Don’t forget the spirit of your game’s IP!

I read yesterday Syp’s concerned post about the state of Sword Coast Legends and felt that this was history repeating itself. According to his and other previews of the game it seems to stray pretty far from the spirit of the game it is emulating (D&D) probably in order of some lofty or idealised gameplay goals. Reading the post the game sounds unfinished and rather limited in scope but more importantly it sounds like players are encouraged to think and act as individuals more than as a team. That’s missing out on a core value of the pen and paper game.

This also recalls Pathfinder Online’s recent financial woes, when I first heard about early design concepts for the game I knew sadly it wasn’t the game for me. Open world PVP and an economy based on crafting has nothing to do with the D&D/Pathfinder rules! The game was also to be set in an obscure and rather plain little corner of Golarion, hardly the best choice to excite fans of this fantasy world. If a game is attempting to leverage an existing fanbase of this or that IP then it needs to capture the spirit of the IP for sure. But if that IP also has an associated ruleset, best not stray so far from it that the potential fans can’t even recognise their game anymore!

Other games have done better of course. Dungeons & Dragons Online, for all its many faults, actually did a very good interpretation of real-time fast-paced D&D 3rd edition combat. That game is my reference in the MMORPG genre for character customisation flexibility and breadth. It also placed a lot of emphasis on small group cooperative gameplay and it had personal loot many years before Blizzard decided to add this to World of Warcraft. Sadly the content and how it was presented (the most in-your face grind possible) fell far short of the RPG ideal.

Cryptic/Perfect World’s Neverwinter action MMORPG also did a fair job of implementing 4th edition D&D rules within an action combat MMO. Team play and grouping is encouraged in all zones and at all levels as you would expect in a game emulating the D&D experience. The availability of a user generated content system, the Foundry, could have really raised the bar for digital representations of the game but its reward system was so restricted as to discourage its use by the playerbase.

Let’s hope next time a game developer tackles the D&D license (or Pathfinder) they actually pay attention to the spirit of these games more than whatever is trending among MMORPGs at the time…

Posted in DDO, Gaming, Neverwinter

Skybox pleasures 2.0

For some reason I love skyboxes in MMORPGs. Having something inspiring or beautiful as the backdrop for my exploration of the virtual world makes a difference (Wikipedia definition of skybox).

Brooding skies over Draenor

Brooding skies over Draenor

Despite the stylised graphics I still love the skies in World of Warcraft, they animate very well, particularly the brooding dark clouds they often have in the skies.

Night sky over Nagrand

Night sky over Nagrand

Sci Fi MMORPGs can take this topic in more varied directions perhaps than a swords & sorcery-style fantasy – Star Wars the Old Republic has some amazing skyboxes as well.

Space battles!

Spaceship battles!

An animated spaceship battle high above you adds to the drama of this pre-Revan expansion flashpoint.


Cityscapes like Nar Shaddaa

The cityscape planets are also pretty unusual for an MMORPG and offer a very different but striking skyboxes. This screenshot can’t depict the amount of skycar, speeder and starship traffic that is moving in and around the district you adventure in. Complex traffic patterns with brightly light skyscrapers that tower above and descend to unseen depths below you.


For richness of colour palette and tones to make an oil painting jealous I turn to Final Fantasy 14. I have too many beautiful screenshots to choose from with this game in particular.


Final Fantasy has some of he most varied and well animated weather graphics I’ve seen yet. The stormy skies in some zones can be particularly moody.

Do you have a favourite skybox from a particular zone/MMO?

Posted in FFXIV, Gaming, SWTOR, WoW | 2 Comments

Shadowrun Chronicles: “karma runs”

Since we completed the Boston Lockdown campaign in Shadowrun Chronicles, we had two choices while we wait for the next content release. The first option is to run Red or Blue Challenges – simulated missions for an Augmented Reality (a k a 3D television) programme.

Red or Blue?

Red or Blue?

We gave a Blue Challenge mission a go but quickly realised that our characters were nowhere near well-tuned enough for this level of difficulty. The improvements to henchmen in the next update will be important if we want to do these missions in the future (we play as a trio + one NPC character).

So many summons...

Blue: so many summons…

So without those missions we opted for the alternative way to continue our characters’ development – “karma runs” as the players in global chat call them. Basically a given character cannot repeat a mission, but he or she can take part in someone else’s mission for a minimal karma reward (usually 2 or 3). So we have created a new character each and will re-run the campaign with the one new character and the other players’ veteran characters. Doing this a few times will net us enough karma to unlock the full Body and Mind trees; both important for increasing key stats like your health pool, your accuracy and so on.


