Archive for October, 2011

Something To Die For

Death is very rarely a fun thing, but it’s often not how often you die, but why you die in the first place. Which is one of the things I absolutely adore about Dark Souls, death is often a combination of inattentiveness and sneaky design, rather than the game cheesing you out of a life because of some arbitrary desire for difficulty. So we’re going to look at a couple of places in the game for examples. One is a minor spoiler, so you’ve been warned!

Sen’s Fortress:

Later on in the game (and I’ll not say when!), you unlock a special place called Sen’s Fortress. The entire fortress is made of traps, evil snake guys, and will either have you raging at the traps or laughing hysterically with glee. Why is that? Well, the fortress is loaded to the brim with traps. Massive pendulums swinging about, pressure plates that fire horrible arrow barrages, massive boulders flying down corridors, and more. These are only a few of the traps you’ll encounter in the Fortress. Sounds like a pain, right? Not really, because like before: all of the traps may be borderline evil, but they are fair.

There are no traps in the fortress that will ever insta-gib you. There are traps that will surprise you, but they will rarely outright kill you. Every arrow trap has a pressure plate, the boulders have long ago rounded the corridors down and do make a lot of noise while they travel. Even the enemies that hide to ambush you will hiss and rattle once you’ve been seen. The beauty is that to a perceptive player, the traps are all right there and in plain sight, especially once you know what to look for. But that’s not what makes Sen’s Fortress such a blast to play through.
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Story Through Skills (TERA Online)

Preface for the article: As some of you may or may not know, I like TERA Online. I love the combat style and the visual appeal of the world, and the story I’ve been able to read about so far. But it’s far from a perfect game, so I unwittingly created a monster of a post over on the official forums. I think it actually does a pretty decent job of showing just how you can have two races that are very similar in outlook and goals be different in personality and psychology, and how you can express that similarity with subtle differences, or showcase how to refer to a characters origin and tell a little bit of backstory using racial skills. What follows is my original post, word for word, showing my thoughts on the matter. It’s a little wordy, but it gets the job done pretty well. I’d love to add some images, but it keeps breaking the format. I managed to sneak one in though, so let me know if you find it.

Okay, I’ve been mulling this over for awhile. Think I’ve finally got everything sorted out. As a warning, this post is kinda huge, so I’m adding a simple table of contents to keep everything sorted.

[1] Basis
[2] Using similar, but different, racials
[3] Elin racial ideas
[4] Popori racial ideas

I do not think Popori and Elin having the exact same racials does either race justice, both from a lore stand point and a thematic stand point. To start with, let’s look at each race:

Elin are the only non-standard biological race of TERA, being created by a god or goddess shaping fragments of divine essence with the essence of nature, building up a reflection of the goddess Elinu. Elin tend to act differently than other mortal races, with a more long term and environmental perspective and a very dark streak to their humor (Death only being a natural part of natural cycle).

Popori are born as every day creatures of the world, which are then selected and elevated to sentience by an individual Elin. Popori take on a more rounded and humanoid shape, but their minimalistic origins and thoughts are still present. Popori share a similar vision and goal with the Elin, but tend to be more jovial, caring somewhat more for the listener than the distanced Elin.

That’s the broad and basic breakdown of the two races I’ve used to construct my ideas. Each has a similar origin, but have different birth methods and components. Elins are of Nature (all inclusive) while Popori are from Nature (only part of Nature, not the whole), and their respective racial traits should reflect this. My proposed changes will come in two ways; One way will be keeping the same skillset, but tweaking the effects to better differentiate the races, while the other will be a removal of one or two skills to create, what I feel is, a better overall fit to the race’s profile.

Same Skillset:

To keep the same skillset, the first talent we’re going to look at is the skill Soothing Presence. This skill prevents monsters from making preemptive attacks, but slows the caster by 40% and lasts for one minute. Any attack or item used will break the effect. I’d like to see this skill broken into two different ones depending on the race selected, to help differentiate how each interacts with the natural world.

(Elin) Soothing Presence:
Cast Time: Instant
Cooldown: One Hour
Monsters do not make preemptive attacks, but movement speed is slowed by 30% for one minute. Any use of items or attacks will break the effect early.

Reasoning: As a baseline, Elin are the core of the natural balance as opposed to any individual piece, and should be able to calm any natural creature in her presence, for a short time at least. Their presence should be shown as something of a stable force, able to tip the balance in her favor when near natural animals. The original did a good job of showing this, so the tweak is mostly to differentiate further from the Popori skill.
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Darkness Calling

As some of you might remember, I mentioned buying Dark Souls before, and now that Ive finally gotten out of the spot I was in before, I think it’s time to chat a little bit about the game proper. Rather than go too in-detail about anything specific, and we will later on, I’m just going to give an overall coverage of the things that really stick out to me. Consider it a review if you like, just don’t pretend there will be a number attached at the end!

