Secret World Legends
Kelly “Keliel” Olivar found her way over to SWL.
Secret World Legends is (almost literally) an answer to a question nobody asked: what if instead of fixing issues in a standing game, the developers copied and pasted that game, changed a bunch of stuff (but left other stuff alone) and released it as a whole new game? The existing game — the one people have been playing for years and have a history with, but which wasn’t doing as well as it undoubtedly should have — would be placed in “maintenance mode”, meaning no more new features and only updates when critical. Add to that the fact that no previous progress would carry over, so everyone — everyone — starts fresh, both people new to the franchise and those who have played since launch.
Does that sound like a good idea to you? On the surface, no. No, it does not. Yet this is what Funcom decided that The Secret World needed in order to survive and move forward. The reasons are unfortunately their own, buried behind the typical marketing platitudes we get from game companies that are coy about their strategies. Even so, the anticipation for the head start for SWL was high in my timelines. People had been waiting all of last week for notification that they could download the new client, create and migrate some of their TSW progress to the new game, and log in ahead of this week’s release. On Friday, the head start began and went pretty OK as far as I could tell. On Saturday, things were also humming along quite nicely. Sunday, however, the bill came due: there was an exploit which allowed players to generate millions of units of what SWL uses for cash-bought currency. Funcom kept the game offline for most of the day in order to fix it, which raised hackles; on one hand, fuck those who used the exploit and ruined it for the rest of us, but on the other hand, the fact that people were anxious to log in a play was a Good Sign.
I’m not going to enumerate all of the changes SWL introduces to TSW because I’m not entirely aware of all of them myself. Some of the most notable ones are that the free-form character builds are still present, but much harder to get at. This is good because my first TSW character was messed up early on because I didn’t know how to use the build system. Likewise, missions in SWL now follow a more structured path, with some leading into others, others having their pickup locations moved, some have been changed into “mission-on-zone-entry” grants, and others have been done away with entirely. They’ve also added levels to the game and made the game much easier to solo. I think that all of these changes are a result of the realization that while TSW was a game that attempted to break the MMO mold, a lot of what it did to that end was simply for the sake of being different. The game never put enough emphasis on being approachable in a genre that had been trending towards making things easier to understand for new and elder players alike.
New character sheet and weapon upgrade screens.
The question of why create a parallel game instead of just fixing what was in place might be answered in this light: TSW had tried many things and as a result garnered itself much baggage as far as the MMO community was concerned. I think the majority of people love the investigation missions. Others love the horror-themed atmosphere. Some even loved the EVE Online-like manner in which we could build custom characters so that not everyone was just following a class-based trajectory. But the game had many issues that Funcom struggled with over the years which cost them players and forced them from a sub to a free to play model. Along the way, they tried to update the game to repair problems or address shortcomings, but it never seemed to be enough. That’s why I can understand that SWL isn’t a reboot or even a reset, but a total cleansing of (hopefully) what plagued TSW for so long. Funcom (hopefully) took all of the feedback they received over the years and decided that there was just so much work that needed to be done — and done all at once — that it made more sense to copy the game, modify in parallel, and release as a new product with a beta phase and everything. Had they tried to make these changes to the live TSW, they would only be able to eek out changes in spurts through patches, and only to the public test center which is available for current players — and who knows the percentage of current players who opt to get into the PTR for any game, let alone a game that many believe has been on life support long before SWL was announced.
Despite having a lifetime sub to the game, I never made it off of Solomon Island in TSW so the idea of starting over doesn’t phase me. SWL is a game I want to succeed because it is unique, in setting, presentation, and content. I am liking a lot of the changes I’m seeing in SWL, although some are coming into conflict which what I expect from my days playing TSW and that causes me some confusion. I hope Funcom does well by SWL. They get a lot of shit for their games, some rightfully so, but also way more than they deserve. It’d be nice for them to catch a break with SWL because I’d sad to see it’s demise used as proof that there’s no room for non-high-fantasy, non-sci-fi MMOs.
Everyone deserves a second chance.
Steam Sale 2017
It’s in full swing this week, so here’s the current body count from my perspective.
