Friday, January 04, 2013
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Long time, no post...
That's pretty much been keeping me busy, writing 1 or 2 a week.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Yet the basic formula has been screwed up. Tetris Worlds for instance, for the PS2, kept the gameplay but took away the score. Another recent version turned it into a dancing mascot show.
So I was a little apprehensive buying this version, especially at a fairly stiff price (at least for a PSPMini) of $9.99. Happily though, this version goes back to its roots and is one of the better versions I've played.
First off, it goes back to the traditional gameplay. That is, you keep clearing lines with the blocks dropping faster and faster until finally you can't clear them anymore. It has a plain, somewhat stark playing field, no fancy animations or distractions in the background. Crisp, responsive controls, usually more of a problem in clones, but some official versions have been sluggish.
So the core of what makes Tetris, Tetris, is here and quite well done. That said, it does seem to be a bit harder than the gameboy versions. It's been a few years since I played but I used to be able to hit 100 lines cleared all the time, and my record is well over 200. In this, it took me quite a few attempts to break 100.
Besides the original gameplay, you have about a dozen variants. These need to be unlocked by simply playing the main mode or some of the already unlocked variants.
Most of the variants apply some sort of special condition to the playing board and require you to clear 40 lines, as opposed to going until you lose. There's even one that is inspired by the PSP's flagship puzzle game, Lumines, where the blocks disappear with the sweep of a scanner
Some of the explanations of the variants could be clearer. For instance, I can't really make out heads or tails of how the gravity one works. Didn't seem to be any different than regular Tetris when I played it.
None of them seem to be better than real tetris, but they provide an interesting change of pace. And they are suited for shorter bursts of play, most can be completed in about 5-6 minutes, whereas as full game of Tetris can take ten or more.
Beyond that, it keeps track of various stats and has Xbox like achievements. Which don't do anything for me, but could drive some people to play more.
Anyway, could it be better? Yes. I miss the rocket launching from the original Tetris. A custom soundtrack feature would have been nice. I always have Robert Plant's "Tall Cool One" in my head while playing this, since that's what we called the long, straight piece back in my college days. So it would be nice to actually hear it on my PSP, not just in my head as I play.
But all in all, it's a very nicely done product, even if it is an Iphone port. 9/10
Sunday, July 26, 2009
The Door to Saturn by Clark Ashton Smith
It collects some of his most popular stories, but beyond those, and a handful of other good stories, it's mostly dominated by somewhat lackluster science fiction efforts. About a quarter of the book is devoted to two space opera tales of the starship Alycone, and another quarter to two tales about people who travel into the future.
Unlike fantasy, these sort of tales really don't hold up very well, I feel. Having basically half the book taken up with them, feels like quite a bit of a waste, especially since this book isn't exactly cheap. $29 for 265 pages of public domain stories isn't a very good value, but worth paying to get the definitive texts in a very nice format. But when only half the book is worth reading more than once, well, it's a terrible value.
That said, it does contain some very good stories. The title story, which relates a surprisingly amusing adventure of the wizard Eibon. "A Rendezvous in Averoigne", one of the most picturesque vampire tales ever written. "The Testament of Athammaus" which is almost a fantasy version of The Dunwich Horror. And "The Return of the Sorcerer", which was badly adapted on an episode of Night Gallery. "The City of Singing Flame", another very picturesque and haunting tale, this one about dimensional travel.
Outside of those famous ones, there are a couple of other gems. "The Ghoul" and "Told in the Desert" I really liked. But that's about it.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Atlantica Online (after 4 months of play)
You create one main character, but rather than a class, you pick which weapon he or she wields. Axe, sword, rifle, staff, bow, spear, cannon originally, a recent update has added a guitar and chainsaw.
You can also hire or acquire several other characters, called Mercenaries, to fight with you. At the start only a few basic ones can be hired - Archer, Gunner, Swordsman, Spearman, but as you progress in the game, you can recruit several others. A Shaman that can heal, a Monk that will protect you, a very big Viking with a very big axe. 21 different types in all, and apparently more are being added in future patches.
Graphically, there's not too much in the way of customization, only a handful of hairs and faces for your main character. The body changes according to what armor he's wearing, although there's at least one outfit in the game and for the winter holiday, there was a santa claus hat.
There are only four statistics (Strength, Vitality, Dexterity and Intelligence) and a handful of skills per character type, so much of the customization of the game depends on the squad of characters you deploy in battles, not the actual characters themselves.
