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Ian O'Rourke
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The Wonder of The Flash
Keywords: TV.

Way back in 1997 (to 2003) there was a TV show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It aired in a decade when TV had just started to get great. It was a brilliant show. It was great because it was incredibly well written as well as being witty and clever but also because it made you care. You cared about the relationships and the epic trials that the characters were put through. It was emotional. It was a show that wore its heart on its sleeve and this was a good thing.

I look back and it seems to me it hasn’t been since Buffy that I got to watch a show like that? There has been great shows since but that sort of 90’s TV model with heroic individuals, doing heroic stuff, with great team dynamics capable of generating a bit of ‘hell yeah’ have fallen away. True, they may have existed somewhere out in TV land, but they weren’t particularly good ones. I’m thinking of the myriad of Stargate shows. In the meantime, TV watching just seemed to move to a different sort of show as I watched Battlestar Galactica, 24, Lost, Spooks, Life on Mars, The Wire and probably numerous other things I’m forgetting. There was some reprieve in the form of Firefly and Doctor Who, but the Buffy model did drift away (from me at least).

This is the one reason why Arrow and The Flash are great, they are a return to that hero, with a team, involved in great heroic action and emotional, melodramatic activity. They even run in parallel and do the Buffy and Angel thing and do cross over episodes, albeit it the romantic connection between the two shows isn’t between the two leads but connected by Arrow’s gorgeous IT expert. They even have the lulls associated with 24-episode seasons, especially in the longer Arrow (The Flash is still picking up). Was it a 'simpler' time? Probably, but this can be a good thing.

The Flash is particularly good. In fact, I think it’s a very clever show. The Flash managed to do something very few TV shows manage to do. It fills you with wonder. The first time Barry runs up a building is sweet. When he runs on water it’s..yes! When he first has to perform a supersonic punch to take out a particularly tough villain and starts his run from halfway across town you want to cheer. He moves so fast he rescues people from a crashing train...while it crashes! Wonder is a very hard thing to generate on TV and The Flash does it…repeatedly. In the latest episode, when The Flash and Reverse Flash finally face of it is! The race, the battle around the football stadium and the dialogue that has one side meeting his nemesis for the first time while the other is battling an enemy he has faced many times. It’s like a form of..rush.

While Arrow and The Flash may not be as good as Buffy the Vampire Slayer across the board, though I’d argue it is touch and go with Angel, they are a great return to form for a 90’s model of TV and I am enjoying them immensely. I cannot express how much I look forward to The Flash every week. It has some magical quality that just makes you look forward to experiencing it and what wonders will occur next. The Flash has worked for me so well I’ve started to enjoy Arrow less. Not dislike it, but Arrow seems to have lost some of its magic since the death of Canary, while The Flash was gone from wondrous strength to wondrous strength.

It’s a great show. It has captured some form of red lightning and for that it deserves great praise as that is something elusive and very hard to capture. This is a show that continues to tease the fact that a major enemy to come as a super-intelligent ape and it doesn’t make you roll your eyes but look forward to the showdown.


Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 14/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
Getting Away With Being Lame…
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

So, last week I spent £35 on the Destiny Expansion Pass so I could get the first expansion The Dark Below. It also gives me the second expansion when it comes out. This was a commitment decision I’d made to the game. I enjoyed playing through the story content, anaemic though the narrative was, and I enjoyed levelling up beyond level 20. I even enjoyed getting my exotic rifle, Suros Regime, which is the first piece of ‘virtual gear’ I’ve actually been attached to and enjoyed using.

The problem is the expansion is starting to look pretty lame and magnifies all the problems with the original game!

It niggles that there is a host of content I’m not interested in. I’ll never utilise any of the PvP content I’m paying for. There is also the raid, which has a very high chance of being the best bit of design in the expansion. This means it’s probably a substantial amount of the financial outlay. The chances are I’ll never see the inside of this raid. The chances are many people who buy the expansion won’t see the inside of the raid, certainly a lot won’t seriously progress through it.

In a way, all that wouldn’t matter if everything else was up to grade.

The new ‘story’ content seems to be a disaster in that there isn’t any new ‘story’. The ‘story’ is even more wafer thin than the original disk! The new NPC isn’t even an NPC really she’s a bloody vendor and the introductions to the story missions are the usual mixture of waffle and bollocks about things no one really grasps. This is based on the first one, I’ve not heard any indications this isn’t representative. It’s like they’ve given up on delivering story all together. We failed in the original release, let’s just give up.

There is also exploration. The simple joy of seeing new environments. No chance of that. Well, I am sure the raid is gorgeously designed, just like Vault of Glass is, but I’ve covered that. All the ‘story’ content takes place on all the same planets we are used to already. It looks like they’ve just opened up a few ‘rooms’. That is a complete joke. I’m a realist. I wasn’t expecting new planets and their awesome new environments. I sort of guessed everything would take place on the existing planets. I thought they might have at least expanded the maps on the existing planets with new overland areas. It seems not. There is literally no new geography in the expansion.

I have to seriously sit back and contemplate what is really new? Nothing really, other than going to level 32 (or more likely 31 considering farming the raid will never happen). This is the ephemeral beauty of Destiny as all the above won’t matter. They’ll get away with being lame.

You see I’ve already opened Word and spent half an hour this morning planning out what I need do to get my character to level 31. It’s not complicated, but it’s a good idea to know what exotics you need to upgrade and what you need for that, where you’re getting the legendries from and what marks and commendations you need. An immediate outcome of this plan is I’m best getting through the new content, unlocking the heroics and getting three strange coins so I can upgrade my Suros Regime rifle upgraded this weekend. This means doing it today as Xur only appears on weekends and it may take a while for my upgrade to get into his inventory again.

