Thinking back to AC & AC2

The Asheron’s Call series remains as my favorite series of MMO. Sure it wasn’t the easiest games in the world, or even the most intuitive, but it was far more realistic than any game out there, the lore was great and original, the mechanics were sound, and they had (at least at the time) some of the best and most friendly developers I’ve seen in an MMO to date. Back in the days of the Big 3 (UO, EQ, & AC), we always joked that you went to EQ if you wanted to play a game where the devs didn’t care, and after 3 – 4 years in EQ2 I do confirm this to be the case (although I do believe they’ve gotten better than the EQ1 days.

But AC itself was extremely limited, while being one of the first MMOs to delve into the 3D world and remains one of only a handful to be truly zoneless (WoW fanbois beware, WoW isn’t zoneless, they have big zones, but they are still zones, and they also cover up zoning better than most games… ie look I’m running through an empty tunnel for 5 minutes). However, the game itself was extremely poor in graphics and from what I’ve heard it was built in a way that made it difficult for graphics to be upgraded very much in the future (though thank god for the upgraded textures in their expansion as it did help tremendously!). The user interface was also piss poor, though more manageable than people gave it credit for and again, was nearly impossible to update from a developer standpoint. While those things did hurt this game quite a bit as newer shinier games came out, what I think eventually turned many away (like myself) was the ever increasing cheating that occured in the game… on top of various programs that automated tasks, gave you info for stuff around you (told you where things were spawning and what was dropping on monsters without even opening their corpses). People began botting more and more as time went on. It got to the place where if you were an honest player, the dishonest ones would be the ones who got the loot and the good hunting spots and there wasn’t anything you could do about it.

So then came AC2… and AC2 was perhaps one of my biggest underrated, though reasonably not liked games. The game was very sound. Very sound. However, they rushed the launch (as many MMOs tend to) and they ended up with an overly buggy game that didn’t have enough content. It was also far too easy and people were capping out fairly quickly and wondering what they were supposed to do next. Once ya got past the first 6-12 months on this game though, the bugs got fixed, and the content began to arrive. The expansion they released late in its lifespan turned out to be a marvelous expansion which the developers really should have been proud of, but unfortunately came far too late and those of us who came back and even enjoyed the expansion were disappointed to 2 nearly empty servers… some games are just difficult to play by yourself and this was one of them. Their other real mistake was lack of an end game, the expansion was supposed to help this by raising their level cap by a large number, but in the end they still didn’t give the players a whole lot to do past go off and try to find PVP players to kill. See unlike AC1 which was intended to have a difficult to attain level cap (took 2 years for the first player to hit it, and longer for the majority until people figured out the system and made it easy), this game was intended to learn from EQ’s success and thus had a smaller level cap that was easier to attain… however, what they didn’t do is add real raids like EQ had. There were group zones at the end game for some of the best items in the game, but nothing to the effect of raids that I can recall, and no other game mechanic either to really take advantage of elder players.

In the end, the game obviously became a wash because of these issues which really is too bad because graphically AC2 is still one of my favorite games (and musically as well I must admit). EQ2 is a very bland game (they took a new direction with RoK to try to fix that but I didn’t care for it, I actually thought graphically EoF is far superior to anything else in EQ2)… WoW looks like a child drew it, they were going for a Warhammer look, I understand…. but the art is just piss poor in nearly every respect. City of Heroes is great actually, but I still prefer AC2. What AC2 did graphically was they found a nice balance of realism, fun, and art all at once… and they did it without sacrificing quality which makes it just phenomenal.

It is really too bad this game didn’t work, I thought it showed so much promise. I think both ACs could have really used expansion packs, and while I understand that Turbine doesn’t believe in expansion packs and instead thinks that they should give players value with new free content instead… after playing EQ2 I feel you can get both. We get decent content (although most of it is part of the expansion) updated throughout the year, with large expansion packs that are worth paying for. The expansions we get yearly for EQ2 far exceed the amount of free updates Turbine tends to shell out in a year, and then they top it with free stuff as well. This also keeps the game on store shelves… Other Turbine games have a hard time sitting on shelves, I don’t even think D&D online is on shelves anymore not only because it failed, but also because in 2 years of being online, it still hasn’t given a real expansion (though it has had many free updates that I’ve heard are good). This is an aspect of business Turbine never got and it is really unfortunate that their two forays into the expansion realm came at the expense at a dieing franchise that was doomed with or without them, because now Turbine likely says “look it doesn’t work” which is just totally incorrect.

For those who agreed with me, there is currently an emulation project for AC2 at http://www.rpg-le.de/forum/viewforum.php?f=6.  They seem fairly far off, but hopefully they can get it up by the end of the year, and hopefully some others join in to speed it up. I really wish there would be an AC3, but with the extreme failure of AC2 and the dieing of AC1 therefor the loss of being in the MMO gamer’s eye, I somehow doubt that Turbine will continue the franchise any further. It really is too bad though, because the story was great… hell I almost wish Turbine would test the waters again with the franchise by releasing a single player game to keep interest in it. It may not be the same, but the stories of it were epic enough for a single-player game and it would be lower cost to develop it.

