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Archive for May, 2010

Starcraft 2, one week later

One week later and close to 30 games played all styles put together, how does my adventures go in Starcraft 2? As of this morning I stand with a 9W-13L 1v1 ratio, all the way down in the copper league, despite having started in the bronze league after the placement matches. It’s a bit of a blow to the ego considering I used to play a lot and I know I’m not playing that bad but SC2 multiplayer has been really brutal so far.

The league System

In order to pair people together of equivalent skills, Blizzard came up with the league system. After your first five placement matches you are placed in one of the leagues wich are Practice – Copper – Bronze – Silver – Gold – Platinum, with Practice having more newbie friendly maps that help prevent rushes.

The whole system is a bit misleading at first. During the placement matches you are paired against players from the Practice league and going gradually higher or lower depending on your performance. It then takes the number of games you won to decide where to assign you. In my case I was assigned to the bronze league after a 3W-2L record in placement in wich I suspect my wins were against practice and copper league opponents.

Right now I have to say it does feel like the league system is not working that great. I’m always against opponents of higher skill level(got “Even-match” twice) so it does make me wonder why bother with leagues if you’re not playing with people of your own skill level. I suppose I haven’t met Platinum players yet but I had at least a gold opponent once, wich I’ve beaten… go figure.

The pool of sharks

If you played SC1 in multiplayer lately you know the game has become incredibly brutal. New player trying to jump after playing the single player campaign would stand no chance at all. This is why Blizzard implemented the league system to give everyone a fighting chance.

What is happening right now is that the “average” skill level of players is much higher than what Blizzard anticipated. They admitted they’re seeing copper league play that they tought they would find in the silver league for example. I guess it could be expected in the beta where most players are people with a keen interest in SC2 multiplayer so it’s entirely possible things get back to normal at launch.

But right now it’s like black belt sharks with lasers on their heads. Ok.. it’s not that bad but for the first few games you do get owned bad. I mean I lost eight in a row before I started winning again.

The list

To keep things classic here’s the good / bad list of the first week review.

Good:

-Better controls, graphics, music, options, etc… The game has the Blizzard polish and even in beta it shows.
-Similar but not the same. On the surface the games does play and feel the same but there’s enough depth and change to make it not the same.
-It’s fun! I’m always wanting to play just one more.

Bad:
-No chat channels and support for friends or other social features are not working that great right now. Blizzard has confirmed however that this is being worked on.
-Opponent pairing is not working great with you being paired against higher skill opponents all the time. There’s a lot of speculation on why ranging from bugs to the game being top-heavy but right now it would be nice to have the upper hand once in a while.

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Yeah I know, it’s not exactly a new game and it’s not the biggest hit to ever hit the gaming scene but since I’m managing to work through my “unfinished” pile I finally finished it 4 months after it’s release.

The Bioshock(or SystemShock for you old timers) games are a bit of an oddity in the FPS genre. On one hand you have an exploration game where you need to find certain upgrades, passwords and items to move forward like a Metroid game but you play it as a straight  shooter game. Both shooters and exploration games have a bit of these elements but none mix it like BioShock. Finally, the Bioshock series is all about ambiance and story telling. The point of the game is to explore and find out what happened rather than just beating the final boss.

Back to Rapture

I won’t be going into the specific of what happens in the game since A) I don’t want to spoil anything and B) it would take forever. So I will be going straight to the point, is it a good game?

Yes it is… if you like the type of game I described above. It’s not a straight shooter or exploration game so if you hate either of those styles you won’t like Bioshock 2.

Is it better than the first one? No. The first game remains in my opinion the strongest one. The second one has better refined gameplay but the story telling was much more interesting and well done in the first one and for me that’s the main point of the game. As a straight shooter or exploration game, Bioshock 1 or 2 is a rather mediocre game.

As for the game itself it’s harder than the first one wich is a good thing in my opinion and the gameplay has improved a lot. The plasmids(special powers) and weapons offer a lot more interesting combos and most of them are useful this time around compared to the first game where you would always use the same ones. Enemies fight smarter and Big sisters are a blast to fight even if they hit like trucks. There is a bit of a boring spot in the middle of the game but the end part makes up for it and is really great.

