The Man In The High Castle

I had this great post in my RSS feed today and wanted to share it, but I thought I should back up and give the whole story for those who missed it.

If you are a fan of Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner, Minority Report, Paycheck, etc.) then you may also be a fan of his great alternate reality novella The Man In The High Castle, which looks at a 1960’s America jointly occupied by co-conquerors Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

pkd_themanin

You may or may not know that Amazon is looking to turn the novella into a TV series, and that you can view the completed pilot episode (and vote on its production). I loved the book and I think the TV show does a phenomenal job of making minimal changes as necessary while capturing the story and spirit of the original.

So, I say all that to say this: the Strange Maps blog (which is fantastic fun), has a post about all the fictional maps made of that fictional world, and takes the TV show version of the map to task a little for being incredibly inaccurate, while offering up a survey of all the maps published for the fictional world. Take a peek, and check some of the other posts on the blog, they are always informative and entertaining.

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Opening the 2014 Time Capsule

So, according to my notes, this is my second year doing this. Instead of predictions at the end of the year, at the beginning of the year I try to capture my hopes, dreams, and thoughts for the year in one space, and then go back and look at them the next year. This change was inspired by SWTOR after I realized how I went from gung-ho-on-fire for it to hating it in the course of a year. How quickly things change in the world of online gaming, right? So here is where I was 12 months ago, and my reflections now.

I Was Looking Forward To Four Things:

    World of Warplanes: Vought F7U Cutless

The Cutless was my favorite tier 10 at launch, and was supposed to be my first end game plane. Its defensive handling and speed made it a great choice. But I ran into two problems. One is that the Corsair line has been perpetually underpowered in the game. It is unrealistically nerfed in its speed and handling, and tends to be one of the worst choices to fly at tiers 7-8 (where the grind kicks in). So while I unlocked the tier 7, I never went beyond that. It sits in the hanger, gathering dust. The more serious problem though, was Warplanes population struggles. While things are better now, its still hard to find any sort of decent size match above tier 7, and anytime they do a special (like the one that has been going on the last month) its impossible to play anything other than the tiers directed (in this case, tier 4) because that is where everyone congregates. Its good for the overall health of the game to get people together, and there is no real need for a tier 10 yet, but still, it is frustrating. I have used free XP to unlock and upgrade the FJ-1 Fury, at tier 9, and one that is probably better suited for my play style than the Corsairs were.

    Elder Scrolls Mania

I think I spent just about half the year on subscription for Elder Scrolls Online. I continue to believe it to be a great MMO. But it is almost exclusively used by me for playtime with my brother, and the last two months have been nuts for both of us. We talked this week and are anxious to make a return to the game in the coming weeks. Part of my joy is the flexibility in playstyles. Its not unusual for me to have a different weapon and skill set equipped each night. Oh and the crafting…my word the crafting. I collect crafting styles like some people collect stamps. Or pets. Or achievements. Yeah, lets go with those.

    Playing Old RPG Franchises

I tried Wizardry 7. Oi. Character creation alone was crazy frustrating to me. So I figured maybe I went toooo far back in time, ya know? So I picked up Might and Magic 10 on sale, and it was a bust too. So I tried M&M7 again. Also a bust. The magic just wasn’t there. And that’s when I realized the problem wasn’t that I had gone too far back, but that I hadn’t gone far enough. So, I busted out some Might and Magic 2. Its still hard as hell, but at least my expectations are in line with reality. And I don’t have to deal with an inventory system from hell – Might and Magic 2 restricts every character to 12 items – six equipped and six in the backpack.

MM2

And character creation evokes the feeling of classic tabletop dice rolling for some reason.

...can't quite put my finger on why.
…can’t quite put my finger on why.

So, nostalgia enjoyed, thanks again NWC and Van Canegham for making a timeless classic!

    The Return of WoW

Yeah, not so much. Not sure why, but by the time release rolled around, any enthusiasm I felt was completely nonexistent. I couldn’t tell you why, as I’ve said before, I think WoW today is much improved from when I last played regularly (2007-2008), but apparently, for me, that ship has sailed.

