Monday, August 31, 2009

Life in the City

If you've ever played City of Heroes, you've likely been around Paragon a bit. Even so there are entire zones you may have missed on your characters journey from 1-50. Maybe because they're older and you didn't want to. Maybe because the contacts you selected from Radio missions just didn't send you there or maybe you just stuck to the Radio missions.

In the Rogue Isles, the City of Villains, things are quite a bit smaller. Mercy leads to Port Oakes, Port Oakes to Cap and so on and so forth. Every time you're in a level band that opens a pvp zone, you get a mission to at least talk to the zone liasion. The Isles are a small and interlinked place. That isn't to say there's not things to see. My friends and I have a Widow team whose entire raison d'ĂȘtre is to work their way through each and every contact they can, turning off xp to make sure that we see it the first time through rather than using the Oroboros flashback system to relive it.

The Rogue Isles came after Paragon City and are a good example of what to do. Each island is meant for a different level range and there's always travel involved when you get sent back to an area later in your career. That retracing almost always is done properly.

Paragon City however is suffering due to its metropolitan sprawl. There are so many far flung corners of the city, people just don't see them all unless they make an effort to do so.
Partially this is due to some content being newer and better done than other bits. Partially it's because some places are just easier to deal with.

Take Faultline. Old Faultline was a horrible place full of zombies and Clockwork and Circle of Thorns. It had pitfalls a plenty and if you were a superspeeder, watch your feet. Before missions got a boost and you could as easily street sweep to 50 as mission, an old friend and I used to sweep Faultline, rarely was there competition. Why? Because Faultline was crap. It was desolate, it had no missions attached to it, no contacts. The nearest Hospital in Skyway was on the other end of that zone.
Issue 8 revamped Faultline and brought life to the area. Contacts were introduced with a level range of 15-20 and 20-25. There were more badges, including the out of the way Easter egg room, and there was more to see. Travel was made easier and Faultline was made the place to go for the mid levels. Pocket D even got an exit in Faultline to help with traffic.

New Faultline gives you it all, it has well written and interlinked arcs. Four contacts, four-ish missions each. Three or four of the characters you meet during the run come back later on in the game. There are Archvillains earlier than ever, Yin-O enhancements and all sorts of interesting things to get up to.

New Faultline has spoiled me.

Instead of working my way through all it has to offer on my blaster, I have gone to Striga instead. Introduced in Issue 3 if memory serves, Striga is the stronghold of the Council. It also has a string of four contacts, leading up to an unlocked task force contact. Striga however is tougher. It's better than the earliest zones (Boomtown) but it is by no means a quick run through.

Striga for all its worth, for all the fun toys you get (Holy Shotgun!) and for the two taskforces it contains gets passed up in favour of other faster flashier places.

This is how places we live are. Either it's small and you know everyone and every corner or it is built up and the slightest change to one area can draw people from miles away, leaving other places to stagnate.

This is all building up to something though. World of Warcraft : Cataclysm is going back and rocking the old world of Azeroth. That patch of grass you used to kill ten bunnies in? Steaming lake of lava now. I don't know myself, not being a player, but I can imagine revamping all the geography is also going to need a pass through on the quests. Will they be brought up to whatever the current population considers standard? I couldn't say.

In City of Heroes, the places you've likely never been are going to become more accessible first and then more irrelevant. Issue 16 brings supersidekicking and removes most zone entry restrictions. Never been to Striga because you were too low a level when it was interesting? From I16 on, you can go there as a level one and if you're supersidekicked, not worry about mentor range and getting turned into paste the moment you lag behind the group.

Going Rogue however promises to bring new zones to an already overburdened city. With the coming dimensional travel, I think it's time to say goodbye to some of the Hazard areas that never got the Faultline treatment and may never. It's time to close those giant zone gates and block out parts of the City, for the good of the City.

Personally I would love to hear that with the newest expansion, there will be work done on all the other zones. Updating and bringing new life and new contacts to all the corners of Paragon. If not though, I think we should pay our respects to the likes of Dark Astoria and Boomtown. Wave goodbye to the deepest regions of the Shadow Shard and Creys Folly. Supersidekicking promises to make the city more open than before, but it can't guide people to places of little interest or old tired content. It'll make the world smaller for a while as everyone can suddenly play on the same level, but the world is going to get larger once again, with the ability to play in Praetoria and switch sides.

