30 October 2012

Mechwarrior Online

Free Beer always tastes the best.
One of my driving passions in life is currently, and has always been, free shit. I can't help it- growing up, most of my accessible income wasn't directed towards video games, which meant that I either needed to get the game for free, or make it myself. And even now, when I have a bit more disposable income than I did when I was but a wee sprat, I can't help it. If the game's got "FREE" written in gigantic letters, I at least know about it. I make rounds on gaming websites, and keep my ear to the ground to hear about the next big thing in gaming.

This time, I've actually been waiting for this game for a while. I'm talking about Mechwarrior Online.

Now I'm not a big Mechwarrior fan, although I've heard snippets about Clans and Inner Spheres and people arguing about the old designs versus the new designs and whatever else Mechwarrior fans like to argue about, and I even had a friend who bought a Mechwarrior book and the two or three of us had sat and puzzled over what, exactly, was the nature of the game we had in front of us- but I'm hardly an expert.

For example, I can assume this is a "catapult" because that's what the image was called when I downloaded it.

I'm just excited that here is a game that's a) free, b) about giant robots, and c) team-based. I've been looking for a new game to play with my friends for a while now, and Mechwarrior Online could be it, assuming that its system requirements aren't such that I'd practically need a brand new computer to run it.

Well, here's to hoping, anyways.

17 October 2012


I would pay money for a game that actually felt like this.

I downloaded Everquest the other night and have, so far, given it five or six hours of my time. I'm not sure if I like what I seem to have gotten myself into. Scratch that- I am certain that this game is not for me.

Let me talk about myself a little, first.

My first actual MMO, back in 2005, was World of Warcraft. I'd never been in one of those families who was happy with having their phone line tied up forever, so my gaming had before then been limited to what is now called hotseat play, or just single player gaming. But by 2005, wireless internet and affordable laptops finally entered my family's world. It was addicting and exciting. We didn't have to take turns at the computer anymore, or be frustrated by another family member's email duties, or epic stretches of Civilization (the family's game of choice for a long, long time), or anything else. We could all do our own thing, and so we all kind of did.

I can't remember how I first heard about private servers, or how I decided that World of Warcraft would be the game for me, but I do remember how for three days and three nights I left my laptop on (and slightly cracked) and hidden where it wouldn't be accidentally knocked closed. Finally, the game finished- finally, I installed and connected to the game.

Naturally, I invited my brother to play. We copied the files over (a laborious process for our laptops), and the two of us proceeded to spend our summer vacations duoing World of Warcraft, nearly alone, on a private server. We reached max level, started over on another server, and enjoyed (and, it must be said, sometimes hated) playing with other people. We experienced dungeons for the first time, and ganking. World PvP, city raids, chat-spamming, kill-stealing, auction houses, everything was brand new again and glorious. It was a fantastic time from the moment we began to the moment we finished. The different zones were always interesting and novel, the way it tied into a beloved IP was exhilarating, the class system was glorious. I remember saving for tens of levels to finally afford my own mount, a beautiful turquoise Raptor that, to this day, remains my mount of choice on those rare occasions when I see how World of Warcraft is doing. Playing through vanilla World of Warcraft remains one of my favorite gaming memories.

I mention this to highlight the difference between my early experiences with World of Warcraft and with Everquest, and to demonstrate that I really do enjoy MMOs. I'm not the kind of idiot to complain about a game I don't like in a genre I knew I didn't like. I went to Everquest expecting a sort of manic genius, a sort of unfocused brilliance that manifests itself in so many older games. You know, how the teams were smaller and had nothing to lose, so they'd put all their best ideas in a game and hope to god it worked. I went to Everquest expecting an old-school fun. So far, I am vastly disappointed.

I don't know why the game doesn't play like that.

Now look. I did do the research- I am armed with various wikis, guides to levelling, and well-documented forays into pretty much everything. Everything pointed towards a game of grinding your way to 60 through a hostile world that will not hesitate to kill you, steal your XP, and lose all your items. Now, I am not the type of person to object to grinding- I did play vanilla World of Warcraft as a two-man group. We essentially just ground out the levels for a period of a week or so, and it was enjoyable enough. I'm not the kind of guy who objects to death penalties, either; I love roguelikes and will continue until the day I die. But Everquest is the worst of both worlds- it has the uninteresting combat of a roguelike without that game's expansiveness, and a grind treadmill without any satisfaction whatsoever.

God damn it, look- I've gotten lost in the maze-like and hideous city of Freeport for an hour while I use an out-of-game map to try and find my bearings. I've slain at least a dozen bats, skeletons, and rats and found that my hour's worth of effort isn't even enough to buy me a new dagger. I clutch my stack of bronze coins (or are they brass?) and stare at the shopkeeper, wondering if there's something I'm missing, if there's some way to be able to afford something other than the default tunic and short sword. And while I'm doing that, I'm wondering if there's more to the game than standing there and waiting for my Warrior to autoattack skeletons, if there's more to the game than casting one or two spells as a Magician and waiting for the thing to die so I can take its loot. I'm wondering if, as it seriously is sounding, if the game is centered entirely around an unsatisfying, grinding combat system with no PvP and a hardcore raiding endgame. But there isn't. That's it. That's the game. You watch your fighter slap the enemy, without any input from you. And then on to the next one.

