Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rift Beta: First Impressions

I spent some time playing the Rift Beta last week. Specifically, I had the opportunity to participate in Rift Beta 5 from Tuesday through Friday. I chose to play a Defiant Warrior. In those four days I managed to reach level 19, completed a buttload of quests, helped close many rifts and joined in on some PvP action.

Below are my first impressions.

Probably the first thing I noticed when first starting the game was how polished it was, beginning with the game launcher and patcher. I had no problems getting the patches (about one every day during this beta) and the patcher even told me that I needed to update my video drivers, which turned out to be true. Only a couple of times did I have trouble connecting to the servers, but overall, the login experience was exemplary.

Second thing you'll notice is how similar Rift is to a World of Warcraft. Sure there are some bloggers and plenty of players in-game who get upset whenever the comparison is mentioned, but it's impossible to deny. It's not just similar, it's exactly the same in many regards. Many of the talent trees look to be ripped directly from WoW. The crafting is the same. The type of gear and loot is the same. Combat is the same... Now I'm not saying that using someone else's ideas is a bad thing, but I am saying that those who get upset at the comparisons are delusional. That being said, WoW hasn't ever been particularly innovative itself.

The biggest talking point of the game is, of course, the Rifts themselves, so let's talk a little bit about the Rift System. Basically, a Rift opens up in the zone and goes through various stages spawning different mobs until the Boss mod spawns and is killed. Anyone who comes along can help defeat the mobs at the various stages and get loot for success. If you played Warhammer Online, Rifts are basically transient Public Quests. Sometimes they are there, sometimes they are not. But the basic functionality is almost exactly the same.

Rifts can grow stronger if left alone for long enough and there is supposedly some way to enter the Rift itself to drive back the invaders, but I never saw any of that. Perhaps it's for the higher levels. Rifts were interesting and confusing at first, but quickly became kind of pedestrian after I helped close a dozen of them and realized that they were really just another grind for special 'Planar' currency. I'm hoping that they are at least tied to some sort of system that gauges the local player population, because otherwise, they will suffer the same fate and annoyance as the Warhammer PQs when the majority of the active playerbase out-levels the starting areas.

Another one of Rift's big talking points has been character customization via 'souls'. While I do like the system, it's not as groundbreaking as some folks seem to think. It's really just a more complex talent tree system. I guess the main difference between this and other games with talent trees is the number involved and the fact that you can switch out your trees. There are still limitations. It's not an open system. Being a Warrior, I can only choose talent trees that are part of the Warrior archetype. Sure I can be a Death Knight and a Paladin at the same time, but the functionality really doesn't change. And some of the abilities between the various souls are so similar to other abilities that one of them ends up being useless.

This system does make it easier on those players who like to try out every class as they only need four characters per faction to experience all the options. And it also allows for lots of character variations, though I imagine that balance issues will be common and frequent, particularly when PvP is involved.

Speaking of the interface, I want to give kudos to the Rift team for giving the players plenty of UI customization options straight out of the box. Every single part can be moved, hidden and re-sized. It's very nice to have this functionality available from the start without having to use an addon.
Defiant Warrior with purple and yellow dye
They also provide a variety of dyes you can buy. And every armor slot takes both a primary and secondary color. They look pretty good as well! At least I thought I looked spiffy.

Crafting is pretty much the same as Wow. Gather resources from static spots that respawn regularly. Grind out a bunch of items noone will ever use to increase your skill a few points. At least you can salvage the items you just made and hope to recover a couple of spare resources. To the game's credit, I was able to fashion a useful two-handed axe for myself at level 16. Unfortunately, that axe was replaced about half an hour later with the reward from a PvP quest. Looking at various quest rewards, faction merchants and such, it seems that the best gear comes from helping close the Rifts and PvP (I didn't get a chance to go into a dungeon so I can't speak for that). I don't see the Crafting side of Rift as being particularly engaging or interesting.

At level 19 I already have five different types of currency in my pack. And I'm not talking gold, silver, etc. This is actually five separate systems of currency! I have regular currency, I have Rift currency, I have crafting currency, I have PvP currency and I have faction currency! I'm sure there are many more types ahead. In fact I know there are because I saw vendors who wanted money of a type I hadn't seen before. I find this an overly complex and un-needed system, especially when the vendors that take these various currencies are scattered all over the land. It's basically just creating new carrots to grind for, but I guess that's what Themepark MMOs are really all about.

Combat is pretty standard MMO fare. Select target and mash buttons to hit them with various effects. I actually found myself a bit overwhelmed initially by all the action options I was given due to having various abilities from three Souls. By level 5 or 6 I had to expose two extra action bars on-screen just to keep all of my abilities visible!