Look upon the maps of that world of Superheroes. What would you change in the City of Tomorrow?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Commentapalooza : The Tobolding

For my junk post to inspire comments, I take my lead from Ysharros and I expand upon the point made.

While pie is meh, I posit that this refers only to the American convention of fruit based pies. Cottage Pie and Shepards pie when made well are far superior to mere fruit pie.
Further and to reiterate, Mince Beef and Onion pie is awesome.

However, to grant Ysharros one small boon, my father swears by (oh how I wish it was at) apple pie with cheese on top.
I prefer cheese and peanut butter sandwiches.

For Tobold by the League for Greater Comment Volume. Never mind the quality — feel the width!

League Memebers
Ferrel who hates bloody peasants.
Ysharros wielder of the holy cheese
Syp whom the cheese did not agree with
Rivs who is piloting the breakaway Attention Whore Union
Frank who gives tips and points out he whom we must topple.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Issue 16

Issue 16 : Power Spectrum for City of Heroes is now in Open Beta.

Thanks to CoH_OCR and Niviene_CoH for the tweets.

Patch notes are linked in the title. I'll blog properly in the morning. But before I go, a reason why I shouldn't think too hard about game mechanics.

Supersidekicking is supposed to help deal with farming.

[23:46] Mr. Earl: "super-SK" sounds like "no PLz" :P
[23:47] Jonathan: tis somewhat :P
[23:47] Jonathan: Though logically, get 47s, supersk the folks to pl.
they're 46. Difficulty setting yourself some 50+ mobs
[23:48] Mr. Earl: ahh :-O
[23:48] Jonathan: aaaand turn off xp so the 47s dont level
[23:49] Jonathan: Heeeyy.... I just rediscovered how to farm CoH post

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Cryptic Model

This morning I was talking to my good friend Seph (That's Sephorus or Hey, Bitch! to you). Given that we met in City of Heroes and have become good friends, we tend to talk about the game a fair bit. Of course no conversation about City of Heroes nowadays will stay away from Champions for long.

So I ask, are you happy with the Cryptic Model?

Seph: It's not a game I'd sign up for right this second. There's too many things that I feel need more polish for them to be acceptable. However, there's enough stuff either done well or with the potential to be polished up real damn nicely that, given a bit of time, I'd play it. It's certainly in the category of "when I'm done with City of Heroes". Not something I'd jump ship for, but not something I'm willing to pass up, either.

The emphasis in the above is mine.

Polish, that dastardly term trotted out every time someone compares something to WoW. Does it have the polish of WoW? Did they spend enough time on polish? It isn't as polished as it could be.
This isn't a dig at WoW, but rather at the term. A polished turd is just a shiny turd. A diamond in the rough is just as good as a flawless one, it simply hasn't gotten there yet but you can see the worth.

Anyway that's a divergence, if polish is synonymous with WoW and Blizzard, what then is the Cryptic Model?
I submit that it is more stuff than you could ever possibly use.

Take a look around at what people are saying about Champions, almost universally is the mention of the character creator and for good reason. Cryptic broke ground with the City of Heroes creator and this one has even more crammed into it. Moving
tails, limb sliders, stances, how you want to run, mood, backpacks and more. I know someone who spent literal hours in the creator, saving characters and doing it all again.
If you preorder, you get more options; if you microtransact, more options. If you get the 6 month or lifetime sub, even more options. So many options that they carry over into Star Trek Online where for reasons best known to themselves they're
offering Mirror Universe skins (do not get me started on that, I'm keeping that nerdrage for later).
Every Issue of City of Heroes had yet more options of things to do. Champions will likely have the same. Options upon options upon options. For some, this is nirvana.

However it seems to be the hat for Cryptic. People are complaining about how the game is set up, or performing or how its console dna is showing. Cryptic on the other hand is touting the colour customization (and boy did they learn that lesson well after telling City of Heroes it couldnt be done, which...soon it can be), modular powersets and the flexibility of the creator.

