The Weekend Gamer
Thoughts on gaming culture, living among non-gamers, and growing up in the nintendo generation

Jan
06

I am a huge procrastinator.  This is a known fact about me.  So it should come as no surprise that a lot of my weekend was spent getting my Little Big Planet Level created and ready for this Saturday/Sunday.  I was supposed to have yesterday off, but I had to go in anyway for various reasons, so I took today off instead.  I used that time to keep working on the level, and I think it’s just about complete.

I had our audio/visual guy come over the house and watch me play though it.  We’re going to capture the video of me playing it on Thursday during the day, and then I need to write the voice over script and we’ll record that on Thursday night.  Our video staff member has been on vacation for a few days, but he’s back in tomorrow, so I’ll touch base with him then and he’ll have to splice the video and audio together later in the week.

Once it’s up I’ll see if I can get a version to post so that you guys can see the finished product.  It should be fun!

Steam had a gigantic sale between Christmas and New Years, and I took advantage by purchasing the Civ IV boxed with its first two expansions.  I loved Civilization Revolution, and thought I was ready to handle the real thing.  I loaded it up, started out on Noble difficulty and…promptly got my head handed to me on a platter–multiple times.

I understand the concepts, but the game can be supremely frustrating.  Ultimately I’m not a big combat strategy player.  I’d rather win through peaceful means.  But I get into the medieval era and keep getting overwhelmed by the CPU players coming after me.

So I switched it up and went for an early rush to take out some of my opponents.  I was successful in taking one out, but then got halted before I could get the second, and thought I could regroup and play the game defensively now with only 3 1/2 other nations instead of 5.  Wrong.   I got further, but still perished.  Right after this post is over, I’m going to try again, but its like learning a sport when you’re 3 years old–it takes time and practice.  I don’t even have a good idea of what would be a beneficial build order, so I hope that I can find some info online or learn through failing time and time again.  I hope I get the hang of it.

The big news early this week was that the 1up network (my favorite source of video game journalism) has been sold by Ziff Davis Media to UGO. Honestly, I haven’t the faintest idea what this will mean for the company, but it’s not usually a good thing when a company gets sold.  In any case, we do know that the move is bad for Electronic Gaming Monthly.  Bad as in closed. Arguably the most high profile video game magazine of all time(perhaps second only to the legendary Nintendo Power) will be defunct as of next month.   It’s the end of an era, and while I’m not surprised to see magazines fall out of favor, especially in the tech side of the magazine market, I can’t help but feel a little sad.  Good luck to those fine folks over at EGM.

–WG

Jan
02

Progress Report

So, it’s been a couple of weeks since my last post.  Sorry for the delay.  I know this gonna be a bit long, but hang in there with me, there is a surprise at the end!  I promise!

Spazter is now sitting dangerously close to 34.  I have been hitting the PvE pretty hard the past couple of weeks to get him up and ready for big RvR.  So far the best solo way I have found to level is to find a Kill Collector that gives credit for mobs in a PQ.  Usually stage 1 of a PQ has you kill 100-150 normal mobs.  I seem to be getting 2K XP per kill + 5K for finishing the PQ stage + 0.5K per kill from the Kill Collector.  Add that all up and you’ll get about 20-30K for about an hour of gaming, not bad.  The only thing faster so far has been a good AoE trio (usually Knight as puller, Engineer/BW for AoE, and a healer to keep it going quickly).

I have to jump in here and echo the concerns of many other players right now.  Mythic told us that RvR would be the fastest, funnest way to level our characters.  In WAR this is just not the case.  In fact, in it’s current state, I really do not enjoy RvR at all.  I have heard many ideas out there on how it could be fixed, or that it is the players’ faults.  So far these are the best things I have heard:

  • Multiple ways into keeps: I think that DAoC had it right here.  I’m talking stuff like: Breakable Keep Walls, Ladders, Siege Towers, Orcapults, Stealth. Multiple ways to get into the keep other than banging on the front door.  This is war!!!  I see Siege Towers all over the place.  I’ve even seen Orcapults in some earlier tier scenarios.  Why can’t I use em!  Having only one way into the keep makes the keep sieges static.  While I’m on this topic, I agree with others that siege pads are lame, let us decide where to put or gears of war.
  • Incentive to defend: As it is, there is no reason for me to defend a keep.  I can just wait until they leave and go take it back.  People need a reason to defend.  While I have heard a lot of suggestions on how this could be done, I am going to wait to hear from Mythic on this.
  • Speed the war up: After taking the keeps and BOs in a zone we shouldn’t need to hold them for days to be able to lock the zone and PvE shouldn’t be required.  They have come a ways on fixing this, but it needs tweaked more.  I can’t tell you how many nights that have died because no one wants to bother to take the time to flip a zone.

