Weekend Recap

Weekends just fly by, don’t they? I get home from work on Friday night, turn in a circle 2 times and its Monday morning. Magic, of the darkest, bleakest kind.

Gaming-wise, I was all over the place this weekend; I’m not even sure I can remember everything I did. I signed up for Wizard 101 and played that for a while. I did some mellow deed grinding in LOTRO on one character, and some solo questing on another.

I played more Fable 2, which is proving to be as much fun the second time through as it was the first. I’m a lot more erratic this time, trying things to deliberately put my character off balance. I’ve stolen from shops here and there when they’re left untended (which is a lousy way to make a living, btw…they don’t have a lot of cash-on-hand). I’m a lot less hesitant to fight and kill. I slap male villagers who try to flirt with me (I’m playing a woman this time through), causing some townsfolk to fear me a little. My inner-13 year old can’t resist stripping my hero in the middle of Bowerstone to see which NPCs love her more, and which hate her more, when she’s in her undies. The jeweler turns out to be gay and likes it a lot when I strip, to the point where she’s ready to marry me. I don’t have the money to buy a house yet though.

I also checked back in with The Witcher, which I’m both enjoying and finding a bit frustrating. It feels pretty slow-going (probably a lot of this is psychological as sometimes a week goes by between sessions) and I really really wish I could remap keys and moreso, mouse buttons. The right mouse button fires your selected spell, and the middle mouse button activates mouse-look. In every MMO I play, I set the right button to mouse look. So I keep firing spells when I really just want to look around.

But, the mood of the game is delightfully grim and I’m playing it as “honest” as I can. I had an encounter with a woman being accosted by a group of thugs as she made her way home from the tavern where she works as a serving wench. I gave them fair warning, but they were spoiling for a fight. Soon enough they were all dead. Then I offered to escort the young lady home to her grandmother’s. We were accosted by barghests several times, and I drove them off several times, but then the lass fell too far behind me and when we were attacked, I didn’t get back in time to save her and sadly, she was killed.

This being a single player game, I could’ve reloaded my last save point. But I didn’t. I want to, as best I can, live with the consequences of the mistakes I make. I won’t re-start from the beginning if I die, mind you: I’m not *that* hardcore. And I’m sure there will be some “primary quests” that I have to successfully complete in order to drive the story forward. But otherwise… living with the consequences.

Anyway, The Witcher is pretty decent so far. I wish they hadn’t put a Poker-Dice game in it though (what we used to call Bar-Dice when I was young) because I spend far, far too much time gambling instead of adventuring!!!

Let’s see, what else? Oh right, I played some LittleBigPlanet. I kind of feel guilty about this one…it’s a great game but I just don’t find myself getting around to it very often. I think I really need some kind of narrative to draw me along in a game, and honestly LBP has no narrative. It’s just a big playground. And as previously blogged, I played a game of Hinterland on Saturday night. Oh, and Nile Online throughout the weekend.

See what I mean? I was all over the place, and that was BEFORE the 2 expansions launched. I’m pretty content in letting Warhammer lapse for now; it just wouldn’t make fiscal sense to be paying for two subscription games, based on how erratic my gaming habits are these days.

So what about everyone else? What’d everyone play this past weekend?

Romantics & Dreamers

Sometimes I just don’t understand other gamers. Why do they hate the things I love, and vice versa? There’s something about me that’s just different from most gamers. And I finally figured out what it was.

I’m a romantic and a dreamer.

Fable 2 actually got me thinking about this. I loved the game, and the ending was incredibly moving to me. It left me feeling quiet and thoughtful for a long time. But I read other impressions of the game and they’ll tell you the ending sucked. Huh?

Well, if you’re playing with your fingers and eyes, the ending did suck. If, like me, your heart was thrown into the mix, the ending was amazing. One of the most thought-provoking endings I’ve ever encountered.

This morning Angela was working on a web site that I’d done the database design for. I knew she’d have a certain number of questions about the choices I’d made, so I didn’t want to get too engrossed in anything. So I logged into LOTRO to work on some Shire deeds. The character I was running is well beyond the level of the Shire but he never did the deeds in there. So mostly I had to run around and ‘discover’ landmarks, and hunt lots of very gray bugs and slugs and wolves.

