Archive for April, 2011

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SWTOR: Product Of Your Environment

April 15, 2011

It’s that time of the month again for another Star Wars: The Old Republic Fan Friday and its complement feature Studio Insider. The topic of the latter is of particular interest to me — Environment Polish.

I couldn’t help but give a little chuckle when I read the quote from Senior Environment Artist Robby Lamb that said “Environment art often goes unnoticed in a game, as it’s the creation of the world around your character.” Well, maybe some people overlook it, but yours truly has been known to take screenshots of in-game wall paintings and even of the patterns of cobblestones beneath my character’s feet if I think they look interesting.

The environment artists of SWTOR ensure the game will still be playable at a decent framerate even after they add touches like lighting and props. So much of the look and feel of SWTOR appears to be involved in this process, which also made me think about the game’s art style. I’ve seen words like “cartoony” and “unrealistic” used to describe the graphics, but I really don’t think they’re that bad. Keeping the minimum system requirements at a reasonable level may be one of their main priorities, but at least to my eyes, there is also a certain timelessness to the stylized look. And quite honestly, nitpicking the graphics is the furthest thing on my mind when I see a purdy screenshot like this.

I know one thing for certain — this game is going to look fantastic on the highest settings.

Onto the Community Q&A, I thought this month’s was one of the best so far. I wouldn’t mind if they did more of their future updates in this format, not just for their Studio Insider. Every month, information delivered this way always seems so much more detailed and specific — and more relevant to what the average player or fan would want to know, in my opinion.

The two things that piqued my interest in the Q&A; first:

Furthermore, you can customize your companions with kits that add extra abilities such as Grenade Launchers, Flame Throwers, etc. Regardless of which companion you choose to travel with, they will shape how your character approaches combat and will complement your strengths or help make up for your weaknesses.

I found out a lot about these “kits” while I was at PAX East, chilling and chatting with a bunch of other gamers while we were all waiting in line. While each companion will belong to an archetype and have their own ability set, you are also allowed a bit of flexibility to customize them. One person gave me an example to illustrate this: say, you have a companion you really like (or maybe want to romance!) and you want to bring them with you everywhere you go. But what if you’re a healing class and they are of a healer archetype too? Will this be redundant? As I was made to understand it, no, you can still bring your companion-of-choice along regardless, because you’d be able to equip them with a kit that would give them other useful abilities that help supplement your playstyle. Indeed, it sounds good if this is the case.

Second:

If changing skill distribution also involves a role change for the character (such as from damage focused to medic), chances are you will need to obtain a new set of equipment to go along with the change in gameplay experience. If no role change is involved (e.g. changing skills within the Gunslinger Advanced Class), you are likely able to reuse most if not all of your equipment.

D’oh. One thing I’m loving about Rift right now is the way I can juggle multiple roles on a single character and still keep my equipment sets to a minimum — unlike my “Swiss-Army knife” druid that carried around no less than four different sets of armor, 10 rings, and like half a dozen trinkets at all times. I doubt it would be so bad in SWTOR, but still…I’m a big fan of having inventory space.

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Rift Photojournal (You’re All Going To Be So Sick Of Staring At My Character’s Butt)

April 14, 2011

Hi, my name is MMOGC and I’m a screenshot addict. And as you may have noticed, the world of Rift is a very beautiful place. Put the first and the second together, and after a couple months what you get is a screenshot folder that’s upwards of 4gb.

It’s mind-boggling even to me, really, to see the thousands of images I’ve captured over the past few weeks. Needless to say, it’s time to prune out the crap…because quite honestly, most of it is crap. My trigger happy fingers will hit the PRNT SCRN key (sometimes repeatedly in quick succession) whenever I see anything that even remotely catches my eye. The more interesting and prettier ones, though, I would like to share here.

One of the better ones I took in Stonefield. That zone is no where near one of my favorites in terms of looks. Personally, I find it very dreary. Every time I go there, it seems to be raining! Or is that the natural state of things, “working as intended”?

I tend to go back to the lowbie zones a lot, to explore and to hunt for artifacts. On one of my adventures, I came across this donut rock somewhere on the coast of Freemarch. But “Donut Rock” is such a crappy name for such a pretty pic, let’s go with something more emo and artsy like “Azure Dream”. My outfit matches too!