News and Gossip

I can’t even begin to sort through the hundreds of posts and news items that have flown from both Mythic and the community the past couple of weeks.  There is a new live event going on right now (Keg’s End). Extra XP for a limited time.  There have been two major game updates to 1.1 that opened up the 2 new classes to the masses and introduced an entirely new RvR Influence System.  And much, much, more.

First let me take a quick look at Keg’s End.  IMO, Keg’s End could be subtitled Grind’s Beginning.  They played on the success of the to-do list from Heavy Metal, which is great idea, but the whole thing feels way too slow.  For some reason I also feel like this takes MMO gaming in general back a few years to the days of “Get out of my Camp!!” and “Kill Stealing” from EQ2.   It doesn’t seem to cater to group but to the individual and it seems to foster the kind of feelings that make me want to quit MMOs.  In general, I say they did a horrible job with Live Event.  Don’t get me wrong here, I love the idea and story behind this, but the execution is a major fail IMO.

The RvR Influence System is a good idea.  However, it still feels too slow to me.  I only see the top line of hardcore players ever getting to the elite rewards.  The addition of the Extra XP is nice though.

State of the Game

At the End of 2008, where does this leave us?  IMO it’s never been a better time to get into the game.  I know that I’ve been overly critical of the game so far in this post, but I am expecting a lot and if Mythic happens to see my posts I want them to know where I stand.  So, WAR hasn’t completely lived up to it’s hype.  But take a look, it is winning awards and trudging through new and exciting ground that hasn’t been explored before in MMOs.  If you are one of those that left, are thinking of leaving, or perhaps just thinking about playing the game for the first time, here are a couple of good points to bank on:

  • New Content: You don’t have to wait a year or even a quarter for new content.  New content is being pumped out of the developers so fast that it blows my mind.  3 months of gaming and 3 live events packed with new content.  2 new classes, and major upgrades just about every week.
  • Fixes: Yes, it still needs a ton, but they have new fixes just about every day.  If you left for some a particular bug or something, I urge you to come back.  Chances are they’ve fixed the bug you quit for or will fix it soon.
  • Mythic is listening: They hear our cries and respond.  I haven’t seen this level of interaction from any other company out there.  Mythic continues to impress me here.
  • More players: If you are gonna start playing or come back, now is the time.  As johnny and the other thousands of new players opened up their shinny new WAR boxes for Christmas, I think we are looking at an influx of new players here.  Plus you add on Mythic’s XP bump and now we’re talkin’!

Wrap Up

The bottom line here is that Mythic needs to continue working on the game, and that this gamer thinks that future looks awfully bright for WAR.  Now, I know that I’ve missed a lot of good stuff here, so to make up for it here comes my surprise.  It seems that with my subscription I get buddy accounts.  Since I have two accounts, I gots a bunch of em!  So if you’re interested in trying WAR free for 30 days, send an email to ctiggerf@gmail.com and tell me your preferred server (I am on Badlands if you want to join me) and whether or not you want to play Order or Destruction. I’ll give them out to the first 5 people that request them.  Make sure you are actually going to use it before you send because they are limited and non-returnable.  Other than that, here is some nice reading to pass your new years off with:

PvE Dungeons:  Part 1 and Part 2
Twas the Night Before Keg’s End
How to Play a Rune Priest
10 Odd Tome Unlocks
Da Bloody Twenty
Interesting MMO Stats from Massively and GamerDNA
Paul Barnett reflects on 2008 Gaming in a BBC Article

I hope your Christmas was great and that you have an awesome new year!  Until Next Time,
Get Your WAAAGH on!!!
-cfalzone

Dec
31

Possibly the biggest disappointment this year, and I didn't even mention it

In any year, we are used to being bombarded with all sorts of promises.  Developers will promise us the moon, if they think it will garner interest in their game.  2008 was a year of bounty, with excellently executed titles for every variety of gamer, from the casual to the core, the RPG lover, the FPS fan, and everything in between.

