Saturday, June 25, 2011

Eve has some problems

I may expand this thought later. The controversy over Eve Online is all over community websites. I won't re-hash it here. But I have been pondering how we got here.

MMOs have been changing. No one has yet been able to pull off WoW-2 or the Blizzard success story. Many morgs have thus been forced to more creative billing strategies like Free-2-Play and e-stores of game goods/boosters. Also in the last few years, Social Networking use has changed the way remote friends connect and communicate.

Throughout these years of turmoil, Eve Online has remained fairly static. I have often felt that Eve was a really big, really pretty, chat client. It was awesome to connect with digital friends and go shoot things. The scope of an MMO provides more content and variability than even the largest First Person Shooters. So while many FPS have voice comms and friends do play together, you're still often limited to a smaller group, you typically have to be in the same time zone, and well the games are pretty limited. But Eve was innovative then. It was social networking before we knew what to call it. But... now we have fully developed ways to find gaming friends online and schedule any shared game. And let's face it, many, many games are Internet ready now. I can talk on vent and play half a dozen games with my friends.

Eve tried to keep up with evegate and evevoice... but predictably, these are not as capable as the competition of Facebook, Ventrilo and Team Speak; how could they be? So if you remove the social exclusivity of Eve Online, what is left? The game itself. But that's the problem, the game is boring. There is very little action and the only real game challenge is the endurance of your butt in the chair. Time is the only challenge Eve. Everything from skill training to mining to planetary manufacturing... All of it is click-and-wait. Often there isn't even a pleasing effect to watch. Missions are arguably the most active task, but with only a few hundred or so missions, you quickly see them all and begin repeating them. These too become mostly a game of time.

PvP is the real champion of Eve, but even this is often hours and hours of waiting and/or chasing followed by 30 seconds of combat. The rush is a good one, but a very short one.

With all my social needs being met... and a many other game tools that work better than Eve's I'm forced to consider the game itself. To quote the Goonfleet Executor... Eve is a bad game. It is mostly just spreadsheets in space. Although CCP often talks about introducing new mechanics to the game... they seem to miss the point everytime and just deliver more spreadsheets in space. More click-and-wait... no game.

Today (if you care and if you look) you'll find a million complaints about microtransactions and apathy for your player base... but at the core the real problem is that Eve is losing its edge. It is showing its age and it is losing its game...

Game On, folks!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Not EVEn

So I got this off twitter... "@Masadaco consider this. If skill and skillpoints are equal, the outlaw pilot will always lose."

I've come across lots of hypothetical PvP discussions in Eve that start this way "If skill and skillpoints are equal..." Well, as soon as those words are uttered you can stop listening. You don't need to because it never happens. The pilots in Eve train over time for each skill and there are like 200 million skill points worth of things to train. No one has exactly the same skills. If you managed to perfectly train 2 pilots identically, no two people will approach combat that same way thus there are no two of "equal skill". In this case the Eve commentor didn't even mention ships and fittings; another area of vast diversity. So in the case of equal pilots, with equal skill points, with the same ships, fittings, rigs, and implants you have to just give up on reality. This situation will never happen. It is pointless to guess and what the outcome might be.

Eve is raw mob power. You are either much stronger than your opponent or much weaker. There is no "fair". There is no "equal". The romantic notion of duels has been lost to Eve for years now. If someone is offering to "1v1" you, the odds are just as high that they plan to have their friends gank you as soon as you undock. Don't be fooled. Give no quarter to your enemies in Eve. You won't last long if you do.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Champions Online: Go for the Gold

I decided to go for the Gold membership option on Champions as an easier way to evaluate all the bits and bobs you can get in the game. The F2P option is still a great bargain, but how tempting are those archetypes and costumes? The costume bits will be attractive to players that love tweaking their toon’s appearance. But stoic players may not care. The archetypes I am a bit on the fence about.

On the one hand, they are a great introduction to the game and make a focused style character easy. If you’re not buying a monthly sub, then chances are you’re going to buy one or more archetypes. F2P subscribers can’t use “Custom Build” options so you’re going to either have to stick to the free archetypes or buy one of the newer ones. Free archetypes include Behemoth (tank), Grimore (general purpose), Blade (melee DPS), Inferno (ranged DPS), Glacier (crowd control/tank), and Mind (healer-ish). Each of these is fun and playable. Some of the premium archetypes are Void (ranged DPS), Specialist (melee DPS), Inventor (general purpose), Savage (melee DPS), and Tempest (ranged DPS). There is a power curve difference between the free archetypes and the premium. In particular, the Inventor is a monster at 11th level.

