Everyone seems to have one these posts speculating whether which game would do well or badly for 2012, and I’m going to contribute my two cents worth. I wrote this lengthier than usual article as a guest post on a friend’s site, so do check it out here on The Running Mice.
I never used to be one to nitpick over the look of my characters, but with SWTOR’s innumerable cut scenes featuring some rather well done facial animations, I found myself staring at my character a lot. The Chiss’s single textured eyes started to bother me. I don’t expect alien races to resemble a humanoid in all its features, but even the Twi’lek have complex eyes. In conversations, eyes help convey character personality and social cues, and not being able to tell where my sight is narrowed and focused at distracted me. I felt a disconnect between my character and the world. I found it hard to believe my character was really the hard-boiled yet suave bounty hunter that I wanted to portray.
I rerolled out of vanity.
There a few things about SWTOR the seems rather backwards. In a time when Rift is able do large content patches with downtime as little as an hour, SWTOR’s minor patch took a whole 6 hours. And it got extended. During that period of time, even trying to look at something as trivial as patch notes was difficult as their web servers seem to be overloaded as well.
There’s no doubt that SWTOR is a fun game, but there’s the dark side of it too. Support has been a horror story so far, with people unable to get through to a CSR after holding for hours on a phone.
I hope the support woes and long maintenance window is a genuine problem caused by the game doing too well, rather than an indication of things to come.
With Han Solo’s wise words in mind, so begun the journey of Calreth the Bounty Hunter.
I’ve been cautiously hesitant about trying Star Wars: The Old Republic because I wasn’t sure the MMORPG genre had any more tricks up its sleeves. There seems to have been a virtual worlds slum of late, with a number of games failing to reach the critical mass required to sustain a profitable business and instead switching to a F2P model.
After a few hours of playtime, SWTOR feels refreshing. The unmistakable underpinnings of an MMO are there, but the world feels different. Perhaps I’ve been so used to fantasy games that the sci-fi atmosphere is a welcome change, but it gave me reason to want to explore.
The storytelling has the hallmarks of BioWare written all over it, although watching a cut scene for every
"<$verb> <$num_of> <$mob_name>" quests felt tiresome at some points and I found myself skipping through them, just as I would click pass quest dialogues in other game.
I found the morality, i.e. light side(LS)/dark side(DS), choices rather well presented. For one quest, I was tasked to steal and recharge power sources from a scrap yard for a family struggling to get by. However, the foreman I was stealing from begged me to stop, else the owner would punish him for doing a poor job. Both needs seemed equally fair, and it was a real dilemma. The more common morality choice comes in the form of being tasked to kill or steal from a person, only to have the person trying to buy you off or even sabotaging the quest giver. In this second dilemma, the LS/DS choices are less obvious. Typically, the game awards you LS points for choosing not to kill the target, and DS points for killing the target. I often find myself disagreeing with which choices reflected LS/DS in these cases. You’re not exactly a “good” person by accepting someone’s call for help, and then screwing the person over.
Roleplaying a bounty hunter, my general rule of thumb is to always accomplish the task set forth by my employer. It wouldn’t be good for business, reputation, or even my own survival to upset my employer.
I love the bounty hunter mechanics, especially the heat system. Whenever you use a skill that’s stronger than the your standard laser blast, say a firing a missile or a charged shot, you build up a certain amount of heat. At 100 heat points, you can’t use another skill that generates heat until your current heat level dissipates. The default rate of dissipating seems to be around 5 heat/s, and you get a skill which is on a 2 mins cooldown that lets you instantly vent 50 units of heat. This reminds me fondly of the times playing MechWarrior where I would fire all my weapons, overheat and perform an emergency vent while the mech’s computer shuts down for a few minutes.
