Jul 22, 2009

[Mabinogi Review: Conclusion]

[Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

In terms of game features, I think Mabinogi would actually appeal to many MMORPG-fans -- it has many of the things players always seem to ask for in their games (housing, player shops, combat pets, gear customization, RP tools, etc). For people who hate traveling, crafting, 'playing dress-up', anime, or any hint of grind-y stuff, it may not be that appealing. There is a strategy to efficiently skilling up your character and succeeding in combat, but for people who are used to have 20+ different kinds of flashy attacks to choose from with tons of mathematical calculations for min/maxing them all, the simplicity may be hard to transition to (though I actually found it kind of refreshing, plus it allows you to kill things higher level than you with the right skills). There is also voluntary PvP and an Arena, though I don't know how popular they are.

After learning about the different races, I would have to strongly recommend that people make a HUMAN for their first character. Human players get a free Elf or Giant character slot once they ally with one of those races, whereas people who start out as one of those two would have to pay for a second character slot. Humans are very balanced stat-wise, which makes them a benefit for beginners (they are also the only race that can dual-wield bladed weapons, which I know lots of people like). Also, only Humans can do the storyline quests at the moment (future patches will introduce storyline quests for everyone).

If you are someone who likes skill-based MMORPGs with lots of crafting/socializing/soloing options, Mabinogi might be right up your alley. If anything, it's worth laying aside any preconceived biases you may have against F2P MMOs just to try it out for a few days... I know I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it. If you really want to, you can even choose to pay a $9 or $15 monthly fee for extra perks, although it is perfectly feasible to play free (perhaps only buying a mount or other one-time cost items here and there) for as long as you want. The game gets content updates about every 6 months or so, and new items added to the cash shop randomly.

Feel free to look me up on the 'Mari' server if you're ever trying out the game and need a free ride around newbieville. =)

[Mabinogi Review: Part 3]

[Here is Part 1 & Part 2]

  I know the first thing many people think of when they hear 'F2P game' is that it is poor quality, with a bad community and lots of bots. I have to say though, Mabinogi doesn't suffer from any of those things, really. The community isn't anything worse than WoW's, in my opinion (in other words, finding a decent guild makes all the difference), and I think many features of the game are actually quite nice, if a bit rough around the edges. The only bots I've seen are some gold ad spammers in towns, usually only 1 or 2 of them, and they're easy to put on ignore. You see some farming mobs in the wild too, but it's not that bad.

  Finding a guild consists of either asking on the realm forums, or else browsing guild obelisks. People who buy a basic pay package (around 9$ a month) can start their own guild, and place markers in the world to advertise it. The bigger and more gilted the obelisk, the larger the guild. Simply click one to submit a short application and read the guild's bio. I put in an app to one that looked pretty decent, because soloing is lonely. =P

  Dungeons in Mabinogi are randomly generated, depending on the type of item you drop on the Altar at the entrance. They can be done in groups or solo, and there are even timed 'Boss Rush' and hardmode versions available. In design, they are pretty simple, with corridors that often have herbs or ore to mine, and trapped rooms where you have to kill all the monsters that appear in order to proceed. At the end there is a boss monster that drops enchants, loot, and cash. Pretty basic stuff. The key to profit in dungeons is to buy kill quests for the mobs inside, which give much more gold than simply collecting whatever drops off the mobs themselves.

  While in town, I cam across a couple of people playing music. In Mabinogi, you can compose and play your own melodies, as well as sell your compositions to others. The quality is MIDI, but still pretty nice. Of course, you have to practice your skills in order to play well. The little box standing in front is for listener donations. =) It is actually seems feasible to level (or make a living) only through various crafting skills.

[Go to Part 4: Conclusion]

Jul 21, 2009

[Mabinogi Review: Part 2]

[Part 1 is here]

  The first thing I noticed as I puttered around the Elf starting area, is that the translation is very awkward. The descriptions of the NPCs make no sense at all, for instance. I suppose though, since 'nobody reads the text' anyway it's not a big deal. =P Some things are not very clearly explained because of this, so I made sure to have the Wiki for the game bookmarked to look basic stuff up, which helped a lot.