Avorion: This is another in a string of Minecraft meets [insert other genre here] games. In this one, you get to harvest materials and build space ships and space stations. It looked good to me because while the graphics are OK if you play on public servers there’s open PvP in a massive universe which could be fun — if you’re into that. There’s supposedly also a story in single player mode. The ship building uses real physics, which speaks to my inner The Expanse fan…so yes, I will be trying to build a Rocinente when I am able.
The Curious Expedition: I have it installed but haven’t played it because I think this might be a good one to stream in succession. It’s a pixellated adventure story about a group of explorers who head to the Arctic and…something.
Oxenfree: I had put this on my wishlist at one point, but never jumped on it. However, friends claim that it’s a Really Good Game, Guys! so I bought it.
What Remains of Edith Finch: Now, I never played The Unfinished Swan, but it got high marks for presentation. Edith Finch has been getting some stellar reviews, and a lot of the Steam comments say that it’s a seriously moving game. I am eager to give this a try, but it sounds like the timing has to be right for the full impact to take effect. I just don’t know when that will be.
Hidden Folks: My wife plays a lot of hidden object games that she downloads from those junk game aggregator sites. I, on the other hand, am not a fan. Usually. Hidden Folks came up in conversation several times over the weekend and is cheaper during the sale than anything you could buy at Starbucks, so why the hell not. I was immediately laughing because this game’s appeal is only partly to do with it being a hidden object game. The whole thing was hand-drawn (which is impressive when you see some of the levels), and all of the sound effects are what I assume to be the developer making noises in a microphone. There are no canned sound effects here, except whatever comes out of this guy’s mouth and that can be hilarious at times. It doesn’t look to be a very long game, but it’s relaxing, small, has a low operational footprint, making it a great game to play when you’re waiting for other games to download or patch.
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Waldo is for amateurs
I want to apologize for cramming Ubi and Sony into one post, but I wanted to strike while the iron was hot and not drag these thoughts out before I forget what I’m talking about (too late!)
I actually missed a good portion of Ubi’s presentation because they started during my commute home, and no offense to the good work that the company does, but my getting the hell out of the office takes precedence over pretty much anything. I’ll catch up on the highlights later, but it looks like I missed out on the Nintendo/Rabbids crossover that many people are comparing to the recent treatments of XCom. I do not consider that to be a bad thing.
They also talked about — what else? — Assassin’s Creed. After yesterday’s dismissal of the franchise en toto I was linked a video by the Unstoppable PapaSnark regarding several new or revised features in the franchise assumed from the AC trailer. If the examination was correct, even in part, then I think several of my gripes about the series might be addressed. As stated, I’ve moved this game from a “hell no” to a “we’ll see”.
I came into the presentation during The Crew 2, which is about driving cars, boats, and planes.
Then stuff got weird. There was some Elijah Wood presentation for a VR title called Transference, but the video was too artsy to provide any real substance.
In keeping with the theme of E3 2017, there was a pirate-themed game called Skull & Bones. At first, it looked like a really cool PRPG (pirate aarrgh Pee Gee) but quickly devolved into a 5v5 PvP battle over booty. As stated on Twitter, it reminded me of a high-seas version of the spaceship battle game Dreadnaught, which is available now for those who can’t wait.
From the “no one saw that coming” department, Starlink: Battle for Atlas gave off a serious No Man’s Sky vibe, but with a twist: the trailer showed people playing the game with plastic spaceships attached awkwardly to their gamepads. These toys required them to swap out components like guns, missiles, or engines to have the change reflected within the game itself. Some people called it No Man’s Skylanders, while others attempted to smack Ubi in the head to let them know that unless you’re Nintendo, the era of toys-in-games is grinding to a halt.
And then there was FarCry 5. I have played a few FC games and I like ’em OK. There’s always something to do, but for me, having too much to do is a curse because I have trouble focusing on anything. In the wake of The Division and even Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and in the hopes that Assassin’s Creed Origins changes up its own game, I’d like to see some deviations from the traditional FC formula here. The trailer looked good.
