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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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Names changed or removed removed to protect the guilty.

 

Compy is Limping

Well things have been quiet as of late.   My gaming laptop, which is my primary work and play computer, bit the dust less than a week after my last post.  I was able to resurrect it only to have it die again.  We’ve now gone through that process three times.  It has not been pleasant.

Long story short, after running every diagnostic and repair known to humanity, I have concluded that my motherboard is dying, albeit slowly.  And quite frankly, I don’t have the cash on hand to replace this thing, particularly since it hasn’t hit the 3 year old mark yet.

So, color me initially very happy and now very unhappy with the Lenovo Y500 series.  I’m open to suggestions for the future, but for now, I have to limp this guy along until August on a wing and a prayer.

This has limited my ability to game, obviously, as a lot of evenings have been spent troubleshooting and fidgeting with software and hardware.

We do have a family desktop, which has mostly been subsumed by my wife’s day job and photography business.  But I elbowed out some space this week and loaded SWTOR and Shadowrun Chronicles up onto it, since that tends to be what I play with my son and brother most often.  But obviously, I don’t have access to it eveyr night.

I have downloaded Armored Warfare onto it and my laptop as well, since we are in the middle of the spring marathon there and it seems to be stable.  I seem to have had some sort of break through too.  Because things like this seem to happen once a night now.

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Heck, I even got a bonus in that match – someone calling me a hacker.  That checks all sorts of internet gaming bingo boxes doesn’t it?

Anyway, I have to admit that’s part of the reason its found its way into my regular gaming rotation.  I thought World of Warplanes might have been a fluke – the one game I was destined to be good at or something.  But it looks like I may have the chops to do well here too, and I’d like to see what that’s like.  Plus, the game hits all sorts of childhood nostalgia for a kid who grew up with nearly the entire collection of these:

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You know you had some of these too…

In any case, while my posting here has already slowed down, it may now slow even more.  We will see what happens in the next couple of months.

 

Star Citizen Free Fly Goes “Pffft”

It’s my brother’s fault.  He has followed SC with great interest the last couple of years, and tipped me off to the free play “alpha” a few weeks ago.  I asked him why in the world I would do that, and he said to trust him.   Well, if you can’t trust your brother who can you trust?  And he was right, it was worth every minute, but not in the way you think.

First of all, I want to say that even though this is an “alpha” the game has been in development for over three years, with the best and brightest designers money can buy.  So while the label says “alpha,” I (and you and everyone else) should expect more than the usual “alpha” experience.  Especially since they opened it up for everyone to come try, in hopes of completing the SpaceBalls Quest For More Money.

That said, I also want, right off the bat, to tell you that the game is very, very pretty.  Gorgeous, epic visuals that should be the standard for any space game.

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Also, I’m going to give you a little mea culpa – it took the second night of gameplay to figure out that I had to spawn my own personal starship on the landing pad.  I ran from ship to ship, trying to get into a cockpit, waving my arms in frustration.   I will say thought that this is a completely understandable mistake, given that 1) lots of other people were making it and 2) there is absolutely no indication in game that you need to  go to the control center and spawn a ship before you can fly it, and 3) I was actually able to board a ship that wasn’t mine on my first attempt.   I’m not sure if that was a bug or someone “unlocked it” by getting in and then out without taking off or what.   But I got into at least two different ships long before I figured out how to get my own.

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Finally a ladder I can climb.  Sort of.

I do not regret this mistake though, as it led to some of the most interesting moments in this not-yet-ready-for-primetime alpha.  I was so bored in the beginning that I actually jumped off the edge of the space station and accidentally discovered EVA.  I used this to fly to another platform and eventually get into a ship that wasn’t mine.  This would come in handy later – the EVA part that is.

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I have no idea what’s going on in this picture.  UFO?

So I finally jumped on board one of the larger ships.  And I was fiddling with buttons and I found out, you can totally use the toilet in this game!  That was wicked awesome, functional toilets!  Well.  Sort of functional.   In SC, you can sit down to poo, but you can’t get back up again.  Literally.  You have to log out to leave the toilet.  Which is, you know, kinda apropos I suppose.  Log.  Log out.  To finish on the toilet…

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You know what I’m sayin’…

Anyway, after I finished up there and ran around awhile longer, I managed to get aboard another starship.  I ran for the controls this time, but some dude beat me there, and a third guy ran up the ramp right after me.   Three of us, in a starship, about to fly!  This is the bomb.  This is what this game was made for right?

