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My single prediction for 2011…

December 31, 2010 2 comments

is that in a year from now there will be some MMO bloggers that say “2011 was a bad year for MMOs, but 2012 should be quite good”.

There is not really any insight needed for this, just a look at history:

  • In the end of 2008 there were bloggers who said that 2008 was a bad year for MMOs, but 2009 should be much better
  • In the end of 2009 there were bloggers who said that 2009 was a bad year for MMOs, but 2010 should be much better
  • In the end of 2010 there were bloggers who said that 2010 was a bad year for MMOs, but 2011 should be much better

So I am just assuming the trend will continue as before.

MMO gamers in a rage after another bad year

Personally I do not think it has been a bad year. There has certainly been some bad moments it seems, but overall I think it has been fairly good. There has been a number of existing titles that have released new content and made improvements over the past year. More games have been adjusting their payment models to not only offer the subscription-based approach, but also some alternatives. Although it must be said that that some games do not yet seem to treat the non-subscription options as fullfledged alternatives unfortunately.

The focus has certainly not been at new title releases of Western-oriented MMOs that strive for 2nd place after WoW in player numbers, but that would be a rather narrow definition of what would be a good year. As the market matures and existing games continue to improve (which is good) I think it is less likely for that situation to happen.

Categories: MMO Games

End of the year Trekking

December 31, 2010 1 comment

The really short summary: I really like Star Trek Online!

Science Commander Zoriel Zente

Star Trek Online have had its ups and downs at casa Sente. I picked up the 12-month subscription offer at release. Due to work conditions I have never had so much time to play for the most part of this year, which came into effect right at the time of STO release. So time was limited and progression slow, which perhaps was not a bad thing at that time. But also the linear and repetitive nature of a number of missions caused me to stop playing entirely.

A new start

At bit earlier this autumn I decided to have a go at it again, but started from scratch with a new character instead of the old one (old one was at Commander 3). This was partly to see what had changed in the game, but also to make a start avoiding things I did not care much for, such as the patrol missions and perhaps get a better overall experience.

Still, STO played second fiddle in my MMO orchestra and progressed a bit every now and then until the Holiday season now started and I got a bit more time to play.

I have now started to play STO significantly more and have been enjoying it very much – my character has progressed through the ranks and now just reached Commander 1, not so far off from where my old character was.

Mostly I play the story arc missions, which in general are quite enjoyable. New for me was also the Feature Episodes; multiple story arcs which forms a larger story. I have played through Series 2: The Devidians so far and I am at episode 3 on Series 1: The Breen. I must stay these have been magnificent! I do like that they have had a mix of combat and non-combat activities, including some puzzle type missions. Quite enjoyable!

I know Tipa @ West Karana has written about those in more detail, although I have to admit I did not read those posts – I did not want to pick up any spoilers.

Crafting

With the Season 3 release the crafting system had been revamped again, this time I think it turned out quite well – at least when considered as a side activitity. You still need to pick up anomalies, but you no longer need any previous items to enhance. Instead you use collected tier 1 anomalies to make schematics. These schematics can then be used with other anomalies (any tier) to make various types of equipment – uncommon (green), rare (blue) and very rare (purple). Crafting a very rare item also will require some rare anomalies as well.

In addition to the anomalies required to craft, there is also a prerequsite minimum of crafting experience needed for each item. The crafting XP is obtained by crafting items of course and seem to be equivalent to the number of common anomalies required to craft an item.

A good thing here is that progression is easy enough that there is no need to farm anomalies for many hours to get anywhere and there has so far not been any need really to make trash items – pretty much everything I have crafted so far has been put to use on my ship, my character and my bridge officers. The ship has a mix of purple, blue and green items, everything crafted.

In the early parts of the career I still did some cluster exploration missions, partly because it gave exploration points that could be used to buy some better equipment. Unfortunately some of these missions suffer from the linear repetition feeling as well. But after I got into the crafting I did not see so much point in doing these – crafted items were better than those that I could get with these points.

