Friday, July 20, 2012

Tera Online

Tera... A new(ish) morg from En Masse in the US and Blue Hole Studios in Korea.  First the obvious stuff.  It’s fantasy genre with a more asian theme.  It uses a “standard” class system.  There are 7 races and 7 classes; humans, elves, castanics, barakas, popori, and elin with warrior, slayer, bezerker, lancer, sorcerer, mystic, and priest.  Humans, elves, and castanics (satyr-esque) are dual gender.  Barakas appear to be made of stone and are only male.  Popori are cute little animorphs with no obvious gender.  Elin have an extra set of animal ears and a tail and appear to be all 12 year old girls (more on this later).  All the avatars depicting humanoid anatomy are... umm... buxom.  Even the males are pretty.
But if you could sum up Tera in a word, it would “pretty”.  Everything in this game is beautiful.  Every character, every avatar, every landscape, every cut scene. The attention to detail is boggling.  They must have 10,000 Korean texture mappers working slave hours.
What isn’t obvious is a different combat system more akin to a first-person shooter than a morg.  There is no “target locking” and all abilities must be aimed with the reticule in the center of the screen.  Movement is WASD combined with always-on mouse look ala Halo.  Abilities are mapped to keys which does prove clumsy sometimes and especially at higher levels.  With both hands busy with movement and targeting and 15 separate abilities to fire off, combat becomes challenging, more skilled, and thus more exciting than the typical morg button mash.  For me, at least, this combat system is the WoW-killer.  I was utterly done with the fantasy morg as tired, overdone, and just plan over.  But Tera won me back with this new combat mechanic and it’s amazingly artful beauty.
The ugly... Well there is some controversy.  The female character models are nothing short of complete anime fan service--lots of upskirt shots, lots of impossible cleavage, lots of panties, lots of breast physics (jiggle).  While pleasing to the male eye, it is grossly sexist to the point where I am partially embarrassed to even admit I like the game.  Especially in light of recent gamer events regarding gender and trolls.  I am having a bit of a struggle with this.  But I do enjoy the game and while I’d like to discourage this type of gender bias, I am not yet ready to vote with my wallet yet.  But when I do find another morg that catches my eye, I have a significant bit of extra motivation to end my Tera subscription.
Added to this controversy is the Elin, a race of beings who all have the appearance of innocent young girls, but who are actually an old race of tricksters and malevolent fairies.  This is something of a traditionally asian trope which is lost on European/Western players.  They just see scantily dressed girls and instantly assume “pervert”.  Well... possibly yes.  But universally? No.  Cultures are different and they see things in different ways.  The Elin are not called human for a reason--they aren’t.  It’s a fantasy made-up creature.  I know it is quite easy to argue, “yes, but they look like girls!”  I don’t have any response other than, “my imagination is capable of suspending my disbelief.”  This ability will differ greatly across players.  But again, it will be another controversy I will be glad to leave behind when I leave the game.  PS: Yes, one of the characters I created was an Elin Priest.  Her name is Louy and “she’s” supposed to be a trucker that was thrown from our world to the Tera world by a vengeful goddess where he learns to be a better human being.  Does that make up for it?

