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Archive for November, 2009

I know, I know, that’s a terrible pun.  I do that sometimes.  English just lends itself well to such… malleability.

I played in the Allods Online closed beta a little while back.  (They are having another one, too, so if you’re interested, go sign up!)  As always, I didn’t get a lot of time in the game, but what I did see at least has me looking forward to playing it a bit when it gets a full release.

The Massively preview that I referenced last time I wrote about Allods Online has perhaps more than I really have to offer, so I would suggest that as a starting point.  I do have some screenshots that I wanted to chime in about (out of 173… I take a lot of shots).

Before I get to that, though, a few thoughts (noting that this time, I can’t remember where I read these things, and what inaccuracies exist about the lore are entirely my fault):

One, what exactly is an “Allod”, anyway?  It turns out that an Allod is a chunk of habitable terrain floating around in this sort of… space… Etherium-like… thing.  (The Etherium is Treasure Planet’s “outer space”… which is a strange sort of space with breathable atmosphere and unidirectional gravity… unless there’s a spatial distortion or baby black hole.  Treasure Planet isn’t a terrible movie, but the physics are just so… WRONG.)  Apparently, people used to be constrained to their local Allod, whilst the mage priesthood maintained the means to travel between them… until someone went and discovered that you could just go sail around in space, looking for other Allods.

So, we have some sort of power hungry magehood (the mage version of a priesthood, of course) conspiring for population control, rebels trying to set everyone free, power struggles between the Empire and the League (I’m not sure who is closer to the mages, or if they are a third faction that nobody likes), and Gibberlings.  These guys are sort of like a cross between Gnomes, Ewoks and Gremlins that are born in triplets and fight as a trio.  Yes, they are player characters as well as NPCs.  It’s a lot of fun to play as Gibberlings for me, but then, I wasn’t traumatized by Teddy Ruxpin or Tickle Me Elmo.  Player response to these guys will be varied, methinketh.

Oh, and ships.  Did I mention ships?  Apparently, ship combat is meant to be the “endgame”, or at least a significant part of the non-noob experience.  At some point, you can get your own ship and sail around between Allods, complete with combat and crew cooperation.  As in, you may need other players to man your ship.

I can’t shake the Puzzle Pirates feel of that.  In PP, you can solo a lot of things, and have a lot of fun playing alone, even on your own little sloop (and I hope Allods Online lets you solo ships), but the really crazy (fun) and rewarding stuff is done on ships with other players.  If the ship combat (including manning separate stations) in Allods Online can be even partially as fun as PP (but in 3D, wooooo), it’ll be worth digging into.  PP has PvP and PvE on these group ships, and both can be a lot of fun.  I lean more to the cooperative PvE (the PP equivalent to raiding, I suppose), but PvP can be a thrill at times, too.  PP is player skill based, though, which is, as always, significant when it comes to game design.  We’ll see how much player skill means in Allods Online.  I’ve never considered outleveling someone else to really be a “skill” when it comes to PvP.

Of course, the land-based DIKU standard MMO fare will appeal to some, and the ship combat will appeal to others.  I haven’t read anything on raids, but perhaps that’s still in the pipeline.  The DIKU combat doesn’t have an “autoattack + hotkeys”, rather, it’s all hotkeys.  You need to trigger your basic attack.  This can be good or bad, depending on how you play.  I had fun with it, but I’ll admit, I miss the old brainless autopilot combat sometimes (and I want more involved combat sometimes, too).  Either way, it’s something a bit different than the gorilla standard, while still being accessible.  Time will tell if that’s a good idea.  (I lean more to DDO if I want more involved combat, but hey, to each their own.)

OK, so… pictures.  I’m hiding them behind the More link for cleanliness’ sake, and for anyone who happens to be tuning in via dialup.  There are plenty of pictures after the break, for better or worse.

Bottom line, I’ll be playing this in the next beta, and I look forward to playing once it’s live.  It may not be my permanent MMO home, but it bears investigation.  I do heartily recommend it to anyone interested in MMOs, if only to see what the Russians are up to in game development.  (Apparently, there are some solid game studios in Russia.  I welcome this, since “Western” and Japanese games could use some competition.)

