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Metroid: Other M – Impression

September 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Note that I have not finished the game yet, so this is just an impression, not a full review.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

I love Metroid, so this is not going to be an unbiased review. And Other M is definitely a Metroid game, there’s Samus, of course, all signature weapons and abilities, a combination of fighting and puzzle gameplay, large boss monsters, Ridley,  scavenger hunt for items, basically all ingredients. A pity Team Ninja forgot that to cook the meal. They were clearly greatly inspired by Super Metroid, but where Retro took the formula and adapted it for a widescreen experience in the Metroid Prime series., the new Metroid copies most things while making also use of the Wii’s gimmicky controls. The visors and beam switching from Prime are gone.

While the Primes had some problems themselves they did innovate and turn the sidescroller in a 3D experience. Exploring and navigating through the huge world was not always easy and scanning occasionally got tedious, but it all added to the feeling of the lone explorer trying to figure out what was going on and then set things right. Samus never said anything, but who would have expected that she would be this uncertain and insecure now she is voiced in Other M? After slaughtering so many planets full of evil and vicious monsters one would expect she has some backbone, but even the sight of Ridley petrifies her now suddenly. Prime did fine in telling a story with bits of scans and visual storytelling, but Other M is just filled with fully voiced exposure, while reducing the exploring aspect of the game.

A pretty flimsy plot has you joining up with your old Galatic Federation commander and his squad to check out a military science facility. Commander Adam has some serious history with Samus and while he wants her on board, he forbids her from using most weapons before he authorizes it. Yes, where all other Metroid sequels have a convoluted crisis scene in which you lose all special abilities, this game, you got everything, you are just not allowed to use it up to the point that you are taking damage from heat for a section of the game while you have access to the protective Varia Suit. Where I can understand that caution should be used with using the extremely destructive items like the Power Bomb and the wall passing Wave Beam (there could be survivors on the other side), not using full protection and things like the grappling hook is just plain silly.

The story is also forced on you. There is no freedom of movement, all wrong routes are locked for most of the game and if there is something to scan, the game actually forces you to stand still until you have found the right pixel on the screen. If you cannot fight, you start moving very slowly suddenly.

The control scheme deserves its own paragraph, because it is a nice idea. You are normally in side view /3D oversight depending on the location, but by turning the Wii remote to the screen, you get a 3D view, but you cannot move, only turn. This is the only view from which you can shoot (super) missiles as well. And this is the only control scheme, meaning you have to use the horrible d-pad on the Wiimote to move. In a time of analog sticks on handhelds, a modern game forces you to use the worst controller possible, which is just baffling. One of the reasons I have not finished the game yet, is that the d-pad simply hurts my thumb after a while (yeah, it got soft from using analog sticks for the last years). The view switch is also pretty unresponsive making certain battles more difficult than they should have been (but Other M is easy anyway).

Perhaps the control scheme forced the creators to make the game easier, because this is an easy game both in terms of puzzles and boss battles. Compared to the Primes it is very easy.

First impression: Other M is with all its ugly parts still a pretty entertaining game, but it does not reach the quality standard we can expect of a Metroid game.

Categories: General Gaming Tags: ,

Waiting for it… f2p

June 21, 2010 1 comment

After the success of the revamp of DDO from a subscription game to a free-to-play game, I should probably have been less surprised when a similar change was announced for Lord of the Rings Online. Financially, I have nothing to complain about, I bought a lifetime subscription when the game went live and I have spent more than enough hours in-game to make that one of my best financial decisions about entertainment. I do have concerns though, about how the lower threshold to start the game may ruin the friendly community, about how long we will have to wait for new content if the team is busy working on the f2p model, about the gliding scale of micro transactions from cosmetic to slightly useful to simply buying power with real money.

