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Uh Oh #Wildstar

housing4I kind of wanted to leave this here for posterity, because in five years if someone comes looking for me, I wanted this to be my letter in a bottle.

Upon my return to Wildstar this weekend, I finally leveled my Aurin Esper to the point where she could get her housing plot. That’s a major milestone my my reckoning, because unlike some games which offer you land, you can actually use it.

Back when Widlstar first launched I liked housing OK. I upgraded my pre-order spaceship house to a better Chua model (for my original Chua Gunslinger) and added some interactive plots for mining and crafting and all that. But everything I had was pretty much eclectic when it came to decor. Anything that I got as a reward that was a housing item was placed, but not necessarily well placed. Overall, I liked housing, but wasn’t floored (!) by it.

Fast forward to now. When I unlocked housing I was extremely happy because at least I could get the XP buff board access, and because I had a lot of stuff in my bank that I needed to activate (side note: Carbine should allow us to “collect” housing items before we get the housing, because as of right now they clutter up inventory and we can’t do anything with them until we can actually use them).

So I got to my plot and it looked like the plot I remembered. I bought the Aurin house because Aurins would live in Aurin houses, and placed some of my crated items.

Then I looked at the shop and my face slid off my skull.

Now, I might be mistaken, but I swear that it used to be that you’d have to earn your decor for the most part. There was a shop even back then, but it focused mostly on “high level” items like housing styles, wallpaper, floors, plot plug-ins…that kind of thing.

I almost cried when I saw that they were selling items down to the friggin nail and screw* that you could buy outright for your dream plot setup. From the looks of things (I didn’t look for very long lest I succumb to madness), you can spend an unfathomable amount of (in game) cash buying elements that you need to construct a very specific setup as many amazing people do.

Being only a…eh…I think level 14 character, that’s pretty much out of reach…sort of. I mean, with that kind of freedom I have no idea what kind of theme I’d approach. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and in this case that way is called C.R.E.D.D., which is Wildstar‘s “buy for real money, sell for in game money” vehicle. Right now a $20 C.R.E.D.D. purchase can net you 19 platinum, which is scores more cash than I’d earn at my current level. But that’s a market valuation, and a brief survey on Twitter suggested that once the game transitions to F2P and there’s an influx of penniless players, there won’t be enough people able to buy C.R.E.D.D. with in-game cash, so the price might take a nose-dive if there’s too much supply and not enough demand.

That’s why I spent the $20 to get a C.R.E.D.D. card this weekend because…you know…having cash on hand is always a good thing in case you need some supplies or…housing…stuff. Jussayinsall.

 

* Not really nails and screws. Those would be too small to see. But mostly everything else you’ll need to create awesome housing plots.

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The Circle (of Game Selection) Life; Project Gorgon

The Circle (of Game Selection) Life

Being Old(tm), I am rarely able to sleep in past 6:30 AM, 7 if I’m exceedingly lucky. My usual routine on the weekends, then, is to try and make my way downstairs without waking anyone, which usually fails in spectacular fashion: my wife has a sixth sense, my dog wants to go outside and since he sleeps in my daughter’s room, his antics wake her up as well. No one usually follows me, though, since apparently I’m the only one who has trouble sleeping in the morning.

The upside is that I get some interrupted time to myself. I am generally a morning and night person, although knowing that I’ll be wide awake before the sun really makes an appearance kind of limits my willingness to stay up too late. Either time is fine by me, except in the morning I can start something and not have to worry about it stretching from minutes into hours of time spent.

This weekend I spent more time with Wildstar because I really don’t know why. Because is the best reason I can offer. I suppose it’s the impending free to play conversion. Also, I’m paying for it, as my year sub is finally reaching it’s conclusion. I’ve signed up for a recurring payment to capture as many F2P loyalty rewards as possible, although I technically “cancelled” my sub very early after having purchased that year’s sub, so I don’t know if that qualifies as “having been subscribed”. Knowing my luck, I suspect not.

What I didn’t play, and what I haven’t played recently, was Skyforge. Some folks would take that admission as carte blanche to pile on about how the game sucks and all that, but my reasons for not playing aren’t in any way tied to my overall feelings for the game. I figured that Skyforge is for me what Diablo III is for others: a jump-in, hack and slash game which really doesn’t require a whole lot of brain-related activity. But you’d think after my to-the-mat grudge match with the operators that I’d want to work the hell out of my Premium subscription. That bugs me, not taking advantage of it, but the pendulum has swung away from Skyforge and towards Wildstar it seems.

