PAX Vid – WildStar Dev Panel

I will confess – I’ve never been to a convention. Or an expo. Or any sort of geek/entertainment/video game Mecca event thing. It’s all secondhand to me, mostly because I’ve never been able to make time for anything more involved than watching a YouTube video of Nathan Fillion being awesome. Be that as it may, I’m not totally broken up about it, because other people can judge me all they want to and I don’t care.

But the people that make the videos and put them on YouTube so that I can enjoy them later are demigods to me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to share things like WildStar Dev Panels with YOU.

Random highlights for me:

  • The Halon Ring is the first zone we see, and there seems to be a nice mixup of epic adventure elements with goofy random aspects. WildStar loves variety. They don’t want it to be a grind and they don’t want the gameplay to get stagnant.
  • Paths get benefits from questing together in WildStar. Explorers let the rest of the group get easier access to zone areas, while Scientists might unlock features of the ecology to give allies a strategic advantage.
  • Protostar is once again confirmed as a largely unethical, opportunistic, blithely greedy megacorps. Fun!
  • Housing development is not only decorative, but as functional as possible. I fully intend to have a ridiculously, excessively fortified home for at least one of my WildStar characters. Weapons platforms everywhere. Still hoping it’s nothing like Farmville, though.
  • The placement/scaling tool looks GREAT. Very intuitive for positioning/orientation/sizing, and giving full control on the housing interior arrangement.
  • Crafters will be able to make something called ‘fabrication kits’ which are apparently self-contained installations for your housing plot exterior. They can also accelerate the construction of certain features.
  • Taxi stations (WildStar’s answer to WoW’s Flight Paths, I assume.) can be built at your house.
  • Most of the stuff you get doesn’t come from vendors – either you earn it yourself or you can get it from a crafter. To me, this reinforces the point that the player is the point of the game, and it won’t be a farming/turn-in focused experience.
  • Doing random crap and poking around at the interactivity unlocks new things that may not be apparent on first scan.
  • Exploding sheep.
  • The Esper has this spinning sawblade of death thing, but it looks to be a static placement on a delay, which makes me giddy with tactical anticipation. Check around 34:44.

That’s my brief cross-section of the content. What about you – did you spy anything I didn’t?



Defiance: First Thoughts

So I’ve played the Defiance beta (or at least the early parts) and since my personal experience dictates that gamers usually decide if they like a game within the first two hours, if not sooner, let’s take a look at the ups and downs.

Firstly, it was fairly smooth. I have a slightly subpar system myself when it comes to gaming power, but Defiance performed very nicely, especially considering the crazy mobs of players running around. The cinematics were sharp and lag-free, which is a good sign, and I felt that the responsiveness was fine.  The intro sequence was good for acclimating the player to the basic game aspects, controls, and mechanics that will be predominant throughout the rest of the game. For a game that has sold itself as one half of a storyline in a story-heavy setting, I felt that the progression through the plot was excellently done. I was never at a loss and I never wondered why I was doing what I was doing. The chaos of the early areas quickly gave way to a more sedate distribution of population, and once the game began sending me across the map on dedicated missions, it never felt crowded. Defiance also has done one outstanding thing that made me very happy: After three or four basic quests in the main world map that had my character running across sweeping areas and feeling very small, I was immediately presented with a basic ATV for transit. I’ve never gotten a mount so soon in an MMO and it was wonderful. Games should do this more.

The bad? Defiance is unforgiving to the solo player. It’s conceivable I just picked the worst soloing build possible (more on that later) or that I’m a terrible FPS player (very possible) but after moving on from areas where about seven thousand other Ark Hunters were working on the same quests and therefore pulling my ass out of the fire every three seconds, I was being chain-killed and slow-roasted by the NPC enemy forces. Over and over and over.

And my character build? Defiance has very little in the way of explanation when it comes to the mechanics of the game itself. The quests are not hard to follow, and you can certainly feel the story pulling you in deeper, but when it comes time to upgrade your skills, perks, and weaponry, it’s a total crapshoot. It starts at the character creation screen, where you’re given options for several different class archetypes with no explanation of strengths, weaknesses, playstyle tips, or really even an indication as to whether the choices are anything but cosmetic. This worsens as the game progresses, leaving the player to try and figure out the intricacies of the system in between getting horrifically mauled by mutants and hellbugs. Throw us a bone, Trion.

I’ll certainly give Defiance a chance. Given a bit more knowledge of the system (or a group of allies to help me along) it seems like it could be serious fun. At this point, I’d score it 6.5-7 out of 10.

What are your thoughts? Has Defiance lived up to its hype? Did you have a beta experience to share?And are you going to watch the series premiere on SyFy (hint: I totally am!)?

