Archive for February, 2011

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STO: Into The Coliseum

February 28, 2011

Out of my way, fool.

Star Trek fans, be sure to have an extra pair of underwear close at hand because the latest Star Trek Online feature episode is nothing short of nerdgasm-inducing. And fans of the Original Series, you might want to have two pairs handy.

Time to take a break from all the Rift posts with my review of “Coliseum.” And what can I say? Wow. Just, wow. I have a lot to talk about, but the hard part is figuring out how to do it without coming across like a raving fangirl. Fact is, it is not in my nature to squee and fawn unless something is very, very good and extremely well done — which I think applies to this particular FE. I’m going to echo what Tipa has already stated in her write-up — this episode is truly epic.

Note: Spoilers in the text and screenshots.

Surprise, surprise — this latest mission does not start at Admiral T’Nae. Instead, it is Obisek’s scarred visage that pops up on your screen, asking for help, no less. The nerve! Seems one of his ships carrying a load of thalaron weapons through the Nopada system has disappeared. His only bargaining chip was simply, “If you didn’t like the idea of thalaron weapons in the hands of a loonybin like me, you would like them much less in the hands of an even bigger loonybin like Hakeev now, wouldn’t you?”

ARRGH!!! This is why you don’t let crazy ass Remans run free to do as they please! I should have attempted to arrest him when I had the chance, especially since the decision to do so or not to do so turned out to make no effing difference in the end.

Skip ahead to the Nopada system because I’m a tool and I’ve agreed to help Obisek find his missing ship. There, I find nothing but derelict hulks and a mysterious satellite. And whaddya know, it’s a trap! At this point, I was going through the motions, thinking this was just gonna be another one of those missions where I’ll have to run around activating glowy consoles and pressing buttons until I find a way to escape.

Well, I discovered it was that and more. Math? MATH, CRYPTIC?! Why do you hate me? But thanks to my overbearing mother and her forcing me to go through five years of Kumon in my youth, however, I was set, calculators and pencils be damned. After you work out which number corresponds to each letter, all it takes is to go through A, B, C, and D sliding the numbers left or right until they show the correct value.

After that, make sure you explore every nook and cranny of the small facility. You’ll need to somehow set the satellite to expand its scanners far enough to pick up the derelict hulk, using it to redirect focus away from your ship, and then you’ll need to dial down the power settings to allow yourself to get away. The information takes a bit of digesting, but the key is to know where all your consoles are to do your fiddling, so be sure to note them on your map.

So by now I admit I was feeling a little indifferent, expecting myself to beam back to my ship and be ambushed with a space fight or something. I thought, “Typical.”

Instead, BAM! I found myself behind bars in the next scene. I did not see that one coming. Not sure if it was intended, but way to go Cryptic for luring me into a false sense of impassivity. This was probably the biggest twist I have ever experienced in an FE, and I love it!

And what made it even better, was when the doors opened, and I realized…I get to fight? Oh my God, I get to fight! No pressing any buttons, no scanning any objects, no running around trying to be diplomatic. I. GET. TO. KILL. STUFF. Now THIS is T’Androma’s kind of mission! Just your good old-fashioned, straightforward gladiatorial skirmish with fantastical creatures in an open coliseum.

Ladies and gentlemen, choose your weapons. Take ‘em all if you want, but it’s the Lirpa for me. As if I would choose anything else.

As a proud owner of a little Sehlat cub of my own, I really should be feeling bad about this. But that's the way of the arena! Sorry Fluffy!

And all the while, I’m going dun-dun-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DUN-dun-dun-DUN-DUN! in time to the music. Because everyone knows, of course, that the Amok Time song is the greatest fight music EVER. I laughed, because it seems that after almost a year, my wishes were finally answered. That was before I got into Star Trek. Sigh, how utterly ignorant and sad I was then.

Are you enjoying yourself? When do you think we'll get to go again?