  As you talk to NPCs, you can mention specific keywords. These can unlock quests or further dialogues with others. Apparently, NPCs have a 'relationship' value that can be raised by regularly doing their daily quests or giving them gifts. This can lead to extra items being sold to you, as well as offering special titles. Keywords are used in the overarching storyline quests, too.

  Daily quests in Mabinogi are called 'Part Time Jobs' and are timed. Each NPC in a town has a specific starting time they hand out quests, and a specific time limit. Knowing in which order to do all the quests in town, and managing to fit them all in a daily routine, is a key way to make some steady money and exp. There is also a daily changing 'Quest Bulletin Board' that sells various random quests for a small fee, and other NPC-given quests that you receive over time. All quests give money/exp or items. Often you have a choice of rewards.

  After a few days in the Elf starting town, I realized I can freely warp once an (ingame) day to the Human starting zone on the other continent. I was surprised by how much better of a newbie experience the Human zone is -- Elves have a huge, barren desert which can be tedious without a mount, and it's hard to gather some crafting materials as a result. There are a few Elf-specific quests worth doing, however, so I started switching back and forth as I felt like it. Even though I am notoriously bad at making money, it is clear that earning plenty of gold is not a problem in this game if you know what you're doing.

  Exploring is key to effective gathering and questing, because quest directions are not specific. For folks who hate 'travel times', this may be an issue. All over the Elf desert, though, are solar-powered teleporter stones that quickly move you to various points once you've discovered them. On the Human continent, moon-powered teleporters that change destinations depending on the day of the week are also available. One thing I really liked about the game, is that there is no real feeling that you HAVE to be doing one specific thing -- I spent some time learning to craft my own arrows and fishing, died a few times in newbie dungeons (which can be soloed), did some crafting quests, and bought some new clothing pieces. Crafting is one of the high points of the game, I think. There are little timed mini-games that affect the quality of the finished product depending on how well you do. For example, with blacksmithing you hit hotspots on the metal with a little hammer, and in tailoring you have to manually sew finishing stitches. Fishing also has a little game, which adds some interest to an otherwise 'one click' type of activity. You can also catch items and quest-giving scrolls.

  The common kill quests are very old school. You have randomly placed crowds of mobs, and you mow through them. Nothing too exciting. However, because of the type of combat Mabinogi uses, you can easily be killed by some mobs if you fail to counter your opponent's attacks properly. The key to combat success is to NOT GET HIT. You can buy armor and elemental enchants that can raise your protection against certain magic, but even with that, you can't simply stand still getting bashed and expect to win. Even though the combat system is basically a more complicated version of 'rock paper scissors', it's not entirely brainless either. I actually don't mind a bit of grind, either, as long as I feel like I'm progressing somehow. The fact that you gain combat skill-ups with every attack (when fighting equal or superior level enemies) also helps. =)

[Go to Part 3]

Jul 20, 2009

[Evolutionary Stagnation in Gaming]

I found this great piece via insert credit: An article (in Japanese) was posted on the Japanese Nikkei IT's webpage recently, talking about the functional stagnation of video games. Basically, while the graphics are getting more and more amazing, the basic gameplay and nuts and bolts are stuck in old, non-innovative repetitions. Ollie sums it up:

"What really struck me about all this was that this was a Japanese piece published on a very mainstream online publication that stated a very important issue that the Western gaming press, in their orgy of banal Tweets, managed to conveniently miss; that these massive graphically focused budgets are forcing a functional restriction and an unnatural standardisation on gaming. Admittedly, we've had lots of coverage about the rising cost of games development but no-one has really mentioned the veritable elephant-in-the-room - that games aren't functionally going anywhere as a result of all of this."

I think it's a spot-on observation. Sure, games look flashier and all nowadays, but we're mostly still playing the same old clones of games that were invented 15-20 years ago. Is that really progress?

