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It's been a while since I last posted: life has been busy and my gaming has been predominantly Rift and Alchemy Genetics based, with a bit of Borderlands and Champions Online here and there, which gets boring to read about after a while. I failed to get interested in Star Wars: The Old Republic in any way despite the behemoth PR engine and the obsessiveness of many of my friends (some of whom were barely gamers before it hit). I failed to get Skyrim too, though I plan on checking it out eventually once the price is down and I'm over my Rift phase.

Mobile apps for games and gaming networks aren't new by any means, however it's only in the last year or so that official apps from the producers of various games have started to surface. From Authenticator programs to add an extra layer of account security, to linked chat systems and replication of some in-game playable features; the companies behind the move to integrate the mobile market have been playing catchup to the enterprising third party app developers who've been offering addon support for years now.

Android Market iPhone Store

As an example of such a third party app: those who've played Eve Online with any degree of seriousness will know of Aura, an API-using app that monitors skills, manufacturing, market orders and so on. When I was playing Eve, it was invaluable as it'd let me see at a glance exactly what order on which character had been filled by whom, if I was about to superceede my current clone and also when my next skill was due to pop. It's been around for a good long while (in mobile app terms) and is quite the success story. It's not the only one of course, there's a ton of apps for Eve and the same goes for pretty much every game out there with a following. People like the functionality; they like to be able to stay connected. Games companies have taken heed and have started to produce their own versions.


Playing catchup

The earliest 'Official' apps were the account Authenticators for games such as World of Warcraft. In games with a high profile, and thus sporting a large target for unscrupulous account-breaching activities, keyloggers grabbing passwords are commonplace, as is account sharing and plenty of other means to gain access to an account from the user's end. Authenticators add another layer of security by requiring a code generated by the app to be entered when you login. It's a unique key attached to your account and changes frequently (usually a 30 second window) when synched up with the server. The idea there is that unless someone has your mobile phone as well as your username and password, it's no use trying to keylog the code as it'll be invalid shortly after use.

Now, gaming companies have introduced apps that do more, often linking into game servers' API to allow for communications such as reading in-game mail or chatting in channels, or more. An example of this is the official Rift mobile app, currently in Beta, for the iPhone and Android platforms. It allows you to log in as many of your own characters as you like in order to chat to friends and guildmates, keep track of world events and play minigames to earn small in-game rewards. Whilst the latter is opening a can of worms regarding paying subscribers not have equal access to content and loot unless they own smartphones, the functions offered have proved to be extremely popular (even if it is buggy as all ungodly hell in it's current Beta incarnation). It's not alone: World of Warcraft has had a similar app for some time, as have other games. Some of them are even paid apps that require an initial purchase fee, or else cost a little extra on top of the game's subscription fee in those games that have them, such as WoW's Remote Services app that allows the use of the auction house from a phone, among other things.


Social Networking?

It's not just online games that could benefit greatly from associated apps. Gaming networks, notably Steam, have been bugged for years about releasing apps, or at the very least allowing the API to become available for third parties to develop apps in their stead. It took a while but Valve finally pulled their collective finger out and the Steam Mobile App is now available on iPhone and Android markets. It's a beta test at the moment, and once you've logged in it'll take that as registering interest in beta participation. If you do that, keep an eye out on your Beta notifications (Setting menu in the main Steam client) for an invite and once you've got that accepted and sorted out you can get stuck in. They're being a little slow to send out beta invites but as I understand it everyone who registers interest (i.e. downloads it and logs in) will eventually get one.

Steam Mobile App

I've been using it for the last few days. So far, so good. You can't access your game library sadly, but you can do most other things such as chat to friends and see the friends list, view the store, make purchases and so on. It's also pretty stable so far, which is a plus in my book.


The haves and the have-nots

Clearly there is a future in mobile apps associated with online gaming. There will always be third party apps, some paid and some free, and any online game company that sees itself as a major player will want to have its own suite of official apps. But there are lines being drawn over what constitutes convenience, and what becomes an unfair in-game advantage. Checking a mail message versus winning rewards. Favoring owners of some devices and not others.

