A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “DDO

Discussion: MMO Pricing Models

Today I’m going to talk about something that stirs up a lot of feelings in a lot of people all over the net: pricing models.

Here’s the three different primary types here:

Free to Play

Microtransaction

Subscription

Allow me to explain…

Free to Play is just what it says: Free. To. Play. Seriously, you download the game, you install it, you set up an account, and bam, you’re ready to go. It’s that simple. Examples of these games are Champions Online, D&D Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and several of the games I’ve previously mentioned like 9Dragons and ACE Online. For future reference, I’m abbreviating this as F2P.

Microtransactions (I may have explained this in the past, but humor me) are where you throw a few dollars at the game here and there. Typically this goes hand in hand with a F2P model. The point is to purchase in a cash shop of sorts a few extraneous objects or such that you don’t normally get with your usual account. An example of the things that are usually available in such a shop are extra character slots on the server, additional character classes or capabilities, costume items that have no effect outside of changing your appearance, experience bonus items, and so forth. Frequently the company running the game invents some sort of point system that goes with the shop. Champions Online and Star Trek Online both have their C-Store (Cryptic Store) and they take advantage of Atari Tokens. D&D Online and Lord of the Rings Online are both run by Turbine and they each have very similar shops with points named differently (DDO Points and Turbine Points, respectively). Sometimes the company running the game doesn’t even bother to do point transactions. In the case of games like Star Wars Galaxies where there’s a separate card game built into the game, you just buy booster packs and such using your credit card or whatever. Sometimes these points are easy to get (in LOTRO, you can gain Turbine Points by accomplishing deeds that award 5, 10, or 15 points and you can save them up), other times you can only get them by buying them (Star Trek Online), and still other times you can get a stipend of points per month for subscribing (D&D Online and Champions Online each offer 500 and 400 of their points per month, respectively). All in all, you’re typically not spending a lot of money at once (if at all), hence the term “microtransactions”. Me, if I like a game well enough, I’m cool with throwing twenty bucks at it (like LOTRO).

Subscriptions for MMOs have always been a touchy subject but most frequently they’re priced around fifteen dollars a month. Some games (once again, LOTRO) offer the occasional discount to ten bucks a month and a few games out there are five a month (I believe Dungeon Runners used to do this). Sometimes if you buy a bunch of months in a row (like 6 or 12) you can get a discount. $120 bucks a year changes your subscription to ten bucks a month instead of fifteen… which isn’t bad if you intend to play the game for the whole year. Like I’ve implied, subscriptions can run monthly, annually, bi-annually, or whatever. Also, some few games offer lifetime subscriptions where you pay one large lump sum (often enough to buy an XBox 360 or a PS3) for permanent subscription services for as long as the game is up. I recently acquired a lifetime subscription to Star Trek Online for the paltry sum of $300 (hah, paltry) and there’s really no difference between a normal subscription and the lifetime (except for a few nifty concessions). Once upon a time, I said (upon discovering Everquest was fifteen bucks a month) that I would only truly pay to play a Star Wars game. Well, I’ve been proven wrong (DDO, LOTRO, STO and now another SW game is coming out soon).

Admittedly, those are the primary models above, but companies love to mix and match to their own delight. A prime example of this is in what Turbine and Cryptic have  done to their games. Let’s take a look at D&D Online and then Champions Online:

D&D Online offers a free to play model. There is a cash store where you can buy points and spend said points on objects you want. There’s also a variety of subscription options (monthly, 3 months, 6 months I believe) available for those who want free access to all the restricted content that’s available for purchase in the store (more or less). Further, for those who subscribe, you gain 500 DDO points per month of your active subscription. If you allow your subscription to lapse, you downgrade to a “Premium” account which has more benefits than a regular Free account, but considerably less than a subscription. In this case, if you’re playing a class (like the Monk or Favored Soul) that is specifically given to you because of your subscription, you lose access to that character until you purchase the class in another way (via favor or money).

Champions Online has recently gone free to play. There’s a cash store where you can buy points and spend them on objects you want. They also have subscription options, but they also offer a lifetime subscription with additional benefits on top of the standard subscription. The entire game is available to play, but certain quest trees are unavailable except to those who subscribe or purchase said quest packs. For subscribers (lifetime and otherwise) you gain 400 Atari Tokens a month. If you are no longer a subscriber you revert to a “Silver Player” (as opposed to Gold) and lose access to all the things that Gold Players get specifically (you lose access to your Freeform characters and quest packs) until you subscribe again.

Personally, I’m a fan of these combination models. I feel that they appeal to wider audiences and in many cases allow people to try the games until they feel like they want to spend money on it to get the extra stuff (like me with D&D Online, Lord of the Rings Online). Champions Online is now a current favorite for me and I’m highly tempted to get a lifetime account with them.  Don’t worry, I make myself come up with three good reasons before I splurge on something so expensive.

When looking to invest in a game, it’s encouraging that so many are going free to play with subscription options. I’m certainly a fan of being able to try stuff out before buying (like test driving a car). I have a hunch that subscription-only games are going to be phased out in the future and “choose your own pricing model” games will become the business standard.

Regarding the lifetime subscriptions: personally I like to buy and not worry about things any more, hence why I’m a fan of these. Further, Star Trek Online has held a lasting appeal for me in the last six months and I felt it was a worthwhile investment. Also, STO is still a growing game. It’s been around one year (celebrated its one year anniversary the first week of February). If Galaxies had a lifetime subscription option, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

Until next time, choose wisely so that you can have a great time!

– Elorfin

P.S. In hunting down links to put up above, I found something particularly awesome that some friends may or may not appreciate. Neverwinter.

P.P.S. I was right about the Dungeon Runners subscription. Booyah.

P.P.P.S. “Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it.” – Publilius Syrus


Discussion: My feelings on Star Wars Galaxies today

I’d like to share something that’s been bothering me lately: my drive to play Star Wars Galaxies is pretty much gone. I’m still paying to play it, but I just would rather play other things (new or old). I’m going to try to explain this as best as I can, so bear with me.

Let’s get something straight first: I WANT to play Star Wars Galaxies. The issue I’m having is that, well, I’ve already done everything I wanted to do in the game. I want to do more than there is. Star Trek Online is fascinating to me because they’re constantly releasing new content. Galaxies kind of stopped doing that. If you will, they decided to focus more on the in-game card game than the game itself. They haven’t developed a new planet since Trials of Obi-Wan, they haven’t released genuinely new content since Halloween of 2008 (I think) with the release of Death Troopers and the zombie problems on Dathomir.

I think what I really want is something that SOE is unlikely to give: new life to the game. Maybe it’s a change in pricing model (Free-to-Play/Premium/Subscriber/Lifetime seems to be the way things go these days with a couple of games). Maybe it’s the addition of locations that would give a huge amount of variety into the game like Nar Shadda or the ruins of Alderaan or maybe a genuine visit to locations like Hoth (instead of PvP instances)… or how about giving guilds capital ships that they can craft or adding more to spaceflight and space combat? No, the latest update to the game just adds another quest series to Dathomir with the Witches and a revisit to the Officer class that was sorely needed. Last time I played, they had added the Rare Loot system…

I’m frustrated because I want to play. I’m sad because there’s nothing left for me to do aside from these extremely difficult to solo (or even handle with group) quests. I’m genuinely disappointed and I wish I wasn’t.

It’s almost like there’s this approach to games from the stone age still out there… that developers want a “fire-and-forget” game that they can release onto the market and not have to bother patching or releasing updates in the age of high speed internet and discerning consumers. I suppose they ask “why keep investing in one project when we can make so many more that can get us more money?” I thought the point of an MMO was to keep investing to develop a loyal player base that continues to purchase all the expansions and add-ons that you create? There hasn’t been a TRUE expansion to Galaxies SINCE late 2005 and that was the New Game Enhancement and the Trials of Obi-wan release.

Star Trek Online’s developers at Cryptic get it. Every once in a while they release a weekly series of episodes that are fresh, new, and fun. This keeps me coming back, wanting to be prepared for the next series of episodes. I’m looking forward to the eventual release of the Romulans as a playable faction (fingers crossed!) and the ability to eventually craft my own Delta Flyer. I can’t wait to go toe-to-toe with whatever menace is lurking over the horizon, my friends and their ships ready to go. Galaxies has lost the spark it once had and I think an overhaul of approach is needed. I will admit that if they ever offer a veteran reward or an option to purchase a lifetime account, I’ll be the first to jump on it. Seriously though, I’ve been paying to play Galaxies for so long that I think I’ve EARNED a lifetime subscription. I can only hope that good things happen for Galaxies and I hope I’ll still be there to see them. In the mean time, I’ll be playing Champions Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and Star Trek Online while I occasionally glance at the icon for Galaxies and feel that pang of sadness.

Until next time, here’s hoping everything gets better and better!

– Elorfin

P.S. “There can be no rainbow without a cloud and a storm.” – John Heyl Vincent


I’ve been away for a bit – Let’s Play Catch Up!

