Monday, September 28, 2009


Oh hello! I didn't notice you there, I was distracted by my pipe and wonderful smoking jacket. Are you here to congratulate me on how I


/end bragging

Friday, September 18, 2009

Aion: character selection for head-start is today

If you pre-ordered Aion like I did, then you've had access to the open beta for a while, and will be able to use the head start coming soon. Another bonus to pre-ordering is early character selection to reserve your name and server before the masses appear (though judging by the pre-order numbers, the masses are already there).

Pre-selection is today. A few hours from now, I'll be able to reserve two characters. I've been trying to get on the same server as Ixobelle, but recent developments in how the servers are differentiated has made his "last pvp server in the alphabet" policy seem a bit ill-fitting for this situation. Let me explain.

Out of nowhere, NCSoft has announced that half the servers are "west" and half the servers are "east", denoting which time zone they sync up to. This is important mainly because certain raids and pvp areas are only available at certain times, and it's expected, but not confirmed, that it will be related to the server times. Though I'm on the east coast, I expect to be playing Aion later in the evening, so I'll probably pick a West server, and I assume Ixo would want a west server as well, given his residence in California.

Beyond that, I've done a bunch of research on, which is basically the MMO-Champion of Aion, to try to learn more about the West servers. Here's what I've come up with:

Yustiel is looking to become the west RP server, just as Lumiel is the East RP server.

Nezekan is actually an official Oceanic server now even though it's designated as US-west. This was announced rather suddenly, sending US guilds on that server scrambling to find a new home.

Vaizel is the self-proclaimed "roaming PvP server", and is looking to be that new home for the harder-core refugees from Nezekan.

Siel is one of the original beta realms, and has a chip on it's shoulder about it. The returning testers expect the server to be highly populated with knowledgeable, long-time players. Even though I've been in the beta for a long time, the implication that they are somehow special for it naueseates me a little.

Kaisinel is quiet, and is looking like it will be a lower-pop server. The early adopters expect this to make it more mature and family-oriented than the "ZOMG PVPZ" servers.

Ariel's community is looking pretty solid, and it's also the home of a large LGBT guild. Not to get political, but I'm a straight guy who strongly supports the LGBT community and enjoys hanging out with the LGBT people I've met, so I find that aspect kind of appealing, if only for the fact that they are less likely to use "that's gay" when they mean "that sucks", which is a pet peeve of mine.

So right now I'm leaning toward Ariel. Granted, the community on Aionsource is a limited sampling of only the most devout Aion fans, but hopefully it will at least give me some insight to help pick a server.

If I don't hear back from Ixo about a server soon, then I'll likely make on character on Ariel and another on the last pvp server on the list alphabetically, which means Zikel [East]. [edit: looks like Yustiel may be a better bet because it's west, so I'll probably be rolling Elyos there as my main server] For now, I'll be rolling Elyos on both unless I'm unable to make an Elyos with vaguely blue skin. So if you happen to want to come play Aion with me, just check if you can make a blue-skinned Elyos.

Oh shit, Zikel is going to be the home of the Goons! Can't decide if that makes me more or less likely to roll there. Certainly seems like it's going to be attracting some unsavory "competition" to that server.

I'll be naming them both Hatch, but the only question is, which class should I roll? I know for sure that my main will be a Gladiator, and my alt a Summoner. So should I roll two Gladiators because I don't know which server will become my "main"? Or should I roll one of each, and then roll a new Gladiator if it turns out I guessed wrong? I've got a few more hours to figure it out before I get off of work.

Happy weekend! *

*I don't live there anymore, but that's one of my favorite bars from back home

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Champions Online: The Honeymoon is Over

Champions seemed great in beta. With everything else going on in the gaming world and the fact that your beta characters would be wiped at launch, I didn't really delve too deeply into the game because I wanted to save enough of the content for playing the game I'd paid for. I tried about 7 different power sets and played up to about level 15 a few times, but left the rest for Live.

At my current rate, I might end up not seeing that content anyway.

Sure, part of that is because of all the time I'm spending in LoL, along with the necessity that I now log into WoW every day to get my goddamn triumph emblems from the daily heroic. Thanks so much Blizzard, for the privilege of having to do that annoying daily grind of faceroll content just to keep up with current raiding. I hate you so much.

