Archive for January, 2010

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Server Queue Woes

January 31, 2010

It seems all the problems I said I didn’t have on Day 1 are coming back to bite me in the ass.

Looking back at the last couple of days, perhaps this hasn’t been a very smooth launch for Star Trek Online after all. At the time of writing, I’m sitting in a queue at number 181 out of 682, but while the second number keeps growing by the minute, the first number has remained the same for the last ten. Is this simply a matter of Cryptic underestimating the popularity of this game (good problem), or is it something broken in their new queue system (bad problem)?

Update 1: Another ten minutes later, I’ve only managed to claw my way up to number 178, and they’ve stopped bothering to show the total  many players in queue all together. Well, the good news is the queue is actually moving–just very sloooooowly.

Update 2: Whoa, all of a sudden, I went from number 178 to playing the game, and so has my husband who had been somewhere in the 700s. My guess is that they’re using some sort of load sharing system and they’ve just brought a new server online, letting in a flood of players who had been waiting in queue. Well played, Cryptic, well played.

Update 3: In the end, the server loads won out after all. Guess I could always peruse the STO forums while the servers are down for emergency maintenance, as that’s almost always as entertaining as the game.

Update 4: Never let it be said that Cryptic doesn’t care. Despite all the hiccups, the devs are doing all they can to make the game playable again, and it shows. Servers are back up now, no wait queues, and the game is faster and more stable than before. Props to Cryptic.

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Thoughts on Mass Effect 2 Companions Pt. 1

January 31, 2010

I’ll admit, this post is mainly here because I promised a friend of mine that I would write up a bitch-fest on my thoughts regarding the character of Zaeed Massani, the Mass Effect 2 DLC character that was available at launch. And well, with the Star Trek Online servers down for maintenance once again, I figured, why not now? I’ll update my progress in Mass Effect 2 while I’m at it, though I haven’t had much time to spend with the game since my husband has commandeered the Xbox 360 for Modern Warfare 2 this weekend. I’ve started working on gaining my teammates’ loyalty by doing their personal quests, so I’ll throw in my thoughts on a few of the other characters as well.  Once again, Bioware has succeeded in introducing gamers to a fantastic bunch of characters (though *ahem* some are clearly better than others). As usual, this post may contain spoilers, but I’ll try to keep them out and focus on the characters themselves.

Miranda Lawson

Two words: ice queen. Plus she’s arrogant to boot. For someone working for a pro-human organization, Miranda sure seems eager to distinguish herself from the rest of her species, never missing an opportunity to let you know just how perfect she is. That said, while my Shepard may be nasty towards her while I’m in roleplay mode, in real life I’ve never hated a character simply for their negative qualities. In fact, I actually quite like Miranda as a character, and I think Bioware has certainly done an amazing job with creating her. Being able to see her character unfold before you like a book has really made her grow on me, especially once you hear her story and start to understand the motivations behind her actions, and doing her personal quest was the turning point.

Garrus Vakarian

I was cheering when the first preview videos of the game came out revealing that my favorite Turian with the cool last name will be back. Garrus’s abilities meshed well with mine in the original Mass Effect, which made him an exceptionally reliable companion to bring along when I did my missions. I also viewed him as a sort of kindred spirit to my Shepard character, as his way of thinking and doing things closely matched the way I sought to play my own character. Granted, he’s no longer the same Garrus in Mass Effect 2, but in my opinion he’s changed for the better. He’s also currently one of the love interests that I am actively pursuing in-game, and I’m so glad I made that decision. During his romance arc, Garrus delivers what is quite possibly the best line I have ever heard in a video game: don’t click if you don’t want Garrus romance spoilers. Oh, Garrus, why are you so damn awesome?

Thane Krios

Thane has a pretty intriguing and unique personal quest and I think he’s pretty cool, though I had expected to like him a lot more. I understand what they’re trying to do with his character but I just can’t get into him, probably because I’ve actually known and dated people with personalities just like his, and let me just say this: tall, dark, handsome and brooding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I enjoy hearing the stories about his life and I appreciate his presence as a crew member on my team, but that’s as far as it’ll go. I romanced him for about thirty seconds before I realized there’s just no way this is going to work–I can’t listen his whole sensitive-yet-deadly act without thinking about Edward Cullen in Twilight! That’s just so…wrong.

