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18Apr/142

Just Some Stuff About #Streaming

I stream on occasion. A lot of people do, but I don't know that most of it is worth a damn. Video games are interactive, and participating passively in an interactive medium seems like some kind of M.C Escher-level wrongness. There are really only a few cases where streaming makes sense:

  • You've got a really high production value. E-sports broadcasts, for example, with top-notch effects, audio, and informed commentary can actually make what would normally be a rather sedate pseudo-entertainment choice into a high-octane event.
  • First looks are usually good reasons to stream. A lot of games will produce slick promotion videos, but it's when you see someone really playing it without knowing how to play it that you get a real feel for what the game is like.

But I guess streaming is turning out to be the Next Big Thing in gaming. It used to be rather fringe, but thanks to the rise of Twitch, and now with streaming integrated into the XB1 and PS4 (and soon, iOS), everyone can stream what they're doing.

How are these companies in business? Twitch shows ads, and has their Turbo subscription to remove ads, but I'd like to know if that' enough. Twitch is actually the fourth largest traffic-user on the Internet, behind only Netflix, Google, and Apple. That's insanely impressive, but must also cost a fortune that they'll have to start paying for at some point (Thanks, Netflix!).

I'd think if anyone was ripe to be bought, it'd be Twitch. Facebook bought Occulus Rift for $2 billion, and Twitch has over 45 million viewer per month, according to 2013 numbers reported by Forbes.com. That's way more people than who own an Occulus Rift headset. But who would buy Twitch? Microsoft or Sony would be obvious choices, since they've just got the religion and are probably high on it still. I don't think Apple would bite, since the majority of sources are coming from PC gaming. Google might, but only because it seems to fit into their eclectic purchasing pattern. Facebook? Sadly, I could totally see that happening. None of them seem like a really good fit, but if anyone was thinking about it, I'd have to guess it'd be MS or Sony.

I checked in on rival UStream this morning, thanks to the Heatbleed notification email they sent me this morning. Does anyone around here use UStream? They have their own streaming software, which looks pretty slick. It does most of what third party streaming software like OBS, FFSplit, or XSplit does, but it's always struck me as odd that Twitch doesn't do it's own broadcaster (or that third party apps don't allow you to change the stream title before going live. That actually pisses me off. But I digress). Seeing UStream's software makes me miss the power of Livestream, before they got all uppity and abandoned the exact same market that's lifted Twitch to 45 million users per month.

I really wish I had more time to devote to producing something. I had set up a multicast streaming server, which would allow multiple users to stream into one broadcast from remote locations, and that could be a magnificent boon for a multi-user video show, but it would take dedication (or time) that it doesn't seem a lot of people have. Thing is, I think that a vidcast like that, rather than a podcast, could be very popular with the right production sense.

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17Apr/141

The Deafening Silence #TESO #TheElderScrollsOnline

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It's as if a single fan was crying out in excitement and was suddenly silenced. 

Not a lot has been done in The Elder Scrolls Online as of late, so my posts on the subject have fallen off a cliff. I had to pack up for PAX, but before I left I did the Unspeakable: I created an alt.

I'm not an alt user. I generally have bad enough ADHD when it comes to a single game that I force myself to stick to a single character. I'm very progression-oriented, and if I'm progressing multiple characters at the same time, I still progress, but I don't get very far on any of them. That's problematic when I'm looking to level up to keep up or join others for things like dungeon runs.

But the skill point system of TESO is rather stingy, which is good, but it also means that I can't tackle all crafting professions on one character. Also, inventory. Ye gawds. So I created a Khajit Nightblade to handle blacksmithing, primarily, but it's come at a price: I like him more than I like my Breton Templar. The Templar is of the Daggerfall Covenant, which is where House Stalwart has planted it's banner, and the Khajit is in...hmmm...According to the lore, he should be in the Aldmeri Dominon, but right now, he's mixing with Nords and Dunmer, which is the Ebonheart Pact. At any rate, he's not in Daggerfall, so I can't run him with any of the Stalwart folks. He's tougher than the Templar, and is working on dual wielding and bows.

My time has been mostly spent transferring items between the two to even out the crafting materials, and then moving the finished goods between them, or into the bank. I'm a bit paralyzed right now because I want to level my Templar to Spindleclutch level (which she achieved last night, actually), but I like playing the Nightblade more.

15Apr/140

Orcs Must Die! Unchained

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[I received a comment on my earlier post on PAX East and let me know that the game details seen at PAX are not under NDA, but those in the alpha phase are under NDA, so here ya go!]

UPDATE: There was some ambiguity in the wording about the availability Founder's Heroes. You can only get the Founder's Heroes during the period when the Founder's Program is available. You do not lose the Founder's Heroes once the Founder's Program concludes. I've amended the text to hopefully be clearer on this point.

If there was a theme to this year's PAX, it was "MOB(A) Rule". There was LoLInfinite Crisis, and others that I'm sure I glossed over after having such a powerful deja vu that my head started to throb. MOBA is the new hotness, and if the mobile industry has taught us anything, it's that game developers love to strike while the iron is hot.

