games

What a Burro’s playing – January 2017 update

Hello dear reader, it’s been around 18 months since I last posted one of these and a lot has changed. I’ve moved away totally from PC gaming now (my beloved computer room has become the domain of my 10 year old son and his Roblox addiction). So, what am I playing these days?

Elite Dangerous: Nope. Still not been back other than to look at the occasional Beta release. There simply isn’t enough in here to grab me yet. I am beginning to doubt there ever will be.

Guild Wars 2: I’m now on one of my semi-regular long-term breaks. I still love the game but I just don’t want to play it right now. Sometime in the next 12 months this will have changed 🙂

MCPE: Oh boy, this has really taken over right now. This is what I think about throughout the day, it’s what I play when I get home, it’s what I dream about when I sleep and watch on YouTube when I get up. This level of obsession is normal for me and won’t last forever but when this type of mania grips me I have learnt to lay back and let it have its oh-so-sweet and wicked way with me… Follow my adventures with this tag: MCPE

Ingress: This one flared up in the summer of 2016 and is still bubbling away – hell, even my missus is playing it. We all tried Pokemon but that didn’t stick, even with the kids.

 

No Man’s Sky: Urgh… I had such high hopes. Still, maybe after a few updates this will be like a Minecraft in Space and I can finally have that space-based game I’m looking for. I won’t hold my breath though, eh?

That’s it for me right now. What about you? What are you playing, enjoying, not enjoying, waiting for? Leave a comment below.

A Burro further muses on his future in a post Power Play Elite Dangerous

We all have ‘tells’, the give away signs that show people what we are thinking. I, for example, am an extremely fiery person and you can tell exactly what I’m thinking from my face and so I am terrible at poker (although, on the plus side, people always know where they stand with me). And my tells don’t stop at my oh-so-open mug – they extend into my gaming too. I’ve just had two weeks off work and whilst they have been busy and insane in equal measures I’m sure I could have put some time into playing had I wanted to but instead I spent the time watching TV and, as of yesterday, playing Left 4 Dead 2 and there’s the tell: Left 4 Dead.

I first heard of Left 4 Dead a tweet from Graham Linehan waaaaaay back in 2008 and from the moment I bought it (from a real shop – I still remember the patient  young lady trying to explain I’d need ‘always on internet’ because of something called Steam) I have been in love with it in a way that only the original Doom has ever come close to. Most games burn bright and short for me, but L4D1 & 2 have been my go to games ever since I first played them and when I tire of an obsession they are the games I find myself playing until a new obsession begins.

And I’ve started playing Left 4 Dead 2 again.

So that’s it for me and Elite Dangerous. Yet Elite Dangerous offers many years of play so why am I backing off? Well that’s simple – boredom. I need more to do in the game and with both the Power Play update failing to deliver anything but mindless grind and the *still* dull, cookie-cutter mission system, I find I need to back away until the devs add the stuff I am looking for. The popular steamer John “Kerrash Landing” Virgo has hinted in his latest steam that the things players are crying out for are being developed for release in August for Gamescon. In my mind this will be the first phase of planetary landings and a first person mode, but like everything Frontier Developments puts out these days it’s impossible to know. I understand their desire not to raise expectations and face player backlash but to provide nothing is, in my view, worse. Still, I have a lot of faith in FD and I’m sure they will have Elite whipped into shape by the end of this year.

Until then I’m planning on shooting lots and lots and lots of zombies and waiting for the release of No Man’s Sky. You know it makes sense.

Hell yes...

Hell yes…

What a Burro’s playing – June 2015 update

It’s been over a year since I last wrote one of these posts and in that year my gaming life has really shrunk, both in terms of time and scope. You see, my work has been horribly busy over the last twelve months (continuing the trend of the last four years, if I’m honest, and I can’t see it getting any better) and most of my free time is taken up with family time, very important when you have little kids. In that time I bought into the premium beta of Elite Dangerous and that became the all encompassing obsession I knew it would, although I did find time to play a few other games and a year after first piloting a Sidewinder my love of Elite is on the decline. So, what am I playing?

