• Game Reviews,  MMOs

    Secret World

    secretworldI hadn’t read much about The Secret World, aside from seeing various references to it in gaming blogs. Today I did some investigating, and it actually seems very intriguing.

    “Imagine if every myth, conspiracy theory and urban legend was true. Imagine if your worst nightmare came to life. Imagine a world where vampires hunt for mortal blood in dingy London nightclubs, where werewolves lurk in the sewers beneath Seoul, and where the undead prey on the living in the shadows of New York City. This is the premise for «The Secret World», Funcom’s upcoming massively multiplayer online game set in the modern day real world.”

    Oooh, very interesting. The artwork and screenshots look gorgeous, and I quite like the idea of playing in urban environments and real-world locations for a change, especially the Bladerunner-esque ones, all coloured lights reflecting in the night rain. So lovely. I’m not sure how the “free-form gameplay” will actually play.  I like the idea of not being locked into classes and specs, but actually making it work will be tough.

    In other news, I was finally able to log into Aion and play last night without many issues – such a relief! You no longer need the ip/hack/workaround in order to connect, and it didn’t lock up on me.

    And as I logged into the WordPress admin, my eye was caught by a very provocative linkbait title: “Are the Amish the New Vampires?”  It doesn’t get much better than that, and I admit that I had to have a look to see what it was about.  :)

  • Game Reviews,  MMOs

    Gatheryn Beta

    I had a quick meander around Gatheryn today. I’ll explain the “quick” part in a bit.  :)

    I’ve been quite excited about this game, as I am a huge steampunk fan. What I had in mind, though, was something a bit more like Myst or Riven, gorgeous environments and intriguing mechanical contraptions and flying ships. This was something a bit plainer than that.

    gatheryn1

    This is Ravven, who I managed to find a quite nice sort of circus-ringleader outfit for. Everything is very customisable, but it was rather difficult to get a face that I was happy with, so she looks a bit like Pinocchio. Each time you try a different hairstyle, the avatar completely reloads, which felt a bit disconcerting.

    Load times are quite long, and I experienced several crashes. The worst part, however, is the camera. I know that the Options menu isn’t usable yet, and hopefully when it is there will be settings to invert the mouse and fix the camera somehow. I simply could not move around the environment without the camera swinging up or down wildly, and I was always stuck staring into the sky or down at the top of my character’s head. I would say that this is a must-fix for me – I cannot play like this, and got quite motion-sick. (I have a hard time playing first-person shooters because I get extremely ill, and this gave me exactly the same feeling.) I lasted about fifteen minutes each time before I was so ill that I had to log off.

    gatheryn2

    Some of the locations were quite nice, with a few interesting mechanical creations, labs, etc., here and there. I didn’t see any players, and the few NPCs that I saw were standing at attention, motionless. The world felt very empty and static. This feeling might change with a lot of players in the central environments.

    gatheryn3

    There were some nice mini-games, some of which needed a bit more work. There was a word search puzzle, for example, that would let you highlight a word either from the left or the right, but it only counted if you did it from the left. Small things, which I’m assuming they’ll fix before launch.

    I hate games where I can’t swing the camera around to look at my character. As you can see, all of these screenshots are taken from behind her.  :)

    I’ve read that this game uses HeroEngine, which is also being used for Star Wars: The Old Republic. This makes me very nervous for SWTOR, as Gatheryn feels very dated and clunky – I suppose it all has to do with the creative and development teams that you can afford to throw at a game. The results in Gatheryn are not impressive.

    All in all, I was quite disappointed – I’d had such high hopes for this game, and what they have today is on the level of a playable demo. (There’s a term for this, which I can’t remember – when you build a rough section of the game so you can test gameplay.) Yes, it’s free-to-play, but F2P games such as Runes of Magic have raised expectations of how polished a F2P game should be. This is nowhere near as playable as Runes of Magic, and as a social area, it doesn’t even look as pretty as New Babbage.

