Sunday, December 15, 2013

[HobbyRPG] Menus!

Progress seems slow for the past couple of months, with my weekends either packed to the brim with events, or just me falling sick. Either ways, progress must somehow be made so here goes:

As expected, this inventory system takes a pretty long time to develop behind the scenes, especially since we were busy these 2 months, with concerts, live viewing, fighting game events, forcing myself to clear my backlog of games and being sick during my free time. I did felt that it would take under 2 months to complete so thankfully it did.

Only that I am absolutely clueless about RPG UI design on touch screen.

It's annoying when I could probably whip out a non-touch-screen design easily but couldn't do the same for touch. There is just so many considerations to take note of and it is rather painful at this moment to shift elements around. So I just whipped up the basic functions and moved my elements so that it is at least usable to me. Making sense of it and catering to players will have to wait =(

Setting up the UI requires a lot more work at the background. XML loading, LUA, additional macros to my XLS and new CSVs started popping out as development progresses. It may not look like much but it's feels like more work done compared to the other components that are in place now. It even involves a rather retarded bug fix within cocos2d-x that should not have happened.

Well, at least I'm going to start moving on to other gameplay elements like transitioning to another map. 

L2P thoughts

So last week, L2P came and went mostly uneventfully thankfully.

I was there on Saturday signing up for Blazblue's 3v3 tournament mostly expecting to lose so that I can provide commentary alongside Yensen. I did play my best, though I feel that I am very out of sync with the game mechanics. Overall, I need to thank Doctor for being such a nice guy and letting go of his spot despite the screw ups within my team, allowing 1 new face and 1 oversea player to experience the tournament. Again, with every major Blazblue event, there seem to always have new people joining in.

Marvel tourney was surprising as well, reaching over 30 players AND running smoothly on top of all the other tournaments. Seriously where did all these Marvel players come from? It's great to play Marvel again despite our love-hate relationship. It's great that I can still do my combos without warming up! I didn't get very far though after failing to beat Zero May Cry. Yensen did pretty well, except for dying to Rx who never really played the game.

I spent most of my time hungry, thirsty and doing commentary. Looking back at the stream, I think I did fine except that I really need to cover my mike when I'm talking to others. I was really enjoying myself there too much. Blazblue really changed a lot. Long ago during CS1 days, I found Blazblue really difficult to commentate. The game was slow and the top tiers were running clinics and 'movies'. Heck the 'movies' weren't even fun to watch since chances of dropping it were close to none. Now the game is faster and characters have more flexibility to cater for player's creativity. Really fun to commentate.

Marvel is insane though. Seriously, commentating Marvel is an enjoyable experience. Yensen needs to stop giving up commentating because it was 'too hype' ^^; 

Overall it was a great week. I won't be there for the next event at The Gaming Entertainment E-sports Exhibition because I'm going to Japan!

Really appreciate everyone running and helping out in the event. Jjjjynx, Moca, Yongde, Xian, Farp, Edz and many many others. The event would be nothing without them.

And of course, our cosplayers!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Totori+ Othogalaxen Boss guide (patch 1.02)

First of all, I am not sure at this time of post whether other versions outside the Japanese one received patch 1.02. If you have been following guides that promotes Dark Water, I am afraid to say that it no longer works. In 1.02, I think the bosses' resistances were increased to the point where Dark Water is impossible to land.

So obviously I have been following those guides (including Japanese ones) without considering that 1.02 screwed all of them. With the absence of Dark Water, this means that you cannot lame out bosses with Sleep/Poison effects. It also means that you other end game items need to be stronger.

For end game equipment, this guide still works.  The most important part is getting as high defense as possible, as well as at least 1 Shadow band on Totori. The Shadow Band is, of course, to be used in conjunction with a very good Dimension Egg. You will get 6 turns in total if your Egg is built right. Also, I find that on Totori, it does not matter if the Shadow Band has high quality (higher quality Bands drain more health per turn) since it does not kill. It's nice to have it as low quality as possible, but not THAT neccecery.

For characters, it does not really matter as long as they are well-equipped and around level 45-ish. I manage to beat the bosses with Sterk and Mimi, which shows that you don't really need Rorona and abuse her ability to use items. All you really need your party to do is to defend Totori as much as possible. If Totori dies, you will lose.
Now let's talk items. I won't go so much into details on how to transfer traits because that's the fun part of the game. All items list are more or less equally important so try not to compromise them.

This item is what keeps your party alive and healthy. You cannot compromise this item at all in my opinion. Drache's guide's Elixir covers it perfectly so I'm just reiterating it. Effects needed are HP Recovery from having it made high quality (so that Shadow Band isn't that painful), HP Healing L from a high quality Nectar, and MP Recovery L from a LOW QUALITY Sage Herb. The MP Recovery is really important, I cannot stress that enough. I personally made one without it and it was hell wasting turns to drink Mind Waters and having my party members out of mana after using their skills a few times. MP Recovery ensures that your party will ALWAYS be able to use their skills, and ensures that Totori do not waste TONS OF TURNS drinking Mind Water JUST to duplicate stuff (especially Dimension Egg).

Traits are also the same as Drache's guide. Healing Essence from Forest Dew, so that it automatically revives your members should they randomly die for being unlucky (it happens). Cure-All will naturally be there with Sage Herb, so that it heals everyone. Also Source of Life from Bless Stone to restore LP. Having low LP is pretty much one of the causes of death due to the reduction of defense. And of course, what else to spend on the last two traits? Simply, Effect Boost L and Rank Boost L.

Totori Brunch
This item is especially useful if bosses hold the threat of one-shoting your characters. Most (if not all) the bosses notoriously tries to lower your characters' attack and defense by a good amount. Feeding them this Totori Brunch would mostly likely negate the effect. Again, not as essential as the other items, but still occasionally useful when all else fails.

Effects are:
Final Strike L
Rank Boost L
Beginners OK
Lone Slayer L
Boost Effect L

Dimension Egg
You probably heard this item tons of times. With Shadow Band, this essentially gives the user 6 turns (I confirm that it's 6) at the expense of depleting all available mana (this is where and should be the only time Mind Water comes in). It lasts for 2 rounds, so on the second round you don't have to waste 2 turns duplicating Dimension Egg and then drinking Mind Water. You might be able to compromise this by giving it lousier traits somewhat, ending up with less turns but still able to function. Keep in mind that less turns might give you more trouble against bosses that regen or heal. For the purpose of this guide, I'm using my 6 turns Dimension Egg.

Effects are:
Effect Boost L
Boost Effect L
Rank Boost L
Final Strike L
Lone Slayer L

Othogalaxen bosses have retarded elemental resistances so N/A supposedly won't work on them (unless they changed their resistances this patch which I didn't check). Either ways, this bomb is non-elemental damage so patch or no patch, this is a reliable source of damage. I made 2 versions of this, one to debuff enemies (so that I don't really need to make Magic Chains like some guides do), the other for pure damage. The pure damage Himmelstein should be doing around 2000 damage after debuffing enemies and bugging yourself with Ether Ink. It can critical for even more!

For the damage Himmelstein, effects are:
Beginners OK
Rank Boost L
Effect Boost L
Lone Slayer L
Giant Slayer +

For the debuffing Himmelstein, effects are:
Soul Steal
Giant Slayer +
Rank Boost L
Effect Boost L
Strength Steal

Ether Ink
This item just boosts all your items when you use them! To top it off, it is relatively easy to make a good one.  You just have to get it to a quality where it has the Item Effect + trait. It's an easy to make item which you spend 1 turn using which increases your Himmelstein damage by around 400 (this of course depends on how good your Himmelstein is in the first place). You can live without it though.

Mind Water
Simple item. It's best, of course, to make it such that it has MP Recovery XL but as long as your Elixir is giving MP too, MP Recovery M is enough since you are going to use it only when you totally run out of MP (after using Dimension Egg, or if you miscalculated and don't have MP to use duplicate). Wholesale THIS. You are not going to duplicate this. Wholesale and buy. Bring a bunch to Orthogalaxen. You don't really have to give it crazy effects and stuff so don't waste too much resources working on it.

With these items, the strategy for all bosses is pretty much the same, with only a few minor notes to take care of.

Basically your team members will keep using their most damaging skill on the boss(es). ALWAYS choose to protect Totori. If Totori dies, the team is as good as dead (unless the boss is down to a pixel). I repeat, ALWAYS protect Totori, if Totori dies, party dies.

