Sunday, December 18, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic - MY WAIT WASNT OVER - (Star Wars: The Queue Goes Public: Part I)

Actually, I just got in on my server and it wasn't that bad... but for many people (over 500 pages of people in the SWTOR website community forums) it is hours, and I mean 5 hours, 8 hours, 16 hours plus, of waiting to get in and play.

Some even have the luck of, once they get in to play, get disconnected for some reason (or missed the Charcter Selection Screen that comes up for what one person stated was "15 seconds" and BOOM! back in the queue for hours. There are people that haven't played all weekend and they have been trying since Friday. Wow.

Here is a sampling of what is on the SWTOR forums today (Click to see images at Full Sizes):

Speaking of WoW, perhaps to help alleviate some of the anger, people (everyone including myself) should remember waaaaay back to 2004, when a gaming company called Blizzard put out a little game called World of Warcraft, to much much muuuuch hype. It was extremely popular and There Was Great Queueing:

VNboard Forums, Nov.2004

Neowin Forums, Nov.2004

Anandtech Forums, Nov.2004

...And this isn't even counting the WorldofWarcraft website threads.. so many.. Some people figured out a way to 'bypass' the shard queues, does this work with SWTOR?

GamingTrend Forums, Dec.2004
Back when YTMND's were still made, this one came out (by LeoNomis): 

Based on this video (originally by end255, converted unedited from Shockwave/Flash by me):

So in a way, everyone should just put their guns and shanks down, take a breath, and realize that these things happen. In a way, it was inevitable for an MMO. Asheron's Call, Anarchy Online, many others come to mind when there is need to think of worse launches.

Some have put their faith in the idea that Bioware/EA is purposely capping the population of the servers extra extra low, so that when it is fully released into the Retail wild, they can open them up and things will smell fresh and clean and the sun will shine again. Maybe that will happen.

For now, I am actually not in the mood to play (can you believe). Please don't hunt me down for the fact that I basically had no queue, sat at the character screen for a while, and don't even feel like playing.. I'll definitely feel like it later.

See you in there!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic - MY WAIT IS OVER (Early Game Access Email Notification) - With Short Gameplay Video

If you see this in your email, grab all the caffiene in the house you can find, move the microwave and mini-fridge into your room, pull out that Travel Buddy portable bathroom thing and say goodbye to your family.

To celebrate my Early Access to the Official Release Of Star Wars The Old Republic Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, I am sharing a little video I threw together in the last days of the Beta!

It was myself playing a couple quests in the last hours of the Beta Game Testing, mostly to finish up a storyline for my Signifigant Other, and I recorded it and put it together in a short video that they could watch to at least see the end of the Quest Line they were working on. It's not going to win any awards (I sort of went from a Let's Play style of recording to a Cinematic style of presentation during the course of recording the gameplay) but I had fun with Sony's Vegas Movie Studio putting in 'feathered line wipes' (just like the Star Wars movies use hah) and organizing the clips to represent the proper timeline that I played out in the game and putting them together in [what eventually became] something like a little animated movie.. The Speederbike travel music and Palace combat music I edited in from the Star Wars Motion Picture Soundtracks. I attempted to watch the credits during the Beta and I included some of that result in there as well. It's short, has a small part of the Imperial Agent Main Story Class Quest Line in it (I believe the NDA is over now, but will still put the word SPOILER in there somewhere) and isn't anything spectacular, but it was fun to make and I wanted to share something to celebrate my beginning officially playing SWTOR. Enjoy!

See you in there!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta - First Impressions and Screenshots

I have been in MMO Open and Closed Betas such as World of Warcraft, Champions Online, Allods, Rusty Hearts, Victory and more. The most recent is none other than Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta and since the NDA has been lifted, I now share with you my First Impressions and a bunch of Screenshots!

Without giving away any of the actual story itself (and a few other limiations I believe still in effect) I will discuss the graphics, gameplay, how it performs, the setting, audio, mechanics and more. I believe that anything more than that is still not allowed at this time, and I wouldn't want to spoil 'too much' of the game for you regardless. I attempt to utilize screenshots and video that does not give away any important storyline aspects. If any of this coverage oversteps any bounds of the Game Tester Agreement, anyone, please let me know and I will correct it so as to honor the Agreement.  
Not from the movie, from the game.

 First of all, the main source of all the hype and excitement, this is Star Wars we are talking about. STAR FRICKEN WARS. You can't get much of a better licence than that these days (except for maybe Star Trek (nerd fight (including myself) incoming)). At the helm of the Frigate is Bioware, developer of Neverwinter Nights, Baldur's Gate, Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic. Taking in all of that and especially the last one, it makes sense that they are doing SWTOR. A proven track record and most of all, making fun games, you just know before even touching the keyboard that these Canadians are going to create something great. You just know it.

