At the end of last week, I was lucky enough to be invited onto MMORPG.com’s GameOn podcast to speak with Paul Sage, Creative Director for The Elder Scrolls Online at Zenimax Online, to discuss the first month of TESO and the studio’s plans for the future. We talked about launch issues, the challenges in designing for single-player vs MMO crowds, and what players can look forward to in Craglorn.
Overall, I felt like it went pretty well for my first serious-business interview! I hope it ends up being good to listen to. I’m still trying to find my feet, and I probably need to continue to learn how to ask more direct questions and tease out direct answers. While, ideally, not alienating people and making them never want to talk to me again.
There’s a write-up of the discussion, which you can find here, but I’d recommend that you listen to the actual interview, and let me know what you think!
You can listen online here, or find GameOn on iTunes here.
Episode 50 of the Cat Context podcast is now available! Happy birthday to us!
This week, Liore, Arolaide, and I celebrated our two-year podcasting anniversary in style. With a listener question special!
Have any of us said anything on the podcast that we regret – or feel differently about now? Which developers would we interview, given the chance? What do we think is yet to come in MMOs? Do we find blogging or podcasting more difficult and time-consuming? (Hint: I like to talk a lot, and I don’t have to do the actual editing.)
And, as usual, we’ve been playing games. And this time, we’ve even been enjoying them! Liore is all aboard the ArcheAge train. I’m immersed in TESO. And Aro. Well, Aro likes vampire hunting in Bloodmasque. And I can’t even blame her.
Thanks so much for all of your support over the last two years! It’s great fun to do it, but if the listeners didn’t tune in, it wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding. Here’s to at least another two years!
As always, head on over to the official episode page, hit us up on iTunes, or check out our YouTube channel! Please continue to send in ratings, comments, and questions.
Let me preface this with two (large) caveats. First, I have never really played any Bethesda games, and have a total of ~5 hours experience between the Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises. Second, and related, I have not followed TESO at all. I mean, as much as is possible, at least – I knew a few things about it, and I knew that a lot of people had strong negative reactions to it.
So, then, it was a bit odd that I found myself picking up a copy of the game yesterday and playing it for about 4-5 hours last night. There are a few reasons that I ended up doing this, but the primary driving factor is that I may end up talking to some people involved with the game, and I didn’t want my complete and utter ignorance to show through. This clearly called for some background research, and, well, I’ve spent $60 on a terrible game lots of times before. If nothing else, I figured it would make for an interesting blog post and some ability to commiserate with certain factions of the internet.
That said, it wasn’t all bad going in. I had heard some talk about the relatively flexible class system, and that seemed like something that I was pretty interested in trying. I knew that it had some version of active combat, and I’ve enjoyed that quite a bit in TERA and WildStar’s beta. It’s heavily voice-acted, which I loved in SWTOR. And, also like SWTOR, it happens to use HeroEngine – which is a platform that was originally built by Simutronics, with whom I have a long and storied past.
First things first, the character creator is something that I could spend a ton of time with. Aside from the fact that the races consist of Humans, Human-looking Elves, Human-looking Orcs, some other Humans, and mostly-Human-looking Cat and Lizardfolk, I was pretty happy with the variety of options available. There are tons and tons of slider bars, to tweak everything from Eye Color, to Ear Tilt, to Neck Thickness, to “Posterior Size”. There are plenty of variations on hair, accessories, tattoos, and body makeup. In the end, I settled on a Wood Elf.
I’m on a ship!
I ended up picking Sorcerer for my class, and started off using a staff (because that’s what happened to be on a bench in the starting area). But the cool thing is that, it seems like all of the classes can use all of the weapons, and you actually derive your skills from a combination of things. Which is good, because I eventually decided that I wanted to try out being an arcane warrior and run around with a 2-handed sword for a while. And then I moved on to archery. I read about some people running around with two axes and magic. That seems awesome.