Add to that the fact that my 10-man WoW guild is currently dying in a fire against Mimiron hard mode (mastered the first 3 phases, hopefully get phase 4 down tonight!) while exploiting the cheap gear-reset known as Trial of the Crusader (or it is Champion? I can never remember) for all its worth. It takes us less time to clear that place than it takes to fly from there back to Ulduar where the real content still is. These Triumph Emblem vendors outside ToC are very accurately named:

Glad you find this phoned-in, anti-casual (forced to log in every day) patch hilarious, Blizz. You better really enjoy the recliner you've made out of my money.

But the competition isn't the only reason I'm not playing Champions half as much as I expected. I still love the character creator, love the ideas behind picking your powers, and find the game mostly fun. But a lot of problems are cropping up that are keeping me from even getting to 25 to try out my Nemesis (who should have been available from level 10 or so, frankly).

1. Account Problems

First of all, there was a screw-up in the Champions database where some accounts conveniently forgot that they had been activated by a product key. And Cryptic didn't really say anything about this, or respond to the numerous forum threads about it. It took a service ticket on their website and finally a follow-up phone call to get my girlfriend's account re-activated, since the system would no longer accept her product key because, well, obviously it had already been used. My account worked even though we both entered our keys side by side exactly the same way, while sitting in the same room, and were both able to play on day 1. When we tried to play again on day 3 (this was well before that "early start keys no longer work" thing on the 6th, so that's not the culprit), suddenly hers didn't work anymore. I chose not to play out of solidarity while we waited for a response from their website, and the 3 days of waiting seriously sapped our enthusiasm about the game. It's hard to commit to an MMO after a mistake like that.

It took a phone call a few days later to finally get it fixed. To Cryptic's credit, there was zero wait for a representative and she was extremely polite and helpful and got the account up and running in a matter of minutes. But playing the game you paid for should not require a phone call.

2. CO's "action-oriented" engine can't handle it when you hold a key down

CO is supposed to be a more action-ey MMO. So how come the controls just completely break down when you try to time a block or use a "charged" or "maintained" power that requires keeping a key pressed? Almost every other battle the following will happen:

1) I hold down the 4 key to activate my maintained attack.
2) Nothing happens
3) I notice and let go of the button
4) I hold down the button again
5) The power activates for half a second as though I had tapped the key, putting the ability on cooldown while doing almost no damage, because it wasn't "maintained."

If I HOLD DOWN the key twice and the game thinks I tapped it once, it fails. This happens constantly, about half the powers require you hold a key, and I've heard it mentioned by every reviewer or blogger who has talked about the game. It's a universal error, and inexcuseable in a game where all you do is fight.

3. The quest gap

There aren't enough quests in the game to cover your entire leveling experience. "So what?" you say, "just grind mobs!"

Except the game is balanced such that, for example, a quest will give 5,000 xp while a mob gives 10. You do the math about how many mobs I need to grind to cover for one missing quest.

I thought this was a great idea in beta, because it discouraged grinding. It would have been a great idea if there was enough content to get you to 40.

4. Repetitition, followed by repeating rehashes

Making multiple characters is the fun of the game! Getting new powers and trying them out is a blast!

None of that matters because you have to do the exact same content every single time! If I have to do the tutorial again, I'm going to kill myself! Powers are doled out so slowly it makes people waiting in line at the DMV feel bad for you!


So we don't log in much, when faced on our mains with the prospect of scrounging for what few quests we can find with the next big carrot (nemesis) still seeming so far away and our powers only occassionally actually working anyway. We could go play one of those other characters we so excitedly designed in the creator, but then we'd have to grind through the same boring content again.

The honeymoon with Champions is already over - but I'm not looking for a divorce. However, I am afraid that one day I'll wake up and forget I ever met her.

It's looking like I'll let my sub lapse at the end of the month, but I don't yet regret my purchase. I strongly suspect that I'll come back to the game a few months from now, after patches fill in some of the gaps, turning this into the game it should have been at release. In the meantime, I just can't fit it in between WoW, LoL, and now Aion.

I'm sorry if anyone bought the game partly based on my recommendation and was disappointed. The first 20 or so hours of playing with the character creator and seeing the early content for the first time IS a blast, and I still really like the game. It's just not quite winning in the competition for my gaming time right now, but I expect it will again in the future.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

League of Legends is stealing my life.

Thanks a lot, Ixobelle.

There are a lot of WoW-related, and Champions-related topics that I'd like to write about, such as my Cataclysm impressions (still haven't gotten to that...short answer is I think Cataclysm is exactly what's needed, but I am still leery that they will half-ass the execution) or the recent shenanigans I've experienced from Champions Online (sudden nerfs, accounts arbitrarily unlinked from their product keys, and various other annoyances, all answered by kind and efficient customer service and a large patch of fixes, leaving me with a bittersweet taste in my mouth).