Hey folks, I know I haven’t written anything of late here, but I have good reasons!

Let me just say that Assassin’s Creed II (I played it via Steam) is hands down an improvement over the first installment in the series. That said, Brotherhood plays even better (can’t wait for the PC version to come out… I prefer the controls on the computer!). In the spirit of beating games, I dug out my copy of Mr. Robot and whipped that in a couple of days. I also picked up Recettear on Steam and beat that in a couple of days (much fun!).

Star Trek Online did a big environmental update that changed the Sector Space portion of the game into a more graphically pleasing and “natural” environment. Further, they upgraded their crafting system so that the players can build another 400 or so items. End result? My ship, the U.S.S. Iowa-B now has souped up weapons! I spent a lot of time crafting those Phasers and Photon Torpedo Launchers, and they were SO worth it!

If I may, here’s my usual gaming schedule (always subject to changes):

  • Monday Night – Lord of the Rings Online with a friend
  • Tuesday Night – Hanging out with a friend at his place, playing the flavor of the week
  • Wednesday Night – D&D Online with friends
  • Friday Night – Star Trek Online with friends
  • Saturday Night – D&D 4th Edition at a friend’s place
  • Every other Sunday – D&D 3.5 at another friend’s place

Hey, it keeps me busy!

Until next time! Keep on playing!

– Elorfin

P.S. My ship that you see above is named for the U.S.S. Iowa BB-61, the last lead ship of any class of United States battleships. My grandfather commissioned her in 1943 and served on her during World War II. “The Big Stick” is a source of pride in my family and my grandfather was quite tickled that I named my ship for the Iowa. If you look above, I even got the BB-61 on her somewhere.

P.P.S. “All you need to know is this. There are two kinds of games: games that I stop playing because I’ve been bored or frustrated into a state approaching rigor mortis, and games that I stop playing because I’ve just noticed I should have had dinner two hours ago.” – Zero Punctuation

P.P.P.S. I’m using Wikipedia links for my references because in the linked articles, there are links to other relevant sources for whatever I’m referencing. This makes things way easier on me and on you, the reader. Enjoy!

EDIT: December 24th, 1:45 AM – I just got off playing some Star Trek Online and the U.S.S. Iowa-B is looking spiffy with the addition of some cool new equipment. My friend and I refer to it as “Tronning out”. Enjoy!

She looks so awesome! Until  next time!


Discussion: When is a game completed?

A recent project of mine has been to list all of the games that I’ve played in my lifetime. No, not board games or card games, but computer and video games. When I started this project a few days ago, I began by listing the name of the game, the platform I played it on, and whether or not I finished the game or left it incomplete. Later I added the genre of the game in another column. Earlier today, I was asked if I had a count of how many of the games I had listed had actually been completed and also, what constituted a completed game? There are some games that just never have a solid ending (city-building games like SimCity or online games like World of Warcraft) and other games that have more fluid endings (like Civilization). When do I declare a game finished?

For the purposes of city-building games (SimCity, SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, Afterlife, Caesar, etc.) I declare the game to be “finished” when I have finally hit upon a self-sufficient city design and I’m happy with it. In the first three SimCity games I managed to achieve that. Self-sufficient is defined for my purposes as, well, I could technically walk away from the keyboard for a few minutes and not worry that the city will blow up in my absence. It’s got a positive revenue, I’ve built up my planned design, and there’s not much more improving I can do… yeah.

For the purposes of games like Civilization, Sins of a Solar Empire, Master of Orion, and similar strategy games with no tangible storyline, they are “finished” when I have completed a beginning to end playthrough once. That’s all it takes. When it comes to these games though, sometimes it takes several days. It could also be on the easiest difficulty, like in my case, I happen to enjoy playing Civilization IV on the easiest setting, but occasionally I crank up the difficulty a step or two. I never leave a game like this alone after beating it once.

For the purposes of online games (Dungeons & Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, Star Wars Galaxies, World of Warcraft, etc.) I say they are “finished” when I have taken at least one character to the maximum level available in the game. Therefore, Star Trek Online and Star Wars Galaxies are classified as finished whereas Dungeons & Dragons Online and World of Warcraft isn’t. Further, there’s nothing to say I can’t keep playing a game once I’ve classified it as “finished” on my list, it’s just a barometer for how far I’ve taken a particular game (especially MMOs). This is regardless of the storyline in the game.

Other games are definitely done if I feel I played the hell out of them like I did Super Smash Bros. Melee or Super Mario Kart. Or if I finished the storyline like in Final Fantasy VIII or IX (I remember finally finishing those in the same weekend after not playing them for 6-8 months or something like that… VIII on a Saturday and IX on a Sunday, bam, done). The Sims? Right, I labeled that one as finished because I got one Sim all the way up to the Chief of Police in my game once upon a time (way back in fall 2002) and since then that file has vanished into the ether between electrons. I do distinctly remember such a thing happening, which is why I classified it as “finished”.

Mind, this is my personal measurement of completion. I have a friend who believes that Diablo II: Lord of Destruction will not be truly beaten until he’s beaten it on the hardest difficulty setting. I called it a win when I got through Nightmare. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

Now, a fair portion of my list is classified as incomplete. This could refer to any number of reasons:

1) I didn’t like the game after trying it

2) I didn’t own the game and played it at a friends house

3) I no longer own the game

4) I can’t remember ever finishing it

5) Any permutation of the above

Oh, also, I’ve played some games on multiple platforms. Chrono Trigger hasn’t changed much (if at all) from its SNES roots to the Playstation port to the current DS version, so I marked that I’d finished the game (which I have, several times over) but that the platform is DS. Maybe later I’ll expand the platform box to allow for all the versions I’ve played of a single game, but I’ve only marked it once. For the record, I haven’t beaten Chrono Trigger on the DS yet, but I beat the Playstation version and I beat the SNES version on ZSNES (emulation) several times.

For Lunar, I played and beat it on SEGA CD at a friend’s house a long time ago, I got it for the Playstation and beat it (and subsequently lost my copy or loaned it to someone), and according to my GameSpot listing I have a copy of Lunar Legend somewhere (which I recall beating, but I can’t find it anywhere) and now I have the Lunar Harmony version for the PSP. The differences between Lunar: The Silver Star and Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete were incredible (harp to ocarina anyone?) so I counted them separately on my list. The differences between Lunar: SSSC and Lunar Legend were less so, but there was a drastic graphical change, so I marked that one too as a separate game. Lastly, there was also a huge change between the GBA Lunar Legend and the PSP Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, so that one was counted separately too. So… on my list of games played in my life, I’ve counted Chrono Trigger once (even though I’ve played it on four different platforms) and Lunar four times (because of the differences between the remakes). If any of that made any sense, I owe you a cookie or something.

I have this bad habit of playing a game almost all the way to the end, realizing that I missed something WAYYYYY back near the beginning, starting again and then getting a decent way in and stopping playing for about 6 months to a year. With Final Fantasy VIII, IX, XII, I eventually went back and beat them, but with games like Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Legend of Dragoon, and Harbinger, I might never go back because they’re too old or something equally silly. I haven’t touched Legend of Dragoon in so long and I remember being so close to the ending, but because I don’t remember how to play, if I do pick it up again I’ll have to start a new game. Also, some games tempt me to pick them up again. I’ve been having this urge to play Chrono Cross again and, lately, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time.

I included some expansions as separate entries. In the case of Starcraft, Brood War was practically its own game. Likewise with the expansions to Wing Commander 2, and a few other games. Sometimes the contributions of an expansion weren’t ever significant enough to me, so I didn’t count it (Empire Earth, Age of Empires II, and a few others).

Oh, here’s my key for the genres of the games. This is mostly just for my own purposes, but I’d like to get the key put down somewhere.

