Friday, February 26, 2010

"Why I Hate EVE Online"; or "Wherein The Blogger Disagrees With A Friend"

So last night my friends and I were supposed to gather to play our 4E DnD game.  Unfortunately the GM had a blowout on the car and was unable to make it.  So bummer there. But, my friends and I decided that the opportunity to hang out and exchange ideas (ie. argue) was too good to pass up.

So I was mentioning how I'm having lots of fun playing Star Trek Online, and I had just gotten promoted to Commander the night before and all this other cool stuff, when one of my fellow gamers, Fred, turns to me and says, "Well you could be playing EVE Online if you wanted to play a good space MMO."  As this is typically the kind of opening you look for in order to discuss your ideas and explain your differing position (ie. call them an idiot and prove to them exactly how wrong they are) I began to list off the reasons why EVE Online is not only a bad game, but it is the worst MMO I've ever had the displeasure of playing.

Here is my list of pros and cons.

  1. Its graphically pretty.  The renderings of ships and objects in space is nothing short of stunning.  Everything looks good outside of a space station in EVE.
  2. Balance.  The game is actually pretty balanced between combat, economy, and exporation.
  1. You spend a good amount of time at the beginning of this MMO customizing your appearance.  Fairly standard and expected, until you realize that you never get to see your character outside of your ship.  Never.  You get to look at static portraits of other players and NPCs.
  2. The tutorial that teaches you how to play the game, and what keys are what function, and what all things you can do in the game, is 2 hours in length.  Unless you're taking notes during the tutorial you're most likely not going to remember a tenth of what the game just tossed your way.
  3. Skilling up your character.  EVE is a level-less game.  So to make up for this, you gain skills as you progress to give the game a more "real-life" feel.  This is all well and good, but it doesn't explain the necessity of making skills train for the lengths of time this skill increase takes.  Your initial levels of skill can be trained in as little as ten minutes, but as soon as you look to level your skill up past level 2 (to a maximum of 5) you're looking at training times of anywhere between 30 minutes to weeks and months.  Seriously.  This begs a question: If I have a skill that I need so that I can do 'X', why am I paying $15 per month for the privilege of sitting around and waiting for my skills to train?
  4. Time spent training skills brings me to this point.  You can only really have one character going at a time.  If you start another character, any skills that you had training on the first character will stop automatically and only your current character will be able to train skills.  So why bother being able to have multiple characters when you need to spend inordinate amounts of time for training up skills, when you can't utilize having multiple characters by training skills on one while you play on another?
  5. While the game is pretty balanced between economy, combat, etc. what is broken comes as a direct result of what I mentioned in #3.  In order to get up enough skills to a sufficient rank to utilize the economy, or to go to a sector of space to collect on bounties (PvP), or engage in fleet actions (grouped PvP) its going to take you months, if not years, of time invested in the game.  And if an update happens that make the skill path you were working on obsolete, you don't get that time back.  No "free respec" like in other games.  No new/other skills trained up to make up for the sudden loss of time/training.
  6. There is no way to turn off PvP.  "Legal" PvP is determined by what sector of space you are in, and each sector is provided a numerical value to signify the level of safety.  Sector .5 - 1 sector space are "friendly" and any PvP will result in the in-game law enforcement arriving to destroy the offending player.  But there are times when you will need to travel to the far corners of the universe and if you have to go through 0.0 - .4 space, watch your ass because its anybody's game.
  7. There is no in game customization of your ship.  You can't change the appearance, the color scheme, you get no interior of the ship to play in/with.  The only thing you can really do is decide what armor/shields, weapons systems, and electronics systems you put on your ship...and you don't get any say-so on where those go either.
  8. This is the only MMO I've ever played that actually felt like a second job.  After the 2 hour tutorial I was ready for a break, and then every time I thought about logging in in to play I got less and less excited at the game and started to feel like I do when my alarm goes off in the mornings.
  9. The NPCs that you get missions from get pissy if you take too long to get things done.  I mean it. If you accept a mission from them and you do not complete it in the allotted time, you garner a negative reputation with that NPC and the faction that NPC belongs to.  So if you're not careful, you could end up in a position of not having any NPCs to speak to to get missions from.
  10. All of the missions are done in space.  Remember when I said that you only get to create a portrait of yourself?  Yeah, you never leave your ship either.
  11. The game is just boring.  The missions are endlessly repetitive.  Its necessary as a new player to speak to NPC representatives of NPC corporations to increase your reputation so that you can eventually move on to bigger and better things, but all of the missions are exactly the same.  Every.  Single.  One.  The most exciting thing about the game is the 2 hour tutorial.  How sad is that?
So yeah.  I've played it.  I've measured it.  I've found it wanting.  EVE online is officially the worst MMO I've played to date.  There is nothing about the game, or anything in newsletters talking about up-and-coming features in updates that makes me want to think about re-installing and playing the game.  I will tell you what did make me want to play again (and I did re-install the game back in early January, and I just as quickly uninstalled shame knows no bounds).  It was a fiction novel written specifically for/about EVE Online.  And nothing in the book involves anything you can actually do as a player.  The book is nothing like the game.  Nothing.  I cannot stress this enough.  The book was great; lots of political intrigue, lots of good Science Fiction, lots of dynamic characters.  The game has none of that.  It just sits there marinating in its own juices.