I wonder how long would SWTOR retain my interest. It is very single player orientated, although you do occasionally get a group, albeit short, quest. There isn’t that feel of a living breathing world, but rather that of a single player game with an IRC channel that people idle in. There’s the occasional LFGs and the “my class is gimp” chatter, but it’s comparatively quiet than during most of the other MMO launches. Or perhaps the people who’ve gotten the game a week earlier had already all beaten it and moved on. Who knows?
Whether I’ll be playing SWTOR a month from now, it’s still too early to tell. Much is clouded by the dark side of the force.
When I was a kid, Christmas and the week leading up to it would be spent watching the holiday programming on free-to-air television. The same holiday programming was mostly repeated every year. My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, so the holidays usually default to me playing a ton of games. This year however, it was back to a ton of movies.
I started by watching Alien (1979). This is the original Alien, before any of the Alien versus Predator crap, and it’s considered more of a space horror film than space action, which is typical of most sci-fi movies these days. It’s really good. Unlike most horror movies of today, which seems to rely on orgies of sound and visual effects, Alien doesn’t. It is the setting, the isolation and quietness of being on the frontier of unexplored space and the scenes of absolute nothingness that brings about an air of creepiness and unease. This is also the movie that showed that a strong female protagonist could work in sci-fi films. I’m not a fan of the horror genre, but I was willing to revisit it after watching Alien.
Reaching out on Facebook, I was encouraged to watch The Thing (1982), which falls more into sci-fi horror than space horror since the event took place on Earth. After watching it, I can understand why this movie has a cult following. When I read that there was a recent remake of it, I was rather hesitant. Most remakes have been lackluster, and a number downright bad.
The Thing (2011) was less of a remake, but rather a prequel to the original movie, and it’s extremely well done. This is perhaps the best re-make, or re-imagine, or prequel, or sequel to a movie I’ve ever seen. It’s not a remake in the traditional sense in that it has a whole new set of characters that has nothing to do with the previous movie, yet the story differs while remaining faithfully similar enough that it is like watching the previous movie all over again. The ending of the 2011 movie ties in seamlessly to that of the 1982 version that I thought the 1982 movie was going to start playing.
I thought maybe I’m starting to like the horror series, and tried watching some generic horror shows. 1408 (2007) was downright ridiculous and Insidious (2010) kinda meh. There are some really good horror movies other there, but most of them feel like B-movies, the really bad sort, but not bad enough that it becomes good. Just plain, downright bad.
The story behind Cowboys and Aliens seemed lacking. We know that gold is precious to the aliens, although we’re never told why. We know the aliens are the conqueror sorts, yet they only seem to have one ship on Earth. There seem to be too many sidequests for Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford’s characters to embark on, and for a while, we seem to forget that the aliens even exist to begin with. It’s not a bad movie on the whole though, but it could be have been a lot tighter had there been some sort of concrete back story. Better yet, make it into a TV series, or at least a miniseries. The pace of the story was too fast, with too many characters telling too many stories at the same time. If it were a TV series, there’d be time enough to explore all that. Furthermore, looking at how well Firefly is doing even after the show was canceled, we know that there’s an audience for space westerns. This could really work if picked up by the right studio. Nonetheless, it’s a good action movie that satisfied this Firefly, X-Files and V fan.
The Island started out really well, and then rapidly drove off a steep cliff in the second half. I’m a great fan of dystopian stories. 1984, The Matrix and THX 1138 are among my favorite works. The Island seems to follow many tropes typical of such works initially. At the start, we might even be inclined to believe that the characters are actually living in a post-apocalyptic world, and the protagonist’s journey, from sensing that everything is not what it seems to discovery and realization is every bit as interesting. If the movie had ended there, it’d been outstanding. Instead, we get a chase scene which started out impressive, and then spirals down to wanton destruction of property that dragged on for way too long, and an ending of missed opportunities.
If there’s any other movies that you think I might like, drop a note in the comments and I’ll get on it. Otherwise, I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. History buffs would also remember that Mikhail Gorbachev resigned twenty years ago on this same day, bringing about the end of the Soviet Union. Bless you, Mikhail Gorbachev.
