Monthly Archive: March 2017

The Secret World: Reboot Edition

Hat tip to our friends over at Massively OP, about The Secret World relaunching as The Secret World Legends.

So what is Secret World Legends? The official branding docs describe it as “a shared-world action RPG with completely revamped combat, a newly designed progression system, and updated visuals.”

I have long argued here that a game like TSW would be far better off single player, or as a lobby based game. When you save a town it can stay saved. It makes sense if mobs aren’t repopulating. I found the MMO elements of TSW as an impediment to enjoying the rich, single player experience they provided that was wholly bogged down by trying to be a MMO.

I also believe other games, such as SWTOR (especially), and even WoW in many ways would be better as lobby based games where you could solo RPG to your hearts content, and then join up with friends for repeatable content when it made sense and felt right.

Unfortunately the teaser trailer gives nothing and does not build much interest.

While I don’t have time for a brand new RPG right now, its a spring launch and I am going to make time for TSWL because I am wholly interested and curious if they got it right. I am also really hoping that stripped of  MMO shackles that this title can truly excel – it is such an awesome backdrop for deep and rich storytelling hindered by messy systems.

I can’t wait to try it, and I hope I am proven right.

Savoring Andromeda

I am thirty one hours into Mass Effect: Andromeda and have barely scratched the surface. Yet all 31 hours has been interesting and exciting for me. Discovery, unexpected encounters, learning about alien life forms – I am fully engaged in the universe. As far as game completion goes I have the first planet, Habitat 7 (Eos) at 98% viability (you completionists cringing at that?) and the second, Habitat 6 (Voeld) at 42(ish)%. Games like these I always start out slow and really pay attention to the little details. This game rewards that mindset in spades.

Lovely view of the mountains

Besides the rewards of lore, and personalization, it really fleshes out the world. I was in a Kett base (above) and when I walked by the window one of my squadmates said “Check out that view”. And I did. Right next to here was a terminal that had notices and emails to the Kett from their home world and it was interesting reading them to better understand their society and how it works. Heck, when I scan a new mushroom or mineral in the wilderness I find myself reading the description of what the scan found out. There is just so much to see and do, and all of it makes me feel like I am doing it in the name of helping humanity find their place and expand their knowledge in this new galaxy.

A lot of the gems you have to actively seek. I have been talking to anyone who is interested in a conversation. Many of them have the option for you to ask why they made the trip and joined the initiataive.  Hainly here, on Podromos (our first settlement/camp on Eos) used to be Stephen and used the 600 year trip to get a true, fresh start on life. This is the first transgender character that I had  ever met in any video game and I felt it was done very nicely by Bioware. Hainly doesn’t even give a quest, there is no giant star over her head, she is just one of 20,000 humans who came on the Ark in start of a new life, and she has her own story. I wouldn’t have learned who she was if I didn’t stop and take the time.  Taking the time to talk to the colonists really humanizes the entire project. I am not just shooting hundreds of bad guys, I am helping people build a new home. Hooked, I tell you.

I mentioned the onboard message boards on the Tempest (your smaller away vessel) and thought it would be fun to show a small piece of that. Angaran’s are a new species you meet fairly early, and one joins you in your efforts. Here, Jaal is giving the Angaran word of the Day and the individual squad mates respond in a tone and way that fits what i have learned of them so far. On the left you see other posts and most of them are light-hearted and fairly mundane but these posts are the types of things that make the characters come alive. It is a very nice touch.

Dramatic concerned look. Or Blue Steel?

I am playing mostly as an Infiltrator (Sniper/Tech) and the customization is great.  I sometimes think I would have responded even more favorably to this game if I didn’t have the expectations of the prior Mass Effect games. Unfortunately I think that you need to spend at least 10 hours to really get into the world, there is so much going on and so much to sort out that it is overwhelming (and confusing) at the beginning. Sure, it’s not perfect – but I know if there is to be a sequel it is probably years away, so I am going to savor every conversation, every container, every datapad write up, every nook and cranny to explore. Mass Effect Andromeda has earned that attention.