Is the game polished? I couldn't begin to guess. My graphics card is still in Silicon Heaven so everything I see is rough and ugly.

Are they even trying? I can't say for sure, I got lost in their submenus trying to find out.

Polish be damned, they want you to select your eyebrows.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's The End Of The World As We Know It

...and I feel fine.

Yes this is somewhat related to World of Warcraft : Cataclysm

Coming with the latest WoW expansion is something that I've personally only seen once before. A change of the worlds landscape on a major scale. Previously I saw this with The Bending in Planetside when the plaent Auraxis shoved its bits across the cosmos (and completely removed the Oshur continent in favour of Battle Islands).

That said, and I'm sure its happened more than I've seen, in any healthy game, the world ends on a regular basis. Well... the world as you knew it anyway.

How many shifts does it take though until the world you started in and the world you have now are only vaugely related in your mind? Old hands will always complain about how easy it is to level now, newbies wont know about aspects of certain areas and miss scads of story. Is this a move forward though? In some cases yes. I imagine Cataclysm will cause a wave of alts through the old content as people go to see what has become of what they grew bored of/outleveled. In other cases, I don't know. Champions had me go through two versions of two early zones. While they served as good introductions they're also misleading. The impression I got of Canada bore no relation to what the zone actually is. That sudden spike of awe was invalidated by the world changing so quickly.

Syp has posted over on Bio Break about the difference between convenience and consistency. Making the game easier versus keeping what the game was. Whichever wins out for each game, sooner or later the world changes. Let's just hope in the games you love, it's always a change worth singing about.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Champions and Ardy

I knew I forgot something. I had a long string of blogging to be doing about Champions. I've stuff yet to come on the Microtransaction bits, MMO bits and so on.

This however is inspired by Werit, Keen and the players of the Shield of Paragon, Guardian Angels and other Coh supergroups.

I don't really like Champions.

That said, I never really did. There are some who greeted the news way back when of a Champions mmo and from their reaction it was though the Lord God himself came down and handed them a dream. Hark how the angels sing, go forth and pwn for justice.
I was unimpressed. Maybe it's a function of those gaps in my geekery that are responsible for me never having played a single Blizzard game (and boy was twitter shocked at that).

That first feeling has carried all the way through closed beta up until now.

First a quick comparison. This time last year I was chomping at the bit to get into Warhammers closed beta. I wanted that game. When I got the CO beta invite, I had forgotten I applied. Most midweek preview sessions ("Hi it's wednesday, log in, test") came when I was busy and the weekend ones rarely stood a chance if there was anything going on in Paragon City.

Champions has delivered a truely impressive Character Creator. But you know what? I'm not going to give them awards for that. Of course they delivered one. They made City of Heroes and its character creator. Delivering anything less than what they left behind in the hands of Paragon Studio would have been staggering idiocy. As much as some people will give it its due with the hours you can spend tweaking to your hearts delight, well... sometimes I just would like to play. It shouldnt take long to get from login to tutorial. When you're being given options to change the size of different parts of a single limb, you've gotten a tad silly in my book.

The variations on the characters get especially pointless when you consider the type of game Champions is. It's supposed to be action packed, quick quick quick, hit the button, build your energy, FINISH HIM! With the amount of sharding they're doing (Keen called it redundant instancing) and the pace of combat they want, I haven't yet seen how the game will have a social centre. Perhaps I'm wrong or more likely I didn't play enough. Champions though feels like a ritalin deprived game. They don't want you standing and spinning stories, they want you out beating the next guy with a tree you ripped out of the ground (which is admittedly cool). Who cares if your biceps ripple ever so slightly and your eyebrows are a certain way and your facial expression is sad. I'm going to notice your size, any bright colours, how you travel/hit and if you run funny. That's it though. The faster the game pushes me, the less time I have to take in what took you three hours and a muse to create when you'd have been just as effective if you hit the random button.

One note on the character creator. City of Heroes players, prepare to recognise many pieces. I don't just mean the art, I mean the names as well. I don't know if Cryptic retained rights to bits and pieces of CoH. For example the game engine (at least according to wiki so take that with a grain of salt) is a modified version of the CoH one.