And this wouldn't be a problem, either, except that I am familiar with what the game is doing. I've been there before; this is not a mystery to me. This is a Skinner box dressed up in blocky dwarves and elves, hiding behind the digital merchants and skeletons. I'm expected to hit the "autoattack" button, wait a couple seconds, and receive my prize. If I play with other people, I can hit the button faster, get more prizes, get more accomplished. It's the exact same mechanic as those awful Facebook games. Sure, it says, by yourself the game isn't that great, but if you get your friends to play you'll love it! You can talk to them while you game, and even roleplay if you want! This is simply not acceptable. I can see why people get sucked into it, the same way that people get sucked into Farmville, or Mafia Wars- you slowly will win. The only way to lose is not to play. Put in enough time, and you are guaranteed some great loot, piles of money, experience, everything. The game is open to you, if only you would try more. And for some people that's seductive.

But I am a snob about one thing, and that's gameplay. And I'm sorry, Everquest, but the passage of time has not been kind to you. There are games that do grind better, that do community better, that do grouping better, games that mock you, games that openly reveal the dirty secret that's kept some players glued to you for ten years. It's not the game, it's the community, the long-term players say. They just stay for their friends, their guild, for the socialization. I'm sorry, Everquest, but I came to you for a game, and your open secret is that you are only just barely passable as one.

I'm sorry, Everquest. I tried. I really did. But you, my friend, are kind of terrible.

The Raspian Console

Me and the wife- although neither of us are long-haired or quite that pale

Nothing especially interesting to say today- been spending most of my mental energy either trying to teach myself how microcontrollers work (something I have literally no experience with) or trying to figure out how to hack together a Raspberry Pi into a portable emulation station.

The second one is going better, obviously. Once I get my hands on the Pi itself, all I have to do after that is pick up a USB hub and then get moving. The final version, I think, will have a couple more features that aren't really necessary, like a discreet on/off switch and an LED, some converters that'll let you plug some fairly ancient controllers into it, and maybe a couple boot loaders that run the emulator from the moment you turn the "console" on; but that's in the future. As it stands, I'll just be happy if I can get the Pi to run in the setup I'm thinking of. I'm not at all certain of the compatibility of Debian (the default Raspbian OS) with the PS3 drivers, but c'est la vie, and I'm sure I can make something work.

But this is all extremely uninteresting, I'm certain, unless you're one of the people that'll be playing my emu-box. ;)

10 October 2012

Mount and Blade

I keep meaning to actually post something that I'm working on, but the only thing I've been doing the past couple of days (besides scouring the internet for people looking for a freelance writer, but hey, that doesn't count) is playing Mount and Blade. 

You start out as a lowly, no-good adventurer in one of several kingdoms based on real-life cultures. It's up to you to figure out what you're going to do to go from random guy on the street to mighty warlord. Or a vassal to a king. Or a mercenary. Or a merchant. 

It's a lot of fun, not the least of which because when it's time to put your enemies to the blade, it's you riding on horseback, commanding from the front, swinging swords and axes with wild abandon. The fighting system itself is precise and violent- you can parry attacks, batter shields down, slay the horses of your enemies. And most importantly, it's a lot of fun.

The only thing the game is missing is an ancient mod- they have mods set in world war 2, for some reason, and ones for slightly forwards in the time span, and naturally a half dozen roman mods. But nothing that lets me run around as Odysseus or Achilles, sadly.

But other than that, it's a lot of fun, and it's what's been consuming my time.

02 October 2012


I know that this isn't really a "thief" per se, since it's really just the Princess dressed up and, unless I'm mistaken, she was just giving an apple to some kid because she's not used to having to actually pay for stuff but that's not really how it looks.

I don't have anywhere to go with this picture. I just love Aladdin.

What's interesting to me is that not too long ago, Middle Easterners were viewed a lot more positively. It used to be just a brown skinned dude with a fez or a turban, and they were considered polite, if not perhaps a little odd by European and American standards, but in the media going forwards from what, the 80s or so? Suddenly Middle Eastern culture is portrayed a lot more negatively, with the Crusades being played up, ancient Persia being bad guys somehow, and now the entire region is filled with religious fanatics, assholes, and generally unpleasant people.

I don't mean to get into psuedo-political posts (not my style, really), just a thought inspired by a good movie.

Aircraft Carriers in Space?

Found this via Rock Paper Shotgun, and I think it's a nifty read. Touches on elements of internal consistency and making the world presented in sci-fi media match our expectations from real life.

Also, it talks about Battlestar Galactica. I really need to finish watching that series, damn it.


Looking Back

They say that if you don't look back at who who were from a year ago and cringe that you haven't grown enough. What if I look back f...