Archive for the 'Games' Category


Sunday, January 20th, 2008

It seems the folks at GAME have been spending too much time on the latest recipient of Fark’s Worst Game Ever award.

I was in the shop to buy Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games when I remembered that I still hadn’t picked up the Armed Assault expansion. "Do you have the ArmA expansion, Queen’s Gambit?" I asked. The shop assistant consulted her computer and declared "Yes we do" before disappearing outside to collect it.

Several minutes later she returned. "Sorry it took so long," she said, "it was under P."

An unusual Statesman’s Task Force

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

It’s a common failing of MMO developers to equate difficulty with enemy stats. If a particular mob is beaten too easily they will consider increasing his hitpoints, making his attacks hit harder, increasing his accuracy or generally tweaking his stats. It’s still the same enemy. It still uses the same tactics against the players. The player can still use the same tactics to win. It just takes longer.

The City of games’ too "most difficult" end-game challenges (Lord Recluse’s Strike Force for Villains and Statesman’s Task Force for Heroes) subscribe to this brute force theory of balancing. There’s nothing complex about winning the Statesman Task Force. You fight a load of bad guys then the boss. But whereas earlier task forces give you regular level enemies and an Archvillain at the end, STF has you fight no fewer than 12 AVs along the way. The last of these, Lord Recluse himself, is buffed by control towers which allow him to SMASH! players for 3000 points of damage a hit and regenerate his own health at an insurmountable rate. It isn’t rocket science to figure out that you need to take out those towers before fighting him. The challenge comes from staying alive long enough to accomplish this rather than in determining the strategy to use.

Players have a similar tendency to pick a line and stick to it. Once one group of players have success with a particular strategy – and another group fails with another – the winning method is declared The Way to beat the challenge and people invariable stick to the formula as much as they can.

Whenever someone announces in a chat channel that a STF is forming you will almost invariably see "looking for Stone tank, Rad and Empath." The Stone Armor tank is the meatshield of the game, the Empathy powerset offers a selection of heals and health buffs and the Radiation Emission powerset is the "go-to" set for debuffing AVs. The specific request for these three (out of the required eight) players on the team exists solely so the Known Good Strategy can be employed at the end of the task force. Namely the tank pulls Recluse away from the rest of the team while the Empath spams heals on him. The remaining team members take out the control towers while the AV is busy. Then they go to town on him, ably assisted by the Rad debuffs.

Last night Catpain Ruffles, who has already beaten the task force with the recommended team lineup, joined a group which the average by-the-book FOTMer would almost certainly want no part of. Our tank was Invulnerability, often overlooked for its uneven resistances: very strong against Smashing and Lethal, terrible against Psionic, not so great against everything else. Our two Controllers were Fire/Kinetics and Illusion/Storm. An Empathy defender, two Blasters and two Scrappers rounded out the team. So no Rad and no holds. On top of this three of the team had never attempted the task force before, the tank seemed to be scared of her own reputation, refusing to enter the fray against Recluse without Unstoppable even when RA was ticking away, and the group as a whole didn’t show the tactical awareness and togetherness you would expect from a team of level 50 veterans.

The fight against Dr Aeon was the first real sticking point in the task force. Up until then we’d steamrollered through everything the enemy had to throw at us. Then we came up against the Doctor and his Elite Boss henchmen and found that the loose organisation we’d got away with up to that point was insufficient. It took two team wipes before everyone came to terms with the fact that this was a tough opponent and we should regroup and let the tank do her thing instead of all trying to solo the guy.

The Fire/Kin wasn’t amused. "Do you have a bad feeling about this too?" she asked in a tell as we load into the final map, going on to say that it was her first STF on a pickup group. I replied that I always roll in PUGs and that I wasn’t overly concerned about things. It was at that point that I noticed she was wearing the Master Of Statesman’s Task Force badge, signifying that she had previously been on a team which had completed the entire task force without suffering a single defeat. Evidently this was someone who knew what she was talking about.