I’ll conclude by recommending this game to those of you who played the first one and loved it. The second game is still great even if the story is less compelling than in the first game. If you haven’t played the first game yet I suggest picking that one up in a bargain bin instead and discover the wonders of Rapture for yourself.

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STO, engine problems captain!

So yeah… my STO subscription got cancelled again. I can blame part of this on Starcraft 2 but in reality I just can’t click with STO. The first time around I played 4h 26 minutes according to Steam. This time I played 2h42, for a grand total of 7 hours, 08 minutes.

To be honest I don’t know exactly what is wrong here. Maybe its Cryptic, a company I honestly don’t like much (hate would be closer), maybe its me, maybe its the alignment of the planets… I just don’t know. I get all excited about playing a StarFleet Captain and then as soon as I log in I feel the excitement disapear. I play for 10 minutes and suddenly I feel like going off to do other exciting activities like watching paint dry.

Anyway, the STO experiment is well and truly over wich leaves AoC. I’ll wait tough since right now I’m somewhat busy but maybe later I’ll give AoC another go.

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Lotro update, into the Iron Home

Angmar(Iron home in Sindarin) is the original endgame zone of Lotro. Like other endgame zones in other games, its bleak, dark and unforgiving. With my little hobbit warden standing at level 43(now 44), it was time I tackled the fortress of the enemy.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this zone to be honest. After reading this post by Syp I was more or less expecting a black rock wall with a level 60 elite troll in front to eat you up. What I did find however wasn’t like that at all… well I did find the said black wall and a few elite trolls but not all in the same place. I’d also like to say that Syp isn’t wrong either and that what he writes is very much true but I  guess I experienced it in a different way.

Apocalyptic design

When designing the capital of the Witch-King, Sauron’s own right hand, the developers at Turbine were pretty much screwed from the start in terms of design. While Tolkien works give very little in the way of description of Angmar besides bleak and desolate, Minas Morgul, the Witch-King other city is very well described, documented and illustrated by artists, including Alan Lee who is pretty much the “go to guy” when you want to see Lord of the Rings illustration. If you’ve seen the movies, they got the look pretty much right.

So what do we actually know about Angmar?
-Bleak and desolate look
-Ancient kingdom destroyed by the forces of good in ancient times(expect ruins)
-Ruled over by the Witch-King wich also rules over Minas Morgul(similar looks possible)
-Populated by evil creatures(orcs and the likes), hillmen and the Angmarim, human descendants of the old kingdom and servants to the witch-King.

Limits options as far as design goes but I was curious to see if they could make it work as a believable eco-system.

Journey through the Iron Home

“One does not simply walk into Mordor!… er Angmar!”. In order to get into the home of the enemy some preparations must be made. The old roads are unusable because of the dread watchers, magical stone statues that ward people away, we need to begin our assault by going through the Ram Duath, the mountain passes to the South West of Angmar.

The Ram Duath is a rather nice place all things considered, pines trees, green grass and a massing army of orcs makes for a nice stroll through the ravines. Turbine actually made a nice transition here, going for an in-between, wild zone where the free people are mustering hidden from the view of the enemy and  readying themselves for the assault. We head north through the ravines to Aughaire, a friendly hillmen village where the rangers are hiding.

North of Aughaire are rolling hills leading to Carn Dûm, capital of the enemy. The skies are red, the ground is grey with ashes and the debris and ruins of an ancient battle can be seen everywhere. Right here we have the first two elements of the list, the bleak look and the ancient kingdom part. We won’t be pushing north just yet to Carn Dûm but instead we are headed east to Malenhad to join up with other hidden Free people  camps.

Malenhad is not something I was expecting to find in Angmar, it’s more or less a giant salt flats with dotted with pools of water and hot springs. Around the springs you will find small orcs encampment with dry-land farms. I believe this region was modelled after Nùrn in Mordor. Nùrn was the most fertile region of Mordor and was used to feed the Dark Lord armies. Likewise, Malenhad is clearly being used to produce food for the armies of Angmar. It’s not the most spectacular looking place but it does make sense.

