Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Great Games Worth a Try

Ever since I stepped back from any form of organized play in WoW, I've been looking for new games to play.  I impulse buy a little too much on Steam deals, and even on XBL deals (xbox live).

Here are some games and my thoughts:

The Stanley Parable

This game comes with a lot of critical acclaim, and I found that it generally delivered.  I did buy it at a deal, so I'm not bothered by just how short the game is.  I played about 10 hours, and that was long enough.  Put some headphones on, and give it a try.

War Thunder

A war game with the promise of ultimately combining land, sea, and air battles.  So far, only air battles are in the open beta game.  I have played the game quite a lot because it offers what I often am looking for the most - rewarding play in short play time (30 mins to 1 hour).  And if you don't play much, you can easily pick the game right back up as the controls (at least for arcade) are straight forward.

Grand Theft Auto V

What else is there to say - I enjoyed the game tremendously.  It was fun to have the option of switching characters, particularly to Trevor (what on earth will he be up to now - dripping on and yelling at people lying on the beach in his tighty whiteys?).

The online mode is a little too 'meh' - I tried it, trolled a few players, got trolled myself.  That's about it.

Saints Row IV

This game is not what you think it is.  In fact, some reviews even complain that there is no point in having cars.  But that moment in the game where you can run at ridiculous speeds and jump building to building....Wow.  Saints Row IV is pure, unadulterated fun.  Don't compare it to GTA, it's a completely different game.  Highly recommended.


A card game that is accessible and fun - and ultimately 'blizzard-style'.  I enjoy it, but personally I think this game is desperately calling out for a mobile app.  Hearthstone on iPad?  Yes please.

Diablo 3

Oddly I found myself back in Diablo 3.  I had originally completed the game on Normal, but couldn't care less to go back through the same game on harder difficulties for level and gear grinding.  However, with the new Battle.net launcher, plus the upcoming expansion, I found myself back in the game.  I leveled to 60, completed Nightmare, Hell, and 1/2 of Inferno.  The pick up and play element with groups is perfect for short play sessions.  I've since dropped it again, but it was fun.

Assassins Creed IV:  Black Flag

I picked up this game on the PC after I had built my new desktop.  There is a lot of fanfare around this game - not only for the game itself but also the graphics.  I find the graphics good, but not 'amazing'.  The game itself is at it's best when you are upgrading your ship and in intense ship to ship battles on the high seas...particularly in bad weather.  The game suffers in a number of the missions that are slow and grindy.  The sneaking element to a number of missions is awkward, and I stopped playing because of it.

Might & Magic: Heroes VI

I have extremely fond memories of playing Might & Magic Heroes in hot seat mode way back in the day.  I picked up this game with that nostalgia at the forefront.  I've played 2 hours in a month, and just can't seem to get into it.

Star Wars - The Old Republic (SWTOR)

All the problems remain.  Grindy.  Slow-paced.  No support for short play sessions.  The new patch with ship battles is in a sandbox/instance.  All I ever wanted was to fly off a planet into space, use hyperspace, and explore.  The entire game is a sandbox.  Copies WoW too much for issues like talent builders (really - a talent that increases x ability by y% - why?).

I punish this game because the promise was so high.  I think KOTOR is one of the greatest games ever made, with an engaging story.  SWTOR's character stories, while occasionally interesting, pale in comparison.

Planetside 2

Joining this game as a total nub was interesting.  I found a way to join a group, which I did.  Voice chat is built right in, so I was thrust right into it....and found how seriously people take this game.  I like that actually - but I haven't been back into the game much.  It seems like it could be epic PVP, but it felt like the old Warhammer online world PVP - running from base to base taking them over with your enemy doing the same, but rarely meeting up.

League of Legends, DOTA 2, Etc.

I just can't get into these games.  They are somewhat fun, but the curve to get to any reasonable knowledge level and skill with the sheer number of toons and builds out there is too much.  It's probably because I'd rather not play if I can't play enough to be reasonably good at it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Great time to be a Gamer

Right now, November 2013, is the best time in a long time to be a gamer.  We are coming out of a long period of stagnation - where games were little more than incremental new versions of themselves.  (Here's looking @ you, COD).

However, that's all changing now.

