Please Turn Your Head and Cough

Kasul gets ready for his exam as Nina looks on

Kasul gets ready for his exam as Nina looks on

Since Kasul and I hit max level and got geared up, our weekly group nights are no longer about quests and dungeons and stuff. It’s all about the Foundry, running the boundless stories players create. Sometimes they have well-designed locales and the writing is spot-on funny and clever. Usually… not.

Last night’s adventures included one of the _strangest_ stories we’ve ever played — “The Frosty Proctologist”. This titular doctor has more fingers than is comfortable (er, “confortable” according to a lesser adventure we played). He’s set up shop in an inn that contains, along with the usual assortment of characters, an infestation of orcs, sex-crazed halflings, and a demonic episode of Iron Chef: Faerun.

I wasn’t a fan, at first, of the rampant fourth-wall breaking, but the rampant silliness of the whole adventure just had me smiling all the way through, and I ended up giving it four stars (out of five).

Rallos Zek?

Rallos Zek?

I’ve a real weakness for foundry adventures that copy well-known locations from other MMOs. We very much enjoyed the two missions set in World of Warcraft’s Scarlet Monastery; we were excited to try the two EverQuest adventures put into the game.

The first, Solusek’s Eye, was a parody of the old low level zone in Lavastorm, home to goblins, gnomes and horrible, horrible trains. Narrated by an insane version of Sony Online Entertainment’s John Smedley, it brings you through some of the more notable camp spots in old Sol A, but never quite reaches the level of full-on parody, and the author eventually departs from his premise (and Smed) and muddies the story with an evil adventuring party.

I’d have liked it better if it had more fidelity to the original zone — and if every. single. named. had been camped. It was a good start, and could be excellent with some more work.

The second was advertised as a totally accurate version of the fortress of Drunder, AKA the Plane of Tactics, the original gating encounter to the elemental planes. The fights against Vallon Zek, Tallon Zek, and their dad, Rallos Zek the Warlord, are iconic and well-known among EQ1 raiders of a certain age. As one of those, I couldn’t help feeling an opportunity had been missed.

The dungeon layout is vaguely similar to the original, with two wings filled with encounters leading to the boss mobs at the top, and a third wing to the Pit and RZtW’s chambers. (Except, no Pit).

The Tallon and Vallon fights were nothing like the original fights — the brothers were normal-sized and weaker than many of the trash mobs we fought along the way. Vallon Zek didn’t clone himself and summon adds; Tallon Zek didn’t teleport around the room firing death arrows.

Although nobody had to charm giant boars from the Pit to kill RZtW for us, the God of War’s model at least looked appropriately sized and dressed. He even summoned a second version of himself in an approximation of the real encounter, though Kasul thought perhaps it was an unintentional bug.

I’ve got to keep a better list of the foundries we try… the occasional diamond in the rough makes it all worthwhile.

Categories: MMOs, Neverwinter | Comments Off

Team Spode vs the Gutter Rats

Team Spode plot with Dr. Fate

Team Spode plot with Dr. Fate

Until Kaptain KY returns from his long sabbatical in the wilds of Canada, his spot in Team Spode is being kept warm by Stingheal’s wife, Stingharm.

Sting’s original character was named Stingite. When he re-rolled as a healer to fill that necessary spot in our group, the new name was Stingheal. Spode joked a couple weeks back that Sting’s wife should roll a DPS and name her Stingharm. Fast forward to last night, where Stingharm exists and was CR 70. The combat rating it took me months to achieve, she managed in a couple weeks.

Kinda makes you think, don’t it?

That’s the kind of progress you can make, though, when you play every night — and you raid. Raids really are DCUO’s secret sauce. Plodding along through solo missions and four person alerts will only take you so far, so fast. If you want to progress at a reasonable pace, raiding is the only solution. Unfortunately, pickup raids in DCUO share the same flaw as pickup raids in any other MMO. And that fatal flaw is… other pickup raiders.