And yet even though we were spoiled for choice this year, there were still many disappointments.  The following are my picks for the five biggest video game disappointments of 2008.  There’s no one mark of underachievement here–each entry has a unique fashion in which they’ve disappointed in my eyes, which I’ll explain as I go:

1.  Spore–long in development, it ultimately came with an underwhelming punch to the gut.  The game was the 2006 E3 game of the show–that’s how long we’ve been hyping Will Wright’s latest work.  Spore’s not a bad game, but it wasn’t the masterpiece everyone expected it to be either.  The game garnered more press for it’s restrictive DRM then for its gameplay, and an admission to trying to cast as wide a net as possible seemed to confirm what we’d all suspected–the game is a bit schizophrenic, with it’s various stages of play feeling disjointed and halting at times. That’s not to say that any one section of the game wasn’t lots of fun, but the fact that the game has largely remained out of the game of the year talk this time around is telling.

2.  Little Big Planet–just in case you thought I was biased, Little Big Planet makes this list.  I love the game.  Absolutely adore it.  But it’s failing to make a mark with people having sold less than 400k copies in it’s first 8 weeks.  Perhaps this is because it’s on a platform with a smaller install base, or maybe it’s because the depth of its level creation is only appealing to a small niche of people–whatever the reason, what is perhaps the most innovating game of the year has so far failed to be the system seller it was hyped as (even though ironically it was the game that got me to buy a PS3!)…

3.  Speaking of the PS3…yes, I can’t make a list of disappointments without mentioning Sony’s lethargic behemoth of a console.  2008 was supposed to be “the year of the PS3”, and while MGS4 did usher in a short spike in console sales, it wasn’t enough.  Blu ray isn’t doing as well as it should be, and disappointment #4 on my list is another reason that November’s sales were truly scary.  Sony was the only console maker to see a drop in sales year to year when comparing Nov 07 with Nov 08.  Oh yeah, and I haven’t even mentioned HOME yet.  The PS3 is expensive, it’s hard to develop for, and it’s anything but casual.  People just aren’t buying it.  There, I said it.   Disappointing, for sure.

4.  Call of Duty: World at War–once again, CoD:WaW isn’t a bad game by any stretch, it’s simply a disappointment when coming down off of the high of last year’s Modern Warfare.  Treyarch certainly has given it the old college try, but in the end, it still feels like the B team, even if some of that stigma is just mental.  Back to World War II? ouch.  The fact that Call of Duty 4 is still up there on the most played games on Xbox live this week is just another sign that World at War doesn’t quite rise to the challenge that it’s big brother title set last Fall.  And on top of it all, I’m not so sure if Activision has the right idea with annualizing their franchises.  I’d rather see a new Call of Duty ever two years instead of every year.  Give us some time to anticipate the next game for crying out loud!

5.  My final disappointment of 2008 isn’t one title, but more of a genre–Music Rythym games.  Or rather the over saturation thereof.  Oh Guitar Hero…what are you doing?  It’s now been four years in a row that we’ve had new plastic guitars, new discs whose libraries don’t coexist with each other–and then there’s the carpal tunnel inducing Guitar Hero: On Tour for DS, as well as the cacophony of Band Discs that came or were announced in 2008–Aerosmith, ACDC, Metallica, the Beatles.  How many plastic instruments can we realistically be expected to have in our homes??  Rock Band had the right idea by trying to create a platform instead of releasing a new disc every year, but they were dragged into releasing Rock Band 2 by Guitar Hero’s new outing, World Tour.  At least the songs were transferable with Rock Band 2.  And let’s not even start with Rock Revolution…ugh.

    Activision has already stated that they want to do at least 5 or 6 new iterations of Guitar Hero in 2009.  6 different games to buy?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Enough is enough already!

    Honorable mention has got be given to several other games that weren’t necessarily hugely disappointing, but still didn’t deliver like I had hoped they would.  Resistance 2 has a great multiplayer experience, but an ultimately flawed single player campaign.  Prince of Persia and Tomb Raider: Underworld have fallen to B level status–kind of sad for franchises that each defined their genre for their respective console generations.  Mirror’s Edge is a great concept, but lacked…something (in my estimation).  And what about the Wii–where are the must have games this fall?  Animal Crossing certainly deserves to be considered as a disappointment, but it’s nothing compared to the train wreck of Wii Music.  For that matter, where are the must have Wii titles for 09?  Can anyone name any? Yikes.

    So hit me with your feedback.  Am I crazy?  What big dissapointments of 08 did I miss?  What are your thoughts on my top 5, and what would your top 5 be?

    –WG

    Dec
    23

    It’s customary this time of year to look back at the months prior and reflect.  In the time we have left in 2008, I’ll be doing just that.  I figured I’d start with my personal pick for game of the year.

    There are certainly not starved for choices.  Notable games I have played have included (but are not limited to) Grand Theft Auto IV, Dead Space, Gears of War 2, Mario Kart, Rock Band 2, Super Smash Bros., Fable 2, Left 4 Dead, Mirror’s Edge, No More Heroes, Burnout Paradise, and Metal Gear Solid 4.  And that’s just the cream of the crop.

