Browsing the blog archives for February, 2008

Guild Wars: Canthan New Year, part 2

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Games, Guild Wars

Followup on some of the other things at the Canthan New Year’s weekend…

The big one for me was Dragon Arena, shown in the screenshots below.

Dragon Arena is sort of like instagib for Guild Wars. Every player is reduced to 100 health maximum, something like 20 energy, and all skillbars are set to 3 skills: Dragon Blast, which is a fiery projectile that deals 100 damage, some other skill (Imperial Majesty?) which is a melee-range attack that deals 80 damage and knocks the targeted player down, and a skill (Trade Winds?) that increases your run speed for a few seconds.

Despite the apparent simplicity of Dragon Arena, it’s actually quite a fun gametype. The irritating thing about typical Guild Wars PvP for me is that there’s such a variety of skills, with 8 skills per teammate and 8 teammates per team, that the combinations are effectively infinite. You’ll never know what you’ll face, and if you happen to be playing a specific build there’s no way to adapt to counter another team’s build mid-game. Dragon Arena puts everyone on equal footing, and reduces the number of things you need to think about in Guild Wars PvP from infinite things, to merely: Movement, enemy positioning, team positioning, and appropriate timing of skill usage.

To me, that in itself is quite enough. It boils down the elements of PvP to the most skill-based elements, like seeing your teammate about to get Dragon Blasted and putting Trade Winds on him so he can dodge out of the way, and so on, rather than emphasizing the memorization and metaknowledge that are important in typical Guild Wars PvP (not to mention the sheer randomness factor of running up against a build that is a gimmick solely designed to shut down whatever build you are running).

Aside from Dragon Arena, there was Rollerbeetle Arena, which I’ve done before but didn’t get a chance to do that weekend — I’ve gotten discouraged from doing it anyway because I regularly get pings of about 300-500 to ArenaNet’s servers, which means constant “rubberbanding” that makes it impossible to reliably navigate a race course when your client and the server keep disagreeing about where you’re located. Not to mention many people suspect the top racers to be cheating (given that all of the top 100 scores seemed to be held by 2 people, this would not surprise me).

Another event taking place during the Canthan New Year was the opening of the Shing Jea Boardwalk, which houses a couple of games — Nine Rings and another ring-based game, both of which are simple chance-based gambling, as well as a “Tag” game of sorts with worms, where players that tag worms earn points to win.

One of the big things for me was that I wanted to get a Celestial Rat minipet — You may have seen one in some of my previous screenshots. Supposedly this item had around a .04 chance to be obtained from Lunar Fortunes. Lunar Fortunes could be traded for using Lunar Tokens, and Lunar Tokens could be gotten by participating in the Dragon Arena, Rollerbeetle Arena, some of the Board games … But the most lucrative way to get the tokens seemed to be doing the festival-related quests.

So I set out to complete all of the festival quests. A couple involved simply taking materials to craftsmen to make fireworks. But my main quests had me travelling to one of the villages on Shing Jea Island to scare off fearsome “Nian” creatures with sparklers and bottle rockets …

Above we have some pictures of the village that was going to be attacked by Nian…

Once I had scared off the Nian I set out to fight the Knights who Say Nian, notorious for attempting to spoil each Canthan New Years’ celebration. Some of the screenshots I took as I searched for the Knights are below…

Eventually the Knights were defeated (it was a tough battle indeed because I was travelling totally alone, with no henchmen or heroes), and the festival went off with a bang. Looking forward to see what else ArenaNet cooks up for these things.

Guild Wars: Canthan New Year, part 1

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Games, Guild Wars

With how busy I’ve been lately, it tends to take something a little bit more special to pull me into playing Guild Wars. Fortunately, it is one of those games which I can put aside for weeks or months and not really feel like I’ve been left behind. So when I heard the Canthan New Year was coming around again this year, I installed my recently-bought copied of Guild Wars: Factions and went to go pay a visit.

Arriving in Cantha on the outskirts of Kaineng.

One of the flame altars inside Kaineng city.

I knew I needed to get to Shing Jea Monastery for the festival, but I didn’t really know where that was. I knew Shing Jea was on an island, and the world map had a couple of islands to the southeast direction, so I headed out south through Kaineng’s slums to get there.

I spent about an hour travelling through the slums. One of the biggest hindrances I had was that I used a Lunar Fortune, an item associated with the event, that can cause a couple of random effects. Most are good, like granting you 100 gold, increasing all your attributes by +1, or giving you festive items like bottle rockets and sparklers. However, I seem to have the worst luck with these fortunes, and got “Possessed” by an evil spirit. This is a condition that causes your screen to turn red and hazy. The worst thing about this condition is that you can’t get rid of it except by leaving the area you’re in. It’s pretty annoying when you’re halfway through an area and then all of a sudden your view becomes hugely obscured so you can barely tell where you’re going. I didn’t want to abandon my progress towards Shing Jea, but the condition made it really hard to play.