    It made me wonder if being so spoilt for beautiful games (Aion, etc.) is ruining me for quirky, lowbudget, independent games. Non-mainstream, truly innovative games will probably come from small studios with a vision – but obviously they will not have the budget or resources that a large game studiomaking AAA titles will have. Can I not look past the lack of visual eye candy to enjoy a unique world?  I really hope not.

    I’ll give Gatheryn another shot, probably after it is out of beta. If the camera issue is fixed, then I’d quite enjoy having a longer look around a steampunk world. I really, really wanted to like this.

  • Game Reviews,  MMOs

    Champions Online Character Creation

    Thanks to a kind friend, I got to play around a bit with Champions Online last night. A bit of playing – normal MMO questing, as one would expect. But mainly character creation. As I’ve written about before, I love very customisable characters, and I’ll create endless alts as I use it as kind of a very high-tech paper doll creator. Hey, I’m a girlie girl, what can I say?  :)

    Enter Kitsune Tsuki, anime furry extraordinaire. You can’t see her massive tail in this shot, but she’s like J-Lo with a huge foxes tail. :)  Body shape, armour, colours, everything is very customisable and fun. The face is less so, but it isn’t needed because of the cell-shaded artwork, you just don’t have the resolution to need it.

    And the artwork is wonderful – you honestly do get the feeling of being inside a comic book, very nicely done. Overall, it was a lot of fun. Would I pay for a subscription?  No. But being able to peek in was quite nice.

    champions

    Kitsune Tsuki, Rescuer of Kittens, Scourge of Bad Guys, Defender of Citizens…and Furriness

  • Game Reviews,  MMOs

    Aion Closed Beta #5

    Aion6

    This closed beta has brought some changes that everyone was pretty excited about, including:

    • New Sound files have been added
      • NPCs should now have a greet and farewell voice
      • Cutscenes will now have voice
      • Race Prologues are now available when you create a new character for Elyos and Asmodian
      • Tutorial videos are now available in game via the help menu
      • Player voices are now available at character creation
      • System voices are now available

    Your characters’ voice emotes are still in their original language, which is sort of endearing and sort of not since my female characters always sound like hentai schoolgirls being goosed by a tentacle.

    The NPC voices are homogeneous and a bit bland, which I suppose makes sense if everyone is the same race. The non-human NPCs have a bit more character, but overall everyone sounds as though they are voiced by voiceover artists (the people who do radio commercials) rather than by actors. But I don’t want to compare it to games like Warhammer and Warcraft, who have very distinct and stylised racial characteristics.

    The introductory cutscenes after character creation are beautiful (aside from some initial stuttering on both)…but why, oh why, didn’t they use your own character in them?  One of the things I loved when I started playing Aion was the first cinematic-type cutscene where you realise that your own characte is featured. Why not use the character that you created, and have an initial “oh my god, that’s so cool” moment? They sort of did in Conan, but it was boring and had less impact.

    For some reason, I found more bugged quests and items this time around, and my characters have a disconcerting habit of jerking forwards or backwards a few feet to match up to where the server thinks they are. No queues to get in though, and that was very nice.

    I almost didn’t play this time, but I did want to write about the new additions. I started a very pretty-boy mage, since I hadn’t tried a Spiritmaster yet, and finally got immersed and began having fun with him.

    It seems I can have fun playing male characters if they’re pretty enough.  :)  I simply just can’t play the muscle-bound, snarling males in Warcraft who just look as though they’re bound up and in need of a really good poo. Give me pretty, sensitive boys every time.

    Aion7

  • Game Reviews,  MMOs

    subject to change

    I haven’t written much because I’ve been doing precious little gaming recently. I may have to change the title of this blog to something like “random thoughts and mundane conversations of little interest to anyone except my mother”.  Possibly.

    I did spend some time playing LittleBigPlanet recently, and absolutely loved it. I’m looking forward to doing some level design, but mainly I had fun just being a dork. I really suck at timing and leaping and grabbing onto things so that I can avoid spiky or firey pits of death, so after I realised that you could grab other characters, I resorted to grabbing Miz’ sackboy and throwing her off as much as I could. We died so many times (all my fault), and I laughed until I was crying. It was well-needed.