My personal line in the sand is at direct manipulation of in game content. Chatting to a friend is one thing, acquiring free loot and manipulating auctions is quite different. Particularly because not every player of a game will own a supported smart device. Computer-aimed software with the same functionality would be an equiliser, because one would presume that if your machine is capable of running the game in question, it's capable of running a small associated applet too. However, I have yet to see such a thing implemented and I do wonder why that might be. It can't be a question of losing money because many of these smart device apps are free, and even if they're not you can charge for applets like any other piece of software.

Finally, let's not forget security issues, and what might happen if your phone goes walkabout. Saved login information and account details could be a problem. Authenticators might end up locking you out of your own account unless you spend hours on expensive support phonecalls and post ID halfway accross the world to prove you're the real account owner, as happened to a friend of mine when her phone was stolen.

All in all, if you have a smart device then there's much on offer by way of expanding your online game experience through apps with varying degrees of integration. I'm riding this wave with interest and looking to see where it might go.
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Over recent years, the dissemination of game content has shifted from a single complete and finished product in a cartridge or on a disk, to a first release version that then has updates added at various later points. This is even becoming true of consoles, such as XBox Live and PSN games. Whilst there are debates about whether it means paying players are the new beta testers, rushing releases and suchlike, one thing that has caught on this year especially is the idea of seasonal updates.

In short: christmas has come to a video game near you.

MMOs

MMOs have had this sort of content for years, with plenty of titles adding in bits and pieces ranging from encounters to phat lootz to social costumes. Halloween and Christmas seem to be the most popular and this year is no exception with just about everything on the market going for it. Even EVE Online gets in on the act, though these days they have restricted it to gifting each account with some sort of present item such as a ship or an implant.

Trion Worlds Holiday Greeting

The MMOs I have dealings with all have Christmas festivities in some form or another. Anarchy Online has present-dropping leets in tower fields, big christmas trees in the main cities and a series of minigame encounters around a tongue-in-cheek storyline about aliens (lead by the commander Grin'Cha) infiltrating Santaleet's workshop to spread throughout the planet... Rift has had a three phase Fae Yule event going on for the last month or so and and the final phase is due to being any day now, revolving around the newly-freed Fae going overboard in celebrating the rites of Grandfather Frost with gifts, special footholds and costumes. Champions Online has costumes and perks associated with defeating armies of misfit toys, and the final part of an adventure pack series with a wintry theme.


Elsewhere

But it's not just MMOs. Game all across Steam have popped up free DLCs with christmas content ranging from decorations for the Tavern in Dungeon Defenders to a new map with its own achivement and music in Sanctum*. Killing Floor has christmas-skinned zombies, to follow up their Halloween themed DLC. Bunch of Heroes also has a holiday pack... You get the idea.

It's even becoming present in mobile gaming: Alchemy Classic just updated with a christmas addition set, chaging the backgrounds to be festive and adding some 50 new combinations for christmas and yule related items, like Coniferous trees.


But...

Of course with a fixed theme such as Christmas/Yule, there's only so much you can do based on the same hashed-out old tropes (trees, presents, candy canes, snow etc) and it is all a bit jarring with the setting of each game unless it's based in the real world and the here and now. Ultimately it's why Eve Online moved it's christmas celebrations out of game, so to speak (although it was fun pelting the devs with snowballs in my destroyer). It's all just some silly fun, though, and it can make a change in the scenery from the rest of the year.


*For the record, Sanctum devs can't sing. It is funny though.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
... on my PC and on my Android.

First of all, it goes without saying that I hop onto Champions Online now and then, usually to faff about with the character creator. Cryptic recently had a birthday event to celebrate 2 years of the game, and there were presents and suchlike which I had a blast pewpewing for.

Champions Online logo


Pity the costume items were random from presents but so it goes.