Exotic life forms are a bit too few and far betweem

I have been down this road before where a game grips me at first (Pillars of Eternity) only to find myself losing interest at some part and racing to the finish to get it done. I think I spent a total of 30 hours in PoE so already this has me at a different level. I loved the first zone of Dragon Age Inquisition only to lose all interest soon as I met the villain and when I kept ketting lost trying to find my squadmates to talk at the keep. This may not be a popular opinion but Andromeda really is a step up from the other Mass Effect games in terms of graphics, controls, world size, and exploration and even the story is starting to take shape. One small afear I have is that they will make this plot too big which does not leave much room for a sequel. The other trilogy was paced quite well escalating from stopping a villain, to discovering the true threat, to saving the galaxy. I hope we aren’t just jumping into saving the galaxy in the first installment.

I’ll find out, in my own sweet time.

Skeptics Guide to Mass Effect Andromeda’s Plot

While the “on the box” story line presented for Mass Effect Andromeda does seem trope-ish and unimaginative I wanted to present a- “I have actually played the game and there is some promise…” post – there is more going on beneath the surface.  While I personally do not expect there to be a huge depth or surprise to the fourth edition of the space opera series known as Mass Effect, far too many smart people are taking far too much at face value without exploring deeper into the game or knowing enough about the ME universe.

Part of this is the way the Mass Effect series was built. There is a TON of backstory, history, intrigue, etc. in the first three installments but most of it was not easily accessible. The game was built so players could zoom through the main plot line plus DLC in 20-30 hours per installment. Others who more fully explored the world and side quests could spend 40-60 per. That is a lot of content differential. There are also 4 pre-Andromeda novels and a printed Galactic Codex plus the in game codex (which sometimes differed from the print version, but hey, that is why they stopped printing game manuals a decade ago, right?).

The plot lines that people are misinterpreting or not critically examining (often writing off as cliche) have a lot of interest. I am going to make this as spoiler free as possible (after the picture) but keep in mind, much of what I have here is speculation from what I know, and what I have experienced up until finishing off the main story plot line on Eos. (10 hours for me, doing everything, reading every datapad, etc. Guessing some could finish it in 3-5 hours). Also important to note here that I haven’t finished all of the side quests on Eos yet, but did do some.

Mild Spoilers after the pic. Again, if you have played more than 5 hours they won’t be spoilers, and they are things you may have actually missed out on if you sped through the game.

Don’t Ask

Travel 600 years away, for what, really?

People need to start appreciating that the PR based Andromeda Initiative is a front. For what, we don’t know yet – but even the  recruiting website is very fluffy and explorer based. While the Andromeda galaxy may be “resource rich”, we haven’t even discovered 1% of the Milky Way galaxy (as per the Codex on council space):

Citadel space is an unofficial term referring to any region of space controlled by a species that acknowledge the authority of the Citadel Council. At first glance, it appears this territory encompasses most of the galaxy. In reality, however, less than 1% of the stars have been explored. Even mass-effect-FTL drive is slow relative to the volume of the galaxy. Empty space and systems without suitable drive discharge sites are barriers to exploration. Only the mass relays allow ships to jump hundreds of light years in an instant, the key to expanding across an otherwise impassable galaxy.

Whenever a new relay is activated, the destination system is rapidly developed. From that hub, FTL drive is used to expand to nearby star clusters. The result is a number of densely-developed clusters thinly spread across the vast expanse of space, connected by the mass relay network.

Really, there is a LOT of closer galaxy to explore which may also have some nice rich resources. Clearly there is a bigger reason to go to the Andromeda galaxy, yet discovered by our protagonist. One theory is the Cerberus theory who believed in the Reaper threat early on as a way to ensure that human kind lived on if the Milky Way was cleansed of all life. Cora Harper, Alec Ryder’s (your dad) second in command does share the last name as Jack Harper, the last known identy of “The Illusive Man” who runs the pro-human shadow group Cerberus. Quite the coincidence to write in if it wasn’t meaningful. It will be interesting to see how the Initiative’s true motives play out.

what is that thing in the middle, hrm?