So if you're looking for a visually spectacular second job with in game "Excel"-like spreadsheets, a real-time stock market, and perhaps you just hate yourself a little bit, EVE Online is probably the game for you.

Personally if given the choice, I'd rather watch paint dry.  If you're looking for a MMO with actual character interaction try anything else.  Seriously, there are more MMOs out there than you can shake a stick at and lots of them are actually worth the cost of buying them and/or the monthly fee.  EVE Online is not.

Bonzo out.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Can I Get a Witness?

Today I was prompted to clarify something I mentioned in my first post, and it has to do with 3.X vs 4E for Dungeons and Dragons (DnD).  So based on what this person said to me, I want to try and make a few things clear.

Lets start with an oldie but goody:  A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away.....

Some guys got together and came up with the idea for a strategy combat game where the player(s) controlled a character in a medieval fantasy setting.  And thus Dungeons and Dragons was born.  Some time later some other guys, along with the initial group of guys - very technical, I know - decided to expand a bit on the original idea and add in more thematic elements from what is now known as the "Standard Fantasy Genre".  And this eventually gave us Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, aka Second Edition/2E.  I'm summarizing here, so just bear with me.  In 2E, the developers of the game generated new ideas and content that slowly but surely became part of the full/final game through supplements produced by TSR Inc.  These updates were typically bundled together with other like errata and compiled into what became known as "kits" which were printed in "The Complete Guide" series of supplements.

Again, summarizing.  This all has to do with 3.X and 4E, trust me.

In a previous post I mentioned how you could do almost anything with the rule set in 2E; the kits were a direct result, and as such a lot in the way that makes 4E work appears patterned on 2E rules and kits.  Now when Wizards of the Coast (WotC) took over the production of DnD, they decided to change how the game worked from the bottom up.  Most notably (to me) they decided on having all the math involved in the game follow a direct linear progression.  I can only assume that WotC felt this would make the game more balanced and make play proceed more smoothly.  As a result, WotC was forced to spend countless hours dreaming up rule after rule after rule on to handle particular situations of "in case of 'a' do 'b' unless 'q' happens and then proceed to 'a2'" and so on.  That is not to say that 2E was without flaws, but the math in 2E was solid even though it did not follow a direct linear progression.

The best example of this comes in combat.  Lets use the most basic model of a fighter with a weapon trying to hit an enemy.  In 2E, in order to succeed in making an attack on your enemy you must roll for THAC0.  In 2E, 0 is the best numerical value you can have for Armor Class (AC), and as such is the hardest to hit.  Depending upon what your attack and to-hit modifiers were, those values would be negated from your eventual attack roll to determine how close to 0 tour attack roll was.  In 3.X and 4E, the reverse is true; an AC of 0 would be incredibly easy to hit, while an AC of 20 is much harder.  Unless you've played 2E (and liked it), I'm sure you can see why you might be thinking a linear progression would be better.