And y’know, I was enchanted. Whenever I’ve been away from LOTRO for any amount of time, I’m a bit stunned when I return. The landscapes, the music, the people going about their business…it all feels very much like a “world” to me, and one where there is still hope and happiness. Watching the sun come up and the clouds move slowly across the sky. Watching brooks babbling over rocks, and the sunlight reflecting off the water. It all feels very relaxing. It feels like I really am in Middle Earth. And it makes me want to defend this place from the intrusion of darkness.

And at the same time, I know for a lot of gamers what I was doing would be considered pointless grinding and a huge flaw in the game. They wouldn’t stop to watch a shrew clean its face or nibble on a tidbit it’d found. They wouldn’t notice the sky. They’d find a hobbit outfitter that sells cosmetic items and snort and think “What a waste of money..why would I get this for my toon?”

Actually, I think “toon” is significant. If you think of your characters as “toons” then yeah, every time you think about them you’re reminding yourself that this is all really just a spreadsheet with graphics layered on and that there’s a most efficient way to increase those numbers quickly. I think of my characters as characters or, more often, as “me”. I have to deliberately say “Gillain did this” rather than naturally sliding into “I did this”.

I feel faintly embarrassed to be admitting this. Ysh was talking about Wizard 101 a few days ago and someone commented that he was too old and too male to play Wizard 101. It’s just part of our culture (particularly among the young, and I consider anyone under 35 or so in that category) that guys are supposed to be hard and apathetic about beauty (except for hot women, of course) and fluff. We’re supposed to be all about the killing and efficient leveling. Competition and being the strongest and the best.

But that just isn’t me, at least a lot of the time. I’m about the experience. That’s why I get so excited when I run into Gotrek & Felix in a tavern in Altdorf. It’s why I mutter under my breath when I have to slog through a marsh and ruin my new boots. It’s why killing 10 rats isn’t a problem for me, but killing 10 bunnies is.

I mean yeah, I really like getting a new level, and I enjoy winning a bout of RvR. But not all the time. I need more than that, and maybe that’s why I’ve gotten somewhat less enthusiastic about Warhammer. Mythic deliberately designed a GAME rather than a WORLD and I kind of miss the world aspects sometimes.

Anyway, no real point to all this. I’m certainly not saying one way is better than the other (and I don’t think there’s a dichotomy here…it’s definitely a gradient kind of issue). I just find it harder to find other gamers like me than I do the type that is very goal-driven and not really about the extras. Maybe we need to form a support group or something.

Thanks for reading all that, if you’re still here. 🙂 As a reward, here’s a couple of ‘wallpaper’ screens I took this morning. Very valuable, very rare!!

lotro lotro

Fable 2 thoughts

Today I finished the main plot line for Fable 2. I’ve got a lot I’d like to say about it, but frankly I’m not sure how to say everything without spoiling the game for folks who haven’t played it. I certainly don’t want to post explicit spoilers, but later in the post there are some generic ones. I’ll warn you before they start.

Overall my opinion of the game is very favorable. The main story plot line wasn’t incredibly involved but it was enough to keep you moving forward, and it worked as an excellent framework to hang off many incidents that had real impact on me as a player. It was an RPG that spoke to the heart more than to the head.

I do think Molyneaux pulled some punches though, and I wish he hadn’t. And I wish the game had been more difficult. I’m not speaking about combat (combat never gets very hard, but it always feels pretty satisfying) but more about the ‘moral’ system in the game. As I mentioned in an earlier post, you have a Purity/Corruption stat and a Good/Evil stat. From about half-way through the game, my character was 100% Pure/100% Evil, and that was through no deliberate choice of mine, aside from the choice of eating vegetables and passing on meat. Veggies give you +Purity and meat gives you -Purity and +Fatness, and I was just trying to avoid the Fatness.

Money was another issue. Or rather, non-issue. If you invest some time early building a nest egg doing mini-game jobs, then buy a few houses/businesses to generate some income, you’ll never be strapped for cash. Also since business income accumulates even when you aren’t playing, if you take a break for a few days you’ll be even richer. Sure, there are big-ticket items you’ll need vast amounts of wealth for, but they’re really just to get Achievments and don’t impact the plot of the game at all.

