Friday, December 31, 2010

Games of the Year 2010

It's almost the end of the year, only a few more hours to go.  2010 was a good year in gaming and here are my absolute favorite picks.


I like playing with fire (safely) in real life.  In Minecraft I decided to light a tree on fire and watch it burn.  Good times were had by me.  Then I had an idea.  A wonderful, awesome, burning idea.  What if I lit all the trees on fire!?  With this goal in mind I set to work and very soon had a forest fire raging through the world as far as I could see.  It had taken off and was spreading wildly on its own.

That's when my brother said, "Be careful where you light those fires, my castle is made of wood, remember?"  The truth of the matter is that I remembered but was having far too much fun with fire to actually care.  I'm a great big brother, I know.  I said, "I'm sure it'll be fine."  It wasn't.  Although, in my defense, his castle did burn gloriously.

We then vowed to create a bigger and better castle made of stone, and we did.

I don't know any other game where that scenario would have been possible.  For that alone, Minecraft is my game of the year.

Minecraft is the game that people have wanted to play for years.  My actions matter and they have a persistent effect on the world.  I can do almost anything I want.  If I find a cave I can explore it or close it off.  If I see a river I can channel it or build a bridge over it.  If I want to build a castle made of wood (which it turns out is actually a poor choice) then the game gives me to freedom to do that too.

Minecraft is the game your heart desires, you just don't know it yet.

Mass Effect 2

I love the Mass Effect series for the story.  That's what I'm in it for.  The combat, leveling, and gearing my character all help to change things up and keep me active in the game but I can't get over how fun the story is to interact with.  With Mass Effect 2 I saw all of my decisions from the first game carry over into the world of the second.  I got to continue my Shepard's story and have some fun combat along the way.

I love the way combat, skills, and gearing have been streamlined in the second iteration.  It still feels like a third person shooter and role playing game hybrid, but there is less clutter to be had.  It makes the story shine all the much more.

One of my absolute favorite things about this game is that my wife loves the story too!  I can play it and she'll sit on the couch watching, all the while making smart ass comments about what Tali's biosuit ports are for.  I mean seriously, look at those access ports, are they suggestively placed or what?  Or maybe my family is just made up of smart asses.  Either way, my wife's love of the story guarantees a day one purchase of Mass Effect 3 in our household.

Starcraft 2

A highly polished Blizzard real time strategy game that still keeps my mind working.  This is the only game I've ever written a guide for.  That goes to show how much of my mental RAM I've devoted to StarCraft 2 and the strategy surrounding it.  Since I've already discussed it at length in many other posts I won't try to extol all of it's virtues here.  Just know that it's one of the best RTS games I've ever played.  If you're an RTS fan this game is a must own.

 League of Legends

With League of Legends the beta, open-beta, and launch all blurred together.  I started playing back in beta in 2009, but I think of the official launch as sometime early this year.  Either way, I have to include it because of the amount of my gaming time it's taken up this year.

League is one of the most balanced team based pvp games I've ever played.  Even when I lose, I never truly feel cheated or that the game was unfair.  I'm always excited to jump into the next round.  As I've written about League a lot already I'd just like to say that I recommend this game to everyone.  It's free to play and it deserves your attention.

 Bloons TD 4

Over the summer drought of games I started to play a lot of free online flash games.  Kongregate is my favorite site to find new flash games but one sticks out as head and shoulders above the rest.  That game is Bloons TD 4.

Tower defense games are a favorite of mine and Bloons TD 4 executes a tried and true game design perfectly.  I don't even know how many hours I've killed with this game, but it's quite a substantial amount.  Recently the creator released an iphone/ipod version of the game and now I'm once again addicted, only this time I can carry the game with me.  For the amount of time I've spent and the low low price of free, this is my final pick for games of the year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Subscription MMO Stress

One thing driving me crazy about playing World of Warcraft is that I have to pay a monthly fee for it.  In the past all MMOs were set up with this subscription model, but with the rise of free to play I noticed that a monthly subscription is really bugging me.

The subscription fee makes me feel like I have to play WoW with all of my gaming time.  If I don't, I feel like I'm not getting my money's worth, like I'm throwing my money away, which stresses me out.

There have been a few times in the past week when I was playing WoW but actually felt like playing a different game.  I ended up staying online because I really wanted to make my subscription count for something.  In hindsight I know I would have had more fun playing something else.

Does this reflect badly on my mental state or is it the exact way that subscription MMOs are intended to function?  Does anyone else feel the same pull while they're subscribed?

This feeling is only increasing my appreciation for the free to play model that so many MMOs have started to adopt.  Then I also see things like Guild Wars 2 on the horizon with no fee at all (except the box) and it makes me wonder how long the subscription model can survive.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mind Numbing WoW

Questing was fun, but now I'm 85

I've been using WoW to kill time lately.  It's pretty mind numbing but that isn't a bad thing.  The release of Cataclysm lined up with a gap in my work schedule, so I've already accomplished a lot of the goals I have for this expansion.  I'm all done with questing, but now I'm 85 and there seems to be less to do.

The thing I forget when I'm not subscribed is it doesn't take much skill to play WoW successfully.  It's really easy to zone out and play while still accomplishing things and reaching goals.  Once I have the hang of a class I can basically sleepwalk through dungeons and questing with ease.  It's the same button sequences over and over with slight variations on the more complex bosses or pvp.

I'm already getting bored of endgame content, but I still want to complete a successful heroic run in each dungeon.  I just don't feel like getting caught up in the gear treadmill when I would rather play other games.

