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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Skyrim: Enchanting Guide

Enchanting is different than Alchemy in that, in order to enchant, you have to learn the enchantment you want to apply. It's also different than alchemy in that it uses one resource rather than many kinds of ingredients.

The basics of it are that you use the trap the soul spell (or buy/steal full soul gems) to trap the souls of enemies you kill in soul gems. You then use these soul gems to empower weapons and armor to have magical effects. You can also use charged soul gems to recharge enchanted items that use charges.

Like alchemy, the success and power of enchantments is determined by your enchanting skill, the quality of the soul gem, the power of the soul trapped, and any perks you might have.

It's useful to do the quest "The Black Star" to get Azuras Shard, a soul gem that can be reused. It can also be used as a cheap recharge for your weapons as you can summon a monster, trap its soul in Azura's Shard, and then use the power to recharge your weapons.

The Grind: The easiest way to grind enchanting is to recharge items from soul gems. The reason is that you can use petty soul gems, which are easy to get, and don't generate a large amount of waste items. You can also craft rings and amulets to sell. As with Alchemy, the more expensive the item is, the more enchanting skill you gain (I believe this is the change in value, so enchanting a super expensive sword won't get you any more value than enchanting an iron dagger). The ring and amulet method is good because if gives you valuable gold. The college of Winterhold sells soul gems, full and empty, and is a good "base of operations" for grinding.

Enchants you want to make sure you get soon after starting the grind:
Soul Trap (Saves you precious mana and time if your weapon soul traps for you, especially if you are like me and never remember to cast the stupid spell.)
Banish Daedra (Good profit enchantment, use on looted weapons and sell them to vendors)
Fear (good profit enchantment, use on looted weapons and sell them to vendors)
Fortify One-Handed (enchant rings and sell to vendors)
Fortify Two-Handed (enchant rings and sell to vendors)
Fortify Alchemy (useful for breaking the game with the fortify chains mentioned in the breaking the game post earlier)
Fortify Smithing (useful for breaking the game with the fortify chains mentioned in the breaking the game post earlier)


Gem Type
Creature Level
Petty
< Level 4
Lesser
< Level 16
Common < Level 28
Greater < Level 38
Grand All creatures
Azura's Star
Reusable Soul Gem
Black Soul Gem
All humanoids

Soul GemCharge

  • Petty – 150
  • Lesser – 300
  • Common – 800
  • Greater – 1200
  • Grand – 1600

Petty Soul Gem

Souls from the Creatures below will fit into a Petty Soul Gem.

Lesser Soul Gem

Souls from the Creatures below will fit into a Lesser Soul Gem.

Common Soul Gem

Souls from the Creatures below will fit into a Common Soul Gem.

Greater Soul Gem

Souls from the Creatures below will fit into a Greater Soul Gem.

Grand Soul Gem

Souls from the Creatures below will fit into a Grand Soul Gem.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Skyrim: Breaking Smithing, Alchemy, and Enchanting

I posted a brief guide on Alchemy, but how do you get some really screwed up and super powerful effects out of crafting? By breaking the system.

The idea behind it is simple enough. In Morrowind, where Alchemy was the only useful crafting skill, you could make fortify intellect potions that increased your effective Alchemy level, and then make more fortify intellect potions, which would be more powerful, drink them, and repeat. Skyrim's system works similarly, except that it is spread over three skills.

The basics of it are similar enough to Morrowind. You use the skills to enchance the skills, but instead of fortifying the same skill, you fortify both of the other two skills, and then switch to another skill, fortify the other two, switch to the third, fortify the other two, until you reach a point where there's no additional benefit. So, you make potions of fortify smithing and fortify enchanting, then use enchanting to buff two sets of gear that fortify smithing and fortify alchemy, then use smithing to make two sets of gear that fortify enchanting and fortify alchemy.

Simple enough of an exploit, eh?
-VG

Monday, November 21, 2011

More Skyrim Alchemy

Probably renting Skyrim later today, if I can find a copy (not having luck in that department), but I've been looking over information like mad to see what I'm missing in the mean time.

Grinding Alchemy is actually fairly simple, but time consuming. Alchemy skill increases in proportion to the value of the potion made. Since potions made with different items at different skills have different values, its hard to make a comprehensive list. The simplest way to grind it is to find a alchemy vendor with an alchemist table (I have heard the one by Whiterun is nice), buy up ingredients, make expensive potions, sell them, rest until their stock and gold are reset, and repeat.

In the beginning you will be more limited to what potions you can make, because you will not know most of the alchemy component's effects. As you grind, it will become easier to make potions (because you know more ingredient effects) but harder to level up (because of diminishing returns/higher xp requirements). A list of ingredients and effects is at the bottom of this post. The best potions are the most expensive (when you combine but before you craft it gives you a price). Potions with two or more effects are much more expensive than potions with single effects. Do yourself a favor and grind speechcraft at the same time.


Nice Potions to Grind (Some prices may vary; values are what the alchemy craft gives you, not the actual sell price)
Fortify Health (Value: 197; Ingredients: Blue Mountain Flower, Wheat)
Fortify Magicka (Value: 186; Ingredients: Red Mountain Flower, Briar Heart)
Damage Stamina Regen (Value: 285; Ingredients: Histcarp, Wheat)
Resist Frost (Value: 156; Ingredients: Purple Mountain Flower, Thistle Branch)
Resist Poison (Value: 167; Ingredients; Garlic, Troll Fat)
Damage Health: (Value: 226; Ingredients Red Mountain Flower, River Betty)

Damage Stamina Regen (Value: 1000-4000; Ingredients: Giant's Toe, Wheat)

Consequently; a smart alchemist makes potions that help him fight...that's the whole point of the discipline. Enjoy!

So that should get you started. As promised the list of items.

