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A lot of my friends are super-excited about Dragon Age:Inquisition coming out this fall. When my friends get excited, I get excited, or at least try to. What’s better than being in a social bubble with other folks enjoying the same game you are?

But I’d never finished Dragon Age: Origins or Dragon Age 2, and I’m trying to stick to a policy of not buying sequels until I’ve played through the earlier games in a series. So I’m in the midst of taking another stab at Dragon Age: Origins.

And whew, what a grind it is. I’m something like 33 hours in and I think a little over half-way through the main storyline (based on the fact that you have to get 4 factions to sign on with you and I’ve gotten 2 so far). So I’m predicting something like 60 hours to finish this game, and that’s skipping a ton of side quests and things added as DLC after the fact. Then I have Dragon Age 2 to get through, and only then can I consider Dragon Age 3.

And suddenly it all feels too much like work, particularly when I read posts like Dragon Age Inquisition Will Literally Have Tons of Gameplay Hours, Borderline Impossible To Tell How Many.

There was a time when I loved hearing that an upcoming game was going to be epic in length, but that was long ago. Back then I had lots of time and not a lot of money so I wanted to squeeze as much gameplay out of each title that I could. These days I have plenty of money (in terms of buying games anyway) but not very much time. And there are SO MANY GAMES to play, both upcoming and in my huge pile of shame.

The problem is that I’m intensely curious about games. I want to experience them all, which clearly isn’t possible. But when I find a game that’s 60 hours long and I figure if I play for an average of an hour every night (which feels about right…some nights I play a few hours, some nights not at all), that’s two months spent with one game, and over the course of those two months about 6 new games will come out that I want to play! Plus these days I tend to play (single player) games for their narrative and not many games have a story good enough to keep your interest for 2 months.

But what really makes me weird about all of this is that I love MMOs and of course 60 hours in an MMO is nothing, right? I guess the fact that MMOs don’t have a “finish line” makes me play them in a more free-form way, if that makes sense. I’m not striving towards this The End goal, I’m just playing to have fun.

Anyway the point is after reading that DA3 is so big that it’s impossible to say how long it is, I’m much LESS interested in playing it than I was before. It just sounds too intimidating! I wonder if anyone else feels the same way?

For the past week or two I’ve been surprising both myself and my friends by being a social gamer. I’ve been doing dungeons in PUGs in Final Fantasy XIV, joined a Free Company (Guild) and have actually been interacting with other members, joined a link shell, added some random folks I’ve met to my friends list. On the console side I’ve been playing Diablo 3 with friends.

I will begrudgingly admit that hell isn’t always other people. Sometimes other people are really fun to hang around with, and playing in groups is a very different experience than playing solo.

But I’m still an introvert in the most technical sense of the word. Let me explain. The best definition of an introvert that I’ve found is that an introvert ‘recharges’ by being alone; s/he expends energy being around other people and gains it from solitude. An extrovert is the exact opposite. They get energized by being around other people and if they spend too much time alone their batteries start to run down.

Yesterday I was really tired. I have a lot of trouble sleeping and it’s often the case that by the end of the work week I feel like I’m running on fumes. After dinner I fired up the PS4 and was going to jump into Diablo 3. I checked my friends list to see who was playing and some friends were. And suddenly I found myself shutting the console off again. I went looking for friends to play with but when I found some I felt this weight settle around my shoulders and it seemed like playing with them would just be exhausting.

Then I went upstairs and logged into Final Fantasy XIV and for the first time, didn’t say hello to my Free Company. Nor did I queue for anything. I just quietly did some solo questing until it was time for bed. I ran into a few friends in the world but sorta pretended I didn’t notice them, which was pretty harsh, I’ll admit.

I felt pretty crappy about this when I was pondering my day waiting for sleep to come. I felt like I’d back-slid into my old ways.

But today I feel better about it. I am who I am and if I need alone time sometimes, well, that’s just the way it is. I think…. no, I KNOW my real friends will understand. I have this bad way of looking at everything in terms of black and white and the fact is I’m sure everyone is some shade of grey. I bet even the most extroverted people have times when they just feel like being alone, and as an introvert there’s just no way I’ll be happy if I put myself ‘out there’ all the time.

