Sunday, January 08, 2017

Star Wars: Rogue One Review

Since seeing Rogue One (twice now) I’ve been thinking about Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), the ill-fated Star Wars MMO.  A key moment in my history with SWG was in response to a comment from the developers stating that “no one wants to play a moisture farmer”.

As a longtime poster on the SWG role-playing forum I argued that this mentality was wrong.  There were tons of players that wanted to exist in the Star Wars universe as something other than a Jedi, smuggler, or bounty hunter.  Players wanted to be that moisture farmer.  I wanted to be that moisture farmer. 

I was and continue to be a Star Wars expanded universe junky and this is why I found Star Wars Rogue One to be my favorite Star Wars movie of all time.  With it’s menagerie of characters, locations, and fan service indulgences Rogue One is a movie that diehard fans can place themselves in.  Maybe you are one of the protectors of the Jedi temple on Jedha?  Or a two foot tall member of Saw’s rebellious band? Or maybe you are one of the various imperial roles featured on Scarif?  Maybe even a black armor wearing Deathtrooper!  Personally, I am the space farmer being bothered by some imperial bigwig.

As much as Rogue One is a movie for the want-to-be moisture farmer, I can see why casual fans and regular movie goers would be less enamored with it.  I could write a lot about this, but it’s easier for me to point you at Red Letter Media and Mr Plinkett’s thoughts on the matter:  In short, for a movie review, I agree with Mr Plinkett.

However, as the Star Wars super fan, none of what makes for an underwhelming movie matters. The feel and look of the movie is consistent with the originals.  The acting, while not perfect, doesn’t detract from the experience (case in point; go back and try to watch the acting in Episode 1,2, or 3).  The movie delivers an expansion of the new cannon that fits right into the old.  Basically, they didn’t screw it up and that is what matters for me.

I can handle the conflict when I agree with critical reviews such as Mr Plinkett’s and still make the statement that Rogue One is my favorite Star Wars movie.  I don’t believe for a second that Disney intends to make Star Wars movies for fans like me.  Rogue One is a happy accident for fans like me and I am comfortable with my love for it.

A quick thought on The Force Awakens and Starkiller Base

I never wrote a review for The Force Awakens.  If I had, one of my chief complaints would have been that of Starkiller Base.  While I loved the movie I could not bring myself to rationalize Starkiller Base.  The Death Star (1 and 2) were big deals, not just from the perspective of the rebels, but from the perspective of the story and plot.  Starkiller Base, while a big deal to the “new rebels”, is nothing but a stolen plot point from the original trilogy and multiplied by three (ITS BIGGER AND SHOOTS MULTIPLE BEAMS!!!).   It did NOT fit the story and did nothing more than fill a spot in the “soft reboot” formula which is why the wise Mr Plinkett dinged TFA in the story category.

With Rogue One in place I have an even harder time buying Starkiller Base.  Rogue One provides incredible depth to what seemed silly in A New Hope (a moon sized super weapon taken down by a shot to an exhaust tube).  The movie goes a long way to show the struggle and loss endured to start the wheels in motion for The Rebels to be able to destroy the Death Star.

Looking at TFA; Starkiller Base appears, fires, and then is subsequently destroyed through an even harder to believe series of events than the exhaust port.  A series of events that has no way to ever be explained in a clever way as Rogue One was used to flesh out the weakness of the first Death Star. 

This is because TFA goes out of its way to plant explanations in the movie: Finn having worked on the planet and knowing how it can be destroyed, Phasma being able to turn off the shields, the Millenium Falcon warping through the planet’s shield, and Starkiller Base having the same functional weakness as the Death Stars.
Rogue One really ruins TFA for me because of this.  However, I know it doesn’t ruin it for the average movie going public.  Just as I love Rogue One because I want to be a Star Wars space farmer I know that the rest of the general audience loves TFA because it’s a good movie.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Overwatched Overwatch

Overwatch, Blizzard’s first foray into the shooter genre, is the best team-based shooter since Team Fortress 2. It is also a brand new intellectual property; a rare and dangerous thing in a world of annual sequels.

Overwatch was not a guaranteed success (even with Blizzard behind it). Gamers don’t need to look any further than EA Bioware and “the game that shall not be named” to know that studios with even the best pedigree can drop a stinker when venturing into a new genre. I say this all up front for the simple fact that no amount of advertising, hype videos, 9.5+ million open beta players, or past history with Blizzard games was going to convince me to care about this game. It was a shooter from an RPG/RTS company.
However, then came the word of mouth via live streams (something I’ve really only recently started enjoying since Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns launch), podcasts, and a myriad of Youtube videos. Before long I had overwatched Overwatch to the point where I figured I was better off playing it than watching it. Then I found out the basic game was only $40, came with all the heroes, and had no plans of a League of Legends style monetization scheme. I couldn’t enter my Paypal information fast enough (yes, I use Paypal for purchases).