Back to my main point - its the countless rules and errata churned out by WotC throughout the career of 3.X which really stunted the growth of the rule set/system.  By the time that WotC decided to admit there were some serious flaws in the system, they were pumping out a new book every month (at full price, mind you) of things that had been rehashed countless times before.  It gave the feeling that there were a bunch of guys sitting around in a back room saying, "OK, we just gave them flying monkeys, and a few months back we gave them a book about marine creatures and settings.  Lets roll them together and have Flying Monkey Fish...with lasers!"  It really became ridiculous when you're waiting at the beginning of each month to see what mishmash WotC had flying out of the printer.

When Wizards finally opened up the Open Gaming License for all of the 3E errata, it allowed Pizo to create their own system called Pathfinder which breathed some life into a dying system, and bring some clear, concise gaming back to DnD.

Which brings us to 4E.  From the ground up, the guys over at Wizards seem to be doing their best to streamline the game, and not run into the same problems of "endless rules" that is prevalent throughout 3.X.  The best non-gaming analogy I have for how 4E works is like this:  Its a roller coaster.  Getting up to that first hill is a little daunting and takes a little bit of time.  You might even have thoughts like "did I do the right thing getting on this ride?" run through your head.  But after that initial drop, its pure exhilaration.  And then when you get to the end, you're contemplating doing it again.  4E is a bit more complicated right on the onset of character creation than 3.X is, and the larger number of playable class/race combinations allows for a greater diversity of balanced play, as ECL doesn't seem to exist anymore.  No more bitching and whining from other players because Fred plays a race that has innate special abilities and is therefore somehow more powerful at level 1 than Sally who plays a race without any special abilities.  But here is where the "fun of the coaster ride" comes into play - in 4E all races have special abilities and all classes have special abilities.  So everyone playing has the opportunity to do something unique and fun.

This brings me to another example of how 3.X and 4E differ.  Lets again use our example of a fighter.  In 3.X a fighter has a steady progression of increasing to-hit bonuses, and an increasing progression of Feat choices.  By the time a fighter gets to level 20, he has eleven bonus feats awarded just from his class.  And in every game I've ever sat down to play in, I think I've only ever seen a fighter use two or three.  That's it.  Its just a waste.  Conversely in 4E you gain abilities which are used once per day (Daily Powers), once per encounter (Encounter Powers), and all the time (At-Will Powers).  You still gain feats, but not as many and not as fast.  What this allows for, is for every class to be on equal footing with what they can do in a combat (or non-combat) situation.  It balances the game.

So what does all of this mean?  To be sure, 4E is less complex than 3.X and all of its endless rules and variations.  4E is undeniably newer and certainly has a "new car smell" that I'm sure attracted a number of gamers to it, just as any new computer/console game attracts new players.  But there is quite a lot of grit and substance to the 4E system that allows for the great customization of your character that was prevalent in 2E.  The big difference between 4E and the other editions is what the developers did with the setting/story.  Basically the god/goddess of magic was destroyed and the resulting magical backlash altered the world on every level.  In game terms that means that all of the classes have "magical" abilities.  So instead of our vaunted fighter saying "I'm attacking the goblin, let me roll to-hit," the fighter now says "I'm going to try attacking the goblin with *insert ability name here*," and the new attack can, and often does, have magical/elemental properties to it.  So mechanics wise, everyone gets an opportunity to do something spectacular and fun every round.  Players aren't pigeon-holed into being forced to play any particular class in order to help ensure group survivability.  You could run a party full of fighters and not really have to worry about much until you came across something really nasty.  Yes, this is where a bit of that "It Looks Like World of Warcraft" complaint comes from.  Unlike WoW though, you cannot solo an adventure at a table-top game like you can solo with every class in WoW.  And its the diversity of classes which can support a larger party dynamic if you had a GM with enough patience and concentration to run a large group (read: more than 6).  The differences in classes and class abilities ensure that no two people are doing exactly the same thing.  Oh sure, some abilities look similar, but the differences are there, and that is what makes 4E superior in my book.  Its the differences in the classes and in the abilities that make the setting engaging and dynamic to me.