So obviously the main focus of the fight is Totori herself. With Dimension Egg and Shadow Band, you will have 6 turns. The first turn goes something like this:
1) Ether Ink
2) Duplicate Dimension Egg (this will wipe your MP)
3) Mind Water (this will restore some MP)
4) Duplicate Elixir (this will heal the whole party, give them regen and give tons of MP)
5) Duplicate Debuffing Himmelstein (this will weaken your foes by a ton)
6) Duplicate Himmelstein

Then the second turn goes something like:
1) Duplicate Elixir
2) Duplicate Himmelstein
3) Duplicate Himmelstein
4) Duplicate Himmelstein
5) Duplicate Himmelstein
6) Duplicate Himmelstein

Then third turn goes something like:
1) Duplicate Dimension Egg (this will wipe your MP)
2) Mind Water (this will restore some MP)
3) Duplicate Elixir (this will heal the whole party, give them regen and give tons of MP)
4) Duplicate Himmelstein
5) Duplicate Himmelstein
6) Duplicate Himmelstein

After doing it awhile, you will get used to the strategy. Then you can start being flexible about the decisions like maybe throwing an extra Himmelstein, or using Totori Brunch, etc. BASICALLY the big picture is:

1) Debuff enemy (Debuff Himmelstein)
2) Buff with Ether Ink
3) Dimension Egg
4) Regain mana
5) Bomb the crap out of the boss
6) Go back to step 3 and repeat

This will more or less work for ALL the Orthogalaxen bosses. The only problem I had was Blood Element, where she has the potential to wipe my team easily. If I survived her first round, I did the following instead for my first turn:

1) Duplicate Totori Brunch (on first member)
2) Duplicate Dimension Egg (this will wipe your MP)
3) Mind Water (this will restore some MP)
4) Duplicate Elixir (this will heal the whole party, give them regen and give tons of MP)
5) Duplicate Debuffing Himmelstein (this will weaken your foes by a ton)
6) Duplicate Totori Brunch (on second member)

This will ensure that her attack will be reduced and your party member's defenses will be greatly increased to the point where her attack can potentially (for my case) deal 1 damage per hit. After doing so, it's pretty much smooth sailing.

Well that's all I have to share. Good luck!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Anisong 2013 Aftermath


What can I say?

Anisong and AFA has grown so much since the first time it was held in 2008. This is by far possibly the most draining. I only went for Saturday's and Sunday's lineup, but I know friends who were overwhelmed with Friday's lineup. 

Friday was Egoist, Hachikoji P, livetune, motsu X DJ Kaya and Valerie. I can't comment much since I wasn't there but if you are a Vocaloid fan, Guilty Crown fan or a motsu fan (he was from the now defunct m.o.v.e group which I MISSED LAST YEAR BECAUSE I WAS OVERSEAS T_T), you are probably missing out on a lot. 

Saturday was crazy. LiSA is as cute as ever since she randomly turned me into a fan due to her awesome performance the first time she came over at 2011. And she got better. A lot better. She doesn't seem to tire out easily anymore. Eir Aoi; I was expecting a crazy godlike perf ormance because I know her singing voice is very powerful. I think she just blew everyone's ears and the sound system away, and also the main cause of my ears ringing that night. Then Milky Holmes randomly appeared on stage -_-; and I happen to know some of their songs without watching any of their animes (thanks animelo -_-;). May'n came out last. It was a really emotional moment as she brought us back to remember the first AFA which I still clearly remember because before that concert started back in 2008, there were images of the song "Don't be late" all over the stage and she was late. May'n also improved a lot. There were a couple of her new songs. Finishing the day with Diamond Crevasse was...epic.

But I think everyone knows that Sunday is going to be crazier. Angela, Elisa, TM Revolution and Nana Mizuki (!!!). It was Valvrave night. Now, if anything can be crazier than getting artists together, it's getting them together with a theme or even better and anime (like Macross Night in 2009 Sunday, or Super Robot Night on 2010 Saturday). Angela got off to a fantastic start, ending their performance with their trademark Shangri-la. Elisa came in next and showed us what a power singer she is, hitting all kinds of notes that sent me chills. Her singing 「愛、覚えてますか?」 really threw me off. My mouth was singing along and my mind was wondering where I heard that song (outside of Macross) and if Elisa really was the original singer.  Her reactions on stage were funny and cute, like her reaction to the people at the front shouting "Elisa-sama". 

Then there was TM Revolution. What a riduculously charismatic performer! He simply brought the roof down, espacially when the FIRST note of Invoke start playing. It felt like te convention hall will collapse.

Monday, October 21, 2013

[HobbyRPG] Dialogs!


Anyway, the last week was basically trying to get the game running on the device since we wrote so much code since the last time we tested (which is like...the beginning of time when we had only like 2 files or something). The thing is that we code in Visual Studio because it's an awesome environment, but our android is setup to use GNU compiler (cocos2d-x has some script that sets up for us). The screwed up thing is that it relies on a Makefile, which means I have to manually indicate which files need to be compiled. Fortunately, after some googling, modifications and thanks to the linux 'find' function (big hint here!), we now that a script that searches for all .cpp files and include them into the Makefile!

Anyway, so far LUA was pretty much pain in the ass. I was constantly trying to convince myself what is the right way to this X and Y mostly because I have like zero experience working with scripting languages on top of a native language. I can potentially write my whole game in LUA if I really want to; that's how much power it has. The only thing that's stopping me is that C++ is still our native (hurhur) language it probably has better performance and memory management (well manual memory management). There are other minor reasons too like wanting to make full use of our IDE, increase performance, etc. This is still a game that runs frame-by-frame, so it just does not make sense to me to write update loops in LUA.

Still, as the game progresses, the stuff that needs to be data-driven starts coming in and that's causing a few decision problems. It comes to the point where attempting to create 'generic systems' need to have feasible and reasonable boundaries, which also means NOT making it too generic. It's normally not a problem, but because I have loads of RPGs to reference in my head, I keep trying to hit all their features. It's really hard. Just the inventory and item system (which I am currently working on next) is giving me a headache. I could easily write out a chain of inheritance in C++ like having a UsableItems derived from a base Items class and then chaining a Armor class out of UsableItems class, but this is really unproductive especially since I have LUA. I'm trying to derive some way to just use one nice Item class. There's just too many variables to consider if it works for the limited RAM in my head, so I'll just code it out and see how it turns out.

Once the inventory is done, hopefully we can get item shops and equipment in and we'll be ready to FINALLY get started on combat. This might take awhile though ^_^;;

Monday, September 23, 2013

[HobbyRPG] tolua++ and menus!

This is turning into some sort of development blog, but from my perspective. Anyway, since LUA and UI were pretty big stuff we intend to add for this sprint, progress was seemingly slow due to time needed to research. I almost went into a huge hole of creating our own UI system but Dom managed to save me by just looking up cocos2d documentation -_-. I think when I figured that I could reinvent the wheel, I would just go ahead and do it without consulting Google or look for existing implementations.
Anyway, a not-so-glamorous progress to motivate ourselves!

For those who can't see the changes, I have neatly boxed them in red, since they are all code-based changes. Dom already told me a bit on how he intends me to use the UI, so I'll work on it once I can find better art. I'll try to follow his idea lol. 

LUA binding is a bitch. Well, it isn't once you know what's happening, but when you have no idea wtf is LUA, it's a bitch. cocos2d-x comes with tolua++ support, and I had no idea what that meant until I spent a couple of hours reading its online reference before I sneezed myself to bed on Saturday night. I felt super terrible yesterday, so terrible that I gave up on implementing it. Today I sneezed less, so I managed to get it working with a few good guesses. 

The documentation online for tolua++ is pretty heavy read for those who don't understand what's going on. Examples and tutorials are almost non-existent; in fact, the best tutorials I found were in Chinese or in Japanese. I totally gave up on the Chinese one. The Japanese one is easier to understand thanks to the existence of katakana. After seeing a few code snippets here and there, I finally figured it out. 

In a gist, tolua++ basically takes in a .pkg or .h file and generate a .cpp file with a function for you to call in your program. Then you just grab the lua state in your program (by right from tolua++.h, cocos2d-x has a wrapper around it) and throw it into the function that tolua++ gave you. I'm too lazy to explain in detail, but here's some poorly made step by step screenshots on how to expose a class to LUA:

First, get tolua++ to run on command line! Download the tolua++ executable and let adjust your Environment Settings' PATH variable to point to it. You know it's working when you open your command line and type "tolua++". The help page will appear:

Go to your project's root and create a .pkg file like so. Note that it looks almost like your .h file. These are the functions you want to expose. 

I must emphasize that the file included in the $cfile line MUST be accessible from the .pkg file's location. If not, tolua++ will complain.  Finally, just run tolua++: 

And voila, if there's no errors, you should magically have a file that looks something like below. If there are errors, well, just try to resolve them. Remember to Google for help (when in doubt, just Google the whole error message).

