February 18, 2012

First Impressions of Champions PTS Overhaul

So, here we are the first major, major update to the PTS, the Alerts have gone out and with it some of their first changes to the game including a little bit of re-itemization. And all I can say is, eh…. They’ve been aping and hyping all this now for quite some time and the first experience with it has been exceptionally underwhelming. And I don’t mean from the unfinished, buggy reasons why. They are extremely underwhelming, the whole idea of them being “team” content got flushed out of the door when the team I was in pretty much ran over each group solo.

It just baffles me every which way that the same group that is making Star Trek Online, that not only has viable endgame content, can’t seem to tell their Champions group to get their act together. A statement from one of the devs said they were looking at it from an endgame perspective, to which I will add; No, you bloody well were not. Hell several of the groups I was testing with the exact same utterance of the lack of challenge pretty much was very clear.

And yet again, I can do nothing but facepalm as they’ve not only, once again focused on low level characters, they are, again for the third or fourth time now, redoing the starting level content of the game. The 1 to 15 level-range has received so many revamps and revisions now that a lot of the content is out of order. This is not smart design here. I can’t even begin to fathom what they are thinking. They are designing this game as if the levels did not exist and think that everyone can meet the exact same challenges on equal terms, but the team game is an appalling mess, the content is laughable, and they pretty much give things away to make any actual replay value pretty low.

Now while they say this is just foundation work so they can move forward, in the past 3 years now, there has been absolutely no forward momentum performed with Champions Online. In fact, the only thing to have received any significant updates has always been the level 1 to 15 range of the game. Anything for teaming or challenging content has not been added and has pretty much just been ignored.

So in short, what I am saying, this update is very thin and needs more to it. If this is all that’s planned, then there is already a huge problem. This level of mismanagement has always annoyed me, because it’s something that you have to go out of your way to mess up. Champions’ deserves better than this and it is appalling on so many levels how the game is being treated.

All I can say, if what’s on test is any indication of the potential future to be had, it’s extremely too little and honestly, I think it’s well past too late. But I guess I can check back each week to see if anything else has changed, but I honestly don’t feel it will. Cryptic seems content in appealing to the minority demographic that remains instead of actually building a game meant for the MMO world.

February 12, 2012

On Cheating in MMOs

PvP is a pretty straight forward affair. People that have been at it for a long time and experienced know the difference between good PvP and bad PvP. While opinions may vary, it can be easily placed that a game that doesn’t allow for PvP to be one or two shot game fests but doesn’t turn into forever lasting slugfests tend to be the most fun, which also end up utilizing more skills and abilities on the part of the player. However, this is also something to be weighed in on the MMO market to, where a game that only has a few useful builds or powers in PvP, then one can argue the game utterly failed at balance.

However, there is a darker side to PvP, one that is generally occupied by the less skilled who would rather do anything they can to win instead of actually doing the basic, most fundamental thing of gameplay; learning to actually play. These are the people that generally argue in favor of easy kill almost unavoidable mechanics or play whatever the cheapest load out combo is for near insta-gibbing of anyone regardless of build or spec. These are often the people you see using the words Learn2play as their battle cry most of all on the forums in defense of an obviously overpowered spec or ability.

Unfortunately, it’s also this crowd that tends to also produce the highest level of the worst type of players to encounter in a game experience like this; commonly called a hacker, but universally known as a cheater. Generally this is a catch all term for someone who will abuse bugs, exploits or third party programs to gain whatever unfair advantage they can in an environment. Their only goal is to win and they could care less about the actual rules or skill required or the actual challenge involved. They only care about the win in the end, not about actually proving they can play well.

Now the first thing I want to make clear. Not everyone that is better than you is a cheater. Some people just either know how to use their skills well, know how to place themselves better, or just many other factors. Even luck can boil down to who wins or doesn’t. So in the end if you get outplayed, then it might just be that, you got outplayed. If you are new, it might be confusing at first if you don’t understand how the various classes work or something, but in the end, you have to come to understand, there is always going to be someone better than you in the end. But that doesn’t mean that everyone who beats you isn’t doing it legitimately.

