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Numenera – What Is It?

NBG

Numenera is a “next gen” tabletop RPG from esteemed RPG luminary Monte Cook. I say “next gen” because it’s a kind of post-Dungeons and Dragons style that does away with the list of stats and numbers and replaces game play with descriptions and role-playing. FATE is another example of what I’d consider in this category.

The concept behind Numenera is that the world is in it’s Ninth Age, taking place millions of years in our future. The world has been destroyed and recreated many times, with civilization sometimes barely getting out of their own Stone Age, and other times becoming so technically advanced that their creations qualify as “magic”. In the Ninth Age, those who inhabit Earth are constantly uncovering mysterious artifacts from past ages, and they call these items Numenera.

The interesting thing about this system is that it’s not genre-locked. Technically the setting deals with concepts of technology, techno-magic, and magic, but that doesn’t mean everything is either cyberpunk or high fantasy. It could be both, or something else entirely, and those concepts can exist side by side. It’s also very weird. Do an image search for “Numenera”, and see the kinds of things that pop up. Pretty much all of those concepts fit the setting, no matter how bizarre they might seem to us in the 21st century.

Since everything is meant to be mysterious, the game encourages GMs and players to really suspend disbelief by never meta-gaming anything, even to the point where the GM is encouraged to describe “a thing” as if she herself had never seen it before (try it! It’s not that easy!). For example, a laser gun which we might call a “blaster” or “phaser”, has no name in Numenera. It should be described as it’s seen: a handheld object that spits out light when you press a button, and sets distant objects on fire.

Because of the unusual nature of the system, it can be difficult to wrap a head around, but from a player perspective the game is relatively simple to work with. There’s very little dice rolling, what stats exist do so mainly to provide framework rather than to act as a real measurement of progression, and players are encouraged to really RP the hell out of the situation; sometimes, that’ll be all there is.

I started this category because I’m finally getting around to being a player in a Numenera play by post game. I had tried to set one up myself a while ago, but it kind of fell apart. This time, though, I’m happy to not be in the driver’s seat, since it’s been…almost 30 years since I’ve been a player in an RPG.

I’ll be posting odds and ends here that coincide with the game happening over at Tavern-Keeper.com. Some of the stuff I’ll post here so as not to “clog” the channels over there, unless I get the OK to post them somewhere there as well (for historical purposes).

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Still Waiting; End of the Line; Revisitation

Still Waiting

patience-virtueIt’s been a calendar week since I filed my ticket with My.com/Allods for my CE purchase of Skyforge. After my last post hit Twitter, I RT’d it and tagged their news account, which earned a response and action on the request. The ticket was picked up and moved into their queue, but it’s been sitting there for several days now in that state.

I still stand by my earlier assessment that My.com/Allods needs to seriously up it’s customer service game. This is patently ridiculous for a service company to take this long to get around to addressing a situation. From my perspective — my personal, this-is-MY-issue perspective, of course — when dealing with a free to play game, you’d think that handling the purchasing issues of a customer who enjoys the product enough to want to spend money on it would be a tad more important than the weight they’ve assigned to it. Here’s a customer who actively spent money when they really didn’t have to, and spent it on the higher-priced item to boot. Doesn’t it make sense to cultivate those kinds people so that they don’t have a bad experience when they file a ticket regarding the money they just paid to you? I can tell you this: I’m really not interested in spending any more money with this company at this point. I like the game still, very much so, and even though I know the transaction would go through just fine next time and not require this customer service disaster to repeat itself, I don’t want to reward these people for “a job done” by throwing more money at them.

They did have back-end issues at the end of last week which I know took their attention elsewhere. I’m sure other tickets were on hold during that time, and I logged in on Sunday to find three free Premium days credited to my account in what I assume is recompense for the game being unavailable to everyone on Friday/Saturday. I’m willing to give them a slight extension for that since it affected everyone, but to be honest, unless the outcome of this ticket is to transfer the CE to my proper account and start the clock over on my now-missing-a-week-of-Premium-time 60 day allotment, I’ll be done with Skyforge. I enjoy the game, but their customer service has been so poor that it’s affecting the way I see the entire experience.

End of the Line

This past Saturday my friends and I held our annual LAN party in beautiful downtown My Basement. As usual, we stocked up on beer and other booze, people bought or made snacks, and everyone hauled their heavy-ass PCs and monitors across town lines for a few hours of lag-free community gaming.

Except we really didn’t enjoy a few hours of lag-free gaming. We started off with the homemade Caribou, then started mixing specialty beers that we grabbed from a menu at The Holy Grail. After that, we played Strike Vector, and that was about it for community gaming, really. We spent some time playing Forza Horizon 2, and Rocket League on the consoles, but as far as a “LAN party” goes, it was mostly party, very little LAN.

