Stable of Heroes

So Rowan has a nice post on character names, and it galvanized me to finally write a post I’ve been meaning to do for a long time (having the day off helps too). Like Rowan, I have a character name or two that I tend to reuse. Actually more than that. I have a host of them, each for a specific purpose, and most of them modeled off of Jungian archetypes.

So for example, I have a character named Erhlinger in many of my games. Ehrlinger is dark. Often a rebel, he (or at times, she) does not fit in with the culture he grew up in. He craves power, but for protection and security of self against the perception of a world that has declared war on him personally. There is opportunity for growth and learning and perhaps even a chance to play the hero, but it will take the impact of others around him and the shared experiences of that adventure. So how does that change from game to game?

Well, in Everquest, that’s my Erudite Shadowknight, in World of Warcraft, my Forsaken Rogue. So the specifics of race and background change from game to game and setting to setting, but some core part of the character remains. And that creative tension is sometimes nice. In Everquest, the character has access to some pretty strong magic. In Warcraft, not so much. How does that change the character and their outlook? And that’s just one example.

Ehrlinger the Erudite Warlock from EQ2, running to the rescue!
And then there is Ehrlinger the Erudite Warlock from EQ2, running to the rescue!

Its a lot of fun then, for me, to approach new games and newly created characters (one of the reasons I have altitis, obviously).

Its also one of the reasons I really enjoy a sandbox game. The truth is that even a really good writer could not give me a story as interesting or compelling as the ones that I am making up as I go with all that rattling around in my head. I need a good set of lore and a stage on which to play it all out.

Do I ever have “new” heroes? Yep, you betchya! Sometimes the game just calls for it, or I want to take a break from playing with my usual toys. And then, if those are fun and good enough, I add them into the stable of heroes to pull from again later. And then sometimes I break out an old favorite. Ehrlinger hasn’t made an appearance in a long time (and he is not the oldest in my stable). When ArcheAge releases, maybe I take him off the shelf, dust him off and play with him again. After all I wanted to do an Occultism/Shadowplay/Vitalism character there…so, consulting the table, that would make him a Doombringer. Well now…how about that? Looks like this time, Ehrlinger is not fighting a losing battle against the world, he is fighting a winning one.

So the rest of the stable? Well there are too many to really go through in a single blog post. But if there is interest, I could from time to time highlight a new hero and some of their various incarnations over the years.

Can Players Create Lore?

So there have been a few posts recently about Lore, since that was the topic in the latest EVE blogpack.   Now I’m not currently subbed to EVE online, but I still read along.   I have long since discovered that EVE is a game that I have more fun with when I am not subbed up.    I was a little surprised to see, that the topic of in game lore seemed to turn immediately to a glowing praise of what players had done in the sandbox and how little actual lore was in the game itself.


Mostly, I had severe cognitive dissonance when official company lore was only said to be effective when it impacts “in game realities,” according to Kirith Kodachi, the new headmaster of the Blog Banter (which is a very good thing!).   Wilhelm seems to, consciously or not, echo the sentiment when he pokes fun at the oft forgotten idea of crews in EVE Online.


(One a side note – Jester’s crew size chart is egregiously bad.  Kodachi’s Project Athena is better, but still off the mark.  Official game lore sets the crew size for an Apocalypse class battleship at a minimum of 6,314, with capsuleer.)


And yet…when we turn our bright shining spotlight on player created lore, this primary metric – impacting in game realities – almost seems to get tossed to the wayside.  So long as it is player generated, it must be lore!  Even if it has absolutely no impact on a significant portion of the playerbase.


And that is my bone to pick.   I agree that lore is not really lore in any meaningful sense, unless it impacts the game itself.    And player generated stories never will in anything more than a secondary fashion, if that.  In this primary metric, they can’t hold a candle to even the most basic (or troped) lore that is written for the game itself.  You can poo-poo or denigrate in game lore all you want to, but you are just cursing the chair that is currently bearing your weight.  Its doing its job, whether you appreciate it or not.


That is not to say that I don’t enjoy those stories.   I have followed the Goon-TEST war with great interest, curious about who would win (while also asking in the back of my head the silent question we all ask:   when and how (and if) Goonswarm will one day fall?  But for all that enjoyment I got from reading, hearing updates, seeing screenshots – none of it impacted my in game reality as much as when CCP decided to reinforce the lore of Amarr being secondary drone users by turning the Prophecy and Armageddon into drone boats.


