Time Capsule 2017

So I decided several years ago not to do predictions anymore.  It just wasn’t fun to write or to look back on.  What I did enjoy, I realized was what I thought I would be doing in the year to come versus what I actually ended up doing.   It is self-evaluation of sorts, allowing myself and others a chance to laugh at my naivete at the opening of a new year.

Unfortunately I never got around to one last year.  Not that it mattered much.  My computer problems dragged on forever, and I spent little time  in MMO’s outside of returning to The Old Republic for a bit from enforced movie nostalgia.

But this year could be quite different, as there are a few games hanging in the balance for me and a few surprises already.  So here is where I am at, right now:

What I’m Looking Forward To in 2017

2017-01-04_435861051

 

Exploring more of Black Desert Online.

I will write a whole post on this long convoluted story.   But for now, when BDO offered up a free 7 day trial in December, alongside a very generous 50% off discount for the base game (BDO is B2P), making it only $5 if I did like it, I jumped in.  And it has been nothing short of intriguing to me.   I’m still only level 19, but its captured something in me I haven’t felt in a long time in an MMO, and I’ve very anxious to see how far it takes me in 2017.

More World of Tanks Tournaments.

When I got back into World of Tanks, I noticed that they had started some 1v1 tournaments.  Lasting only an hour, and paying out at least a little gold to anyone who bothered to show up and play, I decided having a little extra gold to convert my backlog of free xp, and a way to vent my competitive nature, was worth the hour.   And they have been great!  Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons, I’m usually geared out for an hour, and its rare for me to not finish in the top three.  Its gone from scratch gold for xp conversion to very nearly covering my monthly subscription.   And since WoT is a pay-to-remove-frustration model of game, I’ve found the game noticeably less frustrating when I have a 500-1000 gold a week allowance coming in.   I’m hoping maybe to find some others and graduated into the platoon sized tournaments (3v3) as the year goes on.

Cloud Pirates.

I got into the Closed Beta finally at Christmas, but just didn’t have time to play.  But this little gem looks like a lot of fun.   Steampunk airship pirate MOBA just has a nice ring to it.  It may not be anything like what I’m envisioning, but it sounds like fun.  And surprisingly enough I seem to truly enjoy the MOBA experience.  Which leads me to one of my burning questions for 2017.

 

My Burning Questions For 2017

sunless-ehhh
So England is in a cave now?  I don’t get it.

Will Star Citizen finally go supernova?

I feel like this year will be the year that the game finally has to make some tangible progress towards a playable beta environment or the wheels are going to start to fall off in a much more noisy and public fashion than they have thus far.  Again, think about the sheer volume of the wailing people did over No Man’s Sky, and then try to imagine the outrage if Star Citizen is anything less than everything they have publicly promised.

Or hey, maybe it ships and its the paragon MMO that everyone has been waiting for.  If so, you can still get in the alpha for the low low price of $35 by purchasing the hilariously named “Warbond” edition.  If you are still a true believer, you are a little late to the bandwagon I’m afraid.  The $400+ packages are out of stock, meaning you’ll have to settle for something in the $275 range.

What of my depressing Steam Back Catalogue?

I spent exactly $2.50 in the Steam Winter Sale, despite having a record number of games at my trigger threshold (higher than a 50% discount).   And that’s probably because with my online troubles this year, I’ve gone back through and played perhaps a dozen of my backlogged games that I bought on sale here and there, and realized that I didn’t really like any of them.

Sunless Sea, Disciples III, Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf, Thea: The Awakening, D&D: Chronicles of Mystara, Betrayer, Just Cause 2, and Panzer Corps join the list of previous disappointments, including Star Ruler, Hearts of Iron III, Might&Magic X, Star Ruler, State of Decay, Warlock:Master of the Arcane, Breath of Death VII, and Ys Origin.   That’s 16 of the 66 titles I’ve recently played so its not like I have a giant pile of worthless games.  But for all my discrimination and laser like precision in picking games and buying them cheap, that’s a lot of misses.   Technically I still half my catalogue unplayed though, and the idea that a quarter of all of them weren’t worth even the $2 I played (from my perspective) is disheartening.   I’m going to commit to trying a new game from my back catalogue every month, and giving a report on it.   But I have a feeling the “thumbs downs” may equal the “thumbs ups.”

What of Armored Warfare’s Balance 2.0?