I've already gotten plenty of hours out of my Cataclysm purchase, but boredom and mind numbing content are starting to set in.  I'm willing to bet that my subscription won't last past 3 months.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my readers.

No matter how you're celebrating, I hope all your gaming wishes have been fulfilled!


Monday, December 20, 2010

Child's Play Charity 2010

Child's Play Charity has reached over 1 million dollars donated this year.  If you haven't contributed yet, now is the time!  Child's Play is a great way for the gaming community to do something positive for others.

The media and general public tend to think of gamers in a negative way.  I love that Child's Play breaks those stereotypes and shows that we're just people like everyone else.  It's a charity that donates games and gaming systems to children's wings of hospitals.  It makes a huge difference in a child's happiness when they get to play and have fun with other children.

There are some amazing stories from patients and parents of patients who have seen the difference games can make.  Just read some of these letters and you'll see how much happiness you can bring a child.

The entire gaming community has been pitching in.  The Penny-Arcade guys not only run the charity, but also throw a huge charity auction on it's behalf.  The humble indie bundle lets people buy some great independent games and contribute part of the proceeds to Child's Play.  The team at Desert Bus for Hope plays one of the most boring games ever made for days and days based on the donations they receive, all of which go to Child's Play.  Those are only the high profile events, just look at the events page to see all the other gamers that are helping to raise money for a great cause.

Even if you don't donate, I still want you to know that there are gamers out there doing good things for others.  But seriously, think about donating.  It's bringing happiness to kids who need it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Healing and Tanking Are Fun

I forgot how fun tanking and healing can be.  Long long ago I tried healing on my druid, but could never get enough group content to actually make it worthwhile.  After that I switched to a feral spec that would let me tank.  I loved tanking because I got to dictate the pace of every dungeon I entered.

Then I hit max level and something interesting happened, I started getting shit from everyone.  If I messed up a pull, didn't go fast enough, or if the group wiped I would get called all sorts of names.  People would ragequit and say it was because of me.  I had enough of that, so I switched to a feral dps spec and have stayed there since Burning Crusade.

With all the alts I've been rolling I decided to give healing and tanking another try.  The dungeon finder makes it easier then ever to find a group, especially as a healer or tank.  I didn't realize how much I had missed doing something other than dps.  It opens up the game in a whole new way.  Once again I'm the one pushing the group forward or keeping everyone alive.

The best part is no one giving me shit.  At low levels groups are just happy to have a healer or tank.  They're almost afraid of offending me because it takes such a long time to queue as dps but I can queue and have a group almost instantly.  I can ditch them and find a new group in a second, but they're stuck with me or a 45 minute wait.  It puts the power in my hands.

I hope others start to realize this about low level healing and tanking.  It might finally help the shortages at max level.  Then again, once I hit max level I think pugs are going to be brutal to me again.  I'm far from that point, so no worries for now.  Does anyone else have any interesting tanking or healing insight?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Queue and Crowding

Our old friend the log-in queue has made a triumphant return!  It's interesting to watch the pull that a WoW expansion seems to have on former players.  They flock back to find old friends, favorite characters, and new content.

The upside to this is that we have more people online to play with at all hours of the day.  The downside is that log-in times can get ridiculous during prime time in the evening or on the weekend.  One day it took me over an hour to get past the queue.  It gave me some time to accomplish other things and catch up on my email, but an hour is still a long time to wait.

The return of so many players just goes to show how Blizzard has a huge death grip on the title of most popular MMO in the world.  It's hard to even remember most of the other games that released in 2004.  It's unheard of for a game to stay popular as long as the World of Warcraft has, but it currently has something like 13 million subscribers.  Congratulations Blizzard, somehow you keep everyone coming back for more.

The other problem I've been running into is crowding in questing zones.  The first day was a mess.  I couldn't even see quest givers because of the all people standing around and on top of them.  Check out this NPC in Orgrimmar on launch night.

OMG indeed

Fighting over control of an area and rushing to tag quest mobs is a common occurrence at the moment.  It's getting less so every day, but I've given up on questing during prime time.

Truthfully, I don't mind it.  I love seeing so many people interacting in a virtual world.  That's what Massive Multiplayer Online games should be all about.  In a few weeks the questing areas will quiet down and everyone will be queuing for heroic dungeons while hanging out in cities.  My advice: Enjoy the company while it lasts.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cataclysm and the Shattering Initial Impressions

I've been having fun with WoW since the Shattering changed the old world.  With the release of Cataclysm that fun has been extended to my main too!

I currently have a 13 Paladin, 17 Priest, 6 Mage, and a 82 Druid that I'm playing around with.  Since I created all the alts in the past 2 weeks I've had a chance to test out a bunch of starting zones.  Overall the quests are much tighter and have a more cohesive story then they used to.  I really appreciate that quest text tends to be shorter then the old world.  I always like to read the lore but I hate running into a wall of text at quest givers.

The tighter quest pathing gives the game a more linear feeling, but I would rather have that then the way the old world used to be.  Besides, I can always go off the beaten path if I choose to.  The only starting area I tried that still feels scattered is for the draenei.  It needs work.  I can't believe how long it took me to get to level 15.  At that point I was so frustrated with the zone that I started exclusively running dungeons with that character.  On the other hand, the dwarf and worgen starting areas feel great and both tell an interesting story.  Now is a fantastic time to be rolling alts!