The only PvP I saw during my few days in beta was in the Warfronts (aka Battlegrounds). Pretty standard. Ten players per side. Grab and hold the special crystal in the middle while killing the other team. Get some honor points at the end. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum until you can purchase the gear you want from the PvP vendors. I hear there are options for Open World PvP (I was on a server that was labeled as PvP), but I saw none of that during my excursions.

Overall, I found my time in the Rift Beta to be fun, but lacking in anything new, though Rift does take the bar for Themepark MMOs a notch higher. It adds Public Quests (Rifts), dyes and guild leveling from Warhammer, and the graphics and class selection of Vanguard. Does it have the upper level content to keep the gear junkies occupied? Hard to say as I only reached level 20. But there certainly seemed to be a lot of excitement about the game from other players in the starting zones.

I was a bit disappointed that Rift failed to improve in some seemingly obvious areas ('Gray' trash item drops? Quest items that take up inventory slots? Really? I thought we were beyond these annoyances...), and I could already feel the grind, even in the first 20 levels. But, I do think that Rift will be a fresh arena for a number of players who have grown tired of Azeroth and it's adjoining planes. Lack of innovation hasn't ever really held back many games, and I firmly believe that Rift's polish and stability will help to give it a solid launch.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fall from Heaven mod - More Naval AI

Looking at the history of posts on this blog, it's readily apparent that I have been slacking over the past year. This is mainly due to the fact that most of my creative energy has been directed towards creating a new mod for the popular Fall from Heaven mod for Civ IV. My mod mainly focuses on bug fixes and improving the woeful AI. Details can be found here

I plan on continuing to work on this mod for a while, though hopefully I will also be able to redirect some of my attention to the half-dozen unfinished blog posts I've already started, as well as some new ones that I haven't even though of yet!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Die2Night Review: Zombie Fever grips the web!

Who knew that trying to survive against hordes of zombies while being cooped up with complete strangers, many of them a bit insane, could be so much fun?

Die2Night, a new web-based, zombie survival game, lets you do just that. Thrown into a town with 39 other folks, your mission is to work together to survive the horrible, zombie-filled nights ahead for as long as possible.

The game is free to play, though of course, there are some options to pay for perks. What makes this game really interesting is the social dynamic. When you start, you join a new town of 40 citizens, each one another player. There will never be any new citizens. Only losses to the zombies and the mental anguish that comes with any post-apocalyptic horror.

Within the game you can go out and scavenge the wasteland for goods, or stay in town and try to build defenses against the oncoming hordes that descend each night. But within each decision lies a social dynamic. There are only a certain number of action points to go around each day. And if you don't have enough defenses, people die. So agreeing what to build and when to build it becomes crucial. And at some point, food and water start to become scarce (water is also used to kill the zombies, making it doubly precious), lending even more stress and conflicting motives to the situation.

But the game leaves everything wide open. You have very little control over your fellow citizens, and if they decide they want to build a ham radio while you're trying to nail together mattresses to survive the night, there is nothing you can do but complain! And believe me, someone will complain! Which leads to another facet of the game, personal politics! You can issue anonymous complaints against any or all of your fellow citizens. If anyone gets a total of eight complaints, they are 'banished', allowed to live in the town, but unable to take from the common stashes. Apparently the banished players get some special abilities that upstanding citizens don't, including the ability to start a coup, but I haven't yet been banished myself, so I don't know for sure. I'll have to work on that...

The varying interactions within each town are varied and fluid, and an endless source of both amusement and frustration. Giving players their own tools to deal with internal social issues is brilliant, and an area that I hope gets fleshed out more in the future. It certainly is something that is missing from most online games. Generally the best option you have is 'mute'!

I've just scratched the surface of the game, having only survived for 4 days in my best outing. But each town has been a different experience. And the developer promises more new content in the future to keep your days as a survivor varied and interesting.

This game manages to fill two niches - free web-based game, and zombie apocalypse game, doing an excellent job on both counts. Definitely worth a look if this sort of thing interests you!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dawntide Beta: Various Thoughts

The Dawntide beta client has finally reached a point of stability for me where I can actually play the game! Below are a few thoughts cobbled together from notes I jotted down over the past few days (some I may have mentioned previously).

  • You eat bread and water for some reason, though I see no visible change to my stats or messages telling me that I'm fatigued due to hunger/thirst

  • Food is eaten automatically if you have some in your pack. Water is only consumed when you do it manually.

  • You gain stats randomly as you use skills. Much like Ultima Online

  • Inventory is weight-based rather than slot-based. You still have slots in your pack for organization, but if you start running out, extra slots appear as long as you can carry the load. Nice feature!

  • There are issues selecting inventory slots when they overlap with the action bar at the bottom of the screen. Fortunately, you can move the windows around.