The fun was over way too soon. Before long, T’Andy was herded back into her cage, where she had the opportunity to talk to the Reman slave who fought beside her the coliseum. “I tire of this life,” he moaned. “I can’t go on much longer.” “The lights are too damn bright.” Whine whine whine, bitch bitch bitch. It took every ounce of self control not to bite this guy’s head off and call him names, insult his manhood or imply he’s a psychopath. Seriously, Slamek, the joys of the arena are wasted on you and blubbering wussies like you.

But no, T’Andy had to  be diplomatic to get through this. Guess you can’t always have it all.

With much reluctance, T’Andy finally agreed to escape with him. At this point, I thought Cryptic would throw in a few objectives related to subterfuge or evasion. Surely, after all that fighting, they’ll make us sneak around some.

I could not have been more wrong, and boy am I glad for that:

Deworming.

Beating the Aehallh Worm in the coliseum shouldn’t be too difficult. If you find you are getting low on health, there are regenerative spores around the place you can “activate” to heal yourself. Run around to avoid the corrosive spit, beat down the tentacles, activate the turret system, simple as that. Letting you free the other prisoners to help you fight was also a welcome touch; I thought it added nicely to the frantic atmosphere.

By now, it feels like I’ve been playing this mission for a long time, and certainly it has already been twice as long as some of the previous FEs in the past. But it ain’t over yet! T’Andy and Slamek may have escaped their prison, but they still have to escape the desert. I was surprised there was still more to the story, but this is the most fun I’ve ever had in any STO mission, period, so I wasn’t complaining in the least.

Of course, it wasn’t enough just to be whiny and annoying, Slamek had to be an incompetent burden too. Wounded by the worm in the arena and poisoned by its venom, my Reman companion wasn’t going to make it unless he received immediate medical attention. If it were up to T’Andy, she would have let him die, but Starfleet has a pesky tendency to find out about these things, and if her churlish ways ever got back to the Admiral she would have my Vulcan ass on a silver platter.

Scorpions overhead!

The landscape, however, was absolutely breathtaking. As I gathered up the herbs for Slamek’s injuries while dodging the ranging Scorpions overhead, I couldn’t help but admire the desert scenery in the beautiful light of the silver moon. I don’t think I’ve seen anything else like this in STO. The environment was simply gorgeous. And huge. Thank God in one of the game’s previous updates they gave us a longer duration sprint.

Okay, now I have to spend the night with Slamek? Are you seriously saddling me with this pathetic creature, Cryptic? It’s like being haunted by a ghoul. Will the torture never end?!

Curse you, Slamek! Your fugly presence is totally ruining my glamour shoot!

Sigh. Just don’t get fresh with me, okay, Slamek? Or I swear, my boyfriend will come and nerve pinch you.

Here, T’Andy’s tactical training background required her to collect wood for a fire. Play with other classes in the group to collect all the accolades! Afterward, I thought surely the night in the cave must mean this episode was coming to an end…but there was still one more scene. Somewhere deep down I was starting to think this was getting a little ridiculous, but then I saw the marvelous view of the crashed Reman ship and promptly told that part of me to shut up. Again, the graphics and the design of the tableau was of a caliber I have not seen before in STO.

She's seen better days...

Just a few more objectives requiring me to send my signal to my ship, and T’Andy was almost home free. But then BAM! cutscene again. I was laughing out loud by the end, because I was having all these nasty thoughts about Slamek the whole time…and in the end it turned out I was right not to trust him. Traitorous bastard. Now that one I actually did see coming.

Why he went through all that just to sell me out though, I still have no idea. But the look on Hakeev’s face when I made my last minute getaway was funny enough to make me set aside all my questions. Silly villains. Y’all need to take a page from T’Andy’s book — shoot first, talk later.

Dammit. I knew I should have let the worms eat you out there, Slamek.