Affordable PC Gaming - Mid to High End PC gaming close to the cheapest it's ever been - you can build a "high to ultra-high" PC for under $800 USD.

Finally, New Consoles:  As others attest, game developers prefer to sink to the lowest common denominator when building games.  And that has been the console - which has deprived PC gamers of better graphics.  Not only do we have two new consoles coming out - the developers can now really evolve game technology.  Specifically when it comes to 'second screen', motion, and integrating MMO concepts.

Indie Games:  Personally, I think the surge in indie games is tied to the serge in mobile gaming.  Players are willing to sacrifice great graphics for great playability.  What's amazing about this is that with the restrictions loosening on game distribution, developers can now get to market significantly faster and cheaper.  Plus the time and cost of building games continues to plummet.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

World of Warcraft has more time requirements than ever

In MoP, I decided that raid finder and my personal availability means I can only be a backup raider.  In fact, in MoP to date, I think I've been inside a normal mode raid exactly twice.  However, my toon is iLvl 487, in mostly VP and crafted gear.  I consider myself a better than average player, and in fact when I do raid (even LFR with main raiders), I usually am ahead DPS-wise - often by a significant margin.  It is great that I have a gear progression path that allows me to 'mostly' keep up gear wise.  Sure I might be 5-15 iLvl points behind a normal mode raider, but I can accept that.  Note that I have not used VP iLvl upgrades as all VP has been used for gear.  It was quite nice - this gave the guild flexibility to have casual raiders step up and help out when needed.  Even though gear wasn't quite as good, playing nearly perfectly was enough to still perform.

Today, LFR gear is 483.  Crafted is 463, 476, and a few 496.  Raiding gear is 489 for the starting raids, and 496 for the top raids (normal mode).   So the gear discrepency for LFR is 6 to 13 iLvls.  And a few crafted and VP pieces are the same iLvl.  This was great - the balance of casual gear vs raiding gear was enough to keep people motivated, but not too much so as to punish the more casual player.

However, in 5.0/5.1, PvP suffered big time.  The gear gap grew dramatically as the season wore on - any player entering arenas or random BG's with only honor or crafted gear was punished.  And there was no way to catch up quickly/easily.  No one would ever take you in an rBG, and you would struggle in arenas.  Players who started PvP early in the season have met conquest requirements plus have also upgraded their PvP gear.

Casual players have been punished.  So far in MoP, a casual player cannot pursue both PvP and PvE objectives - there isn't enough time.  For even a single toon.  That would require VP capping, all the dailies, and honor grinding followed by arena's and rBGs.

I'm defining a casual player as one who does not have the ability to sit down and play uninterrupted for 3+ hours at a time, multiple times per week.  The casual player can't be on consistently every day, and playtime is fairly random.

Which leads me to 5.2.  This new thunderforged gear further separates the LFR iLvl gear from normal+.  LFR is 502, Normal is 522, and thunderforged is 528.  20 vs 6-13 for normal, and 26 (!) vs 6-13 for thunderforged.

PVP will still be a conquest chase - arenas and rBGs.  It is no small amount of time to keep up PVP wise for a casual player.  If you miss the cap one week, you're set back.  And so on.

Aside from pet battles, scenarios LFR a couple times to see the content, and *possibly* arenas, what is there for casual players?  Alts?  GG moar dailies, and another undergeared toon.

Perhaps my Auction House PVP will keep me interested, and will become my primary focus.  Perhaps I'll get back into low level twinks for fun.  The social side of WoW has been what has always kept me playing, but the game design direction towards requiring significantly more playtime, every day, has players like me wondering whether the treadmill is worth it.

I've come to realize that probably the most fun I have in the game is taking basic gear and matching or beating the performance of others in better gear.  But if the gear gap is too far, it will be fundamentally not possible.

WoW rewards obscene time investments more than ever, for both PvP and PvE.  They took the cry for content to heart and appear to have solved it, but it has become required.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Star Wars the Old Republic - Dead Man Walking

I was excited about SWTOR.  Perhaps as excited as I have been about any game.  I've been a long time WoW player, and SWTOR offered the idea of the IP I love in a great, modern MMO.