I just need to make sure I find a comfortable shade of grey where I am social some times and solo other. To make sure I don’t completely give up on being social and making (and keeping!) friends; it’s far too easy for me to completely tune out the rest of humanity. I work from home so I can easily go a week or more not speaking to anyone but Angela and the dog, and as much as I adore them both, that’s just not healthy. I do ‘talk’ to a lot of folks on social networks but that’s not real time and so it seems to stimulate a different part of my brain or something… The point being this is kind of ‘bigger’ than just games. Right now games are my primary vector for socializing, so I damned well better use them for that!

kittenSo as mentioned in my last post, I went back to playing Final Fantasy XIV. I kind of resist admitting to “Flavor of the Month” temptations since it feels like there’s a negative connotation to that phrase, plus it gets thrown around a lot. I hear my friends referring to FFXIV as “FOTM” that everyone is going back to, but at the same time most of the chatter I see on Twitter is about going back to WoW to get ready for the next expansion and from my perspective that’s the game that “everyone” is going back to.

Not that any of this matters. What matters is having fun. If you find it fun to change MMOs twice a week then go for it, flavor-of-the-month or flavor-of-the-week accusations be damned! Anyway I’ve always been fond of FF XIV. Fond enough that I’ve been subscribed since launch even though months went by without me playing it. It was always something I intended to play ‘any minute now’ and so when I saw Dusty talking about the game it finally got me to log in. He was playing on Diabolos, I think, so I decided to roll a new character there. I got my dude just the way I liked him but oops, Diabolos was locked for new characters. So I randomly picked Marlboro.

At the same time Scarybooster was playing and he was determined to get to level 20. Only he was on Cactuar. Meanwhile Dusty went on vacation. So after a couple days on Marlboro I re-rolled AGAIN on Cactuar to lend moral support to Scary. That was Monday the 11th.

When I played FFXIV last Fall I got to about level 18 before running out of steam. My issue with FFXIV is that dungeons are mandatory. Let me explain that. Features of the game unlock as you play through the main story quest, and to do that you have to complete quests that require you to do dungeons. I had originally rolled a Gladiator not realizing it was a Tank (ie high stress) class so I really balked at doing the dungeons. I’m a determined solo-ist and I’m fine with skipping dungeons in most MMOs, but FFXIV pushed me out of that comfort zone.

Last Monday I rolled a Thaumaturge and quickly ran him up to 16 or 17 but I wasn’t really feeling it. I never play casters but I was just trying something new. So I switched jobs to Pugilist and he is now 22 and has done the first three mandatory dungeons. I did them with PUGs and they were all pretty fun once I got in them and got going.

I find that my anti-social anxiety actually peaks while waiting for the Duty Finder to pull together a group. I almost canceled my first dungeon queue several times, but once I got in there the group was asshat-free and it was a good time.

The second one was less so but I found that as a DPS as long as you’re not stupid people at worst don’t notice you. Not stupid, at these low levels, basically means don’t run ahead of the tank and activate dormant mobs, really. I can do that. I got a Player Commendation doing that dungeon so I must’ve either done something right or someone took pity on the new kid (when you roll a character in FFXIV there’s a little sapling icon next to your name so people know you’re new).

But what has really surprised me is that in a week I’ve leveled one job to 17 and a second to 22 and I’ve pushed the main storyline well past where I had it last fall at launch, even though I played for much longer at launch.

I don’t know if Square-Enix has reduced the leveling curve or if it’s because I’m playing differently than I did back then, but I wanted to share my playstyle with others because I seem to level faster than my friends newly come to the game (one evening I was playing at the same time as a friend was and in the time it took him to gain 1 level I gained 4).

My new system boils down to: Don’t be a completionist when it comes to Quests. Follow the main storyline quests and do just enough other quests to keep you at a good level for the main storyline. If you’re level 15 and you’re doing level 10-12 side-quests you’re both wasting your time and you’re ‘using up’ quests you might want if you decide to switch to another class later.

You can get a lot of experience doing Fates and completing your Hunting Log, as well as doing Guildleves the 1st time (you get bonus exp the first time you do them ) and doing them via the Duty Roulette (again, bonus exp for doing them that way). Eventually you’ll unlock the Challenge Log and that’s another good source of exp.

For your gear, keep it upgraded by buying gear from NPC vendors. It’s cheap and you’ll outgrow it really quickly. If there’s a level-appropriate quest that gives you gear you need, by all means do it, but it seems to me quests give you the same gear that vendors sell, at these low levels.