Like most Blizzard games it takes only a few minutes to realize how much a player is going to enjoy the game. On first load the game drops the player immediately into a tutorial that is quick and efficient at getting the player oriented. After the tutorial the player is given the option to continue to a practice match against the AI or to skip to the real deal. I opted for the real deal.

Before making it to the “real deal” I quietly enjoyed the snappiness of the main menu screen. I was able to quickly jump in and out of settings, the heroes gallery, loot box screen, and other menu options. This minor feature did not go unnoticed by this gamer. After my experiences with the Star Wars Battlefront open beta where the slow-loading menu screens locked up repeatedly and more recently with the work-in-progress Tastee: Lethal Tactics problematic menu it is refreshing to launch a game where the menu just works.

A couple clicks and I was in a game via the quick play option. I noticed that I was dropped into a game already in-progress. Overwatch is very good about refilling empty team slots that open during the middle of a game due to disconnects or rage quitters. Players that end up filling these vacated slots receive a nice experience bonus for finishing out the game.

Feeling overwhelmed by the number of hero choices I settled on Soldier 76 which is the character used during the tutorial. I felt familiar enough with 76’s abilities (sprint, rocket, and machine gun) to have confidence I would be helping and not hurting my team during my first game. Overwatch does not lock players into a single character choice for each game. While in the spawn area players are free to change their hero which results an ebb and flow of team composition throughout the life of the match.

I nabbed a couple quick kills and I was hooked on the game. In a couple minutes the game finished out with our team securing a victory. I noticed a +1500 EXP “first win of the day” bonus and watched as my profile leveled up. I played several games back to back and make quick progress through the levels.

I noticed while leveling up that I was earning loot boxes. I took a break in the action to navigate to the loot box screen. From my DOTA 2, Guild Wars 2, and TF 2 chest experiences I had expected the need for a key to unlock the loot boxes. To my surprise there wasn’t any key requirement in Overwatch. I was allowed to open the loot boxes free of charge. A bunch of voice lines, sprays, and icons popped out as I opened the boxes and after about four loot boxes out popped a new skin for Soldier 76. These small trinkets really don’t intrigue me, but it was a pleasant surprise to land a new skin for a hero I was playing regularly (not to mention that there was an equip now option on the loot box menu saving me from having to click around the hero gallery; another small touch of polish in the menu system that did not go unnoticed by this gamer).

After a couple dozen games I am enthralled by Overwatch. Blizzard has “done it again” so to speak. It’s amazing how Blizzard was able to take on the massive undertaking of a new game genre (for the company) combined with a new intellectual property and be this monumentally successful with it on day one. The open beta hit 9.5+ million players. I can’t even fathom how many players are in at launch. All of this with none of the trappings of the “free 2 play” standbys. Pay once and play; the way games have existed for decades. Count me in.

A couple wrap up items:

Overwatch has an astounding eSports grass roots campaign already. Blizzard is not new to eSports and it’s obvious they intended for eSport leagues to feature Overwatch as a primetime feature. Yet it is amazing how the eSport community has dived in head first all the way back into the beta periods. Overwatch is an immediately watchable game as a spectator and I look forward to where the scene goes.

Secondly the game runs like a dream. Whether on my four year old desktop gaming rig (AMD CPU and Radeon graphics card) or on my several-years-aging Alienware laptop (Intel CPU and Nvidia mobile graphics card) I’ve experienced zero glitches or performance hitches which is a welcome surprise as I’ve been traveling since the game’s launch and have had to play on my. My only hiccup has been the game not saving my preference to launch in fullscreen (which I think is related to having multiple monitors).

A quick note on the hero Bastion: he is not overpowered. However, I will agree that Bastion is a problem. In my view Bastion is simply not interesting. He is a strong solo character that doesn’t spur any sort of interesting teamplay dynamics. For this reason I think something has to change, not because he wrecks newbs and steals plays of the game from more deserving players, but because he doesn’t fit in the structure of the game in my opinion.
Favorite heroes to play

Zenyatta – I have a mixed history with support characters. Towards the end of my Dark Ages of Camelot career I had gotten comfortable with the Migard Healer class becoming an invaluable player for many solid groups. In Shadowbane I primarily played support hybrids. In World of Warcraft I played shaman but grew to prefer the DPS shaman playstyle instead of healer. In Warhammer Online I took a step into the tank role as an Ironbreaker. In Team Fortress 2 I often found myself playing engineer or medic preferring to stay out of the chaos. All of this history to illustrate that I have a penchant for support roles in games so it should not be a surprise that I fell in line with Zenyatta in Overwatch.