    I’ve mainly been avoiding raids for a number of reasons. After three-plus years spent playing and raiding in Warcraft, I no longer fit well into the very strict five-nights-a-week-or-you’re-out structure. I don’t want to raid five nights a week, and spend hours farming on the weekend in order to pay for all the repairs and flasks and food and raid bullets needed for progress nights. Sometimes I want to just dork around and play alts, or not play at all if I’m very tired – which has happened quite a lot lately.

    I haven’t done much EVE at all, since I’m still in a quandary about finding whatever the hell it is that I actually want to do there. I was logging in, doing a few missions and so on…but it was boring. I need to explore more and find my niche…that is my goal for the weekend.  :)

    And aside from that? I have a hellish amount of freelance work to do, and the possibility of starting a project that I can call my own. There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, after all the work. I hope so, anyway.

    One of the very shiny things that happened recently?  My niece Emily, who just made it through a very delicate and problematic surgery to repair a hole in her heart and the re-routing of an artery from one side of her heart to the other. We are all very thankful that she came through like a trooper…she is a bright soul.

    emily_md

  • Game Reviews,  Personal

    Sun Through Clouds

    Not much happening on the gaming front, unfortunately. I did get one of the Free Realms beta invites and logged in for a few minutes (small download/install, enough kawaii to set your teeth on edge, probably a lot of fun to play with the kids). I haven’t had a chance to do many of the new dailies with Kit, and I haven’t done more than training in EVE.

    I’ve been fighting depression lately. I mean, if I’m honest, I’ve always been a bit emo (without the hairstyle). But this is something worse. So I’ve been like a zombie, getting up early, going to work, coming home late and being good for little for the short rest of the night. It sucks.

    Today when I went for a walk at lunch, the weather was gorgeous, everyone was enjoying the day, and I felt a bit better. I like to walk and explore at lunchtime, since I’m not familiar with this area, and I really enjoy browsing in used bookstores – they’re one of my favourite places on earth. I found a great one the other day, very oldfashioned, with heavy carved wood bookcases, some glass-fronted, and dark isles you had to turn sideways to traverse. There were piles of books on the floor and tables, and shelves of the old leather books that I love. It doesn’t really matter what they’re about, I just love heavily gilded leather, worn at the edges, and foxed, darkened pages. There was an old copy of Through the Looking Glass that I would have loved to have, but it was too expensive.

    Anyway, today I was in a charity shop looking for books, when I saw a lovely top that I had to have. From the front it was strapless draped transparent cream, beaded with floral designs on the bodice. From the back, it was a laced corset. Perfect for summer days to wear with old jeans. The clerk remarked how pretty it was, and a positively ancient lady tapped me on the shoulder.

    “That’s going to go places, that is” she smiled.

    What could I say?  I smiled back and said “I hope so.”

    There are still some days when I’m glad to be alive…this gorgeous spring day was one of them.  :)

  • Game Reviews,  MMOs

    Return to LotRO, and General Feeling of Meh

    First, an extremely good post about why Fixing MMOs is Hard, by Scott Jennings. I loved this bit:

    9) Listen to, and engage with, players

    The players are often WRONG.

    What’s more, they will lie to you.

    DIRECTLY.

    TO YOUR FACE.

    No, really, their class is horribly underpowered, any fool would know that if they only played the game and that bug you’re talking about is really a feature and anyway you shouldn’t remove it because our entire side is underpopulated so it’s only fair.

    The players are not the ones at financial risk if your game fails. They simply move on after consuming all you have to offer.

    ******************************************

    I’ve been lackadasically playing LotRO a bit, but it’s been…boring. Oh, sure, it’s a gorgeous world, and they really brought the IP to life. But it’s not as fun as a less polished game, Warhammer. Ardwulf’s Lair put it very well here: “The problem is that there are actually other games on the market. In comparison to at least a few of them, LotRO offers a more polished and full-featured experience. But what you have in LotRO today is pretty much what you will have next year, or the year after. You’ll just have more of it. Stability appeals to some people, including myself. But I want to be surprised now and then, or even impressed, and I have a very strong feeling that any subsequent content release for LotRO will be good but not surprising or impressive.” For me, it’s polished, it’s lovely, but just not different enough to be fun.  Another grind, another escort quest? Yawn.