Elite Dangerous: After a year of playing and finding myself taking short breaks throughout I think I’m finally at a point where I’m not going to go back for quite some time. It was the recent Powerplay update that broke me because it showed me that the kind of gameplay I’d like to see isn’t likely to be implemented anytime soon. Of course I’ll probably go back but only once Frontier add multiple character slots (so I can experience different types of gameplay without locking myself into one form for extended periods), planetary landings (I want to explore alien worlds, not just take screen shots of them from orbit), and a more immersive mission structure (to give me a sense of purpose in the galaxy without drinking the Koolaid of Powerplay). It’s still a good game but just one still awaiting many key features that will raise it to a great one. Hopefully ED will flesh out enough in 2015 for me to go back, but for now… meh.

Guild Wars 2: I started Elite just as the Festival of The Winds came to an end and Living World season 2 started. I logged in enough to get each of the season 2 episodes but I have yet to play a single one of them. Now there is an expansion, Great of Thorns, and I’ve not read a thing that makes me want to play it, let alone play it.

MCPE: Update 0.11.0 came out at the start of June and it continued the run of strong, feature packed updates released in the last couple of years. Mojang have taken on three more devs devoted to the pocket edition and the pace of updates is likely to increase dramatically, especially if the additional features they added to 0.11.0 in just a few weeks of being hired is anything to go by! This continues to be the most fun when playing alongside my kids on tablets 🙂

Transmission and Hook: Both of these are mobile logic puzzle games (I use Android but it’s a fair assumption they will be available for iOS too) and both are totally recommended as they are both beautiful and fiendish in equal measure.

These are the games that are available now but there is at least one other upcoming game I’m now pinning my hopes on…

No Man’s Sky: If Elite Dangerous is all hard sci fi and stark, uncaring beauty, the upcoming No Man’s Sky is a throw back to the eye-popping wonder of the 1970s sci fi heyday. Both offer an immense procedurally generated universe. Both offer open gameplay and the freedom to explore and play in whatever way you choose. But NMS seems to offer a more complete offering of fun over ED’s patchwork of genius and boredom. NMS may also prove to be a big but dull game too, but until it does I’ll be keeping a hopeful eye on it…

Unfortunately that’s it for games and me. A combination of little time and even less interest means I’m facing a bleak few months on the gaming front. What about you? What are you playing, enjoying, not enjoying, waiting for? Leave a comment below.

Elite Dangerous: A Burro muses on employment in 3300 (aka “Will Merc For Food!”)

It struck me today that most employment opportunities in Elite Dangerous currently boil down to being a mercenary and this, to me at least, is a shame because it of limits the potential of the ‘open’ part of the open world of ED.

Now by mercenary I don’t just mean a hired gun, although if you look at almost any bulletin boards you’ll find no end of kill missions ranging from the more-or-less morally agreeable “Kill pirate scum to increase system security & prosperity” type all the way to the border-line-psycho “kill civilian ships to see the system descend into civil war” type. No, what I also mean is that unless you are the type of Cmdr who is happy to lock their beliefs to one system faction and work to benefit them at the expense of their rivals then you will no doubt find yourself whoring yourself out to multiple factions of opposing views and stances. In effect, whether you are fighting, trading, exploring or even mining, unless you are bound to one faction you are a merc pure and simple and that seems like a shame to me because binding to one faction limits just what you can currently do in the game and the effect that work can have on the universe.

Now maybe the upcoming “Power Play” update will fix these issues but as FD aren’t giving anything away about it no one knows, but what I’d like to see added at some point are the following:

  • A deeper way of working with and for a faction and for that work to actually have an impact in the system and therefore the universe. At the moment I don’t get a feel that what I’m doing is having any benefit at all and so is there any need to concern myself with doing it at all?
  • Companies and Corporations players can set up and bring other players into work with and for – I have my own RP version in Antfarm Consolidated but it’s just more RP vapour right now. Still, I would love it to be actually in the game and working to influence factions in a system (or systems!).
  • Navy jobs to be more than just merc jobs – the navy would want to recruit the best of the best and not have these chosen few working for the enemy as we all can do now with little to no upset. To be honest I couldn’t care less about a military career in the game but damn the RP that would come from those that do would be amazing!
  • Missions to be more… more… well, just more of everything really. Currently they are dull, repetitive, dead-end grinding and I want them to be interesting, expansive and dynamically altering to actually make them seem like they are branching and evolving. I don’t think words can express how much I hate the current missions structures in ED but some of those words would be swear words that rhymed with duck.
  • Wars to be more war-like with actual changes to a system rather than just a few scattered combat zones and check points because right now a system in conflict is system with a split personality disorder.
  • Expansion to be dynamic and… expansive. I want to move with companies and factions as they expand rather than just be stuck in my chosen system supporting my chosen faction by means of taking their dull as ditch water missions forever.

Most of all, and what underpins these rough, quick ideas, is that I don’t want to be a mercenary. I don’t want to spend the rest of my time in ED just selling my cargo hold or my guns to whoever can pay the most. No, I want my participation to be driven by more than money in my account – I want it to be driven by me and my choices. I want Power Play to give me the opportunity to shape the universe instead of the universe just shaping me.

UPDATE (09/04/15): Not long after I posted this the FD main Dev posted this about missions in the Power Play update: https://forums.frontier.co.uk/showthread.php?t=135952

Elite Dangerous: A Burro muses on spaceships and the hiring thereof…

I’m not a rich man and can only afford a wee run-around type of car but I love it all the same. It gets me to and from work, it takes me and the kids to parties and swimming lessons, and, as long as the destination is within the UK, it transports all of us to a much needed holiday cottage for a week or two of relaxation. But it is not perfect. When I need to move furniture or take loads of rubbish to the tip I am scuppered because the wee run-around just isn’t up to the job and at these times I do the only thing that is available to me – I borrow my dad’s Volvo estate! Wait. Hold on, that wasn’t my point. Let me try that again. *ahem* And at these times I do the only thing that is available to me – I hire a van from a car hire place!

So picture me sat at the flight controls of my beloved Cobra, the Vestigial Echo, in Abe Dock about to join a trade wing. Everybody is bringing their Type 7s and 9s with hundreds of tons of cargo space and I have a measly 32 tons to offer. What I need is a trading ship to switch to but woe is me, I don’t have the credits to buy and outfit one (and even if I did, that would mean 15-45 minutes out of the game sorting it all out) and that means I’m relegated to flying support instead of trading up with the big boys. What can I do?

Now picture me scrolling through the bulletin board in a rusty old sidewinder after one too many docking accidents. Imagine I’m a skilled combat pilot down on his luck and looking to get hold of some cash quickly when I see a mission to take out Ca’pn Blue Nose, the vilest pirate lord in all the sector and there is a huge C150k bounty on offer. Alas! I’m in a bloody sidewinder and can’t afford a new ship! Am I doomed to grind up through the ranks again? The horror!

What about being stuck out on the edge of human space and I need to get back to Sol in  a hurry but all I have is my short-range combat Viper because I’m on patrol duties for the Navy? DAMN IT!

And what if I need to explore a small but distant volume of space but don’t want to hack’n’slash my trading Asp to turn it into an exploration craft? NOOOOOOOOO!

Well, my solution to this would be to hire a ship. Stations should have the facility for Cmdrs to rent a ship kitted out to their specifications for a certain period of time. The hire would cost money and there would be an insurance bond that would be returnable if the craft is undamaged post-use, as would any fines for late return and accident prone, careless or unlucky Cmdrs would have higher hire & insurance costs. This way all Cmdrs would have a greater flexibility of mission participation and we would all get the opportunity to fly the ships we will mostly likely never have enough money to buy, own & run.

Personally I can’t see a downside to this idea – can you? Let me know below 🙂

Google+ post here: https://plus.google.com/+DavidBollenberg/posts/Bb55NjJAooD

MMOs and the weirdness of raiding…

I’ve been chewing over this post for a couple of months now, ever since I undertook my first dungeons runs in Guild Wars 2 earlier this year but I’ve been meaning to write something about raiding since I began to tag along with raids in LOTRO back in 2011. Now there are huge differences between those two games but there is also a striking similarity, at least for me, and that is that I find raiding not only profoundly boring but also confusing in its stylistic switch from the rest of the gameplay.