I would classify Zenyatta as a “buffer/debuffer” support class. He is able to apply a passive heal buff on a team mate or a damage-increase debuff on an enemy. The buff only lasts while the target is within line of sight which keeps Zenyatta in balance (in previous iterations the healing buff persisted even outside of line of sight which allowed the Zenyatta player to hide while still providing a strong healing presence on the front line). Additionally Zenyatta is equipped with a strong, yet slow firing and slow traveling, attack. Between the buff/debuff and strong attack it makes for a very enjoyable character to play.

Add onto this Zenyatta’s ultimate ability which turns him invulnerable while healing everyone within the immediate area and it is easy to see how key this support hero is to your average team. I’ve had my most memorable games while playing Zenyatta and teaming up with a tank character.

Junk Rat – This hero is equipped with a grenade launcher, trap, and remote-detonated mine. Junk Rat is geared towards defense, but can be extremely effective during aggressive pushes thanks to his ultimate ability that can clear a room in a heartbeat without putting the player in danger. After executing his wheel of death ultimate the player is warped back to the initiation point and can continue with the push. With practice a Junk Rat player can land direct hits with the grenade launcher for devastating direct damage. Add in the trap and remote-detonated mine and this is a very competitive character.

Junk Rat is also one of the few heroes where I don’t feel like there is a hard counter. If an enemy shows up that can hand Junk Rat his junk a skilled player can adjust their play style to counter. This is not to say Junk Rat is overpowered, but simply well-rounded instead of specifically focused.

I’ve had some amazing “play of the game” moments captured with Junk Rat. In one play I was able to thwart a team push by diving in dropping my trap and mine just in front of the push and detonating as soon as the rush tripped the trap. This activated my ultimate which I was able to quickly pop in the middle of the mayhem and a short hop later detonated for a double kill.

Torbjörn –  The TF2 Engineer reimagined in Overwatch. Torbjörn builds and upgrades turrets and then spends the match chasing spies and snipers… err… I mean Tracers and Widowmakers away from destroying them. Properly placed turrets, just as in TF2, are a lynch pin of defense. And unlike Bastion, Torbjörn brings a host of interesting team dynamics from the ability to provide armor upgrades to his dual purpose ultimate either providing a critical turret boost at a critical moment or allowing the player to unleash massive direct damage OR DO BOTH!

I have to admit though, honestly, the only reason I play Torbjörn is when I am stuck on a bad team and am sick of the backline getting cut up by highly-mobile characters. A turret placed just behind the frontline can do wonders for keeping harassing offensive players out of the backline.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

What I'm Looking Forward to in 2016

2015 is gone, 2016 has arrived.

Here is a quick list of a few things I am looking forward to:

1. Green Bay Packers play off games.  The packers are in the play offs once again and I am hoping for another magical run.  This year's team has been in  funk to end the season, but I truly believe in "any given Sunday".

2. Progress on Kickstarter projects I've backed.

Camelot Unchained (CU) is progressing; slowly.  I am looking forward to the work that Mark and team get done this year and hoping for my beta access by year's end.

Crowfall feels like it is moving along faster than CU, but that may just be the "making of" documentary style of communication that Crowfall is using to keep us up to date.  I am looking forward to many of the concepts behind Crowfall.  Another hopeful beta by years end.

Secret Hitler is, by all accounts, an impressive party board game that solves many of the faults of games such as The Resistance.  This is pretty much a guaranteed 2016 delivery and I look forward to playing it with friends alongside rounds of Good Cop/Bad Cop and Batman Love Letter.

3. Back into Minecraft.

"We found a giant cave in Minecraft!" The quote, from my six year old son, warms this gamer's heart (pun intended).  I am back into Minecraft as my son begins his journey into a game that is as magical for him as it was for me when I first picked it up.  Minecraft is one of the best games I've ever played and I am stoked to be sharing it with my son.