Finally, Ubi surprised everyone by presenting a trailer for the long-awaited sequel to cult favorite Beyond Good & Evil that was teased several E3 ago. I have never completed the original because the controls are so gawdawful that I wanted to throw my PC across the room, but I’ve always enjoyed the unique world of BG&E in which humans and genetically engineered and sentient animals travel freely between the stars. It has a certain cyberpunk vibe but without the contrived magickal overhead of the equally off-kilter world of Shadowrun.
E3 always comes down to Microsoft versus Sony in a good natured “who won” discussion on the Internet, and while you might think that presenting second would give Sony time to one-up Microsoft’s event…well…They spent a lot of time talking up their own 4K abilities, which after the XBX announcement sounded like someone at the back of the crowd talking really loud in an effort to remind everyone that they were still present.
The first two presentations were for Knack II, a sequel to a game that I’ve only ever heard about from one person who has played it, and for — get this — a second screen initiative called PlayLink. The idea is that one person gets the gamepad and other people in the room get a smartphone/tablet app that allows them to interact with the game in a non-direct control scenario. The interesting game they demoed was called Hidden Agenda which looked like a story-based game where PlayLink users could “vote” on key decisions on behalf of the player. I blame the “Twitch Plays X” for this crowd-control focus. Other games showed that use this tech were more in the traditional “party game” vein because those games are traditional cash-cows, right? The second screen concept never really took off, so it’s kind of a head-scratcher as to why Sony decided to take this route. Still, it’s inconsequential, and doesn’t require any new hardware, so what’s the harm?
Speaking of buying new hardware, Sony devoted some time to VR games, and I can’t say that I’m overly excited. The big reveal for me was Skyrim VR. Bethesda announced a Doom and Fallout 4 VR, but didn’t say anything about Skyrim which seemed like an obvious oversight, but had apparently ceded that info to Sony. Do I want to play Skyrim all over again? Well… Do I want to play Skyrim VR? HELL YES I DO. Superhot made an appearance during this segment, but it’s already VR-enabled on the PC so it’s nice to see it coming to PS4. Final Fantasy XV made an appearance but as a…wait…what? A fishing game? Then came the head-tilted-sideways-with-eye-squint titles. Bravo Team is a military shooter (which I might write about on its own), Starchild is a platformer, and a cute game called Moss is about a small mouse with a magical gauntlet that can turn into a sword who makes her way through a diminutive world in search of something. Sadly, it looks like Sony is already sawing at the ropes that secures the VR bridge over the peripheral graveyard.
The good news is that Sony still had a lot of big-ticket Sony games to show.
First, Uncharted: The Last Legacy featuring the incendiary duo of Chloe and Nadine from previous Uncharted games. This was not a surprise, but since it’s dropping this year it made sense for Sony to include it in the face of so many 2018 titles.
Destiny 2 got it’s Sony-money’s worth by being featured, complete with a rundown of what exclusives you get if you buy and play on PS4. I have it pre-ordered on PC, lag time be damned.
We got to see more on that zombie game Days Gone. Previously we’d been treated to technical showcases in which hundreds of procedurally generated undead canvassed a small farm while the protagonist raced across rooftops. This time we learn that humanity has formed enclaves (of course) and ventures forth amidst the zombie hoards for supplies and such. Not all enclaves are trying to bring humanity back; some are, of course, despotic and filled with assholes, and this demo saw the protagonist, Jeanjacket McMotorcycleStubble, using the environment (read: zombies) to overrun an enemy camp to rescue one of his friends. The game looked great and could be a really cool adventure style game. Except, zombies.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is getting DLC, and water is wet. I’m not ragging on this, only saying that they could have just said “Horizon: Zero Dawn!” on stage and people would have thrown money. I suppose I should get back to that and finish the game.
Skimming a few other things: Monster Hunter World is a thing that people like, and now they can like it on PS4. I know nothing of this franchise, except that you hunt monsters. Large, large monsters. Shadow of the Colossus is getting a remaster, Marvel vs Capcom is also a thing people like, and surprise! Call of Duty: World War II.