We started the night with the Dr. Fate alert above. Where previous alerts kept you locked away in an instance, these new Tier 4 alerts have you ducking back into the open world cities to kill some baddies before diving back in for the boss battle. We didn’t have too many problems with this first one.

Next up with another iteration of the Brother Eye fight in Batman’s Inner Sanctum. Things went pretty well until the “Garage”, where a crazed cleaner bot that could suck abilities from other bots made our life hell. We would lose our damage, Stingharm, consistently early in the fight, and without that necessary damage we had no hope of taking it down before it became too strong to kill. After several tries, we gave up and signed up for a raid.

In “With a Vengeance“, we once again meet with Dr. Fate. Fate wouldn’t have us, though, until we’d run out the deserter timer we got for bailing on the Batcave. Once in, we were led into a discussion with Dr. Fate again, and we couldn’t help noticing that in this eight person raid, we of Team Spode were four of them — and the others were also from the same league, the Gutter Rats.

How could it NOT be a competition?

We in Team Spode talk through Skype, while Gutter Rats use the in-game chat. Result was we could hear them, they couldn’t hear us. Result was, we heard every little thing they SAID about US.

Now, it was pretty clear pretty soon that we’d never done this raid before. Sunstone Matrix/FOS3? Sign us up, we’re experts on that one. It was ALSO pretty clear that they needed us — they were a healer (their leader) and three damage, while we had our balanced group of tank, healer, controller and damage. We had the necessary roles for the raid.

And things went pretty well for most of the raid. I even got a compliment from the other side. The outside bits where we had to lure mobs into range of Dr. Fate’s ankh proved we hadn’t done this raid before, after which the Gutter Rats decided they’d won this competition and much discussion about everyone’s parses ensued.

Eventually we made it back to the ruined parking garage I last saw battling The Spectre and Eclipso in a solo mission. This time we met just Eclipso, but he was wildly powered, and the fight is a bit scripted. People get cursed and have to move away, you have to spread out and be within a certain range of Eclipso and — well, we died a lot. I think we finally figured out most of what we had to do — and it wasn’t just Team Spode screwing up. Even the Gutter Rats were having issues. Their leader was melting down in chat.

Then someone left, and a CR 100 tank came in to help. And then Eclipso died.

Exhausting, and I wasn’t much help. I guess there’s a way to regen my power without attacking so I can feed the raid without being part of the fight? I need to look into that. I had a huge issue with having to zap Eclipso before I could help anyone else, and that just led to tears.

Anyway, by the end of the night I’d earned almost 3000 marks, which would be enough to buy another piece of T3 gear, except I’m needing T4 gear, and the prices have jumped up exponentially once again. I got a couple upgrades from drops, though, bringing my CR from 70 to 72.

Next magic number is 85. I don’t expect to see that for awhile.

Categories: DC Universe Online, MMOs | Tags: | Comments Off

Redshirt: Please Like Us On Spacebook

Redshirts title screen

Redshirts title screen

It was Galaxy Quest that first codified for me the sad fate of supporting characters in the original Star Trek, the “… guy in the episode who dies to prove how serious the situation is.”, in the words of Guy Fleegman. Last year, SF author John Scalzi wrote the story of a starship crew that was terrified of the inevitable deaths that awaited them on away missions — if you weren’t part of the main crew, you were worse than expendable.

That story was called “Redshirts”, and so is the new game from Tiny Shark, published by Positech Games and available this week from Steam and other places.

In Redshirts, the game, you’re not on a ship, flying through space. You’re stuck on a doomed space station deep in a contested territory, and you soon find out that Something Bad is going to happen to the station and you are highly advised to plan your vacations for about 160 days after the game begins. Also, all vacations and trips off the station have been cancelled for any except for senior staff.

You have 160 days to figure out how to get off the station or share its fate. If the away missions don’t get you first. Or the growing sense of dread and ennui that infect the station as the end date approaches. Or the repurposed farm machinery control software they use as holographic medical crew.