But I can't bring myself to write at length about any of that, because I'd much rather spend my downtime thinking about League of Legends. Dammit.

LoL is an RTS-style "Massively Online Battle Arena (MOBA)" game based on an insanely popular Warcraft 3 mod knowns as Defense of the Ancients. In both games, you control only a single hero unit from a list of about 40. Throughout the 30-60 minute battle, you and a team of 5 heroes will vie for control of the map against an opposing team of players, assisted by waves of footsoldiers who mindlessly throw themselves down a trio of turret-lined "lanes" that lead to the enemy base. Over the course of the match, you gather xp and gold (to buy items) to upgrade your Champion's stats, 3 special abilities, and "Ultimate" spell. All heroes in each match start as unequipped level 1's, so the game becomes a tug-of-war to outlevel and outgear the other team while killing their champs and avoiding death yourself, all the while trying to assist your foot soldiers at tearing down the opponent's towers and eventually their base on the opposite corner of the map.

The original Defense of the Ancients (DotA) map for WC3 is extremely complex, offering 95 characters, dozens of items, and a nice steaming pile of lingo and strategic standards and rules that are not apparent to a new user. And since dying keeps you from gathering XP while "feeding" gold and xp to the other team for killing you, new players can be a devastating albatross to their team. This has led to an insular community that will drive away all but the most determined and competitive prospective players. In fact, DotA's community has a reputation as one of the most repulsively belligerent and trolling groups of people in the entire internet. I experienced it myself when I tried the DotA map a few years ago, but soon gave up on it because of it's impenetrability and reliance on "advanced" strategies such as killing your own troops to deny your opponent xp and gold (fittingly known as "denying").

Enter LoL
The guy who refined the original DotA idea into the "All-stars" map that is in favor today, and was it's caretaker for many years, goes by the handle "Guinsoo". A few years back, he handed over care of the mod and disappeared from the scene, only to reemerge recently as one of the founders of Riot games, a game development company creating a stand-alone spiritual successor to DotA. Free from the restrictions of the WC3 engine, a lot about the game was changed in its LoL incarnation.

And for someone like me who was very interested in a game in the style of DotA, but found the mod too impenetrable, LoL hits all the right notes. I've played it literally every day since Ixo gave me a beta key a little over a week ago.

The beta NDA allows me to talk about the game as much as I want, but I can't post any of my own screenshots or videos. So all screenshots in this post are stolen from Gamespy's coverage of the game, written by the excellent Ryan Scott of the legendary, but sadly now-defunct, Computer Gaming World/Games for Windows magazine and GFW Radio (aka 97.5 The Brodeo).

What LoL does right:
1) Accessibility: Compared to DotA, matches are shorter and faster-paced, there are fewer champions to learn and they are easier to tell apart, stats are simplified, and effort is made throughout the game and the interface to help you along, including suggesting items for you and (promised but not yet implemented) robust matchmaking to prevent a noobie from being dropped into their first game with a group of angry veterans. Some of the less intuitive tactics, particularly creep denying, have been removed. Overall, it's just easy to pick up and play and to learn, but still very challenging. Expect to fail really hard for your first 10 matches or so, especially if you are learning on your own.

2) Atmosphere: The art direction is great, and well-executed. The maps are vibrant and colorful, while the Champions are distinctive and full of personality and humor. How could I not fall in love with a game where an eskimo boy riding a Yeti battles a crying baby mummy and a guy wielding a lamppost faces off with a little girl and her giant, flaming teddy bear named "Mr. Tibbers"? The game definitely takes after the "Blizzard touch" of personality and color, while making it all its own.

3) Playability: the game is quite responsive, the UI is good, the hotkeys are laid out intelligently, and there are a lot of Quality of Life improvements such as stat tracking and the ability to rejoin a game if you get disconnected.

4) Fun: the game is fast-paced and exciting, pretty to look at, and enjoyably competitive.