On the other hand, the archetypes are all underpowered compared to what a player can do with Custom Build. The archetypes are very rigid and typically follow one power chain from beginning to end. But with a custom toon you can pick 3 powers from Fire (Inferno), and 3 powers from Gadgeteering (Inventor), and 3 powers from Weapon Melee (Blade/Specialist), etc, etc. You can cherry pick the most effective powers in one toon. I put together one custom build based on ranged DPS that would most closely resemble the Tempest. The Tempest template grants the Gigabolt power at 40th (!) level. I took the power at 10th. Gigabolt drops a path of death from you to the target. Even at 10th level it universally obliterated normal villains and almost killed 2-bar villains. My custom build (Shazbolt), is a walking DPS super nova. I can barely see the screen from all the flare and radiant effects from Gigabolt, Orbital Cannon, Spark Storm, and various other bolts… not counting the artillery from her munitions bots. Nothing in the archetypes compares.

Custom build is probably the most compelling reason to purchase a sub rather than F2P. The archetypes cost 920 Atari Coins and that is going to break down to $11.50. Buy one or two archetypes and you’re looking at what it would cost for 1 month anyway.

The other really useful premium options are the travel powers. Without a Gold sub, you’re looking at very basic options for motoring around. But the Gold subscription allows for some fun variants like Jet Boots and Fire Flight. These work just as well as the free options, but look cooler. Jet Boots are supposed to be a nudge faster and they are, but you won’t really notice often.

Still… one thing that may not be obvious is that for all the stuff included in a Gold membership, you still have cause to buy and use Atari Coins… Light Speed (travel power) for example still has to be bought for 420 coins ($5.20) even with a Gold sub. Lots of costume options are still extra (usually 380 coins or $4.25). A Gold account is given 400 coins per month so it is arguable that these options too become “free” after you build up long enough.

I did a rough comparison of things “I would want” added to F2P vs the cost of a sub. If I bought 1 travel power, 2 extra character slots, 3 bag slots, 1 costume set, the 2 expansion zones, and limited myself to a single archetype then my total would be $56.25 (4280 coins at 1500 Atari Coins x 3). Four months of play comes in at $59.96. So if you had the dosh up front, knew exactly what you wanted (character wise), and were willing to live with the reduced (yet still very playable) power level of a premium archetype, then the F2P pays off in the long run. Of course, the cheap gamer in me still struggles to pay that much up front on a game I haven’t really tried. I predict most folks will end up with a couple of months of Gold subscription and that will hook them on the Custom Build character and that will lock them in to subscription for a long time.

Cryptic really has an evil marketing genius in its dark cubicles. Game On!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Champions Online: Free For All

I've recently been playing some of this with the boys. I was intrigued by "free" and thought initially the boys would like it and I'd save some dosh.

It turns out I like the silly game. It is only loosely an MMO by my definition. There are dozens of servers and there is lots of instancing between zones and in "dungeons". I notice that most areas only support about 60 players.

In case you can't guess, Champion's is a superhero genre RPG. While you may instantly conjure images of Superman and Wonder Woman, the hero building system allows you to create a very wide range of useful and interesting characters. From secret agents, to cyborgs, to demons and wizards. It all fits somewhere in a comic book, right? So about anything goes.

The questing mechanic is very much "amusement park" designed with hundreds of "Missions" to complete. Zones are roughly organized by level of difficulty, but they spread them out quite a bit so you will rotate between areas. You may start in Canada, move to Westside, then back to Canada. But there are always a few options so you can pick where you want to run your missions.

Character advancement is an XP / Level system where you gain access to more powers at key levels. If you play for free, you'll be limited to their pre-built "Archtypes". But if pop for the $15 USD monthly sub, you can get access to more archtypes and the "custom build". I'd recommend starting with the archtypes just to get familiar with the game, but you'll likely feel the lure of the Custom Build before too long.

This isn't my first experience with Free 2 Play, but this has certainly been the longest. I don't think Cryptic (the developer) has done a particularly better job with their game in my case. I just don't like wow/fantasy clones. If I want fantasy, I play WoW. There isn't any reason to play anything else. But if don't want fantasy, the options are much more limited. CO is a good departure from WoW-clones even if it does use a lot of the same concepts (missions, levels, classes, etc).

