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Archive for September, 2012

This one’s just a public service announcement.

My employer, NinjaBee, now has a trailer up for our latest A World of Keflings DLC, Sugar, Spice and Not so Nice.  I worked a ton on this, and it’s really good to see it getting some attention.

Happy Friday!

When the game releases, I’ll try to post a bit more on it and maybe talk shop about what I actually do at work, if you all are interested.  A look behind the curtain, as it were.

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I “tweeted” last week that I was going to take advantage of an offer from Blizzard (seven whole days of free game time, woot!) to go and take a look at Karazhan.  The venerable Big Bear Butt offered to show me around the joint.  So, I finally saw Karazhan.  And took almost 250 screenshots of the place.

…it’s way bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.  Oh, and in BBB’s son’s continuing quest to Control All the Things, he managed to grab control of one of Moroes‘ beefy melee henchmen.  That would have made a nice difference if we were running the place at level.  Also, Tinhead is creepy, but the Opera Event is pretty cool, and the Chess Event is awesome.  Yes, it’s not real chess, but it’s good fun anyway (and, like in real chess, knights are nicely useful).

Some highlights (in no particular order, because I’m short on time):

…and then, just because Blizzard finally got with the program and decided to allow anyone, even trial accounts, to play any race, I fired up a Pandaran Rogue.  The Pandaran starting area is really nice… even if I can’t fly around in it.  It’s the new shiny, and I like it, but I still like Gilneas and Mulgore about as much.  The Pandarans themselves are very well done.  I like the “Red Panda” look the females can access, even if the real world red pandas aren’t actually pandas.

So I guess I’m a Tauren/Worgen/Panda kinda guy.  Though I still say Blizzard missed a trick in not letting Pandarans be Druids.  Still, their starter area is open to pretty much anyone, so have at it!  There are plenty of photo opportunities and some fun character animations.

Google+ collection of Karazhan shots

Google+ collection of Pandaria shots

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No, I don’t actually have Guild Wars 2 yet.  I’ve just been perusing the wiki, getting a sense of what’s there and what I might do for my set of characters.  I was reading a fun article from Rakuno over at Shards of Imagination, wherein he writes a bit about offbeat race/profession combinations.  This is the sort of thing I love, and something I think is sorely missing from World of Warcraft.  Yes, I would make a Pandaran Druid.  And a Gnome Hunter.  Just because.

Why Gnomes Can’t Be Hunters

(That’s a bit of art I did for BBB a while back.  Too much fun.)

I therefore took a matrix of races and professions in Guild Wars 2, trying to come up with Twitter-sized role playing backgrounds for each possible combination.  Some are way too easy and obvious, others are more esoteric and interesting.  I won’t play all of these, but it was fun to imagine “what if”… if only for a short time.

Now… I should preface this by noting that none of these are actually professions.  It seems to me that the profession of every player character in pretty much any MMO is “mass murderer”, the difference only being in the methodology.  This is key when considering something like the Thief profession (which awesomely, actually involves something almost like theft in GW2).  I imagine these characters as actual, y’know, thieves, not “mass murderer who uses thief-style killing tools”.  Maybe that’s a failure on my part when considering role playing, but I do like to think of these things as professions, if only because it makes writing character fiction more interesting.  Every one of these characters will wind up as mercenary assassins of one sort or another, trying to selfishly gain power and loot.  That’s just how these DIKU MMO things work, for better or worse.

Asura

  • Guardian – Tinker’s Guild guard on remote assignment. Secretive, stern, strict.
  • Warrior – Napoleon. Must fight anyone and everyone to compensate for ego/size mismatch.
  • Engineer – Absentminded professor. Tinkerer with little direction.
  • Ranger – Studying animals as golem inspiration/substitutes.
  • Thief – OCD kleptomaniac. Simply must have at least one of everything.
  • Elementalist – Scientist, systematically exploring elemental magic.
  • Mesmer – Con artist, pulling one over on other races to prove Asuran superiority.
  • Necromancer – Technomancer, researching corpse/golem similarities.

