Wednesday, June 30, 2010

DDO Day 1: Re-entering the World

Last night I did as promised and re-entered a MMO.  Dungeons and Dragons Online was my game of choice and I ended up making this badass.

He's a Monk so watch your face... it might get punched.

As you can see, he's a Monk and I managed to get him to level 2 last night.  Level 2 is actually an accomplishment since DDO only has a total of 20 levels.  Last time I tried DDO I would only play with my brother, I didn't do a single quest or dungeon by myself.  This time is no different and you can check out his impressions over at Lost In Neurons.  Last time we played until about level 6, so a lot of this content is familiar since we ran it once already.

This time I rolled a Monk instead of a Ranger (which is what I played before).  The best part about being a Monk is that I get to punch things - lots of things - right in the face.  POW!  It just makes me feel like a badass.  My brother, on the other hand, rolled a Rogue because sensing, detecting, stealth, disarming traps, and picking locks actually matters in DDO.  We get the full content experience because of his Rogue abilities.

With our characters created off we went.  The first thing that came back to me is how visceral DDO is.  Clicking to attack makes a world of difference.  There is no auto-attack in this game and I think it's a great design decision.  Right after my first battle I remembered to switch my camera controls (press t) so that I didn't have to hold down right click to look around.  I think the camera switch helps me become more immersed in the game too.

The thing I liked most last night was playing in the hand-crafted dungeons.  They have traps, hidden chambers, locked doors, optional objectives, treasure chests, monsters, and puzzles.  I had forgotten about the puzzles, but they really help break up all the fighting and make for a nice change of pace occasionally.  Exploring a dungeon is actually about exploring the dungeon, unlike WoW where people "run" a dungeon.  Even the terminology of "running" a dungeon shows how much players rush through them in WoW.  The DDO dungeons are perfect for me because I like to take my time to explore and finish all the optional and hidden objectives.  Needless to say, I am completely blown away by the experience the dungeons provide.

With the positives must come some negatives.  My main complaint isn't even that justified.  It's that I've run these dungeons before so some of the exploration element is taken out of the game for me.  I don't remember everything perfectly but I was able to recall a lot about the dungeons we were in.  Although, it's not really fair to count that one against the game developers.

The second thing I disliked was smashing boxes.  In DDO every dungeon has tons of boxes, containers, barrels, and vases to smash.  At the start of a gaming session I always get a thrill from smashing things but by the end of the night I don't want to smash 50+ containers in every single dungeon.  It's not really an optional thing either because players get rewarded bonus xp for smashing stuff and who doesn't want bonus xp?

We're almost done with newbie island after a long gaming session last night.  Hopefully tonight we'll progress into the main game.  Yesterday I wasn't so sure about getting back into MMOs, but now I can't wait to get back online with my Monk and punch some faces off!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Allure of MMOs

What is the pull of an MMO over a traditional RPG?  The stories are weaker or lacking entirely.  There's a huge grind to get from the beginning of the game to the end.  At the end of an MMO everyone works for hours on end to increase stats ever-so-slightly.  If PvP is worldwide then all the experienced players gank the noobs.  All of our achievements can look lackluster as soon as a new expansion comes out.  Groups can take hours to find.  Certain content is locked out except for one time each week when we can attempt it.  Other players can treat us like shit.  And for all this we pay subscription fees or dole out our money to microtransactions.

Despite all of that, I want to play an MMO.  I've been burned out on MMOs since about a year ago when I canceled my WoW subscription.  I dabbled in a few that released this year but none of them held my attention for longer then the first month trial.  I know I was burned out and to an extent I might still be, but I miss the sense of being a part of something bigger.  Being in a group or guild with other like-minded players. I like feeling that I'm part of an online community.  That is the real appeal of MMOs.

It's time to give them another shot.  It's been a year since I was last seriously invested, but once again I have the itch.  I'm not going to go back to WoW or any of the new releases that I tried these past 12 months.  I have a copy of LoTRO that I bought on sale for $3 and I just reinstalled DDO.  Today I'm going to boot up one of these two programs and dive back in.  It may not stick, but it's time to give MMOs another shot.

My thinking is that these two games are different.  DDO doesn't have auto-attacking hotbar combat.  It has interesting hand crafted dungeons, fast paced combat, and abilities that need to be thought about before being used.  From everything I've heard about LoTRO the community is amazing and so is the scenery.  Middle earth doesn't hold as much interest for me as having a great community to interact with does.  Maybe one of these games will really hook me.

If I'm still not feeling the MMO groove then I plan to wait for SWTOR.  The one thing I miss most in MMOs is being part of a compelling storyline.  I love Bioware's storytelling pedigree and I hope that SWTOR will revitalize storytelling in the genre.