Days after playing this episode, I am still geeking out over it. My only concern about it is the fact it makes the rest of the game look less good, if that makes any sense. No wonder they are planning on going back to revamp past missions; I feel the chasm of difference between the old content and the new would be too great otherwise. Not only do I feel “Coliseum” is the best episode so far in the arc, I’d probably go as far as to say this was the best FE released to date. Hell, best mission the the game, even. Bar none.

This is now my favorite episode, and I have to say playing it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in STO. And it’s not just because I got to wreak all kinds of destruction in my wake. This episode must have been a massive undertaking — to write, to direct, to produce. It had everything, from the engaging script to the cinematic cutscenes with dramatic camera angles (especially with Hakeev at the end). Beautiful environments and music appropriate to the atmosphere. Extraordinary creatures, big and small. Lots of things that have never been seen before. There was also humor, suspense, excitement. Combat, problem solving, diplomacy. The whole mission was like a buffet table generously laid out by Cryptic, encouraging you to sample the best bits of everything.

Finally, in “Colisium”, I also see a labor of love, a devotion to Star Trek and a clear commitment to its fans to bring us the Trek elements we know and love. I’ve glimpsed this in other parts of STO, but here in this particular episode, it really shines.

Seriously, whoever came up with the idea for this mission deserves a raise. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next Saturday. It’s the series finale!

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Riftroductions

February 27, 2011

Shut up. I’m officially fresh out of clever Rift puns for post titles now, so you’ll have to live with the dregs I scrape from the bottom of the barrel, you poor, poor things.

Some of you may recall a post I did last year titled “My Lovely Ladies” in which I identify the three trends I tend to follow when I make my game characters: 1) They’re all female, 2) They’re all attractive, and 3) They all have different names.

My Rift characters are no exception, and I am particularly a big fussbudget when it comes to names. Five days before headstart and I was already trying to come up with a list of possible names in my head. A list of them, because sometimes, I won’t know which one to use until I see my character standing before me on the screen. A name can sound great, follow all the appropriate conventions and be perfect in every way, but for me it also has to fit a “look” or else it just doesn’t work. See, I told you I was fussy.

Meet Shandenay, my “main” Rift character, Defiant Eth on Faeblight.

I knew for a long time I was going to roll a Cleric. I’ve always had in mind an image of a heroic shining knight in chain mail, a fresh-faced and wholesome young woman with kind of a humble, girl-next-door type of beauty. So no surprise, she came out looking a bit like a Roman goddess. Though the Defiants are branded as heretics, seen as dangerous and shameless, and are therefore labeled the “evil” side by many, I often let the class of my character influence my decisions on overall appearance, not the faction.

My first role for Shandenay consists of a Druid/Justicar/Shaman soul combination. For a first-time Cleric, I went with what the game suggested, and was pleased with the resulting synergy between these three melee souls. I’m able to solo effectively, and offer good support in a duo or in a raid while fighting a rift. I also just recently purchased a second role for the purpose of doing instances, and started putting together a healing build on the fly. The Sentinel and Purifier souls have not let me down so far.

Meet Saimiri, my Guardian High Elf character, also on Faeblight.

Self-righteous. Holier-than-thou. Goody-two-shoes. That’s the feeling I got from the Guardians, which prevented me from connecting with the faction when I did my brief stint as a Mathosian during beta. Still, I have an agreement with my husband that I won’t level my main character without him and he won’t level his without me, so I needed to come up with a Rift alt to play for the times when he’s not around or when he decides to play World of Warcraft instead. Despite my disdain for the “Chosen of Telara’s gods”, I want to see as much of this game as I can, including the content from the other faction, so I saw this as the perfect opportunity.

Wow, I just realized compared to my Cleric, Saimiri looks like a real bitch. My subconscious feelings about the Guardians coming through, perhaps. I do like her name, though. Sometimes, I like coming up with random names that sound good, other times the names I choose for my characters are meant as nerdy little inside jokes to myself. I specialized in an Anthropological Sciences degree when I was in college, and one of my favorite courses I had to take was Primatology. Saimiri is the genus name for the Squirrel Monkey.