Add this to your IDE and pray that it works. If it doesn't, you screwed up somewhere in the .pkg file. If you have trouble, remember to Google, ask, attempt to find the answer in tolua++'s online documentation and/or actually try to figure out and guess how tolua++ binds your C++ code (it's not THAT magical). 

Moving on, the red box is the function you should be interested in. Simply call this function in your program and pass the lua_state in. The next screenshot is a cocos2d-x example since they have a wrapper: 

And now, when I run my script it works! (script is in first screenshot).

After you have successfully done this, the entire online tolua++ documentation will suddenly make sense! *gasp*

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

[HobbyRPG] And it has began!

Remember the RPG game I wanted to make?

It took some time, but finally Dominic and I have something visible up ^_^.

This is using the awesome cocos2d-x and my native language C++.  This project is probably going to be very slow since we agreed not to think about monetizing or selling it, and use it as a side project to create the RPG we want to make, which is great since there is no pressure. We can't guarantee if we will get burnt out at some point, but so far progress has been really fun for us!

Honestly, coming out of Digipen showed me how much I really wanted to make an RPG. After over 5 years in studying game development, I have only managed to create a simple text-based RPG game, which was a fun experience. Unfortunately, RPGs are extremely tedious to get it right, so it was not exactly a viable option as a school project, or even for a game you want to sell. Over the past decade, we have only seen the RPG genre decline and decline, leaving only a handful 'good' ones which were mostly cult hits. Hmm, not exactly a good genre to throw money into.

With this, hopefully when we go into design, I can attempt to return to my daydreaming story-writing days. I used to write tons of stories and other crap for fun, but that was easily a decade ago before I picked up programming and pursued to have a sciences foundation, easily obliterating my story-telling abilities and also my English. I can also go back to using Fruity Loops (which is now a full fledged...thing!) and fall onto my rusty music background to create sounds though I have much less hope of that succeeding. 

This project has sooooo much to be done, but it's so fun making each component work. Right now we are still working on the overworld system and already have animations, input and collision done. We also went to excel and write a macro to export stats into .csv files to reading into the game. 

What I like about this project is that it keeps my game development skills sharp, since I am not really doing development as much in my company.  We are also able to put into place what we have learn in our companies into this project, so it is a good learning experience so far.

Monday, August 26, 2013

MMO virginity

Here's a theory: There exist an MMO for each individual that is so magical that it stole from us something special that we could not replace. This special thing is dubbed as our 'MMO virginity'. I first heard of it one night many years ago while conversing with my good friend John. Here's a small history about how it came about.

Years ago, John and I were avid MMO hoppers. We would jump from MMO to MMO, playing and observing them. We were like nomads looking for a place to stay. In truth, we were not MMO hoppers by choice. We started off with a very infamous game known as 'Everquest'. Despite being younglings at 14 or 15, at we managed to get our hands on it and scrunch up money to fuel the monthly subscriptions. For those who do not know, Everquest was heralded by many to be dangerously addictive and is the cause back then for divorce cases, broken marriages and even death. This comic pretty much sums up our feelings.

Many probably viewed that comic as a joke, but it is exactly how we and, I believe, most 'Evercracks' felt after abandoning the game. Surfing the Fires of Heaven forums back then displayed numerous people who left Everquest desperately looking for a new MMO to feel their hearts of an empty void. After years of searching and searching and searching, these people including us gave up and accepted the fact that Everquest has broken their 'MMO virginity' and  'it's never coming back'. I sadly gave up too. I have ran from City of Heroes, to Final Fantasy 11, to Everquest 2, to Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, to World Of Warcraft, to Dungeons and Dragons Online, to Guild Wars, to a whole bunch of other random MMOs like Fly For Fun, DOFUS, 9Dragons, DC Online, Ragnarok Online...none came close. 

Here I am going to run through what I experienced as I jumped MMO to MMO for the past decade. Once your MMO virginity is broken, you start to view other MMOs very different and automatically become cynical of them. Below are just some observations about the 'ideal' MMO that breaks someone's 'MMO virginity', with real life examples.

You just want to exist in the game. The amount of WEEKS I spent in Everquest doing stupid almost non-progressive stuff is really astonishing. I remember camping a week at the entrance of Lower Guk for a stupid mask that can turn me into a Dark Elf. I remember running around my newbie area Kelethin (god I love that place) in my 40s doing nothing, chatting and leading newbies around like a tour guide. I remember going out of the way to help someone navigate around High Hold Pass. You just want to exist. It took me like 1.5 to 2 year to hit max level because there was simply no rush. Existing in the world is good enough.

And you want to spend every second in the game. I used to go to bed at 11pm and wake at 4am JUST to play Everquest till 6am before I have to go to school. Then I will return from school and play more Everquest until 11pm and wake at 4am again JUST to play Everquest...etc. It is a magical feeling to exist in the game. It's almost like a drug. No wait, it IS a drug. 

You will be overly defensive over that game. This is true for most games, but I believe it is stronger in the MMO genre. When people talk bad about it, you will start defending it. When someone claim some other MMO is the best, you will start attacking it. You are very likely to throw all logical thoughts out of the air if you are losing on the argument and eventually settle on 'don't diss it till you tried it'. I have done it before, and realized how dumb it is. It is as bad as forcing people to smoke or drink when they don't. 

"Want a cigarette?" 
"No thanks, it's bad for health"
"Don't diss it till you tried it!". 

Some facts are still facts. Smoking and drinking IS bad for health. The essence of raiding in WoW is the same as raiding in EQ1, and is the same as raiding in FF11, and it's going to be the same for all other MMOs that follow the raiding model. A person who has been through the raiding model can envision exactly what they are getting themselves into for a different MMO bearing the same model. This is probably why John and I settled on MMOs that do not strictly follow this model. For me, I'm just tired of raiding. (John eventually settled down on EVE while I continued searching and eventually settled on Guild Wars 2, both do not follow the raiding model).

When the game stops being the game you love, you will desperately look for a replacement. This might or might not happen depending on the game, but when it happens, it sucks. It's like something that you held dear for years is suddenly taken from you and you will go through all lengths to retrieve it back. You might attempt to return to the game, realize why you quit in the first place, and quit, only to return back again to get reminded again...until eventually, you demand to yourself that this mad cycle has to stop. That is, at least, how I dealt with it. 

Note that your chances of returning is increased by tenfold if your friend asks you to return. This is a trap 90% of the time. Unless something miraculous happens to the game like the developers turning it back into the game you loved, you are just going to quit again.  It is not a trap ONLY when you quit because of lack of community. This means that you love the game, but you have no friends to play with. It's NOT going to work if you quit because some developer decided to spearhead the game into a direction you do not want.

Just an example, I wanted WoW to be a PvP-centric game. The concept of PvE WoW seems retarded to me till this day. However, devs at my time decided to focus on PvE, turning our guild into a PvE guild, and thus causing some of us to leave the guild and eventually the game.

After quitting, you will be haunted by random good and bad memories. It is really easy to recollect all your experiences in your favourite MMO, because they are unique to you. Just saying that got my head searching for those memories, but I'm going to try my best and stop myself from doing all that. It's going to come haunting you and you will find yourself trying hard to bury it. I returned to Everquest last year because some game design lecturer of mine keeps mentioning HIS awesome Everquest memories and keeps bringing up examples of Everquest. Good thing the free server I found was dead at my timezone back here in Singapore. And luckily, not many people around me played Everquest, so I'm pretty safe from any more random attacks. 

I guess what I can take away from all this is that now I know why MMOs rise (like WoW) and what makes them fall (like Age of Conan). I know what it takes to enhance my online experience and keep me playing. I know what I want in an MMO, and what I do not want. Sadly, I do not have any more time to jump MMOs as I have started working and spend most of my free time developing, designing and playing single-player games (on top of practising the piano). Good thing is, Guild Wars 2 is good enough to keep me occupied for a long time unless something happens to my guild.

Anyway, this is just a random rant and my 2 copper. Take it with a pinch of salt. This applies to many other genre of games, but it feels especially important to note if you found an MMO you truly love to play. It is certainly a magical feeling that cannot be replaced and hopefully for you, it lasts forever.

Monday, August 12, 2013

August update!

Oh what? It's August already? Time really flies when you are working.

There's so many things to work on, so many games to try and play. Because I am mostly outside, I have been playing games that are more avaliable mobile like apps on my phone and my PS Vita.

There are lots of games I would like to talk about, but I trashed them because they are sometimes too boring to describe, even the good ones! I find it more and more pointless to describe games in words when it is much better to simply do a game demo, which would not be possible in the near future because of the money and time requirements. Due to all that, I doubt I will write that much reviews anymore unless it invoked some kind of interesting chemistry with me.