AADV – Action Adventure (includes combination games that display elements of both Action and Adventure games) 22

ACT – Action (includes scrolling shooters, light gun games, third-person shooters and any sports games) (yes sports because I don’t really play any so they don’t get their own category) 49

ADV – Adventure (includes graphical adventures, text adventures, point-and-click games) 64

ARPG – Action Role-Playing Game (for hack-and-slash games) (any Diablo game or clone thereof and games similar to Marvel Ultimate Alliance) 28

EDU – Educational (mostly games I played as a kid) (Super Solvers Midnight Rescue! got a humorous response out of a friend last night) 6

FGT – Fighting (Mortal Kombat and similar games) 16

FPS – First-Person Shooter (Duh.) 19

FSIM – Flight Simulation (I played a lot of these growing up) 29

MMO – Massively Multiplayer Online (These too) 30

PLT – Platform (games where you jump from platform to platform) (I’m not especially good at these, but I haven’t quite learned my lessons yet) 20

PUZ – Puzzle (Yup.) 13

RACE – Racing (I’ve played a couple) 7

RPG – Role-Playing Game (My first real experience here can be summed up in one word: Starflight) 82

RTS – Real-Time Strategy (Remember when you didn’t know what this was? I do.) 30

SIM – Simulation (includes any city building simulation) 29

TBS – Turn-Based Strategy (this includes computer board games like Star Wars Monopoly) 47

TDS – Tower Defense Strategy (Addictive little games) 2

If there’s a combination of things, like in X-COM Apocalypse where you can pick real-time or turn-based, I’ve labeled it as TB/RTS or similarly for the other categories as needed to accurately define it for myself. For those, the breakdown goes like this: ACT/FPS 1, ACT/PLT 2, ACT/SIM 1, ADV/PLT 1, ADV/RPG 2, PLT/PUZ 2, PLT/SIM 1, PUZ/RPG 1, RTS/RPG 1, TB/RTS 3. 15

Mostly, this is to get things straight in my head. As of this writing, the list contains 508 separate entries detailing my experiences with PC (288), MAC (2), SEGA CD (2), Dreamcast (2), NES (8), SNES (7), ZSNES (22), GameCube (13), Wii (26), SEGA (4), SEGA Game Gear (2), Commodore 64 (1), Arcades (6), XBox (5), XBox 360 (22), Playstation (14), Playstation 2 (26), PSP (15), GameBoy Advance (17), DS (22), Atari 2600 (2) and the Nintendo 64 (2). This list includes 261 “finished” and 247 “incomplete” games. Mind, these aren’t hard and fast necessarily as I focus on my memories and remember which games were on one of the three desktops or three laptops I’ve owned in my life or if they were on the “not-long-for-our-home” Commodore 64. In fact, as I write this, I think I only ever played Might and Magic II on the C64. Guess I’ll change that later… PC -1, C64 +1.

I checked the math on each of my three metrics, they all add up to 508. Anyways, maybe sometime soon I’ll figure out a way to share this list. In the meantime, I need to get to bed.

Until next time, every game is an experience that you can count on!

– Elorfin

P.S. Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him. – Aldous Huxley

P.P.S. Every experience is a paradox in that it means to be absolute, and yet is relative; in that it somehow always goes beyond itself and yet never escapes itself. – T.S. Eliot


Discussion: Death Penalties in Games

Okay class, today’s discussion is covering the penalty associated with getting whacked, slain, or otherwise killed in games. Dying or death is an issue in a majority of games and a great deal of mechanics center on preventing it from happening. There are a lot of games where there’s no character that dies, so there’s a moment of defeat that the player has to struggle to stay away from like in Tetris or Bejeweled or any number of today’s “casual” games. I’m mostly going to talk about games that have a character that can be killed or subjected to some kind of incapacitation in this discussion.

This is sort of the flip side of the coin from making progress in a game. I mean, what would stop you from making progress at all? Yeah, being dead can kind of cause a bit of a problem there. Just a bit. Anyways, games tend to throw a roadblock in front of the player and if the player fails to pass that obstacle, there are penalties like death to deal with. Let’s pick out a few examples of this.

Many platformer games (Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros., etc.) have the controlled character with a few hit points and when these two or three run out, you’ve got to restart at your last checkpoint or at the beginning of the stage. Some games had save points (Super Metroid), but those are essentially the same as checkpoints and some games let you have a lot more than two or three hit points (again, Super Metroid is a great example of this), but it’s essentially the same. If you run out of hit points, you are killed or defeated and you either reload or respawn or retreat (depending on the terminology the game is using) to the last safe point you found. The object is to go for as long as you can without being forced back to that checkpoint by death and the game sometimes gives you little items to help stave off this penalty for as long as you can. In Super Metroid (I suppose I’m going to keep using this as an example) you get more energy canisters that increase the overall amount of health you have, you get special suits of armor to help in resisting particular types of damage, you’re given new weapons to help with defeating enemies faster and more efficiently and you’re given new ways to prevent falling down pits or to keep you from getting stuck in certain areas. In a simpler example, in Super Mario Bros., Mario (or Luigi) is given mushrooms to make him large, enabling him to jump higher, break blocks, and take one more hit before falling. If you grab something like a fireflower, you are given the ability to shoot fireballs and you can take another hit before dying.

The above mechanism is constant through a lot of game genres. Essentially, it’s the same for platformers, role playing games, first person shooters, even racing games. Let’s take a look at a Final Fantasy game. Here you have three or four party members, each with their own abilities and so forth. If your party dies, you’re kicked back to the load screen so you can pick which save you’d like to start from. If you die in a Final Fantasy game, you lose time spent towards progressing the storyline and the development of your characters. Overall, the penalty for death in a lot of these games is lost time, lost investment. I recall playing Final Fantasy XII through the Necrohol of Nabudis and I was trying to get to the monster called Chaos (he becomes a summon, but he’s completely optional). So, here I am, entertaining the completionist part of myself, and I spend a long time trying to get to this one point. Mind, the last save point is literally a 20 minute walk away at this point and the bad guys will respawn in the dungeon, so I’d have to fight through them again on my way back after saving. I got killed in the fight with Chaos when I ALMOST had him. I dropped the controller, shut off the game, and didn’t touch it again for a year and a half. Mind, I didn’t play because I got killed in an optional area. Yeah, I’m a sore loser sometimes. I eventually went back and just beat the game, but every now and again I get tempted to play it some more.

With the introduction of online role playing games, death penalties are something of a point of contention amongst players. Here’s a few examples of the differences between games.

In D&D Online, the death penalty consists of 1) damage to all of your equipment that you need to repair for a small cost per item and 2) reduced experience payout for the quest you’re doing. That and you kind of need to catch back up to your party if you accidentally resurrect back at a tavern or something.

In Star Trek Online, there’s  not really much of a death penalty at all. If you’re in space, your ship blows up and you’re forced to respawn back at the nearest respawn point that you flew by (these respawn points are not obvious and are often the beginning of the zone where you entered). If you’re on the ground, you’re knocked out and you can be brought back by a teammate or an NPC crew member if they’re still alive. No tangible penalties unless you increase the difficulty setting for the missions you’re running. Then you need to deal with injuries on your captain and injuries on your ship which can be removed if you have minor/major/critical regenerators or components in your inventory.

In Star Wars Galaxies, they changed the death penalties a bit either when the Combat Upgrade hit or the New Game Enhancement, I forget which. The original death penalty was that your equipment would take damage (you could insure your equipment so instead of taking 5% damage, I think, they took 1% damage) and you had to “clone” (basically respawn) where you had stored your cloning information (saved your character). Also, you had wound points to deal with in each of your three damage taking statistics: health, action, and mind (referred to as HAM). You had to go to a medic or a doctor in a medical facility to heal the health and action wound points and to an entertainer in a cantina to heal the mind wound points. Wound points essentially reduced the maximum amount of health, action, or mind your character could have until they were removed. The more deaths you experienced (and in some cases, the more fighting you did), the more wound points you would have in each category until one hit could probably kill you. They later removed the wound point system, the mind bar, and the deterioration of your equipment. These days if you die you get a 5 minute death penalty status that makes it so you have only a percentage of your maximum health and action (making it really easy to die again). Getting rid of this status is possible in three ways: have an entertainer remove it, pay the medical droid in the cloning facility to remove it, or wait the 5 minutes for the penalty to go away on its own. The cost of paying the medical droid scales with your level, but does not exceed 5000 credits at level 90. It’s mostly a minor inconvenience and many players just ignore it and do what’s called traveling by cloning. Essentially, you can now clone anywhere on a planet regardless of where you saved your cloning information. You can still only go from planet to planet if you’ve saved yourself at a cloning facility on another planet from the one you’re on, but now if you’re at the top of a planet and you want to get to the bottom and there’s a cloning facility there, instead of driving or walking the 12 kilometers, you just die and BAM, you’re there. It works pretty well if you can’t find a place flat enough to call your Instant Travel Vehicle.

Like I said up above in the intro, preventing death is what a lot of games focus on. In Star Trek Online, my captain can focus in shield skills that keep his shields regenerating in combat or that allow me to quickly heal my hull as it takes damage. In D&D Online, I can wear armor to help prevent getting hit to begin with or I can carry around healing items that fix the damage that I take from getting hit. In Star Wars Galaxies, every character comes with his own personal healing skill that gets better as they gain levels (Commandos still need Medics to back them up though… 4500 from a heal every once in a while is NOT enough).

I mentioned that this topic is a point of contention amongst players and it really is. I’ve read long forum threads decrying or supporting the use of a death penalty in games and I recall a great deal of complaining being made by crafters in Star Wars Galaxies that the removal of the damage to items from the game has made it harder to sell stuff to players (why buy a new pair of shoes when the old pair never wears out?). It’s definitely changed the economical standpoint in the game, but players are still buying stuff like crazy and even more now because you can have an appearance (essentially an overlay costume) that covers your actual equipment. I can almost guarantee that if you look for it, you might find a forum thread somewhere discussing the merits of harsher or softer death penalties in just about any online game. The fact remains that the players have a skewed perspective: some are there to have a good time and others are there for a challenge. For some, those are both the same thing. It’s up to the developer to determine at what point is the game killing players so frequently that it’s just not fun any more. Case in point, I find the Crystalline Entity in Star Trek Online to be way too hard a fight to be worth fighting. I tried it once and died in a single hit three times in a row and I vowed to never do it again. Some of my friends have come to the same conclusion. It’s not worth the effort and time to attempt to do that fight correctly for us.

