General Discussion

The Gaming Questionnaire, Part 1

Posted By on Aug 22, 2014 | 3 comments

A bunch of people have been answering the gaming questionnaire that was posted at Cannot Be Tamed earlier in the week, and I figured I ought to respond with my own. However, like Liore, I’ve decided to split out the first 10 questions into one post. This is convenient, since SPOILER ALERT we may just end up talking about the second half of it on Cat Context this week!

So, here are my answers!

  1. When did you start playing video games?
    I’m not sure I even remember. I’ve been playing for as long as I can remember, but I expect the first non-arcade games I played were in the mid-80’s on my family’s Apple IIe.
  2. What is the first game you remember playing?
    It would have to be one of the aforementioned Apple IIe games. Probably Choplifter or Swashbuckler or Hard Hat Mack. It’s entirely possible that I played something on a friend’s NES or ColecoVision, but those are the ones that stick out in my mind.
  3. PC or Console?
    I’m going to hedge here and say both. I love PC gaming, but I would not be anywhere as much of a gamer today if it weren’t for consoles. And I’ve been buying and playing console games for basically just as long as PC games. These days, if it’s a game I have to pick? It totally depends on whether I’ll be playing with people. Although I will say that sitting on the couch and looking at a large screen is pretty appealing…
  4. Xbox, Playstation, or Wii?
    I have all of them, does that count? I’ve owned a PS1, PS2 (two!), PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360, and every Nintendo console except a WiiU, so I’m pretty committed to not letting those lines stop me from playing something awesome. I’m leaning PS4 to start the next generation, though, if that helps. Even though Microsoft has the better controllers.
  5. What’s the best game you’ve ever played?
    This is basically an impossible question, but I’m going to answer GemStone III/IV. I’ve talked about this one before, but it is a MUD-style game that basically introduced me to long-term roleplaying and MMOs. I don’t actually recommend that anyone goes back and plays it now (sorry, Simutronics), but this is really my first true gaming love. And my longest-lasting, although WoW is creeping up on it!
  6. What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?
    I love this question, and wish I had a better answer, but I really don’t. I have a lot of uncompleted games, and most of the really bad ones fall into that pile before I can start to feel too strongly about them. That said, I’m going to go with Star Wars Galaxies post-Jedi/combat revamp. I seriously hated what Jedi did to that game. Seriously hated it. Star Wars is SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING when it involves the normals, and not the stupid god-like Jedi. I don’t want to know about your bullshit ability to kill people with your mind or whatever, I just want to explore what it’s like to be a struggling spice-trader who sides with the Rebellion out of convenience! Also the combat revamp and attempt at shoehorning WoW-like quests into that game was a really bad idea. What is it with Star Wars MMOs doing stupid things to otherwise fun games?
  7. Name a game that was popular/critically adored that you just didn’t like.
    Umm… Warcraft 3? Anything in the Civilization series? Basically, any RTS or turn-based strategy game. With very few exceptions, I’ve never really enjoyed my time with them, despite being totally intrigued by their intricate balance and long-term strategizing.
  8. Name a game that was poorly received that you really like.
    I’ve talked about Heavy Rain a bunch of times, so that’s the easy one. The other game that I really enjoyed, but didn’t do well critically, is Brutal Legend. There was just something so… fun about that game. And for whatever reason, I totally dug the tower defense/RTS boss battle bits, which were pretty universally panned.
  9. What are your favourite game genres?
    I have an irrational love for beat-em-ups. Like Devil May Cry and God of War. I don’t actually know if this is my favorite genre, but it’s one that doesn’t seem to get enough love in these things. I like a pretty wide swath of games, from FPS to puzzle games to Adventure games to MMOs. Basically, if it’s not an RTS, I’d probably try it. Or maybe a sim, since those have a lot longer learning curve than I’m willing to put up with these days.
  10. Who is your favourite game protagonist?
    It’s pretty hard to argue with anyone’s choice of Commander Shepard, here. I’m sure that this is in large part due to the personal investment I had in her life, but there was also just a ton of well-realized detail and depth. So I’m going with the easy answer!

That’s all for now! Hope you enjoyed, and tune in to the podcast for some more discussion!

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Struggling to MMO

Posted By on Jul 17, 2014 | 7 comments

When Wildstar first launched, I was super excited. I stayed up until 2am or so just trying to create my character(s) and play around on head start weekend. A bunch of folks were hanging out on Mumble and everyone seemed super excited – and so was I! I played quite a bit for the first few weeks of launch, and maintained a reasonable leveling pace that combined exploring all sorts of things and feeling like I was making progress.

Then, however, life got a bit busy. There was some vacation, some work travel, some heavy work weeks, etc. And, eventually, I realized that I hadn’t even logged in to the game (or any other MMO, for that matter) for almost a month. That would normally be fine – I’m casual or whatever, right? – but the problem is that, even after being back to “normal” for a couple of weeks, I still just… can’t.