Playing this way is an interesting change, with the first playthrough we would fail missions occasionally or have the odd character death. There were certainly missions that we only won by the slimmest of margins. This time around, with the advantage in character power vs their opponents, we can take a bit more time to fully map the areas and grab all of the lore objects.

Being surrounded suddenly is less of a an issue this time...

Being surrounded suddenly is less of a an issue…

Repetition of content is the norm for online gaming and MMORPGs in particular. So I’m happy to be rerunning the same campaign to help develop our main characters alongside starting a new one. Given the varied playstyles of the game’s different skill trees there are plenty of options to choose from.


Posted in Gaming, SR Chronicles

Followers or crew?

I’ve been playing quite a bit of Star Trek Online of late and one of that game’s systems is the Duty Officer (DOff) system. I’d suggest it is rather similar to the garrison followers system in World of Warcraft’s Draenor expansion.


Both systems offer you the chance to collect a roster of NPC characters – named individuals with certain abilities or characteristics. These characteristics in various combinations make each NPC more or less suited to complete specific tasks or missions. Both games present you with a randomly available set of such missions and you can then send one or more of these NPCs off on the mission. The mission takes a set amount of time and, if successful, will bring back some rewards – usually a low value amount of the game’s main currency or currencies.



Both systems are what I would call ‘busy work’, they’re little tasks you can be queuing as a background activity to playing the actual game with your character. Both systems offer the chance over time to improve the effectiveness of specific individual NPCs.

Purple is always best

Purple is always best

So there are decisions to be made on which to improve and in what order. There’s also an element of “gotta catch em’ all” (a Pokémon slogan) in that there are a large number of such NPCs to collect as a longer term goal.

I choose you!

Ahm I choose you!

In both games this system is not 100% necessary to your progress and enjoyment of the game, but you’ll certainly benefit from at least a casual engagement with the system.


There are some subtle differences between the two systems however. WoW’s garrison mission system is only accessible from a mission table – so you have to be at either your garrison or one of the zone outposts in Draenor to interact with the system. The NPCs are closely tied into the storyline as you play through the zones so in general I at least know who each NPC is roughly and in some cases have built a modicum of affection for them.

You quest with or for many potential followers out in the world

You quest with or for many potential followers out in the world

In Star Trek Online you rapidly build up a veritable horde of Duty Officers, I have 60+ already and I play very casually and I often forget to do the missions at the Academy to get free recruits for each of the sub-races for the Klingon faction (Klingon, Gorn, Nausicaan). This rapid multiplication of crew, coupled with their randomised names leaves me less inclined to remember specific NPCs or to become particularly attached to them.

"Emergency Medical Hologram: Explosives Expert" - now there's a catchy name!

“Emergency R&D Hologram: Explosives Expert” – now there’s a catchy name!

One aspect that I prefer from STO though is the placement of missions. In WoW (as mentioned above) you access missions from any console, a purely utilitarian method that has little connection to the world of Draenor.


In STO the selection of DOff missions available is a feature of where you are in the game. Normally I set off missions at the start of a session, invariably that’s parked in orbit of Qo’nos, and I set off another set of missions at the end of the session from the same location. But while warping around the Alpha or Beta quadrants I also get to run a few DOff mission specific to that nebula, planet or other location. There are even special DOff mission location icons on the sector map.


So in STO the theme of DOff missions and their potential rewards are tied at least in part to where you are in the game. That at least encourages you to move around more in the ‘open world’ than does the garrison system in WoW. There’s also some suitably Klingon-themed missions under the ‘personal’ category – things like executing insubordinate DOffs for instance!

All in all both systems add something extra to their respective games. They offer a reason to login to the respective game even if time is limited, but I would say neither is so absorbing that they alone would be a reason to keep playing if my interest in the actual content were to wane.

P.S. I deliberately have limited this post to just two games, both because I’m currently playing those and because I felt the two systems occupied similar places within the wider game. For instance I haven’t included SWTOR’s companion system in this post because companions are active combat pets as well as being the NPCs for the crafting mission system.