Now there are certain things one could universally say are bugs and exploits of broken mechanics, and the amount of action that will be taken in those cases is relative to the amount of dollars that a company will lose. In the Pay to Play environment (P2P) this, unfortunately, often leads to the game rarely taking action against these obvious game shattering exploits. This tends to also cause more harm than good, realistically, as instead of making examples and proving they are taking a stand, they allow these people to continue abusing said bugs and exploits and state common excuses like, “It was our fault, and we should not punish people for doing something.”  While I am certain in some instances this is true, such as if an entire class’s commonly used ability is the cause, this is not the case when an obscure ability or combo of abilities produces an obviously broken effect and only a small handful of people abuse it. And instead of actually immediately fixing the issue they let it linger. This produces the effect of no confidence in the developers and tends to hurt their longevity when it concerns the PvP arena, especially when no action is taken in the concern of this.

Exploiting a bug can be many forms, and almost all the time results in gaining an advantage that would otherwise never be had. For instance, abusing the stuck mechanics to avoid an otherwise lethal situation, especially in the realm of PvP or using a specific bug to allow a character to produce ludicrously high damage that even the most robust tank can’t withstand. Many try to claim that it’s just using the system to their advantage and sadly in many circumstances, instead of actually punishing the people abusing these exploits. Most game companies decide to weigh towards the dollar value and let it slide thus continuing to send a message that they allow this to happen instead of making an example of those people and maybe even curtailing some of the more fearful exploiters, and thus losing potential dollars and those who prefer a fair and even environment without having to rely on bugs and exploits for a level playing field don’t want to belong to. Hysterically, most of the people that abuse the bug will do whatever they can to defend it.

Now, the final type of cheater is the hacker type. They use third party programs, most of the time illegal, but sometimes legal, to actually gain an advantage that could not normally be had in the game. Anything from super bursts of speed, to inhuman levels of target, to even magically knowing where everything is in a game that no one without spending hours doing the timing themselves and setting up a clock could know. People abusing these types of programs sometimes are doing it to see how long they get caught. However, there are groups of people who go out of their way to find these cheats and the first question almost always asked is, “Is it detectable?”

Blatant hacking is almost easy to see. People moving faster than it would be physically possible or healing impossibly fast or magically hitting you regardless of location are all examples of hacks that you could see. Hacks come in many forms and vary from game type to game type, but they all basically aim at one thing; to give a ludicrous advantage to make winning easier if not guaranteed. Hacks aren’t limited to just those, either, there are hacks designed to run and do errands for people and these are also universally riled.

At the end of the day, the reality is that cheaters are everywhere. They know they are doing it, and many try to cover up that fact. Some blatantly abuse bugs and exploits or third party programs and hover on excuses that they use them to make the devs fix them faster. However, I think it would be in developer’s best interest to start banning people more openly. If you don’t show the cheaters that your policy is actually something you back up they will basically just wipe their ass with whatever your terms state, and in the long run this will cost you more dollars in the end. Stop dancing around these problems and actually start doing something and backing up your claims of no tolerance. While I know that every claim of cheating or hacking needs to be investigated, if you were actually making examples of them you might have less than would actually appear.

February 1, 2012

It's already wearing thin.

So yea, here we are and it's February. EA is crowing about SWTOR, fanbois are raving, haters are declaring doom, and I am sitting here just shaking my head with a mild headache. Now, as I promised, I gave SWTOR a fair shake, but, now I think I am going to go ahead and say I've pretty much done it all. The game is WoW 2.0, and I am sure naysayers will come out of the wood work to defend it, but the whole game plays, feels, and pretty much acts like WoW. The whole talking thing was novel, and while the crowing of choice was always BioWare's forefront, it's not really there as any choice you make has no real impact on any of the 5% character story arcs you do, and has no impact on any of the world story arcs. And as Yahtzee just proclaimed, the whole morale choice system was complete bullshit anyways.