 Be prepared to see a lot of these at low levels

I love the dungeon finder for leveling, gearing, and having a good time.  My favorite part of WoW has always been 5-man dungeons and now it's easier then ever to run them.  Every time I jump into one with my alts I get a new experience because all the old world instances have been redone.  I may be the only non-worgen in that particular group, but the content is fresh and exciting.

I've had a ton of fun with my 82 druid.  I've always had a special place in my heart for my druid and being able to progress with him is a treat for me.  I'm not rushing to endgame or racing anyone else, I'm taking my time and enjoying the journey.  I finished all of Vashj'ir last night and hit level 82.  The underwater continent is great for my class because my aquatic form is super fast (with the continent-wide buff plus minor glyph).  The seahorse mounts were also fun, but for me it was simply easier to use my aquatic form.

 My main and his current big stick

Vashj'ir felt like it went on a little bit too long by the end.  I almost wish they had cut out a zone worth of content.  There were a few epic quest lines that let me (spoiler) visit the past in another body and find out more about the history of the Naga and Old Gods (end spoiler).  These were awesome, but there were definitely filler quests to be found as well.  Although I had fun in Vashj'ir I was ready to be out of the ocean by the end of the quest chain and completely sick of looking at yet another cave that we  happened to be using as a base.  I'm excited for a change of scenery next time I log in.

If you're tired of the World of Warcraft formula or never liked it in the first place then you should steer clear of Cataclysm.  If you stopped playing because you were bored of the content then you really have no excuse to stay away.  I know a lot of old players are returning.  The proof is in the log-in queue.  That's fine, it just means more people to play with.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thanks Blizzard for the New Cat Form

I've had another busy week with just a little bit of gaming time.  I managed to finish up the main story in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood (awesome) and had a little bit of WoW time on the side.  I'm still loving Cataclysm and the shattering of the old world.  Hopefully I'll get some impressions up soon.

Until then I just wanted to say thanks to Blizzard for finally getting around to making new cat and bear forms for druids!  Sometime between when I quit last year and started again last month they patched in the new models.  It took long enough, but thank you for the change.  I was tired of looking at that model and having no individual characteristics.  Thanks!

Monday, December 6, 2010

WoW Midnight Releases! How About No!?

I'm so excited I don't have to wait in the cold at midnight for Cataclysm.  Blizzard finally got with the program and is releasing the digital copy of Cataclysm at the same time as the retail version.  I wish they would have done it sooner (I'm looking at you Wrath and SC2) but I'm glad they're catching up with the times.

The truth is if I buy the digital copy I can actually play the game earlier then the diehard midnight release folks.  The Blizzard downloader has already downloaded all of the Cataclysm data to my computer.  This happened as soon as I payed for my digital copy and started the patcher.  At midnight all they have to do is bring the servers online and I'm ready to play.

No long lines.  No waiting in the cold.  No install from a DVD that I have to wait through.

Chances are the servers will crash on the 7th, but for today I'm going to be optimistic and happy about digital distribution as the wave of the present.  My friends, the future is here now!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reddit and Our Decentralized Media Channels

The media is not what it used to be.  There are so many channels of information that we have access to today that there's no possible way to intake and process it all.  With cable, books, movies, video games, magazines, the internet, our phones, newspapers, cable, satellite TV, and more where do we turn for entertainment and information?  Well, if you're in your twenties or younger the answer is the internet.

But even if we narrow down our media channels to only the internet there is still an overload of content at our fingertips.  Even if we say that we only want to talk about the news of the day the question remains, "Where should we turn?"  Almost every cable news network has a site, as well as every paper, local station, special interest, and political leaning.

I've given up on keeping track of current events, and I'm sad to say that many of my generation have.  With untold amounts of data generated every day there needs to be a way to sort the worthwhile from the trash.  Opinion presented as fact is getting out of hand in the mainstream media and I'm tired of fluff pieces on "news" sites that seem like they should be in Cosmo or on instead.

The lines between news and entertainment in the United States are blurring more each day.  When comedians like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert have more to say about events of the day than we can find in the "real" news then there is a problem with our current system.

 Colbert recently became a redditor himself.

This is why I've turned to social link sites to keep myself informed instead of relying on the mainstream media.  There are a few main sites out there, but Reddit is my favorite by far.  Basically people submit links, images, videos, forum posts, and comments to Reddit and other users get to vote them up or down.  This allows for the most popular content to rise to the top and the junk content to stay out of most users sight.  All quality content, no matter what type of content, ends up on the front page.

Not all of the content is news, but when a news story reaches the front page I know it's worth taking the time to read.  Instead of hunting through an entire paper or website for the one big event of the day that's actually worth reading, I can browse reddit for entertainment and let the quality news stories come to me.

That's without even mentioning sub-reddits.  Sub-reddits are groups of content within overall site.  Interested in gaming (probably if you read this blog) then check out the gaming sub-reddit.  How about a particular game like StarCraft 2, Call of Duty, or World of Warcraft?  They have their own sub-reddits too.  Sub-reddit topics range from politics, to humor, to technology, and sex.  If you take a look at the sub-reddits page I know you'll find something that appeals to you.

I don't know what the future of the media will look like, but there is a definite shift happening.  For the moment Reddit points me towards interesting media around the internet, but who knows where I'll be turning for information in 5 years.  Our media consumption is constantly changing with the emergence of social media and constant access to the internet through mobile devices.  One thing is for sure, the mainstream media becomes less relevant every day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WoW on the Cheap

My server transfer request has been placed for my main and I have an awesome new Pally alt that I'm playing with my brother.  After a year of absence I'm really having fun with the World of Warcraft again.  A few days of running Wrath dungeons for nostalgia plus the sweet new leveling with alts has combined to make me feel content with my playtime.  I really want to write more about my alt experience in the future, but for now I just wanted to say that I'm having a blast!