I enjoyed my Elementalist/Chloromancer/Stormcaller Mage so much during beta, I was inclined to make another one for launch. Except I substituted Elementalist for NECROMANCER! I needed a pet, and the cool factor of an undead skeleton is just slightly higher than that of a pet rock.

Server queues aside, I’m having a lot of fun in Rift so far, and I hope you are too. Come say hello!

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Never Tell Me The Odds

February 25, 2011

Another Friday, another Star Wars: The Old Republic weekly update. And it’s a dev blog. Blaine Christine is one of my favorite guys over at BioWare Austin, however, so I was only slightly disappointed that it wasn’t the Bounty Hunter class video I was hoping for. But at this point, I don’t expect to see any more exciting announcements until PAX East in two weeks, anyway.

It was nice to see Mr. Christine’s good humor come through along with his insights as he gives us an inside look at Game Testing. I feel Developer Blogs are often some of the more informative sources — straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Though, now it’s going to be kinda hard to look at him again and not picture him in Queen Amidala’s make-up and red dress. Pass the eye bleach, please!

It was interesting to read about his work as a Live Producer, but I’m not sure how I feel about some of the Game Tester thoughts they included, to tell the truth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased to see game testing is going well, and yeah I want to know how testing is going. But I can’t help it, reading exaggerated praise and quotes like “I’ve been waiting years and years and years for an MMORPG experience like this” still makes me cringe a little inside. Exaggerated hype, but very little substance. Whenever I read feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, I always find myself asking “Why?” Thoughts from testers that read more like typical quotes you’ll find on the back of a book jacket don’t tell me much and just leave me feeling empty. Obviously, this is why I prefer reading the more detailed hands-on reviews.

I do get how the marketing machine works though, and also too that they have to keep certain details about testing hush-hush. And it is quite possible that maybe I’m just being a grump. Heck, I’m certainly not above admitting a little bit of bitterness over not beta testing :P

Oh why oh why oh why do I never get lucky with these things?

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Just Another Launch Day…

February 24, 2011

Wow. Been watching my Twitter feed fill up with people lamenting the Rift server queues all afternoon. And gahhh, they weren’t frickin’ kidding.

It’s a little past 3:30 right now. Seeing as I won’t actually be available to play until later this evening, I figure now’s a good time to start ‘er up.

Maybe I’ll go take a nap.

Take the dogs for a walk.

Run a bath and read a book.

Then have dinner. Hey, if I’m lucky, the server should be letting me in some time around dessert. Good thing I plan ahead, eh?

Oh, and congratulations, Trion! Looks like your game has generated much interest!

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Postcards From Telara: Bring On Rift

February 23, 2011

Hard to believe the seventh Rift beta event is behind us now, and headstart is imminent. I should think the next time I blog about the game, the live servers will be up and running, which is a pretty exciting thought. I was pleased when I saw that the 8.3 gig “patch” downloaded last night without a hitch, even though thousands of players were likely trying to do it at the same time. It gives me hope for a smooth launch.

I’ve decided to join up with the friendly folks at Multiplaying.net and their Circle of Trust guild, who are rolling Defiant side on the RP-PvE server of Faeblight. Ahh, “Defiant” and “PvE”. What a sweet, sweet sound those two words make. Also, thanks to MP, looks like a lot of people I know will be playing together, if not on the same faction at least on the same server. Since I’ll most likely be making a Guardian alt too, at some point I’m sure I’ll be able to meet up with everyone in Telara.

Like most people, I reined in my activity during the last beta. I played many hours during that week, but instead of pushing to see as much as the game as I can, I mostly rifted and explored at my leisure. I’m looking forward to starting the game tomorrow, with a Cleric soul combination in mind — hmm, Druid/Justicar and something else…maybe Shaman. The last time I saw the starting areas was about two months ago, so that and the fact I’ll be playing a new class should still make the experience feel lemony fresh and new.