You’re gonna see your friends and lovers die all around you. And then you’re gonna post about it on Spacebook.

Friend me!

Friend me!

You and a couple thousand other expendables are dropped on the station to do the menial chores of running the place while the senior staff fight for spots on the rare shuttles out. Your new job as a transporter accident cleanup technician doesn’t give you much of a chance of getting one of those spots, and how much can you trust your fellow minions, anyway?

You’ll get to know them through Spacebook, where you can build the connections that will allow you to advance your career, find the love of your life (until they are inevitably killed in an away mission), meet up with others and get alerted by the comings and goings of various traders and ambassadors who might have a spot on their ships for you.

You’ll be seeing a lot of your Spacebook page.

Each day is split into six “actions”. On weekdays, you have time for a quick action before work — enough time for a status update, a friend request, or a flirt with a senior officer. Two actions are swallowed by your work shift (source of money, skill increases and relationship updates from your boss and co-workers). The remaining three actions are yours. You’ll need to meet up with friends for food and fun while also spending time improving your skills to become qualified for better positions. On weekends, you have no work shift and can spend all six actions as you like.

You’re never going to get ahead by keeping your head down and pushing your mop around the transporter room. Your career tree tells the qualifications for more senior positions, and who the hiring manager is.

Friending them on Spacebook is a good idea. If they’re compatible or at least interested, they might enjoy some alone time with you, and maybe when your resume lands on their desk, they’ll overlook the fact that your main qualification for the newly vacated position of Emergency Warp Reactor Overflow Technician is an 8″x10″ glossy photo of you cuddling a robo-cat.

You Escaped!

You Escaped!

There are, according to the possible achievements, five ways of escaping the station and winning the game. Romance — get in a relationship with a certain someone who has a secret way out. Bribery — paying a visitor enough money to take you out. Career — gaining a spot with the senior staff by becoming a captain’s assistant. Wealth — buying a ticket. Schmooze — becoming friends with the right people. (Schmoozing is a skill at which you can become better. Toadying up to your senior officers builds that quickly. As does hosting successful parties).

Social networking via Spacebook can help you, by allowing you to fake interest in things that might endear you to someone who can help you, or hurt you, as by finding out your best friend has just insulted half the shift and now nobody will talk to you, either. It will also allow you to “accidentally” bump into people you need to schmooze and in all ways, keep your thumb (or tentacle) on the pulse of the station.

There’s only room for one.

Even with all this, the game would be fairly routine except for the away missions and the holo doctor torture chamber. Setting the frequency of away missions, which typically kill several people you know (and possibly you yourself), determines the difficulty of the game. Seeing someone you know die is traumatic enough to your character; seeing someone you’d been grooming into a romantic relationship so that they could give you a promotion you so richly don’t deserve die is soooo much worse.

The holo doctor setting adjusts the chance you’ll be forced off duty in sickbay when you become too unwell or too unhappy. Since the penalties against health and happiness increase as the game wears on (even as you buy increasingly desperate countermeasures in the station S.H.O.P. to balance), the chance you’ll find yourself with both stats at the most negative increases with time.

A day off work is bad enough. A day off work where they decide to send you on an away mission — is fatal.

A complete run takes two to three hours, depending on how you play. There’s limited customization available; you can play as one of a few humanoid races or one tentacled one. You level up your rank by getting better positions and building friendships — the higher your rank, the more willing strangers will be to talk to you.

It’s a fun little game, but its launch price of US$19.99 is a little high for a game which you’ll only play a couple of times (unless you’re an achievement hound). When it inevitably drops its price a little — buy it.

But before you do, read the Scalzi book and watch Galaxy Quest to get in the mood :)

Tips:

Don’t form a romantic relationship with a senior officer and then the very next morning, ask for a promotion. They’ll be upset. Give it a couple days.

If your romantic partner is bugging you for some two time, bring up group events and click the left arrow a couple of times. You’ll get to the romantic dinner event they’re hinting at.

