Read my column at MMORPG.com!

Hi Guys,

Brief PSA today to let you all know that I’m now writing a bi-weekly column at MMORPG.com. It’s called The Tourist, and every couple weeks I’ll be hopping into a new game and sharing my thoughts. This week I played a fat husky dog in TERA. I’m really excited to dig into this thing and very thankful for the shot they’ve given me, so head on over and give it a read!

Thanks Guys,

Chris

Where Exactly Is Darkfall: Unholy Wars?

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Like many of you, I’ve been waiting anxiously for Darkfall: Unholy Wars so I can finally sink my teeth into a good, old school fantasy MMO. For a while there, things looked promising. The game was slated to release in December but it was pushed back into the new year to address bugs and get itself ready for Steam after a two-day Greenlight process (people don’t want this kind game anymore, right guys?).

Except the NDA was slated to drop a month ago and it never did. Nevermind that surprise betas are, well, surprising to we players, but I’m suspecting that Aventurine got some feedback that made them second guess how prepared they really were. With such a huge scope of gameplay, I thought it was crazy they weren’t planning for a beta in the first place.

Then again, the reports I’ve heard repeatedly indicate that the biggest issues have been addressed and that the game is in OK shape or at least better than it was before Greenlight came into the picture. So where’s the update from Aventurine? Even players in the beta are starting to worry that we’ll all have moved on when it’s finally ready for sale. That might be the case for newcomers, but I think a lot of us will still check it out when it’s time comes. Still, squandered opportunity.

When they announced, the hype wave was big and bold, and the Unholy Wars box art was surfing proudly on its crest. Come buy me… it called, over and over, and we wanted to! Then the wave changed course and flowed far down the shore. Months later, that wave is barely a ripple we’re still searching the weeds hoping the box will turn up again. The fans will search, the spectators will drift off, maybe saying “huh” when they read about it in the paper.

I really wish someone would help Aventurine with their PR. Their lack of communication hurts them more than any problem with the actual game ever has. And now more than ever, the MMO world needs a game like Darkfall, and we need it to be quality. To that end, we can probably all lend them our blessing in refining things. Just tell us so we remember we’re worth your time.

MMO Radio: Episode 09 – “Wildstar 2013: Lovely, Lovely Pigeons”

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Adam is out this week gettin’ hitched, so Gavin Townsley and I hold down the fort! Thankfully, it was a big news week with Wildstar being confirmed for 2013! We break down why this game is worth paying attention to, even for someone like me who tries not to attend! What? I don’t like spoiling things for myself!

But hey, when you have a full-on paths to endgame based on exploring, lore finding, being social, and yes, killing, that’s worth noting. Plus, 40 man raiding, dynamically spawning quest hubs and dungeons, action combat, player housing, PvP, and content layered enough where a mining node could turn out to be a spot on the back of a giant raid boss… well, you can see where we’d be piqued.

A little later we talk about Mortal Kombat, TERA’s excellent combat and odd boob physics, and anime roleplay! I bet you thought you’d get out of tabletop this episode, didn’t you? Well, let that one drop of sweat stand out from your head now, because we go there!

A reminder: Our 5-star iTunes review contest is still going! Leave a written review for your chance to win a copy of Strike Suit Zero courtesy of Hooked Gamers!

Gavin’s Links: Massively, Dragon’s Tear Tavern RP Community
Chris’ Links: Hooked Gamers; Game By Night; Vagary.TV
Adam’s Links: Epic Slant Press

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Persona 4 Golden Review (PS Vita)

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Persona 4 Golden hits you like a ton of bricks. Here on the Playstation Vita, the best handheld nobody bothered to market, is a game that’s not just fantastic for appearing on a portable,  but that’s a victory for video games in general. That you can take Persona on the go is just icing on the cake. Part high school sim and part dungeon runner, the game presents an enchanting mix of character based progression that becomes progressively more addicting the further you go.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way up front. First, I didn’t play the original Persona 4. I understand this game is a port that offers a lot of enhancements over the original, but I really can’t speak to that. What I can say is that, unless you hated the original, everyone else should dive right in. Second, I’m not a fan of anime. Something about the animation style never clicked with me. That’s important because there are times playing Persona is a lot like playing interactive fiction. And yet, here I am telling you to sell the family horse to buy this game. You bet. Give Nessie a good home.