    It’s the same problem that I’ve been having with Runes of Magic. For a free to play game, it’s very well done. If I wasn’t playing a “proper” MMO, I’d quite like it. But free-to-play game experience is (of course) much different than a well-polished, multi-million dollar AAA title…as one would expect it to be. In the end, I think I’m that stereotypical WoW player who tries other games (and sorry, I can’t remember who originally said this): I want a WoW experience, with new content.  Sad but true.

    So, what I think I shall do is sign up for EVE as soon as my Warhammer subscription ends this month. I’ve already cancelled one of my WoW accounts, and consolidated some of the characters. EVE would be a totally new gaming experience, which would sidestep a lot of the MMO burnout that I’m currently feeling – I just need to stick with it for a while, without succumbing to the initial feeling of being overwhelmed that I normally feel when resubscribing to EVE.

    And Lord of the Rings? I have the same feeling that I had when I first tried it…I really, really wanted to like it. But it just wasn’t different enough, fun enough, exciting enough. :(

  • Game Reviews,  MMOs

    Runes of Magic

    rom1Due to some decent reviews of the beta, (and another one here) I’ve decided to try Runes of Magic. It looks pretty, and while there tend to be things associated with Korean MMOs that I personally don’t like (movement issues, etc.), I do like the fact that it’s free to play, that you can build a dual spec similar to Guild Wars, player housing, and the fact that you don’t seem to need to specialise in crafting professions.  So we will see.  :D

    It was difficult to find a good mirror to download the gamefiles from, as my original choice lacked the exe file. After you do finally manage to download the files, the patching and installing section will take quite a while to finish. There are some good “Survival Guide” tips on the forums.

    Ouch, WordPress just ate the rest of this post as I went to publish. Quick recap, and then I’m clean it up later.  :(

    Overall, it’s much prettier than I thought it would be. You get the use of a horse right off the bat, which is nice (although it only lasts for 24 hours). There are the same kill-ten-rats quests that we’re all familiar with, as you would expect. There’s a trippy mushroom land instance, like a kid’s game on psychedelics. And there are some nice touches, like the gift bags that you get for every level.

    All in all, quite nice for a free to play MMO – I’m impressed. It’s not something that I would play as a main game, but for casual play it’s worth the download.

  • Game Reviews,  MMOs

    Pvp in Warhammer

    I play Warhammer quite differently than I do Warcraft. For one thing, I group with people easily. Remember, I’m so antisocial that I will say “sorry, logging soon” if invited to a spur of the moment group in Wow, and will actually log out. I know that’s very sad. In Warhammer, it’s easy, casual, and fun.

    I still do quests and grinding, but usually I do it while waiting for one of the scenarios to pop. I love pvp in Warhammer. There were times when I enjoyed it in Wow, as well, but that was usually dependent on how badly we were being steamrollered by Horde (usually pretty badly), or how often I was getting stunlocked by rogues. My hunter can be lethal in pvp, but she’s no good at close-combat melee. In Warhammer, although I may die quite a lot depending on how badly someone wants to cut through squishies, it’s still a blast and I love it.

    I honestly couldn’t tell you why pvp is so much better (for me, anyway) in Warhammer. All I know is that even if we lose I don’t have that “to hell with this, its too painful” feeling. I have fun. I’m really, really looking forward to trying RvR, which I haven’t had a chance to yet – it was one of my reasons for joining a guild.

    I’ve been playing my sorceress, which I basically started because I had some good blue gear for one.  :)  I’m a bit stuck on my DoK since I have five million completed quests that for the life of me I can’t figure out where to turn them in. Gief a Thotbott for Warhammer!