For the Commute

Recently I have discovered the nifty little Android Game called Alchemy (see prior entry). My first real foray into Mobile gaming and it's not even a Gamer's Game: no flashy graphics, no kill count, no online play etc. It's simple, fun, quite the battery hog and keeps me entertained when I'm not busy.

In summary: start with Fire, Water, Earth & Air. Combine them up into new items such as Metal, Sand, Sea and Life. Continue on until you invent Locomotive, Werewolf, The Beatles and Borscht. There's a current total of 380 of them to uncover and there's a free version of the app that works well enough.

Alchemy/Android image

For a detailed look at the game, read my previous journal entry.


For the Horde Telara!

On the PC, I have recently got back into the Trion Worlds MMO Rift in a big way. I was out of the game on anything like a regular or serious basis for some time, keeping only a vague ear to the ground on what was developing. With pretty much everyone I played with having moved on for a variety of reasons, it got dull and difficult to keep my characters in good equipment on my own (and one thing I can't stand is allowing my characters to become gimped and a burden).

Rift logo

The recent months have seen a fair number of updates to the game; redesigned graphics for some models, lots of new NPCs and quests, some very nifty UI tweaks (my favourite of which is the new Quest Item bag that saves on your very limited inventory space in a massive way), new encounters and dungeons, redesigned encounters and dungeons and a lot of tweaking of the various souls. All of this comes as part of the world event-driven storyline expansions that are released every month or two. Version 1.4 was released recently and in honour of the game's 6 month anniversary (half-birthday they call it, cheesy but there we are) there was a round of free game time and various ingame freebies available including the obligatory references to the cake not being a lie, which coincided with Champions Online's 2nd birthday, as mentioned above, that also proved the cake was real.

Whilst there is always argument and debate about the changes that are made, and they're not always for the best, overall I think Trion Worlds is getting it right in terms of the optimisation, bugsquashing and playability. Best of all, there still isn't a sodding cash shop for power items: it's still a sub-based game that isn't pay-to-win. To me, this is a HUGE point in its favour.

A couple of current niggles include throwing so much XP at the characters over the recent half-birthday celebrations that everyone overlevels much too fast and you end up fighting grey mobs in sub-par gear with the zone quests only half finished (yeah, I make a lousy powerleveler). The other is the removal of the soul quests because apparently newbies found it too confusing to have to quest for other souls or something. Now you just buy them from a trainer and in the process lose a chunk of the darker side of the characters' stories: where do you think those souls stuffed inside of you came from in the first place? They could have left both options in IMO.

Rift Bahmi on a Tartagon
Do not mock the turtle.

I'm currently splitting my playtime primarily between lowbie Defiants on Argent and highbie Guardians on Icewatch. Still not hit 50 yet for the raiding but I'm keeping my main characters in Artisan Mark-made blues and Zone-Puzzle Purples as much as possible so as to be solo/duo capable and not a gimp.


If anyone is interested in giving the game a free trial, let me know. I can Ascend a Friend, which is a cheesy way of saying I can get you a free copy of the game + 7 day trial. For that I can get a hat and you get to put up with me popping up at random intervals.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
Back at the keyboard after a busy week, I'm going to move onto something of a tangent and look at the audio component of modern video games complete with Wikipedia links for further general reading without having to wade through a ton of different sites. If you want to read a much more technical retrospective on the evolution of sound in video games, read up on it right here. My post is not about tech specs, but instead looks at the evolution of the sound concepts over time and the directions the industry as a whole has taken.


Whilst it is true to say that the visual impact of a game is the greatest in terms of aesthetics, the sound and music can enhance or detract from the experience to a degree. Consider games that you turn the music off and substitute some of your own: how long did it take before getting fed up or simply bored of the soundtrack? Has a game's sound or music ever put you off to such a degree that you stopped playing? Has it ever been so good you want to listen to it on its own merits?

Personally I prefer to have both the game sound effects and background music on unless I've grown tired of it or it's irritating. I'm fairly sound-oriented so to me, video game music is srs bznz.

