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!