Now, what caught my eye: There’s a new God of War game which, as seems to be the Sony trend this year, looks to include some really great cinematic story and is not just room-to-room hack and slash. I might make this my first GoW game because it looked great. One of the wildcards from last year’s E3 (or maybe it was in between) was a game called Detroit: Become Human. This is from the people who made the games Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, which are both narrative heavy, action light decision tree games. This one is set in a future Detroit where androids are created to do the dirty work, but then some “awaken” and get minds of their own. You are one of those androids and have to make moral decisions regarding the relationship between humans and your kind.
Finally, there was Spider-Man. Now, I am not a Spider-Man fan, really. I like the character the way I like yogurt; I would never seek it out, but if it’s around and I’m hungry, it’ll do…but barely. Visually, this game was amazing. The animations were mind-blowing, and the effects (especially the webbing) were top-shelf. In the heat of the moment, I mentioned that I could get behind this game because it seemed like there was just so much Spidering to do! In retrospect, while the visuals were great, the gameplay seemed to be less open-world and more QTE interrupted by occasional brawling action. Now, like all E3 presentations, this is really just a controlled event that we understand doesn’t necessarily represent the entire experience, but whereas a Spider-Man game might have immediately caused me amnesia upon announcement, I might keep an eye on this for more information.
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I’ll be brief because at my age I only remember a few key elements of Microsoft’s E3 2017 presentation.
The Big Deal was, of course, Project Scorpio, now officially called Xbox One X (as Belghast pointed out, X.B.O.X, the best Easter Egg since the naming of the 360). It’s apparently very powerful, sporting a new power management scheme invented by and named for an Xbox engineer, lots of RAMS and teraflops and other things that I think everyone expected. The release date is November 7th and it’ll retail for $499. Expect that eventually, the only versions you’ll find will be Gametop bundle-only packages well in excess of $1000.
The good news is that the presentation was wall-to-wall games. A Big Deal was that not only will you be able to play your XB1 and 360 games on the XBX, but they’re bringing Original Xbox games to the console through their backward compatibility service. The only reason anyone would care about this is for Crimson Skies. There was also the obligatory Forza announcement, which I admit looked pretty awesome, and was apprently important enough that Porsche used a video game expo to reveal a new car model for the first time.
I remember a few games shown, but I wanted to kind of blanket them by saying that there’s a real theme to the games coming to XBX: post-apocalyptic survival battle royale. That include Metro Exodus, State of Decay 2 (which looked pretty cool, and I hate zombies), Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds are just three of the titles which fell into that crevasse. These are not in my wheelhouse, so I kind of blanked during these portions. So let’s talk about the Big Deals.
First up: Minecraft 4k. This is a big deal because it reminds us that apparently people still play Minecraft. It’s also a big deal because I doubt anyone was foaming at the mouth for a 4k Minecraft.
Next, Shadow Of War. This game looked very obtuse to me; I haven’t played Shadow of Mordor, but I’m not really into brawlers of this type. It looks super complex, though, as you have to take your little anti-hero and subdue orc tribes to fight for you as you bring your war to Sauron’s doorstep. Although it seemed rather anachronistic, the orc featured in the demo named Bruz the Chopper was actually really well voiced and made me laugh out loud a few times…probably not the kind of reaction one might demand from a Lord of the Rings game, but there you have it.
It wouldn’t be an Xbox reveal without an Assassin’s Creed game, set this time in Egypt. Someone needs to put a bullet in the head of this franchise. Seriously. Moving on.
I traded in my XB1 in order to upgrade to the PS4 Pro, a move which I don’t regret save for one reason and one reason only: Crackdown 3. I loved the original but didn’t take to Numero Dos. Crackdown is kind of like GTA meets Robocop: lots of wanton destruction in an open world city. C3‘s biggest selling point is the distributed computing model which will supposedly allow you to literally level the city block by block (in multiplayer). And now, Terry Crews.
And of course, there were the two biggies.
Sea of Thieves presented a really well done scripted scenario which saw the participants sailing their ship to an island where they fought through a skeleton army in search of a buried treasure, and ended in a ship-to-ship battle. During the segment, we saw underwater exploration, use of clues, maps, and the compass, cannon, sword and gun fighting, ship boarding, and some jaw-dropping ocean visuals. If SoT can extrapolate that kind of rudderless exploration in a shared multiplayer world, it’s going to blow the doors off. I’m hopeful, but not holding my breath.