I still went to the clusters to collect anomalies, but simply skipped the “explore unknown system” missions – just picking up anomalies in the cluster has been a fairly quick way to gain some extra anomalies for the crafting.

The Devidians was a bit spooky at times, quite nice

Diplomacy

The diplomacy system is something I started playing around with also when I created the new character and have now advanced to the Attache level. This has opened up for diplomacy missions in the cluster sectors. I am a bit uncertain about how much I should spend in the clusters; I want to see more of what diplomacy missions may pop up there, but I am concerned that it may end up being repeating the same thing over and over again. I may do a few of those missions to see if something good pops up, but the main focus will still be on stopy arc missions. Hopefully there will be more options to advance in diplomacy also in that area.

Outfits

When I browsed through the C-store recently I found that they had a few items that were “off duty outfits”. Some research showed that it is now possible to have a different outfit without the more strict uniform requirements – this was news to me, I am not sure how long this has been in the game. The selection that is part of the game seemed a bit limited though. Fashion may not have a prominent place in the Federation, who knows. Klingons do not seem to have any off duty options at all – poor them, always on duty…

When I was browsing the costume options for the uniform I noticed that there were a couple of costume options that seemed to have been unlocked. I have honestly no idea when they were unlocked and why – most of the outfits have looked almost the same to me and I care little for using any uniform variation that fits with a certain Star Trek setting. But there was a Starfleet Veteran option that I thought looked pretty nice, so I changed the uniforms for my character and the bridge offers with a new style (as can be seen in the portrait picture above).

Skills and progression

For most of my play time in STO my skill point allocation has been kind of educated guesses and semi-random allocation. I put points in skills that sounded reasonable from the brief description they had, but not really any plan or purpose behind it. It was not until recently that I actually discovered that each activity typically are affected by three skills in the skill trees available – and that those skills are mentioned in the description of each activity, if one scroll down the text to the bottom.

After that discovery I used one of the free respec:s that are given out in the game (seems to be at least one for each progression tier/title) and did a bit more purposeful allocation, combined with some change in weaponry.

After that combat was definitely easier – perhaps mainly due to the weapon change though.

Combat

The space combat has been something that I generally liked in STO – it has been quite fun. Ground combat I have had more mixed experience with, but I am now at a point where I quite like that as well. Part of that is by putting a bit more thought in the ground skills of the bridge officers and my character and also moving around more, but also taking advantage of the pause functionality when playing solo – it is an excellent help for tactical decisions in controlling the away team.

The Foundry

I had a brief look on the test server on The Foundry, STO:s tool for user generated missions which is in open beta right now. As one who have used the Mission Architect system in City of Heroes a fair amount to create story arc missions I was really curious to see what the STO toolset would be like. Since it was just a brief look and it is in beta I might have missed a few things – there are not really much of tooltips or help text in place yet.

I liked the layout and structure of the Foundry editor better than the one in Mission Architect – it felt easier to get an overview of the different assets and the pieces that make up a story arc/project.  On the other hand, Mission Architect has a richer set of objectives/events while the Foundry seem to have a more limited set of options in that regard, plus that mission progression definitely seem more linear in its build-up.

Still, the objectives/events that are there will still cover a lot of ground with some creativity. Also, there is better control of placement of objectives in The Foundry. This has been an issue in Mission Architect when building stories – without full control of placement it has sometimes been challenging to be able to make a good pacing in the MA missions.

A significant difference between the Foundry and Mission Architect also seem to be that there are no local files stored when using the Foundry. In Mission Architect all resources you use when working (story arcs, custom costumes and characters, enemy groups etc) are stored locally on your own disk; it is only when a story arc is published that it is put on the central servers. I could not find any files from my saved test project in the Foundry, so I can only conclude that all assets are always stored on the Cryptic Servers. It seems that they intend to have sharing/collaboration features built into the editor later, but right now it was a bit limited.

Also, it was not possible to save and load any costumes and characters from the regular game as far as I could see; hopefully this is something that will be added.

Since I am not really a Star Trek fan I am not so sure how well I would be doing in writing missions for the Trek universe; beyond some of the Star Trek basics I am pretty ignorant of the lore. In this setting it seems suitable or almost required to keep to the canon to not piss off people. We will see what happens.

