Reviews and Impressions

City of Steam first look

City of Steam open beta started at some ungodly hour this morning and I definitely didn’t stay up for it because I’m old leave me alone sort of thing. This morning however I logged in to have a look. It’s quite nice. There are some techno-niggles, but it’s fun and light and it runs. Being a browser game downloading wasn’t a problem. Unfortunately the screenshot I took came out black, will try later, but you can doubtless see what it looks like from other places in the meantime.

The Unity Web Browser chugs, no doubt about it. I’m not sure it’s great on complexity. My fps was between 2-5, but the game was still playable by some miracle. I meandered through the tutorial until the part where I have to find some coal wagons. Got two, couldn’t find the third and it’s time I did something else. I think we are all evacuating from a city, but I’m still not properly awake, and I’ll pay attention next time I promise.

Mainly I was exercised by the control system and camera which combined are annoying. Perhaps the people who made this game played a lot of isometric games, just guessing. WASD, AS= strafe, no turn, never a good sign. Then the camera which you can toggle out of isometric follows very loosely and definitely does not turn with your character. It’s ok, you get used to it. Use right mouse button to turn, go forward, adjust view with rt mouse button. Constantly tweaking the view via mouse though, which does not make the gameplay flow.

The other problem which is minor or major depending whether they address it, is needing to be exactly positioned to pick things up. Things despawn. Plus lag = annoyance when I cannot get into the exact position fast enough to loot. Opening doors temporarily freezes the wasd buttons. Opening doors also needs pixel positioning, and opening doors can leave you running on the spot (even with click to move disabled). Meh, these are all just niggles. The game itself is nice, nice enough to go back for another look for sure.

There are some  things I bet they are glad they included given the astounding lag and chuggy engine:  pressing an attack autotargets anything attacking you. That’s helpful given the awkward controls – means you can fire back before you struggle around trying to see what is having a go at you. And also helpful is that the basic attack is an autoattack (well mine was on the arcanist), meaning even with the lag some shooting at nasties happens. At tutorial levels this is enough to triumph.

I do think though, and same with Neverwinter,  if the only real fight is with lag and the controls, I won’t be playing that much which is a shame. Doubt the makers of City of Steam would be wanting to port their game away from Unity (I’m guessing here) at this early stage, but maybe an autoloot keybind and a bitty work on door opening could be considered if there is no way to deal with the lag. And best keep the fights forgiving. Oh yes, also,  I never found the logout button, if there is one. Logged out via esc and then logout option in what looks like an unrelated menu bottom right. Made the game feel as if it was still in it’s IDE.

Anyway that was all fairly pleasant, if a bit worky. Nice things! Loved the train window when you first enter the world with the blurry scenery (sort of) going by. The cityscape and graphics are interesting, and the story seems to hang together (what I remember of it). There are instanced minidungeons even in the tutorial. Can’t comment on any other systems (I think I have the bare beginnings of some kind of spec). Most of the game works fine as far as I can tell which is all I ask from the tutorial phase of a newly released game.

It’s later on that I get picky!

Categories: Reviews and Impressions

Hey, this is quite fun! (first quick look Neverwinter)


At first I found Neverwinter pleasant in a steady, middly way. Then I got used to the controls a little and the very new strangeness of everything eased. Once you get to just playing without thinking about your fingers too much, it’s really a very nice game. The controls are a little strange – to me anyway – a reticule points you and the wasd keys move you (strafe not turn for ad), there’s that. Also there’s just the normal learning things. I haven’t managed to figure out how teleport works properly for example, but then I’m only just starting this Control Wizard.  I do have a Guardian that I’ve taken to level 8 too, and that was a blast!

As is to be expected from Cryptic, download, install and play worked just fine on the old laptop. The graphics look ok on highest setting, and it still runs well for me. This is a good thing because the graphics are pretty hideous at less than best settings, very jaggy. There is some lag in cities – but all in all the performance is not bad for a game at the beginning of its life. I expect things will smooth even more in the coming months but  even if they don’t, play is acceptable.

