Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Promising sights over the horizon

Ah... gamers block. That feeling where you want to play something, just nothing seems appealing. I have this craving to play a real-time strategy game (RTS); however all the ones I have, I've played to within an inch of their lives. All the ones on the market have no appeal and now I am stuck.

I've started replaying Relic and THQ's Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War 2. The main reason for this is  because my housemate just bought the full collection and has started playing it. The game is solid. It has a half decent story, that makes sense (if you know the lore of the Warhammer 40K universe), decent gameplay thanks to an engine transplant from Company of Heroes and lots of guns and things that go boom. What it doesn't have though, is that great satisfaction of spending an hour building up a base that is ridiculously too big, defences that are well over the top and an army that frankly one tenth could complete your objective.

Relic made Dawn of War 2 into a fast paced commando control style RTS. Even in skirmish mode you only have a unit cap of 100. Please bare in mind that 100 is the equivalent to your general, a support hero, 2 basic squads of infantry, 1 tank, 2 heavy weapon squads and an elite assault squad or 2. So, not much really. I long for the days where you could make your opponents computer crash if they even looked at how much badassery you were sending their way.

I guess what I am looking for is another Command and Conquer. Oh wait...

After the complete blunder that was Command and Conquer 4: Tiberium Twilight, Electronic Arts released that they were taking the C&C portfolio away from that particular development team (who all lost their jobs) and were giving it to a "more trusted developer" to continue the series. Today I found out who that developer now is, thanks to the release of the pre-order for Command and Conquer Generals 2 on Origin - BioWare.

I originally started writing this post a few weeks ago and got somewhat lost in the process. So apologies if this becomes horribly disjointed, but meh.

I have been scouring across YouTube; looking for information from the gaming networks on BioWare's foray into the RTS genre. Simply put, there is SFA. So instead of drooling and pining for C&C Generals 2; I have installed Command and Conquer: First Decade.

First Decade is an interesting anthology - comprising just that - the first decade of the now 17 year old franchise. First Decade was released after C&C Generals: Zero Hour around 2005; commemorating 10 wonderful years since the 1995 release of the original and timeless Command and Conquer. One unfortunate thing is that C&C vanilla and C&C: Red Alert vanilla both play up on Windows 7, so I can't relive the nostalgia of being 5 (damn)... However; I have been replaying General and its xpac - Zero Hour.

Both games are surprisingly timeless. They are well  balanced, simple yet working graphics and they have the simple ludicrous twist we all expect from the C&C franchise. I am currently simultaneously playing through 2 general challenges (Alexis Alexander - USA Super-weapon and General Malcolm Granger - USA Airforce); whilst also playing through Generals vanilla campaigns (USA and China).

As I get further into this little walk down memory lane; I will post more. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The social factor of the MMO realised on holiday

And here I had a big plan for when I went on holiday. That I would take my iPad and write a blog post or two while I was in Sydney with the parentals. And then I discovered that blogger and safari don't mix very well. So... it didn't happen.

I had the great pleasure of meeting for the first time, face to face, one of my great World of Warcraft friends. At the age of sixteen, I was playing World of Warcraft and I met this woman. She was a Night Elf Warrior with an attitude and a half, and I was a Human Warlock with a superiority complex. Funny thing now is that I am not a Human Warlock, but a Rattatki Sith Assasin, and I'm not sure what she is today.

We met approximately 5 years ago when I joined a guild called Chaotic Army. Before people ask about it, don't. Anyway, we met and we actually became friends. We got to know each other. At the time she was living in Melbourne and I was living with my then single father in Adelaide. She was an only child and I felt like one at that stage, and we bonded. But none the less, we are friends even though we don't cross paths in the World of Warcraft or the world of the Old Republic.

We met for the first time face to face on the driveway of my Mother's house; with my Mother in the background. My Mother was perplexed at the fact we had known each other for around 5 years but only just now met face to face.

This is one of those weird evolutions of the MMORPG worlds and the whole evolution of Facebook and Twitter. However it is more prevelant in the gaming area. You assume a new identity in game - I was a 5ft7 female human of latin descent. I controlled demons and used shadow and fire magic to cripple, debilitate, torture, maim and incinerate my friends, foes and generally anyone I didn't like. But behind that I was a sixteen (fifteen when I started) year old guy barricaded in my bedroom living a life I wish I could live for real.

