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Archive for October, 2009

“Scared Shepard” or “That Scar has a Very Specific Shape”

October 31, 2009 2 comments

Amidst all the frenzy leading up to Dragon Age: Origins (just two days left!), BioWare hasn’t forgotten about the upcoming adventures of Commander Shepard.

They released a new Halloween themed poster to commemorate the dark side of Shepard. You can download a 1920×1080 version by clicking the image below.

Scarred Shepard

Click to view full version

 

Categories: Mass Effect 2

“Traversing Torchlit Trouble” or “Deliciously Designed Dungeons”

October 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Still waiting to try Torchlight?

I have played it for about eight hours since last night, and it is a nonsensical amount of fun!

Se7en reasons to try Torchlight:

  • It costs a mere $20. And even at that price, you can try out a demo here. The game recieved a solid 86% at Metacritic. The user score was even higher at 92% overall.
  • You can choose from one of three classes. But each class has three specializations, for a total of nine separate play styles.
  • You get a pet that fights for you, hits like a truck, has its own inventory, and you can teach it spells and used food to shapeshift it. The food you feed the pet comes from a fishing mini-game (among other things). But it is the simplest, most intuitive, most enjoyable fishing minigame ever designed for any MMO or RPG.
  • There is a level editor. It is the same set of tool used by the designers to craft the entire game. Let’s just say those $20 will undoubtedly get you a much longer shelf-life.
  • In 18 months time, the developers will release a free-to-play MMO version of Torchlight.

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Se7en helpful hints for beginners

  • The game is too easy on ‘Normal’. Try ‘Hard’.
  • Your pet can pick up loot if you shift-click on it.
  • Your pet can also be sent back to town with an inventory full of stuff you want to sell automatically, so you can continue playing in the dungeons.
  • If you have an unidentified item, right-click an ‘Identify Scroll’ in your inventory, and left-click on the item.
  • Can’t use an item, but it looks like it might be good for an alt? The game comes with a shared vault system. Every one of your characters has access to it.
  • TnT barrels can be exploded from a distance, say if you are playing the Avenger class, to help expedite enemy deaths.
  • Shift+F9 takes screenshots. They are saved in the Torchlight install folder.
Categories: Review, Torchlight

“Sensible Spawns” or “WoW vs. Borderlands”

October 30, 2009 5 comments

Most modern MMOs like to define themselves as virtual worlds. What this implies is that even if the player logged off, the world would continue to exist regardless. Bears would roam the forests, wolves would chase down and kill rabbits, Frenzyheart would fight on against the Oracles, the Purple Gang would patrol the West Side Heights, and so on and so forth. This creates a sense of immersion, a sense of belonging in a living, breathing world teeming with its own life.

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The immersion factor is however shattered when you kill a boar, and another one pops up. It does not dig out of the surrounding mud, or come out of a farm enclosure of some kind. It simply… materializes out of thin air.  In no other genre of gaming, be it FPS, RTS or even RPG, do your enemies pop out of thin air and re-populate the area minutes after you cleared the menace. The person who gave you the task of clearing out said enemies is still in the same peril, asking adventurer after adventurer to fix the situation for him.

Syncaine made a great post about how to address this issue from quite a few different viewpoints.

My post is more about the way in which these enemies (re)spawn. It’s a pity to see Borderlands, which is not an MMO, come up with a viable and intelligent solution to the persistent respawn problem, without succumbing to the same old lazy formula. I recently started “The Borderlands Chronicles”, a series of posts that recounts my adventures as Bronte the Hunter in Borderlands, providing narrative, critique and commendations along the way. You can find Part I here.

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The skags spawn out of that cave on the right, NOT thin air.

The later section of this inaugural post covers my fight with some skags, the game’s version of demonic dog-like starter creatures. They too respawn over time. The difference is that they charge out of small caves built into the game world. You cannot enter these caves yourself, they are a little too small. But the overall effect undeniably feeds immersion.

You spot a skag, you snipe it from 50 feet out. Immediately two more skags come snarling, charging out of the adjacent caves. And even if you kill every skag in the area, the respawn process will involve more skags eventually walking out of the caves, instead of magically appearing out of thin air.