Orcs Must Die! Unchained, is essentially a MOBA. It's a 5v5 game in which you and your team attempt to destroy the opposing team's base (their "core"). To help out, you have some on-rails minions that spawn from your camp at specific intervals and who head out along their prescribed route to the enemy base. They only stop to fight, or when they're destroyed, making them veritable cannon fodder whose only jobs are to give you, the player, a little more DPS, and to let you focus on wailing on your human opponent.

So as we bob along on this sea of MOBAs, what's different about OMD!U?

If you've played Orcs Must Die! (either, or both), then you'll remember them as a previous hotness: the tower defense game. In that genre, the idea is to throw down deadly speed-bumps along a prescribed route that is followed by AI minions that spawn from a starting point at specific intervals. If they manage to get through the maze, something bad happens. If it happens often enough, you lose. OMD tasks you with throwing down traps to stop these minions, but also allows you to take an active part in the defense of your castle by having you engage in third person combat.

OMD!U keeps this mechanic. Unlike other MOBAs which only allow you to drive your character and fight stuff, OMD!U allows you to booby trap your home base with spikes, arrow launchers, and firy pits of despair, turning the last 1/3 of the enemy's journey into pure pain. This is especially brutal for the stupid minions who only know how to fight and die. In order to get more bang for your buck, then, you can also spend cash to upgrade the minions that sally forth, and you can upgrade your keeps so you can grow more powerful minions in the aim to hopefully improve their chances of making it through the Gauntlet of Gore that the opposing team has thrown down at their base.

It also retains it's third-person-y combat aspect over the isometric view favored by most MOBA. I know that Smite does this as well. I think this gives it a more personal aspect.

The weird this is...I didn't mind this game. MOBA is one of those genres that elicits really strong feelings in either direction. Because it's fast paced, requires minimal input, but maximum strategy, these games attract the ultra-competitive gamer. Everyone else just wants to stay the hell away because competitive gamers tend to be...how shall we put this..."really fucking un-sportsmanlike". It's a genre that's built on the mantra of "second place is first loser", so there's really no such thing as a "casual MOBA player". OMD!U seemed to be more palatable, though. I didn't stress out when playing like I have when trying other MOBA games. It's quite possible that it was all because everyone at the booth was as green with the game as I was, so we all sucked to varying degrees, but I think it's something a little bit more.

One of the strengths of Titanfall for me was that even though I sucked at FPS games, I still felt some accomplishment because I could gun down AI bots or rely on the auto-pistol. The game is designed in such a way that there's no single method for participating, and I feel that OMD!U's tower-defense mechanics fall under that same umbrella. Also, throwing money into the keep for upgrades, and assigning minions is also a necessary but low-stress method for contributing without feeding the opposing team. Don't get me wrong: it's still going to come down to all hands on deck when the enemy raids your base, and the increasing respawn timers are a total PITA, but even when dead, I still felt that my traps and my cash helped out. And when the foul mouthed jerks whose egos rely on their performance in a video game start to get to me, I can kick back with a game against bots!

Beyond that (and currently still in flux), the game will be free to play, and will follow the tried and true MOBA Method of Minting Money. The twist is that OMD!U uses "cards" for it's traps, minions, heroes, skins, and weapons, so your real money goes towards buying "booster packs". I don't know much beyond this point since the game is still being developed and the details hashed out, so don't go off all "it's pay to win!" kinda crap. I'm sure there'll be ways to earn the "usable" cards (traps, minions, etc) through gameplay, while keeping heroes and skins exclusive to the shop. Again, I don't know. I'm just speculating.

Right now you can get on board the Founders Train and pick one of three tiers. The first is priced at $150, the second at $60, and the third at $20. $150 may sound like a lot (because it is a lot), but it gets you in to the game right now, hands you the whole roster of Founder's Heroes (which you won't be able to obtain after the Founder's Program completes), five exclusive skins for the normal heroes, $200 worth of in-game currency, dev forum access, a forum badge, three beta codes, and one "priority alpha key" to give to a friend. This will allow said friend to jump to the front of the line when Robot starts blind-calling for new alpha testers. The $60 pack gives you fewer of everything, starting you off at priority alpha, and the $20 level gives you one hero and priority closed beta. And if you don't have the original Orcs Must Die!, all tiers get a code for a free copy on Steam (a $10 value!)

At the end of the day, it's still a MOBA, and we saw people coming back to the booth at PAX time and again, getting better with each visit. Folks are already getting their practice in so you know there will certainly be MOBAites taking their matches very seriously and screaming at other players . One thing I didn't get info on was how/if Robot was going to deal with sportsmanship concerns. I figure this is an important point in MOBAs because of the bar that Riot set with League of Legends and their community review system. Another question unanswered (because it was unasked) was how OMD!U will handle matchmaking. Based on other conversations this weekend, those answers may still be undecided, but I think they'll be important points for folks like me who enjoyed the game, but really don't want to willfully expose ourselves to the violently toxic MOBA community.