You can, absolutely, most assuredly,  impact some of the playerbase, some of the time, with player actions.   Particularly in a game as sandbox as EVE is, where it is easiest (and one could argue, for a successful sandbox, most imperative) to do so.  And yet what drove those stories in the first place was the in game lore of wealth that comes from moons and sovereignty of who controls them.   I would be willing to go so far as to say that player generated lore is not possible without the foundation of game/developer generated lore.


Though he never came out and said it directly, I believe that was the underlying thrust of what Tobold was getting at when he was trying to dismantle the common euphemisms of “sandbox” and “theme-park”.   There is no pure sandbox because you need the lore of the theme-park to provide the “game” of the “world” that players are happily playing in.


Again, this is not to cut down what players do.   It has great value and enjoyment.   It can be voluntarily adopted by individual or even groups of players – an action commonly known as roleplaying, thought I’m sure some of the hardcore null-sec players would be amused at the thought.   And there is a sense in which player generated ideas that don’t have an impact on the game – can still have an impact on ones gameplay experience.  Kodachi’s Project Athena, mentioned before, has no affect on the game of EVE Online – and yet, reading the backgrounds he put together (using gamer/developer generated lore as a starting point!) enriches my experience every time I log into EVE Online and see some of those ships in action.  It fires my imagination and makes opening fire in the game that much more exciting for me.


So, I guess in the end I’m willing to broaden the definition of lore a bit, personally.   But if I do, I will be allowing the developers  the same standard that I am letting players hold to.   For example, my character in EVE Online is an Intaki Reborn.   If I am going to consider player initiatives like Project Athena as lore, I am also going to lift up the same consideration to the vestigial race system in the game.


But I will not be saying that developer lore has to impact the game, while at the same time allowing player lore to be exempt from that standard.  Either both will have it or neither.  Your mileage may vary.

Finishing School

And I mean that in more ways than one!  Well, two anyway.  My adventures in Uncharted Waters Online continue.   And I did finish one school and I am ready for finishing (that is, Advanced) school now, in all three areas.


Adventurer school was great, and I continue to be happy with my main selection.  I did jump jobs a couple of times with the permits earned in school, but just so I could pick up some basic Merchant and Battle skills.   And since I haven’t finished school yet, I am reserving final judgment.   But for now, I was happy to have passed my tests with flying colors!




The Battle skills I hadn’t intended to grab, but after getting wiped by the AI in the Intermediate Battle school…twice…I decided to pick up a few basics.  Even then it wasn’t an easy win.   It took way more Munitions and Lumber than I thought, and even then I barely pulled it off.


The stats don’t tell the whole story, believe me!


Next up is a trip to Pisa.   The graduation exercise gives you enough money to use a Liner to travel there if you like.   Liner’s are like the Flight Point paths in WoW – only with a ship instead of a griffin, and it will take 15 minutes instead of a minute and a half.   And its expensive.  So I’d rather save the money and make the journey myself.  (Hello…Adventurer character.  Duh.)


First though, I have to see a man in Hamburg named Martin Luther about a letter to a Mr. Erasmus.




Which is funny, because I’m actually Lutheran.   Maybe I’ll get to hoist a drink or three with ol’ Marty.   Its a nice touch, having a game that is at least nominally tied into real history.

Just Sit Right Back And You’ll Hear A Tale…

A tale of a fateful trip.   It started when my brother called and gave a helpful tip.   “There’s this sandbox game you ought to try, in the age of sail and ship…”


So I downloaded Uncharted Waters Online.  How to describe this game.   Imagine your favorite 90’s console RPG made sweet, sweet love to EVE Online, and this is the legitimate but slightly offbeat offspring.  Skill based – but with classes that favor certain skills (advancing them at twice the normal rate) and can be changed with minimal effort.  Three well-defined areas of focus – Combat, Trade, and Adventure.  100 v 100 PvP battles but also options that would allow you to play with absolutely no weapon or combat skills and still do just fine.    And its free to play – no, seriously – there is *no* subscription option.  No “gold” members.  And a learning curve that is higher than average, but with a solid tutorial that lasts…


Also, for those of you who worship a minimalist UI, I have found your god.