If I get to fit that in the plan is then simple: do the strike play list to earn reputation and marks to buy new weapons and armour. These then need upgrading, especially the armour, which is what will slowly get me to level 31. It's a lot of marks. The new commendation system also means I can't just buy gear when I have the marks as you only get commendations when your reputation level goes up (and yes it is has meant gaining reputation level four and five has been a waste of time). This means some items can only be purchased once per reputation level, which is a serious pain and may yet break me. Still, there is always stuff dropping which may shorten that process.

I’m not sure why I am doing this is as it’s not to access the raid? It seems to be an activity in and of itself. So, why bother? Well, it’s a game that is easy in and easy out. You don’t have to play it for hours at a time. It’s great fun with friends. It’s a weird one as, other than the core FPS mechanics, the delivery has serious flaws. If the game could just deliver on its promise of being a long-term space fantasy would be awesome. I have my doubts this is ever going to happen, not until Destiny 2 anyway, the next big 'main game' release. You never know.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 13/12/2014 Bookmark and Share
Putting the Story on Hold
Keywords: Video Games.

One of the strange things you need to figure out in any Bioware game is how the game is structured. You need to do this so you can get a sense of your progress and so you don’t inadvertently move the story along and lose your chance to do something.

I think I’m getting the hang of it in Dragon Age: Inquisition…possibly.

Cleverly, as I said last time, the game merges the expansion of the Inquisition, setting up imperialistic camps, making alliances, dealing with problems and, as it happens, doing all sorts of simple quests all together as you roam around the vast maps. No doubt about it, the maps are very large. Hinterlands is big and there is at least two other smaller, but still quite big, maps in the form of a coastal region and a desert locale.

What I don’t know at this time is what happens to these regions once I progress the next big story quest? Do they stay the same? Do they alter to the extent I lose content I’ve not done? Do I go to all new places (I doubt it, but you never know)?

So, I am holding off on the next big story quest as I play around in the current status quo. The next story quest is for 8-11 level, so I am going to push it out a bit and try and get to 11 before pushing the story on. I am already level eight (or it may be nine, as I’m not fully sure).

All this is interesting because the whole focus has been on closing the rift that opened and kick-started events. There is a heck of a lot of stuff going on even before I close the rift and I’m beginning to think that closing the rift is like the opening play, a sort of epic prelude rather than attacking the rift being the conclusion. This is quite exciting as it means I have no idea what the story is going to be if that’s the case. The great unknown!

It also seems I’ve already made some serious choices, possibly without fully realising it. It seems some of these decisions aren’t given the dramatic framing they should have. In Mass Effect and, as far as I remember, the original Dragon Age, the big decisions were very clearly dramatically framed and they felt consequential, ominous and impactful. Apparently, I’ve already chosen between the Templars and the Mages, and I didn’t fully realise I’d done that. I think this means the quests about recruiting the mage, in Redcliffe, are closed to me.

I just think it should have felt more ‘big moment of decision’, but it sort of just flowed along by.

It’s an enjoyable game. I am tending to like the two rogue, one fighter (Cassandra) and mage (Solas) group. All I really alternate with is whether the second rogue is melee (Sera) or another archery rogue (Varric). I’ve gone archery rogue as I tend to find it hard to manage a melee character in these sorts of games as archery allows me to stand back and see what’s going while bringing all the power to bear.

In the near future I am searching for a remote elven temple in the desert. A whole new area I didn’t even expect to appear!

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 30/11/2014 Bookmark and Share
...And RPGs Go Down!
Keywords: Role-Playing Games.

Well, today I made a decision to step back from the RPG group. No great fallouts or arguments. Everyone is still friends. It's just I haven't full on enjoyed the gaming since about 1.5 to 2.5 years ago with the Prometheus Institute and Fate Fading Suns games. Numerous reasons why which I'm not go on about. It's suffice to say I tend not like doing things by halves so that has something to do with it.

The gaming group has had people drop in and out for periods before, due to family commitments or other life circumstances. This is a bit different as it's not a drop out for a specific game, or until specific life circumstances change. It just is.

Last time this happened it resulted in a four year hiatus between 1996 and 2000 and that only ended when the current gaming group formed. Admittedly, it was different back then as the reason for leaving was it had become untenable to remain friends with gaming group. I lost a gaming group out of choice. It's slightly different this time since it's not about the people, but it's possible the hiatus could be long-term or permanent.

The immediate impact of this is moving the shells around so that RPGs feature in my life less. It's not that they are all consuming now by any stretch but now I am giving up on the illusion. I need to find something else push some of the buttons.

I suspect videogames will take up some of the slack as usual. Not sure about the rest.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 29/11/2014 Bookmark and Share
Delving Into The Dragon Age
Keywords: Video Games; PS4.

So, I've purchased my second PS4 game, Dragon Age Inquisition. The short answer is it's a really good game. It looks gorgeous. It plays well, and I've encountered no bugs yet that have ruined my experience. I think if I have any problem it's that Mass Effect has spoiled me for these sorts of game.

I have a strange history with the Dragon Age games. The first one was good but just way too long. It had some great, dramatic and meaningful narrative and decisions. The trouble was it seriously dragged towards the end. I liked to describe it as a GM's overly long and laboured, traditional Dungeons and Dragons tabletop campaign. I even turned the difficulty down in the final phase because the story was done, you were ready for the end, but phase after phase of enemies and environments were thrown at you before you could get to the conclusion.

It was like they thought more equalled epic.

As for Dragon Age 2? Well, lots of people didn't like it, but I liked how it approached its narrative and the more focused location, despite the repeated graphics. The trouble is I didn't finish it. I hit a section that involved battling mage group after mage group and I just got frustrated, stayed away for too long and never went back. It was working for me though, I liked the central character in a localised setting sort of deal.