Charr

  • Guardian – Samurai-like with grudge against Raven Norns.
  • Warrior – Distilled Klingon.
  • Engineer – Weaponmaster, searching for best weapon tech.
  • Ranger – Alpha male. Seeks to dominate all animal kingdom.
  • Thief – Interhouse chessmaster for hire. Intrigue instigator.
  • Elementalist – Pyromaniac. Unhinged and obsessed with Ascalon’s FoeFire.
  • Mesmer – Mind game tactician. Compensating for childhood by manipulating others.
  • Necromancer – Boneyard caretaker; Grudgebearer avenging those under his care.

Human

  • Guardian – Royal guard washout trying to prove himself.
  • Warrior – Mercenary. Purely available to highest bidder. Medieval melee Jayne.
  • Engineer – Sparky mad scientist. More Tarvek, less Gil.
  • Ranger – Circus trainer grudgingly playing the hero.
  • Thief – Artful Dodger with little long-term aspiration.
  • Elementalist – Sailor with wild talent, primarily Air mage just starting to branch out.
  • Mesmer – Carnival entertainer; two bit stage magician with debts to repay.
  • Necromancer – Accidental hero. Only defeating bad guys to forestall rivalry.

Norn

  • Guardian – Mama bear. Do not cross.
  • Warrior – Berzerker, Wolf devotee. Lone wolf because he’s too dangerous.
  • Engineer – Civil engineer. Raven-like focus and mental discipline.
  • Ranger – Grizzly Adams. On steroids.
  • Thief – Enforcer. Mobster. More robber than thief.
  • Elementalist – Ice/Water shaman. Specializes in defense and healing.
  • Mesmer – Psychiatrist. Norn tough love.
  • Necromancer – Preparing heroic spot in afterlife for friends… by any means.

Sylvari

  • Guardian – Pale Tree Rootguard. Just wants to stay home.
  • Warrior – Photoinsane bloodlusty nut. Only calm in the dark. Avenging vegetable slaughter.
  • Engineer – Researching how to make technology useful to Sylvari plant physiology.
  • Ranger – Experimenting with animals. Fascinating things.
  • Thief – Shiny! Ooh, another one! Squirrel! Mine! ADHD? What’s that? Sounds like fun!
  • Elementalist – Earth mage hippy.
  • Mesmer – Dancer out to see the world.
  • Necromancer – Golgari “circle of life” kind of guy. Just helping the circle along.

I’m not quite sure what I’ll play once I actually get my hands on the game.  Apparently, without buying extra, I’ll have only 5 character slots.  That means one per race, but not all the professions.  (Or some other mix, sure, but I’d like to have one of each race to see the stories.)  I’m leaning to the following: Asura Ranger (the bigger the pet, the better), Charr Mesmer (tricky kitty), Human Elementalist (or maybe Thief), Norn Engineer and Sylvari Warrior.  That last one could be especially fun to role play, as light and dark in the environment would alter his mood, and his psychotic penchant for avenging vegetable slaughter could have shades of HK-47‘s “meatbag” commentary.

I reserve the right to change my mind on any of this… but it was fun to play with the ol’ imagination for a while, no matter how it all finally settles out.

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I’ve been playing Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance lately.  Silly name aside (get it, KH:DDD or KH:3D ’cause it’s on the Nintendo 3DS?  Hur hur), it’s a pretty sweet game, building on Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, weaving in the other tangential Kingdom Hearts games that have been released.  They are finally moving the Sora narrative forward instead of navel-gazing and weaving backstories.  It’s technically excellent, with fantastic visuals that rival the original (on the Playstation 2) and some decent use of the 3DS 3D feature.  It’s not necessary to play it in 3D (games that require the 3D would bug me), but the effect is great for some of the storytelling bits, setting the scene nicely.

So, KH nerdfanning aside (I do love the games), what strikes me most is the sheer fun of moving around in the game.  The KH games have always been “action RPGs”, but this newest iteration has the characters zooming around the landscape, performing impossible air dashes, jumps and attacks that are just… fun.  I’ve had similar fun just moving around in the Prince of Persia games.  KH:3D lacks some of the elegance of the ‘Prince and the fluid athleticism of almost-plausible Parkour, but it makes up for it in speed and flexibility.  I can use Sora and Riku’s “Flowmotion” abilities to ping-pong around a level or even scale a huge cliff in a few crazy jumps.