14Apr/140

#PAXEast2014 Highlights

I actually didn't spend all that much time touching stuff. The show floor was rather sparse this year, with more open space thanks to organizers moving the bounds outwards. Still, the large booths were few, leaving the majority of the space to indies, hardware vendors, merchants, and those odd participants that offer info on how you can get into a career as a 3D artist, or which sell development books. Honestly, I'm not a fan of most of what passes for "indie" games; most of them were either platformers, side-scrollers, or looked like they were put together in a weekend (despite having taken months, I'm sure...it's a "design decision"). Kudos to these folks for making these games happen, though. They just don't interest me, so I didn't spend any time with them.

So what happened this weekend?

Thursday Night

Being a backer of Star Citizen, I went with Mindstrike to a club that was right around the corner from the hotel, where RSI was holding an event. It was a nice club, but is probably douche-central when it's not populated by gamers. We stood around for about three hours (!), since I guess we didn't pay attention to the flyer that said the event started at 9PM, but didn't actually get rolling until 9:30-9:45.

The demo was a certified disaster. Chris Roberts gave a quick demo of the system, but was talking more technical than PR, so that was really nice. He flew a ship around, showing us the exterior, the physics in action...and then clipped an asteroid and exploded. Second attempt, he tried to shoot down an enemy, but froze the game. Third time was the charm, as he was able to shoot down enemies, but was unable to clip any more asteroids. He did, however, explode when attempting to land.

Friday

Our first attempt to pick up the shuttle didn't end well. Thanks to being the second to last stop on a congested route, we opted to take a cab to the center.

Originally, our first order of business was to get to the 2K booth because we heard they were giving out passes to an event that they were hosting, but we kind of ditched that idea and stood in line for the Borderlands! The Pre-Sequel demo instead. We were ushered into a nice, air-conditioned geodesic dome painted to look like a moon, and sat down in the World's Most Comfortable Chairs as we learned about the new Borderlands game that inhabits the space between BL1 and BL2.

I like Borderlands but not as much as my friends. They seem impressed, but I'm not sure if it was that they really liked the features, or just want more Borderlands. As an added bonus, while standing in line some 2K people were coming around with the Vita version of BL2 that we could try. It runs really well, comes with add-on content, and can play online with other platform players. And if you have BL2 for the PS3, you can sync and share save games between the systems.

Also while in line, we watched the promos for Evolve. It looks at first like a Borderlands clone (complete with a character that looks like a much younger Sir Hammerlock), but without the cel-shading. Turns out it's something about four player co-op as hunters of different classes, with at least one other player taking on the role of a massive creature that hunts the players. At least that's what I got from the PR video they were showing on the TVs.

We made our first stop at the Orcs Must Die! Unchained booth to visit Dusty, and got to give the game a whirl. Like I said in the earlier post, I don't think I can say much about it at this time, so we'll save it for later.

After a while of wandering the floor, we hit up the Nvidia presentation. They were giving away a lot of stuff, including Tegra-based tablets and Shield devices, but the highlight was the announcement of a low-cost, high-powered video card (I forget the designation, sorry!) which is promised to allow older, lower end systems to continue to live on for a few more years.

We left the convention after that, fighting the Last Train Out syndrome to get a seat on the packed shuttle. We had sushi delivered and played Pathfinder ACG.

Saturday

With nothing on the schedule, we didn't bust our asses to get the center early. Good move, since we were able to get a shuttle on the first try.

Mindstrike kept checking out the World of Warcraft booth to put hands on the WoD expansion, but we were told that at the point we were at (the end), it was a two hour wait. So we left and headed up the Firaxis panel where Civilization: Beyond Earth was announced. I was feeling like shit, though, so I had left the Firaxis queue before the panel started and took a nap in the sun for about an hour and a half before meeting up with everyone on the mezzanine of the Marriot attached to the convention center. Big Daddy had picked up Forbidden Island to play with his family, so we test drove it there. The goal is to collect four elemental tokens through teamwork before the island is flooded or one of the players drowns. Four players is probably overkill; we were able to accomplish the feat with no sweat. Fewer players will probably present a decent challenge. I also picked up Legendary, the Marvel card/board game, but I couldn't concentrate on the rulebook to start understanding it.

Another short day, we hit the shuttle at 4PM. We sat around for a while, then Orwell and Mindstrike went to pick up some take-out from P.F. Changs, and we played another round of Forbidden Island.