  • You get no information at all about what a recipe requires or what exactly it makes (besides the name of the item) until the recipe is purchased and learned. Considering how expensive recipes can be, it would be nice to be able to get a little more info before I purchase it.

  • The search feature doesn't work on the vendor menu.

  • Crafting skills up very slowly

  • Corpses have no visible indicator that they have been skinned. There should either be a visual clue, or when selected, the corpse should say something like (skinned) after the name if it has already been skinned. Doesn't make much sense that I couldn't tell just by looking at it.

  • Cooking basic meat requires no tools or even a campfire. Apparently you just lay raw meat out in the sun for a while and call it a day.

  • You use 'guts' to make bowstrings in-game. This is inaccurate. Sinew is used to make bowstrings. Guts are used to make sausage! Perhaps they were thinking of strings for musical instruments, which do use 'catgut' (not made from cats).

  • Five minute spell buffs are a micro-management pain. The more skilled you are at the spell school for the buff, the longer it should last.

  • There are no player-made campfires! This is a travesty! I'm starting a campfire petition!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Dawntide Open Beta Journal #1

Note: These experiences are from the weekend on July 2-5th, 2010.

For various reasons, it's been a while since I've checked in on the Dawntide beta. But now that the game has officially entered open beta, I thought it was time to pay it another visit.

After the expected patching and updating (which went very smoothly), I logged in to find my old characters had been deleted. No big deal. I quickly make a new character, choosing to start with skills in Lumberjacking, Carpentry and Fletching, as well as some basic combat experience.

I login to the familiar newbie town and immediately notice that every tree in town has been cut. Fair enough, I spy a few green-tops still standing across the bridge out of town, and head out to begin anew my career as an aspiring lumberjack.

As I wandered the landscape looking for more trees to harvest, I also took the time to practice my combat skills on the local rabbits and ducks.

Combat is the typical pick-target, push various attack buttons type. You do have the option of entering different stances (Balance, Force and something else). Each stance builds up specific stance points that can then be used to trigger other abilities. The combat animations seemed to be mostly nonexistent (they would occasionally fire off for special moves, but otherwise, combat was nothing to watch)

I tried harvesting a flower poking up from the ground, but after the casting timer wound down, the flower vanished and I received an error message telling me that my skill was insufficient to harvest this item. Would have been nice to get that message before the timer. It would also be nice to not deplete the resource.

Looking at the mini-map, I see a castle-type structure not far down the road. Perhaps it's another town? As it turns out, it was just an empty one-room keep, with a guard outside. But across the road was a camp full of vendors. Alas, none of them specialized in Fletching. I did however, find a general vendor who sold all sorts of random items and recipes at discounts. This vendor would also buy items!

Well, in theory anyway. As it turns out, everything I had was considered worthless. But the vendor did provide a couple of cheaper than normal recipes as well as an Icicle scroll. Magic! I had started the game with a single 5-minute buff spell, which I used every chance I could raising a couple of magic skills in tiny increments (and actually, you can just recast a spell over and over as long as you have mana, gaining skill the whole while, but that sort of mindless repetition bores me too quickly). But now I knew a real spell, one that would bring icy doom to my foes!

Heading back towards the main town, I scan the horizons, searching for something to practice my new Icicle spell on.

Image of a mushroom-headed giant I do spy this monstrosity in the distance, but having a healthy respect for my newbie status and my general lack of knowledge about the game, I give the mushroom-headed beast a wide berth.

Continuing onwards, I see a small, wee bunny hopping in the grass nearby. Perfect! Target bunny, cast spell, and... er.. well, nothing. Did I miss? Did it not work? I have no idea as there was no animation or text report. Hmmm. Let's try that again. Still nothing. So I do things the old-fashioned way, beating the bunny to a pulp with my hatchet and left hook. So it wasn't a ghost bunny (another common bug with the game world), perhaps I was doing something wrong. In my next combat encounter, I try mashing the spell button during melee. It seems to cast the spell, and maybe my animal foe lost a larger chunk of health than normal, but it's difficult to tell without any sort of combat feedback (sometimes numbers will float up from the target, but this also seems to be inconsistent). I try again a few more times and surprisingly, during one encounter, I actually do see spikes of ice shoot up from the ground underneath my opponent! OK. So I guess it is working, again it was just the animation

Next objective: How to make money? In my previous foray into the world of Dawntide, I recalled making bows for money. But looking at the vendor prices this time around, I didn't have enough cash to purchase any bow recipes. Looking ta my options, the only one that seemed viable was selling lumber. So I started a new career as a Carpenter, cutting down trees and making them into boards to sell to the vendor. After doing this for a bit, I was able to purchase the hunting bow recipe and discovered I also needed to know how to craft a bowstring. Alas, that recipe was another 3 copper!

