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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Believing in Gaming

I'm not big on gaming magazines. I've probably only read a handful in the last year. But when I saw that the Believer was doing a Games Issue, I decided to pick it up.

The Believer is a magazine published by McSweeney's, a publishing house founded by Dave Eggers (Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius). McSweeney's has published books by authors such as Jonathan Lethem, Nick Hornby and David Byrne. They also put out titles collectively like Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney's Book of Lists (review
here). And then there are the magazines: McSweeney's Quarterly Concern (fiction/humor), Wholpin (on dvd) and the Believer (mostly non-fiction).

To get an idea of the McSweeney's "vibe" check out
their website which has a good amount of free content. Whether you think it's overly whimsical and smug or clever and entertaining depends on your personal preference. I go both ways with it depending on my mood. But I do admit that the writing usually pops.

I really enjoyed the Believer's Game Issue because it's fun to read articles about games from writers who aren't really games journalists or bloggers. You can check out the table of contents
here. Two of the games related pieces are even available for free online and you can check out the first page of every article.

My favorite article was Destory all Monsters by Paul La Farge. It's about D&D. The first section is a great summary of the game with a ton of fun and interesting footnotes. The second section relates the author's "mission" to interview Gary Gygax and play D&D with him. But throughout the article there's really a third story about the author's own past with D&D and his coming to terms with it. And it's that story which is the most compelling.

Here's a quote:

"It turned out that my agent's office was a block from the Compleat Strategist, the hobby shop where I used to buy my role-playing games. I wasn't eager to revisit that part of my life, which I thought of as a dangerous mire from which I had miraculously escaped, but I slunk into the store. Nothing had changed: nothing. The same pads of hex paper stood in the same racks by the door, their covers bleached by twenty years of sunlight. It was as if the place had been preserved as a museum to the heyday of tabletop role-playing games; it was if someone had set out to demonstrate that you could go home again. Maybe I wanted to come home; maybe I had never really left that mire; maybe I needed to own up to an old love-an old habit-in order to make my life whole."

Another from the game with Gygax as DM:

"And something strange is happening; Wayne and I are starting to play well. We climb a cliff by means of a magic carpet; we bargain with invisible creatures in an invisible lake. We steal eggs from the hippogriff's nest; we chase away giant crabs by threatening them with illusion of a giant, angry lobster."


All in all, it's a great piece.

I thought the worst article was Interactive Propaganda. I've read so many press pieces and pontifications about Kuma\War (50 out of 100 on Metacritic), but I've yet to talk to anyone who has actually played it. I just don't see the model becoming as much of a trend as people think.

The Oulipo article is fascinating, even if the connection to gaming is unclear. I'd never even heard the word Oulipo before reading it, but I did read A Void by Georges Perec when I was younger. A Void is a novel which does not contain the letter "e." At all. It really fascinated me at the time but I don't know if I'd feel the same way reading it now. Apparently it was part of Oulipo, a "movement" in which writers employ various constraints in their writing. The article, itself, features some of these constraints.

I suppose it's included because this type of writing is a game of sorts. But it also got me thinking - writers have Oulipo and filmmakers have Dogme 95. Will game designers ever join together and form a movement with constraints like: no bloom lighting, no health power-ups, no crates or barrels? It could be interesting. Sometimes working with constraints can actually unleash your creativity.

All in all, I enjoyed the issue and I really hope they do another one.

As a side note, I've installed EoF and hope to get some quality time with it next week. I'll report back.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Look at the Echoes of Faydwer Beta

by Anskiere

Ahh, Echoes of Faydwer. SOE’s latest EverQuest II expansion. Where to start?

Level 1 to 70!

This is our first expansion to not only include a new race, but also have content from levels 1 to 70 – let’s start with that. One of the things I enjoyed the most about the setup of this 1-70 expansion is that the zones aren’t in a linear progression like they have been so far. In Faydwer there is nothing like we saw in the original zones (City -> Antonica/Commonlands -> Thundering Steppes/Nektulos etc., etc.) Instead, you take a wrong turn with your Fae in Greater Faydark, and oops! You’re now in the Loping Plains, home of Castle Mistmoore and other nasties. I personally enjoy this kind of thing. I’m not sure if saying “It makes it seem more real” is what I mean by it, but it does at least give an interesting dynamic.

Capes!

Wait… capes? You thought they were cloaks right? So did I… until I saw them. They are, without a doubt… capes! Now my wizard can look like a SUPERHERO WIZARD! Just what I always wanted, really. Oh well, like the look or not, here they are. And they do give something to guilds – the ability to have something completely (well, for your server at least) unique for the characters in the guild. And with that, the stats on the common tailor made ones are nothing exciting... seriously. I believe people will mostly get those just to own a cloak. The rare versions (made with the appropriate rare root for that tier) are a little better. Then there are of course quested and dropped capes, too. Once you do all the quests for your deity, you receive a cape… which brings me to the next subject!