Legends of Norrath: Inquisitor

Ok so this isn’t really a review so much as my thoughts on the state of this game in general. But to me the idea of Inquisitor has killed this TCG. I love trading card games and haven’t really played them for a long time previous to LoN largely because the cost was too high with MTG due to the constant shift of cards (I liked picking up new boosters of expansions but overall I couldn’t buy hundreds of cards in every expansion just to say competitive when I already had so many already). With the loot cards as bonus I actually was fairly excited here, and I think they did a fairly good job on the game.

When Foresworn was released, I kind of questioned a new expansion just a month after the main game was released, but I figured it wasn’t entirely bad to help flesh out the game which I do think Foresworn did. But now it’s been about 2 months and we are stuck in with yet another expansion… I only have had time to get about 3 or 4 packs of Foresworn and I have yet to even get a booster in game. The expansion release of every other month is just too quick for my blood and the interest of the game has died down enough that there aren’t a ton of players who are still around. Those who are around are those who are heavy collectors and have invested a lot into it. So here again we are faced with the same Dilemma that MTG had of a large investment, only worse because expansions are coming even faster than that game. MTG generally put 2-3 out a year, wheras this game is on track for 6! This is even worse considering the free in game packs are few and far between… If I’m lucky I get 1 pack a month, but usually not even that… Even on the higher drop rate weekends I tend not to get one, and I’m not going to invest platinum in game to buy the ones off the broker either. The devs stated at launch that the game was designed so that you could be competitive without investing through the tutorial cards and the free cards in the game. But this just hasn’t happened in the least. If I’m going to play a TCG I would go back to MTG at this point… it allows you to be more competitive with fewer cards than LoN does (I’ve seen people who are competitive with purely commons whereas in LoN if you play against someone with a set of a number of rares in their decks, you are toast if you don’t have another rare to really combat them).

I think it was easy for people to say the game was nothing but a money grubbing scheme by SOE. SOE is known for it, but I honestly didn’t think it was going to be this bad. What really sucks is the loot cards are really cool and they seem to get better with every expansion (this one brings rings that give xp & items that increase status contributed to the guild, how sweet is that?!). But without money, how would I get em? On ebay they are going for about $20 for the decent ones=/

Star Trek thoughts

I’ve been watching a decent amount of Star Trek of late, both Voyager & Enterprise in various rerun forms. I had also recently been watching the original series as well on Joost, but not nearly as recently as the other two.

The interesting thing about Star Trek is not its rise or dominance in the past but its fall into obscurity in the present. The show never was that great, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the trekkies make it out to be (it has a lot in common with Star Wars for this reason and the fans of both look equally silly because of it). Trekkies live and die Star Trek and because of this they can be dismissed as important opinions on whether Star Trek is actually good or not. Sorry to offend but it is truth. The Trekkies are to Star Trek what a mother is to her child, they will always praise their baby regardless of how stupid and ugly it might look.

Still, of recent years even the Trekkies have lost faith in their beloved one, and perhaps this is more important than anything else. The franchise has lived and breathed off giving bad product to devout followers, not unlike the zealotry we notice in the Christian denominations. To see the faith dwindle means there is real issues because if those who are blind begin to see, then what is a big business to do? Star Trek’s answer has been continuously to try to return to its roots, first with a TNG style series that went back to TOS style exploration in Voyager. And then going back the original time frame with Enterprise and trying to get back to basics. Now they are doing it again, going this time back to the original cast with a re-envisioning of the franchise. Again hoping that by going back they can somehow find their way back into the hearts and minds of those who exist now.

In fact, I don’t think the recent Star Treks are as bad as their fans make them out to be. Are they great? No. Are they even as good as Roddenberry’s versions? Probably not. But they aren’t that far off the quality of the original two. My biggest pet peeve with these series is that the people in charge of Star Trek have one thing and one thing going for them… their ideas for their shows are darn right brilliant.

DS9 was their least worthwhile attempt, out of this series they decided to just try a different aspect of Star Trek Universe and stick it in a space station. No exploration, increased politics… wasn’t as good as Babylon 5 which was the same time frame but managed to have far more intriguing politics and story lines. They felt that fans were getting sick of the Romulans & Klingons, and they were likely right and they were also probably out of viable story lines with those two anyway so they made the Cardassians and the Continuum. They started a whole new war with the Continuum which also made things interesting, though I think this was an afterthought when ratings dipped. Perhaps the best they came up with was the aspect of Greeed… bringing in a monetary system that didn’t really collide well with previous and future attempts of “no money” that the federation seemed to have, but also seemed to use at the same time. It was odd but it was a fresh new aspect to the show that I think was well worth it.

