Gordo’s Gaming Blog

My adventures in the many worlds of gaming.

Why I won’t become a fanboy.

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It might happen in every game ever released. It might not. The ‘Mark Jacobs’ moment, where the veil of enthusiasm built up, by, who now appears no more than a Lancastrian spin-doctor, is shattered as the truth is revealed and the buzzwords and promises of the last year are shown to be no more than hooks, to get the unwary viewer or reader interested in this game, this wonderful new concept. But that wonderful new concept is not entirely true. Intermingled are lies and padding to make the game appear better than the team working on it are able to create.

Yes, I’m talking about Warhammer Online. And I’ll quit the abstract nonsense and return to normality. Last week I was deeply troubled by the announcement of Mark Jacobs. And I got thinking – why does it trouble me? A few reasons:

  1. By condensing the battle into just the two cities, I fear the WAR will be diluted. I loved the idea of the struggle on three fronts – you could redirect forces to another, weaker area, at the risk of losing one you already hold. You get the idea.
  2. Realm vs. Realm inbalance. Two races no longer have a tank? Yet their counterpart does? What’s with that?
  3. Punkbuster. To be honest, this is more ‘Meh’ than anything. I just think its kind of a shame that they have to assume the worst of their players. Why can’t they give them a chance, let them play for a few months without Punkbuster, but with it on backup, ready to implement if cheating caused a problem.
  4. They lied. Weeks ago I remember reading ‘Yeah, we’ve basically just got the game in polish mode now’ (or words to that effect). Well Mythic, you’ve done what I really hoped you would not. You’ve cut content to fulfil deadlines. I really, really hoped I’d see another delay instead of an announcement like this. I think of Age of Conan with nausea because that is exactly what they did.

But the real topic of this post? Fanboyism. It shows why I refuse to truly enter the ranks of a fanboy. Sure, there’ll be a game I get excited about occasionally (it happened with WAR. Am I still as excited? Sadly, no.) But to pin all your hopes on that game, and truly believe every statement they make, is just foolish. Every comment must be taken with a pinch of salt. Sure, if you expect the worst, then you don’t get the same levels of excitement as a fanboy, but when the cutbacks come, the ‘Mark Jacobs Moment’, you don’t feel disappointed to the core. And if you do find the perfect game, you get really excited when it launches, and you realise how good it is.

Written by Gordo

July 14, 2008 at 7:04 pm

The Classics: Abe’s Exoddus

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AbeAs promised, this is the next installment in my ‘The Classics’ series. Abe’s Exoddus. It’s a game I spoke about briefly before, when talking about the revival of Oddworld Inhabitants (though it seems that they’re not, in fact working on an Oddworld game – Boo, hiss!). Anyway, I recently replayed through Abe’s Exoddus, with the intention of reviewing it.

I’ll start with the gameplay. Gameplay in this game is amazing. I’ve never played such a responsive, inventive and all-round fun platformer. It brings brilliant additions to the genre, combining the great elements of Abe’s Oddysee (the predecessor) and at the same time bringing in additions. Some of the great features I liked about the game were…

  • As I said before, the responsive gameplay.
  • Possession – it allowed you to play the game as all sorts of different characters and creatures.
  • GameSpeak, and saving Mudokons.
  • Secret levels!
  • Semi-related – the level design.
  • The introduction of Quicksave.
  • … to name but a few. It really is the most fun I’ve had playing a platformer. I guess the original 2D Mario Games were before my time, and I’ve never like 3D platformers, they always feel strange to me.

    Next up is graphics. Now, they say that things you enjoyed as a kid you will invariably enjoy as you grow older. Maybe that’s the case, because I still look at Oddworld in the Abe games and go ‘Wow!’. It truly looks amazing. It’s both desolate and industrial, and at the same time, satirical and funny (a difficult feat to pull off – many games that attempt satire come off as ‘preachy’, and many that try to be funny are, but only on a shallow and superficial level). Oddworld Inhabitants created a freaky and edgy world of greed and corruption, but underneath that horrible layer lies true heroism and good. Wait a minute, that’s not graphics! I know, but I truly believe that all that is represented through the graphics, and brililantly so. For a game 10 years old, it has aged beautifully. Note though that I played it on a CRT monitor, as I think it runs as 640×480. At that resolution on a CRT it does look great, but when that’s only like a quarter of your screen on an LCD it mighn’t look so good. If you do want to play on an LCD, it might be possible to get mods that allow higher resolution, if not, get yourself a pair of reading glasses!

