Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Obligatory Annual Blog Post.

November 18th 1981. The infamous date of my manufacture. Honestly, that's how I refer to it to my kids and wife. Don’t believe me? Go ahead, go ask them! For a very long time I have insisted to them that I was built in a factory, not born and as such don’t get a birthday. Now you might cry foul, scream it’s a lie till you're hoarse but the truth is that in a way I was created in a factory. For a part of the miracle that is life is held in the powerful life producing factory known as a mother’s womb.

All metaphors aside, you may still be curious as to why I would even make such a claim in the first place. Well, let me at least endeavor to explain myself. Hasn’t worked yet so maybe this time I will have some semblance of success. Yeah, that wasn’t a joke...

See it all began I guess as a young man on, ironically enough, my birthday. While my cousins and other friends would have gatherings with multiple people and receive big gifts; I never did. Even my family party I always had saw only a handful of close relatives. Once I was old enough to invite some friends from school and do a separate little party I tried a few times to do just that. Unfortunately almost nobody ever showed.

As a young man this shaped me in a way, especially as someone who struggled with every form of social interaction. For me all I could see is a sense of self worth. Coupled with the fact that for some reason I never could quite seem to receive gifts that suited me. Actually, it was rare on any holiday for me to be given a gift that I truly wanted. I know that sounds really conceited and selfish but it was true. I was that odd kid that my relatives somehow didn’t get.

Perhaps it was a view of myself that I imposed on me because of such events. Or rather, just maybe, I would have come to view myself the same way anyway. You see; I have ever since formed the stance that my birthday is not a day worthy of celebration. For me it is just another day. I have never been comfortable in any form of limelight, I don’t like being the focus of attention. And I can see no real value or worth in celebrating my existence each year.

I am just a man. I’m no famous intellectual. I’ve never created or discovered anything important. Each year I get a little older, each year not much changes. For me, it’s just another day. A day I hope to avoid the random attention of cheerful greetings and awkward questions of if I feel any older etc. Most folks don’t even remember that it is my birthday to be fair. Those that do generally only do so because something like Facebook reminds them. Even then it’s just a vague obligatory happy day comment and that's the end of it.

Really, I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon about the issue. I know there are those who truly love me and look at my date of manufacture differently. But for me, I genuinely have to embrace a sort of form of false-bravado regarding the day. Because every time I get any hopes up of seeing friends sincerely wishing me a happy day, of cherished gifts and feeling that I still exist is something valued I find myself hurt.

So, instead I just insist to my kids and everyone else that I don’t have a birthday, I have a date of manufacture. And as such I don’t need a cake, party or gifts. I always feel so terrible when someone went to the trouble to give me something they imagined I’d like or that they didn’t consider beforehand. Because if they spent money on me I absolutely hate trying to be graceful knowing that they might see it in my eyes and then it will hurt their feelings. If I don’t make a big deal of the day, if I can keep it quiet then that means less people feel obligated to make a big deal on my behalf.

That said you may think this whole post has been counter-productive. Not so, in fact it has served it’s purpose. I just wanted to establish my reasons why I have been this way. I don’t mean to come across as an ass or jerk. But for many years I have watched the day in particular come and go. Sometimes it was forgotten, others it just simply was never important enough for others to share with me. I can appreciate how my mother and wife(and others) feel about it. In fact I hope nobody holds it against me or has ever been hurt by my views of the date. It really is a mixed bag for me; I was always content with the little things I received. Never did I need the larger parties or lavish gifts others had, but it has to be said that every time nobody showed it... Well, I have no words for it.

Story of my life. I know some will judge me, some may even chastise me, but please try to consider my reasoning. Forgive me if I am sully, and do understand I appreciate your kind words and well wishes. You will even have my sincere gratitude if you're one of the rare non looked for souls to deliver a gift to me no matter what it is. But please, don’t hold it against me if I am ever less than ecstatic in my response.

I suppose as I look back there really is no way to explain myself without being seen as some form of Ebenezer Scrooge. It is what it is then. If possible, forgive me.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What Games Stay, And Games Go?

Every computer shares one single trait in common - finite storage space. Oh, you can back things up to external drives and the like but when you get down to it you can only install so much software before you have to face the dreaded realization that you are starting to exhaust your available storage space. And of all the things to consider when it comes to installed software, games tend to be one of the more awkward ones.