Pictures after the link: (more…)

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This year, I find that I am especially thankful for warmth.

We needed to replace our furnace last week, and were without heat in our home (aside from some space heaters) for three nights.  Temperatures around here that week were below freezing (around the mid twenties Fahrenheit).  It was an uncomfortable few days.

My personal thermostat is generally about 10 degrees cooler than that of most people; I’ve always liked it cold.  Still, I have little children and a wife who likes it warm, and I couldn’t help but feel incompetent for not taking care of them better.

So now we have a new, much more efficient furnace.  Nobody got sick because of the time in the cold, but it could have been a lot worse.

I’m thankful for the pair of guys who put the new furnace in.  It might have been easy to look down on them as they did their “grunt” work, but they were professional, competent and performed a service I couldn’t have done.  To be honest, they probably have far better reason to look down on me for sitting at a desk all day, making a game.

I’m thankful none of us got sick.

I’m thankful for a kind wife who didn’t yell at me, even though I felt I deserved it.

I’m thankful that I have a job that allows me to have the money to pay for the new furnace.  We’re not top wage earners, but we have enough for our needs, and we live within our means.  I’m thankful that is possible, and that my family has a history of financial prudence.

As always, I also have tangential thoughts.

One, it’s always nice to be thanked.  There’s a rush of satisfaction and warmth that comes with genuine thanks, and it can warm the soul like few other things can.  There is also the personal peace that comes with living a life worthy of being thanked.  There’s also a special kind of warmth that comes from doing things worth being thanked for, but doing them anonymously.

Two, I remember a moment of contrast that reminds me of those cold nights.

I was a missionary for the LDS church in Alabama for two years.  (My little brother is going to the same mission here in a couple of weeks, curiously enough.)  I spent a few months in the bowels of Birmingham.  A couple of white guys in the inner city of a Deep Southern town just didn’t fit in.  There were genuinely scary moments, and some genuinely threatening people.  (Of course, some saw us as a threat as well, albeit in a slightly different light.)

I was young, preoccupied, and somewhat scared the day that we walked past a fellow sleeping in a doorwell.  He looked rather disheveled, and probably asleep.  It wasn’t cold at that time of the year, but when you’re sleeping on cement in the shadow, with only a single blanket, you’re not going to be comfortable.  His skin happened to be darker than mine, his appearance far less presentable.

And I was afraid of him.

I don’t know his story, and I may never know.  We walked on by, and didn’t bother him.  We didn’t speak of it, so I can’t speak for my companion, but there were warring factions in my mind and heart.  My mission was to uplift and serve.  I wanted to help the fellow in whatever way I could.

But I was afraid.

Perhaps he was a drunk, sleeping off a binge.  Maybe he would wake up blindly swinging.  And what would he think of a couple of white boys in Sunday attire, rousing him from his nap?  We had more than our share of racial tensions to deal with when people saw us coming from a distance.  Up close and personal might be even more dangerous.  As missionaries, we also had our share of religious bigotry to deal with, and layered on top of racial and sociopolitical tensions, we could be in some very tight situations.  A guy sleeping in a doorway just presented a lot of unknowns.

I wanted to help, but I was afraid.

I didn’t remember Paul:

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7)

I didn’t remember the lessons of the Good Samaritan.

I was just afraid.  And now, over a dozen years later… I am cold.

It is a terrible, bitter cold, when one is left to wonder “am I that Levite?” or “why didn’t I help?”  As I’ve noted elsewhere, charity to me is a way of life, a set of actions guided by a pure love of your fellow beings.  As one man put it:

Charity is the pure love of Christ

It’s not a check to an Organization, or a handful of coins in the Salvation Army bucket on your way out the door with a hundred dollars’ worth of food.  It’s not something done for attention, tax breaks, or donor perks.  It’s simply something you do because it’s the right thing to do, it’s very personal, and it’s more about the giving than the receiving, even receiving thanks.  It’s about doing the right thing, no matter what.

So yes, I am grateful for a lot of things.  I’ve tried to live a life where other people can be grateful for my existence.  I don’t always get it right, and I’m thankful for those who forgive me when I mess up.

You have to move on in life and not get stuck in past mistakes… but you have to learn from them, too.  So what would I do today in the same position?

