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All Out of Bubblegum

Posted on Apr 28, 2017 in Blog, Life |

I completed, and officially graduated with, my MBA earlier this month. It was a two-year program which I fast-tracked and finished in twelve months. Now that I don’t have the constant pressure of deadlines, reading, papers to write, and projects to do on a weekly (if not daily) basis, I find that I’m casting around for other things to keep me busy.

I really don’t “idle” well. If I wake up early on a Saturday morning, I will probably not spend it relaxing quietly with a cup of coffee. Instead, I’ll do the dishes, re-organize my media library, write some fiction, or decide to teach myself Flash programming. Upon having ‘so much free time’ now that university is done, I’ve designed two new websites, learned some new PHP tricks, read two books, and started applying for new jobs. I also resumed my martial arts classes and decided Why the hell not? and picked up an hour of aikido on top of it.

I truly don’t “idle” well.

But, my ‘to do’ list is shrinking. I have the home media server up and running properly (I think); I’ve turned the Raspberry Pi into a security webcam system; I’ve finished the primary programming on said websites (Secret World Legends Roleplay and the corresponding RP Wiki). Next up is Flash programming (maybe), actually getting back to writing, and working on refreshing my Dutch.

I’m looking forward to all of them, which is refreshing. Well, maybe not the Flash programming; I’m not sure anyone really looks forward to Flash. However, I’m growing increasingly inspired to try to get all the ideas that have been stacking up over the previous year down on paper. The most intimidating part? Finding a starting point.

Secret World Legends

Posted on Apr 7, 2017 in Blog, RP - Out of Character | Tags: ,

The extremely long dev silence has finally been broken, and the relaunch of The Secret World as Secret World Legends has been announced.

Per usual, half the playerbase is proclaiming the world is ending because Change is Bad and that the developers have betrayed them. Some particularly assholish people have purposefully violated the closed beta NDA because they want to show ‘how badly it sucks’. Tellingly, they didn’t leak any items that any of my cabal actually care about. (Yes, I peeked.)

As for me, I’m optimistic. The combat changes sound…. questionable, but I’m one of the precious few who liked TSW’s combat just as it was. I figure I’ll learn it, just like I learned the old system, and if it’s even more ‘active’ than it is now, I’ll probably like it. I hate standing still in combat and just having the computer roll ‘hit’ or ‘miss’ to see what happens.

The graphics updates and character customization items? Welcome. I still wish there were actual graphics UPDATES, like an improved engine, but we knew we weren’t getting that. TSW’s character creator is showing its age and starting to look ugly, but maybe some of the refinements will breathe some life into it.

Augments disappearing… boo. I liked my augments. AEGIS staying is also a ‘boo’, but I lived through it once, I’ll live through it again. New quests and an eventual Season 2 should be worth it.

Really, it’s too early to say much more than that. Roleplaying-wise, of course, everyone in the cabal is curious about how the transition is going to be handled, lore-wise. Big catastrophe? Timey-whimey jiggly things? No jump at all, same universe? Will the stories change? Will the lore change? Will things be clarified? What did happen to Cassandra King (personal theory: she’s Lilith, but then, what happened to Excalibur?)

So many questions. I haven’t made it into the closed beta, but I’m hopeful for later rounds. More than anything, I’m glad the IP (intellectual property) hasn’t been abandoned. Closing TSW would have been a hundred times worse than a relaunch, and I say that as an end-game, 10.9.5 player who’s going to lose all my purple Breachings and Abuses and Lacerations (and yes, more than one, on each of those).

You can re-gain gear. You can’t re-open a universe.

Conan: Exiles

Posted on Feb 13, 2017 in Blog, RP - Out of Character | Tags: ,

I’m a Funcom nerd, so since I had some Steam gift credit and a few hours to kill, I bought Conan: Exiles early access.

I’m not really a Conan fan. Annnnnd I suck at survival games. So my experimentation has been short and painful.

I get the hype about the ‘dong physics’, insofar as I realize it’s a cultural novelty for men’s bodies to be on display as frequently or as blatantly as women’s bodies are. But Jesus, people, it’s a video game about a pre-industrial survival situation where you start out naked and literally within five minutes of playing the game, can make yourself some pants. It isn’t sexualized at all. It’s a naked body that happens to have a penis. If that’s remarkable enough to make you specifically buy (or specifically not buy) a game, perhaps you need to take a serious look at the importance you place on the penises (penes?) in your life.