It's also worth mentioning that the World of Warcraft is extremely cheap at the moment.  WoW and the Burning Crusade expansion are each on sale for $5 and Wrath of the Lich King is only $10.  If you haven't picked up the expansion packs or were waiting for a good time to try WoW you should definitely take a look at the current deals.

Until next time, I hope everyone is enjoying their post-shattering pre-Cataclysm playtime as much as I am!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Challenge? What Challenge?

  Deathwing says, "I'll give you a challenge."

In the year since I last played World of Warcraft there are only a handful (I think 2) new 5-man dungeons.  5-mans are my favorite since they can be run quickly but still take skill and thought.  Raiding is too time intensive for me, so 5-mans are perfect bite sized chunks of group activity.  I always liked the cooperation and challenge it took to get through 5-man dungeons.

Imagine my surprise to resubscribe and find that the challenge is gone.  Everyone is so over-geared for the old dungeons that they just blast through.  One of the tanks in a group the other night said, "Ugh, we've already taken 10 minutes, hurry it up guys."  I couldn't believe it!  These used to take a slow, measured, thoughtful approach and were run in about 30-45 minutes.  Now 10 minutes is a long time?  I guess when the dps can just AOE everything to death then the whole run goes a lot faster, but I think it's less fun then it used to be.

One thing I'm loving about running random heroics is the dungeon finder.  Where has this been all of my WoW career?  I can't believe how much more efficient it is at finding groups then I used to be.  Instantly teleporting my character into and out of dungeons is a major plus as well.  I really hope Blizzard ends up patching in a raid finder, that would just make my day.  Such a huge chunk of time raiding is spent in the organization stage that if a raid finder was created I might actually have time to run some raids.

I'll run a few more random heroics with my 80 druid for old time's sake and to build up some justice points, but the fast-paced, no thought dungeons are wearing thin.  I'm much more excited for December 7th when no one will be over-geared for the new Cataclysm dungeons.  People will actually have to think and talk to one another again, and I think that would be great.

Until then, I'm going to have fun with my brand new level 4 Paladin!  I can't wait to explore the 1-60 leveling game that's been completely redone.  Also, I rolled this character with my brother so we can play together, which makes the whole experience more enjoyable.  I'm sure that will tide me over until Cataclysm's release in a few weeks.  That and League of Legends.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

WoW Time Investment Breakdown

 Image by Spacemancer

I've rejoined the World of Warcraft.  I haven't played a lot yet, but I've gotten my feet wet with all the Cataclysm happenings taking place in the world.  I thought it would be interesting to look at my current breakdown of time spent doing various activities since I resubscribed.

Character Maintenance - 3 hours
I did a lot of sorting my inventory, setting up some auctions, figuring out my gear, setting up my talents and glyphs, and generally getting reacquainted with my characters.  It wasn't exactly fun, but it was interesting.

Cataclysm Quests and Atmosphere - 3 hours 
I did all the shattering quests I could get my hands on from the questgiver in Orgrimmar.  These were a lot of fun.  I really enjoy questing and interesting storylines in my MMOs and this had both.  Besides that, I was just taking in some of the atmosphere and tension from the shaking world, the attacks on our cities, and the general sense of unease.  It has me very excited for the shattering.

Cataclysm One Boss Dungeons - 2 hours
I ran each of the 4 one boss dungeons.  They were a nice break from questing and they were my first experience with the group finder.  The group finder is awesome.  Being able to do my thing and go questing while the game finds a group on my behalf brings me great joy.  I think I'm going to be doing a lot more dungeon runs then I used to.

Heroic 5-Man Wrath Dungeons - 2 hours
I ran a few of the 5-man heroic dungeons and I'm sad to say that nothing is new.  I've been away for a year and they remain the same, although I guess we get a new currency instead of tokens.  That's not a big change.  They're still solid dungeons, but I've run them all more times then I can remember.  I want to explore new dungeons and have new experiences instead.

The word on the street (or on MMO blogs at any rate) is that the shattering is happening today.  I'm off to see what they've patched in with the Tuesday update.  Hopefully it's awesome!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Settling into Winter with Some Games

I've been busy lately, so while I've been gaming I haven't has as much opportunity to write about my thoughts and experiences.  I wanted to do a quick update on what I'm playing and what I've beaten lately.


I beat Fable III a few days after it came out.  If you were a fan of Fable 2 then Fable III will provide you with some more fun.  There is little in the way of sweeping changes or improvements over the last entry in the series, but there is some solid hack and slash adventure waiting for those interested.  I think in the long run my wife will get more play time out of this game then I will.

For an explorer like me, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is shaping up to be well worth it's price.  With a myriad of missions, collectibles, and objectives I feel that I'll be having fun with the single player campaign for quiet some time.  So far it's a great entry into the series and I can see myself playing until I complete every achievement.  I love the series that much.

From everything I've heard, the multiplayer is supposed to be fantastic and unlike anything else currently on the market.  I hope to dive into that this weekend and report back with my findings.

I've gotten the chance to jump into a few SC2 games lately, but not as often as I did a few months back.  It's still a great game, I just don't have large chunks of time to devote to it.  Instead, I've been watching a lot of high level commentary and matches which are really interesting.

The day[9] daily is my favorite part of the SC2 metagame.  Day[9] discusses strategy, becoming a better gamer, and making time for fun in your play.  If you want to see some unique and funny matches make sure to check out day[9]'s series called Funday Monday.