GW2 is probably the best example of this. The game itself is anything but boring with the heart and soul of it engineered to allow you to play pretty much alone whilst giving you something to do all the time. Wherever you are you are never more than a few minutes from an event chain and you are encouraged to use the various weapon and profession skills to complete them. As an engineer I know I have certain rifle skills that work well with turret skills and I need to use both, as well as constant movement and healing, to win the fight and this feels right, it feels like the game Arenanet designed. But when it comes to raiding it all changes.

From a position of knowing your skills and understanding how to dance around an enemy in order to survive, you are thrust into a game mode where all you have to do is stack, i.e. all stand on exactly the same spot and mash attack, heal & rez skills, and that is mind-numbingly dull. Not only is the game play style dull, but what it does to your experience of the world is criminal! Do you know what I see of most fights in raids? A firework display of particle effects centered on a strange multi-limbed beast and nothing else – none of the amazing wotk the devs have put into the area because we are all stood in a crush hitting and healing and checking out emails on your phone instead of concentrating on the fight.

I would love to experience more of the dungeons and areas built by Arenanet but not stood in a clump. I want to use the skills I’ve learnt in the game, not be forced to play a whack-a-mole. I want to take the awesome moves I pull fighting a group of Tamini Centaurs and apply them to fighting a dungeon boss so that when I bring it down I look awesome, not like a strange mutant-blob-thing!

Sigh. Maybe I’m missing something obvious but for the life of me I can’t think what it is. Raiding is boring.

Exploring the Big Black: First Impressions to First Profits to First Death in Elite Dangerous.

I’m enjoying Elite Dangerous a lot but it’s both harder than I imagined/remembered and quite obviously a beta.

Anyone with half a desire to buy it right now should know that whilst the gameplay is fun and the delivery stable (not one crash, freeze or disconnect so far) it’s limited and far from fully implemented. Whilst it’s true that most of the core elements of the game are represented so that you can fight for or against the military, hunt traders or pirates, buy and sell between worlds or simply explore and map the universe, it’s also true that the area allowed for this is a tiny walled-off bubble and as such begins to feel like a fishbowl quite quickly. Still, the gameplay is solid and doesn’t feel like a rushed ‘work in progress’ affair which is what I think is the biggest criticism of Star Citizen’s dogfighting release, so if you are wavering on the edge of buying it I would certainly recommend you jump in. As long, that is, as you don’t expect to be playing the finished game and if you don’t then you’ll enjoy it a lot. One last word of warning, please for the love of all that is holy don’t burn out playing a beta to death – that’s just not a smart thing to do.

With that mini (micro?) review and PSA out of the way what have I been doing in my time exploring the Big Black? Well, trading a fair bit, running away from players whenever I can and discovering the deep, deep joys of talking to my spaceship. Let me explain…

I’ve installed VoiceAttack and for the low, low price of $8 (sub £5 for me) and I can honestly say it’s the best fiver I’ve ever spent. I am now chatting away to my ship like it was an old friend! Well, not really but I am barking orders at it and it’s obeying like the good ship it is and I honestly can not imagine the game without it now – I mean if you’re not meant to talk to a spaceship in the year 3300 then when the hell are you? I hope Frontier Developments builds it into the game at some point, along with appropriate and maybe even editable replies. Ahhh, I can but dream.

Using VA and my Hotas X joystick I’ve been trying to beat the Solar Fluke in the training missions and having some success – it’s going to take a lot of practice but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually. When I get tired of combat training I pop into the multiplayer where I’ve been finding out how trading works. At first I was losing money hand over fist but then a few days ago I had a break through and began to see my profits and savings creep up, nothing grand but I was making my way up the ladder without having to fight anyone.