Jul 19, 2009

[Mabinogi Review: Part 1]

  So I heard about this Free-to-Play game over at Spouse Aggro. It's a cute Korean MMO with a cash shop. Given that I'm bored with WoW atm, I decided to try it out. I'd never played a F2P MMO before, so I wasn't sure what kind of quality to expect, but hey, it's free! =P

  There are 3 races to choose from: Human, Giant, and Elf. I chose a male Elf (though female Giants are pretty cool looking, too).

  There is a large selection of anime-style hair and eye styles (paying for Premium services gives unlocks even more). Your starter outfit changed colors depending on your color choices for the features of your character, which was kinda neat. Skin tones were limited to shades of pale however, so making a Dark Elf was out of the question. =/

  Now, an interesting feature is that you can choose your character's starting age. Youngest is 10yrs, and oldest is 17yrs. Depending on your age, your base stats are different, as is the rate at which your stats grow. Younger characters have an advantage in stat growth, while older characters have higher overall stats. Your character ages 1 year every week. Once you hit 20yrs, you can choose to be reincarnated into a 'new' character, which keeps all your current levels of stats, titles, items and money while allowing you to take advantage of the benefits of childhood all over again. =P

  Mabinogi is a 'skill based' MMORPG. Which means, your abilities get stronger the more you use them, and there are no set 'classes' to choose at the start. Combat is based on a 'rock paper scissors' type of system, where each attack counters (or is countered by) another. Recognizing which ability is about to be used by an opponent is key to success in battle.

  Giving a cursory glance at all the features of the game, it sounds like it has a LOT of options and features. For example:

1. Player housing (which are used as storage/shops, and can be decorated)
2. Day/Night, Days of the Week, and Weather cycles that affect stats, skills, and items
3. A large variety of 'mix and match' and dyeable outfits, accessories, and armor
4. Lots of different item and equipment crafting skills
5. Pets! (Who are used as mounts, extra storage, mini player-shops, combat allies & healers (with customizable AIs), and also as playable characters! Pets can be Reborn as well, even as a different species in their next life if you so desire.
6. Fishing! (I love fishing minigames =P)
7. A variety of earnable Player Titles that give different stat bonuses depending on the title
8. Character weight gain /loss depending on your eating habits.(o_O)
9. An overarching RP storyline w/ cutscenes
10. Lots of different crafting options (Cooking, etc)

So... yeah. It sounded pretty interesting. Future posts will be dealing with my beginner experience on the 'Mari' server over the next few days.

[Go to Part 2]

Jul 15, 2009

[The B-Squad]

Elder Game has made a fascinating post talking about the obvious shift to the 'B-Team' running WoW, and the side effects that are the result:

"When we say that WoW is “polished”, what we mean is that it is surprisingly clean of linty little bugs... But that’s changing.
More and more little mistakes have crept into the game recently — changes that are positive on the surface, but have not been implemented with the finesse that makes them worthwhile. Mana expenditure rates have changed, rules for dungeons have been tweaked, the cost of items has fluctuated. It all seems useful. But it’s usually full of little side effects. Worse, it doesn’t take the human equation into account: it doesn’t counter-balance for the actual needs of the players very well. There are ways to meet both goals, but you have to try a lot harder at it than WoW is."

  I have to admit, reading the analysis of someone who has worked in the industry before and who can recognize the signs of the 'B-team' influence really cleared up a lot for me. That vague feeling of things being 'off' for a while makes a lot more sense now.

Jul 14, 2009

[The Slow Decline of WoW]

So Jeff over at MMO Weekly wrote a pair of articles outlining the self-destructive pattern that WoW is falling into. His critique, however, is two expansions too late. The problems he's talking about were strongest in Original WoW, reduced in BC, and are even further eroded in WotLK. In reality, I think the destruction now is coming NOT from making the endgame 'too exclusive', but by making everything before the raid endgame too easy.