The Origin of Louy

So, no shit, there I was... at the bar and there was this amazing blond down the way.  She was like Hollywood wrapped in Christmas and strapped to a dildo.  She was hot.  Me and the fellas couldn’t believe our luck.  Our crappy corner pub hadn’t seen a gal like this in... well, ever!  Girls like her didn’t even drive through our part of town where the truckers like me would shack up for few nights before hitting the road again.  
In these summer nights our street was a shimmering heat wave by day and radiated more heat all night sucking up any refreshing breeze that might have penetrated the city.  A lucky few had window unit air conditioners, but a lot of us didn’t bother since we were on the road all the time.  A girl like this tall drink of water might only be seen from the cab of my truck as a looked down on the all the rich honeys that would pass me in their fancy luxury cars.
Blondie didn’t seem too clued in to where she was.  She would cock her head as if trying to tune in single converations in the din of bar noise and bad music.  This would be followed by a sneer and then a sip from her frozen drink.  A frozen drink! I didn’t even know Al had a daiquiri machine!
Well the old pub hadn’t had this sorta action at any time I could remember.  We chatted and laughed and made up stories for what we’d do “if we got a piece of that”.  We started off tame, but as the beers rolled in I got braver.  I figured, hell there was never going to be a woman like this in here ever again, I might as well be the legendary dude to get shot down by her.  Being rejected by pretty women was practically my religion!  So after lucky beer number 14 I set out across bar.
All the locals could see my not quite straight path.  They knew the score.  But blondie was completely unaware.  I slicked back the hair, stood up straight(ish), and stepped up.
“Al! Get this *fine* lookin’ woman another fruity drink on me.  Make it a double!”
Blondie gave me a sideways glance slowly turning to face me.  Her dress was white, extremely low cut and appeared like it must be see through, but stare as I might I didn’t get a glimpse of anything good.
“Eyes up here, sailor.” She said through a smile that felt like a sneer.
You have no idea how much effort it took to pull my eyes off that rack, but then I met her eyes.  I felt my head lock as if something metal had slotted in to place.  No matter what I did with the rest of my body, my head wouldn’t move and my eyes couldn’t look away.   I felt the night’s conversations of everything I said I would do to this woman spooling out of my head like a reel.  She read it like a rap sheet while time seemed slow down.  She quirked an eyebrow as images of the beer-fueled boasts played before my eyes.  In that moment even I felt ashamed and yet excited.  She was pushing all my buttons.
On some subconscious level, in that moment, I knew she wasn’t human.  But my voice was gone.  My will sapped.  My body limp.  Her words echoed in my brain erasing all other thought.
“You will learn.” She said it casually, but it felt as if it was shouted by a hundred thousand angels.  I fell in to her eyes, a great white tunnel...
My first awareness was of a cool breeze on my exposed skin.  My legs were bare and I was laying on stone or brick.  The sun was warm and bright through my closed eyes.  I felt... small like my body wasn’t the same dimensions I remembered.  I brought my hand up to my face.  My arm felt weaker, thinner.  I opened my eyes to look at my hands.  Fair skin, long fingers, without scar or abrasion--these weren’t my hands!  I was ham-fisted and calloused with permanent grim under my nails.  These were the arms of a young girl.  I sprang upright shocked at my flawed perceptions.  I wasn’t me! I was frail, thin and short.  I could hear blood rushing in my ears.  I looked around bewildered taking in the world which was as strange as my body.  The sun was brilliant, but ringed in strange arcane symbols.  The trees were flawless, but strange and unknown.  Miles in the distance an entire ocean crashed over the most spectacular waterfall I have ever seen.  My vision clouded trying to shut out so much impossible input.  A strange signal was being processed.  Some appendage was squashed uncomfortably under my butt and demanded relief.  I staggered upright and twisted around to look at my perfect, white, fluffy, cotton, tail.
I passed out... right there on the platform to Isle of Dawn... and that’s how I came to Tera.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

STO: Auxiliary Power

I found this info on the STO forums and wanted to capture it... A lot of this stuff is hard to figure out.

There is a lot of question of what aux does for any given power, so here I will list the effect auxiliary power has on any given power. Most of this information came from going into the game, and seeing what happens to the power information when I adjusted my aux power settings.

This information should be accurate as of season 3.

Color key:
This power gets significant bonus from aux power, and you probably want to use this with as much aux power as possible.
This power gets a very situational or marginal bonus from aux power and/or it may not affect the effectiveness of the power itself or its major effects.
This power gets no bonus from aux power, or the bonus is too small to be meaningful.

Auxiliary power does this for the given power:

Science Powers

Charged Particle Burst: Increases shield drain
Energy Siphon: Increases buff/debuff duration
Feedback Pulse: Increases damage reflected
Gravity Well: Increases damage and repel strength
Hazard Emitters: Increases heal and damage resistance
Jam Sensors: Decreases fragility
Mask Energy Signature: Increases stealth*
Photonic Officer: No discernible effect
Photonic Shockwave: No discernible effect
Polarize Hull: Increases damage resistance
Science Team: No discernible effect
Scramble Sensors: Increases duration
Tachyon Beam: Increases shield drain
Tractor Beam: Increases damage
Tractor Beam Repulsors: Increases repel
Transfer Shield Strength: Increases shield healing and increases shield resistance
Tyken's Rift: Increases damage and power drain
Viral Matrix: No discernible effect