Well, I suppose it's time to update my game clients and jump back in...

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Problem with Motion Controls

Everyone is amazed by the new technology coming out of E3.  The Kinect and the Move are really pushing the body as an input device in place of a traditional controller.  But, what if a controller would make the game better?

 What do you think about that, flailing Kinect lady?

We are in the gimmick stage right now as far as software goes.  The technology, as presented to us, has yet to be refined and mastered.  High quality products usually start being released about a year and a half into a new console's lifespan.  I'm expecting a similar timeline with the Kinect and Move.

One of the reasons everything is so gimmicky is because none of us have any kind of context for this type of game.  Someone jumps and their on-screen avatar jumps too.  Yay!  Amazing!  Oh My God!  It Works!  Ok... now what?  Does that make for a good game?  Does the appeal of flailing around last for longer than 10 minutes?  I really can't say.  No one, not even the press, has had much hands on time with the technology, so they can't say either.

The thing I'm really worried about is having Xbox 360 and PS3 software turn into Nintendo Wii software.  Have you looked at the things that come out for the Wii?  95 percent of the games are junk.  They're shovelware.  I would hate to see current AAA titles try to incorporate motion controls when they don't need them.  I'm afraid that our games are going to be diluted by the fact that everyone thinks they need to have motion controls to stay on the cutting edge.  Game series like Halo, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, and Fable do what they do well and they have an established formula that people love.  It would make me sad to see key series laying broken in a gutter a few years from now, all because they tried to incorporate motion controls.

I want to see developers starting brand new intellectual properties.  Don't touch the tried and true games, because core gamers will be pissed.  What they should do is create shiny new game universes where motion controls make sense.  There is already some evidence of this.  Lionhead games, the creators of Fable, haven't announced any motion controls for Fable 3.  Instead, they created a new game centered around interactions with an on screen person based entirely on speech, facial expressions, and body motions.  This is a prime example of what the industry should do.  Go to the drawing board and start a new game from scratch.

Whatever ends up happening with the Kinect and Move I think we will discover that companies who leave their key franchises intact will still have a massive audience of core gamers.  I would love to see new genres emerge because of our advances in technology.  But, in the end, as long as I don't have to look at rows and rows of shovelware titles at the store, I'll be happy.

PSA: Mass Effect 2 for $27

Today on Amazon they have Mass Effect 2 for 27 dollars.  If you haven't picked up the game this is a great excuse to do so.  Follow the link for savings!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide: Pick a Race

Each race in StarCraft 2 has its own quirks and unique playstyle.  Because of this, it's important to find the right race for you.  After a lot of play you may eventually be comfortable playing with all three races, but to start off it's much easier to simply concentrate on learning one race really well until you are more comfortable with StarCraft 2.

No race is "better" than any other race in StarCraft 2 but each race does play differently.  Nothing is overpowered because all three races are balanced against one another.  Lets dive in and discuss the three different racial options players have to choose from.


Terran are as close to human as you can get in StarCraft 2.  If you like to defend or have a tendency to turtle your forces, then the Terran may be your race of choice.  They have a strong emphasis on mechanical units and the future progression of modern day technology.

Marines, tanks, rifles, snipers, stealth technology and nukes are all represented in the Terran army.  Marines and Marauders are the closest units to modern infantry that you'll find in StarCraft 2.  The majority of Terran units are mechanical and can be repaired by SCVs, which are the Terran resource harvester.  This, along with the Medivac which can heal infantry units, means that a Terran army that is severely damaged can retreat and repair back to full health without having to rebuild from scratch.  The Terran also have one of the most satisfying attacks in the game, the Nuclear strike.  Landing a Nuclear strike with a Ghost is a great way to both demoralize your enemy and see a huge explosion.

The Terrans have the unique advantage that their structures can be built anywhere.  Compare this to Zerg that must build on creep and the Protoss that must build within a psionic matrix.  Most of the Terran buildings, including their Command Center, can lift off and be flown to new locations.  Terran can also repair their structures with SCVs, something neither Zerg nor Protoss can do.  Bunkers and Supply Depots lend themselves well to defending Terran bases.  Bunkers can protect units inside of them and Supply Depots can be raised or lowered on command to completely wall off a base or allow your own units to pass through.  The Terran also have access to anti-air Missile Turrets, anti-ground Siege Tanks, Sensor Towers, Orbital Commands, and Planetary Fortresses all of which can be used to help mount a successful defense.


If you like to crush your enemy with an overwhelming number of units the Zerg may be for you. A Zerg force is most reminiscent of an insect swarm.  Units don't cost many resources and many units can be created simultaneously from each Hatchery.  Certain Zerg units also have the ability to burrow under the ground and hide from enemies.  A few can even move while burrowed.  Zerg gain supply from Overlords which are a mobile flying unit. Compare that to the other two races which get supply from stationary structures.