I’ve spoken of this a few times now and I’m currently intrigued.   Early reports off the Russian PTS is that the new game mechanics are in need of tweaking, but a large boost in the enjoyment and playability of the game.   High tier vehicles just hit the PTS yesterday, and that will be the real question.   If this works, it will be a re-investment in the game here in NA, with advertising and a “Grand Opening” (or “Launch” if you want to believe Obsidian’s propoganda), in hopes of making the NA server viable again, especially for PvP.  The groundwork is already there – I had a chance to try the new Global Ops mode in the last couple of weeks, and it is absolutely stunning and engaging.  It mixes elements of regular MOBA’s with elements of FPS shooters like Battlefield, but from the highly successful UI/Control/Mechanics standpoint of World of Tanks.   But can they build the momentum and CU needed to be successsful here?   We will see.

Bonus: More MOBA’s?

Heroes of the Storm?  League of Legends?  Dota?  I’m wondering, given my enjoyment of Wargaming’s products, if maybe I should be embracing things I have previously firmly rejected.  Part of me says that they are too twitch and I am too old.   But part of me wonders if it is not at least worth downloading and playing a few games, just to see what it is all about.   It would seem remiss for me, as a PC gamer who spends a lot of time online, to not at least explore the phenomenon.   To me it would be like being a music lover in the middle of the century and declining to listen to Rock n Roll.   I may end up not really liking it, but it would be hard to deny the impact of the movement, right?

 

Where Will I Go In 2017

In a bit of a change, this is not strictly a nostalgia category any more.  But more a list of where I think I will head in general.

toolbar
SWTOR could learn a thing or two from this…

World of Warcraft?

This one is something of a gimme.   I was actually subbed up for December before BDO stole my attention.   But I was very much enjoying and impromptu return.  I dusted off my old characters, and was impressed with all the game changes that have been brought in.  My characters are, if anything, even more fun than they were before.   But my struggle here is one of lore.  I just don’t have a deep tie to the world and what is going on in it.  Which means I have to rely on the mechanics to keep me playing.   And while it does what it does well, I would not accuse WoW of having engaging mechanics.  While my higher level characters have been fun to pick up, at lower levels I’m still pushing the same three buttons.  Over.  And over.  And over.   This is a weakness that the millions who still play WoW probably don’t have to deal with.  But it is one for me, and it might be a deal breaker.

Something On Cooldown?

I have a folder on my desktop labeled “On Cooldown.”  Now that I have plenty of storage space, I have a bunch of games loaded that I’m not actually playing.   So any of them might be a good candidate for a 2017 return.   Currently in that folder:   Star Trek Online, Elder Scrolls Unlimited, TERA, War Thunder, World of Warships, World of Warplanes, and the venerable Uncharted Waters Online.

3rd Person Paradise?

I have realized that while first person games are increasingly hard for me to do (No Man’s Sky being a rare exception), third person games are increasingly comfortable for me.  A lot of my solo time this year was spent in Saint’s Row 3, Anima: Gate of Memories (holy hell is that a bad game…that deserves its own post right htere), Star Wars: Battlefront II,  Transformers: Devastation, Sleeping Dogs, The Witcher 1 and 2, and most recently, The Division.

So I think I will have to dig in my catalogue and try Darksiders I and II, Deus Ex, and others.  And go back through some of the first person games and try them in third person just to see if it makes a difference for me.  And probably most importantly, given what I’ve learned, tailor my future Steam and GoG purchases into new categories.  Maybe games like Assassin’s Creed, Dark Souls, and Tomb Raider are my speed, even if I didn’t previously think that they were.

 

Well that’s a mammoth post isn’t it?   Feel free to comment your feedback or leave your own Time Capsule moments here for me to revisit in January of 2018!

Finally!

HEX finally gave me a teensy tiny bit of a chance to show a small sliver of my displeasure at how awful their game and development process has been and why I want my $120 back.

hex survey.jpg
To have more fun, I would have had to have some amount of fun in the first place.

Not that it will make any sort of difference at this point.

But it does get me thinking.   If I’m this salty over $120 in HEX (and the $100 in MWO), I can’t imagine the rage that will explode when/if Star Citizen becomes a thing.

Heck, the amount of venomous bile that was spewed over No Man’s Sky was pretty overwhelming, and it wasn’t even priced that high or waited for that long.  :-p

The Journey Back to WoT, Part II

So when last I posted I was going to expand on why I had returned to World of Tanks.  Unfortunately, six months without a good gaming computer meant I’ve spent the last 5 months glutting myself instead of writing.   So its taken longer than expected here!