In which our hero, Meat Boy, platforms like a pro.  This is a hardcore game in a vein that I haven't experienced since childhood.  Remember those days of memorizing levels on your NES because you kept dying in the same spot over and over?  That's what this game is like, but in an amazing way.  If you like a platforming challenge, Super Meat Boy is the best $15 you can spend right now.

My favorite part is the replay after each level completion.  All of your attempts are combined into a super replay where you watch every death happen at the same time while your one final Meat Boy makes it to the level goal.  So fun.

I have written at length about League of Legends already, but it's still occupying the majority of my gaming time.  It's the type of game that I want to play at the moment.  It's a free-to-play, challenging, skill-based, multiplayer, competitive, non-FPS, with an advancement system and loads of customization.  I keep coming back to this League of Legends day after day.  I love this game.

I recently went back and started working on my saved game again.  I think I'm about two thirds of the way done with the main quest. The problem I'm running into with DA:O is that I'm a completionist and an explorer, so I keep wandering off to do every side quest I find.  I explore every room of every dungeon and want to complete the dialog tree with every NPC I meet.  In a game as sprawling as DA:O that takes a lot of time.  I think I have 40 hours invested already.  I really want to beat this one by the time Dragon Age 2 comes out in the spring.

I officially resubscribed and bought the digital copy of Cataclysm.  I'm currently in the process of getting my characters prepared and switching servers so that I'm ready when Cataclysm releases on December 7th.  I still haven't played much, I'm mostly just doing housekeeping with my account.  Expect to hear more from me about WoW once Cataclysm hits.

That's where all of my gaming hours have been going.  I wanted to write a few more reviews and impressions about my current stock of games, but life has just been too busy.  I'm hoping to get more writing time over the upcoming holiday season.  In the meantime I'd love to hear about what's currently on your gaming menu.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Child's Play 2010

Child's Play charity just opened up their site for 2010.  Child's Play is an amazing charity that gives video games and video game systems to childrens' hospitals and childrens' wards of hospitals.  There have been a lot of happy kids thanks to the contributions of the gaming community since the charity started.  Gaming can help kids through very challenging stays in the hospital.  It lifts spirits, makes kids happy, and keeps them thinking positive.  I plan to write a longer post about Child's Play in December, since people always seem to be in a giving mood during that month, but I highly suggest taking a look at their site and seeing what they're all about.

If you're a gamer this is a great chance to show the world that gaming can be positive.  Hop over to the site to find out more about Child's Play.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Reading: MMO of Choice Edition

I have MMOs on my mind this week.  Here are some good posts on the subject.

This video reminded me of why I love language.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Server Situation

I'm anticipating a return to World of Warcraft shortly.  I have that MMO itch and WoW is the most appealing to me at the moment.  Peer pressure and the looming expansion are helping to steer me that way.  But, I'm running into a problem.

All of my friends are scattered across WoW servers.  The first server I played on, Alleria, no longer has any of my friends on it.  Bonechewer, the server with my level 80 main, now has none of my friends on it either.  My brother and a group of our friends are playing on Marudin and my other main chunk of friends is playing on Dragonmaw.  Besides those, I also have a few friends here or there playing on servers without anyone else I know.

If I make a return to WoW and actually want to play with my friends, which I do, then I'm going to have to do a server transfer.  I'd like to get that out of the way before the expansion lands.  I'd also like to transfer to a server where my friends are still playing Horde so that I don't have to pay for a faction change too.

This is the main reason I haven't resubscribed to WoW yet.  I need to make up my mind about what to do with my main and who to play with.  Right now I really wish that I could do 5-man dungeons with any of my friends regardless of which server they are on.  We are closer then ever to that ability with RealID and the dungeon finder, I just wish it existed in-game at the moment.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

WoW on the Mind

I've been sick for the past week and haven't had much of a chance for gaming but I did get a chance to read a few books.  One of them was The Shattering, which is all about the events in WoW leading up to the Cataclysm.  It really got me excited to play the game again.

I think at this point it's inevitable that I'll resubscribe for at least a few months.  I looked at my WoW account today and saw that I haven't played in about a year, but I don't feel like I've been missing out on anything.

I have a level 80 that's done almost every quest in Northrend and beaten Naxx a few times.  I never got into hardcore raiding because I hated the time investment and I don't plan on picking it up ever.  I always liked doing random 5-man dungeons, but I quit before they launched the dungeon finder.  I do regret that.

I think I'll start back up in the next week or two, try out some of the newer Wrath content, enjoy some 5-mans, and get my main ready for Cataclysm.  WoW sounds like fun to me at the moment, which is something I haven't been able to say in at least a year.  I bet I'll be unsubscribed by February, but that's just a guess.  As long as I'm having fun with the game it doesn't matter.

Anyway, Cataclysm hype and the lack of interesting MMOs have consorted to make me, once again, interested in WoW.  Don't be surprised if you see some more posts on the subject.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Coffee Table Problem

 This Living Room is Not Kinect Friendly

Oh Kinect... I had high hopes when I first saw you, but now they've been smashed upon the rocks of reality.

You see, there's a little issue I like to call the coffee table problem.  For Kinect to detect the user it must be seven feet away from them.  Sounds good in theory, but in reality most people don't have that kind of space in their living room and, if they do, there's a high probability of the seven foot mark being exactly where the coffee table sits.  Just look at some of the sample living rooms via Joystiq.