After visiting the hidden camps of the free people in Malenhad we are headed to the North West of Angmar to Gath Forthnír, an outpost hidden in a cave where the Rangers prepares the war. It’s a small cavern just like the one where Faramir was hiding, complete with an interior waterfall.

On the way there we come Barad Gularan and the surronding area. This is where things get truly evil. The ground becomes black, jagged rock, there are enemies everywhere and not a single trace of vegetation is in sight. And then we come across Barad Gularan itself, wich might be the most impressive piece of fortress I’ve seen in a MMO. Quite simply it’s the Minas Morgul from the movie but replace the green glow with a red one. You know you’re in trouble when a place-name starts with Barad.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Lotro very own death-zone. I liked it a lot to be honest. Yes, it’s another death-zone but there wasn’t a lot  of options available when you consider the existing lore. To Turbine credit they did make a smart Death-zone and tried to make a believable eco-system in there. There was a lot of places I haven’t talked about that add nice touches to make the place believable. I do feel they borrowed heavily from Mordor to make Angmar but my hat’s off to Turbine for taking the time to build something believable and not just throw lava rifts until all over the place.

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Drop pod picture added in the Salamanders Project page. I finished this model sunday and I have to say it was a time-consuming and rather boring model to paint. There’s a lot of surfaces and details to cover and you have the repeat everything 5 or 10 times wich makes for repetitive and somewhat boring painting. I am not especially looking forward to painting the next two ones. That said, I am happy with the final result and I do think it looks great, just not especially fun to paint.

This is exactly why I started the painting project. No matter how much you love painting, some models are less fun than others and it’s easy to start painting an army when starting out and your super motivated but you end up loosing interest over the less fun models only to end up with a half done army. I often say if something’s not fun then you shouldn’t do it but in this case I’m willing to put up with some “grind” to get to end result.

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Out of the comfort zone

Good morning everyone! If like me you had a weekend from hell and feel worse off than you were feeling before the weekend let me welcome you to the club and offer you a good cup of coffee. I’ve had one of the busiest weekends in a long time and had close to no time to do any kind of gaming. STO is going completely unplayed, Lotro was ignored and I played a meager 5 games of SC2 opposed to the two dozens I wanted to do.

Speaking of Starcraft 2 I’m discovering that I’ve become a bit PvP shy since last I played.

Pretty much everyone who plays video game see themselves as heroes, great generals, invincible conquerors. We all think we have it under control and that we can do anything. While PvE might support that idea for a very long time, PvP will come as a slap in the face for a lot of people. Other players are very good at giving harsh reality checks and nobody likes the taste of defeat.

What happens is that PvP brings you out of your comfort zone and nobody likes that very much. I’m finding out that I’m a bit hesitant sometimes at clicking that “Find opponent” button and head into the unknown, not knowing at all what will happen and most likely suffer a humiliating defeat.  I don’t like having my self-illusions shattered. It’s especially true in 1v1 games likes Starcraft where I cannot blame anyone or  anything else for my defeat. If I lose it’s because of me and no one else.

Strange as it sounds I have to relearn to lose. I’m realising I’ve gone soft since I last gave PvP a serious try and gotten accustomed to PvE where you have all the time in the world to prepare yourself. Time to get back to my old PvP ways.

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So yesterday I had to go buy clothes because it seems there are laws against going around naked. While at the mall I stopped at the EB games in the vain hope of getting a Starcraft 2 pre-order… OMG I got one!!! With a beta key too!! Seems like the tard who told me they wouldn’t be carrying the game got fired for incurable stupidity after wrongly informing people that they wouldn’t be getting SC2. Some justice at last!

So I got home as fast as I could (nearly ran) and started the waffling long download, jumping up and down like a hyperactive schoolgirl. At least that’s what I imagine hyperactive schoolgirls to be like. Could be wrong, my memories of that period are a bit muddled.