The basic premise is this: you play a big city kid transported to the country to live with your uncle, Detective Dojima. Shortly after you arrive, people start showing up dead, the first hung upside down from a television antenna. The friends you make all take a dare to look into the television at midnight the next rainy night. From there, you’re drawn into a mysterious world of fog and shadows, one with no humanly exit other than expiration. Someone is throwing people in there, even your friends, and your group is the only one who can stop the murderer.

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But this is all at night. During the day you’re a teenager attending high school, taking a job, and trying to get a girlfriend. Fun dichotomy, right?

Persona 4 is anime in a lot of ways, but it’s also genuinely well written. It doesn’t overburden the Western player with long over-dubbed animations. Those sequences are there, to be sure, but they’re short and well placed such that they enhance the game rather than remove it from the easily identifiable. Instead, the bulk of the dialog is delivered through character stills and voice over.

The voice work in the game is generally quite good, but there are some instances of over-acting (I’m looking at you, Chie). For the most part, I quite enjoyed it. Even lines that didn’t ring quite right could often be forgiven with the mysterious detachment from reality much of the game demands of you. But not always.

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The game is heartily Japanese. The main real world setting is in the rural Japanese town of Inaba but it expands from there. Since much of the game is founded in being a teenager, I found the depiction of the culture almost enchanting. Seeing a Japanese developer present rural Japanese life felt foreign and homey all at once. The real world setting and the characters that inhabited it were easy to relate to because they were  so similar, yet ever so slightly different, from my own life here in America.

The game seems founded on Studio Ghibli-esque foundations, so it wasn’t surprising to find the writing permeated mythological quirks equal parts mysterious, disturbing, and non-sensical. One of the first other worldly characters your group encounters is the Humpty Dumpty-like Teddie. In a rather uncomfortable moment, Yosuke tries to remove his “costume” only to detach his head and finding him completely empty inside.

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That mysteriousness accompanies the player throughout the game. Through expertly crafted musical cues and haunting environments, to delightfully spooky unfolding events — even conversations spoken directly into your character’s mind! – Persona 4 Golden is a game much about leading the player through its dark corridors.

What’s wonderful about Persona is that virtually everything ties into character progression. Nearly everything you do in the real world relates back into your adventures. Whether it’s attending class, joining a sports team, or flirting with a cute girl, you’re able to earn bonuses to knowledge, understanding, courage, diligence, and expression. These, in turn, help you build social links, which empowers their and your abilities in battle. More importantly, earning points here can just as often come from choosing different options in conversation. By the end of the game, you really feel like your experience and your character were your own, not unlike The Walking Dead: The Game. The path is linear, but the journey is unique.

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In the fiction of the game, your character doesn’t have magic abilities of his own. Instead, these abilities are cast using creatures called personas. With over 150 of these to collect, combine, and evolve, it’s easy to think of them like less-cute Pokemon. When you complete dungeon encounters, your persona earns bonuses to core stats like strength, magic, agility and luck and can gain levels. The sheer amount of personas can be a bit overwhelming for completionists but the longevity they add to the game is outstanding.

Gameplay is turn-based like the best JRPGs of the past. Completing battles involves choosing to attack or defend, analyzing your enemy for weaknesses and exploiting them, and proper use of personas and items. It’s a strategic affair that gains depth the further into the game you go; however, grinding for levels does become an element later on in the game. Going in under-powered can be downright punishing.

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Let’s talk about grinding for a minute. I don’t like it and haven’t since I was a teenager. Now, I avoid it like the plague. And yet, it doesn’t really bother me in Persona. Since the game is portable, playing it in short bursts meshes extremely well with battle system and grinding, really, lost a lot of the monotony it might have had on a full console.

Graphically, the game looks great on the Vita’s OLED screen. I especially liked how the dialogue brought high-res art to the forefront drawing the eye from the actual graphics. The game looks great, don’t get me wrong, but during these dialogue sequences, the characters aren’t doing much, so the transitions between character art add some extra movement. The audio in the game is also great. The music really sets the mood and is about pitch perfect for tracks you’ll hear over and over through the game’s 40+ hour runtime.

So for all of these things that I liked about it, what didn’t I like? Well, put simply, the game takes too long to get into. The first few hours are spent mainly clicking through dialogue as the story sets up. It’s all good and I enjoyed it, but after a while I really just wanted to start playing. The game is also huge. I can’t take points for this since that fact is also one of the game’s biggest selling points, but played in short bursts, it will likely take quite a while for the commuter-player to see it all the way through. In that area, it comes down to taste. JRPGs are known for their length, however, and P4G packs an epic scope.