The system makes sense. It is intuitive, it allows for the beasts to be persistent in the world without breaking the tenous thread it has with the implied realism. Why can’t we have that in WoW? Or Champions Online? Or for that matter, any other MMO that uses the same respawn system?

Se7en Tidbits: “Cross-platform Segregation” or “Hit Capped for Healing”

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Here are a few tidbits that caught my attention for one reason or another this week:

  • “It’ll be interesting to see, once MMOs start appearing on consoles (if any ever do), if there’ll be continued segregation, or one, happy, cross-platform family.” – Zoso, An Appeal, Killed in a Smiling Accident.
  • “I guess in their purest form, microtransactions are about freeing the player from subscription fees whilst still enabling the developer to earn a fair reward. They should be additional extras, non-essential, that are a bit of fluff, flexibility or enjoyment to the game without effecting the balance of those who choose not to indulge in them.” – Gordon, Microtransactions Can’t Be Trusted, We Fly Spitfires.
  • “MMOs currently lack depth. The problems that a player must face when he sits down to play are severely limited in difficulty. Modern MMOs are mostly built to tickle players with rewards and those rewards are their primary motivation for continued play. If game systems had enough depth to rival the reward addiction, MMOs would be able to get over the Kosterian Curve of rapid adoption followed by devastating desertion.” – Evizaer, On Balance, Part 1: Strategy and Depth, That’s a Terrible Idea.
  • “The rule of thumb is that whenever someone utters those words ["It's Easy"] and then doesn’t personally go do the thing he or she was talking about, it often means that person is full of crap.” – Psychochild, “It’s easy”, Psychochild’s Blog.
  • “I do like WAR’s crafting philosophy of making stuff you can use.  Aion’s crafting is the definition of grind, but it is much more broad than WAR.  I would love to see WAR keep their philosophy but expand the system.” – Werit, What WAR can learn from Aion, Werit’s Blog.
Categories: Se7en Tidbits

The Borderlands Chronicles, Part I: “Zed’s Red Baby!” or “Skag Skirmish”

October 29, 2009 6 comments

Note: This is an ongoing series depicting the path of Bronte, a Hunter in the dark and cell-shaded world of Borderlands. It will attempt to paint a picture of what the game is like as well as provide commentary of some of the most spectacular moments from the game. Narrative is in black. Bugs and design flaws are in red. Memorable or ‘whoa!’ moments, and positive points are in blue. Enjoy!

Link:

Bearings

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I am outside the town of Fyrestone, accompanied by a chirpy, nerdy, attention-hungry robot, Claptrap. He is voiced to perfection as a cowardly creature who tries to act all professional and official, but can’t help being himself. Claptrap has just handed me a device that apparently plugs into my brain. The device shows me my health bar, experience bar, ammo counter and a compass. Over the course of the game, additional modules will come onlile such as the objectives tracker and the skills interface. I look around at the world I just got thrust into. I scroll through my two starter weapons: a rusty but powerful looking sniper rifle, and an odd-looking handgun.

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What can only be defined as the town’s main gate stands a few feet to the right, a vicious sun beats down on me, towering rock formations, sluggish windmills and structures  together with sheets of metal litter the landscape as far as the eye can see. Yet, somehow, everything seems cramped. The overall feeling is undeniable: this ain’t home, this is a bad place.

Here goes nothing.

Fyrestone Fyrefight

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Fyrestone is a shithole. Before we even enter the main gate, it has already come under attack by raiders. They jump into the town through a rock outcropping directly over my head in glorified dune buggies, and take off into the heart of the town. The robot finally manages to open the gate, and a mere four minutes into the game, and I am neck-deep in my first firefight.

Given that this is just the tutorial part of the game, I am willing to overlook the seemingly inept AI. They charge at me, guns blazing. When shot, they recoil realistically and shake their head trying to recover. But then they keep coming at full speed anyway. The sniper rifle kicks in my hands and fires with a satisfying boom. The second raider gets a well placed shot in his masked head, and I watch it explode in all its cell-shaded glory through the my rifle’s scope.