And of course, the presentation closed out with the reveal of the teaser we had seen the day before during the EA presentation. Sandwiched in between sports games during the EA presser, we got a 30-second clip of a new BioWare game called Anthem. It looked like maybe Titanfall. Maybe Blade Runner. During the MS presentation, we saw what appears to be another Big Name studio wanting to get a piece of that open world, squad-based exploration-and-explosion pie currently occupied by Destiny and The Division. The presentation started us out in a kind of futuristic desert bazaar where we’re told that we need to go out and fix someone’s screw-up. We jump into one of three (that we could see) suits of power armor and then leap from a ledge into an absolutely massive and lush jungle world below. We don’t just fall but jetpack through ruins and foliage until we land on the ground where we meet up with another player in a much heavier mech suit. The duo proceeds to push their way through the jungle, taking out mobs which seemingly have some kind of a purpose in their presence. Eventually, the scene cuts to a different point in time where they are confronted by something called a shaper storm — complete with high-speed winds, scenery destruction, and a vague glowing epicenter that the team (now four strong) bravely fly into.
Damn. I don’t know why but I’m really into the ideas of the squad-based games these days. MMOs are great, and other multiplayer games are OK, but these kinds of games feel like the sense of teamwork is as much a reward as whatever loot and XP we gain from the operation. That Anthem was stupidly gorgeous helped a lot. Of course, as presented we were told that we were a “bastion of civilization” living in a “walled enclave” in the middle of a “ruined world” — a la Destiny, a la The Division. In that regard, no points for originality, but I don’t really care.
Of course, this was a very managed demo. My initial reaction was to run around the room screaming with tears running down my face at how awesome I thought it was, but in the afterglow, I realize that this is the “wait and see” period. It’s using the Frostbite engine so we know it’s going to be visually stunning. The wildcard is actually the fact that it’s made by BioWare. They aren’t known for their pure action games. I don’t know how many conversation wheels we’re going to get with Anthem, but the free-space on my Anthem bingo card says “people who want to be able to have sex with NPCs just because it’s a BioWare game, and complain about it if they can’t”. Most importantly: Did they dissect Destiny and The Division to see what worked, what didn’t, and what people would have rather had? Or did they just develop this knowing that these squad-based games are hot right now, and that’s all they needed to know?
A lot of the titles on offer were noted as being available for both Xbox and PC, although it wasn’t universal, or else I missed it. I know Sea of Thieves is going to be multi-spectrum, but not sure about others. If Anthem is, then I don’t think I’ll jump on the XBX. If not, I’m going to have to get back into the Xbox ecosystem. I had anticipated maybe deciding to do that — my sale of the XB1 was purely mercenary, and I bear the platform no degree of ill will — but I’d rather save my $500 for the eventual release of the low-cost, higher-performance VR headsets.
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I’ve lived long enough to see commercial VR come and go, and then come again. Any comment thread on the subject of the current state of VR will be chock full of people who claim that VR is once again on the outs because the technology is too expensive, has too high a hardware bar for the masses, and that it suffers from a lack of software support.
All true, all true. The cheapest VR experience you can have will run you about $25 for Google Cardboard (assuming you have a capable smartphone which isn’t factored into the cost). This is VR in the way rollerskates are “a way” of commuting to work in the morning: yeah, you can do it, but not only is it horribly misrepresentative of the process, but you look stupid. The good news is that products like Samsung’s Gear VR can bring low-cost VR to the people, but the bad news is that the smartphone will never be able to give you the experience necessary to “sell” the skeptics — there’s only so many roller coaster simulations that people will try before realizing that such things are all that the low-cost option has to offer.
For the real deal, you need to shell out some coin. I recently put together a VR-ready PC which cost me about $1300. If I were to add a VR setup, that would add another $600-$800 to that. These configurations are the Real Deal, though — 1080×1200 per eye which is roughly on par with the current desktop monitor standard of 1920×1080, the sum of which is 2160×1200. While anecdotes relate that a VR headset isn’t as clear as a really good monitor, those numbers are nothing to shake a stick at. Still, no amount of technobabble about resolutions and refresh rates and polling intervals and tracking metrics is going to mean anything to the bulk of potential users if there’s no compelling reason to shell out for the PC and headset.