If you have a Vita and are a fan of RPGs, you owe it to yourself to play Persona 4 Golden. There is nothing quite like it yet available on the handheld and it’s rightfully held up as a beacon of what the system needs more of.  Without a doubt, this is a recommended purchase.

Final Score: 9 out of 10
Pros: Story, character authority, depth of options, persona collecting, classic and strategic combat
Cons: Long set-up, could be a little overwhelming at first, some poorly delivered lines

 

The History of Great First-Person Shooters (Infographic)

I was contacted recently asking if I would like to share an infographic with my readers. I have a secret love of infographics, and this one tracks the history of great FPS games. I’m also a sucker for first-person shooters, so a-posted it shall be! Here’s a glimpse, but it’s pretty long, so follow after the cut to view the whole thing.

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Click “Continue Reading” to see the rest.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hear Us On No Prisoners, No Mercy! (And Around the Web!)

Happy Monday, everybody!

As a lot of you know, I do some writing elsewhere on the web and also do a podcast called MMO Radio. I don’t update here whenever my work appears online since it’s usually dedicated to whatever venue I happen to be writing or recording for. That said, I’d love it if you took a moment to check out what I’ve been up to.

  • Most recently, Adam and I appeared on the No Prisoners, No Mercy podcast to talk about the video games and violence with our two favorite sisters. Adam also introduced the world to his parrot, Mango. It was a great time and well worth a listen. That’s pretty much how it works with NPNM, though, so give them a subscribe and enjoy. Thank you Sister Fran and Sister Julie!
  • Speaking of podcasts, I also guested on the WoW-specific Horde House over at the VOG Network. Rob and Shane were great fun to talk to and we had a great conversation. It’s Episode 91, so go give it a listen if you’re into the game. If you’re not into WoW, Rob also has Orange Lounge Radio where he and a round of compatriots talk about all things gaming.
  • While we’re at it, have you heard the latest episodes of MMO Radio? We’ve released episodes 5, 6, and 7. Episode 5 features Srs. Julie and Fran for a talk on the Fall of F2P (?), Episode 6 looks at the career and departure of Scott Hartsman from Trion Worlds, and Episode 7 features freelance games writerGavin Townsley. You might remember him from The Multiverse and Rift Watchers, but he’s since appeared at PC Gamer, GameSpy, and Massively.

For writing, I’ve been a busy bee.

That’s enough link love for now. If you’re interested in keeping up with me, I can do more of these posts or simply subscribe to Vagary.TV and Hooked Gamers. Enjoy!

Episode 7: Through the Looking Glass (Ft. Gavin Townsley of Massively.com)

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Guest Starring: Gavin Townsley of Massively.com!

Welcome back to another MMO Radio. We’re proud to present Episode 07 featuring our special guest and close friend, Gavin Townsley. Gavin has been a freelance writer in the games industry for some time and was recently picked up by Massively.com. You might also remember him from our old show, the RIFT Watchers podcast, and the Flex Your Geek website. We take some time to pick his brain about the state of the games press when it seems so embroiled in controversy lately. Taking note of the fact that there are few, if any, major — GW2 level — MMO releases in the future, we share realistic predictions on what the MMOs of the near future will feature.

We would also like to thank Green Armadillo for his excellent response to our Episode 5 discussion on the sustainability of F2P versus B2P.

Episode Kickstarter: ROAM (official site)
Gavin’s Links: Massively
Chris’ Links: Hooked GamersGame By NightVagary.TV
Adam’s Links: Epic Slant Press

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WoW Back When: 133 Hours to Level 33

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Last night I logged into my favorite MUD and was surprised to see that I had logged over 400 hours on one character. I shouldn’t have been surprised, not with how much I played that game, but going back into a text-based world really accentuated how much my tastes have evolved. I spent 400 hours on thishow different my mindset must have been back then. Then I got thinking: I’ve played WoW for nearly as long, I wonder how many hours I have there? So for the first time ever, I logged into each toon and tallied up my total /played. 1,836 hours. Over five solid months of waking days. Puts things in perspective a little bit. What surprised me more, though, was how many hours some of my very first characters had.

The peak has to be my second character: Ulthil Brownbeard, Paladin of Stormwind. He had 133 hours and was only level 33. I look at that now in wonder. How the hell did I spend so much time on that character and not level? Ulthil was special to me, though, that I remember. I made him during my first or second week of play back in 2006, shortly before The Burning Crusade came out. I’d just made the jump from MUDs into full blown MMOs and was absolutely entranced. I roleplayed that character at every opportunity. He wasn’t just a paladin because of his abilities, he was a paladin in every way I played him. I remember bowing to NPCs in the Stormwind Cathedral and replying to NPCs like they were other roleplayers. I even joined a guild where all chat had to be done in character.