Sunday

The highlight of Sunday was the Gearbox panel, which was at 10:30 so we eschewed the shuttle and took a cab. It was a wise decision, as we were able to get in line early and avoid the dreaded Queue Room. Gearbox panels are always fun. They talked about Borderlands, of course, and also a bit about Homeworld Remastered. There wasn't a lot of tangibles, outside of the fact that there is a super limited CE coming that includes a 1 foot USB powered lighted model of the Mothership. Expect that to seriously drain the wallet. Randy Pitchford did a magic trick in which he "crushed" an audience member's cell phone, and in compensation got some prizes (and his cell phone back). In a surreal turn of events, Cliff Bleszinski showed up for a muted three minutes, looking like he just woke up from a chloroform induced stupor. Or maybe he always looks like that. And we all got codes to reserve a free copy of the upcoming Borderlands game.

We hit the tabletop area in earnest, checking out what was available. One year I'll need to really devote time to sitting down at one of their demo booths to try some of these games. I saw a few Netrunner expansions for sale at various locations, but they weren't any cheaper than they are at Amazon, and I will eventually need to buy in bulk to catch up, so I held off.

We had to leave early (there was an emergency at work that came up on Friday which I had to handle by Monday morning), so we hailed a cab back to the hotel, packed up, and set out for home.

Overall Thoughts

PAX is getting to be weird. The first year, it was pretty exciting! Nothing like this happens in the North East, so we really enjoyed the event, the participation, and the magnitude. Over time, however, it's become a weekend of expectations. The Pit will be packed. There will be the same panels that return year after year. If you want decent food, you'll have to get off-campus (pro-tip: We called for take-out from M.J. O'Connors, which took 25 minutes as opposed to the 45 minute wait for a table!).

I don't even want to talk about the people except to say that I think that when you're part of an interactive community event, you should be behaving in a way that enhances the community spirit, and not be a selfish, egotistical ass-hat. Gaming has been a thing for almost...what? 30+ years now? It's time to grow up, people.

I enjoy attending PAX, but I think my expectations have to change. It's not about the games any more. It's not about Wil "Don't Be A Dick" Wheaton's proclaiming that PAX is our collective "home". The crowds were originally electric; now they're just obstacles. We had more fun leaving the convention center early, relaxing at the hotel, and playing board games. Had other folks been able to make it this year, that would be an added bonus.

If it ever came down to having to go solo, with none of the remote folks able to attend, I would most certainly skip it without a second thought. Considering all the news that was revealed at the show was on the Internet within five minutes, the only thing left over is the crush of the crowds, and I certainly can find better uses for my time and money.

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14Apr/140

#PAXEast2014 Is 100% Complete

This was both an eventful and a non-eventful PAX East for me. Let's look at eventful:

  1. Due to the snafu (which is being very, very kind) surrounding the buying of the passes and the unavailability of the OnPeak hotel booking site when it was made available, I was the only one of my friends to get an actual three day pass. Everyone else had to get three, one day passes. We also had to move out from the convenient bosom of the BCEC's attached hotel to The Revere. This was actually kinda good, kinda bad. The hotel was nicely situated in the theater district, and on the edge of Chinatown. So we had a lot of dining options. And the hotel was really nice! The staff was accommodating of our requests to move rooms (to get a mini-fridge to keep the beer cold) and were very friendly.
  2. I dub this "Board Game PAX East" because we spent 100% more time playing board games than ever before. We got to play multiplayer Pathfinder ACG, and two cool smaller, quicker games called Kittens in the Blender, and Forbidden Island. Both of the latter are suitable for children (despite the imagery that Kittens in the Blender conjurers). I bought Legendary, but still need to read the rules, and also the sequel to Forbidden Island called Forbidden Desert.
  3. We got a free (as in beer) copy of Borderlands! The Pre-Sequel for attending the Gearbox panel on Sunday morning. We had all pre-ordered it through Amazon to get the free shirt, but we all had also cancelled our pre-orders since we all knew we would get it anyway when we actually had money, and frankly would rather have it on Steam. Now we can! And for 100% less monies! But then there's the season pass...
  4. Despite the fact that none of the Twitterati could make it to the Annual Tweet-Up, a surprise appearance by Robot developer and Swell Guy Dusty Monk helped alleviate the sadness. He helped us Suck Less at the demo stations for Orcs Must Die! Unchained, which I cannot talk about because they're in alpha and he said there was an NDA (/superfrown). But I can say what is known: it's MOBA-esque, which is a genre I really don't care for, but I actually liked this one because I didn't suck as bad as I usually do at these games. You can buy into their Founder's Program if you're so inclined.
  5. PAX South was announced for San Antonio, TX. A Big Welcome to our Southern Brothers and Sisters who traditionally have had to shell out a shitload of cash to head above the Mason-Dixon line to rub greasy elbows with their fellow gamers!