Aside from all that, I have been helping out and starting small projects on my free time. I intend to develop a small scale RPG game on mobile pretty soon now that I have finally decided to close my small HTML5 demo which I decided to turn into a small game but did not have time to polish. Hopefully it will kick off, but for now, it is mostly a hobby project.

It seems surreal to me that I really want to make an RPG game. After all, all the games I made in Digipen are hardly anything close to an RPG, which also means that my portfolio does not show my interest in RPG.

Still, I want to develop a RPG more than anything. It is the genre I grew up with, might as well do it now that I can actually do it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: "Antichamber"

Antichamber. Hmm how do I start? When I was at PAX last year, a shooter puzzle indie game with really simplistic graphics caught my eye. I took a glance and saw Antichamber, and players screaming "WTF IS HAPPENING?!" while they play. I tried it and I felt the exact same "WTF" moments for each and every puzzle presented to me. I was hooked and looked forward to its purchase.

Fast forward to Steam Summer Sales today. I saw Antichamber and instantly bought it. From a very matter-of-fact perspective, I think it's at most a decent puzzle game. I was at first caught off guard as I did not know that the game focuses on exploration. You basically go room to room, arranged like a maze, and try to solve each puzzle. If you can't, either you are not trying hard enough, or your 'gun' does not have the ability to solve. Your 'gun' basically manipulate small coloured cubes, and its ability get stronger as you progress. That's it really. Very simple idea. Fantastic level design around that idea. 

But let's not sing too much praises for the game. When the game fools with your mind once, you'd think it's amazing. However, if it keeps using the same trick, it gets monotonous and you will eventually 'accept' the amazing as something norm. That, I feel, is the biggest problem I have with the game. After it screws my mind with disappearing walls, floors, exchanging entrances, exits, teleports, illusions, teleports with gets old. I would say that it is more of a genre problem than a game problem though. Imagine playing Portal without narration or story. There is no motivation for me at all to complete all the puzzles. 

One thing I would definitely change is to put the 'hints' or 'words of advice' to the puzzle at the START, not at the END of it. As I complete each puzzle, seeing the 'words of advice' at the end felt like the game is mocking me. I understand the designer's perspective though. I'm assuming he wants us players to get through the puzzles with our own hands and conclude with 'sayings' so that we will learn more about life. A novel idea, but it is just not working out for me. This is because all these 'sayings' are common sense, like most 'sayings' of the world. 

"The world looks different from the other side."

"Old skills are useful after we have learned new ones."

To me, all these abstract sentences hold no purpose. It's like me telling you "The space is black" and people start explaining it like "Oh it's very true! Black symbolizes nothingness, which can be read as having unlimited possibilities...etc". It's abstract! Like for programming, abstract code means nothing on its own unless some other guy decides to use it and interpret it in his own words, giving it more meaning. By itself...well the space is fucking black. 

Anyway, Antichamber is still a game worth playing and buying. I know that not many are going to share my opinion, and I can totally understand why. If I were able to look past these small little things, maybe I would be able to complete the game in one run. The level design is fantasic. Did I mention that the level design is really good? Oh The level design is really good! 

However, for some reason, prolonged exposure to the game gave me motion sickness, which never happened to me before =(

Monday, June 24, 2013

SEA Majors 2013 afterthoughts

Okay this is going pretty much going to be a rather long post with not much direction, quite a bit of storytelling and possibly tagents. It's been forever since I blogged about fighting games, which is funny because fighting games are a big part of my life growing up, as compared to other genre of games. The thing is, I get really deep into fighting game technicalities but never tried to go far as a player. This is because I see really talented and smart players around me, who has better reaction, sharper wits, stronger fundamentals and sometimes plays the game more than I do. It developed a mental block telling me how weak I am that stemmed from the CVS2 days, to my Guilty Gear days and eventually the glorious SSF4 era. That's why I never blog about fighting games; because it won't be about the game, more of a constant whining about my incompetence, praising other players, and pointless 'maybe I should have' statements without much solid ground (If I think I should have done something, I should be hitting training mode instead of stating it over a blog).  

When SEA Majors 2013 was announced, I find myself wondering if there is a point for me to spend $40 to take part in UMVC3. It bugged me for a whole week before I signed up. Okay I'm going off to a tangent here. You see, I have not been serious about fighting games since at least 5 years ago. That was around the time when I started taking a relaxed mentally at fighting games and began to realize all the dumb crap I have been wasting my 50 cents to at the arcades. However, it was a little too late. National Service came to took 2+ years away. I signed up for the craziest program under SIT to study at Digipen and that also took 2+ years away. That was also the time when I discovered and fell in love with Games development, which took up a lot of my free time. During that time, Marvel appeared and I picked it up casually because I find the concept of team building incredibly interesting as a gamer and as a games developer. 

So Marvel sort of became my main fighting game which I don't practice often...on average once a week. However, the fact remains that I have spent months searching for a team which I am satisfied with, which is Taskmaster/Spencer/Akuma. People who played with me over the weekends know how often I switch teams, despite not having time to practice. I still spend some my free time practising and playing Marvel, even if it's just once a week. Unfortunately at that time, I was in the mentality that I have mostly 'moved on' from fighting games and concentrate on my passion that is game development. There was a need to improve, but there was not much of a 'burning desire' to improve like I had back in the Guilty Gear days when I would spent hours and hours doing Baiken's tatami FRCs straight (do 10 straight, if drop 1, restart from 0. If completed, raise it requirement by 10, repeat). Nowadays I just play to practice combos here and there, and look for any interesting synergies between characters. I still love doing combos, finding out things and showing off, which is why, I think, I still play fighting games.

Then the simple question had to be asked, "Do I think I am good enough to participate in SEA Majors 2013?" To be honest, I didn't think so. I have never considered myself as a strong player (jokes aside), and I believe many others have the same opinion about me. I have horrible clutch, bad reactions and do stupid things. On top of that, I have a history of playing badly in tournaments, mostly because my opponents are way more experienced than me (CVS2 Revival tournament), or I am simply too new to the game (Guilty Gear VS tournaments). Not to mention I was usually placed horribly in UMVC3 BFFs. Results are still results. No matter how good I think I am, I have nothing to fall back on but bad results. This feeds to the mental block I had. 

But I won't know unless I try again right? I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If I lose twice in a row and get 3-0'ed, so be it. What I really want to know is whether my Task/Spencer/Akuma team can do anything in my hands. It has given me good results in casuals, but I haven't tried it in a tourney (BFFs were somehow organized on Fridays when I'm not free), so what better way to find out than to participate in a major? On top of that, I have never been to a major before so this is great timing for me, before UMVC3 phases out. So I signed up, telling myself that I'm just going to do what I always do, no pressure, try my best, no unneeded risks, do simple combos that I can definitely do and see how far I can go. 

When I went to SEA major on Saturday, it was officially the first time I am showing off what I know internationally. Usually all my techs were known only to a few individuals who play me on weekends.  I played casuals with some players, and as much as I was impressed by some of their techs (those who play teams I have never seen before, always props to those people), they were impressed by mine. That made me rather happy. I didn't get to show my Tron team much though T_T

Tournament time came and I saw my brackets. I would face Mike Ross if I beat my first opponent SLX. I know it's going to be a battle of two fraudulents if we meet. I don't play the game much (as much as it is my main game) and neither does he, but he is still an FGC celebrity with great fighting game sense. The good thing is, I know his team, and he doesn't know mine. The bad thing is, he's using Hulk backed by drones, one of the few combinations I feel that will rape my one trick pony team that is Shield Skills + Tatsu. But all that does not matter if I don't beat my first opponent, so as usual, I expect the expected (which is to lose). 

SLX came up to me with an X23 team, backed by Akuma and Strider. I gave away the first match because I was so blur that I only considered his whole team's composition only when I see X-factor 3 Strider in my face. I took a breather and reconsidered my strategy. His team is extremely mobile and covers a lot more space than mine. His strategy is obvious, but very very hard to find a good opening. I have to pin him down somehow. That was when I started playing seriously, like really seriously, because I really wanted to win and face Mike Ross. He made a critical mistake in the end, and I took the game. I felt relieved, because SLX is a  pretty strong player who knows what he's doing (you can tell when both players are playing seriously) and his mixups are ridiculous when you let him do his thing. 

I got to face Mike Ross on stream. Admittedly, I was a little nervous because it is on stream. I don't want to lose like a silly idiot who eat Hulk's standing H, obvious drones mixup and happy birthday ice storms. I was behind Mike when SLX's friend told him that SLX lost. Mike was like "what happened?" and was responded with "stupid shield skills, and that Spencer damage".  What a happy stalker I was. Truth be told though, SLX also talked to his friend IN FRONT OF ME that he died to Shield Skills and he made that critical error popping x-factor 3 on his Akuma. Either I am very unnoticeable, or people in majors really forget random players fast, even if they were beaten by him. I mean, it's understandable that you win and forget the person, but to lose and forget so fast seems strange and a bit disrespectful to me. 