Once you start doing the dungeons you’re likely to get gear from them that is better than solo quest and NPC sold stuff, and you get tons of exp doing those things. So you might want to re-run them (again, using Duty Roulette for bonus exp).

In addition to gaining levels there’s a bunch of stuff you can unlock as you go. I found this great list at GamerEscape that tells you when and how to unlock stuff. Via that link I was prompted to go unlock the silly dances, the wolf and coerl (cat) minions (non-combat pets) and the oh-so-flamboyant Aesthetician (Barber). Not only are these unlocks pretty easy and a fun diversion, they also give you experience.

Basically it feels like everything you do in FFXIV is giving you experience and quests are only one of many ways to earn it. So don’t bother doing quests that are lower level than you unless they unlock something specific you need, and you’ll level up like the wind!

Earlier this week I was playing some Final Fantasy 14 and chatting with friends when Scarybooster, who is new to FF14, got his subligar. The subligar is the bottom half of a gladiator get-up. You can learn (a little) more about subligars in the real world on this Wikipedia page about the history of the bikini but for the purposes of this post, let’s just say it looks like leather underwear.

Of course Scary being Scary, hilarity ensued as he went on about his butt cheeks hanging out of his underpants and so forth. Another friend, Oakstout, who was hanging out in chat but not playing, said that he wasn’t sure he could play a game where you had to wear such ridiculous gear.

I am ~almost~ in agreement with Oakstout, but not quite, and I think I’m exactly who the subligar was designed for. I wear it because when you get it, it’s the best armor for that level. But I hate how it looks, so that gives me an incentive to level up and get better gear to replace it.

In general FF XIV goes old-school with gear. You are ‘born’ wearing decent looking street clothes but soon you find yourself in what are essentially burlap sacks (‘hempen’ clothes) and oven mitts and stuff like that. But then you see a level 50 person strut by looking really cool and you have this aspirational moment of “Whoa, I gotta level so I can look like that.”

I feel like this method of coaxing players to level up used to be a lot more common than it is now. Just one more way FF 14 is a bit retro. I kind of dig it, but I also completely understand folks like Oakstout who aren’t interesting in spending $$ to look like a fool in a game.

Then there’s also the issue of gender. I am guessing that people who frequently play female characters don’t give the subligar a second thought. Female characters so frequently wind up wearing ‘armor’ that barely covers anything that the subligar (it is a ‘unisex’ bit of gear) probably seems conservative in comparison. That’s just a theory. Would appreciate comments on that.

Here’re a few subligar shots… when paired with a war harness they do look slightly less ridiculous then when you’re wearing one with a leather jacket or something:

If you don’t get the title, go here => https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4ga_M5Zdn4

Anyway, lately there’s been a bit of buzz in the gaming social network realm about people canceling their Wildstar accounts. I guess enough people did this and shared it to cause a spike in curiosity about why “everyone” is quitting (and I put that in quotes because of COURSE not everyone is quitting).

I don’t know why people are surprised by the exodus (is that too strong a word?) from Wildstar. What would be really surprising is if a new ‘hot’ game hit the market, “everyone” (that word again!) signed up and stuck with it. A surge of interest followed by a drifting away is normal for a new MMOs these days.

And why not? There are a TON of great games out there and more coming every day. And one of the basic truths about our species is that we’re curious. We’re always looking for something new to investigate. Why did “everyone” (now it’s just getting funny, right?) run out and see Guardians of the Galaxy as soon as it hit theaters? Because it’s better when it’s new! Why? There’s no reason why. It’d be the same movie next week but it wouldn’t be new! If you don’t like movies you can make the same analogy with a new restaurant, music…whatever you’re into. Many of us are excited when something new in an area of interest we enjoy comes along.

So we flocked to Wildstar. Hell I played it and I didn’t like the beta. But I played it because it was new! (Granted I only lasted two weeks.)

The point being, playing an MMO seriously requires dedication to that one game and means more or less ignoring the multitude of other awesome games available. Who wants to do that? So we play the new MMO hardcore for a few weeks, then get a little distracted and start to play it more casually. Then since we’re playing casually we either run out of things to do or stop making progress, at which point we think about that $15/month fee and decide it isn’t worth it. So we quit. And of course we announce that we’ve quit, though why we do that is the subject of another post (once I figure it out). We rarely announce that we’re quitting free-to-play games but I guess that act of hitting “Cancel” on our sub feels more concrete than just drifting quietly away from a free-to-play game.