I Had Three Burning Questions:

    What Will Come of Wildstar?

It came, it saw, it had some success. But I wondered if it would have some impact on the MMO landscape. And quite frankly, I don’t think it did. It certainly did not aim to be groundbreaking in style, graphics, or gameplay, but I think they did want to bring back some of that old subscription magic. And for me at least, they did not (though I would argue that, again *for me*, ESO did manage to do just that)

    Will ArchAge Be Arriving in 2014

This was bizarre. After months and months of dragging feet, Trion finally put their full wait behind this thing and shoved it right out the door, along with a hefty preorder price tag. The long wait time, sudden ramp up, and ridiculous pricing levels muted my enthusiasm. I had hoped that this would be the next big thing, but the mindless development enslavement to PvP and propensity for people to be jackasses (ie, gank helpless players), doomed this game to a dark corner. Oh, sorry, “niche market”, that’s the spin we want to put on it. Sad.

    How Will WarThunder’s Ground Game Hold Up Against World of Tanks?

Boy is this one the opposite of my other questions. Ground Forces is, for me, an unqualified success. I have all but abandoned World of Tanks in favor of what I see as superior graphics, superior gameplay, and superior dedication to historical sensibility. I had no idea this was coming but I’m the happier for it. And while the game still has its struggles at times, the plane/tank crossover in one client has actually siphoned flying time away from WoWp as well. This is a case in point for why I do these articles. I had no idea 12 months ago I would be this deep in WT.

I Had Two Places I Wanted To Return To:

    EVE Online

I played again, I loved the visuals all over again. And once again, I quit after a month, because…well, I was bored again. There has never been a prettier game with less to do for those who came looking for an MMORPG. I think EVE is probably best classified as an MMOPBG – massively multiplayer online persistent battle ground. Because for all its wonderful variety, at its heart its a one trick pony. Still – what is it that GMC says? Do one thing and do it well? Well that is EVE – they do one thing, and they do it so well that a decade later, nobody else has even come close.

    SWTOR

I’m glad I went back, because I learned something. I learned that the problem I had with TOR was not all the random side quests. It was the story quests themselves. The terrible face choices and the arbitrary light side/ dark side assignation drove me away more than the slow gameplay and group advancement did. So when the 12x XP event happened last December, I literally laughed. I can’t think of anything less enticing to me than to say “just come and play for the story.” I probably have a stash of cash now, and who knows, maybe one day I will go back and putz around again, but right now, I have lost any latent desire or nostalgia that was present.

***

So there ya go. I’m in a different place on War Thunder, Eve Online, ArchAge, and SWTOR than I was a year ago. Stay tuned for the 2015 time capsule coming in the next couple of days to a blog near you (ie, this one!)

Coming Up For Air

So I’ve spent the last 7 weeks or so deep in the clutches of World of Warplanes. I’ve surpassed the 4,000 battle mark now, and have every line in the game at tier 6 or above (two of them at tier 8 being the highest). But all that was just grinding for a couple of fairly large carrots:

reward planes

The early Mk1 version of the Gloster Meteor (t7 premium) and the Hawker Hurricane IID (t5 premium). I don’t know if we are just on a British roll or what over at the developer studios, but there they are. The Meteor was the reward for a very long and heavy August grind, the Hurricane was the September reward, and while it was a little easier (finished in 3 weeks instead of 4), outside of a few ESO sessions with my brother, that’s been about all I’ve done with my now limited game time.

In the middle of all that, the newest update dropped. With it came the bad (joystick control went through a pretty thorough shift, and many players gave up rather than recalibrate their controls), the ugly (lots of people whined about the changes to ground targets and game balance, though they were sorely needed), and the good. The good was mainly in the form of an amazingly unheralded change to a single tier spread in matchmaker. No more t4’s against t6’s or t6 prop planes against t8 jets. And yet, despite that being the most requested feature, the update caused major uproar.