So I fought Mike. I won't say much to discredit him, but his Storm and Sentinel has good fundamentals. I played to my most fraudulent of abilities and we went really close and down to the wire. I made one small little error on my calculations and Mike robbed me of what was supposed to be my win on the last round. Of course, I felt salty, but those 5 games I really felt that I didn't do anything particularly bad, or anything particularly wrong. I don't think I dropped any combos too (maybe 1 or 2 weird ones). I really felt that I played my best, and that gave me insight on what I'm lacking. You can't get this kind of insight when you play casually, when you theory-craft or when you play with the mentality that you are just going to get bodied. It's ridiculous that it took me almost 8 years to figure this out.

I went on to yet again beat someone in my loser's bracket (someone failed to give me his name but I remember his face...he was using Arthur/Doom/Wesker and does weird things like hard tagging Wesker in after giving Arthur gold armor). He plays a solid solid Arthur to the point where I felt that Arthor IS his real anchor not Wesker. Luckily, I play Arthur anchor and casuals so I wasn't that afraid to deal with Chinese New Year super into XF3 into 10000 overhead attempts as compared to dark Wesker. It was obvious, however, that I'm finding it hard to concentrate on my matches after playing seriously for the past 2 matches. Maybe because I'm not used to it? I don't know, maybe veteran major-goers can give me some insight to this. I managed to beat him though, but got to fight SLX again.

SLX came up against me with a vengeance. Despite feeling a bit fatigued, I played my best again. SLX was prepared though. I felt like his strategy changed to a more space-control gameplay. I couldn't pin him down at all. When I finally managed to catch him, I had to snap Strider, which is also very hard to catch with my team since it has no vertical coverage. That when I know he figured my team out; space-control and come in from the air with a safe move. On top of that, he locks me down with Tatsumaki and Vajra assist. I couldn't figure out his adapted gameplay in time and I ultimately lost. And boy he looked so happy defeating me! That made me happy too. I felt a bit like a villain then.

Some players might brand me silly or lousy for thinking that winning 2 games out of 4 games in pools an achievement. But to me, it is. It felt that I can actually do combos and clutch if I put my heart into it. In all 4 games, I didn't feel that I short-changed myself by screwing up badly (the last part against Mike was more of a knowledge problem...'okay I know air blocking Hard Drive is correct...but what next...oh crap'). Still, it feels a little surreal and upsetting that I was literally one right decision away from the alternate universe where I beat Mike Ross and get to fight Don as if it's just another weekend in Tough Cookie. 

I am really glad I joined SEA Major 2013. It was a memorable experience for me, going up on stream, people actually cheering for me, impressed by me, giving me encouragement, not dying for free, not dropping combos, and not making as many dumb decisions as I am notoriously known for, a little bit of playing the hero (almost beating Mike) and a little bit of playing the bad guy (denying SLX). It also gave me a lot of insight implicitly about the state of the community. Yes, I'm a bit upset because I felt that I really could have made it out of my pools, but that actually goes way way way over my initial expectation. This major really helped me a lot in overcoming the mental barrier that I had for the last decade of playing fighting games. I hope no one else had to wait this long for them to overcome theirs.

Anyway I am really grateful for all the people who made SEA possible: the organisers, the commentators, the participants, the stream... arg there's just a really long list that goes on and on. Shoutouts to all of them. Looking back 10 years ago, the FGC has really come a long long way and it will last for many years to come.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review: "Monaco"

Monaco is a top down 2D colorful pixel art stealth indie game, where players choose different criminals to perform heists. Players can choose to complete the heist by themselves or cooperate with up to 3 other friends.

Monaco's story tells of 4 specialized criminals who performed a prison break and plans to escape Monaco. Along the way, they enlisted help from 4 other criminals to aid their escape. These 8 different criminals are the Locksmith, Pickpocket, Cleaner, Lookout, Mole, Gentleman, Hacker and Redhead.

Line of sight leads to importance of positioning
Stealth games are an interesting genre to me. I think it is safe to say that it is difficult to design one that is 100%  about sneaking aroumd. Usually, stealth games incooperate NPC-disabling aspects in varying degrees, from basic knocking the lights off enemies to permenantly killing them with a stab to the back to plain manslaughter. Metal Gear, Thief, Splinter Cell and Hitman all have the same trend. One of the reasons is that designers would want to empower the players, and empowerment is one of the most powerful ways to provide fun to the players. Not allow players to disable enemies seems rather counter-productive (not saying that it is impossible to create a stealth game like that; I totally believe that it is doable). But one must remember that disabling an enemy will trivialize that area of the level the enemy is at. As an example, if you kill everyone on a level in the stealth games classic Thief, completing that level will be a walk in a park.

Monaco did not move away from the trend. However, Monaco has a very strict limitation on this topic on disabling enemies. Lets throw in some game facts so that we can get a better perspective. The tools players can carry is limited; one tool per player, and each tool's ammo is obtained by collecting every 10 coins which are littered throughout the map. On top of that, only half the tools are actually harmful to enemies (weapons). Also, enemies can revive each other. This makes weapons cost-ineffective for the heists, espacially when the other non-lethal tools are really good (like the Smoke Bomb which blocks enemy line of sight, or the EMP which disables all nearby electronic devices like alarms or cameras).

Information relayed to players is clear and concise

This bring us to the next feature of the game. Monaco features 8 unique professions the players can choose to play. For a new player, I found that I have the most ease completing most of the levels with The Cleaner. Like I mentioned before, disabling enemies in stealth games can trivialize the level. It so happens that The Cleaner does this very well. He is able to disable anyone he touches as long as they are not alerted. After using him for the first time, I could never stop. Only on very specific scenarios will The Cleaner have trouble. In a nutshell, The Cleaner is generally useful in all maps because he can potentially get rid of the greatest threats that is common in them. The other classes are quite the opposite; they are useful on specific maps and can suffer badly if the map does not cater to their abilities.

The Locksmith, who opens locks faster, is good at levels where you have memorized the map and going for speed runs in places with a lot of locks. I do not have much of a problem with him as locks are one of the most common things you encounter.

The Pickpocket, who has a monkey that collects coins, is probably as powerful to me as the Cleaner as he has the potential to avoid the need to interact with enemies. He is easily my second choice to clear a level, should the Cleaner face difficulties. 

The Lookout, who climbs vents and stairs faster and can detect NPCs while sneaking or standing still, is useful in co-op matches because she can help other players detect enemies from hidden places. I do not use her much as her ability is really only good for escaping, and I try not to get myself spotted most of the time.

The Mole, who can destroy walls, might perform really well in levels with lots of walls to break as he can bypass certain obstacles. The only problem is that very few levels give The Mole this chance. Some levels can just simply shut his abilities down with good placement of NPCs and giving very few walls for him to break through without screwing himself.

The Gentleman, who wears disguises (a shield for enemies detecting you), is probably only good for running across security cameras. I have not found a security camera which I have problems bypassing with other characters though.  In my opinion, his ability is the most boring.

The Redhead, who will charm the first person who spot her (you will have to go out of sight to lose them), is very good or very bad depending on the level's NPC placement. I find her really annoying to use because if I charmed the wrong person, I would have to get rid of him as if I was being chased, in which case it is almost no different from getting chased in the first place. 

The Hacker, who hacks computers faster and can hack through power socket, is also very dependant on the level. This is because all characters can inherently hack through computers, so using the hacking mechanic is a common ability. The only difference is the The Hacker can hack faster and hack in more places, and again the extra places the Hacker can hack is dependant on the level (like if some wise-ass designer decides not to give you sockets to hack through). 

I have already mentioned about The Cleaner. So of course, the Cleaner has areas where it is problematic for him, like when there are too many enemies together in one spot. However, that situation is just as problematic for other professions, save maybe the Pickpocket. 

Hector is his monkey
But I must stop myself from going into a tangent about stealth games and its design. The problems I faced with each profession are just my opinions and I can see how each of them cater to different players (maybe people find unlocking doors fast better than disabling enemies, since if they can unlock doors fast, they have less problems running into patrols for example). In the end, because of its limitations of disabling enemies, I find myself sneaking and hiding, bidding myself time as an enemy walks by, more than actually trying to disable enemies (even for The Cleaner). 

Monaco is essentially a very well-executed stealth game. It has interesting mechanics, features and rather well-written scripts and dialogues before each heist (although it sort of went downhill after they met the Hacker). On top of that, it has a really good soundtrack! I would definitely recommend this game for everyone to play, casual or not. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why do I love Everquest and why do I not want to go back?