  • Cure Disease (Charred Skeever Hide, Hawk Feathers, Mudcrab Chitin, Vampire Dust)
  • Damage Health (Crimson Nirnroot, Deathbell, Ectoplasm, Falmer Ear, Human Flesh, Human Heart, Imp Stool, Jarrin Root, Nightshade, Nirnroot, Red Mountain Flower, River Betty, Skeever Tail, Small Antlers, Troll Fat, Void Salts)
  • Damage Magicka (Butterfly Wing, Chaurus Eggs, Daedra Heart, Eye of Sabre Cat, Glow Dust, Hagraven Feathers, Hanging Moss, Human Heart, Jarrin Root, Luna Moth Wing, Namira's Rot, Nordic Barnacle)
  • Damage Magicka Regen (Bear Claws, Blue Butterfly Wing, Blue Mountain Flower, Chicken's Egg, Glow Dust, Hanging Moss, Human Heart, Jarrin Root, Nightshade, Spider Egg, Spriggan Sap)
  • Damage Stamina (Blisterwort, Blue Butterfly Wing, Bone Meal, Canis Root, Crimson Nirnroot, Cyrodilic Spadetail, Giant's Toe, Jarrin Root, Nirnroot, Rock Warbler Egg, Spider Egg)
  • Damage Stamina Regen (Creep Cluster, Daedra Heart, Frost Mirriam, Giant's Toe, Histcarp, Juniper Berries, Large Antlers, Silverside Perch, Skeever Tail, Wheat)
  • Fear (Blue Dartwing, Cyrodilic Spadetail, Daedra Heart, Namira's Rot, Powdered Mammoth Tusk)
  • Fortify Alteration (Grass Pod, River Betty, Spriggan Sap)
  • Fortify Barter (Butterfly Wing, Dragon's Tongue, Hagraven Claw, Tundra Cotton)
  • Fortify Block (Bleeding Crown, Briar Heart, Honeycomb, Pearl, Slaughterfish Scales, Tundra Cotton)
  • Fortify Carry Weight (Creep Cluster, Giant's Toe, Hawk Beak, River Betty, Scaly Pholiata, Wisp Wrappings)
  • Fortify Conjuration (Blue Butterfly Wing, Blue Mountain Flower, Bone Meal, Frost Salts, Hagraven Feathers, Lavender)
  • Fortify Destruction (Beehive Husk, Ectoplasm, Glow Dust, Glowing Mushroom, Nightshade, Wisp Wrappings)
  • Fortify Enchanting (Blue Butterfly Wing, Hagraven Claw, Snowberries, Spriggan Sap)
  • Fortify Health (Bear Claws, Blue Mountain Flower, Giant's Toe, Glowing Mushroom, Hanging Moss, Wheat)
  • Fortify Heavy Armor (Ice Wraith Teeth, Sabre Cat Tooth, Slaughterfish Scales, Thistle Branch, White Cap)
  • Fortify Illusion (Dragon's Tongue, Dwarven Oil, Mora Tapinella, Scaly Pholiata, Taproot)
  • Fortify Light Armor (Beehive Husk, Hawk Feathers, Honeycomb, Luna Moth Wing, Skeever Tail)
  • Fortify Lockpicking (Falmer Ear, Namira's Rot, Pine Thrush Egg, Spider Egg)
  • Fortify Magicka (Briar Heart, Ectoplasm, Histcarp, Jazbay Grapes, Red Mountain Flower, Tundra Cotton, Void Salts)
  • Fortify Marksman (Canis Root, Elves Ear, Juniper Berries, Spider Egg)
  • Fortify One-Handed (Bear Claws, Canis Root, Hanging Moss, Hawk Feathers, Rock Warbler Egg, Small Pearl)
  • Fortify Pickpocket (Blue Dartwing, Nordic Barnacle, Orange Dartwing, Slaughterfish Egg)
  • Fortify Restoration (Abecean Longfin, Cyrodilic Spadetail, Salt Pile, Small Antlers, Small Pearl)
  • Fortify Smithing (Blisterwort, Glowing Mushroom, Sabre Cat Tooth, Spriggan Sap)
  • Fortify Sneak (Abecean Longfin, Beehive Husk, Frost Mirriam, Hawk Feathers, Human Flesh, Powdered Mammoth Tusk, Purple Mountain Flower)
  • Fortify Stamina (Chaurus Eggs, Garlic, Large Antlers, Lavender, Slaughterfish Egg, Torchbug Thorax)
  • Fortify Two-handed (Dragon's Tongue, Fly Amanita, Troll Fat) - Possibly other ingredients
  • Frenzy (Blisterwort, Falmer Ear, Fly Amanita, Hagraven Feathers, Human Heart, Troll Fat)
  • Invisibility (Chaurus Eggs, Crimson Nirnroot, Ice Wraith Teeth, Luna Moth Wing, Nirnroot, Vampire Dust)
  • Lingering Damage Health (Imp Stool, Mora Tapinella, Orange Dartwing, Slaughterfish Egg, Slaughterfish Scales)
  • Lingering Damage Magicka (Hagraven Claw, Purple Mountain Flower, Swamp Fungal Pod, Torchbug Thorax, Wheat)
  • Lingering Damage Stamina (Butterfly Wing, Chicken's Egg, Nightshade, Small Antlers)
  • Paralysis (Briar Heart, Canis Root, Human Flesh, Imp Stool, Swamp Fungal Pod)
  • Ravage Health (Cyrodilic Spadetail, Eye of Sabre Cat, Giant Lichen, Jazbay Grapes, Silverside Perch, Skeever Tail)
  • Ravage Magicka (Frost Mirriam, Grass Pod, Lavender, Orange Dartwing, Red Mountain Flower, White Cap)
  • Ravage Stamina (Bee, Bone Meal, Deathbell, Honeycomb, Thistle Branch)
  • Regenerate Health (Garlic, Juniper Berries, Luna Moth Wing, Namira's Rot, Nordic Barnacle, Vampire Dust)
  • Regenerate Magicka (Dwarven Oil, Fire Salts, Garlic, Jazbay Grapes, Moon Sugar, Salt Pile, Taproot)
  • Regenerate Stamina (Bee, Fly Amanita, Mora Tapinella, Scaly Pholiata)
  • Resist Fire (Bone Meal, Dragon's Tongue, Elves Ear, Fire Salts, Fly Amanita, Mudcrab Chitin, Snowberries)
  • Resist Frost (Frost Mirriam, Frost Salts, Hawk Beak, Moon Sugar, Purple Mountain Flower, Silverside Perch, Slaughterfish Scales, Small Pearl, Snowberries, Thistle Branch)
  • Resist Magic (Bleeding Crown, Chicken's Egg, Crimson Nirnroot, Hagraven Claw, Lavender, Nirnroot, Tundra Cotton, Void Salts, Wisp Wrappings)
  • Resist Poison (Beehive Husk, Charred Skeever Hide, Falmer Ear, Garlic, Grass Pod, Mudcrab Chitin, Slaughterfish Egg, Thistle Branch, Troll Fat)
  • Resist Shock (Blue Dartwing, Glow Dust, Glowing Mushroom, Hawk Beak, Pearl, Pine Thrush Egg, Snowberries, Swamp Fungal Pod)
  • Restore Health (Blisterwort, Blue Dartwing, Blue Mountain Flower, Butterfly Wing, Charred Skeever Hide, Daedra Heart, Eye of Sabre Cat, Imp Stool, Rock Warbler Egg, Swamp Fungal Pod, Wheat)
  • Restore Magicka (Briar Heart, Creep Cluster, Dwarven Oil, Ectoplasm, Elves Ear, Fire Salts, Frost Salts, Giant Lichen, Grass Pod, Human Flesh, Moon Sugar, Mora Tapinella, Pearl, Red Mountain Flower, Taproot, Vampire Dust, White Cap)
  • Restore Stamina (Bear Claws, Bee, Charred Skeever Hide, Eye of Sabre Cat, Hawk Beak, Histcarp, Honeycomb, Large Antlers, Mudcrab Chitin, Orange Dartwing, Pearl, Pine Thrush Egg, Powdered Mammoth Tusk, Purple Mountain Flower, Sabre Cat Tooth, Silverside Perch, Small Pearl, Torchbug Thorax, Wisp Wrappings)
  • Slow (Deathbell, Large Antlers, River Betty, Salt Pile)
  • Waterbreathing (Chicken's Egg, Histcarp, Nordic Barnacle)
  • Weakness to Fire (Bleeding Crown, Frost Salts, Ice Wraith Teeth, Juniper Berries, Moon Sugar, Powdered Mammoth Tusk)
  • Weakness to Frost (Abecean Longfin, Elves Ear, Fire Salts, Ice Wraith Teeth, White Cap)
  • Weakness to Magic (Creep Cluster, Dwarven Oil, Jazbay Grapes, Rock Warbler Egg, Salt Pile, Scaly Pholiata, Taproot, Torchbug Thorax)
  • Weakness to Poison (Abecean Longfin, Bleeding Crown, Chaurus Eggs, Deathbell, Giant Lichen, Pine Thrush Egg, Sabre Cat Tooth, Small Antlers)
  • Weakness to Shock (Bee, Giant Lichen, Hagraven Feathers, Void Salts)
-VG

Friday, November 18, 2011

Paradox Interactive and Multiplayer Modes

I'm a big fan of games like Entropia Univeralis and Hearts of Iron 3, as well as their developer, Paradox Interactive. Sure we've had our ins and outs, but their games are very solid, fun, and deep. There's one huge problem with them, in my opinion, and that is multiplayer. The problems with multiplayer stem from two areas: length of gameplay and no defined goals.

Length of gameplay isn't always a bad thing, but given that Hearts of Iron 3 runs from 1936 through 1948, there's a lot of game there. Most multiplayer games start in medias res between 1939 and 1942, but that's still a lot of gameplay. Add in the need for a constant speed to facilitate multiplayer, and you have a lot of time commitment for multiplayer to work. The large scope of the single player game is the best part, in my opinion, and multiplayer just makes that drag on. Usually playing single player I will divide it between several long gameplay sessions, or dozens of shorter ones. Entropia Universalis is even worse, as its timeframe spans four hundred years.

Lack of defined goals is another big issue for multiplayer. It usually comes down to eliminating all the other players by any means necessary. Hearts of Iron 3 gets around this by assigning goals to each of the factions, which helps somewhat, but Entropia Universalis doesn't have that benefit. This means that multiplayer games drift between aimlessness and utter destruction. Which is a slight bit better than games where one side gets an advantage and the other side is doomed from there out.

That said, the time commitment is a worse problem than the lack of goals. Players can always come up with goals, but they cannot do much to limit the time needed for the game. Sins of a Solar Empire suffers the same problem, even though it is a fun game, multiplayer is torture.

Just some thoughts
-VG

Webcomic Review: Loaded Dice

In our first ever review of a webcomic, I have chosen a recent addition to my reading list: Loaded Dice written by Olan Suddeth and drawn by Brittany Connolly.


(Image is property of Loaded Dice and its creators; click to link to their comic)

Loaded dice is a webcomic about a group of D&D players and their sadistic DM (I might be generalizing a bit there). Currently the group is on their second adventure, where beastmen have been their primary adversaries, and Steve, the DM, is up to his old tricks. I won't ruin any of the fun for you, but it is a good read, especially for someone with a sadistic DM streak in them, like myself.

Overall the artwork is solid. There is a good level of detail, and the characters are well and uniquely drawn. The only thing I find lacking is real differences between the fantasy and the reality pannels, but that is an aesthetic difference, and one up to individual taste. I like to see visual differences between "the real world" and "the fantasy world." This is something done better, in my opinion, by the original artist, Tiana Jackson, than the current one, Brittany Connolly, but as I said, it is a matter of taste (no offense to you, Brittany, I still think the artwork is good, and a far cry from anything I could dream of attempting).