What would you do?

Hopefully, something worth being thanked for, even if nobody ever actually thanks you.  Something to bring some warmth to someone else.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

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Torchlight, Torchbright

First torch I see tonight,
Wish I may, wish I might,
Find a game worth playing tonight.

Yes, it’s silly; yes, I’m not terribly original; yes, it fits the game well enough…

LATE BREAKING ADDITION:

Pete over at DragonChasers has a post up with a link to an interview of the Runic Games CEO (thanks, Pete!).  Torchlight is meant to segue into an MMO at some point.  This interview has some great comments, and it sounds like these guys understand the market.  Very candid, if a bit “softball”, this interview is well worth a peek if you’re interested in Torchlight:

Torchlight Dev Interview

ANOTHER LATE BREAKING ADDENDUM:

Getting the demo via Steam actually is content limited, rather than time limited, like the demo via Runic directly.  This is great news, since either preference can be accommodated.

I downloaded the Torchlight demo to see just what the fuss is about.  It’s a beast of a 413 MB download (though that’s smaller than many modern games)  According to the FAQ, that’s the footprint for the installed game, so I suspect that the demo download really is just the full game.  The catch is that you’re limited to only playing for 120 minutes.

I’m a bit ambivalent about that, actually.  I’m of a mind that demos function better when they aren’t time-limited, but rather, content limited.  There’s a compelling case to be made in either direction, though, so it’s not something that I’m too fussy about.  Just know going in that the Torchlight demo is of the time-limited variety.  (They didn’t point out on the site, as far as I could tell.)

At any rate, I figured I’d have two good hours with the game.  That’s fair enough to get a sense of what it has to offer, I think.  It’s not like you’re going to Torchlight for a fifty hour story.  You’re going to play it for some aesthetically appealing dungeon crawling.  And well… WYSIWYG.  Truth in Advertising.

Torchlight is a dungeon crawler with some satisfyingly fun gameplay.  The art direction is solid, and sits in a nice space between cartoony and emogothpixelshader.  (Though the token chick is still just a bimbo with a gun.  No surprise, no progress.)  It’s not War and Peace, it’s not Braid, it’s not Portal.  It’s a visually appealing loot treadmill with plenty of monsters to be whacked.  If that’s the sort of fun you’re looking for, Torchlight will make you a very happy gamer.  The lovely price point of $20 is icing on the cake.

I wound up playing as an Alchemist with a Dog for a pet.  I chased the “pet control” talent tree and wound up with my Dog and three little Imps shuffling around from place to place as I chipped in magic ranged attacks and pistol/wand shots from the back row.  Yeah, I was a Huntard/Warlock hybrid… and I loved it.  It almost felt like a squad based RTS with minimalist controls.  I’d bum rush a herd of baddies, let my little Zerglings and Ultralisk go to town at close range, and serve up three flavors of ranged PAIN.  When the field was clear, I’d claim the spoils (walking over gold picks it up automatically, but you still need to click on items individually) and spoil for another fight.

Yummy, yummy mindless loot pinata fun.  It’s not something that I’d ever do all day, every day, but man, for the two hours I had the game running, I was a happy camper.  It’s probably best played in runs like that in between other gaming so you don’t get tired of it.  Unless you live on that sort of thing anyway.  *shrug*

Of course, it’s not all hugs and roses.  (Or is that guns and kisses?  I can never remember.)  As it happens, I was staring at a loading screen for almost a quarter of my time in the game.  My laptop isn’t cutting edge, but neither is it a dinosaur.  This bothered me a little bit, but I can’t really fault the game much for it; my machine may simply be slow.  It just stunk when my time in the game was limited.  No “pick up all local loot” button seems a glaring omission to me.  There isn’t much here for womens’ lib in games.  There is no respec function without a mod. (But the modding tools look really powerful.)  You can only get the game via digital download, either from the devs directly or via Steam.  Since I don’t like Steam much these days and I’m not sure about the DRM stance of the dev download, I’m a bit leery of such a purchase.  Maybe I’ll pick it up in a box when they get around to releasing it that way.