Voyager was one of my favorites of the Star Trek and really was the one that got the stride of what is wrong with the Star Trek franchise. It has strong ideas that don’t get followed through. By sticking the ship out in the delta quadrant they were able to explore entirely new places with great new ideas and species to look at. They did a great job at this, they did see new things never before seen… I loved the predator species the most but also liked the new Borg Killer. Still, despite this exciting new opportunity they did feel the need to return to the tried and true friends and foes of previous series… they had a moment with klingons, those big eared freaks from DS9, the Borg, and the Q. The work they did on Q, however, was downright amazing, and I think the best they did since their original appearance in the pilot of TNG. With the addition of the Maquee to the ship (I know I’m spelling that wrong) and later the borg, they had a great opportunity to really have real conflict on the ship where not everyone exactly liked each other. Unfortunately this was where the show really struggled, everyone got along fine after two or three episodes and it turned into another federation lovefest which had really plagued the series ever since TNG first started.   By being out there they also forced the crew to scrounge as well… it really felt like what the original… and I liked the addition of a cook as well. The show really could have been far more gritty than previous too because of the struggle for resources, but that never surfaced. Despite being so far out and on their own, they never really did struggle much. Another problem with the series was the dullness which I really do think goes off the lovefest problem. No one had emotion or fun, and I’ve since read that this was done purposely by the directors to compensate for the lack of emotion that could be given through the masks of the aliens, but I think this has really been one of the major problems of the series, there just isn’t emotion in it at all. (I’d also like to note that the Vulcan in this series did in my opinion the best portrayal of a Vulcan ever in the series).

Enterprise was like a mix between Voyager and DS9. They wanted to get back to a more gritty exploration based show like Voyager, but wanted to bring in a big new enemy and war like DS9. The concept of going back to the beginning was great, the casting was great (my only complaint was an alien doctor), and the fact that they would finally go to a pre-federation time and get rid of that stigma was again great. Though they supposedly went to pre-federation time, they were still the mindless zombies that the federation was known for producing, and the writers thought it would be cute to continue to refer to the future federation which was eye rolling at best, laughable at worse. Again like Voyager with Q, this series did a great job with the blue guys which I found to be one of the more interesting races in the series in years and is unfortunate that they saw fit to make them extinct after the original series because they were great here. Besides the mindless drone thing that has plagued Trek for years, the real downfall of this particular series was what has become more and more problematic as the series goes on… and that is the increasing dimensional shift & time travel episodes. I think you can get away with these types of shows maybe one time each per series, but Enterprise turned it into a weekly affair and it was ridiculous in every respect. Heck I think Voyager had 3 episodes that never occurred (you know those time travel episodes where everything is righted in the end and the crew never even knew it existed because things went back to normal time/dimension), which is very specific type of this episode, and I think that was a ton, but was nothing compared to what we saw in Enterprise. I hope beyond all hope that the creators of Star Trek got it out of their system in Voyager, because I am getting sick to death of it and I hope to god I never see these story lines again in the Trek universe because it is retarded writing.

Raiding

It has been awhile now in the raiding guild and overall I gotta say it isn’t working out. I like raiding a lot and have the time to do it, moreover I think I am talented enough to do it and well enough geared as well. However, the guild itself is kind of sucky. The leader has found way to take all the fun out of playing the game to the point that I don’t log in except to raid, I don’t raid as much as I wanted to, and when I do I hope that the raiding gets canceled due to lack of players. The leader himself has pretty much chased off many of our more talented players and because of that, we are worse off now than we were two months ago when I joined.

I am pretty much ready to move back to a normal non-raiding guild. In fact I started notifying various people that I was going to quit yesterday but one of them talked me into staying just a little while longer, promising that he was going to take over raids to make setups better, to take the leader out of it a little, and to try to lesson the amount of rules that the guild has overwhelmed itself with. He also promised that we had many more new players incoming who should promise to bring the guild back to where it was so that our raids would be more successful again.

Still, I don’t have much hope. I told him that I’d stick around for a week or two more but I really don’t think it’ll get much better in that time. The guild leader is going to have to go through drastic changes, and so will the guild itself and I just don’t see it happening. I love raiding, it is just too bad I’m stuck on a server as crappy for raiding as Mistmoore.

Sims 2: Free Time

So I’ve been playing with Free Time for a couple of weeks now and thought I’d post up my thoughts on it.

Like previously mentioned, I think that the UI is starting to feel mega clutter after this expansion. All the little icons seem completely randomly placed and offer no intuition whatsoever. Continue reading “Sims 2: Free Time”

Casual Games

I recently became re-attached to the casual games market because of a purchase of My Word Coach (I’ll have a review for it in another week or two). I started playing Animal Crossing and Brain Age again and have been enjoying my time with these games after a very long hiatus. But this re-interest with more info on the upcoming Wii Fit from GDC got me thinking about the future of this market.. and how Nintendo could further it. Continue reading “Casual Games”