The World:

Probably one of the greatest things the world of Dark Souls has going for it, well, the world itself. The backdrops are massive and picturesque, and the detail on the varying levels always creates a beautiful aesthetic. The feeling of the world is further punctuated by the very infrequent and often slightly-off meetings of NPCs, which creates a mix of solitude and lonliness. In a truly creative way, the world can make being alone feel good and bad at the same time, setting the world around you up as a harsh, but fair, companion to your travels. In a lot of ways, the world around you captures the feeling of Rapture which had a similar comforting and yet antagonistic feel. But through it all, no matter how dark and bleak the future looks, the world of Dark Souls always offers hope, that you can succeed and push forward.

Don't let the beauty distract you from killing.

In a way, the game world is very telling but without having to overtly say anything. The sheer solitude by lack of friendly npc shows just how bad the world has gotten, but once the enemies have been cleared away, the feeling quickly switches to loneliness as the world becomes more and more empty. The fact bonfires revive all standard enemies almost becomes a blessing in the end.
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Killing with Style

A quick side note before starting. Picked up Dark Souls earlier in the week and have been playing it a bit. Love the feeling and gameplay, but most importantly I love that the game is best experienced online, and I forgot to plug my internet cable into the Xbox. “Starting game in Offline Mode.”  See Blizz, this is how you sell a game, not by forcing a ton of garbage on them. Alright, that said, we’re moving back to TERA! Today is the weapon upgrading system. As a side point, I say weapons’ a lot, but armor works in the same way. I just like using weapons as an example because murder is fun. Now then, onwards!

Get to +10 for 'Summon Crab'

If you have ever played Phantasy Star Universe, you’ll be familiar with the weapon upgrade system of TERA. The basic gist of it if the ability to ‘feed’ weapons other weapons, and be able to grow in power. The thing is, only like-level items can be consumed, but any weapon that’s like level can be offered. So if you are trying to level up, say, a Great-axe, then you can feed it anything from another Great-axe to a Lance to even the caster weapons. Each weapon has a maximum of 9 levels, and each 3 levels will unlock a new enchantment for the weapon. Some weapons at higher enchanting levels even have special effects on the model, displaying their growing powers to all.

As a downside, not all items will be able to push you to the higher levels. Getting 1 to 3 wouldn’t be much of a problem, but you’d be better off buying a lotto ticket trying to use common items to get all the way up to +9. The better the materials fed into the weapon, the better the chance of success. Yes, success, which means there is always the chance of failure. TERA is more forgiving in this aspect than Phantasy Star Universe was however, the worst a failure can do will drop your weapons enchant level by one or two, as opposed to PSU where your weapon could just shatter into a million pieces. On a brighter side, a failure can also involve the weapon simply not going up or down, which will lose the fed item but leave your main stabbing apparatus of choice untouched. There are also special items you can buy that mitigate the chance of failure and boost your chances of slapping a new level on to your weapon.

The obvious downside to this system is the annoying tendency of ‘backsliding’, or having to keep a weapon that could be better than the current one, but only after it has been fed and leveled up as well. Will not be much of a problem when leveling up as weapons and gear usually fly by during the earlier levels, but towards late game when the curve starts to increase there is always the chance of running into something better than what you have at equal level, but inferior as it stands. Whether the player chooses to upgrade that weapon or just continuing to use the older one is up to them, but it seems slightly punishing for not letting players transfer at least one step up. Say, +7 being feed to a weapon with nothing at least giving 2 or 3 levels if the level up process succeeds. A little bit of RNG can bring a lot of joy to the table, but having it be too punishing (like PSU was) runs the risk of having players just not bother with the system until they are more of less required too.

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Arsen’s Terrible at LoL – October 11, 2011

Just the videos this week. There will be an article about something else later on.

Whistle While You Work

Annnd we are back, with another TERA article. This time, we’re going to be looking at the Glyph system and how it compares, and Thursday will be the last of these little mechanical previews with Upgrading gear. After that we’re open to everything from lore delivery to combat mechanics, so if you have an idea, make sure to submit it. We’re going in-depth into this for look at MMO’s in general. Anyways, back to the topic at hand, glyphs!

Not those glyphs.