The writing is also solid. I don't think there's anything exemplary here, its pretty standard fare as far as DMing goes. The writing does, however, recreate that feeling of a D&D session admirably. The tense moments rolling dice, the sadistic DM behind his screen of doom, and the very diverse group of characters. These characters each have their own foibles, but they are also fairly deep (insofar as 80 comics can show us). The puns are....terrible, however. That's kinda the point, and I do love the cheesiness of them.

Now for my arbitrary rating system:

I will rate comics in four categories: Major Plot, that is how the comics connect to one another in a complete sense, Minor Plot, that is how the individual comics stand up on their own (this is a serial work), Artistry (that is the overall beauty of the artwork), and Comic Art (how the artwork works with the comic).

Major Plot: 6 out of 10: The major plot is very good, and feels like a D&D module, as well it should. The one issue I have is that most of the suspense is put into the individual panels, and I feel more can be done between pages to fill out the suspense.

Minor Plot: 7 out of 10: Usually this is very good, most comics have a joke or two, and each bit is able to stand on its own. The use of suspense within each page is good.

Artistry: 8 out of 10: I'm not a great judge of art, but this comic looks good. The characters are realistic looking, and the fantasy elements are fleshed out beautifully.

Comic Art: 6 out of 10: While it looks good, I question how well it works with its subject matter. The first few pages of the adventure look amazingly epic, but that tone dies down swiftly into a more solid and reliable form. High Fantasy, to me, needs that epicness in it somewhere, and it isn't delivered enough in my opinion.

Total Score: 27 out of 40: A better than average webcomic that I think all D&D junkies should read.

That's it for now, until next time
-VG

Skyrim: Here Be Dragons

Okay, since I saw the commercials for it, something has bothered me about Skyrim. That thing is the frequency of dragon fights. Having still not played it (trying to justify the expense still, bear in mind I'm married so I have a partner to convince), I'm uncertain of how it impacts gameplay, but talking to several people that have, they certainly do appear a lot.

Dragons appearing a lot is a big burr in my saddle. Dragons are epic monsters that any Dungeon Master knows make a dramatic encounter, but loose all appeal if they are overused. When I see people posting that they've killed five or seven dragons and haven't gotten far in the plot, it worries me about the fun of the game. Dragons should not be lemmings to be killed at leisure, but they are dramatic and awesome. There's a balance there, and I think that Skyrim gets it right...or is just beyond right and on the overused side.

The reason I think this is because the dragon fights (at least the videos I've seen) are beautiful. The dragon does flyby breath attacks, screams in to fight on the ground, and is a hard encounter. This is great, as it makes the dragons a big threat, and a fun fight. Nothing is more boring than spamming a mouse click for ten minutes with a monster standing in front of you. Dragons moving around, using different attacks, and hitting and taking hits that are hard is amazing.

Now the big detractor is the ease of finding a dragon (seems like you just have to go to certain areas to find their spawns) and the frequency of their appearance (like I said, 7 dragons in a short period of gameplay). Dragons in games like WoW are still big encounters because 1. they are usually elites and need a group (talking real dragons here, not dragonkin), and 2. they are fairly rare. Dragons are bosses...at least dragons bigger than whelps. Heck, a good number of the hostile dragons in the game are raid bosses (including the delicious Zomnyxia battle...undead dragons ftw). Skyrim doesn't give this feel IMHO. They are common enough in the game that its not a surprise to be attacked by one...well, not any more than being attacked by random big bad #3 at least.

I'm starting to rant, so I will stop now...I will definately have to rent Skyrim soon if I don't buy it outright, just to get a fix.
-VG

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thoughts on Webcomics

Going to briefly chat about webcomics. it seems these days that everyone has one, and they all increase the popularity of a site by a large amount, or at least that is what it appears to me. Now, most of these people, at least those with the most hits, are good artists, good writers, and have a good reason to have webcomics on their site. Others, however, do not.

There are numerous examples of "good" webcomics, but it is ultimately up to taste. I vastly prefer story to art (though exceptionally crappy art is a turn off), and as such, I prefer the works of Somer (Least I could Do, Looking For Group, and The Gutters), Rich Burlew (probably spelled that wrong of Order of the Stick), Rob and Xin (of Erfworld), and, of course, Thunt (of Goblins). Now all of these have both amazing art and great story (especially the level of detail in erfworld). It really takes both to be super succesful, and these guys have it.

But what about those who lack one or the other? Simply put, you can overcome badish art, but you cannot replace a good storyline. The story is what keeps people coming back every few days to read more.

I'm considering doing a comic spotlight now...especially grabbing those lesser known comics, and criticizing them. I think I'll do it, but not tonight.

Anyway, rambling now so I will stop. If you know of a good comic you think I should see leave a comment, and if anyone is looking for a good writer, let me know.

Thanks
-VG

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Academic Articles Suck

Okay, for those of you who do not know, I am finishing up my Masters Degree in English. As such, I am deeply immersed in an exit requirement writing academic papers. These papers have me looking through dozens of academic articles and I'm frankly annoyed by it all. Don't get me wrong, I respect the field, I respect the opinions of these article writers, but I feel that they are being overly verbose about their subjects.

I can appreciate being precise, but its ludicrous to spend half a page on a thesis statement that isn't very clear at all. Maybe if it was clearer I wouldn't get so angry, but having to read, and then reread an article just to see whether or not it is even relevant to my argument sucks. Especially considering that most article writers believe that a heavy handed vocabulary makes them seem smarter. This is especially infuriating when the article writer assumes that you have read the same sources they use, instead of being able to place the source within their own work. I know that I never would have gotten away with writing a paper in which I cited a source and said the equivalent of "well, you should have read this source if you are interested in my article, so I'm going to make some obscure reference to it, and you will have to read the source to get how it applies to my argument."

Which brings me to my next rant...the whole edifice of academia is a lie. A typical paper in any discipline, except maybe sciences that have experimentation as their subject, is based on rhetoric, referencing other works to gain credibility. These works, in turn, have referenced more credible works to gain credibility, and so on. It makes the equivalent of a google search spiral, where people wanting high google ratings would make dozens of blog sites that link to one another, and since google rates a page based on the rating of pages that link to it, the whole thing grows exponentially. Then all you need to do is link your real page to the farmed pages, and viola; instant high ranked page (though I think they've modified their crawlers since this scam was popular). Academia is no different, it is endless stacking of credibility on sources that are only credible because their sources are credible, which are credible because their sources in turn are credible. Eventually it goes back far enough that the "credible" sources are major players in academics...but they got there the same way, by being "credible" by association with former "credible" sources. It's all a pointless lie built upon a lie.

The point I'm trying to make is that, no matter how valid your opinion, if you cannot support it by the arbitrarily credible sources, then your opinion is invalidated by academia. It's a pointlessly stupid practice, and yet this is how our colleges are built. The only real knowledge seems to come from the sciences, and even those are spoiled by opinion and speculation (don't get me started on climate change and evolution, I know you don't have all day to read the wall of text that would ensue.)

Anyway, mostly bitching because I am tired of reading these articles...oh well, back to work.
-VG

Alchemy in Skyrim

I've yet to play Skyrim, both because of lack of time and because I cannot justify the cost for a game that will have the same playability in six months when it will be twenty dollars cheaper at least (even more if I get it used from gamestop like I do for most of my games). However, I've been looking over the crafting even further, and have some thoughts.

First, I'm glad that the game allows you to make and use poisons. Don't get me wrong, you could make "poisons" in Morrowind, but you could only use them on yourself, which made them pointless (most of the "poisons" were just bad secondary effects for good potions). Not to mention the Purity perk which removes helpful stats from poisons and hurtful ones from potions. All in all, a solid improvement to the system.

Secondly, I'm glad that the intellect stacking problem has been solved by removing fortify intellect from the list of potions (at least that I've seen, I could be wrong). In Morrowind, you could make intellect potions, drink them, and make more. This would increase your effective alchemy level, because its intellect based. Also, since your alchemy screen paused the world, you could abuse the low duration of those first potions. It's quite beautiful in its simplicity, but also terribly game breaking when you have buffs that last for 8 years and fortify your skills and attributes (which should have a base max of 100) to millions.

In terms of a guide for alchemy being here, sorry I don't have the knowledge to help you. However, I can point you in the right direction. There are countless guides that show the herbs and the effects each has. After that, you just have to match two herbs that provide the effect without having an adverse effect matching as well. Then make your potions, the higher the alchemy skill the better the potion.

Have fun
-VG

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Skyrim Crafting

Okay, I've been trying hard to avoid outright buying what I feel are overpriced new games ($60 is a lot of money for someone on a budget), but Skyrim might break my will. The reason is not the dragons, the fact its Elder Scrolls, or the overall gameplay....but the crafting.