The Zerg have to build on creep, which is a special type of ground.  Drones, the Zerg resource harvester, actually transform into structures.  Because of this, a Drone is lost every time a new structure is created.  The creep expands outward from Hatcheries and Zerg Queens can also use a special ability to make it expand faster.  Any Zerg unit on the creep gets a 30 percent speed boost and slowly regenerates health.

As Zerg you will need to expand to win the game.  Every Hatchery that a Zerg player creates means that they can build 3 more units at a time.  Most players that choose Zerg try to win by taking over as many base expansions as they can.  This concentration on economics is called macro play.  Every race needs macro play, but a Zerg player needs to master it to truly succeed.


Units in the Protoss army tend to be more resource intensive than the other two races, but each unit is also more powerful.  If you like to concentrate on controlling your units more than controlling your base, the Protoss may be for you.  They also have the unique ability - after being researched - to warp their units in anywhere on the map that has a Pylon or active psionic matrix.  This lets them reinforce their units quickly and efficiently.  If a Protoss player can build a Pylon in the correct place or sneak a Warp Prism behind enemy lines they are able to warp in units behind the enemy or even right into the enemy base!

The Protoss warp in all of their structures too.  This allows one Probe to build every structure instead of the Terran who need one SVC for every structure being built or the Zerg who lose a Drone every time they create a structure.  The downside of structure creation with Protoss is that all structures must be warped into an area with a pisonic matrix.  Psionic matrices are produced by Pylons, which are also the structure that gives unit supply to the Protoss.  If the Pylon is destroyed then all the structures around it stop functioning until another one is created.

Another property unique to the Protoss are their shields.  All of their structures and units have shields that recharge when not under attack.  This is their outer layer of damage absorption that must be completely drained before the unit's health starts to decrease.  If properly micro-managed, the Protoss units can be pulled out of combat - or back from the front line - when their shields are low which will give them time to recharge.  It can mean the difference between winning and losing a battle.  Properly micro-managing units is a key to victory with the Protoss.

Picking a Race

This is just a quick glance at each of the races available for play.  To truly learn a race you need to experience it for yourself.  I recommend playing at least one game with each race before deciding which one to concentrate on.  After making up your mind you will find that playing as only one race will help your StarCraft 2 skills improve quickly.  You will learn build order, unit abilities, hotkeys, and the tech tree faster when you only have to learn it for one race.

Later, when you feel you have a good handle on your race of choice, it pays to branch out and at least dabble in the other two races.  But, for now, put that out of your mind and really focus on mastering one race until you have a better grasp of StarCraft 2 as a whole.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Update on Replays

I just updated my StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide post on watching replays to improve skills.  I wanted to highlight one specific webcast by Day[9].  He's a top tier American player and he is full of StarCraft and StarCraft 2 knowledge.  His Day[9] TV webcast 121 covers a huge amount of small tips that add up to the difference between top tier play and being just below it.  He analyzes a silver and gold league game of StarCraft 2 and points out many of the small things that can make a world of difference.  I'm going to stop writing now and just let you see the video.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Nintendo 3DS

Wow.  This was my favorite announcement to come out of E3.  With a 3D screen that doesn't need glasses and a hardware upgrade making this as powerful - if not more powerful - than the N64, I can't wait to get my hands on this thing.

Want to know what really sold me on the 3DS?  This screenshot from Joystiq.

3D Starfox 64.  That's all I needed to buy a 3DS.  In some ways I'm an easy sell.  On top of it are Kingdom Hearts, Super Street Fighter IV 3D, Mario Kart, Paper Mario, Pilotwings Resort, and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  By far the best Zelda game ever made is coming to the 3DS.  Where do I pay and when can I hold one?  I bet my wife will want one too when she finds out that we can kick each others' asses in 3D while playing Super Street Fighter IV.  And those are only a few of the games that have been announced for the system.

I still can't get over the fact that they're doing 3D without glasses.  I wonder how much more traction 3D TVs would be getting if we didn't have to wear the ridiculous glasses.  I almost - almost - feel bad for Sony.  They were really touting the 3D capabilities of the PS3 and then Nintendo comes along and basically says, "Fuck you, check this out!" and bam, no 3D glasses.  I think Nintendo is realizing that their power lies in the handheld market and not so much in the home console race.

It might interest you that Joystiq has a compilation of every 3DS screenshot so far.  It's right here.  Be careful not to get drool on your monitor.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Achievements Via Demos

An interesting development this morning for achievement hunters.  With the release of the Crackdown 2 demo on Xbox Live it was announced that any achievements you complete while playing the demo will automatically unlock as soon as you play the real game.