The game does offer classic features like banks, auction houses, and crafting. I've dabbled with these, but not fully explored them. The end-game seems limited. Level advancement stops at 40 and after that it appears your options are 1) PvP or 2) make alts. So it remains to be seen how far Cryptic will take it. It shows a lot of promise, but still falls short of the big dogs in the MMO industry.

But for now... POW! BAM! WHAMO! Game On!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mass Effect (the first one)

A couple of cool video game things...

First, Mass Effect is a great game that is re-creating for me what Knights of the Old Republic did. With all the hype around Mass Effect 2, I thought I'd check out the first game now that it's getting cheaper. So far I like it quite a bit.

TL/DR: Good game, good graphics, good UI. A bit cludgy on Windows 7 64-bit. I had to run XP compatibility mode, but that seems to be working fine.

ME is a sci-fi RPG game where you control your main character with a party of 2 other support characters. You get to choose your team each time you venture out of your ship. Even cooler you get to run around on your ship talking to the crew and your strike teams. You can fly to regions, star systems and individual planets and moons. You can't land on all of the worlds, but do get down on to many of them. Your away team gets to land in an all-terrain tank complete with machine gun and cannon. You can freely embark and disembark from the tank to explore.

I love the non-linear story arc that lets you go where you want when you want. Roaming around the galaxy gives a giddy sense of exploration and discovery. Plus you can get out and shoot plenty of bad guys.

To me the crowning achievement is the great story. It is engaging and interesting. You can guide your conversations with the characters and have long discussions that have flow. It is the same feeling I get when I fall in to a book and I'm just hooked on the story. I love games that do this.

Second cool thing is the discovery of Steam game manager. Steam is one of the systems you can use to buy games online, download them, and manage your license library. It isn't too surprising in this day of "instant obsolete install media" that online stores are taking over. Steam is my first generally positive experience with these stores. So far it is working just fine.

Game On!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More Feats of Doom

Feats listed below are for a True20 based RPG in the Adventures of Doom campaign. I am capturing them here for convenience to me and my players. (Who never read this stuff anyway.)

Mind Touch*
Adept Power, Maintenance

You can establish contact with another mind. The base Difficulty is 10, modified by familiarity. An unwilling subject gets a Will saving throw to avoid contact. If the save is successful, no contact is made. If you do not want the subject to know you are making mental contact, you can make a separate opposed Mind Touch check against the subject’s Sense Motive, Second Sight, or check (whichever has the highest bonus). If you win, the subject is unaware of your attempt. If the subject wins, she is aware of your attempt (whether you succeed or fail in actually establishing contact).

While you are in mental contact with another being, the two of you can communicate at the rate of normal speech, hearing each other’s thoughts. You can also send a single visual image each round instead of speaking. Both you and the subject can choose to lie or omit information; you’re “speaking” to each other mentally, not reading each other’s thoughts. Mind Touch is two-way, meaning you are in mental contact with the subject for purposes of her powers and vice versa. Subjects do not need to share a common language. Targets with less than -3 INT have no "thoughts" but will have instints/feelings (see Empathy below). If a friendly mental contact turns hostile, the subject can make a Will saving throw to break contact. Once the subject has failed an attempt to eject the intruder from her mind, she can’t break the contact. The victim can attempt to beat the adept unconscious.

If your Mind Touch is broken, any other powers you are maintaining requiring mental contact are also broken.

Empathy: While in contact you receive empathic feedback from the target (e.g. hunger, fear, love, anger, etc). A targest who attempt to hide their emotions get a Will save to filter empathic content. This can sometimes be instinctively done even when the subject is not aware of the power. Using this power during other uses of Bluff, Diplomacy, or Initimidate grant +2 on the attempt. Uses of Suggestion (adept power) on a touched mind impose a -1 penalty to Will saves relating to the suggestion.

Mentally Aiding Others: While in mental contact with another character, you can use the aid action (a standard action) to grant that character a +2 bonus on Will saving throws or on any skill check where your skill rank is equal to or greater than the subject’s. The adept can also attempt to shake a subject out of a charm or beguiling. This grants the victim one additional save. If the save fails the subject is aware of the adepts attempt to manipulate them.

Try Again: You can retry Mind Touch freely, but retries on the same subject within an hour’s time are fatiguing.
Time: Mind Touch is a move action. It requires concentration to maintain.

*This power differs from the text in the True20 Handbook

Voudon Blessing
Adept Ritual

Adept may spend 1 hour crafting a voudon fetish of two varieties. A White Blessing grants the wielder +1 Attack and +1 Damage with any weapon. The fetish is creepy and usually constructed dead flesh of animal origin (including human). Anyone who spots the fetish makes all further reaction checks toward the holder at -1 (effectively -1 CHA). The fetish is a small object for purposes of concealment. Alternatively, the Adept can create a Black Fetish which grants the holder +2 Attack and +2 Damage, but drops the Adept's Charisma by -4.