If you've read this blog you know I am a proponent of crafting in RPGs. While I haven't played Skyrim yet, descriptions from my friends and reading about it online has me believing that they have taken the alchemy system from Morrowind and made it much better. In addition they have added back enchanting, and various smithing/tanning/etc stuff as well. Is it perfect? Probably not, but it is definately a step in the right direction (over not having a crafting system at all). This sounds awesome...even more awesome than fighting dragons.

Brief thoughts, but I'm still debating getting the game now or waiting for a price drop/someone to sell it to gamestop to get it at a discount.
-VG

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More On Economics Games

I was thinking more on economic games, and I have realized that it is a bigger genre than I originally thought. It seems to be made of a couple kinds of games: Trading games, production games, and a hybrid of the two.

Trading games are pretty self explanatory. You take the role of a merchant or trading empire, and you move goods from place to place to make profit (alternatively if this is a stock style game, you buy and sell stocks). These games are your space merchants, port royale, and the like. You don't care where goods are made, so long as you can trade them to make money. It does you good to have production facilities run out of raw materials because it will drive the price up. Your goals are to become richer, and that is about it.

Production games are the opposite. You have facilities that make things that you need raw materials for. Sometimes you will have to make farms and the like to produce these items, but more likely you will "trade" for them, usually in the form of an expense on your balance sheet and little else. Your money comes from the "value added" by refining/reprocessing the materials that enter your facility.

The hybrid version of this incorporates some of both. You are a merchant, but you can own production buildings. Because of this, you have to take an active role in supplying your facility, either by offering higher buy prices than average or by bringing the goods to your facility yourself. However, you can also can ensure the best price by selling them where they are really needed.

The game I desire is in the hybrid sphere because it is interesting. You are getting two or more games in one; the trading and the production game, as well as the hybrid areas. I'd prefer a space based game, but am not that picky.
-VG

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Economy Games

I've been playing a lot of economic games lately, Capitalism, Imperialism 2, being a trade empire in Europa Universalis 3...and I've found it all extremely lacking in that something that I am interested in.

I used to play Space Merchant, a game that is now Space Merchant Empires...it was fun, but now there are too few players for me to be interested in it. The best part was moving stuff from trade station to trade station, being able to take over and build stuff on planets, and constantly improving your ship and stuff.

There simply isn't a single player game that recreates this gameplay. X3 Terran Conflict comes close, but it is not a very well optimized game, and lags badly on my systems (including my desktop which is not so far behind current gen as to not be able to run that kind of game. There are games like Port Royale 2, which at least allows you to own businesses in addition ot being a dynamic trading game...

Oh well, I will keep looking. I'd like to be a single player in a dynamic world. Basically all the fun of the multiplayer games but able to do so without an internet connection, or dealing with people wanting to be complete assholes.

cheers
-VG

Friday, November 4, 2011

On Pandas

Frickin Pandas.

When I started playing Warcraft 3, there were no Pandas. When one made an appearance in the multiplayer and "founding of orgrimmar" parts, I thought it was funny and a nice hero to have in a party.

I did not think "hey, I want to have these things running all around my MMORPG"

Don't get me wrong, pandas are cute. The Chen's empty keg quest was a lovely piece of lore, but the whole reason they were interesting is because they were rare. I think you had the one in the bonus campaign in WC3 and the unlockable one during the rescue Illidan quest. They were rare, and because of that, they were interesting (as stated). Much like Jedi should have been in SWG, it should have been something you see rarely, but never en masse.

Now, since this is an MMORPG, there's no good way of limiting availability of something without people getting mad that they didn't have an opportunity to get it. I'm okay with it being unlockable through a time-intensive and difficult quest chain (as fewer people will have access to it), but tell me that on day 1 of this expansion we won't be inundated with panda DKs and panda monks everywhere. Imagine the DKs we had when WOTLK came out....every 2 minutes the faction leader yelled his "welcome the death knights" speech. It was annoying. Now we will have "welcome the brother panda" speech.

Don't get me started on the either or faction thing. At least most of the time when someone is coming you can roughly tell which side they are on. Now if you see a panda panda-ing down the road (wtf mount will be both asian and big enough to hold them? Or will it be the worgen solution?) you don't know if he's going to give you a bear hug or kill you with a bear hug.

And monks being healers? Seriously? Why not make them evasion-heavy tanks if you're going to do anything. Give them a stance or style or something that increases armor and stamina like a druid's bear form, and their evasion. That's much more monk-like than "my chi heals you" My opinion of course.

End of Rant, as you were
-VG

Thursday, October 6, 2011

On Facebook Games

Anyone who has been on facebook longer than three seconds has gotten a Farmville, Frontierville, or something-else-ville invitation, or request to give your friend some random piece of trash to help them build something in their game. Usually these games are fairly poorly designed, but the quick rewards you can get in some cases, and forced competition make it very addictive, especially for social media users who may not be serious gamers.

For those of you who haven't played these sorts of games I will briefly explain them. These games all have a solo portion, where you use energy, or some other resource that means the same thing, to perform actions in your city/farm/whatever. You can build stuff, plant stuff, do a lot of different actions within your little world. You can also "visit" your neighbors (essentially viewing their single-player city or whatever) to help them out (doing actions that either they cannot, like reviving dead crops, or actions they can without an energy cost to them). Finally, you will reach a point where you have to build or buy something to expand your city/farm/whatever that will require either random loot (most of which you will not have) or a certain number of friends to agree to help out. So you have to spam your friends with requests until you get the required number of items or people to agree. Most of the time you can use an item-store like mechanic which uses a second in-game currency (which differs from game to game but seems present in all of them) to buy the requirements. You typically get one unit of this currency per level, but you can always buy a lot more with real cash.

The net result of this is that your friends get constant spam for stuff to help you play your game. People also usually befriend people they do not know that happen to play that same game, usually en masse. I'm not aware of anyone who just buys a massive amount of in-game currency, but I know they exist because most retailers sell either generic facebook cash cards or specific ones (for farmville and frontierville for sure). It also has the result of these not really feeling like games but political ads. I don't want to have to recruit people I don't know (and giving them access to my profile information) just to get ahead in a game. I'm also against using real money to get advantages in games.

The way these games spread, however, is through those requests. You send them to friends who don't play, and if they like the idea of the game, or just want to help you, they register, and start the vicious cycle over again. These games spread by referral and make money by their cash shop (and advertising of course). Because of this they are like a social disease, but one I wouldn't mind if they were of a higher quality.

Someone needs to develop a facebook game that doesn't require you to recruit friends to advance, and where real money gives only cosmetic or minor changes. The problem is that this ignores the advantages of social network games, in that, if you recruit others to help you play the game, the game spreads and makes its developers richer.

Just some thoughts.
-VG

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On Abandonware

There's a growing trend among gamers of my generation to download and play, usually on emulation programs, the games we grew up playing. Star Wars Rebellion is one example of this, though there are many others. Typically these games are classified as "Abandonware" because it is believed that their developers have abandoned the selling of these games, and so do not have a claim on the copyright for those games, allowing them to be downloaded for free without concerns about being sued.

While the legality of this issue has been in question for some time, and I do not believe it has been decided in a court, this is indeed illegal at this time. Video Games are considered "Intellectual Property" and the copyright expires 100 years after the game is published. In other words, a long time from now, even for the first games. Like illegally downloaded music, you run the risk if you download a game, even abandonware.

The crux of the issue is that it is unlikely that most companies will pursue legal actions. Some developers, like Sierra, do not exist as corporate entities anymore, and others have been bought out and absorbed by bigger companies. This may mean their copyrights are owned by non-existent corporate entities. It may also mean that they are owned by giants that have whole teams of lawyers waiting to pounce on you. The net result is that it is illegal, but whether or not you will get sued over it is in the air.

Just some thoughts.
-VG

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Customer is Rarely Right

Having worked retail for five, going on six years, I'm more than a bit cynical about it. Okay, I'm extraordinarily cynical about it. Okay, I'm extraordinarily cynical about everything, but even more so about working retail. Anyway, after a nice long shift today I'm thoroughly convinced that the guy who propagated the phrase "The Customer is Always Right" has committed major crimes against humanity.

Why do I think this? Well, because customers have become a race of self-absorbed, self-entitled assholes. They believe that service clerks should sprinkle rose petals and roll out the red carpet for them (figuratively of course) and every other customer should be ignored so they can be helped first. It would be a tragedy if they had to put something back on the same shelf they put it up from. In short, they act like animals instead of people...spoiled animals at that.

Maybe its because I've worked retail so long, but if I don't want something I have picked up, I put it back where it belongs. If I knock down a stack of items, I put them back on the shelf. If something is more expensive than I think it should be, I don't bitch about it for a half hour. I do not have kids, but I would certainly not stand idly by while they screamed and ran up and down isles, knocked down or destroyed stuff, and acted like rabid dogs rather than children.

The very sad thing is that I don't think any of this is that extraordinary. When did this stuff stop being the norm? At what point did people knock stuff down and not think they should pick it up, or that a random shelf somewhere is not the place they should return random items to? The biggest one, though, is when did it become okay to treat cashiers and clerks like shit?