That being said, I am a horrible ‘Exile’ and I suck at surviving. Making pants, sure. Making weapons, sure. Surviving dehydration long enough to kill the ghoul-things at the lake and get some water? Not so much. Out of ten or so test-runs, I’ve only survived past the first hour maybe… well, actually, not even once. I’m sure some people will complain that this means the game is much, much too hard, but… isn’t that sort of the point of a Conan-flavored game? Life is hard? Surviving is harder?

It’s hard, but it’s learning experience. When I get frustrated, I log off.

Which is my main complaint, actually. Finding a server seems to be very difficult, and the public servers still seem to be a bit of a message after the migration away from PingPath. The world is definitely rich enough for some roleplay — although I’m betting 50% of said roleplay, at these early stages, is going to be Gorean barbarian maledom BDSM stuff — and promising as far as expansion and progression through civilization ages. I’ve been tempted to set up a private server for my guildmates and roleplaying companions to try it out, but it’s a little bit early for that.

For now, I’ve shelved the game. I’ll wait for a few patches and major updates, and see where the game is in a few months, and then try my hand at surviving-past-an-hour again.

Dipping into Final Fantasy XIV: ARR

Posted on Jan 7, 2017 in Blog, RP - Out of Character | Tags: ,

Due to the content drought in The Secret World, I’ve picked up Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Several of my guildmates have characters over on Balmung and were generous enough to both 1) Buy me the game and 2) buy me the expansion. Getting the game time was on me, though.

First impressions are pretty positive, overall. The character customization is an odd mix of very free (face paint! tattoos! hair highlights! heterochromia!) and very restricted (you get exactly four faces to choose from, and if you’re Au Ra, your face also determines what horns you get, for some reason). The gear cosmetics are decent, and thus far avoids the “chainmail bikini” syndrome. My catboi got to run around in a chest harness and a leather thong, which I found both ridiculous and refreshing. As long as the sexism is applied to both genders equally, I don’t have nearly as much of a problem with it, especially when it’s done tongue-in-cheek.

The story is… well, it’s a story. As I mentioned in ‘What The Secret World Does Right’, I’m a spoiled little bastard when it comes to ‘story’, since I’ve played TSW for so long. But it’s engaging enough. I still find myself skipping cutscenes for various missions, because it’s click click click ‘Go kill 5 of these things and bring me their heads’, and the missions areas (and your next goal) are conveniently pointed out on the map so you know exactly where to go, no thinking or figuring out riddles necessary. But the NPCs, especially for the guild quests and once you get into the ‘Scion’ portion of the storyline, are engaging enough to care about what you’re doing and why (unlike some MMOs – looking at you, Black Desert). Obviously something’s going on, and it’s written well enough that I’m willing to go kill another 5 things and bring their heads back to find out what it is. The NPCs, though, tend to be written fairly generically, with no deeper voice or personality than “gruff guildmaster” or “lawful good Scion person”. There’s exceptions, just not many, this early in the game. Maybe it gets better later.

The crafting system is well-thought out and incredibly elaborate, which is interesting. I could see myself getting into crafting much more significantly later on, when I’m out of story to do (which will be a while, from what I’m told).

The combat, however, is rather boring. The long global cooldown (2.5 seconds) makes it very much feel like ‘push button, wait, push button, wait’, which is even worse when it comes to the magic-user classes where moving in the middle of a cast interrupts and cancels it. You’re basically a turret, and a slow one at that. Pugilist and Archer (the non-melee classes I tried) are better at this, but combat still feels sluggish and more a game of ‘keep an eye on your timers’ than anything else. Especially annoying was the lack of an ability to dodge (in any direction) or even walk/sprint (backwards). Sure, strafing gets you out of the line of fire, but again, it just is a minor feature, or lack thereof, that makes the combat feel more sluggish.

I’m still learning the chat system and the emote system, which seem ‘incredibly poorly developed’ for the former and ‘amazingly rich’ on the latter. Haven’t actually roleplayed yet, as I’m too terrified of accidentally broadcasting something stupid on global chat instead of to my local area, or something like that. Still, it’s tempting. It’s a nice, rich world that suffers from occasional bouts of Generic Fantasy, but with enough distinctive nuance (like the chocobos, or emphasis on avian beasts of burden) to make it unique.

I’ve subbed for now. We’ll see how it goes.

What The Secret World Does Right

Posted on Jul 6, 2016 in Blog, RP - Out of Character | Tags: ,

The Secret World was my first introduction to MMORPGs, and has been my main game for approximately three-and-a-half years now. I’ve tried a couple of other MMOs, including Guild Wars 2 and Black Desert Online. Nonetheless, TSW remains my favorite. A lot of people in the community bitch about what Funcom and TSW do wrong, so here’s my opinion about what they do very right.

