All posts by Scott Geeding

Baby’s First Compromised Account

After… oh, let’s see… roughly 30-ish years of playing online games, I unfortunately got to check off an item that was never on my bucket list: one of my accounts was compromised.

The offending account in question was my Cryptic / Perfect World Entertainment (PWE) although the attack was purely based in Neverwinter. I didn’t have anything in my Champions account and my Star Trek Online account was untouched.

I’ve been on break from Neverwinter for several months, only making a handful of logins just to invoke or set some crafting queues. No actual gameplay. But earlier last week I figured hey, I’m already one Module behind and the next one has already been announced, bringing with it the long-awaited Scourge Warlock class, so why not jump in and start catching up? I invoked, cleared up my crafting projects then started clicking around at the other icons to see what’s changed and what I was behind on. Clicked the mail icon and was greeted with:

Neverwinter: He Stole My AD!

On March 12, a common Thievery Kit was purchased for every single Astral Diamond I had. Say what? So I started clicking other stuff, the Astral Diamond Exchange most importantly. On the same date, all my Zen (not much remaining but still) was exchanged for Astral Diamonds, the pre-order bonus Astral Diamonds was loaded into the account then used to purchase this common item.

I checked my two lower level alts, then. Both were parked at a mailbox but neither of them had much AD or anything else to begin with. Only the Devoted Cleric, my main character, had any shinies and wealth.

So I went through the PWE Customer Support process. First off, obviously, setting a new and stronger password. Then the days-long back and forth of talking to CS reps about my ticket. At least I had screenshots and they had their login records which matched my story of activity.  Originally it sounded like they were going to implement a full character rollback but the final verdict was that it had been too long since the compromise and (my words) they didn’t have all the data to do a 3-month rollback. They did refund all my Zen and all my Astral Diamonds, though. I have no idea if anything is missing from my Vault though. Pretty sure most of the stuff I had was character- or account-locked so hopefully none of my pre-order goodies are gone.

At least the issue was resolved mostly to my satisfaction and I can begin playing Neverwinter at my leisure again.

A Second Look at Destiny’s First Look Alpha

Now that my Hunter has been level 8 (the cap for this weekend’s alpha test) for awhile, I’ve continued playing him to unlock more skills and get new weapons and more importantly, to slow down and smell the roses and really try to pay attention to the details.

I meant to write some of this in my first Destiny Alpha post but if you happened to notice the timestamp, I finished writing that just after 2am so I wasn’t exactly in top mental form.

So, now that I feel more comfortable speaking about the details of what’s available in Destiny so far, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Quality as a Shooter

As expected, this is from Bungie who put consoles on the map for first-person shooters back with Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox, so Destiny is definitely top-quality when it comes to the overall feel and the tightness of the controls. In my previous post, I made a few comparisons to Defiance, and so did Belghast on his Manifest Destiny blog post this morning. I particularly like what he said here:

I feel like Defiance was an MMO with Shooter elements, whereas Destiny is a Shooter with MMO elements.

I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. Again, I’ll reiterate Bungie referring to Destiny as a “shared world shooter” rather than an MMO, and despite having a dance emote (!) it does lack chat and (possibly) the ability to trade between players. There is a mailbox but so far it’s only been for receiving stuff from Bungie so that’s up in the air until Beta next month. I’ve not found any type of Auction at all to buy from and sell to players.

I was very happy that Bungie broke from their Halo reload controls of using the right bumper (R1 on PlayStation, RB on Xbox) and switched to what has become the “standard” for console shooters, the Square or X button which is quicker to press and more intuitive than the bumper. My only real stumbling point was they bound melee to the R1 button (RB on Xbox) instead of clicking the right stick (R3 on PlayStation) but I quickly got used to it. The right stick (R3) is used to highlight a player so you can interact with them such as emotes or inviting them to a fireteam.

Aside from Square or X being reload (thank you), the other controls are pretty much standard. X (PS) or A (Xbox) will jump, Square or X is also the Interact function to get a mission, gather a resource, etc. Circle or B will switch from standing to prone. There is no crouch. Triangle or Y will switch weapons from Primary to Secondary, and holding it (long press) will bring up your Heavy weapon. Clicking the left stick (L3) will sprint, and pressing B while sprinting will do a short slide. L1 or LB throws a grenade, which is a cooldown and does not rely on having a stock of grenades. Then R1 or RB is melee, as described previously.

In terms of overall performance, I feel like Destiny is chugging along at a fairly consistent 30fps. The Xbox One has been sadly underperforming in the first batch of cross-released games versus to the PlayStation 4 but Bungie says (thanks to the recent SDK that lets developers gain an extra 10% of power by removing Kinect from the equation) the Xbox One version will also run at 1080p and 30fps. 30fps is fine. It’s no Call of Duty at 60fps and that much is certainly noticeable but the recent Battlefields have also been 30fps and for bigger world games that works perfect. If the PS4 alpha build is dropping frames at all during busy times, it isn’t dropping more than 5fps for sure, but I do think it’s holding 30fps at all times.

The only feature that is truly lacking is a map. There is none whatsoever, not even a mini-radar map. Pressing the touchpad on the DualShock 4 toggles you in and out of “Nav Mode” which only shows you the location of nearby missions, or the next objective waypoint if you’ve already started a mission. Destiny is pretty big and currently there’s no way to get from A to B other than memorizing where everything is and how to get to and from the various locations.

PS4-specific, Destiny uses the DualShock 4′s lightbar. It’s normally white if your health is fully charged. If you take a beating and your health bar turns red on your UI, the light bar turns red as well. And if your Super ability is charged (Super Charged, get it?) the light bar turns yellow. Vita Remote Play works as well as can be expected. The closer to your PS4 the better, and there’s always a tiny bit of delay between the two since the data is being streamed to and from the Vita. It’s probably acceptable for general free roam PvE. I wouldn’t recommend it for a Strike (3 person) or Raid (6 person) PvE where the difficulty is ramped up and your team is depending on everyone. And there’s absolutely no way I’d use it for Crucible PvP where reaction time is everything.

Audio and Visuals

The music is very Halo-ish. I’ll just leave it at that. Sound effects are fantastic. Bungie is a AAA studio and Destiny has a AAA budget from Activision so there are no cheap beeps and boops here. Sound effect-wise my only gripe is that the sound for when your cooldowns refresh is the same sound as collecting an ammo pickup. I would prefer a unique sound so I know what happened without having to scan my UI. I’d already mentioned my disappointment in Peter Dinklage’s voice work for your Ghost AI, a sentiment I’ve seen shared quite a bit online. Other celebrities did some voice work as well, if you can pick them out. Nathan Fillion does the voice for Cayde-6, the Hunter Vanguard (ie. Class Vendor NPC) in the Tower. Fillion has done voice work in a few Halo games and it’s a shame he didn’t get used for something with more airtime than a Class Vendor. Out of all the voice work I’ve heard so far, Dinklage’s is still the most disappointing because it sounds “phoned in” and lacks any in-game character and personality. Shame, because he has a great voice with good annunciation and (to me) just the right level of baritone.

The Mass Effect is strong in that one!

Visually, Destiny is stunning. The art style, graphics and effects are all excellent and it’s great just to run around and see things. The class Super abilities are all very flashy and fun to watch with glorious particle effects. Even the skyboxes are some of the best I’ve ever seen. And the lighting! Oh, the lighting. I forget where I read this, I’m certain it was one of those Xbox One-inspired “is resolution really important?” type of articles but one of the tech-oriented developers said “next-gen won’t be about polygons, it will be about lighting.” Destiny has a full day/night cycle which is very well done. The first free roam zone has a dark red-lit tunnel and a large broken fan and sunlight streaming in from outside. Absolutely gorgeous. Some of the vistas are right up there with a Lord of the Rings Online in terms of “hey I just want to stop and look around, maybe snap a few screenshots.” When a Public Event happens, everything goes dark as the huge mothership momentarily eclipses the sun as it warps into the atmosphere. That’s a cool effect! As always I do have a gripe, but it’s just that some of the drops, especially gear drops can difficult to see on the ground. Everything glows but for some reason, perhaps it’s just the shape and size of the gear drop, it’s the one I have the most trouble spotting.

See? Pretty!