Before going further let me go on a tangent here. I’m a hopeless Starcraft fanboy. I used to play the first game all the time over Battlenet and I got pretty good at it. I was even in a clan, battling in local and Battlenet tournaments pretty seriously for a while. Of course one day we where up against a Korean team and we got pwnd so hard that most of the clan stopped playing after that tournament. These guys were playing on another level.

So I installed the game, prayed for the updates to go faster and  finally got on! So what happened?

First impressions

Since I had to work in the morning and it was getting crazy late I  decided to play only three games, one with each race. I got off with a 2W-1L record in the “newbie” league. Overall it’s still pretty much the same Starcraft. I know some have been disappointed by it, me I’m pretty happy that they didn’t turn the whole thing over on its head. RTS where you have to manage base building and resources are  becoming rarer as developers move away from that model and to get a solid title like Starcraft 2 is awesome.

The general gameplay stays pretty much the same and someone who played the first title will be familiar with a lot of what’s going on. However there’s a lot more depth to what a player can do and nearly every unit  has options for them wich adds a lot of options for a player.

One big difference I noticed is that the game seems to favor mixed army building instead of the old “12 of a unit” model. I had better success when I was mixing units rather than focusing on a single type like I did with Zerg(was going for Hydralisk/Zergling spam). The two games I won had armies of about 20 units with 50% base units, a few more advanced one and one or two big units(Battlecruiser/Carrier). In short you cannot do everything and having a good strategy as to how you want to win is needed. You can’t do everything.

The games

Game 1 Terran(me) vs Protoss, Terran Win

I was pretty stressed as the screen to my first SC2 game was loading.  had no idea of what to expect and I was pretty sure I’d get beaten while I would be fumbling around. I wasn’t disappointed and there was a lot of fumbling around trying to build myself an army while  figuring out the game. I went at first for a mixed Reaper, a new infantry unit that can jump up and down cliffs, and Marines army. I went scouting and met the Protoss army wich proceeded to kill all my marines in record time. Trying to save my Reapers I jumped up a cliff nearby and safe from the Zealots I managed to kill his entire force by jumping up and down the cliff.

In the end I won the game by better Micro. The other player had a stronger economy but sucked bad at Micromanagement of battles. An air strike in the back of his base secured victory and bypassed his wall of defences.

Game 2: Zerg(me) vs Terran – Terran Win

Zerg are the race I feel has changed the most. A ton of new units and different mechanics concerning creep, defences and mostly every unit had me lost completely. I ended up making a lot of bad choices when base building. To compound my problems my opponent was clearly not a noob at SC2 and came at me with combined armies with just the right units to counter me.

I played the entire game with me on the defense, desperately trying to push-off his attacks while vainly trying to mount one of my own. I did manage to hit him a few times in his base but never hard enough to slow him down. A well placed baneling(exploding zerglings) attack did do a lot of damage but I didn’t have the forces to really exploit it. I decided to try to last as long as I could but eventually I just couldn’t defend myself properly from the constant attack. Again I had better Micro and I feel that with a better grasp on the Zerg I could have pulled a win.

Game 3: Protoss(me) vs Terran – Protoss Win

Protoss were “my race” back in SC1 and they are the ones I felt were the most similar to the original game. I went for a mixed infantry force with air power for later game. My opponent was an economy player, meaning one who tries to build a crazy economy before just unloading an army on you. That’s why I often try to do an early attack with a small force to prevent that kind of player of getting too comfortable.

The small force paid off big time and I was able to destroy him simply because he was too focused on building. Had I waited too long the outcome could have been very different. I felt that this was also the weakest player of the night. By the time he managed to drive off my first attack I was coming in with the second wave with consisted of Carriers with a lot more infantry.

Final thoughts

It’s Starcraft! For better or for worse the game we loved is back. It doesn’t revolutionize everything but it shows the same polish and depths of most of Blizzard games. personally I’m rediscovering a friend long-lost and I can’t wait for the real game to come out.

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