  • Story. I occasionally see people talking about how XYZ MMO has cutscenes and good voice acting. These people have obviously never played The Secret World. TSW is story. So much story! It has atmosphere, history, complexity, horror, intrigue, and always keeps you guessing. It has memorable NPCs that have so much more personality than “Please kill ten rats.” It has NPCs people grow to absolutely love (or absolutely hate), and whom we learn more about with each passing year. The atmosphere is fantastic, and there are so many parts of TSW which just make you shudder and look over your shoulder (especially if you’re playing at night, alone, in the dark). There are constant debates about how pieces of lore connect, and what they mean. What the big picture is, how it all fits together, and what secrets haven’t been revealed yet. Still, after four years! For an MMO? This type of richness of setting is priceless.
  • Non-Cash-Shop Cosmetics. I understand people hate the RNG bags, and I understand that Funcom has to make money. I don’t always like their outfit choices (like the Gym Bag and the many ‘females must look sexy’ outfits). However, there are literally hundreds of pieces of clothing that you can get in The Secret World that you don’t have to pay real money for. There are face paints (some of which are basically tattoos), special effects (glowing eyes), piecemeal clothing (the Darkside vendors; Pangaea), and uniforms (various in-game achievements). Most of these you can get, if you’re patient and persistent, without spending a dime of real money. I think, long term, Funcom might have been actually too generous with their cosmetics, and would have made more of a profit by charging for them earlier. Where BDO charged around $10 for an appearance change, TSW charges in-game silver (pax). Tell me that isn’t awesome.
  • Freedom of Roles. In TSW, you can learn literally every skill for every weapon/role. You can wear any gear you want at any time. For new players, this ends up being overwhelming sometimes. What do I wear? What stats should I have? What abilities? But at the end-game level, it’s amazing freedom. I can enter a dungeon as DPS (damage dealer), and if our healer suddenly has to leave because dinner caught on fire, I can swap to a healer role, abilities, and gear, in mid-dungeon. If we get to the final dungeon boss and we’re wiping and the tank is getting frustrated? I can swap again, and take over the tank role, and someone else can take heals (on the same character, without logging off, mind you). It’s impressive freedom, and makes group content much easier and much more focused around cooperation and coordination.
  • Responsive Devs. The developers, bless their hearts, seem to love the players (despite players occasionally being… well, players). Yes, there are flaws in the game. But, for instance, the Fourth Anniversary event started on June 29th. Within three days, they’d patched the golems after people complained that they were too weak and people didn’t have enough time to participate in the fights to get Gold rating. Within five days, they’d listened to the community’s complaints about the mismatch between the effort and difficulty of the Hatekeeper fight versus the reward it often gave (cosmetic flares), and the flares were removed from the loot table. When the devs proposed that Bombardment (an elite DPS ability) be changed to leave a debuff, the playerbase gave a lot of good feedback on why that was a bad idea. The devs listened, and scrapped the idea and worked it into something else. Yes, Fusang and PVP still need a lot of work. Yes, tanks are currently suffering after the Elite Revamp that helped the DPS role so much. It’s not perfect. But they’re trying, and it’s not just empty promises.
  • Great Community. I played TSW for three years before I saw someone call someone else a “casual” as an insult. It was about one year in that I saw my first group of people actively trolling someone else, and two years after THAT before I saw another group do it. The community, as a whole, is mature, helpful, and polite (I say, noting that I do not engage in PVP). Chat channels like Noobmares and Sanctuary specialize in helping people learn about the game and find friendly questing partners or OOC chitchat. ‘Badgers’ helps people with Museum achievements, lore, and mob kill achievements. The ‘Event’ channel regularly calls out rare bosses of all kinds, especially during seasonal events. All these are player initiatives, not “built into the game” items. The community has recently become slightly worse due to the influx of people who care more about 5 minute dungeon speedruns than they do about the game itself — which to me, if anything, is a sign that TSW needs to do more Story and less End Game, lest we end up like every other MMO out there. Our community is different, and we’re better for it.
  • Unique Setting. The Secret World is set, ostensibly, in 2012. Our characters have smart phones, Twitter accounts, email, and satellite tracking systems. We solve in game quests by researching out of game on the internet and Wikipedia. And I don’t mean “how-to” guides — I mean downloading Morse code translator apps (the quest ‘Dead Air’), accessing company websites (‘Men in Black Vans’), researching the Bible (‘Kingsmouth Code’), or looking up sheet music for classical songs (‘Digging Deeper’). And that’s only in the very first playzone. Being a modern setting opens up so many additional possibilities and subtleties that get easily lost in traditional fantasy, and TSW takes full advantage of what it can do. The major NPCs even interact with players on Twitter. While they aren’t tweeting out daily, or sometimes even weekly, the community loves it when they find time to bring the story alive.