Well, it really was a three hour tour – that’s how long it took to get through the tutorial.   The first one.  And I loved every minute of it.   I had that feeling like I might when on the sixth mission in that tutorial, I was told to sail from London to Antwerp to find a book.  And all I had was a static map of Northern Europe with a few major cities and landing areas marked on it.  No quest markers or exclamation points.  I admit, I panicked a little.   The game kinda slapped me and was like “didn’t you learn to read maps in middle school?”  London here, Antwerp to the southeast there…I have a compass.  Okay, lets do this thing.   And that’s the brilliance of this sandbox.  Just enough help balanced with just enough respect for the fact that you are an adult and can probably figure this out on your own.  (And if not, you’re going to be caps lock yelling in the school/help channel, where one of the helpful GMs – yes, honest to god, they are there – will help you out. )


The Map (TM)
The Map (TM)


I’ve played a grand total of three nights now, and I’m only just now wrapping up the Intermediate (second of the three) tutorials.  I’ve also taken a few contracts (missions/quests) in between, just to make sure my learning was more than just book oriented, and I admit, the tutorials are good.  One of the oddities of this sandbox is that you can only have one active contract at a time.  Its just as well for me, playing the game mainly in the Adventure realm – most of those quests are things like the one I did last night.   Sitting in Antwerp, and I get a contract from a scholar who has heard rumors of a flying rodent over in Oslo.  Would I be so good as to head over that way and investigate them?  You’ll need Biology 1, Ecological Research 1, and know how to speak Nordic.   I did so – though I should also note that, since I have a healthy fear of pirates, I picked up Swordplay before I left as well.   Trade contracts will ask for you to do things like secure certain trade goods (only certain goods are available in certain ports) or ask you to learn new crafting recipes.  Combat (aka “Maritime”) contracts will have you tracking down NPC pirates on the waters or bandits on land.


Or, you can stuff the contracts altogether and start your life of PvP (or PvE) piracy and combat.   Along the way, you can use guns or hand weapons, which gain power as you use them and get better with them, and equip any number of specialty items for your party of sailors/marines – from hand grenades to throwing knives to medicines to tip  the tide of battle in your favor.   Not to mention your own skills, some like Swordplay that will help you and your party both passively or something in the Surgery line that you can activate using Vigour – action points.


Combat is overall much like Eve – not a lot of whack-a-mole button mashing – more about your ship and party setups.   Do you use your upgrade slots for an armored stern-castle for an edge in boarding combat?  Or use it to pile on extra sails?   And will they be vertical sails for outright speed or horizontal ones for maneuverability?   Will you choose a ship with rowers for the best agility – knowing that will leave you with less hands for boarding combat and cannon fire?    Should you have long range cannons or smaller cannons that reload faster?  Or a mix of a the two?  Do you use one of your active skills to try to tip the battle?  Vigour doesn’t regenerate over time – only with eating and drinking.  Did you bring along any food beyond your basic provisions for that?  Will you have time to eat before your next combat?  Maybe you should make a run for it – or hand over some tribute items (NPC) or offer up a ransom of ducats (PC) to try to get them to leave you alone.   Overall – the game is much more forgiving than Eve is though – ships do not cost and arm and a leg to buy and outfit, and getting shipwrecked is not so bad – unless you end up in a country where you don’t speak the language.  But then hopefully you are smart enough to not be privateering off the coast of a country whose language you are unfamilar with.  And if you are – well, there’s a Body Language for that – it will take up one of your skill slots, but if you don’t want a bunch of languages clogging up those slots either, it will at least let you withdraw some money from the bank to buy a cheap ship that will get you home.


Crafting is deep and wide too.  Advanced ship builders can customize their ship right down to the most basic stats – it looks like a whale of a trading ship, but all that cargo space is now filled with guns.  Cook anything from the hilarious (Sea Pizza) to the most formal (Steak Tartar).   Speaking of which, if you want to present your new discovery to the Governor in his honor for a a reward or perhaps a new skill or in return for the production of a special item – best not do it in your salt-water skivvies.  He only talks to people who can dress like a civilized man (or woman).  Best pay attention to your clothing’s formality stats as well as its protection values.  Or keep a couple of sets of clothing on hand – yes you can make those too.  Craft at the craft shop, at your charater’s housing, in your ship, or anywhere else, then set up shop in the town square and hawk your wares – yep, direct P2P sales – or put it up in the Bazaar and look for an offer.