And now, the eventless:

  1. The hotel, which I liked as a hotel, was crappy for this event. It was on the most populous shuttle route, and was the second to last stop. This meant that the buses were full very early in the morning by the time they reached our stop. First day and last day, we took a cab which was an expense we hadn't counted on. I'm not a fan of the shuttles, because unless you cut your day abnormally short, you'll be stuck at the center until really late at night (last shuttle was at 1AM).
  2. Not having the Tweet-Up really carved a chunk out of the enjoyment of the event for me. However, since we discovered that Pathfinder ACG and sushi go well together, it was just as good.
  3. There's some...questions..regarding the announcement of PAX South. Namely, what will this do to the presence of companies at each of the PAX events (Prime, East, Oz, and now South)? No company can attend ALL of them, every year. Some companies can't even attend the ones that exist now, every year. What worries me the most is that the lion's share of developers/publishers exist in the South (especially Texas) and the West. That PAX East exists at all is a shove by the Penny Arcade folks to get the games industry to recognize that the North East actually exists. Now that there's Prime and South, it would be so easy for companies to put their efforts into sticking closer to home, rather than incur the expenses of shipping and flying staff to what I feel the games industry considers to be the "Black Hole Of North American Gaming". Even moving the event down the coast (to D.C. or the East Coast's darling, North Carolina) would only be moving it closer to Texas, but not close enough to appeal to companies who'd rather save money by planning a "staycation" in their own regions. Someone suggested, then, that South and East switch off, year to year. As painful as that would be, I think that it would solve the problem, but might anger the plebs when a Big Announcement doesn't happen on their watch.
  4. The Enforcers seemed a lot more dickish this year. One of them actually yelled at a crowd for not moving fast enough. I thought it was pretty degrading to be treated like that, but "by gamers, for gamers", right?

Later on today (or maybe tomorrow) I'll publish some specifics about what I saw and what interested me. Sadly, I didn't actually do very much deep-dives into anything this year (with the exception of Orcs Must Die! Unchained), so most of my info will be cursory, but hopefully also somewhat informative. To someone. Somewhere.

 

 

7Apr/143

The Game Has Changed #TESO #TheElderScrollsOnline

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Over the weekend, I was able to put two of the three obnoxious roadblocks to rest in The Elder Scrolls Online. 

The first was Gutstripper, foul clannfear of Cheesemonger's Hollow. Originally, I couldn't get my head around how to approach this, which resulted in my flailing around, mashing buttons, and dying until frustrated. However, Saturday morning I returned to the Hollow, deftly avoiding the introductory daedra, and was able to down Gutstripper with an ease that made me wonder if my previous troubles had been imaginary. Sadly, no: this time, I was several levels ahead, had new gear, and I had re-spec'd before setting out.

Feeling emboldened, I high-tailed it to the Wyrd tree. This trial wasn't quite as simple, as the corrupted spirit casts a snare right before he unleashes his nature-air bomb attack. This snare made it hard to get to the appropriate peripheral spirit for protection, but he only caught me once before I managed to beat him down.

I didn't attempt the third obnoxious trial, which was the one associated with the Fighter's Guild. That one requires me to take on the daedric snake, but also to quickly dispatch the four healing spheres that appear. I'm not at all sure how to approach that one solo, but since it's an ancillary quest I'm not so worried about tackling it right now.

Aside from the levels, I had three things in my favor. The first was that a guild-mate upgraded most of my gear. It was significant enough of a change that I noticed it immediately, but it also made me wonder how I would have gotten ahead in the gear department without the twink. I'm tackling alchemy and not armor/weapon crafting, and the loot drops weren't providing me with gear on par with that I received from the guild (at level 13, I'm just now getting better stuff). The second boon was the advice I received from folks here and in-game. As stated before, I don't really "pay attention" to the mechanics, which I partly blame on never having had to in the past. But others have, and do, and I'm thankful that they shared their insight with me. It helped a lot, and also helped me learn to slow down and do the necessary in order to get ahead of the encounters.

The third thing was to respec. Again, because I didn't really do "research" like reading the skills, I had started out with a random assortment that sounded good. Some combat, some healing, some tradeskills. Originally, I had spread myself so thin that I wasn't able to mount a decent offense or defense against these micro-mini bosses because I hadn't made myself as effective as I could have. So with the help of a guild-mate, I zipped to Wayrest and used the respec shrine (for 1300gp) and re-built myself according to the plan I had laid out using ESOHead's skill builder.

This time, I had focused on a more "CC-Solo-Tanky-Thing" build. I picked Ransack and Crippling Slash of the one-handed and shield path, and also picked Fortress, and Sword and Board. This gave me a buff in the armor department, debuffed the target's armor, and also snared, immobilized, and reduced their damage. I picked Vampire's Bane and Solar Flare from the class options for ranged damage and an additional snare. I also chose Resolve and Constitution under the Heavy Armor path for armor and spell resistance, and health regeneration. I kept Keen Eye under the Alchemy path because I found it very useful as a budding alchemist.

Now I'm at the point where I'm doing better than before, but the difficulty still rears it's head now and then if I'm not aware of my surroundings. I still try to minimize the aggro, because it's extremely easy for just one add to tip the scales against me. I lucked out and found someone who was looking for a group to take down Faolchu the werewolf leader. He said he couldn't solo it, and he was level 16. At level 12, he and I went in and steamrolled the guy. I wasn't sure what happened, exactly, but I was happy it went as easily as it did.