The good news is that a bunch of new players apparently have found the game more palatable now, and the population, while still fairly low overall, has stabilized. Oh, and the other good thing? This:

shot_004

While its a Chinese version of the Japaenese army air corp plane, it was a welcome addition and flies quite well. Its become one of my favorite planes.

TL;DR – I’m taking a little break. I’m fairly burned out, and so I’m spending my gaming time for the next couple of weeks on ESO (which has really grabbed me) and on WarThunder’s ground forces, which I continue to enjoy. While it has a few bugs in it still, the game is gorgeous and its hard not to get swept up in the atmosphere of the game and Gaijin’s obvious passion for the content.

shot 2014.08.01 22.15.44

Oh and, hopefully, that means more posting now too.

Which Plane To Take

Welp, the official launch of World of Warplanes is a day or less away. We don’t know for sure because, as has been repeated ad nauseum on the forums for years now, Wargaming has an official “I’ve got a secret” complex where they hide (or, even scarier, don’t know) when the actual launch of their new title will be taking place.

I’ve farmed 94 days of premium, completed my 700 battles (and then some – 944 in total), gotten all the free stuff I can lay my hands on, and am ready for more. There is just one problem. And for me, its a doozie. I really don’t know what lines of planes I’m going to be playing after launch.

wowp test stats 1

I had fully intended first to do the Japanese line. Then I tried my hand with the Russians. And the last few days of Beta I’ve spent training the generally-considered-OP strategy of Boom and Zoom available in the US and German lines.

And I’m just not sure where to go. I figured I would pick two lines, probably one for fun and one for srs bizness – maybe a Japanese (speaking of which – how do we shorten that slang wise? “Jap” is considered somewhat offensive still, yes?) or Russian line complimented with a US or German line. In other words, one TnB (Turn and Burn – horizontal, low altitude fighter), and one BnZ (Boom and Zoom – vertical, high altitude fighter).

Not helping things is the fact that translations of the launch notes on the RU server (which already happened apparently) indicate that BnZ fighters have been nerfed and TnB fighters buffed. So there is some speculation about how this might play out once the game goes live. Its entirely possible hordes of testers will begin flying German heavies only to realize they are no longer the Easy Button of WoWp.

If you didn't get and easy button in Alpha, you can pick this little gem up for next to nothing.
If you didn’t get and easy button in Alpha, you can pick this little gem up for next to nothing.

About the only thing I am sure of is that I intend to steer clear of Ground Attack planes. Unlike in War Thunder, where bombs are king, in Warplanes, GA planes and role is purely secondary, and so your ability to influence a battle is minimal. That’s not to say it isn’t fun, but, amazingly enough, I for once and concerned a bit about my stats and would like to have a care with regards to them from the beginning. Plus the only ones available right now is the endless line of IL-2’s. Meh.

So for the time being, for me, I’m headed for what is both fun and efficient – allowing me a variety of planes without cast iron decisions. That probably means the Lavochkin line, which can open up both the La-15 and the Yak-30, and was one of my favorite lines in testing, for my TnB efforts. And for the BnZ category, the Messerschmidt 109 line, which eventually dumps out into the popular favorite 262’s as well as the under-appreciated P.1101.

But that’s not set in stone. Lately I have come to enjoy the US carrier line and the British heavies, both of which are fine planes even in to the high tiers. See? Even in PvP games I have alt-itis. In tanks I was able to set that aside long enough to turn out my first two tier 10’s – which was actually three with the line corrections they did (something I think they will avoid in WoWp). If I can do that here that will be great.

On the other hand – Warplanes is not like tanks. Lots of players are stopping progression at tier 6. That allows them to avoid all the post war planes and almost all the jets. And I admit, combat at that tier is fun. Once you get into the jet era, combat changes drastically. Movement is faster, timing and reflexes are more important, and the margin for error is thin. It will certainly appeal to some of the best and make for great PvP for the serious player. But for the rest of us…tier 10 may not be a goal this time around.

