And now for something completely different…

Rumors of my demise are somewhat exaggerated. If my fellow ratters and our dear readership don’t mind too much, I’d like to do just a bit of shameless product placement here. If anyone is interested in doing some fiction reading, please check out my new book – “The Children Of Mars“.

Currently on sale over here, at the store named after the rainforest. Or perhaps if you have a Kindle and you prefer that format instead of dead tree, you can find it right here.

It’s not very toxic, so I hope you fancy giving it a shot and doubly hoping you end up liking it. Gaming and general slaying of rats may now resume in an orderly fashion.

Thanks!

[AoW] My God, it’s full of Quirks…

We haven’t yet talked about Age of Wushu (the US version of “Age of Wulin” which has been available in China for some time now). It has recently launched over here, to very little fanfare, and it’s somewhat of a pity because it’s an interesting one.

After spending a good amount of time with it, I could say Age of Wushu straddles -not comfortably- the line between themed park and sandbox. You fire it up and things seem familiar. Things are where they should be and more or less do what you’d expect them to. The kicker with AoW is that you recognize these things as themed elements but only just enough. Underneath these familiar and clear waters you can definitely see the really sharp coral edges of the sandbox, threatening to scrape you at every turn.

Some more brief thoughts, for good and bad:

Continue reading [AoW] My God, it’s full of Quirks…

Pouring a forty

As you might know by now, LucasArts has been shut down.

I’m not gonna go into the specifics. You can read those in the link above or elsewhere around the net. I’m also not gonna chastise Disney about what they do or don’t with their stuff just to score brownie points with my inner sense of nostalgia.

I just think it’s very hard to be a gamer with some amount of years behind you and not have come in contact with any of LucasArts’ productions. Whether you enjoyed them or not, they were always part of the landscape over the years. Always there.

Myself, I’m pouring a forty because of TIE Fighter, which I abused for many years, as well as the delightfully off the wall Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders(*) and the several Monkey Islands. Those are mine. If you have your own bottle to add to the pouring, feel free. Comments are all yours.

I wish all those devs affected negatively by these news my sympathies and wishes for an immediate recovery. And if there were any old guns still hanging around…. o7.

(*) Yes, I’m showing my age.

Warframe

I’ve been playing the Warframe open beta (available on Steam). Out of a weird impulse I decided to try it and I’ve been pleasantly surprised, despite these games not being my usual cup of tea.

The elevator pitch: Warframe is a third-person shooter in which space ninjas in configurable, upgradeable combat armors (the ‘warframes’) battle against enemy armies throughout the solar system using configurable, upgradeable weapons.

Yes, I know. But I can tell you there’s actually a good amount of gold in them thar hills. The action is always satisfying and fast (well, bordering on twitchy at times), combat is rewarding, feeling like a cross in spirit between Assassin’ Creed and Mass Effect and the visuals are just plain pretty. The spine of the game, that being the place where people like us get our addiction to progression satisfied, comes of course from the above mentioned upgradeability and customization of the different warframes, weapons and skills. The modding system used for this is not immediately intuitive but works when you pay attention to it.

It’s not all roses, of course. The play areas do feel repetitive after a while and there are issues with player guidance through these maps as well as with enemy spawning. The overall difficulty could use some tuning as well and progression seems to advance at a snail’s pace. However, this is still in beta so kinks are to be expected.

I felt Warframe, in its curent state, works admirably well in delivering high amounts of very satisfying fun in small chunks or play sessions. There comes a point where the inherent repetitiveness gets to you and the game spends little effort in trying to camouflage this sameness. Then it’s time to put it down for a while and do something else. But until then, it’s gorgeous and fantastic.

Verdict: Yes, definitely give it a spin. It’s free, supported by microtransactions for unnecessary stuff.

75% of the industry’s problems…

… in one package, that’s Sim City 5. To wit:

– Overpromise
– Underdeliver (bordering on flat out fraud)
– We still buy a lacking product

It should be put in a time capsule and buried for the benefit of future historians. Sure, a mix of these three issues are common in most games, but SC5 is pretty much close to the ideal. Or as close as we got in years.

(Edit: changed the 4 to a 5, because apparently I can’t tell the difference. Numbers are hard!)

Steaming along

City of Steam keeps chugging along nicely. Now in closed beta, I had the chance to play around in it for a while (many thanks to Gabriel from Mechanist for the opportunity and being a great guide).

The game felt much improved from my last go around; much more solid, feature complete and visually packed with goodies. After the break, some brief comments and screenies about the new stuff that impressed me the most.