Moving on, there are bits about Champions I enjoyed. The travel powers all have looked good and add a nice touch, however when you look at them close they're mostly variations on flight and jumping. Still they do look good.

I enjoyed the ability to select from where some powers originate, I liked how quick and easy it was to change power colours (whereas when CoH has it in Issue 16, I predict many trips to Icon). There are plenty of a-okay things about the game, but none of them grabbed me.

There are also plenty of things I hate. In case you hadn't guessed I hate the pacing. It's bad enough that with the instancing I may end up selecting zones to follow friends only to find that they've done a certain mission and ended up in yet another instance where I cannot follow (or at least if there is an easy way to follow, I didnt see it. Im talking about moving from Wartorn tutorial Millenium city to peaceful and from wintery blizzard Canada to regular old Canada, same place different versions).
The game is all go. For some that will work, they want the action and get it quickly. For others, I forsee early burn out.
I hate the cel shading animation, I always have. It's never done anything for me though I will grant it is very true to the comic book feel. I hate the chat system where everyone at all times is reminded of my username. And why is that? Well apparently there wont ever be any naming conflicts. You too can be Superman, because your usename will make it unique. Don't give me the monster of a creation suite you have and then make it so that I wont have my own name in the end.

In the end, I've come out of closed beta the same way I went in, unimpressed. City of Heroes has flaws, I'll happily point them out in a second, but despite that they're working on improving the game with each issue (Ardy hates the AE though). I'd sooner spend a day in Paragon City than Millenium City.

The most damning thing about Champions though? I was worried it would gut City of Heroes.
Every single player I know across several global channels has reacted the same way, "Thanks but no thanks".

Champions, you have one final crippling flaw to me and one shining virtue.
Firstly, you have Jack "Statesman" "Force Field isnt broken" Emmert. I don't trust that man any more and while he appears to be learning from some mistakes, I am not yet convinced.

The virtue though? Every thing you do makes Paragon Studios have to work harder to retain its numbers and suceed. Survival of the fittest. I don't think Champions could kill City of Heroes, but it certainly looks like it could forge its predecessor into something unstoppable.

Our world, our wars.

CCP, I love you. Honestly I do.

Why the love for the Icelandic crowd some ask? Well simply they're doing two wonderful things.

Firstly they are launching a console based online FPS game, Dust 514.
Secondly, it is based within the universe of EVE and will interact with the podders.

Pc Gamers and Console Gamers apparently don't get along. So say the games reviews, the fanboys on each side and more besides. I, personally, always thought it was quite odd for Final Fantasy XI to have been launched on consoles. After all it has enough on its plate with the Japan/everyone else divide without throwing in desktop Vs console.
Consoles to me seem more ... for unwinding. I can sit down with a console game and merrily destroy my enemies. It doesnt matter if it's fps, a fighting game, rts or a sim; I have enemies and they need destroying. There's a clear start, there's a middle and an end. You start your race, defend your home, make your first move and then the plot comes after.
Eventually you've won your freedom, won your race or made the best damn Sim torturing device known to man.

MMOs however seem to sit in the middle of the story. No one wants to see their MMO end. Certain plot threads perhaps, but they want the world to continue, to deliver on that persistence promise. At the same time MMOs don't have a clear start for players. The reason for playing took place in the story before anyone ever logged in. There is a world with all its history, you are not the origin of the tale.

How then can the two mindsets co-exsist?
Rather well if my wild unfounded mass guessing is correct.

CCP will be delivering Dust 514 to consoles. It will be familiar to such players. Have gun, will travel. If you've played Halo online, I think you'll probably be able to handle Dust 514.
It's set in the universe of New Eden though. That place where the wonderous stories come from. Where even Dev blogs are a delight (See Operation Unholy Rage).

New Eden has a shake up coming. The cloning tech that lets pod pilots fly without worrying about that silly little mortality issue will be adapted for ground forces. Soldiers that can go on living even after being blown into ludicrous gibs and learn from the experience. These soldiers, these warriors from the console world who are "trained" for this sort of fight will have an effect on New Eden. They will help the ships and fleets win entire worlds.