The good thing about Inquisition is it looks gorgeous. The central idea is also brilliant. A disaster occurs during a pivotal event, placing you as a potential person of divine importance (or not) and some of the structures that held the world together are torn asunder. The Inquisition is launched to stabilise everything and face the threat currently facing the world. It puts your character about as front and centre as you can get. It's a great premise.

I think the minor problems, as in it doesn't stop me enjoying it, are inherent in how that's implemented.

The game has done something quite clever, but this is probably also its fault. The structure of how you prosecute the Inquisition manages to integrate in how you'd approach such a set-up: controlling the landscape by setting up camps; sending ambassadors, spies and soldiers to deal with problems; closing rifts and solving problems. The trouble this is also a structure to integrate in all the small and stupid quests that fills out the content in these sort of games. All this generates power which acts as a pacing mechanism as it seems you use power to access key plot quests. It allows for an illusional lack of structure or rails while quite clearly pacing events.

It's called open world, and that excites people, but to me it's a just way to ensure the game takes 60 hours? You sort of have to engage with all the minutia to progress the game it would seem. Throw in the fact that there is also crafting, which I'm hoping isn't essential to completion of the game, and you have a lot of gaming baggage that I'd prefer we'd left behind. The overall effect is it's just not as punchy, fast-paced or as cinematic feeling as Mass Effect. While Mass Effect feels like a grand, cinematic film that your making epic choices in, representing a better balance between game and narrative, the Dragon Age games always feel more like traditional RPG experiences that simulate elements of bad tabletop games.

It's still a type of game I like, but I guess since Mass Effect I am substantially less prone to suffer some of the elements. For example, why do I have to spend so much time in the damned inventory screen trying to ensure my party is always using the best gear? Not only that, why do potential party members arrive wearing pyjamas (they don't look like they are wearing pyjamas) which means you have to juggle equipment around again or buy loads of stuff (but some of your gear will be blue or purple so you'd want to move some). The end result for me is I tend to keep the same party members because it's all too much of a chore.

It's all going to come down to how epic the story is and how frequent, dramatic and consequential the narrative decisions are. I don't' care about open worlds (and I wish the fascination with them would die a death a bit). I can't be arsed to craft anything. I just want exciting fights, great locations and big decisions that drive the story in different directions. The risks is, based on my experience so far, it's not going to be Mass Effect scale on that front either.

I am hoping though, I want it to be as memorable as Mass Effect, rather than just a good game.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 26/11/2014 Bookmark and Share
Level 28. And The Raiding Stops
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

So, we’ve stopped raiding. I suspect it’s for good. I suspect there are two reasons for this, the usual ones: commitment, reward and the new shiny.

In terms of commitment, the assorted team just doesn’t have it. A number do, but then they can also scratch their itch elsewhere. A number of people are ambivalent. It falls into want to do it but never get around to it territory. Should it happen, this ten translated into a lack of discipline during the raid.

I think there is also a reward problem. It’s just not that exciting. There is something about the way Destiny distributes loot that just doesn’t make it as exciting as taking down a World of Warcraft boss and seeing the Pants of Mudrakah drop…or whatever. A lot of the time the raid is a method for getting legendary materials which are needed to upgrade legendary and exotic items you may already have. That just lacks…pizazz.

It doesn’t feel exciting. It lacks a certain group ‘feel good factor’ when a team member gets something. Loot in Destiny is fine when you have it, but getting it lacks the X-Factor at the group level. While individual loot streams is officially a good thing, it possibly does have some disadvantages.

The new shiny is inevitable. New games come up and that takes up more of peoples’ free time (Advanced Warfare, Diablo III). That’s fair enough, it’s going to happen to me when Dragon Age: Inquisition comes out. I’m also thinking about GTA IV and am sort of speculating with getting back into PC gaming for Elite: Dangerous.

This means I am playing Destiny less. There is no new content I’ve got to do other than the raid. I could try and get 13 strange coins and buy the Titan exotic chest piece and upgrade that, which would get me to level 29 (probably after momentarily dropping to level 27). I may do that, but I suspect there isn’t that much interest in the weekly heroic strike (for the coins). I also missed the chest piece last weekend. I could seek out more exotics weapons, but you can only use one at a time, and I certainly can’t be arsed to do the mad, achievement-based exotic bounties.

Destiny has become an activity you do with little purpose when you just want to relax for 60-minutes or less, progress measured in levelling up Shadow Price (legendary auto rifle) and Suros Regime (exotic auto rifle).

Still, there is new content coming out on 9th December.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 10/11/2014 Bookmark and Share
Level 28. Gloriously Exploitoramous
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

We took another shot at Vault of Glass last Friday. It was a strange trip this time, it went from looking like it was going to be disaster to us getting to the doorstep of the final boss (there is only two apparently).

The bad start came when we started to defend the platforms to open the door into the raid. The enemies seemed tougher, spawned in greater numbers and then started to teleport in directly on the platforms. This made the whole thing almost impossible as the tougher enemies immediately control the platform if they step on it. It got really frustrating and, since it was patch day, we thought we’d been shafted with some mad difficulty tweak. No idea what happened, but we left and came back and while it still felt like it had been tweaked at least the enemies ridiculous teleport went away.

Have to say, once we got inside, it was gloriously exploitoramous. We defeated the first boss by using the Warlock grenade exploit, which involves pounding him with one of the Warlock subclass’s grenade types, which causes him to continually back up. He continually backs up until he falls of his own floating platform that the fight takes place on. Not very clever. The amazing thing about this is you can ignore virtually all the enemies, you don’t have to worry about the Oracles that curse you and it’s all very simple.