Or you can give a violin performance.
Or you can give a violin performance.


Adventuring is the real gem though.  If STO had a system like this in place, it would have been the feather in the cap most traditional Star Trek fans were looking for.  Non-combat puzzle missions that garner “discoveries” that can be turned in to famous figures for achievements, xp, cash, and other favors.  John Dee in London is looking for more esoteric mysteries, but that new Celtic manuscript you uncovered with your landing party on that uncharted beach in Northern Europe is just the kind of thing that Mr. Shakespeare would pay handsomely for.   Contracts may ask you to open up trade routes between cities, visiting both within a certain restricted time period and using our Survey skill to map out the route.    Or you may find a map for a some treasure an old pirate buried down in the Ottoman Empire.  Visit Japan and trade your clipper in for one of their famous armored “turtle ships” or castle-like Atekebunes and your leather hauberk for a kimono.  Major cities like London  will have randomly trending fashions though – so maybe you should buy two and sell the other when you get home – it may fetch you enough money to buy that private island you have been dreaming about.


Yeah..maybe not.
Yeah..maybe not.


I started the quest for a good sandbox MMO over a year ago.  I tried Istaria, which started out strong and then got dumb and slow.   I had much the same problem in Vanguard this past month when I went back to it.  Three solid nights of adventuring got me halfway from level 22 to level 23.  Uh…no thanks.  Project Gorgon is back up and running, and I will be involved there from time to time, but its a long way from done.   Dawntide is on life support, and probably won’t recover.


I think that quest has come to an end.  If you want to try the game but aren’t a Steam person, here’s the main site.  The game is truly free to play, but the shop offers lots of fun and convenience items.   You don’t really need anything to start out, but the Novice Sailor’s Package at $4.00 provides plenty of bang for the buck with large quantities of provisions, consumables for sailing to save on your Vigour, and some Lifesavers to recover your already experience crewman if you do get shipwrecked after running afoul of pirates or a trolling player.   My advice for starting players – to the tutorial.  All of it.  And then go back and do the tutorials for the other two areas of interest as well (the tutorial system is “smart” – it will skip basic lessons you already know from another field).   Oh and keep most of your cash in the bank, just in case.  Not every three hour tour ends well.

Druids and Reindeer and Telon, Oh My.

So I have ventured back into the land of Telon – the locale for Vanguard: Sage of Heroes.  My sandbox has been here all along, right under my nose.  Telon does not hold your hand, can only loosely be said to have “quest hubs” and generally teaches you early on that even roads are not safe: a lesson not taught by MMO’s since early in the life of WoW.


First things first: Vanguard has aged well.  The silver lining to releasing a game that most computers couldn’t even run way back in 2007 is that the game still looks phenomenal today.




So we’re not talking about a game where you have to squint and ignore the decidedly low calibre background to have some fun.  And second of all, the world is still tremendously large.  The scope of the zones is massive, particularly when you consider the three continents and the zones of pure OCEAN between them all.  If you want to go get lost in a fantasy world – I’m not sure what better place to do it in right now than Telon.


To further open the sandbox, Vanguard dropped all the racial and class restrictions.  So go ahead and help yourself to a Dark Elf Paladin or a High Elf Necromancer or even a Goblin Ranger – you deserve it.   And you can elect to start either on the beginner island (Isle of Dawn) or in your racial home town – unlike some other Sony MMO’s you may have heard of.  And if you do elect for the starter island, when you are done – take a boat ride to any of the three continents – your choice! – to continue your adventure.




Of course there are some downsides.  There is an actualy death penalty, and not just a few durability points on your equipment.  You will lose some xp.  Recover your tombstone (and with it any non-soulbound equipment) and you will recover a very large chunk of it.  I’ve been just irritated enough with it not to go blindly running into anything, but not so irritated that I have rage quit over it.


So far, its been a magical return.  Vanguard was certainly a lumbering beast of a bad game back in the day, but you know what?  Sometimes reindeer really do know how to fly.



Peering Into The Crystal Ball For 2013

I’ve been pondering the new year a bit.  Predictions aren’t terribly fun (for me anyway).  Looking back to last year, I am still stunned at how quickly TOR crashed and burned, both within the gaming sphere and for me personally.  I was schlumping along with my rifle and my companion one day and the next day I just looked around and went…man, is this it?