I'm not even talking about holidays, or black Friday (both of which are usually deplorable times that show the worst possible cases of these things). Today there was part of an end-cap with a foot of empty space. No less than ten times I removed a pile of random crap from that same section, and ten times it was filled up again with crap. Not to mention dozens of kids that were left without parents. One little girl rode a display bike around the racks for thirty minutes without a parent in sight. I'm very surprised that pedophiles don't "shop" for their marks at our store.

Thinking about it further, I hate seeing this stuff as a customer. It makes me think that people really are self-absorbed pricks. I would pay a little more to shop at a store where their policy was to ask people who acted in such disruptive ways to leave and do their shopping somewhere else. I think this sort of a store would attract a lot of customers...mainly because nobody thinks they are a bad customer. I doubt it would stay in business very long, just because the talking heads of mass media wouldn't approve of one person being denied what they think is their right to shop in any store...when will people realize that whatever they want isn't a God given, or even State given right? You have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If you are American, you have the rights to freedom of speech, assembly, to bear arms etc., but nowhere in there is a right to be a dick.

Just my thoughts
-VG

Monday, September 26, 2011

On Transmogrification

Blizzard has announced that they will be adding the option to "Transmogrify" your arms and equipment in World of Warcraft (source). Essentially, this will, with some restrictions, allow you to change the models of your equipment so that your helm of awesome ugliness +50 can look like the pretty noob hat +1. This is, I think, one of Blizzard's finest moves in the chess game that is the MMORPG market. Especially considering that there hasn't been an announcement by Bioware about being able to do this in SWTOR.

Transmogrification works like this: You take two items, one with the appearance you want and one with the stats you want. They have to be compatible in the following ways: Same item slot (shoulders, wrists, main hand, off hand, 2h, shield etc) and same armor type (cloth, leather, mail, plate) or weapon type (mace, sword, dagger etc). Now you can also use the appearance of a 1h item on either MH or OF slots, which is nice, but most "cool" things (like turning your epic mace into a fish, or using the "invisible" models on a couple items) are restricted. One very nice thing you can do is use the appearance of any ranged weapon on any other ranged weapon. Mad that your +1000 gun of uberness isn't as pretty as the NightElf Bow of Prettiness? Now you can swap models and keep the stats. There is also the restriction on item quality. Legendary, and common (white or grey) items cannot be transmogrified. This means no turning you mages robes into a wedding dress or tuxedo, nor have the Thunderfury model for your swords.

I'm very eager to see this, because my one big complaint about WoW is the ugliness of most armor, unless you have a set. Now you can take any of the nice looking armor sets (or even pieces that look decent together) and combine them. The net effect is not looking like you got dressed in the dark in a clown's closet. SWG did something similar to this with the "equip appearance" option. The downside to this whole thing? You have to have the item whose model you want to use. This means that anything with a "cool" model (regardless of stats) will be rising in price rapidly.

Will it be effective? It really depends on how cheap it is and how well it responds to lag. The problem with MMORPGs and unique items is that the data for items is stored in databases, usually on the player-side of the equation. That's great for items with the same stats no matter what one you look at (100 identical Shifts of Sameness need 1 item datapoint). However, if you have unique items, or semi-unique items, then you have to store them on the server-side, or at least some instructions on them on the server side. So everytime you come across someone with a transmogrified item, you have an additional server call per item.

That may not sound too bad, but I remember Star Wars Galaxies and their epic lag, especially when entering a decorated house and opening inventory. The client called the server about dozens if not hundreds of items, each with unique stats. Now SWG was not efficiently made, as it could have been designed to send the info on what models are needed and the locations of the items and then stealth loaded the underlying stats and unique item ID underneath once the visual aspects were loaded.

In terms of WoW; imagine going into Stormwind or Ironforge, especially to the auction house (and if you don't think every bank alt will have transmogrified gear just for lols, think again). You are surrounded by twenty characters or more, each having at least a handful of transmogrified items...that amounts to dozens of server calls for specific information. As long as it is handled properly, lag should be managed...but WoW has always had a lot of lag in it. The spot I'm worried about it is in Battlegrounds.

Speaking of battlegrounds; I sincerely hope that Blizzard doesn't allow the lvl 60 pvp armor to be transmogrified. Imagine everyone running around in the Grand Marshal armor set...it would get annoying very fast. I also imagine that Death Knights will keep their "reward" set from the starting area as it is very iconic in terms of DKs.

In all, this is a buff for RP, and a great idea. I just hope the implementation is good enough and there's no lag associated with it.
-VG

Saturday, September 24, 2011

On MMOs and Maintaining Interest

I've been thinking about things for a little while, and I've come to realize that over the last few years, I have progressively spent less and less time in each MMO as I've played. My initial foray into SWG lasted over a year, as did my first experience with WOW. After that, Aion lasted maybe a month, as did FFXI, COH, and many others I wasted a lot of money purchasing. Even when returning to MMOs I enjoyed and played for a long time (such as Eve) my playtime will be around 1-3 months. My brief return to Eve just now lasted two months; three technically but I haven't "played" in at least 30 days. I'm considering going back to WoW, but unless I give myself some objectives, I will not stick with that very long either. Maybe SWTOR will keep it longer, but given what I've read I do not think so (me negative about SWTOR? Never!)

The question I am left with is: Why? Is this an evolution of myself as a gamer (in having less time as I am older, married, and working?) or evolution of the games I've played (WoW, SWG, and Eve have all undergone major changes since i played them extensively). To be honest...I'm not fully sure. I find that some of the single player games i have that lack depth are becoming less and less interesting as time goes on. Could be that these games are older and I've played them a lot, or it could be that games are slowly loosing interest to me.

I think that it is a combination of things. First, games are simplifying, especially those mentioned. Second, I am becoming more demanding of quality in games as I get older, particularly with the amount of trash that is being developed and pushed out. Is this a trend, or just me? Well I will never know. I see a lot of people complaining about the over simplification of games like WoW, and especially SWG, and this leads me to believe that I am not alone and that there is a major reduction in quality for most MMOs that is causing a backlash against the genre. SWTOR might stem the tide of this downturn, but I am not confident one title (even a Bioware one) can do so.

Time will tell.
-VG

SWG Last Days and SWTOR's Opening

Looking at the release date and SWG's last day of server operation; I have noticed the correlation. SWG is closing on 12/15/11 and SWTOR will ship on 12/20/11...just enough time for people to miss an MMO, but not enough to drive them to another MMORPG. Given LucasArt's involvement in the SWG shut-down (despite the "official word" from SOE, I doubt that LA had anything in mind but a December shutdown when they were "renegotiating") it is just too convenient.

Oh well, that's your conspiracy theory for a while. Enjoy
-VG

Friday, September 23, 2011

On Paradox Interactive

I've become enthralled recently by a handful of games by Paradox Interactive; a gaming company that seems to specialize in hopelessly complex simulation style games. I haven't been "in" to simulation games since my early years of playing the various Sim ____ titles by Maxis; but I find these Paradox games to be very attractive. They satisfy that "what if" need in the back of my head.

For example; Hearts of Iron 3 is a WW2 simulation...so what if the US got involved in the war in 1940? What if Belgium joined the Axis? What if the USSR never agreed to the non-aggression pact and allied with Poland? This game lets you see all of those things; and is very fun. The problem comes in its complexity. You can (and should as the AI is mediocre) control every unit your nation owns...every plane, ship, and army unit...it is very difficult to do so efficiently. On top of this, you also manage trade, diplomacy, production, intelligence, politics, and research...not a small task.

Another good game is Europa Universalis 3; which is a similar idea, except it features the world from 1399-18-something. You can play as any faction in existence at the time, and it is remarkably fun. This is the sort of game that is utterly unpredictable at times; and that is the enjoyable part. It has its complexities as well; but in all is easier to play than HOI 3 (from my perspective) because you tend to have fewer armies involved in battles at once.

I have one big issue with Paradox, and that is that most of their games have massive glitches, bugs, or elements that are unbalanced and make enjoyable gameplay difficult soon after their release. It is best to wait to play their games until a handful of patches come out; or wait until their inevitable 2 or 3 expansions come out. HOI 3 has 3 expansions now, and EU 3 has about 5 or 6. Paradox tends to abandon updates for their previous versions of the game as well; so if you have HOI 3 vanilla, some of your issues will never be fixed, unless you buy the expansions. This is not very smart in my opinion; but I do not own a gaming company; so I have little room to talk.

In any rate; if you enjoy simulation and alternate history; Paradox games are worth a look. They run sales on steam every now and then (one just ended that was a good discount). Enjoy
-VG

Thursday, September 22, 2011

STWOR "On Rails" Space Combat

I don't think I've been more disappointed by an upcoming game feature as I am with SWTOR's space combat. It is what amounts to an "on rails" shooter; where your piloting ability (as a player) is limited to moving around a 2d screen while you are pulled through combat and can shoot.