The world was exciting and fresh. Elwynn Forest represented every magical wood I’d read about. I remember thinking of how cool it was when I finally found the kobold mine between the farms, this little red ramshackle roof hanging from the side of this bowl in the ground. It was exciting finding it. I didn’t much know where I was going but I knew I was getting close when I started seeing random miners amongst the spiders and bears. It felt dangerous and adventurous. Then when I was inside, another Paladin messaged me in-character and asked if I’d like to join a band of fellow holy men to rid Azeroth of the evil that plagued it. (I wonder when the last time was THAT happened to a WoW player). I died a few times to these level 5 kobolds, calling out random taunts as I used my holy hammer and other abilities, but I figured, hey, why not. So I joined up and started writing short stories and dwarven bar songs that told Ulthil’s history.

Every zone was magical. It was filled with the promise of the unknown. I didn’t even know dungeons existed until someone in Westfall asked me if I would go. I died trying to get there. It seemed easy to die back then but I was also unprepared for anything more than kittens and puppy-dog tails. Dungeons astounded me, though. MUDs didn’t have instances! That there was an option for a focused adventure, totally separate from the rest of the world, that offered great loot blew me away. I went left there with a couple of blue items thinking of how lucky I was. I was going to sell those items and get rich! I was disappointed and confused when I found out that everything was soulbound. What was soulbinding? How do you remove it? Still, I called my friend Orin that night and asked him if he’d heard of The Deadmines and that he had to try it out.

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Everything was slow. Everything was discovery. I was tickled to see that different mining nodes popped up as you went between zones and disappointed that spiders in Hillsbrad were the same as those in Dun Morogh. I was captivated by areas out of my level range, especially if they were filled with elite mobs, because what lay beyond must have been amazing. 133 hours later, I was only level 33 and ready to see what lay on the Horde’s side of the world. There was just so much and I wanted to drink in every single second of it.

Looking at Ulthil’s /played so many memories came back to me. Then I looked at my level 35 warlock with his 22 hours played and wonder how much has been lost in the transition. WoW is still WoW, no doubt about it, and I don’t know if I would say that something’s been lost so much as changed. Everything is faster now, everything is more directed, but does it change those first few weeks for the new player, when the world is literally at their doorstep?

I would have to say not. I look back at my memories fondly but I’m sure that lots of more veteran MMO players read my experiences in 2006 much differently than their own. To that end, I think we have to question ourselves when we say such negative things about how WoW has evolved. My memories of that time really don’t have much to do with mechanics as they do with ideas. Sure, it took a while to level and I had to find quests without the breadcrumbs, but any sense of discovery I had was rooted in the mystery of a new world. A new WoW player isn’t rushing to WoWPro to find a leveling guide. They’re not doing any of the things we come to do in our second- and third-hundred hours. They’re there, filled with wonder, wondering what’s over the next rise.

We can disagree with designs, we can disagree with business models, we can become bitter and jaded and too cool for school. But that experience is why we fell in love with MMOs and why thousands of people keep doing so every day. I welcome every new generation of players because they get to experience things I may never be able to again and that’s an awesome thing.

Episode 6 – Good Luck, Scott Hartsman!

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Hello again, MMO Radio friends! We’re happy to return again for Episode 6 this week as we wish one of our absolute favorite MMO developers, Scott Hartsman, a fond farewell and good luck as he parts ways with Trion Worlds. Most probably recognize Scott as the Executive Producer of RIFT, but we look all the way back to the development days of Warcraft II and Everquest 1, how he’s credited with “saving” Everquest 2 from a precipitous fall, and do our best track how he’s become one of the “legendary producers” of the industry.
Not content to let bad news linger, Trion followed up the announcement with another, much happier one: they’re set to publish ArcheAge in the west! As interesting as this sandbox looks, we had to spend a few minutes breaking down why that news is fan-freaking-tastic.

In Quick Hits, Chris — free of the NDA — shares why EVE counterpart, DUST514, might wind up a flop on the Playstation 3. Adam lightens the mood by introducing us to the Ultimate Gamer’s Storage Bag. Also, an awesome free Pokemon-like on iOS call Haypi Monsters!

