Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bethesda Copyright Nonsense

This Bethesda v. Mojang "Scrolls" lawsuit is completely ridiculous. I didn't know Oblivion was actually titled The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion until this nonsense started to appear on Notch's tumblr.

Not related to the lawsuit, but I also didn't know that Modern Warfare is actually titled Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare until a week ago. I always thought that they were two separate games.

Granted I don't play any of these games, but this still seems quite frivolous.

I wonder if is going to get a knock on the door from Blizzard...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TF2 Screenshot of the Year

Posted from our server, I don't think I've ever seen a more majestic screen shot. It captures the essence of TF2: one man with deer antlers wielding a pickaxe sailing towards another man wearing a samurai Kabuto and a pickaxe of his own--their destiny yet to be determined.

Credit goes to Tai.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Biting the Bullet

This weekend was wholly uneventful in EVE which is 100% my own fault. EVE requires players to actively engage it, and that's what I did tonight. I convinced myself to pick a fight (and most likely lose it). There is no use sitting on all this ISK if I'm not going to spend it.

There are a few systems known for their PvP. One of which is Amamake. I hopped into my Tech-2 fit Rifter and charted a route.

The last time I was in lowsec, I found myself dying in a Gate Camp. This time I was extra cautious--I inspected the systems for kills on the Star Map and even warped to nearby celestials so that I could scan the gate before approaching it. This is how things are learned in EVE: you die in a horrible ball of fire and then try to minimize that occurrence.

I got to Amamake without incident, warped to a bookmark I had in the middle of nowhere, and started to chat up local. I like playing the Mildly Naive Optimist: it's a nice foil for all the Internet Tough-Guys.

After a few minutes of banter, I warped to an asteroid belt to see who would bite. Eventually a Vexor shows up on scanner. I know it's a Cruiser, but I do a quick Google search to make sure; yep, a Cruiser. "Ok," I think, "I know I can beat Cruisers with this Rifter." The Vexor lands, and I begin approaching using a manual orbiting technique like a pro. My heart is pounding throughout all 150 KMs.

We get in range of each other and start the dance. Lock, scram, Confirm this Dangerous Act (take a standing hit), web, orbit, guns. My 150mm Light Autocannon IIs are eating through her shields like butter.

I bet a lot of EVE vets can guess what happens next.

Five Hobgoblin II drones appear. They begin attacking me. I turn on damage control, but it is just too much. I don't even have drones on my overview; I'm trying to manually target them, but no luck. I pretty much smile and concede defeat at that point. I last a few more seconds; pop.

I warp off to a station (and immediately pray that the station won't fire at me since I was the aggressor. Thankful it did not). We talk a little in local; I'm her first kill :) Apparently I'm not the only newbie in EVE.

I consult the notes I took from the Rifter Guide, and lo and behold the #1 ship listed under "RUN AWAY" is Vexor. Primarily because of their drone capabilities. Horrible ball of fire. Minimize occurrences. Thus I won't trying to fight Vexors next time ;D

What a rush! It was unbelievably exhilarating, and I cannot wait to load up a few more Rifters and head back. These ships cost about 5 million ISK, and I can easily steal that in 15 mins. Every time I think I'm drifting away from EVE, I do something incredibly risky and end up loving it again.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Back in the EVE Saddle

A month ago I began my third trial of EVE Online after reading a convincing article (part 2, part 3). I decided to jump in the deep end and stir up trouble. Previously, I had fallen into pitfalls or made up reasons why I discontinued playing. Friends of mine will cite the same excuses for not playing, so I decided to enumerate and debunk them.

"I can't fly the ship how I want."

Players often expect avatar control to be transferable across games. WASD is the de facto control scheme for any game in which the player assumes a character. Players expect familiar interfaces. How a planar movement model would work with three dimensional space is an unaddressed question. If not WASD, players expect something akin to a flight simulator or Tie Fighter.

The issue really stems from the simplification of the controls. In EVE a destination is selected, and then the Approach/Orbit/Warp button is pressed. Manual flight is as simple as double-clicking anywhere in space. Players' ship controls are abstracted to the point where player agency feels stifled. Fumbling over controls to move from A to B can be frustrating.

This awkwardness can be overcome, but it feels like relearning to walk. While the tutorial does have content to help the player move about in space, it takes several sessions to get accustomed to it. It becomes second nature eventually.

I should also point out that EVE is not a space flight simulator nor a shooter--don't expect the game to meet those genre criteria. The game must be approached with an open mind; it is unlike anything else.

"I have no idea where I am."

This attitude also derives from the control abstraction. Players move about with what seems like lists of planets, stations, and warp gates. How all these objects relate to each other spatially can be a mystery.

There are two tools in game that I think can be helpful: the Map and the Mapbrowser. The map (F10) defaults to the Star Map of the whole galaxy and can be confusing. In the World Map Control, there is a button labeled "Solar System Map". This is a navigable view of the current solar system. It displays all the planets, stations, and warp gates in positions such that players can understand where these objects are.