Rare is the game with a “hardcore” setting where if you die, you can’t play that character any more. I only know of two games that have that… Diablo II and Hellgate: London. That’s a box I never check. I get kind of attached to my characters.

Ah, speaking of perma-death (that’s the “technical” term for it), the tabletop game of Dungeons & Dragons is really where you grasp the concept that your character, that extension of you and a major investment of your time, could die quite easily. It’s a precarious balance between making sure you can do damage to enemies and keep them from hitting you long enough for your party healer to get to you to fix whatever ails you. We had a game the other day where one of our party was hit all the way down to one hit point and she just shrugged and we were all confused. Apparently, she had armor that could heal her all the way back up to full if she ever dropped below one hit point. She was laughingly upset when the fight ended and she still had one hit point, so we all offered to crack her character upside the head to trigger the heal.

Games tend to trivialize it, but no one wants to have to start all over every time they die. It’s the human condition to wonder about death and those who play games happen to deal with it rather frequently without much thought. It’s a rather morbid topic, but addressed in a wide variety of manners by our games and our religions. I think it would be nice if we had a save and load function in our lives or maybe a few extra coins for continues.

Until next time, don’t forget to save often (if you can) and pay attention to your hit points!

– Elorfin

P.S. “I have no terror of Death. It is the coming of Death that terrifies me.” – Oscar Wilde

P.P.S. I really like this: While on a journey, Chuang Tzu found a skull, dry and parched. With sorrow he questioned and lamented the end to all things. When he finished speaking, he dragged the skull over, and using it as a pillow, lay down to sleep. In the night, the skull came to his dreams and said, “You are a fool to rejoice in the entanglements of life.” Chuang Tzu couldn’t believe this and asked “If I could return you to your life, you would want that, wouldn’t you?” Stunned by Chuang Tzu’s foolishness the skull replied, “How do you know that it is bad to be dead?” – Zhuangzi


Hunting the Muse

I’ve been building up the steam necessary to start writing again, but I keep getting side tracked. Lately, it’s been a variety of games and such that have kept me busy.

Star Trek Online: This game is ridiculously awesome and I wish I had the impetus to write a larger piece on it. Here’s the real issues with this game: the game feels small and empty a lot of the time. I could cross the entire universe involved in the game in a few minutes. Further, they have this automatic grouping mechanic for convenience, but no one has to say anything to anyone. There’s no built in voice chat and there’s no intention of including such software since, apparently, the developers believe that there’s enough third party voice chat software out there. Those are really my only gripes.

D&D Online: I’ve been playing this game nearly a year now and I’ve come to a conclusion about it… I know why this game is so much work compared to something like LOTRO or STO. Basically, in DDO, you don’t get experience per kill. You get experience for achieving certain things like finishing quests or reaching 200 kills in an adventure area, but you don’t get a handful of experience per kill. In Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, you get experience per kill. There’s a sense of progress, however small, in those games that is lacking in DDO. Now, I understand why it isn’t there in DDO… they’d have to change the entire balance of the game in order to adapt to such a mechanic. Regular D&D rewards you either after a fight or once you’ve rested (or in some situations, after the Dungeon Master believes you’ve gone far enough). I don’t know, I guess that’s part of why the game has lost some of its luster.

Lord of the Rings Online: This game recently went free-to-play. I haven’t really noticed a massive difference between the beta and the live version, but I played the first portion of the game so many times that I’m kind of bored of it. We’ll see what happens down the road when I get a second wind or something.

Master of Orion II: Impulse recently provided this for sale with the original game all for six bucks. Sweet deal. Anyways, MoO 2 is an amazing game that fits with X-COM and Civilization as some of the best gaming ever. Love the 14 year old gameplay. My first game of this (recently) was beat in the same day… yes, that’s MoO 2 for you, you CAN start and beat a game in the same day. If you know what you’re doing, of course.

Mass Effect 2 DLC: I recently downloaded the Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker expansions for Mass Effect 2 and I really enjoyed them. Shadow Broker was fascinating and it encouraged me to start a new game in an effort to see how playing through this particular DLC would effect the rest of the game experience. I still need to look into it more.

In other news, I’ve been catching up on The West Wing since it’s been off the air for a few years and I’ve always thought it was a good show. This is mostly in an effort to buy me some time away from the computer for my mental and ocular health. Anyways, like the title implies, I’m still looking for that muse of mine to come back so I can be my usual verbose self in more detailed articles for your reading pleasure. In the meantime, I’ve got plenty of material that’s bouncing around in my head.

Until next time,

– Elorfin

P.S. “I invented something called The Oxford Muse. The Muses were women in mythology. They did not teach or require to be worshipped, but they were a source of inspiration. They taught you how to cultivate your emotions through the different arts in order to reach a higher plane. What is lacking now, I believe, is somewhere you can get that stimulation (not information, but stimulation) where you can meet just that person, or find just that situation, which will give you the idea of invention, of carrying out some project which interests you, and show how it can become a project of interest to other people.” – Theodore Zeldin

P.P.S. I use the word “recently” way too much.


Recent absence

My apologies for not writing anything recently. I’ve been wrapped up in games and this kind of took a back seat.

I wish I could talk about what I’ve been playing a lot this past week or two, but I signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement, so I can’t give my impressions until later. In the meantime, I’ve been playing D&D Online and I’ve got a game of Civilization IV going with a friend of mine.

I’ve got an article idea bouncing around in my head regarding the player and their familiarity and sense of belonging in the game world. This is something very relevant today, especially in light of the vast numbers of multiplayer online games and the persistent worlds that many of them have. I find myself fascinated by games that have to do with existing mythologies or well developed environments. Examples of these are the Star Wars universe, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the Forgotten Realms, and Greek Mythology/Homerian Epics. Like I said, it’s an idea, and I hope I can figure out how best to explain it soon.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to secure a ticket to the Distant Worlds Final Fantasy concert. If you’ve read my article about music in games and my article about immersion and the part where I discuss the role music plays, then you’d understand that I’m a huge fan of game music. I especially like it when it’s performed in concert halls and the like. I guess it’s a way of realizing that the music that I grew up with is now recognized as important. Can’t help but feel a bit proud that I got in on the ground floor.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. George Washington fought dragons. Spread it around!


What makes a great game? – Part 5: Home

Home is where the heart is. Home is where you hang your hat.

Cliche, but true. Home is that place we feel safe and secure, where we can rest, recuperate, relax. It’s where we reflect on what we’ve done, what we have yet to do, and for some it’s the only place we call our own. I’m going to touch upon a few of these “homes” I’ve picked up over the years in games (not specifically computer or console games though, as you’ll see shortly). Oh, yes, spoilers ahead. If you haven’t played these games yet, sorry. Deal with it.

One of the more recent (comparatively) homes I’ve picked up is the SR-1 Normandy. The nexus of all the events in the first Mass Effect game for the XBox 360 and PC, the Normandy was where I spent a great deal of time talking to my companions. In the ending of the game, she really shines. For the record, Joker is awesome. Spoiler warning for those who haven’t played the games yet (but if you haven’t, you should get around to it): the SR-1 Normandy meets her demise at the beginning of Mass Effect 2. It doesn’t matter how many times I see it, I will forever feel horror watching her break apart, watching my home get destroyed by some unknown aliens. Pour one out for the SR-1 Normandy, boys.

The SR-2 Normandy managed to be a more than adequate replacement for the original. Just watch the spoiler heavy introduction of the ship here on YouTube. That ship and my crew have been through a lot together. At the end of Mass Effect 2, the ship is really beat up (more or less depending on how much you upgraded her). It doesn’t matter how many times I go through the end-game, I always sit on the edge of my seat as the Normandy takes a beating… but dishes out a more serious one. I feel that the SR-2 was much more of a home than the original mostly because of the random conversations you could hear just walking past people. Further, the interactions between the two engineers are absolutely hilarious as well as the interaction between Joker and EDI. I reiterate that Joker is awesome. Just putting that out there. Both Normandy’s gave me a sense of security, a place to catch my breath, regroup, and get to know my fellow crew members. It’s where romances flourished and moral issues discussed. Where loyalties were secured. The Normandy had better be in Mass Effect 3 or Bioware is in for a world of hurt. I look forward to my next unique trip to this particular home… but in the meantime, a third play through of Mass Effect 2 is in order.