In some games such as Eve Online, it can negatively affect performance and turning it off comes with a noticeable improvement in client-side lag. Doesn't matter how nice it sounds, if it means the difference between losing my expensive battleship and claiming phat lootz as the victor, it's getting turned the hell off. Of course, this is mitigated somewhat by the usefulness of audio cues alerting you when something is going on that you might not be able to see too clearly, perhaps because a ship behind your field of view has targeted you or there's too much happening on screen at once. Eve is a tricky balance because the music can be very relaxing, if a little inappropriate for a heart-pounding fleet fight unless you switch the in-game jukebox over to one of the Drone tracks, or some Caldari techno.

The flip side of engaging music is in the game Rift. Whilst it's not horrible and doesn't provoke a 'turn it off right now' reaction, it's extremely dull and unmemorable to the point where I don't even notice if it's playing or not. Attempts to make it quietly fantasy-epic haven't succeeded, to my mind. This is quite unlike the music in Anarchy Online which is very fitting and memorable indeed and likely to provoke bouts of nostalgia within the first 3 bars when I hear it, and had me running around various locations just to trigger certain tracks playing like outside Baboon's nightclub in the Omni-1 Entertainment district.



Scores old and new

These days, sound in games is big business rather than the hastily tacked-on blips and bleeps of the 8bit days and earlier. Full orchestral scores with composers; popstar singers with a CGI video release; studio suites dedicated to blending a medley of sounds into a single door-opening hiss and so on. Whilst some earlier consoles had sound chips that were advanced for their time, with memorable soundtracks to boot (the Commodore 64 being a famous and notable example of this) it wasn't until the 8bit generation was in full swing that gamers developed the expectation of a good aural experience to complement good graphics and good gameplay. The sound of claiming a coin in Super Mario Bros. on the original Nintendo Entertainment System has become iconic and can even be heard nowadays coming from a Blackberry near you.


The 8bit days were about a catchy repetative loop of background music that changed every so often, perhaps even every level or when it was time to fight the big boss. Sound effects would mimic the characters' actions and were meant to be distinguishable from the music track and perhaps related to the action they were attached to, but little else.


By the time the 16bit consoles rolled out, some publishers were being more adventurous in their use of sound as everything from enhancing the atmosphere to providing audio cues for something off screen or about to happen. An excellent example of this is the Delphine Software game Flashback (released in 1992 for various consoles including the Amiga, Super Nintendo and Sega Megadrive, and since re-released periodically on newer formats). The background music was intermittent, triggered by entering certain areas, or when enemies were due to appear. Sounds for enemies and traps off-screen would be heard quietly and by listening to the sounds growing in volume and if you had stereo speakers or headphones, the direction they were coming from, you knew to get yourself ready for what was about to appear. All very basic stuff that we take for granted now but in the early 1990s this was new and groundbreaking.

The 16bit days also marked the popularisation of the idea of releasing game soundtracks on CD for retail. As an example, Squaresoft produced and sold OSVs (original sound versions, also called OSTs or original sound tracks), arrangements of OSVs and 'music inspired by' OSVs for their RPGs such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI (known as Final Fantasy III in the US). The Super Nintendo was blessed with an excellent Sony-produced sound chip of the SPC-700 series making up the core of it's S-SMP sound processor, which would later find an upgrade inside Sony's original Playstation. This allowed game music composers to really flex their creativity as the consoles were capable of more than a series of bips and boops. Some of the most well-known, remixed and replayed game tunes of all time came from these 16bit games and their writers have become legendary figures in the video game communities; for example Nobuo Uematsu and his work on the iconic Final Fantasy soundtracks or Yasunori Mitsuda and his Chrono Trigger, Shadow Hearts and Xenogears series (he's a particular favourite of mine with a distinctive style that can be spotted even through heavy remixing).