Obviously an MMO that’s as “different from the norm” as The Secret World is going to garner a lot of ‘love it or hate it’ from the MMO community as a whole, and it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. However, so much of what makes it so different, makes it wonderful, and I think I can safely say that I’ll probably be one of those people who will be there until the bitter end. When/if the end finally comes and the servers shut down, I’ll be there with some long-time friends, sitting and taking tequila shots as we watch the world end.

… if the devs would be so kind as to fix the chairs, at least. 😉

Black Desert Online: Initial Thoughts

Posted on Jun 14, 2016 in Blog, RP - Out of Character | Tags: , ,

I played my seven day trial of Black Desert Online and ended up buying it. I’ve played a little more since then. At the moment I have three characters: a Warrior, a Musa (Blader), and a Ranger, all of which are about level 16-20. Thus: still early game. However, given that a lot of people have been asking me about it, and several of my friends either have tried it or would like to, here are my first impressions:

The Good

  • It’s Pretty. Let’s face it, graphics do matter, and Black Desert is a beautiful game. While you run around most of the time with your camera zoomed out so far that all the gorgeous detail of your characters (and other people’s) is hidden, in an RP context (or just for fun) you can zoom in super close and see all that gorgeousness. The trees and bushes and mobs are all detailed and lovely. It probably means you need a higher end computer to get the full benefit, but I like it.
  • Active Combat. For me, this is a plus. After playing The Secret World as my main/only MMO, I’m used to active combat, dodging, getting out of the way, managing distance, etc. One thing that irritated the fuck out of me with Guild Wars 2 was that I’d run out of the path of an arrow…. which would then curve and follow me and hit me anyways. Black Desert lacks The Secret World‘s chalk lines, which can be a little frustrating because it’s hard to tell where in the path of things it is, but I do like the dynamicness it gives to combat.
  • Large Open World for RP. The world of Black Desert is vast, and even being as low level as I am, I’ve already found tons of places for RP and adventuring, ranging from tiny villages to rural farms, big cities, abandoned mining caves, cliff-strewn coasts, peaceful river banks, and ancient ruins. There’s no auto-transport, so getting back and forth can be a pain, but it’s more realistic that way, and gives you plenty of places to do your thing. Of course, there are mobs and enemies around, but once you’re past a certain level for the area, they won’t aggro on you. Walk through when you’re “within level”, and they’ll attack, but if you wildly outpower them, they’ll ignore you. Thus, if you’re high enough level, even mob-filled hostile areas are “safe zones” for RP.
  • Amazing ‘Slice of Life’. Black Desert has soooo many RP-friendly things you can be out doing. The crafting system and ‘minigames’ are amazing. You can be a fisherman, and even buy your own boat to go out on the seas. You can be a farmer and tend to your sunflowers, pumpkins, or carrots. You can be a gatherer and a hunter, and then using cooking, alchemy, drying, and other skills to turn your wolf meat into fragrant jerky, or your honey into milk tea. All of the crafting skills level you up for that skill (i.e. Cooking, Alchemy) rather than your main actual character level, and almost all the consumables you make (or provide goods for other people to make) give you an in-game boost. Jerky works as a low-grade HP potion, while Beer helps you refresh your workers (did I mention you can hire NPC workers do so some of that gathering and farming for you?), and so forth. You can legitimately ‘make a life’ and RP it out. For the more ambitious, you can tame, breed, and sell wild horses, or open your own blacksmithing workshop.
  • ‘In the Wild’ RP. I admit: I haven’t actually RP’d in Black Desert yet. But I’ve seen roleplay just about everywhere. Tiny villages? Check. Random people chatting on the side of a road? Yup. A large intercabal meeting in a lowbie combat area? Seen it. Heidel is the main RP hub, and it’s hard to go anywhere in Heidel without seeing people RPing. But it’s lovely to see so many people out in so many places doing their RP, rather than strictly limiting it to tavern RP.
  • Quality of RP. Your actual mileage may vary, but what RP I have seen while running around in Black Desert has been pretty good quality. Spelling, grammar, and characterization seem to be healthy and alive among the general RP populace, although there’s always exceptions.
  • Account-Wide Unlocks. As you talk to NPCs and discover in-game locations, that knowledge is automatically shared throughout all your characters. Knowledge, in Black Desert equates to energy that you can use for gathering, hunting, conversation, etc. Since all your characters share a common knowledge pool, that means all your characters share an energy pool. Your brand-new alt has the same knowledge and energy as your level 50 main, and when your Level 50 has exhausted their energy, you can swap to your alt and start using theirs instead.