Continue reading Steaming along

[TSW] Barking at the wrong tree

As you might have heard, The Secret World today announced its move to a Buy-2-Play model, essentially identical to Guild Wars 2. Or, if you wanna get ornate, just like it used to be back in the day when we owned the games we bought. Subscriptions are gone with the wind. You buy the client and you get (le gasp!) unlimited access to the whole game.

What surprises about the move is not that it came to pass. Many people would have rightfully argued it was coming. The surprise is in how it comes just less than six months after launch. I hope lifetimers are having a wonderful day. Personally I find myself having zero beefs with Funcom for doing this. If the game needs a shot in the arm, then it needs a shot in the arm and that’s basically the end of it. You gotta do what you gotta do.

I am, however, curiously reading some rumblings here and there about how this is exactly what the game needed and now… ha ha! -Now- you will all see how you were all wrong all this time, and everyone will get to see just how great the game is. Today, buy to play. Tomorrow, the world a critical mass of players and so on.

I say hang on a second. I say hold your stinking horses.

Excuse me if I differ, but I seem to be getting the feeling of this vague, generalized idea out there that TSW tanked because it had a sub attached and that was basically the only thing that was holding it back and now that the subs are gone it’s Return of the King time, Aragorn returning to Gondor with a brace of fine Haradrim honeys on each arm and it’s gonna be a rave at the White Tree.

I’m not so optimistic simply because the fundamentals of the game haven’t really changed. TSW is still the beast it is (for good and bad) and having or not having a sub does not change that. I’m sure there will be an uptick in sales. There has to be. And that’s only good news. But I doubt the retention rates, and by extension the amount of active players, would change much if you were to sample pre and post B2P. I think the fact that the game just didn’t click for a lot of people was a much stronger factor in the equation than the sub ever was. No matter how much you charge people at the door, or how expensive your drinks are, if people don’t really like the music all you’ll ever end up with are the people who really don’t care about the music. Which might be good for business, but that’s just about all that such a thing is good for.

TL;DR: The sub was not the only thing that drove people off TSW. And in a sort of ying-yang way, the lack of sub might bring some back, but it won’t be the only thing that will make them stay. And if you don’t believe me ask around Bellevue.

My resolutions for 2013

(that is, assuming the world does not indeed end on 12/21/12. If so, and this particular game actually shuts down, it’s been a pleasure)

1- If something is fun, I’ll play it. If it stops being fun, I’ll stop.
2- I’ll stop caring about what and how genres should be and instead go back to point 1 when needed.
3- I’ll keep thinking holiday/seasonal content is bullshit. Because it is.
4- There is no point 4.
5- I will post more.
6- I will wear my “Protection from Marketing” charm necklace and in doing so I will avoid being bitten and infected with Hype Disease.
7- I will be more Lawful Neutral.
8- I will continue to meditate on the koan; “The problem is not the carrot, it’s how long the stick is.”
9- I will finally discard most of my Political Correctness armor, and if that ends up breaking the Civility set bonuses, then so be it. I got better stuff anyway.
10- I will not lambast because it’s AAA, I will not support because it’s indie, I will not forget that there are always better ways to do things and I most definitely won’t suffer intentional mediocrity idly.

This post is incendiary

If you were to sit me down with a cup of coffee and show me all the MMO(x)s we have created since we ever started creating these things, and after showing me all those pretty pictures you were to ask me, “So, J, in your dispassionate and academic opinion… which one do you think is the best ever?”… what would I say?

The answer is simple. I would take a sip of that coffee and, beyond even the mere hint of irony, humor or doubt, I would say “In my mind, the best MMO(x) that we have created so far, for sure, would be EVE Online”. Then I’d watch as I would get rocks thrown at me. As always.

But consider this…

Continue reading This post is incendiary

[GW2] This is not the Ferrari you thought it was

Reaching the month mark is a pretty good time (as good as any, really) to start throwing down real solid opinions. Opinions that at least had have some time to stew and cook properly in the crock pot of your head. Keen has given his, and I find myself in agreement with most of his points.

Thanks to Netflix I’ve been watching a lot of old episodes of Top Gear lately (as an aside, if you haven’t already do yourself a favor and watch their yearly specials where they go all over the world for shenanigans. It’s great TV). Jeremy Clarkson is a huge Ferrari fan and when you watch his road tests you can, right under the humor and his snark, hear the disappointment in his voice whenever the Ferrari he’s driving doesn’t feel up to par. You can see the letdown in his face. It’s personal for him; if the Ferrari doesn’t feel right, he just can’t connect to the car, and it has nothing to do with the car’s top speed, gadgetry or, Cthulhu forbid, fuel economy. It has everything to do with his feelings and expectations of what driving a Ferrari should be.

Which, naturally, somehow, brings us to Guild Wars 2. Somehow.

Continue reading [GW2] This is not the Ferrari you thought it was