It also means that once I finish leading my Call of Cthulhu/Modern campaign players through their game, I think I'm done playing 3.X for good.  The system is too broken for me to want to continue playing it after I've been able to experiment with 4E.  I could fill several pages on the differences between the mechanics of 3.X and 4E and how I feel that certain rules/mechanics have more merit than others, and how dissatisfied I am after years of playing 3.X, but I don't want to get on a soapbox - I'll save that for something good.

I'll make another analogy - 3.X is like a 90s model SUV.  At the time it came out, it was all the rage.  No one cared about the crappy gas mileage, no one cared that it needed constant tune-ups.  No one cared about the small problems because nothing else was available that was perceived as better.  Now 4E comes along, and its like a Nissan Tardis Versa.  Its bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, its economical, its under warranty. Both will get you where you want to go, but the new model with do it with less effort and probably more fun.

Enough rant.  Bonzo out.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Electronic Gaming Habits

So I briefly covered some of my table-top interests last post.  Today I want to talk about some of the online games that I've played, and that I'm looking forward to.

Lets start with the big one: I played World of Warcraft (WoW) off and on since it launched back in November '04.  And until January of this year, it has been my "go-to" online game of choice.  I've played and abandonded Everquest (I & II), Pirates of the Burning Sea, Final Fantasy 11, Fallen Earth, Tabula Rasa, Star Wars Galaxies, EVE Online, Guild Wars, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, City of Heroes/Villains, and Champions Online.  I've beta tested several and played the full release of all of them, and they all have one thing in common: I don't play them.  With the exception of WoW, none of these games could hold my interest long term.  Sometimes it'd be an issue of over repetitive quest grinding *cough*City of Heroes/Villains*cough*, or of lack of in depth content *cough*Lord of the Rings Online*cough*.  Not that I plan on throwing games under the bus....but yeah, that's exactly what going to happen here.

Let me get back to talking about why I finally left WoW.  Up until the release of Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard had done a fairly good job - not great not excellent, just good - of providing a fairly balanced game world with appropriately balanced quests, monsters, gear, "end-game" grinding, etc.  Once Lich King launched all that flew right out the window.  The exponential curve that came between levels 60 and 70 with Burning Crusade became an 80° slope between levels 70 and 80 in Lich King.  And the difference between someone who just popped level 80 and someone who'd been doing "end-game" (aka - heavy raiding) was simply astounding.  If you want to get into the nitty gritty of hitting "hit cap" and "soft cap" and "defense rating" and all that junk go talk to someone else.  WoW made sense to me back before Burning Crusade came out when a stat provided multiple bonuses without the need for specialized bonuses.

In addition, WoW just stopped being fun.  Once you hit 80 all there is to do is either PvP or raiding.  If you've concentrated on gathering tons of PvP weapons and armor than you stand a pretty good shot of winning almost constantly.  Or if all you do is raids then you fall into one of two groups - those who raid, and those who want to raid.  And the folks that raid don't give a good gorram about folks that don't or that want to.  You cannot get help from heavy raiders on getting into a raid if you don't have a gear score of a certain number.  Which is in itself pretty stupid.  Someone who has no strategy on play style for their character can still accumulate a wealth of gear and maintain a high gear score, while someone who can play their character better than anyone else will get passed over due to a lack in gear.  And this is the root of the problem with Lich King and why its broken:  the sheer difference in gear at "new" 80 vs "old" 80 is insurmountable.  The only hope I have for WoW in the future is that the new expansion due out sometime this year wipes the slate clean.  All gear, all stats, all classes get reset to achieve something the game hasn't had since before Burning Crusade - balance.