Luckily, the general vendor had some pre-crafted bowstrings for sale! Seeing that as a much quicker option (I had no idea what sort of materials might be requested of me in order to make a single bowstring on my own), I purchased 10 or so and set about to crafting. After a couple of sad failures I had success! A Hunting Bow of my very own! Using up all of the remaining bowstrings, I managed to create two extra bows to sell. Looks like I had finally reached a point of being profitable!

Having finally achieved one of my initial goals, I now needed some arrowheads to go with the many arrow shafts and feathers I had sitting in my pack. But on my way back to the vendor, I was suddenly disconnected from the server (an unfortunately common occurrence) and decided to save that journey for the next Journal.

I really haven't been keeping up with the development of this game, but from looking at their news page, they seem to be on a steady patching cycle, which is always a good sign. At the moment, the random disconnects and crashes are way too common for me to want to spend much time in-game. Hopefully these technical issues will be cleared up soon and I can venture back into the online world of Dawntide without the frustration of having to login again every 10 minutes.

Short Summary: Has potential, but still has many technical hurdles to overcome.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

SWTOR: WoW with Lightsabers?

So new info about the upcoming Bioware MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic has surfaced from E3.

Based on this interview with Rich Vogel and this preview from Massively, let's see what sort of info they're giving us...

  • Player ships that don't actually fly anywhere. Instead they are glorified apartments and transportation hubs (kind of like a personal flight master)

  • War Zones = Battlegrounds

  • Crafting will be similar to WoW

  • There will be Raids

  • There will be Gear Progression

Unfortunately, it seems to me that they're heading in a direction that will make this game World of Warcraft with Lightsabers, which I find very disappointing.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Dawntide Beta: Day One - I'm a Lumberjack...

After two frustrating weeks of not being able to login successfully, they finally patch the servers with a fix that works! For the first time ever, I am able to interact with the game world and do stuff!

My first goal in this game was to check out the crafting side of things and see if I could manage to craft a set of bow and arrows for myself!

So I created a new character and gave them as many crafting skills as I could. Ready to harvest, I began hacking at the nearest tree. Harvesting is done by simply right-clicking on the resource. Then you get a 5-second action timer while your character performs the animation. Moving or otherwise interrupting the timer will cause it to stop without any resources being gathered. And yes, this does get tedious pretty quickly. Though interestingly enough, I saw some comments from the developers recently asking players to identify what sort of actions they would be likely to macro in-game so that the devs can work on trying to make them less tedious! They'll have to walk a careful tightrope when balancing that sort of thing, but it's good to hear that they understand the root concept of why players macro in the first place and are interested in trying to fix it.

Anyway, I chopped some more trees, and then chopped them again. You can get several harvests from each tree, but once a tree is depleted, the model is replaced with a stump. After a while the trees will regenerate, but it is definitely possible to clearcut an area. The stumps in the screenshot below were all created by myself. I imagine several players trying to harvest at the same time would wreak havoc on the natural shade in the area! Different trees not only provide different types of wood, but they can also be harder to cut. For example, there was an oak tree nearby that I hacked at maybe two dozen times, never once successful. However, all of the other nearby juniper trees fell before my mighty ax with little trouble. A nice touch to the game world. I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of role the type of wood will play in crafting.

Dawntide Screenshot

Now that I had an ample supply of wood, it was time to get crafting. I open up my crafting window and proceed to churn out hundreds of arrow shafts. I noticed while making arrow shafts that my skill in Fletching was steadily increasing, as was the displayed success rate for making the shafts. But my success rate for bows wasn't changing at all. So as an experiment, I attempted to craft a few bows. Sure enough, this increased my Fletching skill as well as the chance I had for success at crafting that particular bow. Very interesting. This takes crafting specialization to a new level.

Checking an offline, player-made map, I saw that there was a cave nearby where copper could be acquired. So I jogged over there, found some colored lumps in the back of the cave and clicked on them to harvest copper ore.

Bags full, I jogged back to town, found the local forge and turned all of my copper ore into beautiful, shiny ingots. Now I just had to figure out how to turn those ingots into sharp, pointy arrowheads! I checked all the vendors, I asked in chat, I checked the boards, but everyone said it was available from the blacksmith. I looked at the blacksmith list half a dozen times and couldn't find the arrowhead recipe. Finally I saw it, buried deep in the extensive list of items on the blacksmith vendor. For some strange reason I had just assumed that the simpler recipes would be near the top.

So now I have arrow shafts, and I have arrow heads, but I'm still missing one component... feathers. I guess it's time to go hunting...

A couple of random interesting notes:
  • Characters have a Sanity rating

  • Characters also have an appearance rating that changes as you equip and unequip items

To Be Continued...