The first challenge in the final mission is to despatch four AVs who spawn close together and are difficult to pull. One of the Blasters tried to fetch Black Scorpion but managed to aggro Cap’n Mako as well. Nevertheless we managed to beat them without serious trouble. Next came the harder two opponents. Ghost Widow was the first to arrive. She has an PBAoE attack which heals her for every opponent hit, so teams are advised to use ranged attacks as much as possible. With the tank and two Scrappers we already had enough people crowding her to fuel a full heal should she get lucky (Ruffles’s last run of the task force had him as the sole melee combatant against her because of Super Reflexes’s high defence and the Invuln tank gets a defence buff when close to enemies). Add to that the Illusion pets and a Blaster who wanted to Blap and I was a little worried that perhaps the Fire/Kin had a point. She’d dismissed her imps, which was further evidence that she was no mug.

We did prevail, however, and comparatively quickly. The final AV before Recluse was Scirocco and once again the team employed suboptimal tactics. Everyone except the other Scrapper, the Fire/Kin and myself positioned themselves behind the tank, meaning that the AVs cone attacks, though directed at the tank, could hit them too. There were two deaths but we made it.

And so on to the final hurdle. The plan was explained and everyone confirmed that they understood that the tank and Empath would go and grab Recluse’s attention before anything else happened. Off they went. And were promptly killed. Meanwhile everyone else had begun attacking the towers and were in for a rude awakening when Recluse turned his attention to the rest of us. Team wipe.

We hit the hospital and came back. Only this time we were split all over the place and aggroed before anyone was ready. Another team wipe. After waiting for Unstoppable and RA to be up we managed to make short work of the first tower but the tank couldn’t survive long enough for us to finish off the second. Back after another wipe and we still couldn’t beat it. Wipe again and then the repairmen came and rebuilt the first tower.

At that point I would not have been surprised if the team had called it quits. Pleasingly they didn’t. We regrouped and tried again. The first tower went down. The second was on its way down when the tank once again was defeated. Munching several purple and orange I inspirations I managed to draw Recluse and his goons away from the towers and hold him off long enough for the tank to return. This time we were able to destroy the towers and turn our attentions to Recluse himself.

Slowly but surely we chipped away (who needs Rad debuffs?) until finally he lay defeated. We had won. We had beaten the task force with a crazy team makeup and naive tactics. As well as a bumper helping of sheer bloody-mindedness and, from some quarters at least, a desire to prove that there isn’t only one way to achieve things.

The Hollows revisited

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

After months of thinking it would be a good idea but never getting round to it, I rolled a Trick Arrow Defender. The best thing about Issue 8′s introduction of mission terminals – I mean Police Scanner missions – and Safeguard travel powers to Hero-side has been the alternate progression path for new characters. No longer does one have to go to the Hollows and endure the hassles of missions spread throughout a huge zone with no travel powers, large spawns round every corner and teams of the most incompetent players in the game. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to make Agent Cort the first of my characters in quite some time to visit Eastgate.

I entered from Atlas and was soon contacted by a player asking if I was looking for a team. Thinks: No I just like the "looking for team" symbol by my name. I accepted his invite and began the mile-long Raptor Pack flight to the opposite corner of the zone. Once inside the mission I got to know my teammates, most notable of which were a Blaster called OWNAR and a Fire Tanker with a fondness for bizarre binds such as "You can’t run from yourself – $target" and "You can either be the hammer or the anvil, $target." Strangest of all, and the Tanker’s favourite, was "I’m taking Fire Tanks back!" Agent Cort: And asking for a refund?

Our team moved into a large room with three spawns of mobs. The verbose Tanker jumped into the nearest group and the rest of the team followed suit. Except for OWNAR, who activated Stealth and headed towards a glowy at the back of the room. The group standing guard were too far away for a Flash Arrow and besides I wanted to laugh when the Blaster grabbed the glowy and dropped Stealth. A few seconds later the inevitable happened and OWNAR was OWNAD by the nearby Trolls. Not that this upset him. "I got the clue," he announced. Agent Cort: Really?

So I rolled a Blaster

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

I hate Blasters. I don’t see the point of them and I don’t see why anyone would want to play one when you can be almost as big a hitter with an archetype that can take more than one shot before croaking (Scrapper) or has a little more finesse than simply relying on brute force to defeat foes (Defender).