I’m still not 100% sure what triggers these seemingly arbitrary about-faces, especially when I’m wholeheartedly invested in a specific game yet stop playing it cold turkey. I suppose I could blame burnout for Skyforge, because I haven’t technically left it for a more recent title that’s exciting me this week. In thinking about it, switching back to a game I’d already left means more pain than gain: I had a tough time re-learning how to deal with Wildstar and there was an initial point where I wasn’t sure I’d actually feel comfortable playing again. That alone should have tempered my decision to return, but I stuck with it for whatever reason, and most of my time on Saturday was spent on Nexus.

Really, it’s not much of a surprise that this has happened. It’s how things work around here, and with a lot of my friends. It’s either burnout, or a rediscovering, or something new, or just seeing other people playing another game. The good thing about it is that every switch back to a game that results in a game being left behind is only a temporary situation which is a rule that proves itself.

Project Gorgon

ProjectGorgon_logoIn other news, Project Gorgon, the hard-luck MMO that failed at least two Kickstarter campaigns, completed it’s final campaign sometime over the weekend, raking in $74,000 out of a $20,000 goal. GG PG!

I don’t know what it is about PG that interest me. It’s old school. It’s graphics are nice, but not cutting edge. It’s unpolished. But it’s a game I always regret not spending time with. Considering it’s being made by two people, more or less, it’s got an insane amount of depth…like “I seriously need a guide written for this game, and won’t feel like a douche using it” kind of depth.

Several years ago I attended a panel on “the future of the MMO genre” at PAX East, helmed by representatives of AAA titles. Based on the lineup, I kind of felt that the answer to the question was going to be that AAA titles would continue to rule the roost (Curt Schilling was on the panel, so make of that what  you will), which made me want to take up the mic and ask them where they saw niche titles fitting into their New (Old) World Order?

I didn’t get to due to the crush of neckbeards but I think waiting it out was as good an answer as anything they would have given me. “Blessed are they that play the niche MMO, for they shall inherit the space”. I don’t see anyone actively chasing WoW any longer; if it happens, it happens, or at least it’s not trumpted or implied, and if anything, people are spreading out and adopting games that are anti-WoW or are more accepting of games that don’t follow WoW‘s single-minded formula of raid-gear-repeat. I’m hoping that Project Gorgon receives it’s due in users because Elder Game has busted their asses to keep going even through two failed Kickstarters, and have been actively developing it in between. It’s obvious that they have no intention of stopping, so I was glad to break my “no KS, no early access” rule because I think they really deserve it.

The “alpha” version is available now and free to anyone to try, so if you’re a fan of old-school MMOs like Everquest and Istaria and games of that era, you should give it a shot.

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Selecting Blog Topics And Voice

There are as many reasons for blogging as there are insects on this planet. It’s a little creepier comparison than saying “stars in the sky”, but we also need to stand out from the crowd if we want people to come to our niche on the Internet when folks have so many blogs to choose from.

What we write is a factor of why we write. This is a blog devoted primarily to the hobby of video games, but also other geeky activities, so you’ll almost never find a post about finances or child raising or nutrition. While I like money, have a child of my own, and worry about what I eat, I don’t find those topics exciting enough to spend my time writing about them. My primary hobby is video games and other geeky stuff. I talk about it with other people. My social media circles are decided upon based on how their interests align with those hobbies. Talking about other things is often times like speaking a foreign language to me: I might recognize a few words here or there, but I can’t hold an entire conversation about them like I can if you want to discuss geekdom.

Choosing a topic that fits my interests is actually kind of difficult, though, because while I like talking about geeky stuff, my reasons for wanting to talk about it vary. When you really love something, you want to talk about it, and I see that a lot in posts other people provide on their own blogs. Sometimes I want to talk about something exciting I experienced, and sometimes I want to talk about something that makes me angry. Most of the time I wax poetic, which is a way of saying that most of my posts contain baseless assertions projected onto a greater population. Calling it “poetic license” avoids having to own up to writing “kinda bullshit”.

Despite blogging under different URLs for over fifteen years now, I still don’t feel that I have a voice of my own, or a kind of platform from which to speak. What’s my angle? I’ve decided that simply loving this hobby isn’t enough. Writing recaps of what I played always seemed like a cop out to me if I couldn’t extrapolate the run-down to some greater allegory on the state of the genre or something highfalutin like that. Why would anyone want to read about what I’ve done? There’s already a lot of contention around why someone would watch someone play a game instead of actually playing that game themselves, so reading about someone playing a game is better how?