Another one from a recent venture back to Freemarch. I’m rather ambivalent towards night/day cycles in games, though sometimes it’s a little annoying when you want to take a nice screenshot and everything is obscured in darkness during nighttime. I am, however, very happy with this shot. If the cycles had been realtime, I would never have woken up early enough to see this.

You know you’re a screenshot addict when you get so busy and involved trying to get the perfect angle for a pic, that the next thing you know you’re falling off some huge cliff or really tall building to your death. Yep, after 5 seconds after I took this shot, that’s exactly what happened.

Almost the same deal here…the only difference was, I survived the drop, ha! This was taken around the border of Scarwood Reach and Stillmoor; I was trying to get to the latter zone and had to take to the mountains because the “right” path there was crawling with icky Guardians.

I just love to get right up and say hello.

I mentioned before that I think Shimmersand (I always slip when I try to say that out loud) is one of the more beautiful zones. Its appearance on the map is deceiving, because one would think it’s just another desert like the Droughtlands. On the contrary, Shimmersand is dotted with lush oases and tented settlements. It can be very colorful.

I guess a lot of people bought the Collector’s Edition…

One of my favorite screenies by far, and I only took it last night. Blue Kae happened to be in my group during this guild run of Runic Descent, and at one point, he sent me a tell: “Taking a lot of screenshots?” You know it.

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Rift: Ding! Level 50!

April 13, 2011

My husband and I reaching max level at the same time. Sure, I *could* insert a dirty joke here...but I won't.

That’s right, we are one of THOSE couples. The kind that controls their experience gain so they can do the big ding together and take screenshots of the occasion to look back and go “aww” and say “sweetheart, do you remember when?” and all that lovey dovey crap. So saccharine and sickly sweet, guaranteed to rot your teeth and make bystanders want to throw buckets of cold water at us!

The journey to level 50 took almost two months playing at a medium, semi-casual pace. In terms of total time played, it took approximately 6 days and 4 hours. I’d say Trion did a pretty good job of pacing the game; it’s a pretty reasonable time frame — not too long and not too short. On the other hand, I’m sure if I hadn’t been constrained by a pesky spousal leveling contract, I might have hit the levelcap sooner. See, I think I’m more into this game than the mister. Recently, he’d been splitting his game time between Rift and Crysis 2, and I had to adjust accordingly. God help me from the spouse aggro I incur if I even try to log on to do some foraging without him!

Looking back, what amazes me is that I never ran out of things to do. I didn’t encounter any of the major problems that have led me to quit new games in the past — mainly grind and not having enough content. In fact, there were two whole zones I had to skip completely — Moonshade Highlands and Iron Pine Peak — simply because questing and rifting in Droughtlands, Shimmersand and Stillmoor was plenty enough to get me from late 30s to 50.

Speaking of quests and rifts, yes, the former can be a bit dry, but on the whole I didn’t mind doing them. There were actually quite a few interesting story quests at higher levels, and whenever questing got tedious, we simply broke up the monotony with a little rifting. Every time (with very little exception) a zone-wide invasion occurred, we would drop everything and participate. And just like that, the levels flew by.

So, now what? Well, I remember doing a lot of research when I first decided to get this game. With so many MMOs flooding the market these days, it’s time to be a little more choosy. I knew I wanted something I could play for the long term, and not just because I’m looking for a new MMO to call home, but also because I just didn’t feel like jumping around from game to game anymore, and having a ton of characters spread out all over the place, all languishing in the lower to mid-levels. I told myself the next time I consider shelling out for a box and a monthly sub for a new game, I had better be willing to go all the way. No quitting and ditching yet another character, eternally sentencing her to a life of a lowbie, never to see play again.

Thus I weighed in carefully on my purchase of Rift and felt pretty confident afterwards, but of course there was still a chance that it might not be for me. No matter, a commitment’s a commitment and a goal’s a goal — I was fully prepared to push myself to levelcap if I had to. Lucky for me, though, not once did I feel like I had to “force” myself to play Rift. In fact, I probably wanted to play more than I could. Honestly, the whole journey has been rather a pleasure.

Furthermore, now that I’ve reached level 50 in Rift, I haven’t lost my steam yet. I already have plans to do things like crafting, artifact hunting, achievement farming, rep grinding, exploring…everything that I’d wanted to do but couldn’t because I was concentrating on leveling. Guildies are turning 50 left and right this week as well, so there should be plenty of opportunities to run higher level instances.

