Thursday, December 30, 2010

WoW: Cataclysm - 82-83 in Deepholm

In terms of linearity, Deepholm is much better than Mount Hyjal. At the very least, the zone layout tries to disguise the somewhat linear questing; it feels open, despite still being lead around by your nose through a quest progression.

The story that the player experiences here via the quests are much more focused than in Hyjal. Pretty much everything has a direct relation to the fragments of the stone core which must be repaired to keep things from going even more cataclysmic in Azeroth. Here you get to meet Therazane, who is to say at the very least, an interesting figure. Blizzard's design sense, humorous or otherwise, really shines with her. The region she occupies in Deepholm is certainly blinding with its assortment of colors and their vibrancy, but you don't spend a whole lot of time there as it's mainly a spot for daily quests and the Therazane faction quartermaster (which possesses the rare and epic shoulder enchants... hello, Sons of Hodir #2).

The textures and colors of the zone as a whole are pleasant to be around, which left me wishing I could have spent more than one level here rather than in Hyjal. There's really no choice as to where to go for the intended level 82 zone though; unlike for 80-82, you don't have a choice, unless you want to plow through lower-experience quests by doing Vash'jir at 82 which is not something I'd recommend.

The quests in the zone are the usual mix of serious and humorous, with a sprinkling of very annoying ones. Spawns are as erratic as anywhere else. There is also a giant worm in a tunnel that I quite enjoyed, though it will likely leave players who are not very conscious of their surroundings a bit frustrated. During my brief stay in Deepholm, quite a few players voiced their "love" for the worm in general chat.

Overall, the zone had a great feel art, theme and quest-wise. The story felt like one worth participating in, even though it leads to a very linear progression through the zone. Thus far, what we find in Cataclysm, is that there's a story to be told, and Blizzard will have you miss none of it thanks to the the lead-by-the-nose questing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mudbox: Done Wif Da Ogre

I've left the image a very large file, so that if you feel like it, you can full-size it and see all the neat skin detail that you don't get with a smaller version!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mudbox: Ogrelicious!


Got some more work done on the Ogre. Got a little distracted trying to figure out job stuff. Yay for being overqualified for readily available jobs. And old fashioned policies that prevent me from even being eligible because of one 'lil tattoo.

Anyways. Just working some detail so he's not so smooth before I give him an actual skin texture and pronounce this sketchery finished! Expect the review of Cataclysm's Deepholm soon, too.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

WoW: Cataclysm - Level 80-82 in Mount Hyjal

For those of us who remember Molten Core, we get to see some old friends in this new zone. Baron Geddon is cheerfully melting unwary players' faces early on in the zone. Ragnaros shows up later. The zone contains a variety of mini-story arcs while managing to progress the player through the overall story of Cataclysm quite well. Also, in a touching homage to Joust (a personal favorite from the past), an amusing quest line has been implemented.

Unfortunately the zone is very linear. It's a lot like a Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning zone in that sense. "Go here, then here, then here, in this order." It doesn't help that the geography is basically one big snaking canyon which you work your way down. The quests are at least relevant to the story, though fairly tedious. There isn't much in the way of choice, say whether you want to go to this camp over here first, or maybe the one north of it.

Most quest hubs amount to a fairly even split of " kill this many" and "collect this many". You can only do so many variations of it, right? Right. Well, the problem here is the collection quests; these are generally not fun to do in a group. It takes longer for the same reward. There's no reason to do them in a group. The only "reason" is to slow people down, but it does so at such a marginal rate overall that I question if it's even worth it or not.

Alongside my beef with collection quests and their demeanor that is not befitting of a group-based game (you could just fix them by letting everyone look the items off the same corpse, which a few do), there's the simple fact that they take up space. Despite all the innovations that WoW has brought the genre, is still has a weak and archaic inventory system. Many games have adopted the idea of a separate quest inventory and sometimes even a separate crafting materials inventory. Also missing from the game-as-purchased; an automatic sorting function for the inventory. We should be able to designate certain bags to automatically receive types of items when we loot them or finish a quest. I suspect that their might be some programming issues here holding a streamlined function like this hostage, but who knows.