Blasters always seem to appeal to the short attention span crowd who read halfway through the description and thought yay high damage without continuing on and seeing no defence, no resists, massive aggro and a sucky inherent.

I hate Blasters for dreaming up daft strategies, causing team wipes and running away from their teammates yelling "healz plz" then complaining when they die. Above all I hate Blasters for knocking back enemies when you’re trying to engage them in melee.

My goal with Knockback Man, therefore, is to embrace my inner Blaster by creating my most hated archetype with my most hated powersets, slotted for knockback distance of course.

I fully expect to be passed over for team invites and probably kicked from a few. But that’s OK because before you judge a man you should walk a mile in his shoes. After that it doesn’t matter; you’re a mile away … and you’ve got his shoes.


Monday, March 12th, 2007

The following was composed for a discussion on the City of Heroes official forum. I didn’t post as I realised it wasn’t really on topic for the thread but I wanted to put it somewhere as it deals with a subject I’ve been meaning to write about for some time.

I don’t consider myself a roleplayer. I play these types of games for the mechanics and fun, and the socialisation with other players. I tend not to immerse myself in my characters.

Sometimes I do roleplay a little bit. In SWG people would ask "Where are you from?" and I would reply "Mos Espa," and though I was a badge collector I refused to switch factions to go for Rebel badges. In COH my rad Controller celebrates a level up by announcing that the radiation has made him stronger, and if you read his bio you will find there is an actual explanation why Ruffles dresses as a 17th century swashbuckler with cybernetic arms.

This is the roleplaying equivalent of Not Rocket Science and I don’t claim otherwise.

There is one toon, however, who is in character 100% of the time. Local chat, team chat, supergroup chat, private tell; doesn’t matter. Fuzzy Purple Monster talks in monster speak to friend and stranger. And absolutely no ((OOC)). If I can’t figure out a way for the monster to phrase something, he doesn’t say it.

Roleplaying may not really be my thing but if you’re going to do it then do it properly. If you’re smart enough to derive pleasure from putting yourself in someone else’s shoes then you’re probably smart enough to do it without a ((crutch)).


Sunday, March 4th, 2007

It looks like I’ve given up on Vanguard.

I’ve been busy recently and haven’t had much chance to play games at all until this weekend. I fired up Vanguard, wandered around for a bit and then logged out. I doubt I’ll return.

There comes a point in every game’s life where you decide you just don’t want to play any longer. I’m not still playing Sensible World of Soccer … or SWAT3 … or OFP … or SWG. How long it takes for a game to reach the end will always vary. The end for Vanguard came pretty soon but it lasted longer than WOW or Ryzom, for instance.

There’s been a lot written about Vanguard recently, mostly bad. I suppose I didn’t play it enough to hate it as much as some people seem to. It was All Right. Just not Star Wars Galaxies.

Raph’s hiring more people, I hear.

There is still hope.

Jade Empire

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

Jade Empire is the "new" game from Bioware, creators of Neverwinter Nights and the mighty Knights of the Old Republic. It’s the successor to those two games, with an evolved game engine and simliar RPG gameplay. And it’s been on consoles for quite a while now, only recently arriving on the PC, hence the quotes around new.

Bioware have bestowed the title "Special Edition" on the PC release in honour of new features and upgrades over the console version. I don’t know what these are because I never played the console game and I haven’t read any reviews of it. I bought the game because it’s a Bioware title and because I enjoyed NWN and loved KOTOR. That says a lot about those games. What does it say about this one?

The game is set an oriental-themed world straight out of a Chinese kung fu movie. Martial arts and magic are the order of the day in a quest and class RPG that looks at first glance like KOTOR in the east.

The differences soon become apparent.

Whereas KOTOR employs a turn-based combat system founded on D&D rules, Jade’s action is all realtime. The speed and accuracy of your attack are determined by your skill with the controls in addition to your character’s stats. Stand too far away from your opponent and you’ll swing at thin air.