    Little Big Planet is very close to being my game of the year, simply because it is the most innovative game to come out in 2008.  Despite lacklustter sales for a supposed system seller (hey, it was a system seller for me!), it represents a leap forward in how we think about gaming–web 2.0 seamlessly and fluidly married to the side scrolling platformer.  It’s gorgeous, cute, family friendly, and addictively fun.

    However, when all is said and done, my game of the year must be Fallout 3.  While not perfect, Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic RPG was the deepest, most immersive experience I’ve played in 2008.  The universe that they iterated on and presented was as compelling as they come, drawn to life with an eerie sense of foreboding that came across vividly as you trekked through the D.C. wasteland.  I also really enjoyed the gameplay mechanics, from the V.A.T.S. system to the leveling and perks.  Bethesda’s got three packs of DLC hitting starting in January, and I simply can’t wait to be reimmersed in the world of Fallout.

    It was a tough year to pick just one game as game of the year.  I’m sure some of you agree with my pick, while many have a different game in mind.  What’s your personal game of the year?

    –WG

    Dec
    20

    Round 2 of Gears of War happened this week, with more mixed results.  The second level of Gears 2 is the now infamous on rails level that was demoed over and over earlier this year.  While it was panned for being a bit one dimensional, it was not without its challenges.  Two platforms side by side, moving both horizontally and vertically, and bouncing, is not the easiest environment in which to learn how to move and aim with two analog sticks, as Rachel quickly found out.

    Gears is actually a pretty good game for her to learn the basic skills necessary to play an FPS for two reasons:

    1. Different difficulty levels for each player–this is the first game I’ve seen where one player can be on one difficulty level, and the other on another difficulty level.  It means that I can have a sufficient challenge, and at the same time, Rachel’s character is harder to kill, and is more lethal than mine.  What that means is that she can contribute to the action, without simply walking behind me while I do everything.  Don’t get me wrong, there are times when that does happen, but she’s definitely able to take part without feeling completely frustrated.
    2. Predictable Enemy AI–I hate to say it, but Locust AI is pretty straight forward on any difficulty setting.  They get behind cover, the pop up at set intervals, and then they pop up some where else.  If you flank them, they move to the next cover.  Sometimes there are scripted events, but for the most part, the pattern plays out over and over.  This is a good thing for Rach.  It means that she can stay in cover and work on coordinating the many motions and button presses that are required to keep your reticule trained on an enemy long enough to take them down.

    That’s why an on rails experience like the second chapter that I described above is detrimental to Rachel’s learning curve. The game is controlling what gets thrown at us and at what speed.  In a normal level, we can progress as slowly and methodically as we like.

    We did better once we hit the ground again, until we got to the first section in which we were asked to split up.  This of course illicited panic out of Rachel, with her moving to the rooftops while I went indoors.  With some careful and meticulous planning, we were able to navigate our separate sections–Rachel even managed to mortar open a rooftop for me, and then we faced our first boss fight.  Admittedly, Rach spent most of the time running in circles on her roof during this fight, but I was able to take it down and then we decided that was good enough for one night.

    –WG

    Dec
    16

    I opened up Little Big Planet’s create mode for the first time tonight, and began making my way through the cacophony of tutorials. For all the ways that they try to make it as easy as possible to wield the many tools on offer,  it’s more akin learning an instrument.   Having done that several times over in my musical career, I’m hopeful that I can become familiar enough with the process to come up with something interesting in the next couple of weeks.

    You see, I had this crazy idea to try to create and choreograph a level in Little Big Planet and then play it live during a church service this January.  We’re doing a new sermon series called “Heroes and Villains”, in which we’re talking about all the bible stories we hear about as kids, but then never talk about later as adults–David and Goliath, Moses, Joseph, Samson and Delilah, etc.  Each week we’re doing something creative–a drama, video, or other visual way of retelling the story–a sort of refresher for those that don’t remember the story.

    My point is that I believe that Little Big Planet has such a robust creation suite that it could be used to articulate a story with humor for a large audience, while at the same time communicating information–in a similar but slightly different way to what Sony did with their presentation at E3 this year.  My only problem may be that it’s too robust.

    My plan is to storyboard out the different events that I want to have happen, and then pace them correctly in the level, write out a voice over for a narrator part, and then have someone record as I play.  Ambitious? Yes.  But I think it may be possible, and have some fun at the same time.  I may also pull in Rachel, the resident visual artist in the house, to help me.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

    –WG