Chris’ Links: Hooked GamersGame By NightVagary.TV
Adam’s Links: Epic Slant Press

Kickstarter of the Show: Ultimate Gamer’s Storage Bag

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Sad Days… Scott Hartsman Leaves Trion Worlds

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I was surprised and dismayed reading Green Armadillo’s 2013 predictions post last night. It seems that Scott Hartsman has departed from Trion Worlds and the executive producer position on RIFT. This is probably the most dismaying news to come out about the game since the scaling back of zone invasions pre-launch. In a statement on the forums, he does his best to assure us that the game is safe:

The good news is that if you enjoy what’s been going on in RIFT lately, the folks who are now in charge are the same ones who have been making all of the game-impacting decisions, both to content and gameplay, for some time now. You’ll definitely be hearing from Bill Fisher, the lead game designer soon with some exciting updates. They love and play the game a lot as well and I feel strongly that RIFT couldn’t be in better hands.

Still, I find it saddening that Scott is taking his leave of the company and what’s become my favorite MMORPG. Under his leadership, the game was able to become what it is today: a thriving, vibrant world filled with competitive features, excellent PvE and PvP, and a content schedule that puts the rest of the industry to shame. His team challenged expectations by bringing factions together and breaking down barriers that keep friends apart. They introduced the world to the best housing system in any MMO, instanced or not. And for a first expansion, Storm Legion wasn’t just a big content drop, it was a redefining content drop. They included so much into that $40 box that it set a new precedent for what players should expect for their development dollars.

It was Scott who took the game from being an un-fun mass of dynamic systems into the refined, dynamically enhanced content that we have today. It was him who, anytime he was put in front of a microphone, camera, or keyboard that talked openly and frankly about his game and the industry. If there was a problem, he called it out and we could see his team’s reaction to that with his quotes still in memory. On that same token, if there was something players were responding positively to, he shared that too and wasn’t afraid to counter the negativity with facts. He was active, and involved, and made a point to keep in touch with the average player whether they had a blog or not. He surprised me once by commenting on this very site before pre-launch when I raised the question if rifts were PQs 2.0. I always got the sense that he was a down to earth guy that would look at and discuss MMOs like a seasoned player rather than a groomed-by-PR executive.

I worry about what this means for RIFT. Commenters at Massively pretty consistently feel that this probably heralds F2P. I would tend to agree. The layoffs following Storm Legion don’t just indicate the game may not have met expectations, but they go directly counter to statements Scott made about Trion directly avoiding that. When RIFT came out, layoffs didn’t follow because he, and presumably other higher ups, believed in keeping teams together and not fragmenting vision and ability for the bottom line. But that wasn’t the case recently and I wonder if the company going public doesn’t have a big role to play in that decision. And on that same token, the company being publicly, I believe, would have a lot to do with the game dropping its subscription fee. Free to play is where it’s at now and investors want return.

I hope that’s not the case. Out of all games, I truly hope RIFT avoids free-to-play. There are good arguments about making the game available to all players, and I can see that reasoning, but my question is simply this: If they go F2P, will they be able to maintain the update pace? Traditional cash shop models rely on whales to fund most of the game. Are they enough to keep the bi-monthly updates coming? Maybe they are. If they’re not, however, RIFT’s biggest claim to fame, that rapid iteration and constant expansion, will fall by the wayside. I worry that even a buy to play model might not be able to support it because, heck, even when every game had a sub cost, that rate of expansion was unprecedented. If the game comes out free and they keep it up, I will be the first to pat them on the back. RIFT is truly and excellent game and has earned ever penny of profit its made. I wish them the absolute best no matter what path the future leads them down.

Either way, the team Scott crafted and supported with RIFT is made up of some of the best in the industry. I have faith that whether they keep the sub, drop it, or anything in between, that will do so with the same impeccable quality we’ve come to expect. Scott was a head man, but now it’s up to his successor and the remaining team members to show the world that they’re still there ready to knock it out of the park. The few that I’ve met and interviewed have always been masters of their craft and I have a lot of faith in them to do great things.

Also, Trion as a whole is publishing ArcheAge and that’s pretty awesome. So bonus points for the larger entity.

One thing is for sure, wherever Scott goes next, I will surely be keeping a close eye. Everquest Next, maybe? (Please?) For myself, and I’m sure many others, I’d like to extend my thanks for how he piloted the ship and spoke to those of us on the shoreline. It was nice to be treated like real people instead of cattle to be driven by the PR-prod. Good luck, Scott!

 

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