Deciding what games to keep and what to remove can be difficult. It never fails there is always that one game you actually enjoyed but haven’t played in awhile that you can’t quite bring yourself to remove. And what of those familiar ones sitting patiently on your desktop that you play occasionally but never seem to do much with. How do you evaluate what should go and what is safe to stay?

Well here is a few things to ask yourself when you're mulling it over -

- How often will I actually play it? Ask yourself, honestly, just how regularly you actually can see yourself playing the game. Some games, while fun, we often just don’t actually play all that often for whatever reasons. If the game is good enough to hook you in on a regular basis and proves to keep you entertained more often than not then it has earned a spot on your hard drive. However, if you find yourself only diving into the game on rare occasions for a short jaunt that leaves you less than satisfied then perhaps it’s time to part ways.

- Just how much enjoyment am I getting out of this game? Seriously, just how fun is the game? Are you grinding for hours daily without a smile at the end? If the game is more work than play or you tend to find yourself irritated by other players, perhaps even the gameplay itself, then it could be a clear sign it’s space could be better used. On the alternate side, if you instead keep finding yourself grinning ear to ear and raving about the good times you're having to friends and family - keep that game. If you're enjoying the game that much, then that's all that matters. It is a game after all!

- Is the game just a repeat of another game I already play? All too often overlooked we sometimes find ourselves with multiple games on our machines that are little more than pale clones of each other. We’ve all done it, there is no shame here. But if you have a game you are playing and then you log out to do the same exact thing with only some subtle name changes you might want to evaluate your reasons why.

- Why did I get the game in the first place? Namely, was this a game you installed as a temporary thing to play while you waited for something else you wanted? It does happen, you really want to play game x, but it isn’t out yet or you haven’t found it just yet. So instead you stumble on to game y and decide to try it out in the meantime in hopes it will satisfy your cravings. Next thing you know you have game x and game y is still lingering on your system. If that is the case then it might be time to cut it loose. Even so, game y might have proven itself to have some unseen value and you might just opt to keep it too.

When you get down to it, only you can evaluate just what merits staying and what is destined to part ways with you. You can always reinstall and come back later too. But if your space is getting limited you could do yourself a favor and really think about what all you have on your system. Is it really engaging enough that it sucks you in and keeps you entertained? Everyone is different, but everyone can run out of room if they keep everything installed. Might not always be the easiest decisions in the world, but sometimes you just gotta do it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The State Of Play.

Let’s get one thing straight, right here and now - I have always had a love/hate relationship with games. There are those games that I can lose myself in and devour their content. Unfortunately, it seems my tastes often relegate that most games I come across lack any appeal to me. To further torment me, I am often at the complete mercy to whimsical moods. Allow me to explain; do you ever just crave a particular taste to the point nothing else satisfies? You might have countless options before you that you could partake of instead and yet that burning, gnawing drive inside you roars at you declaring, unequivocally, that - nothing else will do.

Where everyone has cravings for food and the like, I am more often confronted by another kind, one that seizes upon my mind and imagination with the grip of an iron vise. To illustrate my point it was as a child that I discovered the pure joy of role playing games and the like. However as I grew to become acquainted I soon found myself wanting for a game that could meet the needs of my imagination. So I set myself to constructing my own. It grew to become a mix of various sci-fi elements that I could at the time not find anywhere else.

Recently I found myself in yet another such quandary. Having played World of Warcraft for several years I eventually became saturated with it’s content. That is the best way I can describe it. I had played so much of it’s setting for so long I simply discovered I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Even the advent of the latest expanded content and with it the altered mechanics did nothing to rekindle my interest in the game. So, with a friends recommendation I gave Lord of the Rings Online a shot. Immediately I had found a renewed outlet for my passion and imagination, something with which I could entertain myself as I consumed it’s content.

Lord of the Rings Online went on to provide me with plenty of fun for quite some time, and still does. Honestly, I think I would still be logging in and playing even a little each day save for one simple thing. It isn’t a sci-fi game. Forgive me if I duck for cover before I continue.

Obviously, I am abundantly aware that it is a fantasy game. There was never any confusion when I started to play the game, especially considering as I am a well read fan of everything Tolkien. However, you recall those whimsical cravings I mentioned before? Yep, I became sledgehammered but one and the same. Before I could even realize it I was dying to immerse myself in something different. Something sci-fi, anything sci-fi in fact. So I set down and thought about it, and decided to see what I could find. How hard could it possibly be to find a game that could meet some simple criteria -

A. The game had to have some sci-fi elements to it. Give me hover bikes instead of a mount, let me traverse great distances in a spacecraft or something. Instead of magic and swords, show me energy weapons, high tech gadgetry perhaps some psionic powers even. Offer me genetically modified people, mutated races and aliens. Basically, I want an escape from fantasy, don’t give me more dragons and magical elves.