And I do intend to put together a year in review and a time capsule post.  I hate that I didn’t get the time capsule done last year, though I spent so much of the year on hiatus that I guess it wouldn’t have been a very interesting or accurate look.

Anyway, on to WoT.   I was asked in the comments section about what I thought was good about AW, and in reality what I talked about was some of the things that had driven me away from WoT.   And they are, for the most part, things that WoT has improved upon in the last year under their new lead developer.

shot_064

Less Important RNG.   Pull the trigger, and the shot goes where you have aimed.  But not *all* the time because that would make for shorter lives and less fun gameplay.  But WoT has gotten a good bit of criticism for having a very large RNG – I think at one time it was at 25%.

These days it is closer to 20%, and its not a purely random distribution, but weighted heavily to the center.   I still get at least one shot per match that just goes wide by random chance, but I can live with that tension, and with the second chance it sometimes gives players who make bad decisions about movement or positioning.  Games that don’t do that (MWO, Call of Duty) just aren’t all that fun or interesting from my point of view.  I find that what happens in practice now is that while not all of my shots land where I want them too, most of them land in the area of armor I was shooting at.  On the other hand, at high tiers in AW, while the RNG is lower, the spots where penetration is possible are tiny – usually only a few pixels wide.   And so even though the RNG is lower, I miss my shots more often.  And if push comes to shove in WoT, I can load a premium round and at least get some damage in before I go down.  In AW, at higher tiers, I don’t have any options other than to die horrifically.

Improved UI.  World of Tanks has made tremendous strides in this area.  Viewing and spotting range circles have been added to the minimap, reload timers are standard, shot and damage (and spotting!) counters have been added, shot feedback markers have been added.   About the only two things missing that AW does is automatic sixth sense and real time armor penetration calculation.   The former is easier to get now that you can use free xp and 100-200 crew training boosts are handed out like candy.  The latter is still missing, but that is icing on the cake, and something that might be in the pipe for this year as well.  Oh, and one other thing – disabling cross team chat.  Wow was that a big one that none of us realized the impact of.   It has cut down on the toxic environment by a large margin.   Kudos for the proactive move and holding to it despite some criticism.

screenshot0032

Class Roles.  This really wasn’t about classifying tanks, I realized.  It was about helping players realize where they should be going and what they should be doing in a match.  While AW tried to solve this through active abilities and clearly defined tank classes, their horrific game balance through things off.  AFV’s that were supposed to scout and then mop up, like their WoT counterpart LT’s, actually became dominant flankers *and* spotters *and* burst DPS masters.   TD’s were supposed to snipe, but their hideous aim time, fastest in game top speed, and large alpha meant that they often became close range flankers.  High calibur autoloaders entered the game at high tiers as well, with half the clip reload time of their WoT counterparts!

Meanwhile, WoT was tackling the problem in a different way.   The reworked all their maps.  Essentially, the maps in WoT now tell you where to go based on what tank you are driving.  There may be some trial and error for new players, but in a game where thousands of matches played is the norm, taking a few matches to find out what is effective is a really gentle curve.  Essentially, WoT now has (apart from arty) three classes – Brawlers, Snipers, and Flankers.   While those labels aren’t found in game, you figure it out pretty quickly just by playing the tank.   High accuracy and no armor?  Sniper.  Good view range and maneuverable?  Flanker.  High armor or high Alpha?  Brawler. And on any given map, there will be a place for each of those classes to use their advantages to the fullest.   Its a softly defined system, but it seems to be working well.

Vehicle Progression.  The difference between a t6 stock and t8 elite vehicle in WoT used to be awful.   7 to 9 was even worse.  But time and balance passes have helped with this, along with making premium ammo more affordable and available.  And with handing out all those Free XP and XP boosters.  Its rare to find people playing stock tanks anymore, and the balance seems more in tune (outside of tier 10, one of the remaining cesspools of WoT).  Many of the premium tanks have also been rebalanced, and the old standard of balancing the premium as a half-upgraded tank has been replaced with the idea of making them mirror elite tanks on the level.  It was a good move financially (the price of premium tanks is more palatable as a result) and gameplay wise (less incentive to grind elite vehicles to make almost the same profit.

shot_028

Classic Vehicles.  Apparently even WoT is running out of experimental files.  There has been a general shift towards more recognizable and even historical premiums (made possible by the policy shift above).   My dad spent more money at Christmas in WoT than I think he has in the many previous years combined because he was able to pick up premium versions of *real* tanks like the Cromwell, T-35-85, and Sherman E8.  And this year “Ace” tanks were announced – premiums that will be replicas of famous tank crews.  And the lower tiers – rebalanced so that only your first dozen or so matches are in tiers 1-2.  By the time tier 3 is achieved the tanks are recognizable or early war versions or their more famous counterparts.