So at about the last part of January I finally heeded the siren song and got in on the last week of the open Beta for Star Trek Online.  I've been playing it pretty happily since.  Its not perfect, but the key thing here is that I'm having fun - something I stopped having in WoW a long time ago.  Its pretty straight forward regarding game play.  The most complicated thing about the game is the skill system for your character.  The folks at Cryptic didn't really do that good of a job in explaining how the skill system works, and what skills will cascade into future skills as you progress in rank.  But I'm sure I'll roll another character after I reach Admiral since I'll have made some mistakes with my first character.  And yes, I'm one of those folks that wants to play a character all the way to the end before starting over so that I limit the amount of screwing up I do to my characters.  I should note here that until STO launched, my favorite game to date had been Pirates of the Burning Sea.  The ship to ship combat was beautiful and was executed flawlessly.  If they had ever ironed out all the kinks with avatar-to-avatar or avatar-to-world interaction I'd probably still be playing it now.  But alas, Pirates seems to be dying the slow death.  I got an email announcing that Flying Lab is closing two more servers this past week.  Alas for such a fun game.  Flying Lab really needed to make their environments more interactive - if you're coming into port and its 3am, it really shouldn't be daylight anywhere in the world.  That's not asking too much is it?  Honestly that is something that Cryptic needs to get a hold on too - interactive environment.  But as the game (STO) is only in the first month of full launch, the jury will stay out for quite some time.  Like when you uncork a bottle of wine, you need to let a new MMO breathe for a bit before you say its a winner/loser.  The developers keep popping up on the forums giving out tidbits of info about what new things are coming in future updates, and I honestly can't wait for some of these things to roll out.  So for now, I'll be sticking with STO until further notice.

Currently I've signed up for the beta for two other MMOs that interest me - Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Final Fantasy 14.  Finally the Final Fantasy MMO is going to get a much earned face lift, and hopefully Square Enix will work out a few of the game play bugs that persist in FF11.  Star Wars: The Old  Republic looks simply amazing.  BioWare is at it once again with their crack team of writers and programmers, and all of the clips I've seen of game play and cut scenes just blow my mind.  More than any other MMO slated to release in the next year or two, its SW:TOR that I'm anticipating the most.  For one big reason: when I make a decision on what my character does/says - now think about that for a minute; every other MMO I've played "provides" responses for your character to "say" in social interaction with NPCs, and typically it doesn't matter what you say - the game notes the response and acts accordingly.  The in game example of this was provided by BioWare when they announced the Sith Warrior class.  The Sith was on a transport ship and was in a bit of a verbal altercation with the captain, as the captain did not follow his orders.  The player then noted all the responses that he could enact - one of which was killing the ship captain - and showing how the game would react to whichever decision was made.  It made me giggle...don't judge me.

I'm also anticipating the release of two non-MMO games at some point.  Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2.  Yeah I like Blizzard, they make good products.  A few years ago at GenCon I was lucky enough to play some SC2 and it was a blast.  But for every step forward that Blizzard seems to make with that game, they take five steps back.  So at this point I'm less excited about SC2, and more just wanting to have it and play it so I'm no longer waiting.  Kinda like when you have a doctor appointment that you need to go to, but you're just wanting to get it over with so you can go on with your day.  Diablo 3 is starting to get that way with me too.  I guess that I'm just tired of Blizzard stringing me along for years on end.  Oh well, who am I kidding?  I drank that Kool-Aid years ago.

Alright kids, thats enough for tonight.

Bonzo out.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Blog the First to blogging.

The title of my blog really says it all. I'm a table-top RPG junkie. I'm currently GMing a game right now (details to follow) and playing in a few others that are being run by friends of mine. Basically what I'm planning on doing here is talking about my gaming experience(s) and relating them (read: inflicting) to you the reader. Before I get much further I should take a moment to clarify a few things. I am a nerd/geek. The things I'll be talking about here are related to the table-top gaming industry/world. I may use terms that you, the reader, may be unfamiliar with. If you have a question don't hesitate to ask. Or perhaps your good friend Google can help? I'll talk about the campaigns that I'm in and/or running. I'll talk about settings I want to play. I may occasionally branch out into other gaming genres like board games, or MMOs, etc. I know, the suspense is killing me too.

So how about my current game? My current group is running through a home-brew d20 Modern setting that I've thrown Call of Cthulhu* into. I'm doing this for a very specific reason. The campaign they are playing now will lead some, but not all, of them into a new game and setting called CthulhuTech. Click the link, you know you want to. Done? I can wait........... OK, great. Let me summarize for those of you that didn't bother: CthulhuTech is a Horror/SciFi setting. It combines the elements of classic Lovecraftian** Horror with those of Japanese Mecha style/BattleTech style giant robot combat, and of a Futuristic Earth setting. Trippy I know. So what does this mean? Well if you happen to like any/all of those themes it means that CthulhuTech is a game system full of win. I've read the rules system and to be honest I was initially scared that the rules would be overly complicated - like the first time I ever looked at the rules for Shadowrun; good God the horror! But the rules are set up fairly well, and very straight forward. Its the only system I've ever seen that allows the player(s) to screw with the GM*** and get away with it.