From the goblin area we have the continuing theme of too much and not enough with mobs. Sometimes you spend ten minutes trying to nab five kills, and sometimes you are perpetually beset by instantly respawning mobs. You may think, "Hey, I'll just move him over here and kill him..." Well, it's a novel thought. But many of the areas are so jam-packed with agro that moving the one you're fighting so you won't get his insta-replacement just results in fighting an increasing number of enemies. I understand the need to increase spawns for a newly released product - I often wish more studios did - but in this case there's a massive inconsistency with spawn rates.

The great idea and system of popup quests is just as underutilized in this zone as it is in the rest of the Cataclysm content, which I find pretty disappointing. It's such a great system for streamlining quests. I honestly think it's the way that truly next-gen MMOs handle it; always keep the player moving forward.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

WoW: Cataclysm - Goblin Experience Part 2

A few more things I thought I'd write about before I move on;

Event monsters
Location progression and quest style
Guild levels/rewards

Granted, this is my opinion, but here it goes.

Event Monsters

I don't like event-spawned mobs that grant neither experience nor loot. In theory, they're fine when you get to kill them en-masse with some kind of quest device. It's empowering in a way, and empowering the player, especially at low levels, is good.

But, and this is a huge butt, perhaps one of ogre sized proportions; when you end up constantly being assailed by these event mobs, and do not have a way to deal with them other than an old fashioned beat down, its not cool. If these events were foolproof, it'd be fine. But they're not.

I found myself fighting these lootless, no-experience mobs many, many times. And they spawn so fast that if you don't keep moving, they'll just pile up and inevitably kill you.


Now, this next part is something I've noted about Cataclysm as a whole. The change in design from larger, more densely populated quest hubs to strings of what I'm calling rapid-fire quest hubs. But first, let's take a lil' step back in time to 1999.

In Everquest, you camped. You picked a spot and killed the mobs there as long as you could. Instead of getting a quest, going out, and coming back, you pulled mobs to that location or killed the ones that spawned there. Now, Blizzard has decided to move away from large quest hubs, in what I wouldn't necessarily call an evolution - more like a sidestep.

This is because you still spend a lot of your time traveling. Instead of returning to the same hub many times, you might only return to it twice. A brilliant innovation however, is the pop-up quest system. By entering an area or killing a mob, you can get a quest via a pop up. A lot of times you complete the quest via pop up as well.

I think the pop up quests are significantly better than the rapid fire quest hubs. In fact, I think this is where MMOs should be headed - everyone has done quest hubs to death. Instead of having the player travel down the same road two, four or six times to complete and turn in a quest, let them go do the quest and finish it while they are traveling to the next area via a pop up. Or, if that presents problems of logic (such as how you actually give people an item or get a reward) just have the turn in NPC be in the next area you go to.

I don't care how it's handled - cell phone, crystal ball, comm link, whatever. It's time to evolve. Maybe not 100% evolution, but perhaps 50/50. The ratio of pop up quests to traditional hub questing in WoW: Cataclysm seems to be abysmally low. Less than 1 per 50, at best.

Guild Levels/Rewards

It's just a good idea. Guilds, or whatever they might be called across many worlds, are a pinnacle of the communities that drive MMOs, and I think that they should always be more than just a chat channel and a tag. I know they're more that in an intangible sense, but I'm talking about tangible things here. Granted, you sort of leave the solo player in the dust here, but it does promote joining an organization. You're not exactly punishing a player for not being in a guild, since anyone can join one or even create one themselves.

The idea has so much potential for fun things too - it's a perfect vehicle to give out vanity and novelty items with, but at the same time functional things as well. You just have to be careful how much you reward guild play, since at some point it will feel like you're trying to force people into a guild.

I promise I'm done talking about the Goblin experience now! Next time, the new 1-60.