Zaeed Massani

Okay here we go. Oh boy, where to start? If this was Survivor: The Normandy, Zaeed would be the first one voted off Team Shepard. This is just my opinion, but I have to say I’m extremely disappointed in his character. I never expect much from DLC content, but sometimes they can surprise you. Bioware has impressed me in the past, with the character of Shale in Dragon Age: Origins. This was a companion who, like Zaeed, was a DLC companion available for download at launch to those who purchased the game. Shale was great from the get go–the character actually had me laughing out loud on several occasions. Zaeed, on the other hand, just made me want to knee him in the nuts.

First of all, it doesn’t feel as though Bioware tried very hard to integrate him into the game. Yes, he’s DLC content, but even the tiniest things could have gone a long way in making him feel like part of the Mass Effect 2 story, the same way Shale felt like part of the Dragon Age story. But as it is, Zaeed feels completely separated from the rest of the game content. He stands there like a tool blurting out random stuff at me, and with the exception of a single comment made about him by Kelly Chambers, no one else on board the Normandy seems to know or care that he exists.

This is all something I can deal with if the character is done well, but I don’t even think he’s all that interesting. It’s almost like Bioware wanted to save up all their good ideas, and for the DLC they just decided to fish into their big box of cliches and happened to pick out “angry tough guy”. Still, even the most boorish of tough guys can become memorable characters if done right. With Zaeed, maybe if they had gone with a little more Clint Eastwood and a little less Crocodile Dundee meets Steven Seagal. And perhaps it’s appropriate that his room is adjacent to the trash compactor, because I want nothing more than to crush him into a little cube and eject him out the airlock.

Go on to Part 2 or Part 3!

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Server Downtime Woes

January 30, 2010

Well, I had hoped to get another Star Trek Online update in this evening, but around 12:00pm PST, literally seconds after signing into the game, things started getting a little laggy before it went and crashed (maybe I’m the one who borked it.) I almost thought it was a technical problem on my end until I took a gander at the rampant levels of rage occurring on the STO official site’s IRC chat. Yep, server down. I guess I spoke a little too soon in my last post; for whatever reason, Cryptic seems to have encountered an issue that required maintenance.

Three and a half hours later, it looks like it’s just finally going back up, happening even now as I type these words. Guess I’ll have to try again tonight after grocery shopping and dinner, as I’m really not up to battling those 500+ server cues at the moment.

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Star Trek Online: First Day Thoughts

January 30, 2010

Star Trek Online has officially started for those of us who purchased a preorder, and I can honestly say it’s been a pretty good launch day. I experienced zero problems on my end, though I did log in two hours later than when the servers opened, and thus managed to avoid the login issues and other difficulties caused by high load.

I enjoyed playing a tactical officer so much during the beta that I decided to roll another one, a Vulcan female with space traits this time around, now that I know how much fighting I would be doing on my ship. She is called T’Androma, a name I came up with by literally punching the word “random” into a Vulcan name generator. Hey, I never said I was a Star Trek connoisseur, I couldn’t tell you anything about Vulcan naming conventions if my life depended on it. Then it was on to my favorite part: character customization. With a little tweaking, this is what I came up with:

Yep, she's a busty one.

So I logged in and immediately saw the nifty little cut scene they’ve added, narrated by Spock and all (yay, I actually knew that!) and off I went to kick some Borg Drone butt. While I did so, I noticed the improvements they made to the user interface. It is gorgeous now, and I did a happy dance when I saw the option to turn on “view target of target”.

Space combat is a lot easier now that I know what the hell I’m doing, and I can take down four or five Birds of Prey at once without breaking a sweat. My new ship is almost a twin of the U.S.S. Taiga, the one I had in beta, but I named this one after another biome instead:

In case you're wondering, no, my next ship will not be named the U.S.S. Temperate Coniferous Forest.

I was also a little more careful when it came to distributing my skill points this time around, not only because I know that there’s going to be a cap, but also because I’ve learned that there are clear advantages to giving more attention to certain space and ground abilities. That said, space combat is still very tactical and combat on the ground is still somewhat lackluster, though I’ve come to appreciate every chance I get to beam down as a nice reprieve from the hectic and often lengthy space battles.