I think this effectively signals the end of an era for our home-based LAN party. Our group hasn’t been playing much together recently, and that should have been a sign. Normally we play together every other Monday, but the summer brings interruptions to routines that makes it difficult to find a groove, and I don’t think there’s really a lot out there that we’re all interested in playing together. Some of us are playing Destiny on the XB1, but not everyone has an XB1. Some of us are playing other games on PC, or not at all.

We’re also not getting any younger. Back when LAN parties were the rage among the geekerati there was a movement to make PCs smaller and more compact by stuffing mini components into shoebox sized cases, but that’s kind of fallen by the wayside unless you’re creating a set top box. People have resigned themselves back to the old cinderblock high performance desktop, and while the monitors have thankfully been reduced in size, the PCs themselves aren’t getting any lighter. They’re redesigned to stay where they’re put, and not be carried around from desk to car and back again, not to mention the parsing of the rats nest of cables that needs to be dealt with when returning home.

I think I’m going to advocate that next year we forget the PCs. We’ll have consoles for anyone who wants that, but otherwise we can try tabletop gaming, or even just cards. And booze.

Revisitation

Last Friday I had some coffee. Nothing special, right? I made enough to split the product into a mug in the morning, and have an iced coffee later in the day. When later in the day rolled around (about 3-4PM), I broke out the remainder and that was that.

Except…not exactly. I got really nervous. Really jittery. My head was swimming. Thinking that I should probably eat something, the family opted for Chinese food so I went out to pick it up. Sadly, that did little to cut the buzz. I figured I’d best try and lay down and see what happened.

Nothing happened. I got out of bed after laying there for a few hours and went downstairs to the PC at about 1am. The thing about starting something at 1am under these circumstances — being wide awake with no chance of sleep on the horizon — is that I know I have time, but no desire to start anything that I had installed. I noticed the GoG downloader listed there, so thought I’d revisit my library, and decided to install Neverwinter Nights Diamond Edition. 

I’ve been watching the Sword Coast Legends livestream recaps where they’re showing off the campaign building features, and it’s made me remember the days I spent with the NWN toolset creating stories and working with the fantastic scripting system that powered the game. This time, though, I opted to just play the game; it’s one of the (millions) games I’d never completed, so why not?

On one hand, the game holds up well. Of course, it’s a product of it’s time, so the character models have more angles than curves (both male and female), but the gameplay is solid. Sometimes I get it in my head to play a game, and then once I start I realize that I don’t actually want to play that game, but I plowed through the intro up to the point where I had to head out into the city (2:30AM), and by that time I was feeling a bit tired. I had to consider whether or not to keep going for just a bit longer, or to use this as a natural stopping point. Considering I had taken Friday off to clean the house and set up for Saturday’s LAN party, I figured I’d best try and get some sleep.

I still haven’t fired up NWN since that morning, and it remains to be seen if I actually will go back to it again. I might; I should. NWN is in my top five games of all time, and I suppose that means I should give it a real shot with an eye towards completing it.

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Customer Service in the 21st Century

Customer-Service-WordcloudI beg the pardon of those who’ve heard me go on about this for a few days now, but I’d like to talk about customer service and expectations in the Internet Age.

For those of you old enough to remember, customer service was limited to a sales associate, someone at the returns counter, or someone on the other end of the 1-800 number listed in the manual. If you ever had a problem with a good or a service, your options were limited by the amount of time you could spend with someone who might be able to help you. If you wanted to find an item, the sales associate could help. If you wanted to return something, the person at the service desk could help. If you needed to order a missing part of straighten out an account, the 1-800 number representative could help. The biggest issue with this setup was that if you couldn’t get your issue straightened out while you were talking with the customer service person, there was very little additional recourse. There was no escalation, and because everything was done face-to-face (or face-to-telephone-receiver), there was practically no paper trail to refer to for your experience.

The best — and worst — part of the 21st century Internet culture is that customer service has become a stand-alone industry. If you’re selling something, then customer service should be standing shoulder to shoulder with consideration on how to handle distribution and delivery, manufacturing, and compensation for employees. We’ve got an unprecedented level of consumer-producer interaction through websites and social media. “Off-shoring” allows any company to set up service centers around the globe so that customer service is a 24 hour gig now, and sub-industries exist strictly to create and support “customer relation management” (CRM) software that helps producers foster better, quicker, and more reliable relationships with their patrons.