WoW: Cataclysm First Impressions (Goblin Area)

Since everyone I knew flaked out on logging in at midnight, I found myself alone with little to do in game. So I rolled my Goblin Warlock a little ahead of schedule and set off with a 'newbie mindset' to take some notes. I'll do this list-style for organization.


+ Good story progression throughout the Goblin racial area
+ Great environment, colors, textures and theme
+ Plenty of amusing quests


- Inconsistent pace between sections of the starting area
- Low density of certain quest monsters
- Too much running for a starting area
- Lacks 'quest grouping' in certain areas
- Inconsistencies in risk between areas
- Too high of respawn rate for monsters in some areas
- Terrain bugs/issues

Let's talk in detail about some of these.

By inconsistent pace, I mean that in 'section A' you might be rapidly turning in quests, sometimes multiples at a time, and then in the next area you suddenly find yourself with one or two quests to do at a time that take much longer to do. I don't know what to make of it, but time-to-level-10 is significantly faster in older starting zones, to the tune of taking about 75% as long. Onwards...

Too much running around and/or a lack of multiple quests to do at once. They start you out doing up to three at a time, but then you find yourself making long runs back and forth along the same road several times just to do a single quest. I found myself using autorun quite a bit throughout the Goblin starting experience.

The inconsistencies in risk of certain areas wasn't so much a problem as it was something I noted. For the most part, you're safe and there's little risk of dying. Then you find yourself in a spot, or on a quest, where a pack of even-level monsters jump you and make you take a dirt nap.

Now, as for the low density of quest monsters... I don't know when games will start getting this right, if ever. The areas weren't even all that populated by players (being 4am and all), but I still found myself waiting for respawns or running to the outskirts of a quest location in search of things that weren't there. On the flipside, at times I would be killing a random creature that was in the way or even a quest monster, and they would instantly respawn as soon as I killed them, and attack me again.

Lastly but never least; terrain bugs. Either I'm pro, or they just missed a whole bunch of them. They weren't anything unusual, just the oldies; getting stuck on tiny objects and NPCs freaking out after walking over said tiny objects, getting stuck in geometry, that sort of thing. My crowning find for the night was passing through a piece of terrain that was obviously there to keep people out; it took a little work, but I made it through. Then I couldn't get back out. Woops! I was stuck between a lava death, or a recall. Well, I didn't get to choose... because I found a falling death after wedging myself between two pieces of terrain! Just like old times. Unfortunately, the graveyard put me further away from where I needed to be. The best part of all this, was that having been on the quests I was on, I'd activated some sort of phased event, which I would have to try to run through to get back to my quests (because hearthing to the town put me back in an older area). So I got to die a handful of times just getting back to where I should have been.

The Verdict:

I'd call it standard Blizzard fare. Quirky, enjoyable, silly, but still housing a variety of issues in both design and on the technical side. As a veteran MMO player none of what I encountered surprised me and I still enjoyed it, but most likely won't do it again. The environment and atmosphere is beautiful, as always, and the characters and monsters are notably higher quality texture-wise. It keeps the status quo just fine but does nothing, so far as I have experienced, to advance the genre.

As a new user experience I think it fell short. At times you're blazing through quests so fast that you scarcely know what's going on, and then moments later you're spending more time running down the same road four times than actually doing quests. The story aspect of it was good, but all the negatives pile up and can make for a fairly unpleasant, or at least uneven experience.

Next up I'll be talking about 'the new 1-60', having just taken a Tauren Paladin through it in very short order.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Darkfall: Day 3

I started out the night with some travel. Well, okay... a lot of travel. A quest had me running through the wilderness to what looked like a nearby village - well, it wasn't nearby. I noted that there were no monsters to be found on my trip. Kind of odd... I at least expected some kind of animal out there.

I also noted that I saw my first fellow player(s) during this trip. There was one in town recovering from death, and another chasing down a fox right outside of town.

Detour: It's unfortunate, but lack of players in a starting area is... well, it's crippling. Personally, I steadily lose motivation to play a game when there is nobody to be found. It's lonely, and it feels like there's no point. Yes, players may be waiting in later tiers of content, but if I never get there because the game feels like a ghost town, why does it matter?