Another Confession To Make

Well things have shuffled in my regular playing group again, and the end result is that we won’t be able to get back together in complete formation until February or March. So that means Rift has been placed on standby. I did fine with that for about a month, burying myself in tanks and planes and enjoying every moment. But after awhile, I get the itch for some fantasy.

So I downloaded and patched two possibilities, for one specific reason. I had heard about Everquest II offering the option to play free top level characters, something I have been wanting since 2007 or so. And I also, in reading about that, heard that TERA was offering the same deal. Since I had heard that the TERA offering was a time sensitive deal, I went that direction first. Turns out, I missed my opportunity by just a few days (something I am still seething about – though not too much, its clear En Masse bypassed the usual advertisement on the opportunity as a way to reward current players, so…you can’t get too angry about that).

So, the confession is that this has led me to playing TERA regularly. I know, its not a popular choice. Nobody likes the oversexed characters, the action combat was given the ho-hum yawn, and anyone into Eastern style fantasy settings is probably on the FFXIV bandwagon (or still clinging to their FFXI accounts).

But for some reason, I have found myself really enjoying the game, and having no problems playing it. I’ve been pondering why that is, and I think I can sum it up in a few simple points.

Beauty, not Sex

The over sexed characters really disappear once you get out into the “real world.” In the capital there are approximately 973 scantily clad females dancing endlessly, while general chat is laced with innuendo or outright propositions. But once you leave the capital and go out into the adventure zones, you’ll be hard pressed to find any of that. The spell and combat effects are flying, and the pace of combat is fluid enough that I haven’t yet stopped to gawk incredulously at what anyone is wearing. Its all business, all the time. Well, almost all the time. I have stopped on occasion to enjoy the gorgeous world and well done characters in the game. This is a game that just looks fantastic, enough so that you have to stop and smell the flowers every once in a while. Being out in the game world really lets that shine in an untainted way. Sometimes, even at its top graphical settings, I cringe in Everquest II. Even on the lowest settings, the game looks great. For comparison, here is a screenshot taken on my new gaming computer, and then one on my old laptop that could barely run Rift and SWTOR.

Stunning textures on the tent, beautiful lighting effects.  (New)
Stunning textures on the tent, beautiful lighting effects. (New)
The character models tend to be oversexed, but its also hard to deny the level of detail involved here, or just how beautiful the models are.
Even on the crappy old computer, you can appreciate the detail and beauty of the world and character models.

The Action Combat Was Better Than People Thought

The first time around in TERA, playing the open beta, I stuck with the one class that I absolutely loved on paper, the Mystic. A healer/pet combo class, it had a lot of fun abilities and seemed perfect for my playstyle and background. And I still enjoy the snot out of it. But..I’ve played around a bit with the other classes too. Each of them has its own flavor and, the word that is used most often on the forums and fan sites for the game, “rhythm” to play. Some are tougher than others to learn, but not so much that someone might say “man, I could never play that class, its just too hard.” The combo system is perhaps what I most underappreciated last time in. What if your MMO not only made macros okay, but highlighted them in a way that made them part of the game? There is an easy drop down list on your skill menu where you can drag and drop skill icons to form chains. Then you just tap the spacebar to move to the next skill or attack in the chain. Its not an unlimited one touch system – each skill can only be chained to one other at a given time, meaning some strategy and though is needed. But for example, my archer currently has her two close combat attacks slaved to her “backstep” evasion ability. When someone gets close, they kick a snap kick, a roundhouse kick, and then I leap out of the way so I can start unleashing arrows. Its fun to watch and use. But its not perfect – there are some enemies that love to use charge attacks – and on them, that combo doesn’t work so well, because it sets me up to get knocked down and punished. Instead I have to use some of my trap skills or try to stay mobile, which means eschewing my charge-up skills for quicker attacks. My Mystic is just as action oriented by the way – using teleport jaunts and PBAOE strikes mixed with weaker, but faster ranged attacks for mobile awesomeness.