Eventually, this will happen: me writing a proper article about Everquest. This article is basically me breaking and listing down what I loved about Everquest, compares it to other MMOs and RPGs, and sometimes regrettably stating why it cannot be done anymore at this present age.

A quick disclaimer: I started Everquest when I was 13. That's 12 years ago since this article was written. I started, I think around Luclin era so I did not actually experienced things like East Commonlands market except in Progression Servers. So do not go around saying 'Oh Everquest went downhill after Velious expansion, you know nothing'. I can speculate why it went downhill, but it is already ridiculous for me to start  play a first-generation pay-to-play MMO when I was 13 in Singapore (I cut my allowance $1 per day), let alone earlier.

But the point of this article is not wholly about comparison between MMOs, and me giving high praise to Everquest due to nostalgia. I am just trying to examine why Everquest is so revered, outside of taking my virgin online experience. Being a games designer 12 years later, this is important and interesting to me. It can't be just 'taking away my virgin online experience'. There must have been some things that Everquest did right. In fact, I feel that there are some things Everquest did right back than that feels wrong in current context, which explains why MMOs nowadays do not appeal to the old players of Everquest.

Huge World
The world of Everquest, or Norrath, is actually small compared to current generation MMOs like World Of Warcraft (of course I have to bring it up eventually). Yet when I played WoW, EQ2, TERA or City of Heroes, their worlds seemed smaller. Why is that?

The first immediate answer is the mechanic known as Fast Travel. You not only see that in MMOs, but also in single player RPGs. This comes in a variety of flavors: hearthstones, teleportation scrolls, portals, NPC dialog warps, flight paths, and blatant 'open-map-and-click-location'. The reason for its implementation is to provide convenience to players, because as designers, we want to remove as much negative emotion the player is experiencing as possible.  

When I joined Everquest, they already had these Nexus Scions, which are portals located throughout Norrath (I think there are like only 4-5 of them) that activate once every 15 min and takes you to Luclin, the moon. There it is like some mass transit interchange where you can board scions which will teleport you (again, another 15 minutes) to it designated continent. 

When I played Progression Server, it was so much worse. Travelling to Freeport to Qeynos feels like travelling to another country although they are in the same continent. Continent-to-continent travel is worse. The boat takes forever to arrive. You literally see people walking up to you at the docks asking if the boat left, in which you might reply, "Well, I was here when the sun set and when sun rose, so it should be coming soon". And when the boat arrives, there will be this fear that you might be taking the wrong boat. But all this creates a pretty unique experience that cannot be found if you have Quick Travel. 

I am going to go off in a tangent and mention that Ocean of Tears chat is so funny and unique sometimes. Ocean of Tears is a zone between the continents Faydwer and Antonica. Up to this date, I have no idea what are people doing in that zone other than waiting for boats, and reporting if a boat was recently seen going a certain direction. "Um, I think I saw a boat go westwards just now, or rather I think it is west".

Despite that, I find that it is difficult NOT to have Fast Travel implemented in today's games. People nowadays are 'busier' as compared to the past. 'Busy' as in that there are more distractions in their lives. Back then, social networks were either non-existent or at an infant stage where not many people are using it. Games and entertainment were mostly found either on home consoles or the PC.  The most we had were Instant Messengers like AIM and MSN, which were not exactly very exciting compared to the distractions we have nowadays like Facebook or Twitter.

The point I am trying to drive here is that in MMOs of the past, people can actually afford to spend most of their time idling and socializing in-game. Nowadays, there are things you might rather be doing if you are a typical consumer like checking out Facebook or Twitter, chatting on mobile apps that support group conversations, play those social games which requires your time once every 10 minutes or even watch shows that you purchased and downloaded. The internet is becoming faster and more robust which allows us to do access such distractions.

Exploration in Everquest is really fun. This is because the game encourages exploration. No, I don't mean blatant 'Get XXX amount of experience points for visiting a new location for the first time'. What I meant is that the circumstances given to you and your characters implicitly forces you to look at your surroundings. This is a reason why the memories of people who play Everquest is very strong; because they actually remember places.

A lot of subtle factors come into play. The first factor is the lack of maps. The lack of maps in Everquest forces player to remember routes by recognizing points of interests. If you leveled in areas like the heavily forested Greater Faydark, the most fearful event that can happen is dying and losing your corpse at an area without a landmark you can identify so that you can find your corpse after you respawn. Getting lost in the middle of nowhere is a common occurrence in Everquest and players often find themselves navigating their way without the usage of maps.

Of course, I understand that it is a too overboard not to have any form of maps whatsoever. Losing your way and wandering for hours without the slightest clue where you can possibly lead to literally several hours of frustration. Having a map gives players more clues on where they could possibly be lost at and reduces the possible time spent being lost. However, games nowadays took it many steps further, usually implementing some insane level of a GPS system that tells you exactly where you are, where you need to go, where NPCs are and more, all on a map. I understand why these features are implemented (again, for convenience and prevent waste of time) but I feel that it is too much. It has a great risk of causing players to look at their maps more than their surroundings.

That being said, I concluded that any form of aid you provide to players for navigation will directly affect their awareness of the surroundings. I will bring up a notorious example which is Elder Scroll IV's Oblivion. My friends used to kid me by saying, "Oblivion? Just follow the red dot!". Oblivion has an implementation where it places a red dot on your character's compass, so that you will know where is the general direction you need to go. I have asked a few people around me, some of them Elder Scrolls fans, whether they could remember the some of the towns inside out, or even the Dark Brotherhood lair. None managed to answer with confidence. How is it that for a game which promotes immersion not allow players to remember the places they visit? If you asked people to navigate through Morrowind's confusing as hell city of Vivec, I bet there is a higher chance of them being able to.

The last point, in my opinion, is having fear and excitement while exploring. Nothing beats the feeling of expecting the unknown. There are lots of places like this in Everquest where players hear stories of death from them. There are many reasons why. Firstly, death penalty is harsh, involving corpse runs and experience loss. Secondly, it is a common fact that you cannot fight any mobs straight up after a certain level. Thirdly, what if you cannot find your corpse? Exploration is that dangerous, and because of this particular deterrence, it makes the world feel big. And it makes exploring exciting.

That sounds contradicting. If there is deterrence  how can players be encouraged to explore? So let me put it into perspective. We know that this is true: the more emotions a player experiences, the more memorable the experience. In World Of Warcraft, there was not much excitement in exploration. I can do anywhere I want, and if I encounter the 'unknown', at the very worst I lose some cash. I practically saw almost everything in vanilla WoW as a Horde, including Alliance areas like Darkshore, Stormwind and Ironforge. Heck I'm not even a rogue who can sneak around without anyone noticing. I can go to so many places with so little risk, it's not memorable at all.

Sure I have gone to Ironforge and other Alliance areas as a Horde in WoW, but that is nothing compared to walking through Maiden's Eye in Everquest with a beating heart filled with fear of encountering some shadowknight mob that can root me and harm touch me to death. Walking around the Plane of Fear is much worse; the entrance is not even the exit!

Nowadays though, I doubt people have the patience or time to do corpse runs any more, or deal with experience loss. Because of this, to make a world fun to explore these days, it would take a combination of great aesthetics, achievement design, level design, quest design and good core gameplay mechanics. I feel like I'm stating the obvious, but it is not easy for all those things to come together.

No Instancing
Until the Legacy of Ykesha expansion, Everquest did not have instancing of any sort. This means that whatever you do will the impacted on the persistent world, small or big. If your group is camping the Orc Hill in Clan Crushbone, it means that everyone in the zone will need to deal with you if they want to kill a certain mob on Orc Hill.

Persistent worlds let players the feel that they exist in the world. If you guild destroyed a raid monster, it's not going to spawn for a couple of days and other guild can 'feel' your guild's presence. In my opinion, it is a very key factor for players to feel immersed in the world. This is why I loved existing in Everquest.

Unfortunately, no instancing has tons of cons. In the end, as a designer, you are hoping that players establish some sort of soft rules amongst themselves so that they do not screw each other over, upheld by every player's integrity. Even worse, these players usually have no way of stopping people who do not follow said rules outside of attempting to outcast them by word of mouth. Not very effective. Old Everquest veterans have seen how ugly this can become and trust me, it's not very fun.

In the end, I feel that instancing is a necessary evil in MMOs, but it should be used sparingly like in high end dungeons. Honestly, I think having a relatively fast spawn rate on pre-maximum level content would suffice for players, if the world is vast enough to spread their density thin. This is because the numbers of such players will increase as they enter the region, and decrease as they out-level the region.

High end content is different though. This is because the higher end content will be saturated with players at maximum level whose numbers will only get larger over time, as such it is safer to provide them with unlimited  access to content and there is currently only one known way to do it: Instancing.