So far, there’s a decent mix of quests, some that require fighting and blowing stuff up, and others where you won’t have to fire a single shot at all. Yes, as with any game, there’s always going to be the risk of missions starting to feel repetitive, but well, at least in this game I’m pretty positive you’ll never have to kill 10 rats.

The most impressive thing I experienced was also the most fun I had today, and that was the fleet action. I was initially let down by them during the beta, as I was expecting the massive battles and epic moments that the developers had promised in their videos and interviews, and needless to say, I didn’t quite get that. Today was a different story. Maybe it was the greater number of players involved, but the fleet action gameplay I experienced this afternoon was just insane. Player allies and enemy ships and proton mines and debris and asteroids and you name it were just flying all over the place as literally dozens of phaser beams were shooting across the screen at once. This was more like the large-scale conflict I had expected.

A screenshot taken during one of the "calmer" moments, i.e. the few seconds when I was able to take my hands off the control keys and mouse.

I was also surprised at the level of stability. Sure, I had the occasional “connection to server lost” message flash across the screen as well as some rubber-banding, but having no ridiculous wait times, severe crashes or server shutdowns on launch day certainly gets major points in my book. I guess I’ll see what more this game will bring in the weeks to come.

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Star Trek Online Headstart Imminent!

January 29, 2010

The Star Trek Online early start program will begin on Friday, January 29, 2010 at 10:00am PST for those who have purchased a pre-order. I started the launcher tonight just to see if there would be one final pre-headstart patch, and lo and behold, there it was. Just a tiny 50-something mb patch, but it never hurts to grab it sooner rather than later! Never know what several thousand people trying to get it all at once will do to your download speeds. See you all in game!

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Mass Effect 2 Companions: Gotta Catch ‘em All!

January 28, 2010

Yes, that’s right. I made a Pokemon reference.

Warning: The following post contains spoilers for Mass Effect 2 (and to a lesser extent, Mass Effect 1). You have been warned!

Areas covered: The Convict, The Krogan, Horizon, The Quarian, The Assassin, The Justicar

My adventures with Mass Effect 2 continued over the last two days as Shepard travels all over the galaxy recruiting her team for the final mission against the enemy. Three days of playing under my belt and I’m still not done getting them all (yep, this is going to be a loooong game)! And wow, what a great bunch of characters. I’m already frustrated that I only ever get to take up to two of them with me out on missions.

I did notice one thing as I was playing. So far, Mass Effect 2 is fitting the “formula” that their other games tend to follow, i.e. completing the initial mission, followed by going to 3 or 4 different places before going to a final destination, which then culminates in an epic conclusion. In Mass Effect 2, the initial mission is there and I don’t doubt that we’ll get an epic conclusion, but the difference is in the stuff that happens between them. Instead of getting 3 or 4 long missions to do, here we’re getting almost a dozen missions that are relatively shorter, in the form of recruiting members for your team. I like this better in some ways, as we’re getting the opportunity to explore more environments and meet more characters.

My FemShepard is still no big fan of Cerberus, and I had quite a good time pushing Miranda’s buttons when I recruited The Convict, who took up residence down in my hull (hmm, do I really want some psycho mucking about near the engines of my ship?) The Subject Zero proved to be no less irritating, unfortunately, as she tries to convince me what a bad ass she is by bragging about her past shenanigans–vandalism, stealing a military ship, destroying a space station…well, guess what? I’ve done that all too, bitch.

What she lacks in geniality she makes up for in fighting prowess, however. Jack is an absolute monster in combat, with her insane ability called Shockwave. Being a Sentinel with some biotic powers of my own, I had a lot of fun throwing enemies around with her.

My next stop was to pick up The Krogan on Korlus, which is a literal scrap pile of a planet (why don’t I ever get to recruit from paradise worlds with tropical beaches?). After grabbing him, he too gets stashed down in the cargo hold, which I guess is where I’m keeping all the crazies. On the surface, Grunt is your average Krogan who just lives to fight (also in accordance with his backstory) but his “no point” pun about Turians actually made me LOL. Guess that laboratory tank also programmed him with a sense of humor.