RPG Elements and Progression

There are three races in Destiny: Human, Awoken, and Exo. Awoken are blue aliens that resemble a mixture of elves and vampires while Exo are a cybernetic or robotic species, a sort of fast and athletic Terminator minus the organic skin. Once you’ve selected a race and gender, you choose one of the three classes: Hunter, Titan or Warlock. All three classes can use the same weapons, the real difference is their abilities and appearance. There is no MMO “trinity” at work in Destiny. The classes and their subclasses are to find a playstyle that fits you; no one class is “better” than another.

I mentioned in the first post a fear that at level cap (which appears to be 20) every subclass will have all the exact same skills. Thankfully, that is not the case. After unlocking upgrade abilities your XP later goes toward unlocking optional toggles. I think I saw two additional grenade ability types for the Gunslinger subclass of the Hunter, for example. You can only equip one at a time. Other abilities actually modify your attributes. One on the Hunter for example is called “Path Forbidden” and gives a bonus to the Recovery attribute but penalizes the Armor attribute as a tradeoff. This can allow each player to both customize their loadouts not only to accommodate their personal playstyle preference but also for specific encounters. So in that sense, I guess it’s somewhat analogous to how Guild Wars 2 handles skills: you have a smallish set of actives and passives but a larger pool to draw from and can swap them out on the fly.

There are three direct currencies in Destiny. The first is Glimmer, a blue crystal that would be the equivalent of “gold” in a fantasy MMO. Glimmer is acquired from killing enemies, completing missions or finding loot chests that spawn in random hidden spots in the world. Glimmer is universal to all your characters as well. Then there are Vanguard Marks and Crucible Marks which are obtained through completing Bounties and used to purchase Legendary equipment. Vanguard is a PvE reputation and Crucible is the PvP reputation. There is a third reputation, Crypo-Archeology which only applies to the Cryptarch NPC in the Tower. He will decode any Encrypted Engrams you collect from enemies, which in turn give reputation points. Buying engrams from him gives points as well. Ranking up lets you buy better engrams, just like ranking up in Vanguard or Crucible lets you buy better stuff.

There are also collectibles or what I will refer to as an “indirect currencies” which are used to upgrade your gear. In the first post I mentioned being able to gather Spinmetal Leaves but didn’t know what to do with it, assuming that a crafting system would come later. First, you can do something with it right now in the alpha: in the Tower there is a Crucible Quartermaster NPC who allows a Material Exchange. You can trade Spinmetal for Crucible Points. Each trade gives diminishing returns but that means if someone is willing to do that much farming, that he could level up the Crucible PvP reputation just by gathering resources in PvE. So far there are four gatherable materials listed but Spinmetal is the only one available in the alpha playable area. Secondly, the more advanced higher level armors requires multiple resources to upgrade in addition to Glimmer: one of the gatherable resources and a class resource. You don’t sell unwanted gear in Destiny, but you can dismantle it which will give a small amount of Glimmer and if the gear is better than white quality, you’ll get some class resource as well. Hunter armor dismantles into Sapphire Wire, for example. Dismantling weapons gives Glimmer and Weapon Parts which are used to upgrade weapons. Even the white quality weapons give Weapon Parts so I’ve been dismantling each one I collect then working on upgrading the green weapons.

Gear quality also has its own progression. White gear does nothing but green and better will eventually upgrade after enough use. For a weapon, you can upgrade its Attack rating, maybe get another boost then start unlocking different types of sights that could be useful in different encounter types. Armor upgrades might give a stat boost or some other perk such as faster reload. Elemental attacks are also featured in Destiny. You’ll start picking up guns with elemental attacks like Arc (electricity), Void, Fire and later on some enemies will be resistant to some elements and weak to others. So collecting weapon types and filling your Vault will be a thing come end-game.

With the level cap being so low in the alpha, it’s uncertain if there will be any type of level-scaling in Destiny. Last night I was in a fireteam with Scopique, who was level 6, and Scarybooster was level 4. I was level 8 with all green upgraded weapons and I was laying waste to everything before they had much of an opportunity to shoot so if there’s no type of level scaling, playing with friends might become an issue when the levels differences are vastly different. I think I’d approve of a Guild Wars 2 downscaling per area in Destiny.

Crucible PvP

So far the only PvP playlist in alpha is Conquest, a 6v6 matchup where teams try to capture and hold points on the map as well as kill the opposing team. Call of Duty’s Domination playlist would be a perfect analogy. There are two maps currently, one set on a moon and two types of vehicles are available: a speeder bike with guns (!) and a bigger slower hover bike-thing with a rocket launcher. Machine gun turrets are on the map in a couple spots. I’ve got a measly three matches under my belt so far, and… I’m undecided if it’s something I would stick with for the long-term progression. When I do play Call of Duty, Domination is my preferred playlist so Conquest should be right up my alley. Destiny plays slower than Call of Duty though, closer to a Battlefield feel perhaps. It’s a Bungie game so again, comparisons to Halo (in particular its Big Team Battle playlist) will be obvious. I normally loathed Halo multiplayer because it was primarily small teams and arena shooting, similar to the old Quake or Unreal Tournament games. Bungie unleashed Big Team Battle with Halo Reach and it proved popular so 343 Industries continued and improved on it in Halo 4. It’s the “best” (for my playstyle preferences) Halo multiplayer but even then, I can only play one or two matches before I’m ready to put it down. Destiny feels better than Halo to me, and that applies to the PvP here, but there’s still some as-of-yet intangible je ne sais quoi that causes me to quickly lose interest after a match or two.

One thing that is certainly putting me off is I think levels and gear matter in PvP. XP is shared so if you’re a 100% PvP player you can level up purely from PvP, all the while gaining Crucible reputation and marks to get the best gear in the game. I’m running around with the best PvE guns I can buy and have them upgraded but I go into PvP and get one shot, meanwhile it’s taking anywhere from 2-5 shots to kill an on-level opponent. Some of that is skill, as I’m more of an Xbox controller guy and still struggle a little bit with the DualShock 4 but the amount of one-shot deaths makes me suspicious that better gear makes or breaks the match.

Destiny First Look Alpha

Bungie surprised everyone (or at least myself and my teeny circle of gaming friends) with the sudden announcement of a First Look Alpha test this weekend for PS4 players. I was at work during the registration period but somehow late this afternoon I received an alpha key anyway from Bungie. Hey, whatever, I’ll take it!

I set my PS4 to download the client then ran out to dinner. By the time I got home, the game was ready to go. Character creation is a simple process. Select one of the three classes, that’s the major choice as it will determine your abilities. Then for appearance, choose from a dozen-ish faces, hairstyles, and so forth. You’re primarily just creating a face. Body size is not an option. The gear you equip determines the rest of your look in-game.

The First Look Alpha starts off at the upper end of level 3 and you’re already in a mission. You’ll encounter a few groups of Fallen on the way to the objectives, enough to level up and get introduced how to upgrade your skills, etc. Then mission complete, and off to The Tower you go. That’s a Social Area where your typical NPCs are located: vendors, mail, vault (bank), etc. Destiny is a first-person shooter, but in the social areas it switches to a third-person camera. Running around the Tower in particular brought to my mind a strong sense of Mass Effect due to its similarities: third-person, futuristic shooter RPG, running around a Citadel-like station and so forth.

Your first visit to the Tower a few NPCs have green icons over them attracting your attention. You get some new gear and your starter vehicles. A basic spaceship for traveling to and from the Tower and the various planets (only a segment of Earth is in the alpha) then a Sparrow speeder bike (yay, Star Wars influence for the win!) for travel on the ground maps. The loading screens to and from the tower show your ship, and if you’re in a fireteam, also the ships of your teammates in formation.

Now you return to Earth again, this time in the “real game” where you can run into other players doing missions, help them out, maybe team up, whatever. As I mentioned in my previous post, Bungie has been calling Destiny a “shared world shooter,” avoiding the term “MMO” as much as possible. One big thing I notice is that (at least in alpha) there is no chat whatsoever. Even Defiance, which was labeled as an “MMO shooter” had chat, broken though it was for many months. Over on PCs well of course every MMO has chat, that’s what keyboards are for, right? But Defiance on consoles have chat. DCUO on PS3 and PS4 have chat. I don’t know if Destiny has local voice or not though. I soloed a few levels then joined a PSN Party with some friends where we had two fireteams running missions. Bungie has said they wanted Destiny to be more an organic experience, where you can play as a single player game but see other players or you can assist or team with them seamlessly, so I guess having a chat window filled with LFG (or LFF since groups are called Fireteams in Destiny) spam like I see in DCUO.