The Bad

  • The UI. Black Desert‘s UI gives new meaning to ‘esoteric’. It’s complex, and the help guides aren’t very good. This is a localization of a Korean game, so there are occasional typos and grammatical errors in the tutorials you do get. Figuring out how to do even basic things can be challenging, and it really helps to have someone who is more experienced lead you along and help. (Or, I suppose, a guild.) While there are in-game channels for asking, of course, they by-and-large are useless. Speaking of…
  • The OOC population. Don’t join the ‘Roleplay’ chat channel. It’s trash. In fact, roleplayers are going to be happier just ignoring everything that isn’t their guild, a private whisper, or the local in-radius chat. The global channels are a disaster and mostly seem to be populated with idiots with the collective maturity of a highschool gym locker room. The overall public chats are not helpful, and may be actively toxic, depending on your tolerance for conversations about “certified female” players, ‘jokes’ about cybersexing underage characters, and people calling each other ‘casuals’ and ‘carebears’ as insults.
  • The Name/Guild System. All your characters have to share the same “family name” (your account name), which means that anonymity is out the window. Further, your family name has to be unique in the entire game. So does your character’s first name, which is absolutely stupid. So you can’t have “John Smith” and “John Johnson.” Having two people named ‘John’ isn’t allowed, even if their family name is different. Finding an untaken name can be challenging. If you do join a guild, you join it as a family, not as a character, meaning that you can’t have different characters in different guilds. Want your valiant warrior to be in a do-gooder-guild, your evil wizard to be in a magic guild, and your high-powered ranger to be in an end-game PVP guild? Sucks to be you.
  • Lack of Cosmetics. While the character customization and the graphics are wonderful, there is a severe lack of wearable cosmetics in the game. Armor doesn’t change much as you level up, appearance-wise, and the costumes I’ve seen in the cash shop seem to be 1) very unrealistic for RP and 2) single-piece outfits. They’re also $20-30 USD per pop and bound to a single character, which is outrageously expensive (as much as the game itself, if you bought the base game with no ‘package’). While it’s not a deal-breaker, it’s disappointing, and has definitely given me new appreciation for the sheer amount of non-cash-shop cosmetics you can buy in The Secret World.

Conclusions:

If you’re willing to deal with the frustration of the UI and can get a few friends to show you the ropes, Black Desert can be rewarding, especially if you’re a “slice of life” RPer. The combat system is challenging, which may be a plus or a minus. Given how new the game is, and the efforts that the devs seem to be taking to listen to the populace, there might be some significant changes to make things more RP-friendly down the line (like I’ve heard rumors of account-wide costume unlocks, given that they’re $30 per costume!). The open world PVP doesn’t seem to be nearly the issue that I feared it would be.

In comparison to The Secret World, Black Desert has both strengths and weaknesses. A larger, more robust playerbase — but, who knows what Black Desert will look like at 4 years old — and a much more RP-friendly open world. On the other hand, the lack of cosmetics and the forced guild system are off-putting, and the community, thus far, seems to be a decade younger than the TSW crowd as regards general maturity levels. It will be up to the roleplayers themselves to shape the community towards that, and with the “casual-friendly” changes Daum has made lately, it may be that the overall community swings away from the hardcore players and more towards the socials over time.

Overall? Both Black Desert and The Secret World have amazingly detailed worlds and atmosphere, but The Secret World wins out as far as overall vibe and story line (to no one’s surprise). People who praise Black Desert‘s storytelling and cutscenes obviously have never played The Secret World. But The Secret World‘s crafting system and general ‘slice of life’ things are extremely limited in comparison, and the world feels much, much smaller than Black Desert’s, with much fewer RP venues due to The Secret World‘s mobs not giving a fuck if you’re powerful or not, and being a constant aggro threat in most areas. (And a sincere aggro threat. I’ve died in Savage Coast while wearing end-game purple gear, because I was spec’d for dungeons instead of survival and was in my glass-canon build.)

Black Desert could use some improvement, mostly in the ‘community’ and ‘guild’ sections, but it holds promise. I won’t be leaving The Secret World for it, but it’s a nice change of pace to refresh my batteries and enjoy something completely different.

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