All of this wonderful power has made us expectant, though. We’ve come to assume that the “always on” economy means that we should never have to wait longer than an average attention span for feedback on our customer service requests. Email is instant. Posting a ticket to a support website takes no time at all. Social media is practically in real time. Consumers want satisfaction when they have issues, and while the Internet can provide the cannon from which rapid responses can be fired, companies aren’t always up to the challenge of being able to light the fuse.

*   *   *

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I’m really enjoying Skyforge. I figured that since I spent money on ArcheAge and didn’t care for it, buying into SF was a no-brainer.

On Tuesday morning I purchased the “Wardens of the Wasteland” collector’s edition from their website. That night, I logged into the game, ready to take advantage of the boosts that came with the purchase. However, I didn’t see any CE applied to my account. I went to the website to check the store page, because when I had made the purchase earlier, the “Buy” button had turned to an “Acquired” label. This time, however, the button only said “Buy”. I had the PayPal receipt so I know the transaction went through…where was my product? I filed a ticket through My.com’s support site, and continued to investigate on my own, searching through the forums and their anemic self-serve support site.

It dawned on me that I had once logged into the site and the game two different ways. The first — how I had been playing SF — was using an email address-based login for a My.com account. The other method had been to log in using my Twitter account. Everything I had been investigating was done under the My.com account, so I logged out, logged back in with Twitter, and re-traced my steps. Sure enough, the store page said “Acquired” on the CE details page. I had made the purchase under the wrong account.

I updated my ticket with this information, and asked if there was any way I could get the CE switched to my “proper” account, or if not, could I be issued a refund so I could make the purchase on the proper account?

Here it is on Thursday morning, and I have yet to receive a response.

*   *   *

Is it wrong for me to expect a resolution in the span of two days? I’m generally an easy-going guy when it comes to turning these kinds of wheels. I understand that a ticket system available to thousands or millions of users is going to get swamped for all kinds of reasons, and the only recourse is to wait patiently for my name to be called. Ordinarily I’d be content to just play the game and hope I get a response in a timely manner. So expecting a resolution? I think it’s fair to allow time for a resolution. A response, however? Yes, I would expected to have received a response long before now, even just a “we’re looking into it” canned response would suffice.

There’s two factors at play here. The first is that I’m “burning daylight”, so to speak. The CE comes with 60 days of “premium time”, which boosts the loot rate needed to advance characters. The second is more ephemeral, and that’s comparing this experience to past experiences I’ve had with other companies.

Generally, my customer service experiences with game service companies have been positive. I’ve had responses in a matter of hours, even when I expected significant longer lead times (Wildstar, World of Warcraft). I’ve had dire situations where I was almost banned from a game, but had the decision reversed and all marks against me expunged when I explained my situation (Defiance and streaming through EA’s Origin client). In most cases I steel myself for a wait of several days, or to have my requests denied, but almost every time I’ve been giddy with surprise. When I want to sit down and play but can’t because of some situation that requires customer service intervention, it’s pleasant to know that companies are standing by to make sure that my lock-out-time is as short as possible, are reasonable, and flexible on the information (not always comprehensive) that I can provide.

Is it fair to compare how one company performs to the past performances of other companies? Absolutely. These companies do not operate in a vacuum. They are all basically small cogs in a universal machine of online gaming. Consumers are spoiled in many respects in that we have an “embarrassment of riches” when it comes to choosing which game or games we want to play; we can be as picky as we like and not worry that we’ll check-box ourselves out of options.

That includes customer service experiences. Ideally, we’d never have to use customer service, and most of the time customer service plays no part in our enjoyment of a game. When we do need to use it, however, I suspect everyone’s experience starts out the same: we gird ourselves for battle with intractable representatives who put the company ahead of the consumer and make our lives difficult in the hopes we’ll go away without costing the company anything. Most of the time it’s not that bad, I’d wager, and we’re at least satisfied with our outcome if not entirely with our experience.

But the best experiences don’t just solve our problems; they make us into repeat customers. Companies live and die based on repeat customers. Loyal customers who like the product can be loyal because of the product, but you never know how loyal until they have to use the customer service system. The experience that a person has with a representative or a process can erode even the most stalwart fan of a company. Just one bad experience can sour a person on a company for a long time, possibly even forever. Since we’ve been trained to not expect a good experience when we have to engage support, we’re so much more receptive to good or great support when we get it. Conversely, we’re also more willing to hold a company in contempt when we feel that we’re getting the run-around, if we get anything at all.