This is pretty unique, visually the closest thing I can think of it resembling is the old Ogre Battle games, you have a squad of three to nine characters, arranged on a 3 x 3 grid, generally facing a similar sized squad of enemies (sometimes multiple squads, if there were other enemies nearby).
In this though, you actually control what your characters do in the fight. On your turn, certain characters, up to five, are eligible to perform a move. Which ones depends on initiative, it's somewhat random though some classes are faster than others. You then have 30 seconds to have your guys attack or perform skills (usually special attacks or healing magic) the enemy. Then when you've moved everyone, or time is up, the enemy takes a turn (of about 15 seconds, usually less). This repeats until the enemy or you are dead.
In a lot of ways, it's a graphical representation of combat in old school computer RPGs, like Wizardry, Bard's Tale and Might and Magic, where you had 6-9 characters arranged in rows, albeit just text wise.
30 seconds might sound like a lot, but once you get a full complement of characters, it can be very frantic keeping track of what you are doing. But in a good way. There's a lot of strategy and tactics involved, so you have to plan out your formation ahead of time, and react to your opponent's move.
Now granted, not all fights are like this. Most the fights vs monsters and such are relatively easy, especially early one. But some do require thought, especially those in dungeons, and battling other people certainly does.
Other than combat, it plays fairly similar to most MMORPGs. You navigate your avatar around a 3D landscape, going from town to town, NPCs to NPC, dungeon to dungeon, while getting into fights with monsters seen on the screen.
The game is largely quest driven, at least early on, with around 1500 quests in the game so far. That's not to say there isn't grinding involved, but your progress in the game largely follows a lengthy quest line. Every 5 or so levels, you have a different group of quest NPCs, based around a certain region and dungeon.
The quests themselves are not that innovative. Many involve killing a number of monsters. Sometimes to get a drop, sometimes to just kill a fixed number, sometimes to acquire information about a monster. Besides that, there are quests to simply give the NPC some sort of object which you have to buy or craft, fedex quests. Some quests do require interaction with other players, such as having someone on your friend's list, giving a gift, or sharing monster information.
But the variety is generally well done. You rarely have two quests of the same type in a row. Usually one killing quest, then a fedex quest or two, then giving them some sort of item, then another killing quest. Besides the main quest line, there are several sidequest chains. Generally these are either to recruit a new type of mercenary, or to acquire some piece of equipment.
PvP is a strong component of this game. It's mostly consentual, there are automated tournaments several times a day. PvP outside these tournaments is fairly rare and somewhat hard to explain, only heads of certain guilds can do it against members of rival guilds. These automated tournaments consist of 8 matches and last for an hour and a half. You gain a lot of money if you win, a decent amount if you lose, so there is a pretty big incentive to fight in them. It also keeps track of your win-loss record and ranking, which you can see on the website for the game.
There's a fairly deep guild system, which I have only barely touched. I started my own just to see how it works and it's pretty complicated. But in a neat way, with being able to control a town and have instanced dungeons. None of which I have tried, though.
Although it's a bit tricky getting used to at first, it has by far the most comprehensive in game help system I've seen. You can look up all the monsters you've fought (if you've fought them enough), seeing their basic stats and even what they drop. Or look up by items, see where it's dropped from, what you can craft out of it, etc.
And also entries on all the NPCs and mercenaries, as well as towns and dungeons. For these, you can even have it move you automatically to a location, or if you have the license, teleport there. The quest log is also just as nice, you can see earlier quests you have done, and each one in a quest chain is labeled numerically.
One somewhat controversial system in the game is "Stamina". Basically it's how many battles you can have in one day. You can still fight after it, but it reduces how much experience and loot you get. It starts off at 100, the abruptly drops to 50 when you hit 50th level. It seems to be a device to stop botting, both player and real money trader type.
You can gain it back in a variety of ways, form simply not fighting (1 per 10 minutes), to giving gifts to beginners, to winning PvP fights, to actively doing quests (many give it as a reward). You also lose it less if you group up with others.
The "Endgame" starts at level 90, though the level cap is at 120. But that's when you can start doing this games version of raiding, in this case, instanced individual dungeons. These dungeons are called "individual", but you probably need one or two other players, they are named that to distinguish them from similar dungeons for guilds and nations (groups of guilds).