Posted in Gaming, STO, WoW | 4 Comments

STO: Midnight episode

The latest episode launched for Star Trek Online on 10th September, called Midnight. It follows on from the last episode, Butterfly Effect, that was released back on 27th August. That last one was the first episode to release since I returned to the game. These episodes are regular content releases that scale to any character level above 10 (although some rewards are for levels 50+). So for players like myself that aren’t yet at the level cap, these feature episodes are pretty useful both to earn some more experience and to get some purple quality gear.


The rewards are spread over several weeks, with different bonus rewards available after certain dates to those repeating the mission. I didn’t get around to doing this with the last mission as it released just before I went away on holiday. This time around I will have to set aside some time to run the mission at least once or twice more as the ship equipment rewards alone are pretty significant upgrades for my retrofit Vor’cha battlecruiser.


As for the story it was enjoyable although I’ll reserve some of my judgement until I’ve replayed it as there seemed to be an element of ‘railroading‘ involved in the plot. I’m playing this with my level scaled up, so the space combat section in particular was tougher than I’m used to. Whether that’s a lack of experience in larger scale engagements or something to do with the maths used I can’t say yet.


The ground combat section meanwhile seemed a lot tamer in comparison, easier to manage with my team plus some NPC helpers.


The story is interesting although I missed the release of the earlier parts of the Iconian War story arc so I’ve come in towards the end. I could go back and play earlier episodes at some point but then I still have a lot of leveling content to do as well. By the time I hit the current cap of rank 60 the next story arc will probably have been released!

Posted in Gaming, STO

Roleplay in an age of technology

This post is a departure from the overarching MMORPG theme of this blog but it does link gaming and RPGs. I spent a very enjoyable weekend running and playing in two different D&D (3.5) campaigns. My love of coop online gaming is certainly influenced by many years of playing Dungeons & Dragons or similar pen-and-paper RPGs. The social, cooperative spirit of such games is the core motivation for my MMORPG gaming.

In some ways these sessions have changed very little over the many years we’ve been actively slaying imaginary dragons, exploring strange lands and other heroic deeds.  Stacks of heavy hard-back rulebooks are laid around, photocopied character sheets are filled with the pencil scribbled statistics and notes of many an adventure. The obligatory polyhedral dice are ready to be rolled to see how fate will judge our heroes next actions…


But technology and the Internet has had an impact. Although we still regularly use hardback rulebooks; I admit that having a netbook or laptop at hand for searching the many, excellent wikis is an invaluable tool. Otherwise much time can be wasted trying to find the one obscure rule you can never remember how to resolve (e.g. grappling). For D&D 3.5 there are several excellent resources, notably and Offline PDF versions of manuals are commonplace thesedays allowing you to have text searchable resources at your fingertips. I’ve used a laptop to run my game for years now as I prefer typing to handwriting my adventures and notes. It makes searching back through old adventures for references so much easier!

010bIn the second of the games played we experimented for the first time with replacing hand-drawn maps of adventure locales – instead using an image taken from the module and overlayed with a mask to gradually reveal the map as we explored. Although a bit fiddly to get used to it will save a lot of tedious map tracing in future!

This digitisation of the hobby could go even further with electronic character sheets, dice-rolling apps or a full-on virtual table-top program. However I’m not sure I’d want technology to take over too much as there’s something to be said for the simple pleasure of rolling a handful of dice or leafing through a well-worn manual.

Posted in Gaming | 3 Comments

SWTOR: once more unto the leveling

For now I’ve taken the advice in the comment on my last SWTOR post and held off from buying the Shadows of Revan expansion so close to the release of the upcoming Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion next month. Probably a good thing really as playing a different character after hyper-levelling my trooper for some time is a breath of fresh air for sure.


This is my third character to play through the Tython starter world. I like the planet but I’m kind of glad to be skipping all the side quests this time as I still remember it well. This will be my fifth play through of Coruscant (the next planet) so I expect a quick visit will be more than enough there also.



This character is my second Jedi Knight. I deliberately created a second one since my original character was part of a leveling duo that’s been on ice for two years now. I didn’t want to play that character solo (Shintar recently posted on this subject), so I’ve left him and created a new Knight.


For the sake of variety I decided to choose the Sentinel advanced class for this new Knight at level 10. That makes him more a tough DPS class than an actual tank. The other Knight pictured above is a Guardian. It’ll be an interesting contrast to see how much the two advanced classes differ – to date I’ve not leveled a duplicate base class character in the SWTOR at all.


As a bonus for this run through I get to dual-wield lightsabers while leaping at my enemies and, of course, I get an adorable astromech companion to play with!



Posted in Gaming, SWTOR