The second interesting wrinkle is the Gorgon maze, a series of caverns and corridors with annoying floating robots that, if they spot you, cause an instant wipe. I suspect, for the early raid entrants, this was as annoying as hell. It was a bit annoying for us. It’s fiddly to get everyone through the maze as you’re either reliant on everyone being independently good at it or you’re trying to moving groups through. Well, that is until you learn only one person has to make it through the maze and then everyone else can quit out, go to orbit, re-join the party and they re-form around the person who finished the maze.

Obviously, two entries for a set of patch notes coming to you in the near future.

As for the jumping platforms. I knew this would be my personal nemesis. It’s a vast cavern that looks almost infinite and you’re on one side and another structure floats some distance away and a series of teleporting platforms appear and disappear in the gap. It’s all very epic in size. You have to jump from platform to platform to get to the other end. It must have taken me about twenty minutes and lots of re-spawns. I understand the Warlocks can make it across in one prodigious ‘flight’, that certain hunters can teleport across in a series of blinks due to the blade dance power, but alas, the hulking great big Titan has to do it the old school way.

I’m hoping it gets easier, though that section does look lovingly epic and ancient.

In fact, the Vault of Glass itself is glorious. It manages to deliver something different in its look and feel. It’s a grand mixture of more realistic underground environments with ruined high-tech embedded in it all floating in vast chambers. It’s booth realistic, surreal and eerie all at the same time. When you go down ‘corridors’ they wind and turn and feel natural. You spend time making your way down, but not by stairs or sloped corridors but dropping down cracks in the wracked structure. It can, on occasion, be a bit disorientating but it is beautiful. As an RPG dungeon it is great and certainly imparts some idea of what a high fantasy, fantasy-tech dungeon could look and feel like.

It’s all very fitting for a relentless bunch of artificially intelligent robots that seem to have mastered time and space to some degree.

I managed to get some loot this time. After completing the two stages that release the first boss you are assigned loot. It just appears across your screen and magically becomes part of your inventory. I got a legendary sniper rifle. This isn’t bad as that was probably my final ‘want’ from the reputation vendor. The rest of the guns I’m not particularly bothered about.

I was going to get a few legendary guns just to round out the collection and experiment, but based on the experience of how fast my auto rifle levels up I ain’t going to be doing that any time soon. The levelling of legendary gear is a grind in and of itself. Don’t get me wrong, it happily chugs along while you’re playing put it chugs along slowly. I could really do with my auto rifle maxed out for the raid, it’s not got the best damage output, but those unlock trees move so slowly. I’ve certainly not got the appetite for grinding out the trees on weapons I’ll hardly use. If I was to analyse my style of play even the sniper rifle falls into that category, so the rest can stay on the vendor’s shelf.

I’m also pretty sure, from anecdotal evidence and feel that the legendary weapons upgrade slow than the legendary armour.

I’ve also got my first exotic as Xur set up his weekly shop and had Suros Regime for sale. Since I missed this first time and I like the look of the gun a lot, it’s great I could purchase it. I’ve been spending some time trying to level it up as the weapon can achieve 100% stability along with exotic-level damage. I’m finding I can hit things repeatedly in the head a lot better with the rifle and that’s great. It also looks like something off of Mass Effect, which you can’t knock.

The mad thing is, I also got an exotic bounty over the weekend, which gives me an exotic hand cannon, shotgun or pulse rifle depending on which one I choose. I’ve not made up my mind yet.

In closing, it does seem that Destiny has a problem with respect to Vault of Glass. Not the raid itself, I think that works (exploits aside). It’s complex but not too complex. It looks great. It’s varied. The problem is the loot, I’m just not sure it’s that exciting.

You see, at the moment, I am level 28. I quite like level 28, it allows me to do all the content but for the raid on hard mode. In order to get to level 29+ I’d need to obtain exotic and raid set gear from Vault of Glass. That’s great isn’t it? Well, yes, if it worked like World of Warcraft. Alas it doesn’t, the chances are my level would drop when I assigned the new gear as I’m not very far into level 28 and the new gear would arrive virgin: not upgraded in the slightest. Upgrading that gear takes time and rare resources. Is it worth securing the two highest levels when the chances are new content will almost certainly NOT be calibrated for level 29 and 30? It’s certainly not worth doing the hard mode of the raid as by and large, any loot you might want is also in the normal mode.

The only point I can see is you double roll when you do it on hard mode, increasing your chance of loot, but you’ve ground through two difficult levels to get to that point. I remain unconvinced as by this point you’ll probably have the gear you want anyway unless you’re really wanting something as you’re level 28 and 30!

As for the tactics for the final boss I’ve read them twice and my head is stuck in temporal limbo.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 27/10/2014 Bookmark and Share
Level 28. Crashing Against The Templar
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

Last night we finally started raiding in Destiny. We were in the Vault of Glass for 3.5 hours and we didn’t even down a single boss but it didn’t matter. It was great fun and this is the beauty of the raid, it makes you want to continue. It’s difficult but not too difficult, you’re always feeling like it’s solvable if you just try things a slightly different way.

One of the surprising things about its construction is it has numerous phases. Rather than having a complex you work your way through killing trash until you get to a boss it layers the boss. Sort off. As an example, you have to defend three circles so something constructs and allows you to open the raid. This took us 45-minutes on our first attempt and is a ‘defend the flag’ sort of game in itself but with PvE enemies.

Once inside you travel straight to the first boss unobstructed, but there are two phases you have to get through at the bosses location before the boss even appears. Once he does there is the boss fight itself. Have to admit, I remember the high level strategies to these phases, I’m also sure there is a narrative behind it, but I have no idea what it is. What I do know is it involves coordination across the six team members to controls enemies and target specific things. It works quite well. The first boss is similar, numerous things to target, a player carrying a relic that performs key functions (including bringing down the basses shields).