4. Guild Wars 2 wealth building

I tipped over 4,000 gold in Guild Wars 2 (GW2) in 2015 and thats just liquid gold.  If I counted total account value of what I've dumped into ascended gear, gem purchases, and general non-frugal spending I am sure its in the tens of thousands of gold.  Maybe in 2016 I will get back to actually playing through content (I've only done a single zone of the expansion and still have yet to complete my personal story and have not unlocked any of the full spec lines).

I hear that there is a huge World vs World (WvW aka wuvwuv) update coming.  As WvW was my first passion in Guild Wars 2 (and my first heartbreak) I am interested in what Arenanet pulls off.  From some of the leaked information (sorry no links to the leaks) the approach using Guild Alliances instead of arbitrary servers that no longer exist (due to the megaserver tech used now) is interesting and exactly what I've recommended for over a year to bring the "Guild Wars" back to Guild Wars 2.

I am also interested to follow the PvP leagues.  I am not dedicated enough to make any decent progress in the leagues myself, but I do pride myself in so far having a > 50% win ratio in the lowest bracket.  The PvP balance of GW2 is interesting and best equated to watching the pro Magic: The Gathering (MtG) scene.  There is overpowered team comps currently just as there is overpowered decks from time to time in MtG.  Casually observing the developers as they fix these situations has always fascinated me even if I am not "in the meta" myself.

5. Maybe blogging?

I may blog a bit again in 2016.  Anything is possible in a new year!

Saturday, October 03, 2015

No Man's Sky with Colbert

Easily the best video game preview on a late show ever. Love the idea of this game; hate the name.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Town of Salem is fun

Hidden role games; I love 'em.  But mostly for the social aspect at the gaming table; not inside my PC over the magical tubes that make the internet.  The main draw is a randomly assigned team that has "perfect information" playing against the uneducated masses.  In Town of Salem that means its the mafia out to get the town.  It works surprisingly well considering the limitations of what is essentially a chat room with rules.

Games set up quickly with three players being assigned roles as mafia and being identified to each other mafia member.  The rest of the players are divided amongst various town or neutral roles (including a serial killer who is out against everyone).  At that point the premise is simple: mafia kill townies, townies figure out who the mafia is and lynch them.  The fact the mafia know each other and the townies don't know anything other than their own role opens the doors for all kinds of social shennagins.  Is that guy saying he is the jailor really the jailor or is he the godfather laying waste to townies at night?  Throw in a handful of neutral roles such as the jester (who wants the town just to lynch him) to the aforementioned serial killer who is out to kill everyone and you have a very unique game of "who's who" and "who dun it?".

The game is available via Steam or their website.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

10 years, 2 days

Wow, I've had this blog for 10 years (+2 days due to my procrastination).
I suppose this warrants something bigger than just an obligatory "one post a month", but I'm tired and am still treading water in the gaming world due to real life.  So it is what it is and ten years of doing anything is still impressive IMHO.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Raph Koster bleeds

This is an amazing read: Raph Koster revisits the fabled time of game development that lead up to the launch of Star Wars Galaxies(SWG) and it's initial game systems for attaining Jedi status.

I've never really gotten over SWG, what it could have been after launch, and its eventual collapse.  Reading this article from Raph I get the sense that he was as heartbroken as we were as initial forum goers and beat testers. Raph's words bleed a passion and intelligence that is absent in today's game design.  They are what hooked us then and what I think will let us close the book on the SWG chapter in our MMO careers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Battlefield Heroes to close

Sad news; Battlefield Heroes is set to shut it's doors this July.

This is unfortunate news alongside EA's other announcements about shuttering the rest of their Pay 2 Win ... err... Free 2 Play titles.

Personally I felt that Heroes was one of the better games of the Battlefield line up right behind Battlefield 2 and the original Battlefield 1942.  Heroes was easy to get into and offered an amazing amount of game play for free.  Unfortunately that is likely what has done it in over the long run.

At it's peak Heroes had reported player numbers of 10 million (geez, remember when we thought 250,000 was A LOT when talking about online games), but I suspect many of those millions were non-paying entities.  Eventually more and more "pay 2 win" aspects crept into the game.  Before long and about the time I stopped playing players had to pay up or go home.

In my opinion I don't think free 2 play has much to do with this closure at all.  EA is well known for closing down old games and shutting off the servers.  Heroes will just be another on the pile of games long abandoned by EA.  The real question for us to be asking is what, if anything, EA will change in the future to mitigate their constant disappointments with maintaining games with online components.  As a regular player of free 2 play titles and other online games these moves certainly don't give me any confidence in EA's ability to provide any decent long term investment.

EA is basically death for most of what it touches.