That also sets a bar, and this is where the question of fairness comes into play. Should all companies be judged by a “gold standard” of customer support? Again, absolutely. We’ve got choices, and when we feel like we’re not being taken care of, when we feel that a company is lax in responding to our problems with their product or service, then we as consumers have the right and possibly the obligation to help the industry “normalize” it’s relationship structure with consumers by supporting companies that value their consumers, and taking business from companies which have systems or cultures that allow customer issues to fall through the cracks. I’m purposefully trying to be diplomatic here: I do not believe we should default to “punish all transgressions” in a show of verbal violence. I’d rather companies that cannot keep up be made aware that better care is expected of them, and one way to do that is to take business to companies that can be held up as examples.

I’m hoping that My.com/Allods responds to my ticket before the end of the week. I suspect I have three options in this situation. The first and best is that My.com/Allods responds to my ticket soon, moves the CE to the proper account, or refunds me the cost. For that I could forgive a delay, and would gladly re-purchase the CE. The second and less palatable option would be to have to abandon my progress on my main account and start over on the secondary account. I’d still play, but I would be less than happy about it and would hope that I’d never have to contact their customer service department again. The third and most painful option would be to seek restitution through PayPal, shut down my SF accounts (if possible), and stop playing in protest. That I would rather not do. I accept that with my modus operandi SF will not be on my radar forever; I had hoped to get at least 60 days of enjoyable, stress free Premium gameplay from this purchase, but the longer this process takes, the less likely that is to happen.

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I Know This Will Curse Me But…

Well, looks like Skyforge has become my game du jour, every jour for the past few jours so far.

At my advanced age, I’ve convinced myself and anyone who’ll listen to my shouting from the park bench that I’ve earned the right to game at my own speed. I grew up in the age when “punshing” was the lowest and default setting for any game, and it didn’t deter me. I played Unreal Tournament at large LAN parties. I played MMOs on dial-up, people! Gaming, thy name is masochism. But now I just want to enjoy my gaming time. Since I played mostly RPGs or varients thereof, progression is important to me; more important than a feeling of accomplishment, or knowing that I’ve persisted in a bid to overcome challenges and difficulties. I don’t get my enjoyment from being better than what the game throws at me, nor do I really care for prestige in the eyes of my fellow gamers. I just want to have fun.

But I’ll be damned if I’m not having a hell of a time with the challenges of Skyforge. First, I want to say that I’m not immune to the irritations that seem to be floating to the surface with a certain level of frequency, but I’ve always been able to look past that; bugs rarely bug me. It’s a mystical power of mine. Instead, I focus on what I enjoy, and so far I have really been enjoying kicking the crap out of things that want to kick the crap out of me.

So far, the game has treated me well. It’s been difficult, but not super-duper difficult. Not Dark Souls level difficult. Not Defender level difficult. But there are hair-raising moments, and I’ve managed to come through them all. In fact, my only death so far was particularly ignoble: I tried to reach a section of the map that took me through a coastal swell, and I drowned as a result of my efforts. Wicked anticlimatic.

I’m trying to understand why I can stand (for now) the glaring repetition that Skyforge is throwing at me. I did the same zone three times in a row last night, once to start it, again because I missed the objective before teleporting away, and a third time because the narrative told me to. But that’s OK; I was looking forward to it. I don’t even know myself anymore.

Actually, scratch that. I know that I’m seeing definitive progress, with a caveat. It seems that Allods Team has found a sweet, sweet formula to get me to pony up for premium service. See, every player starts out in the most standard way, learning the ropes, doing nothing that you wouldn’t expect to be allowed to do in a free to play title. Then suddenly, BAM! they grant you a free three day pass to their premium membership. Premium membership in Skyforge increases the amount of progress you see as you play. It’s very clear that once your free-mium access runs out, though, you’ll be progressing at a significantly slower pace. The currency drops will be reduced. You’ll be earning less overall, and at the end of each mission, they tell you how much you could have earned if you were a premium player.

Well played, Skyforge. My free-mium status ends today, actually, and I’m already getting nervous. What will my progress look like without premium status? Will it be arrested to impossible-to-stand levels, as many people claim that it has been for them without premium access? Being progression-oriented, that would be like a literal door being slammed in my face. A steel door. Maybe the door to a safe. Like a bank safe, not one of those small ones hidden behind a painting. One that would hurt real bad.

My next step, then, is to decide which level of premium to go with. The per diem 3 pack is a good deal for a weekend, but I do play during the week. If I were to play every day, then I’d like something more robust. I might consider the $14 starter pack, although since I’m writing the game this love letter, why not go nuts with the $60 CE with all the currencies and all the two new classes and all the moah mount and all the two months of unadulterated premium access?