We got him down to circa 20%, which I don’t think was bad considering we had some 26th level people and a 25th level person (a level below the requirement) in the raid. We also made the mistake of giving the 29th level person with the void assault rifle the relic. It may have been better to give the relic to the person with the lowers damage output.

The important thing is it feels possible. I also felt like I was in control and doing well, rather than feeling overwhelmed and ever so slightly useless. This is very good design.

No great loot, obviously, but we did get a batch of critical, legendary materials that are key to upgrading the legendary and exotic gear. I suspect this is one of the major benefits of running the raid regularly. If you can do it quickly it’s probably a great way to farm the materials.

Does the raid have a cost? Yes it does, at least it does until you’re all 28, with maxed legendary weapons or exotics. The cost comes in ammo packs. Ammo packs work like potions for your weapons, they are all one-shot, provide ammo and have a cool down. I went through 10 ammo packs for my heavy weapon which was the best one to blast the boss with and that’s 10k of glimmer, you can only carry a max of 25k glimmer. That’s the early raiding cost. That’s not the worst thing in the world. It beats farming for materials for potions, paying for damaged gear and whatever else.

I was wondering were glimmer was meant to go as I’ve been sat at the cap, now I know.

The fact the raid only needs six people is pure genius. People are complaining endlessly that Destiny is broken because there is no LFG system, and I can see that, but is there really so many people who can’t, just through the natural activity of playing the game, can’t find six sane people? We’ve done it that way. Four of the people are in the clan, two of them were people friended through actual play by people in the clan. It worked. We got on great. This works because you only need six. It’s much harder to do it if you need 20+. It also keeps the strategies tight, providing enough people to create interesting strategies and tasks but not burdening the player-based with recruiting massive groups.

It also makes the raid much easier to LFG, should a system come into existence, once more people are farming the raid.

Great design. Interesting raid. Looking forward to doing it more.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 22/10/2014 Bookmark and Share
Level 28. Tomorrow We Raid!
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

I reached ‘peak raid’ point in Destiny a few weeks back.

This has meant playing has had ever diminishing returns. I’ve been hitting the strike play list to earn my 100 marks a week, which is also churning up the reputation level (and it’s now at level four). This process has allowed me to round out my raid ready weaponry: a half-levelled primary auto rifle, two fusion rifles as secondary weapons (one has the much needed void damage) and my heavy machine gun.

It looks like we’re going to hit Vault of Glass on Monday evening with the four people in The Geek Collective guild and two extra members (which other people know, but I don’t).

I’m looking forward to it.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 19/10/2014 Bookmark and Share
Level 28. Guns, Currencies and Exotics
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

I have crept into level 28. The highest level you can get to without raiding is level 29 which takes fully upgraded legendary armour as well as the one exotic armour piece you can wear being fully upgraded. That’s a lot of work as it demands legendary drops. There is a valid argument being made that unless you are really into the raid don’t bother gunning for 29 and save your legendary materials for equipment that might drop in the expansion in December. This argument also rings true for not pursuing the raid on hard to get to 30. This is assuming they don’t invent new materials for the equipment. It’s also highly unlikely any new content will need level 29 – 30 to do it, otherwise accessing it will demand getting over a solid grind and the raid. Unlikely (or getting to the upper two levels will be made easier).

There comes a time when your MMO experience is less about playing content but instead doing scheduled activities. In this case a weekly heroic strike for the strange coins then the level 26 strike playlist for my hundred marks a week. There is other things, but the odds are against me. So, unless other people need help, accruing these things will by my Destiny experience.

It also means my improvement focus is the offensive side of things: weapons. I have only one legendary weapon and that’s a heavy machine gun (I have both Vanguard ones, and have dismantled a third, it seems it drops a lot). This also raises dilemmas about legendries, what exotic weapon to use and handling.

I’m really attracted to Suros Regime exotic weapon, partly because it reminds me of Mass Effect and partly because it has a very high stability. To get it I need 23 strange coins, which involves doing weekly heroic strike three times at its highest difficulty or four times at its middle difficulty. I’ll have the coins this week. It also needs the enigmatic vendor who appears every weekend to be selling it at the end of the week. Regrettably, it was available a week ago but there was no way for me to get the coins in time and, yes, this was infuriating. Very infuriating as it may not appear again for ages. I’m not even getting into the opportunity cost of upgrading it once I have it.

This waiting game means I probably need to buy my legendary weapon and go with that until it turns up. It’s a bit frustrating doubling up, but there is no guarantee as when the enigmatic vendor will have it available.

The whole gun selection business is fraught with a certain level of risk. It was easier in Warcraft as all you had to worry about was the numbers. If the maths was higher and your DPS, etc, went up. Win. It’s different in Destiny as it’s entirely possible to get a great weapon in terms of DPS but hate the way it handles. Does it have too much recoil? Is the sight a bit of a pain? The play model of Destiny is not maths, it’s player skill and reaction. This will even lower your DPS depending on how accurately you hit the target: an auto rifle continually impacting the head will cause more damage than 50% missed body shots. The choice of weapon also involves accepting a mini-grind as the weapon isn’t all it can be until it has been fully upgraded. In some cases those very upgrades may alter the handling turning it into a weapon you don’t like (though there are only few like this it seems, ironically Suros Regime is one of them for some people).

For instance, Suros Regime, with an early upgrade fires slowly and the damage increase doesn’t fully compensate suggesting the slow, steady and stable fire rate is meant to facilitate regular head shots. The two legendary weapons I can buy are a more stable, smaller magazine auto rifle and a larger magazine, ridiculous fire rate, but lower impact weapon with very low stability. I'm finding it hard to choose between either of these.They also don't excite me much as they look like a lot of other weapons, the Suros Regime feels a lot more desirable.