What LoL does wrong:
1) "Summoner" levelling: Unlike DotA and other spiritual successors, LoL adds a dash of MMO to the RTS mix in the form of the Summoner, which is a meta-avatar for the player which levels up from match to match, unlocking talent points and glyphs-oh, I'm sorry, I meant "masteries" and "runes". These give minor in-game benefits to your champion's stats and unlock Summoner Spells, which are abilities on long cooldowns that you can use regardless of which champion you picked. There are over a dozen summoner spells, but you can only pick 2 per match. On it's face, this seems like a nice idea. In practice, it means that you have to grind through about 40 practice games to power-level you summoner in order to be competitive in actual games. If you boot up the game and jump into a public match, the champions played by maxed-out level 30 summoners will wipe the floor with you. The bonuses for each level are small and far from game-breaking, but they add up. In such a skill-based game, it really sucks to lose to a worse player because they have bonus stats. Hopefully matchmaking in the live game will keep you facing off against those of similar summoner levels while you level up, which will help a lot with my unhappiness with the system. My solution in beta was just to grind up to 30 as quickly as possible.

2) Still not enough training: I really have to rely on the forums to train myself in the game. There's no tutorial (yet) and there no way for me to see the exact specs of powers and items without entering a game, so planning ahead of time is a challenge.

3) Retains some of my least favorite design choices from DotA. For instance, the death penalty is too high, since it not only takes you out of the fight for a while, but it also keeps you from gathering xp or money during that time while also giving a hefty reward to whoever killed you. This encourages over-cautious play and is extremely unfriendly to noobies, and leads to the notoriously goofy and counter-intuitive "run in, ok run out, now run back in-omg run out again" gameplay that DotA is known for, which tends to turn a lot of people off (though that fades in mid- and late-game, it's just the first few minutes that are like that really). I'm also not a big fan of "last-hitting": the mechanic where you get extra gold if you happen to be the player who got the killing blow to a creep or player. This mechanic encourages teammates to play against each other, rather than cooperate, as they compete for killing blows. Damage done overall becomes undervalued, because all that really matters is that last hit.

4) Lacking features: the most glaring of these is replays.

The game is clearly torn as it tries to strike a balance between the skill-based (and highly skill-differentiated) play of DotA and greater accessibility. It's true that denying, last-hitting, and the death penalty all add an element of skill and strategy to the game, and thus aren't categorically "bad". They just aren't to my taste. That doesn't keep the game from being, as a whole, a joy to play, but it does sully the experience for me, personally.

Come LoL with me!
Hahahahaah c wut i did thar?!1

No seriously. LoL is a team-based game. I am teamless. Public games ("pub" games have exactly the same reputation as WoW "pugs" - dumb as a brick and twice as hard to swallow) are just not going to cut it forever.

You can get beta keys in seemingly a million ways:
-daily LoL forum beta key giveaway
-outside contests
-find a friend with invites to give out
-just beg for one on their forums (I can't believe this works...and what you get is an entire general forum where every single thread is "can I please have a beta key?")
-the game is free-to-play, but you can get quick unlocks, extra perks, and a beta key by pre-ordering the special edition package

Hope to see you there! I got the name Hatch in the beta, so add me as a friend if you aren't creepy or gross!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Champions Online Guide to Not Gimping Your First Hero

Brief tips to help you avoid building a gimped hero right off the bat:

1) Characteristic Focus: This is the most confusing aspect of the stats in CO. Here is a simple analogy:

You know how, in WoW, warriors want strength to increase their damage, while rogues want agility?

Those are their characteristic focii. The only difference is that you get to pick them instead of having them be intrinsic to a character class.

The 2 Characteristic Focus stats you pick are the stats that increase your damage.

This damage increase is in addition to whatever benefit the stat gives you (such as DEX's increased crit chance or END's increase to your endurance pool).

Starter rule of thumb: pick gear that has your Characteristic Focus stats on it.

2) Presence is the healing stat. It is also the threat stat for tanks.

3) Instead of picking a class you pick a framework. It simply refers to the theme of your powers, and not to your character's role, which I will discuss in a moment. The pre-build frameworks come with an endurance-building auto-attack power (you only get one of these per character, ever) and a nuke, as well as a starting stat layout based on a theme, such as "indomitable" (high ego and strength) to "Genius" (high intellect and presence). In most cases the stats you get are the ones that are most helpful to that framework. Though which stats you pick really only matters for your support powers and passives usually.

For instance, all of your attacks will scale with whichever super stat you pick. But your heals scale with Presence, while your passive defensive ability might scale with Constitution or Endurance, depending on framework. You're generally safe just going with the stat outlay tied to your framework, but if you want to change it (as I did with my Telekenesis hero, by switching out Constitution for Endurance) you can do a custom framework using the 2 starter powers from that set, but a different stat pick, and see no ill effects.

The 2 stats you favor at the beginning should be the ones you plan to make into your Characterstic Focus stats.