The only concern in my mind, I guess, is “what then”? Maybe I can get two solid months of play out of this game. Heart of Thorns is coming out. And Sword Coast Legends as well. And stuff on consoles as well. There’ll be claims on my time from other corners. I think maybe two months might be a good amount of time. Then I could evaluate where I am and decide if I want to run with ad-hoc Argent purchases, or just see if non-premium is as bad as it sounds.

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Phantasy Star Online 2

I loved Phantasy Star on the 8-bit Sega Master System and Phantasy Star II on the Genesis even more. I skipped the rest until Phantasy Star Online caught my eye for the original Xbox, and have been waiting for the Western release of Phantasy Star Online 2 because I never really spent a lot of time with PSO and wanted to give the treatment another go. So far it’s been vaporware where in the West; it’s been live in Southeastern Asia for some time now. Region locking meant that Westerners who’ve been anticipating the game couldn’t even jump onto Asian servers, at least until this past weekend when the lock was mysteriously dropped and folks from all over to the world could connect to the existing game.

The original PS games I played were very much classic console RPGs. PSO was more of an on-rails RPG. Your character and party would navigate hallways — be they indoors or in outdoor “canyons” — fighting monsters as they appeared ahead of you. Sometimes the length of time spent in these hallways was agonizing, as I remember it, with very few opportunities to reach a checkpoint before you had to eat dinner or take a bathroom break or go live the rest of your life or something similar. After a while, the game wore on me, being very much the same thing over and over, more so than what kids complain about in MMOs these days.

The download and patching process for PSO2 didn’t really bode well for an improved experience. It downloaded a launcher. Then downloaded 14GB of game files. Then it downloaded some unusually massive patch. Then it checked for another patch, and found a small one. Then it was ready to go. I started the mission of installing the game somewhere around noon time, returned after work to find it ready to install, and didn’t check on it until 10:30. I had just let it do it’s thing.

The character creation is pretty impressive, with a lot of options to choose for face, hair, eyes, etc. Once you have the basics set, you can tweak the elements individually using a four point graph to push and pull and stretch and squash features to the desired dimensions. Avatars are very cartoon-like, not angling for realism like Final Fantasy XIV or TERA or other Eastern MMOs.

After creating and naming yourself, you’re in for about 20 minutes of cut-scene exposition that finds you, a cadet in the ARK Corps, facing an enemy that wasn’t expected to be there. You have a sidekick who does all the talking, and are eventually joined by Cocky Asian Badass #241. Once you reach the end of the hallway system you’re beamed up to CAB 241’s ship, meet his partner, and are delivered to the social hub. That’s about as far as I got.

The combat is semi-action based. You use the left and right mouse buttons for primary and secondary attacks, and can augment at least the primary attack with the SHIFT key. There are two hotbars present, and you start out with a healing potion, a rez potion, and a “telepipe”, which is for recalling your lost ass, not for smoking from.

I’d say it’s a pretty good system if not for the fact that I’ve been playing Skyforge recently, which is a true ARPG, and the fact that PSO2‘s camera is one of the most frustrating I’ve encountered. Well, that deserves a caveat, because PSO2 is really designed to be played with a controller. Your camera is not a chase-cam, so it can move independent of the avatar. This causes issues because you can get your avatar to face in any direction, including at the camera. The problem is that when you attack, you attack forward from where your avatar is facing, so if you’re facing the camera — like when you evade backwards — you end up shooting…nothing. I learned that the “Q” key is used to lock onto a target, but in the heat of battle figuring out that your “Q” lock is over and you need to re-target sometimes gets a little wonky. As for some of the other systems and design decisions, you don’t get access to inventory or other menus until you reach the social hub, and everything about the tutorial is handled by popup panels. If you’re not in the mood to read, then this game is going to drive you nuts. Thankfully, all of the text and (hard to read) subtitles are in English, although the voice overs are in Japanese.

I guess this would be a great console game with a group of friends who just wanted to kick ass. In some ways, the UI and a few other elements reminded me of Final Fantasy XIV, specifically how the quest system translates to FFXIVs “-leve” system. Granted, I didn’t spend a lot of time with the game — most of it was cut-scenes, and then I ran around the social hub for a bit — but I am getting the feeling that PSO2 hasn’t fallen too far from it’s predecessor’s tree in terms of gameplay and repetition.

Personally, I think I’m going to keep my eggs in the natively translated Skyforge, which does action better and is easier to understand, and makes more “Western Sense” than a game that isn’t currently aimed at a Western audience. I’ll probably boot it up again to give it a fair shake, though. I spent half a day downloading it, and my fondness for the Phantasy Star of old means I owe it that much.

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The Re-Repopulation

What a difference a patch can make!