Star Wars: The Old Republic is no exception, from what I have seen thus far. Many elements of their past games, from Neverwinter Nights to Dragon Age, are present in this game. Without listing them all in this Mini-Review, the most notable is the '3 Choices' game mechanic. Before even that, I have to mention that every NPC that has to do with Quests is voiced. I mean they talk and tell a story. In a cutscene (animated with the game engine). Most games have a few 'main' NPCs that have a paragraph or two of voiced acting and the rest are just a "Hello" with text that you read yourself. Not here. Every single NPC with a thingy above their head that has to do with giving, helping or receiving quests has a voice actor and is animated in their own cutscene. That alone already has my clothes off. The '3 Choices' of previous Bioware games is here, with the ability to use the mouse or the keyboard to choose your reply to their questions or assignments.  
Example of the 3 Choices game mechanic, similar to other Bioware games. Click to see Full Size.
Differing from what I have seen and played of Mass Effect and Dragon Age, your replies actually make a difference. Not only are their differing responses from the NPC, depending on the choice you make, you will get Light or Dark points in the The Force, which you use for your Force Powers in the RPG portion of the game.

You can choose your reply 1, 2 or 3 with the keyboard to create suspense and see how your choices are judged by the game and NPCs, or you can mouse over the choices to see which response will give you Light or Dark Force points, ahead of time. The way you choose and grow is up to you. 
Ruins in the forests of Tython. Click to see Full Size.
As you can see already,  to compare to some other MMORPGs out there, the graphics style is more World of Warcraft and less RIFT/Aion. It has more of a stylized cartoon-y nature than highly detailed realism. I suspect this choice was made to lighten the load on game rigs and open the game up to older systems with less horsepower, thus encouraging more players/subscribers. It turned me off at first, but after you get used to it (much easier for people who have watched The Clone Wars animated series) it actually does a good job of representing Star Wars. The robots and ships suffer from oversimplification the least, then the architecture and environments, then the character models, which seem like rounded versions of The Clone Wars Series. Despite the simplified models [possibly for future console gameplay/games?],  from the very beginning of character creation and you see your character class story in a Yellow Text Crawl in space, you really feel as though you are entering the Star Wars Universe.

The Republic's Trooper Class selection screen. Click to see Full Size.
Imperial Officer in a Space Station. Click to see Full Size.
NPCs wear proper attire for the time period, and buildings, ships and droids all have a primitive-empire/republic look to them. Even the friggin sounds of engines, weapons and droids are slightly less 'clean' than the movie versions if you listen carefully. Wonderful.

Hallway in a Sith Academy, with Droid. Click to see Full Size.
A Taxi on Tyhton. Click to see Full Size.
The simplification of the graphics does seem to help the gameplay. On the system I played on, a couple years old now, I was able to get 40-70fps for the most part (120+ if you are looking directly at the ground) and it went down to about 25fps in more complicated/heavier areas and in battles. Not bad at all. With that and less than 70ms latency from Central North America, I did not feel like it was stuttery or laggy, and the loading times between each zone seemed fine at about 10-15 seconds. The zones have a lot to do in them and aren't too small, so you shouldn't be loading a lot as it is. I can't distinctly remember how many times I have seen a loading screen, other than at the beginning/logging in.

A Sith Loading Screen. Click to see Full Size.
The areas are literally packed with Quests. Everything you see and pass by has some use, even if it isn't by you. I wondered what some ornaments were as I ran by sometimes, only to find out when I tried another class they were now my Quest Objectives. NPCs sometimes feel spread a little thin in spots, but there are ample numbers running around performing their tasks, whatever they may be. You can pause awhile and watch Recruits around you run to their classes, meditate, or spar in practice battles. Imperial Officers hassle bystanders. Drunks wobble around in front of Cantinas, which yes, have Twi'leks and performing bands inside. Nothing absolutely ground-breaking perhaps, but it does have the desired effect of making you feel like you are part of that world, that things are going on around you; but not so distant from you that you lose interest. 