Certainly doesn't *look* very epic...
Certainly doesn’t *look* very epic…


So I thought maybe instead, I would record everything I am looking forward to in the coming year.  Then I can come back next year with some wisdom and hindsight and laugh and make obscene hand gestures at myself for how dumb or idealistic I was.  I get to write the schtick that so many people seem to eat up, but nobody gets a face-full of pie but myself.  A win-win.


I Am Looking Forward To:


Hearing More About ArcheAge Online and Possible Release Dates


With Russian and American publishers confirmed (but not yet disclosed), we know this wide open sandbox title is headed our way.  We don’t yet know when, thought it’s debut in Korea occurred yesterday.  A few computer done translations of the website yielded no new information, other than there was a brief server outage today that players are being compensated for, and that there are several contests wrapping up and starting off.  And that they are offering, out of the gate, a 10 hour free trial.   That last is interesting – it is rare for new MMO’s to give away trials when they are so desperate for sales.  Its an indication of the game’s confidence level.


no place like home


For those who don’t know any thing about ArcheAge, you can read some of my previous posts on here.  The sandbox elements are what draws me.  The manga/eastern style is probably off-putting to some, but I enjoy the stylized, over-the-top caricatures that it brings with it.  (Nobody seems to get that the whole point of the style is self-depreciating, but that’s a rant for another time I suppose.)  In particular, the idea that your character is comprised of you choice of three of ten skillsets is quite welcome.  Imagine Rift, only you can combine any three souls from any of the classes.   Mostly though, everything about XL Games screams quality, polish and dedication (much like Trion as well I might add).  I’m really looking forward to seeing and hearing more – and, hopefully, getting a chance to play it myself.


Expanding My Tier 10 Garage


I qualified for my free t-shirt by virtue of the fact that I knew from late in Beta that I was going to concentrate most of my time and energy on the American Heavy Tanks line, followed by the Russian Medium Tanks line.  So I already had a T30 in my garage when the changes went down to the US Heavies.  The end result was that my T30 became a tier 9 Tank Destroyer, I got a free copy of the T34 tier 8 premium, and I have the much-in-demand T110E5.  With the addition of tier 10 tanks for every category though, I have been working on getting that T30, along with my T-54 (tier 9 USSR Medium) up to the top of the stables as well.   I am very close.  The T-54 will be wrapped up in the next two weeks, and the T-30 will be done in the next month or so.  I’ve taken a good hard look at what two lines I want to work next, and decided to put my energy towards the two Russian Heavy lines, culminating in the IS-4 and IS-7.  I’ve been saving my Free XP for quite awhile, and I have enough to skip the miserable KV-4 and head directly to the underrated ST-1.   And the IS-3 is getting me XP like I would have never believed.  As much as I have enjoyed (and done fairly well with) US Heavies, the IS-3 fits like a glove.  I have an 85% win rate in it, and it doesn’t look like a First or Ace class Mastery badge is all that far off.


Top to Bottom, Left to Right:  T11oE5, T110E4, T-62A, IS-4, IS-7
Top to Bottom, Left to Right: T11oE5, T110E4, T-62A, IS-4, IS-7


In other words – in a year’s time, my garage of tier 10 tanks will have expanded from one – to five.  Already I’ve started the process of looking at potential Clans for Clan Wars, even as Wargaming announces that they will  be spending a significant amount of resources to expanding and polishing that portion of the end game.


And that’s not all.  I’m also halfway through tier 8 on US Mediums and German Heavies as well.  I could end the year with more than I bargained for.


Nostalgia:  Vanguard


One of the things that I really thought I wanted to do is take some time, perhaps one night a week, or one weekend a month, and visit some familiar places.   But the more I thought about all that I had played or recently played, the only one I really had a passion to go back and visit currently is Vanguard.  The Druid class in the game is one of my all time favorites in terms of gameplay.  And the world of Telon…well, it has the late, great Keith Parkinson’s fingerprints all over it.


I’m curious to see how the game has fared, what the leveling experience is like (I’m in the lower 20’s if I remember correctly), and if they finally fixed the stupid log in bug.  It was still active two years post-launch.   I generally get nostalgic for Vanguard this time of year.  It was at this time that I was playing it, and enjoying the seasonal flying mount (Randolph the Flying Reindeer, of course).  After a few months though, our little group lost its tank, and EVE beckoned with a free trial.