These are the 3 main points why I loved Everquest when I was 13 or 14. It felt like a truly open and huge world that I enjoyed exploring and just plain existing and chatting with random strangers around me. Too bad that now that I am busier (or rather, we), I do not see how any of these will work for me and for the current generation of gamers. Fortunately, there are so many MMOs nowadays that most of us can simply pick whichever feels like the right one and play.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Icewind Dale 2 - Revisited (Part 5 - Underdark and lots of monks)

Chapter 4 starts off pretty grandiosely with some epic music outside of the large Black Raven Monastery. It created a sort of excitement within me that caused me to foolishly cause some of my party member to drop to 1 hp for crossing a flimsy bridge (the designers were apparently nice enough not to cause my guys to die). Content within the Monastery though is slightly disappointing.

It started off with a small complication of course. Apparently outsiders are not allowed to enter the Underdark caverns below the Monastery. The first NPC who greeted my entrance, Salisam, told me that. He offers me, however, a deal to be initiated into the Black Raven Order if I were to remove the deputy leader from power, Aruma (considering that the real leader is supposedly gone to the main bad guy's lair for negotiations). If I were to do that, power will fall onto Salisam and he promised to grant me my wish. Well, monks are lawful people, so I obviously accept.

So I met Aruma, and there was this weird half-fiend (incubus if I remember) named Dolon, who seemed very fond of Aruma and vice versa. I sent my scout to conveniently enter Dolon's guest chamber and found her dairy (which are the bane of all scheming bastards as usual) who showed that she was specifically sent by the bad guys to seduce Aruma. Of course, being a nice guy, I showed it to Aruma. Aruma got angry of course, but Dolon begged and pleaded and swore that his love for her is true. Wow, that certainly got...awkward? No awkward is not the word. Happy? I'm not sure. Anyways, since monks cannot get into love and all that, Dolon suggested that they both run far away from everything. Aruma agreed, leadership was given to Salisam and I get to go through the initiation test: The Eight Chambers.

The Eight Chambers...were...underwhelming. It is basically 8 Chambers (duh) and I can only send 1 naked character to complete each one. I get to rest him between every chamber, so of course I sent my best candidate for all of them - my tank.  Seriously, I think clerics do really well in these chambers. Wizards or sorcerers might do pretty decently too. This is because not only do I have to fight naked (only with a single normal weapon found in the chambers themselves), I cannot cast any buffs on myself before entering. 

Some of the chambers are boring design-wise. A couple was so bad that I actually remembered them, like the first chamber: The Chamber of Stone. In that chamber, I have to pull 4 levers in order. Each lever will spawn different amounts of annoying stone monks that will attack me. If I screw up the sequence of levers to pull, it will reset. There is no clue whatsoever to what the sequence should be so it's basically trial and error, and every lever you pull is just watching your singular character trying to beat up multiple enemies. 

On the bright side, some chambers are interesting to me, like the Chamber of Battle where I have to fight regenerating monks and defeat them at certain positions of the chamber in order to complete it. Amongst the 8 chambers, around 5 of them were bad or unmemorable but at least the rest were decent so I did not really have much to complain about. 

Completing the chamber leads me to the Raven Tomb under the Monastery, where my party encountered 4 very well animated golems surrounding a very bright platform with a treasure chest on it, obviously a trap. I, of course, triggered it in my cockiness since I'm half-buffed (this took care of all my fight so far) but holy crap these golems are tough as hell. Stoneskin wore off much faster than I expected against these guy. So I reloaded and tried again, this time with so many buffs on my 2 clerics it filled the entire character portrait. Thankfully, I managed to defeat them with ease and got my reward which is a bunch of really good but alas, useless magical objects. 

Aside from that, we encountered an army of gray dwaves trying to raid the Monastery (the ones we met at the previous chapter). We took them to screw off, they didn't listen and now they are dead. So off I go to the Underdark passages.

The very first thing that happened was a greeting by Malavon, a Master Of Sorcere (basically a really powerful male wizard in a drow society, go metagame knowledge check!) who asks for help. He states that there are driders breeding in the east blocking my path and I need to get rid of them. Metagame knowledge tells me that driders are half-drow half-spider that can only be created if some powerful servant of Lolth is involved. For those you get that good, the rest can ignore my previous statement. The fact of the matter is that you cannot 'breed' driders so I found it quite interesting to check it out. Malavon also asks to persuade his sister (who is the leader of the driders) to return to his camp. What?! Drow males asking a favor from outsider to 'save' his sister? Totally unheard of.  

The creatures in this area can be rather annoying. There were mushrooms creatures that can fear you during combat, which surprised me since my characters have good saves, but there must have been so many of them that eventually a couple of my characters would crack. Thankfully, clerics have a level 1 spell called Remove Fear that also prevents fear effects, so it wasn't much trouble. In the driders' lair, I came across the Red Wizard responsible for the breeding process.  Ah Red Wizards of Thay, of course they are involved. The process is pretty disgusting. It feels like some screwed up human experimentation thing. So I killed him and killed all the driders except Malavon's sister whom we managed to persuade to return to Malavon. Yay! Happy ending!

This is when the game gets confusing. See, beside the drider cave, there was this particular building I couldn't enter for no apparent reason until I defeat the driders, and it happens to be the building I need to enter to get to where I need to go. I might have missed something, but without the information as to why can't I enter it, it seems utterly silly. Anyway, that building is a home of mind flayers. Well, thankfully, all my characters have really good Will saves (2 clerics, 1 bard/druid, 1 sorc/paladin) so I wasn't that afraid.

Immediately I was attacked upon entering. The first went down really quick because my characters happened to be buffed beforehand (naturally). After defeating them, I began to explore the dungeon. At first, I thought it would be a dungeon. I mean, it IS a dungeon, but what I saw was not your typical dungeon but a maze. A circular one. It annoyed the hell out of me. I hate exploring mazes, or things that look like mazes, so I rested, rebuffed to the brim and started bulldozing the entire place. 

It happens that the Elder Brain in the middle of the dungeon will summon every creature it can in the dungeon to defend it. Well, thankfully none of them were as strong as the crazy golems I fought that were guarding the treasure chest at the Raven Tomb, so the fight cleared easily. It looked like a crazy fight though; fighters, mages, mind flayers, golems were squeezing their way to my party. The arcane spell Chaos helped a whole lot in this fight (as it did with all fights that look like they can get out of hand).

Finally we emerged from the dungeon into the open. Oh look, it's Oswald! And some forgettable bad guys as a chapter closing boss fight! Well, unfortunately it is less exciting than the Elder Brain fight so I shan't describe so much here. After the fight, we board the ship to Kuldahur, because the gnome suggests that it's a good place to go next. 

Just a quick PS, throughout the game, I probably left out a few encounters. There was one outside the mind flayer dungeon and the first encounter IN that dungeon has against a named mind flayer, for example. However, they are uninteresting and I just didn't feel like boring the text with more 'and I streamrolled them, again with my fully buffed clerics of destruction'. The fights are becoming more and more trivial as my characters get stronger.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Icewind Dale 2 - Revisited (Part 4 - Trolls and be trolled)

After getting past the really boring chapter, Black Isle decides to throw me into disarray. Chapter 3 is mindblowing in terms of logic. You'll see what I mean.

Leaving the Ice Temple, the party chanced upon a 'wandering village'. In the village, we met a drow. Well, I guess it's about time we came across one, especially since we are adventuring near the Sword Coast North. The drow is actually a merchant with an extremely polite voice-over...the kind of voice that makes you think that he is going to betray you. Oh well, he DOES have some pretty nice items for sale so I let him be. He also tells me that to get to the Eastern Pass, we will need to travel through the Underdark underneath a certain Black Raven Monastery. Yay, Monks got love in this game! Wait...Underdark? That does not sound very fun (I particularly hate dungeons which are caves full of mindless monsters).

Letting the drow be, we had one more problem: The Fell Wood blocks our path to the Black Raven Monastery. The village elder tells us that only she alone knows the way and would like to trade that knowledge with errands. Fair enough, except that this knowledge of hers is only known to her because 'the villagers don't need to know'. Crap, she's definitely one manipulating b****. Anyway, I'm probably going to rant a bit on ever errand she gives. Here goes.

