Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cataclysmic Lull

We all know about the slump WoW is in from pre-release blue balls; rather than sit around watching Total Biscuit videos (as worthy a pursuit that is), why not take some time to play some other video game? You know, branch out and try something new? Here's a list of the best games you missed because you were playing Wrath. In no particular order, because I don't play favorites.

Assassin. Loner. Otaku. Luchador. Virgin. These, among many other things, define Travis Touchdown, the lightsaber-wielding manchild protagonist of NMH2. It's a refinement on the first title, both in tone and gameplay, and integrates the Wii motion controls without abusing them (no remote flailing). It's a funny, irreverant, and bizarre game, and is utterly unique. Except for the first game, obviously.

A beat-em-up RPG from the makers of the woefully-underplayed Odin Sphere, Muramasa is the most beautiful goddamned game ever made. Set in mythological Japan, two tales of revenge and redemption stretch from the depths of Yomi to the heights of Mt. Fugi. The RPG elements are deep without bogging down the action (like Odin Sphere did at times) and it has a wealth of hidden challenges for completionists.

Joker takes over Arkham, starts releasing villains, Batman the only one who can stop him, you get the jist. Story isn't anything too special (voice acting is though), but the real star is Batman here and boy is it awesome. It's a hybrid between stealth, beat-em-up, and Metroidvania, and it pulls off each element so tightly you hardly even notice. Gadgets are numerous, but plausible (no anti-thing spray) and most have a use in combat, if you really want to get fancy. Only downside is your throat might get sore from growling "I AM BATMAN" every time you do anything.

Witch with guns on every limb and magic hair killing angels BDSM style. There, now you know whether you want to play Bayonetta or not.

2009 marked a surge of 2D fighting game interest, and the two giants here were SF4 and BB. 2010 brought the refined sequels you see above, both adding more content and balance tweaks. They're both great games with balanced rosters and tons of depth while being pretty newbie-friendly. If you can only get one, all else being equal, get BB: the netcode is far better, which makes online play more than an exercise in dropped inputs.

The scourge of gaming as of late has been open-world adventure games (I hate calling them sandbox games because you can't win at sandbox) but as overused and trendy as the feature is, some games get it right and properly need it. Of the three InFamous has the best combat and difficulty curve, ACII has the best freerunning and graphics, and Prototype has the best being-a-dick-catharsis factor. Word to the wise though, set the difficulty in ACII to hard. I played it on normal and guards literally were never threatening ever ever.

MOTHERFUCKING DWARF FORTRESS. Yes I know it came out in 2006, so maybe it shouldn't count. And yes it's ugly as sin and with a learning curve like a wall covered in deadly spiders. But recently the entire game got overhauled and turned 3D - not in graphics but in gameplay, which is enough of a difference for me to squeeze it in. It's a proper sandbox game with no way to win and oh-so many ways to lose, and a skull-crushing level of depth and complexity. Minecraft is for pussies, real men choose DF.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

But It's My First Day

It's hard to say what makes a game good; one school of thought says the ideal games will be easy to learn and hard to master, revealing intricacies like the layers of an onion. WoW is just the opposite; hard to learn, easy to master. Imagine having no one to tell you about resources like elitist jerks, tankspot, and wowhead; it would take a long time to make an even decent talent spec, much less know the exact right way to use your abilities, and what to do on each encounter. But once you are armed with this information, it becomes easy to follow. There are very few challenging specs to play, and Cata aims to make most of them easier: e.g. slower rune generation and no dot clipping worries.

This means skill, or the accumulation thereof, is not what sets the bads apart from us good players (possible exception for Arena). It's knowledge; no other kind of game demands we keep learning like WoW does. One might keep learning in Starcraft, say, by fighting skilled opponents and seeing them use unconventional techniques, and in turn developing a counter-strategy. WoW keeps adding content, new bosses with unknown mechanics that we research how to defeat. They also change our classes in subtle ways, like buffing haste, or changing coefficients. A new player has no in-game way of ever finding any of this out, and ends up totally clueless, or drowned in the dense sea of information offered by EJ. We bring our game up largely by independent research, which is very unintuitive.

WoW does need to pick up the ball, and they are in Cata. They're making dungeons harder, which in turn makes players learn how to be clutch. They're also forcing players to invest solely in one tree before moving on, and taking out a great deal of the bad talents that just acted as traps to snare newbies. They're also implementing a difficulty curve to leveling itself, so the 80-85 experience is harder than Northrend. Difficulty curves are our friends, they make us perform better and make the game more entertaining.

As players, we aren't doing any favors either. As a symptom of overgearing everything and AoE-fest instances, we've become intolerant of ignorance, and the bads have become complacent, because they can still finish instances. For good players, it's too much of a hassle to explain what someone is doing wrong, because 90% of the time they'll insult you for trying to help. And why should they care; they still finish the dungeon and get all the same rewards that a good player gets. Players generally only get as good as they need to be to clear content, and plateau after that, so it's not surprising that 0/0/71 DK gemmed for spell pen can succeed in such an environment.