The catch was that even though we were in the same zones, we couldn’t’ find each other. We wanted a full six-person fireteam but ended with with two three-person fireteams and the other team wasn’t even in our “world.” GameInformer had an interview with Bungie’s technical director last December where he called their matchmaking tech “mesh-based networking.” It sorta-kinda halfway seems similar-ish to the “megaserver” of Elder Scrolls Online. Some of us we were able to invite to a fireteam and we’d all load into the same world, others would get an error or some message and be unable to join us, so we went with two teams. But it was still aggravating that we weren’t even in the same space in-game to at least see each other even if we weren’t teamed. That’s something I hope gets some attention before launch. Being able to find, or at least see, friends needs to be convenient and easy and fast, especially on consoles. What the “mesh-based networking” does try to do well is make sure the players you see in your environment are all in your level bracket so I guess that’s nice that pretty much every player on your UI is a viable candidate to team with should you want to.

In free roam mode, far as I can tell you just run around picking up missions from flashing green beacons such as the one pictured above. Unlike an MMO where you do a quest, turn it in then that quest is gone, these missions seem to be immediately repeatable. You can intentionally, or accidentally as we did a couple times, grind these missions to your heart’s content apparently. Every so often a Public Event will occur. I’m inclined to compare it to an Arkfall from Defiance but that game doesn’t really give any fanfare that any type of event is occurring anywhere. I suppose Rift, Defiance’s forebear, would be more similar as I seem to recall getting some form of announcement on the UI when a rift was forming nearby? Anyway, the event in first zone is a Devil Walker, a big spider-like tank that players have to destroy. After trying this a couple times, I think I’m comfortable saying that it’s sorta-kinda like Defiance where the boss’ weaknesses are highlighted but it seemed to be much less obvious in Destiny. Then again, it may have been less obvious when I was new to Defiance also, I can’t remember now. For now anyway, these event bosses definitely have some challenge. The Walker’s legs can be damaged individually and there’s some way of making the “head” separate briefly exposing the core underneath but I haven’t figured out what triggers that yet.

Apparently the final game will have crafting? So far I’ve seen these “Spinmetal Leaves” which are collectible, and dismantling gear will give parts as well as the “Glimmer” currency. But whatever these resources are to be used for is either not in the alpha at all or simply cut off due to the low level 8 cap for the alpha. Either way, this type of collecting I enjoy much like in Skyrim. The plants don’t glow or have any type of effect to get your attention, they just look unique compared to the normal foliage so it’s a nice addition to add to the scenery where you just happen to be exploring or fighting the Fallen and hey there’s a resource to gather.

I’m told that armor dying unlocks at level 20, which obviously is not available in this weekends alpha test, but that will go a long way towards appearance customization.

I chose the Hunter class, and the alpha defaults to the Gunslinger subclass. I’m hoping the implication there is that there are multiple subclasses to choose from and each one has its own subset of skills and its own Super ability. The Hunter has a great jetpack-assisted double jump. I’m told the Titan and Warlock double jumps are less desirable, especially the Warlock. I haven’t tried those two classes yet though. But I did reach level 8 with the Hunter. I did learn that even though the level cap is 8, you continue earning XP and can continue unlocking skills. But at level 8 it seems like most of the gear that drops is for level 9-11 so I can’t equip any of it.

Reaching level 8 was accomplished in the Devil’s Lair “Strike” mission, which is Destiny’s term for an instanced “dungeon” mission. It was fairly challenging for the three of us, and I was glad we went to the Tower first so I could buy new gear. I hadn’t been to the Tower since level 4 so by the time I was ready for the Strike, I was in dire need of better guns. Plenty of very strong Fallen in there, and even though I don’t like shotguns in most games (and really not a fan of the amount of shotgun recoil in Destiny) I was happy I got a fire-based shotgun that took down most of those shielded Fallen in two or three shots. The final boss was another Devil Walker just like from the public event but there are also waves of Fallen that spawn on both sides and really make the whole thing challenging trying to get a good shot on the Walker weak spots while avoiding its deadly shots and also trying to cut down the number of Fallen shooting at you.

Seriously, how can you look at that shot and not think of Mass Effect?

RPG-wise, I’m not sure what to think yet. I’m not sure if using certain abilities (guns, melee, etc.) give bonus XP towards unlocking certain skills or if they just unlock at specific levels regardless? But my first impression is that there isn’t a “skill tree” setup per se and at end-game every single person playing a certain class will have the exact same skills unlocked. I have not played the Crucible PvP yet but I’ve read XP carries over from PvP to PvE. Does that mean “levels matter” in PvP? They most likely will in terms of unlocked skills. What about weapon levels and damage? I dunno. I’ll give PvP a shot (pun intended) later this weekend but I haven’t read overly favorable things about it so far. Mostly just “meh” comments.

I really like what I’ve seen so far other than a few minor issues, but it’s alpha right? I will say that the voice work leaves much to be desired. Especially when they’ve got actual award-winning actors in there doing the work. Peter Dinklage plays the voice of your AI “Ghost” but instead of sounding like he’s giving a voice and personality to a character named Ghost, it just sounds like a very bored and disinterested Peter Dinklage is reading lines off a script in the sound studio. Shame, really.

Justice League Volume 2: The Villain’s Journey

As I mentioned in the previous post about my new foray into comics, while I thought Volume 1 was underwhelming, I was willing to continue to see if things improved. So last week I read the graphic novel Justice League Volume 2: The Villain’s Journey. Oh, and before I get started, consider this whole thing a SPOILER ALERT!

image

Volume 2 picks up 5 years after Volume 1 ended. I suppose the intent there was to show that in Volume 1 these super heroes who were used to being on their own and protecting their respective cities (or space sector, in Green Lantern’s case) and were grudgingly forced to become a team, while 5 years later and in the “present” New 52 day, they’re considered an established team and well-respected by the peoples of Earth. Unfortunately, other than Batman and Superman being friends now, none of the other characters have grown closer, or even grown at all. It’s as if  Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman were stuffed into Doc Brown’s Delorean clown-car style, while Batman and Superman remained outside with the remote control, Bats laughingly telling Supes “when this sucker hits 88 miles per hour, you’re going to see some serious bullshit!” and instantly reappeared 5 years into the future. (And boom! Another BTTF reference!)

Batman continues to be the punchline of Green Lantern’s jokes, some of which are actually funny, but still you’d think after working together for 5 years Lantern would see the Bat’s value as a tactician. Which brings me to some complaints I’ve read about Volume 2 — DC readers say the characterizations are off in Justice League compared to each hero’s solo adventures. As I’ve mentioned before, I never read DC and am only recently learning what the “New 52″ even means. What I don’t know is: are these New 52 series all happening at the same time? In the Batman solo series, writer Scott Snyder has him enduring the Court of Owls, being starved and psychologically broken as well as being hunted by their Talon assassin. Is this the same Batman who is simultaneously being poked fun at by Green Lantern for not having any powers? Or is Justice League in its own separate bubble? Because the writer for Justice League, DC’s CCO Geoff Johns, was also writing Green Lantern and Aquaman so if this is all supposed to be a cohesive universe, shouldn’t the characters act the same and their own story arcs carry over into their behavior and challenges as a team? Volume 2 also heavily features Steve Trevor who is now the liason between the government and the Justice League. Any romance between him and Wonder Woman had already been broken off by Diana, though Steve still pines after her. Neither is Superman dating Lois Lane. In fact, the end of Volume 2 begins a romance between Superman and Wonder Woman. In their solo books is that also the case or do they have their long-standing traditional romances? Then there’s Green Arrow. Mind you, I’m a huge fan of the show Arrow, which is partially why I bothered to read any DC comics at all. I haven’t read any Green Arrow comics yet because every time I pick one up in the shop, the art is so atrocious I can’t justify the purchase. So in Volume 2 there’s an issue where Green Arrow is basically stalking the Justice League trying to join. Quite literally begging to join. Way out of character, and just a weak excuse to have him show up, though Steve Trevor says he’s forming another team that Ollie might be a good fit for. I’m assuming that was Geoff John’s lame “origin” for having Green Arrow in Justice League America? I don’t know anything about JLA other than I’ve seen Green Arrow on the cover art a few times.