The town is dead. Or empty. Or both. I don’t come across a single soul as I make my way through the settlement. Doors are shut. Shutters are down. There isn’t any indication as to what happened to the inhabitants or where they went. Raiders attack me in groups of two or three. I settle into a comfortable pattern of taking out most of them from a distance with the sniper, and tearing hot lead into them with the quick-firing pistol up close.

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Scattered along the way is plenty of ammo and money stashed in conveniently placed boxes, safes, piles of junk, the bodies of my slain foes, and even a few toilets. I come across my first weapons crate. Inside is a ton of pistol ammo, and two brand new pistols. They offer differing recoil rates, damage, firing speeds and other modifications. The cool thing is that if you hover over a weapon, there is a hud element that pops up, comparing it against your equipped gun. Any stat improvements get an upward pointing green arrow, any loss in stats is denoted by a downward pointing red arrow. The only problem is that it is not intuitive. If you have the sniper equipped and you are looking at a pistol, it will compare the pistol’s stats against that of the sniper, and not against the pistol in your other equipped slot. So make sure you take out the weapon you want to compare against the new armament.

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One of these new pistols has a scope, allowing me to rapidly snipe my targets from a distance. They take less damage per shot, but the firing rate more than makes up for the loss of damage. The pistol handles well in my hands, each cracking shot reverbrating through the surrounding rock formations. Complete by accident, I shoot at a red barrel next to the last bandit, and he disintegrates in the resulting explosion.

Kill Ten Rats

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I meet Doctor Zed. He is an strange fellow, operating on a dead body, and claims that despite his medical practice, he does not hold a professional degree. The very first mission he gives me holds true to teaching RPG basics. I am asked to kill a few skags, vile looking malevolent dogs that attack anything on sight. I head out from Fyrestone in search of their hideout, only to find it just across the road.

The fight, although quick, is intense. I snipe the first skag from a distance, it buckles, making me think I nailed it in one shot. But then it shakes its head and starts charging. I take aim again and hit it square in the head. It goes down with a pitiful yelp. I hear more snarls, I whip my rifle around towards the series of small caves where I spotted the first skag. As my visions pans left to right, I spot one… no two… no wait, three skags charging at breakneck speed. I panic for the briefest moment. Then I aim and fire.

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The shot connects perfectly with the second skag’s head. It takes me a second to find the third skag through my zoomed perspective. I finally find it, it is merely 15 meters away. FPS shooter instincts kick in, and I pull the trigger without thinking. The first shot misses. 10 meters. I spot the fourth skag several meters behind the third one, running straight at me. I frantically click the left mouse button, willing the gun to shoot. The reload time, an otherwise negligible 2.6 seconds, lasts an eternity. The skag is just 5 meters away. Then the unexpected happens.

Just as I fire off the next shot, the beast leaps in the air, coming straight for my face, flying through 5 meters of empty air in a split second. Painful red marks fill the screen and my vision teeters. I get out of zoom mode and fire a shot at my feet, but the skag is already running away. Running away? That’s odd. Maybe it is a glitch or a bug. I’ll worry about that one later, there is a fourth one dangerously close. I zoom again, aim at the fourth one as the third one runs away, and fire.

*click*

The chamber is empty. How the hell did I use up all six bullets already. The first two shots killed the first skag. The third shot killed the second skag. The fourth shot missed. The fifth shot missed when the third skag lept. The last shot was wasted on the ground trying to kill the third skag up close.

Damn it!

No time to reload. I switch to my handgun. And that is when I see the third skag wasn’t actually running away. The third skag was trying to gain some distance on me so it could leap attack again. I see it turning around, realizing that both skags are more or less the same distance from me, closing in from two different directions.

The next few seconds are filled with panicked gunshots. The two skags go down, making teeth indentations somewhere on my thighs. My handgun has three bullets left. My rifle is empty.

I hear another skag snarl in the distance.

Time to reload!

Links:

Funny of the Day: “James Pwned” or “Gadget Addiction”

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

secretagent

Categories: Bronte

“Not Every Hero is Pure” or “Cinematic Superiority”

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

The TV commercial is here:

Categories: Bronte
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