Also on a mild tangent was the unobtainable Clan Wars tanks.   All of them have been rebalanced to essentially become reskins of their standard tech tree counterparts, and one of them will actually be entering the tech tree this year as a regular pickup.  This allows Clanners to feel special still without breaking the game or leaving regular players out in the cold too much, and I appreciate the effort if not the success.

Of course, WoT still is lacking PvE in the capacity that AW offers.  I do think it is something they might want to consider, but AW’s “success” in that area seems to be making them nervous – what will it do to their base modes and game if they siphon a large portion of the player base into such a different mode?

screenshot0036

I still drop by AW from time to time.   For one thing, the graphics there are still a hell of a lot better (as you can see from the screenshots here).  But mostly because they have an enormous overhaul coming next month in the form of Balance 2.0.   It might be their death knell, but I’m not sure what other choice they have at this point.   This is no longer like SWG where a massive change is incoming at the peak of their popularity.   This is a last ditch gamble to change the game in a way that will make it more fun and palatable for all players – including those in PvE.   I applaud them for taking the risk and I really do hope it pans out.   So I have tried to stay a little active there and keep abreast of the changes and requests for feedback.   We will see where it goes, but for now, I’m happy to have my historical tanks back out again, and I’m more relaxed than ever while playing.

Up next:  The 2017 Time Capsule, and a look back at 2016: The Year in Gaming I wanted to Forget.

Armored Warfare Is Dead

The Journey Back to WoT, Part 1.

So it was around 10 months ago that I declared that Armored Warfare (AW) had World of Tanks (WoT) on the ropes with their incredible launch and game play push.

As it turns out I didn’t know how wrong I could be.  AW is dead.   Like dead dead.   Like, can’t get a match dead.

screenshot0000
We’re gonna be here awhile.

For those playing PvE this isn’t a problem – matches are still available, though the queue is slow in the morning or late night hours, and often generates odd teams because of the low population.

I’m…well, I’m not entirely sure what killed AW.   I think it was going good I think up until they released the tier 9 and tier 10 vehicles.  So I’m going to call that the high water mark.  We could make arguments about balancing (there were real issues there ), about gameplay (it became pixel hunting on steroids, where even a .01 accuracy rating couldn’t help), or population (already split between PvE and PvP and now spread across 10 tiers instead of 8).  But really that’s not what I want to talk about.

I really want to talk about this from an MMO perspective, and the unique role reversal that AW and WoT have gone into since last December.  You see, the strength of AW back then was a dedication to say “yes” to all the things that WoT had said “no” to – reducing RNG, reduced cost for premium tanks, turning regular tanks into premiums for real life currency, a +/-1 matchmaker, incorporating popular mods into the UI.  The result was, essentially, the game that WoT players had been asking for – clamoring for – for years.  This was a good move both in terms of commercial/popular success and gameplay success.

But somewhere along the way, AW started a dangerous inversion.   They stopped saying “no” to all the things WoT said “yes” to.   For example, WoT liked to package their rare tanks, for sale with real money on the website, with lots of other things to inflate the cost.  A tank that should, in their paradigm, cost $20, might be in a package costing $40, and include in game currency to make up the remainder of the value in the package.   Well, one of the primary uses of a premium tank is to make in game currency.   With a premium account you make it fast, and without one, its really the only way to make it at all.  So I’m buying a tank to make more money, and also paying twice as much and all you are giving me is…more money.  Which I was going to make anyway.

AW swore never to do it, then swore they would only do it in package deals that favored the customer, and then just went ahead and did it all the way WoT would do.   Except that…WoT finally listened.   They stopped doing it.  Or more accurately, they listened to everyone and now offer multiple package levels from just the tank to the tank + other valuable goodies.   AW has cluelessly continued their gaffe, while WoT improved their system in a win-win solution.

I could give you another half dozen examples like this – of places where AW has gone back on their word, or reduced their high bar down so low as to provoke some of the same complaints we used to make about WoT!

And people were just absolutely fed up, because they had just ran away from this problem.  And when they found out “hey problem is solved back at the old place”  – well, that’s all it took.  I played on for awhile, but unlike Warplanes, there’s just not enough of a draw or advantage to keep playing.   And like a certain MMO company, AW has decided the answer is to completely gut the combat mechanics of the game and change them whole sale.  Classes disappearing, being simplified, blunting skill ceilings, lowering floors.  All in ways that the remaining players never wanted or asked for.   Any of this sound familiar?