Enter the House

“Nay, take my life and all, pardon not that:
You take my house when you do take the prop
That doth sustain my house; you take my life
When you do take the means whereby I live.”
– Shylock, The Merchant of Venice
I confess, I’ve never played an MMO featuring player housing. I hear the stories of Ultima Online and the crazy player-created housing market and all that it entailed. Once again, however, WildStar has thrown down the gauntlet for implementing layered mechanics and content, demonstrating that the conceptualization of player housing holds more than just a hilarious promo video.
So not only do we have customizable personal space, gameplay mechanic benefits, and social platforming aids, but we have dynamic resource plots, crafting aids, questing hubs, portals, and who knows what else. I can easily see this taking the place of a banking system for those players with homes. If Carbine wants an inter-player economy, you could easily have a storefront option.
As long as this aspect doesn’t reflect Farmville too much, I think I’ll be happy.
Throughout the exposé, I was once again struck by the layering aspect of WildStar. This really looks like a game that wants everything to affect everything, and for players to constantly be exposed to different parts of the game without forcing them to pursue all of them. It stands to reason that someone who finds a housing decoration from killing a random critter is going to be more likely to try out the whole homeowner thing — and if they can put a resource node on their property, then why not see what this whole “crafting” thing is all about? And, oh wait, I can have friends over? Well, why not make some more friends and show this place off to them?
It’s objectively fantastic, at least for my personal value of objectively.

Wild#@%*ingStar Wednesdays

We’ve got a new WildStar trailer.

I love these guys!

Not only is the atmosphere and comedy and passion clearly evident, but this is an excellent summation of all of the key aspects of the game. Seriously. As I was watching it, my internal monologue basically followed this type of line:

“I wonder if they’ll mention – yup, there it is. I hope they don’t forget – nope, they didn’t. Ooo, they should totally talk about – yeah, about that thing there.”

I know I’ve been geeking out on WildStar in most of the posts on this blog, but I’ve generally been a sucker for genre-savvy tongue-in-cheek gaming. I laugh my ass off at lame puns in WarCraft quest titles.  I love the references throughout Team Fortress 2. So for me, the atmosphere of this game is nigh-unto a holy grail for me. I feel like this game is set in the outer limits alien-populated cosmos of Lilo & Stitch.

Also we get details on the philosophy of the Elder Game (yes, I trot that phrase out ALL THE TIME now, because it’s a] cool, b] very indicative of a much-needed change in MMO design paradigm, and c] an apparent Harry Potter reference. Therefore, made of win.) raiding content. Wonderful wonderful wonderful.

Also, Shoot Many Robots is free on the Google Play store now. I tried it on the Nexus (No, not that Nexus. This Nexus.) and it’s pretty damn fun. Yet again another quirky atmospheric game set in the (apparently) cybertronic-plagued Midwest. With guns! It’s a side-scrolling shooter/platformer that’s easy to get the hang of and difficult to put down. I recommend trying it out. See the “it’s free” bit there?

What’s not to like?

Defiance: A New Experiment

For those who haven’t explored Defiance yet, it’s an unprecedented venture to marry a serialized TV drama with a multiplayer FPS. With the cataclysmic arrival of extraterrestrials and the ensuing wars that followed, our planet has been reformed and repopulated with new lifeforms. These events change the face of the earth and create entirely new environments and ecosystems. Alien tech from the crashed Ark ships can be salvaged and cashed in, forming the basic motivation for the FPS gameplay and storyline, which takes place around the fractured San Francisco Bay area. Meanwhile, halfway across the continent, St. Louis has been mostly buried, apparently from the collateral terraforming (and lets face it, I’m sure there are certain parts of St. Louis that could be improved by this sort of thing) and the new frontier town of Defiance is built atop the remnants, where the vampire Darla tries to maintain a semblance of order as the town’s mayor, a role which is complicated by the influence of such characters as an alien Vincent Van Gogh, the father of two werewolves, and the captain of the Kahana.

SyFy fully intends that the show will impact the events in the game and vice versa, despite the distance between locations. I assume that there would be more flow from show-to-game rather than the other way, and definitely anticipate that characters from the series will be referenced or make appearances – although I doubt individual players and accomplishments will be mentioned in the context of the show’s script.

Because, honestly, how is any writer going to make the line “I heard last week that KillaBotz422 sniped his 900th Hellbug just north of Sonoma…” sound legitimate?

For those interested in the story arcs that might arise, you can be assured that the production teams did not skimp on the talent for their creative think tanks. Defiance is helmed by people who cut their teeth on Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones, and other highly acclaimed sci-fi/fantasy properties. The showrunners have stated that Defiance will be an immigration show, consisting of a melting pot of cultures in a frontierlike setting, eking out an existence in a harsh reality (sounds very much like The Best Show Ever to me). But let’s look at this more from the game side. What does an incorporated ‘verse mean for gamers?

