So, Borderlands…

… is pretty awesome.  Gearbox basically takes all their know-how about making a satisfying FPS and marries it to a surprisingly good understanding of what makes satisfying in-game loot and quest grinding.

My only critique against Borderlands would be one that applies to nearly any game: if you play it long enough, it’ll bore you.  The thing is, the game has a lot of retread, bringing you back through the same areas to overcome the same procession of things that want to kill you.  If you love shooting stuff – and the FPS/RPG fusion in Borderlands assures it’s a pretty entertaining activity – then all this repetition won’t bother you, but once the gameplay wears thin what you have is something thoroughly predictable: a grind.

That said, I’m not regretting spending $50 on Borderlands.  Gearbox has done the right thing to stave off the grind by spacing out the game elements in good intervals.  It’s plays a bit like an MMORPG with better-than-usual-pacing, the satisfaction of a good first-person-shooter, and an addictive loot balance.   I’m completely willing to overlook the 4 player cap on the grounds that I don’t particularly need other groups competing for my content anyway.  Besides, you don’t have to shell out $15 a month for the privilege of being able to fight your way through Borderlands’ expansive world.

Sagging Tights

What I do regret spending $50 on (plus $99 for a discounted 6 month subscription) is Champions Online.   Burnout reached true fruition two weekends ago and now I can barely bring myself to look at the game.

Blood Moon was a potentially saving grace, but it turned out to be fairly underwhelming.  Zombie Apocolypse was a batch identical public quests with timers so long it just caused the players to bunch up and completely steamroll them from the population involved.  The Werewolf versus Hunter event was just a shoddy meaningless PvP kill tally quest – more of a chore than anything else.  I don’t get it, they seemed to understand population flow in City of Heroes?

Ultimately, they should have spent less time working on making Champions Online look spooky and more time fixing their broken game.  The number of genuinely useful (not replaced with better alternative) powers in the game is somewhere around 25% of what they’re offering.   I’ve been dealing with Rituals dispelling Circles for almost a month.  Little problems like these are tearing the players away from the game bit by bit.

Blood Moon’s real legacy is that they’ve hemorrhaged a lot of players by setting the wrong priorities, and I really hope the game is able to stay afloat.   Judging by the free weekend they’re conducting, they seem blissfully unaware of the shaky ground they’re operating on right now.  The game’s about two months of hard game balance tweaking from what I’d want to show anyone.

What’s worse, it seems the spirit to do the innovative over the easy seems to have left them.  They have a Public Quest and Queued Instance architecture, what the hell are they doing wasting their time adding inferior “kill 100 x” quests or mere door missions, respectively?

Of course, this isn’t the first time a game I followed for months turned out not to pan out.  Here’s hoping they catch a second wind before my 6 months are up, or there’s probably not going to be a Champions Online there to renew my subscription to.

Creative Growing Pains

Now that I’ve no longer much of an MMORPG commitment — the marriage with Champions Online goes on, but the honeymoon is a faint and distant memory — game development has re-entered the picture.  In fact, it seems to be even a higher mental priority to me than my university classes, which is problematic if I plan to get out of here with any kind of accreditation.

Game development is, at least, very good mental exercise – which is rather important to get in order to preform well in said university classes.  It’s tough to appreciate when you’re actually playing the game, but somebody (or several somebodies) have gone about the mind-bending work of redefining reality in context of being an entertaining activity.

Being an original game creator looks easy, but it’s much in the same way an accomplished juggler could make it look easy to juggle 5 babies and a chainsaw.  Little wonder there’s so many clones in the world.

Continue reading

Champions Online Burnout Achieved

I’ve often mentioned on my BYOND blog that I was “busily burning myself out from Champions Online” on the grounds that I know it’s not that all that productive to spend a lot of time merely playing a game when I could be making one.  However, in a perfect world, I would never really achieve being burnt out because the game would continue to entertain indefinitely.

One of the main reasons Champions Online has kept me this long is the same reason that City of Heroes managed to pull so many hours from me: because there’s so many different ways you can create a character.  However, at only a fraction of the time City of Heroes has kept me, it appears that I am now thoroughly burnt out from Champions Online.

Continue reading

One Shot: Grinding To Vahalla

I have an interview up on Grinding To Vahalla.  If you’re curious to read more about the method behind my madness, give it a skim.  Thanks very much to Randolph Carter for an excellently conducted interview.


I have formally welcomed myself to the bygone era of 4 weeks ago and picked up a copy of Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS.

Despite Yahtzee panning the game, I actually ended up grabbing it on his inadvertent recommendation, because simply the concept of a game where you can summon tens of thousands of items out of thin air to solve simple (sometimes physics-based) puzzles is an incredible exercise for the imagination I couldn’t pass up.

The game is not without its flaws.  The physics are very simple and sometimes can be spoofed or messed up.  The movement method of the main character is flawed in that you trigger movement by touching your stylus against an unoccupied portion of the screen, and when you’re trying to manipulate something it’s easy to miss.  If what you tapped happens to be empty air over a lava pit, that’s generally a fatal mistake.

Also, the developers really weren’t doing us any favors to have the camera automatically re-center itself on the main character after a period of time because it could be that the player  is trying to do something, the camera moves, they tap their stylus where it didn’t belong, and now the avatar is hurtling at breakneck speed to a meeting with death.

I think the very achievement of the balance in the game is perhaps  a bit overly forgiving as well.  Earning currency in the game (“ollars”) is only useful for unlocking three things: the next set of levels, musical tracks, and avatars (which allow you to change your basic appearance to something other than a lad wearing a strange hat).

Outside of the advanced mode (which repeat the same stage 3 times but require different words), there’s no real restriction on summoning the same thing over and over again to solve your problems.  It might have been a bit more interesting if they had you instead spend your ollars on what you summon, with higher costs being assigned to more useful, obvious, powerful, or frequently summoned things.

Consequently, the main achievement mechanic in the game is not so much earning ollers as it is discovering combinations of words which produce more useful tools for you to use.  The use of the examine mode will uncover many such discoveries when completing the prefab stages.  If you type in “boulder” or “large boulder”, you’re probably not going to get what you want, but later on when you stumble across a “huge boulder” you’ll have gained something useful in discovering the term.

That said, Scribblenauts is nonetheless thoroughly entertaining, owing primarily to absolutely gut-busting amusement to be found from watching the products of your imagination ravage the stages.  I might need something burnt and end up putting a pyro in the same room with some napalm.  I might need something moved and end up utilizing the attraction of dingos to babies to accomplish this.  Even my failures are often a source of considerable schadenfreude (though it’s often a “you would have had to have been there” situation to appreciate the humor).

Given a self-imposed limit to try not to summon the same things too often, Scribblenauts can be quite a brain bender.  Whether or not you care for how challenging it is, it’s a perpetual delight to see that more often than not the developers did think to add whatever simple noun you are thinking of to the game, and often including some realistic, surprising, or amusing behavior.

There’s also level building functionality which can be shared over the DS’s wifi capabilities.  I could even run this game in a foreign language mode (Spanish, Portuguese, or French) and memorize quite a few nouns through practice.  Overall, I’m feeling I’ve made a good investment in entertainment buck.