I bought it early.  Played it.  Initially loved it.  For most classes, leveling 1-15 or so is a ton of fun, and you immediately feel immersed.  You play the first instance, black talon, and think "Holy CRAP this is awesome!"

You get your first space ship.  The world is your oyster.  You try out the space battles - you think:  interesting and fun mini-game.  Now you follow your main quest story and off you go.

You choose your specialization.  Oops, didn't know that was permanent.  Without online research you don't know the importance of this choice.  You choose some talents - awesome, your critical strike went up by 1%!

Ok, wow, there's PvP!  Lets get in there.  Looks fun, damn was gibbed.  Gibbed again.  All these guys running around are destroying you, and you have no idea why.  Ah ... everyone, despite level, is in there and "balanced."

You choose some professions, hey, your companion does it for you!  Except you have to click to send off your companions every few minutes.  Hmm, grindy.

Hey look, an auction house!  Maybe you'll find some cool gear, or sell some mats your companions so diligently negotiated for.  Wait, what the heck is this interface?  Drop down boxes?  Category/sub-category?  Why did they even bother?

Then you start running.  And running.  More running.  Mounts are kind of slow.  That's ok right?  The world looks great, take your time to see it!

But the quests get a little repetitive.  The main story quest is great, but this period of roughly level 20-30 or 35 is a bit grindy.  No problem, you see the epicness about to come.  Except all the other quests are grindy.  Kill X, click Y, collect Z.

The instances have reverted to a very standard tank-dps-healer set up.  Is that other guy on follow or he actually doing anything?  Am I doing good damage?  Can't customize the UI, so no clue.  So you start to skip instances.

You start trying other classes.  Levelling, while once interesting is now repetitive.  You're skipping the voice acting.  Only the main story gets any air time.

As you experiment with alts, you realize that there is no open world, that's a BS marketing myth.  Everything is on rails.  NPCs just stand around waiting to be killed like every other MMO out there.

Some of the classes have so many abilities that you run out of button bar space.  Especially if you want to finely control your companion.  Which you need to if you prefer one companion over another, but it doesn't fit your talent selection.  Which abilities actually make sense?   Do we need a simcraft here?  Sigh.

You start doing harder instances, operations, etc.  The mechanics of your class feel off.  Not as responsive as other games.  Clunky, you might say.  You look for some open world PvP - but when the PvP planet isn't closed off, you can't find anyone in the opposite faction (or too many).  Ok, no faction balance.

You start thinking:
"Aside from the amazing Star Wars IP, is this just a shitty MMO with voice acting and class quests?"
"Is this just a bad 1 player KOTOR MMO?"
"Did these guys think an MMO is a regular 1 player game with a friends list, fixed instances with role rules for groups, and some basic objective-based PvP maps for small groups?"
"So if I have 30 minutes to log on and play, I can't actually do anything because I'd be running for 1/2 of that time?"
"Am I playing 2007 WoW re-skinned?"

You'd be right.

For people who point out that WoW copied it's predecessors, making is perfectly reasonable for SWTOR to copy WoW:  WoW took concepts in niche games and created a large scale, fun, accessible MMO.  They didn't revolutionize anything, they evolved the concepts.

SWTOR has only added voice acting.  Is this an evolution for MMOs?  No.  It's an incremental "feature."  And there is nothing else in SWTOR that is evolutionary.

There could have been.

Make truly open worlds with the ability to fly directly off planets, into space, then into other planets.
Make Dark Side/Light Side matter.  Hell, why can't a Jedi go Sith?
Character customization should be much more - not just a bloated talent tree.
PvP with the SWTOR engine should be large scale.  Like Battlefront.
Innovate on the tank-healer-dps model.

It's time for a new set of MMO glasses - copying what was done before with minor improvements will net a tidy little profit for Bioware, but there is no large franchise here.

And that's too bad.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is there anything interesting to play anymore aside from World of Warcraft?

Innovation in gaming is currently dead, at least across the mainstream publishers. Innovation is coming from indy developers - take a look at Minecraft or Anomaly: Warzone Earth. Minecraft is definitely an amazing story, and AWE is at least slightly different...though it belongs on an iPad!!