The closest thing to this combat/action wise would have to be The Secret World, though smoother, since I’m not having to toolbar hunt to play. And even with only eight skills up there, I have to do some toolbar hunting. That is one more thing I love – default controls set to let you play without ever having to click on screen on anything. Just about the only time my hands leave the WASD and mouse is to move inventory around. Would that other MMO’s would ditch the old setups and give you something like this!

Lots Of Friendly People

I mentioned the 973 person dancing harem in the capital. Hopefully you laughed, but if you are like me, you did a double take and thought – wow…there are a lot more people playing this game than I thought. And you would be right. At times on the starter island, I’ve had to wait for respawns! Even given the fact that TERA, in a genius move – has ditched the “Kill Ten X” for “Kill Five X” – which is nothing more than a parlor trick but…man does it work! Those quests are not nearly the chore they were at 10 kills now that they are at 5 kills. Weird, but true. Anyway, so many people. And twice I’ve had to group up with strangers for that boss mob that only spawns once every couple of minutes – and its been no big deal, or NBD as the kids text these days. Hey you wanna group up for this guy? Yeah sounds good, but hang on this other person has been wandering around here for a minute, lets check with them first. Yep they need him too. Okay, invites sent! Mob was killed people were happy.

Twice I’ve asked questions in general or trade chat, and gotten immediate, helpful responses. One person I ran across in playing found out I was a new returnee and was truly pleased, told me to ask if I needed anything at all, and then – in a first ever, asked if it was okay if they added me to their friend list. I found out why – if anyone adds you to their friend list, you get a notification on your screen. So nobody can creep on you without you having a chance to block them the hell out. It was refreshing to find such a universally upbeat community and full servers on a game I thought was half-dead.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. My initial review of TERA from open beta is still the third most viewed page on this website, behind only my naming guide for STO and the tips and tricks guide for World of Tanks, and garnering more than three times the number of hits of the fourth most viewed page.

Even The Lockboxes Are Pretty Innocuous

Yes, we all hate them, and TERA, being F2P with an optional sub, has them. But I wonder if STO has given them a bad rap. In TERA, things are a little different. STO sells keys for around $1.15 and gives you a guarentee only of some worthless lockbox-only currency. And they never give away keys. TERA charges around $.50 for a key, and guarantees you 1-2 uncommon items useful to anyone of any level (like crystals to perma-buff your gear, scrolls to enchant with, etc). STO gives you the option to get the best DPS/PVP ship in the game, that has sold, at times for what is over $100 of real currency. TERA gives you costumes for your weapons and armor. Costumes that you can also buy straight up from the store. The only difference is that the lockbox versions generally allow for being dyed or, in the case of weapons, have a glow effect that straight store-bought versions don’t have. Oh, and you get keys for free sometimes. Subscribers actually get 10 keys a month. As a returning player, I was given 20 keys for free to play around with. In STO I get lockbox drops so often, I have about 5 stacks of them in my bank – even with regularly selling stacks off for peanuts on the broker. In TERA, I’ve got one stack that’s not even a full stack yet.

I mean if you really, really hate lockboxes, yeah, they are still there. But if you understand that they are a good way for F2P games to make money, you have to appreciate how En Masse has handled them with kid gloves in TERA.

TERA_ScreenShot_20131007_191224

So That’s My Confession

I like the game you’re not supposed to like. The game with characters running around in bikinis and stuff. The game with really obnoxious advertisements that used MMA stars to offend people. Between this and getting kicked out of my guild recently, perhaps you think the worst of me. But at least its all out on the table now for you to see and talk about.

But I do like it. And from what I’ve seen so far, I think I’m not quite as alone as I thought. So if you need me, for the time being, if I’m not wrecking tanks and planes, you can find me there.

The Quest to 700: A Quarter of the Way There

The grind to 700 battles in the surprisingly good World of Warplanes Open Beta continues. And I have passed the quarter way mark:

shot_014

Those battles plus the prerecorded 19 in Closed Beta get me to the 175 mark. 525 to go!