Character development also deviates from the D&D ruleset. Your primary stats are Health, Chi and Focus. Chi is depleted when using magic. Focus is depleted when using physical attacks. Health is depleted when someone whacks you over the head with a big stick. All of these can be boosted by crystals (lightsabre crystals anyone?) and recovered in various ways, some of which are related to combat tactics. KOTOR essentially had Weapons and the Force. Jade gives you combat Styles which you learn from NPCs and books, and which you can switch at any time during a fight.

The Thousand Cuts style, for example, comprises light but fast punches, whereas Legendary Strike deals slow, powerful kicks. Some styles are classed as Support; they deal no damage but have some useful effect. The Spirit Thief style increases your Chi with each hit, for example. There are also Form styles which literally transform you into a particular creature for a short time. Some styles are ineffective against particular types of opponent so you will find yourself switching between them a lot.

Each style offers three attacks: a light and strong attack activated by the left and right mouse buttons respectively, and an area attack activated by pressing both buttons together. An interesting facet of the combat styles is that some can be chained to produce combos which will insta-kill an opponent. To pull off a combo you usually need to perform a strong (and slow) attack from two styles within a short period of time. The complication is that the strong attacks can be interrupted if you take damage while winding them up. Light attacks can’t be interrupted once started but they can be blocked (strong attacks can’t).

Another feature carried over from previous games is the recruitment to your party of various characters you meet along the way. You can only take one "henchman" along with you at once (KOTOR let you have two) but you can swap them at any time. The evolution of this particular part of the game is that your sidekick can be set to Attack or Support mode. In the latter state they won’t fight at all (and can’t be attacked) but will grant you some benefit such as increases your rate of healing.

All this adds an element of tactics to the combat which benefits it greatly as just running around whacking stuff would otherwise be a little unsophisticated. Yet Jade does still feel like a console game and it isn’t helpd by the usual lack of effort to use the keyboard and mouse we’re used to from developers porting console games.

Bioware also continue to insist on using low resolution, pre-rendered movies to advance the plot in various places instead of doing their cutscenes in-engine. Even the scenes that are rendered on the fly are non-interruptible and since you can’t save the game in combat you’ll find yourself having to sit through a particular boss’s speech a few times too many if you don’t defeat him at the first attempt.

Yes there are bosses and yes there are pointless 80s-style arcade subgames which achieve nothing except waste part of the development budget. Must be for some kind of tax break.

Yet despite the consoley foibles, the game is still compelling. Why? Because it’s a Bioware game and the engine and controls are not what we’re here for. As you would expect, the story is engaging and the plot keeps moving nicely. The secrets of the Jade Empire are there to be discovered but if you prefer to chat to every NPC and uncover every side quest you can do that too. The amount of detail and attention these guys put into their RPGs is remarkable.


Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

The devs have nerfed the NPCs with the unbeatable hands. Great news, except that I loaded in expecting to grind on my current favourite only to find that my killer deck was useless against his new, much weaker, set of cards.

I did hit 75 though, which means I can now parley against rank 125 opponents.


Sunday, February 4th, 2007

After the tribulations of the last few days I’m glad to have found an NPC on which to do some good old-fashioned grinding. There’s a guy in the Crafter’s Forum in Khal with a hand that can be consistently (ie 100% of the time) be beaten with the right deck.

And beat him I have. Over and over again. Grind grind grind!

Now at rank 69 in Diplomacy and level 7 in Adventuring. Which means I’m "eligible" – nice word, devs – for XP debt and corpse runs should I die. Yay.

Turning the tables

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

Another day and some progress has been made! I found my way from Khal to Lomshir where there are more guards with lower rank to parley with. Although their hands were arguably still too good for their level I did manage to find one I could beat … and beat him I did. This enabled me to finish my quest at last. As a reward I was given a baton which grants Noble presence. Not enough to talk to the nobleman in my other quest but enough to get started.

Aside from that I spent some time exploring and got my third "You are the first to discover this area" message. In quite a cool place too. The Coward’s Plunge is the name, I think (going from memory), of a nice coastal cave system.

Then I went a bit too far and got wtfpwned by a level 38 hyena thing. Oh well.