Ahh, the Ebon Hawk. The fastest ship in the galaxy that I happened to “acquire” on Taris about 3996 years before the Battle of Yavin. In Knights of the Old Republic, I battled the Sith while discovering the location of the Star Forge. I built up a group of incredible warriors and lasting friends. In fact, I even benefited from her in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords when I “inherited” it from the Peragus Mining Outpost shortly before said outposts’ mysterious destruction. Except for a couple of times (invading Sith troopers, little gizka running all over the ship, the occasional Nar Shadda gang member) the Ebon Hawk was my place of refuge. It was where I could get grenades from Zaalbar, computer spikes from T3-M4, security spikes from Mission, or later, it was where I talked galactic economics with G0-T0 and helped Mandalore rebuild the Mandalorian people. The Star Wars universe was and still is a dangerous place and the Ebon Hawk was my one safe place in it. Got to love the Dynamic freighter.

Changing course just a little bit, the capital city of Naboo, Theed, became something of a home to me while playing Star Wars: Galaxies. It was where I got my start in the game and the universe and where I always aspired to hang out when I had a 56k modem. The hospital was always full of players needing wound points removed, the cantina was always full of entertainers and players looking for groups, the palace had quests, the hangar housed my starfighters, and everyone always knew where things were. Today, the legacy quest takes you straight through the city and the experience, while changed, is very similar. No longer is the hospital full of players, but the cantina is a recognizable waypoint on the path to getting the buffs necessary to survive many a quest, and you can still find people clustered out in front of the hangar, preparing to tackle their next space mission. There was a point not too far from the city (in fact, not far from the perspective of the above screen) where I sat and looked upon Theed in wonder. In 2003, the graphics cranked up, I saw a handful of waterfalls and, through the mist, the massive palace and just sat there for a minute going, “Holy crap, I’m there.” Why do I keep going back to play Galaxies every now and again? Because I can go THERE and see things that were once only in the movies or in the books and my imagination. However dangerous the wildlife outside the city of Theed, I always find a moment to look back in wonder whenever I’m there.

Shifting back to space craft for a bit longer, the Mon Calamari MC80 Star Cruiser Liberty was my home for the latter (and larger) portion of X-Wing Alliance. It’s where I spent many hours in the simulator tackling TIE Fighters to see how many I could swat from the sky in 20 minutes (got up to 186 after a lot of practice, with the first three minutes being 10 kills per minute). It was where I could stop, dry my hands, grab a drink, and prepare to dive into the next mission, the next skirmish. It was where I learned to make the X-Wing truly dance and where I learned to appreciate the raw speed of the A-Wing. The last of the Star Wars locations, I promise.

Speaking of flying, I spent a fair amount of time serving in the Confederation. Specifically, the Terran Confederation of Wing Commander. I count as my home every carrier I ever flew off of, especially the TCS Victory and the TCS Intrepid. I will, however, speak a little on each.

The TCS Tiger’s Claw, home for the first installment in the Wing Commander series. I didn’t fly from her until college, but the missions were as important as ever, required as much skill if not more than the later games. Safe speeds in an asteroid field were something I paid a great deal of attention to. I was thrilled to get the upgrade from the Hornet to the Scimitar, and even more so to experience the Rapier.

The TCS Concordia was where I encountered the extremely ornery Tolwyn (which gave context to my experiences in WC 3 and 4). Wing Commander 2 was a thrill to play, especially with all the controversy surrounding the Kilrathi pilot on board by the callsign of Hobbes. Later, when sabotage showed up and when I could finally prove to Tolwyn the existence of the Stealth fighters that trashed the beloved Tiger’s Claw, I experienced an amazingly deep and complex world where my home was constantly threatened by those pesky Cats.

I spent an inordinate amount of time on the TCS Victory. Better known as “Tin Can Sally”, I came to appreciate the varied pilots under my command and the amazing forward firepower of the Thunderbolt VII (with its “Sunday punch” torpedo). When Hobbes betrayed everyone, I was legitimately upset. I came to trust completely in Captain Eisen and reveled in an opportunity to show Flash exactly how we roll on the front lines of the conflict with the Kilrathi. I came to look forward to one day visiting Vaquero’s cantina and I valued the friendship of the cardshark Vagabond. Oh, and Maniac quickly became a favorite annoyance (“I bet you stay up late nights just polishing it huh?” “No, in fact, I get Majors to do that for me.”).

Wing Commander IV was an amazing ride that gave me two carriers to call home. The TCS Lexington wasn’t much of a home, so I’m not going to talk about it… mostly because it was my torpedo that took her out. I felt kind of bad about putting the girl down, but hey, Captain Paulson was a bit of a jerk about replacing Captain Eisen. Now, the BWS Intrepid, that was home for the game. When I wanted a lively discussion, I’d sit in on Panther and Hawk or watch Maniac and Dekker have it out. I loved flying the Banshee (Four lasers… where have I benefited from that array of weapons before?) and the Dragon was like a cheat code unto itself. The final cutscene where I flew into Washington, D.C. itself was incredible and I really felt sad that Tolwyn had fallen so far.

In Wing Commander Prophecy, I found myself calling the new supercarrier, TCS Midway, home. The fact that Maniac was still around was a bit of a plus, and humbling him was a bit of a pleasure. I still feel bad about not being able to save Dallas. This felt less like a home compared to the Victory and the Intrepid because there were only a couple of places to go on the Midway for a mere pilot. Specifically, in Wing Commander, there was the bar, the bunkroom, and the briefing room. Likewise (I think) for Wing Commander 2. Wing Commander 3 had 7 locations on the Victory I could visit (including the briefing room) and Wing Commander 4 had on the Lexington and Intrepid 5 locations each. Hm, I guess now that I think about it, Wing Commanders 3 and 4 were the anomalies. Oh well. By the time I was done with the Nephilim, the Midway and all her crew was home and family.

To round out the space faring ships for this truncated list, I introduce the USS Sovereign from Star Trek: Bridge Commander. The picture is of the Enterprise, but they’re the same class of ship. In Bridge Commander, I was originally in charge of the USS Dauntless, a Galaxy-class vessel similar to the Enterprise-D. After a short while, you’re transferred to the Sovereign and there you stay for the remainder of the game. You really don’t go anywhere in the ship aside from the bridge (a pity) but you come to rely on your crew after a fashion and find that your first officer isn’t so much of a cranky princess after a while. Fighting off the rogue Cardassian threat was an incredible introduction into the post-Next Generation/DS9/Voyager world of Star Trek. At least we didn’t have holodeck problems while we tried to figure out why stars were going nova a bit early.

Continuing on, I’ve included a location that I’ve never spent much time in, but I fought to preserve anyway. I’m referring to Vault 13 from Fallout. You spend the entire damn game trying to ensure the security and health of the members of the vault and in the end? You’re kicked out by the Overseer because you’re “tainted” by the outside world. *rolls eyes* That guy’s a real punk. Oddly enough, Fallout works perfectly on a Vista machine. Works without the CD too if you did a full install. Oh, and by the way, the Mutant threat? Closer to Vault 13 than anything else on the damn world map. *laughs* I remember reading somewhere that it was supposed to be the vault with the extra water chips instead of an extra Garden of Eden Kit. Whoops. By the way, the Vaults? Nothing but a terrible social experiment by the guys who built them. Yikes. Still, it was home back in the late 1990’s.

Another location that was introduced to me around the late 1990’s was Candlekeep. Located on the Sword Coast about halfway between Baldur’s Gate and the northern border of the nation of Amn, Candlekeep is one of the only locations in the Forgotten Realms where entrance can be secured by offering up a rare book. This was where I learned to play the game and I was grateful for the opportunity. This was also where I learned what THAC0 meant, as well as several of the ins and outs of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons system. It’s also where my character lost their adoptive father and started on their quest for vengeance and understanding. If you will, this was my actual first introduction to Dungeons & Dragons and today, well, I try to find excuses to visit Candlekeep.

Next on this list is another Forgotten Realms location, Silverymoon. Silverymoon is often dubbed “the Gem of the North”. It is one of the few civilized places in the middle of the rough and untamed wilderness that is the North of Faerun. It has a rich cultural life and is renowned as a meeting place for all races that are morally inclined towards good. Why is this a home for me? My favorite and legendary Dungeons & Dragons character, the Psychic Warrior Juan Moore, lives there. He and his party of adventuring friends settled in Silverymoon and are well renowned for their capabilities. I won’t go on for long on this place, but whereas we don’t spend a lot of time AT home, I don’t think we could’ve picked a better location. All the amenities we need are right there in Silverymoon or just a “short” trip away to Waterdeep in the west.

Lastly, another D&D locale, the city of Stormreach in the setting of Ebberon. In Dungeons & Dragons Online, this is the epicenter for all of your quests and it’s where everyone winds up anyway. Can’t play the game without running through the streets of Stormreach. I’ve been around the Harbor and Marketplace so much, I can probably navigate them in my sleep. Some of the lower level dungeons are ridiculously well known too. *laughs*

These are some of the places I’ve gathered throughout my years of playing games. I’ve spent a great deal of time in each of these locations and I’m attached to some more than others. If I had to pick my favorite Wing Commander carrier though, it’s got to be the TCS Victory. Out of all the others, the Victory is more of a home to me, I know the people, I know the place, I’ll scramble in an Arrow any time to shoot down attacking Kilrathi Paktahn bombers and I’ll be more than happy to take out the offending Skipper missiles. Plus, it’s the only game where I can fly the Thunderbolt… and I love love loved having SIX forward guns.