See if you know what this is. Click to see Full Size.
The Quests themselves do have standard MMORPG fare (Kill X of Y, Deliver This, etc) but it is not all the time and even when they occur, they certainly don't feel like it. Again, each and every Quest NPC has a game-engine cinematic with full voice. With this, you are pulled further into the stories and world. Not all interactions have a Light/Dark Points question, but the conversations are definitely not left boring. Each NPC has various responses based on your choices, so even if you make a couple of characters in the same area (2 classes share a starting area) you may still not eventually see all of the responses, even if you make different choices each time (there are three options per choice for the most part). There is an ability to see and hear your party members' conversations and interactions, and they in yours, during Quests. You can even 'roll' to make a reponse choice when in a group. When starting a conversation, there is an option to wait for other party members, or start the conversation for yourself. If your party members are not in the immediate area, they can join by Holocall and will show up as a hologram next to you, ready to engage in the conversation.
Party members can join in NPC conversations and roll to make choices as well via Holocall. Click to see Full Size.
Even when a Quest may be simply "Kill This Person" or "Retrieve This Item", there is always a story, always a mood, always a character that will all be a part of the Quest and the result is that even if you run into two of the same archetype of Quest back-to-back, you won't mind it. To run into a lot of similar Quests, you'd have to go out of your way, anyway. Quests felt varied and interesting. The presence voice acting at every turn is a huge difference in feeling enveloped in the game, coming from MMOs where NPCs are standing around and if you click on them you only get a paragraph to read and start you on your Quest. Here, every NPC has a story (which you can skip through faster if you want, you don't have to listen to each part, if you desire) and each Quest in an area felt different. One would have you find someone and bring them back, another would have you kill someone, another would have you collect an item, and all the while, within each Quest there are choices to be made. Do you bring the person back if they don't want to go? Do you kill the person? Do you take the item to someone else, or sell it yourself, or do your job and take it back? Not only these, but how you respond and go about these actions, as Conversation Choices, all add to the engulfing atmosphere and stories and universe - and this is the Star Wars Universe we are talking about.

Republic Loading Screen. Click to see Full Size.
Just attempting to think about all the movies, books, games, Expanded Universe and more, there is a huge amount of material to be pulled from. If this game is successful, you can pretty much be guaranteed Expansion Packs for the next decade. From what I've seen and how I've heard those who have played talk about it, unless Bioware/EA pulls some crazy, huge, insane mistake or change of some sort, this game is pretty much guaranteed to be successful as is. Based on how Bioware seems to be listening to what people are saying and how they have looked at past games and listened to what people want, it is going to be a long, wonderful ride.

A Taxi on Dromund Kass. Click to see Full Size.
You want Mounts? I saw Level 20's on vehicles (trying to play all the classes, I did not get to 20, hah). You want Sidekicks/Pets/Companions? You get them before you are Level 10. You want PvP? Starting at Level 10, you got it. Requeuable (automatically join again after the round is over), from anyhwere (don't need to go to a certain area/NPC), solo or group join and you're in. I only played a couple games of PvP in the Arenas. MMO Player Versus Player is usually a slower pace, with things such as Auto Aim, when compared to First Person Shooter action type games, but it was fun. Voiced instructions for each Arena and Play-By-Play Announcers of what is happening in the Arena are just two more things to add to the List Of Things That This Game Does That Kicks The Asses Of Other Games. It's a long list.

The Pit, PvP Arena. Click to see Full Size.

And Now... More Screenshots!

(At this time, with an NVIDIA videocard, there seems to be no way to enable Anti-Aliasing (helping filter out the stair-stepping effect that occurs when the game attempts to represent a straight line at an angle, usually along the edges of shapes, etc.) even forcing it in the Nvidia Control Panel in Windows, or editing an ini file or any other way)

This is sort of a Game Tips And More Blog Screenshot Exclusive - as it's not normally something you would see in the game. When I took a shuttle to an orbiting space station, what was supposed to be the docking bay walls and windows, took a little bit to load. In the meantime, I got this great view of the planet below and hit the Capture button. After I did, the docking bay loaded and all you can/should see is the moon after that and a little bit of the planet in a much more restricted view out the bay doors. I just thought it was a pretty view and wanted to share it with you.  Click to see Full Size.


My New Wallpaper. Make it yours. Click to see Full Size.

See you in there!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Diablo 2 - Ladder Reset October 2011 - with Wallpapers and Screenshots

For those of you still playing Diablo2 off and on, a new season of Ladder starts next week! I actually didn't even see the March Season. I haven't played for a while and felt like some D2 goodness, installed it, and lookee here, a reset is-a-comin'.

I didn't make this Motivator, but I wholeheartedly agree

Every ladder reset I am both excited and saddened. All my previous efforts for Ladder-Only Runewords are for naught (if I didn't get to them) and now all my Uber Characters are relegated to General Population. I know, I could never survive emotionally if I played Hardcore...I couldn't stand putting in all the effort and excitement to have it all washed away one night in the the dark blood of my druid pools among the cool grass of the night.. ah well - a chance to make another character - or at least that's I would tell myself!

At one time, I had about 40 'accounts' going [on my own key], some for my own personal use/playing, some for trading (so they couldn't bug my 'regular' characters for items if I didn't trade something they wanted), some for runes and gems (mmm Perfects), some for all the Uniques, a sets collection (of course) and some temp account just to have sitting in a game on the other system, so that I could 'pop in' and drop the treasures of Diablo/Baal/Blood Runz and get right back into the next numbered game without missing a beat and losing track of a nice 8-player crowd that was burning through the levels. Good times.