What worries me most is pretty personal. I still like playing MMO’s though I would rather be playing Starcraft II at the moment, but the beta is down. However, getting into a new one is a pretty large time investment. LOTRO is fun, but it will never be my main game for long. I am thinking about getting back to Age of Conan, Warhammer, Champions Online, Global Agenda or trying something new, but there does not seem to be anything out yet that draws me in enough to make the initial investment of time and money. Or rather: why would I be paying now when the winning business model for failing (DDO) and non-failing (LOTRO) games seems to be FTP? The games I mentioned could clearly use a boost in subscriptions.  Perhaps I like a game enough (again) to continue, but perhaps that game needs a bit more time to grow on me before I enjoy it. This was certainly the case with LOTRO. I really like the setting, but it was basically WoW with a Tolkien skin when I started playing. Only later, thanks to my “playing for free”, did I start to appreciate the game for what it was.

And that leaves me wondering where the MMO pricing model will go. I am really curious what The Old Republic will do and how that will affect the market. If DDO is potentially changing the whole landscape, imagine what that game will do if it is the success it claims it shall be. I am ashamed to admit that I am hyped enough about that game to buy it anyway.

Both are Blizzard?

The first phase of Starcraft II Beta is over and I found out that I was spending more time on it than I had realised. I suddenly “gained” about one free hour per day. It also made me realise that I am really looking forward to this game. While searching for more SCII information, I found plenty of news about the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, as well. I played WoW for years, enjoyed it, got burned out a few times, returned, had fun again, burned out after a while etcetera, etcetera. I had fully expected to get back with Cataclysm when I quit halfway Wrath of the Lich King. Actually, I expected to return earlier.

However, I can barely muster any enthusiasm. MMO-Champion has a big post called “World of Warcraft Cataclysm Press Tour” on the front page and everything about it seems to be about grinding and simplification. I fully realize that MMO’s have always been about getting players to run around as long in the treadmill as possible, but Blizzard does not seem to bother to try to hide it anymore since Wrath. I am also still playing Lord of the Rings Online and while I am feeling the grind of getting a decent Legendary item, I am also sightseeing in Moria. It may not look like I imagined from reading the books, but it is still worthwhile to see how other people imagined it.

This treadmill also lets you visit Balin's tomb.

Compare that to Starcraft II. While Achievements have infected that game as well, its single player campaign is set to continue the epic story of Starcraft and Brood War without the MMO type grind. Of course, the single player experience will be shorter than an MMO, but the quality of the time investment is much higher. Spending time is necessary to get better in multi player, but this is no mindless grinding. People will have to analyze their play styles and adjust their strategies to really get better.

Blizzard once made two rich worlds, Warcraft and Starcraft (and Diablo, of course), one has degenerated into a thing of pure repetition, the other remains an intellectual challenge. Is it really the nature of MMO’s to require less thoughts of the players or is Blizzard taking the easy way out with WoW?

I think the latter.

It has been in Beta, so it is fine

April 18, 2010 1 comment

Almost every piece of software has a public Beta phase these days. MMO’s have continuous beta’s by running test realms with future patches of the game. It is understandable, because applications have grown so large that it is almost impossible to test every aspect thoroughly. Beta’s gather large amounts of statistical data and allow players to give feedback (often through forums, but also through in-game bug reports). Simulating the actions of a very large number of people logging in and playing from many different countries is possible, but impractical compared to actually letting those people log in. Participating in betas gives gamers a chance to help make the game they will pay for later a better product.

Where things go wrong, however, is in assuming that a large amount of data is automatically valuable. Testing is a specialist job. Even programmers, or perhaps, especially programmers, are bad at testing. For one thing, a tester will try to cover as many different aspects as possible. Non-professional users, on the other hand, will spend most of their time on things they find interesting as if the beta is a free trial. Since ‘finished’ parts of a game will appeal most to the majority, these aspects will be played most. For example, if crafting is poorly implemented, a few hardcore crafters will complain about it on the forums, but most people will be out playing Dungeon X which is 99% finished and polished and thus fun. This means that most statistical data will be gathered on the parts of the game that need it least.

In Starcraft II Beta the Ultralisk is barely used according to the forums. While the posters in the forums can qualify why, statistical data is necessary to validate the reasons. And the question is if enough of that is gathered if “noone” is using them.