And now, once again, for the “postcards” part of this post in which I plunder my screenshot folder (which thankfully I had the foresight to save before uninstalling the beta client) for my favorite images. Because seriously, why take a kajillion bajillion pictures if I can’t share them from time to time?

See you all in game! And long live the Defiants!

Fire rifts and lightning are no excuse to ignore your exercises.

A wind rift that was part of a quest.

About to be stomped to death by an asparagus on steroids.

A variation of the one I posted to twitter. That face is going to give me nightmares...

Er, this on the other hand...MROW?

Caidia in all her glory. Good bye, beta character!

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It’s The Little Things That Thrill

February 21, 2011

Open beta comes to an end for Rift, and I just found out from Levelcapped that the beta client will not be usable for the head-start later this week. So just now, I made a copy of my beta screenshot folder so I won’t accidentally erase it when I do my uninstalling. Given how many screenshots I take, it would be a shame to lose them all.

While I was going through them, I am reminded once again how much I appreciate the little things in our MMOs, the kinda stuff that will barely affect my gameplay, but will still put a smile on my face nonetheless.

This is a screenie I took recently, remembering a post on Pix’led Life I saw the other day about the little details in Rift. I have a tendency to want to explore and stick my nose in little corners as well, whenever I see something in the game environment that catches my eye. My attention was drawn to this open chest I glimpsed, placed on the top of the scaffolding in the picture above. As you can see though, there’s no stairway up there. What there is, however, is a rope tied to one of the posts connecting it to the ground.

So I brush up on my tightrope walking skills and do some pokin’ around!

If you’ve read my earlier post about artifact finding, you’ll know that some of the rarest artifacts I’ve discovered were always in the most out of the way places — like high up in the side of a cliff or in a hole in a tree somewhere. I honestly thought I was going to find a rare artifact in that chest up there, thinking, “If I was a game dev, what better place to hide something like that?”

Here’s what I actually found:

What the hell, Trion? Suffice to say, I wasn’t that disappointed in that there was no rare artifact waiting for me. I was more baffled and amused, not to mention shocked, by the complete randomness of finding a dead dwarf in a chest, up here in the middle of nowhere in a place one would have to tightrope to reach. It was obviously placed here purposely, and while I don’t exactly get the joke, oh well, I still laughed at the little detail.

Here’s another one of those little things in Rift that make me smile, and if you play I’m sure you must have noticed it too — the fact when you target someone in the game, your character will actually turn his or head to look at the person. Rowan mentioned how it made for a more immersive experience when he was in town having dinner and Mr. MMOGC and I last week, and I agreed with him. Well, maybe not so much when you find yourself awkwardly craning your neck in one direction towards a vendor while running about in town. But on the other hand, say when you’re fighting a 50-foot titan and throwing your head back to stare him in the eye, it does make for a more realistic and heroic picture than simply ogling at his toes.

Or even check out the following screenshot of my husband’s and my characters quietly regarding each other, and the big difference a little eye contact makes. Can’t you just feel the love? Here, I am glaring at him for being 8 levels below me and already having way cooler-looking armor, while I’m still stuck running around in a grungy potato sack looking like a rice-farming peasant.

Ugh, the downside of being a clothie.

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STO: Burned, Blasted, Frozen

February 21, 2011

Happy Monday, folks, which means I bring you all another review of the latest Star Trek Online feature episode!

Note: Spoilers in the text and screenshots.

Episode 3 of the current Romulan arc “Frozen” takes the crew of the Taiga to a hidden Reman rebel base, which we discovered thanks to our efforts last week in decoding the secret message.

I am always wary whenever I get a mission warning me not to “antagonize” anyone, in this case the Remans or the Romulans. Pissing people off is what T’Androma does best, but okay, for the sake of galactic peace, I shall try my darndest.