The effects of either charm end at the next sunrise. The charm disappears at dawn. The Adept can spend 1 minute of concentration to absorb the charm.

Spirit Guide
Adept Feat (Familiar)

The adept gains a spirit guide with the same utility as a Familiar. The spirit guide is human (or humanoid). The spirit can only be seen and heard by the adept. Other Adepts with Spirit Guide can hear other Adept's guides, but not see them. Creatures/entities that can see in to the Astral Plane or other Ghosts can see the Guide. The spirit is an ally and friend to the adept and will act accordingly (warning her of danger, etc).

Spirit Guides are incorpreal. They can move through unprotected barriers and fly. They have Darkvision and normal hearing. Spirit Guides have one Wis/Int/Cha based skill per point of Adept Charisma. They have no physical stats (Str, Dex, Con) and can distribute 4 points in to mental stats (Wis, Int, Cha). They gain skill points when the Adept advances a level. They gain 1 Skill Point / point of Adept Cha per level.

Level 1-2: Spirit and Adept can speak and see each other. Spirit is bound to a physical object carried by the Adept and can not range more than 60' from this object. If the object is lost, the Adept can summon the Spirit back to a new object in a ritual taking one day.

Level 3-5: Guides can appear and speak to others within 60'. Guides can commune with the spirits of the dead in yes/no/mu fashion. Adept must be touching remains or a cherished object of the deceased.

Level 5-7: Guide and Adept can now commune mentally. Range increases to 120'.

Level 8-10: Spirit Guide can detect lies told in its presence.

Spartan Alpha Armor

Grants the character the ability to use Spartan Alpha Squad armor of Atlantean design. This Feat is required to further enhance Spartan armor with additional upgrades.

Plasma Grenade
Warrior (Pre-Req: Spartan Alpha Armor, 3rd level)

Once per combat encounter the Spartan armor can produce a single Plasma Grenade (Dam +5, Radius 5', Range Increment 10' / +1 STR, Reflex save (10 + Warrior Level) for half). The grenade appears in the warrior's hand. If unused (held) it disappears at the end of combat. If the grenade is dropped it detonates as normal. On a critical hit the grenade sticks to the target negating the Reflex save.

Plasma grenades are luminous. Carrying one imposes a -4 Stealth penalty. It also draws attention and attacks. Plasma grenades deal fire damage for purposes of overcoming DR, but is not "flame" for purposes of igniting other flamables or explosives.

Every 3 levels the warrior gains 1 additional grenade per encounter (1 per round), +5' radius, and +1 damage. (e.g. at 6th level 2/combat, 10' radius, Damage +6). Max 5/combat, 15' radius, Damage +8.

Ki Dart
Warrior, Fatiguing

The warrior can focus internal energy and fire it as a bolt at a single target as a Full Round action. (Dam +3, Range 30'). The Dart hits automatically for either lethal or non-lethal damage. Target can either make a Reflex save or a Toughness save vs. DC 15 to avoid damage.

Ki Needles
Warrior (Pre-Req: Ki Dart), Fatiguing

Warrior can fire up to 3 bolts at up to 3 targets (Dam +3, Range 30') normal ranged attack. Three bolts could be fired at 1 target as 3 attacks. Full Round action.

This Won't Be Easy
Warrior / Expert (Pre-Req: Acrobatics 5+)

The character can always force combat on to unstable ground for 1d4 rounds once per encounter. As a Free Action, they spill a bucket of soapy water, kick over a barrel of apples, balance on a handrail. Something always seems to be around to make the fight harder.

The player makes a "power check" of d20 + Level. This becomes the Acrobatics check modifier for all combatants in direct melee with the character. Opponents must make an Acrobatics Check DC 10+result while the player makes a check DC of 5+result. A failed check results in -4 to their attack and loses their dodge bonuses. A failed result by 10 means they have fallen prone.

Aspect of the Sword
Warrior (Pre-Req: Improved Strike)

The warrior spends 15 minutes attuning to a melee weapon of superior quality and gains the damage and DR qualities of that weapon. The effect lasts 24 hours and requires meditation each day to re-establish. The weapon can not be changed once set until the next day. The weapon must be one the warrior can use without penalty. The weapon must remain in the possession of the warrior for the duration of the effect. If the weapon is lost for more than 1 minute per level, the effect ends.