Sector Space looks much nicer now

The end of the year

My 12 month subscription period is not so far from its end now; most of the time during that period I have not been playing the game at all. Since I quite enjoy the game right now I think I will definitely continue to subscribe after the end of this 12 month period, but perhaps with shorter payment intervals.

Have our heroes found the balance in STO gameplay?

Categories: Star Trek Online

Cylons and superheroes

December 26, 2010 5 comments

I just finished watching the final episode of the Battlestar Galactica TV-series, after buying and watching the series on Blu-ray since early this year. Definitely one of the better SciFi TV series I have seen and the third one where I have the complete series (the other two being Babylon 5 and Farscape).

I liked the end and it instilled a kind of calm and and stillness now that it was complete. It felt good and I was happy to see that not everything needed to have an explanation; some movies and series come up with all sorts of convoluted endings just trying to explain every bit and piece.

This feeling of calm comes backa bit when I am thinking about my game time as well. This year my work situation has made gaming time somewhat limited; mainly a little bit of time during weekends only.  City of Heroes has worked out quite well during this year as my main MMO-type game; it is quite casual-friendly with no need to invest long sessions and a generally relaxed and friendly community – at least where I am playing.

The latest two issues plus the expansion have added a bit of more life into the game. Some of my old game friends returned to the game, but also many have not returned at all. We have made some new friends in game though and it is always nice to be greeted with a friendly “Hi” when you get in the game.

I have a few short notes and pieces about game features and activities that I have played around with lately:

Praetorian live events

The game itself has already a couple of event-type features that gets triggered every now and then; including Rikti Invasion and the Zombie Attacks. These are nice extras that can be fun to jump in on every now and then. With Issue 19 there were three events of a slightly new type introduced in the Praetorian zones. Essentially these are very similar to what is also referred to as public quests/open missions in some other games; a certain area where some kind of event with multiple stages are taking place and people can jump in at any time to assist. The perhaps added twist here is that you also can choose a side, which gives you slightly different goals at each stage.

In essence the choice of side is about either helping or going against the cops – in Nova Praetoria you choose to either help the police to strike down on protesters voicing their opinion about the regime, or to help the protesters against the cops. In Imperial City it is either to be on the side of the cops or the side of the Syndicate, one of the crime organisations. In Neuropolis the event is ghouls vs cops.

Same as the other event types, the enemeis do not have any absolute levels. So anyone at any level can jump in and help out. However, xp and rewards are only given out at the end, which will probably stear off a few people from them. Once an event is completed it has a cooldown of one hour before it is started again. That is a long time I think for a game where short game sessions may not be that unusual.

Dealing with the ghouls in Neuropolis

Winter event

As I have mentioned before, the winter event is ongoing now. This has all the usual stuff from previous years – ski slope and chalet, Xmas rewards and costumes, presents everywhere to open (fight if you have been naughty, rewards if you have been nice), a mission to save Baby New Year, fight the Winter Lord (giant monster). There is also the new mission to defeat Lady Winter, who has brought the eternal winter to some usually slightly warmer areas. This new mission was a bit so-and-so I think; they could have done a better job here IMHO. But the old stuff is still good also.

Throwing a few punches with Lady Winter

New post-Praetoria story arcs

One thing that was introduced with Issue 19 were new story arcs in the level 20-30 range aimed primarly at the characters coming from Praetoria – osr tof a way to better tie in the fact that they have come to Primal Earth from Praetoria. I have only played the hero side version so far, but this ws a quite good one – the story has multiple layers which unfolds and who the bad guys are changes more than once in the story. Great work here!

Going in with the SWAT team to deal with good guys gone bad

Task/strike forces

With the new incarnate system and also two new task forces introduced with Issue 19, people run task forces more than ever. Or perhaps rather, those who always have been optimizing their reward gain it is pretty much business as ususal. For us others who have been dusting off our old max level characters and started to look at the Incarnate system it has been an increase – but also the fact that we joined a group of more active players has contributed to this.