Leveling starts slowing at level 95, which the amount of experience needed increases immensely. I went from gaining a level every day or so in the early 90s (pretty steady throughout much of the game), to a level about every week to where I am now (98). Apparently it gets slower and slower.
At the very least though, you are guaranteed a level a month. You gain bonus exp of 3% needed for the next level for doing the first three quests of the day. And since you can reset many quests, you never run out. Still, it seems like the number of new quests you have is a lot fewer than in previous parts of the game. Right now, where I am, I'm simply not high enough to finish the quests I have. So I'm basically going to have to gain a few levels by grinding.
The graphics won't impress you, but they don't really detract from the experience. The landscape looks like a 10 year old golf game, simplistic terrain contours, very little vegetation, trees are static. Despite this, it's fairly choppy on my computer, which is old, but runs much better looking games better. The early parts of the games are the ugliest, it gets better looking later on.
Animations are good, though, with a lot of monster variety and little re-use of monsters. Character models are also pretty decent to excellent in some cases, including animated hair.
The sound is extremely loud for some reason, I had to set it to the lowest setting possible, which is a little too quiet. But the next setting up is too loud. NPCs basically say a phrase when you greet them, and each of your characters has three or four sayings when you click on them in combat. Which does get a little old, considering you will be using them for dozens, maybe hundreds of hours.
Like most free games, it's a multicultural mix of mostly the young, college kids and bums like me. On the server I play on, it seems pretty decent enough. I haven't made any real close friends yet, but have had several positive experiences and probably group two or three times a week. But what's great is how the game is designed
First off, it rewards you for giving stuff to new players. So when you start you are going to be showered with gifts from higher level players. Much of it isn't worth much (just the minimum of 1000 gold, either money itself or equipment worth it), but I had one person give me 200,000 gold, another 100,000, which certainly has come in handy. It also encourages you to thank the giver, which I have, which has led me to talk to a few people (and get a few guild offers).
Secondly, it encourages partying with others. You can only group with 3 others, but some dungeons areas are meant for it. There are also group dungeons for your guild. And while many people simply like to solo, this actually rewards you for soloing with other people. Basically if you are in a party with others that aren't nearby, you get extra experience. As well as experience books, which can be used on any character (good for leveling up new mercenaries).
Thirdly, there are a lot of communication tools. I like the chat channel called "Peers", which is all the people around your own level. So if you need help with something, you can always find people to ask. This is especially nice early on, before most people find a guild. There's also a message board in the game, as well as a mail system.
Fourthly, the Guild system requires active management. Certain amounts of people have to log in, a fee has to be paid every day by members (out of a general fund), so most guilds are active and there is a demand to fill them up. And if the leader doesn't log in for a while, the rest of the guild can "impeach" him and name a new leader.
This is basically the part of the game I really don't like. "Free" MMORPGs need some sort of income, so most have a cash shop. However, most also seem to be designed to extract as much cash from players as possible, and this is perhaps the worst I've seen in a "free" game.
The biggest culprit is the gambling boxes. Every month or so, they wheel out a new "box", containing a new type of mount or other sort of goody. Unfortunately, you've only got about a 10% chance of getting said goody, and each box costs $10. So you've got to spent a large amount of money to get a good chance of getting one, and even then there is no guarantee.
It also leads to an arms race, sort of, as every month the new mount is bigger and more outlandish than the next. It started off with horses, now we're up to floating mechanical suits. For a while this constant rollout of new mounts meant that the older ones were cheap in the game, but a recent patch made it desireable to keep old mounts, so the price of them have skyrocketed. And there are also new outfits and accessories like wings or hats. Also doled out in the gambling boxes.
Beyond that, there's a lot of other little things. Dungeons are quite long and multilevel (sometimes up to 8), so you have to do alot of walking unless you happen to have a teleportation license. Dungeon mobs also have really tough mini-bosses hidden in them, so you need a license to look at the mobs before you fight, so you can avoid them. But you can get both these licenses for only $15 a month.
Next up are mercenary rooms. The game is party based, with about 20 different character classes and more being added sporadically. But where do you keep the ones you aren't using in your party? A mercenary room. You can get a 7 day one in game without too much effort, but a permanent one costs $5 each.
And once you hit level 95, you'll probably want to buy an item to boost your experience gain, since the amount of experience neede to level up increases immensely. Before that, it was $10 for an extra 50% experience for 550 fights. But now they have added a monthly license which gives you an extra 50% for a month for $15, which is a much better deal (you'll probably fight 1500 battles a month at least).