This is a really interesting hook that hasn't been tried before.  If they allow people to have fun with their demo and already attempt the achievements everyone will be more likely to buy their game.  Not only do achievements add more goals for the player to complete, which adds re-playability to the demo, but once someone has invested large amounts of time in the process of attaining an achievement they will want to permanently keep the achievement, which is just more incentive to buy the game.

Keep in mind that this won't work on everyone.  Some players don't care about achievements or gamerscore.  And if the demo is bad, then it doesn't matter how many points will carry over, because no one will want to buy the game.  I wonder if Microsoft intends to do this more often with game demos from here on out.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Reading: Links Are Fun Edition

It's time, once again, for some Sunday reading.  I haven't written a Sunday reading post for a few weeks, but I saved up some links that are particularly insightful.

Church of Pangoria has some interesting thoughts on the questing conventions that we all take for granted.  He has some great ideas about minor tweaks to questing in MMOs that could improve the experience substantially.

I have two articles from Kill Ten Rats for you.  The first is about balancing the new quest system in Guild Wars 2.  It's a solid analysis of the problems that might happen because of public/organic quests that GW2 aims to have. The second is about how niche the MMO market truly is.  He has some great advice that developers should keep in mind while creating MMOs.

This last link is my favorite.  It discusses how to win with a marginal advantage in competitive gaming.  It applies to everything from Mancala to Chess to StarCraft.  Thanks to Systemic Babble for drawing my attention to the article.

And, of course, a video for your Sunday viewing pleasure.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fight the Summer Slump with Flash Games

 The summer slump is in full effect... or affect.  I never know.  Anyway, with more than a month until I get to play StarCraft 2 again I've been turning to other sources of entertainment.  I always have a book I'm reading, a series I'm watching, and a game I'm playing.  I've been contemplating whether I should start up an MMO again, but for the moment I'm happy with free flash games.

If you don't already know, I love tower defense games.  They are easy to pick up and play even for a non-gamer.  Most of them don't require a huge time investment either.  Bloons TD 3 has always been one of my favorite tower defense games and I just discovered that Bloons TD 4 has been released!  That's been holding my attention for the better part of a week and I'm still highly amused by it.  Unlike other tower defense games where monsters and enemies try to reach the end of the level, Bloons TD has balloons that need popping.  The pop sound attained with every balloon death is supremely satisfying.

If you, like me, are in a summer gaming slump, you should click on over to Kongregate and explore some of the many free flash games offered.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hands Off with New Technology

The hardest part of this E3 was not being able to get my hands on all the new technology.  Without a framework in mind for how these new peripherals play I have no way to know if any of the Kinect or Move games are worth paying attention too.  I can hope that flailing in front of a camera will make for good games but I won't know until I actually give the games a try.

At least in the past if I saw a preview of gameplay I could contextualize it in my head.  I could make a decent guess about the way the game would play on a standard controller.  Now that's been thrown out the window.

It isn't just the motion sensing technology either.  The same thing goes for 3D.  Everyone seemed to be showing off 3D but I've been watching the videos and news on a 2D monitor.  Not only am I not seeing their previews in 3D, but I can guarantee I won't spend the thousands of dollars necessary to set up 3D in my household.  It isn't worth the cost, especially with the stupid 3D glasses.  I might spring for a new Nintendo 3DS because it does 3D without the glasses, but I can't judge it's 3D effectiveness until I actually have the system in front of me.

So, I'm walking away from this E3 cautiously optimistic.  I really hope that the new technologies being introduced will help enhance our gameplay experience and not just end up being worthless gimmicks.  I hope for the best, but until I get some hands-on time with the new tech I'm going to take everything with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

E3 Day 2 Catch-Up

I didn't have a chance to keep up with E3 news yesterday so I caught up this morning.  Playstation Move falls somewhere between the Kinect and the Wiimote.  It has potential but it's another thing I'm filing under wait and see.  The 3DS sounds awesome, but until I get one in my hands how am I supposed to judge it?  I really can't.  Although, I am excited to see a 3D screen without having to stupid 3D glasses.  Zelda looks like Zelda... nothing new there.  I think I was most excited by the Portal 2 teaser trailer.  I'm hoping that some hands on impressions of SWTOR emerge today.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

E3 Ubisoft and EA Press Conferences

Much less impressed by the EA and Ubisoft press conferences than I was by the Microsoft one.