I loved The Burning Crusade's 5 and 10 man dungeons. I loved the Heroics, even though they didn't offer upgraded gear at that time, only badges. Both heroic and regular 5 mans required teamwork and strategy, and people had to learn the fights and utilize crowd control effectively. Even though they were 'only 5 mans', they were fun, and Heroics required some work to succeed in. And since 5-man dungeons are my favorite part of the game, I was happy. I could log in, run a heroic or two, and have fun.

Then WotLK came out. The instances were now super short, easy, with tiny loot tables that ensured you got everything you wanted in perhaps 3 or 4 runs, tops. Crowd control was basically rendered useless (my Mage and my trap-savvy Hunter wept), as now every tank could 'aoe tank', and most groups just rained aoe on group pulls without any need to think. Trash mobs were just that -- trash, with nothing needed to learn or beware of. Just shoot 'em til they were dead, and move on. Heroic dungeons are virtually indistinguishable from their Normal mode, aside from the upgraded drops and badges.

WoW's problem is not that 'reaching endgame raids are too hard'. Their fatal mistake (in my opinion) is that Blizzard tried to make endgame more 'accessible' by completely trivializing all aspects of the game that lead up to it. Therefore the entire game experience is now watered down and rendered pointless, since Blizzard has basically admitted that it's all just a speedbump, and not content that has any intrinsic value, or that should be enjoyed on it's own merit.

And THAT is what destroyed most of my interest in WoW. I was never a hardcore raider, nor was I a pure 'casual' player. For someone like me, WotLK's 'easy mode' style of play is a waste of time for me. I've been reduced to running once a week 25-man raids with my guild as an excuse to even log in anymore. Since the game has nothing in it that isn't built directly around the watered down 'speedbump/treadmill' that is now meant to feed playerfodder into the 'endgame', it's just plain boring. This is why immersive worldbuilding, RP tools, robust crafting mechanics and community is something so important in an MMO. Because without any of those things, I'm quickly losing any interest in continuing to play the game... since there is basically nothing in it for me anymore.

Gear drops do not provide a tie to the game world, or anything lasting (since gear is invalidated so fast and even if you like the look of it, you're 'not allowed' to equip your character according to aesthetics). If it wasn't for my guild, which is made up of great people and holds a lot of happy memories for me across the 5 years that I've been a member of it, I would've quit months ago.

Jul 8, 2009


So, Marvel has decided to appeal to the 'female side' of their fanbase by releasing a selection of 'juicy' and 'shiny' lip glosses!
"With a branded line of make-up from Marvel, girls will be able to feel as if they are going from ordinary to extraordinary just like the super hero characters in the stories."

Anyway, Shakesville points out that on the website, there are tons of costumes available for guys to be their favorite comic character. But... not any for girls. I wonder why?

"There is a very good reason there are no costumes mentioned here for girls. Can anyone guess what it is? It starts with an I...regular series here on Shakesville...that's right, it's Impossibly Beautiful for the loss!
See, with the costumes of men superheroes, we see muscle pads, inflatable bodies, and (this is crucial) covered bodies. Had a look at any of the costumes on any women capes lately? How do you make costumes drawn to make the heroes look like silicon-stuffed strippers fit actual women? Well, of course, you don't, because (back to the male gaze here), who'd want to look at some fat woman in a costume meant for a stripper, am I right?
Not to mention, what kind of seriously advanced structural engineering would you need to make a real woman look anything like the titanic-breasted figures put forward as "women" in Marvel's books? Not to mention, what kind of sick fucking company would make their hypersexualized women's costumes available for girls?"
Yerp. But of course, the only reason women complain about the design of women superheroes is because we're uptight harpies, amirite? It couldn't possibly be because it actually makes being a female comic fan a lot more uncomfortable than it has to be. Just look up the common complaints woman comic cosplayers make every damn year about getting harassed at comic cons for dressing as their favorite superhero... I'm assuming because they're TOTES asking for it by dressing like a sexdoll character, right? Nevermind that 'sexdoll costume' is the ONLY OPTION THEY GET. Seriously, if the tables were reversed you'd have geek guys up in arms about it all the time. Because it sucks when your favorite superhero is constantly splayed out like a softcore prop.