You become the hero with little explanation

It really isn’t that much of a stretch when you dig into it. You are already a part of the exclusive Pathfinder team. Your dad is the Pathfinder. Cora Harper is the Operations Specialist. Liam Kosta is the Crisis Specialist. You play one of the Ryder kids, Scott who is a Recon Specialist, and Sara who is a Scientist (both served in the military). When the mantle of Pathfinder (the leader of the expedition team) skips Cora and goes to you by Alec (dad) there is that moment where you wonder why – although Cora does accept it because she accepts Alec’s judgement. It quickly becomes obvious that Dad is hiding something and left breadcrumbs for you to discover what that is. Perhaps he doesn’t want Cora or other Andromeda Initiative members to know and that is why he chose his son/daughter to be the next Pathfinder.  Alec Ryder was dabbling in advanced AI, which was banned in Citadel space. He has locked away information in the AI that you have to push forward to unlock and discover. What Mr Ryder did for the Andromeda Initiative and the human race will be a major story arc, and I believe that is part of why you were thrust into a leadership role early on. Look, without needing rocket science, the Andromeda Initiative short form is AI. Could it really be that simple after all?

Why hasn’t technology advanced in 600 years?

From Mass Effect 1:

“Your civilization is based on the technology of the mass relays. Our technology. By using it, your civilization develops along the paths we desire.” – Sovereign (Reaper)

The gist of the argument is that the Reapers pushed the tech to a place where current Milky Way sentient beings could only grow so far, so fast. Humans caught up to races who had access to the technology hundreds of years prior. There is a tech plateau of sorts, with the next, logical step being the formation of AI. Which is banned.  The Reapers left the technology there to be exploited and used, and around every 50,000 years or so they would do a full cleanse of the Milky Way. You are almost at that 50,000 year apex (Andromeda ships leave just as the attack is about to begin) so yeah, things are pretty tight. A Reaper is essentially “billions of organic minds, uploaded and conjoined within immortal machine bodies.” – so yeah, we aren’t going to be updating that technology anytime soon. At least, not in the Milky Way galaxy.

I love taking screenshots in MEA

Why is there always a mysterious all powerful race? (Remnants)

Because in all worlds and societies in, all life forms there is a top of the food chain.  Until there is a new one. In Mass effect it was the Leviathans who, after years of universal dominance, made the Reapers to help manage artificial intelligence that organic life would eventually create (and in turn would wipe them out). The irony is that that is exactly what the Reapers did to the Leviathans, which is what started them on their cleaning cycle to begin with. It isn’t that hard to imagine either, considering that on modern day earth Humans are the apex predator –  from the view of any other mammal on the planet. If humans were wiped out someday, and an alien species landed on earth and found our buildings and technology there would be little doubt who was top of the food chain on earth. It’s something we can all relate to. Sure, it doesn’t mean it is treading on new ground but it isn’t exactly unbelievable either. By the time you identified probable hospitable planets and arrived to find them all changed by mysterious technology during your 600 year journey there is an easy investigation to put into the story – but doesn’t make it any less interesting.

The big plot points – the Andromeda Initiative, the Pathfinder, the Missing Remnants, your father, the true purpose of the mission – none of these things are clear 10 hours in – but there are hints that something much bigger is afoot. I do not expect the writing in MEA to win a pulitzer. I do expect it to have some interesting twists and turns and give us some surprises along the way – a big step up from the simplicity expressed by some reviewers. Is Bioware showing an obvious and simple premise so they can pull a sleight of hand? Early indications say yes. Maybe though, that is just a part of big optimism by me. If you look hard enough for something you will find it, right?

Smaller is still better

Outside of the big themes, I am really enjoying getting to know my squad mates. They are a balance of personalities and one of my favourite is Drack, who is a Krogan. I used Wrex a lot in my away teams in Mass Effect so had a natural affinity with the Krogan in the new series. ME:A has an email terminal (and a slack-esque based one too, which is pretty amusing) and this gives a bit of a chance for small personality quirks to shine through. Here is an email from my good Krogan buddy.