A bit ‘o history before we begin: I had heard about The Repopulation a while back through some of their developer videos which showed a pretty interesting crafting system. I thought their implementation was nice, but it wasn’t until folks started talking about it in terms of Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online that I paid real attention.

I backed their Kickstarter, and supplemented my pledge with additional cash in order to get access to their alpha phases. Unfortunately, excitement plus “alpha phase” does not equal feeling good about the money pledged, simply by virtue of the game being in alpha. Expectations weren’t tempered, and the abysmal performance issues I experienced soured me on the entire project.

This past Tuesday ABTech released a massive patch which was notable for it’s new tutorial zone, but it also include a few line items on optimization. As much as I was interested in a new starting experience, I wanted to see exactly how optimal the optimizations were.

I started a new character and the changes were immediately apparent. My character was responsive, and the “life” in the game (NPCs, mobs, flora, etc) weren’t having any visible issues — no sliding around like dogs dragging their butts on the carpet, animations in-time with speech bubbles, and so on.

So regarding the last post in which I said I wasn’t sure that ABTech could get the game running well enough to make a 2015 launch? I’m going to downgrade that from a “ehhhhhh…” to a “strongly optimistic”. They apparently have some tricks up their sleeves.

*   *   *

So what about The Repopulation?

Bold Claims

There were those who were upset when SWG closed down, and not all because they felt that SWTOR was cannibalizing it’s older sibling. SWG did a lot of interesting things that didn’t involve combat. It was a sandbox, and while you were at odds with either the Empire or the Rebels, you could also make a living through crafting, animal handling, or entertaining. Like, a real living, without ever having to take up arms, ever.

When you claim that your game is the “spiritual successor” to a game like SWG, you’d better deliver, because saying such things is going to make some very critical people sit up and take notice. You’re playing with people’s emotions here.

I think they’re on the right track in many ways, but we’re talking about a really massive track here.

Overload

By the time I was done playing last night, and I leaned back and assessed what I had experienced, the bottom line I reached was that holy shit opportunities in this game are massive, and I hadn’t even left the tutorial area.

Assuming I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, there’s no limit to the number of skills you can have. There’s no “official” classes: you just obtain the base skill, and then use it to level up. In the tutorial zone, you get two skills for free, and then others cost a measly 80 credits each. My first mission awarded me 400 credits.

I am now a pistol wieldin’, flame-thrower sportin’, sniper-rifle huntin’, shockgun (not shotgun) carryin’, melee punchin’, axe choppin’, sword swingin’, hammer bashin’, wound patchin’, dead revivin’, animal tamin’, robot commandin’, joke tellin’ two-steppin’, smooth-talkin’ badass.

Each skill you get is immediately dropped onto your hotbar, so my hotbars are a patchwork of different, unrelated, sometimes underused abilities that I keep around just in case need to use them.

The game is going to require some serious discipline to limit the focus, or else I’m going to be trying things just to try them, and end up never really getting anywhere specific.

Playtime

The first thing the game has you do is fight your way to the encampment after you were reconstituted following an untimely death in a transport crash. In all honesty, the combat is what interested me the least, since I was in full, rabid SWG mode. At this point, the combat feels pretty loose. Tab targeting works, but I don’t think it works well. Actual attacks (mostly ranged, as this is a sci-fi game) didn’t have that “oomph” that you get from, say, SWTOR. Blasts were flying all over the place, but the response time between hotbar use and result was a bit laggy, and the expected impact of the attack was a bit watery.

This is where I fall back on the “it’s not meant to be release-ready yet”, and based on the difference I’ve seen between earlier and now, I believe that ABTech can clean it up in time (assuming I’m not on crack and that these systems aren’t 100% polished yet).

Most of the tutorial elements have you running to different PoIs on the tutorial base so you can get a lay of the land. Many of them end up offering you skills and abilities, and then teach you some of the more esoteric corners of the game (fun fact: there’s so much stuff in the game it has it’s own in-game UI for what it calls the “database”, a reference for basically everything you might have a question about, and this is awesome. Should alleviate that “I forgot how to do X” after long absences). The only downside to this is that you run. Really. Slow. Really. Slow. Like. I. Could. Crawl. Faster. Than. This. Mah. Gawd. Where’s. My. Sprint. Key?

Points of Interest – Harvesting and Crafting

I’m going to get specific, now, because I played all of SWG as a crafter. 100%. I shot maybe two things my entire time playing. But I really like first-class-citizen crafting systems, so since TR allows players (and says as much) to do nothing but harvest and craft if they want, it was where I spent most of my time last night.

Your crafting tutorial starts with you creating “gadgets”, which are MacGuffins that exist simply to teach you how to make and unmake stuff. You need materials, agents, and a crafting station. Materials are used up, but agents might not be (depends on the recipe, from what I’ve read).