When the next generation of consoles hit, the 32bit Playstation and Sega Saturn in particular, video game music had become integral to the whole playing experience. Music composers led teams of dedicated sound engineers and musicians to produce polished and original works of sound art that would be marketed as products in their own right, and sometimes even made the music charts. An example of this can be seen with Final Fantasy VIII's Eyes on Me which was sung by Faye Wong, a popular Chinese singer and released as a pop single in Japan where it did extremely well, selling over 400,000 copies. The famous Wipeout series of futuristic racing games began life in 1995 with the original Playstation and it's heavily-pimped soundtrack was written by CoLD SToRAGE featuring tracks from the Chemical Brothers, Leftfield and the Orbital.


Since then, collaborations between musicians and game publishers have become commonplace with soundtracks and albums of music inspired by game soundtracks charting commercially worldwide, exclusive tracks appearing inside games, soundtracks partly or wholly written and performed by popular bands and so forth. In 2010 the Ivor Novello Awards introduced a category for Video Game soundtracks and from 2012 the Grammy Awards will have a section for game music as well. There's even college and university courses that include or specialise in game music composition in the US and Europe.

Current examples of video game music crossing over with more traditional avenues of music include:-

There's an ever-increasing number of games that integrate sound into the experience in a fundamental manner by essentially dictating the gameplay based upon the player's interactions with sound-generating mechanisms. These games include the rail shooter Rez on the Dreamcast, Playstation 2 and XBox 360; the freeform music game Electroplankton on the Nintendo DS; and puzzle-racer Audiosurf on the PC. Whilst they've enjoyed mixed success, the ability to play your own music instead of the in-game soundtrack with XBox 360 or PC games is popular and I wonder if we'll see more games that wrap themselves around the player's choice of music.


tl;dr

Game music has evolved from tinny beeps meant to fill the silence punctuated by clicking keys and thumbs on pads into a multi-billion dollar star-studded industry with global recognition and awards. It's not just for us saddo obsessives any more...




* Flashback was groundbreaking for other reasons, including the hand-drawn backgrounds, the rotoscoped animation, the Conrad sprite using a real person moving as it's base etc. A personal favorite of mine.
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Well alright, it's now known just as Rift but the subtitle was originally part of it's official name before launch.

Rift game cover

So, what's the deal with yet another WoW-clone? And who are Trion Worlds anyway?

Trion Worlds don't initially appear to have much, if anything, to do with a fantasy MMO. Their homepage is all about their MMO shooter/RTS games DEFIANCE and End of Nations. They're also an american company, rather than Korean or Chinese, and don't have anything like the reputation of Blizzard. Yet here they are with the closest thing to a World of Warcraft competitor since, well, WoW.

During Beta, a lot of hype was generated by the MMO playing community as well as by it's publishers. It was touted as a Wow-clone that offered something new; the eponymous Rifts and the soul system. It was generally claimed that if you were bored of WoW and looking for a new challenge, you'd like Rift. If you thought WoW was dull and simplistic, you'd like Rift. If fantasy MMOs weren't your bag, well you might still like Rift.

At release, as with plenty of hyped MMOs, there was a lot of interest and plenty of people I know went over to give it a go. At release, I had zero interest in the game: I don't like the standard fantasy MMO tropes, I can't stand magic pixie settings with dwarves etc and I loathe large chunks of the core WoW mechanics. It took a concerted and co-ordinated effort by various people from various angles, culminating in being bought a copy of the game, for me to even consider it, so reluctantly I signed up and promised I'd give it that first month. All in all, I'm quite glad I did.

Initially I was skeptical. My friends were all Guardian side on Sparkwing so even though the magi-tech obsessed and exotic Defiants appealed to me vastly more than some tedious religious nutjob elves/dwarves/humans, I rolled up a Cleric from the enormous choice of four classes. 3 Races per faction, you can't mix and match. Thusfar, I wasn't too impressed. Character customisation was limited from my perspective, although I had just come from many many hours lost in the Champions Online creator which is hardly a fair comparison, and with only 4 rather standard classes to choose from (Cleric, Mage, Warrior, Rogue) I honestly thought I wouldn't last the week. However my friends rolled up some new alts to play alongside me through the newbie experience and I signed up to their Guild at the first available opportunity.