And then there’s your family, or families. Another neat system that has very little impact on the game. In theory having a healthy, happy family will get you buffs from spending the night at home, but in practice you never really need to sleep since food, drink and potions will keep you going indefinitely. I only slept at home when the wife wanted sex, and I don’t think the game would’ve been drastically different had I never married.

I’m doing a lot of griping, but understand that’s just my nature… I really did enjoy the game a lot. The world felt very alive, and having the family, the businesses, doing the odd jobs; all of that was fun even if none of it really felt necessary. I just think it would’ve made a great game even better had these systems had more impact.

Part of the challenge, I think, comes from making a game for everyone. I spent a lot of time wandering around, fighting things, doing side-quests, exploring, collecting… just really taking my time. So I improved skills early, and had the gold to get the best weapons early, which meant the game never got hard. If some other player stuck to the main quest, used the Quick Travel feature to get around. and never did any of the ‘extra’ stuff, I’m guess the game would get pretty difficult further along.

Which brings me back to wishing there was a difficulty setting. Maybe some day we’ll get one as DLC.

But, as someone who got bored of Fable 1 and never finished it, I can’t recommend Fable 2 enough. It was an immensely satisfying game.

Spoilers follow. I’ll try to be as vague as possible but stop reading if you want the game to be as full of surprises for you as it was for me.

One of the most emotional moments in the game came when I was…removed from the world…for an extended period. I left my wife, my child, my dog, my businesses…all to fend for themselves for a decade. It wasn’t something I chose to do, and I was really bothered by it.

It just so happened that when this happened it was late at night out there in real life, so I had to quit. I spent the next day fretting about what would happen when my character returned from this exile. As soon as I got home from work I jumped back into the game, and my character returned to the world and… my wife said “You’re back!!” and kid had grown up a bit, but otherwise nothing had changed. My dog was still my dog. The wife had waited for me. The kid politely introduced herself then treated me like her dear old dad. My businesses had continued to collect rent. There was very little indication that I’d been gone so long, as far as personal impact.

Again, I think this is a spot where Molyneaux pulled his punches. I assumed my dog would be dead (and I’d have to get a puppy and raise it), my wife would’ve remarried, my businesses auctioned off. Essentially I assumed I’d have to start anew.

Maybe Fable 3 will take all this stuff a bit further. And I really do hope we get a Fable 3. There’s certainly a setup for one in the game.

What can MMO devs learn from Fable 2?

As a comment to yesterday’s post, DM Osbon of Construed asked if Fable 2 had anything to teach console MMO developers.

I thought this was a great question and worth a post of its own. I don’t have any answers, just ruminations. But I do like to ruminate, so without further ado…

Let’s start with character development. Fable 2 is not class based. It has three ‘schools’ of combat: melee, ranged and magic. There are 4 kinds of experience: one for each of the schools and then some “generic” experience that you can apply as you see fit. Using a school of combat to defeat an enemy causes that enemy to give more experience in that school of combat. So if you prefer slicing and dicing with a sword, you’ll get more melee experience than ranged or magic experience.

Fable 2 is not level based. (Incidentally, Syncaine just posted a good essay on the topic of levels: How important are levels in our MMOs?. Ironically, I argue for them.) Instead, you spend experience points to buy skills to better your ability to perform a particular school of combat. There are three ‘branches’ of skills in each school: these could easily be expanded for longer-term play.

In Fable 2, your actions have consequences. This, I think, is a big one. You have a Good/Evil and a Purity/Corruption rating, and those ratings change depending on your actions in the game. In turn, these ratings impact how others treat you and what opportunities are open to you. Some MMOs have tried to embrace this kind of system, but the problem is you can’t code player behavior. So if my character is evil and corrupt, but I, the player, am a genuinely nice guy chatting with you… is YOUR character going to react to mine as an evil and corrupt entity, or are you going to react to me by having your character treat mine as if mine was nice. Erm… does that make sense?

Fable 2 has business ownership. This is an interesting ‘sub-game’ in Fable 2, and one I enjoy, but I’m not sure how you’d implement it in an MMO. So you have a coin purse bulging with gold, you see a nice house, and you buy it. The people that live in it become your tenants and pay you rent. Or you buy a business and get profits from it. You can tweak prices and so forth, which can impact your Good/Evil and Purity/Corrupt ratings.