Meanwhile, my assistant Kelly Chambers seems very interested in Garrus. *Gasp!* So not only does she steal my haircut, now she’s out to steal my Turian too! Though she does admit we’d make a cute couple.

My recruiting is interrupted by an emergency stop on Horizon, where I have to defend the colony from a Collector attack. The Praetorian boss fight kept giving me trouble until I worked out a strategy which involved it focus firing on me while I kited it around a bunch of crates in the middle, giving towers time to take down its shields. Not two minutes after the boss goes down, Kaidan Alenko steps out from behind a bunch of crates to welcome me back to the world of the living…with a damn hug. Where the hell were you when I was getting my ass handed to me by a bunch of Husks?

Predictably, Kaidan is not pleased that I had joined up with Cerberus, and refuses to see reason. Typical angsty Kaidan. Congratulations, you just made my choice to cheat on you in this game that much easier.

After Horizon, it was a quick stop off on Haestrom to recruit The Quarian, who turns out to be none other than Tali. The combat here was made more interesting by the fact you had to avoid contact with direct sunlight, which made for a lot of running around from one safe spot to another while trying to fight off waves of Geth.

With Tali safely on board, I took a break from the main game to pick up Zaeed. Not much to say about him, really. He’s like Shale from Dragon Age: Origins in that he’s a new character available at launch through DLC, but unlike Shale he neither has the interesting backstory or the winning personality. I don’t think I’ll be using him much.

Then it was off to Illium for The Assassin and The Justicar. Here, I finally got to meet Thane Krios, the dark and brooding Drell who talks like he’s from an Anne Rice novel. Jacob seems to take issue with my decision to bring a dangerous assassin on board, but given we already have a tattooed psycho and a violent and unpredictable Krogan in our hull, I think an assassin’s the least of our worries. On Illium, I also encountered Samara the justicar, a “warrior monk” type character who rights wrongs in the galaxy as defined by her strict code of justice…and I suppose running around in a skintight low-cut jumpsuit is part of the job description. Her character is interesting in the way it allowed me to see the motivations behind my choices to kill or not to kill when I play Commander Shepard. I’m a Paragon, no question about that, and will only kill when it’s absolutely necessary, even if it means giving a criminal a second chance.

With just about the full crew on board, my entire ship is accessible to me now, though EDI still keeps reminding me politely when I’m in the wrong restroom (that thing sees way too much!) Next step: gaining loyalty!

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Allods Online Astral Ship PvP

January 28, 2010

I’ve had some more time with the Allods Online beta, mostly playing during the couple of hours right before I go to bed. There’s just something so relaxing about leveling in that game that makes it the ideal end to a day.

The progress has been slow (blame Mass Effect 2) and I’m only halfway through level 13. I’ve since joined a large guild made up of a long-standing community of gamers so there’s always something going on and always someone willing to help out. No date has been set for the open beta (the closed beta will run until February 3rd, but thus far there has been no news of what’s going to happen after that) but that hasn’t stopped the leadership from doing some pre-planning. I received some good news yesterday, that the guild will be starting on a PvE server come that day…if that’s an available option. I certainly hope it is; nothing is more frustrating to me than being bashed over the head with a player enemy’s cudgel while I’m trying to do something like a little harmless herbing.

I’m not strictly averse to PvP, however, especially when you see the type of astral ship action you get at higher levels (the video at the bottom of that link is worth watching). I’ve been doing a lot more reading into PvP in the astral, and it sounds too good to be true. Real people will be running the functions of these enormous ships in real time–everything from steering, shields, engines, navigation, cannons, you name it. These player-manned ships will fight other player-manned ships, until eventually the players themselves board each other and battle it out mano-a-mano. The game then takes that whole piracy aspect one step further as the winning team gets to loot and plunder the defeated crew’s cargo of treasure before destroying their ship.

Is it really as good as it sounds? Some of the players on the Russian servers (they’re already in open beta) say it is. If that’s true, I’m even more amazed that this game is a free-to-play. When’s this thing going to come out of beta so I can start, dammit?

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