    Sound – Oddworld sounds great! The atmospheric bird calls, voices, and most of all music – it’s probably the best dynamic music I’ve experienced. As the action intensifies, so does the music. It’s so slick it’s as though you’ve got a composer sitting inside your PC, causing the music to escalate as the excitement does. I guess the best testament to the quality of the sound in this game is that it passes through most of the game virtually unnoticed. By that I mean, it fits so seamlessly in with the graphics, gameplay and the whole rest of the game, it doesn’t stick out at all. It’s perfectly smooth. And voice acting, while a tad over-done in some places, is hilarious. And what game about greed isn’t complete without some good ol’ French-Canadian stereotypes?

    But I guess theAbe true genius of Exoddus is the atmosphere. Whilst the graphics and the sound represent it, it truly is the vision of the designers that make it. It is amazing, from the first time Abe says ‘Hey-low’ when you start up the game, to the mad cackling of ‘But… We had twize zee flaver!!!’ as you finish it, Oddworld is immersive, hilarious, serious and gritty throughout. And for that reason I trust that whatever Oddworld Inhabitants do next, I think it’ll succeed. The jump to 3D just doesn’t work for Oddworld, but maybe a totally new project will. This game, however, provokes serious thought about the state of our world at the moment, and I guess the themes will be relevent for hundreds of years. The themes of exploitation, capitalism, greed, heroism and valour ring true through every era of civilisation, and yet you can laugh at this game, really laugh out loud. It’s a game that’s one of a kind. When you see screenshots you see a 2D side-scroller, but when you play you find yourself in this amazing, crazy, illogical world that just makes sense. Lorne Lanning, I salute you.

    Written by Gordo

    June 26, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    EVE Online – My experience so far.

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    So, my EVE trial has been running for three days now. And in all honesty, I’m still totally in the dark in this game.  It’s immensely confusing compared to most games I’ve played before. So many skills to level, so much to buy, so much to do. I feel as though whatever I’m doing isn’t an effective use of my time, and I’m finding upgrading my ship very difficult. Maybe you’re not intended to upgrade your ship until you’ve been playing for a long time, but at the moment, I’m in the dark as to what I need to do. Should I do mining? Should I do missions? Should I buy and do engineering? It’s all very confusing.

    So far, I’ve been sticking to mining. Filling up my (tiny) cargo hold, returing to the station, processing, then selling. It works, but I’m getting money very, very slowly. I tried to do a mission but it seems the next one in the chain leading on from the tutorial requires more cargo space than I have! So that route’s been put on ice for the time being.

    I’d forgotten what it feels like to be a total ‘noob’ to a gamestyle. It was the same when I first played the traditional MMORPG. It took some getting used to, but that was designed as an inherently easier model to understand. This model is designed to occupy players of all levels (I’m using the term in a figurative sense – there are no ‘levels’ in EVE), and as such, it’s extremely confusing and daunting to a newcomer. It’s as though none of my skills from any other game are much use in EVE, and as such, each time I play I’m trying to learn more than is possible. I guess it’s because I, as a player, had gotten to the stage where I thought myself fairly capable, and savvy enough to pick up new games at the drop of a hat. Oh, how wrong I was.

    The sad thing is, I’m finding the game so confusing and difficult to advance, that I’m not enjoying the game. I hear reports from people about all these different events going on throughout the galaxy, and how exciting it is, and I just think – I wish I could be excited by that, I really do. But I can’t, unfourtunately. Not yet. I’ve still got over 10 days left of my trial, and I hope something can spark the magic that’ll cause me to enjoy this game, but as it stands, sadly, I won’t be starting a subscription.

    It’s weird, as not every game I’ve played has caught me and dragged me in from the outset. Morrowind comes to mind. You may have read my review of it, and seen how much I enjoyed it. As I mentioned, it wasn’t a game that caught me instantly, but after a couple of hours of playing, I was hooked. I expected maybe to experience the same thing in EVE, but I didn’t. I just remain confused and overwhelmed. Everything seems slow. I see people talking about billions of ISK, yet at the same time I’m only pulling in 50,000 or so from a couple of mining trips. And when looking through the market, all items that I could use to upgrade my ship are waaay out of my price range.Flow

    It’s interesting. Recently, at Keen & Graev’s blog, I was reading an article about the ‘Flow theory’ and it’s implementation in games. It got me thinking about my experiences in EVE. I consider myself a fairly average gamer, I enjoy most mainstream games, I have a fairly average playstyle. So why can’t I become immersed in EVE? Why can’t I truly enjoy it like so many other plays do? Am I expecting too much, too fast? The way I see it, is on the flow graph, the challenge is too high, and abilities gained too low. Therefore I’m anxious. Not having fun, sadly.