And the game is way too padded out to boot. In fact the padding is so over the top and unnecessary especially since BioWare has basically proclaimed that they are focusing all their forward efforts on the endgame. Now I applaud this, because basically anyone saying that endgame doesn't matter is full of more gas than a politician and any developer trying to make believe they aren't designing any future content with the mind set of their highest level and most powerful players in mind is lying out their ass or completely incompetent.

Now while I am sure there are people who will say they love SWTOR, and I can't tell them they are wrong, I don't really care for it anymore. It was fun at first but the reminder of WoW was pretty much everywhere for me, and considering that BioWare is even going so far as repeating Blizzard's exact mistakes in everything they do, I am just baffled at every turn by this. Needless to say, that's probably another influence in this whole process the fact BioWare has bafflingly made the exact same mistakes that companies before them have made. And they keep making them. And it puzzles me further because they have people working on this title that have been in this industry for over fifteen years.

Another thing that has actually hurt my enjoyment is the utter destruction of RP in this game. While people will try and defend it all they want, RP is utterly and hopelessly destroyed in SWTOR. The only thing you get to decide, albeit briefly, is your appearance, but even that becomes generic after sometime thanks to same weapons and armor your class has to wear. Your personality, your interests, and even the entire character voice and mannerisms are chosen for you. This is not role play. And anyone saying it helps boost their RP experience is in denial at this point because there is no way you can say that with a straight face. So in closing that, I guess we can call that atmosphere. There is none. The moon has more atmosphere than SWTOR at this point.

The planets all feel stock and generic, and it's all linear and forced. I mean you can feel how forced it is, the attempt at giving you a planetary choice at level X early on, but even then you are forced to go to the other planet just to continue your class story. So really, that went down to a fuck it moment as well from BioWare as there's no choice there either, at least if you really want to finish your class story, and your story pretty much follows the exact same path as all the other classes. So anytime I hear someone mention story and choice about this game I am left doing nothing but rolling my eyes with an audible, exasperated sigh, because quite frankly, that's a lie to.

I am sure that when some read this I am going to get a whole bunch of either tweets or maybe even one who posts something telling me how wrong or stupid I am for actually having an opinion that doesn't jive with the belief that BioWare is incapable of bad decisions or designs or just really not giving what they promised. Personally, I consider the Mass Effect series to be a vapid, inferior game experience in a vain attempt to try and create a legend they instead went the cheap route and let a leak out saying there was sex in their game to sell more copies because of the easily predictable nature of gaming nerds. And, like HALO, Mass Effect is held up as some sort of crown jewel of games, but I just find them to be average at best, and pretentious just being their normal.

So basically what it boils down to is I am bored already, I am tired of the gimmicks when I just want to play (turning movies off doesn't help) and I am just tired of not being able to just pick up the game and start doing something I want to do. A dungeon finder in this game would be worlds of an improvement. It doesn't even have to be cross server, but instead they opted for the scream in general till you get a few people willing to help. This is a step backwards on many fronts, and it's going to hurt the longevity. I know there are some, just because they are Star Wars fans, who love this game, but I was never saddled with that burden really. And while some will say that's sacrilegious or what have you, I just never thought Star Wars was the end all be all people put it as. It's a quaint story to me, but that's really all.

So, in the end this will probably be the last month I play TOR for the foreseeable future. It was fun while it lasted, but it's already grown old and stale in my eyes. I don't know where I will go, I'm still looking at The Secret World with casual interest and a wary eye, but I have some interest in it. And strangely enough, a lot of suggestions I made a while back ago, Cryptic seems to have gotten the message on and are looking to actually do the things I've suggested time again. I can only hope that means they woke up, but I can already hear the bitching and moaning of the weakest links already complaining that an MMO is being aimed at being a game for teams instead of just solo fap that fails hardcore.

So, that concludes this blog. I am sure some will probably seethe at what I described here, some may even agree or most won't care. Hehe. So, maybe another blog in a few days or so.