Essentially, you level up in various skills separately from each other, and can mix and match skills from your Race, Class, Weapon, Guild, etc. Every so often, you get to put a point in to one of the skills, and it feels like you can really just customize them to play in tons of different ways. I have no idea if this game will end up having a ton of viable ways to play your character, but I sure hope so!
Of note: it definitely does seem like you can “waste” points early on, if you aren’t really sure what you want to do. I’ve already done it with a couple points in staves that I may not ever use again. But I also don’t care. Points come quickly enough right now, and I get the feeling that there will eventually be more than enough to go around.
And just running around doing stuff is pretty fun. I know there has been some talk about it not being open-world enough for fans of the series, and I totally get that. But that is also one of the things that has put me off of the series, in the past. Not having any real sense of direction can get super awkward for me, especially when that is the very first introduction to the game. Here, I feel like I do have some amount of guided tourism, but there are also people/events to interact with along the way. It’s a good mix that is working for me.
Hey, look, the Queen says I am the One True Hero! What are *you*?
That said, there are definitely some issues. The lag I had while playing last night was pretty tough to deal with. Active combat doesn’t really work very well when you can’t actually block because you’ve already been hit… Nor does short-vs-long clicking for attack mode when the game can’t properly respond to your mouse. (This definitely contributed to my swapping out a staff for a bow.)
Some of the voice acting and writing is less than stellar, it’s true. But I’m somehow okay with that. I think the very fact that there IS voice acting is still novel enough to me that it is a net positive. And people are having issues with the fact that ESO does not necessarily look as brilliant as fully-modded Skyrim. Which is true, because you can totally do stuff like this. But, honestly, I like the way it looks. I think it looks quite a bit better than many other MMOs that I am/have played, and there are clearly concessions that have to be made because of the number of people playing it at once.
I honestly think that the biggest disconnect may just be that I’m approaching this from a non-enfranchised MMO player’s perspective, rather than a long-time ES universe devotee. I’m sure that, if I’d spent hundreds of hours with these games in the past, I would be able to find a lot of things that they did wrong – or at least, differently – that annoyed me. I even expected to find that when I didn’t have that background. But, instead, I’m finding a world that I am enjoying playing in. And maybe this will serve as an eventual gateway into the rest of the ES universe!
Who knows? All I do know is that I am pleasantly surprised and fully intend to keep up with TESO. At least for a while.
Special Note: This Sunday, we will be recording our 50th episode and celebrating our two-year anniversary! We are taking any and all questions, so please help us out. Send in your questions via the comments, tweet them at us, send an email, or leave us a voicemail over at the main episode page. Thanks for listening!
Episode 49 of the Cat Context podcast is now available!
This week, Liore and Arolaide put their English backgrounds on display, while I simply did my best to not look like a total idiot, as we reviewed the hit novel Ready Player One!
While the book has been available for a while, Liore and I finally got around to it, and just in time for the Facebook purchase of Oculus VR to bring it back into focus. What do we think about it? It’s definitely popular – but is it any good? Liore breaks out her English degree (and attempts a pun). Aro talks about virtual car design! I… am easily amused.
We also talk a bit about WildStar’s latest beta patch, prominently featuring a UI revamp and new body type options for character creation! We chat about our impressions and try to decide whether this impacts our intent to purchase or play the game.
In What We’ve Been Playing, Liore talks about her early alpha adventures in ArcheAge chicken farming, Aro talks about the continuing adventures of OrangeLady and OrangeLady’sBrother, and I show off my totally sweet emo vampire Masque.
To listen, head on over to the official episode page, hit us up on iTunes, or check out our YouTube channel! Please continue to send in ratings, comments, and questions. It’s great to hear from you, and we appreciate the feedback.
Inspired by a post a couple weeks ago on The Ancient Gaming Noob, we decided to use this week’s podcast to talk about some of the most influential games in each our lives. Because of the format of the show only really allowed for 5 each, I had to narrow the selection criteria down quite a bit. I felt a bit like John Cusack in High Fidelity, having to put all sorts of caveats on my game selection. Plus, it was sad to have to leave out some particularly interesting/nostalgia-provoking games.