But what about the people who stick around? Well I don’t know, really, since I’m never the one who sticks around. But I have a theory. The people that stick to that one game are the people who are more socialite than gamer. They play MMOs because they enjoy the company of other players and they have a group of friends that play. I know my one time of playing an MMO seriously was vanilla WoW when I was unemployed and living alone and a little bit lonely and I’d log in and start chatting and laughing with my friends and the game hardly even mattered. The game was just the glue that kind of held us together… it was busy work to give us an excuse to spend all night chatting.

I think that’s part of why so many people go back to WoW. [Sidenote: World of Warcraft saw a drop of nearly 1M players in three months, says Activision Blizzard] WoW is like the universal language of MMOs. “Everyone” (ha!) has played it so getting friends to go back isn’t difficult, and WoW has been rolling along for so long that it’s comfortable and easy to slide back into. Because after hot new things, what we like most are well worn, comfortable things. I’ll posit a theory that most of the people who go back to WoW are social gamers; as a dedicated solo player I never feel the slightest urge to go back.

What’s hastening the churn even more these days, I think, is that after bouncing from game to game for so long, and losing track of friends with each bounce, we’re seeing clumps of players gathering together on voice chat servers just to gab even while they’re playing different games. So we’re starting to lose that “Well I’m not really feeling this game but all my friends are here so I’ll stay” stickiness. (After all it’s not like we often actually play together even when we’re in the same game.) So maybe you’re playing WoW and Jane is playing Wildstar and John is playing FF XIV and I’m actually just watching TV, but we’re still all chatting. Basically we’re heading back towards AOL chatrooms only this time using voice.

So that’s my theory as to why “everyone” is leaving Wildstar. It’s just the natural order of things. There’re too many options for gamers to ignore, and socializers don’t really need to be in the same game any more, and the reason “everyone” starting playing in the first place is because “everyone” loves the smell of a shiny new game and all our friends were going to play. Plus there was HYPE!

The good news for Wildstar and every other MMO publisher is that we gamers travel in herds and 6 months from now Wildstar will be the Flavor of the Month because they’ll announce something new to catch our attention, and we’ll all head back in there for another 6 weeks. And of course there are still the folks that fall outside the quote marks of my everyones and who have found a second home in Wildstar (and probably an active guild of friends) and who will be long-term dedicated customers. Every MMO that’s still around has that group of people (else the game wouldn’t still be around) but they don’t all jump on Twitter once a week to announce they are still playing, so we don’t notice them.

Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries is an ‘action platformer’ that re-tells/re-spins the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. This time out Woolfe is the CEO of Woolfe Industries and it seems like Red’s father has died in his employ. Red wants revenge but she’ll have to hack her way through an army of animated toy soldiers (among other things) to get it.

Woolfe is being done by Grin, and the game has already been Greenlit on Steam and featured on the ID@Xbox platform (Microsoft’s push to get indie games on their consoles). But developer Grin has had to cut some features, particularly magic, and they’re running a Kickstarter project to generate funds to get those cut features back in. I’ve grown a bit wary of Kickstarter in general, but this is an example of a game being created by an established developer who already has gameplay to show; I think it’s a pretty safe bet.

They did a lengthy video about the game:

And here’s a snipper from the PR blurbage:

The new video reveals the origins of Woolfe’s creation when, two years ago, aspiring game developer Davy Penasse applied for a 3D artist job at Belgian-based indie studio GRIN. While Penasse was unsuccessful in securing that position, the team at GRIN were blown away by a short, 3D demo at the end of Penasse’s portfolio. Featuring a stylized Red Riding Hood character attacked by evil living trees in a dark enchanted forest, this 10-second clip became the starting point of what would eventually become Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries.

The story of Little Red Riding Hood has been told in various forms since the 10th Century, but Woolfe’s interpretation is a dark fantasy revenge story far beyond a modern fairy tale. Following the death of her father, Red dons a cape, picks up an axe and faces her worst fears in a bloody vendetta against the evil B.B. Woolfe, CEO of Woolfe Industries.