My first impressions were along the lines of 'oh god this has all the horrible WoW mechanics I loathe and despise in it, but at least it doesn't look like a dated cartoon, just a dated fantasy MMO'. The graphics aren't much to write home about given it's a 2011 release; they're not bad as such but would be more fitting in a 2008-9 game.

After bombarding my friends with questions (in between sarcastic comments about asking wow players how it's done in WoW and then assuming it'll be the same in Rift) I started to realise that whilst there were only 4 very traditional classes, sorry - Callings, they all played very differently from one another. Even down to the way their snazzy powerz were managed. Clerics and Mages use mana; no big shock there. Mages additionally build up a combo meter that is used to do certain other things such as recharge mana quickly or give a damage boost. Warriors build up persisting Attack Points in order to unleash special moves and have a power bar that limits how many funky abilities they can chain. Rogues accrue Combo points on a per-enemy basis that are spent on finisher moves, having a similar sort of power bar system as the Warrior that limits how many abilities they can chain together. This means management of abilities has to be done differently per class. There are mana potions, for example, but nothing item-based that can quickly fill a Power/Combo meter or award Attack/Combo points. Coming from other games that are simpler or older where all classes have HP and some kind of magic power meter and that's yer lot, it made a nice change.

The much-vaunted Soul system kicks in about halfway through the newbie area when you've acquired 2 of your basic 3 and you have to start making decisions about where to spend the soul points you get at level up. Souls are just a fancy way of presenting a skill tree system. They even use the tree analogy to explain Root powers and Branch powers. You make choices about where you spend points in your branches, and the root powers are awarded when you reach a certain number of spent points, regardless of branch. The nifty thing here is that once you hit level 13 or so and can quest for the rest of your classes' souls, you can create any combo of any 3 souls to form a Role, and you can buy more Role slots to swap to in a matter of second, thus enabling an entirely new build on the same character without having to level up an alt.

All of this is further sped up by the ability to write in-game macros to do things like swap equipment instantly, or to fire off whichever ability meets the 'able to fire off' criteria from a selection of abilities your current soul configuration has unlocked. I was slow on the macro uptake, having an innate dislike to anything worded 'macro' in an MMO given how 3rd party macro tools are omnipresent and used ot abuse game mechanics in pretty much every other game. Rift is fairly restrictive on what you can do and ultimately what Rift macros do is reduce the variety of buttons you have to press, rather than reduce the number of actions you have to take, at the cost of not being able to finely hone your twitch responses. Macros can lose you a fight vs a skilled PvPer because you didn't make a manual decision to use ability b over ability a and a was the one that came up first in the macro's list when you pressed the button.

Once I got the hang of Souls I decided that actually, for all it's ripped-off WoW mechanics which I dislike (not being able to select to autoface a fighting target is a pet hate of mine, also excessively harsh falling damage particularly where terrain mapping and terrain textures don't match up), I liked the character system in this game after all. Particularly given the diversity amongst souls which meant you can have 5 Rogues in a group and all of them are wildly different: for example a team buffer/healer support Bard type, an assassin type that pops out from the shadows for a huge alphastrike, a ranger type flurrying arrows as it's direwolf pet mauls the enemy, a saboteur type rigging up traps and explosives etc, all while blending a bit of other flavours in to patch up weaknesses left by the fact that souls are all fairly specialised.