Additionally there is a Mapbrowser (F11) which displays 4 panes on the side of the player's screen (Universe, Region, Constellation, and Solar System). Only the bottom, Solar System pane is useful: it displays a flat representation of the system as well as a white cone showing the direction the player camera is currently facing. It helps to put celestial objects in perspective.

The maps at Dotlan are also very helpful.

"Combat is boring."

I agree that solo combat against mission NPCs is boring, which is why I don't do missions. But EVE is not really a fast-paced action game. It is slower and tactical. Where, when, and how to approach a target is paramount. Knowing when to activate, "pulse", and overheat modules assures victory against smarter or better-armed opponents.

It is also worth noting that there is no such thing as a fair fight in EVE. PvP in MMORPGs is about exploiting advantages, cheating, using every trick up your sleeve to win the day. This is what "world PvP" is, and exactly what Battlegrounds and Arena are not. An unwritten rule of EVE is "always assume your target has friends". Kill him before they arrive :) When I want a fair fight, I play TF2 or a board game.

PvP is emotionally charged. This is the sole reason I gave EVE another chance--the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat after my heart races and my mind defends that which could be lost. I can analyze and read literature explaining the exact effects and chemicals that I am experiencing, but adrenalin and fear of loss are visceral, and I want to be swept away by my animal instincts.

"I can't be competitive."

Since training is all time-based in EVE, players assume that they cannot catch up to the veterans. While they may never catch up in raw Skill Points, they could catch up in a singular role. EVE is very wide, and veterans can fly a variety of ships, but only one at a time. As long as players set their sights on a single ship and fit, they get get there quickly and be competitive. And skills are often prerequisites and stepping stones for more powerful modules and ships.

To give you some numbers (for PvP):
  • Within a week, you can fly a throw-away Cruiser.
  • In a week and a half, you can fly throw-away Battlecruisers.
  • Within 2 weeks, you can fly a tech 2 fitted Frigate.
  • In 5 weeks, you can fly a tech 2 fitted Interceptor or Assault Frigate.
  • In a month an a half, that Cruiser and Battlecruiser can have tech 2 modules.
  • In 3 months, you could be sitting in a very formidable tech 2 Cruiser (AKA Heavy Assault Cruiser).

Cruisers and Battlecruisers are staples of small gang PvP. Even though newbies won't be packing much heat without tech 2 guns, they are still an asset to the fleet. These ships can get really cheap, too, which helps when players are learning the ropes. I calculated that the Rupture cruiser I bought cost me 8,836,500 ISK. Insurance pays out 6,875,000 ISK, meaning the total loss would only be 2,360,500 ISK. That is practically free. (I would equate 1 million ISK to 1 WoW Gold.)

Players can easily earn more money than they can spend if they leave the beaten path and try things other than missions. Within a few hours and in cheap frigates, a fresh character can make 40 million ISK an hour from ninja salvaging and hacking. Or you could scam your way to trillions.

"I don't have the time."

Some players think that they need to invest vast amounts of time or know everything about EVE in order to play. Null-sec territory wars might require players to log in for 6 hours at a time while a station is being attacked, but small gang PvP can be very spontaneous and take only an hour block.

If long sessions are few and far between, there is plenty to do solo in and out of game. I spend half my EVE time reading about EVE. That includes fits and modules, planning training, how wormholes work, can I fight a ship belonging to a certain class, and miracle stories of raid fights. EVE is as much a context for my learning about EVE as it is a game. I am enjoying the whole package.

EVE really is about finding the fun. The game will not deliver fun-cakes to you, but instead give you ingredients to bake your own, or a machine gun to steal someone else's. Other players are my content, and I am content for other players. Players who are willing to learn and are open minded about the game will find it to be a treasure trove.

Within a month: I've roamed around lowsec looking for fights that never happened; stole millions of ISK from players running missions; lost ~10 frigates; was podded in a gate camp; joined a player corporation which received a Declaration of War a week later; and prepared for war that ended in 2 days. And all of it was really fun.

Plus all my ship names come from the Space Mutiny episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Congratulations on the insurance on your ship. A very wise choice indeed. This letter is to confirm that we have issued an insurance contract for your ship, Stump Beefgnaw (Rupture) at a level of 100.0%.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You Don't Talk about FF14

Final Fantasy XIV has been undoing many changes over the last year. It is slowly letting itself become... *dramatic pause* Tyler Durden FFXI.

Most recently in development has been an official Job System, with unlock quests and everything. It has moved away from the convoluted Physical Level and Job Rank nonsense into a more traditional Level and Experience system. It's added Chocobos and Air Ships (albeit not unique to FFXI). They've removed the poorly designed Stamina combat system and replaced it with a more traditional cooldown and autoattack system.

Something unique they are working on is a Materia System (related to FF7's Materia only nominally). Use weapons, convert 'experienced' weapons to Materia, socket Materia on to new weapons.

The combat system chances are on-going, and it will take at least 2 more patches until things are "balanced". So maybe the game will be worth playing right when SWTOR arrives on the scene to steal its thunder.