Engineering Powers

Auxiliary to Emergency Battery: Increases power buff
Auxiliary to Inertial Dampners: Increases resistances and speed/turn rate strengths
Auxiliary to Structural Integrity Field: Increases Heal and Resistance

Science Captain Powers

Photonic Fleet: No discernible effect
Science Fleet: No discernible effect
Sensor Scan: Increases resistance debuff
Starship Dampening Field: Increases resistance buff
Subnucleonic Beam: Increases recharge time debuff


Increases stealth detection rating on science ships
Increases stealth detection rating on non-science ships
Increases cloak effectiveness*
Decreases carrier hangar recharge times

*Cloaking mechanics are notoriously hard to test, however the magnitude of change when changing aux power settings was insignificant compared to the magnitude of the stealth granted, according to the tooltip.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Star Trek: Online and Free 2 Play

STO is a MMO title that has been out for a couple of years now. Developed by Cryptic, the game went free to play last week. Cryptic itself is as much part of the game's story. Recently acquired by Perfect World, a Chinese based MMO developer, Cryptic owns the Star Trek IP as well as 3 super hero titles, City of Heroes, City of Villians, and Champions Online. The first 2 titles are nearly defunct and Champions Online remains essentially static with only a trickle of new content. But after playing STO the last week I can see where all the time and attention has gone.

STO is pretty good for what it has been through. Who could live up to the expectations of the Star Trek fanbase? What lunatic would put themselves in the line of fire to such a history? There are surely detractors, but for me STO captures a good flavour of the cannon and also complements the world with its new story-lines.

Every race is represented from all series'. Yet they all weave together pretty seamlessly. Not every race is playable, but all the iconic races are. Each player gets to select and customize a personal avatar which is used for "away missions". However, costume choices (for free) are severely limited. 90% of the costume options require some payment to unlock them. Each "captain" will ultimately have a 4 man away team which can also use all the customization options paid for. Each can have different gear equipped which also alters appearance (unlike Champions Online).

There are essentially only 3 ship types which correspond to the 3 character types--Science Team, Tactical Team, and Engineering Team. These match up with Research vessels, Escorts, and Cruisers respectively. These ships are given some variability based on rank with "light" ships at the bottom and "advanced" ships at the top of the 6 tiers. Ships you pay for have slight advantages over ships you are awarded for free. This roughly translates to 36 standard ship choices not counting "shuttles" and other vanity ships. 18 are free and 18 require payment.

Ship combat is nicely done. The tactics are complicated enough to give players options. No one ship or configuration will excel in all situations. Your flight tactics have a dramatic impact on combat effectiveness. One must manage speed, shields, weapons, and other special abilities. This provides a wide range of combinations and caters to a number of playing styles. Really well done by the Cryptic team.

Away team combat is a bit more automated as each team member is essentially controlled by the computer AI. It is still a lot of fun, but requires a lot less dexterity.

The crafting system is simple although it does take a large number of parts which all look very similar. There is a bank slot system, but you do have to have the parts in your "bag" in order to craft. I was disappointed at this feature as Champions Online crafting automatically uses items from your bank saving you from having to run back and forth pointlessly. But on the plus side it appears you can craft anything you can find or buy. In most MMO's I've played it seems crafting items is usually pointless as you can usually find or buy better items. I like knowing that I really can save up and build the exact part I like w/o immediately finding a better drop.

The skill system is a bit abstract. Each skill is explained and you can clearly see where you've spend ranks, but I could never spot dramatic differences in performance even after increasing ranks by +6 levels or more at once. I'm sure they are doing something, but it is hard to see.

In many cases you have more skill than you can use. Every power/ship/item is limited by your rank. For example, a Lt. Commander can't use level 5 Phaser banks until promoted to full Commander. Even though that ship weapon could be fitted to your ships. At least in my case, I had the resources, crafting skill, support skills, and the desire to use better modules/powers long before I had the rank to use them. This is a balancing hack, which I can understand, but just feels arbitrarily limiting--something game suffers from in many areas. There is no option to pay a lump sum for access to "most" of the content. So every customization confronts the player with options that have to be purchased. Purchased ships have more powerful options than free ships. I'm sure there are more examples. I suppose the upside is you can get exactly what you want without buying stuff you don't want, but it is perhaps too much reality in my fantasy game.

In the final analysis, I give STO two thumbs up. It is a great game at list price, it is a crazy good game for free!

Game On!