The upshot of this analysis is that we as players should start exercising our power to kick much more frequently. I've often tried to kick a bad, only to have everyone vote against me, saying we can still do it with him. Um, are you guys unaware that we get a new person nigh-instantly? Even a tank takes under a minute, why should we suffer through a willfully terrible player when we can change him out at no cost to us? It's also a bit of needed tough love for the bad player; if he can't finish groups because of terrible spec/gearing/playing, he will have to bring his game up, because he wants to get the rewards. See, everybody wins!

Addendum: remember, I'm talking about the willfully ignorant and bad, not the new. Anyone willing to learn and improve absolutely would not get my kick vote, all else being equal.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

September Scattershot

Two posts in one week, from Zarat? One must wonder, has he finally been replaced with a robot brain, setting aside human emotions for cold efficiency? Maybe the Gjallarhorn has sounded, and as the Fenris Wolf breaks his bonds, one last post is written before the world is plunged into poison and fire. Or perhaps he is nursing a hangover from drinking too much Four Loko like a hipster douchebag, and cannot muster the manual dexterity to procrastinate on video games. There's some truth to all of these; whatever the cause, here's some Scattershot.

Normal Weather Flying bitches, I've been waiting for them to announce that for months. I am shocked it's only 250g extra, which is a lot at level 60, and trivial at 78. All I can see it doing is fucking over people who want to level up their gathering professions before going to Outland. What I'm wondering is, what fate will Cold Weather Flying suffer? 1000g to use it for one level before rolling to the new content is a cold rip off, but how else will you get saronite and saronite-herb-equivalent when all the zones that have it assume flying mount? Tell you what Blizz, get rid of CWF, or at least nerf the cost, and I'll call that a wash.

So I might well be rolling Disc as my healing spec in Cata. Not because of PW:Barrier, or any interesting mechanic like that; to the contrary, I fucking love Chakra so much more than the boring shit Disc uses. Penance, yeah, that's a dynamic spell. No no, I would go Disc because when I heal, I want to H-E-A-L. Not DPS, as apparently everyone else wants to do, and Disc allows me to ignore those talents without just wasting points. I'm a horrible min-maxer in every game I play; casting some shitty Smite to feel like I'm involved by coming in just below the tanks is not my idea of fun. It's wasted talent points during a pinch, because you'll be casting heals every global. So it comes into play only when it doesn't matter anyway. Healers should heal; if you want to spam roll a mage.

Let's do a quick overview of Goblins as a people. They're all about making money, have lax ethical standards, are short, unattractive, with large noses, and did I mention money? Oh, and they have a Jewish accent-WOAH THERE! I mean, we all knew the joke was there to be made, but I never thought Blizzard would be the one to make it. To be fair, the male sounds more like a generic New Yorker, but the female voice is blatantly Jewy, all but complaining about her overbearing mother and gushing about lox. I really gotta wonder if once gobbos are on live, if they won't take a little heat from some anti-defamation league.

You have no idea how much I love archaeology. Holy fucking monkey balls I love it. An optional ongoing side project that gives players backstory in bite sized pieces, and is incentivized by vanity items, BoE epics, and a small bit of raid utility. Plus it boasts ungankable nodes, extra progress on an item "rolls over" when completed, AND it's an organic and productive way to explore all the zone changes. Sploosh. My largest complaint about WoW has always been it doesn't tell it's story through the game proper, and I think that may be a whine of the past soon. I'm almost tempted to forgo leveling and max out Archaeology when Cata comes to town.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Life After Lich King

This was originally going to be shorter, but I felt it deserved an entire post.

Nocturne did a second Lich King kill, officially crowning my main Zarat the Buffslayer. It took a long time because our glorious leader and DK tank supreme Kim Jong-Chad was violently raped by a hippopotamus on one of his oddly-frequent trips to the zoo, and so cannot WoW it up for the time being. I always told him he leaned too much on the railing. At least that's what I think happened; I'm fuzzy on the exact details.

It's very interesting to see the camaraderie of a guild in action; people banding together to get me my flashy title and achievement. I know hardcore raiders probably go through similar moments, replacing "title" with "drake", but I wonder how similar it is. 10-man raiding is such a more intimate format with tighter bonds and more familiar faces, I have to wonder how many larger guilds would have actively worked pass the loss of a tank to make me feel accomplished. I maintain 10-man raiding is the superior format, for this and other reasons, and will gladly continue on into Cataclysm.

But now, what do we do? Nocturne was founded to complete all raids as a pure 10-man guild, and we have done just that. We really have to wait on Chad to start hardmode ICC, so what is there to do? Right now we're knocking out Ulduar hardmodes for a sweet robo drake and the Algalon fight, but that just delays the problem. What do we spend potentially four months doing?

I'm no officer man, but here's a list of shit I would sign on to do and are worthwhile. ToC hardmodes, killing KT again for people's Champions title, retro raids, especially Ahn'Qiraj, Zul'Gurub, and Sunwell, and more 25 man madness with other 10-man guilds. I feel a bit like the soviets post-democratization: I know I am more free, and my quality of life is increased, but I miss the old certainty, the old purpose. But I know we must rise to the challenge, and rather than fall victim to apathy and nostalgia, forge our own purpose anew.

Regardless of what we do next, my unending thanks goes out to all the people who stuck around and punched LK in his crotch a second time. Special thanks goes to Zindo for putting up with tanking, and Tywren for his pro heals and pro strats. Come back to us, Ty! Come back and stay forever!