After a little bit of travel I found myself at a marketplace with a port. Shown is the statue of Melandru there.

Taking a boat left me at the port on Shing Jea island. Here I am meeting one of the mystical beasts presiding over Shing Jea.

The port of Shing Jea.

As I wandered the island looking for the monastery, I came across this fantastic piece of art.

Have I found the monastery?

Yes!

A headmistress of the monastery.

Another headmistress.

Another character at the monastery. I think she’s a fortune teller.

Festival decor.

The festival at Shing Jea monastery actually consists of a number of different things. Above is the main gathering place, where a number of Canthan chefs await the yearly arrival of a celestial animal to feast on their preparations. Some of their meals require obscure animal parts that players may have to hunt down for them elsewhere. Depending on how pleased the celestial being is with the meal, they may give out varying prizes.

Last year the celestial being was a pig, who gave out miniature pigs. This year the celestial being was a rat, who gave out presents and fireworks.

Some pictures of the event…

At the main gathering area…

Standing by one of the Canthan chefs…

Some joker lets off a string of festival items from Wintersday…

The celestial rat arrives!

Waiting as the rat samples the different meals…

He liked them!

As a bit of a silly end to the celebration, the celestial rat summoned a bunch of rats and went on a running-of-the-rats around the monastery.

Someone commented that it was like the reverse of the Pied Piper, with all the people following the rats around.

Attending players were also given Lion masks provided by the Canthan emperor, although I’m a bit jealous as last year’s masks, Dragon masks, were much better than this years’. The only thing I’m disappointed in is that I didn’t manage to get a celestial rat mini pet.

I’ve got some more nice screenshots from other things, so I guess I am going to break this up into two parts.

Assisted Suicide for [PC] Gaming

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Games, Technology

I ran across this article a couple of days ago, which is essentially musings on the state of PC gaming, lending a bit of a skeptical eye towards the claims that PC gaming is dying off in the face of consoles.

This is a topic of relevance to me, since I do pretty much all my gaming via the computer, and I don’t have a heck of a lot of interest in consoles. In particular, I’m a bit concerned because one of the games I’m big on at the moment, Unreal Tournament 3, hasn’t been doing quite so well on the PC side of things. And naturally, people like Mark Rein or the bean-counters at Epic can say that PC gaming is dying, and that it’s piracy, and this and that, but looking at Unreal Tournament 3 — The menus in that game are clearly designed to be used on the console. Literally thousands of complaints have been made about the menus of the game, and I can’t say that I’m particularly surprised. You only have one chance to make a first impression, and when that first impression is horrible, then you’re going to turn people off.

Even though I think the game itself is excellent, and overall the best Unreal Tournament to date, there’s absolutely no excuse for shipping a computer game with a user interface that bad. In many ways, this experience sort of confirms the skepticism of the article’s author — He suggests that game developers are pushing for the death of gaming on the PC, because gaming on the PC is freedom compared to the locked-down force-fed consumeristic model that modern gaming consoles have become. Yes, you’ll probably have hardware problems at some point, but at least you can usually do something about it.

But it’s not PCs that will have died, and it’s not consoles that will have won. Consoles are just the tool most convenient for the purpose – locked down systems that can prevent outside innovation without significant initial investment. It’s gaming that will have died, and a single corporate monolith that won. The same rehashed game sold eight different ways – that will be consumer “choice.”

Now that is a scary vision. And it’s one that we can glimpse on the horizon too if things don’t change. With ever-increasing budgets for games to support ever-more crazy graphics, putting A-list titles above the reach of indie developers, a relative lack of improvement in development tools, and movement towards these locked-in console systems, or ridiculous garbage like Microsoft Live… It’s hard to see where else things can go except towards more centralization, which in turn means more ability to exert influence to encourage people to give up their gaming freedoms, starting a snowball effect right to hell.

Sunshine

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Culture, Visual

Sunshine1

After reading and hearing a bit about this movie, I finally decided it was time to check it out this weekend.

The film has been talked up as one of the better Science Fiction movies in recent memory, so I came to it with rather high expectations. Perhaps that was a mistake, because when I think of films like 2001, Solaris, Stalker, and so on, it’s almost setting myself up to be disappointed.

The first two-thirds of this movie were good. Unfortunately, you can tell that a lot of it is quite derivative. But the film is knowingly an homage to a variety of other movies and sources, so that isn’t a fatal flaw. We have a commanding officer, Kaneda, most likely a reference to the Kaneda character in the Akira manga. We’ve got a seemingly esoteric psychologist named Searle, possibly named after the philosopher, visuals that are highly reminiscent of 2001, and the list goes on.

The fault I found with this film is in not going anywhere. Here we have an epic plot, the death of our Sun, tied in with human struggles and some thought provoking ideas. But it doesn’t go anywhere thematically. It’s inconsistent, and even though everything we see might make narrative sense, there’s no closure, nor even a thought-provoking open-endedness. Instead what we’re left with is a jumble of pieces that could have made something amazing, but instead merely make something passable.

Spoilers.

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