This works well for Fable 2 as a single player game, but most MMO’s struggle to put in gold sinks, not gold fountains. Plus, cities would have to be huge in order for everyone to get a chance to buy a few businesses. Otherwise players joining the game months after launch would have nothing to purchase.

But speaking of gold… creatures in Fable 2 don’t drop loot when you kill them. You get experience and that’s all. Doing quests gets you renown and impacts your Good/Evil rating. Gold comes from Treasures you find, gifts that people give you, jobs (blacksmith, wood cutter, bartender, bounty hunter, etc) you can take, and goodies you dig up. Most gear comes from vendors. This is far different from the lotto-corpse system of most MMOs. I’m not sure how well MMO players would take to such a radical change, honestly. Oddly, this has been pretty transparent to me so far… I had to stop and think about whether I’ve gotten any gold or gear rewards from doing quests in Fable 2. I assumed I had…but then couldn’t think of any. So I guess I haven’t!

I wanted to add story here, because I while I am very confident that Fable 2 has a really interesting story but I have to be honest: I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve been having so much fun just being “immersed” in the world that I’ve been very slow in following the main quest/storyline. But it’s hard to put a good story into an MMO without instancing the game into a single party experience.

/end rumination

But getting back to Fable 2 as the game I’m playing now, and story progression…

WHOA. Some stuff happened last night that I can’t really talk about yet, because I was forced to stop playing right in the middle of it. Suffice to say that so far the game has been pretty upbeat in tone, even with all the bad things happening. It’s felt “light.” Last night…that changed. I felt it in my heart, not in my head. Which I found pretty freaking astounding for a video game. The only analogy that springs to mind is the feeling I had when reading about Sam & Frodo’s journey into Mordor. Tolkein wrote such heaviness into those pages that I felt their struggle and it seemed like the very pages of the book I was reading were getting hard to turn. (And no, I’m not comparing Molyneaux to Tolkein.) And maybe it was just my mood or how tired I was or something. But events in the game really hit me in a pretty emotional way, and when I shut down the console to head to bed, I felt dazed by the experience.

I can’t wait to get home and get some closure to this situation and see what happens next!

Bigamy + Veggies = Purity

When last we left our intrepid adventurer Sparrow Dumpling Blade Lionheart (a hero’s title is ever-changing), he’d taken on a wife and she’d born him a daughter, Gemma. And he thought that life was complicated.

So innocent and naive, was he.

As it turns out, Deb the Villager is fairly low maintenance. A modest gift here, a good rogering there, a decent allowance for running the house, and she stays pretty happy. In fact things were going so well that a second wife seemed in order. Well, not really. Actually, our man found himself on the horns of a dilemma where he had to be either mean or immoral (if you consider bigamy immoral, as a fairly large percentage of us do). Unless I’m angry, I’m not good at being mean, and I wasn’t angry at this lass, so after much thought, I had our hero marry her, and set up a home in Bowerstone with her.

I expected his Purity rating to plunge, but it didn’t. In fact the only indication that something odd had happened was that I got a Bigamist Achievement! Deb seemed slightly more suspicious the next time her hubby came home, but that might have been my guilty conscience. Yeah, I really felt a bit guilty about the situation!

The thing is, now Lionheart has two places where he can bed down for the night, with a bit of extra warmth in each one. And he gets a nice Purity boon for sleeping there with his wife. After sticking to protected sex with wifey #2 for a while, I hit the wrong button once and now Lionheart has an infant son, Georg, to go with his daughter Gemma.

Between this bonus, and eating lots of fresh veggies (each of which give purity points) he now strides about the land, pure as the driven snow, with a halo floating over his head. I’m not sure what message Fable 2 is trying to convey here… that it’s OK to have several wives as long as you eat your veggies?

He’s pretty Good too, and attractive, and honestly it’s almost becoming a nuisance. He walks into town and half a dozen women surround him, badgering him for a ring or just offering to jump his bones. Y’know, now that I think about it, it’s just like real life!! 🙂 Seriously, it can be pretty annoying trying to push around these crowds all the time; I wish there was a “Let her down easy” emote our hero could use to tell a lady “You’re a wonderful woman but I’m already married” without making her afraid of or angry at him. The most subtle technique he has now is “Point and Laugh” which evokes reactions that just make me feel terrible!!!