If you remember last time, I said that Enchantment Crystals worked to fit the player and not the class, letting the person behind the wheel decide what they want to do and letting that person have a bit of alteration to the class to do it. I’ve seen tanks take bonus damage under 50% just to have a little more risky fun when farming, or just take a few to increase tanking ability. Now, Glyphs are the opposite of Enchantment Crystals, working with the class more than the player. Each skill has a few glyphs that can be activated per skill which generally increase the power of that ability. Some things can be incredibly simple like ‘Reduce Mana Cost by 200’ or ‘Cooldown Reduced 30%’ while some of the others can be quite interesting. To go back to the Lancer example, one glyph gives you a 30% chance of instantly refreshing the cooldown on on the classes ‘Death Grip’ like spell, yoinking enemies with abandon. Another has a chance to increase your strength with a successful block.
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Of Brown Corridors and Bright Plumbers

So, I’ve started playing Bioshock 2 again (Third time now.) and it got me thinking about the matter of level design in modern games. Sadly, many developers nowadays seem to spend more time and effort on squeezing out as much graphic power from the the latest hardware as they can, instead of focusing on designing compelling and memorable worlds. Allow me to demonstrate:

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An Enchanting Proposition

Hey guys, we’re back int the magical land of Tera to bring a closer look at some of the mechanics of the game. I wasn’t kidding when I said I loved this game, it really is like a mash-up of all my favorite games rolled into one mega package with even more fun stuff thrown in. We’re going to be here awhile. Now then, with that said let’s dive in to enchantment crystals!

As some of you are no doubt familiar, gem slots are a fairly common occurrence in games. Sometimes you don’t see them until much later in the gaming experience, and sometimes you get them extremely early. To start with, let’s see what World of Warcraft does. In WoW, you don’t get gems until at least level 60 and into Burning Crusade content, which is where the profession was introduced. Gems in WoW also have a habit of being monumentally boring, having almost no impact on the way you pay the game. Nearly all of them exist as a brutally simple ‘+X to Y Stat’ gem, and that is literally all. You very quickly run into players who cram only one type of gem into all their armor slots, because the +20 Strength or +20 Spellpower is simply so good it drowns out all the others. The problem is exacerbated by the so-called ‘meta’ gems which can only fit into a special slot in certain helmets, and require multiple color gems to activate. So the good news in, now players have a reason to step away from their ‘One True Gem’ and slot something else in. The problem? Everything else is just as boring and comes straight down to numbers again. Find whatever color and type gives the most healing or life, and shove that in. The meta gems aren’t even all that great. On the one hand, you have metas like ‘1% chance to reflect an enemy spell’ and I mean, come on, that’s just kind of freaking awesome already. I’ve even seen it happen too, managed to kill the enemy mage with his own spell.
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TERA Firma

So, today I’m going to start what will probably be a fairly long series on an upcoming game I’m very excited about. Remember that little ol’ game I wrote a small book on a little while ago, Monster Hunter? TERA is basically that, crossed with World of Warcraft, with Aion style graphics and Phantasy Star Universe upgrades. So basically it’s like all of my favorite games ever crushed into one super-mass of “oh my god” and “why isn’t it 2012 yet?”

To get started, TERA uses a very new system of combat to MMOs, which is more in-line with Monster Hunter than anything else. You click the mouse button, you attack. Click again, you attack again. Attacking multiple times can set up combos, and skills are actually not required. Yeah, you could use your full arsenal and shield-bash or overhead-swing as much as you want, or you could bind ‘attack’ to one mouse key and ‘block/evade’ to the other and then just go to town. It will take forever to kill anything, but you can do it, especially if you just want to settle in for a nice long relaxing fight with some Nyan Cat to spend a quiet evening. The game is also fully compatible with a USB controller, meaning I get to relive the glory days of PSU: spamming my arrows at monsters while running about like a chicken with its head cut off. Still don’t follow? Don’t worry, we have youtube!

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So, I’m back and not dead. Or undead, sadly. Either makes a terrifying contribution to the world. Anyways, this weekend was the annual Anime Weekend Atlanta convention that my friend and I always go to. The plan was, leave early Thursday and enjoy all three days of the weekend at the con, while I write up a nice little intro to TERA Online on Thursday night.

As you probably noticed, there was no post Thursday.

Turns out, my friend forgot to get us a room with wifi.

So yeah… sorry about that one. Without it we couldn’t really do much (besides write an article so poorly written I’d have to start over again and double-fact-check), and the con kept us going until we came back to the hotel and passed out day after day. So, this week I’m hoping to get into TERA finally. If you don’t know what it is, you’re about to find out. If you do, goody, you know whats coming. Until then, I think I’m going to crash and burn for a short while, letting me regain a little of what the con took from me. As a trade, I bring ponies back for you.


(Warning: Language)