Alas, can’t comment on companions or crafting, or anything too deep yet. I hope I find time to play this enough to do so though. Being a D&D game, the dungeons are the thing, and they are fun – corners to explore, treasures to find, lever mechanisms and of course monsters. Combat includes positioning yourself and blocking attacks, which is all flavour of the month just now. Dancing about waving your reticule isn’t really what I enjoy but fortunately it isn’t maddening and I mostly hit what I aim for and stay out of trouble. It would flow more smoothly if there was just slightly less lag I think – but Cryptic was smart enough to make fights quite forgiving, your reticule doesn’t have to be exactly on what you aim at, nor do you have to be pixel-perfect when moving. (Mind you I can only comment on the lower levels.)

One thing that’s really well done is you can group or solo at will. What a breath of fresh air that is! I’m not sure if there is some coercive choice there – possibly groups get better loot? Well, I have a lot to explore still. I’ve not been nagged to spend at every turn and so far my bags are adequate but there may be trouble ahead on that. I believe bags can only be bought for cash. I hate it when you’re forced to pay for bagspace and have never bought a bag for cash in a game yet – doubt I will this time either. I’d prefer to shop for a nice outfit or mount sometime.

So far I am liking this game. It doesn’t have much of a virtual world feel, more like being in a stage-set. You cannot explore at will, and so far quests have been “on rail” affairs – not my normal kind of game at all, but I’m coping 🙂

Categories: Reviews and Impressions

Vanguard Saga of Heroes, a second look (2012)

Under the Wire

With GW2 about to release, August the 14th is not a very clever time to choose to re-launch Vanguard in its f2p incarnation – if you want to make money that is. I don’t think Sony want to make money on this one for some reason, looking from outside of the box. Tax reasons? Need a quick loss on some column of figures? Who knows. Anyway, the timing is off. It’s a much-loved older game, with many people looking to return – doldrums is when it should be launched. Sometime when not a lot else is going on, ie Feb/March/April, and a Feb/March/April when nobody else is doing a big hype. It’ll be Panapokkiwow second-next so waiting out the GW2 wave won’t do much good.

There is too much else going on in the game world just now, what with SWTOR going f2p and Secret World, if I read aright, trembling on the brink, never mind the big launches I already mentioned.

And as well as that they used a false launch date, so probably a lot of people don’t know it’s already up and running. Or could just be they haven’t upgraded the servers very much and are trying to lighten the load via all this. That bodes well doesn’t it. (sarcasm).

The good news is:

The good news is it runs better now. If I ever find the document in which I’m doing my “It Runs On This Laptop” matrix, I’ll update the entry on Vanguard. It is still quite sluggish on medium settings, and not much better on low. But much improved – I can play without the controls annoying me. Which means I’ve been playing it properly and not just dipping in, hence this post. I daresay combat isn’t going to be my strong point.

A while back, before the Alaplayer thing happened, I had a Station Access pass and made a Vanguard account as part of that exploration. I dropped the All Access sub because of that (Alaplayer) business and a for good few other reasons. I’m not a happy SOE customer. So I do have an old Vanguard account. Last time I played, I quite enjoyed looking at the scenery and doing some beginner stuff but the controls were very, very spongy. Couldn’t stand more than ohh – 15 minutes I’d say.

I’m not using that account just now though. I want to see their f2p in its full glory. I made a new account. I know, by the way, quite a few people who are planning to return to Vanguard, but not for quite a while and though they have sub money ready, they too plan to try it out first on an f2p account, and see what they think and how populated it is.

The bad news

I don’t know that I want to make a blanket covering statement – there are quite a few things. The f2p stands out somewhat ummm, well actually it’s an extended free trial, and they should call it that. So another slightly dodgy move there (it mounts up – really there are some things you can’t get away with on the internet).

So… a free trial tacked on to a subscription model is what we have. This will work fine if server costs are low and some money dribbles in from the cash shop. I mentally file away the possibility that that is what they are aiming at. Revenue neutral. (Unless of course it somehow becomes wildly popular). Would I buy shares in SOE? Golf Club Guy says No.