GRIN has also launched a Kickstarter campaign for Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries to help the small indie studio take the game to the next level. The core gameplay is already in place, but additional funding will help GRIN add new features and mechanics, including magical powers for Red that would compliment her current melee combat abilities. Among the many rewards on offer, backers will be able to customize their own Toy Soldier; part of the robot army employed by B.B. Woolfe to enforce his iron rule. The Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries Kickstarter campaign has a funding target of $50,000 and will run until September 4, 2014.

Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries is scheduled to release for PC, Xbox One and PS4 in Q2 of 2015.

UPDATE: Polygon has now set the record straight in NIS America to make its GaymerX payment ‘in full,’ conference founder apologizes. I’m so glad to see this: faith in Polygon’s editorial policies restored.

Original post begins:

In case you somehow missed it, it all started Monday night when the CEO of GaymerX, a “gaming event for everyone, but focusing on supporting LGBTQ gamers and allies” took to Twitter to share an email sent to him by an employee of NIS America, a small video game publisher that focuses on localizing Asian games for the Western market. Apparently NISA had pledged $3000 to sponsor an event at GaymerX and now this employee was indicating they weren’t going to be able to pay.

GaymerX’s CEO, Matt Conn, was understandably upset and shared the email via twitter. (Tweets have been deleted.)

Polygon covered the story in NIS America allegedly backtracks out of GaymerX sponsorship. The post was written by a Polygon staffer who disclosed that she was a personal friend of Conn. It’s good that she disclosed this fact but bad that it was she who wrote the piece in the first place. The piece included this line:

Conn noted that he felt NIS America’s actions denote a poor attitude towards queer people. “I feel awful and betrayed,” he said.

Here’s what Conn initially tweeted:
“To me, this isn’t about the money, this is about standing up against bullies”
“The whole POINT of gaymerX, the reason why I left my high paying job @bandpage was to fight for queer geeks”
“I don’t care about the money, $3000 is nothing in the scheme of life. that’s a month of pay. The big deal is a company is bullying us”
“they’re bullying us becuase they think they can get away with it and I wanna show the world that you CANT get away with bullying queer geeks”
(again, all deleted unfortunately)

Meanwhile Joystiq covered the situation too in GaymerX in dire straits after NIS America pulls pledge [update]

Joystiq opted not to make this about sexual orientation, and added an update:

Update 1: Though it has no formal comment at this time, NIS America tells Joystiq it is “trying to work with GaymerX so that we can resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

By later on Monday Conn and NISA had already begun to sort things out. Another string of his tweets:

“We are working towards a resolution on this matter tomorrow morning and I’ll be able to update you then.”
“NISA is a good company that made a small oversight and I responded strongly. We both are at fault and I look forward to a quick resolution”
“I have no interest in causing NISA harm..i just want to be paid for the services that were rendered. I have been assured it was a mixup”
“And I take them at their word. Everyone can calm down now. Call off the war train or whatever”
“I deeply apologize for implying their choice to not pay was related to anything due to my sexuaity as I’ve realized that was self projected”

In the meantime another small publisher, Devolver, offered to cover the $3000. Tuesday morning Polygon reported on that:

Hotline Miami publisher is coming to the rescue of GaymerX after this week’s funding mishap (update)

There was no mention of the fact that Conn and NISA were working towards a resolution, but did reiterated that original issue.

Devolver Digital has come to the rescue of the LGBT-focused video game convention GaymerX after the event’s original sponsor NIS America pulled out earlier this week

Notice according to Polygon they have no longer “allegedly” pulled their pledge, it is now being reported as fact.

At some point during the day on Tuesday Conn and NISA cleared things up.