Player-made item building in Rift is actually very much worth it to pursue, and each character can learn 3 tradeskill abilities. There are 3 gathering and 6 crafting skills. The items that players can make are better than the vast majority of the items players can loot, particularly at the level an item becomes equippable at (items are level locked as in most MMOs). People go two ways in terms of tradeskill choices: grab all 3 Gathering skills and then either use alts or guildmates for the crafting skills, or else pick 2 crafting skills most relevant for their calling and then the gathering skill that provides the majority of the base resources required. As an example, a Warrior will most likely be using swords/axes/spears and plate armour which are all metals-based: this means Mining as a gathering skill and then Armoursmithing and Weaponsmithing as craftting skills. Of course you'll need bits of things from the other gathering professions but that's a minority and what you get out of building your own is well worth the extra investment of time or money to acquire the missing parts. Given the Role/Soul system means there is rarely a need to make more than one of any class, 3-4 characters is the most you'd get much use out of and that will cover all 9 craft skills with a nice overlap for Gathering too.

Questing makes up the majority of progression through the game in terms of XP, money, exploration and to a lesser extent gear. There's a lot of quests. I mean a veritable buttload, not including dailies even. It's both a strength and a weakness in my experience: fun the first time around but with alts it gets to be very repetetive and 'oh god here we go again'. At least the quests don't nag you in terms of time constraints, leaving you free to go off and spend a few days hitting random rifts, crafting stuff, going overe here, poking something over there, chasing achivements (did I forget to mention the fact the game as achivements? Well it's not that original nowadays but some of them are plenty fun) and generally exploring and doign your own thing. This, to me, is a huge plus point because I hate feeling forced into a narrow and pressured path.

As with any MMO of this kind, there are instanced dungeons which are available in varying degrees of difficulty, the highest difficulty beign the source of the best Tier 1 & 2 phats in the game (read: epic lootz/purples). Some of them are pretty run of the mill 'kill trash mobs, kill boss, click thingy, rinse repeat' whilst others require better planning and trial and error-based learning what does and doesn't work. I didn't get much of a chance to hit dungeons up because I lagged behind in the levelling curve having come to the game late, so this is one area I'd like to explore more.

The biggest part of the game is, of course, the Rifts. There's a fair bit of background and story to the game and whilst Guardian-side it's pretty cliché and fantasty standard, the Defiants have a bit more originality. The world is called Telara and it's having a spot of bother with Rifts opening up to elemental planes allowing invading forces form these planes through to cause all sorts of trouble. By spot of bother I mean all hell breaking lose more or less constantly and if the Telarans don't get their act together and sort it out, Telara will fall in 20 years time. Play a Defiant and you get to see that fall for yourself. Rifts are open group activities that essentially funciton as mini impromptu raids. The game will create a raid interface and invide any characters (within the same faction) to the interface, allowing teams to merge etc. There's a huge variety of rift types, both in terms of element (fire, death, water, life, air, earth) and in terms of steps required to complete, from just killing everything that moves to performing certain actions, finding certain items and preventing certain things from happening. The better you do, the fast you progress and the more stages of the Rift open up offering more phats. These Rifts can pop up almost anywhere and at no notice. All in all I found these to be enormous fun - from soloing a quiet one out of the way as a challenge to test my skills, to piling into huuuuge elite rifts with tons of other folks and having to adapt to disorganised tactics with random strangers on the fly. The XP aint half bad either.

In addition, there's zone-wide special rift events fairly frequently. Some of them are minor and you can go abotu your own business with a minimum of fuss. Others completely take over a zone and within seconds you can find yourself trapped between a rock and a hard place... These are quite a mixed bag with some of them being exhilarating fun if you find some good people to do them with, and others can leave you stuck unable to do anything at all on your own until a passing raidforce comes by. Mostly I've enjoyed these but there have been occasions where I've said f*ck it and logged to an alt somewhere far faaaaar away.


Personally, I've had a lot of fun within the game. My cleric is an AoE DD-whore rather than a healer most of the time and very solo-capable, but I can keep a small raidforce alive with a switch to a healer role when needed. My warrior wades in with a spear and a battlecat to melee DD the hell out of stuff until a tank is needed, then he gets out the shield and swaps roles and becomes indestructible tank-o-rama. I've even done the switching mid-rift as situations change. I've explored all sorts of weird and crazy places, ran into well-hidden zone puzzles, snuck lowbie alts into high level locations to see what's there, created all manner of bizzare soul combos and play concepts and participated in zone events and rifts way beyond my levels for the sheer hell of it, considering survival the greatest achivement.