Who is Golf Club Guy

He is an imaginary figment I use to think outside the box. One of the imaginary figments I have. Golf Club Guy is old and rich and hangs in Golf Clubs with his buddies. They sit on boards. They move on shares in a pack and share information in the kind of male hierarchy we are all familiar with. Top dogs get the most information and the sidekicks get the rumours and can watch and ape their betters. Anyway when the Golf Club Guys move out of a company’s shares it’s curtains. They have no loyalty – you can be their best buddy but they won’t hold shares in your company if they get a whiff of something better. And they always move before anyone else. I repeat this is all an imaginary backstory. (And way off topic.) It works this way – I have a chat with Golf Club Guy (in my head you understand) and he tells me what he thinks of this or that company. Neither of us is interested if he’s right or wrong. He’s imaginary and I don’t buy shares. I just find his views entertaining. Some weird stuff happens in my head u know.

By compartmentalising a small tiny part of my brain through imagining Golf Club Guy, I can allow him to come up with things I don’t know I noticed, and shuffle them into patterns I normally wouldn’t see. OK, glad that’s out of the way. So… back to Vanguard.

I haven’t wandered around their cash shop, but from what I read it’s heavy on the nickle-and-diming (quel surprise) and tries to carrot and stick people into buying things. That is a one-dimensional and non-functional strategy. Speaking as someone who worked long enough in marketing, that sort of approach is…. sub-optimal. Mechanical customers never existed, yet the myth persists.

People buy digital leisure products because they want to:

I like it and I want one!

is what you aim for. End of. No amount of sticks or carrots will mechanically induce sales. Only desire….. wooo/ fan, fan fan… anyway.

So does Vanguard induce any desire in me to go spend money in their cash shop? Or become a subscriber?

Download, check, Install, check, Launch, done fine so far and…..

Nag button. Well that won’t keep me around or induce euphoric love leading me to a sub. The opposite. I feel my heels digging in further as I sit here. Creating an artificial need isn’t going to work in this situation. I’d like a nice uncluttered ui, but I’m not going to pay any money a month for it. Did these guys learn marketing in the 70s or something?

The Gameplay 

Jolly good on with the show. I’m just in the starter zone, so not a lot to cover, only generalities. I will probably make many more avatars and jump about here for a while before I go on. I am glad I can try out anything. That will keep me playing for a while. When I get to 20 on something I like, well, if I’ve enjoyed my time ingame I’ll be checking out the price on that unlock and if it is reasonable, I’ll pay. I’m a… a… half, no, dark elf um Necrosomething, you know, summon horrors, that kind of thing. I started on teh starter island for this one, and I’m enjoying the play. The necrosomething isn’t standing out for any reason – there are a 100 variants on her allover the game world, but it is early days. Once again, the scenery is beautiful, so is the music. The quests follow eachother as easily as dewdrops plopping off a leaf, there is no jarring discord or annoyance. Only one or two people here – same as last time I played (eu). It’s a couple of days before the official launch though.

When you create your character you’d be forgiven for thinking you were going to be SOE’s gold-standard ugly (as in EQ, EQ2), but ingame the avatars look fine apart from most peculiar legs. The starter zone is pretty much a starter zone, and well done as such. You learn to fight, to use the ui, to move around etc. You kill ten, put goo on ten. The game is old, it feels quaint. But it’s not so much in the past that it feels alien or awkward – there are enough common points of reference here to be able to play very comfortably. Sound effects really are good – even just the combat. I found it easy to relax, take pictures, listen, enjoy – starter zones aren’t the height of excitement so it’s I just let the newness reign. It’s always in the starter zones that I remember that a lot of people put their time and maybe their hearts into making these beautiful artefacts, games. To choosing that sky, or skin, or scratching it up from nothing. And Vanguard is a particularly beautiful game.

…could big it up and fall right into that sky.

I’m taking notes as I go, and if things continue to go well, of course, I’ll post again 🙂 So far, so good, Vanguard.

Categories: Reviews and Impressions, Vanguard

The morning after (EQ2 silver review)

The carnivorous plant has been on a furniture spree again

the carnivorous plant has been on a furniture spree again

Edit:  looks like I picked a bad time to post this, what with the PSS1 deal which is a mess! Please take the following as about the game, and not the people running it who seem (to this newcomer, me) to be unable to grasp some very simple fundaments.  Eh, it looks so stupid to me. What on earth are they ….