Look ma, no typos!

For those who don’t want to click on the image and can’t read it scaled down:

“To Ryder

From Drack

Vetra told me what happened to your dad. I’ve lost a lot of people over the years. Figured you could use some cheering up. Or at least a distraction.

This usually helps me:

[Drack has attached 37 images of various rifles and shotguns. Two are duplicate images. Many are low-res or watermarked]

Drack

That seems like something your high school jock-buddy would send if you were having a bad day. The other emails were also very personality specific. It was a nice touch to add some flavor to the personal side of your team. In the end the ties to your character and your team will be the thing that keeps me playing. Hopefully the deeper themes exist and reveal themselves through game play. Even if they don’t I feel like the team itself might be enough to build a solid game around.

I have barely scratched the surface of Andromeda but the itch is getting intense. The way the game is designed after all the hectic missions on Eos I spent almost two hours just conversing with people on the Tempest (my ship) and the Nexus (the Andromeda Initiative’s outpost) learning about people, running small side missions, checking in on my sister… so much to do and experience. The longer I play Andromeda the better it gets. Shame to think many won’t give it that chance based on surface reviews but there is a rich experience to be had for those willing to explore.

I Hacked My Own Blogroll

Well, that was a pain in the ass.

I loved my WP Social Blogroll plugin. It updated who and when blog posts were written from my links. Whenever I need a break from work, or whatnot, I can log into my site and see if any blogs I follow have written any updates. It was beautiful, easy, and magical.

It also wasn’t updated for four years but still worked – until WordPress did an update. Sure enough, finally broken. All of the “free” RSS blogroll plugins were years old and didn’t work. I did find one and managed to make it work, but it kept crashing my site and I lost a ton of traffic over a week away with it up. I googled like crazy to find an option, and preferably a free one. I write once or twice a week, and do not get any income from blogging so did not want to have to invest much, if any.

I finally found a RSS Aggregator that was up to date (cleverly named WP RSS Aggregator). There is a free version, but very limited. The downside is the sidebar widget is $25 per year. I didn’t really want to pay that based on use alone, so I had to make a new page with my RSS feed. You can see it in the tab above alongside my other pages (Blogs That Feed). I then got to thinking that while I didn’t have a native plugin widget for it, that perhaps there was a free plugin to turn a page into a widget – and sure enough, the cleverly named “Page to Widget” was there. I installed it, and poof – magic! I now have a working blogroll updater in the sidebar again.

Sure, it doesn’t look too pretty but it works. I’ll mess around with some settings and see what I can come up with on the visuals.

I was going to make a separate tab for my “Writers Resting In Paradise” section where I keep a list of blogs I used to follow but who no longer update as well. I like that list as a reminder of how many people blogged and the relationships I had built in the past, but I also liked it because if someone came back after a hiatus it would also update and let me know there was a new post. Kind of a (non?) creepy way to stalk people. Surely, my free/basic aggregator with pay for more options would have a way to categorize the RSS links – should be an easy, simple thing, right?

Turns out it is!

For $30 a year.

I’ll see if I can find a workaround, but for now, the WRIP list will be static.

Mass Affect

Typo, for once, was purposeful.

I subscribed to Origin for $4.99 for a month to get a 10% discount on my $79.99 pre-order special edition of Mass Effect: Andromeda. For you non math savants out there it was a net ~$3 savings but that is only a cursory amount compared to how much this game is going to hurt my time and productivity. Also, as an Origin subscriber, you get  to pre-play the game for 10 hours prior to the launch tomorrow. Best $4.99 I have spent in a while.

The short synopsis is: great for Mass Effect fans. Like best game in five years great for ME fans (ME3 came out around 5 years ago for you non-players). Of course, that is only after five and a half hours of play, and barely scratching the surface of the game. I have read that there is easily 150 hours of content in this game for big fans to play through and that is how I plan on playing through it. Every little side quest, explore everything and talk to everyone – fully immerse and experience myself in the Andromeda galaxy. And holy $h*t are the graphics awesome. (Click on pictures to enlarge in a new window throughout this whole post)

I am playing on a gaming laptop but the play is smooth. The graphics this time around make the models almost too human, with smile lines, sweat on brows, it’s a bit crazy. I am not going to show any pictures that spoil the story line but I have been thoroughly impressed with the graphics.