So the pilot takes off and we have a “punch it Chewie!” moment where he hammers whatever passes for an accelerator in the SC universe and the ship is jamming off fast.   So fast.   So incredibly fast.   So incredibly fast that me and the other passenger start sliding backwards through the ship.  And our journey did not end at the tail of the ship, oh no.  We clipped through the damn walls of the ship, and our journey ended 12 kilometers from the space station, granting us our own private Major Tom moment.

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This is gonna take awhile.

I checked the controls and found that they had implemented a respawn/kill yourself button.  And given that the EVA got me a half a kilometer over the course of 5 minutes, I decided that was the way to go.

Did I mention by the way, that my 12 year old daughter was watching at this point?  She loves all things space, and so she was intrigued.  And then she started laughing.  And then she said, “this has to be the worst game I’ve ever seen you try to play.”  Right on so many levels honey.

The laughter and the last bit were prompted when I hit that mercy killing button.  You see, it doesn’t work.  I was mashing it over, and over, and over again.  I had to log out to get out.  Only this time, there were no clever puns to salvage the experience.

Having had enough of space for awhile, I decided to spawn on the planetary level they were showing off, to see what was going on there and if maybe they would let me fly a spaceship from there, since at that point, I still hadn’t had any success on the actual space station.  What could go wrong on the planet right?  Not like I can clip into space there!

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Random death.  That’s what can go wrong.  You can just be walking and all of a sudden, you keel over dead.  Virulent space disease perhaps.  I respawned.  Again.  And I went looking around the way-smaller-than-I-expected-it-to-be city.  There was a medbay, where I spawned.  There were a couple of other shops, some of which you could actually go in.  And there was a sign for a spaceport.  So, after checking out a shop, where I couldn’t sit in any of the chairs or actually buy anything, I headed for the port.   And I found a spaceship!

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The only problem was that the doors don’t actually open.  At all.  There is a spaceport there, but its not for you, dear user.  But by now I know the dirty secrets, and I am determined to get out on that landing pad.   Yes, its time to clip my way to success!

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Haha! I win!

But then there was another invisible barrier and then I clipped through the building and fell to my death.   Well, not really, I fell to my entrapment, and then had to log again.  Because dying only happens at random, not by falling hundreds of stories into ray-traced block land.

Eventually, of course, I did get to fly a starship, and I can tell you the experience was very familiar to me.  Because it was just like this:

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That is the other SC – Star Conflict.  It hasn’t raised millions of dollars in pledges.   It hasn’t recently announced that it would divide itself into two things.  Its not years off its projected development cycle.  But it does offer you the same gameplay experience.  For free.  And if you do decided to sink some money into it, you can buy two star ships, a fat wallet, and a permanent 10% xp gain for less money than you can buy a starter ship and half of a game that’s not yet finished. But don’t worry, I’m sure it will be totally worth the $60 or $115 or $275 or $15,000 you dropped on the game when it releases.

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You should probably buy one now, before they run out of stock.

And by then they will probably have all the clipping and stuff worked out.  And the camera bugs.  Did I mention the camera bugs?

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For what it’s worth, it was the best time I’ve ever had in an Alpha.  But at this point, I’m not sure that’s saying a whole lot.

Ultimately the game seems to suffer from what I call the MechWarrior Online Failure of Unclear Priorities, or MOFUP.  In MWO, when the game launched, some of the most basic systems and balancing were not even in the game yet.  Some were not even in the planning stages yet – but you could change the interior lighting in the cockpit of your Mech between four ambient brightness levels.  Someone had spend hours and hours programming cockpit lighting instead of modeling mechs, or balancing combat, or even just touching base to see if things were, you know, FUN.

Same problem here in SC.  Gobs of development time has been vomited onto the tiniest of details while the big pictures looms alarmingly unfulfilled.  If that doesn’t change (and I don’t believe it will), all kidding aside, this game is in for a serious implosion of the $100 million plus variety.

And I, for one, am getting my lawn chair and popcorn ready for that show.

Cue the hater’s in the comments section…