Personally I've always been unwilling to play EVE because of one simple fact, I don't think I would do it justice.
We read the stories of how slick conmen win one on thousands, of assassination plots and of capers that make millions. I love to read about that universe but never have felt that I would give it what it deserves to be a part of it. Now, now I can.

Dust 514 will tie two platforms and two genres together in such a seamless manner that I'm giddy about not only playing the game but what it means for that old PcVsConsole war.

They're not the enemy anymore, they're the men and women you need to win the next world and in turn you're the pilots whose fleets will bring them new worlds to conquer.

Casual twitch gamer or dedicated corporate magnate. We each have a part to play in that world

Monday, August 10, 2009

Axe Me Again Next Month

Vorri, Aardii, Orrekai. Do you miss me lads? Do you miss getting your Dwarf on and being piloted into mayhem and madness and war? Do you miss the hustle and bustle of Altdorf or the haggling and bragging that goes on in her taverns? Do you miss the sights and the fights and the foes and the pitfalls and the pqs and the keeps?

I know I do.

I know I hear good things about 1.3.1. I know that since the Bioware/Mythic merger people have apparently gained a measure of calm. A sense of peace and a sense of purpose. I hear that they are being more straight forward with us, the fans. I hear that improvements are being made where they are most called for, most needed, those places that I stopped just short of seeing.

Do you want me back? Raising staff and rifle and hammer and spanner in the name of Order? Do you want to ride with the Sentinels, proud in your Gyroharnesses? Do you want to slay your foes, slake your thist and bury your weapons in the worthy?

If I could move to Europe and keep you boys, you know I would.

Failing that, the stars are not yet aligned. Morreslieb and Mannslieb have yet to wax full once more for me.
Axe me again next month.

The Best of Frenemies.

I love my friends, they're my friends after all. I am sure you yourselves also are rather fond of those you call friend. Then there's acquiantances. They're nice folks, handy in a spot, you're friendly/neighbourly with them but you've rarely had them over for a drink.

I've made many good friends in City of Heroes, I've made many more passing ones as well. The first in a series of blog posts about Champions is dedicated to my frenemies.

I ended up going back to City of Heroes for two simple reasons. I couldn't afford two MMOs at the moment and I wanted to play with Shannon more than the people I rarely saw in WAR. (If ever there is US -> EU Transfers, I'd be back in a heartbeat)
There are of course names I recognise, names I love, names I can barely stand and all the flavours in between. Like a good team player, unless I honestly cannot personally stand someone, I will play with whomever. I will try reign in my exuberance (lemming behaviour) and I will play.

Now some people in City of Heroes, I respect. They're good players, or good roleplayers or simply fun to see on the global channels. However, they are the frenemy. They want to try Champions. They want to up sticks and move onto the new game, and that's perfectly fine. They want people we're both friends with to go with them, also fine. Some people will make the move, others won't bother. There'll be a few who spend time equally across heroic games. The problem is this, they want to recreate what they have here in the new game.

That's why they bother me. Instead of going into a new and virgin territory where all are once again equal before their Mods, they want to bring their baggage with them. Friends they've made, people they've snubbed without realising, the stories that they have worked on and the associated bits and pieces that come with roleplaying.

For some it will work, I will honestly say that the Force powerset in Champions is far more like what I originally envisioned City Of Heroes' Forcefield powerset to be. I could be quite happy playing there, but the character I originally created in CoH will not make the move.

Now for some, there is a sense of identity with their avatar. They may use the same name in each game they go to, and that's fine. My complaint here is the wholesale copy/paste behaviour from one game to another.

City of Heroes has life in it yet. Issue 16 is in closed beta right now and Going Rogue looms in the future. There is freshness wherever you want to make it. For any who are finding it stale at the moment I would ask. Is it stale because you've really done everything in every way with every powerset? Or is it stale because you are beholden to passing friends, people whose names you possibly don't even know but who are not evolving with their virtual space?

Moving all the same faces, places and stories into a new game will not invigorate or freshen them, not for long anyway. In the end, I think, you'll have ruined a fresh start at a new you, a new way to be with your friends and a new way to make more.

When you're given the chance to create anything, create.