And then it all went wrong. I was doing ok, I had traded up to 5,500 Credits and keeping my nose clean when I suddenly had a run of bad luck. It started with being shunted back into a station by a player docking in a hauler. By the time I managed to get myself free of his shields and facing back towards the exit my docking window had expired and I was suddenly a wanted criminal. I was fired on inside the station by the station authorities and then again outside (by the station *and* players I think). I escaped and managed to pay off the fine to clear my reputation at the next port but at a cost, wiping out all profit from my last two runs. I congratulated myself on clearing my name, mentally noted down a ‘lesson learnt’ and headed off with a hold full of expensive stock to sell. And that’s when I decided to get clever. Long story short I tried to do a loop the loop through some station super-structure and I hit it hard. Hard and fast. My shields couldn’t cope and my ship exploded. I lost it, the cargo and all my money in one fiery fireballs of fire. Boom. Start again time.

There is a time and a place for hotdogging and work is neither the time nor the place.

I’m in no hurry to get back in and do it all again as I don’t want to burn out in beta and then not want to play the full game in a few months time, but I will start again soon and see if I can get my sidewinder kitted out with some weapons and armour so I can have a go at fighting in the conflict zones that have flared up between the Federation and the Eranin Defence Force.

Exploring the Big Black: First Flights to First Dockings in Elite Dangerous

So I bought Elite Dangerous.

Blimey.

I swore I wouldn’t. I promised myself I’d be strong, I’d hold out until after launch. But I couldn’t.

Blimey.

So what do you get in Elite Dangerous’ Beta? A small bubble of space to explore, trade, fight and die in and a whole heap of steep learning curves, that’s for sure!

Am I enjoying it? I’ll have to answer that with a thoughtful yes. I’m really enjoying Guild Wars 2 and ED is soooooo different that it felt like a total culture shock. That coupled with my failure to immediately be the amazing space ship pilot and intergalactic dogfighter I know I deserve to be disappointed me. But having dropped the Beta asking price no amount of initial friction is going to put me off and so, in between my GW2 dailies, I’ve been plugging away and I’m slowly gelling with it.

To be honest it’s really helped that my 8 year old son has taken to it so well. Hell, his first station entry was perfect whereas mine was a paintwork-stripping grind-fest. He’s taken to the complex and cumbersome controls like he was born to pilot a US drone and leaves me to do all the navigating and ‘boring selling stuff’. Basically, within 48 hours of buying it I’ve become his co-pilot! This makes me actually very, very proud of him 😀

I’ll keep you posted but so far over managed to:

> Fly to 3 systems.
> Dock several times without crashing.
> Avoid being ganked by other players.
> Make 200 credits profit on my first trade.

Now I’m hoping that fuel isn’t a factor in the Beta as I haven’t bought any since I started. Gulp.

So strap in with me as we set off to explore the Big Black. But bring a towel. And tea. Lots of tea. It’s going to be a long flight.

World building, part 2: This town, is coming like a ghost town…

In my last world building post I talked about, amongst other things, better weather & seasonal effects to make the world seem more alive and changeable. Well in this post I want to move from the macro back down the scale and look at towns, cities and other settlements because it’s not just the world that needs to come alive for me but the place I call home too.

My first ever experience of an online, populated city was Nova Albion in Second Life. I rezzed nearish and wandered on down where I was grabbed by the lure of free Linden Dollars in a camping spot (this was before I realised how damaging camping spots are to online worlds, sucking up computing resources for no benefit to the environment). Once I broke free of the camping chair I began to explore the city and was amazed that such a place could exist – it was a city built by and populated by the players, a deal of who I could see around me! Now it was sometime before I realised that vast majority of players were in one or two locations within the city and the rest of it was a well-tended wasteland so at the time this was a hugely exciting to me.

Nova Albion, Second Life's first city...

Nova Albion, Second Life’s first city…

My next experience was of Bree in LOTRO and I still remember riding through the gates and down the cobbled road from Combe for the first time. It was night and I was following a more experience player in my first few hours of playing and I can still feel the excitement swelling inside me, something akin to the first time after passing my driving test my Dad had me follow him onto the motorway – pure nervous adrenaline as I moved from one world to another, it was amazing.

Bree, so small yet so oddly important...