Right now, software is lacking — in the consumer space. Looking through Steam (Vive and Oculus have their own walled-garden storefronts that I don’t think are accessible outside of the visor) shows that yes, there are a good number of games out there made for or which support VR, but there’s nothing that’s getting traction on the scale of Mass Effect: Andromeda or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. What people do know about VR software is usually due to early reports on the technology-focused “gee whiz” proof of concept demos that were made to showcase the tech: Job Simulator, Google Tilt Brush, and a lot of other products which might work well with the concept of VR, but which have that air of “get something out the door so as to be considered to have been a pioneer in VR”. Basically, there’s no killer VR game out there that’s going to silence the nay-sayers, or of the games that are out there, there isn’t one that feels like VR was a logical and the only best way to realize the concept. There is no end to the number of titles that people will throw out as “if only they had a game like [GAME X] in VR, I’d be sold!”, but we’re not at that point quite yet. Eventually, sure, assuming there’s a level of interest that makes VR in the consumer space a continuously viable option.
Consumers like to preach about things from the bottom of their narrow wells (helloooooooo?) but aren’t usually apprised of the whole situation. For example, VR is apparently massive in training, medicine, and therapy. It’s being used to train surgeons on techniques, and psychiatrists are using VR to help people cope with PTSD. Obviously from our perspective here at LC (and presumably your own as you are reading this) gaming is an important aspect of VR, but even if gamers don’t end up adopting the technology, it’s not going to die because its potential for other industries who don’t care about adoption rates and publisher demands are too great.
So why this post now? Over the weekend I picked up a Playstation VR headset. It’s the lowest-cost gaming headset out there, although it only works with the PS4*. I opted to go with the PSVR rather than the Oculus or the Vive partly because of price, but also because the majority of software for the PSVR are actual games of some quality, something I attribute to the fact that the PS storefront isn’t as “Wild West” as Steam is currently. Of course, that means that there are far fewer options for the PSVR, which folks in the industry explain is a result of the lag between the introduction of working dev kits and the amount of time it takes to make a decent quality game (about 2 years minimum, or so the sages claim).
If you’ve never experienced VR, it’s actually difficult to explain its draw. Do we need it? No; I have a smartwatch which I also “don’t need”, but once I acquired it I found that it became far more useful than I could have imagined. The same goes for VR: it’s a “virtual reality”, and if we unpack that we see that we’re talking not just about another way to shove electrons into our eyeballs, like the difference between a 3DS screen, a 40″ 4K TV, or a massive movie screen. We’re talking about a new way of experiencing something. That’s the part that’s hard to get across in words, even with hand gestures. The first time you put on a headset and find yourself standing…wherever…and you move your head around, look down at your “hands”, or up at the sky, it doesn’t feel like you’re where you physically are. At least, until you start to move. The first game I tried, I almost toppled over when I started to move with the gamepad; it wasn’t motion sickness so much as vertigo, the feeling that I was moving while also not moving. There’s a real physiological effect there, meaning that for all the talk about resolution and refresh and cost and software, our senses treat VR as an actual reality. It’s right there in the name: virtual reality, but a reality nonetheless. We’ve only got one reality otherwise, which is really the draw of VR for me. Immersion is supposed to be a key element of great games, but we can’t imagine the level of immersion possible until we’ve put ourselves into a whole different reality.
Throwing VR under the bus because there’s nothing right now that speaks to us as individuals, or because we want to be able to earn street cred with the community says more about the naysayers than it does anything about the technology itself, and that’s really the way it should be: the tech should just keep on keeping on without paying any mind to those who have some kind of axe to grind for some kind of reason. I do agree that the requirements are too high; people should be able to use VR without having to upgrade their PCs. I also agree that the price is too high, but this is gen one, and that’s how technology always works. The software options will keep coming and will get better, but only if there’s a reason for them to do so. If people are adamant about not having VR this time around, then they won’t demand software. If there’s no demand, there will be no software. But it won’t mean that VR is going to end up in a shoebox at the back of the tech closet; it’ll continue in the industries where it’s valued for what it can do.