I have played WoW (world of warcraft) on and off for about 4 years. I had suspended my account for months at a time - there were a few periods of time where the game became really tired. For recent players, that would obviously be the second half of last year where raiders were stuck with the same content for almost a year.

Then Cataclysm came out - and even as a casual player I have "12/12" (completed normal raid encounters), leveled 4 toons to level 85 (including a mage from level 1 with heirlooms), sampled PvP again (stopped again - not into humping pillars), and basically seen almost all of what Cata offers. I had even quit for two months since the game came out late last year.

And I don't play a whole lot.

I don't really care about Heroic raid encounters - it's the same bosses, with a few more fires to stand in and a few more healer/tank cooldowns to press at the right time. The reward to get to Sinestra is simply not worth the hours (and hours and hours and hours) of wiping - I've seen top guilds on normal servers (not the super elite guilds) only now get to Sinestra, after raiding 40+ hours/week for 5 months!!! At a minimum that is 800 hours, or 47 days (waking hours). Almost two straight months of doing nothing else besides raiding, if done consecutively.

No thanks.

In fact, I casually leveled a mage from 1 to 85 in a couple weeks elapsed, and promptly had him raid ready in 1 day (item level 348+). The leveling process with full heirlooms including the guild rewards was ridiculous - the only grind was from 84-85. I think most of the time I was leveling 2-4 times/hour. Now I'm stuck - do I bother raiding with the mage, or hang em up til Firelands? The guild would highly prefer for me not to switch mains mid-tier - I don't even need to ask them, as I completely understand. It would turn into a main-switching fest. Plus they are working on 25 man heroic modes, which I have little interest in. One night they spent 4 hours working on 1 boss, without getting out of phase 1. NO THANKS.

So, why am I blogging any of this? Because I have tried a number of other games to see if anything else will capture my interest. Here is a list:

This was pretty fun. It's a pick-up-and-play game - and actually has some great dexterity (ie micro) requirements when playing some of the harder modes. It does have that fun factor no doubt - but without any form of multiplayer (for the love of god let someone play the towers!), I lost interest after completing the relatively quick campaign and a few challenge modes. Plus no saving or even checkpoints in challenge mode is enough to make one go crazy.


Quick and fun, but buggy as hell. Connecting with a friend took 30 minutes to figure out the house of cards - ie how to start a game without dropping out. Once in, the first hour or so was a lot of fun, but if you log out, don't play for a week, then come back....all the combo's are long forgotten. Lost interest.

Yep, I went back and purchased one of the better RTS's of all time. It still looks great after 5 years - and it is pretty damn fun. The problem is that I don't know anyone else who plays it, and I don't have any interest in random multiplayer. I'm probably not good enough to play them anyways - many of the players there have years of experience. The only downside of the game is that it seems to mostly be about map control, where bases are really just production buildings. But there certainly is a lot of options for interesting strategies, I bet. At $10 bucks for the original game (30 including one expac), it's a great price.

Oddly, I really enjoy watching replays, live streams, and youtube videos. LAGTV is particularly fun to watch, as well as anything by Day9. However, my friends who play it are all into laddering teams, which I just don't find that fun. It's all about Tier 1 units, rushes, and micro - sometimes you make it to the mid-game, but in the Platinum/Gold/Silver levels, all you see is marine rushes, cannon rushes, and 6 pools. Not that much fun - sure there are counters, but microing workers to defend a 6 pool gets old fast. For some reason I don't have any interest in laddering 1's, because it's just not social enough. I'd love to play against other similarly skilled friends, but they're either into teams or honestly are low bronze. In 1's I was low platinum/high gold - not great, but not horrible. I had only played 12 matches 1v1 as well.

My brothers and my friends LOVE this game. In fact, I introduced them to it! However, friftor some reason, I just can't get into it. The PvP is nice, and teamwork is great. To be truly competitive, there is a fairly high barrier to entry in learning all the class abilities, build orders, etc. And with each match at 20 minutes to 45 minutes roughly, this turns into a fairly large time commitment. Plus, it feels that the entire game is kiting - which is what put me off WoW PvP.