So that, in a nutshell, is why I left.  But why would I go back to a place I was so soiled on?  Nostalgia?  The positive changes?  A free gift?   More on that in Part 2.

 

…And It Is Here!

Processor: Intel Core i7-6700HQ Quad Core (2.6-3.5GHz TurboBoost, 6MB L3 Cache)

RAM: 8GB DDR4 2133MHz RAM (2 Dimm)

Display: 15.6″ Full HD IPS Anti-Glare Matte Display (1920 x 1080)

Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce GTX 965M 4GB GDDR5 VRAM

Primary Drive: 256GB M.2 SATA III MLC NAND SSD

Secondary Storage: 1TB 7200RPM SATA III Hard Drive

I really agonized over this for a long time.  At first I was saving for a 970m equipped laptop, and then waiting to see what the new 10 series looked like.   And, hoping that the 10 series bumped the 970m down the price chain.   But, it replaced it instead.  And honestly, that ~$1500 price point is just a little too rich for my blood.

After lots of soul searching and video and article review watching, I felt the 965m would handle everything I needed it to, especially since it got a little boost/update last year.  And thus far, that has absolutely been true.  Though it may be a small thing, its amazing that for the first time ever, I’m able to play World of Tanks with all the settings absolutely maxed out.   Even No Man’s Sky runs at a hybrid Medium/High setting just fine.

nms 1.jpg

Speaking of which…yes, I’m going to review it.  The TL;DR version for now is that I have not had any technical issues running it (even on the old dying laptop), and I’ve spent 15 or so hours in the game and am just now ready to leave my home system where I spawned.

Anyhoo, the matte screen is taking some getting used too.  It doesn’t seem as crisp at the Lenovo, but that’s more than made up for by the fact that I can see it decently in just about any lighting level (the Lenovo gave me fits in outdoor lighting).

For the curious, I would highly recommend Eluktronics (website here, Amazon boutique here).  I pestered them about three times with questions either through their website or Amazon pages I got responses within 24 hours except for once, and that response came with an apology for the delay.  In all cases, the answers were clear and helpful.   Every place I have checked for reviews they have received high marks, and so far everything about this purchase convinces me I am going to have the same high quality experience.

The purchase comes with a clean install of Windows and absolutely zero bloatware, which is amazing.  The build is solid, and the barebones is a Clevo N151RF-1.  Clevo’s barebones are, for my two cents, some of the best designed gaming laptops in the world.   Audio jacks are on the left (away from mouse hand entanglement), the power and display jacks are on the back, there are dual cooling units (one for GPU, one for CPU) with rear exhaust, the speakers are angled towards the user and are run by SoundBlaster drivers, has a full number keypad, and the touchpad is top notch with the bonus of real mouse buttons.   All on a frame that has zero flex and clocks in at 5.6 pounds.  Oh…and its quiet.  Like, mouse quiet.

And while I know red accents and badges are all the rage for gaming laptops, this one is a little more subtle.  Blue LED backlighting and more professional looking branding allow me to use this in settings where a case screaming “I’M A GAMER” would be distracting.

wot 1.jpg

So, this puts me back in the saddle for nightly gaming sessions, and I couldn’t be happier.  The past six months have mostly been catching up on my back catalogue of single player games and reconnecting with World of Tanks as Armored Warfare continues to tank (pun intended, but not in a good way).  And a few months limping along in SWTOR that came to an abrupt end with the bizarrely implemented Summer/Fall marathon.

So, its time to find my way back into an MMO.   EQ2 is an early favorite with its Level 95 character giveaway.   WoW might be interesting as a nostalgia trip, though I missed the max level giveaway there, so I’m not higher than 45 or so.  I still have a trial key for Black Desert.  TERA beckons as always.

Its good to have choices.  The world(s) is (are) my oyster.   Where do you think I should head next?

21st Century F2P MMORPG’s

Credit to Imgur, but this is to brilliant not to repost.  And I have a personal twist on the story…

Some peoplet have claimed this is from Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower) but I’m pretty sure its actually from an old men’s stag magazine.

How do I know that?  Every year my congregation has a Men’s Retreat, and I photoshop an old cover as a flyer for the event.  And in what I can only describe as a hilarious twist of fate (or God’s sense of humor if you believe in that sort of thing), this was last year’s poster that I did:

mens retreat
Names changed or removed removed to protect the guilty.