Let me explain that: CthulhuTech (hereafter referred to as CT) uses the Framework system to establish success or failure with your die rolls. Within the Framework system, the players have a pool of "Fate Points" that they can use to add 1 to the total of a single die roll or to re-roll a single die. Or (this is the good part) to take dice away from the GM when s/he is about to do something nasty to the group. Now any GM worth his salt won't let that stop him from wrecking havoc on his players, but hey...your players can at least feel like they have a chance.

Where was I? Oh yeah, my game group. So far they seem to be having a pretty fun time with the CoC/d20 game. And by "having fun" I mean I'm letting their characters use explosives. Nothing like evading a group of Deep Ones by blowing up the office building you're in with a few pounds of C4. Good times. - Before I get much further talking about my game group I need to lay down some ground rules. As any one of them might at some point stumble across this here blog, I will maintain their anonymity by calling each of them "Fred". I will go ahead and let you know (not that you really care or even believe me) that I have six gamers at my table; three men, three women. Now all named "Fred". - As I stated they seem to be enjoying themselves. And as I stated earlier not all of them will be joining in on the CT fun. Why, you ask? Because I have some folks that are new to the whole table-top RPG experience and have already told me they are having enough trouble getting the hang of 3.X**** before trying a vastly different system. More on this campaign later. I don't want to write a Russian epic of my first blog post.

The other game I'm playing in is a 4th Edition DnD game. I'm about to say a few things which might start a witch hunt. I like 4E. Its not wasteful like 3.X is. Now before you get started, yes I have played 2E. And I really like it; it was/is a mathematically complex but a mechanically brilliant system. You can do anything with it. Anything. But with all of the games and systems out there I can't afford to tie myself down to 2E out of some obscure sense of some gamers do.... Wizards of the Coast tried to streamline things for DnD when they rolled out 3E, but it has too many freaking problems. The wonderful folks over at Paizo came up with their own 3.X system called Pathfinder and its a dream compared to what WotC churned out for 3.X. But if you haven't tried 4E, and I mean really gave it a legitimate chance, I'd encourage you to do so.

I remember one of the things I first heard/read about 4E was "Aww man! Wizards of the Coast is turning DnD into World of Warcraft! Fuck this, lets boycott!" Well, its partially true. They did look to WoW for inspiration on how to spruce up a (IMO) dying genre (due to the churning out of material every month for 3E that WotC was doing). But in doing so they solved a number of issues inherent with 3.X. Not only that but its harder to "rules lawyer" 4E - or at least it seems to be the case.

Anyway I have games to prepare for so more later. An abrupt end I know, but I'll work on it.

Peace and long life.

*Ka-thoo-loo. Say it with me, Ka-thoo-loo. If you're one of those folks that insist that its pronounced Ka-too-loo I guess you can just stop reading now and save yourself the effort of screaming at the computer or of writing me an email I will most likely delete without even bothering to read whatever trite point you wanted to raise. I know - I'm an ass.

**H.P. Lovecraft is considered the author/creator of modern Horror in literature. Read the wiki entry. Now go out a buy a collection of his stories. They are not terribly long and not terribly frightening. You have to remember, he wrote in the early 1900s and what was considered horror then would probably not even get a TV14 rating on a network now-a-days. But how he writes is fantastic to read. Again, go out and buy his works. Run, do not walk, to you local book seller!

***Game Master or Dungeon Master...although I've seen a trend in the gaming industry in the last decade or so of moving away from Dungeon Master due to negative connotation. You do the math. Anyway, GM is the person in charge of leading the party/group around by the nose with clues and hints while they desperately try to figure out wtf is going on before they die or the world goes up in flames.

****3.X is commonly used to refer to Dungeons and Dragons (or a similar setting using the same rules set via the Open Gaming License) version 3.0 up to the latest version of the 3rd Edition rules set. It saves time just writing it out this way.