The effects of Aspect of the Sword are subtly visible and alter the hands and feet slightly in representation of the tuned weapon.

The USS Macon: Rigid Airship of Doom

The race for ancient technology is on and the US won't be left behind. Leveraging the best of German science, the US commissions the USS Macon as the strike platform of choice for the quest.

The Macon can travel to every corner of the globe regardless of roads or airstrips. Housing 5 of its own bi-plane fighters it can lauch formidible airstrikes. On board barracks also provide a home for the highly experimental Spartan Alpha Squad--the first Army unit to capitalize on Atlantean technology. These super soldiers have been trained from a young age in the Spartan style by the venerated and wiley Commander Johnson.

Johnson fought along side the Lareux brothers in WWI and now the three of them are putting their knowledge and teams together to beat the Nazis and their witch captain, Lt Hilda Nightshade. Spectre, Drake, and Sgt. Carter now form the front line in the Adventures of Doom!

Real History of the USS Macon:
The US really did have aircraft carrying rigid airships in 1935... Two of them. The USS Akron and the USS Macon. The Akron crashed on April 3rd, 1933 with the loss of nearly all on board. The Macon would crash (losing only 3 crew) on Feb 12th, 1935. The Akron and Macon were modifications of German designs. They were the largest rigid airships to use helium gas rather than the explosive hydrogen gas used by the Germans. Helium was extremely expensive and only the US had the resources to use such large volumes of gas. Each ship did carry 5 planes. The original idea was to use these ships as long range spotters over the ocean. As airplane technology advanced, the airship became too vulnerable to be used effectively in combat and after the Macon, the US would never commission another rigid airship for military use.

Here is the info on the "Sparrowhawk" fighters used by the Akron and the Macon.

Here is the best resource I've found on all historic airships.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sgt. John Carter

Level 3 Warrior (True20 Character)

United States Army Special Corp
Designation: Spartan Alpha 002
Superior Officer: Commander Johnson of the rigid airship USS Macon
Background: Classified (Top Secret)

STR: +1 DEX: +3 CON: +1 INT: +1 WIS: +0 CHA: +0

Will: +0 Fort: +4 Ref: +4 Toughness: +8

Notice (Wis): +6, Drive (Dex): +9, Acrobatics (Dex) +9, Pilot (Dex): +9, Gadget (Int): +7

Firearms Training, Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Spartan Armor, Grenade Upgrade, Weapon Training, Attack Specialization (Machine Pistol)

Core Ability:
A warrior can spend a point of Conviction to immediately erase all bruised and hurt damage conditions (and their associated penalties).

Attacks: Base +3 (Combat) +3 (Dex) = +6
Punch/Kick: (+3 +2) +5 for +2 Dam
"Persuaders" (Machine Pistol): (+3 +3 +1) +7 for +3 Dam (+8 w/in 30')
Plasma Grenade: (+3 +3) +6 for +5 damage 5' radius Ref save (13) for 1/2
All other guns: +6
All melee: +5

Defense: Base 10 +3 (Combat) = 13 w/Parry +2 = 14 or w/ Dodge +2 = 15 (plus weapon)

Spartan Alpha Mark 0 Combat Armor (+4, Powered)
  • +1 STR
  • +5' movement
  • Produce Grenade (1 / encounter)
  • +1 Fort saves vs airborn poisons
  • +1 save vs Fatigue

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Grin and Bear it

Josh and Evy finally track down Walking Bear to a mafia warehouse. As they contemplate how best to get in, a man in full body armor strikes up a conversation. He is Sgt. Carter of the Spartan Alpha squad. He has been sent to assist them in finding Walking Bear.

Waiting until nightfall the trio climb on to the roof where they enter by to the top stairwell. Evelyn makes quick work of picking the locks on the way down. Josh brilliantly disables various guards. Carter proves to be no slouch with a right hook.

In the warehouse main dock they encounter another small strike squad. The Germans! After a brief conversation, the germans attack. But the heroes overcome. Lt. Nightshade uses some sort of strange power to fill the warehouse with fog and then vanishes. The fallen soldiers are gone when the mist clears... leaving only their spilt blood behind. Walking Bear is rescued.

Commander Johnson, leader of the Spartan Squad, is at the Lareux Procurement house when they return. It seems this strange ancient technology is now wanted by both sides. The race is on! Stay tuned for our next episode as America races in to the Arizona wilds to find the Temple of Isis... another Adventure of Doom!