The title of Volume 2 is “The Villain’s Journey,” and that’s exactly what it is. The Hero’s Journey only in reverse. The end of Volume 1 had the heroes come together and form the Justice League and famous supernatural author David Graves wrote a book “Justice League: Gods Among Men” singing the praises of these superheroes after they foiled Darkseid’s attempt at conquering Earth.

Five years later, however, David Graves has lost his family to illness contracted on Apokalips, Darkseid’s world, and is terminally ill himself. He lashes out and blames these “gods” for being unable to save them, and used his research of the supernatural to visit the mystical Asura in Mount Sumeru that only the near-dead can see. They gave him great power which he uses to become a villain “Graves” who first visits each of the heroes’ enemies and tortures and kills them for to learn the heroes’ secrets. Even Steve Trevor is caught up in it, and brutally tortured for information about the Justice League and its Watchtower satellite. Graves wants to destroy the public’s faith in the Justice League, prove they are just flawed people like everyone else and not the “gods” he made them out to be.

I feel like in Batman, Scott Snyder eschewed the traditional villains to create the Court of Owls which was accomplished to great success. But this Graves villain Geoff Johns created, I dunno. He had a sob story trope that I didn’t buy as the reason for what he did. Nor did I particularly care about Graves. Most of the traditional villains in comics are still around decades later because the fans love them. I can’t imagine Graves coming back for more.

I did enjoy Volume 2 even though it seems like I’m trashing it here. It had its share of flaws, as I’ve pointed out, certainly. But all my jumping around trying to get back into comics two decades after I left the hobby, my tastes have changed and I have higher expectations out of the authors I read. I’ve had fantastic success in finding awesome new fiction authors for novels but comics? I keep hearing Scott Snyder, so I’m reading his Batman graphic novels (The Court of Owls series) and it’s enjoyable enough. I keep hearing Geoff Johns who is DC’s Chief Creative Officer for cryin’ out loud, but in both Justice League volumes I’ve complained of generic tropes and poor characterizations. Perhaps it’s a limitation of the medium. Just like critics refuse to consider video games as art, maybe comics can only do so much to tell a story. Maybe Snyder and Johns are great writes… “for a comic, anyway,” which is saying they wouldn’t cut it as a novelist. I don’t know. I am still searching for a series that I truly enjoy the characters, the stories, and the people creating them.

Justice League Origins War

Like many of you (probably?) I read comics in high school and possibly a couple years during college before moving on with other things. Firmly in denial of a “mid-life crisis,” I’ve been attempting to get back into the hobby. It’s not exactly a cheap hobby either. Comics have been very hit or miss for me now, more so than my high school days. I’ve had a couple decades without them where I’ve been reading novels instead where every single aspect of the storytelling is so much better. Even the best comics writers are sometimes at the mercy of their art team to help tell the story in any given frame, and a lot of the time, the art team isn’t up to the task. In a novel, every once in a blue moon I’ll stumble across a sentence or paragraph that I’ll have to go back, slow down, and re-read for it to make sense. I’ve lost count how many frames in comics the past few months I’ve stared at over and over and finally given up trying to interpret or understand what the hell I’m supposed to be looking at.

I primarily read Marvel back then, though when Image comics came out I enjoyed several of their series as well. DC… I’ve always had a problem with DC comics having heroes that were just too “superpowered” or too “alien” to really relate to. Batman was about the only DC hero I ever liked much, and he was just a “hero” not a “super hero.” No super powers, just a well-trained guy with the money to build all those wonderful toys. Superman? The ultimate superhero, pretty much indestructible so they had to invent Kryptonite, the ultimate MacGuffin then overuse the hell out of it. I still remember to this day being a teen (possibly tween?) going on family vacation and my parents got me this Superman graphic novel (this was the 70’s I think when they were actually the size of a paperback novel) of the three-episode 1961 “Death of Superman” storyline where Lex Luthor actually killed Supes. My favorite Superman story. Ever.

Today, I’m not “committed” or “loyal” to any single publisher. I’m all over the place. I’ve got some Marvel here, some Dark Horse and IDW there, an Aspen or two, but not a whole lot of DC. One of my friends is a huge comic nut and loves DC too, so for his sake I’ve been attempting to tolerate some of it, and it’s been hit or miss so far. For whatever reason, I asked about a DC animated movie and he suggested I start with Justice League: War and let me borrow his DVD.

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Now, to be fair, I went into this movie blind so to speak, not knowing anything whatsoever about it in advance. Thus, I thought it was fairly horrible. The characterizations were off. Superman came off more like a stereotypical high school jock chucklehead than the stoic hero and icon he’s supposed to be. First thing he does when he meets Green Lantern and Batman? Pound them into the ground. Granted, the way Green Lantern is characterized as a cocky douchebag, he probably deserved it. So, Green Lantern. My entire experience with Green Lantern was That Gawdawful Movie and this one. I just look at the whole idea of “forming random objects” as perhaps it was conceptually “good on paper” but stupid in execution. He saves himself and Batman from an explosion by encasing them in a green old-school bank vault with the big wheel lock and everything. Because simply creating an energy shield would be nonsense. o.O Then instead of blasting Superman with an energy beam, he creates a green old-school freight train and tries to ram Superman with it, but it bounces of Superman’s chest. The Man of Steel’s pecs are apparently stronger than the power of Will. So glad this clown is in charge of an entire space sector; why doesn’t the Corps just give a ring to Kal El? Then he saves some girl from falling by catching her in a floating green bed. Sorry, but if these scenes were transposed into the movie Sky High, and Green Lantern is making green chains and trains and floating beds, Bruce Campbell would yell “SIDEKICK!” There was a whole sub-story of how Cyborg came to be, although since I don’t read DC I had no clue who or what Cyborg even was. Friggin’ Shazam was in this thing, for cryin’ out loud. Bwahahaha! Sheesh there’s another stupid hero, and what a little prick Billy Batson is! Oh, then there’s Wonder Woman. I only remember the old television show, so when did Wonder Woman become Xena the Warrior Princess? Actually, that’s probably giving Wonder Woman way too much credit. “Take me to see this President you speak of!” Bitch, you’re driving around Washington, DC working a case with US Army Intelligence officer Steve Trevor while wearing a red, white and blue swimsuit! You know goddamn good and well who and what the President is! If anything moves, Wonder Woman is ready to bash it with a sword. Then she forces, at sword point, an ice cream vendor to give her and some kid a couple ice cream cones. What the fuck? Don’t even get me started on the “Wonder Woman protest” scene. Then there’s the title. “War.” Far as I could tell, this whole thing lasted a day. Not exactly a war. The whole premise is Darkseid is invading to conquer Earth. Yawn. Apparently there was a shortage of tropes that day, so we were left with the most generic one of all.

Now, as it turns out, Justice League War is based on the first six issues of the New 52 Justice League reboot, titled Origin, which is also available as a graphic novel.

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I just finished reading that, and it’s much better than the stupid War animated movie. For the most part, the events remain the same, but in the comic Aquaman (another hero it’s hard to take seriously, but allegedly he’s had a really good storyline lately) is there instead of Shazam. The Wonder Woman / ice cream vendor scene is there, but she asks if she may have some ice cream rather than demanding it like in War. But the “off” (to me) characterizations are still there, such as Superman just beating up Batman and Green Lantern for no reason and behaving like a jock. Wonder Woman is still a dimwitted swimsuit model with a sword. Why haven’t we seen Wonder Woman yet on film? Because she’s over-sexualized, and I’m not sure how that will fly these days. She’ll have a role in the upcoming Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice movie but it remains to be seen what, if any, changes will be made to her costume. In Origin (and War) all the guy’s first thoughts are getting Wonder Woman in the Super Sack. Even in the comics shops, the way her costume is drawn emphasizing her cleavage and ass, I’m always hearing comments like “check out the fun bags on her, oh yeah!”

The nice thing about reading Origin was I had my friend there so I could ask questions while I was reading. He said the book was intentionally dumbed down in an attempt to get more younger readers to a flailing series. It didn’t work, so I’m hoping the next Justice League graphic novels have better writing, at least in terms of what comic writing is these days. As mediocre as I found the overall story in Origin, I’m at least willing to continue to the next graphic novel to see if I can find something appealing in the DC universe. I did enjoy the running in-joke between Lantern and Flash that “whoah, Batman’s real?” and stuff like that. Now that Flash is getting his own series on CW, I kinda hope they at least introduce Hal Jordan since apparently they’re good friends in the comics. Only trick there is that both Arrow and Flash are more street-level heroes, especially Arrow, while Green Lantern would require a bigger budget to handle the special effects of the ring’s powers.

