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Archive for February, 2010

I made a grave miscalculation in the flurry of F2P MMOs I downloaded while looking for some brief weeknight fun to fill the gap left by Mass Effect 2. I was on a breather from Aika, and decided to download Wizard101, which I played for a month or so upon release.

I had forgotten how much fun that game was, and how addicting I found it. Wizard101 had most of the elements in games that I look for:

  • An epic storyline (fully voiced, no less) with an (gasp!) ending
  • Interesting combat that is newbie-friendly but still allows for deeper strategy
  • For-pay content is largely limited to pay-by-area and cosmetic items; most items are still available for in-game money
  • Large degree of character customization
  • Player housing
  • Arena-based PvP

I originally stopped playing simply because I had already spent the initial batch of crowns to open up areas to Krokotopia, and was going to have to pay again to continue progressing. I decided to take a break since I didn’t really want to level up an alt and wasn’t ready to buy more crowns at the time. Since I last played (and upgraded my computer twice, losing the installation), Wizard101 has added mounts, crafting, grouping and group chat, and additional areas, so there was really nothing preventing me from re-installing. Well, nothing except for that niggling fear that there is something wrong with me for being a thirty-something without children who enjoys the game so much I lose whole evenings playing it.

I have been having much more fun than I expected to since my break from the game, leveling my alt character, a Myth wizard in contrast to my Life main. I have also created a Balance wizard that I plan to take through the game at a later date. I have not yet bought the additional crowns for access, but intend to do so, rather than paying the monthly sub.

I still hope to get to Lt. Commander and my new ship in STO this weekend, by hook or by crook – it has been more difficult than I anticipated to find even an uninterrupted hour to play in – but this is a different game for a different mood.

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In my search for a F2P alternative to play when I cannot duo in Star Trek Online, I have come across Aika, the new offering from GPotato that isn’t Allods Online. Aika has just begun its second Closed Beta and has a planned release of Spring 2010 (then again, Allods still shows a planned release of Winter 2009 according to the site, so take that as you will).  Aika initially caught my attention at around the same time as Allods, but at that time Allods was entering CB and Aika was not yet ready for prime time players, so the decision of what to try was made for me.

The two games claim to scratch different itches for me: Aika with the familiar anime-style graphics, much like a poor-man’s Aion, advertises Realm vs. Realm (vs. Realm vs. Realm vs. Realm) combat on a massive scale of thousands on the battlefield, lag-free – something Warhammer Online tried and seems to have failed to deliver –  so I wonder if it will pick up any refugees from that game. It also promises small-scale battleground action, and, according to the forums, PvP is quite well balanced for a game of this type.

Allods, on the other hand, appealed to me with its WoW/Warhammer lovechild graphical style, interesting races and lore, and its engaging instanced tutorial that bade well for future encounters with PvE. The end-game seemed rather exclusionary to me, however, as do many games of that type, and the open PvP post-level 20 soured me somewhat on keeping up with the beta development. I know now that PvP flagging is live in the game, but I’ve kind of moved on in the meantime.

Right now Aika seems like a better choice for me to solo, but only time will tell and I don’t expect to reach any level of consequence during the short CB2 period given my playtime schedule. I’m a bit put off by the gender-locked classes and lack of customization, but I also realize that it is due to these very shortcuts that the game client is only 500mb in size and can support the large battles they advertise. The style of quest delivery is remniscent of unvoiced post-Tortage Age of Conan, which provides at least the illusion of an epic story that I can unravel by completing the quests in my log. If I can ignore the Lolis Clerics falling down and giving fanservice everywhere, I sometimes feel as though I’m playing Guild Wars, or a near cousin.

Oh, and unlike many other Korean games of its ilk, Aika allows you to turn on anti-aliasing from within the game, up to 16x worth. Of course, this is not worth anything if you forget to use said feature, as I did for the first half of my play session.

Verdict: Too early to tell, but shows promise. I have yet to get my little buff fairy (pran), as the quest to obtain her is a hour-long timed scavenger hunt and I had to get going.

Ack! I forgot to turn anti-aliasing on!