These characters used to hold tons of gear from Runz, temporarily. Now they hold Off-Ladder Fodder. Time to make new!

Diablo2 is one of those games, for me, where if someone asked me "What is your favorite character?", I wouldn't be able to give one that stands out beyond the rest. I love them all. Most games, like most people I assume, I have a preference for what I want to play, generally. In Battlefield games I play Medic, in MMORPGs I tend to play ranged classes (hunter, mage), but for D2 I don't really have one class that I 'mostly play'. I play all of them and rotate as the feeling for the type of game I want to play changes. Do I want to melee and feel powerful? A Barb or Pally or Bear Druid can handle that. Do I want to stand back and let my minions fight, while I command them and heal and control the mobs? A Summoner Druid or Necro is what I'll load up. In any case, there's always a class and game to have fun with, no matter what mood I'm in, and that's one of the great things about Diablo2.

My Boner Necro vs. WSK Fetishes
[Great now this post may be auto-flagged as "Adult" for that last term... no?]

I was going to call this a Game Tip, as I suggest how to play something, but I think I'll just share this, as everyone plays different and there aren't too many combinations of 'styles' that are so different that one stands out far beyond the rest, in D2. It is how I play a Hammerdin (a Paladin with Blessed Hammers as the main attack, for the newbies). This is short and only one encounter [looped], but it shows the general controls that I use and I'm sure there will be players that match it or have better ideas, out there.

[This Flash Animation appears to no longer work here, sorry. 
I will update with a different animation or create a video, Soon™]

This is one engagement of a small mob with my Merc and here's the steps I take and controls I use:
    • Running along with Vigor aura (looking for trouble or getting to where I want to go), I have my auras (passive skills, right side) mapped to the mouse wheel, so I can just spin it to what I want. Blessed Hammers is selected as my Main Attack (active skills, left side) so that it is cast automatically, as below
    • Encounter! Switch to Concentration aura (spin the mouse wheel one notch and begin combat sequence). Begin casting Blessed Hammers by: Mouse is held down and pointing to where I want to go, pally is moving in that direction. Tap SHIFT to stop on the spot and cast some Hammers. Drag mouse around in the direction I want to walk in (away from the mobs, towards my Merc if possible) and intermittently tap SHIFT to throw some more Hammies into the sky. Hopefully, mobs get pulled into hammers as I lead them on [not in that way] and towards my merc just in case I need him to take them over. Moving in this manner, casting Hammers off and on, assures that they will hit at least some of the time, as opposed to a mob getting into a nice safe spot in the gap in their trajectories and not getting hit at all. (Yes, there is a 'sweet spot' for hammerin but I prefer this method as it controls the mobs to go where I want, as well)
    • When monsters are dead, spin the mouse to Redemption aura to redeem nearby corpses as Health and Mana. Walk away Like A Boss with full health and mana globes. Spin mouse wheel to Vigor aura. Rinse And Repeat.
    That's about it, at least how I play, and for a Hammerdin. You can still get into tough spots but you can pretty much wade around Hell without too much trouble as long as you have some resists and keep your Holy Shield up. It's not my favorite class or spec, but it's nice to MF with. I prefer Necromancer, Druid or Assassin, if I was forced to pick a 'Top 3'. I just find their playstyle interesting, more than their abilities being over the top above all the others.

    And Now... Some Wallpapers!

    (Screenshots to follow)

    And Now... Some Screenshots!

    Poisonmancer vs Hell Andariel

    Not my screenshot, but a good example of what sometimes happens on Battle.Net
    Just going through my gear, another example of what sometimes happens on BattleNet
    I wish there were more advertisements, sometimes I see way too much of my screen
    [I am not affiliated with, in any degree, the website captured in this screenshot]
    Hopefully this won't happen to you
    This was my Low Rune Holder in the last ladder I played in.
    On my Gem Holder, I traded some Perfects for an Occy. Woot!

    I've sort of giving away something here, but I made this Tip site to help you guys out after all, so here: On some Boss Runz, ones that seem to be led.. 'automatically' lets say.. the runner sometimes sells things and doesn't realize that his pockets are already full. Hence, the dropped money. If you can stick with a runner like this (being the only one along on the runs is perfect) you can almost refill your bank by the end of the night.
    Following another 'automatic' runner, this one does Countess Runz as part of it's travels [and it didn't seem to care about these Runes - good!]
    My Summoner Necro Build (Skill Tree and Stats), last ladder on Battle.Net
    My Summoner Necro walking through Hell Durance on BattleNet. "Full Contact. No Protection. No Problem".

    Oops, some of the crowd was a little too young that night. Sorry, Parents.

    Diablo 2 Normal Credits Background
    Diablo 2 Expansion Credits Background

    You are now aware that these statues look at you
    [they turn their heads in the game to face you at all times]

    Looking forward to gettin' into some more Diab next week! See you in there!