None of these are all that terrible, and really, what the Torchlight guys are offering is a gem of a game.  I’m still on the bubble about actually buying it (since I have too much going on already and I don’t want to be tied to the internet or limited downloads for actually playing the game… especially if I want to install it on more than one machine), but I can readily recommend it to fans of the dungeon crawling genre.

If nothing else, I’m keeping my eye on the game to see what they do with the proposed transition into an MMO.  I’m leery of that just because I don’t like the internet tether… but I do wish them well.  The game will never be the “virtual world” that I’ve asked for time and again, but as a straight up funhouse grind, it works beautifully.  Sometimes, even for theorytwits like me, that hits the sweet “zoning out” spot just right.

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Gotta Show ‘Em All

Further Ruminations on WoW Petgate 2009: We’re All Obsessive Collective Huntards

Pokemon is 13 years old.  (Does that make you feel old?)

I think it’s a fair guess to say that the Collector gene is strong in the Pokemon generation of gamers, largely spurred by that pesky Pokedex.  “Gotta catch ‘em all”, after all.

As Spinks rightly notes, why isn’t this capitalized on in WoW?  There’s Petopia for Hunters and their collections, and WarcraftPets for everyone with noncombat pets.  There is obviously interest in these little critters, so much so that Blizzard has monetized it directly.

Guild Wars has the Zaishen Menagerie where Rangers can show off the critters they have gathered.  It’s not unprecedented to have this sort of place to show off a collection in a very visual way.

Why isn’t there something like this in WoW?  You’re either stuck with a third party site (WarcraftPets is awesome, but not incorporated in-game), five Hunter stalls, or one paltry minipet you can have out at one time.  It just seems like a missed opportunity for those who collect in order to show their collection.  (And the absence of such a function is one reason why it just doesn’t add up that pets are all about showing off, at least from a dev perspective.)

Maybe it’s on the list… right after player housing.

Disclosure:  My “main” in WoW is indeed a Hunter.  (My other main is a Druid, conveniently able to personally change into critters…)  I love the ability to go out in the wild world and train some beastie and make it part of my character’s approach to the game.  If there were a collector function in-game to track which critters I’ve tamed (even after I’ve let them go), it would scratch my Achiever and Explorer itches in equal measure, and I’d be a happy Nesingwary understudy.  I don’t particularly need the ability to show that checklist off to someone else, but as long as it’s being tracked, why not make it public for those who do want to show off?

So when I say “we’re all Huntards”, I use the term not as a pejorative, but rather, pulling an Aikido on The Man’s epithet as the anarchistic player that I am, thumbing my nose at those who would have the temerity to suggest that I’m “doing it wrong”.  And really, are we not all hunters of some sort in the game anyway?  We hunt Epics, Achievements, reputation dings or maybe just moments of transcendental fun.  Whatever it is, if we’re not looking for something in the game, or hunting to get something out of our time with it, why bother playing?

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How about a little beta testing to get your feet wet?

“A Kingdom For Keflings” on PC, Beta Testers Wanted

The company I work for, NinjaBee, is looking for people to beta test our “A Kingdom For Keflings” conversion to the PC.  It was a hit on XBox live, and we’re excited for the PC conversion.  We need people to put it through its paces and let us know how it performs.

And hey, if you put in some work and give us some good feedback, you get the game for free when it’s released.

Oh, and we recently released a title update for the same game on XBox live, so now it’s harder for others to grief you, your Transport Keflings are three times more effective, and the game is primed for some upcoming DLC.

It’s a good time to be a Kefling fan.

(In case you’re wondering, I built and textured several of the buildings for the game.  That’s my job; working in 3DS Max and Photoshop, with a side order of Excel.)

 

Addendum, ’cause I R Dum n’ forgot…

The application process, so you don’t have to click through to find it (quoted from our NinjaBee forums):

Good news! A Kingdom for Keflings is coming to PC and we need volunteers willing to help test the upcoming PC (Windows) version.

Interested? If so, e-mail betatest@wahoo.com with this information:
* Full Name and Address
* Information about the PC you’ll be using to play the game
(processor, operating system, sound card, video card, RAM)
* Do you have internet access at home?
* Any other information you might want to provide on how you can help with the QA effort

We would also like to know the answers to these questions, but your answers won’t exclude you from being accepted into the beta test program.
*Have you had any experience beta testing?
*Have you played any of NinjaBee’s games before?
*Have you ever played A Kingdom for Keflings on the Xbox 360?
*What is your age?