It is a lot to take in. Even how imperfect his teeth are, for example. And while I have been impressed with the graphics, the game play is also a huge improvement from older Mass Effect titles. They added a Z axis with the jump pack which adds a whole new dimension to combat and fighting, including a jump / hover / scope in and shoot move. It’s a step up. In my short time, I have also enjoyed the scanning feature in which you use your Omni-tool to collect information on plant, mineral, and alien life. It’s interesting to see the thought and focus behind this new part of exploration.

Magic Mushrooms

It makes sense when you are exploring new worlds to use a tool like this and to learn more about the environments. My initial hours into Mass Effect: Andromeda has been a huge, amazing fun success and I fully expect to enjoy my time there over the next several weeks as I further explore the mysteries of this galaxy.

As far as story goes there are some potentially amazing plots already hinted at and while I don’t want to guess “out loud” at anything specifically (to ruin / spoil it for people planning on playing), especially this early on, let’s just say that I expect there to be no less than four or five major story arcs all intertwining. The initial stages of them that I have so far discovered have me believing they will be fun to more fully explore and experience.

What I haven’t been enjoying is the media coverage for ME:A so far. My google feed has been populating a lot of stories surrounding it and the more I read the more I shake my head and lose faith in the internet generation. Let’s cover some of the joyous topics I have read, shall we?

Animations are terrible: Not on PC, at least, nothing major I have noticed. A few weird eyeball angles here and there, but general movement has been smooth. I know a lot of these arguments stem from mouth movements and I believe this is a byproduct from how realistic the models look – causing the “uncanny valley” effect. While it is easy to make things look like people / uh, aliens, than it is to make them move and/or fidget like them. No one really stands perfectly still in any state, and building in those mannerisms would be extremely difficult. So while I have noticed a few things here and there, not once has it pulled me from immersion to the point that it stood out as a negative. Everyone jumping on the hate bandwagon is a reminder of another great game, Lemmings!

You can’t make your character white enough: This is a hilarious argument, and I actually came across several articles about this. Assuming this is Gamergate inspired but supposedly (again, guessing consoles?) the lightest you can make your skin is Hispanic / Asian, according to some. Really? Check out Mr. Whitey McWhiterton:

Casper-itis

Really, he is so white not only does he have less rhythm than the table he is sitting on, but he also can’t jump. This is my character in ME and I wanted to see how white I could make him after reading the articles complaining how diverse programmers excluded white as an option. I spent very little time customizing him, but he is absolutely, very white. Almost unhealthily so. Time to go out and find a planet with multiple suns – white. But really, is complaining about skin color really a thing any more? I am more impressed at the wrinkles, dimples and skin bumps and holes than the color. Such great detail. Terrible haircut, sure, but I chose that to be a snowflake.

The game isn’t a proper reflection on the dangers of colonialism as it pertained to historical USA: (ie: Christopher Columbus is a racist murderer, and this game should give lessons in how evil of a past that was, not celebrate colonization by playing a game a couple hundred years in the fictional future that is also about colonization.) Although I do think ME:A2 could be nifty if it was all about scholars and politicians sitting around working on how much reparations humans will be providing to the displaced and killed Kett during the events of this game.

On a more serious note, and not attempting to minimize legitimate discussion about the historical significance of Columbus, discourse is great to have but it also needs to be placed properly. Mass Effect is the equivalent of the Avenger movies in terms of depth and critical thinking. It’s not meant to be Shakespeare. If you are a true fan and look deeper at things you will learn quickly that humankind has not done a great job integrating into the new universe: considered brash, pushy, and impatient. There is a lot more to it on deeper levels – there are fair and interesting critiques on humans and their place in the galaxy that goes beyond killing and getting it on with aliens. All of that is core game play though. The average player will rush 40 hours to the end without exploring things on a more nuanced level. That is okay, and I have done that in the past as well.