I have been curious – with the shift to primary focus on mouse and keyboard controls, and simplification of the HUD, how long time flight sim people like myself would fair. Sure its fun – but will my skills translate. Well, its an admittedly small sample size, but it seems they do. Even playing pretty aggresively to get through battles faster, I have racked up a nice Win Rate and kill tally. I’ve also pulled down 3 Ace medals (5+ kills in a match), the equivalent of the difficult and rare Top Gun in WoT. Two of those games came in my childhood favorite, the A6M Reisen (better known in America as the “Zero” appropriately enough), which relies on incredible maneuverability at the cost of everything else (small health, lower firepower, slower speed). Its a hallmark of what I have always enjoyed in games like Their Finest House, The “Aces Over…” series, and SWOTL. The last was in the Bf 109B, and honestly, its because of that tier thing. I was the tier four in a match with mostly three’s and two’s, and the cannons on the “jack of all trades” Messerschmidt made short work of those two’s.

The other real joy has been the Russian series of ground attack aircraft, which are big and slow and hit hard – dropping bombs is a nice change of pace from the aerial dogfight scene, not to mention that some of the endgame attack aircraft are just…well, fun looking.

Like the Igor here…and yes, its called that for exactly that character and its uncanny resemblance to him…

More as it develops, but…I’m still loving it. Even having to grind out 32 games a day.

Wandering in Metropolis

So I’ve had a few days to catch my bearings in EVE.  There are so many improvements in the game its making me spoiled.  First up, the new turrets…well, after taking a day or so to get used to them, and seeing the wide variety of graphics, including the “ZOMG I can see my missile launchers!” moment, I give it two thumbs up.

 

Looking deadly as ever.
Looking deadly as ever.

 

Mostly I’m impressed with the wide variety of improvements to mission running though.  The in game agent finder, coupled with the removal of the “agent quality” system, made life much easier on me.   Before I had a single corp that I could run some level 3 missions with that was 20 or so jumps from my home base.  Now I can do level 4’s with them, and 3’s with everyone else in that faction (Minmatar), and at least 2’s with everyone else – though I am within one storyline mission (or career tutorial, now that I think about it…hmmm) from hitting 3’s with Gallente as well.   In fact, I’m so likeable, the list of people who I’m on the bad side of is surprisingly slim:

 

bad standings

 

All the graphical updates are welcome as well.   But the trick in EVE, as always, is learning to set your own agenda.   And I think I am having a desire to play the game and success in that because I’ve learned to ask the question in a new way:

 

What would you have fun doing right now?

 

I’ve learned long ago, that being in large fleets and watching thousands of missiles fly just isn’t me.  A strong argument could be made for that being the meat and potatoes of what makes the EVE world go ’round (yeah, I just mixed some metaphors there, deal).    But I think what I have discovered is something I said, long, long about about Shadowbane – PvP games make the best sandbox spaces for non-PvP players.   Its a weird side effect but it is true.  In developers giving players the space they need to hit each other in a variety of ways, they inadvertently create wonderful sandboxes from non-PvP people to come along for the ride.

 

That’s not to say I’m anti-PvP.  I play World of Tanks for goodness sake.  And I’ve enjoyed my PvP experiences in EVE, limited as they have been.   But there is something to be said for living in the shadow of a richly detailed world.   And so when I ask that question above, the answer may not be the one that is fun for anyone but me.  And that is okay.

 

Right now I’m having fun training and fitting my interceptor with an eye towards doing some low sec roams for giggles.  And in trying my hand at farming microorganisms in planetary interaction.   And in trying to decide what to do with the almost 200 datacores I amassed (apparently Research Points accumulate even when you are offline).   And I found a few old friends to fly with, so I’m having fun doing whatever they have fun doing as well.

 

Not a bad start to what looks to be another lengthy stay in the world of New Eden.