Kinect won't work if it can't detect a person's whole body, so the coffee table poses a problem.  Some living rooms without coffee tables don't even have the space required to play.  It sounds like a minor issue, but when you think about sitting down to relax and play a game do you really imagine yourself moving furniture?  I don't.  It's extremely annoying.

With my coffee table sitting in the sweet spot for Kinect I'm even less inclined to pick one up.  Maybe down the line when the games become more refined I'll change my mind, but for the moment it's simply not worth the hassle and money for me to purchase one.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Will Kinect Learn From the Wii?

Xbox 360 Kinect launches tomorrow and I have to say I'm not completely impressed with the launch game lineup.  When I first saw the Kinect technology I couldn't help but imagine how amazing it's games could be.  With launch day just around the corner I'm already disheartened with some of the games presented to the public.

It seems like the two types of games that will be dominating the system will be mini-game collections and work out games.  There are some other offerings like Kinectimals and Dance Central that look to make a unique impression with their gameplay, but most games look like they could be Wii games ported over to a new system.

The thing I'm most worried about is the land of shovelware that the Wii has become.  I can't even look at most of the releases because they're so awful, unless they have Mario in the title.  What are the chances of the Kinect succumbing to the same fate?  I truly hope that doesn't happen.

Itsa Me! The Cash Cow!

One thing that's going to be in Microsoft's favor is the prevalence of Xbox Live Arcade.  It has become a widely accepted part of the Xbox experience and there are some great gems in the lineup.  Most XBLA games are in the five to fifteen dollar range too, which only helps make them more palatable.  If they start releasing XBLA Kinect games they could have a booming business on their hands, but I don't see fifty dollar mini-game collections as a sustainable business model for the system.

Feel free to sound off on the Kinect in the comments.  I'd really like to know if anyone is planning on picking up the Kinect, and which part you're most excited about.  I might have my misgivings, but I really do hope the Kinect turns out to be awesome after all is said and done.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Reading: Expansions, DoTA, and Dragon Age 2

I've been thinking lots about grabbing Cataclysm when it releases and in the meantime I've been playing the descendants of DoTA to fill my gaming time.  In that vein I found some great articles about the upcoming WoW expansion and DoTA too.

A new Dragon Age 2 trailer that got me excited.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stress Level and the Feel of a Game

 She just lost a game of StarCraft 2.

Lately I've been playing StarCraft 2, League of Legends, Minecraft, and Fable 3.  I've noticed that the game I play is dependent on the feeling I get while playing the game.  Let me try to explain.

I was playing a lot of League of Legends last week and I took a break to play some SC2.  When I jumped into the 1v1 ladder I felt an enormous amount of stress while playing.  Because of the ladder system I constantly know that I'm being judged and only I can do anything about it.  In a 1v1 I have no back up, no help, no one else to blame my flaws on.  On top of that, in SC2 I have to manage my base, my resources, build my army, control my army, and execute a strategy all at the same time.  It's extremely hard to do, which is why the game is interesting, but it's also stressful to juggle all those tasks simultaneously.

Stressful but interesting to play.

I switched back to League of Legends and instantly my stress level decreased.  In League I only control one character and I'm part of a team.  The one character means I don't have to keep my attention on 10 things at once and having 4 teammates spreads out the pressure to perform well.  League has been my favorite game lately because it's competitive but my stress level is minimal.

I've also been playing Minecraft and Fable 3 where there is absolutely zero pressure to perform.  That's one of the greatest parts of single player games, no one knows if I fail or succeed. In Minecraft I build and explore the world in whatever way I want to.  In Fable 3 I can mess around with townfolk or continue an epic quest for vengeance and freedom.  They can be played on my own time and at my own pace.  Single player games are the most relaxing type of game because of it.

All four are great games that I plan on playing regularly, I just thought it was interesting that the tone of the game is so different for each one.  Maybe that's why I always like to have a few different games that I'm playing, I never devote my time completely to just one.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Holiday Gaming Season

With Halloween on the horizon you know it's almost the holiday season.  In the world of gaming this means tons of new releases, holiday marketing pushes, and special events in our favorite games.  MMOs especially love to celebrate holidays with their own versions of real life holidays.

There are a lot of games that I want to try out this release season.  We're finally in the opposite of the summer slump.  The holiday release season was kicked off by Halo Reach late last month and is followed by Fable III, The Force Unleashed II, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, and World of Warcraft Cataclysm.  Those are the main games I want to get my hands on in the next couple of months.

Those are just the games on my personal list, there are many other titles hoping to get their fair share of holiday spending.  Playstation Move is out and the Xbox Kinect will be released on November 4th.  Those new motion control systems should both be huge with the younger crowd, if not the hardcore gamers.  Kirby's Epic Yarn, Castlevania Lord of Shadows, Medal of Honor, and Call of Duty: Black Ops are just a few more offerings on the table that should do well at retail.

 WoW's Headless Horseman

Virtual worlds and MMOs are gearing up for the holidays with their own celebrations.  World of Warcraft has already had Brewfest and All Hallows Eve is just around the corner.  Most well established MMOs have some form of holiday festivities.

Last night when I logged in to League of Legends I was surprised to find a Halloween tileset for the main 5v5 map as well as all of the lesser minions having pumpkin masks.  It was awesome!  Not only that, but they introduced a new hero as an added benefit.

The holiday season is a great time to be a gamer.  With a mass of new releases and celebrations happening in our favorite virtual worlds which part of holiday gaming are you most looking forward to?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cataclysm Hype Rising

A lot of my friends have been talking about World of Warcraft.  The pre-expansion patch was just released which apparently changed a lot of gameplay mechanics.  Events leading up to the Cataclysm are happening in game and there's a general excitement for the impending expansion.