Bungie: I’m Your Density

Sorry (meaning, no I’m not sorry at all), it’s difficult to pass up the opportunity to slip in a little Back to the Future now and then.

Also sorry (this time I mean it) I’ve not blogged in awhile. My work schedule has been downright hectic and even when there are things I’ve wanted to write about, I’m back to work before I know it and then forget what I wanted to say by the time the trip is over. But here we are now.

Let’s talk about Destiny, one of the most anticipated games of 2014. Console-only, for now, which is a shame because the current-gen consoles are essentially PCs inside. But since I broke down and got a PS4 and nothing to play on it, Bungie gives me something to look forward to.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of shooters. I even bought Titanfall on PC, which is fun and all but I wish I’d skipped it because when I’m on PC there are different types of games I’m interested in than competitive FPS. Plus I don’t run Origin on startup so half the time I forget I even own Titanfall.

Count me among those eagerly anticipating Destiny, though I have my own reservations as well. Chief among those is that my main co-op buddy, Aaron, went the Xbox One route while I defected to the Sony camp. That’s probably a blog post unto itself, though.

There’s the big gameplay reveal from last summer. Looks great, doesn’t it? A big, “shared world” (that’s Bungie’s buzzword instead of saying “persistent world” or even worse, “MMO”) shooter? As a Firefall fan, you bet! Oh, it will also have competitive PvP? Mmm… ok, I guess, as long as it’s not like Halo.

And therein lies the rub. Halo. The franchise Bungie is most famous for. Oh, sure, I played all the Bungie Halo games. I loved the setting, the vehicles, and my first time taking down a Scarab will probably be a gaming memory I cherish the rest of my life. But I didn’t always like the actual playing part of the Halo games, especially the controls. Control-wise, my favorite Halo? Halo 4. The one Bungie didn’t make. My hope is that someone at Bungie pays attention that the current consoles have hard drives (so did the last generation, hence my concern) so letting us remap our controls like PC gamers have been doing for decades is definitely in the realm of possibility.

Bungie says while they’re very proud of what they created with Halo, they didn’t want to be constrained by it. They wanted to move on. Yet everything I’m seeing in every Destiny video looks like Halo. A refined and, pardon the pun, “evolved” Halo, but Halo nonetheless. Everything about the UI, the nameplates, the gun scopes and reticules screams Halo. The purple tracers look just like being shot at by the Covenant. So, already in my mind, when Destiny arrives in September, it will be a huge cooperative shared world Halo-that-isn’t-Halo. Not that being derivative of Halo is a bad thing, necessarily. The nameplates are a big… in your face and over the top for me but whatever, I can live with it. I guess for all the “we want to move on with our lives, with our creativity” we heard, a lot of Destiny (minus the scenery graphics) looks like they haven’t moved on at all.

Aesthetics aside, what else do we know about Destiny? For the past year Bungie has been saying a lot of nothing other than talking in circles and being as non-revealing and “mysterious” as possible. Sounds like they’ll be opening up and talking more about what’s actually in the game (with a metric ton of hype, of course) starting with E3 2014. But for now, we know there will be solo stuff, cooperative stuff, larger “public events,” and this year they’ll be talking about raids and PvP.

So. Cooperative content. Public Events. Allow me to refer you to: Defiance and Guild Wars 2. Firefall as well, though not as many people have played or heard of that, I guess? In Defiance and GW2 there’s essentially no “world” to the world, there’s just the same “dynamic” (oh how that word has been ruined by developers) events over and over. At best, those events might occur in different locations (Defiance and Firefall) to an extent, or in GW2 practically every event occurs in the same place, it’s just a matter of what time it occurs.  Given that Defiance is also a shooter, it’s probably the most natural comparison to Destiny, and I suspect, for better or worse, that comparison will pan out in the end as well. Defiance has: solo content, story content, cooperative content (co-op maps), public group content (arkfalls and sieges), PvP (both instanced battleground maps and “open world” Shadow War modes). And despite a few niggling issues (camera location, too much recoil) I quite like Defiance for what it is. I can piddle around on my own, work on some contracts or whatever and when an Arkfall or Siege pops up, off I go because even though everyone’s just pewpewing their guns and grenades, seeing all those people come together to blast the big bosses gives me that warm, smiley MMO feeling that reminds me why I bother with the genre in the first place. Trion is a small company with a smaller budget, and it took quite some time to get Defiance into ship-shape but they’ve done it and released a lot of content in their DLC packs. It’s good stuff! But… let me pick on the Co-op Maps in particular. See, those are 4-player instanced maps, each with its own little storyline, complete with cut scenes, voiceovers, the whole ball of wax. It’s great fun. The first time. After that first time, we pretty much only repeat them to complete a daily contract. That’s really no different than doing a dungeon instance in an MMO. First time or few, it’s great fun, it’s new, it’s challenging, all that. Then it just becomes repetition because we “need” that reward at the end, whatever it may be.

Above is footage from The Devil’s Lair, one of Destiny’s cooperative scenarios. The “Ghost” AI drone is voiced by Peter Dinklage of HBO’s Game of Thrones fame. (One of these days I’ll have to sit down and start watching that series.) Voiceovers and cut scenes tell me one thing: this scenario is the same each and every time. That’s one thing in your traditional fantasy MMO where you have to repeat a dungeon N times until you get every piece of loot you wanted, then move on to the next dungeon. Even then, that repeatable content isn’t cheap to make. But here in a shooter where as far as we’ve been led to believe so far, the drops are random like Borderlands, Defiance, Diablo, and so on. Now that “one off” content seems much less repeatable other than being “forced” to do so by a daily mission. I’m torn though, because I really do enjoy the cooperative stuff the first few times. It’s a blast for me, especially if I’m with friends rather than random strangers. But it also seems to me that money could be better spent developing content or tech that would make the world seem more dynamic than it is. When you have a reported $500 million budget, seems to me they should be squeezing every dime from the development portion of that budget into tech for content that is more repeatable, not less.

[Tangent] Speaking of that $500 million budget, I just need to get something off my chest quick. In typical fashion, what passes for “journalism” on the Internet, especially regarding video games, a lot of the articles and headlines out there are blatantly misleading “clickbait.” Activision has not already spent $500 million developing Destiny. What Kotick said is that they intend to commit $500 million over the course of the title to develop, produce, and market the game. Backend infrastructure will be a major part of that, as will the marketing campaign. MMO gamers who are not savvy with the rest of the gaming industry balk at such numbers, such as SWTOR’s purported $300 million budget. Chew on this: Activision spent $200 million to launch Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. 5 years ago! Grand Theft Auto V cost $280 million to launch. It turned around and made over $1 billion in three days. A game’s budget refers to all the money spent in every aspect of that game, not just development. Sure, $300 million (if in fact that was the amount spent? I thought that was disproven but I don’t feel like Googling it) may seem a lot for SWTOR but given the normal MMO development and infrastructure costs, add to that the extensive voice acting, and finally a huge deal of expensive marketing, including not one, not two, but three lengthy cinematics by Blur Studios. Blur doesn’t work for free. Neither do advertising firms. Nor does anyone else who in some way had an impact on bringing any game to market who is not a “developer.” [/Tangent]

So sure, I’m a massive fan of Firefall and I’m quite fond of Defiance as well. I certainly think there’s room for Destiny out there, especially since (for now) it will be the only game of its type on the new generation consoles. But until Bungie changes my mind, what I am expecting is a first-person Defiance with a AAA budget.

Marvel Legendary

Thanks to a few online friends, namely Hudson and Blue Kae, I’ve been trying out a few card games since last summer. I own four now — Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Lord of the Rings LCG, Android Netrunner LCG, and Marvel Legendary — but haven’t gotten a chance to really dig into the LCG games yet. I might write about them all someday, but for this morning’s post is about my newest game: Marvel Legendary by Upper Deck Games.

Legendary is labeled a “Deck Building Game,” which immediately made me think of so many prior CCGs like Magic: the Gathering, all the way up to Lord of the Rings LCG, etc. where the player has to spend time doing “meta” to build your own custom deck out of the cards you have, and of course buying new card packs along the way. To be perfectly honest, that aspect of the Lord of the Rings LCG (plus the complexity of the rules) has been the reason I haven’t played yet, and that assumption very nearly kept me away from Legendary. However, I am pleased to say that is completely not the case here! The only “meta” I can imagine anyone doing is deciding which Heroes might mix and match to hopefully create a winning deck against the Mastermind and his Scheme.