4) You unlock powers in your framework by picking up more powers in that framework. You also unlock more powers in other frameworks as you go, just at a slightly reduced rate. You can get to the big stuff faster by staying in one framework, and I recommend you do this at first. Make more varied characters and dip into other sets once you get a handle on the game.

5) Pick up talents (stat bonuses) that increase your Characteristic Focus stats. (durrr)

6) Put your Ranks and Advantages points into the attacks you use most often, at least at first.

7) As you play you will unlock Roles. These work a lot like Death Knight Presences or Druid forms. You start in a balanced role, but you'll eventually be able to get an offensive role (that increases damage but reduces defense), a tanking role (higher defense and lower damage), and a support role (improved healing and energy regen). So your powerset framework is more a theme for your character, while the Role defines how you will play in a group. If you want to be a healer, hold on to gear with high presence so you can switch into it when needed (much like putting on your spellpower set in WoW).

There. Now you can get on with the playing and learning while minimizing the risk that you'll gimp your character right out of the gate. Have fun!

Champions Online Launch Today

I'm excited to see Champions go live today, despite this equation:

crowds + collision detection =

Here's a "State of the Game" post from the Cryptic Team that's a good, short read.

I have to congratulate them on what was the most bug-free and stable open beta and early start I have ever seen, despite seriously worrying problems with the initial patcher and the complete failure of the early start's special invasion.* If that disaster is a sample of things to come, then I'll know exactly which MMO monthly fee to cut out of my budget. I'm choosing to give them the beenefit of the doubt currently, especially considering that the dev team was probably taking their first weekend off after going gold before the craziness of live release. Still, it was badly handled. The SotG reflects how responsive the dev team has been to player concerns in other areas, so I have high hopes for their stewardship of this online world.

They're also already announcing the first major content patch, which adds a new power set. Woot!

And here's a launch interview with designer Bill Roper (previously designer of Diablo 2 and Hellgate: London) that I found interesting, as well.

Enjoy Millenium City!

*The special non-combat pet available to early start players requires that they kill 100 invading aliens as part of the invasion event. At first, each invasion would last 10-15 minutes and occur every half-hour, meaning it took about an hour total to get the pet. After the first day, something bugged out and the events lasted, at most 30 seconds. So if you wanted the one-time-only pet, you had to camp the spot in the middle of a crowd for 1/2 hour, then had 30 seconds of desperate, frenzied activity, and hope you got a few tags (usually 3-4 per time) to get closer to the 100. It got the point where people were timing each shard and jumping from shard to shard to follow the event, making each spawn even more crowded.

Despite playing for hours every day of the preorder event, and in fact having been in the beta for 4 months beforehand, I still ended up with nothing to show for being there early because I refused to do the boring camp.

Blizzard's Raid Testing: Practically Nonexistent

Looks like I'm taking a ride on the WAAAAHmbulance this week. Another fun little tidbit from Blizzcon that bunched my panties up but good, taken from a liveblog of the Dungeon and Raids panel :

1:55PM Hard modes get iterated a lot because they're difficult to test.

1:54PM How extensive is your raid testing, and did anybody internally kill Yogg+0 pre-nerf? Daelo: Encounter team is 5-people, but we bring in other leads and raiders on staff for the 10-man. It's hard to get 25 developers together, but QA does those. "It's pretty much impossible for 25 people on QA to reach the skill level of a good raid. They didn't beat Yogg+0, they got spanked pretty hard by Yogg+4."

Yeah. Internally, they don't even put together a 25-man raid good enough to clear Ulduar.

My favorite part?

"Encounter team is 5-people"

Our millions of $ at work. Considering how many people play WoW, these 5 better be paid like pro athletes and worth every cent.


"It's hard to get 25 developers together"

Gives you a good idea of how big their dev team is.

Don't get me wrong: the game is still worth paying for. But it could be so much better if they'd loosen the belt a notch and hire a few more people. And there's really no excuse. The content patches are part of the promise they make us when we pay the game. If they weren't doing these "free" patches, we wouldn't keep paying the $15, period. So now it's just a matter of the patch frequency and size. Both can afford to increase, given the amount of money we pay Blizzard all told.

I'll get into my Cataclysm impressions soon, but I do want to temper this post with the admission that I'm impressed with the promises they made for the xpac, and am hoping that the execution bears out my current suspicion that content is sparse right now because overhauling Azeroth is such a large undertaking. Please let me be right. Blizzard is burning through my customer goodwill at an alarming rate.

Champions and Aion, HOOOOO!