Main post: This post has been building a while!

February is half done and people are finally doing their jobs, gloomy resignation abounds and the world is running if not smoothly at least without all that New Year hysteria. The ever-growing list of free to play titles is accumulating nicely on my hard drive, very satisfying, and just as life has settled so also I found myself spending the tail-end of the day more with a few favourite games than being a pretty butterfly flittering between all the lovely blossoms of gamitude like I did last month. Tra la tra la.

I am glad I came to EQ2 late, I have no baggage and no rage. I have only known it in it’s present incarnation and I like it very much indeed. It runs well on the lapdap with medium/lowish settings so that was the first hurdle cleared like a champion. I’ve got used to the rather odd f2p setup – it has the virtue of allowing me to increase/decrease/abstain from spending at will, which is pretty good going. Solo access is mediocre but that’s the same all over and everywhere just about, no need to single this game out for something as widespread as that. The cash shop items, many of them, are quite charming. I’ve seen some total rubbish that clearly took five minutes to make in cash shops, EQ2 has a nice cash shop with pixels that took time to assemble. And things that do things and furniture. The carnivorous plant wants my credit card.

EQ2 also gets the thumbs up from the younger generation who tried it and now play it on the weekends. I’m glad. I like grouping with my family. I love the portal system that allows us to visit each other and leave little presents. Just today I dropped off a heart shaped box of chocolates and some kind of mushroom thing on someones bed under a stair in their house in New Halas. I’m smiling as I think of that person discovering these little items. And as you can see from the pic, this was our first Errollisi (Day?) which caused something of a crafting binge.

Parts of the game are gated and constricted to non-subscribing players, which is a shame but hey ho, stuff we don’t access won’t stimulate us to spend money, so it’s less our problem than theirs. I still haven’t found out all the ins an outs of what we can’t do but looks like some things can’t be bought a la carte. Fortunately enough is available to keep us occupied for a good while. Although we can create our own groups and group with others at will, solo access is always going to be an issue I check out simply because I’m tired at the end of the day and very often not in the mood for socialising. I believe there is some kind of mercenary NPC system available later on in the game, gated behind bought content – haven’t got that far, and I’m not sure to what extent the NPCs help out. Got to say I’m not likely to buy into the expansion if it turns out they are only there to fill in gaps in a group, and very likely to buy if they allow me to solo group and high-end content when I want to.  Oh look flying pig.

From noobland the endgame looks far too sticky for me – group/guild based with all the additives that that implies, having to be there at a certain time, having to be geared, having to this, having to that – whatever. One day when I can sit on my behind all day and eat chocolate I’ll… probably rather sit on my behind and eat chocolate. The journey on the other hand is entertaining and fills me with joy unbounded. (Levelling is too fast but again EQ2 isn’t exactly alone on that one) – I actually look forward to the quest text!

I like – the graphics. A lot. I ofen change settings depending on what mood I’m in – low graphics for getting on with things high for just oohing and aahing. It’s pretty clear that more than just time was spent on how this game looks – there is genuine affection in the way it has been made. Care, attention to detail, humour. And I like the way there are surprises. Like the working music box that the carnivorous plant crafted from the Erollisi Festival, or the man selling pickles in Freeport, or the wonderful house portal system. I am glad I am new to EQ2 because I don’t know what was removed in the Freeport revamp. I hate revamps. I like accretions, layers, complexity, odd bits, and signs of ancient developers long past – these things add to the experience and immersion, whereas streamlining removes stuff and simplifies to the point of blandness and beyond.

From what I can gather, some of the crafting has lost some relevance but the housing system saves the day for me in that respect. I seems likely that I will never need or be able to create good weaponry (? not entirely sure). However, I can craft things that will give me enormous pleasure and hours of entertainment by being used in various houses. The crafting for houses is more than popular with the rest us too, I am pleased to say, although we now know to keep the carnivous plant away from the crafting stations. And… I found myself humming the Commonlands music on the bus.

Discovering this game has been an unexpected and continuing pleasure. Given recent events it reminds me of a sweet and lively child with vapid, shallow parents. I want to hug it!