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In Legendary, you pick 5 Heroes (3 if playing Solo) and you take all of each Hero’s cards to shuffle into the Hero deck. The above photo was my very first game, played solo, so I had all the cards from Hawkeye, Iron Man and Spider-man shuffled into the Hero deck. That makes it easy since you just grab every card from each Hero you’re playing.

When the game begins, you start with a player deck of 12 cards: 8 SHIELD agents (which have 1 Recruit point each) and 4 SHIELD troopers (which have 1 Attack point each), of which you draw 6 for your hand. Draw 5 cards off the Hero deck and put them into the HQ section of the board. From here, you can play the Agent cards to try to recruit Hero cards into your deck. However, a recruited Hero card does not go into your hand, it goes into your discard pile. At the end of each turn you discard your hand, then draw 6 more for your next hand. Once you’re out of cards to draw, you shuffle the discard deck and begin re-drawing. That’s where the Hero cards slowly start appearing into your hand, and turn after turn, your player deck begins building larger and larger. Deck Building Game! Easy, peasy!

Out of the group of card games I own so far, Legendary also has the easiest rules to learn. I played my 4th game last night (which ended up in a draw, took me awhile to notice the tactics I should have been using against that particular Scheme) and I didn’t need to touch the rule book at all. However, easy as it may be to learn the rules, it’s not necessarily an easy game to win. In my 4 games, all have been either draws or losses. The more cards you get in your hand, the more you have to kinda slow down and think about how you want to play each card, because some of the best cards have consequences so a little bit of “mental chess” is in order deciding how that card will play and what it will leave you afterward.

Legendary is primarily a cooperative game, however there is a little bit of competitive aspect in that at the end of the game, each player tallies up how many Victory Points he got during the game. So, it’s possible with certain cards to attempt to intentionally screw over your fellow players along the way. Deadpool, in particular, I’ve noticed is just as much of a screwup and a dick in the card game as he is in the comic — nearly all his cards have consequences which either screw over himself or one (or all) of the other players.

All in all, though, I’ve found Legendary to be a really fun game. Which is saying something considering I’ve only played solo so far. It’s fairly fast-paced, and as I said, the rules are pretty easy to catch onto. Good fun for a rainy day when you don’t want to be plugged into the internet!

Hunting Handheld Monsters

Last April I did a post about the Soul Sacrifice Demo for PlayStation Vita. Of course I bought the game when it launched, and I got Ragnarok Odyssey at some point as well. Both are considered Monster Hunter clones. Then I got sidetracked with other platforms and the Vita fell by the wayside.

Recently, I’ve picked it up again, along with some new games. For the purpose of this article, Toukiden is the new monster hunting game. There’s a demo available for Vita and your demo progress carries over to the retail game.

I still haven’t played an actual Monster Hunter game (although in March the PSP title Monster Hunter Freedom Unite becomes “free” for PlayStation Plus members) but I’ve watched a few videos and it seems to be the same setup that Ragnarok Odyssey and Toukiden follow: you have a small village as your home base where you get quests and upgrade your gear, then exit a gate to go monster hunting. Toukiden does have a pretty extensive story steeped in Japanese mythology, where everything I read about Monster Hunting and my limited experiences in Ragnarok Odyssey, the “story” is just a thin excuse to get you outside killing monsters.

The graphics in Toukiden are top-notch and multiplayer plays just as silky smooth as the single-player. One of the things I enjoy about Toukiden is that you get companions to take with you. Each single-player mission has its own party size, anywhere from 2 to 4 and you can build your party with companions of specific weapons and roles. The multiplayer is a 4-player game but whichever player selects a quest gets to fill in blank slots with AI companions as well. There’s also a data save feature which will save your friends’ multiplayer character and let you use their character in your games, which is really slick.

Like Ragnarok Odyssey and Soul Sacrifice, and I’ll go ahead and assume Monster Hunter as well, when it comes to boss fights, your goal is to destroy parts of the boss like their arms, legs, antennae, tail, and so on. This is one of the only areas I will give Ragnarok Odyssey some credit: it lets you target-lock onto the part you want to focus on. Soul Sacrifice and Toukiden simply lock onto the monster’s body and its up to you to try to hit the parts. Certain weapons in Toukiden do have a manual aim mode, however, and the difficult-to-use bow excels for knocking off boss parts if you’re skilled enough to use that weapon effectively. I am not (yet) so I rely on my companion. To collect parts, you have to stop fighting, run to the corpse (or the boss part) and hold the R button for the Right of Purification. In a boss fight, the part will spin in the air while a progress bar ticks down. The more players (or companions) who help purify the part, the faster it will go. If parts are not collected after awhile, the boss will enter a regeneration mode and reattach the part, setting the fight back a stage.

All in all, Toukiden is by far my favorite monster hunting game now for the Vita. I have only two complaints. The first is minor, simply that the US version was only localized for the subtitles but maintained the Japanese voiceovers. A lot of players love that, but I am not one. I’ve never cared for Japanese voiceovers in games (and I swear it sounds like there have been 3 or 4 voice actors EVER and they do every game) but I suppose since the game is all about Japanese mythological creatures, I’ll let it slide. The more grievous complaint for me is that Toukiden completely separated the single player from the multiplayer. It seems to have done so because in multiplayer there is no story, just grab the quest and go slaying. But it was so nice in Ragnarok Odyssey or Soul Sacrifice to jump online with friends and play and all the while be progressing your regular game as well. Now if I’m slaying til 2am with the gang (“I’m too old for this shit,” lol) and I get ahead of where I left off single-player, now I have to go repeat that stuff on my own. Ideally, you’d need to split your time between the two, because single-player is the only place to get more companions. As I mentioned above, in multiplayer you can fill empty slots with companions as well, so it is totally conceivable to switch to multiplayer mode then play it as single-player with a full group of companions to further your mulitplayer progress. I hear that’s actually best, as the random (PUG) scene pretty much only concentrates on farming bosses, not the regular quests.

Toukiden seems pretty deep with all the customization, crafting new armor and weapons, getting element resistance or damage to fight certain monster types with, plus collecting and upgrading Mitama, the souls of fallen Slayers like yourself. Each of them has a role type, such as Attack (DPS), Defense (tank), Healing and others. There are over 200 Mitama in the game to collect, each with its own passive skills plus as you level the Mitama you can switch out passives for newer ones it earns. Mitama are equipped to a weapon; one to start then as you level up (fortify through an NPC) the weapon you can equip up to three Mitama on a single weapon. You get the passives for all three Mitama but only the active skills of the primary Mitama. So even with a single weapon type, there’s a lot of variable playstyles depending on which Mitama you equip.

Recommended if you enjoy monster hunting games!

 

Turtle Beach Trifecta

As of yesterday, all three of my gaming platforms are using Turtle Beach audio.

I’ve had the XP500 for my Xbox 360 since it first released, which I got because it was an upgrade to my X41 but also because it was black to go with my new (at the time) 360 Slim. It worked out, as shortly afterward Hallower found himself in need of a new headset so I donated the X41.

Shortly after I got my PlayStation Vita I picked up the Turtle Beach M1 earbuds which sound phenomenal, plus it has a mic if I happen to play multiplayer.

On the PC, I’ve had a Logitech G930 for just under two years I think? Sound-wise, it’s great. My complaints were the size and weight. The thing is big, bulky and heavy, and lengthier gaming sessions really cause it to be noticeable for me. A couple weeks ago I went on a cause-unknown anti-Logitech spree and replaced the G19 LCD keyboard with the Sidewinder X6 keyboard, and the very uncomfortable G700s mouse I just got a couple months ago with the Sidewinder X5 mouse. Both Sidewinder accessories were what I built this PC with, so now I’m back using those because they’re both more comfortable. I liked the idea of the LCD but almost nothing used it and it ended up being just a spare means for Fraps framerate monitoring.

Normally I wouldn’t be all that into wearing a headset while PC gaming, except for voice chat which is primarily when I use the XP500 on the Xbox. However I have downstairs neighbors now so if I’m gaming late at night I try to be courteous. Most of my favorite games have either loud music with a lot of bass, or a lot of explosions. Either way, it’s usually not appreciated when the jerk upstairs is booming his subwoofers on your ceiling while you’re trying to sleep. I am endeavoring to not be that jerk. Smile

So to replace the bulky G930 I now have a glorious Turtle Beach Z300! This set is gorgeous, it’s small, it’s lightweight, and it sounds fantastic as all Turtle Beach products tend to.