EA showed off a bunch of shooters.  Same old same old.  Bulletstorm at least had a gimick: kicking enemies away and pulling enemies close.  It looked like different kills awarded different points.  Whatever, it might be fun... maybe.  EA also showed off mixed martial arts stuff which holds zero interest for me.  Madden goes in that category too.  Sports are not my thing.  There was nothing really impressive about the EA conference except for the new Star Wars: The Old Republic trailer.  It had no info on the gameplay but it got me excited for the game.  Again, I'm letting my Star Wars fanboyness shine through.  At least I'll admit it.

Ubisoft has me interested in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.  I liked AC1 and loved AC2.  It looks to be the story of AC2's main character many years later once he has an entire brotherhood of assassins working together.  I also think Rome is a great location for an Assassin's Creed game.  The Ghost Recon demo might have held interest if I liked Ghost Recon games, but I don't.  I just can't get over how much their control schemes piss me off.  A lot of the other things they showed off were more toys than video games.  I guess they want me to buy laser tag?  Also, a finger sensor so that I can breathe better.  I couldn't help thinking about snake oil salesmen while watching that part.  No, I'm not kidding about the finger sensor.

After watching both conferences in full I'm going to take away a strong interest in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood and a love for the new SWTOR trailer.  Check it out for yourself below via Gametrailers.

Monday, June 14, 2010

E3 Microsoft Press Conference Thoughts

I've always wanted to go to E3, but since I'm not a professional game journalist I'll have to make do with blogs and livestreams of events as they happen this week.  I spent the morning watching the Microsoft press conference online and was impressed with the Natal which is now called the Kinect.

The cameras see everything... everything.

Control over my console without a controller?  Yes, please.  I hope the voice command pause/play works for all types of media and not just when in the Zune store.  I stream videos stored on my PC hard drive to my 360 almost every day.  If I can control those with my voice or hand motions I'll be very happy.  If the functionality is confined to only a few applications within the 360 I'll be sorely disappointed.  Time will tell.

Video chatting via Xbox is pretty cool.  The camera automatically following me as I move around the room is pretty creepy.  So there's some balance I guess.

They kicked off the press conference with demos of Call of Duty: Black Ops, Halo Reach, and Gears of War 3.  They weren't that impressive because they are all sequels to games I've played before.  I already know I'll buy Gears of War 3 and Halo Reach.  I don't really need to know more about them.  There was already a ton of information on all three games, so that wasn't the big story today. 

The demo for Call of Duty: Black Ops basically ensured I'm never buying the game.  It looked extremely derivative.  It's like they were trying to harness what people liked about Modern Warfare 2 but they ended up with an empty shell of a game.  I've hated every Call of Duty that Treyarch has made and it doesn't look like that trend is going to end.  Unfortunately a lot of the key staff at Infinity Ward has abandoned ship and they might not have the talent to make another Call of Duty either.  The Call of Duty series may be dead.

The reveals that really grabbed my attention were the Kinect games.  Playing video games without a controller has been a dream of every gamer at one time or another.  Finally the technology has arrived. 

There were many titles that are basically Wii games without a controller.  There was the work out game, the kart racing game, and the mini-game game.  They might be interesting.  I'll file them under wait and see.

The game that stuck in my mind the most was the Kinectimals game.  It consists entirely of playing with a virtual pet but it looked like a blast.  I want a baby tiger that responds to my voice!  I can play games with him?  Sweet!  I'm in.  Apparently it's going to have 40 animals to choose from.  It was the least "gamey" game but it looked so organic and interactive that I can't help but be excited.

In a music genre growing stale Dance Central might be just what's needed.  Points are awarded based on actual dance moves.  It takes the ideas of Dance Dance Revolution to a whole new level.  No more dance pads.  Instead, you use your whole body to dance.  I'm a white boy with no rhythm but I'm still going to give this one a shot.  It has potential.  Potential to make my wife roll on the floor laughing while I attempt to dance at the very least.  That makes it worth looking into.

A lightsaber game? Sold!  I'm a huge Star Wars fan and have imagined wielding a lightsaber more times then I will admit.  The thought of playing with a virtual lightsaber by swinging my hands around is awesome.

Here is the current list of Kinect launch games via Joystiq.

Microsoft announced a new Xbox 360 model and is shipping it to stores right now.  That's amazing from a marketing standpoint.  They are riding the hype created by E3 and releasing the console in the same week.  It's genius!  Bravo Microsoft.  But, if I get out of marketing mode for a minute and just think about it as a gamer I realize that I don't really care.  I own a 360 and I'm not going to dish out a couple hundred bucks just for built in Wifi.  That would be stupid.  If it inspires people to pick up a 360 for the first time then great, but for the rest of us who own one already it doesn't matter at all.

 It has Wifi built in and it looks squished.  I guess that's a feature.