Discussing WoW has gotten me excited for it again.  I haven't touched the game in over a year now but my resolve is weakening every day.  A side effect of my account getting hacked is that there is still some pre-paid game time on it from the gold seller.  I might use the couple free days that I have to give WoW another try.

I would probably have to get a server transfer to play with my friends again, which would suck.  I might even just start from scratch when Cataclysm rolls out.  I love my druid though, so I don't want all the effort I put into him to go to waste.

Along with the peer pressure from my friends, Blizzard just released the awesome introduction video to Cataclysm.  Seeing all those well know locations get owned makes me want to go explore the new world.  I'll let you know if my willpower gives out.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

No Tolerance for Rude People

I was playing a bunch of League of Legends yesterday and having a great time until I got into this one game where a teammate would not shut up about the way everyone else on the team was playing.  He was trying to micro-manage everyone else while at the same time telling us and the other team how much we sucked at the game.  In less then a minute I had him on my ignore list.

I realized that I used to have a much higher tolerance for rude people.  I would try to work with them, or be nice to them and make them understand that some people are still learning a game.  Now I just ignore them.  I have better things to do with my time.  If someone else is ruining my gameplay experience why should I bother listening to them?

It isn't only League of Legends either.  When people are whiny, complaining, or making fun of teammates in Halo Reach I'll mute them as soon as possible.  I'm sure if I went back to WoW and started running dungeons I wouldn't want to listen to any rude group members either.

I don't know if it's an age thing or if I've simply seen one too many assholes in all my days of gaming, but I'm done putting up with them.  What about you readers?  Do you still try to work with rude people or have you given up on them too?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

League of Legends is Still Sweet

League of Legends is my favorite game that you've probably never heard of.  It's one of the games that I come back to time and time again when I'm not playing the newest releases.  Team Fortress 2 falls into this category as well, but that's not what I want to talk about today.

League of Legends is based off of DotA, a custom map from WarCraft 3.  In League two teams of 5 players fight each other across a map while eventually trying to destroy the enemy's base.  Unlike in a RTS you're only in control of one unit, your hero.  Heroes gain levels, buy items, and gain abilities as the game goes on.  Along with the 10 heroes there are also "creeps."  These are much weaker and only walk a set path between your base and the enemy's base.  If the heroes didn't do anything then the two forces of creeps would cancel each other out.  With the help of player-controlled heroes the creeps are able to "push" a lane and slowly take down the defenses on the way to the enemy's base.  In a 5v5 game their are 3 separate lanes to push which makes lane management interesting because one lane is always going to be weaker than the other 2.  All of this makes for a unique experience unlike an other genre out there.

On top of the gameplay there's also a meta-game where players are given levels, masteries, and runes.  Levels unlock more mastery points and rune slots.  Masteries function similar to talent trees in World of Warcraft.  They give slight enhancements that can be customized to suit your play style but none of the masteries is game breaking.  Runes give even smaller tweaks, but enough of them together can make a difference.  Multiple rune pages can be set up for different types of heroes.  For example I have one dedicated to spell casting heroes and one set up for physical attack heroes.  Players also gain IP by playing games which can be used like cash in the League of Legends cash shop.  IP can buy new heroes and runes.

League is one of my favorite games on the market right now.  I've talked about it before, but I wanted to bring it up again because it just won a bunch of awards at GDC.  Not only is League of Legends awesome but it's also free to play.  There is also an optional cash shop but everything can be unlocked with in-game points if given enough time.  Now is a great time to try League of Legends because a lot of new players are joining with the announcement of the GDC awards.  With such a great game being free to play why not give it a shot?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Turbine Entertainment has done it again with the LotRO switch to free to play.  They are amazing at making the free to play plus an option cash shop pricing model work for them.  Their revenues have doubled already.

After the success of DDO's switch to the same pricing model I guess it was a no brainer to do the same with their other MMO.  Turbine is a great example of free to play done right.  I hope more MMOs follow their example in the future.

Subscription MMOs seem to be the exception lately.  When so many games are launching or switching to a free to play model why would MMO players still want to pay $15 per month to play a game?  World of Warcraft is the exception since they have market dominance and a 6 year track record with players.  Almost every other subscription MMO on the market is struggling.

I think that the free to play model with an optional cash shop is the future of MMOs.  With the occasional exception, we should see most MMOs using that pricing structure in the near future.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Reading: Team Fortress Dance Edition

Time for another edition of Sunday reading!  I haven't posted one in awhile, so I have a bunch of links for you today.
  • Spinks strikes again with a few thoughts on achievements and Cataclysm.

Here are some TF2 characters dancing.  Enjoy.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cataclysmic WoW Thoughts

After 6 years World of Warcraft is still going strong.  Blizzard just announced that WoW has reached 12 million active players.  Last time they did an announcement along the same lines was when they reached 11 million.  This means that WoW is still gaining more people then its losing.  I think that's amazing for a game that was released in 2004.

Cataclysm now has a December 7th release date and I've been thinking about resubscribing to play the newest expansion.  I love exploring new content and leveling up my characters, even though I've never been big into the raiding scene.  I like to jump online at my leisure and explore the world.  Cataclysm's revamp of the old world levels 1-60 plus the new content for levels 80-85 was designed for players just like me, which is why I'm so interested.