Betas (and testrealms) can be misused by developers to simply try things that have no basis. Or apply a nerf and then tone it down later after the forums have been stormed by raving players. The toned down nerf, still a nerf, is easier accepted then. The worst offense, however, is not planning enough time to actually do something with the Beta feedback. This leads to infamous patches like at the launch of Champions Online. While the patch was necessary to keep the game a bit challenging, the timing could not have been worse. Such major problems should already have been found and fixed in an earlier stage, or rather, there should have been more time between beta and launch.

Content that has been in beta is not automatically ready. The paid developers keep responsibility, not the paying players who are basically just helping out.

Starcraft II zerged my post

My plan was to dedicate this post to why I dislike beta’s and test realms. However, I received a Starcraft II Beta key right before I started to write and I do not want to look like a complete hypocrite. I have not been playing non-stop because of some RL issues, but otherwise I would have. Strategy games have been first computer game loves with Dune 2, UFO: Enemy Unknown and, of course, the Warcraft series and Starcraft. The only reason I ever started with World of Warcraft was that I wanted to see how the story would develop (quick summary: all interesting characters from the previous game either get sidelined or go insane and get killed. Illidan even gets sidelined, goes insane and gets killed). My absolute favorite of these games was Starcraft, both for the story and the gameplay.

Starcraft II Beta turned out to be less familiar than I had expected for one simple reason: the test is for multi-player. I only got internet at my house when WoW was released, so I never really experienced RTS’s online. As such, even though I was used to play on the highest difficulty levels against the computer, I have been dealt some pretty harsh defeats. Still, I’m learning and enjoying the learning curve. It did make me appreciate how units are made available slowly from mission to mission in the single player experience, because a beginning player sees a lot of possible buildings and units to start with. Select the wrong one and you have lost. Luckily there are plenty of resources on the internet, ranging from the Beta forums to the excellent video series ‘I suck at Starcraft II’ on the Cynical Brit website. However, the most important teaching tool are replays. The game saves a replay of every game played and by studying those it is often easy to notice what went right and what went wrong.

To be honest, I am still looking forward more to the Singleplayer campaign, but multiplayer has grabbed my attention as never before. There’s much practising to do!

The dread penalty

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Fear the...Pink...Reaper?!

Death penalties are a pretty controversial topic in the MMO community. One extreme demands that dying in-game should permanently delete the character, the other does not want any penalty at all. I have no set opinion, only that the penalty should make sense with regard to the game environment and that playing badly should never be rewarded.

Current flavors

Let’s take a look at some of the penalties currently implemented in different games:

  • Dying in World of Warcraft results in the character’s spirit being removed from the body and moved to a specified spot on the map where a Spirit Healer awaits. All items carried are also damaged. The player can run as a ghost back to his body and resurrect on the spot. The penalty here is lost time and gold for repairs. The player can also choose to resurrect at the Spirit Healer, but he will then suffer from greatly reduced stats for ten minutes and a great durability loss for all items. There is no penalty at all within battlegrounds and arenas because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Characters in Lord of the Rings Online cannot really die, because it would not fit Tolkien’s world were death is permanent (although some spirits can linger in the world). Instead of health characters have morale and if morale gets depleted, the character retreats to a preset spot on the map with damage to items. They also get a penalty to health and damage output for ten minutes, which grows more severe as the character levels up, the fall of great hero is more severe than that of a grunt. Although it is possible to ‘resurrect’ on the spot every two hours (every hour for lower level characters) this gives the same penalties and is not to be recommended if the character retreated within aggro distance of mobs Like in WoW the penalty is time and money for repairs.
  • Champions Online does not have a dead penalty per se, but rather a reward for staying alive. The longer the character stays alive fighting equal or near level mobs, the more ‘hero’ stars he gets. Every star gives a minor increase in damage up to 6%. Every dead results in the loss of a star and being moved to a preset place on the map. The penalty here is time. There is no penalty at all within the Hero Games because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Warhammer moves a dead character to a preset location and induces a penalty on all stats that grows progressively, so every dead increases the chances of dying again as long as the penalty is on (up to 10 min). The penalty is time. There is no penalty at all within scenarios because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Star Trek Online has no substantial dead penalty, a blown up ship respawns in several seconds. Suicide runs are rewarded because enemies often do not fully reset during the respawn period, making it possible to whittle them down bit by bit, death by death.
  • In Pirates of the Burning Seas ships can be lost a limited number of time before being destroyed permanently. All ship outfitting is lost permanently upon being destroyed. The worth of ships varies so the monetary penalty does as well. Even in PvP a loss means the loss of a ship, which fits the realistic setting well.