ESPN on the 360 was a shock.  My first reaction was exactly the same as Tycho: 

"Hey! Microsoft! I don't give a fuck about sports! I play videogames! That's why I bought your console!"

But then I realized it's actually a good thing.  It means that television networks are more willing to distribute content through internet channels.  What if they had announced a different channel streaming through the 360?  Something like Comedy Central.  I - for one - would be thrilled.  The more we can move away from traditional cable TV subscriptions the better off we are.  This is the first step in getting television channels through our consoles and it's a good thing even though I don't care about sports.

It looks like a ton of Xbox 360 news today.  Kinect information was what I wanted the most out of this year's E3.  I'll probably watch the PS3 and Nintendo press conferences as well, but I'm not as excited for them.  So far it's shaping up to be an interesting year for gaming.

My First Guest Post

My guest post is up on Professor Beej's blog!  This is the first guest post I've written and I'm excited to be featured on another person's site.  Beej is one of my favorite bloggers and I jumped at the chance to write something for his blog.  Hop over and take a look at my post on fragmentation of media!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

E3 Ramp Up

E3 kicks off Tuesday which is always interesting.  Expect a deluge of information on all things gaming to start on Monday.  I'll probably do a lot of news posts next week because of E3 so be prepared for that.  In anticipation of the event a lot of companies are leaking information and trailers to hype up their games early.  I just ran across this The Force Unleashed II trailer and felt that I should share it.

I love Star Wars.  I'm a geek, but I'm not afraid to admit it.  I love the expanded universe books and I've probably tried every Star Wars game out there.  I thought The Force Unleashed was a good game with a lot of great ideas that could become an amazing game if given more development time or a sequel.  I hope my prediction comes true.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Turning to the Virtual World for Advancement

From Zero to Hero

Real life advancement isn't all it's cracked up to be.  It doesn't exist the way it used to.  Companies have no loyalty to their employees and our generation will constantly be switching jobs and the companies until we retire.  We can't expect a company to take care of us the way our parents could.

The other day Tobold wrote "In my opinion games are for entertainment, not to "work" towards some virtual achievement."
I respectfully disagree.  I think we are turning more and more to virtual worlds for our sense of advancement because it's so hard to find in the real world.  Advancement in the real world no longer has a defined path.  Staying with one company for an entire lifetime of work isn't an option any more.  Real world advancement isn't a straight path up.  We move horizontally between jobs or get titles and responsibilities without a pay increase.  Promotions are hard to come by.  The path to advancement is harder to find than ever before.

What about us 20 somethings that can't find a job to save our life in this horrible economy?  Our entire lives we were told to go to college and get a degree so that we can get a great job and make a living.  That hasn't panned out the way it was sold to us.  We spent years working for a degree just to get kicked into a job market that has no place for us.

Is it any wonder that we turn to virtual worlds and MMOs instead of constantly wallowing in the reality of our situation?  MMOs are so appealing because the path to advancement is so clear.  Look at the World of Warcraft.  If you are willing to invest enough time you can advance to the highest level.  If you work for it, you can have the best gear or get into the best guild on your server.  The game clearly lets you know the way to move up in its world and there are no barriers except for a time commitment.  Anyone can participate and there is no unemployment in a virtual world.

No matter what, virtual worlds always reflect the real world in some way.  Why would we constantly grind away towards advancements and achievements in virtual worlds if we weren't deriving some satisfaction from it?  I think we may have been looking at the MMO/work relationship completely wrong.  People actually want a work-like activity with a clear path of advancement because it's so hard to find in real life.

Friday, June 11, 2010

StarCraft 2 Release is Nearing

July 27th is slowly getting closer.  With the end of the first public beta phase I'm going through StarCraft 2 withdrawal.  It's why the reality of the summer slump finally hit me.  Last night the first StarCraft 2 ad played on national TV.  Expect to see more of a media push in the coming months.  I'm assuming StarCraft 2 is going to have a huge launch and I hope all the best for blizzard.  The 30 second spot is embedded below for your viewing pleasure.

The Summer Slump

The summer slump of game releases is here in force.  The only game I'm looking forward to this summer is StarCraft 2.  Nothing else coming out looks to be worthy of a purchase.

The palm tree is StarCraft 2 in the wasteland of summer releases

So, what should I do with my free gaming time this summer?  Well, fallback games are always an option.  My 2 fallback games at the moment - Team Fortress 2 and Modern Warfare 2 - are still extremely fun.  I plan on wasting some summer hours on Kongregate playing through flash games that I haven't tried yet.  I love how much free content is on that site.