Materials have quality stats ranging from “F” (worst) to “A” (best). Since that’s too logical, there’a also a sub-grade that runs from 0 (worst) to 9 (best). F0 is the worst grade of material you can have. A9 is the absolute top of the line. When you harvest something, or kill and skin, extract DNA, whatever, you get a default quality out of the deal. However, using your skills you can try and enhance the results and turn that D1 to, say, D2.

And yes, these stack by material only, not by quality. Your stack of vulture DNA might say “D1″ in the UI, but you could have all kinds of quality stacks within that icon. There’s a litany of keys you can use to split that stack by quality, to show the best on top, worst on top, etc. I suspect this is going to throw a lot of people off their game.

You get non-organic materials through harvesting. There’s two modes of harvesting: manual and automatic. Manual is…manual. You get a tool (the tutorial bot gives you some starter tools — a saw, a drill, and a water extractor) and you walk up to the resource and right click on it, opting to enhance the result (or the region, which takes longer, but boosts the output of a lot of resources in the area). Automatic is straight out of SWG: you place a harvester at a specific location and wait for the hopper to fill up. The tutorial has you going out to collect water, so you find a contaminated water source and drop down the extractor. Unlike SWG, extractors can be placed in groups of four, but (I believe) only display one in the world. This allows multiple people to extract at the same location without a fistfight breaking out. I believe that you’ll get better mats from the manual extraction than you do from automated, as the automated didn’t give any option to enhance (maybe enhancing the area will help extractors…?). Extraction for the water was kind of fast; about 10 minutes and I had twice what I needed for the mission. I packed up the extractor and headed back.

Construction is pretty simple, but not WoW simple. You throw in your materials, an agent/catalyst, and possibly enhancements once you start making real and complex stuff (I’m guessing here). Construction is a series of steps, so you can step through them all one by one, or you can automate it and have the crafting station blow through them all on your behalf. I believe I read that there is/will be Everquest II style complications that can occur during crafting, so I suspect that stepping through manually and risking complications will result in a better product, saving the automation for quick but cheap mass production. Again, just speculation as the tutorial didn’t go into that level of detail.

Stragglers

A few things that stuck in my mind but I didn’t spend a lot of time with:

  1. There’s a mini-game system which has several iterations. I bumped into one near the crafting stations, but the instructions were horribly unclear so I didn’t make any headway
  2. There’s a Vanguard style diplomacy system in place. It operates like the minigame mentioned above — complete with a lack of meaningful instructions — but the result is that you can put NPCs in a certain mood to make them easier/more difficult to talk with. That will grant you bonuses or special conversation options that can have a benefit for you.
  3. The community seems nice! I was watching the general chat, and folks seemed to be not-asshats. Subject to change, I’m sure.
  4. Hearkening back to an earlier post, the environments are pretty massive, which means at your terribad run-speed it takes a long time to get anywhere…even from one side of the tutorial base to the other. Thankfully, you can harvest some pretty simple materials and trade them for a starter mount early on, which I haven’t done, but which I hope will alleviate the irritation of crawling everywhere.
  5. The camera behavior during conversations can induce nausea. It snaps around to different angles which sometimes cuts off the conversation balloons (SWG vets know this conversation style). Not a biggie, but would be nice to to maintain some level of standards for camera position when talking/when leaving conversation.
  6. There’s also housing, which I have yet to experience.
  7. Animations are OK but not fantastic. I know that’s a hang-up for some folks.
  8. Visually, the game is better now that I can actually make it look like a PC game and not a mobile game. I haven’t cranked everything up, though; I used the “auto-detect” button, so I have no idea what settings I’m on. Looks better than it did, though, and a smidge better than “good enough” for my concern.

And In Conclusion…

I am pleased with The Repopulation at this point, mainly because I can play well enough to actually try it out.

But what kind of game is it? Well, it’s a sandbox of the highest order. There’s a few visible quest givers (Arrow up means they have a mission for you, arrow down means they are expecting something from you), but they only provide busy work (AFAIK). You mostly get job offers through “email”, and those are procedurally generated and are therefor fairly simple requests. You can ignore them or accept them, and they pop up anywhere you are, giving you a constant stream of money making opportunities, although many of them will have you bringing something to someone out of your way.

Right now, this is a game for sandbox fans, folks who can self organize and generate their own stories and set their own goals using the mechanics that the game provides. There’s also factional PvP in zones between the hub cities, but with combat the way it stands now I can’t imagine what PvP must look like. Probably like a bunch of elderly bumping into one another with their walkers and canes.