Bree, so small yet so oddly important…

My most recent experience has been in GW2 where I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with Divinity’s Reach (such a bloody beautiful name, too). The levels! the architecture! The housing! The scale! Oh my gods I was blown away! It is still the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in a game but do you know how many times I go there and explore it? Never. I teleport to the bank and teleport back out to the game. I teleport to the Maiden’s Whisper for RP and teleport out again. If I crafted I’d teleport to the crafting station and then out to the game again. The is no reason for me to wander around the city and therefore it could be three or four small rooms and I’d still get the same benefits and that is a crying shame.

Divinity's Reach - full of places you can never reach or explore...

Divinity’s Reach – full of places you can never reach or explore…

Do you know what Nova Albion, Bree & Divinity’s Reach have in common? They are deserts. Wastelands. Ghost towns. People hurry from location to location in an entirely perfunctory manner to get between locations such as bank to auction house or auction house to crafting station in order to complete a necessary task related to the furthering of a step within the game. Taking a helicopter’s eye view of the city over 24 hours you’d see players whizzing back and forth between a small number of locations using the same routes whilst the rest of the city simply lies dormant.

So what to do about this sorry state of affairs, I hear (or at I imagine I hear) you ask?

That’s a good question I have no easy answers to but here’s what I’d like to see in online cities, things I feel would brathe some life into them and make them worth not just visiting again but actually playing in:

  • Player housing throughout. True this was the case in SL and cities there were still deserted but none of these ideas are meant to happen in isolation. I think player housing is important because not only does it give players a reason to be in the city but it also makes them invested in the city. All of the amazing buildings in Divinity’s Reach are unusable with only the occasional one open, but even these are museum displays that can’t be played or interacted with. True there is the home instance of Selma but it’s just that, an instance; a private bubble of the city created for and inhabited by only you – and where is the fun in that? Let players live in the city and make it their own.
  • Events throughout the city all the time. Give the players a reason to be in the city other than crafting, banking or redecorating their house. Player guilds like LOTRO’s Lonley Mountain Band prove that if you put an event on people will come so put events on! Allow players to put events on! For the love of all that is holy, breathe some life into the place and get people dancing! Random small celebrations should happen, Weekly markets with special items, Parades that wind their through the city streets. All night parties right outside your window. Holy days of celebration to the various six Gods. And why not have dungeons in the city? Why not have quests and dynamic events happen there?
  • Let crafters own shops. Let players own a shop that you can visit and where you can buy their goods, whether those have been made or found. True these items could also be sold on the trading post but why not between people? Slap a 15% sales tax on and the gold sink remains. And if the player is out playing then let them hire an NPC to man the shop for them (an even bigger gold sink).
  • Whilst on the subject of NPCs, make them real. Don’t have them standing around waiting to be clicked on but have them wandering the neighbourhood. Have them going in and out of buildings and doing stuff other than waiting. Like exploring a city, listening to NPCs talking is fun the first time but then never again. Hell there is a conversation between two ministers about the Centaur problem going on right now that was going on word for word when I started over a year ago. Why? That conversation hasn’t moved on so it gives the impression neither has the world. NPCs should seem like they really live and work in the city otherwise the city seems like a theme park exhibit.
  • Let the city change at night. Traders should close shop and go home, NPCs should wander off to their families or the pub, parties should start, Seraph patrols increase, curfews enforced, drunken fights break out, arrests made. In short the city should act like a real city and be different at night as it is in the day.

Of course, a lot of this goes for *all* the settlements in the world. All of them need real day & night cycles with NPCs that do more than stand around like idiots awaiting an instruction to sit. Players should be free to live in the countryside if city life is not for them. Merchant caravans should allows player-traders to join them. The whole bloody world should feel more interactive and real and alive and a lot less like a game where you can’t play with all of the pieces.

This is exciting as my home instances gets...

This is exciting as my home instances gets…

Life in Tyria: Big changes are a-coming, starting with traits…

In mid-April Arenanet are releasing their first ever feature only update (I was away for so long I hadn’t realised that they were releasing feature changes along with living story updates) and it’s looking like it’s like it’s going to be huge!

There is a post from Arenanet all about the first changes which are going to overhaul the whole traits system but I really liked the video from Wooden Potatoes which explains in a lot more depth why this is important and how game play might change. I’m looking forward to it but if you are playing GW2, what do you think?