MMO's and RPG's in general offer a new level of escapism for gamers. With the additions of voicing the protagonists; such as your 'hero' in Star Wars: The Old Republic, Commander Shepard in Mass Effect, and Hawke in Dragon Age II, you are pulled in that little bit further into the world. I know that I am holding up a big proverbial BioWare banner right now, but lets face it - there is a reason they are successful (!!!).

Yes I get drawn into the game by the graphics and the guns, lightsabres, blasters, biotic powers, swords, magic, etc. But the longevity is in the whole experience. The amalgamation of narrative, dialogue, storytelling in general, voice acting, music composition, environmental design, fashion design, and more is what keeps a game going. The ability to make the player feel like they are sitting (or standing) in the shoes (or boots) of the protagonist. Because of the ability for the player to manipulate the game themselves, and feel like that are in charge of their own story, give longevity to the game.

MMO's have a different aspect all together which is the social aspect. Not only your story, accomplishments and feats of strength, but the friends you make. Yes on screen they are a culmination of one's, zero's and pixels. But on the other end of your internet connection is another person - someone to interact with.

I have met a lot of amazing people of four and a half years of World of Warcraft. I have met some great people already in 3 months of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Those people I meet, some come and go just like friends I meet at work, at the pub or where ever else I may be, but there are some that stay; just like my Night Elf Warrior... oh(!) and the Human Paladin who turned out to be a Gnome Rogue...

Monday, 9 April 2012

May the Force be with you

In the world of the MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) gamer, we are spoiled for choice these days. We have the steadfast giant - World of Warcraft (WoW) whose near 8 year reign as Supreme Overlord of the MMO genre is only now being contested. Aion the Tower of Eternity was an interesting addition to the mix a few years back; a formerly South Korean MMO that was adapted by NCSoft to the Western market. Star Trek Online is another in the mix, and is now free. That's right - free to buy and free to play - the developer now makes their money off purchaseable downloadable content (DLC). Rift was an interesting addition, although it did nothing for me and hence did not receive a place on my shelf. And now we come to what I am currently playing - Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Star Wars: The Old Republic (TOR) sits on the top of my shelving unit in a place of pride. The approximately 50cm cube collectors edition box stands proud, presiding over the living room. Unfortunately, it shares the limelight with my housemates own collectors edition box. Developed by BioWare, a developer subsidiary of Electronic Arts, this MMO brings story back to a genre that was supposed to be based on it in the first place. You see, MMO is actually short for something - MMORPG - Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. In games like WoW and Aion you don't really role play. Sure Blizzard Activision, developers of WoW, have done done their best to add it into a game that originally had very little - almost like it was trying to combat the story based mechanics of TOR, but it all seemed a bit feeble and had the tell tale signs of 'too little, too late'. WoW was never really story based, sure it had the lore, it had the back story, if you could be bothered reading 5 paragraphs worth of quest text for every quest. But, it never had the immersive qualities of single player RPG's like Knight of the Old Republic, Mass Effect and Dragon Age (yes I am harping on BioWare being the RPG gods). TOR has these qualities, and it is one of the two decided edges that the franchise has versus WoW.

TOR, not only being immersive in it being story based, it is also Star Wars, and lets be frank - it's STAR WARS! Anyway, you get pulled into your characters story and their struggle.
*Please note that this is where plot details and story lines will come out to play*
The key is to find a character who you can relate to and who's voice suits your image of that character. The enigmatic, manipulative and cruel Sith Inquisitor, or the cunning and dirty Imperial Agent? Or... how about the steadfast, loyal and mildly preachy Jedi Consular, or or or(!) the dirty, quick, credit oriented but still deep down good Smuggler? Or to throw in a twist - a loyal and good, but hiding a dark secret romance with his padawan Jedi Knight?