On the flip side I have had a bad time with some poor UI mechanics, gold seller spam, stupid quest requirements (killing an elite zone boss that spawns once maybe twice a day at a random time and location within a zone - and usually gets swamped by everyone else with the quest and dies before I can log the right character and get there after finding out about it), the cost of traveling by using portals and the grind to build up points for hundreds of different things such as crafting skills, NPC factions reputation, zone-specific source shards to exchange for powerful items, multiple currency types etc.

For me, the game won't have the longevity that I found in Eve Online and Anarchy Online, but it's been far more fun than any fantasy MMO has any right to be and I don't mind paying £9 a month sub at all, particularly as it doesn't (yet?) have a power items for cash shop which is the bane of my MMOing existance.


I'm still on Rift although a bit stuck at the moment. My Guardian mains are still on Sparkwing, which has now been designated a trial account server (stupid idea in my opinion, having only newbies together without higher level characters to go oooh and aaah over and experienced players to answer basic questions). My guild has gone inactive and as yet have not moved to a new server. I'm hoping to persuade them to pick somewhere to go... I have lowbie Defiant alts all over the place but have no particular ties to any server with those and they're all Freemarch-level nooby. So at the moment I am in limbo and not currently playing although my account is open.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
At the moment, I'm not hardcore into any one thing. My general game usage is based around my 3DS while I'm out and about, which keeps me sane on my commutes and when I have a quiet lunch, and my home PC. On the 3DS I'm usually playing Ghost Recon; at home I'm often bouncing about on Minecraft. It's one of those lull periods I get where I'm not intensely focused on somthing in particular, and end up casually playing a few different games depending on the people I game with and their availability. Until recently I was up to my eyeballs in MMOs and I suppose could describe myself as 'between games' at the moment.


General MMO-flavoured notes

I've become an MMO gamer over the years, after initially being highly critical of a genre of game which, as I saw it, you had to re-buy the damn thing every month. The reasons for my change of tune are twofold:

Firstly, MMOs tend to be huge games with a lot of variety in scope, long character progression, plenty to see and do, a lot of freedom to explore, experiment and generally mess around with a wide variety of ways to play such as player vs game content, player vs player, combat, crafting, social activities etc. As living worlds that in theory are updated by their creators with new content and changes, this mitigated the 'subscription fee' niggle I had had.

Secondly, MMOs have communities; the people you play with in groupings of varying size and arrangement in order to accomplish things, so it's a social affair in which friendships can develop. It goes beyond in-game activities into forum participation, websites resource creation and the development of third-party tools that give rise to smartphone apps, wikis, theorycrafting with equipment listings and so on. The entire process can be very rewarding.

Both of those aspects appeal very strongly to me and I've had many years of good times with the genre. A quick overview of my time:

I started out with Eve Online in 2004 some time before the first big expansion, Exodus, was released. That's one hell of a baptism of fire, believe me. Internet spaceships appealed to my interests because I'm a sci-fi fan and I had a few friends that were playing it at the time. After some years and many adventures both good and bad, I burned out and decided to give it a break. I have returned to Eve off and on over the years and am currently subbed (just about) despite the CCP debacles of late.

After some time experimenting with other games, I found myself really getting into Anarchy Online which I had first come accross in 2006 shortly before the release of the Lost Eden expansion. I realise that this way round of playing those two games was arse-backwards to most others, but hey. Several more years of good and bad were spent here doing it all until I suffered a similar burnout and developed an extremely jaded view of FUncom (putting the FU in fun).

Some more random games later (most recently Rift, which I am still technically subbed to but no one I played with still plays and I'm bored on my own) I find myself adrift once more.

At a later point I'll do a more detailed write up of each game, including the various other games I played and didn't stick with for one reason or another.

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achtungexplosiv

May 2012

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