In the past few weeks I have probably done more task forces than I have done during the previous part of the year; this include ones I have not done before as well as some old favourites.  In particular those task forces that can contribute favourably to improve the incarnate abilities get a lot of play time from people.

One of the new ones for me was the Apex task force, which is a continuation of the story set-up in the Praetorian zones about Praetoria planning to invade Primal Earth (our earth).  Essentially it is about fighting off invading forces it certainly can get a bit crazy. I also joined an attempt here to get the “Master of” title for the task force, which is a title/badge you get if you fulfill a set of added criteria for the task force. We succeeded with that, which meant that I gaine dmy first “Master of” title – have not really been into attempting those before.

Of the old familiar task forces the Imperious and Lady Grey task forces are among the most popular as usual, those has been done a couple of times. The story is no longer important here of course, for me it is mainly to play with a group of nice people and these are popular choices. They are also good for receiving incarnate shards and components, so a popular choice if a character has the alpha slot unlocked.

Lots of mayhem in Apex task force, including dealing with a bunch of warwalkers (giant robots)

Incarnate game play

Besides the new task forces (Apex and Tin Mage) there is not really so much new content for the max level characters; instead it is allowing people to play much of the same high level content as before, but actually providing an alternate advancement mechanic for that. I have unlocked the alpha slot on 6 characters so far, most of them have at least something slotted in it as well; if you run task forces it is pretty quick to get enough components – one task force and possibly a Rikti Mothership raid has been enough for my characters.

If I play a max level character I generally try to get the alpha slot unlocked and perhaps join a task force if it is not slotted yet. But other than that I do not spend time to grind/farm the needed components. Eventually they will drop and I am in no rush.

Tip missions and alignment changes

When the new tip missions to support alignment changes were introduced I was very pleased with them; the developers had done a good job in many cases to make nice mini-stories thta fit in a single mission map. Initially I did quite a few of these; partly because I wanted to change alignment for some characters, but also because that was supposed to be some rewards for staying with your alignment.

The villain/hero merits you get if you stay aligned is indeed a currency to guaranteed receiped rewrds for rare and very rare recipes of your choice – to make better enhancements for your character. As such they are quite good.

The problem here though is that even though there are well over a hundred different tip missions, these missions are split up in different level tiers as well as alignment paths (villain, rogue, vigilante and hero), which means that the number of tip missions available for a certain level range and alignment are not that many – one tends to repeat many of them.

Initially I did a lot of those, but have now reduced tip mission play to filler missions – they are still better than the newspaper/police band missions and a better choice than those IMHO. I realized that for the most part I do not care so much about obtaining these rare recipies through this way – there are more fun ways to do it (for me). Only when I want to change alignment of a character I tend to do these a bit more focused.

Getting the crowd support in dealing with Arachnos

IO sets, crafting and market play

When inventions (crafted enhancements) were introduced some years ago and brought the marketplace as well as some crafting into the game, I initially played around with this with a few characters – they got some IO (invention origin) sets slotted for extra bonuses and it was fun to play around with. But after a while I stopped bothering with that; it did not seem worth the effort to do too much with this when I was leveling up a character, at least not invest heavily into IO sets – normal IO enhancements were good enough and easy to spend time with.

This has changed a bit lately as I started to play my max level characters again; putting in some new IO sets is another way to improve  your character. I have started to do this again with a few selected max level characters. Combined with “playing the market” to earn some extra cash to cover these costs this has been quite fun, much more so than grinding/farming various merits (reward currency).

I am far from being a dedicated expert of market play, but as long as there are players that do not craft and want their new shiny enhancements rajt nao, it is an opportunity to earn some inf (i.e. in-game cash). One character has been slotted with a number of new IO sets and also at the same time increased the cash from around 60 million to over 800 million without that much effort; 100 million was fairly easily gained during the course of a day with some buying/crafting/selling – dedicated experts can do much better.