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Even the packaging is nice!

Some of the features: 7.1 wireless which matches the G930. I do tend to prefer Turtle Beach’s speakers, but again from a pure audio quality perspective I didn’t have any complaints about the G930.

It also has a Bluetooth capability, which can be easily turned on and off to save battery power. I can link my phone to the Z300 and have a conversation or stream music, etc. The Bluetooth audio has its own channel separate from game audio so it’s easy to do both. Also discrete volume for the Bluetooth audio as well. There’s also a 1/4” jack to connect a mobile device such as a phone or MP3 player that lacks Bluetooth.

The site boasts a 15 hour battery life (with Bluetooth off) for the Z300 which blows away the G930 battery. I can’t verify 15 hours but I did wear it extensively last night – way beyond the point I would have had to charge the G930 – with no issues at all. It’s also designed to be able to charge while wearing it. I think technically the G930 could have done that too, but the charging cable was so short it wasn’t really feasible.

The only negative I have found so far is that the Z300s wireless signal has a few feet shorter range than the G930. If I’m talking or in a multiplayer game where it’s beneficial to hear the sounds even while AFK I keep the headset on when I make a kitchen run. That’s two rooms away. Depending where I stood in the kitchen, the G930 would at least let me hear and talk, though it would sometimes pop or cut out briefly. The Z300 makes it most of the way but once in the kitchen there’s pretty much no way I’d be able to talk or hear any conversation. But all in all, AFK is AFK so it’s not crucial for me to continue talking while pouring a drink.

Now I have all these Logitech accessories lying around… guess it’s time to look into how to sell things on eBay…

McQuaid: Rise of the Fallen

[Preface: I try to be positive in my attitude in life and here on the blog. It is a personal failing of mine that when it comes to certain people -- Brad McQuaid being one of them -- I tend to become extremely cynical and sarcastic, so apologies.]

So. Brad McQuaid is back. Again. Guess what he wants to do? Kickstart yet another attempt at an EverQuest reboot. Broken record, much?

And the project name. Rise of the Fallen. Up of the Down. Front of the Back. Smile of the Frown. Cat of the Dog. Really? That the best a “Chief Creative Officer” has to offer?

I should probably go ahead and get it out in the open that if you hadn’t noticed from the previous paragraphs, I am not a fan of Mr. McQuaid. Why? Glad you asked. For starters, I’ve always seen him as sort of like Elvis. Not in the good way. He was just part of the whole EverQuest team but because he was out there in forums like Fires of Heaven back then, he became Internet Famous. And it went to his head. He started believing his own hype. Thought he was a Rock Star game developer. Arrogant. Smarmy. Drug abuse. Never learned from his mistakes.

Have a favorite actor? Author? Painter? Ever notice in random interviews that the best actors rarely, if ever, watch their own films or performances? The best authors read other authors’ works, they don’t re-read their own? Artists grow, branch out, push boundaries, forge new paths. Then you have people like, well, let’s say David Spade. Sure, he’s been in a number of movies and television series but let’s be honest, calling him an actor is pushing credulity to the limit. No matter what he’s in, he’s always just David Spade. That’s how I tend to view Brad McQuaid. I’ve yet to see any growth, any branching out, any creative development. Any semblance of artistry. I just perceive him as re-reading his own works and trying to replicate them.

Anyway, let’s talk about the project and its bullet points:

  • An MMO developed by gamers who aren’t afraid to target an audience of like-minded gamers

Much like Jaedia wrote, this immediately makes me think of McQuaid living in the past, posting in the FoH forums late at night, appealing to the same angry, bitter hardcore people. And sure, those same people will fork over some Kickstarter cash based solely on the vague promise of reliving their first MMO romance. They’re deluded, of course. Once the first few days of crowdfunding by those deluded adults who are now fifteen years older than they were in 1999 playing EverQuest dries up, as Wilhelm points out, the team – oh wait, McQuaid doesn’t really “do” teams, it’s his face in the public or nothing – will have to get out there and start the hype wagon. More to the point, however, if McQuaid believes his old-school design thoughts promote "social" interactions, are we sure the angry, bitter hardcore veterans are who we should be appealing to? In my experience, they tend to create horrible communities, after all.

  • A fantasy themed Massively Multiplayer Role Playing game (MMO) with a heavy focus on character development, an immersive world, and teamwork

This is the first time “immersive” comes up, and the thing with simply saying “immersive world” is that relates solely to “spatial presence” as I brought up a few years ago. Spatial presence is mostly in the hands of the artists and modelers. However, later down the page we find a commitment to a style of play that focuses on immersive combat, and engaging group mechanics and a belief that an immersive world requires intelligent inhabitants so with those two, it’s sounding like they’re focusing on “flow” therefore encompassing both definitions of “immersion” in the technical sense. I’ll give them credit if that’s the case rather than simply parroting the “immersive” phrase because it’s a marketing mating call to MMO gamers. In particular I am hoping they can back up their claims on "intelligent inhabitants."

  • Group-focused social gameplay using a class based system to encourage teamwork
  • A commitment to a style of play that focuses on immersive combat, and engaging group mechanics.
  • A commitment to creating a world where a focus on group play will attract those seeking a challenge.
  • A belief that the greatest sense of accomplishment comes when it is shared.

Four bullet points saying this game is all about group content. That’s all good and fine on paper. Anyone who’s ever MMO’d with me knows I absolutely love group content. But not everyone can play during prime time hours only, or play 18 hours per day in order to group. The days of 7 hour raids? I’ve done those. I don’t have time for that anymore, regardless how much I may have enjoyed the challenge at the time. And as much as Ye Olde EverQuest Geezers rail on and on about group this and group that, they’ve worn those rose-colored lenses so long they don’t even notice anymore. Plenty of people made a point of putting in the effort to be able to solo what they could as well. Which leads me to:

  • A mindset that Designed Downtime should be a part of the game to ensure players have time to form important social bonds

It’s no secret that I’ve called bullshit on this for a decade now. In one of the more honest (finally, an EQ vet scrapes off some of the rose tinting) statements, Bhagpuss admits that EQ players were only social because there was nothing else to do.

We didn’t talk to each other and form social bonds because we were better people back then – we did it because the choice was that or sit in silence. The moment we got the opportunity to do something other than make small talk with strangers we jumped at the chance. Remember when they added Gems? You didn’t hear a word from anyone for weeks!

Also consider the time difference. It’s no longer 1999 where your choice of MMOs was essentially EverQuest or Ultima Online. Back then the video game industry was smaller than today. Getting your average gamer to fork over $15 per month? Squeezing blood from a turnip. My impression remains that the vast majority of early MMO adopters were tabletop RPG and/or MUD fanatics jumping at the first opportunity to take their adventures online with hundreds or thousands of others like-minded people. Today? Gaming is mainstream. MMO gaming is mainstream. Not only is there a different overall audience today than fifteen years ago, all of us have different lives, different demands on our time and different expectations out of our games and what we wish to accomplish in the time we allot to gaming. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not. Forced downtime in 2017? Perfect time for everyone to AFK Alt-Tab out to a browser, check Facebook or Google+, maybe check a YouTube or Twitch video, or whatever. We’re not going to sit around the old pixel campfire chatting about how great this new virtual world thing is. At most we’ll yammer about how World of Warcraft still sucks, refer to Pantheon as another "WoW clone" then fire off a few Chuck Norris jokes for good measure. It’s a different world. It’s a worse world in that regard, no doubt about it, but take an honest look at the waters of the Gamer Pool. It’s nasty. It just is. The majority of what passes for "social interaction" today is the malcontents taking up most of global chat to the point that the outnumbered "normals" you might desire to find have already disabled global chat and either stay solo or find a guild and limit themselves to guild chat.

How about Terminus, the world Pantheon is set on?