Notes:

1. We’ll expect you to give us useful detailed (written) feedback on problems in the game. If it crashes or has some specific problem, we’ll expect you to document how you got to that error. If you’re just here to play the game and not help with testing, you might want to wait until it’s released.

2. We’re not anxious to get a ton of game design change ideas, because we expect the game to be quite similar to the Xbox Live Arcade version, though we’ll certainly consider low-impact requests.

3. We’ll probably expect you to sign some simple NDA and promise not to pass the game around to friends or talk about it outside of our test group.

4. The game seems pretty solid. Ideally, this will be a short test period and everything will be fine.

5. We’ll give the official beta-testers free copies of the final released game. To be clear: we are not paying the beta testers and you have to give feedback to receive the free game.

Thanks!

I suppose you can use me as a point man/reference, and I’ll pass along your information, but you don’t need to use me as a middleman either.  ;)  I’ve heard we’re getting applications from all over the world, and it’s great to see interest in what I think is a great game!

 

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Warhammer Online now has a “perpetual” free trial.  It joins the ranks of Wizard 101, Free Realms (which is now almost just like WAR, albeit having arrived from a different direction), Guild Wars, DDO and Puzzle Pirates in the short list of games that I think are starting to understand the market.  Of course, Guild Wars is still the frontrunner in the business model department, and Puzzle Pirates will likely remain the one I play most (it’s just so durn schedule friendly!), but this change by the WAR crew is exactly the tipping point that has me itching to download the game.

If it turns out well, I might even give them some money, like I did for W101 and Puzzle Pirates.  In the immortal words of Daniel James of Puzzle Pirates fame:

Money can’t buy you love, but love can bring you money. In software the only sustainable way to earn money is by first creating love, and then hoping that some folks want to demonstrate that love with their dollars.

I want to like WAR. I’ve been digging into the tabletop game, and it’s fascinating.  While there are some considerable differences, WAR looks interesting enough to take a look, and Public Quests look interesting as a mechanic.  They have offered me (and many others) a gift by changing their business model this way.  Time will tell if I love them enough to demonstrate it with dollars.  The chance of that went up from 0% to at least 33%, and that has to count for something.  Even marketers understand that math.

Of course, dearest Turbine and Blizzard, if either of you wanted to up the ante by offering me a lifetime sub to LOTRO or WoW for my birthday, I’d not turn you down.  I’d even promise to take lots of pretty screenshots and write about what you are doing right in your games.  (The records show that I’ve done plenty of complaining, so I can afford to balance it out.)

It is my birthday, after all, and turning up my nose at gifts would just be… improper.

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Disclosure:  I know, I know, some would say that WAR is dying and should be taken out back and dumped on the Tabula Rasa heap.  Some might suggest I give money to someone more deserving.  There are definitely (largish) grains of truth in those opinions.

WAR will never be my “main” MMO.  Still, this is a Good Move for the business of MMOs, and hopefully a good one for WAR, and I want to let these people know that I approve.  If they don’t read my blog (slackers!), maybe I can send them a birthday card with a nice $10 bill or something.  Since, y’know, we’re supposed to vote with our wallet.

And, well… I’ve spent my fair share of money buying games that aren’t the biggest boys on the block, and that aren’t the greatest examples of game design.  Yet… they are fun enough to warrant an expenditure on my part as a reward for a job well done.  Call it my way of paying the tab after a decent, middle class night out to eat.  It’s not The Ritz, but it’s not Carl’s Jr.  I’m totally happy paying game devs for their work, I just want to do it on my terms.  That will never be paying for a subscription.

Heck, I even gave Braid $5.  If I can do that, I can lob some dollar love at the WAR guys.  Well, that is if their gift really is a fun bit of work, not something I’m going to send along as a White Elephant to someone else in a week…  and $10 is half of Torchlight or Machinarium…

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Allods Online

Why play as one Gnome when you can play as three of them with a pet?

Allods Online First Impressions

Is it terrible of me to think this would work for Zerglings?

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