Oh yes, and then there’s this whole adventure…. Lionheart was warned by his mentor and his fellow hero Hammer, that he should put his affairs in order before taking the next step in his quest for vengeance. So he’s been doing that…helping archeologists and breaking gargoyles and protecting the Temple of Light and protecting farmers from robbers and freeing slaves: he’s been a busy fellow indeed.

But I think its about time that he pushed forward on his quest.

E.D. in Albion

My wife wants sex.

I know this to be true because it says so right there on her status sheet. “Wants sex.” The words mock me every time I check up on her, because since the night of our wedding, I’ve been unable to perform.

I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong. The mood is right: the woman couldn’t love me more. I’ve bought us a fancy new double bed so there’s plenty of comfy space to romp around in. I even bought a book on seduction that taught me a smooth “Come hither” move that is supposed to lure women into bed. I tried it on the wife and she giggled and happily followed me to the bedroom but then, again, everything fizzled and she started pointing out the window and saying “Let’s go over there.” ‘There’ being, in her case, the docks, which she loves. Maybe she’s into doing it in public??

In the meanwhile, every time I go into Bowerstone women are throwing themselves at me. It gets a tad annoying, to be frank. What kind of adventurer do they think I am!!? I’ll admit some of them are better dressed than my wife, and their plunging necklines can be somewhat enticing, but I’m a married man, for pity’s sake!!

In other news, I committed my first crime, albeit via misunderstanding. I went into a Tailor’s home, thinking it was his shop. At first they were very welcoming, but then this gaggle of flirty women walked in behind me. That put the tailor and his wife on edge, understandably. A little girl in the crowd asked for a lollipop. I didn’t have one, but I did have some chocolate, so I gave her some. The Tailor got very angry at that, since the girl was his daughter. What did he think I was trying to do? I got angry in return and growled my fiercest growl at him, which flustered everyone.

At that point I wanted to leave but the doorway was blocked, so I went upstairs hoping the crowd would disperse so I could get the heck out of there. That was the last straw for the tailor’s wife, and she called the sheriff. *sigh*

Well it turns out it was a pretty minor infraction, and I paid my dues via community service. This involved ridding a basement of a gaggle of Hobbes which has infested it. It was actually a good workout, and I even found a bit of treasure down there. I’m tempted to commit a few more crimes just so I can get more community service.

It helps me to work out the frustrations I have involving my wife’s needs.

The end of living care-free in Albion

In a way, I blame this all on my dog. If he hadn’t found that treasure chest with the ring in it, none of this would ever have happened.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Things were going swimmingly in my new-found career as adventurer/wood chopper. I’d met up with the Abott that my mentor had sent me to, and while he wasn’t immediately trusting of me, it was clear that with not very much work the denizens of this sleepy hamlet would be eating out of my hand, and the Abott would judge me worthy of whatever hare-brained quest he had in mind.

But then I went down the Pub. You know how it goes. You have a few drinks, the bard sings a few songs about your exploits, you start dancing with the local girls and *of course* a few of them are going to fall for you.

I played it cool and all, but then she hit on me. Hard to have a tumble when you don’t have any digs to have it in though. Good thing I was flush with cash, cuz her cleavage was t3h hawt. I could buy a house but didn’t want the hottie to wander off while I got that sorted out, so what the hell, I proposed. After that she was happy to follow me around.

And then the damned dog found the treasure chest with the ring and I was out of excuses. Next thing I knew, I was married. Together we bought a house, and I wasted no time showing her to the bedroom. It was a night of unbridled passion, but I was barely done with breakfast the next morning when she announced she was pregnant!!!

So here I am, a young lad, full of potential, and saddled with a wife and kid. Now instead of spending my nights down the pub playing SpinBox and listening to the bard sing songs about me, I’m home making funny faces at the kid. And suddenly I have to worry about money. How much of a budget does the wife need to keep the house running and her happy? 25 gold a day? 35? 50? 100? I have no clue! And she’s all going on about how “We can do so much more for little Gemma” (she picked that name..who calls a kid Gemma??) and I have no clue what she’s getting at.