  • An open world in which you explore to obtain not only more powerful items but also new spells and abilities.
  • Travel where and when you want to in a non-linear world.
  • A huge world to explore, trade, and adventure in. Travel the world and profit from selling exotic items collected from distant realms.
  • Different cities and outposts may have local Bazaars

Despite the terms "open world" and "non-linear world" tempting me towards sandbox-ish curiosity, that is immediately quashed by reality. Obtaining more powerful items, spells and abilities are big cues to yet another typical vertical leveling game. And if that’s the case, well I can’t really travel "where and when" I might want to, no? Non-linear world? More likely meaning a non-linear leveling experience. No hand-holding quest lines pushing the player from quest hub to quest hub. Pick a zone in your level bracket and go kill monsters there. That last bullet point makes it sound like either there will be no global auction house (bazaar) or perhaps there will be one alongside local bazaar.

  • Limited and class based teleportation may get you close, but in order to reach many destinations you will have to traverse the planar scarred lands of Terminus through the use of your own two feet or on the back of your mighty steed.

In other words, just like Vanguard before it, Pantheon will promote no fast travel, limited teleporting and mostly rely on [insert heavy sarcasm] "meaningful" travel. Now wait! I’m all for huge worlds, and I enjoy exploring or just enjoying the scenery as much as the next screenshot-happy player. But when you have a "forced grouping" game, "forced manual travel" can easily impede the grouping part. I’ll refrain from re-quoting the entirety of my Vanguard "30 minutes traveling to my group" story here. Suffice to say that again, the players being initially pitched to are fifteen years older. We don’t have time to fart around for 30 minutes before the group content can even begin. I’m unconvinced that McQuaid has learned his lessons yet in this regard (and many others) and considering the realistic consequences of his design choices.

Remember when the BioWare guys very early on admitted that The Old Republic was only going to have crafting because it was an MMO bullet point? Take a look at Pantheon’s stretch goals. Crafting is down there at the 2.5 million mark. So the game is being designed without crafting. Meaning that if crafting gets tacked on later, it will be exactly that: tacked on. Now, honestly that isn’t a bad thing. Crafting is nothing but a gold- and time-sink in the majority of MMOs, namely the "theme park" variety. If Pantheon (or any MMO) is being designed around combat and gaining new loot as drops or rewards, then for my two cents: have the fortitude to stick to that design goal. Drop the crafting altogether and put those resources to better use. Besides, would a "legendary hero" (per the Game Summary of the Kickstarter page) really be sitting around smelting armor? No, he would not. If you’re appealing first to the old-school raiders, are those people today (or then) necessarily hard-core crafters? Just have an awareness that once the "mainstream" MMO crowd starts getting wind of the game, there will be some backlash by people who demand all the generic bullet points be filled regardless of their worth.

Ok, so we know the game is being developed strictly around combat. So lets look at what they say of combat, as it’s been one of the more provocative bullet points among some commenters on the blogs covering Pantheon:

Pantheon’s combat places a focus on preparation and awareness of your enemy. The player can actively dodge, block, counter or deflect incoming attacks. You’ll want to choose different spells and abilities before an important encounter, selecting from a mix of offensive and defensive abilities. You’ll also see where the NPC’s spells and abilities are going to land and have an opportunity to avoid the attack.

So-called "active combat" has been a feature of a lot of MMOs the past couple years, but they’ve all been different in nature. Guild Wars (we’ll consider it an MMO for purposes of this discussion) showed which skills the enemy was using along with its progress bar so if you had an interrupt skill you could choose to use it. The Old Republic uses a similar setup where you can at least see a progress bar indicating your target is executing a powerful ability, giving you an opportunity to interrupt. Guild Wars 2 of course relies on constant dodging to mitigate hits and damage. Nevewinter puts a red splotch on the ground covering an ability’s area of effect giving the player a few seconds to dodge, backstep, or otherwise get out of the target area. A modified "don’t stand in the poo," in other words, which is what the last sentence about combat describes above. Then of course there’s TERA where there’s very active dodging, blocking, backstepping plus paying attention to the "tells" any given monster type has prior to a strong attack. McQuaid hasn’t yet of yet expounded on what exactly they mean with their combat description, though I am tempted to say the mention of "pre-selection" of spells or abilities makes me think of Guild Wars 2 or Neverwinter where you can only have a small subset of your overall skillset equipped at any given time. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What does annoy me is blog commenters’ attitude. The hardcore types might go on and on about loving challenge and personal skill, then balk at actually needing any personal skill. Twitch? Really? TERA might come semi-close to being in the neighborhood of twitchy, at least for a tank, but really? Maybe I’m just reading into things but it sounds like "I’m getting older, my reflexes are slower" (oh sure, you’ll admit it under this bullet point but none of the others?) which can be reinterpreted as "games are for kids" which is complete crap. If you do a search for challenging (actually I did "challeng" as a catch-all) on the Kickstarter page you’ll get 9 results. They’re building a game where you need to be involved in the fights to overcome those challenges, not playing WoW with one hand while watching TV on the spare monitor.

  • An expectation that the path of least resistance should also be the most entertaining

Um, really? After all the talk about how "challenging" the game is, you’re saying the most entertaining way to play the game is to be lazy? Must be a typo. Because in challenging games, the entertainment is the path of most resistance.

  • An understanding that a truly challenging game is truly rewarding

Well, to be fair, overcoming the obstacles that a challenging game presents is truly rewarding. Simply having a challenging game exist is not. A game being challenging for the sake of being challenging is not. But being challenging and rewarding players for overcoming that challenge? Absolutely. Dark Souls anyone?

  • A belief that the greatest sense of accomplishment comes when it is shared

This would be true. After all, there are more MMO blogs than single-player blogs. The most rewarding content is MMOs is always group content, whether instanced or open world. Remember when open world group content existed? Yeah.

  • An awareness that content is king

That’s great to say and all, but the proof will be in the pudding. Plus, again, those stretch goals are holding content hostage. Content needs developers and developers need funding and salaries. McQuaid says additional funding will be needed beyond the initial $800K on this first Kickstarter anyway. Possibly from publishers or investors. Then even with a small(er) team leftover after launch, after the Three Monther Tourists leave for greener pastures, will the remaining subscribers be enough to fund actual content on a regular basis? (Which is another of the bullet points.)

  • Stretch Goal – New Feature: UGC Server

Bingo! Here’s my one sticking point about this whole project. It’s 2014. There are already hundreds of MMOs out there. More by 2017. You know what there aren’t hundreds of? Cooperative RPGs. Or if you’d like to scale it up, non-massively multiplayer RPGs. All the people who dreamed of "co-op Skyrim?" Or co-op "Dragon Age" or Witcher or whatever. Now McQuaid is suggesting "hey, we’ll let you run your own Pantheon server and ruleset with a UGC toolset?" If the entire project were based around this and this alone, drop the massively multiplayer baggage altogether, I wouldn’t be spending time writing this, I’d already have happily forked over my money to the project. There’s a tremendous demand for this and I suspect it would be an industry-shaking move if it’s successful, spawning copycats over the next few years to the delight of RPG fans everywhere. Plus, guess what? People bitch to high heaven about normal grouping in MMOs, never you mind so-called "forced grouping." Know where they never bitch about it? Co-op games. ’nuff said. Funding the game post-launch? Lease servers like Battlefield does, rather than releasing Linux server code for free. Sell new content as DLC expansions. Sell access to the UGC toolset because not everyone is going to want to be creators; most gamers are consumers of content.

In Summary

Ok, I’ve been highly critical of Brad McQuaid here. I don’t like that. I’m really hoping that his third time at bat he proves me wrong. At the very least, I think I did end up highlighting a few areas of the project that I thought were positives. What I do believe is that there is a place in the world for this project. I am skeptical that an MMO is the right direction, but it is what it is. I do hope the project gets funded and released then let the players enjoy and judge the final project. I also hope they’re able to remain independent the whole time to avoid any publisher pressure to release like what happened with Sony and Vanguard. But I also hope this doesn’t become, or remain, Brad McQuaid’s Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen. He says Visionary Realms, Inc. currently has 10 season MMO veterans, and hopes to hire more with the Kickstarter funding. With all those veterans, I’d like to see the entire team brought to the fore as much as possible. Give everyone equal credit for the work they’re doing. Give others besides Brad some public face time, assuming there are some charismatic personalities among those MMO veterans, of course. I can understand from a marketing perspective why you’d want McQuaid’s name up there front and center at the time of announcement, tarnished though that name remains thanks to Vanguard, because it will immediately appeal to those rose-colored lenses-wearing former EverQuest addicts and their wallets. But after that, take down the whole "McQuaid Wall of Fame" portfolio and let the entire team shine.