What’s been my alternative? Praising and lambasting the community by turns worked out well for a while. I got a lot of compliments on my “come together” feel-good posts talking about how we need to buck up and “let the sun shine in” when faced with vile behavior of those who want to control the narrative of our community. I like writing those; I hope they lift someone’s spirits to read as much as they do mine to write, but if game recap posts are hybrid cars, then those feel good posts are the F350’s on the road, measuring fuel consumption in gallons per mile. I can’t just churn out variations on the “we can do it!” theme day after day. There’s only so many ways I can write what is essentially the same thing, and even with the greatest of efforts, not every day is a day where I’m feeling the love I want to spread. It gets tiring to write those posts and not feel like I’m trading on emotional manipulation, even though I believe in the reasons for making the attempt.

I certainly don’t want to get all negative. Rants are the lowest form of getting a point across, since all one has to do in order to post something like that is mash the keyboard with a forehead until unconscious. Liking things and admitting that you like them is hard compared to just shitting all over something, but where’s the fun in being negative? Seriously, where’s the fun when all you focus on are negatives in your hobby? After spending a lot of time trying to be upbeat, and seeing how little traction it garners, I find that it’s actually all too easy to be cynical and jaded. I don’t want to be That Kind of Blogger.

What I know I lack is conviction to work at blogging. I post a lot. Often twice a day. One might think I have a lot to say, and I guess I do, although it’s not always (read: rarely, judging from my stats) things people are interested in reading. I can tell you this: I do very little research (GASP! I know!) for my posts, and spend even less time editing them (DOUBLE GASP! Are you light headed yet?). My posts are all shot from the hip, written from top to bottom with an image tacked on and kicked out the door like a problem child on his 18th birthday. In my mind I like what I’ve written, and sometimes I go back and read my own posts weeks or months later and find things here or there that impress me, if I do say so myself. But it’s not myself I need to impress. It’s you. More importantly, it’s people who aren’t you, and who aren’t me. The people I don’t reach with the topics I currently choose and the voice I currently affect.

I need to figure out how to be a better blogger. I’m certainly not the best writer out there, although no one has come right out and called me on it. My topics don’t seem to resonate with many, at least not in the way I always hope they do. If they do, then people are internalizing their emotions and not sharing or commenting on the posts. I’m not going to get all down on myself and scream “why!?”, but I will just assume I need to do a better job of picking topics and approaching those topics in ways that attempt to generate more engagement in the hopes that doing so results in fewer drive-by readers.

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Warehouse? Therehouse!

D&DFINALLY! Waterdeep! A relatively nondescript location along the Sword Coast. It’s not a big college town.

The party rolled in along with the rest of their caravan, merging with other merchants and teamsters who filed into the city through the southern gates and forming a massive flotilla of trade. The majority of wagons took up positions in a vast unloading yard just inside the city walls, waiting for their turn to unload their wares. During this time, the party squared their employment with Mom: 50g each*, and received a steady stream of high marks from other wagon drivers who offered them employment should they be heading out on the road again.

The cultists, however, did not stop. They apparently had other business elsewhere in the city. Shrewd eyes found their wagons plowing through the other merchants, and it was determined that they were heading north. Because of the crush of the crowds, the carts couldn’t move quickly, making it easier for the party to follow on foot**. Turns out that the cult wagons were congregating just outside the northern gates, joining other wagons driven by people who apparently knew the cultists that the party had been following.

Remembering that Carlon Amoffel (the Harper who had been buried in the middle of the road) had offered them assistance in Waterdeep, the party split up: The monk and ranger nonchalantly stood watch at the northern gate while the rest of the party tracked down the Temple of the Order of the Gauntlet. There, Carlon related what he had been told about the cultists: they had been gathering outside the north gate for a few days, and occasionally would venture inside the walls to visit a warehouse. Carlon explained that this warehouse was a crucial staging area for goods used to repair the High Road that runs between Waterdeep and Neverwinter, but the Harpers had no idea why the cultists were visiting that specific warehouse.