Well, no more! I will not be confined by the bourgeoisie’s shackles here on my blog! And so, I will present an expanded list! Please don’t take the list as any kind of order. I’m not nearly that organized.
For completeness’ sake, I will start with a quick rundown of the games that I already discussed on the podcast, just for completeness sake. If you want to hear more about them, please do listen to the episode. These were chosen because they were each important to me in different ways, and at different stages of my gaming life. Even if the timeframe was a bit heavy in the “college” era.
- Contra (NES) – I played the hell out of this with my brother, and it was one of the earliest games that I remember upping the difficulty on myself by imposing additional restrictions (no continues! no Konami code!).
- GemStone III/IV (AOL/PC) – This game. It’s a MUD-style game, but it is SO MUCH MORE than that. GemStone taught me how to roleplay, it taught me what it was like to spend days and weeks and months playing the same character. And it taught me what it was like to really want to optimize something – even something that I would never realistically complete. It’s also where I came up with ThatAngryDwarf, which has followed me ever since!
- CounterStrike (PC) – So very many hours were spent playing CS. I eventually started playing semi-competitively (in the bottom-rung CAL Open leagues), and helped build/run a team.
- Super Smash Bros (N64) – This is the game that really, truly solidified several long-lasting friendships in college. There were other things, of course, but the hours that we sat around on couches together have been the basis of several life-long friendships. The anguish when the first cartridge got stolen was incredible. But we still come back to this every chance we get.
- WoW (PC) – WoW is the foundation of my modern gaming life. It was not my first MMO (I’d argue that GS qualifies and SWG definitely does), but it is the one that really set the tone for the last decade. I’ve met a ton of great friends, and been able to get into podcasting and blogging – none of which would have happened without WoW. Hard to think of a bigger impact than that.
And now for some of the other games that I wasn’t able to talk about on the podcast!
- Apple IIe Games
This is a conglomeration, since the things I remember learning from them all sort of blend together. The Apple IIe was the first computer in my house, sometime in the mid-80s. I’m honestly not even sure why we got one – I assume that it was because my parents wanted to use some software from their school while at home – but what I do know is that this is where I first learned to tinker with computers. I remember having to puzzle out how to even start a game, let alone play it. It’s where I first learned how to write BASIC programs (including my personal standard “Hello World” game which is “Guess what number I’m thinking of?”). Specific games that I remember playing (and for which the floppies may still be in my parents’ basement closet) include: Hard Hat Mack – basically Donkey Kong in the Construction universe; Swashbuckler – Pirate fencing!; and Death in the Carribbean – text adventure game, but with sweet, sweet graphics!
- Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?
I expect that a lot of us spent hours upon hours learning tracking that notorious criminal through the world and unwittingly picking up lots of geography and world history knowledge. I can definitely remember flipping through my encyclopedias looking for the answers to a question, or calling down the stairs to my parents about some random answer that clearly only they would know. I also spent hours playing this series, and of course, watching the TV show. Plus, that theme song…
- Nibbles/Gorillas (DOS)
These were a pair of games that shipped with Qbasic, which I found out about on my first Windows 3 machine in ~1994. Not only did I spend a bunch of time playing these games, but they were actually part of the first exercise in my first “real” programming class. The teacher essentially said “the source code is right there, start modifying it to see what happens”, and let us loose. I can’t remember if I’d done that previously or not, but it certainly made me love that class. And it shaped the way that I would approach coding going forward – being able to actually see your results immediately is a great way to gauge whether what you intended to happen actually did. Likewise, you could have some hilarious unintended consequences (also a useful lesson)!