The odd thing about Vanguard, is that as I recall the interviews Brad McQuaid gave about the vision of the game, back in the day, at that time, I said: “No way would I ever play a game like that – too hardcore for me.”   Now though, I look beyond that to some of the things he wanted to implement, and think, wow, how sweet would that be?  Things like having the global chat channel only open to Psionicists, and not at 1st level, but as a later passive ability.   Or that Druids would have high end abilities to control the weather, able to force rain on the server itself.   And even some of those abilities that were implemented – like the Bard crafting its own songs as its slate of abilities – are a breath of fresh air in stale MMO diatribes everywhere.   Many of the things that Vanguard wanted to pull off – boats, housing, diplomacy, detailed crafting systems – are things that are surfacing also in ArcheAge.  Assuming we get it here in North America this year – doing a compare/contrast would be a fairly interesting exploration.


Battlefield 3


Don’t tell my regular Monday night gaming partners…but my interest in BF3 is waning quickly.  After a year of blazing good times in it, and after several expansions, I’m mostly frustrated these days.   I’m done with servers with 1500 spawn tickets, which invariably end with one team spawn camping the other for the last 500 kills.  And I’m just not all that interested in the latest expansion.  If it weren’t for some new maps to hopefully breath some fresh air into the game, I probably wouldn’t buy it at all.  I’ll be curious to see how long this lasts, and what the future brings.  It may be that Nostalgia night replaces Shooter night in the HZero household in 2013.


Star Trek Online


I haven’t logged in since before Christmas.  My guild, whom I was enjoying time with, had stalled out in the building process for our Starbase, and queued a bunch of projects that were dilithium only – and I don’t spend dilithium on things that I can use in game items and currency on.   So I had nothing to do really, other than grind my diplomacy level, and that got old after awhile.   I am watching  closely for the three year anniversay, in high hopes that the Ambasssador Class will finally make it into the game.  And for the release of whatever season finally allows us to use all these bridge officers I have stashed in every corner of my UI and inventory to crew the half dozen ships that are in dry dock right now.  The game is headed in the right direction for sure, but for right now, I’m just not as interested.   But I think its still one of my long term committments – so I’m curious to see how I feel about the game when it nears its four year anniversary!


Smaller Questions…


Will the small indy developed sandboxes of Dawntide and Project Gorgon be revived?  I’d like for them too…

Will some unexpected MMO suck me in this year, much as STO did last year?

Will we finally see some information on Titan or Everquest 3?

Is there any chance of me logging into TOR in 2013?

Will Wildstar be the unmitigated failure I think it will be?


Only time will tell.

The Wonderful World of Project: Gorgon

It was a crazy week at the HZ household.  My wife spent the week in LA, specifically the Beverly Hills Hilton, because it was her company’s five year anniversary, and they are rolling in money, so they decided to throw a big party.  Definitely not your normal business trip!  But last weekend, I got to experience something unique, and I hope its not the last time I will do so.

Awhile ago, The Ancient Gaming Noob alerted us all to a Kickstarter Project for an Indie MMO being worked on by some industry vets: Project Gorgon.  I admit to being a little skeptical.  One reason is that I have very little experience with KS.  Another was that I just wasn’t convinced that a small team could pull off making an MMO that I would enjoy and find immersive.  They take a lot of work and have long development times, right?

Long story short, the Kickstarter Project only got pledged to about 25% of its goal.  And I can tell you in hindsight that we all missed out on a great opportunity.  Towards the end of the drive, Eric opened up the server as a “Pre-Alpha” look at the game, with what they had accomplished so far.   We got to play around in what I would call the “tutorial” starting area, which lead into at least two overland zones and at least two dungeons.  There may have been more, that that’s all I made it to in the short playtime I had over the weekend.  The game currently uses “off-the-shelf” stock art assets, some licensed, some donated by fans, and had a pretty basic UI.   In other words, its not much to look at right now:

Still…not bad for a “pre-alpha!”