The bard, a proficient tinkerer, had created a mechanical carrier pigeon to ferry intel between their location and their spies at the northern gate, so she released it to inform the monk and ranger of the situation. Carlon offered the party supplies, took their order, and said they could pick up their stuff the next morning or have it delivered to wherever they would be staying.

Once the party reconvened, though, their focus shifted from the antics of the cultists outside the walls to the mystery of the warehouse. A quick recon found four normal doors, three loading bays, a hoist to move goods in and out of the upper levels, and a bank of windows high above the ground. Waiting until nightfall, the party returned with the intent to break into the warehouse to see what the cultists found so interesting about the place.

Two sets of two guards were patrolling around the perimeter at erratic intervals, making timing a break-in difficult. The ranger cast Silence at a point that encompassed the least conspicuous door with the initial intent to break in silently, but instead he and the monk used the silence as a diversion to disorient two of the patrol guards so they could render them unconscious. This non-violent combat situation produced a set of keys which let the party into the building without further damage.

Inside, the party found…a warehouse. A standard, every-day, run-of-the-mill warehouse. It was filled with construction equipment and materials, but the hard-packed dirt floor didn’t reveal any signs of unusual activity that might point the way to secret trap doors to underground tunnels. There was no sign of any cult treasure among the timbers and bags of gravel.

The most interesting place happened to be the foreman’s office which contained maps of the High Road, laborer and caravan schedules, and an open-call sheet filled with names of those who had signed up to protect the workers, as the road ran straight through the marshy and dangerous Mere of Dead Men. With no smoking crossbow to be found, the party decided that the cult wanted something to do with the construction detail out on the road. The best way to ensure they didn’t lose the cultist trail, then, was to sign on for more guard duty, and the easiest way to ensure they’d make that happen was to put their own names on the sign-up sheet.

*   *   *

I really enjoyed this session for a few reasons.

First, no more caravan duty! That was a real PITA for everyone: I’m sure the players were tired of it — although it served a purpose by introducing them to Carlon, Jamna, and the Thayan Jos (who’s still with the cultists, BTW) — and I had a difficult time with the pacing. Having story elements in the game is great because RPGs are all about the narrative, but collaborative stories are really difficult to pull off. Two solid months of caravan duty, with several breaks in between, made for a messy situation that took longer than it should, despite actual attempts not to belabor it.

That’s why once the party reached the walls of Waterdeep, I didn’t up-play the experience. They got in, got their payment, followed the cultists, figured out what they were doing (but not why they were doing it), and formulated an initial plan of attack. Bam bam bam done.

I also tried to let the party drive this one, and they did a great job! Splitting the party is always a questionable tactic, but this time it was handled in spectacular fashion. There was a lot of discussion on the mechanics of the clockwork carrier pigeon, what it could do, and how it could work. I said that they could make one, but it would only fly between two set points. So when some the party went to visit Carlon, what they could have found by observing the cultist activity, he already knew. While having the NPC deus ex machina plot points is generally bad form, I think the situation played logically, and quickly gave the players the info they needed.

When the players opted to break into the warehouse, I was a bit taken aback. I tried to instill the fact that this warehouse was a legitimate business, although the players apparently suspected that it was a legitimate business front for cult activities. Technically, they could have simply signed up for work during the day, but their espionage approach worked out quite well in the end, and I thought the fact that they signed up for work in the middle of a break-in was kind of funny. As they said while we were wrapping up the session, “we broke in and got ourselves employed.”

* The payouts the players had been receiving in earlier chapters lead to a whole lot of cash on hand, so while the 50g seemed relatively low compared to what other payouts had been, this is an attempt to get the economics back under control so the players aren’t going to make a side quest out of finding a castle to buy with their excess cash.

** Waterdeep is actually a massive city and the idea that the players could keep pace with a wagon traveling south to north is kind of absurd once you see the map. But in the interest of getting the story rolling, I just wanted to ensure that the players didn’t RP the city block by block.

 

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Legendary Encounters: Alien Edition

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It’s that’s time again, kids, the time when I don’t really feel much like gaming. In a manner of speaking, it’s kind of good because that feeling of malaise that I get when I sit down with the intent of finding something to play often drives me away to do something else.

This time around it was to take my daughter shopping. She’s been piecing together elements for some Hetalia cosplay, and needed some kind of kerchief. We hit up a few dollar stores looking through their copious hair-product aisles, but didn’t find anything that met her exacting criteria. While we were out, though, we stopped by one of our FLGS (friendly local gaming stores) because I’d never been to this particular outlet, and left with a copy of Legendary Encounters: The Alien Deck Building Game.