B. Don’t force competitive play on me, let me enjoy an engaging storyline and some good old fashioned PVE. If I want to challenge another player or group up for a quest etc, then I will. But, call me crazy, I just generally prefer to play at my own pace and loose myself in the game for a bit.

C. Please, whatever you do, don’t make me attempt some complex control system to try to play. Not everyone has the hand eye coordination of a savant.

Armed with these thoughts I started to look for something new to play, only to discover an interesting notion. Apparently, in the MMO industry sci-fi games are relegated to the areas of first person shooters, real time strategy and let’s not forget flight simulator styled shooters. None of them an appealing fit for what I desired. The only exceptions that I could find were Star Wars The Old Republic, and Star Trek Online. Having played the former during a trial weekend I can say it was a promising option, but it is also one that has yet to go free to play. Additionally, it is one that particularly appeals primarily to fans of the franchise. Being a fan myself that isn’t a major issue, yet Star Wars is a very particular taste on it’s own. Something with a bit broader appeal would be nice.

With regard to the other option being Star Trek online... Well, okay, let’s be fair here; I am and have been a Star Trek fan for a very long time. I have always liked the harder science to it as opposed to the more fantastical elements in Star Wars. I am one of the rare breed of geeks that likes both equally. That said, I gotta admit that Star Trek Online seems less of a rpg and more of, well, something else. I haven’t tried it yet but the more I watch about it, I regretfully don’t feel it’s pull to play it.

Those two pillars no longer really options at the moment I had more digging to do. Here is a short list of those free to play titles I have explored thus far and a few notes on my own findings.

DC Universe Online - I have always preferred Marvel over DC myself but being a comic book nerd and all I thought why not try out this renowned title. The game’s story and mix of cinemagraphics with comic styled splash screens was a welcome delight. Making my own Hero(or Villain if you wanted) was equally enjoyable. I was fascinated with how my character found themselves involved and was forced to make their way to freedom. The whole thing was quite a fun experience.

Yeah, there is a but coming. The controls. Simply put, the controls were very awkward for me and no matter how I adjusted things my mouse seemed to lag behind my movements. Perhaps it was partially due to my less than optimal spec’s but in any event it kinda ruined it for me. I considered the path of perseverance, but after trying a different hero I eventually reserved myself to turn my attentions elsewhere in hopes of unearthing that slumbering treasure that awaited.

Global Agenda; Free Agent - While the game proclaimed itself as a rpg based shooter I thought it was at least worth a try considering how little sci-fi games I was seeing. What I found was a game that was more shooter than anything and irritating controls. I can’t really say more about the game honestly. It had graphics that were ‘meh’ and the weapons I obtained really didn’t seem all that effective/appropriate.

Argo Online - Claiming to be a ‘Hybrid MMO’ Argo Online isn’t too bad of a game in reality. It has a fascinating view on a steampunk future with some fantasy mixed in in such a way that oddly works. The only real complaints I have about it is mainly in the garbled text for quests and the like. I can even accept that classes are presented as gender locked, but reading a quests description riddled with typos and gibberish just doesn’t set well with my brain. If you push aside some of the how’s and why’s of the story and just play through the motions of the game you can have a decent enough time with the game.

I can’t say Argo is a perfect fit for me by any means, especially with so much fantasy still interwoven with not quite enough sci-fi. However, in a pinch like my own I have to say it is one of the more serviceable options out there.

Rusty Hearts - Upon reading the words ‘solo dungeon gameplay’ I immediately knew I had to give this one a shot. Rusty Hearts is for lack of a better term Frankenstein game of sorts. It manages to fuse cell shaded anime styles along with cgi rendered animations. The whole thing is then wrapped in a neat little action focused horror themed game. Seriously, all the characters you can choose to play are plucked straight out of a Gothic story anime as it were. There is your mysterious man bitten by a werewolf, a reluctant vampire, even scantily females with blades and guns etc.

What I have played so far has been interesting to say the least. Again, Rusty Hearts is a far cry from my target but I think I could see myself picking this one back up from time to time to play more. I think it would really depend on how the storyline develops etc.