“We have come to an agreeable arrangement with @NISAmerica and they are currently making things right.”
“Agreeable meaning they’re paying what was owed and we both apologized for the misunderstanding and way that this went down”
“Everything is all settled – @NISAmerica has explained the poor wording of the email which I misinterpreted very poorly, apologies and hugs”
“Please note that @NISAmerica unlike most AAA companies was willing to sponsor and be at @GaymerX, which takes extreme courage”
“I have nothing but respect for @NISAmerica and their team, this was a poorly worded email that I received and acted very strongly to”
“I apologize for any distress that I may have caused their team and anyone who follows their or my threads.”
“I will be reaching out to press to help update the story and that it has come to a positive, peaceful resolution quickly”
“I personally do feel terrible for escalating it to such a level so quickly, I felt hurt and upset by the wording and reacted far too strong”
“for what the situation called for, I’m just happy that they have cleared up the confusion and confirmed that they will fufill payment”

These tweets are still on Conn’s stream but I wanted to capture them in case for some reason he decides it’s best to delete them. I won’t embed them all but here’s the first one

So the good news is, the story ended on a happy note. GaymerX is getting their $3K from NISA, Conn seems happy, everything is sorted out.

Later that day Polygon ran another post on the situation:
The industry is trying to resurrect GaymerX, $3,000 at a time

There is NO mention of the fact that Conn and NISA have settled the issue between them, no mention that Conn himself is trying to get the press to update the press about what he himself calls a “positive, peaceful resolution” to what was apparently an unfortunate mis-communication.

If someone were to only read Polygon’s posts (and ignore the comments…I’ve been trying to fix their poor journalism via their comment system) they’d think NISA was a homophobic company with “a poor attitude towards queer people” even though the source of the comment has pointed out that NISA was one of the few companies to sponsor the event in the first place.

The bias (or incompetence, take your pick) shown by Polygon is unfathomable to me. I’ve lost so much respect for that site. I’m hoping today we’ll see the situation being cleared up by them.

BTW Joystiq also wrote a second post:
NIS America to pay agreed pledge for GaymerX2 [Update]

It included a Press Release from Conn and GaymerX. He is really trying to set the record straight. I’m not sure why his ‘personal friend’ at Polygon isn’t passing this info on to readers. Press release in full below.


I would like to give an updated statement on the events that have unfolded over the past 24 hours.

We, GaymerX, received an email from NIS America in regards to the sponsorship, which read as though there was a budget misallocation and that they would not be able to complete the terms of the sponsorship. This has been explained that that was not the case, however, they agreed that it was worded poorly and could understand how I could misconstrue the intent of the letter.

I apologized to them for escalating it to the press in the manner I did – as I have no intention of causing the NIS brand harm, and was only looking to defend our company and make sure that we were going to get paid. I realize that it would have been much better to have more back and forth on the subject before going to the press and that my reaction, while in defense of the company, was extemely severe given the circumstances.

I want to publically apologize for any pain or distress I may have caused NIS America or their team – they have been very genuine and sincere in fixing the issue and have confirmed that payment will be made in full. They have been nothing but professional during this process after the initial email, and it can’t be understated the fact that, unlike most conservative AAA companies, they were willing to take the risk of being associated with a queer event and they went out of their way to be a part of it. That statement alone is huge and I feel as though my statements were taken out of context. I in no way intended for the dialog to be that they had made this action because we are a LGBTQ organziation, my point, at the time, was that I did not feel like that email would have been sent to a larger convention or organization, and felt bullied because of that.

They have assured me that this was not the case, and that the email was just simply poorly constructed for the meaning of what they meant to say, which was: “We did not run this up the ladder properly, and we need to discuss how we can resolve this”. I did not interpret that message correctly and that is how we came to this point.

In the end, I am very happy that they have made steps to apologize for any miscommunications on their end and to pay the full amount invoiced, and I am happy to publically apologize for a) escalating the issue beyond what the situation called for b) making comments which could be inferred as that they were making that decision based on anything besides budgetary concerns.

I hope that this statement helps clear the air on this matter and myself, or NIS America, would be happy to answer any follow up questions.

Thank you very much.

vandal_grimoirI was trolling (in the fishing sense of the word) some gaming forums the other day, reading people’s thoughts about Destiny. One person shared a concern that got me thinking.

His (or her) concern was that the story missions keep sending you back to the same area. In the beta there are 4 or 5 Story Missions and they all take place in what was once Russia near some space-port-ish place. I hadn’t really thought about this, but then I’m an MMO player. If you’re coming to Destiny from a strictly single-player FPS point of view it must be strange. If you’re playing Call of Duty or something similar, (virtually) every single player mission has its own map/level, right?

Destiny story missions are a little more like an MMO. There’s a huge zone to explore and your story mission objectives are scattered around it. You can stumble upon them before you take the mission, in fact. Old Russian is the Elwynn Forest of Destiny. You might encounter the equivalent of Hogger well before someone hires you to take him out.