BioWare has giving people an ability to change the direction of their characters story, obviously within the realms of the set parameters, but unlike ever before. Having completed my rather evil Sith Assassin's story (a specialisation of the Sith Inquisitor) I am left feeling fulfilled. My body count was sufficiently bloodthirsty, and my experiences wide. A friend who still plays WoW asked me what i had accomplished in TOR. My answer was this:
I have assassinated several Darth's, killed a Dark Council Member, trapped my former master into the body of my guardian (who now has an interesting case of multiple personality disorder), married a pirate captain called Andronikas, obtained 2 apprentices (yes, 2), ascended to the Dark Council as Darth Nox, waged war versus the Republic and forever changed the course of a war that was dormant when my training as an acolyte began, but is now in full swing.

My sniper (Imperial agent specialistation) has also had some interesting experiences - turning weapons of mass destruction against the Empire for her own good - to secure power for Darth Jadus and become his right hand assassin and operative. A side effect of which was that I got brainwashed with a code word. A code word the Republic Special Information Service obtained and used to make me go against the Empire and my friends. A story of lies, cheating, romance, intrigue and frankly, one attractive woman in a bikini short of a James Bond film.

Once you find a story that resonates with you, a story that draws you in and a character you grow fond of - you can't help but keep playing. TOR is to the gaming world what a good book is to my mother - 'just one more page', or in TOR's case 'just one more mission, what happens next?'.

Indeed BioWare - for players who have finished Chapter III of their story and reached the level 50 interlude that is the current "Endgame" - what happens next?

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The inevitable Tuesday syndrome...

It's funny... I find myself exhausted after a long day at work, full of learning about the database that for all intents and purposes, I will be spending over one third of my job in, with nothing to do. I've been contemplating starting a blog ever since the female parental started hers; and it has taken over a month of planning and I'm going to's, I really should get around to that's and Oh yeah, I was going to do that's to come to this point - rubbish on TV, a pile of CD's to install and Tuesday server maintenance to get me here.

What is Tuesday syndrome you ask? It's the point where, after a week of procrastinating and escaping into the realms of your MMORPG's like World of Warcraft, or in my case, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Tuesday rolls around and they take the servers down in the middle of the morning for the US player base. The only problem with this is that it happens to be the perfect after work time in Australia and now I am left with well... I don't know what I am left with...

My rather large PC gaming library is sitting dormant on my shelving unit, having a "I'm bigger than you" contest with my DVDs. With a PC hardware upgrade that is insisting on being a constant headache (that's another blog post down the track) I lost my hard drive. There, in the blink of an eye, and $120 to a computer tech, went almost 2 years worth of installations, downloads, saved games and general clutter from my hard drive.

So, in the minor installation fest that was the "reclamation" I have Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect's 2 and 3, The Sims 3, Spore and Anno 2070 at my finger tips for the evening. The problem with this is well, if you play an MMO, you know it takes up a lot of your gaming life, and without it, you never know what the hell to do in it's stead. Most World of Warcraft players go through withdrawal symptoms on a night like this.

The Sims 3, although gaining a few extra kilo's these days in the expansion pack side of things, is having issues with my new hardware and is thus currently unplayable. I'm hardly in the mood for an RTS, so Anno and Spore are out of the equation, so this leaves me with the Mass Effects. And here in lies the problem...

After losing my Mass Effect 2 save data, I had no Cmdr Shepard to import, and in order to avoid having my gaming friends spew spoilers at me (or my housemate for that matter) I ran with having a generic, all be it purple haired femShep lesbian infiltrator. I ran through the story campaign, and got left with a bad taste in my mouth around the ending (again, another blog post there) and ventured into the multiplayer. The multiplayer is great - it's intense, fast paced and all around a good deal of fun.

I still need to go back to Mass Effect 2 to make a new Shepard (I have the Genesis DLC before you say anything about ME1) but now we come to problem #... wait what number am I up to??? Anyway, the combat in ME3 has been streamlined quite nicely, is more fast paced and more responsive to you; let alone the biotic and tech power tweakings that make it much more bearable. So now, going back to Mass Effect 2, the combat feels sluggish and the missions feel like I am wading through the Dead Sea just to get it over with. Not to mention putting up with Miranda for the ninth play through (I am a fan of Yvonne Strahovski though).

So here I am - nothing to play that would be remotely palatable tonight due to gameplay advances, server maintenance and a general "not in the mood" excuse for the rest. So here we have it - the first blog post... guess I should think about dinner now.