The best part is, I can finally do all that and more at my own pace, since the spousal leveling contract dissolves at levelcap. Durr, it’s a leveling contract, after all. At last, nothing will hold me back from Rift! Finally, I’m free of the old ball-and-chai–er, I mean, in spite of the deep pain I would no doubt feel to be playing without my beloved, I am eager to go forth and explore my own individual potential.

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Rift: Rolling On The River

April 11, 2011

With the first phase of River of Souls extended, I can relax a bit.

Along with many others, I logged into Rift this Saturday afternoon eagerly awaiting phase 2 of the world event, only to find out that it had been delayed. Apparently, complications had occurred on the European shards…

With the opening of the final phases of the River of Souls World Event in Europe we have identified several issues that only came to light in a live server environment. Due to this we have had to temporarily disable the World Event in Europe and are delaying the opening of the event on North American shards until a full investigation and corrections can be made.

Ah, bummer. But hey, it happens. And so with the hold on the final phases, Trion has decided to extend Phase 1 an additional week.

I won’t deny that I’m a little disappointed, since I’d been very much looking forward to phase 2 and beyond. Still, my unhappiness was in no way directed at Trion over a few hiccups with their event. Rolling out this thing can’t be easy, and I’ve danced the old MMO dance before and know how often snags can occur along the way despite the best laid plans.

To be honest, I just haven’t been entirely “enthusiastic” about phase 1. I mean, I’ll do the dailies and seal a rift or kill an invasion when I see one, but I’ve been pretty ambivalent towards it for the most part.

And yet, there was also a little part of me that gave a sigh of relief when I saw the announcement. I’d been meaning to hit level 50 or close to it before Phase 2 so I can be sure that I’ll be ready for anything by the final stages of the event. By Friday night, however, I knew I wasn’t going to make that goal. I didn’t have as much time to play as I would have liked last week, and it felt like my leveling rate took a huge dive around the mid-40s.

Pushing myself to level is never fun, especially for a game like Rift where there’s so much to do and you’re really meant to take your time. I decided to enjoy my weekend and play everything else by ear.

The extension was a blessing in this regard, and it seems like many others are taking it in stride too. Furthermore, new rewards have been added to the world event merchants and the amount of Otherworldly Sourcestones you can earn from quests, rifts and invasions has been increased. I’ve already gotten my vanity pets, but I did have my eye on the ring and there were a few other items I wouldn’t have minded. Before this extension and the increase in rewards, I don’t think there would have been a chance in hell I could have gotten everything I wanted.

But now this changes things.

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SWTOR: Staying Classy

April 8, 2011

Today’s Friday Update for Star Wars: The Old Republic is a developer blog detailing Advanced Classes, along with some unexpected extras thrown in. Among my favorite kinds of updates are always the dev dispatch video and blog updates, because it’s fascinating to see what goes into creating a game like SWTOR. Still, the level of detail in today’s update surprised even me, with its brief but informative “behind-the-scenes” look at the testing process on top of covering a lot of the questions that have been asked about ACs lately.

I thought Mr. Zoeller provided a very straightforward and in depth explanation on the mechanics behind skill trees, but what really piqued my interest were the new tweaks in the class roles. Some of the changes I already knew about, such as a healing role added to the Mercenary Bounty Hunter AC, but others were a surprise. Like, Jedi Consulars and Sith Inquisitors can become tanks now? Wow.

Yet, that makes a lot of sense. Something had been plaguing the back of my mind ever since watching and playing the Taral V flashpoint encounter. It just didn’t add up for me before — instance groups of only four players, but at the same time here you’ve got an encounter that will require two tanks to prevent a sure wipe and perhaps back-up healing to boot? What the heck, can you say, a LFG nightmare? This update, however, made it all come together. If I’ve got the count right, that’s three ACs capable of healing and three ACs capable of tanking for each faction, which sounds more like it.

On top of that, I’ve noticed before how the classes in SWTOR seem well-equipped to take on many different situations, by being able to incorporate more than one role within the same build. There’s definitely a degree of flexibility afforded to the player. In BioWare’s own words, some flashpoints are paced in a way that healers can switch into damage roles while engaged in an encounter, and tanks can get away with being a little bit more “reckless”.

Having more choices is always better. These tweaks would seem to be in keeping with that, based on the commentary about the Jedi Guardian AC. Previously, the Guardian’s only available role was a tank, but now they are also capable of doing close-ranged damage dealing. Indeed, I seem to remember being rather adept at both (at the same time!) in the flashpoint demo I played. If this is the direction class and skill point mechanics will continue to go, I think I will be quite happy with the end product.