I'm also contemplating starting up a MMO again.  I haven't been hooked on one since about this time last year.  The summer slump seems to encourage me to pick up a new - or old - MMO most summers.  Despite what I wrote the other day, I may still check out LotRO before it goes free to play.  I suppose going back to WoW is always another option.  I haven't logged in since right before the Ulduar patch so I would have some catching up to do gear-wise.  But I really want to try out that new dungeon finder system eventually.

I tried Star Trek Online, Champions Online, EVE Online (again), and Guild Wars in the past year and wasn't overly impressed by any of them.  None of them managed to offer me more than a week of entertainment before I grew bored.  I think LotRO or WoW would be the way to go this summer or I could always go pick up DDO again for free.

The other option is to dive into my collection of games and replay ones that are gathering dust on the shelf.  I have a half completed Dragon Age Origins game that I somehow got distracted from.  I love Bioware RPGs and I honestly can't remember why I stopped playing it.  Street Fighter IV has been calling my name ever since the release of Super Street Fighter IV.  I also want to re-explore Prince of Persia because I was sorely disappointed with the series' latest offering.

  My soul weeps at the lack of new releases

Dear readers, what are your summer gaming plans?  Are you too going to dive into your gaming backlog or re-explore some oldies but goodies?  Do you have any good games that I should investigate?  I'm more than willing to check out any recommendations.  Let me know about your summer plans and tell me what you think I should do with my free gaming time!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

PSA: Team Fortress 2 Weekend Deals

Team Fortress 2 is one of my favorite games.  I especially love it when I run out of other things to play.  It's a great fallback game to have on hand.  With the launch of TF2 on Mac this weekend Valve is offering a free play weekend or - better yet - you can pick up the full game for only $10.  This is a game worth way more than 10 bucks.  If you don't already have it, now is the time to grab a copy of your very own.

Jumping Into the Action

I just realized how often a game drags me through a long and boring tutorial before getting into the action.  After renting so many Gamefly games lately and playing through at least their first hour I've determined that I hate introductions and tutorials in most games.  Developers, you need to get better at showing the player why we should love your game within the first few minutes.

This is something that AAA developers can learn from flash and indie games.  You only have a few minutes to grab my attention.  After that I'm not going to play your game if I'm bored.  Don't waste time setting up an epic story.  Don't save interesting gameplay until later.  Don't limit me to an extremely linear tutorial.  Give me the game and let me test out the fun in it.

In flash games I'm immediately thrown into the action.  I can figure out if I like a game within seconds.  With many console games I have to sit through the opening credits, opening video showing the setting and characters, and learn how to walk (hint: it's the left analog stick), learn how to crouch (omg, click the left stick, really?), learn how to run, learn how to shoot, etc for the first portion of the game.  I've booted up games and spent 15 minutes before ever getting a taste of what the gameplay is really like.

Old school games understood this.  Look at the original Donkey Kong.  Start the game and immediately you're dodging barrels, climbing, picking up hammers, and trying to save the princess.  Literally within seconds you know all the essentials of the game.  Why have games drifted so far from this?

Instant gameplay.  No lengthy cutscenes to be found.

It seems so obvious that video games should allow the player to discover the world through playing rather than by watching cutscenes.  I didn't buy a movie, I bought a video game.  I don't want to watch passively, I want to play.  I want to take an active part in the world that's been created and by putting so many obstacles between me and the fun developers are basically saying "Don't play my game." So, I guess I won't.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Generating Discussion

I really like it when people comment on my posts, especially if I can respond and get a conversation going in the comments section.  I realized that the way I had my comments settings was probably stopping some people from posting comments when they actually wanted to.

In the hope of generating more discussion I have removed some of the restrictions from commenting on my blog.  You should no longer need an account to post comments and I have comment moderation turned off so that posted comments will show up immediately.  The only thing still in place is the image/word verification so that I don't get spammed from automated web-crawling programs.

Feel free to let me know if you like or dislike this change.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mini Review Monday

After experiencing a little writing burnout from the blogathon last month I think I'm ready to get back to it.  Since I didn't post much last week I thought I'd do a couple quick mini-reviews based on my recent virtual endeavors.

 Trine is a Standout Among Indie Games I've Played Recently

A delightfully original indie game.The game involves controlling three characters that can switch in and out of the action at any time.  I love using a combination of their unique skills to overcome puzzles and challenges.  Each character plays differently but they all complement one another.  Swinging as the thief, brawling as the warrior, and manipulating objects as the wizard are all fun in their own right.  Spend a few minutes with the free demo.  You won't regret it.

StarCraft 2 Beta
The beta is coming to a close tonight and I'm so sad to see it go.  It's been my main fallback game and I've been sacrificing my time on the altar of StarCraft 2 every night.  I know I'll be playing this game for years once it's released.  I can't recommend StarCraft 2 enough to anyone who likes RTS games, strategy, or competition.  The multiplayer gaming on is far above anything else that I've played in the last few years.  I like to fight with my mind - not just my reflexes - and StarCraft 2 lets me do that.  I can't wait for the retail release!