Vindictus - A gem I never would have ever had the pleasure of otherwise. Granted it isn’t at all what I was looking for it stuck out as it kept popping up in my searches. In Vindictus you take on one of 5 characters, something I actually didn’t like the idea of in fact. But the reality is that you select one of the 5 not as a set persona but as a base mold as it were. You could just as easily call it your race and class rolled into one. After a brief intro sequence as a unnamed hooded rookie you get to have a taste of gameplay before settling in to define how your character looks etc.

The game itself is a very action combat focused mmorpg, that kind of reminded me of something like a diablo game was before diablo 3 but from a 3rd person perspective instead of the top down view. Out of all my finds thus far this is one I can’t help but recommend more people give a try.  

RF Online - Another hopeful gamble I quickly found myself having second thoughts. A game that looked to lean heavily on some great Sci-fi elements I had actually thought maybe this could be the one. Not so lucky. As soon as I installed the game I was greeted with the surprise that apparently all the servers were down because of some mystery issue. While I awaited an official update to inform me they were again available I poked around the forums and continued my searching. One of my first inklings was an almost lack of activity from other players on the forums. To further weigh on me was the realization that I wasn’t seeing any official posts of updates, explanations etc. After waiting almost 2 days I finally decided to try logging in again just out of curiosity. To my surprise everything was back up and running and nothing had ever been said. Not. A. Word.

But, I could deal with such matters, I could - if the game was worth playing. Which, RF Online could be. It has so much potential to be a great game. And yet right off the bat my 1st character started off with 3 different weapons for him to use and all of them did as much or more than the highest level gear in any store. I literally one shotted just about everything I came across, and with one of them being an artillery launcher that meant entire clusters of critters were powerless against me. At level one, that is not okay. I played for a little while and my levels just climbed rapidly, in fact I quickly had the trouble that my levels were going up so fast I couldn’t manage to keep my skills leveled high enough to enable me to use a lot of the gear I was being rewarded with.

Like a spot light turned on someone with a migraine there was so much that screamed at me that wasn’t okay from a design standpoint. Everything you killed dropped sometimes 6-10 small shiny cubes. To pick up your loot you had to click on every single item. One. At. A. Time. The whole thing rapidly lead to crammed bags with no real way to sort through what was worth gathering up and what wasn’t. Another headache was the fact no npc had any way of marking if they had a quest for you or not, and if they happened to, they wouldn’t say if you even could attempt it. To further irritate you those same npc’s refused to explain how to refine/process any materials or how much such a service might cost if they could provide it. The whole time I played I collected tons of materials and never once found what I could've done with them period. There wasn’t much sense in selling them either because they had 0 value, and everything else that could be sold did me 0 good either. Like I said - you start with weapons so far advanced you have no reason to invest in any that you could by. Hint - When you you spend a couple hours and only then begin to find a weapon that might do not even 10% of your base damage, well, that is not a good thing.

Don’t even get me started on the ridiculously slow speed that your character ‘runs’ at. Covering vast terrain that you are required to is infuriating at best. I still want to like this game, it whispers so many great promises like a bad ex tempting you back but overall it will just keep hurting you.

Sevencore - The most recent game to land on my screen is Sevencore. Like Argo it seems to be a mixed genre game but unlike Argo it has fewer choices in classes. There is a total of 4 races and yep you guessed it 4 classes. Now, they are not gender locked so you can make a male or female of any race and or class you prefer. Gameplay so far seems fairly generic with vanilla go here kill x number of this and retrieve this item type quests. Leveling seems to be fairly quick and the whole routine is pretty standard. You level up, get awarded a new skill or the like and turn in your quests for a new or improved piece of gear. One interesting thing to point out is that it looks like there is no set healer class. Instead each character has potion like items resembling burgers and sodas or some such and you can set a slider on your health/energy to set when you will automatically consume said resources. The whole process automates self healing leaving you free to do what most players enjoy - killing the monsters. Weather this will be a blessing or not I can’t say.

My next step I think will be to categorize the games that will see further play before a more permanent decision is reached and which will get the axe of deletion to make way for any further gambles. So, by all means if you happen to have a game to recommend or your own observations to share then I am all ears. And if you're in a similar situation then I feel for you, perhaps I can save you some of the frustration of debating about what to try. Either way just bear in mind that your mileage may vary.