I’m not sure what it is, exactly, because I still like Wildstar. And every time people talk about it, I wish I was playing. But the one time I made myself log in, I just sort of wandered around my (really sparse) housing plot, looked at the 5g in my bag and the 1g it cost to make myself a relic farm, wandered around Thayd trying to remember where my quests actually were, and then logged out.

I talked a bit about some of this on the podcast this week, but I think there are a few reasons that I’m struggling:

MMOs reward habits. Or, maybe more directly, they are specifically crafted to be habit-forming. And I think they work best when they are habitual. You get into the routine of logging in, checking mail and auctions, remembering where you are in the questing, figuring out what names all your guildmates are using this time around, and going about your business. Once you break that habit, it can be hard to start forming it again. And particularly hard if you have previously been through the cycle of teaching yourself how to break an MMO habit!

Whether it’s true or not, I feel like I’ve missed out on a crucial period. My highest level character is 21 or 22, but it seems like the critical mass of my guild is now 40+. And so I’m not going to be among them when they are first running into Skullcano and encountering the guy who wants to make them into a stew, or the giant thing, or whatever the hell this picture is showing… And that’s fine, really. It’s not like anyone should feel bad for me that I was enjoying myself on the beach in Hawaii! It’s just that what I was looking forward to the most was the actual process of learning to overcome these things with people while they were learning, too. I think I kind of hyped myself up for that, and now I am left wondering if it’s all just going to be another WoW situation where everyone “knows” the best way to run any instance I go to, or whatever.

And, actually, the fact is that I could probably push hard at leveling and join most of my group by the time the stragglers are hitting 50 and starting to do dungeons and attunement things, and then I could still get involved with the learning of some things, even if it’s not all the things. That’s pretty cool! So then I come up with feelings about how speed-leveling is annoying because I like exploring and reading the stories and listening to datachrons and all that, and then I feel like I have to make that tradeoff which kind of sucks. Or, alternatively, I look at “having” to play 50-60 hours of mostly-solo gaming for a chance at something else later. And if I was going to spend 50-60 hours on a single-player game, I might actually play Skyrim! (hah)

Anyway, I’m mostly just venting here. There’s clearly some merit to the “Just start playing again! Log in for 20 minutes, do something, and see if you keep wanting to play. Then try again tomorrow!” plan. That’s probably how I will get over this funk, even. There’s also an argument to be made that I should just sort of give up on Wildstar (or maybe MMOs entirely?) for a while, since this does feel a bit like burn-out. But that sucks since people are actually playing together!

Mostly, I’m just looking to see if I’m the only person that this sort of thing happens to, and if there are any sorts of tricks that people have used to pull themselves out of it. In the meantime, I’ll work on the backlog or something…


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No, I’M Slim Shady

Posted By on May 08, 2014 | 4 comments

Wildstar has been available for pre-order for a while now, and release (and head start – because it’s totally a race AMIRITE) are coming up in just under a month. And while I still haven’t put in my pre-order, it’s pretty clear that I will be playing the game upon release and should probably get on that. I mean, they’re giving you a rocket-house. And an extra bag because it’s more fun to restrict the inventory space of normals arbitrarily. And the head start, which is actually sort of nice because it means you can start playing on a weekend instead of the typically awkward Tuesday release date. These are all actually incentives that are useful to me!

But, as the post title suggests, there’s one bonus that’s on offer that I probably won’t take advantage of – and that’s the ability to reserve your name ahead of time. They still haven’t actually said how this is going to work (other than that it will be available May 13 – 23), but it will be interesting to see whether you have to pick a server to go along with your name choice, or whether your name will somehow be reserved across the entire game. If it’s the latter, then I can see this being a bigger selling point. And I can absolutely see the appeal for things like Guild names.

I know there are some people (probably a lot) that carry a particular name from game to game, but I’m not really one of them. There are a few names that I have reused over the years, but inevitably, I end up picking my name at the very end of character creation. Not because it isn’t important – in fact, it can totally make or break a character for me!-  but because I never feel like I can properly name someone until I know who they are. And I can’t possibly know that until I’ve gone through the rest of character creation. And even when I’ve already been playing a game for a while and could tell you with pretty strong certainty what race/feature/gender combination I am going to pick, I wouldn’t be able to pick a name until I’m looking at the finished product.

Am I weird in this? I can reuse things like a gamer tag because it isn’t tied to a character (and is sort of intentionally not name-like), but the name “Ellyndrial”? I don’t think I’ll ever really be able to use that again. It just has too much history, and that specific character means something specific in my internal pantheon. It works okay for some of the more minor characters that I’ve had – but usually those are characters that I really was interested in playing out, but never quite made it.

What about you guys? Do you reuse names from game to game? When do you retire a character for good?



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Games that Shaped Me

Posted By on Apr 03, 2014 | 6 comments

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.

  1. 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!).
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

  1. 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!
  2. 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…
  3. 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)!
  4. 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.)
  5. 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!
  6. 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!
  7. 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).
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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?