Now that I’ve sent Alduin back to wherever dragons go to die, it’s time to revisit an old love.
When I last played Morrowind, I was in secondary school. I was one of the few people that had a graphics card which supported programmable pixel shaders, and was immediately blown away by the water in Morrowind. I’ve never seen such realistic water textures before, not even in John Carmack’s games. I was hooked. Morrowind became the first non-MMORPG game that I played full day to the exclusivity of all other games for a period of months. (Confession: I didn’t even know what an MMO was then.)
Right after I finished up most of Skyrim (45/50 completion if you go by the achievement metric), I installed Morrowind and set about creating a new character. Soon, Calreth, a level 1 Breton Nightblade, born under the sign of the Shadow, was wandering the streets of Seyda Neen.
If you thought Skyrim was huge, prepare to have your socks blown off. Putting Skyrim and Morrrowind side-by-side, Skyrim feels more of a theme-park than open-world game. Forget all you’ve experienced in RPGs in the last 5 years, this is ye olde RPG with no safety rails. There’s no compass with places of interest marked on them, nor big exclamation marks on the heads of NPCs vying for your attention. Even the map is initially shrouded in a fog of war. You pay attention to quest dialogues, because that’s all the hints you’re going to get. If an NPC tells you he lost his ring in the marshlands south of the city, reachable if you exit, take two lefts, follow the river south until you get a wooden bridge, and then go right, you had better remember that. There is a quest journal in diary form, and even that doesn’t show you immediately which quests you are on and how many stages there are. Perhaps the biggest indicator that you’re not playing a 2010 game anymore is the combat system. Regenerative health and mana system are for boys. Real men don’t need frigging auto-regen.
Welcome to the desert of the real.
Did I just make Morrowind sound really negative? That depends. None of what I pointed out is inherently bad. It’s a conscious design decision to encourage the player to explore the immense game world. The non-regenerative health system means that you have to plan for fights, at least initially before your character is über geared. You feel the rush of adrenalin in fights, or the panic as you look at your lowly health and dwindling potions count. The enchanting and spell creation system is also a lot more comprehensive that in Oblivion or Skyrim (where there’s no spell creation at all). The UI is done right. You get a grid for inventory, instead of a list, as it should always should have been. Buffs are shown on screen, identifiable by their icons as in traditional RPGs and modern MMOs, instead of a list within another list.
If I caught your excitement, but you’re still hesitant about playing a game that might resemble a giant pixel monster by today’s standard (it really isn’t), you’re just in luck. 2.0 of the Morrowind overhaul project was just released today, and it makes the game look a lot better. However, if you have it in you, I highly encourage you to play vanilla Morrowind to get a true experience of the game as it was originally designed.
Despite digesting a hearty amount of Skyrim news daily, I’ve still somehow managed to not know all the spoilers, and this particular discovery surprised me.
Paarthurnax is a war criminal.
Paarthurnax was apparently Alduin right hand man during Alduin’s last hunger episode where he ate up a whole bunch of Nords.
I did know beforehand that I’d eventually have to kill Paarthurnax, but I wasn’t aware of the circumstances that revolved around it. I had supposed there’d be some complexity involved, but its revelation felt sudden and rushed. The scenario almost seemed too casual and a little comical.
Me: I need help in luring a dragon and trapping it.
Esbern: Okay, let me check our archives. Ah! Here's the shout you need.
Me: Thanks, I'll catch you later.
Esbern: No problem, don't forget to close the door on your way out. Oh! And by the way, your buddy, the one you've spent lots of time with lately, the one who is trying to help you save the world, Paarthurnax was his name yeah? He has not been too honest with you. He really is a big bad guy that used to do lots of bad things. Don't mind killing him, yeah? Cheers!
Okay, I’ll admit I paraphrased a little there, but that’s about the essence of what happened. The information is just handed over in one conversation axiomatically, and that’s it. It’s not very good storytelling.