The only strange thing is that at the end of a Story Mission you beam back to your ship, which is essentially your hub. It’d be like finishing a quest in Elwynn and being teleported back to Goldshire, sort of. When you’re ready to start the next story mission you beam back to Old Russia in the same place you’d started all your other missions. Which *is* a little weird.

I think I get why, though. When you first hit dirtside for a story mission you’re in an open world. You will see other players going about their business. You can ignore them, or help them. No PvP here though. As far as I can ascertain these people aren’t necessarily doing the same story mission as you, and they might even be in ‘free roam’ mode (more on that later). By starting everyone in the same place it means there’s a bigger chance you’ll encounter other players (I assume you can turn this off so as to get a truly single-player experience if you want to).

When you approach the objective of your story mission you hit an area that The Darkness (the game’s ultimate enemy is The Darkness…every time it is mentioned I think of this:

“I’m attacking The Darkness!” LOL
Ahem, anyway….)

So you get near the objective and now you are on your own, unless you’re part of a FireTeam, which is Destiny-speak for Group. Point is you won’t get any help from random players in here. Respawning in the Darkness-controlled area is prevented. If you die you’ll respawn prior to the current encounter, which will be reset. The good news is you keep any experience you gained in previous attempts. The bad news is that any consumables you’ve used will still be gone. Once you accomplish your goals, you get auto-teleported back to your ship (after a brief countdown that lets you gather up any drops that might be laying around).

So that’s story missions. Destiny also offers a ‘free roam’ mode where you just teleport down to the planet and explore. There’re are missions here too. You get them from ‘beacons’ which could just as easily be NPCs with a ! floating over their heads. These missions tend to be pretty easy and just give you a little extra incentive for running around killing bad guys. Once again in free roam mode you’ll encounter random players and in this case you can work together to complete your missions. Really you’re just working together to kill bad guys but as a side-effect of that you’ll complete your free roam missions.

Destiny also has Public Events where some uber boss-type critter will spawn and everyone in the area can swarm it and try to take it down. In the beta at least (which has a level cap of 8) these are pretty straightforward fights, but they’re a lot of fun and the rewards are solid.

There are also Strikes that I haven’t tried yet. These seem to be the Destiny equivalent of instanced dungeons, but I’ll know more once I actually, y’know, play through the one in beta.

I’m really enjoying my time in the beta and am super excited for Destiny to launch so we can level past 8 (sub-classes don’t even kick in until 15 so we know nothing about them) and see other worlds!

If you’ve never known anyone with a gambling addiction you probably don’t think it’s anything serious, but it is. People get so addicted to gambling that they destroy their own lives. It’s a serious issue for people with compulsive personalities.

So what does that have to do with video games? I’m concerned with the increasing use of gambling mechanics in these games. I’m going to use Firefall as an example but many games have similar mechanics which boil down to spending actual money on a chance to get a good prize.

In a blog post Firefall devs teased this cool glider.

CobaltPhoenix

How do you get it? It is an “Epic Reward” that comes from a Red Bean Reward Token. These are tokens you get when you purchase Red Beans in an amount above $20. Of course, just because you have a Red Bean Token doesn’t mean you’ll get that glider. You have a CHANCE to get it. How much of a chance? Since Firefall’s gambling system isn’t regulated they don’t have to tell us. Maybe it’s a 1 in 10 chance. Maybe its 1 in a million.

The bright side is that you DO get the Red Beans you purchase, so in this case the Token is like throwing your business card into a fishbowl at the local deli in order to get a chance at winning a free lunch.

Then there’re these wings:

Celestial
So how do you get these? From Gold Tokens. Gold Tokens are purchased with Red Beans, which in turn are purchased with hard real-life currency. How much do they cost? Well that’s hard to say since Firefall devs try to obfuscate the cost of Red Beans as much as possible. For one example, $20 gets you 168 beans (technically 160 plus 8 bonus beans) which means a bean is 11.9 cents (the more you buy at once, the cheaper they are by a slight amount. Spend $100 and the’re 10.4 cents). A Gold Token costs 30 beans which works out to $3.57.