The inclusions of 3D and movement heat maps and other metrics data was also nice surprise. It may not be direct information about gameplay, but it’s details on the game’s progress and development status which I think is a subject many players (including myself) won’t mind knowing more about.

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Riftshot Of The Day: The New Kidney In Town

April 5, 2011

So I’m sitting in my mid-40s in Rift at the moment, and just finished up with the Droughtlands. Boy, what a barren wasteland that place is. It’s desolate, bone-dry and crawling with Centaurs.

You’d think I would have had enough of the desert after that, but no. I had the choice of a couple other zones like Stillmoor or Iron Pine Peaks, but I decided to press onwards into Shimmersand. I liked the name and thought I would be greeted by a tropical paradise and stretches of white beaches…but instead, I got more desert. I don’t regret the decision though; in fact I think Shimmersand is the prettiest zone I’ve seen so far. I didn’t expect it to be so colorful, but numerous oases dotting the landscape and their nearby tented settlements do offer a vibrant charm.

The biggest hub in Shimmersand is Fortune’s Shore. I ran around once I got there and picked up my quests and talked to the NPCs. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that Fortune’s Shore is a pretty shady place. But I had no idea, really, just how shady.

That will teach me to go wandering into some dark and lonely cave all by myself.

I have seen quite a few humorous debuffs in this game so far that have made me giggle. This was no exception. Still, when I saw this, I was like, wow, kinda harsh. I mean, to his dog? TO HIS DOG??!?!

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Rift: River Of Souls

April 4, 2011

Last week, Rift saw the release of Patch 1.1 and the start of their first world event:

* The Endless Court invades Telara! This worldwide event for all present-day Telara zones and level ranges culminates in the opening of the River of Souls raid zone.
* Events and rewards are available for characters of all levels!
* The new World Event UI keeps you up-to-date on current and future event progress. Check it out to see where your server stands in the fight against the Plane of Death.
* Quest starters in Meridian and Sanctum offer currency rewards for special vendors, including limited-time items only available during this event.

For the last few nights, I’ve been participating in it, trying to mix it up a little by questing and fighting Alsbeth’s forces at the same time. At first, I loved it — it brought new lore to the game which is always a welcome addition, the raids were a blast, and most importantly, I appreciated the inclusiveness of the event. There’s something for everyone.

Yet, after the first couple of days, things started to feel like a chore. In Rift’s defense, it’s just a matter of time anything involving doing dailies will start to feel like that for me. I also realize that this is only Phase 1, and things may still be in the process of “ramping up”. Currently, all zones can open death rifts and spawn invasions related to the event. In subsequent phases, however, I’ve heard that things get a little more crazy and interesting — massive incursions and boss attacks on cities, etc. The next phase begins later this week, so I’m looking forward to that.

Still, I must have the most rotten luck or something! Of the four daily quests that are currently active, there’s two that always give me a hard time — “Harbinger of Sorrows” and “Exorcising Evil”. Sealing three death rifts of my own level for the former is more challenging than I expected, though perhaps not surprising since everyone and their mothers are jumping into them as soon as they spawn. My new routine has become questing in one area for about 2 hours in the evening, which is what I would normally do anyway, but now I’m also keeping my eyes peeled for death rifts along the way and crossing my fingers that I’ll hit three before the night is over. Sometimes I get lucky, sometimes not.

For “Exorcising Evil”, the problem of course is finding a death invasion — of any level, really. Last night it took me over an hour of bouncing around Telara to finally find one. Death rifts are usually sealed within minutes of their existence, usually before they have the chance to spawn any invasions at all. A quick patch over the weekend showed that spawn rate of River of Souls rifts, invasions and zone-wide events have increased, but I haven’t noticed a big difference personally. But like I said, I may just be having horrid luck with this.

No matter! So far, I only have two main goals — those who know me shouldn’t be surprised that I have my eye on the vanity pet rewards on the special vendors, and if all goes well I should rack up enough Otherworldly Sourcestones to afford them all, if not by the end of this phase then surely by the end of the entire event. That shadehound is cuuuuuute.

My second goal is to get to level 50! Phase 3 will undoubtedly require players to be of a higher level to participate; I figure it would be nice if I could be a part of that. Seeing as I’m currently sitting at halfway to 45, I think I have an excellent shot!