That’s not all there is to take away from the event though. There’s still something else, a question that some of us think little about because there’s no easy answer to it.
What is statute of limitation on war crimes?
While I don’t know precisely when Alduin’s previous coming was, it can safe to assume from conversations with Paarthurnax that at least a couple of hundreds of years has passed since. Furthermore, since dragons have not been sighted since Alduin’s disappearance, Paarthurnax was not involved in acts of terrorism during that period. Simply, what Paarthurnax did, it happened a long time ago, and judging from the player’s encounters with him, he’s probably reformed.
How far back do we look when judging a person? Do people change, or are they permanently banded criminals? To this day, ex-prison guards who were unfortunate enough to serve under the Nazi regime 60 years ago are still being hunted down for their actions in the past. Are they the same person as they were 60 years ago? Or have they changed since?
I don’t have answers for these questions, but it’s certainly something to think about.
Ain’t it amazing how on some days, the stars align and everything falls wonderfully into place? I thank thee, Mistress of Shadows.
That thought occurred to me as I was staring at my pasta, fusilli with alfredo sauce if you must know. I didn’t have any excess nor shortage of either pasta and sauce, and I managed to use whatever leftovers I had. Not at easy task for an amateur like me. Usually this is what happens instead.
Or that I have sauce leftover that I’ll have to dip random objects into in order not to waste, or plain pasta to chew as tidbits while I watch a movie.
Today, even the last pasta had just the right coating of creaminess with a small chunk of mushroom.
To an outsider, this is incident would be woefully minor, and hell, you’re probably laughing at me right now. But to me, it was a day gone right.
Now, if you’d excuse me, I’m needed by the people of Skyrim.
Shadows guide you, my dear reader.
As you gravitate towards end game, the amount of essential items to carry increases astronomically. I’m not talking about the bazallion unstackable vendor trash from every mob. I’m talking about gear you need to bring along to ensure an optimal experience for a dungeon run or raid.
Any semi-experienced player will tell you that having the right gear for right encounter will make the fight easier, or at least more manageable. Fire breathing dragon? You better have a resist set for that. Sith lord that casts lightning bolts? Better have another set of shock resist gear. Ice elementals? Frost resist or GTFO. Magikarp? Water resist gear on now! A troll with high melee resists? Time to switch to mage gear and blast away, or alternatively, add it to my ignore list.
Do you see the problem now?
This problem is less exacerbated in an MMO such as Rift in comparison to an open world single player RPG like Skyrim. In MMOs, I usually have a set goal, or at least a vague idea of what I want to set about accomplishing in the next hour. I know I’ll need death and water resist gear if I’m going to raid Hammerknell for the night. I know the mechanics and what to expect and prepare accordingly. This is less true in Skyrim. I wander around aimlessly. I stumble into dungeons with cultist mage groups and dragons swoop down on me. The result? I carry an entire wardrobe with me.
I find myself doing the gear shuffle between or even during fights and it feels rather silly. Surely, there must be a better way to go about this?
I arrived in Whiterun, exhausted and penniless. The suit of armor, if you can call it that, given to me by the blacksmith in Riverwood for my travels barely held together. The result of a ferocious attack by a pack of wolves.
Passing by the marketplace, I overheard something about ‘Companions’ and ‘gold for able bodied fighters’. I needed the money, I needed a place rest. This is no time to be picky. I asked a nearby grocer for directions, and soon found myself at the doors of Jorrvaskr.
The recruiter, a brawny looking Nord, sneered at my meek body, weak from days of travel. Well, mostly running from wolves, but there’s no need to volunteer that information. He doesn’t think I’m capable. I disagreed. We decided to take it outside.
At this point, I was full with hunger and invigorate with tiredness. I was fueled by my own desperation. He seemed taken a back and staggered as I slammed the hilt of my sword against his shield over and over. He conceded.
We went back indoors and I was led downstairs into a large communal hall where members of the Companion could lodge in-between jobs.I slept.