I’m most excited about the harvesting and crafting aspects, though. Back in the SWG days I think it was easy to be successful at this simply because there weren’t that many people playing the game who were interested in tethering themselves to a crafting table when there was the whole Star Wars universe out there to experience. But with so many people in the MMO genre this era of min-maxers and guild-zombies, I suspect crafting competition will be fierce.

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Prioritizing Interests; A Good Assessment; Perform Better

Prioritizing Interests

While eating my Cheerios this morning, I suddenly and randomly started thinking about my interests and where they sit right now in regards to the kinds of games I’m playing.

Normally I’m not a Call of Assassin’s Battlefield kind of guy. I mean, AAA games are great; they’re made by talented people with piles of resources. On the other hand, I’m also not an indie kind of guy. There’s a lot of great indie games out there, but I still get the feeling that we’re a wee bit over-saturated in the “artistic platformer” department.

So I sit down at my PC wanting to play something, and I’m staring at what I’ve got installed. Guild Wars 2, Wildstar, Elite: Dangerous, and some smaller scale games like SkySaga and War for the Overworld. Being me, none of this is doin’ it so I open Steam and check out the Store page, thumb through the Recent, Popular, Upcoming, and Specials tabs at the bottom to see what’s available.

I can’t think of any AAA games on the immediate radar right now that are interesting me. So in the absence of the hype train making a stop in my town, I’ve resorted to taking a cab, i.e. smaller, more numerous, more difficult to gain attention games. On one hand I kind of feel bad knowing that I’m only considering this level of product because there’s nothing more high profile that’s on the horizon. On the other hand, it’s like getting away from the tourist traps and wandering through residential neighborhoods. It’s a different experience, maybe far more hit or miss than what you’d expect from a “sure thing” in a franchise release or from an established and respected studio, but still has value even though I’m only doing it as a consolation.

A Good Assessment

One of the least popular topics here at LCHQ has always been my development entries. A lot of folks either have no interest in how the sausage is made, or don’t understand the jargon, or simply don’t read anything I write ever. That’s OK. It’s being written as much for me as it is for you, which is what I’d tell you if you were here reading this.

A common theme of my development posts is the struggle I have as a hobbyist developer. To me, a hobbyist is someone with a day job who has absolutely no interest in sacrificing the enjoyment of his hobby — gaming — for the benefit of being on the “professional” side of the curtain — making games. I’ve got no structure, no friends to help out, just enough know-how to make meager progress, but a whole lot of ideas that always tend to run well ahead of the cart.

I like it when I read about other people who struggle, like the folks at Iron Tower Studio who posted a kind of “decade in the life” rundown of why it takes so long to make a game (in their case, as an “indie” studio). From my perspective, this post nails it, and I say that because I see everything I’ve struggled with recounted in that post. The ideas that outstrip the talent. The assumptions. The moving goalposts. The only real difference is that they have multiple people…and a product. It’s disheartening that with multiple people it’s taken them over a decade to get their product out the door, since I’m one person who’s had starts and stops over the course of half that long, and I’m not getting any younger. But we keep on keepin’ on because what else are we going to do with our time?

Perform Better

Patch notes are out this morning for The Repopulation, and it makes me both happy and really bummed out.

the-repopulation-05

Their headliner is that they’re revamping the tutorial. I’m good with that, since I’ve done that tutorial several times. Why several times? Because that’s the part that bums me out. I’ve stopped trying to play that game because of it’s abysmal performance. My system is several years old, now, but I can still run new releases with cranked up settings and it doesn’t break a sweat. Granted, The Repopulation is still in development, so I’ll cut them some slack; I’m not complaining that the game runs badly. I’m just saying that I wish it ran better.

“A lot of people”, meaning “random quotes from the Internet that I’m recounting without context” say that The Repopulation is the spiritual successor to Star Wars Galaxies, and in their literature the Repop devs continuously invoke SWG as well as Ultima Online and Vanguard and other games that were about more than just combat-and-loot. That’s my kind of game, and I keep going back every few months to see if things have improved in terms of “can I actually move?” and “am I shooting at something that’s animated, but is already dead?”. So far, it’s not been trending in my favor, although I have gotten the game to run respectably…if I crank down all of the settings to “should run on your smartphone” levels. I guess I can live with that for now.

The downside is that this game is supposed to launch this yearNow, not to disparage the developers, because they’re obviously skilled and more talented than I am in this realm. I do hope that performance tuning is creeping up their to-do list as they get closer to the end of the year (check out what Wildcard has been doing with ARK: Survival Evolved). Personally, I’d be willing to sacrifice some of the features that are still on the drawing board in exchange for a game I can actually play.

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