*As the lowest cost solution, the PSVR is a logical target for hackers, and there are already solutions in the works to get the headset working with the PC. The thing is, Sony is poised to be the cheerleader for VR due to the low price, but leaving it only on the PS4 is like leaving money on the table. If Sony were to make the PSVR officially PC compatible, I can easily imagine a much wider adoption of their product, and for VR in general.
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I think that part of the allure of tabletop roleplaying games, for some, is the ability to get their inner Tolkien on and create an entirely new world. Sometimes this happens by accident, with years and years of roleplaying just layering the places and people and histories, but other times it’s someone’s raison d’etre for approaching TRPG in the first place.
There may be historical precedent for approaching TRPG from this direction; Tolkien, the Grandfather of High Fantasy, has created the most enduring, most influential world-setting of all time, and it’s because of Lord of the Rings that we have Dungeons & Dragons. As a creative medium, it stands to reason that the hardcore players or TRPGs would want to take a crack at Tolkien’s legacy with their own approach, at the very least so that the setting they base the adventures in doesn’t seem as Middle Earth as some of the D&D settings.
I was a member of this camp. The allure of creating a new world from the ground up was not only attractive but functional. I could decide everything that had happened up to the point where the players entered the scene, but more importantly, I could arbitrate stuff as time (and gameplay) went on. Even when a party plays an adventure in Faerun or the world of Greyhawk, their exploits can be woven into the homebrew legends, but there are still constraints backed by years and years of source materials, wikis, and ardent fans who would insist that canon not be exploited and modified. Custom world building gets around this by giving the GM the power to Make Stuff Up on the fly and to have it added to canon on a whim while also have some idea of the constraints regarding what can, cannot, or did happen over the course of gameplay.
Recently, though, I’ve been trying to get away from the idea of creating the entire world ahead of time, or in aiming for the end game and working backward to create the adventures. After wrapping up our D&D game and looking back on how things went, I realized that there just wasn’t enough player freedom available. The module was partly to blame, and I was also partly to blame for sticking so close to the module. On the other hand, would I have done much different had I been running a homebrew adventure? I am fairly certain I would have picked an end game condition, a starting position, and then setup up scenarios, encounters, puzzles, and interactions that would lead the players to that end game configuration as a way of making my job easier. The result would have been just as much “on rails” as any pre-packaged adventure, except without the benefit of it having been created by a professional.
Last night I was taking notes on a Call of Cthulhu one-shot module that I had purchased for Fantasy Grounds. Being a one-shot means that it can be run from start to finish in a single sitting*, but more importantly, it can be used as a jumping off point for other adventures whether they be pre-packaged or homebrew. In thinking about that fact last night, I opted to take as many notes as I needed in order to keep the information straight and to ensure that the NPCs don’t suddenly change personalities, but that’s where I stopped. I wasn’t going to pre-configure paths that the players could or should take in order to get to the end of the module. What should happen instead is that the players drive the story, and when the story is done, find a scrap of what’s left when the dust settles to use as a jumping off point for…something else. It doesn’t really matter what that “something else” is at that point because the players should do the investigation and in doing so, build the world based on what they find, when they find it or when they need to know it.
* One sitting is dependent upon how much time the group has to devote to playing. Our D&D sessions were only 2 hours, so a one-shot adventure would have had to have been extremely short, especially if there was combat involved. Thankfully, CoC doesn’t rely on combat, and 2 hours might be doable for this particular module.