Here, I can admit that I’d probably love the Assassin’s Creed games, and their focus on Parkourish motion and exploring rooftops.  They are M-rated, though, and I just don’t play M-rated games.  It’s a personal choice that does cut me off from some games I suspect I’d really like, like the AC games, Mass Effect, The Secret World and BioShock, but that’s just one of my lines in the sand.  It’s not a commentary on the potentially great games they are, just that there are some things I don’t want in my entertainment.  Too much “coffee in the brownies”, as it were.  That’s also not to denigrate any players who like those games or those developers who make them.  I’m just a picky consumer.

Anyway, with the fun of Flowmotion rattling around in my head, I look at this Guild Wars 2 thing, with its respect for the Explorer mindset that I’m so deeply infused with, and, well… I kinda wish more MMOs would experiment with Parkour and new ways of getting around their game spaces.  Yes, I hear TERA has some sort of climbing system, but that’s rudimentary compared to what I’m thinking about.  I look at the ruins of Ascalon and think “I’d love to just climb around and go all monkeyish on it (Charrish, whatever)”.  And yes, I love flying in MMOs, but climbing around like a superagile simean Spider-man is just… different.  I hear City of Heroes has some pretty great movement options, too… maybe I should check those out before the game is shuttered forever.

So yes, I look at places in games and think “how can I get there?”  I love Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City for the same reason; I can just go explore and climb around the place.  I wish we had more of that sort of flexibility, especially in the MMO space.  Developers are making these beautiful worlds… I want to go explore them.

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The Pirate 101 Beta NDA has been officially dropped!  (OK, it dropped last month… I’ve been busy.  Still.)

Consequently, I can show off some of the screenshots I’ve been able to get while I was tinkering with the beta.  I’m a fan of Wizard 101, and it’s been fun to see where King’s Isle has expanded on their multiverse they call the Spiral, and their art and game design has stepped up a notch.

And, well… combat in Pirate 101 is tactical, sort of a Pirate Tactics Lite, as it were.  I like tactical games.  I even made one.  (Yes, Zomblobs! still needs work, yes, I’m still working on it, yes, I’ve been busy… I’ve only played a little of this Pirate 101 beta.)  Wizard 101‘s card combat system is quirky but solid, and I’m a fan… but tactical grid combat?  Yes, please!

The Pirate 101 combat engine is pretty good, from what I’ve seen.  I’m a little disappointed with the Musketeer “line attack” special moves, but overall, it’s a very solid light tactical system.  (Musketeers function like artillery in most tactical games, namely move OR shoot, which is generally fine, but their special moves place higher importance on position, so it’s harder to make use of them.  Melee and magic characters have much more useful special attacks.)  You place your units on a square-based grid, and try to knock out the enemies before they defeat you, occasionally dealing with an optional or side target.

It’s worth noting that characters can attack and move diagonally on the grid, something that isn’t common in square-based grid games I’m familiar with.  This does make choke points a bit more vulnerable, or even impossible to set up, so you can’t count on one solid melee unit holding the line while ranged units blast the foes.  You can certainly do some of that, and such is just smart tactics, but it’s not as easy to use positioning against enemies as it would be without diagonal options.  That’s neither good nor bad, just a difference from, say, Final Fantasy Tactics.

Pirate 101 also gives you a ship pretty quickly (a dozen or so quests into the game), and a wealth of cosmetic customization options for your character and ship.  I love this decision to give players their own ships early.  That’s one aspect where I think Allods Online really dropped the ball, as they made ships endgame toys.  Puzzle Pirates (another great game) gives you access to ships fairly early as well, but Pirate 101 is even faster, and it’s a wonderful thing, giving a great sense of exploration and freedom.  Ship to ship combat isn’t quite as awesome as that in Pirates! Live the Life!, but it’s still nice and smooth, plenty of fun to play.

I haven’t seen a lot of the game, nor have I played all the classes with much depth (I focused on the Musketeer in the beta), but Pirate 101 is a great game from what I can see.  It will share the Crowns microcurrency with Wizard 101, and I presume it will have a similar setup for buying bits and bobs of content.  I am happy with this system.

I’m looking forward to spending some more time in the Spiral, and I hope that the game does well.  Once the beta phase is over and I nail down a permanent pirate name, I’ll add it to my roster of characters, if you feel like stopping by and saying hello.  I may well be hanging around this fascinating little shantytown:

Crazy Ship Architecture

Fair winds!