    I hear people say it truly takes months to really ‘get into the flow’. But the thing is, I’m paying for this game, and I can’t see the point in paying for several months when I’m not enjoying it. That’s just my logic I guess. By that very same logic, it’s impossible for me to enjoy this game. I won’t pay for it if I’m not having fun, and I won’t have fun if I’m not paying for it. I guess I may just need to accept this isn’t the game for me. That’s not to say I’ve totally abandoned hope – I still have some days left on my trial, so I’ll continue, and see what happens. The problem is, I think ‘I’ll start EVE up and give it a go’ then I think of another game I could play, an instant hit, and I get that game out instead. Maybe in a world of so many instant hits, there isn’t room for the games that require dedication any more.

    Written by Gordo

    June 26, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Posted in EVE Online, MMO

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    First steps into the Universe of EVE

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    As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve quit AoC, and am looking for a new MMO to play. My shortlist is WoW, EVE and EQ2. WoW I really see as a last resort, I resent how it is designed as a giant timesink, so I decided to try out the next game on my list. EVE online allows a 14 day trial, which I started earlier today, and I decided to post is my inital thoughts on it.

    Where do I start? Graphics seem like a good a place as any. EVE is beautiful. It’s extremely simplistic, yet absolutely amazing. The view of a distant star, a close planet, or the universe hurtling by as you warp simply is breathtaking.EVE Online

    Sound. Sound is something I probably undervalue in games. Again, EVE plays it simple, with low-level, gentle ‘space’ music playing the background. The voice of your onboard AI is simple and yet useful, as, when on long journeys with little cargo I use autopilot, and I often alt-tab to read something on the net (or I use the ingame browser), during which time, she continues her commentary of my route, so I hear when I need to return to the game. Fighting sounds are reasonable, but I dislike the kind of squelching sound I hear when using a stargate.

    Gameplay. This is where it gets complicated. In all honesty, my couple of hours in the game are probably insufficient to judge this games’ gameplay. As a noob, I’m charged with simple tasks involving mining for ores, to sell, which will allow me to upgrade my ship. I can, of course, do missions, but I prefer a little bit of variety, so I’m currently doing both. One feature I love is the passive skill generation. You simply say what skill you want to advance, and it advances in the background, whether you’re playing or not. This allows you to advance without grinding! Love it!

    Premise. EVE has a beautiful premise, it’s designed as a ‘playground’ instead of a ‘playpark’ according to the official website. It allows complete freedom, no enforced rules about PvP, levelling or progression. You do what you like. If you hate combat, you can make your money from mining or manufacturing, and simply hiring muscle to protect you. But they could turn on you, and take your valuables. Then they get a bounty. It really is beautiful the way the events of the game lead to flow. This game has politics, worldwide shifts in attitude or opinion, corporations ingame thats actions resonate throughout the entire universe. I’ve yet to join a corporation, but I do look forward to engaging in that area of gameplay.

    Time will tell whether I’ll fall in love with EVE, but so far, things are fairly positive. If any of you have anything to share with me about the game, I’d love to hear it, but in the mean time, I’ll carry on levelling my skills, gathering some cash, and learning how this game works. People say it has a steep learning curve, but only the highest peaks are worth traversing.

    Written by Gordo

    June 22, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Posted in EVE Online, MMO

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    The future: My next MMO.

    with 2 comments

    So, I’ve ditched Age of Conan. Now which MMO should I play? It’s a tough choice for me. Clearly there are no AAA games out for launch soon. WAR, I’ll definetly play, and am very excited about, but what will I play in the mean time? Tricky.

    Here’s my shortlist:

    1. WoW – not imaginative, not original, not brilliant. I’d rather not go back there, but maybe I would have fun if I tried again? After seeing the lack of questing in AoC, and the need for grinding, I might appreciate having quests instead of grinds to get levels. I might get to 70 (my character was 65 when I left him), and get immersed in the masses of endgame I’ve so far, left untapped.
    2. EVE – I’m personally torn on this one. I’ve done a trial before, and I found it too slow MMOsfor my liking. But people say, once you get ‘into it’, there’s nothing like it. They claim it’s the richest, deepest MMO experience out there. Does that make me shallow? I’m not sure, but my philosophy is, a game must be accessible. Forget all notions of depth, if the swimming pool has a layer of ice on top, no matter how deep it is, you won’t be able to swim until you’ve done a lot of smashing. So maybe I should try it again, and do some hacking at the ice until I’m immersed. Or would I be better admitting I’m not the kind of gamer that EVE is designed for?
    3. Everquest 2 – Kind of like WoW’s younger brother, not quite so smart, not quite so handsome, not quite so good at sport, but still not easy to write off. It has quite a large playerbase, but can it really be suitable for a complete newcomer like me?
    4. No MMO – A strange notion for me, I’ve played an MMO pretty much solid for a couple of years now. But maybe taking a break from the MMO world might allow me to enjoy some of the delights the non-MMO side of the industry has to offer. I’ve still got LoZ: Twilight Princess, GTA IV, COD 4, Super Mario Galaxy, to name but a few, that I’d like to play. Normally though, I play an MMO alongside these other games, at the expense of pace, allowing me to jump between them depending on how much fun I’m having in each at a certain time.