For our homes, we’ll step up and fight, and nowhere like in these places have I ever been given such an opportunity to protect the home that shelters me… but for the most part, these ships can’t fly themselves. It’s the crew, the merchants, the characters that help the locations have personality and cause the personality of each one to come forth. When Colonel Blair reminded Admiral Tolwyn of this in Wing Commander 4, Tolwyn replied, “Quite, quite right. It is the men, isn’t it?”

Now for a last word on home: “The pleasant converse of the fireside, the simple songs of home, the words of encouragement as I bend over my school tasks, the kiss as I lie down to rest, the patient bearing with the freaks of my restless nature, the gentle counsels mingled with reproofs and approvals, the sympathy that meets and assuages every sorrow, and sweetens every little success — all these return to me amid the responsibilities which press upon me now, and I feel as if I had once lived in heaven, and, straying, had lost my way.” – Josiah Gilbert Holland

Until next time, never be afraid to go home again.

– Elorfin


New post forthcoming

I’ve got an idea for a new article to put up here. After seeing the scene from Mass Effect 2 where the Normandy is launched, I’d like to bring up a short list of my “homes” in games. Specifically, I intend to talk a little about the Normandy, the carriers from Wing Commander, and a few other locations that feel like home to me courtesy of the games I’ve played in the past. I’ll throw up a few screenshots too. In the end, it’s that feeling of being home, coming home, leaving home, losing home that I’m trying to tackle.

In the meantime, I’m back from vacation and I’ve been playing Mass Effect 2 (still). This weekend I’ll be playing three incarnations of Dungeons & Dragons (DDO on Friday, 4th edition on Saturday, and 3.5 on Sunday).

Until next time, think of home and what it means to you.

– Elorfin

P.S. So far, the list includes: SSV Normandy, SR-2 Normandy, Ebon Hawk, Liberty, Tiger’s Claw, Concordia, Victory, Lexington, Intrepid, Midway, USS Sovereign, Stormreach, Silverymoon, Candlekeep, Vault 13, Theed. The list keeps growing and I keep collecting pictures to go with them.


Continuing Gameplay – Splinter Cell: Conviction, Civilization IV, and an introduction to D&D Online

As the title mentions, I’ve been playing Splinter Cell: Conviction, Civilization IV, and D&D Online in recent days. Allow me to tackle them one by one as I discuss my personal issues and adventures with these three very different games.

Splinter Cell: Conviction has some absolutely amazing co-op gameplay. It’s fluid and fast and if you’re in the same room with your fellow player, you’re set as you can talk about strategy and shout out things that need saying (“He’s coming up behind you!”, “Crap, I’ve been grabbed!”, “I hear a security camera beeping, where is it?”). An issue with this game (that you have to remain aware of at all times while playing) is the fact that the scenery is context sensitive. If you’re next to a door and a light switch, and all you want to do is flip the light switch, you’d better make sure that the switch is highlighted or else you have a good chance of opening that door. The space bar is the initial key for interacting with the environment, so that’s easy enough (like hopping over a box or jumping up a wall). The C key is for kicking down doors (it’s absolutely hilarious watching my friend accidentally try to kick down a door; the metal ones can’t be kicked down, so your foot just bounces off) and grabbing bad guys and the like (when grabbing enemies, you tap C to kill them or hold C to grab them; sometimes it interprets a tap as a hold). Oh, a problem that’s been cropping up is the confusion between the tilde key (~) and the Z key that my friend and I have been experiencing lately. I’m not sure how this happened, but the tilde is used to zoom in and out with your weapon and the Z key is for your sonar goggles (yay cool gadgets). I know these keys do completely different things and are on opposite ends of the same side of the keyboard, but the confusion is still there. It’s a curious development, but the problem is all on our end, not with the game. Yay PEBKAC?

Oh, in reading an article about the game, one of the developers was asked about the amount of talking the NPCs did during the game. The response was something to the effect of “You need it to know where the enemies are”. That makes a ton of sense since you don’t really get the sonar “I can find anyone unless it’s through concrete” goggles until about 5/8ths of the way through the game. In prior games, you had infrared goggles to help out with that, so yeah, I do rely on the talkative nature of the enemies to be the predator the game requires of me. Of course, in prior games you had nonlethal takedown methods and in this one… not so much (no complaints here).

The issues notwithstanding, the game (both single player and co-op) are incredibly fun and highly amusing. The single-player storyline is rather serious, but it has its moments. Further, when you achieve something particularly awesome (like, say, several five man kills without being detected or somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 stealth headshots) the game keeps track of cool things like this and gives you points with which to upgrade your equipment. Yay rewarding awesomeness. I’ve noticed an increase in confidence as I play the game. The more familiar I get with the game, the more daring and the better I become at tackling enemies and complex issues as they show up. I suppose you could note a correlation in an increase in aggression as well, but I don’t really go out of my way to do spectacular kills or anything. I use the Mark part of the Mark & Execute function to keep track of the four nearest bad guys so I don’t run afoul of them and that’s pretty much the extent of my pre-planning for a room. Just go slow and don’t be afraid to be patient (but also, don’t be afraid to get aggressive every now and again; it IS a game).

Moving on to Civilization IV. This game keeps my attention, until I get distracted by some other shiny game, but I keep coming back for my “solitaire”. With the introduction of Beyond the Sword into my gameplay, the game has developed some additional complexities (like espionage, pesky spies and poisoning my water supply!) and I’ve had to retool my usual strategy. I prefer playing as the Byzantine Empire (nevermind that my capitol is Constantinople, which is awesome) mostly because they are Spiritual (no anarchy when changing government civics or state religions) and Imperialistic (50% faster production of settlers means faster city spread!). In fact, having a Spiritual civ is synonymous in my group of friends with feeling lazy that game and just wanting to have an easy go of it. *laughs* My mentioning early on that the Spiritual civ’s are the best kind of means that Spiritual is something of a cheat. We don’t frown upon it, and if you want an easy time, no problem, but having the Spiritual civic definitely makes things easier because you’re not losing turns on production and research and you don’t really have to plan your civic changes.

My latest game of Civ IV: Beyond the Sword has me playing the Byzantine civilization, and I managed to secure a bottleneck while starting up, so I have a continent to myself. The real fight is stemming the spy issue. I keep investing in the buildings that crank up my espionage points per turn and I’m catching an enemy spy or two approximately every turn. It’s frustrating, but throughout the entire game, I’ve only had two incidents of water supply poisoning and they’re not that bad (just a few turns of lost food). Also, after a fashion, maintaining more than 20 cities becomes a real hassle (I’ve got 19 on my home continent, 4 on a large island, and three on a new continent and I’ve got plenty of space to grow).

I look forward to getting back to playing Beyond the Sword in multiplayer with a couple of my friends. We managed to figure out how to be allied from the beginning of the game, so we share research and line of sight, which really helps that early in the game.

On to D&D Online. I hopped on the other day with my level 8 fighter (aka, machine gunner) and I played with my friend’s dwarven dual-wielding fighter of the same level. We worked together for a bit and then another friend came on with his wizard and we had a blast. For the record, my machine gunner with my friend’s fighter are an awesome tag-team and having the wizard around just made things easier. Whenever we split up (or when I had to answer the phone) we wound up getting torn up by the enemies on the Three Barrel Cove map. It’s an odd thing, but usually I have a complaint or two about my playing experience in DDO, but lately I haven’t had any complaints at all. I really enjoyed hanging out with my friends the other day and I really can’t wait to do it again. With our level 13 group (where I play the cleric) I fully expect to have complaints, but that’s probably due to the fact that I’m just a healer with a couple of combat capabilities and we’re doing stuff that’s kind of hard (helps it’s a lot of stuff we just haven’t done yet and there’s this fear of the unknown that everyone comes preloaded with). I suppose with my fighter, I kind of expect to get the crap kicked out of me every now and again (he only does one or two things really well, but damn, he does them WELL) but with my cleric, I’m supposed to keep the party alive and when I fail to do that, I probably feel that I’m not doing my job, and thus, I get cranky. Ah well, I’ll figure it out eventually.

Anyways, I’ve located a video camera and I’m in the process of getting a memory card for it (had to order an adapter online because it’s such an old camera that they don’t make the memory sticks for this model any more). I’m going to try to figure out how to make and edit my own videos and figure out YouTube, so we’ll see if this goes somewhere. You might see some future articles done in video form one day. Who knows? Depends on how quickly I can master the “jump cut”. If I do any articles for this site, be assured I’ll embed the video here so you don’t have to go creeping around YouTube for them.

Until next time, keep on playing!

– Elorfin

P.S. Apologies for my delinquency in writing something, but the inspiration to write sometimes goes away. It happens, but I just needed to build up some material to write about. I think I should get back to the MMO analysis I started doing at the beginning, but we’ll see how I feel in the next week or two.