The issue now, however, was given voice by Pete from Dragonchasers who said that he was afraid to mis-spend his skill points. TESO is not a fast-leveling game, and unless you chase down the skyshard fragments, your skill points are dependent upon leveling, making them precious. I've already re-spec'd once, so the next time is going to be quite costly. I'm happy where I am now, but I have a few skill points that are still unspoken for. Do I continue to improve the path I'm on, or can I branch out into a secondary role (like healing)? Do I pick up another weapon skill, or can I start improving my tradeskills? If not now...when? On one hand, this is pretty nerve-wracking; as a player who's never given thought to character improvement because mistakes could usually be easily fixed with more points, this is new and frightening. On the other hand, the game has taken on a new dimension for me, one that's usually reserved for hardcore strategy games where I have to think several moves ahead and weight the pros and cons at the start of each turn. For an action-combat game, TESO can be surprisingly thoughtful.

3Apr/14Off

The Worst Kind of Groundhog Day #TESO #TheElderScrollsOnline

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The thing about The Elder Scrolls Online is that it's turning out to be anything but a cake-walk. At least, for me. I can't speak for others, but I have died many, many times, and not all of them have been noble. I've been flat-lined by encounters which, had this been a different game, I could have easily overcome. Now...now I panic when I see an add approaching my engagement. Some folks would cheer about this, and I can get behind that: this is a game where you need to pay attention, to not bite off more than you can chew, and to stack the encounter in your favor. But man...I have died so many times now it's gone way past "cute" in has seated itself firmly in the "swearing like a sailor while banging my fist on the desk" territory.

There's two encounters in particular that I'm suffering through. The first is for the Mage's Guild, picked up in Daggerfall. The first half is OK. I have to collect four books and return them to the Guild. After that, we summon the spirit of a dead Mage, who tells me he needs me to head into Sheogorath's realm, a place called -- get this -- "Cheesemonger's Hollow". That crazy Sheog! Anyway, here's some spoilers (highlight to read):

When entering the Hollow, you meet this dude behind a desk. Typical daedric stuff. He tells me that to get access to the books, I need to prove myself, and he proceeds to open a portal through which several imps and daedric assholes pour forth. Normally, this would be OK, except the imps manage to kick my ass. If I survive, I have to deal with the daedric whatever. If I survive that, there's another round of imps, and another daedric whatever. I have died here too many times. 

But I've also survived, so now it's up the stairs and out into a grotto where I've learned to avoid the daedric jerks and imps that are just lounging around out there. At the end, however, I have to fight this...dinosaur, I guess. His name is Gutripper (I think). He's got some tells that I try and watch out for, and I've gotten him really close to dead, but he's always gotten me closer. 

Now, I'm a level 9. This is a level...6? 7? quest. I feel really stupid in getting my ass handed to me from start to finish with this one.

The next encounter is at the Wyrd Tree north-east of Daggerfall. Again, spoilers:

You have to "cleanse" the forest at the behest of these Wyrd sisters, and using various techniques to free the elemental spirits, you have to confront the Ultimate Evil that has taken up residence inside the Wyrd tree itself. Once inside, the four elemental spirits show up to "help" you by staying out of your way. The Ultimate Evil sits at the center of the tree, but has a Scorpion-like move that pulls you in from where ever you are on the periphery. Then he launches this nature-nuke that homes in on you, again, where ever you are. 

The trick is to run to one of the spirits that's lit up at the appropriate time, and this spirit will keep you safe and heal you up. However, I can never seem to ID the right spirit, and when I can, I can never get to that spirit in time. Being a melee character, I need to get close to the target, and then have to run like hell to get under the proper spirit's missile defense system. 

As you can see above, I've not been very focused in how I've spent my skill points. I blame my lack of knowledge of how the system works. I started off thinking I'd get some ranged skills with the magicka spend for opening and parting shots, and then keep to the melee for being up close. But I spent too heavily in the ranged category and not enough in the weapons use category. I'm currently using a club and a shield, and this morning I put two skill points in to skills under that section which allowed me to get Gutripper down to a sliver, but I can't seem to take him down faster than he takes me.

My main concern is just the frequency of death, and the need to repair. If I run out of soul gems, I have to head back to the start of the instance, and fight my way through again. For the Hollow, that's a gamble. In either case, my gear is degrading, and if I leave to repair it, I have to do the whole thing over again anyway.

To make matters worse, I think it's PEBCAK. I don't do well under pressure, and in these cases it's an exponential curve of suck. The closer I get to dying, the more spastic I become. I end up holding down the right mouse button (block) too often or too long, spending stamina and preventing me from attacking. That means I can't dodge. I also start spamming whatever I've got: potions, spells, you name it. Also, I may need better armor, although I believe I'm more or less up to code for my current level.

My goal, now, is to find out how to reset my points. That'll hurt the wallet, to be certain, but if I can reclaim some points from all of the magicka I mis-spent on, I could use it towards better attack and better survivability.