So you pay your $3.57, pull the arm of the slot machine and get… something crappy. OK spend another $3.57 and try again. Nope, not that time either. What are your chances of getting these wings? Once again, no one but Red5 knows. They don’t have to tell you. I’m going to assume it’s 1 in 4,000,000,000.

Oh, and just to add to the pressure, both of these items are only available for a limited time, so if you really want one, maybe skip making your car payment this month and buy more beans. You can always catch up next month, right? As long as no cool new items are introduced.

samurai_hatOf course you do get something. Unlike ‘traditional’ gambling, everyone is a winner. Of virtual goods that don’t cost the company anything to give you. And much of what you win is the same stuff you could earn by playing the game for 10 minutes. I won this cool (?) samurai helm that I can’t really even see. In my case I bought $20 worth of beans that got me a token which gave me a chance to win the first item above. Instead what I won was 2 Gold Tokens, both of which gave me a chance to win the second item above. It wasn’t my lucky day, though. I got the helm and some other stuff that made such an impression that I’ve already forgotten what it was.

If you DO get what you want, that’s awesome! That’s teaching you a valuable lesson: that gambling is the road to success! This is an especially useful lesson for younger players.

Of course, defenders of gaming will point out that many states have a lottery that is no better. I agree and I don’t think state lotteries are a positive thing. But a)they are at least regulated so you know what your chances are and b)at least part of the money you piss away on them goes to improving conditions for others: school improvements, better highways, or whatever. I think usually that money goes towards public schools.

The odds in these free-to-play gambling systems (and again, Firefall is just one example) all favor the house, and in an MMO the house is the publisher. I’d really like to see these systems go away and have less suspect systems replace them. Just sell items at a fair price and make your money the honest way. Inserting gambling systems into your game just makes you look shifty.

At long last Firefall is launching. I’m not sure exactly how long this game has been in development, but I remember it was playable at the first PAX East which was 4 (?) years ago. The game launches for everyone on July 29th.

In this case, “launch” apparently means “we’ll remove the beta tag and make it available on Steam” and that’s about all.

After all this time in beta and all the huge changes the game has gone through (including one that just happened) I was pretty astonished to learn that they weren’t wiping the slate clean for launch. But they aren’t. That means if you log in on launch day for the first time you’re going to be WAY behind.

To add to that chasm, many (maybe all?) beta testers got in to ‘early access’ yesterday, on the 15th. That’s a two week head-start on any new players that come into the game when it is officially open to all comers.

Now just to be clear, old characters have been changed in some ways. I’d tell you exactly how but it’s been so long since I played the game that it seemed new to me when I logged in, except I was level 8 (or more precisely, my battleframe was level 8) and had an inventory full of stuff and a wallet full of credits.

Now folks who’ve been playing the beta are fine with this. I mean they’ve been playing the beta for YEARS so I can understand why they wouldn’t want their progress wiped. Some have also spent money and of course Red5 can’t just delete things players have spent real money on.

This isn’t the first game that has sold stuff in its cash shop ahead of launch though. Usually what happens is that at launch you get all your store currency credits refunded. After launch you can spend them again on the same stuff, or on different stuff.

So why does this all matter? In a lot of ways it doesn’t. I suppose it means new players should stay away from PvP until they’ve caught up, but there’s plenty of PvE stuff for them to do with their fellow, level-appropriate new players. My biggest concern is the auction houses. Firefall is supposed to have a “robust” player economy but when your brand new players are dumped into a game chock full of filthy-rich long-term beta testers they aren’t going to be able to buy anything on the auction house.

Imagine logging in for the first time on July 29th with the goal of becoming a crafter who supplies other players with gear. Fat chance of that since there’ll be hundreds of players who have already done the (in-game mechanic) research and who can farm materials much faster than you can.

Firefall isn’t the first game to roll open beta into launch with no wipe and in fact the practice is becoming more and more common. I’m singling it out mostly because it has been in beta for such an incredibly long time that the gap between the old-time beta player characters and the new “Hey I saw this new game on Steam” characters is going to be HUGE.

And compounding that, somewhat, is the fact that you only get 1 character slot. That means that if you’re a beta player and want a fresh start (maybe to re-learn how to play) you have to really commit to it by deleting your old character, thus placing yourself in the ghetto that Red5 has created for its new players that will start the game far, far behind on July 29th.

Dchaser~Jul-15-2014~New Eden~1~p1