This should be one of Destiny’s new features. Since they’ve made getting the gear very reliable, and predictable down to the day, they should also make available firing ranges were you can test the guns with various upgrades turned on.

Only way to be sure.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 07/10/2014 Bookmark and Share
The Event Experiment
Keywords: Role-Playing Games.

So, I’ve started experimenting with constructing a Marvel Heroic Role Playing (MHRP) event. It’s a bit different, in that I’m using the concept of the event but it’s not a Marvel one. It will involve pre-generated characters as it falls into one of the three modes of delivery I’m going to use moving forward (time limited: one shot or mini-series; flexible: episodic) should I ever get around to it at all.

I’ve stared to pull together the easy bit, the skeleton of the event which comprises three acts. It’s all a bit Marvel Cinematic / Ultimate Universe mixed with the Fantastic Four. While pre-gens are being used, which may limit it to a one shot, there is an element of the event that sets things up for ‘the further adventures of…’ should it go well (but that’s a side issue and not a focus and it certainly wouldn’t be ‘regular’). I'm not revealing any great spoiler by revealing part of it is the potential set-up of a UK super team.

I’ve loaned the old Golden Heroes scenarios off a friend and I’m mining them for stuff. In all honesty, I’m not using them as much as I thought at this point, but there is the odd thing I’m picking out. Some sort of loose adaptation of Green Victoria and the Holy Grail would be cool I guess, but not for this.

This is the easy bit because the three acts obviously fall nicely into opening, middle and close and you don’t necessarily have to have everything proscriptively written down. It’s a skeleton in that I have the major action beats (which are scenes) established, then you fill that with some ideas on what can complicate those scenes and then, due to the nature of the system, you sort of rely on the dice to generate everything else as people generate opportunities and stuff.

The bit that’s going to take a bit more effort is applying the system to the skeleton.

In the first instance, I have to decide how I’m going to use the system to implement the narrative of some of the scenes as there are often numerous choices. I suspect I’m going to err on the side of using the Fate fractal, which is present in MHRP, I believe, and have a lot of things effectively be characters. This means there will be quite a few datafiles to create and challenges as datafiles. We shall see, bit to think about on that front.

The bit that is going to take the most thought is the interaction between the pre-gens, the milestones and how that works as a pull / incenstive to drive things forward. I want to try and ensure the game becomes as much about the relationships between the characters as it does the action. Try and integrate them. A lot of this will come down to actual play but some of it will be driven by backstories, aims and milestones. Milestones are the thorny one, they still remain something that seems awesome, but never seems that awesome when you see a lot of them written down. I’m going to have to experiment with nailing them I think. I’ve thought of extending the system to include relationship traits, but I’m going to see how things hang together without them first to see if I can just happily use the system vanilla.

The final issue is the spending of experience, which sort of has to exist to drive the milestones (unless I find a way to make milestone pursuit a separate issue from earning experience). I’m not convinced I want the powers levelling up so it’s going to come down to unlocks that have a shelf life of the event. This has the advantage of keeping powers stable and allowing for the XP spends to be event related.

We shall see. It is an on-going experiment and, knowing me, I’ll probably fiddle with it for a while.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 04/10/2014 Bookmark and Share
Level 27. The Legendary Weapon Hunt
Keywords: Video Games; Destiny.

I am about 60% of the way through level 27. I am fully armoured in legendary gear. This legendary gear is fully upgraded but for the final upgrades that need materials as rare as the legendary gear itself. I am now in pursuit of two things: legendary weapons (I only have two heavy machine guns which dropped randomly) and the rare materials to complete my armour upgrades.

Luckily, I recently got my Vanguard reputation at rank 3 so I can happily buy weapons as I like once I have the marks. Getting the marks consists of: public events, doing the level 24 strike playlist and the weekly heroic strike. Due to the new loot setup the best method is the level 24 strike playlist as I get marks and potentially legendary loot (most of which gets dismantled into the rare materials I need for upgrades). A strike needs a fire team, which gets assembled dynamically for you. Tried that, can be a bit random, moving from elite participants one moment (to the extent I might as well not be there) to random drop outs the next. The best method seems to be to get one other trusted person and go in as a fire team of two, then you only have one random.

Public events are largely for when you don’t want to experience the random fire teams, they also have the advantage of being able to pick up the generally available materials needed for the upgrades while you wait for them to happen. If some of the public event timers available on the web work it may actually be a surprisingly quick way to do it! I’m hoping to do a lot of the level 24 strike playlist to get my 100 marks a week as they take 15 minutes a shot (courtesy of my online stats I know this to be true). Each weapon is 150 marks. Regrettably, I can only get to 140 this week. I need to max out my marks and buy in turn the legendary auto rifle, fusion gun, sniper rifle, shotgun and pulse rife to round out my arsenal.

I don’t need all of those, but what the hell? I might as well be getting something. It’s a bit annoying that I can only get a weapon every 1.5 weeks though, but that’s assuming something I haven’t got doesn’t drop while on the strike.

That’s it until I hit the raid, it’s sort of a holding pattern. It’s surprisingly quite casual play. It’s hard core in the sense that true casual players haven’t even done any strikes, but it’s casual in that it’s not hard. You play. You chat online. The marks and loot tot up. It’s a social occasion.

Will we ever get to the point when we’ll be regularly hitting the raid? Have to admit, I’m not sure I see the family and friends cohort getting around to it. We don’t have six at the right level and it’ll take perseverance and dedication and set timeslots (of some length) in order to pull it off. I suspect interest is waning due to the progression wall, rather than any sort of mental preparation for the raid. If it happens it’ll probably be through loose groupings of players we know or have come to know who can’t manage six. It might happen.