3Apr/14Off

The Dividing Line Of Subscription Games

CashMoney

This is just a "Hmmmm...." post, and not an assertion or a stance, but in thinking about The Elder Scrolls Online and the upcoming Wildstar, both of which are returning to the money-lined nest of monthly subscriptions after several years of the free to play trend gathering steam, a lot of people are wondering -- actually, flat out assuming -- if and when these games are going to drop their subscriptions and make the switch to free to play.

That other games have made that switch in the past few years (EQ2, TSW, SWTOR, and more than I can possibly remember), coupled with the fact that very few games that have launched in the past few years have launched with a subscription makes it logical to assume that the subscription model is dead -- with some caveats.

World of Warcraft still commands legions of willing subscribers who pay a monthly gatekeeper fee. The question is, why? I don't think it's overly complicated: Blizzard charges, and people obey. Too many people have too much tied up in WoW to just walk away, even if they make some kind of bargain with themselves that WoW will be the last and only subscription they pay. WoW charges because they can. People pay because they must.

EVE Online is another game that hasn't made any mention of every dropping it's sub. This one is different from WoW, though. The player base of EVE, and it's operator CCP, are rather...let's be kind and say "elitist". They view their game as more highbrow, and the subscription is a barrier to keep the filthy casuals out of New Eden. There's actually a lot to do in EVE, but so many people have tried it, heard about it, or just looked at it, and can't see enough interesting content there to make a subscription worthwhile. The EVE players and CCP are counting on this because it keeps their game "pure".

Can any new game make subscriptions work again? Possibly, yes. I don't think it's a matter of making "a great game". There are a lot of great games that are free to play. Instead, there needs to be something about the game that either can't be had anywhere else, or which does something in a way that no one else does, or which appeals to a very enthusiastic population that feels that this one game and this one game only is offering them something that they want, but can't find elsewhere. Ideally, those fans will gladly pay for that singular experience.

I'm trending towards naming PvP as that thing, but it will remain to be see if TESO's PvP population finds it compelling enough to take an EVE-like stance. TESO's bread and butter is still PvE, which can be had in every other game, and most often for free. There's the Elder Scrolls lineage to act as a draw, but that can be had for a one time fee of $9.99 or less when the Steam sales roll around. TESO has large-scale RvRvR/FvFvF/PvPvP or whatever we're calling it, but so does Guild Wars 2, which also has no sub. But from what I read, TESO's RvRvR is a lot larger, and possibly more involved than GW2's, which might satisfy whatever percentage of PvPers who were dissatisfied with GW2's implementation of the sport, who bemoan the loss of Warhammer Online (yes, those people exist), and who pine for the days of Dark Age of Camelot.

Would that be enough to maintain a sub and not give in to the collapse in to free to play? My feeling is that PvP is a niche compared to PvE when we're talking about people who do nothing but one or the other. That would mean that in order for PvP to be the driving factor for a sub, the game would need to attract a massive amount of rabid PvPers. Then we're going to have to squint into the fog while the mystics therein consult their abacuses in order to determine if maintaining the subscription is generating enough revenue compared to the projected outcome of free to play with cash shop and a potentially higher body count.

I don't think subscription games are dead. I do think that any game that attempts them will need to not just provide a "good game", but will need to basically force segments of the gaming population to be drawn to their product with such fervor that they will never even stop to question why they should pay a sub. So far I have run into very few people like this, personally, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. As with anything, then, time will tell.

2Apr/14Off

Return to Daggerfall #TESO #TheElderScrollsOnline

eso 2014-04-01 07-38-46-57Daggerfall was my first Elder Scrolls game. Somewhere, I still have the game guide. I played for a while, but like other ESO games, it was sandboxy, and my mind wasn't configured at the time in a way to really "get" that style of play in such a massive game like that.

Fast forward to 2014. After leaving prison, I step off the boat, and back into the Daggerfall of The Elder Scrolls Online. But it's not the same city I remember. It's now the product of urban renewal spurred on by other TES games like Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. I like what they've done with the place.

TESO is not Skyrim, as many folks would rather it have been, but this is a minor sticking point. If your brain can wrap itself around a "game-in-the-tradition-of-Skyrim", but with more people, then the product can rightfully take its place in the TES pantheon. Like any other game in a series, it's not the execution that defines it's relationships, but it's lore. TES has a whole boat-load of excellent lore, and unlike other games which only give a passing reference to places or deities or events that some poor writer spent weeks devising (only to have them shoved aside in favor of mechanics), TESO practically drowns you in it, the same way they did with SkyrimOblivion, and Morrowind.

I spent some time yesterday getting set up and on the path of a Breton Templar. There was some confusion regarding pre-order items, a lack of zoom on the first character created, and at the end of a haze of confusion, I ended up with three characters. Since I don't yet have my pre-order items, and one of the characters was in the wrong faction, I managed to get on the right track, through the Coldharbour prison break again, and into Daggerfall.