Winter Lord ready to gank anyone who tries to reach the trainer (where his right leg is)

Mission Architect

This is an area that has suffered a bit lately from my side; teams (non-farming) generally focus on other areas, partly perhaps because it is less cumbersome to run regular missions and task forces and the reward structure is a bit different. Also while Paragon Studios are doing some changes and updates to Mission Architect, they have still a number of fundamental issues to deal with and currently nothing in sight how they are going to handle it.

As it is now the system has a number of features and updates to support those who create the missions. But there is not that much effort to help and encourage people to actually play them, which indirectly also hurts the authors – it is not that much fun if no-one will play the story arc you perhaps spent a lot of hours to create.

I do hope they will try to do something about it; but probably this is something they would like to address from a creative poin of view, but will get low priority from a commercial perspective – how many new customer will they get and how many existing customers will they keep that they would other wise have lost, if they do any changes? There are probably other areas with more gain and less risk, I suspect.

Categories: City of Heroes

Time for the winter event again

December 16, 2010 Comments off

Tomorrow on December 17th starts the 2010 Winter Event in City of Heroes, going on until January 2nd. It seems pretyt much everything from previous years are there, plus a new addition to save the world from Lady Winter.

One of my old favourites here is the ski slope and the chalet. I will probably save baby New Year at least once, also an old tradition although somewhat predictable by now. Good times!

Categories: City of Heroes

Move baby, move

December 12, 2010 Comments off

About 2 1/2 months ago I asked my nephew what he wanted for his 15th birthday, to which he replied with a few items, one which was a “Move”. Insightful as I am, I responded with a “Huh?”.

He clarified it to “Playstation Move” – which I had never heard of at that time, but I do not really follow what is happening in the console market, even though casa Sente actually has a Playstation 3. It is mainly used to play Blu-ray discs.

I bought him a Move starter pack and an extra Move controller for his birthday. This was all good and happiness, until they actually tried it. My newphew does not use a regular TV screen for gaming, but instead a projector. This apparently caused problems for the camera included with the Move and the controller did not work. So unfortunately that did not work out.

Recently we had a Christmas party with the company I work for, or rather the Swedish offices. One of the events that had been arranged there was a video game competion, but all games and consoles were using various movement controllers – Wii board, Playstation Move, XBox Kinect etc. Quite good fun actually!

So I ended up also buying a Playstation Move for the household PS3… Picked up Sports Champions as a first game for this. Lots of fun, and almost a bit of wreckage in the living room – obviously need to keep an eye on the surroundings and have lots of space around :)

Categories: Uncategorized

An in-game proposal

December 7, 2010 2 comments

In the City of Heroes forums I saw a post with a link to a story about an in-game proposal. The couple are both City of Heroes players and the guy involved the Paragon Studios people to help with the setting for popping the question.

While we sometimes tend to complain that there is too much of the same, grind or whatever in different MMOs, this kind of event is an example of why many of us still love to play these games – the community itself, including developers that gets involved.

Categories: City of Heroes

Villain and Hero incarnate – the beginning

December 6, 2010 2 comments

City of Heroes Issue 19 introduced the Incarnate system – an alternate advancement system for max level characters in the game.

Originally Incarnate was in the City of Heroes lore referring to two indivuduals, Statesman and Lord Recluse, who drank from the Well of Furies and through that action were infused by the power of the gods and significantly more powerful than humans or even other superpowered beings.

After that, the lore has extended it a bit and a few other key NPCs are also considered incarnates (Imperious, Reichsman, Tyrant, Hero 1), although some of them are alternate reality versions of the same person (Statesman).

For the incarnate system, the lore has expanded a bit further and now provides an explanation for how the players can become incarnates themselves, but without actually drinking from the Well of Furies. This alternate approach is a slower path, but safer.

Ouroburos in the future

Ouroburos in the future

The incarnate system includes 10 different slots, that step-by-step will be introduced into the game. For issue 19 this means that one of the slots are made available, the Alpha slot. Other slots will come later.

The 10 incarnate slots are called Alpha, Judgement, Interface, Lore, Destiny, Hybrid, Genesis, Stance, Vitae and Omega. The names do imply that each slot will provide a different type of functionality; it will not all be the same.

Read more…

Categories: City of Heroes
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