While you can catch up on all the development blogs on Eric’s website, I can tell you in short summary that his ideas on paper – are working in the game.  Quite well.  The basic idea is a sort of old-school, sandbox MMO.  By old-school he doesn’t mean “hard as hell, with no convenience” – he means, if you drop an item on the ground, it stays there.  If you milk a cow in the shed, nobody else will be able to run up and milk that cow until it produces more milk.   All while not creating a quest that requires every player in the game to stand in line for hours competing for rare cow’s milk.  And by sandbox he doesn’t mean you can go around slitting player throats and being an ass, but that one way to get cow’s milk might be to turn yourself into one and learn how to produce it.  I kid you not.   And I know it sounds crazy, and that you are dubious, which is why I am telling you now – it works!

It’s like tasting the rainbow – of yuck.

For character development – from being a cow to being a swordsman, are not classes in the traditional sense.  Nor is there a list of 1,001 skills to freeform your character with.  Instead there is a series of “skill sets” in the game that come with their own advantages and disadvantages (ranging from mild to severe) that can be learned and then leveled up.  Each character can operate two skill sets simultaneously (the left and right side of the armor/health meter in the first picture) and use generates XP that in turn unlocks new skills to use or improves existing skills or generates new perks that come into play while using the set.  Most of the sets will also give you a general stat bonus as you level them up, improving your health or stamina (which is used to power all those skills).

I got to play around with Swordsman, Hand to Hand, Combat Psychology, Alchemy, and Fire Magic in my short time.  In addition, there are several “tertiary” skills that can  be learned and placed on the left hand bar, not requiring an “equipped” skill set.  For example in my first screen shot, you can see on the top left that I have learned how to tame rats as a temporary combat pet.  This, in the nature of the game, requires cheese.  And while the rat will happily protect you if you give it cheese, it will not follow you three zones away from its home.  You see how the design philosophy plays out?

The skill sets above are fairly standard ones that you can pick up either at the start of the game as part of the tutorial, or by conversations with various townspeople.  But there are also some nonstandard sets.  Drinking the bad milk will turn you into a cow, there are ways to learn a Were-Wolf skill set that – yes, requires you to be in wolf form for three days out of every month and which means you won’t be headed into town, unless you have discovered a way to convince the townsfolk not to run in gibbering fear from your presence.  For every action and power – there is an opposite reaction and curse.

But you might ask about the gameplay itself – is it fun, or the usual?  Well, its a nice twist on the usual.  One of the twists is this: you’ll notice there is an armor stat in addition to the health stat.  This acts as a sort of second HP bar, that must be depleted before health can be affected.  Of course, some attacks do only armor or only health damage and so on.  Just this one wrinkle in the usual combat formula creates some interesting side effects that ripple throughout combat.   For example, fighting now with a sword and an open hand allows you to take advantage of some great moves from the Swordsman and Hand to Hand set that will break down armor quickly and also do some high health strikes.  The downside is that without a shield – your own armor score will not be nearly as high.  Magic doesn’t have to do huge DPS bursts to be effective and thus can be balanced along similar parameters with other skill sets, because they can be given some skills that will bypass armor.  By the same token, some defensive skills could be programmed to raise your armor – helping a mage against a swordsman, but not as much against another mage!

Group play becomes a nice bundle of give and take as well.  An armored giant (high armor) might mean that your groups swordsman takes center stage, while a giant spider (low armor, high health)  is best handled by trying to keep it under control while your fire mage whittles down its health.  You want a paradigm shift from the unholy trinity that still “feels” right to the players and doesn’t take an advanced MMO degree to learn?  This is a great way to make that shift happen.

I have more to say, so I’m going to break this down into two posts.   Tomorrow or Wednesday, I’ll talk about crafting, and the world of Project:Gorgon itself.  Stay tuned.

Sandbox Vistas I: Visiting Istaria

So, at the urging of Ben and Flosch, I am undertaking an odyssey to explore some obscure sandbox games.  First up on the list is one that I’ve been curious about for some time, a game called Istaria.  Istaria has just recently (last December) celebrated its 9th year in existence.  That in and of itself is nothing to sneeze about.  Originally entitled “Horizons” the game had an ambitious development goal of a fully PvE game with an automated AI enemy that would actively oppose players and player settlements in a never ending conflict.  As you can imagine, this was difficult to implement, so it was scaled back to something more static in nature.