The problem, though, was that I quickly ended up finishing up the quests I could do. I eventually received two quests -- one of the mage's guild, and one for the "frat house" group (I forget their adopted name at the moment) -- and both are outside my current capabilities (one is a dungeon, and the other one just kicks my ass). So I decided to do what I normally try and avoid doing: I re-did the beta starter zone of Stros M'Kai. This was actually the Right Choice, because I focused on the Kaleen line, and then finished the Betnikh quests, and returned to Daggerfall at level 8. This seems to be "the average path" that I've been seeing people take.

Late last night, after having gotten the crap kicked out of me in Sheogorath's "Cheesemonger's Hollow" several times, I figured that there had to be something else I could do, and it was then that I learned that I might be in more trouble than I had assumed.

Remember how I said that TESO is an amalgam of TES games and an MMO? This is something that I think needs to be in boldface on the brochure: not all quests are going to slap you in the face to announce their presence. One of the tool-tips states that NPCs and other unassuming elements can actually open quests for you when you least expect it. Ideally, this rewards obsessives who talk with every NPC, who read (really read) every book, and pilfer every crate. I found this out the hard way, stumbling on missions outside of Daggarfall as I had decided to take my chances in the wilderness farming mobs to level up and skill-up. I killed a world boss (twice!), saved some villagers, and was in the process of setting the forest to rights before I had to log off for the night, or risk being a shell of a human at work in the morning. I even did some crafting, putting points into alchemy because why not?

TESO has a lot going for it, but it's not an everything-at-surface-level MMO like You Know What. You need to be ready to put on your big-boy/girl pants, to motivate yourself to find what's out there, and the be ready to get your ass kicked (So far I've died more times between levels 1-8 in TESO than I think I have ever died in my entire career playing You Know What). While a lot of people were disappointed that Zenimax/Bethesda didn't make Skyrim II, they've managed to retain the feeling of exploration -- at least as well as they could in a genre that demands conformity through guides covering every aspect of game play.

Skyrim was one of the few games I've "completed", although I've only completed the main story line (I consider the game completed, but not complete). I suspect that TESO can be played along the same path. I'll need to find opportunities to improve before I can get back into the mage's quest, and I'll have to somehow find folks to see if I can't tackle the Spindleclutch dungeon at some point later on. I also really enjoy the crafting. My biggest issue right now isn't the problems I'm having as a soloist, but that my age-old habit of not pre-preparing for the mechanics is causing me to scramble through backlogs of official news and forum posts to make sense of how and why things are done. I ran past about 2000 runes before I learned I should be harvesting them. I also just found out about how the PvP "campaigns" work. I've started the game, but I'm already more behind than I usually am, which isn't so bad. I enjoy the exploration aspects of the game, and enjoy exploring the mechanics now that they're solidified for launch.

31Mar/14Off

The Isolated

Polygon has a quick post this morning about a study done at the University of North Carolina that reports that "loners in gaming are the exception and not the rule".

Taylor's team, which included colleagues at York University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, traveled to 20 public gaming events in Canada and the United Kingdom to observe the behavior of thousands of players, and take a detailed survey of 378 players. The research was focused particularly on players of MMORPGs such as Eve Online and World of Warcraft.

Based on the headline, and the conclusion of the paper (when taken at face value), I applaud this finding. Naturally, as someone inside the demographic being sampled, I knew this already, but I have a hard enough time getting people to read this blog, never mind listen to me when I'm ranting on the street corner.

The comments, however, are picking nits. The major complaint -- as if having a complaint is required in the face of otherwise "good news" -- is that the study sampled gamers who were playing socially oriented games at a socially oriented event. Granted, not every MMO player is a social butterfly, but chances are good that showing up at a public gaming event indicates that one is comfortable being around other people.

The point being missed by these pillars of intellectualism is that this report is not targeted at gamers. It's targeted at psychologists, or businesses, or other non-consumer-grade folks who can actually use this kind of information. Another example of the "not for gamers" information spigot is Michael Pachter, perennial punching bag of a vast swath of gamers who believe that his analysis of the video games industry is "out of touch" or just plain "bullshit". Pachter doesn't report his analysis to gamers; he publishes it for investors who want to know the temperature of the industry and to get a sense of where it's headed. That gamers know of Pachter's findings at all is strictly because consumer-facing blogs report it, most likely because they know it'll rile up some page views.

It's hard to grasp the importance from this side of the demographic divide because we know that MMO gamers are playing in a social environment, and we know that gamers attend conventions like PAX and ComiCon and other 'cons around the world. Folks on the other side of the divide don't need to know that, and so don't really care, because these are the same people who think that all geeks love "The Big Bang Theory" because we should inherently "understand" the characters. Having reports like this one show that not only are gamers not avoiding social contact, but they're actively seeking it out, and that the stereotype of the solitary male gaming from his parent's basement should be put to rest.

Really, at this point, anyone who thinks that the loner stereotype is still valid as a blanket assessment is the one who's isolated.

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