonable explanations as to why TERA is not that successful among western gamers.

This is part of my summer project. I created two characters shortly after the game went F2P and I did have a blast for some time. However, while the game does have potential, especially regarding the soul system, it also suffers from the absence of a compelling IP or lore. There is just no immersive reason as to why players should care about the world, its inhabitants and their conflicts. One thing I will say though, is that RIFT’s F2P restrictions are very unobtrusive, which is in stark contrast to SW:TOR.

WildStar is my new hope on the MMO horizon, though I am only hopefully optimistic at best. The video footage looks quite appealing but who knows what the actual gameplay will feel like. The game seems to be whimsical enough to make me care. However, Syl already adequately demonstrated that the developers have clearly misunderstood and misinterpreted the Explorer archetype. While I do have plans to give it a try when it will be released next Spring, I cannot help but feel a bit uneasy about their intentions.

16 August 2013

Macky's Back in Town

It has been over a month since my last post because I was thoroughly enjoying my summer holidays. My wife and I went on an extend summer vacation. We started our trip by visiting her parents for a week, followed by three weeks in Italy and lastly stayed for another week at my parents. We finally returned back home last week. That makes about five weeks of awesome and mainly relaxing summer time. And I even have one more week of holidays to enjoy.

Anyways, now that I am back online I will start posting more regularly again, especially since time obviously did not stand still in the world of MMO blogs and it seems I did miss quite a few juicy pieces.

02 July 2013

SW:TOR // Community

Another one bites the dust. It was a sad day for the tanking and theory-crafting community in SW:TOR when one of its most prominent members, Kitru, announced his retirement from the game due to the developer’s design decisions and their interactions with the community in general. The triumvirate consisting of dipstik, KeyboardNinja and Kitru has provided an undeniable source of knowledge for any aspiring Tank – Vanguard, Guardian and Shadow alike. Kitru’s posts in particular were usually amazingly well written and presented an unrivalled level of detail. Seeing him leave is rather disheartening. With tanking being my second passion right after healing, I was ready to recognize and reflect upon any insights they offered. Even though I am a very experienced Tank myself, I still believe that there is always room for improvement. In that sense, I can only hope that at least KeyboardNinja will continue to crunch the numbers and offer guidance where needed.

Since I am not raiding in SW:TOR, I cannot really comment on the current predicament in any meaningful way. There seems to be some sort of problem with Shadow Tanks in that they can be one-shot by a particular boss if RNG goes against them. Apparently the other two tanking Advanced Classes have methods of preventing this from happening. It may also be possible that the entire issue is being vastly exaggerated. I honestly do not know. However, I do welcome all changes that serve to make encounters less predictable. Failure must always be a possibility. As soon as near-perfect preparation and near-perfect execution are inevitably resulting in victory, people are tricked into a false sense of expectation that will lead to boredom and frustration. Where is the thrill if everything goes according to plan all the time? Today’s success could be tomorrow’s failure and vice versa.

I consider Kitru’s departure a loss for the game’s community in general. That is distressing not only because of his dedication and knowledge but also because the community in SW:TOR is a very pleasant and positive one – possibly due to its limited size. One might not always get this impression judging by the official forums alone, but the sense of community is a lot greater in SW:TOR than e.g. in WoW or RIFT. This becomes more obvious in-game, of course. Nonetheless, I feel the need to qualify this statement with the fact that I can naturally only speak from my very own personal experiences which are very rich in the case of WoW, and almost nonexistent in RIFT (I will discuss this in another post, some other time). SW:TOR falls somewhere in the middle, leaning a bit closer to WoW.

While I had plenty of characters spread across a large number of servers in WoW, I only have characters on two (technically three) servers in SW:TOR which severely limits any generalizations I can make. The Progenitor is an English RP-PvE server hosting all of the characters on my main account. Technically, I do have one other character on The Red Eclipse but I am going to transfer him to my main Legacy. Additionally, I have one character (on a different – F2P – account) on the French PvE server Mantle of the Force which I created for my summer project. This character is currently level 26 and will leave for Nar Shaddaa next. The Double XP Weekends allowed for a rather speedy level progression. To this point, I have completed every available Flashpoint and [HEROIC] mission on this character, always with the help of other players and I must say that the atmosphere on this French realm is simply unbelievable. People are generally extremely helpful and friendly and above all else very, very polite. Everybody is treated with respect and communication follows the rules of the French grammar. Nobody is shouting in CAPS, insulting other players or yelling “gogogo ffs”. Skipping conversations during leveling Flashpoints is not common practice here – something that I really appreciate. So far, at the beginning of every Flashpoint people have always greeted each other politely and at least one player has always wished the group a successful and pleasant run. In fact, my positive experiences on French realms in SW:TOR and WoW have led me to seriously consider a French server for my adventures in WildStar.

I have the overall impression that people are by and large friendlier on an RP server and The Progenitor is no exception. I have a hard time remembering unpleasant encounters with actual human beings in SW:TOR, while that is pretty much all that I remember from WoW (I know, I know: selective memory is selective). Of course, this refers only to PuGs. I enjoyed the atmosphere in most of my WoW guilds immensely. The annoying people in SW:TOR usually fall into three categories: (a) they moan about others going to slow and/or about not skipping conversations and/or trash mobs in Flashpoints, or about other people sucking in Warzones; (b) they are ninja-looters, i.e. rolling “NEED” on loot that their current player character cannot use; (c) they are bad players in that they are unwilling to learn and improve. I would say that the types (a) and (b) are most common in SW:TOR as I have observed that many people welcome and accept polite and constructive criticism. There is a high chance that this is the first MMO for many players, who do not have any prior knowledge (e.g. about the “trinity”) that the veterans take for granted.

In conclusion, I can safely say that the in-game community on the two aforementioned European realms is friendly and welcoming, particularly below the level cap in non-Hardmode content. Maybe the situation is thoroughly different on American or other European servers. In any case, SW:TOR provides an excellent experience for small groups (of real-life or in-game friends) and the next step of establishing social ties with the larger community is certainly something that I would recommend.