Obviously, there is exotic gear. I think you can only have a single armour exotic and a single weapon exotic active at any one time. That comes down to strange coins, which you get from the weekly heroic strike (3 coins for each one at the different difficulty levels). They are quite hard, though I enjoyed the one we did a few times last week utilising our two Titan Ward of Dawn powers to handle the periodic and difficult adds and our associated revivals from death. Should probably be doing that, but one thing at a time.

Does this all make the legendary loot acquisition in Destiny very predictable? Yes, it’s ridiculously predictable. It can be timed to the day, there is no random element and, with a bit of thought, you’ll know exactly what you are getting and when.

You wouldn't think that with all the complaints about random drops and loot caves.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 03/10/2014 Bookmark and Share
Tyranny of Dragons S2
Keywords: Actual Play; Role-Playing Games; Dungeons and Dragons; Tyranny of Dragons.

This one was a tale of two camps! We were sent to find out where the raiders who had attacked Greenest were holding up and, as it turned out, also seek out a Monk who had been investigating the cult.

The session ran short, which isn’t a problem only in as much as what it may infer about the content in each ‘adventure’ within Tyranny of Dragons. The first one ran for a good length, but this may have been due to its many encounters. All the encounters were of a nice length but there was a lot of them. The ‘content’ of this second one was less clear, it seemed to be split into three elements: the beginning at the keep, an encounter with a straggling group on the way to the camp and the cultists ‘army’ camp.

I was playing the new character this week: a distant relative of the first one (several generations distant), a non-human (a half-fey) and a Warlock. Seems okay. I like what I’ve put into it, didn’t really get much chance to play with it much encounter wise. I like the class though and I’m looking forward to playing around with it some more. The outstanding issue is having reached third level is whether I go for the route that gives me a familiar or some extra spells? While I’m sure the extra spells is the best one I need to ponder it a bit more.

We also had our first cut scene in this session, which was pretty cool as Waylan’s ashes were taken away by some fiery creatures of some sort. I have no idea what’s going. It is no doubt part of the mystery that will allow him to come back later.

The centre piece of the adventure was undoubtedly the cultist’s camp. It had a map you see, so it was obviously important. It was a strange place. Strange because I got the impression, on the outer edge of my dramatic radar, that is was an evocative place of danger, skulduggery and competing factions? Sort of like a non-permanent Mos Eisley? Exciting. But if that’s true you have to put the situation to the players. Challenge them with NPC’s, situations in motion, etc. If that isn’t offered one of two things happens: the players become white middle-class blokes trying to be adventurers rescuing someone or they take the shortest route to success and get out of the situation as fast as possible. I think we became aware of the former and took the latter. I’m convinced there was more interesting content in the camp that just didn’t present itself. Which isn’t a criticism, it’s just a pity! I wanted to see and experiencing it by not having it handed on a plate but by being given a bit of a driving reason to engage with it (assuming I knew it existed).

Overall, I think the module had designed this part as shorter and there was an assumption role-playing would spontaneously fill the void. The spontaneous filling is probably the reason for it running short.

Role-playing doesn’t just spontaneously happen every time a vacuum appears. That is to say it can do, but that depends on the group. I’ve found there is a particular ‘traditional’ and ‘D&D’ role-playing that exists, which sort of erupts to fill any part of the game between encounters. It used to happen in the NWN campaigns we used to run, all of which were played by old, traditionalist D&D players. They’d do the adventure and the encounters and in between they would role-play. This wasn’t a function of the NWN computer game platform, it was embedded from how they played D&D back in the day. They viewed the two as quite distinct activities: one the professional adventurer ‘doing the module’ the other akin to talking by the fire. It would consist of regaling stories of past adventures or playing up their personality traits (and don’t get me started on personality trait role-playing). It was not conflict driven, a bit self-centred and a bit, if I do say so myself, like an exercise in self-indulgence.

Is the module relying on this form of vacuum filling, old school D&D role-playing? No idea, just total speculation.

Either way, I suspect this won’t fill the vacuum with role-playing in the group. We’ve had games that consist entirely of role-playing with little physical combat. We’ve had whole games based on non-physical combat, but conflict in the dramatic sense. This conflict provides the reason to role-play, without it why would it happen? You have to have conflict or at least some context. Anything else is just a bit self-indulgent and odd. Why would you tell your back story unless there was a driving reason and it felt organic, fit to context and having a purpose? Why would you engage with the leader of the Keep unless there was an intriguing mystery, dramatic conflict or a contextual situation to drive you together? Without this the only role-playing left is doing it for the sake of it totally devoid of context or conflict.

It’s probably not going to happen much due to the nature of the group, hence the group looks for the connections to the next part of ‘the module’ and it runs short. We skip the vacuum, rather than fill it, as there is truly nothing there (as far as we can see).

Anyway, we managed to leave the camp with the prisoners and the half-elf monk we had set out to rescue. It seems we are going back to the camp next time to investigate more, no doubt related to the rumour they have dragon eggs! It may also involve tunnels and other dungeon-like constructs! Then no doubt a long debate about destroying or stealing the dragon eggs. Possibly.

Permalink | Comments(2) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 01/10/2014 Bookmark and Share
Level 25. The Queen's Wrath
Keywords: Video Games; PS4; Destiny.

I'm making a lot of firsts with Destiny. I'm farming and I hated farming in Warcraft. I hated farming so much it actually cast a shadow over the raiding, which I did enjoy. I detested crafting in Warcraft and completely avoided it. Hell, I didn't even grasp what people got out of it, and found those 'in the game' for the crafting as a bunch of madmen. Events. Okay, I got events in Warcraft and understood how they could be neat but they either ended up being trivial or epic reputation grinds with a time limit. I never invested my time in them.

In Destiny, I've done all of the above. I am farming to upgrade equipment. Upgrading equipment is essentially crafting in reverse. I've now taken part in my first MMO event in a serious way and it's been great.