So the first errand is to find out why there are missing children. A 4 hour stroll towards the Fell Wood entrance revealed an extremely suspicious looking circus tent, with an extremely suspicious lady who has an extremely suspicious voice over surrounded by suspicious looking cauldrons and bottles. Gee, I doubt she's the one who kidnapped the children, so we proceeded into the Fell Wood where we met a dryad. The dryad said that the lady in the tent was bringing children in it! Wow. Thanks. So what, we are going to confront her based on some dryad's words? Apparently we are. Obviously the lady denied everything, until a random child popped out from some hole at the corner of her tent. Why couldn't he done that earlier? I wouldn't need to waste my trip into the Fell Wood! Without any room for excuses, the lady blabbed about being freaking powerful and started doing summons into Dimension Doors. She did that a few more times until I give up and threw like Chromatric Orbs and Hold Persons at her direction, which she (hurhur) is apparently not powerful enough to make the save and eventually died.

On to the second errand, which is to appease some wight who apparently got some of his stuff stolen and is haunting the hunting grounds. Expecting a fight (he is haunting after all), we approached the wight. He turns out to be pretty reasonable enough to talk things out, despite his temper. You mean the hunters didn't bother talking to him? Well, I guess, since he's a wight, so I let that slide. The wight then mentioned that his stuff is stolen and wants it back. Since I can only go to 3 places, the thief must've gone into the Fell Wood. We found the corpse and found that the wight's stuff is actually a useless golden cup. Meh, I was hoping for some good stuff and an excuse to kill the wight. We returned the cup to the wight, and he was happy. 

The third errand takes the bite. It's probably the most trolling errand ever. The village elder told me to investigate someone's death like we are in some CSI show. Again, we ventured into the Fell Wood and confronted the useless ghost at the entrance (I didn't mention him before because he was useless until now). My party asked "Have you know XXX?" He replied, "Maybe, but you will have to kill Will o' Wisps who are trapping all the spirits of those who died in the Fell Wood from leaving." Gah, okay another guy taking advantage of me. We went ahead, killed the Will o' Wisps (which were annoying as hell due to their spell resistance) and returned to the ghost. We asked again "Have you know XXX?" in which he has the cheek to reply "Nope! Try the gravestone outside!". At this point I'm not sure if the designer for this quest is trolling me or just plain lazy to rectify the nonsense. Sure enough, the gravestone outside the Fell Woods stood the ghost of XXX (I seriously can't remember his name), who was happy to tell us how he got murdered and gave us a worthless spear in thanks (who uses spears in this game?).

The rest of the adventure wasn't as eventful. The village elder told us how to get past the Fell Woods, which resulted in encountering a few treants and an army of trolls. We also encountered a few Wyrms and Dragons which, to be honest, wasn't that hard to fight thanks to how broken Stoneskin is. We went underground a bit afterwards and encountered some nice dark dwarves who want us to kill EVERYTHING in the cave and also the monks in the Monastery. In the cave were hook horrors and umber hulks, but Stoneskin is so powerful, my clerics just wipe them off the face the Faerun.

Of course, how can a chapter end without a boss fight. Well, this one wasn't exactly memorable. I cannot remember the name of the boss but he came with an army of rangers, bears and panthers. Thanks to the godlike Chaos spell, Stoneskin and a bunch of Chromatic Orbs, they were quickly thrown into disarray and my clerics slowly picked them one by one. 

Finally, we exited the cave and arrived at Chapter 4. To be honest, the sight of the Monastery makes me a little excited. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Just a rant about my education.

I think this is a rant about my education. It's just a few thoughts on my head that I feel it's worth my time to type about. Of course, seeing that my education is in Singapore, it is related to our country's education system. I'm writing this because I am finally going to be entering the workforce and I took a look back at the past 25 years, decided to rant it. I'm not particularly angry or frustrated, just a mixed feeling of being jaded and satisfied.

Where do I start? Chronologically? Listing down the factors and influences involved? There are a ton of factors that came into play. One is, of course, is my parents. My parents are great, seriously, even though I never show it to them (because I'm bad at those stuff). I would consider that I came from a rather well-to-do family by Singaporean standards, and that is because my parents are both hard-working, thrifty, really good with money and of course, a bit lucky. Because of that, money for education is never an issue, even for my sister. Of course, this means they treat me as an investment sometimes, which I can't blame them for because from my perspective, I would think I AM an investment too, and this partly fuels my desire to 'repay them of all they have done to me'.  I mean, it does feel really bad when you are leeching off your parents for 25 years in the name of education.  

My mother is your typical Singaporean Generation X mother when it comes to education, comparing schools, results and grades with her friends', neighbours, neighbours' friends, get the gist. Most Singaporean children should know what it is like. Anyway, let's start chronologically. Primary school felt easy for me, to the point where I started slacking and be satisfied with As and Bs. I was not in the top class, neither was I at the bottom, which is enough to appease my parents. Obviously, this is not enough for me to get into a 'good' secondary school. 'Good' meaning places where top students go. My definition of good is very different at this point.

Secondary school life starts at 12 to 16. At this point, I remembered that I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of subjects. I scored badly for 2 years, that is when for some whatever crazy reason, the school allowed me to take what-seems-to-be easier topics (combined sciences, and accounting) which scoring well for them is equivalent to scoring well for obviously much difficult papers like Additional Maths or the pure sciences. Completely retarded, but it worked in my favor so I did not complain and started topping my classes. 

Let's sidetrack a bit. Education in Singapore is quite stressful. Getting shit grades results in angry parents and probably angry teachers, which results in angry self, which results in being demotivated and everything can theoretically just go to hell. Happy grades leads to the opposite, which is a good life and at best, fame. Fame! I cannot emphasize this enough. How many times have I seen newspaper front page reports of a certain group of students who scored incredible points for 'O' levels (the final paper for secondary schools) from a certain 'good' school. How many times have I heard of incredible primary school students who topped their PSLE results? I have once walked past an award ceremony at a void deck for top scoring students from a certain school. THAT is how important scoring good grades felt. When I was 14, I saw how everything can go to shit if I don't do anything about it soon. So I did. On easier topics. That is, I have an edge in getting better results than anyone. 

Then it came to a decision. The decision that most Express or Normal-stream secondary students make: Junior College or Polytechnic (sorry ITE dudes, no hard feelings but you understand). I was really a typical student when I decided on Polytechnic. The thought of entering a specialized course that teaches what you want, no uniforms, classes are not 8am-2pm and no regimentation feels like heaven. Even better, only the results of 5 subjects (including English) is taken into account (Junior College need 6 including English).

Polytechnic lasted 3 years. I entered the new Digital Entertainment Technology course, which is basically Games Programming (or Technical Direction, depending on your specialization). It was gruesome as hell, nothing like the good life I imagined, BUT I was learning a hell lot of stuff which I enjoyed. Unforunately, even though I worked my ass off the bigger projects in my school, a project is still only a module. Doing badly for classes which had no relevance to my interests just killed my results (classes with exams like memorizing how to create a fire using photoshop). Also, a quick flashback - remember that I said that I chose polytechnic because I was thinking like a typical Singaporean student who wants a good life. There are a bunch of people like that in my course and it doesn't help that when I team with them, I ended up doing almost everything. I remember I kept telling myself that it's all going to be worth it because I am the one learning stuff. 

In the end, my GPA was bad. It wasn't really super bad. It's like 3 out of 4.  The fact that Singapore local universities are bitches at accepting polytechnic students started to hit me really hard at this point. It was general knowledge that getting into a local university requires 3.5 or more, unless you have a really really kickass portfolio. I had neither. I have a good portfolio, not a kickass one. After getting out of polytechnic, with nearly zero hope of entering a good university, I was really jaded. Then NS happened. 

National Service lasted 2 years. I came out 23. Normally, I would complain that NS stole 2 years of my life and also gave me a back problem that's potentially going to be troublesome when I get older, but it gave me time to think about what I want to do. Local universities rejected me, Digipen (my dream school at that point) was incredibly expensive and I do not want my parents to spend that much on me anymore. On top of that, it was a 4-year course, which means I would be 27-28 by the time I'm done. Twenty-freaking-eight. That's 2 years away from being considered middle aged. It's nuts from my point of view.

Then a miracle by the name of Singapore Institute of Technology appeared. The rest the pretty much smooth sailing. They subsidized my enrollment to Digipen and turned it into a hellish 2.5 year course from 4 years. It was a win-win situation from my perspective. And after going through all that crap in polytechnic, I felt Digipen shouldn't be any hard. Thankfully it wasn't in my opinion. I had good sleeps before presentations thanks to my hardworking teammates (even when we crunched and I had 3-4 hours of sleep), compared to polytechnic which I literally had none for like 90% of my projects, so it's much more bearable. Even better, most of the modules and projects I find were relevant, interesting, and worth doing. Probably the best 2.5 years of my life thus far. 

And here ends my rant. I'm not really angry about what happened so far. I am just glad it's finally all over and I'm going to work the work of my dreams, which is a really happy ending to a really long 25 year chapter. I can rant a hell lot more and make a long article out of it, but for now this is good enough.