I wouldn't be disappointed by this if it weren't for the robust (if graphically challenged) space component to Star Wars Galaxies. While a direct port wouldn't be legal or necessary, I would prefer to be able to dogfight in a 3d environment; customize my ship with components; and have a crafting profession dedicated to ships.

Now I am very biased towards space combat. TBH I wasted many hours playing SWG just for the space combat (one of the things that made me come back time and time again is that the space combat aspects weren't changed a whole lot). I also play battlefront II for the space combat sections, and Empire at War for the fleet combat. With SWG closing, there's a major gap in gaming for space combat, and it is a real shame SWTOR will not be filling this gap. X3 Terran Conflict is a close filler, but wont run on my system so I cannot comment on it.

What bothers me most about this space system for SWTOR is that it shows one more aspect of the game that is very obviously single-player. The game mechanics that have been shown are very strongly pointing towards a single-player mindset. You get companions; who buff your abilities in combat (allowing you to solo more things); you get a "crew" that can have crafting and gathering skills (so you don't even have to rely on other people for those things). The only multi-player parts that have been shown are the flashpoints; which require four or perhaps more players...these apparently can even have companions invited to them (not sure if that counts towards the number of players or not). For a game that was supposed to be a refuge for former SWG players; there is little here that I would want to play. I'd rather play a new iteration of KOTOR (perhaps the KOTOR that 2 was supposed to be if it had been fully developed).

SWG's strongest component ever was one that wasn't programmed. It was the community. It was the ability to log on and see fifty people crammed into a cantina...something that is majorly lost and does not look like it will be recovered. There is a huge audience that is waiting and will be dissatisfied with this newest offering...

I pray I am wrong
-VG

Buildings in Napoleon Total War

I've been playing a bit of Napoleon TW lately, and notice a little bit of a lack of information from the non-battle side of things. The army battles have the most impact in the actual campaign, but it is buildings and towns that allow you to build and reinforce (and upgrade) your armies. Therefore; knowing what buildings to use is very important. For this article, I will be using "town" to refer to the small; non-unit recruiting areas in a province that buildings can be built on and "city" to refer to the larger "capital" areas that are used to recruit units and capture the province.

Napoleon TW has introduced a change from Empire TW in that towns now come in three flavors. Instead of being able to build a manufactory, church, school, or entertainment building; you are given a choice of two buildings per town, and towns are classified as Intellectual, industry, or commercial (which determines which two buildings you have access to). This is in addition to the usual province improvements like ports, logging camps, mines, farms etc. Cities function similarly to those in Empire TW, but there are some changes. As towns have the largest changes, we will look at those first:

Intellectual Centers: These allow building of Colleges and Members Clubs. Colleges function much like the schools of Empire Total War; and research technology and spawn gentlement. Members Clubs are essentially the entertainment buildings of Napoleon; raising happiness and spawning spies. When choosing between these two buildings; you must balance the need for happiness with the need for technology. Also remember that technology buildings increase clamor for reform in the province they are in, which means a province with a low happiness would be better served by a Members Club.

Industrial Centers: These allow building of Manufacturies or Gunsmiths. Manufacturies act much like they do in Empire TW; adding a sum to the province's wealth, but also provide a reduction in cost to artillery recruitment in the territory they are built in (and given the power of Napoleonic Artillery, this is not a small bonus). The gunsmith reduces the cost of infantry by about the same amount as artillery cost is reduced by the Manufactury. It should be noted that while the manufactury seems like a no-brainer to build over the gunsmith; infantry is going to be recruited more often than artillery (as it is more likely to be destroyed and more common in armies). A gunsmith in a recruiting center can be worth many times more than a manufactury, even when the taxes are brought into play. Always remember that both of these buildings spread unhappiness among the lower classes.

Commercial Centers: These allow the building of Supply Posts and Markets. Supply posts are some of the most important buildings in the game; as they replenish your damaged units at a higher rate than the base province level. Markets, on the other hand, improve province wealth and wealth per turn. Depending on the speed of your advance, the usual strategy is to build supply posts in advance territories along your path of conquest, and replace them with markets as the front moves forward. Alternatively, you can ignore supply posts altogether, and rely on the natural replenishment rate (which in connected provinces that have sufficient building capacities is decent). Personally, I still build supply posts in the front lines, unless the battle is moving forward swiftly. I rarely build a lot of supply posts at once.

Now to discuss changes in the minor province buildings. These changes impact the mechanics of Napoleon Total War, and should be considered when deciding where to spend your gold:

Farms: Farms increase the replenishment rate of units in the province, as well as adding to the wealth of the province.

Stables: Reduce cost of cavalry units recruited in the province and increases province wealth.

Logging Camps: Reduces the cost of buildings in the province it is built in by 10/12/15% (very nice bonuses, and this is a building you should upgrade first). Also adds to province wealth, and reduces the cost of naval unit recruitment in the province.

Gold Mines: Adds to region wealth and also increases region wealth per turn.

Iron Mines: Adds to region wealth, but also reduces the cost of unit recruitment in the province it is built in.

Cities: Cities operate very similarly to Empire TW. They have a town center as well as several other building slots depending on their size. They can usually build walls as well. The extra slots can be used to build an infantry/cavalry recruitment building; an artillery recruitment building, and an entertainment building. I believe the admiralty returns as well, but as I rarely focus on the navy I am not 100% sure on that. These buildings function very similary to those in Empire TW; so look at their information scrolls for specific information.

That should give you a basic understanding of the bonuses involved in these buildings and should help you decide what is and is not worth building. Personally, I focus one or two provinces on recruitment (giving them the recruitment cost reduction buildings and building up their cities to build all kinds of units) and the rest on economics (building Manufacturies, markets, and the like). Your mileage may vary.
-VG

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Economics and Politics

This is another departure from our usual topic. If you have a problem with that, click that little back arrow at the top of your browser.

I'm uncertain if its because of my maturity at the time, or if the situation has really deteriorated, but I've been paying a lot closer attention to politics in the last ten years or so. The thing I have noticed time and time again is that it the United States is not run by the will of the people, but by the pocketbooks of the people. Politicians get elected solely by the merit of how much fundraising they have done to get their message out to as many people as possible. These funds once raised make a politician beholden to their backers. I don't think it should surprise anyone that Bush II repealed a lot of environmental regulations and was backed by heavy industry and resource exploitation companies.

I don't want people to assume that I am a Democrat because I've bashed Bush II; far from it. Obama isn't any better, but democratic causes and supporters tend ot have a less blatant impact on the environment (Goldman Sachs donated a lot to Obama for example...hmmmm). I have my own issues with Obama; mostly that he is a complete political tool when promising not to be. There is a distinct difference between "Campaign Obama" who we've seen emerge again recently, and "Concession Obama" who has been living in the White House for the last couple years. I'm getting off point here.

Since the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people; and there is no limit to their campaign contributions, I expect this trend to get worse. This combined with the fact that many politicians seem so against taxing corporations is leading us down a dangerous road. The main reason for not taxing corporations seems to be that they are job creators. This may be true, but CEOs are very poor job creators, even if corporations are good at it.

A friend of mine suggested something that I am finding makes more and more sense. Remove all regulations from corporations; all minimum wages; and drop the corporate tax rate to 0. Raise the income tax; especially among the wealthy; to a much higher rate than it is now (approaching 95%; they will be making more now anyway as they are most likely to be involved at upper levels of corporations). Then make the inheritance tax and gift taxes above a certain amount (think a million dollars maybe) 90-100%.

The net result of all of this is that most of the federal and state income will come from income tax and inheritance/gift taxes. Corporations, as the engines of job creation, will have unhindered resources to tax people. Any bonuses or incentives to upper management will be taxed to the point that it will be hard to justify (to get a bonus of 100k, you'd have to award yourself 2 million dollars). Even if this happens, that's just good news for the government. In reality, corporations will invest this in getting the best talent, improving the lives of their workers, becoming more efficient and improving their impact on the environment. The inheritance tax twofold. First, people should benefit from their parent's labor (up to a reasonable amount; hence the cap at 1 million dollars). Secondly, the fact that a parent is a good businessman, and makes a lot of money, has no bearing on whether their child would be a good businessman...so why should they control a large amount of money they didn't earn? A million dollars should be sufficient to get them started on a career of their own. This also prevents people from hoarding wealth, encouraging them to use it to fund projects of their choosing rather than leaving it to the government.

Kinda rambling now, so I'll stop. Needless to say, our current system leads to a great disparody of wealth; which is definately not fair (not that I'm complaining about that) but also leads to an unstable society. I'm sure the rich don't want the economy to get so bad that the poor riot en masse.

-VG

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Inherent Problem with MMORPGs

It seems that no matter the MMORPG, there are always complaints. They seem to be even more prevalent in MMORPGs than in most non-MMOs. The question that comes to mind is why? I can think of two good explanations.