Astra is a loose cannon. She will never amount to anything. Ignore her pathetic whining and live your own life. Do not let your Spacebook timeline become crowded with scared people who are panicking over nothing. Build relationships with those who can help you the most. You don’t win the game by having a nice group hug in the cargo hold while the station explodes around you.

Pay careful attention to the game messages. They are almost always hints on stuff you can do to get off the leaky tub before it sinks, or you get sent into a parallel death universe on an away mission.

Categories: Other Games, Redshirt | 2 Comments

Greatest Hits from the 60s, the 70s, and Today!

Teal Lantern hits 70 -- FINALLY!

Teal Lantern hits 70 — FINALLY!

What if there was a popular MMO where it wasn’t clear how to level? Completing quests wouldn’t do the trick. Defeating enemies would not bring you one bit further. Even collecting gear upgrades would, most of the time, not fill the till.

What if you were stuck at level 65 in a level 100 game and nothing you did seemed to make any difference at all?

That’s what it’s been like, for me, in DC Universe Online for MONTHS now. For MONTHS I have been stuck at 65 combat rating, in sight of tier 4 at 70, and with all the rest of Team Spode scraping altitude without me. The only way north was, apparently, to search for exobits — shinies — for hours and hours and hours with which to craft mods to my gear. Or to grind solo dungeons for hours and hours for marks to buy more Tier 3 gear — at 75 marks per run for gear that costs 2000 to 3000 marks.

Both Sting and Spode did exactly that. Kaptain KY probably did, too, but he doesn’t play any more (and we miss him!), and he’s never explained how he hit 70 months before me, when I’d been ahead of him to that point.

Raaaaaaiiiiiiiiidddddsssss

Raaaaaaiiiiiiiiidddddsssss

Since I wouldn’t grind (much, I’ll do some), Team Spode decided to start doing pickup raids. For the past several weeks, we’ve been doing the daily double T3 four man alert, then signing up for FOS3 Expert.

This is DCUO-speak for Fortress of Solitude, part 3, expert. This is the final tier 3 raid dungeon, where General Zod and his minions Nod and Ursa have invaded the Fortress of Solitude (after players kick out Brainiac’s forces in the previous two installments) to collect the crystals that will let them rule the world.

Not if Lex Luthor, Superman and eight willing players can stop them, though.

When we started on FOS3, we were noobs doing everything wrong. Now we’re the experts leading the raid. Spode, the tank, expertly keeps aggros on the named while separating snipers from medics and keeping everything going. Sting is the main healer, keeping everyone alive. And me? I feed power, debuff nameds, and am another pair of eyes for Spode via Skype. It may not seem like I’m contributing much, but if I die, the raid power drops substantially.

Since we’re not doing a pre-built or league raid, we get all sorts of people and never know if they’ve done the raid before. Last Sunday, we got a raid full of newbies. We wiped right away. So we told them the strat and went back with the fastest win we’ve ever done.

That pushed me over the 3000 mark threshold, so off I went to get my second piece of T3 armor. THAT got me from CR 68 to 69 without even having a rank 3 mod for it (Spode and Sting usually roll with rank 5 mods, but there’s a limit to how much farming I can take).

I vowed to the rest of Team Spode that I WOULD farm for the exobits to socket it and reach CR 70 so we could finally move on to the next tier raids and instances.

Spode sent a link for a DCUO CR Calculator. I plugged in my gear and found that adding a rank 3 mod to my new leg armor would not get me to CR 70 — but two relatively easy to craft rank 1 mods on a couple lesser pieces WOULD.

I still needed to farm. A couple hours on the streets of Metropolis got me the exos I needed for the two rank 1 mods, and about a third of the ones I’d need for the rank 3 mod for the legs.

And that was it. CR 70. Eligible for new sights, dropped gear that might actually be an upgrade, new missions…

FINALLY!

Categories: DC Universe Online, MMOs | Tags: | 2 Comments