I can truthfully say that in one day of playing Everquest's new tutorial area, that I saw many more players there. Granted, it seems that everyone starts there, and in Darkfall this is only one starting area of many... but two people in three days of play? It's disheartening.

Back on track. I navigated around some treacherous ravines and got to the town, where I was promptly told by the new NPC that I had to deliver something back. Oh, there and back quests, how timeless you are! No, not really. Not when the run is bereft of anything interesting and takes for-ev-er. If there was a chance for some combat or loot along the way back, maybe. But not like this.

In lieu of re-delivery, I stepped out of town in the other direction, straight into a family of monsters! This was very refreshing because I didn't have to wander for fifteen minutes to find them But, my joy was short lived. A barrage of invisible ranged attacks struck me over and over, and literally drove me back. I find it interesting that ranged attacks slow your advance - cool even - but the way that it's implemented in Darkfall makes it feel more like an engine glitch than a mechanic.

I killed several of them and then found my end at the hands of an indistinguishably more powerful member of their group. The name was different - which you'd only know if you placed your cross hairs over it since there are no floating names - but there was no physical difference. Just another naked, odd looking fleshy creature which I assume was a rat man.

This rat man is precisely what I mentioned on day one. It's unimaginative, bland, and generic. It has no personality and no style. For lack of a better phrase, it's built like a board. A fleshy, rubbery looking board that I took no interesting in killing save for the fact that they were right outside of town.

And, on the subject of killing things, there seems to be a strange engine bug. When I slay something, the body doesn't stop moving. The monster falls down or over or whatever it may do, but it keeps moving, frozen in its death pose, across the ground until the corpse vanishes and a glowing gravestone appears at where it actually died. Why the gravestone? I'm simply curious. It seems a bit odd to make a corpse disappear rapidly and be replaced by a stone which holds the loot.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Darkfall, Day 2

I started out my second adventure by encountering a troll not far from town.

I was surprised to come upon him for two reasons. The first, is that the world feels very barren. There's a lot of open, unused space. The second is that I was alerted to his presence by way of being struck with a glowing blue ball of energy. After he threw a couple more, I figured he was some kind of troll mage.

After a short and very close fight I won and was immediately set upon by three more trolls from the distance who all began to hurl the same blue energy orbs at me. Well... I guess all trolls are mages here?

After a few minutes of fleeing I managed to lose them. Then I open up the help browser to find out how to rest. Ok, there's a rest skill. I put it on my bar and use it. Then I wait. A while.

A momentary detour here; I can understand the concept of having everything be a skill. But honestly... resting?

Anyways. I get back into the fight with a new troll, this time wielding a club that I picked up from the last one. I bash him pretty good and he runs rapidly away, causing a bunch of his magic-using friends to notice me and promptly kill me.

So, back in town, I "rest". While doing so, I finally find some quests. There was no indicator that I could see that this NPC would have them... I just happened to notice the Quest tab on his interaction window. Kill some goblins, with the promise of armor - I'm on board for that!

With the goblins marked on my map as well as my corpse containing my neat new club, I'm off with a sluggishly replenishing health bar. As I traverse the barren landscape, the only company I seem to find is in the fairly regular 'ding!' noises that accompany gaining skill in sprint, run, and crouch walk.

The next half hour basically consisted of me killing a few goblins, and then dying to magic abilities, and repeating this process as I tried to finish the quest/get my loot back. It's rather unfortunate that a lot of the drops seem to decay on the corpses before I can get to them.

The load times in this game are a bit excessive, and I've got a decent computer. I run plenty of newer games with everything turned up and have no problems, so I don't know why loading in takes so long.The help page says that you can release early after death by pressing the space bar, but it doesn't work.

Something I find extremely irritating is that even when sprinting away, I can't outrun anything. I've run straight, I've maneuvered, but it doesn't work. The monsters stick to you, or worse yet, make a bee-line for you through and over terrain. Also of irritation is that the starter-sword doesn't seem to let you raise your sword skill. To top it off, all the weapons I'm finding are terrible, and don't make a noticeable different in my fights versus these mobs.