The first, and most obvious, is that they have a longer life cycle than most non-MMORPGs. If a regular game is absolutely terrible, it may live on in infamy (like Duke Nukem Forever *shudder*) but most of the time, if you hate a game, or have problems with it, you trade it, or let it gather dust and move on. MMORPGs require more time investment, and that investment makes players more interested in their quality. If you think about it, a typical MMORPG costs about the same initially as a mainstream game, but the time investment is much greater. A mainstream game would be lauded as extensive if it contained nearly the amount of content hours that people plug into an MMO in the first month alone, and MMOs tend to develop over time, leading to even longer time investments (that and they are persistent worlds, so time investment means more). Because of this, players spend more time in the world, and notice more problems with it. In the Eve Online forum, someone referred to minor problems as one million papercuts...imagine what the major issues are...

The second explanation stems from the massively part of MMORPG. Mainstream games tend to play to a strength or two, attracting players from that sect and ignoring most others. Many games flop because they try to touch too many different genres, and MMORPGs cannot be an exception. Most MMORPGs try to appeal to as many people as possible. Because of this, they do not focus, but are thinly spread across the spectrum. An easy example of this is looking at PVP and PVE content. Some games, like Darkfall Online, have full PVP, while others, like WoW, focus primarily on PVE with PVP as a secondary layer underneath. IMHO, WoW doesn't do either PVE or PVP exceptionally well, which highlights the whole problem.

The difficulty is that these are systemic problems. An MMO focusing solely on one aspect of things to the exclusion of others will not have a large player base, and thus not be successful by most measures. Sad thing is, there's not a good way to fix this. This is why most people playing MMOs get tired of them after a period, and move on to the next one. If an MMO provided the best possible experience for them, they would not stop playing it. Many players are left having played all the available MMOs that appeal to them, tiring of them, and, given the lengthy development cycle of games, have nothing left to play. Hopefully someone smarter than me that works in game development will find a solution to this problem.
-VG

Star Wars Galaxies Closing

It took me a few days to mentally process the fullness of what it means for Star Wars Galaxies to close its servers at the end of this year. Of the major MMOs I have played or have payed attention to, it is the first to completely shut down (and I believe one of the first major titles to shut its servers and not go to a F2P model).

While SWG should pass on, as it has too many bad memories for vets and has major competition coming out soon, it is a landmark moment that it is shutting down. MMORPGs are supposed to represent people in an alternate mode. People had houses, guilds, equipment, tools...things they quested for or built themselves. They had an alternate personality in that universe. With the servers shutting down, these alternate personalities are going to be permanently gone.

While Star Wars Galaxies has dropped in population drastically, it sets a president that is dangerous for MMORPGs in the future. Imagine, for example, if World of Warcraft announced a shut-down six months from now, where everything would be deleted, and the game would cease to exist. For WoW, there would be riots (if half of the angry nerd/kid videos that exist are legitimate). Sony Online Entertainment made the decision that it was not profitable enough to renew their license and maintain the servers. What is to prevent Blizzard from making this same decision? The answer is nothing. Most MMOs that are experiencing their Twilight years are going Free to Play, maintaining a reduced number of servers by a cash shop. Personally, I do not see Blizzard doing this, but I have a bleak view of the gaming giant.

In any case, this shut-down has implications beyond SWG, but as long as your favorite MMO has a large active population, you have little to worry about. The one concern I have is space giant Eve Online, that has been steadily dropping in population because of poor management and their last few major updates (including an addition of a cash shop with appearance altering items that are largely not visible by people other than the player). It should hold on for a few years still, but many of the major players are leaving and it will soon be more difficult to find people to perform difficult high-level jobs. Things like trusted third parties and statistical analysis of market data are starting to fall by the wayside, opening up people to more scams and other undesirable parts of Eve. I will be watching these events as they unfold.
-VG

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 and Terrorism Rant

Fair warning; This is off topic for this blog, represents my personal feelings, and will offend at least some people. If you don't want to hear my opinion on matters pertaining to 9/11 and terrorism, click on another blog post or close the browser window.

You have been warned.

It is currently the tenth anniversary of 9/11/2001 and during the course of the last ten years we have been involved in two major wars for the purpose of reducing terrorism, as well as what could be deemed a police action in Libya (though that was not for the purpose of reducing terrorist risk). We have eliminated a number of leaders of the terrorist network Al-Qaeda, including Osama Bin Laden. The United States has not been subject to another successful terrorist attack of this scale on our home-front since, but European powers have been. Technically the goal of preventing terrorist attacks has been successful on our home front, as we have not been subject to another, and after nine years we succeeded in the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.

But was it worth it? In my opinion, no. Destroying a terrorist network is a fine goal; but invading two countries, and performing numerous secret operations in a third (Pakistan) without their government or people's consent does nothing to address the causality of terrorism. Terrorism occurs because people are attempting to fight our ideology, but lack the ability to fight us directly...mostly because we are a military powerhouse that uses that power on a whim. There is no such thing as a dirty trick in war, and terrorism is little different than a guerrilla war.

What can be done to prevent terrorism? A complete reform of the United States' policies and doctrines about intervention is needed. Is it necessary for us to have a navy larger than all other fleets combined? Do we even need aircraft carriers at all when we have bases around the world, and bombers that can hit any target from domestic bases? We have fallen into the trap of preparing for the last major war, or rather for a conventional war with the USSR (which no longer exists) or China. Conventional wars do not happen between nuclear powers; why are we wasting time, talent, and treasure on such a massive scale for a military that isn't going to be needed? It certainly did us no good on 9/11; the heroes of that day were ordinary civilians...firefighters, emergency responders, and the passengers on the aircraft. Our superior aircraft carrier taskgroups, fighter jets, and drones did nothing to help (and nobody in the military has enough guts to give the order or to follow through to shoot down a hijacked jetliner).

It is not the divine right or duty of the United States to involve itself in the squabbles of the rest of the world. Doing so will lead to our downfall. Complete isolation is not necessary, but we should not be getting involved in most of the squabbles. The United Nations exists for such disputes, and we do not need cowboy diplomacy. Does this mean we should never intervene? Of course not, we should intervene only as a contributor of troops (but not the majority of troops) to the United Nations and their missions.

How would this prevent terrorism? It is easy to recruit people to fight against a monstrosity that acts by itself on its own whims and can be seen trying to take over other countries for its own desires. It is harder to recruit people to fight against the actions of a governing body composed of member countries, often including those in the country you are recruiting from. Terrorists would then be more likely to act against their own governments than against the United States (in which case, it is their domestic issue and not ours).

What about domestic terrorists? Domestic terrorists are harder to handle, as represented by the DC snipers, the Fort Hood massacre, and many other examples of domestic terrorism. However, better economic conditions (from reduced spending on the military and a restructuring of our overall spending to eliminate the budget deficit and reduce the murderous amount of money we have borrowed) and better domestic policy would decrease the occurrences of this sort of terrorism. The level of violence in our political rhetoric is shameful...and would make our founding fathers regret making the United States a republic.

The net result of the war on terrorism is a reduction in our freedoms, and a reduction of our economic stability...two things that would make a terrorist organization happy. We cannot travel by air without going through the electronic equivalent of a strip search; and actually having to remove belts, shoes, change, keys. Don't even think about bringing a small amount of liquid on the plane with you, or you'll spend a year in Guantanamo (I'm exaggerating but only slightly). Is this worth being "safe" from terrorism? Have there been any reports to prove these drastic measures have saved us from another terrorist attack? of course not. The Underwear Bomber was able to smuggle bomb material onto a plane flying from Europe to the United States. The reductions in public freedom (I'm not going to even go into the Patriot Act) are only creating the thin veneer of safety, without giving any actual security to the American People.

How are we likely to be attacked now? In my opinion, attacks are more likely to come from a domestic source, even if funded by an international one. The current political ill ease we are suffering from creates the perfect conditions for domestic terrorism. I expect to see massive backlash based off of the next presidential election, especially if Obama wins re-election (not saying that Republicans are terrorists, but Obama seems to be a partisan-creating president by his mere presence). I expect to see government employees shot in these terrorist attacks, like the attack on Gabrielle Giffords. This seems to be the most likely target for our current domestic issues, with the military being a close second. Corporate targets are also likely, but Corporations are also less shocking targets than individuals, which reduces the likelihood.

In terms of international terrorism, planes have been show to be effective bombs. I'd imagine a civilian aircraft or corporate jet could be loaded with flammable materials or explosives and used as flying bombs, much the way they were on 9/11/2001 (though there was no evidence that there were bombs in those aircraft, but they were loaded with fuel). Another shocking day like that one would cripple confidence in the government, which would be a major blow against the United States. Random smaller acts of violence would also be effective, in making people afraid of even walking around the streets or using the major roads. Imagine a stretch of Highway being shut down, and everyone for two miles driving on it being killed by one terrorist attack...or bridges being damaged or destroyed...these things would be crippling to commerce...these are the things to defend against, but the defense must be done by reform as well as by police action.