Oh My Gods!

The deity system in place is pretty good. I don’t really have any major qualms about it, nor is it –really- that exciting. Let me explain. You start off doing quests for your deity, and after the first you receive and alter to pray at (that you place in your home). At the alter you sacrifice items to gain favor with your deity. You then use the favor to “buy” blessings and miracles from your deity. You unlock the blessings and miracles by going through the quest line. Now blessings, overall, are 10 minute duration, one hour recast skills that either do something like summon a pet to help you, or augment you skills (in the case of Solusek Ro, there are blessings that made heat based spells harder to resist, adds a heat proc to hostile spells, increases damage of heat based spells, etc.). Miracles, on the other hand, are either instant (damage or something of the like) or one minute duration, one hour recast. They give greater buffs than the blessings, but of course… only last a minute at best. In the case of Solusek Ro again, there is one blessing that reduces reuse timers, casting timers, and power cost of all heat based spells by 50% for the duration. Another that will inflict 16601 heat damage on a target that is below 50% HP.

So, while they can seem awesome, you always have to keep in mind that they -are- on one hour recast timers. Oh, and you can only have one blessing and one miracle “bought” at any one time (if you try to get another, it will tell you that you will be losing your current blessing/miracle). And there is one more thing, too… you can only use a blessing/miracle twice before you have to go back to your alter and buy it again. Also, as just a note, the blessing/miracle isn’t available right after you buy it – you have to wait for it to refresh before you can use it (so an hour wait from when you purchase to when you can use it the first time).

Now TLing to Antonica, Commonlands, and GFay for donations!

That’s right, ports are back! Being a wizard, I can obviously touch base on those more than the druid stuff, but I try my best. Wizards (well, sorcerers, so warlocks too) will now have access to both group portals and single-target translocates to the Antonica spires, the Commonlands spires, and the spires in Greater Faydark. This involves a little quest, but it is easy and not time consuming. Druids also get ports, though I am not sure of the specifics. One thing I did gather, however, is that apparently not only do the druids have to have the spells from their little quest to get them, but the people who want to be ported by them apparently have to have visited the location and gotten an item. Upside is I’m pretty sure druids can port to more places. Or that could just be the rumors I heard, and it could work completely different. Oh well, it’s still good to be a wizard.

Nostalgia

For anyone who played EverQuest 1 (well, okay, to anyone who actually played when Faydwer was big[and people actually played there], before all those fancy expansions…), Echoes of Faydwer really gives you that nice kick of nostalgia. There are enough things that are new so that everyone isn’t saying “yeah, saw it all in EQ1 whoopy”, and enough things that are old that have people saying “Wow, I remember this in EQ1…”

My favorite part would have to be the first time I ran across the spires in GFay. I was following a path, rounded a corner with some weird, seemingly out of place stone, and then the music hit as I came around the corner, looked up… and just said, “wow…”. It’s no wimpy Ulteran spire, no… it is a spire from the Combine Empire, one of the originals.

New Tunaria is also nostalgic, for any who had a High Elf in the early days. But something is not quite right there…

Holy Horses Batman!

Wow. The horses got an overhaul. New looks, new animations. Yes, now your horse doesn’t just run in mid-air while it is jumping. It actually –jumps-! And remember how silly it looked when you were standing still on your horse and jumped? Now a thing of the past! When standing in place on a horse and jumping, the horse will now rear up instead. A lovely addition… and a long time coming.

Secondary Tradeskilling

Admittedly, I didn’t really touch much on tinkering and transmuting while I was playing, so I can’t really talk about any mechanics of them. What I can say, however, is that what I saw was wonderful!

Tinkered items range from things that let you breathe underwater, to hover mounts, to… a portable mender! Goodbye repair kits, hello mender in my pocket!

Transmuting is another beast. You have to transmute items to get the consumables to make adornments for armor. Sound confusing? It really isn’t. You transmute say… some master I spell and get an infusion. You transmute an adept and get some other thing… you get the picture. Then you make adornments that you can place on armor. Each kind of adornment can only go in one slot (for example, it will say in the description that this adornment can only be placed on an item that does in an earring slot). Adornments range from +stats/resists to +haste to %damage reduction on fall damage, and all the in betweens.

And, in closing…

I realize that I didn’t talk much about the actual zones or anything involved in EoF. Honestly, I would really love to leave that up to the people to explore and discover. My intention here was to only give an overview of what to expect with the new expansion. I am sure other places are out there that have more details on zones, mobs, etc. if you want them. Hopefully everyone will enjoy this expansion as much as I have enjoyed testing it out!