  • Game Reviews,  MMOs

    Customer Relationships and Support for Online Games and MMOs

    I read a very interesting post (and found a great new blog, check it out if you’re interested in MMOs, gaming and Web 2.0): Customer Relationships and Support for Online Games and MMOs, which introduces the concept of Customer Relationship Management to gaming, and compares thinking of your game as a service, or a product. These two viewpoints are very, very different. If you see your game as a product, you are interested in selling boxes, and your relationship with the customer often ends there (although you hope they will be pleased enough to continue to purchase new titles from you on an ongoing basis). If you see your game as a service, you see it as more of an ongoing relationship, and the actual purchase of the box is related to something almost incidental to the ongoing relationship.

    The two perfect examples of this are Warcraft and Warhammer Online (EU version only, since it’s a very different beastie from the US experience). Since I recently re-subbed to Warhammer, this has become very apparent to me.

    Warcraft is the golden cash cow, everyone knows this and lives in hopes of somehow creating their own version. The Warcraft experience is very much a service-oriented one, in that buying the game itself is somewhat incidental to your value as a customer. Over the three years or so that I’ve been playing, I’ve spent so much more than the box price on the game:

    • I buy collectors editions rather than regular editions, since it’s part of the “experience” for me
    • Until just recently, I kept two accounts. In this house we had four accounts for two adults.
    • I couldn’t even begin to calculate how much I’ve spent on transferring characters back and forth from different servers, to different accounts, doing name changes, and so on. If I wasn’t currently unemployed, I would have already taken advantage of the paid character customisation (I admit that part of the reason I don’t play my warlock, Ravven, is that I hate her stupid Malibu Barbie googly-eyed face).

    The customer experience in Warcraft has been a very good one, overall. The GMs that I’ve had contact with in-game are unfailingly polite, and they do try to be helpful. The official forums are quite good, and the community managers do try to keep order amongst the asshats. Everything has that famous Blizzard “polish”, and I’ve never been nervous about my credit card or account information on the site.

    Warhammer, on the other hand, suffers in Europe from one of the worst management companies that I have ever seen, GOA. I wrote about it here and here and here. I absolutely hated re-subbing to Warhammer using my credit card, since I had to do it on one of the buggiest, Flash-based, presumably insecured sites that I have ever seen. I went ahead and did it anyway, and once I managed to get through the painfully slow site to the account management pages, and put my details in…it sent me to something purporting to be from my bank, but with different branding, domain, etc., where I was directed to re-input my credit card information to confirm my identity for my bank. What the hell?  It clearly looked like a poor phishing attempt, but that didn’t make any sense. I contacted customer support (which you can’t do via phone, you have to do it via a buggy Flash form). Two days later, I got this response:

    Dear Customer,

    Thank you for contacting us in relation to your query.
    Upon review of your account, we can confirm that neither payment attempt was completed and neither will be taken from your card.
    At present, the help form and in game support are our methods of contact as phone support is not a service available.
    If this does become so, it will be announced in the “Latest News” section of our website.

    Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions or queries.

    Regards,

    Warhammer Online European Billing Support

    Well, gosh, that was helpful. You didn’t answer either of my questions, although I am happy to know that you didn’t charge my card, although the other site that I got shunted to may have. I’ll watch the Latest News section of the site for further developments.

    To me, Warhammer is clearly all about shifting boxes, not building a customer relationship. There are no official forums, and people are forced to use fan sites to try to fix technical issues and so on. Ridiculous. Given how unfriendly and unhelpful their company customer support is, I would never attempt to contact a GM ingame…I don’t even know if they do have GMs ingame, they may not.

    I have fun in Warhammer, I really want to like it. It amazes me that a company like GOA is so clueless as to push me away and slam a virtual door in my face. Customers are valuable. I am valuable, and I’d like to be treated with courtesy and care. You don’t have to kiss my butt, but I would at least like to be listened to. Give me a place to talk to you.

    And Warcraft? Until I stop gaming entirely, I’ll probably always be a customer. Blizzard has earned it. And that is the difference between selling boxes and buying customers. They’ve earned my trust, and we’ve built a relationship.