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However, I have been temporarily widowed by Mass Effect 2: my partner has been enjoying this far more than he did Dragon Age: Origins, and it shows, as he just finished up the storyline last night after days of dedicated play, and is about to start his second playthrough with a new character (“this time, I’m going to be evil!”).

Until now, I had not felt the sting of Cryptic’s lack of alternate advancement for Star Trek Online, since thanks to bridge officer customization I have no desire in this game to create alts for the sake of creating alts. Now that we are not gaming together, I still feel the urge to play STO, but don’t want to progress my character, who is expressly dedicated to duoing with my better half. While any leveling disparities might be alleviated if only Cryptic would import their own sidekicking mechanic from Champions Online back into STO, I have realized there is a bigger issue here, and that is: we both love a good story too much to pass it by.

My better half and I savor every episode mission and set aside time to take part in them together, whereas we may each split off and do PvP or patrol missions while the other is occupied, skilling up, etc. Our favorite parts of Age of Conan were the Tortage storyline, with the caveat that we hated having to do our nighttime missions completely alone (on the other hand, we enjoyed comparing notes when our stories differed based on our archetypes – “oh, so you were the warrior who freed the captives!” etc.)

I keep forgetting that since I do not play single-player games and my partner does, I will always need a spare MMO that I can solo to fall back on while he is getting his story on. The problem lies in the fact that we do not wish to maintain multiple subscriptions to games, and I can’t think of an F2P game that has an overarching solo storyline to sink my teeth into (I am re-considering Mabinogi, but I have tried that game more than once in the past and it just hasn’t clicked with me). In short, I deeply regret that STO does not yet have a viable alternate storyline path for me to play during those times when duoing or grouping is not possible for whatever reason.

But hark! There is news on the (possibly far, far off) horizon: Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising has been resurrected! Oh frabjous day! Callou! Callay! While this will not take care of my secondary MMO needs in the here and now, I look forward to every new option on the horizon with rubbing-hands-together levels of glee.

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With the Original Series Uniform skirts now available for both captains and their bridge officers, my character’s ensemble is now finally complete!

Yardwork calls to me this weekend, so I will not likely be able to rank up from Lt. 9 to Lt. Commander for another week, but progress is being made….

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Here are a few things that have gotten me thinking over the past few days while I try to find the time to actually get in game and knock out some story missions (I just met Miral Paris and she was positively divine).

  • Van Hemlock’s Podcast #88, in which John and Tim discuss various Star Trek episodes and establish that what fans usually choose as their favorite episodes would generally make for awful MMO gameplay. This is something I have given some thought previously, but the podcast really drove it home for me. Because we might consider this to be a failing of MMOs in general, I would not be so hasty as to assign blame to STO in particular. In some ways, I would like the option to be able to banter with a Q-like character the way Picard would, but I would like the option to do so as myself, more – and how would a game go about rendering that without a million dialogue options for a million personality types? At best, it could provide me with a Picard-like dialogue option… or a Sisko-like punch to the jaw. What of Janeway? How would Kirk respond to Q? Perhaps in this hypothetical Star Trek Online we can be presented with the option when we create our Captains: what “type” of Captain personality would you rather emulate?

    No, I think of some of these creative freedoms as more pipe-dreams than reasonably possible. The presence of two or three options in a mission like some of those from the episodes in the Van Hemlock podcast would just serve to illustrate the restrictions I’m faced with; that I can do A or B, but not C would break my immersion even more than the absence of choice entirely. This is also my view of the upcoming SW:TOR, by the way: while I have no idea how it will ultimately play out, I am concerned that the vaunted storyline-changing choices we will be presented with will only feel illusory to me.

  • Somewhat related to the subject of Star Trek or Star Wars fans who seem to want very strongly to play a virtual world simulator, I have always wondered how large this market really is. They certainly are vocal, judging from forum posts and the still-raw responses to the Game-Changing-Patch-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named; certainly Star Wars Galaxies’ sub numbers took a dive after that debacle. And even more certainly, I was not there when it happened and know very little about how the game was or how it was changed beyond my brief stay in the free trial one uneventful weekend. But this article linked by Scott Jennings in his column about MMO Failures speaks with several fans who note they had multiple SWG accounts each – one even claims to have had ten accounts. Perhaps these were outliers, but it makes me wonder how many single subscribers there were for SWG among that oft-quoted 200,000 number.