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The “before” picture
I finally got around to building my new PC on Saturday morning. I woke up early (about 6:45 AM) in part because I’m getting old and old people eat dinner early and also wake up early, and because it was like gawddamned Christmas. I could tell that it had been quite some time since I’d last built a custom PC, because it took me hours for several reasons. First, the motherboard is a gaming motherboard, which means there’s a lot more gee-gaws on there in the event that the builder wants to overclock, side clock, cock-block, and rock around the clock. Second, the case I had bought was nicer than a sub-$100 case had any right to be, complete with a removable side panel that allowed me to route 98% of the cables out of sight to create the cleanest looking internal configuration I’ve ever had the pleasure to build. Third, I didn’t want to put an optical drive in there because everything is on the Internet now, except that for some reason this board’s integrated network port didn’t work at all without drivers…which were on the DVD that came with the motherboard. I had to open the side-panel, disconnect one of the HDDs and wire in a spare DVD to get the install media that would let me get the PC online.
To say that I’m pleased with this PC is an understatement. It used to be that my PC was the loudest thing in the room, what with its aging cooling system ramping up the fans just because the day ended with the letter “Y”. Now, I can hear all kinds of other things from the corners of the basement (and I’m kind of worried about the state of my house as a result) because the fans are software controlled, and the water cooling system is whisper-quiet. Honestly, I still expect to hear the fans whine at certain points of operation and it takes me a second or two to realize why I’m not.
My biggest problem? Finding something that I have that will put the system through its paces. The system I was replacing wasn’t deadweight; it could still handle pretty much everything I’d thrown at it, but looking over the recommended requirements for Mass Effect: Andromeda made me realize that I was only a micron away from falling away from the trailing edge of what I’d be able to run very, very soon.
The first Big Test was probably the biggest game I have that would yield true results: Star Citizen. I had been able to run SC, but not all that well, with visual lag coupled with the motion blur that can’t be turned off resulting in a real headache for me. On the new system, though, SC ran like a real game. I was able to sprint through Port Olisar, jump into my Connie and take off. Moving through the ship was a breeze, and I was even able to get back into the ship when I accidentally shot myself out of the airlock without worrying about mistiming due to lag.
Not representative of temps, but the number of control panels this motherboard offers is staggering
As a consequence of picking up a GTX 1070 from Newegg, I scored a copy of Ghost Recon: Wildlands, a game I’d been cool on, but interested if I could play with others. This game ran exceedingly well and only notched the CPU up to about 68C/154F which from what I’m seeing is either average for an i7-7700K with water cooling, or is on the lower side. In light of that, then, the only issue I ran into thanks to testing with GR:W was with the fact that I’m still using physical platter HDs.
I have an SSD for my main OS drive, and I try very hard not to install anything there, and I have moved all of my high-access content to one of the physical drives (page file, Documents, Downloads, Videos, etc). Everything else is installed to one of these two 500GB physical drives: one specifically for games, and the other for everything else. When running GR:W, then, the only issues that cropped up occurred when the game needed to access data from the disk. It hitched and paused for a few seconds which for an RPG might be OK, but for a game requiring a smooth experience so as not to end up dead, this was nigh unacceptable. Defragging the HD (remember that?) helped, but it got me thinking about what’s called an M.2 SSD.
On newer motherboards, there’s a slot for a device that looks like an old-school stick of RAM with its green board and exposed microchips. The port itself is generic, accepting anything from SSDs to wireless and Bluetooth cards. The benefit of an M.2 SSD is that its bus is supposedly faster than a conventional drive hookup (on my board, it’s a 6GB/sec SATA connection), but it’s also low-profile and requires no cables for connection or power supply.
So I’ve been considering adding an M.2. drive to this system, but it’ll have to wait because I’ve already spent as much as I’m able on this system at this time. Alternatively, I’m now in a place where I can consider whether or not to get on the VR bandwagon (or more accurately the much smaller VR Red Ryder wagon). I looked over what kinds of games on Steam require VR, and came away pretty unimpressed. I have Elite: Dangerous already, and while I know what a boon having head tracking is (thanks to having used TrackIR with the game), I’m not sure shelling out hundreds for a VR setup would be worthwhile just for Elite. Other promising items like Star Trek: Bridge Crew sound absolutely amazing on paper, but since I don’t know too many people who also have VR setups, I’d have to play with *shudder* the general population. Really, right now I’m thinking that I should shelve VR until V2.0 or if I’m hell bent on it for some reason, to look at lower cost versions like PSVR (which seems to have a better lineup than what I saw on Steam).
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