Currently the game is rolling along nicely with a standard and RP server, though I gather from the forums that the population of the RP server is fractured and at times contentious, in addition to being lower than the one on the regular server.  So naturally, I signed up there.

The two week trial account allows three character slots among any of the diverse races, though after some time delving in the outdated wiki and in the community, I decided to start with a human character and try a dragon character later down the line.  And boy am I glad I did.   Why?


I kid you not.  You can not swing a dead rat in this game without hitting five dragons.  The moment I exited the mystic portal from the tutorial island onto the live server itself, I was awash in dragons.  I’ve seen perhaps twenty or thirty players in the game thus far, and all but two of them have been dragons.

In fact, it occurred to me that, had I been really role-playing, my poor little character would have seen the dragons all lying around the starter village, screamed, turned around, ran right back into the mystic portal, and lived out his immortal life in the relative peace and quiet of that great utopia.

No idea who this guy is. Google image search ftw.

So, I’ve been spending a lot of time outside the village itself.  Where I’m alone with the baby pigs, and hatchling spiders, tiny grass beetles, skeletal warriors, aand OH MY GOD GIANT WOLVES AND MUMMIFIED REANIMATORS.

Yeah, basically there are two types of mobs thus far.  Those that you can kill, albeit with a large investment of time but little worry.  And there are creatures that will kick your ass into the ground without a second thought.  And telling them apart is almost impossible.   I was a level 8, and I was grinding level 5 and 6 skeletons (and boy was it a grind…) when a level 9 mummy thing wandered into the fight.   This guy is on a wide loop for his AI path, and I hadn’t seen him before.  But he was only a bit ahead of me, so I didn’t worry about it.  Until his first shot took 15% of my health.   And his second, another 15%.  And meanwhile, I was doing 3% a shot off of his.  It got ugly fast.  Fortunately, death is about as inconsequential in Istaria as any MMO, albeit they have cooler and more interactive ways to remove the death penalty, which I like.

You may think so far that I have not liked Istaria, but that’s not quite true.  I have enjoyed it a lot, and intend to keep at it for the remaining week or so of my two week trial at least.  The class/school system is great, keeping a familiar vibe going on in character creation and building, while allowing you to tweak your character in a way normally reserved to skill based systems.  The crafting is deep and gets deeper the more you get into it.    Harvesting is a bit of a chore, but there’s enough RP channels out there to keep you entertained, and on top of that, as an older game, Istaria runs fine in windowed mode, allowing you to browse and harvest at the same time.

Anyway, we’ll see where this takes us.  I may do another post on Istaria, or I may move on to some of the other options out there, like Wurm Online (which looks…complicated) or Xyson (where technology is rare or nonexistent…yet there is a screenshot with a car sitting in it…).   And hopefully Dawntide will come back up in the interim as well.   So my posting will be kinda…sandbox.  Heh.

The PvE Sandbox; or how PvP is ruining my MMO’s one by one.

Does it exist?  And if so where can I find it?  That mythical game with no PvP.


I am reading over at The Ancient Gaming Noob about how Rift is now traveling invariably down the same path that crashed Warhammer and Fallen Earth.  That is, turning your MMORPG into an a  competitive 3rd person whack-a-skill-watch-the-dps-meter-and-create-some-macros paradise.  Granted, Rift is not there yet, because they haven’t, say…changed their entire damage and armor mechanic because it wasn’t good for PvP, or scaled their XP progression primarily around how many matches it would take to cap level.  But its the beginnings of those paths.


I’m beginning to wonder if its a foregone conclusion for any MMO that decides to saddle itself with the burden of PvP.  Its like a cancer that eats away at the heart of the game.  I wonder how many developer hours are wasted on balancing and fine tuning classes/skills/macros/3rd party support that could instead be used to generate new content.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-PvP, or World of Tanks would not loom large in my life.  Nor would I have spent as long as I did in EVE.  But the games I play for PvE content always seemed to be subjugated for some bizarre PvP dominance, as it that were the lifeblood of the games players.   And perhaps it is, which leads me, for yet another reason, to ask the question about the PvE sandbox.  Even TOR does not seem immune to its effects, as the earliest indications of patch 1.1.2 indicate.


Just for once, I’d like to see some PvP players crying a developer said “no” to their desired changes on the reasoning that it would disrupt the rest of the game world who are playing (::gasp::) an MMO.