Next on the list... dying when there's still health in my bar. That's right - my character died with health left.

After a few more runs, I finally get some gear, my stuff back, and managed to conquer the goblins - except for the shaman who still destroys me. With a suit of armor, a shield and some potions the game is MUCH more fun starting out.

King Gripe of the night: the interface. Well, all 3 interfaces actually. The way they work/are split up. You've got your normal interface that's in first person. Then you've got your 'combat' one that you activate by hitting "R" to draw your weapon. Then if you right click in any of these, you get your mouse cursor back and lose control of your character while doing so in "interaction mode".

This is like a gigantic step backwards to 10 years ago when Ultima IX: Ascension came out. The combat/interaction split interface in that game was miserable, and I suffered through it out of loyalty to the title. I can't believe that a decade later I'm seeing the same poorly implemented system. I guess it makes sense though, since the Darkfall project started in the days of yore when this might have seemed like a good idea.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Darkfall, Day 1

My first impression of the gameplay is that this game is in need of "new user experience" triage. I'm more resistant than a casual player (hey, I played Everquest and Ultima Online near their releases, so I've experienced unforgiving worlds), but I can see how this game could very quickly turn away potential subscribers.

Expanding on that... I spent my first 15 minutes in the world (after reading tips and hints), looking for something to kill. I covered a lot of ground at a very slow pace, and during this time I came across a Fox and a few rats. "No way," I thought to myself, "am I going to be killing rats in my first minutes of a newer MMO..."

Well, I tried. I hit the rat once, and then it erratically fled from me, not only over open ground, but through architecture, terrain, and up obscenely steep hills that we were both somehow able to climb. After about three minutes of pursuit and missed attacks, I ran out of stamina or whatever it may be called that allowed me to do so. Next, I attacked a fox, and we immediately began acting out the scene I'd had with the rat. Later, I attacked another rat... I hit it twice, but it got away.

I'd like to note that at no time was I in danger. But, I think I prefer danger and being able to kill something because it fights me, over perpetual pursuit of a creature that does not result in my victory.

Well, after a while, I finally found a camp of goblins. I only noticed them because, as I was trundling around the wilds, I started taking hits from arrows whose trail/arc were coming from... inside, or perhaps behind, a rock. I engaged the goblin as I was happy to have an actual fight at last.

I killed him. Then four of his friends jumped in, and I laid into a shaman. But alas, my extensive sprinting over the landscape (because going at walk speed is fairly unbearable, but hey I gained quite a few points towards... mastering running) had left me with only enough stamina to kill the first goblin, hurt the second, and then get beaten into the earth.

At this point a meter of some sort came up, and I figured it was my "time until I regain consciousness" bar. Instead, it turned out to be a bar that when it has filled, you have finally died, and are treated to a loading screen and a trip back to your bind.

I was a bit irritated that I had laid there for so long hoping to get up, only to have, I supposed, bled out.

My first impression of the art is that the art direction seems a bit uninspired. Bluntly, I'd say it's generic fantasy. Metal, tusks, fur, shiny armor, all the usual. Very little stylization to be had, or at least noticed. Everything pretty much looks like you'd expect it to.

In short, so far, the game is "overwhelming", in the sense that you really aren't given a purpose as you log in for the first time, and thus don't really know where to go, or what to do. It's not a feeling that I dislike, but it's something that I know many people are intolerant of.

As far as the "first log in experience" goes, I'd rate this below the first time that I logged into Everquest and Ultima Online - at least those games had me laughing at the sheer comedy of my situation... things like "What the crap, I can't see at night!", as I ran smack into danger. Or wandered off deep into the a forest and was harried by a Mongbat that I could scarcely see on my faded old monitor.

Those two experiences had one thing in common however; despite my pitfalls, I managed to do some things right. Darkfall thus far has made me feel like I am doing absolutely nothing right and that I deserve to be punished for my ignorance.