Categories: EQ2, Reviews and Impressions

All pink from the frost (EQ2x)

outside, now inside fed and snuggled in a blanket with my trusty laptop. I’m not playing EQ2x tonight because tonight’s the night AoD launches – night for me anyway, and Freeport is revamped, and the free & live servers are merged. It won’t be f2p, not really – to me the payment model looks like a funnel to subscription.

I never played any of the Everquests – luckily for me its all still new and I’m content with what’s free plus one payment for silver membership and one for a house (half price). If they want more money, they’ll have to drop their prices some. Meanwhile I’m ok with plootering about crafting, questing, decorating. More than ok. I’d like to give them more, I really would, but I find what I get for what I pay to be underwhelming & cannot bring myself to do it!  The house was nice to buy – might get another of those – but paying for a race/class I may not like doesn’t really sound like a good idea for example.

As a new player I find myself constantly amazed by how much World of Warcraft copied the game. My goodness, I had NO idea. That’s interesting in it’s own right, just that aspect keeps me involved. As an artefact, historically,  it’s fascinating – but there are other things I like. The delicacy of the artwork is refreshing. I have no idea how it can be called dated – photorealism and photographs date – works of the imagination do not since they are not linked to the space/time continuum. I don’t find old paintings dated – their style carries with them into their imaginary space – like cartoons. Herrumph getting my head in knots here and diverting from the point. I like the artwork. I spend a lot of time zooming in on things. I like that it’s not huge flashy stuff but has some sublety and grace.

Having a house is a semi-revelation – after all, I do play Wurm. Having a house without decay is an indescribable relief. Repairing decay is what will eventually drive me from Wurm to nurse my incipient RSI for a good long while. Decay in Wurm will get a blog all to itself, I dislike it so much. Having nicer furniture, similarly is a huge relief. I am pretty tired of the Rough Hewn Nordic Plank look, though it totally suits Wurm and probably shouldn’t be changed. Like most of Wurm’s graphics it’s somewhat unrelieved. A change is most welcome.

The quests and dialogue in EQ2x are beautifully done – that’s another thing. Questing really is a pleasure and there is enough choice too, it seems to me (at this early stage). The crafting system is new to me. Not sure I like having to babysit the process quite so intensively but in short stints it’s enjoyable. Yes, it’s fine – sometimes I feel a yen for a bit of intense crafting.

I feel happy and relaxed in Norrath – I think thats the main thing, and right at this moment it is my favourite place to be. As always solo play is heavily restricted compared to group play & guild participation. So I probably will only play it for a little while, maybe visit now and then after that. Its something of a non-starter, with the limits in place, for consideration as a long-term game & bless it not worth the subscription at current levels – especially if cash purchases are expected of one – on top of the subscription. Such on-top purchases may be voluntary but they devalue the sub even further.

So that’s it – the suitable and unsuitable – for me. I hope they don’t mess up with the revamps – I do not like revamps, too much is usually lost. It will be interesting to see. I’m a little more immersed than it looks from what I wrote perhaps – it’s a lovely place to end the day, adventuring in another world (scenery is splendid!) or crafting a little and then going to one’s own online home. That’s very attractive to me. Now that it’s offline downloading or whatever, I do indeed miss it.

I am not one to sit about griping frustratedly for too long. The offspring and I have embarked on our own game-writing – we are a good 6 months into the project already – mostly preparatory work, no big rush. There are things we want that just aren’t out there is one side of it. The other is all the stuff they don’t teach at school which fits so nicely into such a project. Sensible stuff like… mmmm….ha! setting up a company – project planning, time management, resource allocation, economies of scale, coding, design, basic office systems, integration of components, compatibility of platforms, financing, demographics.  (Boring as dust the lot of it but digestible when seen in practice and as the needed framework for something more exciting.)

This weekend a small milestone, we are moving into our first real creative phase and pausing the backround nuts and bolts – we’ll be comparing synopses we’ve come up with while we were working through the more mundane things, and creating a few more. I can’t wait to be honest.

Categories: ...Thingie, EQ2, Reviews and Impressions | Tags:

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