The Queen's Wrath is a quintessential MMO event. Someone new visits and sets up their stall and you can earn reputation and do bounties to open up variations on existing missions with new rewards. Basically, there isn't any new content, which was always my problem with events, they invariably just pulled you into doing stuff you've done before. This is no different. Yet, for some reason, this time it works. I've done six bounties which has allowed me six completes of the Queen's Kill Order, which is essentially a random story mission in a substantially harder mode.

I've ran five of the six Kill Orders (they table about 20 - 45 minutes) and it seems to guarantee a legendary as I got the Titan chest piece four times and the helmet once. I understand, from the stats Bungie have, that players are not progressing and only a miniscule amount of people have done the raid. It’s early days, but this sounds very similar to Warcraft and Destiny has the issue of not attracting a typical MMO audience. This is obviously a way to get a legendary into the hands of players. You can do one bounty, one of the easy ones, get a Kill Order, run it once and have a legendary drop. Win. That minimum, efficient and quick commitment bags you an awesome piece of gear.

I needed the helmet. The chest piece is a bit of a pain, as I purchased the Vanguard chest piece with some Vanguard marks when I should have purchased the boots as I'd have got an equivalent chest from Queen's Wrath. It's not the end of the world, but it would have been more efficient. It would have meant all my armour pieces would have been legendary, which would have been nice.

So, why are the usual MMO tricks working this time?

I think part of it is the immediate, FPS nature of the game. As a shooter it's pretty much perfect. It's exciting, well paced and has a visceral, rewarding feeling of weight and sound. The guns feel great and it plays as smooth as silk. Destiny may have fallen short on some other things, such as story and characters, the lack of variety in the strikes, but its shooter mechanics can't be faulted as far as I'm concerned.

It's great fun playing with friends and family. It doesn't really matter that the strike, mission or landscapes you are playing in aren’t 'new', as it's as much a social meet-up as it is a game. You know, some people go to the pub, others meet up in an MMO. Plus, depending on what you are doing, the game is still challenging. For example, the Queen's Wrath Kill Orders we did this evening were not easy. We had to make sure we have people using a spread of weapons, allocated focus fire on fast moving, heavily shielded mobs and so on. Even dying was challenging, some sections becoming an exercise in ‘revival tag’ to keep the machine going. It made it a 'good game'.

You don't spend ages flying or travelling somewhere. You zip around in your spaceship and overland on your hover bike. There is no death penalty. You just respawn and continue (though key mission and strike points place limits on this). It's not all a numbers game, it's reaction and coordination based. The very console nature of the game takes you straight to the actual game.

It’s also low commitment in terms of people: three for a strike, six for a raid. There is no general chat or way to form ad-hoc groups (though strikes will auto-group you, raids don’t provide any grouping service). This means it’s easy to have people you physically know doing the harder content. Join up with a view real life friend’s guilds and you don’t have a problem.

It feels like it has less barriers to play.

I'm really hoping the expansion of the game goes in interesting directions and starts to address some of the weaknesses while holding onto the strengths. If they up the story content and vary the play a bit (outside of the raids) as they expand the game it will go from good to great.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 25/09/2014 Bookmark and Share
Level 25. Reputation, Materials and Gear Rating
Keywords: Video Games; PS4; Destiny.

I am now 50% of the way through level 25. Sounds great, but my nephew has his second character at level 25! Still, it’d be interesting to see his actual play log, I suspect he’s put a lot of hours in (albeit he does play more efficiently and with more dedication than I).

It’s clear now that, as hypothesised, the ‘levels’ above 20 are actually a gear rating. I’m still not fully sure how +light factors into things (I suspect it’s just a broad marker similar to tiers in Warcraft) but I’ve managed to figure out how some of my levelling has happened despite not adding more +light.

Basically, as you’re gear gets better your level goes up. This isn’t just about +light, the other variable that seems to influence it is when you upgrade your gear, specifically upgrades that add more armour. This is a basic gear rating mechanic, with level probably being linked to specific armour ratings which in turn links into what’s required for specific strikes and raids. This could be quite clever if all people have to assess is an individual’s level? Rather than level and then a handful of other stats and criteria.

At the moment, I’ve got myself two legendary armour pieces: gauntlets (which includes arms) and a chest piece. These have upgrade trees. As you work your way down the upgrade tree it invariably asks for rarer materials. Initially, my gear upgraded on ‘money’ alone, which always seems to be plentiful as there is not much you can do with it (there is not player market in the game). Now I’ve had to farm spinmetal to upgrade the legendary gauntlets. I’ll need to farm something on the moon for the chest piece (I can do that while killing stuff and doing missions for reputation). The ends of the upgrade trees involve even rarer materials that can’t just be ‘picked’ up. You have to dismantle legendary gear, do public events really well or the strikes on the upper difficulty settings. It’s sort of like crafting in reverse, instead of haunting the game for materials to build something awesome, you get something pretty awesome and then farm for materials to make it more so.

Have to admit, I prefer it the way Destiny does it. I’d never craft stuff in an MMO, but I find upgrading stuff more amenable to my way of thinking. I realise the actual activities are the same, but that’s human nature, I guess.

A final note, on the second character thing. Destiny has zero replay value. There is no reason to level up an alternate character. Okay, they do play differently, but you’d still spend a lot of your time shooting at stuff. The content is exactly the same. It’s not like Warcraft were you could level up in different zones, on a different content or within a different faction or combinations of all three. It’s not like Mass Effect were you can make different decisions that result in different fates for your protagonist, colleagues and whole races. You can even dynamically switch between the two subclasses so that varies it up a bit (handy since I have a DPS and defence / support subclasses).

I am sure people have done it. But they must be mad.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 24/09/2014 Bookmark and Share
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