We have created our own problems in terms of terrorism. We create those that wish to oppose us by our own actions. We are to blame for terrorism directed against us.

End Rant.
-VG

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Elite System

Playing through the Legacy quests of SWG today, and I got to one where you must kill 5 elites. This simultaneously made me nostalgic and frustrated, and I realize now that so many games have taken on the regular/elite/boss model that WoW uses (if it has a source before that, I do not know of it; if you do please mention the game that used it). Off of the top of my head; Aion, SWG, CoX, Warhammer Online, DDO, and so forth.

For those of you not familiar with the terminology, a regular mob is one that you should be able to kill solo at the same level (or +-2 usually) with little difficulty. An Elite mob has more health, deals more damage, and is hard to solo at the same level (though usually 5 or more levels above it you can solo it). WoW used a 3x health and damage modifier for elite mobs in vanilla, so they were roughly as hard to kill as 3 mobs attacking you at once (without the benefit of less dps as you kill one or two of the three mobs). Boss mobs are even more powerful, and usually their power varied greatly. These were meant to be final encounters, or chapter encounters that ended a wing, hallway, or instance in a climactic battle. They almost always required a full group, using good tactics and sometimes luck to beat.

Why does this make me nostalgic? SWG pre-CU had a system where level was effectively hidden. There was a level mechanic, but it was pretty involved, changing based on your group size, equipped weapon, pets, and dozens of other mechanics. Mobs would be tagged with a color on their nameplate that indicated if the game thought you could handle it. It was simple, and worked. Xp was based on the toughness of the mob, not the relative level, and since xp scaled with your class advancement, it worked out similarly to the tougher mobs for higher level players concept (and facilitated grouping as they gave more xp, but it was divided by damage done). What mobs did have was a HAM bar, health, action, and mind. If any of them reached 0, the mob died. Now some mobs had very high HAM totals for their level, they were effectively elites but you didn't know unless you moused over and saw their totals or had experience with that kind of mob.

I'm starting to blather on, so I will wrap it up here. I'm looking for games without boss and elite mobs, but wikth simkilar challenges. Please let me know if you play any.
-vg

Monday, April 11, 2011

the mmorpg quandry

The mmorpg industry is an interesting animal. Wow is a giant, most other games are lowly populated (by comparison) and many people question a game's potential longevity before playing (understandable when you will put hundreds of hours into the game). Many games find it hard to carve their niche and make it last, and one even challenges Wow to its own game (Rift). So what makes this industry so interesting?

Go big or go home: most mmos now have small populations, tending tiwards low revenue and even lower new subscription numbers. Mmoers don't like joining a game with a tiny community, and server pop is always an issue. Plus more money means more success as a game (it is a business after all).

Niche-tze: games like this find it hard to appeal to all audiences. Games that try tend to struggle and choose one audience over the rest at a later time. With millions of subscribers you will never please everyone, and a game 'good enough' for everyone will only hold interest for so long.

stability/longevity wow has been going strong for many years and is showing no signs of stopping. Everquest and its sequel are similar, as is ffxi, which some players of ffxiv are flocking back to. Players are investing their time into a game as well as their money. They want to not only be able to play, but also know that their characters and stuff will be available to them for years to come.

Just some thoughts
-vg

A look back at SWG's economy

To continue my economic discussion, I have been thinking a lot about SWG's economy. I've played it in all three of its iterations (pre-CU, CU, and NGE), and am currently playing it again. It is enjoyable enough, and I would rather be playing FFXI, but its registration system continues to give me headaches, and I am debating buying it for xbox to try one of the work arounds that have been offered to me. But enough about that.

Pre-CU, SWG's economy was what you might consider small. A million credits was a lot of money (what a million gold is to the current WoW economy, if you will), and few players claimed that they had such. There was also little or no credit selling, which was an interesting phenomenon. After the CU, inflation started, and in a bad way. Many reasons for this, which I will delve into later. NGE made the whole thing worse. The question is: Why?

Pre-CU had a balanced economic situation. Most items were player made, using resources that were player harvested (and had to be actively sought), money drops off of mobs were very low, and mission terminals were a primary source of income, and even then the income was rather low. So there was, overall, a very low amount of credits enterring the system. However, there were also many drains on these credits, leading to a very small net credit gain. Houses, factories, harvesters, skill training, vehicle repair...all of these things took credits. Also, all of your equipment had a durability rating, and slowly decayed. Sure you might spend 10,000 credits on an awesome gun, but you'll have to keep putting money into it (in the form of crafted weapon repair kits and the like) or it will become useless. I remember having a wall of carbines that I had used to level my character, most in poor durability, on display. I felt connected to all of them.

Basically, everything you spent credits on was a drain in itself, as those credits went to crafters, who spent credits on maintaining harvesters to gather resources to make your items (and on vendors, vendor fees, shops, etc etc etc). Which, oddly enough, works rather well as a system. Even rare loot drops used in crafting didn't become too expensive, and you could always barter with a crafter for materials they needed. If you had krayt tissues or whatever, you could ask a crafter, for a fee of course, to make you an item with them. Everyone would be happy.

To give you an idea of pricing at this time, a full set of doctor buffs was 10k credits and lasted about 2 hours. A single "solo group" mission on dantoine netted about the same, and took maybe 10 minutes. Nobody I knew who ran those missions became rich, but they did enough to buy what they wanted.

So what happened? CU allowd people to respec, removing a lot of training costs. Eventually they removed decay all together and that screwed over the economy. Now if you buy an awesome gun, you will have it forever...it will cost a ridiculous amount, maybe millions of credits, but you will have it forever. I wish the old system was back.
-vg

Friday, April 8, 2011

Gold Devaluation

Looking at the last few expansions to WoW (Cataclysm, sadly, did not meet my expectations and made the game boring for me, more on that later), I've noticed a steep drop in the value of gold. Just in grinding out from 80-85 I made quite the load of gold, and there aren't that many drains in the economy. Training and the like is a big one, but only flying mount training (for fast fliers) and constant respeccing of talent points (I mean ludicrously) could be considered a balancing factor for the massive gold values we are now seeing. This is driving inflation so badly that you don't need to know even how to spell economics in order to spot it.

Is this a bad thing? Ultimately yes. One good result is the dying off of gold farming as a direct industry. You do not need hard to obtain amounts of gold for anything save buying the best equipment. Gold is also not difficult to obtain at all, increasing the supply. More supply, less demand, yields lower prices. It has reached the point where "human" gold farming, even in the East, is not profitable. This is a sad turn-around from an industry that was making boatloads of money off of the market. They are simultaneously suffering from a lack of power levelling need, as Blizzard made the game so much easier.

Now for the bad results. Newer players, and those without a lvl 85, have trouble even on developed servers 1. finding goods and resources they need and 2. finding them at reasonable prices. Things tend to balance out a bit, but not very evenly. If simple resources are ridiculously expensive, then newbie crafters cannot buy them, but newbie gatherers make bank off of them. This goes up and down the "brackets" until a balance is found, usually at a point where items up to say lvl 40 or so are super cheap, and after that are super expensive, leading to the difficult choice of grinding out a gathering profession to sustain your character's wallet for 30 or so levels until gold becomes easy to find.

A secondary problem, and one that will continue to get worse, is that with few drains, inflation will just continue. Soon it will get to a point that even newer players or players who don't grind out money will not be able to afford anything. This will lead to gold farming being a viable industry again, which, if Blizzard's goal was to kill it, will be counter-productive. If you need 100k of gold to buy a good item, and you can earn 3k gold a day, are you willing to waste a month of your time, or would you pay say...20 dollars cash in order to have it?

The third problem is the sheer "free money" aspect that guilds now have after they get their traits. One line of these traits generate additional cash from every looted amount that goes directly to the guild bank. Now, I've seen the direct result of this at low levels being a nice fund for discretionary spending, and realize the effects of it being used to pay for raid repairs and the like, however, this is removing a further drain on the economy, *and* generating even more money. This is essentially adding a 10% or so boost to the inflation rate, probably compounded even more by the fact its use is almost solely on economic drains.

Solutions to this problem? I frankly don't see any. We are in too deep with this system. Its a similar problem to the rampant increase of stats with each expansion, you cannot remove it without players getting mad. One option is for blizzard to introduce something that is a further drain on resources. An idea I will bring up again is the idea of guild bases. These should be something that is fairly expensive to create, requiring money to maintain, and subject to guild vs guild pvp. Not saying that is the only solution, but there needs to be something for all the money to be used for besides player to player trading. I would discourage them from using just an item worth x gold as a "drain" as it is a cheap way out, and would create more problems as people grind gold towards getting it.
-VG