I have the Marvel edition of LE and have played it exactly once. It’s fun, but extremely difficult. Being way more of an Alien fan than a Marvel fan, though, the Alien edition was always on my radar, but with the aforementioned malaise going on, I decided now was the time to jump.

We got the game home, and for the next hour and a half I cursed Upper Deck for being a bunch of myopic imbeciles. Like the Marvel edition, the Alien LE has hundreds of cards that represent different aspects of a story. In the case of Alien, there’s a strike deck which deals damage, a hatchery deck which represents the facehuggers, a barracks deck which represents characters you can recruit, a hive deck which represents the enemies you’ll encounter, and a few other decks with various purposes. The cards need to be divided up into these discreet piles, but UD made zero attempts to help you out in this regard. The cards were shuffled together in bundles bound by plastic sleeves, so my first order of business was to spread these cards out, read the microscopic text on the bottom of each card, and sort them appropriately. Thankfully UD had the foresight to provide cardboard dividers for when you the customer sort the cards according to the rules, so with proper vigilance you’ll never have to sort these things again.

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The game itself was tense. There’s four options for play, each following one of the four (current) Alien movies, and knowledge of the movies is not required to play, though I suppose you’ll get more personal benefit if you’re familiar with them. We played Alien and had three objectives: find the S.O.S. sources, lock down the ventilation shafts, and secure the airlock. We needed to complete objective one — find the S.O.S. — before we could move on to the second, and objectives are completed by slowly plowing through the hive deck. The hive represents the aliens, and at the start of each turn a new card comes off the hive deck and into play face-down, pushing previous hive cards across the play mat until they are revealed in the “combat zone”. If any aliens reach the combat zone, they start to deal damage, so we have to scan each location prior to the combat zone and hopefully take out what is reveled there before it progresses. That’s the elevator pitch version of the rules.

Despite the PITA of having to sort the cards, the game is not overly complex to learn. Learning to play effectively is where the fun lies. The game we played was just my daughter and me, and we were doing OK at the start. We had progressed through the first objective cards pretty quickly and had found one part of the two part S.O.S. when tragedy struck.

The hive can reveal alien eggs. These do not move from where they’re revealed, but if the hive gives up an event card, then whomever flipped that event card earns themselves a facehugger if there’s an egg on the board. That was me. I got hugged. The thing about the huggy is that anyone can kill it while it’s on a player, but if no one does and the turn order comes back around to the person being hugged, that huggy is discarded, and a chestburster card is shuffled into that player’s draw pile. When that player draws the ‘burster…game over, man. Game over. With a group of people there’s a lot of time to get un-hugged, but with two people, the luck of the draw dictates whether or not anyone will have an opportunity to take it out. My daughter could not take it out, and I lasted only another two turns before the ‘burster killed me.

I actually expected my daughter to stop there, since she’s been lukewarm on my previous attempts to introduce her into these more complex games, but she was determined. She plowed through the rest of the game like she was possessed by the ghost of (actual, not cloned) Ripley herself, completing objective one, then two, and starting objective three.

Objective three requires the airlock control card to be on the airlock space on the board because the overall goal of the first scenario (Alien) is to kill “the perfect organism”. And of course the only way to do it is to catch it in the airlock and blow it out into space (per Alien). That is an extremely narrow window of opportunity since all hive cards in the pipeline move at the start of each turn. Considering there was only one player, my daughter only had one chance to muster the amount of attack power needed to kill the alien in the airlock space.

She wasn’t able to do it. My daughter was disappointed, which made me happy not because she was upset, but because she had become invested in the game. She’s not overly competitive, but like me she tries very hard for a positive outcome and is let down when it doesn’t manifest despite a best effort. That she cared that she wasn’t able to win was a good sign that she liked the game enough to play it again later.

We played again with more people a few days after, and the results were disastrous. We couldn’t even kill the aliens before they reached the combat zone, which served as a good lesson in how to approach this game when contrasted to my daughter’s earlier and more successful rampage. Players need to work together to prevent the aliens from reaching the combat zone, need to assist one another whenever possible, and need to recruit characters every chance they can get (characters help boost play-options on your turn). When people aren’t working together, or when people have different goals or different approaches for how to reach a common goal, you will lose the game. It actually might be easier to play solo, though, which I’m going to try this evening.

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