The best thing you can do if you play Blur is to never touch the single player campaign.  Every time I load up the single player portion of the game I feel my love for Blur slowly draining away.  Stick to the multiplayer - that's where they hid all the fun.  My assessments from the beta still stand.  Blur is basically Mario Kart all grown up.  If you want to play an evolution of the genre that Mario Kart pioneered then you owe it to yourself to investigate Blur.

It's somewhat like a Grand Theft Auto rip-off set during World War II in Nazi occupied France.  Nothing felt original or interesting while playing this game.  I just couldn't make myself care about the setting, the characters, or the action.  It wasn't horrible but it really wasn't any fun at all.  Avoid Saboteur, it isn't worth your time.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
How long can they remake the same game and have it sell?  I can't believe how lazy Nintendo is with some of their intellectual properties.  This is the same Zelda you've played more times than you can remember.  It is almost exactly like The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass except that this one has trains.  If you have a locomotive fetish you may be able to wrangle some enjoyment from this game.  I was unable to.

I may expound on these mini reviews later, but I wanted to get my thoughts out there.  Hopefully I'll inspire you to try some new games but - at the very least - I hope to help you avoid the bad ones.

Friday, June 4, 2010

LotRO Goes F2P

The big news today is the announcement that Lord of the Rings Online is going to be free to play.  There has already been a ton of coverage on the subject so I'm not going to rehash all the details or what other people have said.  Instead, I just want to come out and say that this is all my fault.

I'm their target audience.  I've been secretly holding out for this day for a while.  I've been extremely interested in LotRO but never felt like paying the monthly subscription fee.  I knew that Turbine had huge success with DDO switching to the F2P model and I figured it was only a matter of time until LotRO did the same.

So, it's all my fault.  Me and people like me at any rate.  Sorry lifetime subscribers, my bad.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide: Use Your Resources

Resources, by themselves, don't do anything.  You have to spend resources to get any kind of benefit from them.  With minerals and vespene gas you can create the buildings and units you need to win in StarCraft 2.  This seems like common knowledge, but stick with me.

How often are you playing a game where you have over 300 minerals or vespene - unspent - sitting in your HUD?  Probably a lot of the time especially if you're still starting out.  If you watch professional replays they almost never have more than 300 resources sitting unused.  These are players that sometimes bring in 1500 minerals per minute but they still manage to find places to invest those resources.

 Way too many resources.  Spend, spend, spend!

I can't overstate how much you need to spend your resources.  Learn the places that you can dump resources quickly if you have too many.  If you ever hit 1000 minerals or 1000 gas you know that you aren't keeping up with spending.  Your overall goal should be to get down to around 300 of each, but 1000 is a good benchmark to let you know it's time to spend.

So, where can you put resources to make them count?  The three places to spend extra resources quickly are first tier units, upgrades, and the tech tree.

First Tier Units

First tier units are a great way to balance out your minerals and gas.  Usually you'll have too many minerals but luckily every race has a basic unit that takes only minerals to create.  Zealots, Marines, and Zerglings are all easy places to invest massive amounts of minerals quickly.  If you play Protoss keep in mind that if you have too much vespene you can create Sentries to balance out your resources too.

Don't be afraid to build more first tier structures so that you can pump out basic units quickly.  I almost always have at least 2 Gateways.  Sometimes I play with as many as 8 Gateways at the same time so I can crank out low level units as fast as I want.  The same thing goes for Barracks and Hatcheries/Queens.  If you have more of them you can create units faster.


The best thing to do when you have too much vespene is to upgrade or progress up the tech tree.  Upgrading is usually faster but you need to both upgrade and tech if you're going to win.  Basic upgrades improve your attack and defense.  Basic upgrades that help many units can be researched through the Forge, Engineering Bay, or Evolution Chamber.  More advanced upgrades add specific attributes or abilities to one specific type of unit.  They can usually be researched through the structure that allows the creation of that unit.

Forge, Engineering Bay, and Evolution Chamber

If you research basic upgrades that apply to all of your basic ground units and create a bunch of those units you can often compete against higher tier units that haven't been upgraded.  Don't neglect your upgrades!  They can win the game for you!

Move Up The Tech Tree

The other option is progressing to higher tiers of units.  We've already discussed learning tech trees so you should be familiar with yours.  You'll need higher tiered units as your game progresses, so don't wait too long to move up your tech tree.

The most important thing is that you spend the resources you gather.  Find a place that they can become useful and spend them.  Don't leave unspent resources just sitting in your HUD.