Firstly, I anticipate a much richer storytelling experience and a stronger focus. In my own gaming career, it seems that the FPS genre has a very difficult time building a compelling narrative thru action gameplay. Note the “thru action gameplay” element there. Halo possesses a rich backstory and narrative, but the history is mostly told in cutscenes and sound bites. The Mass Effect series consists of an incredibly diverse setting and strong drama, but again, the storyline advances primarily through the dialogue on either end of the missions rather than via the missions themselves. Welding the game to the show will give the studio flexibility to use the TV series for exposition and depth, while focusing on the combat and customization aspects of the MMO. Of course, that’s not an imperative; it’s a storytelling strategy choice that will be up to the studio’s discretion. But they’ve at least given themselves multiple avenues for communicating with viewers and players alike.

The studio has also put itself in a position to give players a much more meaningful involvement with the game. Most times on an MMO (particularly on an FPS), your in-game character is a tool, a means to an end – preferably someone else’s end, and as spectacular an end as a rocket launcher can create. And when my Team Fortress 2 Demoman gets the wrong end of a flamethrower, though, I don’t mentally wince because the BLU Team has had a meaningful loss; I’m just peeved that I have to run all the way back to the cap again. By giving us a universe populated with realistic characters having realistic conflicts, Defiance lets us pull the lens back and hopefully see why we need to salvage that recently crashed Ark, why we can’t just let the raiders or the mutants just take their own territory. The show can serve as an avenue to shove your face into the grit and the struggle and the pain of survival and give a gamer a reason to keep coming back besides the leaderboards and the kill count.

And, of course, there is an intangible reward that can be very satisfying, that fuels the imagination, and that serves (for me, anyway) as the lynchpin for this whole endeavor. I want to see how player actions make life simpler (or more difficult) for the show characters. When I play Call of Duty, I don’t see how a successful multiplayer match eventually destabilizes the local warlord’s regime or swings the balance of power away from other political and military forces. But I want to see that in Defiance. If I check out that week’s episode, I want to feel a sense of satisfaction, however small, if someone references an event in which I took part.

So that’s why I have hope for Defiance. New Earth. New Rules. New Game.

Shotgun Catch-Up

Hey gang! Yeah, it’s been far too long. I was out for health reasons. Still can’t handle direct sunlight. ENOUGH. ABOUT. ME.

I’m breaking out the ol’ scattergun to try and hit as many interesting bits and items that I can. There’s a slew of cool crap coming down the pipeline, and I might not be the first on board, but I’m certainly going to try to make up for lost time.

Albion Online looks ambitious enough. I like the concept of a far-reaching cross-platformer, and as you can all probably tell, RPGs are where I cut my teeth and do the most of my playtime. One thing that rocks a good RPG for me (at least in a mechanical sense) is variety, variety, variety – I don’t want my character to simply be another Variation on a Theme of xx_PaGaNiNiskullz_xx (that’s a Brahms joke for you non-musical types). And of course, the fact that I can steal crap from other people that they paid for gives my inner brigand a very real jolt of excitement.

I haven’t mentioned Watch Dogs yet, which is almost a crime, because it looks like a godforsaken amazing ride. I’m always a sucker for new mechanics, and the linking of hacking to combat to investigation to manipulation to plain awesome looks incredible. The atmosphere seems polished and if the gameplay is as customizable as the videos seem to indicate, I think we’ve got at excellent debut on our hands. Absolutely keep an eye on this one.

WildStar did another Uplink, this one on PvP, a topic that brings on a mouthfoaming debate whenever multiplayer games exist. So that’s fun. My take is that if any aspect of your MMO is a grind, you’ve lost the better part of your audience. Now, I’ve never done much PvP myself in RPGs, being that I’m a story junkie and a laid-back explorer type, but I’m always willing to risk another beatdown at the hands of my rabid diehard peers if it looks fun — so if WildStar tries to do as many innovative things with their PvP that they seem hellbent on doing everywhere else on Nexus, I’m planning to give it a go. Viva la curbstomp.

Also, Anita Sarkeesian has debuted her Tropes vs Women series. It’s a bit long, and her first episode isn’t earthshatteringly insightful right off the bat, but she’s beginning to establish her foundation. You might not be blown away by the introductory episode, but this bears watching. So go be objective about the entertainment field that we love so much and give the lady a hearing.

We’re also approaching Defiance. Post-apocalyptic, aliens, crazy weapons, superhuman powers, and a TV show to go along with it. It’s like the antithetical Captain Planet. Or something similar.

Last but not least, Shroud of the Avatar. I’m sure it’s a huge injury to my gamer cred that I’ve never played an Ultima game of any stripe, but even I know who Richard Garriott is. Considering that the man cut his teeth in game development for homebrew D&D, it gives me hope that I might have a future in the industry too. No, you did NOT just hear the sound of me kicking my 3.5ed books under the table.  Anyway.

Like everything else in this entry, we’ve got a highly ambitious project, and the fact that it’s starting as a crowdsourced/funded endeavor gives me some jitters. Once again, story-centric games make me drool and despite the unpolished look of the graphics, I want to see where this one goes. I want to see it very much.