I have not played Darkfall or EVE, but from what I have read it is possible there to lose items (getting looted by an opponent in Darkfall, getting your ship blown up in EVE), while a character can also be killed. The player has than to get a clone active, which could be considered a save file. So it is possible in these games to lose very little or very much. Other games, like Aion, give an experience debt: the player must gain an extra amount of XP to get to the next level. This is a time penalty.

There is only one real currency in MMO’s and that’s time. Everything the players has gained has come from an investment in time. However, gold and equipment are not gained equally fast by all players, which makes converting such items to time difficult to generalize.

Making sense

Although it seems rather strange that a hero is able to escape a encampment filled with orcs in LOTRO, it is possible to imagine him/her desperately making a break for it. While the near loss of life weighs heavily for a few moments (the debuff period) the hero eventually recovers. It is easier in a World like Warcraft where magic is everywhere. Getting an entire star ship blown up and reappearing a few minutes later makes no sense at all, unless every STO captain has their own personal Q aboard.

It is easier to suspend disbelief in a fantasy environment than in SF, but that does not mean that SF should not try to make sense.

Severity

Games are entertainment first and foremost, but what is a game without challenge? Challenge means that the possiblity of failure. Failure is only real if it is felt. Failure teaches people to better play the game. Without penalties there will be more bad players, it’s as simple as that. People should know what they get into before they start, they should know what they can lose. Just like they agree to the EULA when they start up the game for the first time, they agree to the risks as well. So as long as players are able to know what their risk is, I am fine with any dead penalty that is severe enough to show the player that he made a mistake, e.g. basically nowhere is safe in EVE, while a setback in WoW will not cost more than about twenty minutes maximum (10 minutes Spirit Healer debuff and 10 minutes to do daily quests to get repair gold).

Summarizing

  1. Dead penalties are vital in teaching how to play the game.
  2. While the only quantity that really can be lost, this can be a great deal.
  3. Players should know their risks before starting to play.

Mass Effect 2 and Global Agenda on the same day! WHY?!

January 31, 2010 3 comments

Although I would very much like to make an angry post about the Vibora bay debacle, there’s little information about it at this time. To summarize: it seems that Cryptic wishes to make subscribers pay for just one additional zone, while all other games with a subscription model consider this kind of content to be included in the subscription fee. I shall save my rant for later if it is necessary. For now, there’s enough entertainment on the official Champions Online forums.

Customization in GA is limited to the head to ensure that every class has an easily recognizable silhouette.

For some stupid reason most games in Europe are put in stores on Friday while they are available in the USA from Tuesday. This meant I got my Mass Effect 2 package (XBoX Collector’s Edition) just a few hours before Global Agenda’s Headstart began. Two great games and I had to choose…

Mass Effect 2 is simply great. The strong storytelling is back, the controls are smoother than in ME1 and there is actual use for the sniper rifle. Personally, I could never use it effectively in ME1 compared to other weapons, but perhaps that was just me. I got dragged in the story from the start and normally I would not have stopped playing.

However, I also wished to listen to the last Blue Plz! on Warcraft Radio before that station closes down. Luckily most talk shows continue in one form or another. ME2 contains too much dialog to combine with listening to radio, but radio and MMO’s fit together perfectly. Actually, limited story-driven content of MMO’s makes them work perfectly with radio and sometimes even television.

I greatly enjoyed the PvP in GA even with my medicre shooting skills (ME2 on Veteran is good challenge for me), but ME2’s story is going to take the majority of my time for now. Still, I expect to clock some serious GA hours this week as well, because there are plenty of live radio shows I wish to listen to!

Update: Several former CO PvPers have banded together in GA under the AntiVirus banner!