What makes a great game? – Part 3: Progress

A quick aside before I start this piece: I’ve recently read that a new X-COM game is in the works by 2K Games (the people who made Bioshock). Well, it’s actually called XCOM (no hyphen) and it’s going to be a first-person shooter, so obviously the fans of the original were and are a bit steamed that they’re not getting a dedicated remake of the original. I’m hoping for something cool, but I’m worried I won’t be able to play it due to the motion sickness I tend to get from first-person shooter style games. You can check out their minimal site promoting the game here and the article I read regarding this is here.

Now, the thing that keeps me coming back to games on top of great music and heroism: a sense of progress.

Most games, if not all, give the player a sense that they’re making progress somehow. In a first-person shooter, your progress is typically measured by the number of levels or zones you’ve completed (or the fact that every area behind you is devoid of enemies) and sometimes by the development of a story. In a role-playing game, your progress is typically measured by the progression of the story, but also by the levels/skills/equipment gained by your character or party. In puzzle games, the puzzles get harder to complete. The list goes on. Without this sense of moving towards something, I know that I get very frustrated. Personally I find certain games to be very pointless, but allow me to explain this particular perspective.

When I perceive a game as “pointless” or “a waste of time”, I’m typically referring to the lack of a story or some sort of measurable progress. Solitaire is a great example of an entry into the  “pointless” category. Likewise with a lot of casual/browser games like Bejeweled and so forth. Yeah, I supposed the game sometimes gets more difficult in a fashion or deeper in some way, but how does Bejeweled compare to say Mass Effect or Bioshock or Wing Commander? Well, partly, it doesn’t, but as an expenditure of time, I’d rather spend my time experiencing the full story of Mass Effect as opposed to wasting hours trying to beat my top score of 735 in Solitaire (yeah, I can’t seem to do it). I’m not saying I DON’T waste time playing Solitaire (it keeps me busy while I chat online or watch streaming television programs), but I’d rather spend my time in a more productive fashion (if playing a game can be called “productive”).

Making progress is an everyday thing that kind of occurred to me earlier today while pondering what else I could talk about in this segment. I mean, I measure the progress of reading a book by how much is left to read and how much I’ve already read. I measure the progress of eating food by how much food is left to eat and how full I feel. I measure the progress on this article by seeing if I feel like I’ve said all I want to say at that time (I reserve the right to bounce around and add and edit). So it’s only natural that a very obvious sense of progress is applied to our forms of entertainment.

I really do believe in the “to each their own” perspective with video games (among other things). By that, I mean that everyone has a different preference for gameplay and in styles of progress it’s no different. I prefer having a clearly defined personal progression (levels, experience, skills, so on) and I look forward to character development and storyline progression. I have friends that don’t care so much for the story as for the number of kills they can rack up before it’s time to quit. I have other friends that appreciate the leveling mechanic, but could take it or leave it because they just want to have a good time. However you play it, every game needs some sort of satisfying progression mechanic to make the player feel like he’s doing well or accomplishing something with his time (and money). I know that earlier today I felt great satisfaction reaching level 8 in D&D Online on my new favorite character and that I’m doing pretty well fending off the alien invaders in X-COM Apocalypse when I played on Saturday by how I’ve been aggressively intercepting UFOs before they have a chance to drop their troops in the city. We all want to be successful and an obvious marker of that is a sense of progress.

Of course, you get the occasional spanner in the works there. By that, I’m referring to Wing Commander. The creators put a winning story and a losing story into the game. If you lose a mission, it’s not the end of the world, but you’re put on a slightly different path for a bit. If you lose more than one mission, well, you’ll probably see some cutscenes I’ve never seen except as movie files on the net. This is a type of progress and some people intentionally fail these missions to see the movies for themselves. It’s something they implemented in all five of the primary Wing Commander games (don’t recall if they did it for the expansions, but they probably did). The issue with this winning track/losing track thing is that the game takes a lot of extra development and most developers would rather spend time on ONE story rather than on WINNING STORY vs. LOSING STORY. More’s the pity because that adds a level of complexity to the progression mechanic. In the end though, I can easily say that I get way more satisfaction stopping all the bioweapons in Locanda and being able to save Flint’s home than being forced to protect the evacuation of the system. For more on this story, I’d recommend looking up Wing Commander III: The Heart of the Tiger. I also recommend visiting the game guides for the Wing Commander series because you can actually see the differences in the missions when you win versus lose. Oh, and for more Wing Commander goodness, I recommend my browser homepage.

A great game that displays all three of the components I’ve discussed thus far (Music, Heroism, Progress) is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. In this game you have the epic Star Wars music to back you up, you have incredible moments of heroism and places where you can be that guy or gal who saves the day, and several markers of progress in the levels of your characters, the number of locations you have left to clear out (or the number of places you have cleared), and the story where you can go light side or dark side. It’s a great example of a quality experience, at least according to my own metric that I’m building here. There are other games that have more varied reasons within my current structure (Final Fantasy Tactics, Unreal Tournament, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, etc) but I’m not going to go through all of them right now. Besides, I think I might have another couple of things to add to my What makes a great game? series.

Until next time, keep moving forward (even if it’s the losing track)!

– Elorfin


No posting? Blasphemous!

That’s pretty much right… it’s downright shameful how I haven’t been posting here.

Mostly it’s because of family and personal reasons, so that’s completely excusable. Partly it’s also because I haven’t been playing many games lately. Well, some Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and some Civilization IV… and Tuesday and Wednesday nights it was Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 on the 360 with friends. Oh, and I’ve been playing some D&D Online this past week (mostly just Sunday while I was doing laundry and Monday right after waking up).

I’ve been reading the Star Wars Essential Atlas and it’s been giving me ideas for my Star Wars roleplaying game that I play with my D&D group. I suppose they’re  not so much a D&D group any more so much as a Gaming group. *ponders*

Right, just posting to let people know I’m NOT dead and that I really haven’t forgotten about my project here. I’ve just gotten a little sidetracked is all.

After Easter, I hope to get back to reviewing at least one game a week (maybe one per two weeks or two in one week depending on how good or bad my experiences are with them). So, stay tuned!

Until next time, DFTBA!

– Elorfin


Star Wars Galaxies: You can go home again

So, I haven’t made it a secret that I pay to play Star Wars Galaxies. I’ve been doing so since its release back in 2003 and I’ve not had cause to regret it.

Galaxies is a very unique game that I keep going back to over and over again (hence why I haven’t stopped paying for it). The attributes that keep bringing me back are part of the reason I’m doing this little project here. I find it funny that a lot of people just hate the game because of all the changes that have been foisted upon it. A long time ago (in my house, not in a galaxy far, far away) I told my Mom (after I’d tried Everquest at a friend’s house) that the only online game I’d pay to play would be Star Wars. It IS the only game I pay to play (my DDO account isn’t technically paid by me, so it still holds true). Even through the adjustments the gameplay has received over its long run, the game still keeps my interest and whereas I appreciate all the perspectives of those who’ve complained about said changes, they weren’t enough to shake me from continuing to enjoy the game. Sorry guys, but in my book, you’re pansies for quitting. Deal with it. (Disclaimer: for those  of you who just got bored with the game, that’s a perfectly valid reason for leaving and I appreciate the time you spent enjoying it. To everyone who’s left the game, I hope you remember it fondly because some of you are still talked about even today as legendary characters.)

In no other online game have I been able to have a house that’s part of a town where I can store my stuff that accumulates over the years. No, I’m not talking like Second Life or anything like that. I’m talking quest rewards and veteran rewards and crafted items. Every item in my house (the Mustafarian Bunker, actually) has a story behind it. What’s up with that suit of Katarn Armor? How about those animal heads mounted on the wall? Where’d you get this cool painting? Hell, even the house has a story (I got it as part of a preorder for Rage of the Wookiees).

Further, in no other game have I witnessed a mayoral race or even bonuses for having your house within a town’s boundaries (my home city provides a bonus to crafting while you’re in it).

Something else that keeps me coming back is the crafting system. It’s almost absurdly complex. First, you need to see what ingredients/materials you need to build what you’re building. Then, with “shopping list” in hand, you need to hunt down those ingredients either by surveying/sampling/harvesting or by purchasing from other players or (in some circumstances) building/buying components for the object you’re trying to build. While you do this, you need to ensure the quality of the ingredients as they relate to your finished product (resources all have statistics of their own with varying caps on those resources depending on what type of resource they are). Don’t forget to get some crafting buffs from an Entertainer and to eat/drink some food buffs! THEN you get to put the resources and components together  in a very nice interface (either click and drag or double-click). Next there’s the experimentation/prototype/schematic stage… this is where you can tinker with the object in production to make it better, turn it into a production schematic for a factory, or just build the damn thing. Lastly, some objects can have custom paint jobs and name changes. After all that, you can sell your products to other players on the in game bazaar terminal or through your own vendor or use the items yourself.