    Written by Gordo

    June 21, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Posted in MMO, PC

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    Spore Creature Creator – A cheap trick, but fun.

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    SporeEA, the kings of money-making when it comes to game, have got another corker with the Spore Creature Creator. They charge you £5 to get it, which in turn, signs you over to become cheap labour for them. The creatures you create and share are then used in the full game to populate it. As well as that, it shows you a fraction of the game, smaller than most demos would, but you’re paying for it! Well, fourtunately, there is a trial edition of the creature creator, and I’m happy to sacrifice the extra parts to at least cost EA one sale.

    It is fun though. You really can customise to your hearts content, you can create all sorts of combinations of legs, arm, heads, feet and horns. It’s the kind of game, where if you have a spark of creativity, you can be addicted to for months. If you’re less creative (ahem, me), you might find it fun for a while, but the chances are it’ll wear off. That is where EA get you, as the full game allows you do nurture these creatures as a race, not just as a creation. I’m looking forward to Spore, it should be a real treat. I wonder if it can emulate the success of The Sims, and have everyone glued to the PC as their whole civilization, not just their family, grow and multiply. It’s one to look out for, indeed.

    Written by Gordo

    June 21, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Posted in PC

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    The end of my Hyborian Adventures.

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    Age of ConanIt is with some sadness that I announce my time in Age of Conan has come to an end. I cancelled my subscription after finishing my free month. Some sadness I say, but in honesty, not a great deal. The game was too unfinished. While grinding was fun in AoC compared to many games, it was by no means fun enough to constitute doing it full time. And, at level 72, the grinding was tedious and mind-numbing. I was unable to do it for long periods of time, and that led to it taking literally ages to get levels, which made it even more tedious and mind-numbing. So this post, I guess, is an autopsy of my time in the game.

    What was good about Age of Conan? The start. Tortage was excellent. I’ve got a day before my subscription ends, and I might just make another character to play through Tortage again. Levels 20-40 felt a bit disjointed, but still, on the whole, were pretty good. 40-50 the fun picked up again for me, but after 50, the levels of grinding sucked. That was what killed the fun for me. That and seeing the lack of endgame content at present. Very few raids, which would end up being treadmills raids I think, and PvP looking in a pretty much pre-beta stage. This game could have done with time, plain and simple. Time would have made this game a much more fun experience from launch. And I’ll give it time. Maybe I’ll come back in several months time, that is, if another game hasn’t grabbed me by then.

    This game promised so much, and yet delivered so little. Maybe the speed I play the game at is the problem – Funcom clearly didn’t bargain for players like me, who level quite quickly, but still expect quests. Well, Funcom, you should bargain for players like me. Blizzard do.

    What shall I do now? Well, I’m playing through a couple games I got out of my dust-filled cabinets that I plan to review for my ‘The Classics’ series, so watch out for those. I’m preparing myself for WAR this autumn! As I said, I’ve been reading the book ‘Tales of the Old World’. I’m finding it thoroughly enjoyable. Paul Barnett summed up the Warhammer Universe perfectly when he said ‘it’s fantasy with all the crap taken out’. Also, a game that’s consistently tempted me, but never forced me to take the plunge is EVE Online. It seems like a very special game, but I’m not sure if I’m the kind of person who thrives in it. Clearly some people do, and other don’t. I guess the only way to find out is to play it and concentrate on it, and see what happens, and the new expansion could increase playability for a newcomer, or so I’ve heard.

    In other news, my WAR preorder is starting to worry me a bit. Play.com, who I ordered it from, seem to be very unsure what they need to do! I don’t think they realise they should be sending pre-order codes. War-europe.com says they’ve been sent, a poster of the WHA forums claims otherwise, whilst I got an email from Play.com, informing me it’ll be with me within a week. Why oh why did you choose them, GOA/EA?

    Written by Gordo

    June 21, 2008 at 4:58 pm