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The WoW level-slowly-in-instances thing that helped re-hook me over the summer is coming along nicely. And as we were approaching level 70, our fearless organizer Mangle wondered aloud whether it might be fun to take a few at-level pokes at Karazhan again. Fueled by a nostalgia-induced haze, many of us quickly agreed, and last week a few of us finally made it to 70 and capped our experience gain thanks to Slahtz, the hidey NPC. Well, now Mangle is off on some Australian snorkeling adventure, and it didn’t seem right to see this thing through without him. So the group of us that was available this week decided we’d check out some of the notoriously difficult TBC heroics.

Keep in mind that, while I was very much playing during Burning Crusade, I was still learning how to hit the level cap. I only barely managed to do so during Vanilla – joining in on a month or two’s worth of Molten Core, Zul’Gurub, and AQ20 runs with my brother’s guild, and while I did level up that same (shadow) priest fairly quickly in BC, I quickly fell back into the “WHAT CHARACTER SHOULD I PLAY AND WHERE SHOULD I PLAY IT” doldrums for much of the rest of the expansion. All that is just a long-winded way of saying that I don’t have nearly as much previous experience and stories concerning these particular instances as the rest of the group I’m running with.

So when we jumped into a few heroics (Sethekk Halls, Shattered Halls, and Magister’s Terrace) and they turned out to not really be all that much more challenging than the normal versions of the same, it was pretty easy to fall in line with the general consensus that this was all a bit disappointing. No longer did you need copious amounts of CC and very careful pulls. While it was possible to end up dead as a tank, it wasn’t all that consistently dangerous – it just meant that the healer couldn’t be off sending text messages (yes, that did happen).

There are a lot of reasons for that, obviously. The game has been changed in significant ways since TBC was current. Itemization is totally different, we all have different skills (and no real “ranks”), various contents have been nerfed. And, of course, we all have a lot more experience with the “heroic” style of instance. But, whatever the reasons, it’s just a lot easier than it used to be.

However, the more I think about this, the more I’m convinced that it is actually okay. I mean, look, I’m only even doing these instances at all because of nostalgia. And do I really want to have to go run around and gear up to full/mostly full normal gear so that I can get creamed in Heroic Shattered Halls because I didn’t happen to get the nostalgia bug with a group of people that happened to have exactly the right number of mages? No, of course not. This way, I get to roll in there, fight some dudes that are (slightly) harder than normal, reminisce about how many times we had to run these or how much of a pain in the ass it was to get keyed for <whatever>, and then move on to the next thing.

That’s the thing about nostalgia. It’s a powerful motivator to go back and attempt to recreate a previous experience. But it really does put blinders on regarding all the terrible things that we all bitched about at the time. And nostalgia, for me at least, really does burn bright and hot – and fast. So being able to consume these instances at a reasonable pace – and without all the headaches of farming Karazhan for a month before we try one of the larger raids – is actually perfectly reasonable. This isn’t the content that I’m going to spend months and months on – we’ll probably spend another couple of Monday Nights time on it and then move on – and that’s pretty much exactly where these things now sit.

And in the meantime, we’ll all be playing all the rest of the parts of the game that are perfectly fun. I mean, sure, nostalgia brought us back, but it has been six months and we are still going relatively strong, so clearly WoW is doing something right. Oh, and we’ll be arguing over what the right class to instant-level to 90 is. When we are all pre-ordering the next expansion pack.

Plus, I got a cool shield to go with a dumb hat and axe made out of floating crystal stuff. So, basically, it really IS like I’m playing TBC again.

Look at my hat, my hat is amazing

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Space Boobs and Magic

Space Boobs and Magic

Posted By on Jan 17, 2014 | 2 comments

I’m going to try and keep this relatively quick this morning, since I’m getting ready for a weekend playing Magic in Sacramento. It’s another GP, like the one that I went to in Oakland over the summer. We will once again be playing Limited (Sealed on Saturday, Draft on Sunday), and this time it is Theros! That means Gods and Enchantments and everything else. This time around, we are also much deeper into the format, so that should be interesting. I will take some pictures and report back next week!

In other news, I am sure most people have heard by now, but part of this week’s Wildstar Beta patch was a reduction in bust size for three of the eight races (sepcifically, both Human races and the Aurin). I’m sure that it has caused great sperging about the downfall of society in some corners of the internet, but honestly, I think it’s a good thing! If nothing else, it shows that Carbine is willing to respond to reasonable criticisms, which is a good precedent to set. They’ve even hinted at the possibility of adding more in-depth body sliders at some point after release, but given that we are probably only a few months out, it’s possible that this is all they felt they had time for.

Character creation still isn’t perfect. One of my biggest issues is that the poses in the character creation screens are still very much “break my back showing off my glorious chest and booty assets”. Which is unfortunate, because as soon as you see those models in-game (and with some armor), things start to get somewhat better. There is still a lot of stupid running, but one thing at a time, I guess.

In any event, I’m hoping that this is a good omen for the future. And I’m also hoping that the more of these sorts of dust-ups that occur with new games, the more likely it is that developers will start to actively think about it before having to be yelled at by the public. Seems like a long-shot, I know, but a person can dream.

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