The first map we enter upon reaching the Dera system is a short space encounter involving some subterfuge. First we set ourselves up as bait by advertising our signal, then we go scurrying back to hide in a nebula. Word of advice, if you’re like me and enjoy flying around to explore a bit, just remember where you parked your cloud of gas. Yes, I lost my nebula. Not too often you get to say something like that. It’s only a small little area of gas and radiation you can hide in, and silly me, when I flew around I dipped too low and took me a while to locate it again even within the marked area.

Here, I recalled the first episode “The Vault” and the encounter near the end where we had to fight a space battle in an area which disrupted our shields and signals, and a static-y effect would literally “snow” across your screen. In “Frozen”, the nebula we hide in pretty much does the same thing graphically. It’s a rather cool effect, though I have to admit it’s a little freaky at first, knee-jerk reaction to anything that messes with my screen and all.

Our patient stake-out in the nebula is rewarded with a very dramatic cutscene. Most of the ones I’ve seen so far involve NPCs in conversation, so it was a refreshing to see a space encounter fold out this time, with one my bridge officers narrating. When a huge Romulan warship decloaked, I was like, oooooh. But then they started attacking the Reman scout, so I knew I had to do something about that. They had to be destroyed at once! At once, I say!

Hey, don’t look at me, my tactical officer told me to do it.

Our fight allowed the Reman scout to get away, and after I took care of the Romulans, we tracked them to a frozen planet. I normally groan at escort quests, but when you’re both flying in ships, it’s a little different. It’s actually kinda fun.

We beamed down to a cavern system which would lead us into the Reman’s secret base. Here, I boggled at the frozen tableau.

More and more, I look forward to the ground portion of each FE. Ground combat mechanics are what they are, but even if you don’t like them, at least you can still be blown away by the environment. It’s like a surprise every time.

And the creatures are a surprise too. I think I remember reading somewhere that this arc would feature more new creatures than ever before. Here I fight some ugly jackal mastiff thingies…among other things.

“Why does every new species we encounter try to kill us?” Um, Lieutenant Jaime, dear, you’re talking about spiders here.

How you get into the actual base itself depends on your class. As far as I can tell though, they all involve a giant, mining laser. As a tactical officer, I had to go around collecting power packs, fusing them together in order to give the malfunctioning laser that extra oomph to blast apart the gate keeping us out. I got a tactical accolade for it in the end, and if you have other classes with you, you have the opportunity to win those accolades too. Needless to say, that may provide a very good incentive for people to group up.

Inside, we meet the Reman rebels, who seem to have been expecting us. Seriously, we really could have just knocked.

Way to pull at my heartstrings, Cryptic. They’re really ramping up the emotional factor with this arc. I remember feeling bad for the down-trodden Romulans in the first two episodes, and now I can’t help but feel bad for the Remans as well. Especially that story with that one guy’s innocent wife who died alone and screaming in a Tal Shiar prison? Ouch.

I swore I’d break Obisek’s neck the next time I saw him, but after listening to the sad plight of his people, how could I? Being a rebel at heart herself, T’Androma could do no less but to sympathize. I let him go, and his people helped me fight my way out against the Romulans who invade the base.

Ahh, choice. We’re beginning to see Cryptic give us more and more of those, with each passing FE arc and episode. There will be consequences to whatever you choose, but the scope remains to be seen. Check out Tipa’s write-up of the mission if you want a good rundown of what you can expect from each choice you make in “Frozen”, and even how to get yourself another accolade if you’re into that kind of thing. The episode itself won’t end too differently either you choose to arrest Obisek or let him go; he still escapes and you end up reporting to Admiral T’Nae about the Remans regardless. I hear, however, that it is possible our decisions may lead to more lasting effects in future episodes.

Overall, this was a short and straightforward mission. I found out it took me 1 hour and 8 minutes to complete it (courtesy of Raptr) but I’m sure if I wasn’t using up all that time dithering around taking screenshots and exploring, it would probably have taken me a quarter of that time or less. I am enjoying these episodes that are putting a heavier focus on the context and leading me to become more emotionally invested in the story.

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