If you are going to use this series to discuss historical events and reference certain plot points in prior Mass Effect titles please do a little research. One piece I read discussed how the Geth were an unfair example of evil because they attacked a human colony in the immediate events of ME:1. Anyone who knows the history of the Geth know that is is much more complex there – that they were servant robots who developed a collective mind, and then slaughtered their Quarian masters to gain their freedom, conquering Rannoch (planet of their former masters) and forcing the Quarians to a nomad life upon the Migrant Fleet (also known as The Flotilla) It’s an interesting twist on emergent AI and far deeper than the characterization they used based on a syndicated blog post they may have read and tried to force it to represent their personal agenda. Many have not even played the game (or it’s predecessors) – it’s clear in their writing that they have a rudimentary knowledge of the series and pushing critical, modern day themes onto that rudimentary knowledge can make you sound smart when your audience doesn’t know any better either.

Hey, I am all for expecting more of games, but at least do the research. It is readily available with a bit of Google-Fu.

Timely grumpy Krogan

At this point people are just hopping on the bandwagon of negative reviews for the sake of fitting in and or getting a laugh at the fabricated gifs out there. Some ARE funny, but they aren’t representative of the game as a whole.  I also suspect there is a bit of Bioware / EA bashing (“The Man”) which is not always unfounded (I also make fun of EA on this blog for their many awards of Worst Company in the USA, etc.).

Either way, let a game stand on its merit for what it is. And currently that is an amazing, engaging space RPG with promise. Will the game continue to stand on the fifth planet of scanning and quest running? Only time will tell. It definitely has that new car smell right now and I will be giving it a go. And while my voice here may sound like rabid fanboy-ism I’ll be quick to point out if the game doesn’t last, or if things don’t stick/stop sticking.  Right now most of the negatives brought up about the game feel like a reach, or maybe platform specific but that hasn’t been my experience. It is a bit frustrating to read others using the game as a platform for their personal/political agendas without much evidence or demonstrated knowledge of playing or understanding it – and i think that is where the difference is. If it was critically done as a gaming piece that could be interesting.

Playing Clash Royale?

Mass Effect will have big shoes to fill and I fully suspect that some people will be let down by the hype. My personal experiences early in the game are overwhelmingly positive and if anything, I wish they went backwards with the title and did a prequel of how Earth found the first Prothean base and how they integrated into galactic life originally. Much of this is in book and wiki form already but that would have been a great backdrop to show human’s first steps into an existing galactic community and the challenges that would create, and some interesting writing and dilemmic choices.

Instead we have a civilian lead, cross species Andromeda Initiative convincing 100,000 explorers to cross galaxies and resettle 600 years away. I am certain the exact reasons why will grow more than “just because” and that in itself may be one of the grander plot arcs, but until that all sorts itself out I’ll be focusing on searching for a new planet to call home.

Without any pretext.

Change of Plans

I am going on vacation (again, yes, lucky me) someplace warm again (Cuba)  to escape the cold, Canadian winter. Well, it’s mostly been mild here this winter for the most part but supposed to get a deep freeze next week which coincides with my escape that much better.

My plan was to finish off the Mass Effect series before the 20th which won’t happen now – I had to travel overseas on an emergency and just got back in time to go on vacation.

Trains, Planes, Automobiles, no Mass Effect. When I get back the new Mass Effect will be out and I am very much looking forward to that.

I am sure you missed me this past week and I know you will this week.  Have no fear, I will return and start posting again. With a tan.

Enjoy the week!

#NOGOODWAY

Today the #NOGOODWAY campaign launches.

Here is the video:

And the Facebook page, explaining it.

https://www.facebook.com/nogoodway

I find the video game community is particularly bad at using the R-word inappropriately, as part of everyday gaming language in forums, online, etc. I see it used too frequently. Which is why I am glad  I have a gaming based blog to support this initiative.