I love this crafting system. I’ve been using it for about a year now (out of my nearly 7 years playing the game) and I LOVE building weapons for people (especially ranged weapons). I’ve been called the “best weaponsmith in the guild” before, which I’m sure isn’t really the case. I like to credit my work ethic and my turnaround time. I ONLY take custom weapon orders and I’ll only build level 90 weapons (with very very few exceptions). I ask a lot of questions to ensure that the weapon I’m building them will actually be used and appreciated and that the customer will be pleased with the product. Depending on how much work I need to do, it takes me anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour to start and finish building a weapon. Part of my process is going through my stockpiled resources (metals, gasses, crystals, organic materials, etc.) and determining which ones I’m going to use via a mathematical formula that looks difficult but is actually rather easy to use. Hell, I made a forum post somewhere explaining the process to my guild members! I may repost it here in the future if only for my own posterity.

I take crafting for my customers very seriously. I appreciate the money they give me (I have a chronic under-charging issue, so I’m working on remedying that) and I appreciate the desire to have something hand made. I actually found I have to limit the orders I take to just a few in a single day because of how stressful it can be (I put myself under a lot of pressure to finish as quickly and efficiently as possible). I write down my shopping list and keep track of the resources I pull out of storage or the ground in order to keep everything straight. Honestly, this keeps me more interested and excited than combat most of the time.

One more thing that keeps me coming back? Space flight. I’m an X-Wing fighter pilot and I LOVE to fly in Star Wars. Recently they adjusted the space slayer collection system so that instead of hunting through every sector to find the kills I need to get the collection complete, I can just run a mission and they’ll come to waypoints that I get in my datapad. Then all I do is go to those designated waypoints and BAM! time to fight! I’m proud of my X-Wing, even though I know it’s not the BEST ship out there. Hey, it’s my baby and I’ve spent a lot of credits and time working on her. Even got her a custom paint job of red and gold. Whenever SOE adds something to the Space portion of the game, is precipitates a return from whatever hiatus I’ve been in. The last couple of days have been a balancing act between DDO, Galaxies, and Lunar thanks to the latest update.

I may go away from Galaxies for a couple of months at a time, but then I get this urge to play again. I say hi to my old friends (who are some of the best damn people in the world) and we get cracking. I churn out a couple of weapons, I fly a few missions, hell, I even run a few quests with the guild… and then another game or something from life steals my attention away and I disappear for a few weeks. I’ll always come back to Galaxies… it’s my home and I’ll keep paying to play until they turn the lights out (like at the end of Babylon 5, where Zack Allen says “I figured I’d be here ’til they turn the lights out.”).

I’m looking forward to Star Wars: The Old Republic (a hell of a lot, I’m excited!), but Galaxies is always going to be special to me and will always be worth an evening of play. I want to thank the Remnants of Mandalore (formerly of Corbantis, now on Chilastra) for being an amazing guild and for always welcoming me with obvious joy every time I return from one of my random vacations from the game. I’ll always return home, don’t you worry.

Until next time, may the Force be with you!

– Elorfin


An Explanation and Gaming Online – Part One

Hello to everyone who’s decided to entertain my delusion of grandeur!

I’ve been noticing a couple of friends who, when I tell them what I’m doing here or when they find out, aren’t sure what this project concerns exactly. Allow me to explain in something akin to a wall of text.

Basically, not to sound condescending or anything (but I am going to treat you like a small child for a moment), things are made of parts. In the case of food, the parts are ingredients. In the case of a book, the parts are pages and words. In the case of a game, the parts are called mechanics. The mechanics compliment and supplement each other to provide a whole experience. We, the audience, typically only see the finished product (like in books and food) unless we make our own (we’ve all written something for school and we’ve all made sandwiches). Regarding games, not a lot of people (on the same scale as my little examples) have made games and so we’re all enjoying the finished product without really seeing the components of that product separately as their own entities. This is an exercise in separating the mechanics from the game or, if you will, taking the cheese out of the sandwich or citing a passage from a book. I can’t entirely remove the context of the mechanic, in fact, as is evidenced in the 2Moons screenshots I posted earlier, I showed the mechanics in question IN the game.

I’m not doing this little project as a way of reviewing games, I’m doing this as a way of figuring out which mechanics appeal to me. By doing so, I hope to become a more educated participant in the medium and to also appreciate the complexities before me in my preferred form of entertainment. It’s just like watching a show or reading a book to see if you like it: did you like this program for its character interaction? How about the story? I’m just taking notes while I go.

Further, I don’t intend to spend a lot of time on these games. I’ve played MOST of the games on the list I’ve put up here and I can get past the “honeymoon” phase pretty quickly. Some games (like Dungeons and Dragons Online) will probably be hard to break down into the individual mechanics that appeal to me if the game as a whole has strong appeal for me. I figure probably no more than three days playing any of the Free-to-Play (F2P) games but I’m flexible.

Oh, speaking of F2P… I should probably post a few terms on here as I go to clarify for some non-gamer friends who are interested in my project nonetheless. I’m a huge fan of accessibility and while I’m breaking down games, I should be breaking down terms. I’ll try to keep it rather general so as not to lose some of you.

Free-to-Play (F2P) is just that: the game is free to pick up and play. No guarantees on the quality, but developers are surprisingly proficient in churning out a very pretty and quite functional F2P game. There are a LOT of F2P games out there.

Pay-to-Play (P2P) is also self-explanatory: you pay a subscription fee (like to a magazine or HBO) to access the content of the game. These games tend to have production values (brand names, higher quality graphics and mechanics, big company backers), but can sometimes be outdone by their F2P counterparts.

Micropayments are F2P games where the player can pay a little cash to gain an in-game benefit of some sort. Some games (like Dungeons and Dragons Online) have an in-game store or a website store where you can spend your real money to gain virtual benefits. These benefits range from consumables like magic potions that are not found in playing the game normally or special equipment that is difficult to find or just plain expensive if you were to use the in-game currency. This is sometimes viewed as a happy middle ground to players because you don’t have to pay any money if you don’t want to. Fortunately, enough people want to pay for these little enhancements to game play because it gives them that extra edge and, as a result, the game sticks around funded by these generous souls.

I’m not going to get into the politics of F2P versus micropayments versus P2P (because there’s a lot of outcry over subscriptions). Suffice to say, those are the three financial flavors of online games and each category has a sparkling gem or three. Further, some games cross all three categories like Dungeons and Dragons Online (there’s that game again, but it’s a great example of this). DDO allows players to play for free and enjoy the game with some restrictions (2 characters per server, no special quest trees/dungeons, etc), but they also have a subscription system that gives incredible benefits (10 characters per server, access to every special quest and dungeon, etc) and if you ever stop paying your subscription, you still have SOME benefits but not as many as you had while paying for the subscription (4 characters per server, among other things). Further, they have an in-game store where you can shell out DDO points (which you can buy with cash or accrue through completing quests) for anything from magic potions to magic arms and armor.

Like I said, there’s a lot to learn about these games, but if you stick with me here, I’ll do my best to explain as I go some of the little differences and a lot of the terms. Remember, playing games is supposed to be fun. If you know the terms, the fun comes to you a bit faster.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. I’ve just finished downloading and updating 9Dragons and I’m looking forward to reentering the F2P world of Chinese martial arts! DFTBA!


The Approach – An Internal Dialogue

Okay, how in the world am I going to approach these games?

I think maybe I could do a couple of days of gameplay of the ones I can’t remember all that clearly. Some of these games I really haven’t touched in a long while (see Dungeon Runners… ooh, how am I going to write about that one?).

Hm… well, there’s a short list of games I definitely don’t want to play again for a reason or two (like I played it to death and the game makes me want to beat myself senseless if I tried to start a new character). Okay, there’s really only one game that makes me feel that way and that’s Ragnarok Online. Nothing against it, I just OVERPLAYED it. There is definitely a point where you just can’t play any more of a game… ugh… that was just… yeah. I’ll talk about that more when I get around to discussing Ragnarok Online.

I’m having issues figuring out which one to talk about first. Maybe I’ll just do them in alphabetical order (like that convenient list I put up, how convenient!). In choosing which order to talk about the games, I won’t play favorites (except when they actually ARE a favorite – see the ones I pay to play).

It’s going to be hard to get past the whole “honeymoon” period of gameplay for a couple of games. By that, I mean, there’s a sweet period where everything’s new and interesting and happy. Since I have actually tried these games before (well, except LOTRO) I should be able to skip the honeymoon period and just get right down to discussing what I like. I’d expect a turnaround time of about 2 days minimum in order for me to fiddle around enough with the game to experience enough of it to discuss. Oh, and I do have games I play with friends relatively regularly, so I’m going to be interspersing gameplay of these “review-ables” with my usual gameplay of Galaxies and DDO. Gotta get my money’s worth!

I think I’m going to start with 2Moons as soon as I can remember my login information and get it downloaded/installed/running okay.

For the record, it’s hard to watch YouTube clips while writing this. I should do something about that.

– Elorfin