- SimCity (SNES)
I have to say, I don’t really play that many city-builders anymore. I have a lot of trouble getting into them for whatever reason. But SimCity on the SNES (and various other platforms of the time)? Hells yes! Even separate from the hours I spent on these games individually, the parts I remember the most were playing cities cooperatively with friends. But how did you do that before consoles had modems? Well, you’d start the game together (possibly at a sleep-over, because then you have SO MUCH TIME), and then you’d just pass the cartridge back and forth every couple days. It was always really fun to see what happened in your time away, and terrifying to think that somehow your save game might get erased… But, regardless, this game showed me what was possible in gaming when you dedicated yourself to a task. (The answer is that Bowser would show up and rampage across your city and ruin all your hard work. Asshole.)
- Doom (DOS)
Doom! This was a good way to really get into FPSes – I probably played Wolfenstein before this, but Doom was my game on my PC and, by god, I needed a better sound card. So then I had to learn how to install one. And then I needed to learn about IRQ tables. And OH MY GOD I JUST WANT TO PLAY DOOM. I always loved this game as a game, but what I appreciate most of all, looking back, is that it was an entryway into the wonderful world of PC gaming and hardware tinkering. I’m glad I got to learn these things, and I still enjoy them now!
- Myst (Apple IIGS)
Myst was a gorgeous game. It really made me understand that graphics could be a thing that I cared about. It was also a ton of fun to figure out all the puzzles! Or, when you got stuck, ask around at school for who had figured out which parts you were stuck on and trade information from memory. Or, in some cases, like when my friend and I first finished the game, draw out entire maps of mazes on large art paper, just so that you could navigate a maze efficiently!
- TI-81/82/83/85 Games
All those graphing calculators that our parents bought us were really amazing. For school work, I mean. (Hi Mom!) Right? Okay, but also for gaming and related hobby activities. I think, for a lot of people, it was their first “real” introduction to handheld gaming, and it was oddly similar to the current mobile app situation we have today. This is another place where I played a lot of Nibbles, but also Tetris, Chess (via the direct-link cable!), and a relatively notorious version of Drugwars (there was also a spinoff where you were a male prostitute that went around my high school for a while…). But the capstone, for me, were the games I wrote and distributed myself. Most notably the super hero game where one stage had you driving the Batmobile through a crowded street of oncoming traffic, and another was a pretty terrible beat-em-up side scroller. I even had a friend that made (really good) pixel-art of Wolverine that I was able to add to the TI-85 version (my TI-82 could handle that much memory).
- Final Fantasy VII
I’m not even sure if this is my favorite Final Fantasy game, but it was my first. It came along at the perfect time for me, and is a large part of the reason that I spent a good chunk of my summer job money on a Playstation that year. And, honestly, it was worth it. I think it was one of the first console games I’d played with a really engaging story, and that was awesome.
- Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3
While not the first Tony Hawk game that I played heavily, this was the first one that I participated in the launch-day rush for with my friends. There were about seven or eight of us, and we each took a character and passed the controller around taking turns running at a level/objective/whatever. This game really brought out the completionist/achiever in me, and I am fairly sure that the PS2 did not turn off from the moment that the game went in until the moment the game was 100% complete. We prided ourselves on the fact that we had figured everything out and completed the game well before the internet’s best Tony Hawk guide site of the time had their walkthrough up. It was also awesome to be one of the two people that could consistently get the Tokyo S-K-A-T-E line down, since that was what was holding some people up from moving on to character #2 or whatever. Plus, we played lots of multiplayer skate-offs.
- Heavy Rain
I know that Heavy Rain sparked a lot of controversy in terms of its quicktime event nature, but I loved it. It really proved to me that the medium of “video game” can be cinematic, and that I am perfectly okay with interactive fiction. I’d definitely played other heavily story-driven games before, but this one just sort of pushes most of the “game” elements out of the way and uses what does exist to further draw you into the narrative. It’s also allowed me to really step back and look past gameplay flaws when evaluating how I feel about a game, which is cool. Sometimes, of course, gameplay is important. But other times, I’m happy to let it take a back seat to the core piece in front of me.
So that’s that. I’m sure there are plenty more that I’m missing (and I realize I’m fairly thin on certain time periods), but those are some of the more important video games that have helped influence my outlook on the genre. What about yours?