Most of the cash shop items are tradeable in game, usually a good thing. But due to the uneven nature of the gambling boxes, this is perhaps not as good as it could be. The fancy mounts go for huge amounts of in game money, since they are so rare, but the rest of the stuff is fairly cheap, because it's not that great. So if you want money in game, it's not that great a return selling cash shop items, unless you happen to get a mount.
This is something that is very important to an MMORPG. Having played one where there was a large disconnect between the developer and the company running the game, I know how frustrating it can be not getting any sort of updates or even just bug fixes for months. Similarly, "Free" games require a lot of cash shop use, which is much trickier than simply a monthly flat fee, because items often aren't delivered or work properly.
For the former, the Western version of the game is actually run by a subsidiary of the developer. So content updates seem to happen often and quickly, only about a month or two after the game is updated in Korea. The communication about when we get the patches could be better (they seem to be unannounced until after the fact). The one time there was an exploit in the game (which essentially handed out free money to high level players), it was fixed in a matter of days.
For the latter, I don't know, I've had no problems with the cash shop when I used it, or any problems with the game.
One thing that seems a bit lacking though are giveaways, specials, and in game events. I can only remember one giveaway in the time I've been playing, and that only gave away very minor stuff. And I've never seen any in game events, either.
One thing I do really like though is the ease of downloading patches. Unlike many other games, at least free ones, the patch download program will resume. And for some of the larger patches, there has been a preloading option. This greatly helps those with slower internet connections like me.
It's a fun game, for the four months I've played so far, it's been by far the most fun I've had in a MMORPG. Which perhaps isn't saying much, I've only played three for more than a month (besides this, Sword of the New World and Lord of the Rings Online, plus Guild Wars if you count that as an MMORPG).
Still, the cash shop really bugs me. I have no problems with a cash shop in theory. But the sort that relies on gambling is the worst. Just let people buy what they want, not having to spend $100s just to stand an even chance at getting the new goody of the month. I know though, that the gambling model makes a lot more money, the whole collectible card industry is based on it, generating millions from cards that cost pennies to print. But that doesn't mean it's a good thing, either.
And while they are constantly adding new content, there does seem to be something of a lack of content at endgame. This problem does pretty much plague all MMORPGs, since people can go through content faster than it can be created. But by having a high level cap that requires a lot of grinding to reach, and then having new content be tailored for those high levels, makes it harder to enjoy what new content there is in the game, without having to grind a lot to get to it.
Monday, January 05, 2009
My Top Ten Songs of 2008
1) The Thrillseekers feat Fisher - The Last Time
Brilliant vocal trance tune. Very haunting chorus
"The time we touched, the last time you held me, I was a soul in your hand...
2) Fragma - Toca Me (Inpetto 2008 Mix)
(Interestingly they used a video from different mix of a song)
Okay, this actually came out at the very end of 2007. But officially released in 2008, and I'm still not sick of it.
3) Deadmau5 & Kaskade - Move For Me
I think Deadmau5 is a little overrated, but this song is very catchy
4) Eric Prydz - Pjanoo
(Got an official video, regular release is twice as long)
A few years ago had an interesting bootleg of a Stevie Winwood song (Call Me). But this is a piano driven house thumper
5) Cressida vs Store N Forward - Honeymoon at 6 am (Optimus Prime Mashup)
(only find half the song)
Takes two solid tunes and makes them into one great tune with just an amazing breakdown.
6) Ferry Tayle - Revanche (Kharybe Scylla Intro Mix)
(Couldn't find the mix)
As you can probably tell by the name, Ferry Tayle has always made the dreamier sort of trance. This is by far his best song. I love this mix, it opens with a piano
7) Mark Pledger vs Matt Hardwick feat Melinda Gareth - Fallen Tides
(Mat Zo Remix)
Haunting vocal trance tune.
8) Solar Stone - 4ever
Classic Solar Stone sound, despite only now being one member.
9) Trebbiano - Isle of May
Hard to describe song. Almost sort of breakbeat, but not quite. Kind of rythym driven though, housey. Melody sounds like it's done by an electric guitar
10) Myon & Shane 54 feat Carrie Skipper - Vampire
Originally just a Shane 54 song from a few years ago, never really caught on though it was a favorite of mine. But saw a (slight) remix and re-release in 2008. (Would be higher except it's not that new a mix)