Oh, and for more perusal, here’s my Picasa album of the screenshots I’ve collected thus far.  It’s a bit of a mess, but there are some gems in there.

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Guild Wars 2 is out, and apparently awesome.  I’ll get it someday, money and time are tight at the moment, but in the meantime, Syl has some great comments up on the game.  Others do too, I’m sure, I’ve just been out of the loop lately.  GW2 is the sort of game that sounds like something I want to play (I loved the first one), I just… can’t.  Not at the moment.

World of Warcraft‘s latest patch, 5.0.4, came out at the same time (the nefariousness!), and it’s apparently also amazingly awesome.  I’ll play WoW again someday as well.  Probably just by firing up my free account and making a Pandaran, though if I ever revisit my “paid” account, I’ll be happy to see some things like shared mounts and pets.  My daughter will love that she can have her character access the pets I’ve collected on my Tishtoshtesh character.

Oh, and as an aside, I love that Hunters now have no minimum range on their ranged weapons, but the deletion of their melee potential makes me sad.  I wish they had made the Survival tree into a melee-heavy Hunter, sort of like a Warhammer Online White Lion class.  That might spawn a few hundred thousand more Drizzt clones though, I guess.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to share a couple of photos I found that reminded me of WoW.  Y’see, sometimes it’s derided as being “too technicolor” or something of the sort.  Well, so is my home state, sometimes.  And it’s a blasted desert.

A Sea of Purple in the Badlands of Utah

Badlands Bloom by Guy Tal

And then there’s this mini-maelstrom in Hawaii… it’s not quite the size of Darkshore’s sinkhole or The WoW Maelstrom, but I think it looks a lot more impressive for its detail and energy.  And that whole “it’s real” bit.  (Another shot of the area over thisaway, also by Patrick Smith.)

Maelstrom at Kauai, Hawaii

Maelstrom in Hawaii by Patrick Smith

Both of those were featured in this “best photos of 2012” list, which includes some other fantastic photographs.  Go, peruse, enjoy!

When you’re done with that, you could go peruse the archives at the Astronomy Picture of the Day.  There’s a ton of great stuff there.  The shot from this morning even almost fits the theme, looking vaguely like a northern Azerothian badland, complete with some airglow fun.

Airglow over Italy by Tamas Ladanyi

…I wish I had more time for photography, too.  I meant to go to some local ghost towns this summer and look for texture photos and other interesting shots.  Alas, home repair/remodeling and other Stuff ate up my time… and none of those are even done yet.  I probably ought to sleep sometime, too.

…so yeah, I hope you all are having fun in those MMO worlds.  Take some screenshots for me, will you please?

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So, City of Heroes is being shut down.  It’s not the first MMO to shut down, nor will it be the last.  As Ardwulf notes:

MMOs have an expiration date

Except… what if they didn’t?  What if, instead of shutting down, MMO providers made the game open source?  Myst Online did just that.  It’s totally free to play, open source, have-at-it-we-hope-you-have-fun goodness.  (Or so it would seem… I haven’t actually tried it yet.)

As the esteemed Psychochild might note, there are always costs, and open source systems with or without private servers are not a panacea… but I have to wonder.  Will MMOs enter the grey wilds of abandonware, rubbing elbows with pirates and historians?  And even if they do, will they just sort of wither as Moore’s Law and the march of technical innovation makes them nigh unplayable?  (Imagine playing WoW on a touchscreen or futuretech holograph UI… apparently it’s technically possible, at least on an iPad, but I suspect it’s not quite an enjoyable prospect.  Some things just don’t work in a touch interface.)  There’s almost no way to really capture the “you had to be there“ness of seeing a game, flush and alive in its heyday, and that’s a big part of MMOs… but there’s a difference between playing a game and reading a wiki or watching videos about it.

I’m not sure… but I do know that I respect devs who release their game to the wilds to let players live on in their game worlds.  I also respect those who want to bottle their game up in a pocket of history, so as to keep the memories in a nice rose-tinted fuzzy memory, rather than letting them age gracelessly amidst gaming jackals and vultures.

I do wish historians could maintain access, though (on their own dime, perhaps, not as a continued cost for the company).  Just ’cause… it seems like the right thing to do, for the industry and the players.

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