I also love new expansions because they completely level the playing field for max level players.  This means that after only a few levels my 80 druid that's been inactive for a year will be just as powerful as another person's who has been raiding the entire time.  Everyone gets a clean slate.

I still haven't played since they introduced the dungeon finder, which I would love to try out.  Running quick dungeons with people was one of my favorite parts of Wrath of the Lich King.  The streamlined process in addition to new dungeons in the expansion is very appealing to me.

My problem, at the moment, is that apparently my account just got banned.  I got an email last night from Blizzard (not a phishing scam) that said my account was permanently banned because of gold selling or something along those lines.  I don't understand how that could possibly be since my account has been inactive for almost an entire year.  I submitted a ticket to try to get my account and characters back.  If I can't get my level 80 druid back then I'm not going to ever play WoW again.  I like that character a lot and I don't feel like re-leveling a new one from scratch.  It may be the determining factor when it comes to buying Cataclysm.

Anyway, that's where I sit at the moment.  We'll see what happens with my account and all the Cataclysm hype in the next few months.  Maybe I'll resubscribe, maybe I won't.  I'll definitely let you know.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Progressing a Franchise

Bioshock Infinite looks sweet.  It's strange for me to type that because I loathed Bioshock 2 because of the shear potential that was wasted in it's creation.  Bioshock 2 was a complete rehash of the first game without compelling advancements or changes.  On the other hand, Bioshock Inifinite is absolutely the correct way to handle an intellectual property.

Do you remember what I wrote about the importance of developers?  Well, I just learned that Bioshock 2 had a completely different developer than the original.  2K Marin handled that game instead of the original developer, Irrational.  That explains the feeling of sameness that permeated the game.  Irrational is back at the helm for Bioshock Infinite and they're taking the series in a new direction.

 Our New Playground

Gone is the underwater city of Rapture.  Instead, Columbia is a floating city in 1912.  It's an American city that has taken nationalism too far.  Big daddy's are nowhere to be seen but a giant mechanical monster called "Him" is trying to keep your companion character, Elizabeth, confined to a tower where she's been trapped for the past 15 years.  It's your job to get her out of Columbia.

There are many similar veins to be seen in Bioshock Infinite, but it truly looks like the developer has gauged the strengths and weaknesses of Bioshock and built from there.  With no reused assets and a brand new game engine it seems that Irrational wants to keep this game feeling unique.  Taking the central feelings and themes of Bioshock and building an entirely new game from scratch is an amazing way to keep the series fresh.

I can't even do it justice, but I'm extremely excited to see how Bioshock Infinite turns out.  It just goes to show how much the developers really matter in game creation.  If you haven't seen the gameplay trailer you should watch it right now.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Digital Downloads Reign Supreme on PC

Well, maybe not supreme, but the future is officially here.  PC games sold via digital distribution finally overtook boxed copies last month.  I, for one, couldn't be happier to see more people using digital distribution services.

I've been a long time supporter of Steam and they are, by far, the main reason that digital distribution has taken off for PC gaming.  They have a massive catalog of games that can be bought with the click of a button.  Not only bought, but linked to your account forever.  With Steam there's no need to worry about losing a CD or DVD or losing that string of alpha-numeric characters that lets you access your games.  Steam stores it all.

They also have fantastic prices.  Steam prices are almost always cheaper than finding the game elsewhere and they constantly have sales and specials.  Their collection of games under $10 is always worthwhile when looking for a cheap new title to try out.  And these are good games, they aren't cast off crap fests.  Developers see their game sales explode when they drop their prices and start selling via Steam.  It makes me think that the current price point for most games ($60) is way too high.  I bet companies could make more money selling games for less, simply because so many more people would buy their games.

For the record Steam isn't the only digital distribution out there.  Direct to Drive, Impulse, Good Old Games, and Blizzard are all viable distribution platforms as well.  Each of them has titles exclusive to only that service, but most games can be found a few different places.  I've just found Steam to have the best deals, interface, and game selection which is why it's my platform of choice.

Hit up some of the links above to see what you've been missing out on if you still buy your PC games at a brick and mortar store.  In the meantime I'll be celebrating, because the future is here now!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gaming Time/Skill

 Image via Penny-Arcade

I suck at Halo Reach.  I'm not a bad gamer and I do fine in the campaign, but compared to everyone else in matchmaking online I am not good.  Penny-Arcade summed up my feelings perfectly, so I couldn't resist using their strip from last week.

Why do I suck at Halo?  I've been playing video games for something like 20 years now, so it's not lack of experience.  I like FPS games and I play them often, so that's not it.  I'm 23 and my reaction times are still good.  I think the problem is my lack of time.

To get good at twitch games like Halo Reach a person needs to spend a lot of time with that particular game.  It all comes down to execution, which can only be improved through playing.  I don't have as much time to devote to any one game as I used to.  I have work, taking care of my newborn, spending time with my wife, and other adult responsibilities.  Also, I like trying a lot of different gaming experiences instead of confining myself to one game for months or years.

I remember when I could play one game for the majority of a day when I was a teenager.  12 hours of gaming in a day was not unreasonable.  Even when I was in high school I would regularly play games for 6 to 8 hours a day.  Looking back, it probably wasn't the healthiest amount of play time but it definitely made me good at the games I was playing.

I'm not complaining about any of it.  I love my life and I still have tons of fun playing video games.  I don't care if I can't compete with teenagers anymore.  I've moved on in my life.  I spend a lot of time with my family, which I love and I feel that I have enough time to enjoy the games I play.  As long as I'm having fun, does it really matter if I can't be as competitive as I once was?