Like many, i took them up on the 7 day trial. I leveled a toon to 10, and tried another toon on the other side (defiant) as well. The class customization is quite impressive, even early in the game. Dual specs in WoW can't even compare. I'm sure this leads to imbalance issues in PvP however - which I had yet to try. In fact, I didn't even know how to - but forums suggest it leaves much to be desired. From a UI perspective, it was certainly nice to have all the same keybinds as WoW, but this ultimately is Rift's problem. It's a shiny WoW. UI is more "realistic" and less cartoony, and there are more flashy graphics (like the "Quest Complete" UI - gets old, fast). Plus, all the quests are kill or collector quests. Seriously? Kill spiders for their entrails?? Please, PLEASE, someone innovate here.

Other MMOs

I took another shot at Warhammer Online, LOTRO, etc...but they just aren't as polished as WoW or even Rift. WAR introduced some new ideas in PvP, but I just can't get into the UI. Something feels off, or "cheap". I LOVE the lore of LOTRO, but it gets boring. And micro-transactions to accelerate deeds or whatever is annoying. One thing I really did like was skirmishes in LOTRO, as I have mentioned before. I have thought about DC Universe online, but the PC version has some technical challenges from what I understand.


Honestly, I am bored of almost every game listed. Looking over the list of PC games in the past 1-2 years, there is very little to get excited about. If you can believe it, I was even thinking about picking up Warcraft 3 and the expac just for the campaign lore!! Some of the most fun in a single player game I've ever had was the campaign mode of War3...which leads me to randomly list some of my favorite games of all time:

  • Knights of the Old Republic (gogo Revan)
  • Warcraft 3/Frozen Throne (descent of Arthas, story of Illidan)
  • Baldurs Gate (turn based multi-character game, group comp dynamics)
  • Unreal Tournament - this shooter was the one I enjoyed the most
  • Grand Theft Auto - San Andreas - I liked the story and mood of this one the most
  • Halo (the original) - First game to offer an amazing coop experience
  • C&C: Red Alert - hours of play in the office. Before the days of Micro and APMs...but Soviet Tank Rush FTW.

Older games that I loved back in the day include Ultima 6, X-COM, and Wing Commander 2.

Looking over this list of "top 10 games of all time" according to multiple sources, it's truly amazing how many are over 10 years old:

Innovation in Gaming Is Dead. Until some tiny publisher does something dramatic. We can't play iPhone/iPad/Facebook games forever.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Patch 4.1 and 5 Man Raids

With the latest WoW patch, we have some more recycled content in Zul'gurub and Zul'aman. I don't mind catching the content up to current "world" and player status, but there is a problem with both - they didn't change. They were raids before, and now they are what you could call a "5 man raid".

This was mentioned over on "The Restokin" as well. 5 mans should not be a huge challenge and big time sink. It's to the point where everyone wants to avoid a LFD tool that is attracting all sorts of poorly skilled tanks (thanks to the bribe). I've seen paladins in +int gear (including enchants), druids in +str gear, etc.

Aside from the issue that iLevel is the requirement (seriously stupid), the issue is this. Zul'gurub has, what, 6 bosses? Firelands, the next raid in 4.2, has 7 bosses! Running ZA/ZG is an affair that can last hours...and the casual gamer pays the price.

Who really has interest in queueing for a heroic, waiting 15-45 minutes, then spending potentially hours trying to complete it? If you don't have a guild group or group with friends, forget it.

We all know the A Team is on Project Titan (the new MMO), but this isn't even a B Team.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

More on creating Accountability in LFD

I've been thinking more about this LFD issue. I know many players generally will outwardly say "get friends and shut up"...but that doesn't help focus on how to turn the LFD tool into something useful. There is a fantastic post over on wowinsider that talks about the history of heroics, especially when a great tank in tBC was well respected, and how different tanking was.

Back to how to solve the LFD issue, I really think that the community self-policing is what makes sense. Specifically, Solution 4 in the last post. It is a "Favored" system - the better people like you, the more likely you will get ahead in the queue. This should be tied to Account, not toon.

Some additional ideas include potentially showing if anyone in your guild, realid or friends list have "liked" a random player. Make it more likely that you are grouped with these people. Even make a ladder system which encourages players to want to be better liked.

Throw that damn carrot on a stick in front of them to push the right agenda - improve anonymous player behavior and bring some fun with it.