    Still, if you were paying $150.00 per month to play a game, I can understand more now why you would still be angrily posting about it five years later.

  • Finally, Fidgit interviews Craig Zinkievich and CZ confirms that Cryptic was given under two years to complete STO. Obviously this is Atari’s MO, for better or worse, and frankly, if I have any beefs with it I leave them at Atari’s feet, not Cryptic’s.  This is especially true because given those two years, I think Cryptic has turned out something pretty incredible; in the same timeframe or longer, Perpetual had merely delivered mocked-up screenshots, and yes, I am still annoyed with them for having killed Gods & Heroes in the meantime.

    I don’t have any comments in particular on whatever recent thing Cryptic has said or done that has people annoyed, because I just don’t have it in me to be angry with a company that has made a game I enjoy playing as much as I enjoy STO. I find myself thinking about the storyline, about my Captain’s skills and my ship’s gear, about whom I wish to recruit as Bridge Officers and who gets to man the ship and who gets to come along with me on away missions, and honestly a game hasn’t captured my attention like this since Guild Wars, or maybe the first 10 or so levels of LOTRO.

    Considering my default position is that all companies are generally greedy and evil and not at all altruistic – the bigger the company, the greedier and eviller – I simply don’t find Cryptic to be more greedy or evil than any other. I am, however,  pretty annoyed with Atari for taking its stance, as I am not sure how well it can end for any of the parties involved. Unless and/or until Cryptic hones their engine into a lean, mean, MMO-creating machine, I see Atari continuing to generate ill-will in the industry. I just hope that in time people start focusing their ire on the man behind the curtain.

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(Sorry, I still have nightmares about “Enchantment? Enchantment!”)

Thanks to this enterprising fan, I am now happily playing Star Trek Online in Mac  OS X instead of using Bootcamp on my iMac.  I had been having problems with dropping frame rates with my Windows install for no particular reason, forcing me to stop playing once I found myself in a space battle with 2-3 frames per second on the lowest graphics setting possible. With very little setup involved, I was up and playing fluidly with recommended graphics settings in Mac OS using the app linked above!

What I find especially interesting is that this is a labor of love by a fan; usually Mac users have to wait until a company like CrossOver Mac have finagled a way to get the game working in a Mac environment, and this guy is doing it for free, and providing support on the forums as well, responding to comments and suggestions. I simply couldn’t pass up the chance to give him kudos, so: kudos, @doh123!

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Sparse Happenings

The adventures of the intrepid captains at Chez Casual Does have not been many and varied this week. Aside from creating a few character presets with the intention of using them on subsequent Bridge Officers, I was refraining from logging in pending the arrival of my Joined Trill bonus race retail key. My better half, out of respect for our unofficial leveling pact, went on without his Constitution-class starship and made as far as Lt. 4 before stopping to wait for me. We have had a lot of unexpected real-life intrusions into our available gaming time, so to be honest, the waiting has not been that difficult, though my better half has lamented to me that he often wishes he could log on at various times throughout the day.

Finally it was Tuesday! I eagerly refreshed my e-mail and then attempted to apply my retail key to my account from work while reading about the adventures of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses unable to enter their retail keys and claim their bonus items. I had a few such occasions myself, and had I not been on a work computer I would have shared the varying 404, page not found, and closed subscription and key already in use screenshots. But that is a silly story anyway, and nobody wants to hear it.

As of tonight, I have played one evening since launch, and have reached Lt. 3 on my Engineering captain; my better half has yet to unlock Klingons. Our rate of progression is appalling next to those who have already dinged Admiral (though I would like to think we are having more fun than those chomping through whatever means of highest xp gain for renown and profit!). And we are having fun; even on patrol and story missions we have encountered more than three times, we are still stopping and smelling the roses, admiring character models and scenery, pointing out our new weapon drops to one another and high-fiving when we vaporize something. I am looking forward to the weekend, when we might have more uninterrupted time to play and life can stop dropping unexpected events in our laps for a short while.

Maybe I’ll even have Klingons unlocked by next week… I dare to dream big.

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