I need a new sword, some flash threads, coin to tip the bards! Instead I’m buying furniture…or will be, if I can somewhere to buy it. And as for that night of passion, you think that was repeated? No sir, no chance of that. Damned village girls all just want to hook themselves a flush adventurer hubbie. Once they get the house and the kid, they totally lose interest in the more interesting aspect of marriage. Harumph!

Another stroll through Albion

I played another few hours of Fable 2 tonight. I guess it says a lot about the game that 2 hours can go by without me completing a single step of the main quest line, but still having fun.

I bought a couple of vendor stalls, I explored some random caves full of bandits (and dispatched said bandits), I flirted with a dozen villagers, I earned some coin making blades and chopping wood, I gambled that money away, I listened to a Bard’s awful song about me… but I never quite got around to doing the next step of the main quest.

Fun stuff. Feels a bit like a MSORPG (Massively Singleplayer Offline RPG) though I’m not really sure how big the world ultimately is.

Important info for Fable 2 players

I’m at work so can’t wall o’ text ya, but saw this in an RSS feed and figured it was worth sharing asap:

Fable II players report game breaking glitch – Xbox 360 Fanboy

The glitch occurs during the quest called “Monk’s Quest,” in which players are tasked with speaking to the Abbot of the Temple of Light in Oakfield. Apparently, if players run into the temple, begin the conversation with the Abbot, and then leave the region before the conversation is finished, they are be unable to resume the quest, thus preventing them from completing the main story.

Fable 2 First Impressions

Last night I finally got a chance to get in some quality time with Fable 2. Before I get into that, I have to say XBox 360 #3 performed flawlessly (*knock on wood*) and is a lot quieter than the first two I’ve had. I didn’t hate using the 360 last night, and its been quite a while since I could make that claim.

So let’s get the bad out of the way first. Fable 2 could use a final run through the polishing cycle. It feels a bit rough in some pretty subtle ways. You can often get ‘stuck’ for a moment on a small change in height of the terrain, for instance (there’s no Jump so normally you just step up automatically). It can feel “fiddly” targeting a specific individual in order to interact with them.

I’d heard there was treasure underwater at times, and I’d envisioned swimming down, breath bar dwindling, exploring the bottom of a lake. Instead, you swim on the surface until you see a DIVE icon floating over the surface of the water, at which point you hit A and your character vanished below the surface then reappears with treasure. It works but feels like a missed opportunity.

These are certainly not game breakers, though. On the positive side, the game looks very nice and I’m really enjoying the voice acting. There’s a ton of stuff going on all around you and towns really do feel “alive” in many ways. Combat is still simple at my low “level” but that doesn’t prevent it from feeling fun and satisfying. The story hasn’t really gotten underway, but feels like it has potential.

A lot of fuss was made about your dog in the previews, and it was warranted. You know how most games indicate enemies near by via “combat music” starting to play? In Fable 2, you know there’s danger near because your dog starts growling and barking. This sounds trivial but it makes a huge difference to me. Feels very immersive. And your pup does all the nit-picky exploration for you, too. No need to look into every little crack and crevice; if there’s treasure in there your dog will point it out to you.

The only major downside for me is the glowing quest trail thingie. At all times, there’s a glowing trail showing exactly where you need to go. This isn’t a bad feature, but I’m a bad player. I feel like I’m being nagged by it, so rather than wander around and explore I find myself constantly chasing the trail. You can make it dimmer, or even turn it completely off. I’m going to try playing that way next time, and see how much of a chore turning it on and off is. In an ideal world, there’d bit a quick button press to toggle it.

Again, this isn’t a generalized complaint about the game; its more a psychological glitch in my internal systems. Nothing in the game prevents you from totally ignoring the glowy trail and doing whatever you want. But I just find its constantly tugging at me, urging me to stop messing about and get on with things.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I know is in the game (from reading about other’s experiences) and I can’t wait to dig deeper in. I don’t own a home or have a wife yet. I don’t own any businesses. I still only know one spell. I did take on a job as a blacksmith for a while; this exists in-game as a mini-game of timed button presses that felt curiously satisfying. I was even excited to get a promotion. 🙂

So far, so good. I’m not loving it as much as some people who are totally over-the-moon about the game; at least not yet. But it’s definitely an awful lot of fun so far. Let’s hope it holds up!